Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The Forward Operating Base is packed: personnel and equipment moving with alacrity in what, at first glance, appears to be a scene of total chaos. Standing quietly to one side, a holonews anchorman lets his videodrone stabilise before starting.

“I’m here today with Captain Riff Bargel of the 263rd MDSCP, better known to homeworlds viewers as the ‘Tactical Rednecks’.”

He turns to the green-uniformed officer standing next to him.

“Don’t you find it offensive to be called that?”

“Who d’you think named us, son? Nobody gives us anything we don’t want to carry. Easier to get your tongue round than ‘the Two Hundred and Sixty-Third Multi-Draft Special Combat Platoon’, too.”

“You don’t sound like an American.”

“I’m not. Every country has a south. Seems that the folks who inhabit those particular areas share certain attitudes, too.”

“Like what?”

“Respect for our elders. Personal responsibility. Stubborn as several hells. Tougher than them hells n’all. We also like to party, shoot stuff, play music loud, and fight. Lords, but we do love a good scrap.”

“What about racist tendencies?”

“When your squad is the only thing standing between you and something that looks like a giant, ambulatory octopus intestine, you tend to forget little things like colour o’skin and which holy book they subscribe to.”

“I see. What about integration issues?”

“Very few. The language spoken by drunk people is intergalactic, we’ve found. Each new intake gets rat-arsed the first night on camp. Next morning, they’re either Rednecks or they took the dawn shuttle back to wherever they came from. Them’s that remain get a memory add-on that handles the rest.”

“You rather colourfully described a Dabbiloch just now. What’s your take on them?”

“Officially, we don’t like them very much. Personally, I say any race what conceals a vicious vertebrate slave ‘n’ cattle subculture from all-comers for fifty years ain’t fit to share space with any of us.”

“What about the claims of anti-invertebrate hate campaigning?”

“Have to seen Sergeant Krakti?”

“No.”

“Look over there. You see that grey-leafed plant, the one with the purple stripes?”

“Yes.”

“Keep watchin’.”

On the opposite side of the field, the ‘plant’ suddenly inverts itself, stands up on its ‘leaves’, and throws two recruits over a truck.

“Good grief.”

“She’s a Lannugeng variform. Also our infiltration and ambush instructor.”

“A better answer than I expected, Captain. So, I see there’s a lot of activity here. What’s happening?”

Riff smiles icily at him: “If I tell you, Corporal Blattastav will have to eat you, and he’s already eaten once this week.”

The anchorman laughs nervously: “Well, that’s a new take on having to kill me if you tell me.”

“I’m serious. We have no idea what sort of implants you have. The good corporal is a full-grown Charven Neosaur. He can digest anything short of one-inch plate steel, and his frequency-baffling hide means no emanations escape, either. Which means you and your devices would be utterly gone.” Riff grins: “So, do you really want to know what’s going on?”

The anchorman turns to his drone: “This is Ike Preston for KDIN, somewhere in the Hyades, signing off.”

“Good choice. Let’s go get us a drink. Then I’ll introduce you to Blattastav; his views on fighting with ‘little people’ are funny as all get-out.”