In The Months That Follow

an excerpt



Chapter 1

Raids by the Ssaanth were bad news. Those reptilian pirates had been attacking anything humanoid for the past year and a half. Reports were coming in that at least two of the station squadron's craft had been hit while on patrol protecting Terran Alliance Space Station 24.

The fighter-craft skidded a little as it pulled into the landing bay. Smoke and fumes leaked from the badly scorched wing. Medic Caden Roth of SRS division counted to ten in his head. If the pilot didn't pop the canopy release soon, he needed to climb up there and see how badly the man was injured. The tablet computer in Caden's hand indicated the pilot was one Benjamin Magnys Lieutenant JG.

The canopy made a thud and hissing sound as it began to open. Good, the cabin had maintained at least partial pressure despite the damage. Caden set the tablet on the floor beside him.

The pilot hoisted himself up out of the seat and slowly flung a leg over the edge of the cockpit. Caden saw black burn marks along the pilot's shoulder. The skin-tight compression flight suit was navy blue and the darkness of the fabric probably hid the burns to a degree. It was uncertain from this angle how much of the heat and impact had been absorbed by the suit. Caden gave himself a little mental kick for also noticing what a tight well-muscled ass the pilot had.

Magnys made it to the deck somewhat unsteadily, gripping the under strut of the wing as he finished climbing down.

Caden put an arm around the pilot's torso. "Easy, how bad are you hurt?"

The pilot held up a hand indicating Caden needed to wait a moment, and stripped off the full face helmet. Beneath it, he wore a tight knit skull cap of matching navy blue. Light brown curls haloed the edge of the cap.

"It hurts a little, but I think it's just a superficial burn," said Magnys. He had a long straight nose and a sharp angular face. A light moustache and goatee framed Magnys' mouth and Caden was immediately attracted. As Magnys fully met Caden's gaze, Caden noticed the guy had vertical pupils. Wow, that was different.

"Okay that's good. Come over here and sit down so I can have a look." Caden guided him toward a long metal bench at the end of the landing bay slot. Up close now he could see at least one strip of seriously burned skin.

Magnys sat down and Caden pulled out a pair of shears and began to slit the sleeve of the compression suit starting at the wrist.

"Hey, that's my flight suit!" Magnys protested.

"Which is already damaged and that renders its ability to do its job null and void."

"Oh... yeah."

Caden suspected the guy was a little more rattled by the attack on his ship than he was willing to let on. He cut the flight suit up the entire length of the seam from wrist to neck, and carefully began to peel the fabric back. The thick stretchy fabric stuck to one long strip of skin running down the back of Magnys' shoulder, and had melted onto the flesh. There was no way that was coming off without some solvent. Unfortunately, this was an all too common type of injury lately, and Caden quickly opened a med-kit, placing it on the floor beside the bench.

"I'm going to spray you down with some ethyl chloride and then maybe I can peel the melted part off without sending you screaming." Caden picked up the spray bottle.

"It doesn't matter. I can handle it."

"Yeah, well, I don't want to make the burn damage any worse either."

Magnys was silent as Caden carefully worked the piece of fused fabric loose. A deep layer of skin came with it despite his best efforts.

"You're making a face. Is it bad? It doesn't hurt that much," said Magnys.

"The edges are just first degree but there's a section that's third degree. You may need some stem cell therapy to get this to heal without significant scarring."

"I doubt it."

Caden gave the pilot a long look. The vertical pupils were distracting, and really kind of hot. "Are you into the battle scars thing?"

"Nope, not particularly. You do realize I'm a Gaddite don't you?"

Oh, that would explain the "cat eyes." Caden wasn't all that familiar with what other genetic modifications the average Gaddite had, but he knew there were some. Gado IV was a mining colony on the outer edges of the Terran Alliance. It supposedly had crazy harsh climate issues and back before translight drives became available, it took a decade to get out there, or back. Fending for themselves pretty much, the colonists did a lot of genetic tinkering to enhance survival. According to the limited information Caden had read, some of those mods had been epically beneficial, and some had been lethal.

"Um, I did wonder about the eye thing." Caden felt vaguely embarrassed.

"They improve my low light vision a great deal. I also heal a lot faster than average, even fairly serious injuries. On Gado, medical help isn't always readily available. The ability to survive anything more than a minor injury is important."

"What exactly does that translate to in terms of your burn?"

"In two days it'll likely be down to the peeling and painful itching phase, in four it'll just be a shiny pink mark. Chances are in a week it'll be barely visible," said Magnys.

"Even the third degree part?"

"Probably. Every injury's a little different, but I can usually guess how it'll heal."

"Impressive." Caden applied antibiotic gel, bandaged the burn with a dressing and taped it all down. "Just to be on the safe side then, try not to get it wet for twenty-seven hours and swing by the med-bay sometime tomorrow to have someone take a look at it. One of the staff will check it and make sure it's not getting infected. They'll change the bandages too."

"Okay. Thanks. Guess my next stop will be to requisition a new flight suit and ask how long it's going to take to repair the damage to my Stinger." Magnys picked up his helmet and gave Caden a smile before he walked away.

* * * *

There was going to be a hellish amount of forms to fill out, as well as a post-event report. Ben Magnys really just wanted to go to his quarters and sleep. He'd been shot at by the Ssaanth before but this was the first time his Stinger had been more than just grazed by the plasma bursts of those cold-blooded, forked-tongued monsters.

He supposed that his CO would cringe a little at him calling his fighter craft a "Stinger" but Stanislaw Intergalactic Gradient Engine Raptor was too damn much of a mouthful. Some of the pilots from the worlds closer to Terra called them Raptors, but out on Gado he'd always heard them referred to as Stingers, so the name was embedded in his head.

Ben shrugged his aching shoulder. He hadn't lied to the medic guy; the pain wasn't really that bad, but neither was it particular fun. When he reached his quarters, he stripped out of his mutilated compression suit and knee high boots and put on his regulation coveralls. Belatedly he realized he was still wearing the skull cap and tossed that on the bed too. His hair was damp and sweaty and he ran his fingers through it trying to alleviate the sticky feeling. Whatever. He'd come back and take a shower after he'd dealt with the reports. Fuck, he was probably going to have to cruise by med-bay to get something water proof to put over the burn if he wanted that shower.

Heading toward the center of the space station where all the Marine offices were located, he vaguely wished he'd asked the medic what his name was. The guy had been polite and helpful and hadn't freaked when Ben had told him he was a Gaddite. Okay, realistically, not that many people freaked, but Ben had suffered a lot of uncomfortable stares and weird murmurings behind his back in the Academy. Everyone wanted to know why a Gaddite wanted to become a Terran Alliance Space Marine pilot. After all, Gaddites were strange and antisocial and held all sorts of crazy opinions, or so the general populace seemed to think. Ben swallowed and tried to push unpleasant memories to the back of his mind.

That medic had been easy on the eye too, and in a more relaxed time and place, Ben wouldn't mind having a drink with him, and maybe something a little more. The wide shoulders and blond hair were appealing, but the blue eyes and the smile sealed the deal. Ben heaved a sigh. Any further thoughts on that, however, would just have to wait.

When Ben walked into the Marines office, he was met by his CO, Colonel Parker. The man was from one of the heavier gravity worlds. His body was a mass of stocky muscle.

"I got a medical report. Are you okay?" demanded Parker.

"Just a burn to my shoulder. The medic patched me up."

"No flying for a minimum of fifty-four hours then only if the flight surgeon clears you, got it?"

"Yes sir." Ben was unsurprised. This was all pretty standard procedure; two full days of down time with any injury that required a medic's attention.

"I also got an engineer's report. A plasma burst hit the port side less than thirty cm from the canopy edge. You're lucky. Any closer and it could have depressurized the Raptor. Tell me about the Ssaanth raider."

"He was hiding in the shadow of the planet. When I first caught sight of him, I wondered if he'd been attacking the big settlement. It's called Novo Trondheim isn't it?"

"Yes."

"Anyway, I followed him and was actually surprised that he didn't take any shots at the city, but then maybe I spooked him a little. Orduna was trailing me a ways back otherwise I might never have noticed the second raider in time." Orduna had been Ben's wingman earlier that day. "Number two got a shot off that hit my port side wing and Orduna nailed him dead in the engines a couple of seconds later. I should have been paying more attention. I took two shots at the one ahead of me, and I'm embarrassed to say I missed both times."

"The report also said the port engine probably started leaking the moment it was hit. I'll cut you a little slack and assume loss of power on that side affected your aim," said Parker.

Ben had to smile. He knew he was being teased despite the seriousness of the situation. "I will endeavor to make sure it doesn't happen again, sir."

"Go write me a report, then get some rest."