Home > Chains of Command(8)

Chains of Command(8)
Author: Marko Kloos






On graduation day, the weather is as lousy as our odds against the Lankies. Instead of a big dog-and-pony ceremony out on the central parade ground, we have an abbreviated graduation indoors, in one of the massive vehicle hangars. Every surviving member of the platoon has passed Basic training, which is not like the boot camp I knew. For the ceremony, we actually have visiting families for an audience, which is definitely nothing like the old boot camp. We have a short formation and a long speech from the training battalion commander, and I’m next to the platoon leader in my drill instructor getup, trying to look impressive and soldierly while struggling with the mighty hangover caused by last night’s end-of-training instructor party.

“I solemnly swear and affirm to loyally serve the North American Commonwealth, and to bravely defend its laws and the freedom of its citizens.”

The recruits repeat the oath of service in loud and clear voices that reverberate through the cavernous hangar. They all look like they mean it. I said the same oath over six years ago, and then again last year for my reenlistment. I suppose I must have meant it, too, back then, because I am still here and wearing the uniform, despite everything that has happened since.

“Welcome to the Armed Forces of the North American Commonwealth,” the battalion commander says, and the recruits and their families cheer. My drill instructors, standing at parade rest in front of their squads, stay straight-faced as only drill sergeants can.

“Platoon sergeants, take charge of your platoons and dismiss for liberty.”

I step forward, toward the platoon, and my drill sergeants stand at attention.


The platoon follows suit with practiced precision. They may not be worth anything as infantry yet, but three months of daily formation drills have made them look like soldiers at least.

“Basic Training Platoon 1526—well done,” I say in my platoon sergeant voice. “Drinks tonight will be on the house. Enjoy your leave, soldiers. You’ve earned it. Platoon dis-missed.”

I watch as the formation dissolves, and the recruits of Platoon 1526—no longer rank civilians, but not yet fully trained and useful troops—rush over to where their families are waiting. About a third of them just mill around in place and talk to each other, recruits whose families couldn’t make the trip or didn’t want to. The image of the new and reformed post-Exodus military has greatly improved in the year since the Battle of Earth, but there are still plenty of people who think of the armed forces as tools of oppression, jailers and wardens of a vast coast-to-coast prison system. As a former PRC hood rat, and knowing the extent of the old leadership’s cowardice and treason, I can’t really say I blame the people who still hate the military.

My three drill instructors come over to join me, and we walk toward the gaggle of recruits and civilian families together, to shake hands and answer questions for a while and let the civvies take pictures of their loved ones shaking hands with their drill sergeants.

“Thirty minutes,” I tell my sergeants. “Then nudge them toward the buses. Open house at the platoon building for an hour. We’ll do unit assignments after midday chow.”

“Copy that,” Sergeant Lear replies. “And then I’ll need a goddamn drink.”

I look over the crowd of intermingling recruits and their families and wonder how soon I’ll find some of those names on casualty reports through MilNet.

“You and me both,” I say.


In the late afternoon, when all the former recruits are off to enjoy their weeklong post-graduation leave, I’m back in my office, closing out records and signing off on branch assignments. As in the past two training cycles, the ratio is 40/40/20 for Fleet, Spaceborne Infantry, and Homeworld Defense. We have lots of warships out of mothballs that need to be crewed, and lots of SI regiments to fill up with warm bodies after the Mars debacle. With the Lazarus Brigades doing most of the heavy lifting keeping order in the PRCs, there’s less of a need for HD, so they get just maintenance-level personnel for now.

My finely honed combat vet senses don’t even notice Sergeant Lear in the door until she clears her throat. I look up from my screen.

“I thought you were on leave already, Lear. Didn’t think anyone was left but me.”

“It’s a three-shuttle hop to Montana,” she says. “If I leave midday, I’ll be stuck in some transit quarters shithole for the night. I’ll be out with the first bird from Salt Lake in the morning.”

“Yeah, transit bunks suck.”

I look at her expectantly, but she doesn’t walk into the office to sit in the empty chair in front of my desk.

“So what is it?” I say. “Did you come to secure yourself an instructor slot in boot camp flight 1601?”

Sergeant Lear shakes her head with a curt smile.

“Not at all. You, uh, want to maybe get a drink over at the NCO club if you’re not too busy? It’s past 1700 hours.”

“Right,” I say. 1700 is the magic hour when they start serving alcohol, or at least what passes for it at a military facility in a cash-strapped country. When I signed up, the food perks were a major incentive to stick it out through boot camp, but now that the military can’t be as selective anymore, the culinary standards have dropped a little, to say the least.

I look back at my screen, where half a dozen Basic training personnel assignments still wait for my electronic signature. I can blow them off, but then I’ll have to start this boring process again in the morning, possibly with a hangover.

“Why don’t you go ahead and grab us a table, Sergeant Lear? I’ll need another ten minutes on this admin bullshit. I’ll join you when I’m done.”

“Copy that,” she says. Then she pats the doorframe and walks off. I listen to the sound of her boot soles on the worn but spotless flooring as she makes her way down the hallway.

“Right,” I say again, and turn my attention back to the screen with some effort of will.


When I walk up to Sergeant Lear’s table in the NCO club a little while later, she already has two bottles of beer waiting. I sit down across the table from her and pop the cap off my bottle. She watches as I take a swig.

“Thanks. I needed that after today.”

“Not much for fashion shows, huh?” Lear asks.

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