We hunkered down as the dust trails came closer, the black shapes still hard to identify. Looking at the plane, I could see movement. The Marines must have seen or heard what I assumed to be Charons and were moving into firing positions. They must have known that four or five men with assault rifles didn’t stand a chance against four conventional APCs, let alone ones made out of whatever super space substance the Dragon’s Teeth.
Meanwhile, the civilians, FBI agents, and the pilots were taking off running. Some were heading towards us, which was smart. We had hiked up a hill that should have been impassable to wheeled vehicles like the Charon. The others were running along the relatively flat ground. That wouldn’t work. Charons could theoretically beat most sports cars on the track.
Their speed was demonstrated pretty quickly, appropriately enough. The vehicles came into range and the Marines began to open up. Unsurprisingly, they were ineffective and most of the vehicles simply ignored them. One cut off the people heading down the flat area. Twelve Dragon’s Teeth Legionnaires exited the vehicle and began controlling the runners. Two sped up to cut off the people heading up the mountain. When the dust cleared, I could see that they’d parked close enough that I could see that they’d parked perpendicular to us and opened their doors facing us, revealing their clinically white interior. Legionaries, in their Roman-inspired armor, were getting out and controlling the crowd. The last Charon, meanwhile, had slammed on its brakes, smashing into a Marine and enveloping itself in dust. When that dust cleared, it revealed six newly deployed Legionnaires who then proceeded to kill the remaining Marines. Then the Charon sped off to ride heard on the passengers from the plane trying to escape via the flat lands.
Meanwhile, we were lying down prone on the ground behind rocks and cacti. “Do you think they can hear us?” Watanabe whispered. Despite being about three hundred meters away from the soldiers, everyone else shushed him.
We watched as the Legionaries slowly herded the groups back towards the plane, occasionally firing off rounds. As they did, Eliza whispered, “Does anyone else ‘ear motors?”
“No,” I said. “Where are they coming from?”
Eliza pointed in a direction that was about thirty degrees off from where the Charons had come from. “‘Eavy vehicles, comin’ from over there. ‘Bout four, and they sound different from Charons. They’re goin’ slower an’ they’re usin’ petrol or diesel engines ‘steada electric.” She then turned and pointed behind us. “And some SUVs, plus a few other trucks. Bit more of them.”
“Hopefully that’s the National Guard,” I said. Then, from the first area Eliza had pointed, there was a gout of fire from a cannon’s muzzle flash and an equally impressive crack. Something, probably a 105mm HEAT shell, smashed through the side doors of one Charon and kicked up a spray of dust. “Yep,” I said, watching the four Stryker Mobile Gun Systems (basically slower, less technologically-advanced versions of Charons with bigger guns) crest the hill, “it’s the National Guard.”
The Charon that had been was able to speed off in a cloud of dust. What I could see of it showed that, since the HEAT round had hit its doors, the damage was only cosmetic. Another Charon, however, wasn’t so lucky. I saw a HEAT round smash down right in front of it. Whatever the Charons were made out of must have been extremely lightweight, because it flipped over onto its roof, its gun turret jammed into the Arizona sand, rendering the vehicle disabled. It was a humiliating injury.
The Strykers, meanwhile, were pressing the attack. Every time a 105 fired, my chest would rattle like one of those big fireworks like the Fourth of July. The impacts of the shells were even more awesome. I felt like I was about to have a heart attack, it was so intense.
It would have been awe-inspiring if not for the fact that they weren’t hitting anything. A Stryker MGS is a platform with an anti-tank weapon given to people who are trained to hit broadsides of barns and not much else. They’re there to remove bunkers, fortified buildings of no strategic importance, and maybe a swarm of counter-attacking infantry. Expecting them to hit something as fast as a sports car is both unrealistic and unfair.
Charons, meanwhile, seemed to be designed for just this kind of situation. As soon as they took off, it became clear that any normal gunner couldn’t hit them without some sort of aim assist. Then they opened fire.
Their guns were around twenty or forty millimeters and fully automatic. The first time one of the Charons burped out some rounds, they exploded and bounced of one of the Strykers, causing the armor to crumple. The second time, they penetrated the armor of the cockpit and the vehicle swerved. Then another Stryker was hit, its front blowing out and its wheels collapsing. It coasted to a halt and lay there, smoke emitting from the holes.
Meanwhile, one Stryker got a miraculous hit on a Charon. The HEAT round must have impacted on the side-front, because the Charon’s rear raised up and it did an odd sort of pirouette on one of its front tires, its rear ramp falling open.
The two remaining Charons pulled up alongside their remaining attackers and released stunning broadsides. One Stryker had its front end seemingly melt from a long burst of the Charon’s autocannon. The last remaining Stryker, however, must have taken a round to its magazine or fuel tank. The darkening area was illuminated by multiple explosions from the stricken vehicle. It was then engulfed in flame and kept rolling, carried by momentum.
The Charons, seemingly unperturbed by the loss of half their team, slowly returned to patrol around the crashed plane. They’d been hit pretty hard, but I had to admit one was only due to surprise and another loss was completely due to either unearthly skill or a freak accident. Meanwhile, the soldiers they had disgorged were just finishing up herding the last few crash survivors back into the downed plane.
Then, from behind us, the missiles came. I’m assuming they were Javelin missiles, but I don’t really care. I just love the way they fucked up the Charons. Each one disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust. One emerged, coasting along, smoke billowing out from a hole in the top, its front windscreens shattered and blood staining the hood and its turret spinning wildly. The other just stayed in its little cloud, explosions sending bits and pieces of it flying as its magazine exploded in a chain reaction.
I turned around. Soldiers, either National Guard or regular Army, were cresting the hill. They began firing their M16s, M249s, and M14s down into the somewhat clumped up Legionnaires. The Dragon’s Teeth should have been slaughtered.
Instead, that first wave of soldiers were mostly wiped out. They were good, but a lot of their shots missed. Again, at that range, in that light, with mostly just iron sights, it was understandable. And the shots that did hit were mostly stopped by the Legionnaires’ armor. The Legionnaires, meanwhile, had fancy optics, what was probably intense training, selective breeding, and genetic enhancements out the wazoo. They were slaughtering the first few to come over the hill.
Then two Stryker ICVs (like the Stryker MGS, but carries infantry and has machineguns instead of a cannon) and three Humvees crested the hill in V-formation. Three of the Humvees and the Strykers were equipped with M2 .50 caliber machineguns which seemed to be pretty good at knocking down Legionnaires in a way that made them unable to get up. The middle Humvee had an Mk. 19 automatic grenade launcher which didn’t seem to be as effective, but made me feel a lot better. Then, there was the sound of a 105 firing, and a group of Legionnaires disappeared in a cloud of dust and smoke. Apparently, there was a Stryker MGS out there that wasn’t as dead as the Charon operators would have liked.
Soon, there was little left of the forty-eight Legionnaires except corpses. Between the small-arms fire from the troops, the heavy machinegun fire from the supporting vehicles, and the formerly resting Stryker, the Legionnaires had been defeated. Barely. If half of those Charons hadn’t been taken out by the initial Stryker assault, or if the Javelins had missed, there would be a lot more US soldiers bleeding out on the sand and a lot less Dragon’s Teeth.
The soldiers advanced cautiously. Every time one of the Legionnaires twitched, the soldiers would open up again, raking the area with firepower. Eventually, their line advanced so far that one stepped on Watanabe. The soldier’s first reaction was to nearly blow Watanabe’s head off with an M16. Watanabe’s reaction was to let out a strangled cry.
“Jesus Christ!” the soldier said. “What the hell?” I noticed the soldier was wearing a gas mask. That explained why the Dragon’s Teeth wasn’t spamming hallucinogenic gas like they normally did.
Hicks, thinking fast, held up his ID. “It’s ok,” he said, “we’re FBI.”
More soldiers came over, training rifles on us. When there were about two or three soldiers for every one of us, one shone a light in our faces and checked Hicks’ ID. Another pinched our foreheads with his thumb and forefinger and pulled, obviously checking for masks. “You’ve been having infiltrators, too, huh?” Barton asked.
“How’d you find out about the masks?” one soldier asked.
“Some bastards with them,” Hicks said in annoyance, “managed to get into the Honolulu field office by wearing them and flashing US Marshall badges.” After a pause, Hicks said, “In retrospect, we kind of deserved that.”
“You guys can write up the after-action reports later, sir,” one of the soldiers said. “In the meantime, please stay here.”
We spent a while under guard while the Guardsmen advanced on the plane. I noticed that behind the armed Strykers and Humvees were two unarmed Strykers and two green Bearcat armored cars. The Bearcats sped past and approached the plane, running over the downed Legionnaires. I wasn’t sure whether or not that was on purpose. Some of the SWAT officers entered the plane, most stayed out and began checking the dead Dragon’s Teeth.
Then, the two unarmed Strykers moved in. One pulled up to the plane and the SWAT officers began bringing the civilians into the vehicles. The other collected the dead and injured Guardsmen, then pulled up next to the still-functioning Stryker MGS and began evacuating the people from it.
“So what happens now?” I asked.
“We get you guys back to base,” a Guardsman said, “and hope no more shit goes wrong.”