Story 1

Hurdle Before the Battle

Tara crouched low in the dry grass preceding the thick underbrush of the forest ahead. Waiting too long could detriment their mission, but advancing too quickly would surely send them running blindly into disaster. She figured that this would be the only time to take a certain water break before this mission had ended.

“Drink up,” she huskily barked at her four subordinates, before taking a swig off her canteen.

One man, Travis, reached for his canteen with no hesitation. The other three, two men and one woman, gazed blankly at Tara. Once Travis took note of the others’ hesitation, held his canteen mid-air and looked at Tara, who was oblivious of this, until a few seconds after imbibing heftily.

“This is an order,” Tara said, calmly.

Travis, the woman, and one of them men slowly readied their canteens and partook of what was left of their water. Kyle, however, continued to stare at Tara, who failed to notice – or ignored – him. Travis, Felicity, and Lamarr nervously fiddled with their gear or the grass around them, making sure not to directly look at neither Tara nor Kyle. Whether knowing or not Tara was going to acknowledge him, Kyle decided to finally take a drink. Their eyes no longer downcast, Travis, Felicity, and Lamarr were still uneasy.

“Ma’am,” piped up Lamarr.

Tara gazed at him, deep in thought.

Realizing this was her way of telling him to continue, he went on. “How much longer will we have to wait?”

Travis and Felicity were grateful for the end to the uncomfortable silence, and Kyle was now the one who felt tense.

Tara’s eyes tranquilly turned towards the forest, and she responded, “Once we re-evaluate our strategy.”

Kyle’s eyes shot up at her. Without having to turn her head towards him, she asked, “Do you have a problem with that?”

Ma’am, I mean you no disrespect,” he replied, “But we picked over every single detail we could have back during our strategy at base. With Colonel Johnson.”

“That is true,” she said. “However, I want to re-evaluate – you never know what they could have picked up on while on our way here, and now that we’re in the terrain, we may as well further contemplate how it may affect this last stretch.”

“If I remember correctly,” Kyle said, losing patience, “Colonel Johnson told us this was supposed to be done as swiftly as possible.”

“You do remember correctly,” replied Tara, now looking at Kyle, remaining placid. “Missions of this sort do require swiftness, but they also require thinking ahead.”

“…Which we have already done,” he interjected.

Travis, Felicity, and Lamarr stared wide-eyed at Kyle.

“Remember your place,” Tara said, with a slight edge in her voice. “Why is it that you always question my orders, yet none of the others do?” She turned to the three and inquired, “Why do none of you do so?”

“Well,” Travis responded, thoughtfully, “You’re our commanding officer. We’re supposed to listen to you.”

“Do you find that reason enough?” she asked Kyle.

“Truthfully – no, I don’t,” Kyle states, firmly holding her gaze.

“Care to elaborate on why that is?”

“It doesn’t mean that your tactics are for what’s best, or are even effective.”

“Taking this short break isn’t what’s best or will be ‘even effective?’ Not only do we have to do a possible re-evaluation of what’s to come, I don’t even know if we’ll have another water break until after this is all over. I am making this decision for the interest of the group. The interest of the group is needed to successfully care out this mission. Least of what I, or you or Colonel Johnson, wants to happen is for all of us to die before or after retrieving the plant blueprints. Even if one of us makes it alive with them, I would rather that most, or even better, all of us, are able to come out alive,” Tara snapped. Waiting for a response, but not getting any, she continued. “Whether or not you, or any of you,” addressing the others, “have a problem with my decision, it’s what we’re doing, so get used to it.”

With all four now in compliance, Tara was easily able to discuss any change of tactics with them, with no further antagonism. Nothing much had altered from their original plans during that ten minutes, except for the collective agreement to separate into two groups – three in front and two one-hundred feet behind, until they reached their destination.

“Who will go where?” Felicity asked.

“Any preferences?” inquired Tara.

Without any rush, Kyle responded, “I’ll take the back.”

Despite her surprise at his answer, Tara went on. “Felicity, Travis, Lamarr – I want you three in front. Once Davis and I are fifty feet behind you, all of you will advance. Same gist of what we discussed before.” She paused. “Do you all remember?” All four of them nodded. “Good. We’ve probably emptied our canteens at this point and there is nothing else left to discuss, so let’s head out.” She waved forward Felicity, Lamarr, and Travis.

Once the three were well ahead, Tara motioned Kyle to join her. Despite following the same path the others had traversed, both proceeded cautiously, unknowing of any dangers the enemy may have laid out. Not only could there be hidden traps in the forest, but other people, so everyone kept as silent as possible and warily eyed the landscape.

Despite traveling near Kyle and being in a potentially hostile environment, Tara felt calm. Her senses alert, she picked up on sights and sounds that normally would not have garnered her attention. The sun and the humidity made the heat of the day more apparent, and despite drinking not too long ago, she felt her throat already prickle from dryness, and her skin very steadily became increasingly moist with perspiration. While the forest certainly thrived with green vegetation, it lacked in many animals. Very few birds fluttered by, and the most lively of the surroundings were the tiny insects that were occasionally noticed on nearby plants and on the ground, and especially the flies around their bodies and faces.

In the distance, a clearing became apparent, and the two groups slowed their pace. Gradually, Travis, Lamarr, and Felicity came to a halt. Tara realized that she and Kyle were approximately eighty feet behind the first group, that she had been traveling too quickly, but dismissed these thoughts, as nothing devastating had come about from her assumed eagerness, but was careful to measure these lasts tens of feet to an appropriate pace. All of a sudden, she picked up on a force rushing towards her from immediately behind.

Right as Tara stiffened and turned to face whatever loomed towards her, she caught a glimpse of Kyle as her rushed passed her. Slightly dazed, she tried to find whatever he was running from, only to realize that he was racing for their destination.

“Davis!” she hissed, but whether or not he heard her, he continued without faltering.

The group in front stared at Kyle in alarm, understanding, too, that he was running so in spite of orders. Once he was fifty feet behind Felicity, Travis, and Lamarr and thirty feet ahead of Tara, he stopped, turned to Tara and waved his hand slowly, motioning her to come. He then motioned for the first group to go on ahead. The three looked at him, then glanced at Tara, unsure on what to do and how she would handle this situation.

By this time, Tara had completely stopped in her tracks. Her awe of Kyle’s lack of respect for orders tugged at her mind. She intently returned his stare, unable to decipher his expression. The unknown surroundings made it difficult for her to effectively reprimand him in the moment, but she knew that she had two choices: go along with his suggestion or wait to catch up to him and make sure the three did not move ahead. Finally, she grasped at what he was trying to convey. She waved Felicity, Travis, and Lamarr forward.

After a moment of hesitation, they cautiously stepped into the clearing. Tara’s heart raced. While Kyle had more field experience than the rest of them, his hasty decisions were above her comfort level. She did not entirely like how she gave into his suggestion, but discord this late in the game could prove to be even more detrimental than what he suggested, if her assumption was correct. When she came twenty feet within Kyle, he motioned her to stop. He pointed to himself and to the edge of the forest. Then he pointed at Tara to where he was, and made one last stopping motion. She reconsidered her obedience. This was not what she had originally thought he suggested. With a lesser likelihood of danger for the advancing group in this beginning stage, she presumed that Kyle thought that his being in the designated spot would provide adequate safety while the three entered the clearing and as Tara eventually would reach up to him, giving them an edge on time. She did not know whether she felt stupid or deceived by him. Even if she ordered him to stay in his current position, she knew he would disobey. If only it was safe to talk out loud to him would she know of his intention. However, this was not the case, and she recognized that her official decision had to be made soon.

Tara nodded at Kyle, whose face gave a ghost of a smirk. He was pleasantly surprised that she easily gave in, although knowing she did not do so without giving it worthwhile thought.

The two headed for their final destinations. As Tara continued her trek, she pondered over the exact rationale for Kyle’s disregard for orders and his restructuring of their tactics. While audacious, she knew that he would not make and act on these decisions for just any reason. Even though his deviation from pre-planned arrangements have never resulted in anything bad, she never excused his behavior, and the same would pertain to this mission, assuming all went according to plan. Kyle’s plan.

Once the two settled, Tara gazed at the back of Kyle and understood, perhaps, his tactic modification. He had made himself the first group’s only line of defense. While this put him, and possibly the others, in more danger, it would, assuming all went well according to Kyle, increase the chance of a successful mission, as Tara would be the one with the blueprints if the others fell. Maybe this was not actually what he had in mind. Only time would tell, and for now, they had to wait. His recklessness both impressed and irritated her, but for the time being, she would accept it.

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