TW Prompt Challenge – Bad Date

A morose cocktail of peer pressure and loneliness had built his profile and pointed him to Julia. That sweet smile framed by chocolate locks, framed by the infinte blue sky behind her somewhere out in the wild, at least provoked his curiousity. In their initial conversations, her melodic voice stirred warmth in his chest, but also betrayed her flightiness. 

So the first time this happened, he’d been frustrated, but accepting. Online dating was a crapshoot, and he’d never done it before. So getting stood up by a random stranger due to a ‘sudden migraine’ didn’t completely surprise him.

The second time it happened had given him even less resolution. His carefully planned date around her schedule was met with only one text an hour past their agreed upon rendezvous, “Sorry, raincheck?”

So now, on the third attempt at the first encounter, Charlie found himself once again staring at his phone for a reply that wasn’t going to come. Absently, he drained the final half of his Merlot glass in one gulp, coming to the conclusion that he still didn’t like red wine at all. But the rush of increased inebriation finally gave him the push to delete the dating app from his phone entirely. “Screw this…I coulda bought that new briefcase I needed instead of this waste.” he muttered to himself as he tossed down several bills to cover yet another wasted evening.

Charlie was still grumbling over the avoidance as he picked up his coat from the coat-check booth. The checker had wished him a pleasant evening, but the sting of the frigid November night served to wash away such nicities. Almost growling, Charlie threw on his coat, and began his fast paced walk back home, six blocks away.

At first, he hadn’t noticed the extra weight in the breast pocket of the coat, but after the third ‘thump’ of a bulge against his chest, Charlie dove his hand into the inner pocket, not slowing his gait.

The cold stickiness that greated him made him scowl at first, but that quickly morphed into ice cold fear when his hand came out coated in blood. Stopping mid-stride, he reached down deeper to where his fingers encountered cloth and out emerged a fine silken handkerchief wrapped to a 9mm handgun. Stuck to the side of the firearm was a badly wrinkled photo of Julia, the same one on her dating profile. Now darwn pale by the terrified confusion, he turned the picture around to find a single word scawled in hastily-written letters.

“Run”

*****

A new series of writing challenges from the amazing Team Writer FB page has arisen! And the simple prompt of “hidden inside the jacket pocket” spawned all this so very quickly.

I hope you all enjoy.

The PsyGear – Part 2

It had some more distinguished, medical-sounding name, once upon a time. But no one uses it anymore, not even the surgeons who install them at birth. Now, everyone just calls them PsyGears.
Back in 2018, when they were first invented, no one thought they would catch on. One device that would end fossil fuel dependence, leapfrog wireless technology AND bring humanity together? It was a downright insane notion, and was laughed out of many lecture halls and technology fairs.

It’s also just as ludicrous just how many awards one person could win in one lifetime. Yet Doctor Emily Callen, “Savior of all Humanity”,  did more than just that. There’s not a person alive today that doesn’t know her name or her story. All her dedication and tireless research to save the human race. The glass ceilings she shattered to bring such revolutionary technology to everyone. All the lobbying she won to not only make PsyGears mandatory, but as crucial to life as a person’s heart or lungs. You can imagine how moronic all those bio-tech and cybernetic giants that didn’t support the patent felt once the PsyGears started taking off.

The first generation of implants were under-powered, overweight and finicky. Granted, you’d never hear that in any biography or medical journal, as besmirching the device was the same as insulting Dr. Callen, and that just wasn’t done in polite conversation. Thankfully, the insightful genius worked tirelessly to not only improve her design, but to secure investors and industry leaders. Those key figures enjoyed their PsyGears so much that they started to become mandatory employee gear. It was here that the first adapters were designed, so one could plug their PsyGear right into their car or a computer, using the endless power of the human brain to run their lives.

But not satisfied with just changing the way clean technology saved the human race, Dr. Callen then made her greatest breakthrough, and the whole world shook. With one small anchor filament right into the brain’s limbic system, she found the way to punch up the PsyGear’s theta wave conversation tenfold. Suddenly, a person could not only be their own permanent battery for any use, but they actually made more energy the happier they were. And if someone needed help on a sad or depressing day, then the PsyGear, 7th-Generation had an anchor that tapped right through the brain’s emotional core. With the power already generated by its user, it made that person happy. And since they were happy, the PsyGear generated more power. It was a true perpetual machine, so long as the host lived.

Now, do you know what happens when someone is constantly happy? They listen to most everything you tell them, as long as it keeps them happy. “Bad” things like crime, war and maltreatment of one’s fellow man were leeched out of the human psyche. But other ‘bad’ things like hallucinogenic drugs and rampant sex both public and private became global industries all their own. Ever wanted to take a drug-filled sex cruise on an aircraft carrier? Well, now you can! Need a spike of ‘inspiration’? Just overclock the PsyGear for a few seconds and let your gray matter spark with all new kinds of life! Hell, New Year’s Eve of 2081 set a record for the largest public paint-and-fuckfest in the world! Like the old Burning Man parties you’d read about now, just cranked up to eleven, twice.

Now, there is one slight by-product with all this cerebral tampering and bliss-inducing economy: it’s not exactly stable. If you see your dear old grandma suffer a heart attack after two centuries of long life, that’s not gonna make you happy, so your PsyGear slows down. Suddenly, you’re depressed and in the dark, which makes you even more sad, and it’s all downhill from there. It only takes one bad second to black out an apartment, or for a suddenly-dead private lift pack to drop their pilot into a building. A car accident on the middle of I-495, witnessed by a few hundred people? That can take weeks to clean-up and suppress in even the local public’s memory. 

The worst disaster since the Indo-Pacific War of 2022 came about a decade later, when some anti-implant Luddites managed to broadcast a compilation of sad and depressing imagery and sounds across the now-free internet. It was a smart hack, hiding the malicious data in the PsyGear’s automatic status report signal. Suddenly, everyone in the world got hit with a case of the blues, most of which had never even theorized of before. All and all, maybe two billion people died thanks to crashes, accidents, or trying to severely overclock their implants to force happiness back into their brain. 

Naturally, this presented a problem: arrests, trials, and prisons weren’t things that inspired happiness, so no one with a PsyGear was going to voluntarily hunt these cavemen down and bring them to justice. Hell, even thinking about it was enough to drive some close to limbic impulse deprivation, and getting LIDed was not a pleasant way to die. And having a PsyGear removed? Forget about it…

So in 2034, on the 1st of April, the International Cooperation of Humane Protection stood up, which wasn’t exactly a popular move. Even back then, telling a birth-implanter to NOT install a new PsyGear would often confuse them, and that was the best case. So randomly selecting a thousand new births worldwide to not receive the implants was viewed akin to starving the little babies of milk. It took a lot of over-charged PsyGears to guide criticisms away from the program and back towards happy, productive, and energy-providing machinations that year. Those thousand un-tampered, naturally-developing kids quickly became objects of fascination and study, like the world had forgotten what the terrible twos were, or the mood swings of puberty. Granted, that wasn’t why the ICHP had been created, but the attention did generate a big funding boost.

No, the safe and protective arms of that global juggernaut trained these first thousand into that was needed: hunters. For the good of humanity, and to avoid another Sorrowful Saturday, these humans hunted down and crushed any anti-implant groups left worldwide. All peacefully and without bloodshed, of course, otherwise history files and documentaries may have mildly uncomfortable content. 

And like all globe-spanning conglomerates, the ICHP didn’t just stop existing when its work was done. No, it rebranded into the People’s Eden Protection Agency, which continues now as the sole entity of bringing joy and happiness to those who don’t know what they’re missing. PEPA even managed to design an interim PsyGear implant for on-the-move operatives, so they didn’t have to lug around an uncooperative and ignorant rebel. Now, we just slap the Porta-Psys on their temples and the little wonder does the rest, digging right on into the brain and starting the limbic overhaul. Plus, it makes the eventual full PsyGear install even easier once the cargo is brought back to a real implanter. Sure, it’s gross and there’s usually screaming, but those neanderthals just don’t understand how badly they need PsyGears until they experience them.

Plus, it’s fun to keep track of all those we bring back to civilization. Hell, I’ve got over a hundred myself, thanks to an anti-tech boogaloo trying to hide themselves off in the Marshall Islands. But no one’s ever gonna touch the record of “Henderson the Happiness-Bringer”. Over seven thousand people recovered and enlightened! Course, that’s what happens when you find those last few tribes of primitives down in the Amazon.  

Now they too can experience the gifts Dr. Callen blessed the world with! And just like everyone else, we’re all better for it.

  • SIGNED  

Verick Weathers
PEPA Operations, Retrieval Division
Hunter #2127

This op-ed, as published in the Worldwide News Stream, is endorsed by the People’s Eden Protection Agency for distribution and use as reference material in primary and secondary education.

*****

Part 2 of a little thing I started way back in 2018, although this was technically what I started writing first. And with so much pandemic downtime, sometimes those dormant ideas get just enough of a kick in the ass to come back swinging!

I hope you all enjoy.

Tactical Meditation

For most of his species, off-duty time was spent in deep meditation, reinforcing the mental barriers that repressed emotions and reflecting on the nature of logic in the greater universe. Such was not the case for 1Lt S’tal as he found clarity in the calculated movements of his hands and feet through quick strikes, fortified blocks and unpredictable movement. For these were the exercises that ensured his survival when the time came to fight, not a greater understanding of universal logic in a universe that spat in the face of such a concept. 

In front of him, his Andorian Staff Sergeant stepped forward to attack with a 1-2-3 jab-jab-cross attempt at the Vulcan´s face, which S’tal blocked with his forearms before sweeping his leg forward to catch his opponent and trip him. As S’tal expected, instead of moving back to a safer distance, Sergeant Kalwari firmed his stance and absorbed the blow for the chance to attempt another flurry of punches into S’tal’s midsection. Bringing his guard lower, the Vulcan officer quickly brought his sweeping leg up higher to catch the Andorian´s knee instead of the calf, connecting with enough force that Kalwari rocked backwards. This caused the Andorian to reflexively open his arms to maintain his balance, and S’tal took the open window with a solid jap into his Sergeant ́s nose, knocking the blue-toned opponent down with many swears in his native tongue.

In a real grapple, S’tal would have pressed the ground fight, raining down Vulcan hammer fists or drawing the small knife he carried on every mission at his hip. In the case of this workout, the Vulcan simply offered up his hand to Kalwari “Impressive, Sergeant. You are adapting well to Suus Mahna’s forms and strikes  Next time, I would suggest countering the leg sweep with a retreat, forcing me to come to you and leaving my own lower extremities open.”

Kalwari brushed sweat clear of his antenna, which were now raised to their fullest from the rush of the fight, “Aye, Lieutenant. Or maybe next time I´ll get one of my Privates to just rush your backside like the Cardies did. It would be a great note on their next promotion reviews.”

S’tal shook his head “A desperate move from untrained soldiers. Besides, I could simply turn and use their own momentum to send them directly into you for, what I believe the term is ´a skull-fucking´.”

Hearing that made Kalwari bark out a laugh. “Speaking of, how’s the business on the Zendaya? Are we storming it or what?”

The Vulcan shook his head, “That order has not been given yet, but we will be ready for the eventuality. As I understand, our Intelligence division is currently working the situation.”

The Staff Sergeant nodded, taking a long drink from his performance water, “Copy that, sir. We’ll be ready for when it’s time to get serious. You gonna check on our new Bajorian Corporal?”

S’tal nodded. “He´s currently doing his EV workups with the TR-140 outside Shuttlebay One. From the Astraea’s current position, he has a clear view to the Zendaya’s warp nacelles. We cannot risk the Separatists trying to escape or engage us with a stolen Starfleet vessel.”

The Andorian frowned, “You really think a grunt with a rifle will do anything to an Ambassador-class heavy cruiser?”

A point the Vulcan had at first dismissed himself, before he had studied the situation. “Should the Zendaya re-initialize its primary systems, it will take, at minimum, ten seconds before the starship can safely initiate a warp jump. In that time, given our range and his rifle, Corporal Pel will have two opportunities to engage and puncture the Zendaya’s bussard collectors.”

Sergeant Kalwari drained the rest of his electrolyte drink, “Chances he sets off a plasma fire and blows out the whole nacelle?”

“Possible,” was the best answer S’tal had. “However, one disabled starship, even catastrophically so, is a more acceptable outcome than allowing a tyrant and a fanatic to continue his tirade against the Federation.”

Kalwari laughed at that. “That’s not exactly ‘logical’, Lt.”

To which the Marine Officer nodded. “Indeed, but an unorthodox problem requires an equally unorthodox solution.”

*****

Another sampling of an old RP I was a part of for a spell, of which S’tal was the most enjoyable part of. Sadly, even in a group of like-minded nerds, there can be some cripplingly sour apples that run the whole of an experience.

I hope you all enjoy.

Wildlife Security Solutions, LLC – Contract #1, pt. 6

How exactly Yenot had uncovered and delivered unto his team such a pristine Western-made pickup truck, Akula had no idea. Nor did he care to find out. The moment he stepped behind the wheel, the level of comfort of the cooled leather seat surprised him. Even laden in concealed gear once again, there was little distraction or discomfort as he ran his hands along actual wood inlays and modernized electronics. Makes driving 200km almost a pleasurable thing!

By the time his team arrived on the outskirts of Sirte, midnight was giving way to the first hour of the day. But unlike their previous excursion, the streets of the city were still alive with fire and violence. Even from the highway, they could see glowing crimson fire clawing its way into the blackened sky, with glowing tracer rounds leaping up from the western-most streets trying to tear down whatever was hiding in the skies.

This also led to a very concerning symptom of the larger war. The once-clear streets heading toward their target were now choked with wreckage, bodies, or guerrillas running toward death and the glory of Allah. For the moment, the frantic extremist fighters paid them little mind, since they were driving toward the battle themselves, but Akula knew that ignorance wouldn’t last the moment one of them took a good look at the four pale-skinned infidels in their midst. 

“Yebah’eto! Why the fuck is this happening now?!” Grizli rumbled, annoyed at the several new layers of complications to their mission. 

“Doesn’t matter. Stick to the hit! If the target isn’t there, we take his computers.” Akula amended their original plan, parking the truck a dozen blocks shy of their intended destination. Scanning their surroundings to make sure no one was obviously watching them, he signaled to his men to take a defensive position behind the vehicle, and for Nosorog to prepare the explosive drone for launch. The original Phoenix-2 micro-UAV easily fit in the giant Chechen’s palm. Adding the small quantity of high-temperature FOX-9 to melt through the metal casing and wiring of the target building’s circuit box was a feat of engineering mastery only the Rhino could design to make his little pet Pop-Feniks. 

But adding even a few ounces of explosives, along with the needed impact detonator, cut the small drone’s range in half, so now there was little margin to miss. And if Akula were on the opposite side, he’d have invested in a small UAV counter-jammer. Something as small as an old CB radio could be enough to scramble the control link and send their Pop-Feniks down into the wrong building.

Signaling for Volk to cover the exposed side of their team, Akula gave Nosorog the go-ahead. Swiftly, the Chechen stepped back a dozen feet, clicked the small propeller of the drone until it engaged, then came sprinting forward and launched the package into the air like a suicidal paper airplane. Its high-pitched ‘buzz’ from the tiny motor sang out like an annoying bird from every wall and made the team lead swear under his breath. Even in the dark of night, it would only take one suspicious soldier to score a lucky hit and royally fuck their plans over.

Grizli flipped up the small video screen attached to the Feniks’ handset controller to watch through the UAV’s tiny forward-mounted electro-optical eye while the Wolf brought his ShAK-12 rifle’s scope up to scan the upper stories of the nearby buildings, of which he saw only darkness and flames. To cover, the Rhino leveled his RPK-16 where Volk had been looking, which impressed Akula. Seemingly gone were the threats of the morning, or the near-treasonous in-fighting that had boiled over. How much was that fee increase? the team lead pondered for a second before compartmentalizing that away for later.

“Fuck, fuck, come on, look away!” the Bear whispered in anger, and the echo of a three-round burst up the street confirmed Akula’s worst fears. With a tap to the shoulder, the team lead sent Volk sprinting to the cover of the corner of the intersection they were parked in. Sure enough, the Wolf’s eyes found a trio of fighters pointing to the sky and trying to steady their aims to shoot the Feniks down. Taking a knee for stability, Volk emptied his chest of breath and fired. The first man went down never seeing his death, and the second had only registered the sound of the shot before the round blew out most of his heart. The third, on panicked instinct, began to sprint across the road towards the neighboring building, but the Wolf’s aim was precise. One round to the hip sent the man shrieking towards the ground and the next silenced him for good.

Unconsciously, Akula let out a breath of relief as the drone continued on its way, now better camouflaged by the noise of street warfare. In the brief seconds before the Feniks was to reach the target’s rooftop, the team lead made note to press Silverback on why he didn’t know their supposed contracted allies in the LUA were pressing a westerly offensive into Sirte without telling them. There’s easier ways to try and kill us, you fucking ape…

“Visual on strike zone, marking descent.” Grizli whispered, though none of the team spared the second to look at the display. If they had, they would have seen the two men on the rooftop, one of which was aiming an old Soviet-made Dragunov sniper rifle to pick off unfortunate targets. The partner spotter, carrying exceptionally expensive night-vision goggles, turned up to look at the Feniks the moment before it impacted. As far away as the team was, the detonation was little more than a ‘pop’ among the rest of the chaos. 

With the remote control handset now useless, the Ukrainian ripped the hardware in half and tossed part of it away in the street, with the other half staying in the back of the truck. Akula signaled his team to move forward to the next street-corner, and then to the next, which they did as one fluid motion. With each stop, they would ensure the path was clear, and tap the man in front of them in the affirmative to move.

Halfway to where they were supposed to be, Akula ordered the team to freeze and cover. For at the next intersection south of them, a cobbled-together jalopy of a flatbed truck came screaming up the road, packed full of eager young jihadists. The vehicle only slowed long enough to disgorge its complement of berserkers before peeling into reverse to fetch more. Thankfully, the newly-arrived fighters immediately found themselves under fire from the west and dove for cover, paying no attention to the Wildlife team’s position for the moment.

Volk led the sprint to the next street up, with Akula running backwards to keep their rear clear of any pursuit. Only when the team was at the final street-corner before their target’s safe-house did they stop again. Thanks to the Feniks, one of the two-man rooftop team had been mostly blown down into the street, which had attracted the attention of several of the building’s population. 

What this had also done was draw out the ZPU-2 armed truck right up to the intersection ahead of them, and its gunner was scanning the area right in their path. Swiftly, Akula stepped back from the corner and tapped Volk forward, as their overall most accurate shooter. The Wolf snuck only a moment’s glance around the building, but that was all the anti-air gunner needed to fire. With a shout of alarm, 14mm shells began tearing man-sized holes into their cover and the building behind it, blasting the team with shattered stone and torn metal.

“Pull back!” Akula shouted, and the team started their backwards gaunt away from the devastation to the previous traffic junction so they could sweep around the opposite side. Their careful pace also meant that the already-alerted guerrillas came running their way once the anti-air turret ceased firing, with the first NLD soldier firing at them before they could find immediate cover.  Five rounds cut into the street at their feet, with one passing through Akula’s concealing outer shirt before the Wolf dropped him with a round in the eye.

The quartet rounded the first corner available to them, placing the fire team squarely in a private garage. Akula signaled for them to cut through the residence, and Grizli took the lead with his shotgun for the clearing path. They split the entryway door, two men on either side, before the Rhino opened the door for the Bear. Immediately, the Ukrainian filled the entryway and connecting hallway with 12-gauge shells, the roar broken only by the agonized wails of the surprised NLD fighters who had been hunkered down in the house. To ensure they wouldn’t pursue or suffer, Akula shot each body one final time with his SR-1 pistol. Let Allah pull the lead from your hearts and laugh at your misguided waste of a life…

While the building provided cover from the technical’s gunner seeing them, the Saiga’s shredding shots did echo through the hovel, and from his position still in the garage, Akula could hear the truck-mounted gunner shouting something in his native tongue. The Shark followed his gut and wagered that reinforcements were going to flank the building and cut them down. The team lead popped one of his three 40mm grenades into the AK-74’s under-barrel launcher and moved back to the street opening. Sure enough, he could hear the cranking of the ZPU-2 rotation collar as it scanned the streets ahead of it.

With a nod and a hand signal, Akula ordered Grizli and Nosorog through the building’s interior, which they swiftly swept into, the Rhino naturally at the front of the charge. Volk ran to the opposite end of the bay opening to cover the crossfire, holding up three fingers, then three again. Too many to deal with using just the grenade, we’ll have to keep their attention!

To respond to the Wolf, Akula gave his own three-count. Using that last second of peace to calm his nerves and steady his breath, the Shark peeked back around the corner, rifle raised to about the right angle he estimated it would take to arc the grenade into the truck. At that same moment, the Wolf also emerged far enough from cover to fire into the truck’s back windscreen and cabin. Instinctual fear and alertness made their pursuers jolt their attention in their direction, but not with enough focus or discipline to fire back.

In a blink, Akula fired. The ‘thoonk’ of the 40mm explosive leaving its chamber alerting the cannon’s gunner to what was coming and shout for his fellow fighters. Now divided between being shouted at and the renewed sounds of shotgun blasts across the block, there was a split-second of hesitation. 

The VOG-PM explosive landed just under the exposed bed of the gun-equipped truck. Shards of steel and high explosive ripped into the vehicle’s frame and wheels, as well as the flesh of the gunner and driver. Such force also tore into the remaining ammo stores in the ZPU-2. Unspent gunpowder easily fed the growing detonation, tearing the remains of the cannon from its housing and sending bits of barrel and bone dozens of feet in the air.

Not to be spared, the two closest fighters to the truck also vanished in the plume of all consuming fire, with another being impaled by a large section of truck frame and sent backwards several yards. Two soldiers closest to Akula’s covered position were blown forward by the sheer shockwave, only to be dropped in the street by precise rounds courtesy of the Wolf.

The final man, now very conscious of his own isolation, succeeded in diving into the cover of a street-corner shop’s wreckage Taking the chance, and needing to press the initiative, Akula ordered Volk forward. Expertly, the Wolf sprinted to the other side of the street, before moving forward towards the burning wreck of the truck. 


Also expertly, the last remaining guerrilla had waited until the pair were separated before coming back around the corner, his RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher loaded and armed. While he hadn’t counted on the weapon choice, Akula had kept his eyes on where Volk was going, not where his teammate was now, so the sudden appearance of the human obstruction triggered a three-round burst from his AK-74. 

At least one of the rounds caught the fighter in the side, spinning them around towards Akula at the same instant he pulled the trigger. In a wild spin, the rocket-powered projectile popped out of its tube and kicked on its motor for only a moment before smashing into the house above the Shark’s head. Hundreds of pounds of stony debris tore free of the upper-level wall and showered the street in small meteorites. On instinct, Akula sprinted inside, nearly tripping over the bodies already splayed out across the floor. Hastily, he followed the carnage to a street-facing door that had been blasted open, where he slowed long enough to shout “Derzhat!”

Now slowly stepping through the exit, Akula was half-pleased to see Grizli’s shotgun leveled at him. The Ukrainian hulk nodded before sweeping back around to press forward towards their target. Once again, Akula and Nosorog stood side by side.

“Nice shot, was hoping to do that myself.” the Chechen begrudgingly praised. 

“I’ll leave you the next one, if it will help you sleep.” Akula chuckled before gesturing for the Rhino to move up to the target domicile. 

From the pre-mission intel they’d been provided, Akula had expected the target’s location to have fortified doors, and this assessment had been correct. He could feel the cold steel under layers of carefully applied paint to better conceal the entrance from a passing view. Like in Bin Jawad, the Rhino took from his backpack a patch of high-explosive reaching from street-level to ceiling and attached it to the door’s pivot area. 

Having already been ahead of them, Grizli came circling back around with a newly retrieved Volk. The smaller man now sported fresh gashes on his arm and cheek, and the knife on his hip was coated in thick crimson.

“Clear?” Akula asked the smallest team-member. The Wolf gave a curt nod and moved aside.

Once Nosorog had the charges in place, the team moved around the eastern corner of the building in the scant few seconds the Rhino had set the timer for. The sound of a six-inch thick door ripping itself from weakened hinges and crashing to the ground was much louder than the blast used to pry it open. But among the rest of the night’s battle symphony, it drew little attention at the moment. The now-smoking doorway revealed an immediate narrow stairway leading up, begging them to tempt fate so they would get stuck and mowed down in a hail of bullets.

This time, Akula gave no warning, loading and firing another 40mm grenade up to the next level. The shriek of Arabic surprise, followed quickly by the deafening blast of the contained explosion didn’t surprise the team, nor did the tumbling body of a young woman still clutching an automatic rifle when it hit the street. Swiftly, Grizli and Akula entered first, followed by Nosorog and Volk at the rear. When the stairway split to open up to the second floor, the rear pair paused to canvas the level, while the forward two continued upstairs.

Though the battle raged outside, the interior of the building was now uncomfortably quiet. Grizli had also taken notice of the lack of resistance, slowing his stalking pace to a careful creep. The ascent leading up the third floor had been sealed by another, smaller door, though this one was made of more common sheet metal. Carefully, the Bear studied the barrier, before gesturing with the barrel of his weapon at the handle. There, Akula could make out the worn-groove of a wire wrapping around the doorframe and to the other side. “Tripwire.”

“Means he’s not expecting to come down this way. Could be another way out.” Akula confirmed. With a pat on the Bear’s shoulder, the two men descended back to their comrades on the second floor, who had posted on either side of a blown-out window. Around them, the burnt and torn remains of papers, padded the floor of what may have been a family room once upon a time. 

“IED on the next level, target could have escaped outside.” Akula passed on, signaling to Nosorog to check out the trapped door and for Volk to peek around the wall. “North face looks clear, no exit.”

Without a way to check the opposite face for an escape route from there, Akula simply stood by for the moment. It only took the Rhino that long to peer under the doorway with a collapsible mirror he kept on hand and carefully cut the tripwire free. Now disarmed, the Chechen called Grizli back to the front, stepping as far to the side as the hulking explosives savant could to allow the Bear to ascend higher. 

“Sukin syn!” Grizli suddenly called out, causing the other three men to race upstairs. Inside, they found absolute carnage, but not of blood and bodies. Mostly-burned maps and shredded documents had been tossed everywhere, likely by the last remaining sentry before she’d been forced to defend the entryway.  A computer tower and several radios were also laid in waste on a side table, all shot. Even the cheap television on the far wall had been subjected to multiple rounds.

I’m sorry, Pasha…all that work, all for nothing… Akula let himself sigh. Nosorog let out an angry growl and slammed his fist through the table, broken electronics clattering to the floor. “I don’t understand! Why defend this room now?! There’s nothing here!”

“Doubt she knew that.” Grizli responded with a snarl. “Wonder if she was a wife or just a slave…”

“Or just a junkie.This looks high-quality, not street-made.” Volk added, pulling a small block of ice-blue capsules from under a mound of tattered map remains. The bag itself was neatly, but subtly, marked in Hangul along the seal. It was a find that made the Shark’s shoulders sink in realization. That’s one way to fund and maintain control over an army of faith-driven pigs…and an easier source of payment than traceable cash transfers.

It was then that Akula realized that, for all the firepower al-Nujood had been documented with, none of it was here. Nor had they seen a way to access the top floor. Snapping a fist up to silence his team, the Shark gestured to the ceiling, which all four men now scanned for any difference or alteration. 

The sound of wood metal scraping against wood surprised the team, with each man glancing over to see Volk pulling a chair with him towards the corner frame of the stairwell door. Perplexed, Akula watched the Wolf run his hand along the edge of the cut-out before pushing on a small indent that no one else had seen. With a ‘click’, a well-painted handle dropped from the ceiling in front of him, which Volk then pulled on. In turn, this dropped a false tile of scrap-wood colored like the rest of the ceiling stone, followed by a cheaply-made ladder.

“How did you know about that?” Nosorog inquired sternly, to which the Wolf pointed at the barely discernible rise of the button’s inset in the wall. It was intuition that genuinely surprised Akula, but also called into question how little he knew about the Wolf in his midst.

“Good eyes, shchenok.” the Bear whispered, before taking position at the bottom of the ascent. The Ukrainian had barely the time to raise his Saiga before the familiar ‘click!’ of a pin popping from a spring-triggered handle. Followed by the sound of metal bouncing along stone. “Grenade!”

Even diving away from the opened attic, Akula’s mind raced with certainty that he would not be standing again. He was too close to Grizli, too close to the end. Forgive me, babochka…Andre deserved better than this.

Yet the Bear didn’t run, nor did he flinch. Instead, Grizli jumped into the air as high as his behemoth frame could go, which gave him the reach to catch the incoming explosives in his hands. And with a desperate flail, the two American-made M67 grenades went flying back the way they came before supersonic shards of hot metal and the concussive blast filled the room.

*****

Part 6 in what may be the story I’ve loved writing the most since I started writing ever. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the 4-person power team, especially when they can conflict so drastically. Plus, writing a dynamically dark and merciless street-fight like this was also a great exercise in trying to wrap my mind around something NOT starfighter/pilot-related.

I hope you all enjoy.

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.