This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.
We are without the respite of night. The sky is alive, churning, irradiating us with beams of submarine light that sweep across the landscape. The world is tinged red. A closed fist lit from within. Darker without the sun, but not by much.
"Get out!" Someone pushes against me.
Hands are dragging me by my webbing out of the back of the truck. My legs are doused in someone else's blood.
"Can you hear me?" A square-jawed woman shouts.
"Yes!" I reply and cough as she drags me to my feet.
"Get away from the truck! It's on fire!"
She shoves me roughly away and I stagger to join a column of troops marching north. Colonel Proctor pulls alongside me in his truck. He's standing on the passenger-side running board, directing the flow of troops towards the enemy.
"Close call," he shouts to me.
As if to emphasize the point, the truck I was riding in explodes. A burning man runs screaming from the inferno. Infantrymen in the column cringe away in reflexive fear. Colonel Proctor stands tall, heroic. Like a painting of George Washington.
"Hop on up," he says and offers me a hand.
I take it and he swings me up behind him on the truck's running board. A moment later a bullet hisses past us and pops through his roof gunner's neck. Blood sprays us both and men inside the truck drag the mortally wounded gunner into the cab.
"Get some pressure on it," Colonel Proctor instructs. "Get some, no, get in there and put your thumb like this and squeeze. Like...aw, hell. God damn it."
The roof gunners of surrounding vehicles single out a three-story building with a pharmacy sign on the ground floor. Their heavy guns thump and send tracers flying into the building's façade. Brick and mortar dust fills the street. Explosive flashes light the darkened building from within. It begins to burn as we pass it. A few men throw grenades into the empty windows and more dust fountains out into the street.
Colonel Proctor reaches in the passenger window and takes the radio from his adjutant, a weasel-faced man named Corsig.
I scan the small-town streets, looking for something to shoot. I balance my rifle on the transport's roof.
"Tanks are running into it in the suburbs, about three clicks north," Colonel Proctor shouts to me. "We'll need to dismount once we hit the main strip along the highway. The creepoids and their buddies are dug in there. Anti-armor, anti-air, everything."
He leans his whole body into the truck and barks instructions to the driver and Corsig. The roof gunner is dead in the back seat. Another man has taken his position and is sweeping the barrel of the gun back and forth searching for a target.
The vehicle accelerates and swerves around a trio of stalled trucks. Colonel Proctor turns to me, nonchalant despite our precarious position.
"The warden auxiliaries and the tenders will go in before us," he spits disdainfully onto the asphalt. "Then we'll hammer them with everything. Tanks if there are any left. Choppers and rangers if they show up from Culverson. My best guess is it'll take the bastards until nightfall to reposition and encircle us. From that point, two hours. Three maybe."
He presses himself against the door of the truck as we narrowly avoid a damaged armored vehicle in the road.
"Do you think that will give them enough time?" he asks.
"I don't know, sir," I shout over the roaring engine and whipping wind.
"That's fine," Colonel Proctor grins. "If it's not we'll all be dead anyway."
Don't let the winter dryness destroy your sinuses.
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