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Combined the votes as best I could. I'll try to refrain from technical votes like that in future.
… … …
[×] An expensive tack driver with an expensive piece of glass you’d owned yourself and brought with you.
— [×] Intermediate (SIG PE90; Hensoldt 4×24)
[×] You actually like the X-9. It’s fun to shoot.
— [×] Bullet hose (A1 trigger group; gas booster)
Back up topside, behind the vehicle entrance, the clearing opens into into a peculiar valley. All grassy green now and blushing with wildflowers, it seems a calming sanctuary lit by morning sun; if only it were so. You know better, having suffered firsthand its formation by way of a Martian battleship breaching the hangars at three hundred knots.
It was decided that the best way to honour those who fell in defense of the base that day was to use the place as a rifle range.
You sight in the target once more through the scope, the tip of the post reticle lazily meandering about the pitted plate. Exhaling and relaxing, you tighten your finger against the trigger——
The SIG sounds out a crisp report, answered a heartbeat later by jacketed lead striking steel. Brass joins glinting brass on the co-opted picnic table, and the bolt catch engages, signifying an empty magazine. You rest the rear of the rifle on its stock, front angled upward on its bipod, and look to the Doc, waiting for her to finish.
The Doctor prefers an off-hand firing stance, owing to her experience in archery in her youth—elbow raised as if drawing back a bowstring; ‘74-pattern muzzle brake playing the part of arrowhead. Yet the stance is visibly a shottist’s and not an archer’s: legs close rather than astride; support arm twisted so that bone supports bone supports rifle.
The Kalashnikov cracks out a shot . . . and then another . . . then once more, each report underscored by the distinctive sound of its action. The brown-lacquered steel lands just short of your feet. Reaching the end of her own magazine, the Doctor clears the rifle and sets it down on the table.
She waves you an all-clear, which you return with a thumbs-up, and you cross the range together to collect your targets.
In truth, the failings of the X-9 are primarily doctrinal. With a few mechanical adjustments and some familiarity with the ballistics of its cartridge, the rifle is able to become a viable close combat arm. Well, in theory, anyway; you’ve not had a chance to test it as such. It does, however, perform admirably against two-dimensional aliens, which is enough for you for now.
Standing barely twenty-five metres out, you loose round after round into the paper Snakeman, peppering its chest and sneering visage—and, much more frequently, the berm behind it—with two-hundred-forty-grain projectiles. The rifle cracks five, six, seven times with each burst, emptying the magazine in a matter of seconds. Not yet satisfied, you drop the magazine and seat in another, releasing the bolt catch and commencing the barrage anew; then, clicking dry once more, you drop the rifle to hang by its sling and tear your pistol free from its holster to press the assault, ejected brass glimmering on-off in the sunlight——
——the slide locks back.
Noticing yourself, you look sheepishly over at the Doc. She regards you with an odd expression, showing at once a sense of psychiatric understanding and a dash of amusement.
You flush a little in embarrassment. Perhaps you got a touch carried away.
On the other hand, fuck Snakemen.
“You mean Ophidians?”
“Snakemen,” you reaffirm. “And fuck them.”
The Doc folds her hands on the table—presently occupied by a field-stripped SIG. “That was . . . quite the episode, though.”
You shrug, extruding a cleaning patch through the gas tube. “Just cutting a little loose for the finish.”
“Just that?” Ah; here we go again. “I won’t press you, but . . .”
“Really, Doc, I’m fine. No flashbacks, no nightmares, no cold sweats at four in the morning—nothing, okay?”
“That ‘nothing’ is exactly why I’m concerned,” she presses anyway. “It’s abnormal.”
“Doc, please; let’s not start this again. I was fine a year ago, and I’m still fine now.”
“By the time symptoms are visible, it may well be too late.” The Doctor leans in, raising a lecturing finger. “People can be severely destabilised by less than a month of dream deprivation.”
“I won’t ask how you picked up that useful little tidbit.” You exchange the gas tube for the upper receiver and barrel assembly. “Look; have some confidence in me, okay?”
“——not your fault, okay?” you pre-empt, having gone through this script with the Doc many times before. “I signed up for it, didn’t I? Besides, better I’m like this than six feet under in a shoebox.”
“You can’t presume you would have gotten into the same situation——”
“What’s the point in getting into that?” You wave the cleaning rod in frustration. “Look; I’m fine. Can you be fine with me being fine?”
“. . . alright,” she concedes.
A slight scent of banana wafts up to your nose.
“Sorry,” you sigh. You decide to change the topic: “So, ah; what about you; what’s been keeping you so busy?”
The Doc sniffs. “Ah? . . . no need to worry about it, really.”
You wave a finger. “It concerns my reserve pay, doesn’t it? Come on; what’d I miss?”
“Nothing particularly insightful.” She drums her fingers once. “Mars had a specific objective here in Japan;”—you know that; you had to fend them off—“Central wants to know what it was.”
You point the barrel skyward and examine the bore from the breech end. “It’s been almost a year now. Do they know it’s been almost a year now?”
She shrugs. “Hibernating, remember?”
The Doctor goes on to explain.
They had reviewed the UFO tracking logs; overlaid flight paths over a map of the country. The collated flight patterns and landing sites suggested—to admittedly little surprise from anyone—a tightening sweep of the region, in search of . . . well, something.
“And the Commander wants in on it,” you safely hazard.
“In the interest of terrestrial security, of course,” she qualifies; yet admits: “But . . . in so many words, yes.”
And so, in short, Central has the Doc scouring former landing sites——
“——chasin’ ghosts of UFOs past. Doc; Cap’n?”
You turn to look at the newcomer. Newcomers, rather, and three:
“Kerry; Morgan; Patchett.” You raise a hand in greeting. “Been a while.” They were also part of the base’s little Fireforce; you’d deployed together quite a few times.
The Sergeant Kerry returns the gesture as best she can, releasing the two squaddies from the double headlock. “Sure has. What brings ya back?”
You mate upper receiver with lower, locking both solidly into place.
“Ah-hah, figures.” She adjusts her oversized sun hat—Patchett and Morgan, presently muttering to each other, are dressed similarly vernally. “Hey; good timing. Wanna come along?”
You twiddle the rifle’s gas regulator. “Come along where?”
“Providing ground security,” the Doc drawls. “Nice outfits, by the way.”
“Not like anything’s gonna happen,” Kerry waves. “But yeah; ground sec. We get the SEP set up; sweep the place, make sure no civvies or spooky aliens’re around—more of a li’l FTX than anythin’, really—then we’re havin’ a picnic while the eggheads do their thing. Morgan baked lemon loaf!”
The team’s HWP operator perks up at the mention of her name—then looks away abashedly. Sure enough, she has a woven hamper on her arm, complete with red-white tartan blanket.
“So—how about it?”
[ ] You’ll go. You’ll take your usual place . . .
— [ ] . . . in the G-Car. (You made Captain for your expertise in battlefield direction.)
— [ ] . . . in a K-Car. (You were awarded Captain for your results on the ground.)
[ ] You’ll pass. (You were only promoted for seeing too much.)