Entry 14 – War Begins
For the first time since my fateful encounter with Murdoch, I dreamt that night. The past days had been too busy for me to do anything but sleep but somehow, a nightmare wormed its way into my exhausted mind.
It wasn’t the usual nightmare though. I was falling into a deep, dark void resonating with primal bass frequencies that created or shattered celestial bodies, the sound of dying stars permeating my very existence. Somehow, my mind, ablaze from the ordeal, mustered enough strength to make a single word out of the noise – a word I could neither recognize nor remember afterwards.
I was rescued from the experience by a firm tap on my shoulder but the first seconds of my awakening did let me know that the true nightmare might have only just begun.
It was still the middle of the night but the camp was abuzz with chaotic activity and an air of barely contained panic. Sharp cracks of small arms fire and the deeper thunder of ordnance explosions could be heard but I immediately realized they were at least a few miles away – few who have never fired a gun or heard artillery up close have any idea just how painfully loud it is. Regardless, this was bad news – about the worst kind of news actually because a full-fledged battle wasn’t something that typically took place in the USA, no matter how close to the border you got.
“What the fuck... what’s going on?”
It was Espinoza waking me up and it was the first time I’d see her truly worried. She waved someone off and shouted a few orders in Spanish before getting back to me.
“It started a few minutes ago. Landlines are cut, the comms are jammed, there’s no cell signal and even the satellite connection’s not working.”
I was about to ask how that was possible but she waved any questions off.
“We don’t know any more than that. Jim thinks,” she took a deep breath while giving the Native American man organizing a few troopers thumbs-up, “that the U.S. base is under attack.”
I shook my head, still trying to clear my mind of the nightmare’s remnants and to wrap my head around the situation.
“Could it be an exercise?”
But I immediately understood just how vain that hope was.
“No. This is not a designated training area. They wouldn’t cut off the comms either and they sure as hell wouldn’t start an artillery duel in the middle of the night without prior warning. We also heard a few louder explosions. We think that might have been ammunition detonations. Not sure.”
The whole situation felt so surreal. I reached for a bottle of water and emptied it with a few quick gulps.
“Attacking a military base, that’s suicide. For anyone, the Mexican army’s a mess, the cartels don’t have a lot of heavy duty firepower, hell, even the corporations...”
“Yeah. Like I said, we don’t know what’s going on. But...”
She suddenly looked up, her expression turning into a determined frown.
“We’re about to find out.”
I gasped at her.
“Are you crazy? We barely finished training, we have no vehicles fueled or armed and you want to drive into that shit?!”
“The Banger’s ready,” she cocked her had towards a rusty heap of metal nearby, “someone filled ‘er up in the evening, probably to take her for a spin.”
“What the hell’s a banger?”
“That old rusty M113 we salvaged earlier. Cleaned her up, even got some ammo for that recoilless on top.”
Despite the circumstances, I couldn’t contain a chuckle at the absurdity of the name.
“Ah. That’s why she’s called ‘the Banger’, for the big boom.”
Suddenly, her face flushed a bit with what looked like embarrassment. I wouldn’t have noticed were it not for all the generator-powered lamps lighting up the camp grounds.
“Well, THAT...and there’s a stretcher inside. If you get my drift.”
She stood up, pointing at two men standing nearby.
“Vasquez, Donner, take the Banger and drive ahead. Don’t go looking for trouble – turn back at the first sign of danger and report back to the camp.”
They both saluted and ran off. A while later, creaking, roaring and belching smoke, the ancient APC started to move and gradually picked up speed before disappearing behind the first bend of the dirt road behind the camp gate, leaving only a cloud of dust behind.
Ten minutes later the conflict seemed to be raging with unabated intensity. Everyone was awake by that time, men and women scurrying around, collecting weapons, hastily strapping on bits of gear and getting ready in all sorts of ways.
Nearby, much to my disappointment, the fuelling of the fastest vehicles took precedence over the present MBTs as it took far shorter time to fill them up than our gas-guzzling monsters.
The scout crews set off first, the wheels of multiple army-loaned Jaguars carrying them to battle following the tracks of the still absent and now presumably ill-fated Banger.
The tanks came next, each taking good ten minutes to fully refuel. It wasn’t technically needed to top them off but you wouldn’t believe just how much juice fifty tons of steel consume in combat – better to be safe than sorry. Furthermore, who knows what could happen to our camp. It meant we’d be arriving piecemeal but under the circumstances, it was the best idea anyone had.
The first vehicles to depart after the scouts were my Black Mamba, Espinoza’s Nightsinger and O’Sullivan’s Faugh a Ballagh. Each of us nodded at our crews as we embarked, giving last orders to the rest and casting each other one final, worried glance. O’Sullivan seemed the most worried, muttering curses and shouting at the men near his old iron steed.
But, as Chuck Yeager once famously said: “It’s the man, not the machine”, and old O’Sullivan, a grizzled veteran of the New Troubles, more than made up for any deficiencies of obsolete tech with experience and courage. I haven’t had much time to get to know him but many in the camp regarded him as a sort of grandfather – the yelling old coot type.
I climbed the BMPT and wiggled my way into the commander’s hatch.
Inside, I closed my eyes and allowed the noise of the outside world drift away. How quickly the world can change in a few minutes, I thought. Could this be why Murdoch sent us here, in the middle of nowhere – to prepare for such an eventuality? But if it was so, why wouldn’t he tell us? Going into battle without reliable intel was, at best, foolhardy, but mostly it was just plain stupid. And yet, here we were, not waiting for the scouts. Such and many other thoughts raced in my mind as I forced myself to focus on the present.
The radio, still abuzz with a deep and peculiar (and yet, strangely familiar) droning sound so unlike any jamming I’ve ever heard before, was still useless. We’d have to do this oldschool, I realized. Leaning out of the hatch, I waved at Espinoza and saw her silhouette bathed in the glow of camp lights returning the gesture. It was time to go.