WorldAlpha Story - 3. Rifle

December 2, 2012

The symmetry was dazzling. He could stand here without moving for hours, alone in this warehouse, flying through space, soaking it all in. Rows upon rows, perfectly stacked, shiningly new: Grenade launchers, handguns, flash bangs – you name it.

And rifles, with scopes almost as long as their barrels.

He walked the aisles, his mind counting, the clipboard in his hands a mere formality. Even the mental count was a ritual. He knew this room in its every detail. And he had the numbers memorized.

Beyond the call of duty. That was for certain. The floors of the warehouse shone like no other on any planet. He was more than a mere counter of weapons. He was their very Caretaker.

Some high ranking Merc doing the inspection thing had picked up a handgun once, almost returning it to its proper place, but missing by millimetres. Warrant Officer Kyle Mendall had a very stressful day that day. It wasn’t the inspection, which he passed with a wide-eyed nod from the Senior Ranking Officer. It was the fingerprints and the audacity of the Ranker that rained on Kyle’s dress parade.

Yesterday was bad, too. His direct superior, Captain Bolav Valentio, had gone Proton Collider crazy, insisting on a daily inventory. As if I needed the reminder, Kyle smiled. But the mention of “a single missing weapon” and the decade of mining-duty punishment that would come with it, well, that was a problem.

Nothing like the missing tank or the two extra artillery pieces on the other side of AlphaOne, Kyle mused. But they were someone else’s problem. Besides, he hated those weapons. They required crews, which meant teamwork.

Warrant Officer Kyle Mendall was a loner. That was for certain as well.

Reaching the spot at the end of the aisle, his blurred gaze sharpened. To the untrained eye, nothing seemed amiss. But Kyle knew. The missing rifle and its 17-inch scope were not to be found. Not in this room, anyway. Only his careful placement of neighbouring rifles had camouflaged the theft.

The possibilities were myriad. When AlphaOne first loaded back on Earth, speed was paramount, security wasn’t. That probably explained the heavy weapons miscount, though no one wanted to admit it. But even after the ship passed Mars’s orbit, the doors to the small weapons cache had been open to all. No one could conceive of theft on a ship filled with people who depended on cooperation to survive. But then they discovered the first stowaway. Now there was someone bound to spend his first ten years on WorldAlpha as a mine grunt, coughing silica dust for the rest of his sorry life. The Mercs decided to lock the weapons cache only after the third stowaway was chained in the brig.

The real problem was that the rifle’s theft occurred weeks after the doors were locked, on Kyle’s watch. He had formulated a hundred possibilities, but none seemed plausible. His best bet now was simply to keep things quiet, fill out the reports as if everything were copasetic, and hope that the mayhem of arrival on WorldAlpha would obliterate his problem. Or maybe he could lay the blame on the upcoming Passage. Who knows what disappears in a Wormhole?

The warehouse doors suddenly slid open. There was only one other key. That could only mean one thing.

Warrant Officer Kyle Mendall stood at attention, arm crooked in salute.

“What takes you so long in here every day, Soldier?” Captain Bolav Valentio stood so close, Kyle could feel the heat of his bad breath. Looking at the shiny floor around him, the Captain frowned. Then, with a sick smile, he dragged the heel of his boot over its surface.

Glimpsing down from the shadow of his camo-cap, Kyle could see the long black mark the Captain left. Another bad day.

“You’ve got ten minutes to get this floor spotless,” the Captain growled. “Then back to your barrack. We need Soldiers on this ship, not Janitors.”

Rumour had it that Captain Bolav Valentio had big aspirations. He was already forming his own cadre of Mercs to man a tank and “explore the countryside” once they all arrived at WorldAlpha. Sounded more like a power grab for land and mineral rights, Kyle figured.

Returning to his barrack, a cubicle where he could use the head or cook a meal by simply turning around, Kyle cracked another rare smile. Reaching under his bed, he found it.

Still there. Seventeen-inch scope and all.

He pulled the rifle out, studying its perfect lines. Whatever nation, army or city Captain Bolav Valentio decided to join in WorldAlpha, Kyle would pick the one that opposed it.

That was for certain.

--Manfred Koehler


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