The airport burned like a tinderbox flying high up into the sky. It wasn’t half as tall as the tower cloud of death from the barricades, nor did it make as much noise, but the light, oh, the light gave something deep inside of me hope.
This wasn’t a desperate mission in a basement. This time, Patrickson didn’t have time over us, didn’t have men and weapons over us.
This time, we were the ones making the attack.
“When’s the other signal going to go off?” Hands asked.
“Give her a moment,” Excelsior said, peering off into the city. “Also, prepare, they’re going to run here.”
“Then,” I said, looking out the window of the room to where the planes were burning, then turning back to the small team.
Would we get purple capes for this?
“We shouldn’t be here when they show up,” I said. No nervousness now. It was going right. It was all going to go right.”
“You’re right,” Colton said. “The scythe tanks will be coming.”
And we still had to deal with those if we wanted the ground invasion to work out.
We were halfway out of the building when the first concussive blast echoed from a tower, thrown up on top of one of the skyscrapers. A hellish noise; then broken glass. Flames falling far above, interspersed with the grey clouds of the storm. Held out breath, crossed our fingers.
“There’s the signal,” Colton muttered.
The plan hinged on the two teams being able to take heat for each other; splitting the nest of defenders into three large teams.
One to deal with the massive gaping hole at the highway, where we’d knocked properly.
Two to deal with the sabotage crews doing a demolition duet behind their lines.
Keep them running around, and they’d take their objectives one by one.
Colton plucked the radio and listened in, tuning it to a variety of frequencies.
“That’s one anti air nest down,” He reported.
We scattered. With the storm overhead, and the complete destruction of the lights on the airport, our uniforms blended in with the thick of the night. I kept our noises muffled, wrapping the wind around us like a cloak. Just barely wide enough to cover all four of us, so we clustered in together.
Excelsior’s hand drifted down to his sword from time to time, to assure himself it was still there.
“What next?” I asked, looking at Excelsior. “You’ve dealt with them enough.”
“Dogs won’t work that well in this weather,” Excelsior said. “So I’d send out the drones to figure out where everyone is. Get into the city, we’ll have to dance where they won’t to think to look for us.”
Another anti air tower went down, just a bare minute later. We squinted at the buildings; fire raining down on the streets far below.
“When you look at it like this, we’re a lot like terrorists,” Hands said.
“We’ll be heroes by the end of it,” I said, clenching my fist.
“No need to tell us that,” Excelsior said. “Promotions for the lot of you, perhaps.”
Hands bit her lip. “We’ll worry about that later.”
The urban sprawl of Montgomery had only gotten worse since the Association had used it as a hub for activity. Buildings catering to off duty heroes spread about like fireants, now shuttered and drawn closed under occupation. In the shadows of the building we looked almost identical to any other hostile infantry unit.
The gleam of heavy machine guns glistened rain slick at the top of the street, shuttered restaurants with their glass broken out to improve visibility.
The whizz of drones overhead, barely audible over the noise of the rain. Modern surveillance equipment. Another time, they might’ve been called the end of the bill of rights.
Now I was just grateful I knew what they were.
“Alley,” Colton hissed, silencing his radio and we slid through the slick city streets past firebombed cars and makeshift barricades. Killing fields.
Patrickson had made sure he was prepared for a siege.
We’d give it to him.
The darkness of the alley was made only worse by the rotting corpse we found inside. Uniformed; some sort of fire hero who had met his end shot to pieces. At the end of the alley, a family, executed, holes through rotting skulls.
Just a flicker of emotion at my dead heart. We were already here to avenge them. There was no need to reaffirm that.
In the distance, another explosion. Each time one went off, a reminder that we weren’t alone in the cold rain, we weren’t alone, treading across the shin of a giant.
A reminder that things were going to swing in our favor.
This was our city. Soon, it’d be our state.
Then our country.
Colton’s hand flicked out and a knife arced through the air. The drone took the hit across a rotor, instantaneously losing control over the path. Slung through the rain before crashing into the ground with an ignition of the battery smeared inside of it.
The Machine guns went off, firing blindly into the darkness of the city in repose. Glass shattered in the distance. Just a few seconds.
The next explosion wasn’t the uncontrolled demolition of an anti air nest. The next explosion was an eruption from a tank.
A building took the hit, hot, fragile, far off into the distance. Fire licked at the edge of windows, hot rebar melted.
The other team had been had. Colton held up a hand, counted down his fingers, then gestured at the edge of the alley. Sheer harsh fence.
Excelsior drew his sword and cut a path, his gauntlet already starting to feel the wear and tear of handling his dread weapon. Straight through the wire, then arching up through the brick. Nothing in this world stopped the edge of that weapon.
The next street open was bereft of anything other than another killing field. Gleaming guns protected the outer rim of total control in the city.
We were breaking it.
My satchel full of grenades wasn’t precision explosives, cut to specific tasks, but we didn’t need precision. I threw them out, sans pins, torn off on my uniform, let them sail against the laws of physics, to nestle in the holes left behind in the barricade, clutched tightly in my grip of the wind.
They found their mark and did they job. A spray of blood and smoke.
Perhaps a half dozen men lost their lives; the details from my air sense blurred together. There wasn’t a hesitation anymore. We were soldiers, and taking their lives was not only justified, failing to do so would put us dead in the ground, our mission failed. Thousands of lives ended because of a single hesitation.
Excelsior held up a hand before we walked into the now clear streets.
Another anti air gun taken out.
We darted out under the cover of a tank round, a splash in the distance, and then the horrific noise of heavy machine guns. Crunching cars, in the distance, broken glass.
The whir of drones like a hornet’s nest.
Down the road sat a scythe tank, fully deployed.
“There’s the other dogs.” Excelsior said. “Think they know about the facade?”
The drones flew like flies towards us. Gleaming cameras sat in electric frames, rotors for maximum flexibility in movement.
The guns deployed with a hiss.
They knew about the facade.
A few weeks of training hadn’t been enough to make us into soldiers. But it’d been enough to teach us when to move, and when to hold ground.
This was the part where we moved.
Hands shoved, sending the three of us hurling into the alley, and Excelsior caught her and threw her back with them, his boots skidding against the click ground, and then the building erupted in a hail of machine gun bullets.
There was no chance we stopped there. The logical happened after my heart started pounding, and we raced the rest of the way.
Then the wall gave out under a spray of high caliber rounds, filling the air with smoke and dust, but we weren’t there to catch it. Smoke rose up from the wreckage.
Dispersed almost instantly by the rain.
We were already making tracks down the alleyway, uniforms coated in concrete dust quickly turning to mud from the pouring rain.
“We can’t take that out,” Colton said, though his hands flicked to the supply of beacons. There was his job, dangling from his fingers like puppet strings.
“We need to mark it anyway,” I said, firm. “If we don’t…”
If we didn’t, if we surrendered into common sense and judgements, we risked the other part of the mission.
Strange how battle melted us down into a we.
“We don’t have anything if those guns take us out,” I said, flicking my eyes over to Hands. She hesitated, and I reached into the air and grabbed her hand. “You up for blocking a few bullets?”
Hands hesitated, just for a moment. Just long enough. “I can.”
I took a deep breath, let it it hiss out between my teeth, muffled by the confines of the mask.
There was no more luck. There was no more trying. There was only the concrete of the building between us and death, a slippery death that no amount of trying was going to take out.
Not until the other team gave the go ahead.
The guns started back up and the windows blew out. Hot lead separated tables from legs, shattered mirrors, blew up computer screens. Bank vaults perforated inside. An unyielding slog of pain and death.
Then the drones swarmed from around the corners of the building and the entire contraption rolled forth, treads compressing rubble into dust.
“I don’t suppose your sword can be a shield?” I asked, dry, looking over at Excelsior. He laughed, his gloved fingertips touching the hilt of it. “No, the shield’s my partner.”
A bit quiet for a moment, and then overwhelming detonation of one last post. I could picture the cuban patrol members scurrying about, elite teams of black ops designed for urban warfare intermingled among the masses that had probably been tapped for being able to lean tactics and pick up rifles.
Ants with shaped charges.
“Anti Air is down to 10%, Boreas, is your squadron ready?” Cassandra’s voice came across our radios in a rasping hiss. Labored breathing.
“Casualties?” Command asked.
“We’re down half of our squad,” Cass reported. “And I might have to come home in a body bag unless you lot establish a forward base soon,” She laughed. Hot. Wet.
My fingers slid into fists, pressing against the gauntlet. She could fight monsters, but…
This was greater than monsters. This was the artifice of man, the tyranny of rifles.
This was the nest we were going to burn to the ground.
“Gale is your team in position?” Command asked.
“We’re a few blocks over.”
“Cassandra, find a place to hole up safely with your team. We can’t put boots on the ground until the area is neutral-reality.”
“Got it,” Cass barked. “Gale. Don’t screw me on this. I don’t intend to die on foreign soil fighting traitors.”
“A hit to the thigh,” Cass said. “Twisted shrapnel. Rob’s cut up across his stomach, but I think he’ll be fine, the armor’s holding his guts in. Be careful out there.”
“Boreas here. Sorry for the delay. 10% you say?” My brother said over the com. I held my breath, listening to the whine of the drones on the other side of the building. It was time, it was time, it was time. Come on. We needed the support. We needed to move.
Cassandra was hurt, and the mission was jeopardized if the Association wasn’t comfortable with this.
“Above mission parameters,” Command stated. “Are you ready to move in?”
“Just do it,” I hissed. “Don’t let us die here.”
Dead air hung over the radio, crackling. I swallowed. Heard the drones moving closer, and closer. How long would the building hold before the tank got a look at our position?
How long until we could expect the support we needed?
“For dad’s sake,” Boreas said. “Fuck it. Team, let’s do this. I’m tired of bombing monsters. Let’s head hunt instead. Gale, get those beacons ready, we’re coming loaded for bear.”
“No firebombs?” Command asked.
“Change of plans,” Boreas said. “We got the clearance to use the proper ordinance instead.”
“Proceed,” Command barked. “Gale, prioritize your beacon over tanks. Mark anything in your path, then get the hell out of the way.”
The rest of the radio chatter was obliterated by the tank rolling around the corner. Loud as hell, crushing over parked cars, long since flamed out. Still most of a building between the two of us, but the drones overhead glinted, their sights locked on us.
“Well,” Excelsior grinned, tapping Colton. “Seems like it’s time for us to move in.”
Colton flicked out his fingers, beacons tied to them, and formed knives. Making sure they were still connected.
Hands breathed out, loud enough to buzz our local radios. “Ready?”
“Just like we practiced, alright?”
Colton’s knives flew first. Just as practiced, the drones caught them in their gaze, beady lasers evaporating the project into metallic fragments that dispersed the second Colton looked away.
They adjusted to hit Colton’s next throw, beady whirs locking on. “Come on, see me,” Colton smirked under his helmet.
The mechanics in the armor informed us of the lock, detecting the ray shot at our position, and the corresponding tag from the scythe tanks.
Kudos of using their exact same technology.
The guns opened fire from the tank rolling around the corner, and they hovered and disformed against the invisible hand in front of us, turning into a muddle of heated wasted lead.
Then the drone fell out of the sky from a convenient gust, leaving them far too close to the whirring gun of the tank.
Sparks, then they erupted into flame from the whirring machine gun.
It didn’t need to worry about blowing a drone or too; it had more in stock.
But there was the opening we’d practiced.
Three seconds until the next set of drones were out, and the intelligence crewing the vehicle learned our plans and adapted.
“Now,” Excelsior shouted.
The hatches spat out a flurry of drones, angry hissing rotors and whirring engines like wasps.
But the knife dug into the open port and jammed it shut. Years of practice. How many targets had been taken out by a quick throw of knives?
How many innocents?
How many traitors?
“Target on radar,” Borea barked over the radio. “If you’re nearby, I’d start running.”
The jets were coming.
Stage three of the plan could begin.
And we were in the just the right place for everything to go wrong.