The BodyguardbyColleen Thomas©
Sotina was tired, so very tired. It was a bone weary kind of tired that shamed the exhaustion she had known on her home planet. Dukenau IV did that to people, especially to Terrans. The atmosphere had less oxygen, so she was always panting for air. The high G planet also made just moving a chore. She was only five foot three and barely weighed 100 pounds on earth, but here she weighted nearly 175 and her muscles ached by the end of the day. Even her bio-enhanced body felt the strain.
Dukenau IV was just marginally habitable, but it was mineral rich. The majority of the population were transient miners. A few administrators, accountants, and other professionals handled all of the white-collar work of running the planet. They stayed in a self-sustaining complex with artificially induced gravity and air. A cottage industry had sprung up catering to the miners in the few "cities" on the planet. Brothels, bars, and flophouses outnumbered regular buildings, with most of the workers living in prefab hovels.
Sotina was one of the thirty colonial marines on planet. Dukenau was well within the terran sphere, so their duties were more constabulary than defensive. She was the lone woman in the company and Dukenau provided hardships other than just physical for her. Unlike her fellow marines she couldn't go out on leave and enjoy the limited diversions the main city of Tharp had to offer. On a world like this there were only two kinds of women, those who did it for money and those who were "good" women. The good women category included a few entrepreneurs, the wives and daughters of the administrators and the occasional Sky pilot. "Good" women were never found out in bars and thus any female who was in such environs was assumed to be fair game.
She could of course wear her uniform, but that defeated the purpose of going out, nothing ever happened when a Marine was around. Even the toughest miners had learned in the school of hard knocks to avoid the Marines. Combat trained and bio-enhanced a single Marine was more than enough to keep a city like Tharp in line. In her combat armor and carrying her Mk 7001 assault cannon she was more than a match for the whole population of the planet. Diversion could be had with the members of her company of course, but Sotina avoided that. She had seen too many instances where personal ties to fellow marines had ended up costing both dearly. She had also cultivated something of an Ice queen reputation that discouraged replacements from pressing a suit.
She had been on patrol at the Caravack mines for most of the day and now sat on a bench in the barracks locker room. She was too tired to even begin the complicated process of removing her armor. Corporal Tasker and Private Runyard had already changed into street clothes and left so she had the place to herself.
She was still sitting there when she heard raised voices coming from the duty station. The argument escalated and she was actually beginning to get curious when the door opened and the young Navy Captain stormed in.
"Excuse me Gunny," he said, looking embarrassed.
"No sweat," she replied.
"Do you happen to know who's on right now?"
She depressed the stud in her left gauntlet that unlocked the small repeater housed on her forearm and then punched in a series of codes with her other hand.
"Marks is over at the mines and Dayton is on patrol in Tharp. Why?"
"The planetary governor is out front raising hell."
"What's he want?"
"A marine detachment."
She laughed then. The young officer was staring at her, but then he too broke out in a grin.
"Yeah. But this one is at least nominally my superior and he's being a bigger ass than usual."
"I'll deal with him for you," she said, rising and putting her helmet back on.
"Thanks gunny," he said.
"No problem," she replied, her voice now sounding deep and menacing, piped through a distortion matrix for just that effect.
She walked through the doors, into the small adjoining anteroom, where a few desks and a bench were set up to handle visitors and complaints. This was Navy territory, not her problem, but the Captain was a good kid and she didn't see any reason for him to catch shit if the governor was asking after Marines.
He was a gaunt man, with thin lips. Sotina never really noticed more about him. She just remembered how those lips could go from obsequious smile to sneer depending on whom he was addressing.
"There you are," he said imperiously, "Call out your men and report to my chambers."
"Have you declared martial law?" she asked.
"What? No, of course not!"
"Then I don't take orders from you," she said, turning on her heels.
"Captain! I order you to have this insubordinate trash thrown in irons!" the gaunt man demanded.
"I don't have any authority over the Marine detachment here," he stated flatly.
"You there, come back this instant, I didn't dismiss you!"
She sighed heavily and turned, walking up to him and grabbing the front of his expensively tailored robes. With little effort she hoisted him up and off the floor.
"Understand this. I don't care who you were blowing or who you had your old lady putting out for to get where you are. It cuts no ice with me. Your fancy robes, your tokens of office and the rest of the crap. Makes me no never mind. The imperial Marine detachment on this jerkwater planet is my responsibility and I answer to no one other than the Regional military command on Solstice. The only way you give me orders is if you declare a state of emergency. Otherwise, you ask like everyone else who thinks their problem is the empire's. You got it?"
When he didn't respond she shook him for emphasis.
"I'm sorry," he said, almost choking on his pride as he did so.
She lowered him to the floor and stepped back. Hers was an autonomous command, but she didn't want to push the issue too far. Part of the reason she even had it was because she was judicious in the use of force and more or less careful in exerting her authority. Command would back her one hundred percent on refusing to surrender her authority to a planetary official, but they would bar-b-que her ass for causing problems if his complaint were legit.
"Now, what do you need from His majesty's forces?" she asked reasonably.
"I need a detachment to provide protection for a very important visitor," he said, trying to regain his dignity as he straightened his robes.
"If I provided even a man to every person who visits here who thinks they deserve protection I wouldn't have a command. Planetary bodyguards are the navy's responsibility."
"I offered to send some men," the Captain added.
"And I want marines," he said, regaining some of his earlier arrogance.
"Want in one hand, shit in the other, see which gets full first."
"You really are an insufferable man," the governor said.
"Said the pot to the kettle."
"I haven't time for this. Will you, Please, send some men?"
He sounded desperate and while she could see it pained him, that please had seemed sincere.
"When is this VIP arriving?"
"In thirty minutes."
"Half an hour? You've got solid brass balls."
"Spare me. Will you send some men or not?"
"There are thirty Marines on this planet your lordship," she said as sarcastically as she could through the transmitter, "twenty are in Tharp, getting high, getting drunk, getting laid, getting into a fight or some combination thereof. Five are stationed on the other side of the planet at Carbon Dale, one's on duty at the mines, one's on duty in Tharp, two are AWOL, again, and if I knew where to find those two shit birds I'd already be kicking their asses. And I'm off duty. The next time you plan on asking us to do something for you, I suggest a week's notice at the least so I can adjust the duty roster."
"Will you come then?"
"Fuck," she said and heaved a big sigh.
The best thing to do would be tell him to fuck off. On the other hand, if some corporate big wig got snuffed, it'd be her ass. Never mind that security wasn't her responsibility. They'd roast her over a slow fire and she knew it.
"Give me a minute to load up," she said at last.
Sotina walked back into the squad bay and opened the weapons locker. She took down her autocannon and shrugged into the heavy ammo backpack the big gun used. She effortlessly made the connections. She checked her load, full 10,000 rounds, checked her power supply, 89%, checked the auto feed and auto jam clearing mechanism.
She put four high explosive 40mm grenades in her arm launcher, replacing the tear gas crowd control load she usually carried and made her way back to the anteroom.
Sotina stood on the raised landing pad within the biosphere and fought back a yawn. The view from the top of the Governor's palace was impressive, several skyscrapers loomed and the edges of the sphere were tinted blue to close out the bleak landscape outside.
The VIP, a beautiful woman in her early twenties was standing at the foot of the ramp to her ship, while the Governor continued his oratory. She was tall, willowy, with blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. She was also leggy and trim. Sotina was more interested in her ship than the VIP though.
It was sleek, black, and boasted dual Roxxoco 850s. She knew those engines, the Marine's light transport landing ship used them and the power they delivered was far beyond anything a civilian liner would ever need. That little ship could out run all but the fastest interceptors.
Or it could fight. She recognized the apertures in the nose and wings. They were covered to give it the appearance of an unarmed transport. She had the hunch though, that it was armed to the teeth and she hadn't failed to notice the small clear dome on the dorsal fin either. Shield generator or she was a doggie.
The governor seemed to like to hear the sound of his own voice and the girl was beginning to show signs of loosing her patience. The security folks were fidgeting and pacing. Sotina noticed a shuttle moving across the sky and was watching it when it suddenly skewed towards the pad. No one else seemed to notice, but as she watched she realized it was coming in dead on and would crash full broadside into the sleek black ship.
She was moving before she knew it, grabbing the governor by the back of his robe, she literally threw him back towards the blast sealed entrance to the palace. The girl only had a moment to protest, before Sotina flung her like a rag doll over her shoulder and bolted for the safety of a low, armored retaining wall. None of the other security had even reacted when the small shuttle plowed headlong into the transport.
Metal screamed, deformed and snapped. Sparks flew as both the shuttle and the transport scraped along the concrete of the pad. The transport's delicate landing gear gave and the body crashed to the tarmac. Sotina was thrown to the deck as the huge support struts on the pad buckled. As suddenly as it had started the sound stopped. An eerie quiet settled and the marine stood to survey the damage.
The shuttle had cut the transport in half and as she watched the bow door cycled open and twenty armed men rushed out.
The girl was on her stomach behind Sotina and just starting to rise. Sotina touched the stud in her gauntlet that started the small motor rotating the six barrels of her auto cannon. She then sent 200 rounds into the mob of men with a carefully controlled burst. The cannon's ripping scream eclipsing the bark and pop of their assorted weapons.
She glanced to the blast door, but the governor was closing it as she watched, saving his hide while leaving her ass hanging out to dry. The imperial marine staggered back as a blast from a 20mm auto shotgun caught her full in the chest. The ceramite armor of her breastplate was barely scratched, but her tits felt like someone had been swinging from them like Tarzan.
She reached back with her left arm, caught a handful of the girl's full skirts and gown bodice and propelled her over the retaining wall with a shove. Sotina ripped off another burst, causing men to hit the deck before diving over the low wall herself.
She popped up immediately and fired another controlled burst, this one on the shuttle's command pod. The armored wall was meant to keep ships from skewing off the pad and could take most small arms, but if that shuttle had mass drivers, the wall would offer little protection.
Super dense 12mm shells riddled the safety screen and killed both the pilot and co pilot. She ducked as a hail of slugs ricocheted off the wall and her armor. Sotina quickly checked her cannon's magazine. Over 8000 rounds left. The big cannon was queen of the battlefield, but with a cyclic rate of over 1000 rounds per minute, you had to be careful. Only rookies sprayed away and they often found themselves lugging close to two hundred pounds of useless weight when they did.
Sotina was no rookie. Her controlled bursts put the rain of slugs where they did the most good and she rarely sent more than were needed to do a job. She was also no one's fool and had hit the small panic signal well before the shuttle crashed.
"Gunny?" a voice echoed in her helmet.
"Marks? Get the python airborne and get over to the governor's palace, Now."
"How many you got there?" she asked, while raising a small periscope from her shoulder accessory pack and adjusting the optics.
"I got three, two with impact rifles, and Jacko on the other assault cannon."
Through the periscope she could see there were at least half a dozen still up. They had dispatched any remaining security people and were now approaching her position. Two had auto shotguns, deadly as all hell to unarmored VIP's, but not worth a damn against her combat armor, but two held disposable rocket launchers and those were.
The girl at her feet groaned, alerting them to her exact position and one of the men with a rocket launcher reacted by training his weapon on the sound. It was the last mistake he ever made as Sotina popped up and turned him into a pale, pink mist with three hundred rounds. From her left arm launcher she fired off a 40mm grenade in the general direction of the other rocket man.
Not fast enough, as she heard the rustling whoosh of a hot bird in flight and hit the deck, using her body to shield the girl. Her shot must have had some effect, though, because the rocket passed over her, and crashed into the apartment building across the way. Glass, steel, furniture and bodies were blasted out to fall the thousands of feet to the deck and she cursed silently as she popped back up and dispatched the missile man as he tried to reload.
The remaining assailants chose this moment to charge and she smiled grimly. Depressing the stud, she swept back and forth across them with the cannon's roar in her ears. When she let up, the ripping roar echoed away and the only sounds were the quiet electric hum of the barrels spinning and the crackling and popping of small fires in the wreck.
"Gunny to Viper."
"Stand by one."
"Abort on the biosphere, do you copy?"
"Marks, get your ass over to the spaceport. I want the asshole who cleared that shuttle for an over flight and I want him alive. Got it?"
"Already on our way, gunny."
She helped the girl to her feet.
Her stockings were full of runs and her shins were both bleeding where her legs had hit the wall. Her dress was torn in several places, and she was sporting a nice knot on her head. Her eyes were huge and she turned to vomit as she saw the carnage and corpses.
Sotina escorted her to the hatch and kept a careful eye on things as the door cycled open. When the body of one of the assailants twitched she popped off another grenade without a thought, blowing him to atoms.
The Governor was there and fawning over the girl as Sotina cycled the hatch closed.
"Thank goodness you're all right," he was saying.
"No thanks to you," the girl said in a tremulous voice.
He blanched, but kept the smile pasted to his face.
"Thank you," she said in a softer voice, turning to Sotina.
"Just doing my job."
"You do it quite well. Now, show me to my rooms, I feel faint."
Sotina watched as the Governor lead her off towards the inner part of the palace.
Scared? Yes. Sickened? Yes. Unsure of herself? Maybe. But faint? The hard-bitten marine didn't buy that for one second.
"There's someone to see you in your office," Hotchkiss said.
"Who is it?"
"I don't know, but he's got a lot of clout."
"Yeah, yeah, him and everyone else. All right, I'll be there in five."
Sotina made her way up the nearly deserted street towards the detachment HQ. As she neared she saw a civilian land cruiser parked out front. Two security guys stood guard, in heavy combat armor. She slowed her pace and wondered what this might mean.
As she entered, Hotchkiss pointed towards her office and she nodded. Walking in, she found a tall man examining her decorations on the wall. He was an older gent, with hair going gray at the temples. His suit spoke of money, a lot more than she would make in her whole lifetime if she read it for what it was, a Gus Pinkerton original.
"Ah, Gunnery Sergeant Bronlee, I presume?"
She nodded and took his proffered hand. Even in her armor, she could tell his grip was firm and his arm strong.
"I'm Max Catchum, CEO of Adlewiess mining."
"Nice to meet you," she said.
"And you. I suppose you know it's my daughter you saved three weeks ago in the terrorist attack?"
"No sir, I didn't."
"Well, I know. I've come to give you my thanks and to offer you a job."
"Sir, I'm an Imperial Marine..."
"Yes, I'm well aware of it. I took the liberty of purchasing your service contract with the Authority."
"Sir?" she asked in confusion.
"You didn't know your contract had a buy out clause? Not surprising, few do. It's basically a little golden parachute for the very rich. An easy way to get your citizenship legally. You sign up, go through basic training and then give the authority a handsome fee and you get your contract. Since you are now owner, the only one you owe service to is yourself. After five years, you just remark that your service was acceptable and send it in to be processed with a half million similar documents each year."
"That's interesting, but I've served my five years. This is my eighth hitch."
"I know, but you're bound by an NCO clause. You can't get out until you complete your contract, in this case, another twenty-two and one quarter standard years."
"Yes sir," she replied.
"I was hoping you would be a little put out by garrison duty. Usually a forty-year term includes up to thirty-five in stasis on jumps between combat assignments. So you're still young when you get out. On a garrison world, you'll be much closer to the real age your contract implies."
"I'm not thrilled with it, no."
"Good. Then we can talk business."
"What would I be doing?"
"Guarding my daughter's life."
"Sir, I'm going to be honest. I'm not a bodyguard, I'm a combat marine. I'm not trained to save lives; I'm trained to kill, without compunction. You should get someone from the field protection service. They undergo the best training in the inner core."
He studied her critically for a long time, but his face was neutral and his eyes gave away nothing.
"I wish you would remove your helmet, I'm not used to conducting interviews where I can't see who I'm talking to."
She shrugged, reached up and disconnected the rebreather and battery pack, then placed her hand on top of the helmet and ducked her head, letting it fall off into her open palm. She placed it on her desk and shook out her long black hair.