Chapter 1 | FUBAR
TCD-245 St. Helen | 1645 HOURS ZULU
The hum and vibration from the impulse engines of the Confederation Mars-class Destroyer St. Helen was a welcome sound and feeling for Sergeant Major Anthony Gordon as he stepped onto the landing deck. He adjusted the shoulder strap of his tactical gear to shift the weight off his bruised shoulder. At forty years of age, his body was starting to protest the constant abuse that he sustained during his time in the Confed Marine Corp.
Anthony stepped to the side of the loading ramp for the Falcon troop transport to allow the rest of his Hellcats to exit the craft. First Sergeant Michael Karzarian exited the transport next and moved to stand beside Anthony at the bottom of the ramp. He was a little younger with youthful blue eyes and fair, almost pale skin. “Good to be back.” he said to Anthony as he took his standard station to the right of the ranking NCO.
“Indeed.” Anthony nodded slightly. It had been a long two weeks in the bush of Epsilon IV hunting a Pegasus recon post. The mission was intelligence gathering that went without a hitch until the very end when the Falcon pilot blew his cover on his entry vector. Anthony and his Hellcats were forced into a firefight on their way to the extraction point. It was rough going, but he was proud not to have lost anyone on the botch extraction.
The remaining members of the team exited the transport in short order. Sergeant Tracy McAdams, a short and fiery red head who was also a gifted pilot. Sergeant Rikichi Yamoto, technology specialist and gearhead. Following him was Gunnery Sergeant Charles Daniels, demolitions expert with a killer tenor voice that made women swoon. Staff Sergeant Amanda Barrington made her way down next, the Hellcat’s tactician and a sound medic. She was grinning at something said by the marine behind her, Staff Sergeant Samuel Wells. He fancied himself a comedian to lighten the mood when he wasn’t laying down suppressing fire with his ARC-503. Lastly, Corporal Dominic Rustovich made his way down the ramp grinning ear to ear. He was the youngest and newest member of the Hellcats, specializing in xenobiology. This mission was the first time the squad had gotten in a firefight since he had joined. After seven quiet covert missions, he was itching to get into some small arms fire with the royal guard.
“Gordon…about that botched entry.” Karzarian said quietly as the rest of the squad lined up for final inspection before release.
“Later Mike.” Anthony replied and then walked down the line of his marines, looking them over quickly for any signs of injury or missing equipment. Satisfied that everything was in order, he came to a stop in front of the marines. “Stow your gear and get some chow. Debrief is at 1600. You are dismissed.” he ordered.
The marines broke formation as Rustovich gave a clap of his hands. “Hell yeah! Drinks are on me boys!”
“Ya sure about that kid?” Daniels asked as he crossed his massive arms over his equally massive chest.
“You think you can outlast me big guy?” Dominic asked with a grin. “You know what they say; the young can hold their liquor better.”
“But you’re short and skinny, were the hell ya gonna put it?” Charles smirked.
“My girl always said I have a hollow leg.” Dominic said.
“I’ll take that bet.” Tracy said as she stepped to stand beside Charles who immediately frowned at the announcement.
Dominic arched a brow. “You? No offense McAdams, but you’re even smaller than I am.”
Charles gave a laugh. “Kid, prepare to get your ass kicked.” the rest of the squad join in on the laugh and then made their way off the flight deck, leaving Dominic standing confused.
“Did I miss something?” he asked Karzarian who was the last one to start leaving. The First Sergeant turned his head over to the Corporal with a grin, “You’re new so I’ll let you in on a secret. No one drinks Tracy under the table.”
Michael gave a little knowing shrug of his shoulders, “She’s Irish.”
“I’m Russian.” he replied.
“Should be an interesting match then. See you at mess kid.” Michael said and then left the flight deck and caught up to Gordon as he was just turning into their bunkroom. The accommodations on a Mars-class destroyer were nothing to write home about and certainly not designed with a mother’s touch. Everything was about efficiency in the military with gunmetal gray walls and Confed blue sheets for the bunk. Still, it was better than sleeping in bug-infested forests in near freezing weather for two weeks.
“Gordon, the Cap is going to have our ass for that small arms fight we had with Pegasus.” Michael said as he tossed his tactical gear on his bunk.
Anthony gave a sigh as he set his own gear down on his bunk and began to unpack. “It wasn’t our fault Mike. The damn pilot blew his entry point by five degrees. Everyone in the northern hemisphere saw and heard that Falcon.”
“I know that. You know that. But the skipper of this boat is a prideful ass. Probably chewing the Cap out right now. And as you know, shit rolls downhill.” Mike said with a sour note to his voice.
Gordon merely shrugged, “Don’t you worry about it. These skippers are all the same. It’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before. We came back with everyone and the intel the brass wanted. I chalked this up as a win in my book. Let him run his mouth.” he said and stowed his gear in his footlocker and then pulled out a bottle and two glasses. “Drink?”
Michael looked over and smiled. “Scotch?”
“2501.” Anthony said with a nod and began to pour two drinks.
Michael whistled. “Good year.” he said and took the offered drink and took a sip and then winced. “Very good year.”
“Remember that time back on the Fenris when Pennington dragged out that bottle of Irish scotch?” Anthony asked.
Michael thought about it for a moment to recall the memory. It had been nearly twenty years since that night when he and Anthony had first met at a military ball. “Yeah, I remember you having a little too much to drink that night.”
“Boy did I. Pennington just kept refilling my glass and I was so young I thought I was invincible.” Anthony said.
Michael laughed, “I think we are all that way after boot.”
“Didn’t you meet Anne at that party?” Anthony asked.
Michael nodded with a laugh, “She was one of the wait staff. She tripped over my chair and dropped a plate of steak on my lap.”
Anthony chuckled, “Yeap, you then went to the restroom and bumped into me going to puke my guts out.”
“Ah, those were the days Tony.” Michael said and took another sip from his drink.
“Never thought I would find myself out here after all this time. Like every other kid going through boot, it was supposed to be four years and then out to conquer the world.” Anthony said.
“Well, some of us still have a life outside of the Corps.” Michael said.
Anthony nodded and sat at the edge of his bunk and took a sip himself. The scotch was warm going down, washing away the tension from the mission along its way. “I saw your notice on the Cap’s desk before we left. Finally decided to get out?” he asked.
Michael nodded and took another sip, “Yeah, Anne’s been bugging me for a couple years now to retire and Bobby is about to graduate high school. Besides, I think my eyesight is starting to go after that mess that went down at Winterhaven last year.”
“That was hell.” Anthony agreed. The Winterhaven mission was one of Gordon’s few failures during his time in the Special Forces of the Marine Corp. The Pegasus Royal Guard had taken hostages at a hospital and was trying to bargain for safe passage off world. The Hellcats were ordered to infiltrate the building, neutralize the Royal Guard and save the hostages. The mission was a disaster as Confed Intel’s information on the Royal Guard was drastically understated. They got into a firefight that resulted in three dead marines and eight civilian casualties out of thirty. The brass considered the mission a success based on numbers. The three dead marines were still fresh in Anthony’s mind to this day.
“Terra Nova.” Michael finally said after another sip of his scotch.
Anthony blinked away the memories of Winterhaven, “I’m sorry?”
“Terra Nova. That’s were Anne wants to go after retirement. They have these purple sunsets that are supposed to be incredibly romantic.”
“You never really struck me as the romance type Mike.” Anthony said.
“I’m not, but it will make her happy after twenty years of being a marine’s wife and the shit that comes with it.”
“I can’t argue with that.”
“And probably explains why you never married.” Michael said.
Anthony gave a chuckle, “I always said I can only have one love in my life and right now that is the Confederation. Maybe one of these days I will trade in my boots for shoes and find a nice little lady who doesn’t mind an old scarred up marine. Maybe even go back to Sirius II and take up the family farm.”
“You a farmer?” Michael laughed. “That’ll be the day.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Anthony said, “But it beats going from hot zone to the next. I’m about to hit the ceiling Mike. Even the Cap is starting to get uneasy about sending me out on ops. Thinks I’m getting to old and should be put out to pasture.”
“Don’t let him push you around. He’s what, not even thirty yet? Let him put in another decade of service before talking about what people can and can’t do.” Michael said with disdain.
Captain Josh Herrera had been leading the Hellcats for only the past year after their previous Commanding Officer took the brunt of the fallout from the Winterhaven mission and was forced into early retirement. The captain had proven himself capable of making decent decisions in the heat of the moment, but like many hot shot officers out of command school, they were preach from the manual and lead from the back commanders and Herrera was no different. He certain meant well and could even be considered a staunch patriot for the Confederation. There was still something off about his command style and the squad was always just a tad bit uneasy about him.
A knock at the cabin door ended the conversation as they both rose to their feet. A moment later the door opened and Captain Josh Herrera in his freshly pressed blue fleet uniform made his way into the room. He would have been somewhat of a ladies’ man with perfectly sculpted jaw and shoulders if it weren’t for his lack of height that always made him look less imposing than he wanted to be. Natural charisma made up for some of it, but when he stood next to the brawny mass of Gordon, it was no contest.
“Marines,” Herrera said as he shut the door behind him. “I just received an earful from Captain Millstone that we unnecessarily risked his precious transport ship in a hot LZ. I’ve been asked by Captain Millstone to pass along his displeasure of your actions and that he will be submitting a full report back to Confed Command about how we are just a bunch of cowboys looking for a thrill ride.”
Neither marine moved or responded to the ‘dressing down’ that the captain was giving them. It was not the first time that Captain Millstone had complained about Confed SpecOps way of doing things and most certainly would not be the last.
“Now I’ve assured the Captain that any misunderstandings that may have happened planet side will be addressed and will not be repeated in the future.” Herrera said and then relaxed his stance as his official statements had finished. He then eyed each marine in turn, “So, who wants to explain what happened down there? Gordon? Karzarian?”
Michael looked to Anthony who nodded slightly to indicate he would speak. He kept his eyes and head forward; keep his posture rigid, “The squad conducted the op according to the mission specs. The trouble was not until it was time to evac. Barrington called in the pickup at LZ Bravo. The pilot of the Falcon made an uncontrolled reentry, which caused an atmosphere aether burn from his fusion engines. This aether burn alerted the Pegasus forces of our presence, which they then used, satellite scans to pinpoint our location in route to the LZ. We then engaged in small arms combat to the LZ and then extracted onto the Falcon under fire. Six of the Royal Guard was killed during the engagement; no causalities were taken from 1st squad.”
“Millstone made it sound like your squad called an evac after you were discovered by Pegasus.” Herrera asked curiously.
“The squad’s PMA’s will confirm what happen during the op. The pilot screwed the pooch on this one Cap.” Karzarian added.
Herrera nodded his head slowly and a slight sigh escaped his lips, “I will review them. Is there anything else that you would like to add before I finish debriefing everyone?”
Both marines shook their head, replied “No sir.” in unison, and fired off a razor sharp salute.
Captain Herrera returned the salute with a crisp one of his own and then promptly left the room.
Once the door shut behind, Karzarian and Gordon relaxed and sat back down on their bunks. They were silent as they looked at one another and then the door that the captain just walked through. Karzarian was the first to speak, “That…that was different.”
“Yes it was.” Anthony said slowly as he continued to digest the interaction.
“You think the Fleet’s bullshit has finally made the Cap see it our way?” Michael asked.
“It’s possible. Remember that it took Captain Hollis about a year for you to adjust to things when he joined us. Maybe the shine is finally rubbing off. Let’s give him a little room to see what he does.”
“I hope you’re right on this one Tony.” Michael said.
“So do I.” Anthony replied.
“And about the retirement. Why don’t you join me and Anne? The kids would love to see you again. We can set up chairs next to the ocean, drink beer and tell old war stories.” Michael said and drained the last of his drink and set the glass down on the desk next to him.
“I don’t know Mike, that’s your life. I’m not a family man; I would just be that old vet buddy who hangs around long past his welcome. Truth is, I wouldn’t know what to do without the Corps. It’s all I’ve known for far too long. It’s, it’s like those old vets you see at the recruitment centers, they have been in for so long that it becomes their whole life. My father always said that I was never good at anything other than soldiering. At first, I just laughed at him and told him that I would prove him wrong. Now, now I’m starting to think that he was right.” Anthony said as he stared into the amber liquid.
“Oh, don’t give me that shit Tony. There are plenty of people out there that would love to get their hands on a career Sergeant Major. What about teaching?” Michael suggested.
“Teach what exactly? How not to get your ass shot off?” Anthony quipped.
“To a lesser extent, yeah. The Academy always needs experienced vets to train the plebs. Look, I know the Corps is everything for you. It was your parents, your mentor, and your best friend through the hardest of times. Maybe now is the time to give back the best way you know how.” Michael said.
Anthony pondered the thought for a moment. He had not considered taking what amount to a desk job. He had always seen himself as a man of action, fighting for the Confederation until his last breath. In truth, he had never thought he would live this long. He was now the “old man” of the platoon, the one that everyone looked up to when times got hard. It was his drive to be perfect that had kept him alive, perfection in his craft and passing that along to the new marines that came into the platoon. With that line of thinking, he was already a teacher to the Corps, his brand of training just happen to involve real hostiles with live ammunition.
“I never envisioned myself driving a desk Mike.” Anthony said half heartily in an attempt to deflect the course of the conversation.
“I never thought I would get married and have three beautiful children. Then there was this guy who had still stunk of scotch and puke who pulled me aside and said ‘Man up son! Marines don’t know the meaning of surrender.’ He pushed me out and over to a pretty lady who felt really bad about spilling my dinner in my lap to ask her out for drinks. The point Tony, is that we don’t give up, we never quit. You don’t want to leave the Corps for the easy life? Then don’t. Own it. Be the man you taught me to be. Be the father that you have been to us all.” Michael said as he eyed Anthony with a determined look.
“Now you sound like my father.” Anthony said.
“Sounds like he was a wise man.”
“He was an ass.”
“Then he was a wise ass.” Michael said with a grin.
Anthony laughed and shook his head, “Yeah, yeah he was.” he said and then poured himself another drink and then poured another one for Michael, “A teacher?” he said unsure.
Michael nodded, “Yeap, you would be perfect for it. You would scare the hell out of those kids.”
“Hmmm. Now that’ something I know how to do.” Anthony said and rose his glass up, “To greener pastures up range.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Michael agreed and clinked his glass with Anthony’s.