Chapter 4

Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum

"Let him who wishes peace prepare for war"

-Vegetius

The entire day I was bracing for the wrath of Lieutenant Miller, but it never came. I had even run into her, but she didn't say a word. She sort of growled and gave me a mean look, but that's it.

One of the companies, B Company I think, went to retake Coover. I don't know if they did it, but the reports coming in sound positive. I started wondering if the baby had survived. Maybe if the baby's parents were alive they could all be hiding somewhere in the house or something.

It was starting to get late by now. I was just reading by myself in one of the abandoned houses. About three quarters of all the homes in the city were abandoned. The other quarter actually had residents. There had been survivors on this planet. Most of them were hiding in specialized bunkers built when the war started. I couldn't believe they had survived for so long.

"Hey, Mark." It was Sergeant Nina Kanoho. She walked in.

I looked up to her. "What's up?"

She sat next to me and hit me on the back of my head.

"Ow! What was that for?!" I was surprised.

"That thing you pulled today, stupid. Really stupid."

I shrugged. "We weren't making any progress. I was frustrated."

She shook her head. "Either way, you obey orders. You're not supposed to let your emotions get the best of you."

I nodded. I knew she was right.

She reached into her pocket and took out a data chip and put it into a viewscreen. "Did you see this yet?" she asked.

I shrugged and gazed over at the screen.

"It's a map. We're here-" she pointed to the lower left corner of the map. "-and here's Meck." She pointed to the upper middle portion of the map.

I nodded. "Okay. So what?"

She looked at me. "Do you know what's between us?"

I shook my head.

"Approximately forty-six kilos of forest, swamps, valleys, and more forests, swamps, and valleys. And a mountain. Mount Teeth."

"Wow. I didn't know it was forty-six klicks. I thought it was closer."

She replied, "So did I. But that's that. Did you tell your squad the plans yet?"

"No, did you?"

"Nope."

We sat in an awkward silence for what seemed like an eternity.

"So . . ." I began.

"Well, I should go." She got up and left the room, just as Hawke walked in.

"Hey Sarge, howzit goin'?" he asked Sergeant Kanoho with a sly smile.

"Stand down, Private." She said as she walked out.

I looked up at Hawke. "What?"

He looked at me and shrugged.

"Anything you want to tell me?" I asked.

He smiled and looked at the door Kanoho had just exited. "Anything you want to tell me?"

I shook my head in resignation.. "Get outta here, Hawke."

He gave me the same smile he gave Kanoho. "Sarge, you're about as exciting as vanilla ice cream." He gave me an over exaggerated salute and left.

I turned my light off and tried to get some sleep.

April 18, 2177

My alarm started blaring. I stretched and shut it off. Instinctively, I checked my watch. It was 0430. I had only gone to sleep about five hours ago.

I yawned and stretched again as I crawled out of my sleeping bag.

I reached for my web gear and took out my military issued mouthwash. The government tells us that using it was supposed to be just as good for your mouth as brushing, but then again, the government tells us that our rations are edible.

I grabbed my weapon and left the house. I knew the squad was asleep in the church, so I wasn't too worried about them. I had told them to sleep in the church, they weren't people who disobey orders. Usually.

I put on my radio headset and started walking around the town aimlessly. It was dead quiet. I walked by the town gates and the guys that were on guard, except for giving me a quick look, completely ignored me.

I walked into the church to check on our wounded and wake my squad up. There were still some doctors and nurses awake taking care of the guys that were really beat up.

Roe was awake, helping the doctors and nurses. Everyone else was asleep. I woke them all up and gathered them together. Hawke seemed especially cranky.

"What do ya want Sarge? Why you gotta wake us up so early?"

"Shut up and listen, Hawke." I said.

He sighed. "Don't be so cranky Sarge, I was just asking a question. So what do you wanna tell us, Sergeant Kanoho dumped you?"

I tossed my empty canteen at him and it hit him square on his cheek. "Ow!"

I snickered.

"Wait, what's this about Sergeant Kanoho?" Rellard asked.

"Nothing. She just showed me a map yesterday. Do you guys know what time it is?"

Peter checked his watch. "0447."

I nodded. "We're moving out of here at 0600. We're going to Meck."

Stephen had a surprised look on his face. "But we're not supposed to move out for another week or something. Why we leaving today?"

"Do you know how far we are right now from Meck?" I asked.

He thought about it. "I don't know, ten klicks?"

I shook my head. "Forty-six klicks. And it's rough terrain too. Forests and swamps and whatnot, and we have to cross Mount Teeth. Our platoon is going ahead of the main force to clear a path and plow the road. Oh yeah, and another squad is tagging along with us. Staff Sergeant Luciano Garcia and his squad from C Company I think. So get your stuff together and meet at the city center by 0530."

They nodded and left to prepare.

I formed up my squad along with the other three squads at the main gates of the city. By now, we were just waiting for Lieutenant Miller.

"Hey, chico, where's your Lieutenant?" Garcia said.

I turned my head in his direction and saw him looking at me. "Are you talking to me?" I asked.

He nodded.

I just shrugged.

"Bahler!"

I nearly jumped out of my skin at the screech. It was Lieutenant Miller.

She went straight up to my face and said, "Bahler, I didn't say anything before, but if you risk the lives of any of your men again by going on some bonehead stunt trying to be a hero, I swear I will shoot you myself. Do you understand?"

"Yes Ma'am." I uttered.

She turned to face the other three squads. "Listen up! We're going to Meck ahead of everyone else. We're going in as recon the area and report back to MOCom (Military Operations Command). If we reach heavy resistance, we'll pull back and report it. However, we don't expect too much resistance. The main force will be following us behind by four days. We should reach Meck in about a week.

"Sergeant Brees, you take point, followed by Sergeant Garcia, then Kanoho and Bahler. Follow me Sergeant Brees."

We marched forward in the column out of Lennick and towards Meck. The first part of our march was mostly forest light forest, but it started to get really dense pretty quickly.

After a good hour or so of marching, the rain started coming down. Not very good for the troop morale, but we trudged along through the dense forest.

"Bahler! You read me? Over!" Lieutenant Miller called through the radio.

I sighed and wondered why she was yelling through the radio.

"Roger that ma'am, over." I replied through the radio.

"Bahler, take your squad and act as forward scout. Report anything you see, understand me? Over!"

I shook my head in defeat. I knew she was only doing this to piss me off. "Roger that ma'am."

I turned to and shrugged. I could see they were disappointed through their visors.

"Come on guys, double time up forward."

We ran about two hundred meters forward of the platoon. "Guys, just stay sharp and we'll be settling down for the night before you know it."

We kept walking along our path relatively silently. We didn't really need to remain quiet, but I guess nobody really felt like talking. Until Private Kevin Pertins walked up to me anyway.

"Hey, Sarge?" he asked.

I turned to him.

"You have a girlfriend?"

I just shook my head no.

"Oh." There was a silence for about a minute before I broke it.

"Why, do you?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Not really. I mean, there's this girl back home. I told her that I liked her, and we started talking a lot on the phone and we went to the movies and whatnot together, and did all this stuff, but she's never said that she liked me back. No matter how much I said that I liked her, she never said it back.

"When I told her that I was joining the Army, she even said that she would never forget me and wait for me to come back from boot camp and wait for me to finish my military commitment and stuff. But she's never said she likes me."

I nodded. "So, do you still like her?"

He looked down at the ground as we walked. "Sarge, honestly? I don't even know if she's alive anymore. She lived on Earth, but after the USR was pushed back to Earth and was attacked—" Pertins paused for a second, "I never heard from her since."

I remained silent for a while.

Pertins' asked, "Think she liked me Sarge?"

I looked at him. "I know how it feels to lose a loved one in war, Pertins. I'm sorry."

He sniffled and cleared his throat. "Argh, I'm crying," he gave a small chuckle. "This is something I haven't done in a while."

There was gunfire coming from behind us.

"Mark!" it was Sergeant Brees, "Get your ass back here! We're being attacked!"