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The trip back to the turbine caves took fifteen minutes in the tunnel cart. Then they walked along an old river bed with their escort of seven, four ahead three behind. Before long they entered a large open area which looked like the floor of an old lake, about two hundred meters in diameter. Dirt had been carted in to level the surface and around the exterior, terraces had been cut into the limestone.
There were a number of buildings near their entry point, and the whole was lit by a large number of lights, attached to the walls and roof.
“Sir, if you is coming inside, the men is being out shortly. Recruits Nellie and Jane is to join their troop. Following the gunnery master sergeant you two is.”
Sandy went inside what was the command building with Corporal Afa. Nellie and Jane left with Gunny Shane, and went into one of the buildings next door. Afa explained what was to happen.
“For this first part of the TARDIS we is using the monitor bank above the viewing windows.”
The viewing windows started at knee level and were about two meters high. Above them were three rows of monitors, arranged in blocks of four. Three groups of twelve.
“A TARDIS is having five parts, Sir. There is being an initial warm-up, which ends when the heart and respiration rates of each member of the platoon are in the working range. Then there is being a small arms display – target shooting really. Following this is being a much more intensive physical work out then a display of individual skills, including one on one combat. To conclude we is having the simulation, although today that is being a recreation of our recent mission to China which is not ending well.
Each soldier is wearing what is looking like a shoulder holster. As they is putting these on, you is seeing their readings on the monitor.”
Yeah, it was impressive. The warm-up started easily enough, with stretches, then what seemed to be a two K run. But then things got serious. There were anaerobic drills – sprint sets for the humans, concrete block rolls for the Gooch and Choo. And then a longer run for the humans, rowing for the Gooch and Choo.
Jane looked pretty knackered by the end of the warm-up. Nellie seemed to be loving it.
They had fired a range of pistols and rifles as part of their school training. Jane was a better shot than Nellie. They were both good shots, but outclassed, way outclassed here.
The more intensive physical work out was brutal. The troops were, in different ways, all worked to muscle failure.
Then, in the individual displays Sandy saw that Nellie had paired up with, what was his name, Sergeant Harley, the human who led Charlie troop. Bullrush and unarmed combat. Bullrush was a great game. Simple. A fifty meter long by twenty meter wide field. One runner versus five chasers. A chaser on each of the five meter, fifteen meter, twenty-five meter, thirty meter, and forty meter lines. Game ends when runner is tackled or taken off the field. Chasers who are beaten can move off their line and chase. Sergeant Harley got through about half the time. Nellie, almost every time.
The one on one fight was much more even. They were both mixed martial arts fighters. Sergeant Harley was good. So was Nellie. Three, three minute rounds. Draw.
Sandy didn’t understand what Jane was doing for her individual display. She was seated at a console. He asked Afa.
“Is pilot skills testing. Visual discrimination, reflexes, ability to remain on task despite distractions.”
Then that was over. Time for the simulation. This took a few minutes to set up. Jane and Nellie wouldn’t be taking part. They showered and came into the command building with Gunny Shane.
“You is putting the headset on lieutenant. You two, recruits, is putting yourses on as well.”
Gunny Shane and Corporal Afa put their headgear on. The scene on the field changed. Now it was like they were somewhere else entirely. A small town, half a dozen buildings. There were five members of 1RR in the picture, Shane, Afa, the lieutenant and two other humans. The humans were advancing towards a building with a verandah. Sitting there, at a table were two Asians, one in military uniform.
To one side of, and behind the building was a bus, an old bus with faded paint and rust streaks. Sandy could see passengers in the bus, but not much else except for the bloke with a rifle in the doorway.
HAL spoke through their headphones.
“Founder, you are wearing our virtual reality headsets. As each member of 1RR puts theirs on they will become visible to you. This simulation is a re-enactment of an event which occurred two weeks ago.
We had been talking with a group of dissident Chinese about their recruitment and relocation to the reservation when the entire group was arrested one night, and charged with treason. The Senator intervened, and arranged for 1RR to travel to the Chinese coast and retrieve our new candidate citizens. This is that retrieval.”
In front of him, Sandy saw Bravo troop on the left flank but ahead of Gunny Shane, and recognized Sergeant Max. They were closest to the bus. On the right flank and behind Shane was Charlie troop, with a Gooch sergeant.
“There are observation and anti-personnel drones present, some with missiles, others with small arms. They have checked the buildings and the bus. The buildings are unoccupied. All dissidents, bar the one seated at the table, are aboard the bus with a driver and four armed guards.”
Sandy saw the lieutenant take a seat at the table. One human entered the building. The other took a defensive position at the side of the verandah, weapon trained on the bus.
Then everything exploded. The house became a ball of flames. The bus lifted a meter or so in the air, and fell back to earth, split and engulfed in flames.
Now there was sound through the headsets.
Sandy saw Gunny Shane standing, frozen for a moment. Then
“What the frig? They’re everywhere. Coming out of tunnels.” Someone.
“On me Bravo troop, Charlie troop make your way to the exfil point. Fly boy we need extraction now. Under fire.” Good on ya Gunny.
It was the noise. Sandy had never heard so much noise. For a second he couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing. There were three islands of 1RR soldiers, but they were in a field of, what looked like a hundred or more humanzees, with more emerging from tunnels. Chimp like, hairy, moving with a crouched posture. Humanzees, not Choo. Cheap and nasty chimp-human hybrids that had not been back bred with human before starting an artificial breeding program.
The humanzees were armed and firing, and they were charging, some towards Abel troop, some towards Bravo. Four missiles exploded between Abel and Bravo troop. When the dust and smoke cleared fully half the humanzees were dead or on the ground, but more were emerging from the tunnels.
“Missile drones, close those tunnels.” Good idea, way to go Gunny.
Bravo troop was retreating, not in a direct line to Abel troop, but in a direct line to where Abel troop would be in a few minutes. Their pepper pot maneuvering was super. Half would advance, crawling forward ten meters on their bellies, while the others would fire into the humanzees.
The drones were making the difference. Whenever a humanzee had a 1RR soldier lined up, that humanzee was shot from above.
“Gunny, I am being overrun.”
Things were a bit different for Charlie troop. Sandy saw that the Gooch there was under attack from unarmed humanzees. Man that Gooch was strong. There had to be eight humanzees over him, but still he was moving. The rest of the troop was under fire, but the drones were not attacking the humanzees who were now dragging the Gooch sergeant towards a tunnel.
Sandy saw Gunny watching the capture. As the humanzees and their captive Gooch started to enter a tunnel, Shane took aim and fired. A single shot that hit the Gooch in the face killing him instantly. The humanzees disappeared with the body.
As though someone had blown a whistle, the other humanzees ceased firing and returned to their tunnels, most of which had been blown up by the drones. As they stood, waiting for further commands they were slaughtered by the concentrated fire of 1RR assisted by the drones.
“Fly boys, location now secure... Charlie troop, find the lieutenant’s body, and those of our scouts.”
The display from the headset went dead, and Sandy saw himself back in the control room. He didn’t know what to do.
“Lieutenant, the troops are formed up on the parade ground. They will wait there until you dismiss them.”
‘Thanks Gunny. Let’s do that, eh’
His men looked, well, nervous. Sandy wasn’t sure what to say. He liked the Braveheart speech, but this probably wasn’t the time. Anyway, he only knew a few of the words. No, this definitely wasn’t the time for “And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!"
‘Gentlemen, you set high standards. I am proud to be your lieutenant. Dismissed.’
No Oscar for that. Back in the command room, Sandy had to ask CGMS Shane, ‘Gunny, why did you shoot the Charlie troop sergeant.’
“Gooch do not take prisoners, Sir. Nor are Gooch to be prisoners, ever. That was a trap, and the dissidents were a diversion, an excuse to get Gooch and Choo on Chinese soil so that one could be captured. The whole thing, it was a test, us against the humanzees, and I was not going to let them get away with a live Gooch. That would tell them just how far behind they are.”
‘Was he your friend?’
“Adult male Gooch are not friends.”
‘So the Chinese played us?’
“Undoubtedly. The Senator was, and is, furious. They got rid of their dissidents, got to see our platoon level capability, and got a fresh Gooch body which will give them DNA and other information.”
‘What about the humanzees?’
“They must have a lot of them. Our analysis is that two hundred and thirty-two dead humanzees were left on the battlefield.”
‘Oh’. The more Sandy thought about it, the worse matters seemed. It was Jane who spoke next.
“So, either the Chinese don’t rate humanzees or they have a newer model and were happy to use those to test us. But humanzees must be expensive. It would be cheaper to use their human soldiers. They have millions of those.”
“That is my view too, recruit. It is possible that the Chinese have developed humanzee 2.0, for lack of a better word.”