11.The Lighthouse, Nunca-Aterriza.
Had Faith had more time, or indeed the inclination to think her plan through more carefully, she might have realised that placing herself between two fires was an inherently dangerous thing to do. However, she didn’t so she hadn’t. It was only as the bullets cracked above her head from both directions that she decided it might be time to change her plan just a little. If you could call the idea that had sprung into her mind a plan. To be honest crawling over to near where the Cubans and their armoured vehicles were and then killing them all was hardly up there with the D-Day Landings.
Lying in the long grass about thirty yards short of the first Cuban armoured car, Faith cursed all the cover that surrounded her and hid her from the enemy and them from her. Apart from the occasional fight in a village or town all her combat had been in the deserts of Iraq. In that sandy thorn bush covered hell that she was used to you could at least see a fair way, here she could hardly see the hand in front of her face. But that wasn’t really so much of a problem as it could have been. Okay, so from down on her belly hugging the ground she couldn’t see much, but she could hear plenty even over the sound of all the firing going on around her.
Faith knew the exact locations of the six Cuban soldiers within twenty-five yards of her, she also knew the exact location of the two armoured cars nearest her, everything else was just general locations but it would be an incredibly lucky Cuban that got anywhere near her with out her noticing. Rolling onto her side, Faith took the AT-4 off her back and prepared it for firing. This was going to be another problem, one AT-4 into four armoured cars just didn’t go.
“What the hell,” Faith shrugged to herself as she coiled her legs under herself in preparation to spring from the grass like a jack-in-the-box; she’d just have to trust that Highway and Brenda would follow her lead.
Jumping up, Faith placed the AT-4 launcher on her shoulder, sighted on the nearest armoured car and fired.0=0=0=0
Moving around the dust and smoke filled interior of the lighthouse, Gunney Highway checked on his men…and woman.
“How you doin’?” Highway asked as he came up behind Brenda and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“I’m okay,” Brenda sent a short burst of fire at a Cuban who’d foolishly shown himself, he threw up his hands and disappeared from view, “She’s still alive, Gunney,” she glanced quickly back at Highway, “I’d know it if’n she was kilt.”
“Yeah, I reckon so,” Highway nodded, “seems to me Slay is one tough soldier to try an’ kill.”
Keeping his head low, Highway crawled over to Collins, he didn’t have to ask the Marine how he felt.
“I’m doin’ better than Profile,” the young Marine explained.
Next he checked on Johanson who’d put down his SAW and was applying a dressing to a wound in his left arm.
“I’m okay, Gunney,” he reassured Highway, “I can still fight.”
“We’ll make it outta here,” asked Aponte, “right, Gunney?”
“You got a date, Aponte?” Highway wanted to know.
“Hey man,” Aponte grinned, “y’never know.”
After checking the rest of the squad, Highway crawled back to where Lt Ring sat in a corner staring down at Profile’s body.
“Gunney,” Ring looked up at Highway, “I got Profile killed.”
“It was his time,” Highway explained urgently, this was no time for his platoon leader to go to pieces, “When it’s your time, I don’t care how fast you can run, it’s your time.”
“I coulda got them all killed,” Ring appeared to want Highway to tell him he was a poor excuse for an officer.
“Yeah,” Highway nodded, “but you didn’t. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.”
“Yeah,” Ring seemed to get a grip on himself, “you’re right.” Ring lifted up an old battered telephone, “I think I’ve figured out a way of calling in an airstrike if we can get this phone to work!”
Just as he was about to ask Lt Ring to explain himself, Highway heard the unmistakeable sound of an armoured vehicle exploding.
“IT’S SLAY!” Brenda yelled excitedly, “I knew she wasn’t dead.”
“Give her covering fire!” Highway called as he crawled over to the doorway and the tempo of firing increased five fold.0=0=0=0
Dropping the empty launcher tube, Faith reached around her body and grabbed her rifle. Bringing it to her hip, she already had her eyes fixed on her first victim. Feeling her weapon comfortingly in her hands she fired from the hip. The round hit the Cuban between the eyes, before he’d even started to fall she’d moved on to the next Cuban infantryman and shot him in a similar way. Working rapidly through her remaining targets from left to right, Faith shot each one once and hardly bothered to watch them fall.
Safe for the moment, Faith moved towards the burning armoured car. The strong sea breeze was coming from behind her and was blowing the black, oily smoke from the burning Cuban vehicle across the rest of the Cuban position. Running up to the front of the blazing armoured car, it gun barrels pointing drunkenly at the sky, Faith saw the remaining Cubans start to react. Firing several quick bursts, Faith rapidly emptied her magazine and sent the Cubans ducking for cover.
The armoured car with the little cannon continued to fire at the lighthouse slowly reducing it to rubble. The car nearest to her started to turn its turret in her direction. Heavy machine gun bullets began to churn up the ground a few yards to her right as the Cubans inside the vehicles started to search her out. Sensing the Cuban infantry begin to reorganise themselves and begin to advance on her, Faith ducked behind the burning wreck to swap round her magazines.
Just as she slipped a fresh magazine into her rifle, Faith heard a *WHOOSH!* followed a moment later by an incredibly loud *BANG!* as a rocket streaked from the lighthouse and hit the next armoured car in line. The AT-4’s warhead easily defeated the frontal armour of the armoured car killing the driver and commander instantly. The white hot plasma from the rocket’s HEAT warhead ignited the car’s fuel and ammunition. A split second later and the entire car exploded sending pieces of itself in all directions. It was at this point that Faith sprang from her cover and started to coldly shoot down Cuban infantrymen as they stood hesitating in shock and confusion.
With expert timing, Highway led the Marines of Recon Platoon out of the lighthouse and into the attack. The Cuban commander, faced with having half his armoured force destroyed in a couple of minutes and being attacked from the flank by an unknown force. While facing an attack from the Americans he’d thought he’d trapped, decided to withdraw. Ordering his men and surviving vehicles back, he watched in bewilderment as one of his armoured cars didn’t move. Looking through the smoke and flame that was obscuring his sight of the battlefield he caught a glimpse of his heavy car; he couldn’t be sure but it looked like its radio antennas had been shot away. Shrugging resignedly he told himself that it couldn’t be helped, his duty was to save as many of his men as he could to fight another day. With luck the stranded vehicle would cover their retreat and hold off any American pursuit, at least for a while.
Finding herself with no more targets, Faith became aware of fire coming from her right as Recon engaged the armoured car that appeared to be covering the retreat of the rest of the Cuban force. The vehicle’s crew kept firing sustained bursts of heavy machine gun fire at the Marines who were advancing on it in short rushes. Every now and then when the vehicle commander thought he had a worthwhile target he’d send a shell winging its way towards the advancing Americans. Most flew harmlessly over Recon’s heads. But some hit closer to home sending earth and shrapnel scything through the air. Trotting towards the vehicle, Faith searched her pouches for a grenade and hoped that Recon would notice her and not shoot her thinking she was a Cuban.
As she was approaching from the vehicles unprotected flank, the Cubans in the BRDM armoured car never noticed her. Deserted by their own infantry they were sitting ducks in such close country where a determined foe could creep up on them unseen. There was definitely one thing you could say about Faith, she was certainly determined. Stopping with her back to the armoured side of the vehicle, Faith winced as the sound of a burst of machine gun fire from the turret beat against her ears. Slinging her rifle over her shoulder she held the grenade firmly in one hand while the index finger of her left hand slipped through the ring attached to the safety pin. Judging that Recon had actually seen her and were deliberately firing high, she worked herself towards the front of the car. Here she’d noticed that the vehicle commander had left his hatch wide open. Obviously judging that the risk of anything unpleasant coming through the hatch was outweighed by him actually being able to pick out new targets for his gunner.
Pulling the pin from the grenade, Faith let the spoon fly free, she waited for half a second before she reached up and dropped the grenade in through the open hatch. Diving for the ground, she hit the dirt and put her arms over her head just as the grenade exploded. The sound of the grenade going off was fairly disappointing. There was no great explosion of flame and smoke like on the movies. Instead there was an almost pop-like explosion after which whiffs of grey smoke started to escape from the vehicle’s open hatch. Raising her head and looking round, Faith saw another hatch in the side of the vehicle begin to open. For a moment it swung on its hinges as more grey smoke escaped the interior. Hearing a groan, she saw a Cuban crewman start to crawl from out of his smouldering vehicle. Automatically, Faith’s hand went for the pistol holster strapped to her right thigh. Pulling her 9mm sidearm she shot the Cuban in the head and watched him slump down dead, half in and half out of the vehicle. Satisfied that there were no more threats, Faith holstered her weapon and pulled herself to her feet.0=0=0=0
“You okay, Slay?” Highway asked as he slowly walked over to where Faith stood next to her smouldering trophy.
“Fine,” Faith grunted as Brenda hit her from the side and hugged her, momentarily forgetting where she was.
“Looks like someone’s glad to see you,” Highway observed, he noticed the concerned look on Faith’s face, “Don’t worry,” Highway grinned, “I’m not gonna ask and I’m sure as hell not gonna tell.”
“Outstanding, Sergeant Lehane!” Lt Ring cried happily as he joined the little group studiously ignoring how Corporal Mitchell held on to Faith. “Much better than my idea of phoning Camp Lejeune and calling in an airstrike,” the young officer laughed, “like that was going to work!”
“Well, L-t,” Highway turned to look at Lt Ring, “what are we waiting for?”
“All right, you devil dogs,” Ring cried his voice getting stronger with every passing second, “lets take that fucking hill!”
The Marines cheered and punched the air with their fists as they turned away to continue on up the hill. For just a moment the two Army representatives were left standing alone. Turning to each other they sighed; Faith shrugged as Brenda rolled her eyes.
“Come-on, B,” Faith said quietly as she turned and patted Brenda’s on the shoulder, “we better get after them, make sure they don’t get themselves into any more crap.”
“Know what yuh mean,” Brenda agreed as she walked along side her friend, “it’s like ridin’ herd on a pack o’ puppies.”0=0=0=0
Standing proudly at the top of the hill overlooking Kensington, Nunca-Aterriza’s capital, stood Fort George. Built by the British some time in the 1700’s after capturing the island from the Spanish, the fort now stood as a creeper covered curiosity for tourists. However, the reason Fort George was built there in the first place still held true today. It made a perfect observation point to watch Kensington harbour from.
Approaching the fort’s outer wall, Recon infiltrated through the main gate unseen by anyone who might be in the main part of the fortification. Not wishing to risk going up the wide ramp that led to the old gun battery and the tower that stood at the centre of the fort; Recon Platoon decided to scale the still formidable walls. Forming a human pyramid against an inner corner of the star shaped walls, Brenda climbed up the bodies of the Marines holding a length of nylon rope between her teeth. Moving like some, cute, blonde, camouflaged, pirate she made the rope fast to the breach of an ancient iron cannon and took up position to cover her buddies as they climbed the rope.
Once they were all on the gun platform they formed a skirmish line and rushed towards the great brick lookout tower. Two of the Spanish speaking members of the squad yelled for whoever was in the tower to come out and surrender. When there was no reply, Lt Ring ordered his men to throw grenades into the tower through the gaps in the lower walls left by the old cannon loopholes. As the grenades exploded, Recon rushed forward and started to fire into the now smoke filled interior. Within a very few moment cries of surrender were coming from inside the tower as the Cuban infantry squad who’d garrisoned the fort gave up and came out with their hands in the air.0=0=0=0
Sitting on a low wall together with their backs towards the tower, Highway and Faith watched as the ‘youngsters’ organised the prisoners and moved them into the lower part of the fort. Faith, for one, suddenly felt very old even though she was only twenty-six, she could only guess how Highway was feeling right about now. Pulling a Cuban cigar from his pocket, Highway stuck it in his mouth before offering its brother to Faith.
“Thanks,” Faith took the cigar, found her Zippo and lit her cigar before passing the lighter on to Highway.
Sitting on the wall the too senior non-coms sat in companionable silence, smoking their looted cigars and admiring the view. The sound of a jeep approaching made them both look around, it was Powers arriving safely after all the fighting had finished. Climbing out of his jeep Powers walked over to look down at Highway.
“What the hell do you think you were doing?” Major Powers demanded.
Faith was vaguely aware of Sergeant-Major Choozhoo and Sergeant Webster joining the group just as Lt Ring came up behind herself and Highway. Highway took his cigar from his mouth and squinted up at Powers.
“Just enjoying the view, Sir,” he replied slowly; Faith smirked as she blew cigar smoke in Powers’ general direction.
“Well, you disobeyed a direct order,” Powers snapped back his voice getting louder by the moment, “I told you to stay in contact and not take this fucking hill without me!” Clenching his fists in an unsuccessful effort to control his temper, Powers yelled at Highway, “Get on your feet, Highway!”
“With all due respect, Sir,” again Highway spoke slowly and calmly, “you’re beginning to bore the hell outta me!”
Not being able to control herself any longer, Faith let out a bark of laughter and then started to cough and laugh at the same time as a mouthful of smoke caught in her throat. Anything else Powers was about to say was drowned out by the noise of an approaching helicopter. Everyone watched as the UH-1 touched down at the other end of the gun battery and the Regimental Commander climbed from the interior of the chopper. The Colonel in charge of the Marine Regimental Combat Team walked briskly over to the little huddle of officers and non-coms. He stood belligerently in front of Powers thrusting his chin out as if daring Powers to punch it.
“Who’s in charge here?” The Colonel demanded.
“I am, Sir,” Powers snapped to attention, “Major Malcolm Powers, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment.”
“Did you lead this assault?” The Colonel turned slightly to face Powers head on.
“No Sir!” Powers announced proudly, “Lt Ring and Gunnery Sergeant Highway disobeyed a direct order to attack this position, Sir.” Powers swelled with malicious pride as he destroyed Ring’s and Highway’s careers, “I told them to wait for support but they still charged up this hill.”
“Why?” The Colonel next turned to stare at Highway.
“We’re paid to improvise, Sir,” Highway explained, “To overcome and adapt…”
“I gave the order to take this hill,” Lt Ring called from behind Highway.
Deciding to stay quiet for now, Faith thought it best to let the Marines sort this one out. If the shit was going to hit the fan what did she really care? Okay, Highway was a good guy but his career was almost over whatever happened, the guy she felt sorry for was Ring. Just as he looked like he was going to turn into a good officer he was going to get crapped on by that asshole Powers. An evil thought came to Faith’s mind; once she got back to the Army, she’d get Brenda to put in a complaint about attempted rape against Webster and they’d claim Powers was protecting him. Even if the charges didn’t stick the suggestion of conduct unbecoming, would follow Powers around like a bad smell.
“Ring,” Powers turned to look at the young officer, “this is going to ruin your career.”
“Are you new to the infantry, Major?” the Colonel wanted to know.
“Yes Sir,” Powers replied, “I came over from supply.”
“Were you good at that?” the Colonel asked.
“Yes Sir!” Powers replied arrogantly.
“Well then stick to it,” the Colonel snapped back, “because you’re a walking clusterfuck as an infantry officer!”
Once again Faith had to stop herself from choking on her cigar.
“This is a Marine Amphibious Unit, Major,” explained the Colonel as if talking to a rather slow five year old, “My men are hard chargers, Lt Ring and Gunney Highway took a handful of young fire-pissers, exercised some initiative and KICKED ASS!”
Faith felt slightly put out because she’d kicked ass too, but then again this time she was coming out of the battle more or less uninjured…no more purple hearts for her today.
“Well done Lieutenant,” the Colonel called to Ring, “now see that some of those students are escorted back to Cherry Point.”
“Aye-aye, Sir!” Cried Ring, “Thank-you, Sir.”
Faith turned to pick up her gear ready to follow Lt Ring, it seemed like the thing to do. The Colonel looked disdainfully at Powers.
“You’re DISMISSED!” He yelled into the shocked Major’s face.
Turning away from the colonel, Powers walked away with his tail firmly between his legs followed, as always, by Webster. The Colonel joined Choozhoo, Highway and Faith, he gave each of them a hard look.
“What are you three sorry assed individuals looking at?” He wanted to know, “Get out of my L-Z.”
“Semper Fi!” Chorused Choozhoo and Highway followed by a lone cry of “Army!” from Faith.
“Ooo-rah!” Called the Colonel softly as he watched them go.0=0=0=0
Recon Platoon, at least that portion of it that had actually been deployed as a reconnaissance unit found itself flown directly back to the States aboard a Marine Corps C130 along with the students they’d helped rescue. Walking down the ramp of the aircraft, Faith and Brenda paused for a moment to look out over the sunlight airfield. There was a band and an honour guard plus the friends and relations of the Marines and students all there to welcome them back. There was, needless to say, no one to welcome home the two soldiers mixed in with all the Marines.
“Welcome home,” Faith said quietly to Brenda as they made their way across the concrete apron towards the band and the cheering civilians.
“That’s right neighbourly of yuh, Staff Sergeant,” Brenda grinned, “An’ may I be the furst to say, welcome back ta yuh an’ all.”
“Thanks,” Faith hitched her rifle higher up on her shoulder, “Ya know, I’ve had enough of this Marine bullshit.”
“Me too,” agreed Brenda, they were in amongst the crowd now and were picking up some of the fall out from the celebrations; they’d both been hugged a couple of times by over excited young women who’d mistaken them for short guys.
“Lets get back home to the Army, B,” Faith said tiredly.
“On it, Staff Sergeant!” Brenda slipped her arm through Faith’s as they walked away from the Marine Corps unnoticed by anyone.0=0=0=0Epilogue.Jacksonville Bus Station.
Standing with his suitcase at his feet Wesley Wyndam-Price was a bitter man. All he’d tried to do was to bring Faith Lehane, the infamous rogue slayer, to justice and what had been his reward? Nothing but, shame, he had been disgraced, humiliated and dishonoured. As if that wasn’t bad enough he’d been told by Mrs Finn’s chief henchwoman, Willow Rosenberg, that his services were no longer required by the, so-called, Reformed Watchers Council.
Having arrived at the hut in the swamp where his own slayer had imprisoned him, Rosenberg had not only stripped him of his title of Watcher, but also of all his research material and magical items. When he’d tried to remonstrate with the woman she’d set her own slayer bodyguard on him and he’d had to suffer the indignity of being forcefully evicted from his own prison.
As he’d walked away from the hut he’d imagined the three women laughing at him as he made his way towards the main road. But one day they’d be laughing on the other side of their faces. One day when that murderer Lehane turned on them and brought their precious, ‘Reformed Watchers Council’ crashing down around their ears, then they’d wish they’d heeded his warnings.
When that day arrived he’d be there to laugh in their faces when they begged him for help. But…but, he was a bigger man than that; deep down he knew that he could never see the Council brought low, its work was far too important for him to jeopardise, whatever his personal feeling might day. Until that day came when they came crawling back to him, cap in hand, he would work to expose Lehane for the monster she was!THE END.