Solaris Knight – Chapter 3

The Gilded Gate of Barthselheim, standing five men tall in all its near-obscene splendor, had only been closed once in its centuries of standing, far back in the Old Age. The stories Tolomir had read of this time had impressed upon him the significance of that moment in history, when perhaps the most prosperous city on the mortal plane had to seal itself away from such ancient evils like Craxvalox and the unholy spawn it created. It was this evil that forced the Divines, including his Silena, to descend from their proper place above them and cast the beast down into pits not spoken of in polite tongue. 

Now, to see such a massive ingress not only sealed, but tarnish and withered as if the gold had been bled of its radiance, made Tolomir clench his fists. If not for the loving cloak of light that his Divine had blessed him with, he had no doubt that any joy or pleasure felt by a mortal soul would be weeping right now. The very skies are choked in grey, to prevent her Light from touching it. How many now suffer within these walls without her?

Tolomir pressed a hand to the door, and was not surprised to feel it push back against him. “Indeed, there is wickedness here, my Divine, such as I have never seen. Through my body, bring your will to those who need you…” he prayed, and was rewarded to feel the warmth inside him swell. In one fluid motion, Tolomir drove his arm up to the shoulder  into the seam of the barrier, dug his fingers into the metal deep at the center, and pulled the Gilded Gate open with the ease of brushing aside a branch.  What waited for him beyond that was silence. No traffic of meddlers and merchants from market to market, no swell of travelers seeking coin or goods, no synchronized bootstomps of the city’s militia to keep order. Just the silence of death. Stepping inside the walls of the city, he could feel the already prolific weight and cold of oppression increase, trying to wear him down and break his soul. 

Yet Barthselheim was not abandoned or in ruins, as its prestigious buildings were untouched by decay. Forges kissed by the maiden Pyella still burned, waiting for fresh metal. But the crops and livestock Harrophet had sewn into the land were but dust on the bricks at his feet, with only the iron shoes and saddles remaining of long-lost workhorses or steers. Lost piles of fine clothing were crumpled all along the street before him, and full sets of shining armor had fallen clumsily into heaps, swords unsheathed. Behind him, Tolomir traced the clusters of arrows and spears both helplessly on the stone and lodged into the city’s walls.  “Whatever happened here did not happen without struggle…may the fallen be judged fairly in Prakesh’s courts.”

With no path but forward, the lone human followed the main market circuit until he reached the Ebony Spire, the central point in all Barthselheim. A shining monument of the finest stone that had no known builder. It’s place here was certainly the work of a Divine, though Tolomir did not concern himself with the particulars, as his Selina had not created it.  The scene around him was all the same, emptiness and despair. but he did not buckle at such oppression. My charge is to bring her Light back to these people, so it will be done.

At first, he thought the sound was only the breeze carrying a piece of refuse, or perhaps the lost spirit of a tortured soul had crossed his path. Only on it’s third summon did Tolomir realize he could hear someone calling out. “Stranger! Enter quickly, before it comes!”

Across the marketplace, the door of an inn had cracked open, and the restrained shouts of a man summoned Tolomir to approach. As soon as he was close enough, the voice from the door grabbed his arm and pulled him inside. The voice was attached to a gargantuan man, half-again taller and twice as broad as the traveler. But the man was thinning in places he shouldn’t be, gaunt with hunger and lips cracked from thirst. Nor was the man alone, as Tolomir’s attention quickly picked out the dozens of people crammed in a building not meant to house them. Though their eyes were alert with surprise and shock, only excited breaths greeted him.  The emptied meade barrels and decaying remains of foodscraps crammed into a corner told him how desperate they were. “What’s happened here?”

“We don’t know,” the weakened giant began, “in the dark of the night it appeared, weeks ago. The shape of a man, but no mortal could be so evil. It just swept through the city, street by street…killing everything it touched! Not just killing, no…it ate them!”

The lack of ripped robes and shredded armor in the streets spoke volumes about what now plagued Barthselheim. Indeed, no beast would be so methodical, and no man would be so merciless. “How have you stayed alive in here? Surely a wickedness as thorough as this knows you are here.”

The burly man shrugged, “Hand to the Divines, I do not know. When it first appeared, I barred the main door and pulled in everyone I could. It even followed the main road right past us, but it did not bother to look. How it turned a deaf ear to the panic, I could not say.”

¨Listicus!¨, someone whisper-screamed from the windowside, ¨Look, they´re coming back!¨

That announcement made the chatter within the room rise in a positive tone, as many crowded their way to see the once-empty street. Tolomir saw them easily in the shadows, three men carrying large sacks on their backs and more in their arms, and it suddenly dawned on him how these people were surviving in such confined spaces. ¨Where did those men find all that food?¨

¨From anywhere they can,¨ Listicus replied, the goliath pointing across the pavement. ¨Abandoned houses, private greenerys…anything that´s left.¨

Tolomir watched as the scavengers sprinted from alley to alley and doorway to doorway, not spending more than a moment exposed in the street. The men only drew breath when they were in the cover of shadow, as he could see the fog of their fear. One by one, they looked up and down the avenue, then up to the abandoned vistas before racing to the block adjacent to the inn.

The chatter in the room rose dramatically for a moment, before Listicus and a few others ‘hush’ed the energy. Even Tolomir had taken a step forward for a better view, to better understand the collective anticipation. The lead scavenger chanted something silently, a prayer to a Divine that was not Silena, and sprinted with all his spirit across the main road and up the entryway of the Inn. On that cue, the several people gathered at the barricade pulled the rubbish aside so the man could burst through the door to hushed cheers and excited rumblings.

The second man stumbled almost immediately at the start of his run, cutting his hand on the rough stone of the curb, but he was successful at barging his way into the crowd. The third man, now rocking back and forth with nervous energy, took one of his fingers and touched the exposed crimson before frantically retreating back into the block’s shadow and covering his mouth. The quiet jubilation within the crowd hushed and turned to a palpable fear. It was then that Tolomir noticed he could see the breath of everyone in the room, as if the day had just frozen over in that moment.

Still, the final man gave his Divine blessing and started his sprint. And as he crossed the central lane of the tradeway, the scavenger froze mid-step, unable to move or signal. The crowd awaiting their runner began to wail and weep at his loss, which puzzled Silena’s champion, until he saw what approached. A figure that seemed to simply appear from the space between the individual stones of the road. It wore the shape of a man, covered in a deep black robe that hid any limb. But it did not carry itself like one, for indeed it did not touch the ground at all. Hovering a hand’s length above the stones, and casting a wake of violet and red clouds in its wake, the figure approached the stranded man, but stopped well shy of touching range. 

The scavenger dropped to the ground and screamed in unmatched agony. Again and again, the man wailed out untranslatable sounds of pain, which Tolomir noticed were growing less and less human. To his horror, this was because the scavenger himself was becoming less and less, as if the ghastly figure were sapping the muscle and bones out from under the skin. The man became flatter and more pliable with each passing second until there was nothing left inside to drain away, only a husk of skin twisted in fear remained. This flimsy shell of human then darted out from under the sack of collected goods, compacted itself into a long grotesque string, and careened itself into the chasm where the hooded figure’s head would be.

*****

Part 3 of what’s far and away outside my wheelhouse, but a side-project that still a ton of fun to dabble in with all the potential in high fantasy.

I hope you all enjoy.

New Horizons Air Service: Mission #2 – The Encounter Below the Equator

10 April, 1970

Skorost

He’d never liked the heat. So when the contract came shipping them to a crumpling Imperial British colony, Pavel Yostovich Dobrow was half-tempted to do the same thing he’d done to end up in this situation: run. Running had become his modus operandi, as it had been since his youth, running track for the glory of the Soviet Union. It was that skill that had kept him level-headed through Soviet pilot training and his first basing at Afrikanda on the Murmansk Oblast, within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle. The snow and harsh winters were his friends, always pushing him to run harder and faster to keep out of frostbite’s reach. Perhaps it had been that skill that led him to being given the Su-15, named the FLAGON by fearful Western observers. An aircraft built to run fast and high. 

When he’d heard about the Article 58 charge levied against him by his regiment commander, Dobrow knew it was time to run again. The false charges of treason and conspiracy would certainly send him to the gulag or the firing squad. So under the cover of a brutal December night on the Servermorsk peninsula, Pavel had snuck out to the alert ramp where two of his regiment’s FLAGON were kept powered and waiting to fly. Fortunately for him, the two pilots sitting alert and ready were more concerned with the village whore they’d wrangled onto the base to notice him, and the Soviet groundcrew were taking turns sleeping. The initial howl of Pavel taxiing the interceptor to the runway certainly garnered attention, but it was too late by then, and the FLAGON designated ‘48 Red’ screamed into the night well before the airbase guards could catch him. Only one of the neighboring S-125 air defenders had tried to shoot him down, but Pavel dodged it by diving down to less than 5 meters above the churning Arctic waters. Despite the crushing turbulence and the ravenous waves trying to drown him, Pavel kept that altitude until he was well out of Soviet reach until he crossed into Finland and the demonized Western front. 

One year and an agonizing dose of African sun later, Pavel kept to his running just to maintain sanity. He was on his eighth lap around the shantytown airbase when he heard Draco’s engines firing up. It didn’t surprise Pavel that the American had been called on, as Doug had one of the better aircraft for ground pounding insurgents back to their tribal ancestors. It had, by contrast, been over a week since Dobrow had flown, and his last mission had been an absolute bore. 

As he ran past his designated hanger for the eighth time today, Pavel cast a look to his new aircraft, provided by his so-gracious handlers. Unlike the angelic delta-wing speed demon he’d defected with, Dobrow had been gifted the easily-acquired MiG-21PFM/FISHBED-F. At first, the Russian pilot despised the second-hand airframe New Horizons had provided him, as it paled in most every comparison to his Su-15. The FISHBED was slower, couldn’t reach as far or fly as high, and the cockpit was much more cramped. My saving grace in that bucket; it can turn much better.

His Rhodesian crew chief waving frantically to get his attention broke his stride, which normally would have aggravated Pavel to no end. But already being so antsy for work, the sweat-soaked sprinter dashed across the empty runway to his FISHBED’s shelter. “Telefon dlya vas,” his mechanic responded, one of the few Russian sentences the British had taught him.

“Thank you,” Pavel replied in the foreign English as he lifted the receiver. “New Horizons Air Service: vashe zreniye u nas.”

“Prepare to copy.” the handler ordered, and Dobrow quickly snatched up his pencil and notepad, knowing full well the British speaker would speak too fast for him.

“Unidentified aircraft have landed outside Sowa, at least one probable unmarked Ilyushian-Seven-Six. Coordinates: -20.780735 latitude by 26.1451289 longitude. Conduct overflight for identification, free-fire authorized.” 

That last part made Pavel’s pulse quicken. He’d never been given unchecked clearance to shoot at anything he encountered. Unlike most of his other teammates, Pavel’s missions rarely saw him get to load weapons at all. That told the Russian that this was probably a Communist-run incursion, but coming so far south from the Soviet Motherland seemed very odd.

“Yes, will fly anywhere.” he responded to the caller with the contract-provided confirmation code, and the line went dead. Pavel scanned the map by his receiver. It was a long run for his interceptor, but even weighed down with his best missiles, there was fuel to spare for a few passes. “Gari! Full loadout!”

“Yessir!” the crew chief shouted back, before yelling in his native Shona to his partner. Immediately, the two set to work on fueling the FISHBED, as well as loading two R-13M high-speed anti-air missiles Pavel had purchased at great cost. It was the first time he’d been allowed to fly with such capability since he’d left the Soviet mistakes behind. An opportunity that wouldn’t be wasted, even if he had to blow an empty transport out of the clouds.

Unlike the lazy maintainers that had enabled his escape, Pavel’s current groundcrew was efficient and quick. ‘Fast work means more pay!’ Gari had once told him, a sentiment the Russian could at least understand, since at least the Rhodesians were free to compete for precious coin. The crew chief came dashing with the pilot’s helmet under-arm as the Russian scanned the nose of the interceptor for any blemishes, which there were none.

“Going hunting today?” Gari asked, gesturing to the missiles being snapped onto the FISHBED’s wings.

“Da.” Pavel replied, still thinking through what would be out there that would need him to chase it down. The Hawker Hunters owned by the Rhodesian Air Force stood no hope of catching him at altitude or speed, and the neighboring Botswana only a few off-hand CF-116s with poor pilot training. Not even expert enough to catch Aadi.

Still, when the turbojet engine behind him bellowed to life, his mind was cleared of any other thought. “Vremya bezhat, time to run.” he whispered to himself as the interceptor taxied out into the near-blinding sun. The very thought of the upcoming crush of speed hitting his chest making his mouth water. 

“Good hunting, comrade!” The tower called out when the MiG-21 hit the active runway, a jab the English air controller made every time Pavel was summoned to mission. 

It was the worst-kept secret that most of the proper English staff in their operation hated dealing with a Russian about as much as they did Shu, thanks to her being Chinese. He’d tried once to explain that there was a marked difference between and Russian and a Soviet, which most of his fellow pilots understood, or at least accepted. Sadly, that was about as far as the local’s understanding spread. Instead, he’d ended up screaming in disdain at the ignorance shown by the man now clearing him for takeoff.

“Skorost, acknowledge. Joder a coroa!” Doborw replied back, tossing in a scathing Irish sentence he’d learned from a Belfast radio station. Not waiting for the lashing in response, he pushed the interceptor to its full power, afterburner blazing down the framework runway before Pavel pulled the nose skyward in a steep climb that none of his other cohorts would ever try.

Mile after mile fell behind him as the interceptor raced up against gravity before Pavel let the FISHBED ease itself into a level flight, eight miles above the savannah. From there, there was no difference between Rhodesia and neighboring Botswana. The wildlife paid no heed to man-made borders, nor did the oppressive southern sun that warmed the winds which now carried his fighter. 

The thirty-minute flight was over in the blink of an eye for Pavel, as he’d sunk back into his cockpit and let the slipstream of blue wash over his interceptor. A band of clouds marching their way across the wild green void between the countries had come and passed under him, giving Skorost a clear view of the world as he pointed his nose towards the coordinates and began a gentle descent. 

Even at a distance, Pavel could see the tell-tale gash of a runway cut into the plains was right where his handler said it would be. Its occupants had been smart and blended everything else into the vegetation on either side. So far out, Dobrow couldn’t make out any activity which wasn’t a surprise. But Soviet flight training was dependent on the ground controller, not the liberal freedom of the flyer that his Western cohorts displayed. “So who are you…” he pondered, before testing his theory

For a brief moment, Pavel flipped on his Identification Friend-or-Foe (IFF) beacon. If this was indeed a Soviet installation, it would have the accompanying receiver to respond to his signal. The Russian didn’t doubt for a moment that the poor ground controller would be confused by seeing a new IFF code enter the airspace, but the automatic response from the ground interrogator would tell him all he needed. If nothing happened, then someone else had come to Botswana and Control had gotten things wrong.

Almost immediately, the indicator on his central panel went green, so Skorost shut the beacon down just as fast, banking away to put the airstrip to his wing. Quickly, he marked his general location on the map strapped to his knee, simply writing ‘Sovietski’. Even squinting his eyes, the telltale blobs of metal against the dirt were almost impossible to make out. But the massive Il-76/CANDID transport was simply too tall and too wide to hide in the brush. Even miles away, the T-tail distinct to the Soviet long-hauler was unmistakable. 

As the centerpoint of the runway crossed over his shoulder, Pavel noticed something new coming into the sunlight. Two somethings, nose to tail. Unlike the swept, canted wings of the transport, he could make out the brutal, knife-edge wings of something with teeth. And when those distant shapes roared into the sky, they did so with the same kind of aggressive climb as he’d pulled. That told Doborw plenty about what they’d found. “Red Air Force is here!” he called out, dumbfounded by the display of acceleration from a machine he wasn’t flying. 

In perfectly practiced tandem, the two steel blurs raced to his flight level, banking sharply to position themselves at his rear. Skorost felt his heart begin to freeze over not just at the action, but at the raw speed of it all. He pulled the interceptor into a higher climb and poured more power into his throttle so he could fight in the arena where the FISHBED excelled. But to his horror, his pursuit was not deterred in the least, rampaging towards him like the lions below hunted their prey.

Then came the tell-tale trail of smoke from one of the leading hunters told the Russian that at least one air-air missile was rushing out to meet him.

On instinct, Pavel pushed the control stick as far forward as he could, sending the MiG into a nosedive. For only a split second, looking over his shoulder to count his remaining seconds, the Russian got a good glimpse of his hunters. Unlike the tube-bodied dart that was his interceptor, the pursuers flew massive blocks with massive wings, nestled between two almost rocketship-worthy engines that not only kept pace with his interceptor, but had successfully ran Pavel down like he was standing still.

Resigning himself to the incoming rush of death, the Russian let his chest deflate as the g-forces crushed it tighter. The seconds drug out into hours as the interceptor continued it’s dive, yet he did not feel the slam of collision. 

Instead, the missiles streaked over him and continued on straight for the ground. He let go the breath that he’d been clenching in his teeth, silently praising the often shoddy mechanisms behind an infra-red missile that found the ground more appealing than his jet trail.

 Trimming back the throttle so his engines didn’t shred themselves in such a dive, Dobrow looked again over his shoulder. The grip of death lifted from his heart as the sky behind him was clear. Leveling the FISHBED off at less than ten meters above the rolling brush, the Russian tried in vain to see whatever it was that tried to take him down. They’ve come so far south, but why…he thought, now feeling the MiG rock back and forth from the ground turbulence. Whatever tried to burn him down was now headed for Rhodesia and was far out of sight, for reasons he could only guess at.

Pavel knew full well, at those speeds, they would reach his comrades long before he could, so his mission for the day was at least a partial failure. Checking his fuel level and slowing the interceptor down even further for efficiency’s sake, Sokorost sank back into his chair for the flight back to base, refusing to let any detail about his attempted killer slip his mind, wondering if he would be so fortunate the next time he crossed paths with such powerhouses.

*****

Part 2 of what was originally going to be my NaNo project this year, and the first real outing for Pavel, before a Shark snatched up my main focus. As it turns out, writing historical fiction, even embellished like this, is quite difficult. There was a lot more to consider than I’d prepared for, so now it’s back to the research and trying to wrap my head around the 1970s post-colonial Rhodesia before it ceased to exist altogether.

I hope you all enjoy.

Wildlife Security Solutions, LLC – Contract #1, pt. 5

Despite the excitement of the morning, the rest of the day’s training and readiness changed little. Pauk’s quartet had loaded up and departed westward before the sun rose, the Spider telling the Shark that they’d been summoned to ensnare someone else for Solomon and Navuk to break. Drakon still raced into the sky soon after, another new co-pilot under her thumb. 

The first change for the day was when Sova’s team hastily assembled. Silverback wouldn’t pull Haven’s defense rotation for a mission…not unless there’s no one else!  Watching the second team form up to head south, deeper into the desert, confirmed to Akula that his team was either out of favor with the blubburous ape, or that they’d been blacklisted all together.

Fuming at the very idea, Akula stormed towards Silverback’s personal office. From a distance, he could see the larger man pacing back and forth, arms animated and jiggling before those meaty hands slammed down on his desk and he gestured angrily at the teleconference monitor. After a moment, apparently not getting the answer he liked, Silverback simply acknowledged whatever he was told and shut the call off, before reaching into his desk and pulling up the half-drained bottle of the Motherland’s finest distilled jet fuel. Siphoning a long drink, the Shark could see the anger bubble away as integrity and inhibitions also washed away, conjuring to Akula the many disgusting possibilities of what their contract overseer did in his spare time.

It was then that the ape noticed Akula on the other side of the door, and Silverback’s face re-ignited in crimson. The fuming manager pointed to the seat in front of him and the Shark entered the cage but did not sit, equally ready for the blood in the water.

“Did you honestly think I wouldn’t hear about this? That your team went behind my back and sent unsolicited intelligence to Kontrol on an uncleared device you just carried into our camp?!  I wish it would have just detonated and ended our headaches all at once!” Silverback screamed in his deep, but shaky, droning baritone.

Akula clenched his fists behind his back to keep his tone level and neutral for the moment. “The buyer wouldn’t be carrying a laptop in his native Korean and have it rigged to explode in his own pocket. Think about it, fat-ass! The deal had been done and the goods ready to move! Why blow up what you just paid for?!”

A retort that clearly hit a sensitive note, as Silverback’s cheek drained slightly of their fire in a long beat of silence. “The only reason you’re not on a prison boat to fucking Siberia right now is because you were right. Kontrol has not only approved your team for a higher contract rate, but has assigned you to hunt this lead down and find where it ends.”

Spinning his monitor around to show a map of Libya, Silverback pointed toward a collection of colored ellipses much farther west than Bin Jawad. The symbols all converged in a point in downtown Sirte, with the majority of points collected around a single city block.

“Kontrol was able to associate that laptop to a sat-phone and an end user. They think it’s whoever organized the buy overall.”

Akula studied the overlaid map and collected signals carefully, tracing the main roads and smaller access alleyways with his eyes. The way Silverback phrased the mission told him that this was another North Korean member or team. “They didn’t bug out when they didn’t get their purchase?”

“That implies free thought, something those skunks don’t have much of at the lower levels.” the bulbous ape dismissed with a nonchalant wave. “Probably had to contact the home office to arrange transportation.”

Don’t think their home office approves of their agents fucking the wives and daughters of the sellers as payment either…Akula growled internally. “I thought the contract wasn’t set up for prisoners. Do we just kill them?”

Silverback gave Akula a look like the former sailor had grown a second head. “You’ll do nothing of the sort. You’re to find their contact within the New Libya Dawn and find out where and how they got the uranium in the first place. Pauk’s team will trail the Koreans when they leave and identify how they came in-country.”

Akula gave his boss a similarly puzzled look. “Just trail?”

Silverback gave the Shark a hard glare. “Thanks to your stunt, the Koreans are off the table. Someone higher up made sure of that, so no. Our work is here, so we work here. Don’t forget your place again, or it’ll be a slow sail home in a cold cell.”

Akula chose to ignore the snide suggestion of impending failure. “Has Kontrol already sent over the profile?”

“Da, should be waiting for you now. Don’t expect to enjoy the same cake-walk you had in Bin Jawad. At least in the hills of Afghanistan, those mujaheddin filth had the element of terrain on their side.”

How hard is it to have your head that far up your own ass? “I’ll prep my team for immediate travel.” Akula confirmed, before Silverback held up his hand. “One last thing. I’m told your resident Chechen threatened to kill you and your team.”

“Not exactly.” Akula admitted, which was partly true. “Nosorog has a more… direct suggestion of contract resolution. We’ve settled the matter.”

 The gelatinous overseer gave him an unconvincing ‘hmph’. “You’re not contracted to die because of friendly fire, and I’ll not have that skirt-chasing moron in a position of leadership on my operation!” Silverback decreed.

“Good to hear you’re so concerned for my future, Comrade Sovietski.” Akula punctuated, turning on his heel and leaving the ape to flush from chili to cardinal red. Now, the sailor walked with purpose to the comms van, as there was work to do. This should make that debil Rhino happy, he can go blow up something else that needs it. 

His trek to the sealed comms truck didn’t go unnoticed, as Grizli spotted him. “I know that walk, Shark. There’s blood in the water.”

“Da, Pasha came through with something on your friend in the pit, so now we have work to do. Find Volk and Nosorog, and get them to the map room.”

The Bear practically whooped in excitement as he burst ahead in a sprint to go locate the remainder of the team. This time, when Akula approached the door to the comms cabin, the junior guard stopped him to confirm the day’s passcode and counter-code. Akula took brief note of the sentry, who still sported his para-jumpers wings on his vest. “VDV service?”

“106th Guards Airborne, sailor. You ever jump?”

“Only under the ice, was never a fan of heights like that.” Akula admitted before stepping into the freezing cold of the cabin. As promised, awaiting in his email for his classified password, were several maps, photos, call logs, reports, and the Spook Schedule, which was most sensitive of all. 

Unlike the rest of the mission details, the Spook Schedule was so sensitive it could not be printed. Within it was the predicted schedule of everyone and every device that Wildlife knew about which would be tracking Akula’s mission. From the spy satellite thousands of miles above snooping on their phones to the American recon drone that was already making circles within the Mediterranean. There was no way that their operation would be completely concealed, that much was stated in their contract with the hiring client. But the Libyan Unity Army didn’t care, so long as the Security Services provided tipped the scales of the civil war in their favor. 

Per procedure, Akula printed only one copy of each piece of needed intelligence, then replied to the email with one word: “Ponyal”. Upon sending that response to Kontrol, the email in his possession vanished, never to be seen again. The stack of paper he now gathered for his team was an impressive size, matched only by the arsenal arrayed around the robed man that Kontrol had identified as their target. 

“Abdullah Saleh al-Nujood.” Akula stated to himself, looking into the iron eyes of the man who would oppose them. The photo betrayed their target’s resolve, the clear result of multiple battles and the ever-present shadow of death that came in the extremist life. You would welcome meeting your God so easily, yet fight tooth and nail against the invitation. Quite the hypocrisy, sand-rat.

Akula then studied the map of Sirte, and the city blocks where the Saleh was hunkered down. Like the safe-house in Bin Jawad, the alleyways were narrow, and the block was as far off the main highway as it could get. But unlike their previous mission, this target clearly intended to stay there, with cameras wired into each corner, a private satellite receiver atop the roof, and a 4×4 truck armed with a ZPU-2 twin-barreled anti-aircraft gun half-concealed in the courtyard. Drakon would cut off my balls personally if I let that thing touch her… 

That thought struck a note, which he filed away for later once they had confirmed their readiness. With both Pauk and Sova already in the field, Wildlife’s sole air support was now task-saturated, which typically wasn’t done. And now his team had been summoned for a far-reaching mission. “Whatever’s happening is happening quick, let’s just hope this is worth the risk.”

His mind deep in the stack of papers under his arm, Akula stepped out of the truck and almost squarely into the cold, lanky stature of a quiet man in his path. When his eyes shot up and his mouth opened to yell, his voice was nowhere to be found as Akula was looking up at the sunken, dark eyes of Solomon. 

“Apologies, operative. Today’s work has been most informative, so I must make full report.” Solomon said, with a deep, soul-crushing voice that didn’t match the body that carried it.

“Didn’t think you ever came into the daytime, vampir.” the Shark prodded.

“Only because I do my best work where no one else can see.” the interrogator chuckled, which did not set well with Akula at all. 

“Oh, before I forget, my thanks for bringing us something unique. Navuk hadn’t practiced his Korean in some time, I think he enjoyed the refresher.” Solomon almost smiled as he praised the Shark, which was the first time Akula had ever seen those thin lips contort into that shape. Probably a first for any human…

With no more words to offer, the Shark stepped aside to let Solomon speak with the guard. Looking back as the taller man entered the truck, Akula swore the poor sentry was about to drop dead himself.

It took a solid run back up the runway to the briefing patio to get the blood back to the proper color in Akula’s face. Thankfully, none of his team were focused on the man carrying to them the day’s mission, they were focused on the information itself. Swiftly, the team lead covered the table in documents, with each member picking up what they found interesting to study for the next hour. 

“I think this little pridurok fancies himself a soldier.” Grizli chuckled, which was a sign to Akula that the Ukrainian beast respected what they were walking into.

“These cameras look like they all feed into a junction box on top the building, probably sharing a cable box with that dish. Once we cut that, they’ll be alerted.” Volk added, pointing to the well-lit intersection at the building’s northwest corner. Unlike many of the other haphazard rectangles of brick and cement that made up downtown Sirte, this particular four-story safe-house carried the benefit of a gated courtyard to separate it from its neighbors, so simply scaling the roof between structures was not an option.

“Agreed,” Akula started. “Rhino, you and Bear pack a Pop-Feniks. Split into pairs and cover east-west. We’ll hit it from above and see who comes out to look.”

Nosorg, still nursing bloodshot eyes and a galvanized scowl, nodded in acceptance of his role and partner. Now there was work, and work meant money, which the Chechen would not turn down.

“How many inside?” the Wolf asked, flipping through the call logs between their target and a number coming back to the captured Korean.

“No more than ten expected inside the main house, but expect the entire block to engage us once the shooting starts.” Akula promised.

“And where will Drakon park that fine ass of hers?” Grizli wondered, tracing the outline of the building with his massive palm.

“Not sure, both Pauk and Sova are out, so air cover isn’t guaranteed this time.” the team lead stated flatly, receiving only minimal recoil from the Wolf. 

“Not to worry, little shchenok. I’m sure our fine angel in the sky won’t let anyone shoot you in the tail!” the Bear chortled in amusement, though Volk didn’t smile. 

“Alive or dead?” Nosorog finally added to the conversation.

“Depends on what we find inside. The main objective is to find out how he or the NLD got their hands on that uranium, so we can cut off the source. Saleh will tell us with words or data.”

“Data doesn’t try to play with my cock from the backseat, so let’s hope he wants to meet Allah today.” Grizli nodded, dropping his smile.

“Has Yenot secured a new vehicle? That’s a long walk otherwise.” Volk asked, idly playing with his favorite fang in his palm.

“Da, he found us a nice covered 4×4 we’ll use for insertion and escape.” Akula clarified, pointing to an intersection almost 300m away which gave them cover in three directions from wild gunfire. “We stage here, complete blackout like last time. Then sweep in and silence any fighters between us and al-Nujood.” 

“Spooks? Maybe the Yankees will take care of it for us.” Nosorog grumbled, which actually made Grizli chuckle. “He jests! There’s something in there besides upryamstvo!”

The Shark almost chuckled at that, if not for the memory of the larger Chechen chucking him into the cement. “One RQ-4 high-flyer will be tracking up and down the shoreline, one Reaper drone over the target area. Nothing unusual for the season, but Kontrol didn’t pass us the Reaper’s kill list.”

In so few words, Akula set the stage for another nighttime operation, hedging his bet that the cameras covering their target were only built for visual-light and nothing else. All they needed were the few precious seconds to steer the palm-sized explosive drone into the wiring box on the roof to eliminate that threat, as well as pull a few of the patrolling guards out of line. 

“Think he’s a backdoor man, or will he engage?” Grizli held up their target’s photo, which was now sporting cut-out eyes thanks to Volk.

He had to think about that one, lingering on the first impression the man’s picture had given him. After a moment, Akula replied. “Gut feeling says he’ll fight and die in that box. Even if he’s told to run and hide by the NLD, he won’t listen. At least not immediately. Should give us the chance to bring him down.”

The team lead then pointed to Nosorog, then to the technical truck spotted in the provided photographs. “Once the building is dark, this is next. Even if it’s not loaded, they don’t need any more guns on the block. Rhino, you and I will pack additional explosives for this.”

With that, Akula stood to his full height. “Anything further?” he primed his team, from which there were no more questions. “Otlichno, then get chow and rest, we move out at 1800-zulu.”

*****

Part 5 of the ongoing work Akula and his fire team have been contracted for. This may be the middle part of the 1st arc/Contract, it could be close to the end. I’m honestly eagerly waiting to see what this team tells me they get into next!

I hope you all enjoy.

Mid-Week Flash Challenge – The Orpheum Killer

Once upon a time, the New Bedford Orpheum was a beacon of culture and nightlife for the city. Symphonies of jazz and hope pulled the city through Prohibition and the Great Depression. Nickel film strips kept the populace sane through the Third Reich and into the Cold War. Until the day its benefactors abandoned it to pass through several unworthy hands and the merciless beat of time.

One of those unworthy owners was Pierre Ducraque, member of the Club of French Sharpshooters. A man of sophistication and opulence over substance and sense.

But unlike the Orpheum, he didn’t not suffer the ravage of age anymore. Whatever evil had gotten to him had done far worse, leaving his mangled body on center stage for all to witness.

Yet this was no simple assault, for the old man likely mustered little defense. No, whoever had gotten to Pierre made his body into an offering to the Orpheum itself. In honor of the many operas that echoed within its walls, his tongue and voicebox had been removed, placed inside the 3rd act of Les Troyens. For the many performers to dance across its stage, a fine pair of tap shoes had been mailed to Pierre’s feet.

But for the sychophantic betrayal of the Orpheum into the hands of lesser owners, the Parisian’s intestines were now draped over his neck like a fine scarf, and he held his heart in his hands, bound together in mid-applause the velvet rope that once guided artisans and the elite to their entertainment.

Such a brazen display of death spoke volumes as to motive, as such a kill would take time. This was rage. This was passion. This was a work of art.

And it wouldn’t be the last the Orpheum Killer would claim in honor of their mistress.

********

My entry for this past week’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge, based on the forgotten bones and soul of the New Bedford Orpheum. Because everyone’s a critic, and not just of art.

I hope you all enjoy.

Wildlife Security Solutions, LLC – Contract #1, pt. 4

As expected from Silverback’s dismissive tone when they’d returned, the rest of the day and following night were uneventful. After a hearty meal and a long workout regimen to exhaust every fiber of his body, Akula had drifted off to a dreamless sleep reading over some of the latest global press covering the ongoing disaster that was Libya. As he’d expected, removing all the propaganda, bullshit and otherwise bravado revealed that neither side of the ongoing war was really making any headway on their own. For as hard as either side of fanatics, mercenaries, and other belligerents clawed for every grain of sand, the larger war between the New Libya Dawn and the Libyan Unity Army had ground to a halt. In doing so, the nearby city of Mintaqat Wadi Harawah had been utterly demolished down to blood and rubble. While this likely meant continued employment for the contract, it also meant continued deployment away from the ice, snow, and warmth that was his Pasha.

That one night of hard-earned rest became two, then three, and then four. Each passing night patterned in the same routine of readiness training, study of the current reports coming from Kontrol, and waiting impatiently to hear from Pasha again, even for a moment. Not since his team all arrived in the national garbage heap that was Libya did they remain idle and un-tasked that long. Being the sole source of close-air support, Drakon flew daily, of which she relentlessly teased Akula before each takeoff. Pauk’s team left and returned twice in that time. Even Sova and his miscreants have had assignments before us! Aklua glowered on the third empty night, sure to catch Trup in a death glare so the man would pick up his pace to the mission.

But for the entirety of that time, no one had come up from the pit where Solomon and Navuk kept their Korean subject. Even in the stillest moments of the infinite Mediterranean night, no sounds or movement came from there. Akula had never seen the pair take that long on a prisoner, a fact that made even Nosorog shudder at the thought. 

When his alarm went off at 0200 on that fourth night, he felt the ache of latency both in his body and in his soul. So the reprieve of readiness training, ever-monotonous, was a welcome one once he re-laced his boots and donned a clean camouflage getup. Being a team lead, Akula has graced with the small benefit of having a bunk room to himself, which was little more than a wide closet inside a sloppy repaired administrative building. It was just big enough to sleep and read, which reminded the Shark just enough of his time on the destroyer Admiral Levchenko far away in the northern ice. 

Even the cool desert night was a pale comparison to home as he stepped out under the dim glow of a doorway light. As expected, the first sounds to greet him in the stillness was the haunting echo of the breeze across the dunes, and the exuberant moaning of a small medic in the clutches of Grizli. Akula simply shook his head at that, knowing that once he started his nightly rifle drill, the Bear would soon arrive. “Professionalism breeds pleasure!” the Ukrainian had once told him.

Somewhat less expected was that Nosorog was already armed and inspecting some of the smaller demolition charges they’d been allocated. 

“Expecting trouble?” Akula asked, standing at the opposite end of the work table.

“Always. Hardware could fail, commands could change…” Nosorog glanced up at Akula briefly, before snapping a detonating pin into its mechanism, “Mission could drop without warning.”

“Patience, zhopa. Work comes when it comes, and that’s the work we survive.” the team lead reminded his Chechen subordinate. 

“Sukin syn, we could end this all in less than two weeks if you’d just give my plan to Silverback and Kontrol!”

Akula scoffed at that, just as he had the first time the Chechen had laid out this plan. Too many moving parts, too many complications, and not enough bullets from just our contract alone…sure, we might get to Benghazi, maybe even find the center of this new perversion of a caliphate and all the sick bastards trying to lead it. But then what? Get butchered as we try and kill them? Or get beheaded when we get caught trying to even get close?

“You have no way to know it would work, tormozit.” Akula reprimanded his teammate. “We miss even one imam or coordinator, we fail and the fight drags on. This isn’t Zhani-Vedeno, Rhino! We don’t have the numbers or the hardware.”

This time, the larger explosives expert stood, fists clenched white and face crimson, “Because YOU hold us back for these small, bullshit raids! You’ve been coddled shoveling icy shits like a braindead kozel while I lived through the bombings and the tank shells of my homeland! Give my plan to Kontrol, and they will approve it, I know!” 

By now, Nosorog was screaming at Akula. The shorter man shifted his weight onto his back foot, ready to catch the Chechen when the larger man lunged. 

He didn’t get the chance, as three rounds from a Saiga-12 automatic shotgun rang out into the air. Turning to look, the pants-less beast of a Bear was stomping toward them, perhaps even more enraged than the Rhino. “Shut the fuck up, pizda! Some of us actually like living and fucking, you should try it sometime!”

The Chechen didn’t back down, instead turning to the Ukrainian and shouting, “You’d get both if you could fire that like you shoot your wad, bolshevik!”

Then with a seeming moment of realization, Nosorog turned back to Akula “Or is that the point?! We’re just here to whore-monger and get killed! Is that why you suck Silverback’s dick every chance you get?!”

With simply a glancing look between the two, Akula and Grizli decided enough was enough. And when the half-exposed Bear chambered another round in his weapon, the Chechen turned away from Akula, which was the opening the team lead needed. Using his smaller frame and the element of momentary surprise, Akula caught Nosorog in a choke and pulled the larger man down to a painful backwards lean. 

What the team lead didn’t fully appreciate, however, was just how much stronger the Rhino was, as the Chechen veteran grabbed Akula by the back of the skull and pulled him up over Nosorog’s own head, sending the Russian slamming down into the cement pad in one swift move. Akula hit the ground in one solid ‘thud’, sending stars through his vision and knocking any air out of his chest.

Suddenly, Nosorog wailed in agony and staggered, stumbling over Akula’s dazed heap before collapsing into a writhing pile of rage. Craning his head to look, Akula saw Volk, looking impassively angry and clutching his rifle stock-forward. The Wolf had hit Nosorog so hard, the weapon’s support had actually caved in slightly, now carrying the indent of the Rhino’s skull.

Not to be out-done by his smaller teammate, Grizli slung his shotgun across his shoulders and brought a heel down onto the groin of the downed assailant, sending Nosorog’s pained wail up several octaves and sending the Rhino rolling away in a feeble attempt at covering himself. 

“Don’t try growing balls unless you can use them, mongrel.” Grizli growled, shaking his head as he started his trek to the communal shower hut, and pants.

Akula picked himself up from the pad, still shaking his brain back into place. Volk extended his team lead a supportive arm, which the Shark gladly took. “Half expected you to use your fangs on him.” A point he punctuated by nodding at the favorite knife the Wolf had at his side.

Volk shrugged, “Too much paperwork.” And as the Wolf turned to head for the chow hall, he glanced back at the Rhino. “Besides, he may be right in the end. Decapitating these snakes is about the only thing they understand, since it’s their language.”

Akula gave the Wolf an understanding nod, but he didn’t like the agreeing thought Volk had just given. Still, his team had imploded enough for one night, so the team leader didn’t press the issue for now. Instead, Akula went to Nosorog and extended the same hand to help him up. “Like it or not, we’re the same contract, same team. As long as we’re in this shitbox, you follow my lead.”

Nosorog simply glared up at the Shark, ignoring the offer of support and shakily standing under his own power. “And when this is over, then what? You have me arrested? Or just shoot me when I’m not looking?”

The Russian shook his head. “Nyet, my contract says to keep you all alive, so that’s what I do. When this is over, if you want to settle this, then we will. I’ll meet you in downtown Kalinovskaya, or the shores of the White Sea, and we’ll decide things then.”

Whether he was convinced or not, Nosorog’s face betrayed no indication. The larger man glowered down at Akula for a very uncomfortable moment, then turned his back to his team lead. “I have checkouts to complete.”

“Be sure to get that strike checked. Now that Grizli is done, our medical support should have plenty of time on her hands.”

Nosorog grunted a reply, adding some string of curses under his breath, and headed back over to his inspection table. Akula personally made for the weight racks, the unexpected surge of adrenaline and anger needed an outlet, and few were his options in the dim hours of the morning. “Come on, Pasha…give us something.”

*****

Part 4(!) of my now-main ongoing project. There’s just something about these four that’s really grappling with my imagination right now. And now that’s I’ve built them a planned 3-act structure, let’s see how they go about breaking it against my will.

I hope you all enjoy.

Transformers Prime – 2nd Front: pt 2

Alert: Massive Energon spike detected at Gate of Primus

Activate secondary protocol: Conduct surveillance of Autobot activity. Alert Soundwave of all Autobot movement and effort in re-conquering Cybertron

These lines of code were the first activity RatBat had seen in untold millennia, so the Decepticon was at least pleased to be awakened again. The small flyer unfolded its blood-red wings and detached its talons from the rafters it had tucked itself in so long ago. Feeling the rush of air against its large audio sensors as it dropped was a pleasing rush as RatBat slowed to a hover, before darting out of a large gash carved in the side of its hiding place. 

The mini Energon scout pulled into a tight climb, using its small but powerful thrusters to push itself to the peak of the wrecked building that had been its nest. The night sky greeted its optics with a veil of darkness alive in the streaks of a thousand newborn sparks coming alive on a dead world. RatBat did not question why its master, the ever-vigilant spy Soundwave, had ordered it to remain behind, as it understood his master’s intention to be on guard for this moment. However, its simple programming also recognized the damage done by being stuck in standby mode for so long. RatBat needed fresh fuel and it needed it now.

And unlike most other Mini-Cons, RatBat was designed with that mission first and foremost. So at a great distance, its finely-tuned olfactory sensors picked up on the electrically-sweet scent of processed and cubed Energon. As well as a small Autobot gathering coming into a new existence from the nothingness of moments previous. Logging this observation for later, the fuel scout plotted and took to a course of stealth. Using small bursts of thrust to send it from wrecked building to wrecked building, it only used its sensors occasionally to verify its path, lest RatBat get lost in the infinite horizon of destruction. 

After hours of evasion and passive observation, RatBat was almost on top of the Energon signature when its ears picked up on a second Deception signature. Like itself, the signal was short-range and low power, but it had the mark of Soundwave buried in its coding. 

RatBat spun itself around and ascended quickly to pinpoint its source, which had concealed itself in the top level of what once was an armory tower. Finding a spot to perch, RatBat chittered a quick coded burst to respond to the signal, letting its source know that it was among friends. With a strong kick and the twist of its slender body, another Mini-Con uncovered itself, quickly leaping from the debris and up a higher perch of a broken rafter.

RatBat had not seen Ravage since the latter had been dispatched by their master, and it was clear that the quadruped stalker was surprised that it had been awoken in such a way. RatBat queried its fellow Mini-Con as to why it had been left behind, and Ravage responded with the same directive that had left the flyer in stasis. 

Finally curious beyond its assigned mission, RatBat gambled and sent a signal to its master. Ravage followed suit on its own channel, yet there was no immediate reply. While this was an issue of direction for the two Decepticons, the need for life-saving Energon was more pressing in the moment. As such, RatBat passed to Ravage where it was heading, and the ground-based hunter leapt from its perch to sprint down the side of the tower. RatBat followed from the air, maintaining its quieter approach, as Ravage had been better built for battle. Still, the sprinting across steel surface-work was rendered mostly silent thanks to Ravage’s own sneaking instincts. 

Unlike most of the surrounding city, the location of the located Energon was actually intact. A curious fact to RatBat and an inconvenience for Ravage, as now the stalker didn’t have debris to hide behind. Still, the rebuilt building also had rebuilt ventilation ducts and crawlways, which Ravage had been designed to thrive in. 

Carefully, RatBat took a perch on the highest ledge it could find, scanning as much of the structure as it could and feeding its Minicon partner the easiest directions it could compute. From there, the flying Energon hunter simply waited, keeping a persistent eye on Ravage as it worked though tight ducts, under flooring and across piping before coming to a sealed room where the Energon pile was secured. 

Naturally, a room containing such precious fuel was well-secured, locked behind a powered door. Another curiosity for the Energon hunter, as there should have been nothing left to power even the simple door mechanism on their dead world. 

Still, it only took a few microcycles for RatBat’s decryption processor to figure out the simple Autobot code and fool it, opening the vault to Ravage. In short order, the stalker had located the precious fuel and set to the task of cutting out a small section of wall with superheated claws. 

As soon as the cut-out piece of wall gave way, Ravage pulled it in and quietly set it aside, letting RatBat glide in equally undetected. Together, the MiniCons sank their teeth into precious Energon cubes, long-dormant systems suddenly sparking back online after eons of entropy. 

With its sensors now at full power, RatBat fluttered back outside to the top of the repaired tower, with Ravage slowly clawing its way back up the outside of the structure. Based on where they knew they were, the Well of All-Sparks was just over the horizon, the source of the flood that was showering their home-world with new life.

And at the lip of that rebirth was the haggard wreck of the Deception’s flagship, the Nemesis. Its presence, paired with the lack of response from their master, began to paint a form picture for the MiniCons to process. 

But with the warship in sight, RatBat chittered out another hail, which was answered this time. Hidden within the trillions of code layers that enabled the Nemesis to operate, Soundwave had hidden away backup instructions for this eventuality, which the smaller Decepticons now received. 

Primary operation: failure. Status of Soundwave: displaced into alternate dimension due to GroundBridge sabotage.
Initiate Operation: Reprisal.

With the command, long-dormant logic circuits fired online for each MiniCon. Their new goal was simple; assassination. For those who had cut down their master deserved nothing less than death.
In aid to this assignment, the warship itself replayed the final moments of Soundwave’s existence, extrapolating and identifying all parties responsible for the feat. Neither Ravage nor RatBat had ever seen a Terran fleshling before, so having three human faces burned into their primary directive was a shock in itself. 

Target: Jack Darby
Target: Miko Nakadai
Target: Rafel Jorge Gonzales Esquivel

Three primates now marked for eradication. 

Along with their faces, the Nemsis’ data archive divulged all of Soundwave’s surveillance on the three, to include coordinates on their homeworld where they were known to reside, known affiliations, and most important of all, partial access to the wreck’s still-functional SpaceBridge control panel. Such capability was only for use from the warship to the Terran home-world of Earth, but that was of no matter to either MiniCon. 

Their primary concern now were the several Autobots around the wreck itself, a pair of which ambled around the warship’s bridge where their first goal was located. In order to get to Earth, they would both need to access the now-secured SpaceBridge targeting computer. Another scan of the most direct path revealed to the Decepticons that the ground path was not an option. Too many newly-forged Autobot proto-forms to evade or cut down, including a new creation of Autobot flyers. 

Instead, Ravage focused their attention on the subterranean approach, pointing out where one of the larger waste runoff pipelines was still intact all the way up to the crashed hulk of the warship’s belly. Although RatBat wasn’t built or fond of waddling through such a small enclosure, it acknowledged that their directive was most important, so the flying MiniCon clamped down onto Ravage’s backside and flattened itself as much as possible for the slow creep.

Carefully, silently, the MiniCon pair stalked their way to the mangled outer hull of the Nemesis, which allowed them no shortage of entry points into the lower decks of the vessel. Immediately, they could hear the labor and toil of multiple Vehicon drones working to restore the vessel. Though Ravage favored eviscerating these traitors to Megatron’s message, RatBat was more pragmatic, pointing out the exposed hull breaches they could easily navigate up to the SpaceBridge control. 

Once they reached the bridge hatchway, however, the command decision fell to the ground-walking hunter, as the two Autobots in the room were directly between them and the console they required. Quickly calculating the best ambush vector, Ravage unfolded the powerful boost rockets along its back hips, nodding for RatBat to ascend to the top of the hatch and prepare its scramjet booster. Their moves had to be synchronous, their attacks precise.

As soon as the hatch unlatched to open, both MiniCons engaged their top speeds, racing through the barely wide enough opening. Unfortunately for the two Autobots, they had been so engrossed in studying the available data displays that they didn’t process the incoming Deceptions until it was too late. With an aided leap, Ravage caught its target at the back of the cranium and bit down as hard as it could. The Autobot could only emit a brief shriek before its cranium and all the vital circuits therein were crushed by savage teeth.

Though a flyer, RatBat was a split-second behind Ravage, but its attack was just as effective. Shimmering Energon blades sparked to life along the leading edge of its wings, and with a mach-speed corkscrew, the MiniCon tunneled through the surprised Autobot, who collapsed to the ground trying to gather its now gutted inner wiring.

Now RatBat had the initiative, quickly hacking and overriding its way though the enemy security code to charge the SpaceBridge. As calculated, this sudden jolt of energy raised all kinds of alarms through the wrecked warship, but the MiniCons only needed millicycles.

And by the time the first responding Autobots arrived with guns armed, the SpaceBridge had been closed once more, arrival coordinates erased by RatBat’s override code.

*******

Part 2 of what I hope to make an ongoing little tertiary project. 1) because the Decepticons had some of the best Transformers of all the series, period. And 2) because Laserbeak hogged all the spotlight from the rest of Soundwave’s menagerie in TF: Prime.

I hope you all enjoy.

Frost on the Graves

Come and walk these silent grounds
And tell me what you see

Names, dates, and a thousand faces
All of which mean nothing to me

Souls pull from a mortal casing
Now adrift in an infinite sea

Each one a speck, a memory lost
Now only for me to see

Under this stone lays a siren
One whose heart saw only gold
Long did she hunt and covet
Only to wither, jeweled and alone

Here lay the savaged lamb
Lovingly led to slaughter
By a butcher with no name
Only seen as the smiling monster

Here is the broken man
Bones ground down by stone
Left to his labors and toil
But every night, he sat alone

Behold the artisan, twisted and vibrant
Who saw the world’s many colors
But failed to see their tempted end
In the arms of their false lovers

And here is the ignorant victim
Who thought themselves holier than all
Met with revulsion and praise
So that blood came with the fall

Before you lay the virulent seeker
Seeking justice through the peephole
But heroic words don’t hide the stains
Of a life wasted as a useless troll

Behind you, the titan of history
The selfless and the beaten
Carrying the nightmares of peasants and kings
Atlas was left to be eaten

Now they lay below the frost
For the cold care not for the deed

And I have walked each path with them
Knowing they will never be freed.

*******

It’s amazing what can be created in a morning drive. Wasn’t thinking about it, didn’t plan on writing at all today. And yet, here we are.

I hope you all enjoy.

Transformers Prime: 2nd Front – pt 1

It had been eons since his wings last cut through cool air, back when the primitive Earthlings were still trying to figure out how to sail around their little blue marble. The feeling of slashing through clouds and leaving contrails in his wake was something he’d actually missed without realizing it. Coming to Earth had yielded at least that one welcome surprise to alleviate his hesitation for answering the call of his old teacher. My research could’ve continued on Varga Seven with what little Energon I had left…but Shockwave was never one for latency. So what did he leave in this desert?

He’d followed the summons order from the Decepticon genius to what the Earthlings called ‘Death Valley’. The heat beating down on his wings was impressive for the world he flew over, which was perfect for hiding the Cybertronian beacon from prying human eyes. But such a small device was also proving difficult to locate.

“Do you see anything?” Thundercracker called down to the ground to a fellow wayward Decepticon. Tearing a path across the aptly named wasteland’, the ferocious roar of a human sprint car raced over searing sands below. “Nothing yet…you’d think someone so smart would make it easier to find!”

“Shockwave kept his lab locations memorized, Piston. Didn’t want those Autobot slag-heaps to find them and steal any secrets.”

The racecar grumbled on the comlink, “Sure hope whatever he called you for is worth it! I could be sniping Autobots across space right now…”

Thundercracker banked hard right to start scanning a new patch of barren dirt, “I’m sure it is, he wouldn’t have called if… Got it! Two klicks west, on my nose!”

“Finally!” Piston called back, kicking on his rocket booster to try outracing the Seeker in the sky. But try as he might, Thundercrakcer easily soared ahead descending to mere millimeters above the sand in his Su-35S form before pulling into a hard ascent and transforming. Swapping afterburners for legs, the Deception researcher landed with a stone-crunching ‘thud’ where his optics had picked up the beacon. 

“It’s here, transmitting authorization code now” Thundercracker announced as Piston also transformed and produced his beam rifle. The sniper swept the area to make sure no one followed while the scientist opened the concealed doorway.

“Don’t think you need that, Piston. I didn’t pick up any Autobot signals on our approach.” Thundercracker commented, leading the way into the once-hidden bunker.

“Yeah, but no Decepticon ones either. Didn’t Shockwave come here on Megatron’s orders?” Piston rebuked as the hidden access way began to close behind them.

“Probably. It would take that much to get that recluse off of Cybertron and out of his lab.” the jet acknowledged as the pair made their way into a long, descending cavern. The rock had clearly been tunneled out for something far larger than the two Decepticons, but they saw nothing as they made their way deeper underground.

“Speaking of, why did Shockwave call you here?” Piston asked.

Thundercracker shrugged, “I’m not sure, his message mentioned a breakthrough with synthetic Energon and needing my files on artificial replication. So it sounds to me like we’re one step closer to winning this war.”

Piston grinned, “Good! I’ll be glad to send all those Autobots to the Pit!”

“Is that why you came along? Run out of targets to shoot in space?” Thundercracker pondered.

“Kinda, they’re getting harder and harder to find out there. Besides, I heard word that Optimus Prime himself was on this dirtballl! Just imagine the fame if I planted a slug in that trash-heap’s cranium.”

Finally, the two Decepticons made it to a central chamber, and were immediately silenced by the welcoming glow of ready-made Energon cubes stacked from floor to ceiling.

“By the Allspark, look at all this!” Piston hollered, practically sprinting over to the stacks of Cybertronian lifeblood. Thundercracker was equally stunned by such a treasure horde, as it was more than he’d ever seen in one spot since before the Great War with the Autobots began. 

But that in itself raised an excellent question, “Just how did Shockwave get a hold of all this?” Thundercracker wondered aloud, which Piston couldn’t hear over his own adulation. Fortunately for the Seeker, there was also a large computer bank on the far wall.

Thundercracker’s concern over the seemingly abandoned vault only grew once he unlocked the computer’s saved logs. From experience, the scientist knew his teacher kept backups of all his research, especially during the War. But the first file that drew Thundercracker’s attention was a massive compilation of data from Soundwave.  

“Why would the chief spy and snitch of the whole Decepticon force leave a message with Shockwave?” Thundercracker asked as the logs began to download. In an instant, the Seeker relived years of conflict and struggle through Soundwave’s audio and video recordings until he reached the end. The finale of the great Decepticon fight for equality and revolution brought Thundercracker to his knees as he watched the great Megatron die. Impaled through the chest with the legendary Star Saber by that worthless bug of a scout, Bumblebee.

“By the Pit…it’s over…” the violet-and-grey Seeker declared, aghast at the turn of fate. This drew Piston’s attention and the sniper came over to see what the trouble was. Greeted by the same small clip of Megatron’s lifeless husk falling from Earth’s orbit repeating over and over, Piston’s fists clenched tight enough to spark. “That’s it? We fought and bled and died for how many millions of cycles, only to lose?!”

Thundercracker felt the pain in his comrade’s words as they were the same thoughts he was having trouble processing himself. “They actually did it, the Prime’s team beat Megatron.”

Piston slammed his fist into the closest stone, breaking it into pieces. “Damn you, Autobots!” Turning to the Seeker, the sniper yelled, “So what do we do?! Go back to Cybertron and get tossed in a prison cell or a  junkyard? Slag that! They can come clean up my cold, dead, rims!”

“No,” Thundercracker began, pointing toward the screen, “Look! The Autobots have won, they have Cybertron again!”

“Yeah, I know…” Piston retorted, clearly missing the point.

“Which means they aren’t here!” the Seeker clarified. “Even if these humans helped fight Megatron, the Autobots didn’t leave anyone behind to protect them that we found!”

The flyer could see the wheels trying to turn in the sniper’s cranium, so Thundercracker pointed to the Energon cubes. “Look at all this! Just you and I could survive on this for the next million cycles, far longer than any of these humans! But what if we weren’t alone?”

“But Megatron…” Piston began.

Thundercracker cut him off. “Megatron’s gone! Soundwave’s gone! Starscream’s probably gone, and slag him anyway. Dreadwing’s gone! Shockwave’s probably gone! The Decepticon movement is done! So what do we do?”

“Go down fighting?” the ruby race-car asked angrily, making the jet shake his head, “No. We survive. It’s the only logical solution we have left. We regroup here and combine our resources.”

“You mean hide like a bunch of MiniCon cowards and wait for the Autobots to hunt us down? No thanks!” Piston protested, turning to head back up the ramp and out of the cavern. 

The pitched whine of a charging blaster stopped the racer in his tracks. “You gonna shoot me, flybot?”

Thundercracker let his Null Ray charge to full power before he spoke. The shot wouldn’t kill Piston, as the Null Ray wasn’t designed for that. But it’ll put your gears down for a spell… “Only if I have to, which won’t be the case if you just listen.”

Piston didn’t turn back around, but he also didn’t move forward, “Alright, so we regroup and we live off all this Energon. So what? The Autobots will come for us eventually!”

“We worry about that problem after we figure out if anyone is left,” Thundercracker countered. “Right now, we recover, research, and keep this stockpile in Decepticon hands. If it really is just us left, then I’ll space-bridge you to Cybertron personally so you can shoot all the Autobots you want.”

After a moment of contemplation, Piston turned to face the Seeker, shouldering his rifle back into its compartment. “So where do we start? If there’s no other Decepticons here…”

“Then we look to space, or even back on Cybertron,” Thundercracker began, pulling up a communications channel and encryption key. “There’s more than one deep space radio telescope on this mud-ball. I can hide a Decepticon message in….and, done! If there’s anyone left out there, they should hear us.”

Piston crossed his arms and watched the display, already impatient at the lack of reply, “So what now?”

“Now we figure out what’s going on with these humans. What did they see, what did they learn from the Autobots, and how can we use them to our advantage for a change.” An arduous for most Decepticon war machines, but Thundercracker let himself enjoy a small spark of intrigue. New data sources meant new information, and as a scientist, he’d take every byte of it to help him unlock the world around them.

******

Because I wasn’t content with just 1 on-going project, and after finding a wonderful YouTube channel documenting the histories of well-known Transformers across their many iterations, I just couldn’t help myself. And unlike others, this one I actually took the effort to outline, plot out and build character backgrounds for. Now to see if all that planning is what I needed to focus.

I hope you all enjoy.