Oh boy, it's been a while. A very long while. So, when I first signed up for this forum, I was 14 years old, and I'm gonna be 23 in a matter of weeks. 9 years is a hell of a long time, and I highly doubt anyone remembers me in the slightest, but those that might will probably remember that I was, in no uncertain terms, a pretty nasty person (as the warning points still on my account from way back in 2010 can attest). In that time I've done a lot and met a lot of people, and changed a lot as a person. To anyone who knew me before, I'm not the same person I was back then in any way, and I'm going to do my utmost to be a positive force on this board rather than the blunt, egotistical know-it-all I was before.
So, with a bit of preamble out the way, the one thing that stayed constant through those years was that I kept writing. "Sporadically" is probably the kindest way to put it. Recently, I told myself I'd knuckle down and commit to writing a story and posting one chapter a week to the best of my ability, to force myself to finish a project and not have it end up in the graveyard of abandoned first drafts and massively-developed world bibles with no actual story to go along with them. I knew I wanted to publish it online as I went, but the question was: where? I toyed with Tumblr, but writing never seems to gain much traction there; I thought about Spacebattles but man, the people on Spacebattles are scary, and I just want to have a bit of fun and write some light-hearted nonsense without having to explain the exact gigaton yields of each weapon on the capital ships; and my question eventually brought me back here. I loved posting on this forum back in the day, as it was such a friendly environment and the users and mods always gave me their best, even when I didn't exactly deserve it.
And now here we are. I'm gonna be posting chapters of this story on a roughly-weekly basis (or at least, that's what I'm telling myself so we'll see how long that lasts!). Feedback is always appreciated, but please do try to keep it civil and constructive. If you ever want any feedback on your own work, drop me a message (I can even give you the feedback privately if you would prefer), but I am very busy with a full-time college course, so it may take a while to get around to any requests like that but I'll do what I can! Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story and I hope my experience of posting on here again is as good as it was 9 years ago!
“There you go, sir,” said Ensign Amelia Harper, setting the cup of tea down on the desk and stepping back. “Just how you like it. Terran-grown Chinese leaves, almond milk and two spoonfuls of demerara sugar.”
The admiral took a long drink from the mug. “Perfect drinking temperature, too. I must say, if our soldiers were as good in battle as you are at making the perfect cup of tea, we’d have won this war long ago.”
She bristled internally with pride at the compliments. Three years attached to Fleet Admiral John Holt hadn’t been enough for her to get over how lucky she was to receive such a posting, and she still gushed at compliments like she did on her very first day.
Amy studied the Fleet Admiral behind his desk. He was the portrait of a military commander, perfectly poised and noble-looking, with silver hair, kind dark eyes and the barest trace of stubble. His uniform was immaculate, of course. Amy saw to that personally, and made sure the myriad of medals across his left breast were polished to a mirror sheen. She took as much pride in her own, appearance, too. It wouldn’t do for the Fleet Admiral to have a slovenly personal assistant, so she always made sure that her shoulder-length red hair was straightened impeccably, her jacket was neatly pressed and her tight-fitting skirt didn’t come an inch shorter than regulations allowed. Unlike some of those bridge bunnies Holt kept around, manning stations with their hemlines halfway up their thighs...
Holt sighed contentedly, finishing his tea. “I’m sure gonna miss not having you around to make me tea anymore, Amy.”
This caused Amy to start. “...sir?”
“There’s no easy way, to say this, Ensign. Well, me saying I’m going to miss your tea was me trying to say it the easy way and let you down gently, but I think that’s actually made things more awkward and now you’re confused.” He scratched his head, looking sheepish. “A lifeteam aboard spaceships hasn’t exactly made me the best at social interaction, has it? That’s one of the reasons you were such a good assistant.”
Amy just about managed to croak “‘Were’?”
This couldn’t be happening. She’d dedicated herself to being the best personal assistant she could be. It was in her blood! Well, technically not her own blood, but she had grown up in a house so rich they’d had several butlers, and it was those men and women who had inspired Amy to live to serve. Her mind raced at faster-than-light speed, trying to figure out what she had done wrong.
“I’m sorry, sir!” she said instead. “Whatever I did wrong, I’ll fix it! I promise I’ll be the best personal assistant in the entire Guard! Please don’t fire me, sir, I’m begging you!”
“Whoa, whoa, fire? When did I say anything about- ohhhhh. Oh, yeah, right, I see. When I said all that past-tense stuff without actually explaining any of it, you thought that meant I had no use for you any more. Boy, that was a screw-up on my part, whoops!”
Amy wiped away a few tears that had started to form. “I’m- I’m not sure I follow, sir.”
“Well, see, the thing is, you’re great! Absolutely perfect. Believe me, I would love to have you by my side until the end, Amy, carrying cups of tea even on my deathbed. Wow, that sounded a bit grim. And a bit creepy too. But sometimes, you know, stuff...comes up.”
Amy said nothing, trying to process the mixed signals.
“A new posting has come up, you see. An extremely prestigious position for someone even more renowned than me. Only the best of the best could hope to even apply for this one, and they did. But I looked at all of their records and threw them all in the bin, ‘cause I knew there was only one person in the entire Guard worthy of serving this man - even if it meant giving up my own beloved secretary.”
He looked at her quizzically, with a raised eyebrow. “Are you trained in using Gungnir armour, Ensign?”
“I- well- I mean, yes, I suppose so. The most basic training, the kind all Acharis Guard personnel receive. And it was around seven or so years ago, so I’m not sure how much I would be able to put into use.”
“Okay...and the Rapier arm cannons? You know how to use them?”
“In that I know how to point and shoot at things, but I’ve never been in combat.”
“Well, that’s good enough!”
“I don’t see why I’m expected to know how to act as an infantryman, sir. Unless…” she trailed off as the realisation sunk in. “I’m not going groundside, am I, sir? Please, tell me you’re joking.”
Admiral Holt looked at her sympathetically, which was all the confirmation she needed.
“Sir, please, no! That’s- it- those are warzones down there! People die on the ground!”
“In fairness, folks die up here in space too.”
“Not on your ship!”
“You won’t be groundside all the time! Guard members spend as much time in zero-g combat as they do on terra firma, if that makes you feel any better.”
It did not make her feel any better.
“Once I introduce you to the man you’ll be serving, maybe you’ll warm up to the idea.” He pressed a holographic button on his glass desk. “You can come in now!”
The door to the corridor swished open, and a giant stepped through - literally and metaphorically.
She gasped as she took in the details of his highly personalised Gungnir armour. Most prominent was the golden eagle sculpted across the chest piece, its elegant wings spread out, grasping a lightning bolt and a crystal in its talons. The helmet tucked under the man’s arm had a golden visor, in contrast to the standard-issue blue, and the various lines of light and vents on his armour glowed a heroic yellow. His rank symbol gleamed on his right shoulder and on the brow of his helmet, while his left shoulder bore a skull with a spiked halo behind it - the Guard’s highest honour, the Iron Savior medal. The armour was polished perfectly, showing zero signs of battle damage, and its bulk gave the already two-metre tall figure an even more inhuman shape. Locking eyes with him, though, she could see the humanity behind those sparkling, vivid green eyes.
Amy felt her face flushing at that roguish grin, his strong jaw not even carrying the slightest hint of hair, and his messy blonde hair - longer than regulation-length, she was sure, but she could barely think about that right now - looked effortlessly windswept.
“Ensign Amelia Harper, this is your new boss. Commander Gabriel Raynor, this is your new personal assistant.”
“Man, Holt, you really went all out for me this time, huh? Giving me your own personal assistant can’t have been easy.”
“It isn’t, believe me. But, since your last aide is no longer with us, I had to send the best of the best to fill the gap.”
“And a right cute one, too. Love the red hair,” he smirked, winking.
Amy flushed even more.
“Aww, you shy?” he laughed. “Don’t worry about it, it must be a shock. Not every day you get to meet a bona fide Hero of the Guard, never mind being told you’re now working for him. I’m sure we’ll be talking soon enough, Amelia...sure we’ll be talking a lot.”
“Um...please, sir. If you’d like, you can call me Amy.”
“Ha, I like that! Cute name, cute hair, cute face and a cute body in a cute uniform. Definitely my lucky day.”
He turned to the Admiral. “So, what say me and Amy swing by the armoury, get her fitted out in some armour and then go and meet the squad?”
“Yes, sounds like a good plan. Although, Commander, your request seemed...unusual, to say the least.”
“Well, it all went through without a hitch, but you specifically requested Fireteam Amber? They’re not exactly...how should I put this? They’re…”
“S**t,” offered Raynor.
“Extremely s**t, yes,” nodded Holt.
“Well, you see, Holt, it was totally on purpose. Sure, I could have joined Fireteam Umbra, or Echelon. I know I could join any squad I wanted to, after all. I’m Commander Gabriel Raynor, Hero of the Guard, no-one can say no to me! But those guys have gotten plenty of glory already, they’re some of the best soldiers in the entire army. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to take the worst squad in the entire expeditionary fleet, and lead them to a new beginning. Fireteam Amber won’t be a by-word for failure anymore. Not when I’m through with them. Under my leadership, I’m gonna make an example of them, and boost morale across the entire military that anyone can achieve greatness if they try.”
“That’s incredibly noble of you, Commander. I wish you all the best of luck. And Amelia, I hope you flourish in this role, and Commander Raynor makes as good use of you as I have over the years. It won’t be the same around here without you.”
Amy nodded, swallowing a hard lump in her throat. “I stocked up on Terran Chinese tea in preparation for our expedition, sir, it should all be ready for your next assistant.”
“Still the best,” he smiled. He saluted smartly. “Dismissed, Ensign.”
She saluted back. “Yes, Fleet Admiral Holt.”
Their footsteps clanked against the metal corridors of the ASV Mercury Summer as they made their way towards the barracks. The Mercury Summer was huge, but as the flagship of an expeditionary force containing the cream of the Acharis Industries crop, that was to be expected. Amy still felt uncomfortable in her brand-new Gungnir armour, although it had been custom-made for her measurements. It felt like every step she took wasn’t her own, with the armour boosting her reflexes and doing most of the work for her. The most alien thing, though, was the Rapier arm cannon. It fit over her entire right forearm, up to the elbow, and she could feel her hand wrapped around the trigger inside. The front of the Rapier had a grip over her knuckles so she could stabilise it during sustained fire, and lights along the weapon offered a quick visual shorthand for which firing mode was currently active - although, as the safeties were engaged and she had no mode selected, they were dull.
As she and Commander Raynor progressed through the ship, she noticed many of the ship’s staff stop to gawk at the Commander. Scientists stopped in their tracks, engineers whispered to each other and fully-armoured Guardians like herself and Raynor thumped their non-weapon hands onto their chestplate while bowing their heads as a sign of respect.
“So...Amy, yeah?” asked Raynor. “You know what the Guard, like, does, right? And you know what we’re doing on this expedition, yeah?”
“I mean...I just spent three years attached to the expedition fleet’s highest-ranking official, I have a fairly good idea of what we’re getting into. If you’re worried about me being inexperienced, you don’t have to worry about that, sir.”
“Oh, no, not at all. I was more hoping that you could fill me in, I haven’t been arsed looking at the briefing yet.”
Amy’s mouth fell open inside her helmet. “You- you’re kidding.”
“Man, those things are loooong. And boring. How many pages is it, like a billion?”
“Three hundred and seventy-six.”
“Right, so like, a million then.”
Amy sighed. This was the Commander Raynor she’d been assigned to? It couldn’t be. Maybe there was another Commander Raynor who looked exactly like the one on all the posters that she just got assigned to...and even as she thought that she realised how ridiculous that would be.
“What do you want to know, sir?”
“First question, I guess, is...what are we doing out here?”
“You don’t know that?”
“No, I mean, I totally know, I’d have to be a total idiot not to. Which I’m a hundred percent not. I super know what we’re doing out here, but just in case I missed any little details, why don’t you fill me in as if I didn’t know anything about it at all.”
“Alright, sir...the Aegis jump-gate, which has been closed off since humanity initially expanded into space, has re-opened out of pretty much nowhere. Probes sent through by the Terran Federation revealed a completely uncharted area of space with large irogen deposits found on a ton of worlds. So, after their initial expedition through the gate to secure the area and build some basic infrastructure, they’ve given us, the deep-space mining corporations, the go-ahead to follow them through and start securing the deposits. Vesper got to go ahead of us, since they’re the largest and most profitable company, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those sneaky b******s in the Aeon Syndicate managed to slip a few of their ships through there too.”
“Cool, cool. That was a test, Amy, and you passed. So, I wanna know a bit more about you. Any special skills?”
“I can maintain a constant typing speed of six hundred words per minute with the help of my neural processing implants, and Admiral Holt claims my tea is the best in the entire Guard.”
“Hm. Never much liked tea. I’m a coffee man, myself. Preferably with a little touch of Irish in it if I can get away with it, so you’ll need to learn that one.”
“If I may, Commander? Can I ask why you picked me to be your aide?”
He laughed. “Well,my old one went and got himself bloody killed, didn’t he? Had to get a new one, can’t be a Hero of the Guard without a suitably awestruck-looking companion nipping at my heels. Old Carson, though, he was the best aide I ever had. Dumb as a box of especially dumb rocks, couldn’t make a coffee to save his life, had the single worst handwriting I’ve ever seen so all my after-action reports were almost completely incomprehensible. Best things about him, though? He could keep a secret, and he was a damn good shot with a Rapier. Kept me out of trouble a ton of times. What about yourself?”
“Well, I...I don’t know, really. I’ve never technically been involved in combat.”
“No kidding, huh?”
“I got the basic combat training we all get, I know how to work my armour and gun, and even scored top of my class on the target range and in simulated training exercises. Picked up a few tactical skills from Admiral Holt during my time spent with him, too. But apart from that, no combat. I’ve never even made a drop before.”
“Here we go...Barrack A-714-Delta. Never made a drop before? Not an orbital drop? Not even an in-atmosphere drop?”
“Well, about about that! Neither have I!”
Raynor hit the door control and stepped inside to meet Fireteam Amber, leaving Amy stunned in the corridor trying to figure out exactly what Holt had gotten her into.
(EDIT: Forgot about how the forum doesn't save first line indentations, so I had to go back in and add all those manually. Also had to censor a few swears, so if any mods want them cleaned up further just let me know and I'll happily oblige!)
Edited by Dark Link, 23 May 2017 - 05:35 PM.