his free hand clicking his fingers to the music only he could hear. The music he had heard all his life. A hatch opened in the spidercopter, and the cross speared down into the swamp, rooting itself deep into the mud bottom, only slightly askew. The Op raised the rocketlauncher as the chopper lifted up. The cross exploded into flame, and stood there burning.

Thirty yards to the left, William Soule swore. 95% of the citizens of Yazoo City were poor and black, and that put them high on the CAF's list of undesirables.

The spidercopter to the left squirted bunting napalm in a high arc over the swamp. The CAF knew there were people down in the waters waiting for them, and were trying to end it early. Large things crashed through the burning waters, and the Op hoped his line of defence would hold. It was time. It was time to rock and roll. The rocket whizzed out of the launcher, and he had the weapon back in its case before it struck home. The pilot saw it coming too late, and tried to take evasive action, but the missile's inbuilt homing system adjusted its course. It exploded dead centre on the spidercopter's nose, and the craft's napalm tanks went up. It was like a small sun for a moment, and then fell in fiery metal chunks into the swamp. The Op held a clump of hanging moss as the wave hit him at chest-height. Water slopped into his waders, and he was nearly knocked over.

The other copters were rising out of range, computerized baffle systems coming on-line to defer any further high-tech assaults. The Op didn't mind that. He knew he would only have one shot with the tube. The baffles meant that the CAF couldn't use any of their smart missiles on him either.

Unslinging his G-Mek Rapide full-automatic machine gun, he sloshed across the swamp towards the island where the first wave would be coming down. It was the only semi-solid footing for a mile or so, and the CAF commandos would naturally strike for it.

There were bursts of flame as the CAF blundered into the booby-traps they had set earlier.

'Whoo-eeee,' yelped Soule, punching the air. 'Gonna fry us some hoodhead honkie ass tonight!'

The Op signalled to Soule, and the kid passed the order on. The Yazoo Krewe were to move in.

One of the spidercopters was over the island, men on ropes abseiling down from it. They were mainly frozen in mid-air since the first explosions, but a few of the hoodheads on the ground were calling for back-up. The other chopper had withdrawn to a safe height and was laying down more napalm.

People were screaming, trying to get the stuff off them. The Op knew that was hopeless. The best you could hope for with a GenTech napalm product was a quick death from traumatic shock. This new stuff was bio-based and bonded with your tissue on first contact. It burned inside you until there was nothing left to burn. And it burned underwater, so pulling yourself into the swamp was no help. He hoped the Yazoo Krewe hadn't lost too many.

The CAF was laying down conventional fire now, but they hadn't got the range yet. Bullets threw up little splashes twenty feet behind them.

'Pore-ass motherfreakers,' Soule yelled. 'Ofey ratskaggers, lowbrow cornhole connoisseurs!'

The Op wished the kid would concentrate on the action, rather than taking the time to use his extensive vocabulary.

'Shape up, Soule,' he shouted. 'This is serious.'

'Yes, Colonel,' the boy snapped.

The Op sighted on a hoodhead who seemed to be directing the ground troops on the island, and took him apart with a burst. That should throw some confusion into the ranks.

Matthew Croke, the Yazoo City selectman who had visited him in Memphis, floated by, half his head shot away. He rippled through the reflection of the burning cross.

Soule saw the man in the water, and swore again. He lifted his 'gator-baiter rifle and sniped three hoods in a row, bringing them down with precise heartshots.

They still couldn't decide whether to land more gunmen or pull out entirely. The spidercopter was hovering indecisively. Its lase swivelled, and burned a line across the ground. The grass singed, and smoked.

The Op whistled, a pre-arranged signal, and the Yazoo Krewe stormed the beaches like John Wayne hitting Iwo Jima. The Op rapid-fired his weapon, jitterbugging a group of hoodheads.

Soule and three others were assembling a mortar under the cover of a dead tree. The Op gave them some covering fire while they got the thing put together, and took a couple of shots at the copter. A hoodhead fell from his rope, and splashed into the swamp. Someone up there—probably chickenheart Fassett—made a decision to cut the ground troops loose and make a tactical retreat, and the copter shifted in the air, its updrafts humming.

Come on, Soule.

'On line. Colonel,' Soule shouted.

'Take the bird down,' he ordered.

The kid's grin was a line of white in the night, and he worked the lever.

The shell rose in an arc, and peaked a few feet too low. It came down on the other side of the island, exploding shrapnel into the thick greenery.

The spidercopter was still lifting, not yet up to speed. Its blades rhythmically sliced the air.

'Give it another fifty feet,' he judged.

'Sure thing, Colonel,' Soule replied.

The adjustment was made, and the next shell exploded in the belly of the copter. The left nacelle, which housed the lase and the napalm squirters, was dislodged and tumbled downwards, flames flickering around it, the stars and bars peeling.

'Down,' the Op ordered, throwing himself to the soft, muddy earth and sinking his face into it.

He heard the explosion as the napalm tank burst, and felt scraps of fire on the back of his jacket. He rolled quickly back into the water, and stayed under, holding the air in his lungs.

This wasn't doing his clothes any good.

His eyes open, he realized that above him the surface of the water was a dull orange. The area was on fire. He heard the blood pounding inside his head.

He kicked and swam until there was a cool darkness above him, and, chest bursting, spluttered his way to the surface. He coughed and spat water and shook his thick hair. He had been born with blondish-brown hair. It might be greying now, but he'd been dyeing it black since his early twenties. His years in the army and, then, the Op business, had kept him in trim. But all the regen treatments in the world and the personal attention of Dr Zarathustra couldn't take the years away. His face was unlined, but he was 64 years old.

The copter was coming down in a lazy spiral, burning hoodheads bailing out, splashing into the pool of napalm. The cicadas were quiet now, and there was only the sound of human pain to disturb the swamp. Quite a few of the Yazoo Krewe would have been killed by the exploding napalm tank. The Op blamed himself. He should have known what would happen. There was no point in winning the battle if there was no one left at the end to get the benefit.

Guns still chattered as Fassett's hoodheads and Soule's Yazoo Krewe exchanged fire between the hanging curtains of Spanish moss.

A man on fire ran at him, firing wildly, and he put a shot in his head. Camouflage robes tented around him as he sank into the dark waters.

The Op realized he was up to his neck in the swamp now, and that his footing was none too good. The napalm had driven him further away from the island than was advisable.

He struck towards the shore, avoiding the floating patches of fire, shaking the water out of his guaranteed moisture-proof Rapide. Something crashed out of the swamp a few feet away, and he swung around to open fire. The gun squelched as he pulled the trigger, and he swore to get his money back.

The hoodhead was huge, easily six-seven, and built like a professional wrestler. He had IR shades over his cloth face, and was holding up a two-foot-long dagger with a wickedly serrated edge. They sure grew their rats big in Vicksburg.

The Op had his combat knife out of his belt, and held it just under the water. The hoodhead slipped himself onto it, taking the steel up to the hilt in his hard belly, just under the ribcage.

He screamed in rage, and blood darkened his hood over his mouth, but he was still slashing wildly.

The Op got a lock on the hoodhead's wrist, and tried to crush the bones, but they felt durium-laced.

'Nigra-lover,' the hoodhead spat.

The Op carved into the man's gut, feeling the entrails uncoiling under the water like anemone tendrils.

His enemy had lost the dagger, but got a surprisingly strong grip on his throat. The Op corded his neck muscles, and kept the air passage open. He had Zarathustra threads in there, and could lock his pipes open. But the

Вы читаете Comeback Tour
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату