MikMyk’s CMANO Various Ships Imports

MikMyk’s CMANO Various Ships Imports

One of my passion projects in helping develop CMANO was building import files (I built 80% + of what was shipped with the game). I enjoyed doing the research and digging through various sources to find pictures, information etc. to build accurate facilities and ship formations. I’ve continued this work project to this day and will continue to post here and update as I’ve got time. Grab and use!

Download them here.

Book Review: Northern Fury H-Hour

Book Review: Northern Fury H-Hour

I was recently asked by Bart Gauvin and Joel Radunzel to review their first book, Northern Fury: H Hour. This was exciting because I am a huge fan of Bart’s scenario work since playing my first during the Harpoon era and culminating into what I think is his GOAT level work with his Northern Fury CMANO scenario set.  This work helped grow the popularity of the games and created wonderful stories for players to fall into after a hard day in the mine. Now partnering with a talented writer like Joel to create a series of novels based on that work makes perfect sense as more people will get to experience a really great story. I am definitely a fan and hope my bias shows in this case.

Northern Fury: H Hour is the first in a series of novels covering a Third World War between the Soviet Union and NATO in the 1990s. This novel describes the historical and hypothetical events that lead into and past war start through the eyes of many participants from the leader of the Soviet Union down to the fighter pilots, mechanized infantry officers fighting in Norway and Coast Guard commanders and crews off the US East Coast.  The other theaters of war are mentioned at a high level but are left for follow-on novels in the series to cover in detail. There are a number of really great maps and diagrams included to help tell the tale and readers who may not know too much about Norwegian geography.  The book is written for adults who like modern military fiction and is appears professionally edited.

I like many things about this book. The plot and writing style really sucked me in. I love books that I know after reading a chapter that I’m going to enjoy the entire ride. The writing flows comfortably and the plot makes sense. I even liked the preface which sets the reader up to understand the writers’ perspectives. The characters are well crafted, warts and all. Pavel Medvedev loves his country and his kids and he worries about them. It drives hard decisions that lead to world war.  You get it though, it’s relatable, Pavel’s trying to do his best as he sees it. David Strong is at the tip of the spear and wants all to know it. Who wasn’t that ambitious but insecure young person at some point? You have a much to prove and the tools to do it. Abby Savage, skilled helicopter pilot and lioness, you feel her frustration at not being able to fly combat missions.  Get her into the fight! The character work is great as you know these people, they could be you.  Finally, Joel and Bart’s military expertise is in the novel. The complex mechanics of warfighting are explained well and fed into action sequences that make enjoyable sense to any war nerd.  Norwegian and US Coast Guard, National Guard and Police defenders suffer horribly to the realities and challenges of modern war. Sometimes you can’t see the enemy, talk to your friends or have favorable odds. Sometimes your perfect plans fail and you lose. It is gritty, real and works.

I have a couple of gripes with the book. First, is I’d like to see a little more detail on what is going on in NATO and US leadership. You do get some bits and pieces on Norwegian thinking but the big picture stuff is murky. I want to see what the NATO leadership thinks and what they’ll be doing. My guess is I will get this next novel but it’s something I’m thinking about. My second gripe is probably me being a square but I’m not a fan of authors giving accents or sprinkling foreign words in.  The word Tovarishch is used a lot and I’m not sure it is in colloquial Russian. There are also several instances where Brooklyn or Boston accents are used but are not consistent. It gets a little weird if you’re from any of these places but it is also a personal preference that may not be an issue to anybody else.

I am suggesting this book to anybody that loves military fiction. It surpasses most fiction in the genre because it is well written, has deep characters and the military action is smart.  I view it as the spiritual successor of all those great novels of the eighties and nineties but with the far better insight into what was going on and superior writers. I look forward to the next chapters and its definitely on the short list of books I’ll be going back to again and again.

Pulp: Escape from Drone Island

Pulp: Escape from Drone Island

Can Malory and her team escape the terror of the drone? A little injection of tech into a horror inspired tale. I get to practice action sequences and dialog. Let me know what you think.

Malory pushed clear of the Navy minisub and propelled herself forward. It was close to midnight but the shallow water was far from dark due to a full moon above.  She could see the shadows of swimming sea life moving about the depths and the long dark outline of the reef Mal and her Seal reconnaissance team would need to breach.

She looked back over her shoulder and saw the other three members of her team had emerged and the vehicle was anchored to the sea floor. Several hand signals were exchanged confirming they were ready and all their equipment was accounted for. Mal looked down at her watch, noted their GPS location and noticed that there were was no mission abort message. She raised the final go signal and the group pushed off toward the reef in formation.

Mal went over the mission brief in her head as her legs found a comfortable rhythm. Their target island was reef enclosed, crescent-shaped and about six square miles which was a norm for islands and atolls in the South China Sea.  What made it a bit more unique though is it was covered by a small tropical forest that supported a small ecosystem of sea birds and lizards and sheltered a bunker filled with American and Philippine signals intelligence folks who monitored Chinese military communications and traffic in the region. Communications from the spooks had ceased a little over a week ago. Satellite passes revealed nothing and putting a loitering drone over the area wasn’t an option as it would tell the Chinese something was there.  Mal and her reconnaissance team were assigned to clandestinely investigate as they were in the region operating with the rest of the Seal platoon from U.S.S. Jimmy Carter.

Mal angled her swim toward the top of the reef as she approached it. The water’s surface was about ten feet above, which allowed her to place a small marker on top of the reef that would help her team find their minisub on the way out if GPS failed.

She then turned as her team converged on her and through another signal for a new formation change. Paul and Wing took point and she kicked off the reef and paired up with Dave. Dave was great. He had fifteen years in the teams and was a dive instructor who loved his craft enough to do it in his free time as well. He had tons of sport and wreck dive stories and always looked for better and safer ways to dive. He was a great family man as well who told just as many stories about his family and teammates. He brought up everybody around him and made them feel safe.

They started their descent down the other side of the reef wall close to the seafloor. The idea was to get close to the terrain to help mask their approach from underwater sensors. This worked but increased the odds of losing equipment, getting lost or getting bit by something mean.  All of these were a pain but preferable to a drone or artillery strike which didn’t need to hit you directly to kill you. Many military divers had learned this in recent years as the technology gap had closed between the US and its potential adversaries.

The divers remained in eyesight of each other as they wound through the broken coral towards shore. The coral soon gave way to waves of grooved sand and visibility dropped considerably as the floor and ceiling merged in clouds of sand and white froth a short distance away. Mal’s head was filled with the steady roar of the breaking surf.

Wing stopped in front and gave the signal to halt. Mal liked Wing. He was a cheerful east-coaster who grew up in a small Vietnamese community just north of Boston.  He was an absolute tech wiz who could probably make millions of dollars in Silicon Valley but got drawn into the teams for the challenge. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of all things action movie, which gave them a lot to talk about.

Wing pulled a small bundle from his pack that encased a Mosquito drone and pulled a string that inflated a small float attached to the bundle. He then released it to rise to the surface. If all went well, the small surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle would surface, take off and fly a preprogrammed orbit to survey the area with visual sensors. The remaining float would relay what is transmitted back to the divers to be viewed on their watches.

Twenty seconds passed and Mal looked down at her watch’s display as the drone made several circular passes over them and then their target beach and forest line beyond. It provided multispectral views including the cool heat signature stuff that reminded her of how the Predator viewed things in the original movies.  She saw no threats but oddly, no other heat sources. There should at least be birds and night predator wildlife out and about. This was really strange.

Mal looked up at the others and after several hand signals, they confirmed that no threats were detected. Wing and Paul took point again and the group pushed ashore. As they emerged from the churning surf they each removed the protective covering from their weapons, removed their masks and fins, attached night vision goggles and trotted inland gathering in the foliage at the tropical forest’s edge.

“Ok, anybody else notice not one thermal other than us?” Mal asked.

“Yes, really strange. Could be equipment or an environmental condition,” replied Wing.

“Shhh. listen,” said Paul.

“What?” replied Wing.

“Not one birdsong, “said Paul.

“Fuck. Bio or Chem. Respirators back on!” said Dave.

The group put their oxygen masks back on and Dave rifled through his pack. He pulled out a small biological and chemical detection device. He turned it on and then pulled out several test tabs out of his pack which he rubbed against the leaves of the foliage. He examined both and then nodded to the group and removed his mask from his face.

“I forgot, are you supposed to shit your pants before or after you die?”

“Very funny Dave,” Mal said after spitting her breather out.

“Yeah, just be careful. Because we didn’t detect it doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” replied Dave.

Paul kneeled down and rolled a large stone in front of him and looked into the hole it left. He picked up a long centipede letting it wind about. “Nightcrawlers are still around.”  He tossed it towards Mal who darted out the way with a laugh. Big Paul always found something weird to do but that’s why they all loved him. It also helped that he hauled their heaviest gear and was a solid shot on the sniper rifle.

Mal looked down at her watch and switched to the GPS nav system.“Ok, we’re about a click out from the spooks’ hide. Wing how much battery we got on the Mosquito drone?”

“We’re good for the night if needed. You want to send out a spot report?” replied Wing.

“No, let’s hold until we’ve got something more to say.

“What about the next Chinese drone pass?” asked Mal.

“Two hours. Plenty of time to make the hide,” replied Wing.

“Dave you got point. Let’s go,” ordered Mal.

The team pushed into the forest for the better part of an hour. Dave came to a halt and threw his hand up. He removed his goggles and looked down at something. He waved the team over. Mal moved forward and saw what he was looking at was a dead gull that had been torn apart.

“That’s gross Dave,” said Mal.

“Yeah, big bird, but look. It has very neat wounds and it has been here for a while. No predator did this and nothing was trying to eat it,” replied Dave.

“Mosquito detects something.” Wing said in a loud whisper.

Mal looked down at her watch but her attention quickly shot skyward as a loud crash was heard above them.  Small metal parts rained down in the forest around them.

“Fuck. Our drone just bit it.” Wing said.

“Paul, tarp out. To cover guys.” Mal said.

Paul pulled a large pack and unfolded it. The group them crawled under it hoping it would provide protection from a bunch of detection types on the spectrum. It was heavy but had proven the difference between life and death under the drone.

Mal listened for the hum or pulse of the engine of an enemy drone but heard none.

“Mal, permission to take a look,” Paul whispered.

“Go for it”

Mal watched Paul remove the multispectral site from his rifle and carefully pop his head out from under the tent for a look.

“Nothing in view above us,” Paul said after a few moments.

She looked down at the GPS and noticed they were less than a click away from the spook’s hide. They were close but likely made. Fuck, can’t risk it.

“Ok. I don’t know how, but we’re blown guys. Time to bug out,” said Mal.

“Wing our intel report had the nearest Chinese response about twenty minutes away at best. Sound right?” asked Mal.

“Yes. There’s a Chinese frigate somewhere out there, their daily drone pass is close and there are about four bases which could launch aircraft or missiles soon,” replied Wing.

“Ok Wing, fire off a quick satcom message to HQ that this mission is over, we’re moving out and looking for our ride. “Dave you got point. Paul let’s get this tarp folded back up and ready to go” said Mal.

They repacked the tarp and moved tactically with one pair moving and the other covering from hide-to-hide. The moon was high and casting beams of light through the canopy. The wind had picked up just enough to be heard through the trees.

Mal was anxious. What had just happened and why didn’t they know more. This wasn’t fucking good. She wanted all of them in that water now.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the hum of a motor.

“Drone!” Paul yelled as he once again pulled the large tarp from is pack.

Mal dove under it. The rest of the group did as well. They huddled together as they heard the drone get louder and louder.

“Low altitude type.” Wing whispered.

The drone sound evened out and then fell into the pulsating rhythm of an orbit.

“Paul, any chance you could nail that thing?” Mal asked.

“Seems low enough but you willing to risk eating a missile or artillery shell to do so?” He asked.

No. She thought. This fucking sucks.

“Ok playbook says we wait it out then try to transmit for help or bug out when it returns to base or a replacement drone is transitioned in.  Problem with that is threats and time. We don’t know if Chinese troops are inbound and our tarp is pretty useless during the day,” said Mal.

“We could try and make the spook hide. It is a better place to hold out,” said Dave.

“Yeah was thinking about that,” said Mal.

The sky above them flashed and they heard a whump sound. Debris rained down on them once again.

“Was that what I think it fucking was?” Mal asked.

“Yes,” Paul replied as debris rained around them again.

“Beach. Let’s go!” She said.

The group moved as fast as they could. Mal kept an eye on each of her men as the moved back through the forest quickly but carefully. Mal was in peak physical condition but started to feel herself tire maneuvering through the terrain at a rapid pace. Finally, the forest floor started to give way to more sand and eventually she could see the line where the forest ended and the beach began.  They were close.

Dave hit the forest edge and quickly dropped behind the cover of a Palm branch laid out in front of him. His hand went up and signaled threat ahead and to seek cover. Mal and the group did.

Mal slow crawled to a position parallel to his and looked out on to the beach. Un-fucking-believable. A large six-legged drone was sitting on the beach between them and the water.  It was insectoid in design, the size of a small electric car, mounted a large high caliber gun on its back and had a great big red Peoples’ Liberation Army star painted on the side of it. Fuck! She looked at her comrades quickly and didn’t have to ask to know they were thinking the same thing. The drone then turned in their direction. Fuck, fuck it’s got us.

“Move. Egress!” Malory yelled. She quickly tossed a multispectral smoke grenade to the front of their position and the combat drone.

She bolted back into the deeper woods behind her. She heard the whine and roar of heavy caliber machine gun fire and the forest around her disintegrated. Mal heard Dave yell from behind. She grabbed a tree and swung around low to see him on his knees holding the gory cave of an exit wound in his chest. As his eyes met hers more rounds hit vaporizing his upper body into mist and pieces. In horror, she turned and ran away as fast as she could. She heard another great salvo tear through the woods around her. She could feel the rounds passing bye. She kept running until the firing stopped and she found her other two comrades in defensive positions. Her lungs and legs burned from use but she was unharmed.

“Dave?” asked Wing.

“Gone,” Mal replied.

“Fuck,” replied Paul who siting his sniper rifle.

“Fight or flight Elle-Tee? I’ve got some anti-vehicle rounds but not sure they’ll work” Paul said.

“Take the shot. Blind it or go for the weapons system.” Mal ordered.

“Roger that,” replied Paul who was now lying on the ground with his sniper rifle mounted on a stump.

Mal heard mechanical movement in the forest where they had run from. Paul put his eye to the sniper rifle’s advanced site and the weapon kicked as he fired. He then fired again.

“Hit,” he said.

Mal heard three distinct poof sounds in the distance.

“Mortars!” yelled Paul.

Mal heard a brief whistle and was violently pushed to the ground by the concussion of an explosion in the trees above her.  She felt the sting of shrapnel on her back, neck, and arms. She panicked and rolled over thinking she may be on fire and sucked in trying to fill her lungs back up with air.  Her ears were ringing with one hurting badly.  She moved her arms and legs. They seemed to work and she was breathing normally. She patted her body and found no large open wounds or blood gushing.  She calmed. She was hurt but ok.

Shit, her team. She rolled back over and looked over to Paul’s position and saw his torn form in a shell hole. He was gone. She looked towards Wing’s position and saw he was up on one knee and saying something to her. She could barely hear him. Touching the ear that really hurt she noticed she was bleeding from it. Her eardrum must have been perforated. Fuck. She looked turned slightly away and then his words began to be heard. Looks like her other ear seemed to be ok. Wing was saying “What do we do?”

A strong breeze lashed her from above and the muffled thump of a helicopter rotor came into focus. She looked up and saw the silhouette of one hovering over the broken canopy. Its spotlight was shining down through searching for their position. Was this it?

Something struck the helicopter with a flash. It spun on fire off to the left. Her hearing was getting better. The rotor noise was broken, irregular and moving away. She then heard a large impact. The chopper must of gone down.

Mal’s focus shifted again. She heard Wing talking and pointing to where the helicopter was.

“Mal, you see that? Double-rotor configuration. That was Chinese or Russian,” said Wing.

“Uh yeah.  You ok Wing?” Mal asked looking him over.

“Physically ok. Brain no. How bout you?” he replied.

“That hurt but ok. Left ear is really screwed.” She said.

“I’ll check it out when we can lay low.” Wing replied.

Mal heard the distant chatter of machine gun fire. They both looked in that direction.

“Looks like the bug is busy. Let’s make that spook hide and ride this out.” said Mal.

Mal picked up her rifle, took point, and jogged into the forest. She looked behind her to see that Wing had fallen in. She’d lost two good troopers and wasn’t about to lose Wing. Something had really gone wrong, she didn’t know what but needed to get somewhere to think.

They traveled through the tropical forest for just short of an hour when they approached the GPS position of the hide. It was a battle site. The forest and foliage were torn and burned apart. There were bodies and body parts strewn about and the stench was nauseating. The spooks and what looked like Philippine Marines put up a fight and lost.

“Mal, tree, wire,” said Wing.

Mal looked at the tree Wing was pointing at and saw a series of wires leading up to a series of dishes and antennas concealed at the top.  Wing followed the other end which terminated into the ground. He moved some foliage around with his foot revealing a trap door that led into the earth below. He carelessly opened pulled it open and walked down a steep ramp into it.

“Clear!” Wing yelled from the hole.

Mal hopped down in after him closing the trap door behind her. Wing was standing in an open door at the end of the small tunneled ramp that led from the trap door.

“Holy shit, it’s a buried shipping container,” Mal said.

“Yeah its got all the amenities of to.” replied Wing.

She walked into the lit bunker. To the left, there was a pair of cots, portable toilet, boxes of food supplies and jugs of water. To the right, was a large filled computer cabinet flanked by two desks with laptops on top. There were several posters on the wall of the latest bands, a lot of empty energy drink and protein bar wrappers strewn about and it smelled like sweaty dudes. Not exactly home-sweet-home.

“Wing, power up the radio and see who you can get in touch with. I’ll dig up their first aid kit and start working on us,” Mal said.

“Will do Mal. Look, Paul and Dave?” Wing started to say.

“I know Wing. We’re alive so let’s focus on that for now. We’ll make sure they go home.” Mal replied.

Wing walked over to the computer cabinet and pressed the power button at the bottom and every component lit up. Yay for that, Mal thought as she walked toward the bunks and noticed an aid kit was under each. She pulled and opened one happy to see it was filled with the alcohol and bandages they’d need to treat the many small shrapnel wounds on their bodies. Her ear still hurt but she was happy to see a bottle of Ibuprofen was in each.

“We’re up and connected via text net, Mal,” said Wing.

Mal walked over and sat in the chair in front of the computer. She worked through a quick series of authentication and then typed out a very quick report and asked for instructions. She received an acknowledgment and instructions to power down and to check back in an hour.

“Well, at least they didn’t yell at you.” Wing said.

“Wing, do you know anything about the signals intelligence equipment in here?” Mal asked.

“Not a clue and don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese so wouldn’t do much good if I did,” Wing replied.

They both heard an explosion and the container and its contents shook slightly.

“That close?” Mal asked.

“Dunno, but somebody is putting up a fight out there,” replied Wing.

Noticing several small wounds on Wing’s face Mal got up and retrieved the first aid kit. She then walked over to him and started wiping his face down and treating the wounds. He repeated the process for her.  Both found a chair to sit in after. Wing closed his eyes and Mal rubbed her temples and drifted away.

Mal awakened to her phone’s alarm. It was time to call in. She looked over and Wing was already powering the transmission equipment back up.

Mal looked at the laptop screen. Shit. Mal reread the message to be sure.

“Chinese and US forces are converging on the region with a Chinese frigate already off the coast. There could be a bit of crisis spewing up over this. We’re to hunker down and wait for further instructions.”

Wing turned the transmission equipment off and sat grumbling to himself in his chair. Mal got up, walked over to the boxes of supplies and rifled through them to get an accurate idea of what they had.

“Good news, plenty of food and supplies. We can hold up here for a while.” Mal said.

“Don’t suppose there are any antitank weapons in there?” Wing asked.

“No such luck Wing. Sorry.” Mal replied.

The bunker shook at a large explosion detonated close to them. A few boxes toppled over.

“Here we go again,” said Mal.

The container shook twice more, some boxes toppled over. The then heard the chatter of machine gun fire.

Mal got up and opened the door and went to the trap door. She noticed it had a small periscope set into it. She put her eye to it. She saw movement in front of her and then falling and flying branches and debris as a salvo of fire seemed to tear across the forest. She then saw a soldier burst from trees and fall meters in front of her. He pushed himself up by his hands and Mal could see the horror on his face.

“Mal what the fuck is going on out there?” Wing said.

She thought for a second and then swung open the trap door. She couldn’t leave this guy to die. He looked right at her in shock. She waved him forward and he sprinted the short distance and dived almost taking Mal with him. She dropped the door with a thump and turned to see Wing already had the Chinese soldier at gunpoint.

She turned back to the door and looked through the periscope. Fuck. She saw not one of the six-legged hunter-killer drones but two.  Their sensors and smoking weapons scanned back and forth across the area looking for their prey. They didn’t appear to have a clue where their target was.

Mal turned and looked at the Chinese soldier. “Well buddy, it’s a good thing those two bit-brains out there don’t seem to have any sort of hunting logic beyond see and shoot. Speak English?” Mal asked.

The soldier was on lying on his back trying to catch his breath. He wore a flight suit covered with Chinese Navy markings and emblems. He was very young and visibly frightened.

“Do you speak English? What is your name?” Wing asked.

The soldier looked at Wing and said something indecipherable.

“Guess that’s a no.” Wing said. He then said something to the soldier in another language. Mal assumed it was Vietnamese. The soldier responded and they had a short conversation.

“Mal this is Li Jun. He was on the helicopter we saw overhead. He says it was damaged by a drone and they crashed on the beach. His comrades were killed by the hunter-killers. He’s not hurt but scared shitless,” said Wing.

“Ok. Tell him he’s safe here and ask more about the drones,” Mal responded.

Wing spoke to Li Jun some more.

“He doesn’t know shit about them other than they are Chinese. He says he was told there were American spies on the island who had shot down a surveillance drone and were engaging others. They were sent to investigate and were attracted to the gunfire and explosions. When they approached, they were hit. He wants to know if he’s a prisoner,” said Wing.

“Tell him it looks like we all are,” replied Mal.

The soldier smiled and spoke with Wing again. “He wants to know if he can report in. Maybe his government can help us all,” said Wing.

“Think he’s full of shit?” Mal asked.

“He might be. Those monsters were hunting him too though. Something is definitely fucked up and this clown is ranked low enough to get the mushroom treatment regardless,” said Wing.

“Ok let’s sit tight and wait for the next communication with HQ. Not sure getting nabbed by the Chinese is better than getting pulped by those drones. Let’s get this guy something to eat and check him over for injuries,” said Mal.

Wing spoke to Li Jun and pointed to an empty chair. Li Jun got up and sat in it. Wing then walked over to look him over and started cleaning the visible cuts and scrapes. Mal threw Li Jun a bottle of water and a protein bar which he caught and opened to consume.

Mal looked down at her watch. It was nearly daylight.

“Alright, fuck this. Everybody already knows we’re here, so not communicating isn’t doing as us any good. Power us back up, Wing.”

Wing walked back over and switched the power back on. Mal picked up the headset of an attached satellite phone and called in. The on-duty officer finally jumped on the call once several minutes of challenge and reply security questions were completed. She reported the capture of Li Jun and their current situation and asked for an immediate evacuation.

The duty officer started to reply but then dropped off the line momentarily. He popped back on. “Lt. Sullivan, Chinese bombers have left Hainan island on a course toward your island. Intentions are unclear but consider this is a raid warning. Suggest you power down and shelter in place.”

“Raid warning. What! Repeat?” said Mal. Wing turned to say something but Mal put her hand up. The officer repeated.

“Acknowledged. Raid E.T.A? ” replied Mal.

“Four hours give or take,” he replied.

“Thanks. Acknowledged. Alfa four out.” Mal said.

She slammed the headset down. “Chinese bombers inbound in four hours. They want us to hunker down.”

Li Jun asked Wing something in Vietnamese. Wing looked at Mal. He wants to know what’s up.

“Tell him his air force is about to bomb us,” replied Mal.

Wing spoke to Li Jun in Vietnamese. Li Jun responded angrily.

“He doesn’t believe us,” Wing said.

“Well fuck him. I don’t know what they’re up to either. Could just be posturing,” said Mal.

She looked at the bunker walls and wondered how much protection they could actually provide. Dead on-they’re vaporized, near hit and they’re squashed in this can. No-fucking-way. The only option was getting off the island.

“Wing what do you think? Want to get bombed, chewed up by those hunter-killers or ride it out in here pondering it all?” Mal asked.

“I don’t want to die. I still owe on my truck,” replied Wing.

“Me too,” said Mal smiling.

Li Jun threw up on the floor between them. The room smelled like yesterday’s fish sandwich.

“Gross. Well, that makes me not want to stay here,” Mal said.

Wing spoke to Li Jun. “He says he’s fine, just nerves.”

“Yeah, let him know he can use the toilet whenever, just pull the curtain around him so we don’t have to watch that too. Fill in him on our options as well,” said Mal.

Wing and Li Jun talked back and forth. “He thinks we should wait it out here. His government will sort this out.”

“Hmm yeah. I just thought about another issue. This guy isn’t going to be like us in the water. He may not have the endurance and it is gonna be hard getting him to the sub. He’ll panic out there.” Mal said.

Wing considered that for a moment. “Fuck it, why don’t we leave him? It is his government’s problem that got us in this spot to begin with.”

“That’s not the right thing to do. You know that,” Mal replied.

“Ok. Those things out there are tough but dumb. We know they just go after what they can actively detect. You remember the Predator movies?” Mal asked.

“Yeah, but we’re not Arnold or Danny Glover. No mud masks, hefting trees and jabbing them with punji sticks until they nuke themselves,” replied Wing.

“Ha. Yeah wasn’t looking to go that far. We’ve got some smoke and incendiary grenades, good terrain and a lifetime of human intuition to work from though. We can work them until we can get out to sea to catch a ride or at least ride out the air raid,” Mal said.

“Sounds like, no plan to me. I like it.” replied Wing.

“Exactly but it is what we got. Tell barf and if he gives you any shit, tell him he’ll be our distraction off this island,” said Mal.

Wing spoke to Li Jun for several moments.

“What about the Chinese frigate. What if they find us?” said Wing.

“Better captured, then dead. They’re less likely to waste us with him around. Shipmates generally don’t fuck each other over.”

“Call into HQ. Let them know our plan and that we’ll be looking for our ride. Let’s look through all this stuff and see if we can find anything useful to help,” said Mal.

Wing spoke to Li Jun and then sat in front of the laptop typing out a message. Mal walked over and started rifling through the supply boxes and their vests.  Between them, Li Jun and the spooks’ supplies they had a handful of smoke and incendiary grades, a couple of flares, a very small breaching charge and, their weapons and equipment kits. They decided to leave most of their ammunition, communications and dive equipment but retained their fins and masks to help them get to sea quickly. They were very light but it would make them fast.

“You ready to do this?” Mal asked.

“No,” said Wing smiling at her.

Mal looked down at her watch and saw they had about three hours left until raid time. She waved them forward and they gathered behind her at the trap door.

“Let’s go.” She ordered.

Mal opened the door and jogged up the ramp into a bright morning sun. She looked left and right and didn’t see any immediate threats, but that didn’t matter. She dropped a multispectral grenade that spewed out a strange mixture of multicolored smoke around her. She then waved the other two forward out of the trap door. Li Jun emerged with Wing after him who threw another multispectral toward their intended path. They all broke into a sprint in that direction.

Mal had just cleared their smoke clouds when she heard the familiar poofs of mortars. They were distant. She ran faster and yelled to keep moving. She ran for twenty yards then turned a sharp left. She was relieved when she saw the other two in her peripherals.  The forest then thundered with the sound of the mortars impacting their prior position.

She put her head down and pumped hard trying to create distance. She ran for at least another few minutes then saw mangrove swamp up ahead. She turned to wave her comrades toward but was interrupted by heavy machine gun fire. She dashed to the water’s edge and then dove in as soon as it was deep enough. She surfaced and turned her head to see Wing and Li Jun in the water behind her. She looked forward, saw a partially submerged mangrove. She swam to it and tucked herself into the root system. Her comrades followed trying to tuck themselves in deep.

Fuck. What to do? Those things have thermal detection. She then thought about a flare and unclipped one from her vest, ignited it and tossed it into a patch of mangroves fifteen feet to their left. It landed in the branches and hung as flames spewed out of it.

A hunter-killer emerged from the forest line and charged the flare. It hit the water at full speed spraying water everywhere but then sunk underneath as it reached deep water. Mal wiped the water from her eyes and looked for the beast. The water was churning where the hunter-killer had dived into it but it wasn’t coming to the surface. The churning stopped a moment later.

“Holy shit,” Wing said. Li Jun nodded, looking like he knew what was said. “It’s dead, right?”

“Yeah guess water resistant but not waterproof,” said Mal.

Mal noticed the water was salty. “Heh, maybe we can just swim out to sea,” she said.

They heard the now familiar sound of mortars firing in the background.

“Down!” she screamed and pushed herself down deep into the water amongst the roots. She was rocked down by the concussion of the as the mortars exploding in the trees above her.  The water and roots protected her from the wood and metal shrapnel. She popped back up and saw the other two had survived.

“That’s not gonna work. The other hunter-killer can mortar us faster than we can swim.” Let’s go.

She pushed off toward the opposite shore they had come from.  Several more mortars rained down around her. She rose out the water once she felt her feet hit bottom and ran as hard as she could up on to the muddy shore and into the forest beyond. She glanced behind and saw Wing and Li Jun were still with her.  She pushed herself and them harder, the water may not stop the second hunter-killer but it will buy them some more time. They needed to get out of its detection range.

They pushed forward for ten minutes but stopped suddenly when Li Jun fell and started vomiting.

“This guy is not winning the marathon. He’s a crewman, not a SEAL. Let’s push toward the sea again.” Mal said while catching her breath. “Wing, you hear anything out there? My left ear is still shot.” said Mal.

“Nope. Looks like we got two hours until raid time too,” said Wing.

Mal looked at the GPS info on her watch and then headed toward the sea. They’d make it in forty if things went well.

Ok, let’s go.” she said pushing her body back into a jog.

The forty-minute trek turned out to be an hour. They needed to stop several times for Li Jun to recover and several scares forced them to cover. Mal was sure the hunter-killer hadn’t pursued them but was nervous about where it was and what it was doing now. She slowed to a prowl as they approached the forest edge and she began to feel a bit of relief as the forest canopy started to open back up. Wing moved up next to her.

“We make it, boss?” he asked.

“Not just yet Wing. How’s our guy doing back there?” she asked.

“He’s gonna be sore tomorrow.” Wing replied.

Mal saw a flash behind her and heard the sound of a flare igniting and turned to see Li Jun holding it.

“That fucking dipshit,” Wing said.

Wing said something angry in Vietnamese and Li Jun said something angry back.

“Says he’s signaling his frigate for help,” said Wing.

Mal moved quickly and in two moves kicked Li Jun in the stomach and knocked the flare from his hands. She tried to extinguish the flare by stomping it into the sand. It took several tries.

“Let’s go. Let’s hit the beach.” Mal ordered.

The group started their run but the forest to their left erupted in gunfire.  They all went to ground as the forest around them was torn apart. Mal pulled her last two smoke grenades and threw one to Wing. She ignited and dropped hers letting it spew a great cloud of smoke. She started to sprint away and made it ten feet but a close burst of gunfire fire forced her to the ground. She looked up and back to see Wing on one knee behind her. He was hurt bad. His left arm was gone and blood was pouring out from the wound and on to the sands below. She could see the agony on his face. Wing!

It was then that the beast emerged from the cloud behind Wing. It towered over him, optics and turret were pointed down at him. Wings eyes met hers and he smiled. She looked to see that he had the small breaching charge in his remaining hand.  He rolled backward, rose, and charged at the hunter-killer. It fired but the rounds cut a swath well above him carving into the ground behind him. It tried to step back to correct the angle.  Wing launched himself toward the monster. There was a great flash and explosion.

Mal opened her eyes several seconds later. Her vision cleared but her ears were ringing again. Wing was gone but hunter-killer now blackened steel form lumbered in front of her. She waited for the kill shot to come at her but it didn’t. She noticed it was searching back and forth as if looking for something. Its sensors were blinded. Wing!

Mal sprinted around the beast toward the beach without a second thought. She heard the hunter-killers gunfire again and by instinct looked over her shoulder.  Li Jun had waited too long and paid a deadly price.  She looked forward again and the forest gave way to the beach. She sprinted toward the water. Her legs burned as she pushed hard. Gunfire roared from behind her. She could feel the sting of thrown sand and see the splashes of errant rounds in the sea ahead. She hit the water, dived and then swam hard. She heard the sound of mortars firing and the impact of rounds. She pumped her arms hard in a breaststroke. She heard and felt several mortars explode close and the last hit close and hard. She felt her body propelled downwards and then up. She opened her eyes, gasped for air. She could see the blue sky and clouds. She then heard the sounds of sonic boom followed by what sounded like a thousand thunderstorms erupting at once. Things went dark.

Weeks later Mal looked down at her phone while lying in her hospital bed in Guam. She was reading the latest tweet on how the Chinese system was compromised by a bunch of young Russian hackers. Nobody would ever really know as the island had been bombed and anything valuable destroyed.

Mal then heard the mechanical whine of wheels as something rolled into the hospital room behind her. Her pulse quickened and she turned.  It was one of the small box-like unmanned service robots the hospital was using to dispense meds.  She gave it a hard kick causing it to roll onto its side, wheels still turning. Its dispenser opened dumping a hand full of pills across the floor.

“We’re not close to even yet.” She said with a smile

The Redeemer: Molocar Part 1

The Redeemer: Molocar Part 1

Love, battle and loss in ancient Carthage. Could be an origin story.

Molocar inhaled one last breath of dusk’s cool sea air and stepped down into a crowded enclosure filled with performers preparing for the evening’s show.   Dancers, musicians and acrobats from all over the Mediterranean were busy dressing and painting themselves in bright rainbows of color purchased from merchants from even further lands. He could hear their equally diverse voices conversing with each other or rehearsing a bit of a song. Molocar smiled as he pushed his muscular form through the crowd and emptied the two great water skins he had been carrying into a large bowl in the center of the room.

“Thanks Molocar! “Said a very elder Numidian while kneeling on the ground and splashing water up into his weathered face. “Not sure water can fix old and ugly but it certainly wakes the spirit up!”Molocar smiled. “Your drum could wake a sleeping god, Gulassa!”

Molocar sat down cross-legged next to Gulassa and splashed his face with water several times which cleaned the dust from his brown skin but also slicked his black moustache and beard enough for him to neaten it with a few downward strokes of his hand. He wiped his face with a rag, pulled three small bags from his pocket, opened each and poured a small bit of colorful powdered sand out. He then wet his finger, and started the process of painting his face by putting a red line under each of his blue eyes which marked him as a brave warrior.

“Ha, in another day you’re going to have to do that for real, Molocar.”

“I’m looking forward to see what is beyond Carthage!” Molocar replied as his finger moved down to paint the outlines of the great protector Baal-Hammon, and his virginal consort war-goddess, Tanit on his muscled chest.

“It is not what is beyond Carthage, it is who,” Gulassa said-accentuating his point by cradling his arms like they were holding a pair of breasts.

Molocar laughed as he rose while pushing his bags of powder back into his pocket. He started to turn toward where his troop stored their props and his torches but was quickly stunned in place by something beautiful. He barely heard Gulassa say, “Speaking of.”

The goddess Tanit stepped through the crowd towards him. She towered over the other entertainers she passed and had long black curling hair that seemed to flow down over a thin flowing cotton dress that barely hid her soft bronze body underneath. Her eyes were as gray as stone and the smile she was wearing made you think she just got away with something.

“Who is that?” Molocar asked outloud while not averting his stare one bit.

“That is Simi. She’s our new Tanit,” replied Gulassa. “Go say hello! Opportunities like this shouldn’t be missed.”

Molocar moved toward her as his mind worked on what to say. This was no used servant girl. This was a woman who likely had great men approaching her all day. What could he offer over them!

“Oh, hello,” came a voice from beyond.

Molocar’s consciousness shifted back into focus.

“Oh you poor dear.” She said with a warm smile looking into Molocar’s eyes with pity. She looked beyond him. “Who is the sweet simple man before me, Gulassa?”

“Sweet. There is nothing sweet about him. He is our fierce and brave fire warrior, Molocar.”

“Yes, I play a one of the Lord Protector’s valiant warriors.” Molocar replied hoping he sounded smarter.

“Oh.” Simi replied as her cheeks reddened out of clear embarrassment.

“Yes, I’ve had this character since I came of age. I get to act like a fierce warrior and play with fire. How did…”

“SHOWTIME ONCE THE TORCH IS STRICKEN. GET TO YOUR PLACES!”  the voice of their employer interrupted from beyond.

“We better go.” Simi said turning toward the exit and joining thing many other players rushing out to their positions. Molocar watched her go.

“Don’t worry lad the night is young. Let us go!” said Gulassa with a slap on Molocar’s shoulder.

Molocar ran to the back corner to collect two torches before running out into the nearly darkened sky. The carved stones of the city buildings had already shifted from a sun baked tans, whites and grays to the dark grays of the night. The sun had completed its journey into the beyond.

The troop moved into an open square that was surrounded on all sides by the city’s working citizens who stirred in anticipation. The roof tops were filled with the wealthy merchants and nobles who paid a handsome price to be there.  Molocar could hear the whispered voices of the excited crowd as slaves moved the night’s props into place. A great round pyre was centrally located with a smaller fire burning next to it so that the larger could be swiftly lit when ready.

Molocar moved into position holding a torch in each hand, closed his eyes and imagined himself as the great warrior. His torches became great blades and his skin became weathered and scared. He felt a fire ignite with him that grew in power with every beat of his heart. He held it in waiting for his moment to explode.

The voice of the troop’s boss echoed through the square. “Citizens of this great city we give you the story of the great Baal-Hannon and Tanit!” The central pyre then roared to life in an amazing rush of heat, sound and light that startled the crowd enough to get oohs and aahs.

Molocar and three other fire warriors rushed it from all points of the compass, launched themselves into a forward flip which they landed just in front of the flames to light both torches in synchronicity with each other. They then back-flipped in a similar manner away from the fire and moved through a careful attack routine of spinning and flipping their torches that created mesmerizing circular tracers for the crowd to follow. Their painted bodies told their own tales of bravery and conquest. Gulassa and the other musicians slowly beat the drums of war from behind them. Molocar’s adrenaline pumped harder as he heard more noise from the crowd as their performance progressed.

A larger than life helmeted warrior came charging out of the darkness stabbing the business end of a great spear into the pyre causing its tip to burst into a great flame.  He then turned and snapped his body into a guardsmen like position with spear up next to the flames. The drums started beating harder with more fervor.  Molocar and his warriors came charging in performing another elaborate fight routine around the mighty warrior and pyre ending their routines by snapping into guardsmen like positions around the great warrior. The great Baal-Hannon, god of gods has now arrived.

Molocar and his warrior comrades tossed their lit torches into the fire and rushed away into the darkness leaving the god protector alone with the great pyre. Slaves shoveled a fine white power into the fire which quickly turned the yellows, orange and reds into a blinding white flash causing many in the crowd to put their arms in front of their eyes. This blinding spectacle allowed Simi and the other dancers to move into place.

The crowd then opened their eyes to the vision of the Goddess Tanit and four maidens rhythmically rolling their naked curvaceous bodies to the sounds of a gentle bone flute and steady thump of the drums. The women started twisting and turning their bodies ever more rapidly working their black and bronze bodies into a sweat which glistened in the light of the hot fire. It was a dance of lust and beauty meant to capture the attention of a great god and every man and woman watching the show.

The crowd’s attention shifted to Baal-Hannon as the music promptly stopped and Tanit and her maidens pointed at him. He removed his great helmet revealing a handsome yet battle scared bronze face below. He looked toward Tanit and reached out his free hand. She rushed toward him in great dancers stride and they embarrassed like lovers. Molocar and his warriors then emerged from the darkness and did the same with the remaining maidens. Great warriors had now met their muses.

All of the performers turned toward the great pyre with their arms outstretched before it. A slave rushed from the darkness carrying an infant wrapped in white. The child screamed as the slave handed it to Tanit who swiftly unraveled the while cotton from it and held the child up to Baal-Hannon.  Its arms and legs moved about and the screams got greater. Baal-Hannon took the child and then ceremoniously held it well above his head while turning in a circle allowing all in the crowd to see.  Gulassa and his drummers then began hammering their drums rapidly causing a sound close to thunder to shake the square and possibly much of the city. The warriors, maidens and then goddess then faced the fire with arms held high. The drums got fast and louder.  Baal-Hannon then turned towards the fire and hurled the child with all his might into it as it exploded again into a great flash of white light. The crowd roared with delight at the live sacrifice. The crowds, performers and gods would be happy tonight!

When their vision once again returned the performers were gone from the square and it was now being filled with acrobats, jugglers and magicians who began their calmer routines. Torches were struck around the crowd in the square and rooftops as food and drink began to be brought out.  It was now time to feast and be merry.

Molocar walked back into the performer’s shelter with the rest of his act. Many of them would have to quickly change wash and change for different performances later but this was Molocar’s last so he didn’t rush.

Seeing Gulassa rubbing his arms clean at the water bowl he sat down next to him again. “Well, last performance for me Gulassa. Tomorrow I’ll get to see beyond these city walls and become a great hero. Perhaps I will do battle against the Roman!”

“Be wary of what you wish for. Young glorious men go to war only to come out as a tired and burdened old drummer like me or a rotting corpse at the end of a spear,” replied Gulassa.

“Yes but you were fighting Carthage, a more formidable force than a bunch of Numidian horseman!”

“Molocar, you miss the point.  I was fortunate to have been conscripted by Carthage with my army’s  defeat and then released to the servitude of our employer. This was not my wish but I am grateful to be alive talking to you now. The Greek, the Roman, the Libyan and any others in this world will not do this. “Expect no mercy from them.”

Molocar smiled at the old man. “You are just sad to see me go!”

Old Gulassa calmly smiled back and looking down began rubbing his aching arms and silently tending to an aching heart.

“So great warrior?  Where did we leave off? “ Came a female voice from behind. Molocar turned to see a modestly dressed Simi standing behind him with her hands on her hips and a sly grin on her face.

“Oh. Hi Simi. Yeah, um are you hungry? Perhaps we can talk over a meal? Gulassa and I were about to go to the stalls”

“Oh Molocar, this old man needs a rest. You and this young flower go on ahead and be merry.” Gulassa said, waving the two of them off. Simi turned walking with a slight shrug giving Molocar just enough time to see his old friend give him a parting wink as he chased after her.

The pair walked out of the shelter to the periphery of the square where several food merchants were selling meats and breads. The smells of roasted goat, rabbit and lamb made them both realize how hungry they were and they moved to the first available cart and spent their meager earnings on a kabob of each with they ate while walking back toward their shelter. Molocar walked close next to her imagining his hand holding hers. Simi stayed close as well silently hoping he would.

There was a small warming fire the troop had set up away from the show for the performers to recover. Nobody was there so they sat down cross-legged next to each other. They knees touched just a bit.

“So what is this about you leaving?” Simi said looking at him sternly.

“It is time for me to make my mark as a great warrior.”

“That is a very noble thing. Do you worry you might die?”

“If I die it is what is meant to be,” Molocar said looking straight into Siri’s eyes.

“I hope it isn’t,” Simi said, feeling her body waver just enough to bump her shoulder with his.

Just then a juggler emerged from a tent meters away laughing breaking their moment.

“So what is Simi to do? Do you like performing?”

“Very much so! When I dance I feel like a flower being carried by the wind. I can go anywhere and do anything. I almost don’t know where I am when I do it.”

“Any man watching you doesn’t know where he is either. You are very good at it and will do well.”

“I hope so. The crowd here does seem to appreciate my dancing more than the marketplaces of Tyre. Most of my time there was slapping away the paws of wayward drunkards and entitled merchants.”

“Tyre? You’ve been to Tyre!. What’s it like?

“It is where I was born. When I was a child I would walk the piers looking at a harbor filled with brilliant sail and oarships from all over. Men and women of all colors and sizes walked about speaking in amazing languages that I imagined said very interesting things. I then became of age and it was clear I was nothing but a pretty object to them so I danced for the right merchant who gave me passage west.”

“So what about you warrior? Where are you from?”

“Here in Carthage. My father made shoes a short walk from here. He earned our home and his business fighting against the nomads to the east. He also won my mother who was a performer he loved very much. They both made a good early life for me but were taken by sickness. I was left to fend for myself in the streets but I was lucky enough to learn enough to survive. I now hope to honor their memory on the field of battle.”

Simi swayed into him hard. “Well, I think they are proud you for finding your own way.”

Hearing her kind words and feeling her soft shoulder bump into his he looked over into her eyes. His heart skipped a beat as he feared she would pull back away. She didn’t. Without a word he reached for her hand.  She felt it and grasped tightly. They both felt something wonderful flow between them. He wondered if this was the love his father had for his mother.  Simi prayed she would see him again. They chatted a little more but once the show ended and the lights dimmed they drifted into sleep next to the fire, hand in hand.

*********************

Molocar’s heard the crash of steel and quickly rose from beneath his blanket surrounded by an army that began to stir in much the same way. He put his filthy arm briefly across his face to allow his eyes to adjust to the bright rising sun and think about the wonderful memory-dream he just had from some time ago.  He would see and feel Simi again.

He grasped his blade from the ground next to him, rose and looked around him. It had been two seasons since they had sailed across the sea to this rocky forested island.  He thought the land was a paradise compared to the harsh deserts of the south. He could live well here and build a great farm were Simi and him could raise two brave sons. His mind drifted darkly to the Roman invaders who had come to this great land. If only it could be free of them he thought.

“Molocar, you up there talking to the gods again? While you’re at it please ask for better-salted meat and rounder women!” said a gravelly voice from behind him.

“Juba, I asked them to improve your cooking skills so that your wife will stay round and not starve to death.” Molocar turned and said with a smile toward the diminutive Numidian behind him.

Juba was his only friend.  He was young like Molocar but looked and exhibited the wisdom of an old man. This wisdom had guided them well since their meeting on the stiff benches of the oar ship and though the vicious first battle under the great mountain. Neither had escaped loss or injury. The Roman’s killed every one of their friends and both bore the scars of battle including a vicious one that ran down across Juba’s right eye to his chin.

“You know considering we are to do battle again today. You might have asked for a god’s hand with that Molocar!”

“Hoping the great Hamilcar has take care of that. Great leaders should have more the gods’ ears!” Molocar replied in earnest.

They both looked down the gentle slope the east and could see they weren’t the only army breaking camp. He could see brief puffs of smoke as the night’s fires were extinguished, the movement of their horses to be fed and mounted and heard and felt the beating of their war drums. Great colorful banners steamed over them in the morning wind and he could see sunlight glinting of the metal of their finely crafted weapons and armor. The Roman legion was being readied for battle.

Molocar thought those beasts wouldn’t be sacking a defenseless village or murdering children today. They would be facing the might and justice of Carthage. Those devils will be driven back into the sea or die on a spear hanging high above the battlefield. Fury pumped from his heart through his veins energizing his body and focusing his mind. He would be the hand of a harsh justice today.

Molocar turned and joined Juba in silently preparing for battle. He strapped on plates of battered bronze armor, a dented helm with a red mane upon it and took hold of a painted red shield and sword covered with davits and grooves earned in battle. The sword was slid into a belt he had strapped around him and the shield strapped to his left forearm. He then picked up a plunging spear which he hoped would run more than one of devils through at first contact.

Molocar walked with Juba where the great Carthaginian army was forming up ranks. There were thousands of other infantrymen around them from different parts of the empire. Some of the more specialized combatants such as slingers and horsemen formed their own groups away from the massive formation as did some of the more unique skirmishers who still followed tribal ways. In the space of a slight movement of the sun the chaotic mass of infantrymen had broken into three neat and orderly formations.

Molocar and Juba stood on the far end of the second row of the leftmost formation with spears pointed up at a slight angle. This would allow them to drop them when the time was right or throw them while minimizing the chance of stabbing the men marching in front of them. They both looked behind them to be sure the warriors were doing the same. This army had as many unblooded warriors as veterans so it was wise to check so as to not get run through from behind.

The drums started beating heavily and a squadron of Numidian horseman rode in a quick line ahead of the formation delivering an officer to the head of each. They had just met with Hamilcar to learn any last minute changes to his battle plan. Now they were here to inspire and lead their men to battle.  Molocar wondered if his old friend Gulassa had seen the same decades before.

Molocar’s formation was led by a burn-scarred nomad hailing from the eastern desert.  His walk was heavy throwing up puffs of dirt from rocky terrain below. Once he arrived at the center of the formation he began to speak with a thunderous voice. His foreign tongue mangled most of words but the pounding of his spear on the ground and against his shield expressed their task clearly. All warriors looked down toward the now formed Roman legion with hardened eyes and beating hearts. It was time for battle.

The drums then changed their rhythm and the three formations marched forward to it. Shields were placed in front of bodies and spears held ready. The Roman’s followed in kind marching forward. Molocar could see to two formations of Roman horseman dashing in formation to the flanks of the great army. He hoped that his army’s cavalry was doing the same to foil their maneuver.

Molocar’s army moved down the slope getting closer to the Roman army. He could almost make out faces behind their shields. The drum rhythm increased and Molocar increased his speed matching the Juba who ran eyes forward next to him. He could see the smaller man’s legs pump much faster and harder than most.

His eyes then went forward and he saw the blur of movement as great salvos of bullets were launched from the slings of the Roman infantrymen. He raised his shield along with most of the others as the deadly missiles turned over pelting and piercing their ranks. Molocar felt the thump of a projectile off his shield. In his peripherals, he saw the blur of movement as a comrade tumbled after being felled by a stone. He then heard the crash of some falling as somebody fell behind him. He experienced three more salvos like this and hoped their slingers were inflicting the same. He looked over and still saw Juba still running alongside and was happy he had survived.

He refocused and moved his shield slightly to the side and saw the armies were nearly together. He shifted his shield down to cover most of his body and made sure the point of his spear was forward.  He heard the initial war cries from his army and added a great yell to its as he braced for the great impact to come.

He heard the massive clash of steel as the great armies met. The man’s neck in front of him exploded in blood and gore as a great spear pierced through it. The body fell away sidewise to the ground spraying all with blood but the spear it had wielded held fast in the crowd of Romans he had charged into. He did not die in vain. The man next to the dead hero successfully avoided the first line of spears and pushed his own in only to be pierced by another through the leg. He grabbed the sword at his side but a great blade slashed downward through his shoulder into his torso.

Molocar reached his attack position and thrust his spear into the crowd ahead of him while watching for enemy spears coming through the gaps around his shield. He felt several more strike on his shield but quickly pulled his blade from his side and slashed down harshly to the side of it. He felt the bite of contact and saw the splash of blood at the end of its arc. He then repeated again and again each time with a different angle or arc. He saw spears coming towards the Roman’s to the left and right of him and knew his army had the momentum.

Molocar looked to Juba and saw he was doing the same. His height now benefitted him as many of the spears and blades passed over or around him where the enemy thought he should be. He made it a point to slice low slicing feet and legs that would drop an enemy to the ground to be quickly killed. Juba was already hurt though with a clear open wound on the shoulder of his shield arm. This angered Molocar greatly.

Molocar’s attention quickly shifted to a large blood-covered roman who had climbed over numerous gore covered bodies to square off with him. The murderous beast’s blue eyes stared at him as the two charged  each other regardless of the similar battles occurring all around them. Molocar did not slash on his first attack but instead blocked the Roman’s blade with his shield and used it as a battering ram to knock the cretin off his feet and on to his back. The roman rolled on to his stomach in an attempt to get back up but Molocar stepped on his back pushing him to the ground and pushed his blade through the gap under the Roman’s helmet.

He quickly looked for another opponent but heard a familiar yell from behind him. He quickly turned to see Juba down on his knees holding his shield over his head as a large legionnaire smashed his sword down upon it over and over again. Juba’s eyes met his for a brief second as blow shattered the bone in Juba’s shield arm causing the shield to drop. Juba’s then looked up as his executioner’s final blow came down severing his head from body.

“NO!” screamed Molocar.

He dashed toward Juba’s killer feeling the burn of rage. The Roman squared up to face him didn’t know he was facing a trained acrobat. He had just raised his shield and blade when Molocar leapt over him, landed and spun around blade ahead of him slashing through the roman’s flank, ribcage and spine. Juba’s killer dropped to the ground in nearly two pieces.

Molecar charged into the massive melee picking out the next target of his vengeance.  His blade cut deeply again and again. He felt the occasional sting of a foe’s weapon and the raw taste of blood in his mouth but no injury was great enough to slow his fury.  The crowd soon began to thin and the sounds of the clash of steel gave way to the cries of agony. Finally, the sky seemed to open up as the remnants of a roman army fled the gore covered field. It was over and Carthage had prevailed. His army then finished its final tasks of finishing off the roman wounded with no mercy.

Molocar made his way back to camp silently with only his thoughts. The army had started their celebration but he wanted no part of it.  War had taken from him once again. He sat down next to the fire where he had sat with Juba the night before. He then emptied a waterskin over his head, scrubbed the blood and gore from his body and gear and ate a few olives and bread left from the night before.

He started the grim task of collecting Juba’s possessions. He threw most of it into the fire keeping only a small Numidian trinket to remember him by.  It was an ivory horse that Juba believed would always help carry them through. Molocar thought this quest for glory cost anybody that befriended him their lives. Perhaps it was best to serve the rest of his time without any.

He flopped over on to his blanket and he felt his aching battered body relax. He let his mind drift to the many good times he had with Juba in front of these fires, his young days in the acting troop and even to his childhood where he listened to his parents teach him all sorts of things.

His thoughts drifted to Simi. He imagined her leaning into him in front of the fire. He looked could see the gentle cool wind of the night blowing a tuff of her hair slightly and feel the soft skin of her hand in his. She smelled like the fields of flowers this island keeps and as she talked she looked deeply in his eyes. He could think of nowhere he’d rather be right now.

He started to talk to her in his mind. He told her about the cruel death of Juba. She had heard many stories about him since Molocar met him and tearfully listened while stroking his head gently. He told her of the horrible revenge he had gotten for Juba. He had butchered his killer and many others.  She smiled gently and cradled his head in her lap gently stroking his hair. She told him how proud she and Juba are.  Juba is in a much better place now and is preparing a good home and meal for his family when they arrive.

He then told Simi about how she made him feel. He missed her beautiful form and alluring dance. He missed her devilish smile and forcefully good nature. He missed the way he felt when her eyes met.  Most of all he missed the feeling of not being alone in this world. That there was somebody out there for him. He saw her lip mouth the word, yes, and he then drifted off into sleep and away from the cruel battleground near him.  She was here with him in his dreams and one day soon he would be with her for real.

*******

“MAN THE OARS!”

Molocar’s eyes opened and he instinctively grabbed the large oar in front of him along with every other man on the oar ship.

The man next to him bumped him on the shoulder and with a broken toothy grin said “We’re home! Good food, family and glory!”

Molocar returned the smile while grabbing the long weathered oar in front of him. He hoped he looked much better than this man as he would see Simi soon! He put his hand quickly in his mouth to be sure all his teeth were there.

Molocar watched out through the oar breech onto familiar blue waters and the rocky sun-kissed cliffs of the Carthaginian coast.  His arms started to burn but he pushed harder as he saw the great stone gateway of the protected port drift by him displaying the vivid red, yellow, green and blues of the sails of the great merchant and fishing fleets of Carthage. People moved about between them happily carrying out the day’s business. He then passed another great wall into the great circular pool that housed the Carthaginian naval fleet. He endured a long tedious procedure of docking the boat in one of the hundreds of tunneled docks around the circumference but he was home and that is all what mattered.

Molocar and his shipmates then debarked into a long line to receive their final pay and move on to the rest of their lives. He could feel the energy and happiness that filled each man’s heart. Yes they fought the Romans and won but they were now home and alive!  Thousands of their fellow warriors were not so lucky.  Molocar’s heart sank for a second as he thought of Juba and his family. He then thought of Simi, old Gulassa and his troop and felt a surge of happiness. He would have a new tale to tell!

Carthage hadn’t changed much since he had last seen it. It was still a city of many great structures but also alive with the many different cultures that the empire absorbed.  He moved through the crowded streets like he’d never left and grew anxious and excited as the sounds of minstrels started filling his ears. He turned a few corners and emerged into the familiar merchant and minstrel filled square he had left long ago. It hadn’t changed much either.

He walked double-time into their camp and saw his first familiar face of one of his fellow fire warriors. Their eyes met and with a great roar the actor bellowed, “Molocar the warrior has returned!” Performers heads started popping up from their various activities and many hellos were given and returned.  His old employer approached and with a smile said, “Welcome back Molecar! Come see me when you are ready. I assume you’ll  be wanting your old position? He then patted Molocar’s arms. “Perhaps the role of Baal might be better for this scarred warrior?”

“Yes. Anything. Where is Gulassa and Simi?”

“Right behind you,” said a gentle voice from behind him.

Molocar turned and there was Simi, glaring at him with a crooked smile and hand on her hip.  He lost his breath for a second.

“I see you’re still a little slow, Molocar. Guess a few clubs to the head didn’t fix it” Simi said.

“I’ll just let you two catch-up. Come see me in a bit for a talk Molocar,” said his employer who knew true love when he saw it.

“Uh no. Not fixed yet,” Molocar replied with a slight grin.

She smiled and walked up to him and gently grabbed both of his hands and looked into his dark eyes.

“I knew you’d come back.”

He looked into hers and all the fears and doubts he had left his body. He slowly embraced her and leaned in to kiss her. He felt her warm breath and then soft lips touch his. She pulled him closer to her body and he could feel her gentle hands rubbing his shoulders and back as their passion started to surge.  He reciprocated wanting her to feel the same. She then grabbed both his hands again, looked into his eyes pulled him forward with a devilish look in her eye.

“Let’s go.”

Her let her pull him back toward the large tents. He could hear more hellos from the troop as they snaked their way through to a lone tent in the periphery of the camp. She quickly popped her head into the tent and then out.

“It’s all ours.”

Simi then gave Molocar a quick pull and they both dropped through the tent flap and on to a soft goatskin next to each other. She laughed and then rolled toward him and put her hand on his chin and said, “Make love to me.”

Molocar felt a surge of lust-filled energy and he quickly rose to his knees removing his clothes and then helping her lift the cotton dress from her form. Her skin seemed to glisten from the heat of their passion and a small beam of light coming through a gap in the tent. He caressed her hips slowly and then moved to the softness of her slightly bulged stomach and then breasts.  She reciprocated by pushing herself closer to and rubbing the dark weathered skin of his muscular chest. He responded by gently kissing her shoulder, her neck and then her lips while his hands wrapped around her to caressing her lower back.  She then moved slightly away and then pushed him down onto the skin with lust in her eyes. With a leap she then mounted him. He felt the warmth of her around him and with a surge of energy they began moving with each other.   It was heaven on earth and as their passion grew he started to feel the small tremors from within her which excited him to the point of release. He pulled her close to him as he did so and then rolled her over into a gentle embrace from behind. They were finally together as one.

“I talked to you every night in my dreams.”

Simi smiled and looking into his eyes said, “I dreamed about you too Molocar.”

Their lovemaking then continued through the bulk of the afternoon. They made up for the hundreds of days apart into a happy exhaustion. Nobody bothered them except to leave a jug of water and a bowl of dates at the entrance which they ate ferociously. They then fell back onto the damp soft blanket.

“So what are you doing now? Are you still Tanit?”

“No, it is a role for young girls to steal. I am now just an old dancer, ” Simi replied looking slightly downward.

“Does this make you sad?”

“No, it is time to be married and bear children. This would make me happy. I have dreamed of it since before you left.”

“And who is be your husband?”

“Why you, fool. You are mine!”

Molocar’s heart warmed at hearing this and he pulled her close to him once again. “Then let us make it so!”

She pulled his arm around her tight and they both drifted off into sleep.

Molocar had the most wonderful dream. He imagined the both of them on their own farm outside of Carthage. It was large and covered with fig trees for as far as the eye could see. Great mountains towered over them to the south and you could almost make out the blue of the south to the north where Carthage lies. A little boy-their little boy was waving a stick around like a sword slaying some unknown foe. Simi had a little girl in her arms and was twirling with her under the warm sun. In the distance below the mountains he could see his troop, camped outside the city with many more stages and performers. He could hear them performing the story of Juba.

Molocar heard Simi start to speak. It was soft but definitely not the scene at hand and his eyes shot open pulling him from his dream. It was still dark with an occasional beam of light leaking in from the remaining fires and torches that still burned. He turned his head toward her to see she was sitting cross-legged with her back toward him and slowly rocking back and forth.

He then heard Simi softly say. “I know I love him and we should be married and have many children.” Then as if replying to response moments later, “You’re just jealous! Go away and leave me be.”

Molocar reached up and touched the small of her back. “Simi?”

Simi jumped feeling and hearing Molocar, then quickly turned around with a smile. She then rose and turned to cuddle with him. “Yes, just happy you have returned.”

Molocar thought this was a bit strange but quickly shifted back into thinking about how nice it is to have her here with him. He then drifted back into a deep restful sleep.

Molocar’s eyes shot open as the clash of steel echoed from outside the tent. He launched himself up and moved out of the tent ready to defend Simi from whatever was out there. As he emerged from the tent he was greeted by a very Gulassa banging away at a pot.

“I thought that would stir a brave warrior!” Gulassa said with a smile.

“It wasn’t the sound of steel but the lack of rhythm. How are you my friend?” Replied  Molocar.

“I am old but still here!”

Molocar noticed that Gulassa’s eyes had gotten cloudy and his gaze seemed as if he was looking at something far behind him.

“My friend. Your eyes!”

“What? I don’t get to see how ugly you are now. This is a good thing!”

“Gulassa, very nice to see you,” came Simi’s voice from behind Molocar.

“Ah Simi, the one person I do miss seeing!”

“Molocar perhaps it would be good for you to put on some clothes,” Simi said while grabbing his arm.

Gulassa released a belly laugh and Molocar looked down and went pale as he realized that in his rush and surprise he didn’t realize he was naked. He quickly rushed into the tent to dress quickly. When he re-emerged from the tent Gulassa and Simi turned towards him.

“Much better! I must get ready for a show. I’ll leave the two of you to catch up,” Simi said with a smile.

Gulassa picked up a walking staff and led Molocar to the food merchants on the periphery who had opened not long before. Molocar’s mouth watered as he smelled things he only dreamed about eating while away. He quickly dashed to the nearest vendor and bought warm flat bread and some sausages roasting nearby for himself and Gulassa. They then walked back to the camp and sat down next to each other near Gulassa’s worn tent.

“So. How was life in service of the King?” Gulassa asked.

“I’m very glad to have done my duty but more glad to be home.”  Molocar then launched into the tale of his travels, battles and his great friend Juba.

Gulassa silently took in in and then swung his arm around Molocar and with a squeeze to his shoulder said. “We are glad to have you back.  Good memories will overtake the bad. Keep brave Juba in your heart and he will never be lost. Now let us talk about good things. Tell me about your night with Simi?” asked Gulassa.

“It was amazing! We loved like I dreamed we would.”

“Yes, she is a good woman. She has been with no other since you left and spoke of you often. Sometimes I would see her sitting next to the fire singing softly to herself- anyways, it is good for her that you are back! It is time to make Simi your wife and the mother of your children. Now let’s get back to last night. Tell and old man about what he has not seen in ages!”

The two talked for several hours.  Molocar gave a few details on the last night’s event and his desire to make a new show of his own.  Gulassa filled him in on events with the troop, city and himself. Molocar felt sad that Gulassa was losing his sight but was happy to be with his old friend once again. Life would be better for all of them. They were all together.

Molocar visited his employer’s tent and after a brief conversation with the current performer playing Baal and they agreed to split the task. Molocar was glad to be back into the show and his comrade was glad to have a few nights off.  They both then walked through the performance with Molocar agreeing to view that night’s performance to see it and refresh his memory.

Molocar left the tent hoping to catch Simi in the downtime between the morning’s street performances and the night’s show. He moved quickly toward her tent as he was about to round the final corner the goddess Tanit stepped out in front of him. She was short, muscular with long locks of a dark hair that covered her pale skin. Her eyes were blue like the sea and she wore the same revealing costume Simi had once worn and flowed around her curvaceous body like a cloud.

“You must be Molocar. I am Sophon. It is nice to meet you.”

“It is very nice to meet you too. I see that you are playing Tanit. I will be playing Baal.”

“How wonderful!  Everybody has said some nice things about you. I know that you will do well.”

“He will do great and you will stay away from him otherwise,” came Simi’s voice from behind.

They both turned to see Simi emerge from around the corner Molocar’s side. She grabbed him by the arm and then seductively said. “Let’s go back to the tent and have some time before the next show.”

“Yes of course, Molocar said letting her lead him away.

“Good, lets leave this rabid dog to feast on the rats,” Simi replied.

“Simi! Molocar said looking back apologetically to a visibly hurt Goddess.

They moved back into her tent and as he was about to ask her what that was all about she jumped up on him forcing them both back on to the skin. She then gave him a passionate kiss while slowly pulling the clothes from both of them.  His thoughts were quickly lost in another passionate round of lovemaking that led to a short but restful sleep.

They woke to the sound of the ready bell. Simi dressed quickly wrapped a loose fitting white cloth around her body. She then walked up to Molocar and gave him a kiss on the lips. He looked into her eyes and without speaking they told each other they loved each other. She then smiled and said, “I must go but we will continue this later!”

Molocar dressed and then walked from  Simi’s tent to the enclosure he and Gulassa had readied themselves in so many years before. By habit, he grabbed a water jug, refilled all the bowls in the shelter and spoke with each performer along the way until he reached Baal-Hammon to help him get his more elaborate costume on.  This made him feel the excitement he loved all those years before.

He walked out toward the square and joined Gulassa who was sitting and joking with the other drummers about anything and everything. He watched his beloved dance to entertain the crowd before the show. He could see her love for the crowd on her face and the love they returned.

The show started with an explosion of color and their employer’s introduction.  Molocar was in awe of the energy and talent of the performers and the colorful pyrotechnics of that flashed from their fires.  Sophon was no Simi but she was an enchanting Tanit and his counterpart played his role with power and precision. Even old Gulassa seemed to pound his drum harder than the years before. It was inspiring and invigorating. His mind was still twirling with many new ideas he could try when the show ended. There was so much good in this.

The crowd began to disperse and Molocar made his made through the mass toward Simi who was helping usher them out toward the food stands beyond. He excitedly walked up to her and grabbed her by both hands.

“That was wonderful! The troop did a great job. You and the other dancers were beautiful. Tanit and Baal-Hammon  were performed perfectly and did you see the fires?  Amazing!

He then noticed that Simi was smiling but there was some sadness behind it.

“Yes the dog plays my role well.”

“Oh Simi, forget about that. There is only one Tanit!”

He then picked her up over his shoulder like a savage and carried her back toward the tent. She laughed the entire way and when they got back they shared some water and figs in front of a warm fire. They laughed and talked until the moon got high. Molocar talked to her about all his great ideas he had for a show and she quietly listened and laughed at his jokes. When the moon got high and fires started to ebb the moved back to the tent and fell asleep in each other’s arms once again.

They woke to a busy but beautiful day. Simi did not have to work the first performance but needed to visit the baths and clean her costume.  Molocar met with his employer and his counterpart and they decided that he would observe the day show and then perform at night.  The day show had far less fire but it allowed him to absorb more of the routine and pick out the key parts to focus on. It would take him a couple shows to get great but he was confident he knew enough to be good.

When the sun was halfway down Molocar walked back to Simi’s tent and found her in it brushing the curls of her hair as she stared into the reflection of the water in front of her. He walked up behind her and he put his arms around her letting her know he was there. She smelled like lavender and her skin was as soft as fur.

“I am going to perform tonight.”

“Really, so soon?”

“Yes, I’m ready. I picked up on a lot at today’s performance. Some has changed from long ago but the basic steps are the same. I am not worried”

“Great, I will watch from the crowd and keep the Tanit and her harem from taking you.”

Molocar laughed out loud but in his head was thinking she seemed to be worried his heart would wander too much. It bothered him a bit but perhaps this is just how she is. He had a performance to concentrate on. He could show her his love was only for her after.

The rest of the afternoon went well. He ate some but was nervous. This was good though. It was nothing like the fear before battle and he was making something wonderful. He closed his eyes a bit at this thought and Simi woke him up a sometime later.

“Time for you to get ready!”

Molocar and Simi once again prepared for the night’s show. They moved out several moments before the ready bell and split up shortly thereafter. Molocar jogged to the enclosure in his excitement and as he was stepping  down into it, Gulassa stepped up.

“Oh I thought I smelled the God of Gods. You should ask your goddess for some lavender next holiday.”

“Perhaps I should take your nose instead!” Molocar said helping the old man up the stairs and then leaping down to prepare.

Molocar’s counterpart was there and he helped him paint his body many great colors while walking through the performance a final time. The sand was as itchy as he remembered it but he quickly moved into the preparing his body for performance with a series of stretches and lifts. It had been a long time and he did not want to injure himself with so much good going on.

Molocar moved out of the shelter to his place just as his employer called the troop to their places. He closed his eyes for a second as he walked on imaging each move. He entered the square and could see that things were nearly set. He looked over and saw Gulassa with his drum and turned toward Simi who was looking at him.

“You look amazing. Molocar!” a voice said from behind.

He turned and saw Sophon-Tanit standing behind him.  Feeling bad about their last conversation he replied.

“Sophon you look beautiful. My performance will have to be great to outshine you.”

Sophon blushed but her eyes bulged wide open a moment later looking beyond Molocar. He started to turn to see what she was looking and an enraged Simi charged by him with a lit torch over her head. He watched in horror as she struck the young actress across the head with it knocking her to ground. She then pounded on her with the murderous fury of an enraged warrior. Sophon’s costume caught fire causing her to writhe and give a scream he had only heard on the worst battlefield. Simi continued to beat her as if trying to stifle her screams.

The crowd and troop first froze silently watching the violent attack with mouths wide open. They then pushed and shoved their way toward the melee almost knocking several performers to the ground. This was like an arena to them .  Molocar could feel bloodlust in the air.

He could not let this continue so he pushed toward Simi. The crowd had bunched in tight causing him to use his great strength to pry his way through. One patron made the mistake of trying to push him and was quickly smashed to the side. As Molocar broke free he witnessed a Simi deliver a final blow to Sophon’s broken form. She then turned toward him and when he looked into her eyes he didn’t see Simi. He saw a demon staring back at him. He froze in sheer panic.

“Murderer!” came from the crowd along with the first rock which struck Simi in the upper chest with an audible thud. She screamed in pain and dropped to her knees and buried her head in her arms hoping to protect herself from the stoning to come. The crowd began to surge along with many more thrown rocks which struck her as harshly as the first.

Molocar was pushed hard by the crowd behind him. He pushed back as hard as he could with arms stretched trying to keep them behind him. He began to falter forward from the sheer power of the crowd. He then saw Gulassa almost roll out from the crowd. He placed his body in from of Simi’s and his cloudy eyes looked in horror ahead. The crowd then collapsed in and Molocar was knocked to the ground. He felt many feet on and about him. He could hear screams up ahead. It seemed to go on forever he felt more feet on him and he quickly lost his breath. Things then went very dark.

************

Molocar felt a hand on him and he opened his eyes. He was lying flat on the ground and when he moved his body felt bruised from head to toe. He rolled over to see his employer looking with concern at him. His mind came back into focus and he suddenly remembered what had happened.

“Simi!” he said rising quickly.

The employer quickly put himself in front of Molocar and grabbed the warriors shoulders as he rose.

“Molocar, you don’t want to see this!”

“No!” Molocar said knowing what was beyond.

He pushed by the older man aside and saw Gulassa and Simi’s broken forms in front of him. The mob had done its cruel work and battered them to death. Molocar felt dizzy for a moment and his stomach turned. He could feel chest pump hard as he tried to process what he was seeing. He tried to inhale but couldn’t find his breath. He then dropped his knees gasping and felt his agony pour from him in a great wail. He put his head in his hands and sobbed into them.

His mind then spun from grief to rage. What had he done to deserve this? He had done what he was supposed to! He had served his king and his god and lost much in return. Why was this happening! He had lost all he had loved and when it was finally time for some happiness it was taken from him.

He opened his eyes and looked toward the great pyre ahead of him. He thought of the gods and how could they have let this happen.  He wanted revenge on them. He wanted to show them the pain they had caused.  He would enter the afterlife and exact his revenge. He would then find Simi, Juba and Gulassa and build a just world to live him. He looked toward the still burning pyre and launched towards and into it. His body was quickly consumed but his spirit was not.

The gods did indeed take notice.

The Redeemer: Hawk

The Redeemer: Hawk

“The Plan” by Robert Griffing.

Brave Mohawk warriors, feckless colonials, the mighty Adirondacks and our favorite revenge dealing spirit. Not exactly the Last of the Mohicans but hey! Enjoy and let me know how to improve this story!

Hawk looked down upon the land between the two waters and had no doubts as to why the spirits held it dear.  The morning sun had climbed over the mountains and lifted the night’s mist exposing a blanket of bright reds, oranges and yellows that covered the mountains, hills and valley in preparation of the cold winter to come.  A cool breeze wisped through every few moments carrying the occasional scents of the small campfires, chimneys and smokehouses of those that lived in the valley.  The waters of the End Lake glistened and the birds soared high above either waiting for the sight of prey in the forest below or bellowing as they started their long journey away.

Hawk stood with one leg up on the rocky perch of the overlook. His deerskin leggings and shirt bore the marks of many days of travel and the numerous beaded necklaces around his neck marked his great victories over the Barkeaters, Frenchman and a great bear. His new long rifle was strapped over his left shoulder and axes hung from his belt ready to capture a meal or fell the next great enemy of the Kanienke. A single thin white cloth sash was tied to the stripe of black hair on his head marking him as a friend of the Englishmen. He did not like it.

The white tribes had come to these lands a few generations before and like flies had made their way everywhere.  They brought many marvelous things with them like medicine, delicious foods and rifles but also disease and foolish wars to Hawk’s people.  It is a great thing to want to bring wealth and lands to one’s tribe but foolhardy to be careless and destroy everything and everyone to accomplish it.

Hawk’s green eyes and thoughts turned to the other four brave warriors and an Englishman wandering about the small camp below him. They were all busy cleaning the camp from the night’s sleep, watering horses and carrying out other tasks of a small scout troop.

The first was Great Owl who was the eldest of the group and giving direction. He had taken many Barkeater scalps before he was Hawk’s age and carried them with great pride. He was now old and had grown a great stomach that he said contained the great wisdom he had collected. Everybody questioned his ideas why stomachs are big but did not question his great skill with the English rifle. His great scarred but smiling face was always behind it guiding the iron ball to the mark.

River was breaking down their tents and was Hawk’s best friend for a long as he could remember. He was a proven warrior but his true passion was the summer games. He displayed his many victories of these matches rather than those won in battle. He would speak nightly of his new strategies in sport and his blue eyes were always looking for the best tree to climb or rock to scale.  He had recently found his mate and prayed that his firstborn would be the finest runner in the tribe. He looked forward to showing him how.

Loud One was the son of a great chief that was proud to let everybody know. He was doing that now while rolling blankets and speaking to the Englishman in his language.  His skills in battle were not great but he always made up for it with his skills in medicine and talk. Hawk thought he would make a great leader one day.

The Englishman was a skinny blue-eyed boy named Tim that was here to help them communicate with the English hunters and warriors. He seemed to have much knowledge about the tribe’s ways and spoke their language better than most white men. He dressed in deerskin leggings, shirt and moccasins but did not take on the warrior’s hair but instead wore a flimsy leather sculpted leather hat.  He did not require help in moving about or living in the woods which made him very likable. He was currently digging out an alcove to stash their heavier tools which would be retrieved later. Hawk hoped he would be with them for some time and could perhaps pass on greater wisdom to the English. He is proof that perhaps there is some hope for them.

Hawk’s attention quickly shifted back to the task of hand which was a final survey. He glanced down the valley to the right toward the shores of the End Lake and could see smoke trailing up from a campsite along the north-south road the French traveled between the great forts on the lakes. This was likely the French fur traders the English and the tribe wanted destroyed. Looking to the left he saw the first waterfall and knew the ambush site was near. No fires or movement seemed to be nearby which meant their morning trek could be uneventful.

Hawk quickly climbed down from the rocky outlook and joined the group at the forested bottom.

“The Frenchman’s fires still burn so we should have time to get to the hunting ground,” Hawk said walking up to help the group finish packing.

“Good, the quicker we can get this deed done the quicker we can get back and prepare for winter,” said the Great Owl.

“Yes, many more deer must be caught to fill the great bear’s belly!” said Loud One causing the group to laugh.

“One day you will have a great one to fill as well!” replied Ox with a smile.

The group then finished hiding the tents and heavier equipment and moved out for the morning trek down through the forest to an ambush site with only weapons, water skins and a lunch in hand.  Travel was easy as most of it was downhill and the forest was thinning out as the fall season progressed. The group moved carefully with each member taking a turn to dash ahead and scout for friend or foe. Running into either wouldn’t help their cause and nobody wanted to kill when they did not have too.

The terrain was starting to flatten out when Tim jogged back toward the group rapidly showing the hand signal for bear. The group members quickly crouched in place or in Tim’s case crawled underneath the nearest pine. Great bears were not to be trifled with.

Their efforts were rewarded when a black giant slowly lumbered bye only a stone’s throw away. The great beast was almost as tall as a man and likely weighted four times as much. If he stood he would tower over any man and it would take many rifles to bring it down. Its great head moved back and forth as it sniffed at the ground and air knowing something was near. It let a low bellowing growl warning away all from challenging it.

River looked over at Hawk and smiled giving the sign of the Great Spirit.

Hawk and watched the great beast pass. The beast didn’t seem to be hunting and that was a good omen. Only foolish men would confuse it as otherwise, he thought while noticing Tim’s exposed foot from underneath a great pine.

The group continued on through the morning and arrived at the ambush site when the sun was high. Great Owl had chosen it because the nearby falls would mask most sounds and they could shoot from high positions down on to the passing road. This would make it harder for the caravan’s guards to detect the ambush and put up a good defense.  Not only would they have to pick out Hawk’s group hiding behind terrain and trees but it would be an uphill run to attack them. Loud One was positioned at the bottom near the trail as a lookout and to prevent any scouts from outflanking the shooters on the hill. It was also a great way to keep him quiet.

The group didn’t have long to wait. The first sign was the rhythmic hum of a stringed instrument in the distance that got louder as time passed.  Soon a baritone voice joined. It was unintelligible at first but then clearly French as time progressed. The group looked at each other knowing their pray was quickly approaching.

Hawk could not believe what he was hearing. The French would be caught unaware and would be at a supreme disadvantage.  There was no signal from Loud One so the French hadn’t even sent scouts ahead. How foolish, he thought.

Hawk’s thoughts quickly drifted to the task at hand as Loud One’s hand came up signaling that four riders were approaching and three wagons. They all quickly lifted their long rifles onto the trees, mounts or rocks provided cover and stability. All eyes went to their sights with a second ball and powder in hand to fire accurately and then quickly reload.

Minutes later the wagon train and riders appeared. There were four French riflemen on horseback in front of three covered carts. Drivers were perched high on a wooden bench at the front of all carts and the first also held the musician who continued to bellow a tune for all to hear.

A tension-filled minute passed as the caravan drew closer and below the group into their hunting ground.

It was River who fired first followed by the rest of the ambushers.  The drivers are all three carts were thrown violently off their mounts as the balls struck their bodies.  The armed horseman dropped from their mounts seeking cover beyond their horrified mounts.  They then brought their rifles to bear only to be torn to the ground by a second volley of gunfire. A half dozen more Frenchman poured from the now stopped carts only to be shot down in order with the last victim being cleaved by a thrown tomahawk that buried itself in the victim’s back.

The firing then stopped leaving great puffs of gunpowder smoke in the air and one whimpering musician behind the first cart. He stepped out holding his instrument high. “Please, stop this now. We surrender!” Great Owl’s rifle boomed as he humanely shot the entertainer through his right eye.

The group then descended on the wreckage of the caravan and quickly silenced the gravely injured and then scalped the dead much to Tim’s dismay. They then set horses free and put the pelt filled carts to the torch for all in the valley to see. They then disappeared back up the mountain as quickly as they had arrived.

The trek back to their mountainside camp and observation point was uneventful and solemn. It was only after they had unpacked and set up for their last night’s stay that Great Owl spoke what they all were thinking.

“It appears the Frenchman still have not learned much from their years here.”

“Yes. No scouts, their eyes were not up and the singing,” said Loud One putting a chunk of cooked rabbit in his mouth with his knife.

“Foolish French. Not as smart as the English, right Tim?” said Owl.

“Ha! Yes in this case old one.” Tim said with a slight grin.

Hawk sat quietly, eating and thinking while the fire crackled and dark blue sky was starting to give way to a black one. What was the purpose of doing this? Those foolish Frenchman were doing nothing but traveling from one village to the next. There was not a worthy warrior among them!

A pebble painfully bounced off his forehead which snapped him away from his internal dialog.

“The soaring Hawk is brought back to the ground by a rock!” River said with a smile.

Hawk smiled and the group passed the evening on happier subjects, the rest of their meal and a night’s rest. They would need to move early as the French would send soldiers to search for the missing men.

The next three days were filled with travel back to the village beyond the pines. His Chief, Fox, had brought the war band there to trade with the English. He would be happy that his tribe had lived up to the bargain and the English would provide more food for their village further west.

Cold rain was falling and the morning fog was thick as they walked into their band’s camp outside the great village. The group and the camp’s denizens had covered themselves with great deerskin cloaks that kept them warm and water running off of them. Smokey Fires were kept alit and the spitted remnants of the last mean remained above them filling the air with the delicious scents of smoked deer and fish.  The dozen or so dome like tents were abuzz with activity with Indian warriors and craftsmen walking in and out carrying out the day’s tasks.

The group walked to the center of the camp to a large tent with both an Indian and English guard on either side of the door. The tent was twice the height of a man and as long as any longhouse. It was decorated with many drawings of his tribe and was noisy with both Tribe and English voices.  Hawk, Owl and Tim walked into the tent while the remaining pair remained outside under the solemn glare of both guardsmen.

Hawk cleared the entry flaps and ahead of him sat Fox who was flanked on the left by his trusted warriors and advisors. The chief of the English, Colonel Stroud sat to his right surrounded by his warriors, advisors and toad-like son. Fox was old and had brought many victories and much wealth to his tribe. His many scars showed this much better than the sashes and beads on his clothes and body. General Stroud was also very old but was the cleanest of chiefs all had seen. His face, hands and clothes were clean and without wear.  To the trio’s left and right, the craftsmen of both tribes were meeting working out smaller trades of the day. Fox smiled as he saw his warriors approach him.

“Great Ox and our Hawk. I am glad to see you have returned. Was your raid successful?” said the Fox in a volume great enough to catch the attention of the entire room.

“It was. The Frenchmen were caught unaware and quickly defeated.  Their bodies and carts were put to the torch. All of our brave warriors are unharmed and acted like seasoned hunters” replied Ox in their native tongue.

“What is this one saying?” Colonel Stroud asked in English pointing a finger at Great Owl.

“Their raid has been successful,” replied Tim.

“And how do we know this?” asked Lieutenant Stroud stepping from the shadows behind his father.

Hawks stomach ached at the site of the two Strouds. They were not good men and should not be trusted. Their tongues are silvered and they delivered half meals.

Great Owl replied by opening his cloak and tossing the bundled French scalps at their feet with a soft thump. An unseen Englishman in the rear muttered, “Bloody Savages,” loud enough for the group to hear causing them all to look back.

“Ah yes. I’d assume these would be French….” said the elder Stroud.  He then clapped his old hands together and said “Very well then. We’ll provide payment right away. Lieutenant, please go see that payment is provided for services rendered.”

“Right sir,” the younger Stroud replied. He then turned and walked off to see to it.

Fox looked back toward his Hawk and Owl.

“You have done well. Tonight we will have a great feast in celebration of your victory. Please let the rest of the band know.”

The pair nodded and then walked out and joined the rest of the band leaving Tim behind.

“Is the clean Chief happy?” asked Loud One.

“He is satisfied and Fox wants to eat,” replied Hawk.

“That is as good as it gets!” said Owl.

The four warriors moved back to their tent for the afternoon to rest and remove the days of travel from them.  It was vacant, stuffy, damp and cold when they arrived but a small cooking fire and an open flap soon rectified that. The group washed, dressed in fresh skins and was in good spirits for the great feast to come.

When the sun set the group walked through a cold and misty rain to the great tent. This time two smiling Tribesmen guarded it and once entered a totally different scene awaited them. The great Chief still sat in his great chair but two great long tables were set out in front of him the length of the tent.  All sorts of spitted meats and fish were there were as well as dishes their wives and mothers made for them at home. Most of the war band was also here cheerfully talking and conducting anything but business. The group quickly dispersed to enjoy the fun with their brothers and sisters.

Many hours passed and the group had eaten twice that of any man. The Great Owl was now telling the story of the Great Bear in the woods that had looked them all in the eye to give them strength in battle. River then caused much laughter as he mentioned the bear probably saw Tim’s foot from beneath the Pine and moved on for better tasting prey. The laughter then subsided as Fox approached them and waved the group over to speak.

“You have provided our wives and children more food to get through the cold season and I thank you. You are all brave warriors who serve your tribe well!”

“Thank you for this great feast Fox. It is good for the band to celebrate and be happy,” replied Owl.

Fox smiled and at that moment Hawk’s stomach ached as he knew what Fox was about to say.

“Colonel Stroud would like us to raid soon again. The entire band would attack the Frenchman’s outpost close to the Bulging Lake. This will feed the tribe for the entire winter and into the thaw.”

“Great Fox, that fort has many riflemen. We would need the help of the Englishmen or another band to even hope to defeat it,” said Loud One.

“The French are weak and do not belong there. The Englishmen are better and this will feed the tribe”, replied Fox sternly.

“The English are not true friends. We just took the scalps of craftsmen and merchants not warriors. It was below us!” said River in a raised voice.

Great Owl put his hand out toward River.

“You will respect our leader and not speak so loud at him.”

“This is my decision and it must be done.” Fox replied flatly.

“A leader does not sacrifice his warriors or old fools!” River shouted looking ready to pounce.

The room suddenly got silent and the conversation a whole lot less private.  Owl grabbed his knife from his belt and pulled it.

“You will not speak to the Great Fox in such as manner.”

“This is not our way!” replied River looking at Owl with Rage in his eyes.

River’s hand went to his blade and the worst scene possible played out in front of the entire war band. The Great Owl charged River with his blade raised high to slash down upon him. River used his great speed and agility to dive below it and with a quick backhand slash carved a vicious gash into the back of Owl’s leg causing him to crash to the ground. He then jumped on to the Giants back and quickly drove his blade down into the back of the giant’s neck killing him instantly.  It was a quick, vicious and final end to a friend.

River turned and looked toward the Chief with rage in eyes. He hopped up from Owl’s body and with one shoulder down and blades in hand charged Fox. The thunder of a rifle and the violence of a musket ball strike then sent him to the floor of the tent, face down in a great pool of his and Owl’s blood. His body twitched for several moments as if trying to rise again and then fell still.  A guardsman stepped forward from the shadows lowering the smoking rifle that had stopped River’s rage permanently.

Fox looked at him and nodded and then looked up at the group. His voice then thundered, “I am this band’s leader and you will do what I think is right for our tribe! Does anybody else wish to challenge me?”

The reply was utter silence. Fox looked up and around at the crowd angrily and stomped out of the tent.

Hawk was frozen. He could see his dead friends and couldn’t understand how things had escalated so quickly. This was madness! He sat there looking down at them for several minutes until the guards dragged their bloody corpses out the front door. He said a small prayer to the great one for them.

The now somber crowd vacated the tent to their own for the night.  An eerie silence filled the camp only to be broken by the occasional pop from the burning pyres on the camp’s periphery. This was not their way and the camp drifted to into troubled sleep. Some were angry at the attempt on their wise chief’s life but others mourned the loss of friends.

Hawk tossed and turned as his mind traveled a gauntlet of memories to the final scene of the death of his friends. His mind then drifted to the memory or vision of being on a great hunt with River. It felt good to see his friend and the weight of what had happened seemed to fade away. He was sure it was his friend leading him into a dream away from his troubled thoughts so he followed.

Hawk and River prowled through the great forest in search of deer. River was twenty paces ahead leading this hunt looking left and right.They were not carrying long rifles but instead the traditional bows of their tribe. Arrows were knocked as they carefully moved ahead one quiet step at a time. Hawk could feel the soft forest floor beneath his feet, smell the pine of the forest but mostly of all relished their near silence.

The ground rose below then and they moved like slithering snakes knowing that he could find a great position to shoot any passing deer below with far less obstruction.  River stopped, looked to Hawk and smiled and pointed to the cap of the rise ahead. Hawk nodded and moved swiftly over the rise.

In front of him stood the great black bear he and his comrades had experienced days before near Lake End. It looked toward him and then rose on two feet towering over him and gave a ground-shaking roar commanding his attention.

Hawk was frozen. He knew the smart thing to do was freeze and hold one’s ground but the horror of the moment was also telling him to raise his bow. He nearly did so when River walked calmly in front of him with his hands raised.

“The Great One would like to talk with you,” he said.

The Great Bear then looked down at him and in his mind he could hear it speak.

“A great evil is consuming your tribe like a great fire.”

Hawk nodded in agreement.

“It has killed your friends and many innocents. It will kill more. What do you intend to do about it brave warrior?”

Hawk then thought about the twice-talking Englishman and his men. He instantly knew what he wanted to do.

“Go warrior and protect your tribe. Do what you must” said the Great One.

Hawk nodded lowered his bow and put the arrow back in his quiver. With a final glance at a smiling River he quickly disappeared back over the rise and into the mist of the valley floor.

The Great Bear grinned as it slowly reverted back to the great demon it was.  The fuse was once again lit and the show was about to begin.

Colonel and Lieutenant Stroud were now on the hunt as well. They had left a successful meeting with the savages happy and had a wonderful meal and sleep. This weather this day was as miserable as the last though but it wasn’t dampening their spirits. A fox was about to be released and along with twelve other officers they were about to run it down in sport.

“Do you think that Mongrel will attack? “asked the younger Stroud as he mounted his horse.

“The savage will do anything we ask as long as its feeds his tribe,” replied the elder Stroud from his well- groomed horse.

“Transactions with them are uncomplicated. Right, wrong, expensive, inexpensive, profitable, wasteful are words that mean nothing to them. We can use them to grind down the French at will.”

“Yes, Dad,” replied Lieutenant Stroud with a smile.

A cold wind blew forcing them to pull their cloaks closer to them for a second. Looking to the north they could see another great tuff of fog rolling down the valley toward them.

“Oi! Lets get this hunt on and done before we’re chilled to the bone,” said Colonel Stroud.

He raised his rifle high and a trumpeter blew the starting note. A responding note was then heard from across the field at forest’s edge noting the release of the foxes. Dozens of dogs were then released with the Strouds and two dozen other hunters in tow. The hunt was on!

The Strouds pushed into the light wood closely following a pair of excited hounds that seemed to have their prey close at hand. The morning fog was thick but the dogs pushed it aside in great twirls leaving a clear path for the Strouds to follow. They both had a good feeling about these two mutts as they did not stray and seemed fixated on something ahead.

They then came to an abrupt stop. The mist opened up and two of Stroud’s officers were stopped on horseback ahead. One had his right palm facing them that signaled a halt. The dogs continued on but the Strouds did as directed and their mounts reared back into first a trot and then a complete stop. One of the officers started to say something but was drowned out by a great roar that seemed to come the forest around them.

The Strouds looked at each other and pulled their rifles from the holsters at their side. The elder looked into the eyes of his son and could see fear on this face. The morning fog was starting to creep back in at them covering the once open trail to the dogs and others. The rumbling was now close perhaps a stone throw away.

It was then that a great black bear emerged from the fog and launched itself at one of the officers that had ordered the halt with a great roar. The officer never had a chance to even see what was coming at him as the great beast simply barreled through his mount pin-wheeling the soldier to the ground. The second officer was able to pull his pistol but did not see his demise coming in the form of a great claw that then ripped him down from his mount with enough force to also snap the bones his neck. The pin wheeled officer then attempted to rise from his fall only to have the great beast stomp down upon on his form visibly crushing most of his body.  With a mighty roar, the beast then grabbed its victims head its maw and twisted and pulled until it came loose.

The younger Stroud stood in horror but the older pointed his rifle at the murderous beast . The target took notice but did not flinch and with a flick of its head launched the head in its maw off into the fog. The beast roared as it looked at the two Englishmen.

“Iain fire that rifle!” shouted the elder Stroud.

Lieutenant Stroud then lifted his rifle to fire but with amazing speed the great bear then disappeared back into the fog.

Both men dismounted their horses. The senior quickly bit down upon a packet to reload his rifle with ball and powder. They could hear great thuds of the running beasts punctuated with the screams of dogs and men alike. They quickly positioned themselves defensively behind their mounts ready to take the beast under fire if it appeared once again.

Hawk emerged from the fog with fire in his eyes and a Tomahawk in each hand. The Englishmen first turned their rifles toward him but did not fire, recognizing the form of an Indian. “Savage! Get over here if you value life! ”said the fearful Lieutenant.

The younger Stroud then took a closer look and for a moment his eyes locked with Hawk. He saw fury and a murderous rage looking back at him.  He turned his rifle toward Hawk and fired and heard the roar of his father’s rifle right after doing the same. The savage was thrown backward through his own bloody mist as both shots struck true.

Hawk’s chest exploded in pain and his breath quickly vanished as he felt his back strike the earth. He looked down briefly to see two great gory holes in his chest. He started to panic briefly as he could not catch his breath but he felt something inside of him surge and the panic was replaced by anger.  Carry this out, do not die yet!

Hawk lept to his feet and charged Iian Stoud. The young man lifted his rifle to block but Hawk hooked his right Tomahawk around the younger enemy’s rifle and tossed it aside. The young officer stared at him with open mouth and eyes as if to express his shock but never had the chance as Hawk’s second axe split his skull ending his life.

Hawk then released both Tomahawks and turned to face the elder Stroud but was quickly blinded by the flash of Stroud’s pistol firing and great pain on the right side of his face and head. His energy and strength start to drain from his body and his head back and chest were felt as if they were on fire. His vision returned to his left side and his target was still at hand and started reloading while snarling and saying indecipherable things. Hawk looked at him and knew this man could not live. He will murder many more if allowed.

Reaching down Hawk felt the great hilt of the knife at his belt, pulled it and dove onto the old man with his blade raised. The elder Stroud dropped his pistol and caught Hawk’s downward plunging arm but could not hope to match Hawk’s strength, ferocity and momentum which pushed them both backwards toward the ground.  When they struck the ground the sharp blade entered Stroud between his neck and chest.  His dying vision was of the great bloodied but victorious warrior Hawk looking down upon him.

Hawk rolled off the man on to his back.  Looking skyward he could see the morning mist breaking revealing the blue sky above. A lone bird sailed far above twisting and turning through the cool breeze that carried it. With a smile, he closed his eyes and let go.

The hunting grounds were now silent and the Great Black Bear stepped over the bodies of the Englishmen and looked upon the brave warrior Hawk. It then rose on two feet and gave a mighty roar. Vengeance had been achieved and it was only right to give this brave warrior his due for the sacrifice. It then dropped and trotted quickly into the disappearing fog making way for the sun.

Pulp: Extermination at Outpost X

Pulp: Extermination at Outpost X

Alien space marines hit the dirt hard looking to wipe out a nest of human parasites only find they’re on the receiving end of a bug hunt as well. Who will prevail. Enjoy!

Cal Dreadnaught

Rathman closed all eight of his eyes and floated weightlessly in a warm gel filled tube the Corps provided for each one of its soldiers to endure the rigors of space travel in their great ships of war.  It was just big enough to allow him to twist his many limbs to any position while providing the necessary moisture for his black scales and sounding proofing to allow for long periods of healthy hibernation and full dream cycles. It was one of the key technologies that allowed his race access to the travel the stars while maintaining their health and sanity. His brief awakening was part of a scheduled check which he passed with flying colors and he passed back into his dreams.

In his mind, he could feel his bare feet on the soft peat of his family plot inside the marsh. The sky was the darkest of reds and the air warmed from an active eruption cycle of the Great Harum volcano which towered over the region. He could see the gray ash start to fall and inhaled the sulphuric fumes that were slowly overpowering the smell of cycled vegetation. In the next day or two, the ash would cover everything until the volcano calmed and the rains returned returning the ash to the deeps. It was a wondrous cycle that fueled the evolution of the Calith people from six-legged carnivorous lizard to spacefaring race.

He then looked over at the small family plot he lived in and could see that his mother had already rolled a protective thermal tarp over the small cabbage garden out front and was rolling another over their utility vehicle parked in front. Four great rubber tires on each side provided traction, flotation and protection to the box like body in between but made it difficult to cover as they were almost as tall and wide as any Calith.

“Rath! I could really use your hands over here. The ash is falling quickly,” his mother shouted.

“Ah, of course, Kartis!  My thoughts were drifting.”

He then walked to the other side of the vehicle, grabbed the corner of the tarp opposite of his mother and in practiced unison they tossed it up over the first set of tires. A string hung from each corner of the tarp which they grabbed with their lower arms and guided the rest of the tarp over the vehicle while using their upper arms to unsnag any part of the tarp that got caught. Once the vehicle was covered they then tied each corner down to some notches in the vehicle.

“Kartis. When are you going to get a new rover that comes with a shield? I’m leaving for the academy soon and won’t be around to help you!”

“Ha, I’m never giving this ride up. I’ve had it for ages, it has never left me in the swamp and it still blows away anything rolling out of those fancy starship factories. It is good to cherish good things as long as possible. Besides what do you think I have your father around for? He had this job before you did! ” She then smiled at him and waved to go inside. “Come on, let’s see what your father has to eat!”

Rathman followed his mother up the two stairs into the domed shelter. When the front doors opened he heard the familiar roar of a show on their entertainment system punctuated by the metallic clicks of the humidifier. The smells of peppered Kric and Wovvle meats filled his nostrils reminding him how hungry he is. His father was standing over a sizzling grill staring at a ball match on a great wall mounted display.

“Who is winning, Gatis?” asked Rathman walking toward his father.

“They both are. They are lucky enough to live in a world where they can play and watch games, Rathman.”

“Come on Gatis!  We all know you’re hoping your Reds win,” Rathman said smiling.

“Unfortunately hope doesn’t make it so!  Anyways, food is done,” said Gatis who had forked the two grilled creatures on to a large plate. Rathman moved toward the spigot to fill their water pitcher and then his ears were filled with the roar of an alarm.

He opened his eyes and his mind quickly came into focus as the light in his tube had changed to the bright reds of the morning and the gel that filled his tube quickly drained. He started a quick vomit cycle which expelled that same oxygen and nutrient-rich gel from his lungs and stomach and started a painful series of waking stretches that included rolling his neck, arms, legs, fingers and toes to get this muscles activated. Seconds later he closed his eyes as he felt numerous hot water sprayers hitting his body which removed the remaining gel from his black scaling and helped with the muscle pain.  Finally, he felt the brief rush of air from the dryers followed by the loud clunk of his tube opening that allowed him to roll off on all six limbs to the floor where he then rose on his two legs.

Rath turned his head and saw that his squad mates were going through a similar routine.  Grung, a large weapons specialist stood and stretched his four arms out wide allowing the room to see the blue scales of his southern island roots and the hammered tattoos of his many campaigns. Tinder quickly stepped her green form into her athletic bodysuit while all eight eyes looked down at the flat display pad she had placed on her closed cryogenic pod.  Riff, the team clown stayed in his pod rubbing his eyes with six and two appeared to be checking that things were still there down below.

“What does command have for us Tinder?” Rath asked.

“Looks like a bug hunt. “Briefing in 1 increment, ” replied Tinder.

“Great! Wonder what it is this time? Hope it’s not another hairball hunt. I hate those things. They get all over the place,” moaned Riff.

“You’re just mad they almost took you. It’s a good thing you got that long tail of yours or we wouldn’t have been able to drag you out of the hole they stuffed you into,” said Grung.

“Hmmm. Looks like the meat sacks again,” said Tinder.

“Well at least we’ll eat well,” replied Rath.

The group continued their wake-up routines and then walked out of the sterile cryogenic barracks at the aft end of the warship into the lively but grimy business end of the forward spaces. They were joined by numerous other fire teams that would be formed into squads and a platoon at the coming briefing.

The first stop for all was the cafeteria where their first real meal in some time was waiting and the crewman of the Dreadnaught would catch them up on galaxy and planetary events, the current sport’s champions, and what entertainment shows to watch. The joy of this was short lived though as a bell rang clearing all but the warriors from the room. The great wall on the left hull was illuminated with a map of a large moon and a wireframe diagram of the Meat Sack outpost.

A battle scared Colonel stepped in front of it. “Glad to see you are all awake, know who won and are ready to go! This rock will be your platoon’s target. It is now suffering a humanoid infestation centered on this hardened outpost. You may be asking yourself why can’t we just hammer these bugs from orbit and move on to a real fight? Well, that is because our scientists list this low gravity rock pile as part of our national reserve. It is stuffed with all the good things that make warships like this one.  So you will be sent down to crack their shelter open and clean them out. Your platoon leader, Lieutenant Grigith will now be taking over the briefing to provide organization and detail. Good luck and eat well!”

A young and ambitious Grigith nodded to the old warrior and then quickly dove into the minutiae of the operation.

Riff looked at the group and quietly mimicked the Colonel. “Hey, Tinder. You might ask yourself how Grigith is the boss on this one?  Well, that’s because he’s got his maw wayyyy up-“

“Errr that’s enough Riff,” interrupted Tinder. “You need to tell yourself to know the difference between your internal and external voice unless you want to be on these rodent hunts the rest of your tour.”

The briefing carried on for several more sets in which Tinder’s squad learned the plan and their roles in it. The platoon was to be divided into three squads which would hit the dirt in three assault craft. Two squads would breach and carry out the assault with the third in reserve.  Their team was assigned to the second squad and would be hitting the south end of the bunker. They’d breach with the assistance of the heavy weapons team and do their thing shortly after. The humanoid shelter was expected to be torched and done well before the night call.

Outpost X

Mission Commander Tom Smote was awakened to the wailing of a warning klaxon that shook the entire facility and made a human hangover feel like a vice around his head. “Good god almighty, what in the deviled hell is going on now!” He said out loud quickly rising from his bed and rushing to the facility command center.

“Sir, a large spacecraft of unknown origin has been detected by our early-warning satellite constellation. The craft does appear to have emitting sensors and a significant fusion power source. It is three times the size of any known earth ship and is on a vector to put them in orbit with us within the hour,” said Ensign Delotte in a near panicked tone.

“Calm down son. Bring it up on screen,” said a now sober Smote to the young and polished Ensign.

Just then an armored trooper thumped into the room with a helmet in one hand and a pulse rifle in the other.  “What we got, Commander?” The trooper asked rubbing a gruesome scar that ran along the bridge of his nose from mouth to the top of his bald head.

“Hi Grimsy. We’re about to see.” said the commander as he squinted toward the display above.

The large display in front of the room lit up with an image of the largest spacefaring ship they had ever seen.  It was twice the size of the massive deep space bulk freighter that had brought them here and was emitting enough power to run a small city for years. Four double-barreled turret structures protruded from all four sides protecting a broad armored tube-shaped hull in the center which gently converged into almost a point at the front that by all appearances looked a bridge.

Delotte then spoke. “Sir, it is certainly a warship. Scanning indicates those four turrets are large energy based cannons and the thickness of ship’s armor is well beyond civilian requirements. I can’t see what’s inside but given some of the waste emissions it got to be biologic. There appears to be large doors on the bottom making it an assault carrier of some sort.”

Tom cringed. The outpost was weeks from the nearest military outpost. This system was supposed to be clear and only interesting to the rock hounds. “Commander Grim, what is your assessment?”

“Oh we’re fucked. Those cannons could crater this place at will. Given the fact that they haven’t yet I’d expect an assault. They want this place in one piece.  My advice is to hold the defensive drones until their assault is launched and can be directed against landing forces. My troopers will meet what’s left at the doors. I highly advise opening up the armory to your folks as well until we know what we’re into and I’ll need your cops as well. That’s it for now. Call me on the com net when needed.” Commander Grim then rushed from the room.

“Right then.  Ensign, please send the message out to everybody that we’re now under a defensive protocol.  All armories should be opened and weapons, helmets and vests distributed. Let ship security know they are to report to Commander Grim and are at his troop’s disposal. The rest of you work through your task lists. I will be asking for a report in five minutes.” Commander Smote then walked to a small compartment on the side that contained weapons and armor for the bridge crew to get his list started.

Cal Dreadnaught

Rathman banged the last bulky plate of battle armor on to the top of his leg. His battle armor consisted of a form-fitting exoskeleton that allowed for armor and equipment modules to be banged in where needed offering a wide range of flexibility. He looked over at a bulky Grung who mounted very heavy plating on over his head, chest and legs but actuators over his four arms to help hold and aim heavy high volume plasma throwers. Tinder looked light and nimble as an avian with actuators on her arms and legs and light armor over her head and chest.  She carried a simple pulse rifle and a sleek communications pack on her back that allowed her to be the central node in their small attack network, to scout, direct attacks and move where needed. Rathman and Riff wore medium armor plates and held pulse rifles with explosive launchers.  They were the primary assault and maneuver elements of the team and were now ready to go.

Tinder’s voice came through all their helmets. “Alright, complete your checklists and make sure your blasted breathers are working correctly. We’ve been ordered to assault craft zeta in bay two. Let’s go!”

Outpost X

Commander Smote listened to the final report from this deck crew and was satisfied they’d done their jobs.  His eyes were now just watching the lumbering warship on the display get larger and larger as it approached. He then saw four large plumes erupt from the flanks of the ship and almost on queue the nervous ensign shouted “four small launch transients originating from Bandit one and each tracking true toward our early warning satellites. They’ll intercept in 15 seconds!”

“Right then. Commander Grim, you hear that?” Tom asked through the open communications channel.

“That’s an affirmative, Sir. Guess the shows over. My radar techs are ready to light up and catch what comes into their horizon. We’ve got 12 new Lockmart drones ready. Let’s hope they work like the salesperson said,” replied Commander Grim.

“Aye. Best of luck Grimsy.” Said Tom with a slight smile.

”You too Tommy and let’s hope these guys are just galactic sugar junkies trying to poke us with their magic fingers. Grim out.”

“Sir, what did that mean?” asked Ensign Delotte.

“It means he likes old sci-fi movies. You should look into that one day, Ensign. Anyways, everybody get ready,” Tom ordered while his mind recited the Lord’s Prayer.

Cal Dreadnaught

Tinder sat strapped to her seat in the assault craft and addressed the rest of her team. “Ok, here is what we know about the target. The humanoid outpost is simple block configuration with an outer armored wall and an equally armored inner wall protecting the interior compartments. In between these two is a hallway which runs the circumference of the installation with many sealed doors allowing them to be isolated in case of a breach. It is defended by a company of armored troopers, two external defensive turrets and is supported by reconnaissance or attack drones.  Their known positions will be updated on your displays as we get sightings and reports. The humanoids are the size of Calith child but do appear to be anti-armor capable. They are oxygen dependent but the pressure differences between the interior of the installation and the moon’s atmosphere will cause explosive decompression if any of the sealed modules of their compound are opened to the outside. Once the initial breaches have been made set your weapons to low power and use aimed fire to prevent any further catastrophic breaches from occurring.“

“Fleet will open the attack with some low impact precision strikes on the turrets followed by a perimeter bombardment to cause chaos and obscure the assault force landing zones and initial push on the north and south sides of the facility by two squads with one in reserve. The squads will then concurrently carry out their breaches and the extermination by clearing each section of the compound and coordinate a final attack on the central command center. We’re assigned to the south side and looks like the reserve squad will land in our landing zone as well.”

“Does it say what they taste like?” Grung asked.

Tinder looked at Grung for several moments trying to formulate a response but her thoughts were quickly interrupted by the blazing lights and sounds of their launch warning. They all quickly stowed their gear and leaned back against the hull and prayed that the bracing that held them locked against it would hold against the great forces of gravity experienced during any planetary assault. She grimaced as she knew the craft would be dumped through the hull shortly.

Outpost X

Commander Grim looked down at his displays. The top two were feeds from their two radar displays and the bottom four were cameras on each side looking out to the horizon.  The two displays started flashing and he could hear the yells of incoming coming through his helmet speakers.

“Get those defensive birds up and on auto. Let’s hope those hunter drones find something! Everybody hunker down, here comes the bombardment!” he shouted to those around him while hunching down over his displays.

The two large defensive turrets located a hundred meters to the west of the compound swiveled up and toward the heavens as the flat radar arrays next to them fed them telemetry data. Unfortunately, they were built to counter known human threats and couldn’t calculate a firing solution due to the odd trajectory and immense speeds the four guided projectiles targeted against them traveled. As the first rounds were being chambered the turrets were struck and crushed flat by the kinetic force of solid metal slugs hitting them at thousands of earth miles an hour instantly destroying them.

Well, that worked great!  Grim thought as he looked at his displays. He was then shaken violently as something struck the ground with tremendous force. Refocusing he saw only operable camera quickly being obscured by a cloud of dust and debris.

Grimsy started to feel the first twinge of panic. He had to get to his men.

Landing Craft

Rathman closed his eyes tight as he felt the high g-forces slam his body against the hull. His stomach then turned as the craft took on the sharp angle of decent that was required to reduce the effectiveness of the defenses of many planetary species. He could hear one his squadmates puking. Rathman giggled as the yells of spillover followed soon after.

The pilots were busy keeping the craft at the correct vector, watching for threats and preparing for the rapid deceleration maneuver that would be required for a safe landing. The orbital artillery barrage had just landed on the periphery of the humanoid base throwing debris and dust well into atmosphere limiting their sensors and reaction times. Their training and experience kicked in making this process mechanical but their heart rates were definitely up.

“Threats front left!” the copilot screamed as he saw small metallic contacts burst through the debris clouds in front of them. Both pilots braced against their restraints as their systems provided a steeper high-g vector to avoid the threat and felt the thump of the ships small missile defense turrets rapidly firing airbursts in hope of shredding any incoming threat. They were happy to see the first two targets explode into pieces but the third whizzed by their cockpit and craft. The sky then lit up behind them as it seemingly struck something.  As the pilots corrected their course and started the instrument movements for deceleration a flaming hulk that could only be one of the other landing craft shot by them trailing smoke and heading toward the dirt.

Rathman opened his eyes and could see Grung laughing at him through his helmet from across the craft and Riff was still flinched. He could feel Tinder shifting in her restraints next to him. He never felt completely safe on any assault entry but this had been a bit more violent than most.

He then was slammed downward as the pilots pulled up and fired the landing thrusters and he tensed up and closed his eyes once again. It ended seconds later as he felt the craft land softly and the rear entry door drop. He became quickly alert and focused as his restraints released him which dropped him in line with the rest of the squad. They quickly rushed out the landing craft, fanned out defensively by squad while their assault craft took off rapidly.

“Look at that!” said Grung pointing to a large wreckage in front of them. One of their landing craft had crashed nose first into the gray surface and looked like a crushed metal cylinder pushed into the sand and coarse rocks of the surface. There were a few flashes of electric shorts but the fires were already starting to burn out due to the lack of oxygen. The squad on board could not have survived.

“Ok. Focus. Objective is ahead. Let’s get moving before that debris cloud settles. Squad three has landed on the other side and moving toward their assault point. I’m on point, Rath and Riff take the flanks and Grung center. Our team is the front left anchor of the squad. Let’s move and stay alert.” ordered Tinder.

Outpost X

Commander Grim lifted the welder’s shield from his face and looked at his job securing the outer door. He had arrived there a few moments before he discovered the team wasn’t welding it correctly. “That’s how you do it Sergeant” He said looking at the young trooper next to him.

He then got up, replaced the welder’s helmet with his tactical helmet and looked at the troopers charged with defending this point. “Alright, troopers any minute now whatever it is out there is going to try and breach this place. Get your helmets on and oxygen going. The moment any door blows you let them have it with everything you got. They can’t get by you. You got that?”

Grimsy then made his way back to the central command center of the outpost to see Commander Smote and Ensign Deloitte looking at him.

“Any indication our drones did anything, Ensign?” Asked Grim.

“No idea sir. We used the debris cloud as cover and set them to autonomously hunt air contacts. No idea what happened after or if they even go through the cloud,” replied Deloitte.

With a huff Commander Grimm said, “Okay, Let’s see what’s going on.” The three soldiers looked up at the display that was now showing blue wire map of the facility. It was clear that there were teams of troops defending the sealed facility entry doors at all four points of the compass. In theory, once the points of entry were determined the nearest group could suppress the invaders while the two other groups could attempt to counterattack in hopes of driving the invaders off.  If these teams failed or were clearly overmatched all would fall back to the command module and fight to the end. It was by the book and scary as hell to all involved.

South Side of Outpost X

“You sink right down into this stuff like the marshes back home! I thought this marble was low grav?” said Grung once again stepping up and out of the sand his weight had pushed his feet and tail down into. He looked through his helmet’s display and could see the rest of the team but Tinder had to do the same every few moments.

“Ok hull down troops. Squad north is in position and the weapons teams will be firing their breaching rockets,” said Tinder who dropped to a head down crouch.  The others in the team followed suit knowing it would protect them from debris and the intense light of plasma-based breaching munitions. They all saw the flash of an engine ignition in their peripherals and the intense shock and vibration of a supersonic rocket striking the hardened wall of the facility.

Rathman looked up at the humanoid compound and saw objects and debris being blown from the hole due to rapid decompression. He then saw Grung and the heavy gunners with the other teams fill the hole with a high volume red plasmic fire until their magazines were empty and gap that had been opened glowed red.

On queue Rathman, Tinder and Riff started their assault toward the breach at the highest speed possible in the porous sand. Their heads were down with eyes and weapons forward charging like a herd of grass eaters. Their hearts pounded and limbs started to ache but their adrenaline and lust for battle pushed them harder. There could be no greater glory.

Then they were all knocked to the ground. The sand below them was rumbling and shaking violently enough to look like the waves of a great sea. Rathman had fallen face first into the sand and raising himself up on all six he saw even the compound was moving and could see it crack and breach in several places. It was an earthquake.

Outpost X Command Center

“What the bloody hell was that!” Asked Commander Smote said picking himself up from the ground.

“Sir, lots of chaos on the radio after that. North and south teams appear to be holding two large initial breaches but all teams are reporting small leaks throughout the facility,” replied Ensign Deloitte.

“What about Grimsy?” asked Commander Smote.

Commander Grim picked himself and his rifle off the tunnel floor and double-timed it toward the northern side of the facility that first had reported the explosive breach. He rounded the corner and could see eight troopers positioned behind a now sealed door.

“What’s going on?” he asked sliding into a position facing the door.

“Sir, the hostile’s breached the outer hull with an explosive which blew A team right out. We were able to drop the emergency doors before the whole lot of us were blown but they’re coming,” replied an older security officer.

“What the hell knocked me down on the way over? The whole facility shook!” Grimsy asked pointing his rifle at the door.

“Nobody knows sir!” replied the officer.

South Breach

“Shake it off. Get up and get in there!” ordered Tinder over the team’s net.

Rathman, Tinder and Riff once again rose and charged the breach and after several heart-pumping sprints were meters from the facility when the sand in front of them exploded outward forcing them once again to the ground and peppering them with dust and debris.

Rathman raised his head and his rifle and as the dust cloud dispersed noticed a large grayish form slithering high above him and the group. It was a similar gray to the sand it was caked with and appeared to be smooth and clay-like. It has no eyes, ears or mouth but stood coiled like the many serpents that inhabit the Cal homeworld.

“Oh screw this. Bodies down!“  Shouted Grung over the net. The three quickly complied and could see the flashes and almost feel the heat of a three-round plasma burst striking the creature above. Grung laughed maniacally as his rounds seemed to splatter the upper end of the creature over the dull black exterior of the humanoid facility and rain goo around it. What was left collapsed into a gray pool on the ground like a large raindrop striking the surface of a pond.

Tinder was the first up but the other two followed but as quickly as they rose so did the great gray appendage.  They all fired their pulse rifles at it but the green bolts seemed to pass through it like liquid and disappear into the space beyond. The creature then quickly reared back while a great ball of mass formed at its base and traveled to the top. Once there it struck down like a hammer toward the team. Rathman, Tinder and Riff quickly darted to the left and right avoiding the mass but Grung was caught wide eyed.  It struck him dead on crushing his massive form down to the ground and popping off the heavier pieces of armor into the sand around him.

“Kill that thing!” Tinder screamed over the net once again releasing a volley of fire at the now retracting appendage.

Rathman turned to fire as well but the sand in front of him exploded outwards around a hardened appendage that struck him dead center and sent him sprawling backward.  As he rolled at landing he could see flashes green grow of pulse rifles going off all around him as if the battle had extended behind his team and to the remaining squad beyond them. Rising back up he saw a flash of movement and sand as another appendage barreled through the sand toward him. He tried to raise his rifle to try and blast the thing but it was quickly struck from the side by the butt of a rifle and Riff’s form which diverted it enough to miss Rathman. The two warriors then fired their weapons only to see their munitions pass through.

“This is not working out too well!” Rathman screamed. Not hearing a reply he looked over to where Riff had been firing prone to see that another creature had him wrapped around him like a constrictor and his form was already broken and bent in many gruesome directions.  Rathman momentarily froze in horror at the sight of it.

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” Tinder said as she grabbed on to the horrified Rathman. He quickly snapped back to reality and dashed with her toward the breach in the human facility. The ground seemed to erupt around them with every deep footstep but with a final leap they jumped into the darkness of the breach and landed on a hard steel floor of the facility.

North Breach

“Our remaining camera captured several images of the invading force on the north side of the facility. The combatants are large bipedal military force of unknown origins. Weaponry is modern, precise and energy based. As they were making their assault a level two earthquake occurred which compromised the integrity of the facility in numerous places, disrupted our one camera but also seemed to disrupt their attack. When imagery was restored their bodies were strewn about and the terrain appeared disturbed an in some cases cratered.  No sign of movement since.” Replied Ensign Deloitte.

“What’s the south side say?” asked Grim into his helmet.

“Nothing sir. They said after the initial breach they felt some movement on the other side of the sealed door but nothing since and it’s been quite some time since.” Replied Deloitte.

“What do you make of it Grimsy? I got nothing here” added Commander Smote.

“Breaching is about speed and action. They should have come by now. Best thing we can do now is to get some eyes on whatever is left out there. I’ll grab a few of my best and go out and poke around. You keep an eye on them with that camera!

South Side Breach

Rathman and Tinder lay prone against the steel deck of the hallway inside the human facility with their eyes and rifles pointed outward on to the moonscape battlefield. They watched in horror as their remaining squad mates from the other teams made a dash for the safety of the compound only to have creatures burst from the ground in front and around them. Their defensive bolts and pulses seemed to splash harmlessly through their serpentine attackers into the sky leaving them to be smashed, squashed or squeezed by their attackers sending streams of fluid gore into the atmosphere and sending weapons and armored plates into the sand.  Squadmates they couldn’t see quickly disappeared from the map displays in their helmets as the sounds of their last shots and death screams echoed through the comms unit. Soon the only voice that was left was Tinder dutiful giving an update report on their destroyed squad to the Dreadnaught in high orbit above them.

“Squad is now combat-ineffective. Two survivors. Suggest reinforcement or withdrawal. Please advise?”

Rathman was looking at Tinder when she said this but quickly noticed a bulge in the sand just two meters away and raised his rifle as one of the creatures broke the surface and slowly pushed its mass upward to height as nearly as high as the top of the breach in the compound wall. A massive ball then formed at the base and moved up to the top of the creature’s serpentine form giving it the appearance of a head. It then slithered toward the edges of the breach as if examining it. It then pushed through the breach just a bit as if testing what was beyond.

“Uh Tinder we better come up with something fast,” Rathman said quietly into his helmet microphone.

North Side Breach

Commander Grim and three other troopers quickly jumped down from the darkened breach in their facility to the remnants of a battle. It was clear from the blast patterns and the scorching of the facility that a technologically similar enemy had assaulted but something else had brought it to a quick and brutal end. Many large hulking armored forms with modern energy and rail weapons lay about the field in front of the breach each broken and battered as if hammered down in the ground itself or squeezed to pulp.  In some cases, gases or bodily fluids still seemed to be spewing up and out due to the low gravity of the moon.

“Sir, I’d say we got real lucky,” said one of Grim’s older troopers.

“Yeah, if you look these big things were in a classic line assault formation and the bigger ones toward the rear seemed to mount the firepower. Those were definitely pulse rifles and the armor does look almost composite. These beings were smart.” replied Grim trying to make out the facial features of one through its gore-filled helmet.

Suddenly as if something new what their next question was a great black appendage sprouted from the ground just meters from where they were standing and wrapped itself around one of the larger alien bodies like a great constrictor. Before a word could leave anybody’s mouth it squeezed the body with great force popping many most of the armor off and forcing gore from any opening. “Now, that’s gross.” Grim murmured quietly and slowly into the mouthpiece of his helmet.

As if hearing Commander Grims comment the appendage seemed to take notice of its audience as and quickly retracted itself from around the massive carcass forming a sludgy puddle in the ground. Four new appendages then slowly sprouted from it stopping inches from the faceplates of each human onlooker as if staring back at them.

“What do we do Commander!” one of them asked.

“Hold fast, Son.” Grim replied in as calm a voice as possible.

The trooper then made a mad dash back toward the breach but his appendage struck out toward him like a striking snake and quickly wrapped itself around his form. In horror, the other three members could hear him scream as his left leg quickly warped under a crushing grip followed by his body and helmet. His death was gruesome and as final as the dead alien warriors around them and there was no question as to what had happened.

“Commander, Grim report!” screamed Deloitte through his helmet.

“No time now!” screamed Grim raising his assault rifle toward the appendage closest to him and firing. His rounds seemed to pass through the appendage into the sand or air behind it but it did retract back toward the source puddle giving Commander Grim an opening to dash the twenty meters back to the breach. He leaped from the sand into the dark hallway as soon as he thought he could and could almost feel the appendage that was right behind him try and make a final grab before halting at the breach. Grim struck the hard compound floor and slid to a halt meters away. He then twisted around quickly hoping his men were behind him but it was not the case. Two great appendages were wrapped around them and were smashing them to pulp against the ground outside the breach. Grim quickly banged on the sealed door hoping to get back into the fortress as soon as he could.

South Side Breach

Rathman looked over at Tinder who was now back against the wall opposite the breach looking down at her map display while glancing up every few moments toward the slithering threat at hand. The curious creature did not appear to notice them yet and was slowly poking and prodding its way in as if testing the hard steel floor below. It would be within striking distance soon.

“Rathman. The only choice we have is to move deeper into the human compound. We can use our breaching charges to blow through the doors to the left and right of us or through the wall behind us. Scanners show human defenders all around. My call is to breach the wall behind us and take the most direct route toward the central command center. We might be able to turn this defensive system off there.”

Rathman quickly reached into the pocket of his suit and pulled out a tube of breaching charge and along with Tinder made an outline of the hole they’d like to create with the gelled explosive. He then pressed a small detonator into the substance and both of them rolled away from the area they wanted to breach with backs and tails against the wall. “Breaching!” Rathman shouted as he closed his eyes tight and sent command the detonator.

The room shook and his teeth crashed together as the breach was made.  Rathman opened his eyes to first see the curious creature being blown apart and out of the breach like a thrown drink and then a mass of debris tear through from new breach to old as the compartment they just cracked suffered from a rapid decompression. He could see several mangled humans tossed like dolls into the floating debris filled battlefield beyond.

On queue both Caliths then pulled thermal explosives from their belts, rapidly them tossed them into the new breach and rolled themselves away from the hole with backs against the wall. This careful maneuver was rewarded as several energy bolts lanced out from the new breach indicating defenders were still there but suddenly stopped as the devices detonated likely incinerating all within the compartment. Tinder quickly poked her head around into the breach. “Ok Rath looks clear in here!”

Rathman was busy looking outside the breach though as the light from outside was quickly blocked. He had just mouthed “Will you look at that” as Tinder noticed the change of light as well and turned to look. Outside the outpost a giant was forming. As if leaking from the ground the grayish ooze of creatures seemed to be congealing into one massive amoeba like blob with many pseudopodia like appendages similar looking to the smaller creatures that had decimated their force. It was growing taller by the moment and you could watch the flow of its mass as it growing upward and outward as more of it was pushed to the surface. It was starting to take on the appearance of a great water wave which was not a good sign.

“Lets go Rath!” ordered Tinder. He quickly turned and hopped into their newly blown breach not waiting to see what happens with the creature outside next.  Both quickly dashed as fast as their suits would allow down the narrow passageway toward the door to the command center beyond. They were quickly knocked to the ground and into the wall as something struck the compound hard enough to knock it a few feet.

North Side

Grimsy’s men had thankfully heard his banging, opened the sealed door and dragged him into the corridor. After several moments of realigning his suit and unsticking a jammed oxygen nozzle he yelled into his comms.

“Commander Smote. I take it you saw what just happened out there Sir.”

That’s affirmative Grimsy. Sorry about your men but glad you’re still with us. Suggested course of action?” replied Smote trying to keep his command from panicking anymore than they might be already.

Grim just opened his mouth to reply when the entire facility violently shifted as if knocked from its foundation. People, objects and things were knocked to the ground and atmospheric pressure alarms started going off throughout the facility.  A crack appeared in the wall to the left but luckily several of the men had a patching plate handy which they pushed over the breach allowing the pressure to form the seal. Grim managed to keep his footing and wits but by the chaos over the radio that was not true elsewhere.

“Sir, Deloitte here. Commander Smote is injured and should be back with us momentarily. It looks like something hit the exterior of the facility hard enough to knock it several meters south. We’ve got pressure and oxygen leaks all over the place.  Oh sweet J, we’ve got heavy casualties on the North side and we’ve got a large breach in the central corridor leading to the Comm Center.”

“Ok son hold it together. Get your weapons out, we’ll be there shortly,” said Grim.

Grim looked up from his display and was just about to order a withdrawal to the Command Center when the door in front of him suddenly dented in toward them.

“What the fuck!” a soldier said for the back.

“Command our door just got nailed by something big. Deloitte you see anything?” yelled Grim into his comm-link.

“Sir just got an alarm that the door on the other side of your breach just failed. Camera’s show something flooding the room before they went dark.” Deloitte reported.

Just then a bolt popped from the door and the door itself was slowly pressed out from the hinges as if being slowly pried by a slow goliath force. From the seams and grayish ooze started to seep in like the slow flood of toothpaste being squeezed from a tube forming long slithering tentacles that seemed to probe the floor, walls and ceiling ahead. Slowly as more seeped in and it started building mass the door was torn from hinges completely. Several troopers fired their rifles into the mass only to watch their bolts enter and disappear into the mass with no apparent effect.

Grimsy recognized it instantly and started waving his troopers back. “Back. Back. Let’s go! Rifles do no good against this. Fall back to the next portal.  Let’s see if we can torch this fucker using the decontamination system. Deloitte! On my signal try to decontaminate that corridor. Perhaps we can burn the fucker out.”

Deloitte was busy watching the corridors on the south side. Two large combatants had just barreled through another breach into the central corridor and the blob-like creature was starting to push in behind them as well. “Sir we’ve got two armed combatants in the south-central corridor and the blob has breached.

“Deloitte!” Commander Smote yelled with a splinted arm and bandaged head.” Decom those fucking corridors! All of them!”

“Right Sir!” Deloitte said as he watched Grim and his forces pull back beyond the next sealed door and slam it shut. He then entered the commands and then nothing. He entered them again and again nothing.

“Sir? Decom system not firing. It’s been compromised! I’ve got no warnings on the system!” reported Deloitte.

Fuck! Thought Grim as his mind quickly went through a list of limited options. They could pull back to the command center and hope more options are available there. They could move maneuver around to find a corridor where the decom system might work or they could make a stand here in hopes of something working out. These options weren’t good!

South Corridor Just outside Command Center

Rathman lifted himself up off the floor slowly and noticed Tinder was getting up very slowly while flexing her bottom right leg.

“You ok?” he asked.

“No I’m stuck in tube with a bunch of meatsacks and a blob that what wants to press us into paste. I’m also really tired of getting knocked down!” she replied.  “Took a good hit to my right joint but it is functional.”

While Tinder was saying this Rath looked back down the hallway and the corridor they had been in was now completely filled by the grayish mass of the creature and he watched in horror as its mass seemed to slowly squeeze itself into the corridor filling it from top to bottom. Several pseudopods seemed too pop out on its surface to probe ahead of its great mass.

He quickly switched to his map and by all indication this thing had entered the facilities for from the north and south breaches and was slowly filling it. He also noticed that the humanoids seemed to be fleeing from it or in some cases were disappearing under it.

“You see what’s going on Tinder? This thing is taking everybody out!”

Rathman quickly turned and used the rest of his explosive gel on the door into the central command center of the human facility. He noticed many humans behind the door but didn’t matter to him at all. He had to get in there and find something to stop the thing pressing itself slowly down the hall at them.

Tinder was busy trying to radio the Dreadnaught above with no success.  “Rathman I can’t reach Command. Something is blocking our communication line of site.”

“Ok cover!” Rathman screamed and they both hugged the wall once again as his breaching charge blew.

Command Center

Deloitte had seen the reptilian attackers arise and quickly do something to the door and screamed “Cover!” Unfortunately, this wouldn’t do much as the massive decompression once again sucked loose debris and humans out including Ensign Deloitte.

Rathman watched as once again the pressure seal was broken and a mass of debris and humans were blown out toward the creature. The creature’s mass seemed to bowl in slightly as the heavy wind and debris battered it but then reflexed back out as the pressure normalized. The debris that hadn’t passed deep into it seemed to hang there and get rolled toward the top and sides as the creature continued slowly forward. Rathman watched in horror as a shattered human body appeared on the front surface of the creature and was slowly rolled against the steel wall where it was pressed into a flat gory mess.

Tinder threw her thermal grenade into the breach and with a yell, they both braced again as the great flames lurched out from the portal they had blown open. This time there were no rifles fired in response just silence.

They both then quickly jumped into the now blackened control room and there were no human survivors. A headset buzzed in on a central console and many displays which were now cracked or melted flickered in the darkness.  Their attention though was now on the great blob which was slowly pressing its way down the hallway toward the breach they had just made.

North Hallway to Command Center

“Deloitte! Tom! What’s going on in there!” shouted Commander Grim into his comms. He had heard Deloitte’s warning but then nothing but a massive whoosh sound followed by what was clearly an explosive blast after. He silently cursed himself for not moving back to the command center immediately.

Grim and his men were now at an intersection that led to the Command Center. They could see the blob pressing its way slowly down the hallways at them from the left and right. One of his more ingenious troopers had suggested trying to electrocute or zap the thing with their central power lines and they had spent the last few minutes digging the lines from the steel walls of the compound.

“Sir, we how do we cut these cables without electrocuting ourselves?” she asked.

Grim thought for a moment and didn’t want to tell his troopers what he’d just heard over comms.

“Get back.” He said. His trooper obeyed and he quickly raised his rifle and put numerous bolts into the cabling on each side of the hallway until the lights went out. He then reached a gloved hand in and grabbed the still powered end of the broken cable by its sheathing and ripped it out so that it hung across the hallway. Seeing what he had done another trooper did the same on the other side. Both were thankful their gloves and suits were lined with earth rubber.

“Ok let’s set up a defensive position at the door. Don’t open it!” ordered Grim.

“Why on earth not?” One of the troopers shouted.

“Because the comm center isn’t ours anymore!” Replied Grim trying to not think about the consequences of it.

Command Center

Rathman and Tinder were both at work in the scorched command center. Rathman was busy scouring the room for anything that could be used in either fortifying their position or could be used as a weapon.  Tinder was at what she hoped was the humanoid communications console struggling to decipher the meaning of their buttons and in some cases unable to press them as they were so small.

Rathman looked up at a cracked but functioning display and saw a group of human’s in a position in front of an oncoming creature. It looked as if two cables had been deliberately ripped from the walls and set across the beast’s path.  All power seemed to be out beyond it so it had to be power cables.

“Tinder, take a look.” He said pointing to the screen.

“Ah good blasted luck to them but I’m trying to figure out a way to talk to our friends upstairs. If we can somehow get through we might be able to cut through the roof and get an evac,” said Tinder.

Rathman watched as the creature slowly merged with the cross cables and for a second it seemed to stop and jiggle like for a second. It then lurched forward passing the halfway mark toward the humans. They responded with a massive volley of fire which like every previous case just passed into the blob as if it was nothing. He then looked back into the corridor they had come from and could see the creature was meters from entering the room. The slithering tendrils were already feeling their way around the frame of the blown door they had entered. Things were not well and everybody was running out of time.

End of North Hallway to Command Center

“Mother fucker!” shouted Grim loudly as his troopers responded to the failed electrocution with a heavy volley of fire.

“Commander what do we do?” asked one of them reloading his pulse rifle.

“What you do is stand here and fight like a trooper! When your rifle ammo is out, use your grenades!” yelled Grim.

His mind now was panicking as they were down to two options. Fight here against this massive whatever- it- is or try and retake the command center.

“We got to go in. Trooper Hanson, open that door! The rest of you cover him!” shouted Grim.

Trooper Hanson pulled a large Allen type wrench and pushed it into a small console to the left of the door. With a quick twist to the left the door opened.

Command Center

Rathman had watched the human make for the door and new they were coming in. He unslung his pulse rifle and raised it and fired numerous bursts as it opened which blew the upper half of an unfortunate humanoid trooper that had started to charge in on to the floor beyond.

Rath then screamed, “Cover!” as two objects were thrown in. The first exploded well short of the Calith’s but peppered Rath’s body with hot metal and flash blinding him. The second seemed to spew smoke into the room. Tinder saw Rath get almost blown off his hind feet and fired into the portal shredding two humanoids that had decided to rush the gap.

Commander Grim and his four remaining troopers watched as their comrades had died horribly trying to assault the command center. They were all huddled on each side of the doorway against the wall not knowing what to do or where to go. The blob was minutes away. They’d have to do something.

Tinder looked and the creature had now breached the room and was starting to fill the south side.  Its tendrils were reaching out and poking and prodding any screens or electronics that were on or vibrating. She looked over at Rathman who was drunkenly wavering in a firing position on a console facing the door and saying nothing.

“Rath, do not fire! We need the humans to operate the console for us. We don’t have much time,” Tinder said with a slight shiver in her voice.

“Human show yourself. You won’t be killed!, Tinder shouted toward the portal.

Grim was sitting back against the wall watching the oncoming goliath getting ever closer. They were dead and he knew it. Would it hurt? Should he dive in head first? What would his wife and family think? Would he be buried somewhere? Would it be a nice funeral?

He then heard a large gurgling noise come from the Command Center. He was initially going to dismiss it as nothing but then he heard the exact same gurgle. They were trying to talk to him. Without another thought, he got up and stepped into the open doorway his rifle raised high in surrender. He flinched slightly expecting a bolt to blow him into pieces. It didn’t happen.

He opened his eyes to see two large upright armored six-legged lizards wielding modern weapons starring back at him. He could see eight eyes and great maws behind their helmets. Behind them was another great blob which was quickly filling the other side of the room and its tendrils were now grabbing items as it pushed further into the room. It was clear they were all in a bad spot.

Rathman and Tinder saw one of the meatsacks step into the open with his rifle up.  Tinder quickly said. “We don’t have time for first contact stuff. Walk over grab him and place him in front of this console. If he knows what it is he’ll get it.”

Rathman let go of his rifle and swiftly walked over to the smaller human and managed to pick him up with two arms and take his weapon away with the other two. The then walked him over to the console and placed him in front of it. Tinder pointed down at the communications console.

Grim’s mind was barely processing what was going on but found himself in front of the communications console with one of them pointing at it. They all then jolted and the pointing alien quickly aimed her rifle at the door as his remaining troops rushed with their rifles high. Seconds later the first tendril from the creature that had been making its way up the south corridor started poking in giving a good reason why. The troopers took up defensive positions around them as masses on both sides started pressing in threatening to squash them in between.

“Turn it on!” Tinder gurgled to Grim pounding her finger down on the console.

Grim jumped as the warrior’s finger came down. He had no idea what frequency or band they should be on but he just turned it on and waved at the angry being.

“Command! This is squad bravo lead. Do you copy!” Tinder yelled into the air.

Immediately a response was heard. “Squad Bravo lead. Received. Authenticate!”

“Code Alfa Lima Two Five!” Tinder yelled as she watched Rathman and the human warriors push closer to the center of the room and out of the way of the pseudopods probing the room. The masses themselves had both pushed into the room and now covered the north and south sides.

Cal Dreadnaught

The Colonel stood next to the communications officer along with much of the command staff of the warship.

“Sir that code authenticates!” the Ensign reported causing the captain of the warship and colonel to look at each other solemnly. They had watched every event since the shootdown of one of their assault craft, to the ambush of their forces by a mysterious life form to the emergence of a great amoeba-like creature that now seemed to be ingesting the entire human complex. It was a disaster.

“Admiral go ahead and bombard that location. I’ll add the note to our report that I authorized it. We’ll need to consult with Science on that new lifeform and how to deal with it.  There was no hint of this anywhere in the history of that world. We’ll also note that all squads died valiantly defending their positions against a new unknown threat. This is how they will be remembered. Are we all clear?” asked the Colonel.

“Yes Sir!” the room said in unison.

The Admiral then said “Fire at will,” and walked toward the portal way from the bridge.

Command Center.

The group had formed a tight circle around the communication console with the great amoebic masses having now filled the perimeter of the room and slowly closing to now meters from them. Tinder stood looking at the ceiling waiting for a response from the Dreadnaught. A human warrior fired into the mass in front of him and a tendril stuck at him like a fist knocking him into the mass behind him. He screamed as it sucked him into it slowly leaving a grasping hand handing out.

“They’re not coming are they?” Rathman said.

“I don’t……”

Dreadnaught

The weapon’s officer on the Dreadnaught watched as one low yield fusion munition struck the center of the human facility and created a large circle swatch of destruction almost three turns beyond the blast site. Dust and debris were blown high into the atmosphere which blocked all sensors across the spectrum. He quickly turned his attention to the sports news at Calith which was more interesting than looking a new crater one some infested moon.

Far beneath Outpost X

The being quickly pushed its massive gray form past the debris and radioactive dust of the surface into the welcoming soft sand of its home. It quickly reattached itself to its brethren and felt all the questions come in about what had gone on at the surface. It quickly reported that the infestation had been worse than thought as two invasive species had appeared. It then added that neither tasted all that good.

The End

The Redeemer: Godfrey

The Redeemer: Godfrey

Revenge in the age of the crusades. Knights, Saracens and a whole lot of folly and fury. Enjoy!

Godfrey kneeled in front of the altar of the church with his hands together and head bowed in silent prayer.  A great ray of sunlight cut into the room from a small east-facing window above him lighting up his polished chain armor with only the painted black cross of the Knights Hospitaller on the chest and shoulders breaking it up. His brown bearded face, green eyes and head were covered by a polished iron helmet with a holy cross shaped guard that came down between his eyes and mouth and across his nose and cheeks.  A great longsword with the markings of his Frankish family displayed on the pommel and guard was strapped to his right side and a scuffed but fine iron shield bearing the mark of his order was resting against his left. His mouth slowly and silently mouthed the lord’s prayers as he had done three times daily for over two decades before.

Godfrey’s mind was elsewhere. Sultan Saladin and his Saracen armies had defeated the bulk of the Christian armies of Jerusalem months before at the Horns of Hattin. Saladin then conquered Tiberius, Ten Acres, Sidon, Beirut, Gaza then pushed to Jerusalem where he took it under siege and defeated the defenders. He was merciful in allowing the survivors of Jerusalem to escape but many small garrisons were left across the conquered territories were granted no mercy. They were being overrun, enslaved, converted or killed. Godfrey was in charge of one such garrison in a small roadside village along the road to Hebron and he worried they would be next.

Godfrey completed his morning prayer, rose and then walked outside the small chapel into the confines of the small fort which rested in a lush valley of green grasses and Pine, Cyprus, Oak and Olive trees.  The flowing hills above and around casted long shadows in the morning and evening but didn’t keep out the warming sun for long. The fort itself was as humble as the small rise it sat on and simple farming village it overlooked.  It contained a wood and stone chapel, a one floored barracks, and a horse stable that was surrounded by four wooden walls that were twice a man’s height with guard towers at the corners. The village consisted of a dozen or so small wooden homes, a smithy, a church, a granary and a small mill which sat on a gentle brook that snaked down from the hills passing through the village and further down into the valley.  A large farm and orchard sat opposite the fort and a simple single dusty gravel strewn road passed through it all.  It may not be Jerusalem but was heaven on earth to Godfrey.

His thoughts were interrupted by the rhythmic thump of approaching horses and he looked over to see two riders had entered the fort and were making their way to him. Both were dressed in far lighter leather hide armor with the markings of Army of Jerusalem. Their horses were lightly tacked and outfitted for speed, not battle. The young men were a pair of the half-dozen scouts he had conscripted from the townsfolk and charged with manning a small observation post in the hills. Another pair had taken this pair’s place for the day and would only return if something of note was observed until relieved for the night.

“Any sightings of the savage?” he asked smiling upon the two young scouts.

“None, my lord,” replied the elder of the two.

“Very well.  Get those horses watered and get something to eat,” Godfrey replied.

As the two scouts headed toward the stables the barracks door opened up and a grizzled elder knight walked out the barracks with a stretch of his arms and back.

Sir Edwin’s body told the tale of a lifetime of battle. His face from chin to forehead had the scars and marks of a traveled road. The left side of his mouth was missing all teeth which were taken by a Saracen’s mace years ago. He took great pride in displaying the hole to all with a mighty grin from ear to ear. He walked with a pronounced limp and with the help of a simple spear which he claimed to have stolen from a Sultan while he was poking his wife with another spear.  It was this good cheer and humor that endeared him to all and made them forget about his decrepit state.

“Lord Godfrey. I feel stiffer than a heathen’s cock!” said the old knight.

“I would trust your expertise on that fact, Sir Edwin!” replied Godfrey with a grin.

“It’s the next Sultan’s wives who need worry about my expertise! said Sir Edwin.

“I would hand over my lands the day you kneel before the Lord and confess,” said Godfrey.

“Me too, my Lord,” Sir Edwin said with a wink, who then walked off toward the stables to likely torture the two scouts.

Godfrey smiled and walked into the barracks. The two scores of knights under his command were sitting at a long oak table eating breakfast and preparing for the day. It was warm and smelled of cooked sausage and warm bread. They all rose as Godfrey entered and issued a quick salute.

“Scouts have nothing to report.” Godfrey said, taking a seat and pulling off his helmet.

“Do you think the devils are coming soon?” Asked a very young fair haired knight named Francois asked.

“Yes. I don’t know when, but they will come here. This valley is paradise and we are in the way,” replied Godfrey.

“And you best pray for the grace of God, Sir Knight! When the heathen comes he won’t show any mercy for us so you show him none. You strike him down like he’s the devil himself,” Said a stern dark haired warrior that was digging into the stewpot next to the stone fireplace.

“Yes Sir Bertram. I will pray for us all.” said Francois.

“Good lad!” Sir Bertram said sitting down to eat next to Godfrey.

Two other young Knights then emerged from the doorway to the barracks. Francois quickly rose and the trio rushed out the door to do their morning duties.

Godfrey looked at Sir Bertram and smiled.

“Remember when we were like that? Ready to rush out and face the world?”

“I do,” Said Bertram with a smile. “God willing we’ll be able to do it again soon!”

The knight’s duties of maintaining the fort, garrison, horses and equipment carried them through the day and into the evening. Nothing out of sorts occurred other than what Sir Edwin could manufacture for his own amusement.  The sun was just making its way toward the hilltop when the fast rumble of a trotting horse could once again be heard and one of the scouts appeared.

“What is it lad!” sir Edwin said to a very worried looking rider.

“A score of riders approaches from the north. They appear to be flying the banner of the Knights Templar.”

Edwin looked over at Godfrey and said. “I’ll ask the cook to put out the best silver!”

“Best to have Bertram hide it.” Replied Godfrey dryly.

Sirs Edwin and Godfrey returned to barracks and the calling bell was wrung. The knights dropped what they were doing gathered quickly and were informed that guests were on the way and they were to be in armor with banner flying within the hour. All guests were to be given the best the fort could offer.

A stern Templar knight and his lieutenants stood on a hilltop overlooking the lush valley an hour later. Sir Jacob and his knights had abandoned their garrison days ago as a Saracen Army led by Amet Al Jadari had crushed every other garrison and was moving toward theirs next. Jacob was neither coward or fool . He would not let his valiant knights die defending a position and village that meant little to retaking the holy land. He needed to fall back, find other garrisons and enlist an army to lead the charge back into the holy city. It was God’s will.

Jacob looked down into the sweeping valley and could see a village with a defensible fort atop. His map had marked it as a Hospitaller road garrison and it appeared to be as well maintained as the farming village below. He urged his troop forward as the sun began its slow descent and he thanked the Lord for his good fortune. “Onward!” he ordered as he coaxed his mount forward.

Sirs Godfrey, Bertram, Edwin and Francois gathered at attention with the rest of the order under the black and white crossed banner of the order as the dozen Templar Knights entered the compound on their great traveling steeds under their red crossed banner.  Numerous town elders had gathered as well and stood nervously next to Friar Jans who generally represented the town in any gathering. The Templar knights were led by a tall knight dressed in fine but soiled chain armor and helmet who carried a great shield with a blood red cross painted on it. The rest of the band appeared in similar armor and hefted similar shields, spears and the look of seasoned warriors. All seemed road worn and weary but sat tall and silently at attention as their leader dismounted his horse.

“I am Sir Jacob Coulvalier of Orange, Lord Knight of the Templar and servant of the Lord,” he announced proudly.

Sir Godfrey looked at Edwin who winked at him and then back the knight.

“I’m Sir Godfrey Lion of Alsace and Knight Hospitaller. Welcome to our fort brother. You and your fine men are our guests and are welcomed to stay as long as you require. “

Sir Jacob smiled and then waved his free arm at his troops to dismount which they promptly did to get squared away. Sir Edwin walked forward coaxing them toward the stable where their horses would be tied, fed and quartered for the night. The knights then all retired to the barracks where a great meal, baths and beds were being prepared. The barracks was filled to capacity which was something it hadn’t been in ages.

The two-plus scores of knights sat around a great table in the barracks and as loaves of bread and drink began to appear Sir Jacob got up to address the group. His face looked solemn as first recited the night’s prayer. He then looked up at the group.

“Knights Hospitaller, we appreciate your great cheer and hospitality however be warned. A great army of savages is but one day behind us,” Jacob said with one finger up. “They are led by the Heathen, Al Jadari, who has shown great cruelty and contempt for all of God’s children. We must stand together and defend this fort from his horde and then reform a great Army of God to drive them from the holy lands once again.”

Sir Jacob then looked at the shocked Sir Godfrey as if expecting him to immediately cede his leadership to him.

“Sir Jacob this garrison is with you and your brave men. We are sworn to protect this fort, village and all that believe in God!” He said while raising his chalice to the cheers of his knights.

He then sat down and the meal began to be served to all in earnest. The table was quickly filled with loaves of bread, bowls of olives, casks of wine and pots of stew much to the happiness of Jacob’s weary knights. Bellies were filled but so were thoughts as everybody focused on the dire threat at hand and conversations were directed that way.

“Sir Jacob. How big is this force of Saracens?” asked Bertrand.

“We witnessed the approach of at least 4 scores of riders and at least 20 times that number of archer and infantry. They had decimated at least three garrisons prior to reaching our position. We evacuated seeking to reinforce realizing our position was weak and our numbers low,” he replied.

“Well the twenty more of us should provide a fair fight!” Joked Sir Edwin.  Bertram, Godfrey and one of Jacob’s knights laughed but Jacob did not. He looked coldly at Edwin.

“You will do whatever you’re ordered to. This garrison and all in it are now under my command as I am the ranking knight,” Jacob looked at Sir Godfrey as he said this looking for his backing once again.

“Yes, my lord,” Sir Godfrey replied obediently bowing his head. He then raised his glass.

“To God and duty!” he said. The table then followed suit. Godfrey’s eyes then looked at Bertram and Edwin.

The meal continued in cheer and earnest. Many of the Knights retired soon after to rest up for what could be an eventful day. Sir Godfrey walked out to the stables with Edwin and Bertram to check on the mounts and talk.

“Sir Godfrey. What are we to do? It seems like too large of a force is coming this way,” said Bertram.

“We do our duty. We protect this fort, this village and road. God willing, Sir Jacob and his band of Templar’s can help,” replied Godfrey.

“I’m not so sure about Jacob. He’s wound a little too tight and didn’t say anything about the fate of the village he was charged with protecting before he up and ran?” asked Edwin.

Godfrey raised his hand to Edwin. “Old friend, I know something is amiss but we must all face it together.”

He then thought for a moment and rubbed his chin.

“Ride down to the village at dawn and let the villagers know what’s coming and prepare them to move into the fort. We’re likely looking at a siege so please have them bring what food and water we can. Do not panic them!”

The knights then completed their tasks in the stable and retired to bed in the great room of the barracks. The wine at dinner helped but many had a hard time falling to sleep and dreams were far from sweet. They had all seen what war had done to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and viciousness of battle. None wanted it again.

Morning came swiftly and as Godfrey emerged from the barracks he saw that Bertram had returned from the village with the elders I tow.

“Sir Godfrey, what is the meaning of this. How could the Knighthood not allow the people into the fort in a time such as this!” said the Friar.

Godfrey looked shockingly at Sir Bertram who replied, “Sir Jacob has ordered that the villagers are to remain in the village and fortify it, Sir Godfrey.”

Godfrey turned and saw the Templar leader speaking with one of his charge near the stables. He quickly stomped over.

“Sir Jacob. Why did you stop the villagers from evacuating the town? It is indefensible and they are no warriors!” said Godfrey.

Sir Jacob gave Sir Godfrey a hard look and said. “This fort is about to be brought under siege and there is hardly enough food and water to support our knights for a week never mind the entire village. They are servants of the lord and will do their part as I see fit. Your man Edwin spoke harshly to me as well. He is currently in the infirmary having his old jaw tended to and if you continue Sir Knight you will join him as well.”

“How dare you strike a man of this order!” Sir Godfrey said his hand going to his sword. All knights began drawing their weapons to stand off against each other.

Sir Jacob looked around and with a sneer said. “As a servant of the Church, you know the rank of order of things. Now, let us save this fight for the Saracens who quickly approach!”

Godfrey knew the cold Templar leader was right on that point and retreated into the stables where a young squire was wrapping a bandage about Sir Edwin’s head to support a broken jaw. Edwin looked at him when he approached and mumbled. “I’m starting to lose my good looks and charm!” he mumbled.  Godfrey patted him on the shoulder with a laugh.

The rest of the morning was spent stocking the fort for siege and moving obstacles to slow any approach to the fort. The town itself was busy with many of the same efforts and Godfrey had sent Bertram and several of the young Knights to assist. The farmers had gathered and formed a small militia of spearmen and archers that could offer a skirmish or two but little else. The knight’s hearts dropped knowing this.

The noon bell tolled and two scouts returned with the tale of a coming Saracen army. They detailed at least two hundred infantry, one hundred archers and half that number of Saracen Cavalry. They marched with speed and in good order.  It would be moments before enemy scouts breached the valley.

The bell was struck again to warn all of the coming attack and the Knights and villagers sealed their defenses and watched the northern hilltops for a first sign. They were rewarded less than an hour later as several mounted Saracen scouts were seen roaming in zigzag patterns and then disappearing over the ridge to report their observations.  It made the defenders nervous and ready for a fight.

The bulk of the Saracen army marched into the valley a short time later. A long column quickly formed into a solid wall of two ranks. The first line of men wielded spear and shield followed by a second line of longbow armed archers. They were all dressed in padded leather or hide armor with a bright green crescent painted on all shields and shirts. A swift column of Calvary wound like a snake behind them and came to rest forming a line in front of the infantry.  Two Saracens continued forward on their mounts toward the fort and dismounted a dozen paces before it.

Godfrey and Jacob both moved toward the large front gate of the fort. Sir Jacob quickly put his hand out in front of Godfrey. “Please see to the defense sir Godfrey, I shall parley with the heathens.”

Godfrey looked at Jacob sharply and but then turned back toward the stables. He motioned Bertram and Edwin to come with him.

Sir Jacob walked out and met the two Saracen horsemen. He kept one hand on the sword at his side.

“Halt! What is it you want you wretched jackals!” said Jacob in very broken Arabic.

One of the Saracen cavaliers quickly pulled out a curved scimitar from the scabbard on his belt exposing a gleaming blade but the other held up his hand and spoke to the knight.

“The great Amet Al Jadari, servant of Saladin humbly asks you to submit. You are to drop your arms and pray to Allah for mercy.”

“We will do no such thing!”  Godfrey then turned his back on the horseman and walked back to the fort. The Saracen messengers then got back on their horses and began to gallop toward their army. The first Saracen held his right arm up with fist clenched toward the troops in front of him.  The line of Saracen cavalry swiftly galloped to the left allowing the infantry to step forward and the archers began to set their arrows alight.

Godfrey seemingly gave the same notice when he wrung the bell next to the stable. The Templars assumed it was a call to battle but Godfrey’s Hopitallers knew what it meant as they left their defensive positions and rushed toward the stable to mount their horses. It was time for a mounted attack.

Godfrey looked at Bertram and Edwin as he quickly mounted his horse with a spear in hand and said. “Take a look down there and see what’s about to happen. The village will be taken under arrow and the defenders will be slaughtered while we sit up here. This is not the will go God! We must help them!”

The rest of the Hospitaller knights quickly mounted and fell in behind Godfrey who quickly coaxed his mount toward the door which cranked open as they approached. A lone knight had commandeered the large crank that opened it and saluted when all looked over at him.

Sir Jacob ran out with sword in hand in front of the horseman.

“Where do you think you’re going! You are to maintain this position!”

Godfrey looked down and calmly replied, “to mind the Lord’s flock you ass!” Godfrey looked up and with a snap of the reigns ,his horse lurched forward. The column behind him followed with the knight manning the door mounting a vacant horse at the end.

“Bloody Hospitaller fools!” one of Jacob’s men shouted out loud.

Godfrey’s knights exited the fort in a full run with spears forward. The sky was filled with lit and until arrows in response that fell on the village creating immediate havoc, death and fire. The invading infantry then started their march toward the town with only the village’s crop fields and orchards obstructing them. Jacob prayed it would give him time to reach the village before the infantry. There they could dismount, use the structures as cover and lend their expertise to the defense.

Amet Al Jadari and his lieutenants were experienced and could see what was unfolding. They ordered their more numerous cavalry to ride and engage the knights before they could reach their destination. The Saracen cavaliers began a hard charge snaking around the fields to intercept the line of knights before they entered the town.

Godfrey’s horse galloped hard and to his right he could see the young Sir Francois pushing his mount hard to his left Bertram was expertly driving his mount forward while bringing his spear to bear. He could feel the rest behind him as the ground rumbled, hooves thundered and the occasional horse grunted as they pushed forward.

His troop was moments away from the village when a flash of light to his right revealed many charging Saracen horsemen that were nearly upon them.  Sir Bertram then crossed into his view and angled out toward the mounted attackers aiming his sharpened spear at the closest rider. Godfrey continued forward and entered the village.  He could hear the clash of steel from behind him where Bertram and any others who followed collided with enemy riders. He feared for his comrades but had a responsibility to get to the villagers.

Sir Godfrey and the half dozen others that cleared the dueling cavalry charge jumped off their horses and pulled the swords, morning stars and maces at their sides ready to do battle.  Numerous mounted Saracens barreled out of the cavalry charge into the village only to be struck down from the flanks by enraged knights. The other Saracen riders behind quickly took note and swung wide clearing themselves from confines of the village. It was no place for mounted warriors to do battle.

Sir Godfrey dashed to the safety of a farmhouse and looked over to see old Edwin running with a limp and covered with blood.

“Bertram? Godfrey asked. The old knight just shook his head in reply as he reached the cover of the roof of the house as several arrows landed behind him.

“Let’s go! Get to the villagers in the center!” Godfrey yelled waving his blade toward the center of the town.

Godfrey looked around and counted only six of this troop had made it into the village other than himself and Sir Edwin. There were many fires in the village and much screaming coming from the north side. This had to be where the villagers’ defense was being mounted.

They arrived to find many of the village men and women arrowshot or dead in the village center and many buildings on fire. The friar moved about with several young men carrying buckets of water attempting to put the worst out. Godfrey waved to the friar who approached.

“The arrows broke the men. Most are dead or have retreated to the chapel to defend their families,” the Friar said in a near panic.

Godfrey looked toward the north end of the village and could see a large formation of Saracen infantry now moving down the road.  They had formed into an organized phalanx of spearmen preceded by skirmishers who were running and hacking at anybody they could find.

“Get your men back to the chapel. We’ll make our stand there!” exclaimed Godfrey.

Godfrey and Edwin then coaxed the survivors was toward the church. The townspeople were gathered inside and the seven remaining knights and armed villagers formed a half moon phalanx outside of the double doors.  They all could see the Saracens surging forward and knew this wasn’t going to be a fair fight.

Sir Edwin was the first to speak and mumbled. “Say your peace if you need to lads and give as good as you get!”

Godfrey looked behind him and for a brief second hoped that Sir Jacob and his knights would be charging to their rescue but that was not the case.  He looked toward the hilltop and could see the blood their banner had not moved from the fort at all.  His vision and mind went as red as the bloody cross on their banner.

“May the lord deliver justice to Jacob and his pack of cowardly dogs!” He shouted out loud to nobody in particular.

The first of the Saracen infantry closed on the defending knights in a great rush. Godfrey struck first by bringing his longsword down across the shoulder of a skirmisher nearly cleaving him into two. Francois followed with a vicious jab of his sword through the face of the next. Edwin then brought his blade up to block a blow of a sword but was quickly knocked backward as an unseen warrior punched a spear through the armor covering his chest. Godfrey saw his old friend fall and then walked into a sideward slash of a scimitar which parted his armor and opened his stomach. He fell to one knee holding the vicious wound with one arm and raised his sword high to deflect the killing blow that was surely coming down upon him. His last sight was seeing a great surge of enemy infantry swarm toward him. He fell dark shortly after feeling the bite of great weapon being driven down through his shoulder. His fellow knights died very much the same way.

Sir Jacob had watched Sir Godfrey and his band of fools charge to their deaths. Godfrey had lost most of his riders to the Saracen charge and his own life to a pointless last stand at the church that was now being put to the torch. If that fool had ordered all villagers to fight at least they would have not been burned alive hiding and hoping. The stupidity!

Jacob then looked around at his force and looked at the massive force of Saracen’s swarming the village below with some maneuvering around the hill. His force was small and surrounded by an enraged battle-hardened force that could likely breach the walls of this small fort and crush them at will.  Surrender was the only option.

Sir Jacob was not the only one thinking this as the chapel as the town’s inhabitants burned.  Amet Al Jadari sat on his warhorse looking down upon the scene with the lieutenants he had sent to parley earlier with sad eyes. He didn’t like killing brave men, women and children for such a small village. Why didn’t these fools just leave? He gave them the chance.

“Return to the fort and demand the surrender of who remains. Tell him Al Jadari is feeling merciful after such events!”

The horsemen nodded and road again towards the fort stopping within earshot. The defenders did not move and stirred like nervous farm animals on the battlements.

“What do you want!” shouted Sir Jacob.

“Your unconditional surrender!  Al Jadari does not wish for more massacres after what he has witnessed today!” said the closest rider.

“Will I and my men be spared?” asked Sir Jacob.

“Yes this is what I said. You will come with us and submit before Amit Al Jadari. God willing you will then learn the ways of Allah and serve him the way we see fit.”

“Accepted.” Said Sir Jacob.

The lieutenant smiled, turned and raised his right arm to the sky signaling the surrender. The army surged forward to take possession of the fort. As the lieutenant rode back to join his comrades he did wonder if this coward really deserved any mercy. He had just sat up on the hill watching his comrades in arms die and just surrendered his troops and position without pause.

The handover went smoothly with only one of Jacob’s knights beheaded for disobedience. The rest handed over their horses and arms and submitted to Allah as they had been instructed to. Sir Jacob was the first and handed his blade to Amet Al Jadari with a bow.  The leader smiled but then ordered them to collect all bodies in the village and add them to the pyre that was the church. Jacob and his men carried out the gruesome task in earnest, happy to still have their lives.

Godfrey first saw darkness but then opened his eyes to the light of a thousand suns. Squinting he put right hand in front of his eyes and rolled off the high bed he had been lying on and felt his feet hit the floor. Looking down he noticed his injuries were gone, his armor was removed and he was dressed in a white silken robe. Looking to the left and right he noticed he was in a large warm white room and his fellow knights were fast asleep laid out on similar beds but were not rousing at all.

He looked at a sleeping, Sir Beltram and called out his name.

A booming voice then called out. “Sir Godfrey, they do not hear you.”

Godfrey looked toward the source which appeared to be beyond the bright light. He squinted through the gaps of his fingers and saw the shadow of a large figure materialize and begin to walk toward him. When it got closer he recognized that it was Sir Edwin walking toward him. This Sir Edwin was not the decrepit limping old warrior he knew but a young vibrant one who carried himself high with a large blade in his hand.

“Edwin? Is that you?” Godfrey asked.

“It is and I’ve come to offer you the revenge you seek. It does not come cheaply though. If you take it you will not be able to pass on to heaven but instead will serve your Lord somewhere in between.  If you do take it you will be able to avenge the great injustice that cost you, your men and the villagers their lives. It is your choice to make. Take the sword if you wish it so,” said Edwin as he handed the sword to Godfrey hilt first.

Godfrey thought for a second, grabbed the sword and said “It is gods will.”

Young Sir Edwin smiled as he replied, “Still doing the bidding of another? It must be your will.”

“It is!” replied Sir Godfrey and in a flash he was gone.

Sir Edwin turned as the form of Godfrey disappeared as did the knights around him. He walked back toward the light and as he did his form changed back to the form of a lumbering demon.  It smiled as it thought how this lowly human thought the revenge it seeks is god’s will. He isn’t the first or the last to think that!

Sir Jacob and his men spent the rest of the day conducting the gruesome tasks of stripping the dead of their valuables and throwing their bodies into the fire. The dead Saracens were being collected by the Saracen warriors and an Iman to be prepared for paradise in their way. It was a hot and exhausting task and by the time of the Muslim’s evening prayer, they were exhausted. Their captors forced them to bow in the direction of Mecca and pray to the great Allah for forgiveness. They did not know the words but did as they were commanded. As they did the church still burned strong as if was being fed by scores of the dead that were quickly disappearing into the sky as ash.

A Saracen rider appeared a short time later to relieve them of this work. “Sir Knight. You and your dogs will wash from the brook and then attend our feast. This is my commander’s will.”

Sir Jacob and his men quickly moved toward the brook to wash, drink much-needed water and prepare for a meal with their conquerors.  They finished quickly and lumbered somberly up the hill toward the fort.  The sun had gone down and many campfires now burned in and around the fort as did the pyre that still burned behind them.  They moved toward where they thought the Saracen leader and his generals might be but a warrior quickly stepped in front of them and pointed to a small fire on the periphery of the fort where they would take their meal. A bucket of water and several loaves of bread sat unattended next to it that was quickly passed out to the men.

Jacob’s mood was foul, his fate was unknown but thank god they were still alive. He now had to devise a way to escape. He looked at his men for a second and started to work on what they could do to help him escape. His thoughts were then interrupted as the earth shook and sky night sky was filled with the fire of a thousand suns as something exploded behind him in the village below.

The chapel exploded and Sir Godfrey and his troop emerged from the raging fire on burning mounts. Their blackened charred skeletal forms burned brightly with whites, yellows and oranges of the hottest fire as smoke plumed from them as they charged.  Sir Godfrey felt great power flow through him and looking left and right could see it in his comrades as well. It was if the embers of a justice had been stoked! He also somehow knew though this power would not last forever and they would be consumed. They must be swift! He looked up toward the camp, drew a great fiery longsword and wished a hell storm down up it.  The chapel pyre exploded again throwing flaming debris high into the air above the village and fort.

Amit Al Jadari and his lieutenants rushed out of their great tent when screams of fear and horror could be heard after the roar of a tremendous explosion. Amit pushed through the tent flaps with sword in hand but his eyes were drawn up by the light of a sky filled with flaming debris that began crashing down on the camp like a great firestorm from the heavens. One of his lieutenants made the mistake of running and was quickly crushed down by a large chunk of flaming debris.

“Oh great Allah.” Amit said eyes wide as he ran back into the tent to retrieve his armor.

Sir Jacob and his men recovered from the blindness shock of the explosion and began fleeing away from the trajectory of the debris which arced high into the sky and into camp and fort. As their night sight recovered they looked back toward the village they then saw a wondrous sight. A troop of flaming mounted knights charged from the village and began snaking up the hill.

Most went down to their knees to pray. “God has sent his avenging angels to save us!” Jacob shouted to his men.

Sir Godfrey led the charge up the hill and on the periphery of the camp could see Jacob and his band of cowards. He quickly pointed at them directing his knights on where to attack. Their great lances came down bright with the fires that continued to consume them.

Sir Jacob saw the band turn and accelerate and as they got closer he starting feeling something was familiar about them. “Oh my God!” he mouthed as the details of the blackened plates of the smoldering horseman came into view. It was Godfrey and his troop!

Sir Godfrey’s lance ran through Sir Jacob rupturing his cowering form in first a blast of fire and then a spray of powdered ash. This was repeated by the other horsemen as each one of Jacob’s knights perished in flames. There were a few screams but they were quickly stifled out by the crackling of the flames that now consumed their sources. It was a hellish and brutal end. Justice had been served.

Sir Godfrey and his men then drew great fiery swords, maces and ball-and-chains and charged toward the chaos of the camp and fort. Their fiery mounts were starting to deteriorate with bones starting to break free and fall to the ground and shatter into powder.  They could feel themselves starting to deteriorate and knew they didn’t have much time before they would be ash as well.

Amit Al Jadari and several of his surviving troops now stood back to back in a circle as chaos reigned around them.  They had grabbed their weapons and shields but still had no idea what was going on until they had heard a great clash of steel from the peripheries. Then they saw what seemed to be a great fireball rush across their visions tossing men, horses and equipment far into the air trailing great plumes of fire and smoke. Leading this ball of flame were hellish riders with their weapons held high which they struck down upon their victims who exploded into dust and ash. This continued all around them for several minutes and quickly consumed the army around him.

Amit closed his eyes and whispered to Allah, “Give me strength.”

The hellish riders then slowed and circled outside of the ruined fort and army surrounding Amit and his men giving them a far better view of what they are. The riders were large, armored but skeletal with bones that looked like hot embers that would soon burn out. Their eyes, mouths spewed fire and ash and they seemed to look upon Al Jadari and his men like a great cat would its prey.

Amit decided he would not die a coward’s death and raised his scimitar high and led his lieutenants on a final charge against these demons on foot. The demons reciprocated and moved into a mounted charge behind their leader. The forces closed and the world around them was a blur. Amit swore as he saw a toothy grin form on skeletal form charging right at him. He then felt nothing.

The valley exploded in a firestorm that could be seen and felt in Jerusalem and the territories beyond. Most thought it was the eruption of a volcano or the impact of great rock falling from the sky. Those that had lived or come to the valley were never seen or heard from again. All that was left was a scared landscape that would quickly become as lush and beautiful as it was before.

The Redeemer: Maria

The Redeemer: Maria

red eye

Just a tale about revenge with some gratuitous violence.

Maria walked into her family’s kitchen amongst the chaos of their morning routine. Her Papi was sitting at the table with the Laredo Morning Times spread out in front of him. His graying hair and beard hid his massive grin as well as his favorite Hawaiian shirt hid his great belly.  His attention was on his feisty wife, Anna-Marie, who standing over a pan of sizzling eggs was joyfully shouting over the morning AM traffic report and waving her IPhone toward him with the latest picture of their nephews. Maria’s fiancé Danny was on the other side of the kitchen leaning against the refrigerator enjoying the scene with a cup of coffee in hand. He was dressed in slim blue jeans, a short sleeve black button down over a white tee and a million dollar smile.

His eyes went to her as she walked toward him and as always he slightly lost his breath at the sight of her. She was short like her father but had her mother’s stunning blue eyes and long straight black hair which she tied in a ponytail. She had been a star swimmer and gymnast in High School which gave her an athletic build and an unusually fast pace.

“Good Morning mi amor.  I thought you’d sleep all day! “ Danny said.

“Not today Danny. I’ve got to give a present our study results to the Docs today and need to call and see how my dress is coming. Only two weeks left until our wedding!” She said with a smile followed by a kiss.

“Danny have you ordered your tux yet?” asked Anna-Maria while pointing her spatula at him.

“Uhh, no not yet. Soon!”

“Tell you what. I’ll pick you up from the garage today and we’ll run to the shop before dinner” said Maria.

“Si, that would be perfect!” said Danny.

“Maria, sit down and have some breakfast,” said her mother poking the spatula toward her.

“Oh no thanks Mom, today I’m starting a cleanse.”

Her father looked up from his paper his eyeglasses at the tip of his nose.

“Cleanse?” he asked eyes bouncing to everybody in the room.

“Yes, Papi. A bride needs to be fit and healthy for her wedding,” she said with a sweet smile.

“How about drinking two cups of coffee then instead of drinking the space food?” said Papi.

“Oh Papi!” Maria said with a smile as she patted him on the shoulder on the way to the fridge to retrieve the ingredients for her shake.

Papi then looked at Danny sharply. “Danny, let’s get down to the shop. We’ve got to finish that Beamer this morning.”

“Sure Papi, no problem,” said Danny.

They both got up to leave and Maria followed shortly after making her shake and packing her things. Anna-Marie watched them go through the screen door with a smile and started cleaning up the kitchen. She would be needed down at the family auto shop soon as well.

Maria’s ride to the lab was as ritual driven as events in the kitchen. She started by reviewing her list of daily work tasks which today revolved around presenting clinical data to the hospital’s research chiefs to justify her group’s study on the connection between genes and macular degeneration. She wasn’t worried as this was a long-standing validated project but it was important to her to manage the project well and ultimately move the work forward towards a cure for the disease. She then moved on to her wedding tasks which include a follow-up call on her dress and a couple of emails to make sure the venue was all set as well as the other vendors. She mentally added making sure Danny was following up on his end as well with a sigh. This could be the hardest thing!

Danny arrived at Miguel’s Auto Body about fifteen minutes before Papi did which was typical. Papi liked to stop to buy coffee for the mechanics and maybe a donut or three for him. This was great as it gave Danny time to get things to order and clean up any messes before the boss got there. He suspected Papi knew this which was just another hint at how good he was at running the shop and managing people. Papi had run this business for thirty years and it had put Anna-Marie and Maria through college as well as employ and train many of the neighborhood kids to be mechanics, detailers and in Danny’s case a manager and future owner.

He walked through the central office into out into a large busy multiport garage. There were many cars in various states of repair and a half dozen mechanics moving about.  Business was being carried out as usual and there appeared to be no crisis to jump into.

“Andy! How’s that Beamer coming! Boss is gonna want to know! ” he yelled as he looked at a jet black BMV with a pair of legs hanging out of an open driver side door.

“Um ok. Still having an issue getting this panel back on but detailing and tint done.” bellowed a voice from the car.

“Ok. Pick up around noon. Give me a few and I’ll come take a look,“ Danny replied as he walked back into the office.

Maria’s day went fast.  Her presentation with the chiefs barely stretched the scheduled hour and nobody seemed to have any objections or criticisms beyond the usual budget concerns. Once clear of that meeting she was able to get back to the laboratory where her group was working diligently for a Friday morning. She spent the rest of her workday in her office completing paperwork, lab management tasks and making the calls she needed to her wedding vendors. She finished a little early so made her way to the University track for a good run. She could then pick up Danny after.

Danny’s day at Papi’s shop was slow and problematic. Papi had arrived with coffee and donuts as did Anna-Maria an hour later to help get the office in order and start processing the week’s receipts and pay the bills.  The computer systems went down mid-morning due to a kicked plug and then there was an issue with one of the lifts causing a pickup to be stuck above the floor for an hour until a repairman was able to fix the lift’s hydraulics and free it. It set the garage’s work back several hours and had Danny, Papi, and Anna-Marie scrambling until lunch.  The good news both Danny and Papi could dive under hoods and behind sprayers to help. The bad news is without their oversight it caused several key responsibilities to slip.

Paulo sat in his Charger at the intersection of the worst blocks on the US side of Laredo. His tinted window was wide open and his tattooed arm with a cigarette in hand dangled out as his mirrored sunglasses reflected at least five successful crimes being carried out in his name on the streets in front of him. His car engine rumbled as his free hand was on the wheel but not far from the black Beretta pistol on the seat next to him. His head bobbed slightly as his speakers thumped out the music flowing through them.

He picked up his cell phone and called a contact called Tigre.

“Yes,” replied somebody on the other end.

“Let’s go get Capo’s car,” Paulo said and then promptly hung up.

Three gang soldiers then emerged from a building a block down the street several moments later swaggering toward Paulo’s car.  The lead thug wore black Adidas running pants and a blue tank top that loosely covered his muscled frame. Tiger tattoos decorate the left and right sides of his shaved head and his eyes were covered by mirrored sunglasses. A single toothpick poked from his gold grilled mouth. The second thug was much older with greying jet-black hair and goatee. He wore black jeans and dress shirt separated by a large silver belt buckle with a matching pistol handle besides it. His polished black boots pounded the pavement as he moved forward with purpose. Finally, a lumbering giant picked up the rear with the dead-eyed glaze of a weed-induced high. He wore a backward ballcap, disheveled blue jeans and black tee shirt with a faded white skull on it. His left hand carried a large bag and the right gripped a worn aluminum baseball bat.  They arrive at his car several moments later and Paulo moved over to let the weightlifter drive and the other two get in the back.

“Weren’t we supposed to pick this up earlier today, Paulo?” asked the powerlifter.

“Yeah Tigre. They called earlier and said it might be a little late,” replied Paulo.

“Capo’s not gonna like that,” replied Tigre.

“Eh don’t worry about it, Homey. Capo’ll be alright,” the Giant replied pulling out a glass pipe.

Paulo then put the car into drive and they headed across the city to Miguel’s Auto Shop.

Danny had finished up his last car and was walking back to the office when he came across the BMW Andy was working on that morning. Not knowing what had happened he decided to poke his head in and as he had feared the panel was still sitting there on the passenger seat.

“Shit!” he said out loud.

“Anybody seen Andy?” Danny asked outload.

“Left a half hour ago,” a mechanic said walking bye on her way out for the day.

Danny got out of the car and looked at the time on his phone. Maria wasn’t due for another hour so he could probably finish this in time. The customer hadn’t showed up yet which is good as they aren’t the types to be understanding if things weren’t finished. He quickly walked back toward the tool bench looking for the right tool needed for paneling. If he could just bang this out and get things right no harm would be done.

Maria was approaching the final lap of her run around the university track and quickly transformed into the competitive athlete she once was.  Her mind opened allowing all the stresses in her life to come boiling to the surface. Anything big or small that was going wrong, had gone wrong or will go wrong was right there. Every person that had tried to wrong or hurt her was now visible to her mind’s eye. It enraged her and she used it and her fury erupted as she pumped her arms and legs as hard as she possibly could bursting into a hard final sprint around the track. It was her release and it felt great.

The Redeemer heard her on its dark plane. The girl had reached out and it had felt her rage and fury as if it was its own. Its hands balled, muscled arms tensed and jaw clenched as it saw the injustices in her mind’s eye.  She wanted to strike out and burn them all to the ground. This thought excited it.

Maria felt the surge of burned rage give way to something deep and dark in her mind. Slightly panicked she quickly brought her focus back to reality and crossed the finish line ramping down into a slow jog. The rage and darkness subsided as she put it behind her and she made her way back toward the gym and showers.

Maria sat down in her car after the shower and a change. She felt great as stress and weariness of the day had given way to the surge of energy that a good workout gave her. Her high school soccer coach had taught her to use life’s challenges as her rocket fuel and she always did on the last lap. She did wonder though if it would give her a heart attack one day as well.

It was now time to pick up Danny and go look at tuxedos.

Danny was having trouble with the panel. He had been at it for twenty minutes and still couldn’t get it to sit on the dash frame correctly.

“Danny! Time to close up shop. You ready?” yelled Papi from the office.

“Almost, just need a few!” replied Danny.

Paulo pulled his Charger into a parking space in front of Miguel’s and jumped out with Tigre.  The other two soldiers got out of the back of the car and then jumped into the front. The sun was nearly down and traffic had picked up slightly delaying them. The good news was the red neon open sign was still lit in the window next to the door so they walked in and walked up to the desk. Paulo impatiently banged on the bell at the counter that separated a waiting area from an office.

“Coming!” said a female voice from the office.

Anna-Marie emerged from the office behind the counter with a smile on her face.

“Hello,” she said.

“Olah! Here to pick up my car” said Paulo impatiently.

“Name?” she replied.

“Rodriquez, it’s the BMW,” said Paulo pointing through the office window to the car being worked on in the center of the garage.

“Ah, one second!” Anne-Marie replied with a friendly smile.

Anne-Marie walked toward the garage to see about the car.

Maria pulled her Honda to the curb in front of the shop.  She was hoping Danny would be there but it wasn’t the case.  Looking through the front window she could see a couple of customers speaking with Mama at the counter. Knowing that Danny probably couldn’t leave until they were finished she grabbed her cell phone and started thumbing through her work email.

Anne-Marie walked to the driver’s side to see Danny’s legs still hanging out of it as he was trying to manipulate a panel to the dashboard.

“Hey Danny, the customers are here to pick up this car.”

“Ah ok. Thanks Mama. I’ll take care of it.”

Danny climbed out of the car and walked toward the office while wiping his hands on a towel that had been hanging on the open door.  As he caught sight of who was at the counter his stomach dropped just a bit. They were bad news.

“Hello. I’m Danny and I’ve been working on your car. The tinting and detailing are done but I’m having a hard time getting a panel back on. You can wait if you’d like or come back tomorrow if it works better for you.”

“You’ve had the car for days. It needs to be done now.” Paulo said with a slightly raised voice.

Papi came walking in from the garage.

“Sorry for the delay. Sometimes the manufacture strips the fasteners which make it difficult to get the panel back on.  Give us a few minutes and we’ll get it done,” Said Papi trying to defuse the situation.

“Would you boys like a Coke? I’ve got some in the fridge. I’ll get them for you. Sit down and relax for a few.” said Mama with a smile.

“Bitch we want our car, not coke.” Tigre said aggressively.

Anne-Marie and Papi glared but Danny instantly replied. “Hey watch your fucking mouth!”

“Why?” Tigre replied while reaching for something tucked in his pants behind his back.

“You gonna do something about it Punto!” he said grinning as his hand swung back to the front revealing a modern pistol.

“Whoa T!” said Paulo putting an arm in front of him and then turning toward him. “They don’t need to see that!”

As Paulo turned back toward the counter he was instantly blinded and thrown backward by the wooden counter exploding out at him with a roar. He hit the lobby floor hard and his arms and legs stung from many small wounds. Looking over at Tigre he saw that he had been bowled over as well as had many small cuts all over him. He was rolling over with gun in hand.

Maria was just finishing a mail when she heard a large explosive crash and the sound of glass breaking. Looking over at the shop the glass front door and windows seemed to have been blown out and she could see dust and smoke coming from the lobby. She jumped out of the car phone in hand rushing toward the shop. She noticed two men had jumped from the car and were rushing to the shop as well.

Danny looked up after his hand released the trigger of the double-barreled shotgun that had been fastened to the underside of the counter under the register. He had reached over and fired both barrels at them when the smarter one had turned. The counter in front of him had shattered and wooden splinters had blown the bangers over and shattered and windows beyond.

Danny looked over at Papi relieved that the danger had passed but Papi wasn’t looking his way. Shifting his attention back to lobby he noticed the thugs were now slowly getting back up and both had guns in their hands.

Papi grabbed Anna-Marie as pushed her towards the door to the garage and Danny leaped to the standing remains to find the box of shells.  As Papi’s hand touched Anna-Marie and Danny reached the counter the thugs fired. Bullets from the semi-automatic weapons tore into their bodies. Anna Marie and Papi fell in each other’s arms and Danny was thrown back into the wall behind where he slid down the wall leaving a trail of blood.

“What the fuck!” Paulo yelled looking over at the people they had just gunned down.

“Crazy people man!” said Tigre pulling a small pellet from a wound on his face.

The other two thugs entered through the shattered door guns drawn and glared at Paulo as they processed what had just gone on.

“You two. Car’s back there in the garage,” Paulo said pointing.  “Get it out and drive it home.”

“T come on. We need to burn this place.”

Turning toward the door they noticed a beautiful young woman standing in the doorway.

Maria’s brain was trying to process what she was seeing. She had rushed in behind the two men and was stopped cold by the site of her family’s bodies and the bloodstained wall. Danny was bloody, slumped against the blood-smeared wall lifelessly staring out of the shop. Streams of blood seemed to still be coming from numerous wounds on his torso and neck. Her parents were on the floor together huddled in a growing pool of blood on the floor.

“Hey!” somebody shouted.

She suddenly found herself able to move and saw two of the thugs move toward her guns in hand.

A voice in her head said “Run!”

She turned and dashed as fast as she could out the doorway angling quickly to the left to not give them a straight shot.

Paulo saw the girl run and he raised his gun to fire but was answered by the clicks of an empty ammo clip. He stopped quickly to reach into his pocket searching for another and heard T’s weapon fire a few shots that struck the corners and went off into the neighborhood behind. The two others then passed by them rushing out the door with guns raised.

Maria ran to her car in seconds flat, opened the passenger door and dove in head first. She swore as her ribs were bruised by the hard center panel but rolled quickly to get her feet near the break and gas pedals.  Two gunshots rang out and the windshield above her head was holed and the window at the rear shattered. She quickly pressed the button of the key less starter, pushed the stick to drive and thumped her foot on the gas. She heard two more shots and felt two thumps on the car but she felt the car accelerated away and heard many more shots.  She kept low in the seat and pointed away from the shop and then popped her head up higher when she didn’t hear the gunshots anymore.

The two thugs emptied their magazines at the speeding car in vain. The girl was quick and their shots had failed to hit anything vital on the car or her to slow her down.  They watched helplessly as the car sped away.

Two seconds later Paulo and T came running out of the lobby reloaded guns in hand.  Hearing alarms going off up and down the street Paulo shouted,” Let’s go! Get Capo’s car and burn this fucking place to the ground!”

The Charger and BMW left the garage four minute later. The bodies were left where they lay and a hot gasoline fire now blazed in the garage which would quickly engulf the shop well before the police and fire department arrived.  Neighbors had seen and heard the commotion and even called the police but hid in place when gunshots rang out. The culprits had gotten away unseen.

Maria was still shaking from the adrenaline rush as her car screeched to a halt in front of the small police station. She fell out of the driver’s door and then dashed through the double set of doors into the arms of an older police officer walking out.

“You’ve got to help me! They’re after me!” she shouted as she grabbed him by both his shoulders.

“Hold on young lady,” he said looking at her.

“Here come with me.” the officer said as he turned her toward the long hallway into the station.

Detectives Tyson and Strauss arrived at Miguel’s Auto Repair as the fire department was still busy trying to put the flames out. Two fire engines were in front of the smoldering building. The first had its ladder up with firemen spraying down on the structure and the other had a couple of long hoses strewn from it where two teams of firemen were spraying into the garage. Two police patrol cars sat out front with flashing red lights on while several police officers were standing about talking to citizens. Two ambulances also sat nearby with their rear doors open with filled body bags on gurneys in the rear.

One of the officers looked up at the detectives approached and walked toward them.

“Evening Detectives. We’ve got three confirmed homicides and likely arson and larceny. The deceased who have been identified as the owners Miguel Vasquez, his wife Anna-Marie Vasquez and manager Danny Garcia were found with multiple gunshot wounds in the lobby.  The bodies were moved at the request of the fire department but photos were taken prior to them being moved.  Witnesses heard gunshots and cars speeding away an hour ago however no identification of the cars or people have been made.  The scene is secured and we’re gathering information from neighbors now.”

“Thanks, Officer” replied Detective Tyson while squinting toward the now steaming lobby.

“Any weapons found at the scene?” asked Detective Strauss.

“None. The front counter looks to have been blasted away and the rear of the office was riddled with bullet holes. I’m guessing a shotgun wiped out the counter but the small caliber stuff was definitely multiple small caliber pistols. Guessing some bangers tried to rob this place and it went sideways. It’s a real shame, the neighbors thought highly of these folks.” replied the officer.

Suddenly all three looked toward a parked police car as an Officer was yelling to them and waving them over.

“Detectives! Central just radioed. Looks like an eye witness just walked into the Parker substation!”

“Ok!” yelled Detective Strauss. He then looked at the Officer in front of them.

“Thanks Officer, please keep the scene as secure as possible and continue collecting statements. Forensics should be here shortly to at least start on the bodies until the fire is out.

The two detectives then walked to their sedan, got in and started their drive to the substation.

Maria sat in a wooden chair next to the older police officer that had brought her in. His name was Officer Allen and he had quickly brought her to a paramedic who examined her and treated the many small cuts and bruises she got in the retreat. He then had sat her down in the wooden chair next to his desk, given her a glass of water and taken her statement. He then had rushed off to another part of the station house to get people to her father’s garage.

She wearily looked up as he returned.

He put his hand gently on her shoulder and said. “Ok honey. Things are going to be ok. The police and fire department are already there and some detectives are coming to speak with you. It’s important that you talk with them so they have a good chance of catching the criminals. Please try and remember everything you can. It’s important.”

“Ok, thank you Officer Allen,” Maria said with tears in her eyes.

“I’ll be back again in a few. Do you want anything?”

“No, I’ll be fine. Thank You.”

Maria closed her eyes as Officer Allen walked away.

Three desks away a young slick-haired detective in a crisp white Oxford shirt and black tie had been listening to the whole thing. As soon as Officer Allen had walked out of the room he picked up his cell and texted a brief message to an unknown recipient. He then went back to a report that should not have taken more than an hour to complete.

The Vine was a popular club in downtown Laredo. People from all walks of life visited its neon covered dancefloor nightly to socialize, drink and do other things.  The papers said the building seemed to have a pulse of its own when the crowds were in dancing to the next up-and -coming deejay.  It was a success.

Luis “Capo” Saluzar had owned the place for well over a year and it had helped him gain greater notoriety than the small time pimp and drug dealer he was.  It was his pride and joy and he intended to keep it that way. He didn’t get to where he was being stupid.

He started down from the one-way office window to the air side of the dance floor and could see his nephew Paulo fidgeting nervously at a table with a drink in front of him.

Paulo was his nephew and a fuck-up. He had style but no brains. He had taken him into his crew reluctantly at the urging of his sister and regretted that decision every day since. Paulo made poor decisions and even worst friends.  This is why they were all in this situation.

Luis knew there was trouble by the way Paulo and his fuck-up crew rushed into the club in a panic. His heart dropped when Paulo told him the story and the fate of the Vasquez’s. He had grown up with Miguel, always used him to fix his cars and never had a problem with him. He also was a solid citizen which Luis always told his crew to steer clear of. Messing with solid citizens brought down a lot of heat from the cops but also the neighborhoods. He didn’t fucking need that and this was a problem that needed to be solved immediately.

Luis contacted the right kind of friend at the police department and learned that Miguel’s daughter, Maria, had turned up at the police station as a material witness. Given the story he just heard from Paulo she was likely the girl that had escaped.

He ordered Paulo and his crew to go over to the Vasquez home and kill Maria before she could do anything. He hated killing Miguel’s kid but he didn’t get to where he was making bad decisions like his nephew. He also let Pablo know if he fucked this up somebody was going to find him and his friends in a burning building.

Maria’s mind wandered. She had a brief flashback of the shop, Danny’s body and then her retreat. She suddenly felt very guilty about running. She then thought about her Mama and Papa’s smiles and then felt like she was out of breath as the vision of their bodies in the pool of blood came to mind. She then thought about the killers. She could see each one of them and felt a surge of rage build up. She wanted them to die. She would take each one apart piece by piece. She could see herself doing it. She had the bald one against a wall, his head in her hand and she was slowly pushing a long knife into his face.

“Maria!” came a voice from darkness.

Maria shook and opened her eyes and Officer Allen was standing there with a man and woman whom she guessed to be detectives from their dress.

“This is Detectives Strauss and Tyson. They’re here to help. Please go with them,” said officer Allen.

“Hi. I’m Patricia Tyson and this is Dan Strauss. I know this is the worst day of your life but we need to ask you some questions to try and catch the people that did this.”

“Ok,” Maria said as she got up and followed.

“Good luck Maria. We’ll get them,” said Officer Allen as Maria walked away.

The Redeemer smiled as he felt Maria leave once again. Her rage satisfied it and it could still feel the dark energy she had radiated. It would have her soon. It then looked at the small devil sitting next to it, grasped its head with a mighty claw and squeezed exploding it in a great splash of gore.

Maria and the detectives spent the next couple hours walking through events of the day. Every retelling grew the incredible sadness and grief she was feeling in her heart and the adrenaline and shock gave way. They went through a number of photos of possible perpetrators but she was unable to match any picture with those that were at the shop. She finally reached a point of exhaustion.

“I can’t do this anymore. I need to go,” she said wearily looking at the Detectives.

“Understood.” said Detective Tyson. “I’ll give you a ride home. Please rest for the night and we’ll be bye tomorrow to talk about what’s next.”

“Ok, thank you, ” replied Maria.

They all walked back into the central office. The Detectives went back to their desks and collected their things while Maria watched. They then made their way out of the office and out of the station.

The young slick detective with the white Oxford shirt was still at work. He was leaning back in his chair with his feet on his desk while talking on his desk phone. As they walked he bye his eyes followed them and once they passed out of the room he pulled out his cell phone and started texting.

Detective Tyson and Maria pulled up to an empty Vasquez house a short time later. The old white Cape was dark with the exception of the kitchen and front door lights which Papi always liked to keep on. The neighborhood itself was dark and most lights were out as people had gone to bed for a night. A light wind blew against the care shaking it just a bit and a nearly full moon gave a glow to everything.

“Are you going to be okay, Maria?”

She looked at the Detective for a second and replied. “Yes.”

“Get something to eat and some sleep. I’ll be by around 10 tomorrow to pick you up. If you remember something or just need somebody to talk to here is my card. My cell number is at the bottom. We’ve also asked for a few patrols to drive bye although I’m sure the criminals are in hiding or running as fast as they can.”

Detective Tyson got out of the car with Maria and they walked to the front door. Maria fumbled with her keys and then opened the door allowing Tyson to step though first.  Detective Tyson stepped through and before she could reach for the light she saw a blur of movement to her left and then felt a crushing blow from above. She felt nothing after.

Maria watched as the detective stepped through the door and was swiftly struck by a baseball bat swung from above. Tyson’s head and neck bent at an awkward angle and she crumbled to the floor prone with blood pouring from a vicious wound at the top of her head.

Maria was about to scream when a familiar bald muscled thug stepped from the front hallway, bloody bat in hand. He reached out and grabbed her forcefully by her hair and pulled her into the hallway. Two others were there as well who she vaguely recognized. One was dressed in all black and the other was a familiar looking giant.

She then let loose gut-wrenching scream hoping the neighbors would hear.

“No you don’t!” is what she heard in reply and then felt herself being thrown toward the kitchen at great force and speed. She saw she was spooling toward the stove, felt the painful impact of her head striking it first, heard a ringing and then nothing.

Tigre and his two companions looked down at Maria.

“Ok Amigo, let’s kill this bitch and torch the place,” said the large one looking down.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe we can have a little fun first!” said the older leather dressed thug.

Tigre smiled. They did have the night and this girl was beautiful.

Maria could feel the rage flowing through her. Her family and Detective Tyson had been violently murdered and she knew she was about to be as well.  She should be scared but she wasn’t. She was angry and she wanted to make them pay, make the world pay, burn it all.

She opened her eyes and she was not in the kitchen. Fact where she was nowhere she had ever seen or been before. The walls were made of blacked stone and to her left was a great fireplace that sheltered a crackling hot fire. In front of that fire facing it was a great muscled female form sitting in a chair back to her.

Maria rose from the floor and the form swiveled on its chair facing her.

Maria stopped in shock as the form appeared to be Maria but not exactly.  She had Maria’s face, hair and gait but was it much larger with muscled arms and her fingers were sharpened claws. This beast grinned at Maria exposing a vicious set of white gleaming vampiric fangs and blood-red pupils that it seemed to look right through Maria with. It seemed demonic; something out of the stories Mama would read her as a child.

“Hello Maria,” the Demon said.

“I can give you what you want.“

Maria’s mind was spinning. She first questioned if it was a hallucination and then if she had died and gone to hell but there was something familiar about the way it made her feel. She felt the surge of energy of something powerful. It felt like it was coming from her, not the demon.

She got up and walked toward the demon and as she did she felt that power surge with every heartbeat. The demon moved toward her and they embraced. It felt warm, comforting and the then the world seemed to explode in that instant.

Maria opened her eyes once again and she was in the kitchen against the stove. She knew she should be hurt but felt a great surge of adrenaline flow throw her. She could see three pairs of feet of her adversaries and heard one of them say something about having fun with her. This made her very angry.

Tigre was walking toward the girl to get her up when her eyes appeared to open and she jumped up from the ground landing in a crouched stance in one lightning fast action. Her face looked that of a warrior instead of a scared girl and her eyes were a bright red. This confused and enraged him.

“Oh so she’s gonna put up a bigger fight, huh?” Tigre said as he blitzed Maria.

Anticipating his low tackle Maria jumped high with legs spread allowing him to charge underneath head-first into the oven with a loud thud.  She then allowed gravity to do its work landing hard on his back driving him downward face first into the floor.

Tigre responded slowly but then spun himself with great force which threw Maria off him.

They both rose and then faced off across the kitchen from each other.  Maria’s back was against a counter with no place to go. Her hair was a little disheveled but she was smiling hands up ready to go. Tigre was across from her blocking the door with his companions behind him. His nose was bloodied and he was missing two teeth in front. He was wheezing and snarling at her like a rabid dog.

“Tigre looks like this bitch has your number.” the stoned giant said out loud. The man in black laughed out loud.

“I don’t think so, amigo.” said Tigre.

He then grabbed a small steak knife that was in the sink next to him and once again charged at Maria.

This time she quickly reached behind her and grabbed a knife in each hand from the butcher’s block on the counter behind her, turned and ducked just in time to avoid Tigre’s first sideward slash from left to right.

She answered by then jabbing him in the lower gut with both knives which bloodied his shirt. He looked down to see what she had done and then up as both here blades buried themselves to the hilt at the base of each side of his neck. She then ripped them back out spraying the wall, kitchen, herself and his comrades with his blood.  His lifeless form dropped to the floor into an expanding pool of blood.

“You fucking devil!” the giant stoner shouted as he came at her swinging the baseball bat Tigre had used to brain the detective. Maria felt a sting on the right side of her body the aluminum bat struck her side. The blow should have shattered the ribs of anyone Maria’s size but Maria wasn’t even stunned. She quickly slashed across the top of his wrists with both knives causing him to drop the bat. Releasing the knives she then reached back and grabbed the open griddle on the counter and slammed it down over his exposed head while slamming it shut.  Bone, blood and brain erupted from it as the thugs head fractured instantly. His limp and lifeless form dropped to the floor adding to the blood and gore already on the floor from Maria’s first victim.

She then turned to the final thug to see he had pulled a silver pistol out and was pointing at her.

“You get the fuck away from me sister!” he fearfully said.

“You’re not getting out of this,” she said with a grin.

The thug began to pull the trigger as he leaned back to run. However, as he did so the gore-filled griddle slammed against his gun causing both to spin off to the side.  Before he could get his wits back about him Maria was already on him delivering a powerful kick to his midsection which threw him back into the hallway across the body of the Detective.

He shook his head and twisted to rise. As he turned to look back toward the kitchen Maria was right in front of him, pointing the silver pistol right at him.

“Where are the others?” she asked.

“Don’t kill me. I’ll tell you anything!” he pleaded.

He told her everything including their employer, Paulo’s name and the name of the club he was waiting for them at. She smiled and then shot him in the face covering the wall behind him with brains and blood.  She then walked casually upstairs to get ready. She had the perfect dress!

Maria stepped out the cab in front of the Vine and walked toward the entrance.

A large bouncer stood at the door and had just let a couple of fools in when he saw a beautiful Mexican woman walking towards him. She was short and had the build of an athlete. Her face was oval, lips cherry red with eyes that seemed to match. She was wearing a red party dress and her long flowing pitch black hair was tied at the top but then flowed down over her neck and shoulders to the front of her. She walked with the grace of a cat and she seemed to be looking right at him as she walked up and stopped inches from him. She smiled and he swore he could see fangs in her mouth but was too stunned to think more about it.

“One please,” she said.

“You are beautiful!” he said.

She gave him a seductive smile and opened a small clutch and pulled out the cash for the cover charge.

“Oh don’t worry about that. Save it for your first drink.” the bouncer said.

“Thanks.” Maria said as she walked by giving him a small peck on his cheek as he opened the door to the club for her. He smiled at the kiss but also notice his cheek felt like it was burning a little bit. With a shrug, he turned and went back to managing the door.

Maria surveyed the club as she walked in. In front of her was a filled neon dance floor that seemed to change color with every pulse of the speaker. The thick crowd moved to the beat and gave off the heat and smells of perfumed bodies in motion.  A tall female DJ dressed in black leather bodysuit twisted and turned as she manipulated her records and boards on a platform overlooking the floor.  To the right, several neon-lipped bar tenders at a neon- lighted bar were hustling to meet the demands of a crowd shouting their orders. To the left was a series of tables, mostly occupied with people drinking and reveling over the events on the dance floor.

Maria walked on to the dance floor and began dancing with the crowd but looking around the room as she did so.

A young blonde in a tight white dress pushed closed to her and writhed seductively next to her. She then twisted, pushed close and said in awe “how’d you do that to your eyes?” Maria showed a toothy grin and then swatted the girl away as if she made of paper machete.

The girl’s trajectory carved a lane through the crowd and her broken form slid into some tables beyond. Maria watched and then noticed Paulo sitting at one of the tables staring sheepishly at her. Maria eyes seemed to set aflame as she felt the rage once again course through her veins.  She launched herself at Paulo with a high athletic leap and landed on the table in front of him crushing it down.

Paulo looked into the face of the demon and could see his doom. He reached around to grab the pistol he had tucked in a shoulder holster but Maria quickly slashed down with her now sharpened claws tearing three viscous wounds into his chest and knocking his reaching arm away. She then grabbed him by his face with the other claw, lifted him off the ground and squeezed as hard as she could.

Luis jumped up to look out his office into the club as he heard a great commotion coming from the dance floor. He could see the crowd was now frozen in place as they first watched a woman in red first slash his nephew with something and then palm his head like a basketball.  The crowd then screamed and his heart skipped as Paulo’s head seemed to pop in her hand spraying the room with gore. There were screams from the crowd and a tremendous rumble as they rushed to get away.

Luis ran over to his phone and hit the button to call security. “Get out there. A woman in red just killed Paulo!”

Luis then opened his front desk drawer and grabbed a semiautomatic pistol from it and then opened up a side drawer were he grabbed several magazines for it. He then rushed toward the door of his office that leads to a stairway to the floor below.

The large bouncer manning the door had heard the commotion but before he could open it to look the doors burst open with a rush of customers screaming and trying to get out. He didn’t know what was going on until his headset came to life with Luis’s dire message. He then put his shoulder down and bulled his way through the onrushing crowd.

The bouncer pushed through the final group of people and could see the beautiful woman in red he had seen earlier standing over a headless body to his left. She was covered in blood and gore and as she turned toward him her red eyes seemed to be shimmering like open flames.

She sneered and bolted toward him. He swiftly pulled out his 45 caliber pistol from its holster and felt and heard the explosion of firing three rounds at her which connected and blew her body to the back of the room into the utility doors with a resounding crash.  She then crumpled to the ground like a broken doll.

The bouncer then approached gun in hand to make sure she was down. She was lying on her side against the doors.  He reached out his foot to roll her body over. As soon as his leg touched her side her arm shot out grabbing his leg lifting with intense speed and strength sending him sprawling backward landing skull first on the floor.

Maria looked over at the fool she just flipped and then leaped on his prone form like a panther. He was attempting to bring the hand cannon he had blasted her with around but she quickly pinned that arm down and began punching him in the face as hard as she could with the other. It took three punches until she felt his skull shatter.

She then got up and could feel her body getting numb. She looked down and could see the bullet holes in her chest which were now streaming blood. She couldn’t see the greater exit wounds in her back which were bleeding even more profusely. She didn’t know that several organs were damaged and bleeding internally. Maria did understand though, she was dying.

She looked at the exit sign above and pushed the doors open in front of her exposing a darkened utility room in from of her.  She made her way forward for a few feet and then a door to her left immediately sprang open and an older man emerged with a gun in hand.

Luis saw Maria as he opened the door but before he could raise his weapon she charged and hit him with the force of a pro linebacker. He felt the pain of his ribs and vertebrae cracking when his body hit the utility box on the wall behind him. He slid to the floor he gasped trying to catch his lost breath. He looked up and saw that his attacker was down on a knee as well and the floor around here was pooling with blood rapidly.  He could also smell gas coming from the now ruptured pipes behind him. He started to both reach for his dropped gun and stand.

Maria looked up and the man was now up on one arm with the other hand grasping the weapon he had dropped.  Behind him was the jagged wreckage of some pipes which were now spewing gas into the room.  She leaped up at him once more and he in turn raised his pistol and fired.  The world then erupted in fire, pain and then darkness for both.

Lua and air defense logistics in CMANO

Lua and air defense logistics in CMANO

Holy moley it’s been months since I’ve done a blog post. Anyways had a great discussion on modeling air defense in CMANO on Kushan’s Discord and wanted to add it here so I remember the lua code in the future. Hope it helps you too.

The conversation started with structure and how you could play with sides to model an integrated air defense. Bottom line is you can have a side that is friendly to two other sides who are not friendly with each other. This makes that central side (node) important as it is the link between the tow. Destroy it and you break the link. So it is possible to model a network hierarchy of sorts with central control centers and substation.  It is pretty straightforward but I think there is a hard stop at 2 or 3 layers. If you look at Operation Lighting Strikes scenario in the included scenarios you can find this setup with the Pakistani air defense sides.

The conversation then veered to the logistics part of it and how to reload SAMs. Most SAM units have attached magazines so they’ll first shoot what’s on their mounts and then pull from their magazines. Problem is you tend to shoot through these relatively quickly and most nations store a significant number in a nearby site. The good news is that CMANO allows you to group an ammo unit to an existing unit and it will reload from it. So it is possible to add hardened bunkers, ammo trucks, ammo revetments filled with reloads to a group of air defense units and they’ll draw reloads from them. CMANO Lua does have a way for you to refill mags and mounts by code as well but I like to group the units together because it gives the player another opportunity to impact the system by hitting the central ammo dump.

Now we come to a couple of twists to this.

Let say you want model ammo trucks or helicopters delivering ordinance.  You can’t start out grouped because the ammo is loaded instantly regardless of range. So this is how you would do it.

Event: Reload unit once ammo carrier comes in range.

Trigger: Unit Enters area or maybe even unit remains in area.

Action: Lua Code (Example)

ScenEdit_SetUnit({Side=’Nicaragua’,unitname=’Chinandega Ammo’,group=’Chinandega Army Base’})
ScenEdit_SetUnit({Side=’Nicaragua’,unitname=’Huete Munitions Bunker’,group=’Huete SAM Site’})

So in this CMANO event once the ammo carrying unit enters the area trigger it fires the lua code which is a set unit using the side, unitname and group name.

Now let’s look at this a little differently.

Let’s say you want to model a slight reaction delay to surprise attack or an encounter where the defender is not at a wartime posture or might be disorganized or something like that.

Here is how I model it:

  1. Empty the mounts of mags of all units that will incur a delay. This is probably true of most MANPADS, gun positions or AAA in vehicle parks but may include exposed SAM sites.
  2.  Add ammo carrying unit. Don’t group with units (yet).
  3. Create an event which has a damage or destroy trigger to catch the first bomb hitting. Then use then use the Lua code above.

So the intent is to model the crews getting the message of an attack and then manning their systems. It is not 100 perfect but it works for me.

Hope this helps!