Jace hit the ground running. He slid into cover and readied his rifle. Paul came
up behind him, Lancer at the ready, with Eric. Walters moved last, walking with
his weapon aiming back and forth. By the time Echo Two got into position on
the northern edge of the building, the King Raven was already airborne.
"Good luck, Gears." Said General West. He needed no response; The Gears all
knew the odds. The building had been a store once. Now, the low walls around
the edges of the roof served as protection. No Locust had been seen coming
in, but it only took one to kill you, if you didn't know it was there. Jace had a
retrieved Hammerburst ready. Always ready with his shotgun, Jace had learned
an important lesson on range when he almost died a year ago.
Now, using a gun salvaged from the hands of a dead grub, he was ready for anything.
Below, the ruined street was pocked and pitted with the scars of a hundred battles,
cut with the searing particle beams of the Coalition Hammers, and burnt with the white
hot metal of dozens of cars.
"Hold position, Echo Two, while we scout the area. Maintain radio silence when
possible. Out." Paul saw Ryan acknowledge, and then he hopped over the edge
of the building, landing lightly on the ground. His men followed, and all four of
them quickly stepped into the shop for cover. The empty building was as bad
as the street outside; Blood stained the walls and floors in places, and there
was no furniture in sight. A small circle of ground up concrete and tile indicated
the one time location of an emergence hole. It was sealed up now, though Paul
knew that the reptilian horrors had once crawled through it like the offspring of
the planet itself with some terrible monsters. They crept onward, alert.
On the roof, recently promoted Sergeant Ryan Thomas waited with his squad.
As Ryan calmly looked down, he watched his men. Davis was often a jittery
mess, but in combat, the steel in his spine straightened itself out. If he could
just get some experience, Ryan felt he could make a soldier of the man yet.
He turned to the other two, Manny and Bear. The way they behaved, Ryan
was sure the two used to be Stranded.
He watched them carefully in battle, noted the way they always kept each
other safe. They didn't have the skills or training of a true Gear, but they
stayed alive when others would have died by way of their amazing teamwork.
So far, Manny had hardly said three words to Ryan, though he did use his hands
to sign. He was pondering the history of these two when gunfire erupted from
the far side of the building. Signaling his men, he rushed to the other side of
the building with his Lancer at the ready.
Below them, in the eastern street, dozens of Locust had crawled out of the
woodwork. Echo One was pinned in another small storefront down the street.
As Echo Two watched, another emergence hole opened in the middle of the road
and more Locust poured out of it. When the Raven had brought in gear, Echo Two
had loaded up. Now, they had their chance to surprise the Locust. Nearly all of
the creatures were directly in front of Ryan's crew, and none of them were looking up.
Bear, smiling, pulled out a Mulcher and set the terrible weapon up on the edge of the wall.
Ryan hurled a frag grenade square into the emergence hole. As it exploded, Echo
Two opened fire.
The explosion drew Paul's attention. Looking up the road, he saw Bear open up
an entire clip on the grubs below. His war cry tore through the street as his
bullets churned up the Locust, tearing off limbs and heads, cutting through
armour and flesh alike. Ryan fired his Lancer below, mopping up after the messy
weapon. Manny had drawn a Boltok pistol, and he sweeped the street with it,
picking off drone after drone.
Suddenly, another explosion rocked the building as two Boomers walked around
the corner up the road from Echo One. One of them called out, and aimed up at
Echo Two. A shot from Eric's rifle drew it's attention down road, but did little to
the thick hide of it's skull. It fired a low, fast shot which smashed into the car
Paul was taking cover behind. The force of it threw him back, dazed, as glass
and metal shards rained down. Bear fired at it, carving deep gouges in it's skin,
but it marched on as it handled another grenade into place. A stray shot from
the Mulcher touched off the explosive, spraying the Boomer's body parts over
the middle of the road. As Jace helped Paul up, the second one fired at him.
He barely rolled out of the way as it sped over him, detonating somewhere behind
Bear grunted as the Mulcher, empty, spun to a stop. He stepped back and began
to reload it as Manny, as quiet as ever, leapt over the edge with a grenade in hand.
He swung it fiercely as he fell, and stuck it on the Boomer's shoulder as he landed in
a crouch. The huge Locust towered over him, and as he rolled away, it yelled "Boom!"
Manny just watched as it's prediction came true, and it exploded all over the bloody
Echo Two Had dropped into the street, and the two groups met up on Echo
One's position. The wreckage of cars to both sides covered them from the road
completely, and the buildings to the east and west kept them safe. Paul still
had his Hammer of Dawn, and he now checked the satellite coverage. The
green light caused him to grin. These Locust wouldn't know what had hit
them. The guys were celebrating Echo Two's victory over the Locust when
Paul, with a raised hand silenced them.
"Later, guys." He said, as he smiled to show them he meant it. "Right now, we
have a lot of ass to kick, and I don't know how much time we have to do it in."
He pulled out a small map as he talked, a copy of the one West had showed
him earlier. He laid it out on the dirty, rubble-strewn ground as he thought his
plan through. The area covered on this map was smaller, showing detail of the
area by the bridge.
"Sergeant, take your men through here." Paule said, sliding his finger along a route
that seemed plausible. "I'll take Echo One this way." He said, as he showed them
all a second way through. "West said that the Locust here were in strength, so
expect more sh*t. We'll stay within a limited range so we can maintain contact.
You find anything, a seeder, a way through, call us. We'll do the same. Likewise,
if either group gets in over their heads. This isn't a competition, it's an army."
He said, quoting an old training tenet. "Got it?" He asked Ryan.
"Yep." Said Ryan. He tapped the Hammer on his back. "I'll keep you posted, but
we should be able to handle it. No worries, man." He said, giving Paul a smile.
"Echo Two, move out!" He said, taking Paul's offered map as he did so. In the
Raven, Paul had memorized the map for future use. The two teams split up,
Paul taking Echo one down the road south, away from the building they had
started at. Ryan led his men west, past it, and straight towards the bridge.
As Echo Two walked, it's members kept to themselves. The late afternoon sun
burned, turning orange as it neared it's slumber. The battle was fresh in their
minds, and, coupled with the heavily destroyed city around them, heightened
their alertness. Each was tense and tight, like a snake, ready to strike. Ryan,
as his squad's leader, felt it was his job to keep the men light-hearted. He
didn't have the experience of Paul, nor his candor, but he thought it best; A
lighter mood would keep them from shooting each other in a moment of sheer
surprise, and as a bonus, he would get to know his soldiers better.
"Hey, Davis?" He asked, suddenly. "What's your story?" Surprised, Davis just
shrugged under his armor.
"Same old, same old. One day, these things just came out of the ground. My
family just made it to Jacinto. I decided to become a soldier." He said. When he
finished, he thought for a few minutes before continuing. "My dad was in the
Coalition, as a medic, before retiring at the end of the Pendulum Wars. Him and
my mom, they brought me to Jacinto, even though my dad had to get out of
retirement to foster us there." Davis seemed lost in the past himself; It was a
common preoccupation among Gears.
The young man continued, heedless to the world around him. "He taught me
from a young age to do what was right, and, even though it hurt him to say
it, he told me that joining the Gears was the best way to defend humanity.
My mom's sister had died on E-Day, and neither of us wanted her to suffer
another loss, but..." He paused. "It's the most important thing." For awhile,
they let silence bloom. Ryan opened his mouth to speak when a sniper shot
thudded into the wall behind him.
"Get cover!" He yelled. A second shot, fired to quickly to be the same Locust,
hit nearby as Echo Two took cover.
"Echo One, there is a sniper North of your location, please assist, over." Ryan
said into his radio. "Repeat, Echo One there is--"
"We're on it, Echo Two." Came Paul's response. Seconds passed.
"Davis." Said Ryan.
"I just wanted you to know, that I think your parents would be proud." He said.
He didn't know, but he thought that under the mask, Davis was smiling. Paul
had taken the road south of Echo Two, and if Ryan had read the map right,
they should be directly south of his position. As a Troika opened fire one Echo
Two, he hoped he was right. The loud crack of a distant shot could be heard,
just barely, underneath the constant storm of Troika fire. A second shot, and
the Troika was silenced. Then a third; then a fourth. Ryan peeked over cover,
and saw, fifty feet down the road, two dead bodies in the street. A Troika was
mounted on the roof of the south building. No one was on it.
"All clear, as far as I can tell, Sergeant." Came Eric's voice, as calm as ever.
With a deep breath, Ryan motioned for his men to go forwards. As the bridge
neared, Ryan saw that this way would be impassable. The Locust had torn up
the buildings on either side of the road further down, and the rubble of the
buildings now blocked access to the bridge on this path. He reached for his
radio to call Echo One, noticing as he did so the marks on the street. The
same marks were on the remaining shells of the buildings. The only thing that
could have done it was a Corpser.