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chapter fourteen
Part One

By the time he crawled into the back of the truck that the Military personnel around him seemed to be calling a 'Dussendorf' Ozeman, K was bone tired. He’d field prepped the twenty-five nuclear warheads that the Captain of the Guard had ordered him to in less than five days, but his efficiency had brought about the expectation that he could field prep twenty-five more. By the end of the tenth day, a fixed deadline it seemed, Ozeman, K had prepped a total of sixty-one 250 tonne Micro-Nukes.

Not that that was the end of his work, because one by one he’d been assigned the task of securing the Micro-Nukes in specifically selected tanks parked among the hundreds of dusty yellow battle tanks that were tightly packed in the massive sub-cavern of their colony.

Ozeman, K couldn’t figure out the rhyme or reason used to decide which tanks got these weapons, but that wasn’t his problem and thankfully securing them had taken less than half a day to perform. But any hope that his efficiency would mean Ozeman, K could now rest had been instantly dashed a day earlier when Cutter arrived.

Ozeman, K never new there was such a being. Cutter had clusters on his shoulder boards implying a rank far above any Ozeman, K had ever seen before, and unlike every other person he’d ever known Cutter only had the one name on his uniform, a white text name carved into a small black plate, a far cry above the stenciled black lettering on the dark green patch of material that the rest wore.

Cutter’s uniform was clean and fancy, his eyes were shiny and his face was full of life. He was like a heroic figure straight off a Vid-Jacket on one of those old movies from the Library and certainly a far cry from the drab baggy green clothes and puffy gaunt faces that the rest of them had.

Ozeman, K stood in his assigned space along the row of trained Soldiers feeling as out of place as anyone could. He knew this wasn’t his world; these people had been born and raised into this environment, marching and saluting practically from the womb. They lived a life of discipline and reward while his had been a life of meager survival.

There was a reason the Millies, or Military, called his kind Bunnies. Compared to the unmoving steel line beside him Ozeman, K was a twitchy rabbit, startled by the slightest new sound and trembling, ready to bolt at the first sign any of these wolves spotted him.

The Captain of the Guard, Salvatore, Y stopped ahead of Cutter and nodded toward Ozeman, K, "This is the Civvie."

Cutter stood ramrod straight but not stiffly. He peered down at Ozeman, K with an intensity that almost withered the civilian tech and while the voice that came out of him sounded like broken glass being dragged on concrete in a large, hollow, and rusting iron drum, the tone, while firm, was almost grand-fatherly. At least that would’ve been the analogy Ozeman, K would’ve used if he’d ever known his grand-father.

"Don’t mind the Captain, son," Cutter said nodding to Salvatore, Y. "He can’t see beyond his own boundaries."

Cutter stepped back a bit and spoke in sharp, clipped tones, formal tones, to everyone, "You are about to embark on the single most important mission in our history. What you do will shape the future of our colony, and indeed the very world, forever. To succeed you will need to quickly adapt to ever changing circumstances. You will need to step into situations you have not been trained for and do things successfully the first time. Our success, our very survival, will hinge on your success."

Cutter suddenly pointed at Ozeman, K.   A sharp and deliberate, almost dramatic gesture that brought everyone’s eyes to focus on the little man from the civvie levels of their colony. "This man has already taken that step, he has already adapted, and he has already succeeded."

Cutter began to step closer to Ozeman, K, moving with an intensity that made the ‘Civvie’ think he was about to be man-handled by the powerful man everyone was watching.

Cutter looked directly at Ozeman, K, his eyes conveying a deep level of confidence that inspired the young techie while this leader continued his address, "Anyone whose actions set a positive example the rest should emulate is a hero in my books."

He looked at Ozeman, K and nodded softly, "Well done, boy."

Ozeman, K nervously looked up at the confusing contradiction standing before him. Stern but warm. Frightening, yet charismatic. Was that leadership? He’d only known leaders as people put in charge of him by other people, but this man, whom he’d only met for the first time a few minutes earlier, this man Ozeman, K wanted to follow.

With the wave of his hand Cutter ended the address and turned to the Captain of the Guard while the Master Sergeant dismissed the assembled, directing each to their station. Ozeman, K wanted to follow but the Sergeant hadn’t given him his direction yet, hadn’t told him his assignment and Ozeman, K had learned quickly enough that one didn’t jump unless told to.

He started to watch Cutter and the Captain of the Guard but then remembered his place and snapped into his best approximation of a glaze-over automaton. His ears, however, picked up every word.

"I want him outfitted with a Commission and in my Deuce when we leave.” Cutter looked at Ozeman, K with a sly grin, “Tonight, my young friend, you will enjoy the perks of being an Officer."

There was no option for Salvatore, Y but to respond, "Yes, sir!"

Ozeman, K didn’t understand what any of that meant, but he knew that Salvatore, Y wasn’t happy about it.

* * *

The Officer deck was directly above the cavern, at least that’s how it seemed to Ozeman, K. He was directed to a 500 cubic foot room with a single bed, a private Vid unit and its own wash basin.

He was given a new kit bag complete with a new uniform. Not the dark two piece the other ‘Grunts’ wore, or the bulky jumpsuit he’d spent nearly his whole life in, but a real uniform kit with a selection of shirts, pants, a jacket, tie, multiple pairs of socks and underwear, under t-shirts, a hat, belt, and necktie. It was, Ozeman, K realized, a simpler version of Cutter’s uniform.

It took him a while to figure out how to dress. Every piece of clothing was so terribly unfamiliar to him. And the necktie was a nightmare that completely frustrated him until he realized the Vid unit might have direct link to the Master Library and therefore might have the Uniform Guide.

During that quick review, which he picked up must faster than he expected he would, Ozeman, K was able to determine three things. One, he didn’t have to wear everything at once, they had actually provided him with a change of clothes; two, the turtle neck sweater was not only the most comfortable but didn’t require the necktie; and three, he was now what was called a Lieutenant, 2nd Class, although he wasn’t sure how to say that word properly.

The three tones resonated over the public address and Ozeman, K quickly rushed to finish making himself presentable so that he wouldn’t be late to the mess hall, although he had no idea where that was on this deck.

* * *

Cutter sat at the roomiest table in the mess hall, a sort of head table, near to the buffet stations where the food was, but not in the path of anyone seeking sustenance. As Ozeman, K entered Cutter stood and started clapping, a motion that caused everyone in the room to stand and follow suit.

Cutter motioned Ozeman, K toward his table and nervously, extremely uncomfortable with all the attention, Ozeman, K wound his way through the maze between the door and Cutter’s table to join his ‘Commander’.

Salvatore, Y harrumphed. "He’s just a cog," he muttered bitterly.

Cutter heard the complaint and leaned in, redressing Salvatore, Y sharply before his guest could arrive at the table, "Captain, He is the most important cog in our apparatus and easily worth half your Battalion." Cutter paused and smiled broadly at the recently promoted ‘Civvie’.

"For now..." Salvatore muttered nearly silently. ‘Civvie’ were bunnies, something to be protected, and something disposable. You didn’t go to war with a Rabbit.

Ozeman, K arrived at the Commander’s table. "Have a seat, son," Cutter said motioning to the empty chair on his right. "You’re in for a treat!"

No sooner had Ozeman, K made it around the table then Porters came from the far doors with platters of food, which they brought to Cutter and his table, where those at the head were given the chance to select from the platters before they were sat at the buffet for the rest. Ozeman, K had never had first shot at food before, being lighter in weight and less inclined to push he’d usually been left with scraps but this time it was his fork piercing the selections first.

He tried not to be gluttonous but it was so very hard not to pile food onto his plate. Ozeman, K was smiling ear to ear when he finally sat down and made eye contact with Cutter, who shot him a playfully disapproving glare at his portion.

A snap of the finger later and others were coming to table offering an assortment of beverages beyond what Ozeman, K was ever aware existed. Fearful he might lose control he stuck with the obvious safe beverages. He’d never had alcohol before, but he knew enough about substance to avoid it at this function.

In fact Ozeman, K realized that he had, for the first time in his life, real clothes, a room to himself, a real bed. Even the showers had individual stalls. Ozeman, K realized he could quickly get used to privacy. He nodded again back at Cutter who raised a glass to toast ‘the future’ whatever that meant, but he’d only sip and nibble. He didn’t want anything to cost him this promotion.

A delirious hour and a half later the plates and scraps of food were removed; no doubt for their trip to the upper level and his old work crew. Tables were folded up and chairs repositioned to make room, but for what Ozeman, K wondered? Everyone seemed too full to wrestle.

Then it happened. Women came in. Women dressed as women, not workers. It was then that Ozeman, K realized something he hadn’t thought about all week. Not one of the Soldiers present was female. These women came in and took to the open space and began to sing and dance and entertain and as the lights dimmed Ozeman, K could see that on the peripherals of the room, more women were coming in and pairing off with some of the officers while the others were entertained.

And Cutter was one of the ones pairing off. Ozeman, K flushed red at this. Fraternizing was greatly frowned upon upstairs, it interfered with productivity, at least that’s what they were told. But as the evening wore on more and more of the Soldiers paired up and wandered off. And by midnight Ozeman, K realized the only Soldiers that were watching the show, other than himself, were those who had returned.

Then a tap landed on his shoulder and he looked up to see who it was. "I’m Sandy." Ozeman, K was stunned, she was pretty and soft looking. Her hair splayed around her head in a most unprofessional fashion, it was chaotic even. And she had a first name!

"It’s your turn. Come on!" She took his hand forcefully and began dragging him along with her. He tried to protest but she was stronger than he was, and it seemed, determined. She was young, nearly his age, and healthy. Why were there so many healthy people down here, Ozeman, K wondered? Why weren’t there more in the upper levels?

She dragged him into a small room, a little larger than his own, with a wide bed that nearly touched both walls. She immediately began pressing her lips against his while struggling to remove his clothes.

He tried to fight back but he’d never fought anyone before and didn’t know how to stop her except to stand back from her and yell, "Stop that!"

Sandy stopped and blinked at him in confusion. "Are you saying you don’t wanna?"

Ozeman, K was paralyzed. Of course he wanted to. She was the most radiantly gorgeous creature he’d ever seen and offering herself. "I..." he stopped, trying to think back to one of those Vid-Movies that dealt with this. None of what he saw seemed practical, certainly not applicable.

He didn’t know what to do or say so having no plan he told the truth, "I don’t want to fight for it."

Sandy’s expression hadn’t changed. She remained there blinking at him for a moment and then as though a light switch came on suddenly she smiled and said, "Okay."

Then she turned and started to remove her clothes, "You’ve never done this before, have you?"

He didn’t have to say anything, his blush and his erection spoke volumes.

* * *

By the time he crawled into the back of the truck that everyone seemed to be calling a 'Dussendorf' Ozeman, K was bone tired and despite the fact he hadn’t touched a drop he felt what he would’ve described as hung-over, had he any experience with alcohol.

Cutter climbed in after him and patted him on the shoulder as he climbed all the way up front. As fatigued as he was, Ozeman, K couldn’t help but smile at that. It might be a dangerous mission and he might not have much longer to live, but he lived more last night than in the previous twenty years of his life, and that wasn’t half bad.

* * *