“Proph…I found your 'diary' ole bro,” said Zoraster.
“It ain’t a diary feth-for-brains…It’s a journal.” I said.
“Same diff, you still poured your guts out,” he said, cracking a smile.
Funny he should put it that way. Zor was on his way out. No two-week pass like I got for my arm. I mean out with a capital Oh. In that last scrap with the enemy, he’d gotten a gut-shot. Hurts like hell from what I hear. Sure, the bonecutters had sewn him back up, but the damage was done.
With no intestines, half of the pills they shove down your throat before being posted to a freezing hellhole such as the Northern Quadrant are useless. If you have no stomach, there’s nothing to absorb the meds into your stomach lining to prevent Scalitosis.
With no large intestine, there’s no helpful little microscopic critters that assist in digesting the indigenous plantlife and tree bark (which does NOT taste like chicken).
With no gall bladder, there’s no…well…actually that’s a pretty useless organ.
But the point is that Sab lost it all to a chest-level APM mine. Blew a hole right through him and it took him ten minutes to notice. Now there’s some guts for ya. The poor bastard was too cold to realize his middles were missing.
“You don’t owe me anything Proph. We’re good,” Zor said with a crooked smile, eyeing my half-case of MillCoors Plat. I couldn’t help myself. I crooked two fingers around the neck of a bottle and tossed it to him.
“Here Zoraster, It’s the least I can do for a reward. I woulda had to start all over again in my JOURNAL,” says I, emphasis on the word journal. Diaries are for girls. Maybe not the one on my lap (who I’m beginning to wonder about) but definitely the quiet one with the huge erm…personalities that was giving me the eye from on top of my med chart.
Well folks, I’m feeling pretty good right now. I’ve got beer, I’ve got some “special ladies,” (Not the Last Stop kind…the clean, non-Radpoisoned, 100% pure woman kind…even the blonde with the adam’s apple sitting on my lap right now), and I’ve got a great story to tell.
First, to the beer. Thanks to DaddyofThree’s generous offer to buy my spot in active duty, I am now the proud owner of two cases of pure, unfiltered, coldbrewed Millweiser-Coors Platinum beer to keep me happy for the next week. Well…more like half-a-case after the drinking and the bartering, but hey, it’s what keeps my narrative inspiration going.
The ladies I’ve surrounded myself with are a byproduct of the beer. You see…ever since the re-prohibition in ’37, alcohol has been hard to come by. Millweiser-Coors has deep pockets and managed to get around the re-prohibition act of ’37 and so I must refer to it as a “cold beverage” since that’s all their advertising efforts have ever called their product. Since I’m drunk though, to hell with it…I’m calling it a fething beer because calling it a cold beverage is just too fething panty-waist for a stone-cold killer such as myself. Heheh…that last part was a joke. I’m more like the innocent bystander who picks up a gun and miraculously survives the first attempt at trying to act like a hero.
In any case, when it comes to “cold beverages,” it’s like bartering Levi Jeans in what used to be Poland…one beer can be traded for a week’s stay in the finest hotel. Well…out here in the field, we soldiers value such things much more highly than our creds. A beer can get you into places where no amount of creds ever could. A case of beer? Well…look around me. I’m surrounded by a dozen gorgeous women (and one ugly one with a five-o’clock shadow on my lap) who are willing to do anything I ask. All at the cost of a lousy beer.
Sad? Maybe. Not nearly as sad as the fact that I’m now without an arm and had to spend this last battle as an observer from the safety of the command bunker. Sure, we turned the tables on the filthy bastards, but that wouldn’t be much of a story if I left it at that. Allow me to elucidate you…
We were stationed at the Statue. Named for the big honkin’ statue that was named for some famous guy a while back. Schwarzenyager or somesuch. He was a bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-politician-turned president. It looked like a huge lump of wackadoo triangles and such to me. I saw it briefly as I walked the camp between my “appointments” with the medicos.
They’d routinely stop by and jab me with a needleful of some painkiller or another (I kicked the feth out of the first guy who tried an aerosol injector on me, so they went oldskool and used needles from then on) and let me roam about the camp with an escort. Wet-behind-the-ears recruit who apparently did something wrong. That’s the only reason I can figure they’d detail someone to look out for me. I’m nothing special really…just another soldier who’s managed to survive sixteen years in this outfit. I heard later from FatKid that this kid had actually volunteered for the duty.
In hindsight, it makes sense. The kid wouldn’t shut up…asking me questions about where I’d been and how I’d survived so long. Funny he used the term “survived” instead of something like “succeeded.” Sure, the life-expectancy of a soldier can usually be measured in hours…but I figure I’m cursed with sucking up those unused minutes from the guys around me who invariably die horrible deaths like Luke McCarthy…who took it right in the keester during a skirmish in Karkand some years back. His stomach was so perforated he took in air every time he inhaled. Bleeding out is one thing…bleeding out in a flatulent series of red-misting farts is something I don’t care to think about…makes me feel guilty for chuckling at a really bad situation.
Anyway, Squad FatKid was detailed with defense of the Schwartza-whatsit statue. The enemy was expected any minute…like dinner guests who are on their way, but stuck in traffic, you know they’ll arrive…but it’s anybody’s guess whether dinner will be cold when they get there.
FatKid kept his boys frosty though. Drakin had my baby doing laps up and around the ramps leading to the statue. Lucy Quipment was in fine shape. The Cogboys (slang-speak for the full-time engineers in the outfit) had her left leg fully functional and she was happy to be out and about. Drakin was still trying to get a grip on my lady, but with my new arm, I wasn’t in any position to be doing it myself. Matter of fact, I wasn’t even returned to active duty yet. Medicos were warning me about the side-effects of the dope I was on. Something about memory-loss or somesuch. Yeah, I’m a little hazy in places, but it can’t be more than a week since they lopped off my stick-strokin’ hand. (Editor’s note: Proph was out for months, babbling incoherently…his short-term memory is completely gone. It’s a wonder he remembers this battle in such detail after so much time)
I do remember with such clarity that even though Lucy’s leg was repaired, she still had a swagger in her stride. Like a two-cred hooker, she swished when she moved. Probably Drakin’s own sense of balance interfering with the lower seat of gravity that both women and walkers have in common. A true walker pilot learns to focus from the hips after a while. When someone says a walker pilot “runs like a girl” it’s taken as a compliment. It means he’s thinking like his lady.
I watched Drakin make a few laps, then return to the statue proper to take a break and smoke a Stann. Stann was popular in Pakistan back in the 21st century. They’d chew on it for a high similar to meth. Problem was, it turned your teeth yellow…and eventually black. Rotted ‘em out. Smoking Stann didn’t give you the same high, but it was completely side-effect free. Tobacco smokes went out of style after the taxes on ‘em skyrocketed. They’re like fish eggs…only the rich can afford the luxury (Editor’s Note: I’m assuming he’s referring to caviar here. Never seen it myself.)
I moseyed back to the field hospital at my charge’s urging. The kid must’ve been keeping time, because I was starting to feel an itchy sensation on my elbow (which I didn’t have anymore). It was time for my meds.
My earpiece crackled to life.
“Proph, Pfeil here. You ready for some action?”
“Uh, yeah boss. I’m ready. Tell Drakin to pull his sorry ass out of Lucy and I’ll get her warmed up good and proper.”
Uh oh…I forgot my sentry was right next to me. “No way man…you’re under strict orders. No combat. No operating heavy machinery.”
“You callin’ my baby ‘heavy?’” I says.
“Um…no…sir. You just shouldn’t be piloting a walker in your…erm…condition.” Says the little puke.
Well…about that time, DaddyofThree slinks up to me. Stealthy little bastard. Okay…not little in the literal sense. Daddy is one brawny sumbitch. His triceps have biceps sort of brawny. But he was a silent walker. You could have eyes in the back of your head (which most of the helmets in today’s war give you with 180-degree vision) and you still wouldn’t notice him strolling up to you. If he’s trying to be sneaky, it’s ten-times worse.
“Proph, I hear you’re being called up for active duty. The enemy is about ten minutes out and coming in fast.”
“Yeah, man. I just got the word from Pfeil to kit up…’cept this puke of a bodyguard is trying to stop me.” I say, giving the poor schlub my best stinkeye to let him know I mean it.
“Look, you’re still recuperating, and I’m just getting off a guard shift…but I’m in better condition than you to hold ‘em off. Give me your slot and I’ll….I’ll owe you some brewski.”
Now this is where I cash in on my current situation…but I wasn’t about to let him have it without a squabble. “No way man…my slot is mine. ‘Sides, where are you going to get enough brew to buy me off in this hellhole?” I say, making a big show of looking around the snow-covered hills surrounding the demolished city.
“I’ve got a case of MillCoors Plat stashed away. My daughters sent it to me a month back.”
I pondered a moment…then made up my mind. “Nope…sorry bub. This new arm of mine needs to get broken in. I’d rather do it while my meds are down and my pain is up so I can get a good sense of what it’ll feel like once the Medicos turn me loose.”
“Okay…two cases. That’s all I’ve got man. Two cases of MillCoors Plat for your spot.” Said Daddy. Well…everyone has their price. I just found mine.
“Fine, but I wish you wouldn’t. I’d hate to see you bite the big one and not be able to deliver.”
“They’re stashed in the Medico FAV…just under the gauze and stimmpatches on the left side of the rear crate. If I don’t make it, you know where they are.”
“Done deal…now don’t get yourself killed…I want to rub this in long and hard after this is all over.”
With the haggling out of the way, Daddy had earned a spot on the active roster…against regulations I might add. I had earned two cases of the most rare substance this side of the equator. Hell…I bet a gnat was more likely to make diamonds out of coal squashed between his ass-cheeks than I was to see another bottle of MillCoors Plat…nevermind two full cases of it. Only one thing left to do…
“Pfeil, this is Proph. Medicos say I’m restricted from duty. Over.”
“Fine…scrounge up DaddyofThree. He’s freshest off the guard rotation. Have him report in for duty immediately.”
“Sunnova…” Was all Daddy could choke out. I laughed gruffly, patted him on the back and said, “Congrats bro…you’ve just been promoted to active status…and boy was it hard to convince Pfeil to let you in.”
Of course, Daddy heard the whole thing over comms. It was kinda funny, but truth-to-tell, I couldn’t leave a brother hanging like that. I gave him a couple of bottles from his stash to ease the hurt.
The feth turned to sludge after that. I got ushered towards the field hospital as quickly as possible. We never made it there though. Arty began clobbering the place. I saw Saboteur go flying from a pillar of explosive death not two dozen yards in front of me. Shameful really…the guy had promise. He’d made it a whole four months in the outfit just to get his guts splattered across some corporate office building’s windows.
The kid started pulling me towards the command bunker. I didn’t resist much, as it seemed the Arty strike was walking fire in our direction.
We made it just in time. The door to the bunker shut closed behind us and the last plasma shell from the artillery strike hit just outside. Fused shut, the door to the bunker wasn’t going to allow me outside anytime soon. On the downside, that meant no regrouping with my unit to pilot Lucy. On the upside, that also meant no Medicos breathing down my neck shooting loonie-sauce into my veins.
In all my years of soldiering, this was the first time I’d ever stood foot inside of a command bunker. I never knew what life was like pushing around little icons in the Holotank until I got trapped inside. Pathetic really. We’re out there bleeding and killing while the “nobility” gets to sit safely inside a Stonecutter-proof bunker directing traffic. (Editor’s Note: Proph must have been a fan of literature to use a reference to atomic weapons only named “Stonecutter” in Frank Herbert’s Dune series of novels.)
I watched as Cap’n Edge picked up the holographic icon of Fatkid’s insignia and placed it on the Schwartza-who-zit statue. Immediately, a blinky-icon with a purple shield appeared over top of his soldier’s head in the O‘tank. Lorax’s squad got picked up and moved to the Comm Tower…gaining an orange sword over his head.
I was disgusted. THIS was how commanders made decisions and gave orders? Moving squad leaders’ toy-soldier holographic bodies over the field and making little symbols appear? No fething wonder the life-expectancy amongst the boys in the outfit was so short. The unshaven pissants commanding them had no idea what it was like. It was all a game to them. Like playing chess…only the individual battles amongst pieces sometimes went against the rules of the game.
Apparently, Edge saw the look on my face…he locked eyes with me and said, “Wait Sergeant…I know what you’re thinking…but don’t pass judgement yet. This is just the prelims. The real PowerBall match won’t get started until the first set of downs is finished.”
I nodded my head like I knew what he was talking about. Most soldiers watched the PowerBall leagues, but I myself never got much enjoyment out of it, so I had no idea what Cap’n Edge meant. I stuck around anyway…just so I could wring his scrawny neck when my boys started dying.
With that concerned look that people give you when they realize they’re about to receive the ass-kicking of their life, Edge’s eyes were the last thing I saw before it went dark. Pitch dark. I gotta hand it to ‘em…the enemy was sneaky enough to get around our flanks. They’d cut the power.