"Achtung", Sergeant Ernst Gottschalk ordered. Forty men slammed their right heels to the floor in a coordinated blast that rattled the walls. The soldiers stared straight ahead while Samantha Reinhard marched through the briefing room door. Her dark red uniform and spit-shined black boots matched theirs except for twin gold bars on her lapels. Samantha tossed a brown box on a table next to the door and leveled her gaze at four rows of soldiers staring at her. Her focus shifted along the ranks until she had peered directly into each man’s eyes.
"Hello, Hornets," she greeted.
"Hello, Captain," they replied in a single voice.
Samantha dipped her stern chin and marched aggressively toward a young soldier standing rigid in the first row. She halted half a meter from his face and bore her fierce gaze into his eyes.
"Sergeant," she barked.
"Yes, Captain," Ernst answered in a sharp tone.
"What am I looking at?"
Sergeant Gottschalk marched with machinelike precision to his captain’s side. The stout soldier slammed his right heel and stood at attention.
"My Captain is looking at Lieutenant Eric Blumenthal," Ernst answered. "The lieutenant served with valor on the Saturn ring."
Captain Reinhard narrowed her gaze into the young man’s eyes.
"Is that right, soldier?" she demanded.
"Yes sir," the youngest man in the room replied.
"I’ve heard about this officer," Captain Reinhard said to her sergeant with a glimmer in her green eyes.
"What did you hear, sir?" Ernst asked.
Captain Reinhard pressed her face to within an inch of Eric’s blue eyes.
"I heard this fucker eats Drike guts for breakfast. Is that true, soldier?"
"Yes sir!" Eric roared.
Captain Reinhard stepped back from Eric and addressed her team.
"No one wears the Red Hornet unless we all agree. Does this man deserve the honor of eating with us, fighting with us, and dying with us?"
"Yes sir," her team shouted with vigor.
"Hand me that box, Sergeant," Captain Reinhard ordered and extended her open right hand.
Ernst slapped the brown package into her palm. With her gaze fixed on Eric she ripped open the box and held a brown leather jacket to Eric’s face.
"Are you good enough to wear this?"
"Yes, sir," Eric snapped.
Captain Reinhard smiled and offered her right hand to Eric.
"Welcome to the Red Hornets."
His comrades cheered their approval. Eric slipped his arms into the sleeves of his prized leather jacket. He rubbed the patch of an angry Red Hornet with its long stinger exposed that was sewn in the leather above his heart.
"How do you feel?" Captain Reinhard asked.
"I feel like killing some Drikes," Eric answered.
The briefing room door swung open.
"Achtung!" Sergeant Gottschalk shouted.
The soldiers snapped to attention with stiff spines and hard stares. Colonel Max Blumenthal faced the assembly with his brow tensed. He wore light brown combat fatigues with the distinctive Second Corps battleax switched into his sleeves. A small Red Hornet patch decorated his left chest. Two gold eagles shined on his labels. Max surveyed the ranks with his stern gaze.
"Captain Reinhard," the colonel called.
"Sir," she answered and quick marched to his side.
"What am I looking at?" Max demanded.
"The colonel is looking at the Red Hornets," she answered with pride.
Max walked the ranks peering into the eyes of every man.
"Do you know what I see, Captain?" he asked.
"What do you see, Colonel?"
A thin smile curled on Colonel Blumenthal’s lips.
"I see some alien killing motherfuckers."
"Hoorah!" the Red Hornets shouted.
The esprit de corps drew a satisfied nod from Max.
"I’ve just left General Halder’s office," he informed Captain Reinhard. "Supreme Command intelligence has identified a critical target but their top planners declared the enemy facility too heavily guarded. Do you know what General Halder told those desk squatters?"
"What did the general tell them, sir?" Captain Reinhard asked.
Max steeled his eyes.
"He told those splinter butt bureaucrats that the Red Hornets don’t give a flying fuck how many Drikes there are. Does your team feel like butchering some lizards?"
"Yes sir," Captain Reinhard shouted with zeal.
Max locked his gaze on the young man wearing the new leather jacket.
"What about you, Lieutenant? Are you ready to spill green blood?"
Eric’s blue eyes steeled.
"Red Hornets eat Drike guts for breakfast."
"You’re goddamn right," Captain Reinhard added.
Max nodded his approval.
"At zero seven hundred tomorrow the Red Hornets will disembark in a captured alien freighter bound for a high priority research facility on the Drike moon," Max explained. "We might drop a nuke on the Drike capital as a special present from the Red Hornets. How does that sound?"
"That sounds like fun, sir," Samantha replied with enthusiasm.
Max peered into Captain Reinhard’s green eyes.