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Some say a transporter feels like being in a room full of gnats or having bugs crawl all over you, others say it’s like getting a mild electrical shock. For Marine Sergeant McKendrey, it was more like being buried under a dozen heavy quilts: warm and soothing, but suffocating. As the machine’s whine faded to an echo and the sparkling stopped, he took a deep breath and stepped off the platform.
As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t relax just yet. He had to do a head-count to make sure everyone returned okay, inventory all equipment and weapons, check that no one brought any ‘souvenirs’ back, and counter-sign all the initial field reports. He thanked the transporter operator and lead the other six members with him to the ready room, where the first ten to beam over should be waiting. All of a sudden, things weren’t going as smoothly as they had over on the freighter.
On the initial head-count, four people were missing: two of his Marines and the two from the civilian freighter. Next, the Prellarian corporal, having beamed over with the first group, had already started the equipment check, and Petty Officer Foster was uploading the field reports to the ship’s computer. To top it all off, Private DeWitt had sliced his thumb open playing with the dagger they’d confiscated.
“Ahem. Isn’t that my job, Corporal?”
“Nope. You’re the team leader now, Sergeant. You’ve got other things to do. Go do them and let me do this.” That was about the longest string of words anyone had ever heard come from the Prellarian at one time. He motioned for McKendrey’s pistol-gripped Type-Two phaser and other equipment. The NCO shrugged and handed it over, checking the weapon to make sure it was on SAFE setting first. He still had his smaller Type-One hand-phaser attached his belt, as well as his personal communicator.
The junior non-commissioned officer noticed this and commented, “That’s not a bad idea.” McKendrey remembered back to when he was issued the hand-phaser, just after his own promotion to Corporal ... as an NCO, he was authorized to carry a weapon even when not on watch. A couple weeks later, his platoon raided a slaver ship. Combat was inevitable. In his excitement, McKendrey forgot to put his hand-phaser in the armory locker, as was standard procedure, when he signed out a phaser rifle. It was a simple, honest mistake that turned out to be rather fortuitous.
Soon after they boarded the slaver, things went to hell in a hand basket. His squad walked into a trap. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Marines desperately fought the criminals at close quarters. In the struggle, one of the enemy, an ethnic Klingon, swatted McKendrey’s rifle away and knocked him down, ready to cleave him open with a very nasty looking sword. Something dug into the small of his back. He reached instinctively to rub the injury and discovered the hand-phaser still attached to his belt. He rolled and fired: the look on the Klingon’s face was priceless. Limited to heavy stun, the little phaser was still enough to save his live and the lives of his squad, and earned McKendrey a medal for valor.
“Yeah, it saved my butt more than once,” he grinned. He didn’t bother to mention that he had never checked to see what the regulations said about carrying two weapons. Three, if you count the ancient K-Bar knife strapped to his boot. It probably wasn’t legal, but sometimes it’s just easier to bend the rules and plead ignorance later. “So, where’s the zap-head?”
“Medical. Under guard.”
“And El-Tee Zee?”
“His office, in with Gunny Thorns.” McKendrey raised his eyebrows. “Wants to see you.”
“Alright, carry on,” the sergeant acknowledged his subordinate, then turned to the corpsman working on DeWitt’s hand. “Is he going to live?”
“Yeah,” the Petty Officer replied, “This cut’s pretty deep, but I think it’ll heal up without loss of mobility.”
“It wasn’t my fault, Sarge!” DeWitt complained. “The knife just fell out of....”
“I don’t want to hear it,” McKendrey snapped, “and the word you’re looking for is ‘Sergeant’. If I hear the word ‘Sarge’ come out of your mouth again, it’ll be followed by some teeth. Got it?”
“It wasn’t his fault, Sergeant,” a soft soprano interjected. McKendrey looked up at the female Marine, always amazed at the contrast between her Amazon appearance and the honey-sweetness of her voice. “It just popped out of its sheath when Jason gave it to him to log into the property room.”
“Jason? You mean Lance Corporal Blueberry?” She nodded. “I should have known he’d have something to do with this,” McKendrey said, more to himself than anyone else. He picked up the offending weapon and examined it. Hold the sheath by the belt-clip, he pushed in on the hilt ... and the sheath popped open, split lengthwise along the edge, to allow the dagger to swing free. DeWitt’s blood was drying on the blade. “Where is he?”
“Sick Bay, with the prisoner.”
McKendrey stepped over to the comm unit and requested to be patched through to Sick Bay. “Blueberry, do you want to come up here and explain how you nearly cut another Marine’s thumb off?” It wasn’t really a question, or even a request ... it was an order, and anyone hearing the sergeant’s tone of voice knew it. He expected to hear “Aye aye,” following by the sound of running feet.
Instead, he heard Blueberry’s sarcastic response, “So he got a little paper cut? Can I help it if Dimwit is a klutz?”
“You’re the only dimwit around here if you think I’m going to buy that load of elephant dung!” The sergeant felt the heat on his face. He knew this wasn’t the proper way of handling the situation according to the textbook, but since he’d already started he might as well finish it. “Only a dimwit like you would hand a knife to someone blade first. And I know you know what a quick-draw sheath is, so don’t tell me it was an accident. You contaminated evidence. You better hope the prisoner isn’t wanted for cuttin’ on somebody, because now we can’t tie this dagger to the victim.
“One more thing, and this goes for everyone here: his name,” he pointed at the wounded Marine, “is DeWitt. Private DeWitt. Dee Eee Double-you Eye Tee Tee. Understood?”
He heard a bunch of “Yes, Sergeant” and a few “Aye aye”, but over the speaker he heard Blueberry say, “He ain’t a cohort,” which made his blood really begin to boil.
The concept of a cohort unit predated Star Fleet Marines and even the United Earth Space Forces. In fact, it traced its roots back to the Roman Empire, but the modern version is more akin to that developed by the United States Army before the Global War on Terrorism. The basic idea was to form up an infantry squad, platoon, or even a whole company during boot camp and keep them together through their first enlistment. This allowed for increased unit moral and esprit de corps
, thus improving overall combat effectiveness. In that regard, the concept was a total success.
However, like the dagger in McKendrey’s hand, it was a two-edged weapon. Because everyone in the unit would end their four-year hitch at the same time, the entire unit would evaporate. Also, because everyone was at the same experience level, it would take eight months or so before a new cohort company wasn’t “green” anymore. This meant Manpower and Assignments had to carefully stagger cohorts and pair them up with a “big brother” unit, like they did with the two cohort squads on the Magnum. But that was for the bean counters to deal with.
The real problem with cohorts, from McKendrey’s point of view, was their attitude. They acted as if they were somehow special, thinking of themselves as an elite unit like a PRIME TEAM
. The fact that their training was no more than and no different from that of non-cohort units didn’t stop some of them from treating their fellow Marines with an air of superiority and even outright contempt. And there are a few that simply refuse to accept replacement troops like Private DeWitt, Private Jimenez and Lance Corporal Porterfield into their little club.
“Neither am I,” McKendrey retorted through clinched teeth, “but we’re all Marines here. If you all don’t start acting like Marines, and I mean like right now, I’ll recommend to Gunny Thorns we break up the cohorts as soon as we get back to Star Base. Is that understood?”
Every person in the room, including the Police Force personnel, snapped to attention and responded in unison with a loud “Aye aye, Sergeant!” Disbanding a cohort was rare but not unheard of, and right now no one wanted to test to see if Sergeant McKendrey would do it.
“Blueberry, thanks to your stupidity, we’re a man down for at least a week. DeWitt was scheduled for K.P. duty. Guess what ... you’re taking his place. See you in the mess hall. McKendrey out.” He clicked off the comm unit and turned back to the corpsman. “Have Doc take a look at that.”
“It’ll be okay, Sergeant, in a day or two, there won’t even be a scar.”
“I said I want Doc to check it out,” McKendrey repeated. The corpsman gave him an annoyed glare. “Just do it.”
DeWitt gave the sergeant a confused look, which quickly turned to surprise. He reached over with his good hand, grabbed the medical scanner and passed it over his wounded thumb. “Awe, man, I got zapped! I gotta go through de-tox. This sucks!” As McKendrey suspected, the addict used the blade to measure out his drugs.
The corpsman was contrite, “Sorry, Private, I should have caught that. Doesn’t look like you got too much in there.” Then again, ‘too much’ is a relative term; a dose of just fifteen milligrams of zap is enough to get most people hooked for life if they didn’t go through detoxification.
Sergeant McKendrey laid a sympathetic hand on the younger Marine’s shoulder. “You’re going to be okay, DeWitt.” Sure, he’d be okay, but he’s in for some vivid dreams -- or nightmares -- for the next several nights.
McKendrey walked over to Foster and raised a questioning eyebrow. “Two more to upload, Sergeant, and you can sign off on them.” After each away mission, the recordings made by every tricorder, comm-unit and phaser-rifle scope had to be downloaded into the ship’s computer files. It was an insane amount of data, and McKendrey doubted that anybody would ever look at it again.
“Shouldn’t I be signing off as they’re uploaded?”
“No,” he replied as he started another upload. “Well, you can do that, but this way is easier.”
The Marine shrugged, then he leaned over and in a quiet voice, “You know, a couple minutes ago, I didn’t expect ‘aye aye’ from you, too.”
“Force of habit. Once a Marine, always a Marine,” Foster quipped.
McKendrey had meant from any of the Police crew, not just the Legalman, but that response totally blew him away. He waited for the last upload, then reviewed the data before signing the reports off. Then he announced, “Good work, everyone. We’re enroute to Star Base, so I doubt we’ll do another boarding before then. Stand down and grab some chow. Carry on.” He turned and left to room.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~