1.14: Cpl Gupta

Date: Monday 25 September 2040ce 2234z
Location: Gila River Valley, Arizona (-0700)

What the fuck?!

“Where did the bastard go?” he spat, dust instantly caking the inside of his mouth.

That same dust was mixing with the sweat on his forehead and starting to run into his eyes.

It was just here!

“Damn it, West!” Lansing’s voice came over the headset. “Watch that flank!”

“Anyone see Little?” Wagner cut in.

“I’m a hundred paces to your left, Sarge,” Little replied.

How the Hell can he see us?

“Roger,” Wagner replied. “See if you can get to that overhang. Ravagers don’t just take off like that.”

How does she see that?

The ravager’s optical organs were different then their own, but seemed equally as hampered by the dust storm that had taken residence in the valley. That everyone else sounded like they were operating like solid troopers, while he was blind and half-deafened by the flying dust, gave him concern that the biomech was operating better than him as well.

“Dust beyond Two’s position!” Bivens called out.

There’s dust everywhere, damn it!

There was a moment of silence.

“You copy, Leader Two?” Wagner asked.

“Copy, Troop Leader,” Lansing replied. “I think it’s just—Shit!”

There was the sound of munitions fire, the scraping sound of a ravager’s claws scrambling on the stone exposed by the storm.

Everyone hustled, running toward Two’s position, but the fight ended; The weapons silenced, and a heavy thud issued through the gray cloud.

“Target neutralized,” Lansing’s voice came through a moment later.

Just as we get there…

Three dark silhouettes beside a large boulder came into view; He was within five paces before being able to identify Lansing, Holmes, Bovee, and the ripped up body of a Ravager.

“What do you think?” Christianson said as he walked out of the cloudy haze. “A four or a five?”

“Five,” Lansing said. “Too much armor for a four.”

Gupta was studying the ravager, noting the fluids pouring from the wounds.

“Definitely a five,” Holmes agreed. “It took a hell of a beating.”

Where is it…? Where…?

“That’s because you can’t aim for shit,” Lansing taunted.

“I was distracting it with pain so you could get the kill shot.”

Ah, there it is…

A small stream of turquoise blue fluid, the unmistakable sign that the branching tubules that formed the Invader’s brain had been ruptured.

Any biomech still with a functioning brain was to be considered deadly and hostile; The Invaders did not take prisoners and never became one.

“Never knew you were such an altruist, Holmes,” Bovee remarked.

“I’m a man of many talents.”

“All right, kids,” Wagner said. “We should head for that rise over there.”

“Think more rain’s coming’, Sarge?” West asked.

“Don’t want to be on low ground if it does,” she remarked, shouldering her weapon. “Everyone take ten, then. Lansing… Get on the horn, see if there’s an eye up there somewhere.”

“Roger that,” Lansing replied.

“Gupta,” Wagner said, pulling him to the side.

“Sarge?”

“You need to get a tighter grip on West,” she said. “You can’t let her just run off like that.”

“I didn’t realize she was that far out,” he replied. “Visibility is for shit.”

“The first half is the problem,” she snapped.

The second was my excuse…

“Now make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said in a more agreeable tone. “It’s your fire team. Take charge.”

Sarge turned sharply and headed towards Lansing at a pace that didn’t invite another statement.

Great…

He hunched down on a rock.

“Don’t sweat it, Gupta.”

It was Carlson, standing just a few paces away.

He was trying not to take it personally, but if the ravager had come around the other side, West would have been alone.

That’s why Sarge sent her to high ground… And let me to watch my own flank!

“It’s not easy working for a legend,” he said, careful that his words weren’t heard by anyone else.

Carlson came closer, saying, “A ball buster, she is. And probably getting us ready for the real thing.”

This isn’t real?

Gupta wasn’t certain what to make of Carlson. He didn’t speak often, and most of the time only with Christensen; Second most often was responding directly to an order. But sometimes he did have something to say.

Seems in the mood.

“Think they’re really sending us in?” he asked.

“Insertion?” Carlson replied, almost surprised by the suggestion.

Gupta nodded, not certain what else might qualify as ‘real thing’ in Carlson’s world.

Carlson had a thoughtful look for a moment, then shook his head.

“Not a chance.”

“Not even with this side secure?”

“We just picked off three ravagers within spitting distance of Apache Command,” Carlson remarked. “Hardly qualifies as secure.”

“A lot more secure than it was the last time I came through here.”

“Before Lone Star?”

Gupta nodded again.

“Definitely quieter, but will be a bit before anyone other than the First Nations decides to set camp out here. And they’ve just secured every siege point between Huston and Phoenix… Including Huston and Phoenix. If I were to guess what Reno Command is up to, it’s plugging Panama and securing Central America before removing hives in a neat, orderly fashion.”

“Like troopers should.”

“Nothing major will likely occur until near end of summer,” Carlson said. “And if it doesn’t involve stopping the South America hives from sending biomechs into Mexico, I’d be quite surprised.”

“Strap up, troopers!” Wagner’s voice called out.

Gupta got up and walked with Carlson towards the others.

“Just wish I knew we were making progress here,” he complained. “Instead of just looking for strays.”

Carlson looked at him with a thoughtful gaze, then turned towards the rest of the troop several paces away.

“I don’t think we’re doing that,” he said after a moment.

“We’re not looking for strays?”

“Oh, we definitely are doing that,” Carlson replied. “I just don’t think that’s what she is doing out here.”

Gupta understood Carlson to mean Sarge, but was baffled by the suggestion that she was doing anything other than what they were doing.

“Carlson!” Christianson’s voice called out.

“Or us,” Carlson added to his previous statement, before calling out to Christianson in reply.

“Sarge asked if you still had those extra clips from UK-Eight,” Christianson asked as he approached.

“Yep,” Carlson replied. “Watch your flank,” he said over his shoulder while walking away.

What do you think she’s out here for?

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