The flight deck of the USS Jackson was a flurry of activity as the Hog made its landing. Almost as soon they touched down, the wheels were chocked by the deck crew and the crew chief had the rear cargo ramp open. Even before the squad was able to disembark from the aircraft, the medical staff from the ship’s hospital entered the 32 and conferred with the medic, Static, about Commander Atlas’ condition. They worked quickly to remove the injured pilot and get him into emergency surgery. The medical personnel also reverently removed the body of the dead pilot. Diesel and his men placed his body on a stretcher and more medical staff took him to the morgue.
With the medical staff off the aircraft, the squad members could begin disembarking as the pilots shut down the engines. All of the men were dirty and bone tired, but the cheers from the ships company brought smiles to their faces as they rode the elevator down to the hanger deck. The men were elated to be back aboard the Jackson in one piece. Next thing they each wanted was a good, long, hot shower and something to eat, but that would have to wait till later.
Once they arrived at the hanger deck they fell into formation. The Colonel was approaching the men. Gunny called out for the men to stand at attention, but the Colonel countermanded that order and told them to stand at ease. The Colonel had to speak loudly to be heard over the din of noise that was coming from the cheering crew.
“Go ahead and ground your gear. You men did a fine job out there today. Due to what you came across and the odd nature of it, the Intel pukes what to shift through your brain matter to see if they can gleam any intelligence from it. Here come the gear guards now. Head up to the briefing room and let’s get this over with so you can get to cleaning your gear, get some chow and rest, fallout.”
For two hours the men were questioned about what they saw at the possible dig sites. The Intelligence staff spent most of the time talking with Nightstalker and the pictures he took and Bunker. Then they talked to Loki about what happen to the aircrafts self destruct system. To everyone’s surprise, including the Colonel’s, the intelligence officer, a lieutenant Jeffery questioned many of the command decisions that Captain Mclean “Diesel” had made on this mission.
After several minutes of this line of attack
on Diesel’s successful mission Colonel Rogers could not contain his thoughts. “Just what in the hell are you doing Lieutenant Jeffery?” asked to Colonel in a barely controlled tone. His face was red with the rage the Captain Mclean was feeling.
“Sir.” The officer’s voice was as smooth as silk. “It is my belief that due to the Captain’s delays during this mission that we have one dead pilot. He also had a chance to get us some prisoners and he did nothing.”
“His orders were to avoid contact with the enemy, Lieutenant.” spat the Colonel.
“This was clearly a unique situation; he should have used his initiative to help us figure out what the Chinese plans may be for these unusual sites.”
“Colonel, sir,” Static was now on his feet and he looked pissed.
The Colonel looked over to him and said with slight surprise, “You have something to add corpsmen?”
“Sir, I do have something to add.”
“Well, spit it out,” said the Colonel interested in what the corpsman had to add to the discussion.
“It would not have mattered if we there the moment the pilot came down.”
“And why is that?” asked the Lieutenant.
“Because his heart and lungs where stuck on the end of the tree branch that impaled his chest and exited his back by about three feet, sir.”
That comment made the Lieutenant blanch a fair shade of pale green.
Every single man in the squad had complete trust and respect for Diesel. Each and every man had their life saved by him more than once. The men stared at the young Lieutenant. The look of disgust and contempt was easily read on their faces.
It was the Colonel, Big Rig , that lost his temper first. “This briefing is over. Diesel get your men out of here. The Lieutenant and I are gonna have a little chat,” Big Rig said as he stood up and made his way over to the Lieutenant. The hatch to the room was not even closed before the Colonel started to rip the Lieutenant a new asshole.
The Colonel’s voice easily carried down the hall as the men heard him yelling. “Just what in the hell did you think you were doing?” It was then that the door shut and the men could not hear any more of what was said.
Still dirty and tired, the men strode down the hall and gathered a short distance from the debriefing room and waited to talk to Diesel. Gunny was standing with the men nearest to Diesel. Diesel was in no mood at this time to discuss the debriefing with his men. “Gunny, have the men retrieve their gear and start cleaning it. Once that is done let them get some chow. They are done for the day,” he said as he started heading for the hanger.
Diesel slowly walked toward the hanger deck to collect his gear. Grabbing his gear he trudged back to his stateroom. On his walk, Diesel wondered to himself who the hell was Lieutenant Jefferies to question his orders? He entered his stateroom, and dropped his gear to the floor in the middle of the small room. Moving his chair to his gear and started to clean his weapons. It was mindless work. Cleaning his weapons allowed his mind to wonder, but his wandering always returned to the mission.
With his weapons cleaned, Diesel leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
The loud knocking on his door awoke Diesel.
“Come in,” he said.” The door opened to reveal Big Rig in the entranceway. Big Rig strode in and grabbed the other chair and took a seat while motioning the captain to sit back down.
“Well that was fun,” said Big Rig sarcastically. “Don’t worry about that asshole. I’ve already had a chat with the General about the half-assed ambush interrogation Lieutenant Jefferies tried to do to you and your team.”
“What were his reasons?” asked Diesel.
“He is nothing more than an armchair quarterback. Thinks he knows better. That’s all.
“What did the General have to say?” asked Diesel.
“The General nabbed Jefferies as he was on his way out of the debriefing room. Jefferies was pretty full of himself as he was on his way out. The General explained to the Lieutenant that the lives of the pilots and the data disks are worth more than a few prisoners which would’ve hindered your mission.” The Colonel continued to relay the remainder of the conversation in his native Texas drawl. “I do believe that the General said something about the Lieutenant should not be armchair quarterbacking from the cheap seats. I do also remember the General informing the Lieutenant that he’ll be joining the next combat mission as an observer. I tell ya’, the look on that dickheads face was priceless.”
“I want him to go out with me and first platoon.” said Diesel calmly.
“What, are you crazy?” asked the Colonel.
“No, think about it for a second, there are no bases that we know of near there, so it shouldn’t be too much of a catastrophe if he’s there,” said Diesel. Then he asked, “Where did those Chinese men come from? What were they looking for? The only road we saw was a dirt road that looked more like a dried streambed. And who were the five other men with the Chinese troops?” After a short pause he thoughtfully stated, “I wonder if the answer might be on those data disks.”
The Colonel cleared his throat before speaking, “Let’s go see the general and find out. I would love to find some answers to those questions you just asked. At the time I was preoccupied with making sure that Jefferies knew his place,” said Big Rig as Diesel followed him out of the room.
“Let’s go and see the General, sir.” As the two men began walking down the corridor Diesel added, “These questions have been bothering me since Bunker made the connection between the grid squares on the ground and the machines Nightstalker saw. Why would the Chinese Army spend their manpower to do such things?” Diesel continued posing questions as the two officers walked through the ship towards the General’s office.
Passing various offices spaces and rooms, the two men made their way through the maze of passages to get to the General’s office. In one such office, they saw Lieutenant Jeffery intently reading a file and both men exchanged a glance of contempt and continued walking and shaking their heads. Their winding path through the ship took them up three decks and over to the other side of the ship. They were now approaching the non-water tight door that leads to the General’s outer office. Once they entered the outer office they found a Staff Sergeant hard at work. “Good evening Colonel Rodgers, Captain Mclean, what can I do for you sirs?” he asked.
The Colonel looked at the man’s name tag on his uniform before speaking. “We would like to speak with the General if it is convenient, SSgt Rojas.
SSgt Rojas picked up the phone and said, “Let me check and see if he can, sir.”
SSgt Rojas punched a button on the phone and briefly spoke into the handset and replaced it in the cradle. “The General says to go on in sirs.”
Both men entered the General’s office and came to attention waiting to be recognized by the General. The General was seated behind his desk, obviously engrossed in a file of considerable size that was spread across his desk. He pulled his half moon reading glasses off the bridge of his nose and rested them on a stack of photos which were turned face down.
“At ease men, what can I do for you two gentlemen?” asked the General.
“Sir,” began the Colonel. “After speaking with you I went to have a chat with the Captain here. In the course of our chat he raised some very good questions concerning his last mission.”
“Such as?” asked the General.
“What were the Chinese looking for? Why were they not looking for the downed pilots or the aircraft? Who were the Caucasian men that were with the Chinese and why were they armed? Where did they, the Chinese come from? Who do the Caucasian men work for? Those are the main ones sir.” said the Colonel.
“I see.” replied the General. “What I don’t understand is what these questions have to do with me and not G-2, unless there is more.”
“What we would like to do is have a look see at what the XSR-28 took pictures of and try to figure out what was so important to the Chinese that they ambushed our guys. If we find anything of interest, we can get eyes and ears on the ground and investigate it, sir.”
“Hmm, let me think about this for a moment” said the General as he rose from his chair and paced behind his desk. “You want to look at data that you are not cleared for, to see if you can spot something that the pros who work in the CIA and the Pentagon won’t see? Then you want me to authorize putting men on the ground to have a look around this place or whatever it is. What do you intend to do once you investigate this whatever, Captain?”
Without missing a beat, Diesel answered. “Cause mayhem, sir.”
The General cracked a grin. “I like it. Let me make some calls and see what I can do to get you the clearance to see the data disks, dismissed.
With that, both men came to attention and did an about-face and exited the office. On their way out, both men heard the General mutter out loud to himself, “Cause mayhem.”
Once the two men clear of the General’s office, Big Rig looked at Diesel and said “Well that’s about all we can do for now. We’ll let the General cut through the red tape. I’d like you to start formulating a five paragraph order just in case you do get the call to do this.” They continued walking back towards the officer’s quarters, when the Colonel turned to Diesel and said with a rueful grin, “Cause mayhem, I can’t believe you said that.”