Fed, cleaned, changed and rested, Danny McGee felt vaguely human again. He even deigned to affix the brigadier’s stars to his uniform, and to wear the red beret of the AM, though berets seemed about as impractical an article of clothing as humanity ever created.
He strode into Ops and was stopped in his tracks, at the sight of everyone standing silently at attention. As if a real general had just walked in.
McGee was honestly at a loss what to go for all of three interminable seconds, until he caught the grin threatening to steal the composure of his newly-minted Captain Anthony Nweke. He smiled and nodded; so that’s who put them up to it.
“Did someone steal all the chairs?” he finally asked, and a snicker traveled through the room. “At ease, please.”
The machine returned to full hum, and McGee couldn’t help noticing things were getting less chaotic by the day. Another training class was underway just off the main deck. Nweke was issuing instructions to patrol team leaders. Niekonnen was inspecting weapons. And at the console was… Curtis Greene?
“Senior Chief Greene, how’ve you been?” grinned McGee.
“I am on rotation, mon brigadier,” he answered with a grin. “You may call me Deputy Motherfuckin’ Marshal Greene.”
“So let it be,” McGee laughed, sitting next to him at the console. “What have we got here?”
“I’m hoping it ain’t trouble,” Greene groused, pointing to a highlighted area. “Here’s about where our Cuban regular was found, along with that cache of RPGs. Two days ago, a poaching operation was broken up not far away, half a kilometer at most.”
“I read the report. I thought they took up camp and left peacefully.”
“They did,” nodded Greene, and pointed again. “Now here is where another party was found, just yesterday.”
“That’s much too close. Any altercation?”
Greene just looked at him with eyebrows raised.
“Well?” prodded McGee.
“Weapons were drawn,” answered Greene. “Our patrol did likewise. No shots were fired, though. They ran.”
“I take it you didn’t get that report yet?”
McGee shook his head. “I may have; I haven’t read through everything yet.”
He waved for Anthony Nweke, who came quickly. “Yes, sir?”
“Anthony, Deputy Marshal Greene briefed me on yesterday’s incident. If we’re looking at the same people in both cases, then they’re operating out of somewhere nearby. An encampment, or an offshore vessel. Do we have anything yet?”
“Radar picked up unidentified vessels off the nearby coasts in both cases,” Nweke said. “Could be coincidental, or not. We’ve no advanced sensor equipment to tell us much more.”
“They could be operating from a trawler, or a freighter,” added Greene. “If there’s anything more nefarious than poaching going on, even military-grade doppler could only show us so much.”
“Not much call for poachers to venture that far inland,” McGee mused. “Unless someone somewhere’s developed a taste for penguin. Something’s clearly up. Has a sonar sweep been performed on the immediate area?”
“Clean as a whistle,” Nweke answered. “If there’s more ordinance missing, it’s somewhere else.”
McGee stewed for a moment, and rubbed his itching eyesocket under the patch. “Okay, here’s what we do. We continue to maintain a presence at the original site. We know there’s nothing left there; they don’t appear to yet. Continuing to draw them in, buys us time to do a cursory survey further out. Meantime, we continue to watch the coasts. Best case scenario, we get some visual intel. Worst case, we cause them to waste their time and resources until the weather drives them off for the season.”
Nweke nodded, liking the plan. “That won’t take long. We’re already having to reduce patrol durations, to limit exposure. It means a lot more frequent patrols, but the alternative is none.”
“So if our resources are stressed, and we’re a lot closer to shelter, then they’re gonna be spent pretty soon,” offered Greene.
“So there’s our play,” sighed McGee.
“Sirs?” a comms staff called to the senior officers. “Echo Patrol is requesting assistance. Sending coordinates.”
“Another confrontation?” asked Nweke.
“No, sir,” she answered, and her face was pale. “Something else.”