V. Caught in the Crosshairs
Stormed By Enemies Beyond Them, Menaced by Those Within...
Never before had the commissioning of officers felt so unreal.
Not that there wasn’t the usual crying, kissing, and merrymaking that comes with the day, the celebration a much needed boost to the morale of the Infantry and their loved ones. It was the stirring of something within the officers who stood on the stage before the refurbished auditorium. There was a factory-line stoicism upon each wolf’s face, but beneath it were twisting, tangling knots of concern. Chief among those writhing worries was Lieutenant Gibson, his mononym now made whole with a surname; Blanc.
“As one great creature of majesty we shall rise,” came the noble words of General Knox, “Never in retreat, never in surrender. We shall slay the digital dragon at our door, and all who dare supplant her tyranny for their own.”
It was the tail end of a speech greeted with stately applause. The chill of all that had transpired still held its weight in the room, amplified by the swift nature of the swear-in itself. Two new Auto Corp Captains, two new Moto Corp Commanders, and the remaining slew of six lieutenants, three per Corp, all raised their right hand, the left resting on a King James. Captain Atlanta Westley stepped forward to bring the ceremony to a close.
“Do you solemnly swear,” began the red wolf, her velveteen voice reassuring, “To give your last to your men, your rides, and yourselves as we continue our battle with this unending evil? Swear to rid the land of all tyranny and restore the remains of that grand nation of centuries gone-by to its natural, God-given state? State of freedom, state of honor, state of integrity, so help you God?”
The calm yet commanding “I do” rang out from all ten officers. Westley looked to General Knox. “What say you Adam?” she winked.
Knox shot a sharp wink back before declaring, “It is with tremendous honor I welcome these ten remarkable soldiers into our greater ranks. May they see us all to victory. In the words of the brilliant General Godred, without whom we would not have made the gains we have: ‘Hell’s a fine dish for you to taste and for your enemies to grow fat on. So please, don’t be stingy about filling their plates.’”
The much-needed laugh rang out through the room before a final exclamation of applause.
After the ceremony, the day-long R&R soothing the nerves of everyone on Base, Gibson met up with Evelyn at the Mess Hall for dinner. His gal was on him like a magnet.
“How the hell do I wind up with a man of rank?” she beamed. He tried to return it but couldn’t muster a drop of joy, and none of her affection could pull him out of the dejected gaze. Safe for an old trick.
To their tablemates’ amusement, the soldier dropped her head onto Gibson’s lap, carefully working her brown-furred digits towards his belt, and carefully undoing it. He batted her hands away, but she kept trying for it, until, at last, he burst out laughing, “The hell has gotten into you?”
Evelyn shrugged. “I thought we came here to eat.”
It was a gesture so indecent, the entire table was in stitches. Just as planned, Gibson’s nerves were shocked into silence, and the Lieutenant was now at ease.
Some of Top Brass were looking on from other tables in amusement, Captain Herrera sitting with his wife Soledad and daughter Rosita, Commander Douglas with Captain Westley, and General Knox entertaining all while flanked by Commander Wainwright and Chief Ridgefield. Captain Don Maxwell was there too, the white wolf milling about with a drink in hand, toasting to and with anyone who had a glass.
“Think they’s truly ready for the Big Time, sir?” Wainwright asked, .
“I picked ‘em so they would be.” Knox answered. “Haven’t had a commission this big since Leo threw me in the hot seat. I was about where Gibson was when I was shot to the top. Lotta experience, no rank. He’s getting it easy.”
“I remember the big day like it was yesterday,” Maxwell chimed in, his baritone booming. “To this day, no one knows who was crapping the biggest bricks.”
Through another round of guffaws and another round of shots, Señora Herrera piped up, the black mother resting her head on Tomás’ shoulder. “I think they’ll all manage. Tom writes about them all the time. At least Auto sounds like they’ll be in fine shape.”
Her knowing glance in M.A.D. Dog’s direction left the gray commander chuckling to himself before knocking back a shot. “Gib’s about to get a taste of our limelight alright. Got him slated for training detail at 0900 and—”
“No business, Hermano,” Grim reminded.
The gray commander threw his hands up in playful defeat, just in time to take a bullet from the finger gun of the Herreras’ daughter. The table’s own comedienne left her crowd in stitches as M.A.D. Dog clutched his chest and bayed “ooooooooh, she got me GOOD this time!”
“That nasty old Ace ain’t gonna want to face this crack shot, I’ll bet.” Knox teased. “Three years old and already quick on the draw.”
Grim smiled as he plucked his girl up from her madre’s lap and wrapped her in his black-furred arms. He made no vows, no profound remarks, he just held her there for a while. It came as a slight shock to the system for some of the officers, but a knowing nod came from Knox as he looked towards Soledad. The nights were about to grow long for all with family in the Force.
The snap of heels slamming together cut the desert winds in half, the piercing sound met with the assured authority of Lieutenant Gibson Blanc as he marched forward. His jacket was now decorated at the shoulders in brass, the Force’s insignia ironed on its back with the words “Moto Corp” wrapping the top and the title of “Lieutenant” beneath. The aged leather billowed in the breeze, the swirling seeds of dust devils dancing around the recruits.
“Today is training. The day will be long, the day will be hard fought, but the battle will not be against the enemy. It will be your body against your will, and your will must, at all costs, be the victor. Those who cannot see the battle through will be dismissed, but may find a place behind a desk or in a non-combat post. The rest will be whittled down until we have fighters that can work any hog between their legs and rock any peacemaker put in their hands. Do I make myself clear?”
“Sir yes sir!” roared the chorus.
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Gibson barked back.
“SIR YES SIR!” the trainees fired off. A smirk came to Gibson’s face, gazing upon the sea of Moto Corp recruits before him. Hounds as young as 16 were in the crowd, he was sure of it. Just as each guy and gal saw themselves reflected in their leader’s mirrored shades, he saw himself in every wolf before him.
“If you’ll permit a digression,” he started, still composed in the way Knox and Commander Douglas had taught him, “I stood where you were once. Was about, oh, five years or so ago. Chewed up and spat out more times than God intended for any of us, but I was. And here I stand before you. My will is iron and my weapons are steel. That’s how you make it in the field. Just know, though I may drive you right to the edge today, tomorrow, and on into eternity, it is my solemn duty to not let you fall off. Do I make myself clear?”
A hushed silence fell over the recruits.
Too sincere, he thought.
“Let’s try it this way,” he began again, “DO YOU MAGGOTS SWEAR TO GIVE ME YOUR LAST DROP OF GOT-DAMN BLOOD OUT HERE TODAY!?”
“SIR YES SIR!”
“Holy Moly they live and fucking breathe!” the Lieutenant roared, “Company, ABOUT FACE! We’re going on a field trip to learn a little something about killing digital dykes. If you ain’t packing in your hand, on your hips or between your legs, we’ll try on every goddamn rod until freedom rings out your lily-white ears. Now MOVE OUT!”
And off they went, marching like a tribal war drum, set to whatever task he laid before them. They spent at least an hour on the gun range, and two test driving. Had a few wipe-outs, but no injuries, and much to his pleasant surprise, not a single soul incapable of swapping between rifle and handgun, though the recoil varied from soldier to soldier. The morning had gone like clockwork.
Come high noon at the mess hall, Gibson joined the General, Commander Douglas, and Commander Ted Zavia to discuss how the day had been going.
“Lieutenant,” M.A.D. Dog grinned, “Don’t get personal with cats on Day 1. Remember how I dressed you down?”
Knox intervened. “There’s something to be said for it though, Martin. About at least showing you ain’t out to bleed ‘em dry.”
“But the point is, they didn’t jive.” Commander Douglas replied. “The way the Lieutenant here tells it, they looked at him like he just ran over their pet cat with a tank cause he said the little shit was a communist. They didn’t know what to think!”
“Besides,” added the white Commander Zavia, “The iron fist comes before the velvet glove.”
While the senior officers got a kick out of the quip, Gibson sized his elders up before replying. “I’ll give them a week to warm. After that it’s hardball until they break or my voice gives out.”
He finished his meal and left the hall with a quiet salute. Knox, Douglas, and Zavia shared a solitary blink between each other before chuckling.
“Now that is the finest model of bullshit deflector I’ve ever seen.” Zavia chortled in his horse raspy tones. “I oughta get Ridgefield to make me one of those.”
“Damn straight Pal,” Douglas smirked, “Kid’s taking to it well Adam. I think drill detail’s gonna suit him fine. What say you?”
All the Moto Corpmen got was a wink before the General finished his drink.
The rest of the day was going to be leading the unit on a ride. It was a routine run that Gibson knew like the back of his hand. Head West for 20 miles, South 10, back East for 60, and then North 10 again, which would take them back to the test driving ranges; a near complete loop clocking 100 miles to a T.
Before the ride, he had chosen two of the recruits that gave him the most pause that morning. The first was a fair-furred gal riding a white bike, its make and model long gone to the sands of time and the shop where its original parts lay. She was Dawn Fletcher, age 22, and had shown herself handy with the LeMat.
Sat on his long chopped hog was a gent taller than the Lieutenant, yet younger all the same. James Madigan, age 17, though he could pass for 30 with ease. He was a rifleman, a Garand aficionado who’d make M.A.D. Dog proud.
Gibson showed his appreciation the only way a Lieutenant could.
“FLETCHER, MADIGAN, TEN-HUT!”
The two wolves stepped forward from their rides as Gibson’s voice echoed in the Moto Corp holding bay, the level used for the training run so as not to disrupt traffic below. Both trainees were dressed in suede jackets and dark blue denim, brown harness boots to match.
“Twins, I see?” Gibson started.
“SIR, NO SIR!”
“Let’s start with you Fletcher,” the Lieutenant glowered. “DO YOU SOLEMNLY SWEAR TO RIDE ON RIGHT SIDE AND LEAD THESE MAGGOTS ON THEIR FIRST TRIP ROUND THE FRONTIER?”
“Sir Yes Sir!” she barked, her voice near cracking.
“Watch it! There better be no fear trapped down there in your gut, or so help me God I’ll have to rip it right out of you with my claws!”
“Sir, No Sir!” she shot back, steady as a rock.
“From here on, you’re Fireda—”
He caught himself, stifling laughter. “Nah Soldier, that shit’d be too easy. How’s Grapeshot? You got the gun for it, right?”
“SIR YES SIR!” He could see the slight smile on her face; she knew her peacemaker well.
“You’re up at the plate Madigan,” Gibson growled, “DO YOU SOLEMNLY SWEAR TO FLANK LEFT AND KEEP THESE BASTARDS AND BITCHES IN LINE!?”
“SIR YES SIR,” Madigan replied.
Gibson smirked, “Got-damn Boy, you’s big enough to eat a fucker alive! What that rifle on your back fire Son, your cock or your bullets?”
“Thirty-ought-six Sir!” Madigan roared back.
“GIVE IT IN METRIC!”
“7-point-62 by 63 millimeters, Sir!”
“Code’s Springfield Mass, Son.” Gibson nodded, “COMPANY MOUNT!”
Once every hound climbed upon the seat of their bike, a sonic blast ripped through the holding bay, all twenty hogs firing off in unison. Gibson mounted Exciter, her engine cutting through with a tone all her own. He looked to his flanking riders. They each gave him a nod, and with a final shout, the Lieutenant commanded “COMPANY, ROLL ON!”
Out the door and into the scorching hot sun they flew, the hellions soaring as they roared past the front gates and into the vast plains before them. Gibson caught the flash of a smile here or there in the rear-views throughout the first leg of the ride. Just about everyone was starting to see the upside of the job.
The Lieutenant looked towards Dawn and Madigan, who were also digging the scene. When they noticed he was noticing, the smiles vanished. Then came the roar of his voice over the engines.
“LIGHTEN UP SOLDIERS! THIS IS THE BEST PART OF THE GOT-DAMN DAY!”
They did just as they were told.
With the first 20 miles cleared, Gibson signaled a company-wide left turn, and just as they had practiced on the range, everyone rolled in formation and made the turn with ease. They were starting to gel, to become one with the unit and their rides. It was going well.
Just too damn well.
Once the troop hit Mile 30, mid-right-turn, a volley of shots rang out, peppering the formation. No one wavered off course, but Gibson’s eyes went hawk-like as he scanned for the firing squad lighting into his pack. It was Dawn who helped make them out.
“Enemy fire at two o’clock!” she barked. What they saw was one of the strangest land-based tanks they had ever seen. It was of common form, but the machine had not one, not two, but six barrels affixed to its turret rig. And all six were firing wildly at the troop.
“Good eye Grapeshot!” Gibson commended. He whipped out his radio, “C.C. to HQ! C.C. to HQ!”
“HQ. Reading you loud and clear C.C., what’s happening?”
“Under Enemy Fire, Under Enemy Fire, Mile 32 of the Big 100, Sector 200. Pack of trainees. Not enough manpower or experience to engage.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes I fucking am!” he roared back.
“Scrambling Defense Forces from Outposts, take evasive action, come home safe. Over and out.”
Gibson nodded to his subordinates and then shouted back to the unit, “DO NOT ENGAGE, I REPEAT, DO NOT ENGAGE! FOLLOW OUR LEAD!”
But even as they rolled off and away from the tank, a knot tied deep in the Lieutenant’s stomach, a question now on his mind:
How did that tank get into Sector 200?
Beyond having to pass through Sector 300, most of the destroyed Outposts in 200 were either restored or rebuilt, with even more erected in the weeks following their first encounter with the Black Country.
And no sooner had these thoughts crossed the Lieutenant’s mind than another six-gun tank came careening out from the desert. Laser fire rang out from every barrel as the mass of bikes veered away.
The trailing three riders never stood a chance.
Gibson’s blood boiled as he held up the radio. “C.C. to HQ! Strike on unit, Strike on unit! Three dead! New enemy from the South. Same style of tank.”
“Maintain course back to Base, Defense Forces have been scrambled.”
When he glanced over his shoulder, no one was there. The Lieutenant turned to his co-leads. “Fletcher, Madigan!” he ordered sternly. “Maintain course, lead unit. I’ve got five seconds of recon to do!”
“SIR YES SIR,” the duo replied.
“COMPANY, STAY THE COURSE. I’LL BE BACK.”
Exciter raced ahead of the pack and bolted for the in-bound tank. He held the radio tight and flicked the dial.
“C.C. to B. Frank, C.C. to B. Frank!”
“B. Frank to C.C., what’s up Lieutenant?” Chief Ridgefield replied.
“We got another six-gun tank, all six barrels resting on the turret, give me a read out on any machines with that design.”
“On it Lieutenant.”
Gibson drew his Colts and slammed them into the guide clips on the handlebars. What followed was holy hell unleashed on the machine. Every ounce of electric lead came screaming into the wall of armor surrounding the tank, barely scratching her. That was, until they pierced the turret ring. And there was only one machine who forged such flawed beasts.
“C.C. to B. Frank! I got a new detail!”
“All ears Lieutenant.”
“Turret ring is vulnerable, must be A.C.E.S.”
“She pulled from the books again,” he replied, “M50 Ontos, dates back to the early 1950s. Tank Destroyer. If you think the unit can take it, engage with caution.”
In the pandemonium, another player flew onto the field of war. From the West, hovering calmly, came the A7s. Firing not on the retreating troop, but on the tanks? It wasn’t until the first of the Ontos turned to face the oncoming assault that it came into perspective…an upturned spur in white was outlined on the body of the tank. The tanks, crewed by the Black Country, were now fighting the forces of A.C.E.S. A third Ontos appeared from the East, out of the Base’s range, and thundering towards the pack of recruits.
When Gibson rejoined the unit, he could see in both soldiers the seed of worry about to be planted.
“Fletcher, Madigan!” he ordered. “Aim for the turret ring!”
“SIR YES SIR,” they replied, snapping out of it. They went to draw, only for their bikes to swerve as they tried holding the guns aloft.
“Mount on the handlebars!” barked the Lieutenant. Down came both soldiers’ guns as they took aim, squeezing off round after round, and making their mark with ease. Gibson joined in, the tremendous barrels of the tank destroyer training on them as he gave the fateful command.
“COMPANY, AIM FOR THE TURRET RING AND FIRE!”
The Technicolor hailstorm came raining down on the sliver between the bulky body and its vicious barrels. The ring broke down further and further until the machine blew to shrapnel, white-hot sparks rocketing out of the body. The unit ceased fire, all 18 bikes running flat-out in a mad dash back to Base.
Gibson looked in his rear-views one last time. He could see the A7s gliding on, taking every volley from the Ontos with the soulless grace. He could even hear, in the faintest way, the roar of the tanks’ crews as they fired again and again, knowing just where to strike the hovering fortresses.
For a second, a rallying kinship stirred. The thought of letting the steel children of A.C.E.S. and her horror go without a firm branding by the 365th didn’t sit well.
Then he thought of the black band where three young soldiers once rode.
In a crossfire they were caught. One fraught with peril for the inexperienced, and laced with perplexity for Command. There was only one thing on the Lieutenant’s mind upon their return: getting answers.
The three-way battle died with a whimper, the forces of the Neon Goddess and the ancillary revolt at the Force’s door wiped out by each other, and finished off by the outpost deployment.
Lieutenant Gibson Blanc conferred with General Knox in his office, the elder gray walking circles around the officer.
“Consider the inquiry open.” Knox said. “To play devil’s advocate; what if the Black Country forces were cloaked, hence their mysterious appearance in Sector 200?”
“That’s for Chief Ridgefield and the boys in the lab to find out.” Gibson replied. “If the wrecks reveal themselves cloak-capable, then yes. If not, someone let them in. Chief’s also in charge of making the call on who made them: B.C. or Ace. Though the spur insignia makes a compelling case.”
“Couldn’t the perceived delay in 203’s deployment been pure coincidence?”
Gibson glowered. “If that was coincidence, every officer and soldier on the post should be marshaled, subject to proper punishment, and a firm retraining. Response times like those are how you lose a war.”
“What if the radio operator was delayed by seconds in his response time? What if it was a fault of equipment? Simple error.”
“Reevaluate the radio room for such malfunctions.” the tan wolf answered. “But if it’s negligence, that operator should answer for it. Answer for the three kids who just got blown off the face of the Earth. He didn’t act in a way becoming of a Comms man. He behaved in a scattered-brained manner and should not have been in that booth. Period.”
Knox nodded, finishing his circle in front of the Lieutenant. “Get after it, Son. I’ll take Commander Wainwright with me to evaluate the performance of Outpost 203. You get down to Radio, I’ll have Captain Westley meet you there.”
They gave a salute and just as Gibson turned to leave, Knox left him with a final word of encouragement. “Once we have the truth, come back to my office. If you need someone to talk with. About today that is, I’ll be here.”
The soldier looked back, Knox nodding in a gentle way before slipping into his shades and jacket, and going for his intercom.
As the call of “Paging Commander Wainwright” echoed through the halls, Gibson heard the clacking of heels, both Madigan and Fletcher racing up behind, coming to full attention when they reached him.
“At ease,” he said, “You got five seconds to sell me on it.”
Fletcher spoke up. “We saw something Lieutenant, while you had broken away.”
“It was blink-and-you-miss-it,” Madigan added, “But we think we saw some hot rods off in the distance, behind the tanks.”
“The hill just masked them,” finished Fletcher. “It could’ve been the heat of the desert, but I swear they looked more solid than that.”
The Lieutenant looked to the two, then to the guard.
“Ask the General if he can see these two, tell him its relevant to the investigation. It could’ve been a mirage. but it could also be someone waiting in the wings.”
As the guard saluted and stepped inside, Gibson looked to both recruits. “I’ve got to get down to Radio. Give it to the General straight, and return to your quarters.” Both soldiers nodded before stepping inside, Gibson bolting for Communications.
True to his word, Captain Westley was standing outside of Radio when the tan wolf jogged up. “Always time for PT, Lieutenant?” she wryly mused.
Gibson could only shake his head. “Not when I have a mess like this.”
The red wolf nodded solemnly before cocking her head towards the door. The Lieutenant opened it for her and both stepped inside to find a horrific sight.
Slumped at the switchboard was an operator, lit in the harsh reds of the room. The officers tended to him immediately, Gibson checking his pulse while Westley parted his eyelids, testing for dilation.
“He’s alive thank God, but barely.” she said. Gibson wheeled the gray out of the way as the Captain hopped on the board herself.
“Radio HQ to Sickbay, Radio HQ to Sickbay. Medical emergency, operator Burke Lanning unconscious. I repeat, operator Burke Lanning unconscious.”
In no time at all, medical staff were there and wheeling the gray wolf out of the radio room. “Log books” were the first words on the Captain’s lips once the stretcher was out of sight.
Gibson went for the clipboard where all the operators registered their times on the clock. “Where’s Burke?” the Lieutenant asked.
The Captain looked puzzled, until she saw the board herself. “That was yesterday’s sheet. Says here Tod Murdoch was on HQ duty from 1200 to 1600. It’s only 1530 now.”
They flipped up the sheet to reveal a blank page. Gibson didn’t even look up. He grabbed for a pencil and shaded over the whole sheet. Every name and shift up to that point was revealed, safe for one glaring omission.
“Edmund O’Hare was off at 1200.” Gibson said, “And that’s where the sheet ends.”
When the eyes of the Captain and the Lieutenant met, Westley hopped on the board. “HQ to T. Jeff, HQ to T. Jeff.”
“T. Jeff to HQ,” Knox called in, “What’s happening Atlanta?”
“Our radio op on duty was Burke Lanning. Lieutenant Blanc and I found him near-death here in the Radio Room.”
“Keep me posted about his condition. Two of Gibson’s newbies gave me the details. Looked like at least one muscle car, standard body. I’ll be going over everything at 203 with a microscope. I got Troy riding shotgun and the pair of us will keep you briefed when we have our findings. T. Jeff signing off.”
When the General hung up, Gibson came on like a laser scope. “Surveillance. This hall and the room.”
The Captain nodded. Once the new operator was there to cover the shift, the officers headed for Security. The facilities were housed in the East Wing, back by the test ranges. A lively jog from one end of the building to the other was all it took to get there, and once they arrived, Security Chief Harrison Garret was about to enter the room.
“Greetings Captain. Lieutenant.” he smiled, his smooth voice aglow. “What can we do for you?”
Captain Westley delivered the order. “Time lapse on the Radio Room Camera and the adjacent hall, four-time speed from the hours of 1200 to 1400. Investigation 0810, regarding to the Sector 200 skirmish.”
“Your wish, our command.” the brown wolf said, opening the door. “Get queuing boys, pronto!”
The wall-to-wall multi-monitor display hummed as the officers stood before it, the tape ready to review. Chief Garret ran the video of the Radio Room for them, only for two frames to loop in perpetuity. The two frames of Radio Op O’Hara finishing his log book entry.
“What the devil is this shit?” he hollered.
“A bug in the capture it looks like.” said the techie beside them. “And it ain’t the camera, but the recorder itself.”
“Dick and Randall, get on that.” barked the Chief, “Bring up the H-28 feed.”
When the hallway camera was queued, the strangest sight occurred.
At 1205, Burke Lanning could be seen walking up to the Radio Office door. At 1207, the black wolf O’Hara could be seen leaving the room. And just as the operator left, the top of the door pushed in towards the room ever so slightly, like a gust of wind caught it.
“Run that again.” Westley said. They did so. Again, and again. The way the door pushed inward had said it all.
“Sonofabitch was cloaked.” Gibson growled. “Chief, have backups made of this. Save the file, make hard copies. Hard case ‘em in case of EMPs.”
The officer nodded and set his team to work. “If you need anything more, just let us know.”
With the handshake agreement made, the Lieutenant and Captain left the room. Westley turned to Gibson as they made their way down the hall. “You’re taking this all pretty well, Lieutenant.”
Gibson went silent at first, then spoke with the weight of twenty years thrown at his back. “Hysterics won’t bring anyone peace of mind. Won’t bring it to me or those kids’ families.”
“War makes you grow up fast, that’s for sure.” Westley nodded. “Let’s see if Burke is stable enough to talk.”
Whatever happened to Lanning knocked him out cold. Dr. Paul Adderley was overseeing the case in the sterile white walls of Sickbay, and upon seeing the Captain and Lieutenant could only say: “he’s not coming out for a while.”
“So it looks like our Griffin did more than crack the guy across the neck.” Westley mused.
“Try near-lacerations.” the white-furred doctor said. “If he had been hit any harder, you would’ve thought a hatchet had come down on him.
“Why didn’t we see the blood?” Gibson asked.
Old Doc Adderley fixed his thin-framed glasses before replying. “My dear bo—dear Lieutenant, begging pardon. What happened was that of a force strong enough to leave an impression on the skin beneath the fur, but not strong enough to pierce. All the same, something hit that op like a truck.”
Westley drew breath for a question, only for a call to come in. “T. Jeff to Sickbay. T. Jeff to Sickbay.”
“Go for Sickbay,” the nurse at the desk replied.
“We’ve got a damn mess here at 203. Commander Wainwright is supervising on-site security. Ambulance 203 has headed your way with two severely wounded personnel. Wounds caused by stabbing with a service knife. We’ve apprehended the aggressor.”
The nurse nodded, looking over to the officers in the room. “Understood, will prepare immediately. Captain Westley and Lieutenant Blanc are also here.”
“Tell them to meet me in Room 505.”
“Run the whole thing by me again Zavia.”
The Commander squirmed as the General had him on the hot seat, a lone light blazing in his eyes, the rest of the room awash in shadow. Westley and Gibson could only watch. A Moto Corpman, turning on his soldiers.
“I was just in the neighborhood.” the white wolf weaseled, his brain half-mad as he spoke.
“In the neighborhood of a FIRING SQUAD if you don’t lay the damn truth on me.” Knox growled. “You don’t just pull stunts like that in broad daylight because you’ve gone up the wall!”
“Fine. I did it to hurry the process along” Zavia smirked.
“Break us down. Sew a little discord. Make us ripe for plucking. Nothing like seeing your superior snap in half, huh? Besides, I shoulda looked over my shoulder before radioing. Those assholes saw me, I fucking knew it.”
Knox was piecing everything together as he spoke. “Communing with the Black Country, then, huh Ted? Mind telling us why, you fucking turncoat?”
The interrogation room went silent as all three officers saw the wheels turning in Ted Zavia’s mind.
“What do I got left to lose at this point?” the white wolf growled. “We have been fighting this sonofabitch for ONE HUNDRED YEARS. Where the fuck has that gotten us? We run around on heaps of fucking scrap while she builds floating empires that can kill more of us than we can of them…but B.C. has got some real shit man. You have NO idea what the hell they’re capable of, do you? DO YOU? They don’t even need any of the Lab’s secrets. They got shit that’d turn the world inside out.”
“AND FOR FUCKING WHAT?” Knox roared. “Say you win the war. Say she goes up in smoke tomorrow. With the way these forces operate, all you get is the same tyranny, the same shit but with a different set of problems. Ace uses cold fucked-up logic, straight and true. We’re swayed by passions, the kind of passions that kill a man for slightest infraction. Then what have you sold your soul for? WHAT? Another empire of evil, now uninhibited by programs and handlers.”
Knox grabbed hold of Zavia by the neck with his metal hand and raised him up. He swapped hands and socked him hard with his cybernetic fist, holding the commander over the table. The white wolf gazed smugly down at General.
“Beats waiting on the Force.” he growled.
“Try this on for size,” the dark gray barked, “The hell were you doing with Captain Maxwell’s Monte Carlo?”
“Ask Donnie,” were Zavia’s last words. The infernal hound grabbed the General’s revolver from his hip, slammed the barrel against his temple, and with a deafening blast, blew his head open. The limp body dropped from the General’s hands, hitting the table with a crack.
Knox retrieved his piece, wiping away the flecked blood from his face. The three officers, all stunned, heard the door behind them open and slam shut. Everyone bolted, Knox ripped at it, bringing the thick wood off its hinges as the trio hurried after the cloaked figure.
“He’s got exits either way.” Gibson said.
Knox looked down both ends of the hallway. He heard a quiet squeak coming from their right. “He’s making a break for the firing ranges.”
Everyone darted down the hall, careening towards the exit door and into the desert sun as they saw the faint dusty paw prints of Captain Maxwell pat out clouds as he ran. The footprints raced away, closer and closer towards the range. They passed the hut where the firing lanes were organized. The footfalls soldiered on, until, as the rangemaster of the sessions cried “FIRE!” the prints took a hard left turn into the range.
The first shot came from the barrel of Dawn Fletcher’s LeMat.
A heaving explosion of sparks and blood dressed the sand as the body was sent spinning into the next four firing lanes, each recruit an executor as the final, sanguinary remains of Captain Donald Maxwell revealed themselves, dressed in the jet-black cloaksuit he had worn.
As the shock set in for the recruits and others went running towards the body. The Lieutenant, the Captain, and the General were left with a question ringing in their ears. It rang on far longer than the electric lead that had cut Maxwell down.
It was the ringing question of “why?”
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