• Published 30th Jun 2021
  • 453 Views, 12 Comments

Rose Brass - Dave Bryant

Rose Brass has moved back to the city of her birth because she has nowhere else to go—and nothing else to do. • A Twin Canterlots story

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“Hey, Cap?” The uncertainty in the reedy young shout caught her attention; she turned and started to jog toward the PFC and the barely older junior sergeant beside him. Both of them were peering into the scorched and cratered remains of a compact sedan.

Other two-man teams, also wearing wind-billowed Army Combat Uniform and bulky body armor, worked their own wrecks scattered up and down the narrow asphalt road in the middle of nowhere. The ruined automobiles and trucks, and the hapless civilians inside them, had been caught in a crossfire two days before. Most of the devastation probably could be blamed on the insurgents—who regarded innocent bystanders with the fine contempt of people who believed anyone who wasn’t with them was against them—but not all, oh no.

She honestly believed the ambushed unit had done their best to fight back while minimizing collateral damage; she’d met the CO and he was a stand-up guy. Minimal wasn’t the same as zero, though. The counterattack had gone off like clockwork, the few remaining insurgents were driven off, and after setting out security teams the troops had gone to work as best they could, pulling survivors out of the flaming or guttering wreckage and administering first aid with frantic haste.

The experience had been ugly enough the whole outfit would be rotating back home for rebuilding. Some of those people would have nightmares of guilt and horror for a long time—though some wouldn’t, which arguably was even worse. For the officers, moreover, one of the privileges that came with a commission was being dragged through every terrible moment as the after-action review tried to determine just what happened and who had made it happen, for good or ill.

She shook her head. Right now she had to focus on her job, which was clearing the wreckage and reopening the road. That would have been easier if someone hadn’t lobbed the ball and left the scene completely unattended for most of a day before her company could reach it. Another glance at the team who’d called out showed them cautiously examining the cheap little commuter car, shining flashlights into the black-charred interior and probing it gingerly with extendable wands. “Whattaya got?” she yelled back.

They both looked up at once. At the same moment a faint, hollow thunk echoed from somewhere inside the twisted car body.

Everything except her suddenly racing heartbeat started to move in slow motion. The private never knew what happened. The sergeant managed a single useless jump back. She had a seemingly endless split second to fling up her right arm in an equally futile protective reflex. Then the world vanished in fire and thunder.

“Ms. Brass. Ms. Brass?” The tone switched from quizzical to imperative. “Captain!”

Rose Brass stiffened on her visitor chair. “Present! What? . . . Sorry, Mister, uh, Lectern—what were you saying?” She reached up with both hands to rub her face, then checked the motion when she remembered one of them was now metal and plastic and the other was about to touch a welter of ragged scars and an eyepatch. They lowered again to rest on her BDU-clad thighs. The rugged khaki pants were surplus, not issue, and the black T-shirt above them was a commercial product proudly blazoned with a white fortress on a red rectangle.

From the other side of an old but well-kept steel desk, a sixtyish retiree in rumpled white dress shirt, suspenders, and dark slacks regarded Rose with narrowed leaf-green eyes. “What I was saying isn’t as important as what I’m about to say.” He slid open a drawer and reached in, then leaned forward and held out the business card he’d plucked from it. “I want you to call this office and make an appointment for an evaluation. Don’t worry about the fee; that’ll be taken care of.”

Perforce Rose took it and turned it over to glance at the information, then switched her gaze back with a inquisitive expression.

“He’s one of the best in the business, and he specializes in cases like yours.” A hand gestured. “He even has a security clearance, so you should be able to talk frankly with him. And you’ll be covered by professional confidentiality.”

Another look at the card picked out the word counseling, and Rose snorted softly. So that’s what they called it these days. No rough, tough warfighter wanted to get therapy, after all. And she hadn’t missed how carefully the phrase doctor-patient privilege had been avoided.

To the snort the fellow rejoined, “Yes, I know, but trust me. Ms. Brass—Rose—you really need to talk to him, or someone like him. I want you to promise me you will.”

Rose’s head bounced up again and she scowled one-eyed. “What? Why?”

His round face, the color of old weathered brick and fringed with balding white hair, broke into a kindly smile. “Because you strike me as someone who keeps her promises.”

“Can I help you?” A tone of ineffable boredom put the lie to the ostensibly hospitable words. The dapper business-suited man, within a few years of her own age, didn’t even look up. Snowdrifts of paperwork covered the lavish executive desk, all but hiding the name plate proclaiming its owner to be FILTHY RICH. The Rich clan was fairly well known in the city where she grew up—and to which she just returned. She guessed this particular scion was learning the ropes of the family business by managing one of their properties.

“Yes. Give me your cheapest open unit.” Her voice still seemed strange, rough and clipped. Or was it just her imagination?

Something about it must have sounded odd, because he finally raised his head. Handsome devil, with that aquiline nose, even tan-brown complexion, and dark hair slicked back in a ducktail. When he caught sight of her his blue eyes bugged out a little. She didn’t think she ever would get used to that reaction.

An ostentatious framed lithograph hung on the wall behind him, not much smaller than a garage door. The glazing in its gold-leafed frame reflected the tall haggard apparition looming, like a scarecrow cursed to live, in the doorway of his expensively decorated office. A cheap midnight-blue weather poncho dripped rainwater on the carpet. Its hood framed a face any moviemaker would cast for Death: scarred, hollow-cheeked, hollow-eyed, garnished with a shiny-new eyepatch over a gauze pad.

He cleared his throat. He shuffled some papers. Unable to find any other way to stall, he told her faintly, “Have a seat.”

She strode in and sat on one of the overstuffed visitor chairs without removing the poncho. He made a face. She didn’t care. “You have efficiency flats. I checked the prices on the Web.” She named a figure, the bottom end of the range listed on the Web site.

“Well, yes, we do, but have you considered a—”

“No.” She leaned forward a little. He leaned back a little. “I just need somewhere to sleep out of the rain.”

“I—I see. All right.” His hands fluttered across the papers, twitching a stapled set from a loose stack to one side. “Now, let’s see. . . .”

Once in his element he calmed enough to try again with, “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather—” She stared him down with her claret eye, cold and narrow, and he desisted, switching instead to, “But don’t you want a tour?”

“I saw the floor plan and example photos on the Web site. If they’re accurate, it should be fine.” The razor-thin smile she managed felt unnatural after months of misery. “I know something about architecture, Mister Rich.” Mainly how to demolish it or fortify it, but still, she had an eye for it. Just one, of course.

Over the next several minutes, and not without a lot of hemming and hawing, he conducted her through the process. Eventually they reached the stage when he pointed out, “Of course we’ll need a credit check to see if you qualify.” Judging by his tone, he didn’t expect her to, and would prefer she didn’t.

Her artificial hand appeared from the folds of the poncho, holding a translucent plastic clamshell full of documents. “My Form Delta Two—ah, retirement papers. And pension documentation. And credit information.” If there was anything the academy and the army taught, it was being prepared to the extent possible.

He stared at her prosthesis, but made no move to reach for the folder, so she shrugged fractionally and laid it on the desktop. “Everything should be in order. If your price for an efficiency is correct, the pension will meet requirements.” She expressed her own cynical doubt; bait and switch was a thing, after all. Were his attempts to upsell just reflex, or was he hoping to shut her down when she couldn’t qualify for the higher rent? It had been a real blow when she saw how rents had started to skyrocket in the years she’d been away. “And of course, as a veteran I’m covered by housing law.” She cited the relevant code and section. From his expression, he didn’t like to be reminded of anti-discrimination legislation.

Slowly, as if afraid she would bite his arm off, he pulled the folder closer and opened it to peruse the contents. With each sheet his shoulders slumped a little more. Finally he looked up again. “Yes, these do seem to be in order.” The admission seemed to stick in his throat. “Well, ah, let’s . . . get some papers signed.”

Lectern’s fingers paused on the keyboard. He turned from the CRT monitor that sat diagonally near one corner of his desk and frowned at her over his reading glasses. “According to this, that address is an efficiency apartment.”

“That’s correct. For the moment it’s perfectly adequate.” Rose shrugged. “Besides, anything larger costs enough more I couldn’t be certain of qualifying based on my pension and a credit check.”

The older man leaned back on his swivel chair and laced his hands across his midsection. “You do realize all manner of assistance programs have been set up with the express purpose of alleviating exactly that difficulty, don’t you?”

“Sir, I’d prefer the resources of such programs go to those who truly need them,” she told him earnestly.

He sighed. “Ah. One of those.” This time his frown was more pronounced. “Has it occurred to you, Ms. Brass, you are among those who truly need them?”

Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times, but nothing came out.

“I thought not. Ms. Brass, society has determined people like you are deserving of help, and you are allowed to ask for it. If you need permission to do so, you most certainly have it.” His laced hands came apart and turned palm up. “Why do you think VSCC exists?”

She hunched on the park bench, forearms on thighs, and trembled all over; her peripheral vision wavered in and out. Dark green tank top printed in black with “ARMY” under a five-pointed star, dark sport bra and bicycle shorts, white ankle socks in gray cycling shoes—all were utterly soaked. Occasionally a drop would run down her skin or drip from her nose or elbow. Her buzz-cut platinum-blond hair stuck out in small damp peaks, disarranged by the safety helmet upside down on the bench beside her. A hydration pack on her back had been sucked completely dry. The touring bike itself leaned against the back of the bench.

Months of convalescence had left her catastrophically out of shape. Physical therapy—or as the old joke had it, “PT, physical torture”—just wasn’t the same as a serious work-out; the whole point was to restore function without risking further injury to the muscles and joints being drilled. That was over and done with at last, but trying to build back to where she was before her life ended was rough going. Her body always tended to the lean side, even after she reached her full six-foot adult height. Now it was thin, almost gaunt.

Driving was more or less out of the question these days. Even bicycling was difficult with only one eye, but the shop had cobbled together an ingenious jungle-gym of mirrors that attached to the helmet. At least pedal-power got her around and provided decent exercise. When she could afford to she’d get a set of clip-on baggage so she could—

“Ma’am? Are you okay?”

Startled, she whipped upright, both hands snapping toward the PDW that should be strapped across her abdomen. It wasn’t there, of course, and neither was any other firearm. She blinked the perspiration out of her eye and looked across the footpath at a sturdy boy, maybe a junior-high schooler, clad in T-shirt, shorts, and tennies. Tousled two-tone blue hair capped his snow-white complexion set with guileless sapphire eyes. He stepped back, surprised by her sudden movement. Her fright-mask face and mechanical arm plainly came as a bit of a shock, but he stood his ground, examining her with a youngster’s artless concern.

No words came to mind. She simply stared, her brain vapor-locked, until a masculine adult voice called, “Shiny! That’s enough, honey, come on back.”

He pivoted on a heel and waved a hand at her. “But Dad—”

She turned her head, seeking said father, and spotted a couple probably not much older than she, approaching along the path at the walking pace of a little girl three or four years old. All three were casually dressed for a pleasant day at the waterfront park, popular across the city, though it puzzled her obscurely both adults were out here on a weekday. Identical messenger bags were slung over both adults’ shoulders, splitting the cornucopia of child-oriented items they no doubt carried.

The husband was various shades of blue except the eyes, which weren’t far from her own brass skin tone. The wife was a pale gray with lavender and white hair and light blue eyes. They were a striking pair, really, and their daughter’s lavender and purples stood out just as much. The parents too eyed her sweaty shivering with brow-furrowed unease, and the father spoke up again. “Ma’am, you really do look a little, um . . .”

“Dear, can you take Twily for a second?” The mother handed off the daughter, who blinked owlishly at the stranger, and began to dig in the handy-dandy shoulder bag. A few moments of rummaging produced a tiny spiral-bound notepad and a pen, whereupon their owner promptly began writing furiously. Everyone else waited with varying degrees of perplexity; other folks flowed past in both directions around them, individuals, couples, families, friends, all talking or laughing or simply soaking up the summer warmth. Finally the woman tore off a page and extended it to her. “Here. VSCC do a good job of working with veterans in town. They should be able to help you out.”

She reached her good hand uncertainly to take the slip. “Th-thank you,” she answered rustily. “I’ll give them a call.”

“And don’t keep over-exercising.” The father extracted a pair of juice boxes from the other bag and held them out. “Right now you could start cramping up, and in the long run things don’t get better any faster.”

“Rose Brass, female, age thirty-two. Height one eighty-two, mass sixty-seven with a footnote. Army captain, permanent disability list.” The woman in pastel-blue scrubs skimmed through the information on her brand-new monitor. Rose mused idly that flat-panel displays seemed to be popping up everywhere these days.

Once Rose had been processed in by the fatherly Mister Lectern, she was passed on to the nurse-practitioner for a cursory physical exam to establish a baseline. She hadn’t expected someone quite so young, though—fresh out of school, it seemed. Cool white, pink hair drawn up in a bun, blue eyes, REDHEART printed prominently on the photo badge clipped to breast pocket. Chatty, too. Rose already knew more about the kid than she really wanted to, but at least her one point of curiosity had been satisfied. This Redheart had landed a job with a high-school district, but during summer break sometimes took shifts at VSCC for supplementary income and experience. Rose wondered how long that talkative streak would last.

The current half-mumbled monologue ran down the laundry list of injuries that landed Rose in hospital for much too long. Her upper body had borne the brunt of the IED’s blast. Most of her body armor, including reinforced vest, bevor, and helmet, had been shredded—but it had done its job one last time; other than arm, face, and concussion, her wounds hadn’t been serious. The vambrace on her upraised arm had sheltered the right side of her head. The electronic earplugs she habitually wore in the field had saved her hearing, though like her armor they had been a total loss. There was just enough warning to avoid inhaling any of the superheated gases, which had saved her respiratory system.

The bad news was, that vambrace hadn’t protected the other side of her head, between bevor and helmet, or her hand and elbow. What amounted to a momentary low-grade blowtorch with fragments had swept across her face from just short of her nose to left temple and from hairline to cheek. Nobody had been willing to describe what it had done to her arm.

As too many people already had told her, she was lucky to be alive. She wasn’t so sure of that.

“Okay, getting your records from VA helped a lot. Usually they’re pretty cooperative, though.” Left unsaid was why; try as they might, the official apparatus just couldn’t keep up, which was why so many private and semi-private organizations like VSCC had sprung up to cover the gaps. “Looking at those, and the results from your physical here, you’re mostly healed but still underweight.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Rose muttered under her breath.

If Redheart heard the editorial, she ignored it in favor of going on with stock guidance about diet, exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle advice. “I strongly suggest you look into counseling, too. Do you have any questions?”

Rose hesitated, but finally broke down. “Someone I met said I was over-exercising.”

The off-beat comment and its implied query broke through Redheart’s confident front. “Um. Yes, that can happen. Let me see.” A flurry of computer activity apparently found what the nurse sought, and she disgorged a new set of recommendations, leading up to, “One thing that can help is to find a style of exercise that is healthful but low-impact.” A searching glance at the tall, rangy captain followed. “Something that might work for you is tai chi.

“Huh.” Rose wasn’t sure where else to go with that.

“There are several styles, emphasizing different things. At one end, it can be almost like dance exercises, practically speaking. At the other, it’s pretty much a martial art.” There wasn’t much doubt what Redheart thought would catch Rose’s attention, but being able to calibrate just the right degree of exertion by choosing a particular form also appealed to Rose’s technically oriented soul.

“Sounds interesting. I’ll look into it.” A nod of acceptance closed the subject. “One other thing. Am I healed up enough to start pistol shooting again?”

Redheart’s expression cooled noticeably. “I suppose so, yes,” she admitted with marked reluctance.

Rose couldn’t say that was much of a surprise coming from a civilian medical professional. “You don’t like firearms.” It wasn’t a question.

“No.” The flat tone betrayed a glimmer of self-righteous disapproval. “I don’t.”

“I do.” There was no point trying to explain the zenlike serenity of capturing the sight picture, holding on the aim point, controlling one’s breaths, indexing the trigger just so, sending a round downrange to punch through the target. Even if Redheart believed her—and Rose wouldn’t bet a penny on it—the nurse-practitioner no doubt would offer some well-meaning nonsense like “find another hobby”, as if passions were as interchangeable as parts on an assembly line. Fungible, she thought the money people called it. Well, her interests weren’t fungible. Moreover, her mastery of firearms already had saved her life uncounted times, whether or not this young idealist wanted to acknowledge that inconvenient little fact.

Redheart’s lips thinned, but after a moment she loosened up enough to say, “Just don’t . . . just don’t use one on yourself or, or anyone else, all right? I don’t want to close another file because of that.”

Rose had no other answer than, “Oh. Right.”

How far away was the ceiling? With only one eye she really couldn’t tell. Could be a foot. Could be a mile. It was shrouded in gloom, too, since the only illumination was the indirect morning light leaking past the closed blinds on the single, if decently large, window. She should get up and turn on a lamp. Maybe she would. In a minute.

She lay on the unmade wall bed, in a worn fleecy sweatsuit that served her for pajamas, and stared up into the dimness. Habit had woken her as if reveille still sounded. It didn’t any more, though—not for her. She missed it, even if a lot of civilians might have trouble believing that. She missed a lot of things.

Still, she could be worse off. The board of inquiry could have ruled she was guilty of professional dereliction. Instead of mere retirement to the permanent disability list she would have been discharged entirely, probably not honorably. She had been so hazy with pain, medications, and healing injuries the defense team had to tell her twice the prosecution couldn’t build a preponderance of evidence she had “failed to maintain the standards desired for her grade and branch.” She should be glad, right?

Or she could have been killed in that explosion, like the young sergeant and even younger private. That sure would simplify things. As it was she couldn’t remember anything after the blast front reached her until she woke up in more pain than she imagined was possible, mauled and helpless, on a bed even more bare-bones than the one where she now lay. She hadn’t been in any shape to write the letters for the two families. The battalion XO had been forced to discharge the terrible duty that should have been hers.

. . . What were their names?

She could swear that ceiling was just inches away and getting closer. With an effort she turned her attention to something other than the familiar spiral of thoughts that led nowhere but down. Breakfast. And coffee. She should get up and scramble some eggs or something.

Did she still have eggs? She had the baggage for her bike now, so she should start going to the supermarket instead of spending too much money at the convenience store—the only place close enough for her to walk back, arms laden with grocery bags.

There was a farmer’s market somewhere too. She remembered going to it a few times as a kid in tow. That had been fun. Wait, was it still around? If it was, could she reach it by bicycle? It might have a Web site. Most businesses and organizations did these days. She should look it up. In a minute.

It wasn’t like she needed to be in a hurry. She ate, slept, exercised, and didn’t do a lot else, other than collect her pension. Only so many chores, and they didn’t fill the day, let alone the week. Not much good to anyone any more, not even herself—much less the ghosts of two young men.

Well, there was one thing she had to do. Slowly she pushed herself upright. At least her new arm was reliable, now she’d learned to use it. She turned to stand from the bed, but paused on glancing down for a time check.

On the low-budget bedside table, next to the softly glowing digital clock, lay a slip of paper. A faint frown crossed her face and she twisted to pick up the small sheet with her left hand. Only when she drew it close enough to make out the handwriting did she remember. She should make that phone call. She said she would.

First, though, the latrine. Shower too, now she was thinking about it.

She reached up with her right hand to flip the three-way switch near the bed, flooding the modest room with incandescent light. The ceiling was eight feet from the floor, like always.

Rose slouched on yet another square upholstered modernist chair, numbered ticket in hand for a meeting with an employment counselor. Half the building must be waiting areas, and they seemed to look alike other than a different selection of bright cheery colors on the walls. VSCC must have gotten a bulk discount on the furniture, all straight lines and generous proportions, seating and end tables alike designed to the same modular footprint.

Bland but peppy instrumental music played over a speaker somewhere and traffic noises leaked in from the corridor visible through the broad archway in the middle of one long wall. Otherwise the place was pretty quiet. Most of the other veterans scattered around didn’t seem any more inclined to small talk than she was, which came as absolutely no surprise. Age, gender, and probable grade and service varied; the one thing everybody had in common was an air of weary stoicism. Nobody bothered with the newspapers and magazines helpfully provided to pass the time. Instead they stared off into the distance at something only they could see or sat with lowered heads and their own thoughts.

She’d swept the room with her gaze and was turning back when a half-familiar voice called from her blind side. “Cap’n Brass? ’Zat you, Ma’am?”

She walked the touring bike through the crowds, prosthetic hand wrapped around the gooseneck to steady and steer it. Every bit of baggage she had was mounted, some of it already full. It wasn’t the best shopping cart in the world, but it was what she had. She’d make do.

The farmers’ market didn’t look much like her admittedly hazy childhood memories, but then this was the first time she’d visited it in fifteen or twenty years. A lot could change in that time. For one thing, there was more market and less farmers’ than she remembered. She wondered how the remaining produce sellers felt about that.

Speaking of whom—she craned her neck and spotted the big, distinctive banner famed throughout the city, all reds and greens on a sunny yellow background. Everyone knew about Sweet Apple Acres, the biggest family farm in the area after the closest competitors, the Pear clan, folded their tent and left for greener pastures, so to speak.

Not suprisingly, the booth under an extra-large pavilion canopy was doing a thriving business, so she joined the throng standing a few feet from it and waited patiently. Most people who happened to catch a glimpse of her face or arm looked away again uncomfortably, and her lips tightened briefly. No, she didn’t think she’d “get used to it”, but she drew a breath and schooled her face to a neutral expression.

A good half-hour passed before she was able to step up to the folding tables, covered with paper tablecloths clipped at the corners and laden with baskets and trays. The couple behind them were busy as a one-armed . . . busy as bees. A bluff, handsome fellow shuttled back and forth, bringing up additional merchandise to replace the items that all but flew off the tables; his vibrant yellows and reds went well with a burly, powerful frame clad in flannel shirt and overalls. A lovely, vivacious woman—orange as a pumpkin with pastel face surrounded by waves of bright hair—handled sales, not at all slowed down by the baby carrier strapped to chest and abdomen over a butter-yellow sun dress.

A jumble of emotions filled the ugly-duckling beanpole, scarred and one-eyed, in sloppy athletic wear. Here was a woman who had everything she didn’t and couldn’t: spouse, children, employment, looks, life. She lowered her head, blinked rapidly a few times, and bit her lip.

“What can I get you, Ms.—?”

She twitched and looked up again wide-eyed. That gorgeous orange sun stood before her beaming in welcome, awaiting her response. Only the barest flicker in the other woman’s beautiful turquoise eyes betrayed an awareness of her battered, grotesque face and body. “. . . Brass,” she croaked. “R-Rose Brass.” She let a lung-filling breath in and out before she could steady herself enough to conduct negotiations.

Service was fast and unerring, busy hands never missing their mark as they reached for just the right fruits, or jars, or bundles and bagged everything to be deposited neatly in the bicycle baggage. Apples might be the namesake crop, but it was a diversified farm, offering a variety of produce, and Rose was able to fill most of her needs. How the seller was able to keep up a coherent discussion, complete with recommendations, while wrangling three young children was beyond her.

The eldest, a ruddy orange-haired boy of primary-school age in T-shirt and overalls, was old enough to be genuinely helpful, running empties to the stacks in the middle as his father brought up the refills. The middle child, a tomboyish explosion of white freckles on orange topped with a mop of straw-blonde hair and wearing harder-used T-shirt and shorts, clearly wanted to help, but at three or four probably would end up a net loss. The youngest, a tiny yellow-and-red baby girl in a onesie, lay slack with sleep in the carrier.

At last Rose called a halt. “I still need to hit a couple more places before I head back,” she explained. “So I should leave a little space. How much?”

She was blasted with another blinding smile. “Do you have room for one more thing?”

Rose’s brow knotted. “What thing?”

For answer, a fresh apple pie landed on the table in front of her. “That one’s on the house.”

“I—oh, I couldn’t!” She stared down at it with unfeigned dismay.

“Honey.” Now the voice was dead-level serious. “Take it. You look like you could use a little pampering.”

Rose hadn’t wept even when she was struggling to recover in a hospital ward, knowing her eye and arm were lost forever. Now, as she raised her head, tears tracked down her unscarred cheek.

Author's Note:

Every effort has been made to provide adequate context for abbreviations, jargon, and obscure slang, but to satisfy the curious, following are definitions with links to Wikipedia or Wiktionary.

  • Army Combat Uniform: abbreviated as ACU and only a few years into general issue at the time of the story
  • Battalion: a size of military unit in general commanded by a lieutenant colonel, consisting of 300–1000 personnel, comprising multiple companies, and part of a regiment, brigade, or group (depending on the nation and military service)
  • BDU: Battle Dress Uniform, predecessor to the ACU and being phased out at the time of the story
  • Bevor: an armor piece attached to the upper part of the breastplate, intended to protect the neck and jaw
  • Cap”: short for “Captain” as a form of address
  • CO: commanding officer
  • Company: a size of military unit in general commanded by a captain, consisting of 80–250 personnel, comprising multiple platoons, and part of a battalion
  • CRT: cathode-ray tube
  • PDW: personal defense weapon
  • PFC: private first class
  • Phonetic alphabet: often when a letter or number is stated in dialog, the de facto international standard phonetic alphabet is used; the story text retains peculiarities such as initial capitalization and idiosyncratic spelling
  • Tennies: diminutive shortening of “tennis shoes”
  • VA: Veterans Affairs; that phrase is part of the appropriate organizational name in a surprising number of nations
  • VSCC: fictional, left as an exercise for the class
  • XO: executive officer, most commonly second in command, though that can depend on the nation and service

Rose certainly is an opinionated sort at this stage of her life, isn’t she?

Oh, and that thunk just before the explosion? That’s on purpose, to add just a little extra terror value.