– Jacob, wake up. Aarón wants to see you.
Jacob turned around grudgingly in his bunk and opened one of his eyes. In the doorstep he could see the silhouette of a man who could only be Max, a black wardrobe of a man ripe with muscles and bad temper, with his characteristic olive green tee, a camo trouser, solid-looking military boots and the gas mask he always had hanging around his neck. As he was in constant risk of suffocating taking a dump, or something. To repeat his order, Max made a furious gesture with his thumb pointing out of the shack made of timber and metal sheets.
The tired man got up, dressed only with his underpants and a t-shirt that long time ago could have been white. He quickly put on his desert camo trousers and a light jacket with the same colors, on which left front pocket there was a weathered patch that read US MARINES, and in which upper right sleeve someone had just sewn a brand new black swastika surrounded by a white circle over a red background.
– What does the great man want now? – asked in a tone that clearly reflected he didn’t give a fuck.
– Watch your tongue, or you will lose it in a fucking sec. Do what you are told.
– Jawohl – muttered Jacob with disdain.
With a last look to the glass piece hanging on the wall, which acted as a mirror of sorts on those areas where the black paint hadn’t fallen down, he groomed his fringe to the left side of his head until it looked barely presentable and went out. Max stepped aside in the last second, in a calculated movement to make both men bump into each other and trying to provoke a response that didn’t materialize. Covering his eyes from the heavy morning sun, Jacob followed the black man through the courtyard.
Activity at that hour of the day was quite intense, and the first thing Jacob thought was that it was surprising they had left him lazing around until so late. Those folks from Festung Germania didn’t quite pulled their punches, and were a sober, disciplined and responsible lot, so if they had put themselves to work so early it was weird that anyone could cop out of it. There were a couple of human chains moving crates, while others cleaned their weapons and gear, and a small bunch of people oversaw the whole operation and organized the work groups. It seemed that there was going to be a new raid. That cheered him up a bit. When he had joined those fanatics from the Fifth Reich he didn’t know that they were so square-minded, of course, but he didn’t really care because their main sport was his own favourite hobby: mutant hunting. That was something worth dragging him out of bed, worth the dril, worth the guard duties, worth the yelling and the discipline. Fuck, it was even worth getting along with Max! Well, maybe that was a bit too far. But it was near.
After crossing the open space of the sand courtyard, Jacob reached again the most welcome shadow provided by the raid shelters. He followed the wall to the other side of the buildings, until he reached a locked iron door in the middle of a concrete wall. The Puma’s Lair, the group’s headquarters and living quarters of Feldmarschal Aarón. He had seen the great man only once, but something told him he was about to do it again. Max opened the door with his ham-thick arms and told him to get inside. Jacob did so, with his companion right behind, and was grateful for the sudden darkness in which the corridor was left as soon as the heavy door closed again behind him.
When his eyes got used to the dim light provided by the emergency bulbs spaced along the ceiling he felt the push of Max’ claw on his back, and started walking again shooking his head and pondering how he would take revenge for that treatment. After a couple of turns they reached a wooden door with a golden swastika hanging over it, in front of which a tall, blonde man with clear blue eyes was standing guard stiff as a post with full military uniform and an automatic shotgun firmly gripped in his hands. Jacob didn’t know his name and didn’t really care about it. When they got closer, the guard opened the door without lowering his eyes and stepped aside.
– Inside – Max grunted.
They crossed the door and the guard closed it behind them. Aarón Schwartzman’s quarters were a mixture of office, armory, bedroom and meeting room. There was no inch left unoccupied in the whole room, which was filled with chairs, a table full of maps of the region, a simple bunk, ammo boxes, weapon racks, piles of books about History or military tactics, clothes, halogen floodlights, and even a bust of a man that Jacob could not identify. Behind a plain desk there was Aarón, focused in the reading of some bunch of papers. By his side was Mercedes, one of his most trusted lieutenants, petite, dark-haired, seasoned, fast as a snake and a full-time motherfucker. The woman raised her head to watch him entering the room, and her face did not promise anything good. Jacob swallowed hard. After some perfectly calculated silent seconds, Aarón raised his head too.
– You slept well, Jacob? – said the man, almost kindly.
An alarm set off in the soldier’s head.
– I hope the full emergency alarms have not waked you up… – he continued.
What? When had the fucking alarms been sounding? Fuck, he must have been really groggy if he couldn’t remember hearing them! He was going to receive a good ear-bashing, and from the big man in person.
– Slept like a baby, herr Feldmarschal – nailed Max from the door -.
Yeah, right, bring it on, just what he needed! The black bastard was going to enjoy the full shituation he was getting into. He didn’t turn around to look at him, but he could have bet anything to that prick being smiling from ear to ear.
– Gut, gut – said Aarón getting up while he took his thin round glasses off and put them on the table. – Then he will be fully rested and ready to go on a new mission with Frau Mercedes, to clean a settlement of mutard untermen just discovered by our patrols.
Great! He liked that conversation a bit more. He even let himself to show a subtle smile.
– How many bullets do you want to carry this time, son? – said Aarón.
The question took him by absolute surprise. Was the big man really asking him how many ammo did he wanted to take? Was he being promoted, or what? Was it possible that they respected him enough to ascend him a step above the rest of the gangers?
– Ten? Fifteen, maybe? A full clip? – continued his leader, while he walked from behind the desk and approached him.
That would be wonderful, it sure would. He wanted to nod anxiously and thank his leader for that awesome sign of trust, but the darkening face of Mercedes was beginning to make him really nervous and, deep inside him, he knew that something was completely wrong. Mercedes had been his field commander during their last mission, when he had… oh, shit. Everything blew away.
– Would you like to waste a full magazine, private Jacob??!! – the Feldmarschal layed into him, standing right in front of his face and closing so much that he could felt small drops of saliva hitting his cheek -. So you can fire at will all the time?!
That was not fair! He was no trigger-happy! The rifle was poorly aligned, the aim was wrong, the barrel dirty and the ammo was defective! And that god-damned toad-mutant jumped so wildly that it was impossible to hit him! He got serious and hold straight, but he didn’t dare to say a word.
– How many bullets did prívate Jacob used in his last mission, Frau Mercedes?! – asked without turning his eyes from Jacob.
– Seven, sir.
– With which results?!
– No casualties, sir.
– An astounding performance, private Jacob!!! –.The Feldmarschal‘s face was getting red by the second, while the pounded soldier’s was getting white at the same speed -. Let’s not allow to be said that the Fifth Reich is sparing resources in mutant hunting!! Why should we follow the instructions, why should we follow the orders about firing short, precise bursts, choose the targets and pick the easy ones!! Nonsense!! Bullshit!! Off with the safe and let’s empty the mag!! Let’s show our enemies that we are really stuck up, and they won’t even raise their heads under our firepower!!
Aarón moved near to a wall and opened an ammo box put over an unstable pile of books, crates and clothes. With an angry flick he grabbed a handful of bullets, turned around and threw them hard against the soldier’s head.
– Here you are, private!! All you want!! They’re free!! – his face was now wine red and his chin was shaking. Jacob stood attention quite well, even though the ammunition thrown with such bad blood had quite hurt him and one of the bullets had been dangerously close to his left eye.
The physical aggression seemed to calm down the leader of the Fifth Reich, who went back to his desk and sat down behind it while breathing heavily. He looked at Jacob, shook his head and then, crossing his arms in front of his chest, turned a bit to face Mercedes.
– Do you think this soldier is still viable, Frau Mercedes?
– It’s possible, sir.
– Are you willing to take him again with you in this mission?
– His last chance, sir. Motivation is not the problem, that’s for sure.
– Gut. I trust your judgment. But… no firearms, obviously -. That was a heavy blow for Jacob. He loved his rifle, and going in a mission without it was the worst thing possible -. Even more! I think private Jacob must earn his rank again in this group. For this mission he will be equipped and treated like one of the new recruits, a club and nothing more. No special equipment, no armour, no gas mask. Back to square one.
Was that a smile what he could see in Mercedes’ face? Sneaky son of a… Jacob’s world was falling apart by the second.
– Understood, sir.
– And keep an eye on him. Don’t let him cop out of his duties, make him work like anyone else. If he stands to the task and comes back, we’ll see how his “situation” evolves.
The Feldmarschal voice was calmed again, although he had just signed his almost sure death sentence. He had already survived his training period as a scumbag! It wasn’t easy, but he had gone through the lack of equipment on all those lethal missions, and now he was again treated as a rookie! His head started to spin around.
The last thing he was aware of, was Max’ huge hand closing on his shoulder and dragging him out of the room.