Troopers Lorne and Willy supervised the disembarkation from opposite sides of the ramp.
The refugees streamed past in a forlorn river of unwashed humanity.
It was better than the Front. Willy nodded with a grim look, raising his weapon a little higher and jerking the tip in an effort speed them up, but they kept their heads down, families, children, old couples, young men and women. Most clutched bundles, what few possessions they had been allowed to remove from their homes.
There was a crunch of gravel behind him. His guts were already tense when Kossovitch paused beside him.
“How’s it going?”
The grey faces held no joy but Kossovitch’s tone was amicable, unusual for her.
“Look at them.”
Lorne wondered what she meant, involuntarily turning and meeting her eyes. Red-rimmed, bags of exhaustion under them, they were still expressionless, taut with unspoken emotions.
She looked away without responding as a small boy tugged at the hem of his battledress.
“Mister Soldier Sir?”
Kossovitch stiffened beside him.
The kid proffered something, a book. A kid’s book. Lorne shook his head. Kossovitch had a funny look on her face as he looked at her again.
“Keep moving, kid.” The boy looked to be about nine years old.
“Where’s your mother?” Lieutenant Kossovitch must have gotten fucked last night.
He’d never seen her like this.
The kid shrugged.
“It’s okay, boy. You can keep it.”
They were allowed to bring what they could carry. That was the rule and for the most part it was respected. Every single thing, any little thing of value had already been stripped away from them, and now they were to be resettled.
“I’ll take that.” Kossovitch’s tone was soft and motherly.
His guts went all queasy as the boy handed it over.
Lorne jerked his head to keep the kid moving along as an endless file of unwanted strangers passed down the ramp.
Kossovitch looked at it. She put it in her pocket. In one smooth action, she drew her pistol and shot the boy through the head. His fine mop of tousled blonde hair flew out in all directions as he spun away, arms and legs flailing.
“Aw, shit, Lieutenant.” Lorne backed up a couple of steps, cocking his weapon, sweeping the tip back and forth in case any refugeess should come this way.
People ran in mad panic, mostly away from the ship but some tried to go back up the ramp.
Willy was bowled over in a thin wave of panicked humanity, but he came up cursing and cocked his weapon. Whistles and shouts sounded behind them as reinforcements came running.
Kossivitch’s weapon spoke once, twice, three times and ragged figures went tumbling as she giggled and clutched her stomach with her left hand.
“Aw, shit, Lieutenant. Now we’ll never get them off.”
The kid stared up at the sky, mouth moving, limbs thrashing. It took him a long time to die as Captain Pyke came running up with gun drawn.
“What happened here, Lieutenant?”
She looked at Lorne.
“I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t see what started it.”
“Shut up. I’m asking her, trooper.” Flecks of foam came from the captain’s mouth.
He knew the difficulty of removing refugees from a ship when they didn’t want to go, and the news would flash through those still inside the transport.
“He came towards us and put his hand in his pocket, sir.” Kossovitch wasn’t laughing now.
Lorne looked straight ahead as small gangs of men pursued the civilians, and rounded up the stragglers cowering under the ship from the bright light of day and the fear of the unknown.
“Get these people moving.” The batch they had were herded towards the entry gate.
Peering up into the darkness of the ship, Lorne made out the pale faces of those staring out in fear, a seething mass of folks in the dark disembarkation chamber, pushed relentlessly by the pressure of the masses behind them.
“It’s okay.” Lorne yelled up at them.
He jerked the muzzle of the gun, willing them to come down. Hoarse voices came from inside the ship as the troopers in there tried to get them moving again, and a swelling of sound came from the refugees even as truncheons rose and fell.
“Get that body out of here!” Willy ran forward and dragged the boy away by the feet towards the darkness by the right rear landing gear of the vessel.
“You two are on report.”
“Yes, sir.” The captain strode up the ramp.
He grabbed an old lady by the arm, and dragged her, kicking and screaming out into the light. A man, probably her husband, clung to the two of them, crying and begging, but the captain ignored him.
He gave them a shove in the direction of the gate.
“Go!” He pointed as the man tried to lift the woman from the dust and pull her towards the back of the huddled queue there as the troopers outside the dome tried to keep order on what was essentially a herd.
Kossovitch turned to him with a smirk.
“Thanks. You want this?”
He shook his head.
“No. Give it to your own kid.”
She stuck it into her side pocket again before the captain had time to look around. Lorne stared at the blood on the sand as the people were herded down the ramp at bayonet point.
While they had all been looking forward to landing and getting some fresh air and sunshine at last, what started off as a regular day had just turned to pure shit as Lorne poked people with the muzzle of his gun and tried to hustle them along.
There were fifty thousand of the fuckers in there and he hoped this wouldn’t take all damned day.
“Come on man, let’s go.”
The evening light grew dimmer. Willy was a hard man to shake, and so Lorne didn’t even try any more. They attended the evening presentation. It wasn’t obligatory, but why take chances? That was what everyone said.
The first half hour was cartoons of the most secular nature. The feature film was called Why We Fight and while everyone there had seen it a hundred times before, it was something, which was better than nothing and at least killed a couple of hours.
Outside the open-air amphitheatre, set into a hillside, they paused for a moment when Willy grabbed his elbow.
“Look, I’m sorry, but some guys asked me to play cards. They got a bottle.”
Lorne’s eyes widened slightly. He’d sort of assumed Willy’s company, not that it wouldn’t be bothersome and boring at best, but he was now at a bit of a loss.
“Hey, no problem.” Willy nodded, his prominent eyes bulging even more than usual.
“Thanks for understanding, man. See you tomorrow.”
Willy turned and headed off towards the far end of camp, sticking to the perimeter patrol track. Lorne, eyebrows cocked in disbelief, could think of nothing other than a quiet night in his berth. Nerves still jangled by the stress of the morning, it wasn’t his favourite idea but he had nothing else.
Outside of the complex the planet was barren of life or entertainment for five hundred kilometres in any direction.
When he arrived back on the ship, he opened up the door to his nine-by twelve with micro-head as befitted full trooper status, one of the perks of this particular duty, and was confounded by light under the bathroom door—which he never closed, and some odd smell in the room.
A light snapped on and the hatch locks clunked closed behind him.
“Whoa. Lieutenant Rossovitch?”
“Call me Pattie.” She reached down beside the table and then held up a Mickey-bottle.
She’d already had a couple by the looks of the level. The amber fluid inside wobbled slightly from momentum.
“Is that my liquor?”
She got up, came over and stood directly in front of him.
“Drink. That’s an order.”
Taking the bottle, his eyes never leaving hers for a second, he tipped it back on an awkward angle. Lorne gasped, wiping a drop off his chin with the back of his hand.
“All you had to do was ask. I was just thinking of a drink anyway.”
Taking the bottle back from Lorne, Rossovitch secured the screw-cap and tossed it onto the couch.
Her eyes bored into his.
His mouth opened but nothing came out.
“…and that’s an order too.”
“Holy…” Lorne was in trouble now.
The question was whether to die happy or disappointed.
“Yes…sir.” He could at least try.
“Please call me Pattie.” Water welled up in her eyes as he stepped forward and took her in his arms, sure as shooting that it was all some mad sort of test, one that he had already failed somehow, and that he would be shot in the morning.
Pushing her back a couple of feet, he kissed her, tongue exploring her mouth and eventually fighting and struggling with hers. They hugged fiercely, neither one saying a word.
He let go and pushed her away.
She stood with shining eyes and water coming down her face as he pulled the low coffee table out of the middle of the floor and then took pillows and covers off his bed. Throwing them down on the floor, he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her to him. Without being too rough, he let her know who was boss, as her breath rattled in her throat from need and excitement.
Then they were naked, clothes, shoes and socks thrown or dropped everywhere.
“Down. Hand and knees.”
She went down on all fours in front of him. Her eyes went from his crotch to his face and back again. She thought she knew what he wanted, and she knew what she wanted. He made her wait as he found the bottle again. He took a long swig, standing with his cock flying at full mast inches in front of her eyes and her wet red lips as she licked them, her breasts wobbling from emotion and her breathing.
Carefully, lightly, he slapped her, sending her scurrying around to present him with her buttocks.
One dark eye peered back at him over her shoulder, long red marks from his fingers visible on her left cheek.
Lorne dropped to his knees behind her. He held her left thigh and pushed his other index finger into her vagina as Pattie gasped and pushed back at him, moaning and with her one eye never leaving him.
”Mike.” She moaned and gasped.
He lowered his face and tried to shove his tongue right up her ass as she gave a little half-scream, choked off almost instantly from being overheard as several voices were right outside on the other side of those curtains. The sound died away again and they relaxed a little.
“I—I never knew you felt that way about me, Trooper Lorne—“
“Call me Mike.”
She sighed and snorted as he went in again.
“Just keeping a little promise I made to myself a long time ago.”
She cranked her head around, with an incredulous look on her face.
“I’ve wanted to do that from the minute I laid eyes on you…Lieutenant Rossovitch.” Mike crawled around beside her, conscious of the hot friction of the rough Army blanket under his knees.
At right angles to her, he nuzzled up beside her ear, sticking his tongue inside and slopping it around.
“Oh…fuck me, Mike. Please don’t let me wait. Please don’t torment me.”
“When I’m ready. But first, a little torment.” She twisted her head and their mouths met.
He gave her a short, sharp spank on the ass even with her mouth locked on his and fresh tears started from her eyes. She flinched but their mouths remained locked and their gaze unwavering. He stared deep into her eyes from two inches away. Mike let her have a little air as the breath was rough and loud in her nostrils.
“Thank you, Mike”
“You’re welcome, Pattie.”
Mike Lorne proceeded to fulfill one or two other promises he’d made to himself, carrying Pattie Rossovitch along with him, glorious in her lithe form, with her firm, conical breasts and thick, flaxen hair, right there on the floor of his plain old nine by twelve.
The second time, and it was her own idea, she sucked on his cock and he came right in her face, watching in sublime erotic bliss as she licked and gobbled the semen from his penis and thanking her master profusely for the privilege.
With the hands of the clock on the side wall reminding them of duty tomorrow, finally the frenzy of mutual lust and need ended and they cuddled together on the blanket, clinging tightly against the coming day. Neither one said a word. They were unable to pull their eyes apart.
After a long while, she slumped in pure emotional and spiritual exhaustion, leaving Mike Lorne to hold the girl in his arms, marvel at his good fortune, wonder how the hell it would all turn out, and praying like hell that nothing would go wrong and that no one would ever find out.
When he woke up she was gone. A bare glimmer of grey light at the edge of the front curtain made him look at the clock, but he still had ten or twenty minutes yet. He stayed under the blanket, heart palpitating.
He knew why she did it, of course. The thought of the kid, packed inside the dome by the door party, for the last five or ten thousand passengers were always a struggle to get in, and by that time the folks inside knew something was up.
The trooper on duty pushing the button and walking away…the sounds, even the heaving of the sides of the structure sometimes, as the place began to heat up and the moaning, screaming, seething mass of humanity inside began to suffocate from the heat and burn from the floors and walls whenever they touched anything…
It was more merciful really. In that sense, the kid was lucky. He never knew what hit him.
Why in the hell she decided to do Mike Lorne was another question, one with more slightly more subtle motivations.
As he flung the blankets aside and began to put the room together again on wobbly legs and trembling knees, longing for a quick shower, the electric kettle steamed and it was all he could do just to marvel.
Ann surveyed the mountain of gear and supplies with a jaundiced eye. She turned and followed Jackson into the tent, with his burly shoulders forcing a passage through the mob.
They had over eleven hundred people to feed, house and clothe during the first winter on the planet, which was three months away.
The work was daunting, with limited numbers of tools and inexperienced people. But the decision had been made and the senior officer on the ground had better get them moving. Behind the communal dining tent, gaily striped and more normally meant for shore functions during flag-showing operations in peacetime, loomed the sharp prows of their small flotilla.
She stood at the front of the tent, looking out over a mass of faces, with the light mostly coming from above through the thin fabric as there wasn’t room enough for everybody and the crowd circled all around outside.
“All right, people.” The buzz and hum of talk began to lessen.
“Thank you for your help in unloading.” She wondered when they would begin to revert to civilians. “We have hot food coming thanks to the volunteers and we all need to get a good night’s sleep tonight.”
Tomorrow they would begin to build a new life on the ground.
The three ships remaining hovered at zero velocity in relation to a line drawn between the Mother Worlds, a relatively small volume of the galaxy, and a particularly active radio source. They were undetectable at this range.
Senior officers regarded each other on their view screens. A decision had been made. The ships were operating with skeleton staff.
“So we are agreed then.” The Vice Commodore of the Fleet, now commanding what was believed to be the last striking force of the Polity looked out at all crew members, laugh lines by his mouth and humourous crinkles at the corners of his eyes betrayed by the ashen skin and grim resolution on his face.
“Aye.” They answered as one, without a quaver in their voices or a hint of hesitation.
Thirteen days later, coming in on a vector designed to elude analysis and pursuit, the three ships and the men and women dying of radiation sickness inside them plunged out of the sky at near-infinite mass and velocity into the glittering capital of the Mother Worlds.
They had no way of knowing, but their timing was fortunate and their supreme sacrifice was not in vain.
Fearless Leader and the bulk of her cabinet were instantly vapourized and their ashes subsumed in the boiling cauldron of molten rock and burning gases, fifty kilometres in radius, that had once been a city of a hundred and fifty million people.
News feeds carried the story in pictures, sound and commentary, to all worlds and outposts. While the grief and shock were considerable, there were other enclaves of Government and the leadership selection process was already underway.
The news feeds left no doubts in the minds of their stunned citizenry that the War and the Sacred Cleansing of mongrel peoples would go on, and that one day very, very soon, the Galaxy would be safe for decent people everywhere.