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The Ares City Light Show
Posted By: YossarianDate: 12/31/18 4:44 p.m.

“Hey Sarge…”

“Hmm?”

“Sarge, let’s go topside, I want to show you something.”

“What is it?” Sergeant Black grunted from behind his cigarette, squinting at his hand of cards through the smoke.

Specialist Clayton shifted restlessly in his cold-weather uniform, the typically scrawny young man looking even more comical in his too-large overcoat, worn awkwardly due to the various items he tended to keep underneath it.

“It’s that, well, I think the Pfhor are going to resume the bombardment soon, and I think it’s going to be pretty intense.”

“Is that the latest intel, signalman?” the sergeant asked with disinterest, pulling a card and slapping it down on the table. Corporal Heineman, sitting across from him, furrowed his brow at the six of clubs the sergeant set down and then, biting his lip, surveyed his cards again intensely.

“Uh…yes.”

Something in the tone of Clayton’s response tore the sergeant’s attention away from the game. He could tell his specialist was trying with difficulty to contain a great deal of excitement; very unconvincingly the young man tried to keep a serious tone and face but sheer glee was leaking, quivering his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth and causing one grubby hand to tap against the side of his leg.

Sergeant Black snorted a half-chuckle shortly before a wave of concern washed over him. He set his cards down slowly and took the cigarette out of his mouth.

“Alright signalman, out with it.”

“It’s New Year’s Eve, sarge! It’s almost New Year’s! It will be New Year’s Day in – thirty-nine minutes – and there’s going to be a great fireworks show, I believe, I’ve been working on it since we got here!” Clayton moved in closer to the Sergeant. “You’re from Ares City sarge, every New Year’s, they had the largest light show on Mars, I tried to go, most years I went but wherever I was on New Year’s, there was always a great show!”

Sergeant Black was bewildered, staring at the madly-grinning young man.

“Clayton, remember the promise you made, last week when we said you could put up a Christmas tree? Remember how you said no more tricks, no more games, no more pranks until we’re out of the caverns and off this boring excuse for a planet?” Corporal Heineman reminded him, as droll as Clayton was excited.

“Oh but Corporal, like I said, I’ve been working on this since we got here, and that was eighty-seven days ago!”

“Explain!” the Seargeant barked, now red-faced and entirely out of patience.

Clayton sat down on a nearby boulder. The military-issue lanterns threw their shadows against the cavern walls.

“So since we got here we’ve been moving around a lot, yeah, popping up here and there, sneeeeaking our way-” Clayton paused giggling, “-sneaking our way all over these mountains and valleys tricking the Pfhor and every time we stopped I planted one of these.”

Clayton pulled a standard UESC beacon transceiver from one of this many pockets. Sergeant Black’s face was transforming from anger to horror.

“Here’s the best part,” Clayton continued delightedly, almost in a whisper, “I pre-programmed them, you see, to transmit on all frequencies when it hits midnight Sol time. The Pfhor, they’ve been up there hiding, yeah, waiting on us to pop our heads out again so they can blast us from orbit, and when they pick up these signals they’re gonna think it’s all our forces signaling for evac,” he paused to giggle again, “and they’re going to light everything up with everything they have, it’s going to be amazing!”

Sergeant Black’s face was deathly white, his mouth dead open in astonishment. He could tell his enlisted man wasn’t joking. Corporal Heineman, better composed but also struck with bewilderment was the first to respond:

“Clayton, do you understand what you’ve done? You’ve jeopardized the entire mission! We have very strict orders. The whole reason we’re here is to tie up that Pfhor squadron so they can’t reinforce against the attack on Rh’e’g’hozi Prime that the UESC has been planning for six months. You realize that’s why we’re here, right? Why we’ve been playing cat-and-mouse and whack-a-mole with the Pfhor since we got here? If they think they’ve wiped us out or if they figure out our true intentions or numbers here they might just leave.”

Clayton’s eyes watered and his face contorted as he tried to reconcile his excitement with the realization of the seriousness of what he had done, which was now too late to call off.

“What the **** am I going to tell the Leftenant?!” Sergeant Black finally roared, shaking off his shock and disbelief. “Christ Clayton! In the past year the Martian 3rd/47th has survived three planetary assaults, three boarding actions, two emergency evacuations, and the Second goddamn Battle of Ewy Epsilon Seven. How your dumb arse survived ANY of that to be standing here today telling me that this is finally how you’ve screwed us over is a goddamn mystery of astronomical proportions! Do you realize how easy we have it here? Our goddamn orders are basically to sit around and relax; every few days we shoot a flare off and run like hell, then find a hole and put our feet up – that’s all over, now! From now on they’re going to put us at the front of every advance or shove us in to some suicide mission – remember what they did to those dumb Jovian bastards that bungled the anti-matter delivery from Dangi,” here he paused, frantically lighting and drawing from another cigarette, “half of them vaporized, the other half sitting in Pfhor stasis chambers waiting to get a brain replacement and an explosives transplant!”

Clayton began rocking himself gently, staring a thousand miles into the rock wall behind the sergeant as the segeant continued his rant. Heineman was reaching across the surface of the boulder to help himself to one of the Sergeant’s cigarettes, though he wasn’t a smoker.

---

Ten minutes later, and Clayton had finally found his voice again.

“Sarge!” he exclaimed though whispering, “Sarge! We only have twenty minutes if we’re going to see it!” He was still rocking back and forth, his fingers digging into his knees.

“No Clayton, we’re not seeing anything.” Sergeant Black walked over and yanked Clayton up by his jacket lapels. A spoon fell out of his jacket and danced on the floor with a stupid tinkling sound, only momentarily distracting the sergeant who had not seen a real metal spoon in years. “Uh- we’re going to see the Leftenant right now and explain to him what YOU did, there’s no other way around it. Up! Let’s go!”

“Atten-TION!” Heineman barked behind them.

Sergeant Black whirled around and stood at attention for the figure of Captain Owen. His face once against drained from beet-red to ghostly white.

“At ease.” She clipped, and the sergeant’s hand fell limply to his side.

Captain Owen was the regimental commander, hard-as-nails by-the-book officer of the old school who brooked no nonsense, praised sparingly, and was liberal with the discipline. She was also crafty, quick, unshakeable, and the main reason that the Martian 3rd/47th had survived as much as it had. She sneered at the playing cards and cigarette butts that littered the floor.

“Sergeant Black.”

“Yes Captain!”

“Sergeant I was just on my way to see Lieutenant Wilson,” she spoke quickly and cleanly, “the situation has changed in regards to the Rh’e’g’hozi Prime operation. The assault has begun and initial assessments are very optimistic. We’ve received orders to stage a major distraction to keep the enemy occupied here for as long as possible. The officers will be meeting to discuss options and I would like you to come along, we need to act immediately.”

Sergeant Black was dumbstruck, his mouth moving up and down like a fish.

“Uh, Captain…”

“Yes Corporal?” she responded, turning to Heineman with blooming impatience.

“Captain, we were just speaking with Specialist Clayton here,” explained the Corporal, as carefully as he could muster, “and we were just discussing that it would be possible to trigger a widescale Pfhor bombardment of our previous positions, using signal capabilities to fool the Pfhor into believing that our forces are much larger than they are, and massed for evac.”

“How?” spat Captain Owen.

Sergeant Black was back among the living.

“Y-yes Captain, that's right! You see, Specialist Clayton here has been leaving behind inert portable transceivers at our previous positions, something of an experiment, of sort, and-“

“Is this true?” the Captain turned to Clayton, her ire focused solely on him.

“Y-y-es it is c-captain!” Clayton stammered, “it’s a, a trick I learned back home. I-in an emergency you could use a constellation of portable transceivers to do all sorts of things, you could simulate a much larger transmitter, and scramble enemy transmissions, o-o-or-“

“How long?”

“C-Captain?”

“How long before you can activate this to draw enemy fire?”

“Oh, uh..” Clayton looked down at his watch.

“Ah! uh, within the next ten or fifteen minutes wouldn’t you think, specialist?” Interjected the sergeant.

“Yes! Certainly! Within that time.” Agreed Clayton.

“Excellent!” snapped the Captain, “Corporal, I’d like you to run ahead, tell the officers my orders are to have them meet us at – sergeant, which observation post has the best view of prior positions?”

“Uh…”

“4A!” Squealed Clayton.

“Fine, observation post 4A. Yes Corporal, have the officers meet us topside there, and everyone else is to take defensive positions in preparation. We must stand ready to do our part for the forces at Rh’e’g’hozi Prime. The Martian 2nd is there as well, they'll be counting on us.”

“Yes Captain!” yelled Corporal Heineman with spirit and purpose, and began with a run through the rocky corridors to find the officers.

---

Sergeant Black walked ahead of Captain Owen and Clayton, until at least he saw natural grey light spilling around the corner, he turned it to see two marines on watch, one lazily peering out of the two-meter wide gash in the mountain, the other dozing against the cave wall. Sergeant Black put a finger up to his mouth and kicked the sleeping marine in the ass with boot.

The marine awoke to see his sergeant frantically and silently motioning him to his feet.

“Hiya, Sarge!” said the other, setting down his binoculars, “what brings you up here?” and thereupon he shot to attention as Captain Owen appeared behind him.

“Make room lads,” began Sergeant Black, trying to sound as sergeant-y as possible. “The regimental officers are on the way. The assault on Rh’e’g’hozi Prime has begun and we are to start diversionary operations immediately.”

“W-with your permission Captain, I’d like to begin a-“ Clayton looked again at his watch, he was shaking with anticipation and sweating visibly, “a two-minute countdown to activate the transceivers.”

Captain Owen surveyed the boring, rocky landscape beyond, and the boring, uniform grey sky. From back in the corridor she could hear the other officers approaching. She nodded quickly to Clayton.

He sighed with relief and pretended to press the activation button on his watch. He threw a quick nod to Sergeant Black, who shared the feeling, exhaling silently.
A moment later, Clayton was giving the final countdown.

“Five, four, three, two, one!” His watched bleeped. “We have activation Captain, all transceivers are broadcasting. We now only have to wait for the enemy to respond to our signal, if they’re still up there.”

Captain Owen nodded, and went back to scanning the landscape. Clayton caught the eyes of Sergeant Black, and mouthed 'Happy New Year!', and grinned like an idiot. Black gave only a death-stare in return.

Nothing happened. The wind blew evenly, unceasingly as it always had. Everyone watched the sky, the horizon, the distance from where they thought their prior encampments had been. Sergeant Black did not know what to feel. Forty-five minutes before he had been carelessly playing cards, then he wanted to tear Clayton limb from limb for his surprise hare-brained scheme that doomed them all, and now he thought he’d be tearing Clayton limb from limb because his hare-brained scheme WASN’T working. At least this way it will look like a simple failure, he thought, at least we can say we tried. Worst comes to worst, the officers will huddle together and figure something else out. Yes, the Captain will be upset, but she won’t be irate, even if-

“There! Look!” said the marine who had only moments before been dozing. He pointed to a patch of sky that was quickly turning from grey to yellow. Four massive yellow bolts erupted from the cloud ceiling of the sky in rapid succession, impacting a point many kilometers away. Just as soon another patch of the sky was turning green, whereupon a blinding solid beam of green energy broke through, blasting the surface into bedrock, turning it molten, even farther away. Within a minute the entire landscape was alight with bolts and beams of various colors and intensity, breaking from the clouds, relentlessly. They shielded their eyes and stood firm as the ground above and below them shook from the distant impacts, and they heard the overlapping WHOOM-WHOOM-WHOOM of super-charged bolts smashing the surface, and the rolling rumbles of the particle beams.

Sergeant Black looked over to Clayton, who was spellbound and enraptured, transformed into that 8 year-old Martian kid, back home again, looking up at the pyrotechnic show over Ares City, the renowned annual that drew in visitors from all over the Solar System. He then looked over to Captain Owen, the colors and light reflecting in the glassiness of her eyes, her face beaming with determination and satisfaction; Sergeant Black turned to ice when her eyes suddenly and directly shifted to meet his, but nearly fainted with relief as her face broke into a smile.

While the Pfhor were busily bombarding the spectral blips of the Martian 3rd/47th, the largest UESC operation of the past year, fleets and armies numbering over a million humans were descending on the vital and vulnerable artery of the Pfhor Empire that was Rh’e’g’hozi Prime.

What a day. What a galaxy. What a way to ring in 2778. From all the worlds of the Sol system, from Earth itself came the message to the millions scattered throughout the stars, fighting desperate odds, fighting for liberation and survival, fighting ship to ship and hand to hand, in the corridors, the swamps, the snow, and even the caverns: Happy New Year, and onwards, to final victory!

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Replies:

The Ares City Light ShowYossarian 12/31/18 4:44 p.m.
     Re: The Ares City Light ShowGeneral-RADIX 1/1/19 5:47 a.m.
     Re: The Ares City Light Show *applause* *NM* *NM*Shining Raven 1/1/19 9:04 a.m.
     Re: The Ares City Light ShowHokuto 1/2/19 4:59 a.m.
     Re: The Ares City Light ShowVikingBoyBilly 1/3/19 3:18 p.m.
           Re: The Ares City Light ShowYossarian 1/3/19 8:53 p.m.

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