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Long Time Gone Part Three: Incommunicado
Posted By: fallschirmjager<grylsy@hotmail.com>
Date: 7 November 2008, 10:36 am

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"HBOFF: You're Doing it Write"

Long Time Gone Part Three: Incommunicado

January 30th, 2550, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Twenty-Seven kilometres from drop off point Charlie, 1610 Hours

      "They knew we were coming?" Alison breathed to herself before turning back to face Chambers, "that means..."
      "Command must have a mole in its ranks," said Chambers finishing her sentence with a solemn nod. "I wouldn't be surprised if anything else happens while we're out here. But," Chambers raised a finger in thought, "I'm more concerned with what could be happening back at base with so few of our forces around Kinshasa; the area is pretty vulnerable to attack."
      "We'll have to contact command then," said Alison turning to go back to the squad but Chambers held her back by the shoulder.
      "I think it's best we keep this between ourselves, don't you?" Chambers looked at Alison, "it could cause a panic."
      "We'll need to tell Bernard," said Alison as Chambers lowered his arm.
      "That's true," said Chambers now leading the way back to the clearing.
      " Well," said Alison following Chambers, "we should probably keep everyone else out of the loop until we can get word back to command."
      "Agreed," said Chambers leading the way back to where the rest of the squad had spread around the edge of the clearing in a defensive ring.

      As they arrived at the clearing Alison and Chambers set about discreetly taking the squad's radioman and his gear to one side of the clearing.
      "I ain't getting nothing but static, lieutenant," remarked radioman Donald Avery angrily, "it's like... it's like they're hearing it, but no one's responding. It doesn't make any sense."
      "Sure it's not a problem on our end?" Asked Alison.
      "I was just talking to Captain Foster right before you and Chambers came back. They could hear me just fine," said Donald giving the outer casing of the radio a slight slap.
      "But that would be over the shortwave transmitter," said Chambers who uneasily scratched the back of his head when everyone looked at him; surprised by his knowledge of military radios for a weapons tech, "maybe the long range transmitter is broken?"
      "I doubt it. It was working this morning. But I could ask Iggy in the Captain's squad to try and call command; see if he has the same problem."
      "What about the radio the rebels had here?" Asked Alison.
      "You mean this?" Asked Avery pointing towards a radio set riddled with shrapnel from a grenade blast, "it's fucked."
      "What about the other radio; from the first group?"

      "Shortwave," said Chambers before Avery could even open his mouth.
      "You're quick," said Avery with a laugh.
      "So you'll contact Captain Foster's squad then?" Asked Alison cutting to the chase.
      "Sure, give us a few minutes and I'll see if I can let you know what's going on back at command."
      "It would be appreciated, Donald," said Alison.
      "Why do you want to get into contact with command so bad?" Queried Avery as he adjusted frequencies.
      "Ah," Alison paused nervously as she looked at the crumpled piece of paper in her hand, "we... we just need to let them know that we've experienced heavy enemy contact far earlier than we expected." The radioman simply nodded as he tried to hail Captain Foster's squad. Without another word Alison left, taking Chambers with her and leaving the radioman alone to do his work.

      "Why didn't you tell him the truth?" Asked Chambers once they were out of earshot.
      "We don't need to tell him if he can't get onto command, Mike," said Alison turning and facing Chambers, "the less people that know, the less chance of any pillow talk."
      "I guess," answered Chambers with a shrug of his shoulders but he trusted his life to Alison's judgement, "speaking of pillows, where are we going to stay for the night?"
      "We could either keep going until it's too dark to move or we could consolidate here," said Alison aloud as she assessed the options.
      "Given a choice, Alison," started Chambers pointing at the ground, "I'd sleep a lot easier here even with the bodies than further out in the boonies."
      "I agree," said Alison removing her pack and letting it fall to the jungle floor, "pass the word, we're staying here tonight. I want an observation team two hundred metres to our front, one to the rear and a sentry there and there at all times," said Alison pointing at each side of clearing; perpendicular to the intended path of travel.
      "Alright," said Chambers checking his shotgun, "I'll take first shift on observation with McAllen and..."
      "No, leave McAllen out of it for now," said Alison sternly as she once again took charge of the situation.
      "I swear, Parker, if you say it's because he's a rookie I'm going to fucking slap you," Chambers raised his hand provocatively at his close friend, his patience ultimately tested, "he's outperformed anyone of us today! He isn't a rookie, not anymore!"

      "I wasn't going to say that," said Alison genuinely and raising a hand in innocence.
      "What the hell do you have against him?" Asked Chambers angrily.
      "I thought we established this! He messed with my goddamn rifle," said Alison firmly, "what the hell gives him the right to do that?"
      "Well," Chambers paused as he reflected on his earlier conversation with Chris. "I'm sure his heart was in the right spot..."
      "What the hell does heart have to do with resighting a rifle!?" Alison ruthlessly snapped at Chambers.
      "Alison," said Chambers slowly at first and taking a deep breath before losing his cool, "for God's sake, Alison! He's a Special Forces sniper; I think he would know what he's doing. Probably more than you!"

      Alison's face went blank at the revelation, "what?"
      "You heard me," said Chambers staring Alison down, "he's a Special Forces sniper." Alison remained quiet for a moment in thought as she avoided his gaze.
      "That doesn't change the fact he still tampered with my rifle," she countered coldly.
      "He told me he was only trying to help," said Chambers, "and from what I heard of the battle, it sounded like your shots must have been on target, right?" Chambers paused as Alison remained quiet. "Or at least you haven't admitted you missed... but I doubt you'd ever miss." Alison smiled somewhat at the praise, "so he must have done a good job then?"

      "Alright, alright, you've got me there," said Alison with a sigh and putting a hand over her face in shame. "I tried to resight it in when we stopped for a rest earlier but... it was already sighted in perfectly..."
      "Were you ever going to tell him this?" Asked Chambers seriously after several seconds of silence but Alison said nothing; she just lowered her head somewhat in self-pity but also as in reluctance to apologize to Chris.
      "Oh come on Alison, the guy likes you!" Said Chambers bluntly, "stop acting like a bitch and talk to him."
      "What?" Exclaimed Alison in surprise, "he told you that? That he likes me?"
      "Well, pretty much," said Chambers flatly realizing he perhaps should not have told Alison about McAllen's attraction towards her. "Well that's what I gathered anyway, but don't tell him I said anything, alright?"
      "Alright, my lips are sealed, Mike," said Alison slowly and cutely screwing up her nose in thought, "I'll try and find a chance to talk to him tonight sometime. Try and make amends but... thanks for telling me, Mike. I mean it."
      "Anytime," said Chambers noting a look in Alison's eyes he hadn't seen before, "I'll take Bernard with me to the OP instead. I'll explain the situation to him."
      "Sounds good. Keep me informed if anything happens." Alison laughed to herself and shook her head at her own naivety, "and I swear I'll believe you if you hear something this time!" Chambers chuckled at the comment as he walked away to find Bernard.

      Chris slowly opened his eyes only to realize he was no longer in the Congolese jungle where he had gone to sleep. No, instead of being surrounded by the trees of the jungle, he saw the skyscrapers of a city looming overhead.
      Instead of thick grass rustling beneath him, he felt the harsh stubble of asphalt grinding against his body armour. Instead of the chirps and calls of the insects and birds, he heard the mesmerizing rattle of machineguns firing in the distance and the crackle of flames.

      He was in a warzone.

       Chris took in the dismal scene that surrounded him as he struggled to his feet. He stood in the middle of a battle damaged street of a city still engulfed in the flames of war.

      The flames of burning buildings and cars set ablaze casted long and oblique shadows onto the blood stained cement of the cities innumerable footpaths.

      It had been a slaughter.

      Not knowing what to expect, Chris tensely held his rifle at the ready.

      "Where is everybody?" He called into the dark and flicking on his helmet mounted torch. "What a massacre," he breathed looking over the corpses of men, women and children that littered the area.

      A weak and laboured groan caused Chris to turn in surprise where amongst the dead he saw a slight slither of movement. Less than thirty feet away and lying in a pool of their own blood lay the figure of a wounded soldier.
      "Hey, are you alright!?" Chris called as he ran to their aid; throwing his rifle down to one side with a loud clatter and turned the person over carefully. The first thing he noticed was the source of the blood surrounding the two of them; a deep gunshot wound in their stomach but it was then he noticed that it was a woman.

A very familiar woman.

      It was Second Lieutenant Alison Marie Parker of the UNSC Marine Corps.

      She didn't answer him; in fact she didn't even respond to Chris' presence. The only thing that let Chris know she was alive was the slow rising and falling of her chest as she breathed in shallow breaths.
      "Jesus," said Chris in shock as he fumbled for his medical kit whilst his heart began to race uncontrollably in panic, "what happened, Parker?"

No reply.

       "Alison!?" Chris started shaking her shoulders in anxiety, "what the hell happened!?"

      Chris literally ripped open his medical kit and tried to find something to keep her alive in the meagre selection of equipment that claimed to somehow save lives.
      In the end all Chris could do was apply the congealing agent included in the kit to the wound and affix a pressure bandage but it wasn't enough.

She was too far gone; he had failed her.

      "You can't die..." Chris heard himself saying as Alison's breathing slowed and then finally stopped, "...I love you..."

When his family had been killed he didn't cry.

He didn't know how to cry.

      He had turned what sadness he possessed into a cold hatred that became his motivation to be the best soldier he could be to avenge his family. But to feel the urge to cry at the death of woman he had only just meant shook Chris to the core. Why did he feel this way?


      "Hey, are you alright?" Questioned a voice invading Chris' mind; the besieged city of his nightmare vanished like dissipating smoke until nothing remained but a fog of confusion.

      Chris opened his eyes once more and raised his head to see his surroundings; the recognizable smell of rain and a gentle breeze blowing against his face let him know he was back in the jungle. He let his head drop back to the jungle floor with a thud and out a deep sigh of relief as he looked at the stars overhead, "it was all just a friggin' dream."

      "What was a dream?" Said the same voice as before, Chris tilted his head back further and saw that Alison was kneeling above his head.
      "Lieutenant Parker?" Said Chris in shock but he forced himself to control his surprise, "what time is it?"
      "It is precisely," Alison checked her watch, "ten thirty two."
      "Shit, I've been out for three hours already?" Questioned Chris; he felt he had only put his head to the ground when he was woken from his strange dream.
      "What was the dream about?" Asked Alison curiously and offered Chris a hand to get up.
      Chris declined the assistance and stood up by himself and looked suspiciously towards Alison who appeared visually hurt at his refusal for her help. "Why so friendly all of a sudden, didn't you say you wanted to kill me?"
      "I only said I'd kill you if you touched my rifle again!" Alison said with a laugh effectively defusing the situation. "I must say it was shooting straighter than it ever has earlier. I was putting some rounds mighty close to you earlier too."
      "Lucky I did fix it, eh?" Chris replied as he was dusting off his fatigues. "Why'd you get me up?"

      "I didn't mean to, you were talking in your sleep," said Alison, "you sounded troubled so I woke you up to see if everything was alright."
      "What did I say?" Chris asked. He was unable to remember his dream clearly but something was nagging on the edge of his consciousness about it.

Something about Alison? Chris asked himself as he tried to recall the dream.

      "You were just mumbling some meaningless gibberish," replied Alison shrugging her shoulders uninterested. "You want to come relieve the forward observation post with me?"
      "I guess so. I doubt I'll get back to sleep," said Chris flatly and checking his rifle before following Parker to the observation post.

      "Halt," called a voice from the darkness, "identify yourself."
      "I swear to God if you point that rifle at me one more time, Michaels, I'm going to break it in half, and shove it up your ass!" Responded Alison jokingly into the dark.
      "Hey Lieutenant," said the marine's voice, "come on in."
      "This way," Alison said to Chris motioning towards the darkness.
      The forward observation post had been established in an existing hollow found in the jungle floor. The hollow was what was left after a large tree had fallen over and the earth had been displaced by the forced removal of the roots.
      Alison sat down on the edge of the hollow and turned to the two marines who were still stationed there. "Alright you two, you can go now. The next shift knows when to come so just go get some sleep."
      "Yes, ma'am," said the marines collecting their gear and leaving the hollow just as Chris appeared from the jungle. "What's he doing here?" Said one of the marines defiantly.
      "He's on watch, just like I am," responded Alison calmly and looking at the marine.
      "I'm not going to sleep if he's the one watching over us, he'll get our throats cut while we're all asleep!" Stated the marine callously to which the second marine could only shake his head at.
      Chris looked at the offending marine coldly before shaking his own head in disgust.
      "I think you should go," said Alison coolly, "before I get angry."

      The two marines walked off into the darkness and when they thought they were a safe distance they promptly had an exchange of angry words. They were too far away to understand but Alison guessed it would be about Chris.
      "Tough crowd," said Chris sitting down on the opposite edge of the hollow to Alison, "they sure know how to make a bloke feel welcome."
      "Well, Fenning was a popular guy," Alison remarked removing her night vision gear from her webbing and placing it on the edge of the hollow at the ready.
      "Well it's not like I shot him," replied Chris with a hint of anger rising in his voice, "I only killed some rebels like I was trained to.
      " I knew that if they were following us, they couldn't be allowed to get away and warn the others..." Chris threw a clenched fist into the soft earth in anger, "Goddamn it! Fenning's death was not my fault!"

      "Hey, I know, I believe you!" Responded Alison sympathetically, pausing for a moment deciding whether to relay the information Chambers had found. "Chris, I've got something important to tell you... we found out the rebels were following us."
      Chris' turned his head to face Alison, "What? How do you know that?"
      "Chambers found part of an intelligence report on what this patrol was doing, where we were going and how we would do it. My guess is that they've been following us ever since we touched down."
      "Are you suggesting there is a traitor amongst us?" Said Chris tightening his grip on his rifle before looking over his shoulders quickly in paranoia.
      "If I ever had to guess that one of us was a traitor," said Alison slowly, "I would say it was you..."
      "Me!?" Chris coughed sharply in surprise. "I didn't even know there was a mission planned for today until the briefing."
      "I'm just saying if I ever had to make an accusation that there was anyone to suspect of being a traitor in this unit it would be you." Alison looked Chris over closely, "you're new and you shipped in really quickly after the order went out. But no, we're not talking about a traitor at this level."
      Alison paused, it was her turn to look of her shoulders in paranoia, "the intelligence report could only have come from up top." Alison relaxed a little and ran hand across her forehead to wipe away the sweat. "Chambers, Bernard and I can only speculate it's someone high up in the chain of command."

      "But if they knew that we were coming," said Chris thinking for a moment, "wouldn't they have sent some sort of bigger group than just fifteen men to take down a large squad of UNSC regulars?"
      "I was thinking the same thing," replied Alison, "but I'm beginning to think that what we met today is only the tip of the iceberg of what is to come."
      "What does Captain Foster think?"
      "He's undecided," said Alison with a slight mumble, "when I tried to explain what I thought earlier, he refused to believe that any superior would sell out the UNSC. At least not at a time like this."

      Chris shook his head at Foster's ignorance; nearly anyone could be convinced to change sides for the right reasons. Money, power, security, the list goes on. "Well what did they run into today?"
      "Not a real lot apparently," said Alison cracking her knuckles; a bad habit she could not shake. "Nothing like what we've experienced today. Only two rebels were killed in a brief engagement in the middle of the day but they didn't see a thing for the rest of the day."
      "Lucky them," remarked Chris looking at the quiet jungle around him.
      "Yep, sucks to be us," said Alison breaking the conversation by lowering herself into the hollow and looking out. Chris promptly followed suite and they sat quietly listening for any signs of hostiles approaching.

      A half hour of silence passed between them before Alison piped up. "Chris I've been meaning to tell you something, well more to ask you something."
      Chris turned his attention away from the jungle and spoke formally, "and what would that be, Lieutenant?"
      "Come on, call me Parker," said Alison warmly, "Alison even. Just drop the formalities."
      "Informalities are for friends, Lieutenant," responded Chris flatly, in the shallow silence of the night he had reflected on the events of the day and still couldn't help but resent Alison for her actions against him.
      "Right," said Alison carefully, "well I know I acted like a bit of a bitch to you today..."
      "How about a big bitch?" said Chris whilst still looking into the jungle.
      "Alright. I guess I deserved that one," said Alison slowly as she swallowed some of her pride.

       "I said some things I probably shouldn't have and I'm sorry." Alison looked at Chris but he didn't turn to face her. "I'm sorry I didn't listen to you when you said there was someone following us, I'm sorry I went off the handle at you about changing my scope.
      "To tell the truth I only just found out that you're a trained sniper off, Mike," Alison paused and took a deep breath as she recollected her thoughts.
      "But even then you should know how important a sniper's rifle is to them but... I forgive you. I'm sorry for calling you a rookie all this time. I'm..." Alison lowered her head for a second before looking at Chris once more, "I'm just sorry, Okay?"

      Chris turned and looked at Alison silently; he felt unsure what to say at the completely unexpected apology. For some reason his conversation with Chambers in the mess hall came to mind.

Ice Queen, huh?

Oh yeah.

Something was wrong.

       Chambers' remark about Alison's character didn't back up that of the woman less than a metre away. Then it hit him like a point blank shot to the face.

To tell the truth I only just found out that you're a trained sniper off, Mike...


      Chris grunted softly to himself and whispered into the wind. "What else did he tell you?"
      Alison noted Chris' somewhat bitter expression. "What's wrong?" She asked genuinely with focused eyes.
      "To tell the truth I never expected you to be one to actually apologize," remarked Chris with a slight laugh as he tried to hide his distrust.
      "Well I'm not what everyone thinks I am," replied Alison with a grin as she extended a hand, "so what do you say, friends?"
      "Doesn't look like I have much choice," said Chris smiling and shaking Alison's hand, "I never could resist a pretty face."
      Alison smiled at the compliment, "you're alright. You know that?"

      Another hour passed before Alison looked over the makeshift parapet of the hollow after having been startled by a bird rustling around in a tree. She looked back over her shoulder and exactly where she had left him was Chris looking silently into the night with his rifle by his side and taking no notice of her.
      Alison had lied to Chris when she woke him up from his troublesome dream. She had heard everything he had said in his sleep; including his final line, "I love you."
      Alison knew she should have said something but instead let out a regretful sigh and returned to watching the jungle silently. She knew they would need to talk more later but now there was little time for anymore idle chitchat.

January 31th, 2550, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Twenty-Seven kilometres from drop off point Charlie, 0542 Hours

      In the distance, the first glimpse of sunrise painted a brilliance of oranges and yellows onto the still dark sky just barely visible above the near endless canopy of Congolese jungle. Any other time, any other place, such a spectacle may have been classed as beautiful, something to stand back behold; but not now.

There was work to be done.

      Letting out a sigh of apprehension of what could happen today; Alison turned her gaze away from the rising sun and looked at Sergeant Bernard.

      "So we're clear?" Asked Alison with a yawn; the previous night had been wrought with plenty of bad dreams and unwanted thoughts swirling around her consciousness depriving her of much needed sleep.
      "Crystal," stated Bernard locking the buckle of his belt into place and faced Alison, "you're sure about this? Just the two of us?"
      "You saw him yesterday," remarked Alison, "you'll make a good team."
      Bernard rubbed his jaw as a smile crossed his lips in amusement. "Alright, Lieutenant," Bernard motioned towards the sleeping troops, "shall we?"

      Alison nodded and they both begun to move around the sleeping troopers and wake them up. "We're moving out in fifteen, grab something to eat and do what else you have to. Pass it on."
      The messaged quickly spread amongst the marines and they quickly set about preparing themselves for the day ahead.

For some of them it would be their last.

      Chris sat alone at the edge of the clearing and watched as Bernard and Alison roused the weary squad. He had been awake for nearly an hour and took this time to prepare for the day ahead. A screwed up ball that once represented an empty cardboard box enlightened the world he had already choked down his Delicious Scrambled Eggs but what else surrounded him truly had the others perplexed.
      To his front, Chris had field stripped a light machinegun that he had taken from the rebels killed the previous day. The weapon was old, but serviceable Chris told himself as he replaced the worn bolt assembly after lubricating it; something the previous owners had apparently neglected for some time. It looked a little rough but he was confident the weapon would function satisfactorily.

      With the machine gun assembled and prepared for action, Chris begun the tedious task of reloading the magazines he had emptied during the previous day's fighting.
      "Don't you ever sleep?" Chambers asked walking over whilst still eating his instant meal.
      "Of course I do, mate," said Chris loading the last bullet into a pistol magazine and placing it into his webbing and smiled, "I just like playing with guns more."
      "What's that wreck?" Said Chambers looking down at the captured machine gun with all the scrutiny of the armoury clerk he was, "we're suppose to destroy captured weapons..."
      Chris casually looked around himself to see if any other marines were within earshot before he spoke. "Well if you and Alison are right and the rebels are going to try something big," Chris grabbed the weapon and loaded a belt of ammunition as he spoke, "I think we're going to need all the firepower we can muster."
      "Ah, so Alison did talk to you last night?" Questioned Chambers vaguely between a mouthful of food.
      Chris cocked his head to the side, puzzled by Chambers' tone. "Why? Wasn't she meant to?"
      "No, no," replied Chambers as he screwed the wrapping of his breakfast into a ball, "from what I recall she was pretty annoyed at you for touching her rifle." Chambers gingerly threw the compacted rubbish into the jungle, "I didn't think she'd be one for conversation after that whole incident."

      "Well at one point I didn't think I'd be able to get her to shut up!" Remarked Chris with a laugh, "I mean, during that whole incident with Bernard she wouldn't even look at me and now... Bloody hell, it was a huge shock to me."
      "As it would be," said Chambers hefting the captured machinegun to his shoulder, "I mean, it's not like every day the woman you're attracted to asks you to bury the hatchet..."
      "Chambers, I really hope you're not telling everyone I like Alison," said Chris seriously.
      Chambers uneasily handed the machinegun back to Chris. "By the way," Chambers finally got up the nerve to speak, "you've got about ten minutes to get ready."
      "I'll only need five," remarked Chris indifferently as he knelt back down and rummaged through his pack.

      Chris unpacked the cleaning kit for his rifle which also contained a collection of his alternate accessories and broke down his rifle. Where he cleaned and lubricated all the moving parts before preparing to reassemble the weapon.
      With the flick of a wrist he removed the long twenty inch barrel and replaced it with a more compact a twelve inch barrel better suited for dense jungle and screwed a sound suppressor in place over the muzzle brake. However he also installed a forward grip to help offset the extra recoil the weapon would produce with the shorter barrel.
      With a few well rehearsed motions he loaded his rifle then slung it over his shoulder.
      "Alright that's me done," said Chris assembling his equipment for the next leg of their journey.

      "Okay," said Chambers, "we better go and see Alison, the sooner we leave here, the better."
      Chris nodded in reply as he grabbed the pilfered machine gun and followed Chambers to where Alison was talking to Bernard.

      "Well, well," said Bernard, "if it isn't the man who kicked my sorry arse!" Chris took a step back in uncertainty at Bernard's enthusiasm to see him.
      "Sergeant?" Questioned Chris at first but he decided to play along, "how's the jaw?"
      "Lucky shot," said Bernard with a chuckle as he rubbed the bruised skin, "I'll get you back!" Chris cocked his head to the side at the warm nature of Bernard's remark.
      "What's his problem?" Chris whispered to Chambers, "did I hit him too hard?"
      Chambers laughed, "don't flatter yourself! He knows, I told him myself."
      "I see," said Chris extending an arm to Bernard, "sorry, mate, no hard feelings, eh?" Not only was the gesture a shock to the men and women looking over the requested truce but so was Sergeant Bernard's acceptance of the offer.
      "I admit I was a bit pig headed in blaming you," said Bernard shaking Chris' hand firmly, "things just didn't seem to make a lick of sense otherwise." Bernard released Chris' hand and smiled, "so sorry about the whole one on one deal but I do demand a rematch back at base!"
      "Ha, if you want Sergeant," said Chris smiling.

      "Alright enough chatter," said Alison competing for attention from Chris and Bernard's armistice. Everyone turned their attention to Alison and awaited her orders. "We're moving out so stow your gear and suck it up, we've got a long day ahead of us."

January 31th, 2550, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Twenty kilometres from Objective X-Ray, 0621 Hours

      "You had the perfect chance to tell them back there," Bernard said to Alison as they marched, "I don't like this idea of marching towards a possible ambush and my men having no clue."
      "I don't like it anymore than you but remember they're my soldiers too," said Alison looking over her shoulder at the men and women who trusted her leadership, "besides, it's not important at the moment. If we tell them now they might panic."
      "Not important? I think walking into a possible trap is pretty damn important information if you ask me, Lieutenant."
      "My decision is final, Bernard," said Alison sharply, "now go and get McAllen; it's time you two earned your pay."

      Less than a minute later, Chris and Bernard came walking up the line.
      "You wanted to see me, Parker?" Said Chris falling into line next to Alison.
      " I have a special job for you and Bernard," said Alison with a smile.
      "I'm all ears," said Chris finding himself smiling due to Alison's own contagious yet radiant smile.
      "We'll be getting close to the village by dark," Alison adjusted the way her sling dug into her shoulder as she walked, "I want you and Bernard to move on ahead and check the village for any surprises. And try not to let them know we're coming. Got it?"
      "Just us?" Questioned Chris and Alison nodded, "well, alright, Parker." Replied Chris as he stopped and tightened the chin strap on his helmet and smacked the buckles on his vest to test they were secure and in no harm of letting go.
      "Let's go then," said Bernard acknowledging that Chris was ready and turned to Alison, "we'll get back to you as soon as possible, Parker."