18. Republic Square Riots

Previous Story: 17. Cocktail Hour

The trucks stopped at the crossroads. Corporal Karina Ivanova - known as ‘Bolt’ on account of her love for sniper rifles – was one of the last out. It had been a bumpy ride; the truck was no military vehicle but some rusty heap ready for the scrapyard. Her unit had only been in San Lazaro for twenty-four hours and there wasn’t enough transportation to move them all.

Bolt pulled her backpack on and looked around. They were close to a gas station, at one end of a wide street named Washington Drive, next to Republic Square. Crowd control barriers had been laid out to form a blockade and a handful of San Lazaro police were already there. The two trucks pulled away, having unloaded around forty of the Lazaro State National Guard under the command of Lieutenant Casper Nash. Like most of them, Nash was a ‘weekend warrior’, an accountant between Monday and Friday. As a marksmanship instructor, Bolt was one of the few full-timers in the unit.

‘Sure hope we don’t have to kill anyone,’ said Phillips, a private who worked at a vineyard in the Yana Valley.

‘Nah,’ said Duggan, a computer programmer. ‘Bolt will kill them for us.’

Karina did not react to his smirk. She didn’t much like the informality of the National Guard. She preferred the serious professionalism of the Marine Corps, which she had joined at eighteen. Her compatriots in the Guard knew that she had been an active sniper; they would never know quite how many targets she had eliminated on behalf of her government.

Karina was used to being called upon at a moment’s notice but this crisis had come out of the blue. There had been some outbreak of disease in San Lazaro, and the Guard were there to help restore order. They had gathered at a base in Ashland three days earlier and been given various injections. Nobody seemed sure if they would work.

‘You know why we’re here, corp?’ asked another soldier.

Bolt shook her head. ‘No, but it looks like we might be about to find out.’

Captain Nash had finished talking to the police officers and now hurried over to his unit.

‘All right, gather round and listen up! Jesus, Duggan, put that smoke out.’

With a roll of his eyes, Duggan dropped his cigarette and ground it into the pavement with his boot.

Bolt made sure she was close to the front. From what she’d seen, Nash was a pretty average officer but she didn’t want to miss anything.

‘Helicopter surveillance reports a large group of civilians on the move. They’ve broken through the police line and are headed our way. Now, these people have been through a hell of a lot, we all know that, but the quarantine order has to be enforced - we’re here to enforce it.’ Captain Nash turned and pointed to the police officers. ‘These guys have lost good men this morning and I’m not about to do the same. They have a few canisters of tear gas but if that doesn’t stop these folk, we need to be ready to do what’s necessary.’

Phillips raised his hand. ‘Sir, with respect, I didn’t join the Guard to kill other Americans.’

‘Neither did I, private. But I’ve got my orders and now you’ve got yours. Corporal Benedict will take the left side of the road, Corporal Ivanova the right. Dismissed.’

It was a hot afternoon. The soldiers drank water, smoked and waited. At 16:05, Captain Nash received an update and informed his corporals that the crowd had just turned off of Washington Drive into Republic Square. There were at least a hundred of them, mainly young men. They were not looting or committing other criminal acts; they simply wanted to escape San Lazaro.

Five minutes later, Bolt saw them: a striding mass of angry humanity. Some were unarmed but many had baseball bats, pipes and other makeshift weapons. The police exhausted their supply of tear gas quickly. It dispersed the crowd temporarily but soon they were back, marching towards the barricades. The senior officer spoke to them via a loud-speaker but they ignored it completely and were soon within two hundred feet.

Bolt looked around. She was armed with a Dragon SVD sniper rifle but most of her compatriots were armed with R-16s. Their automatic fire would turn the crowd into mincemeat.

One hundred and fifty feet.

Bolt turned around. ‘Sir, permission to try something?’

Nash – who often asked her for advice - nodded immediately.

‘Nobody else fire!’ she shouted, before raising her Dragon and picking her target.

The first shot took a man in the thigh. The second hit a knee. The third hit an ankle. All three went down, crying out in pain.

The rest of the crowd halted, suddenly quiet.

‘Those three were lucky!’ shouted Bolt. ‘Turn around.’

Some had gone to aid the injured. Others were spitting insults at the soldiers or jeering - encouraging each other to keep going.

‘Bolt,’ said Private Phillips quietly. ‘Short guy. Green jacket. Handgun.’

She found the target and saw instantly that there could be no disabling shot this time: he was about to fire. Bolt was quicker to the trigger. She shot him through the chest and he toppled backwards, the pistol clattering across the street.

‘Last chance!’ yelled Captain Nash.

The sight of the dead man changed everything.

Some turned and ran; others walked.

‘Leave the wounded,’ ordered Nash. ‘We’ll look after them.’

A last few diehards shouted abuse but soon the street was empty except for the wounded men. The police officers ran first to the man with the gun. One officer checked for a pulse. After a few moments, he shook his head.

Captain Nash walked over and put a hand on Bolt’s shoulder. ‘You had to do it. You saved lives.’

‘The captain’s right, corp,’ said Phillips.

‘Nice work, corp,’ added Duggan. ‘Really.’

Karina shouldered her rifle and walked away from the barricade.