A week later, Jack was in business casual and taking the bus down to Joint Base San Antonio. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and it was so hot, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk. The base came into view: a complex of Army camps, Air Force bases, and military hospitals.
‘This is your stop, rainbows!’ said the greasy bus driver to Jack and the recruits. ‘Time to see the world, meet interesting people, and kill them!’
Jack and the recruits shuffled off the bus.
‘Hey,’ said Jack to the bus driver, ‘do you know where the Quadrangle is? I’m supposed to be getting some special combat training there.’
The bus driver laughed. ‘Hooey! Gone an’ drew the short straw, huh? That’s his territory. Here.’ He handed Jack a brochure with a map on it. ‘Don’t have too much fun!’ He drove away cackling.
Jack wiped the sweat off his forehead.
He navigated the complex of brown buildings until he reached a rectangular stone fort. Stepping through the gate, he entered a park full of prancing deer, posturing peacocks, and waddling ducks.
‘What the hell is this place?’
Puck and Sam came running towards him being chased by a flock of peacocks. Like him, they were wearing civilian clothes.
‘Hoser!’ said Puck. ‘Help! This damn Mountie wouldn’t give the daddy peacock her sandwich, and now the whole family’s mad!’
Sam cried out while shoving a taco into her mouth.
‘Don’t worry, ladies!’ Jack stepped between the girls and the peacocks. ‘I’ve beaten up guys half his size!’ He ran up to the daddy peacock and kicked him across the park. The other peacocks squawked and scattered. Jack dusted off his hands. ‘It’s just like my uncle says: “If violence isn’t solving the problem, you’re just not using enough violence!”’
Sam propped herself up on bent legs and panted. ‘Thank you! I hope I can be as brave as you some day.’ Her cheeks blew up, and she threw up her taco.
Jack held Sam’s hair away from her face as she vomited and put on an English accent. ‘Never fear, fair maiden. I shall e’re be a paladin of the innocent. For all men who fear fear doth fear me, and all women who love love doth love me.’ Jack and Sam’s eyes met as she wiped the puke from her mouth. Was there a spark of something there?
Puck yanked Jack’s face away using his tie. ‘I don’t fear you or love you! Don’t get the wrong impression, hoser! You didn’t save me! I had the situation totally under control!’
Wasn’t she crying for help while running away?
A monotone Japanese accent came from above. ‘It’s amazing how much you gaijins talk without saying anything.’
Mezu was resting on a tree branch above them. His sharp-featured face was actually quite handsome without his blue oni mask.
Puck pushed away the head of a deer that was trying to nuzzle up to her. ‘Why the hell are there animals in a United States Army base anyway, eh?!’
Jack got out his brochure. ‘Apparently, when Geronimo and his Apaches were captured by the United States Army and brought to the Quadrangle for imprisonment in eighteen eight-five, they refused to eat the food of the white man, so Native American game was brought in for them. Geronimo remained unsatisfied with his incarceration, though, so he jumped from the clock tower he was being held in to his death while yelling out his name in a show of defiance. That’s why to this day. when United States Army soldiers jump out of aircraft into combat, they shout “Geronimo”, to show the enemy they’re willing to die for their cause.’
Sam shook her head. ‘That’s so historically inaccurate, I don’t even know where to start.’
Marilyn’s voice came from across the park. ‘Well, if it isn’t my Blue Nasties!’
She was skipping towards them while Billy the Cameraman lugged the camera along behind her. While Marilyn looked scorchio at night, she looked mucho scorchio during the day.
‘Blue Nasties?’ said Puck.
Marilyn smiled. ‘That’s the name I thought up for your slasher gang. It’ll make way more sense when you put your costumes back on. Trust me, I’ve thought this through.’
Jack glanced at Sam and locked eyes with Marilyn. ‘Ix-nay on the slasher-ay in front of the slasher killer-ay.’
Marilyn laughed. ‘Oh, you don’t need to worry about Sam anymore. We’ve come to an arrangement where she’s going to use her odd proficiency for ranged combat to kill slashers as a slasher hunter in the Death Game, present company excluded of course. Great television.’
Sam pouted. ‘I’m being blackmailed.’
Marilyn swatted Sam lightly across the arm. ‘Don’t mope, Sam. No one likes a moper.’
Puck frowned. ‘I thought Mountie was going to be a runner for America News Network?’
Marilyn shrugged. ‘It didn’t work out. She spilled hot coffee on one of our producers and gave him first-degree burns.’
‘It’s not my fault!’ said Sam. ‘I slipped on a banana skin!’
‘And who left that banana skin on the floor?’
Sam looked down. ‘I was trying to throw it in the trashcan without touching the edges like Magic Johnson. Then the producer told me to get him a coffee…and I forgot about it.’
‘Absolutely pathetic.’ Marilyn gave everyone a dazzling white smile. ‘Well, we best get going! Wouldn’t want to keep our host waiting! Time is blood money!’
She skipped to the stone clock tower at the centre of the park. Everyone followed her. In front of the clock tower, a hundred soldiers were doing push ups in a perfect phalanx, their musclebound bodies slick with sweat.
Marilyn and Sam gave blushing smiles.
Jack turned to Mezu. ‘I could do that. I just don’t want to.’
‘Don’t talk to me like we’re friends,’ said Mezu.
Jack narrowed his eyes. ‘I wasn’t. It’s just that you’re so forgettable, I find that I talk to myself in your direction.’
They glared at each other.
Puck started doing push ups beside the soldiers. She was competitive if nothing else.
‘Yoo-hoo, boys!’ said Marilyn. ‘We’re from America News Network! We’re here for the combat training?!’
The soldiers jumped up, saluted, and split the phalanx in two so the path to the door at the bottom of the clock tower was clear. Then they spoke as one. ‘The recruits have arrived, sir!’
The door opened. An old monster in the decorated uniform of an Army colonel stepped forwards. He had a shaved head, a scar running across his face, and muscles which made the surrounding soldiers look like theatre kids.
Jack didn’t recognise him at first, but the insane killing intent he was giving off gave him away. ‘Colonel Ripper?!’
Colonel Ripper put a cigar in his mouth and fired a revolver at it to light it. ‘Uuuh huh! So, you’re the preschool dropouts that Jackal News shackled us with in their sweetheart deal with America News Network? What do we have here?’ He scanned them with his eyes. ‘A dumb blonde.’
Jack frowned. ‘This is workplace discrimination.’
Puck went red. ‘Four foot is a perfectly respectable height for a woman!’
‘I’m Japanese,’ said Mezu, ‘but don’t let ignorance stop you.’
‘A cowboy cop.’
Sam held her hands up. ‘I only killed like a hundred people! It was the first day of my third year! C‘mon!’
Marilyn sneered and showed him an obscene finger.
‘And someone who looks so bland, I’m not even going to waste the mental energy to insult him.’
Billy the Cameraman looked down so his baseball cap covered his eyes, but Jack could see a single tear run down his cheek.
‘Shoot,’ said Colonel Ripper. ‘You’re the sorriest pack of apes I’ve ever seen, but so long as Jackal News and America News Network keeps bankrolling my War on Communism, it’s all good!’ He cracked his knuckles and gave a big yellow grin. ‘Welcome to slasher boot camp!’
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