It took roughly 30 minutes for us to get the gas station to a point where it could be well-defended against anyone wanting to see what all the noise was about. Cee-bee radios still worked, way better than our ISAC network right now, and it was more than possible that one of the civilians could have got out a shout for help.
‘We’ll stake it in turns to sleeps. Zendar and Driffel first, two hours on two off,’ I said as I stirred the contents of our meal. I’d decided that since we’d made enough noise to wake the dead, that a cooked meal wasn’t going to cause much more trouble. Cloudy had found a rabbit or two to go into the pot and we were all salivating at the thought of a proper meal, and not some god-awful MREs.
‘Movement,’ said Cloudy.
‘For fuck’s sake, the foods almost ready,’ I turned down the cooker, we’d found some gas cannisters in an old sporting good shop and a portable heater which I thought was well worth the weight to carry.
‘Gear up people,’ I said, pulsing.
‘Damn, that’s a lot of extra bodies. Got enough food?’ said Driffel as the enemy were highlighted by ISAC. ‘I make at least 15.’
‘More than enough food for us, not much for them. Let’s go make sure that they don’t spoil our food, ‘said Cloudy.
‘You know, just once, it would be good to kick back and relax. Enjoy a beer, pretend none of this shit is happening, sighed Zendar.
‘I’m with you man, I said. I’d give anything to be back with my family, bitching about how that dick Tommy in accounting had screwed us over again.
We sighed collectively, even Cloudy, at memories of lives well and truly gone. Whether or not we saved the country, restored civilisation and democracy, those lives and those people were still well and truly gone. As were the relationships. Even If I got back together with my family, they’d never really trust me again. I mean, I’d upped and left them to enter a disease-ridden city, rather than stay with them and protect them. What sort of husband and father would do that?
‘They’re 75 metres out. Cloudy, take your position on the roof. Get a turret out, start with artillery, then pop up the assault turret. Driffel, get your flame turrets out. Zendar, you’re our drone man. Get a medical and assault drone up and in their faces. I’ll pop a hive a and a flame turret for if they get close. Confirm.’
‘Confirmed’ they all responded, Cloudy hurrying to a ladder leading up through a hatch to the Gas station’s roof. A few the people we’d killed previously had been using it to sleep on thanks to the good weather. As a sniper, she’d have good all-round visibility and be able to engage enemies far out thanks to the flat ground.
‘They’re splitting. Three groups. One to the front, the others to the left and right. Looks like they’re going to try and attack on three sides,’ reported Driffel.
‘Hold fire until we’re sure they’re not friendly. Could be locals coming to see if the baddies have been cleared out,’ I said. It wasn’t likely, but still, I didn’t want to hose down a load of folks who didn’t mean us harm.
The night lit up with flashes, and bullets started hammering into the front of the gas station. What windows were still left from the fight before were blown out.
‘Guess they’re not friendly then,’ said Driffel, his M-60 chugging away, engaging the group to our front.
‘Zendar, the ones on the left are moving too quickly, get your drone in their face, slow them down. Cloudy, get the ones on our right. They replied in the affirmative.
I moved up to support Driffel. The group to our front was bigger than the other two, and there was a slow-moving member of the group.
‘Looks like he shit his pants,’ said Driffel.
‘I think it’s because he’s wearing a ton of armour. Look at how he’s moving’ I replied, scoping out the group to our front.
‘He’s directing them. Stearns?’ asked Driffel.
‘No, we don’t do armour like that. This is probably a separate group like this one. Part of the command chain and this is their reinforcements. Stearns must have given them the heads up.
‘Fucking arsehole. Can’t wait to kill him,’ said Driffel as he stitched a stream of tracer across two enemies that exposed themselves. They were advancing across a lot behind the gas station. It didn’t have as many damaged cars as the one we’d attacked through, but there were still enough for them to have decent chances to approach under cover.
‘Engaging the big guy,’ I said to Driffel, sending two 3-round bursts. They hit dead centre and the enemy tank staggered, but apart from that there was nothing.
‘Fuck, he’s really well armoured,’ I swore. ‘Cloudy, big man approaching, see what you do can do.’
‘On it,’ she replied, and I saw the enemy stagger once more as Cloud put a bullet straight into his helmet. ‘What the fuck. They should have dropped him. Firing.’
Another bullet, and this time the enemy dropped behind some cover, obviously deciding that his armour wasn’t totally infallible.
I saw a head poked out from behind cover and fired, blowing the target’s brains out and destroying the gasmask they were wearing.
‘Why the fuck are they all wearing gasmasks?’ asked Zendar as I heard him open fire on his group. We’d all wondered the same thing when we were clearing the previous group out from the gas station.
‘Some sort of uniform?’ I hoped that was all it was.
‘Grenade!’ warned Driffel as an object tumbled through the air, landing a couple of metres short of our position.
‘What the fuck? Smoke?’ he said as a green cloud started to billow out from it.
‘Too thin. Gas!’ I yelled, pulling up my mask and snugging it tight over my face. I quickly checked Driffel’ s and he did the same for me. ‘Fuckers are using chemical warfare. Fuck knows what’s in those grenades, but let’s not let them get any more out eh?’
My team all replied with an affirmative and upped their rate of fire.
‘Tank’s on the move again,’ warned Cloudy as she sent another bullet into his armour. This time there was a proper effect as parts of the chest plate flew out from their carrier.
‘Pour it on! Anyone who can hit the tank, do so” I yelled as flicked my selector switch to fully automatic and held the trigger down. I leant into the weapon, controlling its tendency to ride up as I emptied my magazine directly into the now useless chest piece. As soon as my weapon ran dry, I slung it and drew my pistol, opening fire as quickly as possible. Tracer from Driffel blazed into the tank, and we all gave a quick cheer as he finally dropped to the floor.
‘Grenade out!’ I warned and pitched a grenade underhand to where what looked like a medic was getting ready to run out and see what he could do for the tank. I couldn’t afford for them to get their nanites working and see that big bastard back up onto his feet.
Technology had improved a lot in the last few years. Nanites had especially, which was why we had prices of kit like the hives. They could fix armour, fix bodies, attack the enemy. Any number of things. And because they were so beneficial, they’d been widely adopted. Hell, even dentists used them nowadays. Painless fixing of teeth. Best thing that ever happened in my opinion.
The grenade detonated, it’s blast throwing the medic out into the open, smoke rising from where her armour had stopped the red-hot shrapnel. She turned, mouth open in shock, clearly dazed from the blast. I put a bullet straight into that gaping hole, sending her body tumbling to the ground.
‘Need help,’ came Zendar’s voice.
‘On it. Stay here, Driff,’ I ordered. Not waiting for an acknowledgement I headed off to Zendar’s’ position.
As I entered the room a hail of bullets greeted me, and I grunted as what felt like a sledgehammer hit me in the chest.
‘Fuck!’ I gasped, dropping to the floor and then crawling rapidly to where Zendar was tucked down behind a low wall. ‘What the hell?’
‘Bastards took out my drone before it could do much damage. They’re holed up behind that wall over there, one of them’s a sniper and a couple have light machine guns. I’m completely outclassed.’ He looked pissed. Well and truly pissed.
‘Fuck’em man. You’re never outclassed. Unless it’s by me of course,’ I laughed. ‘Cloudy, Zendar and I need some help. Can you pin the guys by the wall down as we push forward?’
‘Roger that, I’ve run out of targets on my side,’ she said, sounding incredibly smug. But she had a right to. She’d eliminated all of her targets on her own, whereas we were still struggling to finish off ours.
I nodded to Zendar, held up three finger and counted down. ‘We’re moving”!’ I said as I closed my fist and we popped up and over the wall.
Cloudy’s rifle boomed, much louder now that we were out in the open and directly below it. Blood puffed up into the air and a hand briefly flailed above the level of the wall before it dropped out of sight. Zendar and I pumped our legs as fast as possible. The enemy was only 20 metres out and we were in the open; if they popped up, we’d be in serous shit.
I took a grenade, primed it, and lobbed it over the wall. As soon as it landed, a couple of enemies stood, trying to get away. Couldn’t blame them really, no-one wants to face a grenade if they have the choice. We cut them down, blowing an arm off one, and the guts out of the other.
And then something strange happened. A woman screamed, long and loud, then jumped over the wall and charged headlong at us, baton in the air. It caught us completely flat footed. She was utterly demented. A swing caught Zendar in the knee, causing him to fall to the ground with a scream of pain. A back-hand swing nearly took my face off, I barely managed to get out of its reach. Undeterred, she used her body to send me backward, knocking my rifle out of my hands.
I caught the next swing but grunted as a hard knee just missed my balls, slamming into my thigh. I headbutted her which was a mistake as she was wearing a damned riot helmet. Instinct had kicked in and it was the best weapon to use at the distance in the moment of time. It didn’t matter, the blow still sent her stumbling, so I was able to clear some space. As she closed in again, I drew my knife. It was only around 4 inches, but you don’t really need much longer than that if you know where to cut. I knew. She made another massive swing and I checked the blow with my free hand, cutting deep into her bicep with the knife. I checked her, slamming my shoulder into her and pushing her away. This gave me more space and allowed me to dance around a bit. All the time her arm bled like the Hoover dam had burst. It was damned appalling. She was so hopped up on something that she didn’t even notice I’d cut her.
I kept a silent count going, starting at 14 and working my way down. She tried a few more swings but already she’d started to slow and when my count reached two, she dropped to her knees. One, and she was out for the count. I turned away, knowing that she’d be dead shortly after.
‘We god?’ I asked as Zendar popped his magazine out, cursing at the pain from his knee. He’d already got a hive out and working, but the pain whilst the nanites did their job was often as bad as the injury.
‘Yeah, they’re all down, he said, reloading his SMG. ‘Cloudy, how you doing?’
‘All enemies KIA,’ she said. I got a good tally.’
‘Who the fuck are these people and how are they getting hold of their kit?’ asked Driffel.
‘Guess it’s like in Manhattan,’ I replied. ‘This lot seem to have looted a load of police stations.’
‘Well, there’s a load of ammunition and supplies lying around. I’ll set about taking what I can and destroy the rest,’ said Zendar as he got to his feet, checking his injured leg gingerly. ‘It looks like we’re going to be set for a good few engagements.’ Said Zendar.
‘Talking of which. We really need to get to D.C. See what the hell is happening.’
‘What about that fucking traitor, Stearns?’ asked Cloudy.
‘Looks like he’s headed in that direction,’ I replied.
‘Good,’ she replied. And at that moment, I actually felt a bit of sympathy for the rogue agent.