Buck Who? Chapter 7

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 7: Let the Bodies hit the floor

April, 23rd  2668, The mainland shoreline, near Bowyer Island. 

Otres felt his heart skip a beat when he heard the shocked shout. A few meters off to his right there was a single soldier. The man had been turned away and was in the act of urinating when he happened to spot the little Otter.

He had been spotted.  Panic threatened to overwhelm him, and he felt light-headed with terror. Otres nearly peed as well, but his powerful instinct for self-preservation kicked in. The little Otter was fast, almost as fast on land as he was in the water. He knew it was his only chance, so he launched his body like a brown, fur-coated missile towards the trees.

A couple of the closest guards saw him and brought their weapons up and triggered off a stream of shots. Lead tore towards him, some of the rounds so close Otres could feel the displaced air as it ruffled his fur. His teeth chattered in fright and his eyes were as wide as saucers as he scampered to and fro. He was moving fast and constantly changing direction, presenting the hardest target possible.

More men appeared and at the very last second, Otres disappeared into the foliage at the treeline. A split second later, there was an ear-shattering boom.

***

One second Bradly was standing, watching his men work. Someone had shouted a warning, and the sound of firing. The next second it felt as if someone had hit him in the chest with a sledge hammer and he was lying flat on his back, his suit dead. “What the fuck?” He blurted aloud and tried to sit up.

He could barely move. His mind reeled. What had just happened? Was he under attack? That was the only explanation. Straining his muscles, Bradly managed to push himself into a sitting position. A handful of seconds passed and he could hear his men shouting and scrambling about. There was the staccato of return fire, but from what he could hear, the fire was random and uncontrolled. It was the sound of panic.

“Computer, respond!” He ordered, but the suit remained dead, completely unresponsive to his vocal commands. There were tongue controls located inside the helmet and he managed to manipulate them and hit the emergency reboot.

Again, nothing happened.

Bradly growled in frustration and lifted his arms. The suit weighed hundreds of kilograms, despite using the strongest and lightest alloys the ancients had at their disposal. Just the arm alone must have weighted in excess of thirty kilo’s. Grunting and feeling the sweat break out on his forehead, he managed to lift both his arms to undo the locks on his helmet.

More gunfire erupted from the outside and as before, it was still panicked and uncoordinated. He snarled and managed to remove his helmet. In only a short minute the helmet of his suit had become stifling hot and the cooler air felt wonderful on his sweat-soaked face. He looked about and could see his men had taken cover behind the vehicles and were returning fire in all directions.

“Report!” Bradly bellowed. He was looking to the south, where three of his soldiers were hunkered down behind the chassis of one of the remaining vehicles. They had their weapons out and were basically praying and spraying the woods and undergrowth in that direction.

“Goddammit, report!” He screamed again, and this time one of the soldiers heard him. He turned and began to move towards Bradly. He had the misfortune of raising his head a handful of centimeters above the edge of the truck when a hidden sniper’s round hit home. The heavy caliber bullet tore through the supposedly bullet-proof helmet. The top of the soldier’s skull flew off in a welter of blood and bone splinters. He screamed in agony and fell to the ground, where he twitched several times before lying still.

Frantic and nearly panicking himself, Bradly kept trying to reboot his powered armor, but it was to no avail. He looked down at his chest-plate and could see the indentation of where a heavy round had struck home. There were strange burn marks spreading out from the point of impact, and as he looked, the marks took on a strange geometrical pattern. It hit him then, whoever had shot him had used an EMP round.

His suit was dead and if he did not get out of it, he would be too, and soon.

He began to hit the emergency release catches along the exterior of his suit. They were hidden from casual view and were designed to be used only when the suit lost power. If there was a current, the catches and latches would not function. It was a built-in safety feature to keep the enemy from dismantling the suit if they ever managed to get close enough to do so.

As he worked, he continued to shout, demanding an explanation. Finally one of his soldiers managed to cross the field of fire and he knelt beside him. “Sir, we’re under attack!”

Bradly actually laughed and rolled his eyes as he pulled one arm off his suit and then the other. “Thank you captain-fucking-obvious,” he roared. “Any idea how many? And where the fuck did they come from?”  Bradly checked the heavy handgun he habitually carried. Since there were no electronic components, it should have survived the EMP blast. He examined the weapon while he waited for the man to speak.

The soldier had enough sense to look sheepish. We are not sure, we figure maybe a half-dozen or more, and they keep changing their location. It’s that fucking sniper we really have to worry about though,” he blew his cheeks out in exasperation and fear.

Tell me about it, Bradly grunted internally. “How many have we lost?”

“Four in total, the rest of us have managed to keep our heads down and are using the trucks as cover.”

Bradly cursed as he managed to pull the chest-plate off. The back fell away and he indicated his legs. “Help me with these,” he ordered.

The man did as ordered and in less than fifteen seconds, Bradly was freed from his now-useless armor. “Fuck this,” he snarled. “Tell the men to fall back to the trucks and help me get this loaded into the Mercedes.”

Just then the ground only a quarter of a meter from his crotch exploded. Sand, earth and bits of hot stone peppered his face, torso and arms and he screamed. He was instantly ashamed at how unmanly he sounded. Bradly allowed his shame to fuel his anger as he reached out and grabbed the assault rifle from the soldier in front of him. “Go!” He screamed and raised the weapon. A second later he sent out a trio of three-round bursts in the direction of the shot, making sure to aim to the right and left. Maybe he would get lucky, maybe he would not.

***

Ra’naa felt her face grow hard and she could feel her lips curl in a predatory snarl as the first round smashed home. She watched as the world appeared to slow down around her as she entered a fugue state. This strange phenomena always occurred whenever she used the weapon, and when she spoke to her father about it, he just smiled a strange enigmatic smile. All Ra’naa knew for certain is whenever she entered this state; her skill with the rifle seemed to increase a thousand-fold.

The bullet hit directly over where the Purists heart was located. The round shattered upon hitting the heavy plate, shards of lead flying off in all directions. She saw the electrical pulse race along the suit’s circuitry, burning out every electrical component in its wake. It was like watching a great tree being felled by a woodsman’s axe. The armored figure tottered for what seemed an eternity, and then slowly his arms flew out to either side and he flew backwards about a half-meter. He fell flat on his back and lay there, unmoving.

As soon as her target fell, she was up and scrambling to another position, as her father had taught her many years ago. Stay in one place, even if the weapon you are using has a suppressor, you would die.

And she had a lot of reasons to live.

She saw Tara was up and running as well, but in the opposite direction The Tiger-woman’s lithe body bounding through the underbrush with ease, scarcely slowed down no matter how thick it got.  She knew that Tara cared for the little Uplift. She could not think of a single person in the community who did not know or like him. Maybe it was because of how he could fix anything brought to him, or maybe it was just how charming he was. She did not know the full reason, nor did she really care. All that mattered is they needed to buy him time to escape.

***

If he survived, I’m going to kill the little furball, Tara thought heatedly as she ran in in the opposite direction. She did not want to admit it, but deep down she knew the encounter with the Purists was inevitable. The little Uplift had shown uncommon stupidity, but also bravery, when he had slunk away. She was not sure what he had hoped to accomplish. He was small, and although he had a wicked bite, one burst from the automatic assault rifles would make short work of hm.  The thought of his little furry body broken and bloody galvanized her resolve.

Tara ran, leaping over obstacles and slipping past trees with the agility and speed hunting cats possessed. She still gripped the assault rifle in her hands, looking for a spot to set up her own ambush. Gunfire came in staggered bursts from the gathered Purists. From how erratic it sounded, they were shooting at anything and everything. Shouts of anger and orders could be made out over the din.

 She came to a sudden stop and crouched, her green eyes narrowing as her furry ears twitched, picking up the slightest sound. There were several trees blocking her view, and she crept forward, her feet barely disturbing the dead leaves, moss and ferns. Several early-season insects skittered away as she sought a better vantage point. One, a particularly large and nasty-looking beetle hissed a challenge as she passed. Tara did not even look down as she brought the butt of her rifle down on the insect, killing it.

In only seconds she had a clear view of the Purists and their vehicles. They were spread out and firing wildly, as the sounds she heard indicated. It was nearly comical, watching them run around without aim or purpose. It reminded her of how a chicken looked and acted when its head was cut off.

Tara knew she would only have a few seconds to act before she had to change positions, so she raised her rifle to her shoulder and sighted down the barrel. She was not a trained sniper, not like Ra’naa, but she did not lack in skill either. There was a lone Purist, a young looking man with a shock of red hair and freckles. She thought he might have been a good looking kid, if he had not been running with scum like the Purists. What a pity I have to kill him, she thought and pulled the trigger.

The weapon spit fire and death. She triggered a trio of three-round bursts at the unaware target. The first burst missed entirely, but it had the purpose of showing her where her fire was directed and she adjusted to compensate. The second burst walked up the man’s right leg, hip and belly. The leg shot drew not only blood, but an agonized scream from the target, but the other two did nothing more than leave nasty bruises. Her third burst hit his chest, throat and then lower face, ripping his neck apart and taking off his lower jaw.

That ended the screaming.

The return fire came a lot faster than she had anticipated and she barely managed to duck and move before several rounds ripped through the trees and foliage. She cursed and hissed as one of the rounds passed close enough to her head it managed to clip some of her hair.

Tara had two choices if she wanted to remain in the fight. She could continue to run along the route she had chosen, or she could go back the way she had come. If she chose the former, it would take her further away from Ra’naa, and meeting her would be more difficult. Maybe it was what the Purists would expect her to do, but she quickly dismissed the thought. Right now the Purists did not have any organization and they were reacting – which was not doing them any good.

After only a second of mulling it over, she decided to go back the way she had come, towards Ra’naa. There apppeared to be less return fire hitting where she had been earlier. The Purists concentrated on where she had been when she killed the young red-haired soldier.

Her ears twitched from the nearly ceaseless pounding produced by the enemy gunfire. Tara knew she would have one hell of a headache later in the evening, and she would be sure to blame Otres for it. The little Otter had a lot to account for, especially the expenditure of ammunition. It was not cheap. Tara shook her head and chastised herself for the thoughts. Otres was a friend and nearly invaluable to the community. She was just pissed at him, and she knew it.

She ducked and crouched on all fours, moving through the underbrush as she heard footsteps running towards her location. She knew she still had plenty of ammunition left in her magazine, as she just changed it when she killed the red-head. Voices greeted her ears and suddenly a pair of soldiers was right there in front of her. She looked up, seeing the shocked expression on their faces.

The elder of the two men recovered quickly and though he had his assault rifle at hip level, he fired. Tara leapt out of the way as the bullets ripped into the ground where she had just been. Clods of dirt and vegetation flew in every direction as she dodged and rolled. The soldier continued to fire, and his companion brought his own weapon up in order to fire. He was not taking the chance he would miss by simply shooting from the hip.

A fraction of a second later there was a loud, angry squeak as Otres appeared out of nowhere. He leapt at the second soldier and grabbed the barrel of the weapon in one hand. The shock of his sudden arrival, combined with his weight, caused the man to lower the barrel as he fired. His burst missed Tara entirely.

Tara’s return shot, however, did not miss. As she came up into a crouch, she had the assault rifle shouldered and did not even bother to sight in. She caressed the trigger and sent a triple burst at the older of the two men.

Nearly half the rounds hit home, and he danced and jerked spasmodically as the rounds ate into his torso. The problem was the shots did not penetrate his body armor. It was too effective against the rounds, as they smashed into the weave, it spread the energy out, and ensuring penetration was not achieved.

Just because the rounds did not punch into flesh and bone did not mean it had no effect. The spent energy hurt the man, probably breaking his ribs and causing internal damage. He cried out in pain and collapsed to his knees.

Otres let go of the barrel of the weapon and scampered away, dodging this way and that as the younger man spat out hate-filled curses. The Purist did not even try to raise the weapon as he fired, hoping to kill the little tormentor.

Except when the first round passed through the barrel of the weapon, it caused the now-corroded and warped barrel to explode. Shards of hot metal flew everywhere and the blowback caused the remaining rounds to cook off.

Fate smiled upon Tara and Otres in that moment, but did not place her blessing upon the man holding the rifle. When Tara looked up at him, she could see nothing but stumps of gore where his hands had been, pouring out litres of blood. His face was even more horrifically wounded, having been shredded by the slivers of metal. One eye hung by the nerve cluster and the other was nothing more than a mass of jelly. A blood-mist filled the air around his head as he died. He did not even have enough time to scream as the dark reaper took his soul to whatever reward or punishment awaited.

Tara wasted no time. She leapt past the older soldier, who was still kneeling in the moss and dead leaves. When it came right down to it, she did not know or care if he was still alive or not, unconscious or not. As she passed, she flexed her fingers and allowed the long, sharp claws to push out of their sheaths.  Her fingers slipped along the contours of his neck, almost like a lovers caress. It was not so gentle an act, as she had taken only three steps past when the flesh parted and blood fountained from the severed jugular.

The Purist would be dead in less than a minute. 

Thanks for causing the distraction so I could escape, Otres thought to her.

“I’m so going to skin you alive and make a shirt out of your hide!” Tara snapped.

Fair enough, but can I suggest we meet up with Ra’naa and make good our escape?

Tara could not argue with him.

***

The return fire began within seconds of her having moved. The enemy fire was random and would not have presented a threat, but still she knew better. She moved about fifty meters to the south and west, bringing her nearly to the treeline and the ancient highway. The forest had fallen silent, every animal, bird and insect ceasing their movement and all sound. In their primitive minds, the woodland creatures associated loud noise with danger – and as such, death.

Ra’naa almost laughed as she watched the Purist forces scramble for cover, rightfully fearing for their lives. Off to the north, almost directly across from her, she could hear Tara’s assault rifle barking three round bursts. The other woman knew to stand motionless was to taunt fate, so after firing off a trio of bursts, she ceased firing and switched spots.

The Purists had enough sense to use their vehicles as cover. Even with the added protection, Ra’naa was certain her heavy caliber rounds could punch straight through the ancient vehicles, armor or not. She frowned when the man in the powered armor sat up and ponderously began to reach up to the helmet. She raised her rifle and placed the red-dot of her sight on the center of the blank face-plate. She took a deep breath and held it as she squeezed the trigger. Her concentration was shattered when a burst of return fire came way too close for comfort.

Knowing the near miss was pure luck, she shifted her position once again, returning to her original location. When she settled down and sighted in on her target, Ra’naa swore. He was completely hidden by the body of the truck.

There were three enemy soldiers using the ancient vehicle as cover. They lifted their weapons over the side and hood of the vehicle and fired blindly. Most of the return fire flew harmlessly into the forest, eventually to plow into trees or the hillside but not causing any real damage.

“Morons,” she breathed and then spat contemptuously into the moss and leaf covered ground at her side. “Wasting ammo like that.”

She was about to stand and switch positions once again when she saw the weapons disappear. A fraction of a second later, one of the soldiers began to move. A few centimeters of his helmeted head became visible. She never hesitated – Ra’naa swung the barrel of the weapon over so the red-dot was just touching the top of the skull. She held her breath squeezed the trigger. There was a satisfying explosion of blood and gore as the round punched through the helmet like it was not there.

Screaming in rage, the two soldiers who had been using the truck as cover rolled out from behind it and got to their feet. Maybe one of them had seen the muzzle-flash from her rifle. Maybe one of the enemy combatants had enough intelligence to deduce where the shot came from. Either way, they began to run towards her, weaving and dodging, making a shot with her heavy weapon all but impossible.

Ra’naa knew she had but one recourse. She rolled off to the side and waited. She had her pistol and the EMP pistol Tara had given her, and she knew things were about to get very close and personal. She could try to run, but the men would catch up to her with little effort.

Still, Ra’naa knew better than to make an easy target. She left the rifle where she had been lying and slipped behind the trunk of large pine-tree. The enemy Purists continued to fire their weapons as they ran and she felt the tree shudder as several rounds smashed into it.

Far too close for comfort.

As they came closer, Ra’naa drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out in an attempt to calm her nerves. The weapons fire from the vehicles was beginning to slacken, and the two men approaching quit firing. They must have run out of ammunition and were probably in the middle of switching magazines.

“Look!” She heard one man scream. “There, by the tree!”

Ra’naa half expected to feel the burning sensation of hot lead penetrating her flesh and bone, but the pain never came. She did not have long to contemplate their words. They finished reloading their weapons and the fire picked up again. A pine, only a few meters to her left was hit with a powerful fuselage bullets.

She was about to roll around and attack when the tree she was hiding behind suddenly began to shake as more rounds punched into it. She managed to stifle a curse as she brought her hands up to cover her head and face. A second later she realized with mounting horror her tail was lying off to the side, clearly visible. She grabbed the wayward appendage and pulled it into her body not a moment too soon. Gunfire tore into the ground where it had been only a fraction of a second before.

She waited, expecting one or both of the soldiers to round the tree. Instead a metallic object, about the size of a chicken’s egg, landed only a scant hundred centimeters from where she lay. Her mind recognized the device as a grenade. The self-preservation drive in all living creatures forced her to act. The desire to continue breathing when all hope seems lost often drives one to perform deeds they would never consider at any other time.

As it turned out, this was one of those times.

She had only seconds at the very most to act so she bounded to her feet and leapt to the side. A barrage of bullets whipped the air around her and she felt a burning sensation along her ribs and across her shoulder and left arm. The clothing she wore was more than simple leathers; it was constructed of kinetic-energy absorbing fibers.

Those fibers had more than likely just saved her life. Instead of penetrating the armor, the bullets were deflected so they followed the path of least resistance, deflecting away from her body. Still, enough energy bled through the armor to cause her significant pain, and there would be bruising. It was a small price to pay to stay on this side of the endless sleep.

A second later there was a loud bang as the grenade the soldiers tossed at her detonated. She did not feel any impacts from the weapon, but the concussion caused her to stumble. Ra’naa regained her footing just in time to see the two soldiers close in on her.

One of the soldiers was cursing loudly as his weapon ran dry. He hit the magazine switch and the empty magazine popped free. The man already had a second magazine in his hand and was about to set it in place. His companion had a horrible, hate-filled grin on his face and was adjusting his aim. All he required was a few grams of pressure on the trigger and the weapon would spit death.

Ra’naa did not want to give the man a chance. Even as she stumbled, and she fought to regain her balance, she squeezed the trigger of her handgun. The weapon barked three times, each shot so close to the last it nearly sounded like one continuous burst. The first round smashed into the body of the assault rifle. The round ripped through the metal and composites, sending slivers in all directions and rendering the device useless. The second round caught the soldier in the triceps of the arm holding the weapon, while the third smashed into his shoulder.

He roared in rage as his rifle was taken out of the equation. Like her, the soldier was clad in armor, which would absorb the kinetic energy of bullets and other similar weapons. His arm was hurt, but not incapacitated as it could have been, and he would have a huge bruise on his shoulder from the third round. The man threw his now-useless weapon to the ground and in the same motion, drew a long-bladed, serrated knife from a sheath on his hip.

Ra’naa finally regained her balance as she closed the distance between her and the two opponents. The second soldier managed to get the magazine seated and was drawing back the cocking mechanism to chamber a round when she reached them.

She reached out with her empty hand and grabbed the barrel of the rifle and in the same instant; she launched a roundhouse kick at the man holding the knife. Her kick missed, but it forced the soldier to jump back nearly a meter.

“Let go you fucking mutant freak!” The other soldier bellowed as he attempted to yank the weapon out of her hand.

“Fuck you,” she snarled as way of reply. “I’m an Exotic, not a mutant!” As she pulled back from the kick, Ra’naa brought her handgun up and tried to push the barrel of the weapon into the soldier’s face.

Seeing what she was trying to do, his eyes went wide in fright. The training kicked in and he let go of the assault rifle and struck out with his hand. The blow caught the handgun and her aim was off as she pulled the trigger. There was a thunderous boom, and the burned powder singed the soldier’s hair and left ear. He might have hearing damage from the closeness of the discharge, but it was the least of his concerns.

The first soldier saw that his target could not only fight, but was far more dangerous than the Damaged and other mutants he was used to dealing with. A slow, evil smile spread across his face. At last, an actual challenge. He realized she was also very attractive, actually quite beautiful. A shame she had the horns and the scales, still, maybe he’d beat her senseless and then fuck her before he killed her, after all, it would be a shame to not sample that piece of ass. The soldier stepped just out of her reach but kept his knife up and at the ready.

Wincing in pain, the now half-deaf soldier tried to both grab her wrist and kick her. He wanted to get control of the hand-cannon she was holding, knowing it was far more of a threat than anything else. The kick was a clumsy attempt, more to distract her than inflict actual harm. Still he felt a wave of shock, mingled with satisfaction as the kick connected and the woman grunted. The blow had the unexpected side-effect he had been hoping to achieve. It distracted her just enough for him to wrap his fingers around the hand holding the pistol.

Ra’naa grunted. The grunt turned to an enraged hiss as the soldier tried to crush her hand. Instead of fighting him, she allowed him to pull her close, and then she slammed her forehead into his face. The heavy bone of her horns ripped flesh and smashed cartilage and she felt hot blood splash onto her face.

He let go of her hand and instinctively reached up to touch his damaged face. In the same instant, the soldier took a single step back and howled in pain and rage. “You fucking bitch!”

She opened her mouth as if to retort, however it instead of words, a stream of yellowish fluid shot as if ejected from a hose to splash across his face. The howl of pain mixed with anger grew in volume and intensity.

Ra’naa smirked. “A dragon has to have her breath weapon.”

“What the fuck did you do to him?” The other soldier screamed as he lunged.

Ra’naa twisted her torso and swung the pistol at the second soldier when she felt a cold sensation across her forearm. A second later the handgun fell from nerveless fingers and then the pain hit.

“I will skin you alive for what you did you fucking freak!” The soldier spat as he arched his arm up for another slash. He had used the distraction of her attacking his companion to slash at her gun-arm, cutting through the armor, flesh and muscle, right to the bone. The armor she wore was exceptionally good at deflecting kinetic energy, but provided little protection against blades.

The cut was bad, and she knew it. She could feel her entire arm go hot and cold at the same time, and the sight of her blood pouring from the terrible wound nearly caused her to faint. She had suffered her share of injuries over the years, but nothing as bad as this!  Fear bubbled up in her breast as she her vision began to tunnel. She had only just sustained the wound and was going into shock. If she did not kill the man or somehow escape, she was dead.

“Ra’naa!” Tara cried out and there was a steady burst from her assault rifle. The soldier with the blade jerked and writhed as the rounds smashed into his back and side, fired from only a smattering of meters away. His eyes curled up into their sockets as the kinetic energy from so many rounds effectively neutralized any protection his armor provided. The knife slid from his fingers to land with nary a sound in the soft undergrowth.

“Tara,” she managed to call out as darkness began to close in over her.

“Goddammit, don’t you pass out on me,” Tara ordered. “I can’t carry you!”  She ran over to where Ra’naa stood, teetering on the edge of darkness. As she passed the unconscious soldier, she lowered the muzzle of her rifle. Tara did not even look at him as she put a three-round burst into his face. The rounds pulped his skull, killing him and showering nearly two meters of the forest in a nightmarish patina of crimson, bone and brain.

Ra’naa reached out with her uninjured arm to grab hold of Tara as she joined her. “My rifle,” she said almost dreamily. The pain was all but gone now, and she felt warm and fuzzy, as if she was just waking up from a deep, deep sleep. She closed her eyes and her body began to sag towards the ground.

“Don’t do this,” Tara breathed fearfully. Suddenly, she slapped Ra’naa across the face.

The blow nearly drove the other woman to her knees, but her eyes snapped fully open, the pupils clear and focused. “What the hell?”

“I’m sorry, but I was losing you,” Tara bent down and picked up her handgun and handed it to the wounded woman. Behind them they could hear the shouts amidst the cacophony of gunfire. It would be only a few seconds or so before they were upon them.

Ra’naa’s cheek stung from the slap, but it had helped. Her head felt clear and she could think, although the pain had returned, along with the fear. She looked over where she had been laying and her heart nearly stopped when she saw her rifle was no longer there.

I have it, Otres’s thoughts gently intruded into her mind. We have to run; the Purists will be after us soon.

Neither woman had to be told twice.

***

Bradly Travis, shorn of his armor, climbed into the Mercedes and hit the ignition. The vehicle rose off the ground and he gripped the steering wheel like a drowning man holding onto a life-preserver. “Computer, bring up the sensor suite, I want those mutant freaks tracked!”

“Complying,” the Mercedes’s answered in the same soothing voice he had heard so many times over the years. Without warning, the interior of the ancient but immaculate vehicle turned a deep crimson. “Warning, catastrophic failure in hover-drive, electrical fire detected, abort, abort, abort!”

Before he could react, the Mercedes dropped like a stone and hit the ground. The impact was so hard and unexpected; he bit the inside of his cheek. Blood, hot and coppery, filled his mouth in an instant. Bradly looked about for somewhere to spit it out, and instead swallowed it, feeling his gorge rise.

So much had gone wrong so fast it made his head spin. A second later he had the gull-wing door open and he spat out a second mouthful of blood. His fluid splashed a deep crimson on the crushed and trampled foliage, staining it. Practically dizzy with rage, he clamoured out of his Mercedes only to discover two of the vehicles were also out of commission.

He spat a third time as he strode over to the nearest of the vehicles, every inch of his body quacking with suppressed fury. The men nearest backed away, fear written on their faces as they took in the look of pure murder he wore like a badge of honor.

“Someone tell me what the fuck is going on here!” He screamed the curse out and grabbed the closest soldier. He yanked the much larger man off his feet and pulled him in with both fists wrapped around the collar of his armor.

“S… Sir,” the man stammered and swallowed. Sweat burst out on his forehead and he nearly wet himself. “The drive-train on both trucks have been disabled!”

Bradly held the man and stared into his eyes and he spoke very quietly. “And how did this happen?”

The man stammered and tried to speak, but fear was preventing him from speaking, like a cold hand constricting tighter and tighter around his throat. Finally he managed to reply. “We think it might have been the Otter we spotted.”

Bradly’s eyebrows rose a couple of centimeters. “Are you trying to tell me an overstuffed, waterlogged rodent managed to disable my Mercedes and two of our trucks?” His voice raised an octave with each word until he was screaming in the man’s face. Spittle flew from his lips as he roared.

This time the Purist’s bladder did let go and the air was filled with the acrid stench of urine. “Yes sir!”

Bradly lost all control. A red wave of nova-hot fury, unlike anything he ever felt before, washed over him and ripped away all rational thought. He felt like a man caught in a powerful riptide as the red rage engulfed him and nearly destroyed his sanity. Bradly reached down and grabbed the butt of his heavy .50 caliber pistol and smashed it with all his might into the soldier’s face.

The man cried out in pain and tried to bring his hand up to protect himself from the strikes, but all it accomplished was to fuel the flames. He struck a second time, smashing the man’s nose flat. A third blow cracked the orbital socket of his left eye, sending slivers of bone into the eye and permanently blinding him. The fourth blow caused a series of hairline fractures across the right temple, and this knocked him into unconsciousness. By the seventh blow, the man had succumbed to the wounds and had drawn his last breath.

Bradly did not relent until the man’s head was nothing more than pulped flesh, bone and brain-tissue. At last his rage abated and he looked down at the ruined soldier. He sat back on his haunches, his entire body trembling from the effort and the rage he had all but consumed him.

When he finally had enough control, he looked up to see the surviving members of his team standing in shocked horror. Bradly had a temper, and they all knew it, but this was the worst he had ever done. Bradly Travis, second in command and heir to the Purist movement, had just killed one of his own men in cold blood.

Upon seeing their shocked and horrified expressions, he looked down at his body. He was coated with blood and bits of bone, brain-tissue and other fluids. Bradly shook himself like a dog, dislodging the worst of the organic debris from his clothing. “He was shot to death by the mutant freaks that attacked us,” he growled in a barely audible voice. “Got it?”  He kicked the corpse of the former soldier. “A head shot, blew his brains out.”

When none of the gathered soldiers spoke, he raised his heavy hand-gun at the closest of the men. “I said,” his voice grew as cold as the deepest arctic night, “got it?”

At once the men chorused a round of ‘yes sir’s’.

Satisfied, he grabbed hold of the corpse by the leg and ripped part of the pants away. Bradly used the cloth to wipe the blood and gore from his pistol before he returned it to the holster.

“Someone get on the horn and call this in,” he shouted. “Get the compound to send up three wreckers so we can get our trucks home.”

***

Cold, inhumanly pale-blue eyes watched the men scramble to do as they were ordered. The figure lay on his stomach, a pair of electronic digitally enhanced binoculars held in his long, bone-white fingers. Slowly he lowered the binoculars and turned to a woman who was also on her belly, looking down at the crash-site.

“Defore, what do you make of this?” The woman asked. She had bone-white skin and the same strange, pale blue eyes. Her face was bland and calling her average would just about cover it. Her hair was cropped short and as black as a raven’s wing, while her companion was completely bald.

Both wore forest camouflage, which constantly shifted and changed to allow them to blend into the background. The woman had a strange but deadly looking pistol strapped to her hip, while the man had a long-barreled rifle, which was lying on the ground beside him.

“It is definitely the group we have been hearing about, Senine,” the male figure replied as he turned to look at her. “After that little fiasco, I am beginning to have my doubts how much of a threat they pose.”

“Should we call out recon drones?” Defore asked. He ran one hand over his smooth pate and continued to stare at the sight, several kilometers from where they lay. Even if the Purists had known where to look, the tree-covered Cliffside upon which the pair lay made it all but impossible for them to be spotted.

“No, at least not right now. We can easily backtrack the Purist soldiers to their base, using the recon satellites.” the woman shook her head and cupped her hand to her chin. “I believe it would be a waste of resources at this juncture.  We have a very limited budget for this reconnaissance, and as it stands we are almost over the budget limit for the day.” She looked at her companion, her face a neutral mask. The flesh was so smooth and unwrinkled it appeared as if she never used her facial muscles.

Above, an eagle, the size of a pre-fall single engine puddle-jumper plane was riding the thermals, scanning the forest below for potential prey. Just for a second the massive raptor made eye contact with Senine. In that fraction of time, the bird realized the two figures were of no consequence and as such would not even make a decent meal. With the slightest adjustment of its wings, it banked off to the South. The beach would more than likely provide what it was looking for.

“Your recommendation?”

Senine returned her eyes to the crash site and was silent for nearly a full minute. Defore continued to study her until at last she pulled her eyes away from the site and regarded him coolly. “We will continue to monitor until sunset, at which point we will return the base.”

If Defore was at all displeased with her recommendation, he did not show it. Instead his face, which was as smooth and unlined as hers, remained passive. Without speaking, he lifted the digital binoculars to his eyes and hit the record feature.

Chris Van Deelen is the author of the Skirmisher Publishing LLC sourcebook  Creatures of the Tropical Wastes  sourcebook, co-author of its  Wisdom from the Wastelands  game supplement and contributor to the  'Sword of Kos: Hekaton'  Anthology.