Charge Of The Light Brigade

The constant hammering of construction on the level below jarred Rawlings from his sleep. He mashed his pillow over his head, but the noise did not abate. Fuming, he hopped out of bed and pulled on a wrinkled jumpsuit. He stumbled out of the barracks and into the main hall.

Dillan watched the half-awake bodyguard stagger over to the vending machines. He snorted as Rawlings shoved in various coins and received a can of tooth-rotting soda in exchange.

"That's a bird of another feather," muttered Will, the Chief Airtech. He chewed on the remains of a sandwich, his tinted aviator's glasses folded up and resting on the table before him.

Dillan turned back to his mug of coffee. "For all rights, that kid should be a secondary. The commander sees something in him, though. I'll be damned if I do."

Rawlings sauntered over to an overstuffed chair, collapsed in it, and curled up to sleep.

"So," responded Will, returning to his previous path of inquiry, "why are you out here? First isn't on standby tonight."

"That's right," nodded Dillan, glancing around. "But the racket next door is too damn loud for me to sleep."

Will raised an eyebrow, waiting for an explanation.

Dillan leaned over the table, and whispered in a most conspiratorial manner, "Colonel Wilkes and Colonel Yoshii are sleeping together."

Will, taken aback, frowned. "You're shitting me," he swore.

"No sir," replied the colonel. "I'm the first to say that I was very surprised by that development."

"So, how long have they been doing this?"

"As far as I can remember, first day of training at the Tokyo site. They're both so damn quiet, though, so you couldn't tell if anything's going on. You just have to watch them, and it becomes clear as day."

The airtech reflected on the idea for a moment. "Well, good for Wilkes. Me, I can't see myself with one of these Oriental women. I mean, nothing against them, but just not my taste. But I suppose if that's what Wilkes wants, power to him."

Will finished his sandwich. Dillan sipped his coffee.

Brushing the crumbs from his jumpsuit, he lowered his eyes and mumbled, "Gary, you OK now? You seemed really tore up for the last week."

Dillan looked aside. "It's fine. I've been talking to Brian--Captain Nader--and we've pretty much come to terms with it." The colonel shook his head. "It's just like a tornado; you can't see it coming, and you can't stop it. So just bury the dead, and go on living. If I'd stayed there, I'd be seven feet down right now."

Will grunted. Rawlings stirred, and jumped up.

"What's with--" Dillan didn't end his question, for the base alarms exploded, pouring out their whine.

"I believe the shit, the fan has hit," mumbled Will, throwing aside his chair and running for the communications room.


Schancer was awakened by the alarm rigged over the door to his quarters. Quickly pulling on a jumpsuit, he took a glance at his sound-activated PDA screen. The commander decided against the jumpsuit, reaching instead for the gear he hadn't worn since Osaka--his armor liner.

Touching the intercom mounted next to his door, he spoke six words.

"Terror raid. All teams mount up."

Adrenaline pouring through his system, he closed his notebook computer, pulled the cables from it, and threw its strap over his shoulder. Zippering up his liner, he jogged down the hall, past the other officer's quarters, past his administrative office, and through the double doors to the main hall.

Soldiers from half a dozen teams sprinted by. Schancer spotted Dillan.

"Get a spare from the prep room. No time!" he yelled to the colonel.

Pulling his headset on, Schancer asked, "Will? You there? Get flight armor on, we need every pilot we can get. Taoka? Coordinate the launches, and get me a team of chop and mop secondaries!"

"Yessir!" replied the lieutenant commander, already in the radar room.

Rawlings scrambled up to Schancer's side.

"Load for bear, Jack. The bugs are en route," ordered the commander.

A team of secondaries, all wearing armor liners of their own, clustered around Schancer.

"Lasers, or plasma rifles," he announced. They deserted him, pouring into the frenzied mess of the combat prep room.

Schancer stepped into the radar room, and glanced at the two story nighttime map of the Japanese sky. Far to the west, over southern China, a dread X approached the Japan home islands.

"What is it?" he asked Taoka.

"Three or four large to very large contacts," she responded.

"SDF alerted?"

"Yesterday, sir."

"Tell them to initiate terror protocols for the cities one hundred thousand or above."

That's going to fuck Japan's transportation systems for the next week, Schancer thought.

"Yes sir. Where do you want the tanks?"

Schancer looked over the map, and the dotted red vector of the UFO formation. It crossed exactly over the brightest lights on the satellite map, the largest gathering of humanity in the industrial world, the heart of Japan.

"All tanks, all SDF forces, everything the USMC can spare goes straight to Tokyo."

"Yessir."

"Taoka, get yourself some armor. We're in for the biggest ground fight of the war."


Davidson clambered into his still-blackened power armor and threw on the power even before it was sealed. Testing his servos and such, he grimly spotted the captain's X and double O's on his right shoulder.

"Hirsch, all soldiers carry spare batteries, spare belts! If this is like last time, I don't want us caught with our pants down and all out of piss!"

Davidson's senior sergeant nodded, barking at the squads. The black captain gratefully accepted his new M-60. He threw the weapon over his shoulder, and tied down spare ammunition on the sides of his legs.

"All teams, all team, Tokyo is the place, UFOs thirty minutes out. Load up ASAP!" bawled the PA. Davidson spotted the commander throwing on his gear and rigging his body armor for his PDA.

Rawlings shuffled by, a grenade launcher on his back, a plasma pistol on his belt, and a huge heavy plasma in his arms.

Davidson strapped on a belt, only a medikit hanging from it.

"Squads are equipped and ready to fly, sir!" announced Hirsch.

"Get them on 'Ranger Five. Save a spot for me on the ramp!" replied the captain. He grabbed his helmet, checked his oxygen supply, and prayed that he'd come back in the morning and return all his gear.

Jogging after Hirsch, Davidson joined his team in the number two hangar. Skyranger Five was already taxiing towards the marked lift-off zone directly beneath the hangar doors. Davidson jumped aboard, and the ramp closed up.

"Skyranger One is airborne," crackled his headset.

"Strap up!" yelled Davidson. He ignored his own advice, grabbing a handhold on the ceiling.

"Here goes nothing," mumbled Airtech Will, shoving the throttle to full. The doors folded back, and the transport lifted off on a column of flame.

"Whoa," muttered Takahashi. The exceptionally brave and quick-thinking rookie had taken a fast-track promotion to sergeant. Along with him and Hirsch, the other sergeant in Davidson's team was Noburo Katoh, a veteran SDF anti-terrorist.

"Skyranger Five is airborne," reported the pilot.

"Everyone, pass your weapon to the soldier across from you! Have them check it!" ordered Davidson, pulling out his M-60 and handing it to the unfortunate squaddie sitting nearest him. With only eleven soldiers, Fifth Kansai was somewhat understrength, but still more than capable of taking a UFO.

"How many?" asked Davidson over the command channel, checking the heavy laser in his lap. He wiped a bit of grime from its shutter.

"Four. Two large, and two... very large contacts," answered Taoka.

"Fuck. What's on the ground right now?"

"One regiment SDF, and two teams of Heavy Weapons Platforms."

"What? Those ours?"

"Too heavy for the 'Rangers. Remote tanks to keep the bugmobiles occupied."

Davidson smiled. "Best damn news I've heard all night. Thanks, Mayumi."

"Take care of yourself, Mike."

The captain switched off the command channel. Oh well, he thought, at least the promotion gives me an excuse to be around the officer's quarters late at night.


Rawlings looked over the armored secondaries. Same as XCOM soldiers, Jack mused, except that they don't have the oneness of an assault team.

The 'Ranger lifted off, sickening a few. Nobody vomited, however.

Off to a good start, thought Rawlings.

Schancer spoke quitely into his headset for a moment, and then he swore.

"Airtech! Engage the cabin monitor!" he yelled. A small television screen mounted on the bulkhead separating the crew compartment from the cargo area flickered on. It displayed the Yellow Sea.

"USN fighters are engaging the UFOs," whispered Schancer, a touch of awe in his voice.

Rawlings was silent for a moment before asking, "They're going to die, aren't they?"

Schancer nodded. He tapped his PDA.

Sound burst from the 'Ranger's speakers.

"...goes Hawk Three, hit the deck, oh shit."

"My God, I hit him with everything, down to cannons!"

"They're not even slowing--"

Static crackled momentarily.

"Hawk One is gone, I'm dumping--I'm hit."

"Hawk Four gone, this is Five, I'm scrambling, can't do anything."

"Rodger, fuck this, Hawk Two getting out of Dodge."

"Get retrieval on Hawk Four, he bailed, he's OK."

The chatter of the fighter jockeys fade away.

"The Chinese didn't even try to stop these four, did they?" inquired Rawlings.

Schancer snorted. "Maybe we should follow their advice."

Jack ignored his commander's pessimism and concentrated on checking and rechecking his weapons. It figures, he thought, that we can't stop the bugs in the air. There's only one place that we are equal, and that is in the hills, in the valleys, in the villages, in the cities, in the streets and alleys of the land. That is because the land is our birthright, and we know the land better than any invaders. To encounter the aliens anywhere else is folly.

"Ten minutes out from Fujisan," reported the airtech. "Low holding pattern, sir?"

"Yes," affirmed Schancer. "Don't hit the mountain or any other transports."

The commander glanced at his PDA. "Shit, they come. The bug ships are entering Japanese airspace. You can bet what that means."

A dozen secondaries frowned and looked up at Schancer.

"What does that mean?" asked Rawlings.

Quite unaware of the angry stares of his soldiers, the Southerner continued, "The Air Self- Defence Forces are going to put up fifty squadrons of fighters, if they can, and those pilots are all going to throw their lives away trying to knock down those UFOs."

"If the fighters can kill one invader ship, that is one less to land in Tokyo," announced a secondary.

Schancer looked at him like he'd just met him for the first time.

"I suppose so," he responded.


The towering fortresses of alloy slowed down, cruising over the first of the Japanese isles. Bristling with plasma cannon, they were quite confident of themselves, almost arrogantly awaiting more Terran fighters to beat down like those they'd defeated on their flight in.

Nagasaki twinkled below, the one time gateway to Japan. Blasted by the second atomic bomb in the closing days of World War II, it trembled under the might of a similar destructive force. But the UFOs did not descend to kill.

Nor did they drop out of the sky over Osaka, where a single ship, less than one fourth the might of these vessels, had killed some four thousand humans. Osaka was battered, and while life did go on for its citizens, they had been taught the price of resistance.

And when the four giants cast their shadow over a darkened valley of Kansai, where they could have fallen to the earth and struck a decisive blow against the human resistance, they did not. Instead, they flew ahead, across the lights of Nagoya, and towards the very heart of Japan. Now, these Terrans would learn fear.

And then the missiles came.

Dozens of long range AMRAAMs lanced through the night sky, slamming themselves against the marauders, blasting off chunks of armor plate, or, in a lucky instance, a whole engine pod. Reeling from a mortal blow, one of the huge UFOs slowed.

Then the fighters were upon them. Dozens of F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15 Eagles, and F-18 Hornets charged headlong into the fray. Plasma cannon opened up, spitting bolts of superheated matter in every direction, blasting smoking craters in the forests below when they missed and swatting interceptors from the sky when they didn't.

Sidewinders and AIMs flew, short range missiles which pierced the thin upper armor of the alien vessels and killed those who crewed them. A fighter, spinning out of control, slammed into the flying wall of alloy which was a huge UFO. The alien craft plodded onwards, spitting out plasma and smoking from a dozen wounds.

The fighters withdrew, their ranks thinned. Another wave of long range ordinance crashed into the smaller UFOs, transport vessels for the alien terrorists. Again came the fighters, twelve dedicated pilots who wore the red and white of the Self-Defence Forces. Screaming banzai and firing their cannons until empty, they weaved between the ponderous alien vessels.

Slowly but surely, they were shot from the sky.

An F-16, trailing flames and pilot half-dead, corkscrewed into a UFO. The tremendous explosion rendered a cargo compartment of the flying monster. Violently yawing, the terror ship belched flames and fell to the earth, ten miles short of Tokyo city limits.


"Holy shit," whispered Will, touching the headset which had relayed the battle to his ears.

He turned to his copilot. "They didn't even try to bail."

The Skyrangers flew low circles in the shadow of Fujisan, waiting for the time to sprint for the city. Will desperately wished that he was not flying a cumbersome transport, but a lithe, single seat fighter. I'm sure I'd be dead too, he realized, but I'd at least try to hit the bastards where it hurts.

"God," muttered Hirsch.

Davidson cleared his throat. The cabin silenced.

"In a few minutes, we're going to receive the green light for touch-down. Before that roller- coaster ride begins, I'd like to share a few things about terror sites.

"You're a good crew, and hopefully you trust each other as much as I do. Stick together down there; you probably know Tokyo better than me, but I know that it's a big fucking place. Stay with your squad, because it can get really hairy, really fast, and it's nice to have a buddy covering you."

In another transport, just a few kilometers away, Dillan spoke to his team.

"This is your city, and I expect everyone to fight like demons to keep the bugs out. But fighting tough and killing bugs doesn't mean getting yourself dead. If we get hit hard, and have to fall back, you fall back. Don't try to be a hero; you might get a statue in a park, but you'll be dead. I need--Japan needs- -soldiers to keep on fighting, even if we stay down there a week. Shoot the bugs, and keep your head down."

Schancer opened his mouth, but only a whisper came out.

"If we don't kill the bugs fast, there will be no Tokyo. You saw what happened in Osaka; there will be at least three times that many dead if we don't win. Now, I know you're all rather inexperienced, but don't be afraid. Kill, and do not hesitate. No stuns, no live captures... kill them all. There are civilians down there, people you might know as friends or family, and the bugs are going to kill them-- unless we do our job."

Skyranger Eight shifted slightly, and its engines increased their whine.

"Stay together, keep your head down, and kill the motherfuckers," reiterated Rawlings.

"The ships have landed!" yelled the pilot.

"Where?" asked the commander.

"Outer garden of the Imperial Palace complex!" was the answer.

Rawlings looked at Schancer and rasped one word.

"Ginza."

The Skyranger shot down the mountain's slope, breaking Mach one. To its sides, nine other 'Rangers spread out and descended, shattering windows and popping eardrums.

"First, Fourth, Nebraska! Land at northeast corner--out a few blocks. Advance and contain the bugs. Second, Fifth, take the center. Keep the bugs out of the Ginza. My secondaries will back you up. Third, Sixth, Seventh, take the southeast corner of the Imperial Garden! SDF line is to the west," ordered Schancer over the racket of the transport's flight.

"God help us," he whispered, shutting off his tacradio.