Excerpt from Methuselah’s Daughter: Warrior

August 29th, 2010

After Action Reports are always deadly dull writing, but I had done so many I had it down to a science. The trick is to boil everything down to essentials and avoid editorializing except where individuals clearly performed in a manner above and beyond the call. I had mine completed in thirty minutes once we were back aboard the Borneo and turned it in to Lt. Atagi shortly after I was done. Rather than taking it and dismissing me, Atagi motioned me to sit.

“This report along with mine will raise some questions,” he told me, “so it would be best to answer them now. First, how did our scanner miss the artillery piece in the passageway? Second, how did you manage to slip your sidearm past the scanner on the Talis?”

“The artillery piece is simple- it was an Artan Armory Model 105-FAS, heavily shielded. Reading it through the deck would be problematic even with the very highest end scanner. That detail is in the footnotes of my report. As for my sidearm…”

I drew the weapon from its holster and released the magazine, then worked the slide to eject the cartridge in the chamber, catching it as it popped free. I set it on the desk in front of Atagi and he picked it up, turning it slowly as he examined it.

“That is a .45 caliber copper-jacketed hollow point. The slug itself is essentially lead with a bit of tungsten and traces of other materials. The brass contains a chemical propellant with a volatile primer inserted in the base. The weapon uses the mechanical action of the hammer and firing pin striking the primer to detonate the propellant. The violent reaction creates high pressure gas that propels the slug down the barrel and also operates the slide, ejecting the spent cartridge, cocking the hammer and allowing a new cartridge to enter the chamber. There’s no battery or pulse generator, so no energy signature for a scanner to detect.”

Atagi looked at me a moment then a small grin touched his face before he spoke. “This is hardly standard issue, Gunny.” He shook his head and the grin grew wider. “I always thought this thing was your only concession to vanity. I should have known better. Where did you get it?”

“I’ve had it for a very long time, sir. This weapon was manufactured on Earth in the year 1914, though of course none of the parts are original at this point.”

He stared at me, incredulous. “You’re telling me this weapon is more than 1300 years old?”

“That’s correct, sir. The design is simple, rugged and utterly reliable. I have the engineering specifications on file so I can have parts manufactured at need, but ammunition is a bit trickier to come by. Those three rounds I fired were half a week’s pay… well spent, in my opinion.”

“Hard to argue with that,” he replied, setting the cartridge down before me. I calmly reloaded the pistol and holstered it. “Another question,” he continued, “When I mentioned a ‘Political Officer’ aboard the Talis your response was a bit cryptic. I included it in my report and I’d like to add an explanation.”

“It refers to a practice of Marxist/Communist governments of the early 20th and 21st centuries. They did not completely trust their own military and placed politically reliable officers in a position of authority to monitor and enforce compliance with Communist Party ideology. As to the nature of Communism and Marxism, that’s a history lesson in itself.”

Atagi was staring at me as if he was seeing me for the very first time. When he realized I was finished he sat back a bit in his chair before speaking.

“Gunny, I’ve never seen you get so emotional.”

I realized my heart was pounding, my hands tightly gripping the arms of my chair. I forced myself to relax and looked him in the eyes.

“Lieutenant, this was an ideology so fundamentally evil in concept and execution… the only possible, sane reaction is to despise it to the very core of your being. And sir, if the Melbourne rebels are emulating Communism they are likely a much larger threat to the Empire than Sydney.”

“That may be true, Gunny, but our hands are tied by Sydney’s actions, assuming we can confirm it.” Again he paused and gave me a long, appraising look. “How old are you, Gunny?”

“Why do you ask?” I said it calmly, but an icy finger touched me inside.

“You act as if the depredations of a centuries-gone ideology were a personal matter, as if you witnessed them yourself. I know you’ve been in the Corps for a very long time…”

“I’ve spent long stretches in cold sleep on the old pre-Planck Drive vessels, traveling at pretty high percentages of light speed. I’ve skipped lots of centuries, sir. It’s why I’ve stayed with the Corps- I haven’t got anything else. And I’m pretty good at what I do.”

Atagi accepted it, but I knew there would come a time when that explanation would no longer be persuasive. For that matter I had to wonder when somebody would finally go rooting through my service record and connect the dots. I had accepted that reality when I chose to remain in the Corps rather than return to Earth and the McAllister Estate, but I did not look forward to that day at all.

When Atagi and I were finished I roamed the passageways of the Borneo, restless and uneasy. The action that day left a sour feeling in my belly that I could not easily wipe away. It was not the lives lost for I had lost comrades before, and it certainly was not the lives I had taken in combat for those people chose to fight and die… except for one. I was in the ship’s gymnasium running long laps around the inside of the cylindrical hull when it came to me that one death that day was not so easily dismissed.

It was Moore, the Political Officer. Almost instantly a long list of rationalizations ran through my mind, a liturgy of self-chastisement for even wasting time thinking about Moore’s death at my hands. There was no doubt it was justified and no one had even thought to question it, but nobody understood what I came to comprehend as I quietly disposed of all the easy reasons to be untroubled by his death: I knew I planned to kill him before I set foot in that engineering space. Moore was a dead man the moment I first heard his voice.

I picked up my pace as that realization finally took root, my feet smacking a hard rhythm against the track. Moore did not simply die, he was murdered. I had decided to kill him and deliberately set out to do it, and that was something I had not done in a very, very long time. Why now? Why him? People were still getting around on foot and horseback the last time I had done such a thing. It did not matter that he was a rebel against the Empire and appeared to be an adherent to as odious an ideology as Man had ever conceived, I had no right to decide he should die. It was the center of my understanding of who and what I was that no matter how many centuries I had witnessed and how well I thought I knew men and mankind it was simply not my place to judge people with such finality. Without that understanding I was more dangerous than Moore and his pathetic band of revolutionaries could ever be.

I did not realize I was running full tilt until my lungs began to burn and my vision blurred, but I could not stop and instead forced myself onward, needing the agony of the exertion to focus my mind on the unpardonable crime I had allowed myself to commit. There would never be any punishment for Moore was an insurrectionist and had publicly professed himself in rebellion against the Empire. Even were I to confess no officer or court would hold me to blame for my actions. Nobody would understand why the tears streaking my face had nothing to do with the pain wracking my body as I finally stumbled and fell.

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