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Recovery Mission

Book 9 of the Fierce Girls at War Series

Michael Adams


Copyright 2018 by Michael Adams

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever including Internet usage, without written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, or events used in this book are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, alive or deceased, events or locales is completely coincidental.

E-book formatting by Maureen Cutajar

www.gopublished.com


Other Books by Mike Adams

Fierce Girls at War series

Book 1: Fierce Girls

Book 2: Threat on the Horizon

Book 3: Opening Shots

Book 4: First Contact

Book 5: Bad Day On The River

Book 6: The Fight For The Pass

Book 7: Deluge

Book 8: Enemy Found

Book 9: Recovery Mission

Book 10: Jacks Company

Book 11: Death By Water Death By Fire


Contents


Prologue: Lieutenant Zoey Bryant

Chapter 1: Captain Zoey Bryant

Chapter 2: House on the Beach

Chapter 3: Assignments

Chapter 4: Raiding Party

Chapter 5: The Marco Polo

Chapter 6: Back to New Cancun

Chapter 7: The Ranger Base

Chapter 8: The Warehouse

Chapter 9: Calling it a Night

Chapter 10: A Day in the Mountains

Chapter 11: Picking Up Some Strays

Chapter 12: A New Plan

Chapter 13: Clearing the Base

Chapter 14: The Barracks

Chapter 15: Treasure Hunt

Chapter 16: On to the Next Targets

Chapter 17: Courtyard Landing

Chapter 18: Trouble at the Hospital

Chapter 19: Chasing Shadows

Chapter 20: Found

Chapter 21: A Successful Mission

Chapter 22: London Returns

Chapter 23: The Expanded Residence

Chapter 24: A Little Recognition

Chapter 25: Cleared for Duty

Chapter 26: Announcement

Chapter 27: Consternated Rift

Chapter 28: Climbing

Chapter 29: What’s Next

Chapter 30: Mon Pere

Chapter 31: Scout Cars

Chapter 32: Discovery

Chapter 33: Getting Closer

Chapter 34: Marco Polo Jumps

Chapter 35: Blowing Up Things

Chapter 36: VR Drill

Chapter 37: Unwelcome Visitors

Chapter 38: Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best



Prologue

Lieutenant Zoey Bryant

October 2121

Monrovia, Liberia

Born in New York City in 2096 Zoey Bryant was a 5’10” All-State volleyball player as a senior and at the top of her class in high school. She was recruited by the US Army to attend the Military Academy at West Point and there she was captain of the women’s volleyball team while rising to the cadet rank of Executive Officer of the Second Regiment. She graduated 4th in her class in 2118 and after completing Ranger school she joined the 4th Ranger Battalion as a platoon leader in C Company in December 2119.

In March 2121 C Company was sent to the Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan for four mostly uneventful months then withdrawn and redeployed to Liberia in West Africa. The country was once again on the verge of civil war and the government, one friendly to the US, had asked for assistance. Two Ranger companies, C and D, were sent to discourage the rebels from trying to take over the Liberian capital of Monrovia and the 478 men and women of Companies C and D and their supporting units made themselves at home in three large empty hangars, Hangars 7, 8 and 9, grouped close together off the secondary runway on the west side of the main airport that was located on the northern outskirts of the city. The two companies of Rangers were supported by a heavy platoon of 25 armored fighting vehicles, a team of medical personnel and two armored anti-grav combat shuttles.

###

The new commander of C Company Captain Marvin Stanton Lewis was sitting in the makeshift dining area in the hangar having lunch with Lieutenants Zoey Bryant, Cal Hoffman, Desmond Chow, Carlos Armendariz and Beth Bormann, eating fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. The atmosphere was relaxed and he was making an effort to get to know his four platoon leaders - Bryant, Hoffman, Chow and Armendariz. Beth Bormann was one of the shuttle pilots. The five junior officers were talking about their families and where they came from and Captain Lewis told them about his time as a platoon leader in D Company, then as XO in A Company. He’d been a Ranger for seven years and had seen combat in Northern Pakistan and Nigeria and he’d just come from the staff of the Joint Operations Command. He’d taken command of C Company just a week earlier, a month after his soldiers had arrived in Monrovia. The mission commander Major Jeff Bledsoe was in Lagos, Nigeria for a meeting with senior leadership at the US Operations African Area Command HQ.

Captain Ashton Tanner’s D Company’s had gone out to the east side of the city where most of the various embassy compounds were concentrated. There had been sporadic fighting a few miles further east of the city between government forces and the rebels. Tanner and his company were tasked with making themselves a visible presence the rebels would hesitate to take on. Lewis’s C Company would relieve them the next morning if needed.

Second Lieutenant Armendariz, the newest platoon leader in C Company asked, “The rebels are making noise on the east side. How long before they make an appearance somewhere else?”

“Intelligence reports say there were several hundred rebels somewhere about fifty miles north of here a few days ago but they’ve lost track of them. They’re also not sure where they’re going if anywhere,” Captain Lewis said. “They could be the same ones making noise on the east side of town or they could be a whole different group. The jungle is pretty thick and its easy hide from overhead observation.”

“Is that all based on satellite and drone searches or is there some human intel backing that up?” asked Beth Bormann.

Zoey Bryant said, “I wouldn’t count on any humint we get around here. They’re real good at feeding us false info. I wouldn’t trust the government sources either, this place has gone downhill since the plague of 2103. For decades Liberia had one of the most stable governments in all of Africa but now corruption has spread everywhere and there are a lot of people wondering if the rebels are really the good guys.”

Lewis and the others looked at the very attractive dark-skinned, almond- eyed First Lieutenant and Cal Hoffman said, “That’s not what we’ve been hearing, Zoey. Everything I’ve heard says the opposite, the government has the full support of the population.”

Captain Lewis regarded Bryant speculatively, “All the official briefings I’ve had before coming out here say pretty much the same thing. What makes you say that, Zoey?”

With a hint of a smile on her lips Zoey Bryant replied, “Unlike my lighter-skinned friends here I’ve been able to walk around town in civilian clothes without drawing any unwanted attention. Not much anyway. I’ve also studied the local language a bit. The people on the street that I’ve talked to say they don’t know who to be more afraid of, the rebels or the government. The government is going broke and a lot of people aren’t getting paid on time so more and more of them are demanding a little extra on the side from people needing government services. They also told me that people the government suspects of supporting the rebels have disappeared. Whether that means the police or the army has been picking them up or they’ve just left town or if they’re just rumors without basis nobody knows.”

Marvin Lewis nodded his head, “Well, that squares with what the American Military Liaison told me when I stopped by the embassy on the way here. Off the record and not yet corroborated, but he told me some of what you just said, Zoey. The government has requested some financial support from us but congress has been saying no.”

“Sounds like typical short-sighted stupidity,” Desmond Chow said as he sat back in his chair. “You know I noticed that one of the things we haven’t seen in the intel reports we’ve been given are attacks by the rebels on civilians. They sometimes get in the way but they haven’t been targeted. At least none were mentioned.”

Lewis agreed, “Yes, I noticed that. And that’s a smart approach. Whoever is behind them has created the current instability, or exploited it anyway, to cause the conditions where the government and civil society starts to deteriorate. If they claim to be fighting against a corrupt government on behalf of the people they’ll garner more support.”

“Could they be the good guys?” Bormann asked. “The lesser evil, I should say.”

Lewis shook his head, “No, not even close. We know they get at least some of their financial support from Hassan Gul and whenever he’s involved it can’t be good. He and his sons are pure poison. I doubt he even cares who comes out ahead here; he just wants to create chaos everywhere. He’s not stupid though. And he may have a bigger following than anyone thinks.”

The on-duty communications tech Corporal Ward Rollins called over, “Captain Lewis! Captain Tanner is calling, Sir. Says it’s urgent!”

“Okay, put him through, Rollins.” His comm badge chirped and Lewis answered, “Captain Lewis here.”

Marv, we’re under heavy attack! There are at least three hundred heavily armed insurgents. My Rangers are fully involved. I’ve got a dozen casualties who need immediate medevac!”

“Understood, Ash! I’m sending a med team on one of the shuttles.” Beth Bormann was already moving towards the aircraft parked outside and calling for the other air crewmen as she went. Lewis gave a little wave to Zoey Bryant who nodded and took off to alert the medical team under their unit’s senior Medical officer Major Lucinda Ramos. “Are you in need of reinforcement?”

Get your people ready but standby till I can tell you where to send them.” Just then a loud boom was heard outside and Lewis and the three platoon leaders ran out the hangar entrance and looked east where several Rangers were pointing at a huge fireball rising several hundred feet into the morning sky.

“Ash, what was that?” Lewis asked Tanner.

Oil storage tank further east. Shit! Take cover!” Ward and the others heard the sounds of explosions coming from the captain’s comm. “We’ve got mortar rounds coming in! Can’t tell where they’re coming from. We need air support ASAP!”

Bormann’s aircraft was already lifting off while the second shuttle would follow as soon as the med team boarded. “On their way, Ash. Keep your heads down! We’ll be ready to move in five!”

Copy that.”

The company commander turned to his platoon leaders, “Cal, Des, Carlos, get your people ready to go.” The three hurried off calling for their platoon sergeants. When Bryant returned he said, “Zoey, you’ve got the reserve platoon. They’re going to need help with the injured when they get back here!”

“Yes, Captain!” Bryant went back inside the hangar and called for her platoon sergeant and squad leaders. The reserve platoon would provide stretcher bearers and any other assistance they could when the casualties started coming in, the rest would set up a defensive perimeter in case of trouble. They would be called if needed on the other side of town.

It was quiet in the immediate area of the airport when Tanner called for reinforcements a few minutes later. Captain Lewis led the three platoons from C Company to the northeast towards where the US Embassy was located. Lieutenant Bryant and her platoon sergeant Master Sergeant Kyle Brenner went around checking on the platoon’s 43 Rangers who were supported by just four large armored personnel carriers with their onboard weapons systems, the rest were with Tanner and Lewis.

It wasn’t long before the shuttle with D Company’s casualties returned. Major Ramos and the rest of her team had been busy getting the mobile surgical unit in the rear of Hangar 8 ready for business. Bryant and Master Sergeant Brenner were waiting when the shuttle’s rear cargo ramp was lowered and Captain Kellin Fontaine waved them over. Medics began bringing out the wounded Rangers.

Doctor Fontaine said, “Lieutenant, we’ve got three in med pods in here who need surgery ASAP. The rest are less serious. We brought back two dead but there are more out there we couldn’t get to.”

Bryant waved to a squad of her Rangers who had been standing by, “Let’s get them inside then, Sir. Major Ramos and Lieutenant Sutherland have everything ready.” Lieutenant Angie Sutherland was one of the two nurses with the team; the other, Lieutenant Nate Bridger was coming out of the shuttle with the first of the medical pods containing the most seriously wounded.

“We’re going back as soon as these are inside,” Fontaine said.

“How are things over there?” Bryant asked.

“Busy. Our guys are being hit from the east and south. There must be at least several hundred rebels with heavy weapons.”

“Captain, we’re ready to go,” called one of the medics a few moments later from inside the shuttle.

“Coming!” Fontaine put his helmet back on and trotted up the ramp followed by Bridger and three other medics. A moment later the shuttle lifted off and headed east again.

The shuttle was out of sight when Zoey heard her name shouted from the next hangar over. “Lieutenant Bryant!” Staff Sergeant Coombs was coming out of Hangar 8 and ran up to her. “Lieutenant, all our comms are down. I think we’re being jammed!”

The departure of most of C Company and the twelve armored vehicles carrying them then the medical shuttle was the signal for the rebels to attack the Rangers’ compound at the airport. The attack began 15 minutes after Lewis left to reinforce Tanner’s Company and began when a cry was heard from a Ranger on watch atop one of the armored vehicles. “We’ve got incoming! There’s eight, nine, no ten vehicles headed this way from the other side of the airfield, Lieutenant! Technicals!” Technicals were improvised fighting vehicles that might be armed with machine guns, rocket launchers, mortars or a combination of all three. “I think there’s more behind them!”

Bryant looked towards the north and saw the vehicles moving towards them on the runway tarmac and could see that they had makeshift armor plates welded all around them. She shouted to her platoon sergeant, “Master Sergeant Brenner! We’ve got no comms, take charge of squads 3 and 4 and Hangar 9, I’ll take 1 and 2 and Hangar 7. We’ve got to keep them away from Hangar 8 and the med team!”

“I’m on it, L.T.!”

Bryant ran over to Hangar 7 where the four APCs were parked; their drivers were getting them moving. The crews were manning the machine guns on top and the rocket launchers controlled from a panel inside each vehicle. Staff Sergeant Sarah Miller, the ranking NCO among them was waiting for Bryant’s orders.

“Miller! I want two of your APCs over by Hangar 9, one at the far corner, one to the corner by Hangar 8. The other two do the same on this side!”

“Right, Lieutenant!” Miller ran over to the waiting vehicles and passed on Bryant’s orders. The attacking rebels had closed with range and began firing on the Americans. The Rangers returned fire.

“Hold your fire! Wait ‘til they get closer! Don’t waste your ammo!” Bryant dived behind a mound of sandbags as bullets passed close by and penetrated the thin hangar walls. An explosion behind her blew a hole in the north side of the hangar.

“Mortars! Where’re they coming from?” cried Corporal Straitham.

“Heads down!” yelled another Ranger just as another mortar round landed about ten yards to the west of the hangar. A third fell closer still.

Counter-mortar fire immediately began to go out from the three mortar teams set up by Hangar 8. “Let’s move people!” Bryant ordered. “Move to the other side of the hangar!” The three 3-man fire teams who were spread out nearby ran for the cover of the opposite side of the hangar while the 2 APCs gave them covering fire. One launched a rocket that blew a technical up in the air, its occupants torn to pieces. Zoey Bryant grabbed Private Nguyen who had tripped and fallen and pulled him to his feet. The wide-eyed private gave her a little grin of gratitude and hurried after the rest of his section. When she reached a safer spot away from the mortar rounds which continued to fall close to Hangar 7 she called over to the nearest fire team, “Sergeant Lucchesi!”

“L.T.?”

“Send one of your guys to the rear of the hangar and take a look back there. I want to make sure no one’s trying to come at us from that direction!”

“Okay!” The fire team leader spoke to one of his teammates who ran back towards the rear of the hangar to take a look. A marsh ran all along that side of the airport which should make it difficult for anyone to approach from that direction. The marsh was likely their greatest advantage at the moment. Unless the rebels had some way to cross the swamp undetected the Rangers couldn’t be surrounded. If worst came to worst Bryant could load all her people in the armored vehicles which had some amphibious capability but that would be a last resort, not all of the wounded would make it out if they had to do that. In the meantime with their communications jammed Bryant couldn’t call for assistance, she and her platoon were on their own.

Bryant watched as another rocket took out one of the closest technicals which had closed to within a hundred yards of the hangar line. Four of the first ten technicals had been destroyed and two others had stopped moving although their guns were still firing. Looking behind them the young lieutenant could see at least two dozen more headed their way. She glanced around her platoon’s perimeter, they had suffered several casualties already, and she concluded that if even half of those incoming technicals got close enough they would be able to shred all three hangars and her platoon and the surgical unit with them.

“Lucchesi!” The Ranger NCO looked back as she hurried over to him and said, “We have to protect the surgical unit! Move over to Hangar 8! Take the other fire teams with you!”

“Yes, Lieutenant!”

As soon as he acknowledged she took off for the nearest APC and climbed in the open rear hatch, “Shift over to Hangar 8! We’re too spread out!” The driver nodded and the armored vehicle began moving towards the next hangar. She called the NCO in charge of the vehicle who was at the rocket launcher control station, “Sergeant Hadid!”

“Yes, Lieutenant?” he replied just as the APC rocked from the blast of a mortar rounded just yards away.

“There are a lot more technicals coming after this bunch. If we just sit here they’ll overwhelm us. We have to go at them!”

“Lock and load?”

“Lock and load! Cover me while I pass the word!”

“You got it, L.T.!” Hadid replied with a feral grin.

Bryant dashed out and ran over to the platoon sergeant and told him what she wanted them to do. She had every other fire team board the APCs, the rest of the platoon under Brenner would concentrate around Hangar 8 where the wounded, including several from her platoon, were being treated inside. The mortar teams stayed with Brenner. One of the fire teams boarding each APC manned the two Gatling guns which fired 8-inch long armor piercing explosive rounds at a rate of 10 per second. These weapons hadn’t been brought into play yet because the speeding armored technicals were staying back out of range and having turned right or left they were making themselves more difficult targets as they waited for the 30 or so vehicles coming up behind them rapidly. The fire team’s third member manned the secondary heavy machine gun at the rear of the APC. The other fire team would man the now open firing ports on either side with their assault rifles and look for any targets the main guns might have missed.

Bryant had moved over to Staff Sergeant Miller’s vehicle and she told her, “Let’s go! Lead the way, Miller!”

“Yes, Sir!”

With Miller’s fighting vehicle in the lead the four APCs spread out and charged towards the rebel trucks. The rebels were slow to realize what was happening and the Rangers were on them before they could evade their fire. The APCs quickly closed the distance between them and the Gatling guns tore into the technicals, easily penetrating their thin steel side plates. Five of the six rebel vehicles remaining from the rebels’ first wave were destroyed in less than a minute and the sixth, its gun now unmanned, retreated rapidly.

The second wave was now close and seeing what had just happened some of them peeled off to the right, others to the left, trying to get around the Americans’ flanks, with most continuing straight on. Bryant had foreseen this response and one APC went after each set of flankers. Mortar rounds then began to fall in front of the flanking technicals causing them to veer off course haphazardly. The Ranger mortar teams were good at what they did and they had quickly silenced the rebel mortars hiding in the field on the opposite side of the runway and now they turned their attention to the oncoming enemy. The Americans in the APCs were firing all their weapons relentlessly, the rockets, the Gatlings, and the machine guns each concentrating on different targets. Bryant and the fire teams were taking out rebel fighters on foot who had jumped off the backs of the technicals before the APCs had come out.

“There! Those two heaps together! Drop us there!” The APC came to a fast stop, Lieutenant Bryant and Sergeant Dan Dryer’s fire team jumped out and they took cover by two of the rebel vehicles that were smoldering almost side by side. In an age where virtually every road vehicle was electrically powered burning fuel was rarely a problem. The oil tank that they’d seen go up earlier contained heating and cooking oil for the poorer neighborhoods which still had limited or no access to solar power or to the city’s electrical grid. All four APCs had dropped off their fire teams and they were taking a terrible toll among the rebels on foot who were out on the open runway while the Americans used the damaged rebel vehicles for protection.

Things were happening too quickly for the poorly trained rebel fighters who had expected to surround the small group of Americans at the hangars while the majority of their comrades were over on the east side of the city. Their leaders planned to overwhelm the single platoon of Rangers with over three hundred fighters and over forty of the homemade armored vehicles but the technicals were being destroyed by the superior firepower of the APCs which were not only heavily armed and armored, they were also fast and maneuverable. Only three of the rebel vehicles got past the APCs and Master Sergeant Brenner and his fire teams were ready for them. The gunners on the three charging vehicles were unable to aim effectively at the Rangers who were concentrating all their weapons on them while ignoring the handful on foot who were now running away. This gave the mortar teams a chance to switch weapons and bring out their short-range but very deadly shoulder-launched rockets which made quick work of the approaching enemy trucks.

Smoldering vehicles littered the runway and the surviving technicals turned around and retreated rapidly leaving the fighters on foot to their own devices. Bryant heard a chirp on her helmet comm telling her that the rebel jamming had stopped. She called a halt and had the APCs circle the area looking for any stray rebels who could pose a danger.

Satisfied that the battle was over Lieutenant Zoey Bryant surveyed her Rangers. One APC was moving slowly, its main power pack damaged by a rebel rocket but the Rangers inside were unharmed. Two Rangers who’d dismounted from the APCs had been hit in their armored vests and had the wind knocked out of them. Eight of her Rangers had received wounds back by the hangars but only two were serious but not life-threatening as the medical team was able to tend to them almost immediately. More than 30 enemy vehicles were now smoldering wrecks and nearly 200 hundred rebel bodies were strewn around the runway. A fair return she thought grimly.

Lewis to Lieutenant Bryant,” she heard over the comm link.

She replied, “Bryant here, Sir.”

Things have calmed down over here. The rebels broke off all of a sudden and took off and we got our comms back up. The med shuttle is just about to head back to the airport; they’ve got a dozen or so of Captain Tanner’s people and two of Cal’s onboard.”

“I’ll let Major Ramos know.”

Everything quiet there, Zoey?”

“Things’ are calm at the moment, Captain,” she said trying to keep her voice casual, no sense having them rush back here now she thought.


Chapter 1

Captain Zoey Bryant

October 3, 2126
Day 21

New Hope Town

Colonial Ranger Captain Zoey Bryant was feeling frustrated as she watched her troopers oversee the civilian volunteers through their morning training evolutions. Her command, Delta Company, had been charged with training the hundreds of civilian volunteers who’d stepped forward after the aliens invaded. Everyone understood that the colony would be on its own for at least a year even though there were some Rangers en route to the colony. Those Rangers had no idea what awaited them.

The cargo supply ship Asia was due to arrive in a little over a month and it was carrying 4 field detachments plus some support personnel, over 450 Rangers altogether. The colony transport ship Marco Polo would be bringing another 2,000 Rangers about two months after that. All of those contingents were regular detachments armed with the same weapons the Ranger Regiment had now. Some of the detachments were meant to increase the size of the Regiment in anticipation of expanded exploration operations while others were replacements for units due to rotate home. No one was going home now unless they were among the wounded or those caring for them. And the dead of course, except for those unrecovered or who had opted to be interred in the colony cemetery when they first arrived in the event they died there.

Zoey wasn’t just frustrated, she was grieving and angry. She had lost her two closest friends at the colony; Chinese Captain Jing Woo had been killed in battle north of New St. Louis on day 5 while Gunnery Sergeant Molly Pickford had disappeared along with her good friend Rick Cassidy and the cargo transport lander Cairo on the first day of the invasion. The Cairo had been attacked in the opening moments of the invasion and was thought to have come down somewhere in the mountains north of Southport but no one knew just where. She prayed that Molly and Rick were both alive and well, those transports were tough and if they had made it to some refuge in the mountains under power they could very well all be alive and safe along with all those kids from the New Hope Academy. They might be unable to take off and with the comsats taken out they wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone to tell them where they were. There was nothing to do anyone could do but hope and think positive.

Unlike most of the Regiment’s detachments and companies, Delta Company had not met the aliens in battle yet and that was the real source of her frustration. A decorated US Army Ranger before she joined the Colonial Rangers Zoey Bryant had almost four years of experience at the colony and she felt that she should be doing more than she was. Despite her protestations, First Battalion’s commander Colonel Angus McTeague had made it clear that the training cadre the company of experienced American and French Rangers represented was more valuable right there at the Ranger Base in the colonial capital of New Hope Town helping get the civilians as ready as possible before they met the alien enemy. They were also the primary defensive force should the aliens show up in the immediate neighborhood.

Zoey understood the argument but that didn’t mean she had to like it. Some of her other longtime friends like French Captain Melissa Rossi, Ukrainian Captain Oksana Belenko and Chinese Captain Eva Zhang had all had their turn in the grinder and their companies had suffered terrible losses. Rossi and Belenko had been sent back to New Hope Town after the Battle of the Bridges south of New Cancun along with their surviving personnel to regroup and augment the training cadre for a short time. Then they had been sent back to Winter Haven, their companies reinforced by several platoons of the best prepared volunteers, all of them with prior military experience back on Earth. Eva Zhang’s Tiger Company had been badly mauled at Southport and she’d also been sent back to New Hope Town, to take command of a group of Chinese volunteers, another group of military veterans, and take them to Winter Haven. Zoey’s friends had fought the aliens again at the battle of Winter Haven just a few days ago. Bryant and her company of combat veterans were all chafing to fight the aliens who had killed or wounded over 1,500 Rangers out of the 4500 in the Regiment before the invasion began just three weeks before.

Bryant had served in Northern Pakistan, Liberia and Kenya and she’d seen combat on several occasions besides the incident in Monrovia although nothing quite as ‘exciting’. After returning from Africa she applied for Colonial Ranger training and was quickly posted to an open platoon leader slot. She went through the 3-month Colonial Ranger training course with a new American detachment under the command of Captain Claudia Stairs during the spring of 2122. Along with detachments from China, France and Japan the Americans boarded the cargo supply ship Antarctica in June of 2122, arriving at the colony in January 2123. On the Antarctica Zoey met and became close friends with several female platoon leaders from the other detachments including Chinese Lieutenants Jing Woo and Eva Zhang, Japanese Lieutenant Yui Watanabe and French Lieutenant Melissa Rossi. All were to find a mentor in Claudia Stairs and all would stay on after their detachments went home. They were a tight knit group who were both great friends and extremely competent professionals.

When her detachment went home in 2125 Zoey was assigned to First Battalion staff for several months and she was promoted to Captain before being assigned to take over as the executive officer of Delta Company, then as its commanding officer six months later. Each Ranger company had two detachments, never from the same country; Delta had Bryant’s Americans and a French detachment under Captain Pierre Monserat.

Zoey and some of her friends had first met Rick Cassidy and Molly Pickford late in 2123 around the time the two had opened up Cassidy’s private residence as a haven for the female Ranger officers and aircrews. The Ranger women were the frequent subjects of harassment or just excess unwanted attention from all too many of the male officers who made up the great majority of the Ranger officer corps that was composed of veteran soldiers from more than 30 countries. The overall ratio of males to females at the colony had been almost 4:1 when she’d first arrived; it had improved somewhat to less than 3:1 but within the Regiment the imbalance was still considerably greater.

Rick and Molly had become true friends and the residence had become a central social gathering point for the women of the Regiment. The expanded residence was now hosting more than forty female officers who no longer had space at the Ranger barracks because of all the volunteers, many of whom had fled Southport or New Cancun with only what they could carry, some with little more than the clothes on their backs. Many of the women had to sleep on air mattresses on the floor but they still had more personal space there then they’d had over at the base where everyone was doubled or tripled up. Zoey knew she was lucky; she’d moved in early on and got to share Rick Cassidy’s king-sized bed with Major Naomi MacCaffrey, the acting Director of Logistics in Cassidy’s absence.

As one of the ‘old-hands,’ and as everyone knew that she was close friends with Rick and Molly, she also had a certain priority when it came to a spot in Cassidy’s big ten-seat hot tub; like his big bed it was the only one like it at the colony. It was while soaking in the hot tub last night that Naomi MacCaffrey had asked for advice when she suggested that there were badly needed explosives in some bunkers outside the alien-held settlement of New Cancun. That had led to the development of a proposed raid on those bunkers by a group of women including herself, Yui Watanabe, the cargo transport lander London’s Austrian assistant engineer and veteran shuttle pilot Captain Greta Marx, Russian platoon leader Olga Kasparova, Barcelona’s co-pilot Major Rachel Gibbs and several others. Naomi MacCaffrey had brought that idea to General Jamison and it had been approved then expanded.


Chapter 2

House on the Beach

October 9, 2126
Day 26

Harvester Station #1 18 miles south of New Cancun Ranger Base

After Lieutenant Daniel Beaufort, Master Sergeant Mindy Taylor and the squad of six Brazilians under Staff Sergeant Alicia Oliveira had found the steel bridge over the Big Citrus River to be largely intact and passable they went in search of the harvester stations which monitored and harvested the citrus groves that had been planted between the two rivers. Harvester Station #2, the station closest to the bridge had been broken into but was mostly undamaged. They figured that the aliens had probably done a quick search for anyone hiding inside then moved on. The vehicle barn with its six harvesting machines was open but otherwise appeared untouched. A quarter mile further east they reached Harvester Station #1, the main station for the area where the worker’s barracks was, and found that it too appeared to have been hastily searched but was otherwise intact.

The Rangers figured that the station must have been evacuated sometime before the aliens reached the area; there were signs in the accommodation rooms and in the offices of a unhurried withdrawal. The closets and drawers in the barracks were empty; everything had been packed and taken when the workers left. The comm equipment and all computers and data pads had been taken as well. On the other hand there were comfortable beds in the barracks rooms and there was some food, though not much, in the storeroom adjacent to the kitchen although there was nothing edible that had required refrigeration, those storerooms had been left open and everything was spoiled. They did find enough for perhaps two weeks if they rationed it.

The Rangers checked on the other four harvester stations in the area to make sure they were also unoccupied and looked for any signs of alien patrols in the area but found nothing other than some obviously old oversized footprints here and there, probably left over from the aliens initial search. With food they didn’t have to hunt and the first real beds they’d had in a month, Beaufort decided that they should remain there for two nights and part of the next day before trying for the Ranger Base. He wanted everyone well-rested before they risked moving further north.

Leaving most of their gear behind the eight Rangers crossed the Big Citrus River an hour before dusk and followed the road that ran north past the Ranger Base and into New Cancun. They stayed off the section that was gravel but when they reached a point about ten miles from the settlement the road became a paved surface and they decided to use it to make better time in the dark. They were using the low-light functions of their combat helmet visors but the uneven ground still made footing tricky and their progress had been slower than they would have liked. They saw no signs of aliens or humans and came within sight of the base about 3:30 in the morning. They surveyed the fence line on the south side and hearing no one they withdrew a hundred yards to consider their next move.

There were a few lights on here and there and they crept quietly through the open main gate on the west side near the base hospital. Staff Sergeant Oliveira had suggested entering the hospital and making their way to the roof to get a better look at things before deciding where to go next. Beaufort agreed and they found the main doors wide open and the building dark with no lights on. They located one of the stairwells that led to the second floor of the building which was also completely dark, then up to the roof. They didn’t search the hospital looking for trouble but crept up the stairs as quietly as possible and didn’t attract any attention to themselves.

“Some lights might have been left on when they abandoned the base,” Daniel Beaufort speculated as they surveyed the base from the roof.

“Or the aliens who must have come here in starships from another planet might have figured out what a light switch was for,” Taylor guffawed.

Beaufort chuckled, “There is that possibility.”

“Now that we’re here and we know our people aren’t what do we do next, Lieutenant?” asked Ana Branco.

Beaufort sighed, “Well Sergeant, I want to check the shuttle hangar first on the off-chance that one was under maintenance when the aliens were coming and they had to leave it behind. If so, maybe we can get it running and fly out of here. We also need to check the comm center to see if we can send or receive a signal. Then we’ll see.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Mindy Taylor. “Someone should keep watch here while we take a look.”

“Oui.” Beaufort turned to the staff sergeant, “Alicia, leave two of your squad here to look for trouble. I want radio silence unless they see something coming our way. Clicks only.”

“Yes, Sir.” Oliveira turned to Fernandes and Moreno who were listening along with the rest, “Daisy, you and Gustavo stay here.”

“Okay,” the attractive blonde-haired sergeant said. “Gustavo, you take the south corner, I’ll take the north.”

“Sim, Sargento,” the young trooper replied then hastened over to the southeast corner of the building which gave him a view of the south side of the base including several barracks buildings, the gymnasium, and the commissary and cafeteria complex. Fernandes went to the northeast corner which gave her a view of the shuttle landing field and its adjacent maintenance hangar, the comm center and the barracks buildings in between. A half-moon was up and the sky was clear. The open spaces were well moonlit and easy to see but there were shadows as well and they would use them wherever they could and trust the lookouts to spot trouble before they had to cross the open spaces.

“Let’s go,” said Beaufort. The six Rangers returned carefully to the ground floor, exited through the main doors and like ghosts in the shadows they crossed the shuttle landing field and entered the hangar. They were disappointed but not surprised that there were no aircraft inside. The next stop was the comm center where they found no luck either.

“The sun will start coming up in less than an hour,” Taylor said. “We need to find a place to stay for the day.”

“You’re right,” the Frenchman said. “Any suggestions?”

Alicia Oliveira said, “Sir, we all need some new clothes. We’re wearing rags. There’s a commissary here and a supply warehouse somewhere, isn’t there?” The staff sergeant grinned when she saw Taylor turn towards Beaufort and take a little sniff then wrinkle her nose. The tilted her head at the pilot and eyed him expectantly when he glanced over at her.

“Okay, okay. We should be able find what we need in one of the barracks buildings but we need to do it quick.”

Oliveira shook her head, “Sir, if there are any aliens inside we might not be able to get out again. We should take a look at the commissary first or maybe the main supply warehouse.”

Ana Branco added, “The supply warehouse is over on the far side of the base on the other side of the commissary and cafeteria complex. I was there a couple of months ago to pick up some supplies. The loading dock faces the fence on the south side.”

Beaufort nodded, “Okay, good idea Alicia, we’ll avoid the barracks. Ana, what’s the best way to get to the warehouse? I’ve never been over there.”

Branco replied, “Back to the hospital, circle around and follow the fence line.”

The squad leader nodded, “I agree, Sir. We’ll be too visible going any other way.”

“Oui, okay, back to the hospital then. Collect your lookouts while we’re there, we might not come back this way.”

“Yes, Lieutenant,” Oliveira replied.

Two clicks followed by three clicks on the comm alerted the lookouts that they were moving again. One click came back signaling the all-clear and the six sprinted from the comm center across the open ground and back to the shadows on the north side of the hospital. Corporal Bosque was sent up to collect the lookouts and within minutes the three Rangers rejoined the rest of the party. They followed the fence line south and then east passing the base theater, the gymnasium and the swimming pool complex. They reached the back of the big supply warehouse and saw that the loading dock doors were wide open and the cavernous building was like a big black void; they would have to use the flashlights that Moreno and Bosque carried to see well enough to enter. The Rangers hesitated entering; there could be a hundred sleeping giants inside who would all awaken if they turned on a light.

“I don’t like this,” Master Sergeant Taylor whispered as she conferred with Beaufort, Oliveira and Fernandes.

“We won’t be able to see beyond a few yards but they could see our lights from the other side of this place,” the Brazilian said. “We’d need a much bigger team to check the whole warehouse.”

The officer agreed, “Let’s check the commissary instead. If it’s dark we go in.”

Branco said, “There are three ways in: the main doors, the delivery entrance on this side on the right and the side doors facing the soccer field. There’s a separate delivery entrance on the left for the cafeteria. We should go around the back of the chapel no matter what.” The commissary/cafeteria complex was one long connected affair where patrons could leave one and enter the other without going outside.

“Très bon; it’s around the chapel then. Let’s go.” They followed the fence line further east past the warehouse and the non-denominational chapel then surveyed the rear of the commissary. Beaufort considered their options, “The front door is too visible from those barracks buildings if anyone’s watching. If it looks clear we’ll take a peek in through the delivery entrance first.”

Fernandes and Moreno went first while Oliveira and Bosque kept watching the chapel doors and Sergeant Branco and Corporal Carrasco kept an eye on the warehouse. Fernandes entered the open delivery doors first then Moreno followed, disappearing into the shadows inside. A moment later Moreno came out and waved them to come over. The Rangers moved quickly and were inside within a few seconds.

Fernandes whispered, “The security lights are on inside. They come on automatically when the main lights are turned off. We won’t have to use the flashlights to see. We should be able to see any of the aliens if they’re in here. If they were up and moving around, we’d see them right away, by the size of their footprints I don’t think any of the racks or shelves are as tall as they are.”

“Très bon. We’ll use four teams of two again and spread out, look down all the aisles and then any side offices or storerooms.” The long aisles gave unrestricted views from one end to the other and it didn’t take long to search the place. Along the way they located what they were after – clean underwear, socks, uniforms and new boots. Their shopping spree was short and efficient. They took turns changing their socks and boots rather than carry the extra bulk and weight. Once everyone had what they needed and stuffed the items in their packs they headed for the small food section that was located close to the side door. Except for some rotting fruit and broken containers that had once held various liquids everything was gone except for some powdery items like flour and sugar that might not have been recognized as food, the aliens had taken everything else.

Finding nothing useable there Mindy Taylor suggested the snack section which was nearby. Packets of microwave popcorn, boxes of chewing gum, and some snack bars were among the items left behind by the aliens. “I was hoping to find a bag of chips,” Taylor said.

“No such luck, Master Sergeant,” Private Moreno said. “They probably didn’t realize they could eat some of this stuff too.”

Ana Branco snorted, “This stuff is edible? I can see why they left it.”

Beaufort chuckled softly, “It may not be to your taste, or mine, but there are calories here so take what you can carry.” The group gathered whatever junk food they could stuff in their rucksacks then discussed where to go next.

“We could go back to the hospital and stay there tonight,” Oliveira suggested.

“That’s what I was thinking,” Beaufort responded.

Fernandes pointed out a problem with that, “We’ll have to have at least four lookouts on the roof all night to make sure we spot anybody coming our way. Two can’t watch all four sides at once; the building’s too big for that. A patrol coming back could come in the main gate and head right for the hospital, or come from any direction for that matter.”

Corporal Carrasco added, “There might have been some of the aliens in the hospital even when we were there. We didn’t check the floors; we just went straight up to the roof without making much noise.”

“Where else then?” Oliveira asked.

Mindy Taylor suggested, “Down by the beach. The senior officers’ quarters are over there and there are some beach houses just up the shore a bit. They’re like the ones we have in Southport; or had anyway. Who knows what’s happened in Southport by now!”

“Sshh!” said Ana Branco who was watching the main door from a spot a few yards away. The group instantly went silent and they all listened and heard the sounds of deep guttural voices talking loud in some incomprehensible language as the alien patrol entered noisily into the commissary. They were on the far side of the long building and Beaufort signaled the group to stay low and head for the side exit which was through a short hallway that contained public restrooms and an employee locker room. They made it to the exit without incident and headed back to the south fence, followed it east to the shoreline passing a dark unfinished barracks building then climbed down to the rocky beach before turning north.

They ran hunched over out of sight of anyone who might be looking in their direction north past the outdoor weapons training range until they reach the quartet of small cottages that had been built for some of the senior officers stationed in New Cancun plus any visitors. Colonel Halim the New Cancun Ranger Base commander had lived in one of them as had Colonel Takahashi, the Third Battalion Commander. Both Colonel Gupta the acting Second Battalion Commander and Colonel Fox the newly arrived prospective commander of Second Batt had chosen to live in the senior officers’ quarters that were located adjacent to the battalion officers. The other two cottages were kept reserved for high ranking visitors.

When they reached first cottages they entered through the open ocean side door of the dark one-story, two-bedroom, one bathroom building that had a full kitchen and a large dining and sitting room. When they saw the Japanese flag patch on a uniform blouse draped over the back of a chair they knew it had to Colonel Takahashi’s residence. The pantry off the kitchen was bare and furniture had been knocked over. Rain and wind through the open doors had added to the mess inside. They moved on to Colonel Halim’s residence; it had been easy to identify when they saw the small German flag pinned on the wall. The cottage was in the same condition as Takahashi’s. The two guest cottages were in somewhat better condition so they split the group between the two with one Ranger on watch from each. They had a good field of view; no one would be sneaking up on them, and they could escape either north or south along the shore if they had to leave in a hurry.

They rested during the day and snacked on some of their junk food while taking turns on watch. They kept an eye out for the occasional patrol of giant aliens that never wandered in their direction. After a lengthy discussion they came to the conclusion that heading to the settlement was too risky. It was obvious that the aliens held the settlement or they wouldn’t have left just a small group of the giants at the Ranger Base. Once darkness fell they headed south along the shore until they were past the fence then headed back to Harvester Station #1 to rest and regroup while they figured out their next move.


Chapter 3

Assignments



New Hope Town

The following morning Delta Company was told that they would be going to New Cancun and every Ranger in the company volunteered to go. Delta was a veteran company and its American and French detachments had both been scheduled to rotate home when the Asia arrived in a month but no one was going home now unless they were among the wounded, or the dead.

With Bryant as the overall ground commander she would travel in the lead shuttle flown by Greta Marx. Catherine Nay would accompany Bryant but stay in the shuttle while they were at the demolitions bunkers. For the first night of the mission two platoons of Rangers from Delta Company - one American and one French - would be divided among four of the shuttles. Lieutenant Daniel McMasters, one of Bryant’s platoon leaders would fly in the second shuttle of Bryant’s section. First Sergeant Kurchenko would accompany McMasters and he would also stay inside the shuttle while they were at the bunkers.

Captain Pierre Monserat, Delta’s executive officer would command the second flight of two shuttles. Lizette Vidal would be in charge of the element in the second shuttle of Monserat’s section.

Each of the four shuttles would carry two six-man squads of Rangers under an officer. The shuttles would proceed in pairs with one squad of Rangers in each shuttle providing security while the other loaded the shuttles with the material they came for.

The fifth shuttle, flown by Master Sergeant Tamara Halliday, would remain in reserve and be called upon as needed. She would patrol the area off-shore around London looking for incoming threats. Halliday would also be carrying a contingent of twelve Rangers led by an officer from Delta Company. Another two full platoons of French and American Rangers would come along to provide security for the transport and to assist with unloading the shuttles as they came in. They could also be called on if there was trouble and reinforcements were needed.

The sixth shuttle, flown by Moira Sullivan, would carry London’s seven-person detachment of Colonial Security officers plus the two zodiacs and their boat crews close to the marina ten miles north of the settlement. A civilian materials expert would be going with them whose job would be to take samples from the hulls of the alien ships then figure out which adhesives the Rangers could later use to attach explosives to their hulls. Lieutenant Kevin Burns would command the boat team. Eight Rangers from the American detachment who had experience with the zodiacs and were good swimmers would be going with him.

The second night’s mission personnel assignments were going to be different. En route to New Cancun they would be picking up a contingent of Rangers in Winter Haven but who they were and how many was still unknown so that meant they would have to wait until everyone was aboard before finalizing assignments for the return to the base and the recovery team going to the settlement hospital. Not having to use up three hours of the mission window flying from Winter Haven to the New Cancun area meant they would have more time to work and that a bigger ground force would be needed as well. The Rangers boarding in Winter Haven would man the teams that were to be sent out while London was on the ground during the day to search the abandoned survey camps.

###

After the morning staff meeting Naomi MacCaffrey returned to the residence to meet with Emma Van Rooyen and the construction supervisors who would carry out the expansion of the residence that would begin the following day. All of the material needed was to be delivered that morning on trailers and would be ready to be used as soon as they arrived. Like the majority of the buildings in New Hope Town and the other settlements Cassidy’s residence was a one-story modular construction that was easy to assemble, or in this case to add on to.

The walls, floors and ceilings sections were actually pieces of specially designed cargo containers that had been disassembled after their contents had been unloaded. The containers were made from a strong composite material and looked roughly like the standard steel cargo containers used back on Earth but with key differences Side pieces had sealed openings for insertion of windows and doors and pre-installed cable runs held wiring for electrical outlets that were supplied with power from solar panels attached to the roof sections. The floor sections of the cargo containers were designed to be used as floor sections for buildings and had the sealed openings for plumbing fixtures to pass through. The cargo containers came in an assortment of colors and when the right pieces were brought together the finished buildings had a generally appealing and finished look to them, at least on the outside.

Cassidy’s residence had been built with a somewhat Mediterranean look to it, white outside walls with a faux adobe brick surface and roof panels that looked like dark red roof tiles. Originally it had sported a rather industrial look to avoid attracting attention but that had changed with the first expansion. The current expansion would add three more guest bedrooms, two new storage rooms to replace one that would be lost and new bathroom facilities with multiple showers and toilets. The piping for water and sewage had been laid down underground years before. They’d been capped off above ground for easy access when the time came to build structures around them.

Everyone would have to move all of their gear from the side of the house to be worked on then help move the existing furniture and the contents of the two storerooms that would be affected by the construction. The house and backyard was already piled high with personal possessions and it was going to look like a hoarder’s nightmare for a few days but the many females who had been sleeping on mattresses on the floor were looking forward to at least having a little more space and an easing of the lines for showers in the morning.

Since she was waiting to be cleared to return to duty Van Rooyen had volunteered to stay at the house where she could observe the construction and act as a point of contact for the construction crews working on the expansion. MacCaffrey was glad to have her help since she couldn’t stay there herself and most of the other women would be on duty at the base, at the hospital, at the regimental headquarters or at the terminal. A few were pilots flying shuttles on patrol along the coast or taking supplies or personnel to other locations outside of New Hope Town. Most of those who were not flying had just come off their duty shift and would be getting some rest, or they would try to find somewhere else to be during the day.

When MacCaffrey returned to her office she sat down with Ivan Kurchenko and Colonel Halim who was the overall commander of the mission. They reviewed the lists of material given to her by James Sanders, New Hope Town’s Operations Director. Halim and most of her staff had been in Winter Haven since the evacuation from New Cancun overseeing the expansion of facilities to support the Ranger companies that had been shifted there. She had come to New Hope Town along with the casualties from the battle of Winter Haven to confer with the Regimental commander when the idea for the mission had been broached. A highly decorated veteran of peacekeeping operations in Africa, the German colonel immediately volunteered to lead the mission.


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