OPERATION PATIENT HEAT
“Attention to award!”
The small group of soldiers snapped to attention as Sergeant Hudson joined Lieutenant Medusa at the front of the formation. The order had gone out for formal dress, which Thomas Strawberry couldn’t stand. His neck was scratchy from the high collar, and he could already feel sweat start to run down onto his chest. His eyes followed Hudson up until he was in front of Medusa and gave a salute, holding it until Medusa returned it. Both men dropped the salute simultaneously, and Hudson turned to face the formation.
“Sergeant Benjamin Hudson, also known as ‘Werewolf’, is being awarded the Urban Operations Pin, after completing the urban combat course in our, ah, basement. After achieving the highest score we have seen so far and demonstrating superior expertise in urban operations, we are awarding him with this pin. He will, from this point on, also function as the instructor for the course, teaching all future trainees in urban operations.”
Medusa stepped in front of him, pinning the award to his dress shirt, and Thomas gave a wry grin when he realized Medusa was struggling with the thick material. After a few moments of muttering to himself, Medusa finally gave up and stood up, saying, “Congratulations, Sergeant,” before shaking hands with him. They exchanged salutes once more and Hudson turned sharply, moving back into his position in the formation. Medusa remained in the front and clapped his hands together. “Congratulations once more to Sergeant Medusa. If anyone thinks you can beat his score on the course, feel free to challenge him. If you win, the pin will be yours.”
Medusa fell silent, and slowly paced back and forth in front of the soldiers. Strawberry could feel sweat forming under the thick wool of the uniform and roll into uncomfortable places, and he started to wonder what Medusa was waiting for. After a few more moments he finally spoke.
“While everyone is gathered here, I want to take a moment to address Achus’s… passing. I know the news of his death came as a shock to everyone, and God knows I wish I could’ve been there. He was a great soldier and an outstanding medic. But he died in the service of Earth, and humanity. I sincerely hope that Corporal Achus is the first and last casualty during the invasion, but even if he isn’t, never forget: No one’s life is wasted while the aliens remain.”
Strawberry saw that Medusa looked uncomfortable, and as the lieutenant looked around the soldiers he said, “Always remember that. We’ve established a memorial outside of the barracks so you can pay respects to the fallen. You’re dismissed,” before turning sharply and exiting the room. The soldiers slowly drifted out of formation, and Strawberry approached Sans Leon.
“Well, that was a big waste of time, wasn’t it? Here’s a shiny pin for someone, even though the rest of you haven’t even been allowed outside for the past 6 weeks,” muttered Leon.
“Giving you all the more time to work on your marksmanship scores,” replied Strawberry, enjoying the indignant look that crossed over his face.
“My marksmanship scores are fine, thank you very much.”
“Not according to, well, your scores,” continued Strawberry, and saw that his friend was starting to pout. He gave a dramatic sigh and said, “Come on, loosen up. Besides you’re still pool champ within the barracks. Somehow.”
At this, Leon brightened up and said, “You’re damned right I am! Want to get beaten again, Strawberry? We’ll do doubles! Let me grab a couple of guys.”
Before he could say anything else, Leon took off, trying to round up 2 more soldiers. Glancing around the room, he saw Corporal Mendiola standing off to the side on his own, his augmentations hidden well by the dress uniform. As Leon was trying to talk another rookie, Zoey Winters, into playing, Strawberry approached Mendiola.
“Hey, Corporal! Corporal Mendiola!”
He looked a little startled being addressed directly, but quickly regained his composure and said, “Hey. What’s up?”
“Do you play pool? Leon and I are trying to find partners, and he always kicks my ♥♥♥.”
Mendiola grinned and said, “Yea, I’m pretty good. Well, I was. I think I have time for one game before Dr Shen needs me for more testing or maintenance or whatever.”
Before he could reply, Leon shouted across the room, “Winters is playing! I’ll meet you downstairs, Strawberry. Hope you’re ready to lose.”