Chapter 1

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The setting sun had yet to tame the bristling Kuwaiti heat. It crept through the crevices of my uniform, dampening my undershirt. I was panting and running late by the time I reached the door to the Operation's tent.

The smokers' pit was unusually quiet behind me. I let it occupy my mind a mere second before punching in the code to the door.

As I opened the door a notch, I heard Captain Rouse shout, "I gave you one job!" at someone inside. His usually mellow voice cut like blades into my ears.

I cast a wide search for anybody outside who could give me a heads-up about what was going on inside. No one. Sand tinted the setting sun, eroding the flimsy erected buildings and the stone slab T-walls that scattered in some formation of a city. It felt as if no one had been out here, but a slow burning, crushed cigarette bud on top a lopsided picnic table told me otherwise. I sucked in a sharp breath—I was going in blind— and pushed the door all the way open. The squealing hinges broadcasted my presence. The yelling cut off. I eased my way deeper into the office.

We worked in a massive tent with a vaulted roof. Plywood sectioned off the place for different uses, but most of it was an open work area. It caused the area to smell of saw-dust. Spying my shift lead, Sergeant Newton, and my battle buddy, Specialist Turner, in the commander's line of fire dashed any hopes I had that this did not involve me. Day shifters moseyed elsewhere, eyes on laptops, ears on the verbal bashing.

What had we done wrong now? Our shift hadn't even started. I dragged my feet to a spot beside Turner. In the micro-second glance we shared, I gave a wide-eyed roll to include the entire situation, as if to say, 'what happened?' In response, he pinched his lips into a scowl, shaking his head slightly. We probably didn't deserve the captain's wrath. For the past week we'd walked on egg shells around the commander, whose nerves seemed shot.

"Specialist Ty finally wants to grace us with her presence," Captain Rouse said, spittle flying everywhere.

"Sorry for being late, Sir," I mumbled.

He loomed above me in presence alone, not being much of a tall guy.

Thankfully, he didn't press the matter as he paced our three-person line. "Do you understand what the problem is?"

Not really. We fueled the generators on time. There wasn't an incident last night. We logged everything per protocol. His gaze snapped over mine, and I straightened tenfold. A lack of customs wasn't going to do me in either.

"I asked for one thing to be done. One thing."

His boots made a distinctive sound as he paced on the wooden floor. Clack. Clack. Clack. His pause went on for eternity as I wracked my brain for this one thing. Clack. Clack. The stupid sound filled my mind. Who wore boots that clacked? Each additional clack worked at my agitation. Clack... Clack.

"I asked for the logs to be computerized."

I sagged forward. That was it? The big issue? The catastrophizing thoughts ran loose, taking the tension buildup in my shoulders. In the back of my mind, I recalled some mentioning of that. It wasn't really an order, though. More of a do it in your free—

"You are soldiers. Start acting like it!"

His words made me jolt. "Ty," he said, and the amount of anger piled into my name had me squirming where I stood. "I want you to report for duty thirty minutes prior to shift change from now on. This isn't the first time you've been late."

"Sir?" I reeled in the change of subject. "My neighbors kept me up—"

"—No excuses."

His glare drilled into my skin. The temperature around me skyrocketed into the hundreds. Not even the rattling AC cooled my scalding cheeks. "Roger that."

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