Home > Chains of Command(2)

Chains of Command(2)
Author: Marko Kloos

Humanity’s survival is still on the edge of a knife. But we are finally starting to pull on the same end of the rope together, and we are finally killing Lankies in numbers. There’s much work left to do, and I know we will lose more people and ships before it’s all over, but there is finally a glimmer of hope that the world isn’t going to go to shit after all.

Well, at least not any further.






I’m not the kind of soldier who has an office. I’m a combat grunt by occupational specialty, a combat controller, a podhead. Among the first molecules on the very tip of the spear. But for the last six months, I have also been a platoon sergeant for a basic training platoon at North American Commonwealth Recruit Depot Orem, and platoon sergeants get offices, so I have an office. It has a desk in it, and it’s about twice as big as the biggest berth I’ve ever occupied on a warship. The first few weeks after I moved in, I felt like a complete fraud every time I walked in to see my name on the door: PLATOON SGT: SFC GRAYSON.

Platoon sergeants are experienced noncoms. Older men and women. But then I remind myself that I am twenty-seven, with almost seven years of service—over five of them as a noncommissioned officer. In the new NAC Armed Forces, made up of what’s left after the Mars defeat, the Exodus, and the Battle of Earth, that makes me one of the old and experienced NCOs, and that’s a scary fucking thought.

There’s a benefit to the office, though. When I can’t sleep, which is most nights, I have a place to go and keep myself busy without having to stay in my quarters and have my brain dredge up unwanted memories from godforsaken places a few thousand kilometers or a few dozen light-years away. Not even the good pharmaceuticals can eradicate that particular program in my head.


I look up from my network terminal’s holoscreen when I hear footsteps in the hallway outside. The clock on the wall shows 04:14. It’s over forty-five minutes to reveille, and too early for someone else to be awake in this place and walking around in the building with boots on their feet.

A few moments later, Sergeant Simer pokes his head through the open doorway.

“Morning, Sergeant Grayson.”

“Good morning,” I reply. Sergeant Simer is the CQ for the night, the Charge of Quarters NCO manning the little office at the company building’s entrance. It’s a mostly superfluous tradition in the days of neural networks and computerized access, but it’s tradition, and the military has lots of those.

“Real shit sandwich this morning,” Simer says.

“Oh yeah?”

I wave him in, and he steps across the threshold and over to my desk.

“Got a call from the base MP just now.”

“Uh-oh,” I say. “Weekend leave trouble?”

“Bunch of the recruits took the bus into town and hopped a train to Salt Lake on Saturday. They got drunk or baked, one or the other. Chip-jacked a cab, disabled the safety governor, and went for a joyride.”

“Oh, no.”

“Yeah.” Simer makes a pained little grimace before continuing. “Left their travel lane and creamed a hydrobus. Offset crash, one dead, three injured.”

“Shit,” I say. “Any of ours?”

“Two. One from First Squad and one from Fourth. Privates Barden and Perret. Barden’s dead.”

I close my eyes briefly and let out a sigh.

“Dumbshit kids. A week and a half before graduation.”

I recall Private BARDEN, J. from the personnel roster and the sixty or so times the basic training platoon has stood lined up in front of the building for morning orders every weekday since the beginning of boot camp. He wasn’t a PRC kid like most of the recruit pool. I recall that he’s a middle-class ’burber from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Portland or SeaTac, maybe? I know I’ll have to learn everything about Private BARDEN, J. in the next day or two because the platoon leader will have to attend his funeral, and I’ll need to brief him for that.

“Thank you,” I tell Sergeant Simer. “Kick the boots out of bed early today. Reveille at 0445. Might as well give them a hint something’s up. I’ll be down at Orders.”


The platoon is lined up outside in a laser-straight line, sorted by height. Their uniforms are standard NAC battle camo, boots polished to a spit-shine, haircuts short and neat. My three squad leaders, the drill instructors, are standing in front of the assembled platoon at parade rest. When I step out of the building and start walking toward the line, my senior DI snaps to attention.

“Platoon, ten-hut!”

Thirty-four pairs of boot heels pop together, and the recruit platoon snaps to attention as one. I acknowledge the senior DI’s salute and step in front of the assembled platoon.

“At ease.”

There’s a brief shuffling as the recruits assume a slightly more relaxed posture. I look at them without saying anything for a few seconds, to make sure I have everyone’s undivided attention.

“On Friday afternoon, I had thirty-six recruits standing in front of me. Today, I only have thirty-four. I also have one recruit in the intensive care ward at Salt Lake, and one on a slab in the morgue. Recruit Barden was killed over the weekend in an accident. He got zoned and overestimated his driving skills with a jacked vehicle.”

There’s no noise in the ranks—after eleven weeks of Basic, they know not to make a sound at Orders unless told to sound off—but some of the recruits are trading looks, and most of them seem appropriately shocked by the news.

I pause briefly again to let the news sink in properly.

“This is the new Basic training,” I continue. “When I stood where you all are standing right now, the whole platoon slept in a big room. Thirty-six beds and lockers, two rows of eighteen. Six and a half days of training every week, and half a day of downtime. No leaves until graduation. You all know the horror stories from the old-timers.”

Some of the recruits smile or grin at this, but they quickly drop back to a neutral expression when they see that I wasn’t setting up a joke.

“Now we train you in squads and fire teams. You get to share a berth with your team, two berths per squad. Four recruits per room. We train you that way because that’s how you get to live and work in the Fleet or the Spaceborne Infantry, and we have no time to waste in getting you prepared for duty. You even get weekend leave. And most of you know not to abuse that privilege. Most of you.”

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