The Stupidest Invasion Pt. 2 Chapter 7

Image by Amy from Pixabay

Link to previous chapters

Chapter 7
Hang ‘Em High

I walked the line, making sure my troops were dug in and ready in case the Arvenoid assault came early. It was a formality, really, as my platoon sergeant, César Hurtado, had already seen to the deployment. But they had hammered it into us in OCS that your troops need to see you taking an interest in them and making sure shit is squared away. It was something Hurtado encouraged. Right after I took command of the platoon, he told me that I didn’t just need to be seen, I needed to interact with the troops, to talk to them, make sure they’re doing okay. “If you don’t learn nothing else from me, LT,” he said, “Learn this: soldiers ain’t gonna fight for a leader that don’t give a fuck about them. But, they’ll follow one who cares into all kinds of shit.”

Lower the Cannons

As I continued down the line, three Infantry Squad Vehicles rolled up, packed to the gills with soldiers and equipment. They pulled to a stop and the scruffiest bunch of troops I’ve ever seen piled out. They wore a mishmash of uniforms that looked like they were pulled out of a closet in the dark. Everyone who could grow a beard had one and there wasn’t a single regulation haircut in the group. Even their kit was non-standard with weapons from every part of the Terran Defense Force. That included some odd, yet wicked-looking blades that were about two feet long and fixed on a shaft.

As I watched, I got a good look at those weird spear/sword things. The whole set-up looked about six feet in length — I found out later they were called “bhuules” which is Galactic Standard for “blade”. Not exactly imaginative, I know. Once I saw them in action, however, I realized they didn’t need a cool name. , Hurtado walked up to meet them. He yelled something I couldn’t make out and embraced one of them. Then, they started down toward our position.

“Hey, LT,” Hurtado said as they approached, “This is Luke Powell. We came through basic together.” Outside of his bushy beard and somewhat untamed hair, Powell struck me as exceedingly ordinary. Average height, average build, brown hair, everything about the man screamed “ordinary”. Even his voice was unremarkable.

I stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Lieutenant Janie Lawson. Second Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st of the 4th Infantry.”

“Nice to meet you, Lieutenant,” he said. “Chief Warrant Officer Luke Powell. Detachment 7.”

“Detachment 7?” I said. “I haven’t heard of that.”

“Yeah, they’re keeping us under wraps for now. Just think of us as Special Forces.”

“Okay,” I said. “Is there anything you need from me?”

“About that,” he said. “We thought we embed with your platoon. If that’s all right with you.”

Hurtado, just out of Powell’s line of sight, nodded enthusiastically. “Sure,” I said. “Make yourselves at home.”

As Powell returned to his troops, Hurtado said, “Thanks LT. This is gonna be great.”

“Hey, I’ll take any help I can get. And, if one of them happens to be your buddy, so much the better.”

Hurtado looked at me for a moment. “You really haven’t heard of Detachment 7?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Should I?

“LT, they were at Tuscarora.”

“Those guys?” I said. “Oh shit.” Tuscarora was the site of the first clash between humans and the Arvenoid. A scouting party of 200 Skinnies (as we’d started calling our new visitors) stumbled into an ambush set by our new friends. Both sides learned a lot about each other that day. We learned that the Skinnies are either arrogant, stupid, or both. And they learned humans are smarter, tougher, and more violent than any race they’ve ever encountered. Word was that only 5 out of the 200-strong force made it back to Arvenoid lines. A thought hit me. “Is that where they got those weird blades?” Hurtado nodded. “Fuuucckk,” I said, realizing I had probably just made the smartest decision of my very short military career

The Battle Begins

I finished walking the position, satisfied with how things were laid out. Now, it was a waiting game. Captain Grimes, the company commander, said the battalion S-2 advised the Arvenoid assault was imminent. We were ready for them, though. The artillery was pre-sited, mines were laid, and wire was strung to channel the attacker into kill zones where they would be mown down in waves. The thing was, our preparations were so obvious that I couldn’t see how anyone would fall for it. I mentioned as much to Hurtado as we sat in the bunker drinking coffee.

“Okay, Sergeant, explain something to me. Why aren’t we bothering to hide any of the prep we’re doing? Aren’t we just telling the Arven’s where not to go?”

“Nah, LT, it doesn’t work that way. You see, the Arven’s pretty much have to attack us here since this the only place in the region where the terrain is at all favorable to them.” He was right. From the intelligence the Llesote gave us, we knew they attacked in massive waves, counting on numbers to allow them to get close enough to wield those nasty blades they loved. And, being in the foothills of the Appalachians, this was the biggest, flattest plain around.

“Okay,” I said, “But that just brings up another question: why land here? Why not set down out in the Midwest where it’s all nice and flat and open?”

He laughed. “Nobody’s ever accused them of being smart, LT.”

Powell walked up as he said that. “You talking about our friends across the creek?” he said.

“Yeah,” Hurtado replied. “The LT was asking why we weren’t doing the Secret Squirrel thing with our preparations.”

“Right,” Powell said, nodding. “The bottom line is that we don’t have to. They’re gonna come at us right here no matter what.”

“But won’t they just avoid the kill zones and come at us where it’s easier?”

“Like César said, they’re not that smart.” He shrugged. “Everything we’ve seen so far says flexibility isn’t their strong suit, and once they make a plan, they stick with it to the bitter end. So, why make things harder than they have to be.”

“Makes sense,” I said. Just then, the radio crackled to life.

“1-6, 1-6, this is 1-1, over.” 1-1 was the platoon’s first squad. After everything was set, I had given them the watch and let the rest of the unit stand down.

I reached out for the handset and my radio operator, Kallie Porter, put it in my hand. “This is 1-6. Go ahead.”

“1-6, we got movement on the ridge.” They paused, then, “A lot of movement.”

“Oh shit,” I said and scrambled out of the bunker, Hurtado and Powell on my ass.

As got to 1st Squad’s position, I slipped up beside Sam Clarke, the squad leader. “All right, Sam, what have we got?”

“Take a look, LT. You can’t fucking miss ’em. The whole ridgeline is crawling with the fuckers.”

I raised my binoculars but I didn’t need them. The entire top of the ridge was covered in a purple/pink line. “Jesus!” I blurted, “There’s a fuckton of them.”

“Captain’s on the line, LT,” Porter said, handing me the mike.

“1-6,” I said.

“You see ’em, 1-6?” That was Captain Grimes, all right. He didn’t screw around with the niceties.

“Affirmative, 6,” I responded.

“Okay, they’ll be coming our way any second, so be ready. 6 out.” As I passed the handset back to Porter, I could hear him calling 2nd Platoon. I turned back to check out the Arven formation before issuing any orders.

“Okay, the captain says they’ll be here soon so check your shit, people. It looks like this is gonna get sporty real soon.” I turned to Hurtado, planning on asking him to check the left but he was already on it. I looked at Powell. “Where do you want to be, Chief?”

“I’ve got my people interspersed throughout yours, Lieutenant. I hope that’s okay,” he said. As if I’d contradict the judgment of the only person I knew who’d gone up against these nightmares.

“That is more than okay,” I said. “Thank you.”

“Hey,” he replied almost flippantly, “Your first time’s a little easier if with someone who’s been there before.”

Before I could say anything, Clarke said, “They’re coming, LT!”

I looked back and that line of purple/pink covering the ridge turned into a massive wave as the Skinnies started toward us. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as it grew, more and more of these alien assholes pouring over the crest and into the flat below. A flight of F-35 Lightenings swooped in, dropping bombs and mowing them down with cannon fire. Then, I heard a series of dull booms and saw a line of flashes and smoke behind the ridge. I wondered what that was and found out later that it came from a sortie of B-52s. But I didn’t have much time to think about it right then because the artillery opened up, and the first rounds opened even more massive gaps in the Arvenoid formations. But they kept on coming.

After a bit, they were in range of the mortars, which added to the carnage. When they finally hit the minefields and the wire, their numbers were significantly reduced since such a tightly packed formation was a “can’t miss” target. As they began to channel into the kill zones, we opened up on them with machine guns and rifles. When they broke, they were still 300 yards out from our defensive line. As they trailed back over the ridge, we got a look at the field in front of us. The bodies were so thick, you could almost walk across it without stepping on the ground. I stood there, stunned. My first taste of combat was nothing like I thought it would be. It was like I was involved but not involved at the same time. In a weird way, it felt almost clinical.

“Damn,” Powell said, breaking the trance that held me. “I knew they were dumb, but Jesus.”

“I— I’ve never seen anything like that,” I stammered.

“Me either,” he said. “And, I’ve been doing this for a long time.” After a second, he said, “We better check on the troops. We need to be ready for them when they come back.”

I wouldn’t have thought they’d try again after the way we’d hammered them in that first assault. But Powell was right: they came back. Four more times. With the same result every time. The fifth attack, though, changed things up a bit. That time, they increased their numbers. They were still coming over the ridge when the leading edge of the formation hit the wire. Calling it a target-rich environment was an understatement. When the platoon opened up, we stacked them up like cordwood, but they kept on coming. It was wild.

Eventually, a group of about 100 got within 30 feet of our position and I heard an unearthly howl up and down the line. Powell and his troopers clambered out of the trench and fell on the Skinniess with their bhuules. They were brutal. The gruesome screams of the Arvenoid soldiers made my blood run cold as the D-7 troopers hacked and sliced their way through them. Body parts flew through the air and flopped on the ground. I saw one Arven sitting on the ground, trying to push its guts back in when a bhuule took its head off. Hurtado slapped me on the shoulder.

“On the right, LT!” he shouted, pointing. I saw a group of Skinniess working closer, trying to get in position to flank the D-7 crew. I grabbed the handset from Porter and called in a fire mission from the company’s mortars, then directed the platoon’s fire on them. Then, I had to do the same on the left. After a few minutes that felt like hours, the Skinnies had finally had enough and limped away. Powell and his soldiers made their way back to the position. They were covered in dirt, blood, and god knows what else but they were pumped up, clapping each other on the back and pumping fists into the air. Powell did a head count and found he hadn’t lost a single trooper. There weren’t even any wounded.

“How is that even possible?” I asked.

Powell shook his head. “I’m not sure,” he said. “They seem to freeze when you come at them hard, so maybe they’re not used to their enemy being aggressive?” He paused, then said, “Thanks for watching our flanks. If they’d caught us out like that, it could’ve gotten ugly.”

I heard later just how ugly. A company down the line ran out of ammo during that last assault and got overrun. Bhuules, it turns out, are just as effective on human flesh as Arvenoid and it was bad. The person I heard the story from had led the effort to seal off the penetration. They said the blood in the trench was ankle-deep and not a single body was left whole. But, that conversation was a couple of days into the future and I still had shit to deal with in the present.

A Little Psywar

I stood there, gathering myself after the battle and Powell walked up. “Lieutenant,” he said, “Can I borrow a few of your people for a little psyop?”

I kind of hated to ask the platoon to do anything after all we’d just been through, but I was also curious about what he had in mind. “What are you thinking?” I said.

He grinned. “Something to that might put the fear of God into the Arvens.”

I laughed and said, “Well, when you put it that way…”

Very soon, I was out in no man’s land with 2 of my squads and all the D-7 people, dragging Arven corpses into a pile. Powell had dispatched one of his troopers to fetch some diesel fuel from their vehicles. I looked at him a bit funny and said, “Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?”

With a big smile, he said, “Uh-huh. To the Skinnies, burning a body is the ultimate desecration. It has to do with their religion but I can’t explain it because that shit doesn’t make any sense to me. But apparently burning a body fucks with them hard.” He looked around and called to one of his people, “Hey, Zoe!”

A short red-haired woman trotted up. I say “short” instead of “petite” because, while she was maybe 5 feet tall, she was built like a brick wall. Muscular arms, shoulders, and chest, with abs you could bounce a quarter off of, blending into a set of slim hips and legs whose definition showed through her pants. Until that moment, I never thought I had a “type”. But, I began to realize I do, she was it. “What do you need, boss?” she said in a raspy voice that made me a little weak in the knees.

“How many bhuules have we gotten out of this?” he asked.

“I haven’t counted yet, but a lot,” she said.

“Okay, bring me…” he looked up and down the platoon’s position, “I think 4 ought to do it.” She nodded once and took off. Before I could ask why he wanted them, he started taking the heads off of the bodies that hadn’t made it into the pile yet.

“What the hell are you doing, Powell?” I said.

He looked back over his shoulder and said, “More psywar shit.”

Later, we stood back to observe our handiwork. Cason, one of the D-7 troopers had dumped a shit ton of diesel fuel on the pyre and it was ready to go. Powell and Brownell (aka Zoe) had taken the bhuules, shoved the blades into the ground, and mounted the heads he had taken across the front of our line on them like pikes on the outskirts of London. Powell pulled a flare out of his pocket and lit it. Then, he tossed it onto the heap of bodies, igniting it. As we stood there watching the thick, black smoke rise, we heard a mournful wail from the ridgeline across from us. The Skinnies had seen what we were doing and Powell hadn’t been wrong, it was fucking with them something hard. As I listened to the keening,

I wondered aloud, “How many of them are there? They just kept coming, no matter how many we killed.”

“Well,” Powell said, “They started out with a lot. Intelligence estimates they’ve landed around 2 million so far, with another 5 million still in orbit.” He fired at a wounded Skinny still stirring about 100 yards away. “And, the Llesote told us that their gestation and maturation periods are super fucking short. Like, 8 months from conception to fighting age. On top of all that, they breed like goddamn rabbits. One of the intel reports I saw said that’s part of why they’re trying to expand. They go through resources like crazy.”

I started doing the math in my head and didn’t like what I came up with. “This is going to be a long war, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “I’m afraid so.”