There was suddenly light shining down upon the group once more, and Milo knew that meant the cycle was about to start all over again. It didn’t always go the same way, but it always ended up the same... in destruction, devastation, and finally, darkness. There would be havoc, terror, carnage, and then... nothing.
But first, at least he’d be able to slip back into familiar territory for a while before it was all over. He just hoped he’d be able to block out the nightmares this time.
Milo hunched down low, peering through his binoculars out over the ridge for any sign of movement.
[ MILO: RECON ]
Lloyd, next to him, on his belly with his rifle at the ready, held his breath, his eagle eyes trained to spot the slightest change in color down on the rocky terrain. Lloyd was always at the ready. Milo suspected his trigger finger itched every moment of every day, and supposed he probably had to lotion it up at night... he grimaced at that mental image. The only sound between them was the occasional smacking of Lloyd’s gum. Milo tried not to let it get to him. He had a job to do, he knew how to do it, and he was good at it. Same thing went for everyone on the team — he knew he could count on them to get his back, even if none of them might have been his first choice for dinner companions. None of that mattered out here, though.
[ LLOYD: SNIPER ]
Moving just passed their left, the Captain stood over them both as he came up behind their position, with his duo of gunmen flanking him on either side. Lloyd never gave any mind to Captain Willoughby’s maneuvers in action, mostly because Lloyd never gave any mind to much of anything he wasn’t about to kill, but it bothered Milo that the man never took cover. He was a proven battle commander, but he always took first position, leading the men out in front, beckoning them to follow up, urging them to keep a close tail on his 6. Nothing wrong with bravery, but foolhardiness, now that was another matter entirely. Milo was sure this rowdy crew would tear each other apart without their figurehead, and the Captain tended to keep a stance that was liable to make that a realistic possibility at any moment, and probably sooner, at that, rather than later.
[ WILLOUGHBY: CAPTAIN ]
At least he’d been able to convince him to travel with the Bobbsey twins, Frank and Hank. Or was it Freddy and Teddy? Milo was fairly certain the Captain never remembered their names, if that was even what he called them, at all... the monikers he used might just as easily have merely been designations Willoughby had assigned to whosever job it was to be his watch dogs for the day.
[ THE CAPTAIN AND HIS BODYGUARDS ]
Milo couldn’t keep track of just how many Frank-Hank / Freddie-Teddy duos they’d already gone through... not that he’d need to... there were always dozens more just like them where they’d come from, lining up to be next on the list. Seems everybody is somebody’s bitch.
[ FRANK? HANK? FREDDIE? TEDDY? ?????????: GUNMEN ]
Except maybe Curtis.
You might think a man who’d been issued a gun would be content to use it, but shooting the enemy from afar was entirely too impersonal for Curtis, and he never pulled the trigger on his bayonet unless absolutely necessary. He preferred to be able to look into a man’s eyes and see the fear of death in them as the life drained away from him, to feel the hot blood running down his arm as he drew the knife out from the enemy’s gut. One could say Curtis had what would propably be considered by many to be an unhealthy obsession with the love of a good blade, but these were the kinds of times in which men looked the other way on such things. More than one man on the team owed his life to that particular fetish, so no one complained about Curtis. To him, the gun was just a really long handle for his knife. He used it like an exercise tool, doing bayonet calisthenics, gun-knife Tai-Chi, etc., and was always sharpening and polishing it, carrying it delicately, careful to keep it from being damaged by water.
My weapon is an extension of me, he’d say.
As long as he knew how to use it when the time came, nobody really minded what else he did with it.
[ CURTIS: BAYONET ]
Hot on the Captain’s heels, Roger scooted up to the edge of the ridge with the portable com unit, ready to receive Milo’s word of the enemy on the field below. He would need those calculations to relay the target coordinates to air support, and to keep the operation together. Roger was the soldier with the signal, the buzz in every man’s ear. This was the place, they were sure of it. They just needed visual confirmation of the enemy’s presence for the strike to go ahead. Roger was a patient man. The Captain relied on him. His team depended on him. When everything hinged on the entire unit moving in synch, it was more important to get it right than to jump the gun.
[ ROGER: COMSEC ]
Their infantry forces waited in the thick of the forest while Milo continued to watch the enemy base, thinly concealed in a small expanse of desert. Through Milo, they were all waiting for a sign — any sign — that the enemy was there.
Arthur approached from the rear at a brisk trot, his surveyor in hand. It was always a good sign when Arthur was in a hurry. He spent so much of his time in a concentrated focus, he liked to take advantage of every opportunity not in his MOS to let loose and move his muscles whenever he could. Still dripping with the sweat of a man who’s just tiptoed through hostile territory behind a minesweeper, he took a moment to catch his breath, and made his report. He had marked clear the path they would take to the combat zone. As long the strike team followed his marks, they should be good to go.
[ ARTHUR: MINESWEEPER ]
The plan was to take the jeep down from the ridge to where the tank waited to move in for a rapid assault. Well, as rapid as a tank will move, anyway. They would need speed, though. The desert topography wouldn’t provide any camouflage for the unit as they moved from the shadow of the wooded terrain out onto the hot sand in their jungle fatigues. The enemy, decked out in their pebble browns and grays, blended in naturally with the arid environment, but their team would be spotted and called out as soon as they hit dirt, so the plan had to be tight, and it had to go off without a hitch.
Roger checked in with Milo, then did a cursory rundown of the men’s positions. There was a place for every man, and every man was in his place. He began checking off an electronic roll call.
There was Russell. Russell made everyone nervous. He was the grenadier, and insisted on always carrying his weapon live. You never know when you might need one, he’d say. Only problem was, Russell was a hot head. You never knew when HE might go off.
[ RUSSELL: GRENADIER ]
They were quite the pair, he and his launcher, Norman. They’d been known to play catch with active weaponry. They’d never intentionally put anyone on the squad in jeopardy, but it seemed to Milo that much like the explosive he carried, Russell himself was a ticking time bomb, and every day that didn’t end with him blowing the entire troop to bits was just one day closer to the inevitable meltdown when he would.
About Norman, though, he simply had no way of knowing. Milo just couldn’t get a read on him. The man never spoke to anyone but Russell. But at least both of them were solidly planted in position, so best not to go stirring up any trouble now.
[ NORMAN: GRENADE LAUNCHER ]
There was Bazooka Joe, on one knee, anxiously awaiting the command.
[ JOE: BAZOOKA ]
Ambrose, the flamethrower, his pack strapped on, was on his mark, ready to move ahead.
[ AMBROSE: FLAMETHROWER ]
Jasper and Lewis, the machine gunners, were chomping at the bit, Jasper more than Lewis. Jasper was the shoot-first, ask-questions-later type, but Lewis kept a clear head, with a slow and steady pace. Together, they made a good team. Lewis was confirming the configurations on the tripod,
[ LEWIS: MACHINE GUNNER - TRIPOD ]
...while Jasper was jogging in place next to him, a belt of ammo wrapped three layers thick around his waist, eager to run, and working himself up into an adrenaline powered mental psych-out.
[ JASPER: MACHINE GUNNER - ROVING ]
Lewis also had a strong bond with Clarence, the Marksman / Sharpshooter. They both knew how to keep their wits about them when the time came. Clarence, on one knee, easily picked off any forces that Lewis missed with his indiscriminate spray. It was clear to see from their posture they had already wordlessly linked between them in that silent groove they so naturally fell into together when they needed to be of one mind for occasions such as the oncoming advance. Jasper knew well enough to make sure to keep his movements out of their path of destruction.
[ CLARENCE: MARKSMAN / SHARPSHOOTER ]
That was the last of them. It seemed the whole first strike team was all on their marks, set, and ready to go. They just needed to get the call to hit the ground running and pave the way in for the larger infantry force waiting in the woods.
And then, like a shooting star, Milo spotted it. A flash of metal reflecting sun.
They were down there. It was go time.
Milo relayed the coordinates to Roger to call for the air strike, and the overhead boys swooped in like a bird of prey, laying down a blanket of covering fire the ground crew followed in behind.
With Lloyd at his perch, Milo watched from his bird’s eye view as the enemy foot soldiers were picked off one by one by his companions, and from over his shoulder, he could hear the Captain’s order to Charge.
As the infantry moved up the line, Milo took note of his comrades. All he could hear around him were the sounds of battle. The popping of gunshots — rat-a-tat-tat! — and explosions — kapow! — mingled with the screams of the fallen — Aiiiieee! Aiergh! Gah!
[ PLASTIC APOCALYPSE: MEXICAN STANDOFF ]
But then, all of a sudden, there came from above a high pitched whistle. A looming dark shadow fell over the battle field, and the ground beneath them began to shake.
Incoming! He heard Lloyd yell from beside him.
Fire in the hole! Someone else called out.
Retreat, retreat! He could hear the Captain’s voice on the com in his ear.
As the sky blackened, and the earth quaked, Milo looked on in horror as he realized this wasn’t just some massive airborne missile... both sides were about to take heavy casualties from this strike. That shadow, so huge, so looming... what in the blue hell was that? What new form of WMD could block out the sun, and upset the ground beneath them?
Friend and foe alike went flying in every direction. Buildings crumbled, trees were felled, the jeep was overturned. The chopper dropped out of the sky like a boat anchor, and the tank flipped belly up like a pond turtle. And the thing hadn’t even landed yet! Who in the universe had that kind of firepower?
It was bedlam. It was pandemonium. Just like his nightmares, it was almost indescribable.
Was this even really happening?
And then he saw it.
From his vantage point, Milo could see the whole thing laid out before him like a bad dream. The cycle had come around again, just like he knew it would. He never knew how to stop it. There was nothing he could do for anyone now. It always ended the same. In that moment, he had to accept his fate.
There was a loud ringing in his ears, like metal on metal, and Milo looked up toward the end that was rapidly descending upon him. He had to shield his eyes from the blinding light... it was so gigantic, he couldn’t even take it all in at once, and he was nearly dazed by its ginger color...
...was this that agent orange he’d heard about?
Milo held his breath and waited for the darkness to overtake him once more, just as it always did.
[ AGENT ORANGE ]
Milo was accustomed to the darkness. He never knew how long it would last, but he always remembered to expect it, though sometimes only at the beginning of another cycle, and then again just before the end was upon them all another time.
He’d have visions of the nightmares — of previous cycles — in the darkness, and he was sure this last one would now be added to them. But as time passed in the darkness, like an arctic cold slowly freezing his mind, he would begin to forget, to become numb.
As soon as they found themselves blinking in the light, he knew they were in the middle of another cycle. But Milo seemed to be the only one able to see through these episodes, to know that they were repeating. Or maybe, he was just the only one who cared.
Everyone else had always seemed to be able to convincingly brainwash themselves into believe this was their life, and this was all there was to it. They looked at him with enough alarm when he tried to get them to remember, themselves, the light, the darkness — anything from before this cycle — that he knew not to bring it up in a cycle. Even Milo himself couldn’t always maintain his awareness throughout the entire cycle, though, and by the time the darkness had overtaken them again, when he could conceptualize it again, by then it was too late, and even if there were others within their group who understood, he never had time to compare notes with them... they were all just... gone.
He didn’t know what kind of a man he must have been in another life, to be have been caught up in this eternity loop of battle and death, but he knew he wanted out. Is that what they mean when they say War is Hell? Perhaps after all, what they really mean, is that Hell is War.
But now he was in darkness.
This time, though, it was different somehow. The darkness, normally a quiet void of light, thought, and in time, even memory, was... active. There were noises, there were other... things? in the same space, and there was motion. He could hear that same ringing in his ears, like metal on metal. No, not ringing now... jingling. And there was rumbling all around him. No, not rumbling... gurgling.
He felt certain that he was moving... traveling, somehow, he didn’t know where. It was hot, and cramped... he could feel pressure. In the darkness, he was normally surrounded by emptiness, and felt nothing. But, now, though it was dark, his senses were still aware of his surroundings. He couldn’t see — it was too dark — but he could hear, and feel.
It happened that Milo had no sense of smell, he didn’t know how, though he imagined he’d lost it as a side-effect of some childhood disease he couldn’t remember anymore. At least, that seemed to him a more interesting way to account for his impairment than just being born without it, but he had no idea, really. Milo supposed, now, though, given the ...consistency... of this new dark — no, let’s call it a dark space, it was too alive to be called the darkness that he knew — that it was probably a pretty good thing his nose didn’t work quite like noses are supposed to.
Without the sun — or a digital readout — to inform him, Milo had no concept of the passage of time, but he knew that he’d been in the dark space for longer than he’d ever been able to hang on to his visions — of the cycles, the nightmares, the transition between light and darkness — when he suddenly felt an abrupt stop, a violent shaking, and a keen awareness that something was happening.
There was a great pressure all around him, like the entire environment within the dark space was being pushed upon him, and it was all being squeezed together. Then, as quick as it had begun, he was moving. There was a shift, like the whole of his surroundings from inside the dark space was separating, first slowly, and then at a rapid, even whooshing pace, not unlike the experience of being tripped and falling into a foxhole, and then, he, it, perhaps the dark space itself, landed with a splat against a solid surface, and Milo felt ground beneath him.
More importantly, though, there was light. It was dark, at first, and he was covered in... something, but it was something that was permeated by the light. Something, as he soon realized, pulling himself out of it, he was very glad he couldn’t smell.
As he began to loosen himself from the remnants of the dark space, he looked up, and he could see the sky. He was in light again. But it hadn’t just come upon him... he had gone to it.
Could this be the end of the cycle? Was he finally truly free? Milo lifted his face to the heavens. Freedom... at last. He surveyed the world around him. Freedom never felt — or smelled — so good!
[ FREEDOM! ]
Milo worked to remove himself from the substance surrounding him, and after a moment or two, as he moved, stirring in the muck as it settled, a helmet toppled from another head, and rolled onto his lap. It was Lloyd’s. Milo sorted through the dark matter to trace back where the helmet had come from, and found Lloyd himself. He was passed out, but he was alive. Turned out, Milo might not be the only one to have been seeking a way to break free from the cycle.
Slinging the unconscious man’s dead weight over his back, Milo waded through the sludge with his newly acquired baggage, and started off on whatever adventure was in store for the two of them, not knowing what would happen next, but excited to be putting the darkness behind him, and maybe, even, just a little glad he didn’t have to experience this newfound life of freedom all alone.
[ HE AIN'T HEAVY — HE'S MY BROTHER ]
Looks like he’d get to find out how well he’d tolerate Lloyd as a dinner companion, after all.
LJ Idol | Season 9 • Week 25 - Topic: OVERWATCH
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