Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.
The vehicle began to rumble as Whitman slowed their speed to a cautious crawl. Dezba’s eyes were trained on his sector, spying the junction up ahead through his Starlight. The filter was down and all he could see at the moment was a small circle of morning haze with a target dot in the middle. Behind him, Morris was doing the same with his M16 while Batista monitored from their roof with the .50 cal.
On their nav screen, the junction was marked with a bet, red line. As the first turn on their selected route, it would take them to the gates of Sombrillo, and their First Objective. As the lead element of First Platoon, they were the first to have eyes on the target. Any Whiskeys that popped up would be theirs to kill first.
Behind them, the rest of Bravo Company followed, every platoon arranged two by two – an army of Humvees and fighting vehicles with the armored fist of the Brigade Combat Team holding up the rear. This made the going tense and the anticipation palatable, knowing that they were the spear point on a long, fighting column.
And yet, Dezba felt strangely at ease. He and his squad had done this enough times now to feel composed and natural about it. But given what he had been going through a little over an hour beforehand, it seemed odd. How was it that writing or talking about that night was impossible for him, but something like this came easily? In what world did that make sense?
This one, he reminded himself. Such crap was natural in this world. The only way to make sense of it was to accept that it didn’t make sense, and never would…
“Contact!” yelled Batista. Dezba’s snapped his attention back to the road and began scanning with his scope. He spotted what something about one-hundred meters from the intersection and roaming about. They were just visible in the morning haze, but through his scope, he could discern the telltale signs of rotted flesh and milky-white eyes.
“I got eyes on six – no, eight – Whiskeys at two o’clock,” he said.
“That’s them, Sarge! No other contacts from up here,” replied Batista.
Dezba scanned around the small mass of lurking bodies. Beyond them, the burned out building of the DreamCatcher loomed. To the far right, he could see the walls that encircled the town, apparently still intact and with the gates closed. There were no signs of anyone waving flags of flailing their arms from either. For all intents and purposes, their newfound friends were alone and standing in the clear.
Grabbing the handset from the radio, Dezba keyed the mike and called it in. “Viper One Actual,” he paused after saying it, fighting the influx of bad feelings the designation produced. He could tell the others in the vehicle noticed, and quickly tried to push past it. Now was simply not the time to be lamenting. “This is Viper One-One. We got eyes on eight Tangos outside the objective area.”
Rollins came back a second later. “Roger that, One-One. Do you have eyes on the town, over?”
“Affirmative, One Actual. No sign of civilians. Walls appear to be intact, front door shut and locked.”
Batista called from the roof. “I got a perfect shot, sir. Do I engage?”
Dezba waited for the reply. The Lieutenant was taking his time, no doubt afraid to give the all clear unless he was able to confirm the sighting for himself. A rookie tendency, he knew, and a pain in the ass to deal with. Dezba began to tap his finger against the side of the handset impatiently. Once again, he became aware of how the others might perceive this. Now was not the time to be displaying doubts about their new CO’s competence either.
“Roger that, One-One. Engage.”
Dezba hung up the handset and slapped the side of his door, yelling to Batista. “Light em up!”
He barely got the words out before Batista opened up with the vehicles .50 cal. The gun began popping off, sending empty casings against the roof and a loud thrum through the vehicle. In the distance, the hot, red tracers found purchase in the morning mist. On the receiving end, the roaming Whiskeys were turned into chunked meat, limbs flying, bodies ripped apart, and the haze turning to a maroon-colored mist.
Bastista quickly terminated his fire to conserve round, but it had been enough. What was left of the Whiskeys were spread out on the ground, and only one or two appeared to be moving at all. Dezba and Morris squeezed off a few precision shots when they got closer, taking out the heads of the one’s that remained active. Only single shots, but they made them count. When it came time to make the turn off the highway, none were left moving.
The junction was now upon them and the nav console showed them intersecting with the crooked red line. Dezba grabbed the handset and keyed the mike. “Viper One-One to Viper Actual. All targets are dispatched. Making the first turn now.”
“Roger that, One-One,” replied Rollins.
Whitman brought them about quickly and rolled onto the connecting road. The remains of the eight Whiskeys were now directly ahead of them, arranged in a wide pile of meat, bones and viscera. Whitman gave the vehicle a bit more gas and aimed their wheels directly at the mess. Dezba saw what he was doing and yelled out.
“Private, don’t – !” Too late. They hit the first bump and everyone in the cabin was tossed around. They hit a few more as they mashed the last of the remains that were still large enough to pass under the wheels and complaints followed. As soon as they were clear, Dezba yelled out at their driver. “PRIVATE! What the fuck?! They’re dead already!”
“Just making sure, boss,” he said happily.
“Fucking redneck…” Dezba breathed, though he couldn’t fault him too much for it. Over-zealousness was not a bad thing, not at the moment. Given the alternative, it was downright preferable.
Up ahead, the morning haze was beginning to dissipate and they could clearly see the closed gate standing before them. They were less than 100 meters away now, and still there were no sign of people waving or trying to get their attention. When they finally came to within a stone’s throw, Whitman slowed the vehicle down and brought them to a halting stop.
Dezba waved to Whitman to kill the engine, and something approaching total quiet followed. Carefully, he opened his door and popped his head out the side. Behind them, the vehicles of the 1st Platoon drove up behind them and came to a stop, forming up in a straight line. The near-silence continued, for several interminable long seconds…
“What gives, man? They must have heard the gunshots.”
It was Morris saying this from the backseat. Majorca quickly replied. “Wouldn’t matter. They were radioed, told to man the walls and signal for help. And even if they didn’t get the message, everyone knows the drill by now.”
“Only one explanation,” said Whitman, though he did not say it. There was really no need.
Dezba felt like he should say something, express some optimism. But the outward signs didn’t look so good. Stepping from the vehicle, he got out on onto the road and shut the door.
“Hold tight,” he said. “I’m heading back to talk to the LT.”
Slinging his weapon over his shoulder, he began walking back towards 4th squad’s vehicle. There was no sense radioing it in. At this point, everyone could see for themselves. All that remained was the order to get inside and confirm it.
He got to 4th’s vehicle just as Rollins and Grayson were emerging.
“No signs, huh, Sergeant?” said the former.
“Negative, sir. They’ve had every chance. Even if their wireless was broken, they should have heard us on approach. Not unless they’re all hiding and have got sound-proofed basements and panic rooms.”
Rollins let out a deep sigh and nodded. He looked over his shoulder to the highway, where the balance of Bravo Company and 2nd Battalion was now coming to a stop. The Abrams’ and Bradley’s of the Brigade Combat Team were there too, parking amongst them and looking like a bunch of hungry predators just waiting for the chance to pounce.
Once again, Dezba could sense Rollins’ indecision. He knew the signs of it, a new and untested officer, distressed about not being in control of all the particulars and worrying about making a mistake. He tried to remember that this was the man’s first op and kept his mouth shut. He was sure Grayson would nudge him in the right direction if and when the time came.
Luckily, that didn’t prove necessary.
“Alright, Sergeant,” he said finally. “Take your squad up and find a way over the wall. Once you’re inside, secure the entrance and open the doorway. We’ll move in and secure it for the BCT.”
“Yes, sir,” said Dezba and turned to head back to his vehicle. Behind him, Rollins jumped on his own radio and began calling it in. He could hear the strain in his voice. Not at all sure, but at least he was playing it by the book. On the balance sheet, he was doing okay… so far.
Dezba was back to his vehicle within seconds, his weapon in hand and his feet suddenly itchy. Whatever else might be happening, they had a mission now, and he was feeling eager to get to it. And everyone else was looking eager too, or perhaps they were just anxious to get moving. Either way, it would work in their favor.
“What’s the word, Sarge?” asked Majorca, his SAW raised and ready.
“Word is, get on your fucking feet. We got a wall to scale!”
“Ah crap,” said Batista, squirming within his ringmount and crawling out onto the roof. The others muttered various complaints too. Apparently, they weren’t sharing his adventurous spirit right now. Reaching to his side, Dezba touched his M9 in its sheath and felt another surge of excitement. The thought of piercing some Whiskey heads with his trusty face fucker had a way of doing that to him.
“And remember your bayonets,” he said. “We’ll probably be looking at some close quarters combat once we get inside!”