3 Chapter 13 Midnight Mayhem
Jaira scanned their perimeter through their newly acquired night vision goggles with satisfaction. Even though the greenness of everything was a little unbalancing at first, the advantage of being able to see far outweighed what she used to see. Her gaze lingered upon the derelict hospital for several long moments. The building and its dead occupants were not that far away. She jumped as a hand clapped down on her shoulder. She froze for a split second and pushed the hand away as she drew her sword, "Natalie, one day I am going to kill you by accident."
"Maybe but I know you heard me coming," replied Natalie, "and if I had wanted to hurt you, think I would have come this close?" she nodded to the heavy rifle she was cradling, "I'd have just shot you from the other side of the roof." The two laughed for a moment, "Anything emerge from the hospital?"
"Nothing so far tonight," she replied, the blade hissing as she returned in to its scabbard. They stood in silence for a moment and Natalie capitalized, "What is going on between you and Cameron?"
Jaira blinked, the motion masked by the darkness that was barely penetrated by little moonlight they had, "Nothing."
"That's more of a something-nothing than a nothing-nothing you know?" countered Natalie.
"Here's the thing… we started out as friends… and that was good but then things happened and I don't know… it took time and its going to take a lot more, before he admits to anything."
"What? Cameron? He's quiet, doesn't talk unless you ask him a question, I mean just because you're sleeping with him…" the wind whipped up slightly as the clouds blocking the moon shifted slightly, letting a little more light fill in the blocky shadows cast by the buildings. Natalie's comment brought a laugh from Jaira, a bitter sweet one as she let her ramble on for a few minutes, something having caught her gaze, beyond the distant perimeter of the base.
A somewhat detached portion of Jaira's mind kept a hold upon the "conversation" she was having with the sniper, wondering if she should burst the bubble that surrounded her relationship with Cameron, but stayed silent especially since she wanted Cameron to herself. But she didn't have time to think about it too much, "Something moving out there!"
Natalie's mouths snapped shut as she spread the legs of the rifle's bipod with practiced ease and dropped in to a crouch. The edge of the roof was a good place to balance the long barreled rifle as she powered the the infrared night vision scope to life, "Direction?"
"Main gate!" was the semi hushed reply. There was no reason to whisper but they both did it out of habit. Natalie's thumb flicked the safety as her crosshairs descended between the pair of headlights that grew in size and luminosity as the van closed upon the base perimeter. It was sudden unwelcome intrusion in to the month of peace and quiet as gunfire echoed along the wind like fire crackers, "Automatic weapons fire," hissed Natalie as the van executed a series of erratic S-shaped curves.
The cause of such reckless driving came in to view close behind the van. A cluster of motorbikes and quad-axle ATVs flanked two stripped down pickup trucks. Muzzles flared as the van took a horrendous volley of fire. Natalie sighted in on one of the smaller pursuing vehicles but held her fire, the range was just outside the effective range of the Barrett Mark 50 Anti Material Rifle, "Get word to the others," snapped Natalie as she slipped her earpiece in to place, "I'll hold fire for as long as I can," she took a deep breath to calm her nerves and reacquired her target, keeping her cross hairs just ahead of it to compensate for the speed and drop of the bullet over the distance. The van swerved round a derelict humvee and bleached skeletons that marked the gate house and fence that had once held back the dead.
Inside the workshop, Jaira dropped the bottom half of the ladder, aboard the Fortress and shouted, "Contact!" Middle of the night emergencies were a common occurrence for them and everyone was on their feet, strapping on their body armor and equipment and were ready in seconds as Jaira filled them in.
Cameron switched his radio to the channel reserved for the archangel watching from above, "Natalie, sitrep."
"One van with roughly twenty giving chase on motorbikes and ATVs. Two pickup trucks with shooters on the flatbeds back, automatics and submachine guns. Orders?"
Cameron pondered the situation for the moment, "Archangel: hold fire. Robert: Get ready to hit the road! Jaira, Nastia: Get the gates then the launcher and the guns!" he was about to call Natalie down from the roof when the situation took a turn for the worst.
"Van's flipped!" snapped Natalie as she fired the targeting laser mounted on the rifle. The drivers play had been dangerous, trying to lose their pursuers amongst the tangle of base buildings. In general, vans have a higher turn that in turn raises the center of gravity. As a result high speed turns tend to make them flip, "Survivors in the wreckage, two female, and one male, Four hundred meters out!" While the night vision scope blurred some of the detail, it made clear that the raiders were not taking prisoners as one of the fleeing woman was knocked down by a hail of gunfire. Forced to watch it happen all over again, watch somebody die when she could have done something about it caused something the metaphorical bullet in her head to move the fatal microscopic distance. Natalie "Archangel" Coltrane snapped.
"Archangel going weapons free!" she snarled as a red flooded her vision, memories played back, superimposed over the carnage unfolding down below. His body had never extracted from the ruined Starbucks, never given a funeral he deserved. The red haze tainted everything the color of blood as rage flooded through her blood.
Her preferred rifle was a Steryr Scout Tactical Elite and she'd modified her M16A4 for sniping at a range of under 300 meters. Tonight however, she'd opted to take the Barrett Mark 50 Caliber Anti Material Rifle up on to the roof to tune the sight to her preference in the event they ever to kill a rhinoceros with a single shot. It wasn't the field calibration she had been hoping for but she had no complaints. The crack of the rifle firing was heard around the world as something leapt from the weapon on a tongue of flame, accompanied a second later by a saurian roar as it flashed in to the darkness of the night.
The "bullet" of the Barrett M82A1 .50 Caliber measure 12.7mm by 99mm, and are effective at killing people and shredding light vehicles almost two kilometers away in the hands of a proficient sniper. Natalie first shot demonstrated her proficiency as the hip and pelvis of her target liquefied under the impact. It's true that hell had no fury like a woman scorned.
Stunned silence reigned for a moment, their attackers stunned in to silence, their victims pausing in confusion. The maimed mans scream of pain and agony ripped through the air and the raiders sought cover as their quarry put a little more distance between them. Natalie ignored the civilians as she swung her rifle to the right and pulled the trigger a second time. She claimed another life as the bullet bisected its target from right shoulder to left hip. Down below, Cameron cursed as he realized that Natalie was playing "who's the better sniper" on her own as the Fortress surged through the gates, having slowed down just long enough to pick up Jaira and Nastia.
Robert floored the accelerator, as they scrambled in to position, "Nastia take the rear gun! Suppression fire until we extract those civilians, then shoot to kill! Don't hesitate! Shoot to kill!" Cameron scrambled upfront and worked the bolt on the mounted machine gun before donning the night vision goggles, following Robert's example, "No light, less warning that we're coming, ya know?" said Robert.
"Just make sure you don't hit the people we're trying to save." grunted Cameron. Outside, the couple had found temporary shelter from their pursuers behind some heavy fifty gallon oil drums, and the wall of a building, a hundred or so meters from the multi-ton behemoth charging towards them. Natalie actively hunted the cowering bandits, having killed another pair and maimed a third having deliberately aimed at the man's exposed knee. The raiders had realized that whatever hunted them would find them, even behind stone and concrete as Natalie locked on to the heat signature of one of the bandits and fired, tearing a grapefruit sized hole through the man's stomach.
Peering through a narrow gap between the barrels, Peter Sanchez did the best he could, noting the muzzle flashes like he'd seen in movies before popping up to let fly a few return shots of his own. His hands shook slightly but his paltry return fire was enough to force whoever had been shooting at him to break off for a moment. Dropping behind cover, he turned to his female companion, trying desperately to staunch the bleeding from a gunshot wound to the thigh that had probably shattered the bone. She was pale, loosing color and fading and there was nothing he could do with his gun and another seven bullets. If it were not for the vengeful guardian angel overhead, he and Isabel would be lying dead like Joanna, somewhere out in the darkness of night, "Isabel! Stay with me! Stay awake!"
Only silence answered him as bullets ricocheted off the fuel barrels. He threw himself over her but she was beyond caring, beyond pain, "Isabel?" he touched his hand to her neck. No pulse, no breathing, no point in starting CPR. He was covered in her blood as he popped up and loosened two shots in to the darkness. Five rounds left, four for the enemy. They were not going to take him alive. Whoever was out there watching over head, he thanked them silently for their support. Then he heard the deep growling roar of a beast. Figuring he had nothing left to lose besides his life, he peeked over the top of the closest barrel just in time to see the Fortress pull towards him, burning away the darkness of night as its lights suddenly snapped on. It was like being at the heart of a supernova as a machine gun, guided by Nastia threw its red laser sight across something Two ATVs were hastily abandoned as they came apart in showers of incandescent metal and fire.
The massive vehicle ripped past Peter and came to a halt, encircling Isabel, him and the barrels in tons of heavy armor as the vehicle came to a halt. Cameron and Robert scrambled out of the cab, as Robert manned the last free machine gun pointed out at the raiders; Cameron unlocked the side door, as he screamed to Jaira in the turret overhead. The mark 19 grenade launcher mounted on the roof turret fired a mix of explosive, fragmentation and incendiary rounds. Cameron pulled open the side sliding door, flicking on the external spotlight, shouting in to the darkness, "Survivors get on board!" there was no movement, and Cameron cursed under his breath, "Survivors! Let's go!"
Somewhat dazed, Peter staggered out from behind his cover, hands and shirt slick with Isabel's blood and in to the light, "Who are you people?"
Cameron grabbed the outstretched hand and pulled the man aboard, "We're a little busy right now. I'm Cameron, that's Robert on the machine gun," he pointed upwards, "in the roof turret is Jaira on the grenade launcher, you'll meet the rest later, for now, take the gun!"
Peter made no sound, still stunned by what had transpired in the last fifteen or twenty seconds. All he could was stand there until Cameron snapped at him, "The gun!" Cameron slid the door shut and locked it, as Robert scrambled in to the front passenger seat. Peter took a moment to get used to the weapon before him as Cameron made way to the second trailer, taking a moment to grab one of the 30 inch long cylinders from its crate as he opened the second roof hatch and clambered up the ladder, tube in hand until he was well braced, half out of the Fortress.
With the number of small fires burning and the lights of the fortress, he sighted easily upon the stripped down pickup trucks as a savage grin creased his features as flipped up the sights, lined up his shot and pressed down on the trigger, "Dodge this!"
The projectile left the launcher, the darkness hiding the passage of the missile until it struck its target several heartbeats later, another fireball blossoming, throwing more light on to a carnage strewn battlefield. From above and behind them, Natalie had regained her cool somewhat, searching the battlefield for an available target when a single motorbike zipped across her scope. She resisted the urge to take the snap shot as she searched for her prey and found it. Her finger caressed the trigger and sent the last bullet in her clip through the center of the retreating motorcyclist's back, bisecting man and machine.
"Archangel to Fortress," she stood, folding the bipod under the barrel as she slung the massive rifle, "Decamping!"
To Peter the move from damnation to salvation seemed to have taken several long hours when it had only been several heart stopping minutes. The Spartans now plus one dominated the battlefield as the raiders fled in a full retreat, having left a most of their number without quarter and without mercy. Glancing at his watch, Cameron noted that it was just after five in the morning. "What a shitty way to start the day." he groused, "Robert: double back and get Natalie, our supplies and secure our cache."
Cameron turned to their newest friend, drawing the massive machete from its resting place on his lower back to cut open the man's shirt. Peter stood without protest, realizing that one misstep and Cameron would no doubt impale him upon the blade. They rocked slightly as Robert started the engine and turned them around, "Sorry about the shirt," Cameron was anything but sorry but he could at least be civil, "No hard feeling, but with all the blood, I didn't know if you'd been bitten. You got a name?"
"Peter... Peter Sanchez," he gasped as he collapsed against the wall, his breath coming in fits and starts as his braced himself against the wall, "My friends..." pushing himself off the wall, he fumbled with the mechanism on the door for a few moments before wrenching open and jumping from the moving vehicle.
"Shit!" Cameron hesitated for the fraction of a second, grabbing a second gun belt from its hook and jumped to hit the ground and rolled. Scrambling to his feet, he chased after Peter, advising the rest of his team that he was on foot in pursuit of their newest friend. Acknowledgments came through and Robert advised they would be back to pick them up in a few minutes, even as the rifle slung across Cameron's back came in to his hands. He stopped short, near the barrels. He didn't have to see to know that whoever was there was dead.
Turning his gaze towards the rising sun, he spied movement amongst the wreckage and dropped to one knee, brought the rifle to bear on the exposed head and fired. He swept forward and made his way to the second body, dressed in civilian clothes, noting the lack of any protective body armor and the line of holes across her back. His ear piece crackled with the report that the last of their gear was loaded and that pick up was on its way.
Cameron paused for a moment, and hoisted the corpse on to his shoulder, finding her to be surprisingly light and carried her back towards the barrels where the rest would join them. Peter was leaning against the wall, and from the way his shoulders shook, it was no secret that he was holding back tears.
Peter didn't say anything but just stood back and watched as the Fortress stopped next to them and disgorged its crew. The remains of his comrades were carefully sealed in body bags and brought aboard. Cameron waited a moment, giving the dead the respect that they were due before turning to their shirtless acquaintance, "Peter right?" he nodded, "Good. What where you and your friends doing out here?"
He stared for a moment at the remains being placed aboard, "Medications. We needed medicines back at our community and food and some other things too. We were part of a supply convoy that was in Shasta Lake City. When the raiders hit us, we got separated from the rest of the convoy and we kept running, trying to shake them off."
"You were running your raid in the middle of the night?"
"It tends to be the best time because normally the raiders stay inside at night so the only problem is the zombies which at least, don't shoot back. But these raiders, they're the same ones that have been hassling us for sometime but they came, better armed this time, with rifles and more vehicles instead of pistols and shotguns" he explained.
Cameron nodded in the direction of the truck, " I had to toast their trucks... probably took out a portion of your stash as well. What goods were you carrying?"
"I already told you: medications, cleaning agents and hygiene supplies, a little food and water," grief warred within Peter, that much was clear even though he was doing his best to keep them under control, "Its Cameron isn't it?"
"Yeah," was the reply as the radio upon his hip crackled and he replied. Numerous small fires burned out, smoke drifting away on a gentle breeze that helped to hide the twin stench of blood and death. Peter stared at where his comrade's body had been. He looked over his shoulder, and eyed the hospital building close by. The undead would definitely be on their way, falling down the stairs in the hospital at least, "Mount up!" he ordered, "Robert, bring us up to the van, Natalie: keep an eye on the hospital, everyone else, salvage op! Tag everything we take," he gave Peter a look even as he spoke for the benefit of his team, "Whatever comes out of that van belongs to our new friend Peter."
Peter blinked in surprise, "What?"
He gestured towards the end of the second trailer, where the bodies lay, "Your friends gave their lives for what's in that van... and I figure that since we're going to be taking you home, we might as well take your cargo home with you too." Peter's smile was grim and whatever he was about to say was lost as Cameron thrust the gun belt in to his chest. "Standard M9 9mm Beretta. There is one clip in the gun, an extra round in the chamber and you've got an additional three clips on the belt." Cameron stayed silent for a moment, "You should also know that the nearest hospital is about twenty five feet that way with a couple of hundred zombies in that building."
He took the offered belt, "What makes you think that I'll just let you "take me home"?!"
The trio of ladies froze for only an instant but then kept moving, and while Cameron may have missed the microsecond pause in his crew as he sized Peter up, "Tell you what, if my... if our offer sucks," he gestured to the gun belt, "You keep that, and you can bloody well walk to wherever the hell your home is!"
Jaira was the first in to the verbal sparring match as she knew that she had some leverage, "Cameron back off a bit," she pushed him and spun him around, "The guy's just lost two friends, nearly been killed and now you're threatening to abandon him in the middle of nowhere with a mess of zombies round the corner?" she slapped him across the back of the head, "What the fuck is wrong with you?!"
Cameron bristled at the implications behind her words, "You think I'd actually leave somebody out there? When did you become a major player in the stupid stakes?" he turned towards Peter, "We get your cargo, you go home, we come with you."
Peter nodded his acceptance of the blunt no bullshit terms, "You going to have sentries posted?"
"We always do," was the reply as they checked their weapons one final time as the fortress halted alongside the brutalized van. A quick glance inside made it clear that there would be no real sorting, just a snatch and bag as they filled a half dozen large duffel bags with the majority of the van's contents before a string of explosions ripped through the air and a flare soared skyward. The grenade traps inside the building had slowed them down, the ones outside had probably shredded a dozen more but a firefight on the ground would be risky, "Fallback!" ordered Cameron.
Peter hesitated for only a moment, almost dropping the bag he was carrying as he hightailed it back to the Fortress, the other Spartans running alongside him as they clambered aboard the fortress as the undead swarmed out of the ruined hospital towards the sound on the engine, stutter stepping as they seemed to sniff the air before moving in the general direction of the Fortress. Robert moved the fortress in to position, at Cameron instruction and with the side door open, he took careful aim, using single shots to dispatch the undead as they staggered towards the Fortress, Natalie and Jaira kept watch, the heavy guns trained on the flanks of the horde to prevent any stragglers from getting away. Peter hefted a rifle from the weapon rack, snapping a clip home with practiced ease before joining Cameron. Cameron stole a sidelong glance at Peter, "Got a personal vendetta?"
"Doesn't every living human have a vendetta against them?" came the reply as the rifle clicked empty, and he swapped out the empty clip for a fresh one, "Head shots don't always work do they?"
"Sometimes the round doesn't punch through but bounces off or just skirts along their skulls. Don't ask me why. I'm no specialist – all I know is that when you aim for the head, four times out of five, they go down and they stay down." replied Cameron, stealing another sidelong glance at the sandy haired, brown eyed shooter.
"Isn't that the truth," grunted Peter. The duo continued their execution on the horde, and after expending nearly five clips of ammunition between them, plus several short bursts from the machine guns, over one hundred and fifty of the undead had been slain and the stockpile of weapons, vehicles and ammunition that they had secured inside some of the deeper reaches of the base were secure. The armored door slid shut and they were moving off the base, heading south towards the destination provided: Redding, California, "Just remember that these raiders crawl out of Shasta Lake city on a fairly regular bi-weekly basis." Cameron filled the warning about the raiders away for future reference, as they made their way back on to route 97. They had at least two days travel before they would get to the interchange that would get them back on to freeway 5 towards the city of Redding – once they cut their way through Shasta Lake City and the raiders.