"Pilot! Disengage! Return to orbit immediately!"

Private Harlan Lincoln lashed out his hand and mashed the transmit button. "Negative, sir! Task force is not accounted for! Repeat, task force is not accounted for!"

Suddenly, the small shuttle shuddered, a close mortar hit rocking the craft. Small arms fire pinged and ricocheted off the vessel's hull. A marine leaned out the open airlock and returned fire, the rifle's report loud and explosive. Spent brass tinkled on the metal floor. The marine, Kemple stenciled on the back of his body armor, barked at Harlan.

"Just five more minutes, man! Delay them! Just give Chestwick time!" He ducked back into hold as a hail of bullets slammed into the hull, cursing. The interior of the Remora shuttle resounded with the metallic chatter of bullets impacting on the steel hull.

Harlan twisted in the pilot's seat, looking at the HVT strapped into the acceleration rig behind him. The balding man looked up at him, eyes wide with terror. Sweat ran down his face, his pallor pale and chalky.

"Private! You are ordered to disengage and return to orbit!" Another explosion, closer the time. The blast threw Kemple down, his rifle skidding along the walkway. Dirt and dust rained down the exterior, obscuring Harlan's vision.

A small marine dove into the hatch, amidst a holocaust of gunfire, howling.

"Prezchek are all over this area. We can't hold them, we have to dust-off or we're toast!"

The HVT shrieked at Harlan. "Get me out of here! You need me! You need the information I have!"

The pilot pounded the console in fury. "FUCK!" He jammed down the transmit button. "Copy that! Disengaging and returning to The Hidalgo!" He released the button and palmed the hatch controls. "Kemple, strap in, we're out of here!"

The marine pushed himself up and scrambled to an open acceleration rig. "Goddammit, Lincoln! Chestwick is still out there. He'll be here in two minutes!"

"I know, goddammit!" The pilot threw the throttle open and yanked back on the stick, thrust crushing the entire crew to their couches.

"Harlan, are you okay?" Macree slid an overfilled mug of watery beer towards the pilot, the contents sloshing over the rim.

Harlan accepted the mug wordlessly, gaze on the pitted plastic of the table. The canteen was full that night, as it usually was after a major action. Despite the number of patrons, however, the mood was quiet and defeated. Though Operation Heavensent was nominally a success, thanks to Harlan's retrieval of the Prezcheck defector, the fleet and ground forces had taken a major pounding. Prezcheck resistance had been more fierce than Intel had believed, tearing a full 1/3 of the operation's forces to pieces. The death of friends was weighing heavily upon the crew.

"Harlan, hey! Talk to me." Macree prodded again. "You haven't said a word since you got back on board. Been here the last few hours." He glanced at the pile of empty mugs. "Drinking, it seems. And believe me, chum. I know drinking."

"Fuck, man. Chestwick is dead. Or close to dead. Or whatever the fuck." Harlan gripped the edge of the table tightly, his knuckles turning white.

"Chestwick? No. No way, man. That's impossible. . . ." Macree shook his head in disbelief.

Lincoln glanced across the table at his friend. He could see that Macree was taking the news hard. He and Chestwick were closer than Chestwick and Lincon, both of them having come from military families. They came from the same area and had similar upbringing. And their love of crude humor had cemented their friendship.

"How. . . how did it happen?" Macree's voice wavered, an outward sign of his internal anguish.

"When we set down on the surface, command had me send out two fire-teams to hit both depots, because Intel couldn't pull their damn heads out of their asses long enough to give us a solid lead on which depot the fuckin' switch-hitter was at." Harlan shook his head and chugged down half the beer. "Anyway, FT 1-Kemple was leading that one-made contact with the HVT and brought him back. Problem was, they brought about a billion Prezcheck potshooters with ‘em."

Got the HVT on board, tried to hold out as long as we could, so that Chestwick and his team could make it back. Command ordered me to disengage." He sighed painfully, eyes watering. "We. . . I left him down there, man. You know what those animals do to POWs. I'm sorry, Jordan. I delayed them as long as I could, but. . . ." Lincoln looked down. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault, man. People. . . people die in war. And. . . FUCK." Macree answered.

Lincoln understood. Sometimes there are no words to describe the hollow feeling in your gut, knowing that you'll never see a brother again.

Macree was quiet for a few minutes. The soft hum of the bar floated over the two friends as they drank in silence. After they both had polished off their beers, Macree stepped to the bar and bought two more, dropping one on the tabletop in front of Harlan.

Harlan gripped the handle of the mug tightly. He finally raised his eyes to Macree.

"To Chestwick." Harlan raised his mug.

"To Chestwick," Macree responded. "A damn fine groundpounder."

"The only knuckle-dragger in the whole damn mouthbreathing Corps worth a damn."

They touched their mugs together and drained them both. Grunting, Macree wiped foam from his mouth.

"So, I guess we go back to hating the jizzfists, huh?" He asked, suppressing a belch.

"Yep," Harlan nodded. "Lesson learned. Never again."

"Never again," Macree repeated.

And so the two fliers, through promotions and demotions, war and peace, kept Their emotions and friendships close.

Of course, nothing lasts forever.




Currently watching: The Young Ones
Currently feeling: disappointed
Posted by DrHeat on February 20, 2011 at 11:54 PM in Harlan Lincoln | Add a Comment
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