Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two Guns 18 - The Trooper

Riding in the back of an otherwise nondescript gray panel van, Done and Mark stocked up on the best the Ingues arsenal had to offer; Done finessed another 40mm grenade into his bandoleer to complement the M16A2/M203 combo on the bench next to him, while Mark indulged in the finger-callusing sport of loading a few Calico 50-round magazines.

"So, why Paladin?" Done asked out of the blue.
"You would've understood if you'd met the old boss," Mark said, fishing for a new bag of 9mm cartridges. "He's the guy who set up the great compromise. Very much into history, liked to think he was Charlemagne..."
"Now, he suggested Roland, but Roland's too easy to confuse with a real name, so I figured, hey, what did he do?"
"Kill Muslims? Die horribly?"
"In a more general sense. He was a - wait for it - Paladin."
"I actually like it less now that I know where it comes from."
"That's the mark of all great nicknames," Mark said with a grin.

And then there was a crash and metal against metal and BANG and up was down as the van tumbled off the street, rolling onto the parking space of the all-but-abandoned Brooklyn Army Terminal. The rear doors opened rather violently when Done impacted them, throwing him clear off the van and onto the asphalt. He laid there for a few seconds, unmoving, listening to the noise of a heavy-duty diesel engine rapidly closing in. Done rolled out of the way, narrowly avoiding the off-road tires of a rather large forklift. With no more time to lose, he got up and ran for it. He was shedding loose cartridges in a rather molting-esque visual, but that was secondary - he managed to reach the concealment of a parked car just as the fork stabbed into the rear compartment of the van.

Before Done could right himself and load a grenade, the forklift raised its arm and drove off with the van still hanging off it, towards a rather large collection of railroad tracks and abandoned train cars to the South. Whatever duty Done felt to get Mark and Vince out of this pickle took a back seat to the large cloud of shot that banged against the car panel he was sitting next to - and even considering the generally low penetration powers of 12 gauge 00, that kind of last-minute stop was as lucky as things got. With a snap, he closed the launcher on the 40mm shell and dropped to the ground, spotting the wheels of a car approaching his position. With a grunt and a few more rolls, he cozied up to the car, waiting for his attackers to come by and check their supposed kill - but when they circled around the lot to find him and he got them into his sights, all they received for their troubles was a cracked windshield from the impact of the HE shell. Muttering incoherent curses at the inventor of the whole "minimum arming distance" feature, Done simply snapped the rifle's safety off and let them have a good portion of the magazine. When he was finished, the security deposit on that rental car was seriously forfeited.

In other words, holes and not just a few of them.

Mark wasn't having much of a good time either, because he was still somewhat caught in the existential crisis of nearly getting his skull crushed by a big fat piece of sharpened metal going through the side of the van. It took a couple of seconds to recover from that one, but when he did, he grabbed the Calico and scrambled to reach the back door. It didn't work, and then it continued to not work, until Mark realized that the fork had not missed his trenchcoat. With the kind of grace that only comes from years of practice and a deep-seated fear of God's judgment, Mark slipped out of the coat and out of the van, diving into the dirt a couple feet below and rolling with the landing while the forklift driver slammed on his brakes, sliding the precariously-balanced van off the forks. Mark abused that little moment for all it was worth; jumping up and breaking into a dead run for the heavy vehicle, he managed to jump onto the back just as the driver tried to reverse and applied his own brand of reversing to the situation by yanking the Russian from the cockpit and taking control of the construction equipment. The Russian landed rather worse than Mark, twisting his ankle, and arguably that's what killed him - arguably because what actually killed him was Mark running him over. But, you know, that damn ankle. Maybe he could've gotten away without that injury, and then he wouldn't have been turned into communist road kill.

In the land of the not-hypothetical, however, Mark came under fire, and no matter what the A-Team may have told us, construction equipment is not bullet-proof.

As quickly as he'd gained control of it, Mark left the forklift, running back to the Administration building to the North. Shots followed him, and to add insult to injury another Russian climbed onto the forklift and set off after Mark. It became painfully clear that Mr. "Ain’t never seen a foot point that angle" wouldn't have made it in any event, for the forklift was doing a rather good job of closing the distance to Mark sprinting for his life.

Then there was the whistling and the BOOM! and a little 2 second sun over the dirt while Mark went flying with the most intense pain in his ears (despite the earplugs), and finally the dust settled and the forklift was fuckin' toast. A couple hundred yards away, Done smiled and popped the grenade launcher open. Mark scrambled to his feet and limped away, clearly worse for wear but too rattled to realize that for at least a couple of seconds more. His ears were ringing, he was going the other way and there was a flaming wreck in the way, so Mark couldn't notice Vince come to and kick the van's driver's door open. The Russians staging from the train tracks had other problems now, chiefly Done bringing the hurt from a full bandoleer of 40mm HE grenades and a quite accurate leaf sight, so Vince had the breathing room to grab his rifle bag from the passenger seat and run for it.

Mark reached a depression in the sand and half-dove, half-fell down into the ditch. The ringing in his ears was fading way too slowly, but even so he could hear the shouts of Russians trying to push north and take out Done's artillery support. With fevered motions, Mark unclipped the Calico's magazine and shook the dirt out, then snapped it back into place, turned around and raked the advancing line of Russians with an unhealthily long burst of 9mm strafing.

In the Calico's defense, it only jammed when it was already halfway through the magazine and had killed five Russians. The rest failed to reconsider their charging ways, figuring that they'd have more luck clubbing Mark with their Kalashnikov stocks rather than trying to shoot him. Mark dropped the Calico into the dirt like a hot potato and freed a combat knife from the sheath in the small of his back; he blocked the first Russian's thrust with the spring-loaded Hi-Power on his left lower arm, then rammed the knife into the attacker's midsection and pulled it out - the long way. Without bothering to check for life from his first hit, Mark picked up momentum, body checking several attackers as if he was trying to breach a defensive line for a touchdown.

Then again, most football leagues have regulations against doing that with a piece of sharpened carbon steel in your hand.

Without the distraction of people shooting at him, Vincent made it to the administration building and kicked in the front door; the padlock hanging off it held, but the door it was attached to didn't, so he gained access. On his way to the stairs, he hastily opened the bag and grabbed his Dragunov, which was good because the Russians had anticipated that kind of play and had a guard inside. Vince flipped the rifle's safety and fired it from the hip, punching a big hole through the guy's shoulder, then he followed that up by rifle-butting the man into bloody submission. Moments like this reaffirmed Vincent's love affair with Soviet infantry weaponry - so maybe the French rifles were more precise, but what good is a rifle you have to rezero after bashing a couple of heads in? Vince lined up a proper shot to the guy's neck - at CQB distance, aiming through a scope that lets you see the pores of your target's skin is fun, even if it's horribly impractical. With a bang, the man stopped twitching, and Vince hurried up the stairs for higher ground.

By the time the Russians realized that maybe they should stop charging and start attacking Mark, he'd killed three of them and left two with only fond memories of their kidneys; in the great free-for-all of the pseudo-foxhole, Mark took a stock to the arm, which was infinitely better than taking one to the head, and dropped to the ground, kicking the attacker in the family jewels. Flipping the bloodied knife around, he flung it into the leg of the next contestant, grabbed one of the discarded AKs, narrowly dodged a butt plate coming for his face and shoved Uncle Mike's muzzle against the Russian's chest before pulling the trigger.

Two things to consider here: A) An AK-47 is not accurate or controllable when fired one-handed, B) at this range, it doesn't matter.

After twenty-two bloody messes (all collected into one meta-mess that would make even the most battle-hardened CSI guys ask for a raise), the Russian dropped, literally shoved over by the wall of lead. Mark dropped the AK and picked up the re-dirted Calico, then started for the line of train cars. If the Russians were all cooped up there...well, then maybe they kept Ded in one of those.

The interior of the administration building was cramped and tight, the atrium more like a prison with the scattered lights and steel mesh everywhere. Assault-slung Dragunov in one hand, CZ 85 in the other, Vince cowered behind a waist-high heavy concrete wall while withering Kalashnikov fire chipped away at the wall behind him. The Russians were quite good, alternating their fire so he couldn't catch them reloading, but he had the better cover; sticking the pistol out a bit, he blindfired, forcing the attackers to scramble. He rose with the fire, dialing in his shots, and actually managed to gun down half of the Russian defender duo with his third-to-last bullet. One more shot at the other Russian to keep him in check, then Vince dropped back down, let the magazine drop out and fed a fresh one. That gave him 17 shots total, but he figured the remaining guard would be watching for him to try the blindfire trick again - so the CZ went back to the holster. Dropping his fancy suit into the dust, he crawled while bullets whizzed overhead; when he reached the end of the covering wall, he brought up the Dragunov and switched magazines.

Out: 7N1 (precision load). In: B-32 (Armor-Piercing, Incendiary).

One might find the precise difference between 7.62x39 and 7.62x54R calibers somewhat academic if encountered in the context of, say, an evening's conversation over green tea - who cares what the Soviets used to kill Mujahidin freedom fighters? If, however, the relative muzzle energy and penetrative properties of the two calibers were suddenly the linchpin of one's survival, the issue might receive more attention. In any event, the Kalashnikov's lighter caliber didn't really manage to get through the concrete in front of Vincent's body, and the Russian wasn't a good enough shot to hit the part with the rifle that stuck out. In contrast, Vince aimed his shot carefully and sprayed his opponent with a loud cloud of reinforced concrete ejecta, and at that stage it didn't really matter if it was the debris or the bullet hitting the guy. It didn't kill him, but it forced him to stumble back and right himself (including trying to shake off burst eardrums), a process that involved showing his head.

Vincent's next shot was utterly predictable. The carnage it produced strained against the upper bounds of the "closed casket funeral" definition.

According to standard military science, Mark shouldn't have reached the line of train cars; a single attacker against a fixed line of fortifications was to be laughed at briefly, pitied even briefly-er and then pumped full of bullets at the earliest convenience. Without a way to determine the general emotional state of the Russian defenders, Mark nevertheless noted with some bewilderment that their Step Three was sorely lacking, that is to say: completely absent. Not one lousy bullet welcomed him, and that set off Mark's danger sense something fierce. As far as he was concerned, Russian attitudes toward him really didn't rise above shooting, so if they weren't doing that, God knows they must've had something worse in mind.

Think of something worse.

Go ahead.


Yeah, it would pretty much have to be a flamethrower.

Mark saw it coming, that's why he put a car between himself and the user, but the attack still left him panting. It felt like the air was burning, superheated and thin, and he struggled to limp away from it before collapsing into a hyperventilating heap. The flame hadn't even come close to him, but even that was a small mercy - he was down and nearly out, gasping in the heat of the burning boxcar. The man with the flamethrower stepped out, his hands cradling a weapon as infernal as his grin. His eyes knew fire, in a way that humans weren't meant to. Mark raised the Calico, but it was an empty gesture - the weapon was jammed solid. If Mark had known that this was Nicolai's lieutenant Sasha, he...well, he would've still tried to kill him.

"Mark?" came a weak voice from inside the train car. Ded! The jammed Calico felt like the physical embodiment of Mark's frustration with the way things were going. He figured that he owed God some amusement value before going to hell, but did it have to be this way? Sasha raised the muzzle, Mark closed his eyes, and then there was a PING!

The tank strapped to Sasha's back slowly dripped fuel.

At the other end of the battlefield, Done lowered his iron-sighted M16 and cursed his luck. One shot, time for one shot and he had messed it up. He hadn't even meant to take on the flamethrower, that was the wind and the sights at work. What Done didn't know was that Vince had finally managed to set up his rifle for that perfect view of the battlefield. His shot struck true, going through Sasha and into the fuel tank.

Still in the Dragunov: B-32 (Armor-Piercing, Incendiary).

Needless to say, there was a big damn fireball and Mark wasn't it. Well, he almost was, since his pants caught on fire, but he already had the stopping and dropping part covered, so he just rolled like a motherfucker and shoveled sand on his legs. Sasha had rather less luck with this strategy, but then again, he was already dead and all motion of his resulted from his tendons being roasted in a sauce of boiling body fat. Mark picked himself from the ground, looked at Sasha, then at the Calico, then at the burning train car.

No. Not gonna happen. Not gonna let it happen.

With a new surge of adrenaline, the blistered skin of his legs and the exhaustion were forgotten; Mark simply plunged into the heat, throwing his weight against the door of the boxcar. Smoke in his eyes, smoke in his lungs, and he still pressed on, trusting his ears, stumbling for Boris's screaming. With a fumbling grab, he got the Russian by the collar and dragged him away. There was no way to be sure of the way back, no way to tell - he just turned and powered forward, slamming against a hot metal panel and being thrown back. No more oxygen,

Boris rose from below, maneuvering his shoulders close to Mark's arms; he dug his feet in, unleashed a war cry unique in its ferocity and shoved Mark against the wall like a battering ram, dislodging the panel; the two fell out of the car, Mark clutched Boris and they rolled away in the dirt. When they came to a stop, Mark was coughing his lungs out, acid tears running down his cheeks from the smoke. Boris wasn't coughing; in fact, he wasn't breathing. It took Mark a second to realize this, given the immense amount of pain that demanded to be felt, but he got on top of that, too, quite literally: he leaned over Boris and plunged his fist onto the Russian's chest in as close an approximation of CPR as he could manage.


Mark did his level best to get his own breath under control, tried it again, eventually even switching to proper presses. He even had a slight edge on the average CPR-using civilian - he knew where Boris's heart was.


"Motherfucker!" Mark shouted, pounding on Boris's chest.


He kept on working it even when he heard the sound of motorcycles behind him.

"Come! Back!" Mark screamed, tears still streaming down his face as he folded his hands and delivered a mighty blow to Boris's chest.


Mark looked up to see Nikolai tearing away on a dirt bike; almost blind with anger, he grabbed the Calico from the ground and pulled the trigger, but the gun still refused to fire - especially now that it was half-melted. The Russian hitman fixed him with a mixture of terror, respect and pity, then tore off.

Mark howled with rage.

Dropping the Calico like a bad habit, he rose to his knees and spread his arms, snapping the Hi-Powers from their spring-loaded holsters. He rose up, a phoenix from the ashes, and then the remaining Russians rode by and Mark cut them down, every shot a blood-splattering picture of brutal precision. Bikes wiped out, necks and bones snapped among shouts of agony, but Mark was just getting started. He emptied his left pistol at the fleeing Nicolai while running towards the bikes, kicked one of the mortally-wounded Russians off a still-running bike and righted it. With a painful rev of the engine, he let the rear wheel dig in before the bike just lurched forward, snapping forward like a rocket-boosted horse from hell. Mark had absorbed enough punishment to take down five men and he still wasn't done, not by a long shot; he gunned the dirt bike to the limits of its admittedly beefy engine, the raw hate coursing through his veins keeping him strong enough to ride the beast.

There's a moment of sheer terror in everyone's life. Nicolai's wasn't that Mark was still hunting him; it was Mark catching up. There didn't seem to be any good reason for him being able to do that, but maybe ignoring every throttle position besides "full" had something to do with it.

Nikolai didn't have much time to admire Mark's driving prowess, because a) the enforcer topped that by actually holding on with just his legs and one arm while b) raising his right arm to fire the Hi-Power in his hand. Shooting tires is a hard thing to do under the best circumstances, and to Nicolai's relief, even Mark couldn't manage such a feat. He realized too late that this was absolutely immaterial to the pursuit, because trying to dodge Mark's fire diverted Nicolai's attention away from the ground. One railroad tie taken at the wrong angle, and Nicolai's ride started oscillating as he hurtled towards and across the street before crashing onto the grounds of the Owl's Head sewage treatment plant; he barely avoided crashing head-on into a large assembly of silos by laying the bike down. Mark slid in just behind him as Nicolai stumbled away, his leg torn up from the semi-wipeout. Mark's bullets chased him towards the coast...oh God, the coast, maybe he could make it there, dive in and finally lose Mark. Or at least find some cover to hide behind...

Something slammed into his back, forcing him to fold and lie down for a bit. The late muzzle flash from Mark's gun didn't even register anymore.

Nikolai crawled on, momentarily forgetting how to stand up. A warning shot next to his head stopped even that. He froze, catching his breath, acutely hearing Mark reload the Hi-Power.

"Get up," Mark snarled, barely human. "Get up on your knees."

Nikolai didn't kneel for anyone. He had the tattoos to prove it. With a second wind in his veins, he turned and brought up his Makarov PB, but a bold move doesn't help when the other guy can see it coming a mile away. Mark fired thrice; one into Nikolai's arm to disabuse him of the notion that he'd ever fire a gun again, two into his knees in a bloody form of lead-based tattoo removal.

"You just don't get it, do you?!" Mark screamed, spittle dripping from his canines. "End of the motherfucking road!" His chest heaved, and with every breath it seemed like some of the rage was fading from him. "You little commie bastard."

To his credit, Nikolai didn't whimper or plead for mercy; instead, he struggled to free the pistol from his now cramped-up hand. Mark closed the distance and stepped on the gun arm, producing a new scream of pain from the Russian. Without missing a beat, he grabbed Nikolai's leg - hanging on at the knee by a few muscles and tendons - and dragged the flailing gangster behind him, the way a hunter might drag a deer carcass too heavy for his shoulders. When they got to the open sewage pools, it dawned on Nikolai what Mark's plan was, and he started to scream in earnest. The distant sound of police sirens seemed to promise salvation for the Russian - better jail than death! -, but Mark wasn't acting with a lot of care. A rational criminal would've looked to his own escape; Mark calmly dragged Nikolai to the edge of a pool, grabbed him by the scalp and lifted his head from the ground. Mark's breathing was flat and mechanical, and his voice hovered a handful of degrees above liquid nitrogen.

"Eat shit and die," Mark said.

And then he tossed Nikolai into the pool.

A criminal with even half a mind for practical concerns would've made his exit there, but Mark couldn't resist watching Nikolai struggle to swim in the sewage; after a few seconds, Mark raised his pistol one last time and shot Nikolai, finally pushing him below the surface. As if to add insult to injury, Mark collected the tastes in his mouth into a major-league loogie and spit it into the pool. With a sort of grim satisfaction, he turned to face the music while the motorcycle cops closed in.

What actually pulled up a few seconds ahead of the red&blue lights were two dirt bikes; one with Vince, the other with Done and Boris. Mark's emotional high from seeing his friend outside the context of a funeral was cut short when Done reached into his pocket and tossed Mark a little leather-bound something - an NYPD shield. No time for questions, so Mark climbed on the bike with Vince and the foursome motored off to the South, fading into the night with a hell of a lot of fire and dead Russians behind them.

So much for the Cold War.

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