Chapter 27: Battle of Hightower square
The soldiers of Alpha and Echo teams quickly grouped up, and when everyone was there, Jefferson spoke up.
“Now as you know we came here to blow the tower up, but since there are more heads here than before, Captain Brown suggested that we try disabling the jamming one last time.”
Jefferson gestured at Captain Brown, who then pointed at the large metal object on the ground that was filled with bullet markings. It was a large metal box, about the size of a water heater, with a bunch of cables connecting it to the GCSA tower's electrical systems. Despite the bullet and scorch marks on its plating, it looked like none of the bullets that hit it actually ended up piercing the armor.
“As we have figured out by now, shooting at the shiny box didn’t work. So, with our new soldiers here, I’ll ask this question again. Anybody knows how we can open that thing?”
Riley walked over to the box while the others were brainstorming. He knocked on it a few times and quickly concluded that it was plated with the same thing that the RAT tank was, which certainly explained why they couldn't force it open. Still, equipment like this, even if armored, always had to have an access panel somewhere for repairs, and as Riley examined each side, he suddenly saw a small slot on its back, with the NAF’s symbol on it. It looked almost like the slot of an ATM, but Riley had never seen such a thick and wide keycard slot before in his life, apart from the…
He suddenly raised his head. “Nick, Lola, do either of you have that small terminal that Patterson’s squad picked up?”
“Actually, yes,” Hopkins said as she reached into one of her many pockets. She fished around for a bit and eventually pulled out the small white object. “Sergeant Schmidt gave it to me in the city hall before they left for the power plant.”
“Great! Pass it here for a minute.”
The other soldiers were looking at the two of them with raised eyebrows, but Riley didn’t care. He dusted off the recording device, and after shrugging he put it into the slot.
To his surprise, the box opened and revealed the electronics inside. The whole thing was a mess of wires, cables, and buttons, all of them labeled with high voltage signs. There were also numerous signs painted on the inside that marked the contents as fragile.
“Huh. That was easy,” he remarked.
Captain Brown, along with most of the mixed platoon was flabbergasted. “McConnel, are you seriously telling me that we wasted hours trying to blow this open when all we needed was one of these devices?”
Captain Brown buried his face in his hands and Riley could hear him groan in pain. Weiss followed his example as well, while Jones was just laughing at the two of them.
“So,” Hopkins spoke up. “…who wants to be the one to destroy it?”
Every soldier raised their hands, except for Nick. “Honestly,” he said. “…after everything that happened today, I think we can conclude two things. One, that Military Intelligence can suck it…”
Most of the soldiers, including Major Jefferson, chuckled at that.
“…and two, that the only reason we’re still alive is that we worked together. I know that some of you weren’t huge fans of working with soldiers from the other nations, but in the end, you were all able to look past your differences, and thanks to that we might just be able to tell the story of Operation Black Knight in person. So, because of this, it seems fitting for all of us to take a shot at that thing.”
“Damn straight, Becket,” said Dresden as he took his rifle off from his back. “…let’s pulverize that cursed box and go home!”
Others followed their example and prepared their guns, Riley included. He's been waiting for this moment for the past week and he could barely keep his excitement in check. After they all lined up, Major Jefferson ordered them to aim their weapons, and after a three-second countdown, all present soldiers discharged their weapon at least two times into the jammer, shooting the electronics inside it into dust as they did. A loud cheer and a bunch of high fives later Major Jefferson walked over to Riley’s portable radio and grabbed it, changing the channel from the ICN line to that of the Global Communication System of Azuno.
Everybody went silent.
“This is Major Troy Jefferson speaking to every single soldier of Operation Black Knight through the GCSA network. The jammer is down, I repeat, the jammer is down!”
A much louder cheer happened, and this time Riley followed the example of some other soldiers and threw his helmet right up in the air, shouting in his excitement as he did.
While it was true that much of the city would be turned into dust soon, Riley figured that everybody earned a bit of time to celebrate. And as he was looking over the cheering soldiers, he couldn’t help but feel a bit sad that Collins wasn’t here to witness that. To see that all their efforts weren’t wasted. That it was worth it to fight back and keep going, no matter how much the deck was stacked against you.
Once everybody picked up their gear and went back to their positions, Major Jefferson called Patterson.
“Lieutenant, this is Major Jefferson.”
“I’m happy to say that I’m hearing you loud and clear, sir!
“Good! What’s the situation over there?”
“Well, we’re about halfway to the airport, though Simmons managed to get there already. She has confirmed the existence of not one, but two usable aircraft in there, and she’s heading to your position now to reinforce you.”
“I’m damn glad to hear that Patterson,” he finished. “We’ll join you shortly. Alpha out.”
Major Jefferson then switched the frequency on the radio to the one that the 6th Squadron and the 9th Aerial Strike Force was supposed to be using. While Hernandez, Tibor, and some of the others began preparing the vehicles for their departure, Riley, Nick, Hopkins, and the rest of Echo were eagerly listening to the radio, though Riley kept an eye on Captains Brown and Kingsley in case one of them tried to bolt. He was more suspicious of Kingsley, though after finding out that his colleague Trevor was a traitor as well, he didn't want to leave anything to chance.
“This is Aftonian Major Troy Jefferson calling the support forces of Operation Black Knight. How copy, over?”
No answer came.
“This is Major Jefferson, calling the 6th Sapphirian Squadron and the 9th Aftonian Aerial Strike force. Do you receive us, over?”
No one answered once again, and Riley could feel his heart beat faster.
“6th Squadron, 9th AAS, come in!" Jefferson continued more desperately.
“Something’s not right…” muttered Captain Brown “…change to a public frequency and see if anyone picks it up.”
The major nodded and followed Brown's suggestion, then gripped his radio.
“This is Major Jefferson from the 32nd Motorized Division. Can anybody hear us, over?”
Riley and the others kept staring at the radio, but the longer they went without hearing an answer, the more frustrated they got. Why in the world was nobody listening to Blackfortress's channel if there were supposed to be two squadrons standing by to help them? He was about to kick the radio in his frustration when out of a sudden a voice came through it.
“This is Fleet Admiral Elena Hsu of the Sapphirian Navy. Major, why are you transmitting on a––”
Jefferson gripped the radio almost strong enough to crack it.
“Admiral we don't have time for your goddamn comms protocol!”
The admiral went silent, along with everyone in the squad who heard Jefferson. The Major then spoke up in an unusually stern tone.
“Admiral Hsu, my men and I are running low on time in literally every sense of the word, so I only have time to explain this once. We are the surviving members of Operation Black Knight, which really should ring a few bells. The entire city is currently under occupation by an enemy force that we barely know anything about, and in around two hours, half of the city will be turned into a radioactive fireball! Send in our reinforcements ASAP or throw an EMP down to the city hall, otherwise, we might not make it out of here in one piece!”
The admiral remained silent for a few excruciating seconds. When she finally responded, it was in such a cold tone that Riley felt like he was hearing an iceberg talk.
“…I’m afraid I cannot help you, Major.”
Jefferson’s dark face turned pale, and Riley felt his blood boil up.
“…what did you just say?”
“I said that I cannot help you, or your men. You said it yourself that you only have a few hours, and not even our fastest plane can get there on time. We’ll redirect a few of our submarines and ships to help with the damage control, but––”
“What the fuck happened with the 6th Aerial Strike Force? OR the 9th squadron? Where are our reinforcements?!”
“They were redirected to New Carpathia after one of your airfields was attacked. I’m sorry Major but as I said, I cannot––”
Major Jefferson slammed the off button on the ICN radio's wrist terminal and tossed it down to the ground, storming off in anger as he did.
Riley couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Not only did they not get any sort of help or encouragement, but their supposed reinforcements have been reassigned to another op. As he looked through the distressed members of the squads, he tensed up even more, understanding that the only chance they had at getting home alive now was to retake the airport on their own. As he shook his head in his frustration he reached for the radio bag and put it over his back, then walked up to the irritated Major.
“With all due respect sir,” he started “…that admiral can piss off, we don’t need her. Let’s blow this tower and then get to the airport.”
Captain Brown, who seemed just as furious as Jefferson, looked at Riley. “For once I agree with him. I have no idea what happened with our reinforcements, but we need to save ourselves now.”
The Major shook his head then called Patterson to let him know the bad news. Once their conversation was over, he stared at the rest of them with a determined look.
“We're still blowing up this damned tower.”
“What for?” Brown asked, crossing his arms.
“To make sure that Hsu or Thompson don't try to cover this shit up.” he snarled. “let's see them explain how the tower was blown to pieces by an electrical failure!”
Brown was probably about to argue back but Jefferson quickly waved at some of the nearby soldiers and yelled at them to get ready for the demolition. As Hauet and Bisson quickly went ahead and lined up the tank for the detonation, the rest of the squad prepared the truck. While they did that, Riley walked over to Captain Kingsley as he was processing the things that he just heard.
“We might want to open the other tunnel entrance in case we need to bail,” he said.
Kingsley raised an eyebrow. “There's another tunnel here?”
“According to the maps at least,” Riley answered. “you didn't happen to find any large gates around here that could cover up a tunnel, did you?”
Kingsley scratched his chin for a few seconds and then nodded. As they set off towards that gate, Riley waved at the non-busy soldiers in the platoon to follow him, not wanting to risk Kingsley running off. Luckily It didn’t take too long for them to find the entrance, which similarly to the last time, was near a three-way intersection. There were two small utility buildings on either side, and the "gate" turned out to be a strong metal hatch welded onto the mouth of the tunnel.
“This seems like a tunnel all right,” Richards remarked.
“Indeed. Now we just need to find a way to open this thing...” mentioned Riley.
Captain Kingsley waved at the RAT tank. Riley and the others quickly took cover, and a moment later the RAT blew the hatch right open with its cannon. As soon as the smoke cleared, the tunnel seemed quite clean to Riley’s surprise apart from a few pieces of the hatch littering the entrance.
“Who needs keys, right?” said Richards with a grin.
“Indeed! We might as well call that tank the key––“
Out of nowhere, a very loud rifle sounded off in the distance.
And then Richard's head exploded.
Riley almost got a heart attack from the sudden noise, and upon seeing Patrick Richards land dead on the floor, his body shut down. If it wasn’t for Kingsley throwing him down to the ground, he would have stood there frozen and wouldn't have avoided the next sniper hit, which instead hit the road not too far from him. The entire squad opened fire as he was laying on the ground, and as soon as Kingsley slapped him in the face he finally managed to compose himself as well.
He could see and hear automatic gunfire and bullets landing all over the tunnel’s entrance, but he quickly got up to his feet despite that and ran off the road as Nick shouted “Take cover!” to him. He readied his pistol and took a few shots at the enemy, sprinting inside the utility building on the left side of the tunnel as he did.
From what little he could see it seemed like the enemy only bought foot soldiers this time, but a lot of them. They were advancing from the direction where Alpha came from, and they were using the same attack tactic as they did. Winters and Ira quickly ran into the building where Riley was, while the other soldiers scattered along the street using any and all cover they could find. He had no idea where Kingsley was but right now he couldn't care less about him.
“How many soldiers do these assholes have?!” shouted Ira.
Another sniper shot sounded off in the distance, and this time it took out Tibor on the opposite side of the tunnel. Riley’s former neighbor landed dead on the floor with the remained of his head spilling out onto the concrete, but for once, Riley finally saw where the shot came from. Ignoring the rage inside him, he grabbed his radio. “Bisson! Sniper on the roof of the yellowish storage building!”
A few seconds later the tank fired at the spot Riley mentioned and the sniper was no more. "That’s for Tibor and Richards, you cursed bastard!" he yelled to the world. It seemed like the enemy soldiers noticed Riley yelling and calling out their sharpshooter’s position, and moments later, bullets rained down at their building. Concrete pieces and wood splinters were flying everywhere around him, and when the shooting died down, he, Ira, and Winters ran into the other end of the building, only to be met with another few dozen shots. Riley was quick enough to jump down to the ground and not get hit, but when he raised his head, Winters was lying on the floor with a nasty hole in her chest.
“Fuck!” Riley shouted.
Ira quickly ran over to Winters and dragged her to the corner that was a few meters from Riley’s right side. “I’ll take care of her. Don’t let anybody inside!”
As soon as she said that, Captain Brown kicked the building’s side door open and ran inside with Hopkins and Nick.
“What the fuck did I just say?” Ira exclaimed.
The captain took up Winters’s position, while Nick and Hopkins ran behind a shelf.
“McConnel, the RAT’s GPS is working again with the jammer offline, and the NAF is sending everything they have left in the city at us, including four tanks and what looks like a Dragonfly!”
“These assholes are persistent, I give them that!” Riley yelled back.
Another bunch of bullets landed at their position but this time nobody got hit.
“Point is, we can’t stay here! Alpha has a bunch of satchel charges left which we can use to collapse the tunnel behind us!”
Riley wasn’t sure if being stuck in a tunnel would be much better, but if it meant that their enemy couldn’t shoot at them, then that was a definite improvement. “Sounds like a plan to me Captain! What do you want me to do?”
“Follow me,” replied Brown.
Riley and Brown ran outside while Nick and Hopkins stayed to cover Ira and Winters. Kingsley, Jefferson, and Jones were already taking out the explosives from their truck while Hernandez and Weiss were providing them covering fire, along with the tank. Captain Brown put down his rifle, grabbed a bunch of charges, and nodded at the Hammerhead rocket launcher and the spare rockets. “Buy us time!” he ordered.
Riley stared at the weapon, not being sure how to use it. As a bullet flew over his head, however, he hastily grabbed the rocket launcher and looked for the trigger. He then suddenly remembered their attack on the city gate and reached for his radio. “Hopkins, if you still have some shield ‘nades left, now’s the time to use them!”
A few seconds later a small glowing metal cylinder rolled towards the tank and the munitions truck from the other utility building, and a bubble shield appeared over their head. The tank quickly rolled back towards the tunnel, stopping midway inside the shield, while the remaining soldiers, including Ira who was carrying Winters on her back, ran inside the bubble. Based on Riley’s counting, they were down by three people.
While the others started planting the charges alongside the walls, Riley quickly ran outside of the shield, back to the building he was previously at, to launch a rocket at the enemy. He crouched down and aimed it despite how heavy it was, then fired it. The force of the launch sent him to the ground, but the rocket still landed close to his target, and ended up knocking down part of the car dealership, and burying at least a few enemy soldiers. Riley rolled back behind cover as he loaded in the next rocket, and he suddenly noticed two armored NAF soldiers inside the utility building. He dropped the launcher and pulled out his pistol, then fired off a few rounds at the one on the right.
Three shots later the enemy was down, but the other one fired at Riley with a shotgun that blew out a large chunk of his wall and grazed his chest. The vest took the brunt of the hit, but it was still extremely painful. He was about to retreat when Jones hopped to the other side of that doorway and blasted the other soldier with his own shotgun.
“I’ll watch your back, but I’m not sure how long that shield will last!” Jones yelled.
Riley nodded, then picked up his launcher and finished the reloading. His shoulders were starting to hurt from all the lifting along with his chest but that was the least of his problems. He repeated the previous process with the rocket, but this time he overshot the target. He figured the rocket would just end up hitting a stray lamppost, but instead it hit something that made a larger explosion further behind the car dealership. He was pretty sure about what he hit.
“Their vehicles are here!” Riley shouted.
Since he didn’t have any more rockets, he dropped the heavy weapon and picked up an NAF gauss rifle from the ground. He and Jones ran right back to the shield, but their timing was bad. An enemy machine gunner opened fire at them as soon as they dashed off.
A bullet went right through Riley’s left arm and he would have shouted up in pain if it wasn’t for the adrenaline he felt. He quickly jumped down to the ground onto his side and rolled inside the shield.
When he looked back, Jones was lying dead on the concrete with a bunch of holes in his chest.
Riley’s arms were shaking, and he was about to burst from the anger and sadness he felt for the loss of yet another one of his allies.
Nick, noticing what had happened, quickly ran over to Riley to help him up. “Mourn later, fight now!” he shouted.
Riley was very close to just throwing away his gear and walking straight into enemy fire, and the only thing that stopped him from it was Captain Brown’s yell.
“Charges are set! Let’s go, everybody!”
As soon as he said that the shield blinked. Riley knew precisely what that meant and ran as fast as he could towards the tunnel.
The shield finally turned off and bullets started landing all over them, with Riley barely avoiding them before he finally got into the tunnel and away from enemy fire. He heard the sound of the tank firing, along with cracks and loud squeaks as the GCSA tower began to fall over. He didn’t look back at the incoming destruction but instead ran towards the place where Kingsley, Hernandez, and Captain Stanley were waiting for them.
What stopped him was the scream of another soldier and the sound of her falling onto the ground.
“Lola!” Nick shouted.
Riley quickly turned around and dashed towards the source of the voice, almost knocking over a few of his retreating allies, and saw Hopkins laying in the middle of the street with a heavily bleeding leg and arm.
The continuous enemy fire at the mouth of the tunnel made him and Nick unable to move out safely. However, as Riley looked outside and saw that their tank was unable to move and was getting showered with bullets, while Hopkins was laying half-dead on the road and Brown was MIA, Riley threw safety out the window.
Ignoring his senses, Riley sprinted outside for Hopkins while Nick opened fire at the enemy from the tunnel, giving a chance for their RAT’s crew a chance to bail from the vehicle as the enemy focused their fire on Riley and Nick. The two soldiers quickly hopped out from it, but Hauet was immediately shot in the head from behind and fell to the ground headfirst.
Riley did his best to focus on rescuing Hopkins, but as he ran towards her, he noticed Winters on the ground as well not too far from the tunnel’s entrance. He almost threw up when he saw that Winters was missing half of her face.
When he finally managed to stumble over to Hopkins, he threw her over his shoulder, being careful not to grab onto her bleeding shoulder or leg. He was about to run away when he heard a grunt from behind him.
Captain Brown was on the ground on the other side of the tank, with one of his legs torn off. He was still holding onto the detonator of the explosives, and he was looking at Riley straight in the eye.
“You better make this count…” he shouted, gripping the detonator harder. “..my friend!”
Hopkins raised her head on Riley’s shoulder when she saw what he was holding.
“Dad don't! Don't you dare do this!” she yelled.
Riley knew precisely what the Captain was about to do. After one last salute, he gripped Hopkins more strongly and dashed down into the tunnel as fast as he could, arriving moments before Captain Ronald Brown pressed the detonator’s button.
The resulting explosion's sound tuned out everything else as the force sent bricks and concrete pieces flying everywhere around them while launching Riley and Hopkins down into the tunnel.
The world went dark around Riley as he hit the ground.
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