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Month: March 2019

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