Chapter 40

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COMMAND DECISION

Dekker picked up another rock and threw it as far as he could, watching it tumble through the air, pushing its way through the sky with all the vigor he had been able to put behind it. It hit the ground and kicked up a satisfying clump of dirt before coming to rest. General Lane’s voice echoed in his head as he told Dekker to hunt down the most effective weapon the MEF had to defend against the Terran Guard – to prevent what he could only assume was the real reason why he could no longer contact the General. Lt. Simmons’s voice came next, telling him she had come along for the sole reason of making sure he didn’t carry out that order. He put his hands on his knees, shook his head and scoffed. Between the two of them, they had managed to run him in circles and put him in the middle of nowhere, helpless to do anything but take it. They were chasing their tail while the enemy moved forward, the only ones who seemed to actually know what the hell they were doing.

His headset chimed. “Enforcer Six, Enforcer Six. This is Bravo Company, First Battalion, over.” Dekker froze, uncertain he had actually heard the transmission. The voice crackled again. “Enforcer six, Enforcer Six -“

Before the voice on the other end had a chance to finish, Dekker slapped his headset hard enough to make his ears ring. “This is Enforcer Six Actual, go ahead.” His eyes flitted across the ground as he let a slow breath whistle between his lips.

“Enforcer Six, Bravo Three. Uh, sir, we’re outbound from a one click offset south of MEF on bearing two eight five and sure would appreciate a fix to rendezvous.”

Dekker squinted and pressed his thumbs along his brow. He should have fetched the darling of intelligence and had her vet the call. He should have sent her on a combat patrol to verify exactly who it was once they had a fix. But they didn’t have time for any of that.

“Bravo Three, Enforcer Six, authenticate bearcat.” The line clicked off. Dekker curled his lip and shook his head. His stomach knotted when he thought of having to ask Simmons to recce whoever was claiming to be coming in from MEF, but it seemed like he wasn’t going to have much choice.

His headset crackled. His eyes flew open at the sound of the wheezing voice straining to talk to him. “Enforcer Six, this is Farmboy, over.”

“What’s your name?” Dekker asked.

The voice wheezed back at him, the words weakening. “Sir, this is Jommy Ford.” The voice faded out with the last words he was able to manage. “They took Mama’s cups.”

Dekker shuddered and dropped to one knee. He drew in a deep breath and pawed the ground until he found another rock. He heaved it with a grunt, exhaling as if to blow the rock through the air. He sucked in another breath and said to himself, “Alright then.”

The original caller came back on the line. “Enforcer Six, Bravo three, will that work for now sir?”

Dekker felt power ebbing through him, pushing out the web of confusion that had settled into his mind since he had left Lane’s office. Something made sense. At the same time, something told him not to rush into it.

“Bravo three, that’ll do for now. Work up a sampled sequence on the hour with back card Zulu One for this date and call me back.”

“Sir, we’re in a gocart here. We’re running in a logistics rig. We barely have a radio and our batteries are in pretty bad shape.”

Dekker gritted his teeth. “What’s your name, Marine?”

“Sir, this is Corporal Ortiz, second squad, third platoon Bravo.”

“Alright, Corporal. Maintain your current heading. We’ll be the bivouac station on your left. Can’t miss it.”

“Roger Enforcer Six, Bravo Three out.”

Dekker stood up and marched back to the tower. “Badger.”

“Go ahead Colonel,” Lt. Simmons said. Her voice was calm, casual even, as if she hadn’t told him that her orders were to undo everything he was trying to accomplish. The only explanation had been that she had orders. They had each played that card. As much as he hated to admit it, they were even on that score.

“We have some guests inbound. Tell your east side patrols to keep an eye out. We need to prepare a debriefing.”

An hour later, Dekker, Lt. Simmons and Corporal Ortiz sat at an abandoned table on the second floor in what had once been a dining room. The grills and warmers were long cold and the only light came from the shafts of sunlight that clawed through scratched plastic windows and the dust-ridden air inside.

Corporal Ortiz sat with one foot under the table and the other off to the side, as if he needed to be ready to run at a moment’s notice. He leaned on the table with one elbow and stared at the wall. Dekker knew he was listening, though. Combat taught a man to think about things without having to see them.

“Corporal,” Dekker said, “I know there’s a lot to tell, but we need to take this in order. We have a situation on our hands and what you tell us here will determine our final decision, so please be accurate and specific.”

Corporal Ortiz nodded. “You’ll get my best report, sir.”

Lt. Simmons said, “Our first concern is the communications array on the MEF headquarters building. Specifically the dish antennas.”

Corporal Ortiz shook his head.

“What did you see?” Lt. Simmons asked.

Without moving his eyes, Corporal Ortiz said, “They just lined up their tanks and blew the living fuck out of the compound. They didn’t leave a single building standing.”

Lt. Simmons shifted her gaze to Dekker and eased back in her seat. “What about the S-2 bunker?”

“They got that, too. They used demolitions. For the line bunkers, too. It was a real show.”

“Alright, Corporal,” Dekker said. “What’s the status of the MEF?”

“That’s a little trickier, sir” Ortiz said.

“Take it a step at a time, Corporal.”

“They came off the line with a single front attack. Honestly, there’s not much to tell there. They pinned us in the compound. We couldn’t maneuver and they gained fire superiority before we could even move to our alternate positions.” He shifted in his seat, raised a fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. “Once they had us tied down, they sent an element to Dirt Hill to round everybody up.” For the first time since they sat down, he looked at Dekker. “That got ugly fast. There was nobody up there to help those people. Everybody ran. A few made it out, a bunch got rounded up.” His eyes sagged as his gaze shifted to somewhere behind Dekker. “The ones they couldn’t catch – they shot them in the back as they ran.”

Dekker felt his own eyes shift away from Corporal Ortiz. “Where’s the tricky part, Corporal?”

“We were distributing ammo in the gocart before all this happened. When the attack started, we were at the ammo bunkers getting ready to load.” He tapped his knuckles on the table. “It was my call, sir.” He looked at Dekker, waiting.

“Go on Corporal.  You said you’d give me your best report.”

“We didn’t even try to join the line. I told the driver to turn and head for the notch. We didn’t see how things ended up, but there’s no way, sir. They either got stomped or taken prisoner. Once we got away from the fight, we waited for a while to see if anybody else made it out of there, but all we found were the few civilians we brought with us. We never saw anybody from MEF again.”

“What weapons do you have?”

“Just our personal weapons, sir. We don’t even have a squad weapon. We’re a heavy fire team at best.”

Dekker nodded. He wanted to reach across and take the man’s hand, but he could tell Ortiz was a Marine who stood on his own two feet, for better or for worse. “You did the right thing, Corporal. You guys were never expected to hold back the entire First Brigade.” He caught Simmons shooting him a glance.

“How do you mean, sir?” Ortiz asked.

“It was symbolic. The rest – don’t worry about it right now. You did the right thing.”

“Sir, I have to say this, because my guys all feel the same way.” His boot scuffed the floor as he moved his leg further away from the table. “If the Paladin had been there, it might have worked out, you know?”

Dekker leaned back and looked straight into Ortiz’s eyes. “Yeah, I know.” Turning to Simmons, Dekker asked, “Do you have anything else, Lieutenant?”

“No sir,” she said, “except to add that you did do the right thing, Corporal. Your report has provided us with some very important information. Thank you.”

“You’re dismissed, Corporal,” Dekker said. Ortiz stood up, assumed the position of attention and then turned to climb down the ladder leading to the ground level of the tower. Dekker clasped his hands on the table and leaned forward. Lowering his voice, he said, “So that’s it, then. We have my battalion, your two squads and the Paladin to deal with the entire Second Brigade.”

“And they have their First Brigade in reserve,” Simmons said. “I’m sure our guys gave them a bloody nose, but they’re free to maneuver and reinforce the Second if it comes to that.”

Dekker sucked in a breath through his nose and let it out with a grunt. “Which means we’re a reinforced battalion up against a light division. We can join the Paladin and fight it out. We probably can’t take them, but it’s an option we know we have for sure.”

“Option B,” Simmons said, “is to establish the uplink. The risk is whether or not we can find suitable equipment, including a dish antenna. If we make it work, we have a big gun, if not -“

“Then the Paladin is on his own and we’ll be stuck with what’s left of Second Brigade. And who knows, after the Paladin is done with them, maybe we’ll be able to finish it.”

They sat in silence as he pondered their options, letting them tumble over each other in an endless spiral of answers that guaranteed nothing. There were no orders to lean on. There were no more conversations to be had. All that was left was a decision, one that only he could make.

“One way or the other,” he said, “I get the feeling this is going to be the last fight.”

“Yep.”

“I’d hate to leave that satellite sitting up there waiting for somebody else to get their hands on. Call the Paladin. Let him know we’re going try and set up a track.”

Simmons smiled. “Aye aye sir.”

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence