Here’s another part. At this rate, maybe I’ll win NaNo in the year 2012 or so!

With a general murmur, the team moved off into the dark warren of steel and plastic walled buildings in search of the dining facility (or DFAC), weapons and gear in tow, shuffling slowly with fatigue. Washington, almost be-bopping as he walked despite his load of gear and the late hour, spotted Jensmore and hailed him with a wave.

“Hey man, how was the drive?” His white teeth fairly gleamed under the night lighting. “You’re the commo guy from first platoon, aren’t you?”

Jensmore laughed a little. “Yeah, I am. I didn’t know I was so famous.” He recognized Washington – he was pretty hard to miss, being so tall and loud and black, but he was with another platoon and Jensmore wasn’t exactly the most social guy at FOB Rhino.

“Well bro, word kinda got around after that MacGuyver shit you pulled last month with the PMR or the PMS or the multi-monkey-fuck or whatever the hell.”

Jensmore shrugged. “You mean the PRM? The packet radio multiplexer? That was pretty easy – it’s just running a contracted version of Red Hat, and the J1 port for COMSEC fills is actually just an RS232 serial interface, so I was able to splice together a fill cable and a length of CAT5 and then run a login script I wrote…”

Washington interrupted with a burst of laughter that reverberated from the plastic buildings alongside. “See what I mean, brother? Everything they said about you is true!”

They had reached the DFAC and had fallen in line, though there were only a few dining at this late hour. Jensmore grabbed a paper plate and a plastic fork and knife. “What do you mean, ‘everything’?”

Washington stepped up to the buffet line, which consisted mostly of warmed-over hamburgers, heaping trays of stiff-cheesed lasagna, and some limp pizza. Typical crap for midnight chow, Washington thought. Leftovers from dinner. “Well, you know, they just say you’re a super-geek and you’re the smartest guy in the First Battalion.” Shoveling a pile of steaming lasagna onto his plate, Washington also opted for some green beans, then moved to the beverage cooler.

“Huh.” Jensmore didn’t really know what to say – he wasn’t sure if he should be flattered or insulted that he was known as a “super-geek” in other platoons, let alone the rest of the battalion. But the talk about the PRM got him thinking – it really was a pretty straightforward operation, when you thought about it, and he was surprised no one else had figured it out. It was too bad that the thing was designed by the lowest bidder, as all government equipment seemed to be, because it had a lot of potential. Hell, he figured, just optimizing the encryption stack – easy to do, since the code was so sloppy – would probably net ten percent faster multiplexing, or ten percent more traffic, or both…

“…never really my thing. But music, man, that’s where it’s at!” Jensmore, woolgathering as he often did, had missed the beginning of Washington’s next discussion.

Sitting down, he saw that Washington had a tremendous pile of food and drink; the paper plate had basically disappeared under the heap of lasagna and green beans, and he had a veritable tower of the cute little Middle-Eastern Coke cans (300 mL each). Jensmore’s meal looked puny by comparison.

“Music? How so?”

Washington replied between noisy mouthfuls. “Saxophone, man. Sax, trumpet, bass, I play ’em all. Especially sax, though.”

For some reason, Jensmore had to stifle a laugh; the image of the huge black man, his biceps rippling, big hands delicately clutching a shiny saxophone, was almost hilarious.

“What’s so funny?”

Jensmore smiled. “Nothing.”

6.

Atara stirred, her neck and back aching from the stiff bunk. Her watch said 4:45; she had had about three hours of sleep, most of it spent tossing and turning and punctuated by nightmares of dead faces and rotting flesh. She hated these early-morning wake-ups; she never slept well when wake-up was such a short time away, as if her brain figured it wasn’t worth the effort to sleep so little. The fatigue, the nightmares, the soreness – it all made her feel weak and vulnerable and lonely, feelings she couldn’t admit during daylight but that often reached their peak just before dawn.

The lights in the bunkhouse were still dimmed, but others were stirring as well; she could hear the rustle of sleeping bags and backpacks, the sounds of soldiers moving in sleepy slow motion, the languor borne of both care for a neighbor’s continued sleep and predawn fatigue.