Meeting Lieutenat Retz ‘Signs of Serpent’
“You do the chat,” the older trooper said, “I need a swig.”
“Might not be him.”
“Got to be,” he pointed. “That’s officer’s clobber.”
Draped over the back of the only chair on the veranda was a jacket of sombre grey cloth with dark blue shoulder tabs. A faded campaign bar above a high breast pocket caught the younger one’s eye.
“He’s …” the younger man began.
“Never mind who he is or what he’s been. Just don’t forget to salute.”
“Not our colour. Don’t recognise it,” the younger one said.
His older companion had taken out a small flask, and was having a swig and then another.
“Could be Blacks.”
“No.” The flask was capped and put back in a pocket.
“Use your eyes. Deep grey. He’s one of them interrogators.”
Lieutenant Retz was at the back of the chalet sitting in the shade of a torn parasol. He was reading. There was a jug half full of lemonade at his elbow, and a plate of neglected biscuits on a stool by his feet. The troopers saluted. There was no response.
The younger one coughed and said, “Lieutenant Retz.” He emphasised the final z. “Got a message for you. Sir.”
“Pronounced Ret,” the lieutenant said without looking up. “Don’t sound the z. Your message?”
“Yes, lieutenant. Got an order too – signed and dated. The colonel requests your presence in the bonded zone. A vehicle will collect you at 1300 hrs and bring you back when your business in completed. Sir.”
He offered the order. Retz dropped it on his plate of biscuits. The trooper coughed again.
“I’m to take a reply, lieutenant.”
“I will be at the gates by the stated time.” The lieutenant’s eyes seemed fixed on his book
The Undignified Arrival of Sergeant Brun ‘A Sprawl of Serpents’
Statistically, landing was the most dangerous phase, assessed to be only 96% safe. But, as one joker pointed out, you do get a slight chance of walking away from it. The cargo officer was looking at a row of lights above his intercom. One was beginning to flash. They heard the ‘beep, beep, beep’ of an alarm.
“Retro,” Trinc had warned. “If you see steam coming through the floor throw your blanket over it.”
The hopper was already slowing. The chatter over the intercom held no hint of panic.
“Everything’s under control,” Trinc had whispered. “Ha Ha.”
The hissing of the retros changed pitch. The alarm signal became strident. There was a crack as if something had snapped and a thin jet of vapour shot up through the floor. They threw their blankets. The first was hurled high, but saturated with the liquid fuel dropped into to the widening hole in the floor dragging the other blankets with it. At the same time the shuttle, which had begun to tilt, hit the pad. They had heard the screeching of tortured metal as the shuttle pivoted before slamming hard into the concrete. Knappe had been the first on his feet, grabbing an axe from the safety rack and smashing at the hatch. The officer, dazed and bleeding, was spraying foam, and Trinc was lying on the floor and cursing a busted arm; the stewardess had fallen on top of him. Then there was a rush of cold air as a hole was punched through the double hull. They were smothered in foam and hauled out by the rescue team.
Brun had been helped away from the wreckage, and rushed from the pad to the casualty station. Someone had helped him take off his stinking and sodden clothes, draped him with warm blankets and given him hot tea to which a sedative had been added. While he had slept in a chair, a paramedic had attached sensors and taken readings. A clerk had recorded minimal details on Brun’s name-tag.
“Badly bruised, minor burns, and lots of shock,” the paramedic had diagnosed. He had stared at the readings from his meters and added, “Plus something I don’t understand.”