[Francisca Mackintosh sits with a kind of quiet defiance, restless. She wears the standard settler uniform, a dark gray ensemble, although like many she has made extensive modifications. A thin red armband with a white star marks her as a veteran of the First Orbital War.]
I think, on some base level, the possibility of some sort of military conflict with the Nor-Kors was on everyone’s mind. Thing was, they’d been rattling their bloody sabers since the “end” of the Korean War. Still, they signed the treaty (A/N The Extraplanetary Non-Aggression Pact, which limited military activity to engineering, diplomatic, and logistical roles on the station.) with the rest of the UN. Wanted to get into space like everyone else, I guess. Ever read Escape from Camp 14? Blaine Harden?
Brilliant book. It’s about this guy (A/N Shin Dong-hyuk) born in Camp 14, one of the work camps and his escape to the west. After First Contact, DRPK (A/N Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea) took all those people and packed them on old Chinese 2F rockets and sent them up to the station. “All of you may die, but that’s a decision I’m willing to make.” A real win-win for Pyongyang. Let the poor buggers secure your foothold for you. Blew right up in their face.
There were two big Nor-Kor (A/N Settler slang for North Korean) sectors on the Delta Ring, New Pyongyang and Camp 15, with us and some Bashnyans sandwiched right in between ‘em. Camp 15 were our new flatmates. It was right dicey in the beginning. Our sector had this big fuckin’ heat exchanger, made it bloody hot. Was enough to make you miss English weather, tell you that much. Royal Engineers set up a bunch of Stirling engines for power and such, and the higher-ups thought the Nor-Kors might try and have a go at us. Strategic location and all that. Command sent a bunch of bootnecks, royal marines, to, uh, ‘assist in technical duties,’ to be augmented by a settlement militia.
(She gestures to herself)
We’d already gone through malarky aplenty before blast-off: medical examinations and physical training and survival skills and all the rest of it. On the quiet, Home Command started sending ZAF-Gs (A/N Zero Atmosphere Firearm, Gauss) to the marines to replace their L85s (A/N The standard service rifle of the British Armed forces, adopted in 1987) and we got them too. Most NATO forces were phasing out ballistics at this point, between high oxygen zones and, well, no oxygen zones. I know the Yanks like to flap their gums about how theirs are better ‘cuz of plasma but they didn’t want the Right Arm (A/N Referring to the FN FAL Battle Rifle. Used by NATO and its affiliates, it earned the nickname ‘The Right Arm of the Free World’) so maybe they should shut up. Far as I’m concerned, those ZAF-Gs we got were the best and could outshoot anything too. They were sent up in parts and then we assembled them ourselves. The stock and grip and all that, we had to make ourselves; they were cut from the shipping list. Weight, I guess. I don’t know if it’s the...Ikea effect or whatever but there was something about it, you know? ‘There are many like it but this one is mine.’ The bootnecks loved that. Hell, we all did, but you turn your back on em’ for five minutes and they’ll start drawing skulls and union jacks on everything. But even without all that tat, they were damn good rifles. Thank god we had ‘em. A few months in, Camp 15...well, they decided they weren’t going to take it anymore. You’ll have to ask one of them exactly how it all went down. After refusing to talk to us for months, they bang on our side of the sector’s airlock and when it opened, the inmates were running the asylum. Fuckers in charge got what they deserved.
(She shakes her head, grimacing)
But of course it wasn’t that simple. New Pyongyang knew something was up when their buddy-buddies went radio silent. So do you know what Camp 15 did? They went and declared independence! The Free State of Hwasong! Fuck you!
Of course, that went...not smooth. To the breathtaking surprise of absolutely no one, New Pyongyang and the DPRK declared war. Problem was, they couldn’t do a bloody thing about it. Didn’t have a shuttle so they would have to go through the ring. And to do that they’d have to either go all the way around, or through us. But the thing was, the Bashnyans were stuck in between. Of course, if there was one country mad enough to declare war on the UN and, well, an entire space ship full of aliens, it was North Korea. Everyone knew that. But the Bashnyans didn’t. Our ambasador tried to warn them; bang-up lad, that one. Did a whole speech. “The people and armies of the United Kingdom will stand with the inhabitants of the Broxzen Sector”-that was the name of the Bashnyan sector-”against any and all aggressors.”
(She inhales deeply, clenching her fists, before slowly breathing out)
Part of, uh, the diplomatic side of everything was the C.E.I., Cultural Exchange Initiative. Helped smooth things out between us and our new friends. We went over to Broxzen for a lecture on Bashnyan philosophy. We’d have these sorts of things once a month or so. We were sitting in their temple, learning about their concept of the afterlife. Endless Plateau, they call it. That’s hell to them; just you, alone, in an neverending expanse. That’s their hell, that’s their version of it. There’s a, a cultural, almost instinctive fear of isolation, being alone. That’s why all their buildings are open-concept. Fuck walls, am I right?
(She lets out a tense laugh)
The temple was on a hill. We were all there, sitting pretty, when the speaker goes quiet mid-sentence. We turned around and saw the airlock opening’ up, the one bordering New Pyongyang. Everything went a bit tits-up after that.
We’d planned for this...but no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Once we radioed the bootnecks, we ran outside, grabbed or ZAFs-we got diplomatic permission to bring them with us-and split into our squads. The agreement was, in case the Nor-Kor’s attacked, for the Bashnyans to evacuate to our sector while we did the fighting. Everyone was squeamish about human-on-alien warfare. So it fell to us to hold the line while they got out. But you’ve seen them, they’re not exactly sprinters. Alpha squad they took up overwatch on the roof of the temple. I was in Echo squad with my mates, we went to establish the front line. We ran down the hill and into this ‘urban’ area. I say ‘urban’ because like I said, Bashnyan architecture doesn’t have walls, so it was a big bloody forest of columns. Not much cover to speak of. We spread out in a thin line, from one wall of the sector to the other. My squad and I, we took up position in the buildings along the main road parallel to the airlock. We began to see glimpses of their dark green uniforms through the pillars and the order came to fix bayonets. Then…’fire at will.’ I aimed at the first spot of green I saw and fired twice. I don’t know if I hit anything. There was a second or two before they reacted, and their Kalshes started chattering. I won’t pretend I was some action hero. I shot at anything that moved. Two shots at a time, just like in training.
(She snaps her fingers in a staccato rhythm)
A few Bashnya got caught in the crossfire, the poor bastards. One of them made a break across the road. Halfway across, she-I could tell ‘cause I saw the ovipositor-got hit in one of her legs, the back right one. She went down, managed to pull herself forward a stride and then caught a burst right through the thorax. Damn near ripped her in half. Fucker that shot her broke cover and charged. I...Half my mags were slugs, half shot. Our sector was infested with these big flying reptiles. Raptors, we called them. Our ZAFs fired either a slug the size of your little finger, or about fifteen little pellets in a little sabot. I…
(She pauses and looks away)
The shot hit him square in the chest. He went down like he slipped on a patch of ice. But they kept coming. Stevens, my squadmate, got hit. He slumped against the pillar he was using for cover, got another two shots off, before taking two more to the chest. He slid down and collapsed to the ground. We weren’t exactly mates, but he was alright. But that’s how war is, innit?
(She stares off for a second, before refocusing)
We held the sector. We held it. For hours. I remember, about an half hour in, before the marines made it through, getting down to my last two magazines. I went in with ten. Bloody pain to lug around, but thank heavens I brought them. I remember checking the battery on my ZAF at that point. Ninety one percent. I know all the tactical
wankers like to go on about having the battery die on you, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. My ZAF wasn’t about to die on me, and never will. During a break in the fighting I rolled over to Stevens and got his kit. Kept me in the fight. That’s about when the marines showed up, rolled up in their APCs (A/N Armored Personnel Carriers) and opened up with their Care Bears (A/N Nickname for the SA93 Plasma Support Weapon, so named due to the neon pink color of it’s projectiles in flight). I moved up and took cover behind one, next to a sergeant, and he gave me a smirk and asked “Anyone order takeaway?” Cheeky bastard.
You know the rest. We were able to push them back out of the sector. After that, command pulled the militia out, to be relieved by NATO forces from the rest of the ring. After everything I was just so...so knackered I damn near passed out from exhaustion. It wasn’t until after I woke up that I realized my flatmate never made it back.
Forty percent. Forty percent casualties. That’s how many we lost. Not marines, militia. What a mess. We all knew it could happen, that we’d have to fight, but...no one thought we would. Least of all us. We went to space to explore, to see the universe. For some of us, in search of a better life. That’s why a lot of the Nor-Kors went up, in their own way.
Bloody hell...what a mess.