If you could distill the concept of a bar down to its most basic state, it would likely contain the phrase 'establishment that serves alcoholic beverages'. That meaning hadn't changed for the three thousand-odd years of commercial alcohol distribution, and while the room in which Kristanna sat would qualify for a bar under that description, she was sure it had to be the worst bar of all time.
The sign above the entrance read Infantry Officers Establishment N14, a rather technical name for a bar, but it was the only watering hole on deck N- it was the convenience rather than any attachment to it that brought her there. There wasn't a lot to grow attached to- the bar was a huge room, as utilitarian as a storehouse- and the stacks of crates lining the walls led her to think that when the infantry wasn't based here, that was its primary function. The bar itself was along the wall besides the door, and most of the rest of the space was taken up with tables for the patrons. An MP stood by the door to keep on duty soldiers from the temptations of a 'quick drink'. The table and four chair alignments naturally promoted card playing, which was something Kristanna was never good at. Her efforts ultimately got back to her company, and she had to endure heckling beyond what she considered normal for commanding officers on good terms with their troops.
"So, you're with the infantry?" the man to her right asked.
She was, in fact, with the infantry. Major Kristanna Dunne: Second Company, Fourth Division, Second Battalion. Not that she'd tell them all that.
"I am," She responded.
The one on her left nodded and continued to shuffle the cards. The man sitting opposite from her had left for duty (she had always pitied the people who had shifts past the night marker), leaving her with the men, who had exchanged glances with one another during the entire game of Runes, on either side.
"Buy you a drink?" the one on her left finally spoke.
"I'm quite fine, thank you," She tried.
"Not many people turn down a free drink from my friend here," the other one frowned, "What unit did you say you were from again, honey?"
She was immediately glad she had left her jacket in her room. The unit patch on the breast would have made not answering that question hard. Of course, fresh from the gym, the jacket might have been more preferable than her current shorts and tank top.
"I didn't say," she supplied, hoping to divert the subject.
"Oh. Well, we are in the artillery. First Division, Third Lance," the man on her right exclaimed. A glare from his friend cut off his further explanation. The talkative one was a corporal and his glaring buddy was a lance sergeant.
Glad the conversation had moved to someone other than her, she tried to keep it there, "Archers, huh? You boys ride together?"
The vehicles used by the artillery division were called Longbows, which, informally, meant the people who used them were archers. Kristanna knew the term was loved by half of the people it applied to and was hated by the other.
The lance sergeant barked a laugh. "Yeah, he drives, I shoot," he leaned in closer to her, as if about to reveal a secret, "were you at Carthage last year?"
"Yeah, I was on the ground for a bit of it," she said.
"Well," he continued, "our unit was the first one on the ground. It was during that landing that I broke the unit record for PDKs. One of them was even an aerial kill. Not with a tack either. Straight shells."
A PDK, or Pre-Deployment Kill was, as far as she knew, unique to the armed forces of Coriolis. The Moros class dropships that were used to ferry troops from space to the ground would, upon approaching the landing zone, open the aft and broadside hatches, allowing the forces it was transporting to provide their own covering and suppression fire. When a kill was made under these circumstances, it garnered very high unofficial prestige among the ground forces. If what the lance sergeant said was correct, his aerial kill was truly amazing. Using the slow main gun of the Longbow against a fast-moving airborne unit was a shot he couldn't hope to do again.
"An airborne kill? That's pretty impressive," she said, knowing as soon as it came out that it was much less neutral than she meant it.
He was grinning now, "yeah, they're calling it the most impressive moment of our involvement putting down the rebellion there," he paused, she thought, just in case she was ready to admit she needed him right now.
"I'm pretty much a big name around all the barracks now," he continued, "I'd be surprised if you hadn't heard of me- Lance Sergeant Matay Ammons?" he paused again, probably for the same reason as before.
"Oh, I've heard of you," a mans voice said from just behind her, "your unit was landed, and immediately recalled. First on the planet, and first off."
Kristanna couldn't stifle a giggle in time as Ammons' face turned crimson.
"I don't remember inviting you into this conversation," he said, trying to mock the man's tone, "the lady and I were just discussing the action on Carthage."
"Have you gotten to the Forty Man Stand yet? I heard they're calling it the most impressive moment of the entire thing," Kristanna could almost hear the grin on the man's face behind her.
"No," Ammons scowled.
"Well, make sure you let her tell the story. She tells it better than anyone else I know. Because, you know, she was there."
Ammons' friend, the corporal, started coughing as whatever he had been drinking made it suddenly hard to breathe. Ammons himself looked betrayed.
The Forty Man Stand was a strategic blunder. Kristanna's company of forty had been deployed in a swampy pass to hold as the main body retreated. However, there was never another unit stationed to hold open a line to allow her company to withdraw. By the time the error had been realized, they had been surrounded for over two hours. In an amazing display of small unit tactics, and, as she readily admits, large amounts of luck, she was able to hold off vastly superior enemy forces. By the time friendly ground forces had broken through to her position, her company of forty had been whittled down to fifteen. They had held the pass for seven hours, nearly exhausted munitions and medical supplies, and attained a kill ratio of about nineteen to one. All but three had been wounded, and two were in severe condition.
Command, covering for their mistake, declared it a heroic effort, saying, "the men and women of the Fifty-Seventh Company went above and beyond in the face of duty, many paying the ultimate price to ensure victory." She knew that none of her soldiers there, herself included, cared about victory. They all wanted to survive. They wanted to get out of that awful pass. None of them wanted to die for anything on a planet far from home in a rebellion they'd been ordered into.
During reprieves in the fighting they had moved the bodies beside the burned out shell of an enemy tank they were using as a command post. It felt wrong to lay them there, give a moment of respect, and then search them for munitions and medical supplies, but it was something they knew had to be done.
"Mind if I take a seat?" the man behind her asked, snapping her back from her memories of a half a year ago.
"Yes, sure, go ahead Justin," she said, her recollections leaving her a bit off balance.
"Thank you," her XO returned, placing a drink in front of her. The slice of orange in the glass brightened her mood a little bit. He settled into the vacant seat across from her, and extended his hand to Ammons, "Captain Justin Harper."
Kristanna opened her mouth to introduce herself, but was interrupted by the priority alert from her manuspad. She frowned and reached down to dig for it in her gym bag, wondering what could possibly be so important after midnight. It was when she sat back up that she noticed every other soldier in the room was logging onto their pads.
As she entered her security password, she stole a glance across the table. Justin was bent over his pad, brow furrowed. The last of the alarms had been turned off- the room was dead quiet. Her pad gave a soft beep, displaying her most recent message.
War has been declared.