Lieutenant Colonel Brenell Zollern, head of Absolution’s security, stood over the corpse of one Lieutenant Edgar Mainz. Cause of death was fairly clear. The stench of charred flesh and bone has yet to be filtered out of the quarters by the ship’s life-support. It was a smell that brought back many memories, none of them good. The thirty-one year old Marine was veteran of several ground pounding engagements before the wound he received from a nasty slap by a Kilrathi soldier in the trenches of Repleetah. After rehab, he transferred to fleet security. He had enough of the trenches, and by the time hit vat-grown left eye had been fully accepted by his body, most of the men under his command on that Godforsaken planet were already transferred off, or dead. Which was just as well, Zollern had enough of up close and personal with the Cats.
He glanced over at Lieutenant Commander Mirat, one of the ship’s doctors. She was a fair lass, if he did say so himself, a petite blonde with the face of an angel. Reminded him of his own daughter, though she was only three years of age. Since Ellie died while she was visiting her parents on Sirius Prime, during that damnable “truce”, Zollern had not much time for women. He suppose he should thank God for minor miracles, as the Catholic chaplain of his old T.C.M.C. outfit would say, that Serena was left with his parents back in the Luyten System. Otherwise she too would be a rotting corpse under the shine of Sirius.
After the bio-attack on Epsilon Prima ten days ago, along with the subsequent evacuation of the Absolution task force to the Granita System, it was not a wonder that more suicides had occurred. He has seen enough of this as well back on Repleetah. Some Marines just could not handle the day upon day, month upon month of death. He briefly touched the three scared gouges across his left cheek bone. That planet cost him an eye, and cost many of his men a great deal more. If not for his own wound, he might have died with the rest of them on that planet, be it by the Cats or his own hand, he could not say.
“What’s the verdict, doctor?” he said, his slightly Germanic accent raising its head again. Since he joined the Corps, and spent so much time around all these English speakers, his own accent was slowly fading from Luytener Deutsche.
“He’s dead,” she said as a-matter-of-factly. Zollern knew for a fact she did not require a fancy full-body scanner to tell that. The fact that part of his head was missing was sort of a giveaway.
Mirat glanced over her shoulder at him, shooting him a look of reproach. “Suicide; self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It was a pulse weapon, but you would know more about weapons than I.” Mirat was not fond of war– who was?– but she was of the impression that Marines were a little bit on the death-hungry side.
Zollern could not admit to innocence to that, at least back when he first signed on. Kicking the Cats out of the Enigma Sector cost the lives of a majority of his graduating class; out of fifteen graduates of the Luyten Academy that enlisted that week, only Zollern and two others were still breathing. They were all lolly-ho about the war, at least until all of them ended up as replacement officers in Repleetah.
“I need details, Commander,” Zollern told her. He felt no particular reason to explain his actions to anyone, but with a dozen other items on his daily agenda, he wanted to wrap this investigation up. “I have a report to write up, and Captain Powers is a bigger stickler for the regs than even me.”
This time Mirat did not even bother looking at him. “Self-inflicted shot to head from a pulse pistol. Judging by the coolness of the wound, I’d say his time of death was less than an hour ago. That would have been just before he was scheduled to go back on patrol, I assume.” Mirat knew little about the operations of Old Abby’s fighter compliment, a squadron of Epees. Zollern knew the schedule; after all, the wing commander was the one who reported Mainz missing. It was a silly report, as far as Zollern was concerned. Missing? Just where on this ship was he suppose to go?
As always, he took the direct approach and headed to the pilot’s quarters, assuming the W.C. overlooked the Obvious. Sure enough, he was there, dead on the floor. After that, Zollern summoned medical personnel, and informed the captain. Powers was none too pleased. “Can you certify suicide?” This time Mirat looked back at him, questions in her face. “I’ve already scanned the pistol; only Mainz’s fingerprints were on it. I need one of the medical personnel to certify it before I commit it to paper.”
Mirat gave a most unladylike snort. “Are you suggesting somebody killed him?”
Zollern shrugged. “I wouldn’t be much of a security chief if I ever discounted the idea.”
Mirat shook her head. “No, this man was a suicide, count on it.”
Zollern said nothing. The captain was not one for counting on anything short of solid evidence. He was already angry over the loss of a second pilot in a week. The previous one was a Lieutenant Hatford, and she was K.I.A. while the task force was “evacuating” the Epsilon System. Evacuating my foot, Zollern had thought. The Cats just pasted Epsilon Prima with the Life-Eater and the Commodore of this little flotilla decided to escape before one of the locals brought the disease on board. They were running, no two ways about it.
“What do you know of Mainz?” Zollern asked. “Aside form his medical record?” Zollern knew nothing about the pilots defending this old battleship, save what was on their files. They all kept their noses clean, and as a ground pounder, he had little desire to mingle with those hot shots. Still, it could have been worse. The last pilot to die took her fighter with her. At least Mainz did not take his Epee with him. Zollern had known of more than one pilot to go out in blaze of glory.
“No,” Mirat admitted. “I’ve never spoken with him outside of sickbay. Here’s a thought; you could go ask his fellow pilots.” She said with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
Zollern had no immediate comeback, snappy or otherwise. Instead, he turned to leave the quarters. “If you find anything out of the ordinary, do let me know,” he said, leaving the room without waiting for her to have the last word.