Alycia leans back against the tree, enjoying the shade. The summer sun is beastly, especially with the humidity of season, and there is Just. Nothing. To. Do.
Or nothing to do comfortably. The fatigues and point armor she’s drawn fit poorly. She’s slight in frame, at age 13, and elements of the outfit bunch and chafe in unfortunate ways. It’s hard to find a way to sit that doesn’t cause problems.
It doesn’t stop her from relaxing a bit. The march there from the drop point was a long one, cross-country, and the gear she carried – mostly weaponry – was heavy.
There’s also a degree of boredom. The squad she’s in was deployed to the north of the highway, up a hill and in a grove of trees. For reasons Alycia’s not sure of (and was not informed about), they had to be here in the late morning, but the convoy isn’t due until 5.
“Excuse me, ma’am.”
She starts, aware that she’d dozed off. Embarrassing, in front of the others. She’s not here as a leader, just a trooper – but everyone knows who she is, and everything she does reflects on her father.
“Yes, Alvarez.” She’s pleased she’s memorized the names of everyone. Another lesson from her father, though he does so for different purposes. She’s been doing some reading about leadership, and how making connections – like names – with staff can promote loyalty, versus doing so to have complete records for staff promotion or discipline.
She’s been wise enough not to share that particular insight with her father.
“Um, ma’am, your gun --” The trooper is in fatigues and light body armor, just like her, his own weapon slung over his shoulder. At his gesture, she glances over to where she leaned her rifle against the tree next to her. Her father has been shifting to Gauss guns – coiled linear motors to drive the rounds, rather than gunpowder propellant. It’s been a trade-off – the weapons are heavier, technologically more complex (problematic in the field), and dependent on batteries, but allow for armor-penetrating velocities and far less noisy operation. Father has been unimpressed by the field reports he’s received; he’s tasked Alycia to give him fresh eyes on review and back on how they operate.
Her Gauss gun, however, is lying flat on the ground, in the grass under the tree, having toppled over from an insecure perch. The trigger mechanism is such that an accidental discharge is much less likely than with a mishandled gunpowder weapon, but it’s still an annoying breach of soldierly discipline and form. And she’s already worried about how the others see her; this kind of thing could seriously impact her reputation among the adult soldiers.
She leans over, gets the rifle, gives it a visual inspection, then runs the quick diagnostic routine on the left side panel. She glances up at Alvarez. “Thank you. Um --”
He flashes her a quiet, almost shy smile. “Mum’s the word, ma’am.”
If so, she’ll owe him something. “What do you know of our mission, Private Alvarez?”
“What they said at the briefing, ma’am. When the trucks come, at the scheduled time, they’ll be driving into the sun. Our squad targets the trailing truck, the one with the soldiers. The other squad tackles the lead truck, stopping the convoy. The carriers come in, lift out the cargo. The Great Mission Proceeds.”
“The Great Mission Proceeds,” she echoes. She looks down the hill at the valley. She gestures the grass beside her. “You can sit.”
“I – would rather not, ma’am.”
Alycia shrugs, then looks at him. He’s kind of handsome, young for one of Father’s troopers (not quite twenty, perhaps). His accent – “Chile, yes?”
Alvarez grins. “Santiago, ma’am.”
“Been here long?”
“I joined your father’s service a year ago.”
“Seen much action?”
He pauses a moment, then switches to what Alycia’s learned to call Testosterone Mode. “Plenty, ma’am,” he says, with puffed-up enthusiasm.
“What missions have you been on?”
“You can tell me.”
His smile is gone. In its place is a look of discomfort. “Um, operational security, ma’am. We’re not supposed to talk about missions except under cleared circumstances.”
“You do know who I am.”
She makes a noise. “Don’t call me ma’am. My name’s Alycia. What’s yours?”
“Alvarez, Private, ma–”
“What’s your first name?”
A long pause. “Jaime.”
“Well, Jaime, I like how you keep secrets. That’s good. So I can tell you about this mission, and won’t have to worry about you blabbing about it, right?”
“But I will be kind of peeved if you don’t call me Alycia.”
“Yes.” Pause. “Alycia.”
She likes the way the sibilants of the name work when he says it. “And I can’t convince you to sit down? I could order you.”
“M-- Alyica, you are not in the field chain of command.” He looks unhappier still. “I am on duty, and may not sit down without orders from my direct field commander. If you wanted to talk with Lieutenant Dupres, that would be your prerogative.”
She’s almost tempted to. Dupres is a pillock. But if she upsets the field op, Father will be irritated at her, and she doesn’t want that to happen, not again.
“Fine, you can stand.” Alycia gestures down into the valley. “The highway here rises up a few miles ahead to a narrow pass. This convoy is carrying explosives that will be used to widen the pass in the next few months, then the highway, to provide better land transportation to the area beyond. That area is rich in certain minerals that the regime wishes to exploit for the wealth of its oligarchs. In so doing, they will ravage the countryside through strip-mining and the release of toxins into the water supply leading downstream. Further, the villages in the area will be forceably cleared out; the current plan is to relocate the residents – local scratch farmers – to a city some three hundred kilometers away, but with insufficient social resources to rebuild their lives.”
She cocks an eyebrow at Alvarez, inviting comment.
“So – we are here to stop that exploitation from occuring?”
“Indirectly. Father actually wants the explosives, for other purposes. However, he chose this particularly opportunity to demonstrate to the regime his displeasure with their overall plan.” She sighs. “He doesn’t think it will stop them, but it will cause a delay, and may encourage some slight change in how they carry it out. Alternately, there may be an opportunity for him to express his further disapproval.”
“But --” He pauses, then continues, “-- surely Doctor Chin could stop this project, should he care to. It seems a great injustice, just the very thing his writings condemn.”
It’s Alycia’s turn to look unhappy. Alvarez isn’t wrong. But – “The Great Mission does not allow for every battle that could be fought to be fought. Father has let the regime know of his unhappiness over this. Their concern is reflected in having the convoy escorted by the troops our squad will attack. This will teach the regime a lesson. A more prolonged effort, though, would lead the regime to mobilize more forces than we are ready to fight now, for this particular small portion of the cause.”
The words bother her, even though they are what Father told her. Indeed, that’s the greatest part of what bothers her. She continues, “More than this – no, we must simply rest assured that when this regime is swept away, with the rest of the tyrants over humanity, that all will be done that can be done to ease the hurts that have been inflicted.”
Alvarez nods slowly. “I – see. Yes. It is hard, to let such offenses pass. But – wise. The patient warrior acts toward victory.” That was one of her father’s sayings. It’s odd hearing it from other lips. “When the Great Mission is fulfilled, then there will be time for vengeance.” He nods more vigorously. “Though perhaps we can exact some small portion of vengeance against those we fight today, no?”
Alycia grins. “Yes. Surely.” She finds herself liking his smile, alternating between brashness and almost shy hesitancy. It reminds her a bit of –
She pushes him from her thoughts, along with her father, and focuses just on Alvarez. On Jaime. He’s far too old for her, she knows, but he’s also the most interesting person she’s met on the mission. “Tell me a bit now about Santiago, and what brought here. And if you can’t sit down, at least lean against this tree so that you can be a bit more comfortable? Or, must I stand?”
He smiles again, and starts to reply, when he pauses, puts fingers up to the headphones they all wear. “Yes, sir,” he says, after a moment. “No, sir. Yes, sir, right away.”
He looks down at Alycia. “Sorry – Alycia. The Lieutenant want me to make another sweep down to the road. We can maybe chat more --?”
“Later, then,” she smiles, then shoos him off. He gives her an elaborate salute, then trots down the hill, while she returns to the issue of finding a comfortable way to sit in that outfit.
* * *
Later on, as the squad is prepping to deploy, she sees Dupres off to the side, berating Alvarez with harsh whispers. She can’t read his lips – he’s faced away, but she can see Jaime looking very unhappy, trying to protest, and being shut down.
She considers intervening, but decides to remember her place for the moment. Maybe she can say something to Father when they return.
* * *
The operation is a success. All the explosives are secured. The military escort is wiped out to the last soldier. The attacking force fares far better: the only casualty is one Private Jaime Alvarez, apparently shot in the back by one of the opposition during the melee.
Alycia’s trip back to the base is very long, and very quiet.
author: *** Dave H.