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!”