Buck Who? Chapter 43

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 43: Giving in

May 30th 2668 Near the Washington Idaho border

            Hours seemed to pass like molasses in January as Martin, Bradly and the soldiers they brought with them explored and inventoried the weapons they had discovered, once the technician had been able to get past the security and the locks. As luck would have it, the technician was fortunate to be alive. Had the security system still been connected to the bases power, he would have been fried to a pile of smoking cinders.

            Instead all he received for his effort was a powerful shock, which burned his hands and caused his hair to stand on end, much to his consternation and the amusement of all those present. Knowing what to watch for, the tech proceeded with a great deal more caution and finally he managed to get the door open.

            As with the rest of the facility, the chamber it opened to was as black as pitch, the lights on their armor barely piercing the darkness. It brought up images of monsters and mutant beasts, staying just out of the light, preparing to attack the unwary.

            Caution proceeded Martin and Bradly as they entered the chamber, their weapons at the ready and the sensors in the suits working overtime. Five meters in, Bradly nearly opened fire when his light revealed a war-machine, a massive robotic unit bristling with weapons, standing at nearly three meters in height. Instead he held his fire, and ran sensors over the unit. It was completely dead, the power core long ago having expended the last of its energy, leaving the machine stranded.

            “We could use that,” Martin whistled in appreciation. Reprogram it and it’ll be perfect for defending the compound.”

            Bradly ignored his father, having turned away from the robot to inspect what he could see. The room, from where he was standing, had suffered extensive damage like the rest of the facility. It was not the damage that held his gaze. Instead it was the racks of military-grade assault rifles, energy weapons, and more that were stationed against the walls. Each was covered by a thick metal grate, and he could see the grates required identification cards to open.

            Which of course meant they also required power. It looked as if they would require brute force to get at the weaponry.

            Martin called his son’s name several times before he turned his gaze to what had enraptured the younger man, and he breathed nearly silent prayer of thanks. “Look at all the hardware!”

            Bradly and his father walked over to the nearest rack and the elder Travis ran his gauntleted hand over a fully automatic Blaster Rifle. The weapon, despite being covered in dust, looked as if it was in pristine condition, and all it required was a power source. He looked about and indicated the opposite side of the mesh, blocking his way. “Grab that and we’ll pull on three…”

            Following his father’s instructions, Bradly took a firm grip on the edge of the mesh and squeezed.

            “One, two, three!”

            Together they pulled with their power-enhanced strength and ripped the mesh away from the weapons, pulling ten-centimeter bolts from the concrete wall as if they were finishing nails. The motion caused a small cascade of dust to rain from the ceiling but that was the extent of it. Martin grabbed the Blaster Assault Rifle he had been admiring, flipped it over and found the energy cell access panel. He opened it and found it to be empty, but took the standard issue power clips that most military grade weapons used.

            Pulling the spare clip from his armor, he inserted it, closed the panel and then hit the on switch. The weapon hummed to life, despite having lain dormant for over three centuries. Martin grinned, although no one could see it. “Back away from the door,” he ordered.

            His men complied instantly, moving into the room. Bradly turned and watched his father as the elder Travis took aim with the weapon and triggered it. A burst, a literal burst of too many shots to count tore from the muzzle and ripped into the reinforced concrete wall just outside the door. Shards of stone flew in all directions and when he was finished firing, the edge of the concrete was molten and white-hot.

            “I like it!” He bellowed, and despite the sudden and nerve-wracking display, the other men joined in his amusement. He slung his other weapon and proudly held the rifle at the ready. “Alright, let’s see what other goodies this place has to offer!”

            In less than fifteen minutes they discovered the room was quite large, being about twenty meters to a side. There were lockers, cabinets, tables, work-benches, you name it. Some were still intact; others had suffered from the damage the base sustained, as well as the ravages of time. Still, they found literally dozens of different types of blasters and energy weapons; several Gauss and Rail-guns, lasers, the parts to repair each make and model, as well as hundreds of power cells.

            What really made his day however was the discovery of a heavy metallic case. It was stamped with the NorRuCom stamp and seemed to be constructed of a single piece of metal. The surface was flat and smooth, with no visible sign of a keyhole or seam. When Martin ran his gauntleted hand over the symbol a biometric scanner appeared just below it, and a key-card reader slid open. He called the technician over and the man stared down at the box.

            “Sir considering this still is powered when the robot sentry is long dead, I wouldn’t be too willing to try and force it open.”

            “You think it’s trapped?” Martin asked.

            “I’d bet a year’s pay on that,” the tech told him, flashing the leader of the Purists a grin. He knelt and looked at the biometric scanner and the keycard slot. “I can probably establish a link to the computer running this,” he pulled out the small slicer device he had become so fond of and was about to place it on the surface of the box when he paused.

            “What is it?” Bradly had to ask, feeling the tension in the room.

            “I’m not sure,” the tech replied, staring intently at the holographic display above the slicer. “I just have a funny feeling about this,” he poked the symbols and slid his fingers through the display and then he grunted. “Yeah, I was afraid of that”

            “What?” Both Travis’s asked in stereo.

            “It’s a safe, an Iron Mountain Mark 73 Extreme.”

            “English,” Martin growled.

            “We will have only three attempts to open the device. If we fail after the third attempt, it will go critical. Everything within a ten meter radius will be vaporized. The box is trapped with a micro-nuke.”

            “Okay, that means whatever is inside is worth protecting, it has to be some sort of weapon, a powerful one at that if they were willing to blow it up to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.” Bradly stood with his arms crossed, staring down at the tech and the box.

            “I can’t dispute that logic, but see, I don’t know if my slicer has the computing power to crack the codes on this, and we obviously don’t have the correct biometric data to unlock it.” He stared at the device, and then a look of grim determination came over him. “I’ll do my best, but maybe you should grab all the weapons and equipment you can, you don’t want to lose any of these toys if the box goes nuclear on me.”

            Martin placed a hand on the tech’s shoulder. “Listen to me,” he said in a stern voice. “You are a valuable member of my team, and you’ve proven your capabilities time and again. I don’t want you risking your life for this, whatever it is.”

            The tech carefully placed the slicer device down on the ground and allowed it to continue to run scans over the box. He stood and wiped his face, then pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sir I appreciate the words, but what if I want to try?”

            “Why?” Bradly asked, perplexed.

            “The same reason I fought against the hackers who took over the satellite. I found it was a personal challenge and I wanted to prove I was the better programmer,” he grinned. “And we all know how that turned out in the end.”

            “Can we move it?” Martin walked around the box, staring down at it. “It won’t go boom on us if we take it out of here?”

            “I figure we should be okay to do that,” the tech answered. He consulted the screen once again. “After all, they would not want it to go off while they were transporting it, so I would have to say it’s safe. I can’t find any indication that it will detonate if we move it.”

            Martin looked about and then nodded. “Alright, let’s take it outside and then you can play around with it, but I’m still against the whole idea – you’re life means more to me than whatever is inside that box.”

            The tech gave the leader of the Purists a wide smile and nodded. “Thanks, sir, I’ll be careful.”

            Together Martin and Bradly hefted the large container, and even with their power-assisted strength, they found it to be difficult to maneuver and carry, but after only a few minutes, they had the container out in the open.

            Martin blew out his cheeks and placed his hands on his hips as he stood nearby to watch the tech work. Bradly returned to the armory to continue going through the weapons and equipment that had so miraculously fallen into their hands to see what else could be found.

            Minutes passed in near silence as the technician worked on the container, using the slicer and going through the programs he had available. He had yet to attempt the first crack at defeating the powerful security on the container, and Martin did not mind the wait. He would rather see the man succeed through care and diligence rather than race into the unknown and end up losing his life and whatever the container held in the process.

            One of his communication techs approached - a look of concern visible to everyone who was looking. “Sir?” He said after saluting Martin.

            “What is it, son?” Martin looked at the man, feeling tension starting to build. After all that had happened and the treasure-trove of technological marvels they had uncovered, he felt the euphoria of the discoveries drain away, replaced by a feeling of dread.

            The man swallowed and indicated the communication link he held in his open palm. “Sir I have been trying to reach the compound for several hours now and have been unable to establish contact, other than a brief transmission.”

            The feeling of sudden dread began to grow like an insidious cancer in Martin’s stomach. He had the sudden urge to urinate but he had no idea why. Instead of allowing it to come through in his tone, he waved a dismissive hand. “It’s probably just atmospheric interference. You were the one who taught me that with all the radiation in the upper atmosphere, communications at range could be spotty at best.”

            The comm-tech shook his head in disagreement, the bleak look growing worse by the second. “We haven’t had such a clear channel in many days sir, I am afraid that something has happened. I did manage to pick up part of a transmission only a few minutes ago, and I think you need to hear it.”

            The dread spread from his stomach and was crushing his heart and lungs with an icy, iron grip. He was beginning to find it difficult to breathe but somehow he maintained iron control over his emotions. What the hell happened? He thought. “Alright, play it back.”

            There was a burst of static and Martin could hear the technician’s voice. “This is Recon one calling Base, come in base.” He heard a muttered curse, followed by a name and some very imaginative suggestions on what said name should do with a mutant goat. “Recon one to Base, come in already!”

            Another burst of static and then finally there was a click, followed by what sounded like a brief moan and tearing, and then another voice, one that sounded odd, replied. “This is base, Recon one.”

            “Devon, what the fuck man?”

            There was a long pause, several bursts of static and what sounded like chewing. “Devon’s gone. We took over.”

            The channel went dead. The tech’s voice continued to call, demanding answers but to no avail. If anyone at the base was listening, they were staying silent.

            “This is Martin Travis,” he called out over the command frequency. “Drop what you’re doing and meet back at the entrance. Something’s happened at the compound and we need to get back there as of yesterday.”

            “Forget…” he began to address the slicer when there was a horrific screech. It seemed to come from all around them and he would have jumped from shock and terror if it had not been for the suit. All around him men grabbed their heads, trying to protect their ears from the piercing, mind-shatteringly loud screeching.

            Energy blasts, bullets, and even arrows tore from the trees and foliage surrounding the ruins, some hitting their targets, some missing and plowing harmlessly into the ground and mounds of plant-covered rubble.

            Then he saw them. There had to be dozens upon dozens of the mutant monstrosities, all of various sizes and markings, but they all had two things in common. First they all possessed four arms, each carrying different types of weapons, and secondly, they were pissed off snakes! 

            “Christ on a crutch, didn’t already deal with these bastards?” Martin growled in annoyance and then opened fire.

***

May 30th 2668 The community

            The heavy EMP washed over the small Shrike fighter, but fortunately Declan’s foresight to strengthen his shields paid off. The internal lights and the HUD flickered briefly before coming back to full strength. He silently cursed, almost not believing he had forgotten all about the fighter’s PDS or Point Defense system. It could have worked in conjunction with the decoys to take out the incoming missile. How the fuck could he have made such a basic mistake?

            Declan breathed a sigh of relief and checked the progress of his Mark 55’s. In the short time he had been occupied with defending his ship from the EMP missile, the two had streaked across the vast open spaces, each locked onto their targets. One was defeated by a combination of the target Mengqin, the missile spinning off trajectory into the depths of space.

            The other however must have been made of sterner stuff, as it weaved through the decoys with incredible ease, shifting course with minute thrusts of the internal jets. The VI, virtual intelligence piloting the missile was working overtime to counter the electronic warfare signals that were washing over it, threatening to re-write or simply destroy entire sections of the missiles coding.

            Once it was within killing range, the missile detonated, sending the shower of ball-bearings hurtling towards the Mengqin at a significant portion of the speed of light. The charged balls ripped through the shields as if they weren’t there. Hundreds of balls punched into the hull and continued out the other side, the speed barely impeded by the metal of the ship.

            It detonated a micro-second later in a bright ball of fire and consumed oxygen and fuel. All that was left of the fighter was an expanding cloud of microscopic debris and atoms. He did not take the time to celebrate his victory, as there were at least three more of the enemy birds still out there.

            “Tiger, this is Shard, splash one, I repeat, splash one!”

            “Good shooting, Shard, but I’m kind of busy right now,” came back Tara’s rather terse reply.

            He did not have the time to think about her as he scanned the HUD for sign of the other ship. In less than a second he spotted the fighter, just as it was looping back towards him, staying on his six, trying to line up for a second pass.

            With a laugh that was on the edge of hysteria, he dropped the rear shields and put his point defense cannon on automatic. The other ship was close enough that the little VI controlled defensive battery was able to achieve a solid lock and it instantly began to spit energy at the incoming fighter.

            None of the bolts which managed to find their target were able to penetrate the fighter’s shielding, but it was enough to throw off the pilot’s aim and cause him to veer away, least the PD system get in a lucky strike an turn him and his ship into component atoms and elements.

            Still, it was enough. Declan banked hard and rolled, coming about in a complete one-hundred and eighty degree turn. He had flown for so many years he enacted the maneuver without even thinking about it, and even before he was out of the roll, he triggered his nose cannons, particle projectors that were not good for distance engagements, but were more than adequate for the ranges he was now facing. The Shrike lived up to its name, deftly dodging as he poured streams of energetic, highly excited particles at the incoming fighter. The pilot of the Mengqin was as good, if not better, and was pulling off ducks and weaves that seemed to defy logic, almost as if the pilot was anticipating the incoming shots.

            Growling, Declan felt sweat trickle down his forehead, threatening to pool in his eyes. It was the oddest sensation, as his suit and helmet typically kept perspiration from accumulating. He figured it had to do with the stress of the battle and worrying about his wingman.

            The Shrike and the Mengqin passed within several dozen meters of each other and he could swear that he saw the Chinese pilot flip him the bird. He also thought he could make out the detail on the exterior of the enemy fighter. It looked as if he was staring at the remains of a city, with a mushroom cloud hovering above it, and Mandarin or Cantonese lettering. The strangest sensation came over him – he knew what the characters meant. Death of Cities. Was that the pilot’s handle?

            Over the communication link he heard Tara shout: “Tiger, fox two!” She hand launched a missile at one of the two fighters harassing her and then a second later there was a whoop of delight. “This is Tiger, splash one, I repeat, splash one!”

            Declan felt his grimace relax ever so slightly as he pulled his ship into another series of wild and unexpected turns and course changes. Death of Cities was still trying to pull in behind him, wanting to either get a solid lock with his targeting computer or bear down on him with the ship’s particle cannons, but Declan would not have it.

            He burst out laughing at the thought - after all, had not survived so many engagements with the ChiFeds over the years to get shot down by some cocky hot-shot. He was the hot-shot pilot and he would be the one taking down the bogie.

            Streams of energy rocketed past his canopy and he felt his heartbeat nearly double. In the brief second he laughed, Death of Cities somehow managed to close the distance and opened fire. A warning buzzer went off and he took a fraction of a second to check his display, seeing that his shields had been reduced to less than fifty percent from the near-miss. Wait, it was not a near miss; the enemy pilot had hit him!

            He had not used it very often, but he realized now was the perfect time. The Shrike was a sturdy fighter, and had the advantage of some of the most recent technology available. He thumbed up the safety latch on his joystick and suddenly felt a wave of Deja Vu. Declan felt as if he just performed this same maneuver only a few hours ago. Shaking his head, he pressed his thumb on the button and suddenly his ship decelerated to less than half of its current speed. Death to Cities rocketed past, so close that the shields on both fighters flared as they interacted. Another alarm blazed in his head, indicating he had lost all shields.

            It did not matter, as the Mengqin shot past, he depressed the firing stud on his joystick. Declan could imagine the fighter shaking as the powerful energy cannons unleashed hell-fire upon the enemy fighter.  Bolts of energy splashed through the weakened shields of the Mengqin, and with a bright flash of blue, they dissipated, leaving the ship vulnerable. He never relinquished his thumb from the trigger, pumping bolt after bolt of energy into the rear of the ship.

            The energy ate through the rear armor; tearing apart one of the ship’s engines, then ripped through the internal structure, atomizing metal, plastic, alloy and finally flesh as they encountered the pilot. In a microsecond, the fighter’s remaining engine and fuel went critical and it detonated.

            “This is shard, splash two, I repeat, splash two!”

            “Good shooting, Shard, now get your ass over here!” Tara exclaimed and he could hear the fear in her voice. “I can’t shake this bastard!”

            Once again his eyes fell upon his HUD and in a second he located his wingman and the target she was having so much trouble with. She was a good pilot, but not as good as he was, not having spent nearly as much time behind the stick of a Shrike. Still, he did not want anything to happen to her. Sure enough, the Mengqin was practically on top of her, sticking to her tail no matter what she tried to do.

            He kicked in his afterburners, dumping fuel into the engines. Even with the gravity compensators, he felt a slight jolt as the Shrike jumped as if kicked in the ass, eating the distance between him and the two combatants. Declan adjusted his vector and managed to achieve a solid lock on the enemy fighter. He did not want anything to happen to Tiger, and the distance separating them made a kill shot unlikely, but he had to break the contact or she would die. “This is Shard, Fox three!” He fired a missile, one of the Emission homing weapons. A Mark 88 Homing missile with a shaped charge warhead. It was not a shotgun missile, but instead designed to home in on various emissions from an enemy ship, including thermal, radio, radioactive, and so forth.

            The missile leapt from the railing and sped towards the enemy fighter. It had the desired effect, the fighter broke from its current trajectory and dropped decoys to try and spoof the incoming warhead. “Tiger, you’re clear, get the hell out of there!”

            “Roger Shard,” Tara’s reply sounded like music to his ears.

            The decoy’s worked; the missile was distracted from the enemy fighter and homed in on the cluster of spoofing mechanisms. It exploded harmlessly, destroying the decoys and itself in the process.

            The Mengqin looped and came straight at him, not even bothering to try and attempt a lock-on. Bolts of energy flashed passed his ship, several smashing into the shields, which fortunately for him had just come back online. In three hits the shields were down once again, but they had saved him from becoming an expanding cloud of debris. As with Death of Cities, this fighter had customized paint on its nose. A grinning Grim Reaper, with a handful of men and women in NorRuCom uniforms, spilling from its skeletal grip. The Mandarin or Cantonese letters spelled out, ironically enough, Reaper of Souls.

            Switching frequencies, Declan found what he hoped was the enemy channel. Odds were good that the channel would be scrambled – after all, who wants the enemy to be able to listen to chatter between pilots? Still, he decided he wanted to take the chance. “Reaper of Souls, I’m going to kill you. I hope you’ve made peace with whatever gods you believe in.”

            There was a moment of silence as he pulled his ship into a tight curving turn, hoping to be able to get back on the enemy fighter’s tail, but not counting on it. The reply was short and to the point. “Fuck you.”

            Declan burst out laughing as he searched for the enemy ship. Bursts of energy flashed past his cockpit and he realized that he had underestimated the pilot. The shots missed, some by mere meters, and he felt his bowels loosen. Still, he put on a brave face and opened the channel. “You kiss your boyfriend with that mouth?” He knew it was a childish and unimaginative retort, but he felt better for having said it.

            As it turned out Reaper of Souls was quite the excellent pilot. Declan was hard-pressed to stay on the pilot’s six, and just when he thought he was going to achieve a solid lock-on, Reaper of Souls would change directions or pull off some wild stunt that Declan would never have considered doing.

            “Shard I am on your six, trying to match velocity and vectors – do you need assistance?” Tiger asked and when he took the fraction of a second to check her location on the HUD, there she was - a couple of kilometers to his aft and starboard.

            “Soonest would be nice, pump some go-juice into that tin-can and get up here!”

            He returned his full concentration on Reaper of Souls, who must have been listening in on his conversation, because the ship did a full ninety degree flip and hit the afterburners, killing his forward momentum and coming straight for Declan. Already the Mengqin’s cannons were blazing, firing a constant stream of killer energy so that it looked like a pair of lines was coming his way.

            Declan adjusted his shields as they came back online. He had only ten percent, and it would climb as the shields had a chance to regenerate, but by the time he hit 100% he would be long dead. He transferred all power to his forward shields, which provided a little more protection, but even a single solid strike would end him. Sweat covered his forehead and he was glad for the flight suit and gloves he wore, as his palms were slick. He resisted the urge to wipe his palms on his legs, knowing it would not do a thing.

            At the speed both combatants were travelling, they would pass one another in a fraction of a second. He decided to try one last ditch stunt, one Reaper of Souls would not be expecting… Holding down the firing stud for his cannons, he sent streams of excited particles of energy towards the incoming ship. At the same time, he bypassed the lock-on targeting computer and fired his last two Shotgun Missiles. “This is Shard, Fox two, Fox two!”

            At the very same instant his shields flared and went down. He felt his ship shudder under the impact of multiple strikes and his HUD lit up like a Christmas tree. The stick went dead in his grip and he felt the ship begin to tumble.

            His missiles however, found their target. Without active sensors he had fired the weapons cold and emission free in order to spoof jamming and decoys. Anyone watching would have seen the twin missiles streak from under the Shrike’s wings, moving at a speed so fast that the naked eye would have missed them entirely. The only active sensors the missiles used were their proximity sensors and when the Mengqin fighter was in range, they detonated. Reaper of Souls disappeared in a blinding flash of light, and then all that remained was a rapidly expanding cloud comprised of tiny debris.

            There was a sudden jolt and Declan blinked, shocked. He was no longer in the cockpit of the fighter but was instead sitting at the table with Tara beside him. The young mutant Andy was across from him, looking pleased.

            “Holy shit - that felt so real!” Declan wiped the sweat that was running down his face, and he realized two things at once. He had a raging boner, and his body was drenched in sweat. He reached out and grasped Tara’s hand in his. When she turned her head to meet his gaze, he could see the lust in there, powerful and primal and she too was plastered in sweat. Her breathing came in short pants, which was reminding him of her achieving an orgasm. The smell coming from her wet, naked body was intoxicating.

            “Declan?” She asked, her green eyes fever-bright.

            “Yeah?” He gripped her hand, feeling the heat radiating from it.

            “How come I knew how to fly and fight?” Tara asked, still gasping in little breaths.

            Andy laughed. “I had to make it seem as real as possible. I know neither of you realized for a second that it was just in your minds, did you?”

            They shook their heads in unison.

            “I drew upon your memories and skills, and pretty much just transferred them into her mind,” Andy tilted his head towards Tara. “That’s why you could fly and knew how to use the instruments on your ship.”

            She looked from Andy to Declan in wonder. “Does that mean I could fly if we ever found a working fighter?”

            “Sadly, no,” Andy replied, looking sad. “Only in a situation like the one that I set up would you be able to use his skills and knowledge.”

            “So why did you choose a battle scene like that then?” Declan asked. He wanted to rip his clothing off and take Tara right there, right in front of Andy, but somehow he managed to maintain control over his impulses.

            “Each of the enemy fighters you destroyed represented one part of your subconscious mind was having trouble dealing with the changes you experience. You were able to defeat your loss of your world, your friends, and the life you knew.”

            Declan snapped his fingers. “Reaper of Souls and Death of Cities.”

            Andy nodded. “You also dealt with the stress you were feeling over losing your leg, and the fear of falling for Tara,” He looked pointedly at the woman. She helped you with that. I would venture to say that’s why you’re both so horny right now,” he stood and began to walk to the door. “I’ll talk to you in the morning, but you should be able to sleep without trouble.”

            Before the young mutant left, Declan had already ripped off his pants and shirt. He grabbed Tara and hefted her so she was partially sitting on the table and entered her without resistance. She was so wet he nearly had his orgasm right there and then, but managed to control himself.

            They came together, and then he carried her to their bed, whispering how much he loved her and needed her.

***

May 30th 2668 Near the Washington Idaho border

            The combined sonic attack was powerful, but the Purists had been waiting for such an attack – after all, they learned from their previous encounter with the creatures.

            Seeing the Hissers, none of the Purists hesitated as they brought their weapons up and opened fire. Flashes of coherent energy lashed out, striking with impunity, burning through crude armor and scales, scalding flesh and cooking muscle, boiling blood. Bullets tore through the ranks of the mutant snakes, ripping them apart and even a few grenades were launched into the fray, adding concussive force and shrapnel to the dance.

            The Hissers could have inflicted serious damage against the Purist forces, if they would have remained hidden and then begun the attack. The weapons the aberrant snakes carried could have caused serious harm to the group, but instead the stupid creatures had given up the element of surprise and came at the Purists in a single mob, throwing out all possible discipline to try and scare the humans with their sheer numbers and presence. They had been counting on their powerful screeching to at least disorient, if not outright harm their foes. What happened came as a complete surprise and it cost them dearly.

            “Kill the genetic freaks!” Martin roared and opened up with the new toy he had recently acquired. The blaster assault rifle did not kick as he fired, with there no transfer of kinetic energy involved. Instead the energy bolts lashed out and literally blew the nearest of the Hissers apart, cooking the flesh as the creature died in short-lived agony.

            The only advantage, and it was slight at best, were the numbers. There had to be over a hundred of the mutants, all of them armed and out for the blood of the humans who had dared invade their territory and enter a sacred religious temple.

            Bullets screamed as energy roared, and the Hissers died in droves. They managed to get in a few lucky shots, wounding a handful and outright killing several of the soldiers. No matter how hard they tried, the mutant snakes could not close the ranks, and they fell like wheat beneath the reapers scythe.

            Bradly and Martin took the fight to the mutants, racing past their men and firing the weapons they carried. Martin was forced to swap out depleted energy cells twice more during the mad dash to bring the fight to the Hissers, but with each empty cell, a score of the creatures died.

            Bullets smashed into his armor but had little effect. The kinetic energy imparted by the lead was no match for the composite metal plates. The problem was the rule of the golden BB, a single, lucky strike could damage his armor, even harm him. There simply was not enough incoming fire to worry about the possibility.

            Bradly beat him to the surviving ranks of Hissers and reached out with both hands to grab the hooded head of one of the mutants. It had a strange green and black pattern, almost like that of a rattlesnake and the creature hissed as it dropped the two rifles it had been using in order to grasp Bradly’s wrists and arms.

            The power behind Bradly’s gauntleted hands was incredible and with little effort, his fingers dug into the hard scales of the mutant’s neck, tore through and punctured the flesh beneath. A screech of pain split the air and hot, thick blood poured from the wounds. It bent its sinewy neck and spat a globule of poison directly into Bradly’s face plate. He roared in disgust and twisted with all his considerable might, snapping the creature’s spine as he then ripped the skull free.

            Several of the creature’s companions opened fire, and the rounds hit him everywhere. Thankfully none of the incoming fire had the potential to penetrate, but it still run his bell. Another one slashed at him with three crude short swords and a heavy club. The weapons failed to do more than cause him to stagger back, although the combined attacks did manage to score his armor and dent it where the mutant had struck, showing off the creature’s considerable strength.

            With contemptuous ease, Bradly backhanded the Hisser with his right arm. The mutant saw the blow coming and raised two of its arms in an attempt to parry the strike, and earned itself a pair of shattered forearms for the effort. The pain was shockingly sudden and it acted on instinct, grabbing the two injured limbs with its other limbs, dropping the weapons it had been carrying.

            The younger Travis struck out a second time with his other fist, connecting solidly with the mutant’s head. The power behind the blow shattered bone and drove several shards into the creature’s brain, causing massive trauma and killing it instantly.

            Before he could react and find another target, more of the mutants were torn apart by energy fire from his father’s new blaster assault rifle. Several of the shots came so close to hitting him the suit’s friendly fire alarm sounded, actually scaring Bradly and causing the man to jump.

            “Check your fire dad!” He cried out in alarm.

            “You’re safe son, I know what I’m doing,” came the dry reply as he finished off the remaining Hisser. Suddenly the battlefield was as silent as the graveyard it had become. All around them the scattered, blasted burned and shattered corpses of the mutant Snakes lay. Some were still writhing in pain, injured but not quite dead.

            The Purists moved through the mass of scaled flesh and the occasional shot rang out as they finished off the few creatures that managed to survive. Even if they would not have killed them, the odds of any surviving through the night were remote at best. If the forest they were in was anything like it was back at the compound, such generous spillage of blood would attract scavengers, which would then attract predators and the real feasting would begin.

            “I want a casualty report as of yesterday,” Martin roared over the channel. What the fuck had happened? It started out so promising – locating the base, discovering that it was indeed a treasure-trove of lost weapons and technology. Then all contact was lost with the compound and it left a dreadful, empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. He felt his mouth go dry with fear for his home and his people. They had to get back to the compound as soon as possible, he knew that for certain.

            The report came in and he was so grateful he nearly passed out. Only four dead, ten wounded, and most of those were nothing more than injuries sustained from the transfer of kinetic energy when bullets hit the armor. “Grab whatever you can from the armory,” he demanded and then cleared his throat, trying to get the cold dread out of his voice. “If any of those vehicles are ready to go, I need to know.”

            Bradly came to stand with his father, the younger man’s armor showing a few minor dents where the Hisser’s return fire had struck. “Dad, you okay?”

            “No son,” he said aloud, not bothering with the communication link. “Far from it. Something has happened and we need to get back to the compound, and as soon as possible.”

            “You feel it too,” Bradly confirmed. He reached up and lifted the faceplate of the armor, allowing the hot, humid air to wash over his face. Even with the air-conditioned suit, he was still sweating and his face was almost as pale as that of an albino. “What the hell happened?”

            Martin likewise raised his visor so he could see his son’s face. Like Bradly, he was sweating profusely and it ran down the curves of his cheeks and into the suit. He had to swallow and lick his suddenly dry lips. “I don’t know, but we can’t stay here and dally. Our people need us.”

            A moment later there was a call on the link. “Go,” Martin barked.

            “Sir, we have three of the vehicles ready to go – one hover tank and two of the APC’s.”

            “Excellent news,” Martin said over the link, his voice strong and full of confidence he did not feel. “Bring them outside so we can get moving.”

            There was the briefest of pauses and a clearing of a throat before the voice continued. “That might be a problem sir; we can’t get the doors to open. The way is blocked by tons of debris and dirt.”

            His eyes rolled towards the heavens and he shook his head. “We’ll get the doors open, just be patient.”

            “We heard sir and we’re on it,” another voice chimed in, without having to be asked.

            “Good,” Martin felt some of the tension leave his muscles, not enough to make a difference, but at least he could breathe a little easier. “While we clear the blockage, I want a team on clean-up detail. Gather all the weapons and whatever else you can find on these abominations and toss them into the trucks, get some food, water and as soon as we have the vehicles out, we’re returning home.”

            The men sound off with ‘yes sir’ and ‘right away sir’. Martin knew his men would follow his orders without question. “Comm, have you had any luck re-establishing contact with the compound?”

            The answer came back a second later, and it was not what he had wanted to hear. “No sir, nothing but dead air, if they hear us, they’re not bothering to answer.”

            He cursed vehemently and stared out into the forest, his arms crossed under his armored chest, worry digging at his mind like a tick seeking blood.

***

May 30th 2668 The community

            The contrast between the pool and the outside was as different as night and day. The mid-spring temperatures were well into the late twenties or early thirties, and with the humidity, it made it feel hotter. The pool was one of the few structures that benefited from actual air-conditioning and was comfortably cool. Despite this, oddly enough the only inhabitant of the pool was the Uplift Otres.  He floated on his back in the center of the pool, his eyes closed as he breathed deeply and rhythmically, seemingly asleep, but he was far from it. His mind was being bad once again, refusing to shut up. He kept seeing images of the horror unleashed upon the unsuspecting men and women of the Compound.

            They were the enemy, that he knew, but they deserved a quick and relatively clean and painless death, not what the androids had unleashed. Still he did what he could to relax, allowing the sounds of the other bather’s sooth his troubled mind.

            There came the briefest of sensations, a feather touch of a familiar and very much loved mental signature. He cracked one eye open and was delighted to see Ra’naa walking up to the edge of the pool. Her skin and scaled shone with perspiration and she looked absolutely radiant, and the smile on her face warmed his heart and eased his troubled mind.

            Behind her came the now familiar and likewise welcome young man, Joey. He looked uncomfortable as he walked with his hands covering his genitalia, and the redness in his cheeks was not from the heat. Otres reached out with his mind and softly whispered a greeting to both.

            Ra’naa’s smile widened as she gingerly slipped into the water and lowered her naked body, until she was up to her neck. She let out a sigh of pleasure and slowly turned to face Joey, who was still standing on the edge of the pool. “What are you waiting for?” She asked, her voice filled with humor.

            “Hi Otres,” Joey replied to his mental touch and stared at the pool. Sweat ran in trickles down his face and neck, to follow the indentation of his shoulders and down his back and chest. The young man was shockingly barren of hair, making him look much younger than he really was. He turned his attention to Ra’naa, allowing his eyes to linger on her breasts, even though the image was distorted by the gently lapping water.

             With his hands still cupped over his privates, he entered the steaming water, gasping at the temperature difference. Although his sunburn had been soothed by the poultice, this felt even better. He fully understood why people would come and enjoy the water because of the temperatures outside. The thought of how nice heated water would feel during the deepest depths of the big chill that is winter emerged from the back of his mind. “Creator preserve me, this is great!”

            Ra’naa laughed and came over to him, taking his hands away from his manhood and holding them in hers. She pulled him over to one of the numerous stone benches built into the pool and sat down, pulling him with her.

            Otres watched as he slowly swam on his back towards them. The sight of Ra’naa with a man was both disconcerting and heart-warming all at once. He almost chirped a laugh when he thought that must be the way she felt whenever she saw him with Arleen. You look good together, the little Uplift projected in such a way that only Ra’naa could receive his thoughts.

            He has rarely been far from my mind, Ra’naa confessed. The water came up to her chin, and then she dunked her head, soaking herself completely, gasping in delight as the cool water relieved her nearly overheated body. Still holding his hand in hers, she looked up at the young man and smiled. “What are you waiting for, an invitation?”

            You deserve a good man, Otres continued. I’m glad that you finally realized your feelings for him, and I can tell you without hesitation he feels the same way about you.

            Are you sure he just doesn’t want me for sex? She laughed mentally and snuggled closer to Joey, letting go of one hand and wrapping her arm around his waist. After a second hesitation, she looked at him and quirked a eyebrow. “Well?”

            He was embarrassed or ashamed, she could tell. His skin was turning a dark shade of red, but he complied, putting his arm around her waist. His other hand remained at his crotch.

            Otres floated on his back, his eyes closed and his hands clasped over his chest. Frankly I bet if you offered he would probably die from fright! He sobered and opened one lazy eye. I am happy for you, just as I was happy for Tara and Declan. They found each other and it looks like you found someone to call your own.

            So did you, Ra’naa leaned her head against Joey’s, placing a hand on his chest and gently stroking the flesh. She could feel his heart pounding his ribcage and when she peered down, the arousal was clear, even though he tried to hide it. How are things between you and Arleen?”

            Joey lifted his hand away from his crotch and stroked Ra’naa’s hair, and then did something that took them both by surprise. He kissed the scales between her horns. “I wish we had this back at the installation,” He said - his voice a little huskier than she had heard before.

            “You’ll love it during the cold months,” she laughed a little, delighting in the tingling sensation the simple contact of his lips to her head produced. She felt a fluttering in her belly and the tingling slid deliciously up and down her spine, around her breasts and through her groin. She realized she was seriously turned on.

            Good, I guess, although it’s still very early in our relationship. She still wants me to come and live with her, but I just don’t feel comfortable. It doesn’t feel right.

            How’s the sex? She hit him bluntly, hoping to shock her little furry best friend.

            There was a splash and he squeaked, his head suddenly ducking below the water. He disappeared entirely and came up spluttering and chittering indignantly. That’s the last thing I ever expected to hear you ask!

            Joey watched in curiosity, a smile spreading on his face. “I’m looking forward to it,” and then he pulled his hand away from Ra’naa’s hair and offered it to Otres.

            The little Otter Uplift grabbed hold of the offered hand and managed to right himself. He started to chirp and squeak in a manner that Ra’naa knew was laughter. It’s wonderful, and you really need to have some yourself.

            Instead of answering, Ra’naa stood and then settled her body onto Joey’s lap, causing his eyes to widen. She felt his stiffness beneath the flesh of her thighs, and it sent a thrill through her unlike anything she had felt before. The fluttering sensation in her stomach seemed to explode and fill her entire being. I think we might learn what it is like tonight, if not now!

            Um… do you want me to leave then? Otres closed his eye and then used his tail to right himself in the water, so he was turned away from the two.

            Ra’naa wrapped her arms around his back and head and leaned in, her mouth slightly parted as she kissed him hesitantly at first, gauging his reaction.  

            Would you give it a rest? You’re as bad as Declan and Tara! Otres used his tail to push himself away from his friend and what they were about to engage in.

            Joey pulled away, flushed from more than just the heat and gulped in great gasps of air. “Can we go back to your place?” He asked and then stifled a groan as she shifted on his lap.

            I doubt you’ll make it that far the way you’re both reacting, Otres chirped.

            Ra’naa suddenly stood, and looked towards the changing rooms. There was no one else in the pool or the building. “No.”

            He blinked and stood as well, looking confused. “No?”

            Grabbing his hand, she pulled him towards the edge of the pool and then climbed out. “No.”

            “Then what?” He sounded almost petulant, like a child refused candy after it had been dangled in front of him.

            “Just shut up and come on!” Ra’naa took his hand again and pulled him towards the changing room. It was still empty and she shoved him onto one of the benches, forcing him to lay on his back.

            Ra’naa looked down at him, still covered in water and glistening in the light. Without a word Ra’naa straddled him and took his member in her hand, and then glided him into her body, hard. She gasped and cried out in pain, feeling the flesh tear and the slickness of blood. It was something she knew would happen, after all, it was her first time, but she fought past the burning sensation. In short order it became immeasurably pleasurable and she achieved climax after only a few seconds.

            Joey was right there with her.

            Writhing, she did not want the sensation to end, and she felt as if her head was going to implode it was so good. She continued to grind even when he began to go limp, and finally she stopped, her breasts heaving with the exertion.

            “Why now?” Joey asked, almost as breathless.

            Ra’naa considered the question, feeling a little touch of annoyance that he would bring it up at a time like this. “I wondered the same thing, and then came to the realization that we’re at war with the Purists. Too many have already died in the past few months. Life is short, and if you want something, you should just take it. I don’t want to have any regrets.”

            He pushed himself into a sitting position and Ra’naa moved so she was sitting in his lap, her legs wrapped around his waist, her arms wrapped around his torso. She held him tightly, feeling his smooth-skinned chest beneath her breasts.

            “Um… thanks?” He almost laughed.

            Instead of answering, she kissed him softly and tenderly. They stayed that way for several minutes, caressing, and tasting one another, enjoying the sensations the physical contact brought, feeling the urge to make love stirring in their loins.

            The second time lasted a little longer, and her groin still ached, but it was a pleasant ache, a pain that seemed to be a need fulfilled at long last. Finally they grabbed their clothing and removed the barricades from the doors and left, hand in hand, to her home and more hours of release and need.