Wil’s putting the finishing touches on his team. He’s now found the last member of the team and has sent Ray to get her.
Ray walked over to the weapons range with care across the pocked and uneven field. He was looking for Abrams who was a long range weapons instructor. He saw a group of recruits getting their first lesson. Wondering if he’d ever been that young and green, he walked toward them. A fresh faced corporal trotted up and saluted. He looked about twelve, Ray thought.
“May I help you, sir?”
Ray returned the salute, once again enjoying his new rank.
“I’m looking for Sargent Abrams.” The corporal pointed to the tall, athletically built woman who was bellowing at some private for fiddling with his safety before he was told. When she had finished, the corporal approached her, pointed to Ray and spoke quietly. Abrams put the corporal in charge of the class and walked stiffly over to Ray, not bothering to salute.
“This better be important! I’m right in the middle of a class!”
“Sargent Abrams, on behalf of Colonel Wilhelm VanLipsig, I apologize for the interruption, but it’s a matter of some urgency. I am following his orders.”
“So urgent it can’t wait an additional thirty minutes?”
He resisted the urge to tack ma’am on each sentence since he outranked her, but it was difficult. He brought her quickly up to date with the Aurialonus situation. Abrams hesitated one moment more, then stalked over to her corporal, speaking to him for a few minutes. She walked back over to Ray.
“I’ll get my things.”
Ray followed her to her quarters, walking behind her on purpose. It wasn’t in deference to her, he just liked the view. Damn, that woman could strut! He stayed behind her all the way to the shuttle, giving her a hand up.
“May I ask you something?”
“Is there some reason you’ve been staring at my ass for the last thirty-three minutes?”
He chuckled, trying to think of a plausible excuse. None came to mind. Had to bullshit his way out as usual. “Well, Sargent, I’m a country boy and was raised to appreciate the beauty of nature.”
“What’s that got to do with my ass?” She cocked her head to one side, eyeing him critically.
He held his hands out about the width of her rear, cupping his palms. “Well now, what’s more natural than a man watching an attractive woman? By damn, Sargent, your ass is thing of beauty!”
Abrams sat quietly a moment, then she started to laugh. “Schmidt, that’s the biggest crock of shit I’ve ever heard!”
“Yes, ma’am, it sure is. But it don’t make it not true.”
She gazed at him, eyes moving up and down his body as if cataloging every inch. “I think I’m going to like you, Schmidt.”
He smiled his most winning, charming smile—the one women melted over. “I certainly hope so, Ma’am.” He saluted her teasingly. “Call me Ray.”
* * *
Aurialonus made demands again, gesticulating wildly, roaring in anger. Mediators tried to clarify his stipulations, but no one could figure out what he wanted. Time was running out.
The team was as ready as it could be, given the fact their monkey, Emory, had yet to join them. Penny was briefed on his part and had put in long hours with simulation climbs, but nothing compared to the real thing.
“What if he doesn’t show?” Ben asked Wil worriedly.
“Then we use Penny. Won’t have any choice.”
A commotion in the adjoining room erupted suddenly and Wil heard Ray’s distinctive bellow. Rushing through the doorway, Ben and Wil saw the men surrounding another man he didn’t know.
The man was just over five feet tall, slightly built and wiry. His dark hair was close cropped and his bright blue eyes were hooded like a snake’s. They flickered from one man to another, sizing them up. He didn’t look afraid, just extremely alert as if he were on synthstims.
“What goes on here?” Wil roared from the doorway.
The men surrounding the smaller one moved apart allowing him to pass. Wallace tried to punch him, but Lance restrained him, catching his fist in a vice-like grip.
Setting down his duffel, the little man adjusted his uniform. “Emory reporting for duty, Colonel.” Shuffling his feet, he glanced up at Wil who towered over him by about two feet.
“No rank or salute for a superior officer?” Ben growled.
Emory’s eyes flickered over toward Ben, complete loathing simmered there. Wil’s gaze lingered on Emory, gauging him. There was something Wil couldn’t place. It caused disquietude.
“Corporal Emory reporting, sir!” He snapped a short, saucy salute with a glare at them all. None of the officers returned his salute and he did not look as if he expected them to.