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Across The Threshold by Jack Bode
Chapter 31

“That was prompt action,” the doctor said to Captain Johnson after he had examined Petra. “It saved her life.”

“Don’t thank me, Doc,” Johnson replied. “I only drive this bus.” He patted the corvette affectionately. “He is the real hero.” Johnson pointed to me.

“Well, well,” the doctor said. “Anytime you want to switch profes­sions let me know. I couldn’t have done better myself.” I felt thoroughly embarrassed. The ambulance was just pulling away from the small land­ing field on which we stood.

“Is she going to live?” I asked the doctor.

“Of course she is. It’s her ticket back to Tremaine on a hospital ship. This ranger business is over for her for at least six months. But by then we will either be all dead or the war will be won. I would place my bets on the latter. She won’t see action again.”

I sighed.

“It’s on your conscience, young man. What are you going to do now? Yo u were quite a compatible team, the way I heard it.”

“Yes, quite.”

“There was a reason why the High Command handed the two of you always the most difficult assignments. How long have you been together?”

“I can’t quite remember. What year is this?”

“Come again?”

“The date. What date is it?”

“According to the galactic calendar, October 18, 690.”

“October 18, 690? We have been together here on Perlos for about two standard years.”

October 18, 690 S.Y.G.C. Tw o long and eventful years had passed. In the beginning I had often reflected on my earlier home back in the twentieth century. But for the past year and a half I had hardly ever thought about it. On occasion we had talked about what we would do once the war was over. Petra wanted to stay with me and I certainly had no objections to such an arrangement. All the options were open to us. We could stay in the service or settle on Inverness or Tremaine or some other planet. I could go to university and ... No, it was best to wait and see how events would shape our future. The only certainty we foresaw was that we would remain together.

I took a deep breath.

“What are you going to do now?” the doctor asked again as we were standing by the ramp of the corvette.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I just don’t know. It is not easy to lose your partner of two years.”

“All the best for the future, Lieutenant Kester,” Bill Johnson called from the door of the corvette. “If you are stuck for a job I can always use somebody like you when they put me back in charge of my frigate.”

“Thanks, Captain. I’ll try to remember that.” I turned towards him and saluted. Bill Johnson returned the salute and grinned. Then the door slid shut.

“I am serious,” the doctor said as we walked towards his ground car. “I’ll sponsor you. A person who can make the right decision and carry it out under primitive battlefield conditions in the face of an advancing enemy - we need medical practitioners like that.”

“Thanks, Colonel.” For the first time I saw his rank. A colonel!

“If you ever get to Inverness look me up. Just come to the Chen-Tao Institute for Advanced Exobiology and ask for Gene Flanders. Care for a ride? I can drop you off anywhere you want to go.”

“Thanks again, Doc. But I think I’ll just walk. I’ll have to come to terms with what just happened.”

“I understand. Keep my offer in mind,” Doc Flanders shouted as the car began to move.

I saluted and then waved.

I picked up my carryall and the laser gun. I still had the four power packs attached to my belt. I now took them off and placed them inside the carryall. The grenades were all gone. I looked at my chronometer. It was still early morning. I was dead tired. Not sleepy tired, although I could have used some rest. The tiredness was more in the nature of weariness.

What was I going to do here all alone? Would I get a new partner? What if we did not hit it off? Would I forego Petra? Well, I knew the answer to that! There was no way I would team up with a stranger, no way at all. Our two years together here on Perlos guaranteed that.

Petra and I had faced many dangers together, many more than I have chronicled above. We had always been at the front and as Colonel Flanders had indicated, we had always drawn the most dangerous assign­ments. It had not occurred to me before, but it was really true. Now look­ing back I could see that we had always drawn the most hazardous tasks. And now Petra was going to Tremaine while I had to stay on Perlos.

Maybe it would not be the worst idea to accept Bill Johnson’s offer. That way I could see Petra at least once in a while. And had Doc Flanders not said that she would be back on the active list in less than six months? And who knew, maybe I could land a job as an instructor on Tremaine. That was where they trained rangers.

It sounded good. I my mind I painted a vivid picture of what the future could be like. It would be best to let Petra know, I said to myself. I changed directions to the hospital complex. It took me two hours to walk the ten kilometers. Tw o very pleasant hours.

The guard stopped me at the front gate. He was a corporal by the name of Mellaby.

“Your name, Ranger, and you business here.” He glanced at me suspiciously and his voice was not the most friendly. I suppose he had reason enough. I must have looked a bit on the wild side. He also eyed my laser gun.

“Carl Kester.”

“Lieutenant Carl Kester?”

“That’s me.”

“Just a moment, Lieutenant while I get Sergeant Pershing.” His voice had mellowed quite a lot. He went into the guard house. A second later he came back with the sergeant.

“Are you Lieutenant Carl Kester, the ranger?” Pershing asked.

“Yes, Sir.”

The sergeant saluted. “We are not supposed to let anybody in except authorized personnel. Whom are you going to see?”

“My partner, Lieutenant Petra Baird.”

“Ah yes, they brought her in a couple of hours ago. Who authorized your visit?”

“Colonel Flanders.”

I did not exactly lie. I just stretched the truth a bit.

“Where are your authorization papers?”

“It was a verbal authorization.”

For a couple of seconds Pershing hesitated.

“Go and find out where Lieutenant Baird is now,” he said to Corporal Mellaby who was standing a meter away.

The corporal hastened to carry out the order. The sergeant nodded to the left and took a few steps in that direction.

“I am not permitted to let you in,” he said to me in a very low voice when I caught up to him. “But some rules can be stretched. If it wasn’t for the two of you we’d all be dead now. Yo u located the main camp of the beetles just as they got ready to attack us. Your report and your actions saved this entire salient.” Just then Mellaby returned.

“Barracks C, room 2430,” he said, coming to attention. “They are just getting ready to transfer her to a hospital ship. If the Lieutenant hurries ...”

“Right, Corporal. The lieutenant has proper authorization. That way, Sir.” He pointed to the south. Both Pershing and Mellaby saluted.

I kept my laser gun and carryall despite the rules which said that all weapons must be checked at the guard house.

I found the place without difficulty although it was quite far to walk.

Standing in front of the door leading into the building I went over what I was going to say to Petra for the hundredth time. By chance my eyes fell on the reflection in the glass of the door. I did indeed look a bit wild.

I straightened out my hair and pushed my shirt back into my trousers. Once more I checked my looks. The reflection in the glass of the door looked much more presentable. I took the laser gun in my right hand and the carryall in my left.

At that moment the engine of a ground vehicle came to life at the rear of the building. After some initial roughness the turbine smoothly settled down to its high pitched whine. All of a sudden it seemed impera­tive that I hurry.

I reached for the handle and pulled the door open. Once more I glanced behind me at the hospital compound, took a deep breath and stepped across the threshold.

Raising my eyes I abruptly stopped dead in my tracks. Completely bewildered ...

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