This is our main character, Palamourah de la Croix:
Sullen murmurs from rangers greeted Pala as she walked toward the front of the group to join Commander Barkin, Cabot, and Marshal Devlin Riyst. In a slow shuffling mass, the group found seats on the cargo boxes. Some remained standing. Cabot, her boyfriend, winked at her. He and Riyst moved to stand in the back of the group. Behind them, Jeed Stastny, Cabot’s uncle.
Barkin said, “Nice of you to join us, Cadet Marshal de la Croix.” His smile was almost warm.
Pala nodded and jutted her chin toward the far end of the bay. There, a small group of twenty-two scientists, whom her rangers had alphabetized in lieu of names, clustered around a quad of charts. “I had to explain a few rules, head off a few problems.” She stood behind Barkin, facing her men. She shoved her skinny black braids back from her face.
The commander stared at the men and women who comprised Pala’s unit before speaking. His gaze paused on each face. The undercurrent of murmur died away. When he reached Cabot and Riyst, he nodded. Cabot grinned back, but Riyst scowled. Abruptly, Barkin shifted his focus back to the whole group. “All right. Here it is. The rumors are true: we’re sending a group of researchers –”
A heavy roll of groans filled the bay, and the scientists lifted their heads to look. One leaned into the others and said something that made them all laugh while they stared at the rangers. They returned to their discussion over the charts.
Barkin raised his voice to be heard. “We’re sending researchers to RK-197d, which most of you know as Colossus. This planet’s system is on the edge of the black-out zone, the Dijru. You, and seven other units, will each set up your own base. You will then divide into four working crews per base. You will escort the scientists, and ensure their continued safety during their three-month assignment. We know of no intelligent life on Colossus. However, this is a maiden planet. We’ve sent only drones prior to this point in time, so expect anything. Stay razor sharp. As we’ve all heard in the past, what looks to be innocuous can be deadly. Colossus is 1.17 grav, so you’ll train the next month in the G-chamber with the latest tech. We’ll fit you with tracers in your wrists, and you’ll travel via Euphonic drive, courtesy Marshal Riyst. At the end of the tour, the researchers will return to Earth via a separate transport and Riyst will escort you military types to Firone –”
The rangers erupted into whoops and hollers. The sound exploded like a shipwreck in the echo of the bay. The members of the unit beat on each other and on the cargo boxes where they sat. Some got up and jigged, hands high in the air. Cabot laughed and said something to Riyst. Stastny furrowed his brown in disapproval. At the far end, the scientists cupped their hands behind their ears, leaning in close to one another to continue their discussion.
Smiling, Barkin lifted his hands to settle the men. When they quieted, he continued. “You will then proceed to Firone for assignment as special Interplanetary Peace Coalition envoy. There, you will join Marshal Riyst’s unit and make a final sweep for any captive IPC citizens, which you will escort off the planets of Firone and Lacohre. Once those people are safely on their way to Portal Station 7, Riyst will return and you will continue on to Perimeter Post 33 for graduation from the cadet program and reassignment as full rangers.”
Cheers reclaimed ownership of the bay. The scientists threw up their hands and left, shaking their heads. Barkin waited in silence, watching Pala’s rangers celebrate, thumping each other, and bragging. He had nodded at Riyst and Cabot, and then he and Stastny had left.
Pala had to shout to be heard. “Everybody happy, now?”
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