Saturday, February 27, 2016

Atrox Animi

As in every Danian military building, pictures of President Scrub Thicket, Vice President Bonnie Peters, and the five regional CEOs adorned the wall opposite the main entrance. Commander Randle Dante, Sr. sat in the waiting room of Sanctuary City Medical Center. He wore his civilian clothes—a pressed grey polo tucked into starched black slacks with a thin black leather belt and polished steel-toed boots—as stiffly as he sat in the sea foam green chair. Draped in the seat next to him was a black trench coat, also in the seat was a grey canvas messenger bag topped with a plain black cap. He read through a stack of papers brought from Camp Polkner. Just because he’d been ordered for evaluation did not mean his work was done. The papers contained reports from every soldier involved in the incarceration and search efforts regarding escapee Kent Wheelock, AKA Prisoner 318.
     A wide-eyed young man, with a high-and-tight so high it was nearly a Mohawk, sat a few seats away drumming his fingers on the arms of his chair and alternating the bounce in both his legs. He watched a mute TV perched in the corner of the waiting room above a motivational picture of an enormous oak tree being struck by lightning, its caption read: POWER – With great power comes great responsibility.
     “What are you in for?” the young man asked. He leaned toward Dante using the arm of his chair as a brace.
     “Evaluation,” Dante answered. “You?”
     “Probably gonna be discharged,” Mohawk man held up his right arm where the distinct shape of an iron was emblazoned in his flesh, “see this?” He stared at it thoughtfully, “told my Master Sergeant if he didn’t back off I’d show him just what I’m capable of, you get me?”
     Commander Dante nodded.
     “I told that old fucker ain’t nobody crazier than me. Give me a gun and show me where the bad guys are. But, dammit get off my case about how my socks are folded.”
     The commander smiled and nodded again.
     “He came at me. You don’t come at trained killing machines. You just don’t do it. He’s the MaSer. He knows better. I was ironing my shirt. Anyway, he started in about my bunk and those fucking socks. Fourth time this week. I’m so sick of his nagging. I just looked at him and held the iron there. He couldn’t maintain the stare ‘cause the whole damn barracks started stinking. I thought it might smell like bar-b-q. It didn’t. Did you know that? Burnt skin don’t smell like bar-b-q. I think it’s the hair.” Mohawk man looked at Dante, “say that’s rude of me. I’m Willy Jessup.” He stuck out his right hand.
     “Nice to meet you, Willy,” Dante took the proffered hand. “Looks like it’s healing up well.”
     “Aloe. A whole lot of aloe,” Willy Jessup chuckled. “Anyway, first they send you in for evaluation. Then, after you take that stupid test, they’ll call you back to discuss your answers. I don’t know if the test numbers are the same for everyone. But, seriously mister, be careful how you answer. They got five of them questions that all relate back to killing. As I said, I’m a trained killing machine, so I answered yes on them. Only questions I answered yes to and those are the ones they wanted to go over and over. Be careful if you’re trying to stay in. That test is a set up.”
     “Thanks for the heads up, Willy,” Dante smiled.
     “No problem. Listen, mister, I don’t mean to pry, but you don’t seem crazy.”
     “I don’t feel crazy, either,” Dante nodded to the picture under the TV, “you see that? I’m the lightning.”
     “Better to be the lightning than cracked like that tree,” Willy snorted, then whispered, “my appointment was supposed to be this morning. I’ve been waiting for hours. I figure they either gotta see me or let me get chow. I’ve been thinking about shouting at that sad little puppy behind the counter. Soon as I do, they’ll probably try to throw the jacket on me. Fuck that.”
     “Don’t shout. Let me see what I can do. They’re two hours late calling my name, too.” Commander Dante put his papers back into the messenger bag and slung the bag over his shoulder. He crossed the room in four strides. The attendant was half asleep staring at a list of names. It took her a minute to realize that the shadow cast over the list was an actual person.
     “My name is Dante. What time was my appointment?”
     A thin manicured finger ran down the list, “uh. Oh. Sorry, sir! Your appointment was for 1000.”
     “That’s what I thought. And, what time is it now, soldier?”
     “1200, sir.”
     “Out of curiosity, what time was Willy Jessup’s appointment?”
     “I can’t talk to you about other patients.”
     “I’m not a patient. But, I’m growing impatient. The young man says he was supposed to be seen this morning. I’m assuming his appointment was before mine based on the fact that he was here when I arrived. Now, where I come from, when we set appointments, we keep them. Which is why I came for the allotted time. Apparently, Willy over there also keeps his appointments. So, why are we both sitting here, twiddling our thumbs waiting for someone who can’t seem to keep their appointments?”
     “I’m really not at liberty to say anything regarding the delay. And, honestly, sir, I don’t know anything. The doctors aren’t usually this late. I’m sure something has happened.”
     “Obviously something has happened. The doctor is inconsiderate. In case you missed my designation, I have things of import that are not being handled because I’m sitting in this waiting room. I did not drive hours away from my post to sit here all damn day. Now, here’s what we’re going to do: first, we’re taking a lunch break. Second, when we return, if the doctor is still unable to keep his appointments, he’s going to apologize for wasting our time. And third, he’s going to report his incapacity to the head of his department.”
     “Um. He is the head of the department,” the attendant practically whispered.
     “Fine, he can report to the head of the med center. Either way, he’s not purporting himself professionally. And, it will be known.”
     “As you say, sir. I’ll be right back,” the attendant spun around in her chair, nearly falling as one of the rollers caught her foot. When she waved her right wrist in front of the security reader, the door popped open.
     Commander Dante watched as the solid white security door closed behind the attendant. He promptly returned to his seat. Willy Jessup was staring at the motivational picture. The commander leaned over and whispered, “let’s see how long this takes,” he looked at his watch, “it is five after now.”
     “If she comes back before lunch is over, I’ll be surprised,” Willy snickered.
     Two minutes later, the security door opened, and the attendant walked through. She leaned over her desk and projected her voice into the waiting room, “I’ve been instructed to ask you both to take a two hour lunch break. Please return promptly at 1400.”
     “That’s some lightning, mister,” Willy was genuinely impressed.
     Commander Dante stared at Willy, “yes it is. Would you care to show me to the chow hall?”
     “My pleasure, mister.”

The two soldiers took turns pulling on the hatch crank.
     “It’s locked from the other side. Just like the last ones.”
     “That’s a problem, then. ‘Cause we used up all the juice in the blow torch cutting through the other two. And, I only brought one with me.”
     “Dammit!” he slammed a fist against the hatch, “I didn’t come down here to get stuck behind some fucking doors. I promised Tommy. I’m gonna find that bastard. And, when I do—”
     “I got you, private. But, yelling and screaming won’t get us through that hat—” 
     Private Richard Machine unleashed all the rage and pent up frustrations he’d felt since Tommy’s murder onto that hatch while Master Sergeant Locos watched.
     The distinct sound of the lock disengaging grabbed the attention of both men. Machine stared at Locos with confusion. Locos stared at Machine with wonder. When the hatch swung open they found themselves gape-mouthed while two giggling women stared at them.
     “Well, Carmel,” the blonde haired woman elbowed her friend, “I told you we should answer the door.”
     “Yes, you did, Praline,” the bob-haired brunette elbowed back, “but, you didn’t say that there’d be two fine strapping men on the other side, now did you?”
     They giggled.
     “I can’t know everything, dear,” Praline said as she reached her hand out to Locos, “please come in.”
     Locos took Praline’s hand, ducked through the hatch, accidentally bumped into Carmel, and said, “I’m sorry.”
     “No worries,” she winked at the stunned Master Sergeant. To Praline she said, “solid. I hope the other one is, too.” At which point she extended a hand to Machine.
     The private accepted her hand, glanced at her for a moment, and then followed Locos through the hatch. He’d seen a lot of strange things since joining up, but the only place he’d ever seen women this confident had been the night he and West had partied on the Strip. The thought bit into him with the force of a meteor impact. He ground his teeth and focused on the two women. The sweet smell of honey nut bread wafted through the bunker.
     “We were about to eat lunch when you two stared knocking,” Carmel nodded toward a hatch in the wall. “Would you care to join us?”
     “We’ve got impo—”
     “That’d be nice,” Locos interrupted Machine, “I’m Max and this is Dick.”
     Private Machine growled. The girls giggled again.
     “Carmel, you’ve got such a dirty mind,” Praline purred.
     “Who me?” Carmel raised her hands innocently.
     Machine was stiff, but calming down. Locos was relaxed. The girls were obviously the only people in the bunker. And, if they hoped to learn anything, they’d need to play along. Besides, how often do you find yourself trapped underground with two beautiful women, lunch, and a couple of racks? If they played their cards right, they might be able to get more out of Carmel and Praline than a couple of answers.

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