Chapter Two: Objective Orange
By: Andrew Dunn
We first saw Objective Orange on the ship, a simulation of it anyway. The intel-types dimmed Ready Room lights. After fidgeting with a laptop and projector, a glowing ochre hologram of a spaceport near the Rouvenman coast appeared. We saw everything—from the overall X shape of the place with a launch tower in the center, to the control building, dorms, and open spaces full of construction equipment and supplies. Each of us took turns on the laptop zooming in, out, and studying it from different angles to clue ourselves into our first objective.
“For operational purposes,” Chief Herrera said, “we’re calling it Objective Orange.”
What a relief. It’s Rouvenman name was something that reminded me of the way my grandmother slurred her Vietnamese when she drank bourbon. People always said I had a knack for language, but I was never able to learn Vietnamese and couldn’t understand a word of it my grandma said drunk or sober. Objective Orange was just fine with me.
“It’s unfinished?” Fargo asked.
Chief Herrera didn’t miss a beat. “Unfinished but usable.”
Lieutenant Russ pounced. “A straight answer Chief. Please?”
“Sir,” Herrera groused back, “ever notice how they’ll start building a subdivision, and before you know it people are living in the first houses they finish while they build more.”
The look on Russ’ face told me he wasn’t getting it, but wasn’t about to let on if he could help it.
Herrera went on. “There is enough at the spaceport to launch a rocket into orbit, and that’s happened. When Rouvenma went to shit, they stopped work on a plant at the far end of one of the X’s legs. It would’ve turned hydrogen and oxygen from seawater into rocket fuel. They
finished assembly halls at either end of the other leg, but the other structures? Who knows.”
“All we’ve got to do,” I said, “is make it to the objective, give it a quick look, and then head north, right?”
Russ eyed me. “That’s right, Sergeant Nguyen. We’ve got to do it unseen, unheard, unnoticed.” Then he eyeballed Chief Herrera. “And we’re going in blind.”
“Easy day, Sir,” I smirked.
Objective Orange was the first of several on a mission that fell into our laps because, as best I could figure, we happened to be in the neighborhood when the order came down. The order’s summary said so between the lines:
OPERATION STORMGARDEN: On order deploy 2 X assault squads, 1 X technical squad, into denied territory to find, fix, finish 1 X expended Deimos-5 booster rocket; rescue American Citizen; 48-hour-window execution to completion.
They could’ve called up special operators to do it. I’d worked with them before and knew an Op like Stormgarden was right up their alley. I had to think whoever dreamt up the mission decided we should do it because we were on a Navy ship and closer to Rouvenma than anybody else, so tag we were it. All good by me.
I was still good with it even when the spaceport loomed larger than life beyond scraggly brush on the forest’s edge. It reminded me of the first time I’d seen a naked woman up close and personal—pics and videos online were one thing, but nothing like the shock and awe of the real thing.
Our plan was simple: reach the middle of the X where the steel-girder launch tower stood, then branch off on the left leg because that one was pointed north. Like Lieutenant Russ griped in the Ready Room, we had to do it without anybody ever knowing we were there.
The problem was all too obvious. The tower, dorms, control building, and construction crap wasting away made Objective Orange ripe with places for eyes to hide. The kind of eyes that could be watching us through rifle scopes, or waiting to trigger explosives like the kind Alfa Squad found in the woods.
“Sergeant,” Russ whispers, “the faster we can get this done the better.”
“Hold tight sir.”
I could see the other problem was going to be Lieutenant Russ, hell-bent on a sprint across the spaceport. I was all about moving fast, but we had to be smart too.
“Sergeant.” I could tell Russ said it through gnashed teeth.
“Movement near the top of the launch tower sir.”
“There better not be.” Russ bitched.
Like I’m making it up.
“Fargo, Andrews,” I whispered into my mic, “you got eyes on the tower.”
Andrews came back first. “Yessir brother. Can’t make out whatever’s up there though.”
“I got a theory,” Fargo crackled through, “it’s a Watchdog.”
He didn’t mean a four-legged friend we could’ve fed rations to and brought along for the rest of our merry little jaunt through third world hell. Fargo meant a laser rifle on a swivel mount with a sensor package designed to detect trespassers. It could be up there alone, running off solar panels and preprogrammed response logic, or wired to a laptop on the ground someone was operating.
“Sergeant.” The Space Force guy, Specialist Roane, piped up.
I don’t need this now.
“If it’s a watchdog,” Roane offered, “we can use an ardie against it.”
‘Ardie’ was what we called an ‘RD,’ short for laser rifle diffusor, similar to a silencer for a regular rifle. Where a silencer quieted the noise of gunpowder exploding, sending a bullet spiraling through a rifle barrel’s grooves on its way to a target, an ardie could take a laser burst and change its shape and intensity. Imagine a laser burst as a shot of whiskey. Screw an ardie on the end of a rifle and it was like adding soda or water. The whiskey was still potent, but its wallop was lessened, spread out over space and time. The problem with ardies? They were crazy expensive. We had one. It was back on the ship, reserved for training and special live-fire demos.
“I hear you Roane,” I hated to tell him, “but we’re short an ardie.”
“I’ve got one in my pack.”
This guy has an ardie on him?
“Backpack. Rucksack.” Roane tried to correct himself.
“Tomato, Tomahto.” I said. “You’ve got an ardie?”
“I don’t think we have time for this.” Russ interrupted.
I shot Russ the kind of look that told him if he was for once worried about time on this mission, he could stroll out in view of the watchdog and see whether its sensors detected him, and if they did, whether he’d live to tell about how he earned the Purple Heart in Rouvenma.
“The ardie.” I demanded of Roane. “You’ve got one?”
Roane nodded. “I’ve got one and I have an idea. It’s a gamble Sergeant.”
Roane grinned. “It’s a gamble Nguyen, but if we take the ardie and spread the laser fire wide over say, three second bursts, that might blind the watchdog’s sensors for a few seconds. We do three seconds of fire, three seconds without, until somebody can get to the tower. It won’t damage the watchdog at all. It’ll be like if you or me stared at the sun for three seconds, and couldn’t see a damned thing for a few seconds after that. Nobody will ever know we were here.”
I wished he hadn’t reminded me of the sun. It was bearing down bright and hot. For a split-second I missed San Diego, its beaches, and women bronzing themselves in paradise.
“What’s the catch?” I asked Roane.
Roane’s smile withered. “A lot. We don’t know what the watchdog is tuned to detect, whether it’s in calibration, or whether it’s running off a program or if someone’s operating it from a laptop. And the ardie will get hot real quick processing all that laser fire, so it could fail.”
Russ wasn’t having it. He was eyeing the tower through his rifle, asking, “Would it be that bad if we just blew the thing away?”
“Sir,” I chided, “orders are to make it through Objective Orange like we were never here.”
Russ turned to face me and Roane. “Great. So who’s shooting with the ardie and who’s making a run for the tower?”
(More to Follow)
About the Author: Andrew “Drew” Dunn grew up in Tennessee and North Carolina and then served twenty-four years in the Navy, completing nine deployments on board aircraft carriers, destroyers, and with a variety of special operations forces. Andrew now writes fiction of all sorts, has received multiple awards for it, and has been published on several online sites. He loves feedback, and readers may contact Andrew directly at [email protected].