Location: Capitol City, New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“…and they did it all while embodying our warrior’s ethos of selfless sacrifice, duty, and honor.” The man at the podium punctuated the end of his speech with a billion-dollar smile that caught the light of the cameras just right.
Eve snapped out of the daydream she’d been in as applause rose from the small crowd in attendance. She’d been at the position of attention, looking straight ahead, for what felt like a few hours, and to get through the insufferable platitudes of the military brass and political elite she had to think of something else.
Her, and about a thousand other heroes of the Yangon Campaign, were in formation in front of the Hall of Representatives. They’d received their awards before the pomp and circumstance began or else they’d be here all day, but the event coordinator made sure that they got plenty of footage of the shiny new medals on smartcloth uniforms. For effect, they’d gone old school and pinned on actual medals.
The LT who’d done Eve’s had successfully stabbed her in the tit with the pointy end, and started the whole event off on the wrong foot. Eve had been awarded a Bronze Star with a V for Valor. The citation in her record was long and full of big words, but it boiled down to two of her actions while in the Blockie system. The first was her plan to use Crawlers to get through the meat grinder the Blockies had going on Launcher Alpha. Her plan facilitated the taking of the section, which allowed the Commonwealth to secure the Yangon System for a period of time. The second action was her being part of the mission to infiltrate the PDC and saving SGT Sullivan’s life when the other ranger was knocked out cold by an explosion. The SGT was grateful and put her in for a commendation. That got attached to the one GYSGT Cunningham submitted, and resulted it the medal she was wearing today.
Eve’s time operating on Yangon had been done after the PDC op due to her injuries. She’s already been back aboard Agincourt for treatment when Third Fleet began their withdrawal from the system. The officers calculated the expected arrival time of enemy reinforcements without use of the Launcher network, and when that time hit the Fleet withdrew like a teenager pulling out of his date on prom night when her parents suddenly showed up. Some of the final Battleships out caught sensor data of the reinforcements popping out of Alcubierre. Third Fleet could have still taken them, but there had been enough death and destruction for one campaign. Even though Operation Winter is Coming was a resounding success for the Commonwealth they’d still lost ships and tens of thousands of soldiers and spacers.
<But we left Yangon a smoldering heap of shit. It’ll be decades before they start running at capacity again.> Eve kept reminding herself of that fact as she stood on the parade grounds in front of the brass and big wigs.
The Prime Minister gave one final wave before stepping down from the podium and going to kiss hands and shake babies. As the leader of the Commonwealth, he got to speak last, and boy had it been a yawn fest. It was a speech given to people who served by someone who didn’t know the meaning of the word. Maybe it was the speech, or the politically thick atmosphere, but Eve didn’t like the guy. First off, he was too good-looking. He had an artificial look to him that was a turn off. Eve had known for a long time she liked real men; men who’d seen a few miles and wore those scuffs and dents with pride. Just about everyone on the stage in high-quality smartcloth suits had that artificial look, and even a few in uniforms too. She caught a familiar sight of vivid-blonde hair, high cheekbones, and five golden stripes in her peripherals and deliberately averted her eyes.
“Battalion…” The command came from the SGM at the head of the formation
“Company…right face.” The GYSGT’s called as the order cascaded down. Eve executed the pivot she’d learned in Basic, practically forgotten in Ranger School, and had to re-learn for today’s ceremony. “Forward march!”
The thousand heroes marched in step away from the Hall of Representatives. There was a barracks a kilometer away that was their destination. While the elite got to be present at the actual ceremony, the regular citizens got to see the soldiers on the march back. There were tens of thousands of them lined up on either side of the road. Barricades and a few hundred MPs separated the soldiers from the civilians because not everyone was happy to see them.
Roughly half of the people were cheering. They held up “Welcome Home” and “Thank you for your service” holo-signs that glowed in a rainbow-array of colors. They tended to dominate one side of the road and had less police in front of them. The other side was full of people clearly protesting. Eve didn’t know what they were protesting about, but they looked pissed.
The protestors had fire in their eyes, and beyond that there was hate. Eve hadn’t met any of these people in her life, but was surprised by the pure resentment in them. The polyplast barricades were four meters high, but people still tried to throw stuff over at the formation of soldiers. The familiar sound of swatters firing filled the air for a second as the objects that cleared the top of the barrier were shot out of the sky. Drones overhead must have tagged the individuals responsible because teams of HI troopers pushed into the crowd and grabbed people. They were dragged back to the MPs who hit them with stun sticks and handcuffed them before a large armored bus came around to take them away.
<Shit.> Eve broke military bearing to watch the whole incident pan out. <What the hell is going on?> She’d spent a good amount of time in Capitol City on New Washington because of her mother’s job, but she’d never seen anything like this before.
“Eyes front, Corporal.” The SSG behind her instructed, and her head snapped forward.
The barracks they marched into had a five-meter barrier around the edge, so Eve lost sight of the protests. The formation came to a halt, got a quick speech from the OIC about having a forty-eight hour pass for all their hard work, and a longer safety briefing detailing the unrest and what neighborhoods to stay out of. At the end of that, a few people were called to remain behind, and the rest were released.
Of course, Eve was one of the few to get called.
“Well look at you, Berg, with that big V.” A voice called out, and Eve couldn’t stop from grinning.
“Hey Gunney, didn’t know you got to be part of the dog and pony show.” Eve turned and grinned at GYSGT Cunningham. “How was the rest of your invasion?”
“Honestly, not much else happened. We didn’t get first class transport to the planet after we took the Launcher, so we sat rotating on our thumbs for a while. Eventually a cruiser came and picked us up and took us to Yangon-Three, but we were only tasked with clearing some towns far away from PDCs. All it was were a lot of frightened civilians willing to do what we told them. We rounded them up, blew up what Battalion told us to, and then let them go back to a half destroyed town as we moved on to the next one. All of that made for a pretty uneventful vacation before we got swept up and headed back to Syracuse. Then word came down for this and here I am.” The GYSGT shrugged, and Eve saw the Bronze Star with Valor on her chest as well.
There was a momentary twinge of anger at the sight. Eve had done more than the GYSGT in the campaign, but they both got the same award. She knew why that was though. Higher rank meant a higher award, which was how it had always been. She was pretty sure any officer involved in action had at least received a Bronze Star, and there might even be a few Silver Stars among the officers in the formation around her. She killed that twinge of jealousy immediately. She liked the GYSGT. It wasn’t her fault what the people above her put her in for.
The GYSGT seemed to read something on Eve’s face because she sighed. “The brass always likes to trot me out for these types of things. With my twin sister being the intergalactic celebrity she is, it’s always nice for them to show me off. My sister usually responds with how proud she is, the news spreads across the holo networks, and its good publicity for the Infantry. Right about now, it looks like they need all that they can get.” She pointed over her shoulder, over the barrier, where they could still hear protestors yelling.
“Right,” Eve answered lamely. She’d totally forgotten that the GYSGT’s sister was some super model.
“Hey, Berg, Gunney.” SGT Sullivan was the next to join their little group. His medal wasn’t quite on the same level as Eve’s, but that was because she’d saved his ass. She hadn’t let him forget it either.
“How’s the ass, Sergeant?” Eve kept her face composed.
Among the SGT’s injuries in the PDC operation was a broken tailbone, which the rest of the SPECOPS soldiers translated into the SGT having broken his ass. The ribbing had been ongoing for the last several months, but the SGT took it like a champ.
“It doesn’t hurt when I take a shit anymore, so I guess that’s progress,” the SGT replied with a straight face that got a chuckle out of the GYSGT.
“What was that about taking a shit?” SGM Queen popped up seemingly out of nowhere.
“Nothing, Sergeant Major.” As the ranking NCO present, the GYSGT took charge.
“Are you sure, because I’m about to unload a steamer of an assignment on you three.” The SGM didn’t look happy about it.
“We’re ready to rock, Sergeant Major.” Eve replied before she could help herself.
Since becoming a ranger, her life had been go…go…go, but for the last few months it had been hurry up and wait. She couldn’t take it anymore. She’d rehabbed her leg so she was good to go. She’d done the Commonwealth proud by doing her PR duty, but now she was ready to get back to real work.
“Good.” The SGM hit his PAD and the rest of theirs pinged in response.
It was a set of orders, but not in the standard WARNO, FRAGO, or even OPORDR format. It was an invitation.
“No.” Eve took one look at the inviter and shook her head.
“Yes,” the SGM replied back. “The uniform is business appropriate civvies, so if you don’t have something you’d better go and buy it. There is already a clothing stipend in your account of two thousand dollars, so use it wisely.”
Eve was too busy fuming over the invitation that she didn’t have time to think how weird it was to get a clothing allowance for that much for seemingly no reason.
“Get to it.” The SGM dismissed them, and the other NCOs rushed off to get it done. They had to report for inspection in three hours before heading out.
Eve just sat there for a few more minutes trying to control her temper. She wished to get back in the game, but she should have been careful what she wished for.
<I’d rather go back to Yangon than have dinner with my mother.> Eve took several deep breaths before closing the electronic invite and heading back to her room to get ready.
Business appropriate attire for this occasion meant dresses for the ladies, and Eve didn’t have anything like that in her arsenal, which meant shopping with the GYSGT.
<This day can’t get any worse, can it?>