My radio was going apeshit. The airwaves filled with chatter. Panic bounced its way across the city receiver to receiver.
‘Switch to five, those JTF pukes have completely lost the plot,’ my stomach knotted, it was becoming clearer as to how so much of the city was now in the Dark Zone.
‘Fucking dicks couldn’t wipe their arses if they were in a toilet paper factory,’ slurred Driffel, eyes hooded.
‘Shut the fuck up and go to sleep, Doctor Zendar’s orders.’ Our medic gently brushed his hand over Driffel’s face, closing his eyes as his fingers went over them. They stayed closed.
‘He’s going to be out for the next couple of hours. The bullet wounds will heal nicely. He was lucky. We were lucky.’
My earpiece hissed for a moment before a mellow-sounding voice spoke to me, ‘This is Major Gilly, calling Vector Five Alpha, how copy?’ Vector Five was the call sign of our team. As team leader, my call sign for the command net was Alpha.
‘Vector Five Alpha, send over.’
‘You have hostiles inbound. Drones have picked them up coming from the front and rear of your position.’
I cursed, looking up to the ceiling and wondering what I’d done to have so much shit drop on me.
‘How many hostiles?’
‘Estimate twenty. Possibly more. Supplies will be dropped in five minutes.’
Thank God. We had fuck all ammo left, and I was bang out of toys.
‘ETA for hostiles?’
‘Ten minutes. Maybe sooner. Looks like they want their safehouse back.’
‘Roger that. Orders?’
‘Hold at all costs. The Rikers are to be denied that position. Acknowledge.’
‘Roger that,’ my mouth was dry. She’d just ordered us to fight to the death. No surrender. Not that surrendering to a bunch of psychopaths like the Rikers was really an option.
‘Good luck Vector Five Alpha. Gilly out.’
‘Vector Five Alpha out.’
‘What the just happened dear boy! You look somewhat constipated,’ said Zendar, brow furrowed as he searched my face for an answer.
‘We have upward of twenty hostiles inbound. Ten minutes tops. Ammo drop in five. No surrender.’
‘You have got to be shitting me!’ Zendar rocked back onto his heels, wiping a hand over his face, all manners forgotten.
‘Remember the Alamo.’ Probably wasn’t the best example to use. A brave band of warriors go down fighting. Not a chance we were going down.
Knight was equally unimpressed when I made my way up to her position on the roof and told her our orders. I thought for a split second that she was going to throw me down to the street below.
‘Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck,’ she said it like a mantra, I half expected her to shave her head and wear an orange robe, ‘we’re utterly fucked.’
‘Hey, enough of the negativity. We’re going to have ammo and kit coming out of our ears in less than five minutes. This is a good position.
‘That’s if the drop lands directly outside and we don’t have to abandon the position to get the supplies,’ Knight said as she scanned the street for targets through her scope.
‘When the supplies arrive, I want you to use bombs and turrets. At the very least we’ll be able to force them back until reinforcements get here. Clear?’
‘Roger that. Sounds like a helo incoming.’
She was right. I shaded my eyes as I scanned the blue skies above us, snow-laden clouds drifting towards us.
‘There, 10 o’clock, 500 metres out.’
‘Team. Zendar and I are going to get the supplies, Knight will remain on the roof and provide over watch.’
‘Guess we better pop some smoke. Enemy knows we’re here anyway,’ said Knight. Her shitty attitude was really starting to piss me off. I bit my tongue, no point in pissing off the world’s best sniper when you need her to cover your arse.
I tugged a smoke grenade off my webbing, pulled the pin and tossed it down into the street below.
‘Zendar, meet me at the top of the stoop.’
‘They missed. How on earth could they drop the crate in the wrong street?’ Zendar panted as we sprinted along the street the safehouse was on.
‘Panic. These pilots aren’t combat vets. They’re cops and civilians. Seems the government is holding any pilots worth a shit in reserve,’ I panted, the day’s work really taking its toll. That and the fact I’d let myself settle in to undercover life just a little too well.
‘Down here, they’ve dropped it between two streets,’ Zendar cut left and leapt for the top of a chain fence that blocked our passage. He was up and over in a second.
‘Parkour!’ I shouted, arms straining as I hauled myself up and over. I landed heavily, stumbled back and bumped into the gate in the fence. With a squeak it slowly swung open.
‘Oh for fuck’s sake.’
We were getting tired. Going for what we thought was the simple option, or the direct option, rather than considering the options properly.
‘Forget it. We’ve got other problems. The supplies are stuck,’ from Zendar’s face they were more than stuck.
I followed him to the end of the alley and looked to where he was pointing.
‘Jesus, they couldn’t have fucked this up anymore if they tried,’ I felt pain in my hands, and opened them slowly, lucky I was wearing gloves or my nails would have drawn blood.
‘Never seen someone turn puce before,’ said Zendar.
‘I’m fine,’ I said through gritted teeth, ‘We’ve just got to work out how to scale 60 feet of building and get a half-ton crate of weapons down safely.’
As if it was mocking us the snagged parachute billowed and swayed from side to side.
‘Three minutes before the hostiles arrive,’ Knight was on her own and we’d have to fight through an enemy force ten times our size.
‘Guys, where are you? Enemy movement. They’re moving fast and dumb. I’m about to educate them. Help would be appreciated.’
Knight’s voice was dead cool. It was as if we were discussing the latest Ubersoft release over a coffee.
‘We’ll be there,’ I gasped. My chest heaved, my eyes stinging as sweat streamed into them. My arm ached as I stretched it to my fullest, the crate twisted as once again it fingertips jabbed into it.
‘You’re going to have to jump for it,’ said Zendar, ‘Knight can’t wait.’
Jumping for a crate 60 feet up in the air was never mentioned in any of the interviews I went through. ‘You wanna try instead?’
‘Thanks for the offer dear boy, but you’re Alpha whereas I’m just Beta.’
Smart-ass motherfucker. Maybe his body would break my fall. Sucking in a breath I held it for a second as I tensed my leg muscles, then pushed off hard.
Stomach in my mouth I sailed through the air like a suicidal brick. The side of the chest crushed the breath from me. Stars exploded in my eyes, pain shooting through my body. Glove-covered fingers scrabbled anything they could find to stop me from falling to my death. A scream forced its way out as my fingers lodged in a strap and then broke as my body weight fell onto them.
‘That was bloody amazing! You okay?’ The sound of Zendar clapping reached even through the pounding in my ears, ‘I thought you were dead for sure.’
‘Thanks,’ the pain was excruciating, the bones grinding against each other, making me gag.
‘The education has begun. I can’t take them all. ETA?’ Knight’s voice was accompanied by the sound of gunfire from the street behind us.
‘Five minutes. Tops. We might have to fight from this side of the street though. Out.’
Now came the tricky part. The crate had flipped upside down, the latch to open it being on the top. I needed to pull myself up, key in a 6-digit code, pop the latches and open the crate. All without falling to my death.
Taking a karabiner I clipped it to the strap I was holding on to, using my broken hand to take the pressure for 5 agonising seconds. Tears streaming down my cheeks I waited until my breathing was nearly back to normal before stage two.
Scrabbling around my back with my good hand I unhooked the length of climbing rope we’d all been issued with. Screaming as the bones in my fingers grated against each other I quickly looped the rope through it and attached it to my belt.
Sobbing I relaxed my arm and let the rope take my weight. Reaching up with my good hand I pulled my mangled hand out from between the crew and the strap.
The sound of a SAW erupted in the distance, the gunner holding the trigger down for what seemed like an eternity before it cut off.
‘Boom! Headshot! Any chance you handsome princes can come and rescue a beautiful princess?’
Despite my pain I laughed, the thought of a Disney Princess Cloudy Knight springing into my mind. That image gave me a chance to push the pain of my fingers to the back of my head. Making the most of that I hauled myself up until I could see the keypad and stabbed the combination in as quickly as I could.
A series of explosions sent thunderous echoes throughout the block.
‘Dummies just blew the shit out of themselves. This is amateur night.’
‘Nearly there Cloudy, nearly there. Zendar. It’s about to rain metal. Stand clear.’
The equipment would be in separate boxes inside the crate. The fall might damage the boxes, but everything else should be fine. I’d have crossed my fingers if some weren’t broken whilst the others were holding on for dear life despite the rope. The last latch popped and I pushed myself to the side as the crate lid snapped open, the contents crashing out to the ground below.
‘Well done, all you have to do is get down.’ Zendar really could be a smug bastard sometimes.
Getting down actually proved to be easier than getting up. I merely followed training, tied a shit load of knots and loopy things – the names of which I’d forgotten – took a deep breath and abseiled down.
‘Sit next to the aid station. Put your hand in here and say ..’
‘Fuck me!’ I’d followed Zendar’s instructions to the letter. I hadn’t expected the aid station to relocate my fingers so damned brutally.
‘Well done my brave little soldier. Want a sticker?’
‘Piss off you prick what happened to the pain… Ohhh that’s good.’ A needle had slipped into my hand, forcing some opiate or other into my system.
‘Don’t get too comfortable. The stim should be kicking in just about now.’
Imagine drinking thirty espressos in a row, then catching your toddler just before it steps in front of a car. That’s exactly what the stim felt like. It was glorious. It was fucking horrible. Energy coursed through me and I itched all over as I snatched my newly healed hand out of the aid station.
‘Lets go kill people. Knight, we’re on our way,’ rooting through the pile of supplies I hooked them onto my webbing as quickly as I could, looping belts of MG ammo around me. I felt like Rambo.
‘Hold on Adrienne, we’re coming.’ Gritting out teeth, we headed back to the fight, not giving a shit that I’d just mashed two awesome films together.
Getting back to our street had proven to be easy. The streets were clear of Rikers so we walked down the street next to ours and worked out which of the Brownstones was opposite ours. Breaking in we went straight through to the back and the alley behind.
‘That’s the one we need,’ Zendar painted the wall of the brownstone he was talking about with his laser. Smashing our way through the back door of the brownstone, we raced up to the second floor, trying to get as best a viewpoint as possible.
Rikers were everywhere. Most were still trying to make their way down the street, a blazing wreck hampering their efforts.
A few had made it to the cover of cars in front of the building we were sheltering in. I thanked God that the humvees had been moved.
‘Knight, we’re unable to get to you. We have to do some tidying first. Concentrate on the group by the wreck. We’ll engage the fuckers in front of us.’
‘Roger that. Bout time you showed up boss man.’
Tracking my weapon up I watched as Cloudy shifted her angle of fire. If I hadn’t known she was there it would have been nearly impossible to see her.
‘Zendar, on my mark. Fire.’
It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The Rikers had their backs to us and nowhere to run to. I raked them with the contents of a full magazine, blowing them apart. No finesse. No headshots, just a hail of lead, Zendar’s shotgun roaring beside me.
Seconds. People that had taken years to truly take form were blasted into bloody chunks in the space of a few heartbeats, dead before they even knew it.
‘Fucking bastards got off lightly,’ muttered Zendar as we reloaded.
‘Knight, covering fire, we’re coming to you,’ racing back down the stairs we burst through the front door, leapt down the stoop, and dashed across the street.
Bullets zipped and cracked behind us but none were close enough to worry me.
‘Welcome home gents. Close the door behind you.’
‘Vector Five Alpha to command. How copy over?’
Silence greeted me. I’d been trying for five minutes since Zendar and I had returned to the safehouse. Each time had been a failure.
‘Fucking bitch has ditched us,’ Knight was well and truly pissed off.
‘We don’t know that. Most likely is that the Rikers have taken down one of the relays in the area. Once we deal with this situation we’ll fix that.’
The Rikers had taken up positions in the house Zendar and I had initially sheltered in, as well as behind the cars opposite our position. Bullets peppered the front of our position, not one window surviving the hail of gunfire.
‘Boom! Headshot!’ Knight was back to her calm self now that we had rejoined her. It was good to know that she could be rattled.
‘What’s going on over there?’ Zendar pointed to some movement behind a panel van. Rikers ran between it and a beaten up Ford.
‘No clue. Keep an eye on it.’
Snapping off a shot I caught a Riker in the base of her spine, sniper rifle spinning away as she shrieked, pulling herself along the ground, legs trailing behind her. Brains erupted from her head, face crashing into the sidewalk.
‘Not fair Cloudy that one was mine. She was bleeding out.’
‘No way, you snooze you lose!’
‘Guys, more movement by that van. I think they’re going to assault us,’ Zendar had his weapon tucked tightly in, brow furrowed.
‘Turret ready.’ I’d been holding them in reserve, not wanting to have to dash back to the alley. No way were the Rikers going to let that happen again.
Rikers popped up all along their position guns blazing. The hail of bullets ripped through the brownstone, showering us with plaster, brick dust and sharp shards of stone. Hugging the floor I jammed my mask on, I needed to be able to concentrate on the enemy, not my breathing.
‘They’re coming. We’ve got a gunner covered in demolitions armour. Christ he’s big!’ Said Knight.
As bullets punched their way into our position I willed myself to move, fighting the natural instinct to just stay put. It took everything I had to expose myself long enough to toss my turret through the remains of a sash window.
Cries of alarm came from outside as the turret let rip, turning into screams as the caseless rounds chewed into flesh.
‘Fucking love those little bastards, Ericksson. Toss a seeker please. Set those fuckers on fire,’ I could hear Knight’s rifle chuffing in my ear as she fired rapidly.
My turret had forced the enemy to take cover, slowing their advance, cutting the volume of their fire. It was much easier to step out into the open for the split second I needed to lob the seeker into the middle of the street.
That was all the time I needed to see the enemy heavy plodding towards us. He was huge, thick plates of armour making him seem even larger. My legs started to shake as he turned his weapon on me. Ducking back I covered my head as the machine gun’s heavy slugs cut through the brickwork as if it was paper.
‘Shoot the cunt! I can’t take a shot,’ my heart pounded, legs shook and I felt as if the mask was trying to suffocate me.
‘Hang tight dear boy. Mines have acquired him. Engaging now,’ I didn’t even realise that Zendar had relocated.
Gotta get a fucking grip, can’t let the others know how scared I am, I thought, shocked that Zendar had moved without me even realising.
What was left of the antique sash window was blown inwards, unbearable heat washing over me as the mines exploded, incinerating anyone within a couple of metres, setting those further away alight. Hostiles screamed and slapped at their clothing as the chemically induced fire burnt everything it touched.
‘Guns up!’ I roared, needing to prove to the world that I wasn’t scared. My SMG kicked against my shoulder as I poured the entire contents of my magazine into the behemoth before me. Zendar and Knight were also firing, tracer cutting down from the floor above. The medic must have borrowed Driffel’s M-60.
The hammer on my SMG clicked home on an empty chamber, ‘Reloading, switch to explosive!’
Dropping my SMG I hooked my heavily modded AK-47 around, popped the magazine and slapped in another marked with red-tape.
‘I love it when you talk dirty to me,’ chuckled Knight, a loud crack telling me she’d beaten me to the mark.
Leaning around what was left of the window frame I fired, catching a shotgun-wielding Riker in the chest with a single shot. The special round punched through his breastbone before detonating, blowing his rib cage wide open, shattered vertebrae spraying over the face of his partner, a heavily tattooed gang-banger. That one took a shot in the thigh, crashing to the floor and screaming in agony as his leg was amputated.
My rifle continued to track towards the gang’s leader, my special rounds blowing hostiles apart as I took opportunistic shots. As soon as my sights covered the gang leader I flicked the selector switch from semi-automatic to fully auto. Feathering the trigger I emptied my magazine, the first few rounds blowing Kevlar and improvised armour into the air. My target staggered, then took a step back as a shot from above cracked the reinforced helmet he was wearing.
Every bullet I fired hit home, whittling away at his protection, causing him to hunker down. Stomach leaping I screamed in victory as his shoulder armour flopped through the air, my next round sending his arm after it.
Blood pulsing from the ragged stump, the gang leader dropped to his knees, a high-pitched keen, higher than anything coming from a human should have been, piercing the noise of the battle.
A single shot smashed through his faceplate, helmet blowing apart, corpse falling onto the bloodstained street.
There was a pause, the enemy faltering as they realised that their leader was dead. For some this was fatal. The Strategic Homeland Division doesn’t play fair. We have no code of honour, no morals when it comes to dealing with enemies of the state. Six were killed where they stood before the remaining five or so took cover.
‘Odds are in our favour,’ said Zendar, I could hear him firing short bursts, keeping the enemy’s heads down. Standard doctrine taught that in order to assault a position, the odds needed to be 3:1, the Rikers didn’t stand a chance.
‘Vector Five Alpha, this is Delta One Alpha, ETA one minute, how copy over?’
Punching the air, smile so wide I thought my face would split, I keyed my mic,
‘ Delta One Alpha, this is Vector Five Alpha, good to hear you. Estimate four hostiles using cover across the street from us. Appreciate it if you could use extreme prejudice in moving them on.’
‘Copy that. Engaging now.’ Gunfire filled the street, Delta One not using suppressors, a drawing the enemy’s fire from us.
It took seconds. Trapped between my team and Delta One, the hostiles had no chance.
Chugging from my water bottle I watched as the other team policed the street outside, every hostile receiving a pistol bullet in the head, ensuring they would never be a threat again.
Strangely there were six of them. Despite that they moved well as a team. They were just climbing the stairs to our position when I heard a yawn behind me.
‘Jesus, I take a little nap and you wreck the place.’
Turning around I smiled as Driffel stretched, yawn so wide that I heard his jaw crack.
”Bout time you woke up. Get a brush and clear up would you?’