Monday, March 16, 2015

Blowing Off Steam (19 MAR 2016)

PFC Naomi Bowden stretched as she walked into the day room. It'd been over a week since she'd been put back into the rotation for combat duty, but there'd only been the one operation in that time. She'd spent a lot of time in the medbay, visiting Horn and Dhalon, but a lot of her time was spent in the gym, running. It'd become a bit of a joke around the barracks, but that didn't dissuade her. Some of the other troopers understood, some of them had yet to see action in this new war. She didn't blame the rookies, though. When she'd seen the first shaky footage from Vancouver, she'd been skeptical too. It looked like footage from a badly done B-movie, like one of those direct-to-DVD things her sister was so fond of.

But then came Operation Twisted Grave. She'd been designated to lead the squad, even though none of them had any rank in this new organization. Hell, she'd only been a Corporal back in the British Army, and Houston had been a Sergeant with three combat tours in the U.S. Army. But they designated her to lead, and none of the others in the squad had made a big deal out of it.

All in all, the mission had gone well enough. PVT Dhalon had served ably as designated scout, though he'd taken a hit in the first contact. Parsons had patched him up well enough to continue the mission, and Dhalon had moved on to rack up several kills. Rainhard's injury was just bad luck; He'd peeked around cover at just the wrong moment, when they'd been lying in wait for that last pod of Sectoids. It could have done worse, and they'd all walked out of it with promotions. Still, both of them were going to be out of commission for a long time, and Bowden felt responsible. She should have done something differently, somehow.

The day room was packed, as it always was. With only three troopers in medbay, and no missions out, there wasn't a lot going on, and a lot of time to do it in. At least the engineers and researchers had work to do everyday. Naomi stepped out of the doorway and stopped, scanning the room for a familiar face. It didn't take long to spot Parsons leaned over the pool table, taking a shot while a woman with a pool cue stood by, waiting her turn. Naomi wove through the crowded room toward them.

"Has anyone called winner?" she asked. The other woman shook her head sourly as Parsons lined up another shot. Without a nametape she couldn't be sure, but she thought the woman's name was Kline. "Mind if I jump in, then?"

"Go for it. I don't think it's going to take much longer," the woman said, grimacing again as Parsons took yet another shot, leaving just the cue ball and the 8-ball on the table. "I thought I had this one in the bag, too." Naomi smiled sympathetically, and the other woman shook her head again, finally smiling ruefully. Indeed, it didn't take long at all, as Parsons called the corner pocket, then put the 8-ball into it.

"You owe me a beer, love," he said with a grin.

"Yeah, yeah," Kline shot back, laying her cue on the table. "You owe me a rematch." She glanced at Naomi, then added "After." She cut through the crowd toward the bar.

"Beer?" Naomi said, lacing her voice with disdain. "You mean piss-flavored water?" Parsons laughed and started racking up the pool balls.

"Hey, it's all we can get here, though my mate over in intel says that they're talking about introducing a chit system for the real deal. It'll probably be American domestic brews mostly, but it's better than nothin' eh?"

"If you say so," Naomi said, which was obviously not agreement. Still, he was right. Even an American beer would be nice after a combat mission. She might even drink it cold.

 "You break, love," Parsons said, flipping the triangle end-over-end as he pulled it away from the table. Naomi took up the pool cue and leaned over the table, sliding the cue between her fingers a few times before letting loose with a crack that scattered the pool balls satisfactorily. Nothing went in though, which made it Parsons' turn.

"How are you feeling?" she asked as she stepped back from the table. "After yesterday's mission?" He didn't answer right away as he scanned the table, looking for a likely shot. Kline returned with a tray of near-beers and set it down near Naomi before picking one up and taking a slug. Naomi made a face, but grabbed one anyway.

"I'm feelin' good, honestly," he replied after a minute. "Olu gettin' hit at the last was damned bad luck, but it was a clean mission, and I think I'm going to do well as a Scout." He punctuated his statement with a clean shot that put the nine in the side pocket. The cue ball rolled until it fetched up immediately between two other balls, and he frowned before lining up his next shot. "Heard you got tagged for Infantry."

 "Yes," she returned. "Bit of a surprise, really." Parsons' shot went wide when the cue ball clipped one of hers, and it was her turn. "I only managed the one kill, right there at the end. You'd think they'd want more than that." Naomi leaned over the table, and cleanly put the three into a corner pocket.

"Nah," he shot back. "You're an excellent all-arounder. You're not the fastest, toughest or most accurate, but you got high marks in all areas, and you kept your head through that whole mission." She nodded absently as she banked the cue around the fourteen, and put the two into a side pocket. "What I think? They're grooming you for an officer billet." Her shot went wild as what he said registered, and she glared at him. He smiled back with only a hint of apology before moving to the table for his shot.

"That's utter nonsense," she replied. I'm a Private First Class, all but bottom of the barrel, same as you and anyone else." He put the twelve away, and lined up for a bank on the fifteen. "They'll bring in officers from outside, I wager."

"XCOM's not like where we came from," Parsons replied. He didn't say anything else, but she could tell he wasn't done speaking. He stepped back from the table, carefully considering his next move. "Pidge says they've got plans for an Officer School. Once its up, we'll all have mandatory classes between missions, but they're already starting to earmark the promising troopers." He leaned over the table, lined up a shot and took it, the cue ball flying across the table. "Survive long enough, and I think you'll find yourself wearing lieutenant's bars." The cue ball smashed into the thirteen, putting it hard into the corner pocket, and the cue ball kept moving, clipping the 8-ball. "Oh, no..." Parsons groaned as the 8-ball slipped right into the side pocket, and covered his face with his hands.

"Looks like that's it, then," Naomi replied with a small smile. "Care to play?" she asked, turning to Kline.

"Sure thing, ma'am," Kline shot back, giving a sloppy salute.

"Oh, do shut up," Naomi shot back, pulling the triangle out. As Kline racked the balls, Naomi realized that she felt really good for the first time in weeks. Piss water or no, she took an enormous swig from her beer. "I hope you're better than him. I was looking for a challenge."