Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.
In the distance, the thunderous roar of jet engines could be heard. Their loud shrieks announced that they were flying into the morning sky, soon to descend on their target area and begin softening it up. While they waited for the noise to die down and the briefing to begin, Dezba looked around at all the familiar faces of 1st Platoon. This included Rickson of 2nd Squad, Tate of 3rd, and Saunders standing in for 5th.
Dezba looked to her last and nodded, receiving a smile in turn. Enough time had passed that he knew how to read her expressions. And at that moment, he could tell they were both feeling the same about their current situation. Once more unto the breach, their platoon leading Bravo Company’s charge. But without their CO to lead them.
He also Grayson standing behind Rollins, still the NCO of 4th and still the one making sure that the man who wore the silver bars had everything he needed to get the job done. A good platoon sergeant he was, at no point showing the slightest sign that he was pissed or worried over the shuffle that had taken place.
Perhaps he had the right of it. Dezba knew that whatever misgivings he had right now, there really was nothing that could be done about it. The new Lieutenant was about to be tested, that was certain. But he also knew the rest of them were going to be closely scrutinized as well. Haynes was never one to forget or forgive so easily. And from the top down, just about everyone in the platoon had pissed him off at this point.
Nothing left to do now but do their jobs and hope it all worked out. Maybe they’d get lucky and stay under the radar for this op.
Rollins waited for the noise of the the jets to die down a little more and quickly got to talking.
“Alright, people, listen up because we only got enough time to go over this once. Last night, aerial reconnaissance did another fly over the communities that sit to the south-east of town. Word is, they didn’t notice any sign of civilians, and we know for a fact that they haven’t been using their mobile transmitters for about a week. Command now believes they’ve been compromised, and we’re to proceed accordingly.”
Tate raised his fist. “Sir, does that mean we’re knocking over Sombrillo before hitting Espanola?”
“Negative, Sergeant. Our orders remain the same, confirm the presence of Whiskeys in or around the compound, then clear the front door. The Brigade Combat Team will still be rolling through to sanitize the place once we’ve determined the status of the community. A reminder, those heavy tanks that will be leading the charge will be shooting M1028 canister rounds almost exclusively. Those things can turn an entire horde into pulp, but aren’t exactly known for precision shooting. So we better be sure about the status of those houses. We roll in, we check it out, then we let the heavies do their thing.”
He looked around to see if anyone had any more questions so far. Satisfied, he moved on. “In terms of air support, the 150th is sending a few Spectres our way. They’ll be on station just as soon as we find our way into the town proper. Any spots not currently painted as hostile territory will still be intact, which means we will have the option of blasting them. But I don’t think I need to tell anyone that at that point, confirming the presence of civilians will once again be our priority. Captain Garcia and everyone above him were clear about not wanting any civilians dead. Not by our hands.”
Everyone assembled nodded and grunted an affirmative. Rollins looked around for any more questions. Dezba raised his arm.
“Sir, is the ammo provision still in effect for small arms?”
Rollins looked the slightest bit uncomfortable and cleared his throat before answering. “Yes, Sergeant. The Captain stressed that all grunts are to make sure their bayonets are fixed before we go in. If we can avoid wasting bullets on the undead if and when they get in close, so much the better. And the same holds true for air and heavy tank support. As the current ROE goes, if it is believed that we can take an objective without covering fire, we are to do so.”
“And who’s call is that, sir?” asked Saunders. Rollins looked at her, his discomfort giving way to visible annoyance.
“Mine, Sergeant. And I’ll be with you all every step of the way. So if you’re not sure, you run it by me first.”
Dezba looked to Saunders, noted the same look of annoyance forming on her face. He wanted to say something, intervene with some sound advice of how she shouldn’t be poking the bear. But it just wasn’t possible to get the shit back in the horse at this point. He chose instead to distract Rollins with another question.
“Sir, just how many survivors are we expecting to find inside the town?”
Rollins looked back to him and didn’t seem too surprised by the question. “Well, that’s the good news, Sergeant. The same aerial reconnaissance that declared Sombrillo and the other settlements dead claimed they saw signs of people being dug in on the east and west banks. Which means the horde didn’t get em all.”
Dezba nodded. “That is good news, sir.”
Rollins smiled mildly. “If there’s nothing else, then…” he nodded to Grayson, who immediately started barking orders.
“Alright, get to your Victors and ready your squads. We are wheels up in ten mikes!”
They immediately dispersed, each squad leader heading off to their vehicle. Dezba was sure to stall long enough to get behind Saunders and follow her a few steps. He waited til Rollins and Grayson were out of earshot too, and sidled up next to her.
“Sergeant,” he said, announcing himself.
“Sneaky,” she said, with a roll of the eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be reporting to your Victor?”
“Yeah, but… I kind of wanted to ask you something before we shipped off.”
“Oh yeah, what’s that?”
He stopped her and turned to face her head on. He could instantly tell from the look in her eyes that she wasn’t too happy to be talking right now, and any discussion on the subject he had in mind wouldn’t go too well. But it wasn’t something he could let slide. Another chance might not come…
“Is your… head in this? I mean, are you looking to end your career in this man’s army or what?”
Saunders looked away and unslung her weapon, cocked it once to check the chamber. “I don’t have time for this. We’re pushing out.”
“Andrea, I miss him too. And we all know it was a shit move, the way he got canned. But we gotta press on, right?”
Saunders avoided his eyes. Even though they weren’t turning red or getting moist at the moment, he could tell she was holding back quite a bit. He couldn’t blame her, he knew what was going through her mind at exactly that point.
“And it’s not your fault, so don’t even go there. Whatever issues Haynes had with Braun go way further back than anything that happened in the past few months. The guy’s pretty much had a hard on for him since the Mage first put him in charge of 2nd Battalion. We’ve all had to deal with him at one point or another, so don’t think this is about you here.”
Saunders began shaking her head. Her face was softening a little, but she was still nowhere near convinced. And naturally, she raised a perfectly valid counter point.
“The guys a hardliners and an asshole, and you’re telling me you don’t have any qualms about following him into battle?”
Dezba sighed. “Yeah, I do… But who amongst us hasn’t had an asshole commander at one time or another? We’ve been lucky, having guys like Braun and the Mage in charge for so long. Maybe we got soft.”
She finally looked up to meet his eyes, reslung her weapon and took a deep breath. “Guess it’s time to get hard again, huh?”
“Maybe,” Dezba said, with a shrug. “You sure you’re up for this?”
Saunders made an irate sigh. “I’m fine, okay. The doc cleared me for duty and the headaches haven’t been coming back.”
“Not what I was referring to, Sergeant.” He looked her straight in the eye and lowered his voice a few decibels. “How are you doing otherwise?”
To that, she emitted a low sigh and looked at the ground. She gave the dirt a few gentle kicks with the toe of her boot.
“I’m sad and I’m pissed. I miss Mill and Jones, and I miss my CO. But what can we do? We have to move on and set our sights on the next thing. Not like there’s anything that can be done about it now, right?”
Dezba nodded. “I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end.”
“Right…” she said, looking resolute at last. “Now let’s go kill some ugly fuckers!”
“Leave none undead,” Dezba replied.