Before today, the only time Specialist Gordon saw live fire was on the range, and he’d anticipated it staying that way. The Tarnhelm was a patrol frigate that stuck to the mercantile routes, mostly performing random inspections and enforcing trade permits. He never imagined he’d get into a firefight on a pirate vessel, and now that it was happening he felt like a rabbit on the wrong side of a Beware of Dog sign. With his knees shaking so hard it was everything he could do to hold his quench rifle up. His other hand was pressed firmly to the nearest wall, keeping him upright.
They reached an open hatch. Someone tossed a smoke grenade through it. “Kang, Gordon, go!”
The two specialists stepped through the hatch and swept the cabin on the other side with their rifles. Their optics cut through the smoke, but the pirates must have had optics too, because they cut down Kang with precision. Gordon reacted automatically, somewhat to his own astonishment. He watched his limbs move under their own control, impelled by muscle memory. He was a passenger in his own body. He dropped the bandit, and as the rest of the squad moved forward, he dragged Kang back to the Tarnhelm‘s waiting medic.
His adrenaline was all used up, vanishing like a shadow at noon, and he processed all at once how bad off Kang was. The medic yanked Gordon to the ground, forcing his hands onto Kang’s ruptured chest.
“Keep pressure on it!”
He could feel the rhythm of Kang’s heartbeat against his palms. The wound looked like freshly stomped red grapes and smelled like hamburger grease. Gordon’s stomach lurched in staunch protest and he vomited everywhere.
“Hell’s fires, Gordon, are you trying to kill him?!”
“I don’t…I didn’t…didn’t…”
“Bite your lip. I don’t want words or nothin’ else coming out. What a goddamned mess—here, hold this.”
Gordon pretended he was somewhere else. Someone else. Someone who wouldn’t remember this.