The day had not gone well for Corporal Etienne da’Kohling.
To start with, he’d been working graveyard shift in Engineering. Long hours of monitoring the engines, running checks and calibrations on the GigaMerton Cannon that had been requested by the weapons officers, and all the other mindless tedium wears on a soul. Especially if that soul had worked a long shift the day before and had barely gotten an hour’s kip before graveyard came up. Sucking down foul coffee didn’t help, and after the sixth hour had passed, even the powerful, sinus-clearing stench of engine oil wasn’t helping keep fatigue at bay.
Etienne knew he wasn’t the only person suffering. The entire crew of the Reinhardt had been run ragged in their attempts to avoid White Cell’s forces. More than one of his fellows among the engineering crew had similar woes to tell of, but that was poor comfort when trying to keep bleary eyes open and make it to the end of hour eight, when his relief would come on and he could try to get some more sleep.
But just as that blessed moment was due to come along, White Cell found them, and then the ship was in combat. The adrenaline helped keep him alert as he rushed around his post to make sure the power systems held while they tried to fight, and then to keep power to the engines as they ran away. In happier times, Etienne would have been the first to say that only cowards ran away, but here and now, running away meant staying alive, and staying alive was something that all soldiers pray for.
“Kohling!” The corporal whirled around and jumped aside to let another engineer rush past, then looked up at the catwalk above, where the chief of engineering was looking down at him. “Go help Lorton stabilize the shield lines! Dunno where the Moogle is takin’ us, but we need to keep those shields up!” Oberleutnant Howard Länglich turned and grabbed a private rushing past. “Wilhelm, go help him out!”
At that moment, the ship shook and Wilhelm pitched backward over the catwalk railing, letting out his signature scream as he went. Länglich, knocked against the rail as well, managed to grab his ankle, straining to keep him from plummeting. Etienne rushed over and grabbed Wilhelm by the shoulders, bearing the private’s weight as Länglich let him go. The oberleutnant, his bald pate flushed red, nodded as he caught his breath. “Jump to it!”
But then the ship pitched and rocked again, and panels exploded in sparks. An coolant line behind Länglich bent, and he turned just in time to see it rupture, spraying him with steam. The chief engineer screamed, a gut-wrenching sound that only got worse as he went over the catwalk rail and fell in a heap in front of Wilhelm and Etienne. The private was the first to recover. “Man down! Corpsman!”
“No time for that!” Etienne interrupted. “Billy, you and Vanya get him out of the way-- be careful! He might still be alive!-- and then find Leutnant Ferris and let him know he just got promoted.” He looked up at the Scandian engineer helping Wilhelm. “And Vanya, when you’re done, cap that line up there, or we’ll burn up before we make it anywhere.” He got a nod in return.
Etienne took a moment to steady himself and then slapped himself in the face a few times to keep himself sharp. Ferris was good at this, he’d be up for the job. He was on his way to help Sergeant Lorton re-route power for the shield lines when the ship bucked and seemed to twist around them. The engineers looked around and then up as the ship’s tannoy squealed. “All hands! We are caught in a planetary gravity field! We are going to attempt a controlled crash landing! All hands, to your stations and brace for impact!”
Etienne shared a look with Lorton and–
Later, he wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what happened between that moment and when he woke up. He could remember noise-- so much noise-- as the Reinhardt broke atmo and then slammed into the landscape, as its hull was torn apart and as men around him died. There had been pain, too. Something had slammed into his head, and that had knocked him into oblivion.
He came to near the wreckage and squinted up at the Moogle with his hand on his forehead. He tried to sit up, and thought better of it, laying back. “Ow. Very ow.”
“Welcome back to the land of the living, corporal,” the Moogle said. “Take it slow. You had a very nasty gash on your head, but you should be okay. You were lucky. Most of engineering got hit pretty hard.”
“Bozhe moy, Kohling, you lucky bastard!” There was Vanya, bruised and with an arm in a sling, grinning broadly. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Thanks, Dubov.” Etienne clasped hands with him, but stayed where he was. He looked to the Moogle. “I’m awake, so I should be fine. You should go tend to–”
“Slow,” the Moogle admonished him. “Answer a few questions. Can you tell me your name?”
“Etienne da’Kohling. Corporal, Engineering.”
A nod. “Where are you from?”
Etienne hesitated. “Originally, or officially?”
A shrug. “Either. Both.”
“My family is from Kohlingen, but we live in Albrook now.” Etienne laid his head back. “I’ll be fine, honestly, you should go see if Oberleutnant Länglich is–”
Vanya made a sound, grimacing, and Etienne stopped, looking up at him. The Moogle rose. “Yes, perhaps I should see to the others. My name is Kupello, if you need me. Welcome to Avalon, Corporal Kohling.” And he left.
Etienne sat up with a wince. “How many people did we lose?” he asked the Scandian private.
“They’re still totting the numbers up,” Dubov sighed. “Länglich is barely holding on, but even if he makes it… I don’t know, the burns were pretty extensive, and with the head trauma, he might be out of it for a while.”
“What about Ferris?”
“Caught a beam through the chest.”
Etienne’s stomach felt as though he were on the edge of a pit. “Lorton?”
The private coughed. “They still haven’t found all of him.” He grimaced again and scratched at the arm in the sling. “Sorry to say this, Kohling, but it looks like you’re the ranking person from engineering.”
With a groan, Etienne slumped back. “This is not the kind of promotion I would have asked for.” He put his arm over his eyes and lay there for several minutes before he spoke again. “How many people do we have left?”
“Not very many. There’s me, Billy, and two or three others, but they’re still being checked out.”
Etienne got to his feet, wobbled, but got his balance under him. “All right, tell Wilhelm to check on the others, then come find me. Let’s find out what we’ve still got to work with.”