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CASPer's Widow

J. R. Handley




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Despite her pain, Mrs. Josephine Anderson stood for the ceremony. She knew it would be rough; it was the first anniversary of when she lost him. The world knew him as Corporal Robert Anderson of the Yorktown Dragoons. To her, he would always be Bobby, her loving husband. They met as kids, dated all through high school, and eloped the day before he took his VOWS. Josephine knew that he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the lot, but he was loyal, and she loved him. Her parents thought she could do better, but Josephine and Bobby didn’t care. The newlyweds were ready to take on the world, and they’d yet to learn the dirty little secret of life—the world fights back.

“Today we honor our dead,” the speaker, Lieutenant Sawyer, droned on as a bugle sounded TAPS behind him. “It took two attempts, but we finally retrieved their bodies and brought them home to rest with their ancestors in Virginian soil. They would have done no less for us. It’s the warrior way. When we retrieved their bodies, we found their last transmissions still saved in the CASPers’ cache file. They had tried to send one last data burst; unfortunately, the Besquith overran their position before they could get it off. I will read their messages as we honor the men of 5th Battalion, Yorktown Dragoons.”

The bugler finished his long and eerie rendition of the bugle song. When the last note sounded, a uniformed member of the Dragoons’ command team stepped up to the podium. Pausing for effect, the young lieutenant started reading.

“From Private Logan Cullen:


I just wanted to tell you that I’m okay. The first drop went off without a hitch, you were wrong to worry. I’m doing all right, and the boys seem to like me. They don’t make fun of me like the kids did in school. I know I’ve got more muscles than brains—you told me that often enough. But I can carry the big guns and the boys here like that. Corporal Anderson even let me on his team when the other NCOs said I was too strong for them. It’s always like that, it’s why I’m picked last all the time. That’s why the four horsemen didn’t want me, I could out bench-press them. Anyway, I don’t like all this remembering, so know that I made it safe and I really like Corporal Anderson. Oh, and the woods on Jeatov are as pretty as the postcards said they were! I can see them from the walls of the fortress we came to take from the bad guys. Those dumb bears weren’t so tough after all. Anyway, Corporal Anderson even said we could take a tour and get loads of pictures of the woods once the fighting is done.

Missing you,


“Private Logan Cullen was a loyal soldier,” droned Lieutenant Sawyer. “He fought well, and that isn’t the normal tripe that gets told to the next of kin. I’ve seen the footage of the battle. He was one of the last men standing. He ripped the head off a Besquith with his bare hands. He served the Dragoons well and will be welcomed into Valhalla with the rest of his brothers.”

Stepping back, several riflemen stepped forward and aimed their rifles into the air.


Josephine flinched, thinking about her sons, the boys who fiercely clung to her outstretched hands. Will my sons ever write me letters like that? she wondered. She prayed they never joined, never sold their souls to the mercenary guilds for a few extra credits. Life was too precious to squander it chasing someone else’s glory for a few measly credits, but the allure of fame and fortune had killed many idealistic young men. She’d hated that Bobby had stuck it out with the Dragoons for so long, and tears sprang to her eyes as she remembered the fights they’d had over the issue. There was a slight pause as the weapons were reloaded, and then as one the riflemen returned to the ready position.


Gripping the tiny hands of her sons even more tightly, Josephine tried to fight off the memories. The honor guard paused to slowly and ceremonially reload their weapons before proceeding. Watching them handle their weapons reminded her of Bobby. She’d lovingly watched as he taught her little brother to fire a rifle. He’d been so patient, despite her brother’s inept attempts at marksmanship. He’d looked so handsome in his uniform, and she smiled at the memory.


Every one of those volleys stabbed Josephine in the heart as she fought back tears. Her twin boys stood next to her, clenching her hands. They were her anchor, tethering her to reality, and she knew she’d never let them go. She knew that she had to hold it together for them. Her sons needed her to be strong. It was the only thing she had left in this cruel world. While she remained standing with the rest of the families of the deceased, Lieutenant Sawyer stepped back up to the podium.

“From Lieutenant Rafael Novak:


Hey big brother, how’re you doing today? The landing went off without a hitch, and we kicked the knuckle-walking Jivool out of the fortress. We just might pull this one off. If I can do well enough, maybe I can join you in the Cavaliers? I know I’m a bit impulsive, but I’ve grown up since I was kicked out of college. I’m sober, for real this time. You’d be proud of me for once. My boys performed flawlessly. We took the first objective easily. The guards weren’t expecting us; there was only a few dumb bear companies guarding the fortress. Took a lot of lead to take them out, but they went down before we landed inside the fortress. We were hired to take the site and the surrounding mining facilities for some new business collective – they were ready to pay heavily for the planet. Ever heard of the Tusa Syndicate? They’re throwing credits around like it’s candy, for whatever that nugget of wisdom is worth. Anyway, the mercs guarding the site were glad to die when we showed them what the Mark 7s can do. I really do love these upgrades from the 6s that we had on the last mission. As for our opposition, I’ve seen blind mutes put up more of a fight. I think these bumbling bears were overblown. They’re a lot less scary than I’d feared. Anyway, I better get ready to assault the mining site. If we seize all of the secondary sites, we get one heck of a bonus. I’ll keep you updated, in the hopes that you finally forgive me. Maybe put in a good word with your boss? Anyway, I’ll be in touch.


LT, 1st Platoon, A Co., 5th BN, Yorktown Dragoons.”

Clearing his throat, the presenter seemed to regain his composure. “Lieutenant Rafael Novak was a good man. We were roommates during the Dragoon’s officer training course. He almost washed out five times, but he never gave up. He talked of joining his older brother in the Cartwright’s Cavaliers, but the truth is I think he would have stayed with us. He was loyal to a fault. A truly larger than life man. He’ll be missed. In the end, he died leading his platoon in the final charge on the secondary objective. May he rest with our brothers in Valhalla.”

When Sawyer stepped back, the honor guard riflemen stepped forward and fired their ceremonial three volleys to honor the dead.




Smiling sadly, Josephine remembered Bobby’s own training experience. They’d been newly married when he’d shipped out to the recruit training depot on Fort Monroe. The company had bought the old Army base and established their boot camp there. When he’d washed out of training after getting hurt, she’d taken the train and visited him in the washout barracks. She’d managed to talk him off the ledge, and he’d convinced the commander of the training company to give him a second chance. The second time through the course, Bobby graduated as the Honor Graduate, and she’d beamed with pride as he was presented a challenge coin from the Yorktown Dragoon’s commanding general.

Wiping the tears from her eyes, tears she thought had dried up six months ago, Josephine held her son’s hands. When the boys flinched, she realized that her grip was too strong. Relaxing her grip, just a little, she looked down at her young sons. The boys looked solemn, she could see them trying to be strong. Before the ceremony she’d told them what to expect, and they’d looked so serious as they told her they’d make Daddy proud. The impact of their statement had melted her heart, and she’d smiled through the tears.

“From First Sergeant Nicholas Schmidt:


I’m doing well; so far, the mission is going fine. Things are almost too easy, but I won’t complain about a milk run for a final mission. We just have to march into the woods, seize some secondary objectives for our bonus pay, and then we extract and ship home. The mines aren’t supposed to be heavily guarded, so I’m optimistic. The Tusa Syndicate has been spot on with their intel so far. So we’ve every reason to believe that they’ll be accurate with other mission parameters.


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