Voyage From Yesteryear


ABOUT TWO HUNDRED feet below the ridgeline, the Third Platoon of D Company had set up its Tactical Battle Station in a depression surrounded by interconnecting patches of sagebrush and scrub. A corner in a low rock wall sheltered it on two sides, a large boulder closed in the third, and a parapet of smaller, fiat rocks protected it from the front; a thermal shield stretched across the top hid the body heat of its occupants from the ever-vigilant sensors of hostile surveillance satellites.

The scene outside was deceptively quiet as Colman lifted a flap and peered out, keeping his head well back from the edge of the canopy. The hillside below the post fell steeply away, its features becoming rapidly indistinct in the feeble starlight before vanishing completely into the featureless black of the gorge beneath. There was no moon, and the sky was clear as crystal. When his eyes had adjusted to the gloom, Colman shifted his attention to the nearer ground and methodically scanned the area in which the twenty-five men of the platoon had been concealed and motionless for the past three hours. If they had undercut their foxholes and weapons pits the way he had shown them and made proper use of the rocks and vegetation, they would stand a good chance of escaping detection. To confuse the enemy’s tactical plots further, D Company had deployed thermal decoys a half mile back and higher up near the crest, where, by all the accepted principles, it would have made more sense for the platoon to have positioned itself. Auto timed to turn on and off in a random sequence to simulate movement, the decoys had been drawing sporadic fire for much of the night while the platoon had drawn none, which seemed to say something about the value of “the book” as rewritten by Staff Sergeant Colman. “There are two ways to do anything,” he told the recruits. “The Army way and the wrong way. There isn’t any other way. So when I tell you to do something the Army way, what does it mean?’

“It means do it your way, Sergeant.”

“Very good.”

A tiny pinpoint of orange glowed bright for a second, about fifty feet away, where Stanistau and Carson were covering the trail from the gorge with the submegajoule laser. Colman scowled to himself. He turned his head a fraction to whisper to Driscoll. “The LCP’s showing a cigarette. Tell them to get rid of it.”

Driscoll tapped into the finger panel of the compack, and from a spike pushed into the ground, ultrasonic vibrations spread outward through the soil, carrying the call sign of the Laser Cannon Post. “LCP reading,” a muted voice acknowledged from the compack.

Driscoll spoke into the microphone boom projecting from his helmet. “Red Three, routine check.” This would leave an innocuous record in the automatic signal logging system. In the darkness Driscoll pressed a key to deactivate the recording channel momentarily. “You’re showing a light, shitheads. Douse it or cover it.” His finger released the key. “Report status, LCP.”

“Ready and standing by,” the voice replied neutrally. “Nothing to report.” Outside, the pinpoint of light vanished abruptly.

“Remain at ready. Out.”

Colman grunted to himself, made one final sweep of the surroundings, then dropped the flap back into place and turned to face inside. Behind Driscoll, Maddock was examining the bottom of the gorge through the image intensifier, while in the shadows next to him the expression of concentration on Corporal Swyley’s face was etched sharply by the subdued glow of the forward terrain display screen propped in front of him.

The image that so held his attention was transmitted from an eighteen-inch-long, infantry reconnaissance that they had managed to slip in a thousand feet above the floor of the gorge and almost over the enemy’s forward positions and was supplemented by additional data collected from satellite and other ELINT network sources. The display showed the target command bunker at the bottom of the gorge, known enemy weapons emplacements as computed from backplots of radar-tracked shell trajectories, and the locations of observation and fire command posts from source analysis triangulations of stray reflections from control lasers. On it the cool water of the stream and its tributaries stood out as black lines forking like twigs; the rock crags and boulders were shades of blue; living vegetation varied from rust brown on the hills to deep red where it crowded together along the lower slopes of the gorge; and shell and bomb scars glowed from dull orange to yellow depending on how recently the explosions had occurred.

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Categories: Hogan, James