Wormwood

"Even my cold cereal doth taste like wormwood," I muttered.

The black-bearded man sitting at my table looked at me curiously. "Excuse me?"

"Nothing," I said.

He shrugged. "You're new here, aren't you? A draftee?"

I nodded.

"I know how you feel. The draft's rough on everyone." He stirred his bowl of sludge, obviously no more eager to eat it than I. "When I first got here, I hated this stuff. I still do, but I gotta admit, it keeps you going. If you eat enough of this stuff, it replaces your need to sleep, without any side effects until you stop eating it. I only know one guy who was crazy enough to do that. He got his project done in record time, but he's now unfit for work, possibly indefinitely. They transferred him to the line, and he seems to be doing fine there. So they officially recommend you don't end up like him."

"No fear," I said. "I'd rather sleep."

"In a couple of weeks, you'll be so obsessed you'll be shoveling this stuff in just short of the danger point. All of us draftees are like that, or they get rotated out to the line pretty soon." Unspoken--if you don't want to go out to the line, you had better become obsessed.

"So what's your project?" I asked.

"Just finished one," he said. "That's why I can linger over breakfast. Codenamed Silver Fox. Bioenhanced/cyborged animals. Good at infiltrating enemy lines, reconnaissance, assassination, fit with explosives, that sort of thing. Lots of people working on these things, and most of them are working on their own pet project. No pun intended," he added at my wince. "Most of them wouldn't make very good pets anyways, unless you're the kind that likes pet pit-bulls."

"So yours was a fox?"

"More or less," he said. "At one point it was, at least. It's still got the pelt, with a few modifications for all-purpose camouflage. It can also draw their Hounds off more important prey. And its weapon systems are..."

I kept him talking for a good half hour, before I stood up. "Well, I should probably get ready for my interview. I hope to be assigned to Communications. Maybe I'll see you again sometime."

"Oh, I almost forgot," he said. "My name's Rommel. Jordan Rommel."

"Thomas Haig," I said. We shook hands.

"Good luck with your interview," he said. I nodded and left.

I certainly hoped I would get the Communications position. If I could find something to broadcast through their lines and back to my side...the Silver Fox info was useful, and I'd have to see who else I could get to be garrulous at the breakfast table...while trying to appear obsessed with my own work.

Which, in a sense, I was. I wanted to be the one who was remembered for breaking the enemy lines.

Based on the words: black-bearded wormwood silver fox rough draft

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com