26 October 2012

"Five for Fighting"

By Curtis C. Chen

Gottlieb checked his watch again. "Can't you work any faster?"

"I thought faster was his job." Caitlin nodded at Herman while continuing to pelt the computer keyboard with her fingertips.

"You'll tell me if there's a problem, right?"


Herman paced on the other side of the console, a man-shaped blur streaking back and forth across the room. In the far corner, underneath a metal stump, Paul cradled the remains of a security camera.

"You okay, Paul?"

Paul didn't look up. "I couldn't feel it. No pain. Nothing. It didn't even break the skin."

"The presentation is unusual," Gottlieb said. "But interactions between your gene therapy and these implant drugs are poorly documented—"

Paul flattened the camera between both palms, then let the metal pancake fall to the ground with a clatter.

"I was supposed to be strong. Not indestructible." He looked at Gottlieb. "They're never going to let me go, are they?"


Gottlieb's earpiece chirped. "Escape route looks clear, Doc," Alex said.

"Okay, get back here." Gottlieb had failed to discourage Alex from running off by herself, and failed to convince Herman to follow her into the ventilation ducts.

"In a minute. Something else I want to check out," Alex said.

"We're on a schedule here, Alex," Gottlieb said. "And we have very specific mission parameters."

"Listen to you. 'Mission parameters?' I'm becoming aroused."

Caitlin snickered. Gottlieb ignored her. "Alex, I don't feel you're taking this seriously."

"It's a simulation," Alex said. "And we're doing great. Nothing here we can't handle."

"They're not just evaluating your physical skills," Gottlieb said. "They want to know if we can function as a team. And so far, we're failing spectacularly."

"What are you talking about?" Alex said. "We're like clockwork. Took out all the cameras in less than three seconds—"

"Paul went on a rampage," Gottlieb said. "And now he's freaking out because he's stronger than we expected. You rushed off before we cleared the room, Herman refused to go with you because he's claustrophobic, and I have no idea what Caitlin is doing."

The teenager smiled up at him. "I'm in your computer, hackin' your datas."

Gottlieb shook his head. "General Schumann doesn't think I can lead the four of you in the field."

"You've got other talents, Doc," Alex said.

"You're missing the point. If I can't convince Schumann that I can supervise this team, he's going to find someone else. Is that what you want? Some jarhead barking orders at you?"

Silence. Gottlieb allowed himself a triumphant nod.

"Jarheads are Marines," Alex said.

Gottlieb frowned. "What?"

"Schumann's an Army General," Alex said.

"She's right," Herman said. "My brother's in the Army. He'd be deeply offended if you called him a jarhead."

"I guess 'grunt' would be more appropriate?" Alex said.

"Or just 'soldier,'" Herman said.

"'Doughboy,'" Caitlin offered.

Paul said, "I've also heard 'dogface.'"

Gottlieb threw up his hands. "Really? This is what we need to discuss right now?"

"Hey, you get upset when people call you Mister Gottlieb," Alex said. "Words hurt too, Doc."


Image: broken cameras 2 by punkrockdiva, May, 2009