tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Bonding Chronicles Ch. 19

The Bonding Chronicles Ch. 19

byPantherParabola©

***** Regulation Issue *****

It had already been a week, and Dave's clothes still felt itchy. His flannel jacket scratched at the back of his neck, making all the military formalities they lived by seem artificial by contrast. It was a strange mental association, he knew, but it pulled at the back of his mind just the same — distracting him from everything they were doing.

The perimeter had been secured, and his men were in top shape, each and every detail of Michelle and his plan falling into place. Despite the numerous problems the forest had posed, they managed to clear the land with hand tools a day early. While they waited for the excavation equipment to arrive the following day, Dave kept everyone occupied by running drills or readiness exercises.

He stood in the doorway of the temporary annex building that served as their command center, unsure if he would ever get used to their current deployment. Their entire team was dressed as various civilian workmen or contractors, scurrying around the worksite under the floodlights that held back the darkness of early night. It was strange to look out and see his men with short but uncropped hair, having not had time to grow it out to the lengths they would have used in civilian life. The woman were given more freedom to wear their hair in fun and interesting ways, but he could tell that even they found those loosened rules almost impossible to accept, most choosing to wear ponytails or keeping their hair short enough to stay out of their eyes.

While their efforts worked well, disguising who they were and what their purpose was, a keen eye would see within a few moments the training that turned everyone into efficient and dangerous tools for the U.S. government. To everyone else, they appeared to be nothing more than rugged construction workers or security personnel for some new and mysterious company.

"Boss," a young and eager soldier called out as he walked up, his arm jerking for a second as he stopped himself from saluting, his head nodding towards his commanding officer instead.

Dave tipped his head back, the 'dude salute' having taken the place of the standard military custom. Perhaps it was paranoid, but everything they were doing was against the law, and they couldn't risk a civilian entering their camp and discovering what the Military was up to.

"What's up with those fireworks, Ford?" Dave asked, his tone strict and short.

The smaller man's shoulders and back seemed to straighten up as his posture changed.

"Sir, Sam thought it might be best if you came and checked this out for yourself."

Dave simply nodded his head in the direction of their transport, stating, "head out in five."

As he turned and entered the annex building, the private exhaled and scurried towards a white S.U.V., anxiety making him glance around as he made his way. Dave knew the effect he had on the young soldier, but found it hard to sympathize as he considered the inexperienced man's reaction to him. He could name everyone on his base, and had chosen them each carefully. All except Frank Ford, whose grandparents managed to get him stationed there. Had Dave been given a choice, the boy would never have been placed on that assignment.

"That sounded intriguing," Michelle stated from the far side of the room as she looked over at her husband, documents and maps spread out before her. Dave shook his head and smiled, thinking his wife looked sexy in her blouse and slacks, the business clothes accentuating her body while demanding respect.

In lieu of an answer, he lifted a large black backpack from behind the desk, his muscles flexing and standing out beneath the overhead lights as he moved it with ease. There was a loud thud as the bag landed on its surface, and while Dave opened up the pack and began to inspect its inventory, he looked at Michelle and gave an annoyed grimace.

"Yeah, yeah, you old bear. I'm sure it's nothing."

Dave just lifted an eyebrow towards his wife, before returning his attention to the bag.

"What's gotten into you?" Michelle asked. "You haven't been nervous like this since ninety-six."

Dave's laugh dripped with sarcasm as he stated, "You remember how that turned out, right?"

Michelle shook her head and smiled, hating when her husband got like that.

"It could have been better," she admitted. "But, for the first time we're stationed on the mainland, no enemy combatants according to the last recon, and we're together. That hasn't happened since..." Her voice trailed off as she got a distant look on face, shaking her head before finishing her statement, "Anyway, you pick this deployment for your spidey senses to go all crazy?"

They laughed at Michelle's reference, and when Dave looked at his wife she could see it there, in the back of her husband's blue eyes; the source of his concern.

"For god's sake... He's fine. That Will kid's been suspended, and Ashley will let us know if anything else comes up."

She could see in his iron gaze that her words did little to dissuade his fears, and as always, he turned his attention back towards his bag, counting his supplies for at least the fifth time. Michelle wanted to talk her husband out of his paranoia, but knew better than to question his instincts. Dave was almost never wrong, and their experiences together had taught her that it was always better to side on safety.

"We'll check on him next weekend, and until then there's plenty to keep us busy."

Michelle took a moment to study her husband, his hands gripping the edge of the desk as he leaned against it and peered into the mysterious opening of his black backpack, knuckles white as they strained against the cold metal surface. For a moment she saw Andrew in her husband's bearing, his body tense and tight as he thought through everything they were doing, and the many complications that their assignment had presented them.

"I'll be back by morning with Sam."

With that, Dave closed the pack and slung it over his shoulder as if it weighed nothing.

"Don't do anything stupid," Michelle spoke towards the tall and powerful man as he headed towards the door.

"I hate it when he gets like this," she whispered to herself, struggling to understand the paranoia that had consumed her husband.

Dave gave many casual nods of his head towards men who stopped what they were doing to witness his departure. From the outside it would have seemed odd, but from their perspective every time he passed his soldiers it felt like a slap in the face of their military training. Dave never fully appreciated the traditions they had lived by until he found himself on that deployment, the casual seeming greeting a poor substitute for the salute he was due by rank and respect.

Regardless of their circumstances, he was proud of his soldiers, most of whom he had known for over a decade, having trained many of them himself on previous ops. Their knowledge of their assignment was minimal, and despite the mystery that he could feel tugging at their hearts, he was grateful for the stoic professionalism they all showed as they strove to complete their tasks.

Dave was impressed by the white S.U.V. as he came up to the passenger door, the large and sturdy vehicle looming before him like an unstoppable monster. Unlike when it had picked him up at his house a week before, it sported a thick coat of mud that rose up along its sides in a growing pattern of splashes and splotches. Opening the door felt like unsealing a vault, the handle pausing for a moment as biometric sensors confirmed his identity before countless latches and bolts released.

Setting his backpack on the floor at his feet, he pulled a thick and sturdy looking laptop into his lap before reaching over his shoulder and strapping himself in. A moment later he had the computer open and was preparing to key the device to life when he realized they were not moving.

Glancing at the timid soldier to his left, he saw a puzzled and yet intimidated look on the young man's face.

"Not gettin' younger, PFC Ford."

The beast of a vehicle rumbled to life. "Sir, of course not, sir," the small seeming man stated by way of apology as he turned his attention to the road, making every effort to not look at Dave who watched him carefully.

While Frank Ford drove, Dave booted up his laptop, biometrics granting him access to everything that their recon teams had found. The incident report was still lacking many details that he would have expected by that point had they been on any other deployment. Seeing the absence of new information worried him, because that told him that his paranoia very well may have been warranted.

Closing the screen, he turned his attention back towards PFC Ford, whose eyes were glued to the freeway ahead of them. Checking his watch, Dave confirmed that they were nearing the site that Sam had identified as the point of final contact, and gripping his pack, Dave said, "Pull over here, Private. I'll cover the rest by foot."

To his credit, Frank never broke eye contact with the road as he responded, "Sir, I don't think-"

Dave cleared his throat, interrupting the young soldier from his statement and giving him a chance to consider what he was saying. PFC Ford knew protocol, and found it extremely odd that one of the highest ranking officers on the base was about to head into what they were commanded to consider hostile territory. At the same time, he knew that they were not on a standard op, and as he considered that their primary objectives included keeping a low profile, he knew that there were plenty of reasons for his commanding officer to go it alone.

The vehicle pulled onto the shoulder of the highway, long enough for Lt. Colonel Williams to open the door and vanish into the night with his pack in hand, the ruggedized laptop resting on the seat he had occupied a moment before.

As the trees began to surround Dave, he could hear the Range Rover pull back onto the freeway, before vanishing into the distance. Over the last week, he had run several small unit skirmish drills with his men, all of them disguised as hunters and woodsmen. The weird thing was, as he felt the moisture close in around him, making the darkness feel all the more oppressive, he was struck by the thought that the forest seemed somehow less dangerous.

During all those other exercises they had ran, he had been on edge, his finger itching for his trigger as he led his squad through the brush. But, as he made his way through the silent night of the forest alone, he felt at ease, as if he were hiking to meet up with an old friend for a beer. The fact that he already considered the forest home only served to confuse him more, his mind struggling to sort his conflicting emotions.

The one saving grace was his mission, and the blessed complications that arose from trying to build a military facility in a national park. Never before had he been forced to train soldiers without his drills being obvious, or organize his troops under the guise of business and trade. The truth was, without his wife, he never would have succeeded, but the long nights they had spent wrapped up in each others arms had given them plenty of time to work out the details, and as always, together they solved the problems.

Navigating the unfamiliar terrain of the rainforest proved to be another unexpected difficulty, the soft and slippery surfaces masking countless traps and dangers. Through working with his men, he had discovered many tricks that allowed him to avoid those risks, and maintain the silent and efficient pace he had grown accustomed to.

The screen on his watch was as dim as he could make it, his GPS location rendered with a faint green spot in a swirl of topographical gray lines. 'Never miss an opportunity to train' was Dave's motto, and that night was no different. The shadows were long and plentiful under the dense canopy of the forest above, and he moved between them in an ever slowing and cautious pattern as he neared Sam's location.

He was drawing close to where the blast site was, a bright light in the distance confirming his position and alerting him to his destination. As Dave moved with stealth towards the well lit area, he heard the unmistakable sound of growling from just ahead.

"Fuck," he thought to himself as he remembered that Sam had been allowed to bring his dog on assignment. The canine added to the authenticity of their cover, and proved in that moment the added security it provided.

Realizing his position had been compromised, he decided to walk in casually. The moment he rounded the last tree, and the clearing came into focus, he realized at least part of the reason Sam had wanted to see him alone. The smell of blood and intestines was heavy in the air, distinctive in its revulsion, and unfortunately far too familiar to Dave, who hated himself for how unaffected he was by it.

Sam was nowhere to be seen, though Buster, Sam's dog, was sitting at the edge of the small clearing where it seemed the blast had happened. Dave looked around, peering between the trees and listening for any sign of his trusted recon specialist, unsurprised that there was nothing to be found.

Chunks of meat and organs were everywhere, with small pieces of bone scattered throughout for good measure. Buster remained seated while Dave made his way into the clearing, seeming disinterested in the large man as his ears and eyes scanned the surrounding forest.

"Be down in a minute, Boss," Sam called out from above.

Craning his neck, Dave was surprised to see Sam laying across a branch, swatting at something dark just out of reach. A moment later, he made contact, and whatever it was fell to the ground.

At first, Dave thought it was a branch, but as it exited the shadows of the under canopy, and entered the light of the lantern, he knew it was something much more terrifying. For a moment, his brain struggled to accept it for what it was, a huge and fluffy tail, black and brown fur extending out in what he imagined to be a beautiful and regal coat.

He would never hear the end of it from Sam, who had been catching hell from the men as he tried to convince everyone that a massive wolf was terrorizing the forest. Most of them believed the stories from the local news about bears, but Sam had been chasing leads and tracking down many stories from local farmers about large paw prints and mysterious sightings.

While Dave wanted to be shocked, he had been given reasons to expect something like what he was looking at, and adjusted to the reality of it well before Sam returned to the ground.

"Yup," Sam began as he wiped off his hands. "I gotta' say, that's one strange lookin' bear tail."

Dave gave Sam a sideways glance, his jaw clenching as he fought back the urge to berate his subordinate for his cavalier attitude. Instead, he looked out through the trees, the nearby light preventing him from seeing anything while he shifted his pack further up his back. For some reason, his pack felt a hundred times heavier as he imagined another creature like the one that had died there looking at him from the shadows.

"Where's the body, Sam?"

Sam laughed and shook his head, leading Dave across the clearing and into a bush. "This is where it'd be, if any of this made any fuckin' sense." Sam looked genuinely troubled as he met Dave's eyes, adding, "Sir."

Sure enough, there were clear indications of dragging to a point in the center of the shrubbery, blood and meat highlighting the path of disturbed soil, until it all just ended without a trace. Dave looked up, imagining something large enough to carry off a bear sized dog, and shivered at the enormity of it.

"What do you think took it?"

Sam studied Dave for a long moment, before he answered, "If somethin' lifted the wolf from da' ground and carried it into the forest, there'd be broken branches, deep tracks in da' soil, or at least some kinda' sign of its passin'... But, there's nothin', Boss."

"Where's the body then?"

"Fuck if I know," Sam answered, turning and returning to the hole that was left from where the explosion had happened.

They both looked down at the source of the blast, Dave taking a few moments to realize why Sam had brought him there. At the edge of the small crater there was an uneven part that seemed to have remained unaffected from the destructive force. Further, there was a large void in the meat and blood that coated much of the area around.

"Ahhh, Boss. Ya' noticed. At first, I kinda' figured that was where the wolf had been. But if ya' follow the debris pattern," Sam stated, waving his hand through the air as he gestured towards where he believed the wolf had been standing when the explosion happened, arcing through the air until he stopped at a point where the dragging that lead towards the bush began. "You can see that the creature was launched to here."

They both shook their heads, Sam in wonder at the scene he had discovered, and Dave in confusion.

"Sam, I don't got time for all this. Why am I here?" Dave was growing frustrated, knowing that nothing they had seen so far warranted him coming there, or risking the oddity of coming alone, which he knew was what Sam had expected.

"Fair enough, Boss. That shit with the wolf is messed up enough, but that clean spot back at that there explosion is far more than it seems. Look here at dis' edge," Sam stated, indicating a few small plants at the edge of the void.

They were perfect, seemingly unaffected by the explosion that had torn open the earth beside them. Sam then pointed around at numerous other plants that were further from the center, and as he did, Dave began to notice the small breaks in the leaves, and damage to the stems. Everything within a few feet had been torn up, very little left undamaged, but within that void everything was unblemished and perfect, like nothing had ever happened.

"If you look around, you can see shrapnel damage everywhere, but nothin' here."

He handed over a shard of metal, and Dave knew exactly what it was; piece of an M67 frag grenade. Looking around, he began to understand the carnage that surrounded them.

"The wolf wasn't dragged to da' bush, it crawled using its front paws. I think its back half was blown apart, and yet, it survived long enough to get into that bush. After that," Sam continued, turning his attention from where the wolf had disappeared and back to the void beside the explosion. "Two people were here, protected by some kinda' thick and high tech barrier."

He indicated two sets of footprints leading out from the void.

"Whoever they are, they did a damn good job cleaning dis' place up. That tail's the largest piece of da' creatures body I could find, and without it, I don't think we woulda' known it'd been a wolf, and not a bear. Not without genetic testing.

"They were here for a while, and made several trips to the highway about a half mile thata' way," he stated, pointing off to the east.

"Sam, this is all pretty much what we signed up for. Again, why did you want me here?"

It was Sam's turn to smile and look smug as he watched his commanding officer. "One of them was barefoot, and the other was either a child, or really small for their age."

Sam gave a moment for Dave to process his words, not knowing what to make of the barefoot perpetrator, but expecting a reaction from his description of the smaller one.

"Boss, can you think of anyone who's small and has access to military grenades? I could run da' number, but I think we both gotta' good idea who that grenade was issued to."

The periphery of Dave's vision vanished as his adrenaline spiked, his paranoia having proven invaluable once more as he looked into the face of his friend.

"Nope, can't say that it does, Sam."

Sam broke out in a laugh, having expected that reaction and knowing his part in what would follow.

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byPantherParabola© 13 comments/ 9279 views/ 24 favorites

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