“They trust us with state of the art combat suits, robotic exoskeletons, prototype rifles, and then they give us a goddamn radio off the Wal-Mart clearance aisle,” Sergeant Harker bellowed as he received yet another garbled and broken transmission from Colonel Jameson.
Bravo team had finished taking their samples and were trying to relay the analysis back to the eggheads at the LOTOC. Harker and his engineer, Danvers, were monitoring the crater while the other four ORCs ventured off into the blast zone trying in vain to find survivors.
“This shit reminds me of Damascus. No contact, no movement, can’t see shit. The only thing missing is a regiment of pissed-off bad guys,” Harker said.
“Night’s still young, Top.” Danvers knelt down to examine something in the settled dust.
“Don’t think there’s a lot—” The radio interrupted him.
“I’ve got movement! Looked like a kid maybe,” Corporal Blake said.
Harker couldn’t see her through the swirling dust.
Blake checked her PDU for a heartbeat. A tiny flashing heart icon appeared showing a rate of sixty-eight beats per minute. “Cox converge on me.”
Private First Class Cox ran towards Blake’s location. A scream cut the air behind him, and his boots slide in the rubble as he rushed to a stop. “The hell was that?”
“McGraw, check in,” Harker radioed.
“Goddamn it, does anyone have eyes on McGraw? Mitchell, what about you?”
“Negative sir, I got nothing. Heading to his last.” Mitchell ran as hard as the exoskeleton would allow and then jumped, launching himself over twenty meters before landing and repeating the process. The hopping method allowed the ORCs to cover massive distances with little fatigue.
Cox continued working his way through the wreckage towards Blake. Not much was left in the area. He jumped over a pile of rubble and came down on an overturned vehicle. He stepped off and saw the tracks in the dirt. “I got tracks. Blake. Where’s the kid?”
He bent over to inspect them closer under the light from his MTR. The low growl was almost inaudible with the sounds of destruction echoing throughout the city. His legs were jerked out from under him. His face mask cracked against the concrete, and the exoskeleton sparked as he disappeared inside the toppled vehicle.
He didn’t have time to scream.
“Jesus Christ! McGraw’s down,” Mitchell’s voice said across their earpieces. I got—” The transmission ended, and gunfire filled the air. Blake’s PDU pinged as another heartbeat was detected. And then another. And a fourth. She spotted the kid moving through the stirring dust and started toward it. She switched the PDU over to motion tracking and watched as the little red blips moved closer to her. She saw the kid moving closer.
Then she realized it wasn’t a kid at all.
Blake’s scream pierced Harker’s ear and tapered off to a gurgle. He and Danvers bounded to Mitchell’s location. They found the corporal in two separate places and McGraw’s headless body sprawled out in between. Their killer was nowhere to be seen, but around him and Danvers growls and hisses began. Shadows moved through the dust. He opened fire with the big .50 caliber machine gun.
Danvers pulled out his grenade launcher and fired a flare into the sky. A demoniac red glow reflected off of the dust and turned the area into a hellscape not meant for mortal eyes. He saw the killers, but there was nothing he could do. He was driven to the ground under their weight and felt the claws rend his flesh. He lashed out at his attackers, trying to knock them away from him. Harker came down a few feet away.
Claws and blood.
That’s all he could see.
The fire station was locked down, but it only took a moment for Cromartie to bypass the security and get the people inside. The team’s medic, Del Carmen, made her way to the station’s medical lock up and acquired the supplies she needed. All the ORCs had basic medical training, so Wexler, one of the team’s machine gunners, assisted with the treatment. Sandow and Peterson prepared and distributed MREs to the survivors while Oluwo established overwatch on the station’s roof. Bagwell, Cromartie, and Maxine Glover gathered around a city map to plan out the team’s next move.
“We’re here.” Maxine pointed at the map. “Most of the area is commercial, lots of newer construction, but there’s a few apartment buildings spread throughout. Given the time of impact, there shouldn’t be a lot of people stuck in the businesses, but there could be a lot of commuters trapped in their vehicles. Your closest residential is here. It’s an old building, probably should have been condemned years ago, honestly.”
Cromartie set the coordinates into his PDU. “Want me to recon it, Captain?”
“Negative, we move together. Grab some grub and help everyone that can move to the bunks upstairs. We don’t know when the emergency vehicles will be returning. Or if they will. Shit sounds pretty bad out there.”
“Yes, sir.” Cromartie snapped a quick salute and joined the other Rangers.
Eight of the eleven survivors were in the bunks upstairs, most of them sedated. Two were too badly injured to risk moving any further than they already had and were left downstairs. Maxine guarded the group while the rangers went out on patrol. She busied herself taking inventory of supplies. She didn’t know if they would be at the fire station long, but she couldn’t sit still either. Like the ORCs, she was used to being in action, being on the move. She checked the kitchen and took note of the food. The electricity was out, so she focused on the nonperishables. The pages of her notepad blew in the breeze. Her eyes scanned up the wall to a shattered window.
Brayden, a boy that had been trapped in the bus with her, came around the corner. He was twelve and slightly built; his sandy hair was caked with blood. “There’s a lot of cool stuff here. Think the firefighters will be mad about us using it?”
“No, they’d want us to use it. They want to help as many people as they can and right now, there’s a lot more people needing help than they can get to. Anyone that can assist should, so they’ll probably be quite happy about Captain Bagwell and his team using it to help us.”
“The thing that hit the city, it was an asteroid or something right?”
“It might have been,” she said.
“An asteroid killed all the dinosaurs. Do you think this will kill all the humans?”
“That one was a lot bigger, baby.”
“We’re a lot smaller.”
The building had partially collapsed on its street-facing side. A sheet hung from the edge of a shattered floor with “Help Us” scrawled in shoe polish. Bagwell used his onboard PA system to call out for survivors. A middle-aged man came to the edge and called back down announcing six survivors in the apartment with him. Water cascaded over the artificial cliff face from the busted water lines. A small fire burned in one of the apartments, and the shattered bodies of residents lay amongst the rubble. Supports creaked and groaned as the building threatened to collapse.
Bagwell turned to his team and started barking commands. “Del Carmen, Peterson! Ninja up there and check the status on the survivors. Cromartie! Enter the building through the ledge on the second floor and give me a detailed scan of the lower levels. I want to know how long we have until this thing comes down. Oluwo, take Sandow and Wexler and start checking these cars for wounded. Fifty yards, each direction. Let’s go, people. You should be moving already!”
Del Carmen ran towards the building and leapt at it, grabbing a ledge on the second floor. Peterson ran behind her and jumped up, grabbing her exoskeleton and using her pack to spring to a living room on the third story. She pushed off of the wall and jumped to meet him. Peterson knelt and let her jump off of his shoulder, standing as she leapt up to give her an extra boost and then jumping up to grab her legs as she dangled from the edge and used her as a ladder to the next floor. They repeated the process, using one another to climb, jump, and pull themselves to the ninth floor, where the survivors met them just seventy-eight seconds later.
“Sir, the building is FUBAR,” Cromartie said over the comm unit.
“That your scientific opinion?” Bagwell asked
“Sir, there ain’t enough time in the day to tell you how f–ked this building is. Looks like it wasn’t that stable to begin with. Structural integrity is, best guess, about forty percent. Got maybe a half dozen heartbeats up to the fourth floor, two on this level. Going for retrieval.”
“Copy that, Sergeant. Make it fast.” Bagwell opened a holographic projection on his PDU. The green wireframe image was a prediction of the building’s structure based off a sub-sonic echolocation system installed in each ranger’s body armor.
Above them, Peterson was hanging from the ledge on the ninth floor. Del Carmen shimmied down his body and hung from the suspension on his exoskeleton’s boots. Slowly, the survivors climbed down them, using the exoskeletons like ladders to reach the lower floors. They made it to the fifth floor when Peterson saw someone moving in the darkened hallway.
He snapped on his shoulder lamp to investigate. The light pierced the darkness, but nothing moved. He scanned the hallway carefully. Something darted just outside his field of vision. He snapped in the direction and pulled his rifle high. The shape streaked through the darkness, straight into him.
Bagwell watched in horror as his man flailed through the air and impacted onto the rubble below. He sprinted to him and found him alive, but just barely. A piece of rebar jutted through his neck and out his jaw just below the eye. He twitched and shook in agony. Then he was gone. The long tone of the flatline sounded from Bagwell’s PDU. He silenced the alarm and called an abort to further rescue attempts.
He ordered Cromartie to help Del Carmen retrieve the survivors. Oluwo and Bagwell freed Peterson’s body from the rebar and made their way solemnly back to the fire station carrying their fallen brother and bringing with them an additional seven survivors.
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