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“That’s odd.” Jane had noticed the drone while the Betas were warming up. Nothing too unusual there. But the black suburban coming down the hill to the ground after the game had started, that was out of place.
This was the annual rugby league game between the day boys from the high school (the Alphas) and the boarders in the military academy (the Betas or betters if you were a boarder. The beasts if you were an Alpha). The day boys, with fifteen hundred students, had more meat to choose from. The colonel’s men, from the dormitories, with fewer than five hundred students all up, hadn’t won for the last two years but this year they had a superstar – Nellie.
Jane should have been playing, in the halves, but this was the last week of a three week suspension. Damn the judiciary. It was only a broken nose, so yeah the tackle was probably a bit high. But the idiot had ducked into it. The tackle could have been worse, would have been worse if she’d known it was to cost three weeks. She wasn’t even allowed to be with the team today. So here she was, on the other side of the field, watching. Just watching.
Rugby league was a simple game. Four points for a try – placing the ball on or beyond the try line. Two points for kicking a goal, over the cross bar and between the uprights, either to ‘convert’ a try, or as the result of a penalty. One point for a field goal. Oval shaped ball.
Thirteen players (from a team of seventeen) from each side on the field at any time. Ten substitutions allowed during the game. Game time divided into two halves, each forty minutes long. Five minute break between halves.
A simple game. The teams were ten meters apart. The player with the ball charged at the opposition. A collision sport. When he or she was tackled the tackling team had to retreat ten meters, and the tackled player had to stand placing the ball in front of him, and heel it back to a player behind him, who could run, or pass, or very rarely, kick. Six tackles, then the ball was handed to the other team, unless possession was lost before then (dropped ball or ball kicked to the opposition) or an infringement occurred (forward pass, dangerous tackle, not back ten meters).
A great game. The hits were sometimes amazing. Jane’s job was to direct play, identifying or creating gaps and passing the ball to send players through them. Controlling where on the field the game was played and the pace of the game. Getting the defensive team to bunch in the middle so there was space out wide for the likes of Nellie. Making the outside backs look good.
Sure, there were injuries. But it wasn’t tiddlywinks.
This one was a good game. The forwards were right into it, charging up with the ball. Good set completions so far. Nice kicks on the last. No mistakes. No ball out to Nellie either.
“Good afternoon recruit.”
Jane hadn’t noticed them approach. A Gooch and a Choo. Security. This could be very bad. Or, it could be if she had done anything wrong. Which she hadn’t, not really. Not that wrong. Real secret service agent stuff. Both dressed in black. Both with small earpieces in their ears.
“Gidday. But I’m still at school.”
“Do you not wish to join the army?”
“Yeah, sure. We all do. Me, Nellie, and Sandy. How do you know?”
“Citizen Lieutenant Sandy has offered you places in 1RR.”
“For real? No way. Yes.” That tinny little turd. Away for half a day, and this. 1RR, first recon and rescue, was the best of the best.
“I am Citizen Sergeant Max. This is Citizen Corporal Dave. You will stay with us please.”
“Sure.” Max? Max, captain of the Hoo-Rahs? It was hard to tell Gooch apart, they all looked the same. Mind you this was the first Gooch she had stood next to. The first one she’d seen in real life. Maybe it was.
“Sure, Sergeant. You are in the army now.”
“Sure, Sergeant. What about Nellie?”
“Recruit Nelson will be in the army once this game is over. I want to watch.”
Probably was that Max then.
A penalty. Against the colonel’s men. Rubbish. He had it coming. That was hardly dangerous at all.
Kick slotted. 0-2.
And then just before half-time Nellie scored! He’d become bored out on the wing and had come infield. Fifteen meters from the try line he’d received the ball from dummy-half and grubber kicked, raced through, stepping three defenders, scooped the ball up as it bounced off the posts and dived to score.
But no, the referee awarded a penalty to the Alphas. Unbelievable. He signaled offside, man in front. No way Nellie was in front of the kicker. He was the kicker.
At half-time, Jane followed Sergeant Max and the corporal onto the field to listen to the team-talk.
“There’s no way Nellie was in front.”
“Ref said he had to be. Said no-one’s that fast.”
Then there was some official beside them. “You can’t be here. You, you’re suspended. You two, players and team officials only. Move along.”
Max looked at the official. Jane was pleased she wasn’t that guy. “Go away. No-one without officer’s pips tells me where I can be. Recruit Jane is with me. She stays too. Go away, or I will let the citizen corporal shoot you…Officials, never could stand them. He probably pulls the wings off butterflies and tortures small animals… Corporal, if he is still there by the time you have drawn your pistol, shoot him.”
Corporal Dave drew his pistol. The official moved away, quickly, and started writing furiously in a notebook he pulled from a pocket.
The coach recognized Sergeant Max.
“Boys, watching us today we have Sergeant Max of the ‘Hoo-Rahs’, the 1RR team. This weekend it’s their big game against the Defenders, General Dean’s boys. You got any words for us sarge?”
“Are you sure coach? This is your team and they are doing well.”
“I’ve done all I can do. These boys are playing well, but we can’t get the ball wide. We’re down by two points”
“Thank you coach.” Oh yeah, Max had things to say. “Gentlemen, you have these Alphas where you want them. They are compressed in the middle thanks to your forwards. Great work lads. Good hard, straight running. Backs, you shall try the scatter off the first scrum. Do you know the move?”
They did. It was famous.
“Recruit Nelson, I want you to go left, where they expect you to go. Make sure their left side defense is set. Then you must be outside the right center by the time he is ready to deliver. Right wing, you will block run outside the center, drawing their fullback onto you. That leaves recruit Nelson one on one with the winger. Are you fast enough to make this move work, recruit Nelson?”
“Yeah, Easy as.”
“Backs, go, work this out.”
“Forwards, to me. … You are being drawn into a fight in the contact area every time. That is giving their defensive line time to get set. I want you to fall into tackles. As soon as you are touched, go to ground and play the ball. Speed the game up. They will have trouble getting back in time.”
Don’t fight the tackles. What on the New World was that all about? Jane was not impressed. You always fight the tackle. That was key. Draw in defenders to create space out wide.
The second half was great. Nellie scored the first try, untouched, after the first scatter move worked perfectly. The Beta’s hooker scored after a quick play the ball when one of the Alpha forwards turned away as he tried to get back the ten meters.
Or not. Jane thought that could be why Sergeant Max is captain of the Hoo-Rahs and she is on the sideline at a school-kid game.
Then five minutes from full time, with the game won, a quick play the ball meant Nellie got the ball twenty meters out, with only the fullback and his opposing wing in front of him. The wing was just that fraction inside. His right shoulder in line with Nellie’s right. Whacked him. Shimmied in. When the tackler was committed, bang, stepped out and gone. The poor guy finished up on his backside.
“Nellie, Nellie, ..” the chant from the sidelines. That guy nearly made the tackle. The fullback had no chance. Nellie was outside and ran around him. Gone. Try scored in the corner. The Alpha loosie came across far too late to prevent the try but he dropped his knee into Nellie’s back, right on the kidney, after Nellie had scored.
The teams went wild. The crowd went wild. The fights were spectacular. By the time Sergeant Max got there, no hurry, he walked, Jane wanted him to run - Nellie was hurt, there would have been a hundred people involved in a dozen nasty little skirmishes.
A Gooch is a very calming thing. He gathered the team around him, tapped various supporters on the shoulder and told them to leave. They turned around all aggro, ready for a fight. They left. Quickly. Finally he arrived over Nellie, picked him up, and started to walk off the field.
The referee was blowing his whistle, frantically blowing his whistle. Sergeant Max walked back to halfway. He lay Nellie on the ground in front of the chairs in the hutch, and spoke to the team.
“Gentlemen. Five minutes to play. Act as if this never happened. They’ll be expecting retaliation. Surprise them. Get out there and prepare to receive the kick-off. Hold the ball, and keep them in the corner on their goal-line. Don’t worry about scoring.”
Nobody argued. Slowly the crowd noticed that the colonel’s boys were ready to get on with it. They moved away from the corner and down the sidelines. After a while even the referee realized that he was back in control. He signaled the try, and sin-binned the Senator High loosie, who walked very slowly to the seat next to the timekeeper, between the two team hutches and in front of Sergeant Max, where he had to sit out his time off.
The fullback missed the conversion, but three tries to none was a pumping. The colonel’s men won.
Straight after the game, the loosie stood up and walked over to Nellie, who was sitting in a chair. The team was on the field shaking hands, and for the moment Nellie was alone. If you count being there with a Gooch a meter or so away, alone.
“I’m sorry bro’. I was just frustrated. I might have hurt you bad.” He stuck out his hand, and Nellie shook it, with a smile. “Allgood. Game’s over now.” Typical Nellie, what happens on the field stays on the field. Bullshit, according to Jane.
Sergeant Max stepped up beside Nellie.
“You are Joshua Thomas.”
“You want to join the army?”
“I sure do.”
“I will see what I can do. I have a friend in the Reservation Defense Corps.”
‘Thank you, but why? After what I did?”
“We do not blame a dog for barking. Nobody likes a smartass, and on the field recruit Nellie is a smartass. It took courage to apologize. I would not have done that.”
The conversation was stopped as all eyes turned to the black suburban, driven by Corporal Dave, and crossing the field. Players moved out of the way.
“Recruit Nelson, can you walk to the vehicle?”
“No way these guys are going to see you carrying me anymore. Anyways, what’s this recruit stuff?”
Jeez, Nellie, it’s obvious you were hurt. But Jane knew it was a waste of time saying anything. It would just make him worse. He’d probably decide to run back to wherever they were going.
Sandy had watched the game from the helicopter as it flew figure eights over the field, high enough to seem like a drone from the ground. The screens were amazing.
On the flight back to the city, CG Dean was being dropped off first, the general reminded Sandy of the dinner date at the Senator’s. Eighteen hundred hours for eighteen thirty. Full dress uniform.
“Gunny, can you get the lieutenant settled into his new quarters, and rested a little, before dinner? He looks a tad tired.”
What new quarters?
“Yes, General. We are onto that.”
The house, the new quarters, was allgood. On the outskirts of the city, somewhere Sandy had never been to before. Shane explained that at all times between eight and ten of his men would be here with him. The lawns and trees had been positioned with defense in mind. And, he was neighbors with the Senator, with Luke, and with Red the chief medical officer.
Waiting for him in a downstairs lounge, with a Gooch sergeant and a Choo corporal, were Jane and Nellie. Nellie still in his league gears.
“Sandy, what’s up, man? They say you joined the army, and put in the word for us.”
That was Jane. White girl Jane. Scrawny Jane, with her tattoos.
“You in fancy dress?”
That was Nellie. Tongan Nellie. The best rugby league player they had. Nellie was a bit of a FOB, Fresh Off the Boat. Jane and Nellie were his mates, both of them.
‘You guys want to join the army?’
“I am Citizen Sergeant Max Gooch, Lieutenant. They have been recruited. You chose them.”
“Heck, yeah. So how did your citizenship exam go? I reckon you must have passed?”
Not much got past Nellie. ‘There were no dragons. Not even a lion. You were way off.’
“Shall I shows them founder?”
‘Thank you Corporal.’
On the big screen at the back of the room, the film ran again. Sandy watched as he and Gunny Shane entered the gym. He watched the explosion. He saw himself charge the gunman, and he saw himself getting shot. This time, he also saw himself lying on the floor, looking really quite, well, dead. He saw one of the Choo throw something to Shane. Oh, it was a defibrillator. He’d seen them before. Then he saw Shane put the paddles to his chest, and his body jump as it was shocked, and jump again when it was shocked again.
“Jeez, Sandy, tough exam. They killed you.” Yep, not much got past Nellie.
‘I didn’t know that part.’
“It is already legendary, Founder. Downloaded twenty-two thousand four hundred and sixty-two times since morning. None of us, Choo or Gooch, would have done that.”
“We are not as stupid as you, Citizen Lieutenant. A Gooch would have stood still and then looked around to see where the other Gooch were. A Choo would have run to safety and started screaming. Only a human, and very few of them, would have charged the attacker without thinking.”
‘So, that’s bad Gunny?’
“No. That’s why you are our leader. And that’s why Citizen Corporal Afa has been boasting to all his mates about our new lieutenant.”
‘Oh. So what happens with Nellie and Jane now?’
“Recruit Nelson will shower. Both will change into uniform. There is paperwork.”
Sandy’s quarters were upstairs. Afa would sleep on the same floor. So would Nellie and Jane. Shane was keen that Sandy lie down and rest for a few hours. “The dinner will be a formal occasion – long and tiring.”
Sandy was going to argue. To tell CMGS Shane that he was allgood to keep going. But Shane turned and left the room, shutting the door after him. For an instant Sandy felt like, well not going for a snooze. But only for an instant. Then he lay down.