Chapter 37: Final transmission

“Work damnit!” Riley exclaimed as he slammed his fist into his backpack radio again. Just like the previous five times, the radio didn’t make a single beep.

As soon as he and Nick managed to reach the rooftop after encountering an NAF mercenary who almost shot Riley, their first move was to slam the door behind them. He wasn’t going to get flanked this time around, and with the AC units and the numerous pipes snaking around the roof, they had plenty of cover that they could use if another firefight broke out. After telling Nick to keep watch on the door he dashed over to the transmitter tower, not even waiting for his friend to reply. He had no idea when those Esmosian helicopters were going to fly back here but he sure as hell didn’t want to find out.

The ICN transmitter tower stood at a rather impressive eight-meter height, and apart from all the rust coating the central structure and a few of the dishes on its top, it looked quite a lot like the one at the central police station. Riley didn’t waste any time getting to work, and after he took off the radio-pack and the rifle from his back, he pried open one of the electrical boxes on the side of the tower, looking for an empty socket to plug his radio into. He found it after a bit of digging, but as soon as he did, his radio immediately stopped working, and plugging it out didn’t return the life into it either.

He knew enough from his university days to determine that it was most likely some kind of power failure, possibly an overload to the small power cell that Weiss had taped to the backpack back at FOB Ledford. As he took apart the casing of the radio, he kept his eye open for the battery, eventually finding it sitting next to a rather large hole in the side of the box.

Riley carefully detached the power cell, and upon seeing both the hole and the power cell, his suspicions were confirmed.

The battery was leaking fluid all over the casing, and one of the pools eventually reached one of the many circuit boards, most likely causing a short-circuit. After tearing off another part of his t-shirt that already had numerous holes in it, he quickly wiped off the fluid from the board and the side of the battery, which he then tossed away due to it being completely unusable in that state. If he had to hazard a guess, the damage happened when that NAF trooper fried at him, possibly hitting the radio-pack as he did.

As he thought of a way to fix the battery, he heard banging from the door leading to the rooftop.

“Company!” Nick shouted as he backed away from the door.

Riley stood up from the radio, grabbing Rockfield’s revolver while doing so, and then ran behind one of the pipes. He aimed his gun at the door, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. The door was getting hit from the other side constantly, and after a few more hits the hinges and the frame eventually gave out.

Three more federation soldiers came crashing through the door, and both Riley and Nick discharged their weapons. The first soldier at the door was hit multiple times right away, while the other two, both carrying ballistic weapons, jumped behind the walls of the stairway. Instead of charging out like they usually did, the one on the right side grabbed a metal object and tossed it out. Riley instinctually looked away, but instead of the loud bang of a flash grenade, he heard something more akin to a jet engine turning on. He looked over his cover, only to see a yellow bubble shield, though this one was only four or so meters wide.

Before his brain had a chance to be surprised the two soldiers charged out into the shield, hurling another object at them, this one being dark green and looking like a southern potato.

The frag grenade landed a meter away from the pipe he was hiding behind, and without hesitation, Riley threw himself to the ground, his helmet facing the grenade. He didn’t see what Nick did, and after the bang, he certainly didn’t hear it either.

What he did see was the soldier on the left grabbing the shield grenade, and then wave at his partner to follow him as he ran forward. They were employing Rhino’s “Shield-Charge” tactic, but unlike the soldiers at the city gate, Riley knew how to counter it.

He took a quick breath and then stood up from his cover. One of the soldiers immediately raised his gun, but before he could fire his partner grabbed the rifle’s barrel, knowing full-well that the shield worked both ways. Instead of firing the two ran at Riley, hoping to get him into the range of the shield, who in turn just ran in the opposite direction, towards the edge of the roof. He dashed past the tower and the radio, and while the two soldiers chased him, he turned back for a moment. “Nick! Flank!”

One of the enemies took the bait and immediately turned around, while the other one continued running at Riley. Truthfully, he had no idea where Nick was or if he was even injured, but as the other soldier got closer and closer to Riley the first one was left behind and was suddenly outside of the shield.

Taking the opportunity Riley ran off to the right side, and when the shield was no longer obscuring his aim, he fired off a shot at the unsuspecting soldier waiting for Nick’s flanking attack. The shot connected with his left shoulder, and as he turned around to return fire, he was once again shot by someone else, this time into the neck.

The last soldier, hearing his ally fall, gripped his submachine gun more firmly. He took the active shield grenade from his belt ready to turn it off, while he aimed his weapon at Riley with his other arm. He knew what was going to happen next, and he too aimed his gun at the enemy.

The shield turned off and they both fired their weapons.

Riley’s shot sent the soldier spinning to the right as his submachine gun went off, and before he had a chance to dodge Riley was hit in his upper torso as well. The shot sent him staggering back, and as he was about to fire off another shot, he heard a very unfamiliar gunshot. The enemy soldier was hit in his left side and afterwards was ripped apart by a hailstorm of bullets coming from someone behind the transmitter tower.

As the soldier fell to the floor with a squishy thud, Riley turned towards the source of the sound. Nick was standing at the tower, with Roland Patterson’s rifle in hand, its barrel still smoking.

“Shit, I am so keeping this thing!” he beamed, staring at both the rifle and the dead soldier.

Riley tried to chuckle but the pain in his torso was too much for that. As he put away his revolver, he checked the wound that was right below his shoulder-bone and was quick to discover that the bullet had definitely pierced the vest. Nick, noticing his injury, walked over to Riley to help him limp back to his gear. “Are you alright? Can you move your arm?” he asked quickly.

As the two of them jogged back to the tower he tried moving his right arm and sighed in relief after confirming that it was still usable. Between the hole in his left arm and now the one below his other shoulder he was in constant pain, but in spite of that, he felt extremely clear-minded. He knew what to do, he knew where he was shot, and from all the fighting he did today he learned that as long his organs remained intact, he should be fine, so long as he could keep himself focused and most importantly, awake.

When Riley arrived at the tower again, he sat down next to his radio-pack and turned to Nick. “I think I’ll be fine, but… I thought that thing was broken?”

A smile appeared on his face as he took out the magazine. Riley just noticed that it was facing the wrong way.

“That’s because you put the magazine in backward, rookie!” he said, barely holding his laughter back. “You really need some firearms training when we get back home.”

He felt a sudden sense of embarrassment, but before he had a chance to say anything, he heard shouting from the staircase, which was followed by the sudden stopping of the alarms and the streetlights and signs turning off around the neighborhood.

He and Nick looked at each other, knowing full well what that meant. North had disabled the reactor. And now it was Riley’s turn to do his part of the job.

He nodded at Nick’s gauss rifle on his back. “Right, give me the gauss!” he said hastily. “I need its battery for the radio.”

He was expecting Nick to ask questions but the man just tore the rifle off from his back and handed it to Riley, then turned to the doorway. “Just hurry up!” he said as he ran off again.

Credit where credit was due, Riley had to admit that Nick was a far better soldier than he originally thought, and for a moment he wondered why the man never made it to a higher rank.

Instead of aimlessly wondering however he got a grip on his thoughts and focused on the rifle. He had no idea how to disassemble one of these, but luckily for him, the batteries were designed to be easily detachable due to how often they were depleted during a firefight. He reached for the small button below the slot, and after it ejected the device, he promptly moved it over to the radio-pack. He scavenged off some tape and a few wires from the dead battery, and in the background, he heard Nick open fire once again. He didn’t reach for his weapon this time around, trusting Nick to keep both of them safe as he shoved the new power cell into the radio. After taping it to the inside and connecting the wires, Riley reached for the power button.

A static noise came through the speakers as the radio finally came back to life. Riley clapped his hands together and let out a quick victory shout, after which he ran a quick diagnostic, checking every part of the machine to make sure it worked. In an attempt to test it, he turned to the frequency of Langley’s Warbird and grabbed the wrist terminal hanging off from the backpack.

“This is Private McConnel calling Major Langley! You there Major?”

Langley immediately replied, her voice much clearer now with the transmitter tower boosting the signal of Riley’s radio. “We are and we’re coming to get your ass out of there!” she replied quite firmly. “The helos we spotted are only a few kilometers behind us and they’re heading straight for the plant!”

Riley groaned up in his frustration. “Right, we’ll be waiting! I’ll start the transmission now!”

With that, he put the terminal back down and then turned to the dials. After debating which frequency to use, he decided to spit military protocols in the face again and went with the ham radio frequencies of the independent radio stations he knew of. He was certain that he could count on those guys to get the word out. He turned a few more dials and did his best to get as much range out of it as he could, and then gripped the hand-terminal.

He took one last deep breath, then spoke into it.

“This is ANC reporter Riley McConnel from Blackfortress, Paks, calling every single station on this frequency!” he stated, but before continuing he paused as he got an idea.

He took his helmet off, and then quickly connected his camera to the wrist-terminal, essentially turning the camera into a webcam. He looked into it, and despite seeing how horrible he looked with all the scars on his face and upper torso, he continued.

“I am here to inform the whole planet that Blackfortress has been attacked, brutally sacked and then taken over by a paramilitary organization known as the New Azuno Federation! This group of… soldiers, led by the traitorous Captain Leonard Kingsley has been kidnapping citizens while killing anyone who resisted, and even tried to overload and detonate our powerplant! At this very moment, they are sending stolen Esmosian aircraft to finish the job in an attempt to frame the country, and we can no longer hold out!”

Nick’s assault rifle went off again, and in the distance, Riley could hear the sound of the Warbird coming in.

“We have three soldiers left in the city and we’re about to be overrun! To whoever is listening in, spread the word to every single radio and news station on Azuno and get your people to send a force to secure the city! Blackfortress’s fate now rests in your hands.”

As he heard another burst from Nick, he turned back, only to see him behind cover as two more NAF soldiers came out. He gripped his revolver and turned back to the camera.

“This was Riley McConnel, the last reporter in Blackfortress, signing off! To whoever listened in, Godspeed!”

He slammed the off button and then turned around as he grabbed his helmet, firing the last rounds in his revolver at the enemy with his other hand. Both of his shots missed, but it was enough to send one of the enemies back down the staircase.

He had done it.

No matter what happened after this moment, no matter who else was injured and no matter what other things the world threw at them, the message was out. In the next few hours, the whole damn planet would finally learn what took place in Blackfortress, and there was no amount of political red tape that could stop that now.

In your face, AMC Command!

If it wasn’t for the bullets raining down on him, Riley would have felt immensely proud.

As he took cover the other soldier kept advancing and Riley threw his helmet at him in a last-ditch attempt. It ended up hitting the soldier’s head, who got staggered a bit from the hit. He regained his balance shortly after but by then Riley was only a meter away from him.

He jumped right at the soldier, knocking him down to the ground. Both of his bullet wounds immediately started hurting immensely as he jumped, and this sudden distraction allowed the enemy to land a hefty blow to his face, and then kick Riley off down to the ground. The enemy reached for his rifle, only to have part of his head blown off by a shot from down the stairs.

The sudden hit startled Riley, and as he looked down the stairs, he saw Daniel run up, gauss rifle in hand. “Sorry for the delay!”

He crouched down to help Riley on his feet and then turned to Nick as he hopped over his cover. “Any idea how many soldiers are still here?” Daniel asked.

“That NAF captain said they had around forty here so…” he said as he scratched his chin. “…I think we actually got them all.”

Daniel nodded approvingly, then turned to Riley. “How’d the transmission go?”

“I told them everything,” he said confidently “…the bomb, the kidnappings, the reactor, the helicopters… if anyone picked it up, the NAF’s finished.”

He saw a slight smile appear on Daniel’s face, who shortly after patted Riley on the shoulder. “Hell of a job you did today Riley. Both you and Nick.”

He felt a bit of warmness in his chest, but it quickly dissipated. “Too bad it took so many people to get it done…” he sighed.

Daniel looked away from him for a moment, down towards where he assumed was the reactor room.

“They didn’t die for nothing though,” Nick added, stepping closer to them. “thanks to North and everyone else we managed to prevent the biggest nuclear disaster in our history.”

“The cost was far too high if you ask me…” stated Daniel, with a rather unsure tone. “…but let’s get out of here now. No offense Riley, but your city’s a shithole”

He nodded in approval, not wanting to laugh due to his injuries.

The three of them hurried to the edge of the roof after Riley put his helmet back onto his head, not even bothering to go back for that heavy radio, and from the edge, he could see Langley’s warbird arrive fast. In the distance, however, he saw something else as well that sent chills throughout his body.

Four objects in the distance were flying along the Warbird’s path, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out what they were. He had no clue if their warbird had any sort of anti-missile countermeasures, and while he would have guessed that it does have one, he didn’t want to test his theory.

As the Warbird flew closer to them, Daniel and Nick both hopped over the edge of the building down to the slated roof on the other side. Riley was about to do that too, but as he stood up at the edge, he heard a faint crackling sound. As he looked around for its source, his eyes landed on his radio-pack at the tower. Even from this distance, he could hear the faint sounds of someone speaking.

And, after all that happened today, he couldn’t just ignore the possibility of someone being out there.

Riley hopped off from the edge and dashed back to the tower while Langley’s warbird was coming in for a landing. He hopped over the pipes and AC units on the way there, almost tripping over a few of them, and as he got closer and closer the transmission became clearer.

“…calling Blackfortress. Do you receive, over?” said the male voice.

His heart was pounding a hole into his chest as he reached for the wrist terminal.

“McConnel here, receiving loud and clear!”

He heard something akin to a sigh of relief from the other end.

“By the… Riley, is that actually you?”

As soon as he heard that voice on the radio Riley felt a kick in his gut. With all the static he couldn’t tell whose exactly at was but between Kingsley’s miraculous survival and the lack of people on the entire island who knew who he was, it could have only been one person.

Lieutenant Cole Patterson.

His thoughts and emotions raced across his entire body, but before he even had a chance to say anything, he heard shouting from behind him, and as he turned, he spotted something in the sky flying very fast towards them.

Riley immediately dropped the wrist-terminal and ran away from the tower, and as soon as he reached some of the pipes he jumped on the ground and covered his head and ears, moments before the missile hit the transmitter tower.

His entire body shook as the explosion blew the tower into a million different pieces, sending burning parts of the structure flying everywhere and almost certainly deafening anyone who was unlucky enough to not cover his ears. As he turned towards the scorched remnants of the tower, he saw the radio-pack was also blown to smithereens, erasing any hope of finding out where Patterson was.

He had just about had it with this fucking city and the NAF at this point, but then he heard the radio of his vest turn on.

“Riley, Nick fell out of the goddamn plane!” shouted Daniel.

His heart sunk along with the rage inside him. He picked himself up from the ground and raced to the edge of the roof, only to see the Warbird fly further away from the tower. He gripped his radio to yell at them to fly back for the two of them, but then suddenly saw one of the helicopters in the distance launch another rocket.

He sprinted to the edge of the roof and jumped over to the barrier, and without stopping he slid down the slated part of the building. At the edge, the building was probably around five or so meters tall, but Riley had jumped from bigger heights before and got away mostly scar-free. He extended his legs at the edge and then hopped off, and as he reached the grassy ground at the edge of the powerplant he retracted his legs in order to do a roll. The second rocket hit right as he landed.

He hit his sides and his shoulders quite bad as pieces of the roof and the building rained down around him, but at this point, he got so used to the pain in his body that he didn’t feel any worse than a minute ago. He got up once again and searched the ground around him for Nick, only to see the man pinned down under a piece of concrete. He waved at him as he desperately tried to free his legs, and as Riley bolted towards his friend, Langley’s voice came through the radio.

“Riley I’m sorry but we cannot handle a hit from those helos! We’ll come back for you, I promise!”

Riley didn’t answer, but instead crouched down next to Nick, doing his best to lift the concrete piece.

Daniel on the other hand got absolutely pissed. “What the hell do you mean by that?!” he heard through Langley’s radio. “If you even think about leaving them behind, I’ll fucking–”

Riley groaned up as he and Nick lifted the concrete piece together, which finally proved enough to get the man free.

He gave Riley a thankful nod, who returned it and then grabbed his radio.

He was looking forward to leaving this place but seeing the state he and Nick were in now and how close the Esmosian helicopters were to have a clear shot at the Warbird and all of his allies on board, he figured that he might as well just accept his damned fate and remain stuck here. He and Nick would find a way home eventually, and no matter what would happen the two would have each other’s back on the way.

And besides, someone had to find out whatever had happened to Patterson.

He turned towards the Warbird, ready to send one final radio transmission. “It’s alright Sergeant,” he said in an attempt to reassure him. “I’ve been stuck in this city for well over a week now, I can go for another few days! Go and get home safe, we’ll find our own way back!”

“No, no don’t you dare!” came Daniel’s answer, much more desperate than Riley was used to. “Riley you’ve got multiple–”

He crouched down again so that Nick could grapple onto him. “…you know Patterson told me once that I can’t sacrifice myself until I’m a Lieutenant,” he said as he looked at the officer insignia on his vest. “Well guess what, I am a Lieutenant!”

With that, he turned off his radio, then stood up, with Nick on his shoulder who then turned towards him.

“You sure this a good idea?”

He took one last look towards the Warbird that was now flying away from them at full speed, followed by one of the helicopters, while the other two were flying towards them at full speed. As if it was waiting for him to look back, one of the aircraft launched another rocket.

“Not at all, but I’m not getting Langley shot down just to save my sorry ass!” exclaimed Riley as he started dashing back into the powerplant’s cover, with Nick hanging off from his shoulder.

“You could have asked me first though!”

“Feel free to stay and talk it over with that rocket then!”

Nick didn’t say anything but did his best to run faster. As they reached one of the side doors of the plant Riley bashed it open with his left arm, and he scowled in pain as his bullet wound reopened. They ran another few meters before they jumped down to the ground as the rocket hit the building.

The whole structure shook as the door and the walls behind them collapsed, burying the entrance to the plant and a rather large part of the building with it. It took some time for the shaking to subside as the first rocket was followed by another two, with each knocking down more and more pieces from the ceiling. When it finally stopped, Riley dusted himself off and stood up once again, and he couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

This was probably the fifth rocket that was fired at him that he survived, and while he and Nick were a complete mess both physically and probably mentally as well, he was sure they’d be fine. If there was one thing that Riley learned today was that as long as they stuck together, had each other’s backs and neither one of them played hero, they would get through this.

After all, where would Blackfortress be now if Riley hadn’t risked everything to call for help but tried to fix things on his own?

* * *

It happened again.

Daniel did everything he could to prevent it, but it still happened. As their Warbird flew away from the battered Steelhorn powerplant as another set of missiles were launched towards it, Daniel watched in sheer horror as the door his two squadmates went through was vaporized in two missile hits, collapsing that entire section of the building in itself, possibly killing both of them, and adding them to the ever-growing list of MIA and KIA soldiers.

Just like in Grarrak.

“God damnit we need to go back for them!” he yelled.

Dresden’s and Platoon’s grapple got even tighter, and as his heart was trying to beat its way out of his chest, their plane suddenly shook.

Dozens of small rounds hit the side and back of the warbird as the closest helicopter activated its machineguns, which shook up the whole compartment and sent Daniel, Platoon, and Katya bouncing around in the back while Zenovich and Langley were trying to maneuver away from the hits in the cockpit.

Dresden on the other hand remained stoic, and after helping Katya up he turned towards the Esmosian. “Agent, may I borrow that rifle of yours?”

She stared at him surprised, but without saying a word she handed him her rifle along with her last mag.

“You two might want to take some cover!” Dresden said as he ran over to the ramp’s controls.

Daniel was far too agitated to understand what was happening and remained lying on the ground, but Platoon on the other hand ran up next to Dresden, pulling off the still functioning shield grenade from his belt that was powered by his own batteries. He pressed a few buttons on it that increased the shield's radius enough to cover the cargo hold from any bullets without frying the plane’s electronics, and afterwards Dresden aimed Simmons’s LAIR type railgun at the helicopter.

“Turn it off on my mark!” Dresden ordered, getting ready for his shot. Daniel took this chance to get himself seated. He ended up sitting down next to Simmons with that seat being the closest, and as he strapped himself in, he saw the helicopter slowly spinning up its miniguns.

“Okay… Now!”

Platoon turned the shield off, and Dresden fired his rifle moments before the helicopter did.

The LAIR’s sound probably echoed across a few neighborhoods which Daniel was used to by now. What he was not used to was seeing the rifle’s shot literally punch a hole through the helicopter from the front and come out its other side, puncturing the cockpit, the pilot, and the electronics inside the aircraft as it did. The helicopter started smoking and slowly turned around without a pilot, eventually crashing into one of the apartment buildings on the side and breaking apart into numerous burning pieces.

“Excellent shot Sergeant!” beamed Katya, who then immediately gripped her chest as one of her many wounds probably reopened from the sudden excitement.

When the helicopter crashed Daniel was ready to get up and help with the second one, but it seemed like it decided to leave their aircraft alone, and fly off somewhere else, most likely towards the powerplant. As soon as it was away, Dresden pushed the button to close the ramp and handed the rifle back to Simmons, after which he turned to Daniel.

“You know we might be able to go back for the others now, with only two helicopters left.”

“That would be inadvisable at the moment,” Platoon said in his droid voice as he took his helmet off. “Agent Simmons requires further medical treatment as is Sergeant Schmidt and myself, and we need to report our findings to the Global Intelligence Service as soon as possible.”

“I know it sucks to leave someone behind,” continued Simmons, looking at Daniel and Dresden “…but if anyone can survive out here on their own, it’s those two.”

Daniel wanted to argue. He really did. He wanted to tell the Esmosian off, to tell her that the AMC doesn’t just sacrifice people like that. That Rhino, in particular, doesn’t do that shit.

But as much as he wanted to say it, the fact was that he was completely wrong.

James was left behind pretty much right away as he sacrificed himself to take out that Gredrurgian plane.

Brown was critically injured and blew himself up.

Patterson was just sucked out of a cargo plane and fell to his death.

And North just…

“We’re not going back, Andrew.” Daniel sighed as he took his headset and hat off. “We can’t do shit without someone dying…”

He dropped both to the floor. Dresden stared at him for a few silent moments, but he didn’t end up saying anything. He took one of the free seats in the plane and just stared at the floor. As Daniel looked at the sorry state his last squadmate was in, he couldn’t keep it together anymore.

After two days of fighting and the needless deaths of almost everyone in Rhino-1 except for him and Dresden, Daniel finally broke down and buried his face in his hands as he burst out crying. The grief finally took complete control over his body, and the only other thing he felt apart from the utter hopelessness was a hand hesitantly landing on his right shoulder.

Without even looking to his right. he reached for the hand with his left arm, not taking his eyes off from the floor. Even without the feeling in his metal fingers, the staggered breathing of the woman gave him a pretty good idea of who’s the hand was, and for once, Daniel was grateful for her presence.

Daniel Schmidt and Katya Rozanov sat together in silence as they left Blackfortress behind them for good.

A note from Commander DuctTape

The Epilogue chapter is releasing tomorrow at the same time as today, so keep an eye out for that one too!

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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