Hana supposed that there must have been parts of Weblish that were nice to look at. After all, it was a habitable world with millions of people living on it. There must have been plants growing on the planet somewhere. But every area she’d seen in the three weeks she’d been there had been more desolate than the last. Sector Bravo Seven, or, as it was known by the locals, the Arabesh Wastes, was no exception to that rule. Long stretches of flat, dry, brown land were periodically broken by massive spikes of dirt and rock that soared thousands of feet into the bright blue sky.
The Arabesh Wastes weren’t just harsh to look at, either. They were also treacherous to traverse. The seemingly unbroken flatlands hid deep, jagged chasms that were nearly invisible until you were right on top of them. For that reason, the vehicles of the 4th Battalion, nicknamed “Giant Hammer”, were creeping along at a snail’s pace. Even though the APCs they were riding in, known as “Groundhogs”, were hover vehicles, they could only hover a few feet above the ground. If the distance between a Groundhog and the ground suddenly went from 3 feet to 300 feet, the result would not be pleasant. Hana figured, with a tiny smirk, that their pace fit the unit’s nickname pretty well. It would, after all, be hard to move a giant hammer quickly. Hopefully they also hit as hard as their nickname suggested once they reached their destination.
“Hey, Captain,” said Lt. Velencias Moratino to Hana suddenly, “look at this.” He was sitting across from her in the transport, and he handed her a tablet that she took with a slight frown. She stared at the tablet for a moment, and then rolled her eyes and flung it back at him with an expression that was half disgusted and half amused.
“Very funny, Lieutenant,” she said dryly as Moratino cackled in delight.
“I figured you could use a laugh, Captain,” he said with a broad grin on his tanned face. Moratino was short but thickly muscled, with a shaved head, a thin beard across his jawline and chin, and no mustache. He had always been something of an enigma to Hana. Normally reserved and serious to a fault, every once in a while he’d do something or say something that revealed a surprisingly deep sense of humor. “We haven’t had much to laugh about for awhile,” he continued, his grin fading and his normal somber expression reappearing.
“Hey, cheer up, man,” said the soldier sitting next to him, Master Chief Shalaminas Retico. Retico and Moratino were best friends, and opposite each other in just about every way. Retico was tall and thin, with long, wavy brown hair, no beard, and a thick, ridiculous mustache that he curled up on the ends. Where Moratino was generally somber, Retico almost always had a boyish grin on his face, and he seemed to consider it his life’s mission to get Moratino to laugh. “Things are never as bad as they seem, ya know? I think better days are just around the corner.”
“You always think better days are just around the corner,” Moratino grunted sourly. “And yet, here we are, riding in a Groundhog across the ugliest desert I’ve ever had the misfortune of laying eyes on.”
“Well, yeah,” replied Retico, “but at least we’re in a Groundhog and not an Adralack.”
“An Adralack would be pretty terrible out here,” Moratino admitted, “but it sure wouldn’t make our surroundings any uglier.”
“Oh, but just think about all the arvinium that’s under our feet!” Retico exclaimed. “Enough to make us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams!”
“I’d rather not think about it,” Moratino sighed. “If there wasn’t arvinium out here, we wouldn’t be bothering to conquer this pitiful rock.”
“Okay, enough!” Hana ordered as Retico opened his mouth to reply. He snapped his mouth shut with a frown, but even frowning, he had a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. Hana glared at him and said, “Don’t even think about it, Master Chief. I’m not in the mood.” Retico sighed dramatically and turned his twinkling eyes on Vedregela, who was sitting next to him, on the opposite side as Moratino.
Hana almost smiled at the way Vedregela rolled her eyes when Retico began chattering away at her in his enthusiastic manner, but it was hard to really smile about anything these days. She sighed and turned so she could look out at the Arabesh Wastes as they crawled by. The unbroken expanse of brown and gray fit her mood perfectly. She wished it was cloudy, so the sky would match the ground. The bright blue of the Weblish sky was the only cheery thing she’d seen in the past three weeks, and she hated it. She wanted it to rain, to pour even, but she got the impression that it rarely rained on Weblish.
“Not much to look at, is it, sir?” said a voice near Hana’s ear. Hana turned and saw Sergeant Cadalar Veska sitting next to her. Sgt. Veska was a member of the 4th Battalion, in charge of the particular Groundhog that Starfengt was riding in. He was a grizzled veteran, with hard, dark blue eyes, a shaved head, a long scar across his left cheek and a short one across his chin.
“That, Sergeant, is the biggest understatement I’ve heard all day,” Hana replied dryly. Veska smiled slightly.
“I forget, sometimes, what this place must look like to outsiders,” he said in a somewhat melancholy tone.
“You’re from Weblish?” Hana asked in surprise.
“Not just Weblish, sir,” Veska replied. “The Arabesh Wastes. I was a miner before the war started. Imperial Army rounded a bunch of us up and forced us into service. I fought for them for a few years, but then I wised up and came over to Fangalin. Never regretted it.”
“No, I can’t imagine why you would,” Hana murmured.
“It’s good to be home,” Veska said, gazing out at the desolate landscape. “I never realized how much I missed this place. Being an arvinium miner was a hard life, but it was a good life. It’ll be satisfying once this planet is firmly under Fangalin control.”
“I bet,” Hana said, thinking. Home. She hadn’t been home in so long. She barely remembered what Bliddle was like. Maybe reconnecting with her roots would help her gain some clarity.
To be continued…