The Camulus Incursion: Part 1 The Arrival
NOTE: Before committing yourself to the story, see the Synopsis uploaded on September 3. Although there are many contemporary aspects to this, I have intentionally altered some common usage (eg referring to senior airmen as ‘senior’ and not ‘airman’) to recognise that this is set in a fictional time.
(c) Rip Harden 2011. All rights reserved.
December 31, 2080. 0800 hours Zulu.
Further contact made with unidentified assailant at 0302. Fatal crushing injury sustained by A1C Patrick J. Scully. Post Mortem examination being undertaken by MAJ Gabrielle R. Hartley RM on assignment from MB-CY 6. Report expected by 1100.
SPACECOMM denied request for marine detachment and advise to treat assailant as lone rogue incursion. Command agreed to deployment of BGEN Christina T. Matterson USMC to identify and subdue assailant. ETA 1130 hours.
Entered by Marcellus C. Aries, COL USAF.”
Screen prompt: Confirm entry?
“Yes ... Logout.”
Marcellus swung his chair around from the voice record processor. He faced the open hatchway to his cabin but his vision fixed on the middle distance. The arrival of a silhouette in the hatch awoke him from his daydream.
It was a young male officer.
“Begging your pardon, sir, the SPACECOMM transporter is beginning to dock, disembark time approximately fifteen minutes.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I’m glad it’s arrived a little early.”
“Must've been favorable solar winds, sir.”
The colonel laughed as he stood.
“You would've been so much happier in the age of sail, Aleksandr. ...”
The junior officer tilted his head and looked back, puzzled.
“... thank you, dismissed.”
Marcellus grabbed his cap and followed his adjutant through the hatch.
Thirty six years old – a birthday due in 28 days – Colonel Marcellus Cassius Aries, is a great-great grandson of the champion boxer, Muhammad Ali (hence the given names). Standing 6’5” in his socks, he shares his famous ancestor’s magnificent physicality, even more so allowing for the increase in body size over the last century. The young Marcellus had joined the air force at the perfect time for a boy wanting to see action. The material cravings of China’s bourgeois middle class caused a stalling of the economic boom that had seen the People’s Republic rise to superpower status in the early part of the century. The determination of the United States to remain dominant in world affairs – and to balance the equation in Asia - saw a number of minor conflicts escalate into flashpoints: the independence of Uyghurstan, the unification of the Korean peninsula and, the most serious, the failed attempt at forced annexation of the Republic of China (Chinese Taipei).
This last event – in the final months of 2072 – intended to reunite the ‘rogue province’ with the mainland, was premised on the misguided notion that the US would not act to save its ally if it meant escalation to a ‘hot’ war. The Chinese leadership misjudged the mood of a resurgent US nationalism. One and a half million troops were mobilised and supported the RoC forces to push the PLA back into the Strait of Formosa. Through incessant attacks on the mainland, a weary populace pressed the Chinese leaders to sue for peace.
But while the truce held on land, or more correctly, on Earth, the war has simmered in the distant skies. The success of the low level ‘air defence blanket’ for both powers meant that a launched missile or other airborne nuclear or biological weapon could be destroyed within seconds. Satellites that potentially act as tactical and strategic weapons are defended at all cost. And beyond the stratosphere, into the dark confines of space where there is no air and no sound, the war has continued unabated.
Marcellus flew super-stealth bombers against Chinese targets in the 2072 conflict, fifty one missions in all. At the height these bombers flew there were never injuries or downed pilots; only survival or death. The following year he was transferred to Space Command, a unit reporting direct to the Supreme Command of Allied Forces. With never more than five hundred service personnel at any time, it is the most secretive and elite of any of the world’s armed services. Only the very best need apply. Marcellus was invited.
Arriving at the dock, the commander stood beside the controller, a senior airman. Behind him sat a processor operator, a female airman whose ISE uniform appeared to strain against the tensed muscles of her upper arms as she moved about her work. Aleksandr took up a position close to the operator.
The senior airman addressed no one in particular.
“Pressure equalisation commenced. Expected disembarkation at 0823.”
Marcellus checked his watch. A couple more minutes won’t hurt.
Service personnel on board a deployed US Aeronautical Spacecraft were required to wear a special ISE (Interplanetary and Spacecraft Equipped) utility uniform called an Icy or crystals by the crews as it had the look of a melting ice cube. Designed to fit in with the gray, glassy, fluorescent interiors of USA spacecraft, the uniforms were also strengthened and made of a fabric that afforded some protection against extreme heat and cold and solar radiation. Only the baggy-type trouser tucked into ice-gray boots could be considered similar to the utility uniforms of the early years of the century. The top half was form fitted with long sleeves, a round collar and absent zippers or fastening. Without lapels, insignia appeared on embedded epaulettes (for officers) or as sleeve chevrons. Two breast pockets were retained for materiel, above the right the black letters of SPACECOMM appeared in lieu of a personnel’s substantive service branch; an effort to remind all that they were singing from the same hymn sheet.
With the wait excruciating, the young officer attempted conversation.
“The General, sir, I’ve heard she is something of a big unit.”
There were nerves in the voice of the lean, six foot tall adjutant.
“A big unit? Interesting turn of phrase to describe our most decorated living servicewoman.”
“I, err, didn’t intend any disrespect, sir. But, umm, but we need something don’t we, someone with that extra edge.”
“She has that, Lieutenant, I can assure you.”
“You flew with her didn’t you, sir?”
“Well, more to the point I, err, escorted her on a couple of her missions.”
“Yes, Lieutenant, the General is a marine; special ops.”
“Delta Force, sir?”
The young man shook his head.
“Pegasus? Never heard of it, sir.”
“No you wouldn’t have.”
Marcellus looked at his watch. 0824. The dock hatch began to open.
The four crew snapped into position; as one, their right arms raised in salute.
Exiting the dock was a woman of such physical size and quality that Aleksandr swallowed hard, pressing into his salute to ease the tightness in his stomach.
“As you were.”
She snapped off a salute and smiled direct at Marcellus who returned her smile.
“General Matterson, welcome aboard the Camulus.”
The General wore a light gray dress tunic and skirt, a white blouse and gloves, the female service uniform of Space Command. A single silver star sat on epaulettes above massive shoulders: her chest once measured at 68 inches. She usually stood at 6’4” but in her black dress pumps she was above the Colonel’s eye line. Her hands, her feet were larger than those of most men; yet her waist was small, affording her the perfect, broad torso, like an inverted pyramid.
“And great to see you again, Colonel.”
Her voice firm and feminine, on taking the Colonel’s hand for the traditional greeting, she turned to acknowledge the others on deck.
“General, this is my adjutant, Second Lieutenant Aleksandr Konrad.”
The General smiled and shook the nervous young man’s hand.
“Russian heritage, Lieutenant?”
“No, umm, yes, yes, ma’am, my parents from the former Belarus.”
“Very good. Oh, Colonel my gear. ...”
Two of the shuttle air crew were struggling to bring a large kit bag through the dock hatch.
“... it may be a bit too heavy for the men.”
“I understand ...”
Marcellus swung around to the processor operator, standing easy.
“... Airman, please take the General’s kit to the VIP cabin.”
The woman nodded. At 5’9” she was one of the shortest of the crew, but the bulges in her uniform and breadth of shoulder told their own tale. Without effort, she swept the kit up onto her back and strode off the deck.
“And Lieutenant would you be kind enough to show the General to her quarters.”
The General grimaced at Marcellus.
“Yes, ma’am, he’s watched too many episodes of Star Patrol.”
“A good time to receive your briefing, Colonel?”
“I’m expecting a post mortem report at 1100, perhaps 1130?”
“That’s fine. My quarters?”
“Yes and I’ll follow up on your crystals. They don’t seem to be, umm, ready.”
“Don’t be too harsh, Marc, it’s been a long time since I was fitted off the rack.”
They smiled at each other, performed a hasty salute and the General turned to follow the young officer off the deck. Marcellus flicked around to catch a glimpse at the departing calves. They had to be over eighteen inches, double barrelled, pressed up and out by the force of each step.
He smiled. He was happy she was on board.
“The shuttle from Phobos Base 1 will be disembarking at the starboard dock at 0842, sir.”
“Thank you, Senior. As you were.”
Marcellus marched off the deck and cut through a supply deck to reach the starboard dock. As he eased his way through the hatch he saw a lone figure with two blue and white chevrons on the massive sleeve of her crystals, a bowed head barely visible above the tensed muscles of her broad back and neck; a slender, smallish ass then dominant thighs and calves that pressed at her glassy trousers.
“Hello Lauren, the shuttle docked yet?”
“Good morning, Colonel, yes, I’m just equalising pressure.”
“Doing your own backup work too, I see.”
“Apparently there’s a compulsory gym session for the junior male airmen this morning, sir.”
“Good, they need the strength work.”
Airman First Class Lauren McCloud, a native of Montana, was a tomboy, a natural runner, natural at the field events and now a natural at heaving large metal plates around at the end of metal bars. The blue eyed brunette, her height a half inch below six foot, a pretty feminine face with a cute button nose and prominent chin, had a decade of serious weight training behind her. She was the first woman recruited into the USAF on the basis of strength alone.
As he looked at the egress hatch to the dock, Marcellus placed his hand in the middle of Lauren’s back; leaning toward her as he spoke.
“And I might have some good news for you later too.”
She turned to face him, pushing her right breast into his arm.
“A little new year present from our favourite pencil pushers back at Canaveral.”
“I will later, my quarters at 1930 for a pre-party drink?”
“Sure. It could be fun.”
The hatch opened and three women stepped through, all in dress uniforms, all struggling with ill-fitting tunics. All were huge. The first saw Marcellus.
“As you were, troops.”
The women formed a crooked line across the loading dock; standing shoulder to shoulder and facing forward, it extended over twelve feet.
Marcellus approached the first, the tallest of the three standing on the far right. She was the only one not in a USAF dress uniform, rather her uniform dark green, wearing a beret of maroon adorned with a pin – a golden cheetah in stride. Her hair blonde, eyes light blue, brilliant white teeth, her look nearly even with the Colonel’s as he held out his hand in greeting.
“Marcellus Aries, commander of the Camulus.”
She snapped a salute before taking his grip, her right bicep and deltoid jumping to strain at the fabric of the oversize tunic.
“Warrant Officer First Class Hannie du Plessis, sir, South African Air Force.”
Her voice crackled with the clipped vowels of the high veldt.
Marcellus cast his eyes again on her beret; she acknowledged his recognition with a smile.
“Yes sir, in recent times I have been with Cheetah Squadron.”
The commander had been given a heads up. Cheetah Squadron - the elite special forces of Southern Africa, every recruit is expected to achieve the highest level of martial combat; to crack a bone with each blow. He knew the woman standing before him to be the strongest of the strong.
Marcellus strode to the next woman who met him with a snapped salute; the bicep and deltoid press identical to that of the South African, although a little shorter in height and little broader in width. The auburn haired, green eyed woman readjusted the tunic before speaking.
“Sorry, sir, Senior Airman Cathy Dubois.”
Her bass voice had the accent of Delta country.
“Good to meet you Senior.”
The final woman began her salute as Marcellus turned to walk toward her, dark haired, dark skinned, dark eyed; she was average in height, a couple of inches under six foot, and broad in proportion. Still it was clear why she moved into and lingered in her pose, Marcellus at wonder whether the tunic would tear from the bulk of muscle contained within it. Of the three, she carried the big guns.
“Senior Airman Alexius J. Henry.”
A firm, hard, shake, not intended to hurt, yet it caused Marcellus to flex his fingers as he spoke.
“Good to meet you Senior ...”
He strode back and turned to all the new recruits.
“... and welcome to the Camulus. Named after a Celtic God of War we are the largest Cruiser Escort on the outer side of the asteroid belt. Our role is to ensure that the interests of our nations’ colonies on Mars and Phobos are not, err, disturbed by events on Earth. ...”
The South African spoke up.
“By the war with China, sir?”
“Yes, that is one issue and while the Republic of South Africa has not declared ...”
“I understand my role, sir.”
Marcellus stood easy with his hands behind his back.
“Thank you. While I know that you have received detailed briefings in your training at Phobos Base 1 there is an important personal issue I need you to be clear on. You have been requested for this duty as you’re the strongest personnel available. ...”
The women smiled and nodded.
“... and the current threat we face will need to be defeated with strength. Now, at PB-1, I expect the gym facilities would have been basic. ...”
Cathy shook her head.
“... yes, built to improve men’s fitness not to develop women’s strength. However, on this craft you will find the latest platinum and alloy bars that will hold weights of up to 2400 pounds. ...”
“... Just in case any of you decide you want to be the first woman to deadlift the raw ton.”
They laughed, smiled and looked among each other. Lauren spoke from behind.
“Or be the first man or woman.”
“And troops, I would like to introduce Airman First Class Lauren McCloud ...”
Lauren stepped forward to shake hands with the women, Marcellus paused as her hand moved toward Alexius, as expected they gripped each other hard; each smiling and staring at the other during the prolonged greeting.
“... Lauren will arrange for you to be supplied with your crystals, as you can see, they are a much better fit than the, err, generic service uniforms. Once that is done, I have arranged a women-only session from 1300 hours in our gym. Lauren will show you to mess and the way to the training area.”
Hannie spoke up.
“No disrespect intended, sir, but we don’t need to be excluded from the men ...”
“Sergeant Major, our gym is normally divided between male and female as the strength shown by the women can discourage the men from their own efforts. However, the men still need to move through the area and for today, I don’t want them loitering around and gawking while you concentrate on some heavy work.”
She nodded, Alexius spoke as Lauren completed the little strength test she seemed to have lost.
“Sir, may we wear our own gear?”
“Ah, well, Senior, you know from your training that you must wear the ISE uniform at all times while on duty or outside of your own quarters. But ... we do allow exceptions in the gym, provided you are sensible and don’t abuse the privilege. ...”
“... And while on the subject, the answer to the sixty four million dollar question is exactly the same. We are a long way from home and pumping all that steel and brass can play havoc with our pheromones. So as long as you are discreet and I know nothing about it ...”
It was Hannie. The other two laughed.
“... and I only ever give one warning and that was it. Well ...”
“The party, sir.”
“... Yes, yes, there is a crew party to bring in the new year, Lauren can give the information. So that’s it, welcome aboard and happy new year.”
The Colonel and left the deck, nodding at Lauren who practised a salute – as if reminding him of her own physique. But he was gone.
December 31, 2080. 1128 hours Zulu.
Marcellus walked the fifty four paces from his cabin to the VIP quarters now the temporary home to Brigadier General Christina Theresa Matterson. A large plastic bag was wrestled under his right arm, a thin manila folder in his left hand.
Stopping outside the cabin he took a deep breath and pressed the buzzer with his right thumb. The hatch slid open.
“Ah, Colonel, you have returned with the goods!”
“I have General, that and more.”
The hatch slid shut.
The General was barefoot and bareheaded, the tunic removed, only an oversized white shirt remained above the light gray skirt.
She moved to Marcellus but before taking the package stole a quick kiss from his lips and lingered.
“Fantastic to see you again, Marc. How’s it been?”
“Great, Chrissie. Except for this current problem, yeah, command suits me I guess.”
“Command? You’ve always been in command!”
Chrissie laughed and began unwrapping the plastic.
“Three suits. They did a good job getting those stars in the fabric ...”
She looked at the embedded epaulets and nodded.
“... but that shoulder patch, haven’t seen one of them before.”
Chrissie brought up the patch to view. It showed a white winged stallion, rampant, against a navy blue badge, bordered in red. Two white stars appeared either side of the image.
“It’s a horse, Marc, the red, white and blue colours paying homage to Pegasus as part of the Marine Corps.”
“So you’re the Force Commandant now. Well done”
“Nope, in fact, I’m no one’s boss. SPACECOMM has convinced the Pentagon that it can run Pegasus with a
Lieutenant Colonel so I’m here trying to find out why your airmen are getting killed.”
She dropped the package on the bed and pulled out the ISE top half, draping the oversized uniform over a nearby chair. Facing Marcellus she began to unbutton her shirt.
“So what’s in the other hand?”
Marcellus raised the folder.
“Post mortem on the airman found deceased near the aft cargo hold at 0302.”
Chrissie threw her shirt over her kit; wearing a white bra underneath. She smiled as she extended her right arm, Marcellus handing over the single sheet of printout.
As she read, she ignored the feel of Marcellus’s eyes jumping across her. The right bicep flexed to hold the document, must easy measure 24 inches, and that is without her trying. The chest a mass of serrated pectoral muscle above twelve pack abs, the definition hard and crevices deep, veins would push out at the skin as a worked muscle tensed or contracted. The waist and hips minuscule in comparison, a belt of only 29 inches held her light gray skirt in place.
“A crushing injury to the thoracic and lumbar regions. Consistent application of pressure. Skeletal fractures from sternum to pelvis. Death not instantaneous as edemae and haematomas to liver, both kidneys and spleen show a steady application from non-fatal to fatal force. What do you make of it?”
“Something very large slowly crushed him to death. In Airman Scully’s case the force came from side on as it crushed him inward. ...”
“... in the case of Airman Harada, there was a crushing injury of precisely the same length and anatomical effect, however it appeared to have been powered from the front or back of him as the arms were crushed into his torso.”
Chrissie placed the sheet on a small glass table in the middle of the room and turning back to Marcellus extended her arms behind her back to unhook the bra.
“What of the third one?”
“Airman Kovacs. Well, that one’s different. ...”
Chrissie threw the bra on top of the shirt and felt her breasts.
“Geez I’m so glad that’s off.”
“I told you those double-Ds just get in the way.”
As he spoke she stood in front of him, dropping her hands to hips.
“When did you become such an expert on cup sizes?”
“You’re the one who brags on about it every time you get a bit tipsy.”
She laughed, he smiled, her coffee colored skin and brown nipples showed the evidence of recent sunbathing.
Marcellus had to ask.
“You got a bit of beach before you left Canaveral?”
Chrissie dropped the pose and walked back to her kit.
“Mom came down from Jersey, we went over to Puerto Rico to visit some of the relations ...”
“... lots of secluded white sand miles from nowhere ...”
She extracted a small white tub from the kit and took it back to where she stood.
“... now, Airman Kovacs.”
Marcellus sighed and focused on those big, brown eyes.
“The demise of Airman Kovacs is not like the others. He was undertaking repairs of the cooling vent near the fore dorsal wing, almost the other end of the craft to the next two incidents and he was in a confined space.”
“Suffocation, but not choking, it was as though his head was held on a pillow.”
“Or, if I ... say ... held your face against the muscles of my forearm?”
“Yeah, exactly, because there were no fibres or hairs found in his lungs. But the thing is, post mortem, the vent and the passage ceiling adjacent to it gets torn open and his body, umm, folded and deposited onto the floor below.”
“For maximum effect.”
“It sure had that.”
“Nothing under the finger nails?”
“There was some bruising that came up suggesting he might’ve been held down from above or behind, but ...”
“... err, no, the report is inconclusive.”
Chrissie opened the lid of the jar and handed it to Marcellus.
“Marc, I’m really imposing, but could you?”
She turned her back to him. Almost along the whole right dorsal lateral muscle, and extending below the waist line was a blistering of the skin – but it didn’t look like it was from sunburn.
“How much do I ...”
“Whatever you think, I’ve been on that transporter for two weeks, I’ve, err, really festered up.”
“Hmm, think of how it was sixty years ago when the trip took seven months.”
From the small of the back her muscles pushed out as they rose toward her shoulder blades, matching the way her abs pressed up and up to meet her chest. Marcellus was liberal with his application.
“Rub it in, as hard as you like, it doesn’t hurt.”
Still, the undamaged muscles under the skin were like rippled tungsten. Without any give, it was hard to know if he was doing it right.
“You’re doing good, Marc.”
“This got you your second purple heart, did it?”
“Caesium grenade; on Demios.”
“Christ, you’re lucky it didn’t melt you.”
“And you thought I was invincible.”
“I was with you when you got the first purple heart, remember? You’re the one who thought you could breathe in space.”
“Well, you kept telling me I’m your brown eyed supergirl.”
“Okay, what about the rest?”
Marcellus flicked at the belt where the blistering disappeared under her skirt.
“That’s okay, I can do that.”
“You don’t want to get your fingers sticky, Chrissie, I might as well finish the job.”
She moved to the table and with her back still to him, began to pull the ISE top over her head. She spoke as she moved, he was in no hurry.
“You know, Marc, when I came in earlier and took my tunic off, that adjutant of yours nearly wet himself.”
“No surprises there.”
“Reminded me of the first time I met Tom.”
He could see her raise her arms to adjust her breasts then move and flex as if breaking in a pair of runners. She turned around to face him as he spoke.
“Oh ... that wasn’t ... hard?”
“No, it’s fine. Been over two years now.”
Chrissie had undone her belt and unbuttoned the skirt.
“Did they ever charge that guy?”
“It was an accident; I accept that he was acting to defend himself in a robbery, just a stray shot and Tom in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The skirt removed, it joined the other garments. Marcellus ignored her body’s qualities and flaws for the second it took his right hands to reach for the fingers of her left.
“Still wear the gold band I see.”
“I’m not the dutiful widow, just haven’t thought of taking it off.”
He dropped his hand and signalled with his other for her to turn around; she assisted him by pushing down on her g-string. He thought it so small that the act was unnecessary.
“I, er, guess you will when you’re, umm, ready.”
“To date again?”
Marble hard with an even coffee color, Marcellus rubbed the ointment into the right buttock then down to the top of the hamstring, such that remained to be done on the rear of her body.
“I just have to, umm, do the top of the, err thigh.”
From the front, it was only on her top of the thigh, from the hip to the groin, that the skin festered. Chrissie said nothing and turned to face him. Marcellus searched for neutral conversation.
“I, umm, had a test run of that new muscle frigate they’ve commissioned.”
“You mean missile frigate.”
His hand was on the inside of her groin, he was so close he could feel her sweat.
“Umm, yeah, that’s right.”
“You said muscle frigate.”
“Err, what, sorry?”
“I, err, think that’s it.”
Chrissie smiled handing him the lid of the ointment. As she moved her hand toward the g-string so as to pull it back up, Marcellus moved to the side, his left leg pushing into the area between her 32 inch quads. Her hand seemed lost and instead of her underwear found a hard bulge on the inside of his left thigh.
“Oh, shit, sorry.”
The fingers involuntarily squeezed then sprang loose to quickly seize and restore the g-string and, in the same sweeping movement, locate her ISE trousers. Marcellus chose to ignore the incursion on his manhood. He walked to the glass table to pick up the post mortem print out and put down the ointment.
“Err, I also have some other print outs here you might want.”
The confidence in the voice was returning - to both. Marcellus cleared his throat.
“Background on the three new staff members who arrived this morning; all have exceptional strength.”
“They replace the deceased airmen?”
“No, they were sought for other duties, but now I think you may wish to consider if they may be of assistance to you.”
“You’ll need to put together a posse, General. Look at it this way. Every crewman has a state of the art anti-cloaking device and nothing has been detected.”
The anti-cloaking device is designed to overcome any stealth capacity a heat emitting source can use to conceal its presence.
“Well, I can call on any of the crew I would have hoped.”
“Yes, but these are the new elite.”
“And you will also want to meet the forensic pathologist.”
“Mm, there are some unanswered questions.”
“Not only for her skills as an examiner. She’s an officer of the Royal Marines, officially recognised as the strongest woman on Earth.”
“Of course she is. I don’t exist.”
“Your strength is classified, hers is public knowledge.”
“Major Gabrielle Hartley.”
“Gabrielle Hartley? Rings a bell.”
“I can provide background to your hand-pod if you wish.”
“Anything further, General?”
“Yes, if I could get 3D charts of the craft, umm, together with a crew list and their, err, strength capabilities.”
“The latter I can give verbally. The crew is approximately 50% of each gender. 95% of the women are stronger than all but 5% of the men. The strongest woman on board the craft, well until yesterday, is Airman First Class Lauren McCloud. She is exceptional, the rest, merely superb.”
“I understand. I would also like to meet with yourself and Major Hartley.”
“She has returned to Mars Base – Cydonia 6 for personal reasons, she is due back on board at 1730.”
“That’s the British base?”
“Okay, could you give her a message that we three will meet, err, back here at 1800, if that’s convenient to you?”
“It is, ma’am.”
“And if you could ask your adjutant to bring my lunch here, I intend to rest and take a little tour of the craft at my own pace later on.”
“As you wish.”
“Dismissed, Colonel, and thank you.”
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
Marcellus gave a perfunctory salute and not waiting for acknowledgement turned and activated the hatch.
Chrissie watched him as he left.
She liked him.