Thursday, April 2, 2015

Echoes (22 APR 2016)

This was not, Corporal Lindemann reflected, the worst thing he'd had to do in the military, but it was near the bottom of the list. He re-crossed his arms and shifted around so the outcrop didn't dig into his shoulder as much, and eyeballed the group of privates toiling away before him. He didn't guess he really blamed them, but he'd be damned if he let them see that.

Nearly two months had passed since they'd arrived, and these troops still hadn't been out of the HQ. Lindemann had been out three times on mission, and even he felt a little stir crazy. He'd been spending more and more time in the hangar with Constance, just so he could get a look at the sky regularly. No, he didn't blame them at all for cutting loose a little bit.

It had all started a few days ago, before the latest abduction. Glynn and Oksenov had started talking smack back and forth, both of them expecting to be selected for the next mission, each bragging about how many X-Rays they'd bag. With only ten troopers left who'd yet to go on mission, their chances were good. The rivalry got a little out of hand, and they'd ended up tussling on the floor of the barracks, and had to be broken up by their peers.

When they'd received the mission alert, neither one of them were on the roster. That night, while Parsons and his squad were in Australia, they'd convinced the rest of the privates to conspire in the prank. It'd been a pretty good one, as such things went, but they'd been sloppy, and got caught laughing about it in the day room afterward. Steps had to be taken, mostly to assuage the outrage from the kitchens. Sectoid fingers didn't look that much like spaghetti, anyway.

De Abreu set his shovel aside, and arched his back, producing several audible pops. Oskar winced at the sound and shifted again. As he did, he caught movement coming up the corridor behind him, and turned swiftly, his whole body alert and ready. He needn't have bothered, he realized a moment later as he realized it was another trooper approaching. Unfortunately, it was far too early for SPC de Matos to take over on supervising the punitive detail. He squinted in the dim light as she approached.

"Who comes?" he called in a challenging voice. The woman paused, obviously not having expected to be challenged, then adjusted her path slightly toward him.

"PFC Colman," she replied. "What are you doing down here?" After a second, she seemed to recognize him, because she quickly added "Corporal," and drew herself up. "Apologies, I did not know you at first."

"I should put the same question to you," he said, bristling a little bit. "This is a punitive detail, and you're neither on the detail, nor are you scheduled to supervise."

"I didn't even know this was going on," she replied, hands raised in defense. "It's usually just the engineers. I made friends, and they usually let me come sift through the excavation piles for interesting stones and rocks. It's kind of my hobby." As she spoke, Oskar relaxed a little bit. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary.

"Well, it's not a good time, now," he said, tossing his head back over his shoulder at the laboring troopers. "These idiots decided it'd be fun to play pranks, so they're working it off." Colman glanced past him, then turned her eyes back toward him, a slight glimmer appearing there.

"Is this about the spaghetti?" she asked. "I heard the kitchens were in an uproar." Oskar didn't say anything, but she must have read confirmation from his expression, and she giggled under her breath, a surprisingly throaty sound. "I wish I could have seen their faces on that one."

Lindemann allowed himself a brief smile, though he kept any amusement out of his tone. "Biological research material doesn't belong in food service areas. Who knows what could have happened?"

"Yeah," she agreed after a moment, then leaned against the wall. "Bet it's no fun having to stand watch, eh? You didn't even do anything wrong."

"Rank has its punishments," he replied. He was the first to achieve the lofty rank of Corporal, which meant he was at least nominally in charge of the barracks. It was an honor, but a dubious one.

"Privileges, too?" Colman replied. "I did note that you got to customize your gear a bit, when I was in the readiness room last."

"Ja," he confirmed. "I've been told it's something of a tradition."

"What's Armarnis?" she asked, shifting her weight. The stone of the wall didn't agree with her, either.

"It's a bit of a long story," Oskar demurred.

"Well, if I'm not allowed to dig through the excavation site, and you're not allowed to leave until your relief shows up, it seems like we've got some time, Corporal."

"I suppose that is so," Oskar shrugged. "It came from my time in Afghanistan. My team was part of a joint operations task force, and I had a workout buddy from Iceland. He'd run for an hour straight, never seemed to phase him, while I usually stuck to lifting." He paused, thinking about it, remembering. "I used to call him Langbein because he was tall, and ran so often." Seeing her confusion, he elaborated. "Langbein is long legs in German. In return, he'd call me Armarnis. I didn't know for a while what it meant, and he'd never explain. After a while, it just stuck, and others started using the same nickname. It wasn't until after he went MIA on mission that I bothered to actually look it up. It should have been obvious, of course."

"Big arms?" she guessed.

"Nein, just arms." Oskar looked back into the cavern where the men toiled, but his thoughts were far away. "I never saw him again, they never found a body. I've kept the nickname since, in memory."

"Makes sense," Colman replied quietly. For several minutes, the two of them just stood there in silence, with only the sound of the picks and shovels echoing through the cavern. After a while, Colman quietly excused herself, leaving Oskar there to watch the troopers.

Suddenly, claxons began to sound, deafening in the enclosed caverns. Oskar listened carefully to the pattern, until he was certain. It was the All-hands alert, which meant everyone needed to be in the barracks, ready to be called. They'd only heard it once, during orientation. This was the first time it'd been sounded in earnest.

"Shovels down," he roared above the din. "Get to the lift, everyone to the barracks."