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A short story by

James M. Waugh

Hendrix was already waiting for them outside, his hulking shadow twisted in the eerie glow of Roxara’s planetary light.

“Well, this is a rare sight if I do say so myself,” Brody said gruffly. “I ain’t never seen you not be the last out, dragging that lazy ass of yours.”

Hendrix just looked at him. Wynne cackled from behind Brody. “Hell, he ain’t never been on time a day in his life.”

Finally Hendrix smiled and said, “Jokes,” cryptically before pushing down his visor and covering his face.

“Maybe you can teach an old specialist new tricks…. Alright, we’re done here. Jenkins, you got the data report?” Walden asked.

“That is correct, sir.”

“Move out. We got ourselves a nice hike under the stars.” Walden began to march back.

The marines formed a single-file line, with Walden leading the way like the head of a blue neosteel caterpillar crawling into the desolate moon night.

“Hey, Hendrix, you got a joke for us?” Wynne asked, laughing like a naughty schoolboy just waiting to get scolded.

“Fekking Wynne,” Brody said.

“Well, excuse me for asking.”

The command center loomed in the distance, and after an eight-mile hike, Walden thought it might just be one of the more beautiful sights he had ever seen. Once inside, Zeta Squad went through the usual routine: security checks, armor removal, and relief.

“Alright, ladies. Get some rest. We leave at 2700. I’ll uplink the data to Command.” They all made cracks as usual before heading off their separate ways. They were a family, a dysfunctional one, but a family nonetheless.

“Think this command center got poker?” Wynne asked.

“I bet it does. If you’re playing, so am I… I could use a raise this week,” Jenkins replied.

Everyone was jovial despite the strange mission. Wait, that wasn’t right; actually, Hendrix hadn’t said much of anything. Now that he was gone, he began to weigh heavy on Walden’s thoughts as he walked down the metallic corridors. It’s not like him to be so quiet. Why didn’t I think of that earlier? I should talk to him in the morning. Maybe the mission spooked him. A good sarge needs to be in tune with his men and willing to show a softer side from time to time.

But this line of thought quickly slipped away as he opened the door to his cabin. He liked the fact that there were bunks inside the command center for a change. There was nothing quite like the feeling of the hour or so after having been in a CMC-300 suit all day. It was like being reborn.

Video Changeling
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