3.Fort Knight, Oregon.
The first proper day of Faith’s military career started at five o’clock in the morning, or if you wanted that in ‘army speak’; zero-five-hundred. After a rapid visit to the washroom, Faith got dressed ready for PT before making her bed.
“Come-on, Judy,” she called when she saw her friend still struggling with the concept that such a thing as five o’clock in the morning actually existed.
“But it’s still the middle of the night!” this complaint appeared to be one of Judy’s favourites, “And where’s my breakfast?”
“No maid service here,” Faith announced as she pulled back Judy’s bedding and hauled her out of bed, “an’ breakfast not ‘til six-thirty.”
“So why are we getting up now?” Judy asked miserably as she searched for her soap, toothbrush and towel.
“Oh that’s easy,” Faith smiled wickedly, “we’ve got PT to do first!”
“Oh god!” Judy wailed as she shuffled off to the washroom, “I’m in hell!”0=0=0=0PT.
That first PT period was taken up with a fitness test to see how fit the recruits actually were. It involved doing a set number of ‘repetitions’ of six different exercises, the test was scientifically designed to assess each recruit’s strength and stamina in different muscle groups. As the Army was in love with doing everything in alphabetical order and as ‘L’ was way down the line, Faith got to watch how the other recruits performed before it was her turn.
At first Faith thought, ‘this is way easy’; she could do the test in her sleep. Then little warning bells started to ring in the back of her mind. Okay, Faith thought, she’d always known that she was strong but up until that moment she’d not realised just how strong she was compared to other people. From what she could see of how everyone was doing Faith thought she must be ‘super-strong’, stronger even than some of the guys in the platoon.
Instead of feeling happy about this, Faith started to worry; she’d seen enough movies and read enough comic books to know what happened to the super-strong-girl once the government found out about her; Faith had no wish to spend the rest of her life being experimented on by guys in white coats carrying clipboards. It was time to use her brains, watching carefully she counted the number of repetitions each of the women ahead of her managed to do. Nodding to herself as she stepped forward to take her turn, Faith decided that she could safely do one or two more than the best female recruit so far, maybe do one or two under in some of the exercises so as not to stand out too much.0=0=0=0The Obstacle Course.
This looked like fun, Faith told herself as she readied herself for her first time over the assault course. She was now about a week into her training and so far, apart from the Army’s mania for keeping everything spotlessly clean, she was loving every minute of it, even the Instructors didn’t seem anywhere near as bad as she’d imagined they were going to be. Of course Faith’s opinion of army life was coloured by the fact that she found all the physical stuff laughably easy (even if she did have to hide her true strength) and the classroom training was easier than she’d imagined it was going to be. It seemed to her that she only had to be shown something once and she could remember it.
Another good thing about army life, was she had more friends now than she’d ever had in LA. There was, Nina a Mexican girl from San Diego, Brandi from somewhere out in Tennessee and of course there was still Judy. Life, however, wasn’t so good if your name was Judy Benjamin, Faith had tried to help her friend out as much as she could; but Judy seemed to be starting from a point so far down on the ladder that she had to work twice as hard just to catch up and be average.
As Faith ran towards the wall, which was the first obstacle, she saw Judy still trying to climb over it. As Judy was a ‘B’ and had started out near the front, she must have been there since nearly the beginning of the exercise. Trotting up to the wall, Faith jumped and came to rest lying with her body halfway over the wall, she’d had the feeling that she could have jumped straight over the wall (after all it was only about seven feet high), but she’d not done so because that would have drawn too much attention to herself. Swinging one leg over the wall so she was sitting astride it, she looked down and saw Judy’s tears of frustration as she kept trying to get over the wall. Reaching down, Faith took hold of Judy’s collar and heaved her up onto the wall beside her.
“Come-on Judy,” Faith told her friend, “if ya don’t want to go back home with your tail between ya legs an’ marry that asshole Earnest, ya better shape up fast, now follow-me!”
Jumping off the wall, Faith paused for an moment to watch Judy jump down beside her, then placing her hand between Judy’s shoulders Faith exerted gentle pressure on the girl’s back so she wouldn’t slow down. With a mixture of verbal encouragement, and a few judicious pushes, Faith got her friend over the obstacle course, but Judy still fell into the water filled ditch at the end of the course as she tried to swing across it.0=0=0=0
“Did you see what our little stripper just did?” Lt Lewis asked as she watched the recruits go over the course.
“Yes Ma’am, I did” First Sergeant Ballard replied as he made a check mark on the clipboard he was carrying, “Lehane just hauled Benjamin’s ass across that assault course.”
“I thought that’s what I saw,” Lt Lewis smiled, she glanced at Ballard, “what’s she like, Lehane I mean? No problems, she’s not been putting on little shows for the male recruits has she?”
“No Ma’am,” Ballard shook his head, “Lehane keeps to her own little group of friends, doesn’t mix much with the guys,” Ballard took a breath before continuing, “She’s strong, tough, quick to learn, never makes the same mistake twice,” Ballard observed, “takes everything the instructors can throw at her then comes back for more, she’s a model recruit.”
“And Benjamin?” Lewis asked in a lower voice already guessing what the answer would be.
“About as different from Lehane as you can get,” Ballard replied his voice dropping, “In fact I’d say she was holding Lehane back on some of the physical things, Benjamin does alright in the classroom though.”
“Holds her back?” Lewis quieried.
“Yeah,” Ballard nodded, “Lehane keeps going back to help Benjamin, its slowing her down.”
“I call it leadership, Jim,” Lewis added Ballard’s first name quietly so no one could overhear, “I recognised it in her from the first time I saw her, Lehane has all the qualities to make an excellent soldier.” Lt Lewis paused and smiled in Faith’s direction, “Keep them together First Sergeant, it won’t harm Lehane and it might help Benjamin.”
“Yes ma’am,” Ballard saluted and watched as his officer walked away.0=0=0=0The Forest Surrounding Fort Knight.
Raising his clenched fist, Lt Gorman sank slowly to his knees while behind him the rest of the men and women in his squad followed suit. As the patrol watched either side of the narrow game trail they were on for trouble, Gorman waved his sergeant forward. Moving swiftly and quietly along the line of the patrol, Sergeant Apone came to a halt by his Lieutenant and sank down into cover next to the officer.
“What’s up L-t?” Apone asked as he watched Gorman rest his rifle across his knee and pull his map from inside his jacket.
“What’s up, Sergeant Apone,” Gorman grinned, “is that there are too many freakin’ trees in this part of the world and I can’t see where we’re going,” Gorman sighed tiredly, “I think we took a wrong turn aways back,” he showed Apone his map and compass, “What do you think?”
After studying the map for about thirty seconds, Apone nodded his head.
“I think you’re right, L-t,” the older man shrugged under his equipment harness, “we’re lost.”
“Damn-it!” Gorman snapped angry at himself for getting them lost, “I wish we had one of those fancy GPS things, no way would we get lost then.”
“Like that’s gonna happen, L-t,” Apone chuckled deep in his throat, “like the Army’s gonna buy something like that?”
“Yeah,” Gorman sighed, “I expect you’re right…so, what do you suggest, try and retrace our steps?”
“Hold on, L-t, lets not be wanderin’ back and forward ‘round these here woods if’n we don’t have to,” Apone studied Gorman’s map for a full two minutes. “Look,” he pointed to the map, “there’s a river runs east-west down this valley. Now I know we’re on the south side of it down here.” Apone’s finger indicated their likely position on the map, “All we have to do is keep walking north ‘til we…”
“Movement!” came the whispered call from further down the patrol; instantly Gorman and Apone stopped talking and looked back at their troop.
Near the rear of the patrol, PFC Vasquez clutched her SAW tightly with her right hand while pointing into the forest with her left.
“What’d you see, Vasquez?” Gorman whispered as he and Apone made their way over to where Vasquez crouched as quietly as they could.
“Don’t know for sure, L-t,” Vasquez replied as the rest of the patrol got themselves ready for a possible fight, “but it went behind that clump of bushes over there.”
“A deer?” Apone asked hopefully.
“Too tall,” Vasquez shook her head, “an’ deer don’t walk on two legs…”
“Okay,” Gorman eyed the bushes; they’d been chasing this ‘thing’ for two days now ever since it had ripped apart and eaten a party of Scouts.
The press had been given the story that it was a rabid bear, but very soon there were stories that a ‘Bigfoot’ had done it. Of course this had started an argument amongst the sort of people that believed in things like Sasquatch. Some said that Bigfoots (or should that be ‘Bigfeet’?), whatever, Gorman smiled to himself; some said that Bigfoot was a peaceful omnivore. Others claimed that they were ravening monsters. Gorman agreed that what they were following was a ravening monster but this was no Bigfoot like in that old movie ‘Harry and the Hendersons’. This was something much worse than that and Gorman’s job was to kill it. No capture, just kill, the Initiative had made that mistake and look what had happened to them; the Army wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
“Okay,” Gorman called softly, “lets go check it out, Corporal Ferro…”
“L-t?” Collette Ferro called back softly.
“Take Frost and Wierbowski,” Gorman ordered, “you’re right flank.”
“On it!” Ferro called back.
“Sergeant,” Gorman nodded to his second in command, “take Drake and his M240 plus Hudson, over there,” Gorman pointed to the left, “and set up a base of fire, I’ll call it in when I want you to take out that bush.” Gorman laughed quietly, that bush was going to have a real bad day in a minute or two, “everyone else spread out in a skirmish line and advance on my signal, now move!”
While the patrol got itself organised, Gorman scanned the trees for movement, whatever was behind that bush was keeping really still and quiet. It wasn’t that the trees here abouts were too close together, or that there was a lot of undergrowth. It was the fact that the trees were too tall for him or anyone else to get a good look at the surrounding terrain so they could keep their bearing. Down at ground level all you could see were tree trunks going off into the distance (which was maybe a hundred metres away) and a few clumps of bushes like the one they were about to attack.
Hearing Apone whistle quietly, Gorman looked up and around, everyone looked as if they were in position. Pointing to Apone, Gorman gave the signal for Drake to open fire. Instantly the silence of the woods was shattered by the stutter of Drake’s M240 as it started to demolish the clump of bushes. After letting Drake fire about a hundred rounds into the bushes, Gorman waved his team forward.
Moving in a long uneven line, Gorman’s team rapidly closed the distance to the bushes. Not that Gorman expected to find anything, Vasquez had probably seen a deer or a shadow, but the break in routine made by the little impromptu assault was good for morale and helped keep everyone alert. Being slightly ahead of his team, Gorman reached the bushes first, slowing to a cautious walk, he worked his way around the clump of undergrowth, his M16 at his shoulder. Stepping around the machinegun damaged bush, Gorman sighed and relaxed, he’d been right there wasn’t anything there.
“Okay people,” Gorman called, “We’ve been chasing shadows,” Gorman looked at a rather disappointed Vasquez, “sorry Vasquez no monsters today, but you were right to call it.”
Slowly the patrol came together in a little huddle behind the bush.
“Okay, guys,” Gorman glanced at his watch, “we might as well…AAAAGH!”
Gorman had been wrong, there was something behind the bush; only it’d been hiding in a shallow depression a couple of metres further into the forest from where the bushes grew. It rose up, towering over the soldier and swung one great bony, claw tipped hand at Gorman and almost cut him in half.
Standing in shocked horror at the sudden appearance of the monster, no one moved or did anything for maybe two precious seconds. Apone was the first to start firing, but the monster moved too quickly for him to get a good shot. The rest of the patrol were crowded together and getting in his way. The monster moved rapidly from soldier to soldier slicing them into screaming, bloody chunks. It should have been impossible for something that big to move so fast, but it did and the little clearing behind the bush was soon drenched in blood and covered in pieces of Lt Gorman’s patrol.
Frantically trying to fit a full magazine into her rifle Corporal Dietrich sobbed and fumbled as she dropped the magazine before giving up and throwing away her rifle. Weeping hysterically she turned and started to run. Cynthia Dietrich, or Sin as her friends had called her, was the unit’s medic and she’d just seen every friend she had in the world killed…slaughtered by that thing. Running through the forest heedless of where she was going, Sin just wanted to get as far away from that thing as she could. So, she ran deeper into the trees and with every step she got more and more lost. 0=0=0=0
Back at the bush the thing ate ravenously, even as it ate it grew larger. But its hunger was never sated; it was cursed to always be hungry to always need to kill and never feel satisfied. Whenever it ate something, it would grow in proportion to the meal it had just consumed, so that it could never be full. The monster was therefore simultaneously constantly gorging itself and emaciated from starvation.0=0=0=0Fort Knight.
Lifting her head up at the sound of distant gunfire, Lt Lewis turned to Sergeant Bell.
“Is there someone out on a field problem, or live firing?” she asked knowing that the answer should be ‘no’.
“No ma’am,” Bell replied after she’d consulted her clipboard, “Lt Woodridge’s intake are out on a route march but they should be way over to the south.”
“Odd,” Lewis mused, she was fairly sure she’d heard automatic fire.
“Maybe its hunters, ma’am?” Bell suggested.
“With machineguns?” Lewis glanced down a Bell, “What are they hunting, mammoths or something?”
“Could be that bear that killed those scouts a couple of days ago,” Bell suggested.
“Hmm,” Lewis wasn’t convinced, but she wasn’t sure of what she’d actually heard, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll talk to the Colonel about it later.”
“Right you are ma’am,” Bell agreed, she’d not worry if the L-t told her not to.0=0=0=0
“Come on Judy,” Faith laughed, “you’ve been walking all ya life, what’s so hard about marching, it’s just like walking in step.”
“It’s alright for you,” Judy replied grumpily, “you can do anything…”
“Like walk?” Faith sniggered as they walked back to their barracks after lunch, “Come on lets try it together now,” Faith fell into step beside her friend; she had to admit that yes she did find most of it easy, but come on, walking?
Concentrating hard, Judy tried to stay in step with Faith, but after only a few paces she found herself out of step and with her right arm swinging in time with her right foot.
“Oh Faith,” Judy almost sobbed, “I’m useless I can’t even march!”
“Y’know what your problem is, an’ it’s not coz ya useless,” Faith brought her friend to a halt, “it’s coz your tryin’ way too hard.” Faith took a deep breath, “Come-on lets try it again but this time don’t think about it, just do it!”
This time Judy managed to keep in step with Faith all the way back to the barrack hut. About fifty yards away and standing in the shade of a tree, First Sergeant Ballard, watched Faith’s little marching lesson with Judy.
“Now that,” Ballard pointed out to Sergeant Bell who stood beside him, “is the sort of recruit that you dream about having…”
“You do, First Sergeant?” Bell sniggered.
“I don’t mean like that!” Ballard laughed, “Get your mind out of the gutter Sergeant Bell and listen up. Lehane is the sort of recruit that it’s a pleasure to teach, makes the job worthwhile.”
“You’re not wrong, First Sergeant,” Bell agreed, “We’ll see how she does on the ranges and in combat training.”
“Care to make a wager on how well she does, Sergeant?” Ballard asked.
“I don’t bet on certainties, First Sergeant,” Bell replied with a grin.0=0=0=0