LAST EDITED ON Nov-13-14 AT 06:25 PM (EST) by Gryphon (admin)
[ Grafs got hard-wrapped somewhere between the test version and production; I'm just unwrapping them again. --G. ]
'Tis not the pomp and pride of kings that make a soldier brave;
'Tis not allegiance to the flag that over him may wave;
For soldiers never fight so well on land or on the foam
As when behind the cause they see the little place called home.
Thursday, August 11, 2388
Central Park North Entrance (110th St.), New York City
All things considered, Charlie Kallon would say he'd had better trips to the Big Apple. Baker Platoon had been one of the first to cross the Hudson from the staging point at Fort Lee, straight into the mouth of what had become GENOM's last major holdout on Earth. For a day and a half, Task Force Arrow been fighting street by street, sometimes house to house, down through Upper Manhattan, then Harlem, and now finally the UEDF forces had reached this iconic spot.
"No Shakespeare in the Park this summer," he quipped, and several of the troopers with him laughed at the bleak joke.
Where there had once been low stone walls and a welcoming expanse of green that stretched out for most of the length of the borough, there were now permacrete barriers, tank traps, and fixed emplacements that promised a serious challenge for anyone trying to breach their perimeter.
Moving between busted apartment blocks, slipping through blown out storefronts, and stacking behind rubble and other cover, Kallon gave a hand signal for his men to hold up while other groups of troopers got into position. They were dirty, hungry, and exhausted, but the knowledge that they were helping to take back this city was providing a purpose and energy that kept them fighting.
Turning, he made eye contact with his radioman. "Sparks, any word on heavy support?"
The redheaded corporal shook his head, pushing back one of the earphones of his headset. "Too much damage in the streets around here to bring up armor, and most of our destroid support is tied up with heavy battlemovers and those chicken walker things around Columbia."
"Damn." Kallon sighed. "Too many of those boomer fighters for an airstrike, I suppose."
"'Fraid so, and orbital's not exactly an option."
He leaned back against the cool concrete of what had been a Starbucks, pulled off his helmet, and ran his hand through his short black hair with a sigh. "I'm starting to remember why I hate this job."
He would have gone on, but Sparks suddenly put a hand to his head, slapping the earphone back into place. "Roger, Quiver, this is Baker. Go ahead." His eyes went a bit wide with surprise, then nodded to whomever was calling in from HQ, even though they couldn't see him. "Yes, sir. Understood. Baker out."
Turning back to Kallon, he pulled the headphones all the way off this time. "We're to hold here and get ready to push. HQ says there's a special unit coming up."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Dunno, sarge, I just get the mail here."
Kallon pulled his helmet back on, snugging it tight, then checked the charge on his rifle. "OK. Sparks, Jim, Ubaldo, I want the three of you to check with the other squads and make sure they're ready to move as soon as these guys get here. Double-time it!"
Not long after they'd returned, the sound of a throaty old piston engine came up the street, long before the old Harley and the man riding it came into view. Troopers from Baker and the other units forming up for the assault stood, staring, as the bike pulled up and the rider dismounted, headed straight for where Kallon and Sparks were waiting.
Powerfully built, with broad shoulders and a lantern jaw underneath his old style pot helmet, the blue clad man walked with a quiet, sure confidence that spoke volumes. Kallon felt himself straightening up instinctively, and his hand came up in a salute.
The man smiled slightly as he returned the salute, a sparkle of warmth that made his piercingly blue eyes friendly, rather than intimidating. "Baker platoon? I'm Captain Rogers. I'm looking for Lt. Noe."
Kallon knew who he was, and felt a bit awestruck, but shook his head in answer to the question. "The El-tee bought it back on West 135th, sir. I'm First Sergeant Kallon - I've been keeping a lid on things since she went down. Are you the special unit we were told to expect?"
Rogers nodded. "That I am. I'm sorry to hear about your loss, Sarge. What's your status right now?"
"We're banged up, tired, and I could go for a pizza and some beer right now, but we're still able to fight, Cap."
Rogers nodded, then tilted his head in the direction of the park. "Walk with me?"
Kallon fell in behind him - behind Captain America - and moved up to one of their impromptu observation posts. When Rogers saw the way GENOM had transformed the old touchstone, he blanched, almost as if it caused him physical pain.
"It's not pretty, Cap. It's going to be a bitch and a half cracking that perimeter."
"It's not just that..." Rogers sighed, then turned to face Kallon. "I grew up around here, Sarge. Seeing the park like this... it's rough."
Kallon nodded sympathetically. "I hear you. If someone had done this to Louisville, I'd be feeling the same way. But we can't start to fix it until we get rid of those sons of bitches."
Rogers smiled. "I think that's supposed to be my line. Keep that up, and you might end up as a lieutenant after all."
Kallon snorted. "No thanks, Cap. I'm too used to working for a living."
Rogers laughed, clapping the sergeant on his armored shoulder before heading back to where the infantry was massing for their assault. "I guess some things never change."
Rogers met with Kallon and the other junior officers and NCOs who were able to form up with Baker for the push, outlining a three pronged attack. A main force, consisting of Cap, Baker, and Charlie platoons, would hit from the 110th line. Once they hit, the surviving portions of Able and Delta would head down Columbus Avenue, while Easy and Foxtrot swung down Park. The two flanking groups would converge on either side of 96th, and hit the GENOM forces from either side.
Meanwhile, someone had managed to scare up a few skimmers for some limited air support - at least for a pass or two. Once they hit the heaviest fixed emplacements, it would be time to move.
The airstrikes ripped gouges into the GENOM emplacements, cracking holes in the permacrete and opening lanes into the park, where scattered squads of White Legionnaires were backed up by what seemed like every damn combat capable Boomer in New York.
As the smoke cleared out, Captain America came out of cover like a bullet from a gun, shield raised, hand outstretched as he crossed the gap.
"LET'S TAKE BACK OUR HOME!"
A cheer came out of hundreds of throats as they followed behind him, and Kallon was right behind Rogers, legs pumping, rifle ready, because that's what you did when a man like that was leading the way.
The fight itself was a blur. PPG pulses, heavy ion bolts, blaster fire, and plasma discharges ripped through the air. Flashes of biosteel, white plastoid armor, and UEDF armorplast in the smoke. The smell of upturned dirt, burning grass, and melted metals.
Little flashes were easy to recall, though. Bu-99s rising out of the reservoir like red eyed zombies. Fighting side by side (and occasionally back to back) with Rogers, Sparks, and Ubaldo as they broke through the North Meadow.
Steve Rogers spun at the sound of Kallon's alarmed shout, his shield coming up reflexively. That long habit kept the Bu-99 that had leapt from the Observation Deck above him from driving the close combat spikes on its arms into his chest. The '99's armor was blasted, cracked, and melted in several spots - it must have taken the brunt of one of the airstrikes and 'played dead', waiting for someone to come closer.
The war machine was still quite deadly, though, and had enough strength to force him back as it attempted to wrestle the shield away.
A moment later, though, the boomer was distracted by a burst of PPG fire that sparked and smoked off its back. Sergeant Kallon unloaded until his rifle's plasma cap clicked dry, triggered the release, and slapped another in, but before he could resume his fire, the '99 whirled away from Rogers with a burst of the boost jets in its legs, then charged, the bayonets deploying from each wrist.
"Awww, shit!" Throwing himself to the side, Kallon bounced hard off the ground, but narrowly avoided being impaled. The '99 whirled again as it came around, preparing to press another attack, when a whirling disc of red and white slammed into one of the broken plates of its plastron, digging deep into internal structure and systems with a burst of orange boomer nutrient fluid.
The '99 staggered back, falling to the ground, and Rogers followed his shield, exploiting the momentary advantage to grab the shield, yank it free, and slam it back into the rent he'd opened with all of his considerable strength.
Another burst of orange fluid spurted up, this one spraying over the chest of his dark blue uniform. The boomer heaved beneath him as the hardened edge of the shield crushed its laser core and severed its fiber-optic "spine". The glowing red eyes flared for a moment, then went dark as the unit went limp, crashing to the ground for the final time.
Slipping his shield back onto his forearm, Steve waited a moment to make sure the boomer was truly down, then walked to Kallon, offering him a hand up.
"I think I owe you that beer you were talking about, Sarge. That was a hell of a risk you took."
Taking the hand and letting the Captain help him up, Kallon grinned. "Sounds good to me, Cap...and I think you can probably call me Charlie."
Friday, March 12th, 2410
Charles Kallon hadn't expected to receive an invitation to a wedding yesterday - let alone a wedding held in, if he understood it correctly, another universe; but after all the bride and groom had done for him, and the people of Tau Ceti, he was honored to have seen their vows.
He'd eaten a hell of a meal, danced briefly with the Prince during the reception, spent a little time speaking to the father of the groom to thank him personally for the IPO's help, and had started to wander off towards the bar when he heard a familiar voice behind him.
"Mr. President? I do believe I owed you a drink."
Smiling broadly, he turned, and saw Steve Rogers standing with a pair of pint glasses. "Captain Rogers, that'd be my pleasure." Taking the offered beer with a smile, he raised the glass in what might have been a salute. "Damn, Cap. We both got old, but you make it look good."
"Oh, I don't know - you seem to have managed all right. It's good to see you, Charlie."
"You, too. Been a long time."
"That it has. Sorry I wasn't able to make it to help out in Tau City last week."
Kallon chuckled. "I appreciate the thought, but you and the IPO sent a pretty good care package all the same."
Rogers smiled. "Just trying to return the favor."
They raised their glasses, drank, and found a quiet table towards the back of the ballroom, to think of absent friends, share a few war stories, and talk of home.
"That Which Makes a Soldier Great" - a Crossroads/Future Imperfect Mini-Story by Matt Wagner
special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2014 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Happy Veterans Day to all who are serving or have served. - MJW
Jaymie "BZArcher" Wagner
@BZArcher / bzarcher at gmail
"Life is change. Let’s live.”