Portal – Chapter 33

After Apocalypse, the economies of the United States and the world collapsed and infrastructure fell into disrepair. With the increasing costs of military and defense spending against hostile nations, hostile Enhanced, and sometimes both, and the decline of tax revenues, the areas outside of the larger cities were abandoned. In Indiana, old, broken-down cars, overgrown weeds, and violent criminals littered  the interstates connecting other large urban areas, Chicago to the northwest, Cincinnati to the southeast, and Dayton to the east. Unless the JTF supported the mission, local and state police were out-manned, out-gunned, and out-financed from the drug lords, weapons dealers, and human traffickers run by Enhanced or who hired Enhanced thugs for reinforcements. In the rural areas left on their own, people either learned to survive, fled to a big city under JTF protection, or perished.

Bridges, oil-pipelines, and other sensitive infrastructures we routinely destroyed by Enhanced criminals as means of control over the local population. The bridge across the Ohio river connecting southern Indiana to Louisville, Kentucky was destroyed repeatedly years ago with no further plans for repair. An Elementalist named Antares demanded payment by Louisville officials for exorbitant amounts of money or he would melt the bridge supports. After each attempt to arrest him, his amount doubled. Finally, the city could no longer afford the payment and the supervillain made good on his promises. After the third repair and destruction, the bridge project was abandoned. The federal government and states stopped paying for the repairs and refused the high premiums of security firms that specialized in Enhanced combat, usually ex-JTF agents.

The two-hour trek through western Indiana was rough in the JTF armored personnel carrier, especially for the nine recruits in the back of last vehicle of the convoy. Agents Prescott and Edwards drove the 16 ton Stryker vehicle on the paved and unpaved roads following Bravo company along what was left of Interstate 74. At several locations, local criminals had placed barricades across the interstate, likely as self-appointed toll collectors. Normally, the JTF would engage and shut down these type of operations but the convoy was deployed for a different mission. When they came upon these roadblocks, the APCs simply drove off-road and around, limiting hostile contact, but it also slowed down progress.

Inside the recruit vehicle, Lady Justice adjusted her EComm clamped on her left forearm. She had showered after landing and her Enhanced body quickly recovered after her strenuous flight. Through Dart, Turbulence was recalled and was the last to join the team before they boarded the Stryker in Indianapolis.

As the Team Leader, she was fitted with an EComm command model allowing her to communicate with the team, Agent Prescott, Agent Edwards, and most importantly, the Bravo company CO, Lieutenant Caldwell. Although this was their initial ride-along, the recruits were expected to assist with the operation should they be requested.

As Lady Justice turned on the tactical map, a three dimensional display of the city of Crawfordsville appeared between the recruits.

“Team, attention!” she barked over the radio. The Stryker vehicle was too noisy to hear anyone clearly inside. It might be well protected from small arms and most Enhanced powers but it was neither comfortable or quiet. All eyes focused on her.

“We are thirty minutes outside of the target area, here, an old campsite just northwest of Crawfordsville.” A dot appeared on the map and expanded, showing a satellite image of the area.

“The JTF has learned of a colony of unregistered Enhanced that may have ties to The Freemen. Intel counted 30 individuals from various families spread among the site. From previous encounters, we can expect a quarter of the residents will be Category 1 Enhanced.”

“Just like home, Larson?” Justice interrupted. Lady Justice’s eyes snapped out and burned at her boyfriend.

“Justice,” she stated clearly, “ you will maintain radio discipline and shut the hell up.”

“Affirmative, Team Leader,” he immediately replied. Justice knew how to put on a good show but Michael knew he would wait for his time to strike.

“Once we arrive, we will stay together. Our primary mission is observation and support, if requested by Bravo company. This is a pretty common mission for these guys so they don’t need us in the way. Any questions?”

“I do, Team Leader,” said Scimitar. “Why are we driving there? Doesn’t the JTF have a fleet of helicopters and VTOLs? This thing is not exactly the smoothest ride.”

“Recruit Mahmoud,” responded Lady Justice, “without knowing every type of Enhanced at the camp, JTF regulations forbids the use of air units. Against the wrong power, it would not end well for us.”

Net nodded in agreement, as did several other members of the team. Unarmored vehicles, especially aircraft, were extremely vulnerable to Enhanced. Michael realized that even his lowly Category 1 power could take down a helicopter or airplane. That thought disturbed him.

“Make sure your gear is set. Bravo company will strike quickly and arrest the colonists. We need to be ready and assist. Turbulence, switch to channel 5. You and I will be pointing out targets from the air.”

“Affirmative, Team Leader,” Turbulence responded with a huge smile on her face that Lady Justice tried to ignore. Turbulence might be the queen of the skies but she was the boss on this mission.