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The End Of The Beginning

Posted on Sat Mar 19th, 2022 @ 10:27pm by Client The Narrator

Mission: Stories From The Expanse
Location: MCRN Salvage Yard, Callisto, Jupiter
Timeline: During 'A Knife In The Darkness'.

The loader drone let out a cheerful little beep as its forklift arms deposited the pallet on the deck of the dropship. It then pitifully whined backwards on its tracks, returning to the salvage yards loading apron. Other drop ships were on the tarmac in various states of loading, surrounded by a sea of workers and MCRN Marines.

“Are we cleared to lift off Mr Reach?” one of the Marines asked, gesturing to the pallet.

Mr Bradford Reach had tried to get the Marines assigned to him to call him Brad, or Ford, but they always circled back to ‘Mr Reach’. Or ‘Doctor Reach’. Fortunately, none of them had begun to use his job title which was a word salad of thing. Weapon System Readiness And Relocation Advisor was a mouthful at the best of time, and a hell of a thing to read on his office door back home on Mars.

“One moment,” Brad said as he walked up to the pallet and knelt. It wasn’t easy in the EVA suit to do that, but he’d gotten a lot of practice over the last few months working on the MCRN Shipyards on Calisto. He opened his inspection kit, pulled out some data cables and plugged them into one of eight stubby cones set into a padded framework on the pallet. They didn’t look incredibly exciting, being drape grey with a Martian flag the only splash of colour on them. He found the port in the base of one of the cones, plugged in his cable, and fired up the diagnostic self-check.

“Running the check now,” he said on the open channel to the Marines. The deck under his knees vibrated, and he looked up to see Specialist Grissom looming over him. The power armoured soldier looked like a giant from an action holo, the armour’s smart camo keeping it in its urban camo set up.

“Hey Doc, so that thing got a heartbeat?” Grissom asked gesturing with his underslung rotary cannon at the pallet.

“No, dead as a doornail without out the triennium core,” Brad said with a smile as green tell tales flickered to life on his suits HUD. “I officially confirm the validity of our shipment and assign my authority to its transhipment to Barkieth under escort.”

“Outstanding,” was the gruff pronouncement from the Marine squads leader, a Lieutenant with a think Mariniar Valley accent called Wilcox. She was in EVA suit armour, not the powered monster Grissom was wearing, and so could sit in the jumpsuit alongside the drop ship's cabin. “Get strapped in, we’re dusting off in five or we’re stuck ground side for another hour waiting for the orbits to match up.”

Grissom just stepped back, slipping his booted feet into hold-downs whilst he locked his gauntlet hands into a hold bar in the bulkhead. Bradford had to fumble his inspection pack closed, and then shimmy his way to a jump seat he could strap into. He was on one side, the sole civilian on the dropship, with Wilcox and her Marines on the other. He was just about ready, pulling the restraint harness tight when the drop ship’s engines fired and then began to lift from the meagre gravity of one of Jupiter's moons.

“Cockpit, Dragger 1-1: request you give us a tour of the yard with the window down before boosting for star side intercept,” Wilcox asked. She always asked that gravel like inflexion in her voice making it clear the request was no such thing. No doubt the Navy pilot up front had planned their flight with his common request in mind.

The dropship banked, the loading door still wide open revealing the icy white wastes of Calisto. Some would say the sprawling MCRN shipyards there were ruining the landscape, but seeing the towering construction gantries and service slips always made Bradford happy for some reason. Martian ingenuity, pride, the fact that these slips had produced some of the finest military ships in the Inner or Outer System: it was a sight to behold. Except now they were running in reverse, ships flying here to be dismantled for parts or de-clawed for civilian use. The pundits back home cawed on about Military funding versus terraforming funding, versus the ever-growing market of colonial adventurism now beginning to grip the Martian psyche.

Why make a desert a paradise, when through one of 1300 rings there’s a ready-made one there just waiting for you?

He flicked his eyes over a personal icon on his HUD, and a picture of his husband and kids appeared on the screen. Already his two girls were growing up, excited about the worlds beyond the Rings and data net shows about all the cool aliens out there to meet and be friends with. Whatever happened to the simpler times when he and his partner just had to buy them a stuffed shape or puzzle kit? Now it was hiking boots and trail packs.


The call came over the shared comm, and the drop ship lurched like it was hit. Out of the open drop hatch, a streak of yellow and black rocketed past on a plume of cold gas thrusters. A yard drone running a path with a broken collision avoidance module. The gee’s had been hard, making him wheeze as he fought for breath. But he relaxed, desperate not to throw up in front of the Marines. Grissom hadn’t even flexed in his rigid posture.

But something had flexed: the pallet. One of the stubby cones had come free, leaning out of the padded framework precariously, rocking a little as the pilot tried to get them back on course.

He was out of his harness, crawling on the deck before Wilcox and her Marines could say anything. He scrabbled across the deck, hearing the shouts from behind him, and reached the pallet. He then took the chubby little cone, and pushed it back into place-

Far too easily.

He frowned, looking at the cone and then nudged it again. It wiggled. It was a 500 kiloton city buster, they were dense as hell and easily weighed more than a person. They shouldn’t wiggle. He noticed a line running across the Martian flag on the side of the decommissioned warhead, where one of the pallet supports had pressed into it cracking the casing to reveal something that looked like packing foam.

“Lieutenant Wilcox!” Bradford shouted over the shared comm. “We have a Broken Arrow here!”

“What?!” she barked, sounding outraged.

“One of the Mk15s is a fake!” Bradford snapped, taking out a stylus from his inspection pouch and jabbing it sharply at one of the other warheads. It sank into the device that should have served reentry into a thick Earther atmosphere. “Oh, God…I think they’re all fakes. Lieuten-”

The deck jolted and his ribs ached as he went flying, sliding across the deck. His subconscious mind, fully aware that dazed monkeys fall out of trees, grabbed onto a cargo tie-down by the drop hatch just in time to catch himself before falling out for the long fall to Calisto's icy desert below. His chest ached, and when he breathed in there was a sucking gurgle from somewhere.

“Specialist Grissom, go get Brad!” Wilcox ordered. They finally called him by his name, the name everyone called him but these Marines. Looks like getting injured on the job was a way into their hearts.

“Copy,” the power suited Marine said. He’d already unclasped his suit from its tie-downs and using the magnetic soles of his boots stomped over to Brad. He reached down with a hand, and took his free hand “It's okay Brad, let go I’ve got you!”

So Brad did.

And Grissom let go, watching as the MCR assigned weapon inspector fell out of the hatch and vanished into the darkness of Calsitos nightside. He turned, looking at the Marines at the front of the dropship. They looked back at their heavily armoured comrade stoically.

“You did your best,” Wilcox said with a nod. “But he was a panicky SOB. I’ll put you in for a commendation with the Admiral’s office once we’re on the Barkieth.”

“What about these two?” he asked, pointing at the pallet.

“Bradford was the only on the Barkeith not online with the Admirals plan. We’ve got three months of cruising to make two more replacements for the load that’s going to be destroyed anyway,” Wilcox signed. “Shame. Bradford was a civvie but he cooked well on the way out there. Remind me to put that in my letter back to his family.”

“I regret to inform you that the Marines of the 16th Mechanised have had to endure your departed husband constant whining about your brats,” one of the other Marines spoke up. There was muted laughter.

“I’ll be sure to pass along your sentiments to,” Wilcox said. “It’s always tragic when an accident like this caused grief in such strange forms to manifest. Especially out of the ass of a PFC.”


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