Gorge reached over to the table, put the beaker down and let go. At least that had been the intention. Several inches short of the table, the beaker fell to the floor, bounced, the remaining contents slowly spreading across the floor.
The others in the room looked round.
“If that’s what you are like Gorge when you are sober, Emperor knows what you’re like when you are drunk!” Laughter echoed around the room.
Gorge stood, stooped, grasped the beaker and sat it firmly on the table. He stared at the puddle on the floor for a moment, sighed and headed for the cupboard that held the brush, mop and other assorted cleaning paraphernalia.
What will it be this time? Brush? Mop? Bucket? Whenever he opened the door, something always fell out and hit him. With trepidation, he eased the cupboard open. So far so good. The door had just opened square on to his body when the door behind burst open.
The barrack room door opened with such force, that when it collided with Gorge, he was propelled into the edge of the opening cupboard door. Wood and flesh impacted with a thud that was heard in the barrack rooms to either side.
“AAARRRGGGGHHHH! FETH! FETH! FETH!” Gorge clasped his face in his hands and followed his initial outburst with a string of curses that would have stripped the paint from the walls, had there been any.
The breathless messenger looked round briefly. “Ooops, sorry. There’s only a flamin’ parade at seven in the flamin’ morning, on the flamin’ parade square!” he broadcast to the room at large.
The others in room looked around at the panting Guardsman, with the exception of Gorge, who was bent over, elbows on his thighs, head in hands, still trying to remove the paint from the walls.
“At seven? In the morning? You sure?”
The messenger nodded “Definito. Whole squadron to be on parade!” The messenger raced back out the room, giving Gorge a sympathetic glance on the way past.
There was silence amongst the un-injured members of the room, who looked at each other in astonishment.
“Fak! Does anyone even remember what seven am looks like?”
There was another pause, Gorge still swearing in the background.
“More to the point, has anyone got an alarm clock?”
Gorge checked his watch 6:30 and looked himself over in the mirror. A red line ran down one side of his face and sitting in the middle like a very plump and aggressive spider, was an eye so black, Gorge was surprised that there were no star-craft navigating it.
“GET FELL IN!”
Guardsmen shuffled out the building, many still yawning after having spent most of the night, first finding a full uniform, then washing and ironing it.
“EVERYONE HERE?” There was a hasty head count, “YES?” General consensus agreed that everyone was. The full-screw in charge was just as tired as the rest of his men, having spent most of the night looking for his rank slide that had turned out to be on his uniform all the time. “Right” he said, trying to wake himself up, “Come to attention, and face that way. Gorge, swap places with Hendriks, that eye sticks out like a Basilisk bore. Right, BY THE FRONT, QUICK, bimble.”
The squad marched –slovenly- towards the parade square.
As they drew closer, other squads made an appearance, also heading towards the parade square. The full-screw decided he’d better up the ante’ “GET IT TOGETHER AT THE FRONT! You’re Guardsmen not five year olds! Get in step, arms shoulder high! LISTEN IN! ‘EFT, ‘IGHT, ‘EFT, ‘IGHT, ‘EFT, ‘IGHT, ‘EEefffttt.”
The squad wheeled around and entered the parade ground. “STEP SHORT, THE INSIDE MAN, bring them round.”
The Full-screw checked the other squads already at parade rest and tried to remember where his squad was supposed to fit in. “Dinky. Join on the end of Bishops squad.” The squad changed direction slightly to marry up. “Listen in. SQUUAAADD, HALT!” There was a crack as right boot heels slammed into the parade ground. “Squad will move to the right in threes, RIGHT TURN!” Another crack of boot heels, “STAND AT, EASE!” Another crack, “Stand easy.” The full-screw moved to the rear of the squad and started chatting to a couple of other full-screws, huddled in shared misery.
Gorge glanced at his watch, 6:45.
“What time is it?” Asked Taylor to his right.
“Six forty five. Always the same ‘hurry up and wait’.” Closing his eyes briefly, Gorge resisted the urge to rub his bruised eye.
The sergeants walked onto the parade square, arguing amongst themselves over who had seniority. By the time they reached their troops they had sorted it out.
There was a lot of muttered talk amongst the Guardsmen. It was mostly moaning.
Gorge briefly interrupted the Guardsman’s favourite pastime to ask, “Does anyone know who the new Commissar is?” of those around him. No one knew, other than he had arrived late last night. “So he’s probably had as much sleep as we’ve had. Is that a good or a bad thing?”
“LISTEN IN, REGIMENT,” All the Guardsmen braced up, “REGIMENT, ‘SHUN!” The ripple of falling boot heels wasn’t too bad, but still, not the single ‘crack’ desired. Fifty three pairs of eyes watched the pool of blackness enter the parade square out the corners of their eyes.
The senior sergeant marched round to the front of the assembled troops to meet the Commissar.
There were quiet muttered curses up and down the ranks as various Guardsmen recognised the face from previous meetings in their Guard career. The tone and content of the mutterings were not good.
The Commissar, in full regalia, took the salute of the senior Sergeant. He looked over the assembled troops and turned to the Sergeant.
“Open order, please Sergeant.”
The Sergeant nodded and turned to the Regiment. “REGIMENT! IN OPEN ORDER, RIGHT DRESS!” The Front rank took one step forward and snapped their heads to the right, individuals shuffling slightly to keep the line straight. The middle rank just snapped their heads to the right; the rear took one step to the rear, heads turning to the right. The first Guardsman on the right of each row kept their heads rigidly pointing forward. The senior Sergeant waited till the shuffling stopped then barked, “EYES, FRONT!” All the heads that were turned to the right, snapped back to look forward.
The Commissar strode up to the first Guardsman and proceeded to scrutinise him.
“Guardsman Feil, Sir!”
“Guardsman Feil, you have some loose threads on your collar. Did you ask anyone to check you over this morning?”
Guardsman Feil considered his options and decided on honesty. “No Sir!”
The Commissar continued his scrutiny. Without a further word, he moved onto the next Guardsman.
Guardsman Dreft, Sir!”
The scrutiny restarted. The Commissar made to move on then his eyes narrowed and he peered closer at Guardsman Drefts face. “When you shave in the morning, make sure you don’t miss spots. Like here.” A finger-prodded part of Guardsman Drefts throat, “Pull the skin back with your other hand, that will ensure you have an even cut.” He moved on, halfway to the next trooper he turned back to the Sergeant, “Stand the middle and rear ranks at ease.”
“LISTEN IN. MIDDLE AND REAR RANKS ONLY. STAND AT, EASE!”
“Guardswoman Erill, Sir!”
“Good turnout Guardswoman Erill, however,” the ‘however’ was emphasised enough to be almost a separate entity, “You have several loose hairs escaped from your bound hair and there are traces of makeup still on your face. Attention to detail Guardswoman Erill, attention to detail.”
The Commissar moved on.
“Guardsman Shool, Sir!”
“You have dirt in your buckle Guardsman Shool. Like Guardswoman Erill, attention to detail.”
“Guardsman Mere, Sir!”
The Commissar stared at Guardsman Mere for a moment before turning his gaze to the Sergeant. The Sergeant stared back for a moment before realising to his horror that something was required of him. Suddenly, relief flooded through him as he realised what it was. Hands went to pockets, searched and terror flooded anew. Panicking fingers found their quarry and his second potential coronary in the last two minutes was averted. He pulled out his notebook and pen.
“For a minute there Sergeant, I thought you were going to admit that you had come on parade without a notebook and pen. Thankfully,” for you “I was mistaken.” He turned his gaze back to Guardsman Mere. “For a start, you have lots of creases. Lots. None of them where they should be, did you even turn the iron on? Did you even use an iron? Was it dark when you dressed yourself this morning? Is that a STAIN? There, on the breast of your shirt?” The Commissar turned back to the Sergeant. “Take his name.”
The Sergeant dutifully noted down the Guardsman’s name.
“Guardsman Ioll, Sir!”