Chapter 1 - After the War Prose in United Earth | World Anvil

Chapter 1 - After the War

The best advice during a hurricane is to stay put. Get yourself into the shelter and dig in for the long haul. Yet during the most ferocious storm to make landfall on Florida this many a year, the rhythmic thwump thwump thwump of a helicopter’s rotor pierced the maelstrom. Like a train emerging from a tunnel, the Boeing AH-64 Apache’s searchlight appeared through the swirling cloud and rain, first as a faint flow, then growing brighter as it swept across the tarmac of the air force base, looking for a suitable landing zone. The problem was since the end of the war, the world was severely broken. And like many areas outside the designated habitation zones, this place was no exception. Craters, debris, and the warped shells of destroyed vehicles and buildings are all considered normal. But given the time since hostilities stopped, at least from that war, most of this evidence had been painted over by nature. From the cockpit of a helicopter, all that mattered to the pilot was finding a flat, clear stretch of tarmac wide enough to set down. His passengers would do the rest.   Sheltering nearby, the two armed mercenaries waited patiently in what remained of the Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) building. SOCCENT, strangely enough, was one of the few remaining buildings left standing on MacDill Air Force Base, especially given its role during the war. “Hey, Bren,” shouted the shorter, stockier of the two guards, fighting to be heard over the roar of the wind. “They’re here.” He pointed towards the sea wall. “God knows why we have to babysit these…these…,” he paused, looking for the correct term. “Freaks,” said the taller man, called Bren, picking up the rifle resting against the leg of his chair. “I’d say freaks is the best word. Always pays to be accurate,” he continued, smiling. The other man pulled his rifle off his shoulder and made for the door. “At least they can help us if we get into a firefight with the Ferals.” The other man nodded. “True. I guess the higher-ups think it’s important we keep up appearances.” Bren smiled. “If that were the case, Merv, they wouldn’t have sent you.” “I fucking hate this place,” Merv said, ignoring what his boss had said. He was used to the banter. It was part of working in this kind of job. Anyway, he was too busy looking around at the remains of what was once Tampa Bay’s famous MacDill Air Force Base. “Even without this bloody storm, this place always pisses me off. He paused. “Do you know what?” “What?” Bren wondered where he was going to take the conversation now. “I’m missing a hot beef stew and bourbon tonight.” “Poor you.” Bren wiped his eyes. “I thought Dana moved out?”. “Sophia,” replied Merv. “She wanted to cook for me.” “Hang on, Dana moved out three days ago, and Sophia is cooking for you tonight?” “She was cooking for me until this shit came up. Now I’m here with you. Go figure.” Brendan looked incredulous. “You expect sympathy?” “It’s possible Dana might come back next week. Who knows.” Merv shrugged. “She said she needs space or something. She’’’ be missing her Merv love soon enough, so best to strike with Sophia while the iron is, you know, hot.” He grinned just as a violent gust of wind rattled his cheeks. Bren laughed, readying his rifle. “You’re such a player. One day you’ll get caught and have your balls handed to you.” “Every day, mate, is an adventure when Merv’s in town.”   The pilot fought relentlessly with the chopper’s controls, attempting to counteract the crosswinds playing havoc with his approach. He activated his helmet mic and cleared his throat. “Gentlemen, I’ve been ordered back to Eloise. You’ll need to the radio when you’re ready for exfil.” He glanced over his left shoulder to the cargo section. His two passengers sat opposite one another, silent, unmoving, staring at the thin metal airframe; the only thing separating them from the tumult outside. The larger of the two men acknowledged the pilot with a brief nod. Sitting opposite was a smaller man, albeit well-built and muscular compared to what most would call normal. His piercing azure eyes glowed in the low light of the cabin. “Ready?” “Of course,” said the larger of the two men. “But I’ll be surprised if this isn’t a waste of time. I have meager expectations of these Tampites.” The smaller man, called Alok, reached under his seat and pulled out a Glock 9 semiautomatic pistol, removed the safety catch and secured it in a concealed holster inside his trench coat. He also extracted a large bowie knife and clipped it to his military fatigues. “The people of Tampa, as you say, are underwhelming. But there’s someone here, a foreigner, I want you to meet. I ran into her six months ago in Northern France. Just outside Calais. I think you’ll like her, Jerl. She reminds me a little of you.” “Was that during the UE command post-gunfight?” asked Jerl. “Precisely. She said we’ll find some answers here in Tampa. I was taken aback, but she seemed convincing. We’ve agreed to in the DMZ.” “Which sector are we heading into?” asked Jerl. “She’s obtained passes for the Eastern City,” replied Alok. “Great,” said Jerl, “that’s perfect.” “She’s arranged an audience with Dante.” Jerl, snapped his head towards Alok, looking surprised. “Dante? Right. And it’s just the two of us?” Alok looked away, closed his eyes and said, “You know, if this mission goes well, I’ll make sure you get a promotion. Maybe to the commander. Hoes does that sound?” “We’ll see,” said Jerl. Alok looked back again at Jerl like he’d forgotten something. “There’s three of us. Wait until you meet Nena. She’s something else when she gets going. Just don’t make her angry.” Silence fell inside the cabin, making way for the howling wind and rain.   Brendan stepped forward as their visitors jumped from the Apache’s open doorway. “Welcome to Tampa, gentlemen.” He stretched out his hand towards the larger of the two visitors. “Fuck me, you’re huge,” called Merv from behind. Jerl grabbed Brendan’s hand and squeezed. Brendan winced and yanked his hand away, rubbing his knuckles with his other hand. “Jesus. Fuck, man. What the hell? You nearly broke my hand.” “Apologies, it’s easy to forget how weak you are.” “Jerl, enough. They’re here to help us,” said Alok. He looked at Brendan. “Gentlemen, excuse my friend. He’s wonderful, isn’t he?” Slapping Jerl’s shoulder, Alok smiled. “I’m Alok. And this big fella here is Jerl.” “I’ll pass on the handshake,” Merv said, stepping back. “Welcome to Tampa. I’m Merv, and this is Brendan. Come on, let’s get out of this damned storm?” Alok signalled to the pilot he could leave. The powerful Boeing engine roared back to full speed as the helicopter lifted off, accelerating towards Tampa Bay. “Gentlemen,” said Alok. “Shall we go?”   Inside the SOCCENT building, Brendan secured the door. His partner indicated the guests should sit at the table in the centre of the room. Merv had previously set up a mission briefing before their arrival because the next leg of the journey was the most dangerous. Alok glanced around the room. Dead computer monitors and obsolete equipment donned the benches stretching around the interior walls. “What was this place?” Brendan looked up from the briefing table. “Before the war, this was the headquarters of SOCCENT.” Seeing Alok’s blank stare, he realized he’d forgotten how this must be to someone from so far away. “It stands for Special Operations Command Central. S.O.C.C.E.N.T. It was part of what was called Central Command. The guys were responsible for running special operations during the war. I think they did special operations training for our allies. This unit led NATO’s retaliation against North Korea after they dropped the first bomb on Seoul.”   Alok nodded. “I believe it was Commander Rinehart, from memory, wasn’t it?” Brendan smiled. “You know your history. Precisely. He was something else. Larger than life, by all accounts.” “So what happened here?” “I don’t know for sure. Some say it was abandoned during the last days of the war before the bombs dropped in Florida. Like most units here at MacDill, they didn’t have much time to pack up and ship out. They probably thought they’d be back. But it’s been just sitting here, slowly falling apart as the storms relentlessly batter everything down here. All ghosts of the past now.” He pointed up to the four massive television screens mounted on the western wall. “I’d love to have been here when they raided those Taliban camps in the Hindu Kush or have watched when they stormed Pyongyang. Must have been a real buzz.”   Merv interrupted. “Fellas, we haven’t got a lot of time. We need to establish some rules before we head out.” He looked at Jerl, standing next to Alok. This man, if he was a man, was a giant. He must have been at least 6”8”. Even with a loose trench coat and baggy shirt, Merv could tell he had the body of a champion weightlifter. Completely bald, Jerl had a tribal tattoo spanning the left side of his face and skull, and his well-groomed beard and moustache covered a square-lined jaw and high cheekbones. He also had scars. They were undoubtedly distinguishing features. Two long strips of raised, slightly reddish flesh ran across the big man’s face. One spanned the length of his left cheek, from jawline to temple. The other was shorter but thicker, starting above his left eye and stretching to the top of his head. But, as usual, the eyes freaked Merv out the most. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he’d seen this in other Chromos. It was like Jerl was an actor playing a poorly written movie character, hiding his true self under the surface. It wasn’t there all the time; some hid it better, but an occasional flash of something else, like a wolf waiting for the right moment to strike. Merv shuddered. The sooner this night was over, the better. As they assembled around the briefing table, Brendan took a deep breath and explained the plan. “We have to cross No Man's Land. At this time of night, and in this storm, the Ferals will be …” “Motivated,” interrupted Merv. “They’ll be highly motivated to kill us.” Alok leaned forward. “Were you seen?” “It’s impossible to move through No Man's Land, no matter how careful you are, without being spotted by them,” replied Brendan. ”No question about it, they saw us. They watch for DMZ transport carriers heading to MacDill, as they usually pick up a supply drop.” Brendan let this last point sink in. “Ok,” said Alok. “So you are certain they will attack?” “No doubts.” Jerl stood up, pulling a large handgun from within his trench coat. “You have done this before. Do we fight or do you have a better plan?” “Fighting,” Merv said, “is the last resort. We need to try and avoid a run-in with them since any sound of gunfire brings the rest of them running.” Brendan continued. “We’ll take a few detours through the city, but the main stretch through Sun Bay South will be the choke point.” He pointed at the map. “This route,” indicating the straight road connecting MacDill to the DMZ, is the only way through this part of No Mans Land. The Ferals have blocked off the other roads.” “If they are going to hit us, this is where it’ll be,” said Merv. Alok looked at Jerl. “What do you think?” “I have an idea,” said Jerl. “Drop me off here.” He pointed on the map to where it said Robinson High School. You wait for ten minutes to allow me to get into position, then you can move in. I’ll scout ahead and try and neutralize the threat before they hit us or call for help.” “Are you mad,” Brendan asked, surprised at the suggestion. “It’s a suicide run. These Ferals are not your standard combatant; they’re total psychos. We need to stick together in the APC.” Alok spoke. “Jerl’s plan is sound. We will drop Jerl off as he suggests. Have faith, my friends. This isn’t his first dance.” “They’ll hear you coming a mile off,” said Merv. “How’s a big fella like you meant to be stealthy?” Alok’s voice changed to a slightly more impatient tone. “The plan is sound. This is what we will do. Now where is this APC. I want to inspect the weapon systems before we head out.” Brendan glanced at Merv and shrugged. “Through here.” He pointed to a door in the north wall. “The garage is this way.”   The four men walked into the adjoining garage. “Our ride,” Merv said, sweeping the beam of his flashlight across the the armored vehicle. Bendan smiled. “These lovely ladies are by far the best way to travel in No Mans Land. This, gentlemen, is the Guardian Armored Security Vehicle (ASV). Built at the end of the 20th century, it has reinforced ceramic composite exterior armor and an interior spall liner made from high-performance polyethylene. Capable of withstanding any direct fire from hand held weapons, it can also take at least two direct hits from a rocket launcher.” Brendan walked around the front of the vehicle. “Here you can see the 360-degree turret with a 40mm Mk19 automatic grenade launcher and a 0.50mm caliber Browning M2HB heavy machine gun. We also have an extra little gem for the Ferals if they come close.” He pointed his torch at the gunner’s hatch mounted atop the vehicle. “Up there, we also have Mr Browning’s baby brother, our one and only 7.62mm M240H general purpose machine gun.” Alok nodded. “Impressive. But we stick to the plan. Jerl will go on foot from the school. From there, we will continue towards the location you indicated on the map where the ambush is most likely to occur. If they don’t attack, Jerl will join us. If they do, Jerl will do what Jerl does best.” Silence fell over the party as they mentally prepared for the the next phase of the mission. Taking a deep breath, Brendan climbed onto the ASV’s roof, ordering Merv to open to garage door. “Ok. Let’s go.”


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