"ETA: five minutes”
The fifth oldest uncoiled from his crouch as those words blared in his headset. First shifting his ski mask, he yawned and, while crossing his legs, looked to the windows along the SUV’s trunk. The after-midnight sky, speckled from a complete obscurity, shined in contrast to the roadside trees, while the headlights of the following vehicles reflected against a passing sign which read, ‘ROANOKE—TWENTY MILES’.
“What?” The fifth peaked past the empty backseat and looked to the driver and front passenger. He raised the bottom of his mask. “We’re still in Virginia?”
“So you weren’t paying attention in the briefing?” the driver called while following three unmarked SUVs.
“Is there a correct answer to this?” the fifth inquired while scratching the peak of his mask and the matted hair beneath it.
“Our target is housed in an abandoned construction site in Bedford County”, the front passenger sighed through his mask while squeezing his Kevlar vest.
“Is that why I was sent to school here, sir?” the fifth inquired.
“That’s classified, Houston”, the front passenger replied.
“Turning onto side road now”, sounded from the SUV’s radio.
The front passenger grabbed his handless radio. “Dim headlights, copy.”
“Copy, Ironsides”, was five times repeated over the radio, while the other five vehicles’ lights were muted to a glimmer bright enough to show the dirt road onto which they turned.
“Samuel Adams, what’s your status?” the front passenger called.
“Planted at roost a hundred yards southwest of compound, over”, the second oldest replied while seated at a pine tree’s apex, a pair of binoculars against his mask and a duffle bag atop his outspread legs. “No targets are currently within view”, he added while glancing to a clearing, the trees supplanted by a brief mound and, atop it, a green-roofed, one-story building walled by windowless prefabrications and a knob-less metal door.
“Roger that, Adams; reminder: you are not to engage unless instructed, copy?”
“Copy, Ironsides”, the second oldest sighed while lowering his binoculars.
“Do I fall under the same parameters, Ironsides?” the fifth oldest inquired.
“One hundred times no”, the front passenger replied while looking to the rearview. “We would need top-level approval for your involvement. Dom Pedro, status?”
“Drone at twenty thousand feet, confirming Adams’s assessment”, sounded from the radio.
“Roger that”, the front passenger replied. “Chariots One through Three, divert roadside to set up barricade.”
“Over.” As the three leading SUVs merged right, the front passenger tapped the console and, as his vehicle slowed, looked back to the fifth oldest. “Remember your orders, Sam Houston?”
“Aid in barrier setup; roost three hundred feet east to provide recon”, the fifth recited.
“You’re doing great, kid.” The front passenger nodded as the SUV stopped. The fifth oldest, after opening the trunk, stepped out, closed the door, and tapped the SUV’s back. He stepped back, while the parked vehicles opened their trunks, and while the headlights of passing SUVs slid over his black-enclosed, 5'6" form. He turned, first after the vehicles continuing on and then to parked vehicles’ concrete barriers.
“We called it the Steel Curtain”, the old man explained while aiming his forked steak—its center a shade of pink brighter than his buttoned shirt—to the box television on the wall flashing old competitions. “That was real football back then”, he laughed while shoving the steak into his mouth and turning to the four around him eating or having eaten. “Now, with all these pads and ‘high-tech helmets’, they might as well be having pillow fights.”
“The way I look at it”, blared a red-haired man to his left who dropped his fork onto the tabletop, “the more hits they can survive; the more hits they can give.”
“So what, they decay slower until they’re dust when they retire in their sixties?” a long-haired man beside him asked while folding his napkin into a triangle.
“You don’t even watch football or…American football”, the man across from him with buzz-cut red hair laughed. “What do they call that on-field ballet? Food-bowl?”
“Just stick with ‘soccer’; you’ll seem like less of an a**”, the long-haired man scoffed.
“Did I tell you I almost go recruited for a soccer team when I was in Europe?” the old man cackled while grabbing his half-empty glass of burgundy.
“What? Did you impress them with your dexterity and limber motions?” the red-haired man scoffed.
“No.” The old man leaned over the table and lowered his glass. “I fell for no reason.” Three of them laughed, while, to the old man’s right, one with greased black hair reached into his pocket and raised a flip phone. “They said, ‘you’d be our star player!’” The old man cackled and raised his glass, while the red-haired man patted his long-haired counterpart.
“Sir.” The old man turned to the one on his right with phone outstretched. “It’s him.” The old man, compressing his wrinkled face, snatched the phone as the other three locked. He examined the screen:
Your grant for medieval studies will be arriving shortly – your trusty Benefactor
“S***.” The old man lobbed the phone onto the table.
“What do we do?” the one on his right inquired.
“What do you do?” the old man scoffed. “Whatever the f*** it is you’ve been trainin’ to do.”
“Should we warn the guys up front?” the red-haired man asked.
“Have you trained them in anything useful?” the old man inquired while circling his jaws.
“Not yet”, the red-haired man answered.
“Then screw ‘em.” He raised a wooden cane with a silver orb and pressed it to rise to his five-foot height. “Suit up.” The four men stood.
Eight moved for the front door with riot shields and pistols in hand, obscuring helmets, and black vests eclipsing their blue-shaded fatigues. As sixteen emptied from the six SUVs outlining the clearing’s entrance, the eight lined up along the wall and raised their arms. Ironsides, along the left of the vehicular line, raised his radio. “Proceed.” The two closest to the door placed an adhesive square, breached by wires and prongs, along its left side. They inched back, knelt, and bowed their heads, while one raised and squeezed a detonator. A brief but clanging flash followed as the door, with a burning hit, was thrust inward. The shield-bearers proceeded into a fluorescent span.
“FBI; don’t move!” was snarled to three men dressed in plain clothes and seated at a plastic table at the hallway’s commencement. “Hands up slowly!” was barreled in overlapping repetition. Two raised their hands, and one, trembling, reached behind his back as four flashes resounded. Punctured four times, he collapsed with a radio in his grasp. Six of the armored men then continued down the ramping strait as two gathered the survivors. The procession slowed at the first intersection, glancing branching halls and turning to one corridor populated by two crouched men. Those men leapt, raising pistols, but were, in synchrony, drilled through, toppling atop one another and twitching as the procession continued.
“We’ve found a second doorway. We’re initiating another silent entry.”
They stopped at a dead end and, on its left, an iron doorway. They positioned themselves to the entrance’s right, and two officers pressed, along the entrance’s side, another block. They knelt, and one raised the trigger. A knock sounded. They tensed.
Glancing to one another, the men raised their firearms and focused, first, on the doorway and then the echo through the adjoining wall. They turned to the bombardiers.
“This is the FBI!” the man nearest to the door exclaimed, while the others raised their shields. “If you do not open the door slowly with arms raised_”—the wall was breached. He leapt but was grasped by two hands and cerulean sleeves, and he wailed as he was ripped through the metal surface.
The line of five rushed and leapt as a second tear was formed from their ally’s launch. Three were struck by him and, as they were thrown back, the remaining two fired into the apertures before them. The door was thrust. They turned to the slab being impelled from its hinges, and they called—“FBI”—as the black-haired man lunged into view, his frame attired in one-piece cerulean, of polyester likeness, which eclipsed him from his feet and hands and ceased only at the peak of his neck. He rushed.
The officers unleashed a clanging barrage, but the black-haired man, covering his head, moved unhindered, the projectiles bouncing from his body with aureus flashes. He grabbed the iron door, prostrating it before him, and, as the red-haired and the buzz-cut men lunged behind him in identical attire, he charged.
As the door barreled at them, the officers fled, ascending the ramp and loosing sporadic shots. The black-haired man accelerated. “Fall back!” The officers lowered their arms and rushed for the front, but the black-haired man accelerated—tripling his pace, trampling one with bone-crushing strides, and crushing a second’s torso against the wall, shoved the door—and leapt.
The entrance was shattered, and the five officers around it were blasted into the clearing, while the iron door crashed onto one of the SUVs. The black-haired man landed—
“Open fire_!”—and charged in a momentary blur to come upon the first SUV. He hammered, shattering the vehicle’s fore and flipping it. Then, he rushed the officers behind it as they shot at him, their rounds slamming into his torso but being repelled. He jabbed one, launching him against a tree, and swatted a second, gyrating his head. He covered his face at a second barrage, snatched a rife, returned fire, driving the officers into cover, kicked one SUV to bat several men away, and grabbed a third by its side. He heaved the SUV towards the building, and it stopped along the doorway. He leapt back.
“Clear!” the black-haired man exclaimed while kneeling beside the hood. As he returned fire, the red-haired and buzz-cut men rushed beside him with duffle bags in hand, while, behind them, the long-haired man led the old man towards the front. As the red-haired and buzz-cut men opened the passenger doors, Ironsides, along the police line, stood, but, as the black-haired man turned to him, dropped.
“Andy, we’re ready to go!” the red-haired man exclaimed while dropping into the front-passenger seat, and while the long-haired man leapt into the driver’s.
“Go on!” Andy barked while lobbing the rifle across the clearing and through a windshield. “I’ll hold them. Get the boss to the airfield!”
“Godspeed”, the old man howled as he was loaded into the back seat. The SUV snarled.
“Richie’s escaping!” Ironsides exclaimed, while the SUV’s tires upheaved fulvous clay. “Don’t let him out of the clearing!” The SUV bolted for the police line, while Andy ran beside it, accelerated ahead of it, and backhanded a man shooting in the roadway. As that officer crashed, Andy leapt aside, and as the SUV passed, he turned to the first of three vehicles bolting after it. He ran for the leading vehicle and reached to stop it; spread his legs and raised it; stepped for the remaining police line; and stomped, impressing the vehicle’s undercarriage and shaking its driver. He then reached into the battered windshield, ripped the driver out, and then ripped his pistol from his holster. He opened fire.
“Adams”, Ironsides roared while kneeling behind a tire. “What’s your status?”
“Still at roost, sir!” the second oldest barked while watching Andy sidle and return fire. “The target is escaping, and you’ve got casualties in the open! Is he_?”
“I need you to land three shots, on his chest, with the fifty-calibre!”
“Sir, one shot would_”
“Do it, Adams!”
The second oldest lowered his binoculars, heaved to his feet, opened his duffle back, and raised a four-foot rifle with a square silencer and an elongated scope. He reached in while kneeling, raised and shoved a clip into its receiver, and pressed the scope to his right eye. He held his breath.
Though his gaze trembled by the underlying branch, he forsook those shakes, instead perceiving the distance. Then, sensing the peals of his heart, he ignored the beats against his chest which disturbed his grasp and, instead, perceived the pauses between them. He tightened and squeezed.
Though muffled, the rifle still resounded from one hundred yards off, driving Andy to turn at the blur speeding at him. He was struck, shaken, and driven back, but remained intact, while the round ricocheted to his right. He lowered his pistol, a throb emanating from his torso in time with a golden flash. A shriek followed.
Andy looked up, and a second round slammed into him but was repelled, staggering him and replacing his throb with bruising pangs. While holding his breath, with his cerulean attire shining sporadic bolts along his limbs, Andy raised his pistol and fired southwesterly. A snarl followed. As the third round slammed into and threw him from his feet, Andy dropped his pistol and lay outstretched. His suit shrieked.
Andy pushed up as his suit roared with golden flashes and bolts; he pulled at it as those bolts lashed his skin; and he howled, his body engulfed in phantasmal light, as the bolts pierced his flesh. The suit burst, a wave of debris geysering, plunging, and leaving, in Andy’s place, an empty crater.
Ironsides stood and rushed for the SUV’s driver’s side. “Good work, Adams!”
“What did I just do?!” the second oldest barked. “Those rounds weren’t explosive!”
“I know they weren’t. You saved us; that’s what you did!” He hopped into the driver’s side, revved the SUV’s engine, swerved, and rushed. “Descend from your roost, and aid in clean-up here! Dom Pedro, where’s Richie?!”
“A quarter mile ahead; ten seconds from contact with the barricade”, Dom Pedro replied.
“I am in pursuit!” Ironsides bellowed as he switched to third gear and focused, through the broken windshield, on the tail lights ahead of him.
“Sir, I can engage—do you want me to engage?” the fifth oldest stammered.
“Remember our talk, Sam Houston?!”
“Copy, sir, but I would reason some degree of urgency has been presented to our situation”, the fifth oldest exclaimed while watching the SUV speed towards the barricade.
“Stand down, Houston!” Ironsides bellowed, while the carjacked SUV’s front door was kicked open by the red-haired man.
“Break it, Pete!” the driver called.
“Got it.” Pete leapt over the hood and shot into a sixty-mile-per-hour sprint. He crossed his arms over his head as projectiles zipped from the barricade, and he accelerated, doubling in pace as the officers behind the stone and metal wall intensified their fire. Pete slammed, launching the barricade into score pieces and the men around it onto the roadsides. He leapt back, as the SUV passed, landed along the front door and slid into his seat but, while closing the door, looked to headlights three hundred yards back. “Someone got past Andy.”
“I bet it’s Arthur Grant again”, the buzz-cut man remarked in the second back row.
“I’m regretting not blowin’ his brains out the first time I had the chance”, the old man sneered as he looked ahead. “Send him my regards, Jim.”
“With pleasure.” The buzz-cut man opened his door, reached out, and snatched, from the road, a rock the size of his fist. He then stood along the SUV’s runner, held onto its roof with his left, and wound up the stone with his right. He pitched.
Ironsides ducked, the stone whistling past a moment later, beheading his seat, the seats behind it, and beaming out of the back window. As the SUV swerved, he reared up and, and throwing off his ski mask, accelerated.
“I think I need to send a longer message.” Jim leapt from the SUV, sprinted to the roadside, and jabbed his left through a trunk, felling it, caught it, ripped it in half, spun its nearest half, and javelined that pike at the SUV’s hood.
“S***!” Ironsides kicked open the driver’s door, leapt, and curled, the SUV being impaled behind him. He tumbled, the vehicle rolling beside him, and he slowed, pushing up, though his vision turned and was obscured by bloody stripes and brush, and though his knees and sides burned from frictional stress. He reached for his sidearm as Jim ran back to the escape vehicle.
“Sir, I’m a moment away! I can help!” the fifth oldest exclaimed.
“With all due respect, Houston, you are inexperienced by every metric I can imagine”, Ironsides coughed while kneeling and aligning his Glock with the distancing SUV’s left side. “I don’t think you can.” He fired, hitting the trunk door; fired, hitting the fender; and fired. The back-left tire burst, and the vehicle, first sliding, descended along the ground. “Moving in.” Ironsides proceeded.
“He’s persistent”, the old man sighed.
“What do we do, boss?” the driver asked while peering to the rearview.
“What do you do, Johnny?” the old man scoffed. “Pete, get out and change the tire; make it as quick as those wearable science experiments make you. Jim, shoot him, please.”
“Yeah, understood.” As Pete jumped out of the passenger side and as Johnny unlocked the back door, Jim kicked open his door with pistol in hand. As Pete raised the tire and the toolbox, Jim raised his pistol and fired thrice. Ironsides shook as the first round zipped by his head, bowed while raising his sidearm, jogged on, and squeezed. Jim sidestepped, the round whistling by his gaze, aimed, and squeezed, but Ironsides was untouched as Pete, with blurring pivots, loosened the tire’s bolts with his left while holding up the SUV with his right. “My aim is still s***”, Jim groaned while reloading and watching Ironsides draw within one hundred yards.
“And water is wet”, Pete called while raising the spare.
“I’m moving in.” Jim rushed. Ironsides, though first staggering as Jim charged with inhuman speed, raised his pistol and squeezed from seventy-five yards. Jim sidestepped. Ironsides, though puckering, restrained his bloody cough and the urge to retreat and accelerated. Ironsides raised his pistol as Jim came within thirty yards, watching the gunman draw near and the size of his head increase to fill his line of sight. Jim raised his pistol from twenty yards as Ironsides straightened his arms and as Pete tightened the bolts on the spare. Jim pounced.
The fifth oldest speared, hammering Jim to the ground and then cartwheeling from him. Ironsides accelerated, while Pete reached for one of the duffle bags. Jim rose as Ironsides ran, and Jim aimed as the fifth oldest rushed. Jim opened fire.
The fifth oldest sidestepped in a blur, circled Jim as Jim turned after him, and moved a degree past Jim’s subsequent shots. The fifth oldest swung. Jim teetered back, the fist scraping the edge of his chest, and swatted his pistol. The fifth oldest blocked, kicked out Jim’s left leg, and hook-kicked his gut. Jim, launched across the road, spread his legs and leapt, but the fifth oldest rushed in retort, cracked his fists, and thrice jabbed Jim’s gut, grabbed his head and kneed his ribs, flipped him over his head and slammed him. Jim lay still.
“Jim—d***!” Pete howled while running from the SUV, a rocket launcher in hand.
“Houston, stand down!” Ironsides roared from ten yards away.
“Stay back, sir!” the fifth oldest blared as he turned to the SUV and as the missile blustered from the vehicle. The fifth oldest ran and cradled the projectile’s head, and it burst. Ironsides bowed as the fifth oldest was engulfed and as Pete leapt into the SUV. The SUV continued.
“What was that?” Johnny barked while rushing down the road. “Who the h*** was that with Grant?” he howled while peering back to the dwindling pyre. “I thought we were the only ones with those suits?!” he barked to Pete in the front seat.
“Quit babbling and drive if you want to get away”, the old man humphed.
“Hey!” Pete bellowed as he pointed, their path illumined and obscured by sidereal form. The fifth oldest crashed, his shape aflame, but his clothes were unscathed as orange tongues lashed from him, and his posture was unmoved as the SUV barreled towards him.
He thrust, catching the SUV with a malleating swat. He heaved, overturning the vehicle onto its driver’s side, while Johnny reached back to secure the old man, and while Pete kicked open the passenger door and leapt out. The fifth oldest released the vehicle. Pete hammered down, a crater forming under him as the fifth slid from him. Pete swung, but the fifth blocked, bowed, diverted, but was grabbed.
Pete twisted the fifth’s arm, yanked a bowie knife from his pocket, and swiped at the fifth’s neck, but the fifth oldest ducked, flipped over Pete’s arm, kicked the back of his leg, and jabbed at Pete’s head. Pete leaned from the fist, and speared his knife while holding the fifth’s hand. The fifth teetered left, right, and tensed. Pete gagged as the fifth’s flaming cowl concentrated around his hand, unlocking it and scorching his side. Pete staggered, and the fifth oldest rushed. Pete swiped, but the fifth slid under his arm and jabbed at his knife-wielding hand, crushing the bones in Pete’s wrist, side-kicking Pete’s jaw with bone-cracking force, spinning to the airborne Pete, and jabbing a fireball at Pete’s gut that blasted him through a tree.
“Not bad”, the fifth hummed while catching Pete’s knife and nailing it into the ground.
“Stay down, sir!” Johnny barked as he stood across from the SUV, the rocket launcher reloaded and in hand, while the fifth turned to him.
“I know what to do with explosive ordinance; just blow him to s***!” the old man howled. The fifth sighed. Johnny squeezed and, as the projectile snarled forward, the fifth oldest snapped his right. A spark erupted beside the rocket’s tail, adding flames to its propulsion. The fifth pointed right, and the exhaust coiled the rocket rightward, upward, and back to Johnny’s side, where it crashed. Johnny wheezed, an instant after firing, while lowering the rocket launcher, and turned after the dust rolling past. He found the rocket then, its propulsion ceasing, and he tensed.
The rocket burst, its accompanying blaze throwing Johnny into the tree line and swiveling the SUV aside. As Johnny lay outstretched, his suit blackened and traversed by golden bolts, the fifth stravaged towards the vehicle, while another crept behind him. Pete, his swollen lips brimming with gathered blood, ambled from the roadside, ripped his knife from the ground, and inched towards the fifth oldest, raised the knife as the fifth oldest looked into the SUV’s side, and staggered as a whistle sounded. As the fifth oldest looked up, Pete was hammered in his gut and thrown back. As Pete lay trembling and as the round ricocheted into the forest, the fifth oldest looked down the road and squeezed his headset. “Nice shot.”
“Thanks for not losing”, the second oldest replied.
The fifth oldest then looked into the SUV and to the old man crouched and glaring back. “Richie the Worm, I presume.”
“I will get out.” The old man sidled towards the fifth oldest with cane in hand. He pushed out, and the fifth oldest stepped back. “I will regain my wealth, maybe just a fraction of it.” He stood before the fifth oldest, “but with that fraction, it won’t matter if you’re wearing a mask or not, I will make sure you and your loved ones are fed_”
“To worms?” the fifth oldest interjected. “Is that why you’re called ‘Richie the Worm’?”
“You’ll fear me.” Richie raised his cane. “Arthur has enough stories to confirm that.”
“You can verify that yourself. I’m sure he’d like to reminisce.” The fifth oldest turned down the road, where stood Ironsides, slack as he wiped blood from his forehead. “All yours, sir. Do you need_?” The fifth stepped back as Ironsides waved him away and reached behind his back.
“I see you’re getting old too, eh, Arthur? Leaving the heavy lifting to the young bloods?” Richie laughed. “When did that change?”
“Fall back, Houston; prepare for pick-up.” Ironsides pulled a pair of cuffs from his waist.
“Right, sir.” The fifth oldest looked to Richie and then sidled towards the tree line. Ironsides, after raising his handcuffs and glaring at the sneering Richie, closed his eyes.
“Hey.” The fifth oldest looked back. “You did good.” Ironsides nodded. “We’ll be in touch.”
“Right, thanks, sir”, the fifth blared. “Thank you, sir.” He turned, jogged, and pumped his fist.