As for Ortiz, "Stalin" treated her like he might a stray cat. The Corps insisted that an officer command the detachment, and even Stalin knew that he would never be promoted beyond his current rank. So he intimidated and cajoled the junior officers placed over him. She knew quite well from reviewing the unit records that those who went along with him lived quite a bit longer than those who didn't. Most of the latter suffered mysterious deaths, in combat or otherwise.

To Ortiz's everlasting shame, she had given in to his intimidation, which was tempered by the promise of protection from the less savory of the detachment's personnel. She was willing to sacrifice her life for the Confederation against the Kreelans, but didn't want to die at the hands of this maniac. While she would die before admitting it, she was also grateful for his protection: the detachment boasted six convicted rapists who shamelessly tore her uniform off with their eyes every time she stood in front of them. Surprisingly, Stalin didn't care much about sex one way or the other. He just enjoyed killing. As long as she didn't get in his way, he'd told her, she'd be just fine.

She kicked the bulkhead again, furious with herself for being such a tool, and a useless one at that.

A sudden knock at the door almost made her yelp in surprise. "What is it?" She looked at the sturdy deadbolt she'd had one of the crewmen weld onto the door. It was locked.

"Lieutenant!" It was Lance Corporal Waylon Davis, who had been released from a mental institution as a "salvageable" patient. He was completely crazy, but he was one of the few Marines in her detachment she felt she could trust. "You've got to come see this!"

Resting her hand on her sidearm, which was strapped to her right thigh when she was awake and under her pillow when she slept, she went to the door and unlocked it. "Did the replacements arrive?" She'd been expecting two new bodies to replace a pair of Marines who had been killed in a brief but savage engagement with a Kreelan destroyer.

"Yeah, el-tee, but...I have no words. You've got to come see."

Ortiz pursed her lips as she considered venturing from the safety of her cabin. Stalin would eventually bring them around to see her, anyway, but she was possessed with the sudden perverse desire to actually do what she wanted to do, not just what he told her to do. "Okay," she said, throwing open the deadbolt.

Following Davis, who mumbled unintelligibly to her, to the walls of the passageway, and to himself, not necessarily in that order, she made her way to the small galley that was reserved for the twenty Marines of the corvette's detachment. As she drew nearer, she could hear her Marines (she tried to think of them as hers, even though she knew that they truly belonged to Stalin) hooting and cursing. They sounded like a pack of dogs after a cat had been thrown into their midst.

Forcing some steel into her spine while resting her hand on the grip of her sidearm, she stepped through the hatch into the galley. "What the hell's going on in here?"

"Fresh meat!" Davis crowed from beside her, gleaming at the newcomers as he clapped his hands.

"I don't believe it," Ortiz said to herself.

"Believe it, lieutenant," Stalin said, stepping forward to clap one of his big hands on one shoulder of the smaller of the two new recruits, who flinched in pain as Stalin squeezed. "This one, he is nothing, but this one..." He put his hand on the other new Marine's shoulder, grinning as he contracted the muscles of a hand that could snap the bones of a man's wrist. The other Marine showed no reaction at all. The young man continued staring straight ahead, his face relaxed, serene. Stalin's grin faded, and he let go of the smaller man to focus all his energy on bringing the new one to heel. He was squeezing his hand so hard now that his entire arm was quivering, and Ortiz couldn't believe that the bones hadn't already snapped in the new recruit's shoulder.

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