Categories > Original > Sci-Fi > Bug Run.0 Reviews
Patrol Base Tedium, Zero-Seven-ten the following morning.
The five women of Third Squad, Third Platoon stood in a short line outside the cargo container that they called home. They watched their squad leader with a mixture of trepidation and confusion. No one could quite work out why Zoe was getting so up-tight about this patrol. Okay, so they’d not put bullets in their spare magazines and yeah their canteens didn’t have water in them, but all that stuff was heavy and it wasn’t as if anything was going to happen. All they’d be doing today was checking on some dumb-assed colonists then go off and play soldier ‘til the L-t got bored and then come home again. But no, Zoe was acting like this was going to be some sort of a major battle or something.
“…and Sam,” Zoe called as four of her five soldiers headed off back to the container, “change into a freckin’ issue bra would ya?” turning to where Lea was standing Zoe sighed, “An’ what are you grinning at?”
Lea had been the only other member of the squad (apart from Zoe) who’d dressed correctly and was carrying her full load of ammo and equipment.
“Oh nothin’ Corps,” Lea smirked.
“Hey Lea,” Zoe turned towards the ex-hooker with pleading in her eyes, “I mean, a push up bra f’frecks sake!?”
“I know, I know,” Lea sympathised; in her book there was a time and a place for push-up bras and going on patrol wasn’t one of them…those things were damn uncomfortable. “This is really important to you isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Zoe sighed quietly, “I know we’re like here forever and I can live with that, but….”
“But you really want that Combat Infantry Badge don’t you?” Lea said quietly.
“Is it that obvious?” Zoe asked raising an eyebrow.
“Uh-huh,” Lea nodded.
“Oooh,” Zoe sulked, “I just wanna be shot at once, just a little bit so I can say I was a real soldier…that I didn’t spend all my time as a remf.”
“Nothin’ wrong with being a remf,” Lea pointed out.
“That’s alright for you to say,” Zoe pointed out, “you’ve already got your CIB.”
“If ya want it so bad, Zoe,” Lea said, “you can have mine.”
“Nah,” Zoe shook her head, “keep it…I’ll get my own.”
Just then the other members of third squad sauntered out of the container chattering like school girls.
“MOVE YOUR ASSES AN’ GET FELL IN!” Zoe yelled having lost patience with her squad; checking her watch she saw she had ten minutes before they needed to be at the helipad. “Okay people,” Zoe continued in a more relaxed tone, “check those pouches are secure…” the young women of third squad checked that all their pouches were secure as they sorted themselves out and into line. “Freakin’ heck people,” Zoe groaned, “you sound like a bunch of schoolgirls going to their first prom dance…now get a grip!”
Zoe came to attention in front of her squad.
“Stand properly at ease,” she waited for her girls to settle down and stand properly ‘at ease’, “Squad…” much to her surprise third squad braced up at her word of command, perhaps they were going to try and pretend to be soldiers after all, “…Squad, ‘shun!” Third squad came to ‘attention’ at her word of command, that was better, Zoe told herself. “Turn to the right…right turn!” Once again the young women moved at her commands, “At the double…double march!”
Leading her little force, Zoe trotted them towards the helipad and started to think that maybe, just maybe, her squad would hold together and act like soldiers just long enough for them to complete this operation. After that she neither knew or cared what anybody did, she had a feeling that this was her last chance to be a real soldier. Perhaps when they got back to Tedium she’d start looking for a life-partner; that corporal who worked in the quartermaster’s stores was cute and he’d already asked her if she’d go out with him for a beer or two.
Doubling her squad onto the landing field, Zoe ignored the ironic cheers and clapping of the riflemen who were sitting in the grass. Slowing her squad to ‘quick time’ before bringing them to a halt, she turned them to the left before falling them out. Turning to go find the Lieutenant in charge and report in, she found the man in question standing about six feet away from her. Not sure whether she should salute or not, after all this was officially a combat mission and you didn’t salute in combat, Zoe braced to attention.
“Third Squad, reporting, SIR!” Zoe snapped out.
“At-at ease, Lance Corporal…?” the officer asked hesitantly.
“Lance Corporal Smith, sir,” Zoe took a moment to examine the rifle officer.
He was about five-nine or five-ten and a little overweight. He had a round face with dirty blond hair sticking out from under his helmet. With a sinking heart she noticed that all his kit was very new looking and he held his rifle like he didn’t know what to do with it. After her quick assessment of Lt Henderson, Zoe’s eyes clicked over to where the rifle platoon’s sergeant stood behind his officer. Sergeant Burden she knew from driving him and his men around the area when the base had first been set up. Unlike his officer, Sergeant Burden was a twenty year veteran and no doubt on his last operational posting, if there was any trouble on this mission he’d see them through…not that here was going to be any trouble, everyone said so, so it must be true.
The officer was starting to speak again, so Zoe turned her full attention back to him.
“Look here, Lance Corporal Smith or whatever your name is,” Henderson was now standing within a foot or so of her, “I didn’t want any women on this patrol but I’m stuck with you. Just do what you’re told and keep out of the way and we’ll get along fine, understand?”
“Y-yes sir!” Zoe replied as the officer stomped off, she looked at Sergeant Burden for some sort of explanation, “What’s up with him, Sergeant?”
“Oh don’t fuss about him, Zoe,” Burden smiled down at her, “he’s just a no account Whimpering-Nigel who thought he’d be winning new worlds single handed, then they sent him here.”
Zoe smirked as she joined Burden in watching the L-t make his way back to where the rest of his platoon sat in the grass around the helipad.
“Your people all geared up?” Burden asked.
“Full combat load, Sarge,” Zoe reassured him, “tell me straight, is there gonna be any action on this trip?”
“Nah,” Burden shook his head, “damn-fool colonists probably broke their radio, chances are they haven’t even noticed.” Sergeant Burden shrugged, “we’ll repair it then spend a day or two playing silly buggers in the bush then come home.”
Zoe found it hard to hide her disappointment, the old NCO noticed her frustrated look.
“Why so down? I’d have thought…” Sergeant Burden paused as he remembered something, “…of course!” he laughed, “You actually wanna get into combat, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Zoe admitted miserably, it was looking increasingly likely that she’d never hear a shot fired in anger.
“Hey,” Sergeant Burden put a fatherly hand on her shoulder, “combat ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, y’know?”
“Yeah okay,” Zoe agreed sadly.
“Tell you what,” Burden cheered up, “when we get back, why don’t you shack up with me an’ I’ll tell you all the war stories you’ll ever wanna hear?”
“Erm,” Zoe noticed the glint in Burden’s eye, was he being serious? If she said ‘yeah, okay’, he might get serious then…?
“Too old for you, eh?” Burden shrugged, “Oh well never mind, have to find myself a colonist’s daughter.” Burden laughed before taking a deep breath, “Look, like the L-t said, do what you’re told and don’t get in anyone’s way and we can get this over with without anyone getting hurt, okay?”
“Yeah okay, Sarge,” Zoe replied resignedly; why did the army teach its female soldiers how to fight if no one would let them?
When it arrived the helicopter transport was an hour late. By this time even Zoe was thinking that the entire operation was a waste of time and they could have had an hour extra in bed. To add insult to injury the chopper (a big twin rotor aircraft) blew up so much dust that it started a sandstorm which swept through the base. Head down and eyes half closed, Zoe led her squad aboard the chopper and towards the front of the aircraft; they were first on so they’d be last off. Doing the responsible ‘NCO-thing’, Zoe checked that all her squad were securely strapped into their seats before she sat down and strapped herself in.
The last time Zoe’d been on a helicopter was back in basic over two years ago, but she found that her training soon came back to her. However, her stomach still lurched as the pilot seemed to throw the chopper into the air. Once they were airborne the pilot climbed to about a thousand feet, circled the base once then headed off north-east towards Howardtown which was situated about twenty-five or thirty miles away. The flight would take about twenty minutes or so and gave Zoe time to loosen her safety belt and look out of the little window by her left shoulder.
The North Continent of Yanlor was a vast grassy plain, here and there the monotony of this featureless wilderness was broken by small terraced hills that seemed to erupt like zits on the face of the plain; there were also small clumps of large, tree-like ferns growing here and there. The oddest thing about the place was that there were no rivers. Every so often water would bubble to the surface and form lakes, but there was no flowing water. Remember back to a conversation she’d had with the assistant to a geologist, Zoe remembered the woman telling her that all the rivers were underground. Where all this water came from no one had, as yet, discovered. Also there was no evidence that it had ever rained and the only other large bodies of water were the salty seas hundreds of miles away. It was all a mystery, but as humanity had only been on Yanlor for a couple of years there was still a lot to learn about the planet’s biosphere and how it actually worked.
Blinking, Zoe realised that she must have drifted off into a daydream as she’d gazed out the porthole, looking down she saw Howardtown slip by beneath her. They were still about a thousand feet up and the town looked to be about half a mile away, but even at this range the place looked suspiciously deserted. The chopper continued to circle the settlement as the crew tried to make contact, obviously no one in town seemed to be watching out for any aircraft that day or listening in on their short range comms. Zoe could tell all this from the puzzled looks which the crew were giving each other; sitting up front gave her the advantage of a good view into the cockpit.
Next the helicopter ‘driver’ tried a few low level passes over the settlement. Sneaking another peek out of her porthole, Zoe didn’t see any colonists rush into the spaces between buildings to see what the freck was going on. Feeling someone taping her on the knee, Zoe turned to find Sergeant Burden leaning over her.
“Zoe!” he yelled over the noise from the chopper’s motors, “Something’s weird’s going on down there…” he gestured through the helicopter’s deck at the village below, “…we’re goin’ in for a tactical landing.” Zoe nodded her head. “Your squad will be last out,” Burden shouted, “hang back an’ provide security for the chopper, okay?”
“Okay!” Zoe yelled back.
Burden gave her a reassuring smile before working his way back along the chopper to where Lt Henderson was sitting. Unstrapping her safety harness, Zoe went round to each of her squad mates and yelled their instructions into their ears. After receiving an acknowledgement from each woman, Zoe went back to her seat, strapped herself back in and checked her rifle. Loading a full magazine into the weapon’s receiver she rested it muzzle down between her feet. One by one her squad-mates followed suit.
The chopper seemed to drop like a stone and Zoe had the feeling that any second now her stomach was going to come up and out through her mouth; across the aisle from her Kandi turned a strange shade of deep green and Zoe thought for a moment that the girl was going to throw up on the deck (not something that endeared you to the Air Corps). Luckily, Kandi kept control of her stomach as the chopper plummeted towards the ground. Just as Zoe was beginning to think that perhaps the helicopter was actually crashing, the pilot pulled up on the collective and slowed the chopper sufficiently so that when it landed no one ended up with a broken back. As soon as the helicopter touched down, the riflemen sprang to their feet and started to pile out of the rear cargo door.
“UP! UP!” Zoe yelled as she punched the quick release on her harness and jumped to her feet, “COME ON PEOPLE OUT!”
Lea was first out of the chopper, followed swiftly by Judy, Brandi and Kandi which only left Sam still struggling to free herself from her safety harness. Stepping over to Sam, Zoe quickly freed the girl from her harness and pulled her to her feet before pushing her towards the exit. On getting outside Zoe found the rest of her squad in a tight semi-circle around the rear cargo door.
“DEPLOY!” Zoe yelled over the roar of the motors, “FIFTY YARD PERIMETER!”
Catching the warning look from Lea as everybody jumped to their feet, Zoe realised that everyone would be isolated, there were only six of them and a fifty yard perimeter would leave them pretty spread out. Deciding it couldn’t be helped, Zoe ran to fill a space between Judy and Sam which also allowed her to follow the actions of the rest of the platoon as they made their way towards the settlement.
Hunkering down, Zoe watched as the platoon’s squads shook themselves out into a skirmish line and started to move towards the settlement in fifty yard bounds. It would appear that L-t Henderson at least knew something of what he was doing and was taking no chances; or maybe this was evidence of Sergeant Burden making ‘suggestions’ to his officer. The platoon was almost at the edge of the settlement when, without warning, the noise made by the helicopter’s engines increased in volume and the aircraft took off.
Turning in panic, Zoe watched as the chopper gained altitude and turned to the south before flying away. Although she wasn’t on the same frequency as the chopper so she couldn’t hear what was being said, the amount of surprised and near panicking chatter on the platoon net told her that the chopper’s sudden departure wasn’t part of the game plan for the mission. Slowly Sergeant Burden regained control and got everybody to shut up.
Not having been given any new orders and with no helicopter to protect, Zoe used her initiative and told her squad to rally on her. Moments later she was surrounded by five nervous looking young women who all wanted to know what was going on. A walk in the park had suddenly turned into something else; what, Zoe didn’t know, but it felt ‘bad’.
“Shut-up and let me think!” Zoe snapped bringing everyone’s useless speculation to an abrupt end; Zoe took a couple of calming breaths, “Lea, you’re second in command, okay?” Lea nodded her head, “Brandi, Kandi you’re Lea’s team, Judy, Sam you’re with me…okay,” okay, Zoe told herself what next, “Check your gear make sure your mags are loaded and…”
Zoe caught the looks a couple of her squad were giving each other and her.
“Please tell me you loaded your mags?” Zoe felt like crying just at this moment, “Like you did bring your ammo?” Although she’d told everyone to carry a full load (six full magazines of twenty-five rounds each) she wouldn’t put is passed anyone except Lea to have ignored her. “Okay,” Zoe signed defeated, “what’s everyone got?”
As it turned out it wasn’t too bad, most everyone had all their ammo they just hadn’t taken it from its clips and put it into their magazines. As they all huddled in a circle frantically thumbing rounds into magazines, Zoe heard Lt Henderson’s voice demanding to know, ‘what the freck she thought she was doing’. More than a little annoyed, Zoe snapped back that she was waiting for him to give her some orders rather than just yelling at her, ‘SIR!’. The radio went dead for a moment or two and the next voice she heard was Sergeant Burden calmly telling her to bring her squad up and into the settlement. He also told her to keep her eyes open for trouble.
“Okay,” Zoe looked around at her squad as they thumbed home the last few spare rounds, “tactical move to the settlement,” she gestured towards the village, “we’ll move in two arrowheads one behind the other, my team leads, Lea you bring up the rear.”
Lea nodded her understanding.
“Sergeant Burden says to keep our eyes open,” Zoe looked at each member of her squad in turn, “so, keep a good look out and sing out if you see anything weird. I don’t know what’s gone wrong so don’t ask. Until someone tells us different we treat this like it was real, okay?”
There were uncertain nods from the other women in the squad.
“Good,” Zoe climbed slowly to her feet, “okay lets move!”
Shaking themselves out into formation, third squad started to walk towards the settlement. Unknown to them they were being watched by a multitude of inhuman eyes unseen by the squad who walked on in total ignorance of the danger all around them.