Finding Space – Chapter Fifteen

The whole patrol stood stock still, staring up at the ambush in the trees that had yet to ambush them. Everyone, that is, except for Sasmont , who continued to direct his UAV demining process as undeterred as if he was having brunch back home.  Sasmont loved brunch.

“Uh, sir, what do we do now?” asked Stennerly. Ian just stared into the branches, dimly aware of the distinct probability that he was about to die in a far off world. The realization had come to him many times before, but now it was incredibly strong.

“Sir,” said Looper, staring fixedly up, “I’m intercepting a shit-ton of chatter across my scanner right now. They’re not even bothering to encrypt it.”

“Which means they’re very bad at this,” said Li, “or have so much overwhelming force that they’re about to bring down on us, that it doesn’t even matter.”

“Gonna go with the latter,” said Stennerly, nodding to the far side of the minefield where three armored vehicles had just appeared from the undergrowth. A figure dismounted and motioned to them to drop their weapons.

“What do we do, boss,” asked Looper. “Should I go ahead and kill comms?” Ian hesitated. It was their only link back with the troop, with the squadron. They could start shooting now, send out a distress signal, the troop could be here in about three minutes, or so. He glanced around. They’d walk right into this killzone. No. They had to give up. 

“Looper, transmit codeword ‘foxtrot’ and then Z-out comms,” said Ian, after a few seconds. Looper nodded, and with two quick actions their comms with everyone else were cut. All they had were local, open communications with each other. No more encryption. But it also meant that their soon-to-be captors couldn’t hijack their network to lure any friendly troops into ambushes or gain intelligence. And they all knew what Foxtrot meant: compromised – bound back to last rally point and contact higher.

“Do as I do,” said Ian, and slowly leaned down to place his rifle on the ground. He rose back up with his hands held high. They all followed suit, not saying a word. Ten humans descended from the tops of the trees from static lines, weapons trained on Ian and his little patrol. From the bushes on either side, four of the strange aliens appeared. Not moving, not attacking – just staring at them. 

The leader of the humans spoke to them in rough, rasping English. “Who’s the leader here.” It was a statement, not a question.

“That’s me,” said Ian. “Lieutenant Ian Tollinger, U.S. Army, Bravo Troop – “

“I don’t care,” said the figure, cutting him off. “You’re PEDP trash.”

“Well that doesn’t leave much room for dialogue,” said Ian, hands still raised. 

“I don’t care for dialogue,” they said, from behind a blacked out visor and face shield. “Get them inside the vehicles.” 

It was like they were completely ready for us, thought Ian, as he was bundled into the back of the green-mottled transport along with Li and Stennerly. Three vehicles, three to a vehicle. Mined my avenue of approach, had near-side security…this was a set-up. Again. But this time, I don’t have a Bilder in my midst to blame. Their wrists had been bound in front of them with shock bracelets and they sat with their backs against the left side of the vehicle facing three heavily armed troopers, holding weapons on them. Ian could discern no markings on them. Could not see their faces. Could determine absolutely nothing about this entire process. How could they be so easy to kill and yet capture me with such ease? 

Ian glanced at Li and Stennerly, but they were staring straight ahead. Ian knew exactly what they were thinking: how many different ways could they disarm and kill these guys? Ian hoped they wouldn’t try it. These troops seemed like casual killers. He could see it in the body language. He’d noted that often when dealing with mercenaries – human life was just someone else’s problem, for them. But they didn’t have the best discipline, so pissing them off wasn’t a good idea. Sure, if they were out for bounties, then they might not shoot to kill. Perhaps. Best not to test it. 

The transport glided along for about half an hour. No ambient noises gave Ian any clue where he was. They glided to a halt, the rear ramp lowered, and the troopers motioned for them to walk out. Hesitating slightly – no one likes to be shot in the back – each of them stood and then walked down the ramp into the open clearing, blinking slightly in the brightness. All three vehicles had pulled up, forming a half circle cordon with their main armament pointed outwards. Ian did a quick headcount: all eight of his troopers were here. That, at least, was a comfort. They all had the same sullen face that he assumed he was wearing as well.

They were still surrounded, still had weapons trained on them. Their guards appeared to be all humans, no aliens in sight. Ian wasn’t sure why they were halted here in this clearing. There were no structures, no other vehicles or transports. Nothing but…You’ve got to be kidding me.

The ground in front of them began to boil and suddenly five aliens surfaced, armed, the same dark brown creatures he’d seen so long ago in that moment of first contact. Once out of the earth they also trained their weapons on Ian’s hapless little band.

“This is overkill,” muttered Stennerly.

“Quiet!” barked a guard. English, thought Ian. But not their first language. Are these the same guys who tried to ambush us on the transport? Their armor, weaponry, and discipline seemed far superior to those he had captured. Captured, and then never heard a word about ever again. Nor did he ever hear anything from intelligence on Bilder. It was almost like…he was hung out to dry to get snapped up by the enemy. It dawned on him suddenly. Bravo Troop had been set as bait. Which meant there had to be a trap of some kind.

But who was the one to spring it?

The quiet whine of an overhead transport brought his attention back to the now. It was small, only large enough to land about four people, and it dropped down from the upper atmo right next to them with no jostle or thump whatsoever. Clearly an expert pilot. 

“Is that…?” asked Looper, in disbelief, before the guard cut him off with a blow to his helmet. It wasn’t a debilitating blow, just enough to get the point across: keep your mouth shut. But they had all seen what Looper had: that was a US Navy transport. The hatch shot upwards and three figures walked briskly out. Ian’s jaw did not drop, as that would have been cliché, and Ian did not do clichés. Rather, his jaw tightened. Because right in front of him was a US Navy admiral, in uniform, strolling calmly over to them, followed by a uniformed member of the Greater Chinese and Russian People’s Co-Prosperity League –  a general, by the looks of it.

Behind them came a figure that Ian couldn’t quite make out, until he briefly saw his face behind the admiral. Stennerly admitted a scream of rage and leapt forward, only to be shocked to her knees by her restraints. She knelt there cursing, blood-red eyes glaring at Blut Bilder, who was standing just behind the officers, a smug look plastered across his face.

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“Finding Space” is a serialized story appearing solely on this site. It is an experiment at writing science fiction as well as a method to keep the author on task. Tune in for new additions to the story as they are written.

About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.

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