I remembered just going to sleep in the interstellar void. Stars all around. A blueish sun in the distance. And the cloud of wreckage around our ship. I wondered how long it would be until we fell into that sun? It would be eons for sure. It was all quite peaceful, actually. Or maybe it was the anasthetics and metabolism suppressors kicking in? Whatever. I was revived on a morgue/hospital ship 4 days later, with 20 minutes left on the O2/life support clock. Puke had thirty because he was the last one to tuck himself in. Shitty and Zeke had been clinically dead for half a day. They were bigger men and you can only suppress their metabolism so much. They burned through their life support faster than us. But the doctors were able to revive them with only some minor peripheral brain damage. The cold, the vacuum and the hibernation chemicals made it all possible, we were told. Both men suffered some loss of inhibition and minor behaviour problems. For awhile Shitty was blind, and one day his vision just started working for no apparent reason. The doctors were stumped. Zeke became gruff and bellicose from time to time. What did they see on the other side of The Great Divide? For whatever reason they steadfastly refused to talk about it.
We were famous for all of about 15 minutes. They laughed about Zeke and Shitty, calling them The Resurrected Retards and they actually got interviewed by a voracious press eager to trigger their episodes for their readerships. Sarge put the kibosh on that. I even gave out a few autographs and posed for selfies. The next week the Brits figured out the Bloater phase shift technologies and a month later, when the Bloaties tangled with us... they had a real dog fight on their hands and had to take us very seriously. The public forgot about us, and we got mothballed back on earth by a command that didn't really know what to do with us. Shitty and Zeke had to be kept on a short leash until they recovered. Sarge and I had been through the emotional wringer with all that and needed some down time and a break too. It was a good deal for everyone. I constantly shopped for curios and relics, supervised by Sgt. Puke who was also becoming an amateur curator and historian in his own right. We'd push mops with Shitty and Zeke, pinch hit for the cooks in the mess hall when they were short staffed, mow grass and generally try to stay out of everyone's way. We did alright ... for the most part.
The general cursed as he fished around in his briefcase, and then smiled in satisfaction. He took out his cigar and stubbed it out, and then reached in and pulled out four crushed velvet cases. "I really must apologize, men - I should have taken care of this months ago. I fear that the older I get, the more scatter brained I become. We should do this properly with a ceremony, the press, and pretty girl reporters... but the moment was lost, I fear. On behalf of a grateful nation, boys - thank you for your service."
Sarge and I got Bronze Stars. Shitty and Zeke got the one up from that - Silver Stars. Those things were almost exclusively awarded posthumously and the President himself has to sign off on them. What a fuggin day. Our hands were in cuffs, and yet we held in them the highest awards that a nation can bestow on the lowly grunt.
"So that's the old business taken care of, Colonel Warner. I really have to thank you for all your help and cooperation in getting this matter resolved in an amicable and efficient manner." Zutz said, theatrically slapping his hands free of imaginary dust. "Jim, I'm afraid the Colt and the katana will have to stay with me for the term of your enlistment. I will return them - reluctantly - when you finish your service with us."
"Well thank YOU general. I trust your faith in these guys isn't misplaced but I personally have some reservations. You guys make damned sure you give this man 110%," Warner said, glaring at us, "This man is probably one of the finest ever to put on the uniform..." Shitty began to conspicuously and silently wipe at his nose - the international gesture of contempt for brown nosers. I looked back at the General in horror, and Sarge put his head in his hands. "Knock it off, Shitty!" he whispered fiercely. Warner looked like he was going to have a bird, and the General smirked rudely and pretended not to notice.
"We must discuss our future now," Zutz said briskly, wiping the smirk off his face. Colonel Warner looked murderous, and Zeke and Shitty tried (and failed) to look innocent. "One of my issues to resolve on this visit, men - is what, exactly to do with you now...?" and the General paused for dramatic effect. The man was a speaker, and a bit of a ham actor too. We waited expectantly while he let us stew.
"In fourteen days, gentlemen," the General ordered, "the new terran dreadnought, the USS Barak Obama breaks orbit for the Lesser Magellan. They are short on gunnery techs and you - the best gunners the navy ever produced - are going to go with them. I sincerely hope you enjoy your next deployment and have a safe and rewarding journey."
Puke groaned and put his head in his hands again. "I'm gonna be sick," he whimpered.
Colonel Warner was all grins. "EXCELLENT! HAR!!!!" His tone turned silky sweet, "That's a Diversity ship, right, General? The entire crew are women? Why - these guys will be right at home!" he crowed. "You gentlemen can impress the ladies with your competence and charisma, after all, you're all chick magnets...!"
"Oi! Thank you so much Colonel Warner!" Zeke piped up, "Imagine that fellas! Surrounded by adoring women, whom we'll have all to ourselves! It's gonna be GREAT! See, Puke! I toldjya they'd go easy on us!"
But Warner grimaced but wasn't finished. "That's right, Zeke! Also on board will be a smattering of pan-gendered rainbow folk! Some ethnic vibrants, and other members of visible and invisible minorities! You are going to have a wonderful time," the Colonel hooted. "There is a God, and He will not be mocked!"
"Eh? Won's this?" Zeke asked. "I don't quite understand..." the dim bulb was beginning to flicker.
I decided to speak. "Ever really look at military women, Zeke? The vast majority of them are fat lesbians, and disagreeable chubsters that can't pull their weight. In addition to them, there are the other crazies like the queers, the bronies, the furries, the pedos, the-"
"That's enough, gentlemen," General Zutz barked. "We can't be having an inappropriate conversation on this! You'll take your orders and execute them with competency and enthusiasm! Not one more word!"
In the ensuing silence, all that could be heard was Colonel Warner sighing in satisfaction. The General rounded on the Colonel, "Don't be so smug, Colonel. You have 72 hours to conclude your business here at base and hand off any outstanding issues to your successor, whom I will designate shortly. You will be going with them, and that's final." All vestiges of the kindly old man were gone in the General, he was every inch the military hard ass.
"Wait! What!" Warner howled, "I'll tender my resignation! I won't set one goddamned foot on that boat, and that's the end of it!"
The general softened and smiled. "Oh yes you will, you'll follow your orders just as your men will, or I will put my boot so far up your ass - " the General stopped, and seemed to gather his thoughts. "You men are excused and dismissed. Go clean yourselves up, get some rest, and we'll resume at breakfast tomorrow at the officer's club. I will call ahead and make sure they are ready and expecting you. In the meantime," the general smirked, "the Colonel and I have things to discuss..."