If you like military science fiction, or enjoy the world of Quantum Mortis, you really have to start reading Wardogs Incorporated. Book Three will be out before too long, so you should have time to read the first two if you haven’t already.
Our other patrols were back and casualty-free. Jock gathered us quickly. “They tracked the drop, boys. They know we’re here, they know we need this. And they have at least one tank. Open these containers as fast as you can and search for anything we can use to blow it to hell.”
“We’re going to need a crowbar,” Four-eyes said, using the word as if he’d always known it. I was already rifling through the toolbox in my jeep. I came out with a long screwdriver and a hammer. Jock grabbed the same, we raced to the first container and I started working at the thing. It had a lock of some sort that was supposed to be opened by some special tool. After a minute, I realized the hammer/screwdriver combo wasn’t going to cut it.
“Clear out,” I yelled, then fired a round into the lock. Still stuck. Then again. I hated doing that because of the ricochets. The third round cracked the lock and I pried with the screwdriver as Ward and Jones pulled at the door. It let go, almost throwing us on the ground, and we were greeted with a flood of packing peanuts. Brushing them away I got to the cardboard and shrink-wrap covered boxes inside, then cut into the first one with my bayonet. A spurt of red startled me until I smelled tomato. Great. More lasagna.
“Next!” I yelled, and we started on the next container. POW POW—two shots this time, then prying it open, then another flood of packing peanuts. “Come on, Four-eyes,” I said, throwing them away in fistfuls, “you really sure you don’t know what’s in these?”
“No,” he said. “I got weights but not contents. That last one could have been one long gun or ten thousand blankets.”
“Or a restaurant shipment,” I said, as I cut into the first box I could reach. This one opened without damage and I hit something metal, and cut around it and got my hand into the dark box and around a cylinder. I pulled it out. It had a picture on the side. Loquats in syrup.
I threw it down and went to the next container, which was already being opened by Jones and Ward.
“Hey!” yelled Jock. “We got some ammo over here!”
“Great,” I yelled back. “RPGs?”
“Negative,” he said. “Small arms.”
“Then we have to keep–” Four-eyes said, then suddenly fell to the ground as I simultaneously heard the crack of a rifle. I hit the ground hard and heard the rattle of answering fire from behind another container. I didn’t see the sniper—but I saw the pool of blood under Four-eyes and swore—he was already dead. Right in the neck. GODDAMMIT!
Ping-CRACK! I heard another bullet hit the container before the crack of the report. I sent a burst of fire up the field but still saw no-one. More answering fire rattled in my ears. Blood was rushing to my head as I went into the red zone—that madness you get under fire. Things slowed down as I spotted Ace behind the next container, rifle pointed over my head. He waved me in, and I ran in a crouch and hunkered down beside him.
“Ace,” I said, “you good?”
“Yeah,” he said, looking through his sight, rifle propped on his good knee. “I ain’t moving, so they’d better get in sight. Yes… okay… there you go… right–” CRACK! He sent a round and I saw a man jump up in the grass, then fall again.
“That might be it,” he said. “For the moment.”
“Stay here and snipe,” I said. All I could think about was hitting back. “I’m cracking cargo. Where did Leighton go?”
“TOMMY!” yelled Jock, “Over here!”
I ran three containers over to where he was pulling out a large wooden crate with Park’s help. A bullet whizzed overhead. Park sent a burst of fire back as Jock and I ripped off the lid.
“Whoa,” I said, realizing the interior of the box had multiple smaller boxes inside carefully nested in foam. I picked one up—it was really heavy. “What the devil are these?”
“Oh shit,” said Jock. “There are nuke shells. Lead-lined cases—made for a howitzer.”
“What the hell–” I said, then two more bullets hit the ground in front of me.
“Next container,” Jock yelled as we hit the ground and started crawling. “We can’t launch those things anyhow.”
Just as we got to the next container, there was a massive THUMP! and a crackling explosion of breaking glass and metal. I looked back—NO! MY JEEP!
A tank had crested the hill and blown up my goddamn jeep! Now I was pissed. I opened up with my rifle at the tank.
“Save your damn ammo!” Jock yelled at me.
“My JEEP!” I yelled back. “He blew up my goddam jeep!”
“Shut the hell up,” Jock said, then yelled to the rest of the guys. “Back—get back! Tank incoming!”
THUMP-CRACK! A shell hit one of the containers near me, sending a massive splash of liquid up into the air. I suddenly smelled apples. Apple juice. Great.
“Get to the woods!” Jock yelled. Howland was hauling Ace by one arm. I grabbed the other and we hauled it towards the woods, half carrying our pilot.
The other guys were winging rounds back but I was too encumbered to use my rifle. 50 meters… 40… meters… THUMP! A shell hit near us and threw us on the ground. Ace yelled in pain and I felt the sting of hot metal go into my right arm and neck. My ears were ringing. 35 meters to the woods. I pulled Ace up and Howland started to rise, then fell back to the ground and looked at me with a surprised expression as foam and blood poured from his mouth.
“Howland!” I yelled, letting go of Ace and putting my hand on him. He looked up at me and said something that came out as a bubbling hiss, then his eyes went blank and a final breath rattled from his throat. He was gone—and I saw why, his jacket was soaked with blood. Chest hit.
“Dammit!” Ace yelled. “We gotta move!”
I grabbed his arm but as we got up, THUMP! Another shell hit, knocking me on my ass. I looked back. Two tanks closing in, and at least a squad of guys coming over the top behind them. They’d spotted us and were closing in. “Come on!” I yelled, grabbing Ace and speeding him towards the woods. 20 meters, 10 meters—THUMP—CRACK! A tree in front of us blew into toothpicks, showering us with chips of wood as we closed in—and then were were in the woods. Ward grabbed Ace’s other arm as we went further in. The woods were way too thin for my liking. Mostly regrowth with lots of space in between cover.
“Over here!” Jock yelled. “Another container!”
There, half hung up in a tree was another container. Jock blew the lock off and we started yanking out packaging. Medical supplies and linens. DAMMIT!
Bullets zipped over us and leaves fell from the trees. The tanks had stopped for the moment, but I knew we were going to be joined by Corwistalians in a moment.
Jock nodded at Park and he went up a tree to watch the mottled light at the entrance to the woods. I didn’t see Jones anywhere.
I heard more gunfire behind us and whipped around. I couldn’t see anything, but Jock tagged my arm and I went back to look.
As I tip-toed, I heard a grunt from a little ways ahead, then a “Eureka!”
“Jones!” I yelled.
“Falkland—get over here!”
He’d found another container and busted it open. “Here’s the ticket!” he said, thumping the side of a long case. “120mm mortar!”
“Run,” I said to Jones. “Get the rest of the guys.”
He ran back. I heard the rattling of guns off in the distance as I dug around for a crate of rounds.
A moment later, Jones was back, along with Jock. “Park and Ace are coming,” Jock said, grabbing one end of a crate and throwing it out of the way. A bullet whizzed past us but we didn’t dare shoot back, knowing our guys were still coming. I found a box of rounds and thanked Ares for his provision.
Park and Ace came up and Park dropped Ace next to a tree and lent his shoulder to the effort. As I pushed, I saw blood on the sleeve of my jacket. Shrapnel. Don’t bleed to death now, I told myself as I pulled out rounds. I could hear the tank engines now. Way too close! “How the hell are we supposed to hit guys this close with a mortar?”
“Horizontal fire,” Ace yelled, pain on his face. “Jam the baseplate against a tree or something, then throw the shell down the tube.”’
“I swear, if the bad guys don’t kill us you guys will,” Jock said.