Chapter One

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Second Lieutenant Rachel Ortiz[ Not much in the way of physical description of Ortiz; make sure to fix that later...] sat alone in her quarters aboard the Confederation corvette CSS Leander. While the compartment, which measured two meters long by one point five meters wide, was listed as a stateroom on the small warship's deck plan, it was smaller than a solitary confinement cell in a Confederation prison. In a way, she reflected, a prison cell was exactly what it was.

Three months had passed since her assignment as the commander of Leander's Marine detachment after her graduation from the Officer Basic Course on Quantico 17. She had been fourth in her class and had expected a good assignment. She had deserved a good assignment. Such was her surprise when she opened her orders to discover that she'd been assigned to the Marine Corps' 12th Guards Regiment, also infamously known as the Red Legion. She wore the regiment's patch on the left shoulder of her uniform. Turning to look at herself in the small wall mirror, she could see the patch with its red lion, rampant on a black background. When she had first put it on, she'd felt as if it had burned her skin like a brand. The Red Legion was the dumping ground for the worst of the worst in the Corps. Half of the Legion's personnel were prisoners, from non-violent drug users to soulless killers, who had been given the promise of a pardon in exchange for surviving twelve months of combat duty. The other half were malcontents, slackers, general ne'er-do-wells...and a few decent Marines, primarily officers, who were given the impossible task of molding them into a fighting force against the warriors of the Kreelan Empire. Some deserted, preferring to take their chances against the Internal Security Service and summary execution. Others kept a low profile, hoping to live long enough to transfer to another unit. And more than a small few reveled in the brutality and cruelty that were the rule, rather than the exception, in the Legion's twelve battalions. Six of those battalions fought as complete units, usually used to augment Marine divisions in major engagements. Those were the cushy assignments, and generally received better personnel (such as they were) and, even though they typically fought in large battles, had a higher survival rate.

The other battalions, including her own parent unit, the 1st Battalion, were parceled out to the smaller Navy warships as on-board detachments commanded by junior officers such as herself. She snorted in disgust. Commander was a grossly optimistic term for what she really was. Prisoner, or perhaps hostage, would be more appropriate.

In frustration and anger, she delivered a savage kick to the metal bulkhead below the fold-out desk where she was doing her best to focus on the Marine detachment's paperwork. A handsbreadth above the floor, the paint had long since been chipped away by the thick sole of the toe of her combat boots, revealing bare steel that was rusting in the ship's overly humid atmosphere.

[ Clean this up a bit?]Forcing herself to calm down, she returned her attention to the screen in front of her. The administrative tasks for which she was responsible were her only real respite, for the mind-numbing paperwork allowed her to depart from reality for a short while. She stopped as she called up the next personnel record she needed to update, a flame of pure hatred, something she'd never known before coming aboard Leander, flaring in her core.

The name on the screen was that of Staff Sergeant Besarion Khutashvili, the detachment's senior NCO, who was known by the less than affectionate name of Stalin. A convicted murderer who had been given the chance of a pardon if he fought the Kreelans as a member of the Red Legion, Khutashvili had instantly volunteered. He was big, easily twice the size of Ortiz, and the most brutal human being she had ever known. Everyone was terrified of him and he fed on their fear, lived for it. The damnable thing was that he also boasted a chest full of decorations earned in combat against the Kreelans. Feared as he was, he had survived more battles than anyone else in the platoon, and had even saved a few of his fellow Marines in the process.

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