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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