This is a compilation of all 5 chapters of my Tom Clancy’s The Division Short Story. I shall be writing a second set based in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2.
Chapter One – Clear
My watch was glowing. A bright orange circle. Like the Black Spot of Death. I was fucked. Work was calling.
“Blend in, work hard at the day job, make friends but keep them casual and don’t get attached”, they said.
As usual they were wrong. People are social animals, no matter what the profiles state. Don’t get attached. That was the first order we were given that I knew would be broken. Even if the attachment was just a fish, it would happen. It didn’t matter how hard any of us tried. None of us would be able to obey that order.
Other orders were along the lines of ‘stay sharp, wait for a call that might never come’. All of the projections were that the call would come, but they just didn’t know when. It was as if they had built the Doomsday Clock of Uncertainty. It was almost as bad as volunteering for the U.N.
Our orders were to simply wait for an event that would cause us to be activated. I don’t mean something like 9/11. I mean something big such as the Zombie Apocalypse or, in this case, terrorists painting money with a smallpox derivative. The Green Plague. Our strategic objective is to ensure the continuity of government in the case of a catastrophic emergency using any means possible.
The trouble with getting a job and trying your best to blend in, is that it causes you to have social interaction with a wide range of people. Depending on the job you get, that social interaction can reach far and wide. Some of us got jobs with the fire department, others were cops, or paramedics. Two even opened a coffee shop together. They were the canny ones as they got funded to assist them.
I got a crummy job working in a tech firm. It was middle-of-the-road, developing apps and the odd online game such as ‘Munchkins World’. Nothing hot and way below what I was actually capable of. I settled in well.
I used the corporate gym members and was a member of a number of martial arts clubs. Bartitsu, reality based, BJJ, HEMA, as well as a shooting club. I had to keep my training up. Keep my skills sharp. But it’s hard to say sharp when your mission is to live in to a population that isn’t out to get you, where there aren’t enemy agencies hunting you down. Hell, I didn’t even leave my country.
I picked the tech firm because the tech world is still predominantly male, most of whom have no real social skills, and therefore the chance of me meeting someone I wanted to get closer to was incredibly low.
Only it wasn’t. Within two weeks I was smitten. I tried to hide it, but Karen was a stunning strawberry blonde with the sick sort of humour that I had. She was also active; horse riding and martial arts being two of her hobbies. She was everything I’d ever wanted in a woman. The fact that I’d been ordered to not get close to her made it all the more inevitable that I would.
And so I sat there, looking at my watch as is glowed orange, trying to keep it away from my three-month-old daughter’s chubby hands, wondering how the hell I was going to tell Karen the truth. Three fucking years I’d been waiting for the call. Three. I waited one year before I got with Karen. Another before I married her. Our daughter was a happy surprise. Not that my superiors agreed. I think by that time they’d all but given up on trying to create emotionless robots. After all, if we can’t empathise with the people we’re supposed to help, what’s the point? Didn’t stop them from chewing out my arse.
I stared at my watch. At that moment I wanted to smash it. To deny that I’d ever seen it glow. Only I couldn’t. This was my calling. I’d been approached by agents of the Strategic Homeland Division, vetted before I even knew they were interested in me, trained in secret and then sent back to normal life.
‘Why’s your watch glowing?’ I hadn’t realised that Karen had entered the room. She was supposed to be catching up on sleep after the baby had spent five hours crying straight through the night. My stomach flipped. Damn I felt sick.
‘It’s work. I’ve got to go. Manhattan,’ the words stuck in my throat, my mouth dry.
‘Go where? Are you fucking kidding me? People are dying out there. There’s even rumours that rioters are on the streets in Brooklyn. It’s spreading. Why does a tech company need one of their nerds to go into the fucking apocalypse?’
I winced as her voice rose. She had a set of lungs on her that my platoon sergeant would have killed for. It set the baby crying.
‘That’s not my real work.’ There, I’d said it. For three whole years I’d wanted to say it. I’d thought, naively, that saying it would lift a weight from my shoulders. Looking at her face, I wished I could un-say it.
‘What?’ she took the baby from me and hugged her tight, sea-green eyes pinning me to the spot. I stood as she did so, not wanting to let go, wanting an extra second of contact with my daughter.
My stomach cramped and I wished it was me she was holding.
‘That’s not my real job. It’s a cover I’m..’ she didn’t let me finish.
‘What a spy? You’re going to tell me you’re a spy, grabbing their corporate secrets?’
‘No love. I work for the government. When things go wrong like they have in Manhattan, it’s up to us to clear things up.’
‘Is your name even Dave?’
‘No.’ Even holding the baby she was able to hit me hard enough that I took three steps to regain my balance. She had a mean right hook and it had landed full on. I’d forgotten how fast she was. Christ, I loved her.
‘I deserved that. I’m sorry. My name is Johannus Ericksson. My parents are dead, that part is true. They died when I was a Ranger,’ she didn’t know that I was a veteran either. She did a double-take at that. We’d had the chance to tell people the truth about our past. I thought it would be easier if I built up a completely new life. How wrong could I be?
‘Get. The. Fuck. Out.’ Tears streamed down her face as she took one last look at me and ran into the bedroom, slamming the door shut.
I want to the under stairs cupboard, removed the false panel and took out my go bag. Pulling out a radio, I slotted in my earpiece and toggled the send button.
‘This is Ericksson. En route.’ Dashing away the tears on my cheeks I grabbed my stuff and left, abandoning my family during the worst humanitarian disaster in American history.
‘Don’t get so fucking close!’ A 50-something suit shouted in face, actually trying to push me back as the queue for the train station exit surged.
Sure, tensions were high and people were worried about catching The Green Plague, but it wasn’t as if there was anything I could do about it. I didn’t want be rubbing up against someone that smelt as bad as he did. So when he placed his hand on my chest, something snapped. Some things snapped actually.
He screamed, dropping his Buckstar Americano as he clutched at his broken wrist.
‘Learn some fucking manners.’
I stepped past him, pushing through the crowd, trying to catch the attention a couple transit cops stood at the head of the queue. They were on edge. Batons in both hands, their eyes darted over everyone and no-one. Masks covered their mouths.
One finally spotted me as I sharpened my elbows and people started crying out.
‘Hey, buddy! Quit shoving, and wait your turn!’ The cop was shitting himself. Probably pissing his pants about getting ill; wishing he was at home with his family. I knew exactly how he felt.
I held my ID wallet up, my shiny SHD badge drawing his eyes like a fly to shit.
‘Homeland. Get me out of this station and get me a car. Now.’
‘About fucking time! Good to see you Ericksson!’ Dom Driffel pulled me into a massive hug. My back popped, fortunately in a good way. He was strong. Surprisingly so for a geography teacher. Climbing kept him in shape it seemed.
‘Hey man,’ Cloudy Knight waved from across the room. That wasn’t her real name, but she’d liked it and insisted we call her by it. As ever she looked completely chilled out, chugging a beer down as quickly as she could.
‘Thought you weren’t supposed to be drinking?’
‘I’m not, but my cover as a lapsed Muslim has caused some seriously bad habits. It’s my last one. It’s the last one we’ll have for a long time.’ She drew “long out:, actually having to take breath. Then she belched. I could have sworn the windows rattled.
‘Ooops,’ she and Driffel both laughed. They were the grunts of the squad. Driffel’s favourite weapon was the M-60, Knight was our marksman and close-in SMG specialist. Between the two of them they could assault or suppress targets at will.
The last member of our squad was Phil ‘Mad’ Zendar. I’d asked him where the surname came from and had then promptly forgotten it. He’d got the nickname ‘Mad’ because he was up for anything when it came to Parkour. Point at it and he would climb it, scale it, flip over it or jump off it. Mad. I preferred to keep both my feet on the ground.
‘Good afternoon good sir,’ Zendar was always the gentleman and could grow a beard in a day. He was impeccably turned out in casual attire, a cravat puffing over his jumper, ‘Catch.’
I caught. It was a field dressing. Zendar was our medic. The best I’d ever come across.
‘Thanks. Gear check in 30 minutes.’ I started laying my gear on the coffee table nearby. I was the tech guy. I deployed turrets, seeker mines, called out all of the targets and interfaced my smart lenses with their weapon systems, improving situational awareness and their ability to hit vital targets as quickly as possible.
Picking up a seeker mine, I huffed on if, buffing away some speck of dust. I’d named each one of them, this was Christine. It’s sick, I know, but the way that they chirruped as they acquired targets made me empathise with them. I’d had them all through training, using dummy explosives to mark a kill, and now I’d get a chance to use them in anger. I’d be lying if I said wasn’t curious to see what they did to a human being.
‘Here.’ Driffel dropped a belt of 7.62mm rounds next to me, ‘I’m going to need you to carry these. Everyone is.’ The M-60 had a relatively slow rate of fire, but it still burned through ammunition so if we could carry extra rounds to feed it, we would. Driffel was an artist with that gun. He once boasted that he’d signed his name on a wall with one. I believed him.
‘You got a bad feeling about this?’ It was a shitty question. A good leader should never voice doubts, but we’d known each other long enough for me to know he was off kilter.
‘We’ve all got a bad feeling about this. Wave 1 is what .. fucked? There was never really supposed to be a Wave 2. Adele is fucking pissed.’
Driffel had also disobeyed the don’t get attached order. As had Zendar.
Cloudy looked over to me with a somewhat smug smile, ‘Jane freaked out too. She was so fucking excited. It was hot.’ I could have smacked her in the face for that. But then I’d have had to sleep with one eye open for the rest of eternity. There was an edge to Cloudy that had even the most hard-bitten instructors tip-toeing around her.
‘It’s time for us to earn our second salary. You know, the one where we pay no taxes and get to retire on when we reach 45?’
‘Yeah, like we’re ever going to get that old!’ she said.
We all laughed at that. People were dying in droves in Manhattan. The plague had brought New York City to its knees. There were rumours of rioters, escaped prisoners and mercenaries gone wild. And we were being dropped in there. Our life expectancy was in days now, not years.
‘Check your gear. Make sure you’re ready.’
I loved helicopter rides. Swooping over the land as its blades cut through the air, defying all attempts by gravity to pull us back down. Usually the view was pretty cool too. Not this one. Manhattan was a mess. Smoke rose from buildings where someone had died and left the stove on, or dropped a cigarette onto their chair. There were no emergency services able to fight those fires. The Joint Task Force, aka JTF, was doing its best, but they weren’t tasked with firefighting. To be honest, I was a bit unsure what they were tasked with as they’d done such a shit job in central Manhattan. So shit that everyone had pulled out of there.
‘Two minutes!’ I jumped out of my skin as the gunner’s voice blasted into my headset. I thought I’d hidden my surprise well as I gave her a thumbs-up, but the shit-eating smile on her face said otherwise.
Our mission was simple. We were to set up a safe house. A staging post if you like. From there other Wave 2 agents would be able to get supplies and be tasked with missions. On paper it looked like a walk in the park. Looking at the chaos below us, I knew it would be anything but.
The helicopter suddenly lurched to the side, then dropped so fast that my stomach felt like it was trying to climb out of my nose. I snatched at the aptly named grab rail as we banked sharply.
The gunner was screaming in my ears. I looked over, seeing that Zendar was slapping a dressing onto what remained of the woman’s arm. Light streamed through holes that hadn’t been there seconds before, caused by heavy calibre rounds that had stitched their way across the cabin, the noise hidden by the thunder of the engines.
The helo nosed down again and my stomach flipped as I experienced a moment of negative g, weightlessness, before dropping back down onto my seat so hard my teeth clacked.
I ripped off my headphones and clambered towards the cockpit.
‘We’re dropping you there. That dock. Hudson,’ yelled the pilot before I even had a chance to ask them what the fuck they were doing. A horrible grinding was coming from the engine and I knew better than to insist they stay on mission.
‘Well, fuck me,’ said Cloudy as we watched the helo lurch into the sky. They had barely touched the skids to the ground before they were screaming at us to disembark.
All of the additional supplies we were supposed to have had were rapidly vanishing into the distance.
‘Suck it up babyface, we’re over 500 metres from our objective, and in hostile territory. Focus on what needs to be done, not what has been done.’
She flipped me the bird as soon as I’d finished talking. Guess I deserved it
Warehouses were dotted all over the dockyard, with shipping containers and abandoned vehicles everywhere. Lines of sight were good in some places, poor in others. The potential for an ambush would have had my instructors drooling.
‘Diamond pattern. Driffle on point, Zendar at the rear.’
Driffel set off, as soon he was about 10 metres in front, myself and Cloudy, the ‘side’ points of the diamond started walking, angling ourselves away so that there was 20 metres between us. I heard Zendar start to walk once we too were far enough away from him.
The diamond pattern was a good formation. It gave us all round visibility with the ability to react to any threat regardless as to where it came from. If any one of us came under fire, they would take any cover they could and return it whilst the rest of us work our way towards them until we were in an extended line with one member just behind the rest.
I looked up. Driffel had his secondary weapon – an M416 up – and was aiming in the direction of the contact. A group of men in what looked like orange jumpsuits and heavy winter jackets had just stepped out from behind a shipping crate. They were walking perpendicular to us and it looked like they hadn’t spotted us. Yet.
Driffel slung his rifle and unslung his M-60, a grin stretching across his face.
‘Rikers. Confirmed that they’re Rikers.’
My mouth went dry. It always did when I had to start earning my pay. Putting it simply, I was paid to kill the enemies of America. Who those enemies were was decided by people much higher up than me. Those men – and possibly women – in front of us had been declared enemies of the state. I had to kill them. Damn I needed a piss.
‘Get to the concrete barrier, double-time.’
The barrier was only a few metres in front of Driffel. As the rest of us sprinted towards his position, he was already popping out the bipod of his M-60 and resting it on the top of the barrier.
I pulsed the targets, my Intelligent System Analytic Computer- otherwise known as ISAC – immediately identifying threats and feeding that information to the others. That in turn would be fed into their weapons, allowing them a modicum of smart tracking.
Dropping onto the snowy ground, I let my kneepads take the impact as I slid across the ice-covered concrete and into the cover of the barrier.
‘Cloudy, you call it.’
‘Fat fucker at the front is mine. Mad, take the rear. Driffel and Ericksson engage the centre. Three, two, one. Boom! Headshot!’
She was right. Fat Fuck’s head blew apart, blood, brains and skull fragments filling the air.
Tracer ripped through the air from Driffel’s M-60, falling short by a couple of metres before he rapidly walked it up and into the enemy patrol. The heavy slugs were devastating, a Cold-war calibre that was designed to kill everyone and everything. I watched as a knee hit blew one of the enemy’s legs off before yet more bullets sent blood and clothing puffing into the air, killing the Riker before they even finished hitting the ground.
They were good. The enemy that is. They reacted well after their initial surprise. Sure we’d caught them in the open, but they moved to cover and returned fire. They also moved towards contact, their return fire becoming more and more accurate.
‘Shit!’ Driffel. I looked over, blood streamed through concrete powder where a chip had cut him on the forehead.
‘Zendar, check on Driffel.’
‘Ha, it’s just a flesh wound,’ Zendar wasn’t the most sympathetic medic I’d met. I trusted his judgement however. So did Driffel. The M-60 continued to lay down fire.
I called out targets and the team started to take them down. Any piece of exposed flesh was targeted. A hit to the foot caused one of the enemy to fall forward. He was dead before he hit the ground as all three of us got a shot in.
Then it was quiet. Ten or so of the enemy lay in the twisted positions that only corpses could achieve.
‘Are we clear?’
‘Negative. Two made it back behind the red Marsk container, thirty metres to our 11 o’clock.’
‘Hold position. Time to get my balls of steel out,’ we had a long way to go and if this fight was any indicator, I didn’t want to risk losing any of my team this early into the mission. Hunting psychopathic prisoners in a warren of shipping containers was a good way to lose people for no gain. The Rikers weren’t our mission, the safe house was.
Reaching into one of my many pouches, I pulled out a smart mine. It was Christine.
‘Go get’em baby.’
I lobbed her as far as I could. It was a good throw. She landed heavily and rolled forward a couple of more metres before stopping. I pulsed again, highlighting the enemy. She gave a happy little chirp as she started to roll. Slowly at first, then faster as she neared them.
There was a series of firecracker-like explosions, sub-munitions leaping a few metres into the air before detonating. The enemy didn’t have a chance. The firestorm that descended upon them set everything alight, whilst the force of the explosion that gave birth to it sent their flaming corpses wheeling through the air.
I pulsed one more time. Nothing.
Climbing over the barrier, we set off once more. We were The Division, and we had a mission to do.
Chapter Two – Safehouse
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.’
Chapter Three – Hold
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?’
Chapter Four – Sweep & Clear
Delta One looked like shit. They might have done the business when called upon but right now they looked dead on their feet.
We probably look just as shit, I thought, Scratch that, we do. Looking at my team I could see just how much the stress of the situation had taken its toll. Driffel especially looked like utter shit. His clothes were shredded and covered in blood. Badass.
‘Take a knee people. ‘Fraid we don’t have much to offer you, our supplies are probably back in a hangar across the bay,’ I waved them in to what used to be the living room. The chairs there weren’t too chewed up, ‘There’s a drop just opposite. We’ll do a supply run once we’re all introduced.’
‘We’ll take what we can get,’ a hard-bitten man said. He looked and sounded like the sort of man every drill sergeant wishes they could be, ‘Frank Castle, call sign Punisher. Yes, before you say I know and no, my father wasn’t into comics.’
He offered his hand and we shook. It was like gripping granite. His hands were huge. I couldn’t help staring as we shook.
‘Lime and concrete. I worked in construction as my cover. Damned dust causes calluses, makes your hands bigger.’
Looking at his shoulders I shuddered, the power of his punches would immense. This guy really deserved the team call-sign of Alpha. Fuck, he’d give Vin Diesel and Chuck Norris a run for their money. At the same time.
‘Ericksson. Call sign Beaker.’
No way was I gonna to explain that name to him. He’d work it out if I had to shout for any length of time. I felt decidedly … small, on all counts.
‘That’s Prof, Mad and Templar,’ I said pointing to Driffel, Zendar and Knight.
Punisher nodded to each in turn, eyeing Knight up and down for way longer that necessary. I was surprised he didn’t lick his lips whilst going ‘mmmm, mmmmmm’.
‘Like what you see?’ She asked. I grinned, this was going to be good. Her kinesthisia was a hundred times more developed than anyone I knew. She could catch a knife thrown at her with full force between both palms and send it back to any target straight after without even blinking. And what she could do with a rifle was even more impressive. We used to laugh at the ‘Marine sniper holds world record for kill shot’ headlines. Whatever they quoted, she would be able to beat.
‘Damn straight,’ said Punisher, as Knight sashayed over towards him. Petite, dark haired, with pale coffee skin and dark brown eyes she drew the eyes of every man in the room, even wearing a winter parka, armoured vest and carrying a plethora of weapons. Then again, there were a lot of men that found that sort of thing sexy. YouTube was full of videos of chicks with guns. Well, so I’d been told.
‘Right, if you can take one punch from me, you can have me. Any. Way. You. Want.’ She ran her hands down her body, writhing in a way I never thought she could. It was both alluring, and damn scary.
‘Oh, this is going to be so fucking funny,’ said Driffel, chuckling.
‘Shush, don’t spoil the fun. Five bucks she goes for the throat,’ said Zendar, grinning through his thick beard.
‘You’re on,’ said Driffel, giving our medic a high-five.
I looked at the rest of Punisher’s team, they were enjoying the show. For now. I saw a couple of side-bets being made there too.
‘What, a little thing like you, hurt me?’ Punisher opened his arms wide and turned full circle. He was like the Rock, only far, far Rockier. I doubted that he could clap his hands above his head, and I didn’t want to think about how much food it took to keep such a frame going.
Bet his cardio is shit, I thought. Rather pettily to be honest. But hey.
‘Take your best shot.’ He clasped his hands behind his back, leaned forward and jutted his chin out.
Knight was blindingly fast. One moment her hands were by her thighs. The next her shoulder twitched, a blur, and Punisher was on the floor, choking as he clutched at his throat. His feet made tracks in the dust covering the carper as they kicked feebly.
‘Damn I love that woman,’ I said the words before I could think. Knight looked over at me and winked.
Punisher’s team was hooting with laughter, some bent double.
Thank fuck, didn’t want things to get out of hand, I thought. There was way much too much testosterone and weaponry in the room for that. Still, Knight had established us as the dominant team without too many people being hurt.
‘Vector Five Alpha, this is Major Dansky, 6th Rangers, how copy?’ My radio squawked in my ear. I gave the go ahead, pressing my ear bud in a clear signal for everyone to shut the fuck up.
‘Reports of sanitary workers killing anyone they believe infected with the Green Poison. Burning them alive. Need you to clean them up, sweep the fuckers from our streets.’ He chuckled, but there was fuck all humour in it. Danksy had a fucked up sense of humour. One that I could appreciate. I wondered if the enemy would appreciate the irony.
‘Copy that. Location?’
‘Three blocks east of your location. Leave Delta One at Vector safehouse. JTF reinforcements are on their way. Dansky out.’
‘Vector Five, with me. Delta One, help Punisher back to his feet, then clean this place up. JTF are inbound. Can’t have them thinking we’re bums.’
The smell of burning flesh brought back memories I’d spent a lot of time trying to forget. No good, all those memories came flooding back. Gatecrashers smashing into my supposedly well-ordered mind like Delta Wank Kappa frat boys on acid.
‘Damn, why does it have to smell so good?’ Driffel muttered, putting his mask on.
He was right. It smelt like a hog roast. My stomach rumbled, reminding me that it had been hours since our last meal.
‘That’s why cannibal tribes call it long pig.’ Zendar was full of facts. This was one I could have done without.
‘Look sharp. If we can smell it it can’t be that far.’ Knight had her Vector tucked tight, jaw clenched as seen scanned the street.
‘Pulsing.’ I was keen to get this mission over and done with. I needed … we needed, downtime.
Targets popped up into my lenses, hidden behind two garbage trucks parked across the road.
Should have guessed, I thought. We were all tired and it should have been obvious. There was no way those trucks had accidentally ended up parked like that.
‘Sticky ready, I don’t want to get any closer than we have too,’ said Driffel, moving out to the right. I could see that he would have a good angle from there. With luck this would be over as soon as it started.
‘Knight, go left, see if you can get up the scaffolding,’
As she sprinted off I gave Zendar the “on me” signal, tapping my head.
‘We’re going down the centre, get eyes on before we fire. Huaah?’ He nodded, no need to anything else.
Trotting quickly through the slush we tucked in behind the trucks. They were nose-to-nose with each other, just enough room for someone to squeeze through.
‘What the actual fuck?’ Zendar’s polite facade dropped at the sight before us.
What appeared to be Demons walked before us. Thick armoured scales and neon bright skin covered them. Their faces were long, ending in blunt snouts, their eyes as wide as saucers. Grunts and voices that seemed to issue forth from the depths of hell carried to us. Standing before a pyre, they poured flame onto it, turning their victims into ashes.
‘Fucking cunts, that was a bus full of kids!’
I looked again, seeing the shot up school bus a few metres past the pyre, how small the corpses were. The packed lunches strewn across the ground confirmed it.
‘These wankers die badly. Liver and kidney shots only. The pain will stop them from shooting and they can die screaming,’ I shook my head to clear the red mist from my eyes, wiping away tears from my cheeks. For the first time in my life I truly understood what it was to hate someone with every fibre of my being.
‘Confirmed. If I wasn’t one hundred percent dedicated to being a pussy eater, I’d have your babies,’ said Knight. Her voice sounded strangled. Turning I saw that she was able to scope the entire scene, seeing it in far greater detail than I could, or wanted to. Not even her legendary cool could stand against such a sight.
‘You get first shot Knight. On your mark.’
‘Die screaming fucker.’
Her first shot took the cleaner pouring fire onto the pyre. Muffled squeals came from his mask as he collapsed to the ground, his flamethrower washing over one of his comrades. Blood gushed over the bright yellow vest he wore, she had shot him in the kidney.
‘Let the other one burn!’ I ordered. The bastard needed to suffer, and his agonised attempts to extinguish the flames was hampering the ability of the other cleaners to react properly.
Zendar was the next to fire, his target wailing as bullet tore into his bowels. Dark blood and intestines spilled out of the holes torn in his flesh.
Only three cleaners were left. One tried to make it to a barrier, Driffel blasted him to the ground, kneecaps shattered. He lay shrieking, hugging his legs to his chest, rocking in agony. Before today I would have felt sickened at what we were doing. Now, I just felt a grim pride in our accuracy.
The remaining two returned fire. They were panicked, spraying their shots all over. With a clinking sound, one of their tanks suddenly spouted flame.
‘Fucking have some!’ Zendar punched the air, it was an excellent shot.
Screaming, the cleaner leapt to his feet from behind the barrier he was using as cover, grabbing at the numerous buckles that fixed the homemade flamethrower tank to his back, twisting back and forth as he tried to find them.
The other cleaner popped up, pushed his friend away from him and then tried to make a run for it. I stitched a burst across his lower back, sending him tumbling to the floor.
With a massive explosion the burning tank exploded, spreading the smoking remains of the cleaner across the street.
‘Clear! Guns up!’ The whole skirmish had taken just seconds, but those first steps from behind the trucks took everything I had.
The surviving cleaners writhed in agony, pawing at us as we stood over them, screaming.
Driffel drew his pistol and walked over to the cleaner he’d crippled. Blank faced he knelt next to his target, placed the muzzle of his pistol over where the man’s liver would be, and shot him.
‘Please, God, please, help us.’
My first target had ripped his gasmask off. He reached out towards me.
‘We had to do it. They were ill. We have to stop the Green Poison. Burn it. We’re helping!’
‘You’re not helping! You’re killing children!’ Knight bulled past me, smashing her rifle butt into his face. Teeth skittered across the frozen ground. Taking a step back, I placed my hand on her shoulder.
‘Easy pretty lady. Don’t finish him off.’
Spinning to face me she snarled, ‘I fucking know! They killed kids! They fucking killed kids!’
Wailing she flung her arms around me, burying her head into my shoulder, her whole body heaving.
I don’t know how long we stood there. Long enough for the cleaners to stop screaming. Long enough for Knight to pull herself together.
She pulled away, wiping her nose on her sleeve, ‘Thanks.’
Nodding, no reply needed, I keyed my mic.
‘Vector Five Alpha to Major Dansky. Clean sweep confirmed. We are RTB. Out.’
Chapter 5 – Subway
The safe house was looking in pretty good shape considering it had been shot to shit an hour or so ago. Granted the windows were gone, the carpet was covered in dust, and there were bullet holes and scorch marks all over the place, but the JTF had made it comfortable, if not homely.
Delta One had left for another mission which was a relief as it gave Punisher more time to calm down. Or to harbour a grudge. I was silently praying for the former when a cop wearing a JTF uniform came up to me.
‘Sir, I’m Paul O’Leary, your liaison. I’ll be running the mission briefings whilst making sure that you have a base to return to. We’ve retrieved all of the weapons from the drop opposite, and a rations resupply has also arrived.’
I shook his hand, he had a good grip and made eye contact that showed me he was sincere without being challenging. You get that a lot. People hear you’ve been in the army, or special forces, and they seem to think that because they weren’t they need to make up for it by being a dick. Never works out well.
‘Good to meet you. Vector 5 Alpha, individual callsign Beaker. If you have any missions, I’d appreciate it if you could let us have an hour’s break. We’re done in, and I don’t want my people dying because they made a stupid mistake.
He nodded. To be fair, he looked as tired as we were, but he wasn’t going out on the streets.
‘Let’s go people.’
An hour was nowhere near enough time to get the sleep I needed. It was more than enough time for every bump and bruise to get well and truly settled in. I felt like I’d been tossed into an industrial tumble dryer. From the groans the others made as they got up, they were feeling it too.
We made our way downstairs into O’Leary’s briefing room. He’d done good. There was a map showing the area of operations we’d been designated, ammunition supply crates, storage for any extra kit we didn’t need to carry, and food
Saliva flooded into my stomach at the sight of the MREs on the table. Grabbing one I didn’t even both to see what it was before I tore it open, snatched a spork up and started shovelling it into my mouth. At that moment it was the best thing I’d ever eaten.
The others dove in just as willingly and we stood in blissful silence, cramming food into our mouths. Silence. We were in an ops room and it was silent. Spork hanging before my mouth, I looked around. JTF were stood staring, open mouthed, at us. Looking at my people eating, I realised that we must have looked like neo-barbs.
‘Suck it up. We’re hungry.’ I glared at them, forcing them to look away. Embarrassed, they shuffled about then got on with their jobs.
O’Leary walked over to us, clipboard in hand and a grim expression on his face.
‘You did an excellent job on those cleaners. Feedback from the local civvies has been good. Built up a lot of support. Brought in some info as well.’ As he paused to flip over a page, I thought about the way his speech pattern had changed. Seemed like the reality of the situation was getting to everyone.
I swallowed the mouthful MRE I’d been chewing, giving up on reducing whatever it was to a more palatable state. A swig of water helped it down.
‘Well go on then, don’t leave us in suspense.’ I said.
‘We have a report that hostages have been taken by the Cleaners. That’s what we’re calling. They’re being held in this subway station’ he blipped a laser pointed onto the map behind us, ‘I need you go get them. One especially. Louise Martinez. She’s a comms engineer from around here. We need her to fix cables that have been cut.’
‘And the others?’
‘Nothing special. Just normal civvies. Here’s a profile picture from her Facebook. She’s the priority. The others are a bonus.’ He nodded and walked over to one of the many other maps and boards.
‘He’s turning into a right cold bastard,’ said Driffel, ‘ain’t no way I’m going to leave a hostage behind with those fuckers.’
‘Nor me.’ The thought made my stomach turn. We were trying to save civilisation, and to me, rescuing all of the hostages was part of that.
‘If we’re going underground, we’re going to need to switch weapons,’ said Knight, unslinging her rifle, ‘I’m leaving this beauty behind.’
We followed her into the makeshift armoury. Weapons of all kinds had been gathered by the JTF, from gun shops, private homes through to supply drops.
I spotted an L86A LMG, a weapon that I was familiar with due to training and serving alongside Brit troops. It was in good condition and had been modified by its previous owner. I could tell I was going to be able to do a lot of damage with it. A G36-C caught my eye as well. It too had been modded and was in beautiful condition. With these two weapons I could put down a hail of lead. Perfect for tunnel fighting.
Driffel went with a H&K MP7, old-school but dependable and good for hostage rescue. The rounds were sub-sonic and so stopped in their target. My rounds would punch through at least two people if they were close enough. I’d be switching to pistol for any room clearance.
Knight had picked up an SASG shotgun and was busy pressing a mixed load into her magazines. Aside from buckshot, I could see Dragon’s Breath and explosive shells going in. Her backup was a Vector.
‘Looks like you and Driffel are doing the room entries,’ I said, passing her a Vector magazine.
‘Damn straight, we’re going to punch through those fucks like they’re paper.’ She gave a feral grin and high-fived Driffel.
‘Don’t cocky, especially you Driffel since you’ve proven you’re a bullet magnet.’ That wiped the grin from his face. This was going to be a tricky mission. We had no idea where the hostages were being held beyond ‘underground’. The thought of killing a hostage made my stomach churn. That or it was the MRE.
‘Well, I’ll be taking this beautiful pump-action M70, and this just-as-gorgeous AUG.’ Said Zendar, brandishing the two with a barely visible smile.
‘Fine, Driffel and Knight will be taking point. Zendar following, I’ll be fire support. I doubt that the hostages are held in any of the corridors or tunnels. They’ll be holed up in a room somewhere, which means clearing those areas shouldn’t pose too much of a risk. Be aware of any doors that are in your arc of fire. We don’t want a stray round killing the wrong target.’
‘Prisoners?’ Asked Zendar.
‘None. I don’t want to be hightailing it out of there with someone that will slow us down. Kill shots and coup de grace if you can’t get’em first time. The hostages are the be all and end all. Capiche?’
They all nodded. Briefing over, we set about making sure our kit was in order.
We double-timed it over to the subway. By the time we got there, despite the cold I was sweating like a pig. With this many clothes on us, hydration was going to be an issue any time we physically exerted ourselves.
‘Looks like we’ve still got power.’ Said Zendar, motioning towards the still-lit subway sign.
‘Thank God for small mercies,’ said Driffel, ‘I didn’t fancy being a tunnel rat. Bad enough that we’ll be trapped in tunnels, doing it in the dark would have been a nightmare.’ He shuddered theatrically, but I could tell he was trying to hide a real fear. Something that should have been on his record, but wasn’t, I thought.
I took a quick look down the stairway to the entrance of the subway. Aside from being covered in trash it looked clear.
‘Okay, you know the plan, 5 yard gap between us. Lead on.’
Driffel set off first, shotgun set to his shoulder. Carefully he moved down the stairs, stepping only where there was no trash. As the steps were made of concrete, there was little chance that someone would be able to set a pressure-plate under one of them. That wasn’t the case with the trash.
Reaching the bottom he pressed himself against the corner of the wall and took a quick peak around it.
‘Clear. No plates or trips where I stood. Moving.’ He flowed around the corner, entering the subway to take up position just inside the corridor. It was standard procedure and meant that we wouldn’t be stacked up on the steps.
Knight made her way down, Vector raised, laser pointer dancing over the opposite wall. As soon as she got to the corner she murmured ‘Go.’ A ‘roger’ from Driffel meant that he was on his way. As Zendar started to move down, Knight slipped out of sight, her and Driffel giving a running commentary as I started to follow.
Moving around the corner myself I could see that it was a dead with two entrances to the main foyer. The first was just ten yards from the corner, the other ten yards beyond that. Driffel and Knight had taken up positions on both sides of the nearest entrance.
Knight shook her head, ‘Moving.’
This time she took point, stealthily walking down the still escalator. Driffel waited a moment then started to follow down his side of the entrance. I bounded across the gap to cover Driffel as Zendar took Knight’s former position.
‘Man this is fucking creepy. Smells like shit too.’ Muttered Driffel as he continued moving down, sweeping his weapon through his arc of fire.
‘Guess people have been living down here. Hence the smell,’ Knight said as she stepped off the escalator. She moved forward and took cover behind a tipped over vending machine, ‘Pulsing.’
Our lenses lit up. Just in front of Knight’s position, only twenty or so yards was a subway office. The red outlines of four targets were clear. I could see no hostages.
‘Can you push on?’ Zendar and I were halfway down the escalators, if Knight and Driffel couldn’t move on we’d be no use in a fire fight.
‘Roger that. Knight, cover me.’ Driffel moved forward out of my line of sight, ‘Knight, move.’ She too moved on.
‘Moving.’ I said and motioned to Zendar to pick up the pace. When we got to the bottom of the stairs I saw that Driffel and Knight had taken up positions by the entrance to the room where the Cleaners were. I did a quick scan of the area, noting at least two exits to the platforms at the far end of the foyer. As above in the streets, trash was everywhere.
‘Flash and clear. Zendar and I will cover from here in case anyone comes up the stairs at the far end.’
‘Okay boss man. Cover my rear.’ I could have sworn that Knight winked at me when she said that.
At Driffel’s nod, Knight cranked the door handle, pulled it open and then shut it quickly after Driffel tossed a flashbang through the gap. Cries of fear and alarm were drowned out by the grenade detonating. Knight yanked the door open, Driffel stepping through, SMG already spitting bullets. Knight was right behind him, her shotgun roaring a couple of times, the sound of the shots echoing in the marble-covered foyer.
‘Clear. All down. No hostages present.’
Shouts drifted towards us from the far end, where the foyer entered the platform area.
‘Heads up, we got company.’ I popped the bipod of my LMG out and propped it on the overturned vending machine I was behind, shifting so that the butt fit snugly into my shoulder. A Cleaner suddenly appeared, sprinting up the stairs with no thought of what he might find. He was barely halfway visible when my burst stitched its way up his chest and then punched into his face. His body dropped back out of sight as another Cleaner appeared. Another burst took him in the throat.
‘Get some.’ Zendar’s rifle opened up and I risked a quick glance to see that he was shooting at targets coming up from his platform entrance.
‘Driffel, Knight, back out of the room, take up positions on corners nearest us.’ I killed another Cleaner as I spoke. The two of them popped out and took up positions, Knight snapping off a burst, beating me to another kill.
‘Zendar, send a seeker down. I’m going to send one down mine. Driffel and Knight, when the seekers hit, move to the entrances.’
I pulled a seeker, an incendiary, primed it and then lobbed it as far as I could. It bounced to the edge of the steps, chirruped happily and rolled out of sight. The ceiling of the corridor beyond lit up as a thunderous explosion roared out of the entrances. Zendar’s mine detonated just after. Driffel and Knight were already moving, taking advantage of the disorientation that such blasts would cause in a contained area.
A Cleaner appeared, flailing at the flames wreathed all over his body. I fired a quick burst, not out of mercy, but because I didn’t want him to block my line of sight.
As soon as Knight and Driffel reached the entrances they started to pour fire down the stairs. Zendar and I were up and running even before they gave the word, pounding towards the entrances as quickly as we could. I dropped to my knees, using my pads to slide into cover behind Knight. She gave one final burst then, ‘Clear my side.’
‘Clear mine too.’
‘Guns up, move down.’ As Knight followed my order, I took her place at the corner, sighting down the long barrel of my LMG, aiming past her head at where enemies might appear. The stench of burning flesh and man-made materials was appalling. A number of bodies littered the stairs and the floor below. Due to the state of them, it was hard to be exact as to how many, but I guessed at about 10. The seekers had massacred them.
I pulsed, got a negative reading.
Shit, looks like we’re going to have to go deeper. I didn’t like the way that we were having to blindly make our way into enemy-held territory. This was improvisation of the worst kind.
It took another five minutes of careful exploration before we got another hit. The platforms had been clear, leaving us with no choice but to move into the darkened tunnels beyond. We’d pulsed all the way, and it had been getting to the point where I was beginning to think that the information O’Leary had been given was duff. Or a setup.
Just as I was about to call it, I pulsed once more and our lenses lit up. Beyond the confine of the tunnel we were in was a large chamber, possibly where trains were routed to more than one destination. I didn’t have a clue and couldn’t really care. If I’d wanted to know about that sort of thing I’d have signed up as a train driver. Targets were all over the place, with three marked as unarmed.
‘Found them. Looks like the hostages are being held in a room off the main chamber. No guards inside with them.’ Said Knight, as she then started to call out the targets in order of priority, ‘Shit, there’s a lot of flamethrowers with this lot.’
‘Can we move along the right-hand wall and set up turrets and shields there? Dominate the approach to the cell?’ asked Driffel. He had a portable shield with him. Amazing piece of technology that could morph into a ballistic wall, creating an emplacement on the fly.
‘Roger that. We’ll have to move fast. I have eye on 20 bogeys. Five close to where we need to be. Marking them on your HUDS now.’ The priorities she’d marked pulsed on our lenses. One of them was huge.
‘Good grief. That’s man’s a positive leviathan!’ Gasped Zendar. It was good to hear him slipping back into his gentlemanly mannerisms, the shock of the school bus pushed to the back of his mind. For now. ‘I’ll suggest we send out a seeker, clear the way, set them on fire, give them something to think about as we make our approach and set up.’
‘Agreed.’ It was a good plan. Using shock and awe tactics we’d be dug into a position that allowed us to dominate most of the open space, whilst keep stray fire away from the room the hostages were in. Once the numbers of the enemy were more manageable, we’d be able to effect a rescue.
‘Driffel, take point with the shield. Knight, I want turrets out as quickly as possible. A good mix. Ballistic, shock and flame please. Zendar, get an aid station out and running as soon as you’re in position. Confirm.’ They all clicked their mics in confirmation. I took a deep breath, steadied my nerves, then nodded to Zendar.
‘Balls of death on their way.’ He chuckled as he rolled two seekers towards our priority targets. They gave happy little chirrups as they acquired the targets and then bounced their way across the ground. None of their enemy seemed to know they were there. We were running even before they detonated. One sent a shower of sub-munitions into the air. With a series of firecracker-like explosions they sprayed flammable material over the nearest guards. Before they even knew they were on fire, the second mine detonated, flinging limbs and wrecked equipment everywhere.
‘Three down. That big chappy’s still up.’ Said Zendar as he opened up with his shotgun.
The Cleaner was huge. If I’d thought that the Cleaners at the school bus looked like demons, I was wrong, they were cherubs compared to this beast. Tanks of propane and napalm hung all over him, connected to the biggest flamethrower I’d ever seen.
‘He’s covered in armour!’ Spat Knight as she let out a long burst. The Cleaner staggered a little, more from the shock of being hit than from the actual force of the bullets, then gave himself a shake before turning the flamethrower onto her. Heart in mouth I watched as she dove clear, rolling into a crouch and letting rip once more. One of his tanks suddenly spouted flames, the explosion sending shrapnel flying, throwing the Cleaner forward.
It was then that something slammed into my chest armour. Knocked off my feet, I slammed down onto a rail, smashing my coccyx, sending sharp waves of pain up my back. Looking up I realised that the other Cleaner had charged forward, hitting me with an improvised shield. Less improvised was the axe he was about to bury in my skull. I rolled, grunting at the pain from my injured back, flinching as the axe struck sparks from the rail.
I kept rolling, dropping my LMG and drawing my pistol. I laid my laser onto his knee and blew it off. Screaming he dropped to the other knee, shield falling away. His protection gone, he had no way of stopping the next two shots to his chest, followed by one to the face.
‘Come on bossman! Quit laying down on the job!’ Driffel was already in place, mobile cover up and turrets pouring a mixture of lead and fire at the enemy. The colossus had pulled back somewhat, his mask making his bellowed orders sound like the roars of a beast. My back was agony, tears springing from my eyes as I bet to retrieve my LMG. Hobbling as fast as I could towards our firebase, I flinched as bullets cracked past my head.
‘Station up! Get in boss, get in.’ Zendar grabbed a handle on my backpack and hauled me into the med-station’s proximity. The pain from my back was immediately dulled as stims and painkillers were blasted into my system.
‘Six down. Fourteen to go.’ Knight sounded as though she was out for a Sunday stroll.
‘Sticky!’ Driffel let loose with his launcher. His aim was perfect, the man was a genius with that weapon. Limbs were blasted from their owners, one body flying a good ten feet before smashing into a stationary train. Others lay wounded, screaming for help, for their mothers.
‘Leave the wounded for now. Get that big bastard!’
Driffel was busy loading his launcher again. They were great weapons, but the design of the loading mechanism meant that it took far longer than it should have to get back into action. He pounded the weapon in frustration as he fumbled the heavy shell into the chamber.
‘Relax, Driffel. Less haste, more speed.’ I ducked as enemy fire thumped into the barrier, ricochets whining away down the tunnel. It was so heavy I couldn’t take proper aim, so propped my weapon on the top and just sprayed away, emptying a full magazine at the enemy.
‘Grenade! Move!’ I didn’t have time think. As soon as Zendar shouted his warning my reflexes were kicking in. I dove towards a junction box, tucking into a roll and covering my head. The blast was deafening, the shockwave punching into me. My ear hurt as Knight yelped in pain over the comm.
‘On the way!’ Driffel’s sticky bomb launcher coughed and the sound of another explosion filled the chamber. The noise was literally deafening. My ears were ringing from the bark of Kalashnikovs, the roar of explosions and the screams of the wounded.
‘I’ve been hit, dammit, I’ve been hit!’ Knight sound more angry than in pain.
I looked over, she was lying on her front, just behind the battered-looking mobile cover, blood oozing from a gaping hole in her arse. I couldn’t help it. A laugh barked its way out of me, ‘Of all the places to get hit, you get it in the butt!’
‘With all respect, sir. Fuck. You.’ She gasped. Zendar was already by her side, popping out another station, making sure that any shrapnel was out of the wound and controlling the bleeding.
I risked a look from behind my cover. It seemed that the enemy weren’t aware of my position as I’d rolled a good 5 yards away from the rest of my team. I edged around the side of the box furthest away from them. A pile of sleepers a few yards away offered a good flanking position.
‘I’m going to move to those sleepers. Flashbang out. Cover.’ I pulled the pin from the flashbang and lobbed it towards the enemy. With a thunderous boom and blinding flash it detonated. In a trice I was up and running, using the confusion caused by the flashbang to get into position safely.
The enemy continued to pour fire onto my team. Three of Knight’s turrets nothing more than shredded metal and smoking electronics. Crawling carefully to the top of the sleeper pile I slowly edged the barrel of my LMG over. Pulsing I highlighted the enemy close to me, guesstimating their position in relation to my weapon. Three were tucked behind a roof support’s concrete plinth, taking turns to pop up and down as they fired at my team. I switched magazines, slipping a magazine filled with explosive rounds into it.
‘Boomshots. As soon as I open fire, I’m going to track onto Colossus. Should knock him out of cover. All fire on him until he’s down. Confirm.’ My earpiece clicked, the team too busy to talk. I took a deep breath, slowly started to release it, then held it and squeezed the trigger.
The Cleaners didn’t stand a chance. My first round blew the nearest man’s arm off. The second blasted through his ribcage sending his charred organs over his comrades. Even as they reacted his shattered body was falling out of the way, clearing the following bullets’ path. One struck the tank on the next Cleaner’s back. One second he was there, the next there was nothing but the remains of a leg sticking up out of boot, the explosion killing his remaining friend.
I switched targets and poured the rest of my magazine, over 50 rounds, onto Colossus’ position, showering him with shrapnel and shards of concrete. The concussive storm forced him away from his rapidly deteriorating cover and into the open. I kept firing, bullet after bullet blasting into his improvised armour. I couldn’t believe the punishment he was taking. Tracer from my team zipped into him, the weight of fire pushing him back, preventing him from using that God-awful flamethrower. Finally, with a blinding explosion his main tank exploded, his upper torso vapourising. What was left of him crumpled to the ground.
The fight went out of the rest of the Cleaners, a number of them throwing out their weapons and standing with their hands raised. We cut them down, advancing towards them, shooting those that tried to run in the back, moving them down mercilessly. It was over in seconds.
On unsteady legs, sweat stinging my eyes, I knocked on the door that the hostages were in.
‘Strategic Homeland Division. We’re here to take you home.’