Date point: 10y 5d AV HMS Sharman, Folctha, the planet Cimbrean, the Far Reaches
Major Owen Powell
It always rained in Folctha at night.
It wasn’t a downpour or anything. Just a steady, businesslike vertical wetness that neatly filled the role of precipitation, got moisture out of the cooling nocturnal atmosphere, and sluiced everything ready for the day to come.
Future shifts in Cimbrean’s biome as more and more of its native ecology died off and was replaced by immigrants from deathworld Earth might one day unbalance that neatly scheduled hydrological routine, but for now the rain was a nightly feature. Covered walkways and canopies were a feature throughout the town therefore, and the Royal Navy base of HMS Sharman was no exception.
Paradoxically, it seemed, the navy didn’t like getting wet.
All in all, it was a welcome relief from the fierce heat and noise, and the increasingly pervasive scent of alcohol.
Besides. Owen only did a good impression of an extrovert. Deep down, his was a soul who needed a little quiet and isolation, a little mental elbow room to make sense of the world.
Not that there was much to make sense of. Three of his lads dead, and an old comrade – a friend, even – ordered to take a fatal last stand so the rest of them could live. That he’d retained any composure at all when the rest of the lads had called on him to say a few words was down purely to iron discipline.
He’d had to deliver them slowly and deliberately, with lots of throat-clearing and swallowing.
Things had started off slowly, quietly and with no small amount of awkwardness. There had been tears and mostly the Wake had been an exercise in everyone sitting together in silence, and drinking.
Then somebody had said something – Owen didn’t even remember who – and there’d been a little laugh. Then there’d been a joke, a happy anecdote about how Stevenson had got his callsign. Murray had shared the story about Price being caught in a situation that had been truly innocent, but had involved a young mechanic, some WD40 and an eye irrigation and had looked to the Lieutenant-Colonel like, well…
Vigorous miming had ensued.
That had opened the floodgates, and by the time Owen decided that the heat was becoming too much for him, the lads had, in Legsy’s honour, bravely researched and attempted to sing a few Welsh songs, and that was a language which twisted the sides of the mouth when sober. When drunk…
Well, it was a tribute. Legsy would probably have been hugging his ribs laughing.
He turned and directed his ethanol-addled attention to a bench against the wall of the sports hall. It took a few seconds to get his focus right.
“Bloody hell. What are you still doing on this planet?” He asked, heading over. “Shouldn’t you be with your wing?”
Rylee Jackson raised her eyebrows at him and gesticulated with a beer bottle. “Some asshole shot up my ride.” she explained with forced lightness, and there was a fuzzy edge to her pronunciation that said she was about as drunk as Owen was.
He sat down. “You okay?”
“We lost two planes.” Rylee said. “Four guys. And I’m stuck here throwing a wake for them all by myself.
“What about Semenza?”
“Joe? Eh, he went out on the town. Said something about a place called Starling’s and getting laid.”
Owen frowned, interrogating his foggy memory for details about Folctha’s drinking establishments.
“…I’n’t that one a gay bar?” he asked.
“I hope so, or Joe’s gonna have a frustrating time.”
Owen blinked, then nodded. “Arright, fair.” He acknowledged. “What about you?”
“You ever fucked with your leg in a cast?” Rylee sighed.
“Can’t say as I have…” Owen conceded.
“Me either, but I’m thinking it won’t be easy, or much fun. So, here I am…” She swigged her beer. “…are you okay?”
“I’m still breathing.”
“That bad, huh?”
Owen chuckled at that, but his heart wasn’t in it. “I’m coping. I think. I just can’t… let it out around the lads, you see? Got to be The Old Man.”
“I hate that. Gotta stay strong, gotta keep up the dignified fucking façade… I suck at it.”
“Part an’ parcel of being an occifer.” Owen grumbled.
She grinned at him. “Occifer? Owen, I do believe you’re drunk.”
Owen gave her a mock-defiant, mock-offended and genuinely unsteady glare. “I defy you to find anybody, on this planet or any other, who can drink as much lager as I have tonight an’ not be a bit tipsy.” he declared.
“’A bit tipsy’? Dude, don’t give me ‘a bit tipsy’, you my friend are drunk.” Rylee scolded him. “And, so am I.” she added.
“Drunk then. Bet you there’s no fooker around who could drink that much an’ not get addled.” Owen challenged her.
Owen blinked at her. “What?”
“Gaoians. They don’t get drunk on alcohol, they just like the taste.”
“You’re taking the piss!”
“My right hand to God!” Rylee raised it. “Furry bastards can drink any human alive under the table and then they wonder what the fuck’s wrong with us, falling asleep and making fools of ourselves all over the place.”
She sipped her own beer. “You ever want to lose all your money, get into a drinking contest with Rocket Raccoon. Fuck, life is weird sometimes.”
“It’s a cruel fookin’ joke, is what it is.”
“And the punchline sucks…”Rylee agreed.
Owen nodded, and rested his head against the wall for a second.
“You sure you’re coping?”
He opened his eyes again, and shrugged. “You know I had to watch a little girl die, one time.” he said. “literally watched her spirit go. Fourteen fookin’ years old… hardest thing I ever did was closing her eyes.”
Rylee just turned a little bit towards him and listened.
“I ordered a man I’ve thought of as a mate for years to stay behind for the rest of us a couple days ago.” He continued. “And I’m just… I’ve had a hard fookin’ time of it, you know? I’m tired, I’m beaten up, I’m mourning, but most of all I’m so fookin’ mardy I could rip something limb from limb.”
“Angry. Raging. Fuckin’ tampin’, as Legsy God rest him would have had it. Next Hunter I get my hands on, all of its fookin’ mates are gonna feel what I do to it.” He sat forward. “And when I finally get to fight back at those Hierarchy wankers… God show fookin’ mercy on the pack of ‘em and fling ‘em in the pit before I get to them.”
“…That’s a lot to keep in.”
“Got a better outlet in mind?”
“We could get you laid?”
Owen laughed, and ran a hand over his scalp. “Aye, that’d work.” he agreed. “Don’t know as I know anybody’s interested, though.”
“Oh, you do.” Rylee disagreed. “But her leg’s in a cast right now.”
Owen blinked at her as the booze haze finally parted enough for some insistent and slightly neglected social skills to finally get up to speed. She finished her beer and gave him a wink. “Unless you know some way to fix that.” she added.
“Burgess. Burgess! Baseball, wake up you daft apath!”
“Uh? Oh. Major! Uh… what can-?”
“I need to cadge a Crue-D patch and some rubbers. And keep your gob shut about it.”
“Uh… yes sir. Gob shut. Gotcha.”
“So… how long’s this gonna take to work?”
“…Might be a bit.”
Rylee giggled. “Wow Owen, you sure know how to give a girl a wild ride.”
“Ah, hush and utch up.” Owen settled in next to her. She was a fair bit smaller than him, but she was as solid as an acrobat. They fit warmly and comfortably together on a small bed, back-to-belly, butt-to-lap, knees-to-knees. “Think we’re both too drunk anyway. Your leg’ll be better in the morning.”
She laughed quietly. “You’re planning as far ahead as the morning?”
“Part an’ parcel of being an occifer.” He rested an arm lightly on her waist, and she wrapped her own arm around it to hold his hand. “Besides. Leisure day tomorrow. Plenty of time.”
“Mmm…” she yawned. “This is good too…”
She made a sleepy, comfortable noise. “You’re right… may as well… have a clear head. Enjoy it more that way…”
She fell asleep.
In the dark, Owen smiled sleepily at the back of her head, stroked his thumb against her hand, and put his head down. The world was a better place with somebody warm in his arms.
He didn’t need long to copy her example.