The space elevator was located on the outskirts of the city, far outside the populated area. It towered like an immense monolith high into the sky, illuminated only to the height of twenty meters, while the rest was lost in the darkness and clouds.
Space Force troops arrived after four o'clock in the morning, imported by several transport vehicles, quickly gathered amongst the army and civilian carriers. In a way, it was a miracle of logistics.
Though from different military bases, pilots and other personnel were able to adapt to the circumstances, so they did not interfere too much when they organized themselves into the marching units under the most experienced officers.
The local workers stared at them with a silent question, wondering what made them to perform such maneuvers. Only the foreman asked a few curious words, but Gromov refused to tell him anything. There was no need to cause the panic among civilians.
The soldiers settled quietly in their transport capsules and waited for the ignition to begin. The gloomy atmosphere derived from the facts that the battle ahead was difficult, and they did not know each other well; therefore, they avoided the usual encouraging and small talk.
Only Akane teased Lieutenant Schubert, who was cumbersome to find answers, so she went on, not curious what he might want to tell.
"She's a good girl, Sava," Andrey Jerzinski said quietly to the friend. "I think she's into you. Didn't you think you'd marry her and settle down?"
"Are you really going to pretend that Samara was the only one? You're a poser."
"Oh, shut up," Gromov said gently. "You would never understand the concept of Platonic love."
"Right," Andrey agreed, inspecting Akane's body. "I know your taste. Not curvy, she's a slim tomboy, lacking in her chest and bottom’s areas. Samara was more Platonic in that regard… What are we waiting for, anyway?"
"Schubert has been ordered from the headquarters to delay our departure. A reinforcement from the hospital is on the way."
"You can't be serious. Not him!"
"Oh, yes," Gromov almost spat. "Our steel man rose from the dead. He decided that without him the battle would have been lost in advance."
"I hope they cleansed his uniform," Andrey laughed. “Or his ass is glowing brown.”
Gromov feared the reality would not be so cheerful. When Colonel Steiner appeared, his hunch was confirmed.
"Damn doctors! I've been telling them it's nothing serious."
The pale colonel, barely standing on his feet and wildly staggering, ignored heartily the fact that he was taken to the ambulance when he had fell unconscious.
"Apparently, they were communicating in astral spheres," whispered Andrey, thinking the same thing.
"I was hugely surprised," Steiner continued critically. "I don't understand why you have left half of my people behind. If I could manage, they could as well."
"They certainly couldn't, sir," Gromov said calmly. "If it comes to maneuvers in Q-Field, none of us want to rely on colleagues who are barely conscious. We are willing to help, but we insist on basic safety rules."
Intentionally, Gromov mentioned that they do not fall under the local jurisdiction, indicating so Steiner should be rather thankful.
He realized that, because he stayed almost silent, not resisting to murmur aloud. "A troublemaker as always.".
Gromov glared at Akane in a worry his fierce supporter jumps to the action again.
Apparently, Steiner concluded that Lieutenant Schubert had the lead; he turned to him and pointed to the cadets, "Lieutenant, what are these kids doing here? Did you have any good reason to take them with you?"
Heinrich did not search for excuses. He explained, almost stammering, there was no better alternative with the current lack of gunners, which Steiner acknowledged with raised eyebrows.
"Had I not known you," he said finally. "I'd have thought the inner enemy caught you. I’m truly disappointed, Lieutenant. Such incapacity in times of crisis."
Suddenly, Gromov had the perceptive feeling that if the fool continues to speak, it would not be Akane, but he who would smack Steiner’s head.
"Colonel," he said. "Major Sholto has instructed me to take command. If you have any comments, I'll be glad to hear them when it's over."
Gromov wanted to add, "Nota bene, when the only sensible thing you did was your departure to the hospital."
"What? You? Why would he do that?"
"He had no time to spare. His mental state had suffered. I had to step in."
"Sure, Captain," Steiner snapped. "Always under an impression that people around you lack the ability to make the right decisions. Now you had the proper excuse to show your superiority. Surrounded by mentally retarded, aren’t you? If I recall correctly, you meddled with my decisions constantly."
Gromov decided not to answer.
"We are ready to take off," he remarked instead. "Maybe you should give the order."
Steiner seemed to realize that no one was on his side, so he stepped back, "Of course, thank you." However, before he issued his order, he commented sarcastically. "But in the end, I'm glad you took it, Sava. I would hate explaining to mothers why we let their boys and daughters die without a backup. Good luck with your conscience."
Gromov felt that Andrey was gripping him from the side, as if to prevent him from attacking the colonel.
"Thanks, Andrey," he said quietly, releasing himself. "No need to worry. When compared, he only left those kids with unlocked blasters on the streets while I sent them straight to the death. In terms of morality and ethics, he won this round."
Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.