In any case, enjoy! Posted as-found, corrected only for formatting. I call it "Butcher Bullet" for reasons that will become obvious.
The young recruits sat in a row, their new uniforms chafing their still-soft, as yet unused to such harsh clothing but toughening fast, skin. The day was overcast but still hot; sweat was starting to half-moon under their arms. The dark cloth was unsuitable to such conditions as the recruits had experienced so far; the long sleeves were the only symbol of rank, earned by surviving their third week.
The instructor only had one arm, the other ending just above the elbow – the rest had been replaced with a cybernetic prosthesis that whined quietly as it moved. He strode around the scarred wooden table with a purpose, the quiet whines of the cybernetics almost drowned by the sounds of his mirror-bright boots hitting the wind-hardened earth. The crease in his trousers was sharp enough to shave with and one recruit snickered quietly at the thought of this two-meter-tall instructor staring into his shoes to shave with his pants.
“Recruit Thompson,” the DI said as he came to a stop in front of the assembly, “do you find something funny about today?”
“Then, if I have your permission, I'd like to begin.” The air chilled slightly. Strangely, the recruits started to sweat even more.
The DI placed two rifle magazines on the table and stepped forward.
“My name is Gunnery Sergeant Smith. Some of you may have seen me talking to Colonel Park so you know what weight I pull around here. You will shut up, you will listen and you will not repeat a word that I say to you today. I have you for an hour and a half and I do not intend to use half of that time. The rest of the time you will spend talking amongst yourselves like the plebes you are and you will, no doubt, discount everything I say to you. That would be a mistake, but it's what almost every single one of you little pukes has done for the past fifteen years so I don't expect anything different this time. What I'm about to tell you may save your life or may get you killed, it all depends on how good or how goddamn lucky you are. In case any of you doubt it, I have seen combat and I have lived through it. I have over two hundred CK's, that's Confirmed Kills for those of you still not up on military speak, as a sniper. They don't count the ones you get with an assault rifle in a general melee. I have been wounded sixteen times, earning a citation each time for bravery above and beyond the call of duty, been awarded two medals of honor, five bronze stars, three silver stars, and given the highest award for soldiers by six foreign governments. The last time I was wounded I lost my arm and my combat fitness rating, and have been pulling this REMF duty ever since. I have refused promotion more times then I can count or remember and turned down at least twelve cushy civvie jobs. Civvie jobs that all I'd need to do was smile and pose for photos at seventy times the pay I'm getting now. Why do I stay? Because maybe, just maybe, I can save one of your sorry butts a year. Some of you will be soldiers – the best job, finest title, and highest honor, a man can have. If I can keep one of you alive to come home to your mother or wife and kids, then I have been paid in some currency far more valuable than money.
“No doubt some of you are asking yourselves, 'I've never heard of this pompous windbag. If he's half as decorated as he's claiming to be I should have, right?' I have an answer for you; no, you shouldn't have. Every single medal they've pinned to me has been kept so hush-hush you couldn't even breathe where the people with the security clearance to know about it live. And if any of you have any bright ideas, you're the last group I have before I leave for another camp. As of eighteen hundred hours today, I'm a ghost.
“The more observant of you no doubt noticed that I put two things on this table here. The ones with a functioning brain probably figured out that these are thirty round magazines for the RAKS assault carbine, with which you are becoming familiar. What many of you do not and up till now have had no reason to know about is that there is a custom-made, semi-automatic-only variant of it called the RAKASHA. Whereas RAKS stands for, as your instructors no doubt beat into your heads till you can see it when you close your eyes, 'Rifle, Automatic, Kalashnikov, Short-barrel', the RAKASHA stands for 'Rifle, Automatic, Kalashnikov, Specialty, High Accuracy' and is so damn expensive a civvie could buy a family sedan for less. The object I have in my right hand is the magazine for the RAKS. You will note the how the translucent plastic allows you to count how many unfired rounds remain. This is a nice feature on the range but is damn near useless in a firefight because anyone who takes his eyes off the enemy long enough to count shells instead of shooting them usually earns a large hole that spurts blood. There is a reason you've heard the phrase 'when in doubt, empty the magazine' and I can assure it doesn't mean with your thumb.
“Recruit Thompson, would you please tell me how many rounds are left in this magazine?” He held the translucent green plastic rectangle over his head, accompanied by the whine of servomotors.
Thompson stood up, sweating and looking nervous. “I can't see from here, Sir.”
“Recruit Thompson, that's the smartest thing you've said today. This should illustrate my point perfectly. First, it's damn near impossible to see how many rounds are in the magazine in low light, so don't bother to look. Try to count your rounds as you fire, if you can and need to; it's more reliable. Thirty rounds mean ten trigger pulls, after that you'll just be making your rifle go click. Recruit Thompson, have you seen a RAKS yet?”
“About how much of the magazine was inside the rifle?”
“About half, Sir.”
“Thank you. You may sit down now. 'About half of the magazine.' That's twenty rounds, my dear recruits, that you can't see. That's my other point. Making the magazines translucent was, as I said, a fine idea for the range. In combat, if you take the time to look at your magazine without damn good cause, you'll be coming home in either a large box or several small ones. This is a fine magazine; very rugged and far cheaper to produce then an all-metal one, which was their alternative. However, it can be distracting, and distractions mean death for the men in a hot zone. This is now you my dear recruits.” He stabbed his cybernetic finger at them to punctuate his point and put the magazine back on the table. The servos whined as he pushed his wide-brimmed cap back to expose the faint scar on his forehead. “The RAKS is general issue and so is the ammo for it. Some instructors will tell you to load twenty-eight rounds into the mag to ease pressure on the magazine spring. This, in theory, causes easier feeding so it doesn't jam.” He paused, a twitch at the corner of his mouth the only giveaway to his emotional state. “Some instructors have not only not seen combat but haven't left this camp, other then to go to the cathouse in the village, in twenty years and the only med call they've seen is for VD. I'm not going to say these are the same instructors, but I will say that I have eaten more dirt then they've seen on a two day training maneuver and I always load thirty rounds. I have had one jam and that was because a cartridge blew up in the chamber. That's how I got this. There's a reason the RAKS is general issue – after I picked myself up and could see straight again I stumbled away with the rifle in tow. By the next day I had it unjammed and was back on the line.”
The recruits whispered amongst themselves at that point, hushed arguments over believing him or not.
“Some instructors here, probably the same ones who say not to load those last two rounds in the magazine, seem to think that the equipment our enemy uses is nothing but cheap junk. My arm came off to a single round from some of that 'cheap junk', fired from far enough away I was down and hadn't found my arm yet when I heard the report. That 'cheap junk' has mowed down more soldiers in my vision than I care to think about. That 'cheap junk' is being held by dedicated, well trained, men and women who seem to show up at the worst possible time and always seem to have more then enough ammunition. Their weapons are not as reliable or as powerful as ours on average, true, but power is a relative term. Does it really matter if the slug that just tore through your left lung was traveling at twice the speed of sound or only half that speed?
“Speaking of power, I wish for you to look at this next magazine. Please note, those of you that can see, the notch on the left hand side. This is the slider for the locking pin on the RAKASHA's bolt. The pin engages this notch and holds the magazine perfectly stable during the feeding cycle – the round fed into the chamber suffers no deformation or vibration from the loading, especially on follow-up shots. The action of the RAKASHA is a gas-tap, delayed buffer system that only unlocks the bolt and ejects the shell only after the fired round has left the barrel. The special magazine locking system I just explained is for added accuracy and, I assure you, works damn well. For this reason, the standard magazine will not function in the RAKASHA, which is fine because the standard magazine has been found deficient in both primary and followup shots at ranges over three hundred meters. However, since there is no locking pin on the bolt of the RAKS, a RAKASHA magazine will function perfectly fine in the other weapon. There is no improvement to accuracy, however, from such a substitution.”
He walked around the table and picked up the other magazine. He pushed the top cartridge from each, set them on their primer end, set the magazines behind the cartridge that came from them, then walked back.
“From a distance, these two cartridges appear to be identical. They are not. The one on my left, standard issue; full metal jacket, lead core, standard primer, non-expanding, explosive muzzle velocity. This is called the surgeon bullet, so called because early versions used to have an insufficient jacket and distinctly higher muzzle velocity – this caused them to explode inside a soft target, such as your body, making lots of hard work for the cutters. Now it's called that because it leaves a nice, clean hole all the way through. This is what you are issued, this is what you will use. This is the only ammunition you can legally possess in a war zone.” He picked up the other cartridge. “This one is not standard issue. As those of you in the front row can see, it has a hollow tip. This makes it a hollow-point bullet. This shifts the weight to the rear making it more accurate, but it also means that it does expand. It is, therefore, illegal in a war zone and carries a penalty of death to anyone caught with it. It is issued only to snipers, and only on soft-target, single-kill missions. I did not just say that, you did not see it, this bullet does not exist, it never did, it never will. I doubt any of you will see it after today, but if you do, remember this; load it last so it's fired first. We call this one the butcher bullet because anyone who's hit with it might as well go to the butcher because they're just so much wasted meat.”
He slipped the second cartridge into a pocket and buttoned it closed.
“Another weapon of note today is the Crow. The Crow is our standard-issue submachine gun. Actually, it's called the CAW, Close Assault Weapon, but since a crow goes 'caw' the name is pretty obvious to figure out. I, for one, felt like a fool asking someone to pass me one of the CAWs before de-assing an APC. The Crow fires our standard pistol cartridge at six hundred rounds per minute in single shot, three round bursts, and full auto, and thereby compares favorably to our enemy's five hundred and fifty with both single shot and full auto capabilities. Our pistol cartridge, however, is not as powerful as our enemy's standard submachine gun loading, nor as accurate, but it suffices.
“Only a fool keeps his weapon on full auto all the time. It's wasteful of ammo and it's hard on the weapon, particularly the silenced variants some of you may one day live to use. The Crow should be set, as a general rule, on three round burst mode unless special circumstances arise. These are suppression fire when you cannot see your enemy, extractions, executions and when employing a silencer device. Anyone who tries to fire their Crow on full auto with a silencer deserves to lose their fingers, like they will, when the gas pressure ruptures the cheap metal housing. This is something you should damn well remember because your regular instructors don't mention it for some reason. The Crow is a fine weapon to about half the range you'd use the RAKS. Beyond that and the bullet has lost enough velocity to be nearly worthless except to kick up some dirt, which, while it may make someone keep their hear down, isn't very useful. If you train with it you'll notice how much closer the targets are, though smaller, then the ones for the RAKS. Now you know why. The difficulty is the same, but it's all an illusion.
“The last two things I'm here to speak about, if any of you are actually listening, are the pistol and radio discipline. One is a poorly designed but cheap-to-manufacture device that might save your life, the other is a well designed, rugged, useful tool that will save you. Anyone wish to guess which is which?”
A tentative hand went up in the back row. Though the owner of the hand's face was obscured, the instructor addressed him by name. “Put your hand down, Recruit Brownfeather, you're wrong. The radio is not cheap to manufacture because the chemicals in the power cell are exotics. Before any of you start to think that I'm pulling your leg, I'm going to ask you all a question. How much do each of you make in a year serving here? Double that. That's what a combat radio costs. That's why there's only one per squad that you're all linked into via that headset you've all been grumbling about over chow. Your radioman is your lifeline; keep him alive or you're all worm food. As for radio discipline, I only have three things to say. One, keep your messages brief, to the point and as full of details as you can. That way there are fewer questions, less air time, less chance of getting traced and less lag before the air support or artillery hits. Two, never keep a channel open, especially if you're scouting. Send short, coded messages when you have to and shut up the rest of the time. Third, when the crap explodes, and it will, the first thing you do is hit the panic button before you return fire. I take that back. First you duck.
“The issue pistol has several major issues. First off, it's inconsistent when it comes to feeding. While this has been addressed by a stiffer magazine spring, the angle of the loading ramp remains the same. It doesn't like the truncated cone shape of the issue ammunition and will jam on average once every fifteen rounds because of it. Issue magazines are twelve rounds. Do the math. Another glaring problem with the pistol is the sights. Whatever genius decided to put a graduated ramp at the rear of a pistol's slide obviously never fired one in combat. It comes loose at the slightest provocation and blocks your view of the blade, making sighting impossible. Don't trust it. The power of the issue ammunition has already been addressed, but remember what I said when you have to use some. In the pistol it's even worse because of the shorter barrel, and the muzzle flash and blast are tremendous. Finally, we have to consider the fact that everything is made by the lowest bidder the government can find. Since the standard issue pistol is considered a secondary or even tertiary arm, the standards applied are about as loose as a bride's thighs on her honeymoon. Don't trust it. Use it if you have to, but don't trust it.
“I could lecture you for the next week for eight hours a day and still not give you half of what I learned the hard way. I could spend the next month running you through drills and giving you proper hands-on training with these weapons and their counterparts and you still wouldn't be ready for combat. Nothing we can do here will prepare you mentally for the blood and terror you're going to have to deal with without destroying you as human beings. The best we can do is train your bodies to react properly, your minds to make the right decisions and give you the most important pearls of wisdom we have found and hope to hell you adapt enough to come back alive and sane. The instructors here are full of crap, but they're well trained, and so will you be when you graduate. Common sense says that an individual's chances of survival in a battle are better if he runs away, yet, statistically, more people die during the 'mopping up' phase, after the line has broken. Therefore, mathematically, your chances of surviving as a whole are significantly higher if you stand and fight. Remember that when things get hot and you'll do well for yourself, your squad and your army.
“I wish you all the best of luck and I hope there's a single smart one among you who'll remember what I've said here. I hope I kept someone's mother from getting a folded flag to show the neighbors what she sacrificed. I am leaving now but you have just over an hour to wait here and relax before your next instructor arrives. Use that time well.”
He saluted them. Then, rather then wait for them to return the salute, he turned on his heel and marched off, the faint whine of servos disappearing when into the hot, still, summer air.