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Charge of the Grunt Brigade - Part Two: Troops (Continued)
Posted By: Walker<joebob@hotmail.com>
Date: 14 September 2003, 11:03 PM

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      The trip was a quick one, only thirty minutes to the base where General Kingsley's division was stationed, traveling by standard Pelican. Dr. Halsey sat next to Kingsley while D'Arcy faced them on the opposite end of the craft. Also present were several MPs, armed with assault rifles, who formed a perimeter around the Pelican and waited for the other passengers to file out of the craft upon its landing. The Pelican held tight until its passenger area was emptied, then closed its ramp and lifted off.
      D'Arcy could see a small crowd lingering at the fringes of the base, a few scribbling down notes. They paid little attention to each other in what D'Arcy assumed was their search for information, peeking around and trying to get a clear view of he, Kingsley and Dr. Halsey's faces. Reporters. What were they doing here?
      Brigadier General Ivan Toskov came out to meet them with a small convoy of two Warthogs, the one trailing in his wake missing its chaingun to make room for an extra passenger. Kingsley climbed into the side seat of the first Warthog, his second driving, while Dr. Halsey and D'Arcy piled into the rear Warthog. They took off at a cruising speed. The second Warthog was silent but in the lead vehicle Kingsley listened as his second informed him of the previous night's events.
      "In spite of the guards we placed at the three entrances to the defector's barracks, it appears that a trio of drunken Marines managed to make their way in under the nose of a Corporal Wallace. It caused quite an uproar—one of the men raised the alarm and the entire base, almost, entered the barracks and took all of the residents prisoner."
      Kingsley swore and slammed his fist onto the Warthog's dashboard, rattling the radio handset on its magnetic perch. Toskov continued on without any hesitation; he might as well get the bad news over with:
      "I had the defectors set free, but it was too late, as I'm sure you know. The jig is up, as I've heard them say in America. Also we lost five, all out of the same platoon's hut. One of the drunken three got hold of a plasma pistol... I must tell you, sir, that any hope of secrecy with the project has been blown to hell. Already we've had to turn away one reporter—by tomorrow there will be a swarm of them."
      "I saw them," Kingsley said irritably.
      D'Arcy listened closely, his fox-like ears soaking in the news like a dry sponge. So he wouldn't be the first new person the Grunt Brigade would see... a bit of a disappointment, and also a misfortune. With such a rude awakening as they had been given, he was sure the defectors—he was hesitant to call them Marines—would be more wary of any new humans. He hoped they would still be battle-ready. He prayed the shock of it all had not run their nerves aground.
      Dr. Halsey seemed not to notice the conversation, but D'Arcy knew better. Someone with her intelligence would have a mind teeming with thoughts on the subject, running many different angles at once. D'Arcy was no fool himself, but he knew that in the brains department the civilian ONI employee outranked him by quite a larger margin than she did in reality.
      Soldiers paused in their tracks as the convoy passed, eyeing Dr. Halsey and D'Arcy with suspicion and curiosity, as close as they were willing to come to insubordination. A few exchanged words with their comrades, expressing suspicions that this definitely had something to do with the suspicious events of the previous night. These were usually stared down by General Toskov, while Kingsley ignored them, letting his second do as he wished. He had more important matters to consider...
      He would very soon have to deal with the press. Those conniving bastards hadn't changed any for a millennia. They could write something one way and set you up for life or the other way and ruin you forever. So far in his career he had been lucky. Most of the newspapers loved him—but the ones who didn't struck out with a deadly, forked tongue. God, he hated them. These younger officers didn't know what they were asking for by bucking for promotion. He had been the same way.
      However, ambition was an important—no, it was a necessary quality for young officers to have. Not only did it almost always go hand-in-hand with courage and intellect, but it also meant they would not fear for their own lives in the quest for promotion and victory. Victory was what the UNSC needed. What humanity needed. And if little victories got them big promotions along the way, then that was good. The more young and intellectual Generals and Admirals to fill the ranks of the UNSC, the better. Younger commanders had always been better... Alexander the Great, Lysander and Henry V, just to name a few.
      The convoy slowed to a stop at a wall, waiting for the now multiple MPs on duty to open the gate. It slid slowly apart, and the convoy passed through. D'Arcy perked up in his seat, viewing the extensive rows of individual barracks. The windows were tinted so he could not see inside, but he could not help but think: there are Covenant soldiers in there. Our Covenant soldiers. My Covenant soldiers.
       An Elite stood before one of the individual barracks, with twenty Jackals behind him. D'Arcy eyed them with wonder, and as the convoy pulled up before them the Elite barked an order and the foremost six Jackals pressed small, fife-looking instruments to their mouths and began to play an interesting, foreign-sounding tune. Grunts filed out of their barracks, and stood before them, saluting with their fists pressed against their hearts. Assembly.
      D'Arcy looked into the Warthog that was beside him. Toskov lifted a handset from the dashboard of his vehicle and handed it to D'Arcy. "Time to make your greeting speech, Colonel. Make it good."
      "Do they—?"
      "They will understand you."
      D'Arcy gave a slight shrug and brought the small handset before his lips. "At ease."
      The Grunt Brigade moved as one and obeyed his command. Impressed, D'Arcy continued: "I am Colonel Asa L. D'Arcy, UNSC Marine Corps. I've been assigned to be your commanding officer..." He trailed off, trying to find the words to say next. "They gave me to you—yes, me to you, not you to me—on short notice, so I don't really have much to say. I just want you all to remember one thing. I'm proud to serve with you, and with your permission, I'd be proud to serve over you, and turn this Grunt Brigade into the best fighting force in the universe."
      Toskov cast him a dark look at this point, as if trying to say "don't let them feel like they're in charge". D'Arcy ignored him. He switched the handset to his left hand and straightened up, saluting. Again moving as one entity the defectors gave their own salute. "Dismissed!"
      He tossed the handset back to Toskov. "Good?"
      "Good enough."
      "I think that's all we came here to see, wouldn't you say, Catherine?" Kingsley asked, straight in his seat, watching the defectors file back into their barracks. He placed a cigar between his fingers and, in the manner of the refined, used a cigar clipper to lop off the end and light it at the same time.
      "I'd say so, General."
      "Colonel, get acquainted with your men," Kingsley said, puffing on his cigar.
      "Yes, sir."
      "Dinner is at zero-six hundred, in the officer's mess. There will be a Warthog to pick you up at that time. Any questions?" Kingsley asked, flashing a small grin from beneath his moustache.
      "No, sir." D'Arcy saluted.
      The two officers returned the gesture, and the convoy rolled out of the compound. D'Arcy looked about the place for a while, taking note of the office-looking hut at the head of the compound. His barracks, he supposed. He'd get to that in a while. Now he went to the officer's barracks and knocked.
      A Jackal opened the door, saluting. The rest of his comrades snapped to attention. D'Arcy returned their salute, again in human-fashion. "At ease. I want all officers to meet at my quarters in five minutes. Is that clear?"
      The defector officer and noncoms nodded, replying with a foreign-accented "Yes, sir!" Their language was fair, which D'Arcy was glad to see. While they might be able to understand what he said—through translator chips, he supposed—he also had to be able to communicate with them. They exchanged salutes and he left them to their business.
      He walked over and pushed open the unlocked door of his quarters. It was a one-room affair, with a desk and computer to his right and a bed to his left, along with a small table in the middle and two chairs. An ashtray was perched in the center, accompanied by a pack of complimentary cigarettes. There was a door at the far end of the room, what he supposed was his own bathroom. He didn't feel the need to explore it now.
      He walked over to the computer and sat down. After tapping a few keys he logged on, set his password and began exploring the programming and adjusting the settings to his own personal preferences. There was a writing program, internet access, email, and an online library accessed from a different program than the internet. He opened this.
      Just as fluent with computers as most people nowadays, he pulled up several texts on different areas. Now that he was once more in command of a real military unit he would have to brush up on his tactics. Captain John Schmitt's brilliant tactical analysis, Warfighting, would do him good. After pulling up several other texts, he placed Warfighting at the top of the list. He would need them—or at least he hoped so. Dr. Halsey said that the Grunt Brigade was going to be one of real soldiers, but how far did the term "real" go?
      He minimized the screen just as he received a knock on his own door. "Enter."
      The officers entered and the room was filled. All were hesitant to sit. "Have a seat, if you can find one," D'Arcy said. Despite the offer, the formal officers remained standing but a single Jackal, who hobbled over to the table and sat in a chair. The others paid him no mind—elderly, by the way his back was bent.
      "Well, I suppose we'd better start off by getting acquainted. Lieutenant?" D'Arcy asked, nodding towards the towering Elite.
      "My name is Kantamee," he said slowly. "Lieutenant, UNSC Marine Corps."
      The seated Jackal spoke up—apparently next-highest in authority. "Sergeant Major Usakkun."
      "Master Sergeant Hizatok."
      "First Sergeant Othakuum."
      "Sergeant Usakkun, hive-nephew of Sergeant Major Usakkun."
      "Sergeant Tekkirath."
      "Sergeant Alokaat."
      And it went like that for several more moments, until they had gotten down the list, all the way to the most inexperienced Jackal, Corporal Rekyut. D'Arcy gave a faint smile at some of the names—they reminded him of the intelligible talk of a toddler. He made note to study the names and pronounce them to the best of his ability. Some of them sounded more human than others, and he would start with those.
      They gave the names of their commands and assignments. D'Arcy realized with a large amount of frustration they were utterly shorthanded. Would Grunts be suitable officers? Only of small commands, the defectors said. They already had senior Grunts running their own barracks, each in charge of a platoon, but that was already stretching it.
       "Damn," D'Arcy said.
      "Sir, we will make do. We have faced more gruesome conditions before."
      This time it was the Elite who spoke up, from his position several feet taller than the rest of them. One of the Jackal's limbs trembled slightly—Corporal Rekyut still held a fear in his heart for the larger Covenant species that had always before commanded the respect of their soldiers by means of pain and fear. He placed one of his mandibles on the limb and stilled it.
      "I'm sure you have, but when you did you had full ranks, didn't you?" D'Arcy asked, slightly afraid of the large creature even though he had shown his obedience. He gave no sign, but it took a lot of his nerve not to take some irrational action and run his respectability and trustworthiness aground.
      "Sometimes, sir. But with this problem we will still not falter."
      "Do all of you feel the same?"
      Slowly, the entire group nodded. "We will survive."
      "That's all I needed to hear. Dismissed!"
      After the host of defector officers had left, D'Arcy stepped out his door and watched them go back to their barracks. Four of the Jackals separated from the group and went to positions where they stood watch around different sectors of the compound. The Elite himself took the first watch over the officer's barracks, holding a needler in one hand and his other hovering over the hilt of his plasma sword. There was no need, but D'Arcy was impressed by their sense of duty. He shouldn't have been, for they were soldiers just like any others—some more disciplined, some less. But generally the same. The Colonel continued to watch in admiration for a few more moments. This really was his command. These were his Covenant soldiers. His men. He gave a faint smile, and spoke silently to himself.
      "We'll make Marines out of you yet."