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Chapter 25: Taking point
Becket


“Don’t pull the trigger too quickly and hold your breath before you fire!” Hopkins explained.

She was currently instructing a group of six civilians who considered themselves brave enough to join the fight. Most of the squad had left around ten minutes ago, so only Hopkins, Nick, Riley, and Agent Simmons were around, who was still getting her gear ready. She and Nick were mostly observing from the sidelines while Riley was digging around in the archives, trying to find out more about the tunnel system and the storage drive. Out of the four of them apparently only Hopkins knew how the rifles that they recovered from the basement worked since they weren’t exactly standard issue equipment, but rather outdated prototype variants of the Sapphirian SGR rifles.

“She seems like a good teacher,” Simmons remarked. She was still wearing her helmet for some reason, and Nick had absolutely no idea how she didn’t get a heatstroke yet.

“Yeah, she does.”

The elder-looking man that Hopkins was instructing, Paul, fired his weapon and managed to hit the center of the bottle that they put up about twenty meters from the firing spot.

“There you go! Nice shot.” congratulated Hopkins.

The other trainees gave a high five to Paul who then passed the gun to one of his friends.

Simmons shook her head. “Shooting at stationary targets won’t turn them into super-soldiers,” she said, “…but, at least now they know which end of the gun spits bullets.”

Nick shrugged.  “If we do our job right, they won’t need to be super soldiers, and if we do end up needing them then I’m confident they won’t let us down. Besides, maybe they’ll be useful in some other way? Hopkins isn’t the best fighter and yet without her, we wouldn’t have gotten this far…”

Simmons looked at Nick. “You know, I can’t help but notice that you seem to be constantly watching her and giving her compliments. Are you two…?”

Nick almost jumped up. “No! Well… no, definitely not!”

“Why not?” Simmons asked, crossing her arms. “You seem to get along well, and it’s obvious you like her.”

It felt like that the room's temperature had suddenly increased by a tenfold, at least for Nick. “Yeah, but we’ve only met today! I think it’d be a bit too fast, and I’m not sure she shares my feelings…”

Simmons looked at Hopkins, who was showing a reloading technique to the trainees.  “Well, there’s only one way to find that out, but you can be her friend if nothing else.” The agent then got up from the bench and threw her backpack over her shoulder.  “Alright, I’ll get the truck ready now. I’ll be heading out soon, but feel free to radio if you need help.”

She was about to walk away when Nick grabbed her arm. “Okay, I know this has nothing to do with anything, but I gotta ask this.”

Simmons tilted her head to the right.

“How did you not get a heatstroke yet with that outfit? I mean it must be thirty-five degrees outside and you dress like its winter…”

The agent shrugged. “Eh, I’m from Esmos. Heat doesn’t really bother me. As for the helmet, the visor has built-in lens that help with my eyesight.”

Nick raised an eyebrow.  “Eyesight?”

“Yep, I’m nearsighted,” said the agent with the sniper rifle on her back. “Plus, people tell me that I look good in this gear.”

Nick didn’t pay much attention before, but now that she pointed it out, Nick definitely agreed.  “Well now that you mention it…”

Simmons just chuckled and walked away.


*

“So, what do you think?” Hopkins asked Nick after the two finished their training course, which lasted about forty minutes.

“That depends. Paul, do you think that your squad is ready?”

“Sir, we’ve been waiting for a chance to kick these NAF guys in the balls ever since the occupation started. Not only are we ready, but we are determined.”

Nick nodded.

“Good answer. Alright, soldiers, you can go back to your friends now. If you want to be extra helpful, you can go and show the tricks you learned to the others.”

“Can I keep this piece, boss?” asked one of the trainees named Jess. Another trainee, Walters, asked the same question.

“Sure, just keep the safeties on for now.”

Jess and Walters grinned, then they quickly made their way back to the rest of the locals so that they could show them what they just got.

Hopkins put her arms on her hips and was standing there with a proud look on her face. “I think we did a pretty good job here!”

“Time will tell, but yeah, I agree. You could be a pretty good drill instructor by the way.”

“Well, I’m only a couple of ranks away from Sergeant you know…”

Riley’s ICN backpack suddenly turned on at the other end of the hall, and Hopkins walked over to it to pick it up. “Rhino-2, this is Echo,” said Captain Brown. “can one of you put Corporal Hopkins on the radio?”

“She’s already here!” Hopkins replied. “…what’s going on Captain?”

“Lola, listen. We managed to drive the NAF away from the tower but––”

Rhino-1’s channel suddenly turned on, and Lieutenant Patterson’s voice came through it. “This is Rhino-1 to all teams! We found a nuclear missile inside the power plant. I repeat, we have a confirmed nuclear situation!”

Hopkins and Nick turned to each other. “Are you kidding me? An actual nuke?!” Nick shouted as he gripped his head.

The sound of gunfire came through Alpha team’s channel. “Alpha here,” said Captain Stanley. “what sort of bomb are we talking about?”

“Medium-yield tactical missile. It’s going to level the entire city center in less than four hours, and we have no means of disabling it without the shutdown code!”

Nick noticed the terrified look on Hopkins’s face as she slowly lowered the radio in her hands. “Oh man…”

A rather intense silence followed, apart from the sounds of the gunfight from Alpha’s channel.

“Very well,” said Major Jefferson as he took the radio from Stanley. “…I’m admitting defeat and calling the op a day. Rhino-1, what’s the quickest route out of the city?”

Nick took the radio from Hopkins. “Wait, we’re letting the city get blown up?!”

“We don’t have any other options private!” retorted Major Jefferson. “We have barely enough ammo left to fight our way out, let alone search the entire city for the codes. We have to leave!”

Nick wanted to say something. Anything, to convince the team that leaving Blackfortress to its fate was not right. To convince them that they still had a chance to save the city.

He wanted to, but he couldn’t.

The major was right…

“So what is our EVAC point?” asked Captain Brown.

“Staff Sergeant Nichols reported a cargo plane heading for the airport and Agent Simmons is about to set out to scout it,” Patterson explained. “We’ll head back to the city hall and then escort the civilians there above-ground. Can your squads make it there?”

“We don’t have much ammo left,” Jefferson remarked. “…but we’re not leaving Echo behind. We’ll link up with them and then head to one of the tunnel entrances.”

Nick and Hopkins both heard the sigh from Echo’s channel.

“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen, Alpha.”

Nick saw Hopkins raise her head and almost drop the radio. “What do you mean that’s not going to happen?” she asked. “…Captain, what’s going on?”

“We managed to push the NAF away from the tower, but we have been unable to crack open the jammer’s case. We have no explosives to blow the tower with, barely enough ammo, and Captain Kingsley spotted enemy movement multiple times. If they hit us another time, it’s over for us…”

Hopkins’s eyes widened. “Captain… you… you can’t be suggesting that we leave––”

“That is precisely what I am suggesting, Lola. By the time Alpha would get here it would be far too late, and then they’d be in the same situation we are. We’ll give the enemy something to shoot at while the rest of you make a break for Blackfort, and if we can disable the jamming, we’ll tell the whole world what happened.”

“Captain,” said Jefferson, who for the first time today, seemed concerned. “…I appreciate the bravery but–”

“Damn it, people, this wasn’t a suggestion! Get your asses out of here while you still can!”

Hopkins gripped her radio, and Nick saw a tear rolling down from her eye.

“Ronald, don’t do this…”

“I’m sorry Lola. I wish you and everyone else luck because it seems that ours has finally ran out. This is Echo, signing out.”

Echo’s channel went silent. Nick and Hopkins both remained still, staring at either the ICN radio or each other before Hopkins eventually put the radio down and stood up.

“I think it’s time I learned how to throw orders out the window.”

Nick stared at Lola who suddenly stormed off. “Wait, hold on!”

She dashed off and ran towards the second floor's staircase. Not knowing what she was planning to do, Nick hopped up to his feet and followed after. He wasn’t sure what had gotten into Hopkins or why she was so desperate for Captain Brown to reconsider his choice, but it was obvious that something just broke in her. The two of them ran up to the second floor, and Hopkins didn’t stop until she arrived at the Mayor’s office. Without even knocking she bashed open the door.

Riley was sitting there next to the other ICN radio along with a stack of papers and maps, while Simmons was just about to leave. Both of them were staring at Hopkins, who quickly noticed that Simmons had the truck’s keys in her hand.

“Agent, I need a vehicle! Captain Brown and Kingsley are about to sacrifice themselves for us and there’s no way I’m letting that happen!”

Riley looked at Simmons, and then at Hopkins. “That tower is going to be the primary target of the NAF if it isn’t already. You just want to roll in there alone?”

“If that’s what it takes then yes, I will! There isn’t a single other officer in the Sapphirian Navy that I respect more than Brown, and I’m not about to let him sacrifice himself for a fucked-up city that will be a radioactive pile of rubble in a few hours!”

Riley’s expression changed in an instant as he got up from his chair. “You think this is easy for me?!” he yelled. “That soon-to-be radioactive pile of rubble is my home! I am beyond pissed that I need to leave it behind along with so many of my neighbors, but it’s either that or death!”

Simmons stepped in front of Riley and grabbed his shoulder in an effort to calm him down. “Hopkins, I understand that Captain Brown means a lot to you, but––”

“No, you don’t! None of you do! And he’s not just a captain, he’s my father!”

Nick felt a punch in his gut, and everyone in the room went silent. At first, he was confused, but then he remembered Hopkin’s full name.

“The B. in your name… that stands for Brown, doesn’t it?” he finally said.

Hopkins nodded. “Yes. I don’t know who the man was who gave me my name, but Brown is the one who raised me, and I’ll be damned if I let him die in this city without doing anything to save him!”

Nick sighed heavily. He looked at Riley and Simmons, and even through the helmet, he could tell that Simmons sank into her thoughts.

A few seconds later she took the bucket from her head off and looked Hopkins straight in the eye. “I am more than aware of what it feels like to lose someone close…,” she stated, and then looked at the truck’s keys in her hands. “…and you can bet that I’m not going to stop you from saving him.”

Hopkins seemed to calm down a bit. As she reached for the keys, however, Simmons raised her other hand. “On one condition.”

“And what is that?”

She nodded towards Riley. “You take him with you.”

“I…” Riley said as grabbed his helmet. “...may have a way to get Alpha to the tower in time. But there is no way I’m staying here!”

Nick stepped forward. “And neither am I! We didn’t survive in this city for so long by striking out on our own, now did we?”

Hopkins looked at all four of them and slowly nodded with a smile on her face. “Thank you. And I accept that condition.”

Simmons handed her the keys. “Riley can fill you in, but I’ll have to run if I want to make it to the airport in time. You three be careful, alright?”

“Wait, hold on!” Riley said suddenly.

He reached into one of his pockets, and pulled out the drive, handing it to Simmons.

“I don’t know what’s going to await us at Echo team, but just in case, I need you to hold onto it. And maybe check the shipping logs at the airport while you're there anyway...”

Simmons stared at the drive, then back at Riley. “You sure you want to trust me with it?”

“Yes, and this way no one knows you have it other than us four.”

Simmons nodded, and then put it away. She gave a quick salute to Riley and the others then ran out of the office’s door, towards one of the few non-destroyed exits of the city hall.

“Right,” said Riley as he grabbed his helmet. “I’ll get my box radio, you two get the truck running.”

They quickly followed Simmons out, and while Riley ran off to get his ICN radio, Hopkins and Nick hastily made their way down to the garages. They were at the opposite end of the city hall, and when they reached it, they saw how ruined the whole place was. Apart from the GIS team's stolen truck, every other vehicle in there was totaled, and as Nick looked through the destruction, he suddenly remembered something important.

What they were about to do was going to be very dangerous, and as such, he didn’t want to leave some things unsaid.

“Lola…”

She slowly turned towards Nick, but she kept walking back towards the truck. “Yes?”

Nick took a deep breath. “I won’t lie, what we’re about to do… it’s going to be risky as hell.”

“Yes, and?”

“And…”

Nick was trying to find the words to explain how much he enjoyed Lola’s company, even if they only knew each other for a short time. That despite their horrible situation, he was glad that he had the chance to meet her.

He tried to find the words, but between the nuke, Echo team's horrible situation, and the danger the three of them were going to drive into, his brain couldn't focus.

“…pull yourself together, Nick,” Hopkins said sternly as she turned around and continued towards the truck.

Defeated, Nick got into the shotgun seat of the truck, and after Riley got in as well, the three of them drove out of the garage, towards the other squads.

“I’m coming dad…” muttered Hopkins.


*

“So, what exactly is your plan here?” asked Nick from Riley after they drove in silence for a bit too long.

“Right, so,” he said as he took his helmet off to check the maps on his camera. “I dug through the archives in the hall, and while there wasn’t anything about the drive, I did find another set of tunnels that were even older than the main ones.”

Nick shook his head. “The hell is up with this city and tunnels…”

“From what I’ve read, they were simple mining tunnels at first that they later repurposed and connected to the main system,” Riley explained. “…the important part however is that they connect the GCSA tower and a part of the B3 highway. More specifically, the part not too far from Alpha’s position.”

Nick noticed Hopkin’s stern look loosen up. “Can we go through that tunnel with vehicles?” she asked.

“Well they were mining tunnels,” mentioned Riley “they had to be wide enough for the machinery to fit.”

Nick sighed in relief. This whole rescue mission was still way too dangerous, but at least now they had a shot.

And as if it was waiting for him to think that, Riley’s ICN radio turned on. “Rhino-1, you there?” asked Daniel.

“Yes, we’re receiving,” Nick replied as he took the wrist terminal hanging off from the ICN radio.

A few seconds of awkward silence followed.

“Are you nuts?!” yelled Daniel. “…you left the entire city hall undefended, and then you decided to launch a three-man suicide mission against all the remaining NAF forces?! The fuck were you thinking?”

Hopkins took the radio away from Nick. “Sergeant, with respect, I’m not interested in your attitude.” Hopkins scolded. “…Riley found a route that we and Alpha can take to rescue Echo team, and we’re going there, whether you like it or not!”

Someone took the radio away from Daniel. “Corporal, listen,” said Staff Sergeant Nichols. “…I can look past you disobeying direct orders, but you need to realize that you have three and a half hours before the city center gets turned into a radioactive crater! If you’re not at the airport before then, it’s over for you and your squad!”

“Duly noted,” she replied. “we’ll radio when we rescued Echo.”

With that, she turned it off and handed it back to Riley. He stared at Hopkins for a few tense moments before he eventually put it away.

They drove towards Alpha’s position without any trouble for the most part. Tendor was already below the horizon which made it a bit harder to navigate without their lights, but the sounds of gunfire and the buildings that were lit by it made it easy to get to Alpha’s position. When they were close by, Riley turned on his radio.

“Alpha, this is Rhino-1,” he said as he took out his pistol. “the three of us are here to reinforce your squad and get you out of there.”

An explosion sounded off from outside and from the other end of the radio.

“No idea what you’re doing here Rhino,” Jefferson said, “but we appreciate the help!”

After Hopkins made another turn, Nick could see the firefight at the end of the street. Hopkins floored the gas pedal as she drove towards the mess, and Nick noticed that Alpha’s RAT tank was still very much working. It fired off a shell at a nearby building around the same time Hopkins made a drift stop with the truck.

“Everyone out!” she yelled.

Nick hopped out of the truck with his shotgun in hand, and the three of them ran up to one of the empty stores nearby. From there they could see that Alpha was pinned down in the middle of a three-way intersection, with numerous NAF troops firing at them from the front and the right sides. The left, which Nick and the others were at, seemed to be empty from soldiers apart from two gunners at the top of the building they were hiding behind.

Nick turned to Riley and Hopkins. “Riley, where is the tunnel entrance?”

“Two hundred meters to their right!” he replied hastily. “the entrance should be big enough for multiple vehicles, so look for a big-ass gate!”

Hopkins took a look down the road as well and then leaned back. “How are we going to get our truck and their tank through that?!”

Riley checked his pistol’s magazine. “We charge in?”

Nick turned to him. “How about deception?” he asked. “I don’t think these guys actually know how many of us have arrived. Riley, you can start firing at them from this side while me and Hopkins attack from other buildings…”
“…and we keep running around to make them think that there’s an entire army here.” Hopkins finished. “Not bad, private!”

“Alright, on three!”

Riley counted down from three and then they quickly ran out from their cover. Riley immediately opened fire with his pistol at the soldiers on their building’s roof while Hopkins ran to the house on the opposite side.

Nick dashed all the way to a small grocery store behind Alpha’s position, and after jumping through one of the side windows, he found himself facing two Sapphirian soldiers.

“Evening!” he greeted.

Privates Hauet and Winters lowered their weapons and helped Nick back onto his feet. “How the hell did you get here?!” asked Hauet.

“Long story, but we’re here to help drive these assholes off.”

“Good luck with that!” Winters said. “They have a gauss turret set up on the opposite end of the street, along with a dozen men scattered around the whole place!”

“Yes, but we have the numbers on our side!”

Hauet and Winters both looked at Nick with raised eyebrows.

“Look they have no idea how many of us just arrived. Start firing from different positions and maybe we can fool them into thinking they’re outnumbered!”

“That doesn’t––“

“Just fight damn it!” Nick shouted, and then dashed past the two, looking for a way to get on top of the roof.

Hauet and Winters ended up following him and the three of them made their way to the roof with the help of a ladder as fast as they could. As Nick kicked the door open, he saw an NAF mercenary standing there with a rifle in hand. Without a word, he blasted him in the back, and then took cover behind one of the many AC units on the roof, along with Hauet and Winters. He pulled the pump on the gun again and ran to another AC unit as he fired off another shot, then proceeded to repeat that step over and over. Hauet followed Nick’s example while Winters hopped down from the roof and opened fire from different spots in the alleyway.

Nick was able to nail one or two soldiers as he performed his new workout exercise, and much to his surprise the enemy fire slowly died down. Winters and Hopkins managed to get the rest of Alpha team to follow their examples, and a few minutes later he saw a group of soldiers make a run for it, leaving only the gauss turret to fire at them.

Nick was about to tell the others to focus on that when the RAT fired its main gun. The deafening explosion destroyed both the turret and the roof below it, along with a few eardrums potentially. When his ears stopped ringing, Nick walked over to the side of the roof and looked down at the surprised members of Alpha team with a grin.

“Welcome to the neighborhood fellas!”

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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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