10 Chapter 20 Dawn of War
Peter eyes roved over the maps spread across the table studying the already well scouted routes that would lead them to the compound of the redeemers. He let his head lie on the table for a minute, almost wishing for silence. The roar of engines was now a background drone but it still grated on his nerves. Cameron waved a cup of coffee underneath the marine's nose and he took the cup with a grunt of thanks, "How much further?"
Cameron shrugged, "Another few hours before we reach what reconnaissance said was their farthest ranging patrol route. Don't worry. They are not going to know what hit them until their walls are crumbling around them."
"What I want to know is where you find people who could drive the IFVs," said Peter between sips.
"They're pretty easy to drive. Hardest part was trying to get them started. We kept looking for keys when all we actually had to do was charge the batteries, fill the gas tank and then push the little red button. After that, it is like driving a car, so long as you remember that you've got a dual joystick setup and automatic transmission."
Peter eyed one of the six M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles that currently flanked them. Each was a heavily armored transport with a devastating array of supportive firepower ranging from a 25mm chain gun backed by coaxially mounted 7.62mm machine guns. What made the Bradley IFV so deadly were the massive BGM 72 TOW missiles to break the walls of Shasta Lake.
The Redding Peacemakers were in position before dusk thanks to the work of the advance teams that had cleared the necessary areas of both the walking dead and the few random Redeemer patrols. Final preparations were made, the mortars unshipped and readied to fire as the snipers, cloaks wrapped around their shoulders vanished in to the night to find suitable positions. Finally the Peacemakers were in position just before dawn.
Cameron had his doubts, not so much about what they were doing or even why they were doing it. But he was wondering whether or not all of this was going to be worth it. Cameron shook his head and pushed those thoughts and doubts, "All units: Report readiness."
"Sniper teams have targets ranged and sights set."
"Artillery: Locked loaded and ready to fire"
"Spotter's in position!"
"Sharpshooters: Weapons free!" ordered Cameron.
The chorus of acknowledgments was just overture to the Peacemaker's symphony. Peter acknowledged and the United States Marine Corps marksman began to take aim. Peter's M107 Barrett Special Application Scoped Rifle was loaded with Raufoss Mk.211 .50 Caliber BMG rounds. The firepower in his hands could destroy a lightly armored vehicle with one shots. The sentries atop the walls in Shasta Lake City had less armor than a vehicle.
"One just below and to the left of the second guard tower from the right," said Peter to himself, relishing the anticipation of the kill. Peter's first shot cut through the man's vest like a knife through wet paper as the pyrotechnic charge at the base of the tungsten steel armor piercing core detonated, sending fire and shrapnel in an arc of death.
There were at least a dozen targets still standing and the sharpshooters had no qualms, picking them off with single shots that broke the night's silence with pronouncements of doom. There was a crack as another sentry was taken by a bullet through the neck. He stopped in midstride before he slumped to the ground like a knocked over statue.
All along the walls, men dropped in to cover behind the wall's parapet, reacting faster than expected to the presence of snipers which meant one of two things: They were well trained or hopefully they just had good instincts, "No target," hissed Peter as he adjusted his scope for a wider view of the walls, and then zoomed in on the exposed shoulder. He lined up the shot and adjusted through his scope one and a half inches to the right. Raufoss rounds were capable of defeating light vehicle armor and the bullet punched through the wall with ease. He was blown upright long enough for Peter to see the gaping chest hole before he fell backwards.
In the first minute of the battle, the sharpshooters accounted for exactly twenty-two confirmed enemy kills in the opening two minutes of the engagement. "Zeus! Fourth tower from the left, heavy weapon position!" the voice snapped through the radio in to Peter's ear and he acknowledged it, adjusted his aim and fired. The shot ripped through one of the four legs that held the tower upright. It swayed unsteadily on three legs for a moment until another of its legs were severed allowing gravity to do its worst as the tower collapsed. Peter grinned evilly from behind his rifle, "Zeus to Control: Walls clear."
"Control – Zeus. Acknowledge! Cameron switched channels on the radio, "Control – Hammer: Judgment!"
Mortars have existed for hundreds of years in many different forms, but the basic principle was the same. A man portable artillery system composed of a long tube with a firing pin at the base. The pin would ignite the propellant charge of whatever projectile is dropped down the tube, launching the projectile at a high arching ballistic trajectory. Initially a dozen 120mm mortars darkened the sky before whistling a warning as they crashed in to the wall and ground on both sides of the structure.
Wave after wave of artillery rained down upon the Redeemer's compound until buildings broke and shattered beneath the deadly rain. An orange glow lit up the sky, accompanied by short contrails of smoke that twisted skywards. Another wave of artillery smashed in to the compound sending clouds of fire and smoke skyward as shrapnel screamed across the compound, partially successful in finding human flesh amongst the Blessed Redeemers.
In truth, there was no way to tell what exactly the Peacemaker assault must have been like for any member of the Blessed Redeemers. Brother Joseph had been on his way to the canteen for breakfast when one of his brothers atop the wall exploded in a ball of light and fire before plummeting from the top of the wall.
His bone crunching collision attracted everyone's attention in one direction. They were shaken to the man as a roar split the silence, followed seconds later by a second brother. A second roar broke the predawn stillness and it shattered the stunned awe as another ball of fire erupted and a third brother fell to his death.
Brother Joseph realized what was going on before anyone else, "Snipers! Down brothers!" his warning came too late as another brother plummeted. But the rest reacted quickly enough, ducking behind cover even as Joseph head swiveled to the northern reaches of the compound, "Sound the alarm! Sound the alarm! We are under attack!" Joseph blinked in surprise as one of his brothers in cover suddenly jerked upright, blood and entrails spilling out his chest before he toppled to the ground. The draconian roar split the silence and yet again.
It broke the silence twice more and Joseph, along with his gathered brothers could only watch as first one then a second supporting leg of the nearest guard tower snapped. With a groan like a dying ogre, the tower crashed down, shaking the ground, claiming several more lives in the process.
Chaos engulfed the compound as men streamed from the numerous buildings, towards the walls. That was when he heard it for the first time. The high pitched whistling that preceded the arrival of a wave of missiles that screamed down, hammering against the wall, the ground and several buildings. The ground shook as the earth beneath their feet was thrown skywards. Several buildings began to burn as the barrage continued without rest. Joseph could only stare stupidly, his gaze towards the heavens as a shell landed and blew him through the air.
He landed with a sickening crunch, and was barely able to prop himself up as he stared in disbelief, another wave throwing even more of his brothers through the air. Deaf and dazed he struggled to stand only to cough up a lungful of blood, before a wave of dizziness and darkness overwhelmed him.
The sudden and brutal assault left the army of the Blessed Redeemers reeling. Cameron had no way of seeing through the walls, but as the fires burned and lit up the dawn sky, the sun rising to their backs, the message came from their Artillery Captain, "Judgment Day." Two words that Cameron acknowledged, "Advance!" he barked.
The order reached Robert and the other drivers, sending half a ton of tracked armor and firepower towards the freshly abandoned walls. It was flat open ground and Robert slowed the Fortress, executing the wide turn that would allow them to pick up the Artillerymen, their task complete. The six Bradley IFVs as they closed to within three hundred meters as the last barrage of the artillery rained down upon the wall, punching shallow craters in to the wall and shallow craters in the soft earth.
From each of the gathered and stopped IFV's, a single hatch popped, a woman carrying the necessary spotting laser from the IFV gunners. Within seconds, the six gunners had the target point marked and unleashed their first wave of twelve BGM 71 TOW – Tube launched-Optically targeted-Wire guided – missiles. The missiles raced through the narrow expanse even as they set about reloading the massive missile launchers.
They streaked across the narrow expanse and hammered the expanse of wall, throwing up a curtain of broken stone and dust. Cameron cursed as the fog of war descended upon that particular section of the battlefield. He couldn't see through that cloud and he could not be sure. But he had to be, "Bradley: Broadside!" he ordered.
It was quiet for almost a minute, "What the holdup people?" growled Cameron. In response, another wave of missiles lanced out, homing in and, this time the four kilogram warheads found purchase, tearing open a twenty foot scar, reducing the wall to rubble.
They had spent a week at Parks base, preparing for exactly this moment, when the tide could turn the quickest against the Peacemakers and Cameron breathed a sigh of relief as the IFVs, crunched over the rubble and in to the breach. Even in the distance, Cameron could see the glint and flicker of bullets deflecting off vehicle armor.
The Peacemaker's troop transports returned fire, the machine guns and 25mm cannon tearing holes through men and buildings alike as they closed the distance. The Redeemers engaging the IFVs showed no lack of courage against the armored behemoths that their bullets could not harm.
Peter and the rest of his sharpshooters were the occupants of the lead IFV in the brazen charge. They came to a halt, the guns of the vehicle blazed away. Hatches facing the rear, away from the enemy dropped open on the six IFVs. Almost fifty armed and armored men and women that sought cover amongst the rubble to bring their fire to bear on the enemy that fired from the buildings ahead.
Behind the engaged squads of Peacemaker infantry, the Fortress pulled in to place, blocking off the breached wall as its own doors slammed open. Bullets swept back and forth, as the rest of the Peacemaker leaped on to the battlefield. Several fell to enemy fire even and the IFV's 25mm cannons returned the damage with interest, gouging chunks of masonry from occupied structure. The air was heavy with the twin smells of sulfur and cordite from gunpowder. Smoke hung over the embattled compound like a joyless carpet. The shrill scream caught them by surprise and the hesitated. Peter was the first to identify and react to the threat with a scream, "Suicide bomber!"
His rifle came around, seemingly of its own accord, not even aiming as he held down the trigger. The rifled bucked and jerked in his hands as three round burst after burst slammed in to the man's chest. Time slowed, and Peter swore that he could mark the passage of every bullet that cut through the air. He screamed to those around him and in to his radio for them to fall back towards the Fortress for cover as near demonic screaming reached their line seconds before more suicide bombers emerged from the smoke like wraiths from nightmares.
Fire consumed the Peacemaker's vehicles sending knife like shrapnel through the air, claiming warriors on both sides while others were blown back by the shockwave of the blasts as stores of ammunition aboard the IFVs cooked off. Cameron had been blown off his feet, and was struggling to regain his footing, and clear his head when he was rudely shoved down. He twisted, landing on his ass instead of on his face. He acknowledged the timely intervention that saved his life as the corpse of a suicide bomber riddled with bullets fell just out of reach.
Just like that it was suddenly silent, the last of the suicide bombers having fallen. Spilt blood leant the air a coppery smell, the sour metallic taste palatable. The Redeemer's had fallen silent, every gun and every firing point suddenly quiet, and only the crackling fires from the hulks of the Peacemaker's IFVs.
Then it started, a quiet muttering, that came from somewhere across the battlefield. With each passing moment a new voice joined in with those already, speaking, the same words in what could only be described as a chant, "What the hell?" whispered Cameron to himself. He hesitated for an instant, unsure what was going on, and for a moment, his mind flashed back to the same fateful moments months before in Portland, in charge and uncertain what to do.
The chanting has started out rough but had evened out and was now uniform, spreading across entire compound, from every burning building, combat damaged window and blasted doorway. The chant continued to grow in volume as the fog of war cleared, partly through the silence and stillness, partly due to a gentle breeze that wafted through the compound. There were small fires and ruins where there had once been fairly intact structures and the buildings closest to the Peacemakers were nothing but broken masonry. Beyond the line of ruins, some twenty meters distant, were the buildings, and the source of the chant.
Cold, fast, and unexpected were the three words that stuck in Cameron's mind. In agreement with his assessment were two words from Peter, "Fanatical zealots." The Redeemers swarmed from still intact structures and began a rapid charge towards the reorganized Peacemakers. All of them had expected hard, bloody fighting. But none of could have predicted that they would be facing this. The mass of possessed men charging towards them unleashed a near simultaneous roar, a furious battle cry calling for the death of their enemies in the name of God.
The single unified shout deteriorated in to a chorus of wordless screams as they closed distance with the Peacemakers, "Fix Bayonets!" shouted Peter. The order echoed through the radio, reaching every Peacemaker who scrambled to draw the blade from their sheaths and on to the bayonet lug.
Cameron studied the approaching wall of black clad death, the white hand and red star emblem upon their clothes akin to a bull's eye painted on their chest. They fired wildly with only a few of their shots connecting. Cameron realized quickly that the Redeemer's had them outnumbered, and would possibly crush them in a single pass, "Peter! They have numerical superiority!"
"We've only got one choice," he replied, "Charge!" His voice was the thunder of a breaking storm that rose over the scattered cries of the Redeemers. First to step in to the line of fire, his rifle sending bursts of death in to the Redeemers. In that instant, whatever fear there was amongst the Peacemakers evaporated. In that instant, Peter was the tip of the spear, poised to tear out the throat and decapitate the enemy.
The M16A4 assault rifle was capable of mounting a bayonet and Peter proved its value as opposing forces collided. Peter sidestepped the first wild swing from his immediate opponent, and jabbed the stock of his rifle in to the man's face breaking his nose. A pair of bullets snapped past him. The rifle bucked in his hands, three shots taking the shooter in the chest before stabbing his first bloody faced opponent through the throat. He advanced a single step and ducked low, rising inside the guard of another opponent and stabbed upwards, the fixed blade plunged up through the chin, finding purchase in the brain before the next man as the Redeemer charged broke against his bladed rifle.
Organized battle lines degenerated amidst the confusing mix of wrecked vehicles and rapidly piling bodies, dozens of tiny interpersonal one on one wars erupting amidst a much larger conflict. Jaira ducked below the swung butt stock and executed a textbook perfect rising slash, the push pull motion of her blade eviscerate her opponent in one bloody stroke.
Bullets screamed back and forth between soldiers on both sides. Cameron brought his rifle to bear on a distant target only to have an axe blade slam down upon his rifle. His burst went wide and he dropped the rifle, nearly cloven in half by the blow. Thrown off balance by the rifle drop, Cameron executed a trademark fast draw and grabbed his opponent by the shoulder. He drove a knee in to the man, doubling him over before a quick double tap blew out the man's chest.
Nastia and Robert stood back to back picking off any Redeemer that seemed remotely interested in complicated somebody else's battle. Another screaming fanatic charged and Robert was barely able to push the two of them apart as Robert caught the man with a devastating cloths line before pouncing on the Redeemer, with jackhammer like fists driving back and forth.
Nastia was forced on to the back foot to dodge a crosswise cut with a knife and then horizontal slash from a slightly longer blade. The spinning back fist struck her across the jaw and she landed hard, the breath knocked from her lungs, she rolled on to her back as a shadow loomed over her, a smile of insanity upon the face as his foot crushed her to the pavement, "Die, whore!" he screamed.
She raised her arm and let her rifle barrel tap the knee attached to the leg resting on her chest. "No," she grunted. Braced against the ground, she fired. The 5.56mm mercilessly ripped through the joint, blood and bone spraying out as the man fell screaming. Rising to her feet she rejoined Robert a few feet away. They smiled at each other for a moment before turning back to the ballet of chaos and death.
Separated from everyone he knew Cameron ducked below another wild swing and lashed out with his own two punch combo snapping the head of his opponent back. He paused for a moment to reload his expended handguns suddenly aware of the collection of soldiers brawling behind him. They had driven a wedge straight through the Redeemers. Cameron suddenly found himself standing just beyond the battlefield where individual tales of heroism and sacrifice mounted amongst both warring factions.
A sharp discordant note ripped through the battlefield, and suddenly it was over. The Redeemers, already on the verge of breaking, retreated. Their destination was to the northern reaches of their compound where they would no doubt reorganize and consolidate their numbers, even if that meant leaving their wounded to the Peacemakers.
The fighting was temporarily over, and both sides took the time to treat their wounded and collect their dead. For the Peacemakers that meant sending any who fell in to either category back to Redding. Considering the number of soldiers involved, casualties amongst the Peacemakers were high, and everyone who was still in the fight would qualify as walking wounded in any regular army.
But considering the high rate of injuries, exhaustion and the former numerical superiority of the Redeemers, their actual casualties were much lower than what they should have been or expected them to be. The final count for the Peacemakers was twenty five dead, and everyone wounded. Cameron studied the corpse strewn battlefield, taking the time to check that the dead Redeemers were really dead, even as he stripped the dead Redeemers of whatever weapons, ammunition and valuables that they were carrying.
His mind wandered as he considered what it meant to the common soldier who had not just a leader to inspire but also fight alongside them from the front. Peter had probably cut their losses by a significant margin simply by leading from the front. He picked up the battered shotgun and worked the action, clearing the chamber and then dropped the shotgun in to a shoulder bag he had picked up. A shout grabbed his attention and he moved across the field, slinging the woman's free arm around his shoulder, helping them back towards the field hospital that they had set up alongside the Fortress.
The same chopper that had brought Natalie back to Redding now did the same for three other critically injured. A pair of ambulances along with three other vehicles also loaded with the wounded pulled away from Shasta Lake City. Those left to continue the fight all went through the field aid station to patch up everyone. Cameron was among the last few to be seen by one of the many impromptu medical staff at the very least knew how to stitch wounds and setting up and intravenous line without punishing the recipient.
Cameron was not surprised to find Peter amongst the wounded still waiting to be sent back to Redding, where their hospital would either be treated or given their last rites. Cameron could only wonder at how Peter could do it, walk amongst the men and women, many of whom would die before receiving the urgent medical attention that they needed.
Peter was about to leave when someone reached out and grabbed him by the arm, wounded, bleeding and dying but still with the strength necessary to ask for a final request, "Tell my husband, my children," She coughed up a lungful of blood, a deep bright red, that Peter wiped away from her stained lips, "Tell them, that I love them, and that I'm sorry for leaving them."
He shook his head, "You tell can tell them yourself, when you get back to Redding and in six months when their birthdays come around," and he fled outside, looking for fresh air, looking for something, a something that Cameron was familiar with. He was perched atop a derelict oil drum with his head head buried in his hands. Cameron reached in to his vest pocket and extracted the battered pack of cigarettes and lighter, lit one and then a second one that he offered to Peter. Neither said anything for a long moment, until Peter exhaled, "I'll never be able to forgive myself. Cameron, I'll never be able to forgive myself." Cameron took a slow steady drag buying time as he tried to figure out what he should say, "There is so much blood on my hands, the blood of friends, the blood of family," Cameron exhaled, "I made a deal with God before we left Redding. It should have been me. It should never have been anyone else. It should have been me. And I don't know how I'm going to tell people, how I'm going to explain to them, tell them this..." he shrugged his shoulders as he searched for a word.
"Story?" Cameron pulled another pair of cigarettes and lit both, passing a fresh one to Peter who had just ground his out beneath his boot, "They won't remember you being behind all this. They will remember you leading from the front, charging across the field, guns blazing without a thought for yourself, only for the future of Redding. Redding will still need a leader who has the authority based on respect, not because you latched on and won't let go."
Peter looked doubtful, dubious of what Cameron was saying, "When this is over, and the sun comes up on a new day without the Redeemers chewing on your back, I'll be back on the road, with the Fortress, I'll get a laptop and I'll write a book."
Peter laughed and then coughed as he fought for breath against the cigarette, "You? Write a book? I've never seen you pick up a book, let alone literary aspirations!"
Cameron laughed, and for a few seconds, the morning's carnage was forgotten, "I have some literary talent, and I'll write a book about everything I know," he exhaled thoughtfully, "I'll start with what I know about the dead, how I met Jaira, the rest of my crew, our home in Portland, then the fifty-foot-armor-plated-machine-gun-grenade-launcher-equipped beast parked over there," he waved at the distant vehicle and took another drag, "And of course, how we met you, brought you back to Redding, Natalie and all of this," he waved his hand at the carnage around them.
"Ci vis pacem para bellum," said Peter suddenly.
"I will name a chapter that," agreed Cameron. Peter actually laughed, probably at the sheer ridiculousness of Cameron actually writing a book, "So I'll make you a deal," he offered Peter his hand, "We finish this, and then I'll write a book with only the truth."
Peter turned the offer over in his mind, waiting for the other shoe to drop, "What's the catch?"
"You make sure Redding grows its people prosper, and that you publish my book. Something I've wanted to do for years."
"Deal." said Peter, "Let's finish this."