Yes, it’s been a-while. I’m a lousy writer and terrible person. For those you not out on a date with your current or future spouse, here’s a treat: 3600 words of a battle just about to start. Being Veterans/Remembrance Day, I have Nichole look around at one point, recalling the living so that she will be able to recall the dead, fighting to save their homes and families.
When I write the battle at L&C bridge – which should go quickly, I’m not one for battle scenes – there’s a moment with Nichole and Joe at the end of it, then back to the City. At that point, I’ve all the raw material, about 80k words, complete, and just need to edit it into a coherent novel. By Christmas.
If any hot strawberry-blonde girls want to gift me US$500 for the 99designs.com cover for this book, I’ll use your image, if you do. Otherwise, I’m having to sell a kidney.
The APC slowed. After the sergeant and Phillip asking a few more questions, they rode on in silence. Joe had a hundred questions, most of them about how he not die, but kept his mouth shut.
A lurch as they passed off the road onto rougher ground. In the night, there was no reason to even try to look out the portholes. The driver manhandled the steering wheel.
“Sorry!” He called. “Sand!”
So this must be Prescott Beach, Joe thought. An amphibious assault… and I’m just some college kid that knows a little about hydroelectric dams. For a moment he recalled pictures he’d seen of men storming beaches, nearly a hundred years ago. The one’s that lived built those dams!
“Joe?” Phil asked at his friend’s snort.
“We are so going to win this!” Joe replied. The APC stopped.
“Yes!” Captain Hong said. “We are!”
He flung the rear door open and they jumped to the ground, one after the other. Strict light discipline was in effect, so only a few MPs had faint green glowsticks. One walked up to the captain, waving the stick at his face for a second.
“Compliments from General Tessmer, sir,” she said as if reading an eulogy. “You’re to be in tactical command.”
“Fuck.” Joe barely heard him mutter.
“Very good!” Hong lied. “We are connected to Command, how?”
“Runner only, sir,” she replied. “Assume all electronics compromised.”
“Lovely.” Hong looked about the darkness. “Any sign of the barge?”
“No, sir. Expected at 0500.”
Joe could swear she was smiling, even in the midst of this catastrophe. He wished he could see her face.
“Are you fit? In shape to be a runner?” The captain asked the MP.
The captain turned to Phil, suddenly at a loss.
“Apologies, militiaman. I didn’t catch your name.”
“Sir,” he said, trying to draw up what little of his frame there was. “Phillip Morris.”
Even in the dark, Joe could swear he saw Hong’s dark eyes dance.
“Yes, sir.” Phil said in anticipation of a question he’d fielded his entire life. “My parents were assholes!”
“Morris? You’re now my talker. Any question I have gets answered in ten minutes or you’re shot. Clear?”
What the…? Joe thought.
“Sir.” Phillip said, turning on the young woman. “I want a second of you here in ninety seconds.”
Joe saw the MP shift her weight on her feet.
“We… we’re going to live or die by what happens in the morning,” Phillip continued to her. “And we’ll only win with better comm than they have.”
“Sir!” The Regular MP called to the militiaman. That must have sunk in. She sprinted off.
“Right,” Hong said, turning and walking north. “Sergeant? Keep me informed as to what’s turning into my command; report at your digression.”
“Sir!” He peeled off into the night.
“Sir!” Joe could hear the humor in his voice. Did he really want him back together with his daughter that much…?
“Once we find the engineers – ” There was a small lick of green light ahead. “And I think we just did, I’d like you to – ”
Joe could’ve sworn he saw two faint green dots coming out of the night…
“Uff!” Someone slammed into him, arms tight around.
“Friend Joe!” He heard from his chest.
“What the hell…?” Hong began to ask.
Nichole released Joe and turned left towards the Captain. She saluted.
“Sir! I am Nichole Clarke! By Order of General Tessmer, I am acting second leftenant for this mission!”
She dropped her hand and tilted her head left. Joe took a step forward, hesitated.
“Let us win!”
“Just who the hell – ” At that, the MP and another runner, male, arrived at their side.
“Sir!” The woman they’d first spoken with began, “I’m told that that there’s a civilian, attached to the General, you should – ”
“I think we just met.” The captain said, deadpan. “And?”
“The…” She hesitated. Bad news. “The units coming up the road report the barge is delayed.”
“’Delayed.’” Hong echoed. “How long?!”
“An hour; perhaps two.”
Joe watched the captain’s head drop, his fists shaking at his side.
“Just how many of my men am I supposed to watch die in the daylight?!” He heard him hiss.
“Smokes.” Nichole suddenly said.
“What?” The captain asked, reeling at the news and his new aide.
“Put mortars on the barge,” Nichole continued. “Have them lay smoke as we cross.”
Hong’s breath caught.
“Brilliant! Kreeft! Intercept each unit and get me two 60mm mortar teams!” Anticipating Joe’s response, he continued. “And I DON’T CARE what their original orders are! And make sure they’ve a load of smoke shells! Go!”
With a glance at Nichole – what the hell was she doing here?! – he trotted into the dark, south then west, toward the rumble of vehicles along the road. He spied the faint green glow of another MP. For once, this was a guy; Joe had started to wonder about that.
“Captain Hong needs two mortar crews! Can you wave the trucks to stop as they pass, so I can ask?”
“Fuck, no!” The man replied. “And, who the hell are you?”
“Militiaman Kreeft,” Joe retorted angrily. “If we don’t get those crews, we’ll die crossing the river after which…”
Another truck went by. Joe wondered what it carried.
“…after which the cannibals come south and eat your family!”
The Regular paused.
“I’ll slow them down,” he said, waving his stick at the next approaching truck. “You jump up on the driver’s sideboard and ask.”
Joe ran south at the on-coming vehicle. He’d have to time this well to avoid getting run over in the dark. He jumped.
“What?” The startled driver cried.
“We need mortars!”
Joe dropped. He tried to catch his breath as the next truck came on, five seconds behind the first. This was going to be a long night.
While Captain Hong spoke with the Engineer’s NCO, a private handed Phil some folded clothes that he passed onto the girl. Over the past few weeks he’d been listening to Joe talk – endlessly – about someone named Nichole. Was this her? From that hug, he assumed so.
Phil was a little surprised to see her unselfconsciously strip to her underwear and put the BDU on. From the looks of the other men, he wasn’t the only one.
“…entire mission centers around either your team or the one with the General dropping the bridge,” Hong continued. “As such, your men will be in the back of the barge, exiting only we’ve got a beachhead.”
The sergeant of engineers just nodded.
“Once we’re moving forward, towards the north end, hopefully with whatever mortar shells are left proceeding us, your group brings up the rear.” The Captain took a breath, not happy about something. “At that point, I split my force: half holding the north end, the other half ahead of you guys, moving south onto the bridge. Questions?”
The NCO had a few. Nichole stayed very still and quiet. Besides her insight into smoke cover, she understood very little of what they said. She did understand very well that many of those around her at that moment would be dead in less than twelve hours. She looked around, her eyes able to see clearly in the darkness. She logged each and every face. Later, she thought, I shall pair the faces to names. The families of the fallen must know about this night!
Saluting, the engineer moved away. The officer in charge took a moment before turning to Nichole.
“You. What’s your military specialty?”
“I have none.”
“What did I do to make Tessmer hate me?” She heard his mumble. “Then explain to me, please, why the General thought sending a civilian girl on the most dangerous part of this battle was a good idea!”
He was louder than he should have been, she thought. He must really be unhappy! However, after Mackenzie and now the General, she did not want anyone else to know about her. She considered her response carefully.
“Two reasons,” she said, not pitching her voice at all. “First, political: I am an agent of the Japanese government, having arrived here aboard Kongo. It was hours ago, at the order of the Mayor that I be taken along.”
She saw that disbelief in his eyes. It relieved her; she’d have doubted the sanity of anyone who blindly swallowed this story…
“Second, physical,” she continued. “While not military, my body has exceptional training. I can see farther, hear better, and think and move quicker than anyone here. I… I can serve as a spotter or forward observer.”
The last was a little too close to home.
“Prove it; prove anything you just said.” He said with skepticism.
“Of course. While I do not know their names…” In the darkness, she proceeded to point out the location and number of everyone on the beach under his command. She waved south with her right. “Also, Joe has just dispatched the first truck with a mortar team this way.”
Wrapped in the black of night, he had the vaguest notion of where his men were. She could just be making it all up…
His face was so easy to read! Nichole forced the corners of her mouth to stay down.
“I could just be making this all up,” she watched him flinch at that, “but why would the Mayor and General attach a psychotic girl with a death-wish to your command?”
She watched him rub his chin. A slow nod. Nichole was not close to getting tired of winning.
“I’ll round up what sharpshooters and marksmen we have and attach them to you.” He stared at her. “I’ll also want you within voice of the mortar teams. You’ll be exposed.”
Now she smiled.
“While your continental empire did crush us into the dust, never forget,” she lifted her hands, palms up to her shoulders, “we little Japs made you take almost four years to do it. I’ll be fine, sir.”
“Tell your runner to make the rounds and get all good rifles here with Clarke.” He paused, began again. “With eltee Clarke. Lieutenant?”
“Yes?” She replied.
“Organize that mortar crew when they get here.” Now he could hear the truck’s engine. “Which should be in just a moment. They and the other unit will be on point once the barge gets here.”
He sketched a salute and was already moving back towards his APC as she was still bringing her hand up.
“Yes…sir.” Nichole quailed. ‘Organize’? How, what?
“Mortars? Yeah, so?” The driver yelled back.
Finally, Joe sighed.
“We need two crews! You’re the first! Pull off to the right, there – ”
“Hey, my orders – ”
“Our orders,” Joe had prepared for this moment, “are to not let women and children get eaten! I’ve been face to face with these savages; have you?!”
The truck slowed. Until it did, Joe had nothing to say in reserve.
“Right.” The driver replied. “Up the beach, then?”
“Yeah, follow the other MPs.”
Watching the truck turn off the road filled him with such relief that he nearly missed the next. He ran and leapt.
It was forty-five minutes more that saw the second truck successfully diverted. Joe didn’t even have to use his speech, the driver nodded and began turning off to the right. He leapt back to the road and let go a huge sigh of relief.
The MP was laughing at him.
“What,” Joe asked.
“It’s obvious you’re not Regular Army! No real soldier would have jumped off a free ride!”
Joe looked at the truck lumbering up the beach road, too far to catch.
“Dammit,” he breathed. He started walking, the MP’s laughter still in his ears.
Taken from his room as he was, Joe had no watch. The moon had just come up, so it was a little easier to see, but he could only guess the time. Two, maybe? He caught up to the second truck he’d diverted. A smaller figure stood where he’d been a few minutes ago, talking to the driver. Drawing closer, he heard the figure’s voice.
Nichole! He increased his speed as he heard her say, “take your time; it seems we have plenty.”
She jumped back onto the ground, letting the truck pull past her. Having heard a female voice, the team in the back had opened the flap. She waved. They waved back.
“Hello, Joe!” She said, not turning, as he got within ten feet of her.
“Who doesn’t love you?” He asked.
“Ask that again,” she’d much on her mind, “in twelve hours.”
Nichole realized she’d been curt with her First Friend. She made to take his hand, but stopped.
“Forgive me, Joe, twice over!” She could still smile at him. “I’m sorry for my tone and not being able to touch you again. I’m… I’m an acting officer now, and older as to what that implies.”
Joe drew himself up and saluted.
It hurt him to see her smile flee.
“Um. How good a shot are you, militiaman?”
“With a bolt-action rifle? Pretty good, I guess.” What an odd question. “I’ve been hunting with my dad, then later my uncle, since I was seven.”
She seemed to be considering something.
“I want you in my marksman team.” She looked at him oddly. “Where’s your rifle?”
“In my room at the Stratford,” he said a little hotly. “Phil and I arrive here rather unexpected.”
“Oh.” She looked about. Joe could make out a few groups, close, but it was still too dark –
“The Captain is thirty meters, just there,” she pointed with her right. “Retrieve a rifle and meet me…”
“Forty meters that way; near the water’s edge.” She pointed with her left.
She returned his salute and they both moved away from one another.
Coming up behind Hong and Phil, Joe noted his friend now had a rifle over his shoulder as well as a clipboard and a pen. In this light? Phil caught his motion and glanced over his left shoulder.
“Sir? Kreeft is back.”
“Joe! Great job!” The Captain waved a salute and shook Joe’s hand. “The LT is finding out what our shell mix is, now.”
“Which officer is that, sir?”
“My newest.” Hong released his hand, not happy about something. “Clarke.”
Now it was Joe’s turn to stare. She’d just said…
“Sir. That officer told me to get a rifle and join her marksman team,” Joe stated, pointing at Phil’s. “Whatever that is.”
A runner came up and spoke fast and low to Phil. He nodded but said nothing. The Captain ignored them. Did he already trust and rely on Phil that much?
“Phil? Get Joe sorted. We need to take a look at our microlites.” Hong began to walk away.
“Get him a rifle and vest, if there’s one left. We’ll be at truck four.” Phil followed Hong.
“C’mon, move!” The runner slapped Joe’s shoulder, running to his right. Joe ran after him. They stopped at the APC.
“Microlite?” Joe asked. The Regular just shook his head at the militiaman.
“Small drones; mostly for recon, but a few have a C4 load. Ah! Look at Mister Lucky!” He held up a body-armor vest. “Last one! And a rifle and ammo… here! Later!”
He ran in the direction of the river. How does anyone know what the hell is going on?! He looked down at the sleek form in his hands.
He’d seen pictures of the nextgen rifle for the military that had been introduced just before the Breakup, but not in-person and never in-hand. For a select-fire with 7.62mm rounds, it was surprisingly light.
“It’ll probably jam,” he muttered, wishing he’d been able to bring his .308 Win bolt-action.
“’Effing Checkists!’” He muttered with a smile, slinging it over his left shoulder. He’d better go find Nichole.
It took twenty minutes to walk in the dark what he could have covered in four minutes with light. Nichole was reciting from memory a litany of the number and types of mortar rounds the two teams had. The ratio of smoke to HE was one to five, with a few marker rounds – colored smoke to designate a target. Joe spared a glance over his right shoulder. The horizon was just a fraction brighter than the rest of the sky. He grit his teeth as he turned back to Nichole, steeling himself to what was about to happen to him.
The runner recited the list back to her, she told him to go. She waved towards her head at Joe.
“Joe! Good, you’re armed! Let me explain my plan – ”
“You can’t do this, Nichole.” That was trouble number one. “You, a woman, a civilian cannot go into combat.” And that was number two.
“I know!” She did? “But, yet, I must!”
She chose to forget her position for just a moment and place her hand up on his broad shoulders.
“You and I are both here for a reason; there are no such things as coincidences, First Friend!”
His left hand moved just slightly –
“Don’t.” Her odd tone froze him. “You think to shoot to wound me; to keep me off the barge. Stupid man!”
To Joe, it seemed there was just enough light from the East to catch in her eyes. Cold emeralds. She leaned close to him; he couldn’t feel her breath, but her words froze.
“I love my family; my friends. I shall fight and die for them!” She leaned back. “Never get between us.”
She turned away, easily picking up a crate of shells to help the mortar team closer to the waterline.
He’d been in love with her for some time. This was the first time he’d been afraid of her.
Captain Hong walked along the beach from south to north. Everyone and everything was in position. They could all hear the sounds from downriver: faint explosions and crew-served automatic weapons. The General’s forces were already engaged.
The sun had been up for an hour.
He kept a cheerful smile on his face, dying on the inside. A high pitched whine of a dirt bike prompted him to turn south. He didn’t know how his new aide had finagled it: the bike, the rider, and the hunter’s spotlight to Morse with the tugs pushing the barge. The rider braked right next to them, not bothering to salute.
The bike spun around, kicking some sand onto them. It was gone.
“Thirty minutes.” He echoed. “And if everything is perfect, another thirty to load. Fifteen, if perfect, to get the barge off and back in the right direction. And, at top speed, six to the LZ.”
“An hour and twenty one minutes; if perfect.” He stared out at the river, trying not to imagine it red.
“So, two hours,” Phil said. “If we’re lucky.”
At that, Hong felt more than heard the deep rumble from upriver: the tug’s engines. On the heels of that, a peal of girlish laughter, from his acting lieutenant.
“We… we just may be, Corporal Morris.”
Phil looked up, surprised at the sudden promotion…
“In case you all were curious…!” The Captain pitched his voice to carry to his troops, “I’m planning on standing in front; what do squids call it? Foredeck, thank you! With a foot up on the rail, like George Washington crossing the Delaware!”
He stroked at his chin.
“You all see the resemblance, don’t you!” His command laughed.
The engineers, furthest south on Prescott Beach, gave a muted yell. Hong turned to see the barge just past the Port of Kalama pier. The cheer from a moment ago turned into mutters.
“What?!” Hong yelled about him. “You were expecting a Japanese Guided Missile Destroyer?! Stand up! Get ready!”
As the nose of the barge was pushed ashore, Hong offered prayers for whomever thought to pick one with a RORO deck. The platform dropped onto the sand as his men – and one woman – swarmed aboard. The engine’s of the two tugs were already reversing. The last of the engineers had to wade out into knee-deep water and be pulled up by their mates. The RORO gate was hand-cranked up. Slowly, they turned and moved, north.
There was no time to celebrate. He and his LT worked to get the mortars emplaced. The LT, her size belied her strength, he noted, tossing about wooden pallets with each hand to provide cover for her marksmen. The Regulars took cover behind the stacks of lumber that had been left and the engineers were even more protected, aft. They could not afford to lose one of them.
They slowly picked up speed. Hong guessed maybe ten knots, as, far ahead and just to port, the Lewis and Clark Bridge came into view. True to his word, he strode forward and put his right boot up onto the RORO ramp. Another cheer from his men. He kept the fake smile on his face, seeing the tracers and explosions on the south side of the bridge.
“REPORTING!” He flinched at Clarke’s booming voice. “Enemy slowly yielding ground on south end! At least… six hundred reinforcements crossing from north to south! Twenty, no, twenty nine sharpshooters in bridge scaffolding!”
If she wasn’t just making this up, she’d been correct about her eyesight, he thought.
“Visible enemy on north side… estimated two thousand!”
Hong’s smile shattered. He’d 137 men and one woman.
They were at top speed: eighteen knots. There was a sharp *whiiing!* of a ricochet, off the deck, just to his left. Enough heroics.
“Leftenant Clarke!” He yelled at her. “Lay smoke!”
Though far away, he could see in her bright eyes the acknowledgement. She smiled.
“MORTARS! SET FOLLOWING ANGLE!…”
Good God, but she was loud, Hong thought, moving behind the mortar crews. There was no way this would work, but if they distracted them so the General’s men could get onto the bridge… well, nobody said this would be easy.