“Kill Yuan” Chapter 4

Two chapters left on the rough draft, and then editing and re-writes can start.  So, in the meantime, here’s Chapter 4.


Dan had to admit that this was the fanciest training setup he’d ever seen. While the initial impression of the compound had been eye-opening, the most sophisticated training modules weren’t readily visible from outside.

He was presently standing on the deck of a small container ship. All around was sea and sky, with what looked like a green-cloaked island off in the distance. All of it was projected on screens, that would recognize the laser light from the otherwise very real-feeling facsimile of a SIG SG553 in his hands. It was the most expensive and sophisticated ISMT he’d ever seen. The freighter itself was a full-sized, complete mock-up, almost indistinguishable from a real ship, except that they had arrived in the trainer through a passage that led up through what would have been the hull, where he’d seen that it was in fact a purpose-built structure. If he hadn’t, he might have believed that they had somehow gotten an actual ship inland and buried it.

The entire trainer was underground; they had descended about ten flights of stairs to reach it. Patrone, another one of the trainers, a short, hairy Italian with a thick Jersey accent and Decker’s attitude, had led them down, and was now presumably ensconced in some control center, watching.

The candidates had been split up into teams that morning, for the first time. It was only day four, and it had already been a whirlwind of a week. After the brutal introduction of the first day, they had started day two with another crushing PT session, then gone straight to the range, where they found their kit and weapons waiting for them. The vests were all identical, high-end London Bridge Trading Company plate carriers, all in Ranger Green. The weapons were all SIG; P226 pistols and SG553 carbines. Dan had fired the P226 before, but never the SG553. He adapted quickly, though, and it was a good thing, because the courses of fire kept getting more difficult and the time hacks shorter. Decker was merciless. It wasn’t training; it was a sink-or-swim, pass-or-fail evaluation. If a candidate boloed a line, he or she got one chance to fix it. So far, they had only lost two more candidates to marksmanship failures on the range. Apparently, the day one thrashing had driven off most of the dead weight.

That morning, after another punishing hour and a half of PT, they mustered in front of the barracks with gear and weapons, and Decker called off teams. Dan had been happy enough to get teamed with Vernon, though he wasn’t as sure of the other two members of his team. Tom Lambert was a fit, sandy-haired man with nearly as many tattoos as Trent. While he had so far said little, there was a certain arrogance to his demeanor that set Dan’s teeth on edge. He looked his teammates over with a critical glance that was almost contemptuous. When Dan had laid out the plan after Patrone had given them the scenario, Lambert’s replies had been flippant, almost dismissive, as if he didn’t give a shit for the plan because he knew what he was doing.

The fourth member of the team was a blond bombshell of a woman named Jenny Hagener. She was fine-featured and liked to wear low-cut shirts that showed off her considerable cleavage when not on the range. She also had the coldest, most calculating eyes Dan thought he’d ever seen. Not all the time; she could be very warm and engaging most of the time, but every so often the mask slipped, and he didn’t much care for what he saw. Though he had to admit that that very coldness might serve her well in the business at hand. Time would tell.

The scenario that Patrone had given them at the entrance of the trainer had been simple. “You are tasked with security for this ship. You are presently passing through waters known for pirate activity. Check over the ship and get into position as the team lead sees fit. You have twenty minutes to familiarize yourselves with the ship’s layout before the scenario begins.” With those words, he had shut the door and left them to their own devices. It was strengthening the “sink or swim” feeling of the whole course.

Now Dan was on the superstructure, scanning the simulated ocean, watching for the inevitable pirate strike. Vernon and Lambert were patrolling the forward section, and Jenny was on the stern. The Daisy Duke was small for a container ship, but it was still a little large for a four-man team to secure. Given everything else that had been thrown at them so far, Dan wasn’t expecting a simple problem, either.

“Movement, one o’clock,” Lambert’s voice crackled over his earpiece. “Looks like we’ve got incoming from the island.”

Dan’s eyes snapped to the green hulk of the island, and quickly picked out the dancing pixels on the screen that had to be approaching boats. He corrected his assessment. They might be boats. It was probably best not to jump to any conclusions. It would be just like Decker’s evil imagination to throw them a curveball right out the gate.

As the specks got bigger, though, he became increasingly convinced that they were boats. At least three, possibly four. That was bad. They had the high ground on the ship, but four rifles against four boats was bad odds, regardless of any advantages they had on the defense. If they concentrated in one spot to repel boarders, the other boats could move around to climb the hull in another spot that they didn’t have covered.

He briefly considered falling back to one of the interior spaces, hardpointing and waiting for the pirates to come to them. He wasn’t sure how the trainer would handle that; the pirates he could see were just pixels on a screen, after all. But he was fairly certain that Patrone had that eventuality covered, somehow, and he was forcing himself not to think of the scenario as a video game, but rather to approach it as he would a real-life combat action. He had a feeling that gaming the game would not go over well with this outfit.

“Hold your positions and keep a low profile,” he sent over the radio. “Let them show their hand before we respond.” How the pirates deployed would determine how they countered, he decided. If they didn’t think they’d face resistance, they might concentrate in one spot to board the ship, and then they might be able to spring an ambush. It seemed like a decent course of action given the disparity in numbers. If they could get the pirates bunched together, they’d have a better chance of taking out enough of them in one go to hopefully drive them off.

He realized he was thinking in terms of combating real pirates rather than computer programs, that might not react the same way real human pirates would. He dismissed the thought as he studied the incoming boats. Patrone probably had a few more nasty surprises up his sleeve for them, and the scenario was more about how to handle the situation on the fly than to get it exactly “right.” If things went south, they’d just have to adjust.

As he watched the approaching boats, using the binoculars he had up on the superstructure to magnify the images until they were big blocks of pixels instead of tiny dots, he started to think he saw shapes in their bows that might be machine guns. That wasn’t good. It was hard to tell, since the images were still extremely pixellated, but he was fairly confident in the assessment.

“Be advised,” he called out, “enemy boats appear to have machine guns in the bows. Looks like all four of them.” He thought for a second. “All right, here’s the plan. Everyone fall back toward the superstructure, but stay on deck, as concealed as possible. I don’t want anyone visible from the water. I’ll stay up top and observe until we can spot a boarding point. No one engages until I give the word. They’ve got us outnumbered and outgunned, so we’re probably only going to get one shot at this. Hopefully, they’ll decide the ship is undefended and board in one spot. When they do, we’ll ambush them.”

“And if they spread out and board at multiple points anyway?” White asked.

“Then fall back to the bridge,” he replied. “We’ll strongpoint there and call for support. If possible, we’ll then push out to clear the rest of the ship from the bridge, situation depending.”

He got clipped acknowledgements all around. He might have a vague bad feeling about both Tom and Jenny, but he had to admit that they were pros, at least from what he’d seen so far. Hunkering down in his position atop the superstructure, he kept the binoculars to his eyes and watched the pirates approach.

They stayed in a loose formation as they closed in, and he was soon able to distinguish the pixellated figures of the pirates themselves. He counted five to six per boat, and there were definitely machine guns in three of the four. They looked roughly the size of military RHIBs, though they were nondescript speedboats that may or may not have any real-world antecedents. Imagining that the coxswains and gunners would stay on the boats, that left them with a good fifteen boarders to deal with. Not necessarily insurmountable, but at close quarters it made for very bad odds.

He briefly toyed with abandoning the earlier plan and opening fire at a distance, hoping to drive them off that way, but decided against it. Those machine guns had a lot longer reach than their carbines, and at the very least, could be used to suppress them enough to get the boats in close enough to board and overwhelm them. No, if it had been Somali pirates in rickety wooden fishing skiffs, that would be one thing, but this was going to require a bit more circumspection.

The pirate boats spread out as they got closer, circling the freighter as if looking it over. Dan kept hoping that they’d examine their target, then mass together to board near the bow, but his hopes were dashed as they slowed, still encircling the ship, then started to close from all directions, the machine guns pointed up at the gunwales.

“That’s it, they’re boarding at multiple points,” he called. “Everyone fall back to the bridge.”

It had been an option to secure Engineering, since the pirates couldn’t take the ship anywhere if the engines weren’t under their control, but he’d decided that it would be easier to secure the bridge and then clear the ship from the top down rather than try to fight upwards. Grabbing his carbine and slinging it, he headed for the hatch leading down into the superstructure, keeping low to hopefully avoid observation from the sea. It briefly flashed through his mind how ludicrous it was to be ducking to avoid being seen by a bunch of pixels, but he remembered that Patrone was watching everything, and would be judging every action.

He got to the bridge a good thirty seconds before the rest did. “Cover down on the hatch, and stay away from the windows,” he said. He had no idea how Patrone was going to handle CQB inside the ship; he hadn’t seen any screens that might be ISMT trainers except for the outside screen. He’d let Patrone worry about that. None of the instructors had given the slightest indication that they were looking for canned responses to scenarios, so he wasn’t going to assume that there was a canned drill that he was “supposed” to use. He’d play to his instincts and his own evaluation of the situation, and if they didn’t like it, they could fire him.

He and Vernon got behind the console, their carbines pointed at the hatch, while Tom and Jenny set up at opposing angles, keeping all four muzzles focused on the fatal funnel. For his own situational awareness, and with no little curiosity as to how things were going to play out, Dan glanced out the windows that faced down toward the deck, to see where the pirates were.

To his surprise, there were men clambering over the sides, equipped with rifles. It looked like hatches had opened in the screens around the base of the mock-up, and now there were real live OPFOR coming up over the gunwales. “Heads up,” he said, “we’ve got company. Looks like role-players.”

“How the fuck are we supposed to effectively shoot role-players with these laser-tag guns?” Vernon asked. “It’s bad enough getting a role player to die when you hit him with simunitions.”

“Don’t know, don’t especially care,” Dan replied, turning his focus back on the hatchway. “I’m assuming that either that’s been provided for, or else we’re supposed to get overrun for some sadistic, judgmental reason that we’ll probably never get explained. Let’s just do what we’d do in the real world anyway.”

“Fair enough,” Tom said, “but if I shoot one of these assholes in the face and he doesn’t go down, I’m gonna buttstroke him until he does.” Dan ignored the comment and waited.

They could faintly hear the sound of boots ringing on steel decking, as the pirates entered the superstructure. They kept quiet, waiting. Muffled voices rose from below. They sounded vaguely like orders being given, but they were too quiet and distorted by passing through the metal corridors that they couldn’t make out any words.

The assaulters were trying to stay quiet, but there’s only so quiet you can get on a steel deck. Dan heard them pause just outside the hatch and hissed, “Shut your eyes!” He suited actions to words, putting his head down and opening his mouth to try to reduce the impact of what was coming. A moment later, the flashbang hit the deck just inside the hatch and detonated with a deafening report and eye-searing flash that seemed to almost stab right through his closed eyelids.

The concussion had rocked him, even with his head down, but he immediately opened his eyes and got back on his rifle. Smoke from the bang was still roiling up from the deck, and the first assaulter was already in the hatch. The smoke was probably going to interfere with the ISMT rifle’s laser, but since he’d been the one to say, “Play it like the real world,” he wasn’t going to wait.

The rifle clacked; the self-contained units didn’t have the pneumatic systems that allowed for the more realistic noise and recoil of the bigger, stationary ISMT trainers. But something beeped on the OPFOR’s gear, and he dropped to a knee, holding up a hand.

The man behind him, though, didn’t slow down, and was already digging his corner as Tom shot him, eliciting another beep, even as the OPFOR shooter’s rifle barked, and a bright orange splatter pattern appeared on Tom’s vest.

A flurry of muted “shots” later, and it was over. All five OPFOR who had come through the hatch were down on a knee, their hands held up to indicate they were “out.”

“Motherfucker!” Vernon was holding a hand to his abdomen, beneath his plate. “Fucking cocksucker, you damn near shot me in the fucking balls!”

Before the OPFOR he was bitching at could reply, a speaker in the overhead came alive. “White, you’re down,” Patrone’s voice said. They waited for some further instructions, but that was all.

“So now what?” Jenny asked.

Dan shrugged, going through the motions of reloading. They’d been warned that each “magazine” was only good for so many shots before it had to be replaced. He wasn’t sure what electronic wizardry led to that, but he wasn’t going to take the chance of getting drummed out for having an “empty” weapon at the wrong time.

“I guess we clear the rest of the ship,” he said.

“With three of us?” Tom asked incredulously.

“I don’t see any reinforcements rappelling in,” Dan replied, “and it’s pretty obvious the scenario’s not over. I think they would have told us if it was.”

“Fucking bullshit,” Tom muttered, but he also play-acted reloading his weapon, and stacked up on the hatch.

And he’s right, Dan thought. This is retarded. I guaran-fucking-tee this is just some sadistic, ‘we want to see how you react,’ no-win shit-show one of these fuckers thought up. Probably Decker. For the moment, however, he wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel. So he joined Tom at the hatch, waited for Jenny to get in position across from them, then kneed Tom in the back of the leg. “With you.”

Tom launched through the hatch behind his rifle. He was still obviously pissed, though whether more at the ridiculousness of trying to clear an entire freighter with only three shooters or because he’d been shot in the plate with a sim round, Dan couldn’t be sure.

The bridge took up most of the deck, with two small, easily cleared storage compartments aft. In seconds, they were on the ladderwell heading down.

The OPFOR can run circles around us in here, Dan thought. There should only be ten left, unless the ones we just ‘neutralized’ get up and come around behind us. He almost thought that it was likely. No, they don’t even need to do that to fuck us over on this scenario.

Descending the ladderwell, they came to the next deck down, where the officers’ quarters were located. Dan simply said, “Clear left.” Tom immediately turned starboard, pausing at the first hatch. As soon as Dan was behind him, he threw the hatch open and they went through.

The cabin was empty. This was where the attention to detail, not to mention the money, involved in this little trainer became even more evident. The cabin was fully furnished, just like on a real ship. It had to have cost a fortune to put this facility together.

Jenny, being the last one in the compartment, looked around for something to do for a second, before Dan impatiently pointed toward the hatch. She got the message and set up on the passageway. Moments later, they were pushing back out of the hatch.

Compartment by compartment, deck by deck, they made their way down toward the engine room. It was looking more and more like the OPFOR had gone for the bridge and the engine room, and ignored the rest of the ship. Which did kind of make sense. Secure power and control, and the rest just kind of drops in your lap.

Tom was good, his movements, situational awareness, and weapons manipulation very smooth and practiced. He and Dan easily fell into a rhythm as they cleared compartment after compartment.

Jenny, on the other hand, seemed a little lost. She had the basics down, and her weapons manipulation was good, but she obviously hadn’t had a lot of practice at CQB, and needed to be directed repeatedly. She also didn’t have the smoothness of movement that either of the men did. She could handle her weapons, but her footwork in the confined spaces was awkward. Dan again found himself wondering just what she was doing there, given the decidedly non-PC standards they’d seen so far.

They hit resistance a deck above the engine room. Suddenly there were two muzzles in the passageway, spitting sim rounds at them. Jenny let out a piercing yell as she caught one in the neck. The three of them pressed forward, firing at the all-but-invisible OPFOR that were barely exposing their rifles and one eye through the hatchways ahead. They all took a few sim rounds to hands and chests before getting right on top of their tormentors and practically pressing the ISMT guns to their chests to get the telltale beeps of kills.

By now, Dan was fuming. “Fucking assholes,” he snarled at one of the OPFOR. This had started out as challenging but professional, if a little unfair. Now it was just getting stupid, and it was pissing him off. But he still held out a hand to stop Tom when the other man looked like he was about to kick one of the OPFOR in the face. “Come on. Let’s just finish this bullshit.” Somewhat to his surprise, Patrone didn’t break in to tell any of them that they’d been hit, even though all of them were now sporting bright orange splatters and nursing some decent welts.

They pushed forward to the ladderwell that led down into the engine room. Dan suddenly had a thought, and motioned to Jenny to cover down the ladder, then went back to the hatches where the OPFOR had ambushed them. Crouching down, he started taking the flashbangs from the first guy’s gear.

“Hey, what the fuck are you doing?” the OPFOR asked.

“Fuck you,” Dan said. “You’re dead. Dead people don’t complain. So shut the fuck up.” He shoved the man’s two flashbangs into his cummerbund, then went to the other one.

“Fuck off, man,” the OPFOR said. “You’re not the last run.”

“We didn’t get the appropriate equipment for this evolution, so I’m acquiring some. Fork ’em over, or I hit you until you do.”

“That’s not cool, man.”

“Neither is trying to clear a fucking ship with three people, with laser tag guns against simunitions,” Dan snarled. “And don’t get me started on the little stunt you dickbags pulled right here. Hand ’em over.”

The guy just raised his hands. “Fine, man, take ’em.” Dan obliged, yanking the stun grenades out of their pouches and stuffing them in his cargo pockets before starting to turn back toward the engine room. Then he stopped, reached back, cleared the sim rifle, chucked the magazine down the passageway, then did the same with the other man’s weapon. “Because fuck you,” he said. It was unprofessional, and his anger was quite possibly going to lose him the job that day, but the unfairness and just plain cheapness of the scenario had gotten under his skin.

Getting back to the ladderwell, he handed Tom two of the flashbangs, then yanked the pin out of one of his and tossed it down the ladder. Tom did the same a second later, then they raced down the ladder, weapons up and scanning for threats.

Apparently, the OPFOR hadn’t quite been ready for their own flashbangs being used against them. One of them was holding his ears, trying to blink the blotch out of his vision, just behind the ladder, when Tom swung around and shot him. Just to make sure he didn’t miss the beep, he then body-checked the guy into the bulkhead.

They weren’t in the engine compartment itself, but in the engine control room, forward and slightly above it. So were most of the rest of the OPFOR.

Two of them were at the “controls,” which were a reasonable facsimile of the green-painted control panels on an actual ship. The other four were bringing their weapons up toward the ladderwell. They’d taken some of the flashbang, but not quite enough to discombobulate them, at least not to the extent Dan had hoped for.

He sidestepped out of the ladderwell in order to clear Jenny’s field of fire, and opened up, trying to put at least two rounds into each opposing shooter. He felt the impacts of more sim rounds on his plate but ignored them, many years of sim training and the conditioning to fight through the hits coming back even as he hoped that these clowns were professional enough not to aim at his unprotected face.

A chorus of beeps announced that the OPFOR shooters were down. Jenny started to lower her weapon, and the last one, who had ducked behind the end of the control console, shot her. “Cocksucker!” she screamed, as she brought her own rifle up, but Tom and Dan had already spread out along the bulkheads, and got shots at the OPFOR at almost the same time. His vest beeped and he dropped his rifle, raising a hand.

Jenny was fuming, her face tight and her teeth obviously gritted, but before she could say anything, Patrone’s voice came over the PA system again. “Dorn, you’re down.”

“Fuck!” she yelled. “I hope you get fucking dick cancer, you fucking anal wart!” For a second, Dan thought she might actually throw her ISMT rifle. He traded a glance with Tom, who just shrugged. This wasn’t going well.

After a moment of catching their breath, trying to tune out Jenny’s ranting, which had quieted down a little but not stopped, Tom looked around. “So, what, the scenario’s not over? Isn’t this all of them?”

Dan shook his head. “We can’t be sure. We’ve still got to clear the rest of the ship.”

“With two of us. Fucking amazing.” Tom checked his kit. “I’ve got four mags left.”

“Same here,” Dan replied. He heaved a sigh. “No point in waiting around. Let’s get this over with.” He led the way, going through the hatch into the actual machinery spaces.

Like the rest of the ship, it was a remarkably faithful reproduction, a maze of pipes, condensers, giant diesel engine housings, and power transmission shafts. It took a long time to clear every nook and cranny where someone might be hiding, and there was the ever-present threat that if someone was back in there, they could easily stay ahead of or behind them. They had to be constantly on the alert, checking every corner, every angle, often above and below them, through the grated catwalks.

They came back up, out of the engineering spaces, and into the hold, which was full of cargo containers, stacked four high. It was another long, laborious process to sweep the deck, and they still couldn’t be sure that someone wasn’t playing hide-and-seek among the containers. Two men was just too few to effectively clear the hold.

But they played along, though Tom’s expression continued to sour as they went on. He apparently was highly unimpressed with the entire scenario, and Dan had to admit to himself that he was, too. If the whole course was like this, it didn’t bode well for the professionalism of the company, or the quality of the contract. A couple hundred grand is a couple hundred grand, but you can’t spend it on your kids if you’re dead because your employer put you in an untenable position.

At the bow, they paused for a moment before mounting the ladder up to the main deck. “We’ve got to keep low, below the gunwale, and see if we can take the boats out one at a time,” Dan said.

Tom nodded. “Sure, that’s why they haven’t called ‘game over.’” He shrugged. “At least the ISMT fuckers can’t hit me with sim rounds.”

“I wouldn’t put much past these fucktards at this point,” Dan muttered. “We’ll take the starboard side first, and work our way around clockwise. Cool?”

Tom shrugged again. “Good with me.”

Keeping close together, they mounted the ladderwell, coming up onto the weather deck. The gunwale only rose about three feet above the deck, so they had to stay crouched low. In real life, he doubted the steel would stop 7.62 rounds, never mind the heavier 12.7mm rounds the DShKs threw. For now, though, it would have to do.

The two of them crouched below the lip of the gunwale, facing each other. Dan eased one eye over the lip and spotted the “boat.” The graphics were pretty crude, considering the sophistication of the rest of the trainer, but the targets were easy enough to pick out. The second on that side was back by the stern, looking quite distorted on the screen at that angle. Distance was impossible to judge, but he was hoping that the ISMT was set up for point of aim/point of impact. He ducked back down and pointed in the direction of the boat. “It’s right over there. I think we can take it out and get back down before we get called out by the other one.”

“Fine,” Tom said. “Let’s do it.” He took a breath, then counted down. “One, two, three.”

On “three,” they rose up over the lip of the gunwale and opened fire. Knowing right where the boat was, Dan was on it in less than a second, and watched as the “pirates” jerked and stiffly fell off the boat to slide out of sight in the digital water. As soon as they were down, both men ducked back below the gunwale. Without a word, Tom started duck-walking toward the stern. Dan followed.

They repeated the process with the other three boats. The ISMT’s AI was not inventive, and not particularly responsive. None of the computerized pirates got a shot off. It may as well have been a carnival shooting gallery.

They paused after shooting the last pirates, but there was no input from Patrone. Figures, Dan thought. “Well, I guess we need to sweep back through the ship again,” he said after a good thirty seconds of silence. “Scenario must not be over.”

“Fuck,” Tom muttered. “This is fucking dumb.”

“Yeah, it is,” Dan agreed. His irritation was rising, starting to override his thoughts of the money. He recalled the words of an old mentor, It’s easy to be hard, it’s hard to be smart. As unforgiving as the program had been so far, its impressiveness was wearing off quickly as it became apparent that it was focused on being hard rather than being smart. He was really wondering what kind of smug douchebag had designed this scenario.

But they hadn’t gotten ten steps before the screens around them went dark, and lights they hadn’t previously seen in the ceiling came on. Patrone’s voice came over the PA again. “All right, scenario’s over. Meet me back at the entrance to the trainer.”

They made their way back below decks to the hatch leading out of the ship. Jenny was still furious, her face pale and pinched above the growing livid welt on her neck. Vernon was just shaking his head.

Patrone was waiting for them on the other side of the hatch. He just pointed down the hallway. “Go down there, hand off your kit to the next group, and then go where Merchant tells you to go.”

The others just nodded, but Dan couldn’t stay quiet. “So tell me something, Patrone,” he said, refusing to be intimidated by the little man’s glare, “is this the way the the contract’s going to go? Four motherfuckers to secure one ship?”

“You got a problem with that?” Patrone asked.

“Damn skippy I’ve got a problem with it,” Dan retorted. Is this guy fucking serious? “It’s fucking stupid. It’s going to get people killed if bad shit happens. If that’s the level of operations on this contract, I’ll quit right fucking now.”

For a second, Patrone just stared at him with that tough-guy look, then his expression changed. It was subtle, but Dan thought he saw a bit of a smirk. “Noted,” he said. “I’ll just say this; the scenario as designed is a worst-case scenario. That ease your heartburn a little?”

Dan studied him for a moment, trying to see if the little man was jerking him around. “For the moment,” he allowed, and turned toward the hallway. Patrone didn’t say anything else, but just stood there with his arms folded, watching them leave.

None of them said anything as they passed their gear off to the next group. But Dan was thinking.

Was he just bullshitting us? Or might there actually be some brains playing mindfuck games here?

The rest of the day was depressingly boring. They were sequestered away from the groups that hadn’t gone through the ship trainer, and set to studying various ship plans and videos of pirate attacks. One by one, the other groups joined them as they finished with the trainer, most of them visibly pissed off by the scenario. Dan was starting to suspect, and hope, to some extent, that that was part of the point.

It was getting dark when they were summoned to form up in front of the barracks. Decker was waiting there, still in his skintight black polo shirt and khakis, his massive arms folded across his chest, watching them as they got in a ragged formation that would have had a drill instructor losing his mind but that was apparently about the best that MMPR and its trainers expected of them. They weren’t there to drill, after all.

Decker stared at them for another moment after they’d stopped moving. “Well, what did everyone think of the ship trainer?” he asked, strangely conversational.

Nobody spoke up. Dan expected that was because nobody wanted to tell Decker that they thought his training scenario was bullshit. He figured that he couldn’t be the only one having second thoughts at this point.

“Nobody wants to say it was bullshit?” Decker said. “Because it was. And there’s a reason why. One, we wanted to see what you’d do if thrown into an untenable position in training. How badly do you want the job? A few of you essentially said, ‘this isn’t fair,’ and quit. You might notice a few gaps in the ranks. Because we can’t predict that things won’t go badly pear shaped in the real world, and you can’t just say, ‘No fair!’ and quit then. There’s only so far we can take it in a training situation, but if you didn’t game the game, you’re already somewhat ahead.

“Now for the second part. Only one of you retarded monkeys actually had the foresight to extrapolate training to real-world deployment and the balls to call bullshit. Only one of you was thinking about whether or not we were going to throw you to the wolves downrange, like a number of contracting firms have a history of doing. Fortunately for a lot of you, it’s still early in training, and you’ve still got time to pull your heads out of your asses. Unfortunately for you, Tackett, you just skylined yourself. You’re an operational team leader now, and provided you don’t fuck it up between now and showtime, you will be when this goes real-world.

“Now get out of my sight and get some sleep. Morning comes early.”

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