Story 2

Hurdle Before the Battle

Thomas 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. He figured that this would be the only time to take a certain water break before this mission had ended.

“Drink up,” he huskily barked at his 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 Thomas. Once Travis took note of the others’ hesitation, held his canteen mid-air and looked at Thomas, who was oblivious of this, until a few seconds after imbibing heftily.

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

Travis, the woman, and one of the men slowly readied their canteens and partook of what was left of their water. Kyle, however, continued to stare at Thomas, 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 Thomas nor Kyle. Whether knowing or not Thomas was going to acknowledge him, Kyle decided to finally take a drink. Their eyes no longer downcast, Travis, Felicity, and Lamarr were still uneasy.

“Sir,” piped up Lamarr.

Thomas gazed at him, deep in thought.

Realizing this was his 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.

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

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

Sir, 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,” Thomas 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 Thomas, now looking at Kyle, remaining placid. “Missions of this sort do require swiftness, but they also require thinking ahead.”

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

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

“Remember your place,” Thomas said, with a slight edge in his voice. “Why is it that you always question my orders, yet none of the others do?” He 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?” he asked Kyle.

“Truthfully – no, I don’t,” Kyle states, firmly holding his 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,” Thomas snapped. Waiting for a response, but not getting any, he 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, Thomas 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 Thomas.

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

Despite his surprise at Kyle’s answer, Thomas 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.” He 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.” He waved forward Felicity, Lamarr, and Travis.

Once the three were well ahead, Thomas motioned Kyle to join him. 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, Thomas felt calm. His senses alert, he picked up on sights and sounds that normally would not have garnered his attention. The sun and the humidity made the heat of the day more apparent, and despite drinking not too long ago, he felt his throat already prickle from dryness, and his 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. Thomas realized that he and Kyle were approximately eighty feet behind the first group, that he had been traveling too quickly, but dismissed these thoughts, as nothing devastating had come about from his assumed eagerness, but was careful to measure these lasts tens of feet to an appropriate pace. All of a sudden, he picked up on a force rushing towards him from immediately behind.

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

“Davis!” he hissed, but whether or not he heard him, Kyle 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 Thomas, he stopped, turned to Thomas and waved his hand slowly, motioning him to come. He then motioned for the first group to go on ahead. The three looked at Kyle, then glanced at Thomas, unsure on what to do and how she would handle this situation.

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

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

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

The two headed for their final destinations. As Thomas continued his trek, he pondered over the exact rationale for Kyle’s disregard for orders and his restructuring of their tactics. While audacious, he knew that Kyle would not make and act on these decisions for just any reason. Even though Kyle’s deviation from pre-planned arrangements have never resulted in anything bad, Thomas 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, Thomas gazed at the back of Kyle and understood, perhaps, his tactic modification. Kyle 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 Thomas would be the one with the blueprints if the others fell. Maybe this was not actually what Kyle had in mind. Only time would tell, and for now, they had to wait. Kyle’s recklessness both impressed and irritated Thomas, but for the time being, he would accept it.

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