The Blue Ranger
By Paul Adams
Attack on Corinth Base
Thick snow covered the wastelands surrounding the remote city of Corinth, it's high walls protecting it from outside attack. A squad of EAGLE soldiers marched through the snow, climbing up a craggy hill on their morning run, shivering in the crisp morning air as their commanding officer shouted orders at them.
"Come on,come!" the man shouted. "You can do better than that. What do I train you for?"
Most of the troops kept their heads down and kept marching. Their commander, General Truman, stood off to one side, watching them march. He was a large, imposing man with a loud voice and an even louder presence. He looked over his troops with stern eyes, hidden behind a pair of reflective shades.
The soldiers muscled their way up the rocky hillside, doing their best not to slip and fall on the icy terrain. General Truman kept them going, shouting until he was red in the face.
"Come on, let's move, move, move!"
The troops kept climbing. General Truman watched them pass for a second before starting to march again himself. A small detail of aides and officials, both military and not, surrounded him, most not doing much better on the hike than the soldiers.
One among them was a young EAGLE agent named Tammy Hayes.
Tammy had long brown hair and a pair of glasses and was dressed in a sharply tailored suit designating her as a representative of EAGLE high command. She held a clipboard in her arms and was busy studiously taking notes on the soldiers as they passed. Most of the soldiers tended to ignore her, as her tendency to keep her nose glued to her notes tended to put most of them off. That suited Tammy just fine, as it left her free to take more notes.
In the middle of the crowd, one soldier pushed another. General Truman called out the behavior immediately, while Tammy flipped immediately to those two soldiers' pages and jotted down a quick note, finding a spot amongst all of the scribbles covering every square inch.
The soldiers in question separated and continued their climbing. General Truman went back to his normal routine of shouting at the top of his voice. Tammy wondered briefly how he hadn't worn out his voice yet. She followed him up, shivering and wishing she could be back in the barracks, enjoying one of the nice warm breakfast burritos being prepared for their return.
Mmm, burritos, she thought.
Tammy let herself get distracted and drifted a bit into the soldiers' path. Several of them brushed past her as they went, most of them mumbling a respectful "Sorry, Miss Hayes" in response. Tammy brought herself back to reality and stepped back to the side, looking them over to take some more notes.
There wasn't much to see at the moment, most of them simply climbing, only exhibiting behaviors she'd observed hundreds of times already. She scanned the crowd, looking around for her favorite in the squad. All the way at the far back of the group, trailing the rest by a couple of feet, bobbed a cowboy hat perched on a head of long blond hair.
Tammy fell back to observe him a little better. Private Aquila Shumway marched quietly, keeping his head down, his eyes covered by his hat's brim. The other soldiers ignored him for the most part. Tammy flipped over to his page and scribbled some notes down. She noticed, as she always did, that despite having marched as long and as hard as the rest had, not a single bead of sweat glistened on his tanned skin, and his breathing came smooth and easy, not labored like the rest of his squad.
Shumway's blue eyes fell on Tammy, noticing her watching him. Tammy's face grew hot and she quickly scribbled down another note on his sheet. Shumway's mouth pulled up slightly in a half-smirk and he kept climbing past her. She glanced up for just a moment to watch him go before tucking her clipboard under her arm and hurrying back up to rejoin General Truman's entourage.
The hillside was steep and icy. Tammy kept her eyes on it, doing her best not to slip and fall as she climbed. Her gaze periodically drifted back to Shumway, who seemed unbothered by the hazardous terrain. Most didn't think too much of Shumway, as he seemed to go out of his way to make himself disappear into the crowd, but Tammy had been watching him ever since she was assigned here. As far as she could tell, he had stamina for days and seemed to be one of the most physically capable in the squad. He just didn't like to show it for some reason Tammy had yet to figure out.
Tammy kept climbing, lost in thought, until she walked right into the back of a soldier, who had suddenly stopped.
"Fall back!" she heard General Truman shout.
"Fall back!" a soldier repeated.
Everyone started backing up quickly. Tammy looked up in confusion. What's going on? she thought. She stood on her tiptoes to see around the soldiers.
A line of figures stood at the top of the ridge facing them. Tammy's eyes widened as she recognized their distinctive clothing. About two dozen Black Cross soldiers stood at the top of the hill, decked out in black body armor with their faces covered, an assault rifle in each pair of hands.
Tammy worked her way to the front to get closer to General Truman, silently opened her bag and deposited her clipboard and pencil back inside it. She fingered the holster at her waist and slipped out the small handgun she carried there. General Truman stood out in front of his men, facing the enemy soldiers with a look of stubborn defiance.
"Get back," he whispered back to his men. "Head for the bunker at the bottom of the hill."
Tammy glanced back to see that several soldiers were passing the message back. Most of them were woefully unprepared for this, most dressed only in their civvies with no weapons to speak of. Tammy fiddled with the gun in her hands, checking to make sure it was loaded.
The line of Black Cross soldiers parted, and a man decked out in full samurai armor stepped forward. All of his armor, from his breastplate, to his boots and gauntlets, to his helmet, were all cast-iron and looked authentic, as if an actual samurai had worn it hundreds of years ago. His face was covered in a demonic-looking faceplate, with only his eyes visible. A long katana hung from his side, and a tall banner was affixed to his back, displaying a flag marked with a cross painted black.
The samurai gazed around at the EAGLE soldiers before him. His eyes swept over General Truman, then Tammy and the rest of Truman's entourage, then on the thirty soldiers standing behind them. He pulled his banner loose from its holster and hoisted it into the air. He shouted something to his troops in Japanese.
"Get ready to run," General Truman ordered his troops. "Now!"
Tammy had barely started to turn when the samurai lowered his flag and pointed it directly at them.
"Fire!" he shouted in English.
The squad took off running down the hill as a hail of bullets filled the air around them. One soldier was hit in the back and fell dead, Tammy stumbling over his body. She glanced back, covered her head and kept running.
"Come on, let's go, go, go!" General Truman shouted. "Double time!"
Tammy cocked her gun and fired off a shot as she ran, nailing a Black Cross soldier right in the head and sending him sprawling. The squad reached a low cement battlement and dove behind it. Those that didn't have weapons kept running, while Tammy and those who did stayed behind to hold off the enemy. Tammy ducked behind the battlement, firing off several shots.
A bullet whizzed by her ear, and she ducked, taking the opportunity to reload. When she popped back up, she took aim at the samurai as he marched toward them. A stray bullet struck her gun, knocking it free from her hand and sending it skittering through the snow nearby.
Tammy ducked down behind cover again, cursing under her breath, as another soldier moved to cover her. She glanced back up to see the Black Cross getting a little too close. It was about time to run anyway.
Tammy dove from behind cover and scooped up her gun. The barrel was bent slightly, which probably didn't mean good things for its usability. She pointed it at an oncoming Black Cross soldier and fired. Nothing happened. Of course not.
Tammy kept running down the hill, toward the large concrete bunker at the bottom where the rest of the squad was heading. She did her best to try and straighten out the barrel, but it was no use. Her foot met a particularly slick patch of ice and she fell, the gun flying from her hand as she hit the rocky ground hard. She cried out in pain as she tumbled down the hill, away from the bunker and the rest of her squad. When she finally came to a stop, she clenched her teeth and held her side, looking up to find herself alone, separated by some distance from her comrades.
The samurai appeared at the top of the hill where she had fallen, shouting something in Japanese and pointing at her with his banner. Tammy scrambled to her feet, clutching her aching side. Her feet found another icy patch and she slipped again, hitting the ground hard on the exact same side.
"Come on," she said. She rolled over to find the samurai now standing directly over her.
"What have we here?" he said.
Tammy swallowed, trying to back away, but he aimed a kick at her injured side and then pressed his foot to her chest, holding her down.
He leaned in to look her in the eye, his own full of mirth. "Well, hello there, Miss Hayes," he said. Tammy looked up at him. She recognized that voice. And those eyes, for that matter.
"Who are you?" she asked.
The samurai chuckled. "Wouldn't you like to know."
He rose up to his full height, drawing out his katana. The blade's wicked edge gleamed in the early morning sunlight. He raised it over his head and slashed it down. Tammy covered her face.
Then nothing happened.
Tammy lowered her arms to see a tall figure standing between her and the samurai, holding his arm up to block the sword. Tammy expected to see the arm nearly cut in half, at least, but to her surprise, his arm seemed untouched, the edge of the blade pushed against the bare arm without even so much as breaking the skin. She couldn't even see a single drop of blood anywhere.
"What the-?" she stammered.
The man turned to her, the blue eyes of Aquila Shumway meeting hers from under his cowboy hat. "Are you okay?" he asked her.
Tammy stared at him, her mouth wide open. She nodded quickly.
Shumway nodded, his jaw set and a look of something like fear in his eyes. He turned back to face the samurai. The samurai was pressing hard on his blade, trying desperately to do any amount of damage. Shumway grabbed the blade with both hands, twisting and bending it out of shape like it was made of paper. The samurai tried to pull his sword free, but Shumway wrenched it from his grip and tossed it away, the now pretzel-shaped sword clattering against the rocks below.
The samurai backed up, his eyes wide. "What are you?" he said.
Shumway ignored him. He rushed forward at incredible speed, punching the samurai square in the chest. The force of the punch cracked the cast iron breastplate wide open, shattering it into pieces and throwing the samurai to the ground.
The samurai got to his feet, staring down at his now worthless armor. "What have you done?" he said, clutching at the pieces.
Shumway planted his feet and fixed the samurai with an unwavering glare. The samurai backed up, real fear in his eyes. He looked around at the soldiers behind him who were watching this altercation in stunned silence. "Don't just stand there, you fools!" he shouted. "Get him!"
The soldiers shook themselves from their stupor and charged toward Shumway. Shumway braced to meet them and charged forward, throwing them all like rag dolls. Tammy still lay where she had fallen, trying to process what she was seeing. Shumway whipped around to see her still there.
"Miss Hayes!" he shouted. "Run! Get out of here!"
Tammy still stared.
"Miss Hayes!" he shouted again.
Tammy snapped out of it, realizing her situation. Right, she thought. She clambered to her feet, making sure not to slip and fall again. She worked her way back up to the top of the hill, where she could see the bunker where the rest of their squad was. She looked back to see Shumway throw them all back with two hands, breaking away and sprinting up the hill, faster than Tammy had ever seen a person go. He noticed Tammy watching him and abruptly slowed down to a normal human pace.
"Come on," he said, trying to act natural. "Let's go!"
Tammy watched him as he ran past, turning to run alongside him. "How did you do that?" she asked, her mouth open, staring at his untouched arm.
Shumway glanced sideways at her, putting on a fake smile. "Oh, you know," he said. "Probably just one of those adrenaline rush things. Like a mom lifting a car off her baby. You've heard of those, right?"
Tammy narrowed her eyes. "I have," she said.
"Well, there you go," he said. He swallowed uncomfortably and put his head down, picking up speed and running ahead, tucking in his undamaged arm so that she couldn't look at it. Tammy tilted her head. He was hiding something. Something big apparently. She thought about the recommendation she'd sent out the week prior to her supervisor General Kenpachi, recommending him for the ranger project. She wondered for just a moment if that hadn't been a mistake on her part.
Shumway reached the bunker and pulled it open. Tammy dove inside and he followed her. Most of their squad were barricaded there, General Truman included, who was shouting something into a communicator. The pair crossed to the weapons locker and pulled out a rifle and ammo each. Tammy loaded hers up and crouched by the gap in the wall through which they could see the enemy coming. Before she could even take aim though, a loud hum filled her ears and a strong wind blew through the opening. The shadow of an EAGLE attack helicopter passed overhead.
"Yes!" several soldiers shouted, cheering and whooping inside the bunker.
Tammy crouched and watched the attack helicopter fire off its gatling gun at the enemy soldiers, shooting down several in one fell swoop. The rest fell back and started running, some trying to take shots at the craft, but it just shook them off.
Tammy spotted the samurai at the top of the hill, his ruined sword in one hand. He waved his banner around and shouted "Retreat!" He and the remaining Black Cross dived over the ridge and disappeared. The helicopter sped after them, still firing. The battle was over.
Shouts of celebration erupted from the bunker. Tammy breathed a sigh of relief and slumped back against the concrete wall. Shumway did the same.
"Talk about an eventful morning," Shumway said.
"Right?" Tammy said, looking over at him.
Shumway grinning and looked over at her. That same fearful look from before crept back into his eyes. He cleared his throat and got to his feet, moving away to rejoin his squad. Tammy sat up, watching him go. He glanced back at her for just a second before averting his gaze.
Tammy chewed her lip, pulling out her clipboard to reexamine her notes on him.