Authors: Mainak Dhar
Then he said something that made Sam smile.
‘When we get inside the bunker, I’ve got two large Chinooks
coming in to lift the missiles out. It’ll take five sorties to get all the
missiles out. Once our men and the missiles are safely out, I’ll request an air
strike with napalm to burn this bloody forest and those Biters in it.’
Maybe Brian had not lost it entirely. Maybe Sam would just
recommend a demotion for him and not a stint at a camp.
Sam got up to get something to eat when several voices began
screaming out on the radio.
‘What’s going on?’
Brian answered in a hoarse whisper. ‘We just lost one of the
transport choppers to a direct RPG hit.’
It took a few seconds for the implications of that to fully
sink in, and Sam sputtered out.
‘RPG? What are you all talking about? Biters don’t…’
He grabbed the table near him to steady himself as he
understood what was happening.
Alice was still alive.
Cynthia threw the rocket launcher to one side after firing
the last of her two rockets. The two large transport helicopters hovering just
above the treetops had just lowered the ropes the troopers would rappel down
when Cynthia had fired. The first rocket had streaked up, accompanied by the
roar of hundreds of Biters who had gathered around her and Alice. As the first
helicopter was hit, it went into an uncontrollable spin and crashed among the
trees below. The second helicopter aborted its drop and was about to fly to a
higher altitude when the second rocket exploded a few meters from it. Trailing
smoke from the near miss, the pilot tried to nurse the stricken chopper back to
base, but only made it a few kilometers before he had to crash-land it.
No sooner had the first chopper crashed than Alice screamed
to the Biters to follow her. Over the last half hour or so, Biters had been
streaming in to their position from all over the forest, and while Alice wasn’t
sure of how many there were, she reckoned there to be at least five hundred. As
she jogged through the forest, with Cynthia just behind her, the Biters
followed as fast as they could, an army of their own on the march. Alice heard
a familiar roar to her right and turned to see Bunny Ears. He had brought his
own army, several hundred Biters, and they joined the force that was now
A bullet cracked through the air near Alice’s hand and she
dove for cover behind a tree to see where this new threat came from. A group of
four Zeus troopers huddled behind a tree a hundred meters away. Cynthia took
cover and returned fire, but it was an impasse that they could not wait to
shoot their way out of, since there was no doubt that once they knew that Alice
was alive and in the forest, Zeus would be trying to reach the bunker where the
Snarks were kept.
She ran forward, shouting for Cynthia to cover her, and
flattened her back against another tree some five meters ahead, bullets raking
the ground around her. She waited for a lull in the firing, and then screamed,
‘Run or die, it’s your choice.’
One of the troopers laughed, and then she shouted for the
Biters to advance.
One or two of the troopers fired, but then they stopped,
gaping at the mass of Biters descending upon them through the trees. In all
their previous encounters, the Biters had come at them like rabid animals,
ferocious and dangerous all right, but lacking any co-ordination. Now, they
seemed to be moving like an army on the march, and as the Zeus troopers took a
step back, Alice moved out of cover and shouted again at them.
‘Tell your friends that this forest and this land is no
longer for your masters to exploit. Tell them that Alice is here.’
Three of the troopers turned and ran, but one man remained
standing. He looked at Alice, defiance in his eyes as the Biters continued to
walk towards him, but as he contemplated the odds facing him, he too turned and
‘I could swear they wet their pants.’
Cynthia smiled, but there was no humor in her voice as she
replied. She was holding a tablet one of the escaping troopers had dropped in
his haste to get away. There were several messages on the screen, and Alice saw
that many were from a General and someone calling himself the President of
Homeland Operations. Whoever or whatever they were, they were important men in
the Executive Committee, and from the way they seemed to be micro-managing the
operations, they seemed to be very close by. Indeed, one message indicated that
they had overflown the combat zone not too long ago. Then Alice found a map
that showed their location.
‘Some of them will run, but some will fight. Now that they
know we’re here, they will throw everything at us. This battle is not yet
Sam King was sitting in a corner of the command tent. He had
been avoiding calls from the Baron for the last fifteen minutes, saying only
that he needed some time to work on a contingency plan. In reality, he was
paralyzed with fear for what would happen to him and his family. The
celebratory glasses of Scotch he had drunk when he thought that Alice had been
killed certainly were not helping.
Brian had approached him for orders twice, and then seeing
that he was incapable of providing any leadership or direction, had decided to
do what seemed to be the only sensible thing to do—get his men out without all
of them being slaughtered in the forest. He was rallying his men over the
radio, telling them to fall back to pre-determined extraction zones where
helicopters would pick them up. Just then, one of his men called out.
‘Sir, we have three choppers arriving from Canaveral.’
Brian looked at the approaching helicopters with a growing
sense of dread. For helicopters to arrive in a combat zone without so much as
informing him could only mean one thing. The Executive Committee had decided to
The three large Black Hawks landed in a clearing near the
command post and fifty black-clad, masked men jumped out, all wearing body
armor and carrying assault rifles and rocket launchers slung across their
backs. The men wore no symbols or insignias, not even the Zeus logo, but as
they fanned out and took position, Brian saw that each man had a small pyramid
with an all-seeing eye on top of it emblazoned on his right shoulder. Brian had
seen such men only a handful of times—these were the stormtroopers of the
Executive Committee, kept in reserve to protect members of the Executive
One of the Zeus troopers raised his rifle, but Brian told
him to lower it. There was no point in adding injury to insult and making what
would be at the very least a career-threatening moment into a massacre.
At last, a man wearing an expensive-looking suit stepped out
of the helicopter. His grey hair was slicked back and he wore thick glasses. In
his right hand, he carried a slim metal briefcase and he walked towards Brian
with the confidence, indeed nonchalance, of a man used to getting his way.
Brian had seen the face on video screens a few times, but
this was the first time he had seen the Baron in person. Heir to one of the
world’s most prominent banking dynasties, billionaire businessman and now one
of the leading members of the Executive Committee, it was long rumored that the
Baron had been one of the driving forces behind the formation of the new world
order. If one believed conspiracy theories, then it was the Baron and others
like him who had engineered it all in the first place. The Baron walked up
straight to Brian, and spoke to him, his thick Germanic accent still apparent
despite the many years he had lived in the United States before the Rising.
‘So, it seems that killing a young girl is beyond the
capabilities of your men. I thought I would drop by and offer assistance with
Brian bit his tongue as he fought the urge to reply. Dozens
of his men had died in the forest, fighting against thousands of Biters, and
Alice was anything but a helpless little girl. She had already demonstrated
that many times over. However, Brian knew the Baron’s reputation for
ruthlessness and just looked down.
‘Where is Sam King? Why is he not here directing the
operation? Why is he silent after all his proclamations of victory? Why are you
not pressing the attack home?’
Brian didn’t know how to answer all those questions without
seriously incriminating Sam. Sam King was a corporate leech who had thought
that combat was no more difficult that moving rows of numbers on a spreadsheet,
and was now overwhelmed by the reality of what he saw unfolding before him.
Still, Brian had no particular desire to have Sam’s death on his conscience, so
he kept silent.
The Baron looked around and asked another man. ‘Where is Sam
The young trooper nervously glanced at the command tent, and
without a further word, the Baron strode towards the tent. As he entered, the
Baron reached into his coat and took out a handgun.
Brian began to take a step towards the tent but four of the
Baron’s stormtroopers raised their guns. Brian stood his ground. There had been
a time when honor mattered above all else, when as a Marine officer he would
have waded into a fight to protect a comrade no matter what the odds. But all
that was in the past. Now it was just a matter of survival, and he had enough
blood on his hands to know that he was hardly on the side of the angels. He had
been approached by the resistance a year ago with an offer to defect to their
side, since among all the Zeus commanders, he was known to be humane to
civilians. He had turned them down, and now it was just too late. Now he had no
choice but to see things through.
He closed his eyes as a single gunshot rang out, and then
the Baron stepped out of the tent. He looked at Brian, his eyes betraying no
emotion at the murder he had just committed.
‘So, now the chain of command has been simplified, let’s
show this little freak girl who’s boss.’
Alice heard the sounds of the approaching helicopters and
looked up to see three dark shapes visible through the foliage. They had no
more rockets so this battle would have to be fought and won on the ground once
the troopers had landed. She spoke into her radio.
‘Baker, we’ve got company. I’ll set Bunny Ears up here to
delay them and we’ll try and keep going.’
Alice walked up to Bunny Ears.
‘There are troopers coming to stop us. We have to get to
those missiles otherwise all we’ve created is gone. Can you help slow those
troopers down while Cynthia and I try and get to the bunker?’
Bunny Ears looked down at Alice and grunted. He looked like
something out of someone’s nightmare, with an arm missing, yellowed skin
covered with scars and blood and three recent gashes where shrapnel had caught
him, leaving bloody trails across his torso. Yet there was something in his
eyes that made Alice realize that he understood her. By asking him to stand his
ground against the Zeus reinforcements, she was once again asking him to risk
his life, but she knew that, perhaps more than humans, Biters understood loyalty.
Bunny Ears stood there, and his lips moved, as if he were
trying to form some words, to say something. Finally, he lowered his head in
frustration with a growl, but as Alice began to turn away, she felt a hand on
her shoulder. Bunny Ears patted her shoulder once, and then he turned away to
the Biters around them.
Alice smiled as she turned and continued running towards the
bunker, Cynthia closely following her. Gunfire broke out behind her as the
troopers landed, but she had no time to stop and see what was happening.
According to Bellman’s map, they were now just a kilometer from the bunker, and
Alice wanted to get there well before the troopers did. There was no question
of her securing or transporting the heavy missiles anywhere. Instead, her plan
was to destroy them with the explosives that Cynthia carried in her backpack.
As she ran, a new thought came to her. They might well
succeed in destroying these missiles, but the men who had killed so many
thousands in their pursuit of power would not stop. They would find another
Bellman. Given enough time, they would repair other missiles or perhaps make
new ones. No, this had to be stopped now, when she was in the belly of the
beast. Victory was not just living to fight another day. Alice now knew that the
enemies she faced were so ruthless and so determined that victory today would
just postpone the final reckoning, not do away with the danger the people of
She stopped, and as Cynthia looked at her curiously, she
told Cynthia to go ahead to the bunker and finish the job. Alice would make
sure that she and the Biters could hold the troopers long enough for Cynthia to
destroy the missiles, then she would go on her final mission.
The commander of the stormtroopers hit the ground first,
always leading from the front. As soon as he landed, he saw three Biters coming
towards him. He rolled to his right, coming up in a crouch, and opened fire
with his shotgun. For close-in combat against Biters, he had all his men armed
with shotguns. Yes, a Biter could only be put down for good with a head shot,
but a shotgun shredded legs and limbs, and slowed them down for them to be
finished at leisure. He fired, taking both legs off the first Biter, a man with
a horrible gash running down his face. The next shot took a leg off a Biter who
had once been a young woman, and still wore the remains of what must at one
time have been a shimmery party dress. She howled as her right leg was taken
off at the knee and she fell to the ground. The commander calmly pumped fresh
rounds in, and fired again, blasting a hole through the torso of the third
Biter. Another of his men was now down the rope and he finished the job with a
blast from his shotgun that took off both the Biter’s legs. The commander
watched as more of his men rappelled down and he spoke into his radio headset.