Friday, July 13, 2007

Zero Day: Los Angeles

Angel was arguably the first member of the resistance, owing to his distinction as the first civilian to kill a soldier of the occupation.

He ran him over.

The invasion was only a half hour old. Angel was driving to his sister’s, at the edge of the Valley, to make sure her boys were okay. A lot of Angelenos were staying inside out of fright, or confusion, or because they were simply glued to a television set. What motorists were out on the street – Angel included – were driving like maniacs, even by LA standards.

The PLA was staying out of LA proper for the time being – the recon patrols that had been sent in to probe the city had found out the hard way that the LAPD was fighting back. The LAPD was modeled after the US Marine Corps, intended to move into hostile territory and secure it, so its officers were practically combat trained already. The PLA outnumbered and outgunned them, but that wasn’t really anything new to the LAPD.

Instead Chinese forces were encircling the city, no easy feat considering the metropolitan monster that was LA. The ports of Long Beach and San Pedro were hit hard and fast to secure harbors for offloading heavy equipment, but the interior of LA was being surrounded and contained by two huge pincer attacks landing in Huntington Beach and Santa Monica until the Chinese leadership could figure out what to do with the rest of the city.

While the eastern pincer was encountering heavy resistance from El Toro, the western pincer had had a relatively leisurely stroll north through Malibu. Until they ran into Angel.

A PLA soldier stepped into the middle of Mulholland and held up his hand to stop traffic. The two lanes next to Angel screeched to a halt in a smoky haze of vaporizing rubber. Angel hesitated for a second, the engine of his Yukon idling with his foot off the pedal as it coasted under its momentum. Then he gunned the accelerator and cut in front of the paralyzed station wagon next to him.

Angel never forgot the expression on the PLA soldier’s face. He was very, very surprised. Indignant; maybe that’s the word. Nor was he able to forget the horrible crunching noise or the mess the soldier left on the windshield before the Yukon flung him halfway across the street.

Consequently the Yukon could be considered the first casualty of the resistance, as the rest of the soldier’s unit unloaded on Angel as he sped away. Thankfully they didn’t have any RPGs or heavy weapons, but they shredded three of his tires and shattered every piece of glass except the passenger side-view mirror with small arms fire. Still the Yukon managed to limp on for another three miles before the rims wore down to a nub and he had to abandon it somewhere in West Hills. Angel loved that car.

He stepped out onto the street and stood there unsteadily, his hands shaking as the adrenaline slowly bled off. Out of force of habit he clicked the car alarm on his key chain and the Yukon gave a pathetic, dying electronic squeak, causing him to whip his head around and really see the sad wreck it had been turned into. He patted the hood absentmindedly, the tortured metal clicking as it cooled.

“Bien. You were a good car.”

Would they be looking for him? He killed a man. Angel hoped that one Latino looked pretty much the same as any other to the Chinese.

With a sudden determination he started jogging north. He still had to try and find Maricel’s family. How far was Valencia on foot? It was hard to imagine Los Angeles as even being navigable on a pedestrian scale, but who knows, with traffic it might actually be faster on foot.

Not that there was any traffic at the moment. Angel could hear the throaty roar of engines nearby, but they definitely didn’t sound civilian.

He saw the jets before he heard them. They were flying in from the west, from Point Mugu. Burning embers fell away from them and Angel gave a whoop, thinking they were firing on targets on the ground, but then they start twisting in evasive maneuvers and he realized they were dropping flares.

The Chinese missiles came streaking in from off the coast. Angel could hear little cracks as they broke the sound barrier. The jets began to dive for the ground, but the missiles were moving much faster and closed the gap quickly. The jets tore away from each other in opposite directions, leaving twin contrails streaking off their wingtips as they maneuvered, but the missiles were like zags of lightning, correcting and closing in. One of the planes disintegrated in a fireball that showered over the hills. The second missile - miraculously - missed, passing by the jet so close it looked to Angel like they intersected … but the missile described an improbably short semicircle in the air and was right back on the plane’s tail in an instant.

The pilot leveled off with a kind of grim fatalism that made Angel’s heart catch in his throat, and missiles started lighting off from the jet and streaking towards Chinese targets off the coast. He fired off three before the returning missile ran him down. The explosion clipped off the plane’s wing and knocked it tumbling from the sky. Angel couldn’t see, but he offered a quick prayer hoping that the pilot had managed to eject.

Two blocks to the north, Angel had a problem of his own. An armored personnel carrier rumbled to a stop in the intersection and Chinese soldiers started pouring out of the compartment in the back. They started yelling, but he couldn’t tell if they were yelling at him or each other or just yelling on general principle. He turned down a side street rather than find out.

And almost ran head first into a patrol of three Chinese soldiers. The first soldier pointed his rifle at him in surprise and Angel froze. The other two babbled in Chinese. Angel and the soldier stared at each other; the soldier gestured towards the sidewalk with his gun grimly.

Angel’s mind raced. Were they going to arrest him or shoot him? Could he duck back around the corner before they could react? Maybe he could jump the one he was face to face with, but the others could easily shoot him before he wrestled the gun from him.

“Inside, please,” one of the other soldiers said in passable English laced with – of all things – an Australian accent.

Angel blinked at him.

“Remain inside, please. For your protection.”

The soldier gestured with his rifle again and Angel realized he was motioning at the lobby of the office building next to them. He nodded and slowly made his way past them into the building. The soldier lowered his rifle and one of them even held the door open for him.

Inside a motley collection of business workers and pedestrians herded in off the street looked up at him from where they sat scattered around the lobby. Angel waved at the crowd awkwardly. The Chinese poked their heads in and looked around briefly, then gathered outside on the sidewalk and conferred amongst themselves.

Some of the people gathered in the lobby were crying, but most just stared into space with shocked, sunken faces. A little girl was looking around at the frightened faces, confused that, for once, no adults seemed to know what to do. Her gaze fell on Angel, and she stared at him questioningly. He forced himself to smile at her; he was afraid it would come off weakly, but she beamed back at him with the cheerful resilience of youth.

“Hey … man,” a 20-something white guy in a white button-up shirt – currently unbuttoned – addressed him. “Where are you coming from? What do you see out there?”

Everyone turned to look at Angel. Their dull eyes and slack expressions unnerved him. He had to swallow before he found his voice.

“Not far – I was in Woodland Hills when it … when I heard. I was trying to head north and they stopped me and tossed me in here.” Angel didn’t feel the need to boast about running over a Chinese soldier in front of a bunch of strangers. “I seen a lot of Chinese troops. They’ve got armored cars moving up from the beach, lots of soldiers on foot.” He realized rather belatedly he had left his cell phone in the Yukon. “Does anybody have a phone I could borrow, just for a minute?”

“Won’t do you any good,” a woman said, not unkindly. “No calls can get through. Everyone in LA must have called the cops or their family.”

“That’s not it,” someone said morosely. “They’re blowing up cell towers.”

“This is ridiculous!” A man with gray speckled hair in a business suit jumped up next to Angel. The people who had been crying looked at him in fright. The ones who seemed to be in shock just got a glazed look in their eyes. “How can entire fleet of Chinese ships have snuck up on us? Where was our so-called government? Where the hell is the ‘defense’ we pay so many billions of dollars for? I pay my taxes, and I deserve …”

Angel slapped him like a woman to shut him up. Not that Angel had ever slapped a woman before. Except his sister, when they were younger – once. That had been a mistake. She had made certain that it only happened once.

“Shut up,” Angel hissed. “I pay my taxes too, but you don’t see me sitting around waiting for someone else to come along and save me.”

The room stared at Angel in surprise. He was a bit surprised himself. The business suit sat down quickly, his mouth agape, but at least there wasn’t any more yabber coming out of it. Angel looked around at the roomful of eyes staring at him and was relieved to at least see a spark of life come back in them. This was probably the largest audience he’d ever had. He took a deep breath and spoke calmly.

“Look, the reservoir and the hills aren’t too far from here. We can make it there on foot if we’re careful. If you’re scared you should be safe here for now, but I’m sure a lot of you are worried about your families, same as me. Anybody work in this building?”

“Yeah,” the guy who first spoke to him raised his hand.

“You mind showing me around? There’s bound to be a street they don’t have covered, a door we can sneak out.”

The guy smirked at Angel. “I’ll show you around the building if you show me the way to the hills.”

Angel nodded. “All right. Let’s do it.”