A Walk in the Ruins

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This short story is part of the Stellar Conflict scifi series. In this tale, 2nd Platoon is accompanied by a team of journalists as they advance through the ruins of an old alien town.

Submitted: October 23, 2015

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Submitted: October 23, 2015

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The soldiers of 2nd Platoon were crouched behind the crumbled wall of an old bombed-out structure in the middle of some unnamed, ruined city. The unit was on a search and destroy mission on the planet Thera Vega 2b, this being part of a larger operation to locate and root out enemy holdouts along the border worlds of the Saetian sectors.
It didn’t take them long to find the holdouts here.
Enemy plasma fire streaked over our heads and shells blasted all around us as the soldiers readied themselves to advance once more on the well dug-in Grekkan positions. Higher overhead, Striker attack craft soared in to provide close air support.
Our small team of field journalists was huddled against the wall with some of the soldiers. It was a chaotic scene, with the shrill sounds of battle drowning out the back-and-forth between the GTS thumpers as they called out to each other and awaited their orders to move.
From up ahead of our position, through the choking dust that obscured the violence going on all around us, three soldiers hurried in from their own forward position. They were 1st Squaders, like the ones we were hunkered down with, and they’d been sent ahead by their squad leader to spy the enemy’s whereabouts.
The first two soldiers threw their backs against the wall and dropped to their knees. Their assault rifles were still hot from heavy use.
“They’re closer than we thought!” called out the first one to the squad leader above the din of explosions and heavy gunfire.
The squad leader — a tall, strapping young corporal named Kusniak — cried back to him with a noticeable American southern drawl. “Yeah, Danny! I knew them boys were hiding out just ahead of us!”
The third soldier from the trio hustled up to the others then. This one was a short female with short blonde hair and, like all the others, she was covered in dust and crud. She also had brilliant green eyes, and we later learned she suffered from the Ves-Navik virus, an alien blood virus that infected thousands of human soldiers during the fighting on the remote world of Navikor 4. But on this day she didn’t seem any worse off than the others around us, and her adrenalin was definitely pumping as she called out to Kusniak over the raging noise of battle, “I shot one of them guys five times!” And she pointed off ahead of them with her TAR-6 assault rifle. “No way I missed. They got some freaky armor or somethin’, I swear!”
“Did they watch you fall back?” Kusniak asked her. “You didn’t lead ’em here, did ya?”
She shook her head. “I put him down! I don’t think the others saw where we fell back to!”
The first soldier, named Henley, shouted out, “I think they’re coming at us, anyway, Corporal! They got some shit up there!”
The female soldier, all fired up, darted back towards the edge of the building. Kusniak quickly called out to her, “Bretch, get your ass back over here! Stay with your team!” He grabbed Henley’s arm then and pulled him along with him as he hurried up to the corner of the building. “I’m taking you, Evans, and Shyles with me to split up our fire,” he said to him. Then he looked to the female soldier. “Bretch, you stay here with Bravo team and these boys here,” he said, pointing off to us journalists. “If you see us and maybe Second or Third Squad coming up over there on your right, you bring these guys with you to meet us. But keep your line open —” and he wrapped his helmet with his knuckles, “and if you don’t hear from me in ten minutes, you pull ’em back to our last checkpoint and let Sergeant Gobel know where you are.”
“Right, Kooz,” she answered.
The corporal moved off with his three-man team then, leaving us under the care of the green-eyed girl.
We found out soon enough her last name was Bretchvelle (Bretch-vell). She had been with the platoon just under a couple months, and in that time she had gained the confidence of her platoon sergeant, Sergeant Gobel, and Kusniak well enough to where the two men put her in charge of 1st Squad’s Bravo fireteam.
As we sat and waited, Bretchvelle decided she didn’t like our position because she couldn’t see the enemy’s approach if they came straight at us. She scouted out our path to the left before coming back to gather us up to move off in that direction. We took a rubble-strewn path that crept downhill by a couple meters, leading us past the wall we’d been hiding behind and toward a low, steep-sloping hill that kept us hidden from the enemy’s own hiding place, which Bretchvelle figured was just a couple hundred meters on our right as we marched along.
Once we got to a small, level area just behind the hill, we held up.
Bretchvelle used her helmet’s communications transceiver to call Kusniak and she talked with him about their next move. We couldn’t hear what she was saying to him, but it seemed for all the world like the kind of casual back-and-forth any couple might have. When she finished with their chat, she called one of the younger soldiers over to her.
This guy had two weapons on him — one being his TAR-6, which he clutched in his hands, and the other a sniping rifle he had cross-slung around his back.
“Boss,” she said to him. “Gimme the TSR.”
The young soldier unslung the sniping rifle and handed it to her, and she in turn handed him her own TAR-6. As the exchange took place, one of our guys went over to ask her what she was up to. She quickly shooed him off, though, and told him to stay back with the rest of us. Then she called out to her comrades, telling them to take up defensive positions around the little hovel we found ourselves in. As they followed her instructions, she checked the magazine of the sniping rifle, tapping a button here and clicking a switch there. She brought the weapon up to aim, checking its sighting system, then brought it back down. “You guys stay back here,” she said to us journalists. Then she trudged up the side of the hill we had just gone down, carrying her rifle in her right hand and using her left to steady herself. As she got to the top of the steep incline, she used an outcropping of stones for cover and brought up her rifle to aim it toward our front.
Overhead, another Striker aircraft soared past us.
There were loud explosions off to our front that followed, shaking the ground underneath us. Then we heard rapid volleys of gunfire coming from off to our right. There was action out there, for sure, and it was coming on.
At the top of the hill, Bretchvelle held her rifle close to her cheek, aimed and ready. The other soldiers waited. More fire from off to our right erupted, and it seemed it was moving gradually ahead towards where the enemy lay hidden.
Then Bretchvelle fired off a single round — though from our position below and behind her we couldn’t see what she was shooting at. She quickly followed that shot with another.
The other soldiers with us started opening up with their own weapons, then.
Bretchvelle popped off another round before she took up her rifle and scrambled back down the hill. “Let’s go!” she cried to the others.
As the soldiers got up from their positions and hurried towards her, we reporters were quick to join them. Then with Bretchvelle leading the way, we ran ahead to our left, following the dirt path further along the embankment. She took us past a couple more burnt-out buildings and then we turned right and started going uphill again, towards where we suspected the enemy to be lurking.
As we approached level ground again, we slowed to a cautious, creeping walk. Sporadic gunfire rang out all around us and smoke and dust polluted the air. There was also the distinct odor of rotting death, something we journalists never got used to, but the GTS troops seemed to ignore.
We settled in there for a while, then, as the gunfire to our front eventually subsided.
*
It was near dark by the time we were able to eat our field rations. The squad had regrouped by that time and the soldiers nearby us were all tending to cleaning their weapons and gear while they munched on packed food in between. The enemy had either gone off or been killed, and there wasn’t much concern in the eyes of the weary thumpers in our midst.
While we had a break in the action, ADX News journalist Kasandra Andres sat by our Bravo team leader, Bretchvelle, and took notes as she talked to her. Sitting close, I overheard a lot of what they said.
Andres first asked her how long she’d been with the GTS. Bretchvelle answered, “A little over a year. I was in the Vestian Army before that for about six months.”
“You been in the infantry the whole time?” Andres asked her.
“Yeah. That’s pretty much all I know how to do.”
“Is it hard to keep up with the bigger guys, being out here always moving around?”
“Sometimes it is,” Bretchvelle answered. “I do okay, though. I’m not as strong as most of ‘em here, but I can fight well enough.”
She was quick to add, too, that a lot of the guys her height — she being only about 160 centimeters — had the same problem she had in keeping up. Bretchvelle was obviously in great physical condition, though, with thick thighs from years of marching and running. So it wasn’t hard to imagine her getting along okay.
Andres then asked her about her Ves-Navik condition — how long she’d had it and whether it affected her ability to do her job.
Bretchvelle kind of shrugged at that, as if she’d been asked that question a million times already. “I had it almost a year, now,” she answered. “I get sick sometimes. It can get bad if it happens when we’re down-planet, like we are here. But I got my medis for it.”
How does she handle all the violence and killing going on around her?
“I drink a lot,” was her straight answer to that one. “After a few beers and shots, it doesn’t much matter to me.”
Anyone special in her life right now?
“Nope. No one really wants to be around me for too long these days.”
When she said that she cast her eyes over to her squad leader, Corporal Kusniak. There was something going on there with that, I thought, and I wished Andres had caught it as well and pursued it. But instead she just went on.
How does it feel aiming a weapon at the enemy, she asked, knowing you’re about to put an end to their lives?
“I don’t really care,” she answered. “They shouldn’t be fighting if they don’t want to die.”
Kusniak broke up the impromptu interview when he strode over to us and told everyone we were moving out. We reluctantly struggled back up to our feet and got our things together. Bretchvelle, who by now had re-acquired her TAR-6, counted off her team members as they all got together for the move. She looked over to Kusniak, who signaled for her to have her team follow behind him as they headed out. Us journalists would be sandwiched in between them for the trek.
We traveled quietly and carefully along the outskirts of the ruined town as darkness enshrouded our entourage. Every so often we’d hear the click and beep of transceivers coming on and the hushed voices of soldiers talking into them. After a time, though, even that muted chatter ceased.
We must have marched about four kilometers before we stopped along an old, overgrown road several hundred meters outside of town. There looked to be some trees and other growth sprouting up around us, but it was hard to see in the now pitch-black of night. The soldiers, all wearing their helmets with their night vision visors lowered in place, dispersed to either side of the road. Bretchvelle came up from behind us and, swatting to a reporter’s arm to get our attention, she beckoned us to the left side of the road with her team.
There we stayed for a few more minutes. It gave me some time to reflect on the day’s events — the bloodletting and the sacrifice of our young people, some of whom did not live out the day, and the selfless acts so many of them performed and that oftentimes took place so randomly.
I looked off to Bretchvelle, then. She had raised her helmet visor and was kneeling on one knee just a couple meters to my left. She stared off into the night, those bright green eyes of hers sparkling from whatever glints of light managed to flash by. She seemed much older than her 20-something years — as if the conflict and unending bloodshed had sucked the youth and innocence from her soul. But she was also one of the heroes of this platoon, I knew. Unsung and probably unappreciated in all the carnage the war had brought to us all.
I suddenly felt very sorry for her.
For us journalists, it was an exciting adventure out here — a learning experience we’d share with everyone who watched or read our stories. But for the soldiers stuck out here for days and weeks on end, this day was just another dreary moment in their lives, hunkered down dozens light years away from home.
Bretchvelle rubbed her nose and took in a breath, sighing wearily as we all took in the quiet night. Tomorrow would be just another long, exhausting day for her, I knew.
Or it just might be the last day of her life.

# #

Learn more about the Stellar Conflict series at, http://stellarconflict.net/


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