I'd like to thank Mulligan and Steve T for their assistance in turning this into a better story than my initial effort, any errors remaining are of course mine.
A special thank you to Benjin from the Swarm Authors list for improving the German used in this story.
"Sarge, what's the plan?"
Ollie Benteen looked around the small group of soldiers with him and grinned, "Get fed, get pissed and if you can manage it after that get laid," he announced.
"That's the sort of plan I like," replied the guy next to him with distinctive curly red hair.
"Red," said Ollie, "The simplest plans are always the best and this is as simple as it gets."
He cast his glance around the rest of the group and smiled. The other seven with him were single like him and part of the same unit of the British Army.
They had the dubious privilege of being members of the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the Army's mechanics and technicians and were currently serving together in Germany where they were attached to the Seventh armoured brigade.
The 'Desert Rats' as the brigade was known was based in the small German village of Fallingbostel, which was conveniently situated so that its members could reach Hamburg with its notorious red light district, the Reeperbahn, whenever they had the time.
The bunch of them was taking the opportunity to introduce the newest member of their clique, one Corporal David White, to the joys of Germany and to have a little fun at the same time.
"Pay attention," said Ollie as the late afternoon train they were on approached Hamburg's central station. "We're going to be arriving at the Hauptbahnhof in a few minutes and I don't want any of you wandering off on your own without being sure you can make it back."
Beside him Red looked to the ceiling but didn't say anything. He'd known Ollie for nearly three years and he'd been on several of these excursions before, the speech Ollie was going to give had been given on every one of them. True, Ollie hadn't lost anybody on any of those previous trips but like aircraft safety briefings it became old very quickly.
Ollie dug into one of his pockets and pulled out a bundle of business cards, he handed them around. "Take one of these and keep it safe," he instructed. "The first sentence on the front asks a taxi driver to bring you back to this station, the second is to be used here to get you on the right train for home." He looked around and shook his head sadly; "It would be better if you took the time to learn the language but that should be enough to get you heading in the right direction if we get separated."
"On the back," he continued, "are the phone numbers for the guard room and the RMP duty station back in Fallingbostel. The last number is for the English speaking desk in the Davidwache, that's the polizei station on the Reeperbahn." He looked around making sure he had their attention, "It would be better if you didn't have to use those numbers but don't hesitate if you believe you need to. There shouldn't be any trouble if you do, I'll just have to fill in a bit of paperwork after you get home."
His statement was greeted by a series of nodding heads around the table they occupied in the middle of the carriage.
"Right, keep those cards safe," Ollie ordered and the group slid the cards into pockets or wallets. Several of them had received similar cards on previous visits and had been forced to make use of them on occasions; none of them thought it was a waste of time even if the briefing was.
"David, this is your first time here so stick with me," Ollie grinned, "but not too close."
The group laughed out loud as David blushed, not sure if Ollie was serious or not. He was the 'Nig'; the Newbie in Germany and this trip had been arranged ostensibly to introduce him to the joys of Germany. He was pretty sure the group wanted to get to know him and see how he reacted to the sights to come. He'd heard enough about the Reeperbahn and its loose women to whet his appetite but at the same time fill him with a certain amount of embarrassment due to his sheltered upbringing.
Joining the Army instead of going to university had been a step that his parents had heartily disapproved of. The training had turned out to be practical but boring and he wasn't so sure that his decision had been such a good one. Still, another two years was all he had to serve before he had a chance to leave and the experience could prove useful for later in life, especially if the stories concerning this alien invasion proved to be true.
'Red' Haskel, the only recovery mechanic in the group broke into David's thoughts, "I take it we'll be taking the U-bahn from the station?" he asked.
Ollie nodded, "I was going to suggest getting something to eat at the Hauptbahnhof before we ride the underground to the Reeperbahn. We wouldn't want to get there too early and hitting the bars on an empty stomach isn't a good idea."
"A proper sit down meal?" asked Andy Farrell, his nose curling in distaste.
"No, 'Rad, '" replied Ollie to the radar technician, "I was thinking of hitting one of the pizza places on the concourse and stuffing our faces with carbs."
Rad Farrell nodded in understanding and acquiesced, "OK."
"A quick heads up on where we're going," said Ollie as the train slowed even further. "The Reeperbahn is about a klick long, at the top it's the posh end and standards drop the further down you go. If a girl asks you to buy a drink, don't! That's not being nasty but if you agree you'll find you're presented with a bill for a thousand Euros or more for her 'champagne' and take it from me you won't get out of paying for it."
A couple of the guys looked sheepish having been caught in that ploy themselves on earlier visits.
"If you want a jump head for the Eros centre which is about half way down the strip." Ollie looked around and grinned, "Don't worry about catching anything, the girls are checked out every couple of weeks and they're more worried about disease than you are. If they catch anything from you they're off work until it's cleared up. All that happens to you is you get a jab up the arse and have to drink orange juice for a month or so."
The train clattered to a halt and Ollie got to his feet after the civilians had exited their carriage, "Now let's get out there and have some fun," he announced before leading the way.
Paul Whilley slumped down in a seat and looked around, "You know," he said, "the one thing I miss about England is the girls' legs."
Dave White looked around the concourse and frowned, 'what was Paul going on about?'
"Yeah," agreed Adam Potter, Paul's fellow vehicle mechanic, "You'd have thought that skirts had been banned or something."
"Too true," piped up Pete Lamar, an electronics technician. "The only women you see in skirts around here are fifty something Poles."
"Or their mothers," added Ollie as he lowered his body into the chair at the head of the table and indicated an ancient woman hobbling past in comfortable shoes and a long heavy skirt.
A round of laughter that subsided quickly when the trouser clad blond waitress appeared at Ollie's shoulder greeted his words.
"Bitte?" She asked looking around expectantly.
"Acht Bier, bitte," replied Ollie before taking the handful of menus the girl held out to him.
"Kommt sofort," she replied before disappearing back inside.
Ollie distributed the menus around the table, "Fill up lads, it'll absorb the beer and that'll help you last longer tonight."
"What are you having?" asked Red after looking at the menu for a couple of minutes.
"Pizza," replied Ollie, "Pizza Fungi."
"Pizza Fungi?" asked 'Eve' Potter, his nose curling in distaste.
"Fungi is mushroom," explained Ollie, "So it's a mushroom pizza."
He glanced around the table and took in the look of confusion on several of the faces as they studied the menus. "I'll tell you what," he said, "Let's have a selection of pizzas and garlic bread and we can all help ourselves."
"No anchovies," declared Chris O'Neill.
"Chris, if they come with anchovies they come with anchovies, just pick a bit without them."
The young armourer rolled his eyes, "I can't stand the things."
"We're going to have half a dozen pizzas, I doubt if there's going to be more than one with fish on it," said Ollie.
"Okay, it's not a problem," replied Chris, subsiding back into his seat.
"Has anyone else got a problem with pizza?" asked Ollie.
Shaking heads and muttered, "No's," were the only response he received.
The waitress reappeared carrying a tray containing eight frosty glasses of amber liquid and the boys around the table turned their attention to her.
"You are ready to order?" she asked in slightly stilted English.
Ollie showed her the open menu and pointed, "Ein, Zwei, Zwei, Ein und Zwei."
"Eine Margarita, Zwei Fungi, Zwei Napoli, Eine Salami und Zwei Knoblauchbrote" she repeated and Ollie nodded in agreement.
She pattered off again with several sets of eyes tracking her pert posterior before the boys passed the beers around.
Paul turned his attention back to the table, "Have you heard anything more about that speech, Sarge?"
The speech in question was the one the American president had made to the world last week concerning the threat to the planet posed by the approaching Swarm.
Ollie shook his head; "Nothing official has come through, though the speech has helped to make sense of a few rumours that have been floating around the mess."
"Rumours?" prodded Paul.
"All those peace conferences that suddenly started making real progress for one," said Ollie. "It also accounts for sudden disappearance of half the SAS."
"The SAS have gone missing?" exclaimed Paul as several sets of eyes focused on Ollie.
"Not officially," said Ollie, "But the RSM knows a couple of guys based in Hereford and he hasn't been able to contact them. That's nothing unusual especially if they've been deployed but their families have gone missing as well, which is kind of strange."
"You think they're out there already?" asked Red.
"It wouldn't surprise me," said Ollie, "they're the sort of people you need out there to keep an eye on the threat. If people have been leaving for as long as rumours say then it wouldn't surprise me if they're targeting the military, which is probably why they needed those peace talks now."
"Makes sense," said Red, "but where does it leave us?"
Ollie shrugged, "How many of you got tested last year?" he asked indicating the badge on Rad's shirt.
Each of the boys indicated that they'd been caught up in the media frenzy that had surrounded Average Joes XV.
"And how many of you are above this six point five threshold?" continued Ollie.
Only Pete Lamar and Paul Whilley dropped their hands.
"There you have it," said Ollie. "If those scores are the same as this CAP testing score, and it seems that they are then you're qualified to volunteer for the Confederacy Defence Force."
"But can we?" asked David White when no one else spoke. "They hadn't said anything before I left the UK and I haven't seen anything in the couple of days I've been here that tells us what to do. But surely we're members of the British Army and we can't go off and volunteer for another Army until we're released or told to go."
Ollie shrugged, "Don't ask me," he said. "They haven't told me anything either. If we go by the letter of the law leaving to fight for this Confederacy would make you AWOL as far as the Army is concerned." He gave them a lopsided grin; "Whether they could do anything about it after you'd left is a different thing."
"AWOL!" exclaimed Rad Farrell. "From the way the president was talking I got the impression that we were under orders to volunteer for this Confederacy thingie."
"He did give that impression," admitted Ollie, "but he's a Yank and so far there's been nothing through channels or even on the TV concerning our position."
"BFBS probably lost the report," said Eve derisively.
The British Forces Broadcasting Service was not well thought of by the troops. It operated a single channel with news taken live from the BBC but all local programming was so biased as to be universally ignored.
Ollie chuckled, "That's possible," he said, "but I doubt if they'd be that stupid on something this important. Anyway it would be on the news and that comes over from England direct."
"Doesn't help us though does it?" said Rad glancing around. "I mean, I get the impression that things are desperate and they need troops out there immediately. Do we have to make up our own mind about this or are they going to get off their fat lazy butts and lead us?"
"I was looking at some of the things they've put out about the Confederacy," said Chris, "and if I'm reading it right the Army couldn't touch you if you volunteered."
"Why not?" asked Red.
"It seems you become a citizen of the Confederacy when you volunteer," he explained. "That means that you lose your nationality and any ties that you used to have."
"Such as?" pressed Red.
"Marriages are annulled, debts are cancelled, all that sort of stuff. It seems that you start with a clean slate for you and your concubines," finished Chris with a shrug.
"What's with this concubine thing anyway?" asked Pete.
Ollie looked at Chris, "What did you find out about that?"
Chris went a delicate shade of pink, "A concubine is a slave," he said. "That's not how the president described it in his speech or even how it's portrayed on the Confederacy website, but when you read the details that are there in black and white it becomes obvious. A concubine, and most of them will be women by the sound of it, is there to have children, look after them and keep her sponsor happy. The concubine can't do anything without the permission of the sponsor and the sponsor can do anything he likes with, or to, the concubine."
He looked around the group, "I looked up the term concubine elsewhere and she is described as a woman who lives with a man who is not her husband, solely for the purpose of reproduction. Another description is that of a woman who is kept in a harem by a sultan for sexual purposes. Take your pick," he concluded with a grin and a shrug.
"I suppose we'll find out more next weekend when they air that Defence Force special that they've been advertising," said Ollie after a moment of silence. "It's supposed to give everyone the low-down on what is involved with volunteering as a sponsor and one of his entourage."
The conversation came to a halt as the waitress returned with two helpers and half a dozen large pizzas.
After a third beer to wash down the last of the pizza it was time to move on. Rad Farrell took the lead by declaring that he was heading for the Eros centre.
"I'll come with you," chimed in Pete Lamar.
"Me, too," responded Paul Whilley, pushing his empty glass away.
"You coming?" asked Rad as he rose to his feet looking at the guys who'd remained seated.
"Not me," said Eve Potter.
"Nor me," replied Red Haskell.
"I'm sticking with him," said Dave White waving towards Ollie.
"We'll see you later," said Ollie with a grin, "take care and stay out of trouble."
The three lads waved casually and walked away. Chris O'Neill changed his mind and pushed his chair back, "I'm with them," he said and rushed to catch the other three as they headed for the U-bahn entrance.
"They're headed in the right direction," said Red.
"Give it a couple of minutes and we'll catch the next train," said Ollie reaching for the remains of his beer.
"Where are you planning on leading us?" asked Red.
"There's a bar on Davidstraße, just down from the police station," said Ollie.
"Near the police station," said Eve looking puzzled, "I'd have thought we'd want to stay as far from the police as we could."
"That's one way of looking at it," said Ollie. "The other is that there's never going to be any trouble there because it's always full of cops."
"Uhmm," was Eve's only response.
"Don't worry," said Red, "I've been there before. The cops are off duty and are just unwinding and the beers good." He chuckled, "it's actually a knocking shop as well but you have to pass through a curtain to move from one part to the other."
David blushed as he heard Red's comment and Ollie chuckled, "I wasn't going to mention that," he said shaking his head at the older man.
"Sorry," said Red but he didn't look that repentant.
"Come on," said Ollie getting to his feet, "the others should have cleared the station by now."
The four of them headed for the underground station and the short trip to the Reeperbahn.
The four soldiers entered Pieter's Haus on Davidstraße to be greeted by a mature buxom woman who smiled pleasantly and addressed them in English.
"Welcome, welcome, I'm Helga and if there's anything I can get for you just ask," she said before steering them towards the bar area.
Four men and a pair of women, each of whom wore a distinctive green leather jacket, tracked their progress across the room.
"What's with the jacket?" asked Dave quietly as they settled around a table.
"The Polizei changed uniforms a couple of years ago," explained Ollie. "Originally they wore a cream and green uniform that was pretty easy to spot, now it's a dark blue thing, more like our guys wear but the jacket," he nodded towards the cluster at the bar, "has been kept alive even if it is civilian wear."
"Uhmm," was all David could muster in reply.
A young woman appeared around the end of the bar and before she could cross the room to them Ollie held up four fingers and received a nod of understanding.
As the group waited for the beers to be delivered Eve looked around the room spotting the curtained doorway with a not so subtle red light over it, "The knocking shop through there?"
"Yes," replied Ollie, "There's another bar area on the other side of the curtain where the girls wait for customers. When you want to get your end away just go through there and take your pick."
"What happens then?" asked David.
"You'll discuss what you want and agree a price," explained Ollie, "before heading upstairs. You have to pay before anything happens and you'll be wearing a condom unless you're willing to pay an absolute fortune." Ollie chuckled, "Maybe that'll be one of the things that will change now that the aliens are here."
"What do you mean?" asked Eve.
"Haven't you seen the reports on how advanced these Darjee are supposed to be? They're supposed to be able to cure anything from AIDS to the common cold," said Ollie.
Red snorted beside him; "Yeah, and they can modify your body so that it's anything you like."
"I take it that you don't believe it?" asked David.
"Let's say I'm not convinced," replied Red, "It's so easy to fake up pictures these days and without seeing the real thing it's debatable."
"True," agreed Eve, "those, what were they called, 'Marines' looked huge on TV but they only showed you them next to a couple of so called normal guys and that could have been faked."
David shook his head and Ollie smiled, "It's simple really," he said. "When you consider that both us and the Yanks seem to be agreeing that they're a good thing they probably are but look at the way we got shafted over Iraq, is this going to be another thing like that? If it is then I'm going to be pretty cautious this time."
Red nodded, "It would be nice if they were telling the truth for once but..."
The conversation paused as the young woman arrived carrying four beers; she placed them carefully on the table in front of Ollie and made a series marks around the edge of his beermat.
"Danke," said Ollie smiling at the girl's bust before she left.
"I wonder when they're going to tell us what's happening?" muttered David as he reached for a beer.
"What," exclaimed Red, "You're not happy being part of mushroom troop?"
"I know," said David with a lopsided grin, "kept in the dark and fed on bullshit. No, it's just that this time it's pretty serious and, well..." he fell silent.
"I know," said Ollie, "but sometimes it takes time for people to react."
"What about that that CAP testing, surely those of us who've done that TV show test shouldn't have to do it again?"
"What's up Eve, scared your score will drop?" asked Ollie.
"Too right," said Eve, "I'm a six point five, any sort of brain fart and my score falls below the cut off point."
"What about you Dave, what did you get?"
"Six point seven," replied David, "You?"
"Six point six," replied Ollie.
"I'm in the same boat as Eve here," said Red, "So why do we need to do the test again?"
"Paperwork," replied Ollie with a grin.
"Pen pushers," commented Red derogatorily. He took a sip of his beer before continuing, "Isn't it strange how we've all got scores high enough. I thought there was supposed to be some sort of curve."
"There is," said Ollie, "but you're not looking at the big picture."
"Huh," responded Red.