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Join date : 2010-05-30
Age : 43
Location : Wintermist

Chapter 4 Empty
PostSubject: Chapter 4   Chapter 4 EmptyMon Jun 28, 2010 2:34 pm

They were uncomfortable shoes, Lt. Brad Gunnings thought to himself, as he walked down the long hallway in his Low Quarter military footwear. He had been giving them in the Officer Cadet School when he enlisted in the Army 15 weeks before. He had been meaning to go out and buy a far more expensive pair, Bates Hi-Shine, all leather, with breathable lining, removable full cushion foot and lightweight rubber outsoles, but he had not had time since his graduation and subsequent posting to the Infantry Training Center at Ft. Benning, Georgia. It was 4 AM, just two hours away from the end of his shift and his feet ached, so he clomped leisurely down the hallway in his very uncomfortable shoes; on his way to what he was sure would be an even more uncomfortable meeting with the NOIC (night officer in charge).

When he reached his destination he stopped in front of the closed door and stared at the name plate that was at eye level in front of him. It read Colonel Russell Hardcastle, followed by the symbol that designated Hardcastle's rank. The Lt. straightened his uniform, stood at attention and prepared himself for the Rusty "Nails" Hardcastle experience. At full attention he knocked on the door.

"Oh Christ. WHAT!" A deep voice bellowed from inside.

"Colonel, Lieutenant Bra…"

He was cut off mid sentence. "Shut up! Enter!" the irritated voice commanded.

The Lt. opened the door and walked in, smartly closing it behind him, then turned to face a room filled with war memorabilia. To one side stood a glass case holding two revolvers that were said to have been fired by Franklin D. Roosevelt while he was with the Rough Riders. On the far wall a half burned, unit flag was framed, supposed to have been use by Ulysses S. Grant at Gettysburg. Yet, the Lt. did not care about any of the trinkets that adorned the room. His focus was on the small, grey haired and sun baked man standing behind an antique cherry wood desk, surrounded by shelves and shelves of matching book cases, each filled with a multitude of military mementos and silver framed photographs of the Colonel with visiting dignitaries.

Colonel Rusty 'Nails' Hardcastle loved the nickname that had been given to him by his men while serving in Viet Nam. He had always felt that it suited his ferocious combat style. In reality he had never realized that what his men called him, 'Rusty Nails', was not because of his military prowess, but because of his lack of ability and harsh treatment of them.

While a Captain assigned to Charlie Company he had the infamous distinction of being one of a handful of leaders that had called in Napalm on his own troops. This had occurred during an ambush he had commanded against a large Viet Cong force, which American intelligence had learned was in the area. However, his poor planning had given the enemy time to smell out the trap and, instead of an easy win, the American forces found themselves in a tough ground fight. Even though they held a superior position and had superior fire power, Hardcastle had panicked. Fearing more for himself and his reputation if his pitiable planning came to light in an after action review, he called for an air strike in his own perimeter. The air strike had the desired effect, wiping out the enemy force. What he successfully covered up was the fact that more of his own troops had been killed by the strike than the enemy. Through creative reconstruction he was able to convey to his superiors that the men had been killed before he had called for the strike. Not only did Hardcastle make it appear that his quick thinking saved the day, he had received a promotion from it. The men in his command knew the truth, but he had bought their silence with special privileges and choice assignments. Time had completely blurred the story of Rusty Hardcastle, incompetent commander, and turned him into a hero. He was very satisfied with his 'Hard as Nails' nickname

He stood now in front of an open window, holding two pieces of paper that he had surreptitiously picked up just before the Lt. entered. He scanned them busily.

"Colonel, we are over…." Gunnings began, only to be interrupted once again.

"Attention!" Hardcastle barked his mouth prim as he looked from his papers at the younger man. "Jesus, Mother Mary and Joseph, what the hell is your malfunction, soldier?" He continued his voice full of superiority.

The Lt. remained silent, knowing that an answer was not necessary.

"I can not believe you came into this office looking like you just fell out of a duffle bag. Do you own an iron?" This question too was not posed to receive an answer. "Did you shine your shoes with a god damn Hershey bar?" The Lt. had been through this before. He had come to realize that Hardcastle always needed to establish a pecking order. And he was the low man on the totem pole.

"Colonel, I apologize for my uniform." He answered, his voice kept carefully neutral so as not to antagonize the man. "However sir, I need to report to you that Ranger Training Station 14 is overdue for their report and we are getting no response when trying to raise them." This was not a big deal for, despite the Army's constant enforcement of discipline, frequently someone would forget to make a phone call or miss a log-in time. However, in the short time Gunning had been dealing with the Colonel, he knew to report everything to the man, however insignificant. For when Rusty Nails was on duty it invariably become a big deal.

"How overdue?" The Colonel asked, having gone back to looking at his papers.

"About two hours, Sir". Gunnings replied.

"What!" The Colonel shouted.

"About two hou…."

"I fucking heard you Lieutenant." He dropped his papers on his desk and glared at the young man. Pushing his lower lip into his upper lip and clasping his hands behind his back, he began rising and lowering himself on his toes.

"Are you telling me we have an entire company of Rangers under duress?" He questioned.

"No sir, they are not under duress, I assume they just missed the call in and … "

Again the Colonel barged into the conversation, "You assume, you assume." He slowly turned while delivering his speech and looked out the window, even though he could see little in the pre-dawn light. "Never assume Lieutenant." The lieutenant lips began to move as he silently mouthed along with the Colonel, words that, in the short time he had been here, he had already heard several times.

"When you assume, you make an Ass out of Me and U! No, Rangers don't miss call in's. Something is wrong, I can feel it" Hardcastle said, turning back to face the LT.

"Sir, I am sure nothing is wrong, someone just probably forgot…"

"Don't back talk me boy, I have seen more trigger time than Roy Rogers." The fact that the Colonel had seen any combat time really had no bearing on the conversation. It was just another way for Hardcastle to remind people of who he was. It also served to shut the young lieutenant up.

"I want you to launch two fully loaded, Blackhawk Search and Rescue teams pronto!"

Gunnings' mouth dropped open, but he quickly shut it. To his mind this was a monumental over reaction and waste of money, however, even in his short stint at this base he had learned the Colonel liked to leap before he looked. In the few weeks Gunnings had been on the base, the Colonel had launched four rescue teams. Yet no one would dare dispute with the war hero. Especially one who were just "making sure" things were ok. The Lieutenant knew this and didn't even bother to attempt to stop the Colonel. He simply said, "Yes sir" threw up a salute, which was quickly echoed by the Colonel. He spun on his heels and walked out the door, happy to be out of the Colonel's company. He made his way down the hallway to the communications room in his increasingly uncomfortable shoes.

An old telephone rang in the command post of the Charlie Rock, 1st battalion, 502nd Infantry unit. The phone looked as if the old rotary dialer had been removed and replaced with buttons, whose numbers were now barely visible from constant use. Corporal Tanner answered the phone on the second ring, "Charlie Rock, first five oh deuce, Corporal Tanner speaking, how may I help you Sir or Ma'am?" He yelled precisely into the phone. After a brief moment of listening, during which he hastily scribbled down notes, he concluded the call with, "Yes Lieutenant. I will deliver the message immediately."

He took a moment to rewrite his notes so that they could be read. Getting up from his chair he jogged down the hallway, the rubber soles of his boots squeaking on the highly polished floor, stopping in front of the door that had the words Captain Roellke stenciled on it in black paint. After knocking he entered the room and gave his message to the Caption of Charlie Rock.

Ten minutes later Corporal Tanner came running out of the Captain's office, while the Captain headed for the Arms Room with a large set of keys swinging from his hand.

Entering his office, Tanner quickly located a laminated list of telephone numbers and began frantically calling the first one on the list. When the phone was answered the corporal said loudly into the receiver, "This is an alert, I say again, this is an alert. All troops have been recalled. Do you understand?" He received one word in return "acknowledged". He quickly cut the connection by depressing the disconnect key then continued down the list giving each person who answered the phone the same message.

An hour later, with the early morning light just rising on the horizon, a platoon of infantrymen, lead by Captain Roellke, fully combat loaded and complimented with medics, ran across the tarmac to waiting Blackhawk helicopters.

"Go, go, go, move, move, move" Roellke shouted with urgency. The men loaded with precision, showing off their refined months of training. Before the last soldier was completely in the aircraft it began to lift from the ground. The helicopters flew one behind the other, nap of the earth, just barely above the tree line.

A short time later the pilot of the Blackhawk got the Captain's attention by tapping him on the shoulder and pointing to the CVC (combat vehicle crewmember) headphone. The pilot pointed down as the Captain was putting his headphones.

Looking out of his window Roellke recognized their objective below, Ranger Training Base 14. He was no stranger to combat or battlefields, for this was his third consecutive tour of duty, but he looked down now in awe of what was laid before him. Everywhere he looked there were bodies, but laid out in an unnaturally disorder. Normally, when trained soldiers are overrun and killed, their bodies lay in distinct lines showing how their defense was set up. Only a handful will begin to fall back, to lie out of place. However, the scene before him showed these highly disciplined soldiers where men in complete disarray, bodies lying haphazardly in all directions. It took him several moments to respond to the pilot who was waiting for further instructions. Continuing to stare at the scene below him, he slowly began to give instructions through the CVC's in a very uncharacteristically hesitant manner. "Um……make… two passes over the main compound to look for movement."

The helicopters swung around, making their two passes. The Captain hung out of the aircraft's open door, managing to drag his eyes away from the multitude of bodies to carefully survey the area. He noted the helicopters' noise was driving several small animals out of the woods. This was good, he thought, since it meant that whatever had killed these men was not a gas. He could see nothing that appeared threatening, nothing moved except the spooked animals. After the second pass, he told the pilot to put down, pointing to the open area between the front gate and the buildings.

After brief communications to the other helicopters, the pilot lowered the aircraft to the ground, the whirl of its blade sending up a small sandstorm of dust.

The troops began jumping out even before the skids touched the ground. The aircrafts only stayed on the ground for a moment and then lifted into the air again where they began flying in wide circles around the outer perimeters of the facility. The disembarked men had immediately formed a circle, each of them lying prone on the ground with their weapons pointed outward, with the captain and his two radio men in the center of the circle. The Captain continued to carefully survey the area, not moving or speaking, his men waiting patiently. He was not scared or confused, but was allowing the men to adjust to the sounds and sights on the ground. A few moments later he called for his squad leaders. Two men crawled over to him. The Captain took out a map of the training facility. Pointing to different positions on the map, he instructed them to take a squad to look for survivors and anything that would explain what had happened.

"Understood?" he questioned.

They both nodded then rose slowly, called softly.

"Alpha Team on me"

"Bravo Team on me".

Alpha team immediately turned and headed into the wooded area to the left of the buildings, while Bravo team headed toward the buildings. The Captain remained at the landing site with his two radio men.

The two teams worked silently and swiftly, sweeping the area closest to the gate. The team in the woods covered a great deal of terrain in very little time. Despite their speed, they made sure that they checked each body and every area that might conceal someone wounded. As they moved along they took mental notes in preparation of reporting at the end of their sweep. The team moving through the buildings, also moved with great speed, they had done this some many times in training and real life that each move seemed as natural as breathing. Everything that could possibly be a clue was looked over, mentally logged and the location marked, in the event they needed to come back. They were professionals. They were good.

Both teams experienced the same unease over what they were seeing. Every body they checked seemed to have the same bloodless wound made by what, they did not know. Not bullets. Nowhere was evidence of footprints made by anything other than army issue U.S. boots, nor did the terrain reflect being trampled by the feet of 100's of enemy soldiers. They found not one body that did not belong there. Each man continued to do his job and, rather than find any answers they continued to find more questions.

When both teams finally reported back to the Captain, he appeared as confused as his men. This mystery was so bizarre he was not sure how to continue. Finally, he spoke, "All right, let's not put the horse before the wagon. Commo, get me Benning and let's report what we know to date.."

After a few moments the radio operator handed the Captain the hand mike with the statement, "I have Benning on the line Sir, Lieutenant Gunnings."

The Captain took a short breath to compose himself before he grabbed the hand mike and spoke with authority.

"I regret to report we have found no survivors. My teams have sweeped…" Something hit the Captain in the back of the head. He growled out in pain, turned, and rubbed his head looking for his assailant. A small pebble fell from his collar to the ground.

"What the fuck?" he barked out, his fingers feeling the small knot rising on the back of his head. His men looked at him in puzzlement.

"What, what is it?" squawked Gunnings from the radio.

But Roellke's attention was elsewhere and he did not answer the Lieutenant. Somewhere he could hear the faint sound of laughter, but where was it coming from? He turned slowly until he was facing the sun, which was just cresting the buildings. He raised his hand to shade his eyes. On the roof of the command building he could see the silhouette of a large man. He could not make out any details, although he could see long hair blowing about the man's head. Certainly not one of his own men.

Lt. Gunnings, who had been impatiently waiting for a response jumped as he heard the captain say "Who the hell is up there….Holy Christ!"

There was gun fire. The Lt. stood transfixed with the radio pressed to his ear, listening as the Captain began shouting orders

"Move, Move!"

"Where'd it go, I can't see it!"

"Look out!"

Lt. Gunnings' eyes opened to their full extent as he heard men beginning to scream in terror and panic.

"Medic. Man down, man down!"

"It's behind us!"

"Where is it?"

"There, I see it!"

"What is it?"

The chatter continued to flood over the radio combined with an inundation of gun fire. It was chaotic and chilling

"Captain," Gunnings said urgently into the radio. "Sir, can you hear me".

Roellke's voice suddenly responded, high with anxiety. "We are under attack; I say again, we are under attack!"

The Lt. didn't know what to do. He could not believe what was actually happening and stood frozen with indecision. He heard the Captain shouting, then his voice abruptly stop and the noise level lessened until it was quiet.

Gunnings slowly put down the radio, his face white with horror. Even as he turned to run for help he heard grotesque gurgling sounds coming from the radio and then someone speaking in a language he did not recognize. Without warning the hand mike went dead and he stared at it in shock where it lay innocently on his desk.

The noise had been so clear. He suddenly realized that whatever had made it had been right next to the mike. And what he had heard was the Captain being killed. Had it been his killer who had spoken the strange words? A swarm of images streamed through his head. He pictured all the worse scenes he had ever watched of war movies like "Platoon" and "Saving Private Ryan" and they filled his head with revulsion. His breathing was heavy; it was difficult for him to think. Where they all dead? He stepped back to the desk and gingerly picked up the radio, keyed it and asked for a response. There was none. Not from the Captain, nor the Blackhawks. He carefully put the radio down and then turned to sprint panicked down the hallway, the sound of his Low Quarters banging on the floor like a jackhammer. As he got close to the door of Colonel Hardcastle's office he tried to stop, but began to slid across the floor, his hands catching the doorframe, his body banged loudly into the door.

"Sir, sir, its Lieutenant Gunnings, I need to speak with you immediately, Sir." Without waiting for a response, he barged into the office.

Hardcastle jumped up from his desk his face lit with anger. "God Dammit, Lieutenant you better have a…"

Gunnings, too excited to wait for the Colonel to finish speaking, interrupted. "Sir our search and rescue team was attacked. I..I think they're all dead."

Silence settled on the room and a small, satisfied smile appeared on the Colonel's face. He had been right; the rangers really had been under duress.

The Lieutenant was sobered by that smile. Looking at the Colonel he could tell that this horrible news was actually making the man happy.

Warlord Jayde
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