OUT OF THE MISTS OF TIME, LEGENDS ARE BORN. And on the tortured surface of Venus, another legend was meeting her destiny. Major Rebecca Black, strapped inside the troop-transporter carrying raw recruits destined for the surface, watched the approaching planet through one of the few portholes. She’d once heard an old spacer refer to Venus as ‘Earth’s twisted sister’. He wasn’t far wrong. This particular sister had a surface temperature that could melt lead while her swirling atmosphere was something akin to syrup. And then, on her mean days, when the clouds opened up, she rained sulphuric acid on you.
Black shifted in her harness as the transport bled velocity making a slight course correction. The ship was heading not for the planet itself, but the massive structure of the UN’s military space station, Joan of Arc, held high in Venus’ orbit.
It was easy to understand why Venus killed more colonists than any other planet in the system, yet, despite the statistics, people still affectionately referred to her as the Planet of Love.
Why for Christ’s sake?
Black hated this planet. Hated every boil-ridden inch of her. But, despite that hatred, she had come back for more. The place drew her like a magnet, like it drew them all. Like that ephemeral moth, they couldn’t resist the lure. Not that she had any real choice. She went where UN Command sent her.
The war with Kane had started heating up, Christ, it was burning out of control. Kane, like the villain in some cheap holopic novel, had been revived from cryogenic suspension fifty years after his first attempt to take control of Mars. And what had the dumb populace done? Listened to him. And worse, what had the UN done? Let him loose. Till people started dying that is. This time though Kane wasn’t going to be content with Mars, no, not just Mars. Kane wanted it all.
He wanted to be Emperor of Earth.
Emperor? Who the hell was Emperor of anything, anymore?
It was ludicrous, of course it was, but the colonists were hungry enough to follow anyone and the UN, as usual, couldn’t agree amongst themselves, couldn’t agree about anything, until it was too late.
Had they ever been able too? She wondered. No, was the simple answer.
Now the cracks were starting to widen and the whole military machine was on the verge of fragmenting. The world was going to Hell in a Soyuz and the Brass sent her to fucking Venus.
She wondered how they could stop Kane this time, but didn’t pursue the thought further as the transport neared final approach to the station. She turned instead to look at the recruits strapped in around her. Fresh meat, she thought dourly with an imperceptible shake of her head. Then, she snatched one last look at Venus, hung like a beautiful jewel, before the shadow of the looming station swallowed the transport into darkness.
The tall, rangy frame of Black filed out of the airlock along with the other grunts, only to have her senses assailed by the noise. Every square inch of deck, or so it seemed, was crowded with troops and supplies. But it was the faces of both those disembarking and those standing aimlessly in line that forced her to look beyond.
The raw recruits were getting their first look at not only war but the casualties of war.
Black surveyed the faces beside her. Some stared in awe, others were tinged with fear, and one or two looked like they just might bolt back into the transport. She felt no pity, they’d volunteered for this. Nor did she feel anything other than a passing empathy for those waiting patiently in line. Faces hardened by what they’d seen. The cruelty that was not only war at its worst, but Venus at her best. All had been kissed by the planet of love, her tender lips leaving burn scars on every face she glanced at.
Haunted eyes questioned her from this one or that one, as she brushed past heading toward a small cluster of uniforms that were stood round a consignment of heavy vehicles being unloaded, one of whom she hoped was the station Commander, Captain McTaggart.
She pushed her way through the throng of bodies, raw troops arriving like those she’d come up with, all being marshalled toward the gaping maws of waiting Drop Ships that already looked over-crowed. Sardines were being packed in, but these live-ones had faces hung with fear. Station crew in coveralls, like industrious insects, swarmed over heavy equipment, vehicles and weapons that were Venus bound. The already recycled air was heavy with the smell of sweat, fear and machine oil. Black took a moment to focus on other things, like her orders.
Amid all this organised chaos stands the somber figure of Captain McTaggart, hands on hips. His pale blue eyes and craggy hawk-like features glance up and out across the sea of endless bodies all the while Bryson, his number one, head bent over his data-pad, continues his briefing.
McTaggart feels someone’s eyes on him and turns. Black has paused to grab the arm of a passing crewman asking him to point out the Captain, and both now stare back at McTaggart.
Black walks up to McTaggart, stops pulls off her helmet and salutes briskly.
The man takes a moment to eye her from head to foot, noting every detail not least of which her demeanour.
“Aye, Major, is it?” His arms fold slowly across his chest. Black stands to attention.
“Yes Sir. I have orders from UN Command.” She searches the Captain’s face, looking for information.
“I’m sure you do.” He nods and turns to Bryson. “Another major, Jesus. How many majors is it that we’ve had through here this week?”
Bryson consults his data-pad, fingers nimbly tapping keys.
“Thirty eight, Captain.” Comes the cheery response.
“Thirty eight.” His eyes lock with Black’s. “Thirty eight. You hear that, Major? Seems like you’re major number thirty nine this week.” She realises he knows nothing and eases her stance a fraction. She’ll get nothing till she hits dirtside.
“Thank you for pointing that out, Captain, but I’m not employed for my math skills. I need a ride to Aphrodite base ASAP.” McTaggart notices the change as his brows knit for a split second.
“Not one for small talk, are you?” There’s a momentary pause. They’re both fishing.
“Admiral Scott ordered me here ‘with all speed’, Sir.”
“Scott? That old buzzard? They say the gene treatment won’t work on him because he’s too ‘ornery. What’s your business in Aphrodite?” He takes the direct approach.
“You know better than to ask questions like that, Captain.” Black manages to keep the irritation she’s starting to feel, out of her voice.
“So you don’t know yet. I see. Your insignia are blacked out, so that makes you Special Ops I guess?” He looks her over for a moment.
“Bryson, how many solo special ops men have been to Aphrodite in the last eighteen months under Scott’s orders?”
Bryson pauses to check.
“Three.” Again the cheery smile.
“Three… thought so. I don’t recall any of them coming back this way.”
“One of them went home in his helmet if you remember, Sir.”
“Really? I must’ve missed that.”
“Sir, a transport please.”
“I’m wearing it.”
“That figures.” Another pause. “The drop-ships in bay four are going to Aphrodite, jump one of those. I’ll have Bryson transmit over some clearance for you.”
“Thank you Sir.”
“Don’t thank me, not ’till you know what they want, Major.” He pauses, eyeing her, looking for something. Black lets one eyebrow arch perceptibly. Maybe he does know something after all. He doesn’t deliver.
“Okay.” He nods, relaxing and then adds, “You’ll be going down with new recruits.” Black makes a face.
“Oh, I love the smell of vomit in a drop-ship, don’t you?” He almost smiles. “It smells like victory.”
Bryson sniggers behind his data-pad.
“Good luck, Major.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
The Major does another brisk salute then turns on her heels off in search of Bay Four and her ride. McTaggart takes a moment to watch her go.
“Why do soldiers like that always make me nervous?”
“Maybe because they’re the last resort, Sir.”
“What the Hell have I told you about trying to be wise on duty? Get these munitions stowed and locked down, I don’t want another explosion in here.”
Bryson smiles. “Yes Sir. Shall I disable all the communications too, Sir? Then you don’t have to listen to the news either?”
McTaggart pauses. “You know Bryson, sometimes I think about defecting just so I can shoot you.”
TO BE CONTINUED …