UNEDITED partial scene from from my Permuted book SEVER, due out April 2016.
“Keep it up, goddamn it!” Mike yelled into his helmet’s microphone.
“Sir, the barrels are gonna burn up. We’ve gotta let them cool down or else they’ll be useless,” Sergeant Gilstrap answered in frustration.
Mike knew the limitations of the tank’s machine guns, but he’d been hoping to last more than ten minutes into the fight. Each round that goes down the barrel of a weapon causes the metal to heat up. When you put a lot of rounds through it in rapid succession, then the heat quickly spreads. When you put a hell of a lot of ammo through a barrel, the metal can get so hot that it actually begins to warp and lose the factory shape, which turns the 24–pound barrel of the M2A1 .50 caliber machine gun into a heavy hunk of useless metal.
“Shit. You’re right.” He hated that he was going to have to retreat, but they’d poured thousands of rounds down the length of the tunnel, decimating the creatures who swarmed towards New York and he needed to change the barrels or else they were out of the fight for good.
“Blue Three and Four, move up. We have to let our barrels cool,” the Chaos Company commander ordered into his radio while Sergeant Gilstrap fretted with the replacement barrel for the M2.
Mike turned in his seat and looked through the periscope towards the rear of the tank. “Driver, back,” he ordered. The massive 72-ton M1A2 Abrams began to move slowly backwards as Specialist Greeley blindly followed the commander’s instructions from the driver’s hatch where he could only see the front.
Through the periscope, Mike saw the two tanks from his third platoon moving to either side of him as they came forward to fill the gap in the shallow line that his tank had created. His wingman, the company executive officer was also pulling out of position so his tank could switch barrels too. The fight to save New York was underway.
They’d made the trip from Hoosick Falls easily enough. It had been a surreal experience as they traveled southwest in their Humvees, shadowing the semis carrying the tanks down an empty highway towards the impending fight. The lanes leaving the city were jammed with cars who’d become hopelessly stuck in their mad flight from the danger in the south. Mike’s chest swelled with pride as men and women cheered them on when their convoy passed. The military was America’s only hope and the redemption of their country would start right here in New York.
Chaos Company had quickly unloaded their tanks and gotten into position yesterday morning. Their mission was to block access to the city through the Lincoln Tunnel while the other companies in the battalion performed the same task at the southernmost bridges and tunnels leading from New Jersey. Mike had devised a rotating defensive strategy for his fourteen tanks to address the three tunnels that emerged from under the Hudson River. His plan involved a section of two tanks in overwatch and the other two and a half platoons situated close to the tunnel’s exit. Two tanks would be situated at each exit, firing into the gaping maw of the tunnel. When those tanks needed to rotate to change barrels or reload ammo, the second line of six tanks could be called forward while the section in overwatch took care of any creatures that made it past them. The company headquarters platoon had the unenviable job of resupplying ammo to the tankers who were buttoned up tight in the safety of their metal behemoths.
Given the situation and the terrain that they’d been assigned, it was the best that he could come up with. Ideally, they would have had enough time to completely block two of the tunnels and then defend the one so there could potentially be an escape route in the future, but time was against them. Mike summed it up to his troopers in an age-old Army axiom: It is what it is. That meant, stop bitching about the situation and make due with the facts that were presented to you because you couldn’t change reality.
By midday yesterday, the battalion’s Alpha Company reported contact and the men of Chaos had listened intently to the battalion radio frequency as the reports filtered up to the headquarters. By nightfall, Delta Company had begun fighting at the Holland Tunnel and Alpha fought a retrograde operation to make it back to the Verrazano Bridge, which was held by the dismounted soldiers from the Headquarters Company. In less than six hours, they’d lost Staten Island.
Charlie Company’s turn came soon after as the gunners began to discern the shifting, shuffling mass of zombies through their night vision sights. Mike had immediately ordered them to switch to infrared to determine if they were human or not. They weren’t.
Due to the way the tunnel sank below the river, they could only fire out to about two hundred meters before the angle of the tunnel became to great for the machine guns. That worked to the creature’s advantage as they massed in the darkness and came forward in the never-ending waves of the undead. In the first several minutes of fighting, Mike estimated that they killed close to a thousand of them. But they kept coming and the machine guns began to fail from the heat of all those rounds.
Mike unlatched the commander’s hatch and heaved upwards against the door’s weight. His 9mm pistol led the way as he popped up from inside the tank to keep Sergeant Gilstrap safe while the gunner changed out the barrel of the Ma Deuce. The new quick-change barrel and fixed headspace and timing were a major improvement over the old model’s screw-in barrel and quirky firing mechanism that he’d learned how to operate as a brand new lieutenant. Even with the improvements, the problem that remained – and couldn’t be helped – was that in order to change the barrel, the gunner had to leave the safety of the tank, exposing them to whatever was outside, be that infantrymen, chemicals or zombies.
Mike hadn’t been able to hear much through the protective sound-muffling headset that he wore when he was down inside the vehicle, but now that he was exposed to the elements, he could hear the chugging of the machine guns at the tunnels. Each round exiting the barrel and racing towards another target seemed to thump against his chest and cause his heart to stutter, beating faster to keep up with the sound waves that assailed him. He longed for the wide, open fields and desert terrain that the Abrams was designed to operate in, not this city defense where they couldn’t maneuver or fire from long distances.
Suddenly, the machine guns from the two tanks to Chaos’ rear began to chatter away. Mike jerked his eyes from the immediate area around his tank to the scene at the tunnel. One of the tanks on the far left had accidentally pivoted too hard when it backed up to change position with another behind it. When they pivoted, the tank ran into the one beside it, ripping the tracks off of both tanks, which blocked replacement tank’s ability to fire into the tunnel’s exit. As the firepower had decreased significantly, the creatures took advantage of the situation and swarmed through.
“Shit! Get that barrel in, Gilstrap!” he shouted as the tank’s loader popped up and started firing the 7.62 machine gun beside his hatch. Rounds from the loader’s weapon slammed into the zombies pressed against the disabled tanks. The small caliber wouldn’t do much damage to the tanks or the crew inside, but it was devastating to the creatures caught in it’s withering fire.
The company radio frequency exploded in a series of questions as the men inside realized that their friends were shooting at them and Mike knew that he had to take charge of the situation before they panicked. “Red One, this is Chaos Six. Stay buttoned up, we’re just cleaning them off of you with the coax, over.”
“Don’t you fucking fire that Ma Deuce at us, sir!” the platoon leader answered back.
There was a slight possibility that with enough hits from the .50 cal they could do some damage to the tank and possibly the men trapped inside. “We’re not gonna do that, Ben. Hang tight and we’ll get you out.”
“Roger. Can you see what the damage is?”
Mike’s tank shuddered as the gunner slewed the turret towards the two tanks so he could fire the 7.62mm machine gun that was slaved to the barrel. The Abrams tank literally bristles with weaponry. Aside from the 120mm main gun, the commander has a .50 caliber machine gun – lovingly referred to as the Ma Deuce by those who’ve used it in combat – and there are two smaller 7.62mm machine guns, one beside the loader’s hatch and another that is mounted beside the main gun. Anywhere the main gun points, the second machine gun does as well, giving the gunner inside the vehicle the option to utilize the smaller caliber instead of the massive destructive power of the main gun.
“Yeah, your fucking driver knocked the treads off both your tank and Red Two’s. You guys are disabled and we can’t repair you in this environment.”
“Shit, that’s not good. Sir, what’s the plan? Hey! Get back here, don’t do it, Jones!” Red One yelled over the radio.
Fuck. Mike fumbled for the periscope and saw the loader’s hatch on the Red One tank pop open as the soldier panicked and tried to escape. Too late to shout a warning, Sergeant Gilstrap had already unleashed a volley of fire from his machine gun. Mike watched in horror as the rounds slammed into Red One’s loader, pitching him over backwards across the top of the tank. Zombies swarmed the man and several wormed their way past Jones’ body through the hatch inside.
It happened in a matter of seconds and Mike couldn’t do anything about it. “Jesus!” he shouted and fumbled with the transmit switch on his radio. “Red One! Red One, this is Chaos Six! Ben, are you alright?”
“I can hear them back there, sir,” a small, scared voice replied over the radio.