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Yes, I know; I've written walls and walls of text, something I wanted to avoid. I'll try to make it as painless as possible, but sometimes you just have to bear with it. Written in confusing FPS/Diary/Dialogue style.

Fort Akers Hill 0800 12.29.10

The Commander walks in, says "Saddle up! Dawn patrol!"

Well, he's a quite commanding man and we try not to stand up to him. I woke up under an hour ago. I may be conscious, but my brain would wake up hours later.

Yet now I find myself going through a mental checklist for a three-hour dawn patrol. Breakfast, water, tools, weaponry, comms...all looks good. I join my squadmates. They're great friends.

For the patrol,...I think we're supposed to join up with...

...too tired.

"Hey Fender!" I say. Fender's a recon officer. He'll know.

"What?" he says, quietly. He's probably practicing for later.

"Who we patrolling with today?" I ask.

"Ahhh....122nd?"

The Commander has been listening.

"122nd" is the reply.

So we join up with the 122nd. Their radio works. It's not that ours doesn't, but supplies are kinda tight and ours got shot up at Le Chariot. So they get to talk to the base.

To prove my point, here's the radio man, chatting away as though he was the Morning news anchor. Why does anybody have any energy anymore at this ungodly hour in this ungodly country?

"Net Call, Trojan Horse Eight. Leaving gate."

"Trojan Horse Eight, copy."

That means that we are leaving. Obviously. I signed up for communications, but no! I got infantry! Now, half the time, I don't know what he's saying on the radio. It's mockery.

Ahh! It's so cold!

It's a couple of days after Christmas, and morning! No mental processing for this. Ah well. Just follow along, scan the horizon for suspicion, report it and deal with it. Simple.

Forest, 0912 hrs

I'm walking along. Leaves. All orange. And it's cold.

These trees. I've passed one, I've passed them all.

At about nine, we splintered off. Instead of one group of twenty, there are ten groups of two. I'm with the radioman. Opportunity to talk about radio. We decide to sit down and enjoy breakfast. I set down my rifle and entrenching tools. I get the breakfast out. Not much, it's scrambled eggs. But we eat.

"So..." I say in my poor attempt to break the ice.

He looks up from his can.

"How hard is it to be a radioman?"

Now he sets down the can and spoon. "Not that hard, all you have to do is format your transmissions. Use callsigns and vocabulary."

"Ah. I signed up for radio, but I didn't get it."

We eat and talk a bit, but I don't know him too well. Now it's...Nine twenty-two. We're late.

"We're late. Get up." I say.

He surprises me. I think he outranks me, or something. He's certainly been here a lot longer than me. But he listens. Now we're walking, packs stowed away. We're supposed to meet up with another two-man group, making five groups of four.

Ah! What is that!?

"Stay down!" I whisper fiercely and make a hand gesture. He hugs the ground, I almost fall. But that's my instinct, just hit the dirt.

If I wasn't awake before, I am now. There are two men in the distance, with...M-16's. Oh. I get up, brushing leaves off of myself and walking towards our rendezvous. The radioman follows, pretty annoyed at me. Yep. It's two Majors. My seniors. Just my luck.

"Captain, what was that?" He says to me. To my face, really.

"Sorry, sir, I didn't know it was you. Was just trying to stay sharp."

The other major chimes in. "Ahh, let him off the hook. You did the right thing. Had we been enemies, you would be safe."

"Yes, sir, Thank you, sir." I say.

I join with them, and now we're supposed to walk back to our splinter point. I hate this. All we do is march out to the leaves in the cold, cold forest, look around, say "Nothing's there!" and go back. I keep walking, but I've shifted my rifle so that I am hanging on to the top handle. Nothing to use it for, anyway.

"Hey."

"What?"

"They had an exhibition game on the 23rd."

"Who was it?"

This conversation is making me fall asleep. Two Majors talking. I don't even care anymore. If it were orders...ah, I wouldn't care either way. Maybe a bit, but not with my level of consciousness.

The leaves rustle, rifle in my hand, an argument about which team was better, whatever. I miss my family. My wife, my little daughter...why did they take me away from them, when all we do is walk in the forest? Doesn't seem fair. But then again, not much is.

The trouble, 0938 hrs.

"Net call, net call, India Romeo! Large number Eruseans! Pinned down! Support needed! Grid Two-Tango!" crackles the radio.

"Net call receives. Dispatching." the radioman, also half asleep, now spring into action and pulls out a map.

After consulting his map and taking in a few figures, he remembers that there are other soldiers around him.

"Did you hear that?" he says, suddenly looking up.

"Masters, sitrep!" the major barks at the radioman.

"Yes sir! Unit India Romeo is pinned down six miles East of here. Seems pretty heavy."

"Call the base. See what we can do!"

"Yes, sir!"

I can't believe this. They are actually fighting over near the lake. And we'll go help.

All of a sudden I am comfortable with just walking in the woods, like combat was unheard of. I don't want to go over there, let someone else do it. I am dreadstruck, and then the other Major sees me.

"Soldier, combat-ready?"

What am I supposed to say?

"To be honest, sir--"

"Soldier, there is a good chance you have been in this army long enough. This army is now more combat ready than any other. Even those Oseans in Yuktobania. You are better, and you will do your job!"

Oh my God, that was so cliche.

"Yes sir!" I respond. I didn't think that helped. But that's all I have to cling on to. Now I gotta work. Gotta get up, gotta work. Right.

"Net Call, this is Trojan Horse Eight. We heard about the combat, requesting tasking orders." Says the radioman. Masters, I think his name is.

"Trojan Horse Eight, return to base. Orders and ammunition there." The guy back at the base seems so relaxed, I guess that's part of the job. The radioman is talking, the Majors are checking maps, I feel useless.

"Trojan Horse Ei--"

And he goes down. I hear a loud gunshot, then I hit the dirt. The majors both go down, then pop their heads up to look for enemy.

"CONTACT! Nine o'clock!"

I shift over to my left and raise my rifle. There are two Eruseans.

"Trojan Horse Eight, copy?" crackles the radio.

There WERE two Eruseans. The Majors got both of them.

I crawl over to the radio. Thank God I'm a good listener, otherwise we'd all be dead. I pick out the radio from the radioman's clutch. Headshot. No saving that.

The radio feels cold, and the telephone chills my ear.

"Net call, net call, Trojan Horse Eight. Ah, the radioman's dead. Three-man team out at--"

The radio is snatched from my hand by the Major.

"The three man team one KIA, two EKIAs, regrouping at the original location, then returning to Fort Akers for further orders."

"Net call receives. Expecting nineteen man team's return in fifteen, over."

The Major yells. We're right here, why does he yell.

"Time for the snow to fall."

And then I realize it. I've been in the army for near two months now. Sixty days, and I've been training each day. Sixty days of hardcore education, a gutful of Wielvakia, a heavy gun at my hands and these words are enough to make me want some action. I guess I've been desiring some action these cold months, but this is just surprising, how fast it is. I start to follow them, and I forget about a rank. We're on equal footing.

The fighting, 1000 hrs.

As we walk along, I can hear the popping of gunshots off in the distance. Artillery fire has started as well. It's as if the entire country decided to fight us today.

I do a checklist of my inventory. Ammo? Check.

Ok.

The Majors stop. Slowly, they get down. I follow their lead, but I crouch in the opposite direction, to protect the rear.

I don't know what they saw, but it must have been pretty intense, because they're still lying down. I hear small whispering.

They're calling shots. Some poor Erusean is about to get sniped.

I am still covering the rear when I hear a loud crack from behind my position.

"Kill confirm."

"Oh yeah."

The majors get up and dust themselves off, and so I follow. We'll just work our way back to the base like this, taking out any resistance along the way.

After another half an hour of walking, I realize how far out we've patrolled. This is actually impressive.

TING!

I again hit the ground. This time I see enemy. He's at my eight o'clock, armed with a submachine gun.

I turn in his direction and see him running at me. He probably thought I was dead and is confirming his kill.

This is it!

As he is five yards away from me, I raise my rifle to my eyes and line up the sight. I pull the trigger and put a bullet through his leg. He falls, and screams.

I get up and point the rifle at his face. I see fear, and I'm just about to start shouting at him when one of the Majors shoots him in the head.

I'm taken by surprise at how loud the shot was (since my rifle, for some reason, is silenced). I see the Major standing near me. Instead of shouting at me, he asks me how I'm doing.

"I'm fine. I don't k-know what t-the bullet..b-b-bounced..."

I can't even manage any words. I look down at the radio and see that the corner has been grazed off.

I get down and check it, trying to call the base.

"Net call-"

Static is the return. Fear now interrupts all of my thoughts.

The Majors discuss the soldier we just killed.

"Look at this, he's recon scout."

"Any info on him?"

"No, and he wasn't really armed, either."

"Why would they leave a single recon scout out here alone and poorly armed?"

Unfortunately, he gets his answer. Gunshots pop off from a small mound about sixty yards off. I stay down and check were the fire's coming from.

Don't mess this up.

"Contact behind the mound," I shout.

I raise my rifle again and point at the mound. As I'm about to just point some bullets into the mound itself, I see someone climbing to the top.

It's an enemy, with a light machine gun in his hands.

I aim at him and pull the trigger four times.

pingpingpingpingpingping

He falls, dropping his rifle. Someone comes up to help him, and I shoot them too.

The majors start to fire, and they soon get up to charge at the mound.

I stay, partly because I'm too weak in the legs to get up at this point. To them, it looks like I'm offering some rear support. It's a win-win situation.

They charge, and I see them mount the mound. The take a look behind, and their rifles immediately light up.

Oh God, this is how it is?

"Regroup on me!" I hear a major shout.

I start to crawl, but then I realize it's sixty yards. Oh well, that's the price I pay to stay alive.

"We'll cover you, just regroup over here!" I hear another shout.

I stop, and muster some will to get up. I run to the mound, and then have a look behind.

It's an enemy camp, decorated with sleeping bags, maps, ammo, and the now deceased occupants.

It's also quite well dug in. They must have been here forever to be able to dig that.

The Majors drop their gear. It seems like we'll be staying here a bit.

"Conn! Cover our rear!"

"Yes, sir!"

I kneel and point my rifle south of the mound, while the Majors crawl to the top and look north, in the direction we came from.

"Oh, no. How many is that?" one asks.

"I'd say sixty." the other replies.

Wait, what?! SIXTY?!

"HOW MANY?" I shout.

"SHHH!!!!" they shush me, and I realize I'm giving away my position.

"Sixty, Captain. All around us. About 150 yards, in a circle around us."

"What's the plan, then?" I ask.

"Hopefully, if they didn't hear you, we can just camp here for the better part of the afternoon, and then allies will bail us out this evening." The Major says.

"The trouble will be keeping quiet." The other says. "But for now, just get under the mound."

The siege, 1045 hrs.

The mound is, well, a mound. It's an 8ft hill of dirt. The hole that the dirt came from is now serving as a foxhole. There's some survival supplies inside: some water and food. The mound is north of the foxhole, leaving the south of the foxhole exposed.

And it's my job to cover it.

The majors and I get in the hole. We put our rifles down and one crosses his arms.

"Ok, let's sort this out. We'll start from the beginning. So first off, Fort Akers is under attack."

"Not the whole fort. Maybe just this north part, where we're patrolled."

"Wait..." the first Major gets out a map. "Ok, so we're patrolled here." he says, pointing to the dawn patrol's rendezvous location.

"Sure."

"We split off here, and we were in groups of two. We gradually started to rendezvous here and here, that's where we met Conn and Pierson."

"Ok."

"Pierson's dead."

I have a mini heart attack as I remember Pierson. He was just chattering this morning as we left the gate, and then he got shot. I didn't even cry for him...I just took his radio. Why? Was I that greedy!? Why didn't I just stop for a moment?!

"Hey...hey!" one of the Majors sees me. "Don't lose it on me!"

"But sir, the radio...I just stole it from him..."

"Better you than him!" The other has joined in. "He would have wanted you to have it. Do this for him. Communicate for him!"

"Ok...ok." I say.

"Now, we're a group of three. We went from here to here."

On the map, his finger travels from where our rendezvous point was, northwest of the base, all the way to the direct west from the base. We're also a lot further out.

"We're here. Radio: Doesn't work. Ammunition: Let's do a count."

"I have fifty-one bullets plus fourteen buckshots, sir." I say after counting.

"I have sixty rounds for the M16, twenty rounds for the beretta, and twelve rounds for the M40."

"I've got sixty plus fourteen." After tallying the counts and adding them, he returns. "We've got one hundred seventy-one rounds between us three for the M16, Conn can keep his buckshots, you can keep your M40 rounds, and we have thirty-two Beretta rounds between us."

"Thirty-four," the other corrects him.

"Let's redistribute. Fifty-seven M16 rounds apiece, and seventeen pistol rounds each for us two."

We remove our mags and dump all of the ammo onto the ground into one big pile. I pick up fifty-seven rounds and put fourteen rounds in each of my four mags. One mag has fifteen, which I reload my rifle with.

Now that the math lesson is over, the Majors get back to business.

"We are camped here," pointing to the map, "with sufficient ammo and food."

I look at his name tag. It says "Graham".

"But we're behind on manpower," says the other. His nametag says "Gieralt". Major Graham is the younger fellow, Gieralt is the stricter one. Ok.

"It doesn't matter." Graham says. "Ammo ok, survival ok...no one's injured, right?"

No one answers.

"Ok. Conn, how's the radio?" Graham asks.

"Uh..." I pick up the telephone receiver and attempt to place a net call to Fort Akers.

"Net call, net call, this is Trojan Horse Eight." I say.

Static is the return.

"Radio's not working, sir." I say to Graham.

"Ok. So we're well armed, but have no way to talk to anything outside of the Erusean perimeter and no way to get out."

"We could shoot our way out." Gieralt says.

"Against 60? I don't think so." Graham says.

"Well, unless we can get some type of signal out, I don't think we're leaving anytime soon." Graham says.

"What are we going to do?" I ask.

"Captain Conn, we will just stay here. Why don't you organize this space a bit. All the bodies go over there, near that tree. Their guns and ammunition go in the foxhole. Any intel they have, guard with your life. Gierart, you and I will observe the enemy a bit longer."

"Should I get the radio working?" I ask.

"Sure." Graham says. They get up out of the hole with a pair of binoculars a sniper rifle, and their rifles. They climb to the top of the mound and set up there.

I sit and examine the radio. The radio is a gray box the shape and size of a lunchbox. A black, corded telephone is resting on a hook. The printed words "Trojan Horse 8" are taped to the radio. And the bottom corner is missing, because it was shot off.

"I see one, 80 yards out." Graham says.

"Oh yeah." Gieralt says.

"He's bringing three of his friends with him. He's got a radio. He could report our position." Graham says.

"Conn." Gieralt whispers.

"What?" I whisper back.

"Check our rear, make sure no one sees us." he replies.

"You take the shot, I'll cover. Conn, get ready to return any fire we may take." Graham says, turning around to the south.

I kneel in the foxhole, ready to return fire. The enemy RTO is about to die.

And his radio probably works.

A long pause passes.

After an eternity, I hear Gieralt.

"Does anyone have any silencers?"

Graham, sighing, points to the sniper bag in the foxhole. I open the bag and hand him a silencer. He screws it on and returns to his position.

Another pause passes.

I hear a crack, and then the reloading spring. A bullet tinkles to the ground as Gieralt reloads. Another shot, and a reload. A third and fourth follow.

Gieralt exhales.

"Four enemies down."

"Ok. I can't confirm you killed them, but..." Graham turns around, and then confirms a downed enemy.

Two minutes pass, and I wait for an Erusean assault that doesn't happen.

"Conn." Gieralt whispers.

"What?" I whisper back.

"Go steal the radio. We'll cover you." Gieralt says.

I am struck with a feeling of death as I climb out of the foxhole. I run in a half kneel to the bodies. I know that Gieralt is watching me and protecting me, but I can't shake the feeling of death.

One of the bodies has the radio. I lie down next ot it and take the radio from his dead hands. Not wanting to be here any longer, I get back up and dash back to the hole.

"We've got company to the south. Ten Eruseans, well armed, one's got an RPG." Graham says.

"Conn! Get ready!" Gieralt says.

"You too! YOu've only got one round left!" I say. I crouch in the hole so that I can barely see out of it.

Gieralt reloads, and turns around.

Graham's voice is a whisper now as we prepare for a fight.

"Let them get in close, then you lay some buckshots on them."

"Ok." I prepare the undermounted shotgun.

"Thirty yards."

MY heart is pounding. I'm not sure I'm ready to defend this small mound of dirt.

"Twenty."

I think about the Majors, and about how they've kept me alive. I'll defend them."

"Ten yards."

I peek out of the hole and see ten Eruseans, wandering cautiously toward the mound.

Gieralt's rifle goes off behind me and kills the leader of the firesquad.

I pop up and aim a buckshot at the thickest area of enemy. Four Eruseans fall, screaming. I must not have killed them.

Graham opens fire with his rifle.

The Eruseans fire back, but also pull back.

I cock the shotgun and pop up to fire a second round. And then a third. I kill three Eruseans, Graham kills four, and Gieralt kills two.

Gieralt is about to snipe the third one, who is now running back to the perimeter.

BING

"AAAHHH!"

Gieralt is howling with pain.

"Gieralt!" Graham screams.

I pop up, forgetting about danger, and check on Gieralt.

He is doubled over, and his hands are in his face.

Graham shakes him, and Gieralt hits him. He's still alive.

We hoist him into the hole, where we take his hands away from his face. 

His front teeth are all bloodied, two are missing, and his lips are swollen.

"Where'd you get hit?" Graham asks as I apply some cold water to his mouth.

"I got hit with the recoil." Gieralt replies.

"Jesus Christ." Graham says. "Conn, you get the radio working?"

"It's just static," I reply. "I'll call Fort Akers on the Erusean radio."

I leave Gieralt in one corner of the hole, and go to the other, where I have the radio. Picking it up, I use the Wielvakian callsign to call Fort Akers.

Still static. I don't get it.

"It's just static. I thought this one worked." I say to Graham, who has joined me in the hole.

"Inde Tango, où êtes-vous?" a voice answers on the radio.

"Why can we receive from..."

"I know why." Gieralt says. He sounds different, because his teeth are all messed up. "The entire Fort Akers area is being attacked, right? The antenna at the hill must be down. Try calling another unit."

"Call India Romeo. The'yre supposed to be near here."

"Trojan Horse Eight to India Romeo. Do you copy?" I say into the radio.

Thirty long seconds pass.

"TROJAN HORSE EIGHT, KILO MIKE READS YOU LOUD AND CLEAR! WHERE ARE YOU?"

The soldier's voice comes back to me along with the sound of gunshots in the background. Yet, it's a glistening beam of light in our darkness. It's time to get out of here.

"Kilo Mike, this is Trojan Horse Eight. Three-man team at grid--"

Graham puts a map in front of me, and points to our location.

"Grid Alpha Tango three five four. We're surrounded by fifty Eruseans, about..."

I pop my head up, and see a wall of Eruseans sixty yards away.

"Sixty yards out. We request artillery support and evac at or around grid Alpha Tango three five four."

"Roger, airstrike and evac at grid Alpha Tango three five four. Expect them in an hour."

"We don't have an hour. We're down to three combat-ready men, surrounded by fifty!" I shout. Graham shushes me.

"You picked a terrible time and place to call for fire support. The entire base is being attacked. Air support comes in an hour. Just hold out for me!"

"Can't it come sooner?" Graham asks me.

"Can't," I say, "The're all engaged. Guess we'll just have to hold out."

"Well," Graham says as he pops his head up, "I guess we have time to eat. I'll eat with Gieralt, and you keep sniper overwatch. We'll switch after we're done, and you eat."

"Cool, but I can't shoot." I say.

"It's easy. you're lucky, because they're close enough that you don't have to do math. Just point and shoot. Make small corrections for wind and aim a bit up for further targets. And stay hidden."

"Sure," I say sarcastically.

I climb out of the hole and stay prone on the ground. I crawl up the mound, where I find a beige colored M40. It's pretty sleek. I get behind it, and check the safety. The safety is off.

Good.

I check the ammo, and I find a full load. Good. One last check.

Looking through the scope, I find a level of precision that makes me proud of what I do. The scope has two crosshairs, obviously. But below the intersection, there is a red arrow that indicates the center of the scope. Just point and shoot. But if I needed to do math, there are evenly spaced lines below the center. Each line is shorter than the one above it, which represents the mils on the horizontal axis. The scope's magnification allows me to see the most minute details on the tree fifty yards away.

It also allows me to see the enemy perimeter quite well.

"Graham, you guys can take your time." I say.

"Sure. Gieralt can't eat too well, anyway. Speaking of which, move your head a bit back, so the recoil doesn't kill you. Also helps your field of view."

I move my head back, so I can see the entire forest and a small portion of it at the same time.

I am up here for twenty minutes, scanning all of the sectors around me.

"Trojan Horse Eight, air support is thirty minutes out," says the radio.

"Trojan Horse Eight copies," Gieralt says.

After another while, I scan to a point southwest of where we are. That's the direction we came from. I can tell because the RTO I killed is still out there.

The leaves next to him rustle. Aiming beyond him, I see four Eruseans with LMGs each, crouching toward our mound.

"Graham, I've got something to the southwest. Four Eruseans, with LMGs. Help me out." I whisper.

"Ok. Listen to me." He picks up his binoculars. "I see them, thirty yards away. Aim at the one closest to us. Shoot when I say."

I train the red arrow on the forehead of an Erusean with an LMG my age. I don't concentrate on him any longer because I'm afraid I'll sympathize with him.

Graham throws a small black cylinder to their feet. It detonates, leaving all four blinded and deafened. I don't hear the order to shoot, but I pull the trigger anyway.

I see the Erusean fall, and the others startle. I try to reload quickly, but I can't find the handle. I pop out to look for it and I quicly memorizze its location. I reload and aim at the second one.

I shoot, and he dies too. But he's not the second one, he's the last one. Graham has killed the rest.

"Good job, Conn. Keep scanning the perimeter, see if they're excited."

I check at sixty yards out, but they've moved close, from sixty to forty.

"Graham, Gieralt, they're all at forty yards." I say.

The circle of enemies at forty yards away erupts in a circle of bullets and noise. I quickly grab the rifle and jump back into the hole, almost hitting Gieralt in the process.

"Wrsh ih!" shouts Gieralt!

Graham takes the rifle from me, and then Gieralt stands up. I take my rifle and aim at the nearest Erusean. I kill him.

I kill four more Eruseans. At this point, I don't care about death. I would rather die here with these guys than die at home, or with any other Wielvakian here. I don't even care what the radio just said. I just care about defending our outpost.

A whooshing noise turns into a roar as a bomb explodes twenty yards behind us. The mound is disturbed, and sand and dirt starts to fall from it. We duck our heads down instinctively, and while we are looking down, another bomb explodes which unlodges so much dirt, we're up to our shins in it.

The popping noise of gunfire has stopped, and the whooshing is gone.

"Trojan Horse Eight, exfil is landing eighty yards south of your location."

I pick up the radio and get ready to run for it, but Graham stops me.

"Way or tem to shtop."

I wait for any more firing. There isn't any. We get up and walk in a formation to the helicopter. I am far left, Graham is middle, and Gieralt is right.

The helicopter has landed just before a creek. Wielvakian soldiers are guarding a circle around it, and we board the chopper. Our siege is over.

The airlift and redeployment, 1451 hrs

The chopper lifts off in a clump of metal, wind, and noise. I look back at the forest, at the mound that used to be ours.

We climb higher, and I see smoke rising from several locations in the forest. Off in the distance is Fort Akers, also smoke-ridden.

I turn my head back to the helicopter cabin. The soldiers sitting across from us are all silent, like they're observing us.

One of them speaks up.

"You boys ok? You sure look like you've been through a lot. Especially that one there," he says, pointing at me. "He doesn't look so good, either."

He points to Gieralt, who is sitting with a swollen mouth. He's staring at a wall, something they call the thousand-yard stare.

"Nahh, he isn't," I say. "He got hit with some recoil."

"You ok?" the soldier asks.

"Fwine," Gieralt mumbles, "I'm fwine."

"You don't sound fine. You need first aid?"

"No."

"So what happens now?" Graham asks.

"Who's your CO?" He asks.

"Is Commander Olivero still alive?" Graham asks. Ha, old Ollie.

"Olivero...Olivero...Nope."

WHAT?

"How about anyone from the dawn patrol this morning? 122nd, 368th?"

"122nd is down to four, they're controlling a bridge south of here. 368th, I heard, was doing ammo runs from the fort to the North line."

"Cuh we're one twenty-thecond, he'th three thixty-eighth." Gieralt says.

"How many are on 368th?" I ask.

"I don't...anybody know how 368th's doing?" He asks around the cabin. I check his name quickly. Lieutenant Major Andrei.

No one answers him. I'm not about to lose my firesquad now.

I check in the radio, where I find signal codes that I grabbed off of the guy this morning. They're under the callsign "Juliet Golf."

"Juliet golf, this is Trojan Horse Eight. Give me a sitrep." I say.

"Trojan Horse Eight, how are things on the bridge?" They ask. They think that the 122nd is calling.

"Juliet Golf, Trojan Horse Eight. This is Captain Conn. I'm using their radio. How are things?"

A pause.

"Conman, we're we're still on the North side. Thought you were KIA. We're down to six, not counting you. You going to rejoin?" They ask me.

"Sure." I say. Turning to the cabin, I speak to Andrei first.

"Lieutenant Major, if it's ok with you, I'd like to rejoin my squad."

"Sure. Majors, how do you feel?"

"We'll reshoin ours, too. 122nd."

"Ok. Next stop, North gate, Fort Akers, 368th." Andrei says.

"Conn!" Gieralt says.

I turn to him, and I see him going for a handshake. I return it, and we also salute each other.

"Keep fighting," I say to him.

"Good job, hope we can meet up again." Graham says. We salute and shake hands.

The helicopter lowers and I get out at the North gate. After it leaves, I see that everything has fallen apart here. The gate is gone, the wall is almost gone, and there are bodies about twenty yards into the forest. Some Erusean, some Wielvakian.

I turn away, and look at the ground for a couple of minutes while I wait for my firesquad.

Oh God, the memories come back. This morning, talking to the RTO...his name was Nielsen, and he died, and I stole his radio. I met with the Majors, and I killed two people later. e had to hide in that awfully small hole, surrounded by all those people we killed......and by a large number of people and bullets......WHY AM I ALIVE? And then I killed two others so quickly no one had time to react. and finally, they all died by two bombs...

"CONN!"

I am overcome with an unbearable weight. I am so tired, and so sad. If I could just wake up, or maybe fall asleep forever...

"CONN! You're still alive?!"

I am awoken from my nightmare...no, day-mare by the 368th firesquad. Six of them now.

I stare at this dude's face for a bit, trying to figure out what's going on. I am also trying to shut out what I had just experienced.

It's Cat. I'm looking at my friend, Cat. Around him are the other guys I left on patrol with this morning. They're taking mags, grenades, and pretty much any other type of weapon available, and loading it on to an armored truck. Some others are in another truck behind, with sandbags around it and two or three rifles in it.

One of which is an M40.

"Conn...you ok?" Cat says.

"Yeah," I say, feeling a lump in my throat, "I'm fine."

"Ok...this is the sitrep. We were on patrol this morning, then the whole base got hit, you know. Most of us regrouped, but you were too far away. We managed to hold a line on the north side, but we lost Ollie and Deadeye......sorry. We got reinforced, and now they're holding the north and we're bringing ammo and supplies in the front truck and covering it with the back one."

"Ok," I say, realizing the task at hand. "What do I have to do?"

"Well, unless you've magically leaned how to sharpshoot..."

"I can do it," I say, and then I remember who taught me how to, and what I did. But I push it back.

"Good. Let's go!"

Godfrey, Hurricane and I get in the back of a pickup truck, while Cat and another get in the front truck. Two others are in this truck: one to drive, and one to shoot out the window.

We get rolling. I sit. A large boom shakes the horizon in front of us.

It's probably a bomb.

The others in the trunk cheer, and I see an F-14 streak out of the forest. The sound of gunfire diminishes. But whose gunfire?

"Hey, who's covering the rear?" I ask.

"That would be you," Hurricane says. "We're watching the road ahead. But this stretch is secure. It's about another five minutes before we see action."

"Yeah. I don't suppose you would be ok with me opening the trunk and firing out the back?"

"Not now, but next trip." Godfrey says.

I take up a sitting position and point the rifle out the back. I check the safety, ammo, and scope. All seems to be in order.

Staring into the scope, I see more endless forest, and some creeks and hills.

"Wonder if they're digging in out there," I say to no one in particular.

"Here we go. Get your head down, Conman."

I almost forgot my name was Conman, but I get my head down. I stare at the bed of the truck. The feel of the rifle reminds me of how insecure I was when I first used one. And how dreadfully good I was at it later on...

"Ok! Everybody help unload!"

We've stopped, and everybody dismounts and unloads supplies out of the front truck. We're in a clearing, and I see a stone barn about a hundred yards away. It's nice to see that it's survived.

I am about to get off when I hear a BAM from in the barn. I duck, and then locate the barn again. I look at it in the scope, and then see something in the window.

"Sniper! Get down!" Cat yells.

"Where is he?"

"In the forest! Get on this side of the truck!"

"NO!" I yell. "HE'S IN THE BARN!"

I can't begin to figure out how to zoom in, so I forget it. I'm doing this uncorrected.

Not quite. I estimate the distance at one hundred yards, so I aim up two marks. I can see him in the window, dressed in black, crouching, waiting for us to return fire.

"No one return fire," I say. I doubt they'd listen to me.

I am ready to shoot when two things happen. He shoots again, and almost hits Cat's position. Obviously, this guy's trying to kill an officer (or whatever Cat thinks he is).

The second thing is, I remember where the reload handle is, and I place my hand around there. I quickly run through a checklist I made up this morning.

Ammo, safety, optics, check.

Reload, check.

Posture?

I slide my head back a bit, but I don't lose my target.

He fires again. This time, he's trying to shoot the driver of the back truck. One more shot from him and it's lights out for me.

"Conman, in the barn!" Hurricane says to me. I've already known this.

Finally, distance and wind?

I check for distance. Two marks up. Wind? I aim at his left cheek, just to be safe.

I shoot. I am not aware of a loud bang, but I feel recoil. I see the entire left side of his face explode in blood, and he falls. No one else leaves the barn.

I reload, and wait a bit longer. After five minutes, I am sure he's dead. But he died alone. And that makes my score at four or five today.

"Good shot, Conman, Deadeye would be proud," Godfrey says.

So would Graham.

We unload supplies, and then head back. While we are back, I open the rear of the bed, and shift sandbags so I can shoot out of the back safely. I begin to get used to where the "hot zone" is, which is when we go down a hill and into a clearing.

The End, 1800 hrs

We make six more trips. Each trip takes fifteen minutes, and we finish at five-thirty. Three of those trips were not for weapons, but for returning soldiers. Most of the squads have a healthy number of seven, like ours.

We're just sitting and leaning against a wall, talking and catching our breath, when at six fifteen, I see about four A-10's fly over with a full load.

Oh God, please don't just flatten anyone anymore. We're all tired and dead. Let's just call the whole thing off and just go home.

But they don't drop anything. They leave.

And it's oddly quiet after.

The radio rings in three tunes. It scares me, and i jump. I know I'm not alone, but Cat singles me out.

"Ha, look how pale you are!"

Lieutenant General Conrad is addressing all the units.

"This is Lieutenant General Conrad. At 1800 hours today, the Erusean forces involved in the recapture attempt retreated back to the North in surrender. Fort Akers is still under Wielvakian control."

Cheers and shouts erupt from around me.

"However, we cannot forget to honor those killed, those injured, those captured, or those missing. A moment of silence for them, please."

Silence.

"Thank you. Clean up protocols will follow tomorrow, but for now, relax, stay on guard, and remember the dead and their cause...victory. VICTORY TO WIELVAKIA!"

I jump up, and my squad engages in a soccer goal-like jumping celebration. I wonder for a second about how Gieralt and Graham held up, but I don't think about it for now.

The sun goes down over the hill that we, all of us, have just proven as our own.

Epilogue

The Defense of Fort Akers ended up as a victory for the Wielvakians, as the hill was surrendered by Erusean Army. However, victory did not come so easily for Wielvakia. Out of the three thousand stationed there, six hundred twelve died.

Captain Conn, and Majors Graham and Gieralt met up the next morning, finding each other intact, where they secured as many bodies as they could. The bodies were later burned, and their ashes spread over the fields.

Captain Conn finished his tour in Erusea, and returned home to his family. However, he still suffers from periodic nightmares and flashbacks, and has become a quieter person, never sharing the events of that day.

Major Gieralt also served a full tour, and received treatment and dentures for his injuries. He, too, suffers from semi-recurring memories.

Major Graham was reported Killed In Action two miles outside of a Southern Erusean town. He was 27. He has been given a posthumous promotion to Commander and is survived by his brother and sister.

A Fort Akers memorial is located both at the hill's North gate as well as the field where the soldiers were cremated.

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