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Trooper's Love

By Calle Dybedahl
Page 2 of 7

Kilimanjaro Spaceport wasn't the best place in the Universe to go for a walk, but it was far from the worst either. And even if it had been the best, Thania would've been hard pressed to notice. Just looking at Kasabi made her heart speed up, and when she tried to talk to her her brain shut down. Which was exceptionally silly, considering that she'd just spent half a night having sex with her. They walked along the rim of the main takeoff plate. In theory, they weren't allowed to be there, but as long as they had sense enough to stay away from any actual takeoffs nobody would care. They were military, and as such could do things that'd mean deportation for civilians. A thin and chill wind blew up along the side of the mountain, and Thania wished she'd put on something warmer than the thin, baggy shirt she was wearing. Moving further inwards on the huge metal plate would lessen the winds, but it'd also mean not seeing the view nearly as well. And the view certainly was worth seeing.
Built near the top of the mountain and sticking out several miles to the side, one could see forever from the rim of it. Straight down was mostly the metal and concrete of Kilimanjaro Habitat, but outwards was Africa. Green, alive and for centuries untouched by human hand. It looked inviting, but there were still things from the old wars waiting out there. Things that even the Federation military didn't know how to deal with.
"Don't you sometimes wish you could go down there?" she said.
"I've been there," Kasabi answered.
"You have? When? How?"
"A couple of years ago. Just another attempt to see if it had got any safer. I was in the base camp, near the edge of the interdicted zone. When the people in the far team started dying by the dozen, I ran. Didn't even see the bloody Adad that did them in."
They walked in silence for a while. It looked like Kasabi was remembering old unpleasantness, and Thania regretted that she'd brought the subject up. "Did you get badly punished for running?" she asked, unable to think of anything better to break the silence with.
"They didn't punish us at all, actually. We all knew it was all but a suicide mission, and they were pretty glad that some of us returned to tell the story."
"Adad is a strange name, isn't it? I wonder where it comes from."
"It comes from wherever military acronyms come from, as far as I know. I was told it's short for area-denial autonomous drone. I have no idea if that's true or not."
"Fits the bill, though."
"Yeah."
Kasabi stopped and sat down right at the edge. Thania placed herself at her side, just a little too close. Her heart raced, she thought she could feel the heat radiating from the other woman's skin. "There's a kind of poetic justice to it, I think," Kasabi said. "The only habitable planet where we can't do as we wish on the surface is the one we originally came from. It's like a reminder of what we can do if we go wrong, a bogeyman in our racial wardrobe."
Couple of days, she'd said. Just a couple of days until they'd have to part. The thought of parting filled her stomach with a cold dread, and before she'd consciously thought about she'd laid her head on Kasabi's shoulder. Kasabi put an arm around her waist and pulled her a little closer, and while the dread didn't go away it got mixed with warm content. "Do you want to go back to your room?" Kasabi asked.
"Eventually," she replied. "Let's just sit here for a while. I really do love the view."
The wind blew up from the jungle, carrying no hint of the lethal legacy from the past that dwelled there. Above, screams from starships' engines proclaimed where humanity ruled now.

Thania lay in her bed, her head resting on Kasabi's shoulder. She was relaxed, enjoying the warmth and slowly stroking her new lover's skin when someone knocked on the door. "Go away!" she shouted, hoping it'd be heard through the door.
"Excuse me, miss," someone shouted back from outside, "but I'm looking for Captain Kasabi and I've been told she's here. Can I talk to her, please?"
Captain Kasabi?! She looked up at the other woman face, and found it wearing an embarrassed expression.
"You're an officer?" she said, not quite believing it. "Why didn't you say something? This could get me killed!"
Kasabi didn't meet her eyes. "There wasn't a good time..."
"Last night would've been pretty good!"
"Well, yes. But you were so funny and so beautiful I just couldn't." She abruptly got out of the bed and started to put her clothes on. "Look, it'll be all right. I'll make it all right." A hesitation, a stumble in the confident voice. "If you don't mind."
Of course I don't mind, she thought. I love you. Trooper's love, they call it -- strikes fast, strikes hard, dies young. Make it all right. Make it so that we can be together for however short a time we live. "Whatever," she said.
The man outside the door knocked again. "Hold on, lieutenant, I'm coming!" Kasabi said loudly. "Goodbye, Thania," she said, much more mildly. "I didn't wish for it to end like this. I really didn't."
Thania turned over on her side, her back to Kasabi. She didn't say anything, and after a short while she heard the door open and close.

When Thania got back to her ship, her sergeant told her that her application for infiltration and assassination training had been approved. This surprised her somewhat, since she'd never made such an application. "Never figured you for a sneak," the sergeant said. "But then, you wouldn't be any good if you looked like one, would you?"
Briefly she thought about protesting, telling him that someone somewhere had got the wrong name. "Here's your new insignia," he went on. "The ship's pretty full, so it seems you'll have to share a cabin with another ensign."
She looked at the badges he'd handed her. "What?" she said. "What cabin?"
He looked at her, and a slight smile lightened his normally grim face. "You really didn't know?" he said. "Well, I'll be damned. That must be a first." He took a couple of steps to the side and motioned for her to follow, so they wouldn't block the entry hatch. "It's like this, kid," he went on, "Infiltration and assassination is an assignment where you'll need to have access to a lot of secret information. So, it's an assignment that's only open to officers. Since no normal officer would want an assignment that's as bloody dangerous as sneaking, they solve the problem by making everyone they accept for sneak training an officer. And officers live in cabins up on officer's deck, Ensign Thania, not down here on barracks deck with us grunts."
"Oh. I see," she said. "What happens if you fail or don't complete the training?"
"You don't fail or drop out of sneak training. You finish it, or you die trying. Good luck, sir. A ship will be docking with us in a couple of days to pick you up."
He made a not even slightly mocking salute to her and left. Only seconds later, she could hear him shouting at someone for being too slow. She already missed it.

You return to your room and get the old trunk out of the wardrobe. You pull at a special place in the lining, and a sheet of invisibly thin biofilter fabric comes loose. Quickly stripping naked, you carefully wrap the fabric around you before you put on a plain uniform with ensign's markings on it. Strictly speaking, wearing other markings than those of your own rank is against regulations, but common enough in practice. People doesn't always want to announce who they are, and markings lower than your usual ones makes it easy for others to pretend not to know who you are. It gets to be an ingrained reaction, and pretty soon they don't know who you are. Other places in the trunk produce tools, tools you'd be really hard put to explain possessing. Tools that wouldn't get you a court-martial, that'd be far too public. They'd get you a quick trip out an airlock without a breather. But you once made sure to forget to turn them in, suspecting that something like this might one day happen.
You look them over carefully. It's been years since you last used them, and something may have stopped working since then. But once your fingers start moving over the control surfaces all the old habits surface again. At first, it goes slowly. Compcomm protocol analyzer and inducer. Alarm inhibitor. Protein scanner. Neural overloader. More things, many more things, your fingers moving over them faster and faster, checking that they work and placing them in their predetermined places in your uniform.
Then you're ready. You still look like your ordinary old self. But you no longer leave any traces whatsoever, not a single organic molecule. There isn't a security system in the Federation that you can't bypass, and you can kill so fast and so discreetly that it'll take a full forensic autopsy to tell it wasn't natural. Briskly, but not so fast that it'll bring suspicion, you move down the levels to the storerooms. There is an unused one in the back, empty now and not due to be used for another few months. What the room itself holds is of little use to you, but all storerooms have a linkup to the station computer. So has your own room, of course. But your security penetration tools do leave some traces, so it's best to use a linkup that can't be traced to you. You have some orders to give to the logistics system, orders your superiors really wouldn't approve of.


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Calle Dybedahl

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