To: General Gregory Seed
From: Brigadier General Forrest Brown
Log date: 00429.211-07:03:36
Re: Planet B24-X52745
We have found the missing lurker carriers. They are in orbit around planet B24-X52745 and are launching an invasion. We do not have any carriers close enough to respond to the situation in time, but SEP LurkerKiller and SRP Red Shot will be onsite in less than five hours.
A general alert has been sounded and our ground forces are preparing for the invasion.
Jeffords muttered a curse as we watched the ships descend in the most awesome display of power I had ever seen, ripping through the atmosphere like a cosmic phenomenon that seemed to shake the world. Several of the large ships made me think of aircraft carriers from back on earth, only much bigger. There were hundreds of smaller ships that were dwarfed in comparison to the massive carrier ships but which were still of considerable size themselves, judging by how far away they were and how clear of a view I had of them. Whether large or small, they all looked like flying bricks. The largest were big enough to blot out the sun even without all the other smaller ships swarming around them.
They moved like giants across the sky.
It’s more like a force of nature than an invasion, I thought.
The movies and televisions shows I had seen as a kid depicting alien invasions did not even come close to the power and horror of this singular moment. The world itself seemed to shudder in fear at their approach. It was as if the air was filled with electricity, of which the blaring camp sirens were only a muted part.
I had doubted whether the story about an intergalactic war was real—an unconscious part of me still believed that this could all be some twisted psychological drug experiment—but I could not escape the utter reality of it all, though my mind immediately tried to look for ways to do so.
I keep hoping that this is the worst drug-induced coma ever known to man, so I wake up to my family, but every time I turn around, this place gives me further evidence against that.
The atmosphere was filled with flame as the ships descended, several of the smaller ones broke away from the main convoy and headed our way while the rest continued in a direction that I pegged as northwest from our position, leaving behind contrails that made the horizon seem overcast. As concerned as I was about the ships headed towards us, I desperately wanted to know where the bulk of the invasion was going. They had led me to believe there was not much else on this planet, but that did not appear to be the case, judging by the sudden show of force that was largely ignoring us.
There was no way that they had sent that many ships just to deal with our lowly camp. The size of the invading force proved that there was a much stronger presence on this planet than I had been told.
“Camp Myers,” Jeffords muttered under his breath.
Bingo, I thought. Camp Myers won’t be anywhere near as small as this.
“How big is Camp Myers?” I asked.
The way Jeffords had emphasized the name Camp Myers made me think of something far more sophisticated than our camp, as if it were a headquarters of some sort.
Jeffords didn’t answer and took off at a run.
I sighed as I watched him go. I had not had a moment of rest since coming to this insane planet. It was always one thing after the next. A part of me almost hoped for death, but then I thought of my little Ricky and my wife Ava. I could not surrender to such thoughts. I had to know if they had died several hundred years ago after long and fulfilling lives or if they were still alive or if it was something else altogether.
I had no baseline for truth, so I had to find my own.
Not knowing what else to do, I followed Jeffords, hoping that I could use the oncoming invasion to further prove myself, if not to him, then to Roth and anybody else who was in a position to help me understand what was going on here. The two ships that headed our way were coming fast. They had been some of the smallest in the fleet, but they were larger than any airplane I had ever seen back on earth.
And they kept growing in size as they approached.
I heard a high buzzing sound that I assumed came from the ships, but I was not sure about my assessment and feared that it was a weapon that was about to rain down destruction upon our little camp.
The camp sirens continued to blare, but as the ships approached, they became increasingly muted by the coming invasion to the point it sounded like the sirens had stopped working altogether even though I could still see the flashing lights.
Soldiers ran in every direction.
Up ahead, I saw Roth before she disappeared into a tent. Jeffords must have seen her as well because he headed right towards her. I did not know a lot about the chain of command around here, but I suspected he was not her direct report.
Sergeants didn’t report to generals.
The tent she had gone into appeared to be the same command tent that had been uprooted by the grenling in my first meeting with her, only it had been moved to a different location since that time. It was still the same setup I remembered from that first day with multiple tents conjoined together to make a big meeting place within.
When I looked inside I saw several other soldiers who I assumed were officers. I was yet to see any sign of distinguishable rank on any of the officer’s uniforms, I assumed this was to make it harder for our enemy to pick out our leaders. By the way they all carried themselves and ignored Jeffords when he entered, I could tell that they were all his superiors, except for the soldier who acted as Roth’s secretary.
I did a double-take, looking her over, glad that she had survived my first encounter with a grenling. I had feared she died.
There was another woman with hair pulled behind her head who stood even taller than Roth, who herself was a tall woman. She glanced at Jeffords and did not bother to hide a disdainful look. She shook her head in irritation before turning her attention back to Roth.
I had entered too but made myself scarce by pushing up against the canvas wall, Roth gave me an unreadable look before turning to the others. We had not spoken since I had saved her life.
She had not given me so much as a thank you.
Not that I was expecting one, not from somebody like her.
“Sanchez,” Roth said, looking at a fit man that was several inches shorter than her, but who towered over Jeffords, “what are you doing here?”
As I looked around the room, I remembered that I was taller than everybody. And here I was hoping to shrink into the corner without being noticed. It now felt as though everybody’s eyes were on me, even though they all stared at Roth.
“All my soldiers are in place and we should have the big gun up and running in just a couple of minutes, sir. I thought I would make myself available in case you need anything else, sir.”
The big gun? I had to refrain from shaking my head in utter amazement. Why didn’t they pull it out for the grenlings?
“I gave you specific orders to get that gun going, what could possibly be more important than that?” Roth’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t hear it firing, do you? We could’ve taken down half of them by now if you would’ve got your act together.”
I would have cowered under Roth’s stare, but the man didn’t even blink. He seemed to lack a sense of humor to go along with his brutish body.
“I wanted to see if you had any special orders, sir.” His voice was stiff as a board.
“Kill as many of those infernal things as you can. Now get outta here!”
When the man moved to leave, I could tell Roth wanted to order him to run, but she just shook her head and looked at the tall woman.
“Benning, do we have any word on reinforcements?”
The woman frowned. “Everybody else is under attack as well. We have to go this alone.”
“What’s new?” Roth muttered, finally looking at Jeffords. “And what are you doing here, don’t you have a team of fresh recruits to evacuate?” Roth stared at him, but I could tell she was thinking about me.
I wondered how it felt for her to be saved by me, somebody who had not even been here a week.
Jeffords snapped to attention, which apparently included fists at his side, something he had never taught any of us.
“Waiting for orders, sir.”
Roth spoke through clenched teeth. “Standard protocol is to evacuate all recruits who have not yet been certified through Phase I. Unless you’re further along than I anticipate, you should already know what to do.” She threw her hands up in the air and looked like she wanted to strangle him. “What is it with you guys? The moment things start to get difficult, it’s like all training goes out the window. I may have to find better officers.” She let out a long and frustrated sigh. “Sergeant Jeffords, I just need you to get your men out of here. Can you do that? A man of your alleged experience should be able to handle that, or do I need to have somebody else do it for you?”
“With all due respect—”
“You already have the worst casualty count of any of our sergeants, I suggest you get going before your numbers look even worse. Get them out of here. Now.”
Worst casualty count?
How many recruits has he lost?
I was not aware of any deaths from my team other than Winston, but we were only on our fourth day. Judging by the way Jeffords had acted after Winston’s death, it had seemed as if losing recruits was something that happened all the time. Perhaps it was—Roth’s words could be interpreted that way—but it was clear that there was a line and that Jeffords had passed it on multiple occasions.
Jeffords grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside, his face red.
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