"Dig into those BBQ wings before they get cold," Tony said offering me a bucket of crispy brown-skinned chicken.
It was chow time for what remained of Alpha-1A. Two of A-1A had been killed while a third man hadn't reported in for nearly 5 days after some heavy fighting. Alpha-1B (already within the perimeter of the downtown area) was keeping quiet until they found the best opportunity to take definite action, leaving only two other grunts and myself.
Tony Harrison was tall and lanky. His blond hair was cut short, like I remembered him wearing back in grade school. He wore the red badge of a firefighter in memory of his father on his left shoulder. It was a strange thing, knowing this guy way back in grade school, not seeing him for years, and now fighting beside him, not only for the same city but also on the same grounds of our old grade school. Excellent with small arms, he preferred to carry two M1911A1 .45 caliber pistols to the standard issue 9mm Beretta. We jokingly harassed him, saying he was more of a cowboy than a soldier.
Ed Sinsurg, who was the highest-ranking CO in our little team, had been another grade school friend. Our friendship had survived for years, through school, college and into the armed service. He was the same age as Tony and I yet his dark brown hair (the same color as mine) was streaked with gray. Considering he should have been the most reserved of us all he did not hide the fact that he had an antsy trigger finger. He had always been a skinny kid back in our younger days. Two inches shorter than me, his 5-11 frame was all muscle. Who says you don't get fed well in the military?
"How everyone's equipment?" I asked my friends.
"My Grav-boots are at three-quarters and DFG is at full. No juice for the skates." Ed replied as he took a small dish of coleslaw from Tony.
The Grav-boots were the main part of the GD system, or GDS. They worked by surrounding the wearer's lower body, creating a lower point of gravity, making the wearer seem able to walk on thin air. They were of great use when you want to break a leg or skull descending to lower quarters without a rope, however, the boot devices seemed to become drained quickly depleted as the wearer descended lower to the ground. It was due to greater gravitational pull on the rest of the body as you drew closer to the terra firma.
"Same here," Tony said as he set the bucket of chicken down in front of him.
I checked the meter on the side of my hipbelt. My Grav-boots and DFG were at the same level as my partners, but my WIMS were still operational, fuel levels at half.
"Tone, what was your last toxicity reading during your little excursion along the downtown perimeters," I asked my friend. The mayor's chemical agent was still in the air. When we were as close to the inner city boundaries as was the current case, we often checked the air toxicity levels. If the reading was too high, above 2.0-mg concentration, it was time to don the M40/42 protective masks-gas masks to a civvie.
Tony checked the multifunctional hipbelt unit, tapping a number of numeric sensor pads, then looked back to me. "Way below critical at zero-point-zero-zero-seven. According to A-1B, you don't see the numbers jump unless you're standing in the middle of town."
That was a good thing.
"Speaking of 1B, any word?" Tony asked, taking his Gortex gloves off to eat the rather greasy chicken.
Ed slurped from a 32-ounce cup containing iced tea. "Yeah, Gilles said they have an opportunity to creep into the mayor's building and take him out at his conference he typically holds mid-week." Ed answered after swallowing and belching. Doug Gilles was another friend who was part of Alpha-1B. Ed glanced at his watch. "Probably happen at 01300."
"Excellent. Maybe this will be our last lunch on the fly," I said optimistically though I knew we would probably never get that lucky-Murphy's Law seemed to reign supreme in my life.
Chitchat ended and we sat back and enjoyed our little downtime.
Above, an ebony-winged crow looked down and cawed three times and continued on its' way.
"Hey! Look! There's some guy running up the street!" Tony was looking through the field glasses, crouching at the southeast corner of the roof and pointing, as we all glanced southward to Turner Avenue.
"Who is it?" I asked Ed as he brought up his own pair of binoculars.
"Shit! It's Drew!" Ed stated as we watched the guy head our way. Our former partner-the one who had mysteriously disappeared a few weeks ago-was screaming and waving his arms in the air as if he were on fire.
Poor Drew, the guy was on the wrong side of the fence
though it was a choice he always made for himself. He had been a great resistance fighter until we caught him looting vacant homes and shops. We argued with him, saying it wasn't right to take advantage of the folks caught in this shit storm. Finally, when he just didn't stop his actions, we said we'd report him when this little war was over.
I grabbed the AT4 as both Ed and Tony looked on. Drew was yelling and making all sorts of racket as he ran down the street. Our old associate knew many of our hot surveillance spots. He was sure to give our location away if he got much closer and continued his ranting.
"What's the asshole doing?" Ed asked as I hoisted the missile launcher to my right shoulder.
There was that familiar whine of diesel engines behind him. We noticed two assault vehicles following the guy but at some distance. They were just passing Douglas Street, a block away from the Bridge and Turner intersection. Drew was already through the intersection and halfway to where Turner met First Street. We all thought it odd that though they were in range of striking the man down in a barrage of hot lead they did not fire a shot. Something weird was going on and you'd have to be blind to not realize what it was.
"Shit! He's trying to blow our cover. He must be working for them!" Tony said as Drew approached even closer.
"I wonder how much they are paying the bastard," I growled, lining the sights up on a patch of pavement a few feet in front of the approaching man. Squeezing the trigger, the weapon kicked a little as an 84mm rocket whooshed from the launcher.
A second later, after a horrendous explosion, a black greasy burn circle was all that was left of where our pal Drew had been. Unfortunately the assault vehicles must have gotten a bead on our location for they sped up, flying through the main intersection.
"Pack and dash, people! Grav-boots away! It's time to get off this roof!" I shouted, grabbing my pack, my ice cold KFC 32-ounce coke, triple tapping a sensor pad on the battle outfit's hipbelt activating the GDS units in my boots, and leapt off the school roof. It was time to boogie.
The three of us had barely touched down on the school's asphalt parking lot when the assault vehicles opened fire on where we HAD been. Rounds of heavy artillery fire pelted the school roof and side of the building, blasting chunks into the air as if the place were made of brittle clay.
"Sonofabitch! They're blowing the piss out of my old school!" I cried as I turned back to see the upper southeast corner of my old alma mater come tumbling to the ground in smoking rubble. We were between the church and the rectory garage, heading westward when I saw this.
Stopping in mid-air and twisting around, I grabbed my two HK69A1 Grenade Launchers-one held in each hand-waiting for the first assault tank to come into view.
"Come on, man! Don't waste your ammo and energy! Let's get out of here!" Ed yelled with the squeal of the wheels of the first LAV as it rushed into the parking lot between the school and church.
"These bastards are destroying my grade school!" It was bad enough my city, the place I was born and raised, was being leveled by these machines of war and the lunatics within them.
I pulled the triggers on both hand-held weapons, unleashing two 40mm HE rounds.
My first shot was incredibly lucky, nailing the vehicle on its left front side, right above the first set of wheels. The armored beast leaped into the air, then exploded in a roar of flames and twisted metal. A second later, the other round slammed into the grassy bank across the street from the school, blowing a plume of grass and earth into the air. One down.
"You idiot! Come on!" Ed screamed as the second LAV veered around the corner. It opened fire immediately, spitting flaming shells of death in my direction. The shells hit a section of the rectory garage blasting it into rubble.
Knowing I was a bit outgunned and overpowered, I turned and high-stepped it out of the area. I followed behind my two friends as we hurried down a short walkway between the church and rectory garage coming out on Broadway Avenue. The remaining LAV would have to drive back around the block to catch us.
With the Grav-boots, we could take big strides, like an astronaut on the Moon, and be two blocks down the road. We definitely needed this special mobility to put as much distance as possible between ourselves and the assault vehicle.
We made it to Bridge Street, a block west of the intersection, turning right, following Ed's lead, and headed deeper into the West Side. We all figured that the further away we were from the central downtown area the less chance of running into heavy enemy kill squads. About the time that we were a few steps short of the intersection at Bridge and Stocking, the LAV-25 hit Bridge Street and started firing at us again. Being as we were all on the move and almost out of range each shot fell short. With our DFG's creating a protective aura around our bodies, the debris kicked up by the LAV's 25mm-chain gun simply bounced off our backsides.
"Holy Smokes! I'm getting a green light from A-1B! They say they capped Ondesen!" Tony shouted above the boom of the artillery shells. That was great news except for the people still fighting for the man.
Passing defunct buildings, a old brick library building, and a church, we made our way to Indiana Avenue, a mere stones throw or two away from the intersection of Bridge and Lane. The LAV had backed off. No one thought much of it until we heard a familiar and disheartening drone coming from above.
"Damn! Enemy above, boys! Chopper above!" Tony alerted us, pointing up towards the cloudless blue sky.
"Shit!" I cried as I glanced skyward. An ominous looking AH-64 Apache attack helicopter swooped over us, slowing, acquiring its targets
"Everyone scatter!" I commanded. As if it were a thought possessed by each one of us, Ed went one way, heading south, and Tony went the other way, breaking north. I continued my trek westbound still following Bridge Street.
The helicopter followed me. Its shadow covered me like a dark cross. My DFG would not hold off a round from the 30mm M230 chain gun if they decided to fire upon me. My seconds of life and running were counting down.
I passed the intersection of Bridge and Lane, close to Lincoln Park and my old neighborhood. Sensing that something was wrong, that the aircraft should have opened fire on me by now-and didn't-gave me the opportunity to switch my DFG to full power...
And just in the nick of time.
The Apache opened fire, spitting hot lead from its 30mm chain gun. The pavement erupted below my feet and I went down hard as dozens of rounds pounded into my shielded backside. For a moment I couldn't move and continued to be thumped into the ground, like being taken by the neck and slammed repeatedly and rapidly into the dirt. The attack chopper-probably one sinisterly called up from Battle Creek-let loose what seemed to be its entire salvo of nearly 1,200 rounds of ammunition
Then the aircraft flew passed.
"Sonuvabitch!" I coughed, staggering to my feet. I checked the gauge on my hipbelt, not surprised to see that the DFG reflective system monitor was in the red with a splinter of energy remaining. Neither my BDU nor body would stand up to another 30mm thrashing.
With leaps and bounds, my Grav-boots took me to the edge of Lincoln Park, then dropped me softly and solidly back to terra firma. They were kaput and useless now. I pressed a button on the left side of my hipbelt pack and jettisoned the four GDS units from the sides of my combat boots. They dropped like discarded D-cell's onto the sidewalk. I raced into the park, under the canopy of leafy green trees and thick underbrush. The lawn hadn't been maintained in some time and was up to mid-calf, though I stuck to the cement walkway that cut diagonally through Lincoln.
"C22, C50, this is C36. Over." I called over my tactical radio. I hoped that all the encryption equipment was still working properly. I had heard a story once about a damaged SINCGARS helping track a guy when his antagonists intercepted his supposed encrypted message. The man was now in a wheelchair, alive, his legs gone, and a lifetime of nightmares of the enemy cutting him to ribbons while stuck in his hidey-hole.
"C36, this is C50. Over." It was Tony.
"C36, this is C22. Over." Ed responded.
"C22, I've got the whirly bird trying to tag and bag me. Need your location. Over," I said continuing my trek through the park. The Apache was hovering over the park, trying to spot me through the trees.
"C36, I'm at Jack751. Over." Ed was at a house off Bridge Street a half mile away from Lincoln Park. I sighed in relief knowing he had made it there. The house held a hidden cache of weapons, in case they were needed. There were several homes like this one, mostly former residences of friends or family.
"C22, I need some assistance. Pronto! Over," I said as I stopped beneath a large tree. Its' foliage was so thick I couldn't see the helicopter, which I hoped meant it couldn't see me. The Apache swung low around the park, passing over my position.
"C36, I'm going up top for a view. Be ready to evac the area. Over," Ed said over the radio. I understood this as he was going to head up on the second floor or roof of the house to acquire a look-see. There were weapons in the house to take out unfriendly flying objects. I was thinking he had the medicine to treat my pain.
The Apache dropped back down over the park. The wind stirred up by the dual rotors made the tree branches and grass thrash violently back and forth. A sudden loud series of hisses filled the air. The curse word from my lips was drowned out as I hit the ground, then clamped my arms over my head as a string of mighty explosion shook the land. Glancing up from the ground, the wood and brick building that had been the park swimming pool was now a smoking pile of rubble.
"C36! C36! What the hell's going on over there?" Ed called out. "C36, come in. Over."
I got back on my feet, crouching, and peered up through the trees. The Apache moved off and higher though it continued its sweep around the park.
"C22, this is C36. Our friend thinks I was hiding in a nearby building or is just trying to show his firepower. Over." The Apache was carrying (along with its 30mm gun and 70mm FFAR array) 4 Hellfire missiles on its starboard and port wings. They were primarily used to destroy tanks, armored vehicles and, in this case, a hard target like the aboveground pool building. Even if my DFG was fully operational and I was inside that building, they would have had to dab me off the bricks with a cotton swab.
"Ed, if these guys decide to light up the rest of this park, I'm toast!" I said, the anxiety starting to take hold. The only "nice thing" about knowing the enemy was capable of blowing the snot of you was, with the weapons they had, you probably wouldn't feel anything as you were blown straight to St. Peter.
The attack helicopter flew over the tree I crouched under, hovering again, ruffling the landscape like a miniature hurricane.
"C36, target acquired. Get clear. Over," Ed's voice called over the headset.
"C22, C36 is clear. Over." I activated the WIMS, feeling the special fabric in the leggings of my BDU stiffen to support my calves and the back of my upper legs. The fabric still remained flexible, though it would assist my balance when getting up to speeds of 35mph.
A playground with swing sets, slides and seesaws lay out in the open to the southwest corner of the park, about 50 yards west of the destroyed pool building. I zipped out down the cement pathway, out into the open, right as an HE missile penetrated, impacted, then self-destructed, sending the Apache down into the tree-line, a rolling ball of flames and twisted metal.
"C22, C36 has visual kill confirmation. Good shooting," I said as I rolled passed the playground. The corner of Jackson and Garfield loomed close in my sights. "Meet me at RP2 a-sap. Over."
"C36, thanks. See you at RP2. Over."