Silence fell instantly over the entire barracks. Chess shifted his gaze to Dallow, the recruit next to him. And Dallow was staring open-mouthed at the guy who had just yelled. Time seemed to stop.
Then, someone stirred in a corner of the room and walked over to them. Chess let out his breath and felt his stomach clench as he recognized another of the rather large and enthusiastic recruits. The guy had his outer shirt slung over one shoulder, effecting a casual manner. He stopped walking, faced the recruit who had been yelling, and said quietly, “It’s not your platoon yet.”
When the other recruit just glared at him in stony silence, the newcomer added, “You’re not the only one here who did some pre-basic training back in civ, so don’t go thinking you’re a sure thing for platoon leader.”
“We’ll see,” the other guy growled and stomped off. Other recruits made way for him.
The recruit now standing in front of their cots pulled the shirt down from his shoulder and folded it neatly over his arm. Then he glared at Dallow. “He’s right. You’re a total mess. What’s wrong with you?” he demanded loudly.
The kid, Dallow, tried to speak. A few snickers were audible from elsewhere in the room. The guy stopped glaring at Dallow and straightened. “My name’s Ellis,” he announced. “And everyone in my platoon will graduate.” He scanned the area around them with a fierce expression. Chess could hear Dallow breathing.
Still scowling, Ellis asked, “Who will help this poor jackass get his act together so we don’t all suffer because of him?”
The strained moment had a movie-like quality, extending into deafening silence. Finally, Chess muttered, “I will.” When he spoke, weirdly, it seemed as though he should stand to accept the duty. Instead, he shrugged and leaned back on his cot, trying to look as if the whole thing was no big deal.
“Thank you,” Ellis answered emphatically, with a curt nod. Only when the guy walked away did Chess allow himself to exhale.
Feeling light-headed, he turned toward Dallow and noticed the extreme lack of color in the kid’s face. “Take it easy,” he said quietly, trying to sound reassuring. “This is nothing.” When the kid just blinked at him, he continued on, wanting to fill in the silence. “Yeah, getting ready in the morning: it’s all a strategy.”
“There’s not enough time to do everything,” Dallow muttered. “And I really have to shave.”
“Yeah, well…” Chess self-consciously rubbed at his own smooth chin. “That’s why you gotta have a plan… a strategy. It’s…,” he hesitated, “uh, it’s like playing chess. You don’t just think about what you’re doing right now; you think about what you’re doing next. You think five moves ahead.” He spoke faster as he began to get accustomed to the idea. Dallow just shook his head miserably.
“Look,” Chess proposed, “we’ll line everything up for you and we’ll practice. Right now.”
“Now?” Dallow looked panicked.
“Yeah,” Chess insisted. He was aware, on the edge of his consciousness, of conversations around him, of people looking at him, but he shrugged it off. In the game, his strategies and ideas had been questioned, even ridiculed, frequently. But he had managed enough successes over time to have some confidence in his own ideas. Okay, this was different, but somehow it felt kind of the same.
“What’s up with those two, anyway?” Dallow wondered, sounding irritable now.
“You mean Ellis and, uh...” Chess shrugged. “Both want to be ‘platoon leader,’ I guess. Well, they can have it. Let them fight over it. So, anyway: how many different things do you have to do in the morning?” In his earnestness, he jumped up and grabbed the kid’s shaving kit.
Dallow just watched him. “Forget it,” he sighed. “I just can’t do it.”
In agitation, Chess stopped and faced him. “You just have to think: I’ll do it or I’ll die trying.”
“To shave?” Dallow squeaked, looking horrified.
Despite his growing frustration, Chess managed a smirk. “Sure. Razors can be dangerous.”
Continued next page...
Rasczak: C'mon you apes, you wanna live forever?
Starship Troopers (1997)
Valeria: Do you want to live forever?
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
And so on…
So, the story that is being published here is probably the third incarnation of my original idea. The second version of my story dealt mainly with war and leadership. The first version was very much fantasy: sword and sorcery-ish along the lines of eighties movies like Conan the Barbarian. It also dealt with war and leadership, but in a way that was more fun to write. Oh, and it had this David Bowie-in-Labyrinth sort of character… well, never mind: that character evolved, too!
Speaking of movies, perhaps some of the recruits in Chess’s military training camp seem familiar? I have not seen the movie Platoon for many years, but the characters of the two sergeants in that movie, and the conflict between them, stayed in my mind.
Back to the subject of the President’s speech, mentioned in the previous blog: maybe only a gamer would scroll quickly through the text of the speech and think that it includes a reference to “Muslim dwarfs.” (don’t believe me? well, go back and take a look!)
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