(Art by Jude Smith https://judesmith.cgsociety.org/)
Jay Squad reached Hill 472 at 0800 hours. The shadow from the Torrent Mountains darkened the valley below them, making it hard to see any details. Sergeant Hill, a short, hard built man from Western Georgiana, scanned the area with his infrared googles. What he saw made him spit.
“Jenkins!” he shouted.
Lance Corporal Tommy Jenkins pushed his way through his cohorts then stood beside Sergeant Hill. The tall, umber man from Gullah South gave a weak salute.
“I need you on point.”
Jenkins dropped his head and sighed.
“What was that?” Sergeant Hill asked.
“Nothing . . . sir.”
Jenkins took off his helmet then handed it to the sergeant. He gave his AK107 to Private Briggs, as well as his backpack, body armor and grenades. Jenkins stripped off his uniform and underwear then folded them neatly before handing them to Corporal Lawrence.
“Take care of my shit,” he said. “I might need it back.”
The soldiers chuckled at his grim joke. Jenkins clambered to the top of the hill. He couldn’t see what the sergeant saw, but he could sense it. He took a deep breath then ran.
Jenkins sprinted down the wooded slope onto the flat grassland. He flew across the expanse, the wiregrass bending his wake like the passing of a stiff wind. As the meters rushed under his bare feet, he could feel them gathering. Seconds later their footfalls shook the ground and their distorted voices battered his ears. Jenkins almost broke form to look behind him, but he knew better. Focus forward, his training taught him.
He gauged their distance then slowed his pace until they were within the desired range. Jenkins continued his sprint until he reached the center of the field. He slowed, stopped, then turned to face his pursuers.
There were hundreds of them, more than he anticipated. Worry cracked his confidence for a second; this was the largest mass he’d ever faced. Training said he could handle them, but theory and practice were two different things. Whatever he thought, there was no alternative. He was the point man. The survival of his squad and everyone following them depended on him.
Jenkins sat on the ground, the rough grass scratching his bare ass. He folded his hands on his lap then closed his eyes. Warmth coalesced in his gut then oozed into his chest, his limbs, and his head. His body temperature increased to level that would burn the average human to ash, but not Jenkins. He was a point man. He was designed for this.
Jenkins raised his head, his eyes still closed. The hordes stench reached his nostrils. They were in range. He opened his eyes and mouth, releasing waves and waves of radiant heat which seared the horde’s flesh. Their mindless determination spelled their demise as the horde charged into the heat blast and burst into bone and ash.
The heat surge dissipated. Jenkins’s eyes cleared and he stood. Ten of them remained undamaged, scrambling toward him with morbid intent. The familiar staccato of AK107s was a discordant song to his ears, explosive rounds tearing the creatures to shreds. Jenkins waited for his squad to reach him, his eyes scanning the carnage surrounding him. His buddies brought him his clothes and his gear and the squad waited as he dressed. The sergeant sauntered up to him.
“Report,” he said.
“All clear,” Jenkins replied.
Sergeant Hill took off his beret then wiped his forehead.
“That was a close one,” he said.
“It’s in the job description,” Jenkins replied, sounding more confident than he felt.
“Yeah,” Sergeant Hill replied. “You strapped in?”
Jenkins did a quick inspection. “Good to go.”
The sergeant locked eyes with his squad.
“Alright then. Let’s see what’s on the other side of that hill.”
Jay Squad formed ranks then marched across the field into the forest.