The Lost Trenches

Commander Rachel Kemper stood by the outpost gate in torrential rain, staring down her uninvited guest, countless droplets of water rolling off her lightweight suit of armor.

She shouted through the din, “As long as they have weapons, we need to be able to fire ours. You think you get to tell me to let my people die while the miners live? We were sent here to maintain order!”

Gerard Martinez, bureaucrat through and through, told her. “They’re protected citizens under the Miner Sanctions.”

“Protected my ass,” roared Rachel. “They’re shooting at us as we speak.”

Martinez gave her one of those simpering smiles that politicians do so well. “I know you think you’re the queen bee down here, Commander, but up there, on Aren, you are disposable. If you fire at the miners, you are breaking the law and will be held to it.”

Rachel met his gaze with combat readiness. It was the look she gave everyone. Living down in the Lost Trenches did that to a person, especially if it was their job to wield a weapon and give orders. Martinez was a spineless bureaucrat from head to toe, but he could raise hell for her if she gave him a reason to. Bureaucrats were notorious for making career moves by raising hell for war-mongering psychopaths.

That was the way they always billed it to the people, who were too caught up in the safety of their floating city, Aren, to understand the gruesome conflict on the ground, deep down in the trenches. It had been a bureaucrat’s decision that a military garrison get sent down here in the first place. The garrison was tasked with maintaining peace and keeping the miners in line, but somewhere along the line, some idiot platoon leader decided that life was too boring on the ground and did some backdoor dealing to get the miners armed. Now most days turned into a shootout.

Rumor was that the ringleader of the miners wanted to wipe out the military presence entirely and then demand Aren’s leaders treat them like kings. Scare them with his raw ability to take out a garrison of trained soldiers. Rachel had no intention of letting any ringleaders wipe her people out, but she couldn’t do that job by sitting on her hands and watching the miners gain ground, while some bureaucrat spat sanctions in her ear.

Captain Jensen’s voice buzzed in her ear, “Commander, do you copy?”

Rachel tapped her earpiece. “Copy that, Jensen. Status?” With a glance at Martinez, she hit the button that would broadcast Jensen’s words aloud, so that Martinez could hear them.

Martinez was still staring her down, no doubt recording everything so that he could use it against her later, if it came to that.

“They’ve breached the first barrier,” said Jensen. “I don’t know how much longer we can hold them before they realize we’re not shooting to hit them.” The com cut off and then sparked back to life. Jensen sounded more urgent this time. “They’re climbing the barrier gate, Commander. Are we clear to engage?”

Rachel directed cold fury at Martinez. “My people are about to get massacred. If they can’t defend themselves, that is what will happen. You picked a hell of a time to read sanctions to me.”

“Commander,” came Jensen’s voice, “do you copy? Are we clear to engage?”

“Copy that,” said Rachel. “Engage. I repeat, engage.”

Martinez raised an eyebrow. “You know this will be the end of your career.”

“And if I don’t do it, it’ll be the end of this garrison. Why don’t you show that part of the recording to your colleagues. Pick me apart if you want, but if this garrison dies, you’ll have a mess on your hands and you know it. Maybe another day you get your promotion, huh? Oh and here’s a free piece of advice: I’d leave that part out of the recording. Don’t want your friends getting the wrong idea about why you’re down here.”

Martinez simpered in that political way again, but his face seemed to strain this time, with the effort. “Another day, Commander.”

Rachel strode off to check in with Central Command, leaving Martinez in the rain.