Chapter 53

book_cover18

ARRIVAL

Lt. Simmons eased the throttle forward and angled the control grip to maneuver the carrier up an incline of hard packed dirt and onto a flat shelf behind a ridge overlooking the Paladin’s position next to the Pyramid.

Dekker dialed in the frequency for Major Walker and activated the sampling system to create the encryption keys for his next transmission. The center screen on the radio console flashed a yellow banner while it calculated the keys and then flashed green.

“Two Bravo Delta, Two Bravo Delta, this is Enforcer Six, over.” Static hissed in his headset as he counted the seconds ticking by. “Two Bravo Delta, Two Bravo Delta, this is Enforcer Six, over.” He started counting again as the hiss resumed.

The Paladin’s voice sounded like his was talking through a tube, but it was strong enough for Dekker to hear over the whine and creaking of the carrier. “Enforcer Six, Two Bravo Delta Actual, five by five, go ahead.”

“Good to see you again, Major,” he said.

“You too, Colonel. It’s been too long.” Dekker’s heart thumped with pride. The words rang out to him from across time, the first words he had heard that let him believer he had made the right decision.

“What’s the plan?” Major Walker asked.

“Right. We’re en route to our setup for the STI shot. I don’t have a time estimate, but the Second Brigade still has a battalion loose,  so I’m guessing they won’t start moving against your position until they reorganize.”

“How did it go over there, Colonel?”

Dekker considered telling him the truth. The Paladin was entitled to that much, but it wouldn’t help him in the coming mission. “It was a cakewalk.”

“Glad to hear it. I haven’t heard anything from my listening posts, so I think we still have some time. Let me know when you’re ready and we’ll back them right into a corner.”

Dekker looked over his shoulder at the contraption they still had to connect, untested, and fire blindly according to a time table pulled from a hacked console in the heat of battle. “It’s not quite that simple, Major,” he said. “We need you to put them in a specific target area on a hard clock.”

The radio hissed. Dekker eyed the console as he waited for the response. “I see,” Walker said. “Well, if it was easy, they wouldn’t give us combat pay. How long?”

“About an hour . I’ll have a time hack for you in a bit.”

“That’s a little short. The Second Brigade needs to show up within the next half hour if we’re going to make it a date.”

“I hear you. I’ll be in touch shortly. Dekker out.”

He flipped off the transmitter and asked Lt. Simmons, “We ready?”

Simmons eased back the throttle, letting the turbine settle into a hissing whine and unbuckled her harness. “Let me call the boys in and then we’ll get this thing set up.” She tapped her headset. “Badger Second, Badger Six, do you read?”

“Lima charlie. We were beginning to wonder if you were coming back.” She eyed Dekker and let out a quick breath. “Badger First is down. We’re all we have left.”

A wisp of wind sent a sheet of sand scuttling across the ground while she waited for the response. “Understood. We have your bearing. On our way.”

“Hurry,” Simmons said. “Badger Six out.”

Dekker unbuckled his harness and opened his hatch. As his heart settled back from the urgency of their flight, he started to feel the ache in his lower back. He groaned as he eased his leg out of the foot well and onto the dismount step.

“Sorry for the ride, sir,” Simmons said, straining to hide a smile.

“We got out in one piece. Good ride,” he said. He pulled his other leg back with his hand and a twinge shot up through his back. Stifling another grunt, he swung out of his seat and stepped down off the carrier.   He stretched and leaned forward, bending forward on one knee and then the other to stretch out his muscles. He stretched his neck to either side as he strode towards the ridge, his pulse quickening as the tip of the Pyramid appeared just over the crest.

As he took the final steps to the crest, the Pyramid revealed itself in the valley below, its pulsating blue glow visible even in the mid-day light of the Shoahn’ sun. He estimated it was at least a kilometer away, maybe more, as he made a mental note to check the range with his plasma rifle.

The Paladin’s Cats were standing between him and the Pyramid in three lines of four, forming an echelon firing line. With the Pyramid to his north, they faced off to the east on his right, the lances painted underneath their cockpits pointing towards the expected avenue of advance from the Second Brigade. Scanning the horizon from the line of Cats to his far right, he saw no sign of their approach. That would have to change soon.

He tapped his headset. “Two Bravo Delta, that’s a fine looking assembly sir.”

One of the Cats in the center line took a step forward. Even at this distance, Dekker heard the thump of its foot crushing the ground, along with the whirring servos and the snapping of compressed air conduits. The Cat stepped forward with one foot and back with the other, turning towards him. It repeated the cycle of forward and backward steps three more times until the Cat was facing directly towards him. The frame jerked as the control systems stabilized the frame and then it eased down into a crouch.

Looking at the canopy, all he could see was the sun glinting off its polished surface, but he knew the Paladin was looking at him now. Something he had not felt in a very long time welled up inside of him. Dekker stood at attention and snapped a hand salute.

Time stopped and let him stand on the moment’s edge of forever to soak in a universe that stood still. The past fell away and the future turned quiet so that all that existed was the moment. The battle to come was now the only battle there ever was or ever would be.

Even so, it never occurred to him it would be their last.

NEXT.png


©2016 Michael J Lawrence