Home > Chains of Command(4)

Chains of Command(4)
Author: Marko Kloos


 

Sergeant Lear knocks on my open door twenty minutes later.

“Good God, Lear, did you inhale your breakfast on the run back? I said after chow, not during.”

“I eat fast, Sergeant Grayson,” she says. “No inconvenience.”

“Come in.” I make a sweeping gesture and point at the chair in front of my desk. Sergeant Lear walks into the room and sits down, squared away as ever. She’s fit and lean, and wears her long hair in a ponytail that reminds me of my old squad mate from the Territorial Army, Private Hansen.

“You are going to head out into the field for the graduation exercise with a short squad,” I say.

“Yeah,” she replies. “Barden was the leader of my second fire team. Now they’re three in that squad.”

“Won’t be the last time they’ll have to patch holes in the squad. I can’t get you a replacement. We don’t have anyone to slipstream in from the Medical Recovery company.”

“We’ll manage,” Sergeant Lear says. “I’ll bump Matteo to fire team leader. They’ll just have to work around it.”

“Tell me about Barden. They’ll send the lieutenant home with him for the funeral. He needs something to talk about over the casket.”

Lear shrugs. “He was a cocky little shit, but he wasn’t bad. Picked up fast on new stuff. Hardly ever had to show him anything twice, never three times. Had a bit of an attitude sometimes, but which one of them doesn’t from time to time. He would have made a decent SI grunt. Maybe even NCO material.”

“Damn shame,” I agree. “One more week.”

“He was a bit of a clown,” Lear says. “Always had to crack stupid jokes. The squad liked him okay, I guess.”

“Well, that’s something. ‘He was good-humored, well liked, and a bright and capable recruit.’ That will go on the lieutenant’s bullshit card.”

“I’m just happy I won’t have to go. I hate funerals,” Sergeant Lear says.

“Same here,” I say. “Been to too fucking many lately.”

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

 

The platoon is geared up in battle armor and full combat loadout five minutes before the assigned time. When I step out in front of the building again, I am wearing my own armor—not the HEBA bug suit, but the standard Fleet laminate hardshell. The only equipment on my body younger than half a decade and unscratched is my rifle, one of the new M-90s. We took the design of the Russian anti-Lanky rifles and tweaked it a great deal for Western sensibilities. The Russian guns are single-shot weapons, whereas our modified copy is a heavy autoloader with a five-round magazine, more than twice the capacity of the old M-80 double rifles we were using before. This new cross-pollinating of ideas and designs between very recent former enemies has been radical and strange, but you can’t argue with results.

“This is your graduation exercise,” I say when the squad leaders have everyone at attention. “We will board the ‘drop ships’”—I point to the buses lined up on the street beside the company building—“and we will do a simulated landing on the training ground ten klicks from this base. Pretend you are twenty light-years away and on a colony moon, because you might as well be. Whether you live through the exercise or die a glorious death for the Commonwealth out there will not determine if you pass. You will pass if you do everything out there according to your orders and your training. Pretend those are real Lankies, and they came to wipe out your families and steal your home world. And then show them why it’s not a smart idea to piss off the hairless primates of Sol Three.”

The platoon lets out a short, aggressive holler at this, like they’re the varsity team about to kick someone’s ass in a championship game. They know they can’t die out there for real—that it’s a sophisticated simulation, the full sensory experience of a real battle, but without the chance of actual death or dismemberment. I would be much more excited and pumped up about combat drops in the real world if I knew I couldn’t die.

 

I step back and let the drill sergeants take over their squads. We use the buses like we would use drop ships in the field, one to a platoon, so everyone files into the bus assigned to us while the other platoons of our Basic training company board the other three buses. As the platoon sergeant, I board last and take the jump seat behind the pilot station. In a combat situation, the platoon commander, Lieutenant Lewis, would sit up front, but our lieutenant is over at training battalion command this morning, undoubtedly for business related to our two dead recruits. I don’t envy him the task.

We roll through the base and the huge security lock at the main gate, and then into the desert beyond. NACRD Orem is as isolated as a military installation can be these days. It sits in the desert just a few dozen miles southwest of the Salt Lake City metroplex, on the site of a former military depot, because there’s nothing but sand and shrubs out here, and nobody cares when we play war with our noisy toys. Over six years and what seems like several lifetimes ago, I passed the same security lock in the other direction on the way to become a soldier. I thought I knew what I would be getting into, but I had absolutely no idea.

We have several satellite training facilities scattered out here in the dust and rocks. Away from Salt Lake, the area looks a lot like some of our colony planets, so it’s close to perfect for drilling off-world combat scenarios. Our platoon bus takes us to OWC Training Facility 38, a re-creation of a typical colony town, complete with a partial mock-up of a terraforming station. As we pull into the facility, the drill sergeants leave their seats and assume drop positions in the aisle of the bus.

“Platoon up!” they yell. The recruits get out of their jump seats and line up along the aisle, rifles in hands, helmet visors snapping closed.

“Check your gear!”

I watch as they go through the proper motions, checking each other’s armor latches and equipment. My drill instructors have been on the ball with these kids. They are quick and thorough, and there’s very little fumbling or horsing around.

“Charge your weapons!”

Thirty-three recruits cycle their rifle bolts, chambering simulated fifteen-millimeter explosive gas rounds. The training version is a pretend cartridge, stuffed with a computer module and a heavy charge of carbon dioxide to vent into the stock’s gas cylinder and simulate the recoil of the real M-90 rifle. I get out of my seat, do a quick check of my own gear, and chamber a round in my own rifle as well. I carry the M-90 and a sidearm, as I would out on a real combat drop against Lankies, but I’m missing my admin deck, which has been an essential part of my real Fleet job for half a decade, and I feel incomplete without it.

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