The Army left them at 81st Street. There was quite a bit of chatter about firefights breaking out around downtown, and the colonel wanted to respond.
Jake understood his position. Most of the National Guard was already set up around there, trying to make sense of the "hostile wildlife" attacking civilians. What a lousy classification. Wildlife. Because no one in the Guard wanted to admit that these things were Echo-Tangos—extraterrestrial. Where were the flying saucers and death rays? Strange creatures with even stranger ways to attack could only make sense under the pretense of "hostile wildlife."
"We're on our own," David surmised. He stood beside Jake near the three-floor public garage, peering around a concrete barrier. They watched as the APC and soldiers headed purposefully eastward. Aside from their movement, the streets were vacant, several cars off to the side where the EMP had killed them.
"Let's round up the others and head back to Sabertooth," said Jake. "We've done all we can. The Guard's our only chance."
Making their way back down the street, Jake found the rest of his group huddled in the alley between the garage and a storefront. Jessica and Anthony were still tuning through their backup comms transmitter, listening on separate earpieces to the chatter on the network. Joel stood leaning against the shop back wall, keeping an eye with his Mark-Eight direct-energy assault rifle at the ready.
It seemed too surreal that ship-out day for the Mark-Eights coincided with the attack.
Jessica glanced up from the transmitter's screen, her brown eyes flashing with concern. "Where's the colonel?"
"Heading downtown, linking up with the rest of the military. We're done here."
For a moment, Jake was afraid Jessica was going to lose it again, like she had back at Sabertooth. The Echo-Tangos had stormed their facility with what could only be described as extreme prejudice. Trapped in the operations room, Jessica had watched on security monitors as half her coworkers fell prey to the alien monstrosities. The Guard's timely arrival was the only thing that had staved off a full slaughter.
Jessica didn't look like she was going to lose it, though. Instead, she looked…irritated.
"Something on your mind?" Jake pushed.
"Look, I know our job was just to escort the Guard to our shipping warehouse. I get that. They get the Mark-Eights, and then they take care of the aliens."
"Echo-Tangos," Joel corrected. "We still don't know what these things are."
Jessica frowned, biting back a comment. "My point is," she continued, "we still haven't heard from anyone else in Blue Group setting up comm relays around the metro area. What if they need backup?"
Jake paused for a moment. "Anthony?"
The lanky tech jumped, startled out of whatever reverie the comms had sucked him into. He ran a hand through his black, overly styled hair. Honestly, he looked horribly out of place in his lab coat sporting a lady-killer-look.
"Does the National Guard have full coverage from our network?"
"Yeah, actually," Anthony replied cheerfully. "Someone's been directing traffic, too. Mean sounding gal on the line, chewing out half the soldiers trying to boss her around."
Jake blinked, surprised. He motioned for Anthony's headset, which he willing passed up. Jake crouched low on the pavement, scooting closer to the comms transmitter.
At first, all could hear was back and forth between the various military detachments. The Army had shown up, as well as some unspecified forces that were going by Juliet-Niner. But it was all coordinated, and it sounded like the military was pushing back the Echo-Tangos towards the Air Force base southeast of the city.
Where the nonsense had all started.
Then Jake began to pick out another voice on the line. A woman, somewhere in the back-chatter, cussing up a storm with some communications soldier trying to get coverage north of downtown.
"Damn Geeks, I already told you! I haven't got a transmitter up on that street! You're not going to get a signal that far north!"
"Don't you listen ma'am me! I've been running all over this damn city since the EMP went off. You should be kissing my feet that we're even having this conversation right now. Do you know how many of these monsters I've nearly been swallowed up by?!"
Jake exhaled. "Arianna, is that you on the channel?"
The screaming lady stopped. Then, "Jacob, the hell are you doing out here?!"
Jake rolled his eyes, a motion surely lost over non-visual communication. "We led a detachment of National Guard soldiers to Sabertooth's shipping warehouse west of downtown. They just loaded up with our Mark-Eights."
Arianna groaned long. "You're arming everyone with laser-guns and sending them off to war."
"Listen, I'm sure we could have a riveting discussion on the matter, but I need you to do me a favor: tell me if you pinpointed the EMP."
Jake glanced over at Jessica, who seemed glued to her headset now. No doubt this conversation just got way more entertaining.
Arianna sputtered for a moment, trying to sound pissed off. The Director of Blue Group operations at Sabertooth needn't have wasted her breath. Jake was Red Group's Director; he knew when she was just puffing steam to seem more intimidating.
"You think I've just been wandering out here all afternoon, setting up comm towers out of the goodness of my heart? Hell yes I located the EMP source. Getting the military communications was just a happy little benefit for them. Which they still haven't thanked me for," she finished, drawing out the word which.
So it was true. Blue Group's experimental comm channels could detect the energy flow of an EMP attack. The idea had seemed absurd to Jake, but he had spent his time on weapons development. Sabertooth's reputation as a leading edge Private Military Contractor depended on their ability to develop and mass produce next-gen battlefield weaponry. Jake had handled the transition to direct-energy weapons with the Mark-Eights. But it seemed Blue Group had found other applications with the technology.
Applications that were essential now that a Worst Case Scenario was in play.
"Let me guess," Jake began, anticipating her answer, "it's coming from the Air Force base."
"Close," Arianna snapped. "An empty field due west of the base."
Not so empty, Jake didn't reply. But that was technically classified information. We he said instead was, "Start making your way there. The Army and National Guard are clearing a path. We need to finish this before it gets any further out of hand."
"Finish what? Jake, do you know something I don't?"
"Just a logical progression. The Echo-Tangos came into the city somehow, and whatever the process was unleashed the electromagnetic pulse that fried everything except our gear."
"Maybe. But we need to use that advantage now and get down there. The military isn't entirely prepared for what's waiting."
Arianna exhaled long and with annoyance. "Fine. I'm on my way. But no guarantees I'll make it on time."
"Just get there in one piece. I'm signing off."
Jake dispatched his earpiece before Arianna had a chance to throw any more retorts his way. He quickly glanced around their small group.
"So…" David sighed. "The Air Force base."
"There's no way we can make it," said Jessica. "We don't even have a working vehicle!"
Jake nodded. "We'll have to huff it. That should give Arianna and the military time to secure the surroundings."
"Jake," Joel cut in, "what are we going to find there?"
"A gateway, probably. Hopefully President Colaz."
Anthony scrounged up his nose. "The head of Sabertooth? Wasn't he out of the office today?"
"He was. Probably at ground zero."
"You think he knew this was going down," David guessed.
Jake thought more than that now. President Colaz had pushed the development of the Mark-Eight and other direct-energy battlefield tech hard now for the last three years. And the day it's all ready to ship, hostile creatures of unknown origin show up to devastate the city. And where do they originate, but near one of the most highly classified Air Force bases in the country.
There were a few people who knew this was going down. And were probably trying to prepare for it or stop it.
"If they knew, then they were counting on us," said Jake. "So let's make it count."