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Aberrant RPG - Blood in the River of Fire

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Blood in the River of Fire

From the private journal of

Sgt. Marena Colby

April 18th, 2056

I made my final report to Battalion HQ fourteen months ago, and I've been interviewed

by my immediate superiors (those that survived, anyway) so many times I've become

tired of my own voice. I got a little green and gold star pinned on my shoulder by General

Chimera, who shook my hand and smiled. Now that over a year has passed, I think I'm

finally ready to tell my story: my own version of the Battle of Kettle Falls.

First off, despite what anyone else tells you, Colville is beautiful; true, it's isolated, and

you'd kill your best friend for a good cup of coffee, but the land is wild and savage. If you

take two seconds and stop seeing the terrain in terms of good or bad cover, trail visibility

or possible ambush zones, the whole of it will take your breath away. As a lowly corporal

in the 1st Infantry Battalion, I wasn't supposed to notice these things, but no amount of

Regular Army training or battle fatigue can blind me to natural beauty.

Lt. Bishop just got used to me gawking at the scenery; he'd turn to ask me to report on the

platoon's deployment, see where my head was at, and politely give me a few seconds to

marvel at a truly awesome pine towering over our camp. Then he'd make a little noise

with his throat to bring me back to Earth, I'd shake the pixie dust from my eyes, and we'd

converse like the hardened military types that we were. I'd see the ghost of a smile in his

eyes, but other than that, there was no comment; that little understanding is one of the

things I'll miss the most about the lieutenant. He was a good man and a good soldier, just

like everyone else who died at the Falls.

1st Battalion Alpha Company makes its home at Hole 2 Battalion HQ, carved deep into

and under Copper Butte in northeast Washington State. Like all Green bases, Hole 2 uses

the mass of an entire mountain to shield a handful of weary troops from the eyes of the

OMEN sats, spy planes and anyone else trying to suss out our cozy little hiding places.

And by cozy, don't think I mean 'comfortable', at least not in the traditional sense of the

world. To a Green, 'cozy' means 'not being shot at every two seconds' - hot water, actual

human food and a mattress are referred to as 'heaven'.

So there we all were, tucked under our mountain like a happy bunch of dwarves in a

Tolkien novel, going about our day to day routine of trying not to be killed. This is a full-

time job if you're a cohabitationist 'race traitor' like me, foolishly believing that novas

and baselines can (gasp!) share the world if they both stop acting like assholes.

Admittedly, we have no shortage of assholes in the Greens either, but hey, they're our

assholes, and despite all the bitching and moaning, when the cards are down, we pull

together as a team and get the job done. Of course, the minute the fighting's over, we go

back to name calling and hair pulling.

On the night of February 8th 2055, I was cleaning my weapon and listening to my chip

player in my bunk - I think I had on the Soft White Puffs' Drama Drama, which is great

music for railgun maintenance. Pvt. Chester Montgomery popped his head into the NCO

dorm with a crazed smile on his face, the kind of smile that tells you very bad shit is

about to happen.

"What's the word, Chester," I asked as I slipped off my phones, trying hard to sound

casual.

"Good news, Corporal - you know that op we were supposed to pull on Friday?"

"The bridge job? What about it?"

"Timetable's been advanced a bit." The smile was on the verge of becoming a grimace.

"Define 'a bit'."

"Tomorrow morning - 0400 hours."

I think my face sort of collapsed at this point; mouth sounds were impossible for what

seemed like twenty minutes.

'But - how?!" I finally stammered in disbelief. "Where does this crazy-ass shit come

from? Happyland? From the Psycho Bitch Queen herself?"

Chester shook his head sadly.

"You'd think it would, wouldn't you? Nope, this comes from Down the Hall. Richter's got

a hard-on for this mission, and he wants it done now. Something about some new intel

from our eyes and ears in Tatter-tot Land."

Suddenly everything made sense, at least as close to sense as we ever got in this war;

'Down the Hall' meant the hub of Battalion HQ, where Major Richter and the boys in

Intel lived. Richter was many things: a brilliant commander, a fine tactician, and by all

accounts a pretty good sax player, but he was also a bloodthirsty sonuvabitch who just

loved to stick it to the Tatter-tots any chance he got. After all, 1st Battalion wasn't known

as 'Richter's Raiders' for nothing.

The War is a very complex thing; future generations might try to categorize it as a simple

'us vs. them' deal, but from where I stand, the whole thing's pretty damn murky. If it was

just 'nova versus baseline' or 'human versus Aberrant', I think it would have over in a few

days, a couple of weeks, tops. But this war of ours is a big fat sticky mess, and you don't

have to guess that the sticky part is blood. Human, Aberrant, red, green, blue or hot pink,

its all just blood to me; I'm good at spilling it, and I hate when mine is spilled. And in

Colville, our bloody little neck of the woods, most of the spilling is done by the Tatter-

tots, our little Blue buddies from across the Columbia River.

The Free World Army, as they laughably like to call themselves, are possibly the sickest

little fuckers in the history of dumb, backward hicks; they are sprinkled over the Northern

Rockies in malignant clusters, congealing into fortified towns bristling with firearms and

xenophobia. Members of the FWA don't trust anyone; not the government, the Army, or

even postal workers. They believe that the satanic evil of the Abbies has permeated every

facet of human society, with the exception of their little blessed plots that they defend

with the help of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and a lot of stockpiled ammunition. I know a lot

about the Tatter-tots because my dad's one, and he'd probably shoot me if he ever saw me

again - unless, of course, I shot him first.

Forgive all the digressions, dear reader, whoever you are; I keep trying to get all the

relevant facts in, and it makes a bit of a mess of things. Actually, maybe I should stop for

today - I need to catch a few hours of sleep before I take my team out for a recon at 0700.

April 19th, 2056

Unfortunately, my bunkmate, Scout First Grade Lynn Epstein, has discovered that I'm

writing about the Falls; I don't talk about it much here at my new post, and now she's all

intrigued. I promised her today that I'd let her read some of it when I felt it was ready,

and she's promised not to peek. She's a good kid, and I hope she makes it through the

war; since she's an Abbie, she'll probably outlive me, as long as she doesn't get caught,

shot, or walk too close to a KT mine.

So anyway, Montgomery tells me the timetable for the bridge job has been moved up a

full six days to 0400 the following morning; he tells me this at about 2130, which means

it's just over six hours away. I quickly reassembled my weapon and trotted down the hall

to Lt. Bishop's quarters, and knocked on the door.

"Come in."

I found the lieutenant seated at his small desk, checking over his field gear and shuffling

around some maps, a black grease pencil clenched tightly in his jaws. He looked up for a

second, gave me a nod of acknowledgment, and returned to his maps.

"Evening, Corporal."

"Good evening, sir. Do you have a second?"

"Maybe one or two - what's up?"

I dropped down to a crouch for a little more privacy.

"What's this about the bridge job being advanced to 0400?"

Bishop looked up at me sharply.

"Where'd you here about that?"

"From Montgomery, sir."

The lieutenant let out an angry snort and tossed his maps onto his cot.

"God damn that little snoop! Couldn't wait 'til ten o'clock, could he?"

"So we're getting briefed at 2200?"

"Yeah."

Bishop ground his palms into his eyes and slumped a bit in his chair, his body showing a

mixture of pre-combat nerves and fatigue. He looked up at me with a despairing

expression.

"I don't like this, Rena - I don't like plans being changed at the last minute, and I don't

like my boys going out on so little rest."

He waved in the general direction of the bunkhouse.

"There not going to be able to sleep - they'll just stay up drinking and playing cards. I

know it's just a little op, but it's at the edge of hostile country, and I don't want my boys

screwing up in sight of the Tatter-tots. Those fuckers will jump all over you if they smell

blood, and there's a hell of a lot more of them then us."

The lieutenant rubbed his face and turned back to his maps.

"Get yourself a coffee, and a shower if there's any hot water - it's gonna be a long night."

I'll skip the details of the briefing - what sounds ominous and terrifying in person just

seems dry and academic on paper - but let me put the mission as outlined by Captain

Fergussen in my own words.

Way back in the 20th, I think around the time of World War II, some amazing civil

engineer types built the Grand Coulee Dam. I saw it once when I was a kid and my

family was on vacation - you can take these elevators down to see the huge turbines

spinning, providing power to the whole state.

So anyway, when they built the dam, the Columbia River filled up and became Lake

Roosevelt, a haven for swimmers and fishermen. Lake Roosevelt is mostly really, really

long, but it's wide enough that there are very few places to cross it with bridges, one of

which is at Kettle Falls, one of the biggest Tatter-tot enclaves in the state. The FWA used

the Columbia River Bridge to send troops in armored vehicles over to our side, where the

psycho Blues raped, murdered and pillaged our settlements like a pack of rabid Vikings.

One interesting sidenote: if a Blue kills or captures an Abbie, they cut out their node with

a little hatchet they carry with them for just such an occasion. And if they're not sure if

you're human or Abbie, well you never can be too sure, right? Tatter-tots have been

known to wear necklaces made out of dried-out nodes, fingers and ears to remind

everyone how crude and violent they are, just in case we'd all forgotten. Bet my dad has a

pretty nice necklace going. God damn it.

April 21st, 2056

Sorry for the break there, dear readers, but thinking about my dad makes me a little

emotional, for obvious reasons. Did I mention that he killed my nova boyfriend? No?

Well, now the reasons should be pretty obvious.

So where were we? Oh right, the stupid goddamn bridge. I hate that stupid bridge, and

soon you'll see why, if I can keep to my story or avoid crying jags in my bunk. Epstein

has been very cool with my crying the last few days; she's a war orphan, so we often

enjoy a game of 'who's had a worse life', which surprisingly always makes me feel better.

It's nice to have another woman to talk to in the bunkhouse, even if she is a swizzle stick

of an Abbie Scout. Scouts are cool by me; sure, Cobras are great if you want to blast the

bad guys into a million pieces, if don't mind being picked up by every Q-meter on the

West Coast. Scouts will do the same job without all the sound and fury, though it might

take 'em a little longer, and I'd rather be patient than dead.

I'm going to make a concerted effort to stick to the story now, with digressions only as

absolutely necessary - wish me luck!

From our position under Copper Butte, the bridge was somewhere in the neighborhood of

thirty-five klicks away to the east, probably farther if you took the winding nature of the

roads into consideration. There was no way in hell we were gonna march the whole way

at 4 am; remember, Colville is mountainous and it was early February, when the

overnight highs are in the teens. We would use two of our tiny fleet of vehicles to get as

close to the river as possible without being spotted, then finish the rest of the trek on foot.

Sunrise was at 7:25, and our sources across the river said that a large force of Blues was

going to cross the bridge just before dawn on its way to the Green town of Republic,

some 20 kilometers southwest of Hole 2. Republic was under our protection, and some of

us in Alpha Company had family there, so we were not going to let those sick fucks over

to our side. Our job was simple, at least on paper: to blow the bridge while the greatest

number of Blues was on it.

Our fleet consisted of five armored Chevy pickups; ancient booze-burners that guzzled

ethanol like a Cobra on leave and smelled almost as bad. We had two small teams in two trucks, five men to a truck plus the driver, who drove with his headlights off and his nightvisor down.

On a mission like this, wandering deer and elk were just as dangerous as enemy scouts,

so all eyes were on the road to avoid a deadly collision. Not a lot of talking at this stage,

just a lot of shivering in the unheated cargo bed as we crushed ourselves together, trying

to stay warm. If everything went according to plan, we'd be drinking hot coffee back at

Copper Butte no latter than 9 am, shooting the shit and feeling like heroes.

Yeah, right.

April 23rd, 2056

Everyone has their own pre-combat rituals: wearing a pair of lucky socks, praying to a

higher power, having wild, animalistic sex in a side room where everyone can hear you.

Me, I like to listen to loud, angry music. Admittedly, this is not terribly original - loud,

angry music is a proven morale booster that has been used by military men and women

for years, as has wild animalistic sex, I imagine. I guess I'm something of a traditionalist

in these matters, and at the time I wasn't getting any, so I settled for destroying my

eardrums the morning of the op. I believe it was So Dead by Plague of Bettys at 0400 on

February 9th, a chip just bursting with bile and hate, just the thing to set you toes a-

tapping and your trigger finger itching.

Squeezed into the back of our Chevy, we were cold as a hell but stilled pumped, primed

and ready for action. I was in the lead truck, some twenty meters ahead of the following

truck, as we bounced and rattled our way east on Route 20. Booze-burners are tricky

things - they don't like running on alcohol, but they really don't have much of a choice, so

they take it out on us by getting terrible mileage and breaking down whatever chance

they get, preferably when you're surrounded by hostiles and low on ammo. And the

knowledge that every spare inch of space is used to store dented plastic jugs of ethanol is

inspirational to us all; you'll never see a more dedicated group of soldiers leap into action

once the truck hits safe speed, which for me is about 20 mph.

For this op, most of 1st Platoon was going out in the field; 2nd squad lost the coin toss, so

they had to freeze their buts off while 1st squad sipped on hot cocoa back at the base. In

fact, they would be monitoring our progress closely while trying to act nonchalant in

classic military fashion.

Our trucks were driven by two Transport and Supply 'mules', Specialists Dale Conklin

and Lou Gonnella; I didn't know either of them too well, but I'd see them around the base,

mostly at T&S or near the motor pool. They weren't supply clerks, they were trained

combat drivers who'd driven dozens of missions like this before, and they knew their way

around the roads of Colville blind drunk or stone sober. True, they probably hadn't had a

lot of frontline combat experience, but that wasn't their job - they took teams out into the

field, and got 'em back home when the op was over.

I was in Conklin's truck in the lead; he shared the cab with Scout, First Grade Kara Van

Kooten, 1st Platoon's 'brownie', who was pretty cute the way most brownies are,

especially in the eyes of most RA grunts. Quiet, aloof and graceful, she fit the 'Scout

chick' stereotype to a tee, and most of the guys in the platoon had some kind of crush on

her, and why couldn't she be back in the bed instead of old Colby? Now just so we're

clear, I've never had any complaints in the looks department, but to them I was just a

grunt with tits, and a corporal to boot, so my sex was practically invisible. A brownie

however has an aura of mystery, and that very unattainable quality makes them all the

more fascinating.

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