It’s that time again, friends. Enjoy.
A New Mission
“Sir, we have a situation developing you should know about,” the young private said.
The duty officer sighed. Eighteen months on this rotten world, he thought. Setting his cup of water down and placing his hands behind his back, he eased his way over to the console. The rest of the skeleton crew on duty seemed to share a disinterest either from being on station too long or from the knowledge that they would never see the front lines. He held a scowl on his face as he stared down at the soldier. This was the last thing he was looking forward to tonight.
“What is it, private?”
The image on the screen went from blurred and dull to clear and sharp in a fraction of second. Together, they watched as the scene developed into a vision both knew all too well. The battle going on was nowhere he knew and fought entirely by an indigenous force, else they would have shown up in different heat signatures. Whoever was doing this had the Berserkers on the ropes. But there was something wrong with the whole thing. Berserker signatures were disappearing, but not from being killed. They were vanishing too suddenly for that.
“What in the…,” he let slip. He was confused. The course of his career had shown him things most men couldn’t conceive, but nothing like this. “Soldier, find out where they’re disappearing to, now.”
Normally an admittedly hasty man and never one to feel stress, he was left with an ill feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Sir, we’re not picking anything up. It’s like they’re vanishing into thin air.”
“Impossible! Nothing disappears like that. Are the scanners working right?” Of course, he knew they were, but his military mind refused to accept it.
“All systems are online and running. The Berserkers are not showing up anywhere our sensors can read them, sir.”
But why? The dead were still warm, though cooling quickly, and easy to read. The next decision hurt, but he knew it was the only one open to him.
“Private, I want a full squad suited up and ready to move in one hour. Deploy by chopper, and have the bird wait nearby. It is imperative that they learn as much as they can without compromising their position. Have them bring in those two locals for a debriefing upon completion. Make it happen, trooper.”
“Hey, Snake,” cooed the slightly overweight supply sergeant. “Look what I got for you, and don’t go telling me that you couldn’t use it, either.”
Snake Eyes was a man who rarely liked to talk about work when he was off duty, and since their fiasco in the village a few days back, he and his men — or what was left of them — had been given seventy-two hours of down time. It was a luxury he knew wasn’t going to last, but if it could have held out just a while longer…. He found himself looking down on the fat rear echelon trooper who was ruining his night. Fighting back the urge to slap the man and walk off, Snake Eyes stayed, making up his mind what the next course of action was going to be.
“And just what would that be, Scoops?”
Reaching into his jacket pocket with a smile the whole way, Scoops produced a fresh bottle of Izndo whiskey. It was one of the few fine delicacies throughout the systems. Snake was wise to him the moment he saw the flash of the label. There had to be a catch to this. You just didn’t offer a high commodity like this for nothing. The last six years had helped Snake grow up, both physically and mentally, and he was normally a very wary man. Scoops, on the other hand, was the kind of man who would rob from his own grandmother if there was a way to make a profit from it.
“What’s the scam, Scoops? You know I don’t like to play games.”
“Hey, come on. No scam. This one’s legit!”
“Uh huh. Why don’t I believe you?”
Grinning, Scoops fought hard to keep his scowl from coming out. “Look, I have this fine bottle of whiskey, eighteen years old at that, ready to give to you in exchange for the one thing you can offer me.”
Snake Eyes shied away from the last part of that. He didn’t know what the man was getting at, but it didn’t sound right. That and the fact that he hated pencil pushers more than dumb privates confused him when he stayed to listen.
“Go on. I’m all ears.”
“I need field time, Snake. I’ve been in this damned army going on ten years and I don’t have a day of combat time. You get me to the field and this is yours.”
As tempting as it seemed, Snake Eyes was unwilling to get the man killed, much less anyone else in his squad.
“Look. I need this. It’s the only way I have a chance at getting promoted. Help me out, man. Just one little op and I can get my combat service ribbon and be good to go. That, and I’d be in your debt.”
Now that one sparked interest. A supply sergeant in the debt of a ground pounder? Snake would never have to go without again. Snake Eyes accepted the bottle with a smile. “Scoops, you’ve got a deal.”
Leaving the man to wonder if his wants were sufficient, Snake Eyes worked his way back to the platoon tent. He found himself laughing. Be careful what you wish for, he warned the man a little too late and then made up his mind to get drunk.
There was no way he could have been prepared for what greeted him upon entering the hut. Half of the men and women assembled were busy double-checking field gear and ammunition supplies. Some were already in their armor, snapping down the sides and donning the leggings. What was this? They were supposed to have been taken out of the rotation.
Corporal Xill watched him enter and nodded, confirming Snake’s fear. “Word just came down to suit up. We’ve got a snoop-and-scoop mission.”
“I hate this place,” Snake whispered under his breath. “By who’s orders?” The bottle in his hands suddenly felt incredibly heavy.
“Came from the X.O. He wants you and the lieutenant to meet him in ten mikes in the war room.”
Snake Eyes offered the bottle to his friend and said, “Keep an eye on this for me. Lock it ‘til we get back.”
A single thought struck him as the door slammed shut behind him. Another frigging day in paradise shot to squaffa.