Michael 'destrekor' Franklin
Remembering his drill sergeant's advice not to close his left eye while looking through the scope of his M4, he opened his eye and let it relax to a squint. The trick was not to close the left eye, as it prevented the sight of any movement outside the field of view of the scope. At least that is what Sgt. Hornin lectured. The practicality of that was minimal when thought about, as when an enemy is wielding a weapon, that person typically does not wait to get that close to you to fire. That and Shane had his squad mates on both sides of him.
Shane Ryerson walked down the war-torn road with seven soldiers; his mission was to find and acquire all weapons stowed across the land. A little boy ran out from around a corner brandishing an RPG. It was his job, and his life he had to defend, but why did the fers have to brainwash little ones to kill? Before he could even set his sights on the boy, the most recent addition to his outfit took it upon himself.
"Holy shit!" Ryerson screamed.
"What sir?" came the expected reply from Coreli.
"You're my first new recruit to not lock up when the target is a kid."
"I'm a Ranger, right sir? 'Sides, he had an RPG, couldn't let him fire that thing."
"Eh, nice memory to bring home to the wife and kids," Sterns huffed from the back of the group.
"Don't got either," Coreli spat on the road at his feet.
"Shut the hell up you two, could be more 'round that corner!" Ryerson whispered through his radio attached to his shoulder. He kneeled and looked through his scope as he signaled for his squad to do the same.
"Roger that, sir," Coreli and Sterns replied over the radio.
• • •
Shades of pink and orange begin to flow across the cloud tops as the sun slowly ascends into its morning glory. Riding the updrafts over the Appalachian Mountains, a bald eagle majestically soars high above the tree line, its eyes fixated as it stalks a meal on the ground. An 8-year-old boy sits on a stump near the lake's edge; his father, still half-groggy, stands over him as the two of them gaze out across the lake. The boy grabs a worm out of the container, picks the hook up off the ground and works the hook through the worm in four carefully orchestrated, minute flips of the wrist. After ensuring the worm would not simply be free food for some small sunfish, he grabs the fishing pole and flicks the line into the water. He and his father watch the bobber as they sit in silence, the father occasionally sipping his coffee from his thermos. A fog still lazily drifted down the slopes onto the lake, the wind occasionally stirring the fog into wisps that floated above the thick layer below. The bobber dipped below the water, creating a rippling effect that grabbed the attention of both the father and son.
"Hey look, think we got something?" the boy asked, puzzled about what he should do next.
"Let it bob once more, then go ahead and reel it in," the father responded.
"Sir!" Came a voice that did not belong to the boy nor his father.
"SIR! Are you with us, sir?!" the voice said again.
Vision slowly restored itself as Shane came to, still perched on one knee, still looking through his scope. His eyes had not been focused though, as if the eyes of a blind man.
"Lt., you back? You lock up?" Sterns had that look, one that would be shared with a son standing next to a father at his deathbed.
"No, like one of those bad trips. Not sure yet what the hell just happened, I'll get back to ya though when I do," Ryerson laughed, still uneasy. "How long was I spaced out?"
"Too long, yet not even a minute. Still awaiting orders though," Sterns made his attempt at bringing the group back down to earth, succeeding.
"Horner, take your men to the corner over there. Sterns, await response from Horner and his men. If engaged, flank down that alley. We need to get Knight and Davis up there in one of those windows," Ryerson ordered.
Horner led his men down the road, nearing the corner where the boy came from, and signaled for his men to stop. He signaled for James to come to his side.
"Hold steady men," Horner radioed. Back against the wall, kneeling to his right knee, he bent his head forward and glanced across the windows and down the street.
"Clear. James, Curtis, get to the other side of this road, now!" Horner ordered the two, pointing to the other corner for cover.
As James and Curtis dashed across the open road, an insurgent popped up from behind a car lying on its side, evidence the road had seen past action. Horner opened fire toward the direction of the downed car, as a puff of white smoke shot out from behind the insurgent, indicating an RPG.
"Rocket in the air, get down!" Horner yelled through the radio. James jumps and lands behind the corner wall, while Curtis falls down flush with the battered pavement. The rocket hits the corner of the wall immediately after James lands, sending rock and other debris hurtling across the road as dust fills the air immediately surrounding the blast. James jumps up and grabs Curtis by the backpack, pulling him on his back to safety behind the corner. Curtis kneels and rests against the corner as James opens fire.
Horner hollers over the radio, "Sterns, we've engaged the enemy. Flank now! And we need those snipers up in one of those windows, NOW!"
"Roger that," Sterns replies, while signaling his men down the alley. "Lt., we don't know how many there are. Is there backup available?"
"Ya. Management wants me on the horn as soon as it got thick."
Ryerson moved towards the alley when Horner radioed that more of them were trickling into the area. He ran towards the corner and loaded a grenade into the M203 grenade launcher attachment of his M4. When he saw a few of the insurgents had congregated near a second downed car, he launched the grenade. It landed and sent three of the insurgents a few feet into the air, one crashing into the wall to the right of him. James followed suit, firing at another insurgent who was trying to hide behind the first car. Over the radio, Ryerson ordered Horner to get men up the street; Horner signaled to Curtis to get up and head over to a parked car.
"We are at the ready. Repeat; Lt., we are at the ready. We have enemy in sight," radioed in Sterns.
"Okay, hold at your current position. And are Knight and Davis in one of those windows yet?" Ryerson radioed back, with a little crackle seeping into the transmission, yet still understandable.
"We're almost there Lt.," Knight whispered, and held back a cough in case he was not alone in the building. Armed with an M4, Davis was the spotter and protector for Knight. Like a deer, Davis was stiff as he crept up the stairs, unsure if the two of them were alone. Davis reached the top of the stairs, signaled for Knight to hold his position, and continued into the room. Clear. He crossed the hall into the next room.
"Knight, get in here; all clear," Davis assured Knight.
"Lt., this is Knight. We have this building secured. We will be in the second window." When Davis shouldered his M4 and pulled out a standalone scope, Knight pointed at the M4 instead.
"This is too close for that. Use your scope on the M4. You should be at the ready with the gun anyways," Knight whispered to Davis, who was now standing behind him.
"Coreli, get to that door and keep that building secure!" Sterns placed his palm on Coreli's shoulder as he nearly yelled his orders so that Coreli could hear them over the firefight already in place.
Shit! I'm pinned down…what's the next move? Ryerson thought to himself as he plotted the next move in his head.
"Sterns, make your move now! We have the enemy engaged," Ryerson barked his orders as he wrapped his hand on Hall's shoulder next to him and signaled for him to meet Curtis at the car to provide more firepower. A second RPG fired from behind another corner down the road, indicating new enemy troops. The rocket flew straight down the road, yet spiraled and dived from its path straight into the pavement below, sending hunks of the road into the air, leaving a small crater.
Sterns and the remaining crew of his fire team moved down the remaining real estate of the alley before rounding the corner. At the end of the road after turning the corner, two trucks with fresh enemy troops awaited deployment, chatting in their native tongue. Startled, Sterns uses his forearm to push back the two soldiers that turned the corner with him.
"Lt., we've got trouble. Two trucks worth of baddies 'round this corner," Sterns radioed.
"Shit! Knight, got eyes on those trucks?" Ryerson said excitedly.
"No sir. They haven't rounded the corner," Knight replied. "Davis, make sure not to shoot. We can't give away our position. If you see a rocket, get out of here if you can, or shoot the bastard before he fire one off. They won't see or hear me shooting, I got a new silence on here, no muzzle flash. If they do, we gotta run…back into the alley and meet where Horner and Lt are."
"Got it," Davis replied. Ryerson looked to his left wrist, where he wore a digital watch, with the face on the underside of his wrist.
Still morning, Ryerson thought as he glanced at it. Upon further inspection, he realized the display just changed to show the time 0911. "Goddammit," was all he could say under his breath, My fing luck. I'm screwed if that is some sort of bad luck, is what Ryerson finished with, except in his head so his squad would not hear.
"Sterns, be on the ready. We are going to try an' clear out the remaining insurgents that are out on the road. Maybe that will coax those in the trucks," Ryerson stated over the radio. "If they got rockets, as soon as those trucks roll out, charge and try and clear house. We can't afford to have them launch rockets, we've gotten lucky."
Hall and Curtis continue to fire off rounds, with a few of bullets striking the windows of the car. James readies and a fires a round from his M203, nailing two more of the enemy.
"Sterns, I need Drekowski over here on the double. I need to get on the horn," Sterns heard on the radio from Ryerson.
"Roger that, he's on his way now." Sterns acknowledged.
Drekowski jogged down the ally, the weight of the satellite phone equipment slowing down his pace. He rounded the corner from the alley and immediately saw Ryerson awaiting the phone's arrival. Kneeling so the lieutenant could use the phone on his back, Drekowski began to draw with his finger in the sand; a stick-figure being hung over two tall and skinny rectangles that resembled the number eleven.
"Capt. Sir, we need a ride out of here," was all Ryerson managed to say, although he had planned on more words.
"You are in the downtown district, landing a bird will be hard," the captain replied. "How thick is it?"
"We've been attacked; their numbers are dwindling, no casualties under my command."
"Good to hear. Found any weapons caches?"
"No sir, we got a little interrupted."
"Don't worry about it, we'll send in two squads tomorrow, just worry about clearing out the insurgents in the area. I'll get two birds over there, and with as little room to land as there is in that area, we can't have any rockets fired. Make sure all enemies are taken down if you can."
"Got it sir."
Just then, Ryerson saw Sterns and his men run out of the alley and turn the corner on the opposite side of the road; heavy fire from the insurgents AK-47's and a round from an RPG flew past them into the building at the end of the alley, shattering the glass and sending a shower to the road below.
Sterns radioed, "We can't get over to you guys!" Then he thought of his M203, loaded a round, and launched it. The hurried motions of simply firing out the round meant the grenade didn't connect with the trucks, but it did send a plume of smoke into the air right in front, as well as forced the enemy to duck. Ryerson and his men dashed across the road, but blind fire connected with the leg of Anderson and sent him to the ground. He managed to hop up and more or less drag himself to the corner.
"Where's Coreli?" Ryerson questioned, his heart now in his stomach.
"Shit! He's still guarding the door to the building Knight and Davis are in." Sterns was now worried. "He probably scooted in there before they saw him. We gotta defend that door!" Sterns jumped to action and pushed himself against the wall at the corner of the alley. Making sure his M4 was on auto and not single, he turned his body so he faced the wall, strafed so that he could fire his weapon yet remain mostly sheltered, Sterns set his sights on the drivers of both trucks and emptied an entire clip before he stopped.
"Knight, get yourself over to the windows on the alley side," Sterns hollered. "And check to make sure the drivers are dead."
The whipping of chopper blades could be heard in the distance. Ryerson let out a sigh of relief, yet worried someone would fire an RPG on the choppers. Not content to simply sit and wait for that to play out, Ryerson loaded one more M203 round, adjusted his footing and bent over. Immediately bullets hit the corner of the building, knocking concrete off the walls. He ducked back in, prepared to fire the round off immediately and cocked his body once more in order to fire. This time, he had the time to set his sights and fire the grenade.
Knight had set up in one of the windows, confirmed the drivers were dead, and thought he had a shot on one of the insurgent in the truck. He took one shot. Missed. He shot one more round and connected in the head of his victim.
The rotors could be heard easily now, and an AH-64 Apache came into view, it opened up fire in what seemed to be aimed at Ryerson and his men, yet was directed at another truck of insurgents that had snuck around on another road. The bird was the gunship. Coming in behind the Apache was a UH-60 Black Hawk, equipped as a medical bird. After the pilot in the gun ship finished off the truck he was worried about, he rotated the bird and fired upon the two trucks in the alley. Only three insurgents remained at that point.
"Horner, get your men together and let's get out of here!" Ryerson ordered.
"Knight, Davis, Coreli; get back here on the double!" Sterns radioed.
Coreli came out of the building first, looking both directions and taking a step towards the back end of the alley and kneeling. Davis came second, turning toward the road and knelt. Knight ran down the stairs and sprinted as soon as he hit the alleyway; Coreli and Davis followed suit, although keeping Knight in-between the two of them.
The transport Blackhawk landed on the road, and Ryerson made sure all his men boarded before he jumped in.
"Need something for that leg?" Sterns asked, now that he had the time to think.
"Just something to wrap it up with," Anderson replied.
• • •
Rain pelted the windowpane as the trees swayed under the stress of the wind; the street lamps flickering on and off under the cover of darkness created by the black storm clouds. The kid walked in the door, kicking his shoes off and throwing his backpack on the floor. Even after shaking his head in the same manner a dog would to dry off, his hair still dripped water onto the wood floor below. He walked across the plush carpeting and fell into the chair in his living room to turn on the TV. News? Since when is news on at 2:30 in the afternoon? He flicked the channels up and down, in attempts to escape from reality and find something to relax to. News did not do the trick. Shocked to see the same news on every channel, he decided to relax his fingers and let the remote fall to the ground. Might as well watch it, must be important. Now alert, he heard the words "planes", "crash" and "towers." Static lines rolled down the picture as the satellite service fought to maintain the image, against all odds as the storm grew more intense with each passing minute. In the bottom-left corner of the picture, he could see his county was now under a tornado watch. He continued to listen to the newscaster while he fumbled with his cell phone to view a recent text message that he had received while driving home.
Can I copy work in Chem? He thought in his head, reading the message. Bitch. She falls asleep and expects me to grovel at her feet and let her copy? He laughs as he stands up to grab a can of Coca-Cola from the refrigerator when he hears United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the Twin Towers. Awestruck and fearing for his parents and younger brother who boarded a plane that morning out of Boston heading to LA, he bolted to the computer to check the email about the ticket order. He could not have been more relieved to see his family was on American Airlines Flight 11. Figuring they are on the ground and probably in the hotel room, he grabbed his cell phone and called his mom. After reaching the voicemail, he pressed end and proceeded to call his dad's cell phone. When his dad did not answer either, he was beginning to think his parents cell phones were not on or out of service, both highly probable. In a last attempt, he dialed his brother's cell phone. This time no one answered again, and figuring that both his brother would not have his phone on or be in service in LA, he grew more and more worried. Opening the can of Coke, he went back to his chair in the living room to watch TV. Deciding it was all clear, his family had to be okay, he changed to Discovery Channel, hoping to catch something interesting. More news. On Discovery Channel? He flipped down a few channels until he caught cartoon network, praying for anything now. Score; no news.
Five-thirty rolled around and his older brother walks in the door, soaking wet from the torrential rain. Worried about the weather, his older brother grabbed the remote from him and changed to the local station, hoping he would catch the local weather. Instead, he saw what he was afraid of: a ticker across the screen that read AA Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the Twin Towers, UA Flight 175 struck the South Tower, and AA Flight 77 struck the Pentagon. The younger of the brothers focusing on the anchor talking about the tragedy, the elder brother grew pale.
"Bro, what flight were mom, dad and Jeff on?" the elder brother, now whiter than a ghost.
"Eleven. Don't worry, it was Flight 175 that hit the tower," the younger brother replied, his eyes not looking away from the TV.
"Eleven? Was it American Airlines?"
"I think so. What's it matter?"
At the moment, the elder brother shot across the room to look online at the ticket order. Upon doing so, he collapsed onto the floor, balling up. Unaware of his elder brother, the boy glances at the bottom of the screen to read that AA Flight 11 had struck a tower as well. Without warning, the tears begin to pour out as he looks over to see his brother crying. He runs to his brother, still curled into a ball on the floor and wraps his arms around him. They hold onto each other tightly, unsure of what to say. The two of them slowly stand up and go to the couch, where they await further news regarding the disaster.
The high-pitched whine of the engine filled his head as he returned to reality. His fellow soldiers and the crew went unaware of Ryerson, everyone simply staring out the window, along with Ryerson although he had never focused on a single object until now, that first object being the Apache that was flying in front and to the right of the Black Hawk.
"Welcome back boys. Wasn't as smooth as last time, eh?" Capt. Markowicz greeted Ryerson and his squad as they stood outside the helicopter, the blades nearly stopped now. "Take Anderson to the medic."
"Permission to speak freely, sir?" Ryerson questioned, knowing the answer.
"Permission granted. But first let's take a walk. You boys go on ahead and get cleaned up," Capt. Markowicz responsed. Ryerson's squad walks towards the hanger, guns slung over their shoulders, with Sterns and Coreli aiding Anderson towards the medic.
"What was up with the intel? Ryerson asked, slightly angered.
"Cool down Lieutenant, we received faulty intel."
"Faulty. I almost lost a few of my men. Anderson got shot. Apparently there was a base nearby. Fresh supply of troops and fully armed. As we left, there had to be at least five more trucks speeding toward the area. Thank god we weren't shot out of the sky!"
"Want me to send someone else next time? I sent you because I know you could handle it."
"I appreciate that, sir. I don't want to pass judgments on your call, especially in front of the boys. But I woulda thought at least two squads would have been better, preferably along with a Stryker crew or a few APCs."
"Next mission I'll remember that. We are going to need to go back to that area though. I'll have them scan the area and see what turns up. But do you want that job or not? Given the circumstances this will likely be tomorrow morning, unless you think night would be better."
"My thoughts? We go in to the area tomorrow morning; dawn. We scope the entire area, two squads on foot, two squads in APCs, preferably Strykers. If we can get a tank or two in there that would be great."
"Damned if I can get approval for that. Do you have no confidence in your men, and maybe another squad?"
"If we are as close to the base as I think, and we'll see after that scan; then we are going to need firepower. And I think if we do discover a base, after we clear out the weapons caches, we need to storm the base under cover of night."
"Do remember who's in charge here Ryerson. I think I'll agree with you on this matter if the intel proves you correct, but we can't waste firepower unnecessarily. If there are more bases, we need to split up. Besides, we can pass the intel and get some fighters to rain hell on that base if it does exist. I want you to focus on clearing the area of weapons and discovering the base. We won't need to do any night raids of any bases."
"Roger that sir."
"Now please, go get some grub, unwind and get some rest. I want you and your men ready for tomorrow. I'll see about getting approval for a second squad."
"Hooah. Now get on out of here."
Ryerson walked through the hangar and past the medic's office and glanced in through the window to see Anderson's leg being treated. He walked through the door and flashed the nurse a smile.
"Anderson, we got a game tonight. You in?" Ryerson said, never taking his eyes off of the nurse.
"You know it," Anderson winced as the last stitch was put into place.
Horner dragged the chest from the foot of his bunk to the center of the bunker and everyone pulled up chairs. He opened the chest, the hinges screeching, and grabbed the deck of cards along with his wallet.
"Name of the game is seven card stud," Horner announced while shuffling the deck.
"Alright guys, while we do this we gotta talk," Ryerson interrupted.
"Bout what, Lt.?" Sterns said, puzzled. "'Bout today?"
"Yea. Think we coulda handled it differently?"
"Damn Ryerson, you get right to the point. We did our best, especially for being out numbered. You made the right call by callin' the birds in. It coulda been uglier," Horner dealt the cards as he made his point.
"Lt., whats up? You never ask us that kind of shit after a mission, good or bad," questioned Davis, sensing something different in Ryerson. "You scared us back on the field. Thank the lord that it happened before shit got thick."
"I dunno what the hell is goin on, somethin's different. Still trying to make sense of everything as well. Anyway, we're back on the field in the morning, 0630; same thing as yesterday. Circumstances might be different though. We'll find out from the Captain tomorrow."
According to the darkness outside the screen door to the bunker, the sun had set quickly. The game was over and everyone was moving their chairs back by their bunks. Ryerson was already out, another thing that had the guys worried; he was always the last one to bed. Thinking he heard the crackle of gunfire, Ryerson pulled his blanket up and wrapped the pillow around his head. If it was gunfire, he did not want anything to do with it. He was out for the night; nothing would ruin that.
• • •
The wind howled as the darkness crawled up the street, forcing the bare tree limb to tap against the window, echoing throughout the room. Shane curled into a ball in the corner of the couch and wrapped himself in the blanket. He flipped the TV off, not sure how to handle the situation.
"Chloe babe, will you turn the heat up?" Shane weakly pleaded as he tried to wipe the tears from his face.
"Sure honey," Chloe responded, sympathetically. "Want anything to drink or eat?"
"Maybe a Coke?"
Chloe brought a Coca-Cola back with her to the living room, where she snuck into the blanket with Shane and cuddled, petting the back of his head in an attempt to calm him down.
"Why the f did this have to happen? 'Specially like that! He was my brother. I loved him!" Shane fought back another round of tears as he yelled.
"Come here," she motioned as she sprawled out on the couch. Shane laid his head against her stomach, unable to fight off the second round of tears.
"He was fighting for me. He was fighting for our family. The fks robbed me of my last family member!" Shane turned the TV back on; the news was still talking about his brother's beheading, and he proceeded to turn off the TV.
"I have to go over there; I have to fight for him now."
"No you don't. Fight from here baby. I don't want to lose you." Chloe pushed him up and hugged him. "Do you want to fight to prove something? Is there something you feel ain't done? Why do you want to sacrifice yourself?!"
"If I am going to die, at least let it be the way of my family; through this war. I won't stand here and watch the pricks kill off others who have families to care for them. I was all my brother had. And I don't want that happening to some poor mom."
"I know I can't talk you out of this, but I can't lose you. I can't standby and watch you leave me, all alone. Your brother was like my own brother. You don't think I loved him too? But I don't wanna throw myself at the terrorists like fresh bait for sharks. They want to kill you. They want to kill all of us. And I can't lose you."
"I know, and I want to kill them for what they've done to us; to my family and to my country. Come on babe, I know you don't like this but I have to do this." Shane could no longer fight back the tears as he buried his head into Chloe's chest. She held onto him, rubbing his neck and shoulders, helping him relax. His body slowly went limp as he cried himself to sleep in her arms.
Ryerson woke up from his sleep, the sweat glistened as it beaded off his face and onto his pillow as he gasped for air in a panic that nearly forced him off his top bunk.
"Lt., you alright?" Sterns shook Ryerson's body to help him focus.
"No. Yes. I don't know. Too hard to even explain," Ryerson attemped, falling short of putting together a complete thought. He looked around to see most of the soldiers looking at him, all wore expressions that showed off how worried they were.
"Take a few breaths, and maybe try to explain to us? It is your wife; you miss her? Miss your family?"
"My family… is gone."