Disclaimer: This story is intended for adults. If it is illegal to read this story where you are, don't read it. All characters in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to actual people is coincidental.
Foreword: This story takes place in the Swarm Cycle shared story universe, created by Thinking Horndog. If you are not familiar with the premise of this universe, I would recommend you first read Thinking Horndog's stories 'Average Joes' and 'Pickup Number Eighteen'.
Artemis Lunar Base
August 7, Year 3
"So, rookie, you ready to lose your cherry?" Sergeant Hulegu asked, as they took their seats in the briefing room with the rest of the squad.
Private Ed Blake, newly minted Confederacy Marine, struggled not to roll his eyes. "I spent my whole adult life in the U.S. Army, most of it as an NCO, with three combat tours. No disrespect, Sarge, but you don't need to treat me like some dumb kid. It's just scooping up some civilians, how hard can it be?"
Hulegu just scowled at him. She scowled often, and well, her glare as dark as her features. She said nothing.
"Quiet, everyone, let's get to work." Lieutenant Amiens strode into the briefing room. "Hulegu, you drew this one up, I'll let you do the honors."
"Thank you. AI, display the target site, please." The Marine sergeant walked calmly up to the podium, and the viewscreen lit up with a map of the extraction site.
Private Spunkmeyer peered at the screen. "That's a screwy lookin' restaurant."
Corporal Dent snorted. "It's not a restaurant, you idiot," she chided him.
Spunkmeyer peered closer. "Well then, it's a screwy lookin' diner."
"It's not a diner," Amiens sighed, his hand covering his eyes in disgust, "and it's not a bar, either. We have enough waitresses. And before you open your mouth, Spunkmeyer," he growled, "it's not a mall. Hulegu, please continue."
"It's a small amusement park," Hulegu explained, "located a couple miles outside a tiny town named Grummond, Kentucky. It's a fourth-rate attraction, by American standards, but typically has a near optimal mix of sponsor level visitors and fertile females. Furthermore, there's a large number of ex-military in the area, who frequently attend with their families. We should get some good skill sets out of this grab."
Blake eyed the layout. "I don't like it. Maybe we should stick to diners."
"Aw, hell," Private Fregosi whined, "looks like the rookie is that guy."
"The name's Ed, kid," Blake snapped, "and what's that supposed to mean?"
Private Chavez snickered. "That guy. The guy who always 'has a bad feeling about this', every fucking mission."
"Like hell," Ed growled. "No way I'm that guy. I've been laughing at that guy since before you kids were born." He pointed at the layout. "70,000 square meters, lots of potential hiding places, with attractions and crap blocking all the sight lines. Am I the only one who sees a potential problem here? We'll have our hands full just keeping everyone where we can see them."
"That's enough, Private," Lieutenant Amiens snapped. "Before you go second guessing your superiors, I think you should wait until you've extracted at least one volunteer. Continue, Sergeant."
Hulegu nodded. "The park is surrounded by a high fence, except for one entrance, so containment is no issue. It's a half mile off the main road, with only one access road, so there's no drive-by traffic -- we'll have plenty of privacy. The AI's have tapped into the park's closed-circuit security system. Between that and the drones, we'll have visual coverage of the entire area. And there's no record of violent incidents in the park's security log, going back several years -- for some reason, this place gets the quiet types."
Sergeant Hulegu began pointing around the diagram as she gave out individual assignments. "Dent, you'll be posted on top of this structure as a spotter, just in case the cameras miss something. Spunkmeyer, you'll stay near her; set up the field terminus here, but be ready to back up Dent at any sign of trouble. Fregosi, Chavez, you clear out these two rides, gather everyone in this area, and oversee the conk selection. Crebbs, Wendt, same drill with these other two attractions -- you can set up in this dining area here."
"What about me, ma'am?" Blake asked.
"You'll be with me, rook," Hulegu said. "We'll start out on the access road, setting up a road block and construction signs to keep gawkers from wandering by. Then we'll teleport inside the park and deal with any strays or problem areas."
'Christ, ' Blake thought, 'this Mongolian lady is actually gonna chaperone me?' He nodded. "Yes, ma'am. When do we leave?"
The AI spoke from the ceiling. <<It is estimated that volunteer numbers will peak in three to five hours.>>
"Muster in the transporter hub in two and a half hours," Hulegu instructed. "In the mean time, go home, eat some lunch, and fuck your conks."
Crebbs chuckled. "Good thing you spelled it out. Spunkmeyer might get confused, eat his conks and fuck his lunch."
Spunkmeyer extended a middle finger. "Fuck you, Crebbs. I never eat my conks."
Outside Grummond, Kentucky
Sergeant Hulegu looked to the sky as she received an update from the AI. "Thirty-three?" she muttered. "That's enough. Move into position, we're closing the road now. Dent, watch the exit. If anyone starts to leave before we get there, put up the interdiction field and start the extraction."
Blake began to drag the construction sign out onto the road as Hulegu closed the gate. 'We should have some of those orange construction barrel barrier things, ' he thought. 'What are those barrels called, anyway?' He didn't second guess the sergeant out loud this time. It was moot, anyway. Whatever they were called, the replicators didn't have patterns for them.
"Get the billboard," the sergeant called out. She was spraying some nanites on the lock to the gate.
"Yes, ma'am," he called out. Just next to the road, a small billboard read: 'Joy Kingdom! Wholesome family fun is just a half-mile ahead!'.
He plastered a new paper strip over the sign, covering the lower half. It now read: 'Wholesome family fun is CLOSED FOR REMODELING.'
"You done yet?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am," Blake replied, pressing the paper smooth. "Ready to kick ass and take names!" He turned just in time to be shoved back against the billboard by Hulegu, who grabbed him by the throat.
"Get something straight, Private." Hulegu's dark eyes were boring into him. "You are not a warrior. You're a herdsman. You won't be kicking anything. We're here to gather and protect. There are no enemies in that park, only sheep and goats. Our job is to get them safely away -- the wolves are coming."
'She really is a nut job.' Ed nodded agreement. "Yeah, yeah, I've got it. You wanna let go of my neck now, ma'am?"
She released him, walking calmly toward the transporter pad. "Keep up, rook."
He followed, steaming. "Enough of the rookie shit, when are you going to start using my name?" He checked himself, grumbling out a "ma'am?"
The sergeant never looked back. "When you bring out a sheep." She stepped on the pad and blinked away.
'This is what happens when you try to build an army out of random global civilians, ' he thought, 'bullshit koans about farm animals.' He stepped onto the transporter pad, wondering where he was going to find a sheep.
Blake stepped off of the transporter pad, and found himself surrounded by plastic sheep.
"Well, that solves that problem," Ed shrugged to himself.
"Baaa," the tinny speaker inside the sheep greeted him.
Blake quickly scanned the area. Just ahead, a carousel spun -- with plastic sheep instead of plastic horses. A little past the carousel, some teenage boys and girls were dancing in a circle near some fruit trees. To the left, Crebbs and Wendt lounged by a giant boat. To the right, Fregosi and Chavez were stationed at the base of a water slide, under a sign that read 'Tower of Bubble'. Closer by, Sergeant Hulegu was scanning the area herself, while Spunkmeyer was petting one of the plastic sheep.
"They're not real, Spunkmeyer," a voice called out from above. Blake looked up, and saw Dent sitting on top of a 20 foot cross.
Hulegu walked up to him. "Something wrong, rook?"
"It's creeping me out, Sarge," Blake confessed. "A Christian amusement park?"
"So?" she shrugged. "I thought you were Christian."
"Technically, yeah. I'm a Unitarian," he explained. 'A lax Unitarian, to boot.'
Hulegu wasn't especially interested. "Whatever. We're starting now. You deal with those dancing teenagers over in the Garden of Eden Picnic Area -- they're all unarmed, don't see how you can screw that up." She looked up at the sky. "AI, start the announcement."
A recorded message began playing from every speaker in the park -- including the plastic sheep. <<Attention, please. This is a Confederacy extraction... >>
Blake jogged over toward the teens, who had stopped their circle dance. As he approached, he was able to make out their conversation.
"Do you think it's real, Thomas?" a chubby brunette girl was asking the boy next to her.
"Of course not, Mary," Thomas answered serenely. "Reverend Pribbles warned us about this. We're just being tested by God."
A small blonde girl looked around curiously. "Where is Father? He should be back with the ice cream by now."
.... There is more of this story ...