Michael woke up inside the infirmary, his entire body aching like it had for the last few days. The tubes feeding into his arms were pumping him full of clear liquid, probably Sargine, but the pain hadn't subsided. He sat up and pulled them out, noticing how the door at the other end of the room was left unlocked, a sign that he was allowed to go. He pulled on the grey t-shirt on the nightstand next to him and pulled himself out of bed. He was already wearing the sweatpants he wore under his armor, showing that they pulled him out of it and hooked him up without undressing him entirely.
He walked out of the room and into the bright hallway, where the shiphands walked and chatted. The windows looking out onto Acrand showed a burning battlezone. The battle there was over, but that didn’t mean they left yet. Standard protocols called for the Office of Foreign Relations to send relief troops to help the civie survivors, and the Bureau of Hostile Forces Retrieval came in and dealt with the surviving ESF soldiers, but those were the jobs of the carrier AISM Soldier’s Bounty, not the Midnight Sun’s.
Michael walked down to the elevator and took it up to the bridge floor, since the medical wing was three floors under it, and he didn’t feel like walking up three flights of stairs. The elevator that came down was filled with a group of medics surrounding a burned up supersoldier, but Michael didn’t recognize them as a part of SOS Delta. He climbed in after the medics left and set it for the top floor. The elevator smelled like a burning factory with all the workers stuck inside. Michael nearly threw up just when the door opened and the small space was filled with the fresh, sterile air of the bridge.
He saw Sasha towering next to Commander Clark, both of whom where looking at a holographic map of the same planet Clark showed Michael before they dropped. They were looking at a set of mountains with red triangle markers over them when Michael walked over them. Sasha wasn’t wearing her armor, but the black jumpsuit they wore under them. Clark turned to Michael as he walked to them.
“Good morning, Sergeant,” Clark said, and nodded to the front window of the ship, which was pointing at New Khizov, or what was left of it. “We did a good job down there, and the Soldier’s Bounty is heading down to relieve the survivors. Major Sidorovich and I were just talking about a side mission our fleets going on.”
Sasha walked up to Michael. “Your suit’s just fine, just to let you know,” she said. “Just some helmet issues and shielding is all.” She turned to Clark for a second and looked back at Michael. “We’re heading to CP-203 to claim it as our own. It’s close to the ESF’s home solar system, so if we capture CP, we’ll jump an extra mile in the race against them.”
Clark looked behind her at the map and pointed to one of the triangles. The image enhanced to show the black landscape. It looked like the inside of an old furnace, the valley covered with ash and jagged rocks pointing at the horizon. It didn’t look like it has any kind of strategic point to it, but it did have a river cutting through the valley, curving like a snake.
“This is where the ID-8 carrying the four-member recon team landed when we lost contact,” Clark said, and the image cut back to the four of them sitting in front of the old AISM flag, with Athena surrounded in olive branches. “We’re sending your team down to the planet when we jump into the system, and there’s a new addition to your team.” She walked over to the intercom system and called the armory. “Colonel Haus,” she said, tapping a few buttons on her bracelet. “Send PFC Sokolov to the bridge for orders.” She set down the microphone and walked to the elevator door, turning to Sasha and Michael. “Major, you already know who PFC Sokolov is, so please fill in Sergeant Vardivia as Sokolov makes his way up here.”
Clark walked into the elevator and disappeared behind the sliding doors. Sasha looked at Michael and chuckled. “It’s been a shitshow, and it isn’t getting any better,” she said. “Nikolai is this ex-ESF lieutenant that ‘resigned’ from their army.”
Michael looked at the elevator door. “But isn’t that a security risk? What if he’s a spy?”
“He’s not a spy,” she shot back as the elevator doors slid open as Nikolai walked through.
Nikolai had short black hair and big green eyes, and Michael noted that he was missing one of his ears. He was wearing the standard issued Airtight Combat Armor that every soldier that worked in between systems wore in case there was a oxygen situation, but he had his helmet under his arm like a package. Nikolai was at least half a foot shorter than Michael and Sasha, but he looked strong. His eyes shifted from Sasha to Michael a couple of times before he offered his gloved hand to Michael.
“I’m Nikolai Sokolov,” he said in choppy English. “Is good to meet you, serzhant.”
Michael looked at Sasha. “What does that mean?”
“Serzhant means Sergeant,” Sasha said, and walked up to Nikolai. She leaned in and told him something in Russian. Nikolai nodded and looked up at Michael again. Michael sensed something was wrong with Nikolai, but he couldn’t get his head around the look he gave him. It looked like recognition.
“Sorry, Sergeant,” he said and offered his hand again. Michael took it. “Is good to fight on good side instead of dark side.”
“It’s good we have a new member in the team,” Michael said. “Especially since we’re going to CP-203.”
Nikolai nodded. “They told me about 203,” he said, letting go of Michael’s hand. “Told me it’s dangerous, that there are demons there.” He walked past Michael and onto the main bridge. “The Federation is planning something there,” Nikolai turned and looked up and Michael again. “We’re stopping them, right?”
Michael looked down at Nikolai. “They’re planning something bad?” he asked, ignoring his question, too intrigued to answer.
Nikolai nodded quickly. “They were recruiting the biggest of our vzvod to go to different planets for special job,” he walked down to the control board and looked at the map of Alpha Capella, the system that CP-203 was in. He pointed at the gas giant, Oridonis and CP-203. “They have stations around the giant and a firebase on 203.”
Michael was shocked on how much Nikolai knew about the system. “What else is there in the system?”
Nikolai pointed at the fourth planet in the system, Vladika, and all the way to the farthest planet in the system, Verdakiz. “The fleet Tishina is here, at Vladika, and the fleet Vladychestvo is here, at Verdakiz.” He looked at Michael again. “There are lots of sputniki in between the fleets too.”
Michael looked at Sasha. “What did he just say?”
Sasha sighed and walked up to the control board. She pointed at the planets again. “The ESF fleet Silence is stationed at Vladika and the ESF fleet Dominion is stationed at Verdakiz.” she looked at Michael and nodded. “A sputniki is a satellite. They’re tracking the entire solar system with them, as an early warning system.”
Michael opened his mouth to answer, but Clark walked back into the room, followed by Josh. Clark looked at the three of them and gave a questioning look. “We’re jumping into the system in t-minus ten minutes.”
Sasha walked up to Clark. “There’s some info PFC Sokolov’s given us some crucial info that could help us get to CP-203 with the least amount of casualties.”
Clark looked at Nikolai. “What do you know that could save us?” she asked.
Nikolai pointed again at the map. “There’s two fleets in system, one with twelve ships and one with twenty. There’s sputniki in the system, hundreds of them, that tell the fleets when something enters the system above a certain mass.”
Clark quickly walked up to the board and looked at the map. “How in God’s name do you know this? This can save hundreds of thousands of lives!”
Nikolai looked confused. “Is standard protocol for every ESF soldier to know amount of ships in fleet.” He looked around at the team. “Is not requirement here?”
Josh shook his head. “It’s too much of a safety hazard.” He looked at Nikolai and smiled. “This is good info, but how can we trust it?’
Sasha looked at Josh. “How can we not? He’s ex-ESF. He’s the best shot we got at saving our asses and getting to CP-203.”
Clark nodded. “It is, Corporal,” she said, clicking a few keys on the board. “I’m calling in Gladiator and Sun’s Edge to aid us. They’ll bring in enough ships to get us there.” she turned back around to the team. “Go to the armory and suit up,” she commanded. “Make sure you have the right upgrades to your suits to manage this kind of operation.”
Everyone nodded and walked to the elevator. Sasha pulled Michael aside for a second and let the other two take the elevator first. She led him down a side hallway and stopped at a sliding door flashing red, which meant it was locked. Sasha turned to Michael and looked at him, her eyes burning but fearful.
“I need you to promise me something, Michael,” she said, her voice quiet. She looked mournful and shaken at the same time, which made Michael kinda scared. “If I don’t make it, please make sure that you finish this.”
Michael looked at Sasha in awe. He had never seen her so scared before. “I promise,” he said, the words barely coming out of his mouth. “I’ll finish this, no matter what.”
Sasha looked at Michael and grabbed his arm. “I hope you make it,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “You’re strong enough to survive.” she looked up and wiped the tears away. “Please make it, if we don’t.”
“I’ll make it,” he said, his voice just a little more than a whisper. “I promise.”
Sasha looked at Michael again and kissed him, short and sweet. She let go and walked away, leaving Michael alone in the hallway, wondering what had just happened.
Author Notes: Give me any suggestions you can, if you are interested.