I held the chipped, gleaming black triangle between my fingers, taking note of how easily it reflected the rays of the mid-day sun.
“Obsidian,” my second-in-command said with a hint of pride. “Remember Earth history?”
“Barely,” I whispered, not wanting highlight the abundance of years since I graduated from the United Interplanetary Alliance Academy.
“Third year, second semester,” Amy replied. “I got an A. As for the arrowhead, it's got to be at least five hundred years old. Maybe more,
unless the Primalists’ hatred for technology has led them to start fashioning their own weapons.”
“I wish that were the case.”
“Should I radio the Viper squad, have’m set down for egress?” I held my silence for a moment, gazing upon the half-kilometer wide blast zone
before us. The earth was littered with the burned-out husks of smoldering pine trees and scorched dirt, all of it in stark contrast to the thick
stands of evergreens that lined the perimeter. UIA aerial pattern bombings were precise, guaranteed to kill anyone - and anything - within the target
area while leaving the surrounding vegetation untouched. Staring at the forest, I had a deep, uneasy feeling that an entire platoon of Primalist
infantry lurked somewhere amid the trees, watching us, waiting. I tossed the arrowhead into the ashes.
“Call them in,” I said. “and tell’em the enemy dead count is zero.”
Amy shifted her electron pulse rifle to her other hand, and flipped the visor of her black combat helmet upwards to expose a face that telegraphed
disappointment. She silently mouthed, “Zero?” It was as if she meant to say, Are you really going to tell them that?
Slinging my rifle behind my shoulder, I trudged back up the hillside in her direction. “My first command, a high-priority recon mission, and none of
my team gets killed. Hell, nobody even got hurt. I’d call that a success, wouldn’t you? To hell with the brass if they don’t like it.”
Amy smiled, and then touched the comm button on the side of her helmet. “Alpha Company to Viper squadron...enemy dead zero, take us home.” She
turned and looked up the mountain, jutting her thumb in the air. “You guys hear that?” One by one, black fatigued, body-armor clad UIA soldiers,
the members of my eight-man team, stood up and waved, signaling that they’d heard the news. Amy turned to me again, grinning. “Better luck next
Halfway up the hill, I braced my boot against a sturdy, granite rock and turned to look upon the jagged, tree covered hills of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains. A crescent moon hung just above the horizon, a silent observer to the war-torn landscape below. The sense of irony was inescapable: we
humans had begun our migration to the stars centuries ago, colonizing dozens of distant planets, only to find ourselves returning to the very place
we’d left. Not only that, but returning to battle our own fellow human beings, fanatics who hated modern technology, and hated us. Growing up, I’d
always imagined the first interplanetary war would be against some alien species. Go figure.
We climbed to the top of the ridge, and then clawed our way through a seemingly endless jungle of high-sierra scrub brush. Our path took us into a
dense grove of butterscotch pines. The forest was silent; the only sounds being occasional chirps of wild birds in the canopy above. Quietly and
carefully we stepped, trying to disturb the carpet of dry pine needles under our feet as little as possible. Primalists were excellent trackers, but
three years of fighting the Terran conflict had taught us not to leave evidence of our movements. Stealth was everything; our lives depended on it.
We emerged from the pines to an open, wildflower-covered meadow: the landing zone. “Viper Squadron,” Amy called into her helmet mike. “Alpha
Company at the tree-line, all clear.”
A pair of olive colored, delta shaped aircraft swooped out from behind the mountain. The Vipers were approaching in tight formation, flying low to
avoid anti-aircraft rounds that might rise from the surrounding treetops at any moment. Their turbofan engines, two on the side of the fuselage and
one jutting out in front, rotated downward in preparation for landing. The team hunkered on their knees to avoid the spray of leaves, twigs, and
pinecones being blasted in all directions. The first aircraft, code-named Viper One, touched ground and the cabin door slid open, the side gunner
swinging his electron cannon outward.
Then Viper One exploded.
“Hot LZ!” I screamed into my helmet mike. “Hot LZ! Viper One is down. Abort landing!” Each of us hit the dirt, weapons at the ready. Viper Two
shot skyward as the pilot throttled the turbofans to full military thrust. The aircraft banked to the north on a course that would allow it to circle
the landing zone at a safe altitude. Viper One lay in on the ground engulfed in flames, quickly becoming a hunk of molten metal, its crew dead.
A voice sounded in my earpiece. “Hostiles in the bush at five-o’clock!” It was Washington, our heavy gunner; he’d already started returning
fire. Crouching on my knees, I spun around to face the western slope of the hillside we’d climbed only minutes before, and aimed my rifle. Sudden
bursts of automatic gunfire sprouted among the pines, granite boulders, and Manzanita bushes. As always, the Primalists were damn near impossible to
see. Their preferred clothing, deerskin, blended seamlessly into the surrounding environment, making for near perfect camouflage. I touched the side
of helmet to activate the infrared on my heads-up-display. Bright orange silhouettes, dozens of them, appeared before my eyes, shooting from
well-protected positions behind the tree-line.
“Fowler,” I shouted. “You see that?”
“Already on it.” he said. I turned to see him raise the rocket launcher, just as a bullet pierced his helmet. He crumpled to the ground in
“DAMMIT!” I screamed. “Everyone stay down!” A sharp crackle of electron beams sounded to my left; Amy was returning fire from a prone
position, a rapid series of lightning-blue flashes bursting from her rifle. Aiming my weapon toward the tree-line, I let loose on full-automatic,
razing the pines with deadly, super-charged particles. A few orange-silhouettes jerked backward in agony, only to be replaced within seconds by
additional, frenzied, machine-gun firing Primalists. A mortar round exploded behind me, followed by a scream.
“It’s Levi!” Amy yelled. “Levi’s hit!” I didn’t have time to answer. Rolling onto my back, I unclipped the black, cylindrical canister
attached to my waist. Bullets whizzed overhead, missing me by mere inches. My gloved hands trembled as flipped over the activation lever on the top of
the canister. The underside of the lever was painted red, with tiny black letters that spelled the word ARMED. “Thermite charge!” I shouted.
Everyone covered their heads with their arms as I threw the canister toward the tree-line. I dove to the ground, trying to stay as close to the earth
as possible. Seconds later the entire tree-line disappeared in blinding flash of yellow light accompanied by a thunderous, bone-rattling roar. Rocks,
twigs, and burning branches showered from the sky, and the forest fell silent. As I slowly raised my head, Amy’s voice crackled into my earpiece.
“You did it Sarge! Nice throw!”
“Sweeeeeet!” Aaronson said from somewhere behind me. In addition, I heard a series of slow, agonized groans.
“Blanchet,” I called out to our medic. “What’s the status on Levi?”
“His right leg is blown off above the knee, Sarge. I’m applying a nullifier now, but I can’t stop the hemorrhaging.” I punched the ground with
my fist in anger. The pain-nullifying, microwave patch would temporarily block the nerve signals to his brain, but he’d bleed to death if we
didn’t get him evacuated soon. I pressed the button on the side of my helmet, opening a channel.
“Viper Two, we have one dead, one wounded. What’s your status?”
“LZ is still hot, Alpha Company. Enemy hostiles flanking to your south. I recommend you reposition by following the ridgeline two kilometers north,
while I provide air support, over.”
“Roger, Viper Two. Alpha Company is repositioning.” As I rose to my feet, I looked at the charred remains of pines that had concealed enemy
fighters only moments before. Thick clouds of black smoke rose from the mountainside into the clean, alpine air. Fowler’s dead body lay to my right.
“Sarge, we gotta go now,” said Amy, her voice trembling. Her head turned downward, to Fowler. As she raised her visor, I noticed tears forming in
her eyes. She covered her mouth with her hand for a moment, and looked at me. “Sarge...”
“Help me lift his body,” I said, and leaned over, grasping Fowler’s shoulders. “He’s coming with us.” Amy slung her rifle onto her back
and took hold of his feet. “Let’s move!” I barked to the others. “Alpha Company is heading out!” Blanchet and Aaronson carried Levi as we
made our way up the rocky, dusty slope, and into the forest.
This is going to be a long day, I thought.
[edit on 22-7-2007 by Flatwoods]