Trooper Mags "Spice" O'DwyerDay: E-Day+3
Time: 1912 CST / 0112 GMT
The edges of the masking tape were worn and peeling away from the metal locker door. Tight print declared this her space, the name "Spice" displayed in black permanent marker. Trooper Mags O'Dwyer ran her finger over the end of the tape strip pressing it back into the black door as she had done so many times before. As she pulled her finger away, the tape coiled back as it always did. She shook her head, tugged up the towel around herself with one hand, and opened the locker with the other.
Her black combat uniform hung neatly inside, along with the flack vest, and other components. She reached up to the top shelf to snag a clean sports bra and panties. She had hung up her towel on the corner of the door and started to slide into her underwear when a male voice called over the locker wall.
"Hey, Spice, you know if this is another drill?" That would be Colt.
"I swear it's not," another voice called back. Mags grinned.
"Probie's right," she answered, loud enough to be heard over the lockers. "I saw the req sheets on my way through from the gym. We're shipping out to somewhere."
"I don't know," Colt called back again.
“Team Able shipped out, for real, a couple of hours ago,” Mags noted, her voice still raised. “Some big-wig Watcher found a problem with one of the light houses and needed an escort out to see what it was. I'm pretty that we're past the point of drills."
"Listen, I'm putting fifty bucks up to say that we're going to get all geared up, strap into the CAT, take off, and then sixty seconds in, turn right around and be back in this locker room within an hour. Doesn’t matter what Team Able did, you can set your watches."
"I'll take half of it," Mags answered, "if Probie takes the other half." She pulled on her bra and reached for her combat trousers. They were smaller than most, a match to her long thin frame.
"I say we make it fifty each, and Trooper Hanson puts up a hundred to cover us."
"Probies don't make bets," Colt shouted. Mags was sure he was grinning. "But Troopers do, so, fine, I'll put up a hundred bucks. You in Spice?"
"I'm in," Mags shouted and pulled on her jacket, quickly working the buttons and velcro closures. It was a routine she knew well, having run hundreds of these drills over the last year. Finally she was dressed and she started towards the armory to grab the rest of her gear.
She turned the corner at the end of the lockers and walked into the storage space for helmets and flak jackets. Her helmet was easy to spot, on it's usual perch five stations down. The black acrylic material was adorned with two sets of bright red dots, art intended to represent her own freckles. Tightening the chin strap, she looked along at the other sets of gear. The rest of the team was already headed for the hangers. Most of the spaces were empty. She saw one helmet in particular remained, a white ram's head adorning the front of it. She kissed her fingers, touched the helmet once, and then moved on to grab her weapons.
The racks of firearms, communication gear, and explosives were equally well laid out, with each member of the team having their own space for storage. She tried not to look at the untouched bay down from hers, the one with the name plaque Khnum over it. The routine of gearing up was leaving her mind free to wander and she hated where insisted on going. If this was a real mission, a real foray out of the Bastion, it would be their first since the meteors began. If they ever needed Khnum, it was now. She tried to push those thoughts away again, focusing on the business of checking her pack for all of the equipment for her work: explosive charges, blasting cable, detonators, mortar tube, shells. The single-shot rocket launcher was clipped to the side of the back frame. She shouldered the gear and snapped the clips over her chest. She was reaching for her rifle when Colt and Probie finally caught up.
They were the last of the team and worked quickly to grab their gear and load up their weapons. It was a deployment code Blue, which had given Mags took the time to shower before dressing. Still, they were expected to be on the launch deck within thirty minutes. Her best guess would be that she would arrive on minute number twenty six.
She was fitting another magazine into her combat vest when a fourth trooper appeared. She recognized the stenciled crossed sticks of dynamite on the front of his combat helmet. Mags did not know his name, only that he went by Sid and was the XO of Team Jig. He nodded at them as he came into rows of gear racks, and moved down to Khnum's station. As he wove between them, Colt and Probie looked up to watch him, though neither said anything. He shook his head, tossed a duffle bag into Khnum’s rack area, and started towards the aircraft.
"Hey," Colt shouted. Sid paused and looked over a shoulder at them. "That's Khnum's space," Colt stated.
Mags shook her head and returned to her gear, easing the last magazine into her rifle and checking the safety. It made sense that someone would be assigned to fill Khnum's place on the team, and with everything happening so quickly, there would not be time for introductions before their first mission.
Colt was not going to let this go. "No, sir," he said, stepping towards the newcomer. At least he was showing the sense to acknowledge the officer stripes on Sid’s uniform. "That slot is for the XO's gear, right opposite the CO's. Drop your gear back here, where the probies store theirs until we sort out the racks to make room for you." He pointed back at Probie and the pair of empty racks closest to his. The hierarchy of the armory was full of tradition, each rack in the order of the chain of command.
"Drop it, man," Probie said. His real name was Recruit Corey Fontaine, but it had been weeks since anyone had called him anything but Probie. In a few more weeks he would probably make Trooper and earn his own name like the rest of them had. Mags did not have a firm opinion of him one way or another. He was competent, likeable, and reliable, sure, but he did not do much to stand out either. She believed she could count on him to have her back, but there was still some doubt as to what he would do in a real firefight.
"I don't think I can," Colt answered. "There are rules here, and everyone follows them, from the CO down to the newest Probie. Any officer worth following knows that." He looked back at Sid. "So stow your bag back where it goes."
The whole conversation was getting out of hand. Mags knew where it would lead and this was not the way for Colt to find out. It made sense that they would have a new officer assigned to them after what had happened. She looked at Colt and started to say something when the newcomer cut in.
"You know who I am?"
"Seen you around, sure, but that doesn't mean anything."
"Lt. Connor Cornell. They call me Sid, and I'm your new XO. Things have been rough the last few hours, Trooper, so I'm going to cut you a break and forget we had this conversation. Now get your sidearms and let's move."
That should have ended it, but Mags knew Colt was not going let that be the last word on the matter. She wanted to stop him, but was too familiar with the futility of trying to get in his way when he was rollling.
"We have an XO, and Katana's one of the best." He hit his chest with his fist, his pride in the team shining through. He was a bit of lunk, but he was a good one.
"She's been promoted to CO." Sid's face changed from annoyed to frustrated. Mags started to walk towards him, hoping to slip around him and out into the corridor leading to the launch bay before things got too far gone. She hoped Probie would follow her.
"That's bull," Colt said. "This is Khnum's team, and don't tell me he got promoted. That man loves fieldwork; he'd die before he got shuffled up a desk job."
Mags froze. Hearing the news an hour ago had been bad enough. It was why she had gone to the gym to try to work it off, to get on a treadmill and run as though she could simply out pace the thoughts. She wished she could just block out what was about to be said.
"He is dead." Sid glared back. "Couldn't take it and put a gun in his mouth. So it's Captain Imahara now, and I've been transferred over from Team Jig to serve as XO. Now get the rest of your gear, Trooper, and let's move." Sid turned and started to walk away. Mags remained where she was, unable to leave Colt but equally unable to turn towards him. The sound of Probie clipping grenades to his vest was the only noise in the armory.
Finally Colt pushed past her, his shoulder jarring her heavy pack of gear as he went. "Nice of you tell me, Mags." She knew he was angry; no one used real names within the team.
"I thought you knew," she offered up, equally upset at him. He had been around to know not to spout off without having all his facts first. Still, it was a surprise to her that Khnum had shot himself. Not that the suicides had started, just that it had been him. The rumors in the action team mess halls said that there had already been eight suicides among the civilian staff. Action Team Whiskey had actually been assigned to manage security during the clean ups. She had heard that they were not going to be planning funerals or memorials either, not for a few weeks at least.
She shook her head in frustration. Why did Colt think he should be pissed at her, anyways? He had embarrassed himself in front of the new XO and wanted to blame someone. Tradition said that all blame rolled down to the probie. Mags took a long breath and started to stride towards the launch bays. She did not look to see if Probie was following her, but assumed he was.
All these other thoughts could wait until they were back in the showers after a successful mission. She was not going to think about Khnum, or Colt's misplaced anger. For now, she was Spice, the demolitions expert of Action Team Easy.
She brought the Spice to the party.
And she had a party to get to.
Next Chapter --->>>
If you enjoy Bastion: The Last Hope, perhaps consider Mind the Thorns, a reader-directed web novel telling the story of Regan Fairchild: Accountant, Bachelorette and Vampire.
Mr. Osterman's first novel FantastiCon can be found on Amazon.com in both print and eBook editions. It is also available on Smashwords.