A black-clad soldier scrambled on all fours, kicking up dust and dirt. His breath sounded odd within his enclosed helmet, fast and uncontrolled. Panic clearly gripped him. He managed to prop himself on one knee, ready to sprint-
A single gunshot sounded dully in the open air. The soldier collapsed, howling in pain, blood patching the fabric over his right shin. A few gargled words were drowned out by the moans of agony that sounded from behind his gas mask. His rifle was yards away, discarded in a foolhardy attempt to surrender, half-obscured in the swirling sandstorm. A hopeless endeavor, but he crawled for it anyway. A stained streak of red soil followed in his wake.
Footsteps crunched in the dirt behind him. Just one set, but the soldier did not care. He was far too focused on his rifle and his pain and his broken leg. Anything to avoid death, anything-
A boot slammed into his rib cage, but at this point all the soldier could do was sob quietly. The boot came again, harder. And again. Whether the intention behind the blows was to roll him over or inflict pain was not clear, but they achieved both. A final strike easily shattered several ribs. The soldier's whimpers sounded strange through the mask, like an old gasping engine struggling for life.
The boot's owner stood over him, pistol hanging in his right hand. The gunman squatted, light brown khakis spotted with patches of dirt and blood. An orange lieutenant's insignia hung from the left breast pocket of his once-white shirt. Very informal. But so was beating a helpless enemy soldier for no discernable reason.
The gunman's brown eyes squinted in the dusty wind. The lifeless eyes of the soldier's mask bore no emotion, but his pain was evident. He no longer sobbed or squealed, but his breathing was heavy and erratic. He clutched at his wounded leg.
Dark brown, almost black hair obscured the gunman's eyes for a moment, but he brushed it out of the way. "Why?"
"Just… please, don't… don't kill me. I don't – I don't -"
"Not that," the gunman cut him off. "Why this?" He looked up for a moment, as if he were watching something on the far horizon. "Why did you do this?"
"I didn't… I mean… please, don't…"
He looked back down at the soldier and scooped up a handful of sand-colored dirt. Dry, no moisture at all. Then, slowly, he tipped his hand and poured it over the soldier's face. "Why would you do this? To my home? Bleed it so completely of life?"
"I was just following-"
"Don't give me that shit!" The black-clad soldier sobbed again. "Don't tell me you were just following orders!"
"Please," the soldier repeated. "I've got a family, see? I'm just a – a - a grunt!" He reached up to his mask and, with shaking hands, began to remove it.
The soldier jolted and lay still. A neat hole decorated his helmet. The mask was only partially removed, enough to reveal his pale chin. The gunman clicked the safety of his pistol and holstered it. He reached down and brushed the dirt off of the dead man's face. A machine, that's what he looked like. Lifeless, and not simply because he was dead. A lifeless, soulless machine.
He replaced the mask, as if the sight of the man's face was bothersome. Then he stood, casually brushed off his khakis, and walked away. A wall of sand swallowed him up.
"Lieutenant Jorn! Sir!" A young man, possibly in his early twenties, jogged through the encroaching dust storm, one hand planted on his orange helmet, the other balled in front of his face, clutching a piece of paper.
First Lieutenant Christoph Jorn strained to see who was calling him. It was only when the Orange Star infantryman moved within a few feet of the Lieutenant that he dropped his hand. He was maybe five-eight, a few inches shorter than Jorn. Christoph studied his face, the bent nose, the wide forehead, and dredged from memory a name. Sergeant Luthar. "Yes, Sergeant?" He was forced to half-yell. The dust storm picked up speed with each passing moment. Damn Black Hole for causing them.
"Been looking everywhere for you sir. Message came in from HQ – they want you back there pronto."
"How pronto is pronto, Sergeant?" Christoph had business to attend to, still. The Black Hole army was scattered and defeated, but hadn't been put down. It needed to be, like some ill, weak dog that could still bite. That was his duty, Lieutenant Christoph Jorn's, and sometimes he dared to think he relished it. Wasn't the conduct an officer should have, but at this point no one gave it a second thought, if they even knew that was his mindset. Everyone was only too happy to finally be rid of Black Hole, and no one cared how the remnants were cleaned up.
Unless HQ cared. Maybe that was why they were requesting his presence. HQ was a good seventy miles southeast. Easy trip by helicopter, but there were precious few of those available.
Sergeant Luthar unfolded his paper and did his best to smooth out the wrinkles, despite the wind. "They want you back there yesterday, sir," he yelled back. "There's a chopper waiting for you at the other end of base camp, but you might have better luck in an APC, with the way this weather is going."
Christoph extended his hand, receiving the crunched paper. He read it over. Something about "review" and his "duties". Impossible to tell now, with the sand storm kicking up. He started to move. "Let's go, get me to a vehicle. No sense in trying to fly in this storm, unless you've got that Yellow Comet CO on call."
Luthar turned and walked with Christoph. "Sensei, sir?"
"Yea, that's the geezer. Heard he's mighty good with air cav."
"Sir, remember back a month ago, when our base camp was gonna be parachuted on by Black Hole?"
Christoph squinted, and changed his course to what he assumed was the right direction. "Yea, what of it?"
"The choppers that blew 'em outta the sky – those were Sensei's."
Christoph nodded thoughtfully. "I'll be damned. If I ever meet him, remind me to give the old guy my thanks."
"Will do sir. By the by, if an APC is what you're looking for, sir, then I believe the Commander himself is here. You might try hitching a ride with his troupe."
The Commander? Here? Christoph couldn't think of a reason his CO would be with the platoon. But if he was indeed heading back to HQ, then Christoph would certainly attempt to find a seat in his company.
They walked together. Eventually faint shapes appeared in the wall of sand. The closest one was clearly a tank, of the medium variety. The best Christoph had on call – the new Neo- and Megatanks were scarce and reserved for the direct command of the COs. Christoph would have loved to get his hands on just a couple – especially the Neotanks. He'd seen them in action, and they moved as quick as a light tank but with all the firepower of a whole squadron. He supposed it made him just a little bitter that he wasn't important enough to get a few, but he did his best to not let it bother him.
"Sir?" Sergeant Luthar looked sideways at him, still doing his best to keep the wind out of his eyes. "What were you doing out there? Didn't you have an escort?"
Christoph mentally frowned, but didn't show it. "Don't worry about it. I was just cleaning up."
Luthar's brow wrinkled. He said nothing. "Cleaning up" was the shorthand for dealing with straggling Black Hole units, and "dealing with" was the shorthand for killing the ones that didn't surrender. Christoph supposed the term came from the general view of the Black Hole army – dirt. They were dirt that had ravaged this world of wars with even greater wars. And the Orange Star Army was just sweeping up the refuse.
Evidently the two were amidst a squadron, for more shapes crept up from the storm. Men and women ran frantically about, disappearing and reappearing in the sheet of brown, tying down tarps and covering equipment. Dirt would ruin a lot of the stuff if it got into the workings. A tank can't run on sand. Occasionally one would stop and throw Christoph a salute, if they bothered to notice him. He guessed he really didn't care if they did or not. The war was two months over, and right now they were all battling the elements.
It took them a good twenty minutes to find the helicopter, stationed away from the camp. The pilot shook his head when Christoph asked in the vain hope that he could fly it. Worth a shot. Maybe one day Orange Star would find its own Sensei or Eagle.
Christoph turned to Luthar. "Sergeant, if you don't hear back from me within an hour, I've left for HQ. Tell First Sergeant Morgan I'm leaving. Do not try to move the tanks with this storm up. And tell Morgan-"
"Tell him what, sir?"
Christoph grinned. "Tell him there'll be no cards tonight."
Luthar chuckled and responded with a yessir before jogging off. It was a good thing that those under Christoph's command felt comfortable laughing in front of him. That, along with the fact that they were damn good at what they did. He hoped it was evidence that he was doing his job properly, that his men respected his leadership.
Musing over the possible implications of his exchange with Luthar, Christoph returned to the main body of the camp. He passed the medical tent and used it as a point of reference. About twenty feet forward, and a few strides to the right-
The command station was precisely where it should've been. Little more than a large tent decorated with the OSA seal, this was Christoph's temporary home away from home. Perhaps closer to an apartment, as he shared it with the other officers of his platoon. He unzipped the first set of entrance flaps, stepped in, and closed them shut before doing the same with the second set, slipping between the tarp sheets.
A strange aroma of coffee and cigar smoke permeated the dim interior. Two odors that should never go together, in Christoph's opinion, but he was used to it by now. A man and a woman were seated at a plain table covered unevenly with a blue, checkered cloth. The man was a tall, skin-and-bones fellow with a mass of curly blonde hair. He was dressed casually, blue jeans and an army shirt, absentmindedly shuffling a deck of cards.
The woman was every bit his visual opposite, about Christoph's height but darker skinned, her black hair bundled in a regulation knot on the back of her head. Her camouflage uniform completed her professional appearance. A half full cup of coffee rested on the surface in front of her, abandoned in favor of a newspaper from last week.
The lanky man glanced up briefly at Christoph's entrance but a moment later redirected his gaze to his cards. "Atten-SHUN. First Lieutenant in the house!"
Without bothering to look, the woman gave an informal salute. "Morning, sir."
"Morning Roma, Sepp." Christoph paused in his speech but walked past them. "Is it still morning?"
The woman named Roma flicked her wrist up. She looked at her watch. "I suppose it isn't anymore. Morning ended ten minutes ago."
"Excellent!" Another voice boomed from somewhere deeper in the tent. "That means I can have a drink!"
Cards flipped and Sepp shouted back. "You've been drinking since ten AM, Sig. Fooling no one, especially not the Lieutenant!"
Christoph couldn't help but grin, the recent memory of the Black Hole soldier pushed into some corner of his mind. He and his small collection of second lieutenants had formed an interesting relationship over the course of the last war. They'd all been shifted around when different units started taking casualties, and somehow ended up in one platoon. One very overstaffed platoon, with three second lieutenants and a first lieutenant. The platoon, however, was specialized and larger than most – a right Christoph had earned. His combined arms tactics had granted him a rare privilege among those of his rank. Instead of the standard forty-odd men, his had roughly eighty and an assortment of engineers and technicians. Someone needed to keep all those people in check.
Deliberately avoiding the topic at hand, Christoph scanned a second table next to the first and asked no one in particular, "Is there any coffee left?"
Still occupied by the newspaper, Romana Dubois offered an answer. "The pot is back with Sig."
There would be no getting out of this one. Christoph sighed and moved among several small desks before rounding a cot. A large barrel of a man with his back turned to Christoph was rummaging around an assortment of odds and ends on yet another fold-up table. He apparently found what he was looking for and turned, standing straight. At a little over six feet, as large as two men, and straight-up bald, Sigfried Lehmann vaguely resembled the Yellow Comet CO Grimm, but with a little less weight and without the tiny sunglasses. In one he held a small glass, and in the other a bottle of some caramel liquid. Considering the bottle's owner, it was most likely alcoholic, and against regulations. Not that Christoph cared. Seemed he didn't care about a lot of things nowadays, with the war done and gone.
"It's the Lieutenant alright!" Despite the fact that they were all lieutenants of some grade, Christoph possessed the unofficial title of "The Lieutenant". Sigfried shoved the bottle in his face. "Care for a glass?"
Christoph firmly pushed the intruding object away. "No thanks, Sig. Just looking for the coffee."
Sigfried, still beaming, jabbed a thick finger towards a pot. Christoph retrieved it, found a mug, and poured himself a cup of it. He didn't particularly like coffee, but the stuff was a lifesaver on the front, especially if one didn't drink or smoke. Calmed his nerves, though he'd forgotten why he needed that-
Oh. Right. The memory of the black-clad soldier barged into his thoughts again like some uninvited house guest. He took a large gulp of his drink. Cold. Black. Hated both. But his body loved the caffeine.
Sigfried had left to occupy a chair with his fellow officers, and Christoph backtracked to join them. Sepp's bony neck craned to look at him. "So Lieutenant, cards tonight still?"
He did not take a seat. "No, unfortunately. I've got something to do. HQ wants me." With his free hand he patted his pockets until he found the paper, but didn't remove it.
Sepp Lee whistled long and low. "Hoo boy! Gonna get panned, I can smell it already!"
Roma glared. "Hardly. If anything, they'd promote him."
"I know, I know! Jeez, can't even take a joke, can she, sir?"
He smiled again behind his mug. "Maybe you just can't handle our artillery officer, Sepp."
Flip-flip, the cards batted against one another. "Hah! I can handle just about anyone and anything." As if in response, the deck of cards lost their synchronization and spilled over the table. Roma grinned a rare grin. Sigfried let out a guffaw.
"Shit…" Sepp swept the cards together in a disorganized pile.
Sigfried downed a half glass of something strong. "In all seriousness, what's brass want from you?"
Christoph shrugged. "You got me. I really don't have a clue."
"Not one?" Roma asked, frowning.
"Not one." He looked her straight in the eye. Probably a bad idea. Roma had a knack for telling if someone was telling the truth or not. If word had reached HQ of how he'd… personally attended the demises of several Black Hole soldiers, his career's future would certainly be in jeopardy.
But Roma went back to her paper. Sepp managed to return the cards to a status resembling order.
Christoph began, "Before I head off…"
Sigfried interrupted. "Whoa, you're leaving now, Lieutenant?"
He nodded and took another sip of coffee. "Yea, they wanted me yesterday, apparently. With the war two months over, you'd think they'd have fixed up the communications."
Sigfried returned the nod and gazed off somewhere. If Christoph hadn't known he'd been drinking, it would've looked like Sigfried had something important on his mind. He was an extremely intelligent man and brilliant tactician, but his alcohol problem had become worse during the conflict. Christoph supposed that was just how some men coped.
He looked at Sepp. The tall and thin man handled war with a sense of humor. Roma, he wasn't sure, but he guessed she bottled it up.
Or maybe Christoph was wrong. Maybe he completely misjudged all of them and their various methods. What did it matter now?
"You'll be taking an APC then, sir?" Roma asked.
"Yep. No way is anyone flying in this sandstorm." A thought occurred to Christoph, and he seized it. "I heard the Commander's APC is here. Maybe he's heading to HQ too."
"Oh hoh! Going to see the big man himself, huh? Sure you don't need a little liquid confidence for that encounter?" Sigfried once again offered the bottle, and Christoph once again gently declined.
"Like I was saying, before I head off – I have some parting orders."
Now all three paid very close attention. Sepp and Sigfried might act ridiculous at times, and Roma indifferent, but when it came to getting their jobs done, they were as disciplined as the troops of the famous Emperor Kanbei.
Christoph set his mug on the table before continuing. "Number one is, of course, to continue carrying out our current mission. Find any remaining Black Hole units, accept their surrender, or take them out if they don't see eye to eye with you.
"Second, Roma is in charge." This no one questioned, and for good reason. Roma had more leadership experience than all of them, barring Christoph, though she came close.
"Third, don't try moving the vehicles and equipment in this sandstorm. Nothing urgent enough to warrant an attempt at relocation should occur. If something does," he added, "follow standing procedure. Find the closest unit and group up with them."
"Yes sir," the three second lieutenants responded, not quite in unison. As if they possessed some uncanny ability to know when the conversation was finished, they returned to their respective activities; shuffling, reading, and drinking.
"Right then. See you all very soon, with luck." Christoph moved to exit, but stopped. He turned to the side table and picked up a small glass. "You know, Sig, I think I will take a swig."
Sigfried grinned wide. "Ah ha! I knew you would! I just knew it!" He poured some into Christoph's glass. Christoph raised it and, in one go, tipped it back and swallowed it all. Whiskey, very strong. He nearly burst into a hacking cough but managed to reduce his reaction to a sort of rasping breath. Sigfried gave him a couple pats on the back, though they did very little to clear his head.
"Right! Thanks, Sig. See you all later." And with that, he replaced the glass, turned, and made for the exit flaps.
Once outside in the blinding storm, Christoph spent a good ten minutes looking for a vehicle. And HQ wanted him yesterday! Forty minutes had already passed and he wasn't even on the road.
He wandered, moving amongst a disorganized bunch of vehicles. APCs, recon units, medivacs; nothing was where it should've been. Wasn't going to be fixed anytime soon, either. Another APC loomed up in the brown – it looked no different from any other infantry carrier, but what little sense of position Christoph retained told him that it was the right one. That, and the gold star behind the OSA symbol. He banged on the door. The driver inside saluted and pointed to the back of the vehicle. Christoph nodded and returned the salute, wandered to the rear, and tried the side door. It opened. He entered.
As the door closed behind him, the low rumble of the APC engine overtook the weather – a nice change of pace. The storm was reduced to a high pitched whine. He looked about. A couple of warrant officers and infantrymen. One of the officers, a brown-haired woman, was closest, and he moved to speak with her.
"Excuse me, have you seen Commander Max around?"
The woman didn't bother to look up and jabbed a thumb at the front corner. Christoph turned. There, taking up the space of two seats was a rather large and imposing individual.
Cropped blue hair, a seven-foot stature, and what looked to be a ton of pure muscle were the traits that most noticed when they first laid eyes on Commander Max. Christoph's Commanding Officer, and he was damn proud to be under that command. Renown throughout the Army for his gung-ho manner and well-trained troops, Max had the unspoken title of Muscleman of Orange Star.
Now it was Christoph's turn to salute. He fully expected Max to tell him to "relax" or something similarly casual. He was correct.
"C'mon Chris, you know you don't have to do that around here. The war's over! Relax a little!" Max let out a single laugh; Christoph was certain it could have blown the doors off if it'd been just a bit louder.
He followed his orders and smirked. "Good to see you, Commander."
Max grinned his friendly grin and stood, tossing a folded magazine onto his former seat. His white muscle shirt strained but amazingly remained in one piece. Sitting he was hard to believe; standing it was borderline ridiculous how large Max really was. But it was just the right genes and the right exercise, Christoph supposed. He knew Max well enough that he didn't even consider the possibility the blue-haired giant used some sort of substance.
"Likewise. How've you been?" Max clapped a hand on Christoph's shoulder, and it nearly knocked the wind out of him. The Lieutenant coughed.
"Well enough. God, don't you realize you're twice the size of anyone in the battalion, you big lug? Careful next time."
Max laughed again, with the same powerful effect as before. "Sorry. I guess I don't realize my own strength!"
Christoph jokingly punched him in the arm. "Bull! I know damn well you do it on purpose."
"Sure, sure. What's the news from the outside world?"
"How long have you been cooped up in here that you need to ask me that?"
Max stretched out his arms. "I figure I've done enough work during the last three wars back-to-back that I can take a little break. Besides, there's not a lot to do, is there? The Black Hole freaks are done for. No way they're coming back from this one." For effect he punched one fist into his other hand with a slap – and what an effect it was. Probably could've KO'd three good men with that.
Christoph ran a hand through his hair. Tiny grains of sand sprinkled to the floor. "I guess. You're right, there's not much to do." Not formally, anyhow… "Whatever. There's another sandstorm outside, if you hadn't noticed. That'll stop us for… God knows how long. Supplies are fine, the men are doing alright, I suppose. They're just happy it's all over."
Max nodded. He was clearly waiting for more. Max might act casual and carefree, but no one could say he wasn't an informed CO. He knew Christoph had received a message.
"I got this just now from one of my sergeants," Christoph stated while retrieving the paper from his pocket and handing it to Max. "I didn't get a chance to read it because – well, yea."
The paper looked silly in Max's big paws. He scanned it, apparently not bothering with the details.
Then, for a moment, just a brief moment, his eyes changed. Christoph wouldn't have caught it if he hadn't been watching at the right time. Something in the message had provoked a reaction from him. Was that good, or bad?
But Max retained his friendly demeanor and returned the letter. "Hey, come on into my office. I've got a couple things I want to talk to you about."
They took two steps to the inner door that separated the cabin from the infantry hold. Max lumbered in first, forced to turn sideways and duck his head to fit in the door frame. As this was the Commander's APC, the hold was cut in half to give the CO a private space to work in. It would be clear to anyone who entered, however, that the normal definition of "work" did not apply to Max. Another few panels of tinted glass separated the driver's cabin and the office, the panes assorted with posters, calendars, and even a mini basketball hoop. One corner sported a cluttered desk and overstuffed chair, while the opposite had a similar chair and a television set. The desk was half covered in paperwork, half newspaper comics. Some well-known wrestler glared angrily from his poster on the wall behind Max's workspace. It was like any college student's room. Part of Max probably still lived in college.
Max did everything but ease himself gracefully into his chair; he rounded his desk and immediately plopped himself down, propping his size-ludicrous feet on the workplace. It creaked as his tree-trunk legs settled onto the wood. If it hadn't held up for a year already, Christoph would've given the desk another week before Max crashed his legs right through the boards and into the APC's metal floor.
But as soon as Christoph closed the door, Max's expression changed. It went from being friendly to very, very serious. Max was never very, very serious, unless something was very, very wrong.
"Sit down, Lieutenant." Shit. Max used his rank title. Definitely not good.
Instead of simply spilling whatever he had to say, though, Max rapped on the cabin panel three times. Two knocks responded. A moment later, the engine revved, and the APC began to move.
"I won't play you for a fool, Chris. Something's up. Something bad."
Christoph swallowed. How'd he know already? "Sir? I…" he trailed off.
Max's reaction was not what he expected. He cocked his head. "What?"
Damn it. He'd misjudged. Max had no idea what Christoph had done, alone, away from camp – he'd never play one of his subordinates like this. Too late, though. He'd have to drop the facts. "If this is about my actions, then…" Damn it! What was he supposed to say? Deep breath. "Then I can't say I regret them."
Now it was Max's turn to be confused. "What actions, Lieutenant?"
Christoph's face screwed up in an expression even he couldn't place. God knows what it looked like. "I executed a Black Hole soldier."
Max adjusted his seat. "So? That's half of what we're doing. 'Cleaning up'. Can't say I like it any more than you, but that's our job."
"Nosir, this one wasn't 'cleaning up'. This was one who tried to surrender."
There was a slow intake of breath; not from surprise, but maybe a little from frustration. Max raised one hand to rub his eyes with a forefinger and thumb. He exhaled. No response. Silence crept into the already cramped office, making it feel twice as small as it already was.
Finally, after what seemed to be an excruciating amount of time, Max looked him straight in the eye. He spoke quietly. "Did anyone see you do it?"
Max cracked his knuckles, again biding his time. Another CO probably would've folded their hands, or made some similar gesture. "I'm not going to judge you, Chris. This is your homeland, not mine. I know what happened to your town." A lot happened to his town. "I'm not gonna pretend like I know what's going through your head now, or what was going through it during the fighting. Just…"
Christoph strained to listen, as if it would make whatever Max was going to say more profound.
"Don't do it again. Ok? I'm glad you made sure no one saw you do it, but still. Executing captured soldiers isn't gonna send the men home with happy memories, you got me?"
"Yes sir. I've got you." He relaxed. Even with Max, a good friend and fair commander, Christoph wasn't certain he'd make it out of that room without an informal demotion or punishment. He was lucky, and lucky to be under the jurisdiction of Max's reasonable judgment.
"I'm also glad that you came forward with this, even if you didn't do it on purpose." A small grin returned to the Commander's face.
Christoph ventured with a weak noise, halfway between a breath and a laugh. "I'm glad I did too, sir." No he didn't. Goddamnit, lying again in front of his CO and good friend. He tried to comfort himself with the idea that Max didn't know what it was like to lose his hometown. Sure, Christoph's family evacuated in time, but all those people that didn't…
Once again, however, Max's expression solidified. "Let's throw that out the window, for now. There's something really important going down, and from the looks of your letter, you're in on it."
The letter! Right, he'd never gotten a chance to read it. Where was it? Still in his hand. He uncrumpled the note and looked at Max.
And so he read it once, and once again. Christoph frowned. It was extremely vague, and didn't offer any real clues as to why he was being summoned to HQ. Finishing the last few lines, he looked up to Max again. "Sir… Max… what's this about? You looked like you had some idea…"
Max had produced a toothpick from somewhere and was playing with it. "It's pretty base, isn't it? Doesn't tell you a whole lot. An urgent letter from HQ, that wanted you there yesterday, and it doesn't tell you what for?" He removed his feet from his desk and leaned forward to prop both elbows on it. "Take a guess. You're one of my subords Chris, you can figure it out."
Christoph's mind worked for a few moments, and came to a very simple solution. He felt himself adopting the same appearance Max took when they first entered the office, and he assumed he felt the same emotions. "Something's up, something bad. You already said it, and there wasn't any more to say than that. Something bad, like something…"
"…to do with the whole country. Right."
Christoph folded his arms. "Black Hole bad?"
Max leaned back again and shrugged. "I dunno. I guess we'll figure it out when we get there."
"But why would they request me? I'm just a Lieutenant. You're the CO, the battalion commander. Obviously they asked for you."
Max just stared at him, not responding, and for the second time that day, Christoph was certain he detected a change in the CO's blue eyes. There was something else, something Max wasn't willing to tell him just yet, and probably wouldn't until they arrived. And from the speed of the APC, that arrival probably wouldn't come for another two hours.
No, make that three. He'd forgotten that bureaucracy waited for them at headquarters.