“You crazy son of a bitch,” James said with a flick of his finger against the shiny, silver bars pinned to Gerry’s dress blues. “Captain in just under four years. I’ve got to hand it to you; you’ve done well. I’m incredibly impressed, my friend–er. . . sir.”
Gerry knew that his friend wasn’t in the military for the same reasons that he was. James was no strategist; he was a politician. He was here because he wanted to pursue a career in the government, and no self-respecting member of the legislation got to have any real power without a military record. He smirked at his friend’s comment. “You mean you’re incredibly jealous, smart ass,” Gerry replied jokingly. They both laughed. “Thank you. . . lieutenant. And, keep your fingers off the brass;” he said, polishing his insignia. “That’s an order.”
“Aye, sir,” replied James with a half-hearted salute.
“Our celebration is short-lived, though, I’m afraid,” Gerry noted, quickly changing the subject. “New orders come approved with my promotion. I’m to take you and three of your lieutenant’s strike teams into the hot zone. You need to have your group prepped and ready to go by 2100. Seems that Gunny wants to take his dog soldiers to hit this ridge full of Vietnamese soldiers, and by god, I want to make sure we minimize losses–on both sides.”
James, still somewhat smirking, tilted his head to the side as he took the orders in hand. He raised his eyebrows and commented, “I suppose I shouldn’t be saying so, . . . sir, but it’s always astounded my why you’re just as interested in saving Vietnamese lives as you are in our own troops. I think the Gunnery Sergeant’s plan to hit the ridge with heavy artillery before sending in the dog soldiers makes the most sense,” added James, somewhat tentatively.
“You’re right; you shouldn’t be saying so,” Gerry snapped back. “We’re here to take ground and force a strategic surrender, not murder our opponents. Gunny may have winning in mind, but a bloodbath won’t do anyone any good regardless of how much ground it gives us in the short run. The stealthy approach is always better than brute force. It’s that simple. And I don’t need you to understand the strategy as well as I do; I simply need you to follow orders. Can I count on you for that, Lieutenant Buckley?”
“Aye, sir,” replied James, finally realizing the levity was gone. “Sorry, sir.”
“You have your orders, then. Dismissed.”
James Buckley ceremoniously took one step back, pivoting around and walking off with his newly received orders. He flipped through the pages of strategy that his new Captain had plotted out. It noted that two teams would sneak across the edge of the ridge toward the Vietcong barricades that stretched over the middle of the slope. This last line of defense was the remaining obstacle between the US troops and a major Vietcong resupply point. If the US captured this weapons and supplies cache, it would go a long way to squeezing out the central power they held in the country.
It was a bold plan. Platoon 53 would snap through the wire and set up an escape point along the ridge, concealing their position at night. Platoons 47 and 82, both under the command of Captain Gerald F. Watson, would make their way through the exit point and into the ridge defense. There, well into the night, they would capture two important officers that intelligence reports state reside in this camp. With the officers in custody, they would force a formal surrender of the camp, and Gunny’s dog soldiers would then move in and tie up any insurgence or loose ends. The contingency graph showed a covert exit through the concealed barricades, where Buckley’s radio man would wait to signal heavy artillery fire if the strike team was pushed out. This way, they’d bring in the heavy machinery only as a last resort. A bold plan indeed.
After reading through the orders, James Buckley felt somewhat embarrassed for second-guessing his long-time friend. They had been friends for nearly four years now–since they began in the military–and Gerry’s quiet nature made it easy to assume he was not as well-informed as other more extroverted people. But beneath his quiet facade, it was clear that Gerry was quite observant and strategically wise. He was more than qualified to be leading this mission. James rolled the orders in his left hand and ordered the barracks lieutenant to call a briefing in one hour. If Captain Watson wanted to begin prep. at 2100, then he was going to see that everyone was damn well ready to support him.
The briefing went well, as did all strategic projections about what to expect once the teams went into the Vietcong camp. Buckley noticed Captain Watson in tac gear during the reporting, and after teams were dismissed until rendezvous, he followed him to the supply tent. Noticing Gerry suiting up, James began gathering mission assault gear as well.
“So, where do you think you’re going, James?” asked Gerry.
“I’m backing you up, sir,” replied Lieutenant Buckley. “It is your intention to lead Platoon 82, correct?”
“Well, sir,” added James. “I’ll be going with you. I’ve got your back.”
“No, James. I need you to stay and be ready for the tac teams in case we have to make a hasty retreat.” Gerry stopped packing and stood, staring at James until he responded. He didn’t want the plan to screw up.
James sighed. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Lt. Yance can handle the tac team–he’s just as capable as I am. You need someone who knows how to read you to watch your back because, well, you’re too damn quiet. These men believe you’re intelligent enough to lead them, sir, but I second-guess whether or not they’d take a bullet for you, because, well, they just don’t know you.”
“See, James, that’s what you do–you second-guess. I don’t need people to take a bullet for me, I need people to carry out their orders just like we laid them out in the briefing,” Gerry replied.
“Look, Gerry, I’m going to delegate that Yance take the tac positions at the exit point regardless of what you decide. So, why don’t you use me for support during the op?”
“Hmmph. Politicians,” thought Gerry.
Lieutenant Buckley moved closer to Gerry, and spoke softer but with more determination. “Look, Ger’ you owe me, or have you forgotten how I saved your ass?”
Gerry sat back down on the bench, rubbing his knee. He shuddered to think what would have happened to him–of all people–if James hadn’t stopped him short of that mine three months ago. “I wonder if I could re-organize my blown-up limb and put everything back in its place,” he thought to himself. He honestly didn’t know. Suddenly he realized how preposterous such a thought was, and he began to grin, overcome with his own internal hilarity.
“Gerry, did you even hear me? Jesus, sometimes I think you’ll get lost in that head of yours.”
“All right, James. Just stick to my back and don’t do anything stupid. You may have noticed that mine and you may have saved my ass. But you’re a lousy shot. Just be careful with this thing,” mused Gerry, handing his Lieutenant a M161A rifle.
The officers made their way out of the supply tent and headed to the insertion point, where Platoon 53 and the remaining tac teams were already in place. Captain Watson greeted the Gunnery Sergeant with an extended hand.
“Thank you, Captain. Let’s just hope you boys do a good job in there,” he said gruffly.
“Thank you, Gunny. We’ll do our best. Be ready to move if we need you.”
“Aye, sir,” Gunny said with a salute. That’s when Gerry, James, and 25 other troops moved in toward the ridge.
The soldiers stuck to the plan well; within minutes both platoons were positioned at the corners of the camp while Captain Watson moved in toward the bunker at the center, where intelligence deduced the officers would be holed up. Gerry pinned himself up against a wall of sandbags, waiting for the right moment to move across the main yard of the camp toward the central bunker. James was sitting right next to him. The two waited for several minutes, until finally Gerry motioned that it was time to move.
He spun around and ran, in a squatted position, toward the center. James spun around and began to follow. They both successfully rushed across the yard, and crouched in some jungle palms just outside the bunker. James looked back at Gerry from his position now in front of the Captain. Watson made the hand motion that meant “move forward,” and James rushed up against the bunker house. A search light moved across the path suddenly, but no alarm was sounded. Perhaps the lookout thought he saw something? The briefing team had no idea there was a search light in this camp, as it was obscured in the top of a tree–but this confirmed that there were high profile officers here.
Gerry’s heart began to pound in his chest so heavily that he feared it could be heard. He stared at James from his position, unable to cross now due to the search light. He was gripped with fear and adrenaline coursed through his body; it was times like this that made him more aware than ever that he was different than other men. All Gerry could think about was completing the mission and not being seen. He couldn’t predict, though, when the search light would move across the only path left to the bunker house. He was pinned, and so was James, and neither of them could complete the mission without the other.
The Captain remained for several minutes before finally determining that he had to make a move. “Time wasn’t waiting for the search light guy,” he thought to himself. He removed his helmet to wipe off the sweat from the jungle heat. He gave James the “on three, I’ll come to you,” hand signal–which was largely invented on the spot–but it was understood. 1. . . 2. . . 3: Gerry bolted toward James’s position, but was stopped short by the Lieutenant pointing emphatically toward the tree. The search light was quickly being routed toward his position. Now, halfway between the palms and the bunker house, Gerry had nowhere to hide. He was trapped. Instinctively, he dropped to the ground in a prone position and something amazing happened. He immediately blended into the color of his surroundings. To James, it appeared like the Captain laid down, and disappeared, leaving his clothes behind.
Gathering all of his focus, Captain Gerald Watson drew on the deepest reaches of his power and discovered that it allowed him two newly-discovered and amazing abilities. Not only did he blend into the dust of the ground, he managed to disrupt the molecular structure of his clothing and gear, so that it, too, effectively disappeared. Just in time, he simply seemed to vanish before the eyes of his Lieutenant, while the search light panned around and on top of him without detecting anything.
Lieutenant Buckley was going crazy. He had no clue what to think. He began to stand clumsily, distracted from his mission by the apparent disappearance of his friend and commanding officer, and collided with a wild palm. It shook, drawing attention to his position from the search light as well as from within the bunker house. Gerry had to once again act fast, but now the cat was out of the bag. His power manifested right in front of James and jeopardized the mission. Now he had to set things right.
Standing and reaching toward the tree, Gerry quickly pointed the search light into the air, and shut it off. He then pulled the bulb and lens apparatus right from the machine, hurtling it into the woods. At the same time, he grabbed the weapons from two soldiers who were now running around the face of the bunker house. He dropped one in front of James’s feet, and the other, still hovering in the air, turned toward the soldiers and cocked. Lieutenant Buckley grabbed the weapon, and motioned for the two soldiers to get on their knees. With the butt of the rifle, he knocked out the Vietcong soldiers and dragged them toward the palms to begin tying them up.
Gerry followed behind, pulling the levitating weapon into his hand as he rematerialized.
“What the fuck just happened?” fervently whispered James. “Did you just. . . did you just fucking disappear, Watson?”
Standing naked in the jungle with a Vietcong rifle in his hand, Gerry nodded.
“Care to explain to me how the fuck you did that, Captain?” James asked, still obviously shaken by the experience.
“James, you’re my friend–I need to be able to trust you with this. I have some sort of. . . power. I can manipulate matter. Shift it around in my own body. I can interact with any matter around me. It’s not something I share because I don’t want to abuse it. This is the first time I’ve used my powers in four years. I can’t tell anyone about this.”
“Jesus fucking tapdancing Christ, Gerry. I. . . I mean, what in the fuck. . . I. . .”
“Pull yourself together, Lieutenant,” ordered the Captain, still naked. Suddenly they both burst into laughter that was immediately suppressed. Gerry began taking the uniform off of one of the Vietcong soldiers.
“Gerry, I don’t really know what to say. If you can do these things, well, I mean. . . you’re not a Martian, are you?”
“No, I’m a human just like you, only I can do these things. It’s a part of who I am.” Gerry finished putting on the Vietcong uniform, and then grabbed James by the arm. “Look, I promise I will explain everything to you, Jim. You’re my friend, all right? I just need to know right here, right now, that I can trust you with this secret. I can trust you, right? Jim?”
“Of course you can trust me, Gerry. That’s what friends are for,” James replied, assuring his friend.
Gerry saw the look in his eyes and knew he was telling the truth. James had always been good for his word. Letting out a sigh of relief, the Captain added: “Now, I’ve got to fix this mission before all hell breaks loose.” With that, Gerry grabbed the hand of one of the unconscious Vietcong soldiers, and shifted his body to imitate him identically. This made James jump a bit, obviously taking more time to get used to what was happening right before him.
Now completely a duplicate of one of the Vietnamese guards, Gerry walked toward the entrance of the bunker house while James tied up the soldiers. The Captain walked inside, noticing two officers talking at a nearby table. They were his target, and they were the only two people in the building. One of the officers turned and spoke, though Gerry didn’t understand a bit of it. Trying to improvise, he shrugged his shoulders, and nonchalantly walked closer to their table. The pair looked very confused. Gerry drew close, trying to smile and seem natural. The officer closest began shouting orders that the English-speaking Captain didn’t understand. In a swift maneuver from his many years of martial arts training in the military, he rendered one officer unconscious and quickly pointed the rifle at the other officer. Confused and scared, the officer put his hands in the air, and the Captain knocked him out as well. Shifting back into his actual form, Gerry called James in to tie up the officers.
The rest of the operation was a complete success. The weapons cache was was captured and no lives were lost. “Uncle Pete would have been proud,” Gerry thought to himself. During the debriefing, James and Gerry kept glancing at each other to ensure they’d remembered their version of the story needed to cover up what really happened out there. The report went smoothly; the only thing no one could seem to explain is how a lamp lens and bulb from a search light at the center of camp managed to fall just out of the northern perimeter near the latrine.
“I kept my vow,” Gerry thought to himself later that day when the commotion died down. “I got where I am today without using my powers, but I can’t deny them. They’re part of who I am. I need to find a way to live my life focusing on my abilities instead of running away from them. After all, they saved so many lives today. Mandy would be proud. . . .”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .