by O. J. Anderson
Jack sprints for the front door of the castle. He stops before entering. Turns back and looks for his partner, carrying the box. Jack is slightly surprised to find that Morgan — one of Jake’s knuckledraggers, with arms like outriggers — is right behind him, apparently having no trouble at all with the box. Like a loaf of bread for him.
The huge front doors have already been worked over by Brogan’s gunners. Knobs, locks, and hinges. They’ve softened it up nicely with 7.62. Morgan shuffles past Jack with the black box and throws his big shoulder into the door. It crashes down onto the checkered floor.
Inside, Jack and Morgan sprint down the hallway. On the fly, Jack heaves two grenades ahead. The HC smoke is still lingering in the air, now clouding most of the ground floor corridors in a hazy white fog. They stop, hit the deck. The grenades blow. They pick up and run for it again. Throw more frags. There is no time for a shootout. No time to snoop and poop. They only run for the objective. Speed is essential. Speed is their security.
Brogan’s vans should be pulling out now. Rapid exfil to the rally point. So Jack and Morgan have no backup now. No retreat. They travel through the castle with a light load. Eight frags, couple mags for the MP-5s, body armor. That’s about it. Succeed or die.
There is gunfire coming from behind them. Rounds whiz by.
Morgan spins. Tosses grenades. Squeezes off a couple bursts. They continue on through the haze.
They hit an intersection in the hallway. Have to pause. Left. Right. Jack tries to think where the paintings are. It’s a crapshoot. 50/50 either way you cut it. But Jack Creed doesn’t gamble. He tries to imagine the layout, where they exited the great room, the route around the perimeter.
Thwack! A bullet smacks into the wall six inches to the right of his head. Sprays him with plaster.
He tells Morgan, “Right.” Cooks two seconds off a frag, then tosses it.
They move to the right. Jack sprays the area with 9mm. Tosses a grenade, then turns back, waits for Morgan to pass, then finishes off the mag. They’re being followed. Got a pack of manimals hunting them down. But they won’t be able to follow for too long, not where Jack and Morgan are headed.
Assorted species, dead ones, litter the floor. Blood spatter on the walls. Chunks of meat.
The smell of CS still lingers in the air. Mixed with the HC, it’s getting harder to breathe, but it also means they’re nearing the objective. About to make a special delivery. To his right he notices a large dark rectangle on the wall. He reaches out and drags his hand across it as he runs. Kinda rough. Feels like paint. There are more. It’s the gallery.
To the left they pass the opening to the great room, slightly remodeled by the P-10 earlier. The hallway is charred black across to the wall. They kick through a bit of rubble and move on.
Jack tells Morgan, “Up ahead to the right.” Then he takes one to the leg. Right thigh. The impact spins him around and drops him onto the floor. Jack rolls onto his back, facing the way they just came, and unloads a whole magazine down the corridor.
Morgan grabs Jack by the collar and drags him forward, toward the door.
Jack sees three muzzle flashes back down the hallway. He continues firing at the flashes; empties a mag, slaps a new one in, and empties that one. A thick smear of blood trails behind him.
A few meters farther on, they stop. Morgan opens the door to their right and pulls Jack down onto the steps. The big man throws his last two frags back down the hall and slams the door shut.
“Help me up,” Jack tells him. He can’t lift himself with the leg, but he can support himself on it once he’s standing. He grabs Morgan’s collar and they hobble down the stone steps into the labyrinth. At the base of the steps Jack tells Morgan to drop the box. This is the place.
Morgan positions Pandora’s Box in a dark, recessed corner near the stairway. He opens a small panel on the side. Enters a code on the number pad. Thumbs up.
“This way,” Jack says. They run down the shaft. Morgan takes the lead with a red-lens flashlight.
They’re both out of grenades. Jack is down to his last mag. But the finish line is only a couple hundred meters away. He hears the sound of the heavy wood door slamming open against the wall. Boots coming down the stairway. But they’re cautious; they should be after encountering nearly a dozen grenades up until this point. And they don’t know which way to go. Not yet anyway.
Jack does. He recreates the infiltration route in reverse. Gives Morgan directions. He shuffles his wounded leg along as best he can, but it’s hard to keep quiet. Makes a lot of noise. Gives their pursuers something to track. It isn’t long before the sound of gunfire echoes throughout the tunnel system.
Jack flips open his forearm keypad and disengages the laser tripwire network located at the mouth of the tunnel. He re-programs the demo for a remote detonation, snaps the unit shut. Continues forward.
They turn left into the final stretch of the tunnel. Next stop is the cliff face. Bullets riddle the tunnel wall at the turn. The manimals are catching up. Only one section behind. If the beasts were aware of their situation, they’d probably be dead by now.
Fifty meters to their front is a silvery blue disk of moonlit sky. The tunnel opening.
“Go!” Jack shouts to Morgan. “Go for it!”
Morgan sprints ahead. Disappears.
Two minutes later, Jack reaches the opening. He plants his good leg on the lip of the cliff, throws his weight forward, and pushes off. Arches his back. Sails down toward the ground.
Bullets crack. Whiz by, harmless over his head now.
Jack pulls the rip cord. The silk parachute unfurls from the pack tray. Snaps taught. He is jerked upward. Stabilizes. Gains control of the parachute. Steers away from the cliff face.
A scream from the tunnel opening. Falling. Then gunfire. Rounds poke holes in his chute.
He steers away. Evasive maneuver. Then flips open the demo keypad. Touches off the demo in the tunnel.
A bright orange ball of fire billows out from the shaft. Lights the upper section of the face. The heat and fire soon disperse. Die down. The gunfire has stopped and night returns.
Jack steers for the flashing link-up beacon off in the distance. His parachute is the Malveaux Osprey, capable of covering great distances in short descents. The Malveaux, which Jack helped design, is a twin foil, ram-air system with a 1/5 ratio: it can cover five feet of lateral distance for every foot of drop, which means that Jack and Morgan will have no trouble reaching the landing zone over one kilometer away.
The rumbling begins as he prepares for landing. Morgan is already down, S-rolling his chute on the road. This one could be tricky, what with the bullet in his leg and all; don’t need to break the other one trying to pull a one-legger. Put him out of commission for a good long while. He decides at the last moment to take it home via a daring butt-slide. The sound behind him, coming from the castle, grows in intensity.
At ten feet AGL, Jack pulls down on the risers. Grabs as much air resistance as he can. His descent stops briefly. He then glides the remainder of the way down to a semi-soft landing. On the ground, he can feel the vibrations coming from the mountain.
Lucky rushes over to help Jack up. Once back on his feet, he turns for a look.
The castle is shrouded in a cloudy plume. The glow alternating a dull orange, red, then yellow. The cloud grows in size, and though it can’t be seen, one has to assume the castle is shrinking proportionately. The rumbling rises to a steady thunder.
Jake Brogan walks over and stands next to Jack.
Jack: “It’s beautiful.”
Jake: “It is.”
Jack: “Are we a safe distance?”
Jake: “I have no idea.”
The two men watch as the Temple of Gollog, the three high priests, and the Home of the World Order are razed to the earth. Cut down. Ashes and dust.
Copyright © 2007 by O. J. Anderson