"[the Omega] ... is only present in %12.5 of the population, and is latent in the vast majority of those cases. There are three ways to activate the Trigger. These are: 1) Extreme Agitation. Sometimes (%0.01) a latent who is subject to extreme emotional or physical trauma will kick in his Omega, allowing him access to the psionic portion of her mind [sic]..."
-- Ross Musteliday, _Taxonomy of the Omega: A Statistical Analysis of the Genome and its Trigger_, University of Rhode Island 1994
"Combat will always turn on who shoots first, and with the biggest gun. Only on the modern battlefield, that gun might be in somebody's head." -- COL Wes Hickman, SEEKER Academy Commencement Address 1996
It wasn't Craig's watch, but the war wasn't old enough to sleep through the tension yet. Craig drummed his dark hands on the metal bunk. He stared at the bulkhead inches from his face, and the pictures of his wife and parents taped to it.
"Knock off that pounding, asshole, get some sleep."
"Jesus Christ will you both shut up?..."
"If I have to get up, there's an ass-kicking comin'..."
"Oh for fuck's sake..."
Craig resisted the urge to join this flareup, and stopped drumming. It wasn't long before his mind wandered back to his family. He realised he was drumming again. In the close confines of the USS San Diego, Craig felt he could sense the air pressure drop as Carvazos drew himself up for a verbal explosion.
An altogether different kind of explosion beat him to it. Alarm claxons shrieked and echoed metallically throughout the ship. Simultaneously, bold red lighting flared on. Sailors banged their heads in panic, stared at each other through squinting eyes. Carvazos outmatched the screaming noise. "LET'S GO MARINES! SHOW TIME!!"
Craig did a tight roll out of his top bunk, landed on his feet next to his boots. The speed laces did their thing, and with a flourish of BDU blouse and loose dogtags, he pounded down the gangway, second behind Louis "Wart" Wardzinski. Craig got slapped on the back as he struggeld into his LCE while juggling kevlar and helmet at a full run. He darted his head over his shoulder to see big Jules' pudgy face contorted fiercely. "Hooooah!!" Jules bellowed.
"Hooah!" screamed Craig back. The men thundered down the grey metal stairs and burst for the armory. The Platoon Sergeant was by the door, repeating the issue like a mantra. "Every man a sixteen, two TOW reloads. Gunners, an IRTOW, Snoopers a Slapper, AGs two more TOWs. Every man a sixteen, two..." The line had slowed to a shuffle through the metal cages that formed the Marines' armory. Sergeant Serkiz slammed an M16 and TOW pack into Craig's gut, then impatiently made eye contact when he didn't sound off. "Slapper Sergeant," Craig burst out.
"Goddammit Marines, sound off! This ain't a fuckin' drill." The slender tube shoved at Craig, who levered the unbalanced powerpack onto his shoulder, then trotted out the far portal and headed topside.
The morning sun pushed blue-black clouds over Port Au Prince towards the fleeing night. The ochre blue of the port water rippled gently, somewhere way down below deck. Craig caught only flashes of it through the forest camoflauge of his platoon. He stepped into formation, making final adjustments to his gear -- shouldering the TOW pack and balancing the Slapper powerpack on top of it. It seemed lighter than he remembered.
The LT jumped the last few steps from the bridge, a map and clipboard with tethered grease pencil flapping at his side. The last of the platoon jumped into formation as the LT assumed the position of attention. "Platoon Attention!"
The Marines snapped to sharply, some kevlar but no weapons falling to the deck. As one voice, they cried, "KISS OUR ASS E.T.!!"
"Parade..Rest. Listen up second platoon -- AWACS reports incoming, ETA one-five mikes. We have air gaurd, shore duty. ASL's take your squads to the rafts, upload and assume hasty defense around BP Spock." The LT, a freshly-shaven blond high school heartthrob, pointed to the murky and run down Port Au Prince waterfront. "Stay out of the structures, use the washes east of the shore leave pier. 3d Platoon's readying our rafts, and doubling our basic issue. Questions?" He didn't wait for any. "Platoon Attention!" The LT grabbed a tab on his LCE belt buckle. Despite the frenetic pace he'd been driving, he paused. "Gentlemen, show me your plastic." Craig grabbed the tab at his waist, dared a glance around. Wart caught his eye, and quickly looked away. "Now, marines. Present...Arms!" The LT snapped his hand up from his waist into a sharp salute, still retaining the plastic clip. A green light glowed on his belt, indicating the safety on the 'psi-anide' was disabled. The US Navy's variation on the poison tooth -- when psions were detected, it auto-administered a lethal injection. It was as much for physical protection as operational security. Some psionics could turn a man against his platoon.
Craig whipped his hand up in a sharp return salute, one with his platoon. He sickly let the plastic clip drop to the deck.
"ASL's take charge and move 'em out. Squad Leaders, you're with me. I'm goddam proud of you men. Sempre FI! Dismissed."
"HOOAH!" the platoon screamed.
Craig looked immediately to Carvazos. "This way third herd!" Their assistant squad leader led them to the rafts, got a quick head count, then cast off. Craig clenched the protective plastic sheeting, keeping water off his side of the equipment piled in the middle. Like the others, his neck swivelled as he rapid-panned the skies looking for the alien bogie. Wart burped out, "seven o'clock!"
Craig spun around. A brilliant orange flash, followed by two additional silent blooms opened like flowers against the receding clouds. Seconds later a distant thoom was audible. Overhead two F-16's screamed towards the explosion. One slewed sideways without warning, bursting into the other in a fireball whose thoom was much closer. "Eyes front Marines," bellowed Carvazos thickly.
"I guess we get to find out if these things work on ET as good as Omegas," Jules said sarcastically, referring to the SLAPPER missile targetting system. The beam was like a psion-based laser that wave- cancelled psionic powers, and acted as targetting control for standard high-explosive guidance systems. As a beam weapon, they had the added advantage of not triggering the wielder's psi-anide.
"What we'll find out is if the Corps wasted its money training pussies," growled Carvazos. "Worry about your job, your equipment will take care of itself."
The raft ran into the sea wall, where it fought gentle breakers. Wart tossed a grapple ladder over the wall, and they piled out, handing equipment up over their heads. They filed into line behind Carvazos, who pointed to the ground in the stone runoff gutters behind the sea wall. With each point, the next man dropped into a prone fighting position, popped the IRTOW tripod, and began unlimbering the shoulder fired missile. Assistant Gunners dropped the piles of missile reloads, and began stringing the targetting cable to the next position.
Craig jumped out of the trench behind Wart, his gunner, and found a rise a hundred away. He conducted prep-to-fire checks on his Slapper.
"Missile One Up!"
"Missile Two Up!"
"Missile Three Up!"
"Waiting on Four-Five"
"Missile Five Up!"
"Missile Four Up! Christ, cable got..."
"Guns, My Snoop!" At Carvzos' order, Craig pushed his Slapper to standby -- Carvazos was targetting the entire squad himself. From his vantage, Craig could see most of the squad arrayed in the half moon position. IRTOWs three and four rotated and pointed to an unseen target in the sky. Craig snuck a peek through his reticle. The alien craft hung in the sky like a blue cluster of pop rocks with spikes. "Goddam! I got it!" he yelled.
"MY SNOOP Foutrelle!" thundered Carvazos. "Gunners clear!" Up and down the line, gunners glanced to the blast area of the missiles. "One" "Two" "Got it, Three" "..uh, Four" "Five" "Missiles AWAY!" Nearly in unison, the rush of Improved, Remote-Guided TOWS swooped into the sky, gently arcing to the Slapper's designated and psi-neutralized target. The missiles became specks, became lost in the wide blue. Craig kept his sights on the alien ship. Seconds passed like hours. The ship grew larger in his sights. "You better be reloading gunners!"
Orange blossomed on the bogey, and Craig was sure he saw a purple nodule blow clean off. "Direct hit Sergeant!" Immediately behind it volleys from the other squads also converged on the craft. It shuddered under the massive assault, listed in the sky, then abruptly flashed white. Craig pulled the eyepiece away, put his hand over his opposite eye. He saw nothing but black fuzz. To his right, Jules screamed. "I'm blind, I'm blind."
"Switch sights!" Craig yelled to the other snoopers, even before Carvazos got his wits back. He flipped the locking lever and rotated to the left-eyed position, then sighted with his good eye. "Master Snoop, request gun control."
"Whatta you see, Foutrelle?" Carvazos voice was labored as he struggled with his own sight.
"Engaged, destroyed one Klingon, Three ETs, popping smoke. Looks like they're attacking."
"Gunners, fire at will!" The IRTOWs suddenly slewed around, released from central control, until the gunners reestablished aiming points.
"Missile five up, Foutrelle!"
Two of the ETs swooped over the San Diego. Their arms spread wide, and the massive cruiser slowly rose out of the water. "Foutrelle.." Craig heard the metal shriek across the bay as the boat started to pull itself in two. Its deck guns thundered, though to no effect.
"Got him...Now! Gunner clear!" The Slapper hummed a loud whine in Craigs's ear as he activated it on the rightmost ET. The San Diego shuddered towards the water as the Slapper neutralized the telekinetic attack.
"Wart?! I've got a lock! Gunner Clear!"
"The third ET..." That was the last coherent thing Wart said. Craig looked to his left, and saw an armored, vaguely human form crest the warehouse behind them. Craig hadn't been spotted yet, but Wart had. Wart suddenly jerked like a marionette getting its strings beaten with a stick. He gurgled incoherently in fear. Over the squad radio, Craig heard the awful 'snit-thk' of the psi-anide, and Wart went limp. The ET tossed his dead body at the IRTOW, knocking it into the stone trench. With a whoosh of flame, the missle activated, rattled the length of the trench to the central stockpile. Gouts of fire and thunder decimated the position, tumbling most of the trench, the outcropping behind it and all the remains of Craig's squad into the water. Jules burbled in agony, until cut short with another 'snit-thk.'
Craig stared upward, meeting green fire in the helmeted eyes of the ET and his intestines balled up in fear.
Craig felt white hot fire searing through his blood.
A tremendous pressure tried to collapse his skull, only to be abruptly relieved.
His mind swept outward at impossible speed, like a shockwave. He became awash in sensory input: seeing, sensing, feeling everything in his swiftly expanding radius. In the storm of sensation he was only vaguely conscious of the puff of gore and armor that he wished the ETs into.
The San Diego hung in the air above the blue water, that became the blue ocean, that became the blue planet. Craig felt all thousand thousand warships of the alien armada as thoughts with no more substance than a dream. A wish and they too would become harmless composite atoms.
The San Diego boomed into the bay, and began listing. A massive wave crashed into the Port Au Prince waterfront, obliterating third squad's position.
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