Da svidaniya, Kapitan

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An excerpt from Peripatetica, by M. K. Sebastien, Engr. ret.

Monday, 10 Jun 2518
Juniper Springs Settlement
Jiang Yin, Red Sun (Zhu Que) System
18:30 hrs, local time

        I could see the community graveyard from where I sat. In it, two men were busily digging a grave with the speed that comes of familiarity. The crosses dotting the fenced-in ’yard clued me in as to how they’d acquired it. As for the cause of it, the bandits were cooking in a burn pile some distance off, their bodies stripped of anything useful by the settlers they’d terrorized.
        I turned away from the scene and got back to my work: sewing Ivan Sergeyevich Potemkin, late the Captain of the MakeMake, into his shroud. A breeze off the flats brought the scent of the burn pile past my nose. I smelled hickory smoke mixed with roasting flesh, pork-like, and despite the gruesome source my mouth watered.
        I picked up my needle.
        Shut it down. Stay focused. Sew.
        I was tying off the last stitch when Arden approached me from behind. I hated having him at my back and I tried not to twitch.
        “Christian told me you took a hit,” Arden said.
        “Christian talks too much.” I leaned over, bit off my thread and tucked the needle in a fold of my handkerchief. I’d put it back in my sewing kit later.
        “Seriously,” Arden persisted. “Let me check you out.”
        Not in a million years.
        I hit Arden with a hard stare. The man was either oblivious or inured to it, because he refused to drop the subject.
        “A gut shot isn’t something you should take lightly,” he said.
        “It is when it’s light.” I rose from the metal of the deck and shoved the handkerchief in my pocket. “Forget it. I had my vest on.”
        “Had you not, you’d be lying next to the Captain.”
        “You keep this up, Arden, I’ll make sure he has some company. Now, shove off. I’ve got more important things to do.” I gave him my back, though I had little hope the snub would even register, and muttered a quick prayer for the dead.
        “Poydityeh s’bogum, Ivan Sergeyevich. Go with God.”
        I signed the cross—forehead, chest, right shoulder, left—and turned to leave the container, sidestepping Arden.
        “Rina—,” I heard him say behind me, and I spun to face him, thoroughly fed up.
        “Look, go molest the ruttin’ corpse if you want to, but keep your damned hands off me, you got that?”
        That shut him up.
        I double-timed the stairs to the upper deck. I didn’t stop until I had the door to my quarters locked between me and the bastard below. I wasn’t entirely rational where it concerned the man, I knew that, but nothing my head could say would convince my gut otherwise: the man was a letch. Doctor or not, there was no way in hell I was getting anywhere near nude with him.
        He was right, however. Vest or not, a gut shot isn’t something to leave unexamined. I frowned at the hole the bullet had made through my coveralls and my shirt and removed the mesh to eye the flesh beneath. The bullet was from a six-shooter, nothing big, but bruise it left was larger than one would think. I took a deep breath to check my insides. Nothing broken. Good. One night’s sleep would take care of the worst of it. I’d be sore the next few days, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t worked through before. I donned my vest and got dressed, and left to tell Nika that the Captain was ready for burial.

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