Author's Note: Thanks for checking this out, everyone. Just wanted to warn you this is a helluva long, drawn out story. It'll be a fun ride though. I first started working on this idea in 2004, so some political points might not be as current.
I want to dedicate this to all of my good friends that suffer the scars of war; some so deep even they cannot see them, though they feel them everyday. I hope that one day we can discuss these traumas not in a political light, but with great mind toward humanity.
Fields of cotton seemed to rush by the window of the armored vehicle. Percy gazed at the passing scenery with mild interest. Sweat dripped from his forehead, off his brow and onto his nose before he wiped it away. The choking atmosphere of a summer day in south Texas was enough to send any Pittsburgh boy insane. Percy ran a hand through his short hair and felt the dampness of the brown locks. In mild annoyance he tried to wipe his now sweat soaked hand on his uniform. Somehow, he kept his mind preoccupied with his surroundings.
Next to him his friend Wallace snorted in his sleep. While Percy had a difficult time adjusting to the heat, Wallace no doubt found this the perfect temperature for a nice nap.
The cotton fields slowly faded away; soon the scenery was replaced completely. It was desolate, with only sagebrush as its occupier. The vehicle started to slow down and the scenery was no longer rushing by. It stopped moving completely and Percy stopped looking out the window for the first time. Instead his gaze went forward and peered through the protective grate that separated him with the front seat. Out of the front window he could see they had arrived at a checkpoint.
On the horizon were the remains of a once great city. Although still a mile away, he could see the firefight had left the town in shambles. Smoke bellowed high into the sky from buildings that had been burning for days and the outlying suburban area had been completely mowed down in order to make way for military outposts. How many had died fighting over this city and how many were yet to die? Percy asked this to himself as he overheard the conversation between his driver and the checkpoint guard.
"Pepper bellies are all over the damn place," the guard said. He peered behind and saw three escort Humvees. "Would you like an extra escort?"
The driver looked over his shoulder and asked, "Major?"
Percy placed his peaked cap on his head and said, "You're an intelligent man, Sergeant Wakeman. You can assess the situation just as easily as I."
Sergeant Wakeman took the hint and told the guard, "As per the Major's orders, we'll go without the escort."
"Alright, Sarge," the guard said with a nod. "Good luck out there to you guys. It's hell."
The guard gave the vehicle two hardy smacks for luck as the gate opened. Percy's body reeled slightly as the vehicle began to move again. A Humvee sped up past them in order to lead the way. With haste they rushed the mile towards the city. They could barely see thanks to the amount of dusty the lead vehicle created. It was no problem for Wakeman, though; he had been in this situation countless times. The group worked in perfect unison, knowing each and every tick and habit of each other.
They hit a small bump which sent them out of their seats. It didn't faze them; they had strapped themselves in and held on tight before they arrived. Only Wallace was jolted by it. It woke him up and sent him in a panic as he wondered what was happening. Once he realized it was just a bump in the road he yawned and stretched before taking a brief look around. It took only one look out the window to see he had to get ready.
He grabbed his discarded helmet and placed it on top of his head. Percy noticed the movement and said, "You're finally awake, Sergeant."
"Yeah," he nodded. The sleep was still evident in his voice. "Sorry about that, Major. I should know better than to snooze."
"Are you ready for your first day at your new post?" Percy asked his friend.
"Anything beats the hell out of defending Istanbul," he said honestly. As the city approached, Wallace made sure to strap his helmet on comfortably. As it clicked and he adjusted the chin pad he whispered, "I just wonder if this is the first day of the rest of our lives, or the last day of all our lives."
Percy heard but refused to respond. He wasn't the type to frustrate himself with such unknowns. Besides, they were fast approaching the battle zone of Laredo. Keeping himself and his crew alive until they reached the military post at the present was more important than the future.
"The tallest thing still standing is the David B. Barkley plaza flagpole," their passenger, Corporal McGill said.
Wakeman grabbed her shoulder and said, "It's because America is going to keep this town."
They could see the large American flag still flying despite being battered and torn. They couldn't help but it see it symbolically. The border war between the United States and Mexico had been going on for five years. It was called a war but officially it wasn't; neither the United States nor Mexico ever declared war on each other. In fact, the majority of those seeping into Texas weren't even Mexican. A lot of them claimed Colombia as their home; some claimed no country as their home. Their only allegiance was to the men who provided them money.
It started after the economic collapse of Mexico. Cartels officially took claim over the beaten up country after the drug war exhausted all of their resources. Chaos reigned over the nation for a decade before stability returned. However, it was a corrupt and uneven stability, one bought with drug money and baptized in blood. It was only a matter of time before the violence spilled over onto American soil.
When it did, the racial tensions exploded. Hurried minutemen defended their boarder rightfully but with ill practice. Immigrants of goodwill were caught in the crossfire and the Mexican government spoke out. The cartels responded in order to protect their drug runners and fellow countrymen, which resulted in bloodbaths along the southern border. Mexico sent troops to calm the situation on their side. Texas responded by deploying the National Guard.
Habeas corpus was suspended in Texas and martial law was declared. The regular army was finally sent in as a desperate attempt to keep Texas. Many fled but others held on to their state in defiance. Soon, Texans and Mexicans were fighting each other. Never once did they realize their enemy was the same.
In the five years since the first big shootout between cartel members and American minutemen, Mexican troops had claimed a majority of southernmost towns of Texas. Laredo was the only city that was adjacent to the border still standing.
The fighting had destroyed the town, however. It was evident as Percy's escort eased its way down the broken streets. Even the great Cathedral of San Agustin had been toppled. The area had been looted of any valuable or useful goods. The belongings of citizens lay across the street as though the owners had simply vanished. It was a disturbing sight, but one the soldiers were more than used to.
"Got some produce eying us from the uptown bank. Requesting orders," a voice crackled over the radio.
Percy sighed loudly. He touched the ear piece he wore in order to respond. "Do I need to tell you when to go the bathroom, too?" he asked. His annoyance was clear. "Obviously, do not fire unless fired upon. We've been through – "
He was interrupted when gunfire ricocheted off the window near his head. Instinctively he ducked, even though the glass was bulletproof. He felt the vehicles stop. A few shouts outside from his team were barely heard over their return fire.
"Clear, clear, clear!" someone shouted through the headset. The gunfire stopped but everyone was still on their toes.
"Keep moving and secure the rooftops! Be more alert next time, dammit!" Wallace ordered over his headset. To just Percy he asked, "Are you alright?"
Percy adjusted his hat and said, "Fine."
Wallace wanted to comment on how the Major should have worn protective gear –a helmet at least! Yet he knew better; he knew what Percy would say: "There are men out there who deserve the protection more than I." It was unfortunate, but there was simply not enough funding to provide every serviceman with proper equipment. With American troops deployed and fighting wars on nearly every continent including their own, the military was out of money.
It was a bit more complicated than that, however, and blaming the wars of the time on the shortage of funds would be a bit naïve. To begin with, the American military budget had taken heavy cuts many generations ago. These cuts maintained their popularity as it had essentially put a halt to "unnecessary or unpopular" military actions that plagued the country's world standing since the 1950s.
Since the mid-twenty-first century, the government had channeled funds to domestic issues such as healthcare, education, welfare, housing projects, and the endowment of the arts. This created a time of peace; in return America's military presence in the world shrunk. It's Navy – once the most powerful in the world – was crippled as funds went instead to help international rescue teams endorsed by the UN and NATO. The Marines remained strong while the Army was downsized considerably; the National Guard expenses went solely to their home states. The Air Force took heavy cuts and acted more as government electricians or plumbers than fighters
For decades the world enjoyed its newfound prosperity. Unfortunately, the wellbeing of average citizens did nothing to stop ambitious individuals and eager groups from creating havoc. Wars broke out in the Middle East that were unstoppable; Europe lost its footing and several organizations took over entire countries. Feeling threatened by Europe running
rampant, China mobilized its military and conquered the surrounding areas. Russia prepared itself for war and helpless third world countries saw their welfare crumble as combat began to spread like wildfire.
All of this in Percy's lifetime. Thinking about it made him sick. How far humanity had reached, how close they were to perfection! Yet it took a small handful of evil individuals to send all of society back to the starting point, back to war – back to a world war.
Still, Percy refused to dwell on it. The state of the world and society was beyond his control. There was no reason to worry over it if he couldn't change it. Instead he focused his attention solely on Laredo. His mission was to free it of Mexicans and then move outward, hopefully securing more territory. He snorted aloud at the thought; it sounded so barbaric to be killing over land. Yet property of any kind housed resources, and that wealth was something no country could go without.
Despite the warning from the checkpoint guard, the rest of the ride went without incident. Perhaps the convoy scared a few away, but more than likely it was already cleared away in anticipation of the Major's arrival. Why they put Laredo's headquarters in the middle of the city was unknown to Percy but it seemed illogical. It was so easy to surround. Somehow, the army managed to keep the supply route clean of hostiles, but it didn't go without its fair share of attacks.
They had secured an abandoned hotel and setup operations there. At any given time the area was patrolled by a handful of military police. They had men on the ground, but their greatest strength was the snipers that hide themselves on the rooftops. Rarely did an enemy get close enough to cause harm thanks to these sharpshooters.
Once Percy and his crew pulled up to the hotel they were immediately greeted by more escorts. Lieutenant Mackenzie Ross stood saluting as he stepped out of his vehicle; he lazily returned the gesture.
"Glad to see you arrived safely, Major," she said to him.
"Barely," he muttered. He stepped in front of her only to realize he had no idea where he was going. He motioned for her to lead and she did as told. "Since you're here I can assume the Company made it safely."
"Yes, sir," she answered the statement.
Inside the hotel they went. It was a hectic place, with soldiers running about in mad dashes. Wounded and dead bodies were being tended to as they strolled past. Despite the commotion, the hurried men and women still stopped their tasks and saluted the Major. It was difficult not to take notice of the man, as he strutted by in a perfectly pressed blue uniform adorned with ribbons and medals that glistened under the hotel lights. Compared to the dirty field uniforms of soldiers who haven't showered in weeks, he was a nice sight.
Instead of returning salutes individually he just held his hand at the brim of his hat. By the time they reached their destination his arm was growing weary. It was an old conference room turned into a military office. This time, no one bothered to notice the Major or his lackeys. It was a mess to navigate through the cords on the ground, the people running by, the desks that were haphazardly placed and the stuff that had fallen onto the ground.
They made it to the desk furthest in the back, which happened to be the most clean. In fact, aside from a few paper reports and a pile of M&M candies, there was nothing on the desk. It was Brigadier General Tristan Trotter, the man currently in charge of the Laredo operation. He didn't even notice them approach his desk.
Mackenzie saluted and said, "General! Major Raymond as arrived."
The General still didn't pay attention to them. Percy saluted and said, "General! Major Percy T. Raymond reporting as ordered!"
"Don't you think it's strange that they color the candies different colors, but they all taste the same? The candy coating as no flavor, just color, and the inside is always chocolate," he rambled to the food on his desk. He sorted them out based on their color, which caused Percy to raise a brow. Finally, he looked up at him. "Has your Company arrived on schedule?" he asked.
"You're mighty young to be a Major," Tristan mentioned. "Not that I'm one to talk." He rummaged through the papers on his desk and pulled one out. "You've just returned from Istanbul, according to this report. You're off fighting for two years and you didn't even get leave?"
"It's an honor for the Easy Eight to continually support our nation, General. The world is our home and we will defend Her from evil," was Percy's answer.
"A response one would expect from a fresh academy grad," Tristan joked. He tossed the report back on the desk and ignored it. "Laredo is different from Istanbul. Over there you're fighting to protect someone else. Here, you're fighting to protect America. It's a stronger fight."
"Then I have confidence we will push forward," Percy said.
"That's what they're telling us – push forward," Tristan sighed. "But when we cross the Rio Grande, will we drown returning just like David B. Barkley and the Meuse River?"
That last sentence stuck with Percy long after his conversation with Tristan. The rest of it was just formalities. The General had Percy retire for the day soon afterwards, saying, "You've had a long trip and I'm sure a long day. You and your escorts are free for the rest of the evening. Be prepared for briefing Monday morning. Lieutenant Ross will pass along information later tonight."
So Percy relaxed by skimming through reports that had been waiting for him. Whoever was preparing them had done a terrible job and he felt like there was nowhere near enough information. Incomplete reports could kill his soldiers and that wasn't something he wanted. Sometime that night he decided he would have his own officers read through the reports, rewrite them, and make them worth his time.
In the meantime, he did his best to get some sleep before the beginning of a new campaign.