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As the Bell Tolls by Becky Rock
As the Bell Tolls by Becky Rock
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My name is Corporal Lynn McCardle, formerly of the U.S. Army. I had been stationed at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. I was a corpsman. That seems so long ago now. Everything has changed.

 

A nightmare had awakened me. When I wake up from a nightmare, I try not to remember it. To relive it again and again and again gives it power. I have enough daymares to not want to think about my nightmares when I’m awake.

 

Jason mumbled something beside me. He was restless tonight. Maybe he was having a nightmare of his own. Lord knew we both had enough material for them.

 

I rested my hand on his shoulder, making a shhhh sound. He mumbled again, turning towards me, reaching for me. I turned so we were spooned. His arms immediately surrounded me and he settled. I felt his warm breath on my neck, his body’s warmth against my back and I settled, too.

 

888

I was reading a book when we were placed on alert. I’ve found in the last few months that I love military science fiction, but the military part has to be well written because I know what it’s really like. This book was part of the Orphan series and it’s well written.

 

Five minutes later the rumor mill started that a Spectran mech had been spotted passing the Early Warning Station on Neptune. Neptune was currently the closest planet in our system to the Crab Nebula. We were always put us on alert when that happened until the mech’s trajectory was determined. Spectra had yet to attack Washington, DC, which never ceases to amaze me. They never attacked the capital cities. No one knew why. Because of that, we’ve never gone active due to a Spectran attack.

 

I closed my book and like my brethren, went to get my gear ready just in case. Once done, I went back to reading.

 

The rumor mill is an amazing thing. We’re told to keep things quiet, that loose tongues reveal secrets, but some people who are placed in the know have no business being in the know because they can’t keep their mouths’ shut. The other thing was you never knew when to believe the rumor or not. Every rumor had a shred of truth, just enough to wet your whistle for the rumor. It wasn’t until everything was over that you learned just what shred was the truth.

 

The next rumor started three hours later. It said it wasn’t one mech, but multiple mech’s. Did that mean two, three, twenty? No one knew. We’d heard that rumor before, too, but it had always been wrong.

 

I wish it had been wrong this time, too.

 

The next rumor was the Galactic Patrol was going to intercept them. That didn’t always happen; I had no idea why but then I wasn’t privy to that kind of information. Maybe G-Force wasn’t available or couldn’t get there before the Galactic Patrol could.

 

A few hours later, we were all called to the parade grounds, which was highly unusual. The base brass was there, which set my heart racing. Had Spectra finally decided it was time to take on Washington D.C.?

 

The base commander, a Brigadier General, ordered our silence over the PA. His tone brokered no argument. We all stood at attention, waiting. You could have heard a pin drop. My senses were telling me something was wrong. Very wrong.

 

He then informed us over thirty large ships had triggered the Early Warning System. The farthest ring of the Galactic Patrol had hailed them and tried to get the actual number. They had been destroyed.

 

My heart skipped a beat as voices rose in disbelief. Spectra normally avoided the Galactic Patrol, not wanting their exact position or trajectory reported back to Earth. They didn’t want G-Force meeting them before they could wreak havoc or steal what they wanted.

 

General Manning ordered silence. I swallowed hard as he went on to tell us the second ring of Patrol ships had intercepted them and were attacked; the battle was still going on. The Patrol had reported there were over one hundred ships. They were larger than anything previously seen and fit no known Spectran configuration.

 

An officer jogged over from the nearest building and walked briskly to the podium. He stopped beside the commander and said something to him. The commander’s eyes hardened as he nodded.

 

We were then informed we’d lost communications with the second Patrol and all of the other Galactic Federation planets.

 

888

They say life consists of ninety-five percent boredom and five percent sheer terror. Most people’s version of terror is being called into their boss’ office because they stuck their hand into the sunshine fund one too many times.

 

No one was prepared for the terror visited upon Earth the next day.

 

My teammates were comparing what was happening to the movie Independence Day. One hundred nineteen giant ships went into orbit, destroying all of the satellites. Then they disgorged thousands of smaller ships that immediately began to destroy every cell tower, military base, power plant and city on the planet. Within a short period of time after the attacks began, we had no way of knowing what was happening anywhere else. Federation forces fought as best they could, but the Galactic Patrol had been massacred, taking away most of our air forces.

 

My unit was dispatched to the Tyson’s Corner Mall, where people were gathering seeking shelter. We were told to protect them at all costs. 

 

888

I woke up, hurting all over, wondering if I’d been hit by a truck. I was lying on something hard and wet. My head was spinning, making my vision so blurry, I couldn’t see anything clearly. My stomach rolled.

 

I could hear screams and yells, the sounds of machinery moving and explosions. The smell of burning wood, metal, rubber and others things assaulted me, making my stomach do more than roll. An explosion jolted me, making my ears hurt, debris raining down on me a moment later.

 

I threw up and my vision cleared; I quickly wished it hadn’t.

 

I was in the middle of a street, a few feet in front of a UPS truck that was lying on its side, packages spilled from the back of it. Wrecked cars and pieces of the surrounding apartment buildings was everywhere. One of the buildings was on fire. The yells and screams were from my fighting and dying teammates as they tried to keep the aliens from getting past us to the mall.

 

The staccato of gunfire was coming my way. My instincts kicked in, pumping me full of adrenalin that over road the pain. I knew I had to move or die. I got my arms under me and pushed up, spotting two troops hunkered down behind a car resting on its side about fifty feet away; Carlos and Petey. They were shooting at something coming down the street towards us, yelling for me to get moving.

 

I knew what it was coming and struggled to get up. The steady thunk, thunk, thunk of the legs of the metallic monstrosities the aliens had dropped into every city on the planet hitting the pavement vibrated through me.

 

Why was I out here in the open? Whatever had hit me to knock me senseless had robbed me of a few moments of my memory. I tried to get to my feet to run back over to Carlos and Petey, but then saw the other form lying about ten feet from me. My chest tightened as the memory returned.

 

It was the Condor. He had fallen out of the sky a few moments after the Phoenix had flown overhead, engulfed in flames and pouring out black smoke. He’d hit the UPS truck like a lead weight and rolled off it, coming to rest where he now was. I had broken cover to run to him to pull him out of the street back over to us, only to have a nearby explosion knock me unconscious.

 

I couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not.

 

It was then I realized he was no longer in his uniform, but jeans and a dark blue T-shirt instead. How had that happened? Had it been my imagination that he was the Condor?

 

888

We had come to call the twenty foot tall headless and neckless ostrich-like mechanical robots the aliens had dropped into cities ‘mechs’. It didn’t matter that they weren’t Spectran. It still fit them. We thought the mechs were manipulated by alien operators, but we had no proof yet. They were armed with plasma cannons on each side of their bodies. The fastest they had been observed to move was about five miles an hour, but there Ier numbers made up for their lack of speed. Their armor had proven to withstand most hand held weapons. We’d even heard you had to hit them with multiple anti-tank weapons to bring them down.

 

I scrambled to my feet as the mech down the street took aim at the car the guys were using as cover. The cannons glowed an irredescent pale blue, then spit out the death they dealt.

 

The car exploded. I crouched down, covering my head as car and body parts rained down. The mech kept coming.

 

I froze. I had to get out of there, but the mechs had been firing on anyone offering resistance or simply moving. There was no one else left of my unit mye to help. Based on the explosions we had been hearing behind us, the mechs had gotten through other resistance to get to the mall. I couldn’t help those people, either.

 

Maybe if I played dead, the mech would move on and I could live to fight another day. But the Condor could still be alive. I couldn’t just leave him until I knew.

 

I dropped to my stomach, sucking in acrid air as I belly-crawled towards his prone form, keeping my eyes on the mech. The glow was gone, but it was coming my way.

 

I kept my eyes on it as I reached the Condor. I pressed my fingers to his neck, feeling for his pulse.

 

It was there, weak but there. I didn’t have time to rejoice as a second mech came into view from the other direction, its weapons trained on us. The aliens must have followed the G-Forcer down from the sky.

 

My unit had been scattered around the mall.. There was a very real possibility I was all that was left. I could run, leave the Condor behind. I could follow them at a distance, looking for a chance to rescue him. I might be able to find out what the aliens wanted that way.

 

But my conscience wouldn’t let me. I was a corpsman and he was unconscious, unable to protect himself. The idea of leaving him behind, at the aliens’ mercy after all he and the rest of his team had done for the Federation, was unfathomable.

 

The mech didn’t fire on us, so they must want at least the G-Forcer alive for something.

 

“Condor, if you can hear me, we’re in trouble. Waking up right now would be a really good idea,” I whispered into his ear, watching the mechs warily. I didn’t see any reason to skulk anymore. I got to my feet, standing protectively over him, my whole body still hurting from the explosion that had floored my. The Condor still wasn’t moving.

 

“What do you want?” I yelled as a group of the aliens scurried around the mech on foot, wearing some type of body armor, a weapon in their hands. We’d only first seen any of them a few hours before. They were insect-like, since they scurried around on six legs, but they reminded me more of spiders and gave me the creeps. Their heads were bulbous, with large black eyes and insect-like mandibles. Standing, their heads reached five and a half feet tall, which put them eye to eye with me. “This is our planet and we’ll fight you down to the last man, woman, and child,” I shouted, fighting my revulsion and growing fear as they came closer. A few in the rear didn’t have the body armor or weapons. I had no idea what that meant.

 

Two of the unarmed ones came forward. I pulled one of the knives I carried, intent on fighting for my life. They easily avoided my swipes. My arms were seized from behind before I could dodge. I still tried to stab the one nearest me unsuccessfully, kicking at its body, but it was built like an ant and was able to avoid my kicks by moving its parts. I cursed and struggled.

 

Another went straight for the Condor.

 

“Get away from him!” I yelled as it leaned down to pick him up, cradling him against its chest as if he were a child. He was limp as a rag doll. “Leave him alone!” The alien holding me didn’t twitch as I struggled to get free.

 

Frustrated and now more frightened, I twisted around to face the alien holding my. I recoiled, the up close look worse than I could imagine. It smelled like wet dirt and mold. It almost gagged me, but I was close enough to head butt it.

 

Before I could act, it spit something into my face.

Horrified, I turned my head away, but everything became blurry, then there was nothing.
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