Taurian Invasion 21: Success

Somewhere in my ponderings, I fell asleep. After a series of confused nightmares, I finally opened my eyes. The clock said it was nearly four in the morning. I did a mental check list to assess my condition. I could see clearly, which was an improvement. My head only hurt when I moved it, which wasn’t wonderful, but it was better. On the other hand there was someone next to me in the bed, which threatened to make my head hurt for an entirely different reason.

I got up carefully and quietly and went over the briefing that Sylvia had prepared for me from last night. The media was starting to work its self into a frenzy over alien sightings. I was glad that it wasn’t my job to check out which of those were real and which were fake. I only had to take out those that were found, and that was a big enough job for me, Thank you.

Despite being unfit for combat today, I intended to do what I could to help my buddies who would be out there today. I went over yesterday’s battle data and found out how the day had ended. Sniper had intercepted and wiped out the group that my squad had been harassing. They then went on to engage the third force, but by that time the aliens had already started moving back towards their base. Sniper wisely called off the pursuit before the Taurians got close to the edge of the sensor grid to forestall the possibility of an ambush. They then had the joy of corpse removal duty to keep as many alien bodies from being recovered by the enemy as possible. Today, if all went well, would be the assault on the alien base itself, and due to my overwhelming grace and skill, I was going to miss out on it.

I turned my attention to the problem of the Taurian tactics once again. The pattern was familiar, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I kept going over all of the battles against the Taurians. When the bio-soldiers had riders their tactics were reasonably good. We had been lucky that we had been able to take out the only alien soldiers before they arrived in combat. Without the riders, the bio-soldiers acted differently, but still showed some signs of external control, but not all the time.

I was thinking about taking a break, because my head was really starting to hurt when I heard Lena stirring. I turned in time to see her stretch and give me a shy smile. That was enough to tell me that I was dealing with the nighttime version of Lena, “How are you this morning?”

A small childish voice said, “I’m fine.”

“Thank you for watching over me while I didn’t feel well.”

“Your welcome,” giving me a dazzling smile, her smile faded and she got a haunted look, “I wasn’t sure if it was OK to be here, but I didn’t want to be alone.”

I tried to give her a reassuring smile despite my headache, “It’s OK, you’re always welcome here.”

She brightened noticeably, “Are you feeling better?”

“My head still hurts, but I feel better than I did yesterday.”

“Will you be going out with them today?”

“No, I’m afraid that I can’t go out until the nurse says I’m well enough.”

“Oh,” she looked disappointed, “I gotta go now.”

“OK, but you be careful. Even though I can’t be out there today, I promise I will still be watching over you today.”

This won me a smile, “OK, see you later.”

After she left, I took some pain pills and lay back down for a moment to try to get my head to quit hurting. I didn’t feel like I was any closer to understanding why Lena acted the way she did, but my hunch of treating her like two different people seemed to be effective. I had gotten a coherent conversation out of the nighttime version of Lena, which seemed to be progress. As to where to go from here, I was completely clueless, as was my usual case with women.

I laid there until my headache subsided to a tolerable level. I decided to go and visit Sniper before breakfast. When I opened the door to his quarters, he was talking to someone over a video link, “Allen’s here; we’ll finish this conversation later. Well, Allen, how’s the head?”

“Even with pills, this headache won’t go away entirely. I’m afraid that going out today would be out of the question.”

“I’m glad you agree. I was afraid that I was going to have to give you a freaking order to make you stay put today.”

“No, I’d just be in the way today, but I would like permission to monitor and advise today, if you think that would be helpful.”

“Allen, you’re a flipping great pilot, but you best asset is you’re the best goat headed tactician in the company. Having you over at C&C would be a real flanking help.”

“I was also thinking that we could put my squad and Derrick’s squad together on a temporary basis. Sureshot could fill in as temporary squad leader.”

“I’d actually rather put your people under Laura as I have decided to make her full squad leader.”

“That could work even better.”

“Excellent, by the way, HQ has gotten really excited from your discovery of why the basket weaving aliens were shooting bloody civilians. They were already having some sort of blasted conference when we get back, but you’re going to be the main God blessed speaker.”

“Wow, I’m so glad that they asked me so nicely.”

“Perils of being in the monkey loving army. They don’t have to ask.”

“Thanks for the heads up anyway.”

As I headed back for breakfast, I analyzed my conversation with Sniper. I still got the feeling that he was treating me like a superior officer. As flattering as that was, he was both older and more experienced than I was, and it just didn’t feel right, not even counting the fact that he outranked me. Add the surprise conference and it was Twilight Zone time again. So many things in my life just did not add up, and thinking too hard literally made my head hurt today, thanks to my concussion.

At breakfast, I found out why Lena had hid in her room after being injured. Everyone was so focused on me that I felt like I was being suffocated. It helped that they all were worried about me and I had so many offers of help I couldn’t remember them all. I was never comfortable in crowds and if I didn’t feel like I needed to be there as a leader, I would have bolted too. The nurse reminded me that I needed to see her after this mornings briefing, which added even more joy to my day.

Sniper appeared on the main screen and started the meeting; “Today’s plan is a Hecuva lot like yesterday’s. We will start off by extending the damp sensor grid as close to the mustard feathered alien base as we can safely, and then we are going to start killing half-witted Taurs and seeing what the flap they do about it. We had a hard battle yesterday, with six flipping minor injuries, two of which won’t be joining us today. Lets be green duck flying careful today as there is a good chance that things will get hotter than heck today!”

I called my squad together and told them that they would be under Laura today, but that I would be monitoring them from the command post. I then went to see the nurse, where she poked and prodded me (and found some bruises I didn’t know I had) and told me to take it easy today because it was her job and not because she thought I would do so. I promised to come back if my symptoms got noticeably worse.

I then hiked through the humidity to Rodolfo’s jet, which was our command and control center. Rodolfo was waiting for me, “Ah Allen, how are you holding up?”

“It only hurts when I breathe.”

He smiled and said, “So you are feeling better. We have a station set up for you. Feel free to ask me about anything, because I do not do much more than stand here and look important during these operations.”

“OK, so what do you know about this conference that I’m supposed to speak at that’s been set up for when we get back?”

“You must be quite the detective. As far as I knew, your place in the conference had not even been finalized yet.”

“I hadn’t even heard a progress report before I found out that I was invited to speak at this conference.”

“All I know is that everything we have found has only served to confirm your insight. I’ve done a number of the interviews with the villagers myself and everything they said goes along with it. You have an amazing mind young man.”

“Thank you, sir. That means a lot to me coming from a man of your stature.”

“Do not be too impressed. I am just a humble translator with delusions of grandeur.”

“Well sir, as much as I would like to continue this conversation, I need to sit down before I fall down.”

“My apologies. Right this way.”

I was shaking when I sat down and only part of it was due to my head. I was playing word games with a man who was way out of my league. He seemed to be a genuinely nice person and I didn’t want to jeopardize any future relations by making it obvious that I was pumping him for information. Ultimately, my weakness was not feigned and I soon had to ask him if there was someplace where I could get some water to take my medication and a bed I could rest on until I felt better or the action started. He offered his personal cabin (which was a lot nicer than mine,) and promised to send someone for me as soon as something happened.

I dozed for about an hour before I started feeling better. Physical weakness frustrates me and I tend to be angry at myself when my own limitations get in the way. This time I had the consolation of knowing I had made the right decision by staying. If I had decided to try and ‘macho through the pain,’ someone would probably have been carrying me back to base about now. I went to my station and looked over the sensor grid to see the situation. They had only been planting sensors for a little while and there had been no contacts so far.

I checked in with my squad to let them know that I was watching, and they let me know how bored they were. Things remained like that for the first hour or so while they completed the first loop of sensors. Then things started getting interesting. We already knew from satellite reconnaissance that the aliens had cleared a large area around their base down to bare dirt, but when Leon and his scouts crept close enough to see the clearing, they found the base literally ringed with Centaurs. Over the next hour they counted over 300 Centaurs, a dozen Gargoyles and a lone Cyclops guarding the base. Sniper decided to consult with me before continuing, “Any bright ideas genius boy?”

“Your plan of shoot one and see how they react is as good as anything I can come up with at the moment.”

“You heard the man Leon, drop some of those fishcakes.”

The Taurian response surprised me. Every Centaur that could bring its weapon to bear on the section of the jungle turned and opened up with a continuous barrage of fire until a large swath of the jungle had been leveled. Leon and his squad had jumped as soon as they had seen the incoming fire, but they still took some hits from the sheer volume of fire, although only one man was taken out of the fight. They stopped firing suddenly and all turned back to their original positions. The only movement came from a few Centaurs that were dragging their fallen comrades back into the base.

“Any more bright ideas, genius boy.”

“Give me a moment to check the footage; I think I saw something that could be a weakness.”

“I sure as shipments hope so.”

“OK, I think I’ve got something. They are in a ring facing outward so that they can see the entire perimeter. When they see our fire, roughly half of the circle turns and faces that point and opens fire. The key here is that they don’t leave any units in the firing group on over watch, and the firing group will ignore anything that is not in their initial targeted area. This leaves them with two large blind spots on on either side of their target area. If you set up two groups in these blind spots, you should be able to devastate the firing group. They shouldn’t be able to tell what hit them as long as you stop firing when they do.”

“Give me some points on the map, and I’ll set up the flapping fire teams.”

The rest of the battle was oddly surreal. Sniper led a team of our best marksmen (Sureshot being one of them) who would fire from as far back as they could and run. The flanking fire groups would then open up on firing Centaurs and tear them to shreds. After the firing stopped, the Centaurs would adjust their spacing until they formed an even ring while about ten Centaurs dragged bodies inside the largest building. After repeating this six times, there were only about thirty Centaurs and the Cyclops left standing. Sniper then gathered everyone together for the final assault. Everyone who had a missile launcher blasted the Cyclops simultaneously, and then everyone advanced and wiped out the remaining Centaurs. After that a lone Centaur would emerge from the base every few minutes and be blown to ribbons, but even that stopped after about 20 minutes.

Now all that was left was to secure the base . The task fell to Leon and his scouts as they had been getting ready for this since the beginning of the mission. I used the feed from the camera on Leon’s suit to follow along as they explored and secured the base. They were able to clear the outer buildings pretty quickly while even securing two alien soldiers.

Nearly the entire bottom floor of the biggest building consisted of a huge open room. My first thought upon seeing it was that it was easily large enough to hold a Titan or two. The sides of this room held the stations where the bio-soldiers came to feed. The room’s only inhabitants was a pile of bio-soldier corpses that that been dragged in during the recent battle. The back of the room was separated into three ‘labs’ where various bio-soldiers were assembled and repaired. A quick check of the Titan and Cyclops labs showed that their only occupants were far from completion. The Centaur lab was a different story. There were ten ‘assembly tables’ where there were Centaurs that we had just broken which were opened up in a way that suggested that they were in the process of being repaired. Leon stationed one member of his squad at the entrance of each of the labs and then he and Joanne searched the growth vats beyond them to make sure that they were clear. They found nothing on the lower level, which is where they had expected to find most of the resistance. The upper level was accessed from a series of three sloping ramps that lead from each of the labs. Their sentries moved to these tunnel entrances and when Leon confirmed that the area at the top was clear, everyone moved to the upper deck. Leon and Joanne had the repetitive task of checking the many storage rooms one by one. All of these rooms looked like they were full of alien eggs of various sizes, but examples recovered from other bases told us that this was just how the aliens made their storage containers and they were not dangerous. They meticulously made their way to the back of the very top back of the building where their primary objective lay: The command room.

Leon peeked into the doorway and saw movement in the command room. The outline of an individual could be seen silhouetted in front of a machine we called the switchboard. Leon launched a tazer-pack at this figure an he and Joanne rushed into to the room and finally declared the base secure.

And then the room exploded!

The feeds from both Leon’s and Joanne’s suits both stopped, and we all feared the worst, but when the other members of their squad reached them they were both alive. The blast was powerful enough to kill the pilot obliterate many of the other machines. Fortunately, even the scout versions of the battlesuit can take an awful lot damage. They took more damage from hitting the walls, than from the blast itself. The blast was disbursed over the surface area of their suits, and none of the shrapnel even penetrated the outer armor, but the heat literally cooked the alien organism and within a few seconds it died. Sniper near-swore nonstop until Leon and Laura were brought out of the base and he could see for himself that they were OK.

The battle was over, and we had won!

Looking back, we did pretty well. It had been a baptism of fire for myself, our company and our new battlesuits. Our battlesuits had performed nearly flawlessly. We lost three alien organism components to enemy action, but we hadn’t lost any to mechanical failure although bad starts were still a problem. Our company had lost two pilots that would need to be replaced. Zach was gone forever and Derrick was permanently crippled, but everyone else who was injured would eventually return when they had recovered. We had fulfilled our mission objectives: The base was the most intact alien installation captured so far. The suicide charge in the command room had caught us all off guard, but now we knew it was there.

We were all glad to be heading home that night, and the victory party lasted most of the trip home. I only joined the celebration for a half hour or so before retiring to my room. I had never been much of a party person, and my injury gave me the perfect excuse to get away. I stayed up going over the battle data until I was so exhausted that I asked myself why I was still awake. If I hadn’t already had a headache, I would have smacked myself. My nightly visitor hadn’t shown, and I was waiting up for her. I called myself an idiot and crawled into my bed, but I still couldn’t help feeling a bit lonely.

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Taurian Invasion 20: The Giant Killers

Sniper stood up slowly and said in a tired voice, “Alright everyone, we’ve have a freaking bad day. I want each of you to give me a status report on your squads this evening. I need to determine weather we will ready to go in the morning, or we need to be withdrawn.”

I surprised myself as much as everyone else when I snarled, “NO!” The whole room froze and everyone stared at me. Now that I had that out, I had no choice but to continue, “Units are withdrawn when they are near their limits, and we are just starting to hit our stride. We are an elite fighting unit with the most powerful weapons on the planet. Before we came here I studied the other assaults on alien bases, and in all five assaults, Cyclops units were only taken down by heavy armor or air strikes. We took down four of the stupid things today, without any losses! Now, there are other units who could finish off the Taurs, but that is not our only mission here. We are here to get information on the enemy, which we are doing at a better rate than any unit has ever done, but in the end our primary mission is to develop the Warrior Battlesuits to as close to perfection as can be done short of God himself coming down and doing a redesign, and there is no one else in the world who can do that besides us! We are Warrior pilots dammit! I don’t know about the rest of you, but my squad will be going back out in the morning!” And I stormed out of the meeting. I was shaking when I got back to my room with a combination of fatigue, anger and the knowledge that I had just done something very stupid.

I was not surprised at all when I found the message telling me to meet Sniper in his quarters immediately. I sat for a few minutes so that I could stop shaking and get myself completely under control.When I entered his room, I was surprised. He looked like his normal self, neither angry nor depressed, which I was expecting. If anything, he looked a little embarrassed.

“First of all, don’t apologize. You said what needed to be said, if anything, I should have been the one saying it. I didn’t call you here for that. I actually sent that message for you to meet me before the meeting. Allen, you have been giving a lot of orders to other squads without checking with me. What do you have to say about that.”

“I did what seemed the best course of action under the circumstances.”

“Good, you didn’t back down. Were you planning on apologizing for your outburst tonight?”

“I treated you without the respect that you have earned, and for that I will apologize, but I still stand by what I said.”

“I expected as much. When someone acts the way you do, there are only two choices for a military organization of what to do: Court-martial them or promote them. Allen you have shown excellent judgment and initiative under fire. Just as important, the members of this company listen to you and trust your judgment. You have earned both their respect and mine. That’s why I have decided make you my second in command.”

This totally caught me off guard and I said the first thing that came to mind, “I thought that was Rusty’s job.”

“I’ve known Rusty for a long time. He doesn’t want to be in blasted command. He doesn’t even want to be a squad leader. A second has to be ready to take command in case the flunking commander is killed or incapacitated; Rusty isn’t ready to do that. He and I talked about it, and we agree; you are ready.”

“This is just my first battle. I broke down after the first engagement and I was shaking so hard when I put my suit on this morning that Fredgar had to help me put on my gloves.”

“And that puts you just about even with the rest of us. Allen, you are too smart for your own good and a pain in the neck besides, but you have the best plastered battle instincts of anyone in the company, myself included. Your brain never stops analyzing every flipping thing until you figure it out like some sort of puzzle. I bet you had that whole thing about how the bleeding aliens were sending reinforcements figured out in you head before you even got back to base and you didn’t even need to look at the data.”

“I was pretty sure, but I wanted to check the data before anyone risked their life on a theory.”

“Well, you were right on. Do you have any more theories running around in that thick skull of yours?”

“Actually I had a couple I wanted to check out tonight if I had time.”

“God save me from geniuses. Tell me what they are.”

“I’m not sure, but I think that I might know why the Taurians were shooting some civilians and not others.”

“Go on.”

“Every single body I saw today was carrying something: A gun, a pack, a bundle of clothing … even a child. I think that they consider anyone carrying something a potential threat.”

“An interesting idea, how were you going to check it?”

“First I was going to cross reference video footage from each of the suits with the time each new body was added to the location grid. After that I was going to check the footage from other bases to see if it held up there. The next step was to go over the eye witness testimony and possibly to set up some interviews, but I hadn’t really figured out yet how to arrange that.”

“I think I can help you with this part. How long do you think that it will take for you to do all that yourself?”

“A few days maybe.”

“Allen, this sounds like an important idea. You don’t have the free time to do all this yourself, especially if you’re going to take up the duties of an XO. I’m going to call Rodolfo and we are going to get people back at headquarters to do the ridiculous grunt work for you. Trying to do it all yourself is counterproductive.”

“I just didn’t want to say anything until I had something to back it up with.”

“I don’t see anything that someone else couldn’t look for just as easily as you could or better.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“So what’s your other idea.”

“This one’s a bit harder to explain. The tactics we faced today were simplistic to the point of stupidity. We were standing there in the open shooting Centaurs in the back, and they didn’t even turn around, and the same thing happened with the Cyclops later. As long as there are no soldiers present, the bio-soldiers are still able to be commanded from the base but they seem to have a control limitation that is crippling them. I haven’t figured out what it is yet, but I know it’s there.”

“That kind of thing is beyond me, but you aren’t the only genius that Prometheus has. Let’s run that one by Rodolfo as well and see what he thinks.”

I spent the next hour talking to Rodolfo, and later General Moore, about my ideas. At first it was a bit embarrassing to be scrutinized by such high level people, but it got be exciting soon enough. (At least to me; Sniper fell asleep.) I was feeling pretty good by the time I got back to the motorhome, but that ended about two seconds after I got into the rec room.

The gloom there was so pervasive that it stopped me in my tracks. I stood there for a moment and thought about saying something. I had one of the techs set up the screens that connected all of the motorhomes into one big conference room, got to the camera spot and took a deep breath, “I really hate to break up this party, when you guys look like you’re having such a blast, but we have a lot to do in the morning. By way of announcements, I have just been offered and accepted the position of XO. Sniper has a full plate right now, so it’s up to me to get you guys moving. There are an awful lot of Taurians out there who really need killing, and I want you well rested so that none of them get away. Besides, some of you guys really need your beauty sleep. Get to bed! I expect some of you boys to look a lot prettier in the morning.” It was a bad speech and the joke was lame, but it got them moving in the right direction. I received some sincere congratulations from those on my motorhome and a load of congratulatory texts.

Everything was going better for me personally than I had ever dreamed … which was starting to give me that creepy feeling again. Everyone was taking me far too seriously for a mere squad leader or even an XO. My suggestion and ideas were being immediately taken to the highest levels for consideration. Rusty’s bowing out as company XO was far too convenient, and I no longer thought that the wrong lieutenant’s bars on my dress uniform were a mistake. Battlefield promotions were part of military tradition, but even I knew that it was done only in an emergency when there was a leadership vacuum. Sniper should have at least chewed me out for being out of line, but he was acting like he was the one out of line. All of which said that someone was trying to pull the wool over my eyes again.

All of this was running through my mind as I went over the battle data for the day. I decided to let someone else worry about the carrying question for now. Observation would show whether I was right or not, but my other theory was still bugging me. Something about how they deployed reminded me of something, but the memory floated just out of reach in the edges of my mind, and it was driving me crazy. I was going over the data for the third time, when there was a soft knock at my door. I opened the door to see Lena standing there looking at her feet. Before I could even say ‘come in,’ she tackle-hugged me. She stood there shaking, and this time, undeniably crying. I stood there and held her because I had no clue what else to do. I maneuvered us until we were sitting on the bed, (yeah, I know it sounds like I was trying something romantic, but the truth was that my back was hurting.) She eventually stopped shaking. I lifted her chin, so I could look her in the eyes, but before I could say anything she pleaded in a tiny voice, “Please let me stay, I don’t want to be alone!” Plenty of reasons why this wasn’t a good idea were running around in the back of my mind, but none of them would become coherent, so I gave in, “All right, everything will be OK.”  

* * *

  I awoke the next morning to find her staring at me with a fearful look in her eyes. “Everything’s going to be OK, I won’t let anyone hurt you.” This seemed to reassure her as she grabbed me and hugged me fiercely. She gave me a small shy smile and then left without saying a word.

This was becoming a pattern, so I couldn’t shrug it off as I had before. It seemed obvious to me that my nocturnal visitor both was and was not the woman I had made a part of my squad. If we weren’t isolated in the middle of the Amazon, I might have been wondering if Lena had a twin that I just hadn’t been aware of, but I knew everyone on the mission at least by sight, so I knew it was her. My visitor looked just like Lena, but there are other ways to identify a person besides the way they look. All of the battlesuits looked basically identical, but I had started noticing that I could often tell who was in a given suit without being able to see their face. A person’s voice, the way they walk and the way that they move are all unique to any individual. My visitor did not sound, move or walk like Lena. I had a person that I had positively identified as both being and not being Rowlena MacLeod. I was out of my depth here, and I couldn’t get the theme from Twilight Zone out of my head when I thought about it.

Unfortunately, I had a big day ahead of me and all the mysteries in my life had to be set aside because I had a company to watch over, and they had Taurs to kill. As breakfast ended and out morning briefing began, Sniper came on the main viewer. He looked better than he did last night, but he still didn’t look at 100%.

“Alright flatheads, if things go according to the freaking plan; we should have a really boring morning, and a downright interesting afternoon. We have to set up two bloody sensor ring sweeps around the flocking Taurian monkey loving base before lunch without the salivating aliens noticing us. After lunch, we get to play kill the lonely sentry and see how many alien buzzards come to avenge the idiot.”

Everyone seemed to be in a grim mood this morning. Avenging Zach’s loss was a common thread in nearly everyone’s conversation. We were out for blood, which is why it was a good thing that we had an uneventful morning. Angry people can make mistakes, but bloodlust tends to be no match for boredom. Five hours of setting sensors had most of us back to an even keel again.

We came back to base to feed ourselves and our suits, and had a short briefing before we went out again. The sentry ring of Centaurs was still intact, but the sentries were far enough apart that we could move in and out at will. We had destroyed the ‘garrison’ at the village and it had never been replaced. The Brazilians had hauled out all of the Taurian bodies so that the aliens could not recover them. Lone Gargoyles had looked over both battle sites, and finding no alien bodies or villagers, had apparently lost interest and went home.

Our new job this afternoon was to try to provoke a response from the aliens by picking off sentries. The theory was to get the aliens to send out small reaction forces until they ran out of bio-soldiers, then move in on the alien base. Fortunately, we knew better than to expect everything to always go according to plan. We set up a series of barriers to create defensive positions with kill zones. We were even prepared for Wyverns this time with some of our people carrying Stinger III ground to air missiles. We got into position, dispatched our first Centaur sentry, and waited.

Five minutes later, the first mob of bio-soldiers entered our sensor grid. My squad with Beth (Buddy and Terry being loaned to cover the kill zone) was waiting near their expected entry point to get an accurate count of the enemy. We had just reported 17 Gargoyles, 32 Centaurs and 2 Cyclops, when another unit reported that 2 Wyverns were overhead as well. Sniper set things into motion, “Alright everyone, let’s stick to the flipping plan. Those Wyverns should get here first. I want a freaking double missile launch on each of the bastards. As soon as they fall, Joey, your squad is on Wyvern dispatch. Make sure that those idiots are out of the fight, and then get back to the sarcastic lines.”

Rusty had been put in charge of the air defense, “Wyverns are in range, lock-ons confirmed and Fire! One is going down. Second group fire! They’re all yours Joey.”

“Sniper this is control, we have three groups of Taurians entering the sensor grid.”

“Son of a motherless goat! Well people, it looks like we got their monkey tailed attention.”

Fluffy, private channel to Sniper. Sniper they’re trying to get us in a pincher attack.”

“Crap on a stick. Any ideas, genius boy?”

“Take the main group and engage one of the flanking groups. I’ll try to draw off the middle group with hit and run attacks.”

“What about the third group?”

I had to think for a second, “… Send Leon and his scouts to get a count of the last group and then try to draw them off as well. As soon as the main group has finished off one group, engage the next one and defeat them in detail.”

“And what if they ignore you?”

“Then my group will slaughter them until they change their minds or until they are all dead.”

“And if they split up?”

“Then I’ll deal with it as best I can. Keep Buddy and Terry with you. I’m going to need speed to pull this off and you could use his firepower.”

“All right, but you keep alert. You’re exposed out there and it could turn bad real fast out there.”

Sniper went onto the main channel and started telling everyone else the plan. I started going over my squad’s situation. I had two Cyclops and nearly 50 Gargoyles and Centaurs (but no alien soldiers) to keep occupied. First priority was to deal with the Cyclops. We could take the occasion hit from a Centaur and keep going, but one hit from one of the Cyclops orbs and we were dead meat. I couldn’t pull what I did last time because Buddy wasn’t here. A new plan formed in my head, but if my assumptions about bio-soldier behavior was wrong, it could get us all killed.

“New plan guys. Lena, you and I will run up directly behind both Cyclops and do simultaneous death from above attacks. Sureshot, your job is to blind the Cyclops if they survive our attacks, Rico, you and Beth are cover.”


“After that, its long range hit and run. Keep the Taurs running in circles until the main group is ready for them. Keeping them after us is the objective, any kills are a bonus. They outnumber us ten to one so mobility is the only thing that will keep us alive.”

“What if they see us coming boss?”

“As long as we are coming from directly behind them, they won’t. They never turn around.”

We poured on the speed and soon caught up to our enemies. Lena and I ran up right behind the Cyclops. I had never been this close to such a large creature before. I was about to personally take down a creature that was more than thirty times my size with just an electric sword. If I had been alone I might have chickened out, but I couldn’t let my team down. “On three Lena. One … two … three!”

I jumped into the air with my sword drawn, and I remember thinking that two or three squads could have a picnic on the massive back of the creature. I focused on the spot where my display said the Cyclops core was. I drove my sword right into the right spot, but while I was in the air, my body had rotated to where my legs were above my body and I ended up landing flat on my face on the creatures back. The creature was convulsing as I tried to get my footing. I managed get one foot under me and jumped blindly. I hit the ground and managed to roll out to keep from hurting myself further. Lena helped me to my feet and Sureshot reported, “Both Cyclops are down, you OK boss?”

“I landed badly on the Taur and I’m still seeing stars. Get us to an ambush point, John, while I clear my head. Crap! I left my sword.”

“Forget it boss, it’s not important.”

“You’re right, lets go.”

We spent the next 20 minutes or so playing tag with the Gargoyles and Centaurs. We would line up a long range shot, let off a few rounds, run at top speed and hit them again from another direction. Sureshot was in his element and took down 12, Lena, Beth and Rico bagged 4 each and I only got three, and that was luck as I had a horrendous headache that kept getting worse. (Buddy was apparently having a field day as his count was at 26!) That’s when the game changed again.

The mob we were chasing suddenly stopped and gathered together. I called up a tactical map and couldn’t get it come into focus, just to make things interesting. As I was trying to make sense of this, Sniper announced, “Allen, we’ve finished off this crispy group and we are heading to your location.”

“That explains why this group has assumed a defensive formation.”

“Leon here, the group we are harassing has also formed a defensive ring.”

“Allen, what do you think that this means?”

“It means that the aliens have realized that we are winning and are trying to figure out what to do.”

“Sniper, this is control.”

“What the flip now?”

“All Centaur sentries have started moving toward their base.”

“They’re pulling their forces back to their strong point. The last two forces should pull back soon. What’s your ETA?”

“About two minutes if we haul apples.”

“Good, these guys won’t last 10 seconds against your force.” I went and leaned against a tree to maintain my balance. Lena noticed.

“Allen, you OK?”

“No, I seem to have hit my head harder than I thought while taking down that Cyclops. I have a massive headache, my vision is getting blurry and I’m starting to feel sick. I need to head back to base. Sureshot, Rico, Beth, go join up with Buddy. Lena can see me back.”

“Piggyback or fireman?”

“Piggyback I think.”

“I was kidding.”

“I’m afraid I’m not. I don’t think I could walk much further without falling over.” Lena carried me back to my transport point and we hitched a ride back to base. Once back in our motorhome, Lena helped support me to the infirmary once we had racked our suits. The nurse informed me that I had a nice concussion, and that I was off combat duty until she cleared me.

Lena helped me to my room and to lie down. “You going to be OK?”

“I’ll feel a lot better when the pain killers kick in.” “And you were lecturing me about trying to macho through the pain.”

“Well, I definitely don’t feel very macho right now.”

“Because I had to carry you off the battlefield?”

“No, because I wouldn’t give me good odds against a five year old with a pillow right now.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll be back to the ultimate warrior in no time.”

“You know you have a new record, now.”

“Which one is that?”

“You and I are the first battlesuit pilots to ever take down a Cyclops solo.”

“I guess we are at that, and I guess I can share the record with you.”

“Well, I’m honored to share the title with such an illustrious lady.”

“The pain meds must be kicking in, because you’re full of it again.”

“Yeah, the pain is fading and I’m getting a bit sleepy. I’m afraid that I will start babbling incoherently soon.”

“And I would tell this from your normal conversation how? You get some sleep and get better. I feel a lot safer on the battlefield with you there.” She leaned over and gave me a peck on the forehead and left.

I smiled to myself for a moment; and then my brain started working. The same person in the same room and the differences couldn’t have been clearer. She had been alone with me in my room and she still acted the exact same as when we were in the rec-room. No hint of the mannerisms of the night time visitor; she had been the professional warrior through and through.

Somewhere in my ponderings, I fell asleep. After a series of confused nightmares, I finally opened my eyes. The clock said it was nearly four in the morning. I did a mental check list to assess my condition. I could see clearly, which was an improvement. My head only hurt when I moved it, which wasn’t wonderful, but it was better. On the other hand there was someone next to me in the bed, which threatened to make my head hurt for an entirely different reason.

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Taurian Invasion 19: First Casualty


The next morning, we cleared the dishes away to make our dining room a briefing room and Sniper appeared on the main screen. “Today, we are continuing on with where we left off yesterday. We should be able to complete the dirty sensor ring today, if there are no stupid interruptions. Unfortunately, the freaking Centaurs are in the middle of this ring and will be doing their alien best to make our lives harder.”

“Isn’t there a faster way to do this?”

“Yeah, we could all run toward the center like a bunch of knot-heads and get our drunk fool heads blown off. The whole point of the entire blasted strategy is to keep an overwhelming advantage on the enemy. Take them on only when we outnumber them and they have no chance. It will take time and be boring, but the bonus is that we may very well all be alive and kicking at the end. Anybody got a stinking problem with that.”

“Well, it hardly seems sporting.”

“Sporting! Rusty, are you mental or … OK I get it now. You’re just messing with me because of yesterdays kill count.”

“OK, Tom, you don’t need to get so excited because my squad did better than yours yesterday.”

“That does it, it is so on dude!” (Calling Sniper by his real name Tom is the ultimate insult to him.)

In case you didn’t know, bickering like this before a mission meant that everyone was in a good mood because they were going out again. We had engaged the enemy and kicked their butts without sustaining any losses. Life was good, but unfortunately I had an insight that morning that would end up putting a damper on things. After a few more minutes of verbal sparring, Sniper asked, “OK enough of this, does anyone have anything that actually relates to our mission?”

“Yes, Sniper, I do.”


“I was going over the data from yesterday’s mission, and I noticed something. I checked the direction that the alien force was heading when they ran into Joey’s squad. They were making straight for the location of the last lone Centaur that my squad killed. Further more, in order for them to have gotten to that position when they did, they would have to had left the base when your squad killed the first sentry. The assumption that lone Centaurs are a free kill because the aliens won’t notice is not one we can make anymore. Joey’s squad caught the aliens on the move, and disrupted their coordination. I hate to think of what might have happened if they had reached my squad while in a coherent battle formation.”

There was dead silence in all the briefing rooms after that. Sniper spoke up after a few seconds pause; “Do you have a plan Allen?”

“I have some ideas I’d like to throw out before the group. The lone Centaur sentries that we saw yesterday didn’t seem to pose much of a threat to us. My group was able surround one quite easily without it seeming to notice us at all. I don’t think it would too difficult to put the sensors in place, mark the sentry’s locations and just leave them alone for now. When we get the first ring of the sensor grid in position, start setting up ambushes by taking out sentries and waiting for them to respond.”

“I like it, that way we keep the bleeding initiative. OK, this seems like a sound plan, anyone see any holes?”

“What happens if one of the Centaurs sees one of us?”

“Kill the dumpy thing and I’ll designate a rendezvous point for all us to gather at, and we’ll plan a freaking assault from there. Anyone else?”

“Something else occurred to me as well. Sureshot in my squad blinded two Cyclops yesterday, but there was no way he could take them out completely by himself. If they can repair their Cyclops as well as we can repair our suits, then they are ready to take us on again today. If we do take on any large alien units today, we might consider having a squad in position to finish off cripples after they leave the main battle area.”

“Not very sporting as Rusty might say, but I do see your point.”

From that point on we started making plans for dealing with a group the size of the one we ran into the day before. After discussing various ambush and assault strategies, it became clear that getting the sensor grid into place without alerting the aliens was the key. If we could tell when the Taurians were coming, we could control the battle.

As we were getting suited up, the techs who were watching the sensor grid informed us that the sentries that we killed yesterday had been replaced, and that all of the alien bodies had been removed by other aliens overnight. We discussed setting up a corpse removal team while we were riding to my supply point, but decided that it could wait because we were going to try to avoid inflicting any enemy casualties if we could today.

We spent the next four hours setting up sensors and sneaking around sentries. The only excitement that any of us had was when another squad found a group of survivors hiding in a hut in the middle of the jungle. This group spoke Portuguese, so their rescue went pretty smoothly. Back at the motorhomes we let our suits feed and recharge while decided what our next move was.

While putting my suit back I was struck at just how much our attitudes toward the alien parts of the suit had changed. At first, the living part of the suit was kind of scary to many of the pilots and kind of gross (especially to some of the female pilots.) After working with them, they had taken on the role of a beloved (if weird) pet. Pilots gave their suits a name, which was used to give verbal commands to the onboard computers (mine was named Fluffy.)

We were just finishing up lunch when our dining room suddenly became a briefing room. Sniper came on the main screen, “Alright you people, the stinking plans have changed. That group we rescued said that there are still a number of flipping survivors in that dirty town. First priority has become rescue and evacuation of all survivors. We are going to secure the town so that the draped Brazilian forces can come in behind us and do rescue and cleanup.”

“This is not going to be fun. By all accounts, there are going to be a lot of bodies. When you see a body, you are to note its location and leave them there. Any survivors or injured are to be taken immediately to the Brazilians, but bodies are to be left in place. Am I clear!”

There was a general, “Yes, sir!”

“We are going to put a sensor grid around the town, avoiding enemy contact as much as possible. Once the sensors are in place, we will move in cautiously, trying to do as much rescue work as possible without alerting the Taurians to our presence. If everything goes perfectly, then the whole rescue operation will go off without the headless aliens even knowing we were there.”

“I don’t expect everything to go perfectly. If we get the sensor grid set up before we are detected, Rusty’s squad will begin setting up a series of ambush and fall back positions leading back toward the town. As soon as the word is given, everyone is to head to Rusty’s position where he will set you in position. Allen, your squad will move around the enemy to perform clean up duty, as it was your dim idea. We have a lot to do people, and we aren’t coming back until it’s done or we’re redlining the batteries.”

We suited up (no bad starts) and got a ride to the edge of our sensor grid on the road to town. I could see the occasional glint from a metal rooftop in the village as we prepared to set off into the jungle once more. We hadn’t been going for ten minutes before I saw my first body. I hadn’t seen a body since my dad’s funeral when I was nine. It actually hit me harder than I expected. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut for the next hour or so.

We put up the sensor grid without seeing any Taurian bio-soldiers at all. Apparently, we were inside their sentry perimeter and didn’t run into any patrols, but we kept finding bodies. Most of them were men carrying guns, but we also found people struck down fleeing with a few clothes and possessions in their arms. Joey’s squad found a woman with a toddler in her arms. As they prepared to move on, the little girl opened her eyes and started crying. (Joey tells me that he still has nightmares about that. In his dreams the little girl and her mother and many of the other dead rise up and attack him screaming at him because he was too late to save them.)

When we approached the town, we found the enemy. There were 23 Centaurs standing in a lose circle (facing outward) in the middle of the village(but still no alien soldiers). We divided up the village into sections and each squad was responsible for checking every building, shack and anyplace else a survivor might be hiding. I sent Sureshot to find a sniper position where he could keep an eye on the Centaurs. We kept a building between us and the Centaurs while we searched. The first building had a back door and turned out to be empty. The second house didn’t have a back door, so Buddy ripped off part of the back wall and made one. We had just confirmed that it had two bodies, but no survivors, when it hit the fan.

“You’re going to die you stinking…” came over the com as the sound of gunfire came from the other end of town.

Fluffy, tactical map.” One glance at the map told me that things had gone wrong. Many of our units were out of the village, and no one was in attack position. Those who were in the village were scattered all around the edges. “All units! Attack from where you are! Hit them with everything you’ve got and don’t stop hitting them until they stop moving! My squad! Through the front wall and destroy them!”

Not the most inspired battle plan, but I didn’t have time to come up with a better one. We charged through the front walls in white cloud of chalk and splinters and saw the Centaurs less than 100 yards away from us, just standing there firing. We opened up and let them have it!

I was firing almost continuously with my mini-gun, only pausing to change targets when one fell or to change ammo drums. Buddy especially was in his element as his 70 mm with their explosive rounds started literally blowing Centaurs to pieces. Fire started coming from other directions as other squads joined in, and the Centaurs just stood there and fired at their first target. They were clearly outgunned, outflanked and losing, but the only time they moved was when they fell dead. No simulation or exercise had ever been this easy. I went through half my ammo before the last one fell.

“Clear!” I called and the weapon fire stopped. I was shocked. My squad had been completely exposed the whole time, and not one of them had even turned around to look.

“Allen! Situation report!”

“All enemy units have been eliminated from the town.”

“What the heck happened!”

“Sniper, this is Laura. Derrick, Mike and Zach are down. I need medical evac ASAP!”

“Medical is on its way. Rusty, what is your situation.”

“Got into town just in time to finish off the last of them.”

“Get back to your last assault position. All intact squads join Rusty as soon as you drop off any civilians in your care. Search and rescue is now being turned over to the Brazilian forces. We need to get ready for a Taurian counterattack!”


* * *


No one outside of Derrick’s squad had even been hit, although my squad had used up a lot of our ammo. While everyone else was digging in, we were scouting forward to extend the sensor grid. We had only planted a few sensors when they came into sight. The mass of bio-soldiers moved like a mob, without any organization or formation. Each bio-soldier moved toward the goal, avoiding any obstacles along the way, as best it could. This meant that in the jungle, the lighter more agile units tended to get ahead of the others. By the time they got to us, the three types of aliens had separated into three groups. We got out of their way and out of sight and counted the enemy as they passed. “Sniper, we count 15 Gargoyles, 43 Centaurs, and 4 Cyclops. Two of the Cyclops have riders” We flanked them carefully, making sure to stay out of sight. We didn’t need to, because, once again, the bio-soldiers never looked back and the soldiers were busy trying to keep the bio-soldiers in line.

“OK people, our primary job is to finish any cripples that leave the battle area. Secondary objective is to try to cripple the Cyclops from long range, so that we can finish them off when they leave the battle area; after that, its targets of opportunity.”

“Check!” from my squad.

“Watch you ammo, we already used up a lot in that last fight. Stay mobile and be careful.”

We were paralleling the aliens so that we wouldn’t get hit by our friends when the shooting started. We were almost even with the Cyclops and we picked out our targets: Sureshot had the soldiers, and the rest of us got one of the Cyclops each. Taking out the eye of a Cyclops with modern targeting systems is not hard. Doing so when both you and the target are running at 20 miles per hour without the Cyclops seeing you is a bit more challenging.

We heard the command for the others squads to fire and we counted to five and then opened up on our targets. John’s targets fell over, one after the other and then fell off the Cyclops; Buddy blew the eye-dome completely off his assigned Cyclops; the combined firepower of Lena, Carlos and myself failed to even catch our target’s attention. We were prepared to lead part of the alien force away after our attack, but they ignored us entirely! So we attacked again and crippled the other three Cyclops (at least Sureshot and Buddy did.) “All Cyclops have been neutralized, Sniper.”

“Great! Finish them off and get your bubble-gum up here, we’ve got bleeding Wyverns!”

Wyverns were the big brothers of the Gargoyles. Like the Gargoyles, we had found only dead ones, so we really didn’t know what to expect. After seeing Gargoyles and their flutter-hop routine, we certainly didn’t expect them to really fly. Wyverns are actually very good fliers and can really devastate unprotected ground troops. This particular pair was trying to fire blindly down through the triple canopy of the jungle and ended up being completely ineffective, but they gave us a good scare!

My group was now faced with the task of finishing off four blind Cyclops. These things could bench press a bus without breaking a sweat and could easily tear us to pieces if they got a hold of us. “Lena, you ready?”

“Just cover me!” She ran toward the flank of one of the wounded Cyclops with her sword drawn. With a screaming battle cry, she made a graceful leap into the air landing near where the upper and lower torsos joined. “As she landed, she drove her electric sword into the Cyclops’ back all the way to the hilt. The five ton creature convulsed as the electric charge went through its body and into its core, and then collapsed. Lena rode it all the way to the ground, “Well, that worked well,” sounding a bit surprised.

“Perfect! Just three more to go.”

By the time we repeated that performance three times, the main battle was over. All of the bio-soldiers were dead except the Wyverns who retreated after someone hit one with a missile We went to collect the two alien soldiers and found that one of them had apparently broken his neck when he had fallen off the Cyclops. The engagement had been a resounding success. Despite the unexpected appearance of the Wyverns, we had suffered few hits and only a few minor injuries. We stayed in our battle positions just outside of the village until nightfall, when we turned security over to the Brazilian special forces.(A special unit came to recover the bird-man alien that we captured.)

We were tired and sore when we got back to the motorhome. I knew that I would probably have to go to a post mission debriefing, but I hoped that Sniper would let it slide until morning. When I got the call, it seemed odd that we were going to have it at the Brazilian command tent.

When I arrived three things struck me: Sniper looked like hell, Rodolfo was there, and Derrick was missing, but Laura from his squad was there. Rodolfo opened the meeting, “Ladies and gentlemen, we need to go over today’s engagements, especially the firefight in the village.”

Laura recounted what had started the battle. Zach Masterson apparently found a mother and child that had been killed by the Centaurs and lost it. He charged right at the Centaurs, firing everything he had. He cut down several of them before they had a chance to react, but they turned as one and began firing on him. His squad mates opened fire and called for him to take cover, but it was too late and he fell in the street. The Centaurs began attacking his squad’s position as my squad and others began attacking from different directions.

We learned two things from this engagement. First, that Warrior battlesuits were more than a match for Centaurs on roughly equal footing. We had roughly equal numbers of soldiers on both sides who were not expecting an engagement at that particular time. The Centaurs were wiped out, but that’s where we learned the second lesson: We were not invincible. Zach was dead and his squad leader, Derrick, and another squad member, Mike, were both critically injured.

The mission itself was a success. 23 survivors had been rescued from the village due to our efforts. This just left the personal toll to us. Zach and I had not been close because he drank too much for me to enjoy hanging out with him. Derrick and I had a lot more contact as we were both squad leaders. He had lost his right arm and wouldn’t be coming back. Mike was expected to make a full recovery from a stomach wound, but that would take a couple of months.

The worst part of it was this was all Zach’s fault. If anyone had said that to me or anyone else in the company, there would have been violence, especially because it was true. Killing the Centaurs in the village had been the easiest fight we had so far, so we should have had no casualties. Zach was a good enough guy; he had just made a mistake. But bad things happen in war: Bad judgment, bad luck or bad timing can get you or your friends killed. That’s just the way it is, but it still hits you hard.

Sniper stood up slowly and said in a tired voice, “Alright everyone, we’ve have a freaking bad day. I want each of you to give me a status report on your squads this evening. I need to determine weather we will ready to go in the morning, or we need to be withdrawn.”

I surprised myself as much as everyone else when I snarled, “NO!” The whole room froze and everyone stared at me. Now that I had that out, I had no choice but to continue, “Units are withdrawn when they are near their limits, and we are just starting to hit our stride. We are an elite fighting unit with the most powerful weapons on the planet. Before we came here I studied the other assaults on alien bases, and in all five assaults, Cyclops units were only taken down by heavy armor or air strikes. We took down four of the stupid things today, without any losses! Now, there are other units who could finish off the Taurs, but that is not our only mission here. We are here to get information on the enemy, which we are doing at a better rate than any unit has ever done, but in the end our primary mission is to develop the Warrior Battlesuits to as close to perfection as can be done short of God himself coming down and doing a redesign, and there is no one else in the world who can do that besides us! We are Warrior pilots dammit! I don’t know about the rest of you, but my squad will be going back out in the morning!” And I stormed out of the meeting.

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Taurian Invasion 18: Politics

Once we got back to the motorhome, we racked our suits while the techs had a look at Lena’s suit which she was still in. “What’s the matter Pepe?”

“Oh, the leg is damaged and she will not open up to let her out.”

“Lena, do you think that you could just slip your leg out?”

“Yeah, but there’s nothing for me to stand on.”

“Here,” making a stirrup with my hands, “you can use me.”

“Are you sure? I’m kinda heavy.”

“I’m not that weak without my suit.”

The part of the armor that wouldn’t open went all the way up to her upper thigh, so it took us a couple of tries before she was able to get out without hitting her head on the ceiling. I checked out her leg and the longjohns were still intact. “Any pain now?”

“I’m a bit sore, but I think I’m fine.”

“We’ll let the nurse determine that. We’re going to the infirmary.”


I decided to wait outside when the nurse told Lena to take off her longjohns (she says that I have a really cute blush.) When they let me back in, I asked. “How’s her leg?”

“First degree burns; nothing serious. I’m actually more worried about her shoulder. She is going to have a nice bruise for a while. If she takes it easy for the rest of the day, she should be just fine.”

“Is she cleared for combat?”

“Unless something else crops up.” Turning to Lena, “Remember, any headaches, vision problems or balance problems, you come see me immediately.”

“Yes, ma’am”

“How did you hurt your shoulder?” I asked as we left the infirmary.

“When my leg locked up, I fell and hit pretty hard.”

“Ohh, that doesn’t sound like it was any fun at all.”

“No, but the birdies were pretty.”

I chuckled, “But seriously, I don’t want you or anyone else getting killed because you are trying to macho through your problems.”

“Do I look macho to you?”

“Says the lady who viciously defended all 16 records that you set in both types of armor.”

“What do you mean vicious?”

“I came within 3 feet of your jumping record once, and you didn’t stop working on your jumping until you beat your own record by another 5 feet.”

“Am I that bad?”

“Its one of the reasons I asked you to be on my squad. You don’t accept doing anything less than the best, and it shows.”

“You are full of it you know.”

“It’s why they pay me the big bucks.”

“I thought they paid you the big bucks because you’re a leader.”

“That’s what you just said.”

“OK now I’m getting a headache … and it has nothing to do with the fall I took.” She added quickly.

“Ah-ha! That means that you are falling under my powers.”

“You are so strange.”

“That’s the other reason they pay me the big bucks.”

“Alright, as much as I would like to continue this bizarre conversation, I really need a shower, and unless you’re joining me, this is where we part company.”

“Then I’ll see you later.”

I know why she wanted a shower. For some reason it gets to smelling like vinegar in the hybrid suits after a while. They tell me it’s because of organic acids building up in the muscles, but I suppose there are worse smells. After my own shower I was surprised to find a message waiting for me that all squad leaders were to attend a meeting on Sniper’s motorhome in a half hour. I wasn’t expecting any of the other squads back for quite a while, except maybe Joey’s. I found Joey in his room and asked, “When did everyone get back?”

“They called us all back a little after we finished off the last of those Centaurs.”

“How did that go?”

“Thirty fresh troops against twenty something of them? It wasn’t even a fight. By the time my group got turned around, it was already over. How is your guy?”

“Actually, it was Lena, and she’s fine. It didn’t even penetrate all the way through.”

“Cool, that means that we got zero casualties for our first major engagement.”

“Yes, and the techs tell me that all my suits will be up and running by tomorrow. By the way, do you know why you got called back early?”

“Our brass and the Brazilian brass are in a snit over something or the other.”

I rolled my eyes. “Great. Politics; the bane of all soldiers.”

I decided to head over to Sniper’s motorhome early to see if I could get a heads up about what was going on. In the briefing room I found Sniper sitting there with a man that seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place. Sniper heard me enter and looked up, “Allen get your butt over here. If we don’t figure this out, they’re going to scrub the whole funky smelling mission.”

“Was there a problem that I don’t know about?”

The man at Sniper’s side cleared his throat. Sniper looked up in irritation, “What, my counselor’s not here. You expecting me to have some dumb manners or something? Allen, this is Rodolfo, Head of Operations for Prometheus. Rodolfo Nevarez this is Allen Spencer, squad leader and battlesuit boy genius.”

“What brings you here sir?”

“Hardheaded generals and the fact that I am the only one in the Prometheus leadership that speaks Portuguese.”

“Don’t you speak like 30 bleeding languages?”

“32 … fluently. I understand what the General is saying all to well. I just don’t know what to do about it.”

“The idiot General thinks that we’re pulling the wool over his eyes. He’s convinced his fool self that Centaurs are only a little more dangerous than blasted bunny rabbits and nothing is going to change his mind until he kills a few hundred of his freaking men to prove his point.”

“Is he a nutcase or has he just never seen the battle footage?”

“He believes that since his troops know what to expect that they can handle the aliens. He expects high casualties, but then the victory will be his and not ours.”

“So he wants battles, victory and glory?”

“Pretty much.”

I sat down and thought for a minute while Sniper near-swore to himself. “Sir, do you know if the general is a veteran or a career desk man?”

“Actually he has excellent record. Thirty-five years of special forces with plenty of commendations for bravery and a number of battlefield injuries. He has been the head of special forces for 10 years now and has an excellent reputation.”

“Then there is no reason for him to not be on our side. Sir, I have a question that I may not have the clearance to hear the answer to, but I think that it may be the key to this whole situation. I’ve heard the rumor that we may have leads on hundreds more of these alien bases hidden all across the globe. The question is; if this is true, are any of them in Brazil?”

“I don’t personally know the answer to that, and I don’t see how that would help us here.”

“If there are more of these in Brazil, then the problem will go away.”

“I’m afraid that you lost me on that last leap logic. Could you try to explain it in a little more detail?”

“The General is a man of action. One thing I learned working with the development group is that people like that want to be where the action is. Captain Sniper here, with all due respect, has not stopped complaining since he found out he might be taken out of the action. Now I’m sure the General is getting a lot of outside pressure as well, but I think the real problem is that his country and people are in trouble, and he can’t do anything but watch.”

“If he knows that this is a prelude to a much larger war in which he and his men will have as much to do as they can handle, then he will be too busy preparing to be worrying about being part of this round. As soon as he knows that he is part of the action, he will be more than happy to give us the room we need to work and will be firmly on our side.”

Which is how I found myself two hours later in a big meeting with all the brass in a dress uniform (which I didn’t know I had.) It turned out that I was more right than I had expected. Prometheus had located nearly 400 possible alien base locations so far, and was finding more every day. The Brazilian Amazon had one of the highest concentrations of them in the world with 56 possible locations found so far. Many of the Brazilian officers started to get panicky, but the General just got a grim look and started putting his people to work while he asked rapid fire questions. After that, our forces being recalled was never mentioned again, and we were told to get ready to move out again in the morning.

I got back to our motorhome and told everyone in the main room the good news. I didn’t see Lena anywhere, so I decided to check up on her. She opened the door and looked a bit surprised and embarrassed (she tells me that it was because she was in a t-shirt and shorts and I was in a full dress uniform.) “I just wanted to check and see how you were doing.”

“My shoulder and leg are still a bit sore but I am ready to go as soon as we get the word.”

“Well, I just got back from a big meeting with the brass, and the word is we are going out in the morning.”

“That would explain the uniform, but when did you get promoted to full lieutenant?”

“As far as I know, I haven’t. What gave you that idea?”

“Because you have first lieutenant’s bars on your uniform.”

“I didn’t even know that I had this until Sniper told me to check my closet. Must have been a mix up or something.” I took off my jacket and looked at it, and sure enough the lieutenant’s bars were wrong. “I’ll get these fixed when we get back home. Hopefully I won’t be needing to wear this again before we get back. Anyway, if you’re doing well why aren’t you out there with everyone else?”

“I got tired of the tired of being the center of attention. I just came back her for some quiet time.”

“Am I intruding then?”

“No you’re not. I can handle people one at a time, just not the whole crowd at once.”

“Well I just needed to make sure that you are OK. If you need anything, just let me know, anytime day or night.”

“I’m fine, but I will let you know if I need anything.”

I went back to back to the main room for some down time with the group (which somehow always included a beach ball.) I told everyone to make sure that they got plenty of rest so that we were ready to head out tomorrow and then tried to be a good example by leaving early. I checked the computer to see if Sylvia had put together a debriefing for me, and she had. She had even made a video for me to wish me luck and hoped I was safe. I probably could have called her directly, but she had gotten so upset when I left that I was kind afraid that I would upset her again. So, I took the easy way out and made a video and told her that everything was fine here and that most of the day had been pretty boring (well, most of it had.)

I was kind of surprised to see how much news coverage our mission was getting. All of the speculation as to what was going on was kind of funny when you knew what was actually happening on the ground. On the other hand I could see why the Brazilians were getting upset by all the insinuation that the reason that Prometheus was here was because their forces couldn’t hack it.

After that I went down and bugged the techs in the repair bay. They assured me that I was a pain in the butt and the suits would all be ready by morning. As I returned to my room, I was starting to get annoyed at myself. I told everyone else to get some rest and I was too wound up to sleep myself. I had just finished going over some of the battle data, when I heard a soft knock at the door. I opened the door to find Lena standing there looking scared. “What happened?”

She replied in a quiet voice that was almost a whisper, “You said that I should come if I needed anything.”

“How can I help?”

“I need a hug,” she said while looking at her feet.

I had no idea what to say after that, so I took her into my arms and just gave her a hug. For a long time she just stood there in my arms trembling, and I didn’t know if she was crying, because I couldn’t see her face. I really had no idea what to do, so I just held her until she stopped trembling. She finally looked up at me and I said, “Do you feel better now?” She nodded and I continued, “Go get some sleep, we have a lot to do in the morning.” She nodded and left without saying anything more.

I sat down on my bed, a bit confused about the whole thing, but that happens a lot when I’m dealing with women. I finally decided that she seemed to be doing better and I felt a lot better, so I can’t have done too bad a job. I settled in with a bit of a smile and went to sleep.

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Salvar 18: Preparations

As a war leader for the under mountain kingdom, I now ride with Favla each day in the flying cart to the meet with General Moore and his warriors. I am appalled that the Fleet-Ones have created and unleashed so many of the half-living. According to what I understand, they simply unleash the half-living in the direction of a target, often without even warriors to ride herd on them.  Apparently, they had decided that they could just drown the Chaos-Kin in the half-living and then and take the survivors as slaves.

The Chaos-Kin are counter attacking strongly and are invading strongholds which are falling almost daily now. The Chaos-Kin tell me that I have helped them understand how to capture warriors and slaves without harming them much more often.

Speaking of which, once again, my mate has seen more clearly than I. It seems that somehow that Chaos-Kin have abolished both slave raiding and slavery itself. The Chaos-Kin have created such useful mechanisms and artifacts, that slaves have become unnecessary. It looks like we were never slaves of the Chaos-Kin, but prisoners. In the Chaos-Kin style of warfare, captured soldiers are kept as prisoners until the conflict is ended, although they occasionally are exchanged or change sides. This seemed very odd until they explained just how large Chaos-Kin nations are and the scale of their wars. No wonder the Fleet Ones strategies are failing! They have no idea just what they have challenged!

The Chaos-Kin are very patient and clever people, but even they have something that enrages them to the point that their hearts are aflame. Attacking the Chaos-Kin and seizing their lands and goods is something they will fight against, BUT the wholesale abduction and enslavement of their people is unforgivable! Upon reflection, I must agree with them. Such a thing is unprecedented among the Seven Peoples. Even the Winged-Kin only wanted to rule over the other peoples, not enslave whole Kins. Did the leaders and false Listeners of the Fleet Ones decide that once they had defeated the Flying-Kin that they had to outdo them in blasphemy as well?

Foolish stag! You know better than that. The tempter always sets a clear and gently sloping path that leads to the mountains of damnation such that you do not realize you are heading there until you are lost among them. The tempter merely sets the path, and it is the Fleet One who convinces himself that it is the right way, and that is condemnation enough. It is so with all Kins.

* * *

After meeting with the general’s “staf” for over a week, I finally decide to be bold enough to approach the general with my idea. “General Moore, will you hear what I have to say?”

The general seemed to consider for a moment just how you answered such a formal request but decided to go with a simple, “Yes.”

“I see that the humans are angry about your taken ones. Would a group that takes or buys them back be of use to you?”

“That would be the most [something] useful thing … yes.”

“There may be some among the … ‘Dorvs’ who know how to make the path to the seven lands.”

“The Dwarves?”

“Yes, The ‘Dwars’ make the paths between the lands. If we can find one that can direct the path, then all we have to do is capture a path-maker and we can send groups to get the humans back.”

“Captain Pierson, I need to take [something] Salvar to see something. Hold the (fork?) until I get back.”

That didn’t make any sense, but it wasn’t directed at me, so I let it go. One of the small cart artifacts came to us like a pet.

The general boarded and said, “Do you want to get on or are you going to run the whole way?”

“I would run please.” I thought that was clear. Why does the general look so confused?

“(Shoot?) yourself,” and the mechanism began to move as I loped behind. It was a fair run, if a little slow. We seemed to go deep into the mountain, past several gates that the general had operate a mechanism to open, before we reached our destination. The general looked at me and said, “[something], you are in [something] shape. I thought you were [something] when you said you wanted to run. Have you even broken a (sweet?)?”

“I do not think so general.”

He mumbled something to himself while operating a mechanism that opened the great doors before us, and then said, “(Any way?), are these you path-makers?” The lights of the great hall came on by themselves and illuminated five path-makers that were in perfect condition to my eyes.

“Yes they are, General Moore.”

“Then (let?) go find us a Dwarf.”

* * *

We went for another nice leisurely run under the mountain and I smelled the “ward” long before we came to the doors. It was very similar to the “ward” that I was in but all the Chaos-Kin were unfamiliar and looked somewhat alarmed to see me. The general talked to several others before we headed to the great hall.

“Are you ready Salvar?”

“One seconds general.” I removed my hands and placed them in my tools pouch, “I am ready now.”

The general smiled his approval and opened the doors to where the Underground-Dweller-Kin were.

The lively sounds of the room dropped to silence in seconds upon seeing a Fleet One enter the room. At least I had their attention. I could talk in the language of the Underground-Dweller-Kin about as well as I could in “Inglish” so I addressed them in their own tongue. “Do any of the Earth-People know the name of General Salvation’s Voice?” Four, no five of them turned directly toward me while the others turned to half face me. “Will the Earth-People hear what General Salvation’s Voice has to say?”

The eldest of the Earth-People spoke, “We will hear. We will hear why the promises to the Earth-People were not kept.”

I had expected this. The Earth-People are very direct and harsh, especially to outsiders. I bowed nearly to the ground as was their custom for a deep apology. “When the general was made supreme war leader of the Fleet Ones, he was told that he could treat with each mountain as long as he did not violate the word of He Who Shaped the Mountains. When he returned home, he found that the leaders of the Plain Runners had declared themselves the regents of He Who Shaped the Mountains, and that all that walked upon the lands the He shaped should bow to them. The general was offered power, wealth, and a place among the rulers, but he rejected their blasphemy.” 

“They came upon him in the night bound him, then took him to trial. They heeded his words no more that dust that is walked upon and then cut off his hands. He was stilled and sent to be sacrificed in their attempt to conquer and enslave the Artifact-Makers, but he survived. Now he works with the Artifact-Makers to bring down the blasphemers. To that end, He is looking for one can operate the great-tunneler so that the Artifact-Makers may rescue their stolen kin.

The Underground-Dweller-Kin considered this for a moment. “Does the general speak for the Artifact-Makers?”

“The general does not, but he is accompanied by General “More” of the Artifact-Makers.”

The eldest turned to General Moore and switched to the tongue of the Chaos Kin, “Do you speak for the humans?”

“I do.”

“Do you have something that you would give the Dwarves in return for our help.”

“I do but it must be said in private.”

The eldest considered this for a moment, “We may talk in this one’s room.”

The two of them exited with a guard following. The room started buzzing with low conversations. Salvar sat by himself until he put his hands back on. Two of the Underground-Dweller-Kin came and compared their artifact hands. Two others came later and bowed low, apologizing wordlessly. I knew then that they would help. The Underground-Dweller-Kin may be harsh, but they are a good people on the whole.

Some time later, the general and the eldest return. He addressed the room. “It will be done! We are now allies of the Artifact-Makers who rescued us and healed us, ‘Pro-me-the-us.'” The Underground-Dweller-Kin stamped their feet and inclined their heads toward General Moore in a solemn fashion.

After we left, the general asked, “Do you think that went well?”

“I think it went very well. They will work and fight on our side now as best they can. They do not show much feeling to others … unless they are drunk.”

* * *

A few days later, General Tony Moore presented his new information to the leaders of Prometheus.

The Director looked as excited as a kid at Christmas. “So are the gates we have in working order?”

“They are not only workable, but functional. While Bull-Hammer was examining one of the Gates, he actually opened a gate to a Dwarven city that he thought would support us. Of course, he didn’t tell us what he was going to do until after he did it. We followed up on the emerging situation and two of the Dwarves, Salvar, six of the security specialists, and I actually crossed over, but found the city abandoned. Although more allies would have been great, we now have a known secure ingress point for when the first team is ready to go.”

The Director opened his computer and sat thinking for a moment. “How long will it take to get a strike team together?”  

The general grimaced, “Getting a strike team together is a snap, but we need intel if we are going to be effective. I only have three people I can use so far, and Salvar is one of them. I need people who speak the languages and know the customs and the only pool I have to draw on is POWs who are still learning English. It will take months for my operatives to catch up at best.”

“Tony, if you have Salvar recruit from the POWs and have he and others act as guides for your operatives, how soon could you begin rescue and intelligence operations?”

“As soon as I can get the supplies together. The biggest problem will be local costumes that will pass casual observation. Blending in with non-humans will take some doing.” 

“Tony, you know I hate interfering in military matters, so take this as a suggestion. What do you think would happen if you made Salvar a captain and put him in charge of these operations?”

The general started to reply and then the implications started turning the wheels in his head. Salvar had run a campaign across seven worlds and brought it to a successful conclusion in only a few years if the stories that they had gathered were accurate. This meant that he had more experience then any other general on Earth. “We’ll get started tomorrow.”

* * *

I had never expected that my suggestion would lead for me to be placed in charge of the mission. We had been gathering supplies so that we could pretend to be merchants when we reached a village or city. The human soldiers would pretend to be slaves and porters while I would play the merchant. We would use their riding mechanisms to get near to town and then walk in. The Chaos-Kin assured me that they had potions that could change my fur color so that I would not be recognized.

Now we just needed to get the small things right. “We need not so good cloth for humans to wear.”

The Chaos-Kin who was my second asked, “You mean dirty [something]?”

I missed the skills of my mate (among other things.) “This is very good cloth, slaves not wear so good cloth.”

Another Chaos-Kin soldier suggested, “I think we will need home-(spin?) cloth or (bur-lap).”

My second seemed unsure, “(Bur-lap) would itch. Where would we get home-(spud?)?”

“I have some friends who I go with to (es-see-ay) on weekends. Let me make some calls.”

By the end of the day, Dane the soldier was able to to get us cloth for cloaks and weapons that I was familiar for everyone although the soldiers would have their thrower “guns.” They insisted I should have a gun called a side-arm. It fit in my hand so I could not figure out why it was called an arm, but it put big holes in my target logs. We had everything we would need as the day ended. I dismissed them with, “Rest well, my soldiers, for tomorrow we will run!” Then looked confused and then I realized, “Well, you will ride, but I will run.”

* * *

Favla was dismayed when she realized that the unfamiliar stag approaching her was me. “What have they done to you noble stag?”

“The Chaos-Kin have darkened my fur with their potions. They say it will come back in time, but too many of the Fleet ones will recognize General Salvation’s voice. So, I have become a trader that can run the plains freely.”

“So what will this carefree trader’s name be?”

“I must admit that I had not thought that far ahead.”

“Would my mighty stag hear what this humble doe has to say?”

“I would gladly receive any wisdom that comes from your lips.” I could see the blush inside her ears.

“Hiding may be necessary, but you also need to announce your return at the same time. Salvation ‘s Singer is close enough that there will be confusion when the rumors spread.”

“Gentle doe, I must admit that I am guilty of bragging that my beloved is the most brilliant of all the Fleet Ones I have ever met.”

“Your flattery might just put the tempter to shame.”

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Taurian Invasion 17: Baptism of Fire

“I have approximately 50 Centaurs and Gargoyles on my tail. I thought I saw some Cyclops in the back, but I didn’t stick around long enough to confirm.”

Sniper snapped back, “What the heck did you guys do to get the demented things so mad at you?”

Joey explained, “They just came charging out of the dark at full speed. We just happened to be too close to their path to stay out of sight.”

“What’s your current situation?”

“We hit a few of them and ran, and now they are in pursuit. Carlson and Sandbur have been hit but seem to be OK. Only the Gargoyles seem to be able to keep up with us.”

I broke into the conversation after I brought up a map on my visor, “Sniper, my squad is in a position to intercept and ambush. Permission to use incendiaries.”

“Screw the forest Allen. See if you and Joey can set up a leapfrog ambush to kill as many of those buzzards as you can. All other squads converge on point alpha at top speed so that we can prepare a full assault.”

I switched to our squad’s frequency, “OK everyone, deploy camo-cloaks. Buddy, as soon as Joey’s squad passes, let them have it and don’t hold back. Lena and Carlos, your primary targets are the Gargoyles; Try and not let them get past us. John, your primary job is to blind any Cyclops or other heavy units you see but feel free to kill anything else you have a shot at. Everyone, be prepared to jump back as soon as Joey’s squad is set.”

Everyone said ‘check’ nearly simultaneously, which was our code word for ‘I understand the plan.’ Within a second or two everyone said, ‘set,’ which meant they were in position and ready to go. It couldn’t have been more than 10 seconds between that and when Joey’s squad came into view, but that gave me enough time to worry myself into a near panic. Fleeting phantoms of the deaths of my friends half formed in my mind and set my heart racing and put me into a sweat. The suits cooling system automatically came on and sent a wave of cold all over my body. That snapped me out of it in time to see blue orbs start to hit the trees in front of us as the other squad of Warriors came into view.

“We’re right in front of you, Joey.”

“I see you Allen. We’ll try to set up a line about 30 yards behind you.”

As they came toward us, a group of five or six Gargoyles flutter-hopped into view. If it had been up to me, I would have called the things Toadwings or something like that. They would hit the ground and bunch up like a toad and jump high into the air. They then spread their wings and did this weird flapping motion to try to stay in air as long as possible. They could get 150-200 yards per jump, but all the motion made their fire pretty inaccurate (not that I minded.)

We had practiced this maneuver many times in the simulator, so everyone knew what to do. Hold your fire until the others passed, and then let lose. Keep firing until the other team was set. As soon as Joey and his people blew past, Carlos, Lena and I opened up and pumped enough lead and uranium into them to take the first three down. As I looked for my next target I noticed that one of the other Gargoyles that had landed stopped moving (John’s work) and Lena and I brought another one down together. Seven more flutter-hopped into view individually over the next 10 seconds or so and were dispatched quickly since they were already wounded (Joey’s team’s work.)

Then the main group came into view. I was still trying to get a count of them when Joey said, “We’re set Allen.”

“Everyone fire one more burst and then jump.”

And then Buddy opened up! A high explosive round from the 70 mm recoilless guns on his arm turned a Centaur into confetti while his napalm missile was still in flight. The resulting firestorm after such a barrage would have broken the charge of any human fighting force and sent the survivors scampering for cover, but it didn’t even slow the remaining Centaurs down and they started adding petal grenades to the mix. The only thing that stops a charge like this is to kill them all!

We were just getting into our firing position when Joey came over the command channel; “I have confirmation of at least two Cyclops thanks to the little bonfire that Allen’s group set.”

Sureshot spoke up, “Permission to find a good vantage point, sir?”

“Just be careful. We won’t be there to watch your back.”

“They’re the ones who need to be careful,” and he sprinted off into the gloom.

I wasn’t particularly worried about Sureshot going off on his own because he was a master with the camo-cloak. Some people seem to think that these cloaks make you invisible, but that’s not how they work at all. Our research department has been working for decades with light bending theories to make us invisible and still hasn’t come up with anything workable. So we wear large screen LCD TVs instead. The way that they are supposed to work is that you take a picture and then the camo-cloak displays the picture and allows you to blend in (You can use them to watch movies too, but we’re not supposed to do that anymore.) Unfortunately, any shutterbug will tell you that there is more to taking a good picture than having an expensive camera. I never really got very good at it, but Sureshot was a master.

Each of us had customized our weapons suites to suit our own battle style. I had a sniper cannon on my right arm and a mini-gun on the other. The 30-mm sniper cannon could fire a high velocity round every one point three seconds and, this thing had so much kick that it could kill an unarmored soldier trying to fire it by hand. I usually had armor piercing, incendiary, and high explosive rounds in different 10 round magazines (I carried six spare clips as well). The mini-gun fired 3,000 armor piercing rounds per minute. Even with a 10,000 round ammo pack on my shoulder (and two spare drums), it was amazing just how fast I could run out of ammo.

That’s a lot of firepower, but what made the battlesuits truly deadly was the fire control system. The inside of your visor was also a targeting display that tracked your eye movement with a little bull’s-eye, and could even zoom in for sniper shots. Enemy unit’s outlines would be highlighted and their vulnerable points accentuated. When you brought up your weapon, the suit would help you steady your aim at any enemy you had locked onto. This made killing bio-soldiers much easier. Penetrating the core with one shot was difficult, especially if one or both of you were moving, but putting 30 armor piercing rounds in the general area made good odds of getting at least one hit through.

The computer even kept track of how many kills and assists each of the group had. No, we weren’t trying to turn it into a video game. Soldiers had always kept track of such things. This just helped keep the number of arguments down. Besides that, it actually seemed to increase our combat efficiency in the simulators, so we left it in.

I zoomed in on a target for a sniper cannon shot as the other squad sped toward us, and managed to take a Centaur down on the first shot. I was pretty proud of myself until three rounds into the next one didn’t even slow it down. A two-second burst from the mini-gun finished it off, and then it was time for the next jump. Lena had perfected a maneuver where she jumped backwards, fired her mini-gun, and used the recoil to turn her around so that she landed facing the other direction, ready to run. I could pull it off about 50% of the time and the rest of the time I ended up flat on my face or worse, so I didn’t try it in combat.

I checked the kill display as I ran past Joey. We had taken out six in that last volley and wounded four more. If we could keep this up, we might be able to finish this bunch off before we linked up with Sniper. The Centaurs, on the other hand, apparently couldn’t see very well in the gloom under the jungle canopy. They were firing wildly at everything that seemed to moved. They fired at trees, leaves, birds, chunks of falling tree that they had just blasted off and occasionally us. This meant that despite being badly outnumbered, we had taken only a few glancing hits that had done no serious damage to us.

That changed as we were passing Joey’s second firing line. Lena cried out (she insists that she didn’t scream) and I looked back in time to see her fall. I doubled back and got to her just as Joey’s team opened up on the Centaurs behind us. “Is it bad?”

“I’m OK, but I can’t get my right leg to move.”

“That hardly qualifies as OK. Piggyback or fireman?”

“Piggyback, please.”

I loaded her on my back and ran for our next ambush point. I took a mental inventory of our situation. All of us were tired, especially Buddy. His heavy battlesuit is slower than ours so he has had to work much harder just to keep up, and carrying Lena would slow me down as well. Lena was immobile and possibly injured and Sureshot still wasn’t back. Lena could still fire, so I had no doubt that we could beat our pursuers, but if any reinforcements arrived, we could be overwhelmed in no time.

“Joey, I have a man down and am heading for point alpha, I suggest you do the same.”

“Copy that. I’ll see you at the rendezvous point.”

“Sniper, did you get that?”

“Got it, but I want you to take your squad to the supply point and get transport directly to the airfield. We’ll handle things from here.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sureshot Jogged into view, “I managed to blind both of the Cyclops, but I couldn’t take them out completely.”

“Where are they now?”

“Groping their way home. I almost stayed just to watch them walk into trees.”

“Thanks Sureshot. Any signs of any jackpots?” (We had nicknamed alien soldiers “jackpots” because of their high bounties)

“Nothing but bio-soldiers as far as I could see.”

I heard that there were still about twenty Centaurs left when they ran into Sniper and six squads of fresh Warrior battlesuits; They lasted about 10 seconds.

Once I knew that we were out of the danger zone, we stopped and I had the others stand watch while I checked out Lena’s wound. She had taken a direct hit to the mid thigh which had left a hole the size of a golf ball in the outer armor and there was a “leaf” from a petal grenade in the middle of that. “How much pain?”

“Only a little. I can move my leg inside the suit, but the armor is not responding at all.”

“It doesn’t look like it got all the way through the suit, but we won’t know for sure until we get your suit off.”

“Should I take it off now?”

“All I see is yellow blood from the suit, so I’d rather wait until we get somewhere safer.”

I loaded her back up and we headed for the supply point that I had picked out that morning (which was named point Spencer on the tactical map. I was so proud.) Someone had commandeered a number of logging trucks which I assumed were to take us to and from the airfield. Of course no one at the supply point spoke English, so we stood around for about 20 minutes until we were able to get a ride back.

And that’s where it caught up to me. As we were waiting, we were checking out suits for damage and Rico pointed out a hole in the back of my armor that I hadn’t even noticed taking. I was suddenly overwhelmed by how difference of a few inches could have hit something vital and that would have been it. I started shaking so hard that I could no longer stand. My companions didn’t say anything. They didn’t have to, they had been there.

When I finally stopped shaking and caught my breath again, I looked up to find Sureshot offering a hand to help me up. I’m sure I was red faced inside my armor. “Sorry.”

“It happens to the all of us the first time.” That was all he said and the subject was dropped.

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