Home > Writing > EARTHFALL 2: Playin’ Footsie

EARTHFALL 2: Playin’ Footsie

“They look so cute together,” Kelly Jordello said as she looked over the sandwich she held in her hands.

Mike Andrews glanced up from his own lunch, then turned to take in what had caught Kelly’s attention. Sitting several tables away in the Commons Area, he saw his executive officer, Leona Eklund, sitting down and enjoying her own lunch. Across from her was the hulk and bulk of Command Sergeant Major Scott Mulligan. She was a slender, tall girl of mixed parentage, blessed with a dusky skin that hadn’t paled one iota since Harmony Base had been sealed off over a decade ago. He was a virtual giant, standing in at six inches over six feet and with the mass to match, his brown hair going gray at the temples. There was at least a twenty-five year gap in their ages, but their differences were much deeper than merely chronological or physical. Leona possessed an almost regal air about her that simply oozed intellect. Mulligan, on the other hand, was about as stately as a bloody broadsword. It was a circumstance of night and day personified. Both simply sat across from each other, eating their lunches, on break from mission planning. They didn’t look at each other, and didn’t talk. To Andrews, it was almost as if two strangers were sharing the same table.

“What’s so cute about them?” he asked, turning back to Kelly.

She frowned at him and brushed a stray strand of blonde hair out of her eyes. “Dude, you’re such a guy. Take another look.”

Andrews sighed and examined the mismatched duo once more. They merely ate and sat, concentrating on what was on the trays before them. He started to shrug and get back to his own meal when he saw it: Leona had her foot snuggled up against one of Mulligan’s boots. There was no way the big sergeant major couldn’t have known it, and he hadn’t pulled away from the contact.

Andrews snorted. “I see it. A couple of smooth operators.”

“I don’t know why they’re not more open about it,” Kelly said. “Everyone knows they’re sleeping together.”

“Lee doesn’t like attention. And I’m pretty damned sure Mulligan doesn’t dig it, either,” Andrews said. “Not that kind of attention, anyway. They’re pretty private people.”

“I hope they have kids. Could you imagine? Mulligan’s brawn and Leona’s brains? It’d be, like, the beginning of a new super race.”

“Yeah, well. I’m not sure we could handle that,” Andrews said, returning to his lunch.

“I think it’s great they found each other,” Kelly said. “They fit, in a really odd way. But it works. Never though the Old Guard and New Guard would click like that.”

“Kelly? Stop staring. The last thing you want to do is rile up Mulligan.”

She waved the notion aside. “Pshaw, how could he still be one hundred percent badass when he’s with Leona?”

“You make it sound like he’s spending his off-hours knitting doilies. He’s been kicking our asses for the past four months with tactical training, and you think he’s not still a hundred percent badass? Weren’t you the one who started puking all over the place after he made you run five miles?”

Kelly frowned. “Okay. Ninety-five percent badass, maybe.” She took another bite of her sandwich. “So hey, I hear you guys are leaving the base tomorrow—I see Four’s on the deployment chart. I thought you finished all the shakedowns.”

“Yeah, we did.”

“Okay. So?”

Andrews fidgeted a bit in his chair. “It’s just a little run. Something the command group wants to keep under the radar.”

Kelly chuckled. “Yeah, like that’s even possible. The HBT is probably already fired up over it. What’s the mission?” HBT was the informal acronym for Harmony Base Telegraph, which was the local rumor mill. In an isolated, subterranean fortress like Harmony, rumors and gossip were one of the lubricants that kept things running. People needed a distraction from the monotonous existence the base provided, and the HBT was one of the best ways to add a little sparkle into an otherwise repetitious way of life.

“I’m not really supposed to talk about it,” Andrews said, even though he knew that would hardly put her off. If anything, it would be like tossing a tasty steak in front of a starving Rottweiler and telling the dog not to eat it.

Kelly’s eyes widened. “You’re going on a classified mission? There’s something more important than the Northwest run?”

“It’s not classified. It’s just… sensitive.”

Kelly put down her sandwich and faced him, putting an elbow on the table. “Mike, what’s going on? Who’s on the mission, your entire crew?”

“Me. Lee. Mulligan. And KC, because she needs more field time.”

“What about the others? Josh, Marco, Marguerite, Nancy? They haven’t gotten a lot of rig time since—wait a minute, did you say Mulligan?”

“Yeah, that might’ve slipped out.”

“Is this related to the Northwest mission?”

“It is not.”

“Then why is he going?”

Andrews clasped his hands in front of him and just looked at her. For several seconds, she just stared back at him, before the perplexed expression on her face broke. She raised a hand to her mouth.

“Oh my God… they’re letting him do it?”

Andrews’s only response was a subtle shrug.

Kelly turned and looked back at Leona and Mulligan, still sitting at their table, finishing up their lunch. She looked suddenly sad.

“It’ll kill him,” she said.

“Let’s not be too dramatic here, Kell.”

“But he has everything now,” she said. “If he does it, he won’t come back the same. He’ll lose everything. It’ll be like before San Jose, only worse this time. He’ll wind up eating his gun.”

“I don’t disagree, but we both know Mulligan. He has to do it,” Andrews said. “No man could just leave them out there. He has to do it.”

“I can’t believe Benchley approved it,” Kelly said softly.

“Well, there’s the catch. And that’s what makes the mission sensitive.”

Kelly looked at him. “What?” When he didn’t respond, she reached out and punched his shoulder, and not in a playful manner. “Damn it, Mike, don’t lead me on like this!”

“Benchley’s going, too.”

What? The Old Man’s leaving the base?”

Andrews held up a hand. “Hey. Keep your voice down.”

Kelly looked around, then leaned toward him. “Why is Benchley going out into the field? Isn’t it enough for the senior NCO to be doing that?”

“I asked the same question. Benchley’s words were, ‘It’s an Old Guard thing, Andrews. That’s all you need to know.’ In other words, shut the fuck up, boy, and drive me to where I want to go. I hear Baxter was the last holdout, but if she couldn’t change the Old Man’s mind, then no one could.”

Kelly looked back at Mulligan and Leona again. “We just think of them as a general and a sergeant major, but they’re friends. That’s why he’s not going to let Mulligan go by himself. I get it.”

“Yeah, well, you need to keep this to yourself, at least until after we hit the vehicle lift,” Andrews said. “Don’t even mention it to Jim.” Jim Laird was Kelly’s immediate superior, though he didn’t have much of a command at the moment. But since Self Contained Exploration Vehicle Five was destroyed almost a year ago, he and the rest of that rig’s crew had been filling in on other missions. In fact, Laird and Jordello had both made the return journey to San Jose, to begin sustainment operations of the small group of survivors that remained there. Unsurprisingly, the survivors had welcomed the assistance Harmony Base could provide. All it took for that to happen was for Andrews to kill their violent, paranoid leader Law. It hadn’t been easy thing to accomplish. Law managed to kill two of his top crewmembers and demolished SCEV Four, though enough of the rig had remained to repair and rebuild. It had taken months, and Andrews had to oversee the entire operation.

“I won’t tell anyone, dude. Seriously,” Kelly said. She gazed back at Mulligan and Leona. “I hope she doesn’t get hurt. He might not be the only casualty.”

Andrews regarded the remains of his lunch, and found he was no longer hungry. He pushed the tray away from him. “I know,” he said.

 

As always, all the above is unedited and not guaranteed to make it to print.

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  1. Alex
    June 23, 2017 at 2:09 am

    The calm before the store

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