I The Fighters
There was five of us.
Myself. Hector, one of the best long riflemen I’d ever met. He came from the 173rd Airborne. Then there was Victor. A 235 pound bear of a man who ate barbells and broke necks. He was a Chief Special Warfare Officer (SEAL) from TEAM -2, offhitch, as well as Samuel.
Sweet, complicated Samuel.
See, Samuel was a Chaplain. Read as a Non-Combatants. Someone who is, according to the laws of war, not allowed to carry a weapon intended for anything but self-defense. Chaplains are never soft but and fight with others? I’d never seen them getting dirty with the rest of the muckfoots.
Given the, well, unseemliness of the enemy we’d be fighting, I didn’t think the DOD would’ve made him give up the collar. It turns out they did.
I’d known him the longest, as I chopped to our new unit first. He chatted idly with me, over looking the water near Naval Station San Diego. It sounded like a confession.
“You know the land that I am from. You know that there? Many frightening things.”
“For a boy,” we spoke in one of five unaccented languages, “Yes.”
“As a boy nothing scared me as that dog.”
“…and when my mother saw the tail end of it, saw how I kept it off my sister she touched my cheek. She called me brave. A brave boy. She didn’t speak, often.”
“When I told her I was going to seminary? She touched my cheek again. I thought she was gone! But she wasn’t. ‘Brave boy. Smart boy,’ and I never forgot that. She die; but the look of hope? It inspired me before diving into every book. Every piece of knowledge a victory to her memory.”
I said nothing. He took off a uniform item, and tossed it uncermionasly into the water.
“This though? This we must do. I must do. ‘This We Shall Defend.'”
I smiled at that. I’d been a hat, in a different life.
The Enemy and briefings thereof were surprisingly void of anything not theoretical-spiritual. Since the quantum wavelength collapse the Kah’gee (that’s what we call them, “cage” for plural) were inhabiting more and more recently abandoned military posts and vessles. Why recently abandoned?
Special Activities Division, which we were now apart of, didn’t prfer to say. That’s the community, I ‘spose.
II The Event Horizon
The background started with a different agency, the Number crunhing one, the NSA. First basic quantum computer theory:
A quantum bit is a one and a zero, suspended in a state incomprehensible to the human mind.. However the quantum computers, all six of them, are functioning in the coldest place in the known universe, which we created.
Either something took notice, or something was always there. Waiting.
“Yes,” said the bespectacled, overworked scientiest, “you could say that. But ‘God’ is a title, not a thing. Listen, I’m just going to mangle this- but none of you have advanced degrees in theoritical physics…”
He paused. I had a degree. Someone else did, as well.
“Don’t try to think of this in a quantum superpostion state, you can’t. But you can think of one side that’s been very kind to us. Look at all this space-time; not not existing! Pretty nice. We have this thing, the known universe which is a six or seven atoms per square meter. Great! But then there is this other side. It exists to make us…”
“Not miserble. Not afraid, exactly. Do you have that one Aunt? The one who is at every family reunion that no-one is even certain they’re related to? The one who feeds of family drama.”
“That’s what administrates. Oversees, and we think, orders the Ka’gee. As for the entities themselves? Think of the Navy. The old, old timey Navy where every ship was sail-powered. There is one, maybe two officers aboard. The actual sailors would, or at least the privateer ones, would gibber and holler at anything unfamilar. Just act like animals at anything unknown while the officers tried to figure out the next move. The Ka’gee do that but the evil Aunt type overseers (we don’t have a name for them yet) know what we are, and they subsist of the ensuing psychological and phyiscal reactions.”
Victor, with his twin tree trunks of arms arcross his chest, seemed to pantomime something. A slight sign of understanding.
Samuel raised his hand.
“We know we can kill them. The one we have names for. But can we convert them?”
III The Intial Encounters
This would be a problem. It came from one of the Merchant Marines, where the hell he got it, I’ll never know. I do know it landed right in the center of a two of us.
CRACK CRACK CRACK!
I’d just placed three center mass in what in what we’d come to call a screecher. Not as big a Honcho, or as viscous as a maruder, but formidable none-the-less. Particularly in close, when the four limbed humanoid pinwheeled its extremities, lumbering forth in an uneven bipedal stride and screeching. Another came careening down a ladderwell.
Victor, in one smooth motion, had broke its long, spindly arm the viscously threw it to the deck. Samuel took the dessicated corpse, and fell on the grenade. He looked up.
He had a majestic command voice, when he boomed words that way, like all biblical, but it was the look of serenity on his face. I caught Victor’s eye and he was as perpeplexed as I.
It was as if he was talking, gently and with his body to the grenade. “I don’t mean to crush you. Or compress you for your discomfort; but for mercy.” It seemed to say.
The clip was still on the m-67 baseball grenade. Didn’t go off.
The SEAL hefted a dazed and mumbling Merchant Marine and we booked it, for the deck. There’d be pick up coming for us, if we made it.
Samuel fell in, carrying something. Pursued by aggressors. We breached daylight, and it started get easier, in pursuit at least. Hector handled two with a .308 from his hide across the water. We held steady; SBT-12 arrived.
IV Additional Encounters
We were in the Hindu Kush mountains. I’d been here before, fighting Talaiban -we all had- but this was something different.
“In there, sir,” said the guide, “very dangerous.”
“Sounds good,” said Victor “my kind of place.”
“Is he qouting Raiders?” asked Hector.
“Cobras. Very dangerous.”
Hector and I laughed. Samuel had a cockeyed grin. Victor looked like he might crack a smile, then pulled out binos.
He scowled, then put the binoculars away.
“Thought I saw a glint. Nothing.”
We crouched, and then semi-crawled for nearly two hundred yards.
Screechers, and Honchos swarmed out from the darkness, seemingly propelled by an unnatural heat emanating from deep within the cave.
“Suppresion,” I emptied the Mk 46 with five-to-fifteen round bursts, “reloading!”
The others snapped moderate fire as I reloaded with another 100 round drum.
Then, we did it again.
“Popping some illum,” Victorput illumining grenade right up the cave. “now!”
The illumination round showed a pile of kah-gee, backed by more, incoming.
Hector, already prone, put his Winchester .308 to use, peering aross it’s top through optics into the abyss.
Two more gone.
“Follow me,” said Samuel, “I think I see the target.”
He did. Another seventy- five resistance free yards and we were confronted with something which defied description. Physics, maybe. A piece of “The Aunt’s,” as we’d been briefed.
“What is it?”
The name was apt. Dozens of smaller objects, orangish-brown, flowed from it. They vanished after gaining much distance from it.
“It’s like …a leather …pile. Of hides.”
“Like a crushed brown basketball. But I can’t see the edge of it.”
We stared at Samuel. He cocked his head, listening closely, staring intently and saying nothing.
“Padre?” I offered weakly, (the thing was making me quesy) the others not breaking their gaze, “thoughts?”
“We don’t have much time!”
That was enough for Victor. He nodded at me, and I brought the full force of my weapon -stock first and fully loaded- down on the squirming objective.
“C’mere,” Vincent had pulled protective handwear. They were made of shining silver, probably surgical steel with what must have been synthetic leather coming up to the elbows, “almost.”
The walls started shaking.
Hector, now on his feet, read my mind. We sprinted the backtrack, moving rock and earth for the others.
“Don’t wait,” Victor growled, Go! Don’t wait for me!”
I could feel the anger coming off Victor.
Samuel sealed the ammo-box type hinge on the container.
We checked the immidiate surrounding are for hostiles, before turning back. The entrance wa a pinpoint of light in the distance.
We retraced our steps, unopposed.
V Rest and Relaxtion
We were in Dubai. With the 11th MEU.
In the beer garden, a banner with the words “PRIDE OF THE PACIFIC,” waffled in the breeze. In the shade, we enjoyed dollar beers.
“I’ll tell you, this weather? Makes the beer taste better.”
Something between Victor and Samuel boiled over. He was only on his third beer, but I reckon Victor had powered through them, as an excuse.
“What’s your fucking problem?”
He looked to push Samuel, but the Priest was fast and to the side.
“Come with me. Get in the cab!”
He whispered to the two of us: “Hard Rock. Somewhere in the emirates.”
“If you don’t come back?”
“Jesus, I can’t believe he got in the cab.”
“The Padre must have something planned.”
“Hope it involves ducking.”
We drank, and drank. I limited myself to six. Hector didn’t, and when we climbed aboard the LHD at the end of the evening, I was worried.
“Jesus. Man, what if they don’t comeback?”
“Then…” Hector was drunk, “then we shall have the pick! Of the finest …Marines in the fleet.”
“Ooh-Rah!” offered a Jarhead, passing us on the ramp, “Permission to come aboard?”
“One second,” said the Sailor who’d typically grant permission and return the salute, “stand aside.”
Oh hell, I thought. Why won’t this bag of bones stand up.
“More than a little drunk! Here,” Victor with a rare upturn of humor in his voice, hefted Hector and said,
“Nothing that slamming him on that mat won’t fix.”
“Ah-huh,” said the Sailor, “you with the TRAP team?”
The Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personell were always there to pick us up if a bird crashed, and were part of the SOC in 11th MEU-SOC.
“No. OGA. Permission to come aboard?”
Other Government Agency.
“Permission granted, but get him to his quarters, post-haste.”
The Sailor returned my salute sharply. We came aboard.
“Where the hell have you been?”
“Enjoying the Emirates. And rocking the house!”
“Hey,” said another passing Marine, “you guys were great!”
They’d got a chance to play at the Hardrock, briefly. Victor is a bassist, I came to learn and Samuel?
“You! You’re like Mitch Mitchell. Or Keith Moon!”
“Thanks,” Samuel raised his hand humbly. “Flattery.”
V The Training Never Stops
I could bore you with innane details and a fight-by-fight description of each time we geared up,. but I won’t. All that you need to know is that we weren’t winning, exactly, but our performance had more than met or exceeded expectations and the calls were becoming less frequent.
We’d chopped away from CENTCOM after three months of no call-to in the middle east. We bid farewell to the Marines of the 11th MEU, and after burning off our too many days of Leave at home, we boarded the USS Ronald Reagan.
What a boat! CVN-76 had everything. A movie theatre, a bowling alley! Even got to cross-train with some of Victor’s old friends.
“Gentlemen, thank you.”
“For the training,” Hector was violating personal space, even for ship, “and the instruction!”
He stood, grinning wide eyed and eager, violating personal space boundaries, even for ship
“Don’t mention it. Excellent work on behalf of your men, Chief.”
Victor made a gesture, something clearly indicating that we weren’t his men, exactly. And we gracefully took our gear back to our quadcons, as that was the most words any of our training companions had uttered the entire 36-hour cycle.
“Hot damn,” Hector said, “that was something!”
“Sure was.” Samuel offered, “great.”
Once we were out of earshot, I asked timidly.
“Special Warfare, right?”
“Of course,” Hector exclaimed enthusiastically before lowering his voice, “the colors?”
Victor said nothing.
The Colors was a non-Navy way of asking if SEAL TEAM 6 had just gone ashore with us.
Victor was stone faced. I thought no wast.
“Hot damn,” Hector said, awestruck but unsure, “good stuff.”
Samuel had already begun the long, long process of cleaning gear and weapons.
VI Unidentified Submersible Object
“Gentlemen, this is where I throw my hands up,” the Lt. Commander said, “there is something pinging beneath that boat, but I can’t tell you what.”
The Sonorman First-Class-turned-Officer had just been brought aboard, from the USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723) which, while not in our attack group, had taken time to assist us in the rough seas of the far south pacific.
“No,” he replied, “listen.”
He clicked a button on a Digital Tape recorder.
“Sounds like the Hindu Kush. When the cave came down?”
“How could I forget.”
“Sir,” I said apologetically on a professional level, “don’t worry yourself too much. These things often defy our …chosen specialties.”
“So I’ve heard.”
Great, I thought, No I’ll have to ply Vincent to frequent the Officer’s mess, just to find out where he heard.
“The question now is whether you want to be ferried,” this was a one-star, the highest ranking person aboard, “or if you want to jump.”
“Either or,” said the OPS-O, “and both’ll be easy.”
“Thank you, we’ll jump.”
We worked out particulars.
“Roger that,” The OPS-O started to gather his things, rolling charts and pointing to his staff to stow their projector, probably from a new Unified Operations Center, “Oh, one more thing.”
The Operations Officer held up a key.
“The welldeck. Container J 45-01. The armorer will meet you there. Say, 1300?
We found our way to chow first,
Victor griping at my request accordingly.
“The Chief’s mess is superior.”
“No-ones arguing that!”
“And thank you,” Hector said, shoveling food in his maw, “mfor pthat.”
“Yes,” Samuel said, already finished, “very much.”
“We have to find that leak, locate it at least, for our Agency Overlords. I’ll write the report.”
What an old-timey way to say that, I thought to myself, and is Samuel reading the Quran? I should do that. Know thy enemy.
Were they? Fundamentalists, I mean. Now that kah-gee are here? How would that fit in to their world view. Would they declare a Fatwa on them?
We made our way to the welldeck. The armorer was with an Army Officer, a Captain who stood by as he unlocked the quadcon.
It was a Hero 120 drone. Capable of staying an hour in the air, it had a charge capable of destroying a sinking the battle platform. It’s intended use explained to use in stark terms.
“Gentlemen, the information I’m about to share with you is highly privileged…”
VII High Altitude, High Opening
“I remember the first time I did this,” Samuel said in a very un-Samuel like Manner, “I was like pushing a cat into a bucket of water!”
“They have to huck ya’?” I yelled over the din, “nearly did for me.”
“No. Just said I wouldn’t receive my jump wings!”
“Me too! That was enough.”
Victor was all concentration. First, a special chute rigged with Hectors additional gear.
“Go, baby Go!”
After two weeks I had been trained in the U-vision system, and I geared up. Standard, USAF resoled Air Force boots, and all.
I’m Bradley. Bradley Taylor Jackson. Former Air Force Combat Controller.
“Yo, Jax! You coming?”