Traw gripped the ceiling railing of the Nektro dropship cabin with an armor-gloved hand. The ship jostled a bit to and fro with the atmospheric turbulence. “Alright, so I've determined the location of the key power junction for the capitol,” Clayton began, standing at the end of the small, dark room. “It is twelve miles from the city, at the end of a long road.” Clayton pointed to a hologram projected beside him. There was a tower in the middle of a field, with the large capitol city in the background.
“Entering their outermost defenses will be difficult, but once we've penetrated the initial defense line, breaking into the tower should be relatively simple. I'll need everyone present to accompany me, because we don't know what kind of guards they'll have stationed there.”
“And how do you plan to break the initial defenses?” Aveer wondered.
“Scramble the code for the ship's radar. You see, this dropship projects a unique signal to any and all radar within range. That's the way every ship is designed, even Nektro ones like this. However, the Nektro have apparently developed a code that scrambles our signal, so this ship just looks like a little anomaly: a bug in the system, if you will. Anyone who sees this on their display screen will think it's nothing more than a minor glitch, give the machine a kick, and by that time, we should be on the ground and beyond any unfriendly gazes.”
A Nektro officer scuttled down the narrow flight of stairs from the cockpit and notified in his reptilian voice, “We're approaching atmosphere. Scrambling now.”
Moore nodded to him, and the officer returned to the bridge. He glanced out the window, down at the light-dotted city on the surface.
“So, from what I heard, once we get that virus into their system, we bolt to the city and make our way to the tower,” Sanchez mentioned, hoping to be confirmed.
“Oh, goodness no,” Clayton corrected. “Once I download that virus, we wait. The Nektro fleet will engage Venko's fleet near orbit, and there will no doubt be a number of bombers breaking down physical defenses and dropships landing in the city. We're not to go on foot, by any means. That would be disastrous. We're going to take this very dropship and fly it to the GAM tower. The rest of the battle is merely a distraction, we're to take no part in any of that. Hopefully by the time we...take care of Venko, the fighting in the city will be coming to a close.”
“On whose side?” Aveer asked knowingly.
“Who do you think?” Moore smirked. “I like humans as much as the next guy. But we sure as hell don't have the firepower or manpower to take down the Nektro. Not like this.”
A curious thought occurred to Traw: he, a human man, was helping the sheer nemesis of his race willingly, and furthermore, he even sought out such help to slaughter his fellow man. He knew he was no titan. He was but a man before gods, his own power futile and of no consequence.
“And if things don't go according to plan?” Aveer mentioned the inevitable question with a dooming gesture.
“We're Death Squad. We survive,” Sanchez grinned, knocking the side of his helmet. “Man and beast can't kill us.”
“I don't feel like puttin' that to the test,” Traw muttered, and made his way into the tight cockpit. Two helmet-clad pilots sat at the control panels, with a Nektro commander standing between them, a hand on each chair back.
“What're we looking at so far?” Traw wondered. The sky was dark and foggy. Wind bustled over the cockpit window in a quiet storm.
“We've penetrated the atmosphere, and are currently approaching the first line of defense, and radar range with it. Our scrambling code is engaged, and should remain online for the next forty seconds,” the commander answered. There was a calm, determined tone to the alien officer's voice. “It would be wisest to remain with the rest of your team in the drop bay. We will inform you when we're ready to land.”
“And you've been briefed with Clayton's plan?” Traw inquired, to make certain everyone was on the same page.
“The small one with the big gun? Yes, he informed us of his plan. We'll be in constant communication with you, as will the flagship. The flagship's command bridge has a direct line to your helmets, so you will always have us as a resource, should the plan go awry.”
“Sounds good. I'll see you on the other side,” Traw affirmed, clapping the officer on the back. The officer glanced back with an odd expression as Traw descended into the drop bay. Physical contact of camaraderie had no place in Nektro culture, especially not among soldiers.
With a swoop of silence, the dropship slipped into the capitol territory, and the shields were infiltrated.
In a communications relay station some fifty miles away, one of the technicians called over his lieutenant, his eyes fixed on the radar screen. Politely budging past a couple other technicians walking past, the lieutenant came up alongside the one who had called him. “What is it, Goren?” the lieutenant asked in a sluggish voice, then took a sip from his mug of coffee.
“Sir, there's a small, um, thing, here. I'm not sure what it is, it looks like some sort of, I don't know...anomaly. Like a glitch. I just ran a couple of other scans, and they both came up with the same result as this one. It's alternating like...well, I don't really know.” The technician looked back up to the lieutenant with an expression of honest ignorance.
“What the bloody...” the lieutenant exclaimed, leaning in further. “Reset the system, Goren. But first, send a signal to the patrol stationed near there. If it actually is anything, they'll see it. If you ask me, you just spilled one too many crumbs onto your keyboard, and that bugged up your system. Get it fully checked out in the morning.”
“Yessir,” the technician answered, with an unenthusiastic nod. He found the number for the closest patrol to the area and put on his headset. “Patrol 314? Yeah, this is Relay Station 9. We're picking up some sort of signal in your area, and we can't get a lock on it. No way to tell what it is from here. Can you go check it out?”
The patrol captain sighed, feeling the wind blow across his face. He was leaned against a GAM patrol truck, with a couple of his comrades nearby. “Yeah, I'll go give it a look,” the captain answered. “You techies get paid loads more than I do to sit at a desk all day. That ain't right.” He shut off his communicator, spit his tobacco into the dirt, and rallied his men with reluctant duty.
Traw dropped to the ground with a light thud. He nestled himself into the tall grasses, unclipping himself from the cable attached to the dropship, which hovered thirty feet above. Moore came down beside him, crouching low to the fertile ground. “It's the night of the hunter,” he muttered, gripping his shotgun and surveying the landscape. One by one, the men descended to the unnaturally lush surface, and without further delay, the dropship abandoned the vicinity. The pilots were in no position to stay longer than was necessary. Clayton, eager to crash the system, led the way toward the power junction, which lay but half a mile ahead.
Suddenly, a barrage of small missiles struck the side of the dropship, seemingly coming from nowhere. As the pilots struggled with the sparking controls inside the cockpit, the ship descended to the ground, spiraling and pluming smoke from its points of damage.
"Dammit!" Traw exclaimed, looking back at the dropship careening toward the ground. The others turned around just in time to see it smash to the ground in the near distance, erupting in a cloud of fiery death, and their hope with it.
"There goes our ride," grumbled Moore.
"I don't want to be out in the open as fresh meat for whatever took that down, though," Sanchez added.
Clayton approached the metal door, and began charging up his rifle. Moore raised his shotgun to the edge of the door, in case there was an enemy waiting behind, and Aveer stood behind Moore with his machine gun ready. Sanchez and Traw watched the space beyond, making certain they were alone in the field. “Yo, we're gonna wanna get in quick,” Sanchez urged. “Patrol truck, comin' our way. Goin' about eighty miles per hour, four or five Marines inside. Looks like they were the ones who took down our ride, they got some sorta missile pod mounted to the back.”
“On it,” Clayton answered, then discharged his rifle into the door's keypad. There was a fleeting surge of electricity spreading through the door, then it shifted open a crack. Clayton stepped back and Moore opened it the rest of the way, immediately scanning the room inside with his flashlight engaged. Aveer took the other side and turned on his flashlight.
“Clear over here,” Aveer reported.
“And here,” Moore added.
There was a large generator at the center of the room, with a web of wires and tubes protruding from all sides. Various lights flickered here and there on the machine, each with their own purpose. Clayton paused a moment, gazing at the machine. “This is incredible,” he marveled with wide eyes, gliding his hand along the side of the generator. “I've worked with electronics and mechanics for years, and I've never seen anything quite like this. Gentlemen, this hub right here, this controls the entire capitol's power. It's marvelous how they compacted it into one single generator, and with such efficiency! Without this essential joint in the network, the city would be without power.”
“Then show us,” Traw grinned, backing into the doorframe. “And make it quick. Those Marines ain't stoppin' for a snack break.”
Clayton, a bit embarrassed, resumed his duty and produced the virus-laden chip from one of the tactical pouches on his suit. He paced around the machine, searching for the place to insert it. “Closing in,” Sanchez told them with a terse voice as he clenched his pistols.
“My mind and my body are two different entities, and they don't always seam together perfectly. To err is human, gentlemen,” Clayton snapped, working furiously to clack in his sequence of code and accomplish the mission.
The Marines in the truck dismounted two hundred yards away and approached the junction tower, weapons drawn. Clayton tapped the last key on the control pad, and stepped away. The lights on the generator shut down, the display screen went black, and there was an overall humming noise that seemed to slow down into silence. “The capitol is dark, gentlemen,” he notified with a satisfied voice. The Marines outside stopped in their tracks and gazed out at the city. The massive towers, small shops, and distant blinking lights all went dark, in rapid succession. Only a few illuminated planes sailed about. Sanchez and Traw both turned abruptly to behold the ominous darkness which overtook the city. A cold shadow fell upon the entire capitol.
Traw turned back to the Marines, who were still awestruck at the darkness that had overtaken their city. The captain was yelling harsh words into his communicator, heavily influenced by the level of stress that was upon him. Traw crouched down in the tall grass, at a spot where he could still see the Marines. Lightning pierced the sky overhead, and its deafeningly loud companion followed soon thereafter. Moore and Sanchez crouched low beside him, watching the Marines like predators in the night.
With the stealth of a creeping spider, Traw elevated his rifle and set his sights on the Marine captain, nestling the long barrel among the tall grass. His crosshairs lingered on the helmet of the captain, with an armor-piercing round in the chamber of the gun. “Just take the shot,” Moore urged, a bit confused. “You better not be goin' soft.”
Traw paused, watching the stressed captain converse over his communicator. “Hell no,” he sneered as he pulled the trigger.
With the captain but a corpse in the field, Moore and Sanchez rose from their places, while Aveer exited the tower, each of them letting loose sprays of gunfire. Traw remained in the very place from which he fired the shot, listening to his comrades gun down those they deemed to be traitors. He then rose from the sea of tall grasses, and briefly surveyed the damage he and his team had inflicted. Five corpses lay strewn on the ground, each of which had a host of bullets that sunk deep past the men's armor plating.
“You're ready,” Moore grinned wryly, clapping Traw on the shoulder.
Traw wondered as he clipped his rifle to his back, “Ready for what?”
“The assassination of the most powerful man in the world. I was beginnin' to think you won't be prepared to finish him when we get to him. But you are.”
Traw glanced over at Clayton, who was standing by the tower. Though he couldn't see the small man's expression, he knew there was sadness in it. The silence spoke loudest.
"Gentlemen, the capitol looks dark, is that correct?" Derringer inquired over the comlink.
"Yessir, the Nektro fleet's already here, feel free to join the party. We're on our way to the city as we speak," Moore answered, throwing his shotgun into the back of the truck and climbing in.
"Good. I'll meet you at the Trinity, then. The Nektro know where to attack, I gave them the coordinates to the key loyalist buildings. We'll do what we can on the ground, and they'll bomb the rest to rubble."
"Sounds like a plan. See you there," Traw concluded.
Sanchez crawled into the driver's seat of the bullet-dented truck and turned the ignition key. It still functioned, seemingly unaffected by the harsh gunfire.
“There are hospitals in the capitol,” Clayton realized aloud to Aveer, who had just bade his alms to one of the dead Marines. “With patients living off machines...all of which I just shut down. Even the backup systems of the hospitals are infected. That's the way the grid works.”
“The toll of war knows no names,” Aveer remarked grimly, listening to the faint sounds of sirens and explosions from the city.
“The hospitals'll be fine, now haul ass,” Traw urged, motioning for Clayton and Aveer to come to the truck.
“No! They won't!” Clayton snapped. “Unlike you, I'm not going to trick myself into thinking everything's alright. I didn't join for this. I just want to save my goddamn brother, and for the extent of my current knowledge, he could be a corpse in a ditch! Don't you see? We're diving into this fiasco headlong with the notion that we're saving our loved ones, and each of us is evidently willing to slaughter innocents along the way, when we could just be doing so in vain. Maybe your heart's too calloused at this point to even give a damn, but I can guarantee you there are going to be a lot of sleepless nights in my future.”
“Then let's put an end to all of this by killing the man in the tower,” Traw suggested. “I want this to end, too. Believe me. But the only way to end this twisted game is to end the game master. If you're not on board, then I don't know what else to tell you.” Traw walked back to the truck and climbed into the back hatch.
As Clayton and Aveer walked toward the vehicle, the large man simply muttered, “Death will not stop death.”
Rolling across the smooth asphalt of the road, the truck advanced toward the city. Thunder cracked open the sky overhead. Traw, his rifle strapped to his back, stared only at the GAM tower, with a grim, determined scowl across his face. Aveer fitted his machine gun into a rail mount on the back of the truck and aimed it straight ahead. Clayton stared at the ground, gripping the siderail of the truck's open bed. Moore and Sanchez sat up front. Moore tapped his fingers on the trigger of his shotgun while Sanchez clenched the steering wheel with a smirk across his hardened face. The dark, desolate road belonged to the Death Squad.
Retribution was advancing, mounted upon a pale horse.