It’s the time for giving and for joy and as a giving type person (lol), I offer chapter six and seven of Dog World: Gone to Hell. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good bite!
“Cotton’s a traitor?” murmured Demarti in disbelief. He sat in the front passenger seat of a Hummvee driven by Lewis.
He and the others had been tasked with retrieving Charles Dayton from his Maryland safe house. They were two hours into their three-hour drive to the rally point and the column was prepared for anything. Hughes had been able to pull two Marine Corps LAV-25s from a nearby humanitarian operation to serve as support for the six Hummvees that formed the bulk of the convoy.
“Eh, what can you do?” responded Bernerd. “It seems that Walinski’s dog powers aren’t perfect but again, what can you do?”
“I’m worried about her not picking that shit up,” groused Lewis. “She’s starting to make some costly judgment calls.”
“Nothing’s perfect,” answered Urbane. “I’m counting our lucky stars that she’s picking up on what she does.”
“She’s never liked the guy anyway,” responded Demarti. “I don’t know if it’s her ability, or womanly intuition, or what, but she’s said at least once that there was something she didn’t like about him.”
“See that, yeah?” said Mulcahey from the gunner’s turret. “She’s not totally useless. May be a bit dodgy herself, but she has her uses.”
“Watch it, mate,” advised Bernerd, punching Mulcahey’s thigh. “She’s come through in a pinch for us and like the man said, nobody’s perfect.”
Mulcahey laughed and Lewis answered, “She’s a pit viper if you get on her bad side. No matter how I feel, she’s one of us and solid.”
Everyone grunted agreement.
Demarti stared out his window, saddened by how American streets now held the same disturbing, and sad feel as any zombie movie.
Numerous times they skirted blood–stained, abandoned vehicles as they drove through abandoned neighborhoods. Demarti’s mind itched for him to be happy, but he couldn’t comply. He knew vampires were about. Why else would he feel the need to be happy?
“Does anyone else feel the desire to be happy?” he called to the others.
“Damn right I do,” answered Mulcahey uneasily. His .50 caliber machine gun was trained to the left of the column. He’d seen what looked like greasy, dark gray shadows ducking into even darker shades.
Fires burned from deserted homes, and empty automobiles, giving the neighborhood they drove through a hellish backdrop. The streets were clear of bodies though blood marked where many had been. On the column’s right the far horizon was tinted orange in what were fires sparked from the nuclear blast over DC. The sight was mesmerizing but few kept their eyes on it longer than thirty seconds.
“I’m checking in with the other vehicles.” Demarti picked up the handset. He wasn’t surprised to find one of the Marine Piranhas filled with joking Marines. “Square yourselves away,” he said sternly. “We have hostiles present right and left, so stay frosty.”
“They’ve been briefed, yeah?” Bernerd felt a happy tickle rise, but ignored it. “Surely this isn’t their first go around with this mess?”
“They’ve survived enemy poodle contacts,” said Urbane, “but they’ve never had contact with the roaches. It’s new to them. It can get to you if you don’t know what’s happening.” Only a few in the convoy remained clueless on what to expect from vampires.
“They’d best unfuck themselves,” said Lewis. He looked at the digital clock on top of the radio, and asked Demarti if they were near the final checkpoint.
“Yep, almost there,” confirmed Demarti before performing a radio check with the other vehicles.
The neighborhoods gave way to open fields and wooded areas. They slowed to a crawl as they looked for the hidden entrance to Dayton’s location.
“It’s supposed to be marked with a big ‘W’, right?” asked Lewis. He leaned over the steering wheel, focusing on the ground. Nothing indicated that vehicles had entered the weed littered dirt road in some time.
“You’re funny,” answered Bernerd sarcastically. “I’d say that it has become a mad, mad, mad, mad world indeed.”
“There,” announced Shelby from the vehicle behind Demarti’s. “Two ‘o clock of my position, coming up on four o’clock of yours.”
Demarti strained to see the rusted strand of barbed wire marking the entrance.
“Roger that,” responded Demarti. “Whiskey three, take up position covering our rear. Whiskey five, take position covering forward. Keep a clear line of sight and be prepared for a quick exfiltration.”
“Copy,” radioed the Piranha commanders. They moved into position, taking up most of the road while leaving space for the Hummvees to maneuver quickly if needed.
“Whiskey Two, Whiskey Four, dismount and give assistance to road block and perimeter.” Demarti climbed from the vehicle, and walked to the barbed wire. He cautiously examined the logs and brush that had been arranged to look like the surrounding area.
“They did a decent job camouflaging the entry,” observed Shelby, stopping beside Demarti. “I don’t like this, Captain.” He sounded more professional than usual. He looked around, switching his L85A2’s button safety off.
“Yeah. I’m not sure I like this either, sir.” Demarti looked around as three soldiers began clearing the path. “All Whiskey elements. SSDD applies. Report contact or anything suspicious, out.”
“We’re not alone,” announced Sims, joining them.
“You smell something, Master Sergeant?” asked Shelby.
“No, sir, and that’s what’s bothering me. I’m not smelling shit. We’re off the beaten path, in the woods, and I don’t smell so much as squirrel shit. What I do smell is piss. Lots of it. Pull everyone back now, Colonel.”
“Contact rear!” came a cry from the rear Piranha. “Hostiles, five o’clock.” The turret machine gun erupted, followed by the chatter of M4s and Squad Automatic Weapons. A moment later the rear of the armored vehicle exploded. The Marines that had been beside the vehicle were enveloped inside the blast.
The Piranha behind lurched backwards. An anti-tank round flew into the road nearby, showering it with debris. The vehicle’s 20mm canon thrummed in response to the attack. Leaves and splintered wood rained down as the rounds impacted the trees.
“Ambush,” screamed Demarti, hating to state the obvious. A wet snap echoed beside him and something heavy fell slumped into his shoulder. It was Sims. “Man down, man down!”
Demarti grabbed Sims’ by the back of his body armor and drug him to their vehicle. Shelby laid covering fire at an unseen enemy that could clearly see them.
“Get him in, get him in!” called Lewis. “I’m running the road block!”
Bernerd fired at where the enemy fire came from. “Jon! Throw some HE into the brush at our nine o’clock! Flush the bastards out!”
Mulcahey turned toward the tree line. With practiced ease he fired 40mm high explosive grenades from his launcher one after another. Screams came from where they landed, followed by lighter automatic fire, which soon grew in intensity.
“New contacts left flank,” hollered Mulcahey. A grenade rolled to a stop seven feet from him. “Fucking hell. Grenade! Grenade!” He dove under the Hummvee as it exploded. Sharp hot metal flew into his leg. “I’m hit. Goddammit I’m hit!”
Machine gun fire surrounded them. Urbane, already in lycan form, reached under the vehicle, pulling Mulcahey out with one hand. “Better learn how to duck, Tommy!” he said, tossing the wounded soldier into the rear of the vehicle.
“Fuck you, poodle,” responded Mulcahey with a grimace. “I ducked, they just got lucky!” Mulcahey grinned as he righted himself. Urbane turned to the new enemy contacts and ran toward the tree line. “What the bloody fuck are you doing, First Sergeant? Don’t engage alone!”
Urbane wasn’t engaging the enemy alone. Burned but still in the fight Marines, accompanied by soldiers, charged both sides of the ambush. All had abandoned their human forms for lycan.
Human troops poured on suppressing fire for the charging troops. Lewis threw his Hummvee into reverse, and turned to the cleverly concealed roadblock. Inside, Demarti struggled to keep a changed Sims still while applying a tourniquet to his neck.
Demarti’s concentration was strong on Sims and he didn’t notice voices calling out, “Dogs! The column has dogs in it!” and “Poodles! Enemy poodles in our lines! Drop ‘em! Adjust fire!”
“It’s only a goddamn flesh wound from a pissant five-five-six,” growled Sims, pushing Demarti off him. “I’d be worried if it were a fifty. Let me up. I gotta get into the fight.”
He pushed Demarti away and leapt into the fray from the moving vehicle.
Lewis slammed the accelerator, bursting through the trees. “All stations this net, all stations this net! I have an exit! On me, on me!”
In front of Lewis’ vehicle lay two US Army soldiers manning an M240B machine gun. They looked up, and died surprised to see the vehicle hurtling toward them. A 40mm grenade impacted the passenger side fender, flattening the tire. The explosion deafened everyone inside.
Something hot pierced Shelby’s lungs. He tried to scream but nothing other than pain and air left his lungs.
Lewis fought to keep the vehicle on the road that opened to him, but the tire made the struggle pointless. It slammed into a tree, sending him and Demarti into the dashboard.
Mulcahey slammed into the back of the driver’s seat. Shelby was thrown into the front, while Bernerd tumbled from the gunners hatch and onto the hood. He limply fell from the hood to the ground.
The second Hummvee swerved wildly almost hitting them. It skidded to a halt and soldiers poured out to save the others and to engage the enemy.
Demarti, Lewis, and Shelby stumbled or fell from the destroyed vehicle. Demarti threw up, and Shelby helped Lewis stand after collapsing.
“Bernerd,” called Shelby. “Sound off, soldier!”
Two soldiers ran to Bernerd who tried to sit up.
“Everything looks wonky,” Bernard said, wiping his eyes. He cried out as he pulled his hands away from his face. It was covered from hairline to chin in blood. “I’m okay. Leave off, I’m fine,” he protested as he was assisted to his feet.
At the ambush site the battle wound down. Howls of fury and of triumph echoed through the woods, and were punctuated by sporadic small arms fire. The uninjured formed a defensive line to hold the ground against a possible counterattack.
The sounds of combat faded, and cautious footsteps were soon the only sounds. “Friendlies coming in.” It was Sims. His lycan form appeared seconds later, assisting a wounded Urbane.
Urbane had reverted to human. His body armor had been stripped away and his chest was bloodied. Behind them were three lycan soldiers that had gone on the offensive against the ambush. Two of the infantrymen pushed a couple unfamiliar soldiers forward.
“What’s the First Sergeant’s status?” asked Lewis.
Sims ignored Lewis and laid Urbane next to Bernerd.
Mulcahey poured a canteen of water onto Bernerd’s face. Bernerd sputtered as the water cleaned flowed over his wounds.
Mulcahey could see that Bernerd’s eyes were okay though numerous splinters jutted from his face. “You got lucky, mate. You have a few new scars for Janie girl to marvel over. And you.” He looked to Urbane. “You need to learn how to low crawl.”
“Piss off, punk. I knew my chest would stop those rounds. It was all part of my plan.” Urbane coughed, and blood splattered against Mulcahey’s chin and neck.
Sims remained quiet. He stood, and pulled Demarti to the side. His mind worked on how to explain what he’d found.
“What’s the damage, First Sergeant?”
“First thing’s first. Urbane’s not going to make it.”
Annoyed, Sims removed his neck bandage, and reverted to human before Demarti’s eyes.
The sound of shrinking muscles and bone resembled far off twisting metal. It was a sight and sound still made Demarti uncomfortable.
“The damage to Urbane’s midsection is too much.” Sims rubbed his hand and glanced to Urbane. “He’s got an hour at best, Cap’n.”
“Shit. What else?” Demarti had a feeling that Urbane’s condition was the good news.
“The ambush was sprung by friendlies.”
“Friendlies attacked us. Those two…” Sims motioned at the captive soldiers. “They were part of a platoon sized force running guerilla operations in this area.”
“They thought we were hostile? How in the hell did they end up in this area?”
“Got me, sir. The fact is they were here and two miles down the road from our package. I think we’re farther behind enemy lines than we originally thought. If you ask me we need to get what we came here for and get the fuck outta dodge. We’re getting shot at by both sides.”
“So tell me again what I’ll be able to do?” Kunpai’s recovery had been remarkable. Neither Sutton nor Mitchell had ever seen anyone with such injuries recover as quickly. His face had nearly healed to what it had been; however his destroyed ear would never grow back. It was a mangled mass of scar tissue, but Kunpai wasn’t concerned with its appearance so long as his hearing wasn’t affected.
Sutton sat with Mitchell and Jeanue in one of Detrick’s gyms, explaining the new abilities that a freshly turned human could perform.
“You’re going to live a very long time. Longer than everyday people, but you’re not immortal. Vance is one of the oldest known lycans but he, and Mr. Dayton, show signs of age. Your body will begin to naturally break down over time. It’s just the sad truth about us carbon based life forms.”
“So I can live to be thousands of years old?” He rested his elbows on the table they sat at, leaning his chin into his hands. “Like Yoda, right?”
“Yes,” answered Mitchell. She was unsure that Kunpai understood the gravity of his new situation. “But you won’t be immortal.”
“Immortal, I will not be is what you mean.” He smiled and for a second the gleam in his eyes told them why Tori thought the world of him.
Sutton sighed impatiently. “Yes. Immortal you will not be. Look, Omi. Are you going to take this seriously or not?”
“Oh, I am. Make no mistake, I am. If I’ve heard right you’re saying that the more I don’t change, the more my body will age like a human’s and the more I do change the longer I live.”
“Correct,” agreed Mitchell. “Also, the more you change the easier it will be to do so. The less you do it, the more painful and the slower it will be. The more you do it, the younger you’ll remain.”
“So it’s like reverse dog years or something?”
“Something like that,” answered Mitchell. “Speaking from experience, I age twenty years to age one human year with constant change. If you stop changing on a regular basis you’ll age like a regular human after two or three years of no change. After that, the virus goes dormant until your next change. Be advised, Major. If you change anytime after those prolonged period of inactivity, it’ll be as painful as your first time.”
“Sounds great to me. Once this shit is over I’m going to be plain ole Major Omi Kunpai, USMC Retired, and I’ll grow old, have grandbabies and die like a normal man.”
“Is that your only concern?” asked Jeanue as she placidly took notes.
“Hell yeah that’s my only concern. Until then, I’m a freaking super soldier. Like goddamn Captain America or something.”
“They did a Cap Wolf miniseries you know,” said Mitchell. She walked to a set of weights. She quickly changed before adding weight to a long bar. “It wasn’t half bad.”
“Gotta find that one,” said Kunpai, watching her. “What are you doing?”
“Adding weight to see what your body can handle.”
“Psssh. Worry about that later. When can I start to change?”
“Anytime you want, as long as it’s later.” Sutton joined Mitchell. “What’s your plan here?”
“I’m going to give him a comparison between his two forms.” Mitchell added a series of twenty-pound weights on one end before moving to the other.
“He’s not ready yet. His body is still adapting. Don’t push the newborn, Cameron,” Sutton whispered.
“Only one woman can call me a baby, and she’s never used ‘newborn.’”
Mitchell and Sutton turned to him, unsure of how to respond.
Jeanue looked at him, and then to the others before writing faster than before. “Subject named patient’s hearing has obviously surpassed boundaries that were supposedly unreachable at this point in his transformation.”
“I’ve got a name, Colonel. It’s Major. Middle name is Omi, surname Kunpai.”
“For science purposes your name is Subject Named Patient or SNP for short.”
Kunpai threw his hands up, and then held them out, palm up to Jeanue. “Look at this, woman. Will you look at her? She’s like a kid with a new chemistry set.”
“It’s like Christmas for me, Omi. You’re a chance to study lycans at ‘birth’. So to speak.”
Kunpai rolled his eyes. “Well, I feel fine.” He walked to Sutton and Mitchell. “What do you want me to do, Cam?”
“Curl this,” she picked up the bar one handed, holding it out to him.
“That’s 240 pounds! I’ve only been able to do 125.”
“Is that a fact?” Sutton spoke with mock scorn. “Are you sure you’re infantry? You sound like an office weasel to me.”
“She’s right. One-twenty-five is for office pouges, not hard charging jarheads.” Mitchell joined the mocking.
“Screw you both.” He scowled and placed his hand around the bar. Flashes of light from his right distracted him. The weight took him to the floor.
“What the hell?” Kunpai turned to see Jeanue with a small Nikon, taking pictures. “Again, look at this. The woman’s got a damn camera. And you’re telling me that I’m not taking this seriously? She’s getting jiggy with a camera, taking pictures of me for her scrapbook.”
“It’s all for science, Major. Now, if you don’t mind I’d like a nice rear shot.”
Kunpai grinned and flipped her off instead. “Freaking pervert.” He stood, stretching his back. “If I pick this up what does that mean?”
“It means you’re strong,” answered Mitchell.
“Your difficulty in lifting that determines how fast the Plague virus is adapting to your body.” Sutton’s look to Mitchell said, ‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’
“He can do this,” reassured Mitchell.
“Work it, honey,” chirped Jeanue.
“Perv,” quipped Kunpai.
His forearms, biceps and shoulders strained at the weight. He slowly reached full stance.
“Curl it,” urged Mitchell. “Come on, sir. Curl like a beer.”
Kunpai curled the bar with less effort than the two older lycans thought possible. The effort took more than Mitchell had estimated, but she was pleased with what she witnessed.
“Out-fucking-standing, Major,” Mitchell said, smiling. “You proved me right. Stand at ease.”
“Order disregarded. Two.” Kunpai gave a small grunt as he lowered the weight and raised it back to his chin. “Three…four… five.” Kunpai showed less strain with each successive lift. “Yeah, buddy. That’s what I’m talking about.”
“Don’t push yourself, Omi.” Jeanue stood beside him, worried that he might overexert himself. X-Rays had shown that his wounds had healed, but Jeanue was paranoid that secondary wounds might appear.
What appeared next shocked those watching into silence. With each movement Kunpai grew taller, and hair sprouted from his face, legs, and muscular pumping arms.
His gym shorts split at the seams. His dark green Marine Corps t-shirt split apart at the arms and armpits. The stitches gave loud pops as the shoulder seams gave way against the growth. Kunpai grunted with each repetition. Sutton and Mitchell knew the grunts came not from the weights, but from the transformation.
“Feel the burn, Marine,” he muttered as his count passed fifty. “That’s it. Come on now.” His voice held a deeper baritone than normal. He worked, oblivious to his transformation. His eyes remained closed as his count progressed.
The change had been unbidden, and what stood before them was shorter than Mitchell’s lycan form, but no less beautiful to the women.
Kunpai’s height had stopped shy of seven feet, but his muscle mass had spread his shoulders wider than even Sutton’s. His hair wasn’t the dark brown or even black of his head as everyone had guessed it would be. Kunpai’s hair was a color so silver that it was almost platinum.
“Oh my,” muttered Jeanue. “Thundercats, ho.” Her mouth hung open as she snapped shots of Kunpai’s werewolf form.
“He’s silver,” whispered Mitchell, hand over her mouth. “Sue, he’s silver.”
“I see it. I don’t believe it, but I see it.” Sutton sat on the weight bench. She could believe her eyes no more than Mitchell could. Omi Kunpai had become a silver werewolf.
Walinski circled the landing zone, confused at the lack of a habitat below. They’d been briefed that a simple one story home would be nestled in the hills, but nothing could be seen except grass, trees, and waist high brush. The area didn’t seem like it could be home to any exiled lycan family. She supposed that anything could be possible though.
“I don’t see anything down there, Brenda,” yelled Tan from the crew compartment. “It looks deserted.”
“It’s a wild goose chase,” added Cotton bitterly. “Are the coordinates right?”
Walinski checked her copy of the map before glancing to Cotton’s. “According to the maps we’re in the right place.”
“Should we land?” asked Zellar. “Maybe they’re in hiding or something.”
“I’m calling this in,” answered Walinski. She toggled the radio, giving their situation as they flew another lower circuit around the field.
The answer she received ordered her to land and search a within a quarter mile area of the landing zone. She shook her bewildered head and complied.
Upon landing Tan and Zellar exited the helicopter with Isling. The rotor wash kicked up dirt and tore blades of grass from the ground, throwing it into their faces.
They moved quickly away from the helicopter to begin their search.
The Apache lifted into the air once more to provide a protective eye.
“Chief Walinski,” came a distant sounding voice.
“What?” She looked at Cotton. She’d been busy looking out the window, watching for any movement.
“Hmm? I didn’t say anything,” he answered.
“Walinski, Hughes. Remain calm. I’ve been patched through via a pirated frequency. No one else can hear me, except for you, and you are not to speak, only listen closely. Cotton is a plant from Vance.”
Hughes detailed Cotton’s duplicity, mentioning that Isling was also Aberration though not as important as Cotton. Isling was a grunt and expendable to anyone he fought for. She looked out the window as Hughes spoke, trying to locate Tan or Zellar. It bothered her that she couldn’t see either of them or Isling.
“Do not take him prisoner,” came Hughes’ voice. “I say again, do not apprehend. Eliminate infiltrators with extreme prejudice. Hughes, out.”
“Fuck,” she spat aloud. “I can’t do this,”
“Do what?” responded Cotton. “Are you okay? You’re not spazzing out on me, are you?” He cautiously stared at her. “I thought I heard some weird buzzing coming from your helmet. Do you want me to check it?”
“Nah, I’m good. But I have to pee really bad.”
“Can’t you hold it?”
“With an hour ‘til we’re RTB? Screw that. I gotta go now.”
“Fine.” Cotton gave her an annoyed look before returning his gaze to the ground.
“Do it now,” screamed Dolly. Dolly pounded relentlessly on the walls of their mental home. “Fucking pop his ass now, Brenda!”
“We don’t know what’s going on. It’ll be murder,” protested Clarice. She stood in Walinski’s mind’s eye, arms crossed, right foot tapping impatiently.
“It’s war, Clarice. Hughes says he’s rotten then you can fucking believe it,” retorted Dolly.
Walinski rested her hand on the door handle, ready to step out for a make believe piss when she saw Zellar and Tan emerge from the foliage. Both were sweaty and Isling wasn’t with them.
“What’s wrong with Zellar’s arm?” asked Clarice.
Walinski activated her night vision. Zellar’s right arm was bloody. Her rifle was slung across her back while Tan held her rifle at the ready with blood stained hands.
Walinski whispered “What the hell” without realizing it. Dolly had been correct. Walinski knew they were in a situation that had evolved beyond potentially ugly.
Walinski felt the wind pick up through the open door. In the corner of her eye she saw two helicopters appear over the nearby tree line. “Do you see that?” she asked, Cotton.
Cotton turned his attention to Walinski’s side of the helicopter. Walinski turned to him in time to see his furious face. His eyes were wide as he slammed his back handed fist into her face. Walinski’s vision went black
“Well fuck-a-doodle-do, ain’t this a peach. The last time we were in a helicopter we were knocked unconscious.” Dolly’s face floated up before Walinski’s eyes.
“It’s becoming a trend. We should probably stick to driving,” added Clarice as her visage replaced Dolly’s.
“There’s some wisdom there,” mumbled Walinski into the dark.
Colorado Springs, once a vibrant bustling city filled with tourists, was a ruined shell. It was a point of vanity for Vance to have his headquarters in the middle of the city. His was the only building that now appeared out of place. It gleamed like new compared to those burning uncontrollably, or standing dark, their sides dotted with ruined windows.
Collins felt ill as he guided his motorcycle around destroyed civilian vehicles and military equipment.
He stopped beside a destroyed Bradley Fighting Vehicle to get his bearings. His GPS said that he was going in the right direction, but three Hummvees blocked the intersection he needed to turn at. Even from four hundred yards away he could see blood splatters on the vehicles’ windows and steel bodies.
The smell of evacuated bowels, bladders and carnage filled his nose. He couldn’t help but wrinkle it against the smell. The more he saw, the more disgusted at himself he became.
“It’s official. I’m a Baltar,” he muttered to no one. “Better get moving, sellout.”
“Don’t move,” called a voice from behind. “Hands up, fingers interlocked behind your head.”
Collins’ hand tightened on the throttle. He forced his hand to ease up. If the speaker belonged to one of the Vance’s patrols, he could talk his way out. If it were human military he’d surrender. If it turned out to be a marauder then it would be their unlucky night. Calmly he complied and turned to the voice.
Fear shot through him. Three men and a woman, all in US Army combat uniforms and gear, advanced on him, weapons leveled at his head.
They eyed his uniform and motorcycle as they advanced.
“Human, or one of us?” asked the woman.
“Can’t you smell me? I’m a lycan like you,” answered Collins in a cool voice. “I work for the Boss.”
“Sure you do, pal,” responded one of the males in snarky tone. “Got any ID?”
“Yes. Can I get it without being shot?”
“We should shoot you anyway to be on the safe side. Only the terminally stupid and humans are out tonight,” growled a second male. His words confirmed their allegiance to Vance. Collins felt a bit of odd relief at discovering they were Aberration.
The most ill tempered of the group moved the fastest to Collins, and it made him edgier the closer he came.
“Hey, Ficks. Stupid and human are one and the same,” laughed the third male.
“Shut up,” snapped the first male. He was clearly the leader. “Remove your helmet and get your ID out, but do it slow.”
Collins slowly pulled his helmet off and then lowered his right hand to his pocket. He produced his green, white, and red-bordered Vance Industries ID card. The cards had become standard issue to all of Vance’s people in the weeks leading up to the overthrow. The red border signified that only a select few reported to Vance directly. The card and responsibility was a curse and an honor.
He handed it to the lead soldier whose eyes widened. He composed himself and scanned the card with a hand held scanner. A shrill, single two-second beep emanated from the device.
“Sorry to detain you, Captain,” said the soldier, returning the ID. “We’ve had human and Underground scouts in the AO, hence the show of force.”
“You can’t be too careful, Corporal,” said Collins. “May I put my hands down?”
“Yes, sir. You’re free to go. If you don’t mind my asking, what’s your destination?”
“I do mind actually,” snapped Collins in a manner that suggested his station put him above answering subordinates’ questions. “I’m on a priority one mission, and I’ve wasted enough time here.”
“We mean no offense, sir,” said the female soldier. “We only need to make sure you won’t run into any insurgents on the way. There are a few hot spots in the area.”
Collins chuckled. The word ‘insurgents’ was something he had never expected to hear on American soil. He didn’t know why but it struck him as funny. “If you must know I’m heading to Schriever AFB. And that’s all you need to know.”
“Schriever’s outlying area is a hotspot for insurgent activity, Captain. We’ve yet to eliminate the human personnel problem.” The leader chuckled aloud. “They think they can retake the base.”
“They should really know better,” Collins said dryly. “Now if you’ll excuse me.” He revved his bike but was stopped from leaving. “What?” he snapped as the leader laid a hand on his shoulder.
“That way’s mined, sir. Bastards laid magnetic mines against our armor. It’s all near the CityCenter. Our EOD people are dealing with other parts of the city so that area’s been declared off limits. You’re better off hooking left a block up and then turning right on Stangler Avenue and then left on 42nd Street. It’s a little out of the way but it’ll take you to Schriever. That area’s secured, even though we’re running clean up ops there.”
“Running clean up ops… but the area is secure,” repeated Collins. “Right.” He didn’t understand how it could be secure while running clean up operations. He assumed he’d find out when he arrived.
Collins nodded and lowered his helmets faceplate. The dark tint prevented the soldier from seeing Collins sticking his tongue out. “Thanks for the heads up, Corporal.” Collins revved the bike, sending bits of debris at the three soldiers. The trigger-happy soldier called out angry curses as Collins peeled away.
He made the first left and immediately wished he’d simply navigated the mined area.
Earthmovers had removed rubble and abandoned vehicles to make room for tractor-trailers. The entire three-block area had become a transportation and processing hub for humans. The sight was painful to see though he didn’t lose sight of the fact that he and not they had retained freedom. He was stopped and rescanned like anyone entering or leaving the area of operation.
“Get this shit outta here,” yelled a soldier to another standing at the top of a processing truck’s off-loading ramp. “Come on, move!”
Collins felt vomit creep up his throat and his hand caressed his Sig pistol with an intent all its own.
“I wouldn’t do it,” said the lycan MP at the roadblock. He towered above Collins’ seated human form. “I get what you’re feeling, sir, but rest assured that he’ll get his soon enough. Poplar is brutal to his own pack, so why should humans be any different? You’re headed to Schriever, right?”
The question surprised Collins. He hadn’t told the lycan anything about his destination. “How…” Collins cleared his throat. “Yes.”
“Stick by Big Bear, Captain. He’ll get you out of this shit. Be careful, comrade.” The MP handed the ID back, allowing Collins to leave.
Leaving the city allowed Collins to gather his thoughts. His mind replayed what he’d seen.
Coming upon Schriever Air Force Base’s main gate snapped him out of his troubled thoughts. Two Marine Corps M1A2 tanks stood watch at the gate and a mix of Hummvees, Bradleys and armored personnel carriers patrolled the interior.
The airmen asked only what his purpose was before waving him through. Collins delivered his lie of air traffic control and guided missile systems checks flawlessly.
The base was nearly as pristine as Vance’s headquarters. Craters from artillery pocked the ground here and there, but for the most part the roads and runways remained unscathed.
As he neared where F15s sat, he saw the burned out hull of the main administration building. The scorched walls were evidence that the Air Force personnel had put up a fight before being overtaken. His nose filled again with the smell of burned meat, wood and insulation. He braked forty feet from the building, and stared at it. A Hummvee stopped in front of him, blinding his vision with its headlights.
“Now’s not the time for sightseeing, myshka,” called Medklova from the passenger seat. “Perform your checks, and then move along. Schedule’s tight.”
“I’ll follow you to the first set of guidance checks,” he answered.
The Hummvee led him to a set of offices closer to the fighters. The aircraft sat like bright beacons of hope. Collins had never flown in a fighter before so he considered it an added bonus to escaping.
“What you need is inside,” said, Medklova, exiting the vehicle.
“What’s the security situation here, sir?” Collins moved his eyes to the soldiers now standing guard.
“Trustworthy, Leland. These men, I would trust my life with.”
Using Collins’ first name was a sign that Medklova took the situation seriously. Their collective actions were the same as banging on a proverbial armed nuclear weapon with a hammer. The situation wasn’t supposed to be volatile, but the possibility was there.
The room was well lit and a simple round table with four chairs sat in its center. A black female Air Force lieutenant sat at the table, nervously tapping a pencil on a notepad. She stood up as Collins and Medklova entered.
“Is this Collins?” The lieutenant sounded just as wary as she looked.
“Yes, this is the man and the legend,” answered Medklova with a smile. “He’s ready to do what needs to be done. Captain Leland Collins, Lieutenant Daria Rexler.”
“Nice to meet you, Captain. First off you’ll need a flight suit.” Rexler moved to a rack with a single suit and flight gear hanging from it. “Put this on.” She threw it to Collins and then collected the flight gear. “Come on. Don’t be shy. The clock’s ticking.” It was her attempt to take the edge off, but her worry was noticeable.
“Not a problem,” answered Collins. “I’ll get near naked for a pretty girl.”
“Come on, come on,” urged Rexler as Collins zipped up the coverall. “Quickly now. Gear, too. Here. Take this pistol. It’s loaded.”
Rexler was rushing him faster than he could follow. Instinctively he removed the Beretta pistol from its holster and checked the chamber. A round flew out as he pulled the slide back. Rexler had been truthful when she said it was loaded.
Collins picked up the errant round and put into a front pocket. He went to his discarded thigh holster and removed the Sig and its magazines. Hurriedly he thrust the pistol into the back of his flight harness and the magazines in the flight harness’ unused pouches.
“Why the rush?” He knew the answer and only spoke because the silence and urgency made him more nervous. Hurriedly he slung his laptop across his back. The laptop was just as important to the Underground as he was. To leave it behind would be a travesty to humankind.
“We’re stealing a jet from an Aberration held base and flying you to friendly territory. What rush are you referring to?” She thrust a helmet into Collins’ hands. “Put this on. We’re leaving.”
“Come, friends. Time to see if the grass is greener.” Medklova held the door open for Collins and Rexler. They stepped outside but stopped short at the sight of five figures looming in the glow of the airfield.
“The grass isn’t green on the other side,” came Vance’s voice as the door closed behind them. “It’s actually red and stained with the blood of humans and pack traitors. You look like a man leaving for a momentous trip, Captain Collins. And you Colonel Medklova. I expected more from you. You performed admirably, Lieutenant Rexler. I almost hate to kill you, too, but… well… you sold them out during your portrayal of selling me out. I just don’t think I can trust someone like you.”
“But I did every thing you said. You can’t -” protested Rexler.
“Shut up.” Vance barked the ordered at her. He had little use for beggars, or pack traitors, and especially if the two were mixed.
The soldiers that had arrived with Medklova were dead. Their necks had been broken; no silenced shots had been fired to not alert the others with cordite-fouled air or the scent of freshly spilled blood.
Soldiers flanked Vance’s sides and all were in lycan form. Vance stood still, his neck and bare arms bulged as he transformed. “Going to be… a…pleasure… getting info… from you…and Big Bear, Captain.”
Medklova’s eyes slide to Collins’ Sig. He pulled it faster than Vance’s lycans could react and fired a shot, striking Vance below his left cheekbone. Medklova had been aiming for Vance’s forehead, but Vance’s jerking, transforming head caused him to miss. It still gave the pack traitors precious time to fight.
Vance screamed and grasped his face as he collapsed. The transformation was finalizing as blood streamed from the open wound. “Kill them! Kill the bitch and the commie fucker! Leave the pip squeak pup mother fucker!”
Medklova fired once more, striking a lycan guard in the right eye. The shot exited the back of his skull, killing him instantly. A second, discarded his rifle, and leapt onto Medklova, knocking him to the ground.
The two wrestled as Medklova changed. The pain was excruciating to the Russian. He’d never performed a transformation as quickly as then. When he was fully changed the battle was quickly decided in Medklova’s favor.
The second made a grab for Rexler, who remained in human form. She kneed the Lycan in the groin, and slammed her helmet into his head. It howled furiously as she kicked it once more in mid fall. Outraged at being betrayed, she drove her helmet into its muzzle repeatedly until the satisfying crunches gave way to a wet pop. The lycan went limp as its muzzle bones splintered into its brain.
Medklova was on his feet before Rexler. He rushed to Vance, kicking the rising lycan in the ribs, sending him howling and scrambling across the asphalt.
The third lycan had restrained Collins as the others fought. Panicked he hurled the smaller angry lycan at Medklova.
Medklova leapt over Collins, lunging for Collins’ captor. “Run!” he bellowed as he drove Vance’s goon to the ground. “Run for the plane, now! RUN GODDAMN YOU!”
“Come on!” called Rexler, grabbing Collins’ arm. “Come on, stupid! We’ve gotta get the fuck out of here.”
Collins was torn. He needed to escape but his friend needed him as well. His options were limited and only one was clearly the right choice. An Aberration column filled with troops rapidly approached with ill intentions.
With a sickening crack Medklova ended the fight by crushing his opponent’s sternum onto its heart. “Leave me. I will be okay,” he said, his chest heaving. He moved toward Vance. Vance had recovered faster than anticipated.
Vance elbowed the Russian lycan in the stomach before raising the top of his head into Medklova’s jaw. Medklova staggered back.
Collins almost fell under Rexler’s insistent pulling. He pulled free, scooped up his helmet, and joined Rexler in the mad dash to a waiting F15. At the ladder were two dead aircraft handlers.
“My God,” whispered Collins.
“There’s no helping them. They did what was needed, now move your fucking ass!”
Collins scrambled up the ladder, followed by Rexler. Quickly Rexler secured herself to the seat and closed the canopy. Without waiting for Collins to figure out how to get buckled in, she taxied the aircraft into position for take off.
He’d spent more time securing the laptop than he had himself.
As Rexler increased the Eagle’s take off speed, Collins realized what buckle went where. A series of sharp snaps brought a semi relieved smile to his face.
From the front, Rexler called for him to secure his mask. “We’re going straight up. You’ll be dead without it!”
Collins looked back toward Vance and Medklova. The two fought hand to hand.
Medklova gave to Vance as good as he received, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough. Medklova knew when it was over. He stumbled to the fallen Sig, retrieved it, and aimed at Vance.
Collins screamed as he saw an approaching machine gunner open fire on Medklova. He heard the muffled thumping of a fifty caliber machine gun as the rounds tore through Medklova.
Collins wanted to cry, but couldn’t. He watched as the vehicles ground to a halt. Vance leapt onto one, and tossed a gunner to the ground. After watching his friend die, he couldn’t spare sympathy for the soldier whose head was crushed under a Hummvee’s wheel. He turned forward.
“Spinster One One Four Seven. Shut down your engines now. Abort take off, Spinster,” called the control tower. “Shut down now. You do not have clearance, and you are under arrest.
“Negative, boys and girls,” answered Rexler, accelerating faster. “I’m blowing this dog pound.”
“A bit corny, aren’t you?” said Collins bitterly from the rear. His eyes went to the secured laptop. No matter what happened he had to make it all worthwhile.
“I’m just speaking the truth.”
Machine gun fire danced across the F15’s fuselage as some of the arriving Hummvees gave pursuit. The rounds gave frighteningly musical rings as they struck the aircraft’s body. With a jerk of the stick, they were airborne. Red tracers followed the aircraft into the air. No more struck the body and Collins let out a sigh of relief that was more of an exclamation of joy. He glanced down at his crotch, fairly sure that he hadn’t pissed himself.
“Don’t get too excited. We’re still in their airspace, big boy.” Rexler spoke like she’d read his mind. “He’ll be scrambling chasers, and then we’ll see how good a pilot I am. First time in a fast mover?”
“Yeah,” he answered distantly.
“You’re getting your cherry popped in a helluva way. Enjoy the ride. It’s going to be bumpier than shit.”