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“Drinking that much isn’t good for your liver, you know, Klenn.”

The man addressed looked up. He knew only too well that the waiter didn’t care a fig for his health. He just wanted to close the bar, but the rules said they had to stay open until the last guest retired. And Klenn Kratcher, the only one left, showed no intention to retire.

He put the empty mug on the table, filled it again and gave the waiter a stone-cold-sober smile.

“Don’t you worry, Min. Alcohol can’t harm an artificial liver.”

“Artificial liver?!”

Min’s disbelief was understandable. If you had problems with your internals, it was ten times cheaper to buy new ones from Chenga, than to order more reliable but unbelievably expensive stuff from the Federation research centres. And in his current state Klenn couldn’t afford even the most worn-out, second-hand Chenga organ.

But Min himself had brought Klenn no less than half a dozen bottles of Gonorian whisky, a cheap local swill. Klenn was finishing the last of them. The liquor was so strong that people usually couldn’t remember their own names the day after drinking it. Only an artificial liver along with artificial kidneys could free the body from that poison that fast.

His eyes wide open, Min sat down at an empty chair.

“How did you manage to get one, Klenn?”

“I used to be a Federation trooper. It was included in my medical insurance.”

“Bullshit. If you were just a trooper, not an officer, your medical insurance would only pay for analgesics to ensure a painless death.”

Klenn took a gulp from his mug, his gaze dimmed for a moment, but then he winked and looked at Min again, as sober as a judge.

“Are you sure you want to hear the story, Min?”

“Of course I do! A trooper with the level of injuries you claim to have had has no chance of survival.”

“Survival,” with a mere trace of a smile echoed Klenn. “Yes, it is a tale about survivors. Bring me another bottle of this stuff and I’ll tell it to you.”

They said it was a very important and secret mission. So secret that we weren’t told where we were going and what we were going to do there. Anyway, it was a common situation in Security, and we didn’t expect anything special. Usually such missions meant heading to a rebel planet and getting rid of insurgents by either killing them or poisoning the air or the water to make them obedient.

That time we were given no drugs. So, it was obvious we would use the guns. Thus the only two things left unknown to us were the name of the planet we were going to and the names of the rebels we were going to kill. None of us cared what the criminals’ names were. When you clean your house, you don’t ask the dirt to introduce itself. And the planet… Well, it wasn’t any of our homeworlds, so it was of no greater importance than the rebels’ names.

We only felt the situation was unusual when we found out what we were going to attack. A Federation base!

Then the shooting began, and I had no time to think. I was in the rear guard. Group after group the troopers disappeared inside, and our task was to shoot at the insurgents, in case any of them tried to escape.

Then I was astonished for the second time. The Supreme Commander himself showed up with a covering team. Maybe he came because it was his first month in the position, and he wanted to prove the President he deserved it. I don’t know.

Anyway, we were ordered to get inside. It all looked a right mess. The corridors were full of rebels’ and troopers’ bodies. But when I got into the control room, I found one of the rebels still alive. He was standing over the body of a scumbag who’d already been eliminated and he was surrounded by no less than ten troopers and was clearly on death’s doorstep, but was still shooting. I raised my gun, but he got me first… Ah, no, Min. That wasn’t when I lost most of my internals. I was only wounded in the shoulder. Enough, though, to fall to the floor and not get up.

After a couple of more shots the rebel fell as well.

Then the Supreme Commander entered the control room followed by my Commissioner.

“Excellent work, Commissioner Sleer,” he said.

I couldn’t see well, and I was in pain. But it seemed to me that her face showed no triumph at all. I think she regretted having lost so many troopers in one battle, as she looked at the last rebel’s body and said quietly:

“Such a waste.”

The Supreme Commander continued:

“I expect you intended to restore your power with this action. I’m afraid I can’t afford this, Commissioner.”

She startled, looked into his eyes and reached for her gun. The Supreme Commander’s guards must have interpreted her instinctive gesture of a well-trained officer as a threat to his life. And they were good guards trained to ‘first shoot then think’.

Once she’d fallen, the Supreme Commander declared:

“Inform the President that Commissioner Sleer was shot dead while neutralizing Blake’s group. Very tragic.” He paused and added, “Now get rid of the survivors, if any.”

The last thing I remember was a gun aimed to my stomach.

I recovered in the hospital. Half of my body was artificial, and I was told everything was covered by the insurance.

Their version was that the Supreme Commander’s officers had misunderstood the order and had begun shooting at all the wounded men and women, making no difference between rebels and Federation troopers, and the Supreme Commander hadn’t managed to stop them until it was too late. There had only been three survivors among the wounded troopers, but the other two died in the hospital. I was the only lucky one.

Later I found out the stuff they’d inserted into my body was experimental, and had only been tested on animals before me.

Anyway, I didn’t mind. I was offered good compensation, as were the families of all the troopers killed during the operation, and decided to end my military career.

The next two years I travelled from planet to planet, enjoying a happy life until a viscast brought me disturbing news. The whole military unit I had once belonged to had heroically died in a peace-management operation on Horizon.

I knew what Horizon was. A strong, independent planet. No one could seriously hope to bend it to submission with just one military unit.

Funnily enough, at the same time it was announced that Supreme Commander Dev Tarrant was running for presidency. You remember, this was shortly after the former President had tragically died in a spaceship crash. And Dev Tarrant’s political programme, the one that helped him win, included as one of the major points “peaceful resolution of all the conflicts”.

Having become the only Gauda Prime operation survivor, I decided to stay one. So, I headed to the Freedom City, where I spent all my money buying myself a grave, a burial certificate, a new identity and a ticket to Gonora.

Klenn Kratcher, or whatever his real name was, took the last gulp and put the empty mug on the table.

“I was sure I fooled them, Min. Stupid of me. Have you heard a Federation military ship landed in the port last night? Three guesses what they need in this poky hole of a place.”

The door flew open. The waiter startled and rushed away from his interlocutor.

“No chance, Min. They leave no survivors.”