Chapter 25: Tunnel Rats
The assembled soldiers began diving for cover as more rounds pierced the air, burying into heads and hearts. Only one man moved with a purpose beyond seeking cover.
Boone, having determined the general direction of sniper fire, rushed through the killing zone, smashed through a gate, then belly crawled through the ruins of a building to get a closer look at his target.
Looking down the scope of his rifle, Boone got a good look at his foe: A man clad in modified Legion armor, covered from head to toe in the red uniform, Ulysses's follower: Styx.
Styx was barricaded inside the building that, unknown to Boone, contained the key to advancing into the Divide without Ulysses's intimate knowledge of the land: The Laser Detonator. The ex-NCR took a shot and missed, but that was alright, Boone just wanted to get his attention.
Styx took notice of Boone, crouching down behind the destroyed wall and returning fire. The two drowned out the world and concentrated entirely on their sniper dual, trading high powered shots, hair's width away from a quick death.
Fire, duck, an inch to the left, inch to the right, up, duck, fire, hide, shoot. A single flaw, the slightest misstep would spell death. The two snipers fall into a trance.
Boone looks down from a cliff, putting the woman he loves in the crosshairs, a numb sort of horror gripping his heart as he knows what must happen but is unable to stop it.
For Styx, he remembers almost nothing about his target, the head of some Ghoul community he'd been ordered by Vulpus to kill. He remembers hiding for days, slowing feeling the death in the air mold and rot his skin, marking him for his dedication to Caesar. The kill itself was not important, but what came next...
Styx was cast from the Legion, shunned for the sign of his service, a body wide medal by the background radiation. He wandered in a dull haze, until Ulysses found him, and gave him a way to continue serving Caesar's ideals.
Both sniper's murderous haze was suddenly broken as the ex-legionarie's fortification erupted in flames, Securitron missiles splitting the sky. It takes the surviving sniper a moment to return to reality as his fellow troopers rush across the now safe ground to secure the area.
The progress of The Courier's army was delayed by the destruction of the Laser Detonator in the missile barrage that killed Styx, but the road forward was eventually cleared by the heavy lifting of the robot army. The delay gave Seth time to arrive at the front and oversee the army's progress.
"Now, who just goes and leaves a perfectly good warhead lying around in the dirt like this?" Seth questioned as his techies examined one of the warheads that had been dug from the roadblock. Inspection revealed them to be live. "Get me some soldiers to secure these warheads and move them out of the combat zone. I think the Boomers will appreciate a little gift."
"But sir, those soldiers would be unable to re-enter the battle quickly should our remaining troops prove insufficient." A captain objected.
"Are you questioning me, soldier?" Seth asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I'll convey your orders immediately, sir." The captain replied quickly.
"Good help is so hard to find..." Seth mumbled as he approaches Raul, currently operating a makeshift communication center inside an army bunker. "How goes the battle, my leather skinned friend?"
"Well, besides the fact that our heavy hitter robots are on courier duty and we've only just wiped out a group of ugly basterds that make me look like a beauty queen, we aren't doing too bad." Raul stated to The Courier in a tone as dry as his skin. "Oh, and we lost contact with the team you sent into that underpass, but I'm sure it's just the tons of rubble cutting off the radios. They likely haven't been torn apart by some radioactive death machine."
"OK, I'll make sure the next team is composed of our best people." Seth reassured him. "Have our scanners picked up anything?"
"Nothing specific yet boss, but there are definitly some big pre-war sites up ahead. You better be ready boss, 'cause whatever's at the end of this road, it's a big one."
Later, in the low road, Cass and Follows-Chalk lead the second wave. The soldiers move carefully, staying bunched together and keeping eyes open for whatever got the first wave.
"The hell..?" Cass breathes as the first body is discovered. The legs had been ripped to shreds and the skull was split open. "What the fuck could have done this?"
"It almost... Seems like a gecko attack." Follows Chalk spoke up.
"No fucking gecko could have done this." Cass responded. "This poor bastard had his legs clawed to shreds.
"You're right about that, but a trick of the geckos, espically the small ones, is to cut up the legs, then bite the head." Follows-Chalk explained. "My guess is whatever did this is the same size of a gecko."
While the caravaner and the tribal discussed the corpse, the other soldiers surveyed their surroundings. The shadows seemed to edd and nudge, little dark movements in the corner of their eyes.
A low growl suddenly cut through the air as pairs of glowing eyes began to emerge from the ground itself.
An inexperienced trooper cuts loose with his assault carbine while backing away from the Tunnelers in a panic. He unknowingly backed right into a tunneler hole. One of the mutant reptiles emerged behind him, slashed him across the legs, and dragged him down the hole.
The soldier screamed all the way down.
The rest of the squad was on the verge of losing it as well, but Cass managed to pull them together. "Everyone, form together and get back to back! Nail the fuckers before they get too close!"
Cass's tactic of "circling the wagons" allowed them to hold off the Tunneler assault without further losses. Once the mutants were all dead, Cass dropped a few sticks of dynamite down the tunnels.
One thing that had gone unnoticed in all the fighting, however, was an active radio hidden underneath a sheet of thin metal.
The other receiver currently sat on a table on the highway just ahead. Costello took a drag off a cigarette, then activated a second radio. "Ulysses? It's Costello. The Tunnelers didn't stop the Courier's men, but I'm sure the savages and lover boy up there can stop them. Costello out."