Captain Michael Pierce, UEEM, stepped into the well-appointed New Babbage hangar and blinked in surprise at the wreck of the RSI Constellation resting on the deck before him. It had definitely been a Phoenix before getting shot full of holes and what was left of it was meticulously disassembled and scattered around the bay. The entire aft plasma injector assembly had been lowered to the floor and the sounds of hammering and muttered curses were emanating from its depths.
“Colonel?” he shouted out.
“I’m retired!” answered the aft plasma injector assembly.
Of course you are.
After a moment, the hammering stopped. “Mick, is that you?” came the voice. With a series of bangs and curses, an older man in stained coveralls extricated himself from the injector manifold, straightened up painfully, and looked over to Pierce with a raised eyebrow.
“Captain Mick, it seems. Congratulations.” Pierce smiled and strode over to the man, who had gone back to fussing with a component on the exterior of the injector.
“I heard what happened,” said Pierce quietly. “I’m sorry, I wish I’d been there.”
“Soldiers live and wonder why,” said the older man without looking up.
“Still…. I heard that Bobby-”
Pierce unconsciously rubbed the rose and shield tattoo on his wrist. “Damn. Colonel…who’s left?”
The other man stopped working on the component and sighed. “Not many.”
“Listen,” continued Pierce,”I was thinking of mustering out in a few months, I was wondering if you wanted help.”
The Colonel straightened and looked Pierce in the eye for the first time. He looked so much older and more worn than when they’d last met. He obviously hadn’t been sleeping much.
“Listen Mick,” he said, wiping coolant from his hands with a dirty rag, “you stay in, they’ll give you a company in a few years, or your own ship. You’re a talented leader.”
“We’re out there fighting animals, sir.”
“And you’re in the thick of it, Marine. You’re at the right rank to notice the good ones.”
Pierce sighed. “Right…there’s not many left.”
The old man nodded. “We were called to pay the price.”
Pierce nodded sadly. “Alright then, one more tour. It hasn’t been the same since you retired, sir.”
“The privilege was mine. And I’m sure your men will feel the same way about you.”
Pierce shuffled his feet and looked up at the Constellation to change the subject. “So…what’s all this?”
“This!” the other man beamed in a strange combination of genuine joy and fiendish glee, “Is a new project. We stumbled upon each other a few weeks ago and I couldn’t leave her out in the cold.”
“She’s going to take a lot of work.”
“Everything does. She’s…beautiful…isn’t she?”
“What’s her name?”
“She’s the Be Quick, My Love.”
Pierce glanced sidelong at the other man and smirked. “That doesn’t sound like you, Colonel.”
The Colonel smiled up at the ship and gave the wrench in his hand a little flip. “Maybe it should, Mick,” he said, “And I told you…I’m retired.”
Of course you are.