Boyer is checking his controls on his harness, “The actuator speed controls are out!” Tarver finally shares some of his genius I.Q. with us. “That was an EMP grenade. It took out all of our electronics. We don’t even have contact with Mother. Alright everyone disengage!” Tarver unfastens his harness to remove his armor and exoskeleton. We all follow his orders and do the same.
This is a definite game changer. Up until now, we’ve had superhuman strength and speed. Dense alloy armor to protect us against enemy fire. We still need to complete our objective and clean out the remaining pockets of the enemy. My fear of us not making it out of here is returning. But I can’t show any emotion, my squad will lose confidence in me. So I need to hold it together.
Tarver is better at masking his concern, but I can see it in his eyes, the way he glanced at me when he began removing his battle gear. But all of this gets worse, Boyer can no longer prop up the mighty canon on his shoulder and the robotic legs have been deactivated by the EMP as well.
Boyer is attempting to fire his cannon, but he can’t boot up. He looks over to Tarver, "Sir we got some major problems here. All of our weapons are computer controlled, so I bet our microwave rifles are out too.
Colby is clicking his trigger, “Shit! He's right!”
Meyers tosses his rifle away, “So much for high tech!”
Armstrong turns to Tarver, “What now Colonel, we abort?”
Tarver looks over to me. “Lieutenant, you're in charge, what's you're decision?”
All of the eyes of the squad are on me, “Our objective hasn't been completed, we can rearm ourselves from the dead security officers back at the control deck or perhaps even locate their armory and get fully ramped up.”
“Excellent Lieutenant, proceed.”
The look on Tarver's face reminded me of Dad whenever I accomplished something he was proud of. The squad was even very surprised I didn’t opt out the mission. Loud and clearly I shout, “Armstrong take the squad and get us back to combat operational!”
“Yes sir! Alright people, let's get combat operational, move it!”
Tarver and I stay behind to hold our position, as officers we still had our sidearms.
“Lieutenant, you are coming along very well.”
“Thank you sir.”
“Was that some West Point training?”
“I’m sure my training from the academy was an influence, but my Dad had drilled into me early on to always improvise, improvise and complete the mission at hand.”
“Your Dad was a Marine through and through.”
“Colonel you said you knew my Dad back in Afghanistan?”
“Yes I had the honor of knowing him as our Marine base commander. In fact, several life changing events happened during that time.”
“We have a little time sir I would love to hear about them.”
It was about 5 years ago, I was just promoted to Major, in command of a Marine company, stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan. Your Dad had been commander there maybe a couple of years before leaving for Washington. It was rough there, mortar shells had rained in that morning, there were 8 casualties, 47 wounded, I was one of the lucky ones, only a small laceration on my right arm from some shrapnel. I wrapped it in some field dressing, to control the bleeding. On the urging of my platoon leaders, I went to the base infirmary. They had already called it in so the medical team was expecting me in for treatment.
“Tough guy huh?”
He smiles, “Well sometimes you don’t want your command to know you even bleed.”
“The God complex?”
“Pretty much, after all they’re lives were in my hands.
He leans against a support pillar, "Where did time go? I had been in the service for 14 years by then, what the hell happened?
“A definite career man I see,”
“It didn’t start out that way,”
“What do you mean?”
“I was only 10 when it happened, 911, it pretty much changed my life. But I learned about death, and how it could come at any time. It stuck in my mind, all those innocent people dying, just for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I remember watching those buildings fall, over and over again on television. None of it made any sense to me, yet it was the reason I was here. I just wanted to do something about it. I joined the ROTC in college, and after graduation, I immediately enlisted. I intended to only do a three-year hitch, but after seeing what’s happening to the people here – all of the suffering, for something they really had nothing to do with. I just felt like I needed to do more.”
Looking deeply into his eyes, “You are, a man of conviction, with a deep empathy for others, willing to give your life to right the wrongs in this world, those are wonderful qualities to have Colonel.” Deep inside, I knew we were very much the same, trying to change the world for the better in our own way. It was probably what drew us together. “Colonel, how did you end up here?”
Your Dad called me into his office. He says, “Major, I will be leaving this command soon. I will be sitting on the Chief of Staff. I have already been relayed a special top-secret order to be full filled. You were the first one to come mind. I have a very special assignment for you, something outside the realm of your normal assignment. Do you know what a black project is?”
“I believe it's something top secret Sir.”
“Yes, a highly classified military defense project. Personally, I believe you’re being wasted here. Looking at your background in technological science MIT with honors, your heroism on the battlefield, and of course your freakish genius level IQ, you don’t belong here. We need someone young and sharp to take the helm of a very important leadership position. A promotion to a full Colonel comes with it. Feel free to ask questions as I move along here.”
“Sir, what kind of command is it?”
“You will be commanding a top-secret squad of highly technically enhanced soldiers they will be unlike anything before. You will be on the leading edge of combat technical advancement. This is an opportunity of a lifetime Major. I need you to accept this assignment before I can go any further for national security reasons.”
Just then before the Colonel can finish his story, Armstrong and the squad return armed to the teeth. Armstrong has two extra assault rifles slung over his shoulder and several belts of ammo for us. We proceed down a long underground concrete corridor until we come upon an excavation sign near a heavy metal elevator doors. Tarver hits the button, nothing. “Power out here too.”
Tarver signals Taylor to set charges on the heavy metal doors. She expertly places small charges near the four corners of the doors. She hollers “Fire in the hole!” and the squad moves away for cover. Taylor knows her stuff, she blew those doors without destroying anything else. Tarver peers down the dark elevator shaft, I signal to the squad to climb down an emergency metal latter embedded into a long concrete shaft 100 meters deep. Garcia slips on the latter, but quickly regains his footing, he catches his breath as he looks uncomfortably down the dark shaft, it seems bottomless.
“Careful people, it’s a long drop, keep your steps steady,” Tarver yells from above.
The squad eventually reaches the bottom and activates their night vision goggles retrieved from the armory, since ours were fried by the EMP, it is the only way through absolute pitch black. We continue to move single file until we are met by a dead excavation crew. We could tell they were killed running from their pursuers. Meyers moves to the front, the squad follows his lead into the dark tunnel. They soon come to a 20-foot diameter cylindrical high-tech tunnel boring machine, stopped where it had punched a hole into a gigantic cavern. Meyers stops in his tracks at the opening.
“Smell that?” as he turns back toward the squad.
Taylor right behind him. “Yeah what the hell is that? Smells like Colby's socks.”
Colby from the rear, “Kiss my ass!”
Tarver and I are a few meters back.
Armstrong on his headset, “Lieutenant, we've reached the point of insertion.”
Meyers looks down into the cavern, “Lieutenant there's some repelling lines going down, must of been left by the excavation crew.”
Colby holds up some launching line guns. “Hey look!”
Loo, takes a hold of it. We better hang on to these just in case."
“Good idea Loo, you all know what to do,” as Tarver and I come up from behind them.
“Yes Sir.” Meyers responds.
We begin strapping on repelling gear. Within minutes we’re repelling what seems like another hundred meters down into a massive dark cavern. When we reach the bottom, Colby and Meyers fan out to secure insertion point, about a 20-meter area.
Tarver is the last to reach the bottom, he unhooks himself from the repelling line,
I motion to Colby, “Take point down that rocky path and secure at 50 meters.”
"Yes sir " he replies.
We follow his lead down a steep slope, then over some large boulders to finally reach the path. As we move along deeper into the dark cavern, we suddenly hear huge wings flapping. Colby catches a glimpse of something large flying over us. His jaw drops, into his headset, “Shit! Something the size of a single-engine Cessna just flew over us Sir! It was so close I could feel the damn wind on my face!”