The Long Road Home – II

PREVIOUSLY: THE LONG ROAD HOME – I

MISSION LOG 0400 HOURS

Still nothing but static, and not a single check-in from my team.

This is when being in command can be a strain. You need to make the tough decisions, the decisions nobody wants to make. I don’t think I can pull this off without my team. If it were a one man show I wouldn’t have hired the team to begin with. Still, I’ve never aborted before; tends not to go over well with my employers, my reputation, or my bank account. I’ve been doing this far too long to have to start over again. //pause// I guess the decision was already made before I even got involved. Well, time to … //static// … //commotion//

I spin quickly, my T3-4R Hand Flechette in my hand before my holster even realizes I’ve released it. There are more damaging guns than the 4R; it can’t impact armour, and has a limited range, but given the unforgiving nature of this jungle so far, I had chosen correctly. I squint through my polarized goggles, my brow creased with quick concentration. I can hear squawking and static on my radio, but it’ll wait. I can see a large mass coming through the bushes, and with speed.

I drop to one knee for better aim and stability, my finger squeezing ever so lightly against the hair trigger.

BETWEEN 0348 HOURS – 0400 HOURS

“Oh no you fuckin’ didn’t, you scant fuckin’ piece o’ shit!” I crush another one of those crunchy fucks with the reinforced back plate of my gloves. Legs or no, I ain’t dying to fucking bugs.

“Get yourself the fuck off my leg!” I scream at one of those millipede shits trying to dig into me like I’m some Sunday evening dark meat roast. I knock it off of me with the butt of my minigun. I will shoot my own legs if I have to if it keeps these fuckers away. “Jamyl fucking Sarum! They’re everywhere!” I yell, realizing that no matter how many I brush away, a dozen more crawl out from under the jungle canopy. I fucking hate this place. I don’t wanna die in this place. This is bullshit, man. Bullshit.

I pull out my radio, screaming for Sarge. We had managed to talk briefly when I reported Reco’s death, but I hadn’t been able to get shit since.

“Having fun?” a voice asks.

I turn my gun in that direction, both hands holding strong even through the shaking. I can feel the paralysis spreading up my body. Last thing I need right now is to deal with more bullshit.

Oh fuck yeah, it’s Flint!

“Don’t just stand there motherfucker! Fucking fricasse these buggers!”

Flint grins at me like I’m nothing more than a foul mouthed tribal throwback, but he takes the cigar from his mouth, throws it to the ground, puts it out with the heel of his boot, then non-chalantly reaches for his flame thrower. What a prick.

“You’re a fucking prick, you know that?” I say. Never have been good at holding back what I’m thinking.

“Oh, I’m sorry. If you want, I could not help at all. Would that be better?” Flint says, putting the thrower nozzle back onto his pack.

I look at my legs. I’m covered in bugs now, including three of those millipedes. I’m fucked.

“You think this is funny, Caldari fuck? Do your damn job. You know you need me for this mission. You want paid, fucker? Roast me.”

That makes him smile.

He sparks up the thrower and lays down a thick layer of cover fire around me before finally setting my legs on fire. Then the screaming starts, but it’s not mine; it’s the bugs. Let me tell you something. I have no memory more fucked up than the sound of thousands of bugs screaming. It’s a piercing, grating, get the fuck out of my skull, kinda sound. I will never forget it.

Have I mentioned how much I fucking hate this place? Fuck bugs. That’s some fucked up shit right there.

Flint pulls off his jacket and puts out the fire on my legs. I don’t feel a thing, but I smell like fucking barbeque. I know it’s gonna hurt like a vice on the balls later.

He puts his arms around me, lifting me into a fireman’s carry. I’m not a small man, so I’m impressed how easily he does it.

“Your fucking cigar smells like ass, you know.” I say, trying to be funny. He doesn’t laugh.

“You smell like dinner, you know.” he says without a smile, then we head off into the jungle.

There is death in darkness,
Warmth in night’s embrace.
The abominations of the night stalk,
Their prey unaware.
An insecure security is the light which shines.
Darkness devours both, as is deserved.
The sounds of the evening cover
My laugh.

Leaps and bounds and leaps. 22 meters that time; new record. Hmmm, was that a building? 21 meters; I’m not trying hard enough. Yes, it is a building, approximately 2.3 km SSW. 23 meters!

The drone’s camera pans back and forth across the night sky before returning its view to the ground below, looking at me. “You didn’t see it? I swear I saw a giant feline leaping through the air over there. It didn’t have wings. I don’t realize I’m standing there with my mouth hanging wide open, thinking on the possiblities of wingless flying carnivores until a small insect flies right into it, disrupting my fond memories of table top role playing sims.

“Oh gross!” I exclaim, spitting out bug bits. “Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! We are never going planetside again. Who does this rustic barbarism appeal to? Yuck. Holy mother of cyber-shit!!!” I scream, falling back on my ass as the giant, carnivourous feline I had seen only moments earlier comes crashing to the ground, landing no more than two meters in front of me. I’m so scared I don’t realize I’m pissing myself until the predator starts chuckling at me, then stands on its hind legs, shedding its skin! It takes my brain a moment to catch up to what my eyes are processing. When it does, I see Dervish standing in front of me, wrapped in the carcass of a feline predator, pointing at my soiled pants and laughing. I don’t even know where my trusty drone went; probably hiding in a bush nearby, recording the possibility of my death; for posterity of course.

“Greetings, Tech, or is it Phile? No, you’re definitely Cyber.”

“It’s Goggles on this mission, Dervish. What is wrong with you anyway? You’re acting crazier than usual.” I panic, quickly checking my scanner to see if the air here is thinner. The results come back fine, just as they have every time I’d run them since the moment we landed here (except poor Reco).

“We’re late for the rendezvous.” Dervish says, bending at the hip to bow over me. “You’ve soiled yourself. That will attract predators.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. We should … holy shit!” The feline behind Dervish up on its hind legs and roars. Dervish giggles as my drone sheds the carnivore’s skin to one side. Dervish has managed to terrify me again.

“Jerk. Do you have any idea how long its going to take to get guts and blood of his servos?”

He smiles, and we leave for the rendezvous.

0400 HOURS

One heat signature on infrared. I’m hoping its Sarge; these are the coordinates for the rendezvous, but if life has taught me anything it’s to be prepared. I touch my neck, activating my throat comm. “Sarge, is that you? It’s Maggie, over?” I slowly move forwards. No response on the radio. It could be a patrol from the facility we’re supposed to infiltrate, though our drop zone was easily 5 km away from the building. Of course, with that atmopheric interference, we could’ve landed right next door to it. Who’s to say?

I see the figure drop to one knee, and the posture is definitely one ready to fire. I freeze where I am, ready to try the radio once more.
A giant roar interrupts me, and I watch the figure roll to the side, firing quick bursts. The sounds is quiet. It’s a flechette pistol. It’s Sarge!
I run through the bush into the opening beyond and see a giant feline, but there’s something odd about it. It’s weaving to the side like a biped would. I can make out Dervish’s leggings under the skin.

“Stand down!” I yell. Sarge turns his gun to me, then back to the predator, which has been shed, revealing Dervish, smiling like an idiot.
A loud commotion to our right causes all three of us to react, drawing/aiming our weapons as one in the direction of the noise. Flint comes bursting through the bush, Bull draped over his shoulders. He grunts at the three of us, then unceremoniously drops Bull to the ground. “He’s peaceful when he’s unconscious. He needs a medic.” That’s all Flint says before turning his back to us and lighting up one of his cigars.
“I’ll take a look.” We turn to see Goggles with his drone walking towards Bull. I didn’t even see him a moment before.

“What the fuck is wrong with you people?” Sarge yells, pacing back and forth, barking orders. I tune him out. Seems we all made it to the rendezvous. Where’s Reco?

“Sarge.” I interrupt, knowing he hates that. “Where’s Reco?”

Sarge goes quiet, and we all already know the unspoken answer.

TO BE CONTINUED IN: THE LONG ROAD HOME – III

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