Excerpt: Chains of Command by Marko Kloos

Courtesy of the nice folks at 47North, we’ve got an excerpt of Chain of Command, the 4th book in Marko Kloos’s Frontline series. Enjoy!

Keep up with Marko at his website.

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I’m not the kind of soldier who has an office. I’m a combat grunt by occupational specialty, a combat controller, a podhead. Among the first molecules on the very tip of the spear. But for the last six months, I have also been a platoon sergeant for a basic training platoon at North American Commonwealth Recruit Depot Orem, and platoon sergeants get offices, so I have an office. It has a desk in it, and it’s about twice as big as the biggest berth I’ve ever occupied on a warship. The first few weeks after I moved in, I felt like a complete fraud every time I walked in to see my name on the door: PLATOON SGT: SFC GRAYSON.

Platoon sergeants are experienced noncoms. Older men and women. But then I remind myself that I am twenty-seven, with almost seven years of service—over five of them as a noncommis-sioned officer. In the new NAC Armed Forces, made up of what’s left after the Mars defeat, the Exodus, and the Battle of Earth, that makes me one of the old and experienced NCOs, and that’s a scary fucking thought. There’s a benefit to the office, though. When I can’t sleep, which is most nights, I have a place to go and keep myself busy without having to stay in my quarters and have my brain dredge up unwanted memories from godforsaken places a few thousand kilometers or a few dozen light-years away. Not even the good pharmaceuticals can eradicate that particular program in my head.

I look up from my network terminal’s holoscreen when I hear footsteps in the hallway outside. The clock on the wall shows 04:14. It’s over fortyfive minutes to reveille, and too early for someone else to be awake in this place and walking around in the building with boots on their feet.
A few moments later, Sergeant Simer pokes his head through the open doorway.

“Morning, Sergeant Grayson.”

“Good morning,” I reply.

Sergeant Simer is the CQ for the night, the Charge of Quarters NCO manning the little office at the company building’s entrance. It’s a mostly superfluous tradition in the days of neural networks and computerized access, but it’s tradition, and the military has lots of those.

“Real shit sandwich this morning,” Simer says.

“Oh yeah?”

I wave him in, and he steps across the threshold and over to my desk.

“Got a call from the base MP just now.”

“Uh-oh,” I say. “Weekend leave trouble?”

“Bunch of the recruits took the bus into town and hopped a train
to Salt Lake on Saturday. They got drunk or baked, one or the other.
Chip-jacked a cab, disabled the safety governor, and went for a joyride.”

“Oh, no.”

“Yeah.” Simer makes a pained little grimace before continuing.

“Left their travel lane and creamed a hydrobus. Offset crash, one dead, three injured.”

“Shit,” I say. “Any of ours?”

“Two. One from First Squad and one from Fourth. Privates Barden and Perret. Barden’s dead.”

I close my eyes briefly and let out a sigh.

“Dumbshit kids. A week and a half before graduation.”

I recall Private BARDEN, J. from the personnel roster and the sixty or so times the basic training platoon has stood lined up in front of the building for morning orders every weekday since the be-ginning of boot camp. He wasn’t a PRC kid like most of the recruit pool. I recall that he’s a mid-dle-class ’burber from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Portland or SeaTac, maybe? I know I’ll have to learn everything about Private BARDEN, J. in the next day or two because the platoon leader will have to attend his funeral, and I’ll need to brief him for that.

“Thank you,” I tell Sergeant Simer.

“Kick the boots out of bed early today. Reveille at 0445. Might as well give them a hint something’s up. I’ll be down at Orders.”

The platoon is lined up outside in a laser-straight line, sorted by height. Their uniforms are stand-ard NAC battle camo, boots polished to a spit-shine, haircuts short and neat. My three squad leaders, the drill instructors, are standing in front of the assembled platoon at parade rest. When I step out of the building and start walking toward the line, my senior DI snaps to attention.

“Platoon, ten-hut!”

Thirty-four pairs of boot heels pop together, and the recruit platoon snaps to attention as one. I acknowledge the senior DI’s salute and step in front of the assembled platoon.

“At ease.”

There’s a brief shuffling as the recruits assume a slightly more relaxed posture. I look at them without saying anything for a few seconds, to make sure I have everyone’s undivided attention.

“On Friday afternoon, I had thirty-six recruits standing in front of me. Today, I only have thirty-four. I also have one recruit in the intensive care ward at Salt Lake, and one on a slab in the morgue. Recruit Barden was killed over the weekend in an accident. He got zoned and overestimated his driving skills with a jacked vehicle.”

There’s no noise in the ranks—after eleven weeks of Basic, they know not to make a sound at Orders unless told to sound off—but some of the recruits are trading looks, and most of them seem appropriately shocked by the news. I pause briefly again to let the news sink in properly.

“This is the new Basic training,” I continue. “When I stood where you all are standing right now, the whole platoon slept in a big room. Thirty-six beds and lockers, two rows of eighteen. Six and a half days of training every week, and half a day of downtime. No leaves until graduation. You all know the horror stories from the old-timers.”

Some of the recruits smile or grin at this, but they quickly drop back to a neutral expression when they see that I wasn’t setting up a joke.

“Now we train you in squads and fire teams. You get to share a berth with your team, two berths per squad. Four recruits per room. We train you that way because that’s how you get to live and work in the Fleet or the Spaceborne Infantry, and we have no time to waste in getting you prepared for duty. You even get weekend leave. And most of you know not to abuse that privi-lege. Most of you.”

I fold my hands behind my back and start walking down the line of recruits slowly. They look so young to me, even though most are in their late teens and early twenties and only half a decade younger than I am. But the half decade between us seems like an eternity from where I am stand-ing right now.

“I’m not pissed off because privates Barden and Perret wanted to let off some steam and have fun in town. I’m pissed off because they chose to be stupid about it. I’m pissed off because Pri-vate Barden got himself killed a week and a half before he had a chance to pay back the
Commonwealth for the time and resources we spent on his training. I’m pissed off because now we will be two heads short next week when we send you all off to the Fleet or the SI, and four slots that desperately needed to be filled will now go unfilled.”

I’m talking in my drill instructor voice and cadence, which I didn’t know I possessed until I started my platoon leader rotation at NACRD Orem six months ago. I find that whenever I need that par-ticular voice, all I have to do is channel Sergeant Burke, my own senior drill instructor,
whose clipped drawl is still as fresh in my memory as if I had left boot camp last week.

“I know what most of you are thinking,” I continue. “You’ve been around the block in the PRCs, and you think you can handle your shit in the big bad world out there. You think you’re smart and tough. You think that dying is for other people. But I’m here to tell you that there are a lot of ways to die out there past those gates. And if you have to kick the bucket, I’d much rather see you go out holding a gun and manning a line against a Lanky advance than braining yourself on a hydro-bus bumper while zoned. There are good ways to go and bad ways, and a dumbshit traffic acci-dent just before graduating boot camp is a very fucking bad way.”

They all look at me, those young and earnest faces. Quite a few still have that welfare-rat attitude in their expressions, that cocky little streak of defiance that was a survival skill for them in the warrens of the inner cities. But whatever else they are, and whatever thoughts swirl around
in those heads right now, they volunteered to be here, to join the thin green line that stands be-tween us and extermination.

“Here’s the deal,” I say. “Leave is restricted from now until graduation day. You can stay on base or go into town, but you are barred from leaving Orem. And we’re having a mandatory chem scan this morning. Anyone with illegal jack in their systems is going to get a bad-conduct
discharge and a maglev ride home. Are we clear, platoon?”

“Sir, yes sir!” the thirty-odd members of Basic Training Platoon 1526
bellow in unison. If nothing else, they’ve learned to stand straight and
sound off at top volume.

“I can’t hear you,” I shout back, even though their combined volume rattled the polyplast window-pane five meters behind me, because that’s the sort of thing we do. Establish rituals, hammer them home, drill them to be executed until they become second nature.

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Better,” I say. Then I check the chrono on my left wrist.

“It’s field day,” I announce. “The buses will be in front of the block at 0800 sharp. You will all be geared up precisely according to the checklist. This is the last one of these you’ll get to do before graduation. If you graduate. The next time they call you out in combat gear, it may well
be for real combat, so keep that in mind. The crucible is a bitch, but it’s nothing compared to what you’ll see out on a real battlefield, believe me.”

I turn to the drill instructors, who are at parade rest to my right and slightly behind me.

“Drill sergeants, take charge of your squads. Chow, then armor up. Weapons issue at 0700. Be ready for dustoff at 0750, including gear checks. Execute.”

I walk back into the building as my three drill instructors take over their charges. They’ll march the squads back up to the platoon quarters and light a fire under their asses, to simulate having to get ready for combat quickly and under stress. The platoon will spend the last week before the final graduation exercise out on the huge exercise area in the desert surrounding NACRD Orem, simu-lating an extended engagement against a Lanky landing. Much of our training has been focused on killing Lankies instead of other humans, and I can’t say that I dislike this shift in priorities.

Excerpted from CHAINS OF COMMAND © Copyright 2016 by Joe Hart. Reprinted with permis-sion by 47North. All rights reserved.

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