Lying with his back to the shelled building, Henrik quietly pulled the corpse of one of the militia soldiers over him, willing himself to vanish as one of their trucks roared up the broken road in his direction.
The dead of the official military, the opposing militia, and people who’d been hiding in the city of Tollok littered streets, alleyways, sewers; whole and in pieces. When the military and an extremely well armed militia had collided, the entire city had become a no-rules warzone.
Henrik held his breath and the truck rushed by over shattered slabs of asphalt, glass and bodies as smoothly as if it was off-roading through a gorge. Tank rounds coughed in the distance; automatic weapons’ fire chattered in deadly conversation with the occasional interrupting report of a sniper’s shot. The stench of body odor, urine, smoke, and weeks-old decay permeated everything.
As an independent fighter, he had no affiliation with either side. His one job had been to locate and retrieve two leading social scientists however, due to recent events, those men were currently literally scattered across the square at the city center less than a block away.
I’ll head east. Crowded by the leaning husks of devastated multistory structures, he waited until the last echoes of the truck faded and silence settled over the narrow street. Alone it won’t be a problem.
He grabbed the corpse’s jacket to move it and stopped.
Footsteps. A single set. Softly.
He settled again, pulling the corpse to cover more of his face. Moving vehicles miss a lot but somebody on foot…
The steps came up the street, crossed form the other side to his, and marched toward him. He slipped a hand toward his belt to grab his blade and waited.
Don’t stop, fella. Keep walking or I’ll kill you.
A set of casual brand boots stopped directly in front of his face. The boots’ owner, a familiar man with long dark hair and a presence that was both perpetually inquisitive and disgruntled, looked down at him. “You takin’ a nap?”
Risto. Henrik’s hold on the knife loosened. “You’re supposed to be in Stansfield.”
“I busted my ass comin’ here.” With a canon of a sniper rifle slung across his back, Risto hauled the body off of his friend, tossing it aside like someone else’s laundry, and offered him a hand up. “You okay?”
Gripping the blood-slick glove, Henrik climbed to his feet, dozens of points of pain lighting up all down his left side and limbs. “I found Doctors Bowen and Peters and got them as far as Central Square but an anti-tank took out our transport. They didn’t make it.”
Risto squinted through forty-two kilometers’ worth of grime, blood and sweat. “Shrapnel?”
Sheathing his knife, Henrik nodded as the sniper looked him up and down. I didn’t catch enough of it to be a problem.
His friend concurred. “Then there’s nothin’ keepin’ us here.” Pat his arm in passing. “C’mon.”
Henrik followed behind the sniper who picked his way easily among the unstable debris like a kid hiking the woods behind his house. “The guy who’s in charge in Stansfield,” said Henrik. “The governor guy. He just let you leave?”
“Like hell. I almost beat sh– out of him. I don’t work for nobody. Then finding you was no field trip neither.”
“How did you?”
Risto gestured skyward. “Saw the flag.”
The building was missing two faces and most of its guts. A good wind could’ve toppled it and all five stories would come down in an avalanche of brick and dust. However at the top, sticking out over the edge, was the broken pipe Henrik had wedged in the cracks. At the end of the pipe floated one of several prearranged signals to the transport, a ghastly shock of black fabric as holey as everything else in the city.