The airbase was unusually active that morning. Either a lot of units were mobilising, or a lot of soldiers were doing their best to look busy. Thaddeus pulled on the peak of his cap and watched a mini convoy pass him by. A few trucks loaded with soldiers and a few crates of gear. He wondered where they were going. It was Thaddeus’ grandfather who had said, “The easiest way to see the world is to join the forces. Though you’re likely to get shot at a few times. Nothing in this life is free.”
Thaddeus ducked into an office, eyes adjusting to the relative gloom. He immediately came face to face with a secretary, typing away frantically at a computer. He stood politely for a handful of seconds before he opted for the slightly less polite cough. The secretary looked up at him with an expressionless face.
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘Corporal Thaddeus Hundley,’ he replied.
‘Yes?’ She repeated.
‘I was ordered here,’ he said.
‘Hmm, one second.’ Machinegun fire typing ensued. Moments later her screen made a little pinging sound.
‘Colonel Madden will see you now,’ she said, gesturing towards an ominously bureaucratic looking door. Thaddeus knocked upon it and waited.
‘Enter,’ came the eventual response and enter he did.
Colonel Madden was a stocky fellow, his pressed dull green attire seemed more like his skin than it did an army uniform. His square, clean-shaven face disappeared momentarily by an obnoxiously large cloud of white vapour that smelled distinctly of lemon.
‘Hundley?’ said Madden as he waved the fog away. The large translucent block of his vaping device looked more high-tech than some of the weapons Hundley was used to maintaining.
‘Yes sir,’ he said.
‘Which one are you?’
‘I know that, but which one?’
‘The youngest, sir.’
‘Take your hat off; it’s rude.’
Thaddeus removed his grey cap only spending a second to grapple with the age-old notion that hats indoors or before a superior could be considered rude. What was it about the top of the head that people were so insistent on seeing?
‘Do I call you my Lord?’ Madden went on grinning a half-mocking grin.
‘No sir, I don’t think so. I’m not likely to inherit my father’s title.’
‘Duke eh, how’d your family wrangle that?’
‘My great-great-great-grandfather bought the title sir. Bought an entire county actually. Back in the recession when the country was strapped for cash.’ Thaddeus explained.
‘Which recession?’ The colonel demanded.
‘One of the big ones.’
The Colonel stuck the tube of his vape back into his mouth and inhaled deeply. Once again, the room became cloaked in fog. ‘So you’re from the upper crust are you?’
‘It would appear so.’
‘Is that doubt I hear?’
‘Well, being the youngest of fourteen sir, I don’t have much in the way of an inheritance.’
‘Surely, Duke Hundley will let you live in one of his many properties?’
‘No doubt.’ Thaddeus had to concede, his ‘not much of an inheritance’ was considerably more than most people’s.
‘Your oldest brother, what’s he then? A captain at least?’ Madden went on. Thaddeus had no idea why he had been summoned before a colonel to discuss his family. He shook his head.
‘He’s the heir, the family refused to let him sign up. Needs protecting. Being groomed for leadership once the war is over apparently,’ he explained.
‘Shame, I imagine that would give him some useful skills,’ said Madden.
‘No sir, as I say, he’s being groomed for leadership.’
‘The Hundley family has quite a bit of money behind them, yes?’ said the colonel, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. Thaddeus inclined his head the slightest of fractions. He had never been privy to the actual numbers, but it was largely agreed that it was more than one family could possibly spend in a lifetime. They were trying their best though.
‘Makes me wonder. Why are you on our side?’ asked Madden.
‘Beg your pardon sir?’
‘It seems odd to think a family as rich as yourselves would be fighting for equality.’
‘I thought we were fighting for democracy?’
‘They’re the same thing! And anyway, why would a Duke’s son care for democracy?’
‘The title is largely ceremonial.’
‘but not entirely.’
‘Sir, I assume I wasn’t summoned here to discuss my family’s politics?’ Thaddeus had skipped his morning coffee and was easily irritated.
‘No, Hundley. You were brought here because I hear you are good at blowing things up. Care for a vape?’ Madden gestured to a spare vaping device on his strictly ordered desk. Everything appeared to be exhibiting perfect right angles.
Hundley twisted his cap in his long, bony fingers. ‘No thank you, sir.’
‘Get the nicotine hit without the carcinogens?’
‘I’m not sure of the benefit of such a hit.’
‘Suit yourself. So, is it true? You good at blowing shit up?’
‘Blowing shit up is easy, sir. Put enough explosives on anything and it’ll come down.’ Hundley replied.
‘Or fly up in the air I imagine,’
‘Everything comes down eventually, sir.’ Hundley was beginning to feel that he had walked wittingly into a trap. The floor suddenly felt sticky and he started to feel like a fly on one of those yellow strips the farmhouse used to have around its windows.
‘Why do the flies walk into it?’ he asked his mother
‘Because they’re idiots,’ she replied.
‘It’s a good thing we’re smarter than them.’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure.’
‘I want to be frank, Hundley. I do not say this to lower your morale but for the sake of transparency. We are losing this war. With the bombing of Bordeaux, we lost a lot of good men and strategic resources,’ said Madden.
‘Didn’t we bomb Bordeaux, sir?’ Hundley remembered the day quite clearly, for a few seconds, the Separatists celebrated a great victory.
Madden’s face flashed with annoyance, ‘yes, but we didn’t know they were on our side at the time.’
‘What am I to blow up, sir?’ Thaddeus hoped it was a bridge. Bridges were classic.
‘A munitions factory.’
Ah, a factory. That was a little more difficult. Thaddeus stroked the blonde fuzz on his cheeks. He had recently opted for the muttonchop beard. The sort that met and joined on the upper lip but left the chin free. He wasn’t sure if it was a look that was working, but he guessed he didn’t have much time to remedy that now. A few streams of morning light managed to make it through the metal slats of the blinds, highlighting dancing particles of dust in the air.
‘An air strike’ll do that a lot easier than conventional explosives. If you use drones, that’ll be even better. Keeps risks to a minimum,’ he said.
Madden fixed him with a cold stare, his slightly bloodshot eyes betraying a hint of weariness. ‘Please, tell me more about obvious strategy, I am but a humble colonel and have much to learn. Of course a drone strike would be better, if you’d kindly shit one out I’d be grateful. As you may have noticed, we’re a bit low on aircraft at the moment, and most are focussed on the Middle East conflict. Plus, if we sent a plane over to this particular factory the Unionists would send three of their own and shoot it right out of the sky.’
Thaddeus nodded understandingly, already considering the explosions he would use. RDX seemed like a reasonable choice, if he could get enough of it. Of course, it rather depended on how big the factory was. Having said that, it being a munitions factory meant there’d be plenty of fairly explosive materials already on site.
‘Where is the factory?’
‘Germany… the western parts.’
‘I take it someone will give me a more precise location?’
‘Yes, yes. I’m sure you will. You’ll be joining a team en route to Belgium via sea. There you’ll be contacted by a member of intelligence who’ll guide you to the factory.’
Thaddeus quite enjoyed the idea of finally meeting some intelligence, though he made sure to temper his expectations.
‘You must get this done Hundley. This could weaken the Unionist’s supply chain and perhaps put us on equal footing, at least on the European front anyway,’ said Madden.
There was another pause as Madden vaped and was once again lost behind the resulting fog. There were old stories throughout Europe concerning monsters in the fog. These whites and such would appear whenever the mist did. Whilst their motivations, origins and forms would differ, if you met one, the results would always be the same.
‘Of course,’ said the face half forming in the vapour, ‘as you’ll be taking the lead of a small squad, we’ll be promoting you to sergeant. How does that sound, eh?’
‘It sounds like responsibility, sir,’ said Thaddeus.
‘Does it now? Well, you have your orders.
Thaddeus nodded. ‘Sir?’
‘Can we be certain this factory isn’t one of ours?’