Duggan was ugly by most Folk standards, and he knew it. His bald head was crisscrossed with scars and his beak-like nose had been broken more often than he could remember. A close encounter with an axe-wielding hare had taken his right ear. His plastron was awash in graphically violent tattooed threats and the entirety of his shell was decorated in kill markings. He would never make it in civilized society, but the big turtle didn’t care. It wasn’t civilized in the hole that he and his partner occupied. It was hot and still in there, and Duggan was bored.
“Hey, Lissa,” he called. His voice was a deep, sepulchral thing, garbled not at all by the butt of the unlit cigar in the corner of his mouth. He always had one there, and only a very few of his fellow troops had ever heard him speak without it in place.
“Send it,” Lissa replied, without turning her attention away from what she was watching. She had her paws wrapped around a rifle, and the stock of it was snugged up tight into the pocket of her right shoulder.
“I thought these dipshits were supposed to move by now.”
“Should be any time.”
He tapped at his chron. “Naw, fam. Shoulda been by now. Maybe half an hour or so ago.”
“Then stop bitching and get your ass behind that nailgun. If they move, we gotta zap ’em first. You want McEnroe and BigButt to win?”
He made a snorting sound. “Those two couldn’t beat you to the punch if you gave them a five-second lead.”
“I don’t intend to give them the chance,” she said. Nimble fingers made a minute adjustment to the holosight atop her rifle without her moving the weapon.
Duggan checked the belts leading into his machinegun again. The waiting was what killed him. The boredom of holding his position while waiting. Once it all dropped in the pot, Lissa knew he’d be the usual killing machine the crew knew him to be, but at the moment, he might as well be chewing off his own claws.
“Me either,” he muttered, patting the stock of his weapon. A garish drawing of a screaming rat was painted on the butt.
“The Cap says we’re in for a lot of action on this one,” Lissa said.
“His mom’s in for a lot of action.”
She laughed at the familiar joke. “Supposedly they dropped in a battalion of rabbits the other day.”
“Good,” Duggan said. “Can’t wait to get me some ears.”
“Frayker said he’s gonna be the first to get some,” she countered. The words were barely out of her mouth when Duggan was back with his usual.
“His mom’s gonna be the first to get some.”
“What have you got against Frayker’s mom?” she asked.
“Not as much as I did last night.”
“Damn, dude, that’s just ugly.”
“So’s Frayker’s mom.”
The two shared a round of laughter. The commentary was an easy back and forth thing with them, and spoke of partners who had held similar conversations many times in the past. Duggan cracked the seal on a canteen and slurped noisily at the warm water inside it. When he offered it, he finally got Lissa to take her eyes off the firing line. She gripped the canteen and hoisted it, pouring water past tiny pointed teeth. Taking a second mouthful that she let sit for a while before swallowing, the mongoose turned back to her rifle. Duggan drained another slug from the canteen before shoving it back into his belt.
“Thanks,” she said. “I was getting kinda dry.”
“Same same. Figured if they aren’t moving, we might as well get a drink. Hell, I’d have brought some of Smitty’s wine if I’d known they were gonna just sit out there on their tails.”
“That shit’s nasty,” she said, a shudder rippling down her back.
“Nasty? Girl, I watched you drink your body weight in that!”
“Think that’s when I decided it was nasty,” she explained. “The hangover that next morning was a thing of legend.”
“Well, if you’re interested, I’ve got a couple bottles back in the hootch when we get out of here.”
“Beats another night of that local beer,” she said, pragmatism winning over flavor.
“That isn’t beer. That shit’s right up there with that grey pasty stuff in the mess hall.”
“Right? What the hell was that?” Lissa asked.
“I don’t know, but it tasted like ass,” he said, leaning against the front wall of their hole. Above them, the logs shifted enough to send a cascade of yellow dust down onto them. Neither of them took any real notice. The dust was a way of life and they had grown used to having it in everything they ate, drank, or slept in.
“It did,” she agreed. “Y’ever wonder whose side the cooks are really on?”
“I could see you cooking for the toothies,” he said. “Today’s special is cyanide casserole, you beady-eyed shitsuckers!”
“I got a nice hot meal for ’em right here,” Lissa responded as she grinned at his comment. She patted the forend of the rifle. “Let one of ’em pop up their ugly little heads and we’ll see how hungry they are.”
“I’m hoping for more than one,” Duggan said.
“Company strength ain’t just one.”
“I know. I was just saying.”
“I know,” she repeated. “I’m just picturing a couple hundred dead toothies all stacked up in a pile, waiting for the fire units.”
The comment brought a smile to Duggan’s face. “I’ll take mine well done,” he said.
“Aww, damn, man. Why’d you have to equate them to food? Now I ain’t gonna be able to eat my bucket of grey ass-paste when we get back.”
His chuckle began quietly but a moment later he was struggling not to burst into raucous laughter. “Pretty sure that’s a country song,” he said when he had recovered somewhat. Lissa giggled.
“It was raining out, and I couldn’t eat my –” she began. Her voice cut off and she leaned deeper into the rifle butt. Duggan needed no words to tell him what the gesture meant and he stood up into the firing slit beside her, gripping the machinegun and slipping the safety.
The rifle barked beside him, the action cycling and ejecting an empty casing that bounced off his hardened head with a pinging sound. Three hundred meters out, a flash of crimson in the air announced her hit as clearly as any range monitor could have.
“Dinner’s served, you needledick bastards!” Duggan roared as he squeezed the trigger. His boredom vanished as the big weapon thundered and hammered itself into his shoulder. He was home again.