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 level N- it was the convenience rather than any attachment to it that brought her there.
Not that there was a lot to grow attached to- the bar was little more than 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, your friend said you're both with the infantry?" the man to her right asked. He had a thin face and sparse beard, and apparently liked to hear himself talk.
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," was the neutral response she settled on.
The one on her left nodded and continued to shuffle the cards. The man who had been sitting across the table from her, her partner throughout the game, had excused himself moments ago.
"Buy you a drink?" he riffled the deck once more, and then set it down in front of him.
"I'm quite fine, thank you," She tried, hoping he of them would get the hint.
"Not many people turn down a free drink from my friend," the first 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 and the division insignia on the shoulder would have made not answering that question hard. Of course, as she had come right from the gym, the jacket might have concealed a little more than the shorts and tank top she was wearing. Dress had always been a double-edged sword for her.
"I didn't say," she supplied, hoping to divert the subject.
"Oh. Well, artillery here. First Division, Third Lance," Beard spoke again, clearly anxious to keep talking. A glare from the Shuffler cut off his further explanation. Kristanna finally noticed the difference in rank between the two- the Shuffler was a lance sergeant, while Beard was only a corporal. It was likely that they both were assigned to the same vehicle.
Noticing the conversation has shifted to someone other than her, made an effort to keep them talking, "Archers, huh? You boys ride together?"
The vehicles used by the artillery division were called Longbows, which meant, informally, that their operators where called archers. Kristanna knew the term was loved by half of the people it applied to and was hated by the other.
Shuffler, 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, keeping a straight face.
"Well," he continued, "our unit was the first artillery on the ground. We were really in the thick of things where we were landed. Oh, and on the way in, I broke the unit record for PDKs as well. One of them was even an aerial kill. Straight shells the entire time, no tacks."
A PDK, or Pre-Deployment Kill was, as far as she knew, unique to the armed forces of Coriolis. The dropships that were used to ferry troops from their transports in space to the ground would, upon approaching the landing zone, open the aft and broadside hatches, allowing the forces inside 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. Especially since he said he was using the slow main gun of the Longbow against a fast-moving airborne unit, instead of the quicker aerial interception missiles. Likely, the shot was a fluke that he was taking full credit for. Not that she blamed him.
"An airborne kill? That's pretty impressive," she said, knowing as soon as it left her mouth that she had made it sound like she was interested.
Shuffler was grinning now, "yeah. Actually, they've been calling it the most impressive moment of our involvement in putting down the rebellion there," he paused, she thought, just in case she was ready to admit she needed him right now.
"So 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- Matay Ammons?" he paused again, probably for the same reason as before.
"Matay Ammons of the Third Lancers? The group that was immediately recalled from the planet due to a assignment error?" a man's 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 last year's 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."
Beard started coughing, as whatever he had been drinking made it suddenly hard to breathe. Ammons looked betrayed.
The Forty Man Stand had been one of the biggest strategic blunders of the Order's history. Kristanna's companies of forty had been deployed in a flooded forest, and were tasked to hold a crucial pass there as the main body of the ground forces retreated. The blunder occurred when there was never another unit stationed to hold open a line to allow her company to withdraw. Kristanna's company held the pass for the designated amount of time under radio silence, and when the time came to fall back, hostile units that were pushing forward had surrounded them, cutting them off. By the time the error had been realized, the position they had dug in at had been under siege for over two hours. In an amazing display of small unit tactics, and, as she readily admitted, large amounts of luck, she was able to hold off vastly superior enemy forces, keeping from being overrun. By the time friendly ground forces had returned and broken through to her position, her company of forty had been whittled down to fifteen. They had held the pass for twelve hours, nearly exhausted munitions and medical supplies, and attained a kill ratio of about nineteen to one. All but three of the survivors had been wounded, and two of them 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." Kristanna knew that none of her soldiers there, herself included, cared about victory. When what was happening had sunk in, the fight wasn't to win anymore. It was just to survive. They wanted to get out of that awful pass. None of them wanted to die on a planet far from home fighting against a rebellion they had never heard about before landing on Carthage. It was something they had 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.
"Please, go right ahead, Justin," she said, her recollections leaving her emotionally 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. A holiday sunrise. One of her favorites.
Justin settled into the vacant seat across from her, and extended his hand to artilleryman, "Captain Justin Harper."
Ammons didn't shake it, but Beard did.
"Kris," Justin started, leaning in more for the effect than for any real secrecy, "the game starts in about twenty minutes. Are you in for the pool or not?"
She had forgotten. Justin had reminded her earlier today that the regional futball championship was tonight, and the entire squad was putting money on the game. She was supposed to get him her pick this afternoon, but it had slipped her mind.
"What's the spread?" she asked, taking a sip of the fruity drink Justin brought her.
"Austgrad and a point, over Horizon at home."
"Which one has Lechley, again?"
"I'll take them, then."
"Got the creds on you?" he grinned and made a show of glancing her up and down.
"I'm good for it," she insisted, crossing her arms as a reflex, though she knew Justin was just baiting her.
"I can't make exceptions, Major. You know the company rules."
"Fine," Kristanna rolled her eyes.
"You complained last week when William didn't have the money on him," Justin pointed out.
Kristanna fished the orange slice out of her drink, and then drained the beverage.
"Ready to go?" Justin grinned.
She nodded, and then turned to the Archers, "Stay out of trouble, you two. Nice meeting you."
She stood, stuck the orange slice in her mouth, and then pushed in her chair and followed her XO out of the bar.
They got in line to take the lift down to level R, to where their quarters where located, and Kristanna leaned in close to Justin, "Thank you for the save."
"You better be. Do you know why I was in there in the first place?"
"That attractive lieutenant from the Fifty-First?"
"Turns out she likes Holiday Sunrises as well."