Stone was busy with paperwork. There was always paperwork. Even in a war on an alien planet, paperwork was inescapable. Being in command of a squadron that was still in the testing phase didn’t help.

It was with some relief when Rocky chirped in curiosity. Stone leapt at the excuse to stretch his legs.

The robot lead him to MESS (Martian Engineered Soup and Salad). Stone always thought the name rather forced. It was more of a pub, and soups and salads made up a very small portion of the menu. But it worked, and MESS was the unofficial hangout for most men on the base.

“Evening, Captain,” Peterson, the owner/bartender said. “Men are out on the sun patio.”

Stone nodded in appreciation, and headed out to the oddly lit sun patio. While the sides were open air, a glass ceiling stretched above. This was fairly common in restaurants these days. The adaptive glass could be adjusted to provide different levels of shade for individual tables. What made the patio at MESS so unique was that Peterson had installed a special adaptor. The ceiling wasn’t limited to just blocking out sunlight, but could focus it. The end result was bright rays scattered haphazardly over an otherwise comfortably lit area.

Peterson insisted it was just a gimmick, but when some of the members of the TIGER squads petitioned that it be recognized as an official recharge location (and the most optimal one on the base), he hadn’t looked terribly surprised.

All the men there were gathered around a long table. On one side, he saw Donovan, Lance, and the Warrant Officer from the 2nd TIGER squad, each bent over a laptop. Other members from the TIGER squads were craning to peer over their shoulders. The TIGERs paced around, ignoring the sunny spots that justified them being allowed there in the first place.

Sitting opposite from them were other soldiers. Stone did not immediately recognize them, but their uniforms identified them as members of the mechanized infantry. Three of them were also sitting in front of laptops.

Both sides were shouting at the other, but the six soldiers sitting ignored them, pounding furiously at their keyboards.

Carla was sitting at a smaller, round table a few feet away. She looked decidedly out of place, dressed more like a tourist than anything else.

She smiled as she saw him, and said in a loud voice, “I believe the phrase is ‘Officer approaching’?”

The quarrel broke away immediately, as everyone, including the six on computers, rose to face him.

“Good evening, sir!”

He returned the salute. “As you were.”

The six soldiers were sitting down before he had even lowered his hand.

“Private Leo, report.”

“Sir,” he said, attempting to sound serious despite the goofy grin on his face, “the mechanized infantry have challenged the TIGER squadrons to a word war.”

“If that’s the best debriefing you can give me, Private, I’ll have you cleaning the entire squad’s TIGERs with your toothbrush.”

Leo tried to rein in his smile. “Sir, yes, sir! Since we were removed from the front lines for the moment, Sargent Donovan thought he would try NaNoWriMo. He was falling behind on his word count, so Miss Lance suggested a word war to help him out. Corporal Tien overheard and challenged us on behalf of the mechanized infantry. Miss Schialla offered to officiate.”

Stone recalled Lance mentioning NaNoWriMo before. Was it November on Earth already? He found it difficult to keep up to date with the Earth calender when it had so little impact on him on Mars.

“What was the racket about?”

“Mr. Lorenzo,” Leo said, nodding at one of the typing infantry men, “felt Miss Lance had misclassified her novel.”

Stone stared at them in disbelief. Of all the things for soldiers to get in an argument about.

“Sir,” Mr.  Lorenzo said, looking up from his laptop, but not ceasing to type,  “space exploration simply isn’t enough to warrant classifying a work as science fiction anymore.”

Lance didn’t look up from her work at all. “It’s a character piece on a mining vessel to Io. What would you classify it as.”

“Contemporary. We’ve sent people out into space on mining expeditions. You can’t claim science fiction if you’re only using existing technology.”

“It’s the tropes,” Miss Lance insisted. “If-”

“You can’t hide behind tropes!” another one of the infantrymen cut her off. And it degenerated into a shouting match again.

Stone walked up to Carla, who was watching the entire thing with an amused expression. He bent over and kissed her before pulling a chair up to her.

“What’s your take on this?”

“Under normal circumstances, I’d agree with Warrant Officer Lorenzo,” she said, “but Martian APVs aren’t nearly as interesting at the TIGER units, so I’m keeping that to myself.”

“Am I going to read about this on futuretech.com?”

“I doubt it,” she said, with a sigh. “They only put up with my fluff pieces for the little tidbits of actual tech I could put in them. That well is pretty much dried up, but a few other sites have shown some interest. Mostly government stuff. The human angle is good publicity. Did you know Eric is working on a children’s book?”

He glanced at Sargent Donovan, who was bent so low over his computer, his nose was almost touching the screen. “I did not.”

“Middle age stuff. I promised I’d help him with editing, and even finding an agent once he thinks he’s ready. He’s hoping he can get published by the time his daughter’s old enough to read it.”

“He’d better catch up on his word count, then,” Stone said, allowing himself a small smile.

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