Fast: A Hybrid Role Play Chapter 1 The desert sandstorm practically consumed them, wrapping it's salty embrace around them like a blanket. With their neodannas protecting their mouths, and goggles tightly covering their eyes, Adam Vance and Jacob Wortham walked together toward the base's morale welfare and recreation center. The entirety of Al Ta'alem Air Base had been hit by the unexpected storm. But that was typical. No one on the ground really bothered to pay attention to the climate conditions anymore. The airmen and soldiers that were stationed there had become so accustomed to shaking sand out of their boots and ears that such conditions were considered normal. When they had first touched down in Al Ta'alem two months ago, Adam's fire team wasn't sure if they were going to enjoy the deployment. They were supposed to be back up in Manas, Kyrgyzstan with the rest of their comrades, but Kuwait needed more FAST certified members, so he and three others were picked to be forward-deployed. With hope they would be going to Ali Al Salem, which was about an hour's drive from where they actually ended up, Adam was excited. He had been there once, shortly after the pull-out of Iraq. Manas had stopped being such an over-crowded hub for US CENTCOM forces and started sharing the love with Ali. He had been there as a normal flight worker back then, manning the gates, searching vehicles, and watching over the flight line from time to time. It wasn't bad at all, really. They had been allowed to stay in newly built dorms, enjoyed a fine chow hall, and the MWR was well-budgeted. It had been a great deployment. To say that he was disappointed to not be going back to Ali Al Salem would be an understatement. Instead, Al Ta'alem, a new air base in the country that was being used as a secondary hub for C-130s and C-17s, was the base in desperate need of more FAST troops. When they arrived, Adam and his fellow team members had been greeted by some washed up old schmuck of a former Raven. He was with the Air Force Guard. Adam hated him from the moment they met; so carefree and hypocritical at the same time. "I used to be a marine as well," he had said, smiling to himself as he bragged about his past to remind everyone that he was large and in charge. And large he was. The bald man's belt was almost too tight around the nearly forty-inch waste, and his mustache simply looked like suspicious fuzz on a giant fruit. As if having a guardsman as their FAST coordinator, and thus their supervisor, wasn't enough, the base itself was small and mostly unpopulated, which made typically made for a long and boring deployment. But morale had actually taken a sudden turn for the better when they found out the twelve-man tent they would be staying in wasn't to be shared with anyone else. They were a fire team of only four members; Adam, Jacob, Erik, and Thomas. When they explored the base the following day, after situating their bunks and getting settled in, they discovered a small McDonald's kiosk in the Army's logistics support area just outside of the Air Force's zone. Within their own compound, there was a Green Bean coffee bar, a Subway hut, and a Domino's pizza kiosk. "Just like Ali," Jacob had said enthusiastically. So it wasn't all bad. Taking into account the activities available at the MWR, the selection of food choices outside of the chow hall, the fact they laid claim to an entire twelve-man tent and didn't have to share it, and that they were on a fly-away mission... Adam and his team members had it made. Perhaps the deployment wasn't going to be so bad after all. He reminded himself of this as he and Jacob continued to walk through the sandstorm. When the two men reached the MWR, Jacob opened the door, which was obviously a struggle for him with the constant strength of the wind bearing down on its face. Adam reached over with an arm and helped him prop it open. "You go first!" he yelled, his voice muffled by the neodanna. After both had made it safely inside the large building the door slammed shut behind them and echoed through the main room, which looked a lot like the interior of a plain warehouse. Concrete floor, metal walls, steel support beams... The tables consisted of a laminated fake wood and metal iron legs, raised up high enough that the seats were more like bar stools; four around each table. At least ten forty inch displays hung on the blue-painted walls, with each one displaying a different channel; sports, MTV, news, or something else randomly forwarded from the States by the military. A refreshments bar had been built in the back left corner from the entrance. At least two airmen from the Force Support Squadron were always tending the counter, selling sports drinks, teas, and comfort food to whoever wanted it. Proceeds from the sales would directly benefit the rec center and also help other morale activities on the base. Adam broke off from Jacob for a moment to step up to the bar. "Arizona Lemon Tea, please," he said to the blonde, female airman first class working behind the counter. She nodded and turned to retrieve the tall, ice-cold can from the refrigerator. "Two bucks," she replied after setting the can on the bar. He gratefully handed her his Eagle Cash card, a protected medium for carrying currency in deployed or training environments. As she turned to swipe the card through one of the readers behind the counter, Jacob approached from behind and asked, "You ready for this trip to Jordan tomorrow?" "Now that TMO finally sent our damn passports? Hell yes." "How is it that Sampson was the only one to get his before we left?" Adam swallowed a gulp of the smooth, refreshing lemon tea. He felt the rush of icey-cold goodness instantly take effect and start to eliminate the heat and exhaustion. "I'd be more interested in knowing how we managed to go two months without having them!" "'Cause only a bunch of over-paid civilians work in TMO, and they don't give a damn about us so long as the base isn't being inspected." "Whoa! Tell the world how you really feel about them." That was typical of Jacob. The staff sergeant had never much cared for civil service employees and the retired veterans that - in his own words - "took up space, money, and his time". But then again, Sergeant Wortham hated everyone. He had been a hard man to get along with at first, and when Adam first met him, the two had seemed to have completely opposite personalities. Wortham was authoritative, strict, and very cynical; while Senior Airman Vance was soft-spoken, easy going, and reasonably optimistic. Adam could have sworn that he would never get along with the man, but the staff sergeant that he had found himself on a first name basis with actually ended up pleasantly surprising him. "So what's this Jordan mission?" Adam asked after waiting for the airman behind the counter to walk away and help another customer. "Printer paper, or some shit like that." "We're protecting... printer paper?" "No, we're protecting the aircrew delivering the paper." "But... printer paper?" They both started to laugh at the absurdity of the idea. "Hey, Jordan! Did you want some Hewlett-Packard copiers to go with your printer paper? And while we're at it, why don't we throw in the toner for free. I mean we're already spending a hundred thousand dollars per flight. So... why the fuck not?!" The joking continued for the next several minutes, each one trading off with a not-so-witty quip about wasting resources. Adam and Jacob were FAST-certified. FAST is an acronym for Fly Away Security Team, and those certified to participate as a member of one of those teams could be selected for "fly-away" deployments. This was the first fly-away of their career. So far, the two of them alone had been all over the sandbox, from Kuwait to Afghanistan, and from Egypt to the Kingdom of Bahrain - which was Adam's personal favorite. FASTs are usually assigned to protect C-130 aircrews, interchanging the crews every mission or so. Each team would fly out every other day, allowing ample time for crew rest between missions. Their most critical objective was to ensure the security of the aircraft and its crew, acting as air marshals on board in the presence of other passengers, and as sentries on the ground when the plane was being loaded or unloaded. "I think I need a new flight suit before we head out," Adam said. "Why's that? Got a tear?" "No, it just feels too small for some reason. I think I need a thirty-two-'L'." "You can pick 'em up from Supply down the road. Before we go though, I need to Skype home to my son." "How is Tyler, by the way?" Jacob pushed away from the counter and the two walked together over towards the computer terminals lined up in rows in an adjacent room off of the main recreational area. "Good, I think. I talked to him Tuesday." "Is your family even awake at this hour?" Jacob pulled the sleeve of his ABS-G back to reveal his watch. "Well it's eighteen-eighteen local, and Kuwait is... three hours ahead of Greenwich; so that means it's... about oh-nine-eighteen in the morning where they're at." When they approached one of the terminals, Jacob pulled out the seat and sat down in front of the computer. All of the stations were opened and unlocked, unlike a standard government workstation. They were intended to be for morale and recreational use, so Airmen could use them at their own leisure without running into blocks and overbearing firewalls. Instant messaging and video call programs like Skype came pre-installed and ready to go so troops could stay in touch with friends and family. Jacob logged into his own Skype account and was happy to see that his wife was shown as "online". He clicked her name and initiated a call. A few seconds later, the screen changed and he saw a live image of his wife gradually render into a recognizable, though slightly pixelated, image. The two happily waved at each other and smiled. "Hey, baby!" his wife, Jillian said. Her brown hair was let down over her shoulders. Adam saw that it was darker than usual and slightly mangled and curled. She must have recently washed it. The time differences between deployed zones and home was always a bit of a shock. "Hey, hun! Adam's here, too." Jacob moved away for a second so Adam could lean in and offer a wave. "Is Tyler awake?" Before Jillian could answer they heard the voice of a young boy sound off in the distance. A second later blue eyes, messy brown hair, and a Wolverine pajama top butted into the frame. "Hi, dad!" "What's up, buddy?!" "How's... uh... Kuh-wait?" Jacob grinned and laughed. "Kuwait. And it's not too shabby. It's hot, though. You'll have to tell your mom to send me an ice pack in her next care package." "Okay! Hey! You wanna know a secret?" Jacob nodded and turned his ear toward the webcam above the monitor, cupping his hand behind it. Adam saw little Tyler lean in close to their own camera and whispered loudly into the microphone, "Misses Wilkinson said I could - um - be in the school's musical." "Oh, really now?" Jacob asked with the smile of a proud father. "And when is that?" Tyler looked back to his mother for a reminder. Jillian leaned around him and answered, "It's in May. It's two weeks after you're scheduled to come back!" "Well then, buddy, dad's gonna be there to hear you sing!" Tyler grinned for a moment, but it suddenly faded into a serious frown. "You promise?" Adam had never known Jacob to pause in thought before replying to a question. He was always quick to answer, and never slow to react. After a few seconds, he finally said with the best smile he could muster below watery eyes, "Yeah, buddy... I promise."