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Charge of the Grunt Brigade - Part Four: Grunts
Posted By: Walker<likethisismyemail@hotmail.com>
Date: 25 November 2003, 3:11 AM

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      The firing range was rich with the sizzling sound that plasma bolts made as they passed through the air. Plywood targets set before cement blocks, rather than paper ones, were used so as not to consume resources so quickly. Each soldier with a plasma weapon was issued with two extra energy batteries for their arms, and made good use of them.
      The needler-bearing Grunts and 'Kantamee, who favored a needler over a plasma rifle or pistol, were given wooden blocks, which rained splinters downrange when they were bored into by the explosions. Vin, as he reloaded his sidearm, watched 'Kantamee chip away six more inches of wood. "Nice gun," he commented.
      "It's slow, but the result is decidedly worth the wait," the towering Lieutenant said flatly, lowering the weapon.
      Vin raised his fully-loaded M6D .450 magnum pistol once more, and went to work on the target. Using double-tap, he worked off rounds in six pairs. The gun kicked against his hand, and he held it firmer, his shooting eye peering expertly through the scope mounted on top of the muzzle. Had he been a footsoldier, he would have had the choice between that, open sights, and electronic sights provided by the standard-issue targeting reticule, mounted on the helmet. Officers normally weren't given such equipment.
      "I'm out," he said, ejected the magazine from the hilt of his sidearm and set both down on the bench in front of him.
      D'Arcy only used one magazine, was satisfied with a tight-knit grouping around the central mass of the target—confirmation of his shooting provided courtesy of the telescope set on his bench beforehand—offered the magazine to Vin, then set it down beside him when his XO declined. It was likely that the next officer to use the ammunition would gain more out of the target practice than he would, he reflected grimly. He didn't nag about what assignments the Grunt Brigade would be getting, but he could sense an air about the officer's mess and even General Toskov that his unit was nothing more than a propaganda sham. And, despite what Dr. Halsey had told him, he was starting to believe that's all they were going to be.
      "They're good soldiers," Vin said, seeming to read his mind. D'Arcy followed his executive officer's gaze down the long line of enlisted men, defectors, and nodded vaguely. The sun was turning an orange haze against the mountainous sky ahead. About time to wrap it up, it seemed.
      "Cease fire, cease fire," the speakers blared. The order was followed, and two hundred weapons were lowered. But not set down.
      "Disarm your weapons and place ammunition and your arms on the benches in front of you," the voice of the speakers continued. Now the clatter of weapons, ammo and energy batteries could be heard as they were let go of by the soldiers and placed on their benches. There were six Grunts or Jackals to a bench, and now six guns on each bench.
      "Examine your targets," the voice ordered. Only the officer's shooting bench had a telescope. The gates between the benches swung automatically open, and the hundred members of the Grunt Brigade walked down the wide paths toward the targets.
      'Kantamee had little to examine but sawdust and splinters. He swept them off the platform the wood had been perched on, into a bag hanging from the back for the very purpose. He then stood back and waited for his superiors to take down their targets.
      Vin unclipped his target from the posts from which it was suspended, and held it in front of him. There were several holes around the bullseye of the circular target, clustered together. It was too complicated to make different targets for Elites, Grunts, Jackals and Hunters, so the UNSC had switched from human-shaped targets to simply circular ones.
      Vin folded his target and placed it beneath his arm. D'Arcy did the same with his, and the trio marched back to the bench, where they collected their weapons, returned any extra ammo or magazines belonging to the firing range, and disposed of their targets.      
      As they went back and the next two hundred hurriedly advanced to the firing line, Vin thought about how much it must be costing the division, and the entire UNSC to be furnishing the Grunt Brigade with all they needed. Methane, which was pumped into the Grunts' huts through pipes that they could hook their breathing apparatuses to while they slept. The pipes could also be used to fill their spare methane cartridges, ammo for life. They needed energy batteries for their weapons, also. Vin wondered why they hadn't been given ballistic weapons, but the Admiralty would do what the Admiralty would do. For surely the Admiralty had had a hand in all of this... ONI was one of their favorite puppets.
      "So, Captain, how do you plan to train these senior Grunts?" D'Arcy asked.
      "I was planning to give them VMI's command training program in a nutshell, without the textbooks," Vin said, tightening his gunbelt. "Purely low-level command stuff, no big complicated maneuvers or really anything else. They probably understand most of that. I want them to learn command. Which is why I think I'll throw some stuff in from JROTC, too." D'Arcy nodded, then added a comment:
      "I went to the Academy on Reach, myself, and I was the only one I knew to do it. The rest of my family were all seadog types. Right now they're cruising about on subs, conducting little political wars on other countries within the UN. Too subtle for me."
      "Yes, sir," Vin nodded. While out in space, the UNSC felt a firm sense of unity, at least within most of the planets and people, Earth would always be the land of nations. The UN headed most of the Naval forces there, but there would always be factions. God, if they ever won this war they would go straight back to where they were before it started, maybe worse, with each nation trying to make a grab at the throne of the Human Empire.
      But then, what were the odds that'd ever happen?
      "We won't use our men like cannon fodder. We won't be the Covenant," D'Arcy said. "These Grunts have to be worth more than the three three-ninety bullets they cost us when they're on the other side. Understand?"
      "Roger that, sir."
      "All right. Start today. You can have the empty corner of the compound to start with. Show me some progress by tonight and I'll see if I can hook you up with some training obstacles."
      "I've already got a few myself."
      D'Arcy handpicked six Jackals and 'Kantamee and sent them with the senior Grunts back to the compound with Vin, who discussed what the first course of the training session would be with 'Kantamee as they marched back.
      The empty corner D'Arcy had spoken of was about one hundred meters by two hundred meters and was devoid of much besides a few trees and a large area of long grass. Vin had the six Jackals organize the senior Grunts into file, and they stood at attention as he, the Jackals and 'Kantamee went among them and inspected each row.
      A few Grunts flinched, a few avoided his eyes, a few breathed heavily. The majority of them didn't react at all. Vin looked to one of these and scrutinized his alien features. "What's your name, soldier?"
      The Grunt didn't fumble with the words or pause, but rather spoke in a clear manner that surprised Vin. "My name is Gayag. Private First Class, serial number seven seven nine three four oh three nine six one G."
      Vin memorized it. Gayag. Private First Class. 77934-03961-G.
      "Only one name?"
      "Yes, sir, only one name."
      "Well, PFC Gayag, let's see you take these first eighteen men," Vin said, pointing to the side down the line, "and see if you can make a pyramid of Grunts, nice and straight. Are you up to the challenge?" he asked, not very concerned that it would be extremely difficult for the short and stocky creatures to do so.
      "Sir, yes, sir!" Gayag said confidently.
      "Good, because you'll be facing off against the team that's already started over there," Vin said, nodding to the team organized by Lieutenant 'Kantamee just behind them. "Winners get a headstart on the next one."
      Gayag started to say something, then turned around and barked orders to the Grunts in their native language. Vin stood back as the Jackals kept an eye on the proceedings, and motioned for 'Kantamee to come to him. "What are they saying, Lieutenant?"
      "I don't know much of their language, but from what I can tell he's organizing his men into files by size."
      "And the other team?"
      "I think you can see what's going on over there yourself."
      Vin looked to the other team and saw he was right. The Grunt given command of Team One, a certain Popok, also was yelling at his Grunts, but they weren't too enthusiastic about following his instructions. Apparently Popok wasn't a favorite character amongst the ranks of the senior Grunts.
      Vin almost felt sorry for him, but then decided feeling sorry for him would only lead him to feel sorry for himself, and nothing could be accomplished by that. It would not do to have a commander who was combat ineffective. Popok would figure the situation out for himself or learn the hard way.
      He turned his attention back to Gayag's Team Two. He already had a row of six Grunts facedown in the long grass, and had five more trying to climb over them. They gave each other boosts, lifting their fellow Grunts onto the growing pyramid. There were grunts of stress as more weight was added, but no one faltered.
      Vin noticed a shadow slowly reaching out to Team Two, a jagged shadow wide and growing rapidly. He looked to Team One, and saw Grunts slowly but surely climbing upon each other, at the orders of a gruff and muffled voice whose origin was hidden from Vin. He looked around from Popok, wondering if he had been a victim of mutiny, then managed to find the owner of the voice. It belonged to a sturdy Grunt, watching his team's success in the pyramid challenge from the bottom, using a crystalline mirror to coordinate Team One's efforts visually. Popok had found the key, Vin thought. The commander supports the weight of the unit.
      At the bottom, the commander did have difficulty seeing what was going on, but at the bottom the commander also earned the trust of his men, gaining their respect by showing them he put his butt on the line for his people, not his people on the line for his butt. Gayag might be the stronger, smarter commander, the more liked, even the better one, but he had failed in the purpose of the challenge, despite who won. And, as both pyramids grew, outmatching each other, Team One higher at one point and then Team Two taking the lead, that contest could go either way.
      Eventually it was indeed Team Two who won, but Popok seemed satisfied with even completing the challenge. He looked over his shoulder to Vin, who gave nothing but a curt nod. So this is how to play DI, he thought. Not a bad job.
      "All right, five minute break, then meet me back here," Vin said. The Jackals relayed the information to the Grunts, who understood it better in the Covenant's official language, used when communicating in official situations and between the species.
      As the Grunts wandered off to their huts to refill their methane tanks, refresh themselves with whatever it was that the soldiers were served at the compound's independent mess hall, or review the happenings of the challenge, Vin had two of the Jackals fetch six poles and two rolls of rope from beneath his bed. He had scrounged the items up from the division's supply room the previous night after the dinner meal.
      Using the butt of his sidearm he hammered each meter-high pole into the ground, one at each corner of two equilateral triangles he roped off with the rolls of cord. He now had two triangles about five meters apart from each other, small triangles with not much room inside for what he intended—which was exactly what he intended to be the case.
      When the Grunts returned he explained to them their task: both Teams would enter a triangle, and get every last Team member out of it without touching the ropes or poles and without going under. The only way out was over the top—and Team Two would start first, as was promised when they undertook the first challenge.
      "But," he said, "I'll give you a chance to sleep on it, get an idea of what you'll do. For the rest of the day I want you to do the pyramid, racing each other. Maybe your Lieutenant will throw something in to make it interesting, say, head starts, or hands tied behind backs."
      The Grunts shouted, "Yes, sir!" and began building their pyramids once more.
      Vin looked at the sun. They had expended about an hour of their total of six, which meant they had five left. He smiled, turned to 'Kantamee, and explained to him in more detail what he wanted. "Run it through with them: pyramid, break, pyramid, break. Tomorrow we'll start the triangle challenge."
      "Yes, sir."
      It might not be interesting anymore, Vin knew, repeating the process. But these were the basics, what would set up a foundation for them to build from when he threw at them what he planned for later. Something even more challenging than the triangle... if he had the chance...
      They would climb.

The next morning Vin was on what was now the training field before any of them, early enough to feel the dew sprinkle against his leggings and seep through to his skin. He stood there, motionless, watching the Grunts organize into their files. As soon as roll was taken, Teams were separated, and the triangle challenge was begun. Team Two was at the lead, according to what Vin had proclaimed the prize for yesterday's challenge.
      Five minutes later, when Team One started out, Team Two was not any farther than they had been when they themselves began. They had gotten two over, then three, but one of the Grunts tripped over the rope on his way over, collided with the three Team members o his on the other side, and all four fell to the ground—then Team Two started again. Team One had a similar experience.
      Popok decided he should go over first so as to view the situation better—and from another angle: that of the outside. Forsaking fear of injury, he had his Team launch him headfirst over the side. As it happened, he landed on his face, got up and brushed the dust off of himself. In an island of flattened long grass he paced, watching as first the smaller, then the larger, then smaller came over so as not to burden each one with the taking over of the more unshapely and heavy. Miraculously they got four more over before a haphazardly swaying Grunt bumped the rope, and the Jackals watching Team One herded them all back in.
      It was two hours before both Teams were finished, and even then Vin was surprised at their determination. He remembered the exercise from many years ago when he was in his school's JROTC, with his instructor yelling, and people being carried and thrown over and then crawling under again. It was a pain.
      They did the triangle exercise for the rest of the day, just as they did with the pyramid yesterday. 'Kantamee suggested they try blindfolding those who had gotten over already so as to make transfer of even more Grunts across the rope even more difficult. Vin liked the idea. It built trust on both ends: the receivers learned to trust the ones guiding them into place, as the guiders learned to trust those guiding them across.
      Trust. These men trusted each other already, and though it was now stronger and more vivid, it wasn't what he needed to concentrate his efforts on at the moment. Trust was all good and well, but trust was the not the purpose he had been assigned to achieve.
      Nor did the poorly-equipped and undersized field he had been given to train with offer all the possibilities he had hoped for. He wanted obstacle courses, he wanted climbing poles, he wanted a chance to do things right. He might not be trying to build strength, or necessarily train for maneuvers and combat, but he wanted to teach the pressures of command. And he couldn't do that with what he was given.
      What's more, commanders relied on their subordinates to ease some of those pressures. Here he did what he could, which was having a Grunt at the head of each team organizing an effort to win what amounted to, in the end, silly little games. There was no chain of command other than commander-to-enlisted. This isn't what he wanted at all...
      Climbing. That was what he wanted. Obstacles would teach evasion and maneuvers, and these challenges would teach the mental foundations for them. At the end of the obstacle courses would be poles to climb, flags to take as prizes of victory. But there needed to be challenges in these obstacle courses that split up the groups, taught them that they couldn't merely rely on one but each had to be able to do the job of the one that fell before.
      He knew that all this was impossible in the Grunt Brigade's separate compound. He needed to achieve usage of the division's training facilities. Once he acquired those, and learned to understand them, he'd go from there.

It another day, but Colonel D'Arcy appealed to General Kingsley and got them what Vin wanted. There were obstacle courses, climbing poles, sand pits, the works. Obstacles could even move and lunge out at the Grunts. The obstacles were no longer obstacles, they were the enemy, as Popok and Gayag soon learned. The obstacles could be disabled, but it required actual coordination of effort and a real chain of command. The two allied armies were separated into platoons, each assigned an obstacle to take out. When obstacles were taken out the force moved on, sometimes at the cost of "lives", sometimes—but rarely—death-free.
      A Grunt "died" when a laser on an obstacle, moving with the simulated speed of the average enemy's muzzle sweep, painted a Grunt. The Grunt was set aside and the armies continued.
      When they got to the end of the obstacle courses and reached the poles, the armies wreaked havoc upon each other using stun batons found half-buried in the sand. Runners would ascend the poles only to be brought down by quickly-following enemies from the opposing Team. The stunned, or otherwise "dead" Grunts, followed the same procedure their predecessors, brought down by lasers, had obeyed, and the battle continued. When Popok himself, bravery gathered up, charged forward with a stun baton in between his mandibles and shimmied up the pole, using the small protrusions in the pole only to propel him upwards rather than provide support. Another Grunt from Team Two tried to bring him down, but Popok let go of the pole, and brought him down and of the pole with his body weight. He grabbed onto the pole before he himself fell, hurtled himself upward, snatched the pole, and with the stun baton still between his mandibles, leapt down into his own Team, who caught him and carried him back to Vin. They were victorious.
      "Who knew they could climb so well? Their stubby bodies..." 'Kantamee didn't finish the statement.
      "Does it matter? We know now they can think things up on the spot, command smaller groups and larger ones, coordinate their efforts, and kill each other without remorse. What more do we need to know?" Vin asked gleefully.
      "Nothing. But it's not we that need to know, Captain. There's still the Colonel."

But the next day it turned out Colonel was happy with what he saw, just as happy and overjoyed as Vin had been, even though he made no effort to show it as the soldiers lined up in file after repeating the exercise, their speed down by sixty-four seconds even though the obstacles had changed and their timing reset. He merely tapped a cigarette on the end and smoked it, nodded, and turned to Vin, 'Kantamee, and the Jackals assigned to the project. "Good job."
      They went back, after that, to cleaning weapons, polishing armor, improving their English skills, just as they had before. The Grunt Brigade's staff read tactics reports and drilled their troops once a day. There was not much more to be done—this was not the front, but the rear, yet these were still soldiers, on-duty.
      But Vin knew that, even though it might not make much of a difference to onlookers from the outside world, that now each of his senior Grunts possessed an appreciation and elevated knowledge of command that would quite possible increase their survival rate by twenty percent.
      So, he had finally done what D'Arcy really wanted: changed the price tag on this Grunt Brigade, per-unit, from just three bullets too a platoon. That was about the worth of the average Marine, if he didn't chicken out or make stupid mistakes and he wasn't at risk from the big guns. A whole platoon, one for each one of them.
      Vin didn't know about anyone else, but he thought those were damn fine odds.