Chapter 1: Bde Comd's intent
'The Rhinos will depart at o-eight hundred hours and move to sector six. That's grid reference A345, R681.' There was a moment of clattering as section commanders moved their plates out of the may to make way for their data slates. The rest of the Squadron carried on eating their evening meal.
A few tables quietly were quietly continuing in their own conversations. These tables contained Guardsmen from other units and weren't involved in the briefing.
It was common for Commanders to hold briefings in the mess hall. It was one of the few times they were guaranteed to have most of their command in the one spot.
Carlos shovelled the last of his meal into his mouth and made a few notes on the timings for the next days operations in his notebook. Glancing up, his gaze met the gaze from a new addition to the troop, Leena, sitting several tables away.
He smiled at her and she averted her gaze, blushing slightly, only to look back a few seconds later. Still smiling, Carlos dipped his head in greeting. She dipped hers briefly in acknowledgment, before turning her gaze to her plate as she toyed with her food.
A strong shove almost knocked Carlos off his seat and he looked sharply round at his friend Plaid.
'What?' He whispered.
Plaid waved a fork at their commander, who was still speaking. 'Pay attention' Plaid whispered back.
Realising that he had missed a fair bit of important information, Carlos endeavoured to keep his attention focused on the matters at hand. Yet he couldn't help but sneak another quick glance towards the new guardswoman in B Company. She lifted her head again and caught his glancing look. She swiftly looked away, a definite smile on her face.
A big cheesy grin spread across his face as he turned his attention back to the commander, who paused in his briefing.
'Did I say something funny trooper Carlos?' Sixteen heads swivelled in Carlos's direction at the Commanders question.
Carlos swiftly wiped his face into a blank slate. 'Err.', he cleared his throat and continued. 'No sir, it was a grimace. Swallowed my food to fast, heartburn, Sir'
The Commander continued to stare at him in silence.
Sweat started to sprout all over Carlos's body, a cold shiver ran down his spine in dread. Then to Carlos's relief, the Commander carried on as though nothing had interrupted him.
Slowly letting his pent up breath and the panic it contained, out through his nose as quietly as he could. Carlos thanked the patron Saint of soldiers for surviving yet another close shave.
The Commander finished his brief and gathered his notes.
The troop Sergeant addressed his soldiers, 'Listen in! BRACE UP!' The troop came to attention in their seats. The Sergeant saluted the Commander. Returning the salute, the Commander picked up his briefing papers and left the mess tent.
Sergeant Dexter waited till the Commander had left the tent, before speaking again 'And relax.' Shoulders slumped around the tables and troopers finished their meals or collected their plates as they prepared to leave. Before the level of conversation rose further, Sergeant Dexter had yet one more order. 'CARLOS! Your ugly mug on me now!'
Carlos caught Leena's gaze as he stood and rolled his eyes in resignation. She laughed at his predicament and her smile tempered his annoyance at the undoubtedly impending punishment.
Chapter 2: Concept of Ops
The talk around the tables was muted as the troopers ran through lists and inventories in their heads or sorted out the inevitable admin problems that always surfaced at the last minute. Carlos picked up his tray and moved away from the hotplates, the aroma rising from the plates making his stomach rumble in anticipation.
He looked around the tables already occupied for any sign of Leena and failed to spot her diminutive form. Feeling his mood take a dive, he headed for the closest empty table and slumped onto the bench, the hot meal in front of him no longer seemed so appetising.
Tempted as he was to push his plate away half eaten, he persevered and ate all that was on the tray. He had spent enough time in the Guards to know that he would be grateful for the sustenance later on in the day.
He checked his watch. He'd better get a move on unless he wanted to be late. Making his way back to the counter, he racked his tray and its dirty dishes with the rest of them and walked swiftly back to his sections tented accommodation.
The section were already formed up outside and were preparing to leave when he arrived. Hastily diving inside, Carlos made his way to his bed space and the equipment laying on top his bed. Slipping the las-rifle sling over his head, he slipped into his combat webbing and slung his patrol sack over a shoulder. The las-rifle, he slung over the opposite shoulder.
Almost running, Carlos caught up with his section and tagged onto the end of the ragtag bunch as they headed towards the vehicle marshalling yard.
The transport Rhinos were already lined up, engines running and ready to go. Squad leaders were busy directing their charges into the Rhinos troop holds. Being at the back, Carlos watched as his fellow troopers filed into the rapidly filling Rhino transport. Just before it was his turn, the Loadmaster held up his hand, the Rhino was full. Checking his load out form, the Loadmaster checked the various Rhinos destinations and activated his Vox. After a brief conversation, he turned back to Carlos
'Rhino Echelon Victor 12 has room.'
Carlos nodded in thanks as he looked for the Rhino with EV 12 on the side. It was easy to spot and Carlos lopped over to it. Making his way to the back, it indeed have room. He removed both rifle and patrol sack from his shoulders as the Loadmaster moved to the side to allow his access. Carlos slipped into the dark confines of the Rhinos troop bay.
He slumped into the seat and fastened his restraints. He grounded the butt of his las-rifle on the floor, placed his patrol sack on his lap and looked up into a beaming smile. Carlos was taken aback, and then the smile shyly spoke.
The darkness lightened as his eyes adjusted and Carlos tried to make out the face framed by the combat helmet opposite. It was Leena.
'Oh!' A goofy smiled across his face. 'Hiya!' Carlos suddenly felt good about the world. He laughed out loud. 'Come here often?'
Leena started to shake her head then realised the stupidity of her answer. Blushing she dipped her gaze and adjusted a strap that didn't need adjusting.
A figure dropped into the seat next to Carlos, but he paid the new arrival no heed. It could have been The Eternal Emperor and still he would not have torn his gaze from the face opposite.
Leena looked up from her strap tightening and blushed under his gaze. Carlos felt as though he was twelve again.
A few more bodies piled in and the rear door clanged shut, swamping them in darkness. A crunch sounded from the front, the vibration running the length of the chassis and the Rhino lurched forward.
'Grind it, if you can't find it!'
As the Rhinos movement smoothed out, the Loadmaster turned on the internal lights and checked that the load doors were properly sealed and dogged. The Rhino gently swayed on the paved surface, the running gear easily absorbing the bumps. Too noisy to even attempt a conversation, many of the troops wriggled into vaguely comfortable positions and went too sleep.
The Rhino turned right down a rubble strewn road. Even though he was strapped in, Carlos still placed his booted feet against the opposite bench seat to brace himself. It also allowed him to stretch his legs in the cramped confines. It also brought his legs in contact with Leenas.
The Rhino swayed around another corner. The cacophony from the twin engines a steady drone in the ears.
Leena adjusted her own position and braced her own feet against Carlos's seat. This increased the amount of contact they had against each other. Carlos felt his blood start to race.
Dropping a hand from his las-rifle barrel, Carlos placed it on the highly polished leather of Leenas boot. She still wore that teasing little smile that he liked so much and she made no move to remove his hand. He walked his hand down her boot with an index and forefinger. He stopped at her laces and tugged at a loose end.
Leena laughed, the sound lost against the Rhinos engine noise and kicked his hand away, waggling one of her own fingers in admonishment. Boot free of his mischievous fingers, she placed it back against his seat. Carlos dropped his hand back onto her ankle, the furthest up her leg he could reach without stretching uncomfortably in his harness. Leena again made no move to remove the extremity. Carlos was happy just to leave his hand be, enjoying the warmth emanating through the material from the leg underneath. Leena, likewise, was happy to let the hand rest there. Its closeness stirred something within her and was all too aware that had he been able, she would have allowed his hand further up her leg. How far up, even she was not sure.
Chapter 3: Situation, enemy forces
The Rhino deftly followed the one in front. Moving past ruined and destroyed buildings. The only clue to their former glory the mounds of rubble they had become. Vermin, large and small, darted amongst the rubble and slabs of ferrocrete, searching out the bodies of the dead entombed within.
.... There is more of this story ...