INT – DAY – Tajemnica mid-deck passageway, near a stairwell
Helton, looking tired, walks heavily down the stairs, and clumps down the passageway headed for the galley. He pauses and looks through a window into the cargo bay, where two formations with about one hundred young men are doing drills wearing armor and carrying shields. The formations face one another as shield walls layered four ranks deep, and they are practicing pushing forward against the other, while the other side falls back in good order on command. Shove, counter-shove, advance, fall back, bugle call, change direction, do it again. Through the open windows a crashing of metal and flesh, a grunting of men struggling to breath and keep going, corrections and encouragement from the experienced soldiers. Another short bugle call and they both fall back a few steps and then rest in place a moment. Kwon steps up next to him to watch as well.
Kwon: Damn grav cycling is hard on these old bones.
Helton: Yeah. Not easy on my younger bones. But the oxygen level cycling bugs me more.
Kwon: You working out with them at all?
Helton: A bit, but those guys make me feel old fast.
Kwon: Not surprising. They’ve been hard at it for over a month.
Helton: Harbin laid out the plan with Taj. Very scientific, playing with physiology in very precise ways, increasing gravity, then pulling back a bit, then increasing further, cycling oh-two levels based on activity levels to build red-blood-cell counts, alternating cardio and strength training, upper and lower body, core muscles, calisthenics and drills like this. Brutal, but it builds a body fast.
Kwon: Feels like shit.
Helton grunts in agreement.
Helton: With your food and a last minute carb-loading and all, by the time we hit Dustbowl, these guys will feel like they are flying even when wearing armor in that low gravity. Be able to last a LONG time.
Kwon: I heard the main training the Mahdi’s followers do is praying, fasting, and self-flagellation. Gonna be a bloodbath.
Helton: Pick your leaders, live with the direction they choose. Or not.
INT – DAY – A smallish former lounge
A group of twenty recruits stand in two lines. They wear high-tech helmets that cover their eyes with a visor. They carry shields with some extra do-dads clipped on around the edges, and short practice spears. Projected on the walls is a CGI enemy hoard, some in armor, some with weapons, some not, some male, some female; a rabble. The view is as though it were from the line of recruits. The recruits stand in close formation, and as they flick their spears out, the hit location is shown on the screen as they take out one target after another. A very high tech battle simulation. Suddenly the scene freezes, and a squad leader / trainer calls out.
Squad Leader: Rayes! What’s the best target?
Rayes, one of the guys in the second rank, speaks up and points with his spear.
Rayes: That guy, right in front.
Squad Leader: He’s almost completely covered from your perspective, only an eye-slot. What about that guy waking a swing off to your right?
Rayes: Oh, yeah. TOTALLY open. Missed him.
Squad Leader: That’s what I thought. Can’t go missing the easy kills like that. Rack up the easy ones, save yourself for the hard ones – you are only getting ONE mistake. All right, then, ready?
The troops shift slightly back into ready positions, and the action on the walls picks up again. Three guys all lance the target the squad leader made note of. It pauses again.
Squad Leader: Why all three of you? Better three than none, but he’s got great exposure only to Rayes. Tompson, that lady to your left is a better shot, and Matsui, the old guy to your right is easier than crossing over to poach Rayes’ target. Be a team, guys – it’s the FINAL score that counts, not individual totals. Again.
The simulation backs up a bit, then starts up again, and this time the three make better target choices, spear and recover quickly, then carries on.
INT – NIGHT – Dimly lit cargo bay of Tajemnica
About two hundred recruits, soldiers, and some of the crew including Helton, Allonia, Kwon, Quiritis, and Quinn are practicing slow, steady stretching exercises. Most of them are clad in little more than shorts. It looks like a combination of ti chi, yoga, and martial art. The motions are smooth and solid, and seem as much to calm, as stretch, relax, and practice unarmed blocks and attacks. Not a hard workout, but something to do at the end of the day after a hard workout. The ladies look a little out of place amid the masses of male muscle, but no one seems to care, as they focus on the moves and following the man leading the exercises, who looks like one of the older 13th Mountain Shield soldiers, wiry, muscular, and obviously tough.
INT – DAY – Borealis main dining room
The large and once elegantly appointed room is now a large training hall, with formations of men in armor doing maneuver drills, blunted training spears stabbing in and out like so many hundred scorpion stingers. The men are in close formation, shields overlapping slightly, armored shins and feet visible below the lower edge, helmet eye-slits barely visible above. They are wheeling to the left under the watchful eyes of Lag and Harbin, who stand to the side, also in similar armor. There is a short bugle call, and they suddenly run forward five paces in lock-step, then stop. Another short bugle call, and they fall back slowly, one careful step at a time. Another different bugle call, and the stop retreating, and shove their shields forward hard, then step forward and shove again, step, shove, step, shove. Harbin picks up the bugle from his hip, blows a quick call, then another. Every man in the whole formation turns in place, runs back ten paces, then suddenly stops, turns, and braces, with the front-again row dropping their shields all the way to the ground, and the next rank putting their shields up to overlap them and make a solid wall that conceals everyone behind. Then, from behind the wall, running around the ends, come the back five ranks on each side to stretch the wall longer while the two-high-wall stands solid and braced, only spear-ends visible above it like a wicked, flickering picket fence.
Lag and Harbin look on and nod. Harbin blows another short bugle call of five notes, and the line freezes, and then he blows another, different one. Drifting up from the ranks comes an expression of confusion.
Confused Recruit: -the HELL?!
Centurion: (bellowing from the back) HOLD THE LINE!
Harbin blows another call, and the line visibly relaxes a bit.
Lag: Shields down, take five!
All the shields lower, men stand and stretch, or otherwise relax a bit and breathe, but quietly.
Lag: Listen up! They WILL try to mess with your heads. Eventually, one of them WILL get one of our bugles, and blow some shit on it trying to get you to make a mistake. If it doesn’t sound nice and sharp, like you normally hear, it’s NOT us, and your best bet is to keep doing what you are doing and wait for a REAL command so you can go as a unit and take it away from them. We MIGHT lose them all – that’s why we practice with voice-only commands, too. On the field, confusion will be high. You can’t go to far wrong by standing in the shield wall killing whatever is in front of you. If they do something unexpected, kill what’s in front of you or just a bit to one side, free your weapon, and get ready for the next one.
He points to a young man in the second rank.
Lag: You! What do you do if you see an old man in a loin-cloth charging at you with a knife?
Recruit: Kill him, free my weapon, get ready for the next one!
Lag: Good! If you see an eight-foot-tall guy, looking like a Greek god, swinging a huge ax?
Another recruit: (vigorously) Kill him, free my weapon, look for the next one!
Harbin: What if one of them is holding a knife to the throat of an old lady, and looks like they are threatening to kill her if you don’t stop?
There is an uncomfortable silence for a moment. Then a guy from the front rank speaks up.
Recruit 3: You kill him, free your weapon, and look for the next one.
Lag: Almost. The next one is the supposed hostage. It’s a ruse. Kill them BOTH.
Harbin: You! (pointing to another) What if it’s a beautiful young woman, stark naked with NO weapons and really BIG tits, screaming “SAVE ME!”?
There is some scattered nervous laughter, the recruits eyes get a surprised look, and he stutters for a moment.
Lag: Kill her, free your weapon, get ready for the next one.
Those that had taken their helmets off get a somewhat shocked, dismayed look.
Lag: That hot babe or little old lady “hostage” pretends to stumble, picks up a blade from the ground, opens your femoral artery. You are just as dead as if a ten-foot-tall troll with a war-club mashed you into mush! These are FANATICS! The field of battle is far from a city, on a messed up planet, so the ONLY people there other than US are ones HE PUT THERE! Any of them gets a hand on you, ties you up a bit, it makes an opening for one of them WITH a weapon. They will USE your caring for your fellow humans against you! At first, they’ll send their strongest young men. When those die on your spear-tip, they’ll change it up, trying to mess with your mind, and send old men, cripples, naked young women, prisoners, whatever they have. Life in this world means NOTHING to them, HE only talks about the afterlife! That’s why he recruits the weak – claiming their reward is in the afterlife, and he can manipulate them. He uses their fanaticism to make them think of us as decadent and soft, because to THEM mere flesh and breathing means nothing. Some in front of you might be mental cases, some smart attackers, some able-bodied, some crippled, some prisoners, but you can’t afford the luxury of sorting them out. They will outnumber us maybe fifty-to-one. NO MATTER WHAT or WHO is in front of you – kill them. Free your blade. Get ready for the next one. If you are not on the front line, make sure the bodies on the ground are dead bodies, no fakers who can lay there, take a fallen blade, and hamstring you with it. The hobnails on your boots are there to USE! They will have NO mercy, not even any humanity as we know it. If he wins, no matter how many he loses in the process, then humanity loses, because MORE fanatics will flock to the banner of his twisted message, and the carnage will spread further off-world. They MUST be destroyed IN DETAIL, to the last man and woman, there, on THAT field. THAT is the only way they have no excuses.
The recruits are still looking tired and sweaty, but no longer breathing hard. Their faces have taken on a hard, somber look. A lot of them are looking down, or uncertainly at each other.
Lag: YOU are here because they think nothing of killing YOUR wives, or sisters, or family, if they do not convert or submit. THAT is their message – convert, submit, or die. We are simply treating them to the same standard. Leave us alone, or die. No better. No worse. You can pray for forgiveness after you live through it, if you think you need too… Now, then. Helms on, shields up, and let’s try that shield wall and rear-rank split again!
They all start getting their gear back in place, amid a collective tired groan. Harbin and Lag put their helms on, and head for the line, too.
Fade to black.