Entry 11 – Transmission
After a week of drills came proper live fire exercises. Commanding an armored vehicle isn’t that hard if someone tapes all the buttons over with English translations and the rest of the crew know what they are doing. A lot of the work is done by the on-board computer and the rest you get the hang of – after all, such machines are made with conscripts in mind.
I was slowly getting used to it and even passed my infantry firing trials flying colors. In fact, I was doing better than I had expected – I suppose it was the need to impress my new teammates that drove me. On the other hand, we received no word from the HQ the whole week and I was starting to get a bit nervous. Nobody else seemed disturbed though – everyone just went on about their business. That was about to change the next day.
The night sky was giving way to early morning’s crimson. The dawn found me still lying next to a campfire, listening to the soft crackling of embers and the other sounds of a military camp slowly waking. The stench of burnt gasoline permeating the place was mixed with the sweet smell of freshly-made coffee the earliest birds were walking around with. One moment everything was silent and minutes after, all I could hear were shuffling feet.
Where did all those zombies suddenly come from, I wondered, as I watched the confused commotion. Maybe a virus infected us all, in which case there was no point in getting up, was there.
Alas, no such luck. With my hopes dashed by a few words of greetings uttered in a friendly but disappointingly un-zombie-like manner, I slowly got on my feet and embarked upon a grand quest to find myself something to eat and something else to shoot.
A few hours and a couple of magazines later, the news arrived.
I was just about finished cleaning my gun when Espinoza, clearly upset, waved at me from across the yard. What now, I wondered, as I washed the rest of the grease off my hands and threw the rag on an empty barrel standing outside of the tent cover.
I made my way to the command area near the end of the camp. It wasn’t a tent per se – more like a semi-permanent structure made of canvas, plastic and sheet metal, its arced roof giving the impression of a much larger space. The inside was cramped but mercifully air-conditioned, unlike some of the living quarters in the camp, which was why so many preferred to bunk outside, preferring the annoyance of insect bites from a nearby river to that of sweltering greenhouse-like heat.
Jim Twocrows was already inside, staring intently at the communications laptop in the center of a large metal desk otherwise filled with maps, folders and unwashed coffee mugs. This was a place few dared to tread, the jealously guarded kingdom of our communications officer, a short stocky Iowan by the name of Marcus Abernathy.
“What’s new, Mark!” I greeted him from the door.
He cast a sour look upon me as he typically did at anyone who dared to trespass, all the while fiddling with the settings on another device the purpose of which I couldn’t even guess. Without giving me a second glance, he pointed at a chair next to the door.
“Sit. Don’t speak. Listen.”
Contrary to the man, Jim’s expression was an amused one as he mockingly crossed his mouth with his finger and shushed me. Next to him, Espinoza smacked her lips and tried to look patient when she clearly was not. After a few moments, the screen lit up with both an office and a person I recognized. Espinoza sneered.
“Nice to see you too, Gail,” replied the young black woman coolly. “And Jim.”
The tall Native American simply nodded in acknowledgment.
“I have news for you...”
“Took you long enough,” muttered Espinoza.
Undisturbed, the woman on the screen continued.
“Mister Murdoch sends his regards you all and is pleased with your progress. Soon, you’ll be ready to become his extended arm – or a mailed fist.”
Espinoza narrowed her eyes in reaction and Jim shifted his position uneasily, silently folding his arms. Ferguson clearly noticed.
“How are you happy with the arrangements and the tech?”
“Well,” I started, but Espinoza was faster with her situation assessment.
“The camp’s shit, the tanks are shit, the guns are shit... everything is shit, Ferguson. Some idiot decided to paint the tanks black and we have a bunch of coyotes and a drunk-ass sheriff in the neighborhood. How’s that for a report huh?”
“Right, thank you for the eloquent report, Gail. Let’s tackle this one by one. Colors – we’ll repaint those tanks, okay? When you return. Just... write down your preferences or something, we’ll figure something out. The tech, that’s another matter. Luckily for you...,” she smiled suddenly, “we’re way ahead of you. Tomorrow, you’re going to visit your army neighbors, there will be a gift waiting there for you, courtesy of Fort Irwin. Mister Murdoch called in a few favors and I’m sure you’ll be pleased.”
She suddenly grew more serious.
“Certainly pleased more than the U.S. Army, so... we don’t want any incidents, do you understand?”
Espinoza rolled her eyes, pouted and suddenly she strongly resembled a petulant schoolgirl more than a hardened merc.
“I’m serious, Gail,” Ferguson pressed the matter, leaning forward as if trying to impose the notion by her will alone.
“This is important, not just for me but for him. Do you understand?”
Ferguson scoffed, shook her head and broke the connection. That was odd, I thought, as I followed her out into the sunlight and another glorious day of training.