Throwing in the towel

Well, I didn't make it. I really had high hopes of getting farther than I did, but what with school, harvest, drill, and being sick on the first week and a half of NaNoWrimo i fell short of the mark. Way short as a matter of fact. About 90% short. I got a little over 5000 of the 50000 words needed to actually make it to the end. I am saddened a little, because I had hoped I would have at least made it to the half way point. Anyway, I am going to post what I have written so far. I am not sure if I will ever do anything with this. It was intended to be chapter one, that sort of sets up the big mysterious intergalactic eveil that causes chapter two, the introduction of the main character, and his getting involved. So here is chapter one. Sorry if the format is a little messed up. The copy paste from Word to here is lame.

Chapter One: The meat grinder.

Hendricks’ eyes popped open. It was cold out, and adrenaline was shooting through his body. Something had startled him awake, but what? It was pitch black in his sector, and all of the other guys were asleep. Maybe it was nothing. That is what Hendricks told himself. Must have been a bad dream. There was something different though. The hair on the back of his neck was stiff, and he could sense goose bumps on his arms inside of his armor. No, this was something else-- Hendricks had felt this before. That was what was bothering him, and making his adrenaline surge even harder.

First Sergeant Doug Hendricks had been in every major engagement that the confederation had been involved with over the last 35 years. He was an old war dog. Wounded more times than he wished to remember, he was a hero to the citizens of the confederation, and a legend among the troops. That is why this feeling he was now having was so troublesome. It was that knotted gut feeling that left your mouth dry and sour. A noise to the right startled his attention, only to realize it was just one of the men turning in his sleep.

“It was nothing you old fool, just go back to sleep, surely the sentry would have picked up anything, just relax and get some sleep.” Hendricks kept repeating this in his head. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer and sat up out of his position. Slowly, of course. He fumbled around for a moment, finally finding his helmet. It was still damp from the previous day’s sweat, which was cold and slimy on his shaved head. The helmet snapped into place on the armor points, and immediately the Heads up Display cranked on. This new neural based operating system combat armor was amazing. But for an old war dog like Hendricks, it kind of took some of the valor and bravado out of being a soldier. The First Sergeant’s thoughts immediately translated into little icons inside the HUD. Night vision faded into the viewfinder, and nothing was moving on the motion tracker. Nothing at all—which was just a little nerve racking. Somewhere inside the perimeter, someone would have to have been up smoking, or pissing, but nothing was moving. Maybe this was still just a weird dream.

Hendricks activated the armor's climate control, to get a little heat going through his old bones. On a cold night like this, he could feel every old nick and scrape that any engagement had ever earned him. He tried to access his squad’s vital signs, but unless they were powered up, it was useless. As luck would have it, not a damn thing. A little frustrated by the fact that none of his troops were doing their jobs, he decided to try the listening post in his radio.
”Echo four, Echo four, this is Sapper six, over.”
“Echo four, Echo four, this is sapper six, over.”
Still nothing. Hendricks was starting to get pissed. It is one thing for soldiers inside the wire to catch a few zees, but it was another thing altogether to sleep in a listening post. They are supposed to be the early warning for everyone else.
“Echo four, Echo four, get your ass on the radio, Sapper six over.”
This is getting ridiculous.
“Any station this net, any station this net, this is Sapper six, radio check, over.”
Hendricks was getting ready to throw his helmet across the trench, when he heard a faint crackling in his earpiece.
“Last unit…Say again…over”
“Unit attempting Sapper six, you came in broken and unreadable, say again over.”
“Sapper six, Sapper six, this is Cobra three one, we read you loud and clear over.”
“Roger Cobra three one, this is Sapper six, what is your location, over”
“Sapper six, location as follows, grid one zero nine, three eight two, over”
“Roger that Cobra three one, do you have the location of the alpha company TOC in your data terminal, over.”
“That’s affirmative Sapper six.”
“Alright Cobra three one, I need you to send two elements, including one dismount squad to the TOC, condition green, ASAP, over”
“Uhh, Will-co Sapper six, everything under control there? Over.”
“That’s a Rog, just get a move on, I got one of those feelings.”
“Understood Sapper six, all Cobra three elements are en-route, over.”
“Outstanding Cobra three, we will have the coffee hot when you get here, out here.”

Why the hell did Hendricks just order a platoon of tanks, and an armored troop vehicle that is more than a mile away, to his location? He was starting to doubt his sanity. Before he even kicked one soldier out of bed, he was freaking out about possibly being under attack from something. But what? “Well, didn’t get dressed up for nothing” he thought, “time to wake up the kids.” That’s what Hendricks called them, kids. Not a one of them over twenty-one. Only a handful had ever seen any kind of fighting and only two of them had ever been in real combat.

The First Sergeant went down the line of his troops, at first he was gently shaking them by the shoulder until they were awake, giving each one this message: “Wake up and get your gear on son, be prepared for anything, I got me one of those feelings.” Every one of them knew what that meant, mostly just from barracks lore, but it got their hearts pounding and their concentration focused nonetheless. Hendricks had awakened his entire platoon, sixteen men total. Not one of them, including Hendricks knew why.
“Sapper six, sapper six, this is sapper two one, requesting secure, over.”
“Go ahead two one, this is six, on secure.”
“Hey top, what the hell is going on, my guys are pretty rattled down here, over.”
“ Bubba, I have no idea, I just woke up with that feeling, you know the one.”
“Uhh, roger that top, any word from the listening post?”
Hendricks had totally forgotten the listening post. In his haste to wake up his men, and get an armored squad coming his way, he had overlooked them completely. Corporal Jamison, known affectionately by everyone he knew as “Bubba” because of his farm boy charm, and slightly thick appearance, had seen combat before. He had fought along side Hendricks in both the colonial zeta wars, and the last conflict in the desert region on Earth. He was a fine soldier, and a fierce combatant. Hendricks couldn’t think of a better man to lead a fire team out to the listening post to find out what the hell they were doing. He had never once been wrong about his feelings, and he hoped he was wrong about this one. It was too cold to fight, especially since this is just a checkpoint outpost.
“Two one, this is six, over.”
“Go ahead top.”
“Yeah, bubba, I need you to take a small fire team out to the listening post, and wake those guys up, and make sure you give them the appropriate amount of ass chewing, over.”
“Roger that six, on the way.”
“And bubba, try to keep it a little quiet, Six out.”
Before he had even finished his orders, he saw the four men look up and scan the field in front of them before dashing out into the night. “What an amazing bunch of troops these guys are.” Hendricks thought, and a little smile came across his face.

“Alright men, I need two volunteers, and Sparks.” Corporal “Bubba” Jamison said, looking over the seven men in front of him.
“Why do I have to go?” Sparks was a little unruly this morning.
“Because I don’t like you, and hope that you get killed” Bubba replied and kind of chuckled.
“Since that seems to be the only way out of this outfit, then I am all for it.” Private First Class Sparks had the charm that made other soldiers gravitate to him. He was also rather good at his job, and no one in the battalion was a better machine gunner.
“Looks like Sparks is in, who else? Oh yeah, while we are having a debate, Sparks, go get a medic too.” Jamison knew that would both spook and sober everyone up. But they needed it, none of these guys had been in combat before, and when the First Sergeant got ”one of those feelings” Jamison knew he was going to need all hands on deck, and locked in.
“I’m in, not like there is anything on TV.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Private Stenson, and Private Greene. They were best friends from school, they signed up together, and were both accepted into the advanced infantry training with little effort. They would be a welcome addition to any fire team. Sparks returned with a medic in tow. Corporal Jamison finished his conversation with the First Sergeant.
“Alright men, clear your corners, watch your six, and keep close, this is probably nothing, but take no chances. Let's rock.” Bubba was the first out of the trench, and made a speedy line toward a large cluster of vegetation. He made it there, and the rest of his men fell in perfectly behind him, and found some cover.

Bubba pulled a battlefield map into his HUD, and located the listening post, and his location from it. “Team two, I want motion sensors up, use IR instead of night vision, and check your fire. DO NOT go cowboy out here, we are still inside our perimeter, so there could be friendlies anywhere.” All the men acknowledged, and Bubba located his next spot of cover. “Move out team two, on me.” The men instinctively formed a wedge, and moved several hundred meters across the open field. Normally this would be a huge mistake, but they were inside the friendly perimeter. Infra Red vision was gaining no heat signatures anywhere. The listening post was about six hundred meters North of their current position. At that range, there should be some heat signature off the men in there. “Echo four, Echo four, this is Sapper two one, come in, over.” There was no reply. “Echo four, Echo four, this is Sapper two one, with emergency traffic, come in, over.” Still nothing. Bubba was getting mad, when they get up there, those guys are in for an ass chewing of a lifetime. They would be cleaning toilets in the barracks with toothbrushes for a month.
“Sapper two one, sapper two one, this is six, over.”
“Go ahead six.”
“Anything yet?”
“Negative, we are about six hundred meters from the LP, no movement, no heat sigs, and negative contact. We are moving in now. Over.”
“Understood, be advised, there is an armor platoon in route, so check your fire, and turn on your identify friend foe sensors, over.”
“That’s a good copy, six, IFF sensors on.”
“Roger, six out.”

The fire team started using neural signals for movement, so there would be no communication interference. They used a falling line formation, in case things went south, as they approached the listening post. They got to the location, and found nothing. Nothing at all. The two soldiers were not there, their gear was gone, the heavy weapon was gone, and the data terminal was gone. This is weird, and dangerous. “Eyes up men, be ready for anything, set your suits to full combat, and look for any sings of a fight.” Corporal “Bubba” Jamison was starting to get scared. He couldn’t show it in front of the men tough. He could sense that his many years of training were starting to kick in, and instinct was running the show now. “Sapper six. Sapper six, this is sapper two one, emergency traffic over.” There was a lot of anxiousness in his voice.
“Go ahead bubba, and calm down.”
“Sorry top, its just that, well, they are gone.”
“What, like moved positions?”
“Negative six, gone, as in not here, not anywhere.”
“You mean to tell me Bubba, that they just got up and left their post in the middle of the night for no apparent reason?”
“Umm, top, they didn’t leave the position, the position is no longer here. The heavy, the Terminal, everything, it is completely gone.”
“Roger that two one, standby there, keep your eyes open, as soon as the armor gets here, we will light the area up, and find out what is up. But I don’t want to do anything until they arrive, understood?’
“Affirmative six, two one out.”

Corporal Jamison was not happy, this was severely unusual, and downright weird. The men were intently scouring the landscape with in about thirty meters of the site, when private Stenson broke silence. “Corporal, I found something!” He was a little over excited, as though he had just gotten the housing lottery numbers right. “Whaddaya got private?”
“Well, it looks like a combat suit water container, but it is all banged up.”
“Let’s have a lookee see, shall we? Stenson was right, it was a water container, and again right, it was banged up. It looked like it had been stepped on by something extremely heavy. Bubba found the bar code on it, and had his helmet scanner search the information on it. It was the signed for property of one private first class Becker, and a quick search of the duty rotations showed that Becker was one of the two men who were on shift currently at the LP. This is bad. Very bad. “Six, six, this is two one, come in, over.”
“Go ahead two one.” Hendricks was trying to remain calm, he could hear the stress in Jamison’s voice, and hoped that he could instill a little bit of ease by appearing calm. It wasn’t working.
“Uhh, top, I don’t know exactly what to make of this…”
“Spit it out Bubba.”
“Well, we found PFC Becker’s water container off his suit, and it is pretty badly damaged, that is the only thing out here.”
“Say again? Never mind, I got that, you are telling me that the only thing inside of a hundred meters of that position is a beat up canteen attachment?”
“In so many words top, yes. Orders?”
“Just stay put, the armor will be here any second, get small, and get defensive.”
“Roger that Top, we wi…” The communication ended.

As those words came over Hendricks helmet, he could hear the gunfire erupt from Corporal Jamison’s position. It was intense, and pretty one sided. All originating from Bubba’s area. Nothing was coming from any outside source. Hendricks could hear the machine gun that Sparks was carrying explode heavy bursts, and all of the pulse carbines the other men had were firing at maximum cyclic rates. Several explosions could be seen, and then heard. Flares went up over the position. Hendricks could see the men all instinctively hit the ground when the flare lit the area. But the fighting kept going. “React moron!” Hendricks was screaming at himself inside his head. “Get on the fucking radio and save your men!” Thoughts like this were normally coursing through Hendricks’ mind in combat, and that was all it took to spring into action.
“Cobra three elements, cobra three elements, contact, I say again, contact. Need immediate fire support at our location, we have a fire team pinned down at our listening post, over.”
“Roger, Sapper six, ETA, four mikes.”
“Negative cobra three, they might not last that long, get your asses on my point, out!”
Hendricks turned his attention at the remaining nine men. “Snipers, up! Get your asses over here, now.” There was a muffled and bewildered “Roger” as two men with scoped long rifles made their way to his position, which he now realized was standing up in front of the trench on open ground. Hendricks didn’t even bother to get down. “You two men get eyes on that area, and anything you see that isn’t one of our men, you put those fuckers on their backs. Got it?” He was salivating. No time to worry about cleanliness.
“Bulldog command, bulldog command, this is sapper six, over.”
“This is bulldog seven, First Sergeant, sounds like you guys are in a situation there.”
“Roger that sir, we could use any available air elements in this area sir. Over.”
“Understood six, we can have some fast movers inbound in zero one mikes, over.”
“Outstanding Bulldog seven, best news I have heard all day. I will prepare my men for danger close, out.”
That was a little bit of a relief, but not much. At least there would be armor and air support. “Better wake up the arty elements,” Hendricks thought.
“Tango three, tango three, this is Sapper six, over.”
“This is tango three, over.”
“Roger Tango three, this is six, I need to prepare for fire missions, in boxes zero three five, and zero three six, HE rounds until complete, fire for effect, at my command, over.”
“Roger Sapper six, understood, fire for effect, HE until complete, boxes zero three five, and zero three six, at your command. Tango three standing by. Over.”
“Affirmative, and thanks, six out.” Now the artillery elements were on the hook for this too. There had been no real communication from Jamison’s fire team since the shooting broke out, just random yelling back and forth between the men. There were a few broken messages sent from Corporal Jamison, but nothing intelligible. Hendricks shifted his focus back to the two men with the sniper rifles. “Ramirez, Smith, what do you have?”
“Nothing at all first sergeant, not a goddamn thing.” Ramirez was cold and precise with his rifle. He was the highest scoring sniper in the brigade. “What do you mean nothing eagle eyes?” This was a bit puzzling to Hendricks. Either of these men should have shot at least two or three enemies, what with all the shooting coming from the LP.
“I mean I don’t see anything, all I can see is Corporal Jamison’s fire team and all of them shooting to the northeast. Shooting a lot.”
“You mean you can’t see anything? Not a single bad guy? Then what the hell are they shooting at?”
“No idea Top, but we got anything that moves.”

Sparks was scanning the horizon to the northeast as Bubba was talking with the First Sergeant about the water container that belonged to the now missing PFC Becker. Something darted across the open, just at the edge of his vision. Or did it? IR or the motion sensor surely would have picked anything up. Must have been his mind playing tricks on him. There it was again. “What the hell” Sparks was starting to wonder if his suit had started to glitch out. It wasn’t that cold out here though. “Hey Greene, get over here and check this out” Sparks was now intently focused on the area where he saw the movement.
“What’s up man?” Greene was taking his leisurely time to get to Sparks’ location.
“Hurry up private, get over here and see if you can pick up anything about half a click northeast.”
“Like what?”
“Jesus Christ, just do a scan already, stop asking dumbass questions. I want you to see if you can find your mom out there. What do you think I want you to look for? BAD GUYS!” Sparks was tired, and his patience was growing thin. Two men were missing, and extremely strange circumstances surrounded the vanishing. He had little time for stupid questions from one of the super private twins.
“No, I am not picking up anything except you guys. All I am getting is… Wait a minute, did you just see that?” Greene was just as astonished by the movement as Sparks was apparently.
“You mean that thing, or things darting around out there? How big would you say that is?’ Sparks was waiting to interrupt Bubba’s conversation with Top when Greene started to answer him.
“Hell, I dunno, maybe 2 meters tall an…” There was a bright flash followed moments later by an ear piercing crack sound. Sparks dove for cover at the first sign of the flash, it obviously came from the area where he saw movement. He looked over for Greene, but there was nothing there anymore. There was a thick cloud of dust and steam, and through that Sparks could make out what looked like a boot with some fleshy bloody sticks hanging out of them. “Greene! “ Sparks was screaming into his helmet, and hadn’t even realized that he had already fired about fifty rounds out of the machine gun. The female animated voice in his helmet was keeping track of the gun’s heat and ammunition. “Bingo, Bingo, combat fire mode enabled. Three hundred fifty rounds left before empty. Heat at a minimum, continue to fire.”

Jamison was in the middle of getting orders from Hendricks when he heard a loud crack noise, followed almost immediately by the team’s machine gun firing in a non-stop barrage of miniature explosions. Bubba had a slightly calming moment as he realized that the machine gun’s high cyclic rate made a somewhat soothing vibration sound. He barely had a chance to enjoy this sound, as another flash and crack rang out, this time just a few meters from him in the dirt. Fractions of a second later Jamison was as flat as he could get against that dirt. “Bingo, Bingo, contact, team member Sparks engaging unknown enemy targets approximately nine hundred meters thirteen degrees northeast. Now automatically enabling full combat mode, squad communications open.” The female voice was ringing off initial combat commands into Jamison’s helmet.
“Headcount.” Jamison needed to know where his men were.
“Bingo, Bingo, combat mat online, team member Sparks, accounted for, elevated heart rate. Team member Stenson accounted for, moving on line with Sparks. Team member Greene, unaccounted for, no vital signs available, presumed dead. Team medic Jenson accounted for, moving toward team member Greene’s last known location. Suggest suppressing fire in the direction of the combat arrow, then fall back to a reinforcing line.” Jamison’s HUD was filled with a small outline of the area, and colored dots representing the locations of his men, and a red flashing arrow to the northeast. Without even thinking, Bubba shouldered his rifle and began firing three round bursts in the direction of the arrow. “Flares” He yelled, and his female helmet voice acknowledged his command. Two flares fired up and in the direction if the arrow from an integrated pack device on his back. As the flares lit up the area, his visor dimmed and the IR shut off. There was nothing out there. At least nothing he could see. As abruptly as the shooting broke out, it had stopped. As soon as Bubba jammed another magazine into his rifle, three close air support fighters blasted past them, no more than thirty meters from the surface.

The gunfire stopped just seconds before the air support came on station. It was a fierce fight, that lasted for several minutes, but it was extremely one sided. Hendricks was still trying to wrap his mind around what the hell was going on out there.
“Sapper two one, sapper two one, this is Sapper six, come in, over.”
“Two one go ahead.” Corporal “Bubba” Jamison was extremely amped up, and barely understandable.
“Take it easy two one, I need a sit-rep. Over”
“Roger Top, unknown aggressor, we took a small amount of an unknown type of fire from an unknown location thirteen degrees northeast at about eight hundred meters out. On man missing, presumed K.I.A., private Greene. Break.” There was a short pause, as Jamison gathered his thoughts. “Six, we have no idea what happened, we never did see anything, no sensors of any kind picked anything up, and the weapons used were definitely not conventional. Uhh, Top, it pretty much just disintegrated Greene. Over”
“That’s a good copy two one, police up your troops and high tail it back here. Over”
“Wilco six, two one out.” Jamison was happy to receive that order, at least there would be more men at the TOC location.

“First Sergeant, they are on their way back, nothing is following them. They are clear.” Ramirez had been tracking the fire team since they were engaged in the firefight with the unknown and unseen forces out in the cold black plains of the checkpoint.
“Roger that eagle eyes, watch them until they are standing next to you.” Hendricks was fairly confused. All he could think about was how it was way past his retirement, and time to get the hell out. “What the hell was out there, and where did it go?” Hendricks couldn’t get it out of his head. “Why hadn’t the sensors picked up anything? There is no way they had been hacked into. The safe nets would have kicked in and the whole system would have collapsed. It was a fail safe, any corruption in the suit’s programming, and it became a gigantic half million-dollar two-way radio. Cloaking device of some sort? Couldn’t be, not on anything smaller than power armor, and something that size certainly would have been picked up by motion trackers.” Hendricks was sitting in the cold steel trench system just staring off into the darkness. He had shut everything off in his suit except the radios. His old eyes were narrowing as he focused hard into the area where Jamison’s men had been firing. Nothing, nothing at all was out there. It was the area that the freighters had to land in order to be inspected. That was the reason for this cold, unforgiving outpost. It was just a place to land, let the ship’s reactors gain moisture, and get inspected. So what the hell was out there that had made the two men at the LP vanish, and left nothing but a tattered leg as the only remains of private Greene? “Just doesn’t make sense” Hendricks realized he had been mumbling for several minutes. He looked down at the remaining men on the line. They were shaken, but alert. That was good.

Jamison and the three men left followed him back to the control point in the trenches. It was here that not ten minutes ago they had bounded out of, confident that they could take on anything. They returned rattled, missing a friend, and less than confident. “Corporal Jamison returned from patrol First Seargeant, sit rep as follows. Enemy, unknown in numbers, race, and equipment. Casualties, one Private Daniel Greene. Serial number zero two four dash nine nine six three. All other patrol elements alive and accounted for. We were engaged twice by an unknown weapon. It was some sort of beam weapon. When it hit Greene it basically just incinerated him. We left the remains on the field. I almost caught one. It missed, so I am ruling out any kind of assisted aiming tech. I honestly don’t know what to make of it First Sergeant. We never saw anything. Sparks and Greene apparently saw some sort of shadowy thing but I have no idea what that means. It was the last thing they observed before we began taking fire. A total of two incoming rounds were recorded. End report.” Jamison looked like he was exhausted, and had been beat on for a few hours. It was a common affliction of men under fire, where there was no clear victorious outcome. “Good job Corporal. I have already submitted award requests for all of you. Do you want me to send the death message to Greene’s family?” Hendricks was now going through the motions of being a First Sergeant. It was pretty bothersome, and impersonal.
“That is O.K. Top, I will take care of it. I just need to know what to say, I would like to get Stenson some libbo, he will need to get home. He and Greene were close, and they grew up together and all. It may be best if Greene’s parents hear it from him first.” Jamison was starting to calm down, and was getting tired. He needed sleep, and a hot cup of coffee. “Hey top, if you don’t mind, I am going to head down the line and see how Sparks and the others are holding up, and I need some coffee, or something.”
“Yeah, by all means, dismissed. Get some sleep, the armor should be here any second. We will let them head out and sort things out.” Hendricks could see the drained look on Jamison’s face. He needed to get off the line for a while. Hell, they all needed to. They had been out here for four months. Two to go and they were home, and he could process his retirement papers, again. They had been denied twice. He wasn’t sure how many more deployments to the outer rim he could handle before he went section eight.
His radio started to crackle. “Sapper six, Sapper six, this is Cobra Three One, over.”
“This is Sapper Six, send your traffic, over.” Hendricks was upset to say the least. These guys should have been here before that firefight had even started. They must have all been sleeping when his call came in.
“Roger Six, we are approaching our position now, we should be there in about one minute. We had some technical difficulties a while back, some weird glitches and what not. We got them straightened out and will be in sight momentarily, over.”
“Understood Cobra three one, see you when you get here. Over”
“Affirmative, we just had another glitch, something weird with the compu…” Hendricks’ radio went to static.
“Say again Cobra Three One, you broke…” Hendricks was interrupted by four huge flashes of white light less than a kilometer away to the Northwest. Seconds later there were four large explosion sounds, and the ground shook a little. “Cobra Three One, Cobra three one, acknowledge, over.” Nothing but static still. “Any Cobra element, any Cobra element, come in over.” The static had faded out, and there was just a soft dull buzz in the headset.


At 11/28/2005 3:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You gave it a very good try. Just think...chapter one is all crafted and ready to go.

I'm afraid that my NaNo experience was all too similar. Maybe next year...

At 12/02/2005 3:34 PM, Blogger Alien Shaman said...

Not bad, I enjoyed it - I wonder what the hell is was that attacked them. Well, I guess I will never know.

And I wouldn't feel bad about not finishing, it wasn't a priority for you. It would have been nice to accomplish, but you have had a lot more going on, so don't worry about it.


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