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Chapter 26: Moles
McConnel


Once the firefight was over, Riley quickly jogged over to the rest of Alpha team along with Hopkins.

“Welcome to the neighborhood fellas!” yelled Nick from the roof as they arrived.

Major Jefferson stepped out from behind the tank, and looked at Nick, and then at Riley. “I don’t know who taught you this… tactic, but they have my utmost respect.”

“Same goes for the three of you,” Stanley said as he walked up to Jefferson. “…your timing is impeccable.”

“Indeed,” agreed Jefferson. “that said, I would like to know what you're doing here. Brown's orders were clear enough.”

Nick nodded at Riley, who quickly stepped forward.

“There’s a tunnel here that we can use to cut the distance between us and the tower in half, and hopefully give us enough time to rescue Echo team.”

Many of the soldiers looked at each other or at their officers, and Riley could tell that they were a bit unsure.

“Sounds like a hell of a gamble,” said Corporal Richards, the gunner of the tank. “…you sure we can get there in time?”

“Or in one piece,” added Ira, who Riley was very much glad to see again.

“And let’s not forget our ammo problem either.” Specialist Bisson remarked.

Riley was about to say something when he saw Master Sergeant Dresden walk to the front of the group. “You’re right, it’s risky, but are you seriously thinking about leaving Echo behind? What sorry excuse of an Aftonian or Sapphirian does that?!”

The others looked at Dresden, but no one said a word.

“Exactly, not a single one! Now get those guns ready people because we’re not nearly done yet!”

A few of the soldiers turned to Jefferson questioningly.

“You heard the man,” he exclaimed. “Get on the vehicles people, and let’s show the Federation what happens if you mess with us!”

The squad quickly began taking a seat either on the tank or Hopkins’s truck, while one of the soldiers got into the driving seat of the ammo truck. Most of the crates have been emptied by now, but they should have enough supplies to make it to Hightower Square, where the GCSA tower was. Riley was about to hop into one of the vehicles as well when Jefferson, Ira, and Richards, who switched the gunner seat of the tank with Hauet, walked up to him.

“McConnel, does your truck have any weaponry on it?” Jefferson asked.

“Apart from us inside it, no.”

“Richards, give McConnel your grenade launcher.”

Without a word, the corporal handed the launcher to Riley along with a few grenades. “Be careful with it.”

Riley examined the weapon for a bit, trying to find where the trigger or at least the safety was, before turning back to Jefferson. “So what’s the plan, Major?”

“We’re going to follow your tunnel to Echo team and then blow the tower to next year.”

Riley blinked. “How are we going to call for reinforcements then?”

“I don’t think we will. Besides it’d be too late by the time they arrived.” Ira remarked.

“Yes...” agreed Jefferson. “I was hoping that we could kill the jamming first, but we’re way south of that scenario here. But… if we blow up the tower, then that might just be enough to get someone’s attention before that nuke does. Private Cote is right, we won't get rescued this way, but at least the rest of the planet will know that the city is under attack.”

Riley didn’t like this idea at all. He very much wanted to transmit his recordings of the occupation to every single radio station he could reach, but if they couldn’t turn off the jamming after all this time then blowing the tower might have been their only real way of communication left.

He sighed and gripped his grenade launcher. “Right, vandalism it is.”


*

With Hopkins’s truck at the front and Bisson’s tank at the back, their small convoy quickly drove into the old tunnels and began following it to the GCSA tower. Riley was sitting in the truck’s five-seated cockpit along with Ira, Nick, Jefferson, and Hopkins, while Private Jason, Corporal Hernandez, Captain Stanley, and Master Sergeant Dresden were sitting at the truck bed. Everyone else was in the tank or in the munitions truck.

Ira was telling the events of Alpha’s assault on the SAM site as they were nearing the tower after around half an hour of driving. Despite their rather unusual meeting in the morning, Riley was happy to have Ira back on the team. The medic had a certain charm to her.

“…so then the Major grabs another assault rifle, and before you know it, he charges out from our cover and becomes a human turret!”

“I thought the whole point of turrets was that they were unmanned,” Nick remarked jokingly.

Ira punched Nick in the arm as a reply. “No interrupting!”

“Oh, you did not just punch a superior officer, Private Cote!”

Ira was probably about to punch him again when Jefferson coughed. “Alright, that’s enough, privates. We can’t be too far from the tower now.”

Riley took off his helmet and checked his camera, which had photos of all of the maps in the archives. He was very thorough in documenting all of them, considering that they wouldn’t exist for much longer if the nuke went off. “Yeah, we should be there in a few minutes.”

“Good. I’ll contact Patterson then and let him know we’re about to attack.”

Riley quickly handed the hanging wrist terminal from his ICN box to Jefferson, who then quickly turned it on.

“Alpha here along with Rhino-1. What’s your situation Rhino-2?”

For once there wasn’t gunfire on the other end of the radio.

“Rhino-2 here,” Patterson said. “We’re still a way off from the airport but we’re making progress. Also, glad to hear that you guys are still kicking.”

“Thank PFC. Becket for that. His rather unorthodox tactic got the enemy running from us.”

Nick chuckled, and it sounded like that Patterson did the same.

“Right, as if things weren’t strange enough already…”

“You don’t know the half of it, Lieutenant,” Jefferson replied. “Now listen, McConnel managed to find us a shortcut to the GCSA tower and we’re heading there to rescue Echo team. Did they make any progress with the jamming?”

“No clue Major. They’ve been out of contact for a while now, but it’s possible that their radio simply got blasted during the firefight.”

Jefferson sighed. “Right. Either way, as soon as we get them away from the tower, we’re going to blow the whole thing up. Hopefully, that will make a big enough explosion for the satellites to notice it.”

It took a while for Patterson to answer. “Can’t say I like the idea sir, but I don’t have a better one. Radio us when you’re finished.”

“Will do, Rhino-2. Anything else to report?”

Riley expected Patterson to reply straight away, but instead, the radio was silent for a good twenty seconds.

“Rhino-2, are you still here?” the major asked somewhat sternly.

“...sir, there is one thing,” continued Patterson, albeit a bit hesitantly if his tone of voice was any indication. "One of the GIS agents we met, Simmons, told us that the NAF knew about our arrival and where our gliders came from. It seems we have a leak in the AMC, Major.”

“I'm aware Lieutenant. The logs from the prison also confirmed this, but frankly, I'm not sure if we can track down that leak from here.”

“Thing is... unless you or Thompson explicitly told someone when our Skyraider was going to take off from Blegodon city, the only way our mole knew when we would be arriving, and where our gliders would be coming from, was if they were at our briefing as well.”

Riley's heart sank. Lieutenant Patterson was suggesting that one of their squads had an NAF informant in them. That the people who came to the rescue of his city were actually playing into the enemy's hands all this time. And if that was the case, then was it possible that all the fighting they did today was actually supposed to happen, and everything was mostly happening according to the federation's plans?

As much as he didn't want to admit it, the fact was that a lot of the information they found out about the New Azuno Federation and Blackfortress's occupation supported this theory. The logs they found confirmed that the NAF knew the Aftonians and the Sapphirians would send a retaliation strike, and them wanting to manipulate Riley's recordings in a way to blame the destruction of the city on the AMC certainly reinforced the theory.

The real question wasn't whether the Federation had planned this whole battle, but rather why they wanted it to happen. What could they possibly gain from destroying Blackfortress and destabilizing the relations between the Aftonian Empire and the rest of Azuno? If they only wanted to get their hands on Riley's storage drive, then the destruction of the city and the framing of Aftonia was a massive overkill.

No, there had to be some other motive behind this whole occupation. And whatever that motive was, was apparently important enough to make the disappearance of twenty-thousand people and the complete destruction of a city seem trivial.

As he was waging a war with his own thoughts, trying to make sense of everything that was happening, Major Jefferson raised the wrist-terminal to his ears. "And do we know who our mole is?"

Another bit of silence followed from Patterson's end. "...well I'm fairly certain it's not me or you unless one of us was brainwashed recently.”

“I'm quite certain I wasn't,” Jefferson replied with his usual deadpan tone.

“And both of you shot at least two dozen Federation soldiers by now,” Ira remarked. “... so you'd make some pretty shitty traitors.”

“...and since you kept the rest of the team on a need-to-know basis, that leaves either Captain Brown,”

Nick, who was silent this entire time, slowly turned towards Jefferson. “...or Kingsley.”

The atmosphere inside the truck shifted into something else as Ira, Riley, Jefferson, Nick, and Hopkins all came to the same conclusion. That the traitor was either Lola's father, or Captain Kingsley, the former platoon commander of Rhino, and a long-time friend of Patterson and his squad.

Eventually, it was Ira who spoke up first, seemingly more pissed than usual. “Sir, I think it would be for the best if we focused on rescuing Echo first. We can gut Kingsley once our guys are safe.”

“Now hold on, why do you think it's King?” Nick retorted. "It could be Brown for all we know, as much as I hate that idea.”

“Becket, use your brain! If it was Brown, do you honestly think he would have brought his daughter if he knew that the glider she'd travel in would get shot down?”

“I'm sitting right here you know!" remarked Hopkins from the driving seat.

“Hopkins, do you think it could be your dad?" Riley asked. “I don't want to suggest that he is but––”

“No.” she replied sternly. “Actually, I'm completely certain it's Kingsley.”

“How come?” queried Jefferson.

“I remember noticing that his radio was turned on the whole time while we were in our glider,” she explained. “...I didn't put much thought into it at the time but now...”

As Major Jefferson was about to say something to Patterson, Riley's smaller radio turned on. "McConnel, this is Dresden. How close are we to the tunnel exit?”

Riley leaned checked the maps on his camera again, and then took a look outside the window, noticing the yellow lights in the distance marking the end of the tunnel. “It's less than two minutes away,” Riley answered. “...you might want to get ready.”

After he put the radio away, he turned to the others in the truck. Everyone seemed either irritated or confused at the revelation, except for Hopkins, who still had that quiet desperation in her since she got Brown's radio message.

“Fuck...” Jefferson cursed after a sigh and then turned back to the ICN radio. “Lieutenant, focus on getting the civilians to safety. We'll deal with Echo and our mole in the meantime.”

“Roger that sir, but make sure you don't kill the mole. He might know the shutdown code for the nuke.”

“I'll try my best. Alpha out.” He then gripped his assault rifle, and then looked at the others in the truck. “Our primary task is to get Echo out of harm's way and blow up the tower, and the rescue includes Brown and Kingsley as well. We'll figure out who's the traitor afterwards, but until then it's best if they think that we're not onto them.”

“Makes sense to me,” Riley said. “...the last thing we need is for them to bolt and disappear in the middle of the battle.”

Jefferson nodded, and then turned to Hopkins. “Corporal, get us to Hightower Square on the double!”

Hopkins nodded confidently and once again floored the gas pedal and sped towards the exit of the tunnel. The yellow lights at the end were signs that the exit was closed off, but the only thing that was there this time was a chain-link fence, which Hopkins rammed down without a second thought.

The entire truck shook afterwards, and after Hopkins stabilized it, she made a sharp turn to the left, narrowly avoiding a streetlamp. She then sped forward, and Riley could finally see the GCSA tower, along with the firefight around it. The tower itself was well over two hundred meters tall and was made out of steel beams and plates, with barely anything covering up the holes in the structure. It also had numerous lights and lamps on it, all of which were green, which indicated that it was very much turned on, even if the jamming prevented its usage. The tower had seen better days, but that was the case for everything and everyone in the city at this point.

As they arrived closer their truck suddenly came under fire as well, and one soldier next to a bus stop even launched a rocket at them. Hopkins managed to yank the wheel to the right just in time to avoid it, causing the rocket to hit the road between them and Bisson’s tank.

Even in the dark night, Riley could see where the rocketeer was. Once the truck was stable, he leaned out the window, and fired his grenade launcher, while Ira leaned out from the other side and opened fire with her submachine gun at the other soldiers in the area. The grenade missed the shooter, but the resulting explosion made him run away and most likely reconsider his life choices.

“Hold on people, I’m taking a shortcut!” shouted Hopkins.

With that, she drove off the road and went right through the glass wall of a car dealership. The glass wall shattered into millions of pieces as Hopkins drove through, ramming multiple objects and even a few cars while she did, and eventually, the truck came out on the other side next to a small utility building that Corporal Jones was using as cover. Hopkins stopped the truck behind it, and with Riley and Jefferson at the front the squad quickly jumped out of their vehicle, almost knocking over the surprised Jones.

Riley took charge and the other squaddies including Nick and Jones followed him to the bottom of the GCSA tower. Next to a destroyed enemy APC were Captains Kingsley and Brown, along with Weiss who was using a large metal object as cover. They were firing at a five-man group who managed to dig themselves into a ruined building about thirty meters from them, which provided the enemy excellent cover. Unfortunately for them, Riley didn’t care about their cover and launched his second last grenade right on top of them. The grenade soared across the sky and this time, it hit, and the few soldiers that managed to survive the explosion were quickly cut down by Ira’s and the rest of Alpha’s combined fire.

Riley, Hopkins and a few others dashed behind the broken APC that the captains were using for cover, while the rest scattered around the area. A few dozen enemy soldiers were still kicking, but with the arrival of Alpha team, Echo was able to keep them pinned down.

When Captain Brown stopped firing and noticed Hopkins, he looked surprised for the first second, and then he completely threw his usual stern personality out the window and ran up to her daughter and hugged her. “You stubborn girl…” he muttered, holding Hopkins close.

The touching moment only lasted for a few seconds before Hopkins let his father go and took a few shots at an advancing enemy. Captain Kingsley finished Hopkins’s job, then walked over to the rest of the squad.

“It’s damned good to see you bastards again,” said the potential traitor quite casually. “...but may I ask why you took away our chance to go out in a blaze of glory?”

Before Riley had a chance to answer, Alpha’s tank arrived. The soldiers on it opened fire as well at another occupied building, which quickly disappeared as the tank fired its main gun. After that, nobody was firing at Echo and Alpha anymore.

The few enemy soldiers who survived ended up retreating as fast as they could, leaving the GCSA tower in Aftonian and Sapphirian hands.

“Suck shells, green bastards!” yelled Jones at the retreating soldiers, which was followed by a cheer from the other squad members.

As soon as the tank rolled over to the rest of the team and everyone had a chance to catch their breath, Major Jefferson and Captain Stanley walked over to Brown and Kingsley:

“My utmost apologies for taking your glory,” Stanley said as he saluted them. “…but I couldn’t just ignore the guests in my city. It would have been just plain rude.”

Kingsley chuckled and saluted back, while Brown and Jefferson shook hands. As far as Riley could tell, Echo team was in rather good shape, considering what they just went through. The fact that one of them was an NAF mole just made it all the more surprising.

Riley decided to leave the officers to their business and take a seat on top of Alpha’s tank to rest for a bit, next to Nick who seemed to have gotten the same idea.

“Not gonna lie,” he said as he climbed up. “…that went a hell of a lot better than I expected.”

Nick smiled and handed him a canteen of water, which he gladly accepted. It was warm and tasted horrible, but it was also much better than nothing.

“Yeah, I’m honestly surprised too! What do you know, maybe we can actually make it out of here in one piece.”

Riley sighed and handed the bottle back to Nick. “Too bad the same can’t be said for my city…”

As Riley was staring at the ground in front of him, he felt Nick pat his shoulders. “Hey, cheer up man! I know this place is your home, but you can crash with me in Agorith after this is all over.”

Riley turned to Nick with raised eyebrows. “Really?”

“Of course! You saved my ass when you dragged me out of that plane, and probably a few more times as well. The least I can do is lend you a couch until you get back to your feet.”

Riley felt a sort of warmness in his chest that he hadn’t even come close to feeling since the NAF occupation started. He was about to say thank you to Nick when Jefferson sounded off.

“Alright soldiers, listen up!"

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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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