The laser weapon burn on my right foot was enough to get me taken off the line. It will take six to eight weeks for it to heal. That is what the Space Marine Surgeon said when he discharged me from Earth Orbital Hospital number 23. It’s going to feel real good to spend a few months recuperating from my battle wound at my home on Long Islands Great South Bay.
When I left this community a few short years ago, people cursed me for keeping my electric car under the speed limit, and for stopping at the stop signs. But today, after the victory over the Naspern Pirates on the planet Remson 7, now they stop me on the street just to shake my hand and to take a picture with me, so they can boast of our Friendship on every social media network known to man. Their children, with bright beaming faces, smile broadly as they ask me, How many Nasperns did you kill on Remson 7? What is the color of their blood? Do they really eat humans? With a distant look I answer them: Countless thousands. Iridescent blue. Yes, they do. That is why you must never surrender.
All this came to an abrupt end. I was at home for less than a month when a hovercraft came swishing into the neighborhood and deposited two Space Marines in full dress uniform on my doorstep. One look at them told you they were politician’s sons, each of them with a chest full of ribbons representing everything imaginable, that is to say, everything except combat in the Naspern War.
My wife, Helen, was deeply saddened when I told her the message the two well-dressed boys at the door had delivered. My new orders; I was being recalled early. The Nasperns had counter-attacked in the Blue Quadrant, and we had to stop them on the outer ring of Ice Desert Planets, or Earth itself would be threatened by their long-range battle cruisers. I have been promoted to full Colonel, and will take command of a Replacement Battalion near the front.
Helen and I made love on the night before I left, and I fell asleep in her arms. Our marriage was a good marriage from the start. I was twenty-two, she was sixteen, perfect for a Space Marine marriage. Now, after decades of off planet duty, jumping through space at speeds tens of thousands of times faster than the speed of light, I was in my forties. Helen was closer to 60. While many Space Marine marriages fall apart when time dilation starts to rear it’s ugly head, our marriage did more than just survive. We were still in love.
In the morning she made me apple crepes with fresh cream. She packed homemade peach turnovers in the same thermal travel bag that I have used for the past twenty years. She handed that special travel bag to me as I left. She bravely fought back her tears, just as she had done all the times before as we kissed good-bye and turned away. “I’ll be back, fit but drunk,” I said. She answered, as she always did, “Make sure you still love me when you do, or I’ll turn you out with the dogs.” Strange as it sounds, this was our special good luck blessing. The dogs had died years ago, but we dared not change a word of our lucky good-bye.
The bullet train ride to Dahlgren, Virginia took a half hour. Then a limo met me at the station and shuttled me to the Space Marine Operations Center.
“Welcome to SMOC Colonel.” The guard handed back my ID and I returned his salute.
“Driver, take me directly to Departures. I’m already checked in.”
When we got to the Departure terminal my driver carried my bags to the spray station.
“Kick ‘em in the ass once for me Colonel. Vincit Omnia!”
“Vin-om, Seargent, vin-om.”
I turned and slid my badge into the appropriate slot on the Departure kiosk, put my bags on an auto cart and followed it down a lighted pathway to my assigned spray station. Then came the computerized female voice;
Please stand on the yellow footprints with arms held tightly to your side.
Open your mouth and wait for the breathing tube to be inserted.
Close your mouth.
Bite down… now.
Take a deep breath and hold it.
Close your eyes.
With that final command I was sprayed with the worst smelling goop mankind ever invented. You couldn’t smell it during transport, but when you arrived at your destination, and they peeled it off of you, you stank for days. I know it was designed to protect your skin from radiation during Uber-Licht transport, but you’d think the crazy bunch of German scientists who invented the thing could have put a little fragrance into the goop mix.
Thus, in less time than it took to get from Long Island to Virginia, I was transported to planet M-286 to take charge of the Mobil Infantry Replacement Battalion. M-286 was a frozen wasteland. As my combat hovercraft moved me toward my new command I could tell we were getting closer and closer to the fighting as well. At first we passed neat stacks of coffins, waiting in queue to be compacted for transport back to Earth. Then we past rows of frost covered body bags. Finally we saw the field hospitals with their disorderly piles of bodies, and small mountains of arms and legs that were once connected to the bodies of young Space Marines.
That’s when my driver spoke up, “They are from the battle of Two Glaciers. The Naspern Positron Bombers caught us in the open. Thirty thousand of our boys bought it. Your replacement Battalion is an empty shell. Most of our boys have been assigned to 1st Brigade, 2nd Mobil. Ain’t nothin’ waiting for you at HQ except a Laser-Log full of forms to be filled out and filed with 3rd Field Army HQ. Oh, and a bottle of Scotch to help fight off the cold of this snowball planet, complements of, yours truly.”
Luckily my driver was exaggerating, a little. My Battalion was down to its skeleton strength of a little over two hundred Space Marines. Luckily most of them were combat veterans. As such they were resourceful in gathering weapons from the battlefield and getting them back into serviceable shape. My command was small, but experienced, well armed, and well supplied. I could handle the form filing, but could I earn the respect of my men? Much was expected of me because of my reputation. As I looked at the men of my command I could see they had an all to familiar battle hardened toughness in their eyes, and that made me feel safe. I knew from that cold steel look, that these Space Marines could handle anything. No matter what odds we might have to face in combat on this block of space ice.
This assignment was more of a paperwork position than it was a combat command, but there was more danger in being in the rear, than there was up front. The Naspern’s were genetically closer to ants than humans, yet the adult males stood nearly eight foot tall. I had learned from experience that their favorite tactic was tunneling under us, and infiltrating large numbers of troops behind our maneuver armies. Then stealthily, they would unleash thousands of giant warriors into our rear.
On my third day with my new command on this frozen planet, I was ordered to move my Battalion to the south pole of M-286; to seek-out and destroy a suspected Naspern supply base. My reconnaissance patrols found it easily, and I reviewed their long-range infrared photos of the place. There were thousands of heat signatures, all identified by the computer as Naspern, but most were much smaller than the adult male warriors we were hunting. The area was surprisingly not well fortified, and the larger male warriors we counted were few. They obviously were not expecting us this far south. I ordered my men to attack the supply base, and eradicate it.
The operation was a success, and now they are going to give me a medal for that action, as a crowd of civilians cheers wildly. The citation I am to receive is for bravery, for valor in defense of our home world, that’s what they call it. In the midst of wholesale slaughter, eight hundred Naspern warriors were among the thousands of Nasperns that died that day. They died bravely. You would have expected them to. They were all that were left behind to defend eight-teen thousand of the Naspern army’s women and children, as the bulk of the Naspern warriors had marched north to intercept the bulk of our army.
I’ll never forget what the President told me as he pinned that Onyx Cross on my chest, “Colonel, you have had quite a year. The battle of South Pole M-286, is your finest hour. Congratulations, good show.”
This may have been my finest hour, my finest year. It certainly was not my proudest, or happiest. Perhaps when I retire from the service. I will be able to find the happiness that has eluded me all these years.