Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Sergeant Brake sat in the makeshift barracks reviewing the intelligence briefing he’d been handed just moments before.

“These used to come on paper,” he waved the digital tablet at the spit and polished runner who’d brought him the device. The younger man was waiting for some sort of feedback to take to his commanding officer and looked visibly confused. “Orders. Intel,” Brake continued, “we used to get these on pieces of paper. Can’t exactly fold this up and stuff it in a pocket now can we?”

The young soldier shifted uneasily from foot to foot. “Don’t you just remember this stuff, once you’ve seen it I mean sir? Don’t you just, you know, upload it or something?”

“Smart arse.” Brake shook his head and went back to scanning the pages of intelligence and objectives before him.

Scattered around the room the rest of his unit were shaking off the cold of the deep freeze and acquainting themselves with their current kit. Marshall was studying the maintenance instructions for the fifty calibre chain gun laid out in pieces on the table in front of him, and Morse and Checkin were stripping and reassembling their own equipment in a silent competition, racing to tear the weapons down, then switching places and racing to see who could reassemble the other’s first.

Visor sat in the lotus position in the middle of the room with a keyboard in his lap and a set of virtual reality goggles covering the upper half of his face. His fingers flew, occasionally reaching out to reorient something in the virtual space in front of him, his jaw clenched in stern concentration.

The rest of the soldiers were exercising and stretching, or availing themselves of the rations laid out in the small kitchenette.

“You ship out at oh four hundred Sergeant, you and your men should get some rest.” The young soldier looked around the room, none of the men had stopped moving since he’d arrived and hadn’t given him so much as a glance.

Brake put the tablet down on the table and pushed it out of his way then reached for the cup of coffee he’d been drinking. “Son, these men have been asleep since we pulled out of Iraq, and they’d only had a few days R and R before they went in the deep freeze after we checked out of the Saigon Hilton. Twenty seven days active in Korea and I think that was just to make sure we still worked after sitting on ice since the Führer scratched his head with his Walther.” He paused to scratch his own freshly shaven head with one weathered hand. “These men have slept more in the last hundred years than most people sleep in their entire lifetime, so don’t you worry about us, we’ll do just fine as long as that press formed chow doesn’t upset one of my boys’ sensitive stomachs, after all, they haven’t eaten in a while.”

The runner eyed the door and then extended his hand, “Corporal Dawson sir, I won’t see you before you deploy, and I just wanted to say good luck.”

Brake considered the outstretched hand silently for a moment, and then looked Dawson straight in the eye. The hand wavered.

“Corporal, luck won’t do us a damn bit of good where we’re going, and I don’t expect you will see us again, not before we deploy, and not when we get back, assuming of course any of us do get back. And once we’ve put this little mission behind us, I expect your commanding officer will do what his predecessor did, and his before him, he’ll put us back in the box, dial down the temperature and forget we even exist until the next time someone fucks up something they can’t fix, and then, provided someone hasn’t built a better version of us than us, they’ll thaw us out again and send us back into the shit show.”

Corporal Dawson slowly withdrew his hand.

“What you can do, Corporal, ” Brake slowly rose to his feet, and Dawson realized that most of the soldiers were watching the exchange now, “you can bloody well remember that while you’re tucking yourself into bed tonight pretending the dark and dirty front lines don’t exist, we’re out there doing what you can’t stomach the thought of doing so that you don’t have to. Remember that.” Brake turned his attention back to his coffee, and added under his breath, “Remember us. No one else will.”

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