Sic Itur Ad Astra Ch. 01byUnannehmlichkeiten©
Corporals Lovejoy and Wallcroft sat atop two ammo crates, cleaning their weapons after yet another training session. The two still wore most of their uniform, black rigging and vest over a dark grey flight suit and flat black leather boots and gloves; only their helmets and gasmasks were relinquished to the floor as they serviced their rifles.
Lovejoy took a short pause, and looked over at the plywood simulation course at the other end of the hangar. It stood empty now, though the pair had spent nearly four hours within it, shaving fractions of seconds from their times.
"Hey Lovejoy, don't space out on me, please. You're the one who knows how this thing fits back together, anyway."
He turned back and helped Wallcroft reassemble his rifle before doing so to his own. Wallcroft sighed as his partner finished in only a few seconds.
"I don't even see why we use such a tricky piece of shit."
Lovejoy cycled the action a few times, and smiled to himself as he stood up, weapon at low-ready. Eyeing a target at the edge of the simulation course, he took aim, and brought his finger up to the trigger.
"I suppose, Wallcroft, because it's... because it's just right."
He pulled the trigger, and a resonating, tonal click echoed through the nearly empty warehouse. There was a silence, as he was sure he'd said something profound and meaningful to his advisee.
"Just right for what? Killing those freaks out there? Just gimme a good solid 1911, and I'll give 'em some of the good stuff!"
Lovejoy shook his head slowly; Wallcroft was only two weeks his junior in the unit, but had yet to see any real action. Taking his opinions from an obstacle course had made him headstrong after all, it seemed.
The Company Commander, a grizzled man of about forty years, stood behind a small podium, briefing a small platoon on an operation to come. Wallcroft and Lovejoy sat at rapt attention, listening closely.
"Gentlemen, we have the green light on Operation: Outreach. As you may have been informed, we've located a whole nest of the enemy via satellite surveillance. It's time to hit them hard, and send a message. We're going to make an example of these ones."
The platoon of fifty looked on with agreement, eagerness. It had been nearly two weeks since their last full scale mission, and they were more than ready to be back on the clock. In the front row, an NCO raised his hand confidently, suppressed rank on his flight suit sleeve becoming clear.
"Go ahead, Staff Sergeant."
The NCO stood up, and turned side-on to both his superior and the platoon.
"Sir, I think it's only right to remind you that some of us are still fresh, not combat-tested. Are you taking the whole force, despite that risk?"
"Yes. Second Platoon is more than capable of garrisoning in your stead. As for our FNG, he's got my personal trust; I've seen him on the combat course, and have no doubts."
The belly of the V-22 Osprey vibrated with the power of both engines as it sped along, not more than 200 feet above the decaying cityscape's dirty, cracked roads en route to the area of operation. Thirteen combatants, Wallcroft and Lovejoy among them, waited patiently, rifles in their laps, as the transit time passed. Some closed their eyes in deep thought, some looked back and forth eagerly, looking for another look of anxiousness from an ally. Wallcroft looked over to his mentor expectantly, but found him non-responsive. Nudging him in the side, he eventually evoked the intended response: Lovejoy opened his eyes, looking perturbed.
"What do you want, Wallcroft," he growled, trying to maintain the quiet air in the cargo bay.
"It's just, I... You'll need to show me what we're doing, exactly."
"The PL has billeted me to keep you by my side at all times, no matter what. Just stay close behind me, and you'll learn."
"...Alright. Wait," he called out as Lovejoy's head began to sink back down.
"What could it possibly be?"
"You're not sleeping, are you?"
"Self-hypnosis. Takes your mind off things."
A loud ringing permeated the bay, and everyone roused themselves in response. They stood up, and began putting on their rigging and headgear.
"That's what you're here to find out, isn't it?"
The pair slipped on gasmasks and synthetic helmets, and picked up their rifles, performing one last check . Fully loaded, one soldier unhooked himself from the bench and stepped into the center of the bay.
"Comms check, Fire Teams. I want shortwave comms feeding back to me, everything within your team. Fire Team leaders, keep me posted. Lovejoy, Graham, Fournier: give me a test!"
They communicated to him with the push of a button, and he was satisfied.
"And to the new guy! Out here, don't you fucking bother addressing us by rank and name, standing at parade rest or any of that shit. Just do what we say, when we say. Got it?"
"Yes, Staff Serg--"
"Fuck it, kid! Out here, it's Genetti! That's all! Squad, on me; we're coming in a little hot. Get ready to move as soon as that fucking ramp comes down!"
"Kill!" came the response from the twelve squad members. In the back of the line, Lovejoy's fire team lined up behind him. Lovejoy spoke through his radio to Wallcroft, overcoming the noise of the cargo bay as his voice appeared suddenly in his subordinate's head.
"This is a big operation, Wallcroft. You need to stay on my fucking tail the entire time, or I can't guarantee your safety. If I start moving too fast, you just hold onto this strap right here, and I'll pull you along. Got it?"
He reached out, and took hold of a strap on the back of Lovejoy's rigging, then releasing it. SSG Genetti's voice came over the headsets, loud and in charge.
"Lovejoy! Your fire team is gonna stay in this bird until we secure the LZ, track? I don't wanna lose your guys to a fuckin' ambush right off the bat!"
A red light alongside the hatch flickered, and switched to green as a sudden impact hit the underside of the craft. They had landed. Immediately, small pinging noises echoed through from the outside. Genetti shouted up to the pilots.
"Captain! Can you get a fix on that incoming?"
"...yeah, I got him, Staff Sergeant. Small arms fire coming from our nine o'clock, infrared is showin' two, maybe three signatures. More in the target building though; I count...Jesus, there must me hundreds of 'em in there. You goin' in?"
Genetti smirked, and cycled the action of his rifle.
"Fuck yeah we're going in. Squad on me, detail stand by. Five seconds."
The hatch lowered slowly, and Wallcroft saw the wrecked blue-grey urban landscape outside, eerie in the early evening twilight. Genetti and three-quarters of the squad piled out, and took positions in a loose ring close by. Some began firing on the enemies to the north, but seemed doubtful about their shots. Genetti, crouching behind an incapacitated sedan, called to Lovejoy over the radio. "Fuckin' aviators! These guys are 800 yards downrange! Get your ass out here, Lovejoy!"
One of the other squad members took a large bolt-action rifle from over his shoulder, and tossed it over at the base of the ramp, bipod ready. Lovejoy shoved his MP5 into Wallcroft's hands, and rolled down the ramp, coming to rest behind the trigger of the rifle. He switched on a laser light on the side and opened the bolt, loading three rounds before closing it and aiming downrange through the scope. He aimed over the face of a building off in the distance, from which enemies still fired on their position. He listened for Genetti, who used a pair of binoculars to spot for him.
"Gimme ten degrees south, five west. Little more west. And...lock! You got 'em lined up, kid! You see them in there?"
"Yeah, I got em. Call off the fire."
A wave of Genetti's hand, and the squad stopped suppressing the enemy. Through his scope, Lovejoy watched as three heads poked up over the lip of a concrete balcony, followed by torsos and weapons.
"Have everyone stay outta sight."
Lovejoy switched off the laser light, and took aim. Pressed up against the hard ground, he could feel his heartbeats course through his body, each one causing a tiny response in his scope picture. He waited, watching as the three enemies looked around for the squad they had been firing on. One pointed over to the Osprey, and took a potshot at the cockpit. The round ricocheted off the metal framework of the glass enclosure, and the pilots radioed in.
"No damage here, Echo 1-2. You're clear to carry on."
The one who had taken the shot motioned to his allies, urging them to stand up and keep firing.
"You're first," Lovejoy said under his breath, and pulled the trigger. A split second later, the round connected. Punching a small hole in the man's left temple, the bullet tumbled through, and left little of the right side of his head intact. Blood and particulate spattered in a fine mist on the wall five feet behind him as he crumpled to the floor. Lovejoy spoke to Wallcroft, who had wondered as to the result of his shot.
"You know in the movies, Wallcroft? Where the enemy gets shot, and they fly back a foot or two? Turns out, it doesn't work that way."
He grabbed the rifle, and rolled to the left, behind a jersey barrier. On his back he cycled the bolt, emptying the smoking chamber and extracting a fresh round. He rolled back out, and took aim.
"You got two more up there, Lovejoy. You see them?"
"They're up there all right. Hang on, I got em."
A transmission came in from the pilots once more.
"Echo 1-2, we're at bingo fuel, we gotta head out. Dumping the last of the precious cargo, over."
Wallcroft and the other three piled out and took cover, and the Osprey began to lift off. Genetti scoped out the enemy through his binoculars, then made another harried, dire transmission.
"Negative! They've got a fuckin' Stinger up there, sir! Recommend you touch b--"
He cut himself off as the target holding the rocket launcher dropped, another similar head wound. Lovejoy cycled the bolt.
Looking through the scope, Lovejoy saw the last target raise his rifle and aim directly at him. There was a pang down low in his stomach as he felt himself enter the enemy's sights. He squeezed the trigger, and watched as he saw the enemy's rifle recoil with its own shots; a three shot burst.
In less than a second, shots connected. First, Lovejoy's shot, left of center on the target's forehead.
Then, the enemy's burst. The first two skipped and ricocheted on the pavement in front of Lovejoy, who stayed prone, watching his own shot connect. The recoil of each shot corrected the next, approaching him. There was a sickening series of cracks, and Lovejoy tumbled back and to the left, hoping to absorb the impact of the inevitable hit.
He lay there for a second, and Wallcroft sprinted over, crouching over him, checking for the wound, but finding none.
"Are you alright? Lovejoy!?"
He sat up, and shook his head back and forth quickly, clearing his head. He pointed down to his rifle.
"Take an eye."
There was a clicking of shattered glass as he adjusted it for a better view. The inner workings of his scope were completely decimated, but the rear lens was intact. Standing up, Lovejoy shook out the loose contents until a small lead round dropped out, falling to the pavement with a low click. He opened the bolt, folded up the bipod, and dropped the rifle to the ground. Wallcroft walked over, handing him his MP5 back, and the squad regrouped. Genetti pointed out a nearby building, and briefed them further.
"That apartment block over there's fuckin' crawling with the enemy. Osprey pilots told us they've got easily over a hundred, maybe two hundred in there. I want this quick and clean; clear 'em out, send the rest a message."
"What's the spilt," asked another member of Lovejoy's fire team.
"It's ten stories; Each team takes one level, regroup, take five through eight, regroup, two teams each for nine and ten. I'm with you, Graham."
"You got it."
"This is gonna be different, people. We're here to strike fear in their hearts, to deter others from tryin' this shit. No prisoners, no escapes. Got me?"
The squad nodded silently, except for Wallcroft, who was still confused as to their specific mission. Still, as Lovejoy ordered the fire team to advance, he stayed close as ordered. When they approached the side entrance to the building, he saw an odd marking in shaky red spray-paint. The word "Vespers" was written crudely, surrounded by an uneven, lopsided circle.
"These sick fucks we're here to take care of. You know those anti-carnality laws, right?"
"...yeah, I know 'em."
Twenty years earlier, a new governmental trend had begun. Liberal officials had approved action regarding all manners of things, from stem cell research and artificial intelligence to genetically engineered food and cloning of livestock. Eventually, one clinching development brought real change to the face of the country, that being the successful implementation of completely artificial reproduction. It became the norm for parents to select traits for an artificially manufactured zygote, thus giving birth to a child with any traits desired, without the need for copulation.
This was the turning point for the then current administration, who had claimed to be the most liberal and progressive yet. Seeing the amazing effectiveness and efficiency artificial zygote manufacturing brought to their people, they began to become biased against, and later despise, traditional breeding. It became known as a barbaric process, or one that one indulged in simply for pleasure. Consequently, those who continued normal intercourse for simple pleasure slowly were branded perverts, as sickening as any pedophile, zoophile, or necrophile. The human race outgrew its need for sex, or so it seemed. As it became the commonplace to avoid sexual activities, governments the world over began to pass legislation limiting, and eventually banning all sexual activity, with varying punishments. Fines, prison sentences, and, for the more militant ones, worse.
Sex became somewhat of a black market item, and those who indulged in secret began to form organizations, somewhere between cliques and cults, devoted to their own type of perversion. There were the 'Lauds,' dedicated to practicing traditional intercourse; the 'Hymns,' preoccupied with self-influenced pleasure and voyeurism; and the most infamous, the 'Vespers,' a sick amalgam of all other tendencies, from necrophilia to erotic asphyxia, sadism and masochism, and everything in between.
As enrollment grew in each faction, governments developed special teams designed to counteract, capture, or eliminate each. They became on par with any Special Operations military force, but with a specific specialty. To counter the 'Lauds,' exceptional individuals from government bureaus such as the FBI were gathered into a force known as 'Aria.' Outstanding persons from police agencies formed 'Etude,' to stamp out the 'Hymns,' and volunteers from combat arms military forces cohered into 'Nocturne,' dedicated to eradicating the most militant and aggressive perverts, the 'Vespers.'
Lovejoy led his team in the side door, and up a flight of rusty metal stairs to the second level. Coming through another door, they found themselves in a long, straight hallway, dingy grey and covered in more graffiti. Crudely drawn pictures of various sex acts, names, dates, short stories, opinions, cryptic references all filled the walls, floors, ceilings, and doors. It was an unnerving sight, and Wallcroft stumbled as he saw some of the acts depicted on the wall to his left. As they advanced slowly and silently, a sudden noise drew their attention. Two doors down on the right, a door opened a crack, and a dirty male face peeked through. Yellow eyes glanced from one to the other infiltrator, and he slipped back into his room, slamming the door shut and locking it with a sudden click.
"That's a go, Wallcroft. They know we're here; no sense in keeping it quiet anymore. Fire team, stack up. Wallcroft, you're in back. Let us clear this one before you head in."
The four stacked up in a tight line to the right of the nearest door, each with their left hand on the former's shoulder. The third man moved up and checked the sides of the door, then gave a nod to Lovejoy, who returned it. The third man kicked in the door, and the three streamed in, slowly but with no pause or space, taking the opposite direction of the man before him. There were low voices, shouting, then the quiet sound of the suppressed MP5 submachine guns.
"Clear! Wallcroft, it's safe to come in now."
Wallcroft stepped in, watching back out in the hallway, then turning fully into the small apartment. The same filthy grey walls awaited him inside, also covered with red graffiti. On the ground, two bodies lay, discreet wounds bleeding onto a tatty mattress beneath them. Both male. Wallcroft saw their nudity, the obvious signs of sexual release all over the floor, and felt sick to his stomach.
"Lovejoy, these two aren't..."
"Homosexuals? No. They're just sharing."
Lovejoy pointed to the floor just to the right of the mattress. What could only be described as a black satin body bag lay on the floor, writhing. Holes at the top and lower middle no doubt led to some orifice, and were dripping with congealing semen. The bag continued to move, and Wallcroft realized the shape within. Prominent breasts, wide hips...
He reached out, but Lovejoy grabbed his hand, stopping him suddenly.
"That...is a Dakimakura, a 'love pillow,' they call it. You don't want to touch it; it's as contaminated as those two."
"But there's...a person in there?"
"Let's just say there's a reason she's in that bag."
He pointed to one team member, then ordered the rest out. There was another short burst from within the room as they moved on to the next. After another half-hour, they had reached the end of the floor, and were preparing to move up to their second assigned floor, when a transmission came in, from another fire team.
"Lovejoy! Come in! You gotta get your asses up to sixth deck ASAP! We're taking heavy resistance from room 625! She...Shit!"
It faded into static, and Lovejoy ordered another advance.
Out of breath but locked on, Lovejoy's squad burst onto the sixth floor not a minute later. They moved up single file against the right wall, until they came to room 625; the door was ajar slightly, and they could hear inexplicable sounds from within. As they neared the door, they heard another transmission from the same fire team leader. It was a low moaning, with wet sounds repeating again and again in the background.
Lovejoy ordered a halt, and approached the door, listening closer. It was the same man's voice, louder now.
"ohh...it's...just too much, I can't...no, no please don't...not again..."
Lovejoy looked back at his men, sounding the charge.
"Fire Team, Advance!"
He burst through the door, followed by his fire team, who took positions along the wall until they had surrounded the small room. Wallcroft felt even more sick then before as he looked down, and lowered his weapon in pure shock. Fournier, the fire team leader they'd heard earlier, lay on the ground, coughing up blood, unprotected face twisted in agony, hands at his sides with his fingers curled back in pain. His legs slid along the grimy floor fruitlessly as he tried to get a footing. On top of him crouched a woman of about twenty-five, her greasy black hair cut short and matted down with sweat as she bobbed up and down on his hips, face aglow with pleasure as she held a knife into Fournier's gut. She was naked and thin, and the fire team could clearly see her uniting with Fournier, slamming her hips down onto him before rising slowly back up again. She looked around to Lovejoy's fire team, and smiled wider.