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A Note from the Author....

I'm finally back! After tremendously painful writers block (I'm still writing Blood of Heroes) I decided to do something that I believe is truly a first in SC.org history. As the title suggests this not-so-short short story gives my take on the life of one of the newest Terran units, and also puts a pretty intriguing plot around it. So sit back, relax, and enjoy.






Reaper






The wind was howling extraordinarily loudly considering that it was nearly summer, though many remnants of spring clung in the breeze, as if hoping that the rush of air would not completely remove them for yet another year. It amounted to little more than white noise for Arturo as he lay in between two large outcroppings of rock that both sprouted out of the ground on either side of him like knives. His enormously bulky armor filled the space as a hand would a glove, giving him mere inches to shift around unless he felt a need to crawl backwards or forwards.

The voices of the other seven men huddled behind him were barely audible against the wind whipping through the two rocks like a wind tunnel. Arturo hardly needed to hear their voices to know what their discussion was about, since he had often been in one of the other reaper’s positions while one was in his, exposing him to the pre-battle anxiety that the squad always indulged in.

Arturo’s anxieties before their missions were never something that he had felt ashamed of, mostly because it wasn’t what normal humans would label it as. The missions themselves weren’t entirely normal either, which he had become quite accustomed to. His understanding that his unit would always be indulging in what they’d come to call “Suicide Raids” was something that dated back to his training at the Icehouse in the Torus system seven months ago today. Unpleasant didn’t even come close to defining the memories linked to that name, and so he rapidly refocused to the images in front of his eyes.

He adjusted the focus on his binoculars as he stared at two marines sitting atop another outcropping of rock several kilometers in the distance. One man bore binoculars of his own, aiming them down into the valley below them. The second lay beside him, obviously speaking to him through what were likely to be whispers as they waited. Had the wind been absent in this situation eerie silence would have fit the picture perfectly. Arturo was and had always been a man of action and down time wasn’t something he was particularly fond of, which he supposed had been beaten into him during his training.

The marine utilizing the binoculars suddenly stirred as if he had seen something, causing him to lift his body up to get a better view. After another moment he leaned over to the second soldier who then turned and seemed to look straight at Arturo. He made several cryptic hand motions, which prompted Arturo to respond with his own, before he began sliding backwards out of the rocks. As he reached the edge of the elevated platform he let his legs dangle off of it until he could squeeze his armored and muscular arms out of the crevasse. They then pushed his body the rest of the way and he landed on the ground several feet below roughly, though stably. The jet pack on his back jostled at the impact before he twisted around. Seven scarred and battered faces stared up at him, waiting for him to report.

“They’re moving—we’ve got four minutes.”

At those words the men began standing up to give their armaments a final inspection. Shade, the largest of the eight reapers and the present commander of their unit decided to refresh their memories on the briefing.

“Alright, we’ve got about a six minute window once the first shots are fired. After that period of time the fuckers will have been able to pull their pants back up and turn their asses around.”

It was only ever at the last minute preparation for a mission that Arturo wished he actually knew the real names of the reapers in his squad. It didn’t feel right that he’d never know anything more than the nicknames of the soldiers that would die today, though none of them could even remember their own real names anymore—the slave drivers at the Icehouse had made certain of that.

Arturo drew both of his gauss pistols, checked the magazines within them to ensure that all thirty-two slugs were present in each, before switching off both safeties. After holstering them the squad’s demolitionist—Fuse—asked the traditional question.

“We packing deuterium bombs?”

“Yes,” replied Shade, before turning to the stack of them that sat in the middle of the eight reapers. “I want three D-8 charges on each of you. Arturo, Fuse, Sunshine, Scar, and Flush—I want you placing bombs. Ace, Trigger, and I have execution duty. As usual there’s no air support, and no pickup.”

Arturo grabbed his D-8 bombs and carefully ensured none of them had been previously armed, before he attached them to his waist. Noting that his fuel level was still high enough to get through the upcoming minutes, he then moved quickly up against the wall beside the other reapers. Shade glanced at each of the seven men as if this was the last time he’d ever see any of them, due largely in part to the fact that he in all likelihood wouldn’t.

“Strike fast, and strike hard,” he muttered. “Move out!”

At those words all eight men moved rapidly to the edge of the cliff on which they were perched. Arturo clutched the jet pack’s control unit in his hand, before punching the red button. The rush of air and pressure against the top of his body caught him slightly off guard as it always did on the first boost. His strenuous hours of training allowed his mind to make the instant calculations needed for him to drop down onto each semi-level outcropping as if the jet pack was a feature of his own body, rather than an extension of his armor. Each reaper of the team made similar thrust-and-glide movements all the way down the steeply-sloped face of the valley wall.

Arturo made his final jump of approximately eleven feet, reversing the throttle at the last second to counteract gravity and give him a smooth, rather than a bone-breaking landing. His boots sunk several inches into the material that he landed in, which quite obviously wasn’t dirt, grass, or rock. It seemed somewhat strange to him that creep would have spread this far from a Zerg base, though that wasn’t something that he needed to be thinking about.

He waited the seven seconds until the others had also reached the valley floor, at which point they all began running toward the Zerg encampment in the center of the valley. As they ran each reaper drew his dual gauss pistols, before taking the cylindrical jet pack control unit and attaching it to their right pistol, allowing them to sustain their mobility along with their lethality. Once the eight soldiers had accomplished this they switched to lateral boosters and launched them, propelling the reapers at double their normal speeds whilst their strides swelled to twelve feet.

Through the organic Zerg structures ahead of them Arturo thought that he could barely make out the large army that had left their safe haven five minutes previously, likely en route to a Terran base in the region, though they would hardly have exited the valley before their own base came under attack.

As they came within one hundred yards of the Zerg base Arturo noticed something new and slightly comical. Sunken colonies had been placed between them and the base, which to a normal person meant that they’d wasted defenses on the side of their base that was protected by an impassable valley wall. To anyone familiar with the “Reaper” program, however, it was obvious that the Zerg had learned from past experience over the last week that the reapers posed a new threat. They just hadn’t learned enough.

“Use the colonies as a halfway point—split into pairs for each one!” ordered Shade through their single COM channel. “Ace and I will clear us an avenue!”

At those words all eight reapers split into groups of two and aimed for different sunken colonies. They’d all made this kind of maneuver before, though they’d not expected to need it today. Arturo moved within three feet of Fuse on his left, while enlarging the gap between himself and Ace by ten. His eyes then moved to the distance measure on his HUD that was currently measuring the distance between him and the nearest structure, which was presently his sunken colony. The eight reapers all hit the absolute edge of the colonies’ ranges at nearly the same instant, at which time they hit the throttle on their jet packs and launched upwards, yet still horizontally.

An enormous spine blossomed out of the ground moments after Arturo had left it, missing his foot by inches. His instincts told him at what point to cut the boosters as they were pushed to the limit and he glided down fast towards the actual structure of the sunken colony. He had been aiming for the thick ring that encircled it, and once he was within two feet of it he reversed his thrusters to cut some of his velocity. His left boot impacted his target, whose flexibility absorbed some of the force. As quickly as Arturo had landed, however, he was once again in the air, making the last leap. His thrusters provided a less than comfortable landing within the Zerg base, which was comprised mostly of hatcheries.

Seven other reapers landed around him, spurring him onto his job as he moved towards the front of the base. Behind him two of the sunken colonies exploded into brilliant flames against the fading light after the D-8 bombs Ace and Shade had dropped detonated.

“Fuse set up our parting gift!” Shade shouted as he, Ace, and Trigger began boosting themselves towards the mineral deposits.

As Arturo weaved rapidly between hatcheries he noticed movement beside him, and watched a zergling leap out towards him. Both beings were in midair as the Terran noticed the Zerg, and the former twisted around agilely and expertly before squeezing off several rounds with his right gauss pistol. By the time the slugs had pierced into its carapace Arturo had reignited his thrusters to counteract his now backwards motion, allowing him to make a stable landing backwards. He quickly slowed himself to a halt before firing several more shots into the twitching corpse.

“They left guards behind; watch yourselves!” Arturo announced over the COM channel before he heard several guns blazing at the other end of the compound.

Not even remotely considering what might be happening to the three soldiers that were attacking the base’s drones; he moved rapidly to the outer-most cluster of hatcheries and pulled a deuterium bomb from his waist.

“Most of the zerglings seemed to be with the drones. Set your timers to three minutes—the Zerg force is well on its way back by now!” Shade ordered.

Hearing that number Arturo punched it in on his detonator without even putting much conscious thought into it before throwing it into the midst of the larvae surrounding the hatcheries in front of him. As they began swarming the strange object he was already arming another bomb for another cluster, and once he had tossed that one he caught a glimpse of the returning Zerg force that they had initially waited on to depart.

“Zerg spotted—ETA one minute people!” Arturo shouted before turning back and moving on to his last hatchery cluster, which was dominated by a single Hive.

That was the target of his final D-8 charge, which he set to a mere two minutes in order to detonate with the previous two. He then moved back towards the area from which they had initially come, passing two of the other reapers as he went. Each of the four reported in once they were finished planting their bombs before moving to the fall back point in the base.

“Mutalisks incoming!” cried Sunshine.

Arturo turned his eyes to the sky as he moved quickly over the creep. Sure enough, he spotted their curved figures descending from the cover of the clouds upon their position.

“We need to move! Now!” Shade ordered. “Is our exit set!?”

Fuse acknowledged his commander before coming into sight behind Arturo as he left the forest of hatcheries. Ace, Trigger, and Shade were already at the first rally point along with Flush and Scar. Sunshine appeared off to Arturo’s left as he moved rapidly away from the extractors covering the vespene geysers. Much to Arturo’s surprise they erupted into an enormous fireball as Sunshine barely reached a safe distance. The detonation was sustained by the vespene gas as it continued to erupt out of the crater in the ground.

“Cutting it close?” Ace questioned as all eight reapers were reunited at what used to be the edge of the sunken colony’s range.

There was now an avenue nearly seven feet in width all the way through the defense perimeter that was now untouchable by the living sunken colonies since Shade and Ace had removed two of the more central ones.

Several poisonous glaives pelted the ground around the soldiers, prompting them to turn their arms to bear on the sky. All of them opened fire on the dive-bombing mutalisks in their own selective ways—most using their trained methods of burst fire while Trigger earned his nickname by unleashing a constant stream of slugs, and Ace earned his by picking off targets with single and double shots. All of this occurred as the reaper squad was moving rapidly away from the burning Zerg base as well as the falling glaives. The men kept as close to each other as they could while ensuring that none strayed into the kill zone of any living sunken colonies until they were far out of range.

At that point Arturo twisted his neck around so that his eyes could see the approaching swarm of Zerg reach the edges of their own burning base. They were clearly pursuing their attackers at this point, and now he couldn’t help but smile as his own D-8 bombs detonated in the front of the base, sealing in the vast majority of the army on one end.

“Trap them!” shouted Shade.

Arturo watched Fuse cease firing on the aerial pursuers long enough to draw a remote detonator from his belt. His thumb subsequently forced the prominent button down. The resulting display was courtesy of Fuse’s enhanced deuterium-8 bombs, which he commonly called D-9s. They created a line of fire as the blasts blew pieces of Zerg, hatcheries, and creep eighty feet into the air and carving craters that Fuse often bragged were twenty feet deep.

This event appeared to have absolutely shocked the Zerg, who then proceeded to halt at the barrier he’d created and move toward the center of the base to get out. At that point Scar and Flush’s charges simultaneously erupted throughout the base, creating a fireworks display that beat any mission they’d accomplished yet this week.

Fuse could be heard laughing as all eight reapers sped on with their weapons blazing into the darkening sky. Their self-carved exit was the same as their entry—up the most sloped of the valley walls. As it came closer and closer Arturo began noticing movement in front of them, and to his utter surprise mounds of creep and dirt began erupting out of the ground in front of them.

“What the hell is—” Sunshine interrupted himself as his eyes answered his own question.

Hydralisks were emerging from burrows in front of them, barring them from their escape.

“Shit!” Ace cried.

The darkness prevented the reapers from being able to see the Hydralisks rearing back until it was too late. Spines flew into the cluster of soldiers, peppering several of them. Arturo could barely register a thought at the sight of a spine impaling Scar’s faceplate and being wedged during its exit out of the other side when there was a massive explosion in front of him. The tremendous force of the blast completely overcame the jet pack on Arturo’s back propelling him forward. He was consequently sent end over end backwards before he slammed into the ground head-first and skidded to a halt.

Arturo’s senses were revived as he felt a spine hit the armor on his arm, carving a path through it as it went that included flesh as well as metal.

“Fuck!” he cried as he rapidly stood up, inspecting the landscape around him.

He saw all of the reapers on the ground surrounding a large crater, and he realized what had happened. A spine had hit someone’s fuel tank. A brief retracing of the previous events seemed to place Flush in front of him, which would most certainly mean he was now dead. Arturo opened fire on the line of hydralisks that had just completely fucked up the first mission that had a decent potential for survival. At the same time five of the remaining six reapers still on the ground managed to stand and began to do the same, whilst moving west to the only other valley wall that they could get to. Unfortunately it was substantially steeper than the first, and was going to provide scaling challenges.

“They set a fucking trap!” Fuse shouted angrily as more spines peppered the ground around them.

As they sped across the valley floor with the hydralisks in tow Arturo noticed one reaper—whose large stature seemed to identify him from behind as Trigger—had taken serious damage to his jet pack in the explosion. The right thruster seemed to have been knocked out, seeing as how only one jet of superheated fuel vapor streaked from his back. This was obviously causing him balance issues as he was forced to repeatedly land on his right leg with each stride and then push off in the opposite direction to keep him from veering right. Such an action in itself caused problems with the brain’s perception of balance, though Arturo was impressed with how he was handling it.

At their high speeds it only took the reduced and battered squad forty seconds to get close to the west valley wall. This was enough time for them to once again get their hopes up, though every hopeful thought was crushed at the sight of more hydralisks erupting out of the ground between their final option.

“Jesus Christ!” screamed Shade. “We’ve got to go through them! It’s our only shot!”

Pissed off at just how intelligent the Zerg had grown against the reapers’ somewhat unorthodox methods of attacking, Arturo ejected his mostly spent clips in both pistols before he loaded the final two. He had sixty-four rounds to plow himself a hole through the Zerg, which likely wouldn’t be enough. Unfortunately the reapers were within range before the hydralisks were, and so yet another volley of spines was launched into the group.

Being in the rear of the formation provided Arturo with some cover, while Trigger on the other hand took four spines across his chest. The light armor itself deflected one, which skidded off and flew backwards over Arturo’s head, while one penetrated into his ribs and the other went through his side, emerging on the opposite side. Arturo himself was hit in his thigh, which caused him an extraordinary amount of pain for all of two seconds. At that time a cocktail of synthetic adrenaline, pain killers, endorphins, and anti-toxins were injected through his suit’s life support system, instantly relieving the pain and giving him a sudden surge of energy.

Arturo suddenly opened fire on the line of hydralisks in front of them whilst Trigger fell slowly behind him, as did several other reapers who’d also taken hits. They all were filled with sudden bursts of energy moments later as their suits performed similar functions. Within seconds all six men were charging the creatures with their gauss pistols blazing and Ace—regardless of the three spines protruding from various points on his body—was still as accurate a marksman as ever. Hydralisks throughout the columns in front of them began crying out and crippling over as slug after slug blasted through their carapaces from twelve different weapons.

Arturo, who was now leading the squad, slammed into the Zerg line with his pistols firing, ramming one nearly down the first hydralisk’s throat before it was blasted backwards. He quickly began using their confused bodies as his stability, kicking off of them with every stride. The force he transferred into them at his velocity was enough to knock the beasts off balance, and if that didn’t do the trick, the five reapers behind him did. It took a mere twenty seconds for the squad to blast their way through the second-to-last barrier between them and safety, though it only brought them to the final challenge.

In the middle of an all-out adrenaline rush, fueled by his wounds and the endorphins flowing through him, he glanced at the fuel gauge on his arm and subconsciously noted that he didn’t have nearly enough fuel left to rocket up to the top of the steeper valley wall. The threat behind the soldiers was far too substantial for this to bear much influence, however, and so they proceeded to make their jumps up the wall with spines flying after them. Arturo seemed to take a back-seat to his actions, having a kind of out of body experience that he often encountered after having used his stimpacks. It seemed to him that his legs were bounding from outcropping to outcropping on their own intelligence. Spines peppered the valley wall around him and he felt little more than pressure as one entered the back of his shoulder allowing the current cocktail flowing through him to extend its duty.

At that same moment Arturo was whipped back to reality as his jet pack finally ran out of fuel. He had been midway to the final outcropping on the valley wall when it happened, causing him to halt his ascent and fall back down to the previous one. He grunted as he felt the spine in his shoulder get forced out the front, splattering his face with blood.

The jagged rock protruding from the wall provided Arturo with rather efficient cover from the hydralisks still firing below, and so it was at this point that he looked around in search of other surviving reapers. As he did this he realized that he couldn’t see any—the yellow light from their jet packs were absent, as were the cones emanating from their suits. The thought that his entire team could be dead bore very little weight on him as he glanced around—he’d lost many fellow reapers in battles before, and he had also been the lone survivor of several missions.

Noticing briefly that the spine volley seemed to have stopped, Arturo risked a look over the edge of the rock on which he was now perched. To his surprise he saw the light from a reaper’s combat armor shining up into the sky from the valley floor. Curiosity spurred him to pull out his binoculars from earlier, and he aimed them down towards the source of the light. After activating their night vision and adjusting the zoom, Arturo was shocked to see Trigger lying on the ground. Nearly a hundred hydralisks were surrounding him, and he was strangely still alive. His mouth was moving, and it made Arturo chuckle as he imagined what choice words he would have for the bastards as they moved in on him.

Arturo was well aware that he needed to use the distraction to get out of the valley, though as he was about to look away and leave Trigger to his inevitable fate, he noticed something in his hand, that he was now waving around. His memory was revived as he realized that it was a D-8 bomb; Trigger was the only reaper that had not used a single one of the three that he had armed himself with. Arturo couldn’t help but grin as he decided to wait a little longer. He noticed Trigger flick off all of the surrounding hydralisks, before his hand moved to the D-8 charge. There was a brilliant flash of light that escalated as first the initial charge detonated, followed by the two around his waist and finally the fuel canisters for his jet pack. Thirty feet in every direction of him was incinerated by the blast, and every other hydralisk in the vicinity was slammed to the ground by the force. The explosion nearly reached his height, and it was at that point that Arturo took the opportunity to begin climbing the rest of the way up the slope.

He reached the top before many of the hydralisks had even fully comprehended what had happened. Allowing himself to think briefly that he had survived yet again, he flung his battered body over the final ridge. It was here on the plateau that Arturo encountered familiar and friendly faces.



  • * *



New Styrling had truly blossomed in the numerous years since Korhal IV had been consumed by the fires of nuclear weaponry and radiation. Buildings had risen out of the once toxic soil, and life once again flourished. Arcturus Mengsk’s baptism of the world as the capital of his Dominion was now old news, overshadowed by the violent and shocking demise of its first emperor. What the citizens of the Dominion’s worlds once embraced as a wonderful new order, perhaps only so by comparison to the corrupt Terran Confederacy, was now held in detest by many of them. Both civilians and government officials alike now shared in the thoughts that history was likely to repeat itself, and that the Dominion might soon be overthrown by yet another eager individual who presently lashed out at the common ideal. Jim Raynor, who had now become fabled for his resistance against the rapidly digressing government, was the present domestic issue fighting with the continuous Zerg infestation for time slots on the news. While few knew of his stances on what should replace the Dominion, many had little desire to, and wished to blindly battle against the corruption that was so inevitable an outcome due to the human nature of greed and ambition.

It was these unorganized thoughts that floated through the mind of Arnold Madison, the second emperor of the Terran Dominion. The initial stream of his mind’s conscious thought had originated at his eyes, which presently stared out over the capital city of New Styrling. The view from his office was truly spectacular, spanning the length of the city and giving it an absolutely glorious feel. He of course knew the truth—that the city was only as glorious as any other, and often times had many more problems.

Madison forced himself to stop with his wandering strains of thought and move back to the tasks at hand. The dark and often times brutal scheming that he had indulged in so as to achieve the position where he presently brooded had always been to place him in the ultimate position of power for many of his own purposes, though he never fully understood the complete bullshit that Mengsk had often had to deal with on an almost daily basis as the commander of an empire. Few things more glamorous than Arcturus’ dirty work and incomplete goals were left for Madison to clean up, though he couldn’t deny that his position brought some positives. The one thing that he had been fully aware of was the annoyance of the Zerg, which he almost constantly dealt with—being counseled by his top generals and staff on current situations and then making the ultimate decisions. It was another such situation that he currently resided over, and the same frustrations that had pushed him into pointless and wandering thought processes a minute ago returned to him.

The last four years had been strange times in the military world, as both Terran and Protoss were forced to adapt their weaponry against Kerrigan’s newest and deadliest mutations, which many suspected to be the result of a new strain of the assimilation virus. The newest hot zone in one of the fringe systems had seen more than its share of fighting, and it was only increasing now that the Dominion had introduced their reapers to the vicinity.

Madison’s thinking was suddenly disrupted by the opening of his office door.

“Sir, the reports have come in,” he stated plainly, seeming to be expecting dismissal.

“Bring them in,” Madison replied coldly.

The man obeyed, placing the papers on his desk and then moving back several feet, though not exiting. This action is what distinguished himself from every other employee in Madison’s administration, as this one man alone was trusted with Madison’s worst secrets. Blood relation had much to do with it, though in such a line of work even that was strange.

“Have you already read it?” asked Madison as he singled out a file from the stack of folders.

“I have.”

The emperor made a brief attempt at reading the man’s face so as to receive a hint of the debriefing’s contents, though when none could be discerned he opened the folder. After several seconds of scanning the page Madison calmly set it down before placing his hand across his face.

“Christ.”

“I’m sorry, sir” the man apologized nervously. “That assignment was the most dangerous we had available to give to any squad. I never expected any of them to survive.”

“I read over the God damn field reports of that base’s location—it looked like a fucking death trap!”

“I know, but reapers aren’t given any evac and are thus forced to create their own exit strategies. Perhaps if we moved him to another squad—”

“No!” shouted Madison angrily. “This little son of a bitch has now lasted seven months in the field as a reaper, which has never even been accomplished before! The whole damn point of that program is to dispose of the mistakes that come out of neural resocialization! I’ve covered every track left behind me since the murder of Arcturus except for this bastard, and I obviously made a mistake thinking that our own proven process could do what needed to be done to avoid the justice system and the possibility that something might come out!”

“Then what would you like me to do, sir?” questioned the man, clearly anxious to leave now.

“Use scenario Delta; make up a story for them, insert one of our operatives, and have him taken out.”



  • * *



Arturo sat quietly on his own in a corner of the camp. It was far from silent between the voices moving back and forth behind him and the gun shots echoing from the field range. After every mission he always needed space to think about things alone. He was always happy to be around his fellow squad mates—especially the ones that he knew—but he could never feel happy after a fight. Such emotions obviously stemmed from the fact that in the last seven months he had not seen an entire team survive without one loss. Someone always died, and he’d come to accept that—his only price was his solitude to think about his life and wonder.

It had only been six weeks since he’d come to the realization of the likelihood that he had been resocialized. He was well aware that this realization was not something normal and as such did not advertise it—he’d spoken of it only once to a dying friend. Piecing it together was one thing, which was fairly simple from the broken memories in his mind that still had seams in them, though accepting it was entirely different. Arturo had always heard about the concept of rearranging one’s mind, and always thought it to be terrible. He never wanted it to be done to him—never realizing that it had been done. It was an incredibly awkward thing to know that there was probably a family out there, that thought their son—their husband—their father was dead.

“Hey,” a voice muttered behind him.

For once Arturo was happy to have his thoughts interrupted as Fuse took a seat next to him. He was out of his combat suit, just as Arturo was, allowing him to see the two bandaged locations on his right arm where he had been hit.

“I know you like to have some time to yourself after missions,” he muttered. “And I always try to respect that.”

“It’s alright,” Arturo replied. “I needed something to get my mind away from my past.”

Fuse paused for a moment at those words, as if wondering whether or not his new discussion would be preferred by Arturo to his previous train of thought.

“I know that you and Trigger were good friends. And I watched what happened just as you did. I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry about him, and that he wouldn’t have wanted to die any other way. He took more of the bastards with him than we ever will.”

“Thanks Fuse” Arturo said as he nodded his head in appreciation.

He nodded back with a weak, understanding smile before standing up and walking away. Fuse was the one man in the squad that had always been able to do that. Whenever someone died, he always gave his condolences to those closest to the deceased. That wasn’t a quality readily available in the military anymore, least of all in a combat unit as dangerous and rough as the reapers.

“Arturo!”

He twisted around at the sound of his name, and spotted Shade near the command center, beckoning him over. Arturo obeyed his commander and stood painfully, glancing briefly at his wounds before moving over in that direction.

“What’s happening now?” he questioned.

“We’ve got a new guy, and it’s your turn to feed him bullshit.”

Arturo scowled at the remembrance that it was his turn to show a new recruit around the unit. Then a thought occurred to him.

“Just one?” he asked after having passed Shade. “We lost three guys.”

He simply shrugged. “Ask command.”

It was unusual for them to receive only a partial fill for newly opened vacancies, especially in their line of work. It had only happened once before, which wasn’t very often considering that he’d been part of two hundred and thirty seven missions. Dismissing the line of thought Arturo put on an annoyed face, which didn’t make much change from his normal one.

“Arturo?” asked a soldier who had been doing the usual “Where the hell do I go?” circles in front of him.

“Yeah, you the new fish?”

“So I’ve been told,” replied the man, who wasn’t much taller than Sunshine.

“You got a name?”

“Most guys call me Hammer,” he continued, making Arturo chuckle.

“You better come up with something better than that, kid, or the squad’s gonna have a field day with you.”

The man grinned at those words, which were far from a joke considering his stature.

“Where the hell did you come from?” Arturo questioned at the smile.

“The Icehouse, like all your new recruits, why?”

“I’ve never seen anyone so happy after being freshly packaged out of there—they manage to suck just about every ounce of pleasure right out of you.”

What he said was most certainly true; in all his months of seeing new squad members, none were very pleasant at all, and he hadn’t been either when he was first released back into the real world. It was certainly a strange circumstance, though he thought little more of it.

The two men stopped in front of a fire, which the surviving members of Arturo’s reaper unit were sitting around.

“Ladies, this here is Jackass, our new recruit,” he announced, before leaning over and whispering to the new guy: “I usually feel bad for the shape most new reapers are in, but since you’re just as happy as could be I figure you can handle being thrown in with the sharks.”

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