via Daily Prompt: Enroll
A battered troop transport traveled between distant stars, its hull marked with repeated battle scars. Inside, battle weary soldiers of several broken units pressed together in uncomfortable silence, the survivors of a large force sent from their homeworld of Vanaar to participate in the battle for Kreneth. The bottled atmosphere of the transport smelled of the surface of the now conquered alien world. The musty smell mixed with that of filth-covered humans and fear formed an atmosphere that could be cut with a sonic knife.
There was no rank and order. Officers occupied the same space as enlisted as the transport was forced to load over twice the amount of its rated cargo capacity. They were just cattle now as the Vanaaran units had been disbanded. Nobody in the ship was healthy, they were all diseased with a war that had lost its purpose; except for the megacorporations that fueled the expansionist motives of the Free Terran Conglomerate of Market Worlds.
One man, no more important than the rest, hugged his backpack that contained all his worldly possessions. Among those items was an alien skull burned clean by his plasma carbine, since surrendered after his units dissolution. The skull had belonged to the last denizen he had killed on Kreneth. The man could only remember bits and pieces of his last combat before boarding the transport home.
He remembered the painful blow of the huge “alien” fist smashing into the side of his head, sending his helmet flying and then meeting the ground with his bloody face. He remembered rolling in the foul muck of a Krenethian swamp, struggling desperately to aim his carbine with trembling hands at the huge form that was blurred by the mud in his eyes, and the subsequent flare of his weapon as it burned a gaping hole in the being’s torso. He unloaded his entire power cell into the lifeless figure until it caught on fire, burning the flesh from its skull until clean to the bone.
He remembered effortlessly pulling the skull from the crisp body and the brain slopping out into the swamp, then stuffing in his pack. Why, he did not know and the rest was just a dim memory. How he found the remnants of his unit, how he made it to the ship, and where it was going, he did not know, or care.
Enroll and serve your people! the campaign urged. Serve a higher purpose and defeat the Krenethian threat! the campaign entreated. Enroll and get fabulous pay for a great future! was other appeal to those of a less patriotic nature. It had all been a lie and Kreneth a tragedy.
The ship had been in transit for nearly two weeks, little of that time was spent for sleep. It was almost impossible to obtain that kind of freedom in the cramped conditions. To the sleep starved soldiers, time was a blur, it seemed an eternity to debarkation on their homeworld from which they left six long years before.
The end of the trip came suddenly as the whine of braking engines awoke those who had managed to attain a semi-slumber status. The ship shuddered through normal space as it took the stress of transference from super space. Sub-light engines engaged themselves in a deep rumble that permeated the ship and all those aboard. The mood of the soldiers lightened some as this signified the end of their confinement and a new beginning on Vanaar… or so they believed.