Chapter 1 – District of Embraya
The rocket exploded in a flurry of light, shrapnel, and heat before the general even had a chance to take cover.
“Get the fuck down!” someone shouted in Allen's ear just before it hit. The next thing he remembered, he was being pulled down into the bunker by a mess of arms, the last glimpse of his general firing into a group of UDA troops, then looking up.
“No!” he yelled, straining against his teammates to get back up to ground level. It was to no avail.
Tossed into the underground bunker, Allen sank to his knees as he watched a man help some others shoot down UDA soldiers at the entrance. After felling two, the blast door was closed, shut tight. The man rushed to Allen's side.
“Allen! Allen!” He was on his knees shaking his comrade almost violently. Allen's eyes were looking into the other man's, but his mind was elsewhere. Three times today, now, he had watched a close friend die. Today. He blinked, and looked around at the cracked walls and ceiling of the bunker. That was a hell of a blast, even for a bunker this large. Allen wondered if any of the surrounding bunkers held as many soldiers as this one. Hell, he wondered if they even held any all.
By now, the other man had called out for a medic, if there was one present. “I think he's gone deaf!” he shouted.
Allen looked at him. “No, Blitz. I can hear you.” he said in a low, somber tone. “It wasn't close enough for it to knock my hearing out.”
Blitz looked away, waving off the medic that had arrived at his call. “It's alright. He's fine.” The medic nodded and shuffled of to the aid of another injured troop. Facing Allen once more, he said, “Hays was a friend to me, too. A hell of a soldier. But you can't change what happened. Remember that he died for a reason, like all the others.”
Allen looked down, looked at the MP5K series-model gun still in his hands. He had chosen it specifically out of a variety of selections. It didn't just shoot bullets. No, it sprayed them. He enjoyed using automatic guns for situations like this. For situations like General Hays'. Maybe... he thought. I could've helped him. Could've gunned a few of those fuckers down while he got inside. Maybe it's my-
“Parker! Elza!” A booming voice rang down the corridor behind the two. They turned to see a tall African-American man, garbed in the regulatory captain uniform, coming towards them.
“Captain Reynolds!” Blitz yelped, jumping to his feet along with Allen. The soldiers stood, backs erect, giving a formal salute.
“At ease.” Reynolds said, stopping in front of them. The two relaxed. “Well, I'm glad to see you boys are still kickin', at least.” He noted a gash on Blitz's face, a memoir from the last explosion.
“Yes, sir.” Elza said. Allen only nodded, looking at the ground.
“Moreover,” he said “I would like to relay the news of the presidential race's conclusion.” Blitz Elza raised an eyebrow.
Captain Reynolds straitened his back and folded his arms behind him. “Candidate Lucas has beaten out Harrison and Frank. He's won the election.” he said, an approving smile on his face. Both privates looked unimpressed.
“I figured.” Allen said, broken from his trance. He removed his helmet, revealing a low-lying layer of blond hair. “He's a master of propaganda.”
Reynolds shot him a disapproving look. “Even so, he meant every word he said. He will put us back to what we should be.” He smiled, more to himself than to the soldiers, showing off an chipped incisor, a “badge of courage”, as he called it. Clearing his throat,he said, “On another note, I've been sent to round the two of you up. You're to see Adviser Wadell, regarding yesterday's skirmish on the outskirts.”
“Y'mean the outpost, sir?” Parker asked him.
The captain looked at him gravely. “More importantly, the nuke you found inside it.”
Allen and Blitz stood in a line with two other individuals. The one standing next to Allen, a big, burly man in a general's uniform, was standing, back straight, with his arms folded behind his back. His name was Dimitri Cherzevok, the standing field commander of the 32nd Rangers regiment. The man on the other side, younger than most Rangers, was Corporal Omith, who stood with his eyes glued to the desk in front of the string of people. Seated behind it was Adviser Wadell, who sat speaking to a man behind him sporting a standardized pilot's outfit. He, like Cherzevok, was not a small man. His large frame hid the back of his chair from sight, his large hands folded in his lap while he spoke.
Blitz nudged Allen with his elbow. “This guy better hurry it the hell up, before this entire thing collapses.” he said, noting the shudder of the walls every time a blast came near. Allen ignored him. Over the years that they'd known each other, he had learned to block Blitz's constant complaining.
Giving a nod to the pilot behind him, Wadell swiveled back around to face the Rangers. Sticking his tongue against the inside of his cheek, his glanced over some papers on his desk. With his head hung, you could see that his dark hair was already starting to thin, although he was only in his mid forties. War takes its toll on a man.
He cleared his throat, and looked to Cherzevok. “General Cherzevok?” he inquired. After the general affirmed this, he continued, “Alright. Would you like to give your account, here, then?”
Cherzevok nodded, licking his lips. “Yes.” He spoke surprisingly fluently in English. He carried a considerably heavy Russian accent, although it wasn't so that you had trouble understanding him.“Yesterday, we were deployed to the eastern sector, on the outskirts of Embraya, nearing the District of Barton. Air support had detected several large masses of UDA soldiers coming from a large outpost north of our location.”
Allen remembered that moment, getting the warning from air support, then looking to the north. He remembered the massive amounts of them coming at them, armed with the most advanced guns and scopes and grenades, outnumbering all twelve or thirteen Ranger platoons three to one. He remembered the gut-wrenching, heart-sinking realization that D.C. would just keep pumping more and more of them out. There never seemed to be a shortage of patriots for the twisted, corrupted monstrosity that once was the United States of America.
Ergon Wadell nodded as the general spoke, jotting down notes on his desk, having to scratch out mistakes here and there due to the shaking of the desk.
“Their sheer numbers alone wore us down a great deal.” Cherzevok was saying. “Their weaponry dealt even heavier blows to our troops.” He paused, waiting for the adviser to fix a mistake and catch up with him. “With some help from air forces, we managed to push through. But our body count was tremendous. Very few of us made it through the struggle.
“We were given direct orders to infiltrate and destroy the UDA outpost. Those of us remaining – a very few, I would say only a good forty or fifty – set out for it. There were complaints: Not enough troops, low ammunition. And of course they were right.”
Another blast – close, they could tell – shook the bunker. There were shouts outside the room, in the hallways.
Let's hurry it the hell up, Cherzevok. Blitz thought, cringing at the smaller blasts following the larger one.
“Long, bloody story short,” the general said, “we infiltrated the outpost. Pushed our way through, cutting down anyone in our way, getting farther and farther into the building. We got deep enough, and found a nuclear bomb – set up, getting ready to go. We shot at some things that...looked important, but we only managed to delay the launching, for more UDA troopers were on their way from smaller, neighboring camps.”
Wadell continued giving absent-minded nods. Parker began to think that he didn't have a care in the world about dying SLM troopers.
“We just...did not have enough fire power to overcome them. We were evacuated by air support, and brought back to D.E.”
The adviser finished off his notes, and put his pen down. He swept his gaze across the line of people, then back to General Cherzevok. “And you are the only survivors of the struggle.”
Cherzevok nodded, although he knew that it wasn't a question, only a thoughtless statement. He and Parker shared similar views of Ergon Wadell.
“Well, then, general.” he said, folding his hands. “How would you like another chance at this?”
Cherzevok waited for him to further explain.
“We can supply you with the needed firepower to overcome the UDA outpost, I'm sure.” He used the word supply as if he could just load up a few “expendables” and ship them out. “It doesn't seem that we have much time. Lucas hasn't been put into office quite yet...I would be next in line to set this all up.”
The Russian glanced to Corporal Omith, then to Privates Elza and Parker. Letting out a sigh, he looked again to the man at the desk. “Yes. Yes we are.”
The underground hanger in the bunker was alive with lights, roaring engines and people scrambling in all directions. Wires, of every width and color, lay strung across the floor, connecting to large electric generators, or small computers laying atop metal desks, at which sat engineers tapping on keys, grids and graphs displayed on the screens. Those who were not at work on computers were giving a few final, brief inspections on the helicopters scattered across the hanger.
Somewhere amongst the chaos, a mass of pilots and ground soldiers stood listening around Ergon Wadell, who was explaining the battle plan.
“We've taken the best five platoons we've got in this place, and that's you.” he said. “You will all be sent out via helicopter convoy to a UDA military outpost east of here. Inside, you will find one hell of a big nuclear missile, and it's pointed right at us. So you'd better not fail at disarming it. Failure to complete this mission could – would – result in catastrophic consequences. Do I make myself clear, gentlemen?”
His gaze flew to a soldier throwing his hand up in the crowd. “Yes?” he asked.
The man cleared in throat with a curt grunt. “Yeah, how are we gonna know that there aren't any near-by enemy placements that we don't have to worry about blowin' the entire damn thing up, with us inside?”
Wadell didn't make any efforts to laugh, or make any facial expressions at all, for that matter. “They wouldn't risk destroying their own base, private.”
Another man spoke up. “Yeah, but we all know that Mirat don't give a damn about his own troops. “Danger close” hasn't ever meant anything to him, and it never will.” A few others grunted in agreement.
“Perhaps not.” Wadell said. “But they still wouldn't dare risk a bombing without their missile already launched. I'm sure Emperor Mirat would spare a couple hundred of us in exchange for the entire headquarters of the SLM. May I remind you, he wants us wiped off the map.”
The crowd took this with silence.
“But we aren't going to let that happen, huh?” General Cherzevok said, grinning, putting his fist into the air. Cheers erupted from the mass of soldiers; countless fists rose up with Cherzevok. Wadell merely observed it with pursed lips.
“We'll see, general. We'll see.” And with that, he motioned for everyone to load onto the helicopters and set off. The people parted for him as he went by.
“All right, then.” the general said, raising his chin. “Let's load up!”
A chorus of “whoops” emitted from the soldiers once more as the mass broke, filing into their designated helicopters. Allen and Blitz follow General Cherzevok through the mess of people and wires to theirs.
“Wadell seems a little unenthusiastic.” Blitz said. “For being our military adviser, and all.”
“Ignore him, Elza.” came to the reply. “He thrives off of pessimism, you know it. Let it be.”
Blitz just shook his head and swallowed his protests as they came upon their helicopter. Its exterior was painted a deep blue, cut through by a solid white line streaking all the way across the hull. The front end was painted to look like a shark's head, only this shark had light-blue skin that faded into the black hull with sharp, blood red teeth lined up against a pitch-black maw. It had two sets of propellers, the supports jutting out and up on either side of the body. The hull's large sliding doors were closed tight, as if it were forbidding entry.
Allen stared at it in awe. “Whoa. This is an AC-L 34, isn't it?” He reached out and ran his hand over the metal plating. “This is a brand new line of these things. Feel this armoring! Wainrithium. Titanium, ironand aluminum mixed. The perfect combination of strength and light-weight.”
Blitz wasn't as impressed. He used to work with the engineers before he entered actual armed forces, which was only a little over a year ago. He got to see the plans for this model and several others long before they were ever manufactured. Aside from a few modifications with the landing gear and ammunition compartments, the vehicle in front of him wasn't much different than the one in the blueprints eleven months ago.
“It is much more...glamorous when you are a new-comer to these sorts of things, eh? Once you're around them more, they lose their glamor. Trust me.” Cherzevok patted Parker on the back, a slightly grim expression on his face. He moved closer to the helicopter and rapped on it's hull with his knuckles. Inside, there was a rustling sound, then some latches unlocking. The door slid open, and inside, standing tall on the metal flooring, was the pilot standing behind Ergon Wadell in the conference room.
“Aye, lad!” he said, his British accent loud and clear, even over the roar of the countless engines in the hanger. He looked over his shoulder to someone in the direction of the pilot's cabin. “The general's here! Get out here, boy!” He turned his head back to the three men. “Ah, well, nice meetin' ya, General Cherzevok!” He took the man's hand in his and shook it firmly, grinning wildly. “I saw you in the meetin' a bit ago, nice finally being able to talk to you!”
Cherzevok nodded his head. “The pleasure is mine.”
The pilot smiled again and nodded his head as well. “The name's Rini. I know, an Italian name, right? My father was a bloody Italian, but my mother –eh, mymother – was a full-blooded British woman. I s'pose I got her accent, is all.”
“Wonderful.” Blitz said, heaving a sigh. Allen shot him a shut-your-mouth look, and followed his general into the chopper.
“Strap yourselves in, lads.” Rini said. “This is gonna be a bumpy ride.” He turned to close the sliding door, but turned at the sound of a voice calling.
“Hank!” The young Corporal Omith came sliding out of the cockpit, down the little “hallway” into the main cabin. “Hank, what'd you – oh, General Cherzevok!” He immediately straightened his back, saluting his superior.
Cherzevok waved off the gesture. “At ease, corporal. Come, have a seat. We're preparing to lift off, it seems. He looked out the open door at the last of the other soldiers piling into their helicopters. Omith gave a nod, and sat down on a metal bench jutting from the wall while Hank Rini turned back towards the door. Even with five men in here, there was room for more. These newer AC-L models not only came with enhanced armor and fire power, but increased hull size as well.
Rini slid the door shut, and the room was immediately filled with a sickly deep-red light emitting from fluorescent lights on the ceiling.
“Liftin' off in twenty!” he said, then made his way back to the cockpit.
The four strapped their belts around them, hearing – and feeling – the hum of the engine as it started up.
Hank's voice crackled to life over the intercom, drifting all throughout the cabin. “Alright, mates, we're lifting up! Eh, Sean! Hit that red button next to you. The flat, round one. It should open up the aerial view port overhead.”
Corporal Omith scanned the wall to his left, looking for the button the other was talking about. Because of the red glow of the lights, everything looked blood-red to him. But he finally found the button and tapped it. Immediately a thin layer of metal on the ceiling slid open, revealing a large, rectangular window. Looking out of it, the four men saw the hanger's huge metal ceiling splitting open, flooding the entire room with the bright yellow light of the morning sun.
They shielded their eyes as the helicopter lifted off of the floor and started its ascent out of the hanger, out into the desert of the District of Embraya.
Rini's voice came over the intercom once more. “Hang on, lads, here we go!”
“Stay frosty.” Cherzevok said.
And with that, the helicopter rose out of the hanger and into the sky, followed by a hundred other of the mechanical monsters.