SEATTLE, PART 3.
With no time to react, Jesse thrusted his torso and fired his laser.
No further return fire occurred.
Recognizing this, Jesse crawled in the blast’s direction, and noticed a black-gloved hand buried beneath stacks of concrete three feet high A pistol was settled on its palm as it twitched.
Jesse kicked the laser away, then watched as the twitching ceased. Then he returned to his cousin, still sprawled out next to the ladder.
“MARY!” Jesse screamed. “ARE YOU OKAY?!”
Mary was panting, and couldn’t compose herself enough for a response.
“ARE YOU HIT?!” Jesse pled.
“Nah… no,” Mary labored.
“Are you hurt?!”
“My… my arm…”
“JESSE!” shouted Gabriel from the hole in the ceiling where the ladder leads. “WE NEED TO MOVE!”
“Mary, can you get up? Are your legs injured?!”
“Yeah, if… you can help me…”
“I will, but we got to go!”
Jesse slid his right arm underneath Mary’s back and shoved her forward. As she winced, an orchestral arrangement of laser blasts rang out. Jesse attempted to lift Mary to her feet, but her pain was too intense.
“LET ME GO!” she screamed. “My ribs! I can’t move!”
Ripples of tension reverberated through Jesse. He was faced with an impossible choice: tend to his injured cousin and protect her from potential return fire in the manhole, or join the troops he was designated to lead, above in the Ellipse.
Then fate struck a chord of rewarded faith. Emerging from around the corner was Gabriel and Isiah; their wounded comrade Peter in tow, with Zachary following behind.
“JESS!” Zachary screamed. “Are you hurt?!”
“No, but Mary is! It’s her arm and her rib!”
“We’re taking heavy fire above!” Isiah added. “But we have no way to get her and Peter to a medic! We’re trapped!”
Jesse, despite knowing that reception on their wristwatch intercoms would be spotty, attempted to dial up a MEDVAC.
“ONE-TANGO-NINER, got two privates down with injuries! Request immediate medical aid at rendezvous point Charlie! Over!”
Static scrambled over Jesse’s watch, with any audible noise being drowned out by the laser fire above.
“ONE-TANGO-NINER, DO YOU COPY?!”
Minimal static, then silence. Jesse sighed, then dropped his head, unsure of how to proceed.
Then,, Mary pulled herself to her feet, despite profound wincing in her face.
“Mary, don’t!” Jesse pled.
“JESSE! I’M FINE!” Mary bellowed, grimacing again as her shouting shook her injured ribs beneath her diaphragm. Defying Jesse’s continued pleas, she ascended the ladder rapidly.
Jesse turned back toward the Four and stared at them, utterly confused. He was waiting for a validation of his thought that his cousin was completely insane.
It didn’t come.
Ultimately, Jesse clapped his hands and declared, “right! My cousin is insane! You three keep Peter safe. I’m going up!”
“God be with you,” Zachary yelled with a hint of sorrow on his face, scared for his leader’s potential fate.
Halfway up the ladder, Jesse turned around, then looked each member of the Four in the eye. After a huff, he extended out his right fist toward them. The Four, including a wounded Peter, did the same.
“Be free,” Jesse softly declared, with an undertone of respect, returned by the Four.
“BE FREE!” they hollered.
As Jesse reached the top of the ladder, he and his comrades’ faith was severely tested. A shot from high above impacted the top rung, causing a shocked Jesse to slip. Holding on for dear life as he used all of his upper body strength to hang on to the top rung, another bout of fate intervened.
Matt appeared at the top of the manhole cover, while more shots rang out beyond. “I GOT THE SNIPER!” he yelled to Jesse, then pulled him upwards onto the black-tiled floor of the Ellipse, the cavernous gathering space of the principal government building of New Alaska. Despite being a sucker for fine architecture, Jesse had no time to sit and absorb the art museum-like ambience of a space the size of an airport hangar. Nor could he.
Laser fire had already damaged all the aesthetic features of the ellipse: the granite lion statues flanking the enormous concrete staircase leading to the elevators, the hundred-foot-radius golden chandeliers hanging down from the domed gray ceiling one hundred feet above, the kiosks and security desks disintegrated into rubble, and the chipped limestone from the pillars and the walls suggested the Ellipse was victimized by burn scars.
Exacerbating the destruction was the unwelcome red light show perpetrated by blinding laser fire in all directions.
“WHERE’S MARY AND SARAH?!” Jesse screamed toward Matt as they forged forward toward the staircase as they fired their HK-86’s at navy-blue uniformed New Alaskan army troops, lined up side-by-side close to the far left wall draped with New Alaskan flags; a simple navy blue background with three white stars at its center, representing its three separate territories: the original Alaska, western Canada, and the former United States west of the DRF border.
“THEY’RE ON THE FAR SIDE!” Matt screamed over the deafening laser blasts. “I’LL BET YOU NEVER FELT THIS RUSH ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD, HUH?!”
“THIS IS NO TIME FOR JOKES! THIS IS THE TIME TO KEEP OURSELVES ALIVE!”
“WELL FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH, THEIR FORCES ARE NEARLY DEPLETED! IF WE CAN MAKE IT TO THE STAIRCASE, WE’LL HAVE CLEARED A MAJOR HURDLE!”
As soon as the world hurdle rolled off Matt’s tongue, Jesse glanced toward said staircase, then felt scared again.
What seemed like a never ending cavalcade of New Alaskan Army reinforcements, armed with blast shields, upgraded HK-186 lasers, and EMP grenades, descended the steps. They outnumbered platoons 809 and 140 by a three to one ratio.
Jesse and Matt’s skin turned cold. Without thinking, they dove behind a nearby kiosk badly damaged by laser fire.
Thinking they would, at best, be captured, or at worst, killed, they squeezed their finger on the triggers with the force of a fist clutching a stress ball, and refused to let go. The vibrations of their weapons blasting lasers through holes in the plastic partitions nearly knocked them backwards, and they counteracted these tremors by straining their vocal chords with primal screams reaching jet engine-decibel levels, drowning out the blasts and explosions all around.
Then, as their vocal chords strained to laryngitis levels, Matt and Jesse suddenly laid face down in the rubble, rammed in their backs by the bump stocks of HK-186s.
Dizzy and disoriented, the last thing they could feel were the barrels of those enormous lasers firmly pressed against their heads.