Sunday, April 5, 2015

Replacements (Part 1)
George Brewer

“This is crazy. There isn't an insurgent or enemy combatant within 300 klicks of this place,” Slim sub-vocalized.
“Let's keep the chatter to a minimum,” responded the Lieutenant.
“But Sir, this...”
“Can it Slim.”
   The subdivision had been cleared two years before. A year later the government had given up maintaining the area for the residents return. That was what irked Slim and no telling how many in the platoon who knew the area. Physically the houses were intact except for a few where trees had fallen on them. Yards had been overgrown as would be expected. Some shrubs and saplings had encroached on the edges
   The explosion surprised everybody, except the LT.
“Coms, Dexy. We're taking fire. Copy?”
There was no reply.
“Sparks, Dexy Was Coms with the LT?”
“Don't know. Sound off, first squad.,” barked Sparks a little louder because of the adrenalin.
Before Tanker could reply, a second explosion sounded.
“Sparks, Dexy. Come in.” No reply.
   Dexy switched her IFF off. Almost simultaneously, Slim and over half of the two squads followed suit without being told. The rest started getting picked off one by one as Dexy tried to warn them.
“Squads, One and Two, IFF off, now!” putting as much emphasis as possible in her words without shouting. “Assembly point Alpha, now!” She was now in charge. The platoon sergeant, Yates, had been transferred unexpectedly. Sparks had been pulling double duty.
Before she could snake her way back to higher cover, small arms fire erupted from the direction of Assembly point Alpha. “Scatter!” erupted from her as she crawled as fast as she could. Dexy was about to stand, when an explosion took out the corner of the house and shrub she had been using for cover. She changed direction and headed for a tree line to her right. Somebody knew where she had been. Who was out here?
   Slim made a dash for a detached garage when an explosion took out a sizable oak he had been using. He had seen the first explosion and had been searching for a possible launch site, when the second round or whatever it was hit. By then he grabbed his night vision goggles and had them in place before heading east to the nearest stand of trees without a house. He confronted a large open space and stopped to check out a possible route, when he saw a flash from the ridge to the Southeast. Within seconds another explosion occurred. It was then he spotted someone he thought was Dexy running like crazy for the same stand of trees, a block South of him. Some one should have caught up with him by now from the West, he thought. He saw a low, decorative brick wall across the street behind him. He would have to back track a little but it was doable.
   Dexy stopped at the last house on the street she had been following. She was going to have to sprint across it to make the tree line. She backed up to gauge how long it would take her to reach full speed before clearing the safety of the house. She took a couple of deep breaths and started her sprint. She hadn't gone more than two meters when a round hit the curb she had just cleared. The next gouged the asphalt behind a heel. The third was low and hit the ground between her legs. A fourth round hit a tree on her right just as she hit the ground. She crawled as quickly as possible to her left veering away from the small arms fire coming in her direction. She paused to get her goggles on and started sweeping the area before moving again.
   Slim heard the rifle shots after he cleared the brick wall. He paused and counted the timing. Whoever it was was close enough to see a target, but far enough away to be off in leading that target. Why single shot? He came to the last house with a road between him and the trees. The same road Dexy had likely tried to cross. He wouldn't bother to look for a body. The time it would take could mean the difference between a hit or a miss. Slim gave himself a mental slap to the face as he turned to back up. To the North the road curved to his left then straightened. A small building on the other side would give him better cover to the trees. Unless somebody was advancing in a vehicle he couldn't hear, the angle was narrower for a shooter from the South. He quickly jogged to another house further North, turned in the direction of the little building, and sprinted across the road. Two shots chewed up the asphalt behind him. Now the shooter had two soldiers to hunt for hopefully.
   Dexy came to the base of the ridge and stopped. She took a drink of water. Looking toward the 400 meter summit to her right. It was the likely location of whoever was firing on them. She then did a slow 180 and listened for any further fire from Assembly Point Alpha. She froze, then slowly lowered herself to the ground. Someone was approaching from the North. She did her best to flatten herself. She tried to slow her breathing.
“Dexy,” a voice whispered. “Dexy. It's Slim.”
“The Yankees suck,” she responded.
“Boston fields wimps,” Slim answered. It was their personal sign/countersign. Not officially approved.
Dexy rose as Slim approached. He still had his goggles on. He took them off as he knelt down next to Dexy.
“Good to see you.”
“Good to see you, too, Slim.”
“So what was that we just experienced?”
“You got me. You're the one who said there wasn't an insurgent within 300 klicks of here.”
“I don't think this was insurgents,” said Slim.
“How's that?”
“You're the squad leader, probably the acting platoon sergeant, stroke, platoon leader.”
“Yeah, but you have the counter insurgency experience. We better start moving back toward the gap and home.”
   Both rose. Dexy took point. It was going to take awhile. They were going to be heading Northeast traversing the ridge. Slim would be trying to keep an eye on their “six” while climbing the grade and keep from bumping into trees or losing his footing and rolling down the slope.
Slim just happened to be looking forward when Dexy raised her hand. They both slowly dropped and moved to the nearest cover. Somebody was moving slowly to Dexy's ten o'clock. They were trying to move quietly, but not quite succeeding.
“Halt. Who goes there?” Dexy whispered.
“Momma told me not to come,” was the reply.
“It's 'Never been to Spain', Chewy,” Dexy said, as she shook her head.
“Well, I'm not the one whose great-grandma was a hippy,” Chewy whispered back.
“Need a break?” asked Dexy.
“No, not really.”
   Dexy and Slim rose. Dexy took point, with Chewy in the middle and Slim taking up rear guard. They hadn't gone more than a half-dozen steps when Slim made an attempt at an owl call. Both Dexy and Chewy stopped and turned around to see Slim pointing beyond the spot they had met up. There was movement. Slim and Chewy turned to Dexy. She pointed to her right ear. Then she pointed to Slim, made a fist and then lowered her open hand. Next she pointed to Chewy then swept her arm down and to the right.
While Dexy had been signaling to Chewy, Slim had found some exposed rock to hide behind and made himself as comfortable as possible. Chewy had moved down slope about six meters from his original position. Dexy had the farthest to go. They were staggered down and away in a sort of echelon right from the approaching unknown. Each of them caught a glimpse of a person slowly advancing, then stopping to look down, then out, then scanning the area immediately in front. It would change direction slightly and advance, then stop. It would repeat this two more times.
Slim guessed it was male, about 190 cm. Roughly the same height as Chewy. Couldn't guess build but close to Chewy. For some reason he was able to see it's trigger finger move to the trigger. He was able to get out, “Hot!”, as the unknown raised its weapon and fired. It was probing. It seemed to know they were there. It didn't seem to care about cover. It moved to its left and started pounding Dexy's position. Slim opened up and thought he had hit the unknown. It moved farther to it's left but still moving forward toward Dexy, keeping her pinned down.
“Chewy!” Dexy shouted.
   For some reason Chewy wasn't firing. Slim jumped up after the unknown passed his position down slope. Slim tried to keep from running into the other two's field of fire. He seemed to be the only one able to get a clear sight line. He caught Chewy out of the corner of his right eye moving toward Dexy. Slim thought, screw this, and started converging on the unknown's back. He hit it three times and it did not slow down. Finally, he swept the unknowns legs. Chewy was able to hit it as it fell from his new position. They all converged on the unknown. Standing around it, trying to catch their collective breaths, each focused on different parts of this soldier.
“I hit him at least three times, maybe five, in the body, and it didn't seem to phase him. He's got to have some kind of new body armor,”said Slim.
“I'm sorry guys. He seemed to know where I was. He was using the trees against me,” said Chewy.
“I thought I was dead,” sighed Dexy. “It was like he knew I was the squad leader, and was going for the command element.”
The unknown soldier was dressed exactly as they were, but was carrying less for the field.
“Look at his weapon. I've never seen anything like it,” said Dexy.
“Me neither,” replied Slim.
Chewy said, “It looks like a prototype.”
All three jumped back as the unknown started to stir.
Chewy fired into its chest.
Stunned, the three cautiously closed back around the unknown.
“Something is terribly wrong here,” said Dexy.
“If's there's more like him around, we are in real trouble,” exclaimed Slim.
“Let's roll him. See if there is something to identify him,” commanded Dexy.
Slim and Chewy muscled the body around trying to find something, anything, that would give them a clue.
“All he has is some spare magazines. No tapes,” explained Chewy. “He has some kind of display. Like a GPS. Hey, move back, Dexy. Let me see... Whoa!”
“Keep it down,” hissed Dexy.
“I was able to see you on the screen, like low-light or infrared.”
“We need to get out of here,” said Slim.
“Hey, here's a comm unit,” said Chewy.
“Grab it. Let's go,” replied Dexy.
   As Chewy cleared the body, the unknown started groaning. This time Dexy pulled her knife and slashed its throat. She jumped back quickly to avoid getting hit by arterial blood pulsing from the right carotid. Slim had seen what she was going to do and had cleared the left side.
“Let's get out of here.”

They resumed their march up the slope. For some unknown reason that was the only unknown they encountered. They stopped a few meters from the crest. They rested, ate an energy bar .and then proceeded to scout the western side of the ridge looking for an area open enough to look down on the subdivision to see if there was any movement or sign of life without giving away their position. It was fruitless. They then checked to see if there was any sign of life to the South where they believed the fire came from. They could see dim flashes of red. Somebody didn't want to destroy their night vision. They crossed over the ridge and saw more flashes. They advanced toward the flashes. There was a glow lower down. Somebody had a tent with the sides up. A shadow would move from left to right or vice versa. Not really a shadow, just a body blocking the light shining down from somewhere near the peak of the tent.
Based on the number of red lights, they backed off and found a spot to rest before trying to make it back to their post.
“Chewy, see if you can fire up that comm unit,” asked Dexy.
Chewy grabbed what he thought was the wire for the unknown's headset and found bare wires instead of a connector. He rolled up the cable and handed it to Slim. Slim looked around for a place to cover or bury the wiring. Meanwhile Chewy pulled the connector from his comm. He then removed his mikes from his throat, and then plugged the connector into the unknown's unit.
He immediately heard a low voice calling,”Zero-three-five. This is command. Come in. I repeat, zero-three-five, come in.” There was a pause. “Zero-three-two. This is command. Come in.”
“Command, this is zero-three-two, over.”
“Zero-three-two, command. What is your status?”
“Command, zero-three-two. Confirmed kill, leader, second platoon, bravo company. Unable to find comm. Proceeded to first squad location. Confirmed kill, squad leader and two others. Linked up with zero-three-one. Confirmed kill, five at assembly point. Two others missing. Over.”
“Zero-three-two, command. Direct one, three and seven to grid hotel. Proceed sweep to assembly. Direct four, six and nine to grid kilo. Sweep. Over.
“Command, zero-three-two. Copy.”
“Command out.”

Chewy turned the unit off and unplugged.
“Okay, what's up?” asked Dexy.
“They were trying to raise a call sign, zero-three-five. He didn't respond. Maybe our guy. They talked to a call sign zero-three-two, gave a bunch of orders. They got the LT. Couldn't find comms. Killed two in place, and five at the assembly point,” related Chewy.
“Three missing from first squad,” said Dexy. “I wonder why no questions about second squad. She paused. “Guess zero-three-five was supposed to provide that information.”
Chewy added, “They've got six assembling on the State highway and sweeping North to find the missing.”
Slim chimed in, “That means at least six still alive. Hopefully, more. What kind of report are we going to give?”
“Let's worry about getting back to post first,” answered Dexy. “Keep monitoring their command channel, Chewy. If you switch around to find the tactical channels the clicks may tip them off they're being monitored.”
   They kept to the East side of the ridge for about thirty minutes, then crossed over to peek at the assembly point. The APCs were parked as they had left them. LT hadn't bothered to a post a guard. In spite of the comment to Slim, he was the most vocal about some desk jockey messing with them on the ride over. There was a guard now. Probably some “zero-three something”. They moved on toward a gap in the ridge with a county road passing through. It had been their way into the subdivision.
They hadn't gone far when Chewy grabbed the mikes in each hand. He hissed at Dexy.
“What?” She stopped.
Chewy got as close as he could to her left ear, and whispered, “They found comms, or what was left of him. Took a direct hit.”
   Another ten minutes and they slowed down. Time to check the gap. A vehicle was parked not far from the East side of the gap. Dexy made a “cut” sign to Chewy. He complied. They conferred on the best route to avoid detection.
“What do ya think?” she asked.
Slim responded,”There's a sink down there between the roads on the East side of the ridge. It fills with rain water in the winter, then evaporates. Not a real pleasant trip on foot, even in August.”
“How'd you know that?” asked Chewy.
“I didn't live in New York my entire life. Went to high school about forty klicks from here.”
“Was the post here then?” queried Dexy.
“They just started building it before I graduated.”
“Well, which way then? I don't want to be rustling a map right now,” said Dexy.
Slim replied, “Best work our way down the West side. Remember, the road has a sweeping “S” curve before the back entrance to the subdivision.”
“Provided they don't have a guard posted,” interjected Chewy.
“Let's find a quiet way down,” said Dexy.
   They retraced their path for about twenty meters, then started down at an angle. They then proceeded to switchback every thirty or forty meters until they reached level ground or what passed for level. They then approached the road. Slim crawled to the ditch on the right-of-way. Thankfully, it was dry. He inched up near the shoulder looking right then left. There was a rise in the road which hid the vehicle guarding the other side of the gap. He didn't remember that on the ride over. He backed away. He gave Dexy a thumbs up.
   They moved to what they estimated was the middle of the “S”. Looking back to the Southwest, Dexy couldn't see the assembly area. She motioned for them to cross. They didn't sprint, but they didn't march. Made Slim think of the adjutant marching to make her/his report on the formation to the commander. When they were safely on the other side, Chewy signaled to Dexy.
“They found zero-three-five. If you hadn't slit his throat, he would have survived. He bled out before he could recover. They said his wounds were all ready starting to heal, when you cut him.”
Dexy and Slim just stared at Chewy with their mouths open. Dexy was the first to recover.
“That's insane,” she gasped.
“There are five of us unaccounted for. They are heading for the assembly point to take the APCs back to post.”
“Anybody still looking for us?” asked Slim.
“Don't know. The two-guy could be on our trail. Based on the orders, everybody else is to head out. But their command didn't exactly tell the two-guy to do the same.”
“Then we proceed as if we're being tracked,” said Dexy. “Stay with it until the unit starts to break up, and then switch channels to see if somebody's on tactical.”
They got away from the road and started back toward the continuation of the ridge. They found a level spot close to the base of the ridge with cover and concealment.
“Dexy,” said Chewy, “I'm getting just command transmissions now.”
“What are they saying?”
“Talking to a guy, call sign zero-two-two. Squads walked into an ambush. All killed. Bodies accounted for. Five were naked. Direct perimeter defense to fire on sight if approached. Special unit chanced on the fire fight. Cleared area for mortuary team. Send at 0600.” He paused. “Talking to the zero-three bunch. Prepare to return to post at daylight. Do not engage unless fired upon.”
“I guess they think we're not worth any more effort,” tendered Slim.
“Gotta figure out a way to contact the company commander,” said Dexy. “He's the only one to vouch for us.”
They rested before trekking up the ridge.

They all heard the crack of a limb at the same time. Then they heard a baritone voice singing as low as Hoss could, though Dexy knew the melody wasn't quite right.
“Sweet home Alabama. Where the skies are so blue.”
“Sweet Home Alabama. Lord, I'm coming home to you,” responded Dexy.
   Took about twenty seconds for Hoss to make the clearing. “Tinker is behind me. He doesn't trust your use of old time music, Dexy.”
Dexy spoke a little louder, “Tinker, halt who goes there?”
“Me, Tinker. And no, I don't remember what you gave me for a sign.”
“Right now it doesn't matter, cause we knew there were two more out here.”
“How's that?” asked Hoss.
Dexy related the events as they had happened with Slim and Chewy chiming in. When she got to the part about the fire fight with the unknown, Hoss, interrupted.
“You say you hit the guy and he didn't go down until you hit him in the legs?”
“That's right.”
“Man, I would have thought the hit from SAW in the chest would have blown it apart.”
Chewy interjected, “Even after that the guy grabbed my leg.”
Dexy interrupted, “The guy didn't grab your leg!”
“Who's telling this part?”
“Don't listen to him, Hoss,” replied Dexy. “The guy groaned and I slit his throat.”
“And a good thing, too,” added Chewy. “We heard the guy who found him say he was healing from previous hits.”
“Man, this is like science fiction,” Tinker spoke for the second time.
   Dexy finished their part of the narrative.
Hoss waited looked at the others and started in. “I was covering for Tinker. He was making like a bear.”
Tinker hung his head.
“First time getting caught with your pants down saving your life,” cracked Slim.
“Don't I know it,” answered Tinker weakly.
“Anyway, that first round got our attention. Then Sparks going off line, we knew we were in trouble. I hit the IFF button.” Hoss paused and looked at Tinker. He just nodded his head. “We just hauled it toward the APCs. Since we had the farthest to go, probably saved us. We heard the shots from that direction and headed West toward the creek on that side of the subdivision.” Hoss paused again.
   Tinker picked up the narrative, “We found a place to cross over without leaving tracks and started North. At some point I looked back toward the ridge, since that seemed to be where things were coming from. Stopped Hoss and asked him if he saw red lights on the top.”
Hoss just nodded his head.
Tinker continued, “We probably wouldn't have seen them in the subdivision, and then we were too busy to notice. On the other side of the creek our sight angle was better.”
Dexy spoke, “That was probably the command post.”
“Yeah, when you mentioned a tent on the back side. Anyway, there's a rise with exposed rock near the road on that side. We rounded it and made for the rocks. We rested then started poking around for a place to look over the subdivision.”
   Hoss continued while Tinker took a swig of water. “Had a really good view. The scrub that was growing around the rocks allowed us to sit back and avoid a possible reflection off the lens of our binoculars. I don't know how long it was, but saw a guy coming from the South stop about half way in. He stayed there and then two others walked over from the East. They were all about the same height. Seemed to be the same build. Kind of a cross between Chewy and me.”
“Yeah, just realized it about our contact, when you said it,” said Chewy.
“They weren't together more than a couple of minutes then split up. The guy on our side continued his sweep of his area. Kept looking at his wrist like you said, then scanning his field. We watched him head for the APCs. There was a bit of a break and we could see others occasionally. We shifted position North and still had good cover. Seemed they were just waiting for orders. Milling around we couldn't get a head count. Estimated squad strength.”
   Tinker took over, “As you can guess we spent a lot of time on the back side of the rise, considering the amount of time you spent climbing and all.”
Dexy snorted.
“We finally decided to get across the county road and listen for the APCs to leave, if that's what they decided to do. Didn't make sense to just leave them out here. Our timing couldn't have been better. There's a second rise the road cuts through. We had just settled down to check out the road and the area around the APC's, when three bodies hustled across it.”
“You saw us?” exclaimed Dexy.
“Thankfully it was us and not them. We figured we had stumbled on the only place to see that part of the road considering all the trees.”
“That's amazing!” whispered Slim.
“Anyway, based on the difference in heights, we figured it was you, Dexy, and Chewy. Slim, you run funny, so it wasn't hard to figure it out.”
“I don't run funny,” replied Slim.
“Yes, you do,” said Dexy and Chewy almost simultaneously.
Slim harrumphed.
Everybody else laughed.
Hoss spoke, “We crossed the road and kept to the back side of the second ridge until we found the creek again. After we forded, we found a game trail. That crossed a hiking trail. Which allowed us to make good time to get to this part of the ridge. We guessed you'd stop near the base to rest and decide what to do next.”
“And if we weren't here?” asked Dexy.
“We would take a break, head over the ridge, then head for the post,” replied Hoss.
“Good thing we stopped,” said Chewy.
“Don't you know it,” sighed Hoss. “When we got close to the ridge, I started singing and here we are.”

As if to punctuate those last remarks, the APCs were firing up readying to move out.
“Would be nice to ride home,” said Tinker.
“Would be nice to get to the post alive,” said Slim.
“How we going to make it if they think we're bad guys wearing friendly uniforms?” asked Hoss.
“We need to contact the Captain,” replied Dexy.
“Man, am I an idiot,” said Hoss. “I've got the expansion pack.” Hoss rummaged in his pack and handed it to Dexy.
“Why weren't you close to Sparks?” asked Dexy.
“Who knows. He sent me and Tinker out to the right flank and had the Guppy move in,” said Hoss.
“Maybe he thought you three could “wheel” around for a pincer or back if Bravo One needed to fall back,” speculated Dexy.
   They could hear the APCs engines rev up and start shifting for the trip back to the post. They just sat there quietly until the last echo from the gap.
“Let's give it some time before we head up to the top for maximum range of my radio, and hope the Captain has the company comms up for the morning check.”
“This is some crazy stuff,” said Tinker.
“We didn't get a decent briefing. We got a cursory view of the terrain immediately in and around the subdivision. It was a setup from start to finish,” Dexy said in exasperation.
“But what for?” queried Slim. “A group of insurgents has infiltrated this close to a major post, this far from the front lines?”
“You say they were equipped like us but their weapons were different?” asked Hoss.
“Yeah, like prototypes, and then those scanner whatchamacallits,” said Chewy. “The one Dexy put down moved in such a way I couldn't get a clear line of fire. The guy seemed to know where each of us was.”
“You know we could have been wiped out here. We've been sitting in a group with no guard,” said Dexy.
“You're the squad leader, Dexy,” answered Hoss.
Nobody bothered to move.
Dexy finally got to her feet. “Hoss, you're behind me. Chewy, in the middle. Tinker you're next.”
She started up the ridge at an angle for a traverse. They spaced themselves and swivalled their heads around properly, as if the previous lapse hadn't happened. They came upon the hiking trail Hoss had Tinker had used on the flat. Dexy turned back toward Hoss and just shook her head. Hoss just shrugged. She pressed on.
They crossed over the top and looked for a relative clear area for line-of-sight although it was not absolutely necessary for the comm unit, even with the expansion pack connected. Everybody maintained spacing. Only Dexy and Hoss huddled.
“Red River, this is Bravo Two. Red River, this is Bravo Two, how copy”
No reply.
Dexy repeated, ”Red River, this is Bravo Two. How copy?”
After a lengthy pause, “Bravo Two, this is Red River. Copy five by five. Authenticate.”
“Red River, this is Bravo Two. One-niner-echo-foxtrot. I repeat, one-niner-echo-foxtrot.”
Instead of silence, a mike was keyed open. “They must of got that off Dexy. Play along so we can figure out where they are,” said a voice in the background.
“Okay, but we got one-two-charlie-whisky-zulu,” said the voice of Red River.
“What kind of authentication is that?” asked the voice in the background.
“Sorry, old unit. My mistake,” replied the voice of Red River.
“Bravo Two, this is Red River. Say again authentication.”
There was no response. Dexy had shut down.
“What's up?” asked Hoss.
“You got full backup for comm?”
“Never leave home without it. What's up?” repeated Hoss.
“We're going old school.”
“Pull out the long-wire antenna,” ordered Dexy.
“Yes, ma'am. But my code is rusty,” responded Hoss.
“Mine isn't,” said Dexy. “Let's find some suitable trees and run it.”

Tinker and Slim helped them run the antenna wire, while Chewy kept guard. With the antenna strung, Hoss pulled a modified key out of his pack and handed it to Dexy. She connected it to the expansion pack. They were all set.
“What you waiting for?” asked Tinker.
“Top of the hour,” replied Dexy. “Something is wrong at the post. Sergeant Rice gave me the code for a Morse transmission. Hardly anybody uses it anymore. We either start at the top of the hour or bottom of the hour.”
“Oh,” was Tinker's response.

Before the top of the hour, Dexy fired up her radio. She kept her left wrist turned enough to see her watch while gripping one side of a block the code key was attached to. Hoss had both hands steadying the block as well. Everybody else could tell it was time by the shift in Dexy's wrist and her right thumb and index finger moving back and forth. It didn't last long. Then tones started coming from Dexy's radio. These didn't last very long either.
Hoss spoke first, “Not good.”
“What?” asked Tinker.
“Everybody's confined to post,” said Dexy. “Rice will contact us in thirty-five minutes.”
“What about the top of the hour, bottom of the hour thing?” asked Tinker.
“That's for initial contact or when a specified time for transmissions hasn't been established,” replied Dexy.
“What are we going to do about food?” asked Chewy.
“Don't know unless we kill something,” replied Dexy. “At least we have water close by.”
“Wild life should be around here since the subdivision has been empty for so long,” said Slim.
Tinker spoke up, “Hey, wasn't there supposed to be a mortuary team come out? We should have heard the vehicles.”
“You're right,” said Dexy. “Slim keep your radio on. If you hear three clicks a second apart that means somebody's coming. Chewy, Tinker go with him to the assembly point. Grab energy bars and canteens first to bring back. Check to see if anybody had the bright idea to bring water purification tabs. Then, start grabbing weapons and ammo. Hide them in case we need them. Come back by way of the creek for water. If necessary, and the lock down lasts a while, we can check the rest later.”
“What about burying them ourselves?” asked Chewy.
“As much as I hate the thought, it's probably best we leave the bodies. No telling how long it would take us to bury seventeen bodies without trenching tools. This was supposed to be a down and dirty mission. No field gear to speak of. No food. No ammo other than what we came with. Everything was based on a small number of hostiles. Why were two squads sent out instead of all four?”
“We're the only company with two platoons of four squads each,” interjected Slim. “We better get moving.”
Slim, Chewy and Tinker headed for the ridge top.
Dexy called out, “Check for radio batteries that haven't gone dead.”
Slim raised his right arm in acknowledgement.
“What do you think?” asked Hoss.
“I hope somebody figures this out quick so we can get back to the post.”

   Slim and company made it quicker down the slope as they had spent some time checking the road, the continuation of the ridge on the other side of the county road, and then the subdivision. They crossed the road West of the small rise that had blocked the view from the East side of the gap and the curve farther West. They then entered a line of trees and shrubs that separated the county road from the access road that ran from South entrance of subdivision North then curved West toward the creek. About midway along the northern section of the access road, they crossed over to a small grove of trees where the APCs had been parked.
   They got a better picture of the place as they had arrived just after sundown the day before. They spread out even further and began moving South. Chewy hadn't even entered the grove itself when he noticed some rubble. Looked like a possible fire pit or barbecue. He side stepped it and headed in. Slim and Tinker skirted the edges. Tinker found the first body. He didn't recognize it. He thought for a moment then set out at a run to find Slim.
He didn't see Chewy as he raced past him. Tinker found Slim kneeling down beside a body. Slim had looked up a the sound of Tinker's boots.
“We got company?” Slim asked.
“No.” answered Tinker. “I thought we should swap since I don't know everybody in second squad.”
“Tink, I'm sure if things were different the families would appreciate your concern, but we don't have much time. Hoss has been with the company the longest, knows just about everybody. Dexy probably knows the entire roster by full name, rank and serial number, not just nicknames.”
“Oh. Okay. Is that Guppy?”
“Yeah. Could of been squad leader a long time ago. Sparks was going for OCS...” Slim realized he was wasting time. “Back to scavenging, quick, Tink”
“Copy.” With that Tinker hustled back. As he passed, Chewy, he said, “Messed up. Gotta hurry.”
Chewy watched Tinker for about five seconds and wondered what the guy had done. He then saw a body to his right and headed toward it.
(To be continued...)