Chapter 32: No man left behind
Jess did a pretty good job of covering the other civilians, who did their best to get to the plane as fast as possible. By the time they had arrived, most of the passenger seats were filled, so a few had to sit inside the cargo bay on the floor. Stanley and Major Jefferson were busy assigning the remaining seats, while the defectors Alex and Bisson were unchaining the motorbike in the cargo bay because they figured that the NAF wouldn’t need it anymore.
Major Jefferson walked down to them after he sent the last civilian group to their seats. “Do we have everybody?”
“Everyone except for the group that went to get North and Dresden,” replied Nick. “I think it's safe to––”
Out of a sudden Weiss with a bleeding shoulder ran up the ramp, holding a small memory card in her bloody hand.
“Oh my… Julie, are you––” Ira asked before Weiss looked up at her with a terrified expression.
Nick’s and Hopkins’s eyes widened. Nick dropped his gun onto the floor as he gripped his radio. “Riley, where the hell are you?!”
It took some time for his friend to answer in a painful sounding voice, which he could barely hear from the gunfire. “Back at the terminal… An APC busted in and destroyed the stairs before I could reach the roof…. I’m stuck here right now…”
He was about to answer when Nichols’s voice sounded off on another channel as well “Those tanks will take this plane out in a matter of seconds if they get in range. We need to go, now!”
The plane’s engines started, and the blood went cold in Nick. “Wait, Riley’s still out there! We can’t just leave him behind!” Hopkins shouted at Nichols.
“Schmidt and the agents will get him out of there, but we can’t wait any longer!” yelled back Nichols.
Nick dropped his backpack onto the floor as well. “I’m going back for him!”
Jefferson turned over to him with his eyebrows lowered. “The hell you are soldier! You’ll be shot to pieces way before you reach the others!”
Nick shook his head, then pushed the button that stopped the raising ramp.
Hopkins jumped up from her seat and ran in front of Nick. “I’m going too! You’re going to need––”
“No, and the same goes for Becket!” said the Major more harshly this time, while cutting off Hopkins. “The last time you two dashed off we lost half the platoon! You’re staying, and that’s an order!”
Nick’s heart was beating faster, and as the plane began rolling forward, he felt something in his stomach. He shook his head and turned to Hopkins. “He’s right...”
Hopkins lowered her eyebrows and clenched her fists. “Are you kidding me? I’m not just going to sit here and leave Riley to his fate!” she replied.
“Good, then make sure I don’t get court-martialed for this!”
Before she had a chance to reply, Nick quickly took off his helmet and hurled it into the Major Jefferson’s face. This unexpected hit staggered the old soldier, and while Lola was distracted for a moment, Nick jumped on the unchained motorbike, while pushing away both Alex and Bisson. He stepped on the gas pedal, and before the Major could knock him off, Hopkins tackled him. Stanley and Ira ran over to them, but they were too late.
Nick floored the gas pedal, and he drove forward while hitting the ramp’s button again. He managed to avoid running anybody over, and when he drove off from the ramp and looked back, he saw that Hopkins was about to jump out as well, but she was stopped by Stanley. Nick felt a bit ashamed that he pretty much assaulted his superior officer, and that he didn’t let Hopkins help, but he figured that they wouldn’t make much of a fuss if he managed to rescue Riley. And if he couldn't, then at least Lola and the others would make it back home safe.
Nick turned back to the main terminal building and floored the bike’s gas pedal again. His radio turned on, but he hit the deafen button on it. The last thing he needed was to waste time arguing. He could see the APC roll through the back wall of the terminal building, right towards him.
It opened fire right away but before it could destroy Nick’s bike, he managed to drive behind a bunch of cargo boxes and containers that were left next to the runway. He saw the Warbird take off from the roof of the building, and he decided to stop his bike behind one of the containers. He then gripped his radio and turned it to Daniel’s frequency.
“Danny, Riley’s stuck in the terminal building, and an APC’s blocking the way!” Nick yelled
“Don’t worry, I can fix that problem!” shouted back Langley instead of Daniel.
A few moments later the dropship turned towards the APC and launched a rocket at it. The explosion flipped the armored vehicle to its side. Langley’s voice came through the radio again. “Go and grab your friend, we’ll take care of these tanks until then,” she continued.
With a renewed hope that maybe nobody else was going to die today, Nick stepped on the pedal again and drove right inside the terminal building. He then jumped off from the bike and went to the staircase. The entire thing was collapsed, and if Riley’s radio wasn’t working, he probably wouldn’t have found him in the rubble. After asking for directions a couple of times, he finally found his friend stuck under a concrete slab minutes of digging later. The two of them managed to lift it up long enough for Riley to climb out.
Once he dusted himself off and caught his breath, he turned to Nick. “Damn, thanks… but we need to stop meeting like this!”
Nick chuckled. “You’re welcome, but this might have been the last time! I threw my helmet into Jefferson’s face to get here.”
Riley raised his head. “You did what?”
“I’m fairly certain that counts as an assault on a superior officer, so I might get kicked out! Cole would be proud though!”
Riley’s smile disappeared. “Right…”
Nick noticed that something was off with Riley. “You okay?”
His friend shook his head. “I just got buried under a ton of concrete, of course I’m not! But let’s focus on saving North and Dresden first!”
They sprinted back to the wreck of the APC as fast as they could. The cargo plane was gone by now, but Nick could still see its lights in the sky.
He then heard the sound of something exploding, and when he turned to the source, he saw that the warbird managed to take out two of the three tanks. The crew of the third one was smart enough to drive into a hangar, which meant that the Warbird couldn’t take it out without flying closer to it and giving the tank an excellent opportunity to shoot the plane down. Nick wanted to watch the fight for a while, but he knew that they didn’t have time for that now. “Danny,” he said into his radio. “I’ve got Riley and he’s in one piece!”
“Great, wait right there and we’ll pick you up!”
The warbird made a sharp turn in the air, and flew right back to them, landing next to a pile of containers. Without wasting a second they ran up to its ramp at the back, where Simmons was standing there to help them get on. Nick was happy to see that she was all bandaged up, though she seemed disappointed that she wasn’t the one controlling the guns.
“Nice of you to join us,” greeted Simmons as Nick and Riley boarded.
“Thanks for the rescue! …again.”
As the Warbird being flying away from the terminal building, Nick stared at the airport through the window of the ramp.
The runways and its surrounding area were filled with debris and craters, and the airport that once served as a primary connection between Blackfortress and the rest of the world, and was visited by hundreds of people every day, was now littered with dead bodies and destroyed vehicles.
But by some miracle, none of the bodies were from the Aftonian and Sapphirian squads.
Despite everything that had happened today, they still managed to evacuate dozens of people from the city, and to Nick that was a victory.
As they set down into their seats, Daniel spoke up. “You know,” he said “I’m surprised that Cole didn’t come. Where is he?”
They both looked at Riley, who in turn looked down to the ground.
Cole died. Cole Patterson, the leader of Rhino platoon, the man who never backed down from a fight, the one who constantly risked his life for anyone, no matter where they had come from, or who they were, finally ran out of luck.
Nick felt a strong pain in his gut and his heart ever since Riley told him what had happened, and he was certain that this pain would probably never heal. Patterson was not just Nick’s squad leader, but rather a friend. A mentor even, in some cases.
He couldn’t even begin to imagine how Daniel could have felt. He and Cole have been squadmates ever since they went to basic training more than a decade ago, and other than North maybe, Patterson was pretty much the closest thing Daniel had to a brother.
Rockfield didn’t seem any better either, which was understandable considering what he and Cole went through together in Grarrak.
“You’re feeling alright?” asked Simmons as she turned to Rockfield.
The Agent just stared at the ground, and he didn’t look in the eyes of anybody when he finally answered.
“Define alright… If you mean whether or not I’m capable of performing my duty, then yes,” he said in a monotone voice.
They sat in silence for a while, until Nick’s radio broke the silence. “Nick, you there?” asked North.
Daniel and Riley both raised their heads when they heard his voice.
“I am...” Nick replied, trying to lighten up a bit. “We’re heading to your position with a Warbird. We should be there in like––”
“Wait, you’re still here?!”
Nick raised an eyebrow. “Yes? Why, we shouldn’t be?”
Dresden cursed on the other end of the radio.
“Damn it,” North said. “I was hoping you guys would leave us behind…”
“Becket, that was a horrible move!” Dresden said.
Daniel took the radio away from Nick. “What the hell are you two talking about?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” North continued. “I love you guys for staying here for me and Dres, but after that cargo plane of yours took off, all the remaining enemies decided to double back to the plant and move their missile to the city hall for pickup! We followed them and we managed to secure the missile at the basement, but there’s a few tanks, some anti-air trucks, and a few dozen foot soldiers all around the place, and from what I overheard, the NAF soldiers that remained in the city are all coming here to regroup!”
Riley grabbed Nick’s radio. “How come they didn’t reactivate it if they managed to recapture it?”
“Because they’re not suicidal like us?” Dresden guessed. “I think they wanted to wait for their EVAC first.”
Nick felt worried, but then he remembered what they were sitting inside. “Guys, we’ve got a fully armed Sapphirian dropship. We can take out those idiots!” exclaimed Nick as he leaned towards Daniel.
“Yes, and then what?” North replied.
Nick and Daniel looked at each other. “What do you mean then what?” Daniel asked. “You get inside and we fly home in the sunrise!”
“Yes, and then they’ll wait for their pickup, and blow the city sky-high after they are away. This bomb is offline at the moment, but as soon as they are ready to leave, they will reactivate it.”
“North, there’s nothing we can do about that! That Admiral that Jefferson contacted said the reinforcements were too far away from us, and there’s no way we could hold out on our own if the NAF brings in more people,” explained Daniel.
“I’m aware of that,” said North “…but if the city is going to be rubble anyways, then we might as well blow it up while these assholes are here.”
Riley raised his head. He leaned over to the radio as well. “What the hell do you mean by that?”
“Listen, these missiles… they were designed to be hard to deactivate and all that but activating them pretty much boils down to pressing three buttons. Dresden and I can hide out down here until the reinforcements arrive, and then once they are here I can just blow the damn thing and take out all of the NAF forces in the city.”
“I’m not too keen on dying to tell you the truth,” Dresden said. “…but fuck it, if I can take out the assholes that killed half my team then by god I will!”
Daniel shook his head. “Are you two out of your minds?! If anybody hears that an Aftonian pressed the detonate button what do you think will happen? And let’s not mention that without Blackfortress, Sapphiria's economy would be effectively cut in half!”
“I’m well aware of the possible consequences,” North retorted “…but what other choice do we have? We can’t just let them blow this place and then get away with it!”
Everyone in the plane was silent. It was clear that they were all processing what they just heard. Nick seriously didn’t like the idea of blowing up Blackfortress, especially after how many of his friends died to find a way to turn the bomb off. However, their only other option was to leave and let the NAF do it, who would then evacuate all of their traitors and terrorists and give them all safe places and immunity. They would get away with what they did today.
“Is there no way to permanently disable that bomb?” asked Nick.
“Not without blowing it up. There are too many safety locks on this damn thing…”
Daniel then raised his head. He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out Lola’s last shield grenade. Riley looked at the device then scratched his head.
“I’m not sure that thing could contain a nuclear explosion…” he remarked.
“No, but what it could do is shield the core from itself!” Daniel replied.
Nick stared at Daniel. “…what?”
“The reason we couldn’t remove the fusion core from that thing and disarm it for good was because of all the fail-safes that it had around it. If any of them tripped as we removed the fusion core, it would have blown up into our face, but with the shield grenade…”
Simmons slowly raised her head.
“…we could use that to block the electric currents from the fail-safes, couldn’t we?”
Daniel nodded confidently. “Precisely!”
“Would that even work?” Dresden asked from the radio.
“Actually I think it might,” Riley replied. “…back at the tower when our tank went through the shield it immediately stopped working as if it ran out of fuel or power.”
“As it should! Of course, we’d need to modify its frequency a bit, reduce the size of the shield, and keep it powered on for longer than a few minutes.”
“You might also want to modify the emitters,” Simmons added, “…so that it doesn’t end up frying anything on your armor.”
Nick shook his head with a smile. “Remind me to thank Lola for bringing these with herself!”
Rockfield was silent for most of the time, but he leaned over to them now. “If you truly believe that we can save Blackfortress this way then my team is ready to assist,” he said.
“We most certainly are,” added Simmons, then continued. “I may not be able to fight well with my side, but I can still fire a sniper rifle, and I’m pretty sure Dean here can rig up a few pipe bombs for us.”
Zenovich gave him a thumbs up, while Langley leaned in from the cockpit. “We might need to draw off some of the enemy force beforehand! Keep them occupied somewhere else so that a second team could get in undetected.”
Nick saw a smile crawl up on Daniel’s face. “I’m good at distractions,” he said confidently. “…and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m fairly certain that Simmons knows the city better than most of you. I’ll take her and Dean along with Langley and the Warbird, while the rest of you get North and Dresden out of there.”
Simmons seemed surprised when Daniel finished. “Seems like you were serious about that truce, weren’t you?”
“Yeah, well...” Daniel started. “you’re good at what you do. So yes, you’re coming with me, but I’m keeping my eye open.”
“Sounds good,” replied Simmons.
Riley raised his hand. “So who’s going to make the modifications to that grenade? Because I wouldn’t be surprised if that thing ended up frying someone if they pressed the wrong button.”
Rockfield looked at his hands. “Leave that part to me. And if I happen to mess up, and maybe bring the building down on top of me, it wouldn’t matter much…”
Riley raised an eyebrow. Nick followed his example. “Care to elaborate on that?” asked Nick.
Rockfield grabbed his helmet, but then Simmons grabbed one of his arms. “You sure about this?” asked Simmons with obvious concern in her voice.
Agent Rockfield hesitated for a second. “Let’s just say…” he said as he took off his helmet. “…that this wouldn’t be the first time it happened.”
In front of them was a Mark III IR droid, with PLATOON written on its head, and Nick jumped up from his seat in his surprise. “What the literal… you’re a fucking bot?”
The droid tilted it’s head to the left. Nick couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that one of these droids was not only self-aware but smart enough to pose as a human. But what Daniel said just added to the confusion.
“Not just a bot Nick, the first one. Platoon.”
“The first one of what?” asked Nick in his confusion.
“The first IR droid! Come on, how come you don’t know that?”
“Because I’m not a nerd, that’s why!”
Daniel quickly explained that Platoon was the name of the first unit that managed to pass all the tests the scientist gave to it, and that apparently it was also outfitted with illegal modifications to its systems by the project lead, Doctor Ivan Rozanov.
Platoon seemed impressed, although it was hard to tell what he was thinking since the agent’s face consisted of a single yellow lamp that functioned as its eye, and some metal bits at its “chin” that functioned as speakers.
“Indeed. The important thing is, that if someone needs to activate that grenade manually and potentially fry themselves, I will not exactly die since… well, you can just turn me back on.”
Nick shrugged. “…if you say so. But you could have mentioned something before about you being a fricking droid.”
Riley was silent for most of the conversation, but he spoke up now. “North, you got all of that?”
“Yeah, but I wish I didn’t. I had more than enough surprises for today…”
“Same here,” Dresden added.
“Alright,” said Platoon as he put his helmet back on. “…the decoy team’s leader is Sergeant Schmidt, unless anybody has a better idea.”
“Nah, I’m good with that,” said Langley from the cockpit.
“…the attack team, however, needs a squad leader.”
Nick looked at Rockfield. “I’m fairly certain that’s you, considering how you have a team of agents and all that.”
“Indeed, but that team is going to be somewhere else. It shouldn’t be me.”
“Well, who do you want to be the squad lead then if you don’t want that position?” asked Nick.
Rockfield looked at Riley, who in turn raised an eyebrow. “Me? I wasn’t even a soldier until today, let alone a squad leader. Besides, Nick outranks me.”
At first, Nick wanted to agree, but after a bit of thinking, he concluded that Riley would more than likely be the better choice.
“That may be true, but you have a lieutenant patch on you. That, and you didn’t have any problems giving orders to the others whenever we got into a fight.” Nick replied.
“And that’s enough to make me a leader all of a sudden?”
“Considering that I pretty much break all orders I get, yes, it is.”
Riley shook his head. If Nick had to guess, Riley didn’t want the position due to his previous squad dying during his hostage rescue mission. If that was the case, he could understand his hesitation, but the fact remained that between the two of them, he had way more experience with leading.
“Do I even have a choice in the matter?” he asked. At first, he looked at Simmons, who just replied with a quick “Nope”, then at Rockfield who shook his head. “Great…”
Daniel grabbed his radio again. “Alright Thomas, team Riley is coming to get you. Just hold on until then.”
“Will do," North answered, "...but if that team name doesn’t change by the time they get here, I’ll blow up that missile myself!”
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