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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