"Hurry hurry hurry!" Justin urged, bouncing from foot to foot outside the closed door to the company's common area, "We're going to miss kickoff!"
Kristanna glanced at the chrono beside the door, "No we're not. It's not for another ten minutes."
"The good seats are all going to be taken!"
She drew the cover from the keypad, but didn't enter the room's password yet, "Justin, you said you'd help me go over the recruit evaluations tonight."
He made a noise of despair and buried his face in his hands.
Kris rolled her eyes and typed in the code, signaling the door to open. The common room was designed to comfortably fit most of a forty-soldier company at any one time, so her under-strength unit was able to fit more than easily into the space.
A quick headcount, which was becoming more and more an uncomfortable routine for her, revealed that they were all there. The majority of them were lounging on the furniture arrayed around decently sized screen, watching the middle of what appeared to be one of the most recent vids. Keach was, as usual, sitting by himself, sketching something. The rest were using the computer terminals, writing letters or reading.
"Evening," she responded to the various greetings she received, and smiled warmly. She was proud of them, what they had been through, and how they handled it. No matter what anyone thought, they all needed this rest.
"Justin," she started, but his attention had wandered to the screen. An attractive female, dressed as an astronaut from ancient Earth, was dragged from her primitive starship by wicked looking aliens. She shook her head.
"Justin," she tried again. Nothing.
"Captain Harper," she added an edge to her voice, and Justin's body tensed, his heels clicking together as his hand followed his posture straight up. He cut his salute short, as his startled reaction drew laughter from the company.
Kristanna smirked at him, "We can work out here, Justin, if you promise not to get too distracted."
Instead of answering, his cheeks colored a bit. Most likely out of concern for later heckling from the group, rather than any true embarrassment.
"Let me change, I'll be right back out. Secure us a table in the back."
"Aye, ma'am," Justin shook his head, likely at himself, and wandered to the back of the room. Kristanna punched a code into the keypad at one of the doors, and let herself into her room. It was a bit smaller than the rooms everyone else in the company got, but her rank entitled her to a single- so the space she did have wasn't being shared with anyone.
She stripped quickly and dressed casually- baggy service pants and a clean shirt. She threw her jacket on over the shirt, and tied her hair back in a simple ponytail. She snatched her manuspad off of her desk, and left the room. Justin waved her over to a table, but the vid caught her eye. Eye candy male lead Jaston Fencer broke an alien's grip on his shirt, ripping the fabric wide open in the process, and then punched it in it's ugly, buggy face. The alien gurgled and went down hard, bleeding black ichor all over the floor.
"What is this?" Kristanna asked, grimacing.
"Hero of Earth," Ella answered from the front, her eyes fixed on the screen, "it's brand new."
"Oh, it's the one about the Fairfield ship, isn't it?" Kristanna watched as Jaston sprinted down a corridor, instinctively heading for the alien ship's control room.
"Yeah. Striking new evidence, or something like that," Ella waved her hand dismissively. On the screen, Jaston briefly searched the control panel in front of him, and punched a button. The ship shuddered, and alarms rang. Jaston held onto the control panel to keep his feet. Kristanna shook her head.
Back in Earth's past, a man named George Crane claimed he was aware of an incoming alien invasion. He attempted to alert governments, space programs, and religious organizations, but no one would listen to him. Frustrated, he raised money, bought a starship, and set off with a small crew. History isn't certain of the details, but he left either to stop the invasion himself, or to merely get proof to alert the governments of Earth. There wasn't a lot of press at the time, and he and his ship were never heard from again. No aliens ever attacked Earth, of course, and he faded into the mists of time. However, not too many years ago, a science ship, the Fairfield, happened across the wreckage of a primitive Earth starship, heavily damaged and abandoned, in orbit around a burned out planet. None of the flight records were recoverable, and there was no sign of the crew, but the registry numbers matched that of the ship that Crane has taken centuries ago. Conflicting data from the planet's surface and atmosphere made it impossible to determine the cause of the disaster, let alone what it even was, but scientists agree it happened within the same decade as Crane was able to arrive insystem.
Of course, this fueled conspiracy theorists into believing that Crane did encounter, and single-handedly destroy a malicious alien race, saving mankind. Others believe that he disaster was natural and his ship was caught in it, killing the crew. The theories were endless. The discovery also spurred interest on the subject, and works appeared, literature, courses at universities, and even vids, like the one they were watching.
The view was now from outside the immense alien ship. The button Jaston had pressed changed the ship's velocity, and it was now dropping rapidly out of orbit, diving towards the planet below.
"Ten credits that he jumps out at the last moment and lives," Justin said from behind her. No one seemed interested in risking their money on that bet.
The scene changed again. The view panned down revealing Jaston's female crewmember, clad fairly scantily, laid out on some sort of sacrificial altar. Aliens in robes surrounded her, and one of them lifted a dagger above its head, speaking in its bleating language. The view closed on the face of the human female as she held her eyes closed tightly, preparing for the end. Suddenly, a shadow was cast over her face. Jaston's ship was hurtling towards the gathering, and the camera closed in to show him, white-knuckled, hanging on for dear life in the control room. The ship impacted the ground, held in one piece by the magic of fiction, and wiped out the gathering of aliens, carving a furrow that stopped mere meters from the altar. The company burst out laughing.
"Wait, wait, the game's starting, flip it over to the game," she heard someone say over the laughter. The screen flipped over to a view of verdant pitch of the Coriolis Capitol stadium, and the audio kicked in, and the pair of commentators for the match were caught in mid greeting.
Kristanna moved over to the table where Justin was sitting, and plugged her manuspad into the console in the middle of the table.
"What are we doing tonight, Kris?" Justin brought out his pad and logged in, plugging it in as well.
"The Draft is coming up in a week and a half, Justin. We need to get organized, and take a look as the dossiers. We need to get some talent. I don't think we can replace what we lost, but we need to try."
The Draft was a biyearly event in which the various militaries divvied up the new recruits. To join the military, one started with a six-month program at Basic, the intro school. Basic taught all the fundamentals for service in any branch, and passing it was required to move on. When it was over, each graduating class was drafted, in a predetermined order, by the various military Orders, and those selected were sent to specialized schools based on the aptitudes they exhibited in Basic. Pilot candidates were send to the strenuous Flight School; non-combatants were sent to Support School; students who expressed an interest in naval activities or a position of leadership were sent to Fleet and Command Ops; and finally, men and women who wanted to become soldiers attended The Academy. Once in their schools, they trained until they were called up to the Order when they were deemed ready.
"If I had known that I would be spending time that I could be watching the game reading about recruits, Kris, I'd have feinted illness or something," he grinned to show jest, and she rolled her eyes at him.
Justin was, and had been for as long as she had known him, eternally light-hearted. His passion for entertaining himself combined with his melodramatic touch made him one of the few people she knew who got along very well with the recipients of his good humor. The two of them went way back, too. They had completed their basic training together and, after joining the infantry, had been assigned to the same unit. They had formed a fast friendship, rose through the ranks together, and ended up in contention for the command of the same infantry unit.
They both knew that she would get the promotion because, while Justin was more personable and a better tactician than she was, he had trouble taking orders from officers he didn't know. So she was promoted to Major and given command of the unit, where she immediately promoted Justin to captain and made him her executive officer. She had initially feared that they would have a falling out because of the difference in rank, and she worried that he would not accept his position because of notions of favoritism, but the changes worked out better than they both had hoped.
"Ok, ok," he relented, and called up the personnel files on his manuspad, "What am I looking for here?"
"The best, and the gems that might slip through the cracks. Then, we need to figure out who has skills that we lack currently, medical expertise, munitions, light aircraft piloting, stuff like that. I want to, by the end of the week, have a list that we can take with us, and pick from as high on it as we can next week."
"How many people are we looking for?"
"Well, there are fifteen of us…" she trailed off as shouts of excitement and dismay came from the group focused on the game. An Austgrad striker had broken through the Horizon defense and moved towards the net. Kristanna saw the head-feint as he made to shoot into the right corner of the net. The keep, too, caught the movement, and shifted his weight. There was an agonizing moment as the striker's leg extended, firing a bullet of a shot not to the right, where he signaled, but to the upper left. Impossibly, the keeper had either read his bluff or guessed correctly, and was already in motion- leaping to intercept the ball. Kristanna could see the crowd in the seats behind the net getting to their feet, but the keeper made it. His arm outstretched, he struck the ball squarely with his fist, arcing out of bounds. He didn't crash to the ground, either, but tucked in nicely and rolled, coming up on his feet and in a crouch, ready to block another shot if needed. Half of her company groaned, and the other half celebrated. Justin let out a whistle.
"You picked well. Lechley is the best keeper in the league," he said, grinning.
"Well, let's hope I can keep that up," she said dryly, though she felt the corners of her lips rise in a smile. It was good to win once in a while.