Oscar Mike – Chapter Five

humvee_gunner1

Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

The vehicle began to rumble as Whitman slowed their speed to a cautious crawl. Dezba’s eyes were trained on his sector, spying the junction up ahead through his Starlight. The filter was down and all he could see at the moment was a small circle of morning haze with a target dot in the middle. Behind him, Morris was doing the same with his M16 while Batista monitored from their roof with the .50 cal.

On their nav screen, the junction was marked with a bet, red line. As the first turn on their selected route, it would take them to the gates of Sombrillo, and their First Objective. As the lead element of First Platoon, they were the first to have eyes on the target. Any Whiskeys that popped up would be theirs to kill first.

Behind them, the rest of Bravo Company followed, every platoon arranged two by two – an army of Humvees and fighting vehicles with the armored fist of the Brigade Combat Team holding up the rear. This made the going tense and the anticipation palatable, knowing that they were the spear point on a long, fighting column.

And yet, Dezba felt strangely at ease. He and his squad had done this enough times now to feel composed and natural about it. But given what he had been going through a little over an hour beforehand, it seemed odd. How was it that writing or talking about that night was impossible for him, but something like this came easily? In what world did that make sense?

This one, he reminded himself. Such crap was natural in this world. The only way to make sense of it was to accept that it didn’t make sense, and never would…

“Contact!” yelled Batista. Dezba’s snapped his attention back to the road and began scanning with his scope. He spotted what something about one-hundred meters from the intersection and roaming about. They were just visible in the morning haze, but through his scope, he could discern the telltale signs of rotted flesh and milky-white eyes.

“I got eyes on six – no, eight – Whiskeys at two o’clock,” he said.

“That’s them, Sarge! No other contacts from up here,” replied Batista.

Dezba scanned around the small mass of lurking bodies. Beyond them, the burned out building of the DreamCatcher loomed. To the far right, he could see the walls that encircled the town, apparently still intact and with the gates closed. There were no signs of anyone waving flags of flailing their arms from either. For all intents and purposes, their newfound friends were alone and standing in the clear.

Grabbing the handset from the radio, Dezba keyed the mike and called it in. “Viper One Actual,” he paused after saying it, fighting the influx of bad feelings the designation produced. He could tell the others in the vehicle noticed, and quickly tried to push past it. Now was simply not the time to be lamenting. “This is Viper One-One. We got eyes on eight Tangos outside the objective area.”

Rollins came back a second later. “Roger that, One-One. Do you have eyes on the town, over?”

“Affirmative, One Actual. No sign of civilians. Walls appear to be intact, front door shut and locked.”
Batista called from the roof. “I got a perfect shot, sir. Do I engage?”

Dezba waited for the reply. The Lieutenant was taking his time, no doubt afraid to give the all clear unless he was able to confirm the sighting for himself. A rookie tendency, he knew, and a pain in the ass to deal with. Dezba began to tap his finger against the side of the handset impatiently. Once again, he became aware of how the others might perceive this. Now was not the time to be displaying doubts about their new CO’s competence either.

“Roger that, One-One. Engage.”

Dezba hung up the handset and slapped the side of his door, yelling to Batista. “Light em up!”

He barely got the words out before Batista opened up with the vehicles .50 cal. The gun began popping off, sending empty casings against the roof and a loud thrum through the vehicle. In the distance, the hot, red tracers found purchase in the morning mist. On the receiving end, the roaming Whiskeys were turned into chunked meat, limbs flying, bodies ripped apart, and the haze turning to a maroon-colored mist.

Bastista quickly terminated his fire to conserve round, but it had been enough. What was left of the Whiskeys were spread out on the ground, and only one or two appeared to be moving at all. Dezba and Morris squeezed off a few precision shots when they got closer, taking out the heads of the one’s that remained active. Only single shots, but they made them count. When it came time to make the turn off the highway, none were left moving.

The junction was now upon them and the nav console showed them intersecting with the crooked red line. Dezba grabbed the handset and keyed the mike. “Viper One-One to Viper Actual. All targets are dispatched. Making the first turn now.”

“Roger that, One-One,” replied Rollins.

Whitman brought them about quickly and rolled onto the connecting road. The remains of the eight Whiskeys were now directly ahead of them, arranged in a wide pile of meat, bones and viscera. Whitman gave the vehicle a bit more gas and aimed their wheels directly at the mess. Dezba saw what he was doing and yelled out.

“Private, don’t – !” Too late. They hit the first bump and everyone in the cabin was tossed around. They hit a few more as they mashed the last of the remains that were still large enough to pass under the wheels and complaints followed. As soon as they were clear, Dezba yelled out at their driver. “PRIVATE! What the fuck?! They’re dead already!”

“Just making sure, boss,” he said happily.

“Fucking redneck…” Dezba breathed, though he couldn’t fault him too much for it. Over-zealousness was not a bad thing, not at the moment. Given the alternative, it was downright preferable.

Up ahead, the morning haze was beginning to dissipate and they could clearly see the closed gate standing before them. They were less than 100 meters away now, and still there were no sign of people waving or trying to get their attention. When they finally came to within a stone’s throw, Whitman slowed the vehicle down and brought them to a halting stop.

Dezba waved to Whitman to kill the engine, and something approaching total quiet followed. Carefully, he opened his door and popped his head out the side. Behind them, the vehicles of the 1st Platoon drove up behind them and came to a stop, forming up in a straight line. The near-silence continued, for several interminable long seconds…

“What gives, man? They must have heard the gunshots.”

It was Morris saying this from the backseat. Majorca quickly replied. “Wouldn’t matter. They were radioed, told to man the walls and signal for help. And even if they didn’t get the message, everyone knows the drill by now.”

“Only one explanation,” said Whitman, though he did not say it. There was really no need.

Dezba felt like he should say something, express some optimism. But the outward signs didn’t look so good. Stepping from the vehicle, he got out on onto the road and shut the door.

“Hold tight,” he said. “I’m heading back to talk to the LT.”

Slinging his weapon over his shoulder, he began walking back towards 4th squad’s vehicle. There was no sense radioing it in. At this point, everyone could see for themselves. All that remained was the order to get inside and confirm it.

He got to 4th’s vehicle just as Rollins and Grayson were emerging.

“No signs, huh, Sergeant?” said the former.

“Negative, sir. They’ve had every chance. Even if their wireless was broken, they should have heard us on approach. Not unless they’re all hiding and have got sound-proofed basements and panic rooms.”

Rollins let out a deep sigh and nodded. He looked over his shoulder to the highway, where the balance of Bravo Company and 2nd Battalion was now coming to a stop. The Abrams’ and Bradley’s of the Brigade Combat Team were there too, parking amongst them and looking like a bunch of hungry predators just waiting for the chance to pounce.

Once again, Dezba could sense Rollins’ indecision. He knew the signs of it, a new and untested officer, distressed about not being in control of all the particulars and worrying about making a mistake. He tried to remember that this was the man’s first op and kept his mouth shut. He was sure Grayson would nudge him in the right direction if and when the time came.

Luckily, that didn’t prove necessary.

“Alright, Sergeant,” he said finally. “Take your squad up and find a way over the wall. Once you’re inside, secure the entrance and open the doorway. We’ll move in and secure it for the BCT.”

“Yes, sir,” said Dezba and turned to head back to his vehicle. Behind him, Rollins jumped on his own radio and began calling it in. He could hear the strain in his voice. Not at all sure, but at least he was playing it by the book. On the balance sheet, he was doing okay… so far.

Dezba was back to his vehicle within seconds, his weapon in hand and his feet suddenly itchy. Whatever else might be happening, they had a mission now, and he was feeling eager to get to it. And everyone else was looking eager too, or perhaps they were just anxious to get moving. Either way, it would work in their favor.

“What’s the word, Sarge?” asked Majorca, his SAW raised and ready.

“Word is, get on your fucking feet. We got a wall to scale!”

“Ah crap,” said Batista, squirming within his ringmount and crawling out onto the roof. The others muttered various complaints too. Apparently, they weren’t sharing his adventurous spirit right now. Reaching to his side, Dezba touched his M9 in its sheath and felt another surge of excitement. The thought of piercing some Whiskey heads with his trusty face fucker had a way of doing that to him.

“And remember your bayonets,” he said. “We’ll probably be looking at some close quarters combat once we get inside!”

Oscar Mike – Chapter Four

zombie_briefing

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.

-Confucius

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.

Oscar Mike – Chapter Two

M113_command

In such dangerous things as war the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.

-General Karl von Clausewitz

Haynes gave his spine a quick adjustment, pushing his stomach out and driving his hands into the small of his back. Command vehicles were known for being cramped, but it felt like they had stuffed the entire HQ into the back of the vehicle and brought it with them. In front of him, a small table stacked with papers lay, and beyond that, the crew of the vehicle huddled amidst enough C and C and radio equipment to run a small army.

Appropriate, since that was precisely what they were doing. Sitting just to the rear of the staging area, the rear door down and letting in the morning air, General Haynes found himself surrounded by all the sights and sounds of an army ready to deploy. Though things were relatively calm at the moment, the energy was undeniable. Now was the time before everything hit the fan, when the tanks and troop carriers began to roll out and hit the field full on. It was a time of quiet contemplation, a time to nurse the last-minute thoughts and doubts.

A small clink a few feet away drew his attention away from the maps and assorted papers spread across the table. He looked up to see the eyes of a meek-looking Private setting a cup down before him, the thick brown contents sending steam wafting up towards him.

“Coffee, General?” he said, stepping back from the table.

“Thanks, Private,” Haynes said with a smile, and took a few generous sips. He noted the intense bitterness, but was thankful that it at least had some milk in it. Though they could hardly be accused of growing anything comparable to what had been available in the old days, the local farmers were still to be commended for trying their hand with coffee beans. And it was good to know that some luxuries were still afforded to them these days…

Placing the cup down, he went back to the first of several annotated maps before him. The first was map of the region’s main highway and the various towns that dotted the landscape, with Espanola featured most prominently in the upper right. On the one beneath it and sticking out at the edge, the 200th Infantry Brigade’s staging area was featured, as well as the comparatively small township of Sombrillo, and the first objective of the day. On these and the others that made up the pile, the name Rolling Thunder was scrawled in the lower right hand margin.

Around the map, several aerial photographs lay, all of them rendered in the bright white, black and grey hues of infrared.

The sight of these once again made him sigh, particularly the way the streets showed virtually no traces of heat signatures. None of the bright whites that denoted uninfected, or the mottled greys that usually denoted Whiskeys.

Beyond that, there were pictures taken by the same reconnaissance flight of the hamlets of Cuartelez and La Puebla. These were much the same, appearing dark except for a few patches which appeared to be fires burning themselves out in open areas. In all likelihood, these areas had been overrun, but they were not his main concern right now. Once the main objective had been taken, these areas could be cordoned off, cleared and repopulated with ease.

In the end, the first phase of the operation came down to Sombrillo. As the largest settlement, and the one that straddled the highway and connected several other arteries of traffic to it, it was the gateway. 2nd Battalion was already poised to push back in Espanola by the southern road, but to ensure that they enveloped all the infected inside the town, he needed 1st pushing in from the east. Only then could they expect to deal a permanent and crushing blow on the bastards, and ensure they could not possibly escape.

He looked once more at the image of Sombrillo. From all outward appearances, the walls were still intact, but that didn’t mean the infected couldn’t have found another way in. They were good that way, and it only ever took one…

It was little wonder then why he had organized their advance the way he had. Moving the photos aside, he looked back to the main map, studying the icons and lines of advance that were emblazoned on it. The units that made up the 200th Rattlensakes sat in the lower right corner, their designations printed beneath them. Reaching out, a long series of solid and dotted lines ran, representing the entirety of Rolling Thunder. Its every action and contingency, those that could be foreseen at any rate, planned out in detail.

“Sir?” another voice called to him. He looked up to see the face of Colonel Coombs standing there, his arms crossed behind his back. He knew instantly what he was about to say, but let him say it anyway. At moments like this, one had to respect the procedural details. They made things feel more official. “It’s time, sir.”

“Good,” he replied curtly. “Give the go order to all units. Commander order: Siren.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the Colonel, and turned around and stepped to the vehicles open rear door. Poking his head outside, he began barking orders to the communications crews sitting in their radio huts.

“All stations. Command order: Siren!”

The radio operators obliged and began calling the code word in. Within moments, the sounds of engines firing in the distance would be heard – an entire squadron of A-10s and AC-130s powering up their engines and getting ready to enter the target area to provide overwatch and close air support. Since they were based back in the capitol, the planes had a head start, and would begin deploying in waves to conserve fuel and ordinance for the big fight.

He checked his watch to mark the time. 0500 hours, right on schedule.

Within fifteen minutes, he would issue the second code word, Thunder, at which point, the ground forces would start moving.

Haynes took a deep breath and finished the last of his coffee. The charged liquid quickly entered his bloodstream, contributing to his already escalating heart rate. He had to admit, it felt good. After weeks of planning, preparing, and resupplying, the troops were finally committing to their first offensive under his leadership. The transition had been difficult, and he knew the grunts were nursing their own share of worries. But alas, they were his troops now. And watching them enter into their old stomping grounds and liberating it at last would finally silence any and all lingering doubts about who was in command.

I never asked to replace him¸ he thought, thinking at last of his fallen superior. But I will not shrink from the role that has been thrust upon me.

Perhaps, in time, Thur would recover fully and return to his old command. Until such time, Haynes knew he would do the job, and do it right. In his hands, the Rattlesnakes would emerge from this latest setback victorious. He couldn’t let it be otherwise…