Trial by Ice(4)
Author:Casey Calouette


    Outside raged a wind that had built around most of a planet. The seas whipped and churned as the warm air rose from the south and finally chopped against the icy fringes of the north. It circled like a stabled stallion until finally smashing into the landmass that the survivors sat on. It was unrelenting and violent.



    Corporal Berry clung to the mylar blanket and pulled it as tight as he could. His legs were thrashed and bruised and he could feel the warmth of the nanites sealing up the tear in his side. He was almost giddy with the painkillers and wanted to laugh out loud when the Midshipman had sparred with the Engineer.

    “Oh man, this is going to be good,” he said. Specks of light danced on the edge of his eyes. He could sleep, he could feel it coming, but he was afraid.

    An olive skinned man shuddered next to him and struggled to get comfortable. One ear was missing. A ragged patch of dried blood was the only thing left.

    “Skinny up there boy, lean against my back,” Berry said with a smile and slid himself back.

    The earless man turned and relaxed against his back. He was icy and tight. “You’re warm,” he said with slurred speech.

    “Private, you need a patch.”

    The man was silent and only shivered.

    “Lost em eh Private? A private is as a Private does.” Berry turned his head slightly and gave a light jab with his elbow. “Now you just stick with Corporal Berry, I’ll take care of you Private.” He dug out the box and flipped it onto the mans lap.

    “I’m Nur.”

    “Nur. Well my new friend, stick with the Berry and you’ll see things right.” Berry relaxed himself into Nur and made it a point to track down the engineer Grue if he came back. He didn’t like the Navy, he didn’t like the Army much either for that matter. But he especially didn’t like young, useless Officers. The Midshipman was the pinnacle of everything that was wrong with the new Military.

    “Oh god,” Nur whispered and relaxed into Berry as the nanites gripped.

    “That ain’t god Nur, you remember now.” He looked up to the Midshipman and shook his head. That’s it, he thought, the problem with all of this. Take away the real professionals, the Americans, the Russians, Chinese, and let anyone who signed a piece of paper lead. A shame. A damned dirty shame. “You remember now.”



    William looked to the group of broken, injured, fallen men before him. “We need supplies. NCO’s?”

    A few eyes raised up. “Sir?” One asked barely above the wind.

    “Names?” William asked.

    “Crow.” The man he met earlier said with a horse voice.

    “Leduc.”

    “Berry.” The last NCO answered loudly.

    “We need supplies. More gear. Food, whatever looks useful. Keep an eye out for survivors.” William said. He knew looking for more people alive was slim.

    “Sir, what about whatever shot us down?” Berry asked.

    “I don’t know Corporal Berry.” William replied.

    “What if they come back?” Berry asked again.

    “I don’t know.” William replied again tersely.

    “What do you know? A fucking midshipman?” Berry called out to no one.

    No one looked up to him. Eyes were cast down to the frosted floor beneath. William shifted his feet and felt the bandages crackle like raw paper. It wasn’t the moment to call rank, no one would buy it. The people before him were one argument away from falling apart.

    “Yah. A midshipman. I didn’t see you doing anything when I came in.”

    “We…” Berry’s voice was lost in another gust that nearly buckled the wall. He stayed quiet when the wind stopped.

    “I’m with the first team. Let’s go for a stroll.” William said with as much confidence as he could.

    “Sir.” The man named Leduc stood and walked to the edge of the door. He slid a mask from his pocket and smoothed it over his black stubble covered head.

    A Marine Private walked forward and stood dejectedly next to them. He didn’t speak. His face was bruised. A deep gash tinged with white arced across his cheeks and forehead.

    The trio walked out into the dimming light tinted with frost and wind. The chill immediately set in crackling the jackets and stiffening the gear. They walked single file into the harsh wind. The goal, a dropcap half a kilometer away. Scattered debris collected snow and grit around them. Bodies were already drifting over. The snow was coming in heavier and not just the windswept remnants of some lost storm.

    The capsule was crushed, blackened and split like an old tin can. The three worked in silence stripping out the rations, another shelter, and what appeared to be a purifier. They ignored the white cheeked wooden bodies frozen in the capsule.

    “What are we going to do sir?” The man with the frost-touched cheeks asked.

    William licked his chapped lips. The air was dry and abrasive. “Wait for the fleet.”

    “What if they don’t come?” He asked with pleading eyes.

    William looked up at the technology around him. The capsule was dead. The tenuous reach of man into the void couldn’t do much to save them now. “They’ll come.”

    The air shimmered with motes of frost with each strike of wind. William took one last look at the gallery of souls staring down at them. There was no salvation in the snow.

    They walked through the cruel wind, buffeted and pushed until they reached the huts. They sat, chilled through, and watched as another group went out. The only constant was the wind and drifting snows. The groups came back, remarked on a find, and dreaded the next trip out. The greatest discovery was a black case of sleeping bags. The men draped them onto themselves like ermine cloaks.

    The sun dropped to a dim white disk on the horizon. The men feared the night. Each sat in his own way and huddled for heat, wary that no more would come other than from his own body.

    Grue stomped through the door and pushed himself through the crouched bodies. “You got your juice.”

    “Where’s Xan?”

    Grue hunched into a corner and grabbed a sleeping bag. He ignored William with an intense energy focused on the sleeping bag.

    William stood and shed the cloak of the sleeping bag and made his way for the door. Vito came through the door and stumbled next to him.

    “William, we’re going to have a problem.”

    “Vito, can it wait? Xan is in the capsule, we’ve got power.”

    Vito nodded. “We can talk there.”

    “Sergeant Crow, detail a few men to tend to the wounded.” William slid the borrowed mask onto his face and stepped into the cold.

    The wind had dropped to just above a breeze but the temperature had dropped with it. The day was drawing closed as the horizon was dimly lit.

    “What’s on the horizon?” William asked.

    “Pardon?” Vito asked peering forwards.

    “Are you Army? Marine? Navy?” William asked.

    “Civilian. I’m with the Delegation.”

    “Oh, I didn’t know we used diplomats on drops too.” William kicked through a waist high drift and tilted his head as Vito walked behind.

    “When the need arises,” Vito replied simply.

    “What’s your specialty?”

    Vito stopped and slapped the gritty snow off of his pants. “Terraforming Technologies, Nanites, with a smattering of History.”

    William smiled and nodded. “A history professor?” He asked in jest.

    Vito smiled with cracked lips. “And so much more.”

    “When I asked what was on the horizon, I meant what did you need to speak about?” William asked.

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