“So, what is going on?” Doc asked as he and The Monk scrambled over the rim of the crater.
“The enemy basically is getting ready to fuck us up the ass,” John said.
“And we,” Eric said, with a smile, “are getting the party favors ready.” He slid down from the rim of the crater as he said this. “Check in that duffel bag.”
It was pretty close to John, so he unzipped it. “Well,” he said, “that looks pretty reassuring.” I looked in it. Inside was a machine gun (an Mk-48 with bipod, foregrip and ACOG sight,) one of the six-shot grenade launchers, a fucking flamethrower, some ammo for the MK 48, and a whole bunch of grenades.
“You like, huh?” Eric asked.
“We’re still eight people against over a hundred,” John said. “Those are some pretty bad odds.”
“Actually,” Eric said, “there may be less than a hundred. We have been fighting for quite a while.” He beamed wider. “After all, why did you think we asked you to bring ammo?”
“I honestly thought it was because you were a terrible shot, boss.” Doc said, a look of complete innocence on his face.
We all laughed, even Eric was chuckling as he punched Doc in the shoulder. “You just won the position of ammo consolidation, my friend,” he said. “Anyway, I have a plan.”
He instantly got serious. “For practical purposes, there are two ways in and out of this crater. The first is the one you came in. The other is on the opposite side. We came in that way, only to discover the snow is waist-deep. It can be traversed, but not while we are being shot at. On the other sides are bushes we’d have to use machetes to cut through.”
“So what’s stopping us from running out that back door now?” Cross asked. “No one’s shooting at us yet.”
“And what if the attack comes while we are running through the waist-deep snow?” Doc asked. “Do you think our enemies will just let us finish wading slowly through an open area with no cover?”
“I take it you have some sort of plan,” I said.
“Yes, Killer,” Eric said, becoming serious, “I have a plan. You see, we have been in several fights where they have had dozens of guys and plenty of cover. If we managed to kill more than a few of them, they would always run away. If we can put up a vicious enough defense, the enemy will retreat and it will give us time to get away, but if we just turn and run, they could come over that hill and shoot us while we are wading through the snow.”
“I also managed to find some ammo for the launcher that was more than glorified water balloons.” MC Disaster said. “I can lay down quite a few shots of pure terror.”
“Sounds good,” I said. “Let’s see if we can contact Eliza and tell her the plan.”
“Ok,” Eric said, “I will do that. Doc and Disaster will be sorting ammo. The rest of you get up onto the rim and keep a watch out for attackers.”
We all gave various affirmatives as we scrambled up the crater. I ended up next to John. “So,” John said, in a voice loud enough for me to hear, but low enough so no one else could, “you know, we could die here.”
“Yeah…” I said, trailing off. It was a sobering thought. Through my earbud, I could hear the conversation between Eric and Eliza.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while now,” John said, “and honestly I don’t want to die from something as stupid as this.” He paused, shaking his head. I took my earbud out to hear him better. “I thought I was going to, you know, get a chance to save the world. Not die in a literal hole in the fucking ground because some sadists thought that having our finals be to punish some psychos with guns was a good idea.” He sighed. “If I die now… If I die in this stupid, fucked-up situation, and you live, can you do me a favor?”
“Sure,” I said. “Or at least I’ll try.”
“Can you tell my parents I love them?” He asked, looking me right in the eye. “And that this was for them?”
“Sure,” I said, “but if I die, you have to tell my family the same thing.”
“Not a problem.”
“Can’t believe I might never see my sister again,” I said as I began to scan the area. “Thinking about it makes me realize I’ve been kind of a dick. I should have hung out with her more…”
“Well, that’s always something you can change if we survive,” John said. “I mean, assuming you don’t get shot in the head again, you’ve got a good sixty-seventy years ahead of you.” I laughed. John smiled. “God dammit, that wasn’t supposed to be a joke!” he said laughing as well.
I stopped laughing. “Well, it’s either that or have a panic attack because I got shot in the head. This honestly seems like a better option.”
Cross, who had been working his way over to us, butted in. “Hey,” he asked, “what is this about having been shot twice? I mean, I saw the bullet bounce off your thick fucking skull, but what happened with the other one?”
“A bunch of idiots tried to do a spray-and-pray.” I said. “I was lucky and only took a single round to the chest plate. There was also a third one that glanced off me on the way into the crater.”
“You lucky bastard…” Cross said.
“I know!” John said. “We watch him disappear into one of these fucking bushes, then we hear him yell something about hostiles and everyone in the goddamn world open up on him. When I come through the bushes we that he’s killed three people, injured a fourth, and playing possum for the remaining two like some kind of horror villain!”
“Damn, Killer!” Cross said. “Who do you think you are, Chuck Norris?”
“Actually,” I said, a little sullenly, “I was lying on the ground hoping you guys would come save my ass.”
“Hey!” Doc yelled from down in the crater, “You guys up there, do you have any empty clips? If you do, toss them down.”
That derailed the conversation. For quite a bit, there was nothing to do, other than occasionally shoot at people moving outside the crater and warm our hands by the fire that MC Disaster had somehow managed to conjure up.
Just when I was taking my turn by the fire and finally getting warm, Doc (who had finished refilling everyone’s magazines and was up at the top of the crater,) suddenly called out, “I got movement!” He was watching the lane we thought the enemy would come from, so I instantly assumed the worst.
As I grabbed my gun and began the climb up to the rim, Eric yelled back, “The phone says that it’s a scouting force! The main force isn’t far behind!”
Monk, who had beat me to the top of the crater, was aiming down the optical sight of his FAL. “Do you want me to fire?” he asked.
“How close are they?” Eric asked The Monk, just as I got to the top.
“Two hundred and fifty meters and closing,” The Monk said.
I followed where he was pointing his gun. There, coming towards us, was a group of six people, rifles of various types slung across their chests. “Dumbasses,” I muttered. “None of them have body armor or are taking cover. And their coats are fucking neon!” I flipped up my zoom scope. “Guess we should thank them.”
“You are learning, Killer,” The Monk said. “Now would you be a friend and help me spot?”
“Certainly,” I said, bringing the scope of my gun to my eye.
“Lead guy with the bolt-action,” The Monk said. “Head.”
I focused on the lead man. He was gesturing wildly with some kind of scoped bolt-action rifle. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but his body language screamed overconfident bro-douche despite the corpses of the previous group who had tried to dislodge us. I jumped a little at the sound of The Monk’s FAL. However I was able to see the impact.
The guy was wearing one of those coats made out of those plastic tubes filled with insulation, so I saw one of them deflate a bit. “You’re real low,” I said as the guy fell back. “He took the bullet a bit above the heart.” In the meantime, most of the advancing group had begun to run away. One, however, stood stock still.
“Frozen guy, chest.” The Monk said. He fired.
The guy fell back. “Think that was the heart,” I said.
“Good,” The Monk responded. “That was my target.”
One of them got behind a tree. “Finally!” Doc said. “Someone with a spine! If this one tries to save his comrade, let him.”
I saw him yell to his retreating comrades. I moved my scope up to get their response. One stopped to give him the finger and yell back. The Monk’s FAL jumped again, and the guy’s hand exploded a half second later.
“Bastard…” he muttered. “You help your friends.”
“Nice shot!” I said.
“No it wasn’t,” The Monk said. “I was aiming for his balls.” He paused. “I suppose that wouldn’t have hurt him much, though.”
The guy who had been smart enough to take cover began to try to suppress us, firing what looked to be some modernized AK on full auto. His rounds were so off target, it was actually kind of cute. He ran to his friend that had been shot in the chest, possibly not realizing his gun had gone dry. The wannabe hero checked his friend’s pulse. His shoulders slouched. His friend was dead.
The survivor, after a moment coming to terms with the death of his friend, began to run. He stopped by the guy The Monk had shot in the hand and began to drag him away.
“I don’t care what you say,” I said as I watched as the two disappeared into the white beyond, “that guy’s a hero.”
“You know,” The Monk said, a little peevishly, “any of us would do the same for a friend.”
“I didn’t say you guys wouldn’t step up,” I said, “but I am sure you would be much more competent than those guys.” The Monk nodded approvingly. After a pause, I asked “I wonder when the main force will get here?”
“Funny you should ask that, Killer,” Eric called up. He was carrying an AKS-74U in one hand and the MK-48 in the other. “Seeing as they are on the move.”
Everyone still at the bottom by the fire was moving up the crater. “How’s the phone doing for batteries?” Cross asked.
Eric pulled it out just as it played the NIU theme song. “It just died,” he said, nonchalantly tossing it over his shoulder. He then put the MK-48 right next to him and aimed his AK down range. “Ok,” he said, “when I give the word, MC is gonna fire some grenades downrange. Once he’s done, we all open up. Got it?”
We all gave our affirmatives. I wondered how long it would take to for the enemy to get here. Literally five minutes later and they began to march out of the whiteness. And they kept coming.
“Uh, Eric,” John said, “I think that’s more than a hundred and fifty.” I was inclined to agree. The people were in no real formation, and a lot of them were extremely bunched up. This may have made it look like there were more of them than there really were, but there were still a whole lot of them.
“MC, the first three rounds in your launcher are incendiary, correct?” Eric asked. As he asked this, he set his AK down and set up the machine gun’s bipod.
“Correct,” MC Disaster said.
“I want you, when I give the word, to put the first in largest group from two hundred to three hundred meters away.” Eric said in a rapid whisper. “The next go into the bushes on either side of us. After that, fire at will.”
“I get it!” Ray-Gun said happily. “It is The Funnel all over again!”
“Correct.” Eric said.
We waited a bit longer. “Are… are you going to fire soon?” Cross asked. The enemy was now uncomfortably close. Some were still confident, laughing and chatting. More than a few were looking uncomfortable.
“Wait for it…” Eric said. The enemy got closer. “Wait for it… wait for it… Disaster, do the pattern now.”
The first grenade sailed out of MC Disaster’s launcher with a satisfying ptoomp! It arced out and hit smack dab in the center of a tightly clustered group of twenty. Weirdly enough, for a split second, the fire was contained only inside the central group. Then it rapidly expanded, covering everyone in it. A good chunk of them ran screaming, setting others on fire and their fellows to try to avoid them.
Before that grenade hit, however, MC Disaster had already shot off the other grenades. The bushes didn’t immediately turn into a huge blaze, but I guessed the accumulated snow wouldn’t put it out for a while. Instead it was being heated into vapor, slowly obscuring the battlefield.
The reaction of the enemy was not what I had hoped for, but it was pretty good. They began yelling and looking around, trying to get a good idea of what had happened, especially the ones in the front. Only a few were shooting, most coming nowhere near our position. However, apart from the people MC Disaster had set on fire and the people desperately trying to avoid them, none of them were running.
“Disaster,” Eric said, opening up with the forty-eight, “Plop your frags and incendiaries in the middle of the groups. Monk, Killer, kill anyone Ray-Gun points out. Priority targets are snipers, grenadiers, and anyone trying to rally the group. Everyone else, shoot anyone who tries to stand or fight.”
As he gave the orders, we did as instructed. The enemy’s front dissolved, in some cases literally as Eric’s MK-48 apparently could remove limbs and cut people in half if its bullets landed in the right place. Also, the frag grenades from MC Disaster’s grenade launcher would turn anybody who suffered a direct hit into hamburger.
About fifteen seconds before I got my first assignment. In that time, I swear dozens had died. The front rank of the enemy had been completely shattered, and the second rank had been decimated by two frags and an incendiary from MC Disaster and gunfire from the rest of us.
“Hey Nate!” Ray-Gun called out. He was staring through a pair of binoculars. “We got someone in the third section shouting out orders. He is also grabbing people trying to run away.”
I scanned the third group. I found the guy in question pretty quickly. He had grabbed another guy and was shaking him vigorously. I aligned the crosshairs with his head and pulled the trigger. When my gun dropped back down, the guy was gone. The person he was shaking ran off. Good.
“OW!” Doc said. My G-3 had heated, mangled and ejected the spent casing at a high velocity. There was a red, smoking welt where it had hit Doc’s cheek. “That hurt more than it should have!”
“Sorry,” I said. I took off my helmet and set it up so that instead of hitting anyone next to me, the casings would bounce around in my helmet. When I did, I noticed the huge hole in it from when the sniper had shot me. I briefly thanked God for giving my family skulls with the consistency of titanium, then continued to hunt for targets.
Three clips later, and the steam and smoke were making it hard to see. The enemy was also starting to hit bullets closer to where we were located. That actually was part of the reason the smoke was obscuring our line of sight. The incoming bullets were so hot that the snow where they hit began to steam away.
“They are more persistent than I thought.” Eric said. The barrel on the Mk-48 had begun to overheat. To fix this, he had removed it and tossed it into the snow behind him. The barrel had caused the snow where it landed to smoke, hiss and spit. While it was cooling, Eric was shooting his AK.
Just then, an object flew through the air to land right in front of us. It exploded on contact. Shrapnel flew into us. Most of us got cosmetic injuries. For example, one grazed my ear, and another grazed my cheek. Most of us were prone. However, the person who got it the worst was MC Disaster. He had been kneeling to aim the grenade launcher correctly. He screamed and fell back, dropping his grenade launcher. Doc ran to help.
I quickly turned to where the grenade had come from. A guy came running out. He had what looked to be Scarface’s gun, an M-16 with a grenade launcher. I called out his position as I fired. Somehow, the guy managed behind a tree, though I think a round or two may have hit him, but I couldn’t tell for sure.
A round whizzed over my head. I quickly searched for where it came from and saw a guy with a bolt-action. I shot him. It was a terribly rushed one that only got him in the knee. As he dropped his rifle and grabbed his knee, I adjusted my aim and double-tapped him. One trigger pull caused him to fall flat on his back. The next trigger pull just caused a click from my gun.
I ejected the clip, and reached into one of the pockets on my vest. I suddenly realized that after I spent this mag, I only had two others left. Counting this magazine, I had only sixty rounds left before I had to switch to my pistol. That wasn’t good.
I looked out over the battlefield as I reloaded. The area was littered with the dead and the injured. Some areas where frag grenades or intense bursts of MG fire had intersected with large groups of people had resulted in the snow being stained red. Smoke and steam from spent casings, melting snow, flaming vegetation, and ignited corpses wafted over the battlefield, obscuring the sightlines but not the horror of what had happened. Combine all this with the snow and cold, and we had a lovely mashup of the Norse and Christian ideas of hell. The screams and moans of the poor bastards who were still alive made the comparison even more apt.
It took me a few moments to realize the bright side. We were the only ones firing. Eric realized it a second before I did. “Cease fire! Cease fire!” he called out. “They’re done!”
Everyone stopped shooting. I took a deep breath to calm myself and immediately coughed in disgust at the smell of blood, burning wood, and charred meat. “You ok, man?” Cross asked.
“I’m fine,” I said. “How’s the MC doing?”
Doc called up from inside the crater. “He is fine. The shrapnel hit in the white of his eye. He can see just fine, but I put an eyepatch on him just in case.”
“I want an eyepatch…” Ray-Gun said. “I want to look like Nick Fury…”
“Even with the eyepatch, you look nothing like Samuel L. Jackson.” Cross said.
“But… but isn’t that actor black?” Ray-Gun asked.
I burst out laughing. Cross and Ray-Gun stared at me, wondering just what the fuck was going on. “He can explain later,” Eric said, a twinkle in his eyes. “Right now, we need to leave.”
He looked out over us. “We leave in groups of four. Same groups as last time. Doc, you guys cover my group’s butts. Take everything you can carry.”
John and I watched out over the wreckage of the battle. As we refilled our empty magazines, I wondered what I should say to John. What I wanted to talk about was how scared I was. Not of the people who were trying to kill me, or how close they’d come to succeeding, but at how I had reacted. For the entire battle, I’d been calm or annoyed, apart from that one time when MC Disaster had gotten hit with the shrapnel. In that time, I was a semi-decent shot and had fired sixty rounds of ammo into a densely group of people and had treated it like it was a normal thing. From what I had experienced, this wasn’t something a normal human being should do.
I broke out of these musings when I noticed that John was shaking. “You cold?” I asked. It had warmed up because of all the incendiary rounds, but there still was a blizzard.
“Yeah…” he said. “There’s also the whole… the whole…”
“This?” I said, stabbing my gun in the direction of the carnage. A few people were still screaming in pain. I had been trying to block it out for the past half-hour.
“Yeah,” John said. “This. What the fuck are we doing here? I mean, why are we here?” He sighed. “This is just too fucked up for me. I mean, look at that group there.” I looked where he was pointing. It was a pile of bodies.
“That was one of the first groups I shot at.” John said in self-disgust. “One of those people was screaming until just a few minutes ago.” He paused, an angry look on his face. “You know, if I had any decency, I would’ve fucking shot him. But then I keep thinking about all these excuses…”
“Like it’s wasting ammo,” I said, “Or worrying that people you know back home would look down on you.”
“Kind of,” John said, “except the first one’s actually a valid reason.”
“You know what gets me?” I asked. “Is how easy it was for me. I was looking through a scope, and actively looking for people, I mean, specific people to shoot. And the closest I’ve come to feeling guilty about it is wondering if I’m safe to be around.”
“Dude, are you kidding?” John asked. “Of course you are!” I noticed that he didn’t make eye contact with me when he said that.
As can be expected after someone lies to your face when you all but straight-up ask “Do you think I’d randomly snap and shoot you in the face?” to reassure you, there was an awkward silence. It was about an hour of waiting before someone finally broke it.
“Killer! Mr. Boring!” Doc called out. “Didn’t you hear the radio? We’re moving out now.”
We both felt our ears for the earbuds. I hadn’t put mine back in. John, on the other hand…
“Holy shit!” he said.
I turned to look at him. The cord for his earbud had been mostly severed. “Jesus Christ,” I said, looking at where it was severed. “A little to the left, and you would have been spurting out blood like a fucking sprinkler!”
“Thanks for that image,” John said, rolling his eyes.
We quickly got out of the crater. When we finally got down to the snow, we realized Eric was right about how tough to get through it was. We also discovered that it wasn’t waist-deep. It was just so tightly packed that it simulated being waist deep. I found this out by having the snow collapse under me. When it finally supported me, it was up to my chin, and it still felt like it could give out and I could fall deeper.
For the rest of the walk, we would take turns falling into the snow. Eventually, it turned into a contest of who could stand the tallest in the snow. Doc had this cartoonishly pleased expression on his face when he actually managed to walk on the snow like it was solid ground.
We were about halfway across when I saw Ray-Gun (who, along with Cross, MC, and Eric was covering us) drop his binoculars and point at something. Before he could get any words out, his head snapped to his side and he fell over. This was accompanied by the crack of a rifle.
Instantly, the sound of gunfire broke out. “CONTACT LEFT! CONTACT LEFT!” I heard Eric yell. We were close enough to hear him yell. We saw him, Cross and MC Disaster scramble behind trees.
“What are you waiting for?” Doc asked. “Move it!”
That’s when we discovered what Ray-Gun had been trying to warn us about. We were in a staggered box formation. Doc was in the lead, John was on the right, The Monk was on the left, and I was in the rear when the grenade hit. There was a loud thump, and I was suddenly face down, several stabbing pains in my calf.
I raised my head to see what was going on. In front of me, The Monk had turned around, and yelled, “Grenadier! We have a…” He was cut off as a burst of gunfire kicked up snow around him. He fell down and started yelling, “ARGH! My leg! My leg!”
John and Doc, meanwhile, got on their knees and started firing. “Man down!” Doc yelled. “Sorry, Eric, but we’ve got two men down over here and we’re under suppressive fire!”
“Understood!” Eric yelled said over the radio. “Stay alive, my friends!”
Meanwhile, I tried to stand up. Something dug into my balls. Before I remembered that this was one of the things our medical instructors had said never to do, I had reached behind me and pulled out a shard of metal that had embedded itself into my Kevlar pants. Realizing my mistake, I checked it for blood. When I saw that it had none, I tossed it away.
After I had done so, I realized that the guy had almost destroyed my penis. As the realization hit me, so did a sudden wave of anger. Some asshole had almost cut off my dick! And I was still a virgin! The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Some annoying bro-douche, who probably regularly engaged in drunken orgies, had almost severed my scrotum before I had a chance to use it!
I was almost about to flip over to see if I could cap that asshole when I realized The Monk was desperately trying to stop himself from bleeding out. Instead, I dropped my G-3, and ripped off my pack and searched for the one of the medkits it contained. When it was in front of me, I noticed that there were some metal shards in it as well. I silently thanked God that they had ended up there and not somewhere less protected.
When I found a medkit, I began to crawl towards The Monk. The asshole was still firing. When I looked behind me for a moment, I saw that whoever he was, he had taken our position on the crater. I suddenly realized it was the motherfucker with the underslung grenade launcher I had been trying to kill earlier. Apparently, I hadn’t hit him.
To underscore that particular point, another grenade exploded near me. I couldn’t see it and, thankfully, none of the pieces of shrapnel were able to embed themselves into my body. It did make everyone there yell in surprise. I also heard another voice screaming, but it didn’t seem to be one of our group.
John and Doc kept up suppressing fire and I continued to make my way towards The Monk. The person had stopped firing. I didn’t question it. I just finished my journey and asked The Monk, “Can I see?”
The Monk nodded, and moved his hands. I pulled out the bullet and quickly shoved some gauze into the wound, causing The Monk to scream in pain. As I was wrapping the bandage, there was a burst of gunfire from the crater. I looked up and realized I couldn’t see Doc.
I finished securing the bandage tight around The Monk’s leg and took out my radio. “Eric!” I yelled into it, “How soon can you wrap up what you’re doing?”
“Well,” he said light-heartedly, “I am on my last magazine, Cross is screaming his head off, Ray-Gun doesn’t seem to be able to do anything other than groan at the moment, and the MC’s down to his pistol, so we should be done shortly.”
“Sounds like you lot need a bit of assistance, eh?” a cockney voice queried.
“Eliza!” I said, laughing with relief, with The Monk cheering a bit as well. “Do you have any idea how great it is to hear that, you magnificent bastard?”
Eric cut in. “Sorry for not being as grateful as Killer, but I’m just wondering how soon you can get over to us.”
“Good question,” Eliza said. “Oro, love, please show them some real marksmanship. Oh, and Eric, we’re right behind you.”
Oro didn’t respond verbally. Instead, I began to hear the sound of a bolt-action rifle being fired as fast as some people fire Glocks. “Hell yeah!” I heard Eric shout. “Now that is sniper fire! Keep it up!”
“It had better be worth it,” I heard Li shout with great annoyance through his walkie-talkie, the crack and clink of a bolt-action prominent in the background. “I do not appreciate being used as a bipod.”
I didn’t see how well she was doing, but just as I was turning around to get my G-3 and get back in the game, I saw Doc stagger to his feet, AK in hand.
“Hey Doc,” I asked as he opened fire, “you ok?”
“That… that really hurt…” he wheezed as he suppressed the asshole in the crater. I couldn’t tell if he was in shock or annoyed. “This is good armor.”
I didn’t really pay attention. Instead, I began to crawl back towards my abandoned rifle. Halfway there, a burst of gunfire kicked up the snow between me and my gun. In response, I heard The Monk begin to return fire.
On our battlefield, things suddenly got quiet. “I think I got our friend in the crater…” The Monk said.
I had finally managed to get the G-3 back. I quickly stared down the sights. After a few seconds of searching, I found the person who was shooting at us. He was lying over the edge of the crater, slumped over his gun. I could see a hint of red, but I couldn’t tell if it was hair or blood.
Speaking of blood, I suddenly realized my own hands were too slippery with blood to get a good grip on the G-3. That would be something to consider if I ever had to get my own weapon, but for now, it just made it almost impossible to grip.
“Hey, Killer!” Doc said, “Your leg looks kind of bad.”
“I know.” I said. “Don’t worry. Cross is worse off. Go help him.”
“Eric,” Doc said into the radio, “how’s Cross doing?”
“He is just being a bitch about his hand,” Eric said. “The hospital can probably fix it. How are Killer and Monk?”
“The Monk is doing fine from what I can tell,” Doc said. “On the other hand, I do not like the look of Killer’s leg. He is being difficult, though.”
“Killer,” Eric said, “let Doc do his thing.”
“Fine.” I said. “Let’s get this over with.”
Doc walked over to me. When he was standing by my head, he bent down and held out a spent bullet casing. “Ok, Killer,” he said, “I’m going to need you let go of your gun’s trigger and bite down on it.”
I was confused as to why he’d want to me to bite down on the bullet, but I slid it into my mouth and bit down on it with my rear teeth. “Ah ‘eady,” I grunted.
“Ok,” Doc said, “now this is going to hurt. A lot.” He then pulled out a piece of shrapnel from my leg. I screamed and bit down in pain. He didn’t stop there. He just kept pulling out pieces of shrapnel until I blacked out.
For more information, please view The Other Side