Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Installment 6.1: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow...

A half hour after sunrise, Chad called in on the group channel.  “Has anybody seen anything threatening?” 

Everybody answered “Negative.”

“OK, here is the plan.  The scouting and mortar crews on the south will stay there to make sure Cali does not sneak up on us.  The north-west scouts will set up on elevation south of the road to Mariposa…maybe five miles out.” Chad said.

“The rest of you will ride the two flat-beds down to the camp with me.  We will secure the camp, if possible.  Make sure you have a fresh magazine in your personal weapon and nothing in the chamber.  The last thing I want is a friendly fire incident and the second-to-last thing I want is not being able to return fire if things are not as peaceful as they seem.” Chad finished.

The trucks rolled north on I-5 at a very sedate ten miles an hour so the passengers could look things over with Mark I eyeballs.  Five minutes out from the gates to the camp Kenny pointed up.  Chad looked.  It was a news helicopter circling as if preparing to land.

The trucks pulled up just as the passengers disembarked from the aircraft.

Brigid Barkley was the third person to exit.

Miss Barkley was the world’s premier battlefield reporter.  She was head of her own corporation and her reporting services were currently held by a consortium of Times of India, BBC and CNN.  Miss Barkley sold her services one year at a time.  She had doubled her fees more than once when the bidding period fell during a highly rated war series.

Her services were so highly sought that the price was beyond the means of any one network.

Miss Barkley was in her mid-thirties.  She had flawless complexion, high, arched cheekbones and an elegant nose.  She moved with the muscular, sinewy grace of a wild panther.  If anything, she was more fit now than she had been when she ran 400 meters at University.  More than one male interviewee had surreptitiously noted that there very few places where a dropped quarter would not bounce if dropped upon her.

Her voice carried the soft, Scottish burr and measured cadences of her rural upbringing.  She spoke for understanding and audiences in New Delhi, London and Atlanta never had trouble figuring out what she was saying.

But none of these were her most striking feature.  It was her hair. 

Brigid’s hair was prematurely gray.  No, not just a little bit gray.  Every hair on her head was a pearly, luminescent gray.  She wore her hair in a short, layered, shag that could be made presentable with little more than running her fingers through it to fluff it up.  More than once she had worn a helmet in a hot zone for thirteen hours and reported to an audience of a billion humans with no more prep than doing exactly that...running her fingers through her hair to pull it back from her face.

Brigid Barkley was the last thing Chad needed to complicate his life.

He presented himself to her and asked her what her business was, perhaps a bit more brusquely than was absolutely necessary.

Brigit replied, “My crew is here to embed with the Cali forces as they assault the rebel forces in LA.”

“Well, that is going to be hard to do because the Cali forces left.  We are the LA-SD forces.  What would you have me do?”  Chad really wanted her to get back into the helicopter and leave but her crew was already recording.

“If you don’t mind,” Brigid said, “I might as well embed with you.  Can you call your chain-of-command and clear it with them?”

That was not what Chad wanted to hear.  He said, “You will have to give me a few minutes.  Until I get back to you I don’t want you or your crew to get more than fifty paces from the helo.  As you can see, I don’t have much in the way of forces to ensure your safety.”

As he was walking away Chad noticed that she had bee-lined over to Kenny and started asking him, “So, what do you think your chances of winning are?”

Chad did not stick around to hear the answer.  Kenny could take care of himself.  Besides, if he did not hear the answer then he was not responsible for damage control.

It took four tries to drill through to Pitoitua.  Pitoitua said, “Whatever you need, I can’t help you.”

Chad said, “I haven’t even asked.”

Pitoitua said, “Yeah, well we just had 160,000 Cali forces surrender and they are all as sick as hell.  Undoubtedly contagious.  And they are a mile from Downtown LA.  Incidentally, they said they left some of the sicker soldiers back at the camp.  You might want to check that out…and use NBC gear.  These folks are shitting blood.”

Chad said, “That is not why I called you.  I have a reporter who wants to embed with us.  I think it is a bad idea.”

Pitoitua was distracted.  “Just deal with it.  Remember, you are on your own.  Pull in whatever help you can.  We will sort it out afterward.  Pitoitua out.”

Shit, shit, shit, shit.

Walking back to the reporters he motioned to the helo pilot to kill the engine.

Chad said, “This is the way it has to be.  We are on our own.  There are an unknown number of hostiles in those tents and they are contagious with an unknown plague.  Let me repeat.  We are on our own.  My chain-of-command directed me to control the situation and authorized me to use any resources that were available to me.”

Chad looked over at Brigid.  “Do you still want in?”

Brigid became the premier battle field reporter because she had an uncanny nose for finding stories.  Most correspondents would have considered the camp a “bust” and gone elsewhere to find stories. After all, the front had moved on.  Brigid followed her nose.  She elected to stay.

“We are in.” she said.

“In that case you need to put on NBC gear.  Nuclear, Biological and Chemical weapons suits.  I also need to have your helo take a flight around the camp so we can estimate the number and orientation of tents.” Chad said.

“Can we borrow some of your gear.  We did not bring NBC suits.  Regarding the tents, we took footage as we were circling.  We can play it back but it looks like there are about twenty ranks of forty tents each…call it 800 to 1000 tents.” Brigid said.

Chad thought, maybe this is not going to be as bad as I thought.

Next Installment

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