[Rewrite] OTC 1.1 – Ground Zero

Bits of wood and white dust exploded above my head as I knelt over the polymer box. I kept low to the ground to avoid being shot. My ears rang and everything was muffled as I went back to pulling out the equipment I had left inside. Plate carrier, check; Bug out bag, check; Magazines, check; Pistol, check; Rifle… Shit!

After I pulled out everything and put it on, the most important part was gone! I felt the bottom of the dark box as only a few dim rays of sunlight came from the bullet holes in the exterior wall behind me. I felt around again. Then again, but there wasn’t a rifle. “No! No! I should have-”

I was suddenly pulled off the box by my carrier and came face to face with my brother. I could see his lips form words, but my ears rang and each word was muffled. Maybe he saw my lost eyes, but he figured out I couldn’t understand what he was barking about.  He looked over me quickly as he made sure to keep checking the entrance to my room.

Once he was done, he pointed to his rifle and pointed to my box. I quickly conveyed my confusion with my head and hands. I could see him bite back that stupid fucking snarl he always gave me when he knew I fucked up something really important. One that I would have gladly argued with him over, but more bullets tore through the wall again and he jerked me towards the door.

I got to my hands and feet as my brother kept low by the doorway. He was fully geared up with his HK416, full package plate carrier with a few grenades, a screen on his forearm, and a large kevlar helmet on his head. He was going through his backpack and pulled out a device that was the carbon copy of the one on his arm, just white rather than the black casing.

He did some voodoo jumbo stuff with it before he threw it to me. It bounced by my hands and he gestured to put it on. The device had four straps on each side of it that connected to each other. I slipped it on and left it tight. When I looked up again, my brother slid me over a large headset that crashed into my hand. I didn’t ask this time and put it on. The muffled noises around me became even more stifled by the headset. He pulled his pack onto his back and checked his rifle. He then got adjusted his grip and stepped into the hallway. The hallway flashed erratically as he let out a burst of fire in the hallway before he stepped back into gesture for me to follow.

He slipped away and the dust swirled in his tracks.

I quickly scrambled after him with a bit of effort as my limbs shook with fear and adrenaline. When I stepped into the hall, I saw the slightly obscured figures of my brother’s squad members peel of their positions on both sides of the staircase. That part of the house faced the neighbor’s home, no more than fifteen feet in distance from ours. When I got closer, I saw it was riddled with bullets and all the windows were shot out. The scent of gunpowder filled the air along with a heavy scent of iron and something else.

 Out of nowhere, my brother grabbed my arm and I yelped in surprise. My hearing had already begun to clear up with the help of the headset and I heard a slightly muffled. “What the fuck?” From one of his squadmates. “It’s nothing.” My brother barked at him. “Your bro sounded -” He was cut off by my brother “If you have time to comment on Kian, you have time to secure the area.” As the leader of the squad, my brother’s word was law.

 [“Don’t gotta be so protective, Jacob.”]

A voice popped over the headset’s speakers before my brother growled into his microphone. “The package is moving.” Ooo, he’s pissed… I whispered in my heat as my brother led me to where my dust-covered boots were by the top of the staircase. I cleared away the hot brass at the top step and sat down. I reached into them, grabbed the socks inside and tried to put them but my nerves played hell on my motor functions. “Hurry up!” My brother yelled at me as he waited for me a few steps down. “I’m trying!” I squeaked back. “Why…” He was about to berate me, something he had usually done, but he stopped.

I looked at him, glad of it and finally managed to finish with the boots. For once, I was glad I slept in my jeans.  I got up and tried to hurry down the stairs, but Jacob was still there. He looked at me, with a sad tint somewhere in his eyes before he pulled my headset off and brushed my hair back before he replaced the headset. I felt a little weirded out at the sudden tender care he showed, but his scold returned back as he forcibly led me back down the stairs. Somehow, it felt like I might have imagined it.

By the time we reached the first floor, my hearing returned and I could hear jets fly past overhead as well as distant explosions.

I looked up at my brother who towered half a head over me as I waited for some sort of explanation, but none came and he led me through the kitchen to the backyard where his squad was. “This is Kian…?” One of the men posted by the large French doors said. He didn’t have a helmet on, just a headset like me. His confusion showed on his face as he sized me up, probably to compare me to my bear of a brother next to me. Jacob was wider, larger, and all-around – much more of a bear than a human in my eyes than me.  “I thought you had a sister for a moment.” He chuckled before my brother grabbed one random piece of décor and threw it at him. Ah… My iPad… It wasn’t a piece décor; I reside that observation.

The delicate piece of tech flew through the now windowless doors and landed in the grass beyond.

I couldn’t fault my him though. I did look feminine, especially when placed side my side by my brother. My brother let me go. “Stay in the kitchen. Get some water. We need to secure a new route.” He said as he let go of my arm and I took his suggestion. The communication line buzzed with activity as more and more people talked as they tried to formulate a new plan. Apparently, they were supposed to get me out of here by car, but since everything had gone to hell; They had to check their options.

I looked back towards the front door and saw that it had been blown apart. A few other men were there on standby. I wanted to say something witty and edgy about this lonely shit hole of a house was finally going to come down, but I couldn’t. I felt sick and afraid. I ventured off to the bathroom beneath the staircase. I hung the headset on the towel rack and splashed as much water over myself as possible.

I could still hear the buzz of activity on the comms while it was hung and I could only stare into the mirror as I took deep breathes.

My soft feature face was more akin to a girl than a man. My shoulder-length brown hair had been swept back and pieces of drywall were still stuck in it. I pluck them out with my hands. In all, aside from my countenance, I was an average guy, aside from being a smaller build than the average guy. At 5’7” I was still in the acceptable height range. I had nice bright hazel eyes. I focused on the face in an attempt to ignore that armored plate carrier I wore. It was out of place with my features as the white t-shirt sleeves poked out. God, I look pitiful… Like a kicked puppy…

suddenly hardened face, square-jawed with mean eyes appeared above me. “Hey!” He hissed. His eyes looked on my kicked puppy face and his expression cramped. I turned around. “Hey… Sorry… I just…” A myriad of emotions flickered through me. I wanted to complain about how he couldn’t just treat his abandoned kid brother with some sympathy when the house was literally raided. How that two high up career soldiers who were the literal guardians of one teen could not see a war coming to their own home town.

But I couldn’t. I only felt the tears well up in my eyes and I began to hyperventilate. “Woah, Woah! Hey. I didn’t-” I only hugged him tight and kept all my words inside. We stood there for a few seconds before I felt the headset slide back over my head. “Sorry for the yelling, but we need to go.” The touching moment was over, but I felt better. We both cleared our throats and I stayed on his tail. No one commented on my looks as we all filed with haste into the backyard.

We crossed the large green yard and filed out the back gate my dad used for its stupid RV and came out in a large paved alleyway for backyard access. I looked back and saw the suburban McMansion I had grown up in, but I didn’t have time to reminisce or feel any heartbreak as two jets flew past us overhead; their guns roared violently the chaser tried to shoot down the front jet.

A few gunshots rang out a few streets away, or maybe it was in a house down the street, but it was soon met with tens of gunshots in response before the world fell silently momentarily before more explosions.

We quickly crossed the alleyway and came out near the border of the HOA. The main road leading to the guardhouse was empty aside from a few dead bodies. A few of my neighbors I could tell from their fancy clothes. We followed the road to the gated entry and exit ways where cars had piled up, into a heap of smoking mess. Blood splattered around the gates were the unlucky elderly folks had been gunned down by someone. The guardhouse had been completely blown apart, my best guess was an airstrike, but I wasn’t versed in whatever formal way they determined that.

Both vehicle entryways were blocked by cars, we had to exit through the entry gate since it was open enough for us to walk through. It had been blocked from opening more, but it couldn’t close on one side with another car in its way.

[“Bear One to Oracle Actual, over.”] Jacob called out over the radio.

There was a pause as he waited for a reply.

[“This is Oracle Actual. What is your status? Over.”] Shit. It was my dad.

[“Little Willow retrieved. Roads are blocked. We’re hoofing it to his favorite supermarket to the east of the complex. Requesting pick up at that location, over.] Jacob said as we crossed the deserted four-lane road and the lot of the gas station. It was entirely empty, but it was the only cover since there were only open roads and parking lots all over.

[“Acknowledged. Do not let him get hurt, over and out.”] Dad replied over the radio

The about of gunfire around the city was beginning to scale up, but most of it appeared to come from the west. Using the gas station as the center, the home was to the west. North led to the commercial side of town while if we kept east, we’ll stay mostly on the residential side. The main part of the city was south of us and housed most of the high-level figureheads of the state as well as plenty of very important civilians. I quickly got that we were in the middle of being invaded so I came to the conclusion that east would have been relatively safe.

That was until a few bullets skipped off the concrete by my feet.

Sparks jumped with bits of concrete and I quickly flung myself across the refill bays to the storefront. Everyone called out “Sniper!” as everyone followed after me.

“You’re a fucking rabbit! Haha!” One of my brother’s men laughed, despite the situation. I couldn’t say anything back, as much as I wanted too. No one looked surprised by the sudden attack. We all rushed inside the station as ballistic cracks chased after us. Once inside, no further shots rang out.

“Did anyone get a visual?” My brother asked everyone. Everyone shook their heads before he looked to me. “You okay?” I gave him the thumbs up, but I figured my pale face was enough to tell him my mental state may have been shot instead. I hid deep inside the store behind a rack of chips and candy while everyone else, but one guy, kept to the front. The stray cleared the backroom for another exit. I felt my heart slow down while took some deep breaths and I saw a Three musketeer bar to my right as I crouched down.

“What the fuck are you doing…?” One of my brother’s men asked me. He was the closest to me and took cover by the checkout counter center of the room. He had turned to me when he heard me open the candy bar.

“Stress eating.” I muttered back as I chewed viciously at it like a starved rabbit. He looked at me in awe before he chuckled. He looked around and saw a mini-fridge by him; he pulled out a few Gatorades from it and rolled them at me with a thumbs up. What a bro. My brother was, along with two other men, were in the middle of locating the sniper when he popped on the radio.

[“What the hell are you two doing back there?”] He said.

[“Your little bro is stress eating back here.”] The guy who rolled me the Gatorades responded back.

[“Kian, how are you eating in this situation?”] Jacob asked and I heard the amused tone in his voice.

I was surprised by how casual all of them were in this situation, but I only shrugged in response.

[“He shrugged.] Gatorade man replied to my brother for me.

[“Kian, there are three buttons on the right earpiece. Use the top one to talk.”] Jacob said. For a trained Special Force Operative, he sure forgot that his little brother was not a soldier or a military geek.

[“You rather I just have a freakout, or do you want me to stuff my face?”] I replied with a half-joke-half-serious tone while I chewed on another bar. To be honest, I would have much preferred the freak out rather than stress eating.

[“Eat to your heart’s content, just don’t go overboard, or stick your head up.”] Jacob replied with a sigh.

[“Can’t you just, like, stick a pair of sunglasses out to trick him into shooting?”] I asked. Ah, he’ll probably regret that he showed me how to use the comms now.

No response came, but I could hear his hushed curses from here about how that only worked in movies. A few of his men joked back with him. I heard one of them agree and said he’d do it. A few seconds later, a few bullets tore through the storefront window.

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