Authors: Jason Cordova,Christopher L. Smith
Jason Cordova and Christopher L. Smith
Copyright 2016 by Jason Cordova and Christopher L. Smith
Jason: This book would not have been possible without the assistance of Charles Matheny, Mike Massa, Michael Z. Williamson, and the rest of the gang. Too numerous to be labeled here, but each and every one of you is appreciated. It is purely coincidental if your name appears in this book, just as the disclaimer states.
Chris: I would like to thank M.B. Weston for convincing me to submit my first short story; Kacey Ezell, for making me write even when I didn’t wanna; Speaker, Doc, Cathe, EP, Stephen and Brian for encouragement and moral support; Kristen and the kids for putting up with my bad moods when blocked, and Mom and Dad for unending support. I love you all.
For every mother, father, son, daughter, sister, and brother of a soldier who never came home.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
The atmosphere of the woods was peaceful and picturesque. Birds flew from tree to tree, crying out their mating calls into the midday air. Other animals moved swiftly through the dense underbrush of the thick forest, some hunting, others gathering, all with a steady purpose to complete the circle of life. This deep into the vast forest, there was little sign of humanity's colonization of the small, alien world. It was a quixotic, tranquil scene of nature and life itself.
It was almost a shame that I was about to blow it all up in a few moments.
I exhaled slowly as the first of the rebel scouts came into view. Despite the fact that I had whittled their numbers from somewhere near one hundred down to twenty over the past seven days while I've been on the run, they had continued with their dogged pursuit with a determination that had surprised me. I was running on practically no sleep, hadn't eaten anything other than something which may or may not have been poisonous since four days earlier, and I was almost certain that the sores on my feet were becoming infected. They certainly hurt like hell at the very least.
Granted, I figured that my pursuers were in just as bad shape. Their lone ATV had tipped over and fell into one of the many ravines that I had skirted during the chase, the men inside screaming as the vehicle tumbled down the steep slope. A few of the rebels had tried to recover the vehicle, but I had put four rounds into four heads to disabuse them of that notion. Naturally, that had pissed them off, and the next three hours were a bit of a blur as I barely dodged a non-stop artillery bombardment and somehow managed to not only escape, but continue to whittle their numbers down further.
My mission debrief, assuming I survived this, would include some choice words at the intelligence officer who had given my now-dead Special Forces platoon the pre-op briefing. “Lack of obvious artillery presence” doesn't ever mean “no artillery around, you guys don't need to worry about it.”
That rat bastard. I briefly wished that the guy's starched and ironed BDU's would slit his throat while he was taking a dump in a field latrine on a rainy day in the middle of a swamp. It was the kind of death that a horrible intelligence officer like that deserved.
I shook the random thought from my head as the rest of the beleaguered unit of rebels came into view. For rebels, they maintained a certain degree of professionalism during the chase, which I probably would have lauded them for, if not for the fact that they were trying to kill me. Experience also told me that professionalism would go the way of the dodo if they managed to catch me. I had heard stories about what the Socialist India Revolutionary Army did to soldiers they captured, and could only surmise what they would do to me if they caught me alive. Everyone seemed to hate Special Forces, and especially hated the snipers in those units. I can't blame them, really. I hate enemy snipers as well. They’re dicks.
My heart rate slowed to a crawl as I zeroed in on the radio operator. It would be a tricky shot, taking out the radio and the man simultaneously. The wind was always unpredictable from this range, and while my .50 caliber rounds should easily destroy the comms, if the rebel was wearing reinforced armor under his camouflage, I'd have to take more shots than I wanted. I’d probably end up giving away my position either way.
Fuck it. I was tired of running, my feet hurt, and I really wanted a beer.
Their voices rose faintly in the distance as they discovered my trail, growing more excited when they saw the blood. The stray round had grazed my hip – shallow, but leaky enough to leave the equivalent of a sign that said “This way!” It burned like crazy, and the constant rubbing drove me nuts. It had continued to ooze and bleed due to the friction. However, it had also given me an idea.
Two days before, I had circled back to the ruined ATV. Ignoring the smell from the decomposing bodies, I snagged a few supplies, grenades, and a couple blocks of C-4. To my surprise, a few detonators had survived both the environment and the fall. I added them to my stash, figuring they would come in handy, as would the remote detonator. The command radio was still inside, thanks to my earlier insistence that the rebels not try to recover the ATV. It joined the rest in my pack.
It was Christmas come early. You could say that I was extremely pleased, but that would have been an understatement.
The remaining twenty rebels stepped closer to my kill box, excited by their find and completely unaware that they were supposed to find it. A few heads were up and looking around, but, at over a mile away, mostly buried in muck and dead leaves, there was little chance that they would see me until I took my shot. I clucked my tongue under my breath. It surprised me that they hadn't questioned why they were still following my blood trail so easily. It should've been their first clue that something was just not right.
Not that I was complaining. It’s my policy to never interrupt the enemy when they’re making a mistake.
The kill zone was set. The carefully placed explosives were ready. The electronic reticule of my high-powered scope was fully zoomed in. I held the detonator in my left hand, ready to squeeze the detonation sequence. My right hand rested on the grip of the sniper rifle, finger poised on the trigger. The gun was hidden better than I was, and the tripod I had rigged out of broken sticks and small rocks kept my aim steady. I was ready and in a second I would bring Hell down upon the bastards who were trying to kill me.
Granted, I would need more than a little luck on my side, as well as a healthy dose of religion to intercede on my behalf, but I figured that all the gods in the universe would align to help me out against a bunch of godless Communists hopped up on peyote and hash.
I mentally shook my head to clear my thoughts and get the train back on track. I was more than ready. “Never trust something that bleeds for seven days and doesn't die, you stupid fucks,” I whispered and stroked the trigger.
Even though the design was almost 150 years old, the Barrett M82 .50 caliber sniper rifle was still in high demand despite the vast technological advances of the day. With its distinct recoil, an effective range of just over 2,000 yards, and a maximum range of 4,400 yards, it was the preferred rifle of a classist who knew his weapons. People might have said I was a bit snobbish when it came to rifles, but that would be a lie. I was extremely snobbish about my firearms, and the venerable .50 caliber was one of the best rifles I'd ever fired.
The newer titanium alloy and composite material weighed less than its ancestor, but was still heavier than most modern firearms. Any sane human would have discarded the rifle long before in the pursuit. A normal individual would have used speed to escape instead of retreating at a slower pace and using their wits and rifle to whittle down the enemy numbers.
I was a Marine, though, and there was nothing sane nor normal about a Marine.
I fired a second shot almost instantly after the first and began to mentally count.
I wonder if they've informed my family that I'm missing in action yet
, I asked myself as my heart rate slowed to a calming beat.
That would really suck. God, I could cut a bitch for some of Mom's enchiladas right now. And a cold beer.
I clicked the detonator and watched as my pursuers were swallowed by a massive wall of flame and debris. The directional anti-personnel mines were filled with steel ball bearings and jagged metal bits, perfect for causing maximum carnage against unarmored troops. The rebels were caught completely off-guard and men were flung violently into nearby trees and rocks, their bodies torn asunder by the force of the explosion. Smoke filled the little clearing and would have made visibility hard and any further shots extremely hazardous had I not been prepared for it.
I peered through my scope and began to target anything in the kill zone which moved. I was down to guessing which direction they would move before I fired at this point, which wasn't entirely a bad thing. I had already scouted out where the most likely places to hide would be and the barrel of my rifle was moving before conscious thought took hold. The rebels were painfully aware of my presence now, though they still didn't know exactly where I was. They scrambled around, though a good majority of them were lying on the ground, broken from the explosion. The radio operator, the target of my second round, was missing his head. My first round had struck true and destroyed the radio he'd been lugging around.
There would be no artillery cover for them this time.
A warm, gentle breeze began to blow through and I adjusted my angles, taking the strength of the wind into account while shooting. It wasn't too difficult to judge how strong the wind was once it really started blowing, thanks to the reed-thin pine tree which sat near the front of the clearing. The rhythmic swaying told me all that I needed to know, and years of training helped with adjusting my shots.
I began to methodically scythe through the survivors, switching easily from target to target as they tried to find cover. Most of them were still suffering from the massive explosion and were in no condition to retreat in an organized manner. This was fortunate – for me, in any case – as it made tracking them that much easier. They lay on the ground, their rifles firing in every direction but the correct one. I fired again and removed another person from the equation. Three more shots in rapid succession and I waited.
The smoke began to clear, courtesy of the steady wind. Nobody was moving. I stayed calm and waited patiently for someone to twitch. Nothing. My breathing remained slow and steady for another five minutes, just in case. Still nobody moved.
I slowly dragged himself out of the shooting blind and looked at my ammunition count. I grimaced. Only three shots left with the .50 caliber, then all that would remain would be my pistol. I usually preferred to eliminate any threats from as far away as I could. The idea of someone shooting back at me from close range made me decidedly uncomfortable. Death from afar and all that.
The mile and a half walk took me almost an hour, slowed by the steep descent and my own natural cautiousness. As I drew closer, my senses grew heightened in preparation of further conflict. Smoke assaulted my eyes and made them watery. I could smell something sweet and pungent burning, like mango, which paired well with the all-too-familiar scent of charred flesh. I carefully approached the kill zone, looking for any sign that some poor soul had managed to actually survive this deadly trap. I couldn't see anybody moving during my initial approach, and as I drew closer I began to understand why.
I had timed the detonation and my following shots perfectly. The lead element had borne the brunt of the blast, ten bodies peppered with debris and ripped apart. Any exposed skin had been shredded by the force of the explosion and heat, leaving nothing but charred remains inside their camouflage. Half of the pursuit team had died without even realizing what was going on. The other half had not been as lucky, and there were signs that a few had died in agony, their guts ripped open by the blast and debris making short work of their skin and clothing. A few lay on the ground with massive holes in them, including one individual who was missing an ungodly chunk out of his shoulder and chest. I recognized the work of my .50 caliber. I began to root around, looking for the flamboyant young man I'd identified as their leader two days before.
I found him ten minutes later. The dashingly attired leader had been blown to the side of the clearing, his body largely intact and surprisingly unbloodied. I prodded him with the barrel of my rifle before I turned him over with a boot. The man's head flopped about limply, which told me just how he had died. The concussive force of the blast had snapped the rebel patrol leader's neck clean in half. Pleased with not having to perform a
coup de grâce
on the now-deceased rebel, I began to rifle through his pockets and search for something useful.
I hoped to find something good.
A few minutes of searching turned up a few bills of local money (which seemed to proliferate despite being banned and not officially worth anything; the black market was an amazing thing), MRE's that looked suspiciously similar to the ones that the Corps issued, and the only item of real value– a map. It was in excellent condition and covered the quadrant in fine detail. It also showed fire locations and varying rally points for the rebels. I smiled. Good maps were always a nice bonus when one was on the run.
I looked over the pristine map and blessed my relative good fortune. Sure, the situation absolutely sucked, but at least I had shed my tail at long last. Granted, it took me killing every single one of them. I quickly pulled out my GPS locator and used it to determine my position in relation to the map. While the GPS was handy, the area in question wasn't covered in as fine detail within the computer as it was on my new map. Used jointly, I could figure my way out of this Godforsaken jungle in no time.
After a close inspection and comparison, I let out a heavy sigh, folded the map, and stuck it in my back pocket. I looked at the overhead sun and cursed in every language I knew, as well as a few I undoubtedly invented.
I was still eighty miles from the secondary extraction point and the heat and humidity promised to be another day in hellish paradise. The hills made me long for the days of my relatively flat hometown and single-story homes. I made a mental promise to myself that if I ever owned a home, it would be a single story in the middle of the flattest part of North America. Screw climbing. I needed easy walking conditions, not what I had found so far on Soma.