Authors: Terry Lefler
“Run Tucker! Run!”
“Too late, Sarge! It’s too late. They’re all around us.
Nothing to do now, but to kill as many as we can.”
Sergeant Cade Westerling is up and running as he yells: “No! Come
with me! If we get to the trees we can get lost. COME ON! “
“OK. Right behind you. You cover the left. I’ll get the
right,” PFC Tommy Tucker says.
PFC Tucker’s semi-automatic rifle fire takes out a laser canon unit,
while it is still being set up. Sergeant Westerling kills at least six
enemy soldiers as they exit a hover. A lucky shot ricochets off of the
hovers armored hatchway, and strikes the main fuel cell, causing the hover to
explode and to light up the night sky. The flames enable other hovers to
see the fleeing Alliance soldiers, and they begin to target the duo, with rifle
fire. The two Alliance soldiers sprint from boulder to boulder, as they
move toward the forest.
The hovers are armored, but the enemy riflemen are exposed as they lean
out, to aim. Westerling and Tucker stop long enough to pick off a couple
of the riflemen. Taking casualties convinces the hovers to move out of
range of the rifle fire, and to begin their landing runs. The hovers are
positioning themselves, so that the escape route to the forest will be cut off.
“This way, Tucker,” the Sergeant says. “We need to kill the crew
and take one of those hovers.”
“Go! Go! Go!” yells PFC Tucker, as an impelled plasma burst ignites the
ground near his boots. “I’m right behind you.”
Sgt Westerling throws two grenades at the enemy soldiers, who are
disembarking from a hover. The explosions kill about half of them, and
send the rest into hiding.
The hover pilot is trying to lift off, in order to get to the safety of
the air, but the exit ramp is still down and the hatchway is open. The
Sergeant flips his rifle, to automatic, and pulls the trigger. The
flechettes slice through the pilot’s seat, and then through the pilot.
The hover drops to the ground, spins around, and begins to scoot along the
grass, toward the cliff. It’s coming right at the humans!
“Let’s go!” Sgt Westerling yells, as the hover scoots by. The
Sergeant grabs onto the hand rail at the hatchway door, and pulls himself
aboard. PFC Tucker is running, trying to catch the scooting hover.
He throws his rifle into the hover, and makes one last sprint to launches
himself into the hatchway. He’s short of the mark, but Sgt Westerling
holds onto the handrail and extends far enough, so that the PFC is able to grab
his arm. Sgt Westerling pulls PFC Tucker into the doorway, until he can
grab a handrail. Then they both make their way to the pilot’s seat, just
as the hover is going over the cliff.
Neither of them knows how to fly a hover, but they have both seen it
done. They yank the dead pilot away from the controls, and pull back on
the lever that controls altitude. They are over the cliff now and headed
down, at about a 30 degree angle. Their prognosis is poor, but still
better than the hopeless situation that they have just left. Even a crash
landing, which they can walk away from, will be a good outcome for this
The hover is cutting off treetops as it skims across the forest canopy.
The slowing craft dips lower into the trees, causing the vehicle’s altitude and
speed to drop precipitously. The Alliance soldiers hold onto the vessel’s
handholds for dear life, as the hover bounces from tree trunk to tree trunk -
eventually coming to rest in the lower branches of an especially large
On the good side, they are both alive, and are well enough to
travel. They grab their rifles and exit the craft as quickly as
possible. Enemy hovers are already overhead, as they repel down the tree
trunk. Laser fire is raining down through the forest canopy, and follows
them as they zigzag their way toward the river. The river is the dividing
line, between life and death for them.
They can see the river straight ahead – if they can just make it to the
other side, they will be safe - Alliance forces hold the forest on the other
Their scouting party has gathered a lot of good intelligence, but it
won’t do any good unless Sgt Westerling or PFC Tucker can live to tell about
it. Everyone else in the scouting party is dead, and the communications
equipment died with them. They need to cross the river, and they need to
cross it tonight. The Confederation army is massing for a surprise
attack, and the Alliance forces are unprepared.
The hovers are circling overhead, with search lights traveling in
seemingly random and uncoordinated paths. The forest canopy is so thick,
near the river, that not much of the light from the hovers reaches the
ground. Sgt Cade Westerling and PFC Tommy Tucker move away from the
river, and travel upstream toward the bridge, until they are outside of the
search area. There they collapse to the ground, and sit with their backs
against tree trunks - facing in opposite directions so that they can see any
approaching forces. Both of them are exhausted from the physical effort and
from the after-effects of the adrenalin rush, which accompanies a near death
experience. They silently drink some water, eat some chocolate flavored
energy booster, and wait for their minds to come down, from the panic of the
After about 10 minutes, PFC Tucker asks the Sergeant: “How are we going
to cross the river?”
“I don’t know,” Sgt Westerling replies. “But we should probably split-up
and try to cross separately. That way, it will increase the probability
that one of us will make it. At least one of us has to survive and warn
headquarters about the attack.”
“Yeah, splitting up seems right,” PFC Tucker responds, and repeats the
question. “But, do you have any good ideas about how to cross? The
hovers are going to be overhead all night and they, no doubt, have left some
snipers to pick us off, as we cross. And the sentries at the bridge will
have search lights, also. Maybe we should move north of the bridge, or
move south past the search area.”
“This is the narrowest crossing point in the river – that’s why they
built the bridge here,” Sgt Westerling observes. “I think we have to
cross close to the bridge, and we have to do it tonight. I remember
reading about ancient American Indians who could hide underwater, by breathing
through a hollow reed – using it like a snorkel. Let’s think about
that. Another possibility would be to cross right under the bridge, where
their search lights can’t shine.”
“There isn’t much foliage near the bridge, to hide our exit,” PFC Tucker
observes. “And what can we use as a snorkel?”
After a few minutes of thought, the Sergeant says: “OK, here’s the
plan. The Indians used hollow reeds, which grew along the river
bank. I haven’t seen anything like that, here. The only things that
come to mind right now are ‘gun barrels’. We could use our pistol or
rifle barrels …..…. I think it will have to be the rifle barrel, because the
pistol barrel will be too short. And we can use one of our spring clips
to pinch our noses closed.”
“We can load our packs with river rocks, until we have enough ballast to
keep us submerged. We will need to float face-up - a foot, or so, below
the surface. Then we can use one hand to hold the gun barrel in our
mouth, as we walk/swim our way across the river. When we get to the other
side, we can drop the pack of rocks and make our way to the trees. We can
carry our pistols in waterproof bags, but we will need to leave everything else
behind. That means that we are going to need a secluded inlet along the
bank, so that we can prepare the ballast and enter the water, secretly.
Then we will need a secluded place on the other side, so that we can get out of
the water, without the snipers picking us off. Let’s get back to the river,
and look for that kind of situation.”
Tommy agrees, and off they go. They are moving slowly because of
the darkness and the need to move quietly. Even with their night-vision
goggles, the terrain is so uneven that the trip back to the river, takes about
half an hour. They need to get in the water quickly, if they are going to
be across before first-light.
At the river bank, they find an inlet with overgrown foliage, which will
serve as a launching site. And they identify a few possible egress points
on the opposite side of the river. There needs to be a number of
potential landing spots, because there is no telling how far downstream the
current will take them. Maybe they’ll make it across before they reach
the hover search area. If not, they can remain submerged; float past the
hovers; and then exit farther down - they will have to play that by ear.
“There is no need for us to separate,” Sgt Westerling says. “The
river will take care of that for us. Let’s disassemble the rifles, and
load the packs with some rocks. The right ballast weight will have to be
chosen in the water.” Cade Westerling loads ballast rocks into Tommy’s
pack, while he is underwater and breathing through his rifle barrel. Then
Tommy helps Cade prepare his ballast pack, in the same manner.
“Did I mention that the water is cold?” Westerling says.
“Hypothermia will be a problem. We need to get this job done, quickly.”
PFC Tucker goes first. He is under water with his pack on,
and breathing through his rifle barrel. Sgt Cade Westerling guides him
out into the river, and pushes him off - with a prayer.
Then the sergeant gets himself ready. It’s a little awkward without
a helper, but he loads up and then quietly makes his way into the slow moving
current. He just floats until he becomes accustomed to breathing through
the rifle barrel, and gets used to the feel of his boots dragging on the river
bottom. When he feels comfortable with the situation – as comfortable as
he can feel, while freezing – he begins to swim/walk toward the opposite
bank. The physical exertion warms his body, and helps to fight off
That works for a while, and then the river is too deep to touch bottom -
after that, he is scissor-kicking and one-hand swimming. A feeling of
desperation is pushing him to get this river crossing done quickly -
hypothermia is not far away. ……… …….. ……. After what seems like forever,
but is probably less than 30 minutes, his feet begin to drag on the river
bottom again, and he gets an energy surge, caused by the faint hope that he
might actually make it out, alive.
He hasn’t heard any gunfire, or seen any unusual activity from the
hovers. That is reason to hope that Tommy has made the crossing
undetected - that would mean that their mission will be a success. If Sgt
Westerling can survive also, it will be ‘icing on the cake’. He’s
floating face-up, and is dragging his feet on the river bottom, as he searches
the river bank for an indentation - some place that is secluded so that he can
get out of the water undetected. He sees a darker area, and pushes
himself toward it. It’s recessed - not as secluded as he would like, but
he is desperate by this time. He has to get out of the freezing water.
He drops the pack of ballast rocks, and crawls back as far as the
indentation goes. At that point, he removes the riffle barrel from his
mouth, and slowly lifts his face out of the water - and breathes. So far,
He slowly turns over onto his stomach, so that he can crawl out of the water
and onto the river bank. While lying, shivering, on the river bank -
hidden by the grass and bushes - he surveys his situation. Unfortunately,
the trees don’t come all of the way to the river bank in this spot - leaving an
open area of about 15 meters to cross. He looks around for better
options. There doesn’t seem to be any - he will have to make a run for
He gathers his strength; focus his mind; says a prayer; and makes a dash,
for the closest trees. … …. ….…. …. ….. He’s been spotted! He’s
almost to the trees. Lights come on, and the enemy is firing lasers,
projectiles, and impelled plasma. Cade can feel the heat of the plasma,
and hears the sound of flechettes, first hitting the river and then walking up
the beach, toward him. Then the pain. Oh, the pain.
The Augmentation Center
“Where am I? Who am I?” he wonders.
With his eyes still closed, he can feel the hard, cold surface, on which
he is lying. He can see the lights, through his closed eye lids.
There are no noises. He remembers explosions, fear, and pain. “Am I
hurt?” he wonders.
He slows his breathing, to hide the fact that he is awake, and silently
surveys his body, looking for pain and feeling. There is no pain and he
doesn’t sense any parts missing. He begins to open one eye, slightly, and
slowly. Perhaps he is in danger. He needs to find out where he is,
and figure out who he is. “Maybe they think that I’m dead. Perhaps,
I can escape,” he thinks. “Maybe, I am dead.”
He is in a lighted room with white walls. “Could be a
hospital. But, why would the bed be hard and cold? An operating
table, maybe.” He can’t see anything but walls and ceiling. No
noise. No talking. No people moving.
“Who am I? I need to figure that out, before I move. I need
to know who I am, and why I’m here,” he reasons.
“Water - I remember water – cold water. Water over my face,
and I’m cold and scared. I’m hiding under water. People are trying
to kill me. I’m a soldier. Who for? Why am I alone?”
“Now, I’m up, and running,” he recalls. “Then lights from the
bridge, are shining in my eyes - explosions are all around, and the sound, of
bullets, peppering the water, and the sand. Then nothing.”
“I’m dead. I must be dead. There was no way out.”
“Augmented! I’ve been augmented! They picked me up, after I
was dead - pulled my brain out, and put it into a clone.”
He hears footsteps!