Chapter Thirteen – Unlucky for Some
I stood in a line with the other new recruits, back straight, chin up, staring without seeing ahead at the shiny steel bulkhead. We were fresh meat at the cattle call; I hoped they’d at least attempt to milk us dry before they sent us off to slaughter. The best we could hope for in the elite New Republican Guard was that we would live a few more days before the hammer finally fell. And hope we did.
The man with the red moustache walked past, twirling it between his thumb and forefinger as he inspected me from head to toe. He stopped.
“What’s your name, soldier?”
His voice rasped in the back of his throat before coming out barely louder than a whisper. He was the sort of man that was used to people listening when he talked. The stripes on his lapel confirmed what I already knew to be true; before me stood Major Ivor Bootkin, commander of the mission and the most senior ranking man on the planet, or on this planet at least.
“Private Wright, sir!”
I gave him my best salute and a cheeky grin. This did not go down well at all. He was a large man, as tall as he was broad and not short in either axis. The other lads called him Major Cubekin. He loomed over me like a giant moustachioed die and I’d just rolled a one. He let me have it.
“Wrong! Your name is whatever I tell you it is you smirking idiot! You’re in the Interplanetary Marine Corps now Private Wrong and you will drop and give me fifty!”
As I complied, Major Bootkin dressed down the rest of the platoon one at a time and soon we were all bobbing up and down at his feet like natives praising their enormous angry god. We popped up one at a time after our completing our allotted press-ups like a line of dominos on rewind. Bootkin stood, hands behind his back, waiting for the last of us to stand. I stood to attention, sweating in my full uniform. His nose glistened in a shaft of light, a bright rosy red. At last, he spoke again.
“Welcome to the Interplanetary Marine Corps men. You are honoured to serve the IMC and your brothers in arms are honoured to serve you. And everybody here is honoured to serve me. I am Major Bootkin and while you are stationed here on Headshot, you report to me.”
A slight man with wispy white hair and a crisp lab coat entered the hangar behind the Major. He handed him a piece of paper and bowed back out, trying not to catch anyone’s eye. As he left, something flicked out from beneath his coat for just a second and he was gone. I wanted to rub my eyes but I couldn’t. The scientist had a tail, I would swear to it. Major Bootkin continued.
“You scumbags lucked out. This is the best posting in the IMC. We are here to keep the peace. Headshot is an exploratory colony set up on this savage planet to guard the eggheads while they run tests for minerals, resources and terra-forming potential. Earth is overcrowded, Mars is full. This is humanity’s best shot at long term survival. There is no conflict here, just dumb animals scratching their asses in the jungle. This is a purely peace-keeping assignment.”
I breathed a little sigh of relief. Mars would have been far worse. There had been conflict between the Western Allies and the Eastern Empire settlers since the first day of terra-forming thirty years before. It was brutal. Bootkin wasn’t done yet.
“Now, you’ve probably heard a lot of half-baked rumours and scrambled information at the Academy about our intentions here on Headshot, but let me tell you now, none of what you have heard is true. There are no giant man-eating monsters shaped like giant eggs, there are no harems of naked blue nymph-women for your pleasure. There is no McDonalds. What Headshot boils down to is this. You stand where you’re told, you point your gun at whatever we tell you to and you keep your mouth shut. If you follow those three basic principles exactly, we will be excellent friends. If you fail to follow orders, I will smash you where you stand. Are we clear?”
The platoon answered as one voice.
“Now, get out of my sight. Platoon, quick march!”
We turned on our heels and marched out of the gloomy hangar into the brilliant sunshine. The jungle, The Wilds as it was known, looked beautiful in the strong light of the alien star. Headshot sat atop a rocky bluff above a thousand shades of green as the canopy stretched on and on, as far as the eye could see. Here and there enormous purple trunks rose through the sea of green and gigantic towering trees, hundreds of feet tall with blue-tinged leaves loomed above, casting vast shadows on the rainforest beneath. In the sky above hung the ghostly outlines of the twin moons, Titania and Oberon.
As we marched back down to our barracks, I thought about what the Major had said. He was wrong; some of the information floating about the Academy had been true. There were two moons. There were giant trees and rainforests. There were natives. I shivered.
I hoped what I’d heard about them wasn’t true. Soldiers returning from their tours had told of evil, crazed creatures, half-animal half-man with razor sharp claws and strange abilities, a cross between Looney Tunes cartoon characters and superheroes.
Back at the bunk house, Bootkin had posted up a roster of our names and where we were to report at 0700 hours the following morning. Somebody had scribbled out Private Wright and written in “Private Wrong” in what I can only describe as a maniac’s scrawl. This showed a terrifying amount of foresight on Major Bootkin’s part, or perhaps just that the joke was so predictable, so inevitable, that perhaps I had been picked to serve on Headshot solely because of my name and the humorous opportunity that this would present. Bootkin was, therefore, either a genius or completely off his rocker. We would soon find out.
Next to my name, the sheet of paper told me that I was to report to “Area 17 – Restraint Solutions and Probing” first thing in the morning. I hoped that it would not be as kinky as it sounded; I was in no mood for games. I tucked my boots beneath my bed and, as soon as my head hit the pillow which it seemed was made of bricks; I fell fast asleep, listening to the other men talk about clowns and pussy.