4.Rifle Ranges, Fort Knight.
“Slow down your rate of fire, Lehane!” First Sergeant Ballard called as he walked up behind Faith.
Lying on the ground at the firing point, Faith fired rapidly into the man-sized target three-hundred metres down range, after firing her allotted five rounds at the target she unloaded her M16 before jumping to her feet and standing with her weapon in the ‘port arms’ position.
“Firing like that, scatters your fire all over the target area,” Ballard explained, “You need to take deliberate aim with each round to ensure the highest number of rounds on target.”
“Yes First Sergeant,” Faith replied crisply.
“Now let’s see what you’ve got…” Ballard lifted his binoculars to his eyes and looked down range.
At first he didn’t believe what he was seeing, he took his glasses from his eyes and looked from them to Faith and then back at the target. Raising his binoculars to his eyes once more he looked down range at Faith’s target and had to admit that he had seen what he thought he’d seen. There in the middle of Faith’s target was a tight group of five holes, lowering his binoculars, Ballard looked suspiciously at Faith.
“You ever shoot before, Lehane?” Ballard asked slowly.
“No, First Sergeant!” Faith replied, at least she didn’t think she’d ever fired a rifle before.
“Hmmm,” Ballard rubbed his chin, “Okay lets see you do it again, make sure it wasn’t beginners luck, put another five rounds into that target.”
“Yes First Sergeant!” Faith quickly put another magazine of five rounds into her weapon before getting down into a firing position and cocking her rifle.
As she lay there looking at the target over the top of her rifle, a thought came to Faith’s mind. Maybe, this was one of those times that she didn’t want to look too good. After all, she was a woman and it was unlikely that she’d ever go into combat. As long as she qualified what did it matter if she didn’t shoot as well as she knew she could? Taking careful aim, Faith fired slowly into the target, this time she made sure that her rounds made a larger grouping and that her forth and fifth rounds went into the outer target area outside the central zone where all her other rounds had hit. After unloading she jumped to her feet again to watch Ballard’s reaction.
“First time musta been a fluke,” Ballard lowered his glasses sadly and eyed Faith with suspicion, “pity…looks like there is something that Benjamin can do better than you!”
Following the First Sergeant’s gaze, Faith turned to see where her friend was pumping round after round down range and blowing a large hole in the center of her target. With ever round, Judy let out a loud whoop of excitement.
“Carry on, Lehane,” Ballard turned away from Faith and walked over to where Lt Lewis stood watching.
“First Sergeant,” Lewis nodded to Ballard, “I saw you there with our star recruit, something wrong?”
“Not sure L-t,” Ballard frowned and shook his head.
“Spit it out Jim,” Lewis said quietly.
“Well,” Ballard took off his hat and fiddled with the brim, “I can’t prove it but I think she was holding back and deliberately missing the target.”
“Deliberately missing?” Lewis looked at her friend in confusion, “Why’d she want to do that?”
“Tell the truth, Doreen,” Ballard replied in hushed tones, “I’ve no idea, but when I told her to put another five rounds down range I could swear she deliberately moved her rifle off target.”
“But why Jim?” Lewis wanted to know, “It makes no sense.”
“So she doesn’t look too
good?” Ballard suggested, “And there’s another thing, have you noticed how she only does a little better than the other recruits?” Ballard shook his head in confusion, “She does just enough to get good scores but not enough to stand out as anything unusual and I know she can do better.”
“Well I…” Lewis started but didn’t get the chance to finish because Ballard just kept on talking.
“Have you ever seen her look really tired or more than a little out of breath?” Jim Ballard asked.
“Well, Jim,” Doreen Lewis checked that there was no one around close enough to hear them speak, “she was a ‘dancer’ and that’s good aerobic exercise, I’m betting she started out fitter than the other recruits, particularly the women.”
“I know,” Jim sighed as he put on his hat again, “but there’s something off about that girl, the other instructors have noticed it too…”
“Oh, I know what this is,” Doreen smiled, “this is a case of First Sergeant Ballard looking a gift horse in the mouth…seeing the cloud and not the silver lining. You just can’t believe that a recruit can be that good.”
“Yeah I know, L-t,” now Jim had his hat back on it was Lt Lewis not Doreen he was talking to.
“Yeah…” Doreen nodded her head slowly as she thought over her First Sergeant’s words, “…I know I don’t really have to ask you, but keep an eye on her for me, First Sergeant and don’t hesitate to come to me if you have further concerns.”
“Yes Ma’am!” Ballard braced up to attention and saluted.
“Carry on First Sergeant,” Lt Lewis returned the salute before turning away and going back to her office.0=0=0=0A Camp in the Forest.
Standing in front of the little group of Rangers, Captain John H. Miller studied the men sitting under the trees for a moment. They looked tough and experienced, normally he’d have no problem sending them on any mission that Army Intelligence might need conducting, but this mission…well maybe this time even Rangers weren’t tough enough.
If only they had the slayer on their side, but the Initiative had really screwed the pooch on that one, how it was highly unlikely that the slayer or her people would ever work with the military again. His younger brother Graham had been caught up in the web that the Initiative had woven. Luckily Graham had come out of it alive and with only minor physical and mental scarring, most of the others hadn’t been so lucky.
“Okay men, we’ve not got all day,” Miller announced gaining the attention of the special forces troopers, “About three weeks ago a troop of Scouts were camping in the area north of here when they were attacked and eaten…”
“Eaten?” queried a trooper.
“Yes eaten,” Miller nodded, “by a creature…”
“I thought the Park Rangers said it was a rabid bear or something,” this last was from Captain Fred Hamill who was in command of the Rangers.
“Yeah, that’s the story the park authorities were told to put out,” Miller admitted.
“So it was something else?” Staff Sergeant William Hill asked, he was Hamill’s second in command for this mission.
“I’m afraid it was, Staff Sergeant,” Miller admitted before gesturing to his aide, “Lieutenant DeWindt if you please?”
The tall willowy female officer stepped forward and pulled the cover from the easel that had been placed where everyone could see it.
“This,” DeWindt pointed to a large colour photograph of a haggard and injured young woman who stared out of the photograph with large frightened eyes, “is Corporal Cynthia Dietrich, she was a medic with a team of twelve experienced Army Intelligence Special Ops troopers.” DeWindt paused to let the picture of the terrified young woman sink in. “They found the creature that ate those Scouts…she was the only survivor, it took her a week to get back to civilisation.”
“So what killed ‘em?” asked an anonymous trooper in the crowd.
“We think this did,” DeWindt turned to the next page in her presentation; it showed a large shambling creature with long sharp claws growing from its bony hands, a gaunt face, big teeth and large inhuman eyes. “And we want you to hunt it down and kill it.”
“So this is just another bug hunt?” asked another trooper.
“You watch too many movies, Fredericks,” Sergeant Hill called.
“So, let me get this straight…” Captain Hamill walked towards the picture and studied it closely for a moment, “…you want us to find and kill this nightmare?”
“That’s the job,” Captain Miller agreed, “we’ve had no further reports of it killing anything else but its still out there and all reports appear to indicate that it prefers human flesh so I don’t think you’ll need to find it, it’ll find you.”
“You sure your people weren’t high or something?” Hamill asked, “I mean, I don’t mind spending a couple of weeks in a nice American forest were all I have to worry about are a few bears. But do you honestly expect me to lead my men on a wild goose chase all over god’s creation to catch a nightmare creature from someone’s bad-trip?”
“If you like,” Miller smiled coldly, “I can arrange an interview with Corporal Dietrich; when she’s not screaming, she’s a most convincing witness.”
After studying the drawing of the monster for a few more seconds, Hamill let his eyes roam over to where Hill stood leaning against a tree. The sergeant shrugged as if to say, ‘why not?’
“Okay, Miller, we’ll find your fairy tale monster for you,” Hamill relented.
“And kill it,” Miller insisted, “there will be no attempt to capture it, the body is to be transported by helicopter to a designated secret location where it can be studied before it’s destroyed.” Miller looked into the eyes of each of the Rangers, “I can’t stress that too strongly, these orders come straight from the President himself, if anyone
tries to tell you different contact me or my office immediately.”
“Sure,” Hamill nodded before turning back to Sergeant Hill, “come on Bill, let’s get this circus on the road…”0=0=0=0Dee-Fack.
It was after dinner and Judy found herself sweeping the area behind the dinning facility, also known as the ‘Dee-Fack’. Why was she doing this when she should be back at the barrack block cleaning her gear for the next days training? Well that was simple, she was sweeping instead of polishing because her boots hadn’t been shiny enough for the First Sergeant. The logic of the situation escaped her (like so many other things in the Army), how did sweeping the pathway behind the mess hall help to get her boots up to the required standard demanded by the First Sergeant? Sighing sadly, Judy got on with pushing her broom, perhaps Faith could explain it to her some time.
“Hello Benjamin,” a male voice said from behind her, Judy turned to see Private Davis only a couple of yards away from her.
“Crap,” Judy muttered under her breath; she’d done her best to keep well away from Davis even when she was with Faith and the rest of her friends.
Davis was the sort of guy that good mothers warned their daughters about. He was the worst kind of bully and believed himself to be ‘god’s gift’ to women; he didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘no’ and preyed on the weak and insecure. For all her faults Judy was no fool, she knew she was weak which was one reason she never went anywhere alone, just in case she was confronted by Davis.
“Hey Benjamin,” Davis smiled as he advanced towards Judy, “what say you and me get together and have a little fun.”
“Y-you keep away from me Davis,” Judy looked around for somewhere to run as she clutched hold of her broom, but she was trapped up against the wall of the Dee-Fack, “I’ll report you…” Judy informed Davis tearfully before adding, “…I’ll scream…”
“I like it when they scream,” Davis grinned as he closed in on the frightened girl.
Pushed up against the wall of the mess hall, Judy tried to fight Davis off but he was too strong for her. He squeezed her breast painfully with one hand as he rubbed her between the legs with the other. His lips pressed against hers preventing her from doing anything more than moan loudly as she tried to wriggle away from him. Closing her eyes, Judy was on the point of giving up when she felt Davis pull away from her. Gasping in surprise she opened her eyes to see that Faith, Nina and Brandi were all standing looking at Davis.
“Okay Lehane,” Davis held up his hands in a placatory gesture, “I’m sorry, I forgot, she’s your girlfriend I’ll leave you alone…” Davis sniggered, “…unless you don’t mind if I watch?”
Afterwards, Judy wasn’t too sure what she’d seen. The first bit was easy, Faith had stepped up to Davis and punched him really hard in the stomach. So hard in fact that all the air had rushed from Davis’ lungs and he’d doubled up. Then, and this was the part that Judy didn’t know if what she’d see was what really happened. Grabbing hold of Davis, Faith had pulled him upright and then it looked like she’d picked him up single handedly and thrown him at a wall about twelve feet away.
Bouncing off the wall, Davis had fallen to the ground and it looked like Faith was going to pick him up and hit him again. But before she could a couple of cooks came out of the Dee-Fack to see what all the noise was about and the fight had come to a rapid halt as Nina and Brandi struggled to stop Faith from doing anything else to Davis.0=0=0=0Fort Knight.
“Come in, shut the door and sit down, Lehane,” First Sergeant Ballard looked up from the papers on his desk at the nervous young woman standing in his doorway. “Don’t worry,” he smiled, “you’re not in any trouble,” he waited for Faith to sit down before continuing, “this is just an informal talk that I like to have with all my recruits from time to time.”
“Yes First Sergeant,” Faith agreed, all the time wondering whether this had anything to do with what she’d done to Davis; she’d done the extra PT and fatigues she’d been given for accidentally breaking his arm.
“You enjoying the army so far, Lehane?” Ballard started with the easy questions first, “An’ you can say no if you want,” he laughed, “training’s a bitch but it gets better.”
“I’m good, First Sergeant,” Faith admitted; to be honest she was finding training easy, okay some of the ‘bullshit’ stuff was just that, ‘bullshit’, but she’d sort of worked out that it wouldn’t last forever.
It was people like Davis she didn’t like, wasn’t the army supposed to stop things like what he’d tried to do to Judy from happening?
“Yes you are,” Ballard glanced at Faith’s records, “you’re in he top ten percent for just about everything…except shooting.”
“Sorry, First Sergeant,” Faith’s shoulders sank a little, maybe she should have done better on the ranges.
“So, Lehane, why’d you join the army?” Ballard placed his elbows on his desk and leaned towards Faith.
“To be the best I could be!” Faith gave the stock answer; Ballard seemed to be avoiding the Davis incident deliberately.
“Don’t give me that bullshit,” Ballard growled; he glanced at Faith records, “Say’s here you’re an orphan and a bit of a drifter and this last piece about working in a strip joint…”
“I always used to keep at least a thong on and I never did lap dances or go out back with customers,” Faith replied defensively.
“But I bet you were tempted,” Ballard pointed out quietly, “I bet the extra money that you could have earnt would’ve made life way easier for you.”
“Yes First Sergeant,” Faith let her eyes slip from the First Sergeant’s to study the desk top.
“But you never did,” Ballard continued, “which tells me that you have character, Lehane, I bet you really struggled with it and I bet you nearly did, but in the end you came though,” Ballard paused for a heartbeat, “Just like you came through for Benjamin, so, why’d you really join the army?”
“I really did think I could be somethin’ better,” Faith replied quietly, she’d only done the stripping thing for awhile, but it had been getting harder everyday not to do the stuff the other girls did. “I wanted to go somewhere where I was wanted for more than taking my clothes off an’ lookin’ hot.”
“So you enlisted,” Ballard said into the silence that followed Faith’s words, “I’ve heard worse reasons Lehane, you think you might make a career of it…coz I’m here to tell you that if you keep going on the way you are, breaking people’s arms excepted, you’ll be outranking me one day.”
“Never do that, First Sergeant,” Faith smiled uncertainly.
“Don’t you run yourself down Lehane,” Ballard decided to change tack, “any problems? You’ve got no family but you seem to be making friends okay…”
Faith had made a lot of friends she was a popular young woman (particularly after the incident with Davis) but she only had three really close friends. Benjamin, Herrera and Thomas, all of whom had improved dramatically since they’d been under her influence it now looked like even Benjamin would complete her training.
“No problems, First Sergeant,” Faith hesitated for a second, “except with Davis.”
“Yeah, Davis,” Ballard signed, “you really shouldn’t have done it like that…anyway how did you do that?”
“Stripper has to know how to look after herself, First Sergeant,” Faith replied with a slight grin.
“Yeah I can see that, but next time,” Ballard almost smiled at the girl across the desk, “see me before you put anyone else in hospital…so you got anything you want to ask me?”
“No, First Sergeant,” Faith prepared herself to get up and leave.
“Okay, Lehane, you can go know…” Ballard watched as Faith left his office; he still couldn’t put his finger on it but there was something more to that girl than the other recruits.0=0=0=0The Green Briar Motel, Oregon.
Driving his pick-up into the parking lot of the Green Briar Motel, First Sergeant Jim Ballard guided his truck into a parking space and switched off the motor. He sat for a minute watching the darkened parking lot before sighing at his own foolishness. The motel was more than fifty miles away from Fort Knight, there was no one here who’d recognise him. Opening his door he climbed out before reaching back into the cab for his pack. They had the whole weekend to play with so he’d brought more than just his usual one change of clothes. The sergeant instructors where more than capable of looking after the recruits for a weekend without him being there to hold their hands.
Closing and locking the door, Ballard walked across the parking lot to the cabin that they always used. Giving the night one last look he raised his hand and knocked on the door. He heard soft footsteps approach the door from the inside, the door opened and the light spilled out into the night.
“Hi Jim,” a husky female voice called softly from inside the cabin.
“Doreen,” Jim wrapped his arms around the young woman and kissed her on her soft inviting lips before stepping inside and closing the door with his foot.0=0=0=0A Forest, Oregon.
Deep in the forest something stirred, it had been sleeping but even sleep didn’t lessen the hunger it always felt. Coming out of its lair it sniffed the night air, there was food nearby and it was time to hunt. It was hungry again, but then, it was always hungry.0=0=0=0