Part Five

The sun rose dim and wan in the east. Black smoke still poured from the north side of the southern goblin camp, though it looked like they’d brought most of the blaze under control. There were three large craters in a nice triangle and piles of smoldering wreckage around them. Through the binoculars, Lewis could see piles of goblin corpses stacked at the edge of camp.

Pethoukis stepped up onto the roof behind him. “The other camp looks about the same. I figure the flyboys did for maybe a hundred out of each, plus what you got on your little adventure.”

Then we’ve evened the odds from 20 to 1 all the way down to 18 to 1. “Every little bit helps, sergeant.”

Pethoukis grinned sourly and stared at the southern camp. “They’re moving out.”

“How many?” Lewis asked sharply.

“Aah, not that many. Maybe twenty, a small party. The rest look like they’re staying put.”

Lewis followed the group with his binoculars. They were in full armor, dressed to kill. But they weren’t heading his way. They trudged over the sandy desert floor and angled away east toward a low rise a couple miles out from Lewis’ vantage point in the village. What’s over there, Lewis wondered.

Lewis panned to the left and observed the northern camp. A mounted party rode out of the camp. Weird, they hadn’t seen any goblin cavalry yet. Lewis wondered, were they officers? Once clear of the camp, they headed toward the same hill.

“Planning session.” He passed the binoculars to Pethoukis.

“Can we go too?” Pethoukis always sounded strange when he pretended to be excited.

“Looks like they’re getting wary of mortars. If they meet on that little hill over there, they’ll be right at the edge of where we can effectively hit them, maybe a smidge past the edge.”

“Anything in the neighborhood we can call on?” Lewis asked.

“All the predators are down. Higher pulled all the gunships and helicopters in; they’re just too vulnerable to the dragons. When I talked to the air controller last night he said they’re losing planes like you wouldn’t believe. The only things that aren’t dropping like flies are the fast movers, and even that’s not a sure thing. He figured that high altitude would help, but most of the big planes are all back in the states by now.”

They both sat silently. There’d been little word from home for days now, but last they’d heard the entire middle of the country was being savaged by the same thing they were fighting here. God knew how bad it was – there were no army bases, no fortifications, hell, hardly any troops at all there. The last time there’d been battles in America was the Civil War, and that was over a 150 years ago. Nobody would be ready for that.

The military had most of its bases in the South and Southwest, and from what the BBC said before they went down the rift or whatever went right across the northern tier of the continental US. What was there to protect the civilians? Sheriffs and city police, hunters, and a few national guard units is about all. Most of the regular army and a lot of the reserves were here in the sandbox, or in Germany and Korea.

That turned out to be a big fucking mistake.

Lewis looked up at the two parties moving toward the hill. “Pethoukis, send my regards to them when they hook up. And some mortar rounds. Hell, whatever will reach. Give Evans a try with his Barrett if he wants. Even if we don’t kill them we should at least let them know we care.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

***

Lewis walked down the street, the only street, of this tiny little shitburg. The locals he’d drafted – the ones who had refused to run – were sullenly piling rubble and rock onto the improvised fortifications. This area was all Sunni, and it seems they’d never quite bought into the great awakening like their brothers north in the triangle. You’d think they’d be a little more eager to protect their homes. Or not.

He was tired of running, but what to do? You’re outnumbered 20 to 1 (or 18 to 1, he thought, and smiled a little) and facing the stereotypical alien menace that’s immune to bullets. You run. And really, the most important thing was to get back to the states where he could protect or try to protect his own people rather than their less than grateful hosts here.

He stopped by the town’s rundown gas station. Jackson’s squad mates Thompson and Alvarez were squatting in the shade of the building, talking. He already missed the black bastard. He dipped in on their conversation.

“Well what does work?” Alvarez asked.

“Jackson figured out the target one at a time thing, that helps, but still, no one’s really getting a great shot. The mojo, it like moves your shot over. I watched Jackson shoot – you know he was a good shot – he’d line up on one of the fuckers, and I’d see dust five feet over,” Thompson replied.

“The mojo’s not moving the shot, man. It’s moving the target. I mean, makes the target *look* like it’s five feet over.”

“Doesn’t much matter which, it makes you miss,” Thompson insisted.

“Then why weren’t we missing last night? I waxed four, five goblins last night, no issues,” Alvarez said.

“Evans says the mojo doesn’t work on CCDs,” said Thompson.

“CDs? What the fuck you saying?”

“No, dumbass, CCDs, the little chips in the NVGs that process the images.”

“Evans is on crack,” Alvarez said.

“He’s happy as a pipehead, that’s sure. Did you see what he was doing this morning? He’s duct-taping Coleman’s camera to his Barrett.”

“For real?” asked Alvarez.

“Real. He says if he aims through Coleman’s digital cam, he’ll duck right around the mojo.”

Lewis hadn’t heard that. Why the hell not, though?

“Well if that works, how many cameras we got, anyways?” Alvarez asked.

“Hey, smartphone cameras are all digital, they’d work, right?” said Thompson.

“I guess, but them’s dinky little cameras. Short range at best.”

“When has anyone but Evans ever engaged the fuckers from a distance?”

“Point,” Alvarez said.

“You know, for close in, what we really need?” Thompson asked.

“What?”

“Flamethrowers. Like they had in those WWII movies burning the Japs out of pillboxes and shit. Magic armor will stop a bullet maybe, but Napalm, man, that’s the real deal.

The two subsided into silence. They were all tired. Lewis walked on, thinking. Flamethrowers.

***

Crack. “Yes!”

A second crack. “Yes!” Evans appeared on the roof line of the local taverna. “Success! Succeessss!” he yelled. Lewis looked up, and saw that Evans had, in fact, duct taped a camera to the rail of his huge sniper rifle.

“CCDs, captain. That’s the answer. Whatever it is that fucks with our aim, does *not* fuck with digital images!”

“Excellent work, Evans. How soon can you round up all the cameras we have and mount them on the weapons of our best marksmen? I see you used Coleman’s camera. But there must be plenty of iPhones around.”

Evans looked slightly crestfallen. Lewis had, cruelly, stolen his thunder. Evans shook his head, and said, “I’ll get right on it, sir.”

“Get with Pethoukis, we want that sorted soonest. The goblins will be meeting soon.”

Lewis grinned as he turned away.

***

Pethoukis walked around the corner. “Captain, the goblin planning commission is hunkered down on the far side of that hill. Can’t see what they’re doing. We dropped a couple rounds on them, but we can’t see them to adjust fire. Didn’t want to waste any more ammo.”

“Shame.” Lewis looked at Pethoukis’ M4. Carefully duct taped to the equipment rail was Pethoukis’ iPhone, still in its arctic camo case. “Evans’ work?”

“Yes, sir. He’s got an assembly line up on top of the gas station. Coleman makes braces, Haulk cuts strips of tape, and Evans mounts and zeroes them in. By the time he’s done, maybe half the company will be hooked up. I figure that will about triple our effective firepower if it works as well as Evans says it will.”

“It will, I think. I was firing, too, last night. Everything was going where I aimed it. We need to phone that in to higher. If they haven’t got that, they need it. Badly.”

Pethoukis scowled. “I haven’t been able to raise anyone on radio for the last hour or so. Just static. Coleman was picking up some Arab stations out of Saudi, so it’s not jamming, or at least we don’t think so.” Coleman was the company gadget head. When it came to electronics, he was hardcore.

“We haven’t heard from the scouts, either. That’s why I came looking for you, sir.”

“Keep trying. If we can’t raise anyone at all, it’s less likely that everyone’s gone, if you know what I mean.”

“I just hope it’s not some new mojo. If they’ve figured out how to jam our communications…”

“It’d be bad, sure. But not likely. Look at them – they look like they’re right out of Lord of the Rings. Even if they do have magic – do they have magic that beats frequency-hopping spread-spectrum radios? I sure as hell hope not, we’re all screwed if they do.”

“True enough.” He heard vehicles to the west. The scouts? He wondered.

A Toyota pickup came barreling down the street, three Marines hanging off the back, weapons cradled. The truck skidded to a stop, and one of the Marines jumped off the tail gate and ran over to Lewis.

“Sir. We’ve got movement to the west.”

***

The sun was getting high when the goblins were finally ready. After their conference, it had taken the two parties nearly half an hour to get back to their respective camps. An uneasy stillness lay over the plain before the village. There were no birds, no wind, and, for now, no skirling war horns.

Lewis pushed his men to strengthen the fortifications. The scouts had detected movement to the west. To say that the news was disheartening was a vast understatement. They’d been counting on using that road to beat it out and then south toward Saudi, after bloodying and hopefully slowing their pursuers. There’d be no quick escapes now.

Lewis’ scouts were conferring with the locals and trying to figure out a way to use goat paths to make an escape into the hills to the south. But Lewis wasn’t really buying that. Without the roads and their vehicles, the goblins would just run them down.

An hour later, the damned war horns wound up. The goblin columns marched out toward the village in black, menacing lines. The noonday sun lit up the edges of the swords resting on their armored shoulders as they marched.

The two columns met before the village and shook out into lines, neat as you please. They’d do Drill Instructor Johannsen himself back at Paris Island proud.

The road up to the village was barricaded in three places. Explosive charges and some IEDs cheerfully donated to the cause by the locals were in place along the roadway. At the edge of town, the barricade met up with the outer walls of the buildings and formed a more or less complete defensive wall, if a low one.

Evans and the three next-best shots in the company were on top of the gas station, each with weapons field-expedient equipped with digital cameras and telephoto lenses. Half the rest of the company had iPhones, Droids and pocket cameras duct taped to the equipment rails of their M4s. At least most of us will be firing like we mean it, Lewis thought, and the rest would be taking their aiming cues from the ones with digital sights.

***

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Continue on to Part Six.

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