“Can I join you?” Billy asked as he approached the table where Angela and the man who watched over her during an operation sat. Billy didn’t know the man’s name but he wore the same combat fatigues all the other men with guns wore. The man pointed to a chair opposite himself with a fork full of food before jamming that fork into his still chewing mouth. Billy set his tray down before dropping into the chair. Angela had her head bowed with her hands clasped before her and didn’t look up.
“I’m Corporal Williams. But you can call me Seth,” the man said, switching his fork to his left hand and continuing to shovel food into his mouth as he extended his other hand. A small fleck of food flipped out of his mouth as he spoke. “Sorry about that.”
“I’m…” Billy started.
“Billy, I know. We all know,” Seth said, still chewing.
“You all know?” Billy asked.
“Yeah. We got briefed the day you came on board,” Seth said, scraping the fork around his tray.
“You’re very hungry,” Billy said, realizing he was too. He began unwrapping his utensils.
“Yeah. That happens after PT,” Seth said, taking the last bite of his food. Angela raised her head and began to unwrap her own utensils.
“Hi Angela,” Billy said.
“Hello,” Angela said, sheepishly as she surveyed her plate of military food, which consisted of some circular breaded piece of meat, reconstituted dehydrated mashed potatoes swimming in brown gravy, shriveled peas, a diner roll, and a precise two inch square by one inch tall piece of white sheet cake with a thin coating of chocolate frosting. Billy’s lunch tray appeared to contain the same meal as though the components came in a child’s plastic play toy.
“Be right back,” Seth said to Angela as he rose with his spotless tray in hand and headed for the lunch line.
“What were you doing?” Billy asked, as he gathered up a fork full of the potatoes and gravy eyeing it suspiciously.
“Praying,” Angela said quietly beginning to eat. “You should eat. We have a briefing on our next mission in about twenty minutes.”
“Yeah, about that,” Billy started.
“I don’t know anything about the mission yet. Just wait for the briefing,” Angela said, trying to head off his questions.
“I don’t mean about that mission, I mean about yesterday’s mission,” Billy started again. “Well, not the mission exactly, but the meeting after.”
“Debriefing,” Angela corrected.
“What?” Billy asked.
“The meeting after a mission isn’t called a meeting, at least not by the military. It’s called a debriefing,” Angela said.
“Oh, well about the debriefing then. You said you’d seen those guys in the robes and the little stony looking guys all your life, but I thought the program didn’t get started until two years ago?” Billy asked finally sticking the bite of potatoes into his mouth. He discovered chewing was not required and grimaced at the feel of the loose consistency as he swallowed. He followed that bite quickly with as many of the shriveled little peas as he could get on his fork. They turned out to be nearly as mushy as the potatoes. Billy’s grimace deepened. Angela hung her head a little more which allowed her hair to fall forward and create a sort of shield around her face.
“I don’t need to be hooked in to see them,” Angela said cutting her breaded meat disc as though she were trying to cut through the tray to the table with each stroke of the knife.
“You mean you can see them right now?” Billy said stopping his own knife in mid slice and wildly looking around. “Are they in here right now?”
“Yes, but there are only angels in the cafeteria,” Angela said, putting her own troubles aside and reaching out a calming hand to the frantic young man. Billy relaxed as Angela lay her hand on his arm lightly.
“No demons?” Billy asked nervously.
“No, no demons in this entire complex,” Angela said, releasing Billy’s arm.
“What is it?” Billy asked noticing the confused expression on Angela’s face.
“Well, I just realized in every other single place I’ve ever been there have always been both angels and demons, but not here. There are only angels here,” Angela said.
“Why is that odd?” Billy asked putting the first bite of his meat into his mouth and beginning to chew. The meat apparently had all the consistency it was supposed to have as well as the substance missing from both the potatoes and peas. Billy chewed vigorously but the bite didn’t seem to get any smaller. “I don’t think there’s any food in this food.”
Angela smiled a bit at Billy’s statement. “You get used to military food.”
Seth returned, smiling as he retook his seat. His tray was again covered in food.
“Ah, how can you eat two helpings of this stuff?” Billy asked.
“Boot camp gets you used to it, and the First Shirt’s workouts make your appetite less picky too,” Seth said, digging into his meal with gusto.
“First shirt?” Billy asked.
“That’s what the military calls a First Sergeant,” Seth said, around a mouth full of food.
“Anyway, why is it odd, Angela?” Billy asked again.
“What’s odd?” Seth asked.
“Angela said she doesn’t see any demons in this complex, only angels,” Billy said, before Angela could stop him.
“Angie, you see those things in here?” Seth asked, stopping his fork mid-bite. Angela nodded her head almost imperceptibly. Seth dropped his fork and almost knocked his chair over as he moved to get behind Angela’s wheel chair. “We gotta go kid. Catch ya later.”
Seth yanked a walkie talkie off his belt and keyed the microphone. “Angel three to heaven, I’m bringing Guardian three in. She has something Archangel needs to know. Please page him ASAP.”
“Good bye Billy. It was nice knowing you. Listen to Brandt. He’s an ass but he knows what he’s doing,” Angela said, as Seth yanked her wheelchair away from the table and shoved her rapidly across the cafeteria. All eyes focused in on Billy and the two unattended trays covered in food at the table next to him as a request for Colonel Peters to report to the operational control room blared over the public address system.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. For more information about this story please join us on our Facebook page community at www.facebook.com/firstchevalierbooks.