Into The Dark Zone
a Roughnecks fanfic by Mr. Hook


Life was good. It might not always be fair. But it was definitely doing OK by Robert “Paper Boy” Higgins. At least today.

Higgins sat at his editing board, barely able to contain his glee. It wasn’t often that he got to watch one of his own “live” reports actually replayed on the evening news cast! They had even kept every word of the voice-over package he had sent them. Unbelievable!

“Lt. Juan Rico, the legendary hero of Rico’s Roughnecks, had this to say at today’s news conference...” For the first time in his life, Higgins was perfectly comfortable listening to the sound of his own voice.

“In light of recent events, SICON has deemed it necessary to appoint a Chancellor to the planet Tophet to oversee planetary defense during this time of transition...” Why did the Ell Tee have to be so stiff? It was so obvious that he was just reading from a prepared script.

“The Chancellorship will carry the rank of Skymarshall during wartime, but it must be understood that this is an emergency appointment which shall be subject to review during the next General Election,” Rico droned on.

Higgins told himself that he was just imagining things, but he could have sworn that Ambassador Kel’Rae walked with a slight limp as he climbed the shallow steps leading up to the make-shift platform which had been erected for the impromptu “swearing-in” ceremony.

Lt. Rico continued to mumble his way though history, “Uhh, buy the power vested in me, on behalf of the Strategically Integrated Coalition Of Nations, I hereby appoint T’Phetti Ambassador Kel’Rae to be the first Chancellor of the planet Tophet. Congratulations Citizen!”

Rico made an awkward attempt to shake the Ambassador’s hand, thankfully most of it happened out of camera range. The applause had been beefed up in the final sound mix, after all, there was only so much clapping Rico’s Roughnecks could do, and Power Suit mitts didn’t make much noise when you slapped them together.

“Your first responsibility as Chancellor will be to coordinate directly with Intel on all covert operations within the Nation of Tophet. The borders of the T’Phetti Nation are hereby understood to include the entire planetary surface of Tophet II, and not just specific provinces of Tophet, as previously reported,” Rico clarified.

The phrase “not just specific provinces of Tophet, as previously reported” was hopefully ambiguous enough to let both Intel and the short sighted T’Phetti Council of Elders off the hook. But everyone knew Intel had been caught with their pants down. That was precisely the sort of thing that attracted the attention of the panel which decided who would be nominated for the next Albert Liverman Award for Excellence in Journalism!

Kel’Rae stepped aside and T’Phai took his turn standing before the camera. “Pvt. T’Phai, Mobile Infantry Trooper of Alpha Squad,” Rico intoned, “having served above and beyond the call of duty, and having completed his first term of military service for the Federation, is hereby appointed to the post of T’Phetti Ambassador to Earth, to take former Ambassador Kel’Rae’s place. Congratulations Citizen!”

The cheers that announcement elicited didn’t have to be beefed up, they were plenty loud already. T’Phai had done his part. He had helped defeat the Bugs and he had finally put his late wife to rest, so now he had two children to raise on his own. T’Phai was going home.

“This appointment is also temporary and subject to review at the Chancellor’s discretion. That concludes my remarks for this news conference. Thank you.” Rico looked relieved that it was all over.

Higgins noticed how the Fed-Net speech writers had tried to downplay the scale of T’Phai’s promotion while simultaneously implying that T’Phai was more than capable of stepping up to the challenge. Higgins doubted that sort of subtlety was truly necessary. If the Roughnecks were revered as war heros on Earth for destroying the Bug Queen, the only Skinnie member of the Roughnecks team was worshiped as mythical figure here on Tophet.

T’Phai didn’t seem phased by any of the goings on, but then T’Phai never seemed phased by anything. In any case, Higgins still had a pretty good idea which trooper had leaked his email address. But that was OK. Life was good. And now came his favoirte part:

“For Fed-Net News, this has been a Robert Higgins report.”

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