Tales From the Lance Corporal Underground
AN: WOOHOO I CAN FINALLY RELEASE THE FIRST CHAPTER OF MY NEXT BOOK!
It was raining, a light but persistent drizzle that soaks clothing through and through. Though the humidity and heat of Spring in a swamp permeated everything, the rain somehow made it even more uncomfortable. A thick silence lay over the darkness with the only exception being a very faint sing-song tone that could be heard in the distance, the sounds of a formation run in full swing. But beyond that, the base was still sleeping the grumpy snooze of Marines who weren’t really ready to face the new day yet.
Down a darkened street lay the building. Illuminated only by a single, sickly orange street lamp, it appeared that whatever architect had been responsible for the building’s design had really phoned it in on that day. It was a purely functional concrete rectangle with concrete stairs leading to a concrete landing that gave entrance to tired workers with no appreciation for cinder block motifs. Bright green patches of grass were only just managing to survive thanks to SgtMaj’s lifelong ordinance against pedestrians on his lawn, enforced at the point of a knife-hand.
On the ground, pressed up against the construction in what looked like a boring game of the-floor-is-lava, they sat. Shoulder to shoulder, lined up in a neat row, taking advantage of the mere six inches of protection against the elements provided by a high up ledge, Marines quietly waited for things to kick off and get worse. No one was talking. It was far too early in the morning to exercise one’s vocal chords and anyhow, they would be forced from their sulky silence any minute by the platoon sergeant.
Klobi stared blankly at her green running shorts, moving her gaze to the white running shoes and socks. Well, they used to be white. The platoon sergeant’s enthusiasm for running on low-impact surfaces, i.e. grass had fixed that right up. With a mix of exhaustion and low-grade anxiety about the immediate future, she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her green t-shirt. Should she have gotten up a bit earlier and shaved her legs before coming out here? Then again, does anyone really care about prickly stubble after a couple miles? Whatever was going to happen next was entirely out of her hands. The gentle susurration of Marines shifting around in a futile quest for comfort was the only sound. Oh, and the rain.
Softly, from the front of the line, someone muttered, “Yip”
A full second passed. Then another green-clad Marine repeated, “Yiiiip.”
“Yip yip yip…” chattered the next guy, faintly, as if the sound might be giving too much away. But Klobi could hear the wall of silence developing cracks.
“Yipyipyipyipyip” repeated the girl next to her. With no more words exchanged, the whole line suddenly broke out in the monosyllabic repetition.
“YEEEEIP, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip”, multiple voices joined in, all out of rhythm with one another. Then the base section at the very end started with their own contribution.
“UHHH huh, UHHH huh!” Within seconds, a disjointed cacophony was in full swing.
“YEEEEIP, yip, yip, yip, (UHHH huh, UHHH huh), yipyipyip, YEEEEIP…”
This went on for nearly two minutes and then, just like that, they fell silent. An intruder had been detected. A voice from off in the parking lot barked, “COMM PLATOON! FORM UP!”
Uggh. It was time to PT.
A couple of hours later, the gang were sitting in the chow hall picking at their government issued breakfasts. Today’s meal was low grade hash browns, eggs, fried ham slices, and slimy grey goop with chunks in it that the cooks claimed was meat from some named domesticated animal despite appearances. It didn’t look any more appetizing under the painfully bright fluorescent lights. The hall filled with the sounds of competing televisions tuned into the morning news shows and complaining Marines.
"I swear they put saltpeter in the food." Crannick muttered darkly, poking at his scrambled eggs with the cheap tin fork. "Every time we come here for breakfast, my junk don't work for the rest of the day."
"What, like you can't pee?" Tran asked around a mouthful of food. "Because that sounds like you should hit medical." He stabbed a piece of bacon that shattered on impact.
"No! No, I can pee just fine." Crannick grumbled.
"Why is this our breakfast convo, for fuck sake?" Klobi hated how they couldn't even get early mornings right. She smeared jam on toast, preferring that over anything that was cooked in the chow hall kitchens. At least she knew what was in it.
Ignoring her, Crannick pressed on. "I mean I should probably ask doc for some Viagra if I have to keep eating these disgusting eggs."
"So you're saying..." Klobi started to grin.
“Shut up, Klo.”
"I know a guy who can get Viagra for you. Cheap too, so you don't have to tell doc anything." Dawson contributed graciously. “He gets all kinds of stuff.”
"...Crannick is a broke dick?" Klobi looked quite chuffed with her own jokes as usual.
"It's not funny, Klobi!" He turned Dawson. "And is that even legal? Can we buy pills?"
"Long as you are quiet about it. Lots of Marines do." Dawson made a face as he drank some of the weird tasting milk the chow hall dispensed daily. He was the only person Klobi had ever seen actually drink it.
“Oh yeah? Who’s selling it?” Tran asked, entirely unaware of the street rules about naming names. Speaking names could catch the attention of the blue falcons and no one was having any of that if they could help it. Dawson shot him a dirty look and kept eating.
"If you pissed your pants, could we call the resulting puddle Lake Flaccid?"
"I'm leaving, Klobi had no idea how a penis works." As Crannick collected his tray, the others snickered. " Thanks, Dawson." With that, he left to dump his trash.
His departure lulled the conversation briefly. The shop report time was drawing closer no matter how they tried to ignore it. The brief window between PT and work was never enough.
"Who's he trying to perform for anyway? The Green Weenie doesn’t care if his thing works." Tran finished the last of his coffee and stood up. "Time hack?"
Dawson checked his watch, "0745. Let's get going."
They rose together from the benches and made their way out of the chow hall. As they approached the area to dump their trays and make their exit, Klobi saw a small, bleak table that had been set up ceremonially towards the front of the cafeteria. There was one like it in every mess hall in the Marine Corps, no matter where they were. The tablecloth was black. A single white candle sat unlit in the middle of the tiny dining surface and a single chair was sat on the right side. A neatly folded black cloth napkin lay beside a single white plate that was always empty. A bread plate held one single slice of lemon with a salt shaker sitting adjacent to the plate. There was never silverware beside the plates. No point. No one ever sat there and no one ever would. It would be sacrilege.
She took her eyes off the somber scene to toss the last of her uneaten eggs in the industrial waste collectors and stack her tray for washing before following her friends out the door.
As Klobi climbed the steps to the shop, she winced. The run that morning had made her legs sore already and she’d probably be barely able to walk by evening. But she’d be damned if she’d let that show when the others were bounding up the stairs two at a time.
“What are you all in such a hurry for?” she griped.
At the top of the stairs, Tran held the door as Dawson and Klobi went in. Compared to the muggy, suffocating air outside, the air conditioning hit like winter. Despite her muscle aches, Klobi sighed with pleasure. Air conditioning reminded her that it could always be a lot worse. She could’ve gone infantry and missed out on the joys of civilization for the entire enlistment.
Just before entering the shop, they paused at the wall of tiny metal lockers. Taking her phone out, Klobi set it on silent and then dropped it in one of the top lockers, closing the door and taking the key. In accordance with some universal law on abandoned cell phones, someone’s locked up device was playing a ring tone at max volume inside it’s locker. The owner had probably thought the ring tone was clever and individual, but it sounded damn silly on repeat as whomever was trying to call him couldn’t take a hint.
“Sounds like Hileman’s phone.” Dawson tried to get a good look at the locker number.
“How do you know? Besides the shit taste in music, I mean.” Klobi pointed to the offending locker as she was closer.
“What are you talking about? This tune was a banger.”
“Was. Oh well, guess we found our lunch flyer for the day.”
Anyone who didn’t put their device on silent became responsible for the shop’s chow run later. They’d have to take everyone’s order and then suffer the trip to the PX where the fast food joints were. This was also in accordance with universal laws that when a Marine catches another Marine slipping up, there will be some sort of fine levied informally. Especially if the violation was leaving their email open while they went to the head. Ooo-boy, that one was always a hit with the shop.
Stripped of all their devices, the three went to the door and swiped in. The data center might be air conditioned but it was also locked down against unauthorized entry. The Marines who worked in there, like many POG shops, treated their access as a rare privilege. More importantly, there was always internet.
They spread out to their separate desks, positioned all over the watch floor as they each jockeyed for some privacy. There was no other way to pretend to be doing work and if another Marine was sitting right next to you all day it ruined the illusion. Tran disappeared to the vault, his happy place in an otherwise confusing world.
“What’s the deal with Tran?” Dawson asked. “He’s cool and all but I think he might be gay.”
“Impossible” snapped Crannick. “He has boot bands on.”
Dawson’s expression changed with mounting confusion.
“What do boot bands have to do with anything?”
Like any role playing game, and the Marine Corps during peace time bears a great resemblance to a bad one, Marines ascribed certain intangible qualities to otherwise boring (but required) uniform items. For example, Marines who had to wear red patches on their cammies were considered to have AIDS and boot bands eliminated any possibility that your sex life leaned towards homosexuality. The famous Marine dress blues gave the wearer +10 to sex appeal but that was nerfed by -20 when they inevitably started talking.
“He’s a jay-dub, Dawson. Poor kid probably doesn’t even know there’s more than one gender.” Klobi stretched as she talked, making her voice crack a bit when she got to the best part of her back muscles. “Oooooh gods, that’s good.”
Tran was in fact a Jehovah’s Witness. Or at least his family was. The Marine Corps was coming as quite a shock for him.
“Why do you care anyway? You trying to hit that?” Crannick leered at Dawson. “Forget your own bootbands for moment there?”
Dawson just shook his head and laughed. “He’s just…weird. I don’t know anyone back home that’s that innocent out of diapers. But he’s able to absolutely smoke everyone at PT, so yeah, I guess, who cares?”
Back in the barracks that evening, Klobi lay sprawled across her rack, thumbing through a paperback book. Her laptop was open streaming some YouTube channel for background noise, something she rarely did without headphones. This time, however, there was no roommate to bother. She didn’t have the room to herself exactly, although there were so few women in the battalion that single occupancy was not uncommon. It was just that her roommate, Sullivan, was dating another lance corporal, LCpl Hileman, down the hall. Hileman’s roommate had recently rotated out to another duty station and the barracks manager had yet to assign him a new one. That gave Hileman the rare privilege of having his own room, albeit temporarily. From what Klobi had heard, Hileman was using every available means of persuasion short of blunt force trauma and bomb threats to keep this state of affairs going.
The main benefit to Klobi was that, since Hileman’s room was private for now, Sullivan rarely slept in Klobi’s room.
Sully was a nice enough girl, although a bit naive in Klobi’s opinion. She had the look of a strawberry. Bright red hair, chubby oval face, freckles, pale skin that was prone to blushing at even mildly saucy comments, and bright green eyes, Sullivan looked way too innocent to be a Marine. Klobi knew better. The girl swore profusely, albeit in her squeaky high-pitched voice. It was like listening to a drunken chipmunk who’d caught his missus chipmunk with extra nuts.
Klobi shifted in her bed and tried to get back into her book. It was rough, considering she had just read the same paragraph four times but had not gotten any closer to understanding it. She flipped back a couple of pages and started over.
“In the universe, all things trend towards higher and higher states of entropy. Low entropy can be described as a closed system with a very neat order to things and little change, but if you break the system, entropy begins to increase almost immediately…”
She yawned. It was unfair that she so desperately wanted to be more knowledgeable and well educated while at the same time being as easily distractible as a kitten in a yarn factory. No sooner had she read one sentence than her own mind began formulating examples of the idea, until she was daydreaming and an hour later had forgotten the book entirely.
What did entropy have to do with anything? Well, it was pretty damn certain that just as soon as she had gotten things settled and neatly ordered that circumstance would lob a fragmentation grenade into the mix and then giggle with anticipation. Was it the fate of all ordered things to be utterly destroyed by chance? Was chaos never going to ultimately wipe out all possibility of order and sense? What, when you get right down to it, is in it for the universe? Is slam-dancing its way to surly oblivion the only method of locomotion that universes know?
Klobi sighed and closed the book, tossing it to the other side of the bed. Maybe being intelligent had a too crazy a syllabus to be worth it. It wasn’t doing her much good anyway. The more thoughtful she became, the less she fit in with her squad. Crannick, Dawson, and Tran weren’t the kind of folk to be impressed by quotations from Faust. They were more likely to stare in awe and wonder if Klobi were to pee standing up or knock someone out. She started to feel like their low standards were either telling her a major fact about people or else she was missing the real path to wisdom through controlled expectations and grotesque physical humor.
It seemed nature had designed Klobi to not fit in anyway. She dug around under her bed for her locker where she kept small personal items and put the book away. It was late and sleep would come and give her that wonderful feeling of eyeball ache that meant she’d be unconscious soon. No point struggling to understand eternity without its consent, she thought. It probably could not care less about the comprehensions of a hairless ape sitting in a swamp. Anyway, she thought, what, when you get right down to it, is in it for me?
She decided to visit the smoke pit before getting ready for bed. If there was anything going on, that’s where she’d learn about it. Besides, the odds were almost certain that the guys would be out there too.
In the darkness outside, the outline of a wooden gazebo that served as the barracks smoke pit was cast in the fluorescent lights from the barracks rooms. It stood at the far end of the courtyard, providing a vantage point where Marines could see the catwalks, sidewalks, and open windows of at least three floors of the building while they ingested their tobacco of choice. Two old instant coffee cans were placed at opposing corners of the entrance for butt disposal and one of them was charred from a small fire in the recent past. On her way out there, Klobi had knocked on Crannick’s door to invite him to the pit with her. He almost always said yes.
"I think he's up to no good." Klobi scowled. She lounged on one of the benches, pausing to admire the profane graffiti etched into the seat. Phallic fascination knew no bounds in the Marines. Maybe it was like ancient Rome, where dicks pointed the way to the good times.
"Huh? He's like the chilliest SNCO in the company." Crannick had an annoying habit of trying to see the best in their leadership. “What did he do to you?”
"I just think," Klobi sniffed, "that he's a wolf in sheep's clothing."
There was a slightly too long pause.
"What the fuck are you talking about? Is this your idea of some sort of zoological conspiracy?" Crannick really hated when Klobi got metaphorical.
Klobi rolled her eyes. "I'm saying that- "
"Hey, either of y'all got a smoke?" A new Marine joined them in the smoke pit and Crannick graciously offered him a menthol. As the lighter flared, Klobi could see it was LCpl Dawson.
"What's up, Dawson?" She took a pull from her own cigarette.
"Living the dream." His southern drawl was even thicker with sarcasm. "Sup with you guys?"
"Klobi here is getting awfully agrarian about laundry day. " Crannick snickered.
Dawson frowned. "What? What’s that mean?"
"I fucking hate you." Klobi sighed.
"What's wrong with her?" Dawson asked Crannick.
"She's been drinking the tap water." Camp Lejeune's tap water was legendary for its malignant properties and the on-base water treatment plant served every barracks, leading to some disturbing speculation on its potential as a source of chemical poisoning.
"Hey Doc!" Crannick hollered to the corpsman, Doc (PO3) Ellis, who had just emerged from the barracks. "You got anything in your bag for an idiom addiction? Klobi needs a fix stat!"
"I might actually stab you, Cranberry." Klobi got her own back by occasionally reminding him that his nickname was a fruit. “We’re talking about GySgt Castor, Dawson. Crannick seems to think he’s a swell guy.”
“No, I don’t. Stop putting words in my mouth.”
“Anything to shut you up.”
“Look, I agree that GySgt Castor is kind of a bastard. He’s just not as big a bastard as you think he is.”
Klobi privately reflected that Crannick was sort of right. GySgt Castor wasn’t a bastard, as such. It was more like he had the general temperament and charm of a demonically possessed wood chipper with a personality disorder. That was fine as far as the Marine Corps was concerned, but it was also a few steps beyond ‘bastard’. She couldn’t fathom why Crannick, or anyone at all besides GySgt Castor’s mother, would ever defend the man.
“He doesn’t sign you up for duty every single time the roster comes around.” Klobi snapped. “Or fail your room inspection for having dust on a pineapple.” She added, wondering to herself how one dusts a pineapple in the first place.
“Well, get good at the job then. If you’re crucial to the shop, you might find you’re less of a target for being voluntold.” Crannick flicked his ashes. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“I’ve had barracks duty, chow hall duty, battalion duty, and been sent to motor T to do preventive maintenance on the one humvee we have, all in the last six months.” Klobi took a drag. “No one is that big of a shit bird.”
“Don’t take it personally, Klobi. Crannick’s shit at the job too. He only gets by because he can run good.” Dawson smirked. “If we ever have to retreat, Crannick will be leading the way.”
Doc Ellis wandered up to join them in the dark of the gazebo. He pulled out a tin of shewing tobacco and began to pack it industriously. “How’s everyone doing?” He took a big pinch from the can and began lining his lower lip with a wad the size of a slug. It looked just as appealing.
“Hey Doc. We’re good.” Klobi grinned, thinking back to breakfast. “Actually, Crannick here has some questions for you regarding his-”
“OH BOY, would you look at the time? We’ve got PT tomorrow, y’all. Guess I’d better head back to my room!” Crannick stood up from the bench and shot her one more dirty look as he was leaving.
“Y’all need to quit smoking.” Doc Ellis said, pausing to spit into a reused plastic beverage bottle he always had with him. “It’s really bad for you.”
“Thanks Doc, I’ll forget you said that. Night all.” With that, Crannick departed, leaving the others to trickle away on their own.
“Yeah, that’s it for me too. Good night Doc, Dawson. See y’all tomorrow.” Klobi stretched and yawned, stumbling back to her room for the night.
And somewhere, two burly strong men shared an aggressive handshake and immediately exploded in splooge supernovas of epic scale.
The End. (For now)
 Their proper name is ‘landing support specialists’
 It does not matter if you then attend a sixty person same sex orgy, so long as you wore boot bands while you did it.