Oscar Mike – Chapter Five

humvee_gunner1

Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

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!”

Oscar Mike – Chapter Four

zombie_briefing

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.

-Confucius

In the distance, the thunderous roar of jet engines could be heard. Their loud shrieks announced that they were flying into the morning sky, soon to descend on their target area and begin softening it up. While they waited for the noise to die down and the briefing to begin, Dezba looked around at all the familiar faces of 1st Platoon. This included Rickson of 2nd Squad, Tate of 3rd, and Saunders standing in for 5th.

Dezba looked to her last and nodded, receiving a smile in turn. Enough time had passed that he knew how to read her expressions. And at that moment, he could tell they were both feeling the same about their current situation. Once more unto the breach, their platoon leading Bravo Company’s charge. But without their CO to lead them.

He also Grayson standing behind Rollins, still the NCO of 4th and still the one making sure that the man who wore the silver bars had everything he needed to get the job done. A good platoon sergeant he was, at no point showing the slightest sign that he was pissed or worried over the shuffle that had taken place.

Perhaps he had the right of it. Dezba knew that whatever misgivings he had right now, there really was nothing that could be done about it. The new Lieutenant was about to be tested, that was certain. But he also knew the rest of them were going to be closely scrutinized as well. Haynes was never one to forget or forgive so easily. And from the top down, just about everyone in the platoon had pissed him off at this point.

Nothing left to do now but do their jobs and hope it all worked out. Maybe they’d get lucky and stay under the radar for this op.

Rollins waited for the noise of the the jets to die down a little more and quickly got to talking.

“Alright, people, listen up because we only got enough time to go over this once. Last night, aerial reconnaissance did another fly over the communities that sit to the south-east of town. Word is, they didn’t notice any sign of civilians, and we know for a fact that they haven’t been using their mobile transmitters for about a week. Command now believes they’ve been compromised, and we’re to proceed accordingly.”

Tate raised his fist. “Sir, does that mean we’re knocking over Sombrillo before hitting Espanola?”

“Negative, Sergeant. Our orders remain the same, confirm the presence of Whiskeys in or around the compound, then clear the front door. The Brigade Combat Team will still be rolling through to sanitize the place once we’ve determined the status of the community. A reminder, those heavy tanks that will be leading the charge will be shooting M1028 canister rounds almost exclusively. Those things can turn an entire horde into pulp, but aren’t exactly known for precision shooting. So we better be sure about the status of those houses. We roll in, we check it out, then we let the heavies do their thing.”

He looked around to see if anyone had any more questions so far. Satisfied, he moved on. “In terms of air support, the 150th is sending a few Spectres our way. They’ll be on station just as soon as we find our way into the town proper. Any spots not currently painted as hostile territory will still be intact, which means we will have the option of blasting them. But I don’t think I need to tell anyone that at that point, confirming the presence of civilians will once again be our priority. Captain Garcia and everyone above him were clear about not wanting any civilians dead. Not by our hands.”

Everyone assembled nodded and grunted an affirmative. Rollins looked around for any more questions. Dezba raised his arm.

“Sir, is the ammo provision still in effect for small arms?”

Rollins looked the slightest bit uncomfortable and cleared his throat before answering. “Yes, Sergeant. The Captain stressed that all grunts are to make sure their bayonets are fixed before we go in. If we can avoid wasting bullets on the undead if and when they get in close, so much the better. And the same holds true for air and heavy tank support. As the current ROE goes, if it is believed that we can take an objective without covering fire, we are to do so.”

“And who’s call is that, sir?” asked Saunders. Rollins looked at her, his discomfort giving way to visible annoyance.

“Mine, Sergeant. And I’ll be with you all every step of the way. So if you’re not sure, you run it by me first.”

Dezba looked to Saunders, noted the same look of annoyance forming on her face. He wanted to say something, intervene with some sound advice of how she shouldn’t be poking the bear. But it just wasn’t possible to get the shit back in the horse at this point. He chose instead to distract Rollins with another question.

“Sir, just how many survivors are we expecting to find inside the town?”

Rollins looked back to him and didn’t seem too surprised by the question. “Well, that’s the good news, Sergeant. The same aerial reconnaissance that declared Sombrillo and the other settlements dead claimed they saw signs of people being dug in on the east and west banks. Which means the horde didn’t get em all.”

Dezba nodded. “That is good news, sir.”

Rollins smiled mildly. “If there’s nothing else, then…” he nodded to Grayson, who immediately started barking orders.

“Alright, get to your Victors and ready your squads. We are wheels up in ten mikes!”

They immediately dispersed, each squad leader heading off to their vehicle. Dezba was sure to stall long enough to get behind Saunders and follow her a few steps. He waited til Rollins and Grayson were out of earshot too, and sidled up next to her.

“Sergeant,” he said, announcing himself.

“Sneaky,” she said, with a roll of the eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be reporting to your Victor?”

“Yeah, but… I kind of wanted to ask you something before we shipped off.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

He stopped her and turned to face her head on. He could instantly tell from the look in her eyes that she wasn’t too happy to be talking right now, and any discussion on the subject he had in mind wouldn’t go too well. But it wasn’t something he could let slide. Another chance might not come…

“Is your… head in this? I mean, are you looking to end your career in this man’s army or what?”

Saunders looked away and unslung her weapon, cocked it once to check the chamber. “I don’t have time for this. We’re pushing out.”

“Andrea, I miss him too. And we all know it was a shit move, the way he got canned. But we gotta press on, right?”

Saunders avoided his eyes. Even though they weren’t turning red or getting moist at the moment, he could tell she was holding back quite a bit. He couldn’t blame her, he knew what was going through her mind at exactly that point.

“And it’s not your fault, so don’t even go there. Whatever issues Haynes had with Braun go way further back than anything that happened in the past few months. The guy’s pretty much had a hard on for him since the Mage first put him in charge of 2nd Battalion. We’ve all had to deal with him at one point or another, so don’t think this is about you here.”

Saunders began shaking her head. Her face was softening a little, but she was still nowhere near convinced. And naturally, she raised a perfectly valid counter point.

“The guys a hardliners and an asshole, and you’re telling me you don’t have any qualms about following him into battle?”
Dezba sighed. “Yeah, I do… But who amongst us hasn’t had an asshole commander at one time or another? We’ve been lucky, having guys like Braun and the Mage in charge for so long. Maybe we got soft.”

She finally looked up to meet his eyes, reslung her weapon and took a deep breath. “Guess it’s time to get hard again, huh?”

“Maybe,” Dezba said, with a shrug. “You sure you’re up for this?”

Saunders made an irate sigh. “I’m fine, okay. The doc cleared me for duty and the headaches haven’t been coming back.”

“Not what I was referring to, Sergeant.” He looked her straight in the eye and lowered his voice a few decibels. “How are you doing otherwise?”

To that, she emitted a low sigh and looked at the ground. She gave the dirt a few gentle kicks with the toe of her boot.

“I’m sad and I’m pissed. I miss Mill and Jones, and I miss my CO. But what can we do? We have to move on and set our sights on the next thing. Not like there’s anything that can be done about it now, right?”

Dezba nodded. “I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end.”

“Right…” she said, looking resolute at last. “Now let’s go kill some ugly fuckers!”

“Leave none undead,” Dezba replied.

Oscar Mike – Chapter One

zombie_kid

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

His hand trembled as soon as the pen touched the paper. He had noticed the tremors as soon as he awoke, but somehow, committing to the act seemed to make it worse. He took a deep breath and pressed the pen’s tip to the paper harder, hoping the added pressure would steady it. But it still found enough room to wiggle on him, creating a small, indented scribble on the page. Removing it, he dropped the pen in his lap and began scratching at the skin on his left arm. At moments like this, the itching and phantom sensations became worse, and the sight of the prosthetic mounted at the end of it didn’t help.

He grunted as he scratched, trying to vent the frustration. How unacceptable was it that he couldn’t even start this simplest of tasks? Of all the things he had witnessed in recent years, all the things he had been forced to endure, was he really going to be defeated by the simple act of keeping a journal? It seemed stupid to keep one as it was, but somehow, he felt he owed it to Andrews to record the many things he could not convey to him directly anymore.

Grabbing the pen again, he put it to the pad and quickly began writing…

Andrews said I should keep a log, so I’m starting now…

That seemed about as good a place as any to begin, a simple admission of what he was doing. A statement of purpose, which required very little thought or planning. Writing the next line proved equally difficult though. Once he had stated the obvious, it was hard to know what to say next. Looking around him, he chose something equally obvious – the days itinerary:

Sitting in formation, outside Espanola, waiting on the command to move out. We’re clearing the town at last. Plenty of talk about the Whiskeys that still remain there. Some people think we might even find some enemy survivors, the leftovers from when those bastards attacked us. Hoping to find some of our own too. People got left behind when we pulled out, wasn’t good. But we were in a mess after that firefight with our own troops. It was fucked. Looking forward to getting some answers on that soon…

He took a deep breath. The words had begun to flow, but he felt as though he were getting the slightest bit off topic. And his fingers were shaking again. The purpose of this journal was to catalog what he and Andrews used to talk about, not to document their units maneuvers. If he had wanted to do that, he would apply for officer training.

Grinding his teeth, he put the pen back to the pad and did his best to get the words out.

Dreamed about Amanda and Iina again. They were alive. We were out about town, the sun was shining. was carrying her in that chest pouch she had. She was smiling at me, they both were. Laughing too. I can remember what it sounds like when I sleep. Too hard to remember when I’m awake. It was wonderful.

He paused again. His fingers were no longer trembling so much, but he felt a terrible sensation welling up inside him. He was poised on the edge of it now, and it felt like the act might overwhelm and crush him. But he had to finish the entry. He owed Andrews that much, and if he couldn’t write it out, he could at least sum it up succinctly:

Didn’t end well. Never does.

He clicked the pen shut and tossed it against the dashboard. He heard a small rustling in the back too, the sound of Majorca shifting in his sleeping bag. Caught between anger and fear of waking his people up, he sighed heavily and just sat there. Once more, it seemed, he had the hit the wall and couldn’t get past it. Every time he tried, it proved to be too much and he had to pull back, leaving him with the sense that he had failed horribly.

In truth, the entire exercise seemed quite pointless and stupid. What good was it to write about these things, the pictures in his head that kept him up at night and haunted the little sleep he did managed to get? The dreams were always the same. The reality was always the same. They were dead and it was his fault. No amount of talking about it had shaken that conclusion, and being told otherwise never seemed to change it. So why bother with it?

In the end, the only thing that ever seemed to work was to just wait for it to pass. Wait for morning to come, the sun to rise, and the darkness to retreat back inside. Clench his fist until the tremors subsided, and get on with the day. Granted, he knew that next night would be the same, that no amount of exhaustion, liquor or drugs would make it any different.

And sooner or later, he knew he’d be joining them, and that’s what mattered. Eventually, the exhaustion would end, the pain would stop. He would no longer be able to keep moving and would surrender to the darkness. And on the other side of that… who knew? Maybe he would see Amanda and Iina again, maybe not.

That thought always gave him pause. Was it bad that he was thinking that death might prove to be a release? Did that mean that he was somehow hoping for it, or even willing to make it happen?

Can’t be, he thought, shaking his head. He had had enough brushes with death of late to know that it was the last thing he wanted. No matter how hard being awake proved to be, there really seemed to be no part of him that wanted to lay down and die. Not now. Not anytime soon.

Drawing what little comfort he could from that, Dezba looked to the far horizon and noted how the sun was beginning to break there. With his plans to spend some time writing thwarted, he made up to his mind to get out and go for a walk. In no time at all, the entire Battalion would be awake, and he would be forced to contend with another day. Might as well enjoy the cool morning while it was still there.

Grabbing hold of his M4, he checked the chamber and made sure the safety was on. He then carefully opened the cabin door and slid out, putting his boots to the ground and stretching his back. Turning around, he carefully closed the door and stepped back to take a look at his squad’s temporary quarters.

In the back seat, Majorca was still lying against the seat and in his sleeping bag, snoring quietly. Underneath, Whitman had the choice position, sleeping next to a soft, cool patch of earth, his bag enveloping him and keeping him warm. That left Morris and Batista leaning up against the passenger side wheels. Their bags were done up especially tight but were open at the top, keeping out the night-time chills but leaving their faces cool and exposed.

He smiled as he watched them, their faces looking perfectly at peace. Their weapons were where they could get at them in a hurry, if need be. But they really didn’t look too worried about that at the moment. Wherever they were right now, nothing was pursuing them. Nothing was menacing the ones they loved, turning them into monsters, and forcing them to deal with it.

He looked next to the surrounding field, which was slowly being lit up by the advance of daylight. Arranged in a semi-circular fashion, the other vehicles of 1st Platoon sat and waited. In each, or arranged around them at each wheel, their men and women in uniform slept and waited. Here and there, others walked the line and maintained watch, keeping an eye while the others slept. These were the unlucky bastards who had drawn sentry duty for the early morning, the loneliest time of all…

Beyond their platoon, several more vehicular formations were arranged in the same fashion, their crews still asleep until their NCOs and officers roused them. He knew that if he were to get on top of his squad’s Humvee to get a better vantage point, the formations would stretch on for some distance. On high, all the bodies, all the Humvees, and all the armored vehicles and tanks – hell, the entire strength of 2nd Battalion – would be visible to him.

And yet, it was enough to know they were all there. Being in front wasn’t so bad when you knew you had so many behind you. Even if their numbers had thinned since the last time they had assembled like this, even if they were short several important souls, he still drew some relief knowing that what remained of them was all here. It was such that his nerves began to feel calm for a change, and he even considered slipping back into the cabin to get in a few more winks.

“Hmm… Sarge?”

Dezba turned suddenly to the source of the noise and saw Majorca looking at him from the back seat. He noted the look of sudden fear and the way his hands were slowly going up.

“What is it, Corporal?”

“Just… saw you… standing there, sir,” he said, hesitantly. “Why are you pointing that at me?”

Dezba looked down at his M4, which was currently trained on the back door of the Humvee. He quickly slung it behind his back and raised his hand contritely.

“Sorry… you kind of spooked me there.”

“Alright…” Majorca nodded and slowly lowered his hands. “Hope the safety was on.”

“Yeah!” Dezba said, quickly and with a small chuckle.

Slowly, Majorca began to sit up and unzip himself from the bag. Beneath his window, Morris was beginning to come alive too, their conversation having clearly disturbed him. The reaction was spreading to the others as well, with Whitman poking his head out from under the vehicle and Batista rolling over on the ground.

“Shit, what time is it?” asked Whitman.

Dezba checked his watch. “Just shy of oh-four-thirty, Private,” he said. “We should pack up and get ready. We move at oh-five-hundred. The Lieutenant’s likely to be coming around soon.”

Whitman groaned, as did Morris and Majorca. Batista resisting complaining, but was making noises the moment he got to his feet. Slowly, they went about the very tired process of getting their weapons and loading up the Humvee. It wasn’t long before the obvious complaints began to flow.

“Gonna be nice sleeping on a real bed soon. Can’t tell you how sick I am of sleeping in this shit can.”
Whitman scoffed at Morris’ comment. “Yeah, bitch some more, replacement. I was sleeping in this ‘shit can’ when you guys were still a bunch of pussy-whipped civies.”

“What are you trying to say, Billy? That it’s my fault this piece of shit doesn’t have a fold out cot or reclining chairs?”
Majorca was just finished packing his bag up and intervened. “I believe what the Private is trying to say is that this vehicle is his pride and joy. One learns to love this thing and find comfort where one can.”

“‘One’ sounds like he’s full of shit…” replied Morris. Finished with their bags, Majorca and Morris tossed them into the back of the vehicle while Whitman made his way to the driver’s seat. On top, Batista was already busying himself with the .50 cal, applying the lube to the gears and cocking it a few times over to make sure it was running smoothly.

Dezba felt another wave of relief pass over him. Seeing his grunts at work, making such an easy go of their pre-combat prep… Somehow, this made him feel at ease too, which was strange. If he were to stop and think about it for a moment, he might have considered how that expertise had been earned: through countless hours of chaotic engagement.

And now, they were about to get into yet another one. And if they all came out alive, he could assume that this expertise would be enhanced ever further. Dezba surely would have found such thoughts depressing, had he taken the time to think about it. Luckily, he didn’t.

The noise of approaching footsteps caught his attention and he turned to see Rollins approaching them. Clearly, he and his squad weren’t the only ones making an early morning of things. Snapping his heels together automatically, he called to the rest of them to let them know.

“Look alive, grunts. Lieutenant Rollins on approach!”

Everyone ceased what they doing and came about, standing erect and bringing their boots together snapping out salutes. Dezba slung his weapon to his side again and snapped out one as well, receiving one back as soon as she was within spitting distance.

“At ease, squad. Just wanted to see how you boys are doing on this beautiful morning.”

“Alive and well, ma’am,” said Dezba. “Just getting suited up.”

“Well, don’t be in too much of a hurry. Officers have morning brief in five mikes, which means you can expect a platoon brief in about twenty.”

Dezba frowned. “Ah, we expecting changes to the ROE, sir?”

Rollins shrugged. “Not sure. Word is the General got some new intel on the town. Could be big, could be nothing. Won’t know until they tell us.”

Dezba nodded and tried not to think about the implications. Any changes to their plan of attack at this point likely meant that Command wasn’t too confident about finding survivors inside the town. There were few other reasons to hold a briefing at this point, short of the entire op being scrapped.

In the end, Rollins smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to pass on whatever they tell me. In the meantime, smoke em if you got em.”

Dezba nodded and snapped out a parting salute. Rollins returned it and turned to leave without another word. Meanwhile, Dezba went back to watching over his squad while they finished their prep.

“I don’t get it,” said Batista, still working on the guns gears.

“Don’t get what?” asked Majorca.

“Well, we all know Braun was railroaded because he disobeyed orders, right? But why the hell do we get that jagoff?”

“Yeah,” agreed Morris. “Why the hell couldn’t Haynes just promote from within? This platoon’s got plenty of non-coms with more combat experience than that guy.”

“It’s because those same people disobeyed orders with him,” said Majorca. “They all signed off on the LT’s decision. We all did, and getting stuck with a green officer is our penance.”

“Stow it, squad,” said Dezba. “Who’s in charge is not our call.”

“C’mon, Sarge. You telling me you’re not bitter you didn’t get the top spot?”

Dezba glared at Whitman angrily and pointed to the Humvee. Whitman nodded and climbed back inside, checking the radio and navigation console. While he did that, Morris and Marjoca began checking their supplies of ammunition, grenades, and flash bangs, packing some in their pouches and distributing them to Batista and Whitman.

“One other thing I don’t get,” said Morris. “How come Saunders didn’t get the axe too?”

“What are you talking about?” asked Majorca.

“I mean, half the reason the LT got booted was because he was fucking her right? How come Haynes didn’t kill her carreer when he had the chance?”

The words were barely out of Morris’s mouth before the sound of a door slamming caught his attention. Next thing he knew, he was spun around and standing face to face with a particularly pissed off Whitman.

“That woman saved the fucking LT’s life, you prick, not to mention the Sarge’s here and just about everybody else in this fucking squad.”

Morris looked about ready to say something defensive, but Majorca was quickly spun him the other way and began adding his own thoughts to the discussion.

“And in case you haven’t noticed, Private, we don’t exactly have a surplus of combat veterans around here. Case in point, we got fucks like you stepping in when we lose our own. So why don’t you keep your goddamned opinions to yourself?”

Morris quickly nodded and dropped his gaze to his boots. He might have said something equally harsh too, had the others not beaten him too it. But he had an obligation as their NCO to step in at this point.

“Gents, calm your asses down. We got a job to do and we don’t need to fighting over rumors and personal issues right now.”

“Yes, sir,” said Majorca. Whitman echoed the words.

“Private?” he said to Morris, who nodded again and muttered out an affirmative. Quickly, they all went back to getting themselves and their vehicle ready and did not say a further word. This left Dezba alone to contemplate the things he could not speak about, but was nonetheless wondering.

Like just how fucked it was that Braun was no longer leading their platoon. Or how much it really did affect him, knowing that the man he had known and trusted for so long wasn’t be with them on this next offensive. But such thoughts had a way of breeding doubt, and doubts led to hesitation. None of which could be permitted right now.

Such things would have to wait until after they had retaken Espanola, and confirmed that at least of the townspeople they had left to their fate many weeks ago were still alive somewhere. At that point, assuming they weren’t in the thick of yet another fight, there would be plenty of time to bemoan and talk about all the things that had befallen them since that fateful day. The day they had gone from fighting the undead hordes and began fighting their own as well…

Checking his watch again, Dezba turned to head off. Majorca noticed and called to him.

“Sarge? Where are you off to?”

“Piss call, gentlemen. Recommend you do the same. We’re not likely to get another chance anytime soon.”

The Dénouement: A Revengers Mission Update

LAV_firing

The convoy rolled along, the radio operators barking as the line went dead. The gunners kept their eyes peeled, focusing on the far horizon where the flashes of muzzle fire had suddenly ceased. They moved at a quickened pace, the Humvees and escorting LAVs rolling along on the ridge. After several failed attempts, the CO got on the line with the rest of the platoon and issued new orders.

“Keep your eyes peeled. We’re entering the ballpark. Our orders are to dispatch all-“

The communique barely got out when the convoy came to a sudden halt. The lead LAV that led the way suddenly ceased to be there, and fireballs engulfed two of the Humvees seconds later. Those that remained began to bring their guns about, seeking out whatever enemy they could. From the front convoy, troops jumped from their burning vehicles and began rolling on the ground, trying to suppress the flames that were catching on their uniforms.

Those who managed to get out and bring their weapons to bear weren’t standing long, as a black streak flew through them and knocked them clear into the trees. The grunts in the rear deployed from their vehicles as well and began searching the skies. Whatever had hit them had to have come from above.

“What the hell was that?” asked the squad leader.

No one answered. Whatever hit them seemed to be beyond the realm of their experience…

*                    *                    *

“First pass, a success!”

Angel looked at Judgement’s beaming face and his bared teeth. Taking out armored vehicles clearly agreed with him. A quick look at Bonfire told her that he was having fun too. Already, a second volley of flames was forming in his palms, slowly trickling up his forearms.

“Any plans for a second pass?” she asked.

“Can’t leave their friends there unattended,” replied Judgement. “Same as before? I charge the LAV, you guys take out those grunts?”

“I’ll handle the grunts,” said Angel. “After our pyrotechnic friend here sets the vehicles ablaze.”

Bonfire nodded. It seemed they had a consensus. Even if they had walked into a trap, this aspect of the operation was going well at least. The Captain had paired them well, letting the three of them hold up the rear. Who knew they’d be of the most use back here?

“Alright,” she said. “We’re a go. On three…”

Everyone dug their heels in and made ready to pounce. She counted them off.

“One… two… “

She scarcely got it out before they were off again. Moving as fast as his telekinesis enhanced legs could, Judgement slammed into the remaining LAV, sending it rolling sideways onto the side of the hill. The grunts before it turned to open fire, only to find themselves engulfed in flames as their vehicles gas tanks went up. Their torment was shortlived though, as an unseen force reached down and plucked them out of the fireball, hurling them up into the air and bringing them down hard on the dirt. Their flames extinguished, but bodies smashed, they simply lay there and cried out in pain.

Bonfire, Judgement and Angel landed together a few meters away, looking up their handiwork. Two armored vehicles, four Humvees, and about two dozen armed soldiers. All neutralized, and without a single death…

“The Captain would be proud of us!” said Bonfire. Angel smiled, but quickly stopped as a new sound took to the skies. Aside from her, there was nothing in this sector that ought to be flying about the heavens. And the noise wasn’t exactly coming from the direction of the warehouse either.

“Oh dear…” she said. To the east, a telltale profile was visible, a flying dorito that at the very edge of visibility.

*                    *                    *

X-47B_over_coastline

Smackdown eyed the door tightened his grip on his weapon. He could feel the handles getting slick from sweat, and his legs were beginning to cramp up from standing poised for so long. He placed his finger to his ear and contacted Atrum again.

“How long?”

Atrum was a second in replying. The panel he was tending to had become a mess of tangled wires, every circuit exposed and rerouted one way or another.

“I’m almost there,” he said, breathing heavily. “Just a few more connections.”

Smackdown grunted and looked back at Tsunami. Aside from Styka, who had stayed behind to watch Atrum’s back, everyone was assembled in the facilities main chamber and waiting for the final security door to open. Of all of them, she seemed to be the least interested to see what was on the other end. At least that was the impression he was getting from her. Her face was stony and still, her body still fluid and ready to move at a moment’s notice.

It didn’t make sense to him. He could feel his heart racing and his feet itching at the mere thought of what lay beyond them. Every second that passed made his nerves that much more raw and frayed. How was it she was enduring this with such apparent calm?

Or was that merely what she was projecting, he wondered. Everyone suspected she would be the most interested party in their group. Perhaps she sought to prove them wrong. Perhaps she simply didn’t want them to see how much it was effecting her. Then again, Smackdown wondered if he was simply projecting all that onto her because he was sick and tired of waiting…

“Atrum!”

A loud clank answered his call and the door began to slide open. Smackdown breathed a sigh of relief just as Atrum’s delayed reply came through.

“It’s done, Captain! The last of the security seals is down. The doors should be opening.”

“They are…” he said happily. “Standby!”

He waited as long as he could. As soon as the large steel doors slid open wide enough, he moved forward and squeezed himself through. On the other side, a wide atrium sat, a small set of steps leading to a narrow corridor that went on for what looked like an indefinite distance. Smackdown could tell from the way the warehouse hugged the earth that this tunnel led deep underground. No one could say from this vantage point just how deep it went…

He was followed close behind by the rest of the team. Erotica, Pax, Freedom, Panacea, and of course, Tsunami. Moving fast, she maintained a certain fluid grace as she poured through the doorway and kept close behind. He glanced at her only once as they made their way deeper to the interior, the long, dimly-lit corridor stretching on even farther into the earth. Forced to move in a single line, they pushed forward, following the tunnel onward and onward…

“Captain…” his earpiece buzzed. “Captain… are you there?”

Smackdown put his finger to his ear. He stopped in his tracks and motioned for the team to stop. The interference was already quite extreme.

“Atrum, is that you? What’s wrong?”

“…barely hear you, Captain… I think we got trouble… I’m sensing something… something bad…”

The link cut out shortly thereafter. Smackdown removed his finger from his ear and frowned. He tapped at the earpiece several times, hoping that might somehow correct the signal. He repeated Atrum’s name several times over, releasing his hold so as not to tie up the line in case a reply came through. When he heard Atrum’s voice again, he sounded far more urgent, and far more garbled.

“…Angel’s contacting… Enemy’s… incoming… we have to …!”

“Atrum?” he asked, as soon as the line went dead. He waited for several more seconds, but to no avail. “Atrum?!” He released his hold on the link. Given their current position, the interference was just too great. But he didn’t need to hear the message in its entirety to know that something was wrong. He took another look down the corridor, and then back the way the way they had come.

“Trouble…” he muttered

“What’s that, Captain?”

Smackdown looked to Panacea. “Something’s wrong up above. I want you, Erotica, and Pax to head back. The rest of us will press on.”

Panacea nodded and looked to the others he had ordered back. A single nod passed between them, and they began doubling back with a purpose. Alone, Smackdown looked to the one team member that remained. Tsunami was still unreadable. He chanced to ask her one last time.

“You okay with this, stormy lady?”

She took a deep breath, but her expression didn’t change. “You’re call, Captain. I can go on alone if you want. You don’t have to be down here. It’s not like the answer to your origins that might be down that way.”

Smackdown frowned. He couldn’t help but feel that there was a trace of mockery in her tone. Thus far, he had given her a wide birth, but at this juncture, he just wasn’t in the mood.

“What the hell is going on with you, Tsunami? We’re could be on the verge of finding out what happened to you. Nobody else in this group has ever had that opportunity. Are you telling me you have no feelings on the subject?”

Her face twisted to form something new, something angry and borderline menacing. Smackdown’s fingers tightened around his weapon, the feeling that he might have something to fear from her suddenly occurring to him. Her words did little to lessen that suspicion.

“What difference does it make, Captain? Whether we find that artifact or not, my father is still just as dead. And you, you can’t know what that’s like. You take away that armor, that gun, and your strange sense of purpose, and you’re no different from the rest of humanity. So don’t pretend like you know what it’s like to be me.”

Smackdown’s fear passed. She had slighted him, but not in any physical way. Her assault struck him nevertheless, and hurt him on a much deeper level.

“You’re not the only one who’s lost someone, Hawa. I may not know what it is to be different, like you. But I know what its like to see someone you love die and not be able to do a damn thing about it. That kind of thing changes you. Whether or not it gives you special powers, you’re transformed all the same. And I know that if I had the chance to understand why that happened, I would snatch it up in a heartbeat.”

Tsunami’s face changed again. This time around, it seemed to soften a little; she even looked her expression might crack. But of course, no tears followed. It was clear she had stopped shedding those long ago…

“Fine, Captain. Maybe you do understand something of what I’m feeling right now. But I’m sick of people asking me about it, bugging me like they expect me to show them something. What I feel, that’s for me to know. What I want to learn, that’s for me too. Nobody else needs to worry about that.”

Smackdown waited for her to continue, eventually nodded and realized this was all he could expect from her right now.

“Alright, fine. You keep your mind on the mission, and I guess we’ll have no problem. You just be sure to let me know if you’re feeling yourself slip. I know how that is too…”

“I don’t have that problem,” she replied. “Let’s move on.”

*                     *                    *

She came upon the warehouse at last. Judgement and Bonfire were still a ways behind, but she expected them to catch up quickly. Even if they didn’t possess the gift of flight, fear and urgency was giving them all wings.

She spotted the open door around the top level, the bodies of Atrum and Styka filing out to wave her down. She descended quickly and came in for a landing a few meters away. Her boots landed hard on the concrete surface, cracking the surface and sending chips in all directions.

“How far is it?” asked Atrum. Angel looked up at the sky. The drone was almost directly overhead, its profile passing in front of the sun and becoming a tiny, blackened dot.

“Who can tell?” she said. “It’s so high up, it’d take me forever to reach it. Judgement doesn’t think he can do anything about it unless it fires on us.”

Atrum put his hand over his eyes and tried to get a glimpse of the thing. He shook his head and grunted.

“That’s not like any UAV I’ve ever seen. Who knows what kind of range it has? But I think it’s fair to say they’ve got us targeted.”

“We have to get the Captain out,” said Styka, decisively. “There’s nothing inside there. This whole op was one big trap.”

Atrum and Angel were about to voice their agreement, but another noise arose to interrupt them. All at once, their comms became active with the noise of new chatter. And while everyone else was busy tending to their earpieces, Atrum was receiving a message of a different kind.

[It’s me. What’s going on up there?]

[We’ve got company] Atrum shot back. [A high-altitude UAV. And it’s got us in it’s sights.]

“Where’s the Captain?” asked Angel through her comm. “Inside? What are they still doing in there?” She released her hold on the comm and looked at Atrum and Styka with bewilderment. “What the hell are we supposed to do?”

Atrum concluded his psychic conversation with Pax and came back to them. “They’re out of comm range. We have to go back in there and pull them out before -“

A loud noise cracked overhead, followed by several more. They all looked up, and spotted the plumes of smoke which were descending towards them. It didn’t take long for them to realize that the drone was well within striking distance, and was firing on them with everything it had.

“Oh shit,” said Angel. She did a quick count of the plumes and looked out at the treeline. Judgement and Bonfire were still well away, and the only other people with the ability to take to the air were still deep inside. She looked back to Atrum and Styka. “Anybody want to tell me how the hell are we going to stop twelve missiles?”

No answer. But then again, she hadn’t been expecting one…

hellfire2

The Artifact: A Revenger Mission Update

AlienArtifactWe come to it at last! The Revengers have taken to their latest assignment with a vengeance, tracking down the location of the famed artifact foretold in the Tyrene Code. And after taking on the security forces and committing all our backup to the fold, we now go to break through the last barrier and find the artifact itself!

What will it be? An alien device, a high-tech experiment gone wrong, a machine from the future, or something else entirely? The answer lies within the warehouse, and we’re about to break in!

Note: My apologies to all Revengers for the long delay in this publication. Check out the previous mission update if you need a recap!

*                     *                    *

The sudden pop that came with materialization. He had done it a hundred times and still couldn’t get used to it. Looking at the woman currently wrapped in his flexible arms, Pax’s sense of self-pity was momentarily dwarfed by the sympathy he felt for her.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Erotica said, stretching out her frame as soon as his arms retracted from around her. She noticed him still looking and shot him a sideways glance. “You seem uncomfortable though…”

Pax frowned, and blushed just a little. Their little act of sudden relocation was uncomfortable enough without her suggesting he had copped a feel. Even if she was uncharacteristically soft and warm, underneath those extremely tight clothes…

“Let’s get going!” he said aloud, remembering they still had a job to do. “Where are the others?”

“There,” she said, pointing to the stairwell to their left. Pax looked to see Atrum and Styka scaling the steps and heading to what appeared to be a catwalk above. All around them, the noise of boots clamoring against steel grating could be heard over the faint sounds of machines buzzing.

[We’re in] he said, reaching out to the two of them. [Where do you want us?]

Atrum was quick to reach back and sent him the plan, all condensed in a dizzying flash of revelation. [I’ve spotted a terminal up here] it said. [Looks like a power station with controls to the entire facility. I’m going to attempt to shut it down. Cover us from below.]

Atrum then broke off and went back to running across the catwalk. Styka pealed off and head in a separate direction, putting herself between Atrum and several guards on their way up to meet them. She sent them all over the railings with some well-placed kicks and punches. They fell to the floor not far away…

As Pax watched, he could sense thoughts passing between Styka and Atrum too, the two staying in constant contact and advising each other of their progress. He envied them that. With his partner, all communication had to be conveyed verbally, and she liked to charge her words in just such a way…

“Hey, stretch,” she said, punching him in the shoulder. “We got company!”

Pax looked where she was pointing, saw several gun men moving in. Bullets began to fly, prompting them to drop to the floor as hot metal ricocheted around them. Erotica waited for a lull in the bullets before saying anything, once again forced to contend with the slow, verbal process.

“You want to deal with them, or shall I?”

“Let’s do it together,” he said. “I’ll distract them, you get in from behind and surprise them with those high-kicks of yours.”

“I’m sure they’ll be very shocked,” she said, stretching one last time to limber up. “Let’s go!”

*                     *                    *

“How you doing down there, Captain?”

Panacea looked down to see Smackdown looking a little worse for wear. She had seen this look before, usually on the faces of people who were about to tangle with a doubt of severe nausea.

“Just keep us steady,” he said. “And put me down as soon as you can!”

Panacea laughed. Not far away, Tsunami and Freedom were taking care of the last of the men manning the walls of the facility. All of them kept up their fire, spraying bullets and shotgun pellets into the air, and always to no avail. The two women skimmed through the air quickly, evading every shot before taking to the walls themselves to dispense some ass-kickings.

For Tsunami, this involved knocking her targets off the wall with some hard blasts of air. One man managed to get a shot off before being taken out, but his bullets went the way of his body, straight to the ground! Freedom flew in quick and disabled the last of her attackers with her sword, her steel flashing as it sliced through automatic weapons and body armor in quick strokes. Disarmed and helpless, most ran, but some still needed to be dispatched with a swift kick to the head.

In less than a minute, the walls belonged to them, and Panacea flew in to drop the Captain off.

“Thank God!” he said as soon as they touched own. Panacea landed next to him and began dispatching aid to the guards, making sure none were irreparably harmed, leaving the Captain to address the others.

“Alright, ladies! We need to get inside. This place is almost ours, and we need to make sure we disable the security systems before they can bring in any reinforcements.”

“Got it,” said Freedom. “There’s an access door around the side, and it sounds like our friends are making a go of it inside.”

Smackdown nodded, looked to Tsunami. “You still with us, Hawa?”

“Yes, Captain,” she said quietly. “You don’t need to be checking up on me, you know.”

“Good,” said Smackdown, uncertainly. He knew that something truly awesome and powerful lay within the facility, and that for Tsunami, the question of what that was had to be weighing on her mind heavily. And yet, she was holding those cards extremely close to her chest…

“Alright,” he said, cocking his rifle one last time. “Let’s storm the fortress!”

It all happened by the numbers. Freedom kicked in the door, Smackdown fired in a smoke grenade from his airburst launcher, and they moved inside in quick, two by two formation. All around, machinery hummed and they could hear the sound of loud metal clinks. But the gunfire had stopped and there didn’t appear to be any other traces of telltale noise. No whet packing sounds or grunts, the signs of men getting their asses kicked by his faithful squad.

Smackdown put his finger to his ear. “Atrum, Styka, Pax, Erotica… sound off.”

He didn’t get a reply right away. He raised his voice so he could hear himself over the machinery.

“First squad, this is the Captain. Sound off!”

In the corner of his eye, he saw a sudden glint of movement. A blackened husk of metal being raised towards his head. Smackdowned turned to raise his weapon, and then got a flash of purple across his vision. It took a second for his mind to catch up to what had just happened, but he quickly breathed a sigh of relief.

“Erotica,” he said. “Perfect timing.”

The skin-tight clad woman stood over the body of the fallen guard. His broken goggles and lulled eyes were a testament to the power of the punch he’d been given. The sidearm he had been training on Smackdon’s head lay a few inches away, and Erotica was sure to kick it beneath one of the nearby machines.

“Your welcome, sir,” she said playfully. “Atrum is waiting for you up top. Shall we go?” She extender her hand to him, palm down, all demure-like. The elbow-high gloves were a nice touch in completing the impression.

“Sure,” said the Captain, accepting the hand. “Show me the way.”

He was reunited with the balance of the infiltration team a moment later. In the far corner of the building, atop the catwalks and above the machinery, he was presented with the controls for the entire facility.

These consisted of a set of old analogue buttons and dials set into a grey metal frame. Colored lights dotted the controls too, but few, if any of them were labeled, and those that were were anything but legible.

“Can you interface with it?” he asked. Atrum shook his head and frowned.

“I don’t know. This equipment is ancient. I can’t exactly hook up my laptop and hack my way in. This is going to require some old fashioned tinkering, sir.”

“How long?”

Atrum shrugged. “A few minutes. Or I could just hitting buttons and see if any of them happen to – accidentally – shut down the alarms. And then there’s still the matter of unlocking all the doors to the interior of this facility. I’d feel safer I could take this panel apart and starts inspecting the electrical system a little.”

Smackdown sighed heavily. A few minutes was pushing it. There was no telling if the guards had managed to get off an SOS before they had all been taken out. There were no alarms blaring or flashing red lights, but that was no guarantee that one of them hadn’t triggered a silent alarm…

“Alright, get to it. I’ll see if we can’t get third squad to cover our backs in the meantime.”

Atrum nodded and opened his satchel. He began producing spanners, wire cutters, and a series of microtools, placing them down before the panel and getting to work taking it apart. Smackdown, meantime, put his finger to his ear again and called out to the rest of their team, still waiting in the field…

“Captain to third squad. Do you read?”

Again, there was no immediate reply. He grunted angrily. What was it with people not replying to the link?

“Third squad, do you hear me? Respond please!”

*                    *                    *

They stood and watched in quite awe. The column was long, moved quickly, and was packed to the brim with threatening looking vehicles and weapons. And they were all headed in the same direction…

“Where the heck did they come from?” asked Bonfire.

“We would have noticed them if they had a camp nearby,” said Angel. “No, these guys were lying in wait. We’ve been set up.”

“Fat lot of good it’s going to do them,” said Judgement, smiling and bristling noticeably. “Those boys don’t have half the firepower they’d need to stop the even three of us.”

Angel put her finger to her ear. The Captain was demanding an update again, but she wasn’t sure how to tell him. She and Tsunami had been there when his friend fed him all that info. They had tried to tell him something about this wasn’t right. How to tell him that he had been betrayed?

She could worry about that later though. Right now, they had a mounting crisis and their commander needed to be told.

“Captain, this is third squad. We’ve got eyes on a military convoy coming up from the south. They’re proceeding to the facility.”

A pause, a noticeable and understandable pause. “How big are we talking?”

She did a quick assessment on the force that was passing along the ridge-line before them. “Two Light-Armored Vehicles, four Humvees, estimate twenty men, armed heavily.”

She heard a slight mutter emitted from the other end. The Captain neglected to release the link before cursing under his breath.

“Can you stall em?” he asked.

Angel chuckled. “Oh yes, we can stall them…”

“Good! Because if I know these men, and I do, then that’s not the last card they have to play.”

The link terminated and Angel looked to her companions. “We’ve got the go-ahead. We’re to take out that convoy, make sure that the don’t get in sight of the facility.”

Bonfire’s hands lit up with small controlled flames. Judgement bristled further, the gold stripes on his flesh becoming larger and more prominent. The thought of being committed to the fray clearly seemed to agree with them.

“Looks like we’re going in after all,” said Judgement, smiling from ear to ear. “Let’s show these buggers some serious wrath!”

Whiskey Delta

Night_vision1“Ambulans mortuus: noun. Lit. “moving dead” (lat.). A viral strain that appeared in Western Hemisphere in the early 21st century. Origin unknown. Characterized by high fever and death in infected subjects, followed by reanimation and extremely violent behavior. No known cure.”

-Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2021 Edition.

Green and black. Always the same. Nothing ever looked different through NVGs. No other hues, just different grades of green and black. Some brilliant, some muted, but it didn’t matter. At night, all that mattered was what moved, and these days, it moved en masse.

Dezba lowered his scope and rubbed his eyes. After minutes spent looking at the green and black, even pitch black looked good. Less eerie, less filtered, less fake. The arms also had a way of stiffening after holding up an A1 for minutes at a time.

The headset crackled, the voice calling on over the squad’s general frequency.

“Hold your position. Keep your eyes peeled.”

He heard a sigh from beside him. At the other side of the foxhole, Mill was also taking a break. In his case it was to stretch his neck.

“Are we even sure about this intel?”

“The Mage said it’s tight, so it’s tight,” he replied, repeating the mantra. That seemed to be enough, since Mill went right back to sighting down his gun again.

Bringing the scope back into place, he got another eerie view of the landscape. There were the glowing patches nearest them, bright from the moonlight, and only small slices of black where shrubs cast their shadows. He scanned slowly left and then right, checking out the side scenery. He spotted the other shining Humvees, the LAV, and the other foxholes that were cast in grey. Plenty of mottled green helmets and dark weapons profiles filled them.

Beyond them was the relative dead of night and the line of Ponderosa pines that was black except for the few spots where the canopy opened to let things through. Not much seemed to be going on in there, but they wouldn’t know that for sure until it chose to step into open…

He looked back to the roadway next; the thin stretch of dirt and gravel that the old man said was their spot. Others had dismissed him as a coot, somebody who had nothing better to do but tell stories of doom and apocalypse. But the Mage thought otherwise.

For months now, they’d been spotting Whiskey’s inside the perimeter. Somehow, somewhere, they were making it through to 2nd Rattlesnake’s territory. Preying on the livestock and scaring the good folks, making them think their children would be next. No one knew where they were getting through, but where that was, it had to be sealed.

This place, he reasoned was the perfect spot for the Whiskeys to be walking in. Inconspicuous, unimportant, and with a natural canopy that made it inaccessible to the UAV’s. No one suspected that the Whiskeys were capable of reasoning that out, but it made sense to the Mage. The man’s word was law so long as they they had to contend with the presence of those walking nightmares.

And so, 2nd Battalion was sent in. No mistakes, no mercy. The Rattlesnake would bight back hard tonight. Assuming, of course, there was anything to bite at.

The call came in. “Eyes up”.

Dezba’s raised his gun into position. His heart began to pound and his hands tightened around the grips. Slowly, he scanned the horizon. No signs of movement. Mill didn’t see any either.

“Where are they?”

“I don’t see em,” said Dezba.

“What, man, I thought you Hopi fuckers could smell an enemy a mile away.”

Dezba smiled. “Wrong nation, asshole.”

He scanned left. Something seemed to be moving by the tree line. He sucked in a breath and centered the scope there. Another stirring. The bushes at the edge were moving.

Damn coyotes, he thought. If they had come all this way because of some mangy little scavengers, plenty of people would be pissed. Not the least of which would be himself. And while they waited, the real hole in their line might very well be filling with Whiskeys, on their way in towards town to find fresh victims. Tonight might even be the night that the damn things escalated and grabbed someone’s kid.

“Contact,” the Captain’s said, deep and low. He had to be right. He never lowered his voice except in the presence of the enemy. Somehow, knowing they were out there made him speak cautiously, like he worried they’d hear him.

Mill began to scan around too, moving his weapon back and forth. There was no time to reprimand him for breaking the basic rule. You move your head, not your SAW. One of the first things they taught you in basic. Spot your target, then point and shoot. Waving was for FNGs and fucking civilians.

“Shit… where?” Mill whispered. Dezba was wondering himself. As if on cue, the next call came in.

“Eleven o’clock level, in the treeline, coming towards the dirt road.”

Dezba zeroed in with his scope. He nearly swore out loud when he saw the hovering pair of eyes float into his field of view. Somehow, those eyes… they always glowed green through NV. He had never seen anybody else’s eyes do that before. Even coyotes didn’t get that sheen, and they glowed just fine in ambient light. Something about those dead, milky globes just loved to show up on night vision though.

By now, they were making their way out of the forest and into the moonlight. He had to zoom out just to get an idea of how many there really were. Luckily, the LT had a count ready just then.

“Whiskey Deltas at five hundred meters. Count two dozen plus Tangos, more coming…”

Sure enough, more followed. They moved slowly, as usual, but were gradually converging on the dirt road. Just like the old man said. Seems he was a lot less crazy than people suspected, and the Mage had been right once more…

“Standby,” the Captain ordered. Dezba did a quick check just to make sure his safety was off. At times like this, leaving it on could was just as deadly as forgetting to put it on when stowing it. With what he knew to be an armed rifle, he watched the glowing ghouls walk until they reached the road. Well over two dozen passed from the treeline, and more were coming…

 “Standby,” the Captain repeated, a note of urgency creeping into his voice.

The LAV’s and Humvee’s began moving their turrets into position. Their motors humming happily as their guns and cannons to target the dirt road. He could imagine how the crews felt because he was feeling the same way. They all were. Every finger poised, every heart pounding…

“Get some,” came the order.

Their line erupted in a blaze of muzzle flashes and tracer fire. For several minutes, nighttime disappeared as white phosphorous and hot lead turns the entire filed into another starry sky. The field opposite began kicking up dirt and fleshy bits too. Through his scope, Dezba saw nothing but bright flashes, pausing between shots to make sure his crosshairs were poised over a still-moving Whiskey.

“Get some! Get some!” came the calls over the line. Every soldier screaming into an open line to announce a kill. Dezba watched another one drop. Movement from an arm sent him a few degrees to the right, until he watched it fall and hit the ground. A 20mm round had turned one of them into a limbless freak, but the damn thing was still moving. A well placed sniper round hit it square in the brain pan and sent it to the ground a second later.

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” came the order.

It took a second, but silence overtook them. The last of rifle fire burst like firecrackers in the night, then died out, replaced by the sounds of empty magazines being popped and fresh ones loaded.

“How you doing?” he asked Mill. Mill checked his ammo belt just to be sure.

“Good one-hundred rounds left on this drum.”

Dezba nodded and peered through his scope again. Everyone on the line did the same, staring through whatever Night Vision gear they had on them. All wanted to see what had become of the horde.

“Oh shit!”

Mill saw it through his goggles. Dezba saw it too through the scope.

Milky globes. More of them. Way more…

“Holy shit, why the hell have we stopped firing?”

“Be quiet!” Dezba ordered.

More still came. They didn’t appear too concerned about the pile up of bodies that lay directly in front of them. Only the smell of fresh flesh ever seemed to get them in the killing mood. And they seemed to have that now, judging by the way they were moving right at them…

“Standby…”

Dezba took a deep breath.

“Standby…”

Mill took one too.

“Count four dozen Whiskey Deltas. More on the way. Standby…”

It was the biggest group Dezba had ever seen. This was no mere breach in their perimeter. This was a big ol’ clusterfuck heading their way! Whoever the old man was, he’d be sailing high on a wave of credibility after this, assuming any of them made it home to tell!

“Standby…”

The horde seemed to be picking up speed now. They were onto the smell of fresh flesh. And at least a dozen more moved from the tree-line into the open field. That made at least sixty that were now on the roadway. They moved with a purpose now, just like they had seen in the footage. And at this rate, they’d be upon them in less than a minute. What the hell were they waiting for? They could already see the whites of their eyes!

He could hear voices yelling from the other foxholes, cries of disbelief and panic. And yet, they held their fire, waiting for the order. The Mage didn’t tolerate no wayward scum in his battalion.

“Get some!”

The Lieutenant didn’t even need the coms this time. He yelled it loud enough for everyone to hear from his Humvee, and everyone happily obliged. Their line opened up again and another hail of glowing metal began to litter the field with bodies. Between the constant drum of Mill’s Saw and Dezba’s own rifle firing in three round bursts, all his ears should have been able to register was the steady thump, thump, thump of the LAV’s cannons.

And yet, there was something else approaching. A different kind of thumping accompanied by the high pitched whine of jet engines.  Dezba looked to the sky but couldn’t see a thing with the trees over their heads. But he heard it, the unmistakable sound of Cobras. And soon, he could hear their guns mowing too! Everybody else seemed to as well, because a cheer began to go up all along the line.

The only ones who didn’t know what hit them were the Whiskey’s. They continued to run, right through a hail of metal which began to chew them to pieces. Given the size of the bullets and the rate at which they slammed into them, no head shots were necessary. Every bastard who was hit was down for good.

And that’s when they let the rockets fly. The Platoon hollered once more as the night was lit up by fiery HE rounds exploding into the Earth and turning anything still moving into mush. The yelling kept up even as the thunderclap subsided and the coms became active.

“Viper, be advised, Voodoos are on station and bringing in air support, over.”

 The Lieutenant signaled back, his voice grateful and jovial.

“Voodoo, this is Viper actual. Damn glad to see you guys, over.”

There was what sounded like a chuckle at the other end, followed by more of the airman’s measured tone.

“We have eyes on target area, Viper. No further movement or indications of infiltration. Returning to base, over.”

“Roger that, Voodoo, thanks for the assist!”

The sound of rotors began to fade into the distance. Dezba could hear himself breathing again and realized he was breathing pretty hard. His heart was moving pretty fast as well. It couldn’t be helped. What started as a simple tip had turned into the biggest firefight of his career; the biggest of anyone’s on the line, he guessed.

“Shit,” Mill said, pointing to the tree line opposite them. “Look at that.”

Dezba looked across the field, saw nothing except from some flaming bushes and plenty of chunked up Earth. Mill could tell he wasn’t seeing it.

“No, further man. Use the scope. I see fires over at the forest there.”

Dezba raised the Starlight and saw what he meant. From the looks of it, some of the Cobra’s fire had caught on some of the trees. Mainly underbrush was catching, but chances were, it would be a full flame-up by morning. The entire field of Ponderosa’s would be nothing but ash.

“Relax, Gordy,” he said. “Fire’s good. Fire cleans up a Whiskey’s mess. By morning, any undead fuckers in there will be toasted!”

Mill scoffed. “Too bad we can’t eat em!”

The Future is Here: The Avenger Tactical Laser!

Well, it finally happened. After decades of predicting ray guns and tactical lasers for the 21st century, it seems the Boeing Company – the makers of the 787 and XM1202 Armored Fighting Vehicle – have finally done it. It’s called the Avenger, and it is an air defense system that has been making the rounds in the US military.

Beginning in 2007, Boeing was looking for a directed energy weapon that could be mounted on a vehicle and used to detonate munitions from a distance. It was believed that a infra-red laser, if high-powered, would be able to intercept missiles, shells and other munitions while in flight and detonate them before they reached their targets.

By 2009, Boeing announced that their field tests were successful and all they needed was some serious government funding to make it happen. Thus far, they’ve been funding the development themselves, but have made some serious headway.

From their initial test, involving a single-kilowatt laser, the company has upgraded the weapons power to shoot in the tens of kilowatt range. Soon, they plan to unveil a 100-kilowatt laser, the same kind that would be mounted on the Enterprise, should we decide to build it (see Starship Enterprise in 20 years).

Pictured at at the top left is the fully-integrated Laser Avenger system mounted on a Humvee. Combined with ballistic weapons, such as Stinger missiles and a 20mm cannon, it is capable of taking down fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, and aerial munitions such as cruise missiles, artillery rounds and even mortar shells.

But the biggest development of late has been the company’s use of the weapon against IED’s, which have been a major concern for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to company spokespeople, the Avenger has successfully detonated 50 IED’s during trials in Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama (see video below). If deployed to the field, this weapon could be a boon for bomb disposal engineers. No more bomb blast suits, no more drones, just a quick blast with the ray gun and boom! No more IED. Let’s just hope they fry anybody by accident!