Hoo, boy. This took some time to write. I promise that after this establishing chapter, the next few will be a lot shorter...
It was a Tuesday seemingly like any other. The intense heat of the mid-morning New Mexico sun cut through the air and baked the black asphalt. The chirping and buzzing of crickets and cicadas could be heard from every direction on the desert plains surrounding Greville Military Base, along with the distant rhythmic thud of boots on the ground. A cacophony of shouts, grunts and curses emanated from the obstacle course to the South. Then above it all, a deep, booming voice filled the air.
“Mendez!” A large silhouette of a man was standing atop a wooden climbing tower, shouting in the direction of the tents at the start line, “Hey, Mendez!”
“Jesus,” Mendez stood, arms folded and rolled his eyes. He had been taking refuge from the heat in the limited shade offered by tents, “Is that Jackson?”
A short, thin haired man was sitting nearby, rifling through a field medical kit. He looked up, pushing his glasses back up to the bridge of his note and squinted at the distant figure, “It looks like a grizzly bear wearing PT gear. Sooo yes.”
Mendez sighed, as the obnoxious figure began doing star jumps, “He’s beaten my time again.”
“Most likely. What was it anyway?”
“One minute fifteen.”
“For the whole course? Sheesh.” replied the man, wiping sweat from his forehead and rising to his feet.
“How about you?”
“Slower.” he replied, while making his way back towards the starting line.
“Come on, Guts,” Mendez groaned, “I don’t go in for this competitive bullshit. I’m just curious.”
“And your curiosity is your best quality I’d say,” replied Guts, waggling a finger as he backed away, “Stay curious, Mendez.”
By this point Jackson had descended from the tower and was jogging alongside the obstacle course towards the tends, a beaming, idiotic grin stretched across his face. He snapped two finger guns at Guts as he passed him, “Time?”
“Nope.” Guts replied before breaking into a jog himself and disappearing into the course.
Jackson slid across the gravel to a stop under the canopy, a foot away from Mendez. He folded his arms and tilted his head, seemingly expecting an explanation, “I know heard me.”
“One minute… ten.” Mendez winced
Jackson sucked in sharply through his teeth, “Oooh, buddy. Even when you’re lying you’re too damn slow. One minute and two seconds.”
“God damn it,” Mendez dropped his arms to his sides, “There’s no way I’m topping that. Beat Gutierrez though. O’Keefe too.”
Jackson raised his eyebrows and threw up both hands in mock awe, “Oh shit. A middle aged sawbones and a guy who spends most of his day balls deep in the mud on the firing range?”
Just then a shrill, Irish voice emerged from somewhere inside the obstacle course, “Go fuck yourself, Jackson.”
Jackson grinned for a moment, then his expression fell as he scanned the other men present in the tent. “Man, where the Hell is Dobbs?”
“Haven’t seen him,” shrugged Mendez, “O’Keefe said he’d been summoned to command HQ or something, early this morning.”
“Son of a…” Jackson clenched his teeth, “Look, man. I ain't exactly the nervous type, you know that right?”
“Does it not bother anyone else that our squad leader is never here with us during PT?
We’re supposed to follow this guy’s lead and yet we’ve never seen him run the course or fire a shot on the range. Not once. Where the Hell does he go every day?”
“I dunno, man,” Mendez shook his head, “Nobody else seems concerned.”
“Nobody else would say a damn thing if they were. Dobbs spends his day filling out paperwork and brown nosing the officers over in command while we’re out here busting our-”
“FOX COMPANY!” Dobbs’ voice rang out amongst the din, stopping the men dead in their tracks. Some stumbled over obstacles while another man lost his footing on a balance beam and plummeted into the muddy water below, “FORM UP ON ME! MOVE IT!”
“Speak of the Devil,” Jackson rolled his eyes.
Within a minute, everyone in the company had untangled themselves from their various training exercises and formed a grid on the tarmac, facing Dobbs. He was not in his PT gear, instead he was decked out in urban camouflage fatigues and a red beret, an MP5 submachine gun hanging from a strap over his shoulder. He paced from one side of the group to the other then back to the centre.
“Alright boys, at ease. High command has ordered that training be cancelled for the remainder of the day. We’ve got a job to do. Disaster response in the local area. Get yourselves cleaned up, get your shit together.I want to see everyone on the landing field, deployment ready in fifteen minutes. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir,” the group responded in unison.
“Sir?” a voice broke the silence. A sodden man, drenched from head to foot in filthy water raised his hand.
“What is it, Symanski?”
“...What’s the situation, sir? Where are we going?”
“You will be given a full briefing once we’re in the air,” replied Dobbs. He glanced toward command HQ briefly, then back to the company, “Have any of you boys heard of Black Mesa?”
“Great winery, sir.” came one response.
“Yes, thank you,” Dobbs sighed, “I can assure you that is not our destination. Anyone else?”
A hand sheepishly emerged within the group.
“Gutierrez.” Dobbs nodded
“The research facility, sir?”
“That is where we’re headed, yes. And That’s all you need to know right now. Fifteen minutes, people. Get your asses moving.”
The company turned in unison, formed a neat line and marched hastily to the barracks. With the exception of the occasional hushed whisper, everyone was silent. They entered the building and filtered into the shower block, discarding their PT gear as they entered. Mendez pushed past a couple of guys and headed for the shower next to Guts. He turned on the water, glanced around the room as the steam started to rise, then sidled up next to him.
“Guts?” No response. He was fixated on the taps in front of him. He hadn’t even turned on the water. “Gutierrez.”
Guts snapped out of it, looking at Mendez before sheepishly turning on the water.
Mendez looked over his shoulder. He ensured nobody was paying them any mind before turning back, “What is this Black Mesa thing?”
Guts slowly raised his eyes up to meet Mendez, “I don’t know much, okay? We’ve had a small presence stationed there for a while. Security detail that assists their in-house security force. Only official word I’ve heard is that they’re conducting weapons research. Pretty advanced stuff.”
“Doesn’t seem too unusual. We’ve got places like that all over the country,” pondered Mendez.
“That’s just it though, we haven’t. Black Mesa is enormous.” Guts lowered his voice even further, now barely audible above the rushing water, “I knew a guy who was stationed there. Said he couldn’t take it anymore. Got reassigned up north. Way up north, like Idaho or Montana or some shit.”
“What? Why?” Mendez whispered
“He couldn’t tell me anything, naturally.” Guts said, “He mentioned… He mentioned animal control or something like that.”
“What a load of shite!” O’Keefe’s voice pierced the silence as Mendez and Guts spun around to see him standing right behind them, “Military grade animal control for a fuckin’ research facility? Just how big are these fuckin’ lab rats?”
“Keep your voice down, dammit.” Guts snapped, “Look, I only know what I heard but these eggheads are up to some really weird shit.”
There was a loud bang as the door to the shower block burst open and slammed against the wall. Dobbs stood in the doorway, surveying the group. “Time’s up, ladies! Gear up! Move move move!”
The men returned to their bunks quickly and quietly. Each one opened their footlockers and retrieved a set of urban camo fatigues, combat boots, gloves, belt, webbing and a water canteen. At Dobbs’ order, they lined up at the foot of their bunks for a very rushed inspection and then marched quickly out of the building, stopping off at the armoury along the way. Mendez shuffled along with the line patiently, his mind constantly going over what Guts had said. He barely registered when it was his turn at the window.
“Hello?” the supply officer rapped his knuckles on the counter.
“Sorry, Mendez. Uh, private.”
The supply officer turned, and checked a number of lockers before returning to the counter.
“Private Mendez. Joseph E,” he started passing items through the window, “One M2 helmet, one M50 Respirator, one kevlar vest.”
He bent down out of sight and then reappeared with a hefty khaki backpack which he opened and started placing items into.
“What’s th-” Mendez started.
“Three spare air filters, green tinted respirator lenses, two days worth of MREs, sleeping bag, IFAK and refuse bags. Last but not least,”
A) …MP5 Submachine Gun, five magazines and two hand grenades”
B) …SPAS-12 pump action shotgun with folding stock, 8 rounds in the tube and 24 reserve and two hand grenades.”
C) …M40A1 Bolt Action Rifle, five rounds fully loaded and four spare mags and two smoke grenades.”
D) …M249 light machine gun, tripod and a thousand rounds.”
Cast your votes now to chose a loadout for Mendez. I hadn't intended to make them the central character but it just kind of fell into place. Also please do share any feedback or input that you have. I'd love to hear it.