“Christ, Kelly, you look like Hell.”
Ossian Kelly grinned lopsidedly at the PFC addressing him. “You should see the other guy.”
The Other Guy was actually the Other Guys. Seven men, to be exact. All were in the Ambriel’s infirmary for a total of ten broken ribs, three broken noses, two dislocated shoulders, four black eyes and one broken hand. Doing quick math, that added up to one court martial.
Kelly didn’t give a shit. Who would give a shit about some bar brawl on Telvetica at a ramshackle colonial pub? The GAF were such tight-asses.
“Sergeant Macree’s comin’ down here,” the private informed Kelly before walking out the door.
“Fuck,” Osh breathed.
He was alone for only a few moments before Jordan Macree entered the crew quarters. Osh eyed him with a blend of curiosity and disdain. The Sergeant had gotten back from some crazy Isely expedition only a couple of weeks ago. Osh had been transferred to the Ambriel five days before that. He didn’t know much about Macree, save that he was quiet, intense and spoke only when necessary. Gossip was rife, though – crewmen who’d been on the ship before Osh said he used to be a drunk, but whatever had happened to him during the Isely mission had scared him sober. Others claimed he was doing harder stuff than liquor now. Still others brought the Ambriel’s old captain into the tale. Now, Captain Crane was someone Kelly had heard quite a bit about. The stories were, frankly, terrifying. Cutthroat Crane, they called her.
“Private,” Macree began, taking a seat on the edge of a bunk across from Osh. “Your file’s like a warzone. This is the fourth altercation in as many months, and you only graduated from Basic six months ago. What the Hell?”
Kelly lifted a brow. “Sir?”
“Don’t do that,” Jordan sighed. “If you were stupid, I’d understand you beating the shit out of seven of your crewmates – but your testing records show that you’re sharp as a tack. If you were a Campaign soldier, I’d understand because we’re all bitter as Hell. And if you were just some punk kid, you’d never have landed a post on this ship so young. So, what gives?”
“They insulted my mother?” Osh offered.
“I’ve got your future with the GAF by the balls, Kelly,” Macree reminded him patiently and not really unkindly.
“I was bored.”
“That’s better,” Jodan said with a nod. “You’re a rare breed, Osh. An old-school Marine trapped in the body of a twenty-two-year-old. You’re like the Campaign recruits…like I was. Most of the guys your age have crisp uniforms and sparkling, eager eyes and wouldn’t last two seconds in a skirmish.”
“Or five minutes in a bar brawl on Telvetica,” Osh added helpfully.
That elicited a faint smile from Macree. “They want you hung by the yard-arm, Private,” he murmured.
Osh nodded, his own smile fading. “I don’t want to be discharged, sir.”
“I know. You’re a crazy son-of-a-bitch, Kelly, but you’re a soldier the likes of which I thought were extinct. Which is why I’ll only be recommending a transfer.”
Osh blinked. “You’re booting me off the Ambriel?”
Macree nodded. “Yes, I am. In fact, you’re going to be put on probation and re-assigned to a military research vessel until further notice.”
“Holy shit,” Osh exclaimed softly with a low whistle. “What…I’m confused as shit, sir.”
“I was supposed to serve as nav-ops aboard the GAF Valdosta in two weeks. I’ve decided to decline the post and give it to you instead.” The words were matter-of-fact, but Osh suddenly had an inkling the decision had been a difficult one for the Sergeant.
“Why?” Osh asked.
“Because there’s only one hope for you, Private, and it’s in the form of serving aboard that ship. You’ll understand once you’re back from your tour of duty. That crew makes you look like a candidate for canonization. Plus, you’re like some idiot savant at navigation. Your technical know-how is shit, but your talent and instinct is bar-none. They’re gonna need that.”
“I don’t see what -…” But then, Macree watched with satisfaction as Osh’s face contorted a little. “Sir, is…is Avery Crane going to be serving as Captain?”
Jordan’s smirk was purely Mephistophelean. “Affirmative, Private.”
Osh stiffened. “I think I’d rather face the court martial.”
“I know.” Macree rose, still smirking. “Two weeks, Private. We’ll get you a transport to Port Alhambra then.”
“Sir,” Osh asked, making Macree pause at the door. “Is she as bad as they say she is?”
“It’s not permitted to speak ill of one’s commanding officer,” Jordan began. “But I will say that not one of her crew escaped serving under her without undergoing severe, almost fatal bodily harm.”
He left. Osh sat still for a few moments and then just closed his eyes slowly. When he opened them again, they were steely. Here, he thought, was one grunt that wouldn’t be cowed by Cutthroat Crane. He was tougher, smarter and better than anything the GAF had right now – Macree had said so.
They wanted to fuck with him? Fine. They’d see what kind of soldier he could be.