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The Weapon: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Thursday, May 26, 2005 17:17 EDT



    Every new Operative gets assigned a tour on embassy duty. It gives us a chance to see other cultures and their militaries and practice some rudimentary skills, as all military attaches and their staff are assumed to be intelligence gatherers anyway. I was fortunate enough to get assigned to Caledonia, and had a great time.

    First of all, Deni was there, too. When not on duty or filing reports, we had several free divs a week. You get one guess as to how we spent them, and the only detail you get is that those times were “scorching.” We’d only seen each other a day here or a week there until now. Now we had five months together.

    We had to pull guard duty, of course. It’s not that bad. There’s gate duty, which can be out in the weather, but weather doesn’t bother me. There’s duty inside both at terminals and roving, or at the loading dock inspecting shipments. Then we have someone at the door to check visitors. We rotated to all stations under supervision to get a good grounding, and read the SOPs and all relevant logs and histories.

    We did this duty for three reasons. First, we were there as security as well as (in my case) a junior attache. Second, it was great cover for our other activities. If people saw us on guard, they would not assume we were anything more. The professionals could figure us out, of course, but that made them work, which was the idea; work spent IDing us was work not spent elsewhere. When every embassy does similar things, it stretches the resources and limits other intel they acquire about you. Of course, it also limits what you yourself can acquire. No free lunch. Finally, and related, we were the best available, but were not perceived as more than the average. It wasn’t admitted then and isn’t common knowledge now that Operatives are assigned to embassies. We were identified as Blazers, and there are always a few Blazer qualified guards at embassies mixed in with the MA troops. Most threats would underestimate us. Once. Once would be enough.

    Actually, duty at the little box out front was okay. It was molecularly surface treated black and green, bore our address and “Embassy, Freehold of Grainne” in silver and was attractive as only simple geometric designs can be. We worked in day shifts of a squad of twenty, fire teams of four, with teams taking turns on guard in the shack, patrolling the fence and lurking as backup and covering inside. The Squad Leader handled outside the building, Assistant inside with the supernumeraries as reserve and a second echelon. We all had the nanocircuit contact lenses with ghost images from the cameras. It takes getting used to, but we saw a lot more than civilians thought we did. The patrols had jump harnesses. They are only good for a few seconds of thrust, but they could be anywhere for backup in moments, albeit hindered by the harnesses after landing. A call would have the entire squad there in seconds, and a 20-troop squad of Mobile Assault and Blazers with a few Operatives added in is a better armed and more capable reaction force than what most militaries laughingly pass off as a platoon. Still, even with it being friendly territory, well-secured and with no threat warning, we felt the weight of it. We were our nation’s presence and first line of defense for all Residents who were in the system. And with other duties and a night shift, we were usually a bit less than optimal numbers. But all our Citizens are veterans, as are most of the staff, and there was local security from the host nation. This assumes one can trust the host nation. We could here, but couldn’t assume that fact would always hold true.

    That duty was so important, that we could not go outside the gate for anything. If we saw a vehicle accident (there were a couple), we had to ignore it, or rather, report the incident and observe only. We would have to let a local bleed to death on the walkway outside rather than leave post without relief and permission. After all, a staged or faked injury would be a great distraction, if it got the guards away.

    Otherwise, we spent a lot of time checking out the capital of Skye and its restaurants and bars. We wore Blazer insignia, same as we do now, and joined the Mobile Assault troops who were the regular embassy detail in their pub crawls. A Freehold uniform and MA tabs is a guaranteed way to pick up chicks or dicks or both, depending on your preference or lack thereof. Someone wearing Blazer tabs may as well have “GET SEX HERE” written across the forehead. We also got a lot of free drinks, and made some good connections among the militaries from other embassies. There was a beautiful blonde Novaja Rossian sergeant I went a few rounds with, who filled me in on the unclassified portions of their relations while I filled her in with the obvious. I passed the data along anyway, just in case there was anything new. I shared some tricks she taught me with Deni, who returned the favor with a few things she learned from a Caledonian Royal Marine. I passed that data back the other way. All in all, it was most educational.

    The Novajas and Caledonians put up with us gamely. The assorted Mtalis and Ramadanians were shocked numb by our “decadence.” The others fell in between. The only exception was the Hirohito contingent, who invited a select few of us to their New Year’s party that was a regular orgy. Redheads are unusual and highly regarded there, and Deni wound up as the centerpiece. It took her a couple of days to recover, but she was very enthusiastic about the experience, and recommended it to some of the other women in the embassy. I enjoyed my share, too, which involved three little second generation Japanese young ladies with remarkable flexibility and muscle control. That data I kept, but I did share my findings on the state of their embassy’s security. It was so-so.

    The ambassador at the time was Citizen Jeanine Maartens. Her assistant was Citizen Mark Webber. He was smaller and leaner than I, and his ancestry was more mixed and obvious than mine. It didn’t affect him at all, as he had a solid psyche, but it did cause people to either underestimate him or try to intimidate him. I’ve never understood the need of people to do that. If you’re good, you know it. If someone is better, you know it. Posturing won’t change either one. If they really don’t want you to know their capabilities, they’ll stay quiet until you’re overextended and then cut you off. Silly. None of the nations represented on Caledonia were at war, so why a dance over self-importance?

    Citizen Webber gave me an excellent example of how to deal with such fools my first week there. I accompanied him to a meal at one of the nicer restaurants, to discuss some silliness with a UN dip from the European Union. He’d wanted to talk to Maartens. He got her assistant instead. He was annoyed, and Webber had to politely reassure him while brushing him off. That is an art. Really, though, we’d made it clear we were an independent system and didn’t care what others thought. Continually rehashing it was annoying, though it did give us time to anticipate the pending war.

    I was along unofficially as bodyguard. We don’t let our Citizens wander around where they might get kidnapped or worse. We’d have to make examples of people if that happened, and we’d prefer to avoid that. Officially I was there as junior military attaché, not needed, but present at lunch before going elsewhere. I kept quiet and listened to the discussion, while watching for threats. Do you know how many potential threats are in a typical restaurant? I was hyperaware, and as we were seated, I made sure to get my back to a wall, facing the door, and checked pistol, extra magazines, sword, knife, dagger, grenades, retch gas and radio, all of it except my sword and pistol hidden inside my uniform. And this was in friendly territory. I understood now why we were assigned this duty. It developed a healthy paranoia.

    Deputy Economics Advisor to the Ambassador to the Star Nation of Caledonia Ward McLachlan was pushy, as were all the other UN dips elsewhere, trying to get some kind of leverage over us. He shook hands with Webber, nodded to me as a mere formality and accompanied it with a sniff, and sat down first. As ordered, I said nothing and kept the insult from showing by looking around the Aristocrat Pub.

    The decor was antique without being kitsch, with old newspapers, banners and select advertisements mounted on the walls. The paneling was real wood, as expected in remote systems, and was a decent mock of Earth cherrywood. I made another scan for threats and turned back around in time to order baked fish with white sauce and a chocolate cake dessert with all the extras.

    McLachlan pretended I didn’t exist. He was a weaselfaced, soft little troll and had a whiny voice. Not that there was anything wrong with the voice, just with his inflection and attitude. He had the classic neofeudalist blame-everyone-else-for-my-problems mindset. I detest it. It’s gutless and pathetic. Don’t whine to me that you’d be better off dead, because I’ll give you the chance to compare.

    Sadly, I couldn’t bump him off here. All I could to was listen to his gripes about “concentrating money in the hands of the wealthy” (that’s what makes them wealthy. They exist in every society. Deal with it) and “not giving the people their basic right to franchise” (we don’t have elections in the Freehold because we don’t need them. Do whatever the hell you want. If you actually hurt someone else, they’ll sue. If you’re crazy enough and rich enough to want to rule, we’ll take your money and let you. What idiotic process makes it easy for people to run other people’s lives?).

    He wouldn’t shut up about it, either. For an alleged economist, he seemed to avoid money, probably because he had no clue how to actually handle it, and concentrate on that soundbite that the Freehold denies people the “right” to vote. Again, why would anyone let morons of unproven ability have a say in the government?

    I took notes from Webber. He was a genius. To Ward’s unending complaints, he replied, “It’s interesting that your officials are elected to be representatives of the population, rather than chosen in a strict meritocratic fashion.” I almost choked on my only glass of wine.

    “Yes, isn’t it?” replied McLachlan with a beaming smile. He’d missed the insult totally.

    We turned our attention back to our meals, and it was halfway through dessert before the glimmer of awareness seeped into his brain. Moron. We didn’t discuss any further UN hegemonic stupidity. He felt insulted at last, and dropped the issue. We finished in near silence, frostily said our goodbyes and left.



    Within a week, we were in the Alsatian embassy as escorts for our ambassador, Citizen Maartens. We accompanied her gracefully, Captain Carvalho as senior was her official escort, and the rest of us milled around and socialized with the guards and attaches from other nations. We would be seeing much of each other that week, as it was Landing Festival in Caledonia.

    The Alsatians in general strike me as snobbish. For example, while we were never seated at the head table at a function, it was a bit annoying to be considered background. And the correct etiquette in their culture is to ignore the servers, just pretend they don’t exist. It strikes me as rude, but when in Rome and all that. I prefer to speak to the help when I can. One can acquire much additional intel that way.

    The next night we visited Novaja Rossia, who prepared a wonderfully tart roast beef, pies, and heavy pastry. They drank vodka by the liter. The bread was black and heavy, the caviar black and salty and the beer black and bitter. I could barely move after it all. We toasted to them, they to us and both of us all around. It was considered rude to stay sober. I was very polite. After that, the Prime Minister of Caledonia had us in for a real treat: curried yearling elk shanks and pears. He personally struck me as a rabbit, wincing and edging away from us military types, including his own troops. His cook however, was a genius. The creamed banana trifle was cloyingly sweet and refreshingly mild at the same time, and their beer was a fine ale. We toasted the Queen, the Crown Princess, the Royal Family, and the Royal Military. They didn’t drink as much as the Novajas.

    Things were tense late in the evening, presaging something interesting. Shortly, the Crown Princess arrived. Her guard detail looked picturesque in their archaic uniforms, but I recognized their motions and coordination as professional. They were not recruited for their looks alone. A receiving line was formed for the official personages, while we goon types stayed back and sized each other up as potential threats. There were definitely some competent people there among the uniforms, but unless someone could act harmless better than we, my compatriots and I were the deadliest creatures within reach. I didn’t rule out the possibility of a good actor, though.

    Crown Princess Annette is more sophisticated and wise than anyone has ever given her credit for in the press. She’ll make a great queen someday. She made a point of spending a brief time in conversation with each of the Freeholders. I kept an eye out and followed her movements, and turned as she approached. As soon as we made eye contact, I bowed gallantly. As a foreign soldier under arms—we were all wearing swords and sidearms—I was not required to bow, but a courteous nod seemed appropriate as a diplomatic courtesy and I had orders to that effect.

    “Your Highness,” I said, smiling politely. She extended a hand and I shook it firmly but not excessively. She was sixteen of our years old or twenty-four standard, neatly built, attractive without being glamorous or overdone and very poised and controlled.

    “Corporal…?” she hinted.

    “Chinran. Kenneth Chinran, Madam,” I replied.

    “It is ‘corporal,’ then?” she asked, leaning slightly closer, tilting her head and lowering her voice. “Not Operative?”

    I kept my face straight, and replied, “Corporal will do, Madam.”

    “You aren’t denying the other, though,” she noted. This was a bit disconcerting. We stared for a few seconds, each gauging the other. She resumed, “Perhaps I should mention that I did an exchange tour with Second Mobile Assault Regiment. I hold a cornet’s commission in aviation support.”

    I knew that. Apparently, she’d heard at least rumors. I made notes. I knew she knew I was making notes. And if she knew that…

    Okay, that type of reasoning is silly. This was a hint, and I needed to decide if it was something for me to deal with or to relay higher up. “If you need the services of an Operative, Madam, I’m sure the Freehold could arrange it.” This was dangerous, but I couldn’t brush her off without looking like a junior level flunky, which I was, granted, but I wasn’t going to look like one.

    “If it ever becomes necessary, I’ll keep that in mind…Corporal,” she replied with a bare wink and emphasis on “Corporal.”

    Okay, so she knew, and wanted us to. I’d relay that.

    She continued, less intensely, “And what do you think of the food?”

    “Excellent, Madam,” I replied. “The pear was an unexpected touch. I hope you’ll be joining us later in the week?”

    “I plan to. I admire the efficiency of your cooking,” she said. It begged the question.

    “Yes, Madam?” I replied.

    “Because you use enough spice that the food cooks itself.” She delivered it deadpan. We stared, waiting to see who would crack. I could have held longer, but this wasn’t a negotiation. I laughed heartily.

    We spoke for a few more seconds, then she said, “I must greet the other guests. Please enjoy the party.”

    “Than you, Madam,” I said, bowing. “I will.” A truly fascinating young woman.

    The Ramadanians served a tasty lamb with mint sauce and sekanjabin to drink. Grape leaf salad and delicately seasoned rice added to it. Jellied rose petals for dessert was a new treat I’ll never forget, and I buy it in boxloads whenever I can find it. It’s great for scoring women, too. There was no alcohol of course, but the food was delicious.

    We removed our boots as we entered the embassy of Hirohito. It wasn’t required, but they were appreciative of our respect to their customs. The chefs were delighted to have an appreciative audience, and served the more daring of us smoked tuna and raw squid sashimi. Fantastic! The mere sight of dead animals made the effete snobs from Earth run for the restroom to heave. Rabbits. The sake was the best, too. For some odd reason, they served tequila in broad variety. Good tequila, not the stuff you buy in stores, ranks up there with Silver Birch and old Scottish Talisker. Really. That was a great subject of conversation that kept me distracted until it was time to leave. I got little intel.

    In response, we had invited the lot over for good Freehold food. We served an appetizer of jalapeno mango-lime ice, vinegar steamed crab legs and spinach salad with asiago garlic dressing. After flat bread and crusty bread with herbed honey-butter, we started on the entrée: peppercorn and garlic crusted prime rib au jus, crisp and dark outside, red and juicy inside with chilied and gingered peaches, minted baby potatoes, and steamed fresh green beans with onion, mushroom and bacon crumbles. It was real beef, from a cow, not that vat raised stuff. A few were bothered by that, but the taste is worth it. The side dish was jalapeno chicken salad with lime wedges, and fresh cilantro and chili salsa with cheese stuffed into jalapeno shells. There was a side of satan pepper salsa for the adventuresome. We had rich red peppered ginger beer and garlic wine to wash it all down. The tears in their eyes I assume were of joy. We took a break with thick dark chocolate and sub-zero Silver Birch. Jhondo’s Raspberry Mead with the vanilla bean and chocolate layered cheesecake was a hearty cap to it all.



    By the end of the week, our “souvenir” photos of all the embassies yielded a wealth of intel. That everything would shortly change to account for them was irrelevant; our unofficial photos and observations also boosted the data. Each of us had at least once gotten “lost” while slightly drunk, and wandered into less public areas of the embassies and residences for a peek. It was all part of the game. I loved it. It was one of the most pleasant aspects of the job, while still holding a challenge.

    I had mentioned the conversations with Princess Annette to the chain of command. Captain Carvalho took notes and nodded, thanked and dismissed me. It was the week after all the pomp that I got a message to meet with her. Carvalho informed me, “She wants to discuss Operative training and operations.” He briefed me as to what I could and could not discuss, told me to do a good job, and sent me out.

    I dressed in Class A, not mess dress, and was driven to Park Royal. Most of it is open to the public, but some sections are reserved. Those had been swept for bugs, I was sure, by the Lifeguards. It was possible her own people were spying, and that was assumed for intelligence sake. What we wanted was to avoid casual third parties from snooping.

    I walked in through an amazing rose garden that must have more staff just to maintain it than most embassies. She was waiting, in uniform, near a thick hedge. “Operative Chinran,” she greeted me, extending a hand.

    I bowed briefly, shook hands, and replied, “Under these circumstances, yes, Madam,” I replied.

    “Cornet Stewart will suffice,” she replied.

    “Very well, Ma’am,” I agreed. We sat on a bench near a display of annuals in a riot of reds, yellows and violets, and led into the subject of covert operations.

    “Have you had the opportunity to work with our SAS teams yet?” she asked.

    “No, Ma’am, but I’m eager to if we get the chance,” I replied. I wasn’t to discuss particular operations. We’d had very few real engagements, and didn’t want anyone to consider our actual capabilities. “I did train with the Chersonesi at their ACAC,” I replied.

    “My brother James went there,” she commented. I knew that. “What did you think of the course?”

    This I could discuss. “Excellent technical training, sufficient rehearsal, adequate physical training, adequate shooting,” I replied.

    “Adequate,” she noted. “You shoot more then?”

    “More than our regular troops,” I admitted.

    “That’s an expensive ammo budget,” she said.

    I said, “Cheaper than replacing troops, by any accounting.”

    “True.” There was brief silence. “Tell me of your training. Your personal impressions, not the technical details.”

    I did, and she asked questions. Only twice did I have to say, “I’m sorry, Madam, but I cannot discuss that.”

    A lunch was brought, light sandwiches with hot mustard on the side for my benefit. I prefer peppers to mustard, but can eat anything.

    Within two days there was a tabloid station with a load headlined, “PRINCESS ANNIE BEING COURTED BY FREEHOLD CORPORAL?” That wasn’t good. Not only was I ribbed over it, we had to consider if it was just a snoopy cameraperson, or if there had been spying. Video would allow lipreading, and would give away our discussion. The picture of me was grainy, distant and from a bad angle fortunately. It’s impossible to stop all photos, we simply try to minimize publicity. It revealed nothing that we weren’t sure was already common knowledge in the spook community.

    A week later I got tasked with an…interesting gig. I’m sure I’m not supposed to discuss it, but I don’t see what it matters after all this time. Anyway, it’s not hard to figure out and I’ll leave the details hazy.

    Captain Carvalho called me into his office. I reported and he asked, “Ken, can you handle another mission, late tonight?”

    “Sure,” I replied. He could order me, of course, but it wouldn’t be necessary. I always volunteered.

    “Good,” he said. “We had an abrupt schedule change. You’re going with me.”

    “Yes, Sir,” I agreed. Going where? I didn’t ask, because I figured he’d tell me.

    But first, we got dressed in local clothes, bought used by our Special Projects’ network. We had false ID, local cash and a few accoutrements to make us blend in. “No weapons,” he told me.

    Wow. When Operatives don’t carry weapons, it means things are very important. “Okay, Sir,” I agreed. This was definitely going to be a war story at some point.

    Then he briefed me on what we were doing. “We’re setting up a new cache of equipment for emergency response,” he told me. “Most of the gear is already there. We’re just adding a bit to it. You’ll do the grunt work, I’ll supervise and guard, and I’ll help as needed. Verstadt?”

    “Oui,” I agreed. He actually smiled. I think it was the first time I’d seen him do that.

    “Good. Here’s our gear. Sign here,” he said, handing me a pad. I noted that it simply read, “Mission Essential Equipment Package Number X-247, Three Containers.” I scrawled across the screen, he signed after me. There were no details as to content mentioned anywhere. The package was in three boxes. One was a crate that most likely contained four M-5 weapons and extra clips. The second was a commercial backpack stuffed full of what felt like local clothes, body armor and accessories, probably including some basic ID with holos of generic looking blonds, brunets and redheads that would serve to get any Operative past most cursory checks while he arranged for better ones. And the third one…

    I recognized the container. I’d dealt with them during training. It was a crated Q-36 Explosive, Special, Medium. They’re designed to take out dams, headquarters, major transport junctions and similar targets.

    I had just signed for a nuclear weapon.

    Well, it was only a small one.

    Out the back we went, me lugging the Q-36 and backpack, he with the weapon crate. We ducked through the trees that are carefully maintained on the Embassy grounds for their green prettiness and their effect as concealment. There, along the wall, leaned a ladder that been thoughtfully placed by one of the guards, who sat nearby with a carbine to ensure only we used it.

    It was a warm, dry night, the air rather fresh. Despite the heavy load, I felt great physically, and bouncy-nervous from the mission. Carvalho climbed the ladder silently, the steps having been wrapped in tape to prevent clatter. I stretched out my ears and listened above the chitter of bugs and birds.

    Car. Closing. Slowing. “Now,” I heard and I tossed the backpack. He caught it and swung over. I dragged up the crated nuke and we muscled it across and down. Damned thing massed nearly fifty kilos with the shielding that reduced its trace, and was awkward to move.

    “Hurry,” he said, slipping down the wall with a thud. I scrambled over, dropped and rolled down the slight embankment into the drainage ditch behind the compound, getting scraped on the wall, an angry welt along my right arm. Then we had to clamber back up the other side, toss the gear into the trunk of a waiting ground car and pile in the back seat.

    We’d scratched both the car and ourselves getting in. The driver, Sergeant Coonce, handed back a kit with bandages and disinfectant and we cleaned up the ones that showed actual blood. My arm was going to need nanos or else it would scab badly. “No sign of any pursuit,” he said. He was one of the diplomatic drivers, trained to handle special circumstances.

    “Good,” Carvalho replied.

    I don’t know where we drove. I still don’t. Not my worry. It was outside the capital about a local hour, in a remote spot. Some utility shed for power was our landmark. It was in a fenced off area. At the edge of that area was a treeline, then a farmer’s field. We figured that treeline was safe from excavation until such time as the power grid underwent major changes. Any adjustment of property boundaries or easement access would register on our comms and to our staff tasked with such, and the cache would be relocated. For now, it would be here. And it might be here for fifty years. We had no plans to use the equipment in the immediate future. It’s just something Operatives do wherever possible, so we have backup if we need it.

    I did most of the digging, and it’s not easy to do it with just a shovel and pick. I was soon sweaty and caked with dirt. I’d dig, flick the occasional bug off and occasionally sip at a bulb of “pop” I’d brought along that actually contained water. Soft drinks aren’t good for one doing heavy work.

    I was pondering the smell of the local earth, lower in minerals than what I was used to, when my spade struck something.

    Carvalho said, “That’s it. Now, find the lid.”

    I carefully scraped dirt away until I had a clear area about a meter square. It rose easily to my prying, and inside was similar packaging to what we carried. We replaced the older styled clothes and ID with the new kit, added the weapons to the one container already there, and topped it all off with the nuke. Or rather, bottomed it. We wanted that as deep as possible, even shielded as it was.

    The hard part was covering everything back up. Dirt always mounds too high when replaced, then slumps as it compacts. Lacking power tools, we stomped it as hard as we could after each layer, and carefully replaced sod on top. This left us with a small pile of topsoil that we scattered around the area, trying hard not to damage local plants, trip over roots or get poked by branches. We were hurrying, because it was near dawn. We could see occasional flashes of gray against the black.

    Coonce should be circling by soon, and since we only had shovels and one backpack to worry about now, we crawled to the road rather than risking him re-entering the access trail. He had to drive by twice, because there was some local wandering along behind him, refusing to pass even when he slowed down. He feigned a confused look, drove down to the next county road, came around the block and we jumped in.

    Back at our compound, dawn well on its way, we timed our departure, rolled out of the slowed car through the passenger door, and he closed it with a burst of power and disappeared with the tools. We slipped through the trees, loving the dawn because the shadows would make us all but invisible, and were met by a ladder that mysteriously appeared from above.

    Inside, showered, cleaned and dressed, we signed off on the comm that Item X-247 had been placed in secure storage.

    No need to worry. We’ve never had trouble with Caledonia, and that package is still there.

    But remember: if we ever do have problems, that package, and others like it, are still there.



    It had to be related to the Princess’ interest that the Freehold got invited to send a team of “Operatives, or if Operatives are unavailable, an Embassy security detail” (sarcasm dripping from the screen) to a security exercise at Mountbatten Royal Space Force Base. Captain Carvalho called us in, warned us not to be caught being smartasses and sent us to have fun. Heeding his warning, we vowed not to get caught being smartasses.

    We had a brief meeting with the exercise evaluators, who explained what we needed to know: comms would assess damage from photos of any area we attacked, and for safety reasons, we had to preface our activities over the commo systems with the phrase, “Exercise Transmission.” They said a bunch of other stuff, too, but it wasn’t important, so we didn’t listen. We took the credchit (“bank card”) they gave us, converted the amount of the budget to cash and returned it. They had no need to know what we were buying.



    We got a car with most of it, along with enough parts to rig up six satchels of improvised explosive simulators and a couple of “missiles.” I acquired a black-market weapon (sales are all registered, but for a small premium of 50%, one may buy a new pistol not far from the spaceport. They come in by the shipload, as they do anywhere the local rulers utter magic incantations to keep them out. Never let your religious beliefs get in the way of the law of supply and demand), and got a decent one: an H&K A6 with two spare forty round magazines. Our point here was to show that we used only locally procured assets. We expressed that we’d be ready for the exercise, and got a good day’s sleep. That night, we hit the clubs and picked a few IDs from people’s pockets. It doesn’t take long to decode the PIN numbers from them and change a photo, and most people would assume they’d left the wallet somewhere and not panic. We did return one “lost” one to a sergeant who might notice his L500 missing, but the others were all low amounts. We’d return them after the fact. Deni wanted to keep the cash as our bonus. I said no.

    We did nothing to them that Friday daytime. Why would we start off by being predictable? We waited until after normal duty hours, when everyone was getting ready for the weekend.

    We had no trouble getting on base. We didn’t expect to. Frank got hired two days before as a restaurant delivery driver and drove through the gate in his company shirt and hat, iridescent logo on the side of the vehicle, with a cheery wave to the gate guards. Tyler and I went under the fence at a remote part of the perimeter around noon, crawled through the brambles until we hit the perimeter road about “Six o’clock,” then changed, cleaned up with wipes and became joggers with day packs. We crossed from there to the inner part of the base across the flight line, spending a few seconds pretending to be lovers for the benefit of a passing patrol. She’s not a bad kisser, if awkwardly short for my taste. The car floated by, occupants grinning, and we smiled back. In another few moments we were near the central power plant. It had been a long day already, and we hadn’t even got to work yet.

    Shutting down a reactor is easy. Warming them up is hard. Our attack was obvious. We changed behind a loading ramp into uniforms bought at a surplus store, with me as a corporal, Tyler as a lance. There was an extra guard detail outside the plant, but no warnings of attack had come over the net yet, so they weren’t really worried. The four of them were joking and goofing. We walked up with our packs and joined them.

    “Hey, fellas,” I said in my best Skye accent. “Worrup?”

    One of them, a corporal, replied, “Norra bluhdy thing, mate. C’I ‘elp ya?” (Okay, I’ll use standard words from now on, because the accents were atrocious).

    “Oh, we’re just here to see Frank,” I said. “He told me you blokes were stuck with your thumbs up your arses for the duration.”

    “Too bloody right we are,” he agreed. “There’s supposed to be five wannabe aggressors from the Freehold Embassy coming in,” he said, eyes rolling in exaggerated disgust. “As if they’re gonna wind up ‘ere.”

    As he talked, I pulled bulbs of Loma Cola out of my pack. “Well, until you can have a beer, then,” I said as I handed them over.

    “Why! That’s decent of you, chap!” he said. They passed them around, opened them and tipped the bulbs to us. We started to walk past. “Oh! You need to sign in,” he said.

    “No problem,” I agreed. There was a roster tacked to the window with a scanner next to it, and we both swiped our cards and signed fake names. I signed mine with a sloppy, “U. R. Fuct,” and as I expected, they didn’t even check. Had they done so, I would have shrugged it off as a joke. Tyler signed too, and we headed inside.

    We had no hassle at all. We nodded at a couple of techs while talking animatedly about power distribution, and they all assumed we belonged there. We had an unobstructed trip up the ladders and catwalks to the control room. That was the only place we had any challenge at all. We hid in the scaffolding at one side and changed shirts. They’d think four of us were here, when they figured it out at all.

    The NCOIC was a burly, grizzled old sergeant. He cracked the door and looked as us suspiciously. I started with, “Evening, Sergeant. Leftenant Windle,” as I flipped open my stolen ID pack to another card, “and this is leftenant Rogers,” I added, pointing at Tyler. “We’ve had an exercise warning and we thought we’d give you an ‘eads up. Those bloody infiltrators are inside the fence already.”

    He checked the ID briefly. “Why didn’t you call, Leftenant?” he asked.

    A reasonable question deserves a reasonable answer. “They may have things tapped. Why let the buggers know we’re going to pin them to the wall, eh?” I replied, and he chortled.

    “Well, thanks, Leftenant,” he said.

    “No worries,” I agreed. “Any chance of a gander at the plant while we’re ‘ere?” I asked.

    “We really shouldn’t at the moment,” he said. “But give me a moment to clear it with the command post and I think we can, sir.” He turned to his phone.

    “I don’t think that’s necessary, Sergeant,” I said. He turned to stare down the muzzle of the H&K.

    “Bloody hell!” he replied as we pushed into the room. He recovered fast, and jumped for a warning button. So I shot him.

    All we had were gooey simulation bullets, but they do hurt and he flinched. Before he recovered, Tyler was past me and pretzeled him to the ground. I didn’t even see her snap on binders, but he was wearing them when she stepped back. His assistant was running toward me from the far side, and I had time to aim. I shot him in the belly and the balls and he didn’t even put up a fight for some reason.



    The sergeant had welts on his temple and neck and polymer stains on his shirt. I called it a kill and made a note into my comm as Tyler sprayed anesthetic down their throats. Couldn’t have them yelling, after all.

    This is why the FMF requires all soldiers to be armed at all times. A response is so much more effective if you actually have the tools to do something about the crisis.

    We taped a note to the main monitor console that read, “This console has been destroyed by explosives. If you are reading this, you tripped another one as you came through the door. Please kiss your backside and consider yourself dead. NOTE: dead people do not call the command post to report that fact. Dead people do nothing but sit and bitch.”

    Tyler rigged a stun grenade on the door as our note suggested, and killed the troops’ access to the comnet while I looked over the controls. They were similar enough to the consoles I trained on at Jefferson District Power Systems, and I killed the fuel flow and shut down the containment field.

    Now we had to hurry. The guards outside would figure out from the lights going off all around that something was wrong, and just might make the connection to those two friendly people in mufti. They’d be hard to argue with, especially after the Sparkle (a popular hallucinogen in the Freehold) that I’d laced the Cokes with kicked in. We changed shirts back to enlisted people, exited the control room, dropped down ladders, mostly avoiding the panicking crew, and headed for the front door.

    We had one brief encounter that I used to spread further chaos. A corporal yelled at me, “What the hell happened to the controls?”

    So I replied, “The controls are fine! I think we lost a bloody fuel feed on the second stage!” as we ran past. That would keep them busy looking in the wrong place.

    We came out the front, sprinted across the street and through a parking lot to Hangar 1, and headed inside through the gathering crowd outside.

    “What’s going on?” and variations of it were all we heard. Tyler yelled, “Power fluctuation! We’ve got to get everything shut down before it comes back up, to prevent a surge and another failure!” It was pure BS, of course. Modern equipment is all protected against that, with delays on startup and comm lines to the power source. But it was believable to the ignorant, anyone who did know better would assume we were new troops who had our wires crossed and would be straightened out shortly, and it wouldn’t hurt to do what we said, so they wouldn’t be stopping us.

    We ran down the corridor with our padded footsteps echoing off the sere walls, and tossed a couple of notices into the machine shop, the photo lab, and even into the hangar bay proper, under the nose of a Lionheart close-support vertol. They all read, “This is a 1 kilogram charge. Everything in a 30 meter radius must be run through the games comm to determine damage.” We’d taken the offered transponders that simulated it directly to the comm, but added a few improvs so they wouldn’t know how many charges we had. Yes, that information was supposed to be confidential to the referees, but let’s be honest, they’d talk.

    From there, we turned right into the front hallway, paused in the men’s restroom (yes, segregated restrooms), to change into civvies again, and went out through the main doors (locked after hours, but you can always exit) and ran across another street, confident that we’d not been followed.



    While we were doing this, Frank was having a ball.

    He came zipping in and delivered a sandwich just before we took out the lights. As he left, he made use of the panic to run through the parking aprons around the hangars and drop “bombs” into the beds of a few trucks. They had triggers for both time and motion, and would start flashing a strobe and transponder to let people know they existed. He went right back out and grabbed another order, and came back to do it again. He made several runs that night. No one ever made the connection between the delivery truck and the bombs.

    The power was out on his second run, and he was held at the gate for several minutes. He was just about to blow the gate and see what he could accomplish when they waved him through. This time, he detoured out to the end of the flightline, skipped past the warning lights and gates that blocked the road, and launched a home built “missile” at an incoming transport. A radio signal alerted the computer, and Landing Control was informed that the entire craft and occupants were casualties. He headed out and grabbed another order.

    These pizzas were for the growing number of people in the Command Post and the surrounding offices. He had to stop and be searched four times, but his order was confirmed and delivered. They did not let him inside, but took it from him at the door at the top of the stairs to the basement. He made sure to tell them it was a special order and to be careful. On the way out, he left a couple of “mines” on the road. He had a quick meeting with Deni and Sergeant Coonce and swapped intel, then made yet another run. It was a busy night for him, and he made nearly L50 in tips.



    Deni was being more down to earth. Specifically, she was crawling through mud at the edge of the base. The mud, the bugs, and the weeds, thorns and toxic plants were familiar, barring minor variations in planetary ecology. She managed to plant “charges” at the base of the fuel tanks, on the cryogenic fluid building, in one of the engine test cells (a flashbang which they wouldn’t find for weeks. It was a souvenir for them), and around the edges of base housing. She then set up at the far end of the flightline from Frank, and caught a craft that was departing, with a laser designator. That caused the base security forces to respond in two different directions. Rather than stay around to admire her handiwork, she headed for the base comm center to raise more hell.



    Sergeant Coonce was less subtle. He simply drove through the west gate. With no ID. At high speed. It took his pursuers some time to realize that he was ignoring all traffic niceties like signs, lights and roads. Then he led the security patrols around the base at a merry rate, crossed the flightline several times and caused several aborted launches while the computer calculated casualties for him. He turfed a few yards in base housing, ran through parking lots and across the parade field, and even crashed through the tennis courts. Since he didn’t care about the car’s survival, he was hard to predict. A large number of troops were busy chasing him at the moment Frank and Deni “brought down” the transports. Those troops scattered in several directions in a disorganized response, which left him to lose the last two pursuers, drive to the base hospital and wreak havoc there before adding to the carnage near operations. He drove and ran around planting “bombs” anywhere that looked interesting, and even got into the fire station after they were called out. He used a spare crew truck and rescue gear as cover to go back into the power station and bring it down a second time.



    Back to us: Across the street from Hangar One was the headquarters building. The command post was in the basement, triple locked and ID required to enter. That was the obvious target, but we weren’t falling for the obvious. Several other people in civvies were running in from all angles (that’s one reason to choose after standard hours for an attack), and no one questioned us. Even our packs went unnoticed—others had comms, water bottles, and other accessories.

    I turned and ran upstairs, avoiding the cameras and logs on the elevators. Tyler kept going through the building, out the other side and on to create more mayhem in the barracks area on her way to the control tower. My goal was an office on the third floor. It was easy to see, as this building had an emergency generator and it had kicked in already, so there was adequate light. I pulled a lock coder out of my ruck, which was bouncing in time to my steps, and managed to have it ready as I arrived at the door in question. I stuck it in the lock, told it to go, and hoped it worked. I could kick the door open, but that would make the rest of the op tougher.

    The lock clicked, and I walked in. It was dark inside, and I let it stay that way. I retrieved the coder and closed the door, which bore a sign that read, “Brigadier Peter McAran, Wing Commander.” I slipped behind a couch. It was a nice office—plush and nicely appointed, as they say. Real wood desk, leather chair, clean-smelling carpet with the wing logo stitched into it. I would be comfortable here, for as long as it took. Windows on only one wall, I noted with approval.

    If I was correct, I wouldn’t be waiting long. I was correct. Or rather, our intel had been.

    Barely two segs had gone by before there were steps from the elevator, shuffling and rustling outside, and the door opened. “Come in, Ladies, Gentlemen,” I heard the brigadier say. “I’ll be right with you.”

    I waited just a moment while listening for my cue. That was it: They were all in the sitting area in front of me. I braced my feet, kicked the couch, and sent it tumbling into the legs of his escort. I stood, took aim, and began firing as I moved sideways. There were seven of them. Two of them were the Brigadier’s security detail.

    My weapon coughed twice, and yelps and shrieks rewarded me. In a second, I had the brigadier by the throat, kicked his feet from under him, and shackled him before he could put up much of a struggle. “You two are dead, so sit down and don’t move,” I ordered his security goons.

    One dedicated bright boy didn’t believe me and tried to stand, so I shot him in the forehead. His eyes unfocused and he went down. The other decided to take me seriously. I shackled them by their hands, back to back, and stuffed them against the wall. I now had their pistols, too.

    Turning back, I said, “Good evening, Brigadier. I hope you don’t mind if I join your tete-a-tete for the evening?” in syrupy tones.

    “I apparently don’t have a choice, do I, sir?” he replied.

    “Not really,” I said. “And please don’t call me ‘sir.’ My parents are married.”

    He actually chuckled at that. Good. The others were looking absolutely murderous up to that point.

    I heaved him into his swivel chair, pulled him away from the desk and lashed his bound hands to the bar in back. While I did that, another genius made a break for it. I swung my hands up, calmly took aim as he clutched at the doorplate, and caught him in the neck. He went down.

    “Everyone lie face down, arms and legs spread,” I ordered. The goat dance during survival training now made sense. I was alone against seven, well, four now, and would have to deal with it.

    First I shackled their hands. Then I hobbled their feet so they could walk only in a shuffle. Then I searched them. Apparently, that was not regarded as proper.

    Perhaps it was because I used FMF, that is to say, “real” rules. I searched them. I clutched crotches, ran fingers through hair, pulled off belts and shoes and tossed them into a heap, emptied out pockets. I was quick, thorough and professional. The only voiced complaints came when I searched the sole woman present, a Major Joesphine Hardy, Base Public Affairs Officer. Predictably, the complaints came from the men.

    “Is it really necessary to paw the lady, mister whatever-the-bloody-hell-your-name-is?” Colonel Popejoy, Air Base Group commander asked.

    “I’m not ‘pawing the lady,’” I replied reasonably as I stuck a hand up her skirt. Lace panties, thigh stockings, no weapons. “I’m ‘searching the major for anything that might be a threat,’” I explained as I ran hands around the waistband then clutched at her chest. “If I were to say, ‘nice tits,’ or, ‘padded bra, what a shame,’ that would indicate pawing. But since what I’m going to say is, ‘I have no problem with the bra, Major, and don’t find any weapons, but the stockings might be used to strangle me, so I’m going to have to have them,’ it’s just a search.”

    She replied with a faint flush of embarrassment, but gamely recovered with, “I don’t normally do that without an introduction and dinner first, but I don’t suppose I have a choice, do I?”

    “No, Lady,” I replied. I snicked them with a knife and peeled them open to her ankles, then ripped the tattered remains off. Being a professional, I did not waste time sneaking a peak at her daintier regions. I had three other hostages to watch, and three non-corpses who might get up and walk. I pondered wooden stakes. Maybe you think I overreacted, but by sliding gently back and forth, one can slip stockings off the legs. Even shackled, a good yank to each would tear them loose and yield the equivalent of two meter-long elastic ropes.

    The keys, pocketknives, tools, shoes (and laces), belts, and stockings all wound up dropped outside a window that opened onto the roof, along with comms. I sealed it again and turned back to my prisoners. Elapsed time, 200 seconds. The only weapons left to them were their bodies, a few books, and some commo cables I’d missed earlier. I ripped those last out of the walls and coiled them up. They’d be easy to fix after the fact, and disabled his controls now. I didn’t really need updates as a “terrorist,” as I was just trying to cause trouble. I’d be tied up here, and we weren’t going to use radios much, except to jam and spread disinformation. “I won’t cut out any implanted phones if you all agree not to use them,” I said, waving the knife. “Deal?” They all nodded worried assent.

    “What now?” the brigadier asked.

    “Now we wait. Your people are in a hurry to stop things. Mine aren’t,” I said.

    So we sat. I wouldn’t let them talk to each other, and wasn’t going to let them talk to me. That made it much harder for them to get any intelligence, other than my description and weapons. It was near an hour local time, more than thirty segs, before anyone figured out that the Brigadier hadn’t been heard from nor yet come down to the CP, and called up to the office on the only line I’d left. I held the headset up for him. “Brigadier McAran,” he answered. I kept the speaker on and my pistol to his head as the conversation started.

    “Sir! We have more attacks across the base! What do you want us to do? Er, Exercise Transmission,” someone screeched.

    Carefully eyeballing my pistol, he replied, “Exercise Transmission. Give me a detailed sitrep, if you please, colonel,” he replied.

    “Exercise Transmission. It’s all on your screen, sir. I expected you’d be in the command post by now.”

    “Exercise Transmission. I’m afraid I can’t make it at the moment,” he replied. “And my comm isn’t showing that data. If you could send Data Systems Squadron to look at it, AND A SECURITY TEAM NOW! ONE TERRORIST—”

    I cut him off by yanking the headset and shoving his chair over backwards. He hit his head and lay stunned while I spoke into the mic. “Now listen to me, ‘colonel.’ Exercise Transmission. This is the Committee for Utilizing Natural Terrain for Spiritualism,” I said with a straight face. “We are holding your imperialist dogs hostage.”

    “Er…very well. And who are you, sir?” he asked. I heard hubbub behind him.

    “I am the Great Druid of CUNTS,” I replied. There was a moment’s absolute silence.

    “You’ve got to be bloody joking,” was the reply.

    “Exercise Transmission,” I replied, according to their rules, “If you think I’m joking, I can start by killing Major Hardy.”

    There was more confusion. Eventually, I heard, “That won’t be necessary, sir. And what does…your organization…want us to do?”

    “Our list of demands will be revealed in due time. In the meantime, if you want to see your general alive again, it will cost you,” I continued.

    “And what will it cost us?” he inquired.

    “CUNTS needs a thick, forty-five centimeter Italian sausage,” I said.

    “A WHAT?” he asked.

    “Pizza, you moron! From Ansatos,” I said and slapped off the phone.

    Nothing would happen for several minutes, I figured. I said to McAran, “Real World, sir. Do you need help?”

    “If you could sit me back up, I’d appreciate it,” he said, shaking off the dizzies. “You play rough, sir, er, sergeant?”

    “Not as rough as a real terrorist,” I reminded him with a waggle of the pistol. I didn’t answer his question.


    There were chuckles at the exchange over the phone. “Was that improv, sergeant?” Major Hardy asked. She looked faintly embarrassed, probably at being amused in so crude a fashion. I actually looked her over now. About 25 by our reckoning, late 30s Earth years, neck length blonde hair. Her build was decent, and her eyes were brown but bright. No wedding ring. She must have been preparing for a date, as she was moderately made up. So her evening was shot to hell.

    “I have a list of groups to use,” I admitted. “It’s always a better exercise with mischievous fun and misdirection mixed in.”

    “‘Better’ for who?” Popejoy asked.

    “For me, of course,” I said.

    The phone rang again. “Yes?” I said as I answered it. The Brigadier wouldn’t be speaking again.



    “We’ll order that pizza shortly. In the meantime, it would show good faith if you could release one of the hostages,” he said. Step 1: try to negotiate.

    “And why would I do a stupid thing like that?” I asked.

    “Please, sir. People are scared—”

    “They should be scared. CUNTS are not being allowed to act as nature demands,” I said.

    He strangled on that, then continued, “But if we are to give you something, we need something in return. Perhaps if Major Hardy could be released…?”

    “Why Major Hardy? She’s a public affairs officer. I wouldn’t want a professional speaker on camera saying bad things about CUNTS. I’m not even sure she knows anything about CUNTS.” The look on Hardy’s face indicated she was about to wet herself laughing.

    “Sir, please…she’s the only woman…”

    “Ah, so that’s it,” I replied. “And what if I want to keep her here? Why is she more valuable to you as a woman? I thought she was just another officer. Yes, I think I will keep her here,” I said as I scrawled a message on a notepad from the brigadier’s desk. It read, “You are being abused, scream in pain, please.” I showed it to her.

    All of my “prisoners” were starting to get into the act. I held up the mic and she screamed to shatter wineglasses, with plenty of white noise that had to hurt her vocal cords. It was brilliant.

    Into the ringing silence, I said, “This has been an Exercise Transmission,” and disconnected.

    They called right back. “Yes?” I said.

    “Please, sir, we believe you. We’ll have that pizza there in an hour,” he said.

    “Delivery time is twenty minutes. Send the driver right up with no delay,” I demanded. “And that attempt to stall is going to cost you. The price for the Brigadier just went up. Make that two pizzas. And drinks. No diet drinks with that fake levosugar or I kill someone.”

    They conferred. “Very well, sir,” they said. I disconnected.

    We stared at each other. I went back to being a silent hardass. The CP called back twenty-five minutes later. “Yes?” I answered.

    “The driver is on his way now,” I was told.

    “Good. He comes in alone, he goes out alone. Anyone tries anything funny, and I kill him along with the hostages here, as well as any of your goons who are in range of the bomb or the nerve agent,” I said.

    I heard outraged yells behind the speaker. I hadn’t mentioned any bomb, so they hadn’t thought to plan for it. They didn’t need to—I didn’t have one. But they should have considered it.

    I heard rapid, frantic yells as they aborted whatever entry team had been preparing to come in shooting. They had less than five minutes, had told me the driver was coming, and couldn’t stall now without making it obvious they were trying something.

    I laughed at them and disconnected.

    A knock on the door was followed by a loud voice saying, “Ansatos. I have a large, thick, hot, spicy sausage.”

    “Come on in, Frank,” I said.

    There were groans from my captives. They were utterly dumbfounded at there being another one of us. The groans changed to smiles when we unshackled them and dished up pizza all around, with drinks. There were coffee and donuts for later. I made them feed the security detail though; I wasn’t about to unshackle those gung ho clowns.

    We made it clear that trying anything funny would get them shot and shackled and starved for the duration. Then Frank and I emptied out his pizza bag of tools and went to work on the Brigadier’s safe, bypassing the primary lock and forcing his eyeballs up to the scanner, after reminding him that a real terrorist could gouge them out and use them before they cooled. He gave us no trouble.

    We got a good photo of me sitting arm in arm with the Brigadier, big grins on our faces, although his was a bit forced, the safe open behind us, and the cover of a “MOST SECRET” document visible. They’d get that with my face blacked out. I’d keep a copy for bragging afterwards, then destroy it. Frank and I swapped updates, he left with the tools, the photos and McAran’s hat as a souvenir, and the rest of us went back to waiting.

    The next call had a different voice. “This is Major Malloy of the Security Squadron,” he said. “I need to find out what your other demands are.”

    I knew he was planning something. “Where’s that nice colonel I was talking to, Major? I’d much prefer to deal with him.”

    He paused before replying, “Colonel Cartwright is…indisposed. I’m afraid I’m in charge here now.”

    “Indisposed?” I replied. “Dear me, I hope he didn’t ingest any psychoactives with the sandwich that was delivered one hour and twenty-three minutes ago.”

    Malloy squawked, swore, and disconnected.

    I laughed at them again.

    I spoke to the deputy center commander, who’d been reticent and calm for most of this. “Colonel Setzer, please consider yourself dead,” I said. “Would you like the formality of me shooting you, or will you handle the simulation without it?”

    “I think I can manage,” he half smiled as he shrank back. He’d been observant, and was obviously still making notes. Clever man.


    We’d been at this four hours total when the newest corpse spoke. “Is there any way to get a latrine break?” he asked.

    “Only if you can use the Brigadier’s coffee pot,” I replied.

    I could see that the idea didn’t appeal.

    “Well, I will, then,” I said. They stared at me dumbfounded as I put the pot on the ground behind the desk, sat on the spare chair, unhooked my pants, and began splashing into it. Their faces drained of color. It was the Brigadier’s coffee pot. That was a sacred item on any base.



    McAran said, “If I go next, Colonel, will that make it easier for you?”

    The colonel looked ready to melt in embarrassment. He was the only one who decided to hold it. Hardy excused herself to the corner, and I even decently turned away. She couldn’t move from a squat without me reacting, anyway.

    Of course, they did get me eventually. I was only one person, after all. My pocket beeped, and Tyler’s voice said, “Watch it, Ken.” We’d been saving the radios for necessity—the sooner we used them, the sooner they’d be jammed or used to track us.

    I knew they were planning on coming in, and had to time my actions just right. I clicked back to acknowledge. “Brigadier, please come over to the couch,” I said as I untied his hands from the chair again.

    When the first faint rustles sounded through the windows, I sauntered over to the corner behind the Brigadier’s desk. The others didn’t notice it at first, but long silence had let them grow accustomed to the background noise so they noticed the difference. They tensed.

    I Boosted. Everything quivered and focused, and I prepared to go balls out. The crash of the window breaking was my cue, and I ducked my head and clapped my ears. The actinic glare of a stun grenade punched me in the eyes, right through my lids and averted face, while the bang shook my brains in my head. My hair crackled from the static charge, but most of the neural effect was grounded by the desk. I had a couple of fingers tingling and a cold spot on my right heel.

    But then I was up. A leap and a roll took me through the group of hostages, and I came up with an arm around Hardy. Always pick a female hostage—males are more reluctant to shoot in their direction.

    I got three of the black-clad figures as they came through the window, then shot Popejoy, who was trying to help by jumping me. The newcomers spread out to get better angles at me, and I fired with impunity, while they held theirs. Then one of them made as to take a shot. I twisted and he got Hardy in the chest, just below my arm. She squealed and coughed and tried to swear. I dropped the “corpse,” “killed” McAran and rolled away to come up in close quarters.

    They hadn’t expected that. With the pistol doing triple duty as a club and block, I charged them. I got one in the crotch hard enough to crack his cup, punched a female in both breasts hard enough to knock the wind out of her despite her body armor, fired off the rest of the magazine into two others, and yanked one down by the facemask until my knee smashed into his visor. He staggered back.

    Then a blizzard of shots pummeled me cold. I went down still fighting.

    I woke to a medic hovering over me. He was disheveled, and his helmet was next to me. “Are you okay, sir?” he asked.

    I did a quick self-exam. “Other than bruises and rug burn, I’m fine,” I assured him. The back of my scalp and between my shoulders would need nanos and local anesthetic; it was a mass of bruises.

    “You are a crazy fucking bastard, sir,” he said, shaking his head.

    I was too light-headed to stand yet, so I stalled for time. “And how many of you are dead?” I asked.

    “All seven hostages and five of twelve Entry Team members,” he admitted. “And three others injured, for exercise purposes. One of those will need hospitalized real world for a bruised testicle.”

    “I must be slowing down in my old age,” I replied.

    “Cocky bastard, aren’t you? sir,” he added.

    “I think I’ve earned that right,” I said. Damn, I hurt. I wasn’t going to admit it, and I’d walk out unassisted in a few moments, but I hurt.

    The debriefing was two days later, in the base theater. We showed them exactly what we’d done, none of which was particularly high-tech or difficult, and gave them a list of potential improvements. They were all sober, especially when the body count and property damage was assessed. We’d “killed” three hundred and forty-seven personnel, forty six family members, “crashed” two incoming transports with another thousand plus people aboard, “destroyed” two shuttles, seven close support craft, tens of ground vehicles, hundreds of millions of pounds worth of equipment, scrambled most of the comms and signal gear (That was Tyler’s doing, from the tower. Everything appeared to be working at first, so they’d never called up to find that the staff were trussed and gagged.) and shut down the base for an entire day real world, for weeks as far as the exercise went.

    There were five of us.

    They didn’t believe us.

    Now, I’ve seen this before and since. The complaints are always that we “obviously are lying” about how few people there were, that we “broke the rules” of the exercise, that “the evaluators tell the aggressors exactly where everyone is to make it easy for them.” Rabbits will come up with any excuse in the book rather than accept the three basic facts of the exercise, which are that 1) They’re morons. B} They’re ignorant, and iii: They’re pathetically undertrained.

    Don’t get me wrong—there are always exceptional performers. But as a whole, most units stink. That’s why they have huge casualties going in to an engagement—it takes time to shake down and learn to work as a good team. The whole point of such exercises is not to make the base look stupid, but to give them practice at dealing with events outside the expected norm. But they always take it as a personal affront, then try to deny the reality, and I don’t know if they ever actually accept the lesson. But we’ll keep trying. Even if they don’t learn from such exercises, we do. We did. Look at us now.



    The next stack of complaints was about our “recklessness.” We should have warned them of the powerplant going down, in case they had problems with the backup generators at the hospital (which would have required generator testing that should have been done ahead of time and should always be current, and would have destroyed the whole element of surprise). We shouldn’t have used hallucinogens because of the “danger” (Sparkle is sold commercially to any adult in the Freehold who wants to have an enhanced time. It is non-addictive, habit forming with repeated use only to those with weak and depressed personalities). We should have warned our targets that they’d need goggles against possible misaimed shots with my H&K. We shouldn’t have gotten base housing involved because of the danger, or the flightline, or this, or that. Everyone seemed to think that they were exempt from attack due to their importance. We patiently tried to explain that that very importance made them targets. We were only partly successful. One lieutenant wanted us to “simulate” most of it, claiming that they would “act accordingly.”

    I told that officer that a placard on a soft drink machine marked, “Simulated unplugged,” (as they’d done during the day Friday) was inadequate, and his people just weren’t that good of actors. They were hitting the machine for drinks anyway. The whole point of such an exercise is to suffer the privations as one would in a real event.

    The final review was in McAran’s office. His unit commanders and the five of us met to do a detailed breakdown of what we’d seen. I won’t bore you with it, but the beginning had a humorous note.

    We were all greeted and seated. I asked my “victims” how they were doing, met Colonel Cartwright, who was very unhappy at being drugged with Sparkle, and made sure Major Hardy was okay after her experience of being nearly choked then shot in the chest. She seemed delighted by the whole affair, and urged the Brigadier to do more such training. Her only complaint seemed to be that she hadn’t had a camera with her to record the whole event. I politely explained that any camera pointed in the direction of a “Blazer” would be vaporized, and the holder thereof also if we were rushed.

    They served coffee, and started with me, as I was front row and right side. I don’t like coffee, but we try to always be polite. I took a sip from the cup, decided it wasn’t too hot, then took a gulp. McAran addressed me, “Corporal Chinran, how did you know I had the coffeepot cleaned since our little encounter the other day?” He had a nasty grin on his face.

    I kept a bored look on my face and replied, “I didn’t.”

    The looks on the faces of seven people in that room were priceless.

    At the end, we shook hands all around and made nice. Major Hardy gave me a smile with a glint behind it. I don’t know. I didn’t have time to follow up then, and was nervous about the prospect of offending a foreign officer, and I still wonder. Was it just amusement and mannerism? Or was she hinting at a game of good kidnapper/bad kidnapper to be played out in a hotel suite?

    Probably not. But it’s a nice thought. And I need nice thoughts now.

    Shortly before we left Caledonia, the Charles River flooded over its banks and threatened millions of hectares of crops and several towns. We volunteered as a gesture of international goodwill, and also got a look at their Home Guard troops, equivalent to our Professional Militias or Reserves. They were eager, fairly competent, and were good company in the wet and cold. It was quite an impressive flood, and it’s no fault of the participants that they couldn’t control it. Nature will always win. We spent a thirty day month getting soaked and chilled, then alternately baked in what passed for summer sun. All in all, I’d have to call it a good time and an educational peacetime deployment.

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