I first joined her command with a dozen other doughy boys, not one of us with a face that looked like any other. We were all from New Kinaan, so it was strange not to run with a group that looked just like you, but at least we had a lot in common – we were all castemates, all warriors. The other boys weren’t like us. They didn’t even take a copy of the Good Book with them into combat, and instead of talking about God, the seven hells, and devotion to Word and caste, they were more likely to sit over a game of cards and play for locusts or scarab beetles or whatever else the rock we pounded down on was using for currency. The day they started talking about how they were going to swap out katcreepers, I heard we were going to Old Lucifer.
Birdit gathered us all up into the warship’s cortex and gave us the script. Us New Kinaan boys made up a quarter of crew. Of the rest, half were raw hash from Salem, and the others were Birdit’s old regulars, most from some dead city on the world she came from, a lost relic she called Umayma that stirred at the far edge of some unnamed system. Her guys were big, just like she was. They had jagged scars and melted faces and leg braces and rebuilt skulls and spines and they told stories about the great things fire ants could do to help mend infected flesh. They thought they were pretty funny, too, and didn’t know why we didn’t laugh at their jokes about house mothers and frolicking with house sisters. Birdit was the first woman I ever saw. Boys on Umayma were trained as soldiers when they were teens, not just born into a warrior caste, like us. It made us wonder, sometimes, how scary all the people on Umayma must be, if these were the ones that hadn’t been able to cut it there. If these were the ones Birdit had rescued.
“Here’s what we have, boys,” Birdit said twelve hours before the drop on Lucifer. “We’ve got a civilian population all fucked up on their own terrafirma drones. I want this clean and quiet and I don’t want any contamination. You got your vaccinations. We go by the regular rules. You take off your slicks and get contaminated, we don’t let you back on board.”