Chapter 19: Enemy at the gates
“We’re only a few streets away from the city center’s gate, in case the alarms didn’t clue you in just yet!”
Around twenty minutes had passed since they took out that Sapphirian fighter plane and Daniel was still clearly pissed. Alpha team had already begun their attack on the SAM site not too long ago, which hopefully meant that they wouldn’t be turned to dust as soon as they reached the gate leading to the city center.
Even on normal days, it was difficult to get into Central Blackfortress. The streets inside the walls were a lot wider, but the steel gates near the entrances were so massive that the roads that led through them had to be narrowed down, and they had to have around thirty meters of open ground in front of the gateway all the time. It was virtually impossible to blast through the gate itself, but as Riley had discovered a few days ago, the enemy wasn’t able to close it for some reason. Given the lack of power in the southern and western parts, Riley figured that the power lines leading to the gate were damaged in the early days of the occupation.
Of course, there were still dozens of guard posts and a few auto-turrets to make their day harder, but at least they had a chance against those.
Riley quickly checked his rifle’s magazine one last time and then adjusted the straps on the metal box on his back. Private Weiss was able to turn the Ledford building’s ICN terminal into a sort of a backpack, which consisted of the terminal itself, an antenna, and a wrist-terminal attached to it. Since Riley didn’t have nearly as much gear as the others in his squad, he became the designated radioman. He didn’t mind the responsibility, though having a 13-kilogram box on his back threw off his balance quite a bit.
The T-Croc made a sharp turn to avoid a crater in the middle of the road, and a moment later North, who took Nick’s place at the T-Croc’s machinegun to mix things up for a bit, yelled up. “Contacts at the gate!"
“As soon as we stop,” shouted Cole in an attempt to beat the sound of the alarms in the area. “…I want all of you to stay on me until I tell you otherwise, all right? Don’t try to play hero, no matter what!
“Understood sir!” shouted back Riley.
“Glad to hear it!” said Patterson reached for his radio. “Echo, you’re ready?”
“Ready and able Lieutenant!” came the reply from Captain Brown. “And be advised; we have a Hammerhead rocket launcher sitting in the back. Weiss is ready to use it on your orders!”
Patterson grinned. “Excellent news. Engage on my signal!”
The two vehicles sped up and driver forward, constantly showered by all sorts of rounds. If Riley didn't know any better he would have assumed that there was a hailstorm outside. Soon after North returned fire with the T-Croc's machinegun, and when the APC finally stopped next to a mostly intact fast food restaurant, Patterson jumped up from his seat and ran to the back. “Rhino, move out!” he yelled as he lowered the ramp.
Riley repeated the words into his radio and followed the lieutenant closely, while Nick and Hopkins made a loop around the T-Croc. Echo team with Captain Brown at the front quickly made their way out of their truck as well, with the exception of Weiss who remained behind to protect the van and provide rocket support. They all moved behind a few abandoned cars and dumpsters, while Daniel drove the T-Croc away from the restaurant and sped towards the wall attempting to draw enemy fire.
As soon as he was in cover, Riley turned towards where the enemy was firing from.
The two guard towers next to the city center’s gate were packed with enemy troops, and from what Riley could see, there was also a squad at the ground level. He wanted to lean out from behind the car to fire off a few rounds, but before he even attempted it, he was getting shot at from three different places. Some of the bullets flew through the car’s chassis landing dangerously close to Riley’s limbs.
He curled up as much as he could, and as soon as both Patterson and Hopkins arrived at his cover, he turned to them. “What are we gonna do now?!”
Patterson fired off a few rounds and then turned to Hopkins. “Corporal, you still have any of those shield grenades?”
Hopkins pulled out a glowing cylinder from her belt as an answer. “Where do you want me to toss it, sir?”
“Nowhere. As soon as I give the word, you activate it, and then we charge forward until we reach the gate!” ordered Patterson, before turning towards the rest of the team. “Nick, Jones! Do either of you have any satchels left?”
“I’m hurt that you’d ask!” replied Jones.
“Perfect. Get ready to move on my signal!”
As soon as the enemy fire switched from their position towards the T-Croc, Patterson sounded off. Hopkins pressed a button on her cylinder, and a second later a yellow, 10-meter-wide bubble appeared around them.
“Charge!” shouted Patterson as he jumped over their car.
The three of them quickly ran forward, along with Nick and the bigger part of Echo team.
Much to Riley’s disappointment, the shield worked both ways, but since it was literally impossible for the enemy to hit them this way he didn’t complain. With Patterson and Captain Kingsley at the front, they dashed right towards the gate with their guns drawn, and when the soldiers on the ground level got into their shield’s range, they were cut down by Riley’s, Kingsley’s and Brown’s automatic fire, while Jones, Ira, and Nick picked off anyone who tried to flank them.
Ever since that incident on the top of the parking lot, Riley had thought a lot about what it meant that he killed those people. At first, he figured that he would feel this way after every kill, yet as he was shooting at enemy soldiers and people left and right, he didn’t feel a thing. Some part of him probably still protested, but that part seemed to have been overshadowed by his survival instincts.
As the eight of them reached the bottom of the gate and got out the line of sight from the soldiers in the tower, the shield started blinking. Not much time later it disappeared, but by then Jones and Kingsley were already planting the explosives at the bottom of the guard towers. Riley took the chance to reload his rifle when out of nowhere a grenade landed next to him from above. He kicked it away right after and jumped to the ground.
As soon as it exploded away from him and the others, he looked up in an attempt to see where it came from and saw an NAF soldier preparing another one on top of the right guard tower.
He reached for his radio as he fired a few shots towards the soldier. “Weiss, we could use that launcher of yours at the right tower!” he shouted.
“Say no more McConnel!”
He quickly put the radio away and immediately yelled at the others. “Get away from the tower!” shouted Riley.
He expected them to ask why, but instead Patterson, Ira, and Hopkins all ran away from the bottom of the tower towards another safe spot. Nick, Jones, Riley, and the two Captains did the same, and seconds later they heard and saw a rocket flying across the air from behind them.
The rocket hit the guard tower on the right and effectively removed it from existence. The explosion was large enough to send the debris of the tower all over the place, which included the other guard tower and the people inside it, with each piece throwing up dust and concrete pieces from the road as they landed.
Once Riley’s ear stopped ringing and he cleared the dust from his eyes, he yelled up. “Everyone alright?!”
“We’re a-okay!” responded Hopkins, who was still gripping her ears like Riley. Once the others, including Daniel and North, reported in, she sounded off again. “…tell Weiss to be more careful next time!”
“Do it later!” shouted Brown. “We still have soldiers up in the other tower!”
While Kingsley and Jones finished placing the rest of the charges, the others made their way inside the city gate’s walls, taking cover behind the ruined remnants on the first tower. Riley took this chance to check his magazine, but as he looked down, he noticed a red dot dancing on the ground, which was heading fast straight towards him.
“Sniper!” he yelled as he threw himself down to the ground.
At that exact same moment, Riley heard a thunder, a crack, and felt something hit his head hard. His helmet flew off as he crashed right into the wall behind him, and afterwards everything went dark.
* * *
The sound of the sniper rifle and Riley’s shout sent everyone including Nick Becket down to the ground. They all took cover behind anything that they could find, but Nick kept his eye and ear out for the shooter. From the sound alone he could tell that it came from one of the nearby apartment buildings.
He was about to take a quick look when Kingsley sounded off. “We’ve got a man down!”
Nick’s heart skipped a beat as he leaned out from behind a piece of the guard tower.
Riley was on the ground with a bleeding head and a missing helmet, and he did not seem to be moving. The blood inside Becket started to boil, and as he saw Kingsley crawling over to their bleeding teammate, he gripped his shotgun even harder. He turned towards the suspected source of the sniper shot. Your turn now, bastard...
Nick quickly hopped over his cover and dashed down the sidewalk of the main street, zigzagging between pieces of the tower as he headed towards the enemy.
“Private get the hell back here!” shouted Captain Brown.
He ignored the order, partly because he had no intention of sitting down and waiting to get picked off one by one, and partly because he noticed the red dot again. He jumped behind a piece of the metal tower as soon as he noticed it and was lucky enough to dodge the next shot. The powerful round ripped straight through the structural beam he was hiding behind, leaving a fist-sized hole in it.
He fully realized how much danger he was in, but he didn’t stop, and instead, he got up and resumed his charge towards the building that was getting closer and closer. He sprinted as fast he could, making about two-thirds of the distance until another shot was fired. Once again he jumped down to the ground, and as he looked back at the others, he saw Jones dashing to the bigger part of the squad and gripping the button of his detonator.
Nick went deaf for the second time in a row as the other tower’s supports blew up. Without its legs the guard tower quickly began to collapse towards its left side, making a large dust-cloud as it crashed down with a few NAF soldiers and mercenaries still on it, filling the air with the smell of smoke, dust, and death.
Taking opportunity of the distraction, Nick hopped back onto his feet and dashed towards the apartment where the sniper was, crashing through its glass doors and falling to the ground as he did. Still boiling from rage, he picked himself up from the pile of glass shards and headed up the long staircase of the building. As he went up floor by floor, he heard the sniper fire once again, which led him to a room on the fifth floor, right at the top. He made his way over to the entrance, pulled the pump back on his shotgun, then kicked the wooden door right open.
Immediately the sniper, who turned out to be a white-skinned man wearing the dark grey and green armor of the NAF, turned around towards Nick with his sniper rifle. Nick jumped right towards the other side of the door, causing the sniper round to graze his side instead of blowing a hole in it. He scowled in pain and then charged right into the room, then pulled the trigger.
The blast echoed in the room and sent the man flying back first into the side of the window behind him. He dropped his gun as his stomach exploded from the buckshot. As he weakly raised his arms afterwards, Nick pulled the pump on his shotgun again and discharged it without a second thought.
The sniper’s arms dropped to the ground, along with the remnants of his head. Nick kept pointing his shotgun at the man’s corpse for a while as the rage in his body slowly subsided, eventually lowering it when his radio sounded off for what could have been the billionth time.
“Nick, get your ass back here already!” shouted Patterson.
He reached for his radio as he finally lowered his gun. “Target eliminated…”
Patterson sighed on the other side, then spoke up. “I’m relieved to hear that, but don’t you dare pull another stunt like that, alright?”
Nick did not say anything as a reply but walked out of the sniper’s room.
“Especially,” Patterson continued. “because Riley would probably end up doing the same thing if you got shot.”
Nick gasped and gripped his radio, almost dropping it in the process. “Wait what?!”
“Yeah…” said Nick’s friend on the other side weakly “…I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that for a while.”
* * *
As Riley McConnel slowly came back to his senses after getting shot in the head, he concluded two things. First, he apparently survived a gunshot to the head. That didn’t happen too often as far as he knew.
The second thing was that his head felt a lot lighter.
He tapped the top of his skull as he slowly opened his eyes, and felt some sort of cloth where his helmet used to be.
“Easy there Private… you took the quite the hit,” said Captain Kingsley, who was crouching in front of him, along with Ira who had a first aid kit in her hands.
Riley looked around himself and saw that most of the squad was there around him, apart from Nick and Patterson, who were probably arguing with each other over the radio if the lieutenant’s shouting was any indication.
Riley slowly sat up with the help of Kingsley. He felt dizzy and his vision was still blurry, but considering the circumstances, he felt extremely lucky. “Did I just…” he started “…did I just survive a shot in the head?”
Kingsley smiled at him, but it was Hopkins who spoke up. “In a way,” she said as she walked up to Riley, with his helmet in her hands.
Riley’s old helmet was still intact, much to his surprise. The whole thing was dented and there was a rather large crack near the top, but otherwise, it seemed fine.
“The bullet seemed to have grazed your helmet as you jumped down to the ground, so it technically wasn’t a headshot, but rather a helmet hit,” Hopkins explained.
“You’re still one lucky bastard,” Ira added. “…if it got hit even an inch deeper the force of the impact would have likely broken your neck.”
Riley stared at his old helmet for a bit before he slowly put it back onto his head. The camera had a small crack on it as well, but the electronics and the lens seemed to be mostly fine. “I stand by my statement,” he finally said as he turned to Hopkins. “Aftonian helmets suck.”
Hopkins chuckled as she and Kingsley helped Riley back up to his feet. He noticed that Captain Brown was standing next to him as well, with crossed arms. The two stared at each other for a bit, before Brown eventually stepped back and nodded. “Keep that head of yours intact. We’re going to need it,” he said as he walked off towards Jones and Weiss, who were busy grabbing anything useful from the dead NAF soldiers.
Captain Kingsley gave a nod to Riley before he followed Brown as well along with Ira, leaving him, Hopkins, and Patterson alone.
He walked up to the lieutenant right as he sighed in relief. “...don't pull another stunt like that, alright?” he said to the radio while nodding at Riley as he arrived. “Especially because Riley would probably do the same thing if you got shot.”
“Yeah… I don’t think I’ll be able to do that for a while. I’m still feeling a bit dizzy and my head’s bleeding a bit still.”
He heard Nick shout up on the other side, which was followed by the sound of footsteps, running, and probably Nick dropping his radio on the way back from wherever he was.
As Patterson put his away, he turned to Riley. “You can hand me that box if you feel like resting for a bit. No sense in you fighting after an injury like that.”
Riley shook his head. “I’m not going down that easy, sir. We still have to save my city, and a bullet to the head isn’t enough to stop me.”
Patterson looked straight into Riley’s eyes, probably debating in himself what to do. Eventually, he just nodded. “In that case, get on the line and tell Alpha that we breached the gates. I’ll help Echo with the cleanup,” he said as he walked away. “…also, you might want to talk some sense into Nick.”
“Because he almost got himself shot over your injury.”
Riley tensed up for a moment. He felt a mix of anger and frustration since Nick almost did the exact same thing that Collins had done, after all. But he remembered what Patterson had told him back at the Ledford building.
He did his best to vent his frustration since Nick was just trying to protect him after all. He couldn’t be mad at someone for doing that, now could he.
It took Nick about another minute to run back to Riley and Hopkins. He almost collapsed from exhaustion as he arrived, and when did, he tossed his shotgun to the ground and gripped Riley’s shoulder.
“You…” he gasped “…you are one… lucky son of a bitch… you know that?”
“Oh, luck had nothing to do with that!” Riley replied jokingly as he slapped his helmet. “This was all because of the helmet you laughed at!”
“Ah yes, of course! Why do you think they shot at you in the first place? That light blue garbage makes you a bigger target than our T-Croc!”
Hopkins rolled her eyes as the two of them continued to joke around. “Right, I’ll leave you two to your reunion.”
Riley and Nick exchanged a glance, and just as Hopkins was about to walk off, Nick spoke up. “Hold on for a sec…” he said as he took off his backpack, still gasping for air. “I… I’ve got a gift for you actually.”
Hopkins stared at Nick with a raised eyebrow as she tilted her head a bit. When the man finished gasping for air and stopped digging around in his backpack, he stood up and handed a dark red case to Hopkins.
She took it, and after examining it and opening it, she turned back to Nick. “Um., thanks... but what is this?”
“Well, before we left FOB Ledford, I did some digging in our makeshift armory,” he explained. “…and I found a few of these. It’s an APGM conversion kit. The rifles we use have interchangeable parts, and since your shoulder is still garbage, I figured that an SMG might suit you better.”
The smile on Hopkins’s face got much bigger. “This… this is a pretty good gift actually! Thank you, Nick!”
Nick’s face turned just a tiny bit redder, and before Hopkins even asked, Riley handed the rifle he had been using back to the original owner.
“You sure you don’t want it, Riley? Between the two of us, you’re the better shot.”
“It’s your weapon, Lola. Besides, I prefer pistols.”
Hopkins gave a thankful nod to both of them, and once she walked off, Nick turned to Riley. “I think she liked it!” remarked Nick happily.
“Told you she would!”
Riley then reached for the radio on his back. “Alpha team, this Rhino. Be advised that we’ve breached the city center’s gate and we’re heading for the city hall!”
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