“Captain? Sir, we need to look at your arm.”
Shownu barely glanced up at the Medical Tech who was speaking to him. Just a Pvt. He had no business ordering Shownu around (even though it was a well-known fact that rank didn’t matter when it came to Med staff. You did as they requested if you didn’t want trouble for it later, but at the moment Shownu didn’t care about that).
“I’m fine,” he stated quietly, shifting his weight so his center of gravity was planted more firmly in the chair he was sitting in outside the Reconstruction room. He had no intentions of leaving until he was certain that his Corporal was okay.
“You’re bleeding all over the place,” the Tech argued, his tone more than a little miffed.
Shownu was about to argue when Wonho limped around the corner with a fresh bandage running diagonally across his left eye.
“Leave him,” Wonho stated in a firm, albeit tired voice to the Pvt. “He won’t budge until Minhyuk’s out of there. I’ll slap some field gel on his arm until then.”
The Pvt. hesitated for only a moment more before nodding his head with a resigned sigh. “Thank you, Lt. Please get him to Grafting as soon you’re both done here.”
Wonho gave the poor Tech a little salute before plopping down in the chair beside Shownu, pulling a tube of gel out of his cargo pocket and quickly setting to work in slathering up the long gash that ran in a jagged path up the Captain’s arm. The blood underneath stopped oozing almost immediately, leaving a layer of red crystals that sparkled grotesquely on Shownu’s skin. They would melt eventually as they had done after his initial patch out in the field, but it would serve as a quick fix for the time being.
“Your leg?” Shownu asked quietly.
Wonho shrugged. “Shrapnel’s out. Grafting went well. They said it won’t even scar. The muscle underneath will be sore for a little bit, but otherwise it’s okay.”
“And your eye?”
“They sealed it for now and numbed it so I can’t feel anything.” He nodded his head towards the ominous door they and a few other fellow soldiers were waiting outside of. “I’m on the list, but the criticals are too heavy to get me in right now.”
Shownu nodded absently. Their whole damn fleet had been outnumbered horribly today. So many people had died…
Goddammit, it was a stupid war that didn’t even make any sense. The planet they were fighting over was huge with plenty of resources. The three warring species could literally claim stakes on any third of the planet’s land and be able to thrive there for countless generations before they would start running out of room in their little corners. No one seemed to understand that though, alien nor human. Everyone was so damn greedy, so damn desperate to have it all to themselves that they’d forgotten about the simple concept of sharing. Now they were just dying.
It had been the Kre’e Huoa forces who had ambushed them this time, taking the human ships clean out of the sky before they’d even landed, and picking off whoever they could as the survivors ran for cover. Shownu imagined it must’ve been a bit like the reports he’d studied of D-Day in Normandy in Earth’s WWII; bloody and brutal and practically hopeless, yet somehow victorious in the end. Today was the same; the human race had managed to impossibly stake claims on a foothold on the most heavily desired water coastline on the planet, and would most likely continue to push the Kre’e back over the next several days until the aliens were either forced to vacate that portion of the land or make the choice to set up camp in the open desert.
What was left of Shownu’s platoon (only seven members now out of an original sixteen) would probably have to go right back down to rejoin the fight once they were all pieced back together again. They never got any damn rest. They couldn’t afford it. If they let up for one second, one microsecond, either the Kre’e Huoa or the N’lukquxion would wipe them out of that corner of the galaxy.
It still didn’t make it okay that everyone Shownu knew was always dying around him.
“Have you heard anything about the others?” he asked, feeling a little guilty that he hadn’t checked up on them, that he hadn’t any urgent need to join them in Grafting or Cal-Repair or Ejection because he hadn’t been nearly as injured as the rest. Protect your Commanding Officer. That was their fleet’s number one objective following their actual Mission Objective. The CO was valuable, everyone else was expendable. It had been brainwashed into every recruit’s mind since day one of joining Earth’s Universal Military Fleet. Shownu wished now he had never even heard of the EUMF.
Wonho sighed and rubbed a little at his cheek beneath his damaged eye, his finger scratching up underneath a loose edge of the bandage. It was one of the few signs of aggravation he would show in front of his CO, but one that Shownu knew intimately well. They’d met in training camp and been serving together ever since, making him an easy choice for 1st Lieutenant when Shownu was promoted and was made to choose one.
“Jooheonie should be out of Cal soon,” Wonho stated, not as a soldier rattling off a report to his superior, but as a friend trying to dampen the blow of bad news at the end of a bad day. “It was broken in four different places, but he should heal up okay.”
Jooheon, Shownu’s 2nd Lt, had had his arm practically shattered when he’d reached for Minhyuk at the wrong time, catching the full brunt of one of the Kre’e soldier’s Force Wave guns. He’d been lucky it was his arm and not his skull like the Sgt who had been standing next to him. Cal-Repair could handle most bone breaks, but there wasn’t much they could do about scrambled brains.
“Kihyun’s going to be in Grafting for probably the next few hours,” Wonho continued, not needing to say anymore than that. Shownu already expected as much.
Kihyun, one of the Platoon’s Specialists, just caught the edge of a Flash Blast (or a “Dying Sun” as the troops preferred to call it). Anyone who was in the middle of it when it went off was vaporized almost instantly. Kihyun had been turned partially away, but the clothing on his entire right side from shoulder to shoes was pretty much melted to his skin, and the arm he’d lifted to protect his face was burned in places nearly down to the bone. Grafting would have their hands full getting his muscles, nerves, and skin regrown and functioning normally again.
A small smile touched one corner of Wonho’s lips as he moved on to the next member. “Hyungwon was giving them hell in Ejection when I left for Grafting. You know how he is. He’ll be in there for another hour just because he’s being difficult.”
Good. Something to laugh about at least. Hyungwon was their toughest Sergeant, but never to be called “tough as nails” because Shownu had seen him pull nails out of his body once without even flinching; nails had nothing on Hyungwon. The funny thing about that was that he didn’t exactly look the part, not even close. He was the exact opposite of a powerhouse with his lean features and handsome bone structure, but he made up for it with a personality that said, “Bitch, you fuck with me, you die.” Shownu was pretty sure Hyungwon would outlive all of them. How he had survived the amount of shrapnel he’d taken in the same Clusterbomb that had caught Minhyuk was beyond Shownu’s understanding, but the fact that he remained conscious and difficult while Ejection was pulling all that metal out of him didn’t surprise the Captain one bit.
“They have Changkyun up in Psyche right now,” Wonho finished more soberly. “They fitted him with a pair of temporary Aurals, but the fit isn’t very good. He should get his customs in a day or so.” He huffed out a bitter laugh. “Along with a promotion.”
Ah yes. Promotions. The pat on the back that said ‘Congrats, Private! You made it through another wave of watching all your friends die like the honorary shields you are! You are now a higher ranking Pvt, which means you’re moving about an inch further towards the back lines where the Officers are! Yay, you!’
This would make it Changkyun’s fifth promotion, one away from official Officer status, having earned the previous four in all the other missions he’d been sent out on prior to being assigned to Shownu’s Platoon. Poor kid had the worst luck with watching his entire units die in front of him; no wonder Psych kept calling him up to evaluate him. He wasn’t the type to crack though, not that easily. He didn’t consider it to be bad luck that he kept winding up in missions that got everybody killed. On the contrary, he thought he was luckiest bastard alive because he kept coming out of them in everything but a body bag, just like this time. The enemy’s Otic Burner wave had caught him as easily as it had the other Pvt’s in the front lines, but the razor round he’d taken in the hip directly afterwards knocked him out of the game early enough where the pain and sudden loss of hearing didn’t send him into the same panicked state as everyone else. All the other poor kids had been lost causes at that point, scrambling around with their inability to hear their Officers’ orders until they walked themselves right into enemy traps or fell under heavy fire.
It had been nothing more than a slaughter, one that Shownu wished he could’ve prevented, but he didn’t have much of an opportunity to try. With all the confusion of the ship’s crash landing and instant ambush upon deboarding, everyone had been scattered all over the place. None of those kids would’ve been hit by that Burner in the first place if they’d been where they were supposed to be, but they’d landed so damn far off course that no one on their base ship could even help them. They were completely blind out there and the enemy knew it, using that to their advantage to split them apart.
It had been Minhyuk and Hyungwon who had realized what was happening with the young recruits first, and had gone out with a few others to try to help save some of the poor kids (as Shownu had later learned from Jooheon when they were all being carted back to the ship by Medevac), but the Clusterbomb got them before they could be of any use. Clusters were nasty weapons, designed not only to take lifeforms out in the initial blast, but also to mow any remaining survivors down with a volley of barbed debris.
It had been the blast that had caught Minhyuk, sending him hurtling up into a tree where he got stuck up in the branches. The shrapnel took down Hyungwon, but not enough where he wasn’t able to call Jooheon’s nearby makeshift unit for help, one Jooheon had pieced together from the surviving members of other Platoons. There weren’t many of them left either after they had finally rescued Minhyuk and Hyungwon had reconvened with Shownu at Medevac’s selected pickup location. Shownu had managed to get Kihyun and Wonho there himself, Wonho’s eye and leg having been injured in the initial ship’s crash, taking him out of the game right from the very start. Sgt. Gunhee from 8th Platoon had scooped up Changkyun somewhere along the way and hauled him along to their evac site with the couple members of his own remaining unit. There were even fewer of his than there were of Shownu’s. That was the worst part, knowing that so many EUMF ships had touched down in the initial invasion, but only one Medevac ship was required to bring back the soldiers who were still alive.
What would the survivors get out of it? Some sort of medal for their bravery probably, for being the ones to take the first hit and reveal the enemy’s hand. Some people would get promotions like Changkyun. They’d all get a bonus on their next paycheck, which most of them would send back home because, really, what the hell were they supposed to spend it on in space? They’d get a few days of medical rest. Kihyun was getting a lot of new skin, Changkyun was getting mechanical implants to make up for his ruined ears, Hyungwon was gaining another jarful of metal to add to his collection of shit that’s been pulled out of his body, Jooheon would have a useless, sore arm for a few days until he was completely done with his calcium repair treatments (plus the memories of watching a guy’s head cave in on itself right next to him along with having to pull his mangled best friend out of a tree), Wonho was going to get a shiny new manufactured eye, and Minhyuk–
The door opened, causing Shownu and Wonho to jump up to their feet immediately. A gurney was being pushed out, the patient atop it dutifully covered up to his chin, a chin that lead to softly smiling lips and dull, but welcoming eyes as they landed on the two worried men in the hallway.
“Hi,” Minhyuk greeted in a whisper.
Shownu smiled back as he fell into step beside the gurney, Wonho limping along behind him. “Hi,” was all Shownu could muster up to say in return, reaching down to grab at the pale hand that slipped out from under the sheet.
Wonho likewise rested his hand so lightly on Minhyuk’s forehead, mindful of the spattering of scratches across his face. “How is he?” he asked the Tech quietly as the Corporal closed his eyes under the gentle touch.
“Already adapting nicely to the changes,” the Med Tech answered. “Once Grafting is done with him, no one will even know the difference.”
A lofty chuckle escaped Minhyuk’s lips. “I’m more robot...than Shownu now.”
Shownu didn’t laugh. He smiled slightly when Minhyuk cracked his eyes open to look at him, but inside he was cringing. They all called him a robot because he rarely reacted outwardly to any given stimuli. He couldn’t afford to. Too many people looked up to him to keep his cool, to be the calm center in the middle of a raging hurricane. He couldn’t allow himself to panic because doing so would only get more people killed, but to lock away the part of him that showed fear was also to lock away the parts that showed joy or sadness or pain.
Maybe it’d be different if he’d ever known real pain. Despite how many times he’d been injured in battle, he never once came out of it having to go to Reconstruction. Going in there meant part of you wasn’t coming back human. If he were to pull up the sheet on Minhyuk, he would see layers of sleek mesh curving around his left side in the place where soft flesh was supposed to be, the mesh holding in synthetic tubing that replaced a damaged intestinal tract. Even worse than that, if he looked to Minhyuk’s right leg, from the lower thigh down he would see nothing but a metal skeleton and rubbery-like bands that took the place of tendon and bone, his real leg blown to so many useless bits left to rot on an alien forest floor. Grafting would cover all of it with new muscle and skin, making him whole again just as they were doing with Kihyun, but inside he would never be the same. He had lost literal parts of himself, replaced with manufactured goods like repairing pieces of a ship’s engine. Him and Wonho and Changkyun were all going through that.
“I hate this,” he muttered, squeezing Minhyuk’s hand tighter. “I’m sorry, Minhyukie. I should’ve taken better care of you. All of you.”
“Couldn’t stop us...from being shot out of the sky,” Minhyuk breathed.
He sounded so tired. It tore at Shownu even more. He wanted this to be over quickly, for Grafting to make his Minhyukie whole again and then send him over to Cal-Repair to do treatments on his broken ribs, and then release him back into Shownu’s care where he’d take him back to his room, put him in bed, and dote on him for the next however-many-days they would have until they got put back out on assignment. That was the part that he actually resented the most, that it took injury of this magnitude for him to actually get to spend any meaningful amount of time with his partner. He was sick of it, and maybe it was about time to do something about it.
Maybe it was about time to be done with all of this fighting, period. Maybe he would take Minhyukie and Wonho and Jooheon and Changkyun and Hyungwon and Kihyun, grab them all and put them on a ship and jet the hell away from there forever. They’d be marked as traitors of course, as criminals, but maybe that was better. Maybe that was better than getting sent to the front lines over and over and over again until none of them were left, fighting over a planet that didn’t need to be fought over.
“Shownu?” Minhyuk questioned, furling his brow beneath Wonho’s fingers as he gazed blearily up at the look of simmering concentration on his boyfriend’s face.
Shownu shook his head. “It’s fine. I’m just tired.” They paused as they reached Grafting and the Tech moved to open the door. “Behave yourself in there, okay?”
“Hey!” Wonho scolded quickly, picking up on Shownu’s departing tone. “You’re going in with him. I promised that Tech.”
“I will,” Shownu was equally to placate. “I want to walk you back to Reconstruction, see how far down you are on the list.” He turned back to Minhyuk and gently ran his fingers through the blonde’s hair. “I’ll be in right behind you, Minhyukie.”
Minhyuk gave him a nod before he got pushed into the room to begin his next phase of recovery. Shownu stared after him as the door was closed in his face, then gripped Wonho’s arm lightly to start walking him back from where they came. He leaned in close to his friend’s ear as they meandered down the hall at a casual pace.
“What do you think about getting out of here? For good,” he whispered.
Wonho’s eyes went wide as he pulled back a little bit. “You’re talking about treason?” he hissed.
Shownu didn’t even blink at the term. “I’m talking about surviving.”
“Great for us, but what about our families back home? They depend on us.”
“We can fake our deaths,” Shownu replied easily enough. He hadn’t been promoted for nothing. Coming up with solutions on the fly was one of his strong points. “They’ll get grievance pay, enough to keep them set for the next few years. We can find a way to take care of them again after, when no one remembers who we are. It probably won’t even take that long, with how many of us are being sent out to die every damn day. They don’t even bother learning our names anymore.”
Wonho, ever his friend, always by his side, bit his lip as he actually put serious thought into the idea instead of doing what most people would and running to the nearest authority figure to turn Shownu in.
“You love him that much? To want to do this for him?” he asked, knowing exactly where this outrageous plan had spawned from.
“Yes, but not just for him,” Shownu sighed. “For all of us, for all of you. This isn’t right, hasn’t been right for a long time. Sixteen of us, and in under an hour there are only seven of us left. I did know their names. I knew all of them, just like I knew the ones who came before them. I can’t do it again, Wonho. I can’t keep watching my family being torn to bits in front of me. I won’t. I’ve done it enough already.”
Wonho took a few more minutes to think it over before he finally gave Shownu a slow, cautious nod. “After we’re healed,” he said, his only demand in what would be a sea of uncertainty for possibly the rest of their lives.
“After we’re healed,” Shownu agreed.
“You think the others will go?” Wonho shook his head immediately after asking, smiling at himself. “Never mind. Of course they will. This is crazy, and they’re all about crazy.”
“Yes they are,” Shownu smiled fondly back. “So it’s settled then. We’re out?”
“I guess we’re out.”
At hearing those words coming out of Wonho’s mouth, seeing the approving smile on his lips and lighting up his one good eye, a weight that had slowly been pressing Shownu down to his knees over the past several years suddenly sprouted wings and lifted itself far, far away. They were out. They were done. Whatever consequences may come, they were willing to take them. It was possibly the best decision he had made in his entire life, one he probably should’ve made before having to watch his lover nearly die in his arms or his best friends trying their hardest not to cry out in agony, or having to carry the burden of guilt all over again for sending young boys out to the slaughter for nothing more than greed and a universal power trip.
“Hey, go take care of your boy,” Wonho ordered, drawing Shownu out of his thoughts. “I’ll come find you after they take care of my eye.”
Shownu clapped him on the back and turned to head back towards Grafting where he would sit obediently for them to patch up his arm, then refuse to leave while they worked on Minhyuk, and he and Kihyun would chat a bit just to help keep the Specialist's bright mind occupied, and Jooheon would wander in at some point just to check on everyone and then also refuse to leave. Hyungwon would join them to finish repairing the damage after Ejection was done pulling metal bits out of him, and then he would proceed to complain the entire time about pretty much everything and everyone until the Med Techs finally got fed up with him enough to toss him out with being completely finished on their end. He wouldn’t mind, of course, because he somewhat liked to have scars as proof of how many times he’d survived “to tell the tale.” Wonho would get his eye probably just in time for the rest of them to be getting out of the Med Bay, after which he’d join them on the way up to Shownu’s quarters. They would stop by and rescue poor Changkyun from Psyche along the way since, as his CO, Shownu was allowed to sign him out earlier than his recommended release.
Then they would talk. They would sit down and talk and plan and ready themselves for freedom, the freedom to be their own men and live their own lives in however way they so chose without anyone barking orders down their necks, practically calling for their deaths. How, exactly, they would pull it off and where they would go was all up in the air, but they’d figure it out. Just like they always did.
It was going to be the best mission of their entire lives.