2952-05-08 – Tales from the Service: The Survivors’ Refuge 

Obviously, because we have the account, Daniel Kuhn and his gunner were eventually rescued, but the two badly-injured Navy spacers were not so lucky that this rescue was quick. They did indeed crash behind enemy lines, and it would not be until more than twenty-four hours after the crash that a recovery team picked them up. 

It’s something of a miracle that the pair survived for twenty-four hours in a strange wilderness as badly injured as they were. Ayama does not have any large wildlife capable of threatening a human, but exposure to the elements is equally fatal on any world. 

[N.T.B. - As you will see in the continuation of the account below, they were lucky to find shelter from those elements quickly after leaving their wrecked craft. Without that, I fear they may have perished; night-time temperatures in the region apparently drop below zero degrees Celsius and the wind can be cruel. Out in the open, they might have lost their thermal blankets to a fickle gust and frozen to death.]  

The cave was barely worthy of the name, being little more than a hollow in an overhanging bank of crumbly conglomerate, but Daniel Kuhn didn’t know if he or Val Isakov could go much farther in search of something better, and at least it kept them out of sight and out of the wind. After sweeping the inside with his jumpsuit’s wrist-light, Daniel helped his compatriot to a seated position inside, then unwrapped a silvery thermal blanket and spread it over her lap. 

Val looked up blankly, but her eyes were unfocused, looking past her companion. Shock from her recently-severed lower leg was quickly setting in, and there was nothing Daniel could do about it with only the contents of their Magpie’s emergency first-aid kit except make sure the torniquet and bandage protecting the stump didn’t come loose and try to get them rescued as soon as possible. 

Rescue, however, would have to wait; he didn’t have any fix on their position, and it seemed only too likely that they were on the wrong side of enemy lines. Trying to attract a rescue before friendly forces were close would only ensure their capture by the Incarnation, which would make Val’s case of shock the least of either of their problems. 

Daniel wasn’t in much better shape than his surviving gunner, either. Without a maximum dose of painkillers and a lot of nano-bandages, the burns on his thigh and side would be too painful for him to stand, let alone walk – and those painkillers would be wearing off in a couple of hours. He didn’t look forward to the agony awaiting him beyond the drugs. 

With trembling hands, Daniel pulled the pack off his shoulder and rooted around inside for one of the emergency ration bars within. He wasn’t hungry, but it seemed like a good idea to get some calories into his system now. Later, he might not be in any presence of mind to eat. 

“Lieutenant?” Val suddenly looked up, her eyes wide. “Where’s Haak?” 

“Relax, Isakov.” Daniel held up his hands. “Don’t you remember?” 

“He was just... He was...” Val’s hands scrabbled against the stone, as if she were trying to stand. “He’s probably still...” Her voice grew weak and faint again. “Still waiting for...” 

The thought seemed to dissolve in front of Val’s eyes, and she put her hands into her lap, staring down at them. Daniel winced and returned to chewing the unappetizing ration bar. 

A sound like a footstep above their hide-out made Daniel freeze. Val didn’t seem to have heard it, so after a few seconds, he began to relax; perhaps it was just a figment of his imagination. 

A moment later, he heard the sound again, this time louder, closer. Daniel slowly reached down to the side-arm hanging from his belt and slid it free of its holster. He knew only too well what Incarnation troops did with prisoners. He and Val weren’t going to be taken without a fight. Barely breathing, he trained the muzzle of the weapon on the center of the cave-mouth, waiting for targets to present themselves. 

Seconds ticked by, and the only sound was the mournful whistle of the wind through the rugged boulders and scraggly trees outside. Daniel knew he hadn’t imagined the sound. Someone was out there. The only question was whether they’d been discovered. 

“Lieutenant...” Val whispered. 

Daniel held up his hand and shot her a warning glance. If there were Incarnation soldiers out there, even the slightest sound would make their discovery certain. Hopefully she would recognize the need to be quiet, even in her current state. 

“I was thinking.” Val whispered hoarsely. “Do you think anyone in the squadron saw where we went down?” 

Daniel frowned; he hadn’t thought of that. He hadn’t sent any distress call either before or after their hard landing, but there had been at least five other Magpies in the sky when they’d been hit. Now, of course, the question seemed academic. Whoever was out there now would get to them first – and if it was friendlies, there would be familiar voices calling his name, and Val’s. 

Val shivered and hugged the thermal blanket to herself. Daniel gritted his teeth and rested the grip of his gun on his knee, still waiting for a figure in a silver Incarnation uniform to appear between him and the sky beyond. 

Despite his certainty that he’d heard footsteps, though, no figure appeared. The shadows began to grow longer, and the distant, itchy feeling of heavily suppressed pain began to blossom once more.