The dull roar of the rotors disappeared entirely to the slowly brewing storm. Grey clouds lanced overhead, overburdened, ready to drop hell upon the earth far below. I stared outside the small window and watched the drops slowly topple down the smooth glass face.
Here it was, the last and hopefully final step, and we’d be plunged back into something resembling reality. If we took this city, the Association could take back the rest of Alabama, fight back the hordes of… whatever was happening. Save the capital, save the state, maybe save the entire southern half of the states altogether. Petty dreams from petty people, but a thousand feet in the air on a VTOL engine, it seemed far more likely.
“Boreas in position?” I asked.
The road between Mobile and Montgomery was covered in fire. Fire from frequent bombings, fire from teams of Cuban Patrol soldiers clearing a path through miles of twisting flesh, through miles of overgrowth and hell itself.
Flying this high seemed like cheating while they were buying the path with their lives and days, but I knew that we’d be paying for it.
“His squadron is standing by for our signal,” Cassandra said. The cabin was full. All of them were dressed in Cuban Patrol regalia. My half of the plane was only distinguishable from the other by Excelsior’s sword, hanging at his hip. The benefits of having a back up plan if something went wrong outweighed stealth.
Apart from that, we might as well be card carrying members.
The team had decided that I should carry the lion’s share of grenades, and that Colton should be in charge of carrying the transmitters. Excelsior and Hands would be on slightly more aggressive roles.
Excelsior held the beacon in his pack. Precious cargo.
In another world, this entire job could’ve been carried out by someone with a little more training. In another world, we had enough time to set this up without fear of failure.
But we were working on a time limit here, and most of the Cuban Patrol’s heavy hitters had been left at their home base to manage things.
So it was just the lot of us, Cassandra, and her squad to take this place down.
The gates to the city were heavily barricaded. Stacked cars, nests of watch towers; occupied, definitively. Everyone who’d managed to get out in time had gotten out.
Everyone left inside was collateral. Messy murderous bloody. Necessary.
Lightning lashed overhead and the heavens opened up. It was the south, after all.
“Spoof successful,” The pilot reported. “We have a flight path opened up for us, delivering supplies from the pick up point in the bayou. The deception won’t last long, so.”
“We got it, you’re pulling out as soon as you can,” Cass said. “Don’t wait up for extraction.”
I clicked open my com and counted off the time. We were going in as messy as could be. No time for plans too elaborate, just plans relying on everyone being able to do their jobs.
Too many points of failure for my tastes, but what could I say; I’d been spoiled by our successes.
The Montgomery airstrip was hot and heavy with grounded planes. After communication went down, securing a flightpath hadn’t been easy for anyone.
“Cuban Patrol planes,” Cass reported, peering out over the mess. “Looks like six or seven. Wonder where they flew out from.”
“I’d guess reinforcements from another more successful initiative,” I said. “They’re acting in somewhat alliances with other groups, after all.”
Cass sighed. “We’ll deal with that after this. Excelsior, is your team ready?”
The helmeted swordsman turned to me, then over and Hands and Colton. Hands fidgeted in her seat, her invisible hand somehow passing through the layers of armor.
It was still there, I could feel it in the air, but how…
It was a power, and I shouldn’t question it, I didn’t have a doctorate in figuring that out. And I hadn’t managed to figure it out in all of the months I’d met her, so what was the point in latching onto it right then?
Colton was quiet. From the steady beat of his heart, I figured he was meditating. Justifying taking more lives under orders.
I didn’t blame him, I was already feeling that dread myself.
“We’re ready,” Excelsior reported. “We’ll meet up at the muster point after you guys give a few polite knocks.”
Another minute rolled over. Watching it closely.
“Engaging landing lights,” The pilot reported.
And we slowly fell from grace into the den of snakes and roiling death, bristling with guns and hypocrisy.
Another minute rolled over.
The VTOL landed.
A small group of Cuban Patrol soldiers greeted us, with an inspection team in tow. Our Credentials were spoofed; it wasn’t hard to come up with the names of those that had defected, we were acting as part of the bigger organization.
“Sensitive equipment?” The portmaster asked, looking up from a tablet. “Thought we lost most of this when the camp went dark.”
“Black mission sent out to scout and retrieve what we could,” Cass lied, her helmet distorting her voice. “Limits exposure.”
“I can understand that,” The port-master said, flicking his eyes away from the soldiers and down to his tablet. “But wh-”
At the bottom of the master’s tablet, the minute rolled over. 16:43. Only a few minutes left. The truck would be moving in at 17:00.
Cass’s hand twitched when the Port-master looked away. Signal.
The master’s eyes jerked back up to find a gun pointed at his visor. “- are the?”
Cass’s gun emptied a round into the master’s head. Safety off. Less than a second, the other soldiers were incapacitated in much the same way, rifle fire at close range. They’d be busy processing their newly modified armor in whatever hell they ended up in.
A knife from Colton ceased existing from under the chin of a soldier, blood drooling from the makeshift lobotomy. Pooled onto the ground as the man toppled over.
“That’s our cue,” Cassandra said, spinning off from our group. “You remember the plan?”
I nodded, slowly.
Cass knelt down on the ground and inspected the Port-Master. “I liked you, back when we were on the same side. A shame you chose poorly.”
Cass checked over her pistol, fed it another clip and tossed the other into her pocket. She flicked her gaze over to her squad. “I have a very low tolerance of people who betray me. Anyone else?”
Her squad was silent, but from their body language, they agreed.
“We’ll keep our side of the deal,” I said.
Minute rolled over.
Breathed in, let it whistle out. Looked over at the planes on the runway.
“When you give us the signal, we move in on the city proper,” I repeated.
“You got it. In the meantime, make some noise for us. We’re a surprise attack, Gale. Have some fun.”
Then Strike Team Alpha moved out, guided by their psychotic and resistant leader.
The VTOL took off shortly after. Extraction would be contingent on mission success.
“This was normally my partner’s job,” Excelsior said, drawing a water resistant tablet out of his supplies. We gathered around in the shadow of a civilian plane, ignoring how the water made our armor cold and clammy. “But I understand how demolition works.” The swordsman jerked his fingers towards the edge of the station.
“We’re really blowing up an airport,” Colton said. “We’re still the good guys, right?”
“We’re making noise,” Hands said. “We’re going to press the attack on as many fronts as possible to spread and disable their troops. So sure. Let’s blow up the airport.”
The rest of the plan was lit up on the map on the tablet. There’d be resistance around the main access where fuel was drawn out of, but…
They were going to be panicking in the first place.
Colton dug a knife into the folds of the neck of a dead man until his helmet popped off, then tuned his helmet to the same station. Held up a hand.
We listened to the pouring rain and the sounds of gunshots in the distance. Thunder rumbled overhead.
Colton gave a thumbs up. “They’re all on high alert. Let’s give them something to really panic about.”
Radio popped back on in Colton’s helmet, and he gestured at us to follow him. Spoke spanish, muffled.
“-(This is Airport Inspection Patrol, reporting a suspicious plane. Can anyone confirm?)-”
“-(This is Fuel Guard One, we advise you to remain on high alert, but hold position. The guns’ll sort out anything suspicious.)-”
“-(I am coming to reinforce your position, I believe our radios may be compromised. Suspect responded under proper channels.)-” Colton continued speaking in spanish, moving down the airport.
“-(Understood, be careful.)-”
“Come on, let’s go,” Colton said, gesturing at us to follow him. “They’re going to let us in.”
“Spanish ever been this useful?” Hands asked.
“It’s surprisingly useful to be able to talk down people in other languages,” Excelsior said, squeezing Colton’s shoulders. “Good job on keeping your accent accurate, my Spanish betrays me.”
Colton’s hands glinted with knives. “Fuck it. Let’s fuck this place up.”
We looked for all the world like Patrol members walking down the airport. Our suits were correct, and there should be little suspicion that the proper Patrol was even going to attack. The signal hadn’t landed yet.
After all, we were miles away from Mexico. A gulf of water separated the two areas.
The small security building set to the side of the airport bristled with guns. Colton flashed them his hand as he walked towards them.
“-(Confirming, we are clear to enter?)-”
“-(Why have you left your position?)-”
“-(Would like to take a look at the tower’s report on that plane. It claimed to be coming out of the bayou.)-”
“-(Command will want to hear about this. Come inside to make your report.)-”
The door opened, and a patrol member waved us in.
The distance in between made my heart pound. Made my damp skin damper, hairs rise on my arms. A shiver down my spine. The gleam of the soldier’s helmet in the darkness reminded me of younger days, when we’d first started out.
When I had more room for humanity, and had forsaken it entirely since.
I trusted Colton with my life, though I had no idea what he was saying. We hit the lip of the building, where rain stopped dropping onto our sets of armor, and then we stepped inside.
The building smelled rank with old and burnt coffee, and a pot boiled to the side. Cups of it stretched this way and that. Monitors lewdly stretched across almost every surface, a jury rigged command center ran out of the fuel monitoring compound. Minutes rolled over.
Clocks at the corner of the screen read 16:57.
Guns raised in our general direction, in half greeting, half hesitation, jitteriness. Colton swiped a cup of coffee out of the machine, set it to the side, waved in greeting at them, then took a seat at the main console.
“-(Wait, why the hell does that one have a sword?)-” one pointed at Excelsior’s blade.
Pause. Hesitation. Safeties clicked off.
Colton’s hand jerked back and knives flew. A flurry of action. Hands smashed a man into the ground with bone crushing force. Excelsior’s blade sliced up through armor and through a heart.
I kept the sound muffled and distant as best I could, grasping onto the air in the room.
“-(Fuel Guard One Report in? What was that noise?)”
Excelsior slid onto the console, slammed in a USB drive, and let the computer do the rest of the work. Cuban Patrol systems using back doors and security vulnerabilities to have their own equipment.
Across the station, against all safeties and guards, the fuel tanks started to distribute their fuel into the rainy open air. Gasps of fuel.
Tanks slowly depleted on the various screens. Some bore cracks from the violence that had just taken place, where an armored hand had flailed.
“-(Fuel Guard report in! I repeat, report in, I think we have a problem-)-”
There was an explosion that very briefly pretended to be the hand of god in the distance. A light brighter than the lightning coursing overhead. Buildings shuddered, glass shattered; the checkpoint at the front ceased to exist entirely.
Knock knock, Patrickson.