What Teeth They Had: Book 2 Chapter 2

book-2

Persons aiding in the termination of the wolf-blooded will be kept nameless.

Acts of charity are best kept anonymous.

Annex to The Doctrine – July 7th 2015

Herein under the discretion of sanctioning bodies. Infected individuals –in exchange for immunity and/or monetary sum–may also be conscripted in the termination of other infected. This agreement must be approved by a commander or higher ranking member. The sanctioning body may rescind this conscription if the new party is deemed unsound to fulfill duties defined in their contract. Immunity may reach a maximum of no more than two years.

Chapter 2: Operation Choke Chain

APCs rumbled out from the hangar of the Dust facility. They formed a convoy along the chainlink fence opposite the smoke stacks that towered overhead. The stacks appeared to guide the sun to its resting place in the west. The last sunset over Bedlam, thought Jake with his hand shielding his eyes. He followed Soot deep into the hangar, perplexed as to why they moved against the current of soldiers.

Soot strolled to their destination with an ease to her steps, letting her fingertips skim across the treads of decommissioned tanks. Jake recognized this levity in some Finishers just before the hunt. It seemed reasonable for a woman like Soot to be touched the same way by the ignition of warfare.

“Why are we going this far for a ride?” said Jake. “There’re plenty topside.”

“Not like this,” said Soot. “Got one painted up just right.”

“I didn’t think you were one for esthetics.”

She looked back at him with the usual vexed stare. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’ve been here long enough to see every kind of custom rifle–every paint job, engraving, and decal imaginable. I was issued a stock rifle, just metal on metal…same as yours.”

“I’m not adverse to beauty,” said Soot. “I just value function more.” She placed her hands on her hips as she walked. “Any of them catch your eye?”

“Some kid had roses etched into the handle and painted along the barrel. It reminded me of my daughter.”

“That’s brendan’s,” said Soot. “He’s the worst marksman here…the rifle is nice, I guess.”

They stopped in front of a vehicle draped by a tarp. “Here she is,” said Soot as she took hold of the cover. She wrestled it away to reveal a freshly detailed humvee–the name “Samantha Reto” above a white bouquet was painted on the rear plating.

What is this? Jake approached in silence.

“We had some extra paint,” said Soot.

Jake traced the name with his finger like he did in the dirt when visiting her hidden grave. I can no longer remember a time not missing you.

“The Dust ride into battle with reminders of their slain,” said Soot. “It occurred to me that you didn’t have the opportunity to bring any with you.”

“Who told you her name?” said Jake.

“Joseph. Pretty sure Terry told him.”

Jake’s thoughts quickly turned to Terry’s headphones and the recording of the Doctrine playing on a loop. Why would he memorize the Doctrine if he didn’t want command of the Finishers? I practically handed it to him. The secrecy of Terry’s preparation ate at him, but he decided to bring it up after the Bedlam mission. “Is that all he told you?”

“I know about Eustace and Jessup and your “doctrine.” It’s commendable how long you’ve honored your code, considering the caliber of men you work with. We have our own code, and even thoughts of revenge are not tolerated. Off the record, however, I think you deserve some blood.”

Maybe these soldiers do understand integrity. “I appreciate the gesture,” said Jake as he gazed up at Soot–her face deep in thought. “May I ask what you bring into battle?”

She sighed and reached down the front of her tanktop. Soot pulled out a wedding band with a chain threaded through it. “He was also a soldier–got infected and went on a rampage. I couldn’t kill him so Grit did it for me. He’s been in that wheelchair ever since.”

Jake thought about Grit’s request to let some wolves go free tonight. Soot’s story made it all the more unconscionable.

Soot tucked the ring back underneath her clothes. “Hop in. I’ll give you a ride back to the barracks. We’ll make our own justice at twenty-one hundred.”

*****

The humvee cut through the overgrowth of the ruptured highway, clearing a path for the APCs. Within a mile of the Bedlam den, the Dust approached on foot through the forest. Soot lead the battalion in full battledress with only the gray hue of her face revealing her identity. She discussed intel with her subordinates over the com system while Jake sweltered in the heat of his new equipment.

He was issued a full kit that rivaled the supplies carried by an entire Finisher team. The weight strained the muscles in his lower back and shoulders, but he still managed to make room for his bowie knife along the shaft of his boot. He looked over the troops behind him,  surveying their weaponry with what little sunlight peeked through the trees. To his great pleasure, no one carried the rose-carved rifle.

“Are you picking this up?” said Soot into her microphone. All Jake heard was a static burst. Soot nodded and turned to face her men.

“Remember, gentlemen, our objective is to document the effects of the Dust Bomb. Fire your weapons only when necessary.”

Soot drew her attention to Jake. “Are your men in position?”

“Terry has them pointing rifles at a drainage pipe,” said Jake.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t outsmart them.” Soot draped her helmet and pulled her goggles over her face. Her eyes lit up a pale green and her men followed suit. Jake turned his head to find dozens of lights hovering in the darkness behind him.

“Sun’s down,” said Soot. “I suggest you take this opportunity to adjust to your new eyes.”

The fidelity of the night vision far exceeded the equipment the Finishers had used. Jake detected mice weaving through the grassy slopes in a haunting bright film. The functionality had also been expanded considerably. They displayed numbers ticking up and down in real time along the periphery of his vision. It monitored his heart rate and speed as well as the distance and topography of the terrain.

A red dot blinked in the upper right corner to indicate that recording had begun. Soon a picture appeared just below the light. The face was a familiar one, and now they all knew it.

“This is Daniel Bully,” said Soot. “He is a VIP for this mission and needs to be taken alive. Anyone who fails to give him room will forfeit their bonus.”

The photo was replaced by two other images. “This is Eustace Bully and Walter Nohman. These men are Finishers and presumed dead, however, any opportunity to secure their bodies would be appreciated by their loved ones.”  

Once a month I visit Sammy’s grave, thought Jake. It’s just a mound marked by twigs and stones in unincorporated Illinois because of him. Let his corpse rot in this asylum.

“Move to Bravo and await further orders,” said Soot. The team moved swiftly through branches as the sky blackened over the horizon. The complex soon came into view, and the Bedlam defenses were bare along the fire escapes and rooftops near its Northern border just as the saboteur had promised. The fencing had also been cut and rolled back wide enough for each soldier to enter.

One by one the team pooled onto Bravo point. The troops turned a corner to find hundreds of infected, entranced by a poorly lit projection on a brick wall. At this distance, Soot had converted to hand signals to direct her people. She ordered snipers up fire escapes to secure the rooftops. She divided the rest into two squads of eight and lined them up in the shadows of the courtyard. They held position, awaiting the next go-ahead.

A familiar sensation washed over Jake as he viewed Bedlam congregating in the courtyard. He no longer recognized the wolf-blooded as men or women, or even animals that were governed by instincts. All he saw now were numbers–highly tested variables he could exploit over and over given the countless times he has killed. Dan Bully would die tonight, and Jake’s long journey would end with a signal to engage the enemy.

Soot turned to him, “I can bring you the kid, Jake. Go stay with your men.”

“I’m not leaving this courtyard,” said Jake.

Soot looked out into the crowd then back at Jake. “Don’t fuck this up.”

The movie went dark for a moment and the crowd yelled at the projector to focus.

“That’s our signal,” said Soot.

“God is good,” muttered Jake as Soot gave the order to advance.

*****

It began with the first volley of Dust Bombs. They rattled under the chairs followed by concurrent eruptions. Each explosion upended the crowd, launching bodies and limbs across the courtyard. The beasts’ screams echoed throughout the complex as they scrambled to higher ground.

The troops fired into the smoke, but the beasts persisted in their countermeasures. They climbed stairs and emptied shotguns from their apartment windows. Others flooded the courtyard in makeshift riot gear and rusted blades. They fought with nail bats, and sharpened canes, machetes and chainsaws, sledgehammers and pickaxes. They crashed against the battalion, cutting down as many soldiers as possible before suffocating under searing clouds.

Jake leveled his rifle at a giant and fired a three round burst. The beast’s head ruptured open like a second mouth only to close and reseal itself.

“Soot, come in! These bullets aren’t silver!!”

The giant zeroed in on Jake and tackled him to the concrete. It’s arms thundered down on him as Jake blocked with his rifle. Soon the beast pulverized the gun and seized Jake by his biceps.

Jake reached for his boot knife, but the beast wrenched Jake’s arms from his sides in an attempt to rip them from their sockets. The giant screamed in Jake’s face, its eyes bulging in murderous rage before being knocked over onto its side. Soot removed her gloves and mounted the beast, strangling it to the point of a cauterizing, bloodless beheading.

She handed him her sidearm. “You have eight shots–find him!”

Jake counted each round he fired as he crossed the courtyard to a makeshift stage. Walt was there, hanging by his wrists with thick, knotted rope. He screamed at every faceless soldier that rushed past him. Some collapsed at his feet, and Walt used them to stand higher among the smoke and chaos.

Jake approached and looked up at Walt’s face, lit in a pale glow.

“I know you can hear me!!” said Walt. “Cut me down! I’m not one of them!!”

Jake lifted his goggles to reveal his face. Walt’s eyes grew astonished before returning to horror.

“Where is Dan Bully!?” said Jake.

“I…I can take you to him!! Just cut me loose goddammit!!”

Jake severed the rope with his knife. Walt took turns rubbing each bloodied wrist as he gave Jake instruction. “He’s in the basement of that building across the way!” said Walt. “He’s trying to call for backup!”

Jake took half a step before spotting multiple buildings in the distance. “Which one!” said Jake as he turned back around. He found Walt ripping a rifle out of the hands of a dead soldier. The gun steadied on Jake, along with Walt’s disfigured stare.

“I didn’t kill Jessup, Walter,” said Jake, “but I should have killed you that night.”

Walt pulled the trigger only to hear hollow clicks. He checked the safety only to shake the gun in desperation. “HOW!? HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS!? WHY CAN’T YOU BE KILLED!?”

Jake planted his foot into Walt’s stomach, shoving him into a group of frenzied bikers. They tore him apart before dissolving in silver dust.

Jake turned around to find Soot watching him, unsure what she would do with her rifle. Her muffled voice soon filled his headset.

“We found the boy,” said Soot. “Our informant has him cornered.”

Jake and Soot double-backed to the North building lobby where they were greeted by a young woman with a mohawk and sunglasses. She was covered head to toe in blood.

“I believe I have something you want, Mr. Reto,” said the girl with a perverse grin.

“Where is he?” said Jake.

She turned and pointed down the hall to a heavy metal door. “He’s sealed in nice and tight with a handful of other wolves. I can talk him out… for a price.”

“You want to make a deal now!?” said Soot. The floor shook with another volley of Dust Bombs.

“I want what I’m owed for a job well done. Nann has a bad memory when it comes to financials. I simply want what I was owed months ago…with interest.”

“Or we blowtorch that door and take him without you,” said Soot.

“That room has an escape hatch to the sewers. You light up that door and the rats will scurry. By the time you force your way in they will be long gone.”

“We have a team waiting at the end of the sewer drain,” said Jake.

“Oh really? Which one would that be…the one a few yards away in the ditch, the one leading to the highway, the one under the school, the one in the forest preserve, or any of the dozen others Fettel dug out over the years?”

“That wasn’t in your reports!” said Soot.

“No, sweetie, it wasn’t. Maybe if your boss had paid on time, he’d have received more detailed information. Now I don’t know about you, but I can wait for Allred to get my money out of Nann eventually. By then Dan Bully will have disappeared with the rest of his cronies, or he could die tonight. It’s up to you.”

“How much do you want?” said Soot.

“My price is now ninety-thousand.”

“Forty. And we’ll extend your immunity to five years.”

“Fuck your immunity. I’m already invincible. My price is now one-hundred K.”

“How about we shake on it?” said Soot.

The girl took a step back. “This isn’t a fucking game! Reto, if anyone lays a finger on me Allred will kill you last, after he’s done with your wife and stepdaughter! Now what’s it going to be!?”

“Bring him out and we’ll have Nann alter your contract,” said Jake. “You’ll get your money.”

“You seem much more reasonable than people say,” said the girl as she removed her sunglasses and folded them into her jeans. “Wait here.”

Jake watched her bang on the door, calling for Dan. She cried as if being tortured, begging for him to rescue her. Where does Allred find these people?

The sealed door rattled as the lock released. Soot signaled her men to hold their fire.

The door opened with a metal spike shooting out from the room. The spike drove through her skull, pinning her to the wall. The man thrusting the spike was Dan Bully, and Jake fired the last of his meager rounds as the door sealed shut.

“Cut that door open now!!” said Soot.

Retribution for Sammy could not wait another second. Jake rushed the door and pounded his fists over and over until his blood streaked down steel. He felt nothing as the fury drowned all other senses.

Soot pulled him from behind and put him in a sleeper hold. “It’s not over,” she whispered to him as they both crumpled to the ground.

The last words Jake heard before losing consciousness was Soot ordering her men to dump the girl’s body with the rest of the children.

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