Thanks for the update.
That was awesome!
Awesome! Thanks for the new chapter, it was a good one.
Thanks for the feedback on the last chapter.
Right after I finished it off and did the last read-through, I thought about rewriting the whole thing from Colt's point of view. I initially chose to write most of it through Nicky-Lee's eyes, as he's the outsider looking in on the Spartan knights as they run right through the enemy force, and seeing for the first time just how good they are. They've had a few battles already, but none where they were entirely cut loose like this one. I think I might rewrite the point of view, but keep the action parts largely the same.
I don’t know. I really liked it as is especially Nicky’s last comment. But then I can’t string more than two sentences together coherently. I’m sure it will be good either way you go.
Been reading your work since the original Flip of the Coin. You never disappoint.
Lefranc woke with a start in an unfamiliar room, in a bed, with a roof over his head. The room smelled of mildew, rot, and moldy drywall. The mattress sagged, maybe three generations past its prime. He felt the springs poking through. Seated beside the bed, seated as if he'd been there a thousand years just waiting for the old man to wake up, was Colt.
Lefranc rubbed his eyes. He didn't remember going to sleep. He didn't even remember going into this house, wherever it was. He instantly felt ashamed and embarrassed. Resting against the wall by the bed were his trusty sniper rifle and the newly acquired shotgun. The checkering on the shotgun's wood furniture was worn smooth. Only a hint of bluing remained. His captured pistol rested on the pillow by his head. Lefranc rubbed his eyes one last time, picked up the pistol, checked the chamber, then asked, "How long have I been down?"
"About ten hours," Colt said quietly. Lefranc flashed with alarm. Colt smiled. His smile suggested a serenity.
"They haven't pursued us since the breakout. Two days, a not a sign of them. No red-sashes, no black-sashes, no fish-men. Nothing. They aren't pursuing us up the mountain."
Lefranc made a face and was about to make a reproach. Colt cut him off. His words quiet, calm, and forceful. "We've had at least two people on security since we stopped. Doc and Robins are on duty now. We've got two good egress routes. We've got the claymores out, plus some homemade stuff that Christian and Nicky cooked up. We've got this place locked down tight. We're secure."
Lefranc rubbed his beard. He could feel the gray in it. He spoke. The words that came out of his mouth were painful. "I don't remember going to sleep."
"You were pretty much out of it when we stopped."
"Where are we?"
"Up in the hills. Outside of some old abandoned gas station that passed for a town."
"We shouldn't have stopped. Not for ten hours," Lefranc said. He wanted to be angry, but he couldn't muster the energy for it. It wasn't physical exhaustion that sapped his will. It was emotional exhaustion, embarrassment. How tired must he have been to sleep ten hours? It was painful to think about. He'd seen it before, men so exhausted they were useless, staggering around like zombies, babbling nonsense.
"You were dead on your feet," Colt said. "We all were. We all needed sleep."
"Yeah. I bet we all didn't need ten hours of sleep," Lefranc replied. Colt said nothing.
"I'm old. Too old."
"Yeah?" Colt said. "So old, you shot the feed tray cover off a Browning from the off-hand at 200 meters."
Lefranc didn't want the kid's support. Well, he did, and he didn't. He rolled his eyes. Colt continued.
"There's a truckload of dead screamers out there that might say differently if you hadn't have killed them all."
"Everybody killed some screamers back there."
"Right," Colt said. "That everybody includes you. So knock off this, 'I'm too old pity party.' I don't give a shit if you're old. You got tired. So what? You're rested now. I need you back on point."
Lefranc smiled. "That's your big pep talk, Sir?"
"We got the combined weight of Gomorrah and our own nation bearing down on us. I'm taking responsibility for all seven of our lives, and I've got no patience for nonsense. You want some Churchillian motivational speech? Tough shit. Get back on the bounce, or don't, but don't waste time expecting me to feel sorry for you, just because you are feeling sorry for yourself."
Lefranc smiled at that shot of old school, hard-nosed, field leadership. When he smiled, Colt smiled too, and from out of nowhere, The Colonel's son produced a cup of coffee. It appeared as magically as if he'd drawn it out of a top hat. He handed it over to Lefranc, who took it and took a long drink.
"This is awful. What the fuck is it?"
"More dandelion roots, I think. Maybe some burnt acorns. Robins brewed it up."
Lefranc frowned and asked, "Did he offer you the first sip?"
"You know he didn't," Colt said. "What's with you and that?"
"What's with him and that? We're Spartans, and we have our traditions. We're supposed to follow them. He can change. I ain't changing. Four plus generations of New Spartan warriors shouldn't have to change just because he's grubbing after the coffee… coffee that sure as shit ain't coffee." Lefranc took another mouthful and swished it in his mouth. It was bitter to the point of being indigestible. Bitter, with tones of burnt pine. Lefranc swallowed it down and handed the cup back. He swung his legs out of bed and grimaced as he rubbed his knee joints. He could feel his age in every movement. And then, he remembered the lake where he'd been "working" as a caretaker. He remembered the drinking. He remembered wanting to get out of there. He remembered the fear that he wouldn't get out of there, that he'd have to be rolled out, babbling and drooling, an aged invalid who served no purpose other than to slow others down. The embarrassment of needing ten hours of sleep was put into perspective.
"So, we're heading east?" Lefranc asked.
"We are," Colt answered.
"We're taking Nicky-Lee's advice? Going to try and link up with the people he knows up in these mountains?"
"I don't see much choice," Colt answered. "We're here. We're not getting out to the coast. Those screamers may not have followed us up here, but the valley is full of them. And how long can we last on our own? Crawling around in the dirt, drinking dandelion coffee, and eating bugs?
"According to Nicky-Lee this, Fire Witch lives further up the mountain. We just gotta keep heading east, which is the way we're going already."
Lefranc reached out asked for more of the coffee substitute with a clutching motion of his hand. Colt handed the cup back over. Lefranc drank. Then he said, "I'm still not sure this Jefferson and this Fire Witch aren't just figments of his imagination. It seems awfully convenient, him having all these powerful friends who just happen to be in all the places we want to get to."
"That's true," Colt agreed. "But I figure we at least need to check it out. It doesn't seem like we have a whole lot of choices."
"No," Lefranc agreed. "No, we don't. Our rations are all gone. We used up all our rockets. Fuckin' Andre the Giant can't have more than two belts for his machine gun. Like you said, we can't just escape and evade forever. Your pals need something to work towards, something to look forward too." Lefranc looked down into the coffee cup. The irregular grinds floated in the dregs, bits of black and brown, and green. "Assuming that what he says is true, and he does have people up the mountain, we can't assume they are going to be happy to see us. Nicky-Lee said it himself, these 'Jeffersonians' made a living by staying hidden from New Sparta. Based on that, I don't see them throwing us a welcoming party."
"We don’t want to get our throats cut in the bargain," Colt said.
"No, we don't," Lefranc replied.
Colt leaned back in his chair. His brows knitted. Lefranc could see Colt was puzzling out how he was going to ask something. It took a few moments to put his thoughts together, but Colt finally did.
"There is another option."
"We just keep heading east. Don't stop. Head east, get over the mountains, and just keep going. There's a whole continent out there. You know, you've seen it. The Mid-West, the Texas Baronies, the tribal lands of the South East. Gomorrah's hold on the rest of the country outside of California was tenuous at best. New Sparta can't look for us everywhere, not forever. We could go east and keep going until we find a place to stop."
Lefranc nodded at that idea. "Yeah. I'm sure if we went far enough east, we'd find somewhere. Somewhere all this Gomorrah and New Sparta shit and intrigue wouldn't catch up with us. Maybe go up north, past The Big Lakes and into Old Canada. A shit load of mosquitos up there, but a whole lot of nowhere to settle down in. Like you said, they can't chase us forever."
"Yeah, that's what I was thinking."
Lefranc nodded again. "Find some small-town type place. Your boy Ajax could find a girl. Start that family that he wants. Doc may not get to be a real doctor, but he's more of a doctor now than most folks in the badlands could ever hope to find."
"Yeah," Colt agreed. "Robins… well, I haven't figured him out yet. But Christian, he's easy to please. He'll be happy just to be around."
"He's loyal to you," Lefranc said. "If your happy, he'd be happy." Lefranc reached over, hoisted up the sniper rifle, and checked the chamber. Then he continued.
"The thing is…" He said as if he were letting out a long exhale. "Thing is, your Great Grandfather was the Hammer. And your father was The Colonel. They say the Hammer took down a whole city, but that isn't accurate. The City of Angels wasn't one city. It was a huge city made up of cities. The Hammer took that down with just sixty guys. He did that, and they rode him out on a rail for it. Your father, The Colonel, we know what he did. It had to take an iron will to fight your way into the heart of your enemies with a nuclear bomb on your back just so you could self-detonate. And now you. They're hounding you, trying to make the son pay for the sins of the father. You remember where you found me?"
"Yeah, up on that lake."
"Yeah," Lefranc agreed. "Caretaking. That's what they called it. They could have made a robot to do my job, but it wouldn't have been worth the effort.
"You're young. You don't want to spend a long life wondering what might have been. What you might have done. Ain't nothing wrong with vengeance, with wanting a little payback. Ain't nothing wrong with getting a little payback either. Your family is certainly owed. If you went east far enough and you could disappear, but you won't forget. Full of regrets ain't no way to live your life."
"So, you're suggesting we stay in the game?" Colt asked.
"Yeah," Lefranc said. "I'm saying you stay in the game."
"What'd you see out there?" Ajax hissed his question at Christian, who scrambled back to the rest of the group. They left the abandoned house that evening and made their way up into the Sierra Nevada. With their night vision glasses, the nighttime world was theirs alone. They followed one of the old highways east up into the mountains, paralleling it, and staying in the cover of the forested countryside. Shortly after dawn, they stopped and got into a security halt. A fortified compound lay ahead. Colt sent their grenadier to scout it out.
"For a bunch of screamers, they got their shit together," Christian began. He paused to take several long gulps out of a canteen. Unlike the Central Valley, the foothills and mountains had plenty of water. It flowed down in icy streams, and Colt and his companions made good use of it. Christian took another sloppy gulp and continued his report.
"The earthwork and palisade circles the entire encampment. But from up on these slopes, you can see right inside. One gate in and out. Both guard towers are manned. Some kind of big statue thing too. I didn't see any heavy weapons in the towers, but they got an old army surplus truck in the compound with a quad fifty on the back."
Ajax gave a low whistle of respect. "I wouldn't want to go up against that."
"Does it look like it works?" Lefranc asked. Christian only shrugged.
"Any signs they got patrols out?" Colt asked. This fortified compound was on the opposite side of the highway. Not close, but Colt didn't want to take any chances.
"I didn't see any patrols or anybody heading out. Both towers have views of the road, but there's no way they'd be able to see us if we stay in the trees."
"Walking along the roads will get you killed every time," Doc said.
"Indeed," Colt agreed. Then to Christian, "You see anybody inside the compound?"
"Yeah, maybe a dozen people. Moving between buildings, doing chores, stuff like that."
Colt turned to Nicky-Lee. "These aren't your people, are they?"
"No. She is further up the mountain. Maybe another day or so."
Lefranc scowled. He still didn't like this forced partnership with Nicky-Lee, nor relying upon his people. "You sure she's ready for this little surprise party?"
Nicky-Lee's face went red. He shrugged. Colt looked around the circle of faces arrayed around him. They'd done well. They survived the cat-and-mouse game in the Central Valley. They'd broken through the Screamers' line. They hadn't lost their nerve, even when they learned their own countrymen were hunting them. They needed a break. They needed a respite. They needed the hope offered by Nicky-Lee and his promises of a sanctuary.
"Alright. Let's leave this compound well enough alone and keep going up the mountain."
They kept going up the mountain.
Then the sun rose, and the chilly morning turned hot quickly. The air was bone dry but had that clean mountain smell of trees and duff. They picked their way along, weaving around boulders and through the pines. They kept the old highway to their right. Before long, a steep ravine opened up on their left. Water roiled and rushed along its depths.
"Further up, there is a dam. A hydroelectric dam," Nicky-Lee explained. "That's where we'll find them." Colt nodded. They kept going.
Around noon they found an abandoned dirt road and followed it. It might have been an old logging road. Or it might have been a forest service road, long forsaken and left to the wild. Weeds and small trees grew up out of the roadbed. Snags had fallen left and right across the road, like railroad crossing arms. They stepped over them or ducked under them and kept going.
They skipped even a pretense of lunch and continued up the road. They sweated. None spoke, not until Christian turned back from his position on point and walked up to Colt. He leaned in to whisper so Lefranc and Colt could here.
"We're being shadowed on our left flank. More up in front, trying to stay ahead of us."
"Red or black sashes?"
"Don’t think so. I think they are just eyeballing us."
Colt turned to face Nicky-Lee. He gave the man a look that asked the question without the trouble of words.
"Yeah, we're close," Nicky said.
Ten minutes later, they rounded a bend. The road sank down, and berms rose on either side. A barricade of fallen logs blocked their path, manned by a dozen armed fighters. In the center of them stood their leader. She wore leather clothes and cradled an M16A2 rifle with a fixed carry handle. She wore her brown hair tied back with a bit of leather.
Colt gave the signal to halt. His party halted.
The girl at the barricade cast her eyes over the approaching party. She didn't smile. Her face was cold, flinty. She gave them the same, hard, emotionless appraisal The Colonel and The Hammer made of Colt in his dreams. She looked at Colt and his crew. She looked at Colt. Appraising. Assessing. Without taking her eyes off him, she spoke.
"Nicky-Lee. Never thought I'd see you again. You're a long way from Jefferson."
Nicky-Lee smiled. Despite the sweat and the grime and the filth that covered him, his smile was bright and disarming. The girl didn't smile back. She eyed Colt. Assessing.
"I've had quite the ride lately," Nicky-Lee said, his tone friendly, light-hearted. "I can't wait to sit down and tell you all the story."
That didn't make the girl smile either. She said, "Looks like you found yourself some new friends. Spartans."
"Like I said, I can't wait for us to sit down so I can tell you the story."
Colt stepped forward and called out. "Are you Eldra?"
Nicky-Lee turned to Colt and said, "That's not Eldra. That's Cora."
Thanks for the update. Merry Christmas, nice gift with the update.
Thanks for the update and merry Christmas!
Nice! Cora and the Spartans meet...
Merry Christmas (belated).
What rifle is Lefranc carrying?
I kept it vague on purpose.
Originally Posted By jrtatonka:
What rifle is Lefranc carrying?
It could be either a 1903 Springfield or a modified No. 1 MK III Enfield. I imagine him with the Enfield. That's just me.
The real question is which pistol did he take: the .45 or the 9mm?
Another great chapter. Any chance you have a publish date?
Any up dates?
Cora led Colt and his companions higher into the mountains, up into the lair of the Fire Witch. Cora's men followed along on their flanks and to their rear, an obvious move to hem the Spartan outlaws in. Cora's men were well armed by Badlands standards. There were no crude rippers here. All wielded either Pre-Protest weapons, or what looked like locally manufactured versions of old "classics." Colt saw remakes of Swedish K submachine guns, built suppressed and with rails for optics. He saw Ingram machine pistols fitted with ergonomic stocks and adjustable sights. Even so, Colt had no doubt he and his friends could shoot their way through this lot if they had to. One of the bigger guards, a man who looked to be Samoan descent, carried a reproduction Lewis Gun. The big air-cooled weapon had a few modern features, but still sported the same distinct barrel shroud and 97-round round pan magazine. Ajax eyed the Lewis gun covetously.
"You must have your own machine shop," Colt said, attempting to get Cora's attention. She turned but she did not slow her pace.
"We do. It was part of the old dam facility we took over. I'm sure Nicky told you about that already."
"A little," Colt said. He nodded with his chin towards Cora's rifle, the long M16A2 with its fixed carry handle. "Did that come with the dam too?"
Cora looked Colt up and down again with her hard, flinty eyes.
"Maybe we can talk more later, if you've got anything to offer," she said. With that she turned away from Colt and never looked back.
Christian smiled at Colt, shrugged, and made an expression that said, 'what can you do.'
Thirty minutes later they came to the compound. What Eldra, Cora, and their people had done was impressive, especially by the standards of the Post-Protest Badlands. The dam had been damaged, cracked right through the middle. If Colt had to guess, he'd bet it was done during the Protest when everybody, especially Californians, raged blindly against dams, power plants, and any and all perceived crimes against the environment and their Earth Mother. But the dam had been repaired. The crack had been patched, water flowed through the spillways, and the air was thick with the buzz of electric current. Outside the dam complex, cattle and sheep grazed freely. Colt and his team passed through a gate and walked past a humming Powerhouse. There were other buildings in the small, chain-link fence enclosed compound, barns and garages, outbuildings and sheds. They passed one large building with multi-paneled windows as tall as a man and four times as wide. Colt nudged Lefranc and pointed at the windows.
"None of the panes are broken," Colt said. Lefranc took in the windows and appreciated their significance. Some of the panes were mismatched. Some were even tinted so dark as to suggest they'd been cut out of car windows. But none were broken, and none were missing. This was in stark contrast to the buildings they'd seen on their flight up the Central Valley. Out there, at best broken windows were patched with rotting cardboard. More often, they were left broken. That these buildings were both functional and being maintained suggested a level of sophistication and attention to detail Colt and his companions had not seen yet in this adventure.
"They've got the knowledge to get this place running, and the discipline to keep it running," Lefranc said.
"There's no trash in the yard, anywhere. Not along the roads, not along the fence line. They're keeping this place clean," Colt added.
"That's more concerning to me than the knockoff guns," Lefranc said. "These folks have their shit in one bag."
"It's civilization," Nicky-Lee said. "Civilization, logic, reason, humanism, democracy, the rule of law, and everything else that comes with it. Gomorrah drowned the world in a new dark age, but you Spartans weren’t the only ones to cling to Western Civilization and keep it alive. Jefferson and now Eldra's people up here on the mountain. We kept civilization alive too. In some ways we did more to keep civilization alive than you did."
They rounded a corner between a set of buildings. There, a burnt human body hung from chains fixed to a metal stake. Charred arms hung in manacles. The head was a crispy black egg. No eyes. No nose. No ears or hair. Only a rictus of gleaming white teeth where the lips had burnt away. The remaining skin was charred black and peeling, revealing cooked pink flesh beneath. Fat and hairy flies buzzed in swarms.
"You were saying something about civilization," Colt said flatly.
"Eldra's been up to her old tricks again," Nicky-Lee said.
"She has," Cora agreed. "This one was a member of the Pale, a tribe of slavers. You passed their fortified compound on the way up. We got in a skirmish with them a few days ago, and they left this one behind. He was lung shot and paralyzed from where his spine got clipped by a rifle bullet." Cora looked down at her rifle for a moment with her big, brown, doe eyes.
"You captured a wounded enemy on the battlefield, then burned him alive?" Colt asked.
"Don’t shed any tears for the Pale, Spartan," Cora replied, her voice as hard as her appraising eyes. "They attack travelers on the road. They enslave women and children, and worse. Fuck them and fuck this one too." With that, Cora spat on the burnt corpse.
Cora led them into a large building that was all concrete and rectangular lines. Colt guessed by the architecture that it was built in the 1930s, and was probably the dam complex's administration building, once upon a time. Above their heads, electric light flickered in a motley assembly of different fixtures with different bulbs and tubes.
"They can make their own guns, and rebuild the dam, but they can't make their own light bulbs," Christian observed.
"We all have out limits," Cora said without turning.
She led them into a large hall. Inside was only one piece of furniture: an enormous leather wingback chair on raised platform at the end of the hall.
"Wait here," Cora said. She left them standing in the middle of the hall and took her position on the platform next to the chair.
"It’s like a throne room," Ajax whispered.
"Not like a throne room. It is a throne room," Colt corrected. Then they heard the footsteps.
The air inside the throne room filled with the distinct sound of a woman walking in heels. Clip, clip, clip. The pace of the footfalls seemed slow. Hypnotically slow. Seductively slow. The sound was so loud, so filling that it might have been the only sound in the room, the only sound in the universe. It seemed to come from everywhere. And then, she just appeared behind them, as if by magic.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't Nicky-Lee. And you've brought me some boys to play with. How thoughtful."
Colt turned and there she was, Eldra, the Fire Witch. She was striking. Everything about her was striking, but the first thing Colt noticed was her hair. Eldra's hair was a dark red tumble that cascaded down past her shoulders. Sleek and shiny, it glimmered burgundy or black as the light hit it. It was the red of firelight reflected on obsidian. It was the red of lust. It was the red of a black widow's hourglass marking. The hair framed a beautiful face made more beautiful by its confidence. Full red lips curled slightly into a coy, knowing smile. The lids of her big, dark eyes hung at half mast, suggesting a sleepy, seductiveness.
Around her neck, Eldra wore a silver chain that held an oval ruby as big as a bird's egg. The gemstone rested snuggly in the deep, pale cleft at her chest. She stood tall, just a touch under six feet, her height amplified by the heels on black leather boots that stretched up her legs, past her knees, and ended at mid-thigh. The rest of her clothing was also black; black leather, black lace, black velvet, all accented here and there with touches of red. Black and red. Shiny and seductive, and Colt knew, dangerous.
Appearing behind Colt and his crew, she took the long way around them, her eyes moving up and down hungrily. When she passed behind Ajax, long slender fingers tipped in manicured red nails extended and brushed ever so lightly against the back of the big man's neck. Colt thought Ajax's knees might give out.
She glided past them without stopping and made her way up the dais, the queen to her throne. As she walked, her skirt swayed breezily, revealing a flash black lace and smooth skin between the top of her boots and the hem. She collapsed into the wingback chair, crossed her legs, and cupped both hands over her knee.
"Nicky-Lee, you spoil me with so many new playmates. And such strong and fit looking playthings they are. And wild. And dirty. They look like they could use a good, long, scrubbing down." When she spoke, she drew out the L of long, the tip of her tongue taking its time as it moved down from the top of her teeth. Like everything else about her, her words were calculated seductions; every enunciation, every calculated pause, all designed to elicit a response from her male petitioners.
"Oh Eldra, after all our time together I thought I was your favorite one to play with," Nicky-Lee said with a smile.
Eldra's attitude shifted. The charm was still there. Any hint of flirtation evaporated from her eyes. Colt thought again of a black widow spider.
"Don't get sentimental on me Nicky. You know I'm just not that kind of girl. Now Nicky… first thing's first. Where is Jekyll? I know you have him. All those mutants in the valley didn't make themselves. Why don't you… whip it on out and let me get a good, long, look at it."
"You'll be disappointed,"
"A lady often is," Eldra said with her sly, red smile. "Indulge me."
Nicky-Lee reached into a pocket and pulled out a bundle of cloth. He set it on the ground, carefully unwrapped it, and revealed the shattered block of obsidian he claimed was a supercomputer. Eldra's face filled with disappointment. Her lips drew into a pout.
"How unfortunate," she said. "Oh Nicky, what you have looks too… flaccid to be of any use to me. The one thing you might have had that would interest me, busted up like and old beer bottle. I don't suppose it can be fixed?"
"Sadly, no. It stopped a machine gun round. Part of the gunplay when these Spartan's rescued me from some Gomorrah bad guys."
Eldra's eyes flitted over to Ajax, who stood cradling his machine gun, the ammunition belt wrapped up over one shoulder like an imp's tail.
"I wonder who could have done something like that?" Eldra asked. "Normally I find all brawn and no brain to be such a virtue. But in this case… so disappointing. How will you boys ever make it up to me?"
"Eldra, we need sanctuary," Nicky-Lee said. "We've been on the run for a long time now."
"Yes, I know," Eldra replied. "The whole valley is buzzing with your little crime spree. Dead Gomorrah screamers stretching from here back to Old Fresno. And this is all after you finally found enough of your balls to climb out of your basement in Jefferson and plug Jekyll into Gomorrah's grid. Oh, and Old San Francisco got nuked too. I'm guessing these Spartan friends of yours had something to do with that."
"We didn't set that nuke off," Colt said, stepping forward. "But we did rescue Nicky-Lee, we've been on the run ever since, and we could use sanctuary."
"Well, you are not staying here," Eldra said. "The remnants of Gomorrah are looking for you. The Emerald City and New Sparta are also hunting for you, their own people. Somehow, you've managed to get them working together, working together to hunt down and kill you. I'm sure all this makes for a mildly entertaining story, but the last thing you are doing is staying here."
"But Eldra," Nicky-Lee began. She cut him off.
"No buts. Gomorrah is looking for you all. Their own Spartans are looking for you. They've been parachuting supplies and people into what's left of Gomorrah ever since the city exploded. I don't want either of those communities to know we even exist, and I certainly don't want them to know you are here. That's a crossfire I wouldn't be caught between."
"Eldra," Nicky-Lee began, his voice angry and desperate. "We had to sneak and fight all the way up the valley. You don't know what its like out there. I was almost eaten by… by… by fucking mutants. If it wasn't for these Spartan's I'd be dead. Even with them it was touch and go."
"I don't care, Nicky. We have enough troubles of our own here. If you had the Jekyll computer then maybe you would have something to bargain with. As it is, you have nothing I want and nothing I need."
"We do have Jekyll."
"And its shattered into pieces. It doesn't work. You are not welcome here."
"If you aren't going to take us in," Colt said. "Then what do you intend to do with us? Because I'll tell you right now, we aren't going be chained up to no stakes."
With that, some of Colt's companions shifted their weapons. Ajax shifted his feet and adjusted the heft of his machine gun. Doc fingered at a grenade in its pouch. Christian pushed his carbine out against its sling. Around the gallery, Eldra's men shifted their own weapons in response. Eldra let out a laugh that immediately defused the situation.
"And who might you be? The child captain of your Spartan lost boys? Silly boy. I might chain you up, but I wouldn't burn you. At least, not at first."
Cora, who had been silent up to this point, cut in. Her voice came out loud, clear, and commanding, "You aren't just Spartans. You are Spartan Knights, trained in all manner of military operations." It was not a question, but a declaration.
"That's right," Colt said. "Offense, defense, guerilla warfare…" Before he could go any further, Cora interrupted him.
Before he answered, Colt stole a glance to Lefranc. The old man shrugged, 'go ahead.'
"Yeah, we've trained for it. Hostage rescue is a very particular skillset though. The only people that are any good at it, they practice at it for decades. And that's all they practice for. It isn't a skill you can maintain part-time."
"But you could do it?" Cora asked.
Colt looked at Cora, looked into her eyes. Her eyes were big and brown, and beautiful, but they were also hard, unflinching, demanding. Colt knew this wasn't some doe-eyed girl, but a woman who knew what she wanted and went after it.
"Yeah," Colt said. "We could perform a hostage rescue if we needed to."
Cora leaned over to Eldra and whispered into her ear for quite a while. Eldra didn't speak, she only listened and nodded from time to time. When the whispering concluded, Eldra turned to Cora and gave her one last affirmative nod. Cora straightened and spoke.
"On your way up, you passed a fortified compound. That's the home of the Pale, the slavers. The Pale hold one of our people hostage in there. We'd like you to get her out."
Colt and Lefranc turned to each other and exchanged looks of concern. Ajax shifted his weight and rolled his shoulders forward, adjusting the heft of his machine gun. Nicky-Lee glanced nervously around the room.
"If we do this, you'll let us stay here?"
Eldra shook her head. "No. Hostage rescue or no, I still don't want you here. But we will take you to Jefferson." Eldra's eyes flashed towards Nicky-Lee. "You can go back to the safety of your basement and take your new friends with you."
"How?" Colt asked. "The Central Valley is full of Gomorrah screamers looking for us."
"And Spartan looking for you too, if the rumors are true. Silly man, let me worry about getting you to Jefferson. You just worry about rescuing our girl."
Colt looked at Cora. "I'm guessing that you've already got some of this worked out?"
"The Pale keep their captives in a tunnel network they dug underneath their houses. Outside the compound is a pipe that leads into the tunnels," Cora said with far more confidence than she felt. She didn't know for sure that the concrete pipe led into the Pale's tunnels, but she knew that this was her only chance. She wasn't going to let it slip away due to a lack of conviction on her part. "In the center of their compound is a giant idol that they worship every full moon. On those nights, they all assemble around the idol for some ceremony. There won't be anybody in the tunnels or in the houses to worry about."
"And these slavers, they just leave this entrance unguarded?"
"It is gated and chained shut, but yes, its unguarded," Cora said. "You're in Gomorrah now Spartan. You aren't going to see the same military efficiency you saw back in your Emerald City."
Yeah, we've noticed that," Colt said quietly. "So your basic idea is that at the next full moon, we sneak into these tunnels while all these Pale folks are out in their yard, rescue your person, sneak her back out, and for that you'll get us to Nicky-Lee's fabled Jefferson. Did I summarize this correctly?"
Cora and Eldra exchanged looks, nodded, and Eldra said, "You have the right of it young man."
"Okay. We rescue your hostage, and you get us to Jefferson. That's the deal."
Colt continued, "But we ain't going in alone. We'll need a guide." When he said this, he didn't look at Eldra but instead looked right at Cora with the same, flinty, appraising eyes she gave him.
"I'll do it," Cora volunteered before Eldra could answer.
Eldra shrugged and gave another one of her sly smiles and said, "Of course you will. Just try and bring them back in one piece, Cora. I might want to play with a few later. If any of them survive."
Colt didn't like any of this, but he was willing to play the hand he was dealt. Still, he had one more question.
"Cora, this ceremony you say they perform under the full moon. What do they do during this ceremony? You say they all gather together in their yard, but what exactly are they doing?"
Cora looked right at Colt. She didn't flinch, or tremble, or stall. She lied right to him with out any hesitation or hint of falsehood. She lied to him the way only a woman can, when she knows lying is the only way to get what she wants.
"I don't know what they do during these ceremonies."
Great chapter. Thanks OP!
Thanks for the update.
Great update, thanks.
We're getting closer to the joint Cora/Spartan raid on The Pale!
Great update indeed!
Any of those updates happen to be ready for us?
Thanks in advance for the reading material.
Peering through a set of binoculars, Christian said, "If things get dicey down there, I'm going straight for that quad-fifty."
Colt and Christian watched the inside of the Pale's compound from Cora's observation post. They'd been busy the last few days, waiting for the full moon and their chance to strike. The dam complex did have a machine shop. Ajax used it to construct suppressors for all their carbines and captured pistols. Christian and Nicky-Lee scrounged up the chemicals they needed to make some home-made explosives. More mundane activities included sewing and patching all the rents and holes in their uniforms, cleaning their gear, and filling their bodies with all the calories they could. Eldra and her people had been generous as well, giving Colt and his crew some handheld radios for the mission along with the other material. They'd made the best use of the time they had. Now tonight was the night. After the sunset and the moon rose, Colt and his band would steal into the Pale's compound and rescue Eldra's captive girl.
"You think that Kraut Mower even works?" Colt asked, surveying the compound with his naked eyes.
Christian thought about that for a moment before answering. "Well, they've got ammo cans and some truck batteries stacked around it… I fucking hope it works. I mean, it is four-fifty caliber machine gun. Four of them! You know how cool that would be to fire."
"The idea is to get in and out without anybody knowing we are there," Colt replied. "We sneak into the tunnel, grab the girl, and then get the hell out. Like some post-apocalyptic ninjas."
"Yeah, I know that's the idea. But things never go as planned, not in these operations. Hell, military history is one big long list of plans that didn't go as planned. Shit always goes sideways." Christian pointed down into the Pale Compound with one finger extended like a pistol barrel. "And when shit goes south down there, I'm going straight for that Kraut Mower, and I'm going to shoot the whole place apart. I'm gonna look like William Holden in the Wild Bunch."
Colt grimaced. "As I said, the idea is in and out. No noise, no blood, no trouble."
"Yeah, yeah," Christian moaned. "You're no fun."
Aside from the ground-mounted quad-fifty, the only thing of note inside the compound was the above ground pool. The day before, Pale workers assembled it beneath the drape-covered monolith that Cora said was an idol they worshipped. Today, they were filling it with water. Without running water, they had to do it with five-gallon buckets. The Pale bucket brigade had been at work all day.
"What do you think they're going to do with that pool?" Colt asked.
Christian turned away from the binoculars and pondered the question for a long time before finally answering.
"I think they are going to use it to do something… stupid," the dirty grenadier answered.
"I'm sure that's entirely true, but not exactly helpful," Colt replied with a smirk.
"Here to help, boss."
Colt continued to study the compound. A steady stream of women hauled water under the watchful eye of armed men in homespun woolen pullovers. Colt assumed the women were slaves, and something about that set him on edge. Just like the Red-Sashes and Black-Sashes down in the valley, these Pale thugs were free to run about and committing all sorts of evil. Meanwhile, he and his friends had to go sneaking about. It should be the other way around, Colt thought. Those slavers and all the other evil men in the Gomorrah badlands should be the ones hiding. They should be the ones trembling in fear at the very thought of Colt and his righteous warriors. Not only were they morally superior, but they also had the training, the discipline, the martial skill, and prowess to destroy any in their path. People like these Pale slavers and Gomorrah's survivors only lived because men like Colt had not gone out and killed them.
And that, of course, made Colt think of his dad.
Colt clenched his teeth at the ideas, then quickly pushed them into the back of his mind. This mission wasn't supposed to be about righteousness or vengeance. Tonight was all about practicality. Rescue this hostage, and then he and his friends would win passage to the sanctuary of this fabled Jefferson. He sighed, then looked around the observation post carved in the hillside.
"She did good work on this hide site," Colt said appreciatively.
Christian set down the binoculars and turned to his team leader. "Fuck. It is about time you said something about her."
"What do you mean, 'What?' We've been out here all this time, crawling around in the mud and the dirt and Master Gun's haunted tunnels. Finally, some girl comes along. She's gorgeous. She's got her shit together. She carries around an M16A2 complete with bayonet around for fuck's sake. And you're just gonna sit here all this time and not talk about her? Plus, she's all hot for you. Fuck, man!"
"She's not hot for me. She barely even looked at me."
"Yeah, and you barely looked at her. I ain't never seen a boy and girl make such a big deal out of not looking at each other. Fucking stick up your ass, man. Up-fucking-tight. No wonder you're going to be an officer. You can take her with you; she's uptight officer material too. Pull out the sticks plugging up both your butts, and I'll bet a mountain of gold bars comes piling out your asses.."
"What do you know?"
"I know she likes you. And you'd be a fool not to go after her."
Colt turned his attention back on the Pale compound. "We're here to do a job. Get the hostage out. That's what this is about."
"We're here to survive, and part of surviving is living. There's more to life than going from mission to mission."
"Then why don't you go for her, Christian?"
"Me? She's not my type. Not dirty enough. Pointy elbows. Plus, that girl's an officer type broad if there ever was one. Besides, I'm saving myself for the queen bee. That Eldra, with her red hair. A hot, older, red-headed witch. Damn."
"Christian, Eldra would eat you alive."
"Yeah, but what a way to go. That would be the way to die. That, or going down while firing that quad-fifty down there, Wild Bunch style."
The conversation paused. Colt let the pause linger a while before speaking again.
"Its against the law, getting involved with the locals like that. Sexing up the locals will get you court-martialed," Colt said, his words heavy with a kind of melancholy.
"You think we'll ever get back to New Sparta?" Christian asked. "This whole thing… your dad, the Crown Prince, the Chief Marshal… do you think it will ever get resolved, and we'll go back?"
"I hope so," Colt said.
"I don't," Christian said. "I don't want to go back. I'd be perfectly happy to stay out here with you guys until the day I die."
It would all start after tonight, Jimmy decided. The events of the past few days had not been kind to Jimmy. There was the unsuccessful attempt to intercept the large band of refugees, the skirmish with the bitch's forces up the mountain and the resulting casualties, and worst of all, the political aftermath back home.
His father, John Pale, raged when he found out Jimmy and his troops had been ambushed. Two dead, another four wounded, and one missing (which Jimmy didn't talk about); these were grievous losses to the Pale tribe, even with the tunnel wives and their bastard offspring.
"You shouldn't have gone up the mountain," his father admonished.
"And what should I have done? Sat here? Sat here in safety, and kept picking off crumbs in ones and twos?" Jimmy fired back.
"Yes! You should have waited. Waited for our golem to come to life," his father roared. In the corner of his father's dusty and cluttered office, next to the chained girl, Jimmy's brother sneered. The girl was oblivious to all around her. Her eyes were two vacant, drug-addled orbs. A trickle of blood and filth ran down the inside of her legs. John Pale had been active.
"The golem has never, will never rise. It’s a false hope," Jimmy wanted to scream. But he didn't. That was further than he was willing to go. His father was a true believer in Doctor Chosen's promises. John Pale's authority, the very religion of the Pale, was based upon Doctor Chosen's golem. To impugn that legend would mean crossing a line that could not be crossed back over. And so, Jimmy bit his tongue.
For the time being.
Jimmy knew that while his father's belief in the golem could not be shaken, others were not so steadfast in their faith. He could wait, and plot, and let his hatred fester.
Outside came the sounds of splashing water. Jimmy's father ordered that they build a pool beneath the golem. That pool was being filled one five-gallon bucket at a time. John Pale had delved deep into his holy book and was confident he'd found the key to bringing the golem to life, just as he had countless times before. Jimmy had his doubts, ninety-nine to one against any prophecy being fulfilled. Still, there was that one-percent lingering doubt. He contemplated the odds as he laid out a line of rust-colored powder along the shaft of his war hammer.
Tonight, his father would make his latest attempt to breathe life into the golem, beneath the full moon, before the entire tribe of the Pale. His true and favorite son, George, would be right there at his side. If things went as they always did, the golem would not come to life, and the Pale would suffer another disappointment and John Pale, another humiliation. The time would be ripe for Jimmy to start his coup. If the golem did come to life, if that towering inanimate came to life as Doctor Chosen promised, in that case, things would have turned so far in the Pale's favor that a coup would be out of the question.
Outside came another splash. The pool was being filled. The child captives were being prepared for their sacrifice. Everything was coming together. Jimmy snorted the line off the handle of his war hammer. Tonight, and then if things went the way he thought, tomorrow his coup would begin.
The power of the drugs surged through his mind and body. So good that he laid out another line without even thinking about it.
Yes, tomorrow. Things would begin tomorrow.
All of Winston Indigo's lieutenants assembled beneath the great circus tent. Their purpose was to decide what to do next, and all of Winston's trusted advisors and noteworthy captains were there: The Oracle and Raux, Kobi, the Rainbow Ninja, the Red Sniper, the new Spartan advisors. They were all there inside the tent, arguing, squabbling, and making their cases for what course of action to take. All but one.
All but Claw.
Claw sat in his own quarters and watched over the dead boy. Claw had been there for hours. His eyes were puffy and red from weeping. The meeting started hours ago. No runner came to fetch him. No page came to summon him. He, the one who had kept the refugee survivors of the great Gomorrah Empire going during their darkest hours, was left alone. He was abandoned and forgotten. And the boy stared up at him with dead eyes.
Protruding out of Tomas's chest was the textured hand of a knife. His knife. Claw's knife, the knife he lost in the last riot. It rose out of Thomas's sternum like a thin black gravestone. It had been left there to mock him. It mocked him for being weak. It mocked him for being timid. It mocked him for being outside the orbits of power and popularity that circled around Winston.
No, Claw thought. Not Winston. This wasn't his work. He was too big, too grand for something as skulking as this. This was the work of cruel and malicious plotters. This wasn't the work of a king. It was the work of his courtiers. His petty, backstabbing courtiers.
Tomas looked calm in death. Still. The knife in his chest his only wound. He was laid out straight on the floor, arms resting perfectly at his side, his eyes big in death. Only his mouth was off. It gaped open. It had been stuffed full of papers. Claw guessed, hoped that this had been done postmortem. He hoped that whoever had done this hadn't forced the gag of wadded papers down the child's throat while he was still alive. He hoped that Tomas's murder was enough. He hoped that the boy hadn't been humiliated first, before the knife slipped into his young heart.
Claw removed the ball of papers and unfolding it saw what he knew them to be all along. They were the renderings of the Phoenix he and Tomas had worked on together.
This dishonor was too much for Claw. They slipped into his quarters with his own knife, murdered the boy, stuffed his own artwork down the dead boy's throat, then went on to attend the big meeting. And Claw was left behind to weep and grieve alone. Powerless. Outside the orbits of power. Mocked. Ignored. Forgotten.
But now Claw was all cried out. His red and puffy eyes had long gone dry. The sadness, the self-pity, the despair, it all turned into something else. And inside Claw, the man once named Cassandra, the worm turned.
How long had he been there over the boy? Hours? Days? He did not know and did not care. He seemed in a dream, in another reality. He reached down to the boy, and with his single hand, he drew out the knife, like Arthur plucking Excalibur from the stone. He didn't bother cleaning the blade. Blood had dried on it, all black and sticky. Claw rose. The Phoenix drawings rustled about his feet. He stood, knife at his side, he stalked out of his own quarters.
The outside world was a blur. Claw drifted through it like an apparition, wafting along between the hovels and tents, beneath the towering effigy of Doctor Chosen. This monument was finished now. The good doctor looked over his people, grinning with teeth too big, too white. Even his monument was a caricature. Claw didn't care about Doctor Chosen or his idol or anything else. He floated along. The people he passed, whether mod or trad, took one look at him and gave him a wide birth. Mouths went slack. Eyes opened wide with alarm. Mods and trads all stepped away. They understood this was no man to tangle with.
He moved up and down the dirty streets. He passed old vehicles, and bonfires gone cold. He stepped over and past refuse piles from their new Spartan supplies. All around him was surreal, vaporous until he threw open the flap of Winston's tent and, knife in hand, stepped inside.
"It is imperative that we resume the search for these renegades. I know you have suffered losses, but it is a priority for the Chief Marshal to bring these outlaw Spartans to justice."
Colonel Needles, the head Spartan advisor, stood before Winston's throne, pleading his case. All around the tent, trad courtiers gibbered and jabbered amongst themselves, arguing about the wisdom of their new Spartan ally's words. That is, until they saw Claw stalk into the tent, bloody knife in hand. One by one, they fell silent. Their faces were full of apprehension. Claw saw a slack faced loon, carrying a bow and dressed up like a peacock. He assumed that was the Rainbow Ninja. Another man, painted all in red except his slicked-back black hair, must have been the fabled Red Sniper. Claw caught sight of Kobi. The man was nothing if not a survivor. Kobi saw Claw and cautiously moved to the back of the tent, existing the danger area of whatever was about to happen. Needles droned on, oblivious to the impending drama.
"New Sparta cannot abide by this continued injustice. Resuming the search for these criminals would go a long way towards demonstrating your desire to working with the Chief Marshal in areas of mutual interest."
"If you Spartans need dirty work done, then go do it your damn selves. Those renegade Spartans out there are your problem. No more of us are dying to fix your bullshit."
Claw wasn't conscious of speaking the words until they were out of his mouth. Colonel Needles turned to face Claw, and when he did, he went aghast. Sitting on his throne, Winston said nothing. His face betrayed nothing, no hint of emotion. Needles began to speak.
"The renegade Spartans are a mutual problem that requires a mutual and synergistic solution, and we…"
"Shut up," Claw barked with authority. Colonel Needle's jaw snapped shut. But Claw didn't even look at the Spartan colonel. His eyes were fixed on the frail man standing just behind the Needles, the one who even now grinned mockingly at Claw. The Oracle. Even now, the Oracle's eyes gleamed with wicked delight.
Claw didn't have the patience for such courtier games. Instead, he walked right up to the Oracle. The assembled Gomorrah captains parted before the advancing Claw.
Claw closed on the Oracle until they were only inches apart. He looked the man over once, then spoke.
"You say you can predict the future."
"You can't. You say you speak for Doctor Chosen?"
"I do," the Oracle replied. Claw shook his head no.
"You don't, and I'm done with your shit."
The knife came out. A forearm slash that went right across the Oracle's neck. The crowd gasped. The Oracle stumbled, convulsed. Claw slashed back again, a backhand slice across the side of the Oracle's neck. Claw's blade sliced through loose skin, muscle, fat, and more. Blood welled. The Oracle made a gasping, choking sound. The old man shuddered, spasmed, shook with a violent palsy. Claw lunged. His idea was to drive the blade right through Oracle's throat, but at the last second, the old man convulsed. His head swung down. Instead of stabbing into the throat, the knife struck the Oracle's chin, skidded across jawbone. It caught and twisted. Claw fumbled his weapon, and the tanto blade came out of his hand. The Oracle collapsed, and the knife clattered on the floor. A furious scream rose through the tent.
Claw turned to face the crowd. There he Raux, bronze-skinned, naked, and cannibalistic with her filed teeth. She pounced at him, like a jungle cat making its kill. Her claws gleamed. Her white, filed teeth flashed. Claw stood transfixed by her wildness, his mind thinking only, 'this is how I die,' as Raux descended upon him.
Then a thundercrack filled the tent. Raux hung suspended in midair for a moment, then her body went forward and up while her head went backwards and down. She moved in slow motion, a halo of red washing out and around her head until, at last, she hit the ground with a lifeless smack.
Claw and everyone else turned to the dais. There, Winston stood next to his throne. One outstretched arm held the gold plated RPK as easily as if it were an Olympian's target pistol. Smoke curled up from the barrel and hung in the air. For a long time, the only sound was the choking, gurgling sound that came from the Oracle who lay bleeding at Claw's feet.
"Get out," Winston commanded. In a rush, the courtiers and advisors, the captains, and hangers-on left the tent. Soon, the only sound in the tent was the Oracle's rasping. Winston lowered his weapon and slowly walked down from the dais. His massive blue-skinned muscles flexed and stretched. Each of his footsteps thundered like the footsteps of a Greek god. Claw stood frozen. Raux lay in a lifeless heap. The Oracle lay sputtering and convulsing, his hands at the wounds on his neck. Claw looked down at his victim. He must have missed the artery, but he hit something. Blood seeped around the Oracle's fingers. His ragged breathing had a wet sound to it. Winston stood beside Claw and looked down at the dying Oracle with his blue and pewter eyes. He didn't look at Claw, just at the Oracle, and he spoke.
"It is obvious why I'm the one running what's left of Gomorrah. My size. My physical size. I'm a giant. Physically intimidating. I'm bigger and stronger and taller than any man alive. I could rip men apart with my bare hands. I wasn't always this big. I was engineered this way. I used to be a small, skinny wisp of a thing. Nothing can make you appreciate being big and strong like growing up small and feeble.
"So, our world gets nuked. The whole High Council is dead. In walks this sculpted blue giant of a man, a bioengineered work of art created by none other than Doctor Chosen himself. A beautiful mutant in a brave new world of mutants, and the heir apparent to Doctor Chosen. Only, I wasn't Doctor Chosen's heir. I was his fuck toy."
Claw looked down at the Oracle, who rasped and gurgled with each breath. The man tried to choke out some words, but the only thing that came were some weak, wet sounds. Winston raised one foot. His thigh was as big around as both of Claw's together. Maybe bigger. Gently, ever so gently, Winston brought his foot down onto the Oracle's head. The giant kept speaking.
"Doctor Chosen transformed me to fulfill his perverse sexual desires. I was just the next evolutionary step in his long line of lovers and catamites. Instead of choosing someone he found sexually pleasing, he picked me up out of nowhere and made me into what pleased him. He dragged me in and out of his labs, injecting me with steroids, cutting me, shaping my bones, dying my skin…"
Claw watched as Winston pressed down on the Oracle's head with his one massive leg. The Oracle tried to say something. Only a gasp of pain escaped.
"Doctor Chosen never thought of turning me into his heir. He only wanted to make me a muscle-bound giant that he could fuck with his old, midget cock. And when he grew tired of me, he'd have me tortured to death and killed, just as he did with all his other lovers. His victims. "
The Oracle gasped again. His weak and trembling hands shook their way up to his head. To Winston's gigantic foot.
"Doctor Chosen wasn't one to leave anything for anybody. Self-centered. Self-absorbed. An egomaniac. He cared for nothing and nobody beyond himself. He'd burn the whole universe down if he couldn't take it with him into hell, just to spite the living."
Winston's thigh flexed. Blood squirted out of the Oracle's nose.
"I wasn't Doctor Chosen's prince. I was just some kid who got raped by a sick old man. Then this happens, and everybody is looking to me for answers. 'What do we do?' 'How do we survive?' 'What about us who got mutated?' 'What about us who didn't get mutated?' 'What do we do about New Sparta?' Like I had any answers to any of that. I was just some man-whore with muscles. I didn't know anything about leading. I wasn't trained for any of this."
Claw watched as Winston pressed down with his leg. The Oracle's hands clawed frantically now. One leg thrashed out wildly in pain.
"I wasn't any leader. I was only pretending to be. I kept my mouth shut, lest everyone see me for who I really was, a cock-sucking whore to a mad man. I listened to people I shouldn't have because I didn't know what else to do. Now look at me. Surrounded by simpering flatterers and idiots. A people living on handouts. A race war between the mods and the trads. And if that weren't enough, our enemies are literally inside our tents. The Spartans are here. We invited them in for nothing more than some freeze-dried oatmeal bars and Country Captain fuckin' Chicken."
The downward pressure increased. Claw heard bones crack. The Oracle's head shifted, the oblong shape elongated, went asymmetrical. One eye bulged.
"The Spartans are here, Claw, and they are not our friends. You were right. They got us to do their dirty work and our people, my people are dying for it. They may have brought gifts, but they will only stab us in the back."
The Oracle screamed. His tongue lolled out of his mouth and flapped wetly. The one eye bulged even larger and strained to break free of its socket.
"The Spartans will keep feeding us their gifts, Claw. They will keep us at their errands, and then, when we've served their purposes, they'll slaughter us. No different than Doctor Chosen and his lovers.
"I was weak before Claw. I should have listened to you. Now I know. I know what to do. This is a game of chicken we are playing with the Spartans. They'll pretend to be our friends and lead us along. We'll play at their game and follow. We'll take everything they give us, and more. We will go along, but only to improve our position relative to them. Then, when the time is right, we'll strike first. We'll stab them in their back before they can do the same to us."
The Oracle screamed. His eye broke lose. Fluid squirted across the tent floor.
"Timing will be everything Claw. We'll have to hold out till the last possible second before we turn on our new friends. But we will turn on them. These Spartans. The one who killed our people and burned our city. Revenge, Claw. Revenge for all the injustices we've suffered. No more of this mods and trads warfare. The real war is with New Sparta. It always has been."
Winston turned his enormous bald head to Claw and looked him right in the eye. "It was wrong of me to ask for you for meat."
Then Winston looked down at the Oracle and said, "I'm done with you."
Winston's leg shot up and then stamped down, with all his weight behind it. The Oracle's head came apart. The wet innards splattered in all directions. Bits of grey flecked with blood spewed onto Claw's boots. He grimaced when Winston raised his foot and revealed a headless body.
Winston reached down between Raux and the Oracle's corpses and fished up Claw's knife. He considered the tanto blade for an instant, then he wiped the blood off against his bare chest. Red streaks crisscrossed the vast expanse of muscle. Winston handed the knife back to Claw but looked down at the black talon curving out of Claw's arm.
"Next time you need to stab somebody, use the claw."
When will this be published.
Hell yes. Awesome pair of chapters. Thanks for those.
Thanks , nice work.
Great chapters. Thanks
Thanks for the updates! Cool stuff's a brewin'...
"This is it," Cora said. A thong of brown leather held her hair back in a soft, brown ponytail. Alternating lines of black, brown, green, and gray crossed her face. The other members of the assault team had their faces painted as well; Colt, Christian, and Robins. Lefranc led the support element, comprised of Ajax, Doc, and Nicky-Lee. They were up in the hills, overlooking the Pale compound. The support element had Lefranc's sniper rifle, Ajax's machine gun, and one of the Lewis gun clones borrowed from Eldra's armory. All the Spartans had their night vision glasses. A handful of personnel radios linked the two groups, also on loan from Eldra. The full moon washed the landscape with its pale light from a cloudless sky.
Colt sniffed the air. The others did too.
"That's a dead smell," Christian said. He wore his rifle slung at his side and wielded his captured .22 pistol with a newly made suppressor in both hands.
"The entrance into the tunnels is on the other side of the pond," Cora said.
They eyed the pond. On the far side, a black eye stared at them from out of a cliff face made of concrete blocks. That was the tunnel's entrance. A metal grate blocked it. Above the cliff lay the Pale compound.
Armed with his suppressed submachine gun, Robins said, "The pond and retaining wall were geotechnically designed. Precast concrete blocks. Galvanized metal pipe. This is all Pre-Protest work."
"The dead bodies aren't Pre-Protest work," Colt grumbled.
Pale lumps lined the banks of the retaining pond, bundles of rotting clothing wrapped around rotting flesh. More bodies decomposed in the stagnant pond. The smell of rotting flesh was terrible.
"The Pale kill their male captives and dump the bodies here," Cora said without any bit of emotion. "This pond and the drainage pipe are Pre-Protest. The Pale tunneled into them after."
The moonlight illuminated the dead bodies around the pond, making them seem to glow. Lonely, murdered souls, condemned to this purgatorial swamp.
"Too many," Colt whispered aloud, although the words were only for himself. Christian turned to his friend and leader. An uneasiness radiated off Colt, a tenseness. The muscles in his face were tight. The veins in his neck pulsed. Christian caught his friend clenching and unclenching his jaw.
"Let's get in there," Christian whispered. "I'll take point."
They slogged across the pond, through the decomposing corpses, and after opening the grate, they climbed into the tunnel.
"Setup here," Lefranc whispered to his charges. They were downslope from Cora's hide position, as far downhill as they could get and still see into the compound. They wore night vision glasses over painted faces. Lefranc carried his sniper rifle and wore his captured shotgun slung over his back.
The other members of the support team moved and worked silently. They were flittering shadows under the moonlight. Ajax set up his machine gun along with the last of his belted ammo. He didn't have a tripod for it, so he stabilized the bipod with sandbags he carried in on his back.
"Your first target is the far watchtower. Your second target is the near watchtower. After that, rake the compound and knock down any targets of opportunity. And keep them off that Quad-Fifty." Lefranc instructed.
Ajax nodded understanding, then added with a whisper, "And if things get really bad, I'm getting down there and jumping on that Quad-Fifty." He shifted the sandbags around his bipod, ensuring the weapon was properly laid.
"Things would have to get really fucked up for that to happen, so let's hope that doesn't happen."
Lefranc moved silently from Ajax to Doc and Nicky-Lee, who were making their own preparations. They had a Lewis Gun clone sandbagged in as well. Nicky-Lee had his SKS rifle, and a borrowed a suppressed submachine gun. He also had a 5' long PVC pipe. Tape covered each end of the tube, and one end sported a pigtail made from Christian's demolitions stash of time fuse, detonation cord, blasting caps, and friction ignitors.
"Things get hot, you hit the near guard tower with the Lewis Gun, then the far tower. Be ready. If I give you the word, get down there, and lay your torpedo. Ajax will cover you, but he's damn close to Winchester on ammo, so shag ass. Once that thing goes off, it should be enough of a distraction for the assault team to sneak back out the tunnels."
"Let's hope we don't have to use it," Nicky-Lee said.
"It should be in and out," Doc said, looking down the length of the Lewis Gun. "But should is a dangerous word."
Back in the Emerald City, Lions also looked upon the full moon. He saw it through a video monitor in his office that tracked the rocket's climb into orbit. This was General Greylick's latest shuttle mission to resupply the Morning Star network and bring those weapons back online.
The office felt foreign to Lions. He rarely used it. His work had him always on the move, meeting people, or being met. Sitting in an office wasn't conducive to the work he did for the Chief Marshal, the kind of work that had to be done behind the scenes, away from prying eyes.
Truth be told, there was no reason for Lions to even be here tonight. Space operations were General Greylick's domain. But Lions felt compelled to be on hand. Getting the Morning Stars functional was one of the Chief Marshal's many priorities. If the mission went off without a hitch, Lions wanted to be the first to know so he could be the first to let the Chief Marshal know. Similarly, if the mission didn't go well, Lions wanted to be the bearer of the bad news. In these circles, wielding the information meant wielding power, and after many years as a staff officer, Lions knew that being the first to deliver the boss the bad news, especially somebody else's bad news, put him in a unique position of power. It allowed him to shape and mold his boss's opinions, and without any interference from the commanders in the field.
There was another matter Lions wanted to use this night to think over, and that was the refugees. Before he nuked The Bay and ruined everything for the Chief Marshal, The Colonel orchestrated the extraction of some family from out of the Gomorrah Bad Lands. Why he'd done that, Lions couldn't be sure. The family had a new-born baby that turned out to be very sick. That might have been why The Colonel activated his distress beacon and called in a recovery team. That might have been why, but Lions didn't peg The Colonel as a sentimental type. In any event, the Crown Prince and The Colonel's widow had been frequenting this family of refugees. The family, the meetings, Lions didn't think these were just the results of the circumstances of fate. Even if they were, there had to be a way Lions could turn that to his and the Chief Marshal's advantage. He would need to think about that, and the solitude of the quiet hours of the night and morning provided the perfect setting.
And truth be told, there was more to Lion's vigil than just ambitious staff officer power positioning. Lions felt something in his gut about tonight. Maybe it was the full moon, but his intuition told him he needed to be alert and attentive this night. So, Lions trusted his gut. He poured himself a cup of "coffee" made from imitation coffee crystals, set to some mundane paperwork, and kept one eye on the full moon shining from his monitor's screen.
Jimmy donned a thick robe of undyed wool, tucked his war hammer in his belt, then snorted up a line of hush from the web of his hand. He needed the hush to keep himself level, he told himself. Another night, another full moon, another one of his father's stupid ceremonies. There was no need to get amped up for this. He could smell the future disappointment. He could see into the future and see his father's next self-induced humiliation as clearly as if he had a crystal ball. Let the others get amped up. Let them snort up all the shake and get their blood boiling. All the speeches and human sacrifices in the world weren't going to get the golem to rise. In an hour from now, that golem would be as lifeless as the child sacrifices laid at its feet. And the Pale worshippers would be just as disheartened as they were after all the other failures.
Their disappointment would be Jimmy's opportunity.
After one more line of hush, Jimmy sauntered out into the courtyard. The rest of the Pale were already there. They stood in a semi-circle around the golem and the large pool at its feet. Some passed containers of shake back and forth, snorting it up and rubbing in along their gum lines. They all wore robes of undyed wool, all except George. Albino pale, hairless and muscular, George was stripped to the waist and stood beside the pool. Smiling. Confident. Waiting to play his part.
A whimper so loud it could have been a scream made Jimmy turn his head. Pale guards dragged out the child captives from between two houses. Bound, gagged, and drugged up with liquified hush shot into their veins, some of the young slaves still fought against their wards. Something deeply ingrained in their DNA must have warned them what was about to happen. Jimmy shrugged. Such was their fate. His fate, he knew, would be something much greater.
"The floor is changing. It's packed earth," Christian said. He walked point. Robins followed right behind him. Colt and Cora brought up the rear. The circular galvanized pipe ended, and the tunnel transformed into a tight rectangle. The floor was packed earth, with duckboards here and there. The walls and ceiling were shored up with broken up pallets and other bits of scrap wood.
Christian had his pistol out. An IR flashlight mounted on the weapon lit the confined space for all to see. His shotgun hung at his side. His rifle and grenade launcher combo was slung over his back.
"Why doesn't he lead with the shotgun," Cora asked Colt in a whisper.
"If that scatter gun goes off down here in these confines, our ears will be ringing for hours.
"Three-way intersection. Three doors," Christian announced.
'Which way," Colt asked Cora with a whisper. Robins reached into his pockets and pulled out his map and a compass.
"I don't know. I've never been this far in."
Colt narrowed his eyes. Robins spoke.
"They probably keep all the prisoners under the leader's house, right?"
Robins aligned his hand-drawn map with his compass, paused to contemplate.
"Were underground, with the big metal pipe behind us. That'll throw your compass off," Christian said.
"I considered that," Robins replied a little curtly. He considered the map a moment more than said, "Take the branch to the right."
"How can you tell?" Cora asked.
"I've been counting our paces, doing all the math in my head. The map confirms what I was visualizing."
"Trust him. He's like a computer with these kinds of things," Colt said. Cora looked Robins up and down. Colt could tell what she was thinking. Why send this one-armed boy out into the badlands? It was a question he'd contemplated several times before. He still didn't have an answer, and he'd given up searching for one. Robins had proven himself to Colt. Now all the young Spartan could think about were the dead bodies in the pond and the likelihood of more horrors to come.
"Give me a second to force the door," Christian said. He knelt near the door and rifled through the pouches on his gear. A few minutes later, they were through and into a large dug-out chamber. Colt sniffed loudly.
"Go to light," he ordered.
The night vision glasses came off. Flashlights with red filters came on. Soft light bathed the chamber. Robins gasped. Christian groaned. Colt's vengeful rage intensified.
"The Pale," Cora explained with a soft whisper.
The four found themselves in a large round chamber. Small cages, the kind you kennel dogs in, lined the walls in stacks two high. About half the pens held women. Some stared out with vacant eyes. Others huddled in their hovels, eyelids at half-mast. All manner of devices for rape and torture occupied the center of the room; dirty mattresses, a stainless-steel table filthy with crusty stains of red and brown and black, a pillory, manacles, rusty chains, frayed hempen rope. Steel and plastic buckets were scattered about the room. Some held foul water. Others held vomit, urine, or feces. The room smelled of evil. It reeked of rape and murder.
"Fucking rape dungeon," Christian spat. "Look over here. They left this one where she died."
Colt turned to where Christian pointed his flashlight. In a niche in the room, a naked woman was handcuffed to a pair of thick timbers fashioned into an X, her back towards the room. They could all tell by the way her body sagged that she was dead. Colt walked over and ran his hand along the wood. It was thick with blood. Deep gouges from fingernails clawing ran along the wood. Passing his hand along lightly, his fingers brushed two fingernails embedded in the grain.
Colt didn't know his father encountered a similar place at the beginning of his Last March. He didn't know, but father and son, the emotions were the same. Rage. Violent, hateful anger boiled up inside of Colt. Rage that places like this were allowed to exist.
"Where's our girl," Colt demanded.
Cora moved from cage to cage. So did Colt. The eyes he saw were devoid of any hope. None of the enslaved women begged for rescue. None even made a sound. One way or another, all were resigned to their fate.
Robins looked over a table. Drug paraphernalia covered its surface; razor blades, bent spoons, rocket stoves, leather straps. A dozen hypodermic needles soaked in a mason jar full of murky alcohol.
"They've all been drugged out of their minds," Robins said. "The cages and the handcuffs are perfunctory. The drugs are what's really keeping them prisoner."
"Where's our girl," Colt asked again. His voice was firmer this time. Angrier. Scarier. Cora looked up.
"She's not here."
Robins and Christian exchanged glances. Colt looked up. Like the tunnel, the Pale shored up the rape room with old pallets and scavenged bits of wood. But looking up, they could see the underside off a house. They saw the lumber framing, the subfloor, and the piping. A wooden ladder led up to a trap door.
"That el jefe's house?" Colt asked, pointing up the ladder. Robins consulted his map again.
Colt nodded to Christian. "Get up that ladder."
"What if somebody's in the house," Robins asked.
Christian didn't wait for an answer. He scrambled up the ladder with his suppressed pistol out.
"There shouldn't be anybody in the house," Colt said. "They should all be in the yard, right Cora?"
"That's right," Cora answered.
Christian stopped halfway up the ladder. "Wait. They bring all the women here so they can rape them. And they kill all the men. What do they do with the children?"
Cora didn't answer.
Armed guards stood over the bound children. They all whimpered now, their sobs muffled by their gags. Jimmy's father walked out to a podium on a raised platform. His steps were jerky, unsteady. His black pinprick eyes were magnified hugely by his thick glasses. John Pale took his place at the podium near his golem. The audience went silent. John raised his bible, the sacred text Doctor Chosen gave him. He set the book on the podium, flipped it open to the marked passage, and read aloud, his voice tiny from the patchwork amplification.
"From Genesis. 'I myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, the-flood-waters, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life.'"
"What the hell are they up to now?" Ajax asked.
Lefranc shrugged. "Preaching to the masses. Praying to that paper mâché' dildo thing they built."
"The flood," Nicky-Lee said. "He's talking about Noah and the flood."
"Sounds like he's talking about the apocalypse," Doc said.
"That flood was an apocalypse," Nicky-Lee said. "The flood was used to remake the word."
Lefranc keyed his radio.
"Young Man, this is Old man. Young Man, this is Old Man."
There wasn't any answer.
"They must still be underground," Ajax said.
"That's the best place they can be," Lefranc replied.
Christian pushed his way up out of the trap door, his eyes peering over the sights of the suppressed pistol. He waved back behind him, and the others came up through the trap door one by one.
"Clear the ground floor," Colt whispered to the others. Then he keyed his radio.
"Old Man, this is Young Man. Old Man, this is Young Man."
"Young Man, this is Old Man. We hear you. Where are you?"
"We're in the boss man's house."
"Roger. Give us an infrared strobe when you can so we know exactly where you are."
"What do you see?"
"They're all in the main yard. It looks like they're about to start singing hymns or some such. You got her?"
"Not yet. Standby." Colt unkeyed the radio and listened. He could hear an amplified voice outside, shouting in the practiced cadence of an experienced orator. The wavering orange light from bonfires danced in through the windows. Cora stood at his side, her rifle in a low ready. Christian and Robins scrambled up to Colt, staying low to avoid being seen through the windows.
"Nobody down here," Christian said in a near whisper.
"These are standard Pre-protest designed homes," Robins answered. "All the bedrooms are upstairs."
Colt glanced towards the stairs.
Christian led the way up the stairs, pistol out. The others followed in a stack, weapons bristling in all directions. When they got to the second bedroom, the one John Pale used as an office, Cora said, "That's her."
As they had so many times before, the members of the Pale worked themselves up into a frenzy while their leader ranted. Vials of shake passed from hand to hand. The rising and falling cadence of John Pale's voice filled the air of the compound with its electronic enhancement. He flipped back and forth in his bible to selected passages, each time speaking with greater enthusiasm, greater urgency.
"…the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. Death. World changing death by water. By drowning."
Jimmy Pale couldn't hold back from the excitement even though he promised himself he would. He snatched up some of the passing shake and took a hit. The energy of it hit his veins and surged. His father's voice built to a shout. Jimmy's eye flicked from his father to the golem, to the pool at its feet, to his brother George, to the bound children.
"… and they did not know until the flood came and took them away, so also will the coming be!"
Their objective sat curled in a ball between some crappy furniture, barely visible, held by chains. She looked upon the would-be rescuers without any sign of relief. Just the opposite. She looked frightened of them and frightened at the idea of leaving her captors.
"Talk to her," Colt hissed to Cora.
Outside in the courtyard, the preacher screamed almost incoherently about floods and death and the world being remade. Member of the crowd shouted too. They shouted the word golem as if it were an amen or a halleluiah.
"Talk to her."
"It is okay, Dana. It is okay," Cora said soothingly. She swung her rifle around to her back and held up her empty hands reassuringly. Their hostage didn't speak. Instead hugged her own chest and shook her head 'no' frantically. Her lip quivered beneath a tangled and dirty rat's-nest of hair. She looked like she might scream at any moment.
"It is going to be okay, Dana. It is me. We're not going to hurt you."
Colt and his team anticipated that after months of captivity, Dana might not want to leave and planned accordingly. Doc put together two syringes loaded with sedatives. As Cora spoke, Colt and Christian moved slowly and quietly moved around the flanks, like they were trying to catch an animal without scaring it. Christian got to her first, darting in and placing one hand over her mouth. Colt came in half a second later, stabbing the syringe into her shoulder.
The hostage, Dana, tried to scream through Christian's hand, then went limp.
Colt keyed his radio.
"We got her."
Lefranc's voice came on in reply.
"Copy. Now get out of there. These fucktards are getting squirrely out front."
"She looks like she's in bad shape. Make sure she's still breathing. Doc's cocktail might have been too much," Robins hissed from the doorway. His eyes and weapon were oriented back the way they came.
Cora watched as Colt and Christian prepper their charge for movement. They bound her wrists and ankles and gagged her just to be safe. Christian popped the chains while Colt checked her vitals.
"You're going to carry her all the way back?" Cora asked.
"Shit, she can't weigh more than eighty pounds," Colt said. "Better to carry her than fight her the whole way.
"Alright, listen. I'll carry her. Christian, you got point. Robins, you cover our six. Cora, you stick by me. Let's get back underground, now."
Outside, the preaching had given way to intense chanting, the volume increasing with each repetition.
"The golem will rise. The golem will rise. The golem will rise."
Christian moved to the window and pulled back the curtain to take a peek.
"Boss, you need to check this out."
And then the radio crackled.
"Young Man, this is Old Man. Something's happening."
"What are they doing?" Ajax said. The big man sounded panicked. He was up from behind his machine gun, trying to get a better look into the compound.
"You know what they're doing. The old man at the podium has been talking about end times and floods and dying for twenty minutes. They didn't put all that water there for nothing." Lefranc keyed his radio again.
"No," Doc whispered from behind the Lewis Gun.
"Young Man, take a look out the window if you can."
Down in the compound, George Pale scooped up one of the bound children in both arms. The child bucked and struggled. George carried the kid to the pool while all around him, other members of the Pale chanted and shook their fists at the golem. John Pale held his book above his head with both hands and shook it too.
"They're going to drown those kids," Christian said slowly. "They're going to drown those kids in the fucking pool."
Colt turned to face Cora. His eyes blazed. Robins left his post and headed to the window.
"You knew," Colt growled at Cora. "You knew."
Cora didn't speak.
The radio channeled crackled again. This time it was Ajax.
"Shit, you see this? They're gonna kill those kids, man. They're going to kill them."
Robins looked out the window. He watched as George Pale pressed the bound child he was carrying up over his head, then tossed him into the pool. The water splashed. Members of the crowd cheered. The radio buzzed.
Robins turned to Colt and pleaded.
"This isn't our mission. Our mission is the hostage, and we got her. Now we need to go."
Christian spun from the window and turned on Robins.
"Fuck that. Those are fucking kids."
"They're not our mission."
"Mission? Fuck missions. If we are going to stop this shit, then what the hell are we doing out here?"
"We're here to rescue her," Robins said, pointing at the girl with his one arm.
"And let those kids get murdered?"
Outside, the shouting rose. "The golem will rise. The golem will rise."
The surface of the pool boiled as the child inside struggled. The radio came on again.
"Young Man, if you're going to get out, then now is the time. If you want to do something else, then let us know."
Doc's voice came on the radio. "If I can get to that kid in the next eight minutes, I can probably save him."
Colt glared at Cora, the muscles in his jaws tight.
"You knew. All along, you knew."
Cora went red with shame and looked away. More screaming and shouting came from outside. Ajax came on the radio again.
"The one in the pool stopped moving, but there's still a dozen more. They got 'em lined up."
Christian turned from Robins to Colt. "Fuck it," he spat. "We could do it. We could do this whole fucking village."
Colt walked away from Cora and went to the window. Lefranc came on the radio.
"What do you want us to do here. Talk to me."
"They ain't our problem, and we can't stop every bad thing from happening out here," Robins said. "Let's take her and get out of here before we all get killed."
"That's bullshit," Christian shot back.
Ajax came over the radio. The giant sounded like a mere child as he whimpered. "Kids, man. They're gonna drown all those kids one by one."
Robins waved his arm, as frustrated as everybody else. "This isn't the first massacre we had to stand by and watch."
Lefranc came back on the radio, "Talk to me. We need to do something."
Colt peered out the window. The big bald one lifted up another kid and carried her to the pool. The one under the water was not moving. The Pale tribe members screamed and chanted and jumped up and down, but Colt couldn't really hear them. All the noises around him seemed muted. He perceived Robins and Christian arguing and the frantic calls over the radio. They seemed distant. All he felt in that moment was anger. Anger at Gomorrah and the High Council for making war against New Sparta. Anger at the Emerald City for never doing what needed to be done and letting them win the war. Anger at his father for never being around. Anger that the Chief Marshal turned his father from a martyr to an outlaw. Anger that his friends got dragged into the mess and would probably die because of it. Anger that he'd been slow to act at the roadhouse and put his friends at risk. Anger that Cora had deceived him. Anger that he'd let himself be deceived and put his friends at risk again. Anger that the Pale were sacrificing these kids for whatever bullshit prophecy they wanted to fulfill. Anger at all the other innocents they saw butchered along the way. Most of all, he felt anger that he was expected to endure all this bullshit. He was a Spartan Knight. He shouldn't have to suffer through this world. The world should tremble before him, and these Pale and the Gomorrah Screamers and the Chief Marshal and all his corrupt courtiers back in the Emerald City should scatter before him and fear his wrath.
"What do you want us to do?"
Violent energy radiated off Colt, like heat off a desert highway. Colt keyed his radio and said, "Do what needs to be done."
Then, just so there wasn't any mistake, he keyed his mike again.
"Kill them. Kill 'em all."
Chapter 37 Part A
"On the way," Lefranc announced over the radio.
Inside the Pale compound, George lifted the next child sacrifice over his head so he could toss her into the pool. There came a wet slapping sound and the snap of a rifle bullet. The back of George's head came off, and he dropped as lifeless as a stone. There was a pause for half a second in which the entire universe hung still. Then all hell broke loose.
Ajax opened up with his machine gun at the cyclic rate. Tracer fire arced through the night sky. Empty links and spent brass flew. The far watchtower became splinters, and the man inside became mist and meat. Doc and Nicky-Lee opened fire on the near watchtower, hammering it with the Lewis Gun and SKS. Inside the compound, the men and women of the Pale screamed in alarm beneath their false god. Jimmy clutched his war hammer tightly. John Pale stood in shocked disbelief. His mouth a gaping hole beneath his huge glasses.
Colt turned to his companions and shouted. "Robins, cover our six with your sub-gun. Cora, get that rifle of yours ready." Christian's hand worked his grenade launcher, slipping out a buckshot round and feeding a high-explosive-dual-purpose round into the breech.
"On the way," the radio repeated. An armed Pale near the gate sank dead.
Ajax shifted his weapon to fire on the near tower and destroyed whatever was left. A body tumbled out. The Pale scrambled in all directions.
Colt looked at Christian and then nodded to the window.
"On the way."
Another Pale body dropped. Colt and Christian simultaneously smashed out the window with the butts of the carbines, then dumped a magazine each into the crowd at full auto. Brass flew. Bodies tumbled. One turned and moon-faced, pointed up at the window. Colt drilled him twice in the chest.
A Pale ran to the bound children, knife in hand. "On the way!" the radio announced. That Pale spilled backwards. The knife tumbled out of his hand.
John Pale ducked behind his podium, watching helplessly as the bodies of his people came apart all around him. An older Pale woman ran up to the podium, waving her arms and screaming incoherently. Another loud snap cut the night air, and she toppled and crashed into the podium, the side of neck blown out. John Pale screamed and made a break for it.
Christian felt the bolt of his carbine locked back. He dropped the empty magazine, saw a flash of movement from behind the podium, then adjusted his grip for the grenade launcher and fired.
John Pale got three, four five steps. Then the ground exploded beneath him. He felt his legs ripped in opposite directions. He felt his guts burn as hot shrapnel tore up into his pelvis and abdomen. A Pale woman ran to his aid.
"On the way."
The woman collapsed onto John Pale, nothing left of her face but a wet hole.
Up on the hill, Lefranc worked the action of his rifle again. To his side, Ajax cut loose with another burst of machine gunfire. His big weapon chattering and spitting fire. Every time Ajax paused, Doc fired the Lewis Gun, thus keeping a steady stream pouring into the compound. Lefranc searched the Pale's courtyard, found a target, and keyed his microphone again.
"On the way."
A knock made Lions look up from his work. A nervous clerk stood at the door, a sheet of paper in hand.
"What is it?" Lions asked.
The clerk looked from Lions to the paper, then back again. "Sir, I think we found something you need to see."
Colt dropped to one knee, tore an empty magazine out of his weapon, and skillfully replaced it in a movement as practiced and graceful as a dancer.
"Christian, get that gate," Colt ordered.
"I'm going for the Quad Fifty," Christian protested. Out in the courtyard, a burst of machine-gun tore through a trio of huddling Pale, the red tracers burning in hot.
"Blow the gate," Colt repeated. Christian slipped another high-explosive-dual-purpose grenade into his launcher. Colt keyed his mic.
"We're blowing the gate."
"Roger, we're on our way down. I'll leave big man here to cover us. Listen for the cyclic fire," Lefranc replied. When he keyed his radio, the chattering of the machine guns and the mechanical sounds of the sniper rifle's action could be heard over the radio net.
Moving at a half-crouch, Colt spun to face Cora. "Keep them off that M45."
"The what?" Cora asked. She ducked as incoming bullets struck the side of the house. Colt shouted above the din.
"The machine guns! Keep them off the machine guns!"
Cora flipped the selector switch on her rifle from "safe" to "semi." Then she flicked in one more time.
Jimmy huddled beside a big truck, the nearest piece of cover he could find. He knew it was only by chance he was still alive. He saw George literally get his brains blown out. Then he saw his father go down in a cloud of grenade smoke. That left him with the sickening realization that he was in charge, if anybody could be in charge of the chaos erupting all over. Sniper fire and machine-gun fire were arcing in, deadly in their accuracy. More enemy fire came from his father's house. Somehow these enemies had gotten inside their compound. Was this the Fire Witch, or some other enemy? Jimmy had no idea.
Other members of the tribe must have also realized Jimmy was their de facto leader. A handful rushed up to him at the truck. Their eyes were wide. Their sweaty hands clenched weapons.
"What do we do?" One demanded in a panic. His eyes were wide from fear, and too many drugs.
"They're going for the gate," a Pale cowering near Jimmy shouted.
Jimmy looked around. The red tracer fire came in from the darkness of the surrounding hills. It may as well have come in from the moon for all The Pale could do to stop it. No, Jimmy thought. The house. Get the ones inside the compound first. Jimmy risked a look over the truck. He saw the muzzle of a grenade launcher poke out of a window and make its distinct 'whompf' sound. Across the compound, the gate exploded.
They were blowing up the gate. They were inside the compound, but they were blowing up the gate.
Jimmy ducked back behind cover. "What do we do?" The man beside him pleaded. Jimmy risked another look in time to see another grenade explode against the compound's gate. That did the trick. The gate broke free of its hinges and fell to the ground leaving the entrance to the compound wide open.
The open gate. Enemies inside the house. Should he guard the open gate, or should he root out the enemies in the house? Defend or attack? Faced with this tactical dilemma, Jimmy made a mistake many commanders make. Unable to decide what to do, Jimmy tried to do both and split his forces.
"You, go get that house," Jimmy ordered to a handful of Pale now also crouching behind the truck. He pointed up at the shattered window of his father's house. These half dozen Pale scrambled to comply. Next, Jimmy turned to the man at his side, the one asking what to do.
"Grab whoever you can and get to the gate. They've blown up the gate. We can't let them in."
On the hill, Lefranc stood, slung his rifle, and took up his shotgun. He moved to his charges.
"Ajax, keep pouring it in there. When you get to your last fifty rounds, give it to us at the cyclic rate, then follow us down. We'll leave you the Lewis Gun. You two, on me. And bring your pipe." With that, Lefranc charged down to the compound. Doc set the Lewis gun aside and charged after him, carbine in hand, medical pack flopping on his back. Nicky-Lee left his empty SKS by the Lewis Gun and followed, submachine gun in one hand and the explosive charge balanced on his shoulder.
"Young Man, headed your way."
Ajax squeezed off another burst. His machine gun fire arced out into the moonlight night and impacted the roof of a Pale house. The red tracers burned and buzzed. Minutes later, the shingle roof glowed red and then came alight. Ajax smiled.
Lions nearly shook with anticipation. He knew something had happened and was waiting for the radio clerk to explain just what they found. Only the clerk couldn't just tell him what he wanted to know. The man was building a clock instead of just telling him the time.
"The alert came from one of our Eavesdroppers, sir. Despite what people think, Gomorrah isn't completely dead. There is still a lot of electromagnetic activity down there. Old CB radios and HAM radios. Military and industrial radios, family handheld radios, all the old EMS equipment. There is more radio activity than anybody can sort through. So, the Eavesdroppers feed whatever radio traffic they pick up into the computers, which in turn filter it through their algorithms looking for various clues that might…"
"Get to the point, please, now."
"This conversation was picked up by one of our Eavesdroppers near the Sierra Nevada. The drone was on its way back to the Youngblood when…"
Impatient and in no mood for any more of the technician's blather, Lions snatched the paper from his hand. He now held the printed transcript of a radio conversation, but Lion's eyes only saw the highlighted phrase.
Do What Needs to Be Done
"Shit," Lions muttered aloud. 'Do What Needs to Be Done' was Spartan talk. Spartan Knights. Spartan Knights on the radio in old California. "Shit," Lions repeated. "This is him."
Lions glanced down the rest of the transcript. It took him another second to realize the kid and his friends were in the attack. Lions looked at the technician. More radio techs had joined him, and now Lions faced a platoon of radio operators.
"Patch me into this frequency. Do it now. I need to hear this live."
"What?" Lions asked.
"We can't. The Eavesdropper is out of range. It almost bingo and on its way back to the Youngblood to power up."
"Turn in around," Lions ordered.
"What?" The radio tech asked.
"Turn it around. Now. Get it back on station so I can hear this."
The radio tech exchanged uncomfortable glances with each other. "Sir, we can't turn the drone around. It is almost out of fuel. If it doesn't go back now, it won't be able to make it back. It will run out of fuel."
"I don't care."
"I said," Lions growled slowly through gritted teeth. "I don't care if it runs out of fuel and crashes. Get it back over this target now."
"But sir, I can have another Eavesdropper back in that area in an hour."
Lions lost his temper. He crumpled the printed transcript in his hand and waved it under the technician's nose. "An hour? This will be over in ten minutes if it isn't over already. This is the most important thing you will ever do in your career, you miserable communications nerd.
"You get that drone back on station. And if you have to crash it and ten others so I can hear what's going on, you'll do it, understand?"
"Yes, sir," the technician choked out. Lions wasn't done yet.
"We got any camera-equipped drones we get in there?"
"No, sir," the technician replied, wincing as he spoke as if anticipating being beaten for the bad news. "Only Eavesdropper SIGINT platforms."
Lions cursed. He was a victim of New Sparta's success. The Morning Stars made such excellent observation platforms that New Sparta didn't build many camera-equipped drones except those used tactically in the field. Their higher strategic and operational needs could be met just with the Morning Stars. But the Morning Stars were offline. Then Lions remembered: The shuttle mission. The Morning Stars weren't offline. Not exactly. The resupply shuttle was already up there, drifting around in the vacuum of space.
"Get me General Greylick," Lions barked.
The upper floor of John Pale's house was shattered glass and splintered siding. The surviving Pale were getting organized now and counter-attacking. They were armed with Gomorrah weapons: rippers and homemade shotguns and pre-protest weapons that looked like they might fall apart or explode. Cora fired out one window. Her three-round bursts cut down Pale in ones and twos. Colt and Christian were nearby at another window, and they alternated popping up and firing.
"Put a flare into that house across the way. Set it on fire," Colt ordered.
Christian popped up and fired his grenade launcher. A flare sailed out and smashed through a window. Christian ducked back down just in time to avoid the fusillade of gunfire that pepper the window frame where his head just was.
"They're down below in defilade, rushing the front door."
Colt pulled something out of a pouch on his gear.
"Frag out!" he barked, and then he dropped the small round grenade out the window. It landed in the ranks of a team of Pale who'd just reached the front door and exploded. Screams. Bodies fell. One man cried out, both hands over the holes in his face where his eyes had been.
Behind the cover of the truck, Jimmy watched in horror as the hand grenade took out the team assaulting his dad's house. He knew he had to do something, but he wasn't sure what. Part of him, a large part of him, didn't want to do anything. That part of him wanted to stay right where he was, sheltered by the bulk of the truck. Another part of him screamed for drugs. Maybe some hush, to calm his nerves so he could think. Then again, if he was in a fight, maybe some shake to get his blood flowing for the fight. He didn't know. A house across the courtyard flashed. Fire, orange, and red and wavering, erupted inside that house. Then Jimmy realized a second house was on fire. The tracer fire from the machine gun set its dry shingle roof alight.
The gate, Jimmy thought. They had to stop them at the gate. Carbine fire lashed out of his dad's house. Without thinking, Jimmy ran from cover. His arms and legs pumped, hammer in hand. He got between two houses without getting killed and found more of his tribesmen cowering there. They were armed at least.
"You four," Jimmy ordered. "Come with me. We need to stop them at the gate. The rest of you, go kill the ones in my father's house."
His perch above the compound gave Ajax a good vantage of the battlefield. Two houses were on fire. Colt's team fired out of a third, this one marked by a flashing infrared strobe light. That gate was blown off its hinges. Lefranc and the others were almost at the compound, ready to make entry. And dead Pale lay everywhere.
Ajax checked his machine gun ammo. Only fifty rounds left. He scanned the inside of the compound. No clusters of Pale he could see. Too bad, he thought. The big man had a soft spot in his heart. He came from a big family, one with lots of younger brothers and sisters. The sight of those children being sacrificed made him think of all of his siblings back home, and that tore at him. He wanted to hurt the Pale, to punish them, to kill them. With no enemies in the open to gun down, he searched out another target and found it. A stack of plastic barrels under a pergola of woven sticks. Maybe it was fuel. Perhaps it was chemicals for the drugs Cora said these killers made. With any luck, it might catch fire.
Ajax turned his gun on the barrels and opened fire. This time he didn't fire in a short burst, but a long sustained burst of all fifty round. The machine gun chattered. The tracers buzzed.
"Old Man. The gate's down, but they're swarming us. We need you down here," Colt said into his radio.
"Roger. We're moving," Lefranc replied.
Colt slapped a fresh magazine into his rifle and shouted to the others.
"As soon as they get inside the compound, we sally out and kill whoever's left."
Cora gulped. Christian only nodded and unslung his shotgun. On the floor below, they heard glass shatter.
"They're coming in through a window," Cora said. She took a new magazine out of the ALICE pouch on her belt. She thought about it, then drew her bayonet and snapped it on her rifle.
Downstairs, five Pale smashed their way inside. Armed with rippers and shotguns and old pistols, they weaved through the first floor and headed up the stairs. They'd all been in this house before and knew the layout. They could hear the rifle fire upstairs and could guess the shooters' position. The lead man charged up the stairs, still high on shake, his ripper held out in front of him. The others close behind. He went up half a flight of stairs, pivoted, climbed the second flight of stairs, got to the top, pivoted left towards the shooting, ignoring the corner to his right.
Robins was waiting in the uncleared corner. As soon as the Pale head came into view, Robins cut loose with his submachine gun. The muffled fire tore the lead man's head apart. Blood and brain splattered back.
Robins swung out of his corner, pushed his submachine gun out on its sling, and fired off the rest of the magazine on full auto. He caught the rest of the stack of Pale on the stairs and tore them apart. Bodies tumbled back into other bodies. Blood splashed. Spent shell casings bounced off the walls. An arm flailed up and sent a sawed-off shotgun spinning into the air.
Robins ducked back into his corner. He changed magazines with his practiced, one-armed dance, then wiped the gore from his face with the back of his hand.
The radio crackled with Lefranc's voice.
"We're coming in."
"This is General Greylick," the voice on the other end of the phone said. Lions didn't waste any time.
"General, I need a Morning Star, and I need it right now."
Holy hell man. That was brutally epic.
Thanks for the awesome update.
Wow! Just wow.
I bet Ajax is going to get a chance to live out his fantasy on the quad 50.
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!
This was Jimmy's first real battle, not counting his earlier skirmish with Eldra's people (which, given his performance, Jimmy did not count). He found the whole thing confusing and chaotic, and he had to admit that the mix and quantity of drugs he took before might not be helping. Even so, Jimmy understood one thing for certain. The sniper fire and machine gun fire from up on the hill had ceased. That fire had ceased, and the gate had been blown wide open. This could only mean that the fighters on the hill were about to storm into the compound.
In his current position, Jimmy and the Pale he'd rallied were ideally situated to shoot anybody as they entered through the gate. Their current position was also in defilade from his father's house and the enemies inside. Aside from his father and George dying, things had gone badly so far. But now, he was perfectly placed to ambush whoever came through the gate. Once he did that, his position as the new head of the Pale would be a certainty.
"The guns," a Pale beside Jimmy said. Her words conveyed an urgency. Then pointing, she said it louder and louder. "The guns. The guns."
Jimmy followed her pointing finger and saw what the excitement was all about. The trailer-mounted machine guns sat unused in their corner of the compound. Jimmy cursed himself aloud. The guns. Four machine guns. How could he have forgotten? That was the most powerful weapon the Pale had, and it had been sitting silent all this time. If they could get that in action, they could kill anybody coming through the gate, then turn it on his father's house and destroy that too. Hell, Jimmy could even turn the guns on that stupid golem and finally be done with that.
Doubts in his addled drug mind rose, though. Could he get to those guns in time? He and the ones with him were safe here. Why run out to the machine guns and expose himself to the enemies inside the compound? Why hadn't he thought of the machine guns sooner? He immediately cursed himself for that, but then just as quickly corrected that thought. That was his father's fault, not Jimmy's. His father should have had people on those guns. But what should he do? Jimmy tightened his grip on his hammer and realized he didn't even have a gun now. He only had his war hammer. He had better weapons stashed in his father's house, but that didn't do him any good. His father's house was occupied, and other homes in the compound now blazed. What if his dad's house burned too, Jimmy thought? He had stuff in there. His mind raced through all the things he had stored in his father's house. The jumbling train of thoughts broke when the woman got right in his face and shouted about the guns again.
"Okay, okay," Jimmy said. He split his forces again. Jimmy sent some to go after the four machine guns and kept the rest by the open gate. He wasn't going after the machine guns himself. He'd stay right by the entrance, kill whoever came in and secure his leadership position within the Pale once and for all.
"Colonel, each Morning Star is a couple hundred tons of cold fusion reactor. They don't just turn on a dime," General Greylick said into phone.
Lions seethed. "We've finally got a line on the kid and I don't want him getting away just because we can't get an asset on him. What about the shuttle that just went up?"
"The shuttle is in orbit, but it hasn't matched orbits with its Morning Star yet. Then it still has to dock. The astronauts need to make their space walk. These things take time."
"General, we don't have time," Lions said.
"What about drones?"
"Our drones are scattered all over California. I've got an Eavesdropper on station, but its going to run out of fuel and crash in…" Lions checked his watch. "In six minutes."
"I don't know what we can do," Greylick said.
"Well we need to think of something," Lions said. "Otherwise we're going to have to tell the Chief Marshal that the kid got away again."
There was a long pause on the phone line. It broke when General Greylick said, "Let me see what I can do."
"Frag out," Robins yelled from the stairway. They all heard the knock, knock, knocking sound of a grenade bouncing down the stairs, then the bone-shaking explosion. Next came the screams.
"We're getting tight on grenades and ammo, Old Man."
"Roger. We'll be inside in less than a minute."
"They're going for the machine guns," Cora yelled from her position. Colt immediately forgot the radio and ran to her side. From behind, he heard the muffled reports of Robbins's submachine gun. When he got to her, Cora had her weapon up. Four Pale dashed to the machine guns. Cora's rifle erupted with a three-round burst. Cora bent back from the recoil. Colt raised his own weapon as one of the Pale pitched forward.
Cora recovered from the recoil and fired another burst. At her side, Colt also fired. One Pale pirouetted. A second dropped to his knees, crawled forward a bit, then stopped. A third climbed onto the machine gun trailer only to fall off
Colt keyed his radio.
"They're trying for the quad-fifty."
"Stand by," Lefranc said into his radio. Then to his charges, he said, "Nicky, do it. Ajax, sprint your ass down here, or you're gonna miss your chance."
Not far away, Ajax ran to the others. His chest heaved. His arms pumped. His gear and pouches bounced against his body. One thick arm held the Lewis Gun.
Nicky-Lee ran up to the palisade with his PVC tube. He placed it against the wall, then screamed, "fire in the hole!"
Sticking out the end of the tube were two friction ignitors. Nicky-Lee activated each one then jumped down from the berm to where the others were already seeking cover. He landed in a heap and said, "I always wanted to say that."
"Cover your ears and open your mouth, but for once, don't talk," Lefranc advised.
Up at the palisade, each of the two friction ignitors lit time fuse. Each length of time fuse was connected to a blasting cap, which was taped to a length of detonating cord. The detonating cord ran through the homemade explosive that Christian and Nicky-Lee made and packed into the pipe along with sand to fill in any empty spaces and further tamp the charge.
Ajax threw himself on the ground just before the blasting cap went off.
The homemade explosive wasn't particularly powerful, but it didn't have to be. It was designed to "push" materials rather than "cut" them, and it pushed in a section of the palisade albeit with a speed and ferocity that sent up a cloud of dust and smoke and splintered wood. A Pale on the opposite side of the wall took a foot-long splinter of wood through the throat. The debris cloud rolled out and swallowed his dying corpse whole.
Lefranc leapt to his feet. "Let's go," he yelled. He charged through the gap, quick to use the debris cloud and the shock of the explosion to his advantage. He had his shogun in hand and screamed incoherently. Doc and Nicky-Lee were right behind him. Ajax brought up the rear. Together, they tore into the compound like a pack of wolves.
Lefranc cleared the dust cloud and saw the Quad-Fifty to his left. To other side was Colt's position marked with a blinking infrared strobe light. All around were fires and dead bodies. Directly to his front, a wave of Pale stumbled out to see what the explosion was all about.
Lefranc stopped, raised the old wood-and-steel shotgun, and slam fired it until the magazine ran dry. Doc and Nicky-Lee joined him, one on either side. The carbine and the Swedish K clone came up and fired. Ajax joined them in the firing line, shooting the Lewis Gun from his hip. Fire and brass went in all directions. Any and all Pale nearby were cut down without mercy.
When his scattergun went dry, Lefranc let it drop and drew his pistol. His eyes locked onto the olive drab trailer with its four fifty-caliber machine guns.
"They're in," Colt shouted to the others in the house. He grabbed Cora by the shoulder.
"Can you contact Eldra?"
Cora looked at her own radio. Her doubts were obvious. "I don't know if the radio can reach her."
"Try and get her and her people down here. We're wrapping this up."
Colt turned from Cora to the others. "Lefranc's in. We're gonna clear the bottom floor, then clear the compound."
Jimmy Pale had a plan, but that plan went to smoke the instant the field expedient Bangalore torpedo blew open the palisade. They weren't coming through the gate. That had just been a deception. They'd made their own gate, and now there were two groups of them in the compound. Only this group wasn't just going to hold up in a house. This group was going for the machine guns. Jimmy cursed himself for not thinking of them sooner. Not your fault, he told himself. Your dad was in charge when all this started. He should have secured the guns. That's his fault, not yours.
Jimmy looked at the Pale he had left at the gate. He screamed at them. "The machine guns! Get to the machine guns! Before they do!"
The Pale around him went for the machine guns. Some of them. Two ran out the open gate into the night. Jimmy wished he could have shot them in the back, but he didn't have a gun. He cursed himself again. Then he looked back to the machine gun. Already this new group was cutting down the lastest Pale assault. Jimmy looked out the gate one last time, to the dark, black safety of the night. He could go. He could run. The Pale were done, weren't they? Jimmy didn't know. He thought there must be more hiding out in the remaining houses. He hefted his hammer then stalked into his compound.
In the deeper, muddled, subconscious workings of his brain, Lefranc decided that he could die here, tonight, and do so happier than he could ever hope to be back at the dam. And if he could find redemption here, alongside these kids, amid blood and fire, then it was all more than worth it. He thought this thought for a second, then pushed it away and let the moment of the battle consume him and raise him up to what he was meant to be.
"On me! On me!" he shouted. He didn't have to explain why. A wave of Pale fighters surged for the guns. He meant to stop them.
His shotgun gone, Lefranc raised his pistol, gliding forward on steady feet. A charging Pale fired a ripper at him, its bullets came in high and low and kicked up bits of turf. Lefranc squeezed the trigger once. That Pale whipped back. Lefranc advanced in a combat glide. The pistol barked again, cracking once-twice in quick succession. Another Pale dropped. He heard chattering and saw a muzzle flash in his peripheral vision. Nicky-Lee and the submachine gun. A Pale staggered and fell to their knees. Lefranc fired again.
Lefranc's peripheral vision picked up a flash of movement from the other side. Doc sprinted to the Quad-Fifty and slid the final distance into it like a baserunner going for home. Lefranc kept gliding forward, his pistol sights as steady. He heard the barking of the Lewis Gun. He saw a Pale charge with a bludgeon. Their eyes were wild, drug-crazed pools. The pistol barked twice, and the Pale's chest exploded. The pistol barked a third time, and the Pale's head snapped back.
The pistol came up automatically. Lefranc's fingers worked without the need for thought. The empty magazine came out, and a fresh one slid home almost on its own. The slide shot home, all while gliding, and Lefranc was there at the trailer. An incoming rifle round snapped overhead and was answered with a burst from the Lewis Gun.
"Get this in action," Lefranc ordered. He didn't need to. He heard the zipping sound of linked ammunition being dragged out of ammo cans. He heard the racking of bolts and the snapping of feed tray covers. His pistol barked again, a hammered pair. Nicky-Lee fiddled with some cables and batteries. Doc slapped the last feed tray cover shut and worked the bolt.
"Ajax, you're up."
The big man set down the Lewis Gun and leapt behind the controls. Doc threw himself away from the turret and dropped to the prone, his medical pack a huge lump on his back. Lefranc pistol barked again.
Ajax keyed his radio, his voice calm, steady, and almost cheery. He announced, "Caliber Fifty."
Fingers activated the firing controls. Four fifty-caliber machine guns all roared together and sung the doom of the Pale and their golem.
A few Pale remained between the guns and the gate. Ajax stiched them with fifty caliber fire. Their bodies simply came apart. Torsos disappeared, shedding arms and legs in all directions. A Pale ducked behind a shed. Ajax traversed his fire, and the shed disintegrated. The four synchronized guns chugged and thundered, and killed, and brought fiery justice into that place of evil.
Lions hovered beside the radio speaker.
"You want us to clear the rest of these buildings?"
"This is Young Man. Clear everything North of my position but clear them with the fifties. No sense in sending a man where you can send a bullet."
"Just watch your fire around the pool. Those kids are still there on the ground.We're going to come out, sweep South to the gate, and then link up with you."
"Roger Young Man. Break-break. Everybody check and make sure your beacons are on. None of you dummies want to get hit with friendly fire."
That was the last radio transmission Lions heard. The Eavesdropper went down, and that was that. Hopefully, the kid and his outlaw pals wouldn't find the wreckage. So far, Lions had no reason to believe the kid knew he was being spied on. That was a good thing.
What was also good was that the Operational Planners around the headquarters had devised a scheme to get some drone coverage on the site. An electronic status board listed all the inbound aircraft by type and capabilities and laid out a timeline for coverage. Lions was going to be blind for 47 minutes, but then a camera-equipped drone would be over the site. Lions knew 47 minutes could be a lifetime. The kid could easily disappear again in that time. Then again, he might not.
Either way, Lions wanted to see the results of what he'd just heard play out on the radios. It sounded like quite the action.
"Damn Robins, you leave any for us? The place is a slaughterhouse." Christian said. The stairs and landing were filled with the dead and broken bodies of Pale assaulters, all shot down or blown up with grenades. The walls and furniture were pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes.
"My orders were to cover your six. I covered your six," Robin's said, smiling slyly.
"Let's move," Colt ordered. He moved ahead of Cora, who fireman carried he rescued comrade over one shoulder. Doc's cocktail worked well. Dana slept through everything thus far.
They waded through the dead bodies and debris to the front door, where they found more bodies shattered by grenades. Robins put a burst into the pile of bodies just to be sure. Outside the splintered door, they heard the chug and chatter of the fifty calibers and saw the dance of firelight.
Bullets impacted into their doorframe. They all ducked out of the way.
"It's coming from that house across the way with the shake roof," Christian said as he rolled out of the way and onto his back. He had his carbine slung and his shotgun out. More rifle fire impacted into the front of John Pale's house. Colt keyed the radio, asking for support.
"We can't fire on it from here. We can't even see them, and you guys are in the way."
"Roger," Colt replied. He looked to Christian. "Got any more grenades for your thumper?"
Christian shook his head no.
Christian held up one dark green orb.
"Roger Old Man. We'll take care of it on our end." To his team, Colt said, "Give Christian and me covering fire. We'll frag this house. Once that's done, we'll link up with the others."
To Christian he said, "You work up along the right. I'll go left."
When Cora and Robins opened fire, Colt and Christian jumped out separate windows and advanced on the house. Robins and Cora were answered with withering return fire. There were more than a few Pale in that house holding out.
Colt dashed through the darkness, moving from cover to cover, circling behind a garage. Moving slowly and carefully.
Jimmy Pale lay hidden beneath a pile of firewood when he saw the figure dash by. Even in the darkness, in the uncertain light of the burning houses, Jimmy could plainly see this wasn't one of Eldra's fighters. The carbine, the gear, the sleek but rugged night vision glasses all declared one thing: New Spartans. He'd heard rumors of New Spartans on the loose in the Central Valley. That explained how they got into the compound without being detected, their unbelievable accuracy with their weapons, how they destroyed the entire compound in only a few minutes. That didn't explain why they were here, but that didn't matter to Jimmy because Jimmy had a wild idea. As bad as things were, if Jimmy killed one of these Spartans, his prowess as a warrior couldn't be denied. If he could claim a dead Spartan, then whoever was left, and there had to be some Pale alive in all this carnage, would have to recognize his claim to leadership.
The Spartan dashed forward into the darkness, moving at a half-crouch.
Slowly, carefully, quietly, Jimmy stole from his hiding space and crept behind his prey. He didn't have a gun, but he had his hammer. That was all he'd need.
Colt watched the exchange of small arms fire to his front, just muzzle flashes and the occasional beam of laser light. Across the way, Christian was just a flash of infrared light.
"Frag out," Christian replied. Colt didn't see or hear the throw, but a few seconds later he heard the boom of a grenade, followed by panicked shouts from inside. Colt pulled his own grenades. He had two left, a thermite grenade and a white phosphorous grenade. He used the thermite grenade first. He pulled the pin and threw it. Two seconds after the spoon came free, the grenade sparked alive with chemical fire. Colt threw it on to a flat part of the roof. It clattered and rolled on the dry shingles, settled, then burned at 3,990 degrees. It spat out molten iron and aluminum oxide in a hissing, sparkling, inferno.
More shouts came from inside the house. Colt ducked behind cover, prepped his second grenade and threw it. That one he tossed into an open window on the ground floor. Like the thermite, the white phosphorus grenade burned, but it also smoked. Choking white-gray smoke billowed out. Even in the limited light, he could see the thick cloud filling the bottom floor. He heard more panicked shouts from inside the house. The panic was deeper now. Wood shingles on the roof popped, and then came alight. Colt watched for what he knew was coming, then heard the distinct fire from Christian's shotgun.
"They're trying to get out the back!"
Colt shifted position, gun up, weaving around debris and ducking behind a shed to get an angle on the back of the house. He heard more booms from Christian's shotgun. He heard soft pops from some small-caliber pistol. He poked around some cover and saw a couple of Pale come stumbling out of the house, coughing and choking, rifles in hand. Tendrils of phosphorus smoke followed them out.
Colt flicked his carbine to full auto and fired, catching the whole group in the open. He kept his bursts short, tight, and controlled. He worked his fire from left to right and back again until all his targets collapsed, and he felt the bolt lock back on an empty chamber.
Jimmy followed the lone Spartan, hammer in hand, stalking behind him. The Spartan was preoccupied with the house and the fighters inside. Jimmy closed the gap between them. When the Spartan stopped to throw his grenades, Jimmy crept closer still. But then the Spartan took off, gliding along with his weapon up in the Spartan style. Jimmy thought he might have lost the man in the smoke and chaos, but he picked him up again when he heard the muted snap of the carbine fire.
Jimmy knew this was his one chance. The Spartan had his back to him, focused on his rifle and his targets. The sound of the carbine working masked the sound of this approach. Jimmy crept closer still, and when he saw the Spartan's weapon go dry, Jimmy knew this was it. This was his chance.
Yellow-red firelight flickered over Jimmy's face. He raised his hammer and charged. The Spartan was looking away, weapon empty. Jimmy closed. Three steps away. Two steps away. One step away. The hammer came down in a skull-crushing, killing blow, and just as it did, the Spartan ducked and spun.
What happened next was so fast, Jimmy couldn't even comprehend it. His wrist and arm and elbow screamed that they were bending in the wrong direction. None of that mattered though, because he was up in the air and flying. His feet were up, his head was down. He was moving, but he couldn't tell how or in what direction. He landed on his back with a thud that forced the air out of his lungs. And then the Spartan. The Spartan had his hammer. And the Spartan was swinging it, swinging it reversed, spike outward, in a sweeping, backhanded arc.
The last thing Jimmy saw was the spike of his war hammer coming at him in an arc that placed it right between his eyes. And with that, Jimmy Pale was gone forever. Not a warrior. Not a king. Just another dead body amongst all the others.
Colt dropped the hammer and reloaded his carbine. He continued on his mission. He didn't look back, and he didn't give Jimmy any more thought than if Jimmy had never existed at all. And in the background, the fifty-calibers roared, and the Pale compound burned to the ground.
That'll get your blood pumping first thing in the morning!
Thanks for the chapter!
Awesome update. Thanks
You made my day
Thanks! A great and well appreciated read
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