Adventurer's Notebook - A Scout's Honour (Chapter 3)
The drive after the interview was long and silent. She mutely watched the easy exchange between the driver and Chantal, also seated in the front of the jeep. They shared a comfortable effortlessness recounting their stories, almost playfully reminiscing on good times, glossing over or sitting in brooding silence over the bad. She felt like she had somehow intruded on an intimate moment. Worse still she learned surprisingly little from their banter, other than the numerous years each had worked for Massey Security. Despite the ease of their conversation, Chantal never took her hands off her rifle; neither of them ever stopped scanning the darkness around their convoy.
Micheline kept her silence, still not sure when the other shoe was going to drop. The man who owned this company had hired her himself. He had approved her joining his band of merry men and women. It was easily the most bizarre interview process she had ever heard tell of. Nobody would believe it; she scarcely understood it herself. She jokingly referred to him as her uncle, yet tragically he was as close to one as she had. Felix Massey was also the best chance she had to get more details on her father's life her interview demonstrated she was short on details. For all that was worth, she still felt more like a prisoner than a new employee sitting in the back seat of the jeep.
More than anything, she wanted to suffer the stink of Old Bones again, just long enough for her to get her truck. It didn’t hold up to any real comparison to the jeep they rode in, but the truck was hers. The freedom to move of her own accord wasn’t something she was ready to just let go. As beat up as it was, faded and cracked leather seats, chipped and scratched body work in all manner of places, the motor and electric energy supply system still worked like a dream. It was a symbol of her life. She was comfortable living in the wilds of Free Quebec or the surrounding expanses, at ease surviving outside of the small patches of society where humans held sway. That truck allowed her to traverse those expanses with greater ease.
She really missed that truck.
The drive to Acton Vale was completely uneventful, which didn’t surprise her too much. Well within the boundaries of Free Quebec, few monsters or demons were foolish enough to try and make their mark. She knew about one hundred kilometers to the east it would have been a different scenario. There, lay the unclaimed wilderness leading into the rocky hills of the Appalachian range of the old state of Maine. Their most likely problem would have come from other humans making trouble, something she figured this crew was more than capable of giving as well as they took. They followed the refurbished route of Highway 20, long since reclaimed as a major thoroughfare by Free Quebec. It made easy work of the distance. She figured what might have taken her all night and part of the next day to complete travelling cross country, they accomplished in a fraction of the time. They passed through the outskirts of Mechanicsville in just over two hours, skirting the outer edge of the town and continuing south. A half-hour later they approached a well-lit compound.
“Woah,” she muttered.
“Home sweet home,” Chantal replied.
“You have a UAR-1 Enforcer combat robot guarding your base,” Micheline gushed. The massive bipedal robot, its auto cannon menacing gleaming from its right shoulder mount, moved across the open compound and entered into a massive hangar. “That thing is even more enormous that I imagined.”
“You probably don’t see too many of those out in the wilderness,” Chantal commented.
“You should see when we get both of them working in tandem,” the driver added.
“You have two of those things?" She glanced back at Chantal but couldn’t get a read whether she and the driver were pulling her leg. “How much money does that old man have,” she whispered.
“Careful the questions you ask,” Chantal offered. “Some may get you seriously unwanted attention. Suffice it to say, Massey does well for himself and makes sure we are well armed and stocked to keep it that way.”
A full conversion cyborg in ebony armour, armed with a massive particle beam rifle stopped them at the main gate. The 'borg was flanked by a pair of armed guards in environmental armour with a company emblem emblazoned on the shoulders. One of the guards discussed at length with the driver before waving them through.
“So this is us,” Chantal announced as the jeep halted.
Micheline exited and followed Chantal. The open area of the compound was sizeable. The massive hangar structure the Enforcer had entered occupied almost the entire length of one side. Through the few doors that remained open, she glimpsed at the cavernous interior and the multitude of technicians. Their jeep entered one of the half-dozen smaller garages. A pair of large structures took up the opposing side of the enclosure, the first an obviously refurbished office structure. If the fencing, stand-off barriers and security personnel didn’t announce it as the headquarters, the multiple antennas and dishes mounted on the roof was a dead giveaway.
Chantal led them to what was clearly a barracks, two storeys tall and a pair of wings extending either side of a blockish shaped central portion. As they entered the twin main doors, Micheline was immediately assailed by the noise from the common room. A score of men and women, most still wearing company fatigues, went about the serious business of socializing in their downtime.
“Who are you looking for,” Micheline asked over the din as Chantal scanned the room.
“Philippe,” she answered, as if Micheline should have known before asking.
“I won’t be working for you then?”
“No,” Chantal scoffed. “You’re going to patrol operations. I run what’s affectionately known as smuggling ops.”
“No need for scouts in smuggling?”
“Not unless you want to spend most of your days in places like Old Bones securing deals,” she answered, still searching.
“See that pair of thugs in the back sitting together against the wall? The one with the bald guy slamming back a pitcher? That’s part of your new crew.”
The bald guy looked like he was in his late thirties, clearly another partial conversion. His bionic arms were coloured a dull, non-reflective copper, left eye replaced by a cybernetic enhancement. Sitting next to him was a young man, his native heritage obvious by his skin tone and features. A tribal tattoo swept down from his left temple along his jaw, his head shorn except a short mohawk leading into a braided ponytail that fell down past his shoulders.
“Philippe,” Chantal cajoled, “you’re going to embarrass yourself in front of everyone, again. Remember the last time you tried to chug a pitcher of beer?”
Philippe slammed the container on the table. Micheline was positive it would have shattered, yet it stayed intact, not even a chip or a crack. “That’s not fair,” he answered, feigning shock. “You ever try finishing a drink while someone took a pot shot at your back with a las pistol?” He emphasized his point with a forceful belch.
“The charmer is Philippe, your new squad leader. This here, is Kennie, squad comms operator and babysitter of your new boss.”
“New squad leader,” Philippe asked as Kennie nodded and shook Micheline’s hand.
“Micheline just joined the company and is getting assigned to patrol ops. Your squad. I’ll let you handle introductions with Anna and Piggy then.”
“Anna and Piggy,” Micheline ventured as Chantal left.
“Oh, that is going to be fun,” Philippe said with a genuine laugh. “We won’t spoil the surprise. For now, let me introduce myself properly. Philippe Thomas, squad leader. Our call sign is Six-Delta, so anytime you hear that, it means you. I’ve been with MSI for three years now, squad leader for just under two. This lad here we call Kennie.”
“Kennebec Mooskwas, but everyone calls me Kennie.”
“Kennie it is then. I’m Micheline Leduc.”
“Too many syllables” Philippe proclaimed, shaking his head.
Kennie rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. “Here we go again.”
“I’m a little lost, which has become a slightly annoying theme for the day.”
Philippe here has a thing with call signs for everyone in the squad, which kind of sets us apart from the rest of patrol ops. Everyone in Six-Delta has one. When I joined up, he tried getting the first part of my family name, ‘Moose,’ to stick until I told him that the name was a complete Abenaki term for muskrat. He settled for Kennie instead of Kennebec.”
“Anna and Piggy then?”
“Anna was easy,” Philippe replied with a grin. “That’s all she goes by, no last name. As for Piggy, well he’s our heavy weapons guy. Gunners are also known as pigmen, so Piggy. Anna suggested it. Never figured out if there was an inside joke to it.”
Kennie continued. “The simple matter is that on the radios, the call signs come out easier. No fancy military nicknames, no code words like some of the others use.”
“Which means we’ll have to find one for you too,” Philippe said. His expression turned serious, as if the drinking and the surrounding scene was not of particular interest. “Our squad is on standby, so we’ll have a chance to get to know you better over the next few days. We may not be Coalition military, but our squad runs tight. Kennie joined us shortly after I got this squad, Anna and Piggy were a couple for a little longer than that, and they both came in together. Make no mistake, when we start dodging laser beams or try to keep some demon from ripping open our bowels, you don’t want to be a stickler on formality.”
“So, do I get to make suggestions on my call sign,” she asked carefully.
Philippe and Kennie laughed amicably. “Oh no,” Philippe answered. “That’s something where you get no input in whatsoever.”
“Not sure if I like the sounds of that,” replied, smiling for the first time today. “Has it always been you four,” she asked.
Kennie exhaled and Philippe bowed his head for a moment. The mood turned on a dime.
“We had a scout,” Philippe answered. “Gripper. He joined us about six months ago. Our last mission, he never made it back.”
“Dare I ask?”
“You can ask,” Philippe replied. A moment later he shrugged of his shoulders. “The damned fool got his bowels ripped open by a demon.”
"Let's get you settled in then," Philippe said. "We'll find Anna and Piggy afterwards."
Continue to Chapter 4
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