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Earthdate: January 23, 2513 A.D.
Location: Golan Dry Docks
Galactic Location: Norma Arm
The video record showed a subterranean city under siege, seen through the visor of a Marine combat helmet. The scene played out in tones of blue-white and gray—night-for-day vision as seen through the visor of Marine combat armor.
Suddenly a rim of light appeared above the city, raining glare down upon buildings and streets. For a moment it looked like the light came from an explosion, but it did not flash and disappear. Instead, the light expanded over the top of the city like smoke gathering over a fire. The light was bright enough to cancel out the night-for-day lens and the visor automatically switched to a standard tactical lens. As it came closer, tint shields formed over the visor as protection from the blinding glare.
Shit, I thought to myself, as I felt my pulse rise. Shit, shit, shit!
Even through the tint shields, I saw changing hues and patterns in the light as if the reds, yellows, and blues constantly kept separating themselves from the colors around them then remixed back into the spectrum.
‘Harris, you seeing this?” a voice asked me on the screen. The record was taken from my combat helmet.
I recognized the voice. It was Ray Freeman, the man who had once been my partner. “Where are you?” I asked in the record.
"One floor up,” Freeman said. “You better get climbing.”
I was standing in the door of an elevator station. The city in the video feed had levels. To get from one level to the next, people rode elevators; only now that we had shut down the power, I would need to climb to the next level using a rappelling cord.
“You can see that light?” I asked over the interLink—the communications system used by the military.
The light had a slow, gelatinous property about it. It seemed to seep over the city like viscous oil. As soon as I turned away from the light to run towards the open elevator shaft, the night-for-day lens in my visor resumed. The glow from that strange light had not yet reached the elevator station, but it would soon.
In the record, I ran to the shaft, attached a cord to the loop in my armor, and started up. The Marines in my platoon, at least those still breathing, had already climbed up to the top level.
The shaft looked like a gigantic tunnel turned on its end. Dozens of rappel cords dangled from the top.
“Thomer, where are you?” I called over the interLink. Thomer was one of the squad leaders in my platoon.
“In the elevator station.” Thomer said.
“Can you see any transports?” I asked.
“There’s a transport just outside,” Thomer said.
“I requisitioned that one,” Freeman said.
“What happened to the pilot?” I asked.
Freeman did not answer, which probably meant he was dead.
The area inside this shaft would have been black as coal if not for the glow that started to pour in through the open doors. It rushed in like flood waters, shining on the opposite wall. I had never known a man could climb as quickly as I did when I scaled my way up that shaft.
“Load the men in the transport,” I called to Thomer.
“They’re in,” Thomer said.
“And you’re in?” I asked.
Thomer did not answer.
“Get in the transport!” I yelled.
I looked up to see how much further I had to go. I had another 20 feet. Below me, the light in the shaft became blinding. The tint shields in my visor blocked out some of the brightness.
I looked back down. There was a creature in that viscous light. The creature was nearly as bright as the light around it. It looked like a six-foot canary yellow smudge in a field of glare that had the startling silver clarity of an electrical spark. I only saw it for a moment, and I concentrated on the two black eyes. They were the size of my fists, and they seemed to be made of smoky-black chrome.
The video feed froze on the image of the creature. The image was blurry and indistinct, like a picture taken by a child who can’t stop jiggling his camera.
“Master Gunnery Sergeant Harris, perhaps you could give us your opinion about the nature of this creature,” Admiral Brallier said, the forced calm in his voice fraying on the word creature.
“I have no idea,” I said. I could feel the heat rising in my blood. Brallier and I stared at each other, saying nothing.
Finally Brallier broke the silence, asking, “Do you think it was a space angel?”
That video record was shot during the invasion of the planetary home of the Morgan Atkins Believers—a religious cult that had all but overthrown the Unified Authority. In his writings, cult-founder Morgan Atkins referred to meeting a “space angel”—a radiant being, an alien. Other than Atkins, no one of any note had ever mentioned making contact with space aliens, so it was hard to take Atkins seriously.
“He fired a gun at me,” I said.
“That doesn’t seem very angelic,” I said.
A few people in the gallery laughed; but tensions ran high in those chambers. Most people sat mute as a stone hearing my attempt at humor.
“No one but you saw this creature,” Brallier said, turning to the screen to take another look. “I find that strange, Master Gunnery Sergeant. Don’t you find that strange? From what we have been able to ascertain, this creature stands nearly 10 feet tall, glows like a neon sign, and carries a giant rifle, but you were the only person who noticed it. How do you explain that?”
The bastard had just called me a liar. He did it in an eloquent, formal style, but he had just called me a liar and everyone in the chamber knew it. “Do you think I made it up?” I asked.
Brallier kept blathering on about how there were thousands of Marines on the planet, how this could not have been the only ‘bug-eyed monster’ to invade, and how unlikely it was that only one man would see the invading aliens. I could not figure out why Admiral Brallier was doing so much of the talking. Yes, with the recent deaths in the family, he probably was the ranking admiral in the Navy; but General Thomas “Tommy” Mooreland sat right beside him, a man with enough brass and braids to decorate a division. As the Commandant of the Marines, Mooreland should have had more say in my interrogation than the admiral. I was, after all, a Marine. Instead, Mooreland sat there looking stolid and angry, never uttering a single syllable.
It wasn’t just the military that turned out to watch this inquisition. “Wild Bill” Grace, the senior member of the Linear Committee had come. He was the closest thing the Unified Authority had to a president. The other members of the Committee came as well. So had half the Senate.
Our allies, the Confederate Arms sent representatives as well. Gordon Hughes, the chairman of the Confederate Arms Treaty Organization sat in the gallery. Earlier this year, the Unified Authority and the Confederate Arms were at war with each other. Now they were allies, go figure.
“Are you saying that I lied? What would I get out of lying?” I asked.
Admiral Brallier did not respond. He stood his ground, glaring at me, sucking in his lips.
“I have no idea what to make of this,” Al Smith put in his two cents. Well, he was “Al Smith” to his friends. To the likes of me he was General Alexander Smith of the U.A. Air Force General, the ranking member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He threw up his hands. “Except for the fact that you spent two years absent without leave, you have a stellar record as a Marine; but this…”
Five more high ranking officers sat behind the rail along with Smith, Brallier, and Mooreland. Admiral Thomas Halverson, the highest ranking officer in the Confederate Arms Navy sat a few chairs away at the same table. There was so much brass and epilates in the room that I half-expected a marching band.
“Can you please explain to my satisfaction why you are the only the Marine who reported seeing this creature? We sent 60,000 men on that operation,” Admiral Brallier said. He kept his voice low, and did not bother trying to disguise the hostility in his voice.
“They might have reported it,” I said, “but the Navy left 59,980 of those Marines stranded on the planet, sir.” I looked over at Mooreland after saying this. As the commandant of the Marines, he might have flinched at the mention of the 60,000 Marines betrayed and sacrificed. He did not stir.
“Watch yourself, Master Sergeant,” General Smith warned me. “You are speaking to a senior officer.”
Technically, he was not a senior officer because I had resigned from the Marines. The Marines gave me my discharge the day after the invasion.
“Okay, Master Gunnery Sergeant,” Brallier said, clearly making a show of keeping his calm. “Can you think of any reason why none of the other men in your platoon saw this creature?”
I was also having trouble keeping my temper in check, but I had to hide it. He was an admiral, I was a Master Gunnery Sergeant—no, I wasn’t really even a Master Gunnery Sergeant, I was retired. Only I wasn’t retired. These officers would not have any authority over a retired Marine, so they referred to me as if I was on active duty. Maybe I was on the wrong side of the war, I told myself. Taking a deep breath, I responded, “They were already in the kettle, sir,” I said. Marines referred to the cargo area on military transports as ‘the kettle.’ Built for durability, not comfort, kettles did not have windows.
After thinking for a moment, I added, “I was the last one out, just like it shows in the video feed.”
“I have been in the Navy for 30 years, Sergeant Harris. I am quite familiar with the layout of troop transport units,” Brallier sneered. He sat still as stone, his eyes boring into mine, his face unflinching.
“Have you actually ridden in a transport?” I asked. I was being grossly insubordinate, but I really did want to know.
“I can see that I have been far too tolerant with you, Harris,” Brallier said. Sitting beside him, Smith nodded in agreement.
I wanted to tell them all to go speck themselves, but I kept quiet. I had already pushed my luck too far. Discretion is the better part of valor. The word “speck” was a slang term referring to semen. Maybe excretion was the better part of valor.
The video feed we had just seen was taken from my helmet just three days earlier, as I evacuated my platoon from the Mogat homeworld. We were the only platoon to make it off that planet, and only half of my men made it. Nearly 60,000 clone Marines had been on the planet.
It wasn’t the number of men who died that disturbed me, it was the way the higher ups betrayed them. Those clones were built for war and trained to fight and die on the battlefield. On this mission, we were sent in as an advance guard and told to keep the enemy pinned down until the bulk of the invasion force arrived. The problem was, we were the bulk of the invasion. We were sent to keep the Mogats from escaping while their entire planet dissolved around them… around us.
It seemed like we had reached an impasse. Brallier thought I was lying. I did not care what Admiral Brallier thought anymore. He planned the invasion. Leaving those Marines to die was his idea.
“It is obvious to me that Sergeant Harris saw something,” said Admiral Halverson, the man with no allegiance. Halverson had served with distinction in the U.A. Navy before defecting to the Confederate Arms. Under his leadership, the combined navies of the Confederates and Mogats whipped the U.A. Fleet. Now that the Confederates Arms allied itself with the Unified Authority, Halverson became the highest-ranking officer in the combined U.A./Confederate Arms Navy.
Judging by the way General Smith and Admiral Brallier winced at the sound of Halverson’s voice, old wounds had not been forgotten.
“Of course Harris would be the only one who saw the alien,” Halverson said. “The record makes it perfectly clear that Sergeant Harris was the last man off the field. We have no way of knowing what the Marines who fell behind might have seen.”
“Nothing about this seems clear to me, Admiral,” Admiral Brallier hissed. He did not look in Halverson’s direction as he said this.
“Let me see if I understand this. Are you accusing the Sergeant of engineering this video feed?” Admiral Halverson asked.
I hated having Halverson on my side. I agreed with the U.A. officers—Halverson was a worm. In fact, I pretty much hated everybody in the room, except maybe General Mooreland. I did not know enough about Mooreland to hate him, at least not yet.
Everyone turned to see how Admiral Brallier would respond to Halverson’s challenge. Tangible silence filled the auditorium in the moments he took to consider this question. Seconds passed, but Brallier said nothing.
“When do you think he might have engineered this feed?” Halverson asked. “As I understand it, the master sergeant handed in his armor the moment his transport landed on the U.A.N. Sakura.
“And here’s another question for you: Why would he make something like this up? Why would he do it? Why go to all that trouble?
“He didn’t do it for a promotion. Hell, as I understand it, he had barely landed on the Sakura when he asked for his discharged from the Marines. So why would he start such a hoax; he didn’t even want to remain in the Marines?”
“That gives the sergeant and me something in common,” General Mooreland, the commandant of the Marine Corps, finally spoke up. “I don’t want him in the Corps. He isn’t fit to be a Marine.”