'In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’ -Dwight D. Eisenhower
Keith sighed as he walked to LZ Connor. The sun was already warm on his face, despite the fact that it was barely oh-six-hundred.
The scrub plants made soft crunch noises as he headed toward the pad, and only served to remind Keith how much he hated Stratis. Despite only sitting on the dumb rock for a few months, he had come to despise it with everything that he could get.
The barren grassland, rolling hills and seemingly-endless Mediterranean sun might’ve been kind to some civilian tourist, but it was biting and bitter to Keith.
Beside him, Shiro yawned, lightly tapping out a beat on the side of his gun.
“Shiro, c’mon.” Keith growled, trying to urge his brother to hurry it up.
“That’s Commander Shirogane to you, young whippersnapper.” Shiro winked, then set his back a bit straighter and started forward faster.
Admittedly, Keith had always called him commander outside of when they were alone, but...
The comm buzzed briefly with a connection. “There you are, Shirogane!” Staff Sergeant Thace’s voice crackled as the Hummingbird settled itself on the ground. “Get in.”
Nodding, Shiro jogged over and easily slid into position on one of the side seats, Keith doing the same as the Hummingbird’s rotors spun faster.
“Alright, we’re set. Let’s go.” Thace ordered.
“Understood. November’s away.” The pilot announced, the Hummingbird sweeping from the ground easily as they headed into the sky.
The grassland-hills of Stratis spread below them, sparsely dotted with trees that got thicker in certain areas. The sun, breaking the weak cloud cover, simply shone on, uncaring of anyone’s skin problems. Keith didn’t care much about the endless dust or the constant smell of gasoline, but the sun was something he just couldn’t stand.
“Hey, what’s the deal with the roads? Why the lockdown?” Shiro asked, staring over the empty stretches of dirt road.
Thace scoffed. “Someone forgot to tell the AAF Commander that we were decommissioning the airbase. He’s off throwin’ a hissy fit over there right now. It’s a mess.”
Over on the other side, Keith heard Lacey laugh. “You’d think the greenbacks were actually competent or something.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.” Thace agreed, as Shiro shook his head lightly.
“Hey, check out Maxwell! There’s a helo!” Lacey pointed out, as a larger helicopter was rising into the air. “Didn’t we finish with that place?”
Keith just leaned his head back on the Hummingbird’s side. Unless they were giving him orders, he didn’t really care.
“Guess not.” Shiro filled in. “Then again, I don’t think command seems to know or particularly care what is going on. Part of me can’t blame them.”
For another peaceful few minutes, they flew in silence, and Keith watched the burning sun rise above the pitiful rock most called Stratis. He hated the place.
Dull, open, and so boring. A waste of his and Shiro’s skills.
“Mike-26 sure looks quiet.” Lacey commented, looking around.
“Most of the guys shipped out already.” Thace answered without pause.
Shiro chuckled. “Just us left doing the monkey work, huh?”
“You’d rather be on a boat in the Pacific?” With an incredulous noise, Thace glanced over from the cockpit.
“I’d rather be the hell off this rock, sir.” Shiro laughed.
That got either noises of agreement or faint laughter from everyone on the Hummingbird as it tipped to circle a mountain.
A small base, just a checkstop tank and car, sat surrounded by sandbags. There were few people there, milling about like ants, as Keith just watched.
“I see LZ Baldy’s packed up!” Shiro said.
“Nice, we might get out of this place in oh, twenty years.” With a short sigh, Lacey put in his quip.
“Greenbacks wouldn’t stand for that shit, Lacey.” Huffing, Thace glanced toward the small outpost. “They’ve had a stick up their asses about Baldy for weeks now.”
“Yeah, well they can respectfully go fuck themselves, sir.” Lacey replied. “We didn’t butcher half our own population and I sure as hell didn’t ask to be on their pissant island!”
“Well if that ain’t half the problem.”
Keith rolled his eyes. He had barely seen any fights in the area, nevermind what he had been doing. Whether packing supplies or just sitting at a checkstop, the whole thing had been unbelievably boring. As the Stratis civil war wrapped to a close and NATO forces were moved off of the islands, there was only cleanup left.
Then Shiro turned a bit, and blinked. “I thought the roads were closed!” He called.
Keith also twisted to see, noticing the truck roaring from Rogain, down the dirt slope with a cloud of dust behind it.
“They are.” Thace said.
“Why’s there a truck leaving Rogain?” Lacey asked, staring after it.
“No idea. Maybe it’s something important.”
“Alright guys, I’m gonna turn us around before bringing us in. Try not to fall off.” November chuckled.
The small craft twisted itself around over the military encampment, easily going to settle down on the landing pad. Keith could pick out a few of the people hanging around the base, either repairing vehicles or commanding.
First off, Frasier, who was waving them down to the ground. Next was Holt, tinkering with a dying engine before sliding out, signalling to the driver to start it, and watching it run.
Keith actually knew Holt, and her brother. Both on the small side, but being mostly non-combat engineers, neither seemed to be displeased with the state of the island they were working on. After all, the male Holt seemed to just sit in LZ Connor and handle vehicles, not even a complaint about the heat.
That was alright. Keith had a lot to mentally say about the heat.
“Shirogane, Kogane, go see Harlow. She’s the Lieutenant in Rogain.” Thace directed. “Lacey, go make yourself useful for a change. I gotta piss.”
Shiro rolled his shoulders back before walking up to Harlow.
And for a moment, Keith had to do a double take.
She was tall. Maybe an inch shorter than Shiro, sharp white hair at sharp contrast with her dark skin. For a moment, he wondered if it was dyed, but then realized that it was probably just pale, then bleached by the sun.
It was tied in a neat bun, pinned to her head, and her stern but bright blue eyes assessed Shiro as he saluted.
“Staff Sergeant Takashi Shirogane reporting for duty.” Shiro stated with an air of kind professionalism.
“Private Keith Kogane, also reporting.” Nodding to her, Keith gave a salute as well.
Harlow chuckled, a soft noise that seemed inordinately gentle for a military base. “At ease.” She said. “There’s been a change of plan. Commander Antok requires support down by Kamino.” Her voice was calm and collected, and stunningly level. She also sounded British, despite the stars an stripes on her shoulder. “He left just as you were coming in.”
“Any idea why, ma’am?” Shiro asked.
Her eyes narrowed slightly at Shiro, despite his respectful tone. “No, Staff Sergeant.” She said, low. “Take the trucks over there with Thace. Go quickly.”
“Understood.” With that, Shiro headed toward the armoured vehicle, humming to himself again as Keith followed.
“Well?” Thace barked sharply as they approached.
Shrugging, Shiro nodded to the truck. “Sounds like Antok needs some heavy lifting done at Kamino. I’ll drive.”
“You can handle that?” Thace asked, smirking.
“Screw you...” Shiro chuckled with a head shake, getting in the front seat.
As Thace headed to the other side, Keith hopped in the back seat. “Sergeant Lacey, grab that second truck. We’re headed to Kamino.”
“Hold up a second there, Staff Sergeant, let us get out of your way.” November piped up, the Hummingbird’s rotors starting just as Keith slid into the concealed back of the truck.
“Sure! Appreciated!” Shiro called back to November.
Keith just settled in the back seat, letting Shiro and Thace talk up front. For a while, the car just drove on, a few sharp turns, but nothing too major, until they stopped again.
Outside, voices called about checking the truck, footsteps close to the door.
“Jeez, the AAF are really on edge today.” Shiro muttered, catching Keith’s attention.
“Yeah. I’ll give Lacey the heads up.” Thace sighed, then the radio buzzed. “Sergeant Lacey, be advised, the Greenbacks are really waving their dicks around today.” He reported. “Be on your best behaviour at the checkpoint, soldier.”
“Yes Staff Sergeant, I’ll put on my best smile.” Lacey replied.
The truck started again, and away they went, with Thace complaining the whole while about the Greenbacks. Not that Keith didn’t agree. They seemed fairly incompetent, and now with CSAT coming in to stir the pot, it was only going to get worse.
“Wait, shit, is that Antok?” Thace gasped abruptly. “Shirogane, stop the truck!”
Shiro brought them to an even halt, prompting Keith to leap out of the back without a second thought.
A car, flipped on it’s side, and a shallow explosion crater in the dirt road. As well as Antok, on the ground, and silent.
“Shit!” Shiro barked, racing over to begin compressions.
“Broadway, this is point X-ray. We’ve lost contact with Kamino, I repeat, lost comms with Kamino, can you confirm?” A new voice came to the radio, and Keith stood with his gun at the ready. He wasn’t certain what was going on.
“Fuck, he’s not breathing. Staff Sergeant Shirogane to Kamino, come in!” He barked. “Requesting urgent assistance, over!”
There was silence for too many seconds.
“Kamino, I say again, requesting urgent medical support at our position, Commander Antok is down! Please respond!” Shiro called again.
Nothing, as Keith walked around the overturned truck, and stared down the hill to silent Kamino.
Then an explosion rocked through his chest, the steady patter of rifles and machine guns rattling at the gun range. Something was horrifically wrong.
The radio crackled with gunfire and frantic breathing, before the report came in. “Kamino to Broadway, shots fired! Requesting support! Broadway, do you copy, over!”
Shiro left Antok, running to the edge of the hill to see Kamino as tracer rounds launched off rocks, yellow streaks whipping into the sky.
“Kamino, Broadway, we read you, wait one.”
Keith quickly turned his gun on the forest, eyes wide. Something was happening.
“Thace, Shirogane, this is Rogain!” Harlow’s voice came through the comms quickly. “Get your asses back here!”
“Copy, Rogain, but... What about Kamino? What the hell is going on?!” Shiro demanded.
“No buts, Staff Sergeant, that’s an order! Out.” Harlow finished.
“Understood, ma’am. Out.”
“This way.” Thace ordered, waving them toward the forest. “We’ll be safer on foot.”
“Right behind you, sir.” Keith responded, pulling his gun up properly. MX, tan, and unfortunately boring.
The comms kept blaring, from Echo reporting gunfire across the island and Broadway dispatching whatever they could.
“Broadway, give me a report!” Echo requested.
“Situation unclear Echo, wait one.”
“Sir, you have any idea on what’s going on?” Keith asked Thace, darting through the forest with him and Shiro. The rough terrain and slope didn’t lend itself to the flight, dodging rocks and fallen branches.
“Not a clue. Sounds like a goddamn invasion.” Thace hissed, leading them upward, toward the top of the hill.
“Wait... CSAT?” Gasping, Shiro stumbled for a second before running again.
“Just keep your head low, prep for contact!” Thace ordered.
Gunfire greeted them, and Shiro hit the dirt like he was born to it, instantly scoped down, prepared to fire. When yet another bullet landed too close, Shiro’s steady rattle told that someone found their end.
“Shiro, target that machine gunner! Kogane, the rifleman!” Thace ordered as yellow tracers roared through the woods, taking chunks from trees. Finding the rifleman, a Greenback who was crouched near a tree, Keith levelled his sights...
“Kogane!” Shiro barked.
Keith pulled the trigger, the rattle of the MX loud in his ear. With his gun braced against a tree, he watched the man slump. For a moment, he had to stop and think about that.
“Shiro, target that man!”
Another sharp report said that Shiro had yet again done damage.
“This is Broadway, attention all NATO forces on Stratis, green on blue, I repeat, green on blue!” A moment’s pause. “The AAF now considered hostile!”
“What the literal fuck?!” Keith hissed, staring at the corpses of the patrol on the ground.
“Rogain, we just ran into a Greenback patrol south of your position, do you read, over.” Thace snapped into his comm as Shiro quickly got up from the dirt, sweeping the trees. “Rogain respond!”
Then gunfire started up north, far away.
“This is Rogain to Broadway, under heavy assault! Requesting backup, over!”
“This way, Kogane.” Thace ordered, hauling up the slope.
Hesitation, like whoever was on the mic was sad. “That’s a negative, Rogain. Broadway to all NATO forces on Stratis, code Foxtrot, code Foxtrot! AAF forces have overwhelmed the airfield and air station Mike-26. We’re pulling back.”
“Fuck me...” Thace hissed.
“Try to get-“ The line was lost to static, roaring in Keith’s ear like the machine guns seconds earlier.
Shiro shoved Keith forward by the shoulder. “Let’s go, c’mon.” He ordered, chasing Thace a bit faster. “Move it, Kogane.”
“Fuck, what do we do, sir?” Kogane asked.
“Stay focused, point X-Ray is just over the hill. Our best bet is to-“ A distant explosion, probably from Rogain, cut Thace off. “RV with X-Ray, and go with them!”
Emerging from the forest, Keith turned north, looking at Rogain.
A shattered shed stood where once, the makeshift barracks had been. Twin columns of smoke rose from a pair of cars, blown to shreds.
“Rogain’s taken a beating.” Shiro breathed, staring up the hill. “...Fuck.”
“Let’s hope X-Ray’s had better luck, go!” Thace snapped, turning up the hill and leading them forward.
Then Shiro swore. “Rifleman, up ahead! 75 meters!” He barked.
Thace hit the dirt immediately. “Kogane, target the sniper!” He barked.
Keith caught sight of the man immediately. The larger gun and bipod dictated at least a 7.62. A shot from that...
Levelling his sights on the man, Keith pulled the trigger, not taking the chance to hesitate this time.
After four or five bullets off, Keith landed hits. The man went down in a surprisingly noiseless slump, just as Shiro and Thace finished off the others. “Well, that’s not a good sign.” Shiro muttered.
“Area clear!” Thace barked, getting up from his spot beside the tree. “Wait... I hear a chopper, Shirogane...”
“It’s one of ours.” Confirming with a glance up, Shiro continued to run after Thace.
“Echo to all units in the Rogain area, we’re setting up an evac point at LZ Baldy, Over!”
“Echo, this is Staff Sergeant Shirogane! We’re heading to your position. Part of a detachment from Rogain. Just the three of us, how copy?” Shiro asked as they turned toward LZ Baldy.
“Solid copy, Shirogane! We’ll stall, but we can’t hold forever.”
“You’re a godsend Echo! See you there, out.” Huffing, Shiro shrugged his gun toward the point. “C’mon, let’s move!”
They continued sprinting down the Mediterranean steppe, fleeing like mad hares as they struggled to reach Echo in time.
“Echo to all units, we just got buzzed by a fast mover. Expedite, out!”
“Shit, we’re never gonna make it.” Thace hissed.
Shiro abruptly took a knee. “Kogane, target that rifleman! 200 meters, up ahead!”
A small Greenback patrol came nearby, guns already up and ready for a skirmish.
Keith caught sight of the man easily, scoping his irons to the appropriate distance, and pulling the trigger. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been in fights before. This was just so much different. The adrenaline was chaos, and there was no time to think.
“Shit!” There was a gasp. “Echo, fast mover vectoring on your position, get out of there!” Thace ordered, just as a jet roared overhead.
Abruptly, an explosion that boomed in the distance and the rising smoke of a destroyed vehicle made Keith’s heart sink.
“Fuck, Echo? Echo do you copy?”
Glancing frantically between Rogain and the chopper, dead on the ground, Keith turned to Thace. “What now, sir?”
“Shit, I don’t know. Rogain’s down, Kamino’s fucked, it’s only bad news where we came from...” Searching around, Thace seemed to be starting to lose hope as well.
“There’s a forest over that hill.” Gesturing north, Shiro started forward. “We need to get out of the open!”
Keith sputtered slightly. “The forest?” He hissed.
“If you got a better idea soldier, feel free to share. Move!” Thace ordered.
The jog was a while, but that changed nothing for the way blood was roaring in Keith’s ears. He had wanted something to happen, but not like this.
He didn’t know what he wanted.
“Jesus, we’re alive... but for how long?” Thace snapped as they ran through the woods, eyes on the sky.
“...However long luck holds.” Shiro murmured softly.
“Get down.” Shiro hissed, making Keith drop as a massive helicopter flew overhead. “Stay low, Kogane. Let him pass.”
Keith’s heart was in his throat the whole time, the massive blades roaring above him.
“Let’s move.” Shiro snapped, the group rising to quickly sprint off, deeper into the forest.
Then, thankfully, the comms crackled. “Hello? Hello, does anyone copy?”
“Affirmative, Lacey, is that you? Over.” Thace asked, just ahead of Shiro.
“Sarge, thank Christ, we thought we were the only ones!” Lacey laughed in relief. “I managed to link up with a couple guys from point Zulu.”
Thace chuckled at that. “What’s your grid, soldier?”
“Uh, just north of Mike-26. 043043. We’ve been here for... shit, at least an hour now!”
Keith paused briefly to change mags in his gun, realizing he had only one bullet left in the previous one.
“Understood, we’ll be there shortly, how copy?” Thace demanded, panting slightly. It was a long way still.
“Solid copy Sarge. Just get a move on. Over.” Just like that, Lacey was out, and Keith started checking up the hill.
“Think we can make it there, sir?” Keith asked.
“I don’t think we have much of a choice, Kogane!” Glancing back, Thace’s eyes were slightly sharp and wide.
Shiro abruptly lunged forward to Thace, hand out. “Sergeant watch-“
The explosion rocked through him like a punch, staggering him backward with a gasp. He was out of range, but Shiro clearly wasn’t fully, having been thrown back. “Fuck!” Keith breathed, staring at the growing dust cloud.
Shiro was just a few feet away, coughing and clearly alive, but he no move to yet get up.
“Sarge? Sergeant Thace!?” Keith yelped, racing back toward Shiro, blinking dazedly at the sky. “Jesus!” He gasped.
Shiro’s right arm was bleeding, the fabric mostly torn to pieces. His vest had caught the rest of any shrapnel... Or maybe Thace had.
“Shiro, you gotta get up, you gotta...” Keith whispered, still staring at the minefield, that was a minefield...
“Sergeant Thace, we just heard an explosion, are you guys ok!?” Lacey demanded through the radio. “Thace, Kogane, Shirogane, respond!”
“Y-yeah, Shiro and I are here... Fuck.” Keith whispered. Thace's lifeless body was torn and broken on the ground, half-ripped to pieces by the bomb.
“Wait, what happened? Where’s Thace? Over.”
“Uh... a landmine, Shiro-gane is down!” Trying to speak through the shock and his ringing ears, Keith stepped back, pulling Shiro with him as he got out his first aid kit and started bandaging up Shiro’s arm.
However, the man was quick to wave him off. “I’m not down... Just can’t shoot anymore.” He hissed into his radio. “I can walk, Keith.” He snapped, grey eyes hard, stress and adrenaline driving irritation as he flipped around to his other side. “You’re gonna have to do the firing.”
Another crackle. “Shit, Kogane, Shiro, I’m sorry, but if we heard it you can bet the AAF did too. You copy?”
“We copy.” Shiro groaned, pulling himself to his feet with one arm. “Shock’s gonna wear fast, let’s go.” He ordered, shaking his head shortly before starting up the hill.
“Are you hurt, Kogane?” Lacey questioned.
“Y-yeah. I mean no - I’m fine.” He managed to stammer out, following Shiro.
“Ok, make your way to us, and we’ll go from there.”
Keith jogged ahead of limping Shiro, gun out and at the ready.
“This is Captain James Sendak, Royal Navy, come in, over.” A new voice, deeper and pissed off, spoke.
“Uh, receiving you sir. Sergeant Lacey. Over.”
“Maybe next time, don’t broadcast yourself over the whole net, soldier.”
Keith noticed a man up on the ridge just as they started conversing, Shiro clearly listening more than Keith did. Laying down and scoping in, Keith slowed his breathing right down. There was a while of silence, as bullets whizzed past them. Keith took a few tries to finally hit the man, but he couldn’t complain. They were alive.
“Just over the hill and across... the road.” Shiro groaned slightly, getting to his knees. “On our way, Lacey.”
“Shiro?” Keith asked, worried about his brother.
Shaking his head a bit, Shiro settled with a sigh. “Fuck. C’mon.” He ordered, heading forward. Shock was a hell of a drug, after all.
As they crested the hill, Keith dropped into a crouch, looking out at the road below them, then the small farm to the right.
“AAF patrol.” Keith hissed, nodding to the left. There were at least four of them, near an MRAP as well.
Glancing over, Shiro swore. “Yeah. Ok. Head low.” He had gone suspiciously pale and was panting. Shiro was waning.
Keith slid across the road with his eyes mostly on the patrol.
“Kogane, you see that white house?” Lacey’s voice came through the comm, but close.
“Not that one, the old one beside it.”
Turning, nudging Shiro’s good side, Keith noticed the men standing in and around that house, constantly watching for attack.
“Good to see you, Kogane.” Lacey murmured, clapping his shoulder. “C’mon. Down in the valley. They’ll have a harder time spotting us.”
“Understood.” With that, Keith slid to the side of formation as the group started to slip into the cover of the woods.
He didn’t like how Shiro was panting.
“Good to see you boys.” Sendak was tall. Intimidating definitely, with as much facial hair as he could get away with in the army.
Glancing behind them in a final check for any combatants, Keith stepped back a bit to Shiro, who was behind.
“You... Too... Captain.” The man panted, arm braced against his stomach.
“Jackson, heal Staff Sergeant Shiro.” Sendak ordered one of his men, a combat medic racing over to obey. “We’ve set up a camp up at Maxwell. Stay close, understood?”
“Yes sir.” Keith said immediately, the others doing the same.
He just hoped they’d make it there fast, for Shiro’s sake.