Homecoming

The next episode for Jamison’s Battlefields. Here are the previous episodes in order. Zilkas Asteroid Belt, Jamison’s Rescue,  Dinner with an Alien, Dibolocos Attack and Departure Orders.

 

Most of the men changed into civilian clothes on the way down to the planet’s surface. A couple wanted to show off their dress uniforms and new ranks before making that change. Jamison was in the latter group.

The major’s insignia would help to quiet his father’s insistence he should have stayed home and taken his position on the sales floor. Even before the vessel landed the men gathered together their possessions and prepared for the mad rush out the doors, through the crowds, and into the arms of loved ones.

Jamison had a plan though. He was going to hang back, let everyone else out first in the rush, then he would walk out in his pressed uniform. He thought he had more than earned the right to make an entrance.

The shuttle made a familiar hissing as it prepared to touch down. The ship thumped, followed by a slight jolt as the landing gear settled. Finally the bay doors opened. Dropping a long gradual ramp, almost all the men ran down.

Jamison and the other man in uniform chose to march out, standing tall. Both of them stopped cold as soon as the crowd came into view. In the traditional greeting area, there were only about a eight people. No large families, no children at all.

Among this small group were an abundance of tears, but few if any tears of joy. The sobs of both the men returning home and those who came to pick them up were delivering an unexpected crescendo of misery. The man beside him saw a sister in the small group, and bolted to her waiting embrace.

Jamison saw no one. No father. No mother. No brother. No sister. No one.

He collapsed on the ramp. Tears threatened his vision, but he held them back. The effort draining all other life, so he simply melted down to a heap. Squelched emotions since his rescue now overwhelmed him. When his head hit the ramp he closed his eyes. Not because he was unconscious, but because he didn’t want to see anymore.

In a moment, someone shook him. It was Johnson. He looked totally different in civilian clothes, but it was him. Johnson explained he was due some shore leave. He invited Jamison to stay with him for a while. Jamison refused, he had a home to go to. He wanted to see his family. Johnson explained as gently as he could, he had neither.

Eventually Jamison did stand back to his feet. He realized then MPOs had been waiting around the perimeter. Each of the men had walked out to meet with one. All except Jamison, his MPO, a bossy but pretty, young woman, had broken ranks and come to him at some point while he had been down on the ramp.

Captain Chambers was examining him with a device of some kind. As she moved the device up to his head looked straight into her green eyes. He realized she resembled his kid sister. Again he fought back the tears.

He was the last one cleared to leave the landing area, Johnson took him to the rail and they headed into the city. Jamison looked around the ads on the train. Almost all of them were advocating either the Kilkians or the Dibolocos.

Jamison studied several ads, both sides claimed to be better than the other. Both claimed their side would grant humanity some level of relief. He wondered, what humanity needed relief from. After a while he looked back across the almost vacant railcar at Johnson, who was watching him.

Jamison said, “It’s almost as if they were two political parties trying to sway voters.”

“Yep, it’s a lot like that. Only this never ends. And after years of promoting their cause people can get fanatical.”

Jamison asked, “What do you mean?”

“We are coming up to the edge of town. It’s going to look a lot different than you remember it. About ten months ago we had bad rioting between the factions. Lots of people died.”

The two men stood side by side, staring at a devastated city. Some sections were burned out. Others were apparently vacant. And at first there were no businesses. But then they entered a section where business thrived. There were bars, strip joints, houses of prostitution and even drug houses with big neon signs proclaiming their business.

“Is that legal now?”

“No, but it doesn’t matter what is legal when there is no law enforcement.”

They moved past these neighborhoods and came into another that looked a little better, although it was almost as vacant. Johnson led the way as they disembarked and walked across a vacant street to a big unmarked building.

Johnson approached the door and it clicked unlocked as he approached. Before entering he looked up at a camera above the door and said, “This is my friend, Jamison. He will be staying with me for a while.” After a moment a display beside the camera said, “Welcome, Identity registered.”

When they entered Jamison was shocked to find he had entered a room kind of like the food court at a mall. Quite a few people were milling about, many of whom greeted Johnson. A little further in were some pretty traditional looking shops.

They found an elevator, and went up three floors. Down the hall to the right and soon they were in Johnson’s humble flat. One bedroom, no kitchen, a pull out bed in the main room Jamison was free to use for as long as he wanted.

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Jamison’s Rescue

Several weeks ago I posted a flash fictin piece called The Zilkas Asteroid Belt.  Several of you asked for a continuation of the story, so here it is.  If you did not read the first portion follow the link above, before reading this.

 

Jamison’s confusion reached its peak. What had they said?

Then came clarity, awful, churning, clarity. He had just fired on the ship sent to pick him up. He had destroyed a colonial vessel. This was why the base had not sent an automatic message.

How had this happened? Then he remembered, he had set aside his checklist. The checklist would have caused him to verify the class of the ship before firing.

He would be on this rock forever. He deserved it, too.

The station went dark. He wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t sure it really happened. He might have blacked out for a second.

“Zilkas Asteroid Belt, Camp Beta – Stand down, Repeat, STAND DOWN!” The sudden and loud transmission made him jump out of his skin. But it also startled him back into action. He scanned his controls to discover the ship was still there. “Camp Beta, please respond.”

He stared at the controls for a long time. Eventually though he responded and the frigate sent a launch to pick him up.

He would not die on this rock after all.

Two men were on board the launch. They signaled for him to open the door. Jamison couldn’t at first. It had long since frozen, his broken hand was useless to turn the large spinner. But after using a long piece of repair pipe for leverage he opened the exit and met his rescuers.

Scott and Johnson were both seasoned fighters, and on the way back to the frigate, he questioned them about many things, but first he apologized for trying to kill them. Their casual laughter at his uneasiness seemed so comforting. He would enjoy being around people again.

In the war technology had progressed. It was now possible to destroy a projectile mid-flight. They also explained the war had been over for more than a year. They had not been able to get out and pick up all the scouts, snipers, and outposts because their positions had been lost for a time.

Back on the frigate his broken hand was mended, and he was given a berth. In the quarters prepared for him and twenty-three other stranded fighters there were only eight men. Smithers and Black were not among them. Both men were dead. Smithers had died a natural death, but Black was killed in an attack.

Jamison thought about Black. The orbiting of the asteroids put Black in the line of fire. It might have been him, if the event had been a day earlier or a couple of days later, he would be dead and Black would be alive.

He tried not to think about it. He tried not to feel guilty. He failed.

They stopped at an outpost, originally having a team of four stranded fighters. No one was alive on the base. He didn’t want to know why.

They didn’t have any more stops. Only one third of the men they had hoped to rescue were surviving. Jamison’s mind clouded over whenever anyone talked about it.

The dined alone at the next meal time. Then they entered their sleep cycle. Jamison found out he wasn’t the only one having trouble sleeping. He wasn’t the only one having nightmares.

The next morning Scott and Johnson informed them they would be home shortly after third meal. As a means of celebrating their return they would dine in the officer’s mess, and at the captain’s table. The two soldiers glanced at each other as they spoke those words.

It made Jamison nervous. None of them were accustomed to the protocols of such a dinner. But they would follow orders.

New uniforms were provided. He noticed his rank had been given a significant boost. It struck him as an odd reward for survival. He also noticed the normal ceremonial side-arms were missing. He thought this was wise. He and his compatriots were not settled down from their outland assignments.

When they entered the dining hall, under the watchful eyes of Scott and Johnson, he noticed everyone else had their side arms in place. They marched two abreast to the head table. It was made out of a material he had never seen before.

They were instructed to have a seat. This was odd. Normally the crew stood until the captain was seated as a sign of respect. The chair was surprisingly comfortable, made of some material he had never seen. He rubbed his hand over it and noted how luxurious it felt.

After they were seated Scott leaned in where they could all hear him. “Stay seated, do not get up.”

A steward announced Captain Colofer. Jamison puzzled over what kind of a name Colofer was. His table remained seated as ordered.

Double doors were swung open by stewards and there stood Captain Colofer. Jamison, and all those seated at his table twitched, gasped, and someone even shrieked as they took in the blue skin and vertical eyes. Captain Colofer was a Kilkian.