“Eleven, sir. At least we haven’t seen any of those little grey guys yet,” First Sergeant Wilcox responded.
They’d started with the two women’s barracks, officers and enlisted, over an hour ago. Corporal Williams guided Angela’s wheel chair beside him as she scanned the physical area around them while Billy presumably was nearby in the ether. He knew very well they’d found six of those little creatures Angela called Lemurs. The question was what to do about them. His steps brought him to the second of the men’s barracks and the final stop on the personnel inspection, the enlisted barracks. He rotated his head from side to side like a prize fighter getting ready for a bout and opened the door.
“Company! Attention!” barked the senior enlisted man. Everyone snapped to attention with one loud, collective clack as their heels came together.
Billy spoke first. “We’ve got a demon.”
“And something else,” Angela whispered.
“Holy crap,” Sergeant Wilcox echoed.
Peters casually turned to see where she was looking. He couldn’t tell which person at this distance, but it was someone about two thirds of the way down the precisely aligned row of bunk beds on the left. The men each had a foot locker at the head of each bunk and one at the foot. The walls behind the bunks were lined with wall lockers, all open with their doors at precisely ninety degrees. Normally the contents of each wall locker would be an exact replica of the wall locker before it, except in this case they weren’t. The surprise inspection hadn’t given the personnel the usual preparation time. The wall lockers were disgracefully disheveled, but that wasn’t what interested Colonel Peters on this particular occasion.
“What does something else mean?” Peters stage whispered through slightly parted lips.
“The corporal to your left has one of those white robed ladies,” Billy said.
“Angel,” Angela corrected.
They moved to the left row of men and began with a sergeant there, proceeding until they came to the indicated corporal. Colonel Peters stepped before the man, stopped, and turned sharply ninety degrees. This placed him two feet in front facing him. He began to give the man’s uniform the expected once over. The tag above the pocket said his name was Henderson.
“Where are you from Corporal Henderson?” Peters asked as his eyes drifted over the man’s uniform.
“Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, sir,” Henderson answered firmly.
“Your boots are unsatisfactory Corporal. Tend to that,” Peters said. He knew the enlisted thought officers were never happy with the condition of the troop’s boots. It didn’t hurt to continue that particular stereotype. Angela brought up her clipboard and wrote down the man’s name, rank and the word Boots.
“Yes, sir. I will, sir,” Henderson said in the same firm tone. Colonel Peters shot a cursory glance over the man’s shoulder at his wall locker and to the man’s credit it was precisely as it should have been for an inspection. He decided to throw the NCO a bone to make up for the bruise he’d dealt his ego.
“Nice wall locker. Make sure all the men see that after the inspection so they know how theirs should look next time,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” Henderson said.
“She says her name is Sandalphon,” Billy said.
“Sandalphon. Roger,” Wilcox repeated.
Colonel Peters repeated the process as they walked down the row until they were about two thirds of the way down.
“He’s the next man, sir,” Billy said in the Colonel’s ear piece. “Private McCoy.”
He felt his pulse race as it had in his first fire fight leading men in Iraq. He remained calm on the outside and finished his inspection of the man he stood before, then turned and stepped in front of the man they were looking for.
Private McCoy was a freckle-faced kid who looked as though he’d just stepped out of an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, though much taller and older than the boy Opie. The resemblance almost caused Peters to lose his composure, but he turned the guffaw into a slight cough. He was worried he’d have to make some things up about the man’s uniform or appearance but as he ran his eyes over everything he found his fears unwarranted.
“Irish pennants on uniform blouse. Boots unsatisfactory. Haircut unsatisfactory. Rip in uniform trousers. Foot locker unlocked,” Peters stepped beyond the man and toward the wall locker on his side of the rack and began poking through his possessions. “Wall locker disheveled. Pornography.”
“Really, sir? Pornography? You’ll have to bust the entire unit, men and women, for that one, sir,” Wilcox said over the net. Colonel Peters ignored him and moved on as images of Farrow and her cyber porn that had caused a breach drifted through his memory.
“This rack is unsatisfactory as well,” Peters said un-tucking one corner of the top blanket. “Disgraceful. You’ll report to First Sergeant Wilcox in one hour at the company office, soldier.”
“Sir, yes sir,” the Private barked.
“Who’s your squad leader, private?” Peters asked. “Never mind. Bring him too.”
“The room’s clear. I don’t see anything else,” Billy said.
Colonel Peters continued with the inspection in a cursory fashion. His mind was racing trying to figure out how to contain the eleven lemurs and one demon their base seemed to be infested with. They’d all be reporting to the company office in an hour, and by that time they’d need to come up with a plan.
“Why is he picking on Corporal Henderson for his boots when he knows they’re nearly perfect?” a strange woman’s voice asked over the net as Colonel Peters and Angela finished with the last man.
“Get off this net, lady. How do they get on our comms? Tinker! I want to know how these glowing guys keep getting into our communications net,” First Sergeant Wilcox barked.
“Roger that,” Sergeant Sanchez’ voice responded
“I don’t know why he did that,” Billy answered. “Why are you picking on him?”
Suddenly an idea sprang to mind as he and Angela reached the doorway. Before leaving the barracks he broke with protocol, stopped and turned to face the barracks. He crossed the room and stopped before the Corporal Henderson again. The man stiffened as his commanding officer came near again.
“His boots may need a little work but they’re better than any of the rest of yours here. In fact, his entire area is nearly perfectly squared away. Every man here needs to take a look at how Corporal Henderson is setup and I want to see everyone’s area just like this,” Colonel Peters announced loudly.
“What are you doing, sir?” Wilcox asked over the net. He ignored the question.
“Corporal, we’ve got a large number of people who can’t seem to square away their area at all, including Private McCoy over there. I’m certain that once I pull their fitness reports I’ll see they have other holes in their performance as well. Do you think you can handle the task of squaring away half a platoons worth of unsatisfactory soldiers?” The Colonel asked.
“Sir, yes sir,” Corporal Henderson responded loudly.
“Excellent. Report to the company office in half an hour to pick up your Sergeant’s stripes and your new duty assignment,” Colonel Peters said. The newly minted Sergeant started to smile then cut his lips into a forced, thin line and snapped a crisp salute. Colonel Peters returned the man’s salute, spun on his heel and strode from the barracks headed back to his offices with a plan jelling in his mind.
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.