Everyone loves free stuff, right? Author Leo Champion graces us with a sample from around the middle of his book Legion. If you haven’t read it… it’s a hell of a book. Check it out.
What the hell is this all about? Mullins thought, as Sergeant Alonzo led his group out of the passenger section of the terminal and into the truck-freight handling area. Past loading docks, swinging winches, a forklift. A couple of stevodores stood smoking on one loading dock.
A little bit later, they passed a crew busily moving grey plastic tote boxes from the back of a truck to a conveyor belt.
They weren’t going to help unload some freight shuttle. That was obvious.
This isn’t some shady black-market thing, is it?
It certainly seemed like it.
This seems shady as absolute hell. I don’t want to be sent to a Black Gang within a day of my first deployment!
Alonzo led them into an alley, where four covered five-ton trucks sat. They were grey, with dark-green covers over their cargo beds. ‘US Army’ was stenciled in black letters on each door, above a large five-pointed star. Army markings were on the covers, too.
“Alright, you boys,” Alonzo said. “By now you’ve figured – some of you have, anyhow – that what we’re doing is a little bit sketchy. Don’t worry – nobody’s going to wind up in a Black Gang because of this. If we get caught, the Army is going to whine and send us to Division HQ for discipline. Where a big noise will be made, and we’ll all get publicly chewed out, and then our officers will wink and tell us to look appropriately sad for a while. OK?”
“Sergeant,” said a man from Third Platoon called Johnson, “exactly what are we going to be doing?”
“Well, boys, I may as well give you the details. Officially, as far as you all are concerned, it’s a work detail. We’re going to be moving freight, just like I said to the LT.”
“And unofficially, sergeant?”
There were nods and murmurs from the rest of the group, including Mullins.
“Unofficially, we’re going to be moving freight between different branches of the US military. The Army just received a shipment of goodies. Techno-toys that they’re not going to put to use anyway. The Legion, as you may have heard, is under-funded and under-supplied. One way that we make up for this problem is by borrowing equipment from the other service branches.”
“So we’re going to be stealing Army stuff for the Legion,” said Andrews.
“‘Stealing’, Private, is such a prejudiced word. Yes.”
A more serious look came onto Alonzo’s face.
“I assure you men that not a penny’s worth of this stuff is going to wind up on the black market. I’m not, and none of you are, going to get anything personally out of this job. Army quartermasters sell shit to Buddy on the side, and don’t fucking get me started on the local CGs. Ninety percent of this stuff is going to Fourth Battalion’s S-4, and it might save some of your lives. The rest goes to Division G-4 in exchange for the loan of these trucks. Either way, it stays within the US military. It’s just going to the guys who’re going to get the most use out of it. Understood?”
There were nods and murmurs.
“Now, boys, in the back of the trucks you’ll find US Army PT uniforms. T-shirts and running pants. Change into them – we’re a loading party come to pick some of this stuff up.”
“Won’t they ask for paperwork or something?” asked a man from Fifth called Vai’id.
Alonzo produced what looked like a snub-nosed yellow pistol. A taser.
“This is our paperwork,” he said. “Any questions?”
“I have one,” said Andrews. “Sergeant, you picked a bunch of total fish for this. Why’d you pick us when there’s a division and a brigade HQ in this town?”
“Good one,” said Alonzo. “I took Fourth Battalion, Fourth Brigade men because this is a Fourth Battalion, Fourth Brigade operation. If I went to Division or First Brigade for bodies, they’d take most of the loot and only give One-Four-Four a piece of it. And not necessarily a big piece.”
“So why aren’t they doing it themselves?”
“This shipment just came in a few hours ago. Theydon’t know about it yet. By tomorrow, they’ll know. By tomorrow, we’ll be in Roanoke.”
“Surely the Army’s going to know we did it,” said another man.
“Sure they will,” said Alonzo. “Proving it’s another story. And getting it back is right out of the question. This happens all the damn time, and so far as I’m concerned it’s the Army’s fault for not guarding their shit properly.”
Mullins rode on the center seat of the lead truck’s cab. Alonzo, who wore a dress shirt with first lieutenant’s bars, rode shotgun. Andrews was driving.
This could get us into some serious trouble, he thought. It’s theft, by any other name.
No; Alonzo had justified it well. It was merely transferring property from one branch of the US military to another. And some of it might save their lives. Save his life.
And if we get caught…
He wasn’t sure he believed Alonzo on that. The Army would press hard for punishment and he might well wind up in a Black Gang.
Too damn late now. Besides, Alonzo’s a senior sergeant. He knows what he’s doing.
The trucks made their way around the edge of the shuttleport, bumping a few times as they crossed railroad tracks. Two or three times they heard sonic booms as freight shuttles blasted off, ascending at acceleration-rates that would have killed any passengers.
“Stop! Who goes there!” came a shout, as they entered the floodlit zone around the secure storage area.
Alonzo leaned out the window. Gesturing for Andrews to keep going forwards.
“What do we damn well look like, rebellious sepoys?” he snapped.
Mullins could see two soldiers standing in front of a double gate. They held rifles – heavy, multi-magazine weapons that he recognized as M-31s – but they were pointed at the ground.
“Gotta be sure,” said one of the soldiers. There was some kind of enlisted rank insignia on his arm, but in the shadow Mullins couldn’t tell what it was. “Here for a pickup?”
“Yeah,” said Alonzo. He opened his door and got out. When the soldiers noticed the silver bars on each arm, they saluted.
“You got the paperwork, sir?”
“Yeah,” said Alonzo. “You wanna open that gate? My last truck is blocking a rail track.”
That was probably true – they’d bumped over one not long ago.
“Hey, LT,” the man shouted. “You wanna open the gate? We’ve got a pickup here.”
“First I’ve heard about it,” said a voice from the other side. “He got paperwork?”
Alonzo had a black clipboard under his arm. He showed it to the two enlisted men, who glanced at it and nodded.
“Yeah, they’ve got paperwork,” the man said.
“OK, gate’s unlocked. You two pull `em open.”
“We’re going to reverse our trucks in, Lieutenant,” called Alonzo. “There room for four in there?”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
The gates, which like the walls were topped with razor wire, began to open outwards. The two enlisted men, helped by another two from the inside, pressed them flat against the wall.
“Three-point the truck and reverse it in,” Alonzo called.
“Yessir,” replied Andrews.
So far, thought Mullins, it’s all going according to plan. But how does Alonzo know how many guys the Army has?
A horrible thought struck him: if things go wrong, they might think we’re secessionists in disguise. They’ll shoot first and ask questions later.
The fourth truck backed through the open gate of the secure area, clumsily reverse-parking next to the other three. From where Mullins sat, he could see a guardhouse just inside the gate, with a couple of Army types standing just outside.
Sentries sat in the corner towers and paced along ramparts inside the fence. Those guys seemed intent on their jobs – they were looking, pretty attentively, at the floodlit area outside the holding area’s walls. What took place inside the area wasn’t their concern.
Unless someone raises the alarm. Then we’re fish in a barrel.
Alonzo didn’t seem worried.
“So you say you have paperwork, sir?” asked one of the men outside the guardhouse. There were gold bars on his shoulders; second lieutenant.
“Yes, Lieutenant,” said Alonzo. Holding his clipboard, he went over to the lieutenant. The second man outside the guardhouse moved a respectable five or six feet back, holding his M-31 cautiously.
Oh, shit. They suspect something’s up. Whatever’s on Alonzo’s clipboard is bullshit.
Alonzo handed the clipboard to the lieutenant, who moved into the guardhouse to get a better look at it. From his vantage point in the truck’s cab, Mullins saw the Legion sergeant draw his taser from a hip pocket.
Saw him go over to the other man, who didn’t quite raise his rifle. Clearly he was wondering what this strange first lieutenant wanted, though.
He didn’t have time to say anything. Just as the lieutenant in the guardhouse threw the clipboard down and walked outside, Alonzo brought his taser up and in a single move lunged forwards, pressing it to the enlisted soldier’s chest. There was a blue flash and the man collapsed, quivering.
“What the–” the lieutenant began. One hand reached for his pistol.
Faster than Mullins could have imagined, Alonzo whirled and tased the lieutenant. The man collapsed in a quivering heap.
Alonzo gestured at the truck cabs – ‘come here.’
Mullins and the others climbed out and ran.
“Zag `em so they don’t wake?” one man whispered to Alonzo, finger twitching towards his sheathed combat knife.
“Hell no,” whispered Alonzo. “Drag `em into the guardhouse, tie their hands, gag them. I’ll be back in a moment to check. You” – he pointed a finger randomly at Johnson. “Stay in the guardhouse and answer the phone if anyone calls. Your name is” – he looked at the nametag on the lieutenant’s shirt – “Gorman. Second Lieutenant Gorman. Answer the phone that way. If they give you a sign and ask for a counter… hell, look in the guardhouse, he might’ve written `em down somewhere. If you can’t get them, don’t guess. Say something about a bad connection, put the phone down, and get me immediately because we’re bugging the fuck out. There’s a CG barracks right next door, but the Army won’t trust those fuckers… they’ll send their own response and we’ll have five to ten minutes before it shows. Clear on that, soldier?”
“Yessir,” said Andrews.
“Good. You others, let’s grab.”
“Imperil guideds,” Alonzo hissed, gesturing at a stack of crates. “Get those. All of those. You four, start loading `em.”
There were crates everywhere – hundreds of them, stacked under eight-foot-high shelters that consisted of little more than sheets of corrugated iron held up by steel poles. Alonzo paced past more stacks of crates, glancing at the serial numbers until he found something else he liked.
“HD batteries. Sweet. All of these. You guys.”
“What about these?” asked Kiesche, gesturing at some crates next to the goggles.
Alonzo took one glance at the stencilled label on top.
“Replacement actuators for the heavy-infantry suits. What the hell use do we have for those?”
“No damn idea,” he said.
“Get loading those ones,” Alonzo said, pointing at a stack he’d passed earlier. “WP grenades. Never enough of those. You four.”
Mullins was one of those last. He picked up a crate from the stack of about twenty, carried it – it was heavy, but not impossibly so – over to the back of the nearest truck. Andrews was waiting there to take it.
“Those,” Alonzo said, when the crates of WP grenades were all taken. “Each of those has half a dozen sniper scopes – really, really good ones. Be careful handling `em.”
Over the next half-hour or so, Mullins loaded crates that apparently contained radios, guided rockets, computers, flares and flareguns, sniper-rifle ammo – those ones required two men each to carry – and optics.
Then Johnson came running out of the guard shack.
“Boss! Sarge!” he hissed frantically.
“Boss, they asked us for a countersign. Gave `em the one I thought it was – it was written down – and he was silent for a moment. Then he asks me what Saturday’s was. I gave him the bad-connection spiel.”
“Shit,” hissed Alonzo. He checked his watch.
“Of course, it’s oh-two-hundred on the dot. Should have figured they’d check on the hour. Let’s go!”
Oh, shit, thought Mullins, running for the cab of the nearest truck. Dashratha was already in the driver’s seat, starting the engine.
One of the soldiers pacing the wall, evidently noticing the frantic running, turned around and looked down.
“Everything alright, sir?” he called.
“Yeah, we’re fine,” Alonzo shouted back. Gesturing to two men who hadn’t yet boarded trucks.
“Open the gate, you two.”
It seemed to take forever for them to push the gate open wide enough to get a truck through. The moment it did, Dashratha hit the gas – simultaneously with two of the other three trucks.
“Fucking go,” Mullins snarled, gesturing at the one on the right. It had almost collided with his.
That truck moved forward, Alonzo climbing in as it headed out the gates. Then another truck, and then the driver of the last one gestured for Dashratha to go ahead.
Heart pounding, Mullins watched the huge Rajput drive his truck forwards. Followed by the last one.
“Lieutenant Gorman?” one of the guards outside the gate asked. Going in.
“Oh, shit!” he exclaimed a moment later.
From somewhere came the sound of high-powered engines. Alarms started to wail.
Alonzo leaned out the window of his lead truck as it started to power across the landing grounds.
“Hey, Army motherfuckers!” he shouted. “Semper fucking fi, assholes!”
You can find Legion here at Amazon.