Demob Happy Part 1
The drop shuttle fell towards the moonlit waters of Barsoom bay like a diving sea bird, its floats deploying then digging into the water, swells of ripples spraying upwards from the landing gear as the shuttle taxied across to the dock. Nishu got up, hefting her duffle and headed towards the shuttle's doors with the press of passengers, glad to finish the long flight. Stepping out of the neatly appointed military shuttle, she took a breath of air and realized how warm it was. Stepping forward she looked around, seeing familiar buildings in the distance. Home.
Getting here finally was kind of an anti-climax.
"Nishu!" Nishu looked up and saw her mothers and one of her sisters waving at her "Don't just stand there! You're holding people up!" Taira, one of her mother's waved her over. Nishu smiled and headed forward, her duffle hanging from one shoulder. The three hugged her and assaulted her with questions. "How was your flight?" "You weren't stuck in orbit for too long?" "It's been so long."
Nishu smiled "Yeah. Apparently this was the first time the yurps were willing to let us do a substantial space lift." She returned the hugs "I'm glad to be back." The words were inadequate. The three didn't seem to mind too much, ushering Nishu back into the car park near the port, where Taira's compact stood. "So uh, am I the first one back?" Nishu asked.
"Well... Hilde is still apparently a prisoner of war, nobody knows how repatriation will really work. Mai is still stuck on Londenium, and they haven't let Yuri home from garrison yet." Lamai, her other mother looked up at the sky and the new lights there, orbiting EU battleships, hanging around the planet like vengeful angels. Nishu had gazed at them on the way in, horrified by their number "Not that I can really blame them for still wanting them. Do you think they'll come now?"
"I think if they were going to they wouldn't have let us bring even a division home from New Mercia." Nishu smiled "I think it's over now. One way or the other."
"What kind of peace will it be?" Her sister asked. She'd been working as a research scientist through the war, and had never been conscripted. It made Nishu smile slightly that she deferred to Nishu so. Did the mantle of being in military intelligence really count for so much next to so many more years and so many degrees?
Nishu shrugged "I don't know. The core are exhausted, even with this, they can't afford to keep the ground war going. They were replacing more and more of their troops with robots by the end, just couldn't get enough guys in the front line." She ran a hand through her short hair, remembering when it had been longer "So... whatever peace we can negotiate I guess."
"No more talk of that!" Taira hefted Nishu's bag into the back of the car as if it weighed nothing "There's a ton of people who want to see you Nishu. A party for the first of our cadre to return home, and all the other troops who are coming in."
Nishu got into the passanger side of the compact and leaned back "Alright. I'm looking forward to it." She looked up at the sky again and then back down at the gleaming city around her.
The party was on the beach and the street behind it, with loud music being played live from a local band and various snacks being cooked on all manner of portable cookers. Nishu felt rather out of place arriving still in uniform, though she saw several other people dressed similarly. She blinked slightly as they got out and felt overly hot even in her summer weight uniform. She'd felt the same way on leave, as if her body had adapted to the icy chill of New Mercia. She adjusted the cooling element but it still felt so hot and muggy.
For a moment she stood on the edge crowd, not quite knowing what to do, and then a wave of people broke around her. "Nishu!" She was hugged by an old girlfriend, then kissed and told she looked well. Then a girl she'd known from school came and shook her hand vigorously, and one of her parents friends handed her a mug of ice cool beer and a burger and she was drawn into the noise and the crowd.
"Hey Nishu!" Her old school teacher, Ms. For waved at her. She was heavily pregnant but still looked ridiculously hot.
"Ms. For, you're pregnant!" Nishu said, then realized how foolish it sounded.
"Call me Lina. You're not in high school anymore Nishu." Ms. For... Lina smiled at her "You just landed?"
"Yeah, just in tonight." Nishu took a gulp of her beer "How have things been here?" What was one supposed to ask in situations like this.
"Oh, they've been ok. There was some bombing and a few breaker strikes after the space battle, but everyone was in the shelters." Ms. For was using military slang. It didn't seem right somehow "How's your friend Fadime? You were in the same battalion weren't you?"
"Oh, yes." Nishu smiled "She was wounded but last letter I her say's she was fine. She was transferred to a hospital on Londenium. I guess she'll be back soon."
"It must have been bad if they needed to take her all the way to Londenium." Ms. For... Lina, Nishu reminded herself seemed so concerned. It almost made Nishu feel bad about her flippancy.
"Uh, yes, but the letter said her limb replacement had gone well so she's ok." Nishu tried to smile, then awkwardly changed the subject to asking about her teacher's baby. Ms. For told her she'd decided to have it naturally for patriotic reasons. There was a serious drain on uterine tanks at the moment to clone organs for various causalities, so she hadn't wanted to add any more strain.
The conversation was starting to draw down when one of Nishu's school friends Kyung Hye, who'd until recently been a combat frame pilot dragged Nishu off to swim in the ocean. Nishu hadn't swum for several years now, but found she hadn't forgotten how.
"You were in the oxymorons right?" Kyung Hye asked "What are you going to do now?"
"I'm not sure." Nishu lay back looking up at the night sky, "I think maybe just go to university. I thought I'd study political science or international relations or maybe sociology, so..." she paused as a shooting star fell, followed by another. Debris from the ring or the remains of someone's ship or craft? Nishu thought that was sad, or tried to.
Really though it reminded her of an muddy field at night, of a falling trail of light and a massive flash. Breaker coming down. She shook her head in the water, feeling her unbound hair slosh wetly. How long since she hadn't worn a braid.
Kyung Hye was watching her "You you'll be ok on civie street?"
"I guess." Nishu turned and looked back at the beach, distant now, the light and music and laughter at a more reasonable distance. "Thanks for bringing me out here."
"It's gets easier to take" Kyung Hye gave Nishu's shoulder a squeeze, her muscular arms reassuringly solid "and there's a ton of good things with it too. Like, not having to take orders."
Nishu grinned "Yeah, there is that, though I think I'm going to volunteer for civil service a bit and maybe stay in the reserves."
"Yeah?" The pair began to swim back towards the beach "You started to like it out there?"
Nishu took a deep breath, smelling the salt and metal tang of the ocean all around her. "Yeah."
The next day, Nishu woke with a hangover to the sound of a baby crying. She rolled out of bed and applied the sober up patch she'd apparently forgot to put on last night before gulping down some water and padding off into the room where the families youngest was. The heat outside her room was oppressive, apparently she'd remembered to turn the air conditioning on but not the sober up. The baby was Hilde's kid, she'd donated her part of it while on leave just before her unit had transferred to Wean, and her girlfriend, Aya, had had the kid put on several months later, after news of Hilde's capture had come in.
Nishu had always felt the choice was irresponsible as hell, but perhaps if you were faced with the prospect of being all alone you needed someone like this. Aya's job as a faber technician had taken her to the Capital and she hadn't felt safe to fly with the Baby with EU warships hanging overhead, so she'd left her daughter here.
Nishu lifted the baby out of its cot. She couldn't remember if anyone had told her its name or not, but she began making cooing noises and checked the tab on its nappy, it was still unused. Lifting the baby and rocking it gently she headed to the kitchen to get it some milk. Taira was stepping out of the room she shared with Lamai as Nishu walked past, and smiled slightly. "You ok with her?"
"Yeah, it's fine, I'll just get her some milk." Nishu smiled "I don't think I've forgotten how to look after a baby."
"Could you take her over to Aya's family later? I'm going to be busy all day today." She ran a hand through her hair "The old station building got hit by a kinetic harpoon and we're demolishing it."
"Really? The Yurps really dropped a breaker on that big ugly block?" Nishu programmed the milk dispenser and turned to look at her mother. "I thought they were trying to break our morale, not reinforce it."
"Well the rumour is they wanted to grant some concessions to make us more willing to negotiate." Taira stepped inside as the bottle clicked and Nishu began to feed the baby. "They'll be a vote on whether we accept whatever peace proposal they come up with soon. What do you think?" She began making breakfast.
"Eh, it depends on what the proposal is I think." Nishu cooed at the baby, which had calmed down "And yeah, I'll take her, though I've got to do a bunch of administrative crap for University and Civ-vol today too."
Taira began to load the food processor with meat and bread "Yeah, but don't stick inside all day. It's spring, you're home for the first time in ages and so on. Go and meet your friends and live a little." She gave Nishu a fierce look "I was reading a book on how to handle returners and it said social contact was very important."
Nishu shook her head in defeat "fine mum" She grinned. Taira was always reading things "I'll take a look around. It's been over a year since I was here last. Things have probably changed." Inside though, Nishu really wanted things to be mostly the same.