They fought together, guns blazing side by side as they tried to take back the front lines the last wave had lost. The shrill sounds of ricochets zing past the helmet as the two tried to get behind some fresh cover, hoping the tango that had them down his sights missed the movement. A couple of feet to the left a shell rocked beside them, spraying dirt and debris in their faces. Gasping as their ears rang the little one sprayed a line of covering fire as they tried advancing once more, taking a couple of feet every time they moved. They couldn’t stop, couldn’t pause for anything at this point. The war raged all around them and it seemed hopeless; the cries of the dying echoed across the battlefield and they struggled to keep moving. A shell rocked down in between them and they were blasted apart, each flying in another direction.
Shell shocked and ears bleeding everything started to come back into focus, the helmet had been knocked clear off and crawling the now lone fighter struggled to gain some sort of bearings. Again the shrill zing of a ricochet whizzed by and the fighters mind started to vaguely clear when a third shell hit not even a foot from the imagined six of its position. Nothing seemed to make sense any more, there was no up, no down, lateral and vertical all melded into one and just lying there felt so good. The world seemed to be going fuzzy and the body just wanted to let go and let the warm feelings spreading from the legs take over the whole body. As the light started to fade something grabbed the straps of the kit bag and pulled the fighter up and the brain started to clear.
“You didn’t think it’d be that easy did you?” A voice said and seemed to cut through the noises of battle like a knife. The hand reaching out suddenly seemed clear and it was gladly taken; helping to raise up out of the crater the shells had created. Hair tumbled down as a helmet was thrust towards the other outstretched hand; she pulled herself up and pulled it back, then put her combat helmet back on. Her legs screamed in agony as they took cover behind a simple concrete block near a corner.
“We need to hold!” She screamed as her brain finally kicked into over drive, the man fighting with her nodded and took a quick scan. The only defensible area nearby was a couple of feet to the 9 of their location and he used hand signals to guide her over.
“I think we’re fucked at this point.” Bullets ripped by in a hail of gunfire and suddenly the defensible position seemed a little too hot for comfort.
“Naw. Walk in the park.” He kissed the little cross he wore and reloaded his gun; her partner checked the distance and clicked to his grenade launcher. “Cover me.” Calmly he inched up until the nest firing upon them was just visible. No need for a reply she laid covering fire on the nest and watched as he sent one into the middle. “Their turn” she heard as the shell rocked the world of the three man crew on the striking force. Checking to make sure it was clear she signaled for him to move up and they took cover in the nest, looking to see where they could hold off next.
“Can’t stay here, they’ll find us too quick.” She was already laying the charges on the artillery gun in the nest they took over as he said that and she just snorted a laugh out and surprised herself.
“Really? I figured they’d just let us have this spot.” Voice dripping with sarcasm she tapped his shoulder and they started to move.
“Just making sure you’re on your toes young gun.” After they got fifty yards away he signaled for her to blow the charges and with a deafening blast the gun was put out of commission. She watched him move like a cat in the jungle, nimbly stepping over rubble and the bodies of their fallen comrades. He crouched down behind what was once a wall and managed to get his entire six foot frame behind it like a hulking bear hiding in cave far too small. Their fatigues were dirty, grimy from the months of fighting they had been subjected to with no rest, but it helped them blend and was a small god send. She got in position behind him and checked the flank, giving the all clear when she had double checked it.
“I’ve got two sitting pretty in a three wall structure to our 11 and I’m out of presents for the sonofbitchs. What are you sitting at?” He eyed up the distance and tried to think of a way to get around it, but his mind was coming up blank. He didn’t need to look behind to see what his protégé was doing; he had trained her well enough to know she was checking around, checking the surroundings as her green eyes took every detail in. She had a better eye for strategies then he by far and they both knew it; she wasn’t shy about vocalizing her thoughts on his plans.
“Two confirmed?” She kept scanning, something in her gut didn’t feel right about this one, the normal squad was four or three for the opposing force, and two typically meant a specialized team with a mission.
“Feeling it too?” He moved back so his back was too the wall and they settled quietly to get a better grasp on the situation.
“Yeah, something is off.” Not for the first time she wished they had some form of communication with what had become a make shift headquarters. Out in this field, in this war when you left the base you were completely on your own. Any real form of command had dissipated a long time ago; but more than one person had proven themselves capable of keeping things together for the resistance.
“Take them out and check the bodies?” She looked at him waiting for confirmation and saw a tiny flicker of surprise flash in his face.
“I didn’t realize just how well I trained you.” He muttered more to himself then her, but she still heard it.
“War never changes, last time we tried to get them alive for information we almost didn’t come out of it.” She let that sit in the air for all the time one can allow on the battlefield and he nodded so she checked her kit for some ammo. Things didn’t need to be discussed, war was war and the last time they had tried to be merciful on her request things didn’t turn out so well for either side. She rubbed her leg absentmindedly and could still feel the bits of shrapnel they couldn’t remove. The medical supplies had been cut off months ago to the rock they battled over and she was lucky she didn’t lose the leg that day. She handed him her last two shells for the launcher and checked her own ammo, quickly doing a check on her equipment, she saw him doing the same as the plan started to form. He loaded the rounds into his weapon and checked his primary ammo then got her to turn around and checked her just to be sure.
“Alright, here’s the plan” She made a rough sketch in the dirt showing the positions just to help see all the options. “They are dug in, looks like the launcher may work but we are facing the wrong side of the wall and can’t move to the opening because they’ve lasted this long and gotta know how to cover. Ideally we launch two nades in and let that sort them out but then we’re fucked if we come across another batch. I say we flash bang them and then just take them out with a quick flank, toss the flash over the wall and try to arc it to their feet from the opposite direction of us to give us a couple seconds of confusion.”
“Roger.” He said and they started to move into a better position for him to fire. There was no more talking, they knew what they had to do and even though the echo of battle surrounded them it was a sound any solider who had been embroiled in this struggle for long had grown accustomed to…or at least immune too. After the first year you didn’t hear the sound of the dying, and so far in the middle of the second she had begun to shift through the noise to separate near and far. Now when she heard the shrill scream of an arty hit it wasn’t immediate to duck and run, they had survived enough rounds to tell when it was coming for your local.
Walking back to the makeshift camp they didn’t speak; the Intel from the two special ops members lay in her pocket; the maps drawn with battle lines bloody. Out of ammo from the fire fight they were both trying to stay as silent as possible; they had no possible means of retaliation save a flash bang they took off the bodies. She had no qualms about going down fighting if it came down to it; she had lost her faith in mankind and any hope of mercy long ago…she just hoped that they would have a clear path to the base.
“Lips; two tangos on my twelve” Muttered her partner and they both stopped behind a large rubble pile.
“Confirmed tangos?” She asked; sometimes their guys would need to grab gear off the bodies, but they had taken to removing any form of rank to try and lessen the possibility of friendly fire.
“Negative.” He answered and so they waited for a piece. “What’s the call this cycle?” He asked glancing back at her.
“I don’t know; we’ve been out for more than one cycle…I think.” She said biting her lip; she couldn’t remember whether or not they had been out for three days or four. It was a pretty big difference because the wrong call might get you killed by a scared drafter. They discussed it quietly for a minute more;
“Fuck it.” He said and gave a low whistle; two short notes followed by one held; the bodies perked up instantly when they heard it and responded in kind; but two long by one short; the confirmation of squad. They waited for the bodies to turn around and watched as they grouped back to back and did a slow turn.
“Oh thank god; it’s Rico.” Lips said and smiled; it was a one of the squads that remained in their platoon; one they had actually trained with but had been out of contact with since starting their recon mission.
They moved up slowly as Rico’s two man squad moved to them, meeting in the middle.
“Shelters best on the six of this building.” Rico quickly whispered as they heard a shell start to come in a little too close for comfort. They ducked in and the four of them got as comfortable as they could in the burnt out shell of what might have been a cottage or other one room type building.
“Status?” Lips’ partner Disco asked as the highest ranking member of the group.
“Fucked” Rico said with a slow, low laugh. “We’re almost out of nades, almost out of ammo, and almost out of flash bangs. We’ve got plenty of water since we made a raid on a camp and rations are decent for the moment; for two.”
“Well you’re better off than us; we’ve got nothing between us but a flash; trade you some rations for ammo? I’ve still got a couple of apple pies left I’ve been saving.” Disco said with a smile. Lips was pretty surprised; he’d been holding onto those damn pies since they landed; and hadn’t stopped talking about eating them while they watched the reinforcements come in. Sometimes a thought like that could get you through a battle or five.
“Are you kidding me?! You’ve got apple pie?!” Rico’s partner Soap spoke up from watching the perimeter.
“He means forces apple pie; but it’s still apple pie.” Rico said laughing lowly again. “I’ll trade you whatever we can spare for what you can Disco. We are all going home together.” It wasn’t the first time they had been out together; before command went to shit Rico and Disco were both only squad leaders and the squads typically moved into missions together. They traded and shared the dehydrated pies in bar form; it was the sweetest thing Lips had ever tasted. They were warm from sitting in Disco’s top pocket near his heart and gummy; more like taffy then the hard bars they started out as. The four friends shared a meal as shell rained down around them; each watching the sides until darkness fell and the shells died down. They always looked like shooting stars; she used to make little wishes on them when she first landed; the only thing you could count on was yourself; and your ammunition on this world.
They started to move; Rico and Soap in front with Disco bringing up Lips’ rear in a line ducking behind any cover provided by the bombed out landscape. As they walked there was electricity in the air suddenly and all four stopped without command; it was something they had never felt before.
“Disco?” Lips’ asked; her grip tightening around her weapon and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. He didn’t say anything but as the well trained soldiers they were they ducked down getting into a defensible position.
“Rico?” Lips’ heard Soap ask but it sounded like it was coming through a thick fog. She sensed movement behind her and checked to see Disco throwing proper line distance to the wind and moving up to touch her shoulder.
“Lips stay close; I don’t like this.” She heard Disco say but it sounded like it was coming from a far distance. He grabbed her shoulder with his left hand and she started to move up to do the same to Soap as a thick unnatural fog started to roll over them.
“Breathers on!” She heard Disco scream as it started to hang off their bodies. She couldn’t see Soap anymore; he couldn’t be more than a foot in front of her but all visibility was lost. With her weapon free hand she moved her breather into position and felt Disco do the same but with his weapon hand; his left never left her shoulder. She turned to check on his breather; she didn’t know why she turned; but she felt compelled to and gave a little sigh of relief when she saw it in place and functioning. She gave him thumbs up he returned after she saw his eyes check her status.
“Soap?!” She yelled turning to face where he was last. She couldn’t even hear herself as a huge gusting sound fell over them; the electricity in the air went sharp but the fog stayed in place. She could feel something like wind pushing but the fog clung to everything and she started to get seriously worried.
“RICO!” She screamed trying to make herself heard and a figure came stumbling back towards her. She pulled out her weapon and was ready to fire when the figure all but fell on her, it was Soap but something wasn’t right.
That’s when she saw he didn’t have his breather on and the fog was clinging to his nose, to his mouth and eyes. She couldn’t hear a sound but could tell he was screaming; Rico came up from behind him with his breather on as Soap started to convulse and fell onto Lips. Panic started to well up as his weight started to push her down; his hands grabbing his face and trying to grab her; she tried to stay up but fell onto Disco in a heap with Soap on her and she nearly had her breather knocked off. Dropping her weapon to hold her breather up she felt a vice like grip wrench on her arm and pull her out from under Soap’s tiny, but oddly heavy frame. She turned to see Disco and Rico pulling her out from under him by her vest and tried to move to help Soap but they kept dragging her back. She stopped fighting as Soap’s body stopped moving.
It turned out that day the Empire had finally said Fuck it and used the weapon they were testing to try and put an end to the battling on the planet. It worked a little too well however…every solider on that planet got a face full of the killing fog which expanded when it hit flesh. It was designed to clog the airways, clinging to the mouth and nose of everything that moved. When it hit no one was prepared, but those who managed to get their breathers on were saved the horror of suffocating but had to endure the month it took the respective heads to agree on terms. Both sides were left to rot, the Republic didn’t have the reserves to pull their people out and the Empire just didn’t care.
“Lips. Can you read me?” The young voice called over the intercom.
“Loud and clear” She replied, moving her hair out of her face, grease smearing where she moved her hand. “She’s almost fixed.”
A warm breeze wrapped its way through the canyon and picked up a bit of sand as it got closer to the ship, stinging her skin as she worked on the engines. They had been sitting around for a week, waiting on the word for the next job. The last one was easy, escorting a fancy gentleman to his home from the main shipping planet. She liked it when the job went well; easy money was…well… easy money. The crew’s bellies were filled and so were their pockets, and just in time. The ship had been needing some extensive repairs and the job covered just about all of it; after this engine repair she was just finishing everything else was cosmetic; so it would never get done.
“Capt. wants you on the bridge” the voice called out again through the intercom. “When you’re done.”
“Done like I’m hoping dinner is.” She said putting the last bolt in place. She patted the hulking heart of the ship and put away her tools. Wiping her hands and climbing out of the engine compartment.
“Everything ship shape?” The captain asked his back to her as he brought up a local map.
“You know it is.” She said rolling her eyes. “Do you even need to ask Akiba?”