“Honey, can you say hi to Uncle Mikey?”

The young girl on the holo-vid toed the ground nervously, not looking directly at the camera. “Hi, Uncle Mikey.”

“Now say ‘At ease, Captain Uncle Mikey,” the voice holding the camera said.

She giggled. “At ease, Cappan Uncle Mikey.” Captain Stone felt a smile creep on to his face as he watched his three-year old niece.

The camera turned around. The holograms blurred into a mess of light until a woman’s face came in to view.

“So, everything’s good here on Earth,” his sister told him. “Oh, and Mom wants me to bug you about finding somebody. She says Carol needs some cousins to play with.” She smiled impishly. “Bet you thought you were off the hook when Carol was born, didn’t you? So go bond with a hot, stoically beautiful female officer over killing some Greenies or something.

She kissed her fingers, then held them up to the camera lens. “We all miss you back here, and we’re all very proud of you. Oh, and when you send a reply, could you get some footage of Rocky in there? I know there’s restrictions on what you can send, but Carol loves seeing him. Okay, lots of love, and go give those Martian…” She paused, looking off camera. “Jerks some heck.”

The video winked out, and Captain Stone sat back in his chair, smiling. He wasn’t the sort of person who had doubts about fighting for his country, but his sister’s reminders of exactly what he was defending always gave him a warm feeling.

“You’ve got a fan, Rocky,” he told the TIGER curled up next to his desk. Rocky looked up with a quizzical chirping sound, then suddenly turned to look at the door.

“Come in,” Captain Stone said, before whoever Rocky had noticed could knock. It unsettled most people, but he maintained that it was a good reminder of the more subtle levels of a TIGER unit’s sensors. It was also a good deal of fun, but he’d never admit that on the record.

Staff Sargent Eric Donovan and Private Paul Leo entered the office, snapping to attention.

“At ease, men,” Stone said. “I believe you two have the night off, so what can I do for you?”

Sargent Donovan stepped forward. “I need your permission to use the ansible communicator, sir.”

The captain frowned. “I thought I had already cleared that.”

“Official regulations require me to present your signature.”

“All right,” he said, digging some forms out of his desk drawer. “Why didn’t we take care of this before?”

Donovan looked around. “Permission to speak freely, sir.”

“Granted.”

“The engineers usually don’t bother with the signature, since an officer has to schedule the time slot in the first place. I think Lieutenant Davis is leaning on them. You know how he feels about the TIGER units.”

Captain Stone sighed. “I can understand throwing red tape at me, but interfering with a man talking to his wife on Valentine’s Day.” He scribbled a note at the end of the form. “Make sure the engineers give you your full fifteen minutes, even if it messes up their schedule, and tell Eileen I said hi.”

Sargent Donovan took the paper with a smile. “Thank you, sir. I’ll be sure to pass that on.”

“Dismissed, Sargent.” Donovan snapped a quick salute before leaving the office. Stone turned his attention to Private Leo. The young man was the latest addition to the 3rd TIGER squad. His aptitude tests had gotten him assigned to Captain Stone just before they had been assigned to Mars six months ago.

“So, how can I help you, Private?”

“Sir, well, sir… I was wondering if… given what day it is, sir, if you would mind, sir… that is, sir, I was hoping I could ask-”

“Hold that thought, Private,” he said, cutting off the soldier’s rambling. “If one of my men were to ask me for permission to take a one of his squad members on a date, regulations would force me to advice against it. If the squad member was a superior – such as Warrant Officer Emily Lance – I would be forced to refuse outright.

“Not that it would matter, because Ms. Lance has had requests from half the men on this base, and quite a few of the civilians, as well. So unless the soldier asking had something to set him apart from the rest – a near perfect score on both the mechanical and electronic aptitude tests, for example – I am quite certain she would turn down the soldier in question.”

Private Leo’s grin threatened to split his face in half. “Yes, sir. Sorry for bothering you, sir.”

“If that’s all, you’re dismissed, soldier.”

“Sir, yes, sir.”

He was almost out the door when Stone called out. “Private?”

“Yes, sir?”

“If you were, hypothetically, to ask a TIGER squad warrant officer – not Ms. Lance, of course – on a date tonight, I’d suggest you make sure your Unit Seven is sparkling beforehand. I think most warrant officers would appreciate that.”

“Thanks, sir, I’ll do-” The soldier caught himself. “I’ll keep that in mind sir.”

Captain Stone managed to keep his face neutral until the door closed, then he burst out laughing. Rocky looked inquisitively at him.

“All right, Rocky, let’s make a recording. Your fans await.”

Advertisements