The massive transport plane dropped lightly down on the tarmac. Immediately, the double doors at its rear opened and a ramp extended down to the pavement. Automated cargo containers drove themselves out of the huge cargo bay and lined up next to two dozen others already in place. At the other end of the line of containers, a single boxy unit drove itself to the underside of a Wampanoag JR-17 helicopter, which grabbed it around the top, and as the enormous double rotors whirled into operation, the aircraft shot up into the sky, turned west, and disappeared into the clouds.
Master Sergeant Lucas Smith jogged across the blisteringly hot tarmac to the new container. Specialist Ochodiez followed at his heel, as she almost always did.
“This crate is no different than the last two dozen that have come through,” she said. “The manifest has been validated.”
“I just like to do a spot check.”
“You didn’t check any of the others arriving today.”
He stopped and turned his head to glare at her. “That’s why it’s called a spot check.”
Reaching the cargo container, he tapped his security code into the control panel. With a swoosh, the access door just behind the front left corner slid open. Lucas stuck his head inside. In the dim green light, he could make out eighty soldiers, seated in rows, stiff and unmoving. They wore camouflage fatigues and had full packs on their laps. Over their right shoulders were slung military issue automatic rifles, and on their heads were combat helmets mounted with multidirectional video cameras. The closest soldier turned his head toward Lucas.
“This is a spot inspection. Report.”
“I am Daffodil Soldier serial number 99261-GPR-055-RLP-G9933. My software is up to date. We are Platoons one and two, Able Company, First Regiment, 95th Infantry Division.”
“Do you have a name, soldier?”
“Call me Joe.”
“Good luck, Joe.”
Lucas pulled his head back out and pressed the button to close the container.
“Everything in order, Master Sergeant?”
“Yes, Eliza. Everything is in order, just as you knew it would be.”
She flashed him a broad grin, and they started back across the tarmac to the base shipping office. Though he’d been out in the sun less than five minutes, Lucas’s uniform was soaked through with perspiration. His Daffodil subordinate however, looked as fresh and as cool as she would have standing in a refridgeerated meat locker.
“Do you have plans for this evening, Master Sergeant?”
“I’m taking Haruka to dinner.”
“She seems like a lovely girl. Is this the big night?”
Lucas stopped just outside the office door and turned to look into Eliza’s piercing green eyes.
“What do you mean ‘the big night’? And I didn’t know you had ever met Haruka.”
“You’ve been dating for several years now. I assumed at some point you would decide to propose. And I saw her picture on your profile page.”
“God damn it! Is it too much to ask for a little bit of privacy?”
“With regards to anything you post online, yes, it is asking too much.”
They entered the office and had just sat down at their desks when Captain Spear stepped into the office from a back room. Lucas, Eliza, and Specialist Domrey, who had been typing reports, stood at attention.
“Smith, what were you doing out on the tarmac?”
“Just doing a spot check on the containers, sir.”
“Was there a problem with the manifests?”
“It was just a spot check, sir,” said Eliza.
Spear didn’t look at her. “I don’t want anything to slow our deployment.”
“I didn’t hold anything up, sir. The container I checked was well down the list. It’s still out there, as a matter of fact.”
“No lip, Sergeant, and no more spot checks. No physical examinations unless there is some reason to suspect a problem.”