The Chimera Within

Chapter 21


A glimmer of sun began to reflect off the South Pacific Ocean like diamonds as the first of the gunships under Harry Osborne's command approached the north side of the island. Frank Castle watched attentively through his field glasses from his command post. Boats were landing on the beach, unloading vehicles, equipment, and troops. Lieutenant Sanders was standing nearby, waiting for orders. "Should we open fire?"

"Not yet," Castle commanded.

"The men wish to commence the attack. Especially the veterans who knew Connors from his military days," Lieutenant James Sanders said, him being one who had served with Dr. Connors in Afghanistan and knew him as an army medic. Castle just kept observing through the binoculars. Sanders got on the radio. "Hold your fire!"

Toby hung in the background. "Is this waiting game a good idea? They will soon control the beach if we don't offer some resistance."

Finally Castle spoke. "Wait until the beach is full," he spat. He watched Osborne's men unloading, all dressed in their green uniforms. "We want there to be more of these little green men for us to make our shots count."

"Little green men," Sanders snorted. "Little green goblins!"

Castle waited about three minutes. "Yes. Now. Let's go. Open fire!"

Sanders clicked the radio, "Commence firing!"

The machine gun pillboxes started shooting the men leaving the beach. Mortar shells rained down, aiming for the heavy equipment. And cannons that were hidden in the mountain also aimed at where Osborne's, mostly Russian security contractors were clustered together.

Markus Vitaly, who was in command of the troops, had been wondering at the ease of their landing. Now the gravity of his position was fully registering in his mind. "Der'mo! Der'mo! Take cover!" he yelled. "Get off the beach!"

The troops ran and advanced, because there was no cover on the beach. Vitaly managed to lead a squadron of men who fought their way to the pillboxes, but once they had taken them, tossing in grenades, they found them empty. "They've all fallen back through the underground tunnels!" said Lieutenant Ivan Kutuzov.

"Der'mo!" yelled Vitaly, slamming his fist on the frame of the tunnel opening. As he was venting his frustrations a mortar shell landed right next to the squad, exploding and raining burning hot dirt onto their heads.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, Guy stood anxiously with Mike Hall, watching for any sign of movement. Visibility was not good, but Captain Hall was convinced that the marshy ground would be a poor choice from a tactical standpoint to try to land their boats and drive their vehicles. They were tasked with providing naval support in a maritime attack once Toby and Castle bogged down the bulk of the attack troops on the north side.

Guy was making calculations in his head, thinking of how quickly they could make an escape from their side, using the ships and helicopters that they had at their disposal. In his mind, he had already written off any hope of success in the battle, and was desperately waiting for the moment when he could convince his men that they should make a run for it. Communications were limited, so they were left to their own imaginations how things were proceeding on the other side.

Just as Guy was really starting to feel assured that he would not see any action, the sound of a cannon followed by the whistling of a shell cutting through the air jolted him from his reverie. "Get down!" screamed Private Nick Lewis.

"Incoming!" shouted Corporal Bart Hamilton.

The shell struck near them and exploded. "What the-?" asked Hall. He peeked his head out from behind their bunker to see Iraklis' gunboats on the other side of the marsh. "Are they attempting a landing?" Through the glasses, he could see Iraklis' soldiers pushing logs into the marsh to give their vehicles traction so that they could drive through the boggy soil.

"They're coming!" shrieked Guy. "I thought you said that this marsh was impenetrable! We're doomed!"

"Not even close, sir! The enemy has made a critical error. We can take them!" Mike Hall's eyes were alight with ferocity. "Open fire!" Their hidden cannons blazed to life and rained fiery destruction on Iraklis' troops, struggling to navigate the marsh.

Mark Iraklis watched from the command boat as his men prepared to undertake the most dangerous part of their plan. They had performed excellently in sneaking up this close without being detected, but they were still in a very precarious position. "Lieutenant! Report!" he barked into the radio.

"We are encountering heavy resistance and are having trouble finding solid ground to land the boats and drive the jeeps," reported Lieutenant Scott Washington.

"Just keep pushing forward! Steady," Iraklis commanded. "We'll provide the cover for you from the water. And then we're right behind you once you've secured the flank." His gunboats fired round after round at Guy's defences, but they were running out of time.

Captain Mike Hall watched the battle unfolding before him and decided it was time to move in on a group of unfortunate troops that were pinned down behind their boat. "I'm going to take them out," he announced to Guy. "You should go with E Squad and block access to the choppers."

"Right. Right," said Guy. "I can do that." But Guy remained frozen in place. Janice, Martin, and Adrienne Toomes, the Field Artillery Firefinder Radar Operator, then joined him in the bunker.

"How are you, Guy?" asked Janice.

"This is insane!" said Martin. "We were definitely not prepared for this!"

"Maybe you weren't, Martin. But we knew it would come to this in the end!" Guy snapped. "This is the price we pay for freedom, we must defend ourselves against threats from our neighbours, if we are to possess the surest guarantee of security, and live pleasant lives. Even if we must pay the ultimate price, we have enjoyed such full loyalty to our convictions, that even should one of us die prematurely, the others will not lament his death as though it called for pity."

After some fast but fierce fighting, Hall returned after neutralizing the enemy group.

"What happened?" he demanded.

"Uh, I was about to go," Guy stammered, "but then Martin and Janice showed up, and I thought that we should stick together. And it is a good reminder to you Captain, who is actually in command of this squadron," he said, haughtily.

Hall responded stiffly, "Yes, sir!"

"Well then, good work there, in securing that part of the marsh. Shall we make our way over to protect our aircraft? You and you," Guy pointed at soldiers Lewis and Hamilton, "You two come with us as well. You'll provide us with backup."

They went out to a Humvee and started making their way over to the landing pads. They were bouncing around on the rough terrain when a shell exploded next to their vehicle, sending them in a roll where they eventually landed in a ditch. They all scrambled out, having to help Janice climb out of a pile of glass and overcome her shock. Guy dragged out Private Lewis, who had been driving. He felt quite heroic, until he noticed that he had a gaping hole in his chest. "Leave him! He's dead!" urged Mike Hall.

They all ran behind a fallen tree. More explosions rocked the ground, falling close to them. "What do you want to do, General?" asked Hall.

"What?" Guy's eyes were bugging out of his head.

"We need your orders, sir! And we need them now, or we're dead! Do you want to retreat back to the bunker?"

Guy was beside himself with the desire to get off this God-forsaken island. "No! We continue on to the helicopters! Let's move!"

They all started running along the road. "Corporal! Cover our rear!" Guy commanded Hamilton.

They ran as fast as they could and were within sight of the landing area when they were strafed with machine gun fire. They all dove for cover but Hamilton got torn to pieces. "Quick! Into the jungle!" yelled Hall. They ran a short distance until they were well covered by branches and leaves. "Sorry, boss. But we needed to regroup." The sound of gunboats firing and shells exploding echoed in the distance.

Guy looked to Officer Toomes. "Can you get Dr. Auchmann on the radio?" he panted.

"No, sir! Our comms are out."

"We have to assume that the battle is lost. We should make our withdrawal from the island."

Mike Hall looked surprised. "How should we do that?"

"We go in and we take a helicopter. Then we live to fight another day."

"Would it really be that simple?" asked Martin. "And are we sure that Doc Ock's been defeated?"

"That's a good question," said Hall. "And no, it won't be simple. It's true, our troops lost control of the road and the bunker, so the enemy no doubt has guards watching the access road to the landing pads. If we were to undertake a plan, we should do some quick recon first so that we can deploy a strategy."

"Agreed," said Guy. "Martin. Take these field glasses and go see if there are any sentinels guarding the chopper pads. If there are, make a note of how many and what their rotations are. Captain, you take Janice to reconnoiter the terrain and see where would be the best access point to the landing pad. And Toomes, you come with me. We're going to try and get an idea how the battle is proceeding so we'll know what kind of timeframe we're dealing with here. Okay, let's move!"

From Iraklis' perspective, the battle was progressing considerably well, especially considering the unfavourable landing conditions. But Mark Iraklis had managed to achieve what gave him the most satisfaction in life: transforming a seeming obstacle into an overwhelming advantage. Because of the marshy conditions, their arrival had been completely unexpected and they had capitalized on the element of surprise and lack of discipline of Kasady's contingent.

Then Iraklis received a less then favourable update on how his partner and ally was faring on the north side of the island. "Operation Green is in complete disarray. Request immediate assistance to cover our retreat."

"Acknowledged. We will circle around the island to pick up who is remaining."

Iraklis grimaced. It seems that the attack was a tactical draw after all.

After an hour, Guy's small band regrouped with their intel. Captain Hall had been right; their squadron had indeed been overrun, and Lieutenant Washington was currently occupying their bunker. But curiously, they observed less enemy activity then expected, and they attempted to add up how many sentinels were left between them and the choppers. "We counted two by the main entrance to the helipad," reported Hall. "On the helipad, there are at least two Comanche helicopters that are fuelled and would be ready for takeoff after a four minute prep sequence."

"Good. Excellent. And we saw four doing rounds along the road," said Guy. "And you, Dr. Li? How many are guarding the helicopters?" asking Martin.

"I saw another two stationed by the helicopter." said Martin, nervously.

Everyone groaned. "Eight total! We'll never get past that many," said Adrienne Toomes.

"Are you sure?" asked Hall. "You said that the helipad was guarded by two sentinels? Now were they guarding continuously, or intermittently?"

Martin gulped. The truth was that he had spied on the helicopter by climbing a tree, and while up there, his jitters caused him to drop the binoculars, destroying them. So while it was true that he saw two guards, he did not know for sure how long they were there. But shame wouldn't allow him to admit failing his assignment and losing the field glasses. "I know what I saw," he said stubbornly. "I saw two soldiers in blue uniforms, continuously for five minutes, through your field glasses. During that time, they didn't leave their post."

"Okay," said Guy. "So there are two pairs of guards doing circuits along the road. And two continuously stationed at the Comanches. That is a lot of soldiers." He paused and put on his most profoundly solemn expression, the one he wore when he wanted his scientific colleagues to take him seriously. He looked at Martin Li. "You ever handle a weapon?"

At first Martin didn't realize that he was being addressed and didn't respond. When the question finally registered, he replied, "Who, me? No, I've never handled a weapon! I'm not a soldier, Guy!"

"Look Martin. I was trying to give you the simplest assignment, but you need to appreciate the gravity of our situation. And if I am going to get us out of this, then I am going to need every man."

"You're not suggesting that we attack the guards, are you?" asked Mike Hall.

"Yeah. We owe it to Lewis and Hamilton to take out those bastards before they can kill anyone else." Hall, Martin, Janice and Toomes all shook their heads in surprise and exchanged anxious looks. "We have practically equal numbers, and we have the element of surprise. Therefore we have the initiative so we can attack in the time and place of our choosing," insisted Guy, persuasively.

"Did you just read that in the army field manual?" asked Mike Hall, scornfully.

The truth was that Guy had read up on military tactics in the days leading up to their time on the island with the goal of survival a battle scenario, but this was his first opportunity to actually use any of the jargon. "I know what I'm on about. This is our best chance to live!"

Mike Hall walked past Guy. "General. A word in private, please." The two of them walked a short distance away.

Martin Li continued to shake his head and tightened the laces up on his boots. "Now I know that Guy has lost his mind. He was the one who wanted to start a war! And not just a war amongst corporations, either. Now everyone can see that his megalomania has caused him to lose touch with the real world. I mean, I'm just a psychiatrist and a scientist. I never trained for this kind of thing. I've never fired a gun in my life!"

Adrienne Toomes sighed and raised her eyebrows. "I haven't fired one since basic."

Martin did a double take. He looked at Janice, "Don't look at me," she said, "I just joined on with Oscorp to get my residency."

"Any chance you're a closet gun enthusiast?"

"My dad's a dentist and a navy vet, so he had a gun collection but he never let me near them," said Janice.

In their private aside, Mike Hall tried to reason with Guy. "Look, even for me, basic ground assault training was a long time ago. But you four are not even close to being an attack squad. And this is not the time to learn. Those aren't training officers out there. They're former Aegis operatives and are all seasoned killers."

Guy shook his head vigorously. "We don't have any choice. The battle is already lost and Ock has probably been killed. If we're going to get out of here alive, then we have to take out the guards if we hope to make an escape in the Comanche. We're also the only hope for any survivors from the north side, but not unless we act fast."

"But you're not getting it, sir."

"General."

Mike Hall bit his lip. "General. I don't think you understand. We cannot go up against an armed and defended position like the helipad. There's too many. They'll wipe us out in the first two minutes!"

"That's enough!" shouted Guy, losing his temper and drawing the attention of the others. Guy looked a little embarrassed and then spoke in a whisper. "Look, Captain. Under the circumstances it's important that you keep your cool."

"I don't believe I've lost my cool," said Mike calmly, but with a bit of a confused expression.

"I disagree." Guy sucked in his breath and looked around and then down, as if he was searching for the right words on the ground. "Look. I don't want to attack the helipad either, but it is our solemn duty to the world to get off this island to inform the media of the evils of creating chimeras. Plus we owe it to Lewis and Hamilton," he added.

Mike Hall maintained his expression of perplexity. "I fail to see what this has to do with Lewis and Hamilton."

Guy licked his lips and looked like he was really losing his patience. "Well that's why I'm the scientific administrator whose company is paying for this expedition and you're my employee."

Mike just puckered his face and nodded.

"Let us not forget that this is a military operation and I am your superior officer," Guy continued. "Dismissed."

Peter awoke to the sounds of explosions and gunfire in the distance. He sat up and saw Tom sitting in a crouched position and looking very fidgety. "Did you put the coffee on?" he asked good-naturedly.

"The invasion has begun," said Tom. "It's about to get pretty hairy around here."

"Things are pretty hairy here already, if you haven't noticed," chuckled Peter. "Don't you know we're hunting a wolf-man?"

Tom smiled. "You certainly are chipper this morning. The tropical air treating you well?"

Peter looked up and stretched. "Could be. I'm not sure. I think I'm finally done crying over this whole mess and now I just have to smile at the irony. I mean did you hear what I just said? We're hunting a werewolf! I guess vampires will be next."

"Don't even say that. I really don't want to know what else Dr. Frankenweenie has cooking up in the depths of her l'il house of horrors. Speaking of which…" Tom was interrupted by the arrival of a man of the most startling appearance. At the sight of him, Elias scrambled to his feet.

"Dr. Wirtham," he hissed. "Your presence is required by Dr. Hollister." Elias gulped.

The man had a very sinister aspect. He was large and extremely muscular; looking to be of Polynesian descent; he had a great shock of bushy black hair; and seemed very accustomed to having people obey his orders.

"What is it, Kanaka?" demanded Elias. "Surely Lily doesn't need my assistance at this very moment, when we are caught in the crossfire of a bloody war! Whatever it is, it can wait. I'm needed here to see to this imbroglio," he said, motioning to their Guthrie trap and all of the rabbits.

"Who is this guy, Elias?" asked Tom suspiciously. He was getting a very bad vibe off of Kanaka. Like he wasn't entirely human.

"He's just Dr. Hollister's errand boy. Well my days of marching to her orders are numbered."

"Look Doctor." Kanaka stepped menacingly close to Elias. "This isn't a request, it's a command. So you'd better fall in line or you're going to find yourself on the wrong end of a fang, you get me?"

Tom also stepped forward but Elias motioned him back. "It's okay, Tom. I'll go see what she wants and then I'll be right back here." He paused to turn to look at Tom as he walking away. "Sorry. You'll just have to kick Kanaka's ass later." Tom and Peter laughed.

Frank Castle smiled to himself. His defences were holding up particularly well. His side had enjoyed some lucky breaks, not the least of which included the recklessness of Osborne's troops in landing on the beach and being caught unprepared. The defence strategy that he and Auchmann had devised of holding back, retreating and offering few targets for their enemies to shoot at, while they on the other hand, had plenty, was working well. "We should be able to hold out like this for a while, just as long as Dr. Kasady can hold his side together," he said to Toby gravely.

As if on cue, the radio crackled, "Commander, come in."

"This is HQ. Report."

"Sir. The south side has been compromised. We are overrun. Over."

Castle set his jaw. Luck would only get you so far, he thought. He looked out over the battle as a plan began to form in his mind. "Sir? I recommend that we strike out at them now, fast and hot. They won't be expecting it. And if we can neutralize their positions here at the beachhead, and there at the tree line, then we could launch boats and even overtake their command unit."

Toby followed the plan and tried to weigh the gains and losses. "It's a bold move."

"Very bold, sir. If we pulled it off, it would certainly be a morale game changer, especially if we could capture or kill their general."

Toby nodded his head. "Let's do it. Make it happen, Commander."

"Right you are, sir!"

Markus Vitaly and his lieutenant Ivan Kutuzov were pinned down behind a ridge near the beach, taking heavy fire. "If we stay here we're dead!" shouted Vitaly. "Take your unit and fall back to the boats, hugging the tree line. I'm going to regroup with what troops we have left at the beachhead and try and salvage this operation. Go! Go!"

Vitaly and a few soldiers went running as fast as they could as they bravely attempted to cross the open space between the ridge and the beachhead. Explosions and mortars landed all around them. A few of them fell. Then a big shell landed ten metres in front of Vitaly and exploded, blowing him back through the air. He landed on his back in a pile of palm leaves and ash, knocked unconscious.

Kutuzov and his unit of ten men also went scrambling along the beach as fast as they could, while trying to gain some cover from the camouflaging trees. They were in sight of the boats, when almost the whole battalion of soldiers dressed in black advanced on them in a surprise attack. The GRU's were caught off guard for this manoeuvre and in their panic, broke formation. Soldiers in green uniforms went running in all directions and were cut down by machine gun fire, and even hand to hand combat.

As Auchmann's squadron made their advance towards the boats to attack all the enemy positions, Kutuzov recognized the large man in black that was giving the orders. "The Punisher!" he coughed. This man's reputation as a field commander and all around soldier preceded him and was evidently well deserved. But Kutuzov himself was a veteran of many bloody wars in Chechnya, Ukraine, and other brutal fields of battle, and wasn't one to come unglued when the chips were down. He rallied what men he still had with him, and launched a counterattack.

Harry Osborne was at the head of the Command gunboat, clutching the toilet in the latrine. While he would never publicly admit it, he was very grateful that he had Mischa to take the lead in the battle, because his nerves were so bad that not only could he not give orders, he couldn't even follow the progress of the battle. He retched again into the toilet bowl. "Blah! Will this madness never end?" he complained.

Just as he was really feeling sorry for himself, the cabin rang with the horrible cracking noise of bullets grinding against the hull, glass and steel. "Oh my!" Harold declared. "I think the battle is coming here after all!" He dashed out of the latrine and braved a furtive look outside. He got a glimpse of enemy soldiers advancing towards boats on the beach. "I have got to get out of here!"

Harold considered starting up the gunboat and escaping, but he realized as his adrenaline pulsed through his body that the smaller, faster boats would quickly overtake him. "Think! Think! Think!" he tapped his fingers.

Then he remembered something. He had almost forgot that he had brought a prototype of body armour that his father had developed at Oscorp when weapons manufacturing was their mainstay. He went to his locker and methodically pulled out each component of the armour. He put on each piece and locked it into place. He pressed a button and all of the plates fused together.

His battle suit also came equipped with special grenades and a fully protective visor for his face. He ran out onto the deck of the gunboat just in time to see Castle's men fast approaching in boats. He ran to the far side and leaped into the water.

Toby's soldiers were soon aboard Harold's command boat. They called on the radio to Castle. "There's no sign of Osborne!"

"He must be there! He's just hiding!"

The squad leader, a Private Johnson, took out his bayonet and started slashing Osborne's bunk, seeing if Harold was making a desperate attempt to hide in his mattress. But they came up empty.

While Castle's troops fruitlessly scoured the boat, Harold was floundering in the ocean. The weight of his battle armour took him straight to the bottom. "Great!" he thought. "Now I'm just going to drown down here!"

Some electronic controls lit up on his forearm, and he saw a button with an icon that looked like waves next to it. He pressed the button out of desperation, causing small turbines to start spinning under his shoulder blades. Using controls in his palms, he upped the power and managed to propel himself to the beach where he dragged himself out of the water. He lay there for a few moments, and then willed himself to his feet. When he did so, he caught the attention of his pursuers who managed to bounce a few lucky shots of his armour. "Dammit!" Harold shouted.

They were still out of range, but he lobbed an orange grenade a few meters in front of him. It exploded, creating a colossal splash and a shockwave that sent Harold flying backwards into the mangroves. Harold rolled over as water, and mud continued to rain down on the area. He crawled further into the swamp and lay low amongst the muck and the tree roots. As the soldiers cruised past in their boats, for the time being unable to find their prize, Harold vomited into his helmet.

Frank Castle's eyes studied the beach, looking for signs of where Osborne could have made his escape. His radio crackled: "We have possession of their command ship."

"Good work, Private. Let's start searching for Osborne's escape route. He couldn't have gotten far." As he said this, the sun reflected off of the Russian guns in the corner of his eye. "Incoming!" he shouted as Castle and all of his men hit the dirt. Bullets whizzed overhead from Lieutenant Ivan Kutuzov's counterattack. Castle and his men were pinned down out in the open. "We're sitting ducks if we stay here!" he shouted. He pulled three grenades off of his vest and launched them at the enemy, while breaking into a run. His squad followed right behind their commander. The grenades hit the ground ten meters in front of them and exploded, creating clouds of dust and smoke.

Kutuzov's men stood, disoriented, when Castle's men came roaring out of the smoke, guns blazing. The two squads became involved in intense close and hand to hand combat. Frank Castle came charging into Kutuzov, tackling him to the ground. The Russian managed to regain his balance, and while on his back, flipped Castle a few meters away. Kutuzov was back on his feet with his combat dagger out, aiming for the kill when Castle unloaded two shots into Kutuzov's abdomen with his sidearm. Kutuzov staggered, and mustering his strength, came at Castle for one last lunge with the knife. Castle dodged the blow, and grabbing his arm, flipped Kutuzov over, head over feet and came crashing onto the packed ground, a snapping noise coming from his neck.

Regrouping with his men, Frank Castle went back to their command post, the field being theirs.

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