The Golden Horde, Chapter 24

The Golden Horde, Chapter 24

“Well, ain’t that bloody marvelous,” Lip whispered.

Yes, but what now. “What can you tell us, Cliff?”

The engineer was holding the Geiger counter toward the blast. It did not show any elevated readings, beyond what they expected to find this close to Orenburg. “We did receive an initial dose of infrared and gamma. Does anyone have any burning sensation on their skin or impaired vision?”

A rounds of negatives came back from the group.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 23

The Golden Horde, Chapter 23

Dusk. Rest.

Fucking Orenburg was still there around them, a torn postcard of destruction, obscured by the wilderness. At the bottom of what looked like a dry irrigation canal, there was a convoy of abandoned cars all sunk deep in sandy ground. Plastic bags of rubbish poked through the grass, spangles of red and blue against the sunburnt carpet. Higher on the west bank, there was a bus.

The rust-splotched husk was lying on its belly, the axles half-sunk into the ground, leaning slightly toward the incline. The old thing had burned down, and was mottled reddish-black all over. There was a patina of lichen-like growth climbing up its sides. Inside, the plastic chairs had melted, forming a frozen river. Even now, even with his senses dulled by illness and the ashes, he could smell the waxy, phenol stench.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 22

The Golden Horde, Chapter 22

“I have no access.”

“You’re taking the piss.”

Why did I think the enemy would be stupid and incompetent? Just because I managed to screw the lead security developer?

There could be a million reasons why the system refused him entry. It was unlikely the Alliance space command changed things too often, but they just might. Security codes, protocols, ciphers—there were infinite possibilities.

Lee Qiang didn’t have time to indulge in self-pity.

This was going to be one hell of a battle to the death.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 21

The Golden Horde, Chapter 21

Waiting was the hardest thing for a soldier. Waiting for sentry duty to tick away so you could go back to sleep. Waiting for the weekend pass. Waiting to hear whether you’d qualified for the next stage in the training process. Waiting for news from your family or the estranged loved one. Waiting for the enemy to do something.

That was the worst.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 20

The Golden Horde, Chapter 20

Fucking Orenburg.

Everyone shared the sentiment, even Lee Qiang.

Crossing the no-man’s-land of empty fields, flattened neighborhoods, and glassified rubble only partially covered in dirt and weed, he had felt exposed, vulnerable, impotent, feeling half a dozen scopes trailing him, making his skin itch. But no bullets came.

They had settled in a less devastated part of the city, with some of the concrete and iron frames still standing, providing some cover from the wind and any chance patrols. Thorny, tough vegetation crept over everything, reclaiming what used to be its kingdom. It was hard to imagine what this city had looked like whole. It looked like a bad, deliberate prop from a war movie.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 19

The Golden Horde, Chapter 19

The village was not marked on any map.

Of course.

It was a collection of half-ruined buildings, rubbish, and rust-eaten cars. There was an old tractor in the field directly south of the house strip and its cracked road, but it was sunk half a meter deep into the hard ground. The water tower had more holes than tin. The barn had gaping holes in the roof, probably caused by mortar.

Lee Qiang looked at Sveta.

She just shrugged.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 18

The Golden Horde, Chapter 18

Light at the end of the tunnel.

A promise of salvation. Or a gruesome, violent death.

It was amazing how quickly the human body and mind could adjust to new situations. Going into the damp darkness of the mold-smelling bunker network had felt like exploring one’s own coffin. After four days of tense, numbing blackness, there was almost a peaceful sense to the underground passage. Lee Qiang knew it was his brain trying not to go mad.

Now, this.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 17

The Golden Horde, Chapter 17

They needed rest.

But they couldn’t rest. Not yet.

Lip had probably recited these numbers a dozen times to “rookie” teams over the years—a lack of sleep was a powerful enemy. A full day without sleep rendered you 15% less efficient. Two days, it was 70%. Three days, you had one in three chance of injuring yourself with your own weapon. The longer you went without rest the more dangerous it became. They were all hurt, exhausted, and have not drank or eaten enough. That made the math even more unfavorable.

And then there were the wounded.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 16

The Golden Horde, Chapter 16

Lee Qiang came about to see a Chinese soldier bearing down on him. He instinctively reached for that which wasn’t there; his rifle was pinned under him, the strap torn off his harness. Without thinking, Lee Qiang pulled his pistol from his thigh holster and fired a dozen rounds into the man’s legs and groin. Whatever words or screams the East Alliance man may have uttered were lost in his sophisticated helmet-mask.

There was a whole bunch of enemy soldiers pressing toward the gap between the two Magdas. Pablo wasn’t shooting at them.

Pablo wasn’t there anymore—just his machine gun, propped against the rock.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 15

The Golden Horde, Chapter 15

Over many tens of thousands of years, human motor skills and reflexes evolved as a response to biological threats, long before any technology made things faster than neural signals could move the muscle tissue. The average response time to a visual stimulus is about three-quarters of a second, or half that for people who are alert. That does not sound like a lot until you take into account other factors, like rocket motors.

A typical anti-tank missile flies at about 250 m/s. This means it will clear about one and a half football fields in the time it takes the human brain to register and respond to a visual signal. It’s a metallic object the size of a bread loaf, jumping football field lengths as fast as you can blink.

Even if you can see it coming, you have no time to react.

You can’t dodge missiles.

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