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Chapter 13: Storming the office
Hopkins


“Jones, open that door!” ordered Kingsley.

Corporal Jones didn’t waste much time and just shot the lock with his shotgun, then smashed the door in with his shoulder. After looking around for a few seconds he threw his arms in the air and groaned. “This one’s empty too!”

“Damn it…” replied Kingsley in a disappointed tone.

Ever since they opened that first gun shop with the turret on top of it, Jones had come up with the idea to check some of the nearby gun shops, hoping that they could find ammo or better weapons. The first one didn’t have much gear in it, but they figured that they were just unlucky. However, this was the third store they checked that was completely looted. Hopkins wasn’t too surprised considering the circumstances, but she had hoped that maybe this store was the lucky one. But it wasn’t.

“I guess these guys decided to hoard every gun in the city,” concluded Hopkins.

“It certainly seems that way, Corporal,” Kingsley replied, then a moment later he continued. “Weiss, how much further?”

“’Bout two streets away, Cap.”

“Great. This gun shop looks secure enough apart from the door, so we can rest here for a while if you feel tired.”

Frankly, Hopkins was quite tired, so she took the opportunity and sat down on one of the benches inside the shop and put her rifle down on it. Her shoulder was still aching if she moved it quickly, but the pain was gone for the most part. Jones and Weiss both sat down on the counter, while Kingsley just threw a crate down next to the entrance and sat down on it. They’ve been running for quite a long time now, which wouldn’t be that tiring if it wasn’t for the heat.

Early summer was easily the hottest part of the year on Azuno, and in Esmos and the surrounding area, the heat could rise above fifty degrees Celsius. Even in the early morning hours, it could be quite hot. Hopkins generally didn’t mind it, but she was wearing the heavy infantry armor of the Sapphirian Navy, and while it protected very well against bullets as she found that out, it didn’t have any kind of ventilation system built into it. As Jason described it once, “It’s like exercising inside a microwave.”

While Jones and Weiss were discussing one of their previous missions as they drank from their canteens, Hopkins decided to look at her APGM rifle. The Sapphirians already replaced their conventional weapons with gauss rifles and pistols, and she didn’t quite understand why the Aftonians didn’t follow their example.

“Nice gun, eh?” said Jones.

“I prefer our SGR-5s, to be honest. More accurate, longer range…”

“…and judging from your armor, bigger punch,” Kingsley replied.

“Yes, though that was from a regular turret. I’m just happy that I still have my arm, unlike Sergeant Schmidt.”

Weiss stopped drinking. “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask about that. How did he lose his arm, Cap?”

“Honestly, it was quite a lot like what happened with Hopkins here.”

Kingsley said as he turned towards them.

“During the Grarrak city invasion, the Sergeant and I were covering Patterson’s and Dresden’s squad along with Corporal Rockfield. We were about to get onto our evac vehicles when a sniper shot out of nowhere sent Daniel’s arm flying off into the sunset as it left a trail of blood and veins behind.”

The Captain’s explanations tended to be a bit too detailed and based on Weiss’s face Hopkins wasn’t the only one who wasn’t a fan. Jones on the other hand seemed to love them.

“It’s a wonder he survived that…” remarked Weiss.

“He certainly got out better than Rockfield did. When the Sergeant got downed, he tried to drag him out of harm’s way just like he did with Patterson an hour before, but this time he got shot straight through the neck.”

“Shit,” Jones remarked with wide eyes. “And he survived that?”

“As far as I know, yes, though I haven’t heard from him since. The thing that pisses me off though is that the damned shooter escaped!”

The sniper must have been quite the soldier if he or she could take out two soldiers like that and on top of that manage to evade the AMC all this time.

“Did anybody see the shooter?” asked Weiss.

“Dresden claims he did. He didn’t get too good of a look, but he saw that the shooter had a different shade of sand-colored armor. He was also certain that the shooter was a female, but I find it hard to believe that somebody can tell that from such distance…”

Hopkins shook her head. “Right, of course. You sure he wasn’t lying?”

“Dresden is horrible at poker, so yes.”

“So how come you never heard about Rockfield if he survived?” asked Jones. “If I survived that, I would spend the next month bragging about it to everybody!”

“As if you could talk after an injury like that...” Weiss remarked.

Kingsley shrugged. “I don’t know either. He and Cole were quite close and after a while, I started liking the guy, but maybe he just wanted to leave that life behind…”

“Well… can’t say I blame him if that’s the case,” Jones said with a shrug.

Hopkins raised an eyebrow and looked at Jones.

“Don’t get me wrong, I like my job. A lot,” Jones said as he noticed her. “…but fuck, if I survive that I’ll count my lucky stars and then go right back home.”

The sound of an artillery cannon firing interrupted Hopkins’s thoughts. She was quite certain it came from the office building, or at least from somewhere near it since they were quite close by now. Kingsley jumped up from his crate and grabbed his rifle. “Time to move gentlemen!”

Hopkins ignored the fact that the only man other than Kingsley was Jones, and along with Weiss they both ran after the Captain. Hopkins could already see the dark green office building and its large windows on each floor. She turned her attention back to the streets just in time to avoid running straight into Kingsley who was peeking out from behind one of the walls of the house they used as cover.

“There’s a six-man patrol a few dozen meters from us.”

Jones reloaded his shotgun then spoke up in a confident tone. “Then let’s fix that!”

Kingsley and Weiss both sprinted out from behind the wall towards one of the abandoned vans on the street and Weiss managed to take out two of the six. The remaining four scattered and ran behind cover but Jones managed to blast one of them with his shotgun. Hopkins rolled behind the cover where Kingsley was before and attempted to take out one of the enemies.

She forgot to switch the weapon’s firing method from automatic to single and when she pulled the trigger, not only did she miss spectacularly, but the gun’s kickback on her shoulder bought back all the pain she felt when she got shot around three hours ago.

Jones saw what happened, and he politely told Hopkins to lend him her cover. She did exactly that, and while they switched places one of the remaining soldiers pulled out a belt of grenades from her dead friend’s backpack.

“Choke on this, assholes!” she shouted.

She pulled all the pins on the grenades and threw the belt right at Jones’s feet. Jones fired off a round at the attacker, and he wanted to grab the belt of grenades to throw it away, but Hopkins beat him to it.

To the attacker’s surprise, Hopkins was quite good at throwing, and all four of the grenades landing at her feet was the last thing she saw before her explosive death.

The other two decided to retreat into one of the nearby buildings but Kingsley threw some sort of smoke grenade after them. The two quickly ran right back outside while gripping their eyes, only for Weiss and Jones to end their career prematurely.

“Job’s done, Cap!” Weiss announced as she lowered her rifle.

Kingsley reloaded his machinegun then walked over to Hopkins. “Nice throwing, Corporal. Ever thought about playing baseball?”

“I already do, sir!” Hopkins replied proudly.

Weiss quickly turned to her with a smile on her face. “You wouldn’t happen to play for the Blue Gladiators, would you?”

“Oh please!” she replied with a smug smile. “Gladiators have big mouths but nothing to show for it. Free Rangers all the way!”

Weiss’s smile grew even wider as she realized they supported the same team, but before the conversation could continue the artillery fired again. A small cloud of smoke appeared on the roof of the Ledford building.

The cannon was no doubt on that roof. Hopkins wasn’t entirely sure what it was firing at, but she had hoped that it wasn’t one of theirs.

“Alright, no more time to waste. Corporal, I strongly recommend that you stick with your handgun until we fix your shoulder!”

“Yes sir!”

The squad began running through the alleyways between the buildings until they finally reached the street that lead right into the Ledford building’s courtyard. On one end of the street was a blown-up APC, and on the other was a large group of soldiers with a T12-Bulldog tank, most often used by Sapphirian military forces. Kingsley’s squad was hiding behind a small shop’s walls yet again, and this time Weiss decided to peek out from it. After her helmet got shot off however, she decided to leave that kind of job for her superiors. “This route doesn’t look too good!”

“Alright. Jones, see if you can––”

Hopkins suddenly heard a "thump" sound as grenade launcher went off somewhere nearby. A few seconds later something exploded that made a lot of sparking sounds, which was followed up by the sound of machinegun and assault-rifle fire.

Not wanting to waste this chance, Kingsley, Weiss, and Jones both ran outside to the street with Hopkins being close behind. They all bolted towards abandoned vehicles or flipped trashcans, and as Hopkins discharged her pistol a few times at the enemy, she noticed somebody in a red beret standing on top of one of the buildings on the left side. The Aftonian soldier opened fire at the enemy soldiers, and a moment later another soldier appeared next to him, equipped with a grenade launcher and a machinegun.

Corporal Norton and Lieutenant Patterson. Hopkins felt an urge to wave at them, but instead, she changed clips and then grabbed one of her shield grenades. “Captain!” she said to Kingsley’s back. “Get ready to charge on my mark!”

He probably wanted to ask why Lola was giving orders when he noticed the shield grenade in her hands. Kingsley nodded, and after Hopkins counted down from three, she tossed the grenade forward as far as she could. As soon as it activated, Kingsley and the others in Hopkins’s squad charged forward.

About halfway towards the bubble shield, two more people ran out from an alleyway on the right side of the street. The one at the front was wearing a grey t-shirt, dark cargo pants, and a brown duffle bag, and had an APGM pistol in his hands.

The other one was Nick Becket, wearing the infantry armor of the AMC and a helmet that had a hole in it.

Once all of them made their way into the shield and hid behind numerous objects inside it, Hopkins turned to Becket. “Nice to see you again!” she shouted excitedly.

“Same to you! Where’d you get this shield from?”

“Long story, I’ll explain later!”

Yet another soldier ran into their shield. This time it was Ira Cote, still wielding her suppressed SMG. As soon as she got into cover, the shield started blinking, signaling that it was running out of charges.

“All right soldiers,” shouted Kingsley. “As soon as this thing drops, you all open fire and don’t stop shooting until everything in front of us is dead!”

“Sir, yes sir!” came the reply from most of them.

Seconds before the shield dropped, Hopkins heard a car horn. She looked behind herself and saw an incoming APC. She yelled at her teammates to take cover, and just mere moments after she jumped away the shield dropped, and the APC, which turned out to be T-Croc, flew right through it. The driver didn’t stop but instead floored the gas pedal. The vehicle rammed down the fences that surrounded the Ledford building’s small park, and afterwards it made a quick 90-degree turn and drifted into the front wall of the building while running over the remaining enemy soldiers.

As soon as the T-Croc stopped, everything was silent.

Hopkins picked herself up from the ground, and after dusting herself off, she spoke up. “I think we won!”

“Won?” asked Jones in an almost offended voice. “We fricking destroyed these scumbags!”

Once everybody got up from the ground and made their way to the front of the Ledford building, Lieutenant Patterson jumped off from the building he was standing on top of and walked up to them with open arms as if he was about to preach something.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for attending the demonstration of the Aftonian T-Croc Armored Personnel Carrier! Please contact your local black market if you want to buy one!” he said with the smuggest smile on his face. He then walked over to Kingsley who was standing at the back.

“Captain.” He said with a courtly nod.

“Lieutenant.”

The two stared at each other tensely for a few seconds before they both burst out laughing, then shook each other’s hands. The Lieutenant then turned towards the others in the group.

“For those who don’t know me,” he said as he nodded at the man in the grey t-shirt. “I’m Lieutenant Cole Patterson from Rhino squad. Now, I certainly appreciate that all of you came here just to see our entrance, but for some reason, I’m getting the feeling that that was not your primary reason for running all the way here.”

“We came here in hopes of reestablishing our comms using the old ICN line,” said Kingsley.

“And to take out the howitzer on the roof,” added Jones.

Patterson raised his eyebrows. “Huh. Looks we’ve got the same idea then.”

“…And so did we,” said Nick as he pushed through the other soldiers.

Patterson’s eyes widened when he saw where the voice came from. He pushed the captain aside and ran up to Nick with a smile on his face.

“Oh, come here you brave bastard!” he said as he hit his friend in the arm and patted him on the shoulder.

“It’s damned good to see you again sir,” came the reply from Nick.

“Right back at you Becket! How was the landing?”

“Bumpier than expected,” he replied with a smirk. “but I did save the radio, so you’re welcome.”

North greeted his old friend in a similar way, and after Sergeant Schmidt got out from the APC, he almost collapsed at the sight. “Nick?!” he exclaimed as he ran up to him

The private took a deep breath and then spoke up.

“Look, I know that––”

Daniel didn’t let him finish the sentence, but instead, he punched him in the face. “That is for throwing me out of my plane,” Daniel explained. He then pulled him up from the ground and gave him a hug “…and that’s for not dying out there you reckless idiot.”

Nick gave a thankful nod to Daniel and when he and the others in the squad got through their quick introductions, Patterson spoke up.

“All right, I know you are all eager to share stories, but we need to clear out this building from top to bottom, and then get our radios working.”

Hopkins didn’t have a problem following the Lieutenant’s order. She, along with the rest of the squad, which now consisted of Nick, Norton, Schmidt, Patterson, Kingsley, Jones, Weiss, Ira, and the local who introduced himself as Riley McConnel, all made their way to the building’s front door. After stacking up on both sides, Kingsley took off a flashbang from his belt. “On my mark! Three, two, one… charge!”

The door opened and the flash-bang flew right in. After it detonated, they all charged in through the door.

There wasn’t a single person on the ground floor, and it seemed like the Captain was a bit annoyed that he wasted a grenade.

“Congrats cap, you pulverized them with that flash!” remarked Jones.

“…stow it, corporal,” came the disappointed reply.

They all quickly looked around the floor, and after they confirmed it was empty Captain Kingsley spoke up. “Alright, men––,”

“And women,” Ira interrupted.

“…and women. I need two people to guard the entrance in case these idiots decide to attack again.”

“I volunteer!” said Ira and Weiss in unison.

Norton and Riley chuckled at that.

“Great! The rest of you, go after Patterson. I’ll stay down here and check if any of these assholes are in a good enough condition to be interrogated…”

A chorus of “Roger that” and “yes sir” later Hopkins and the rest of Rhino all made their way to the staircase.

When everybody got there Patterson kicked in the door and rolled into the stairway, right behind a small wooden crate, with a hail of bullets from the top of the staircase just barely missing him. Without wasting a second Norton launched a grenade from his launcher right towards the enemy, and a blink later blood splattered all over the lower section of the staircase as it exploded in a deafening sound.

“Good lord…” muttered Hopkins as soon as her hearing came back.

Norton just blinked, and without saying a word he walked into the room and the rest of the squad followed him and Patterson. Describing the scene as horrific would have been an understatement, as barely anything remained of the three soldiers that were there seconds ago. It seemed like everybody wanted to go to the next floor as quickly as possible, and Hopkins hurried up the staircase as well. When they reached the second-floor door they again stacked up with Patterson and Norton on the two sides of the doorway. Yet again Patterson kicked in the door, and to his surprise, there wasn’t anybody waiting for them. “Huh…” he said.

The squad carefully made their way onto the floor. Hopkins was certain that the defenders wouldn’t leave an entire floor empty. Patterson raised his left arm and made a quick swipe upwards with two of his fingers open. This was the Aftonian hand signal for “search the area”, which all Sapphirian soldiers that were part of joint attacks or trainings had to learn. Hopkins and Daniel went to check out the middle of the floor, Norton and Nick checked the left side while Patterson, Riley, and Jones went for the right side.

Hopkins’s heart was beating faster every minute but at least she wasn’t on her own. For the first time today, she had more than a couple of people on her side, and the thought that they were going to have radios as well soon made her feel much safer. They were in the dead center of the room when suddenly a lamp fell on the floor a few meters from their position. It made quite a large sound as its glass lampshade broke into little pieces.

Suddenly a woman yelled up. “Trevor you idiot!”

Three armored soldiers popped up from behind one of the cubicles. Hopkins managed to shoot one of them in the shoulder but a moment later she got hit in the stomach with something heavy enough to send her flying across the room right through the paper-thin wall of a cubicle.

She ended up landing next to the second floor’s entrance with her breath knocked out of herself. Sergeant Schmidt quickly shot the second soldier, but the third one, the one that yelled, pulled out a handgun and almost shot Daniel square in the head. He jumped behind a desk and then kicked an office chair towards the attacker, which distracted the woman long enough for Patterson to catch up to them, kick the gun out of the merc’s hand, and then push her out through the window. The second floor was about fifteen meters above the ground so there was a good chance that the woman didn’t survive the fall. Patterson looked down and waved at somebody before he turned back.

Nick ran up to Hopkins and helped her stand up. There was yet another dent in her armor, this time near her stomach.

“Girl, you need to be more careful because at this rate you’ll need a new suit of armor by the evening,” he said as he pulled her up.

“Right…” Hopkins groaned, trying her best to ignore the pain.

Daniel walked over to the shot soldiers and picked up the gun that Hopkins got hit with. The Sergeant said that it was basically a glorified air gun that launched large metal cylinders. He wanted to give a fully detailed explanation of its workings, but when he realized that Hopkins didn’t understand a word of it, he gave up. She was a vehicle mechanic after all, not a gunsmith.

Patterson was about to order the rest of the squad to move up another floor when the soldier Hopkins shot grunted painfully. Everybody pointed their guns at the injured soldier, including Patterson. Riley ran up to him and his usual calm facial expression turned into one of sadness and anger. “Trevor… you’re one of them too, huh?” he muttered.

The rest of the squad walked up to “Trevor”. It turned out that Hopkins managed to shoot the soldier in the heart because by the time she got there he was dead. Riley was crouching next to him. He shook his head when the rest arrived.

“You knew him?” asked Patterson.

“Well, I thought I did…” he said with a sigh. “He was my colleague and a friend.”

Riley then stood up, and without any warning, he shot the dead man in the head with his pistol. “…not anymore though.”

Hopkins was startled by the sudden gunshot. She and the others, especially Nick, looked surprised at Riley as he walked away without saying a word.

Norton and Daniel stayed to guard the floor while the rest continued their way upwards. They didn’t encounter anybody else on the other floors. When they reached the entrance to the roof Patterson checked his magazines and ordered the rest to do the same. Once everybody was ready Patterson kicked in his third door.

At least that’s what he wanted to do, but instead, all he did was sprain his knee probably and fall to the floor.

The door didn’t move a single centimeter.

“Come on LT. There’s even a sign here that says it opens inwards!” explained Jones while doing everything to hold back his laughter. He proved to be stronger than Hopkins as she burst out laughing right away.

She laughed for probably the first time today, and it felt good for her since she hadn’t gotten many chances at laughter since they’ve arrived here. As soon as she stopped she helped the Lieutenant up and got into position.

A moment later Jones opened the door correctly while Patterson threw a flashbang onto the roof. This time it wasn’t wasted, and the squad quickly took out two of the three soldiers. The third one didn’t even have a gun, so he raised his hands immediately. “I surrender!”

There were also two more personnel who were controlling the artillery cannon, but since they were not armed, they decided to just not move at all and raise their hands.

Riley suddenly pointed his pistol at the surrendering soldier and would have probably shot him if it wasn’t for Nick grabbing his gun.

“Riley, what the hell has gotten into you?! He surrendered!”

The soldier took this chance to pick a gun up from the ground to at least take one of the enemies with himself, but Hopkins managed to shoot the man’s arm causing him to drop his gun. The bullet’s impact made him take a few steps backward, and not realizing that there wasn’t a railing on that part of the roof, the man ended up walking off.

He screamed as he fell into his death before Hopkins even had a chance to try to grab him. “Fuck…” she whispered as she was staring at the dead man multiple floors below her.

Patterson shook his head then ordered Nick and Jones to tie up the two operators. He then walked over to Riley, while Hopkins went back to the rest of the team.

“McConnel,” the lieutenant said “you need to get a hold on yourself! I get that you’re pissed, but we still don’t know much about our enemy.”

He just shrugged.

“And you, Hopkins. Grab Weiss and start working on getting our comms back online. I want to know where these “terrorists” managed to get a top of the line Uthanian Claymore howitzer!”

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About the author

Commander DuctTape

  • Hungary

Bio: I'm just an average dude from Hungary who has way too much time on his hands. I started writing a couple years ago as a hobby, partly because I wanted to practice and improve my English, and partly because there's just something amazing about inventing new worlds and people from scratch and then writing about their deeds and adventures.

At this point I honestly can't imagine myself putting down my writing pen ever again, and I would like to wish lots of luck to every other writer out there with their projects!

Favorite genres: Science Fiction, Adventure, Military

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