Bullets zinged across Buccaneer Bay. An artillery shell sailed overhead. A boat with half a dozen of the casino's defenders ironically used Enid Oklahoma's knocked-out APC as cover, laying down their own fire on bikers who waded away in defeat. "It's confirmed, the APC is knocked out!" shouted the leader of the squad. "There's smoke coming out of all the hatches; anybody in there is dead or gonna be. The turret's intact, though. If the fire were out, it could probably still be used as a strong point, ours or theirs."
"Leave the APC alone, but check the bodies," Bruce radioed back. "Look for any sign of Enid Oklahoma, dead or alive!" The captain nodded, and a companion handed him a prop boat hook. He leaned forward, reaching for two bullet-riddled bodies floating next to the rear hatch. He tried to hook one body, which floated away instead. That was when a volley of pistol fire erupted from just above the surface. The captain pitched forward over the bow, and a companion toppled back. Then a grenade sailed into the boat. The explosion sent a geyser of red foam above the APC. On the other side of the vehicle, Enid Oklahoma reared up with a rallying cry of sheer rage.
The explosion could be heard from Circus Circus, but Bruce's voice on the radio was eerily calm. "We took a hit to the casino, but it could have been worse. It looks like the bikers are falling back. My best guess is, they mean to dig in at our own barricade. Circus Circus, what's your status?"
"The zombies are overrunning the front parking lot!" Krista said. "Not that there was much left to overrun. It's a tossup whether we took more damage from Enid's tank or Branson's manhole covers! We need help, right now!"
"I can't move anyone out without drawing manhole covers," Tal said. "We have confirmation that Enid just launched his own, and they don't distinguish friendlies from foes anyway. That's why Branson ordered us to stay put!"
"Yeah, Branson, real standup guy," Krista said. "Give up, Tal. He's gone!"
"We can't make any assumptions," Bruce said. "If he had planned to break and run, he would have brought his people with him. Right, Tal?"
"He doesn't tell anyone what his plans are," Tal said. He looked out with a telescope from the top of Stratosphere. He frowned and focused in on the giant mound of rubble that stretched across the Boulevard just beyond Treasure Island. Already, the renegade bikers were scrambling up the embankment, using the larger blocks for cover...
...Until Branson's engineering vehicle came plowing through the barricade, with ten thousand zombies behind it.
Enid's voice was barely intelligible over the snarls of zombies, the roar of weapons fire and his own apoplectic wrath. "I want you to lay down everything you got, on Treasure Island and the Circus!" he roared. "Demolition, incendiary, phosphorous! And lay down more mines on the Boulevard!"
"But sir," protested the commander of his distant self-propelled gun, "we already fired off a full volley! We need to move, or Branson could bracket us with his guns! We're attracting zombies as it is!"
"There's no time to move," Enid snarled. "Dontcha get it? We finish this now, or we're done. Now open fire."
The commander shook his head and turned to give the order. After a moment's hesitation, he said, "Load a flech round. We're at least going to clear out these zombies." The gun's large turret swiveled ponderously toward an incoming swarm, and fired a six-inch flechette canister that ravaged the zombies. The cupola machine gun cut down survivors, and the gun crew covered the other direction as best they could with small-arms fire out the open loading doors at the rear of the turret. "Now load a demolition shell and plug in coordinates for the Circus..."
Suddenly, one of the crewmen gave a cry. The commander looked over his shoulder in time to see the man fall out of the rear door with an arrow in his chest. "Hostile fire!" he shouted. "Hostile fire! We've got lepers!"
He looked over his shoulder again, and took a count. The vehicle carried a crew of six... one was dead... and there were five people inside with him. He grabbed for a sidearm. "Lepers?" said a uniformed figure who slouched against the ammunition rack. "You think you've got lepers? You've got Jack Ketch, and if you don't do what I say, you're gonna find out just how much trouble you've got."
A score of bedraggled bikers followed Enid as he beat his retreat. A parting shower of rubble rained down, courtesy of the ARV-turned-siege engine. "Where's those shells?" he shouted. "I need my gun!"
"Your gun?" came an answering voice Enid had never heard in his life. "I think you mean our gun..."
It was Nogales who ran to Tal. "Tal, we've got a spig incoming!"
"I can take it!" Q shouted. "Just give me my gun back."
Tal shook his head. "It's not Enid's... not anymore."
The approaching vehicle flew a handmade banner from the radio mast, bearing the symbol of a heart with what looked like a golden lightning bolt running through it. A dozen motley figures hung from the hull, and more could be seen moving in furtively behind it. Then Jack Ketch stood up tall in the topside hatch, and pointed to a red armband.
Tal made a call on all frequencies: "Listen up! We've got new friendlies. They look like zombies, but they aren't. They're wearing red armbands, so check your fire." He turned to his own men as he suited up. "I'm using my discretion to lead a relief force to Circus Circus. I'm asking for twenty volunteers. Any more will set off the manhole covers." He had to tun down fifty.
Tal's SUV led the charge to the parking lot. He leaned out the window, firing a shotgun one-handed. He cut down 5 zombies with three shots, and blew a manhole cover out of the sky like a clay pigeon. The Caddy plowed through a pack as it skidded to a halt, 10 yards from the main casino entrance. Zombies were pouring in, and even Tal shuddered at the sounds of shouts and terrible screams from within. But then he listened, and realized what he was hearing: shouts of triumph, and screams of dying zombies.