THE RETREAT 4: ALAMO Excerpt
Heading your way around the third week in June: The Retreat 4: Alamo. The battalion is rolling hot once again as it leads a mass of evacuees, dependents, and fragmented military units toward the rumored reconstituted safe zone of Florida. Craig DiLouie is back at the helm, and he’s in fine form this time, let me tell you!
As always, the below excerpt is offered without any guarantee that what you read here will be in the released product, etc., etc.
Route 180 cut through trees and farmland. As it topped a rise, Corporal Sandra Rawlings saw the convoy strung out ahead of her through a brown haze of dust. Dozens of vehicles and trailers, hundreds of soldiers, thousands of civilians. A farmhouse burned in the distance, surrounded by fields trodden into mud. From here, the retreat looked more like a rout.
The Humvees and trucks crawled along the road, overloaded with wounded and children and gear. The Trailblazers scout platoon and Alpha Company, Captain Hayes’s hard chargers, formed the vanguard. Then Headquarters under Jane, with Echo, the logistics company, under Johnston, and the mortar and medic platoons. Charlie under Sommers, Delta under Perez. Marsh’s Bravo Company, which had gotten decimated during the kamikaze attacks in Philly, had been placed in the rear with the civilians and what was left of the Pennsylvania Guard’s 56th. Later, they’d be integrated. If there was a later.
Everywhere, people coughed on the dust in the afternoon heat of this, the last dregs of summer. Babies cried. Gear clattered. The vehicles snarled and coughed exhaust. Otherwise, it was a subdued march. They’d come nearly two hundred kilometers out of Philly, through Gettysburg. They felt sickened and numb, even the hard cases, even the big hairy Sergeant Muldoon, who seemed born for a war like this.
Rawlings remembered first meeting her squad, these lightfighters of Company B. Before that, at Harvard Stadium, she’d been a leader; the boys there had been so shell shocked, they’d all but given up, but rallied to her mothering. These 10th Mountain guys, however, had seen her as a leaf eater. She’d proven herself—not by any single heroic act, but simply by covering her sector and shooting straight—and when they looked at her now, they often forgot she was NG, a Nasty Girl.
They’d changed since that first time she’d met them and they’d tried to intimidate and impress her with their barracks routine. Gone was the grab-ass, the macho posturing, the dumb jokes, the bitching. They were starting to look like the lost boys of Harvard Stadium, which worried her. They didn’t talk about how they missed KFC and beer and PS3 and going to football games, the comforts of home. They were home, what they called the Home Front, and it was filled with blood. They missed everything. They missed the ones they loved. The world didn’t make sense anymore. They were supposed to do the fighting and dying while their loved ones stayed safe. Now here they were, safe for the moment, while so many people they knew were probably dead or cowering in some government stronghold.
Rawlings felt the same guilt. She remembered getting called up in Beantown and reporting to the Muleskinners, a logistics unit with the 164th Transportation Battalion, Massachusetts National Guard. Boston was falling apart from the horrifying epidemic. Everybody thought once the civilian governments had pulled their heads out of their collective ass and unleashed the military, things would get back under control. The Army held the line for a while, but only a while. Every day, the gunfire got a little louder, a little closer. Every day, things got worse.
Boston’s major arteries had been closed off to civilian traffic and used as super lanes for troop movements and logistics. Day and night, the Muleskinners hauled supplies all over the crumbling city. Then one day, a five-ton broke down on the Massachusetts Turnpike, near the Big Dig. The convoy pulled over. Lieutenant Spaulding set up a security perimeter while the gearheads got to work. The Muleskinners shared cigarettes and sweated in their combat uniforms. Rawlings popped a fresh stick of gum in her mouth and chewed like she wanted to kill it.
A group of police officers appeared at the fence and looked down at her. Some wore riot gear. About thirty in all. They’d come out of the Mass Pike Towers, a low-income housing project. One raised his hands and waved frantically over his head, making Rawlings stiffen. While she stared back at them, they began climbing the chain-link fence and loping down onto the highway. They glanced over their shoulders. Wherever they’d come from, something bad had happened.
“Sergeant,” Rawlings said. “We got company. Some kind of trouble.”
Lieutenant Spaulding was already jogging toward them. Sergeant Nance sighed at the sight. “Look at her go. Wonder Woman to the rescue. Like we need this shit. We got a schedule to keep.”
Rawlings heard Spaulding ask, “What do you guys need?”
“Christmas,” a cop said and cut her in half with his shotgun.
Rawlings swallowed her gum. “They’re crazies!”
“Shit!” Nance said. “LT! Shit! Loonies!”
The cops tore into their outfit with a joyous cheer. The officer who’d killed the Lieutenant grinned at Rawlings, sweeping his finger across his throat. She raised her M16 and fired a three-round burst, missed, and fired again. The man fell to his knees laughing, smoking pouring out of his chest.
They’re cops, she remembered thinking. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It couldn’t be happening. But it was.
Nance dropped without a sound, half her face gone. One moment, she was a human being shouting orders, the next, a falling sack of lifeless meat. Everywhere, people screamed, others laughed. Rifles popped. Rawlings fired again at a charging figure. Something blurred in the corner of her eye; her mouth exploded in pain. She reeled, spitting blood and splinters of teeth, as a gorilla in a bulletproof vest swung his baton again with savage glee, ringing her helmet like a gong.
She fired on reflex. The bullet entered his right eye, bounced around, and shot the mess out the back of his skull. Then she blacked out.
She awoke in Harvard Stadium, her friends dead, her unit destroyed. Two weeks later, she’d been forced to kill another friend, Private Scott Wade. Six weeks after that, she watched another good man, Jeff Carter, die.
So much horror and death, yet she lived.
Rawlings often wondered why.
In the distance, bodies dangled from a dead power line. The battalion hadn’t seen a Klown—short for Killer Clown, the nickname the lightfighters gave the laughing infected—in days. She wondered where they all went. The fields here had been trampled flat. A massive army had passed through this place.
Marching next to her, Muldoon nudged her shoulder. “You okay?”
Rawlings stared at him. Was anybody okay?
“You’re okay,” he told her.
Unlike the other Bushmasters marching with their heads down and their shoulders clenched, the big NCO walked easily. He’d shrugged off the horrors of Philly days ago and was back to his old insufferable self. He was doing okay. He was doing just fine. The sergeant seemed at home with all this. A true survivor.
Despite all the affection Rawlings felt for the man, she hated him right then.
“Our earnest and intrepid Colonel Lee has gotten us this far,” Muldoon said, loud enough to be heard by the whole squad. “We’ll reach Mount Weather soon. Corporate Nutter will grab his balls and tell the President he didn’t vote for her.”
Nutter said, “Is that an order, Duke?”
“Ramirez will drink his Mexican ass stupid. Donegal will bitch about something. Make that everything. Garza will somehow get the clap.”
“And Cline will look for the nearest gay bar.”
The squad burst into laughter, earning them worried glares from the people around them.
Sparta 3-1, this is Sparta, over, Muldoon’s radio buzzed.
“Go for 3-1, over.”
Knock off the laughing. Now. Over.
Now Rawlings joined in. Laughing felt dangerous but good.
Muldoon said, “Just boosting morale, Lieutenant.”
You’re killing everybody else’s. Gonna give somebody a heart—
“Negative contact, Sparta. Say again, over.”
What the—? Wait, one.
“Train!” somebody cried.
Rawlings stiffened as a flurry of panicked screams rippled through the civilians. She looked across the helmeted heads of Bravo and saw a civilian with a scoped hunting rifle standing on an RV.
“Train,” the man repeated. “There’s a train coming!”