Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The dim glow of combat lighting is broken by a single white spotlight, which goes out as our new officer scrambles through the side hatch, barely slowing from a flat sprint. I don’t blame him. There’s several varieties of lethal flying about outside.
“Good morning. I will be your tank today. As we are now ready to depart, please ensure all genitals and other munitions are stowed safely.”
The officer rolls over and – her! – eyes are a breathtaking shade of sky blue.
“Good morning, tank. My chesticles are secure, thank you for the reminder. Do I just call you ‘tank’ or do you have a callsign you use when a superior officer is bollocking you?”
There’s a strained silence, broken by the ‘thud’ of the side hatch closing.
“Callsign ‘Gentry’, ma’am.”
She smiles and, just like that, I’m in love.
“Thank you for not mentioning anything involving upright positions, Gentry.”
The piercing eyes look about: “Sound off!”
The crew don’t miss a beat.
“Private Blachent. Loader, ma’am. Callsign ‘Greaser’.”
“Gunnery Sergeant Jones, ma’am. Callsign ‘Jupiter’.”
“Communications Officer Williams, ma’am. Callsign ‘Cleric’.”
“Private Raddle. Driver, ma’am. Callsign ‘Whiz’.”
“Corporal Neun. Driver, ma’am. Callsign ‘Dodge’.”
My turn: “Lieutenant Hallam, ma’am. Callsign ‘Comet’.
The new ruler of our chariot – and love of my life – keeps talking as she swings herself under, round, and up into the command saddle, without a trace of effort showing in her voice: “Captain Lallie Bann. Callsign ‘Spooky’.”
She wiggles herself comfortable: “You call me Spooky at all times, except in the presence of brass. Now, everything says you’re a top tank. So, if you would be kind enough to tell me the truth about Captain O’Donnell, we can get back to being a neighbourhood threat.”
I look about. Everyone’s looking at me. So, I gaze into those awesome eyes and lay it on like a smooth bastard.
“Mitch O’Donnell chose his own callsign. ‘Captain Kong’ is what we had to call him. Failure to do so was punished with a day spent scouring Gentry’s drainage channels. During combat, the Captain was usually involved in something important elsewhere – not that the roster showed that. When he did ride with us, we became a ‘hyena’: picking off damaged units from the outskirts of the engagement.
The last time he rode with us, a drone mine took out one of Gentry’s drives. With the front withdrawing, we were left on hostile ground to fix a massive piece of tank which would then need all of us to hold while Gentry realigned it. We were vigorously discussing Captain O’Donnell’s reluctance to get his kit dirty during realignment when some opposition wandered by and started using us for target practice. To our surprise, Captain O’Donnell volunteered to hold them off while we jury-rigged the alignment. Unfortunately, he sustained fatal wounds during the brave intervention that saved us all.”
She looks at me, the ghost of a smile playing at the corners of her mouth: “I see. So, the accounts of a beleaguered crew fighting both enemy patrols and their own hysterical captain, repelling the former and subduing the latter, all whilst performing an ingenious ad-hoc fix to their tank, are erroneous?”
“Totally, ma’am.” Her eyes narrow. “Totally, Spooky. If we’d subdued him, he wouldn’t have ended up under our wheels, now would he?”
She smiles: “I’d bet that sharply creased uniform gave Gentry the extra traction it needed.”
Gentry interjects: “Captain Kong would have been honoured to know his remains served a purpose.”
Spooky bursts out laughing: “I doubt it, but, it’s more than he deserved. Enough. Move out!”