3 | One More Before We Go
GATEWAY STATION, HYPERION SYSTEM | 1832 HOURS ZULU
“Turn it up!” Daniels called out to Wells. He then turned his attention back to the table where he, McAdams, Yamoto, and Rustovich were playing a game of poker. The stack of chips on his side of the table had grown by a healthy amount the evening and now that he was looking at a possible straight flush; he was having trouble hiding his excitement.
The heavy beat of music filled the mess hall onboard Gateway Station where a variety of military and civilian personnel were relaxing and enjoying the playful atmosphere. It had been four days since they arrived at the station after a three day trip through aether space. It was the first time the Hellcats had a little R&R in between missions in the last six months and they were determined to make the most of it.
The mess hall of Gateway station was built to standard military boring precision. The overhead bright lights left no shadows throughout the room that could seat five hundred at any given time. Rows of long rectangular tables were set up and mostly cleaned off from dinner that took place several hours ago. Yet, like most mess halls, it always smelled like meatloaf and burnt popcorn no matter what was being served.
Wells nodded to Daniels and reached over to crank up the music several degrees. A few of the other people in the mess hall looked over at the boisterous marines with annoyed looks as their antics were starting to creep onto their own fun, but they let it slide. No one wanted to get in a marine’s face and make a scene when they were clearly trying to unwind. They eventually just accepted the music as fact and continued with their own relaxing.
“All right ladies and gentlemen, time to put up or shut up,” Daniels said and moved a stack of chips to the center of the table, “Ten thousand.”
Rustovich whistled, “Strong bet.”
“Too much for you?” Daniels goaded.
A smirk appeared on the young marine; “I’m in.” he said and moved over most of his chips into the stack.
“Oh ho! Kids got some balls!” Daniels laughed.
Yamoto frowned a bit and then tossed his cards down, “Too rich for me. I’m out.”
“McAdams?” Daniels asked hopefully.
The red haired marine had a stone cold look on her face as she studied her cards. She had little luck most of the night and was down to her last stack, which stood at only eight thousand. “It would seem I don’t have enough.
“All in?” Daniels asked.
She looked at Daniels for a long hard moment and then placed her cards down and moved her remaining chips onto the stack, “I’m all in.”
Daniels clapped his hands, “Excellent!” he exclaimed.
“Just show your cards joker.” Rustovich said.
“Read’em and weep!” he said and turned over his cards to reveal a straight flush from six to ten of clubs. “Straight flush bitches!”
“Fucking A.” Rustovich frowned and turned over his cards to show a full house of diamonds and clubs.
“Oh yeah!” Daniels yelled and then looked to McAdams, “What’cha got pretty lady?”
“Straight flush boys.” she said with a grin and set her cards down. The royal flush of hearts immediately shut Daniels up and she began pulling the massive stack of chips over to her side.
“How the hell? I had that!” Daniels slammed his hand onto the table.
“Don’t hate.” McAdams said with a wink.
“Ok, ok. This next one is mine.” said Daniels trying to reassure everyone, himself included.
“Mmmhmm,” Wells interjected, “That’s what you said last time.”
“Says the person who went all in on the first hand and lost.” Daniels shot back.
Wells shrugged, “Stakes weren’t high enough. Strip poker, now that is some high stakes action.”
McAdams crinkled her nose, “You would lose on purpose.”
“Flaunt it if you got it honey.” He said with a wink.
“Bragging about a pencil dick is hardly worth the effort.” she said with a chuckle.
“Oh!” the other marines laughed aloud.
“At least I got a pair.” Wells said with a chuckle.
“Do you know why God gave women tits Wells?” she asked still grinning.
“For us to play with naturally.” he shot back on queue.
McAdams shook her head, “Cause our balls are so large He had to put them on our chest so they don’t drag on the ground.”
“Oh shit!” Daniels laughed so hard that he nearly fell out of his chair.
Wells rubbed at the buzz cut on his head, “Damn your cold.” he said and then laughed.
“Don’t hate the game cause you got burned.” she chuckled.
“How do you put up with her?” Wells asked, slapping Yamoto’s shoulder as he started to blush a little.
“Well, ya know, she’s actually really nice.” he said and tried to bury his face behind his beer.
“And what’s he got that I, Mr. Fantastic, cannot provide?” Wells goaded at McAdams playfully.
“A big dick.” McAdams shot back with a grin.
The table erupted into laughter once again. Yamoto tried to hide even further, but was given high fives and slaps on the back by his squad mates.
“Just sit down man! You’re embarrassing yourself!” Daniels said to Wells and kicked out a chair to the large man for him to sit.
“Man, I need another beer.” Wells said shaking his head. He reached into the cooler, pulled out a fresh bottle, and popped the top with his fingers.
“All right, all right. You crackers ready?” Rustovich asked holding up the deck of cards he had been shuffling.
“Yeah man, deal away.” said Daniels as he tried to compose himself from the fight of giggles he had caught.
Rustovich dealt out the cards like an old pro. In truth, playing cards had become the relaxing event for the squad after a long mission. It gave them an opportunity to talk, laugh, drink, and generally be themselves without all of the pomp and circumstance that came with wearing the uniform. The ritual was something Rustovich had watched after his first mission with his squad, too shy to get involved other than a quick nod and sit in the corner routine. After completing more missions and the squad grew more comfortable with him, Rustovich was gradually included in more socializing until he was finally invited to play poker this evening. He now felt like he had been finally accepted by the group and the feeling made him happy.
Once the cards were dealt, the marines pick them up and studied them closely while Wells drowned himself in his beer. Rustovich then laid out three cards face up on the table showing a Jack of Clubs, a Seven of Diamonds, and a Six f Diamonds.
“You’re up first McAdams.” Rustovich said.
She was silent for several moments before reaching over to her stack of chips, picked up a few and tossed them into the center of the table. “One thousand.”
Daniels made a sideway look at McAdams for a moment and the nodded slowly, “I’m in.” he said and tossed in his chips.
“I’m game.” Yamoto said and put his chips in the pile.
Rustovich looked at his hand again and then slide over his chips, “I’m in too.”
Once the first round of betting was done, Rustovich drew a card from the top of the deck and put it face up on the table; a Queen of Clubs.
“Daniels, your bet.” Rustovich said.
“Fifteen hundred.” he said and put his chips onto the table.
Yamoto opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the station intercom. Wells quickly leaned over and turned down the music so they could hear the announcement.
“…I repeat, 7th Special Forces Company report to Gamma briefing room.” the female voice said and then cut off.
“What the hell man? Can’t a man just play some cards?” Daniels said with a frown and threw his cards down on the table.
The marines stood up from the table and grabbed their fatigue jackets off the back of their chairs. Even though they had been called into a meeting, they kept their friendly off duty demeanor going as they made their way out of the mess hall and down the corridor.
“What do you think the Captain wants?” Rustovich asked as they walked.
“Probably going to cancel leave again.” Daniels said with a sorrow expression.
“One week man! That’s all I want, just one damn week were we can just relax!” Wells grumbled.
Barrington joined the group at the first intersection dressed in a little black dress with four inch heels. Her raven hair was in soft curls that fell over her white creamy skin with soft accents of makeup in all the right places. A pearl necklace adorned slender neck and sweet perfume suggested that she had just left a very nice evening dinner with an equally high class man.
The rest of the squad were dressed in fatigues and smelled of alcohol and salty peanuts. Upon seeing Barrington join the group, they immediately started giving catcalls and wolf whistles.
“Oh shit Bear, you are smokin’ that dress girl!” Daniels said with a waggle of his eyebrows. Bear was the nickname the squad had given her after the first week she arrived for her fearless and forward demeanor.
“I better be for the work I put into it.” Barrington grumbled and fell into step with the rest of the squad.
“Um, hot date?” Rustovich asked.
She nodded, “Yeah and it was going just lovely. All the right music, the right food, the right atmosphere…”
“Damn, sounds like someone’s got the hots for some pretty boy pilot.” Wells snickered.
“His name’s Robert.” she snarked back.
“Oh! The one with the tight ass?” McAdams asked as she sped up to walk beside Barrington.
“That’s the one.” she replied with a wink.
“Oh now I’m sorry on your behalf.” McAdams said.
Barrington gave a chuckle and then leaned over to speak softly into her ear, “How’s it going with you and Rikichi?”
“You know that little shy thing he does in public?”
Barrington nodded, “Yeah?”
“A little brandy clears that right up.”
“Did you?” Barrington asked hopefully.
“Last night.” McAdams confirmed.
“And?” asked Barrington all giddy.
“Oh my god!” she swooned, “All fucking night. The man is a machine.”
“Now I’m jealous.” Barrington replied.
“Hold out hope Amanda. Maybe he’s just giving us a pep talk.”
“You better be right Tracy, cause I’ll be damned if I let that hot piece of ass get away from me.” Barrington said with a grin.
The women gave a soft giggle between them and the men looked at them with confused glances as they didn’t hear the exchange.
The walk down to the Gama briefing room took only a few minutes since they were both on the same deck. The halls were painted Confed grey and blue and the black floors had been recently polished and held no scuffmarks on them until the ragtag group of marines made their way down the corridor in their well worn jump boots and one pair of high heels.
Briefing room Gamma was a standard briefing room with a podium at the front and rows of chairs filling out the room. A holoprojector was positioned off to the side to be used as needed. Like the corridor, the walls were painted grey with a blue stride along the center. Standing at the podium was Captain Herrera, Sergeant Major Gordon and First Sergeant Karzarian who were talking quietly until the double glass doors swished open. The rows of seats were already occupied by second and third squads of Hellcat Company. First squad, as usual, were the last ones to join the party.
The marines filed into the room and dropped their various conversations as they took their seats, automatically seating in their combat positions as it was second nature to them.
Gordon and Karzarian both stepped away from the podium and took their customary seats at the front row while Herrera stood in the front.
“Good evening marines. I’m sorry to pull you away from your good time,” he said and paused for a moment as he stopped his gaze on Barrington for a moment before continuing, “But command has handed down another mission.”
A collective groan rippled through the squad. “Come on cap, we haven’t had a leave in six months!” Daniels said.
Herrera eyed Daniels for a moment with a look that demanded silence. When Daniels had shut his mouth and settled himself, the captain pulled out a small silver cylindrical device and pressed a button on its side.
Gordon instantly recognized the device as an audio dampening device. It was designed to scramble all audio frequencies that passed a threshold, usually up to twenty meters. They were used when someone didn’t want anyone listening in on a conversation being held inside the audio bubble. The fact that Herrera was using such a device made him sit up and take notice.
“This new op is designated Ultradark.” Herrera said, the weight of that single word destroyed any complaining that was being said quietly in the room.
Gordon whistled quietly to himself. Most missions handed down to the 7th Special Forces Company were rated from Secret to Dark that signaled the secrecy and sensitive nature of the operation. Ultradark missions were the cream of black op missions were only the general of Confed Intel in the Ministry of Defense and the President of the Confederation knew the details of the operation. Missions of Ultradark variety were rare and to be handed one commanded a marine’s fullest attention.
“What’s the op Cap?” Karzarian asked.
“This station isn’t secured for that briefing. The TCD Austin is in route to pick us up at 2200 hours. Squad leaders, you will need your squads packed and primed with full battle gear by 2100 hours. We will then load onto a Falcon dropship and transfer to the Austin for an aether jump to our destination.”
“Aye sir.” Gordon and the other two squad leaders replied.
“Good. You are dismissed.” Herrera said and then turned off the audio dampener and exited the room. The marines of Hellcat Company began to stand up and make their way out of the briefing room.
Barrington sighed and put her head to McAdams shoulder, “God dammit.”
Tracy checked her watch, “its only 1900 Bear.”
“I know!” she said with a frown.
“So skip dinner and drag his ass to bed.” Tracy insisted.
“But I’ve got to get my gear squared.” she said.
“Look,” Tracy said and leaned in closer, “I’ll cover for you if you get me back later hm?”
“You sure?” she asked hopefully.
McAdams smiled and nodded, “Go, and get laid.”
“I could kiss you!”
“Save it for flyboy. Now move your ass marine!”
“Yes ma’am!” Amanda said and hopped out of her seat and nearly flew out of the room and down the corridor back to her patiently waiting date.
McAdams watched her run out of the room with a smile on her face and then looked up as Rikichi took a seat next to her. “That was nice of you.” he said.
Tracy shrugged. “Amanda always has gear packed and primed. It’ll take five minutes to get it out and ready for her to jump in. Besides, she needs this after what happened with Jimmy.”
Rikichi tilted his head to the side, “Jimmy?”
“Old flame, a civilian contractor dealing with some sort of biology stuff. They were pretty hot and heavy for awhile to the point I think she even told him that she loved him.” Tracy said.
“Jimmy got called down to an outbreak of Iker’s disease on Hammerpoint. There was a riot and his containment suit was torn open. He died three days later.” Tracy said quietly.
“Damn.” Rikichi said.
“Yeah, Amanda was pretty broken up about it. She refused to move on for a couple years. I think this is the first time I’ve seen her this excited about dating since Jimmy passed.”
“You’re a good friend.”
“Yes, yes I am.” Tracy said with a smile, “Now, you were going to tell me something after the poker game?”
“Well, I had this little candlelight dinner all set up for just the two of us. That’s kind of out of the question now.” he said with a frown.
Tracy leaned in close to his ear, “Well, I could use a shower before packing, how about you?”
Rikichi’s frown quickly moved to a smile, “Absolutely.”
“Come on lover boy, I need some lovin’.” Tracy said and stood up, pulling Rikichi along with her by the front of his shirt.