from Pantperthog to Knockando

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Scorpio's story

This is another excerpt from the first Zodiac Team book, currently in progress. It's the story of how one of my favourite characters came to join the Team...

"It must be amazing to have worked with a legend," said Scorpio.

"Well, yes it was," admitted Capricorn. "Of course the way we’re going we’ll all be legends too."

There was a pause. "You really think so?" asked Scorpio.

"Oh, undoubtedly," said Capricorn.

Scorpio smiled secretly to herself: not bad for a screw up reject pilot. A legend… she liked the sound of that.

Nearly four years previously, as an UDFEG Air Force Flying Officer, Scorpio had stood before the ornately carved desk of the Flight Colonel, looking like a pupil called to the headmaster’s office. The Colonel had been recalled to active duty a year into his much-awaited retirement and hid his resentment poorly. The young woman in front of him had been waiting in nervous silence for nearly a quarter of an hour while the officer reviewed a large file.

She came to a decision. "Sir, permission to speak, sir."

"Denied," replied the Colonel without looking up.

"Sir, if this is about the refueling problem, I accept full responsibility and-"

The Colonel’s sigh cut her off. He tossed the file aside and steepled his fingers together, fixing her with a piercing gaze.

"Yes, full responsibility," he said. He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "Of course you take full responsibility, you always do. Your willingness to take full responsibility for your actions would be highly commendable if it wasn’t the reason you have been bounced out of six squadrons in less than two years!"
She didn’t respond. What could she say to that?

"Officer, you are a damn good flier, one of the best I’ve seen. But you are also a soldier and no amount of natural ability or bravery in the line of fire gives you the right to do whatever the hell you feel like!"

The Colonel paused to let his words sink in. "Since you’ve been in my wing there’s been no end of trouble. Fist-fights in the canteen, rookies out after curfew, accidents, pile-ups, injuries to support personnel. I have had to unruffle feathers from the mess room to the control tower and why? Because of you and your-"

"Sir, I-"

"And you interrupt senior officers!" The Colonel’s voice took on a harsher tone. No longer an exasperated avuncular old man, he was a Colonel, a position earned through courage and sacrifice. Earned the old way. The hard way. And this upstart flyer needed to learn some respect.

"No, Flight Officer, not this time. No appeals, no arguments and I do not wish to hear your side of the story. I am taking the steps that should have been taken by your first commanding officer and dismissing you from the squadron. Understand that? Not a transfer, a dismissal! For the good of the entire Combined Air and Space Arm!"

The pilot stepped backwards in shock, reaching for the chair that she had refused when she had first reported to the Colonel’s office. She sat down, so numb that she almost missed the seat.

"Wha… what do I do now?" she asked, tears springing to her eyes.

The Colonel eyed her coldly. "You can stop your pathetic snivelling for a start. The waterworks won’t sway me. The decision has been made. And as a fully trained fighter pilot you will spend the rest of the war in an internment camp to prevent the rebels turning you into a prize asset. Mavericks like you need to be kept under close scrutiny."

Her tears were real now, although they were of anger. The door of the office swung open, but she was barely aware of the Military Policemen who had clamped a firm hold on her shoulders. She tried one last appeal. "But there must be something I can do," she pleaded. "I’m not a complete write-off!"

The Colonel allowed himself a thin ghost of a smile. "Oh but you are," he said.
---
The month in the internment prison passed excruciatingly slowly. She refused to accept that she had been lumped in with traitors to her race, losers and drop-outs. Within three days she was in solitary for punching a political dissident who had referred to her as a military lackey in the dining hall. She was out for less than a day before a savage revenge beating saw her returned to solitary for her own protection.

Then from out of nowhere came a summons to the Administrator’s office. Eyes glazed due to the calmative drugs administered in her food, she meekly accompanied the armed guards until they took up station on either side of the door. She entered the room and walked over to where the Administrator sat at a desk piled high with unread reports and computer print-outs.

The large woman handed her an envelope wordlessly. It had been opened already, but the contents had been replaced. Inside were call-up papers and an itinerary.

"Looks like you got bailed, missy," remarked the Administrator with a smile.
---
Two days later the troop transport docked at Trans-Lunar, the asteroid that had been ‘parked’ in geo-stationary orbit around Earth’s Moon and turned into an intermediary boarding station for traffic to and from the lunar surface. She was directed by several helpful members of base personnel towards a cluster of domes separated from the main docking facility. One of the domes was a hangar with a sling-shot ship launcher. A Sleeq shuttle sat in the barrel ready to launch.

A petite blonde stood waiting by the entry ramp. Her icy stare immediately precluded any possibility of small-talk.

"You’re late!" snapped the blonde.

"I didn’t know where to find you," replied the newcomer.

"Shut up! Listen, you’re only here because of this." The blonde held up a heavily bandaged hand. "A zarq bullet went straight through it on the drop run. We’re going to be flying the retrieval. It’s hazardous and you might get killed. It’s also highly classified information that we’re even on a retrieval, so if at any point you decide you can’t continue with the mission you will be killed. It’s your choice."

"Retrieval?"

"Four deep insertion ops. Do it right, you can join the Team."

"And if I do it wrong?"

"Just get in the shuttle."

"Who are you?"

"My name is Virgo."

"Like the star-sign?

"Just get in the shuttle."

Much later Scorpio found out the bullet that had passed through Virgo’s hand had come to rest in the neck of her former co-pilot.

She had to admit, reflecting on it, that the years of service together in some of the worst battle zones of the Earth-Palloshan Space War, had caused a strange form of respect to grow between the two of them. But she could never quite decide whether she could forgive Virgo for not telling her that the first retrieval run she performed for the Zodiac Team would be to the Palloshan home-world of Pallo Prime.

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