Last Stand


A routine inspection goes terribly wrong when mutiny threatens one of the Union's prized flagships. A Marine captain and two hundred others hole up in a hangar to make their last stand. With so many lives on the line, the question plagues him. Should he try to save the lives of the people around him by surrendering to the mutineers or risk it all fighting to the bitter end? If he chooses to resist, is it courage that spurs him on, or is it pride?

Warning: This story contains spoilers for Ticonderoga - Volume IV.

Location: ESS Iberia, Midway Sector of the Martian Sphere
Date: Sun 10 May 123
Time: UST 1259

"How much longer!?"
"Three minutes, sir!"
A hail of sparks streamed from the armor plate as the crewman hastily welded it over the hatch. He was almost done, but would it be enough? A gravelly voice boomed over the intercom, overpowering even the screech of the power welder.
"Time's up, Captain. Will you give the order?"
The crewman stopped his work, but Captain Arranza was too transfixed by the voice to notice. Less than an hour ago, the legendary Marshal Donovan Graves, Commandant of the Marine Corps, had seized control of the ESS Iberia, one of the three flagships of the Union Navy. Arranza had been preparing his company for the inspection meant to accompany the Commandant's visit when the world got turned upside down. When evidence of the mutiny became clear, he had sealed himself in the hangar with nearly two hundred Marines and a few Navy Corpsmen. Marshal Graves delivered an ultimatum: join him, surrender, or die. He gave them until 1300 to make their decision. Arranza used the time to secure their position. He would not surrender without a fight, but their chances were far from encouraging. After making a futile attempt to swallow the lump in his throat, Arranza spoke up.
"I can't do that, sir, and you know it. 'I will never surrender the members under my command while they continue to have the means to resist.'"
He quoted from the Code of Conduct, virtually unchanged after more than two centuries. He never thought he would need to fall back on its words against someone wearing the same uniform, much less the living legend of the Corps.
"What means to resist?" the Marshal scoffed. "You're outgunned and outnumbered, son, but I don't even need to fire a shot. I can suck all the air out of the hangar and it'll all be over real quick."
Arranza looked around for options. While he was formulating a plan, it seemed like Graves was reading his mind.
"You've got two dropships and a shuttle. Yes, that would take care of most of the men you've got holed up with you, but it'd be like shooting fish in a barrel once we breach the doors. Let's see... The log says you've also got three strike fighters, but they won't do you much good in a hangar. Then there's the twenty MediSuits Kilo Company was gonna show off... If I just leave you alone, you could survive a day or two, but I don't plan on waiting you out. You know you can't win. Are you prepared to sacrifice your men, Captain?"
Arranza looked at the men and women around him. Almost every single one of them had seen combat during the war, but even the most rock-hard leathernecks were noticeably uneasy. It was one thing to be up against the animals who had butchered so many innocent civilians and comrades-in-arms, but no one seemed prepared to face one of the most revered officers in the history of the Union. Why had Marshal Graves turned traitor?
"Maybe you need a little perspective, Captain," the Marshal said, "to understand the stakes. There are two hundred and thirteen other people in that hangar besides yourself. How well do you know them? Well enough to throw away their lives? Let me help you get acquainted with them. You've got Hospital Corpsman Third Class Adenigba--and I'll be damned if I can pronounce his first name. Born 19 April 101 on Mimas. He's got a wife whose name I can't pronounce either and little boy, Kojo, only three years old. Hell of an age to lose your daddy, don't you think? Then we've got Lance Corporal Abdul-Jaleel..."
"Stop it!" Arranza shouted.
"You don't like that?" the Marshal asked in a mocking voice. "Then do the right thing and surrender. Don't make an orphan of little Kojo. You can't hope to retake the ship, you can't escape and you can't warn Fleet Command. You're out of options."
Arranza refused to surrender, but the weight of those two hundred thirteen lives was more than he could bear. The Marshal knew exactly what he was talking about. Living up to his reputation, he had covered all his bases. No ship could escape the Iberia's batteries and all external communications were being jammed. Were there really no options left for him? Would it be better to surrender in the hope that their lives would be spared?
As Captain Arranza teetered on the brink of despair, someone stood before him. Looking at the name tape, he saw that it was Adenigba, the Corpsman Graves had mentioned. His lower lip quivered slightly, but his dark eyes showed uncommon resolve.
"Sir, I think I can speak for everyone here when I say this: We're prepared to follow your orders, whatever they may be."
Arranza looked around at the others one more time. Many of them were manning defensive positions improvised with guns and shield generators stripped out of the fighters. Several were already in MediSuits, making the final system checks before switching to full active mode. The unease had not left them, but he could see in their eyes the same resolve as the Corpsman. They were prepared to meet their fate. The sight gave Arranza the courage to make his decision. His composure cooled as he pressed the intercom button.
"I'm a Marine, sir. Our motto is 'Semper Fidelis.' You've betrayed our code, but I won't. I refuse to disgrace the Union, the Corps, my unit, or any of these excellent sailors and Marines under my command. Semper fi!"
Sailor and Marine alike roared in unison, "Semper fi!"
He was surprised by the courage in his own voice and proud of what he heard in the voices of the men. Looking over to a lone MediSuit left unmanned, Captain Julio Arranza was prepared for whatever lay in store for him. No matter what tactic Graves would use to wipe out the last pocket of resistance on the Iberia, he would die a Marine, ever faithful to the Union he swore to defend.