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    The Ghosts of Piscium Valley, Part Seven: The Lieutenant

    Back on the dropship, the Lieutenant went up to the front and sat in the pilot’s seat and gestured at a jump seat near the radios.

    “Sergeant, I overheard enough to take that as your report, so there’s no need to repeat yourself. You are safe here now and this is where your little resistance action ends. Here and now. I do not need, nor do I want you filling their impressionable heads with pipe dreams of false hope. Do you understand?”

    Sergeant Huygens noted that Lieutenant Harris didn’t face him to speak; he instead stared out the windscreen of the ship, lounging in the in the chair like it was a throne and he was a bored, hedonistic and incompetent king. The refuse of empty water bottles and ration wrappers littered the cockpit. Since Corporal Miller mentioned that he came out to eat his meals, he felt it was safe to assume that the LT was eating more than his fair share of food, possibly raiding the packs for snacks and candies.

    “No sir, I’m not sure if I do,” Sergeant Huygens said, “We need to get out of here, attempt link up at one of the established rally points and while we do, we should harass the Consorts when we can.”

    “No, that is where you are wrong. I called into the HQ and I was told to hold this position and wait for pick up,” he said idly waving a hand at the radios, “Command has things well in hand and we are to wait. Here.”

    “Sir, while this position is defendable, extraction from here would be very difficult at best. Did you inform HQ of the terrain concerns when you called?”

    “That doesn’t matter. We will extract when they get here.”

    “Sir, what is the unit and call sign? What’s their timeline for extraction, do you have an ETA?” He asked calmly, yet internally bristling, “and what of the morale sir? It’s in the pits around here. Surely you can share some of that information with them.”

    The terrain considerations mattered a great deal actually, he thought to himself. Anyone who had been to either the noncom or officer Aerospace Assault Leadership Courses would know that. The forest canopy would make an extraction from this site dangerous even under normal circumstances, not to mention the slope that the crash site was on. An emergency extraction from here would require rope extraction, a technique that they were getting away from due to personnel having gotten shot off the rope in the recent past.

    A combat extraction in their current situation would require a minimum of two ships, one circling and providing cover while the other one landed, and there was no way a dropship could land here, not safely and not without dropping a forest clearing bomb first. If a recovery was on the way, they should already be moving.

    “They will call us when they are inbound to alert us for pick up. Sergeant, I don’t really know what you were really doing out there while you were running around in the woods playing leader, but I am growing tired of you questioning everything I tell you. As for the morale, they can suck it up. They’re soldiers and they will do what they are told. They don’t need to be made aware of every tactical situation around them.”

    The Lieutenant proceeded to launch into a lecture about discipline, following orders and the chain of command that he largely ignored, frustrated with being stonewalled by the LT with every question he asked. Questions that he thought were all legitimate tactical concerns and deserved intelligent rebuttals, not flippant arrogance. Instead he surveyed the cockpit with his eyes, looking around at what it could possibly be that had held the Lieutenant’s attention up here for the better part of two days. He looked at the radios and saw that not only were they not turned on, but none of the front panel cables were plugged into the right sockets. Some weren’t even connected at all.

    With a sinking feeling, it started to dawn on him that the Lieutenant probably never even tried to make the call, much less connected with this nameless HQ. It seemed unlikely that there was a return call coming; much less a pickup… the damned radio wasn’t even turned on to receive one. He might have thought he was using the radio in his apparently deluded state, but it was never turned on in the first place. The Lieutenant couldn’t even tell him what headquarters level he spoke either, if it was their own Echo, the Ninth Fleet C&C or some other unnamed rescue operation.

    He was starting to come to the same conclusion as the Corporal that the stress of the failed drop had affected the Lieutenant mentally. He added it all up… the suspicious state of the radios, failing to recognize their tactical position and drawing his sidearm on a subordinate just for asking a question. Coupled with the insult of ‘playing leader’, refusing the counsel of competent noncoms regardless of their rank, and the previous slight on the Corporal… not to mention the previous rumors of borderline competency and a complete disregard for the morale of the soldiers under his command.

    He now knew firsthand what he was dealing with, he needed to get out of here as quickly as possible and he was going to take these soldiers with him. The Corporal’s idea of disappearing into the night seemed to be a good one, but if they did that, they would probably be leaving behind a great deal of useful gear.

    “Are we clear Sergeant?” The Lieutenant asked, breaking him from his reverie.

    “Yes sir. Would you like me to inspect this site and direct further improvements to our fortifications?”

    “Yes, good idea Sergeant. Get to it.”

    “Yes sir,” he said as he stood to exit.

    Outside, he saw that Henthorn had occupied one of the hasties on the perimeter and found Santiago sitting in the foxhole alone. He walked over and joined her.

    “Piece of work, isn’t he?” She asked as he sat down.

    “I feel bad for him really. I suspect that he wasn’t that good of an officer to start with, that your Platoon Sergeant ran most of the show.”

    “You got that right,” she replied as Sergeant Huygens nodded and took out his computer to enter notes into it.

    “He might have eventually come into his own, but this drop… he’s not well. He needs help and we’re not going to be able to give it to him either. He’s a danger to himself and to us. Corporal Miller told me about him drawing down on McCray and scaring Ellie.”

    “He mentioned that?”

    “Yeah. Where is she by the way?”

    “Oh, she’s just over there,” she said pointing into the tree line at the fighting position that was the furthest from the wreck, “she doesn’t like hanging out here at the crash when it’s only the two of us, so she goes over there to her hasty position. We’ve got the two of you here now, but I guess she does it out of reflex.”
    Sergeant Huygens nodded thoughtfully and was quiet for a moment.

    “I noticed that he sent the Corporal and McCray out on patrol again. Does he ever send you or Ellie out?”

    “No. Not sure what to make of it either. Sure, out of all of us, the most experienced are the Corporal, then me. Send one out and keep the other here. The next in line for experience after the two of us is McCray, so it works out, it makes good tactical sense. On the other hand, it is conspicuous that the two he keeps here are the women.”

    “I’m a bit disgusted that I thought to ask this, even more so that I think I have to, but has he tried to do anything to the two of you?”

    “Not me he hasn’t. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t with Ellie either,” she said shaking her head.

    “Good… but could you ask her for me when you have the chance? Just to be sure?”

    “Sure thing Sergeant, will do… and thanks.”

    “For?”

    “Caring.”

    “It’s the least I can do. The mission is blown. The best I can do is try to pick up as many of the pieces I can and carry on. Looking out for the troops is the first part of that.

    “Oh, something else that Corporal Miller told me about,” he said lowering his voice even more after glancing around, “you two have been working on plans to bug out.”

    Rather than answer directly, she merely nodded as she too looked around.

    “We’re going to, tonight if we can. We need to get out of here as soon as possible. It’s not safe with him. I’m not going to kill him and I’m not going to try to disarm him, someone might get hurt. I will mark his position on the map and someone can come out for pickup later. Someone with more authority and better equipped to deal with him.”

    “Understood Sergeant.”

    “Now, I told him I would survey this site for fortification improvements, so I’m going to go and look into that and see what I have to work with, see what we might be able to take with us.”

    “Got it Sergeant,” she said as he stood.

    He walked over to where Ellie had her hasty fighting position and crouched next to her.

    “PFC Lewis, how are you doing? Are you all right?”

    “Fine,” she said curtly.

    “Come on now Ellie, be honest with me.”

    Before answering, she took a deep breath and sighed.

    “I had hoped that when you got here, things might change. That we would go to one of the rally points like Corporal Miller said we should… but now it looks like it’s just going to be more of the same.”

    “Hey, chin up, OK? I’m still here. The Lieutenant hasn’t changed his mind but I’m going to stick around and see what I can do to help, ok?”

    “Ok Sergeant. Thanks. Maybe things will get better,” she said as a smile returned to her face.

    “There you go. Now, I told the LT that was going to survey the site, so keep an eye out for me, I will probably be walking around inside and outside the perimeter.”

    “Roger that,” she said, a little of the enthusiasm from lunch returning to her voice.

    He began to walk around the perimeter of the site, inspecting parts of it as he went. He thought that if the LT called him on it he wanted to be able to report to him his findings. After several minutes of doing so, he then focused his attention on the dropship.

    The first thing he noticed about the ship was that there were heavy scorch marks on the fuselage around the vectored thrust ports, a clear indicator that it was an engine fire that brought it down. It must have been a single engine fire, he thought to himself. Losing both would have caused it to immediately plummet. He knew that one engine would be enough for a controlled landing, but not much else. Certainly not to gain enough altitude for an orbital burn.

    He then noticed with disappointment that there were several broken trees lying on top of the ship, pinning the primary ordinance racks shut. It was unlikely that this ship carried a chainsaw and even if it had, the noise it made would have prohibited its use. He thought that the hydraulic power might be sufficient to force the doors open, but that would necessitate the use of the auxiliary power generator. Again, something that would be too noisy to use.

    The secondary bays on the other hand seemed to be ok. What was left of the landing struts seemed to be holding the fuselage up high enough to permit them to be opened. Thinking back to the bridge, he considered that he might have over done it and that he could probably do a whole lot more now that he had twelve guided bombs. If he could only get the LT to see the situation more clearly.

    Then there was the interior. The ship had come down whole and in the short time he had been here, he had seen that very little of the equipment had been unpacked. He wondered what sort of equipment Four Three might have been packing with them. He tried to remember what their unit level tasking was, what their additional duties were. He knew that they were meant to be Third’s rear guard for this operation, but he wondered what else were they assigned and what their load out was.

    He thought about searching the interior, but decided it could wait until the LT was asleep. Struck with sudden inspiration, he made a mental note to check the medic’s bag he had taken from the first crash site to see if there were any sedatives in it. The thought of drugging the LT repulsed him, but he conceded that it might be the safest way to make their getaway with as much gear as they could without risking or killing anyone. He would have to talk it over with Santiago and the Corporal when he returned.
    He finished his walk around the ship and found that all the external compartments were intact and undamaged. He was about to return to the interior of the ship and see how much he could get away with searching the interior under the guise of inventorying, when he heard a dove call and a squirrel in reply.

    Returning to the fox hole and saw that McCray had taken position in the foxhole and Corporal Miller was talking Santiago and approached them.

    “Sergeant, Santiago said that you were thinking about going with my plan.”

    “Yes. Can we go tonight? Do you have enough in place yet?”

    “Think so, he said scratching his head. We were building a kit on a stretcher like yours, but I don’t have anywhere nearly as much on it as I want. The stuff I want to take is too close to the LT. Grabbing some of it would probably arouse his suspicions.”

    “What sorts of things?” Sergeant Huygens asked.

    “Med kit for a start. More ammo and spare rifles would be nice too. I got a decent look at the inside of this thing when we got here, that is before the LT chased me out to make his call. I think this thing set down empty except for the pilot and copilot. It looks like nothing was taken, she’s still carrying a full combat load.”

    “About that. If you were to take a look at the radios, do you think you could tell if they had been tampered with, if any of the connections had been changed?”

    “Hmm, I don’t know Sergeant. Maybe?”

    “Ok, do you usually report to him after a patrol?”

    “Yep, I was about to when you came up.”

    “Ok. Go do that. Try to get a good look at the radios when you’re up there.”

    “Rodger that Sergeant.”

    Sergeant Huygens and Santiago waited in silence for the Corporal to return. When he did he was shaking his head.

    “That sonofa…” he was muttering as he walked up, obviously furious.

    “What is it Corporal,” Sergeant Huygens asked him.

    “Those radios are all wrong. Nothing is connected properly. I can’t quite remember the set up from when we got here, but it sure as hell wasn’t that. The damned things aren’t even turned on.”

    “He lied to us?” Santiago asked.

    “Looks like he did,” Corporal Miller replied, “If he even tried to call, he probably didn’t know how to get them to work and started to screw around with them… how he has it stuck in his head that he did talk to them I don’t understand though.”

    “He’s crazy. How are we supposed to understand that?” Santiago spat, her voice tinged with faint anger that was starting to rise.

    “Even if…” he said angrily through clenched teeth, “Even if he really did make the call, even if there really is a pick up coming… we’ll never get the call because he has those damned things turned off.

    “We already knew that there’s no way that we can extract from here, we’d have to move,” he said looking to Santiago, “Shit, for all I know, it’s even possible that he’s not a lying sonofabitch, but we missed the pickup because he’s incompetent.”

    Sergeant Huygens looked back and forth between the two of them and saw that they were fuming, enraged to the point of barely being able to contain themselves. They looked ready to take action and not one that he was comfortable with.

    “Alright, settle down you two. I have an idea that might buy us some time. My stretcher has a med kit. I’m going to search through it and see if there are any sedatives in it. We knock him out and that will give us a window to take what we need and get the hell out of here.”

    “Damn Sergeant. That’s good,” Corporal Miller exclaimed with widened eyes as he began to calm, “I think I can do you one better. Knock him out, tie him up and even gag him to keep him quiet and we can take everything we want.”

    “What about leaving him here tied up? Not so sure if I’m fond of that idea, despite the ass that he is,” Santiago interjected, also calming down now that she saw an alternative to what she might have been considering moments before.

    “Well, then we knock him out again and untie him,” Corporal Miller said with a shrug.

    “Corporal, I think that’s the idea we’re going to go with. As long as there are sedatives in the kit. Take me to it and we’ll see.”

    “It’s not far Sergeant… Santiago, keep an eye on things here.”

    “Got it Corporal.”

    Leaving the perimeter, they walked into the woods a short distance away from the ship. Once out of sight of it, they came to a hollow in the ground where a camo net that was doubled over concealed the two stretchers. Pulling it back, Sergeant Huygens opened up the medic’s bag.

    “Sergeant, do you know what you’re even looking for?”

    “Sure do, I helped my platoon’s medic do an inventory on his bag to check the expiration dates on all of the meds he kept in it. Pretty chatty guy, so he talked about everything in the bag and all about what the meds were for. There’s two things in particular I’m looking for. One is a general anesthetic, the other is a fairly powerful antihistamine that is also used as a sedative. If we find either, we’re set.”

    “Wow, you’ve thought this through.”

    “A bit, though I’m not sure of how fast acting either of these are… could be an issue. Ah, here they are,” he said pulling out a handful of syringes, “Looks like we are in luck. I found a bunch of both.”

    He packed the bag back up, covered the stretchers up again and stood. Back at the site, Corporal Miller motioned for Santiago to come over to the two of them.

    “Alright, here’s the plan. Let me be the one to do it. If things go… awry, it will be on me. You two won’t hold any responsibility in the matter. But just in case, I want each of you to have some of these if things get out of hand and we need to act on a moment’s notice.”

    He handed each of them several syringes of two different colors.

    “Ok, the purple one? That’s a general anesthetic we’ll try that one first. The yellow one is a mid range strength antihistamine, it should work too. Now, these are meant to be injected into a vein, but if you stick it anywhere, it should still work. If either of you two find that you’re the one giving it, things have probably gone badly and you don’t need to be subtle or gentle. Just jam it in his neck.”

    “Got it,” the both replied and they pocketed the syringes.

    Later that evening, after another patrol by the Corporal, they all sat down to have their dinner together. While they ate, Sergeant Huygens discussed the plan.

    “McCray, Lewis and Henthorn. I’m sorry you got left out of this at first, but we have a plan to get us out of here. I’m going to attempt to sedate the Lieutenant. After I have, we will tie him up and gag him. While he’s out we will have the time to strip this site of everything we can carry. When we are ready to go, I’ll sedate the LT again and untie him right before we leave.

    “Have your ruck ready, you’ll have time to prepare it. Now, if something goes wrong, grab your weapon and your ruck and haul ass out of here. If the lieutenant opens fire, do not return fire unless you are being shot at directly.”

    Sergeant Huygens turned and pointed at a distant peak on the ridge in the distance.

    “See that mountain? Go in that direction and in about one kilometer there’s another clearing. That will be our emergency rally point.”

    He pulled out his map and showed it to them.

    “Whatever happens, don’t interfere, let the three of us handle it, Understood?”

    The three soldiers were silent, merely nodding their understanding with widened eyes.

    “Once the LT is out, we’ll properly inventory the back of that thing and see what we have to work with,” Corporal Miller said, chiming in, “I haven’t been able to do so properly, but there are a few cases that have caught my attention in there that look promising.”

    They continued to eat in relative silence until they heard boots on the deck plates and ramp of the dropship behind them. The footfalls on the dirt drew nearer and suddenly stopped.

    “What is that? What the fuck is that? Is that a map? What the hell do you need a map for, damn it?” The Lieutenant shouted.

    “Sir, it is for surveying the terrain around the site to…”

    “Shut the fuck up Sergeant I know what it is for. You are planning a mutiny and your escape.”

    “No sir, it’s…”

    “I said shut up. On your feet all of you,” he shouted at them.

    “Sir, if you have a problem with the map, fine I’m sorry. I’ll put it away and I won’t use it. It was my idea; leave these troops out of it.”

    “Oh, so you’re assuming the role of leader in this then?”

    “I’m a Non-commissioned Officer sir, of course I’m a leader.”

    “Shut up with that Noncom crap Sergeant. You just admitted to me that you’re their leader.”

    The Lieutenant suddenly drew his pistol and trained it on Sergeant Huygens as he cocked the hammer with his thumb.

    “You son of a bitch. Mutiny. Sedition. Treason. I told you about our orders. We wait HERE. But No, you have it stuck in your head that you’re on some damned crusade.”

    Something in Sergeant Huygens gave and he decided he had had enough of him now. The incompetence, disrespect, the lies and now pulling the gun on him. He had done it once before, but he wasn’t present to witness it. The gun was trained on him now and he wasn’t going to stand for it. This ends now, he thought to himself.

    He crept very slowly, advancing on him and closing the distance between the two of them with his hands in the open. As he approached, it occurred to him that he could have probably floored the Lieutenant quickly in close hand to hand, but he was an officer and his mind was addled… he didn’t want to hurt him despite that he had already had his pistol out and trained on him.

    The ballistics plate in his vest came to mind and thought that it would probably stop a pistol round at close range. Angling himself and his approach to the Lieutenant, he tried to put himself between the gun and the rest of the soldiers behind him, hoping that he could shield them from any stray shots. In his peripheral vision, he saw the other soldiers had a different idea and started to fan out making it harder to quickly shoot all of them. As they spread out, Corporal Miller and Santiago were digging into their pockets, readying their syringes in all likelihood. Ellie and Henthorn all had their rifles partly raised as McCray was trying to slowly and furtively charge his. With his attention on Sergeant Huygens, the Lieutenant didn’t notice.

    “No sir, it is you who is derelict in your duties. You lied about the radio and you lied about the pickup. No one knows we’re here and there’s no one coming for us. Even if they were, they couldn’t extract us from here. A competent soldier would know that.”

    “You son of a bitch. Do you know what the penalty for treason in a time of war is Sergeant? Death Sergeant. The penalty is death. I’m the rankingest officer in the valley now and until I’m relieved, I’m the authority around here. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t execute you for treason where you stand.”

    “Because I won’t let you. The Senate has not yet declared open war in this engagement and as such, the penalty is not death… you should know that sir. You are not competent to pass judgment at the moment and it is you who is guilty of numerous violations of the Code of Military Justice. I’m relieving you for gross incompetence and dereliction of duty sir, you may stand down.”

    “Wha…?” he said with a look of confusion on his face as he cocked his head to the side.

    A snap of a twig got the Lieutenant’s attention and he suddenly looked away. In that moment, Sergeant Huygens lunged in and grappled with his hand to try to wrestle the gun from him. He had a death grip on it with his hand and Sergeant Huygens couldn’t free it from his grasp. With an arm around his neck and the other holding his gun arm in the air, the Lieutenant managed to discharge several shots into the air and the ground as his arm wildly waved around, driving the soldiers back who had initially rushed in to help. With quick sideways jerk, the LT gave Sergeant Huygens a head butt, blinding him when his eyes began to water.

    They began to heave each other from side to side, hoping that they could manage to get the other off balance, throwing the other off their feet and to the ground. Partly breaking apart for a moment, the Lieutenant managed to pull his gun hand in closer… in between the two of them. Drawing in close once more, they continued to fight over it as they got tangled up in each other’s arms, the others losing sight of the pistol as it was pinned between them. His vision clearing, Sergeant Huygens could see from the corner of his eye that Santiago and Corporal Miller both had their syringes out and were tentatively stepping toward them.

    “Stay back,” Sergeant Huygens shouted at them as he struggled with the Lieutenant.

    Grunting, they wrestled with each other for control of the pistol between them. He felt knee blows to his side and back handed fists on his head land, but was distracted by the pistol sporadically jabbing him in his stomach as the Lieutenant desperately tried to turn it on him. Each time it did, the thought ‘Is this it?’ flashed into his mind. Wrenching his forearm around, he tried to get his hand on the slide, hoping that he might be able pull it back and prevent it from firing but he could feel the Lieutenant’s finger wiggling and moving back to the trigger well.

    Desperately, he fought to get a finger in behind the trigger to prevent it from going off, but he was too late. With the pistol pinned between the two of them, the sound was muffled and he could feel the shock and the heat of the discharge as the back of the slide slammed into his gut. Their frantic scrambling combined with the recoil of the pistol going off caused it to go off twice more in rapid succession.

    Nose to nose with the him, Sergeant Huygens saw the Lieutenant’s pupils dilate and his skin rapidly pale as he went limp and began to fall to his knees. His eyes darted around in confusion as he tried to speak. He was only able to make gurgling noises as blood filled and leaked out of his mouth having suffered three point blank gun shots directly to the abdomen. After he fell over and gurgled once more as the last of the air escaped from his lungs, he lay still.

    It was absolutely quiet at the site; no one moved… no one spoke. Everyone utterly stunned and shocked into silence at what had just happened, rooted to the spot. After several moments had passed, Sergeant Huygens silently took the pistol, safetied it and checked for a pulse. When he didn’t find one, he merely shook his head and then bowed it with one hand on his face, silently cursing.




    I'm thinking as I grow and expand this tale, in future re-edits of this particular segment, I may expand the time from arrival at the dropship to the shooting to a couple days. I want the character of Harris to be either pitied or hated, depending on the individual reader's perspective.
    Last edited by Red Shirt; Jul 9th, 2014 at 02:55 AM.
    "I've got tons of great ideas. Trouble is, most of 'em suck." George Carlin
    "I've got the guns, the radio and the water for the Zombie Apocalypse, but you gotta have a yo-yo." Chris Boden

    Hey, get a load of this. Guess who started writing again and has a spot in the fan fiction subforum?


 

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