The Stupidest Invasion Pt 2 Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

Link to previous chapters

Things didn’t end with Powell’s psyop. The brass wasn’t about to let the Skinnies get away and as we cleaned up and caught our breath, they launched a counterattack. Artillery started pounding them again as the armored forces streamed toward the ridgeline. And, while we learned a lot in this battle, we learned something else in its aftermath: the Skinnies were mobile as fuck. Just before the first element of our forces topped the ridge, ships began lifting off one after the other, and the remnants of a force that Intelligence said numbered around 100,000 noped out of there. Quickly. We also found out their transports could outrun everything except our fastest missiles, which caused the zoomies more than a little embarrassment. It was wild. Not as wild as the battle, but still.

The Skinnies didn’t pack and go home, though. Instead, they kept coming. The thing was, what they were doing didn’t make any sense. With their numbers and mobility, they could have taken out our industrial base and decimated our population. Instead, they’d just plop down in the middle of town and wait for us to arrive. And then they’d give us all the time in the world to dig in, without any attempt to hit us at our most vulnerable. And, they’d lose just as big as they did in that first battle. It may have been the stupidest invasion (what it came to be called), but their idiotic strategy did keep us busy putting out brush fires instead of taking the initiative.


Powell and his team spent about a week with us, teaching the platoon to use the bhuules the Skinkies had so graciously provided. Even after they left, they’d pop up now and then, kill a shitload of Skinnies and then disappear again. God only knew what they were up to. In the meantime, we were learning. Violence paid dividends against the Arvenoid and we collected as much of them as we were able. The fight at West Dickson was no exception. It was our first combined arms assault on the Skinnies and it was a thing of beauty. If the destruction of 300,000 sentient beings can be  “beautiful” that is.

Gimme a Break

Our brigade wasn’t part of the offensive and most of us didn’t know it was even a thing. So, we thought it was weird when the platoon got tapped for a “mission”. As we got ready to move out, I was uneasy because I didn’t like not knowing what they wanted us for. But Hurtado was more sanguine about the whole situation, saying, “Whatever it turns out to be, LT, they’re pulling us out of the line. And, you and I both know we need a break.” It was true. We’d weathered 3 more Skinny attacks. each more ferocious than the last, and there were too many thousand-yard stares among my troops.

“Are you saying we might see clean sheets and a hot meal?” I said.

“Slow your roll, LT,” he said, laughing. “I ain’t said all that.” He looked down at his boots. “I’ve just seen enough blood for a while and need a goddamn break.”

He spoke for all of us when he said that. In the three weeks since that first real battle, we’d fought them 4 more times. Like I said earlier, they’d pop up out of what seemed like nowhere and TDF command would send in the cavalry. The first three times, things went like before. Massive waves of Skinnies that were mowed down by the thousands. But on the fourth one, something new happened: they started to get smarter.

Before kicking off that fourth assault, the Skinnies did some actual recon and conducted a desultory preliminary bombardment. And, some of their troops were carrying rifles. In the end, it didn’t really matter since we massacred them just like before. But getting to that point was definitely harder. You’d think that winning every battle by such large margins would be great for morale and it was, at first. But humans can only stand so much carnage and we were nearing our breaking point. Hurtado was right, whatever was coming had to be better than this.

Friendly Faces

Even with that knowledge, I was still anxious as we rolled into Camp Armstrong outside of Scottsville, Kentucky. As it was one of the staging areas for the upcoming offensive (which I still didn’t have a clue about), it was a busy place. But some of my worries were eased when I saw a familiar face: Powell. And, if Powell’s here, I thought, Zoe probably is too. And, that notion affected me more than I ever thought it could.

For most of my life, I’d thought of myself as asexual and aromantic. I can’t remember a time I’ve ever given a shit about boys in a sexual or romantic way. And, girls? Well, I’d felt a twinge a couple of times over the years, including the one I felt the first time I saw Zoe. Mostly, they were just a flash in the pan, never lasting much past that particular moment. Zoe, though, was different. We’d gotten to know each other a bit in that week D-7 hung around with us and we they pulled out, I was fucking sad. That had never happened before. And, the possibility that she might be here now? I was so damn anxious/excited I could barely contain myself.

“Hey, Powell,” I said, biting my tongue to keep from asking about her. “Why do I think you’re the reason we’re here?”

“Because you’re prescient?” he said, smiling.

“Uh-huh.” If words could give side eye, mine would have burned Powell a new asshole.

That got a laugh out of him. “Waiting for the other shoe to drop, Lieutenant?” I didn’t say anything for fear of blurting out what I really wanted. “Okay,” he said after a very pregnant pause, “we got a job where we might need a little backup and you were my first choice.” He paused again, adding, “Of course, Zoe wouldn’t shut up after I mentioned you guys, so…”

The butterflies in my stomach kicked into overdrive. She thought about me? Or did she just think about how well the platoon and D-7 worked together? That was it. That had to be it. Why would she be thinking about me when nothing had happened between us? I’m guessing all that showed on my face because Powell said, “She’s over by the team hooch. Why don’t you go say hi? Maybe then she’ll stop bending my ear.”

Did Not See This Coming

She was coming out of the tent as I walked up. I guess I caught her by surprise because she had a “deer in the headlights” look for a second. Then, she gave me a smile and an awkward wave that melted my heart a little. “Oh, hi,” she said, in that throaty voice that made me a little giddy. “Chief told me he’d pulled some strings and gotten you guys assigned to this clusterfuck.”

Okay, so calling this a “clusterfuck” didn’t exactly allay my fears. “Oh?” I said. “All he told me was that you all had a job that needed “a little backup”. That last came with air quotes. “I was thinking this would be a nice break from flitting all over the damn country, wasting Skinnies. Now, I’m not so sure.”

She laughed and shook her head. “Don’t worry, we’ve got time to work out any kinks,” she said. “And, we’ll get to hang out some more.” That last part sounded pretty damn amazing. And, it was, but in a way I never would have thought possible.

It turned out that a lot of our “hang out” time was spent training. And, I mean “not directly connected to the mission” training. During the week D-7 had spent with us in the wake of our first fight, Zoe and I kind of naturally paired up in working with the bhuules. Okay, so “naturally paired up” may not be completely accurate as I always made sure to be near her whenever I could. And, looking back, I’m pretty sure she did the same because we always managed to find each other during those sessions.

Those moments going toe-to-toe with Zoe were my favorite times during that period. Using a bhuule was almost instinctual for me, it just felt right in my hands. And, I got to spend one-on-one time with Zoe. That same pattern was repeated, with the addition of some downtime in the D-7 team hut. It was as close to magical as anything I’d ever experienced.

One afternoon, she showed up at my tent with a couple of training bhuules — basically, a couple of extras that someone had blunted the blades on — and said, “Let’s rumble.”

“Oh, hell yes,” I said. “I’ve spent this whole fucking day inside doing sand table exercises and I need to get physical.”

“Good,” she replied, tossing me up a staff. As I caught it, she flipped hers around and smacked hard it into the bend of my right knee, buckling it and putting me on my ass. She laughed. “Clumsy.” She dropped into a fighting stance. “Come get some.”

I scrambled to my feet, saying, “Oh, it’s on, bitch.”

Don’t Ask Questions

That kicked off what I think was our longest session yet. I landed more than my share of blows and even knocked her down a couple of times, which wasn’t easy. She was strong and agile and combined with the low center of gravity her height provided, taking her down was tough. We went at it for over an hour until it was getting hard to see. We were both drenched in sweat and while I couldn’t say what it did for my appearance, it kicked hers up to another level. It was so distracted, she almost got me again. I held up my hand. “Okay, I’ve had enough.”

“You’re giving up?” she said, smiling.

“No, just postponing till I can see again. I almost missed you coming in that last time.”

“Okay,” she said, feigning reluctance badly. “Want to grab a beer or three?”

“That sounds excellent,” I said. “Give me a second and we’ll head over to the team hut.”

“No need,” she replied. “I’ve got a mini-fridge in my tent with two sixers that are nice and cold.”

“A mini-fridge?” I said. “Where did he find that?”

She shook her head, saying, “The first lesson Chief ever taught me was ‘Don’t ask questions. Just enjoy what comes your way.'”

I laughed and said, “Lead on, then.”

Can’t Argue With That Logic

We sat outside her tent, drinking Coors Lite (hey, you take what you can get in situations like this) and watching the sunset. Our empties lay on the ground between us. It was a very nice way to end the day and I said as much. Zoe flashed me a playful look and said, “I know something even better.”

“What’s that?” I said.

She reached over and took my beer out of my hand. Then, she got up and motioned for me to follow her into the tent. As soon as the flap fell behind me, she kissed me. I’ve never really been much for kissing. Hell, I’ve never been for any of that kind of stuff. But this was different. It was hard but soft. Insistent yet yielding. Bombs went off in my head and I started to melt into it. Then, I caught myself and pulled back. “I don’t know about this,” I said.

She looked at me for a second, confused. “You’re not… into girls?” she asked.

“Yea—, no. I mean, I don’t know.” I looked down at the floor. “I’ve never really done anything like this.”

“Really? Like, not even made out?” I shook my head. “Oh my god,” she said, “I just thought… you know what? Never mind what I thought. I should’ve asked first.”

“No,” I said, “It’s okay. I’ve kind of always thought I was AceAro because I never feel attracted to anyone. Until now, anyway.”

“Wait, are you saying what I think you’re saying?” she asked.

I nodded. “Every time I see you, I get this funny feeling, like butterflies in my stomach. And, that kiss? I’ve never felt anything like it.”

She grinned and sat down on her cot, patting it for me to join her. I sat. “Okay, how about this? We go as slow as you want. You maintain full control of where this goes and how fast it gets there. What do you think?”

“It sounds really good, but there’s one other thing,” I said. “I’m an officer and you’re… well, I don’t know what you are, rank-wise.” I paused a moment, then said, “Besides, is it a really good idea to start something now? With all the shit we’re dealing with? I mean, we could all be dead in a few days.”

She smiled and took my hand. “D-7 isn’t part of the military, which means I don’t have a rank. But, when I came on board, Powell said I’d get paid at the same rate as a second lieutenant, so there’s that.” I felt a little better hearing that. “As for the other thing, the fact that we could all be dead soon is all the more reason to start something now. I need something sweet in my life to offset all this death and shit.”

When she finished, I thought to myself it’s hard to argue with logic that sound. So I didn’t.