An excerpt from “An Incident in El Noor”:
While the GAF’s most infamous unit, Detach Detachment, was known galaxy wide for the spotty array of criminals, miscreants and recidivist soldiersin the whole of the GAGA, the men who wound up serving the GAF in El Noor were even more despicable. Too useless for regular service and too dull, lazy and indifferent to warrant quarantine in the DD, they were sent off to El Noor sector to quietly run out their enlistments and either get shipped off to civilian life elsewhere or die unceremoniously in uniform. Even the incorrigibles of Detach Detachment shook their heads in exasperation at the thought of the losers who guarded that corner of the galaxy.
Sergeant Wodin Whatthehel explained to his junior noncoms like this as they marched in quick file behind him to the armory: “El Noor is the place they send soldiers when they are too thick to even come up with a bad scheme and get caught at it. Too thick, too lazy, too stupid. At least you lot thought up something to get ahead in life, even if it was so bad you got caught and Detached. These short shrifters couldn’t even be bothered to do that.”
“But didn’t you come with a scheme that got you sent to Detach Detachment, Sergeant?” asked one of his crew, a bald girl with a pink stripe down her hair.
Wodin shot the private a dark look. “We don’t ask questions about what landed us in the Detachment, soldier. That’s rule one.”
A small ball of blue fur with a splash of brightly contrasting pink lipstick put up her hand.
“But you mentioned that we got caught at bad schemes, Sarge,” the Gendler stated, confused. “And I thought rule one was thatobdedience to the chain of command?”
Wodin rolled his eyes, pained. “Did it sound like I capitalized Rule One when I said it? No. So it’s not Rule One of the GAF Handbook, its rule one of this Detachment. Don’t poke your nose into the past. And as your commanding officer I have access to your personnel files, which I can utilize to put you lot in your place.” He paused long enough to shove his face into a recognition scanner.
A huge titanium door slid open, and another behind it. An iris opened with a noise like a dozen samurais sharpening their katanas.
The kids looked at the security measures relaxing their grip on what was within, awestruck. Their eyes widened further as they saw the truly massive lines of artillery that were crammed into the warehouse beyond.
“Armory, level One,” Sgt. Whatthehel intoned, smirking at the looks on his charges’ faces. He made a sweeping gesture of welcome and walked inside. The others followed, footsteps unsure and stunned.
Wodin turned around and glared at them all once more. “And for the record, my scheme was perfect. Fire suppression systems in my home quadrant were well below GAGA standards, however.”
The Sergeant’s footsteps echoed off the metaresin floor as he walked in quick step to the back of the cyllindrical armory. The rew recruits hustled to keep in his wake.
“This is the time to introduce to you boys and girls the latest addition to the GAF arsenal in the fight against the encroaching alien galaxy and its draconian inhabitants.” Wodin stuck his thumb into a slot installed on the side of a large metal crate. A light blinked blue and the rollshutter door rattled upward.
Wodin turned and stood at ease before his charges. They more or less followed suit. “As you are aware from the briefings given you by Lt. Wheaton,” he began, “the El Noor quadrant suffers from the vagaries of electromagnetics that occur when one galaxy crashes inexorably into another. These phenomena include, but are not limited to…”
He pointed his nose at the pink haired girl. Her eyes widened and she jumped, standing more completely in parade rest as she blurted out- “electromagnetic dead spots, sir!”
Wodin nodded. “Very good. And-”
“Galactic barrier wavefront emissions,” the boy, wearing his uniform askance, answered.
Wodin trained his gaze upon him, and he suddenly was overcome by an urge to stand up straighter. “Vague, but good. These emissions cause what effects?”
The cobalt Gendler shot her hand up in the air. Wodin cast her a withering glance, and she folded her arm reluctantly behind her back.
“EM wavefronts that knock out electronics, subether communications and can overamp engines and computer processors,” she said quietly.
Wodin nodded, narrowed his eyes at the globe of fur.
“EM wavefronts also carry electromagnetic suction that can cause storage batteries, power grids and transformers to discharge or reverse amperage. The wavefronts can also cause localized storms, winds and weather occurrences that are unpredictable using standard modelling formats.”
Wodin nodded. He decided liked her. He offered her a small smile. She tried not to look to pleased, but lifted the fur where her chin would beslightly.
“Very good,” Wodin told his squad. “I’m glad Lt. Wheaton didn’t waste her breath. So, we have a highly unstable electromagnetic environment in which to fight, one that leaves the machines of our war erratic, unuseable or, in some cases, a liability to men and material assets.”
He turned on a light inside the large crate, and revealed a multi-tired transport that barely fit into the sizeable metal container. It was painted the standard matte black and purple of the Galactic Armed Forces. It had two telescoping cannons and a large hunched container on its back, from the top of which sprang a gun turret. Small rectangular slits lined the area above the five foot high tires. It positively reeked of authority and war.
“Meet the Halvorrsson JT-5000, the GAGA’s newest mobile, self-protecting power compensating field generator.”
“Wow!” the boy, whose name Wodin recalled was Shady, broke his attempt at parade rest stance in excitement. “The JT-5000! That can really cook your cahones!”
The Gendler took a step toward it on rubbery legs. “It can modulate up to 60 separate frequency spikes at once into a holistic field within specs! It has adaptive nanoprocessor technology to help keep it nanoseconds ahead of the wavefront, and it projects the field up to 60 m further than the Wrought model of the same size!”
Wodin grunted. “Yes,” he replied witheringly as he glared at Private Shady.
The punk and pinkhead, as Wodin was starting to think of her, glared at the know it all Gendler in their midst.
Private Susu settled after a moment, glancing with guilt at her squad.
“Are we going to get to crack this puppy out of the mylar?” Shady asked. “Sir?” he added as an afterthought.
Wodin smiled thinly. “Yes, you are, son.” He clicked a button and turned a knob, and all the walls of the crate folded into its frame, revealing the tank in all its glory. From behind the tank where they had been leaning on the walls now vanished, three paint rollers on long poles dropped to the ground.
“You three are going to paint it.”
So, like, what the fuck?” Shady threw up his hands and looked at Puff, who seemed perhaps because of her hair to be the most senior GAF member remaining in the armory.
Puff shrugged expressively. “I dunno,” she mumbled. “We paint it.”
Susu passed out rollers on long plastic sticks. “How long do you think this is going to take?”
“Fucking forever,” Shady groaned. He grabbed his GAF knife and cracked the lid off the five gallon tub of paint. “Whoa,” he murmured as he gazed into the bucket.
Puff and Susu appeared by his side to see what had caused his sudden change in tone. Their eyes grew wide.
“That’s stuff’s crazy,” Puff muttered.
“It must be the anti-wavefront particles that make it so…glittery,” Susu murmured, hypnotized by the shimmering purple liquid in the bucket.
“That’s shit’s awesome,” Shady grinned, barely managing to tear his eyes away. “Damn straight it’ll protect the tank- it’s funktastic!”
He plopped his roller into the paint and brought up a streaming line of iridescent sparkles. All three of them gasped. Shady walked, dripping paint, over to the JT-5000. He spread a psychedelic line of GAF purple paint over the tank, then turned to face his fellow soldiers.
“Right on!” he grinned.
The JT-5000 was roughly 20 feet by 12 feet, giving it a surface area of around 800 square feet, including protrusions. The label on the bucket said in English and GAGAspeak that its contents would cover an area of 1000 square feet. It was somewhat surprising to the Detachment members therefore that they were barely two thirds of the way through their task when the bucket had to be upended into the tray.
Perhaps this should have come as less of a shock to them, considering they were now dripping with paint from head to toe and looked positively dyno-mite. On the other hand, the large warning symbols in GHMIS and GAGAspeak advertised the incredibly toxic nature of the paint, advising that it should only be applied with protective gear and in well-ventilated conditions due to its fumes and absorptive qualities. Words like “hallucinogenic properties”, “organic compounds untested by GOSHA”, “Brain Damage” were quickly splashed into oblivion by the robust paint rollers. So enamored of the EMF paint’s admittedly beautiful coverage, it was easy to miss a stroke here, to swing the roller there with a bit too much gusto and splash one of the other painters.
Green recruits and kids that they were, a splash with the roller earned the clumsy one a roll with another applicator, up the back, on the cheek. When Puff, whose Pink topknot had been dripped on soggily by Susu’s cartilage-weilded handle, ran her roller right over Susu’s face, all composure was lost.
Shady guffawed, bent over double at the sight of day glo Puff with sparkles sitting astride the barrel of the giant gun. Susu, shocked at the reprisal and most likely tripping out as the paint was rapidly absorbed into her fur, bent down and painted Shady’s entire back from buzz cut to ass.
Shady hollered and got painted across his own face by Puff, who was giggling uncontrollably. Shock turned to revenge as Shady recovered quickly and dipped his roller in the paint bucket and flung the liquid at Puff.
One of Shady’s best test results when he had entered the GAF was his marksmanship. This apparently covered mixed weaponry, for Puff was splattered directly in the kill zone.
She stood there, dripping the evocative purple paint, her mouth open in shock. That was when Susu ran his roller over her face.
Perhaps it was then when Puff ingested most of a mouthful of the stuff, or maybe the fumes had finally overcome them, but things got downright out of hand at that point. It culminated with the tank sitting forlorn, two thirds through its paint job, and three new recruits sitting against it, soaked with paint, looking like sprawled rag dolls from a 1970s discotheque.
The leaned against each other for support, for it seemed the rest of the room had come unhinged and was undulating uncontrollably. Shady was panting slightly. He felt a little… suffocated.
“Duuuude,” Shady murmured. “Isn’t there like, this rule, where you have to leave like, a portion of your body unpainted if you’re gonna paint it… or you die?”
There was a long pause as the three of them felt their skins and realized that there wasn’t a stitch of them not soaked with paint.
There was another pause, then Puff replied, “Yeah… yeahhhh… I remember seeing that James Bond movie, with the girl, who was dead, or gold, or both…”
“Shit, man,” Wendell said thickly. “She was all shimmery, too. And now we are. We’re gonna die.”
After a moment, all three of them broke into a flurry of giggles.
Sergeant Whatthehel had taken the hour off to go and have a coffee. He was a hard-working soldier who had brought the work ethic of his Scandinavian culture with him to the GAF. From the time he got up at first reveille to lights out at eleven, Wodin was busy organizing and planning for his Detachment. Having new recruits to handle the newbie busywork was Wondin’s Plan- the one time when he got to have a bit of Wodin time.
He was returning down the long corridor of Martial 78 when a trio of first responders who worked for the station ran past him carrying breathing apparatus and a stretcher. Thinking little of it, he continued toward the armory, sipping his coffee.
He had taken only a half dozen more steps before a piercing alarm went off. He stopped mid-corridor and closed his eyes for a long moment.
“This would be the flaw in the Plan,” he whispered.
He walked at a fast trot around the curving corridor toward the armory. A sweet sickly smell greeted his nostrils as he approached- the smell of EMF paint.
One of the first responders had donned his SABA gear and was gesturing for Wodin to stop.
“Don’t come any closer, sir,” he called through his mask. His voice was muffled as he added, “We’ve had a toxic spill.”
“Yes,” Wodin nodded, stepping over the low barricade the responders had set up. “That would explain the smell.”
“Ventilation fans are exhausting the contaminated air from the station, sir,” the responder advised him. “But it will take ten or fifteen minutes to clear before the scrubbers pump in new atmosphere.”
“I see,” Wodin replied. “And what of my men?”
The medic gestured to the door of the armory. Laid out on hovergurneys were three figures in glistening purple. Wodin squinted slightly as the overhead lights refracted off the paint coating his men.
On the second gurney, Shady gazed blearily at his CO, then broke into a broad grin.
“He-eyyy, Sarge!” Shady slurred. “Good to see you, man! We totally ran out of paint… that tank is huuuuge or somethin’!”
On the third gurney, The sodden Gendler, contracted to the size of a small basketball, giggled maniacally. “Huuuuuuuge,” she echoed.
Wodin looked stonily at his men. He examined Puff as she passed him by. She was completely unconscious and twitching slightly. She wore a blissful look on her face, butit was hard to determine her exact expression from the shimmering purple paint.
“Are they going to live?” Wodin asked the medic.
“If we get them to decontamination in time,” came the reply. “The doctor’s preparing chelation and enzymatic therapy in the infrimary as we speak, so if they make it through the decon wash, they’ll be fine.”
Wodin stared grimly at the middle distance, his face grim.
“Well that’s a shame,” he intoned. “Now I will have to think up a punishment suitable for the three most illiterate imbeciles in the Galactic Armed Forces.”
It was early the next morning and Shady, Susu and Puff were lying in separate cots along the far wall of the infirmary. Shady was devouring a bowl of Wroughty Os, while Puff poked noncommitally at her food. Susu was starting with his cup of keratin.
“How much shit do you think we’re in?” Puff asked. “I can’t believe we couldn’t even paint a tank without farking it up.”
Susu looked over at her and shrugged, an expressive gesture in his ill-fitting hospital gown.
“I dunno,” he said. “We got breakfast, and we’re not in the stockade, so it can’t be fatal.”
“Where do you go once you’ve washed out of Detach Detachment, anyways?” Shady managed to voice around his breakfast.
“The stockade,” Susu repeated. “Then they ship you out to a mining asteroid or something equally awful.”
“Dude,” Shady remarked. “That’s gonna suck.”
“It would suck,” Sergeant Whatthehell agreed from the doorway.