Buck Who? Chapter 44

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 44: The need for retaliation

May 31st 2668 The near the compound

            The sun had graced the day nearly two hours before, peering over the horizon and burning away the few wayward clouds that tried to linger after the night had faded. The heat of the morning flowed around the convoy as they sped towards the compound, each and every soul terrified of what they were going to find once they reached their final destination.

            Bradly and his father Martin left the ruins of the old military base as soon as they had been able to do so, and they had force-marched the entire group all night long, pushing as hard as they dared to reach home.

            They were still about five kilometers out when a figure suddenly appeared in the road, holding a hand out to stop the lead APC. The mechanics had managed to get the ancient war-machine up and running and Martin had commandeered it for his own use. Bradly had decided to ride with his father, giving his command position.

            “Stop!” Martin roared and the driver instantly complied. Martin recognized the dress of the figure that had appeared and realized it was a member of the Whispering Wraith. The APC came to a halt about two meters from the figure, who turned out to be a woman from the shape of her body.

            “Martin Travis,” the woman shouted so as to be heard over the sound of the convoy. “Do not come any closer!”

            The leader of the Purists unbuckled from his seat and opened the door to the APC. He stepped outside and walked up to the woman, keeping his hands away from the weapons he had strapped to the exterior of his armor. “Why?” He demanded.

            “Your home is lost,” she said, the fear showing on her face as she glanced over her shoulder towards the compound. “Your enemies the androids and their allies seeded your base with nanites. Everyone who has hit puberty has succumbed and has become nanotech undead.”

            Martin’s heart skipped a beat and he felt dizzy, the fear was so overpowering. He could not recall a single time in his past where he had felt such unrelenting terror. When he spoke, his voice held an edge. “Are you sure?”

            She nodded. “Feel free to drive into your compound. If your former people don’t kill you, the nanite infestation will.”

            “Why are you warning us then? What purpose does it serve you?”

            She shook her head. “I was ordered to,” she held out her hand and offered him a datapad. “Watch and learn.”

            By this time Bradly joined his father and the convoy had come to a complete stop. The drivers and others climbed out of their vehicles to see what was happening, each face a mirror of the others, fear, concern, anger, all showing.

            Martin took the offered device without hesitation and the woman activated it. A holographic projection appeared and the leader of the Purists nearly lost control of his bowels when he saw what the woman had recorded.

            The compound was in shambles. Fires burned uncontrolled in several locations and the black smoke could now be seen from where they were standing, marring the otherwise azure blue of the morning sky. Bodies were seen laying everywhere. Some looked as if they had been torn apart and eaten, while others looked withered and aged. A few of the bodies bore clear signs of cutting and bludgeoning damage and there were other heaps of what looked like discarded flesh.

            Then he saw the remains of his people. There were Bloody Skeletons, zombies, apparition-like creatures, and more. He felt bile burning at the back of his throat as he witnessed the carnage recorded by the device.

            A cold fist gripped his heart when he came to the realization that his home, his dream, his promise of a future free of mutants and abominations was at an end. Tears of rage and hopelessness ran down his cheeks as he handed the device back to the woman. “How?” Was the only word he could push past the lump in his throat.

            She explained how the androids, with the help of their friends in the community, managed to gain samples of the nanites from the Resort and infected the men they had captured during the failed assault against the Installation. The men were returned to the community where the nanites spread and killed nearly everyone.

            The last sentence caught his attention and through his anger-laced grief, he managed to ask. “Wait, there are survivors?”

            “I said as much, the children. The nanites left alone any child who has not yet gone through puberty.”

            He had to lean up against the APC and catch his breath. His home and community was gone, and yet the children were left alive. “How can we get them out?”

            The assassin shrugged. “That’s not my problem.”

            Martin nearly drew his handgun and shot the woman right then and there, but he refrained, knowing the repercussions would be dire. As if the situation was not dire enough to begin with. Instead he took a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves. “So the nanites won’t attack the kids, and they seemed to be confined to the compound?”

            “Yes that we were able to determine for sure. The nanite undead - if they go past a certain distance from the compound, die, or shut down or whatever.”

            Bradly cleared his throat and waved a hand at the vehicles. “Dad what if we drove in and grabbed the kids and then left right away?”

            “I don’t know son,” Martin nearly choked on the words. “That might work, but what if the nanites attack too quickly for us to get out? We might be able to coax the children out, as long as we can stay out of the range where the nanites are roaming.”

            “We have also provided you with the location of the Android’s allies and a layout of their small town. All the pertinent data is on the datapad, which is yours to keep, by the way. Do with it what you will,” the female assassin then turned and strode away.”

            “Hold on, we’re not done with you!” Martin shouted after the woman, who vanished without a trace, leaving only a vague impression of her flipping him the bird. Martin cursed loudly.

***

May 31st 2668 The Community

            Ra’naa’s eyes opened with a sudden snap and she sat up in her bed, confused and feeling disconcerted. She tried to recall what had awakened her, and when she placed her hand on the mattress next to her, she felt the hot flesh of the man who she had spent the night with. The memories rushed back as she felt the sweet ache between her thighs and she lay back down with a groan.

            “What’s wrong?” Joey asked. He was lying on his back, completely uncovered.

            Ra’naa turned her head and looked at him, seeing that he was completely uncovered, and that his body was coated with a thin sheen of sweat. She also noticed that he was fully awake. “I was just confused,” she answered as she looked down at her own nakedness. The sheets would have to be replaced, she realized, seeing the stains from the sex they had engaged in. She ran her hand over her thighs, feeling the dull ache from their antics and the lingering but delicious pain of the first time he entered her body.

            “How was it?” She asked, suddenly not all that certain what to say.

            The young human rolled on his side, his member lightly brushing her hip, sending a thrill through her. “It was kind of awkward, but I want more, and I know it will only get better the more we have it.”

            Ra’naa sighed, feeling both satisfied and yet feeling guilty for having had sex with the young man. She felt as if she should have waited, and yet the war and everything… “It hurt,” she told him.

            “Sorry,” he mumbled and from the look on his face, she knew that he meant it. “I didn’t know.”

            The silence grew uncomfortable and Ra’naa slid out of the bed, feeling so awkward showing off her entire body to the young man. She almost laughed, realizing how silly she was being, since she never had any issues being naked around Otres, or sharing the bed with him, although there was never any sex involved.

            Striding over to the wash-basin, she began the laborious task of cleaning her body from their night together, wincing at the throbbing between her thighs as she washed away the dried fluids and blood.

            To his credit, Joey waited until she was finished before he too cleaned his body. She began to dress and watched him through the corner of her eyes, marvelling how hairless the young man was. He did not even have any pubic hair, like her. It made her wonder if he might not be the product of genetic tampering somewhere down his bloodline as well.

            Soon the two of them were dressed to match the weather. She threw on the traditional white dress over a white wrap and panties, while he dressed in tan pants and a white T-shirt. It was already stifling, so the cooler they could dress, the easier it would be to deal with the day.

             Before she opened the door, Joey took her hands in his and made her meet his eyes. They stood there, both feeling a little ashamed of the acts they had performed, but feeling strangely fulfilled as well. “Ra’naa,” Joey began and then stopped when she put a finger on his lips.

            “I don’t want to hear anything about regretting what we did,” she said in a gentle tone, allowing her finger to feel the softness of his lips, so strange on a man. “I don’t, and to be honest I am looking forward to having sex with you again. Let’s just leave it at that, okay?”

            He nodded and then put his hand around the small of her back, just above the tail. He pulled her in so that their bodies were pressed tightly together and kissed her. Ra’naa closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensation as she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. After a minute they broke apart, breathless and flushed.

            “Yeah, we better stop or we won’t get out of here at all today,” he half-laughed, his voice husky.

            The Dragon-Exotic nodded her agreement and instead took his hand and they left the cabin, heading into the yard. “I need to go through my kata’s,” she said. “You can watch, or maybe you can go and get some food from Momma Rathbourne.”

            Joey was intrigued. “Katas?”

            “Every day I go through the martial arts forms my dad taught me. I do it to help clear my mind and keep in shape.”

            He pondered it and then nodded. “Maybe later, but I’m pretty damn hungry, so I’ll go get food.”

            “I’ll be around back then when you return,” she quickly kissed him on the lips and squeezed his hand before she ran around to the back of her cabin.”

            Joey reached up and touched where she had kissed, feeling the wetness from her lips. He smiled and turned towards the street.

***

May 31st 2668 The Community

            Declan opened his eyes. He was lying naked on the bed he shared with Tara, and could not help but smile. A moment later he reached out with his left hand expecting to find the Tiger-Exotic lying next to him, and when his hand hit the empty space, he sat up with a start. Bright sunlight was pouring through the open windows of the cabin, dancing off the boards and sparely furnished room. Dust motes danced in the light, almost like living things as he searched for his lover.

            The cabin was empty, except for him. “Tara?” He called out, hoping she might just be outside enjoying the morning air.

            When she did not reply, he got out of bed and went to the windows, careful to keep his naked body hidden enough that he would not offend anyone – or attract female admirers like Kate. He grimaced remembering the night he had taken her, only to find out later she was in love with Jas’nar. He honestly liked both of them and it hurt him to think he fucked her without even thinking about the possible consequences. Why had she seduced him? It was really not his fault, and he wanted to keep telling himself that. Well, Babs did try to stop him and that made him pause, his frown turning sad. He missed her, he really did, and he wanted to remain friends with her, but his love for Tara made that pretty much impossible.

            Especially considering how jealous the Tiger-Exotic was when it came to him. She loved him fiercely, with the same ferocity that her genetic ancestor possessed. She was a wildcat, almost a primal force in on itself.

            After a moment when he could not see her in the yard, he went and washed his body. Declan could not remember a day since he arrived on this war-ravaged planet where he had not felt at least some degree of stress. Today he felt like a new man. He was relaxed, he did not have even a hint of a headache, and his muscles felt loose.

            He owed a lot to Andy, he knew for certain. Declan did not know how he could ever repay the mutant for his selfless act in helping him. People before the end of the world would have demanded god only knew what, but the man was content to help him, someone who was basically a total stranger.

            Andy had helped him confront all his inner demons and helped him defeat them, and now Declan knew he could get on with his new life, live and love the Exotic woman who would in the near future share his last name and give him a son and more.

            The future looked wonderful.

            At last he gave up looking for the Tiger-Exotic and went to get cleaned up. The sex had been the most intense either had participated in since they met, and he had to admit he was sore and feeling chafed. A laugh burst from him, wondering if she was having trouble walking right now. He hoped he had not dented his son’s head, which made him laugh even harder.

            There was a clean, clear quality to his laughter, gone was the near hysterical edge that had been present so many times over the past couple of months. After the passionate sex, they had fallen asleep, he still inside her, with Tara laying on top, purring like an engine, content and happy.

            There had been no dreams. He had been expecting some, but the night had passed without any of his demons to haunt or torment his mind. Declan could not remember a time where he had such a peaceful night’s rest - even before he became trapped in this deadly but beautiful future.

            Soon he was dressed in a pair of light pants and a white button-down shirt. He ran a brush through his hair and inspected his face in the mirror, pleased to see that the dark circles under his eyes were almost gone. For a while he had been considering changing his nick-name from Shard to Rocket Racoon, as he was really starting to resemble the ancient character, who had somehow survived hundreds of years of cultural change and evolution to become a mascot for one of the fighter wings on the carrier he was based in.

            The sound of the door opening alerted him and when he looked, Tara was coming in, carrying a plate full of food. She was wearing the typical white dress but had forgone the usual flower arrangement. Tara was smiling widely when she saw him standing there, dressed and looking refreshed. “Good morning, baby,” she put the tray on the table and came over to him. The woman wrapped her arms around his body and hugged him so tightly he thought his ribs were going to crack.

            “Morning,” he kissed her head and felt her breasts crushed up against his chest. “How did you sleep?”

            She laughed and grabbed his ass and squeezed. “I won’t be able to walk properly for a week.”

            “I know, me too.”

            Her tail moved lazily back and forth and her rounded ears twitched, turning slightly as if to catch an elusive sound. “You look relaxed, and rested.”

            “I am!” He practically shouted. “The stress is gone; I don’t feel any anxiety, nothing. I feel like a new man!” Impulsively, he dropped to his knees and lifted her dress. She was, as usual, naked beneath, not bothering with undergarments. She gasped, thinking one thing, but when he kissed her furry belly and stroked it, Tara could not help but smile. “Morning to you too, son,” he whispered to the still-flat expanse of her tummy.

            “What are we going to name our baby?” She stood there, relishing in the love coming from the man, directed towards both him and their unborn child.

            “I have no idea, but we have all the time in the world to come up with a name,” he kissed her tummy again.

            The touch sent a thrill of sexual excitement through her body, but she supressed it. “We should eat, I don’t know about you, but I’m starved.”

            Almost reluctantly, he stood and allowed the dress to drop back down, covering her beautiful body. Taking her hand, he pulled her over to the table and held out the chair for her as she sat. He then took the seat next to her and together they enjoyed the morning repast.

***

May 31st 2668 The Community

            If there was one thing Momma Rathbourne loved, it was cooking. She was alone in the community, her husband having long since passed into the next life, her children scattered and raising their own families elsewhere. She had no one to prepare meals for, so she opened her little bakery and found solace in cooking for those in the community. The pay was more ingredients and gratitude, but that was all she hoped for – after all, what use did she have in gold chits or the like?

            She had been up since the first rays burst through her window, bringing her and her little ward to full wakefulness. The strange Uplift bear-child looked so human more often than not Momma Rathbourne forgot what she was. Already the child was showing signs of being able to alter her shape, taking on aspects of her Ursine ancestry, but most of the time the girl looked like any two year old.

            She could not speak yet, but she could grunt and whine, which made her sound all that much more like her parentage, and the old mutant woman found it endearing and sweet. It was already very hot, too hot to continue to bake inside the cabin, so she fired up her outdoor ovens, ensuring that they were properly stocked with plenty of fuel. Only a few minutes before she had placed the latest batch of bread into the ovens and had the rest lay out on tables, ready for those who wanted them to come and purchase trade or just take.

            The little uplift girl stood by her side, holding the old mutant’s hand, one thumb stuck in her mouth as she watched the people of the community come by. Several stopped and traded raw material for the freshly baked bread, others brought berries and other ingredients and asked Momma Rathbourne if she would like them, in exchange for her using them to bake. The old woman never turned anyone down.

            When the little girl heard the squeaking, she instantly lit up, a huge smile almost encompassing her entire face. She raced away from Momma Rathbourne into the street and began to chase one very indignant Otres around in circles. Momma Rathbourne, would you do something already? He protested mentally, just barely managing to keep his tail out of the girl’s hands.

            The old woman was so consumed by humor she could not even reply. Her laughter flowed on the slight breeze, attracting all manner of attention from those nearby, who once they saw what had amused her so much also began to laugh.

            This is so embarrassing! Otres mentally shouted, somehow managing to dodge out of the girls grip every time she seemed to have managed to corner him. He was managing to get closer to the old mutant woman though. Then out of nowhere Arleen appeared and raced in, scooping up the child in her arms and saving Otres from a mauling consisting of hugs and wet kisses.

            The girl squealed in surprise and nearly bit down on Arleen’s arm before she realized who had her and then the squeal turned from shock to delight. “Hey take it easy,” Arleen laughed, holding the child at arm’s length. “Otres is not a toy and you’re too rough with him!”

            Finally Otres was able to get up to the cabin and he immediately began to inspect the food Momma Rathbourne put out. Still chuckling, the old mutant reached under the table and pulled out a basket, covered by a towel. She handed it to him and he bowed deeply, chittering a thank you.

            “You’re welcome, but I think next time if you want the food, you’re going to have to let her catch you!”

            Otres’s eyes went wide. You’re not serious, are you?

            Momma Rathbourne was about to reply when suddenly her face went slack, her arms falling to her side. Arleen grew concerned and carried the young girl up to the old woman, placing the child on the ground near her feet. Reaching out, she grasped Momma Rathbourne’s hand and let it go with a gasp, as if she had been shocked.

            What’s wrong? Otres squeaked in concern, coming to stand next to the former prostitute.

            “Her skin is as cold as ice!” Arleen looked over and down at him. “Something is wrong!”

            Momma? Otres reached out with his mind and tried to touch hers, but it was like suddenly seeing a wall made of white-noise. He could not project past the barrier, and he had no idea if his thoughts made it to her mind or not.

            As quickly as it arrived, the moment passed and the old mutant blinked her eyes several times. “We need to see Max, right now!” She turned and began to jog up the street, heading towards the lodge, moving faster than anyone had seen her move in the past. Arleen scooped up the child and followed, with Otres right at her side.

***

May 31st 2668 Near the compound

            Throughout the day, Martin had sent in small teams of men, strictly voluntarily, to get a closer look at the nanite infested compound. They were all given a strict time-limit in which to scout as much as they could and get back beyond the invisible barrier line, least they become overtaken by the hideous little machines. Once they were, they were not allowed to return.

            It was nearly early evening by the time one scouting group had managed to get the attention of several young children and was able to coax them into leaving the compound. It had cost the scouts nearly every round of ammunition they had, but when they returned they brought fifteen kids, ranging in age from toddler up to nine or ten.

            The rest of the group under Martin’s command nearly killed them all when they arrived at the perimeter with a band of bloody bones, zombies and floating torsos hot on their tail, but it was like the nanitized undead had hit an invisible wall, once they reached a certain distance, they were incapable of moving further. One zombie was accidentally jostled over the line and when it did so, it collapsed, truly dead.

            The entire time Martin paced back and forth, staring at the ruins of his former home and dreams, cursing vehemently more than once. Bradly was likewise nearly inconsolable after seeing what the androids and their allies had wrought. What burned even worse was that somehow they had gotten to the Resort and more than likely had plundered the treasure and lost technology hidden beneath the moldering, crumbling hotel.

            Suddenly Martin stopped pacing and turned to face his people. “We’re abandoning the compound,” he shouted, using the built-in amplification his suit provided.

            The men started shouting, some cursing, others openly weeping at the news. More than a few shouted questions about what they were going to do about the kids still trapped in the compound.

            Martin raised his energy weapon and fired just over the heads of his ready to rebel men. That got their attention and the crowd quieted down, although the tension, rage and fear were still palatable, a physical force that had been given life. “Now that I have your attention I am going to tell you our plans,” he shouted, glad to hear that the hysteria he felt was not reflected in his words. “We are going to head out immediately and travel all night if we have to. I want you to rest in shifts and we’re going to attack the home of our enemies.”

            Bradly stood transfixed, listening to his father rant. He could not fully comprehend what was happening. The children inside the compound, they needed to be rescued and pulled away from the clutches of the nanitized undead. Here his father was ordering the few remaining survivors of the compound on an attack with no preparation and no rest. Bradly was glad that his face was covered by the powered armor’s helmet, as he did not want his father to see his look – or the men in their command for that matter.

            More angry shouts were heard and one man in the front ranks screamed at Martin. “My family, my wife and girls are in there, and you expect us to abandon them to the monsters?”

            Martin’s helmeted face turned and stared at the speaker, and then without warning he triggered his weapon, pumping powerful energy into the man. The speaker was dead before he knew what had occurred. “After we have destroyed the abominations and mutants that caused this, we will return and do what we can to rescue the rest!” He waved the weapon at the crowd, causing several of the men to back away or duck. “My orders will not be questioned!” He screamed.

            The men instantly ceased grumbling and shouting at the obvious threat and demonstration of what Martin was willing to do. Without further complaint, the men gathered their equipment and initiated the preparation to leave.

            “Dad?” Bradly asked, almost hesitantly. The elder Travis whirled on his son and for the briefest of seconds Bradly was certain his father was going to fire upon him. “Dad we should just stay here and do what we can to rescue the kids!” He almost added his thoughts of what might occur if the mutant freaks somehow managed to defeat them, but knew such a statement would more than likely push his father over the edge.

            “Do as you’re told,” Martin said coldly and then he went to the APC they had commandeered.

***

May 31st 2668, The community

            Max Ahteen sat at his desk staring off into space. There were scattered reports lying across the surface of the ancient piece of furniture as well as images floating in the air and on the screens. It showed images out of hell itself, men and women turned from living, vibrant beings into walking corpses controlled by a cold intellect.

            He wanted to hate the androids for their actions. He wanted to take the weapons they had salvaged and march up to the installation and demand the surrender of each and every one inside. He desired to put them to death or destroy them so completely that they could not be downloaded into new bodies.

            And that only made his sorrow deepen.

            Awoan was right, and he loathed admitting it to anyone, especially himself. The fact that the android took the choice out of his hands and acted for the betterment of everyone in the region was in fact admirable.

            Still, there should have been another way to do it.

            At least he did not have to live with the choice, the consequences of his possible actions. It was a risky endeavor of that there was no doubt, especially if they had made even a single error in the programming that controlled the nanites. It was possible that something could go horribly wrong in the upcoming days or weeks, and they would have to deal with an infestation not seen since the final wars.

            Standing up he pushed his chair away from the desk and walked over to the window. The old armored glass had been fully repaired, thanks to his friend Otres. The uplift did not have a selfish bone in his little furry body and there was no way that Max could ever repay him for what he has, had and will do for the community.

            The siren call of the aged drinks hidden behind the wall caressed his mind and soul, offering soothing relief from his troubles, his thoughts and his pain. Max began to walk towards the hidden cache of drinks and then stopped. The pull was still there, growing stronger by the second but he knew he had to resist. It took a supreme effort of will to turn his back on the wall and look back over the community he had spent the better part of three centuries living in.

            When the door to his office burst open he actually jumped in surprise, not having expected it. His hand had already drawn his sidearm and he was pointing the weapon at the entrance, already locked onto the figure of the old mutant woman standing there.

            “Max you need to evacuate the community to the mines now!”

            Holstering the weapon, Max Ahteen rushed over to the old mutant woman and clasped her arms in his hands. She felt old and frail, the bones beneath the flesh so light that applying the merest pressure would crush them. “What did you see?” He demanded.

            “Fire, waves of weapon’s discharging, blackness so absolute that not even light could escape! The purists are going to attack us in the next twenty-four hours or less!” She cried, tears of terror and despair flowing down her wrinkled and aged cheeks.

            Max Ahteen knew better than to question the old woman. Her predictions had never been wrong in the past, and it she foresaw the death of the community, he would be an absolute fool to ignore her. “Get the word out to the people,” he ordered the two ever-present guards. Both men were standing behind and just to the side of Momma Rathbourne, and they had standing orders that if she ever needed to see Max, that she would be allowed past without hesitation.

            “Yes sir!” The guard on the left saluted and both left their posts.

            Max took the old woman by the arms and led her over to the leather seat, bidding her to sit.

            She did so, her whole body quaking with sobs of grief and fear. “So many lost,” she wailed and looked up at him through splayed fingers.

            “Who?”

            “The Purists. They’re coming in force.”

            Fear settled onto his soul. “Why us?” He asked, not expecting an answer. The hated enemy did not have to have a reason, although he could speculate that it had something to do with the nanite attack.

            She took a deep breath, shuddering as she fought to control what her vision had revealed a possible, no a probable future. The beauty of her visions is that often they could be changed if the correct action was taken, the right choices made. “No matter what happens, we need to fight, but you have to evacuate the children and those not already trained in combat to the mines. If you don’t, our whole community will fall.”

            “They will be,” he promised. “When will we be attacked?”

            “It was dark, so sometime after sunset and before sunrise.”

            He cursed and rubbed his face, knowing he did not have all that much time to get the non-combatants evacuated and the defenses shored up.

***

May 31st 2668, The community

            By mid-afternoon all the non-combatants and those not capable of assisting in the defense of the community were on their way to the old mine. It had housed the survivors during the first few decades after the end of the final wars and had been occupied steadily since, even if only during the coldest winter months.

            Still, it was well stocked with foodstuffs, water, weapons and various bits of equipment, enough to keep the entire community fed and cared for. The stocks would last two or three years before rationing would be required, but there was no way the siege would last that long.

            Max was in his element, and he had forgotten how much command appealed to him. It had been many decades since he had commanded such a force, and it was tiny compared to what he had before the end of the world, but it was like riding a bike. He got into the rhythm, with little difficultly.

            Men were positioned along the wall, while others worked to set up as many traps and pitfalls as they could around the community. Weapons were checked and then rechecked to ensure they were ready for use. Otres, bless his little animal heart, was in the thick of it, repairing anything that had deteriorated or broken down over the past few weeks, and thankfully they were few and far between. All the ammunition and energy cells the community possessed were distributed to ensure that everyone would be able to fight. Once it was gone however, that was it. They would be forced to fight with melee weapons or whatever offensive mutations they possessed.

            And there were quite a few. Many of the Damaged who called the community home and the members who lived there family possessed powerful mutations, almost as if it was the god of radiation trying to balance out the deformities. They were ready to contribute to the battle and defend the community and their fellow neighbours.

            A few hours before sunset Max tracked down Declan and pulled him to the side. Tara was working alongside her lover and soon to be husband and she followed, curious and anxious. “Declan, I have something to show you, and it might help in the upcoming fight.”

            The former pilot looked curious and rubbed his recently shaved chin and cheeks. “What is it?”

            “You said you wanted to fly again, remember?” Max waved a hand towards the mountains to the East. “I have a stash of old F-207 Sparrow Hawks hidden away. Otres will have to come with us to ensure that they can be used, but I want you in the cockpit and be able to provide some air-support for us.”

            Declan felt a mixture of glee and anger in equal measure. “Why the hell didn’t you mention this before?” He demanded even as his mind’s eye imagined the smaller, gull-winged interceptor fighter craft. It was still being used when he had joined the Air Force but was slowly being phased out. Still, the little craft had been designed for ship to ship combat and could carry a small payload of torpedo’s and other air-to-ground ordinance inside an internal bomb-compartment or on the wings. Not much compared to his Shrike but enough. Then Max’s words hit him. “Wait, a stash?”

            A grim smile appeared on the old general’s face. “Yeah, that’s right, a stash. You don’t think that over the past three hundred plus years I did not manage to squirrel away some toys now, did you?”

            “Then why the hell didn’t you use them before, bomb the living shit out of the Purists compound?”

            “Because I didn’t have any pilots, that’s why.”

            “You could have flown one of them!”

            “True, but I was needed here more than in the cockpit of one of them,” he sighed and rubbed the base of his horns. “Enough jawing, we’ll take the Brutes, it’s only about half an hour ride from here. I want you in the air as soon as possible.”

            Declan was torn and wanted to continue arguing, but he knew that the General was right. Maybe if they got in the air soon enough he could stop the attack before it reached the community.

            Maybe.

***

May 31st 2668, North of the ruins of Seattle

            Everyone was exhausted. The trip from the destroyed base had been long and exhausting, with few people managing to get any rest at all. If it was not the rough roads, it was the images of the nanitized undead – former family, brothers, sisters, lovers, sons, daughters, all consumed or trapped by the creatures.

            The only thing that kept any of them going was that they knew who was responsible for the terror inflicted upon their people. The aberrations, Damaged, Exotics and mutants living in the community. Once that nest of genetic deviants was destroyed, they could return to the compound and see about rescuing their kids.

            Bradly managed to get a little sleep, leaning against the bulkhead of the APC. He had the armor playing soothing music and kept only the emergency command channel on. The subordinates could take care of any other issues that might arise as they made their way along the ruined highway north. When he woke, he discovered that the sun was just beginning to set off in the West and that they had several more hours of hard travel ahead of them.

            During the daylong journey, a couple of their trucks had broken down and they had to be pushed to the side of the road, abandoned. They did not have the time to enact any repairs on the vehicles, and if they emerged triumphant, then they could pick them up on the way back South.

            The air about the entire convoy was that of anger and grief, and few bothered to speak, only talking when it was absolutely necessary. The shock of the terror attack was so unexpected that no one could really comprehend what had happened, and many would suffer from the shock after the aberrations were dealt with.

            Bradly was just about to doze off again when the emergency channel squawked and he heard a familiar voice come over the frequency. “Commander Travis, this is Jacobs, I have some good news.”

            “What is it Jacobs?” Martin’s voice broke in over the channel. Of course he would be on and monitoring it. Bradly thought about the name for several seconds before it came to him. Jacobs was the tech who was trying to unlock the heavy case they recovered from the ruins of the military base.

            “Sir I have cracked the case and it’s ready to be opened.”

            Martin called for the convoy to come to a stop and he jumped out of the APC, crossing the distance in seconds. Hopping into the back of the truck, he stood over the technician who was looking tired but somehow smug. Martin waved a hand at the crate. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

            The tech flipped open the heavy lid to reveal a strange looking device. Martin inspected it, not really all that certain what it was he had in his vision. The device was heavy, easily thirty kilograms or more, and had a rounded rear; followed by a long, tube like projection that looked more like a rifle barrel than anything else. There was a rest where the weapon could be placed on the shoulder and supporting straps. About halfway down the barrel there was a handle and what looked like a trigger.

            “Any idea what the hell it is?”

            Jacobs reached in and touched a stud on the handle and a holographic display appeared approximately where the face or head would be located. He looked over the display and then hit the stud again, turning the weapon off. “Sir what we have here is something I read about but never thought I would get a chance to see in person.”

            Martin already stressed out over the loss of his home and people. The result? Martin was on a very short fuse. He resisted hitting Jacob and instead took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Just tell me what I’m looking at.”

            “Sir, it’s a BHP, a Black Hole Projector.”

            The words caused Martin to look closer at the weapon. He had heard legends about such devices, but never really believed they were true. According to the myths he had heard growing up, the BHP was a weapon of incalculable power, one that would fire a small bullet-like projectile and when it hit its target, through the magic of quantum physics and alien technology, a micro black hole would come into existence, last for about a millionth of a second, and then collapse in upon itself. Anything caught in the area of effect was instantly drawn into the event horizon and destroyed.

            It was a very capable weapon, one that could destroy entire buildings or even small communities.

            Martin smiled. “Excellent work Jacob. And the weapon is ready to go?”

            “Why not give it a whirl?” Jacob waved a hand at the device. “I did a diagnostic and everything appears to be in perfect working order. It has a fully charged mini-fusion cell and it’s loaded with one hundred rounds.

            Bradly and Jacob helped Martin remove the weapon from the case and mount it on the shoulder of his armor. He booted up the targeting system and after a quick handshake with the weapon itself, the BHP was hooked into his powered armor.

            There were several ancient ruins about two hundred meters from where the convoy had come to rest, although it was difficult to tell. The walls and ceilings had long since collapsed, leaving little more than a pile of vine and plant-choked rubble. Oddly enough a large billboard still stood near the ruins, faded but still legible, showing a smiling family and the words ‘Welcome to Wayward Pines’

            He placed the targeting reticule over the ruins themselves and then waited until there was a solid lock-on tone and he triggered the weapon. Before he realized what had happened there was a flash and he thought he saw a huge sphere of utter darkness engulf the ruins, reaching out to around one-hundred and fifty meters radius from where he had targeted. In the speed of thought, the blackness disappeared and all that remained was a perfectly smooth crater. No fires, no radioactive fallout, nothing.

            “Wow!” Was all he could think of saying.

            Whoops of delight mingled with fear and caution as many of the survivors of the convoy left the protection of their vehicles to take a closer look at the destruction the weapon wrought. Even Bradly, Jacob and Martin joined in as they stood at the edge of the crater where the outskirts of the ruins stood. The crater was perfectly smooth, almost glassy in appearance and dropped seventy-five meters into the depths of the Earth.

            “Boys, I think we have just changed the tides of war,” he spoke loud and clear over the general channel so that everyone could hear.

***

May 31st 2668, The community 

            As Max, Declan and Tara made their way towards the stables, they could see the men and women of the community were preparing for the fight to come. Others were busily gathering up good and making their way to the East, towards the mines where they would weather the fight.

            When they arrived at the stables, the Brutes were already saddled and waiting impatiently. The intelligent mutant horses knew what was going down and Zeus in particular was not happy about being forced out of the fight to ferry a group of people away from his home. He could not speak, but he made his displeasure very clear in the way he snorted and stomped his massive hooves.

            Max stood in front of the Brute, staring straight into the uplift’s eyes, his own never blinking. The mutant horse could easily crush the Dragon-Exotic, but after several long seconds of intense eye-to-eye contact; the Brute blinked and looked away. Max reached up and patted the horse on the side of the head. “Zeus I know how you feel, and I’m sorry. I need you to get us to the hidden hanger, and the survival of this community rests upon us getting there quickly. Are you up for it?”

            Zeus snorted and then gently pushed at Max with his head.

            Excited squeaking and chittering interrupted them as Otres followed by Babs came into the stables. He ran over to Max and grabbed hold of the man’s pant-legs and pulled. We’re going to see some ancient fighters? His telepathic contact was so strong it was like someone was shouting into Max’s ears.

            “That’s why I wanted you to come,” Max told him, pleased at how excited the little Uplift was, and secretly glad he could make sure he stayed out of the upcoming fight. Otres would be safe at the hidden installation where Max stored the fighters. “I hope that time and entropy will not have damaged the space-craft too much, but just in case I need your special abilities.”

            “What are you doing here?” Tara said frostily as Babs came over to stand with the group. If looks could kill, the android would be a pile of melted plastic and alloy.

            Babs studiously ignored the look and shrugged. “I got word that Max had a couple of fighters hidden away and before I got this body I was an AI that controlled a more advanced model. That makes me a pilot and as such Max will need my skills.”

            There was no way Tara could argue the fact, but the mere presence of the android brought out the worst in her, such a possessiveness when it came to Declan, she wanted to rip the android apart, find the internal hard-drive containing her AI code and smash it to dust.

            Sensing the tension, Declan moved to stand between the two women and he put his hands out. “Easy Tara, I will need her on my six. With two fighters in the air, we should be able to inflict serious damage to the Purists before they arrive. The more we kill or delay, the less people we’re going to lose overall.”

            By this time Max had straddled Zeus and he was looking down at the little unfolding drama, scowling. In a tone that brokered no argument, the growled; “Tara stash your jealousy. This is not the time or the place, not with so Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad lives at risk.”

            The Tiger-Exotic looked as if she was about to jump on the back of the Brute and attack the communities leader, but then she deflated and had the sense to look contrite and sheepish. “Sorry Max.”

            He accepted her apology and clicked his tongue, using the reins to guide Zeus to the doors. He paused at the entrance, looking over his shoulders at the rest, waiting with growing impatience as they mounted their steeds and made to follow.

            Otres and Declan shared one Brute, with the Otter sitting behind Declan and holding onto the back of his pants for stability. Max was on Zeus, with Babs bringing up the rear. Tara stood there, looking angry and frightened all at the same time. “Tara, honey?” Declan said, looking down at her.

            Her faces softened, with her whiskers twitching slightly. She was angry that he was traveling with Babs, but she understood why, even if she did not like it. “Babe?”

            “Please Tara, I’m begging you – please go to the mines. Stay out of the fight and protect yourself and our son. I want to come home to you after we’ve sent the Purist bastards back to hell.”

            She would not meet his eyes. “This is my home you know, I should stay and fight alongside everyone else.”

            Declan felt anger growing at her stubbornness, but he kept it from showing on his face and managed to keep his tone soft and gentle. “I’m begging you, go to the mines. I understand you wanting to fight but you and our son are far more important to me.”

            Finally she looked up, anger flashing in her emerald orbs. “And what about you, huh? You’ll be flying an ancient war-machine and taking on the enemy from the sky. You’re in greater danger than I am.”

            “I’m not carrying our son,” Declan stated softly. “If you won’t do it for me, do it for him.”

            She sighed and reached up to caress his leg. “Alright, for our son then.”

            Declan looked relieved. “Tara I love you. Now get going and we’ll see each other once the fighting is over.”

            A single tear followed the curve of her cheek, leaving a wet trail in her fur. “I love you too,” and she left the stable.

            Once everyone was ready Max lead them through the town to the gate, where they passed through to cries and shouts of good-luck and god-speed. Declan searched but he could not find Tara, and soon they were following the well-maintained trial around the wall of the community and heading through the foothills into the mountains.

            Almost an hour passed, the Brutes eating up the distance in great strides, when Max held up his fist, indicating the group should stop. They had been climbing steadily into the foothills and were not on the cusp of the mountains.

            Although it was impossible to tell, there was a hidden door.