One moment, Cordoza and the soldiers escorting her had been standing silently in the lift, tense, but still wholly unaware of the threat that lurked mere inches away from them. The next minute, one man was recoiling backward as blood sprayed from the side of his face, the result of a bullet skimming the skin off of his cheek. The reactions of the soldiers were varied, with some unable to even get their rifles off their shoulders before they were cut down by the decloaked infiltrators. Others were not so easily eliminated, and the exchange of short-range gunfire was deafening and chaotic.
The sergeant screamed something unintelligible, before his chest was ripped apart by a spray of automatic fire by one of the two infiltrator mercs. Two more men were taken down in the same barrage. The man with the wounded cheek had stumbled and fallen over. A fifth Norkotian had their head shattered by a magnum round a second after that. Cordoza dropped to the floor with a cry, as she felt slatters of wet, hot liquid and slime splatter on her. She knew it all to be parts of the men who had been standing next to her a second before.
One of the remaining Norkotians, this one equipped with an SMG, began spraying the opposite side of the lift with a continuous street of bullets, the flashes of his gunbarrel lighting up the room enough for everyone to get a vague visage of where everyone was standing.
“Son of a--- AHH!” the man’s frustration at his clip running empty was ended abruptly by a magnum bullet shattering his leg, dropping him to the floor.
Two of the survivors, both equipped with rifles, had managed to get their weapons up and were firing now as well. But bolt-action rifles were only suitable for long-range sniping in modern warfare, and in the dark, chaotic conditions, none of their rounds struck home. There was a dark flash of shadow across their vision, followed by one being struck in the face by a thrown weapon; the automatic rifle that one of the mercs had been holding. The impact busted his nose and sent him reeling backward, causing the other to instinctively turn toward the movement of his comrade falling over. Unfortunately, that put him in a poor position to defend against the merc, who had closed the distance in the midst of the distraction, plunging some sort of wrist blades right up the poor man’s chin and through his brain.
The merc with the wrist blades then turned to finish off the staggered soldier, the sound of steel ripping through fabric and flesh, and a sharp sting on his right arm, forced him to change targets. One of the other soldiers, the one female member of the squad, had drawn out a combat knife and slashed the merc across the bicep. His arm now hung limp, the wound having been deep enough to cut his tendons and make that arm useless. Even so, this merc was a silent one, and only a soft grunt escaped his lips as swung his wrist-blade at her. The woman jumped backward, but the swipe still landed a shallow laceration across part of her chest, eliciting a hiss of pain as she backed into the railing. Seeing that she had nowhere to go, the wrist-blade merc was about to move in and finish her off, when suddenly an arm wrapped around his throat from behind. The staggered soldier from earlier, fighting through the blood and tears caused by his busted face, had recovered enough to lunge forward and grab the wrist-blade mercenary from behind. This soldier was strong, that much the mercenary could tell, and if allowed, he would simply strangle him to death right there. He needed to be disposed of quickly. Pivoting his wrist blade, the mercenary performed a simple punching motion at the space behind himself, the sound of bone and flesh giving way to his vibroblade being all the confirmation he needed to have that he had succeeded.
But only a split-second later did he realize the folly of that move.
Even before he could pull the blade out of the skull of the soldier behind him, the soldier in front of him had struck, her blade slashing across the merc’s other exposed bicep. His other arm now had been rendered useless, and the pain and unexpected horror of the situation caused a slightly more audible reaction from the mercenary.
The soldier behind him slid to the floor lifelessly, his arm releasing the merc’s neck, but it was immediately replaced by the hand of the female soldier, who used her left to hold the mercenary in place, then used her right to thrust her combat knife into the mercenary’s gut. Not once. Not twice. Not even three times. The mercenary lost count of the number of times that knife pierced his abdomen in those few seconds, but each stab was a not-so-subtle reminder of how one little slip-up was the difference between life and death.
At last, she relented, giving the dying man in front of her a shove-kick to the floor. That victory turned out to be short lived, however; as she turned to the right to find a magnum pistol leveled with her forehead.
“My only regret is that I don’t have time to make you suffer for your insolence, bitch,” the fourth mercenary growled, the last standing Norkotian falling dead in the background behind him.
“Guess we can’t always get what we want, can we?” the lady soldier replied in a defiant, though slightly shaky voice.
“Hmph, indeed,” the mercenary’s scowl turned into a smirk, as he heard his burly comrade beating-down Zack somewhere in the opposite corner of the lift, “Buh-bye bitch!”
The lady soldier jumped, but quickly realized the flash and sound had come from her left, not from the gun barrel in front of her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw one last soldier, the man who’d been shot in the cheek at the start of the skirmish, holding a rifle that was pointed at the magnum-merc in front of her.
“Uaghh... ahh… err…” the mercenary moaned, trying to fight through the burning sensation in his innards and pull back the trigger of his pistol.
Instead, the woman jumped forward, forcing the pistol from the man’s limp grip, pushing him back, blasting him square in the face with his own weapon, then turning it toward the burly man who was laying the epic beatdown on Zack.
*BANG* *clink* *BANG* *clink* *BANG* *clink*
Each bullet struck the brute’s armor, ricocheting away uselessly. Even the magnum handgun could not penetrate it.
The armored van carrying Tynes, Krieger and Clive had been speeding its way through the southern industrial district, a region that had been passed-through by Norkotian forces earlier, but was largely empty now. The Southern Column, which contained some of the Norkotian experimental units, had largely proceeded directly to its objective; the lifts. In the smoldering shadows of the smoke billowing from the destroyed hydro plant, the industrial district was a prime place for the mercenaries to launch their ambush. However, because it was largely empty, it was the fastest way to the lifts for Tynes, which was why the van and its escorts had taken this route instead of staying in the center of town. The river could be spotted to their left, whenever there was a gap between buildings.
For the sake of speed and to try and avoid attracting too much attention, the escorts assigned to the van were relatively minimal. An armored car, fast enough to match speed with most normal civilian vehicles, took up the point, while a jeep with a mounted machinegun followed behind the van. These were quickly shown to be adequate when the Tin Man’s mercenaries struck, however.
The small column was moving fast enough that the armored car did not have time to react and was already past the intersection when the android struck. The men in the jeep, surprised by the sudden appearance of a humanoid assailant, at first turned their weapons toward the android, only to be cut down from the opposite side as the jeep entered the intersection and moved right into the line-of-fire of the gathered mercenaries.
The armored car immediately began turning around, its turret-mounted .50 caliber machinegun being the most significant firepower the Norko column had available. But it had barely opened fire and cut down one mercenary before the entire vehicle was turned into an inferno by another merc with a portable rocket-launcher. The slight delay caused by that, along with the walk over to the damaged van, was enough time for a bunch of things to happen.
First was Krieger coming to his senses once the vehicle stopped rolling. Despite the impact, the metal frame had protected those inside from being crushed, though they had all been thrown around considerably. Clive had struck his head and been knocked unconscious as a result of that, and Krieger had not the time to figure out if he was living or dead. Instead, he grabbed the dazed but conscious Joseph Tynes and hauled him toward the rear of the van. Luckily, one of the rear doors still responded, and he was able to force it open and pull the Executor with him. Meanwhile, the co-pilot of the van, his driver having been killed in the crash, was pushing open the door facing toward the ceiling and attempting to climb out. Krieger did not stop to help him, though he hissed a command to follow. The soldier gave a soft acknowledgement, managing to pull himself out of the vehicle and limp after his superiors. The voices of the enemy mercenaries could be heard as they came down the stairs into the factory, but amidst all the industrial noise, not much could be made out. At least, not until Skull cried out his taunt. Tynes, who had finally recovered from his initial stupor, clenched his fist in rage at the insinuation the mercenary was making.
Even so, Krieger ushered Tynes and the soldier to follow him deeper into the facility, finding a spot behind cover and cloaked in shadows to try and come up with a plan. Tynes, tempted to just turn the corner and shoot skull in the face with his pistol, reluctantly followed the colonel.
“We likely won’t have any radio reception at this level,” Krieger began, speaking quickly, “There are too many and they have enhanced soldiers, so fighting alone will be futile. However…”
He handed Tynes his personal radio, in case Tynes’s was broken.
“If you get to the roof, you may be able to signal reinforcements. It’s risky, so stay out of site up there, but it’s our only hope.”
“What about you?” Tynes asked.
“The guardsman and I will hold them here and keep them busy while you make for the roof. Don’t worry about us, sir. Worry about getting those reinforcements called-in,” Krieger responded.
Tynes thought about insisting on staying with them to hold off the enemy, or having them all come with him, but he realized that the best chance for all of them to survive was for him to do as Krieger suggested. And while Krieger was a veteran, and the other soldier a member of the elite Executive Guard, Tynes himself was more activist and politician than soldier. Sure he had been trained in the basics, but he was far more a strategist than a fighter. This was not his arena.
“Did you see the way to the upper levels?” he asked.
“No, you’ll have to find that yourself,” Krieger shook his head, “Get moving. We’ll draw their attention.”
With that, he nodded at the guardsman, and the both of them moved out from cover to start stalking the mercenaries. Tynes clipped Krieger’s radio to his belt, then put both his hands on his pistol. It was a unique moment for him now, alone in the dark against a small army of mercenaries hell-bent on killing him. He had always surrounded himself with the right people, fellow strategists and learned advisors, guards and associates. Even though there had already been two attempts on his life previously, he had never been alone.
Now he was.
There was a sudden explosion of weapon fire, as the guardsman’s SMG began spraying bullets at someone else, and return fire was sent back at him. It was time to move, and so Tynes moved. He crossed shadows cast by one machine to the next, the red-orange glow of facility creating a nightmarish landscape of black and grey shapes, illuminated by fire. The lights of the factory had been cut when the hydro plant was destroyed, and the workers had evacuated hours ago, but the automated machines continued to run, likely powered by on-site generators. The air was hot and thick, and was left to wonder if this whole place would not suffer a disaster if it were allowed to continue to run unsupervised.
That moment of distracted thought was enough that he didn’t see the the shadows of movement, nor hear the footsteps just around the corner he was approaching. Both he and the mercenary surprised each-other, and in the hurried seconds that followed, dozens of bullets were thrown through the air to deflect aimlessly off of metal machinery, brick walls or concrete floors. Tynes heard his pistol click empty, prompting him to hurl it at the mercenary rather than attempt to reload. The mercenary was struck in the hand, causing his aim to fail (again) for just a couple seconds, by which time the Executor had closed the distance and tackled the merc. Both grappled for the rifle in those few seconds, before the awkward angle of his arm caused the mercenary to accidentally pull down and hold the trigger, firing the rest of his clip uselessly into the ceiling. With his weapon useless, the merc promptly released it and threw a first into Tynes’s face, knocking him away. The mercenary then quickly stood up, as Tynes stumbled to do likewise. Luckily, the merc was a man who relied on strength alone, and had no hand-to-hand or martial art training, and so his next attempted attack was predictable. Tynes simply juked to the side, then landed an uppercut into the mercenary’s gut. The merc was a bit surprised by Tynes’s physical strength, but he quickly reciprocated. Several more back and forth blows were exchanged, some blocked, some dodged, some taken. Suddenly, the mercenary lunged forward, slamming Tynes’s back into a vat of molten steel, while at the same time he reached for Tynes’s throat with his hands.
“Don’tcha worry about a thing, little man. I’ll put ya to sleep an’ ya’ll just never wake up!” he laughed, attempting to choke out the smaller man with his muscular hands.
However, Tynes still had one more ace to play. With each of his hands, he grabbed the arms of the mercenary and tried to pull them away. At first, the mercenary just grinned at what seemed like a futile effort, but soon his grin turned to a frown as he felt his arms being pulled apart.
“You’re not…” Tynes coughed as his throat was freed, “The only ones… with enhancement…”
If only the room had been a bit more silent, the mercenary might have heard the soft whirring in Tynes’s left arm, which was slowly and painfully forcing his own back.
“Wait, you’re…” the mercenary’s eyes bulged in realization.
Suddenly Tynes released one of the merc’s arms, balled up a fist, and sent it crashing across the man’s lower jaw. The merc gasped and spat out blood and broken teeth, stunned as Tynes used that moment of confusion to pivot himself behind the merc in a quick, though ungraceful motion. With his right arm pinning the merc’s left behind his back, Tynes grabbed the back of the merc’s head with his left hand.
“Burn in hell, asshole.”
With that he shoved the mercenary forward, plunging his face right into the molten steel, the man’s scream of shock being promptly smothered by a horrifying hiss of flesh meeting liquid fire. Tynes’s arm felt little pain, despite the proximity to the heat, for it was nothing more than a metallic prosthetic covered in rubbery faux-skin. The rubber itself began to melt off, but that didn’t stop Tynes from holding the man’s face down until his body stopped flailing and twitching.
At last, the Executor stepped back and exhaled, his breathing heavy and ragged. Never in his life had he killed a man directly, until now. And he could not have done it if it weren’t for the last two people who tried to kill him; the two people who, for completely separate reasons, had caused enough damage to Tynes’s arms that his left had to be replaced completely with a prosthetic, and his right had to be surgically rebuilt. Those occurrences certainly had an effect on the man, but nothing was quite like being the killer yourself. He had taken his first step into a larger world. And, in releasing all that pent-up anger and frustration, after years of being misunderstood, lied-about, resisted at every turn, assaulted and even put in the hospital, and now having the integrity of his very nation threatened by some double-crossing foreigner, Tynes found that… he had actually enjoyed it.
Even so, he took another couple steps away from the body, as it fell to the floor with only a charred remnant of its head remaining. It was both horrifying and empowering to know what he was capable of, and that left a conflicted feeling in Joseph Tynes’s soul. He didn’t set out to be a killer, that wasn’t his goal. If he had to have other people kill for him on occasion, in order to bring about a better future, then that was one thing. This… was something else.
“Radio, right…” he said aloud, shaking himself back to reality.
Checking to make sure the radios were still attached to his belt, he retraced his footsteps and found his dropped pistol, replaced the clip, and then went on again. He had to reach the roof, or more than just himself and Krieger would be doomed...