He jumped out the landing craft like all his mates of the Bravo Company. Then he lowered his head and looked at his foots covered with mud; and at the the cloudy and rainy sky. "What the hell am I doing on this damned planet ?" he thought. He had studied - he had spent his youth on studying. And he was there. With this poor rank of Corporal in a poor company with rednecks... He really wanted to wake up; but he couldn't... because that was totally real. All this was real. And that looked pathetic.
Indeed, he had always wanted to have a great career, to be what they said to be glorious. He wanted to contribute to make a better world - not fighting directly on a battlefield, but fighting with his neurones - Tactical Division, that was what he wanted to do. And that was why he had studied, why he had decided to sacrifice a part of his time and his life. "What the hell am I doing here ?". He knew it was not his fault. The Kilrathis were guilty. They and their compulsive habit of destroying everything in their sight. Actually, what did he really want ? Just giving them a big kick in their asses... Ironically, he got it now.
" Anderson ? What are you waiting for ? So, move your ass, boy ! said Sergeant Simons.
- Yes, Sergeant" answered instinctively Alan.
He started walking with the other soldiers of the 322nd Infantry, B Company. Weather had made the landscape chaotic. He understood that rain and mud would also be strong enemies. All around them, they could see an entire mechanized batallion which was digging trenches round the main objectives. The guys of the infantry did not get the information about the first attack here on Repleetah, and Alan knew that it was only a way to control the troops, to have soldiers ready to fight and not totally scared by the reality. The Confed had sent young boys and girls here, still students, and all the reservists they had found; the brains couldn't take the liberty to frighten their raw recruits before they fight. It would bejust like a suicide for the army. But he had learnt from an other NCO that the scientists who were there had been killed by a new biological weapon. And according to medical support which arrived on the planet two days ago, it was not a pretty sight - rumors said that it was like they had been... eaten from the inside, but that was rumors. Pretty disguting indeed. However, they noted that all the complexes were intact and that the virus had totally disappeared in only 32 hours. For the brains out there, the Kilrathis prepared something, and it was not a garden party.
" En route to Heaven Gate ! said PFC Alvarez.
- What ? What is Heaven Gate ? asked another PFC.
- Heaven Gate will be our home, or our grave, if you prefer it... answered Lieutenant Peter Schaffer, the platoon leader. Heaven Gate is the name of the sector to cover between the stocking complex and the staff building. The frontline is about 14 kilometers long. This mechanized batallion over there is digging for us more than 80 kilometers of trenches. This is the most important sector to defend and it is for us...
- As far as I know, we will join the 77th Infantry... continued Alvarez
- ... and the 56th, the 121st and the 79th Infantry. This is our primary goal. This is the primary goal of the 25,000 soldiers here in Heaven Gate Sector. " added Lt. Schaffer.
As they reached their trenches, Alan understood that the sector could be better named: Hell Gate. No. That was wrong because they had already passed the gate. The trenches were only 1 meter wide and had been directly dug in the ground. Moreover they shared the same bunker with the 322nd, A Company and the 121st, C Company. 1100 mens, 3 captains and 9 lieutenants would live in this little bunker. It would be like vacation...
They had only arrived when Lt. Scaffer said: "Corporal Anderson, want you in my office... well, in what they call "office", in ten minutes...
- Yes, Sir !" answered Alan, while agreeing with a nod of the head.
"That sucks" he thought... He hated surprises. And that's why he spent the ten minutes on trying to know what the lieutenant wanted. Then he went down the bunker. It was just a large... cellar where could live about 250 mens. He noted that the walls were barelly strenghten with concrete. Not quite useful.
" Corporal, I was waiting for you... said Lt Schaffer.
- I'm here, Sir. Waiting for orders." answered Alan.
The officer barracks. Looking around the room, he could not say that it was pretty comfortable. There were 8 platoon lieutenants here with only one captain. The other were certainly with the HQ in the main research complex which stood for a fortress.
" I have a mission for you, Corporal. I want you to pick up five or six mens and patrol the area over there where the mechanized batallion is working, and the forest near the sector border. Be careful. The situation is unknown on this planet, and they can attack at any time...
- For sure, Sir.
- And you have been promoted to Sergeant. Congratulations. Here your insignia is.
- I'm surprised, Sir. Why?
- For two reasons, boy. Firstly, we need more NCO. Then because I know your history and I'm sure you're better than this rank of corporal.
- Thanks, Sir. You won't regret it."
He saluted Schaffer and came back to the trenches with his brand new insignia. That was it: he was a squad leader. He was leading. And he got responsabilities. This was a strange feeling, a mix of fear and glory. But he tried to overcome it, and to focalize on his mission.
"OK. I need... Alvarez, Caparzo... Finley... Wilson and... who is radio specialist here ? OK, O'Hara. All five, come on with me, we have plenty of work to do. Take your kit and your rifle. Wilson, try to find a machine gun..."
And in a complete silence, they started walking through the battlefield, covered with mud, and listening the roars of the machines which dug the ground.
" Damn' ! Hate those kits ! They're too heavy ! finally said Finley.
- Stop moaning, Finley. You really suck, answered Alvarez. By the way, Alan, what did Schaffer want ?
- He just wanted me to lead this squad, Pedro. And he gave me a promotion; I really don't know why...
- Yep, hope I will be so lucky", added Alvarez.
Then he and his squad went on marching to the wood, meeting other patrols from other companies.
"OK, here we are, guys. O'Hara, contact the HQ and give our position. Say we are to patrol the wood. Wilson, Finley, you lead the way. Caparzo, you follow. Pedro, O'Hara, with me..."
They just needed a few minutes to go across it. Then, he took notice that the vegetation was quite different, and corresponded to a tropical one. The rain was heavy too. But the more interesting was the valley two or three kilometers further. He turned to Alvarez and asked: " What do you think of it ?
- Exactly what you think", answered Alvarez.
Perfect. He was not a specialist, but that looked like a perfect landing zone, sheltered from all the radar devices.
" O'Hara, give me the HQ."
Some of his guys would have say he was paranoid. But he had this strange feeling that the Kilrathis were preparing something about this science station. Why did they only kill the scientists ? Indeed, they could easily destroy the station... What the hell were they doing ?
" Can't contact the HQ, Sergeant. Too many interferences, said O'Hara.
- Try other frequencies... told Alan.
- I did it. Nothing, answered the radio specialist.
- Try to climb on the top of this hill ", said Alvarez.
O'Hara complied, but without success.
" They might have send a jammer transmitter during the first strike... said Wilson.
- That is possible. OK, we go on patrolling... let's find why we can't contact the HQ. The answer must be in this valley...
- 'am sorry, Sergeant, but you're wrong. The answer is up there, said Caparzo, pointing out the sky. We were waiting for it... that's it now ! Welcome to Heaven Gate; and let's have a lil' party, guys !"