Chapter 21



The twelve Cataphracts of Major Walker’s Combat Armor Team were crouched in three box formations stretched across the base of the Pyramid. Four large tents made from thin sheets of green resin formed the command post. Smaller tents, serving as a field barracks, flanked the command post on either side. Lights mounted on thin poles next to the command post illuminated the camp as the sun fell behind the horizon. The Company First Sergeant and a detail of Marines stood in front of the command post, watching the freighter as it approached the camp.

The First Sergeant turned his head and held on to his cover as dirt swirled around the freighter from its turbines straining to lower it to the ground. As soon as the freighter touched the ground and the turbines started to spool down, he unbolted the doors, swung them up and latched them. Before the pilot had even dismounted, the Paladin’s men were hauling crates and bundles from the freighter and depositing them in one the command post tents where the headquarters staff would sort, catalog and distribute them.

When Major Walker limped to the freighter to pick up one of the packages, Petty Officer Graham set down his own bundle and clapped a hand on Walker’s shoulder. “As you were sir.”

“Dammit, Doc, I can haul twenty pounds a few feet.”

“Give it another day or two, sir,” Graham said. “The heal pack is working well and you’ll be tip-top by then.” Walker pulled his shoulder away and tried to lift his leg when Graham gently pressed a boot on top of his foot. Walker strained to lift the injured leg, but he couldn’t overcome the weight of Graham’s foot. He glared at his corpsman. Graham just lifted his brow.

“Fine,” Walker said, and ducked into the supply tent. Looking over the growing pile brought from Dirt Hill, he asked the First Sergeant, “How long will this carry?”

The sergeant tapped his tablet and scrolled through a few pages. “About 30 days, sir.”

“Close enough,” the Paladin said. “Make sure the men get fed first.”

“Yes sir.”

It was a ritual after every supply delivery for the men who maintained the Cats, provided security, cooked and performed all the mundane tasks that kept his company running to eat the first meal from the new supplies. More than any unit in the MEF, the Cataphracts required a substantial support infrastructure to keep them running and ready to fight. Now that they were on their own, the men who took care of them were even more important.

“And keep the numbers to yourself,” Walker added.

Captain Holt ducked in to join them. “This is the last one,” he said, dropping a small burlap sack of root vegetables on top of the pile.

“How are the colonists holding up?” Walker asked.

“Pilot says they’re looking pretty bad. I get the feeling they’re giving us more than they can spare.”

Walker rubbed his chin and let out a short sigh. “What did you tell him?”

“I told him to leave half behind next time.”

“That’s good, Captain. Work in a supply run to MEF -” He stopped himself short. Both Captain Holt and the Company Sergeant toed the dirt with their boots. “Yeah, right,” Walker continued. His shoulders sagged as he studied the pile of sacks and crates, remembering there would be no more supply runs from the MEF. “Whatever happens needs to happen soon.”

“Top, would you excuse us?” Captain Holt asked. After the Company First Sergeant stepped out of the tent, Holt turned to Walker and asked, “What do we do when this runs out?”

“I don’t know.” Walker bent down with a grunt and pawed at the supplies.

“Are we sure we’re doing the right thing here?” Holt asked.

“We’re not going anywhere, Captain.”

Captain Holt studied Walker for a moment and said, “I wish you would reconsider.”

“Are you kidding?” Walker asked. He winced as he tapped the wound on his leg. “There’s nowhere to go.”

“I’m just thinking of the men, sir.”

“So am I.”

Walker stepped out of the tent and turned to look at the Pyramid. Everything on Shoahn’Tu was unremarkable once you got used to the idea that it was new. He imagined the original colonists disembarking from the Exodus Fleet to find themselves in a new world, a place full of promises and dreams – a future. How long had it taken them to grow weary of the endless deserts, the stanchions of cord trees and a future that brought nothing more than a daily struggle to just survive?  How did a man carry on like that, knowing it wasn’t going to get any better?

But the Pyramid, that was different. With its pulsating blue glow and its peak reaching to the heavens, it was the one thing that said Shoahn’Tu was very much another world. And although it hadn’t provided the colony with anything useful, he couldn’t help but hope that somebody besides himself felt a sort of spiritual boost from its presence. If the promise of tomorrow wasn’t something he could believe in, there was at least the promise of some day.

Except now he knew better. The Pyramid was something that went back to a fundamental truth: they didn’t belong here – even if they had nowhere else to go. In its own way, it was a sentinel against intruders. There was something more here – something that he knew had to remain locked behind the slopes of the Pyramid. Whether or not the colonists decided to survive was their choice. His mission was to ensure they had the option. What, exactly, that mission was, he still didn’t know.

Captain Holt stood next to the open flap on the command tent, watching him. “Maybe this isn’t our fight, sir,” he said.

Walker lowered his gaze from the slopes of the Pyramid and looked at his Executive Officer, a man he had trusted with his life more times than he could count.

“Maybe so, Captain.”

Something about him had changed, though. Ever since their arrival at the Pyramid, Captain Holt had seemed reluctant to be there, almost as if there was an option right in front of Walker’s face that nobody was willing to say out loud.

“Or,” Walker said, “maybe it’s everybody’s fight.”


©2016 Michael J Lawrence