The night after we passed we were absolutely wrecked. Not that our bodies couldn't handle the sort of intensive runabout they'd been put through, we'd all trained for it after all, just at some point you really just need to crash and sleep. There were only the four of us who'd come through this time and we all filed into the concrete box that was our barracks. Light of the setting sun crept through the square windows. The bare bulb gave off a gentle glow that was somehow homely despite the crude sets of metal beds set out along the room. There were six, so we had a bit of extra room thankfully. That also meant the communal showers wouldn't be so crowded even if only by a couple of bodies. The mood was easy and relaxed as I plonked myself down on my bed and shoved my boots off. All the belongings I'd brought with me were in a small holdall under the bed, combi-locked and inconspicuous. I reached into it and took out a rag and started scrubbing the mud and grime off the leather of my boots and made a vain attempt at shining them with some spit and grease.
"What in the world are you doing that for?" A boy with a mess of blond hair and a flushed, excitable face called out to me from the bed opposite. I think his name was Anfield.
"I'm cleaning my boots," stating the obvious was normally a good deflecting tactic. "We're gonna have to parade sooner or later and I'm not getting a bollocking for having mud on my boots."
"Oh... really?" His incredulous expression was slightly comical. I wasn't sure whether he was serious or just being a bit of a dickhead. "You really think we'll have to shine our boots up? But they're filthy!" His accent was starting to bug me a bit. He sounded very upper class country English.
"Mate, are you serious? We'll have to polish our boots because our NCO will give us hell if we don't. He'll do his best to give us hell anyway I'm sure."
"I didn't realise we'd need to do that sort of thing. Thanks for the heads up chap." He started to pull his own boot off then produced a handkerchief and started dabbing at the dirt gingerly. I almost pinched myself. Did this guy seriously run the same three day course I did and pass?
"Oh by the way chap I didn't catch your name..."
"Lewis. Foster Lewis. And you are?"
"Hector Liam Percival Anfield. My friends call me Merlin." Full name and everything. Thought he was gonna start whipping out the Lords, Sirs and Esquires on me.
"Why do they call you that?"
"Oh I'm not sure. Apparently it's something to do with how I get out of trouble as if by magic or something. I never really understood it."
I paused as I considered this. "That's a pretty crap way to get a nickname."
He laughed a little at that. "Well Foster Lewis I like your attitude. You're a good fellow really. I think we'll get along swimmingly."
He set about his business and I sighed exasperatedly. Seriously, this guy passed the proficiency course? He was a hell of a character that much was certain. Maybe his nickname did have some credible logic behind it. If he was anything like his outward appearance he'd have needed some magic to even get this far. I eyed up the other two. Might as well get to know my squad. I called out to the one in the corner. He was shorter than I was and a bit stocky. He wore glasses and mousey hair which curled over his ears.
"Hey, what's your name?"
"Martin. Martin O'Neill. Don't worry I heard you say yours to Anfield. Good to meet you Lewis. Heard you were fast on the assault course out there. I guess I'll have to look forward to training with you."
"Cheers mate, same goes for me." Well at least he seemed normal enough. I looked over to the last member of our squad on my left. He was black. He was lying on his back with both earphones of an ipod in, his eyes closed, nodding his head in time with his music. I could hear a rap beat coming from his earphones.
"Hey, mate, 'scuse me?"
He sat up and popped one earphone out and looked at me. He appeared a lot taller now he was sitting upright. His eyes were dark and threatening and his head was clean shaven.
"What's your name?"
"Okay, well I'm Foster Lewis. Good to be working with you."
He nodded in assent and stuck his earphone back in and lay back down without another word. Great. Real sociable.
So we had Martin who was just about normal. Anfield the posh toph from the country or somewhere who had no idea what he was doing and Malcolm Adams the silent angry black dude. Okay no problems then. Hopefully this would put me in line for the first promotion then. I at least knew what the Marines training was about. I just hoped the others knew enough not to fuck up the next two hundred and twenty four days of my life.