Trial by Ice(7)
Author:Casey Calouette

    “What was the secondary? What sort of resistance was expected?” William asked.

    “There was a refinery, one that wasn’t supposed to be here. The Army was to secure the needle and hold it while we took the refining array before they could destroy it.” Sebastien said. “We didn’t expect resistance.”

    The men around the room nodded. The shock was still lingering.

    William nodded. “Neither did we, this was supposed to be routine.”

    “So what happened?” Berry asked. His tone insinuated blame.

    William looked at Berry for a moment before replying. “I wish I knew, I was working to support the drop. I was in the dropcap bay. I haven’t seen any survivors that were with the rest of the ship.”

    The wind slammed into the shelter like a solid wave. Everyone turned to watch the wall bend bow inward before finally relaxing. The wind had returned.

    “Keep the outside time short. Everyone watch for frostbite in your men, break everyone into squads and rotate outside. Questions?” William said.

    “What about the wounded?” Berry asked.

    William looked to Vito and replied. “We’ve cut off the worst injured with the hopes of keeping the less injured going a bit longer.”

    “Why? We’ll have to carry them.” Berry stated.

    William looked around to the NCO’s. The Marines seemed to turn a shade of red. “We’re not leaving anyone. We’re stopping the patches tomorrow, whoever survives is coming with us. We’ve already stopped patches for the most wounded.”

    Berry nodded with a slight smile on his chapped lips. “Alright Captain,” he replied as he stood and stomped into the cold.

    William watched him stride out defiantly. He looked back to the NCO’s and saw curious looks. He needed to talk to Berry and hammer this out.

    “Alright, we’ll meet up again at the end of the day. Selim, get a ration count and stand a guard on it, you’re in charge of rations. We’re going to allow a full ration tonight, but half tomorrow.”

    Selim nodded. “Full rations?”

    “Full,” William replied. “Give them one last full meal.”

    The men before him were silent.

    Berry bent over at the waist and stomped back to the main tent. The air inside was mostly still but the wind seemed to pinch in at every seam. He found Grue and Nur and sat beside them.

    “We’re going south boys,” Berry said.

    Grue’s eyes smoldered. “I’m not your boy.”

    “Calm down Mr. Grue, I respect a professional.” Berry let the words hang and watched for the reaction. There, the shoulders dropped a bit and the eyebrows relaxed. “Who knows where things might lead us, a professional is always in style.”

    “Abandoned. Just shitcanned aside,” Grue said.

    “What’s to the South?” Nur asked.

    Berry didn’t know and that bothered him. To the South was freedom from the cold, that much he knew.

    “What’d you happen to be in charge of on that ship?” Berry asked Grue.

    “I worked with the reactor team.”

    Berry nodded and shivered. The combination of the aches, chills, and tensions sapped the energy out of him. “We’ll get out of this together, you might need someone who knows how to shoot now right?”

    Grue raised his eyes. Thin growths of frost was caked on his eyelashes. “I’ll keep it in mind,” he replied quietly.

    Berry nodded and saw the augment enter the tent and sit. Big bastard, he thought. He dropped the bag away and braved the chill to go and speak to him.

    Sebastien looked up and nodded to Berry. “Corporal.”

    Might as well get to the point. “You going to let that Midshipman tell you where to go?”

    Sebastien raised his head slowly with a slight tilt.

    “We need to get a comm station going and radio the Civilians for help. Ain’t enough here to storm a donut stand,” Berry said with a flick of his wrist. He waited. The silence of the moment grew uncomfortable. Did he hear him? He rubbed his gloves together and looked away from the Marine.

    “Rescue,” Sebastien stated as if it was the first time he’d said the words.

    “Lay down the arms, get taken in, they’d get a dandy ransom I’m sure,” Berry said with a smile. Was he getting anywhere? Damned hard man to read.

    “Corporal, follow your chain of command. If you have a suggestion pass it along to Sergeant Crow.” The tone finalized the conversation.

    “But Sir, you could take the initiative, save these men,” Berry pleaded.

    “Carry on with your duties Corporal, your shift to go outside will be here soon.”

    Berry stood slowly and looked down to Sebastien. The eyes that looked back up at him were as cold as the rocks outside. He thought better of continuing the conversation. Can’t squeeze water from a rock, he thought.

    William walked back out into the white bright air outside. He saw blue sky for the first time. It was whipped by low flying clouds. The gripping wind tossed another blast. He braced himself against the side of the tent and waited for it to relent. Vito emerged and the two shambled to the tent filled with wounded.

    He watched the wounded sleep the fitful nanite induced sleep. Vito walked around and checked each one with a careful finger on the neck.

    “How long till they become hypothermic?” William asked.

    “They won’t, not as long as the patches are on,” Vito replied checking the pulse of the blond.


    “Nanites generate heat, as they work and repair they each give off a tiny bit of energy, add that up and you get a net heating effect. Too many nanites and they can cook altogether, though they normally self regulate,” Vito replied.

    “What about on us?” William asked.

    “No work, no heat. They may make a bit of energy, but not as much as the seriously wounded. That’s how I decided on who to cut off,” Vito said as he stood stiffly in the crisp air. “Simple thermodynamics.”

    William nodded and watched down the line. He squatted onto his haunches and removed his gloves. He touched his dry hands onto his cheeks, they were cold, rough, and raspy. His hands grew cold quickly. He touched his fingertips onto the ankle of a man in front of him. It was warm even through his clothing.

    These were his charge. The ones who couldn’t defend themselves. He could leave them to freeze easy enough and he knew it. No one would chastise him for saving what he could. Already it was a daunting task just to survive, but to survive and to move… He stood, put his gloves back on and walked out into the cold.

    He found him in the tent, covered in a mound of sleeping bags like a hibernating bear. Corporal Berry sat close by next to him. This was going to be an uncomfortable conversation.

    “Grue, wake up,” William said as he slid down and sat in front of him. He pulled a free sleeping bag over him and tried to stay warm. He was still thirsty.

    “Go away,” Grue said quietly.

    “Can we strip the reactor out of that capsule?” William asked.


    “Is there any power source that we can take out?” William asked.


    “No there isn’t or no you won’t?” William asked. “I’m not going to let these men die because you decided to.”

    Grue raised his eyes and the anger was evident across his face. “No, as in they aren’t designed to come out, No as in there isn’t any other power supplies.”

    “Is there anything that had a portable reactor?” William asked.

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