"Lieutenant John Sansker?" the private called, searching the room. Her eyes settled on me as I rose. "Lieutenant?"
I nodded in response, and followed her out the door. A jeep was waiting outside, driven by a young man in ripped cammos, sporting many poorly done tattoos. He looked me over and snickered. I wished I hadn't worn my dress uniform.
"Alright, princess, your chariot awaits." He said with a grin.
"Right...Home, James." I said with an arch look, and an imperious wave.
His smile faded a bit. He wasn't used to the new fish responding in kind, I guess. I tossed my duffel in the back and hopped in. "Name's Elway. Sergeant Elway. Sansker, right?"
More interested in the scenery at that moment, I answered absently. " Uh huh." The road led into a rather dark canopy of forest, and the territory extending underneath was boggy and moist. It was probably as close as you could get to a jungle in the southern states.
"So you're a Lieutenant, right?"
"Well, just so you know, we don't stand at attention out here. Before you figure it out the hard way, nobody follows orders until they know you know what you're talking about. Our commander is a captain, but they gave him the rank so just out of the academy punks could cause him grief. When it’s just the unit, or in the field, we’re all equal, ‘cept for Captain Jacobs, of course. Each one of us runs our own specialties. I’m the communications specialist for the unit. I won’t tell you how to do your job, you don’t tell me about mine.”
His speech stole my attention from the terrain. It also pissed me off a bit. Here I was, just driving to a new assignment, and I was being told by a Sergeant that my rank meant nothing. My rank was my only mark of accomplishment so far, and I was pretty proud to have achieved it, coming from where I had. He wasn’t saying it petulantly, or with animosity though. It was advice, plain and simple.
“I don’t care too much what happens when it’s just the unit, Elway. Hell, I didn’t bust your chops for calling me princess, did I? But I do expect to be given the respect I’ve earned when we’re in public. That means Sir, or Lieutenant. I’m not a punk just out of the academy, and I didn’t get this rank just handed to me. I realize the importance of not stepping on people’s toes, but I’m not one to just sit down and shut up, either.”
“Well then, sir, you’d better be able to back up what you say. Things might get ugly. And in the unit, discussion don’t happen much. If you’re gonna ‘take a stand’, it had better not be just because one of us forgot to call you sir.”
I decided that this conversation wasn’t likely to go well, and changed topics. “So...the Captain. Jacobs, was it? Is he a tough commander?”
“In what sense? Toughest son of a b--ch I know, if you ask me. And is he a hard-ass that won’t cut you any slack? Answer is yes. But he does respect those that earn it, and he operates on consensus, so long as it’s reached quickly, and it don’t directly contradict his take on the situation.” He shrugged. “He won’t let ya go off and do your own thing, that’s for sure. You do that, he’ll kill ya himself. But I don’t know a commander that wouldn’t. “
“What about code of conduct and such. You guys call him Sir?”
“Salute and call him sir. He don’t know you, and at first, he don’t really want to. After a few missions, he might cut ya some slack.”
“Uh...which unit am I joining? They gave me a sealed envelope, and told me to hand it off as is.”
“And you didn’t look? What kind of a thief are ya?” said Elway grinning. “Mr. Pick-Any-Lock, Booby-Traps-Are-My-Friends was stymied by a bit o’ glue?”
“Uh...no. I just followed protocol...” I said, a bit embarrassed. Was it expected that I should have? Was it some unwritten part of the special forces ‘code’ that these rules didn’t apply?
“Relax, preppy. I was just teasin’. “ He chuckled, and added with some pride. “You’re joining the LRT-202nd. You heard of us?”
“Uh...no...should I have?”
“Nope! If you had, it would mean we hadn’t been doing our job!” he chuckled.
“So what kind of stuff will we be doing?
“The kind of stuff no one wants to talk about, let alone do.” He answered, a bit smugly.
I’d heard that answer before from the average grunt on the battlefield. It was the kind of evasive answer I’d come to expect, but it wasn’t what I’d been hoping for. I had hoped maturity would have reached a slightly higher level in a supposedly elite unit.
The jeep turned down the dirt road towards what looked like an old bunker. The building would have looked abandoned to the casual observer. However, I could see that the communications dish, while painted to look rusty and decrepit, was actually a state-of-the art Saturn 6-TY (well, state of the art a few years ago, at the least), and that the road had seen recent use. I noticed two sheds off to the left. One, I could see as the jeep got close to the gate, had a rather large power cable snaking towards it, partially hidden by high grass. That would indicate the bunker had an independent power supply. There was a retinal scanner at the gate. Elway was cleared almost immediately, whereas my identification took a good five minutes. There was no way the system should have taken so long. The system needed calibration badly, or someone was messing with me from inside. I took solace in that I could have spoofed the system three times over in that time frame, given the right equipment, regardless of which scenario.
I looked around the grounds as Elway drove me through. I could see some abnormal coloration in some of the patches of relatively high grass. No doubt some sort of antipersonnel precautions. I also noticed that Elway avoided several bumps and potholes on the road, and wondered what sort of unpleasantries might occur if we hit one. But I wasn’t curious enough to twist the wheel.
The jeep stopped, and we both stepped out. He grabbed my bags, and handed them to me...well, though he didn’t call me sir, he apparently somewhat knew his place in terms of general courtesy. We walked up to the door, which opened automatically. As I had suspected the building was in great condition, despite outward appearances. The entrance looked somewhat like a submarine airlock, and in a way, it probably was very similar.
All militaries liked to believe they still had secrets, and protected them a little more harshly than some other organizations. Corporate militias tended to use knockout gases, or simply deprived oxygen till an unauthorized person passed out. The military tended to believe that if you had the misfortune of being caught, you obviously didn’t have enough talent to live. Lethal gases, deprivation of all oxygen, or in some rare cases, a blast furnace, were a matter of course. These were the kinds of protections that worried me most. They were last ditch defences, hardwired into the computer, and under it’s direct control. This ruled out human error, but it also meant there were no failsafes. And lord knows a computer could never screw up, right? Yeah, I never bought that line of bull either. When a computer screwed up, the results just tended to be scarier. Probably why I chose my field. I didn’t really have a knack for computers, though I studied enough to know a bit. I hated being helpless against any mechanical or electronic foe, so I specialized, and learned to tackle a computer’s mechanical extensions instead. This was often safer, and in most cases, just as effective. The results were just a little harder to repair.
As always, I breathed a little easier once safely through the second set of doors. A long corridor with fairly dim fluorescent lighting greeted me. Gotta love military spending. Anything that can kill or mutilate gets priority. The folk that have to live in, or with it, not so special.
“That’s the mess hall. Actually it’s more a dining room with crappy atmosphere. We have a cook during the week, but seeing as we’re the only ones eating here, it’s not very big. Certainly not a hall.” Said Elway, pointing to a door on the left.
“And over there is the gym. Don’t let Tommy talk you into sparrin’ sessions.”
“You’ll meet ‘em all soon enough.” He said, shrugging, and pointed down a corridor that junctioned off from this one. “Firing range, and weapons storage. Also the exit to the airfield...”
He rambled on about the facility, and about some of the unit members as we did the grand tour. I sifted out the useful tidbits, but could not help being distracted. I was the new kid in school, and I was trying to remember if I’d put on pants. No...the problem was I’d put on far too much. I was in dress uniform for chris’sake. I grunted or nodded when he looked at me, to show I was listening. True to his profession, the communications specialist was more than glad to carry the conversation. But all in all, I was impressed with the place. Very secure, despite the earlier flaws mentioned, and quite comfortable compared to your average barracks. For one thing, I had a fairly large room, and I only had to share with one person!
Elway took his leave of me, letting me stow my gear. I quickly changed out of my dress uniform, knowing that it would soon be snickered about regardless, but feeling it would be better not to leave a loaded rifle in front of the enemy.
I knew when the others arrived, because I could hear them hollering and laughing. Playful insults and obscene jokes floated down the hall to my less than virgin ears. I stepped out of the room and stood at attention, ready to address my new CO. A group of 7 filthy soldiers filed past, and ignored me completely. I barely managed to notice that the soldier at the rear was a woman. Luckily Elway turned the corner before I felt like a complete idiot. He was talking with a very large man, equally dirty. I straightened my stance immediately, noticing his stripes despite the grime. I thought for a moment he was going to walk right by too, but he stopped right in front of me. I had a rather close view of his barrel chest.
“At ease, boy.” He said, towering over me. “Don’t worry. They’ll take notice when I tell them to.”
“Yes sir!” I said and saluted.
“I said at ease, soldier. Simple enough order, right?” he growled.
“Yessir!” I immediately spread my legs and relaxed my posture. “Sorry sir.”
He strode off. Jacobs was one scary looking man. His nose was broken, and his jaw scarred. He had eyes like a hawk, and when they settled on you, you definitely felt like a mouse must. They were a freaky shade of icy blue. I could tell from the moment I laid eyes on him that we would either become best friends, or come to hate each other. There was no middle road with Jacobs.