Chapter 1, Square OneMature

Chapter One

Square One

August 5th 2134, Somewhere between Moscow and Obninsk

1:21 P.M.

            “Incoming!” yelled out an FK soldier. Arden dropped on his belly and tucked his arms underneath his body. The thunderous crack of a dozen mortar shells bombarded Arden’s ear drums as he lay on a hill only half of a mile away from the defending line of Red Legion soldiers. Bullets whizzed past the crests of the hill and the surrounding hills. Grenade and artillery explosions erupted twice every second. After the salvo of artillery shells ceased, Arden rose to a crouched position and looked around to get reoriented. The mortar shells had created a crater out of what used to be another small hill. The crater was twenty meters in front of them and was roughly seven meters deep and twenty-two meters in diameter. Arden turned to the group of fifteen soldiers lying prone behind him and said, “Perfect opportunity to advance closer to the enemy. On my mark, we sprint to the crater. Benton, Gregs, Chivers, Harris, I want you four to provide covering fire. When the twelve of us make it to the crater, we will do the same for you, understood?”

            All of the soldiers replied, “Understood sir!” Arden turned back around and peeked over the hill. There must be 400 plus soldiers out there, he thought to himself. A few bullets streaked by his face and he ducked back down behind the hill and clutched his assault rifle tighter. He took a quick glance at the battlefield around him. The land was already ravaged since the beginning of the engagement. When Arden had first seen the landscape it was actually quite beautiful. Rich green grass covered the ground and the land was dotted with large hills and lined with small rocky ridges. Tall pine trees were sparsely scattered across the field and there was a light wind that blew the branches and grass from side to side. But now that the battle had been raging for over half of an hour now, the once beautiful field was scarred. There were craters scattered everywhere and stone chunks that were blasted off of the rocky ridges were strewn across the field and sometimes the chunks would get blasted all the way to Arden and patter against his helmet. The sky that was once a deep bright blue now had a darker orange tint. Smoke plumes shot into the sky and over half of the towering pine trees were either burning, or uprooted by mortar blasts. Several grass fires left what was green grass a prickly brown instead. The light wind was more vicious now and burning embers were carried by the wind lazily through the dry air.

            “Hey Mist, I need a sitrep,” Arden requested of John.

            John was posted up on top of an old barn about one mile away from the Red Legion defenses. He laid on the roof with his sniper rifle steadied on its bipod and was overlooking the battlefield to the east.

            “Well, from my point of view we have lost half of our soldiers in this fight and we have hardly made a dent in their defenses. So far I estimate our casualty ratio ten FK deaths per one RL death. This is not working Fog, we need a different strategy than a head on confrontation like this.”

            “Don’t tell me the odds, just tell me if my group can make it to the crater in front of us safely.”

            “One sec,” replied John. He steadied the crosshairs of his rifle scope on a Red Legion Sniper hidden between a large boulder and an adjacent rock. Let’s see, approximately 0.9 miles out. Difference of my elevation to his roughly five meters. No wind? Perfect. Adjust scope, sighted in at 1000 yards equaling 3000 feet, 0.9 miles out equaling 4752 feet. Adjust scope level. There we go, perfect. John performed this thought process in his head in less than three seconds and pulled the trigger. After another few seconds, the RL sniper’s head was not on his body anymore. “There you go Fog, you’re all good to go, better hurry up too, don’t wanna get caught in the next salvo of mortar shells now that they have corrected their trajectory,” John said to Arden.

            “Will do Mist, thanks for the help,” Arden replied. Turning back to the soldiers behind him he said, “Alright men let’s do this, Benton, Gregs, Chivers, Harris, get up here and get ready.” The four soldiers took positions just behind the crest of the hill. Arden and the rest of his group readied themselves to sprint to the crater in front of them.

            “Ready, MARK!” shouted Arden. Benton, Gregs, Chivers and Harris poked their torsos above the crest of the hill, steadied their assault rifles on the defending line of RL troops and opened fire. Arden and the other twelve soldiers made a full sprint to the crater in front of them. Explosions rattled the earth around them as they made their way to the crater. It took Arden only four seconds to get to edge of the crater and he dived inside. Two more seconds and the other FK soldiers joined him. Arden took a quick head count and found that only nine of them were in the crater. The other three didn’t make it. Arden didn’t think too much about it. Soldiers die all the time in this war. He crossed the crater, along with the other nine soldiers to the side closest to the RL forces.

            “Our turn,” said Arden. The eight soldiers readied themselves across the edge of the crater. Arden turned around and looked at the four soldiers still on the hill behind him. He raised his hand and outstretched all of his fingers. He brought one finger in at a time signaling a countdown to the four soldiers. Five, four, three, two… But Arden didn’t make it to one before the hill erupted in a blaze of dirt and fire. The trajectory of the RL mortars were right on target that time. Nothing was left of the four soldiers after that. Just another crater. Arden hung his head for half a second then turned back around.

            “Mist, what’s happening around us?” asked Arden.

            “They are getting ballsy, they know we are losing this battle and they are advancing on you. You are going to be surrounded within a minute,” replied John. John checked the amount of ammunition he had left. He had forty rounds, not enough to help Arden thin out the RL forces and attempt a retreat.

            “Where are the rest of the FK forces? Are we the only ones close to the RL defenses?”

            “Pretty much, yeah. You moved up a little too fast Fog.”

            “It’s ‘cause I’m just that good.”

            “Right, anyways…” John was going to continue but a general call to the FK forces from Major Nellon interrupted him.

            “Attention, I am ordering a full retreat, I repeat, full retreat. All units, pull back. Retreat to Firebase Epsilon.”

            John resumed, “Well, sounds like you’re screwed Fog.”

            Arden replied, “Hey, come on now, it’s me. You know a few hundred soldiers can’t take me down.”

            “How about you deflate your head.”

            “How about you give me some covering fire.”

            “It won’t be enough to get you out of there Fog.”

            Arden thought for a moment. He knew that he couldn’t retreat with covering fire alone. There was just too much hostile fire. He tried to think of a way to get him and the other soldiers out of there, but there just wasn’t one without help.

            “Hey Smoke, you still on the battlefield?” Arden asked.

            “Yeah, and it sounds like your butt needs saved, am I right?” replied Connor.

            “Um, maybe.”

            Connor sighed and replied, “I’m on my way.” Connor was driving a Shepard class transport vehicle. The STV was used to transport up to ten soldiers, including the driver and passenger, across long distances by land. It was also widely used as a medevac. The STV’s all-terrain functionality helped to keep it swift and versatile in any combat scenario. The variant Connor was driving was a T-top variant, offering little protection for the driver, passenger, and the persons in the cab, but that meant higher speed and easy access. Connor made sure to take the term ‘all-terrain’ to its full extent. He had just dropped off a load of injured soldiers at Firebase Epsilon and was fully enjoying the drive back to Arden. He ramped his STV from crater to crater in order to keep behind cover as much as possible. He was always satisfied with his driving skills, for no one in the FK Corps could match them.

            “Ten seconds, Arden,” Connor said.

            “Understood,” Arden replied. He turned to look at the rest of the soldiers still with him. Only five were left, the rest were dead due to the hostile gunfire peppering their crater. Arden couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for their deaths. He led them right in to the enemy fire too quickly, in hopes that the rest of the FK forces would catch up and be able to overwhelm the RL defending line. But the RL forces were dug in too deep. The FK forces couldn’t get close enough to cause any sort of effective damage. Air support was a no go either because of the RL anti air cannons, and the RL mortars rendered ground armor deployment useless.

            Arden addressed remaining soldiers, “Everyone get ready, get in the center of the crater now! An STV is evacuating us.” The soldiers shifted quickly to the center of the crater. Two seconds later the roar of the STV engine shouted through the air. Connor had used the crater formed out of the RL artillery fire to ramp into the crater they were in at the moment. The STV’s wheels landed perfectly level with the angle of the crater and Connor turned the wheels to power slide along the edge of the crater. Arden jumped clean over the side of the STV and into the passenger seat, while the remaining five soldiers piled into the cab section in the back. All of this was done without Connor ever coming to a full stop. Once the soldiers were secure enough in the cab of the STV, Connor sped away to the west, still jumping the STV from crater to crater. Bullets continued to whiz by the STV whenever the vehicle was out of the cover of the several craters scarring the battlefield. One soldier was shot in the head as they continued to drive away and fell out of the side of the STV.

            “You’re welcome,” Connor said to Arden. Arden did nothing but turn and glare at Connor. He did appreciate Connor’s rescue, but wouldn’t show it for the sake of pride. Although, Connor knew well enough he was thankful. Connor made one last stop at the old barn that John was posted on. John dropped his sniper rifle off the barn and one of the soldiers caught it. John slid down the side of the barn and dropped to the ground. He rolled on contact with the dirt to break his fall, then casually walked to the side of the STV and boarded the cab section.

            “Welcome aboard Mist,” said one of the soldiers next to John as he handed him his rifle back. John nodded at him.

            “Alrighty, back to Firebase to listen to another plan that will likely result in failure, just like this one,” Arden said.

            “It sure is not easy to break the RL line,” Conner stated.

            “You wouldn’t think it would be this difficult. The Red Legion is toast. They have only their handful of remaining capital cities,” one of the soldiers added.

            “Yeah, but that means that this is where their defenses are the most dense. We can’t break them without some sort of elaborate strategy,” John added.

            “Still, it’s a relief to get off the battlefield for now. That engagement was bullshit,” Arden said.

            The STV was eight minutes away from arriving at Firebase Epsilon, which was twenty-two kilometers north east of Obninsk. All of the soldiers remained quiet for the rest of the ride. The feeling of failure had set in among them. One of the soldiers in the cab, named Luther Willis, turned to look at John. John didn’t notice because he was looking the other way. Luther couldn’t help feeling excited about riding in an STV with three members of the famous Vapor Team. He was already excited enough to have served with Arden in the last engagement, but now he was riding with Connor and John as well. He also heard that the fourth member of the squad had been on the battlefield as well. Maybe Shadow is at Firebase Epsilon, and I will get to meet the entire Vapor Team, Luther thought to himself. Luther admired the armor that had been issued to Vapor Team as well. Every Freedom Knight soldier is issued a suit of reactive armor, meant to shrug off bullet fire as much as possible before being breached. A memory under-armor layer with temperature nano-laces lined throughout it regulates body temperature, allowing no discomfort in extreme weather conditions. Armor pieces cover the vital areas of a soldier from the chest, upper arms, lower arms, hands, fingers, waist, groin, upper legs, knee caps, lower legs, and feet. With weak points around the shoulders, elbows, wrists, knuckles, neck, hips, and ankles, to allow full range of movement. A helmet is also issued with a personal AI, and heads up display. The heads up display features a synodic clock, a compass, a sonic radar accurate up to fifty feet, visor zoom optics that are able to zoom in 10x, a self-vitals analyzer to monitor the soldier’s vital organs and other internal activity, and lastly, a synchronized weapon magazine ammunition count to alert the soldier on how many rounds are left in the current magazine. Externally, the helmet serves the same purposes as the rest of the soldier’s armor, but not as efficient in protecting the soldier’s head because of the design featuring software over hardware. The helmet also had a filtration system in it to keep dust and dirt from entering and prevent the dangers of chemical warfare. The helmets had a silver visor that was wide and tall enough to allow more than adequate situational awareness. The visor itself has a diagonal diamond weave lining, spaced one centimeter apart, bringing the odds of fracture down to a minimum. There was also a knife sheathe on the top of the left shoulder that held the standard issue serrated combat knife.

            Luther still sat in the STV admiring the armor that Vapor Team wore. The regulatory FK armor colors was silver with thin dark royal blue stripes stretching around the upper arms, upper legs, and a single thicker stripe stretching from the brow of the helmet all the way down the back of the armor. But Vapor Team was issued custom made armor by Vapor Team themselves. Luther first noticed the color difference John had on his armor. It kept the same color pattern as the rest of the FK soldiers’ armor, but was a rich crimson with golden stripes instead.  John was wearing a camouflage net around his neck that could stretch to cover his entire body if needed. His helmet was slightly smaller than the standard issue helmets with a thinner visor and a larger radial curve around the front of the helmet, meant to allow looking through weapon scopes slightly easier. The visor was also tinted gold instead of silver. The armor on his forearms housed muscle endurance bracers so his aim wouldn’t sway as much as a normal soldier. He also did not have much shoulder protection, and instead, had sniper rifle bullet holders for increase ammo capacity. His knife sheathe was also on the lower side of his left rib instead of on top of his shoulder. John stood at six feet tall, and was of average weight.

            Luther took his gaze off of John and looked at Arden in the passenger seat of the STV. He again noticed a different color scheme. Arden’s colors were a burnt orange with bright white stripes. He had a helmet that tended to shape around the chin and cheek bones more, and the visor was almost the same size as the standard visor, but extended from the center of the visor down to the chin. He had a soft cloth compartment on the side of his left leg, meant to hold an extra item if needed. He also had a shotgun shell dock on his left wrist that allowed the carry of six extra shotgun shells. His knife sheathe also was positioned horizontally across his chest with the handle of the knife facing the right side of his body. Extra ammunition pouches were also positioned just below the knife sheathe. Arden stood at five feet and

            Luther finally turned to look at Connor. Connor’s color scheme was a fairly bright yellowish tan with light green stripes. His helmet was the most eccentric out of them all. It had no armor except around the chin and the back of the head. The visor covered the top, front, and sides of his head. This allowed maximum awareness of his surroundings which was useful when driving. He also had had a GPS dock on his right forearm. A medical kit was also clipped to the side of his left leg. He also had an extra magazine pouch on his chest and a small, basic vehicle tool kit attached to his lower back.

            Luther was jealous. He wished he could be important enough to receive his own custom built armor. Luther asked John, “How did you three get the armor you have?”

            John cocked his head back around to look at Luther. He paused for a couple of seconds and replied, “That’s, classified.”

            Connor drove the STV around the side of a large hill and Firebase Epsilon was just two hundred meters in front of them on the other side. “We’re back,” Connor announced to the soldiers in the cab. The firebase was much more active than usual. Soldiers were still arriving from the call to retreat and several transport vehicles were bringing in soldiers from the front lines as well as fresh reinforcements. Transport choppers as well as armed choppers were flying left and right overhead. Connor drove around the side of the firebase and parked the STV next to several others in an open sand lot. All of them exited the STV and proceeded to the armory to discharge their weapons and check ammo.

            Luther was walking in the front of the group. When he got to the armory he couldn’t believe his eyes. What he had been told about Shadow also fighting in the last engagement was true. Shadow was just a call sign like every other soldier of Vapor Team had. His real name was Dale and he was John’s brother. Dale was sitting on a one meter tall equipment case with his legs propped up on another similar case. His back was leaned up against the armory wall and he looked quite comfortable and relaxed. His arms were back behind his head and he was resting his head in his hands. His armor was also a different color than usual. Dale had an ice blue with gray stripes. His helmet was shaped in odd angles, meant to deflect bullet fire easier. The visor was only slightly smaller than the standard visor, and was tinted blue instead of silver. He also had similarly shaped shoulder armor, with weird armor plating angles just like his helmet. On his right forearm was a dock housing a tactical data pad. He had three extra ammo pouches lined along his abdomen, and the sides of his legs had an extra two inches of armor plating on the sides. His armor seemed generally larger overall, for he was the strongest soldier in Vapor Team. A heavy two-handed portable machine turret was lying on the ground next to him. Luther couldn’t help himself; he had to meet all of the Vapor Team. He walked over to Dale and introduced himself, “Hello sir, you’re Shadow of Vapor Team right? I’m Private First Class Luther Willis; it’s a huge pleasure to meet you.”

            Dale turned only his head to look at Luther. “Interesting,” Dale replied sarcastically, “now get in there Private. We won’t beat the communists with meet and greet.”

            Luther took a step back in surprise and embarrassment. “Yes sir!” He replied in a shaky voice and entered the armory.

            “Good job on breaking his heart Shadow,” Connor said to Dale sarcastically.

            “It’s nice to see you too, and stop being all soft,” Dale replied.

            “We’re famous among the whole corps you know, he was just excited to meet you,” Connor said.

            “And I was just relaxin’,”

            “You’ve been here the whole time since the call to retreat!?” Arden asked Dale.

            “I know right! You all took forever to get back.”

            “I nearly died out there.”

            “Sucks for you.”

            “You could have helped.”

            “Nope, I was just following orders. I retreated,” Dale replied bluntly.

            “Fuck you too,” Arden said back.

            “Bite me,” Dale replied as he slid off of the equipment case and stood up. Vapor Team entered the armory. The armory was fairly small. A one story single room building, but the room was large enough to fit one thousand people if needed. Murmurs arose in the groups of soldiers around them as they walked to an unoccupied weapon table.

            Various soldiers whispered, “Is that Vapor Team?”

            “Who else could they be?”

            “Why do they have different armor?”

            “I’ve heard rumors that they are a secret army project, super soldiers or something.”

            “Someone told me that they aren’t even human, they are androids.”

            “I thought they didn’t exist.”

            “Does anyone know their actual names?”

            Luther joined one of the groups of soldiers conversing about Vapor Team. “Oh they are human alright,” he said. “And you know what I think? I think they are a secret project. Four super soldiers forged with genetic augmentations and hyper advanced training, meant to equal the combat capabilities of probably twenty soldiers combined. I’ve seen one of them in action myself a long time ago. It was incredible. There were eight RL soldiers surrounding the one wearing the orange armor, and they were about to execute him. But then, like lightning, he was behind one of them. Cut his throat with his combat knife and threw the body clean into two other RL soldiers, knocking them down. Two more fell before the other three still on their feet could even open fire. He shot two more soldiers with his shotgun. With only three left, two of them getting back on their feet, he grabbed the one already on his feet and disarmed him with no trouble. Then he was behind him, snapped his neck and pulled the soldier’s sidearm off of his own hip while using him as a human shield, shot and killed the other two still alive. Now I can’t say for sure that they are super soldiers, but when was the last time you saw a soldier pull something off like that with no trouble? Alone they are powerful, but together, well I can imagine they might as well be unstoppable. Thing is, no one really knows for sure who they are. This is all just my theory. If anyone asks them about their armor, or training, or mission assignments, they just simply reply with, ‘That’s classified.’”

            One of the soldiers in the armory had the nerve to yell out to them, asking, “Hey Vapor Team! Where did you get…”

            “Classified!” Connor interrupted before the soldier could finish.

            “See, told you,” Luther said. Vapor Team reached a weapon table and began gun maintenance. John laid down his sniper rifle, pistol, and extra magazines. Connor laid down his assigned marksman rifle, pistol, and extra magazines. Arden laid down his assault rifle, shotgun, pistol, and extra magazines. Finally, Dale plopped his machine turret on the table, rattling it and making a loud clang. Connor chuckled at that. All four began clearing the chambers of their weapons, reloading their gun magazines, and cleaning the weapons. After doing this they put their guns and ammo in their lockers on the walls of the armory.

            “To the briefing room,” John said. All four of them left the armory and began heading for the command complex in the center of the firebase. As they walked a transport chopper flew over their heads and kicked up the dirt around them. Two escort attack choppers flew with it. The attack choppers shifted through the air to hover over two opposite edges of the firebase, while the transport copter landed on a helipad in front of the command complex.

            “I wonder who that is,” Arden said. Major Nellon, the officer who ordered the retreat, exited the command complex and stood at attention in front of the landing chopper.

            “I dunno, but Major Nellon is meeting him, or her. Must be important whoever it is,” Connor replied to Arden’s remark. The chopper landed and four heavily armed soldiers exited and stood at attention around the chopper. Lastly, another soldier exited and proceeded to greet the Major. Major Nellon saluted the soldier and the soldier saluted back.

            Dale whistled in amazement. “He must be pretty important if the Major is saluting him,” Dale stated.

            “Hey, wait. I think it’s…,” Connor said stuttering a little. “I think it’s Colonel Corpus!”

The End

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