D. J. Goodman
In the glowing red light of the hold, the two guards probably thought they looked more sinister and powerful than normal. To Stacia X-79, they just looked scared. Maybe not full out petrified, but that was only because she was held firmly to the wall by magnetic locks. Both of them stood on the opposite side of the hold, likely because they had been ordered to keep as much distance from her as possible. If the magnetic locks failed somehow and they were standing right next to her, they probably believed she could crush both their heads before either knew what was happening.
That wasn’t true. It was highly unlikely that she could crush more than one head at a time. The other would clearly have time to be surprised before she turned him into bloody splatter on the bulkhead.
She wasn’t going to try that, though. Not only did the magnetic locks have backup power to their backups, but she had no intention of trying to escape. She had to give General Borealis what was coming to her, and she couldn’t accomplish that anywhere other than where they were taking her.
Still, she flexed her muscles to see if there was any give to the locks, just in case. The locks held the hardened armor of her outer body tight, although she noticed some give where the armor fused with her muscle, skeleton, and what remained of her skin. She didn’t like that. The quick hack-job surgery she’d been given to replace her Scorpio-class armor with this shoddy mess had resulted in her armor being looser than was safe. She understood their reasoning, though. The Scorpio armor was worth more than this entire ship and every person on it. There was no way they would send her to her sentence with it still attached.
But they wouldn’t send her as a mostly-skinless mass of muscle and bone, either. The Galactic Marines were hardasses and cheapskates, but not cruel.
Neither of her guards was a marine, or at least not of the galactic variety. Terrestrial maybe, or possibly some other division of the armed forces. That was a curious choice. Did they think another marine might sympathize with her, possibly let her loose? Whatever the reason, that meant the two guards were mostly unfamiliar with her kind, and she could tell that they were curious.
“Well?” she asked. “I know you’ve got questions. It’s not like I can go anywhere to avoid them.”
“Quiet,” the one on the right said, although he didn’t sound very forceful. In fact, there might have been a little awe in his voice.
“Come on, Mahoney,” the other said. “It’s not like talking to her is going to give her a chance to escape.”
“Hell, we don’t know that,” Mahoney said. “You know all the stories they tell about the Galactic Marines.”
“Stories?” Stacia asked. “You act like you’ve never seen one before.”
The as-yet unidentified guard blushed. Mahoney’s skin was too dark for her to tell if he did the same, but he looked more annoyed than embarrassed.
“Regs say no talking,” Mahoney said, although it sounded like even he thought that was unnecessary.
“Come on, when are we going to get another chance to talk to an actual Galactic Marine?”
“Technically, I’m not a Galactic Marine anymore,” Stacia said.
“Technically, you haven’t been discharged yet.” The way Mahoney said “discharged” made it seem like he thought the pun involved was rather amusing. “You know what, Briggs? I don’t care. Talk to her all you want. But if she somehow convinces you to pull your weapon on me, I’m blowing your head off.”
Stacia had to wonder what kind of stories the other armed forces told about her kind if they thought she could somehow make them turn on each other with just a few words. Galactic Marines were built for brute force, not psychological warfare.
Not that she didn’t think she could do that, but that had more to do with her upbringing, not her training or enhanced body.
“Okay,” Briggs said to her. “If you’re really willing to answer questions, then why did you do it?”
“Do what?” Stacia asked, although there was only one thing he could be referring to.
“You know, what you did.” He paused as though it were unthinkable to even utter the words. “Try to kill your commanding officer?”
Stacia would have shrugged if the magnetic locks weren’t holding her armor and body below the neck completely rigid. “She deserved it.”
“They say she had to spend thirty-six hours in surgery to remove all the bullets you put into her. What the hell could she possibly have done to deserve that?”
“That part I’ll keep a secret, if you don’t mind. But trust me, everything she got, she was asking for it.”
“Well, I hope it was worth it,” Briggs said. “Considering your punishment.”
“Okay, you know what? I do have a question,” Mahoney said. “They say that you Galactic Marines aren’t technically human. Is that true?”
“But not completely.”
“I’m a cyborg, if that’s what you’re trying to say.”
“Shit. I almost thought that part was just tall tales. So, if that’s true, what happens when you leave the service?”
“Most Marines don’t leave. They either die in combat or continue on until they’re enhancements eventually give out and kill them.”
“But that can be almost a hundred years, at the current level of tech. You can’t tell me that no one ever takes the option for an honorable discharge and goes back to civilian life.”
“You’ve probably passed one in the streets and never even knew it.”
“So you don’t stay in that fancy armor? I thought the surgeries supposedly made it a part of you. Aren’t you supposed to die without it?”
“Some of the surgeries are irreversible, but the armor can be exchanged. Just because we’ve replaced most of our skin with a hard shell doesn’t mean they can’t give us back something that looks and feels similar.”
“Is it true ex-marines still have people following them everywhere with guns, waiting in case they still go rogue?”
“Uh, no, not completely. Ex-marines still need to be monitored. Even without the armor, they are still enhanced weapons. They don’t want us getting a glitch in one of our neural implants and then ripping spines out of other civvies.”
“Shit,” Briggs said. “You can actually do that?”
Stacia ignored the question. “But if someone has been honorably discharged, they’re generally believed to be able to handle themselves in public. No one’s following them. Just case workers checking in on them.”
“Do all Galactic Marines have to change their names like you did?”
“Marines don’t have to change their name.”
“But, our orders said your name was Stacia X-79.”
“Wait, wait, wait. You mean to tell us that your actual, legal name that you were given at birth is Stacia X-79?”
“Yes,” she said again, trying to hide any exasperation from her voice. Next would come the question of
Before they could ask, though, the security klaxon sounded, signaling that the ship was coming out of its light-jump. The two guards braced themselves for the ship’s inevitable shudder as it stopped.
“Be alert, we are in orbit over our destination,” a woman’s voice said over an intercom. “Multiple targeting locks from security forces.”
In any other situation, that would have been cause for alarm, but Stacia was already aware of the security protocol when it came to this particular planet. Nothing could come in or out of the system without intense scrutiny. This was just the local space-borne forces’ way of saying “Hi, we see you, step out of line and your ass is grass.”
Four more guards filed into the small room. While Mahoney and Briggs stayed back, their weapons now ready and trained at Stacia’s head, the others carefully undid the magnetic locks that had been holding her to the wall. She would have taken this moment to stretch if she didn’t think one of them might interpret that as a sign of aggression and blow her head off. Instead, she stood quiet and still while a medical doctor came in, double-checked her vitals, and declared her fit for the pod. The guards marched her across the room and down a short corridor into a hanger of sorts. There were spots for pods along the walls on both sides, but only one of the berths was occupied. The pod in question didn’t look any different from the others she’d used hundreds of times before, although this one would be sending her into a situation quite different than active combat. It looked like a giant metal thorn, the sharp end pointed down at the hatch that would open up underneath it. A door was open in the front, revealing the dingy white interior of its compression couch. In most of the other pods Stacia had used, they were brand new, state of the art. This one looked several generations behind, the white interior turned a grayish brown in some parts by what was likely old sweat and vomit, maybe other body fluids if she was unlucky. There was no need to waste a new pod for this trip, after all, considering the Galactic Marines were not going to ever get this one back. Once they shot it out from the bottom of the ship, it would be lost to them forever.
Stacia sat down in the compression couch and held he ...