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IT WAS A SMALL AFFAIR
(A Time Travel, Alternate Reality, Science Fiction Story)
For 13 days, the defenders of the Alamo defied General Santa Anna and his army of over 2400 infantry and cavalry.

Before dawn on Sunday, March 6, 1836, the final assault began.  By sunrise, all 188 defenders had been brutally killed.

 

On February 23, 2010, an Army infantry squad carrying ammunition to a live fire training exercise,
 is caught in
a time rift that lands them outside the Alamo, 13 days before it fell.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Prologue

 

Many people consider the numerous stairs fronting the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. a daunting trek as they make their way to the top.  A young army lieutenant took the stairs two at a time, and was not fatigued in the least when he walked through the doors.

"Good morning.  How can I help you?"  The receptionist at the front desk said.

"Yes Ma'am.  I'm First Lieutenant William Walker.  I applied for a research card last month."  He said with an obvious southern drawl.

"May I see your identification card please?"  The receptionist said, and entered the information from his card into the computer on her desk.  "Thank you for your service, Lieutenant Walker.  Please go to Ms. Allen's desk.  She's the chief librarian on duty today, and she will give you your research card."  She said, pointing to the desk as she returned his ID card.

"Ms. Allen?  I'm First Lieutenant Walker.  I've been referred to you for my research card."

"May I see your ID card?  Thank you for your service, Lieutenant Walker.  This is your Library of Congress Reader Identification Card.  Please keep it clipped to your jacket or shirt.  You may use any computer in the main public reading room where you will have unlimited use of the computer system.  Do you know how to use a computer?"

"Yes ma'am.  Doesn't everyone these days?"

"You'd be surprised by how many people come in without any computer knowledge.  Some come in to use books because they enjoy the tactile feeling of a book in hand.  Others claim the words on the page of a book cannot be altered like computer records."

"Sounds like they're afraid of a government conspiracy."

"I'm not allowed to comment on that.  Please follow me, and we'll log you in."

"Thank you.  I have to admit, I'm awed by the immensity of this place."

"We're very proud of it.  This is a station you can use.  Please have a seat and login as WWalker.  Type in today's date as all numbers, 032110, then the code on the back of your research card, and…you're in.  Most of our catalog has been scanned into the computer, but if you want specific documents or books, put your request in through the computer request form.  If the document is here, in this library, it will be located and brought to you.  If the document is in one of the off site archives, it will be sent here and brought to you.  It could take several minutes to a few hours to fill your request, so please be patient.  If your request is restricted because of environmental concerns, or it's very fragile, a special request to view the item must be made directly through me, and I will make arrangements for you to view the item.  If you have any problems, please ask any of our staff librarians, and they will be happy to help you.  To help you get started, what would you like to research today?"

"I have an interest in the Civil War, and I hope to find letters, diaries, journals, anything written during the battle of Gettysburg by General Lee and General Meade.  I hope to gain some insight on their personalities, and thoughts as leaders of their respective armies."

"To begin, I suggest you enter their names, and the search engine will give you what we have cross referenced under their names."

"It's like Google."

"Our system is faster and much more efficient.  Good luck, Lieutenant Walker."

"Thank you."

***

Walker was reading an order from General Meade when he is approached by a tall, gaunt, almost ancient looking man wearing a name tag that simply read 'Librarian'.

"Lieutenant Walker.  Come with me.  I will show you a document in the restricted archives you will be interested in."  He said stiffly, as if he was struggling with the language.

"Am I allowed in the restricted archives?"  Walker said, intrigued by the offer.

"Restricted archives, yes."  The librarian said.

"Shouldn't we ask Ms. Allen for permission to enter the archives?"

"Not necessary."

On the way to the archives, Walker noticed the security cameras were shrouded in a fog clinging to the ceiling.

"It looks like the air conditioning needs adjustment.  There's a lot of humidity up there."

"Humidity, like a blinding cloud, yes."  The Librarian said, but did not look up.

Walker was led to a secured, heavy metal door.  Barely touching the dial, the librarian spun a combination lock.  The door opened and they entered an airlock leading to a controlled environment vault.  At a desk, the librarian reached into a drawer and said, "Wear these."  When Walker was handed a pair of white, lint free gloves, an electric shock jumped through the gloves.

"Oww; static!"  Walker exclaimed, recoiling and shaking his hand.

"Static, yes.  Wait here."  The librarian was unaffected by the shock.

The librarian went to the end of a row of large, movable filing cabinets and operated a four pronged wheel.  The entire stack of vertical cabinets moved aside, and he disappeared into the opening.  He returned with a cardboard container, placed it on the table and opened it.

"Read."

"A Survivors History of the Battle of the Alamo?  I can think of someone who'd be very interested in this."  Walker said as he read the first page of the old, handwritten document.

"Webber, yes."

"Do you know Staff Sergeant Webber?"

The librarian suddenly looked at the door, "There is another document.  I will get it."

Walker watched as the librarian disappeared around the row of cabinets.  Shortly after, a cloud, like fog from a CO2 fire extinguisher, silently spilled from between the filing cabinets, then quickly dissipated.

"Lieutenant Walker!  What are you doing in here?"  Ms. Allen said.

"I was escorted by one of your staff."

"I didn't get a request for research in the restricted archives.  Who escorted you?"  Ms. Allen said, looking around the archive.

"He went down that last row of cabinets."

"Who's in here?"  She walked toward the cabinet row.  When she looked down the row, she said "Lieutenant Walker, will you come here please?"

"Where'd he go?"  Walker said when looked around the corner of the cabinets.

"There's no exit from here.  Did you see his name tag?"

"Yes, it said Librarian."

"Of course he was a librarian, but what's his name?"

"That's it.  Librarian."

"You must've misread it because we don't have any employees named Librarian.  What did he look like?"

"He was tall, old, very thin, spoke with an accent I didn't recognize; and he was odd."

"Odd?"

"Yes ma'am.  Very odd."

"We have no one by that description.  I'll have to escort you out."

"Yes ma'am.  I apologize for being here."

As they were leaving, he paused at the table.

"Ms. Allen, do you know anything about this document that was brought to me?"

"Since you're already here…these cover sheets are acid free to prevent damage.  These codes tell me it entered the archives in 1871 during Ainsworth Spofford's tenure as the Librarian.  In fact, the initials on this second page tell me he accepted this document himself.  It was converted to microfiche in 1934, and was converted again to computer files in 2006."

"So, it's genuine?"  Walker said.

"We do not knowingly keep fraudulent documents, unless the fraudulent nature of the document has historical significance, and they are always marked as such.  This one is not so marked."

"When I was glancing through it, I read something strange.  Will you read the first page of the original document for me, please?"

She reached into a drawer, retrieved a pair of white gloves, and gently turned to the first page.  "No, this isn't possible!  This document's been in the library since 1871."  She looked at the two cover sheets, then leaned in close to the first page.  "The writing was not made by quill and ink.  The lines are too fine and consistent.  It looks like it's been written with a ball point pen.  Did you put this here?"

"Absolutely not, ma'am.  Like I said, the librarian brought it to me."

"This has to be a forgery of some kind."

"How's that possible?  You said it's been here since 1871."

"This will have to be investigated."  Ms. Allen did not take her eyes from it as she gently turned another page.

"Can I get copies of it from the computer?"

"There's a reference number on the first cover page.  Write down the number and I'll take you to your station."  Ms. Allen was reluctant to tear herself from the document as she carefully scrutinized every aspect of the manuscript.

***

After Walker printed and retrieved the pages, he sat at a desk and began to read.  After reading the first few pages, he rapidly skimmed through the rest of the document.  The librarian stealthily approached Walker from behind, pressed two buttons on his shirt, and whispered "Return to Fort Hood.  Stop Webber," then quickly stepped back.

"I've got to get back to Fort Hood!"  Walker exclaimed, bounding out of the chair, stuffed the printed papers into his briefcase, and hurriedly left the library to catch a flight back to Texas.

The librarian walked to the men's room, and entered a stall.  Fog filled the stall, followed by electrical arching that quickly dissipated.  The librarian had disappeared.

From a nearby stall, someone exclaimed "What in hell was that?"


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

 

It was hot, agonizingly hot as I stood in an open field of neatly manicured bright green grass; I never saw such green in Afghanistan.  The field was littered with bodies of wounded soldiers, moaning, screaming.  Suddenly, sweeping from the sky were vampires; dozens of them, landing next to the wounded soldiers, sucking life out of the screaming men.  I must help them, but I had no weapon.  Running, breathlessly running to help my men. A sudden flash of bright light stopped the screams.

"Staff Sergeant Webber?  Staff Sergeant Webber!"  The company Charge of Quarters shouted from a safe distance next to the door when he flipped the light switch on.

"What?"  I mumbled, blinking sleepily against the sudden light.  I breathlessly wiped the sweat from my face as I rolled over to face the disturber of my sleep.

"We've been called up.  Get your platoon to the company area behind the orderly room, packed for rapid deployment.  Be on line at 0600 hours."

"Where's Sergeant First Class McFadden?"

"He's not answering his phone.  You're next on the recall roster."

"Roger that.  I'll get the platoon up."

When I glanced at my clock, I saw we had less than two hours to get wired and out of the barracks.  In my boxer shorts and socks, I walked around the hall and banged on all the platoon's doors, relaying the orders to get up and get packed.  Returning to my room, I pulled out my nearly packed duffle bag, and was dressing when a knock on the door got my attention.

"Welcome back Sergeant Sutter."

"Yeah, I'm back in time for another trip."  He said sleepily.

"Looks like you got in late.  How was your leave?"

"My mother and my Oregon family argue as usual, but my dad and my California family are fine.  Time with my dad was too short, as usual."

"Time flies when you're having fun.  Are you ready for war?"

"I go where they tell me.  Where's our platoon sergeant?"

"The CQ said Mac's not answering his phone, so it looks like we're it.  Maybe his wife finally went into labor."

"She was huge when we were at his barbecue last month.  Looks like she might be having twins."

"That'll please him.  Come on, let's motivate the platoon."

"The lights are on, but..." Sutter interrupted himself with a huge yawn, "...we'd better check again."

"I'm not worried about those of us living in the barracks, but those living off post had better show up on time.  If not, the First Sergeant will be all over 'em, and there'll hell to pay."

When I finished dressing, Sutter and I went to each shared platoon room and made sure they were up and moving.  Pride and dedication were showing in second platoon because almost everyone was ready on the short notice.  Roommates were helping those who weren't ready as they hurriedly packed the duffle bags with necessary equipment and supplies.

"Come on people; get it on the company street!  Move it!"

I checked each room to be sure all were out, and went outside.  The cool morning air was a great stimulant, not as good as coffee, but enough for now. Rather than let everyone wander to the orderly room, I decided to include a bit of physical training to brighten our morning.

"Fall in!  Get your spacing!  Quickly, people, quickly!  Tighten up the heavy bags.  Right, Face!  Forward, march!  Double Time, March!  Here in the Army, what do they say?"

"Hard work, work!"  The platoon responded, clapping to the cadence.

"Everybody's workin' it right!"  I said.

"Hard work, work!"

"Hard work, hard work, that's what they say!"

"Hard work, work!"

"Hard work, hard work, everyday!"

"Hard work, work!"

"Up in the morning bout' a quarter to three!"

"Hard work, work!"

"Got to get in another days pay!"

"Hard work, work!"

"Hard work, hard work, I'm earning my pay!"

"Hard work, work!"

Shouting the cadence, we twice ran around the loosely forming platoons, until I shouted "Quick Time...March!  Platoon...halt.  Ground your packs, line 'em up by squad, and fall in."  I said, noting most of our platoon's soldiers who lived off-post were already waiting.  It's not surprising because they get the call before we do in the barracks.  A few men from other platoons were there as well, with several more hurrying in.

When the packs were neatly grounded, everyone aligned themselves with their squad leaders in four ranks.  Being without our platoon sergeant, I took the command position in front of the platoon, "Fall in!  Squad leaders report."

"First squad, two unaccounted for."  Sutter said with a salute.

"Second squad, all present."

"Third squad, all present."

"Fourth squad, all present."

"Sergeant Sutter, you're missing Private Sanchez and Private Hernandez."  I looked at the squad to confirm his report.

"Yes, staff sergeant."

"At ease."  I looked at the puddles on the ground, then at the clouds scuttling past the moon.  "Looks like we had some rain last night.  Sergeant Sutter, what's the weather forecast?"

"Clearing today with a warming trend.  Tonight and tomorrow, seasonably cool for a Texas February with no rain during the rest of the week."  I nodded my agreement.

"Staff Sergeant, why is the weather forecast so important?"  Corporal Miller asked.

"Knowing the weather as far in advance as possible, gives the soldier an advantage by being able to prepare himself and his equipment.  The Germans used the weather to great advantage during the Battle of the Ardennes."

"What's the Ardennes?"  Someone said.

"Doesn't anyone study military history?  Sergeant Sutter, care to explain?"

"It's known as the Battle of the Bulge.  Bitter cold and snowy weather covered the Nazis sneak attack through the Ardennes forest.  The lack of fuel, and Nazi obsession with the town of Bastogne was met by coordinated allied counter-attacks, and caused the Germans to lose their last chance to win World War Two."

"I've never heard the Germans were obsessed with Bastogne.  They had to take Bastogne because it was a strategic position with several roads converging on the town."  I said.

"The Germans could've left a token force surrounding Bastogne to keep the allies trapped there while they secured fuel depots in the rear of the allied lines.  With strategic position behind the allied lines and the fuel they needed, they could've taken Bastogne with reserves later."

"Actually, they did leave a token force when Hitler ordered them to bypass Bastogne and take the allied fuel reserves."  I hoped this never got back to Lieutenant Walker, our platoon leader.  I'm sure it would've started an energetic discussion between the armchair generals.

"Squad leaders, check your squads."

"Sarge, are we…"

"Professionalism, PFC Snyder.  Say the rank of the person you're talking to.  If an officer or some hardcore NCO heard you say sarge, they could go ugly on you."  I said.

"Too late.  Some of them own ugly."  Someone said, bringing chuckles from the platoon.

"Staff Sergeant Webber, are we going to war?"  Snyder said, nervous about the call up.

"Instead of partying, maybe you should read the papers or watch the news.  There's nothing happening in the world right now that'd warrant a quick call up.  It's probably another EDRE.  If we were under a normal deployment, we would've been preparing for it long before now."

The platoons had loosely formed behind the orderly room, and I was chafing at the bit with impatience as I frequently reminded myself about the Army mantra, 'Hurry up and wait'.

It was nearly 0630 hours when the company commander and first sergeant came out of the orderly room.  Everyone went quiet as they quickly aligned themselves with their squad leaders.

"Company!"  Captain Ibanez shouted.

"Platoon!"  The platoon sergeants responded.

"Ah…Ten…Shun!"

"Lock and Load!"  The four infantry platoons shouted as they snapped to attention.

"Platoon sergeants, report!"  Captain Ibanez shouted.

"All present!"  The first platoon sergeant responded with a salute.

"Outstanding!"  Captain Ibanez shouted, slightly leaning back, twisting back and forth before straightening up and returning the salute.  I heard snickering around me.  Some within the platoons were a little too comfortable with, how dare I put it, our company commander's little eccentricities?

"Three unaccounted for!"  I said from my position as acting platoon sergeant, with a snappy salute.

"Thank you."  The captain looked down as he returned my salute.

"All present, or accounted for!"  The third platoon sergeant shouted with his salute.

"Excellent!"  The captain returned the salute.

"All present!"  The fourth platoon sergeant said, with his salute.

"Outstanding!"  Captain Ibanez shouted, performing his little act before acknowledging the salute.  He looked slowly across the platoons of soldiers, then shouted "All privates, drop and give me twenty!"

Chaos erupted when privates scrambled for an area to perform the ordered pushups, shouting the count as they did so.

"Recover!  All NCO's drop and give me twenty!  First Sergeant Atkinson, give me twenty."

Many of the company privates were laughing as the non-commissioned officers performed the required pushups.

"Recover!  The battalion commander woke us early for an EDRE.  That means Emergency Deployment and Readiness Exercise for the new people.  At Ease!"  Captain Ibanez ordered.

"Sir!  On behalf of the company, I request all officers drop and give us twenty!"  First Sergeant Atkinson's deep booming voice, and tall, muscular stature automatically commanded attention and respect.

Stunned silence caught everyone when the captain looked at the first sergeant, until he said "Officers, drop and give the company twenty!"

The officers gave the required pushups, including Captain Ibanez who was laughing rather than counting.

"Officers, recover!  Platoon sergeants, up here."  Captain Ibanez gestured us toward him.  "Staff Sergeant Webber, who're you missing?"

"Sir, Sergeant First Class McFadden, Private Sanchez, and Private Hernandez."

"Sergeant McFadden's wife went into labor early this morning.  We'll take up a collection for his new family addition after the EDRE."  The captain said.  "On a very serious matter, the Staff Judge Advocate has recognized an increasing trend of racist complaints in this battalion, generally directed at non-commissioned officers for the apparent purpose of discrediting them, and possibly ruining their careers.  Gentlemen, I've said it many times; racism will not be tolerated.  Those proven to be involved will be dealt with swiftly and severely.  Put the word out among the men, again.  Staff Sergeant Webber, you're an Alamo enthusiast and…"

"Sir, please don't get him started."  First Sergeant Atkinson said.

"Did you know today in 1836, the siege of the Alamo began?"  I said.

"Not now, staff sergeant."  The first sergeant grumbled.

"I know you said nothing considered racist or prejudicial in your discussions about the Alamo, despite the accusations made against you."  Captain Ibanez said.

"Sir, I've been accused five times in three months.  I'd like to know who made the complaints, as if I don't already know."  I had good reason to be bitter when I turned to see if our two missing soldiers had arrived yet.

"Anyone can use Mexico and Mexican in the same sentence without being a racist."  The captain said, sidestepping my question.  "Battalion legal has completed its investigations, and dropped the charges against all NCOs in this company."  There was a quiet sigh of relief from the gathered platoon sergeants, and not entirely for the men in their platoons.

"Sir, Hernandez and Sanchez have decided to join us."  First Sergeant Atkinson said quietly, nodding his head toward second platoon where Hernandez and Sanchez were easing themselves to the end of first squad.  As assistant squad leader, Sergeant Sutter moved toward them just as the first sergeant left the impromptu meeting and walked toward fourth platoon.  Sutter got into Hernandez's face, and began an earnest conversation with him.

"Sergeant Sutter's going to declare war on them."  I said, as everyone covertly watched the confrontation.

"He won't get the chance."  The captain said as the first sergeant moved stealthily behind third platoon.

With an exchange of comments we couldn't hear, Sutter pointed to the rear of the formation where Hernandez and Sanchez should have remained when arriving late to any formation.  Hernandez said something, and flipped him the finger.  I tried waving Sutter off when I saw him ball his fist, but the First Sergeant swept in from behind third platoon and grabbed Hernandez and Sanchez by the rescue straps on the backs of their body armor, and dragged them stumbling behind the platoon.  Sergeant Sutter looked at me with a surprised expression, then returned to his position at the head of the squad.

"Gentlemen," Captain Ibanez said, regaining our attention.  "Since our first sergeant is occupied, I'll give the briefing.  We have a change to our training schedule.  We'll use the EDRE to begin an overnight exercise.  When everyone has drawn their M16's, we'll move out to the range for a familiarization firing of the M203 Grenade Launcher.  Then, we'll force march to range fifteen alpha to zero and qualify with our M16's.  Then, we'll wait until dark and night qualify.  At 2300 hours, we'll begin an escape and evasion exercise.  The company will be broken into squads, and be given a thirty minute head start.  We will be pursued by elements of the 18th Military Police Battalion, who are also on a training exercise.  Everyone will be carrying their equipment and try to get to a predetermined position 10 klicks north of the start point without getting caught.  You will not ambush, or take prisoners during this exercise."  He said, looking directly at me.

"Sir, there were no instructions about ambush or prisoners, other than there were ambushes waiting for us."  I said, quick to defend the squad.

"During our last exercise, a lieutenant, three NCO's, and several of their squad members were tied up and left out all night.  They were not happy about it."  The captain said.

"Sir, that was three months ago.  Why am I..."

"And, there's the unresolved matter of a stolen vehicle."

"Ah...sir, as I understand the situation, a truck was found unlocked and was...borrowed.  From what I heard, it was returned and secured in accordance with post regulations."  I said, carefully choosing my words.

"Because you adapted to the situation, most of the company reached the rally point in record time, and it's the only reason why there was no disciplinary actions taken against you, or first squad.  Keep that in mind during this exercise.  Platoon sergeants, make sure you and your squad leaders have their compasses.  Squad leaders will be responsible for the location of their men at all times.  Don't let anyone get lost this time.  Sergeant Webber, first squad has ammo duty.  Take your squad to the arms room and draw your weapons.  The armorers have fitted your weapons with the grenade launcher.  The company will use first squad's weapons for the grenade launcher familiarization.  Platoon sergeants, fall out."  Captain Ibanez said.

"Yes sir."  We said in unison, and returned to our platoons.

"Company!"  Captain Ibanez shouted.

"Platoon!"  The platoon sergeants responded.

"Ah…Ten…Shun!"

"Lock and Load!"

"Platoon sergeants, take charge."  The captain saluted before returning to the orderly room.

"Sergeant Davis, front and center."  The second squad leader came to attention in front of me.  "You're acting platoon sergeant.  Tonight, we're going on an overnight exercise, so make sure you and your squad leaders have their Lensatic Compasses.  When you get your helmet radios and night vision goggles, double check their operation, and turn them off to conserve batteries.  If you have time, get spare batteries from the supply room.  The company will get detailed instructions from the firing range safety officer when you get there.  First squad, fall out, pick up your gear, and fall in at the arms room.  Sergeant Sutter, what did Hernandez say that has the First Sergeant in an uproar?"

"Pegue esto en el culo."

"What?"

"I'm supposed to stick this up my ass."  He showed me his middle finger.  "I was going to deck him, but the first sergeant pulled them out of range."

"If it'd been me, I would've had to take the abuse, again, and let McFadden handle it.  I'm getting tired of dealing with those two."

"What're we doing today?"

"We've been selected for ammo duty.  When we're done with that, we'll familiarize with the M203 grenade launcher; then we'll zero and qualify with our M16's.  Our rifles have been outfitted with the M203, and the entire company will use them to fire with.  Tonight, we'll night fire, followed by an escape and evasion exercise.  The company will be pursued by the military police again."

"Can we take prisoners?"  Sutter said hopefully.

"Unfortunately, no.  I think the captain got his ass reamed for what we did last time."

"Damn.  I'll bet we have to wear our bags and carry our weapons again."

"It's good training.  First squad, put your duffle bags in the truck, and fall in along the wall."  I said when we arrived at the arms room.

"Staff Sergeant Webber!"  First Sergeant Atkinson shouted as he walked toward me with Hernandez and Sanchez in front of him.  They were holding their duffle bags in their arms instead of wearing them on their shoulders.  "Take charge of these two."

"Yes, first sergeant.  Hernandez, Sanchez, fall in at the end of the squad.  Sergeant Sutter!"  I pointed at our wayward squad members, and he made sure they arrived and stayed at the end of the squad, still carrying their bags in their arms instead of dropping them in the truck.

"Webber, walk with me."  The first sergeant said as we walked from anyone's ability to overhear our conversation.  "Immediately after we get back from the escape and evasion exercise, take Hernandez to the company commander."

"First Sergeant; non-judicial punishment, extra duty, all the disciplinary actions laid on him does nothing to change his attitude.  In fact, it makes him worse."

"After seeing his actions for himself this morning, the captain is going to recommend to battalion that Hernandez be discharged."

"Does he know?"

"Not yet, but the captain's had enough of him, even before this morning."

"Does Sergeant McFadden know?"

"He signed off on it, and it's been on the captain's desk for over a week."

"I'm concerned about having Hernandez on a live-fire exercise.  I request he be relieved and stay behind."

"Request denied.  You and Sergeant Sutter will keep him out of trouble until we get back."

"What about Sanchez?"

"The captain thinks there's a chance to turn him into a soldier once he's away from Hernandez' influence.  Report to Sergeant Wright in the arms room."

"Yes, first sergeant."  I turned and trotted to the arms room.

"Staff Sergeant Webber, I heard you have the duty."  The armorer, Sergeant Wright observed.

"You can tell I'm overjoyed.  I see we have the five ton excuse for a truck again.  Are we the only unit on post with that antique?"

"It may be old, but it beats walking."

"We're infantry!  The Queen of Battle!  The dirty legs!  We love to walk!"  Laughter at my enthusiasm followed from outside the door.

"Is insanity necessary for promotion?"  Sergeant Wright said, scowling at me.

"Probably not."

"If it were, you'd be a general by now.  Have your squad sign for their M16's, night vision goggles, and helmet radios.  Put the M16's in the weapons rack on the back of the truck.  When we're ready, we'll go the post ammo bunkers and draw our ammo."

"We always carry our weapons."  I said, reacting to the unusual instruction.

"Not on ammo duty.  You'll need to keep your hands free to load the truck and help set up at the range."

"Do you and your driver need to qualify?"  I asked.

"Our M16's with M203 modules are already in the weapons rack."

"Okay.  What about the truck radio?"

"Mounted and checked."

"Have the call signs been assigned?"

"The company call sign is Veto Bravo, and the ammo detail is Veto Bravo Two-Seven."

"Who's the Medic?"

"Corporal Taylor's in the supply room, inventorying the big Medical Backpack, and the Unit One Med Kit.  We've done this before, staff sergeant."

"Yeah, about three months ago.  Weapons signature sheet?"

"Get your equipment from Corporal Barnes, and sign here."

"Corporal Barnes, my weapon butt stock number is Bravo Four Six."

When I received my rifle, helmet radio, and night vision goggles, I checked the serial numbers, confirming them with the sheets.  With a quick signature, I was armed long enough to put my M16 in the weapons rack.  While I attached the radio and goggles to my helmet, I made certain the squad followed my lead, and I had everyone load on the truck.  Despite the generous size of the truck bed, it was already crowded with boxes of MRE's, duffle bags, and armorers equipment.  It was going to get even more crowded because we still had several boxes of ammunition to load.  I silently sympathized with everyone who'd be riding back there because, as the senior NCO in charge of the detail, I'd be riding shotgun with the driver.

When everyone had loaded on the wooden seats in the truck bed, I climbed on a rear bumper and said, "Equipment check, night vision goggles first.  Give me a thumbs up if you can see.  Hernandez, that's not your thumb.  Turn off and stow the goggles.  Verify your radios are set to VOX.  That's voice operated switch, people.  Radio check.  By the numbers, sound off."  I listened as an individual count was given.  "Good.  Turn off the radios.  As soon as Sergeant Wright and Corporal Barnes are aboard, we'll head out."

***

Live ammunition is tightly controlled on the main post, so we drove to the ammo bunkers which are a safe distance from everything should an explosive mishap occur.  Sergeant Wright inventoried the issues of the 5.56-millimeter rounds and 40-millimeter grenades.  When he was satisfied with the count, we loaded the ammo boxes onto the truck.

"Staff Sergeant Webber, what about breakfast?"  Corporal Taylor said.

"Sergeant Wright, when do we have to be at the range?"

"As soon as possible.  We still have to set up and load clips before the company arrives."

"You heard the instruction.  We'll have an MRE when we get to the range.  MRE, what does it stand for?"

"Meal, Ready to Eat."

"Wrong!  Meal, Rejected by the Enemy."  When Sergeant Wright hauled himself into the truck bed, I said "Corporal Barnes, let's get rolling."

***

We'd been on West Range Road for about twenty minutes where we were suddenly engulfed by a fog bank.  As the fog got even thicker, electrostatic arcs began leaping around everything.  Complaints from the squad in the truck bed were getting louder as everyone got repeatedly shocked.

"What in hell's going on?  Pull over."  I told Corporal Barnes when I saw him repeatedly release the steering whenever he was shocked.

Barnes complied, applied the parking brake, and turned on the safety flashers.

"Damn!  This is ridiculous."  I exclaimed when I was shocked through my leather glove by a vicious electric arc.

The fog invaded the truck cab through every vent, crack, and crevice.  The rapid staccato of static arcing became louder, almost deafening.  The last thing I remember was everyone shouting and complaining about the increasingly violent shocks when I slumped against the truck door.