This story follows on from Cover, the first in this series.
The fight at Hudson Docks had take time and, more importantly, let people know that there was something pissibly worth fighting over.
‘Reckon it was a regular patrol, or a sweep and search?’ asked Driffel as he rifled through the gear of one of the dead prisoners.
Looking around I could see that water bottles and various items of dried and canned food had spilled from a backpack.
‘Sweep and search. Looks like we might have a window of opportunity. Toss me that radio.’
I caught it and saw that it was a basic two-way. It was silent, for now, but would come in handy if we came across another other patrol.
Keying my map I stared at the hologram as it appeared to float on the ground before me. Smart lenses still made me smile every time I used them.
‘Okay, GPS route set. Be prepared to deviate if we come across a side alley that’s not mapped.’ If we could get off the main thoroughfares we would. It might be slower, but it would also reduce the risk of being engaged by further enemy patrols.
The others all replied in the affirmative and so I blinked the map away and shouldered my pack.
‘Move out. Diamond pattern. Same spread.’
The snow crunched underfoot. Every so often it would compress enough that a slight squeak-like sound would be emitted. Walking in snow was one of my favourite things, that and crunching my way through dried leaves during Fall.
I’d learned a long time ago to take pleasure in the small things. On patrol in Afghanistan I’d take some time to appreciate the beauty of the landscape rather than cussing it all the time for the constant knee-grinding climbs or the heat that baked shit dry in minutes.
The city was quieter than it had any right to be. Gunfire would suddenly erupt in the distance but it was so far away that paradoxically it merely added to the disquieting silence. As we walked along the street, avoiding abandoned cars, even furniture, we would come across the odd civilian; some would be hunched over against the bitter cold, whilst others bickered over some scrap or other.
The more unfortunate lay dead on the ground, sightless eyes staring up at the sky. I wasn’t the only one to cry when we came across the first child. This was the United States, not some God-forsaken third world country.
Most people would back away or run at the sight of us. I couldn’t blame them. If I’d been a civilian and seen a group of heavily armed people walking down my street, I’d run. Those that were truly desperate would approached us, asking if we could give them some food, even a bottle of water. We helped each and every one. They were so grateful that they would often try to give us a gift. Hearts and minds in action. Hopefully they’d help us if we ever needed it.
‘Contact front. 100 meters,’ Knight’s voice whispered in my ear piece. I pulsed straight away, picking out four contacts.
‘Shit, they’re right in front of the safehouse. Guarantee there some more inside,’ said Zendar.
‘Weapons hot. Use those two abandoned Humvees for cover. We’ll engage from there, then sweep and clear. Confirm,’ I was moving before they answered, leader’s legs getting the better of me as I hurried to the Humvees, bent over to avoid the enemy from spotting me.
It was a good position. The Humvees were parked at 90 to each other, forming a vee-shape that gave us good cover, concealment and lines of sight.
‘This is going to be a walk in the park,’ said Knight as she sighted through two open windows, ‘The big one is mine.’
The others claimed their own targets, leaving me with a slightly built woman who had a bag of what looked like apples slung over her shoulder.
‘Three, two, one. Engage,’ Knight whispered. Zendar jumped the gun. Literally. His target went down with a high-pitched scream and a spray of blood before Knight had even reached ‘one, making the others naturally flinch. Making my shot miss.
Ducking down behind a parked car, she started screaming for help, calling out where she thought we were. I plinked a few shots into the car she was hiding behind, trying to keep her suppressed as the rest of my team tried to take their targets down.
‘Fuck it, sorry,’ said Zendar. No point in replying, he knew he’d fucked up.
The woman’s hand suddenly appeared over the roof of the car and what looked like an apple sailed through the air.
‘Grenade!’ It landed short, the explosion peppering the other side of the Humvee, rocking it on its wheels.
‘Take that bitch out!’ Driffel’s M-60 was chugging away, tracers glowing as they punched into the car the grenadier was hiding behind. I pulsed again and picked up more contacts hurrying towards us from up the street, and in the house.
‘Fuck this,’ I pulled out a grenade of my own and pulled the pin. Holding it for a count of two I lobbed it. Popping my head up I watched as it landed behind the car the grenadier was using. The shortened fuse gave her no time to react, her screaming torso blown out of cover, clothes smoking.
‘Contact right. Twenty metres. Engaging,’ Knight’s voice was as calm as if she was announcing the weather. Bullets hammered home on the other Humvee, starring the armoured glass. Trapped between two groups of hostiles, we had to act fast and with extreme violence. Staying still was not an option.
‘Turret out!’ I unhooked a sentry turret from my webbing and threw it towards the second group of enemy. It didn’t matter how it landed, a self-righting mechanism would pop it upright on a tripod that gave it a 360 firing arc.
‘Watch the door! Jam!’ Driffel’s curses filled the air as he struggled to clear his weapon.
It was just the opportunity that the escaped prisoners inside the house had been looking for. They rushed out, shotguns and assault rifles filling the air with lead.
Zendar and I tagged a couple each, but it wasn’t enough to stop them. The wounded lay screaming on the stoop, cursing their friends as they left lying in the open. Switching my SMG to full auto I let rip, chewing them to to bloody pieces.
The turret started firing, so fast that it sounded like ripping cloth. Someone screamed, starting to call for their mummy before another burst silenced them.
‘Switching weapons,’ said Knight. The warning was clear. The enemy to our right was close enough for Knight to use her SMG.
‘Zendar, help him. Seeker out,’ I rolled the seeker mine under the Humvee. It chirped as it registered its targets and sped off. Screams of fear came from the prisoners as they realised what was happening. A couple even tried to run but it was too late. The explosion blew pieces of car and body into the air.
A wounded hostile staggered out the smoke that was pouring from the now burning car. Blood jetted from the stump of her arm. I dropped her with a three round burst.
‘Moving,’ I leapt over the hood of the Humvee and sprinted to the wrecked car that the enemy had been using. A bullet thunked into the metal just above my head. Looking to my right I saw that one of the second group had managed to get past Knight and the turret.
He was blazing away, shooting from hip. He’d seen too many movies. His shots were wild, the gun bucking in his hands. I lay the dot of my sight over his stomach and fired.
The first round hit dead on, blood pulsing from it. The second round hit a couple of inches up, the third blew his rib cage open. As his body tumbled to the ground I popped the magazine from my SMG and slammed another one home.
‘Talk to me Driffel,’ the M-60 was back in action, bullets peppering the front of the brownstone that was our objective.
‘At least two in the window to the left. Three upstairs. None to the right. All clear to your front,’ Driffel was always clear and precise under pressure, no words wasted.
‘On me,’ I put bursts into each of the windows that he’d called out, forcing the enemy to duck down as he ran to me.
‘Knight, how’s it going?’
‘Clear. Joining you now.’
She and Zendar slammed into the car the grenadier had been taking cover behind.
‘Driffel, suppressing fire. Knight, Zendar with me. Frontal assault. Flashbang in the entrance. I’ll go to the left, you two take the right hand room. Driffel to follow as soon as we’re in. Confirm.’
The flashbang was out and sailing through the air before they’d finished answering. The explosion was ear shattering, devastating to anyone not expecting it, so loud it disrupted the inner ear. The flash that came with it was blinding. Combined they left their victims deaf, blind and highly vulnerable.
I vaulted the car and ran up the steps to the house. A figure staggered in the smoke and gloom in the hallway. Firing a burst I hit centre mass sending it wheeling away, slamming into the wall before falling to the floor.
‘One down,’ boots thumped up the stairs behind me as I approached the door to the left. I moved fast, confident that Knight and Zendar had my six.
Cracking the door open, I threw another flashbang into the room beyond, closing my eyes and opening my mouth to lessen the effects. Even thought I knew it was coming it still rocked me.
Spinning around the door post I entered the room, stock tucked tightly into my shoulder. A prisoner stood shouting in the middle of the room, blindly turning around to find a target. Two bursts sent him bonelessly to the ground, hands clutching at his ruined throat.
Stars exploded in my eyes as what felt like a sledgehammer slammed into my head, hands knocking my SMG away and down. The force of the blow staggered me. I released my weapon, throwing it away so that the sling would spin it around to my back.
Covering up, I manged to block the next two blows. Each one was just as powerful as the other. My arms felt like lead, pain throbbing from where the punches had hit. Shaking my head to clear my vision, I saw my opponent’s feet. That was all I needed.
I took another two hellish blows on my arms, then launched two of my own. Both went high, reinforced knuckles hitting my opponent on the head, switching him from attacker to defender in an instant.
Dropping to my knees I threw two powerful elbows into the inside of his knees, knocking his legs out into a straddle. One more shot landed straight in his balls. I rolled to the side as he dropped, hands clutching his groin. Drawing my knife, I thrust it deep into his kidney. One, two, three quick thrusts and he was down on the floor, blood already pooling.
The shuffling of feet was all the warning I had. I dove to the side as a baseball bat slammed into the floor, the sound of the blow muffled by the expensive-looking carpet.
I kept the dive going and rolled to my feet, twisting to face my opponent. He was wild-eyed, tattooed tear drops marking the number of people he’d supposedly killed. It was practically a river.
He swung again and I stepped back, the tip of the bat missing by millimetres. Another swing, this time backhand, and I had his measure. He fought angry. Too keen for the kill. He was off-balance and open once he’d made a forehand attack.
‘Come on then you fucker, I’m going to tear you a new hole,’ I smiled, opening my hands wide, goading him.
It worked. He swung, hard, face contorted with the effort. His whole torso twisted as he missed, the bat hissing through the air. And then, at the end of the swing, he was completely open.
I slashed, landing my blade on the side of his neck, then drew it back, slitting it wide open.
‘Oh,’ he clapped his hands to the cut, looking at me as if I’d just kicked his puppy. Mouth opening and shutting silently as blood poured down his chin he dropped to his knees, rocking back onto his feet as his lifeblood continued to pulse from the wound. He died quickly, his corpse slumped in a kneeling position.
‘Room clear,’ I rasped, the smoke and adrenalin making my throat drier than a camel’s arse.
‘All done here too,’ said Zendar as he stepped out of their assigned room. Looking past him I saw the wreckage of a vintage mahogany dining table lying scattered about.
‘Jensen! Harris! What the fuck you bitches doing down dere? Dem pigs dead yet?’ The accent was pure Boston.
Feet thudded on the ceiling above us. I pulsed and contacts appeared just above us.
Aiming up we let rip with everything we had, spraying the ceiling above us, plaster and wooden chips raining down on us.
‘Changing mag,’ I reloaded as quickly as possible, my weapon staying tucked into my shoulder all the time.
‘Reckon we got them?’
Bullets punched through the ceiling above and Driffel gave a cry, dropping to the floor, screaming that he was hit.
I stepped back into the room behind me as more bullets stitched their way across the floor. Splinters peppered me and I cursed as one went deep. Looking at the source of the pain I pulled one the size of a toothpick from my thigh.
Fuck that hurt.
‘Driff, roll to me man, roll to me,’ Zendar popped out an aid station, trying to grab hold of Driffel’s shoulder tabs. More shots forced him back and Driffel screamed as he was hit again.
‘You gotta help me man, roll to me dammit!’
Knight and I returned fire, raking the ceiling, forcing the enemy to take cover. Blood started to drip through the ceiling, the white plaster turning red.
I glanced over at Zendar as the aid station went to work, diagnosing Driffel’s wounds, directing Zendar as he treated our friend, a spindly arm reaching out to inject blood-clotting liquid into the holes.
‘Both through and through, no major damage,’ Zendar slapped a stim patch onto Driffel’s neck. It would dull the pain and stimulate him, keeping him combat capable for a short while. After that he was going to crash. Badly.
Driffel roared as the stimulants kicked in, clambering to his feet.
‘We’ve got to move,’ said Knight, placing single shots into random parts of the ceiling.
‘Lead on. Zendar and Driffel to the rear.’
Knight fired a couple more shots before moving on. I slipped around, hand on her shoulder as I followed her.
‘Stairs to the right,’ the hallway was long, stretching for most of the oak stairway, ‘be ready.’
Knight slowly turned, walking backwards so that she would have a shot as soon as a gap appeared. I kept facing forward, ready to defend her rear.
A shotgun roared, pellets shredding the bannister and sending parquet flooring flying.
‘Damn!’ We both tucked into the side of the stairs, Knight’s gun barking in response. Mine still trained on the end of the corridor.
There was no way we could move forward without exposing ourselves to the murderous fire. No safe way of throwing a grenade. Even the seeker mines would have trouble at this angle.
I popped a turret free from its clasp and slid it along the once-highly polished floor. In seconds it was up and engaging the enemy.
‘Move,’ I rushed past the turret then turned. If I was careful I would be able to climb the stairs without breaking the turret’s line of sight.
‘Moving,’ I crabbed my way up the stairs, hugging the wall tight as the turret’s shots zipped past me. The hostile was shouting. A mix of frightened curses and angry challenges, as well as calls for help. Seems that there was no honour amongst thieves.
He never knew what hit him. Slipping around the corner I placed my suppressor against his head and blew his brains out. The cleaning bill was going to be astronomical.
The rest of my raced past me, guns up as they raked the walls and doors ahead, forcing anyone in front of them to take cover so that we could take possession of the landing. Shouting came from at least two of the rooms ahead.
‘Where the fuck did all of them come from?’ Driffel was pumped, fingers rapidly drumming on his machine gun.
‘Probably from a room in back. Pulse didn’t reach them,’ I replied, ‘they’d have moved forward as soon as we entered. We’ll take the left door first. Me and Knight will take points one and two. Zendar three, Driffel four. Move and stack.’
We covered the ground quickly. I approached a door, taking hold of the handle, Knight tucking in tightly behind me. A quick twist and a push and the door was open. I tossed a grenade into the room and pulled the door shut. Screams. An explosion. More screams.
‘Go,’ I threw the door wide open buttonhooking into the room, whilst Knight stepped past the door. Each of us instinctively moved to our point of domination and swept the corner of the room in front of us before sweeping our weapons through our half of the room.
Bodies littered the floor, more joining them as Knight and I engaged those that were still standing. Our shots blasted them off their feet, bullets ripping through their flesh and into the wall behind them.
Zendar and Driffel followed, guns blazing as they cleared the fatal funnel caused by the door, moving to their points of the room, more targets dropping. It was a massacre.
The room was filled with the sound of our panting and metallic snicks as we ejected our magazines and popped in new ones. It took two tries before I got mine in. We’d been fighting for over five minutes, exhaustion replacing adrenalin. I was fighting on pure willpower now. This was my moment. If I gave in to my body’s demands for rest I was dead. I forced the exhaustion to the back of my mind, focussing on my duty as a father to live.
Moving to the door I made sure that no-one had entered the corridor to ambush us. Nothing moved.
‘Clear. Looks like they want us to come to them.’
‘Fuck that. Out the way,’ Driffel’s hand grasped my shoulder and pulled me none-too-gently back into the room, ‘Get your seekers out.’
He shouldered his M-60 and thumbed the laser sight, ‘I’m going to blast the door handles off, should open them nicely. Send the seekers in as soon as they open and blow the fuckers out.’
The M-60 roared. It had a slow rate of fire, slow enough that you could hear each round as it was fired, but it was also large calibre, and my ears rang as each bullet was sent on its way.
Ducking down, I rolled a seeker into the hallway as a door was blown open. Pulsing I picked up a number of targets. The mine chirped happily and sped into the first room. The explosion sent a body tumbling out of the room, arms and legs akimbo.
Driffel tracked his weapon to the left, trigger held tightly, walking his rounds along the fine wallpaper, gouging massive holes in the plaster. The second door gave way quickly and I threw another seeker towards it. As soon as it entered a prisoner came sprinting out, crashing into the wall before bouncing off.
‘Target!’ I fired, my shots raking the prisoner’s legs, dropping him to the floor. I fired again, pulping his face, brains showering the ceiling as his head exploded. The mine detonated. Debris showered out of the room.
‘This is like Saving Private fucking Ryan,’ said Driffel. I looked up and saw he had a huge grin on his face, his whole body shaking with the force of his weapon’s recoil, ‘last one, be ready.’
He laid his laser sight on the door at the end of the corridor, blowing it open in under a second. As soon as I could I bowled a mine straight into it. Someone cried out a warning just before it detonated.
‘Moving,’ Driffel dropped his M-60 to the floor, switching to his P416. We followed, stacking up against the ruined wall. It didn’t matter who took point, we each knew exactly what to do. Momentum was key.
We swept into the room. All of the hostiles were down. One of them was making a snorting sound, another keening in agony. Two shots and they were dead.
‘Moving,’ I stepped out of the room, making myself point and moved towards the second door, weapon trained on the room at the end. I spotted movement and triggered a burst.
‘Hostiles in the end room,’ if they wanted to, and still had their wits about them, they could wipe us out if we moved into the corridor. I wasn’t prepared to take the risk. I unhooked my last turret and sent it skidding along the floor into the far room. Its presence alone would distract the enemy.
‘Go!’ I moved quickly, too quickly if I was honest, the thought of an active enemy on my flank driving me forward.
Stepping into the next room I ran straight into a hostile. No thought. No time. I shoved my suppressor into him and fired, pushing his body backward, shooting all of the time.
The rest of the team followed me, filling the air with lead as they did so, cutting down the other hostile that was still standing.
‘Clear!’ the cry echoed around the room.
‘Fuck me,’ I was shaking, the adrenaline caused by the shock of being that close to someone who wanted to kill me racing through my body. I felt sick and badly needed to piss.
‘He very nearly fucked you buddy, you should get his number,’ how Zendar could laugh at a time like this was beyond me. The strain was getting to me and I had fuck-all humour.
‘Last room. Thank fuck.’
Entering the corridor we covered the distance to the door as quickly as possible. I could just see the turret, barrel glowing red, smoke curling up from the metal. The house was silent; no sound aside from my team’s breathing and the pounding of my heart.
The room was a charnel house. What the seeker hadn’t destroyed, the turret had. I counted at least six bodies strewn amongst the wreckage of what had been the master bedroom. An antique four-poster bed leaned drunkenly to one side.
‘Looks like they were setting up their own safe house,’ said Knight from her position in the room, ‘shame we fucked up their plans.’
‘Secure the front door. Make sure those Humvees are moved so they don’t give anyone any cover. I’ll contact HQ.’
I watched as they left the room, then keyed my mic.
‘This is Vector Four Alpha. Mission Accomplished.’