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The Story - Chapter 3 - Page 1

THREE


Bobkid and Doni had taken refuge in one of the dilapidated buildings of the old NATO communications base. Doni was nervous; Bobby had placed him at an eastern facing window while he himself took cover behind the remains of a brick wall facing north. The young Estonian was seeing New Athens troops in every flickering shadow, and sweat was running profusely down his back as they watched and waited.
Doni was worried. Bobby, on the other hand, was amusing himself and was not worried.

He was receiving input via satellite from John Damon. The position of every New Athens soldier was lit up in red on a map that hung magically suspended before his eyes. With an effort of will, he could see a virtual image of the men themselves as they tried to creep into battle array.
"Bobkid," John Damon's neutral voice droned, "two new Athens snipers are moving into a high ground position 217 meters, 23 degrees and 3 seconds northeast of your location. In nine seconds they will be in position to fire against you."

Bobby shot both men dead. The only threat he was truly concerned with was mortarfire, and he was fairly sure the recon team didn't have any mortars with them. All he had to do was hold out until nightfall, and then they could escape.
He turned to Doni. "Don't worry," he said. "There are only 38 of them left, and I have another 78 bullets. They'll get scared in a bit and keep their distance." He pointed towards the heavens. "The gods love us Sandmen."

******

Max, Maria and Chris carried their gear out into the garage, placing it in the only jeep available, an old Cherokee that Max had restored some months earlier. Trapped sauntered off, looked around, and then turned back to the two men.

"So where is he?" she snapped.
"You know how it is," Max said. "He's probably around here somewhere looking right at us.
Maria stamped outside.
"Yefim!" she screeched. "YEFIM!"

No answer.

Trapped unstrapped her sidearm. She saw one plot of shadow that looked like it could be hiding a man and very deliberately fired at it. She repeated her action three more times, firing 180 degrees around the entrance of the garage. Max and The Macee looked at each other as they stood by the jeep, waiting, tense.
Just then Yefim stuck his head out of the vehicle.

"Sho stalusha?' he asked in Ukrainian. What's going on? Max and Chris leapt back about a foot apiece, startled.
Max shook his head. "What a malakas you are," he said, using the ubiquitous Greek word that universally meant jerk-off, onanist, stupid, sap, sucker, ass, and fool.

Yefim shook his finger at him.

"No malakas," he said, pulling his head back into the vehicle and checking his pistol for operational readiness. The two men got into the jeep. Trapped stalked over, smoke coming out of her ears and fiery footprints trailing behind her as she marched. She got into the jeep with an audible bang. Yefim gave her a small smile as she turned to him, and for once, she had nothing to say.

********

Orchomenos was riding in a Korean War-era jeep, a similar vehicle ploughing ahead as an escort. Around him were arrayed the men of Spectre Squad, elite killers chosen from a very young age to receive the best training and the best weapons available in New Athens. The Spectre Squad was under Orchomeos' direct command. They were trained almost like the ancient Spartans: emphasis was placed on teamwork and stamina, and their loyalty was to Orchomenos and the Squad only, all other considerations irrelevant. When citizens were pulled out of their homes for interrogation, it was Spectre Squad who did the dirty work; when combat became vicious and entrenched, Spectre Squad were brought in to throw the balance; when remote recon missions were required deep within hostile territory, it was the Spectres who infiltrated and completed the mission, invisible as the ghosts they were named after.
Bobby Komnenos used to be their leader.

They drove on a dirt road through wooded terrain to the location where Orchomenos had ordered his command post to be set up, a deep pine forest whose thick branches both obscured direct surveillance from above and obfuscated attempts at sound recording. He had requested that camouflage netting be draped over the command post as well. His soldiers had appeared puzzled at the order but of course complied instantly. He chose not to explain that, in an age where aircraft were no longer a threat, some lucky individuals could still make use of satellite reconnaissance.

As the jeeps pulled up the Spectres deployed in secure formation around him while his adjutant, a young man named Vangelis, ran up and stamped into a taut salute. Orchomenos acknowledged, and the man walked next to him making small talk as his commander stalked over to the command post.
"First Marshall, we have still not been successful in securing the intended targets as ordered. The traitors seem to be aware of our movements just as we deploy, sir -they most certainly have a second observation post on site whose location we have not established. It's likely they are working together with the raiders." He dropped his eyes. "They've killed five of our men, sir."

The old NATO base was within what was popularly called "raider territory". The raiders were bands of brigands who lived within a day's march of New Athens's official borders. They raided travelers and isolated settlements and lived in the rugged mountains and back country. In theory a peace treaty had been signed with their leaders and ostensibly they were not at war with New Athens. In practice, each killed as many of the others troops as they could get away with. They were nomadic and very mobile; several clean-up operations had been attempted without effect.

"Whose territory is this?" Orchomenos asked.
"Dapontis, sir," Vangelis answered. "The leader of the Wolves." Each raider band had adopted an animal as a mascot and they were supposedly distinct entities, each group limited to specific territories. But the different groups were linked in a series of alliances and treaties, and most were comprised of smaller groups who were actually kin among themselves, and so they had to be viewed as a single entity.
Which made them very dangerous.
"I know Dapontis well," Orchomenos replied. "Has he made a move against us?"
"Negative, sir."
"Then it's not the raiders who are providing the targets with information." He looked at the map on the table before him. "I should have brought an entire battalion with heavy artillery into this fucking podunk," he mumbled to himself. Suddenly he looked up.
"Tell me, is one of the rebels wearing what appears to be a gasmask?"
"That is what our reports indicate, sir."
"Very well. The rebels have satellite reconnaissance capability - your positions are compromised the second you initiate operations. Maintain the perimeter but do not engage the targets. Bring in electronic countermeasures immediately."
"Sir!" Vangelis saluted and ran off to find his logistics support man. Agesilaus was left alone at the command post with the Spectres.
"Bobby, old buddy," he said to himself, "I've got you."

*************

Bobby hadn't heard back from the Sandmen. More importantly, he hadn't detected any movement from the New Athens side for a while, and was becoming concerned. Though traffic reports from John Damon hadn't shown any increase in troop strength around him, two jeep convoys had entered the New Athens perimeter, and he had been less than thrilled to learn that "somatic and facial recognition have determined, expressed within a probabilistic confidence margin of 84%, that First Marshal Archon Agesilaus Orchomenos was a passenger on one of the jeeps."

"They're up to something," he thought, and that thought was the harbinger of bad tidings.
"Bobkid," John Damon's pleasant voice broke in. "The New Athens recon patrol has brought a very high power portable electronic multi-band jammer into your immediate vicinity, fabricated by SESP corporation in Israel in 2019, with a total generation capacity of 600 W. My estimation is that this device will be able to sever communication between us. How would you like to proceed?"
"Can you drop a tactical nuclear warhead on them?" He thought it couldn't hurt to ask.
"Negative, Bobkid. As you know, the rules of engagement do not allow us to aid you
in any capacity beyond the provision of visual surveillance. New Athens will deploy electronic jamming within the next 30 seconds... 29... 28... 27..."
Bobby swore as John Damon droned on in his pleasant monotone. "Fuck the remnants of human society," he murmured to himself, "to quote my buddy Shadowjack."

He pressed a series of releases along the rim of the Mask, grabbed it in both hands and tugged. There was an audible hiss as it de-pressurized. The Mask kept trying to adhere to his face, as if it was a living thing that wouldn't give up. It shrank in size as he pulled it off and hung limp in his hands, appearing for all purposes like the gasmask it so resembled. Bobby dragged off his backpack and stuffed the Mask inside, offering the pack to Doni.

"Get out of here, tovarisch," he said. "There's a venue of escape to the southwest; start crawling and I'll cover you. I'll be three minutes behind you. It's important they don't get hold of the Mask, you understand? Give the Mask to Shadowjack and only to Shadowjack, no one else, no matter what they say.'
'If you see that you're about to get nailed, hide the Mask as best you can. If you get caught, don't tell them you're a Sandman - Orchomenos doesn't know you from Adam. Just say that you're a mercenary I hired to escort me on my mission -Orchomenos may even offer you a slot in his army."
"a noHMMaio, 6paT," Doni replied, taking the backpack. / understand, brother. He stood up, nodded at Bobby, and fled.

The Spectre Squad came in from the south. They knew their old commander's talent for mayhem, and had correctly opted for a stealthy approach rather than going in with guns blazing. The southern face of the building that the Sandmen were hiding in was shielded by a blank wall, and they slipped along its edge as they made their way into the ruin's interior.

Doni saw the Spectres moving in formation as he cleared the top of a ridge. He hesitated for a second, crouched down behind cover and turned back to face the enemy; then he remembered Bobkid's orders and rose to flee. That decision cost him his life. His silhouette became visible on the skyline and a sniper took a quick shot.

Since command and control capability no longer existed, the sniper kills of the early Millennium were a thing of the past, and most designated marksmen engaged each other at ranges well below 500 meters. Moreover, Greece was rocky, hilly country, full of shrubs and scrub, and shots at greater ranges were often physically impossible. New Athens snipers often used hand-loaded hollow-points into whose "hollow" they had hot-glued ceramic points. The bullets were then turned on a lathe, one by one. The result was a bullet that was unstable at 500 meters but was lethal at any range below that. Most New Athens snipers carried 100 bullets of this type and 20 "high-grade" long-range full-metal jacket 7.62 cartridges.

The 7.62 mm bullet took Doni in the lower back. The ceramic point ploughed through his body armor and into his right kidney where it disintegrated as the stresses on the hollow point caused the bullet to begin its expansion. By the time the projectile had burst through the front of Doni's torso, it carried with it a bloody mass the size of a melon.

Doni was thrown forward and hit the ground hard. He felt his body go numb, knew he was severely wounded and would probably not survive. Surprisingly, he found he could move his limbs. He began to crawl, leaving a pool of blood behind him. There was no pain, and he was at peace because he knew he would soon be with his family again. He thought of his other brothers, the Sandmen, and knew he mustn't let them down. He crawled over the ridge and, miraculously, was able to stand and stagger forward.

He had to hide the Mask. He was not going to let that stupid Ukrainian harp at him anymore. "You always cause problems, boy, yakety yak yak. Lucky for you, you're the only one I can talk to." Bah. Fuck the Stalker. He would show him what a true warrior was.

If Bobby had made it out of the building, he would have found him and possibly thrown a patch over the wound in time (the Sandmen had advanced medical skills by virtue of Shadowjack's presence). But Bobby was in a fight for his life and could not know that Doni had been hit. He had taken out two more soldiers of the seemingly endless horde that was pressing against his position, when he heard a sound behind him and knew he was dead.
He turned to fire. The flashbang exploded right at his feet.

In a haze of white noise and vertigo he saw the Spectre Squad deploy into the room in slow motion, their movements textbook, the Squad's current commander laughing at him as he raised the stock of his weapon.

Then everything went black.

*******

The Spectres dragged Bobby's prostrate form before the Archon and threw him to his feet. Bobkid recovered enough to crawl to his knees. An angry purple lump swelled on his forehead, and he could not think straight.

"Well, well, well," Orchomenos gloated. "Bob "The Kid" Komnenos. What an honour to have you with us, your Excellency."
Agesilaus bent over and grabbed Bobby by the chin. When the Archon had placed a bounty on Bobkid's New Athens dogtags, Bobby had obliged by never taking them off, in silent mockery of the bounty's inefficacy. Orchomenos grabbed the dogtags and snapped them off their chain around Bobkid's neck. He held the dogtags up for all to see.
"Bobby is the last recipient of our nation's highest medal for bravery, The Gold Cross of the Order of the Redeemer," he explained to his troops. "Thy right hand, Ο Lord, is become glorious in power, eh Bobby? He was just fifteen at the time, when most boys his age did nothing more than masturbate to porno clips on the Internet. But not Bobby, right, brother? Bobby saved the life of our country's last President during a terrorist attack. Then he came to me when he was 17, after The End, and lied about his age to get into our Armed Forces."
He grabbed Bobby by the hair and twisted it in his fist, lifting up the other's head so that Bobby was forced to look him in the eye.
"Then he betrayed us, took the most valuable thing we had, and ruined our hopes of resurrecting Mother Greece from the ashes of the Decline."
"You wanted me to kill babies, you son of a bitch," Bobby spat out at him.
Orchomenos's eyes flashed and a look of pure madness swept across his features He hit Bobby hard, a heavy, downward blow that knocked him to the ground.
"No one is innocent anymore," Orchomenos grunted through clenched teeth, kicking Bobby again and again in the ribs before regaining control of himself. Bobkid faded in and out of consciousness. The Spectres picked him up off the ground and plopped him into a kneeling position in front of their Archon.
"Where did you hide the Mask?" Orchomenos asked gently. He lifted a finger in warning. "Spare me the foul language and the ridiculous insinuations, if you please."
"Where you'll never be able to find it," Bobby gasped.
"You're only making things worse for yourself, you know."
Any comeback of Bobby's was interrupted by Vangelis, who suddenly whispered something in Orchomenos's ear and handed him a radio transceiver.
"Excuse me one minute," Orchomenos said politely, and stalked over to a far corner of the command post. Bobby could hear him barking into the radio but could not make out what he was saying.

Orchomenos had just won the lottery.

"Go on. What? Repeat the message. Perfect! You have him under control? Good. Keep him under constant sedation and keep him away from anything with electronics. Be alert - if he breaks free even for a few seconds, he'll kill everyone in the building before he escapes."
He walked back over to Bobby and grabbed him by the hair. "Today is turning into a very good day," he said.
Orchomenos chose three soldiers at random and pointed at Bobby. "Take him back to Headquarters and detain him there. I will interrogate him personally when I return. He is not to be harmed in any way whatsoever; I intend to try him publicly for high treason."
"Looks like I won't be needing the Mask after all," he murmured to himself when they had dragged Bobby away. "Vangelis!"
The adjutant ran forward and snapped to attention. "Sir!"
"Take ten men with you and reconnoiter the area. Try to find the Sandman that got away. The other teams are to slowly pull out and return to base. You are not to engage with Raider fire teams except in strict self-defense, is that clear?"
Vangelis saluted and fled. Orchomenos gestured at the Spectre Squad with his chin and they began to move off in an orderly manner. Between them, there was no need for words.