2949-02-02 – Tales from the Service: A Departure from Margaux
As her little dropship hurtled upward toward the blue-black zenith of Margaux’s toxic sky, Rosemary Beck tried not to think about things that were behind it. Instead, she had to focus on getting her passengers to safety in one piece. Thirty wounded men, mostly Confederated Marines, lay strapped into medtech stretchers in the troop bay below, with only four medics to watch over them. The rest of the men and women scrambling to patch up the broken Ishkawa Line would hold, or they wouldn’t, and her absence wouldn’t make a difference.
“Flight Olympic, you are still in the clear.” Somehow, the ground controller at the big Volha Basin strike operations center sounded calm, despite the chaos that threatened to sweep over even that previously-safe location. “Enemy interceptors are still pursuing Flight Pheasant. Looks like they’ve decided you’re not worth chasing. I’m sending you updated nav data for the rendezvous.”
Rosemary could see two of the seven other dropships out her cockpit viewpanels, though mainly because the disposable liquid-fuel rocket boosters assisting their vertical climb to orbit threw off gigantic pillars of white smoke as they pushed the little ships into the sky. The big gray lump of Olympic Actual’s pinnace at the head of the formation, too big for any bolt-on boosters to hurl into orbit but more than capable of making the sprint on its own gravitic drive, hung directly ahead of her dropship’s nose. The others weren’t far off, visible on sensors even as the bulk of her ship hid them from direct view.
Flight Olympic had no escorts – the few Pumas which could be spared for tangling with the Incarnation’s vast, sky-darkening force of Coronachs were many kilometers away stiffening the spine of the diversionary Flight Pheasant, mainly composed of Mercenary-crewed strike bombers armed for a punitive strike on Incarnation supply dumps. If intercepted in force, Pheasant was supposed to do exactly what its name implied – scatter and dart back to the relative safety of nearby bases. Atmospheric flight made the normally nimble Coronachs far less so, but at fifteen-to-one odds, even atmosphere-optimized Pumas piloted by Marine hotshots couldn’t stand and fight for long.
Again, Rosemary forced herself to consider what lay ahead and above, not that which remained behind and below. The eight dropships and one over-engined pinnace of Flight Olympic were, other than the Pumas forming a distraction, the last space-capable Confederated Marines vessels left on Margaux, and they managed in total to haul a bit less than three hundred fifty severely wounded ground-pounders off the besieged world. Thousands upon thousands just as wounded waited their turn in tunnel medical wards throughout the shrinking Confederated perimeter in the Causey Plana, and Rosemary had carefully avoided knowing how these few hundred were selected to be lifted out. There could be no fair way to choose which men would live and which would lay there waiting to die.
She had promised to return if she could, but even as she’d spoken these assurances, she’d known it would be impossible. The Pheasant diversion would permit the nine outbound ships to leave Margaux orbit relatively unmolested, but it wouldn’t last long enough to prevent them from being intercepted on a return flight a few hours later. Once she docked with the Marine assault transport Alvin York, which was on a stealthy dead-drive ballistic course through the system to drop supply canisters and pick up Flight Olympic, she would be carried with it on its pell-mell outbound dash, and most likely would never see Margaux again.
Unlike the other pilots and the ten-spacer crew of Olympic Actual, who were all grateful to leave the faltering garrison on Causey Plana, Rosemary didn’t want to leave. She knew her little brother was still down there, somewhere on the faltering Ishkawa Line. Yared had been planning to enlist with the Confederated Marines like his older sister, but he’d jumped at the Frontier Defense Army’s promise to put him into action quickly compared to the years it would take for him to become a Marine. The FDA had made good on that promise – Yared had arrived on Margaux two months before the Incarnation invasion.
He was still alive and well, that Rosemary knew, but the chaotic way in which unit organization had been shuffled in the withdrawal to the Ishkawa Line, she had no way of finding out where he was. They’d exchanged a few text and recorded-voice missives over the planet’s spotty datasphere, but that was as close as they’d been in her four weeks on Margaux; Yared lived under an overzealous FDA datasphere censor algorithm which prevented him from sharing his location, and he could not leave his post to come find her even after she’d communicated hers. Now, she was leaving the poisoned world without him – and she felt a dread certainty that she would never see him alive again.
The slowly darkening sky began to shift from deep blue to black as Flight Olympic raced beyond Margaux’s atmosphere and into the emptiness of space. The rumbling of atmosphere battering the dropship’s outer hull faded, and the smoothly motionless feeling of onboard inertial isolation took over.
There was no time to enjoy the sudden silence, however. “All Olympic units stay in formation.” The snappy voice of Commander Statham – Olympic Actual – snapped Rosemary out of her distraction. “Slave fire control to ours. Anyone who falls behind gets left behind.”
As her commander spoke, Rosemary’s sensor plot lit up with enemy contacts - the expected light picket net of Coronachs which harried anything the larger hunting formations failed to intercept. With the flick of a switch, Rosemary deployed the twin gun turrets from their transit shields and switched them from local control to the direction of the larger pinnace’s fire control systems. Unified fire from more than twenty rapid-tracking turret systems would probably chase away all but the most determined Incarnation pilots.
As the twin turrets began to dissuade the Coronachs with rattling bursts of high-velocity slugs, Rosemary set the helm controls to automatic, then hurriedly tapped out what she knew would be her final message to her little brother.
Rosemary Beck’s premonitions were indeed correct; she was notified upon returning to Maribel on Alvin York that her younger brother had been killed in action on Margaux only two days after her departure.
Though Yared Beck is not being considered for any awards for gallantry in combat, he was a capable and reliable soldier during his short career with the Frontier Defense Army.
Sadly, it looks as if Admiral Zahariev’s new ploy to rescue the Margaux garrison has miscarried; his fleet has not been seen here or at Margaux for several weeks, though we would know by now if it came to misfortune. The situation on the ground there is degrading quickly and I will confess that I do not see much hope for the relief of the garrison being squeezed into a progressively smaller pocket of the Causey Plana. Many millions here at Maribel and many billions throughout the Reach are praying for a miracle, however, and perhaps we will yet see one.