Chapter 52 – Forward looking

Vincent Thomas Bridge, Terminal Island, LA

Elements of the 1st Armored and 101st Airborne Division continued to arrive throughout the night as a sizeable force built up. Before first light they began to fan out and extend their hold beyond the narrow stretch of road they held to relieve the forces at the bridge. Neighborhood by neighborhood they pushed out making excellent progress but in truth there was little difficulty since the aliens had melted away. Things became eerily quiet though everyone knew the invaders were still there in force. But where?

Early in the morning a Blackhawk Helicopter ringed by a strong escort of Apache Gunships landed at the 2-5 command post. General Daily and his staff had arrived to not only meet with LCol Ritchie but take charge of the preparation for the coming alien reinforcement from the front.

"Sir, I still think this is a bad idea," General Grayback declared nervously. "We'd get a better idea of what's going on and all the information we need at the rear."

Captain Blatchford snorted but said nothing.

"I can appreciate that Marion," General Daily responded patiently though he was amused but the Reserve intelligence officer's take, "but we need a real-time assessment of what we're facing here. We don't have time for filters. I want the raw intel and then we'll figure out what we're doing. Plus I want to be here when our help from the Pentagon arrives."

"They're going to make it in time?" Captain Blatchford asked in surprise.

"Yep. I got word while we were flying here they'd reached the rear area all morning. They've been driving straight for two days only stopping for fuel."

"That gives us some interesting options," Blatchford declared.

"It does indeed," Daily agreed. "Now let's see what we can find out from the troops on the ground."

The group moved quickly towards the Marines waiting for them while bodyguards maintained a strong perimeter.

"Nice job Ken," Daily congratulated the Marine officer, shaking his hand.

"Thanks sir," Ritchie responded, fatigue etching his face. "It was touch and go for a while and we lost some good men but the 2-5 got the job done."

"We owe you guys a lot. Prep your people for evac. The 101st will be taking over your position. We're moving you back to the rear area this morning," the area commander confirmed.

LCol Ritchie motioned Captain Harvel to come over. "We're going to be moving out shortly. Get the companies ready to turn over the defenses to the airborne. Critical casualties and wounded out first, everyone else from there."

The Captain saluted and trotted off to begin the preparations.

"So, what now General? What's the plan?" Ritchie asked his commander.

"Well, your work here was real good but all it does is give us the chance to hold when the squids come in force," Daily declared grimly. "If the reports you sent me are true and they were planning on using this as a staging area we need to hold Terminal Island and regain the coast. We can't let more of them in."

"Makes sense. You ready for a tour of what you have to work with?" Ritchie asked.

Less then an hour later the area commander had an idea of what the lay of the land was. From there LCol Ritchie saw to the withdrawal of his forces from the two bridges. It didn't take nearly as many helicopters to bring out the remnant as it took to come in. Though melancholy at the losses the senior officer couldn't have been prouder of his troops. The 2-5 Marines had proven themselves and their sacrifices had made the stand about to come possible. He prepared to leave on the last helicopter out while paratroopers of the 101st Airborne took over the 2-5's position. Going to General Daily he wished him well.

"Well that's it. Good luck to you."

"Thanks again Ken for all your boys did. We owe you a lot," the commanding officer sincerely declared.

"Thanks for the opportunity sir. Give the Squids hell." Ritchie turned to move towards the idling helicopter when something caught his eye and he stopped dead in his tracks. A green Army tractor trailer truck pulling a long flatbed trailer came into view causing the seasoned warrior to do a double take. It was the item resting on a cradle on the trailer that gathered his attention. A long tube that looked like a cannon lay flat surrounded by some sort of derrick-like device. Behind it an Army cube truck followed then another tractor trailer and another cube truck. Two more such pairs were behind the first one.

"What is that?" LCol Ritchie asked curiously.

"It's a new weapon system the Pentagon is deploying to meet the arrival of the Squid reinforcements."

"Yea, but what is it? It looks like an artillery piece but its way too big."

"It is an artillery piece but a brand new one developed to reach the Squid ships as they move through our atmosphere," Daily explained.

"How can that be possible?" Ritchie wondered, forgetting for the moment his fatigue and waiting helicopter. "Only a rocket could do something like that."

"I don't quite understand all the technicalities of it but the design is patterned after the railway guns that were used in World War 1," Daily confessed. "The techies from Washington are calling it a Magnetic Accelerator Cannon or MAC gun for short."

"Okay, but how is that going to help us go after the Squid capital ships?" the Marine officer asked. "I mean it's still an indirect fire weapon with no real tracking. Wouldn't some kind of rocket system work better?"

"That was my contention exactly when it was presented to me," Daily agreed. "Again, I'm not the expert on this but my understanding is it marries the two systems together. The MAC's launch system allows for a higher rate of fire then rockets. The shell it delivers not only has a depleted uranium core but it emits a magnetic pulse when fired which responds to the particular metal arrangement the alien ships are made of. They figure it'll punch right through them."

"Interesting. So it uses a kind of sonar-like approach?" Ritchie asked, becoming more intrigued.

"In a way," Daily agreed. "But with these when it locks onto the metal it's calibrated for it fires a short accelerator rocket burst which combined with the magnetic pull of the ship it's heading towards…"

"Compounding the force incredibly."

"Exactly," General Daily exclaimed.

"Wow," Ritchie marveled as he thought of the implications of this new weapon system. "We might actually have a chance to win this."

Somewhere over LA

Mike found it hard to relax despite the fact he was sitting in a helicopter moving back to the rear area. His shoulder throbbed and he felt bone tired. Looking out the side of the chopper he saw a line of vehicles heading towards Terminal Island including several long transport trucks pulling flatbed trailers with some form of long gun on them. Expanding his view he saw tanks and Armored Fighting Vehicles fanning out and sweeping towards the coast like a broom cleaning a dirty floor.

The guilt he felt at leaving the front began to erode with the realization he wasn't needed anymore. It was no longer his fight. Rather then upset him he felt a wave of relief.

Mike didn't want to go back to the front. Not that he feared it; no, it wasn't that. He would go in an instant if needed but he wasn't needed anymore.

Right now Mike had business with Michele and Hector and wanted to spend time with them. He'd neglected them for too long, now it was time to even things out a bit. Suddenly a peace that not only could they win this fight but he didn't have to be at the center of it filled him. He laid his head back against the wall of the helicopter and closed his eyes. He hoped Michele would be at the helipad to meet him.

Refugee Encampment and Military Command Los Angeles rear area, somewhere outside LA

"Michele, they're coming back to the base," Kelly reported the news the distracted woman who had been unsuccessfully trying to fill in a simple report for the past half hour had been waiting for all morning. "Go now. We'll cover for you." The nurse hugged her friend reassuringly. "I'm sure everything will be okay."

Michele hugged her back with a mixed feeling of reassurance and dread but knew the die was cast and worrying would solve nothing. As she left the hospital several other of the staff wished her well. It seemed far more were pulling for her then she'd ever imagined.

The trip to the helipad was a blur of emotion. Hope soared, anxiety plunged, fear crept in but steadily she progressed until she reached the staging area.

The word must have gotten around since several other civilians and a few military personnel were shuffling around idly trying to will the time away. Michele joined the group waiting for the 2-5's helicopters ending up standing beside an attractive African-American woman. The two made eye contact and shared the same awkward smile.

"Hi, I'm Cherise," the one introduced herself.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Michele."

"You waiting for your man?" Cherise asked.

Michele thought back over the past several months and everything that had gone on, the barriers and obstacles she'd had but now were removed. She wanted to be in all the way, there would be no more hedging. "Yes I am," she answered, fingering the engagement ring she wore. She looked at the woman who was in the same boat she was, not knowing whether 'her man' was alive or not. Yet the woman had a look of peace and contentment on her face while she felt like she could vomit from anxiety as each minute passed, the tension rising.

"It's pretty tough, isn't it?" Michele asked. "The waiting..."

"Yea, it is but all we can do is trust the Good Lord and wait," Cherise answered. "But then that's the life we've chosen when we fell for a Marine."

Michele pondered the wise words from the woman who was likely ten years younger then her. Despite the confidence Cherise exuded Michele could also tell the young woman was edgy and nervous. Yet she trusted.

"So who are you waiting for?" Cherise asked.

"Mike Nantz."

"Gunny Nantz?" Cherise exclaimed. "Girlfriend, he's a keeper. He's saved my man's life more then once. That goes for all the guys. He's a good man. You look after him, okay? We all owe him."

"They're coming back!" someone shouted out to the gathered crowd, causing a buzz of nervous energy.

The sound of helicopters could be heard in the distance. Black dots morphed into Boeing Sea Knight helicopters steadily chop-chopping towards the helipad. It would be only a matter of minutes.

Michele pondered the request and all that had changed. He is a good man. Its time I show him that. She was in all the way. "Don't worry, I plan on it," she replied though the other woman was now distracted, willing the helicopters to land faster. Please, be on the helicopter Mike she thought to herself and may Cherise's man be too.

The Sea Knights dropped from the sky and flared just above the ground before touching down lightly. Dust and debris was kicked up by the spinning of the powerful rotors so those waiting ducked away automatically to get away from it. Ground crew ran out to prepare for the disembarking of the Marines on the crafts. The first coming off were the wounded. Medical personnel from the Army Field Hospital along with several ambulances began to urgently remove the critically wounded for a speedy trip to the hospital.

Michele watched, biting her lip in fear and hope. She had relief and increased tension all at the same time when Mike wasn't part of that group. Once the wounded were off the rest began to disembark. She was struck by how tired they looked and the minor wounds many carried. As the Marines trudged off there were shouts of joy, questions about others and some spontaneous reunions.

Michele heard a squeal of delight beside her and Cherise was sprinting off towards a lean, bespectacled African-American Marine carrying a machine gun. He dropped the weapon and scooped the laughing woman into his arms. Watching the two twirl around in delight she couldn't help but getting choked up at the tender scene. She saw Corporal Imlay joking around with the pair but couldn't catch his eye.

The stream of Marines continued but was becoming a trickle and suddenly fear began to build like an icy grip. Mike was not there yet, he wasn't coming back.

Then she saw him.

Stepping off the last helicopter, walking beside an athletic looking African-American officer, though obviously wounded based on the bandages he wore he was alive and still standing. The two were in conversation so he hadn't noticed her yet. She smoothed out her shirt nervously, wanting to look her best, waiting for him to see, determined to show restraint.

That last about two milliseconds.

"Mike!" she screamed urgently. "Mike, I'm here!"

Tears filled the woman's eyes until her vision was blurry, she couldn't wait. To hell with dignity. As he turned towards the voice she ran as fast as she could towards him.

Mike heard his name called and turned to see Michele running towards him, face filled with tears, arms open. His face lit up as he saw the one thing that now mattered to him most at this moment. His mission was complete.

Michele saw him turn and the look on his face melted her heart. Despite the obvious fatigue and dried blood from several shrapnel wounds his look changed to one of obvious joy-filled love at seeing her. The strong smile she'd longed to see for so long broke out as he opened his arms to receive her.

For Mike, he saw her running towards him and the look on her face melted his heart. Despite the worry lines and obvious signs of fatigue from the long hours spent at the hospital seeing him brought a look of joy-filled security to her face. The mischievous smile that had captured his heart back on their original odyssey was back as he prepared to receive her.

They finally knew not only in their heads but now in their hearts too where they stood with each other and more importantly knew their future held each other. No longer would there be doubts or indecision, temptation or distractions. The two were about to become one flesh and one spirit.

The pair collided and their embrace could only be described as explosive. Each clung fiercely to the other, trying to bury themselves into the other. Michele began to weep as tears freely rolled down Mike's cheeks.

The seemingly impossible had happened. Months of strife, conflict, the pull of others and a war that had all conspired to keep them apart wasn't strong enough to prevent this intersection. They would become as one.

The pair broke from their clench, looking deeply into each other's eyes, drinking deeply of the well of love. Then Michele had the 'movie moment' she'd dreamed of for so long. As if time had slowed down, Mike leaned in as Michele closed her eyes and tilted her head up. Their lips met in a kiss that filled each with ecstasy. Though not overly deep, or terribly long, the significance was not lost on anyone who observed the happy scene. The intersection of Mike Nantz and Michele Trantor had just become a new route they were both about to travel together.

The pair was interrupted by a pair of clapping hands. Turning to see who had joined them in their celebration the couple was delighted to see Father Alexander standing not far away with Hector at his side. Without waiting for an invitation the two ran over to embrace the happy couple.

Forgetting the dignity of his position the priest threw himself weeping for joy at the happy sight, a balm for all the misery he'd been experiencing of late. There was good to be found after all even in the horror of war he realized and said a quiet prayer of thanks for the realization and the hope it imbued.

For Hector, the man who had saved his life and he looked up to was there, holding on to him and that was all that mattered though a small flicker of fear began to grow into a flame. What would happen to him now? The nice female Military Police officer had looked after him since what had happened at the Foundry and she really liked him. He had another dream though, a dream he was afraid to whisper in case it was stolen from him, a hope that gnawed at him.

"We're going to be a family," Michele declared to the pair that had arrived to celebrate with them.

"Praise God!" Father Alexander declared knowingly.

"That's nice Michele," Hector said, trying to sound cheery as his heart dropped. "I'm happy for you and Gunny Nantz."

"No, you don't understand Hector. WE are going to be a family," Michele responded, kneeling down beside him and taking his face into her hands. "We're getting married and then we want to adopt you."

Hector's knees buckled at the pronouncement he'd not even dared dream about. Tears clouded his eyes as he began to weep with joy.

Mike put his hand affectionately and protectively on the boy's shoulder and Hector knew without a doubt he'd not only be safe again but happily safe. His intersection had happened too. They were going to be a family.