Pathways (Part 12): Gita and Cierra's Road

It was like nothing she had ever been prepared for. No training simulation could ever replicate the actual sense of combat, no matter how realistic it was. There was always that knowledge, in the back of the head, that the simulation wasn't real. The people being shot weren't human beings, or if they were, all they needed to do was unplug and they'd be fine.

Despite being a capsuleer, Gita had been forced into ground combat before. Sometimes, there was just no other choice. But when she had, it had been against pirates or smugglers or slavers. People she was trained to hate, people she was raised to despise. And when she pulled the trigger, it was no different to her than sitting a hundred kilometers away and filling a hull full of shells.

Cierra had neither the simulation training nor the actual experience of combat. The Federation didn't mandate combat training for its civilian capsuleers, as the other empires did. She had taken self defense courses, and while many of them had lessons on how to permanently incapacitate an opponent, most lessons dealt with staying alive.

But both of them could have been excused for cracking under the pressure at this moment. They were not fighting armed soldiers or criminals. They were fighting people who had done nothing wrong beyond living in an area where a deadly virus was released. Commander Rottan and his squad managed to ignore the brutality of it, but neither Gita nor Cierra could.

They didn't crack, however. They gritted their teeth and bore it. When they came across a mob of the crazed attacking a young woman and her child, Gita was the first one to open fire. The bullet hit one of the infected right in the chest, knocking it to the ground. The others didn't even react, continuing their assault on the woman.

The woman was crying in terror and pain, her young child clutched beneath her in a feeble attempt to shield it from the mob. The child was quiet.

As more of the mob was struck by the fire from Commander Rottan's squad, they gradually turned and faced their attackers. They ran forward, laughing their horrid laughs the entire way, as bullets struck them. Those who were hit in the vitals - brains, heart - collapsed to the ground and stopped moving right away. The others kept coming, ignoring the wounds and any pain they may have felt.

Cierra thought it was like an old horror holo she had seen. Hordes and hordes of undead slowly shambling toward a group of survivors, bullets only enough to slow them down. But in none of the holos did the monsters emit such a terrifying laugh. It made her blood run cold. She tried to block it out by firing her gun.

It actually made her wish that the weapons were still the loud contraptions that were used historically, back in the age before space exploration. Old fashioned gunpowder made a loud bang, one she imagined would drown out the sound of the laughs. These new chemical propellants barely made a fwip. At least the experienced soldiers who were carrying larger assault weaponry were making noise.

But the laughter could still be heard over the din.

After several minutes that seemed an eternity, the last of the infected people had ceased their advance. Blood was everywhere. The woman continued to lay on the ground, clutching her still-silent child. Commander Rottan signaled for the squad to move on, but Cierra ran over to the woman and pulled her off the ground.

Cierra gasped as she saw what the woman was clutching to her. Cierra couldn't even say anything. She just pointed away from the center of the city. The woman ran, still clutching her child to her chest. Cierra stumbled back over to the squad. Commander Rottan's grimly motioned for the squad to continue again.

It wasn't long before they came across another group. This one was busy fighting with itself, so Commander Rottan motioned for them to sneak past it. They moved in pairs from pile of debris to pile of debris, keeping out of sight of the horde.

Gita was half-way across when one spotted her. It charged at her, reaching her before she could react. It was a Minmatar man. Cierra struggled with him as he pulled her gun away and tossed it to the side. The man's insanity lent him strength and it was all she could do to keep from being torn apart. Commander Rottan's men moved to help her, but the commotion quickly drew the attention of the rest of the mob.

Gunshots rang out around her as Gita tried to keep the man from clawing her eyes out. Her reached his fingers, which were caked in blood and gore, into her mouth and pulled at her tongue. She bit down, and though her teeth sank into the man's flesh, her continued his assault. He clenched his hand around her lower jaw and pulled. Gita drove her knee into the man's groin, but it was ineffective. He continued to pull.

Soon, the pain was unbearable, and she opened her mouth to scream. The man simply reached his other hand in, wrapping it around her upper jaw, and began pulling in opposite directions, like he was trying to rip Gita's head in half. Gita grabbed his wrists and tried to pull his hands out of her mouth, but she simply managed to slow him down.

Suddenly, the man slumped forward, though his arms continued to pull. Commander Rottan and one of his soldiers knelt down next to Gita and wrenched the man's hands out of Gita's mouth, then kicked him off her. The top of the man's head had been blown off, leaving only a gory crater behind. His arms continued to flail about for several seconds before finally coming to a rest.

The commander helped Gita to her feet, where she spent the next several seconds voiding her stomach. Once she finished, the commander handed her a bottle of water, which she used to rinse out the taste of dirt-encrusted blood and bile.

The squad was still hole, though several of the men had gotten off even worse. A man who wore the rank of private stood with his left arm dangling at his side, the elbow twisted the wrong way. His face betrayed no pain, however, and one of his fellows twisted it back in place. Another had a long gash down his side which was seeping blood. A third definitely had broken his nose.

But they took only the briefest moment to rest before moving again. They'd barely made it a third of the way to the space port.

Part 13

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