HMS Bulwark, 06:00hrs.
Jogging across the flight deck Faith took a moment to look around; the carrier was steaming at full speed into the wind to help the helicopters get airborne. Lines of paratroopers ran towards their choppers and clambered aboard lugging their kit behind them. Glancing towards her own aircraft she saw Blair wave her on. With a wave of her own hand in acknowledgement she ran the last dozen yards to the aircraft and clambered into its dark interior. The load master pointed to a canvas seat against the fuselage wall and signalled to her that she should strap herself in.
Sitting down and buckling the strap across her lap Faith felt the familiar lurch in the pit of her stomach as the helicopter took off. Holding her Tommy-gun, muzzle down, between her knees she felt for the comic book in the map pocket on her left leg. Unbuttoning the flap she pulled out the pulp-paper pages and started to read; she smiled at the monsters that the comic book pictures portrayed and wondered what the artists would do if they ever came face to face with any of the real monsters that roamed the planet…die horribly she imagined.
Faith had never been a great reader, apart from the comics which she devoured at a prodigious rate; she’d been brought up (if those were the right words) in the wrong part of Boston, capital of the Commonwealth of New England. Her mother had been a prostitute who’d worked the docks until the night she’d been stabbed and killed by a drunken sailor. Faith had spent most of her young life being shuttled from one relative to another. Then when she’d been about fourteen the men from Nightwatch had come to her school to test the girls to see if any of them had been ‘touched by Herne the Hunter’ as the saying went. Leaving the school the same day without a backward glance, Faith still considered that day to have been the best day of her life up until that point.
Looking up Faith was just in time to see the helicopter pass over the coast and start to head inland. Again her stomach lurched as the chopper lost height rapidly to confuse any anti-aircraft gunner who might be looking in their direction. But no hail of flak greeted them and the helicopter sped on towards its objective.
The plan called for Faith and her team to land on Buffy Summers’ house and drag her from her home and be off back to the Bulwark before anyone was any the wiser. The load master made the signal for ‘five minutes to target’. Putting the comic back into her pocket Faith did one final equipment check. Her hands touched on pieces of kit as she listed them in her mind; pistol, Tommy-gun, spare magazines, commando knife, grenades, garrotte, plastic explosive, fuses, chocolate and finally, condoms; well, a girl had to be prepared for all eventualities…right?
The red light next to the door started to flash and the load master signalled ‘unstrap’. Flicking the quick release of her seat belt Faith pulled a magazine from an ammunition pouch and slipped it into her Tommy-gun. Blair stood in the door with a breaching charge in his hands with Collins hanging on to the back of his harness to steady him. Exchanging thumbs-up with Hobson and Weatherby, Faith felt the excitement she always experienced rise from her stomach and into her chest. She couldn’t help grinning, in fact she was grinning so hard that it hurt her face. Soon, she promised the warrior that lived inside her; soon we’ll be in combat.
Tossing the charge onto the roof of the house, Blair was jerked back into the chopper by Collins. The aircraft surged upwards only to drop just as quickly, a second or two later, back towards the roof through the smoke caused by the breaching charge exploding. The rotor wash blew the smoke down into the suburban gardens as Faith dropped from the helicopter through the hole in the roof and into the loft. Her legs bent as they took the shock of her landing, her feet perfectly placed on the joists that held up the ceiling.
Judging the joists to be far enough apart so she could fit between them Faith jumped up and spun around in mid-air; she brought her feet together and smashed through the plaster-board ceiling. Landing on the floor of a bedroom in a cloud of dust and smashed plaster she registered movement from the direction of the bed. A man fought with the bedclothes as he tried to get up and confront the apparition that had so violently appeared in his bedroom. Stepping forward Faith brought the butt of her Tommy-gun up and used it to hit the man squarely between the eyes. Watching as his eyes rolled up into his head, Faith smiled as he fell backwards to lie unconscious across the bed. A woman’s screams split the air even over the sound of the helicopter’s rotors, Faith pointed her Tommy-gun at the middle-aged woman who was holding the sheets up to her chest and screaming about devils and murderers..
“SHUT-UP!” Faith snarled as she headed for the door, the woman shut-up and watched her go by with wide terrified eyes.
Blair dropped through the hole in the ceiling followed swiftly by Collins; this all proved too much for the woman who fainted clean away. Lifting her foot Faith kicked the door off its hinges and then checked the corridor for threats. Starting down the passageway she kicked open doors as she went. Blair and Collins went off in the opposite direction checking the other rooms. It only took a few moments for them realise they were in the wrong house.
“WE’RE IN THE WRONG FUCKING HOUSE!” Faith yelled at Blair over the noise of the helicopter that was still hovering above the house.
“WHAT NOW?” Blair shouted into Faith’s ear.
Thinking quickly Faith told Blair to wave the helicopter off; they still had a mission to complete and they’d have to make it up as they went along, just like they normally did. The helicopter flew off into the distance as Hobson and Weatherby dropped through the hole in the ceiling to join them in the corridor. Now that the chopper was gone Faith could hear the screams of children and the groans coming from the master bedroom where the adults were starting to come around.
“What now boss?” Blair clutched his Tommy-gun across his chest.
“First,” Faith held up her fingers and counted off the points as she made them, “we need to find out where we are. Second we need transport and third we need to get out of here!” gathering up her team up with her eye she headed downstairs towards the backyard.
Watching the great gun turrets swing towards their targets Admiral Sir Hank Harwood nodded with approval. This would probably be the last time that the old KG5 would fire her guns in anger. It would be a pity that she had to bow out like this and not after some great naval engagement; but times changed and the day of the battleship was well and truly over.
Listening with half an ear to the orders being passed to the gunnery control centre by the Gunnery Officer, he swept the coast with his binoculars. There was the port of Valle del Sol with a half dozen cargo ships tied up at the wharfs. They weren’t the big ship’s targets today; the port was being left to the Commandos. No, the battleship’s targets today were the Mexican army barracks on the northern edge of the town. The two great turrets forward of the bridge came to a halt and the gun barrels elevated, for a moment all was silent on the bridge.
“Permission to commence shore bombardment sir?” the gunnery officer asked his Captain.
“Admiral?” the KG5’s captain stood next to Sir Hank and raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Carry on Simon,” Sir Hank put his binoculars to his eyes to watch the bombardment.
“SHOOT!” the gunnery officer called into his phone and the world exploded as the KG5’s twelve sixteen inch guns fired in unison.
“Padre Giles!” Buffy called as she burst into the library, the swing doors closing behind her nearly hitting Xander and Willow as they followed her in, “what the he…heck’s going on?”
Arriving at school Xander had parked his car in the student’s parking lot, as the three friends had walked towards the school building they’d seen columns of smoke rising into the sky from somewhere in the northern part of the town. There had also been muffled explosions and a sound like an express train passing in the distance. As they had walked into the building they had seen staff and pupils casting worried and confused looks skywards.
Padre Giles was Buffy’s confessor; he also directed her work for the Congregación Sagrada Suprema de la Oficina Santa who had been charged by the Holy Father in Rome with prosecuting the war against Satan’s agents. Of course in this modern day and age everyone knew that vampires and demons weren’t supernatural, but the old ways died hard; particularly if they appeared to work.
“Buffy!” Padre Giles dashed out of his little office in a state of high agitation, “thank God you’re alright,” he glanced over to where Xander and Willow stood uncertainly by the door, “and you two as well.”
“Like Buffy said,” Xander walked towards the priest and winced at the sound of something big passing over the school, “what the heck’s happening? Are we under attack or something?” he put a protective arm around Willow’s shoulder.
“Yes!” Padre Giles brushed dust from his clerical suit, “The God forsaken British have launched a completely unprovoked attack on Valle del Sol!”
Nodding her head, Buffy knew a ‘party line’ when she heard it; she relaxed a little and went to sit in one of the chairs surrounding the big table in the middle of the room.
“So,” she looked up at the priest, “nothing evil this way comes?”
“Only the cursed British,” agreed Giles as he moved to join Buffy, “The military authorities say they are unlikely to land this far north. However, he turned towards Xander, “Señor Snyder is calling for all militia cadets to report to the armoury…just in case you understand.”
“Right,” Xander straightened his shoulders, “I better be gone,” he looked at Buffy expectantly.
“Good luck Xander,” Buffy tossed him a wave from the other side of the table.
“Oh Xander!” cried Willow as she threw herself at the boy, “You’re so brave.” Wrapping her arms around Xander’s waist Willow hugged him as if she was never going to see him again. “You be careful,” she looked up into his face her eyes starting to shine with tears, “and don’t forget to duck!”
Smiling bravely Willow let go of her childhood friend and stood back to let Buffy hug him, she surreptitiously wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Then noticing that Xander was taking too long hugging Buffy she added, “You better go like, now!”
“Yeah sure,” Xander reluctantly let go of Buffy and headed for the door, “I’ll let you know if I find out anything new.”
The priest and the two girls waved as Xander headed out the door. Suddenly the whole building shook as something massive exploded near by. They could hear windows break and saw dust drifting down from the ceilings as the entire building shuddered as if from a minor earth quake.
“Xander!” Giles pointed to the door, “Armoury quickly!”
He grabbed Buffy and Willow by their arms and started to head for the door, “I think we should head down to the shelters.”
The Nightwatch team were huddled in the back of a van, the sign on the side of the vehicle proclaimed it as belonging to Octavio Murphy and Sons, Plumbers. The cargo area was indeed littered with copper pipe and plumber’s tools. The man who they assumed was Señor Murphy junior was lying tied up under a shrub in someone’s back garden. Sergeant Blair pointed at the map held across his knees as the other four team members struggled to see.
“I think I know what went wrong,” he traced the line of a road with his finger, “looks like the navy dropped us off at 31 Santa Ana Avenida. We should have been dropped at 13 Santa Anna Avenida!”
“The difference being?” Faith looked at her second in command non-the-wiser.
“One ‘n’ mostly,” Blair looked up only to find himself the focus of four blank stares; he struggled to explain. “Look, one’s a Saint the other’s a General similar spelling and it didn’t help them both being in similar but different areas.”
“Alright so how do we get to the right address?” Weatherby stroked his rifle’s barrel absently.
“I’ll drive!” Faith’s offer was met by moans of dismay from her team-mates, “Hey look,” she explained a little crestfallen at her team’s reaction, “I’m the only one here who can pass for Irish.”
“But you drive like a girl,” Hobson looked at Collins before adding, “no offence.”
“None taken,” Collins looked at Faith, “but he’s right Boss you drive like a girl.” The young woman turned to her friends, “My granny can drive faster than the boss.”
“The Boss is right about the Irish thing though,” pointed out Weatherby the rest of the team looked very ‘Anglo’ and would stand out like sore thumbs.
Back in the 1850’s large numbers of Irish immigrants had moved to the United States hoping to start new lives in the, so-called, land of the free. Finding that they were treated little better than the Negro slaves still held in bondage by the remnant United States. Most had moved on to the Mexican Empire where their industriousness was welcomed by their co-religionists. Even to this day ‘Irish’ electricians, plumbers and builders were considered the best in the Empire. Faith, with her pale complexion, dark brown hair and blue eyes, could easily pass as someone of Irish decent, which in fact she was.
“Alright,” sighed Blair, “the Boss drives.”
There were more mutters of disappointment and someone got out a pack of cards as Faith climbed into the driver’s seat.
Standing in her back yard Joyce Summers looked up at a sky full of helicopters and jet aircraft. Soft ‘booms’ came to her ears from faraway as pillars of smoke rose into the sky to stain its blueness with oily black smoke.
“What’s going on mama?” Dawn walked over to her mother and put her arm around her waist.
“I don’t know sweetheart,” Joyce started to guide her daughter back towards the house; “maybe it was time to shelter in the cellar?”
The radio had been decidedly unhelpful, the announcer had babbled on about aircraft, helicopters and mysterious explosions which wasn’t news to Joyce because she could see them by looking out of her window. Then the radio had gone dead, she’d tried to tune into one of the national stations but all she got was a high pitched wailing that made her want to switch the radio off.
“Go get your school books,” she told her daughter as the walked into the kitchen, “I think we better go downstairs into the cellar.”
“But mama do we have to?” Dawn didn’t like the idea of sitting in the cellar doing school work while there was obviously something interesting going on; why wouldn’t people tell her what was happening?
“Yes we do,” Joyce pushed Dawn towards the staircase, “and stay away from the windows.”
As if to reinforce her words a loud explosion rattled every window in the house and something fell over and smashed on the living room floor. With a shriek Dawn ran up the stairs to her room while her mother started to fill some empty bottles with water and select food from the fridge and the pantry. As she worked she became aware of a car pulling up outside the garage at the front of the house. Rushing to look out of the front window she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw her husband pull up outside, she hurried to open the front door.
“Are you and the girls okay?” Hank Summers hurried up to the front door, pushed his wife back inside and hugged her protectively.
“Dawn’s upstairs getting her books,” Joyce held on to her husband like he was a rock in a stormy sea, “Buffy’s at school…what’s going on Hank?”
Ushering his wife back towards the kitchen Hank noticed that she’d started making preparations for a long stay in the cellar.
“The British are bombing and landing troops all over town,” he told her as he started to help collect things and carry them towards the cellar.
“Why?” pleaded his wife, “What do they want?”
“Don’t know,” he put the box of supplies he’d been carrying down by the door that lead down to the basement. “DAWN!” he yelled up the stairs, “Get down here, NOW!” He opened the hall closet and took out the rifle and ammunition he kept for hunting, seeing the look on Joyce’s face he said, “It’s just in case.”
“Oh my God, what about Buffy?” Joyce’s hands flew to her face, her other daughter’s fate had slipped her mind in her relief at her husband’s return.
“If she’s at school she’ll be safe enough…DAWN! MOVE YOURSELF!” he yelled upstairs, “Whatever happens she’s a sensible girl and she’s with Xander…yes?”
Nodding Joyce went back into the kitchen to collect more supplies. Just as Hank started to load his rifle he heard another vehicle pull up outside, he looked out of the little glass pane in the front door.
“Did you call for a plumber?” he asked his wife.
“Alright,” Blair turned to look at his team-mates from where he sat next to Faith, “joke over; check you’re weapons. Got a plan boss?”
Looking the house over Faith nodded her head slowly remembering the floor plans she’d been shown. The house was quite large; three bedrooms upstairs a bathroom and a box room. Downstairs was a large living room, a hall, a dinning room and a kitchen that looked out over the backyard. This house like all the others in the street was of a wooden construction which meant they’d have to be careful about bullets going through walls if it came to a fight.
“Right,” Faith checked her Tommy-gun as she spoke, “Trevor you take Collins and cover the rear of the house. Weatherby you take that cannon of yours and do overwatch from…” Faith twisted in her seat and looked up and down the road. “See if you can get on top of that house,” she pointed to a house across the street from their target, “Ya better go now.”
“Roger!” Weatherby opened the van’s rear door a crack and looked along the street; it wouldn’t do to run into the arms of a local cop.
Hearing the rear door open and close and the sound of Weatherby’s feet running across the road, Faith continued explaining what she wanted her people to do.
“Hobson,” she pulled back the cocking handle on her weapon, “you back me up. Trevor when ya hear us going in the front door ya come in the back, once you’ve cleared the kitchen head for the basement; the door should be just inside the hall on the left.”
Nodding their heads in understanding Blair and Collins got out of the van and headed for the house’s backyard.
“Mike,” Faith looked at her last remaining team-mate, “once I’ve kicked in the door head up stairs and go firm, wait for me before you start searching understand?”
Getting a ‘thumbs up’ from Hobson, Faith checked the street once more, reasoning the rest of her team would be in position by now she opened the driver’s door and stepped out onto the street followed by Hobson.
“Ready?” she raised a questioning eyebrow to Hobson who nodded, “GO!”
Faith sprinted towards the house followed closely by Hobson.
“PAPA!” she screamed.
“GUN!” she yelled and threw herself to one side and into the dinning room doorway.
The rifle made an impossibly loud ‘BANG!’ in the confined space of the hall, the bullet flew by her head and she heard the familiar wet meat sound of lead hitting flesh. Instinctively she knew that Hobson had been hit as he’d entered the house close behind her. Throwing herself to her left Faith raised her Tommy gun, her enhanced eyesight picked out her targets as her super fast reactions let her pull her trigger before the man with the rifle could work the lever that would load another round into his rifle’s breach.
The rifle shot had been loud but the sound of Faith’s Tommy-gun going off seemed to fill the universe with noise. The heavy .45 calibre slugs almost cut her first target in half as his blood painted the floor and walls red. Her second burst caught the other figure high in the chest, the force of the rounds blowing her off her feet to land in a heap on the kitchen floor. Slowly Faith’s stunned ears picked up the sound of Blair and Collins stealthily moving into the kitchen.
“Clear,” Faith called as she turned to see what could be done for Hobson; it didn’t take more than a second to see that he was dead, “Damn,” she breathed under her breath.
“You alright boss?” Collins crabbed into the hall and covered the exits with her rifle as Blair thundered down the stairs into the basement.
“Clear!” He called from below, before heading back up into the house proper.
“Is he…?” Collins stood over Faith as she stripped Hobson’s body of everything useful.
“Dead? ‘fraid so,” Faith took one of Hobson’s identity discs and put it into one of the pockets of her battledress jacket.
“Shit!” Collins kicked the wall; she looked at the body of the civilian with the rifle, “Stupid fucker,” she kicked the body half heartedly, “why’d you have to try and be a hero?”
“No sign of the girl?” Blair stood in the doorway of the basement.
“No?” Faith shook her head, “There’s still upstairs.”
Screaming Dawn felt a hand clamp itself onto her ankle and start to drag her inexorably from under her bed. Her fingers dug into the carpet as she scrambled to keep herself hidden; she kicked with her free foot trying to loosen the vice like grip on her leg. All to no avail; she was dragged out into the daylight and roughly turned onto her back.
Dawn stared up in wild eyed terror at the muzzle of the gun that was thrust into her face, its huge black maw seemed big enough to swallow her entire head; she could smell that the weapon had been recently fired as it was waved under her noise. Again she screamed as loud as she could; why didn’t Papa come and save her? Where was her mother? Where was her big sister? Why wasn’t there anybody here to help her? A stinging slap across her face stopped her screaming and snapped her out of her useless mental questioning. Dawn looked up into the hard face of the Anglo woman who was holding the gun to her head.
“Shut up you little bitch,” Faith took a moment to flex her hand were the girl had kicked it; “If you want to live, tell me where your sister is.”