Chapter Three

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Meals were the highlights of a typical day for the Marines, because eating was a brief escape from their otherwise boring routine. As the others queued up in the chow line, Reza and Eustus read over the standing orders posted on the communal board which hung at the aft entrance to the galley.

"So," Eustus summarized, "we're basically stuck in Marine Country except for damage control drills where we learn to help the squids keep the ship from blowing up, or when general quarters sounds and we have to hop in our armor and do God knows what. Reading between the lines from the captain's orders, we're basically in an oversized brig."

"It appears that way," Reza said, unable to keep the disappointment from his voice. "I must confess that this is not exactly what I was expecting."

"At least we have PT with Stalin every morning except for Sunday to keep us entertained," Eustus added with a grimace as he read over the rather imaginative physical tortures that lay in store for the coming week. "That should be interesting."

"It will probably be the closest you will ever want to come to combat," Reza told him. Leaning closer, he pointed to a series of quotes from the Holy Bible, one for each day of the week, that had been posted by Stalin. "What are these?"

"Daily devotions to help us get through our trials and tribulations?" Eustus shook his head in bewilderment. "I never would've figured him for a godly man. Luckily for us, he should be out of action for a bit, so maybe Lieutenant Ortiz can—"

"No," Reza said, turning around to face the passageway that came from the forward part of the ship where sickbay was located. While he had kept his second sight on Ortiz, watching over her like an alien guardian angel, he could sense Stalin's approach. "We are not that lucky."

"Comrades!" Stalin grinned as he strode forward like they were all the best of friends. "Look. Look!" He held up his right hand, the fingers of which Reza had broken earlier.

Eustus tensed. Reza put a restraining hand on his arm.

"The ship's surgeon did not put it in a cast," Stalin explained. He flexed the hand slightly, showing a circular wound patched with liquid bandage just below the first knuckle of each finger. "He set the fingers, then drove thick surgical steel pins through the broken bones. Stahl, da? Stalin...steel!" He clapped Reza on the shoulder. "I should have you break the fingers of my other hand so he can make them all the same, yes?" He leaned closer and said in a soft voice, "And maybe I will let you do that after this hand has healed, and before I skin you alive."

With another gleaming smile, he playfully slapped Eustus on the cheek, then went to take his place at the head of the chow line, cutting in front of everyone else while showing off his new enhancement.

"You know," Eustus said, considering, "Thorella was a terrible human being. Evil, even. But he wasn't a lunatic. This guy is bad and a nutcase."

"It is all an act for their benefit," Reza told him, nodding his head toward the other Marines who crowded around their platoon sergeant. "He is not a...nutcase, as you called him. He is a ferocious predator in a chameleon skin, probably more dangerous than Thorella. Do not ever forget that."

"I won't, believe me," Eustus said. "I'm just glad you're here. If I had to deal with him and the rest of these jokers on my own..." He shook his head.

"We are brothers, you and I. We shall always be so." With a grimace, he added, "Come, let us see if we can get something to eat this time without Davis spoiling our appetites."

"Amen to that."

They joined the end of the line, which seemed to move at a glacial pace as food was served down the dumb waiter from the main kitchen.

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