Location: Monument City, old US/Canada border, 0800 hours
It is late February, and quite cold with piles of snow drifts and ice making life miserable for the men and women stationed there. Luckily for you, it is nice and warm inside, giving you the chance to shake off the chill from your bones. It is also fortunate that your armored mega suits are temperature controlled and environmentally sealed, so you can train in your hover tanks without freezing.
It has been one week since you have finished your training course in the Spartas, and the rumor is that unit assignments will be handed out today, and everyone is excited to learn where they will be going.
Corporal Deunan Conway is currently relaxing in the mess hall with a hot cup of coffee when your wristcomp buzzes, signalling you with a message to report to Capt. Richard Hawkins' office in half an hour. A bit unexpected; if this is the assignment that you have been waiting for, it would normally come from the personnel office, not the training company commander.
At the same time, Alan McGregor is sitting down in the rec room, locked in mortal combat! Or rather, a poker game of low stakes with three fellow recruits from the Spartas training course. Your cards are pretty good; a full house of Jacks and 8's. Derek eyes you across the top of his cards as he lays down a five credit note in the pot. Mario lets out a low whistle. "Well now! Someone is feeling lucky! I think I can beat what you have in your hand, so I'll match that bet. Over to you, Tina."
The tall blonde woman grimaces as she looks at her cards. "This is not a hand. Its so bad, it has to be a foot. I'm out. This is too rich for my blood." With that, she lays her cards down on the table and leans back, taking a swig off of her beer. "Whatchoo gonna do, Alan? Think he's bluffing?"
Just as you turn your attention to your cards, several wristcomps begin to buzz, including yours, signalling that you are to report to the personnel office for your orders. But Derek doesn't bother to get up from the table yet. He keeps eyeing Alan, wondering what your cards are. "Hold on, there, Baba Louie! I got money on the line here, and I want to know what's in your hand. Are you going to call?"
Marlon McKinney is at the gym, pumping some iron. A fellow body builder, Jack, is currently standing at your head, spotting you for safety. He is counting out the reps as he encourages you to keep going. "Six! Seven! C'mon, Marlon! Push through the pain! Ten! Eleven! Four more! Three, two, one! Good job, bud!" He helps you to place the weights in the rack and hands you your towel and a bottle of water. "Here, ya need to keep hydrated."
He leans back and waits for you to catch your breath, then he settles down on the bench to take his turn. Just then, the long awaited message comes through on your wristcomps that you have your orders at the personnel office. The good news is that you don't have to wait any longer to see where you are getting assigned. The bad news is that you have to go out in the cold in order to make your way over to the office.
Deunan happily enjoying some quiet time, sipping at her cup of java. With the accelerated course schedule that she's been in, things have been a bit hectic. It was all hard work, busting my ass to get to this point. She glances down at the new medal pinned to her uniform with a smile. But it has all been worth it! That piece of tin on my uniform sure does look good.
She takes another drink of her coffee when her wrist comp goes off. Deunan's eyebrow goes up as she sees the content of the message. The Captain's office? Did I do something wrong? She pauses for a moment, thinking. No. I've worked too hard to mess up. I wonder what's up? Glancing at her comp, she does some quick mental computations. Ok, just long enough to go get changed if I hustle.
With a final gulp, she finishes off her drink and makes her way to the barracks to get into a fresh uniform and pull her hair up. After a quick stop in front of the mirror to double check her uniform, Deunan nods in satisfaction at her appearance and moves with a quickness to the Captain's office.
Marlon grit his teeth as he forced his body to crank out just a few more reps. Few more! Almost done! Arms burned! Last one! "Aahg!" He exclaimed as he pushed that last one up and his bud helped him get it back on the rungs.
He leaned up. Rotating his shoulds as the euphoric mix of strain went through his arms. He took the towel and wiped off his sweat. "Thanks." then taking a long swig from the lukewarm bottle of water.
With a chuckle, Marlon got up, "Your turn now, bud." He said with a grin as he slung the towel onto his shoulder, and got into position. "Make sure you show me up, Jackie. You read-"
Marlon stopped before a full sentence at the buzz. The message played and his grin widened. "Sorry Jack. I got to go. Eugene is probably still in the showers, I'll send him back to spot ya."
Marlon went off to take a quick shower and get in proper uniform. Couldn't go in into the office looking like a sweaty bum, after all. He would be quick about it, of course. Not just because of punctuality. But because orders had finally come. All his training and all his hard work, it was time to finally put it to good use.
The excitement he felt only tempered slightly by the fact he had to walk through the winter just after taking a shower. Though he wasnt about to let a little cold phase him. At one minute till, he entered the office.
Alan looked at his hand, looked back up to his opponent, and simply said, "Well, why should I let a hand like this go so cheap? I raise you twenty." Alan said, deadpan staring his opponent down with an unshaken expression. Abusing his average, unimpressive, and generally unmemorable features was just another day in the service for the young man. Surely Derek was now wondering just to what extent he had been underestimating his rivals at the night's game of cards. With any luck, the doubt would crumble Derek's courage or buy him deeper into the trap of a jack high full house. It's a simple gambit, but most effective when you're on the clock.
When Deunan gets to the Captain's office, she is right on time. His assistant, a burly Sergeant that looks like he would be better suited hauling a rifle instead of running the phones and appointments for the boss, looks at you with a nod. "Corporal Conway, the Captain is expecting you. Go on in." As you go in, you can see that Capt. Hawkins is not alone. Standing at the window is another officer, Marla Winfred, a Major in the Global Military Police. She glances over at you as Capt. Hawkins returns your salute, a glass of Scotch in her hand.
"Have a seat, corporal. We have been waiting for you. Care for a drink?" He grabs a small glass and pours a splash of the alcohol into it and sets it down on the desk in front of you. "Sit at ease, Corporal. You look like you are waiting for the firing squad. This is good news, not bad. Major Winfred and I have been looking over your test results, and we like what we see."
The Major nods as she sits down in a chair next to you. "Yes indeed. You have excelled at your studies, even with your heavy class load, and have earned some of this graduating class' top scores. But that poses a problem for us." She gives you a slight smile as you ponder what this might mean to you.
Hawkins leans back in his seat as he looks at you. "Yes. Quite a poser for us to deal with. Normally, when we see scores like this, it qualifies you for a squad command. But the problem we have is that you are just a corporal, and you have to be a E-5 before you are given a command. What are we to do with you?"
The two officers are silent, watching you carefully.
At the personnel office, Marlon is not alone. There is quite a crowd of people, perhaps a dozen or so, from your tanker class that are all getting their orders for deployment. Some are going to stay in Monument City to continue building up the newly formed ATAC Tank Corps, while others are heading to Africa to deal with the insurgents in the Congo. Still others find themselves going to South America to face a large group of Malcontent Zentraedi in the jungles there in Brazil and Argentina.
Once you get to the head of the line, you get your order packet. One of your fellow tankers, a young kid going by the name Neo, leans over with curiosity to see what your destination is. In brief, you see that you are being assigned to the 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment, being deployed down south to the Zentraedi Control Zone to form a new squad, the 3rd Heavy Reconnaissance Squad.
Neo perks up. "Hey! That's the same squad that I'm going to! We are going to be team mates! Isn't that cool?" She seems quite happy at the thought of having a familiar person to rub elbows with. She continues to read her own packet. "Huh. That's strange. My paperwork says I'm supposed to report to Sgt. Deunan Conway." She leans over to show you the papers. "I know Deunan, and she's a corporal, just like us. D'you think it is a typo? Naah, couldn't be, not on both of our orders. That must mean that she's getting another stripe on her shoulder!" Neo looks around, trying to see if Deunan is there so she can offer up her congratulations.
As you read on, you can see that tomorrow, you will be loading a brand new Spartas onto a Tunny Heavy Lifter aircraft at 0700 to take off bright and early, making the very long flight south to Brazilia Base, where you will then take your tanks to a Border Surveillance Post, or BSURB, designated as Anton-17.
Alan has everyone's attention as you up the stakes. Its not that it is a lot of money. After all, you are all getting a decent paycheck, and the money in this game was more just a way to keep score. It was the way that you challenged Derek that has everyone sliding to the edge of their seats in anticipation of the results of the hand.
Derek smiles as he looks you over. "Think you can beat what I got? Think that I'm going to knuckle under and fold? Or, are you hoping that I'll call?" He locks eyes with Alan, then finally, pulls a twenty out of his wallet and tosses it into the middle of the table. "What the hell. Lets see how this comes out! I just got to know; what do you have in your hand?" He lays down a trio of 9's. "Three of a kind." He knows that his hand is not the strongest out there, but you can tell he's betting that you are just bluffing.
Deunan is not much of a drinker, but when your commanding officer offers you a drink, by God you are going to drink it and like it! She mumbles out a quick, "Thank you, sir," as she takes the tumbler of Scotch and takes a brief sip, still feeling very much on edge even with Capt. Hawkins telling her to be at ease. At least its not bad news . . . but what the hell is going on?
Then the bombshell lands, and she hears that her test scores are at the top of the graduating class! Her heart leaps in excitement as the news sinks in! Hell yes! I knocked that ball out of the park! Waitaminute! What did Capt. Hawkins just say? She looks back and forth between the two officers, hardly daring to breathe. Deunan takes another sip, feeling the burn of the alcohol as it goes down her throat, trying to wrap her mind around what is being said.
Finally marshalling her courage, the young woman looks at the two officers and a small blossom of hope can be felt in her. Feeling a little cheeky, she clears her throat. "Well, sir, there is a very easy solution to this problem. All you have to do is . . . promote me . . . to sergeant, and then I can take charge of this squad. That would solve everything, wouldn't it?" With a slight tremor, Deunan takes another sip of the Scotch, hoping beyond hope that she just didn't step into something very stinky with that comment.
Hey hey, this wasnt just a small deployment. Looks like they were sending out quite a few them. And then the time came to be handed his packet he was quite pleased with what it read.
South America, now there would be a real show. Zentraedi insurgents and the jungle terrain. And, it should be about summer there! Speaking of jungle, though... he should probably read up maintenance reports from down there at some point. If he was going to be part of a recon squad, that would mean quite a bit of moving... and that was exactly what he wanted. To be in the field, and not be stuck in a stuffy hangar.
"Is it now? Well hell! Lucky it be then I ain't going out there alone." Even if he was looking forward to deployment, deployed with someone you knew was a nice sweetener.
He grinned and clapped the smaller girl on the back. "And it will be as cool as we make it." He looked back down at his packet.
"Duenan... Duenan. I don't think I know her. And yeah. Says right here, Sergeant. Huh, well I had figured they would have stuck us with someone a but more experienced. Well if she got promoted this early, then maybe she is something."
"So where is she anyway? We supposed to be meeting up with her before tomorrow?"
Ordinarily, Alan would savor the victory a bit more but in this instance, he did have to get going. Dropping his hand on the table, he calls it out, "Full house buddy, jacks and eights. Good game though." Deciding it best to be courteous, he'd offer the soldier a handshake before collecting his winnings.
With the game wrapped up, he'd enjoy another run through the frigid climate of the base to report in at the personnel office.
When Deunan says her solution to the problem, the captain looks over at the major and then chuckles. The major nods in response. "You were right about this one, Rich. She's got a lot of moxie. I like that. It will serve her well in the Control Zone." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out an envelope and hands it over to Deunan. "Congratulations, Sergeant Conway. You are now the proud owner of not only a new set of chevrons, but also you are in charge of the newly formed Third Heavy Recon squad. Open up your orders and go to personnel to meet up with the rest of your team."
Looking at the papers inside the envelope, you see that you are heading first to Brazilia Base, then to the Border Surveillance Post Anton-17 at the edge of the Zentraedi Control Zone. You are to be at the airfield to load your hover tank for an early takeoff for the long flight to South America. Also in the envelope is a shiny new pair of sergeant's rank tabs, all ready to be pinned on your collar.
You can see that you currently have three subordinates assigned to you, all three of them are members of the ATAC, and as you look at their names, you can see that you are at least familiar with all three of them as fellow cadets here at Monument City in the same accelerated training program as you are.
Before you leave the office, Major Winfred pins your new tabs onto your uniform and offers up some last minute advice. "Don't be up too late celebrating, but if you can't resist, try and get some sleep on the flight. It will be a long trip."
At the poker table, Alex gets a few friendly slaps on the back as you rake in your winnings. Its not really all that much, but its the principle of the win that matters. Hurrying along to the personnel office, you see that you are one of the last people to arrive to get your order packet. Grabbing up your assignment, you can see that you are going to South America to be assigned to a heavy recon squad, hunting Zentraedi Malcontents in the Control Zone.
While you are reading your unit assignment, you overhear a pair of other tankers that you've gone through training with talking about being put into the same squad as you! Looking over, Alex sees Marlon and Neo standing next to each other, eyeing the other's order papers and talking about how your squad leader is apparently a newly promoted Sergeant named Deunan Conway. You can remember seeing her in training; a member of the GMP, which makes some sense considering that you are going to be a recon squad.
Speaking of Marlon and Neo, the two of you see Deunan coming up, and yes, the former corporal is now wearing a pair of new sergeant's chevrons. Neo calls out and waves, "Deunan! Over here! Wow, am I seeing things, or have you been promoted? Those new chevrons look good on you!" She goes over to you and gives you a quick hug. "Awesome news, there!" She grins, genuinely happy for you.
In truth, Alan was afraid it'd be a place like Africa or Australia. Nothing to cramp up a fresh deployment like getting hot dropped into hotter weather straight out of a freezer. Still, by his reckoning, it could be worse. He'd have a nice small unit, fresh hover tanks to break in, and new sights to burn in his memory.
Even with the bothersome transition, it'd be nice to get away for a while to clear his head. Tom was still in the pen and Wade was likewise keeping his distance or simply too busy with work at the truck factory to keep in touch. His two sisters, Jane and Lisa, were still similarly distant, just like his brothers. At least things were better for them now that their folks were back home from the hospital.
Snapping out of his melancholic daydream, Alan turns about, papers in hand, to the sounds of loud voices mentioning his new squad leader. "Ah, you're my new Sarge, huh? Congratulations." He'd say with a wide grin and a pat on the back for Deunan. "I'm Corporal Alan McGregor, but I'm sure you've already got access to our general dossiers. Is this all of us?"
Deunan feels like she is floating as she walks out of the office. Sergeant, and in command of my own squad! How freaking awesome is that? Now its time to go and round up my team! With that, she hurries out to the personnel office to find the squad members that are being assigned to her.
First, she hears Neo call out to her, then she spots Alan. "Thanks! It is all still quite new to me, but I must admit, it feels quite good!" Deunan returns Neo's hug and shakes hands with Alan and Marlon. "From what I've had a chance to glance at, our recon squad in this group of tankers are just the four of us. I'll have to sit down and go over the files in detail some time later on, probably on the transport heading south. I don't want to show up at Brazilia Base and not have a clue as to what I'm supposed to be doing."
She looks at the three and plants her hands on her hips. "We need to get ready for an early morning, but that doesn't mean we don't have a little bit of time to celebrate our new assignment! Lets go. I know a great diner that we can get some dinner at, and we can trade some stories and get to know one another a bit better than just a face in a crowd in the training room. I'll even buy. Just don't bankrupt me; I've seen you two in the mess hall, and I know you can pack away the food! Any complaints on that?"
Alan merely smiles and nods. "No complaints here either. If the bill gets too large, I don't mind coverin the difference. Had a good day at the card table, so might as well have some fun before that long flight tomorrow." He offered.
Deunan grins over at Alan. "Awesome. Lets see if we can't snag a staff car from the motorpool, then we'll go out and celebrate! Its not too far of a drive, but I'd rather not have to walk it in this cold. Besides, if it turns out to be a late night, we can sleep on the transport. Its not like we'll have anything else to do on our multi-hour flight but that."
Marlon nods, he wasnt entirely sold on the idea of her yet. But he'd give her a chance. "Alright, sure I'm game. And don't worry, I'll only snack. Probably. Regardless! We will raise a glass to the nee Sergeant. And maybe we can get an idea of all the ways she plans to be a dick to us. Eh?" He laughed. Being in jest of course.
Alan grinned at Marlon's jab. "Aw c'mon, her career is still young. I'm sure if she becomes a drill sergeant they'll give her plenty of ideas on how to tear every last ounce of sass out of human being in record time." He added with a hearty chuckle. "That's provided we all don't kick enough ass to make officer before then. So let's not let these other rookies show us up! Let's go!"
Neo pumps her hand up into the air. "Onward, then! To the motorpool!"
The four of you make your way through the buildings until you reach the motorpool. It doesn't take long for you to be able to check out a hover staff car in order to be able to leave the post to go to the diner in question. It is a popular local bar and restaurant, with several cars parked out front. Going in the heavy wooden doors, you are greeted by the sounds of rock and roll music and the delightful smell of cooking food. Looking around, you can see that you are not the only service personnel in the place; both enlisted and officers are dotted around at the various tables and booths.
After getting to your table, a waitress makes her way over to you. "Hey there, Deunan. How are you today? Say! Are those new stripes on your collar? Congrats! The first beer is on me. So! What can I get for you guys?"
Deunan happily accepts the offer of a free beer, and is not really surprised that she is not getting carded for the alcohol. In many places, there is the thought that if you are old enough to put on a uniform and go into battle to protect the Earth, you are old enough to get a beer when you want. Just so long as no one ruins it, that is.
Setting down a stack of credits, Deunan says, "Keep 'em coming. We have a promotion and a deployment to celebrate! Tomorrow morning, we fly out to the Zentraedi Control Zone. Lets get a few racks of ribs and some appetizers; a little of this and that. When you need more, let me know." Once the order is placed and everyone has some food on the way, she looks over at her team. "I fully expect that this will be a all-nighter, and I'm good with that. We eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we ship out."
Several hours pass and the drinks flow. You can see that you are not the only team getting in a final meal and some good microbrews before being sent out across the globe to their various duty stations. Some tables are getting a bit rowdy, but no one is crossing that unofficial line and going to far in their libations; no one wants to mess up their orders by a trip to the stockade the night before shipping out. When the restaurant finally closes, it is late with the place having stayed open a few hours past its normal closing time. As you stumble out to the staff car, you see a half dozen MPs out there, waiting for the various celebrants to come out.
In a respectful tone of voice, a crisp and professional Master Sergeant addresses the drunken masses before them. "Once you identify which vehicle you have come in, you will be assigned a driver to make sure you get back to the post alive and in one piece. If you have a sober designated driver, once that person passes a breathalyzer test, he or she may take the wheel and drive your drunken selves back. If we have any trouble from you, I have no problem at all locking you up for the night to sleep it off."
Assuming that no one decides to make a scene, you are able to make it back to your various barracks in one piece to begin the process of packing for your flight.
Deunan is too drunk to offer up any complaints at the offer of a ride back to base. A quick nap? No, I'd better just pack. If I try to sleep now, I'll oversleep and miss my flight. Not a good way to start my career as a squad leader. I'll sleep on the flight.
Stumbling a bit, the tipsy sergeant does her best to be orderly and clear headed as she stuffs her uniforms into her duffel bag, finishing up just in time to report to the assembly area for the morning deployment.
Alissa dismounts the base's hovercyle she had been borrowing and shoulders her duffel bag. She walks the tarmac to the assembly area and pulls her aviator glasses off. Her blue eyes, normally striking. are bloodshot.
"Corporal Kerensky, on time—barely—and reporting for duty," she says to the team. She doubles over pressing a fist to her mouth to hold herself from puking. "Last night was a bit rough, sir. But, worth every second." She flashes her signature smile.
Alan wasn't much of a drinker, having acquired a distaste for the flavor, and decided to substitute alchohol with more food. Regardless, he had no objection to an assigned designated driver. Once he was back to barracks, he made sure any weapons, armor, and training peripherals were returned to the appropriate staff officer before packing what meager belongings he decided to keep with him.
He was just a little early to catch the transport, ready to respond in case anyone in the team was at risk of falling behind. "You guys gonna be alright? Keep sipping some water and you should shake off the hangover eventually." He offered.
Location: Monument City, old US/Canada border, 0330 hours
The sun is still far below the horizon when you all report to the tank assembly area. Armed guards check your Id's to make sure you are taking the correct vehicle, and your personal weapons are all loaded into your tanks and secured for the flight to Brazilia Base.
Dozens of vehicles form a chain of armored units driving through the dark towards the airfield. Road guides stand at intersections directing traffic, blocking off the roads to keep your convoy all together and heading to the right aircraft for loading. At the airfield, you see that there are eight massive Tunny Heavy Lifter aircraft sitting there, their cargo doors yawning wide open, just waiting to take on their cargo. Once you have found your own cargo jet, your tanks are brought on board one at a time, being directed by the Cargomaster.
Each tank is lashed down in place by heavy chains to keep them from shifting about in flight, and the five of you are then directed to go to the upper passenger deck where there is at least fifty other people already up there, all storing their gear and trying to settle in for the long flight.
Deunan is beat from her late night, but it was worth it. But it did take quite a bit of self will to stay focused as she drives her hover tank along the road from the assembly yard to the airstrip. Her tank. Her squad. That still sounded unreal to her, but the idea of it was growing happily in her head.
Once they get to the airstrip, she is careful to follow the directions of the ground guides, being very cautious as she loads her rig onto the Tunny. With the tank powered down, Deunan climbs down and gives her new baby over to the cargo masters on the aircraft, knowing that they would be very careful in getting the mecha properly tied down so it wouldn't shift around in flight.
That done, she takes the stairs up to the passenger level and is happy to see that she is not the only one suffering from the late night/early morning drinking. Once her bags are locked away in the bins, she waits for the rest of the squad to come up before letting herself nod off and fall asleep, fully expecting to be completely out of it before the Tunny takes off.