The last skirmishes before the storm of war came to the surface were fought by the elite PATHFINDER teams. They were hand-picked Special Forces and veterans from some of the roughest raiding done by RECLAIM III. The objectives were the nuclear missile silos located in the most desolate areas of the United States.
The way was cleared by intensive air support. Thermobaric bombs and white phosphorous crushed and incinerated foliage. Agent Red darkened the air to a crimson haze. The PATHFINDER helicopters swirled down from above and inserted the teams into the aging bunkers.
Some of the silos were derelict and unusable. Some silos were open to the air and so packed with flora and fauna that the teams had to pull back. A few teams faced concerted resistance and were exposed to the spores or wiped out in the fighting.
PATHFINDER 19 from DAGGER FALLS, led by Captain Ryan Forrest, fought their way through heavy resistance and made it to the Titan III launch control room. Under constant wave attack from walkers they slaved the launch control to USCF command and held the enemy off until the silo's single functioning missile could be launched. Minutes later, as Captain Forrest and his men succumbed to spore infection, atomic fires obliterated Baltimore, Boston, and a swath of Pennsylvania near Philadelphia.
Other PATHFINDER teams succeeded and fortified themselves in the missile bunkers with limited supplies. The teams would defend the missile silos to the death so that the functional missiles could be used to supplement the payloads of America's two remaining Ohio class missile submarines.
The CBs weren't prepared for the speed and violence of the attack from mankind. Tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and trucks of every description poured out of the MOCAS shelters across the Continental United States. Strategic bombers blanketed the earth with incendiary bombs, burning vast tracts of land to cinders. Artillery pounded cities and towns, preparing the way for the armored spearheads that would stab at the sinister hearts of each settlement. The structures never looked the same, but each city and town had one.
Everywhere the USCF went the red fell from the sky. Airburst shells dropped it with precision. Planes and helicopters sprayed it over troop formations and onto dense foliage. Leaves curled at its corrosive touch and the walkers choked and bled from their eyes. Sometimes teams moved in to recover the human casualties and take them back to the MOCAS for treatment. Usually, the armor just drove over them, crushing their thrashing bodies into the ashes left by the incendiary bombing.
The CBs seemed to realize this was no longer a matter of spreading its spores, but a fight against forces that sought to exterminate it without hesitation. The walkers still tried to pull the masks from the faces of soldiers, but the CBs also adapted to the magnitude of the new threat. Insects blacked out the canopies of low flying aircraft and birds flew to altitudes where they could barely survive and flocked into the intakes of bombers. Strange beasts roared from the jungles and forests and ate men alive. The walkers improvised explosives and drove cars and trucks into the advancing armored columns.
The response from mankind was merciless. When the worms teemed in large numbers and walkers stubbornly resisted mankind's advance they were eradicated with nuclear strikes. Geiger counters popped madly as the tanks rolled through cities reduced to twisted ruins. Everywhere the bodies of our fighting men chafed and became raw from constant exposure to Agent Red. In the towns we took back the men burned piles of bodies a hundred deep on the streets to prevent the spread of typhoid.
The results of treatment given to prisoners at the MOCAS facilities were pitiful. Of the tens of thousands of walkers brought in by collection teams fewer than a hundred were reintroduced to the civilian population. Fewer than a thousand were communicative or lucid and most of these suffered from bottomless depression and were despondent to the point of uselessness. Of the rest, most died from the treatment or were rendered completely insane, ranting and raving about "the emptiness".
They missed the voice. They said it sounded like a child in their heads and it would show them pictures and tell them to do things. None of them had a name for it, although some of the lucky few who recovered would later argue it was either God or his antipode.
On the surface, conditions deteriorated. Tornadoes of hot ash swept across the Great Plains. These were the nightmarish radioactive storms that followed in the wake of nearly indiscriminate nuclear destruction on the West Coast. The limited decontaminated areas where men could move about without masks were thick with the stink of rotting plants and animals and the cloying ozone smell of Agent Red. The verdant world of the spores was fast becoming a toxic wasteland of smoldering wounds and poisoned red rivers.
A handful of urban areas were spared the destruction meted out whenever fighting become tough. The President insisted Washington be retaken intact as a symbol of America's enduring strength. Half of it was gutted by cluster bombs and napalm, but after weeks of intense fighting the historic portions were shell-pocked but still standing.
Chicago was slowly and methodically retaken by teams of dismounted infantry wielding incinerators and gas grenades. When the red worms slithered out of Lake Michigan and onto the splintered remnants of Navy Pier they were greeted by a barrage of MLRS rockets dispensing airbursts of VX gas. The poisoned worms writhed amid the ruins, their alien, foaming mouths opening and closing mechanically as B-52s swept overhead blanketing the city in Agent Red.
Manhattan, shrouded in the gloom of nuclear winter, was the last major city to fall. Troops were operating in full NBC gear by then, two years after the first salvo, and the flakes of radioactive ash were as dangerous as the tumor-covered survivors clawing at them in the brutal house-to-house fight for the Upper West Side. When it was through the towers of Manhattan smoldered and slumped against one another. Foot sore and exhausted, the victorious troops paused to gaze out at the Statue of Liberty, her copper patina dyed red by the clinging dust.
Thick storm clouds parted in the yellow-black bruise of sky above Upper New York Bay and a single feeble strand of sunlight spilled through. The weary soldiers watched it make its way towards Liberty Island, holding their breath, waiting for that magic moment when it transfixed her in its glittering beam.
The malevolent clouds seemed to sense the moment approaching. The moment before the light fell upon the Statue of Liberty the clouds drew together and choked off the sunlight. The soldiers were left staring across the debris-strewn bay at the sullen, ash-choked monument to a strange pale creature of history.
We had won. America was ours.
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The 17-century battle between Santa Claus and Satan reaches an unfortunate peak.
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