The medic gave us each a dose and a half of peace before the briefing.  We marched into the room, crisp as a crease, took our seats, and waited for seventeen minutes until the officer came in.  By then we were attentive, alert, and above all calm.  The markerboard at the head of room nearly vibrated under the precision of our observation, haloed with a faint bluish light.

This was a normal byproduct of the enhancement medication.  It was nothing to worry about, and we weren’t capable of worrying even if it had been.  We stood and saluted in unison.

The captain was a woman, five foot four, recently promoted.  The new stitching on her rank insignia reflected light slightly differently than her campaign patches.  It was the sort of thing that peace allowed you to notice.  There had been heavy attrition in the command and control sectors from insurgents so new officers were common.  Her pupils strobed as she surveyed the room; she was at peace as well.  “As you were,” she said, returning the salute.

It would have been redundant to tell us to be at ease.  With the extra half dose the average soldier wouldn’t flinch if someone threaded a garden hose up his ass.  When the effect peaked the same soldier could recite the manual of small arms maintenance while sawing off his right foot.  We took our seats.

The briefing began with a series of slides of the insertion zone and target area.  We were silent as we memorized the photographs and plan schematics, the officer commenting on points of interest and probable enemy troop vectors.  A corporal raised his hand to ask a question.  The crescents of his fingernails were going grey; he’d survived a gas attack and had been rotated back into action the week before.  His name was Carson.

“Have any supplies been pre-inserted into the strike area?” Carson asked, his tone even and patient.  It was a fascinating question, as any question would be at that moment.  We patiently waited for the response.

The captain smiled.  “Negative,” she said, her voice almost a sigh.  “Due to unavoidable disruption of logistics systems, pre-insertion was not possible.  Additionally, there will be modifications to your equipment for this mission.”

We beamed at her, drinking in this information.  Her lips were glossy from lip balm.  She continued, “You will be limited to thirty seven rounds of rifle ammunition per infantryman.”   Our ecstasy at this was tempered only with the exactness of our attention.  “In addition to ten rounds for squad leaders’ sidearms.  Firing will be limited to three-round bursts.”  We were rapt.

“You depart in nine minutes.”  It was a song.  “Hu-ah,” she breathed.

We responded in unison:  “Hu-ah.”

Fourteen minutes later we were down the ropes and on the ground.

Carson was hit first.  He triggered a proximity mine and was thrown forward, flipping end over end before landing twenty meters in front of me.  I dropped and waited for insurgent fire.  It took several seconds to come.  A standard tactic was to use mines as a detection perimeter, concentrating fire on anything that triggered them.

I ranged back on the tracers and acquired two targets.  I brought the first up on my scope and squeezed off a burst.  I got two hits to the chest and the target was neutralized.  I switched over to the second just as he acquired me.  A warning tone rang in my headset.  I squeezed off before scoping in order to drive him into cover.  By the time he reacquired me I had him scoped and put three in his head.

Carson’s voice came over the headset.  He was near to peaking, so his enthusiasm bled through in his voice.  “I have been immobilized, but I can serve as a comm relay for rear activities!”  I advanced in a crawl to his position.  Both legs were gone above the knee, but he had applied wound foam and appeared to be stable.

“I am unable to continue!  Take my ammunition!”  He held up two magazines.  “If you leave me your pistol I will be able to commit suicide in the event of capture!”  I handed him my pistol.  “Hu-ah!”

“Hu-ah!” I said, and continued on at a sprint to reestablish my position in the line.

–Steve Kilian

The Polar Turtle

Mr. Bingles


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