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Just outside the Renas System
Commander Cameron Zama paced back and forth on the cramped bridge after forcing himself to remain seated for the last hour. He kept looking up at the plot and continued scrolling through the filters. He knew he was driving everyone else crazy with this, but his patience was wearing thin. They should have seen something by now.
“Okay Ops, I’ve been on the edge of my seat for over a week now, what have you got for me?” Zama said, sitting back down in his seat.
“We’re just now getting some imagery from Oasis. Should be coming up now,” said the Operations Officer as she manipulated the principal holo display. “Okay, now that’s interesting.”
“That explains why we haven’t seen anything up until now,” said Lieutenant Commander Christoph Wash, the ship’s Executive Officer.
“You’re not kiddin’ there XO. Can someone explain this fuckery to me?” said Zama while chewing on his fingernails.
“It’s not making a lot of sense right now, Sir. The Vanguard should have pickets posted on the outer fringes of this system but they don’t. It appears that most of their ships are clustered around Oasis and are stationary. We haven’t picked up any evidence of patrol activity either,” Lieutenant Amy Jackson said, zooming in on the imagery for a better look. “We’ve made a positive ID on most of the vessels here, but some are on the far side of the planet so we can’t see them yet.”
“Can Naulochus and Hellespont see this too?” asked Zama.
“That’s affirmative Skipper, we’re sharing this with them on a tight beam,” Wash said before pointing over to the communications chief. “Are we still picking up their routine comms traffic?”
“Yes Sir, we’re picking up a lot in fact,” said the comms chief. “It’s pretty undisciplined. I’m surprised to be perfectly honest.”
“If I’m reading this situation properly then, we have the Vanguard of Home Fleet clustered around Oasis, with no semblance of tactical deployment or formation. On top of that, they have failed to update their ciphers and are using old crypto keys so we can monitor everything they’re transmitting,” Zama said, rising from his chair and pacing again. “Seems pretty sloppy if you ask me.”
“Makes our job a lot easier doesn’t it?” said Wash.
“Yes and no. I mean we will have an easy time gathering intelligence on the Vanguard, but it’s going to be one hell of a challenge getting closer to the planet to see what’s going on down there.” Zama stopped pacing and looked down at his boots with both hands clasped behind his back. “The good news is that the Main Body won’t get here for quite a while, so we can take our sweet time gathering our intel. We’ll just take it slow and deliberate.”
“XO, write up a preliminary report and attach a file with all of our gathered imagery to date. I want to send an update to Admiral Sulla by midwatch.”
“No problem, I’m on it, Skipper.”
“Good. I have the feeling that she’s going to be very interested in what we’ve discovered here today.”
Wolverine Assault Shuttle “Specter 1”
“Aegates, this is Specter 1, we’re making our pass at this time. Should have an update for you shortly.” Warrant Officer 2nd Class Mark Demir triple checked the drive system and the electronic countermeasures to ensure everything was working properly.
The shuttle had accelerated on the outer fringes of the system and was now travelling under its own inertia toward the planet they called Oasis. Only the minimal number of systems on the craft were running in order to lower its electromagnetic signature. They were trying to get as close as they could to the planet without being detected.
“How’s it going back there, Chief?” asked the co-pilot, Warrant Officer 1st Class Mi Sook Pak, as she pulled up imagery of the planet.
In the back was the sole passenger on the shuttle, an intelligence analyst tasked with gathering as much information as possible on their first mission inside the system. He was monitoring a great number of things, gathering raw data. Once they passed through their short window shooting past the planet, he would spend the rest of their two-week trip back to Aegates making sense of what they learned. “It’s going well Ma’am, but I am picking up some weird shit.”
“Can you define ‘weird shit?’ It’s not exactly a doctrinal term,” Demir said, finally satisfied that all his systems were running at optimal parameters.
“I’ve been scanning through the electromagnetic spectrum recording just about everything. I started when we ceased acceleration last week and started our trajectory,” Chief Cisler said, pulling up some files from his workstation. “I didn’t pay any attention to them before, but I picked up some strange radio waves. Here, I’ll pipe it in over the intercom. Tell me what you think it is.”
The pilot and co-pilot listened to the unusual sounds Chief Cisler had been monitoring. Demir and Pak looked at each other with confused expressions on their faces. The audio feed shifted frequencies, treating their senses to an assortment of exotic noises.
“Okay, that is definitely some weird shit,” Pak said, shaking her head. “It sounded like a bunch of people speaking gibberish, and some other stuff that sounded like it could be a type of music.”
“That’s not even the strangest part. Not only is this stuff completely different from anything in our experience, there are literally millions of separate transmissions emanating from the surface of that planet,” Cisler said, pushing the data to the cockpit.
“Millions? What does that even mean?” Demir sounded incredulous.
A chime sounded, indicating that they had entered their window and could get a limited visual of the surface. Cisler pulled up the holo display and zoomed in to maximum magnification. It took only a few moments before the computer started pinpointing anomalies all over the surface of the planet. Anomalies that led to only one logical conclusion.
“Well Sir, if I’m not mistaken, it appears that Oasis is already a fully inhabited world. I believe our mission just got exponentially more complicated.”
Reverend James’ Grammar School
It was a beautiful, sunny day and a gentle breeze brought with it the sound of rustling leaves in the poplars along with the smell of cedar and fresh-cut grass. The temperature was warm and most people rolled the windows of their cars down to enjoy the fresh air. Viktor sat in the driver’s seat of his car smoking, dressed in jacket and tie. He was slightly overdressed for the weather but needed the disguise to cover the wicked scars and tattoos he had accumulated over the years. He had earned his ink and wore it as a badge of honor in the Mafia, in prison, and of late, with one of the most ruthless and bloodthirsty terror organizations on Renas. He had a reputation as killer who carried out his tasks without remorse, a reputation carefully cultivated and well earned.
Oblivious to the peaceful sounds of the breeze outside, the only noise Viktor could hear was the crackling of his cigarette while taking another drag, and the sound of his heart pounding. Even with all the windows rolled down he was sweating profusely. He checked his wristwatch for the thousandth time and tried to ignore the cottony feeling inside of his mouth. He was parked next to the curb in a long row of other cars, all of which had drivers at the wheel. Unlike himself though, those other drivers were parents waiting to pick their kids up from school. Viktor, however, was an imposter.
In the passenger seat next to him was a small black and white photo of a young girl. Underneath that was a submachine gun covered with a bath towel. From the back seat came a gentle rustling. Two of his comrades were lying down just behind the front seat and hidden from view. The two grown men were uncomfortable piled one on top of the other, doing their best to be still while awaiting the signal. They had been like that for over an hour, and they had transitioned well beyond discomfort and moved on to suffering. Yet they continued to endure.
Out before him, just off to the left was the well-maintained and prestigious private grammar school itself, catering to the children of wealthy and well-connected parents. There was plenty of security there, but that did not dissuade Viktor or his comrades. They had been casing this place for months and had studied every conceivable detail. That included noting the position of the sun at certain times of the day, where it cast its shadows, and when it blinded observation from certain critical locations. Every minute detail had been taken into consideration and every contingency planned for.
Parked a half-dozen car-lengths ahead of them was an expensive black Goldstar sedan, and outside of it stood two men. They wore suits of conservative fashion, dark sunglasses, and full-brimmed hats. They had their arms crossed in front of their chests and scanned in different directions looking for signs of anything suspicious. Under their jackets bulged the tell-tale sign that they were also very well armed.
Just beyond them was a groundskeeper clad in coveralls and a bright orange vest who was working on a flower bed with some of his gardening tools. The rest were in a cart next to him, along with all of the other typical implements for keeping up the yard. With the exception of the fully-automatic weapon stashed in there along with the rakes, shovels, hoses and trowels. He was one of Viktor’s inside men and had been working at the school for some weeks now, gathering the priceless intelligence they needed to execute this mission properly.
He checked his watch again.
Viktor stubbed out yet another cigarette in the overflowing ashtray. He dared not flick them out the window, for a small pile of cigarette butts might draw attention. That was attention they definitely did not want.
A few minutes later a bell rang signaling the end of the school day. A few minutes after that the first children emerged from the front double doors of the main building. All of them looking very neat and tidy in their little uniforms with most of them carrying backpacks and lunch boxes. Some walked in pairs and groups chatting away with their friends, and a few darted here and there at a run just as young children are wont to do.
The two men in suits and sunglasses continued to scan their sectors, while Viktor squinted hard, studying the faces of the boys and girls emerging from those large wooden doors. He was looking for one girl in particular, a nine-year old by the name of Cynthia White. She was the daughter of Ambassador Daryl White, representing the Federal Republic of Belton, arguably the most powerful nation on Renas.
This man represented a country that stood for all the things that Viktor hated most in the world. A country that relentlessly pursued its imperialistic policies and trampled upon the smaller nations of the world. Its wealth and military strength emboldening them to crush anyone that stood in their way.
But Viktor and his men were going to humble that great nation on this day. They were going to kidnap the ambassador’s child and use her to help amplify their message of resistance to the rest of the global community. When they gained possession , they would then make their demands for her release known. Demands that would be carry their message of resistance to the great hegemon. But before they could do that, they needed to capture her first.
“Do you see her yet?” David whispered from the back seat, stirring just a little.
“Sit still and be quiet, damn you.” Viktor quietly snapped back, sweaty palms clasped upon the steering wheel. He adjusted the collar of his shirt once again to ensure it covered up the conspicuous tattoo on his neck.
Their man Tully, the groundskeeper, shifted around, crouched over a bed of azaleas with his back to the children emerging from the school, facing in the direction of the two men in suits and Viktor’s car beyond them. He looked up for just the slightest moment and made eye contact with Viktor before nonchalantly turning his attention back to the flowers.
Car engines turned over as kids piled into vehicles driven by wealthy mothers or hired drivers. Viktor was trying to pass himself off as the latter, dressed in professional attire. But nothing too flashy, not wanting to draw any attention to himself.
His eyes then locked on to a group of three girls crossing the lawn, gradually closing the distance. They giggled and laughed and even skipped along. Then, before reaching the line of cars, they split up and waved each other goodbye. The one in the middle with pretty golden hair was Cynthia. Their mission’s objective.
Viktor lowered the sun visor just above his brow, which was the signal to Tully.
“Get ready. This is it,” he whispered while starting the car. He pulled his shaking hand back off the ignition and wiped a clammy palm on the leg of his trousers before placing it back on the wheel.
Tully casually got up from tending his azaleas and walked over to the tool cart before smoothly retrieving his submachinegun. His motions were so natural and unassuming that neither one of the suits paid him any attention. At least, not until he brought the weapon to bear and cut loose with long sweeping burst.
The first man caught a half dozen high velocity pistol-caliber rounds stitched across his torso. He collapsed onto the sidewalk with a wet smack. The second took a round to the shoulder and was jerked back sharply from the force of the impact. Several of the groundskeeper’s bullets flew wide and smashed into parked cars nearby. High pitched shrieks and screams pierced the air from waiting moms and kids caught in the maelstrom.
The second wounded bodyguard dropped to a knee while yanking his sidearm from a concealed shoulder holster, putting it into action. His shooting was practiced, fluid and precise, unlike Tully’s. He made short work of the groundskeeper while firing single-handed, putting three hollow-point projectiles into his chest.
Once the shooting started, David, piled on top of his comrade in the back of the car, kicked the passenger door open behind Viktor. He and Stacey clumsily clambered out from the rear of the sedan. They spilled onto the sidewalk just in time to see Tully’s chest erupt into a fine red mist before landing flat on his back. The second bodyguard had his back to them while they brought their weapons to bear.
David and Stacey yanked the triggers of their submachineguns in unison and sent scores of slugs flying wildly. A few of the screaming children scrambling to get away got cut down in the deadly crossfire, littering the lawn in lifeless heaps. The bodyguard took a couple of slugs to the back, spinning him around sending his hat and sunglasses flying.
Though grievously wounded, the guard snapped off more shots in rapid succession and Stacey doubled over grasping his belly. He dropped his weapon and sank to his knees, both hands clenching his abdomen, his face contorted in pain.
David managed to get off another wild burst which tore the bodyguard apart. The man fell flat on his face and did not get up. His hand trembled as his nervous system continued to send signals down a lifeless arm.
“Get the girl!” Viktor shouted at David, while extending his arm from the window of the car and pointing in her general direction. Like many of the others she was screaming and running away, back toward the safety of the school.
David looked into the chaos and confusion, seeing scores of young girls and boys in their school uniforms—all looking more or less the same—running away. “Which one is she?”
“Oh for the love of god, you dumb motherfucker, that one over there with the blonde hair!” Viktor bellowed.
David stood, slack-jawed and confused, cradling the weapon in his hands.
“Fuck it!” Viktor said as he threw the door open and exited the black sedan. “You’re driving now, get in. I’ll go get her!”
Viktor took off at a sprint, flat out. He could clearly see the girl running away with the rest of the panicked mob of children and parents. As he ran, he strode over the pathetic crumpled bodies of murdered innocents who suffered the misfortune of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He tried not to look down at them and did his best not to think about what they had just done.
It did not take him long to close the distance and in a matter of seconds he was on her. The girl did not notice the large man coming up behind her while she pushed and shoved her way up the school’s front staircase, trying to get inside to safety. Viktor simply reached out and grabbed her by the ponytail and gave it a quick yank. The move was completely unexpected. Her legs continued to carry her lower body forward, while her upper torso jerked backward. The girl tumbled, going ass over teakettle, falling down the concrete steps. Viktor scooped up the dazed child and raced back to the car.
He retraced his steps as fast as his legs would carry him, and to his surprise, the girl did not resist. She was too stunned and in utter shock, going limp in his arms as he carried her.
David was just pulling the driver’s side door shut as he settled in behind the wheel. Stacey was still on his knees on the sidewalk with his weapon on the ground in front of him, staring down at his belly, the blood seeping through his fingertips. Viktor ran past his wounded comrade, tossed the girl into the back seat and piled in after her. “Drive!”
“What about Stacey? We can’t just leave him!” David cried.
Viktor clenched his teeth, pulled the automatic he had concealed under his jacket, aimed it out the open passenger-side window, and blew the top of Stacey’s head clean off. He turned his attention back to his subordinate and pressed the muzzle of the pistol against the back of David’s skull. “I said drive, you lousy cocksucker, before I blow your fucking brains out!”
Without another word of protest David popped the clutch and set them into motion, working his way through the gears in a frenzy, desperately trying to gain some speed and put as much distance between them and the scene of the crime as possible.
As they lurched forward, two other identical Goldstar sedans pulled out from their stationary curbside positions and joined them as lead and trail vehicles. Together, all three cars picked up speed, leaving the pandemonium behind them, headed first toward the roundabout roughly a quarter mile to their front, and then to the highway onramp.
Constable Sam Kimble eased his patrol car to the curb before taking it out of gear and engaging the parking brake. He reached over to the passenger seat and retrieved his daily log before jotting down a quick note. He was making his rounds on traffic duty ensuring that the local populace was in compliance. He knew these duties weren’t particularly prestigious and was often mocked as nothing more than a revenuer for the local government, but he took his job seriously and didn’t quite care what anybody had to say about it. Issuing parking tickets wasn’t glamorous, but it was all part of keeping order and upholding the rule of law.
This afternoon he was working a posh, wealthy suburb in the capital, and decided to dismount near one of the private schools. Parking spaces were at a premium here and people tended to bend the rules. Particularly rich and entitled folks. They seemed to think that obeying the law was just for the little people. Before he even got out of his patrol car he could see some obvious violations already.
Sam grunted and struggled to get out of the vehicle. He was fighting a losing battle with the steadily expanding girth around his midsection and it showed. He’d put on some weight the last few years, and kept promising himself that he would start that diet soon and slim down some. He had been telling himself that same lie for awhile now, and he wasn’t quite sure if could continue fooling himself much longer.
He popped his cap on a balding pate, adjusted his trousers and flipped through his ticket book before pulling out his pen. The first illegally parked car he came upon was a brand new sports model, painted bright red. It was absolutely gorgeous, and cost three times his annual salary when it rolled off the showroom floor. Sam whistled in admiration—it was a beautiful machine—before writing up a citation and sticking it under the windshield wiper.
Flipping to the next page in his ticket book he’d just strolled up to another car parked curbside when the unmistakable sound of gunfire rang out. Not just gunfire, but machine guns.
Sam was so startled he dropped his ticket book and stood there in shock. Less than a second later, the sounds of violence increased in intensity and it was clear that more shooters were joining in. From what he could tell this was happening on the other side the hedges just off to his left, a few hundred meters away, on the campus of Reverend James’ Private Grammar School.
Kimble’s training finally kicked in. He raced forward and rounded the corner of the hedgerow to see what was going on. From his point of view, he saw bodies scattered throughout the crowded school pick-up zone, packed with students and parents. There were some men down, and a few children too. It was a bloody massacre.
He took a step forward and then stopped. As a traffic officer, he didn’t have a weapon. He had no way to intervene other than to report this as quickly as possible.
Preparing to run back to his patrol car and radio in, he saw a man sprint across the front lawn with a young girl in his arms, jump in the back of a black sedan. He watched in stunned silence as that same person killed a wounded man on the sidewalk, before the car peeled off into the street. Two more midnight-black Goldstars joined them and raced away, engines screaming.
Sam bolted back to his unit, yanked the door open and grabbed the radio handset from its cradle. “Dispatch this is Patrol 38, I’ve just witnessed a shooting and possible kidnapping in front of Reverend James’ Private Grammar School. Possible suspects and civilians are down. Additional suspects are fleeing in three black sedans, heading east on 84th Street toward the Federal Roundabout! All three suspect vehicles are late model Goldstar Equus, how copy? Over!”
Viktor and the rest of his cell of revolutionaries had practiced and rehearsed the plan ad nauseum. They knew every detail through repeated conditioning. The three vehicles raced down 84th Street and would soon hit the roundabout. Once there, they would slow down and follow traffic laws and speed limits. Rush hour was just beginning. The plan called for them to blend in and look inconspicuous as they made their way to the airport. Stealth and camouflage would be their best defense, and they were counting on at least a few minutes to pass before local law enforcement was notified and activated.
They pulled into the roundabout at modest speed and took the first exit heading south immediately hitting the onramp to the expressway. They picked up speed and merged with traffic, even allowing a few cars to intersperse themselves in their tiny convoy. This too, would help them blend, but they had to be careful to keep one another in sight. With no means of communication between vehicles they could easily become separated.
Viktor looked over and noticed in the opposing lane of traffic, a capitol police cruiser gunning its engine, lights flashing, and siren blaring, heading in the other direction. Only a few seconds later there was another. It was obvious the few minutes headstart they were counting on had not been afforded to them. Someone must have called it in almost immediately.
David’s head kept looking back and forth at the police cars zipping past, and the traffic out in front of him. He accelerated and they started passing some of the cars moving along with the flow of early rush hour. He was trying to keep pace with the lead member of the convoy, who was gaining speed and weaving through some of the slower cars and trucks on the expressway.
Viktor leaned over the front seat, staring straight ahead, his face even with David’s. “Take it easy. Slow down. We don’t want to attract any attention .” He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar, exposing the flaming skull tattoo on his neck.
“We’ve been made! Somebody called it in already!” David’s nasally voice trembled as he spoke while sweat streaked down his temples.
Viktor was thinking the same thing but needed to keep a stiff upper lip right now or else David would panic and lose it. This was no time to fall to pieces. They only had a few more critical things to do and they would be home free. “Listen to me, everything is fine. Just stick to the plan and we’ll be out of this very soon.”
“But . . . but . . . Tully and Stacey are dead. That wasn’t part of the plan.” David stammered, wiping the sweat from the tip of his large nose with his sleeve.
“No, that wasn’t, but it doesn’t fundamentally change anything either. Now let’s stay focused and not panic, do you understand?” Viktor was trying to keep his voice down and sound soothing. He wasn’t completely convinced it was working.
David just nodded in acknowledgement and eased up on the accelerator. They watched the lead vehicle continue to increase the distance between them and keep going.
Viktor set his pistol down in his lap and fished out a pack of cigarettes from the inner pocket of his jacket. He tapped out two, and lit them simultaneously with his benzine lighter. He pulled one of the smokes from his lips and stuck it between David’s without saying a word. The driver just nodded and grunted before taking a drag and exhaling the smoke, which immediately dissipated from the wind rushing in through the open windows.
The girl was lying on the backseat, whimpering and crying, her eyes clenched tightly shut. She was a frail little thing and Viktor thought about how light she felt when he carried her. He focused on thinking of her as nothing more than an object. He knew in the back of his mind that the moment he started to humanize this child, he might waver in his commitment to seeing this thing through, and that wasn’t acceptable.
He looked out the back window and saw a light work truck following just behind them but could clearly see the trail vehicle just beyond that. They still had their formation together and that was good. What wasn’t so encouraging was, off in the distance, maybe three-quarters of a mile back, were the unmistakable flashing lights of a police cruiser and it was gaining on them, fast.
“Damnit.” Viktor said under his breath. He took another drag from his cigarette before flicking it out the window. “How much farther until our exit?”
“Almost there.” David responded, both hands planted firmly on the wheel while the cigarette bobbed from his lips.
Ahead of them was an offramp located just before an overpass. The lead vehicle continued straight going underneath the overpass, while David engaged his turn signal and gently exited traffic to the left. The trail vehicle also kept on straight as well. Viktor noticed Allan, the driver, give him a subtle wave as they passed on by.
On the other side of the overpass was an onramp, where another one of the cell’s vehicles was waiting. It was an identical make and model to the one Viktor and David were in, and it was assigned as the “decoy.” As the lead car passed the decoy gunned its engine and entered the flow of traffic, settling in between the lead and trail. All three would continue to the airport, where they would carry out their ruse.
Viktor and David, on the other hand, were snaking their way now through a local neighborhood, careful to be as inconspicuous as humanly possible.
While the car slowed down to negotiate the suburban side streets, the girl began to sob uncontrollably, her crying muffled by the thick piece of tape covering her mouth. Viktor looked down to see eyes filled with tears staring up at him.
“It’ll be alright now, Cynthia. You just be a good girl and listen to what we tell you, and you’ll be back with your family safe and sound very soon. Do you understand?”
The girl cried even harder.
Viktor holstered his gun and placed his hand on her tiny shoulder, trying to soothe her just a bit. “Come now, be a big girl. Nobody’s going to hurt you. This will all be over soon. Do you believe me?”
Cynthia squeezed her eyes shut again, her body convulsing with sobs.
“No, I guess I wouldn’t trust me either,” Viktor said before returning his attention to the task at hand.
“Okay, it’s coming up now. Just off to the left.”
David saw the safe house and slowly pulled into the driveway. Someone was watching through the front picture window from behind the curtain. It rustled a bit and a moment later the garage door opened. They eased into the open parking spot while the door lowered behind them.
To their right was a yellow van, with two other members of their cell standing there, quietly waiting to receive them.
Frank Arter and Jonny Scheele were positioned on the overpass facing the south-bound lane of traffic passing on the expressway just beneath them. They were dressed in heavy-duty work clothes with the brightly colored jackets issued by the municipal Roads and Traffic Authority. Their light work truck was recently stolen from the RTA and bore all its official markings. The two busied themselves at official-looking tasks while they focused their attention on the roadway just under them. They appeared completely mundane, going about routine roadwork to all of the passing motorists along this busy thoroughfare.
“That’s them coming now,” Frank said as he planted the tripod of a surveying transit on the asphalt surfacing. Instead of using the transit’s optics for surveying, he was using it as a telescope to clearly observe the highway and help spot his comrades along with any emerging threats.
Jonny was pretending to inspect some cracks in the concrete guardrail before turning his attention to the expressway. “Yeah, I see them. It appears they are all more or less together.”
“Do you see what I see?” Frank said as he adjusted the focus on his magnifying optic.
“Cops. Damnit. How’d they react so quickly? They should be another three minutes out at least,” Jonny said as he moved over to the bed of the work truck and rummaged around, removing a heavy oiled tarp. Underneath the tarp were two magazine-fed light machine guns and a man-portable grenade launcher.
“Well, that’s what we’re here for. We’re the contingency plan in order to buy them some time. Looks like our day is going to be a bit more exciting than we’d hoped it would be.” Frank stepped back from the transit and moved to the bed of the truck. He reached in and carefully loaded the grenade launcher, conscious to keep it out of sight from any of the passing cars on the overpass.
Frank set the weapon down and took up his overwatch position again while Jonny prepared the automatics. He watched the principal in the center of the convoy exit off to their right while the lead and trail passed beneath them. They couldn’t see from their vantage point but they assumed the decoy vehicle was entering the onramp behind them and joining the rest of their comrades. He didn’t concern himself with that part, he stayed focused on his task, which was dealing with the approaching police, and they were closing the distance fast.
He had observed four police cruisers in the north-bound lane a bit earlier. Sirens and flashers on, they were racing to the center of town where his team had been. They weren’t the threat. No, he was focused on the two federal police cars on the south-bound lane, attempting to intercept his friends. As they raced forward, the daily commuters moved to the left and right shoulders, allowing free passage for the law enforcement vehicles. At this rate, his comrades had less than a minute before they would be intercepted.
“Get set,” Frank said, while casually retrieving the shoulder-fired grenade launcher from the bed of the truck.
Jonny pulled the two light machineguns out, setting one next to Frank and keeping the other for himself. He placed a canvas musette bag of magazines between the two of them on the ground. They kept the weapons low and hidden between the guardrail and the utility truck so as not to attract any attention. Then the pair stood like sentinels, staring at the approaching quarry as they approached unaware, into the kill zone.
Frank brought the grenade launcher over the concrete lip while Jonny did the same with automatic rifle. The launcher went off with a popping sound and sent the ordnance along a lazy arc that impacted just to the right of the first cruiser. The grenade made a “crumpf” sound when it detonated and splattered everything within a five-meter radius with red-hot metal fragments. The police car and an unlucky nearby commuter took dozens of hits that shredded the unarmored doors and side panels.
Jonny joined in with a long burst of automatic rifle fire that was far more accurate, and just as devastating. The heavy jacketed rounds punched through the hood of the lead pursuit vehicle, smashing vitals on the engine block before stitching their way up to the windshield that exploded into the faces of the law enforcement officers inside. The lead federal police cruiser careened out of control and into a concrete retaining wall.
Frank snatched up his light machine gun and joined in. They focused their attention on the second pursuit vehicle and hammered it. The vehicle slammed on its brakes to avoid hitting its partner, only exposing it to more fire in the pre-planned beaten zone. Both machine guns, working together, shredded the thin-skinned car to pieces and slaughtered the occupants.
Civilian commuter traffic, moving along at high speeds, reacted in the predictable way and smashed into the victims, creating utter havoc. Dozens of cars and trucks piled up on one another, resulting in total carnage. At least one fuel tank burst and ignited, spreading flames and smoke.
“I’d say our job is done here,” Frank said in complete deadpan.
The two of them tossed their weapons into the bed of the utility truck and covered them with the tarp. Frank even had the presence of mind to scoop up his transit and tripod as well. They jumped in, fired up the engine, and took off, headed to the rendezvous point.
Curt Hammer sat in the “shotgun” position in the decoy sedan, focused on keeping pace with the lead. From behind, he could hear, but not see an awful lot of automatic weapons fire, which he could only assume meant law enforcement was hot on their heels. “Was” being the critical word.
They knew they had been compromised now, so there was no point in trying to blend in any further. The convoy picked up speed and weaved in and out of lanes of traffic, pressing forward as fast as they dared. They did their best to close the distance before their avenue of escape was cut off.
After what seemed like an eternity, they arrived at the airport, tearing along at hair-raising speed. They zipped past the domestic and international departure gates, raced through the feeder streets until they reached the private aviation terminal. Once there. they slammed on their brakes, tires screeching in protest.
All six men jumped out of their cars and ran inside with weapons drawn. As excited as he was, Curt kept his focus and remembered to reach into the backseat, retrieving a mannequin with blonde hair and dressed in the uniform of Reverend James’ school. Bursting in through the main entrance they were greeted with silence. There were a few airport employees scattered about on the floor here and there, sprawled out in pools of their own blood.
Quickly they exited through the unmanned security checkpoint and were greeted by a couple more members of their cell. Visual signals were exchanged while the engines of two twin turbo-prop aircraft coughed and came to life. The men started mounting the retractable staircases of the private planes, making sure to get their blonde-haired decoy on board as their two greeters swiftly set up a pair of light mortars next to the nearest hangar.
Curt plopped down in a window seat and watched through the glass while the pair started dropping fin-tailed mortar rounds down the throats of the tubes. The weapons barked every time one of them slid down the tube, launching the projectiles to a high apogee before they came falling back down to the surface.
He then shifted his gaze across the runway to the main terminal where dozens of passenger aircraft were lined up taking on hundreds of holiday-goers and businessmen. The mortars came crashing down in a wide pattern, with some hitting the building, while others hit aircraft and trucks loaded full of aviation fuel. A huge fireball blossomed skyward when high-octane av-gas ignited, setting off a chain reaction of destruction down the flight line.
Curt was startled when Frank Arter and Jonny Scheele came bursting into the aircraft, both of them out of breath, carrying their weapons, and clad in Roads and Traffic Authority uniforms. Turning his attention back to the mortar crews, he watched as they snatched up their tubes after expending the last of their dozen rounds and boarded the plane just in front of their own.
Engines roared and the two private planes began taxiing to the closest runway. Curt could only imagine what air traffic control was telling the pilots right now. But it hardly mattered as the aircraft rolled up onto the tarmac and shot forward, gradually gaining altitude before retracting landing gear and heading east. Both planes flew just off the deck at dangerously low altitude in order to avoid electronic detection, which made for a bumpy ride.
The revolutionary smiled to himself, even as the adrenaline pumped through his veins. They had successfully pulled off quite a diversion, and with a little luck, they might actually survive the day.
Viktor was back behind the wheel again, this time driving the yellow van. He had the presence of mind to button his collar and fix his tie, once again concealing the flaming skull tattoo on his neck.
They were headed to the dockyards where a boat would be waiting to spirit them away. The girl was in back and David kept watch for threats as they snaked their way through neighborhoods, careful to use side streets and not the main roads.
The windows were down and they could clearly hear the wailing of sirens in the distance, seemingly in every direction. The ultimate purpose of their mission was to grab the attention of the Federal Republic of Belton and the world, and it appeared that they had succeeded quite effectively. Their little cell of revolutionary freedom fighters had just kicked over an ant pile.
As Viktor made his way down a residential street, he noticed, with great consternation. a number of signs just up ahead that indicated road construction and detour signs. “No, goddammit, no.”
“What’s wrong?” David said as he emerged from the back of the van to see what was going on up front.
“Fucking detour signs. They must have just started this road maintenance today, because this wasn’t here during yesterday’s recon,” Viktor said, tossing a cigarette butt out the window.
“What’ll we do?” David’s nasally voice quivered just a bit.
“We have only a short window to make our extraction and if we miss it we have to drive with the mission objective cross country to the next safe house. That puts us on the road for the next twelve hours, exposed and without support,” Viktor was thinking as fast as he could. “It’s way too risky. We have to make our extraction at the docks, it’s our best chance of success.”
“So, what then?”
“No time to figure out a new route, we take the detour. It’s the quickest way to get there,” Viktor eased the vehicle over and turned into the detour around the road crews who were busy fixing potholes.
Pressing forward, they merged onto one of the main streets leading them through a small commercial district before feeding them into an intersection where they needed to take a left turn. Viktor did so, and to his horror, he found himself at the end of a queue of vehicles, lined up in front of a police checkpoint. They were local cops with four officers and two squad cars, randomly checking vehicles. Almost certainly checking for a small nine-year-old girl by the name of Cynthia.
“Oh my god, what are we going to do?” David said as his eyes grew wide. “Turn this thing around before it’s too late!”
“Calm down, damn you! If we try to turn around it will look suspicious as hell and then they’ll be on to us for sure. Get in the back, keep the kid quiet, and just let me handle this,” Viktor growled, his face flushing beet-red.
David slunk into the back of the van while Viktor kept the vehicle in line, moving forward one car-length at a time along with the everyone else. Viktor’s mind raced while he worked through different scenarios. Possible questions from the police, reasonable responses, and so forth. The possibilities flashed before him as his heartrate steadily elevated and he struggled to keep his breathing under control.
Finally, it was their turn. He pulled forward and stopped in compliance with an officer’s visual commands. When the van eased to a halt, one of the cops leaned down to the open window to address him.
“Good afternoon, sir, we are conducting a random search looking for possible suspects in a very serious incident. Could you please tell me your business today?” asked the police officer.
“Incident? Must be pretty serious if there’s a police checkpoint,” Viktor said, trying his best not to reveal how terrified he was at that very moment. Just then, he realized how pronounced his accent was, and how out of place it must have sounded. His heart raced even harder and he could feel the blood pulsing in his ears and temples. “Um, I’m headed down to the warehouse district. My wife arranged for some new furniture and I’m going down there to pick it up.”
The officer’s piercing stare made him even more uncomfortable and he unwittingly swallowed in a spontaneous physical reaction to his nerves.
The officer did not look away and his eyes narrowed. There was a slight pause before he spoke. “Sir, may we take a look in the back of the van?”
Viktor’s heart almost jumped out of his chest. “Ah, . . . s . . . sure thing, officer. But there’s nothing to . . . I mean, I don’t want to keep the others in line waiting.”
“It’ll just take a moment,” the cop said before waiving his partner over. “Andy, take a look inside, please.”
“Right, I’ll ‘ave her open in a jiff,” said the second policeman and he made his way over.
He pulled on the latch and pulled the door open to find David sitting there with a submachine gun pointed right at his face. The terrorist cut loose a long stream of bullets and blew the officer’s head apart like an overripe melon. Without a word, Viktor mashed the accelerator to the floor, squealing tires on the pavement while he dropped gears. As they broke away, the unmistakable sound of pistol fire cracked behind them and the van thumped dully with the impact of bullets.
Still on the fringe of the commercial district, the cars in the street moved slowly while Viktor tried to maneuver through it all. He flew through busy intersections, drove through oncoming traffic, and even on the sidewalks, desperately trying to get as much distance between them and the checkpoint as he could. They did not get that far before he heard the distinct wailing of sirens and could see the flashing lights in his rearview mirrors.
While they closed the distance, David went to the rear and fired his sub-gun from the two back windows of the van. With Viktor’s frantic driving, David was tossed around like a rag doll and his fire was largely ineffectual. Still, it suppressed them somewhat and the cruisers backed off a little but were in no danger of breaking off the chase. The van did not have the horsepower nor did it have any sort of open lanes ahead of it to provide much opportunity for escape. Options were starting run out.
At long last they exited the commercial district and crossed a set of railroad tracks heading into the industrial section of the city. There was less civilian traffic to contend with here, but the pursuit vehicles behind them were more than a match. David loaded another drum of ammunition and set to work once again trying to get the cops off their tail. That magazine too, went dry, and he paused to reload.
Sensing an opportunity, the police cars raced forward and officers leaned out of their windows with pistols and shotguns. The cops opened fire, aiming for the tires. By the time David was reloaded and back on his feet, one of the tires took a hit and blew into shreds.
Viktor instantly lost control.
The van swerved from side to side and fishtailed before careening sharply and rolling over. It tumbled for nearly thirty meters before smashing into the brick façade of a shipping company and coming to a rest on its roof, while the wheels continued spinning.
Viktor was a broken, twisted mess, covered in his own blood. The taste of copper in his mouth was only eclipsed by the smell of benzine in the air. He could neither move or speak, but he could hear and see what was happening around him. He definitely could hear the police stop their cars and come pouring out as they sprinted toward them, their hobnails clomping loudly on the cobblestones.
He saw a pair of highly polished shoes stop right in front of his face before the owner shouted, “Don’t move mate, or I’ll blow yer fucking ‘ead off!”
Viktor couldn’t move. He couldn’t even look up. All he could do was stare at those shoes . . . and bleed.
“Oy Martins, what have you got back there? Is it clear?” another officer bellowed.
“Aye, it’s clear. The other bloke back ‘ere with the machine gun is really, really dead mate. ‘E’s a fucking mess. Closed casket funeral for ‘im, I reckon,” Martins said.
“What about the girl? Is she back there?”
“Wait a minute and I’ll check.” Officer Martins climbed into the back of the battered van. “Bloody hell. Yeah, she’s back ‘ere alright.”
“Poor thing didn’t ‘ave a chance. She’s gone too. I don’t want to be the poor bastard that has to inform ‘er mum today.”
Viktor felt complete and utter despair. Not that he cared about the death of the child. Her father represented an evil and reprehensible state, and therefore, she was a legitimate target in his mind. No, he was devastated he had failed his mission, and there was nothing he could do to change that. He had failed not only himself and his comrades, but the movement as well.
He would not get to enjoy the fate of a martyr to the cause, instead he would go out as a liability to it. He was given tremendous responsibility and he bungled it. His life had been spent for nothing.
There would be no chance for redemption.
There would be no chance for forgiveness.
He was nothing . . . and would soon be forgotten.
And with that, Viktor faded out.
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