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Chapter 8: Confidence Man
"Private! Who authorized that dye-job?! Pink is not a regulation color in this Army!"
The grey-furred chupadore cocked his head and glanced over his shoulder, smoothly rolling down his sleeve in a casual motion while nonchalantly shifting the armor at his side to reveal the small insignia embossed into the shoulders. He flexed his toned frame leisurely, drawing the other male's gaze to the large tattoo of a crossed sword and pistol burned into his back. The fur around it was recently trimmed, making it extremely visible to the glaring soldier who approached.
"Terribly sorry, sir," he drawled, hiding his smile as he took note of the way the corporal immediately frowned and shifted uncomfortably as his eyes moved from the newcomer's bold tattoo to the insignia on his armor. He took no small internal delight watching the non-commissioned officer realize the oddly-shaded soldier technically held the same rank as he pulled his snug undershirt down to cover his torso. "It was an awful prank at my last base, those guys thought it’d be funny…ain’t been able to wash it out no matter what I try."
He glanced over the dark-red chupadore standing stiffly behind him, noting the bags under his pale eyes and the way his tail continuously twitched as he clutched a clipboard against his chest. This guy is either trying too hard or he’s being overworked…probably both. "I…Sergeant Marsden didn’t mention that the new transfer was a Specialist," the enlisted soldier muttered, taking a moment to glower down at the papers attached to his clipboard and chewing at his pen in what was likely one of the frazzled corporal’s many nervous tics. "It says here, Private Edward Shell from Outpost 15…and I got this directly from the sergeant…"
The specialist frowned for a split-second before flashing a much-more welcoming smile, offering a helpless shrug. "Not sure what to say, Corporal. Must be a clerical error – Shell was back at 15, that’s true enough. But he’s still laid up, suffered a leg wound from a raid brought down on us from one of the last Blue footholds around here. I’m…Specialist Holmes," he replied with the smallest pause, nodding once and holding out his hand. "Thomas Holmes."
A second or two passed as the corporal studied both the offered hand, as well as the snug black bandanna wrapped around the stranger’s wrist. An awkward pause later, the other ranked soldier hesitantly grasped the grey chupadore’s hand and shook it once. "Corporal William Barnes," he half-mumbled before releasing the specialist’s hand and quickly jotting down the name offered by the new arrival in the margin of his log sheet. "I’ll, uh…I’ll have to verify this with Command…all those recent attacks from those stubborn Blues in the mountains, we’re supposed to maintain a close watch to avoid any spies." He wrinkled his muzzle before sighing and shifting his weight from one side to the other. "Why…did they transfer you here, anyway? Other than the ammunition depot, this base doesn’t have much to set it apart from the others. And the Red Army has Qoppa fairly locked down, it’s been declared in our possession for several months now. And I know neither myself nor the sergeant requested assistance beyond a standard crew member replacement."
Holmes shrugged again and nodded toward the recently-polished sniper rifle leaning against the lockers nearby. "I been sent to a few different bases over the last coupla months. Usually wherever Command says intel suggests a potential raid. My specialty is long-to-medium range targets. I’m usually sent to scout out possible locations for a Blue rendezvous and then, well…" He winked, cocking his head slightly as Barnes self-consciously rubbed a hand against his neck. "Try to cut ‘em off 'fore they get too far. But hopefully y’all won’t need it here! You got a full barracks from what I’ve seen, and the men here look sharp. All appropriate praise to you 'n your sergeant."
Barnes frowned again, looking somewhat pacified for a moment only to shake his head quickly before his body could completely relax. "Uh…right, well. Before we can assign you a bunk and bring you in for the daily briefing, I need to confirm your information with Command, or at least see if I can get a confirmation on the error from Outpost 15."
The specialist gave a short but amused laugh, waving a hand a few times as he returned to stripping the last of his armor from his legs. "Sure, go ahead! Rules are rules – you can lock me in here if you need to, I won’t be offended." Barnes looked surprised at this, hesitation crossing his features once more. "Oh, and tell Rourke I said hi, and that my tattoo is still better than his," Holmes added cheerfully.
Corporal Barnes hesitated for a few seconds, but eventually nodded briefly and turned to leave the locker room, his clipboard once more clutched firmly to his armored chest. Holmes glanced up at the sound of the door sliding shut…followed by the distinct breep of the security panel being activated from the outside. "Sonuvabitch," he muttered, immediately hopping up from the bench and kicking off his remaining piece of leg armor with a scowl.
The spry soldier was no more than five-and-a-half feet tall, certainly short for his species. His features suggested at least a partial lupus bloodline despite his relatively shorter stature, which seemed to be confirmed by his sleek yet stocky build. The thicker-than-usual hide covering his frame was almost entirely an uncommon shade of grey, save for a half-diamond of white fur that began just under his jaw and came to a point somewhere above his navel. Both neck and upper chest were scruffier than usual, giving away somewhat the location of his bitterly cold homeland.
If one studied the odd chupadore carefully, they would also notice the small telltale holes in his lower jaw and at the base of his tail – locations of piercings he currently had removed in an attempt to at least somewhat meet the strict criteria for physical appearance of an enlisted soldier. As Barnes had almost immediately latched onto: the newcomer also sported a pink-dyed tail tuft…which matched the very bases of his claws, where a hastily-removed paint job of the same defiant hue still remained visible, should one care enough to inspect closely.
He quickly turned to dig through the duffel bag at his paws, tossing out a few clips of ammunition and several pieces of spare under-armor and casual wear before finally coming across a battered communication device, covered equally in dents, scratches and electrical tape. It looked like a heavily-modified radio that had seen its fair share of rough situations; despite the outward appearance, however, it crackled to life the moment the chupadore's claw punched in a series of numbers on the keypad that had been wired to the front. Several short beeps sounded from the worn speaker in patterned succession before they were almost instantly followed by a grouchy female voice.
"Wurlitz, goddammit, you know you aren’t supposed to use this line if you’re within a hundred yards of an active base!"
"Then I’ll make it quick, Nelson," he shot back coolly, glaring down at the handset. "Good news is the encryption seems to be holdin' up just fine, give my love to Ricky. Bad news is that you fed 'em the wrong fuckin’ name."
"What?!" The static-laced voice bubbled with frustration more than concern.
"Yeah, an' not only that, but apparently they gotta corporal here who’s a goddamn bureaucrat junkie currently en route to contact both Red Command an' Outpost 15 to verify my identity," he explained as he kicked moodily at one of the spare clips of armor-piercing rounds to send it skittering across the concrete floor. "So you got 'bout two or three minutes to get yer asses in gear, get a correction into Command’s recent orders and also run a hot patch for a direct link to 15." He paused, then smiled slightly despite the mounting concerns. "Those nerds gonna be able to work that out, or am I gonna die in a locker room that doesn’t have even one hot naked guy around to grant me my final wish?"
There was a few beats of silence punctuated only by the steady crackling of the communicator before the female’s voice came through once more, trimmed with easy confidence. "We'll handle it. I know I don’t need to say this, but don’t lose your cool, Samael. And…hey." A pause long enough for an unseen sigh. "Watch your ass. No unnecessary risks. All you gotta do is get them to send the bullets to Red Headquarters…that should take at least three or four weeks for them to work out the issue and have the ammo shipped back to the depot. And that’s it, understand? Do NOT do something stupid, like--"
"Of course, I got it," he interrupted effortlessly, a devious smile spreading across his muzzle. "Hey, your words, Nelson – shouldn’t be using this line, I gotta dash. See you in a week or two, lady." He switched off the radio before the voice on the other end could shout anything else, chuckling softly as he tossed it back into his bag. "As if I would do anything stupid," ‘Holmes’ said to the empty room as he returned some of the other loose items to the duffel to cover the radio before the masquerading chupadore dropped back onto the bench, legs splayed comfortably in an inviting pose. And now we wait to see if those guys are as good as they like to think they are…
He spent the next five or six minutes attempting uselessly to scratch at the small of his back through the taut black material that accentuated his toned frame. The bristly fur surrounding the large tattoo positioned above his tail had just begun to grow in once more after the last time he’d had help shaving it down…it was difficult to imagine anything itchier. A scowl grew on his features as he arched his back and clawed wildly at his spine with both hands from two different angles before finally finding the right spot. He let out a delighted groan and stretched his legs out as his tail stood nearly straight up behind him, his recently-de-painted claws curling slightly in happiness…right as the door to the locker room slid open.
The so-called ‘Holmes’ peered between his half-lifted legs to spot Corporal Barnes – who looked something between horrified and speechless – and another soldier, fully armed and holding a battle rifle to his chest. The other Red soldier’s expression was less morbid and more surprised, instead…and perhaps entranced by the newcomer that made absolutely zero attempt to change position. At this point it was almost impressive how steadily the specialist held his legs up as the awkward silence spun out between the three soldiers. "Uh…hi, how are ya? Itchy back!" So now I either die in the weirdest position ever, ooor…
Barnes sighed and rubbed a hand over his tired eyes. "Private Jacobs can show you where you can sleep. We don’t have an open room, I’m afraid, so you’ll have to share with Jacobs and Ronson." He nodded toward the soldier at his side even as he began to walk away. "The private just came back from a patrol – Jacobs, please take Specialist Holmes to his bunk and give him a tour before you go off-duty."
"Please, just Holmes is fine," Samael Wurlitz said cheerfully after dropping his legs, hopping off the bench and strolling up to the larger chupadore to offer his hand once again. "Thanks, Corporal!" he called after Barnes, receiving a muffled grumble from him before he disappeared around a corner.
An enormous hand gripped into Samael’s own, drawing his attention back to the nearly-seven-foot-tall soldier before him. The stocky chupadore had a light brown coat covering his rippling frame, with a standard military trim applied to his dark brown hair, which matched the thick tuft at the end of his tail. ‘Holmes’ whistled amusedly and pumped the private’s hand several times before reaching up to rap his knuckles against the almost-too-small armor that seemed to barely contain the large male’s brawny torso. "Holy shit, do they grow ‘em big out here!" Samael remarked with a grin.
"Uh…yeah, I suppose so," the private replied sheepishly. "So…" He peered over the head of the much-shorter chupadore at the oversized rifle propped against the lockers. "You’re a sniper, huh? That’s awesome…Ronson, he’s my bunkmate and also my friend, he wanted to try out to use one of those, but…well, he wasn’t so good at it."
"Well ain’t that a shame! I’m sure it’s alright, though, by the looks of ya, it’s best to deal with you up close and personal," Samael chuckled, hefting his duffel bag over one shoulder while pushing the various pieces of his armor against the bench for the time being. "I’m guessing I can come back for that later," he commented. Jacobs nodded a few times as the specialist grabbed his gigantic rifle in the other hand and then gestured to the hallway. "Lead on, new friend! And hey, if you and Private Ronson want, I’d be more than happy to show you guys some pointers on handling my rifle."
"Do you mean sex?" Jacobs asked bluntly as he turned and ambled out of the room, leaving Samael to pause in amused surprise for a moment. "We aren’t supposed to have sex with each other, it’s against Army protocol."
"Wow, you sure don’t mind calling shit like it is," Samael noted, smiling with entertainment as he followed the soldier. "We could always use more of that."
"But…I’m already in the Red Army," Jacobs replied slowly, which earned a laugh from the specialist.
"Of course, of course! By 'we', I meant…the elite soldiers like me, who get sent around to help out wherever needed," Samael lied smoothly as he pounded a fist against his chest a couple times. This seemed to perk up Jacobs, which was enough for Samael to continue casually: "And hey, man, that whole…no-sex thing, that’s just related to fraternization with officers, when you think about it. You know, they don’t want someone claiming they get special treatment just ‘cause they’re shackin’ up with their lieutenant, know what I mean?"
"Oh. I guess that makes sense," Jacobs admitted before waving ‘Holmes’ into one of the bunk rooms. "This is our room, and that free bed is yours. But just so you know, Ronson and I aren’t gay. No one here is, because you’re not supposed to be according to the House."
"Absolutely," Samael responded firmly, barely hiding his smile. "No homo! We gotta follow the rules." He tossed his duffel bag onto the bed and absently rubbed at the black cloth pulled over his wrists, chuckling to himself and then resting the rifle against the concrete wall. "What’s a world without rules, after all…"
Samael noticed the way Private Jacobs seemed to take the corporal’s word as law – he’d been told to give the new soldier a tour before going off-duty, and like clockwork, hadn’t made a single move to strip his armor or drop his weapon. He resisted trying to coax the soldier to relax; it required fighting his urges, but he figured he’d at least try to stick to some of Nelson’s directives.
"So, you boys seen any action lately?" Samael inquired as Jacobs led him back to the hall and down toward the mess. "Can’t help but notice that rifle looks real clean, Private. You gotta polish it often, or have things been quiet?"
"Sergeant Marsden says we should always be ready," the soldier rumbled, even as he self-consciously relaxed his grip somewhat on the rifle to cradle it in his arms more than clutch it to his chest. "Those damn Blues should have all run off, they don’t got no flags left. But they’re still out there, raiding and trying to win back a flag." He paused at the entrance to the dining area long enough for Samael to poke his head in and nod briefly to the two soldiers hunched over the standard Red Army rations. "There were four or five Blues that were just outside our perimeter a couple weeks ago," Jacobs continued as he lumbered past the kitchen and gestured briefly at the brig. Samael didn’t need to spend much time there – you’ve seen one standard army brig, you’ve seen them all. "I was on lookout at the time…we fired at them, but didn’t hit any, they turned tail and ran when we started shooting."
"Ah, the cowards," Samael replied idly, not putting much effort into his tone but also avoiding any sarcasm that might make the soldier curious. "They shoot back at y’all?"
"Yes, sir, but they sure didn’t hit anything. Although a couple rounds hit the base just below my post, but I doubt they could have hit us if they were even half as far away." Jacobs sounded proud of being so close to the danger, though that was nothing strange to Samael anymore. He’d come to learn that anyone who willingly signed up for the war thrived on that rush of beating the odds almost more than the excitement of eliminating an enemy. He smiled slightly and patted the small of Jacob’s back a few times.
"That’s the Red Army courage I’m always lookin’ for, Private," Samael responded with a cheerful laugh. "Good to hear I’ll be working with such capable men!"
"Yes, sir, absolutely," Jacobs declared before looking sheepish for a moment. "Also, you can call me Jacobs, sir, if you like."
"Well, then you better remember to drop the ‘sir’ nonsense and call me Holmes, like I toldja," the impostor teased, flashing a grin and winking up at the soldier as they paused in front of the entrance to the garage. Jacobs flushed slightly with embarrassment, visibly fighting what had no doubt become ingrained behavior.
"Y-yes…si…er, Holmes," he managed to sputter before clearing his throat and attempting to draw attention to the vehicle bay and away from the lame smile that had spread over his features. "Here’s our garage – because of the ammunition depot, we were able to get permission for two permanent jeeps. It makes patrols a lot more effective, especially with all the mountains and hills around here."
Samael smiled thoughtfully as he studied the two armored vehicles – each had a mounted weapon and multiple boxes of spare ammunition, and both jeeps looked to be in pristine condition. Must have a helluva mechanic who actually gives a damn about his job… He nodded once in approval. "Definitely a great asset to have, I’ll bear that in mind!" We could use one of those. I think it’s time to make more friends.
"Yessi…I mean, yeah. We take four hour shifts, with eight hours between for training, sleep and meals," Jacobs explained as he continued toward the stairs that led to the first floor. "We do that day and night. It works okay because we have enough guys for constant patrols. We can head upstairs now, though, I'll show you the war room and where the officers are usually posted if you ever need to ask them something…"
Samael bit his tongue before he could make a dry comment about the fact that nearly all Army bases -- both Red and Blue -- were almost identical. He would need an extra pair of hands to count how many times he'd been guided through these bland concrete structures in his journeys across Sirca. He wasn't sure what dumbass decided the tour should be a vital part of transferring to a new base…but he wasn't about to break tradition.
As expected, nothing in their brisk jaunt across the top floor piqued Samael's interests. He nodded absently and made the occasional politely-curious comment as his guide enthusiastically led him along the circular layout. War room, utilities…maybe worth taking a peek in the armory if the opportunity arises. Half-distracted by his thoughts, the impostor nearly collided with the back of the soldier when Jacobs slowed near the private chambers for the officers. Samael caught himself just in time and glanced at the three doors in tandem -- he supposed the sergeant occupied one, his corporal the second…why the third wasn't available, he imagined he'd need to find out. Or maybe Barnes just doesn't want me to have a room because the new mysterious transfer is way cooler than he is…
Private Jacobs paused for a moment at the room labeled with Barnes's name, self-consciously straightening his spine and clutching his gun properly before rapping sharply on the door. There was a muffled grumble on the other side, followed by the telltale shuffle of paperwork that was distinguishable even through the thick metal surface.
The door slid open a moment later, framing Barnes's gaunt features as he glanced wearily between the two. "Yes, Private?"
Samael had half-hoped they'd catch the corporal in some compromising situation, feeling almost disappointed at the expression that suggested exhaustion rather than surprise or embarrassment. Jacobs, on the other hand, seemed preoccupied with his sharp salute and the hurried announcement that followed: "Sir! I'm just reporting that I've nearly finished giving Holmes the tour!"
"That's very good, Jacobs," the corporal mumbled, rubbing slowly at the bridge of his muzzle. "Also, he is a Specialist, you should use his rank when addressing him."
"It's fine," 'Holmes' interjected airily. He promptly earned a scowl from Barnes but it was just as promptly ignored. "I'm simply used to combat situations, you see, the shorter the command, the better," he explained smoothly, half-smiling when Barnes frowned but seemed hesitant to argue. "No worries, ain't here to undermine the day-to-day! I've just always had the guys use my name; I'm not in the business of giving orders, after all. I'll leave that to you and the sergeant. Point out my targets, I'll make 'em go poof."
Barnes shifted on his paws for a moment, then sighed. "Yeah, alright. Private, have you shown Specialist Holmes the depot yet? I suppose if that's the reason Command had him transferred here, we'd better be sure he's aware of its importance."
"Good idea, sir! I was just -- I mean, yessir!" Jacobs stuttered, saluting quickly again before jerking his head at Samael and marching swiftly toward the main entrance of the base. "This way, sir!"
Barnes responded with a tired salute and a barely-audible, "On your way, then," as he tapped the button for the door to slide shut. The 'specialist' peered thoughtfully at the corporal's door momentarily before trotting after Jacobs with a chuckle.
"Tight ship 'round here, eh? Ah, nothin' wrong with that, though, keeps the gears nice and snug," Samael commented. He scratched idly at his neck as he felt the eyes of Jacobs glance down at him curiously. "Don't mind me! I seen lots of bases and every single one's run a little bit different'n the others." He nodded once and then tilted his head. "So, between us boys, what were you about to say to Barnes back there? Don't worry, I ain't gonna tell."
Jacobs frowned deeply as if pondering whether or not he could trust the newcomer…and probably also fighting the instincts that had been instilled firmly into his thought process. "Well…I just wanted to let the corporal know that I was already planning to show you the depot, but I didn't want to sound like I was coming across like a smart-ass or nothin'."
"Ah, understandable," Samael agreed, adding a few nods to punctuate his tone. The private looked relieved by this response, his body language loosening up once more even as Samael had to bite his tongue. It always became difficult for him to put the mission first when he came face-to-face with the very behavior he committed himself to try and break whenever he came across it.
But he had to push down the urge to challenge Jacobs's thought process -- trying to turn the soldier before he even had a chance to scope out his objective was almost guaranteed to either break his cover or at the very least make it extremely hard to maintain it. And so, Samael was left to simply watch as Jacobs reassured himself through his natural submission to order before leading 'Holmes' outside.
Samael shook his head a few times but resumed his relaxed posture and eased expression as they passed a patrolling soldier, sharing a brief exchange of salutes (and one helplessly curious glance in the specialist’s direction) before continuing to the fortified structure just west of the base. It had the same cylindrical shape as the average Red or Blue base, though it certainly looked like it had been constructed to serve specifically as a storage facility.
The roof was now flanked with two guard towers – overkill, if Samael was giving his thoughts – that each appeared to be manned by a single soldier. What Samael assumed was the only entrance was protected by a steel shutter mounted as a door, with a complex electronic lock to one side. A third guard was posted near the secured entrance, wielding the same battle rifle as most of the other soldiers they’d encountered on their small tour.
Jacobs led his audience of one to the shutter, pausing to once again trade salutes with the private on guard. "Hey, Ronson, This is our new bunkmate."
Samael couldn’t hide the sly grin that crept across his muzzle as he drew his eyes along the second impressive mountain of Red Army recruit that he experienced that day. Jacobs’s aforementioned roommate was probably only half a foot shorter than he was, but the deep-red, almost-black soldier was just as thick with bulging musculature that, for a moment, the shorter, sleeker and just-about-dwarfed Samael wondered for a moment if this base was receiving some sort of hormonal enhancements.
Ronson’s slow tilt of his head to examine the specialist prompted Samael out of his reverie, and he grinned once more while thrusting his hand out. "Hot damn, you boys must be losin’ sleep with how much you’re hittin’ the weights, never seen a finer pair of Reds!"
Jacobs puffed his chest out proudly, finally seeming to lose some of his ingrained behavior around his friend. "Yeah! Me and Ronson work out twice a day so we’re always ready to kick Blue ass, no matter the scenario!" He nodded firmly, then whispered loudly to his curious bunkmate: "Ronson, this is Specialist Holmes…he’s a real sniper!"
Ronson widened his eyes before hurriedly saluting and assuming a rigid stance. "S-sir! Forgive me, sir, I didn’t know your rank!"
‘Holmes’ laughed easily, forcing himself to return the salute for the sake of any wandering eyes. But he immediately reached out after the lazy gesture to slap the soldier’s bulky arm. "No harm! I already had the talk with your friend here – I ain’t nothin’ but a glorified grunt who got promoted for fancy shootin’. Call me Holmes – it’s what I expect in battle, so it’s what I expect everywhere else. There ain't never a good time to waste on formalities in the heat of a fight, so don’t bother with it here at base, neither."
Ronson twitched nervously, his eyes flicking between the genial newcomer and his beaming roommate. Jacobs nodded several times before giving a thumbs up. "It’s true! He asked the same thing of me! And he gets to bunk with us, ‘cause the other officer’s room is still being used for storage."
Ronson looked back and forth a few times before hesitantly lowering his arm. He leaned forward slightly, which of course prompted Samael to gleefully bend toward the enormous soldier conspiratorially. "That’s awesome!" he whispered excitedly. "Do you have your rifle? Could I try it out, sir?!?"
Samael chuckled and patted the private’s chest plate. "Absolutely, but only if you remember to call me Holmes, Ronson."
Not being addressed as ‘Private’ seemed to confuse the soldier momentarily, but after a few seconds he began to nod. "Oh…oh, right! Okay, s…I mean, okay, Holmes!" He grinned broadly as he clutched his battle rifle against his chest, his features lit up like a child with his first invitation to sit at the adults’ table. "Wow, I can’t believe it…a real sniper at our base! It’s a good thing Trellen never got replaced!" The soldier paused for a beat as he peered down at Samael’s bemused expression. "Oh, unless you’re his replacement."
"Uh…no, no. Transfer from Command," 'Holmes' lied easily before he cocked his head. "What, uh. What happened to Trellen, though?"
"Oh, he got shot," Jacobs answered glumly, his grip tightening around his own weapon. "Those cowardly Blue assholes got him when he was doing a perimeter sweep. His bunk’s been empty for about a month, now."
"Ah, well. Hopefully I’ll have better luck in his bed," Samael replied delicately, his half-smile only somewhat genuine. Another stupid waste of an innocent pawn…fuckin’ hell.
Ronson flushed somewhat – a feat additionally impressive considering his nearly-ebony fur. "I hope you aren’t talking about sex stuff. You know we aren’t allowed to do that, it’s against the rules!" he exclaimed.
Samael had to bite his tongue to avoid the ever-present risk of breaking his own cover. Omega’s ass, why does everyone assume I’m always talking about fuckin’ ‘em. Even if I am. Shit’s rude.
But Jacobs waved a hand quickly, offering a smile of reassurance. "Don’t worry, Ronson! I already explained the regulations, and besides – he’s a specialist, so he probably knows the rules even better than us! He can tell us if there’s anything that goes against protocol, that way we don’t have to bother the corporal with it!"
Samael raised an eyebrow. Either I’m gonna learn something really intriguing, or these poor guys really are just the dumbest sack of bricks I’ve been placed with yet. Well…at least they’re cute. He smiled before either of the soldiers could notice his curious look, tapping his muzzle with a wink. "’Course I know the rules! And I’d be happy to let you know what Red Command has to say about anything you’re unclear on. But for now…" He gestured to the metal shutter behind Ronson’s bulky frame. "Mind if I get a quick peek inside so I know what we’re protecting?"
Ronson fell into his training almost immediately despite Samael’s amiable posturing. He stiffened up slightly and readjusted the grip on his weapon, then glanced nervously between the specialist and his guide. "S-sir, I mean, Holmes, sir…are you, um…are you authorized to ask me to open the door? There is a level 2 protocol in place for this facility, and I require a--"
"Authorization from your CO, unless level 3 clearance can be provided," Samael rattled off brusquely with a brief shake of his head. "I know, kid, I know. All I'm sayin' is Corporal Barnes ordered Jacobs here to show the new specialist the ammunition storage, and I'm the new specialist." He paused before adding in a more playful tone: "You don't wanna get your buddy in trouble, eh? And man, just between us girls, Barnes seems like the kinda guy who might get mad at both of you if his orders ain't followed." He held up his palms with a small smile. "Just wanna get this done with so I can stop buggin' you fine soldiers with all my whinin' and bitchin'."
Jacobs frowned somewhat, although his response wasn't quite what Samael expected: "Ronson…well, Holmes is right. Corporal Barnes did tell me to show him the depot, and he did seem very busy today. Plus I heard the corporal on the radio with Command -- Holmes actually has level 4 clearance."
Samael barely managed to withhold his shocked expression, covering his muzzle with one hand and forcing the most reserved nod he could spare. Sonuvawhore…that bitch, ha! Way to sneak in some BS security levels just to show off, assholes. No wonder Barnes seemed so grumpy, that guy probably only has level 2…
"Oh gosh, wow," Ronson exclaimed despite his attempts at remaining professional, hurriedly saluting again with some innate reflex. His eyes were wide once more as his tail twitched from side to side before he quickly spun around, one hand still on his brow, and then looked down stupidly at the battle rifle still clutched in his other meaty fist. "Uh, um…j-just a second, sir, I mean…I mean, Holmes." He fumbled with his weapon for a moment and then quickly produced a card from one of the small niches built into his armor. Rotating passcodes. Guess that's no shock. After staring at the tiny text for a few seconds, the private carefully punched in a series of numbers with his sausage-like finger, very visibly struggling not to accidentally hit an adjacent key. He was rewarded with a soft beep shortly after, a look of relief washing over his features as he stepped back. The thick metal shutter twitched before lurching briskly up into its container as the dark room beyond slowly became illuminated by a series of lights that audibly buzzed to life.
Samael smiled slightly. "Thank you kindly, Ronson. No need to be so nervous -- they just give me a bit of extra clearance with all the moving around they have me do. All the different bases have various levels of security, after all...I promise it ain't all that great, just means more shit I gotta keep memorized."
"Yeah, but still," Ronson replied excitedly, "you're almost like…like a Freelancer!"
The amused grin on the specialist's features wavered. 'Holmes' reached toward a shoulder unconsciously and gave it a light squeeze before he quickly shook his head and managed to give a light chuckle. "Ha! If only, those guys are somethin' else. I doubt I'd be able to hang with any of them for very long."
A laugh from Ronson suggested that he was beginning to loosen up, which Samael warily took as a good sign. It was always helpful to have friendly faces around while under cover…even if becoming too much of a social butterfly could also spell suspicion. "Yeah, I guess those guys are really good," the private admitted as he gestured for the specialist and his escort to come through the entrance. "But it does still sound like you're getting to do what they do…going from place to place using your skills to do whatever job you get told to do."
A more genuine smile played over the impostor's muzzle as he quickly eyed the neat piles of ammunition. You got no idea how right you are, friend. The crates of magazines, clips and loose bullets were sorted rigorously enough that Samael could confidently assume a certain corporal was in charge of keeping the depot orderly. A single computer workstation rested on a desk near the front of the warehouse-like room, along with a small array of communications devices. The rebel figured he could likely guess how operations worked here…or…
He tapped a still-tinged-pink claw against one of the crates labeled for the standard battle rifle ammunition. "So…I'm gonna assume bullets get delivered here, and then you all send them out whenever you're asked for them?" Provide intentionally bad information in order to get…
As if on script, Ronson piped up proudly: "Nope! I actually get to help out here because I've done such a great job with guarding the door!"
Jacobs scowled, ducking his head somewhat as he clutched his rifle close to his chest disconsolately. "It's not fair, I've been patrolling really good, but the corporal doesn't like me, so I haven't been able to guard the depot more than a few times."
"Ha! I told you, you gotta volunteer when they have empty slots to fill!" his friend replied with another laugh before turning his head back to Samael, who had wandered over to the powered-down computer. "So, you were right about the deliveries -- we get a shipment, usually by drop ship, sometimes by transport, an' then we gotta get it all sorted…but then we actually get calls directly from Command telling us where it all goes." Ronson nodded firmly as he nodded toward the workstation. "We get orders for how much gets sent where, and then we either pack it up to deliver it ourselves, or they send us a vehicle to load up." He gave a prideful arch of his chest, making the plates of his tight armor squeak gently in protest. "We're probably one of the most important bases in Qoppa, even if no one realizes it!"
"Oh, no doubt," the false Holmes responded with a wink while jabbing a finger toward the two Red soldiers. "You boys are protecting a helluva big deal here!" As he praised them loudly and continued to gesture around the room, his other hand slipped down to slide along the desk smoothly. "Hell, even I didn't know much about the depot, or how much you supplied before I got sent this way. It's a damn shame!" He shook his visible fist for emphasis just as his searching fingers came upon a slip of paper wedged beneath the keyboard, which he promptly palmed in a smooth sleight of hand. "Y'all deserve more recognition for what you do!"
"Damn straight, Holmes!" Jacobs shouted enthusiastically, his face lighting up with excitement. "Are you gonna tell everyone about the good job we're doing?"
"Sure am, you can count on that," the specialist replied encouragingly as he sauntered back to the other side of the desk, feeding their sorely-neglected egos with each word. He realized how furious it made him that such a small boast could bring the soldiers so much pride, but it felt wrong to deny them the pleasure by that point. He couldn't do much to fix the indoctrination that had been poured into them, but at least he could help them learn some self-respect. "Boys, I'll be sure to have a word with your superiors, too, let 'em know it might do the troops some good if the rest of the Red Army knew how much they depended on your service here."
Ronson looked uncomfortable for a moment, but Jacobs clapped his friend firmly on the back and nodded several times. "Don't worry, he's really good with his words, Ronson. I've seen him talk to the corporal, he knows how to say stuff the right way, so we won't seem like we're complaining or anything." Wow, that didn't take long to get my first fan…
Ronson still had a hesitant expression even as he slowly nodded in return. "Well…alright. I guess it would be nice if more people knew how much we were doing to help the war effort. We work really hard here."
"That I've noticed," Samael commented while taking a few cursory steps around the first row of ammunition. He made a show of inspecting a random box of clips for a second or two before poking his head around it with an approving smile. "This is an impressive facility, fellas. I can see why I was sent here, even if they didn't tell me specifically to help keep an eye on the depot." He tipped them an exaggerated wink. "Sometimes ya learn to read between the lines with Command's orders."
Ronson and Jacobs looked at one another before shrugging collectively. Apparently it made sense to them, which was more than enough for Samael to grin confidently and approach them, throwing an arm over both of their rippling backs. "You two are stellar candidates for spec ops, you can bet your asses I'm gonna be recommending they take a look in your direction for new recruits. You boys ask the right questions but don't question every answer. Command likes that." Okay, they actually probably hate that, but the Movement sure appreciates it…
Despite his smaller build, Samael guided the huge soldiers easily forward and out of the ammunition storage building. A combination of his smooth chatter and effusive positivity seemed to give him a natural affinity over the eager-to-please privates, and neither of them seemed to notice when Samael took it upon himself to spin around to the control pad by the entrance as he continued rambling, studying the electronic device more closely for a few seconds before smiling to himself and tapping the necessary buttons to bring the heavy shutter back into place over the wide doorway. "And that's a fact!" he concluded easily, barely even aware of what he'd been spouting but assuming the stream-of-consciousness speech had done what it was intended to do and kept Ronson and Jacobs enthralled. "Much obliged for the peek inside, Ronson," the impostor added with a warm smile and another firm rap of his knuckles against the guard's chest plate.
"Of course, si--I mean, Holmes! It wasn't nothin', you had the clearance, after all."
"Sure, sure, but I appreciate it all the same. Sometimes it gets old bein' able to just 'clearance' your way into things, nice to earn trust now'n then, ya feel me?" Ronson nodded automatically, and his fellow soldier mimicked the motion a moment later. Samael smiled slightly and gave them both a nod back before giving Ronson a salute purely for any curious gazes around them. The private, of course, immediately returned it, but seemed far more relaxed than he'd been initially. "Good meetin' you, Ronson. I think I'd better head back and get settled in a bit more, then maybe see what the latest reports are on Blue activity. How about you and Jacobs meet me when you're off, we can grab a bite to eat together, you can tell me all there is to know about the fine base here, and I can see what all I can answer about special operations?"
"Th-…wow, that sounds great, sir!" Ronson said, unable to contain both his excitement and his informality, smiling sheepishly. "Uh…sorry, I meant 'Holmes'."
"It's all good! Nothin' wrong with keepin' your brain workin', anyway," Samael replied cheerfully. "I know it can get to be pretty damn numbing doin' the same shit, day in, day out…so don’t worry if ya gotta think a little more than usual." Ease up there, cowboy. Can't go blowing the floodgates on day one... "You keep up the good work, friend, and we'll see ya in a bit for some grub."
Ronson nodded again with a happy smile plastered on his muzzle. Samael assumed it wasn't often these soldiers had much to smile about, so who was he to judge him for his reaction to what felt like a rather commonplace gesture?
The fake 'Holmes' spun on his heel and gestured to Jacobs as he let his paws guide him back to the base even while his eyes roved along the exterior of the depot to continue taking an any details he could spot. Alright. They got lots of security an' no shortage of spare bodies to throw on patrol…but nothin' I ain't dealt with before.
He was brought out of his thoughts when Jacobs poked his shoulder lightly. "So, uh…what do you think so far, Holmes?"
'Holmes' shook his head once before smiling over his shoulder and up at the tall soldier. "A real fine base, I think! Top-notch men, a well-guarded depot…what else could a guy ask for?"
Jacobs didn't seem to know how to answer that as he scratched the back of his neck for a moment, and Samael gave him an almost pitying look before clearing his throat and reaching up to pat his arm gently. "A rhetorical question, buddy! I'm just tellin' you that I think you guys are doing a great job and shouldn't get too worked up about being told otherwise. I'm not trying to call anyone out, but it does seem a little bit like the brass around here would rather nitpick every little issue and keep you boys on high alert at all times, rather than give a little praise now'n then." He shrugged amiably, doing his best not to seem overly radical even as the soldier looked at him awkwardly. "Like I said before! I been all over and I've seen all kinds of leaders…everyone's got a different method. And I figure if no one else says it -- you're doin' this Army proud."
"Oh! Well…thanks! I think…" Jacobs continued to look a little bit unsure of himself as they passed back through the main base entrance.
Samael didn't bother replying to that, simply allowing the private to mull over whether or not he should be worried about his superiors' thoughts on the specialist's choice of words. "I'm gonna go unpack a bit," 'Holmes' commented up to the tall soldier, giving his usual half-smile. "You gonna come hang out, or you got stuff to do?"
"Oh, no, I gotta go check out with the watch desk to file my report before I go off-duty," Jacobs explained sheepishly, as if he'd really been looking forward to spending a bit of down time with someone who wasn't a member of the base.
Gods above, they have a damn watch desk here, too? The two assholes in charge of this place are living a whole fantasy out here, thinkin' they're some hot shit High Command facility. Just an ammunition depot, fellas…but guess that's why I'm a fuckin' rebel… He smiled a bit once more, then slapped Jacobs's arm lightly. "Ah, that's all good! Go take care of that, I'm sure I've been a thorn in your side enough already, friend. Don't worry, you'll know where to find me afterward." He tossed a light salute, again having it returned far more sharply before Jacobs turned rapidly around and moved at double-time toward the main barracks. Samael watched him for a moment, eyeing the soldier's muscular rump appreciatively -- and shamelessly -- before chuckling and sauntering back to the small room he'd been assigned. At least he'd have a few minutes to himself to unwind and get out of character before he broke it under the pressure of having to constantly toe the line.
A couple of hours later, 'Holmes' was back in play in the mess hall. Samael sat between Jacobs and Ronson as the two enormous solders both leaned over him with their barrage of questions. He chewed idly at the bone that remained on his plate, using it on occasion to gesture and emphasize a point.
"Oh, well…honestly, level 4 isn't all that great," he commented as he shrugged easily, both the soldiers gasping at the nonchalance of the specialist. "I mean…the secrets aren't really all that awesome, I promise. It's mostly just access to some of the research that the Red Army is doing around Sirca…you can request the weapons you want, as long as you qualify for 'em…uh…" Samael tapped his muzzle thoughtfully. "Oh, and we get unrestricted Network access. That's pretty sweet." That part's not technically a lie…the clever bastards back at the base got those computers hooked up with full 'net capabilities…if these boys could see all the crazy shit out there!
"Whoa! You get to log in? I haven't even seen a PET except the one the Sergeant keeps in his room…" Ronson marveled as he widened his eyes a bit.
Samael quirked an eyebrow with a slight grin. "Ah, your Sarge likes a bit of skin before bed, eh?"
Ronson blinked before shaking his head violently. "Oh, no no! Nothing like that...Sergeant Marsden pulls up videos from the Red Army network to play on Entertainment Nights."
"Ah, of course," the impostor replied amusedly before slurping down the last of his water and wiping at his muzzle. "'Entertainment Night', huh? Guess that makes sense, but uh…" He leaned toward Ronson conspiratorially as Jacobs stared and bent toward them as well. Samael politely waited a moment for both privates to press in before whispering loudly: "But is it even remotely entertaining??"
Ronson looked away awkwardly as his compatriot stared down at Samael, clearly not believing he actually asked that. Jacobs worked his maw a few times, then finally sputtered: "Well, I mean, of course it is! It's from Red Army Command, they know exactly what we need for morale!" He stared in disbelief at his friend. "Right, Ronson?!?"
"Uh...well…" Ronson cleared his throat uncomfortably and then looked around furtively before whispering loudly: "Jacobs, those…those videos are really boring! I mean…they're…they're informative, but they're so boring." He rubbed his tight undershirt nervously -- even without their armor, both soldiers were still ridiculously thick, which provided Samael with plenty of welcome distractions as he listened to them fret about the extent of their loyalty.
Jacobs huffed loud enough to draw Samael from his reverie. "Well…they're informative, that's all! We need to know what we can do to help win the war faster."
"I dunno…it just mostly seems like the same clips lately, and then some new type of ammo, or new grenade or…" Ronson scowled as he tapped a claw insistently on the table. "I just think they aren't trying very hard, that's all!"
Samael had to struggle to maintain his neutral face despite the immense burst of pride he felt. That's what Tracer would call finding fertile soil. Next we plant the seed, and water it. He managed to show just a small smile as he tilted his head toward Ronson. "You boys feel free to express yourselves -- remember, I ain't here to pass gossip up the chain of command. If anything, I can promise you the top brass likes hearing some unfiltered thoughts now'n then from the front lines. There's a reason you report to superiors, and they report to theirs, and so on…helps keep the bullshit separated. But don't mean they still aren't wondering what the thick-skulled grunts like us are thinkin'."
"Well…I don't know if you'd be lumped in with us," Jacobs mumbled, suddenly losing some of his gusto for considering the new transfer to be a close friend. "You've got all those security clearances, sir."
'Holmes' tilted his head toward the almost-pouting private with an amused smile, reaching up to tap his muzzle with a claw. The soldier scowled and batted at his hand, but the specialist was insistent, poking the grumpy private in his neck and shoulder until Jacobs finally gave up on trying to slap him away. "Listen, dude -- I only got that clearance 'cause of all the travelin' and transferrin' they got me doin'. I'm no different from the Holmes you were chattin' with earlier. Just a grunt with a big gun and sore feet." He shook his head once and gripped Jacobs's thick bicep firmly. "Don’t put me on a pedestal, friends. I'm nothin' but a cocky shooter from Sampi who spends most of my time in shit so far over my head that I'm prayin' for a ladder. So don't you go thinkin' I'm disingenuous -- I can barely spell the word, let alone act it, yeah?"
Ronson looked curiously at Jacobs, one of his enormous hands resting supportively on the impostor's shoulders as the skeptical expression slowly melted from the other private's features. Samael quietly pushed down his bubbling sense of guilt -- it wasn't that much guilt, if he was going to be honest, but he still felt a little scummy for chastising the genuine concern of an honest soldier…it wasn't uncommon, after all, for grunts even within the same unit to run accusations of their fellow soldiers up the flagpole in the hopes of getting some reward or leniency. If anything, he appreciated that Jacobs wasn't so hasty to trust the newcomer, despite the fact they'd spent the day like old comrades, especially when it came to talking openly about Red Army standards.
But his job was to earn their trust so he could complete his mission…and maybe also count on a blind eye or two. The more disillusioned a soldier was, the less likely they were to blurt the entire truth to their commanding officer after all was said and done. And so he waited for Jacobs to finally give him a hesitant smile. When it came at last, Samael returned it genuinely, and then turned it to a grin as he playfully knocked a fist against Jacobs's muzzle.
"Well, alright, Holmes," the private replied confidently, making sure to emphasize the lack of 'sir'. "I guess you're right…you're one of us. But you're still a lucky bastard!"
"I suppose I can't deny that," 'Holmes' admitted with a chuckle.
"But!" Jacobs shared a quick grin with Ronson as both the soldiers leaned together again with lowered voices. "To really be one of us grunts…you gotta play our drinking game tonight! I've been saving up our beer rations!"
A broad smile grew across Samael's muzzle as his eyes lit up. "Well, well, well! You boys are in luck…'cause I'll see your beers and raise you a bottle of Lamtha's finest 'shine…just waitin' for a coupla willing glasses."
Ronson and Jacobs stared, wide-eyed, at one another for a moment before grinning back down at the newcomer excitedly. Clearly they hadn't been able to enjoy the good stuff for a while, now. And clearly, they were both ready to drop their defenses a bit more, if they were after a drinking game.
I love drinking games. I especially love cheating at drinking games and finding out just how curious my fellow soldiers are behind closed doors. Samael licked his muzzle and let himself relax as the three finished their meals with a newfound gusto. Well, no one said he couldn't enjoy a little bit of pleasure with his business…or at least if they had, he sure hadn't been listening.
Red vs Blue © Rooster Teeth. Halo © 343 Industries. Concept by Myshu, assisted by The Department of Chupapology.
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