Chapter One

Any moment now… he rolled over onto his side to look at the clock set into the wall of his bunk. 4:28… time to get up. He groaned as he hauled himself out of bed. A few other men in his bunker were doing the same. It seemed they were getting used to the wake-up call as well, though the majority of his brothers-in-arms were still snoring soundly. He looked back to the clock. 4:29, now. He walked down the row of bunks to the shower room he shared with his platoon. Any second now… he was almost to the door… five… four… three… two… Startled cries erupted from the surrounding bunks as the silent wake-up call began, spraying their sleeping faces with ice-cold water. A startled gasp was much harder to hear than a blaring siren, and when a secret base was so close to enemy lines, silence really was golden.

Chuckling, he walked into the showers. A short corridor lined with benches and hooks led into a large room with shower-heads and soap/shampoo dispensers sprouting from all four of the tiled walls. A large square column rose from the middle of the room, likewise tiled and bristling with shower-heads. Water flow could be turned on or off by hitting a single button. Computers in the maintenance wing of the base set the temperature for the water. Recessed lighting in the floor and ceiling provided the room with a steady white light. Another corridor on the opposite side of the room led to the toilets.

The floor was covered in a rubbery material called Retlon, developed by the brains at headquarters. Bulletproof, flameproof, waterproof… and it also made a good non-slip surface. The only problem with that little miracle was that once you put it onto something, you couldn't get it off for shit, thanks to the fact that it integrated itself right into the material it found itself on. If you ever got a drop of that stuff on your skin, they'd end up having to take a chunk of meat out of you the size of a golf ball just to get it off. Luckily, the compound became inactive after a few hours of drying, so in its current state it was safe to walk on. Or at least that's what Administration said… he sure as hell hoped they were right.

Two more men were already undressed and showering by the time he walked in. They turned quickly to look at him. It was easy to get jumpy here on the front lines. He raised his hand in greeting before stripping. "What's up, girls?" he grinned, stripping.

The larger one responded first, his chestnut colored skin and bald head glistening as he turned under the hot water. "Just gettin' ready for another fuckin' beautiful day, chief." He said sarcastically. "Had me some crazy ass dreams last night…"

The other one in the shower spoke up then, red eyes contrasting with his pale milk complexion. "You think you had some fucked up dreams, man, then you ain't been in my head. I'd trade you dreams anytime, man… I'd probly get some goddamn sleep for once." He spit down the drain. "Yo, Captain Munch, when the fuck are we gettin' outta this hell-hole?"

"Yeah, I'd like to know that too, Greg. I still ain't heard no dates about when we're gettin' switched out from Administration. Maybe someone higher up than us grunts knows?" He looked to Greg expectantly with big black eyes, pursing his lips in a fashion of mock interest.

Greg smiled at the veiled insult. Chauncey was always a dick. "Sorry to bust your bubble, Chaunce, but I haven't heard anything either. Seems to me they love us so much they want to keep us here, eh?"

The albino slapped some more soap on his compact frame. "Man, fuck them! We're over here gettin' our asses handed to us everyday, and they're over at Titan in they're nice little chairs, and they're nice hot coffee, all cozy in their nice big offices, and they can't even fucking keep a goddamn schedule for when we get to go home! Fucking shits…" Slamming the button to stop the water, he stomped over to the benches and started furiously drying himself off.

Greg shook his head. "Yeah, I know, Milk, I know. We've already been here for the full three months. They should be sending down the order to clear out soon enough," he said, trying to sound more confident than he really was. Milk grunted. Chauncey turned off his water and lumbered over to the benches to join them.

"Well one way or another we're gonna be gone soon. Saw some Smurf scouts on my patrol scan yesterday. Don't know if they know we're here yet, but they usually figure it out pretty quick. That's how we lost that base in the Alley, right chief?"

Greg grimaced. The Alley was a huge ravine that ran through the United Territory's western border. Last month, the base that had been set up in the ravine walls, a base that should have been undetectable by sensors or line of sight had been destroyed by enemy missile. If those scouts found this base… well the anti-aircraft systems would be able to stop any heavy ballistics fired at them from above. It had been expensive as hell, the main reason why the Alley base hadn't installed one yet. No, they would be fine until the enemy mobilized their forces. Then they were screwed. Milk threw his towel into the hamper chute. "What! Are you fuckin' kiddin' me, man?! Fuck! If they know we're here, we're gonna be fuckin' stuck here!" he yelled, wringing his face with his hands. "Ooooohhh maaaaaannnn…."

Greg pushed him down onto the bench. "Shut up and put your pants on, Milk. We'll be fine."

Grumbling, Milk shoved himself into his clothes and walked out the door. Chauncey stared after him. "He's right, though, chief. If those fuckin' Smurfs know we're down here, we won't be able to evacuate without exposing ourselves to attack."

Greg looked back at Chauncey. "Then let's hope they don't know we're here." He walked over to the shower and hit the button for water. Sighing, he tried to wash his problems down the drain with the sweat from his body. After he'd finished showering, using the toilets and dressing, he walked back through the barracks and out into the main hall of the Residential Sector. It curved off to the right and left, forming a circular pattern around the massive central elevator shaft that would be (preferably never) used to transport men and vehicles to the surface in case of an infantry based attack on the base. All seven levels of the base were designed like that to decrease evacuation time. But for the more mundane everyday transportation between sectors, smaller and admittedly more comfortable elevators were installed on the outer edges of each floor.

A lilting latin voice called to him down the hall to his right. "Hola, Capitan! Cómo está Usted esta mañana?" The small Puerto Rican woman smiled as she playfully half marched, half skipped toward him. How the hell was she so damn happy all the time?

"You know I don't know what the hell you're saying, Celestina," he replied gruffly.

She giggled. "That's what makes it fun, sir." She stopped in front of him, looking him up and down. "Off to PT?" she asked.

"Yeah. Oddly enough, the schedule on this wonder cruise just doesn't change… now if you don't mind, my platoon can't start without me." He tried to push past her, but she grabbed onto his arm.

"Mind if I join you, Capitan?" she smiled.

"Shouldn't you be going with your platoon?"

She winked, smiling. "You aremy platoon. Here're the papers."

He barely glanced at the stamped form before he folded it up and shoved it in his pocket. "Finally my turn with you, eh?" he said flatly. "All right then, let's go…"

They walked down the hall to the first available elevator and went inside. A waist high rail ran along the padded walls. Another door occupied the far wall. From the top of the door, a red electronic eye swiveled to look at them. "Level?" a cool female voice cooed.

"Physical Training." Greg replied.

"Room?"

"Three."

The elevator gave a soft ding and began to descend.

Greg turned toward Celestina, his arms folded across his chest. "So what the hell did you do this time?"

She gave a mischevious smile as she returned his stern gaze. "Nothing new, sir. They gave me orders; I just thought of better ones to follow."

He sighed. "Let me make it clear then that I want my orders to be followed to the letter; none of you little side adventures. Remember that I'm your last stop before they send you off to dance with the Smurfs without ballerina shoes, eh?"

She grinned even wider. "Aw, you wouldn't do that to me, Capitan. You know I only dance solo."

"You're dancing with the other girls as long as you're on my cheerleading squad, private."

"Only if you're the one choreographing it, sir."

The elevator slowed to a halt and suddenly lurched off to the side, carrying them around the circular track that ran through the center of the Physical Training level of the base. It slowed to a gentle stop as the cool female voice chimed, "Level Six, Physical Training, Room Three." The elevator dinged again as the doors behind them slid open to admit the harsh phosphorescent light of the training room. Greg walked out into the spacious and empty room, noting that half his platoon was missing.

"All right," he barked, "can someone tell me where the hell the rest of my platoon is?"

Chauncey looked up from his stretches, a smirk on his face. "They got pancakes in the mess this mornin', chief. I said they'd still be there when we got done wit' PT, but…" he stood up and shrugged. "Can't get 'tween a man and his breakfast, I guess."

"Where's Milk?"

"He's da one dat told 'em to stay, chief," a muscular man with the slanted features of a hawk replied from the back of the room.

"Remind me the beat the shit out of him when he gets down here," Greg growled.

Hawk gestured with his head toward Celestina. "Who's da dame, cap'n?" he asked.

"Fresh meat. Don't get too hungry, though. She's can be pretty damn raw when she wants."

Celestina gave him a playful punch in the arm. "C'mon, Capitan! You're blowing my cover!" she laughed.

Greg grinned. "I'm only thinking about the safety of one of my troops. No soldier in their right mind should be fucking around with a loose cannon."

An obscene smile spread across Hawk's face. "Should be fine if you strap it down wit' enough rope, chief."

"Hm… now that just might work," Celestina replied impishly, "but the ropes had better be extra tight."

Greg turned back towards the elevator. "If you don't mind, I have to round up the rest of my happy flock. Make sure you limber up some more, Hawk. You might need it later."

"Yes, sir!" Hawk saluted.

Celestina followed him to the elevator. "Don't you want some help, Capitan?"

He cocked an eyebrow. "I think I'm a big enough boy to take care of it myself, thanks." He sighed as he pushed the button to call the elevator. "But you're just gonna follow me anyway, aren't you?"

"Ooh, you're a mind reader? I didn't know."

The elevator doors opened, accompanied with the usual ding. "Come on, then. Let's go round up some grunts…"

Greg could hear the commotion in the mess hall long before the elevator reached the floor. "I don't wanna watch," he said, putting one hand firmly over his eyes "let me know how bad it is." The elevator stopped and the doors opened to what he assumed was utter chaos.

"Do you want the truth or do you want me to sugar-coat it, Capitan?" he heard Celestina shout over the din.

"Let's hear the nicer version first."

"It's fucking loco."

Greg sighed and took the hand from his eyes. Pancakes lined the walls at odd intervals, plastered in place by the gratuitous amount of butter and syrup that ran down the walls like fresh paint. Scrambled eggs soared through the air like surface to air missiles, causing fluffy yellow explosions on impact and making the floor slick with avian infanticide. He barely had time to curse as a tray grazed over his head and smacked the elevator door with a clang.

"Chief!" Celestina shouted pointing to the middle of the mayhem, "Five guesses who started this shit!"

Milk was viciously assaulting a cook on a table in the middle of the conflict, barely acknowledging the various objects and punches thrown at him by the rest of the kitchen staff. "WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT?!" he screamed as he thrust a half-eaten pancake into the bloodied cook's face. "BRAN FUCKING PANCAKES?! What the fuck am I supposed to do with this fucking rabbit ass shit?! Fuck you!!!" He forcefully opened the cook's jaws and stuffed the rest of the pancake into his mouth. "Does the fucking taste good to you, man?! HUH, FUCKER?!" Milk jammed the food farther into the cook's throat before he tried to spit it out to reply. "I don't give a shit if YOU fucking like it, bitch! This shit tastes like ass to ME, man!!! FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT!!!"

Before Milk could abuse his prisoner any further, Greg ran into the fray and jumped on top of him, tackling him to the ground. He socked the albino in the face. "What the FUCK are you doing?!" he screamed as the activity in the room abrubtly halted.

Milk rubbed his jaw, still fuming. "I fucking told these shits I wanted pancakes instead of this fucking chicken feed, chief… little bitch over the counter tells me that it's fucking better for me! So I was showing the fucker what's fucking better for him!"

"Now I expect this kind of stupid shit from you," Greg muttered as he punched Milk again, pointing at him as he stood up, "But what the hell are the rest of you dumbasses doing?! You're all getting written up for severe misconduct!"

A private with a rather large nose stepped forward. "But some of us didn't do anything, captain!"

"Exactly why you're getting written up too, shit head. You could have stopped this shit for brains extravaganza before it got out of hand!" He planted a boot firmly into Milk's chest and pointed to the door. "Breakfast is over, ladies! Everyone is my platoon, report to PT. Anyone else can stay and clean up this mess; but don't get too busy," he smirked down at his captive, "we wouldn't want to save our angry little neo-nazi too little of the work, would we?" Milk grunted as Greg lifted the heel of his boot. "Until further notice, I'm demoting you to janitorial duty. Try not to make more of a mess, Milk." And with one more swift kick to Milk's ribs, he followed the rest of his platoon to the elevator, unsuccessfully trying to conceal the broad grin that was spreading across his face.