Wyatt Nathan had known what he wanted to do with his life since he was a freshman in high school. That was when he'd started cutting his hair short, wearing combat boots every day, and working out. Ask anyone from Central High School in Omaha, and they'd tell you -- Wyatt was a Marine long before he'd joined the Corps.
From the moment he decided, everything became about the Marines to him. JROTC, daily physical training, drill team, mixed martial arts. On graduation day, he had full-ride scholarship offers from all five service academies, but it was never a question -- he was going to go Marine. After four years at the Naval academy, the powers that be gave him a choice -- Marine aviator or Special Operations. Again, there was no question -- Special Operations all the way.
He'd always been the best at everything -- first in his class, first in Ranger school, first in combatives competitions. When his unit had shipped into Firebase Zulu from Magadan, Colonel Ross of the JSOC had asked for a volunteer for a high-risk mission -- Wyatt had been first there, too. He and his unit had rolled into North Korea in two stealth Razors and commandeered an office building without firing a shot. They'd then waited. And waited. And waited.
And some fucking convict unit had gone into Pyongyang, accomplished the mission, and gotten all the fucking glory. And Wyatt and his team stayed at the office building, waiting for orders.
"No worries, boss," his second-in-command, Gunnery Sergeant Mendel told him after 47 Echo had pulled off the mission. "We won't be here long. They're not gonna waste highly trained Devil Dogs sitting on a listening post."
"Hoo-rah," Wyatt said, smirking.
Three days later, another stealth Razor showed up, driven and crewed by four convict Deltas. Rather than a relief crew, it was filled with MREs and bottled water, as well as orders from Colonel Ross -- hold down the building, and keep eyes on the North Korean frontier.
"Well, shit," Wyatt sighed as he had his men move the supplies to their makeshift barracks on the second floor. "Looks like we're gonna be at the Vegas Hilton for a while, after all."
"What're our orders?" Gunny Mendel asked.
"Listening post. Daily reports -- I expect North Korean tanks to come rolling our way any day now. If that happens, we're to report, then stop 'em if we can."
"Oh, and we can. Day watch/night watch?"
"Sixteen hour shifts. I'll take day, you take night?"
"Roger that, sir."
North Korean tanks didn't roll across the border in a matter of days -- or even a matter of weeks. Two months after the destruction of the lab in Pyongyang, Wyatt and his detachment of the 2nd MSOB were still sitting in that abandoned office building, watching the frontier, and waiting. They hadn't seen another soul since the Deltas got back in their Razor and headed for Firebase Zulu.
In fact, they hadn't seen anything move on their scopes except for the wind.
Wyatt hoped that after nine weeks of the same report (sent from a Razor running under full steath in the parking complex under the building), a report of no movement, that Colonel Ross would pull his unit out and put them somewhere where they'd see some action. But every day, the same response came back: "Acknowledged. Carry on."
From 0800 to 1200, both the Day and Night watches were up, and he and Gunny Mendel had breakfast together and went over Mendel's report from night watch. From 2000 to 0000, they were both up again, and Wyatt would fill Mendel in on what happened during the day. After the first four weeks, their exchanges went exactly the same.
"You see anything?" Wyatt would ask in the morning.
"Didn't think so."
The same exchange would repeat twelve hours later, with Gunny Mendel asking the question and Wyatt answering. Boredom set in quickly. The men were all Marines, and all elite -- they weren't meant to be running guard duty on a dead post. They were meant to be out there, on the front lines. They were meant to get some.
Keeping his men sharp was tough. There was no room to run drills, and they had to stay away from windows. A few weeks in, Wyatt and Mendel decided to institute twice-daily Razor patrols under full stealth -- the solar collectors kept the Razors topped off, so they didn't use any solid fuel driving ten miles from the Vegas Hilton in every direction. After seven weeks, Wyatt was bored enough to join the patrols himself. Still, they never saw another soul moving.
At the beginning of the tenth week, Wyatt had just filed his report before sacking out for the night. He'd decided to give it one more week before he took the next step, a step that was almost unthinkable -- requesting that Colonel Ross pull him and his men out. It was tatamount to questioning the orders of a superior officer, behavior that years of training had hardwired him against, but he felt he had no choice. He and his men were wasted here -- and worse, they were getting dull.
"Sackin' out, boss?" Gunny Mendel asked as Wyatt stepped out of the Razor.
"That's the plan. You see anything at all, come get me."
"Shit, boss. If I see anything at all, I'm declaring it a national fucking holiday," Mendel said, grinning.
Wyatt went up to the second floor, to the office that had been converted to his quarters, and set his M4 by his bed. He stretched out on his cot and was asleep five minutes later.
"Boss!" he heard, and jolted awake. Gunny Mendel was at the door, lit only by the chemical glowstick he held in his left hand. The power had been off in the building since they arrived -- if they got raided, Wyatt had left orders to switch the power on.
"What's up, Gunny?"
"Movement, boss. Got it on the scopes up on four."
"On my way," Wyatt said, slinging his M4 over his shoulder and grabbing his body armor and helmet as he stood. He and Mendel took the stairs to the fourth floor two at a time, then crept up to the windows where Private First Class Walker had his scopes set up.
"What do we have, Walker?"
"Vehicles, sir. A lot of 'em. Headed right this way."
"Let me take a look," Wyatt said, and Walker moved away from the scope.
As he looked through the optics, Wyatt saw lights -- red and white running lights -- crawling over the hill a few miles away. He swept the scope around and took a quick count -- thirty vehicles, at least.
"That look to you what it looks like to me, Gunny?" Wyatt said, moving away from the scope.
"Yes, sir," Mendel said, squinting as he looked around. "Chinese Death Machines. I'd estimate 35 to 45 of 'em."
"CDMs? Just one of those things wiped out the entire Alpha Stryker Company," Walker said.
"Yeah. And it looks like they're rolling for our boys on the front lines. Gunny Mendel -- I want you to rouse the Day watch, then take your boys and load up in a Razor. Get going for Zulu and let them know what's up. We'll follow behind in a few minutes and cover your ass."
"Roger that, sir."
"Mendel was off and running down the stairs seconds later.
"Go with the Gunny and load up, Walker. I'll keep an eye on those CDMs until my day watch gets up here."
Wyatt kept his eyes glued to the scopes, even as he heard his day watch assemble behind him. The CDMs didn't seem to be in any particular hurry.
"I'll take over the scopes, sir," he heard Lance Corporal Lewis say softly next to him.
"Good man. We estimate upwards of 35 CDMs. Keep eyes on 'em and let me know what they're doing," Wyatt said, clearing the scope and turning to face his men.
"What's up, boss?" Corporal Parker asked.
"CDMs inbound. A fuckton of 'em. They don't seem to be heading for us, specifically, but they are headed this way. I've ordered Gunny Mendel to take the night watch and one of the Razors and flat-out for Zulu."
"Why not just radio 'em?" Parker asked.
Ah, Parker. Good kid, but not too bright.
"Channel 1-9 Victor is secure, but it's low-power. To further confuse our Asian and Russian friends, we've been bouncing our reports off a bunch of satellites and relay stations all over the world. The Razor can get into direct radio range faster," Wyatt said. "Now, here's the fun part. Day watch is taking the other Razor to follow behind and cover their escape. That's us, gentlemen."
"Hoo-rah, sir," Parker nodded.
"Can't risk a Nighthawk. It's small, but they might pick it up," Lewis said from the scopes.
Wyatt nodded. The tiny, flexible UAV was designed to be launched from the Razor's rear cannon.
"We'll have to do this without overflight. Cameras and night-vision optics in the Razor will have to do," Wyatt said.
"Request permission to stay behind on the scopes, sir. I can give you an overwatch until they get a mile or so on the other side of the Hilton, here," Lewis said.
"Negative, Lance Corporal. A mile either way won't make a hell of a lot of difference. I'll need you on cameras in the Razor. Appreciate the willingness, though. Load up. We roll in zero five minutes."
His men scattered and headed back down the stairs -- all except for Lewis.
"You too, Lance Corporal."
"Sir. I can stay up here while you load up. Keep an eye on the CDMs. I can be down in the Razor in 45 seconds when you're ready to leave."
"Good man. You don't come down when I tell you, though, and I'm coming up to get you. You don't want that, clear?"
As Wyatt headed for the stairway, Mendel's voice crackled in his headset.
"Rolling out now, sir. See you back at Zulu."
"Roger that. Good luck, Gunny. Pedal to the metal, yeah?"
Wyatt shrugged into his body armor and helmet as he ran down the stairs to the parking level. When he got there, he found his men loading the last of their equipment into the Razor.
Wyatt helped Parker load in the last crate of 5.56 ammo, then strapped himself into the passenger seat next to First Sergeant Sikes.
"Ready to road-trip, Sikes?"
"Right. Power up, full stealth, gentlemen," Wyatt yelled, bringing up the missile station on the screen in front of him. His radio crackled on.
"Lieutenant! CDMs are increasing speed! Think they made us!" Lewis radioed.
"Roger that, Lewis. We're out the door -- get down here."
"Coming down n --" Lewis' voice cut off in mid sentence as the building shook and rattled. Concrete started to fall down around them.
"Lewis! Lewis!" Wyatt yelled into the radio, but all he got back was static.
"Gotta go now, sir! Whole place is coming down!" Sikes yelled.
"Floor it, Sergeant."
The Razor zoomed out of the parking structure, narrowly avoiding a large slab of concrete that fell from the ceiling as the building shook again. They zoomed out into the night -- rockets and 25mm gatling rounds slammed into the ground and buildings around them.
"Sir! Something on the rear feed!" Parker yelled.
"What do you have, Corporal?" Wyatt said, jumping out of his seat to join Parker at the camera station. He saw a lone marine -- Lewis -- on his feet and running from the rapidly collapsing Vegas Hilton.
"Shit. Sikes, all stop!"
The Razor stopped dead, and Wyatt grabbed an M4 and headed for the back hatch.
"Put it in reverse and zigzag back towards my locator as soon as I clear the vehicle," Sikes. We're coming in through the passenger door, then we're all getting the fuck out of here."
"Sir, I don't --" Sikes started, but Wyatt cut him off.
"You don't get to have an opinion, Sergeant. Follow your orders, Marine."
Wyatt took one last look at the monitors -- Lewis was still up and running towards them, even with bullets chewing up the street on all sides of him. Wyatt held his breath, opened the back hatch, and jumped out -- he heard it close behind him, but he was already running. He could see Lewis -- the young Marine was only a hundred yards away. Lewis saw his commanding officer and started running towards him when a CDM's rocket exploded right in front of him.
Wyatt kept running, slamming the side of his helmet to activate his night-vision visor. He saw Lewis' form on the ground, twitching. When he got to the fallen Marine, he could see that the young man's right leg was gone below the knee.
"Lewis? You conscious?" Wyatt yelled.
"Give me your hand. We're getting out of here."
Lewis reached up his right hand, and Wyatt took it, turned around, and ran as hard as he could. He saw a quick white light flash just in front of him, then saw a door open out of nowhere -- the Razor. [P]"Pull him in!" Wyatt yelled, lifting Lewis' twitching body up to the door. Parker and Private Richards grabbed his arms and pulled the young Marine into the vehicle, then Wyatt climbed in after him.
"See what you can do for him!" Wyatt yelled as he strapped himself in.
"Pedal to the metal, sir?" Sikes asked.
"Fuck yes. Richards, Cohane, get on the 50s and throw as many bullets behind us as you can!" Wyatt yelled as Sikes zoomed the Razor towards Zulu.
"What do you think our chances are, sir?" Sikes asked.
"You don't want to know," Wyatt said, grinning as he brought up the missile targeting system and looked for a CDM to shoot.