OP- OP, acronym, Observation Post <oh-PEE>
OP, abbreviation, Operation <ah-peh>
OP, noun, informal, a military operation
OP, synonym, mission, ‘the mish’
See also: Opposing Force (OPFOR)
Des Moines, Iowa
The co-pilot turned around in his seat to yell at them. “ETA TO DROP ZONE, THREE MINUTES!”
Deadeye gave him the thumbs up without looking away from the landscape as it rolled by below from his vantage point at the right access. The bird was an old UH-1 Huey helicopter, not the team’s first choice of insertion vehicle but they had to make do with what was available. It was good for insertion and extraction; the chopper wouldn’t be much good to them in the fight but then the Grunts were used to fighting on their own.
Deadeye calmly reviewed the sketchy intel they had been given. Satellite tracking had pinpointed the location of an alien object that had crashed into the heart of Des Moines. Almost all communication in the city had died within moments of its impact, the scattered short wave and citizen band traffic that remained had died soon afterwards.
The Marines and US ARMY had mixed heavily with US Special Forces and Marine Force Recon units and deployed in response to the threat. The combined units had established a quarantine zone a ten miles outside of the city limits. Theoretically they would be there to stop what ever got out of the city if his team didn’t kill it. The few panic-stricken citizens that had made it out of the city were reported as being ‘in a confused state of mind.’
Deadeye suppressed a shiver as the dead city flowed under them, “No freaking wonder, it’s as dead as a tomb down there.”
Mule scanned the field from the left side over the sights of his on his machine gun. The vast cityscape below seemed cold and quiet with only the occasional movement in the streets. Some of the buildings were ruined while others had literally toppled into the street, literally torn from their foundations by some massive concussive force.
“Woah,” Bunker whistled, “remind me not to settle down in this city. Public works is doing a shocking job of it.”
“Funny,” Deadeye muttered back, deadpan. “Keep your mind on the job. Check your ammo again.”
Bunker scowled but said nothing, starting through her checklist yet again.
“Jesus, Deadeye,” Slapdash said from the opposite seat.
“We’ve never fought something like this before, hell no one has seen one since HG Wells’ Radio show,” Deadeye reiterated for the thousandth time, “we all need to stay frosty.”
Breaker stood up, grabbing the pilot’s seatback to balance himself. “You heard him, people, stay sharp! Bomber, you’re up, scout the drop zone.”
Saluting without a word, Bomber jumped out of the Huey without a parachute. A moment later, he soared away from the chopper, flying under nothing but his own mutant power.
“G-4 to G-6,” Bomber’s voice sounded through their headsets, “I have a visual of the target building. Roof appears to be clear, light traffic on street level. Someone’s shot the shit outta this area, environmental hazards are confirmed.”
“Looks like we’re gonna get wet,” Mule mumbled.
“Roger, G-4,” Deadeye answered, “pull back into formation and provide cover.” Turning back to the cockpit, he raised his voice over the sound of the rotor blades and pointed off to one side of the pilot. “PILOT! SET ME DOWN ON THE ROOF, DIRECTLY OPPOSITE THE INSERTION ZONE!”
Nodding, the pilot veered left toward the nearby building. As the helicopter slewed into position ten feet above the skyscraper roof, Deadeye leapt through the open hatch, tucking and rolling to absorb the impact from the ten-foot drop. Overhead, Bomber was a perfect overwatch. He flew an evasive pattern, holding his hands ready to launch a truly frightful barrage of plasma ‘bombs’. Deadeye trusted Bomber to provide cover as he dashed for the stairwell, descending into the depths of the abandoned building in search of a good fire position.
While Deadeye disappeared into the building, the helicopter hadn’t been idle. As soon as Deadeye hit the ground running, the pilot took them up quickly then swung around to approach the roof of the target building. Inside, the four remaining team members shifted position, with Breaker (‘Sarge’, as they called him) assuming tactical command.
“Exit by twos,” he ordered, “armor forward.”
Covered by Bomber, the helicopter came in fast and pulled to a halt three feet above the roof. Mule was first – a telekinetic superman who could survive a direct hit with an anti-tank round. Leaping from the other side of the ‘chopper was Slapdash, an electrical energizer wearing power armor that the regular army could only dream about. Seconds behind them came the last two. Bunker, the only girl of the team, was a weapons expert with the ability to project psychic confusion. And Sarge, an exemplar with literally superhuman strength and speed, as well as the ability to turn himself into a human bomb by emitting a globe of concussive force (‘breaking’ anything nearby).
Bunker and Breaker immediately dropped into firing positions, back to back and kneeling, covering the expanse of roof. The second they were gone, the ‘chopper took off into the heavens to wait until they called for evac.
“Move by twos,” Breaker ordered, “Slapdash, Mule, take point. Check your corners. Go.”
Mule and Slapdash sprinted across the bare concrete roof toward the stairwell, keeping away from the dark hole that revealed the twisted metal bones of the structure. The sound of water spattering far below could be heard over the sound of intermittent traffic from street level.
“G-6 here,” Deadeye chimed in over the radio, “I’m in position and scanning the building for signs of life. I’m detecting large heat signatures on levels ten and eleven.”
“Roger,” Breaker replied. Mule and Slapdash gave him the all-clear sign as they covered the door on either side. “Move up.”
Sprinting across the roof, Bunker moved against the wall behind Mule while Breaker fell in behind her. Bomber floated back down to the roof and took up position behind Slapdash. Nodding, Mule kicked in the door and rushed in, followed by Slapdash.
“Clear,” Mule shouted.
“Clear,” Slapdash repeated from the opposite side of the door, “looks like it goes right down to the ground floor.”
“Right, our target is floor twelve; move by the numbers. Bomber, I want you mobile.”
Nodding curtly, Bomber took to the air once more, quickly flying out of sight.
They moved down the stairwell landing by landing in groups of two; Mule and Breaker in one, Slapdash and Bunker in the other so that at least one team had an almost invulnerable member to take point. Besides, Slapdash was currently packing a recoilless mini-gun, a devisor special integral to his combat armor; while Mule sported a heavily modified M-60E3 medium machinegun. Both were not weapons one would wish to be in front of when they started blasting. While they kept the stairwell covered, their partners watched the doors. Bunker, deprived of her rocket launcher in such close quarters, kept her shotgun trained on the door. Breaker did the same with his more potent M-203, an M-16A2 model rifle with an underslung grenade launcher.
The sound of falling water was getting louder as they descended.
Level twelve was marked by the water that leaked from under the doorway in a small river that wandered down the stairs and over the edge in an artificial into the depths below. Breaker ordered Bunker to watch their backs with a quick hand signal before ordering Mule to watch down the steps. Slapdash took point on the door without having to be told, Breaker falling in behind him.
“Go,” Breaker ordered.
Slapdash kicked in the wooden door; splintering the frame as the wood gave way under the unstoppable force. The carpet was sodden, squelching underfoot as Slapdash’s heavy battle armor stomped forward. Breaker took cover behind his teammate, scanning the blind spots while Bunker followed, Mule bringing up the rear. The floor was empty, that much was certain since nearly every false wall had been blown over or pulverized into dust. The hole in the roof extended this far down and more, the great gash opening to the sky above and the darkness below. Water poured down through the gash but more burst seams on this level were slowly flooding those below.
“G-5 to G-6,” Breaker whispered through his headset, “any movement below us?”
“Negative, G-5,” Deadeye replied. “You’re right above some sort of reception area that takes up the next two levels. There’s serious flooding on level ten, I think that’s where our ‘mysterious’ object came to rest.”
Bunker sniffed through the fine, warm, mist that permeated the level. “Goddamn! It’s hard to breathe in here.”
Edging towards the hole, Slapdash looked over the edge, weapon trained downward. “It’s dark down there. G-6, do you have a visual?”
“Negative,” Deadeye replied, “the blast shutters are down. I’m using IR only.”
“I can see something,” Slapdash continued, “smooth, metal, ovoid… maybe some sort of Martian drop-pod. I’ve seen pictures of them from the war.”
“No help for it, people,” Deadeye pressed, “let’s get down there.”
“Ok,” Breaker took the lead again, “Slapdash and Mule again. Use your rappelling gear, secure the perimeter and stay away from the windows. If you encounter something you can’t handle, call for Bomber. Move out.”
Nodding, both of the boys pulled what looked like small guns from their belts and pointed them at the solid concrete floor. A simple pull of the triggers fired a series of hooks with slender carbon fiber weave ropes already attached deep into the material, giving them a solid anchoring point. They were down in the darkness within seconds.
“Mule, what are you seeing?” Breaker prompted.
“Not much, it’s dark and the room’s full of mist. Some sort of organic coating on the walls, floor and ceiling, looks like the whole level’s choked with the stuff. Security shutters on the windows are down and clogged with the same shit.”
“Visibility’s piss poor, Sarge,” Slapdash added. “There’s something about this place… I dunno, my skin’s crawling down here.”
Mule snorted. “And you don’t have to smell it…”
“Shut up, both of you,” Breaker interrupted. “Secure the room and form a perimeter, we’re coming down.”
Bunker tapped him on the shoulder.
“What?” Breaker asked curtly, not out of annoyance just keeping chatter to a minimum.
“You hear that noise over Mule’s radio?”
Breaker blinked. “Mule, Slapdash, keep quiet but open your comms for a minute.”
They did as ordered. After a moment, he heard it. A soft, squelching, noise whispered continually in the background. Then a low whimper as if from far away but it was definitely human.
“Oh, shit, did you hear that?” Slapdash whispered.
“Direction?” Breaker asked.
“I think it’s coming from down the hallway to our left.”
“Stay there, we’re coming down.”
Breaker and Bunker used Mule and Slapdash’ ropes; descending just as quickly with practiced ease. The room was even more disgusting than they’d been led to believe. This is what it would be like to live in someone’s stomach, Bunker thought, slipping her respirator over her mouth. The floor was soft, springy and each footstep left a trail of mucous clinging to their boots. It was hard to see what exactly covered the floor because of the cloying mist but if it were anything like what covered the walls and ceiling, she decided it was better not to know. It looked like a giant had been flensed, the skin turned inside out and used as wallpaper. Yellow-green gunk dripped down the surfaces constantly, spilling unseen onto the floor.
The only feature of the room was the Martian Drop-pod in the center. It was open and a small, empty, alcove inside clearly visible. The pod appeared to be solid metal with organic overtones, with no visible electronics or mechanisms evident. Breaker looked it over once before turning to Slapdash. “Reading anything off this thing?”
Slapdash shook his head. “Nope, no power at all. Thing’s dead, but slightly radioactive Sarge.”
“Allright lets not hang around it then, we move on by the numbers. Mule and Slapdash take point, then Bunker, I’ll cover the r…”
Bunker turned her head towards the CRUNCH of something hitting the security shutters. A microsecond later, blood spattered across the left side of her face as Breaker’s head exploded.
Instinct built over a thousand drills took over. Slapdash and Mule turned towards the direction of fire and unloaded, turning the security shutters and whatever was beyond them into Swiss cheese. Bunker dropped onto her stomach, holding her shotgun over her shoulder to keep it out of the gunk. “G-6! G-6! G-5 is down! Repeat, G-5 is down! Enemy sniper in the vicinity, over!”
“I’m sorry,” a sultry feminine voice came back over the radio, her tone pleasant, “Deadeye isn’t in right now, may I take a message?”
Bunker froze from shock for a split second before cutting the channel off and switching over to Bomber. “G-4, G-6 is down, fire on his position!”
Bomber didn’t have to be told twice. A wave of heat rolled over the three of them from outside as balls of superheated plasma rained down on the building opposite, disintegrating everything nearby in the resultant explosions.
Swooping upward from his run, Bomber looked back over his shoulder at the carnage he left in his wake. A large chunk of the building had been blown away, pieces of molten steel and red-hot shards of glass falling towards the street below. Larger chunks of the upper floors followed along with a cloud of smoke and dust. It gave him a warm glow in the pit of his stomach as he imagined Deadeye’s body atomized among the debris.
As such, he wasn’t watching when a dark streak, moving so fast that it appeared to be nothing but a human-sized blur, struck him from the left with such force that it propelled him towards the target building, his attacker coming along for the ride. Something solid and metallic bashed him where his neck and shoulder met, spinning him around and around. For a moment, he wondered if he’d been struck by a miniature tornado.
They struck the side of the target building, smashing through a glass window without slowing down. The wall opposite held, plaster shattering against Bomber’s back. He found himself staring into red, almost reptilian, eyes a moment before pain exploded from his stomach.
It looked like a girl of about thirteen or fourteen with red hair that matched her eyes and pointed ears. Her skin was alabaster white except for around the eyes where it was purple-black. She wore a simple tight black singlet that left her arms and stomach exposed with low-cut black jeans and bare feet. More importantly, she was wearing Deadeye’s headset. She didn’t need fancy clothes to make herself look good, her body spoke for itself. Which was a strange thing to note considering that her arm was buried into his stomach up to the elbow. She even wore his blood well. Beyond her, on the floor, were the twisted remains of a sniper rifle, also Deadeye’s.
She gave him a smile before pulling his heart out through his abdomen, switching the world off for him.
“G-4! G-4, do you read?” Bunker asked again.
“You know it’s rude to cut someone off like that,” the feminine voice came over Bomber’s channel, “didn’t your mother teach you any manners?”
Slapdash looked over at Mule in a moment of panic. “How the fuck did she get Bomber’s headset? How fast can this bitch move?”
“Pretty fuckin’ fast, it seems,” Mule growled.
There was a sickening tearing sound over the radio, as if someone were chewing on meat. “Mmmm,” the voice moaned, “you boys are such tasty little morsels. All that training is really paying off, my compliments to the chef.”
Mule covered his mouth before he could throw up.
“She’s EATING him?” Slapdash shouted.
“FUCK YOU, BITCH, I’M NOBODY’S FOOD!” Bunker yelled into the headset.
“Oh, there’s no way I’d eat you, cutie,” she cooed back, “I have much more interesting things to do to your body. I get hot just thinking about implanting my young into your soft little womb…”
Blanching, Bunker cut Bomber’s headset off.
“Jesus.” Slapdash breathed.
“Come on,” Mule hefted his machinegun, “we can track Bomber’s signal and put an end to this.”
“No,” Bunker stopped him with a small hand on his chest, “it’s a trap. She’s trying to goad us.”
“I think it’s working pretty fuckin’ well,” Slapdash growled, “but you’re right. I say we pull out, come back with reinforcements. Fuck it, just tell ‘em to nuke this whole block.”
“We’re not pulling out either,” Bunker glared at the devisor, “I don’t know about you two but we came here to do a job and I intend to do it. We still outnumber the bitch three to one…”
“I hate to be the one to point out the obvious but three of our teammates just got greased in so many minutes,” Slapdash muttered.
“She took them on one on one,” Bunker retorted, “if we stick together, she won’t take us so easy. I say we do what we were just about to do and follow that noise. If she’s breeding, it might be some sort of egg chamber. If we hold that ground, we can make her come to us.”
Mule stepped in behind her. “I agree. We keep on going, make this bitch pay.”
Sighing Slapdash shrugged, looking down at Bunker. “It’s a good day to die anyway. Ok, fearless leader, what do we do?”
“Mule first,” Bunker ordered, “me next, Slapdash covers the rear. Move out.”
Confidence restored somewhat, they moved down the hallway the way they’d been trained, checking corners and doors as they passed them. The whole floor seemed to be made up of offices, computers and fax machines covered in the organic coating that was trying to take over the building. Eventually, the hallway opened out into a larger chamber that had probably once housed a plethora of desks. Now it was occupied by pillars of vein-like tentacles that merged with the floor and ceiling. It was almost cave-like with the stalagmites and stalactites that protruded from the floor.
“I thought there’d be eggs,” Slapdash commented over his shoulder, keeping one eye on the rear.
Mule scanned the room slowly, ignoring the columns for a moment. “There’s movement in here. Those things are pulsing… it’s hard to see but you can tell.”
“I’m going to check it out,” Bunker said, “Slapdash, you’re with me. Mule, keep an eye out.”
“Roger,” Mule nodded, turning about and back stepping towards the closest column while Bunker and Slapdash took the lead.
“I can see the hoses pulsing,” Slapdash informed them, “some sort of fluid transfer? Maybe they are eggs after all.”
“Hang on,” Bunker said as she reached out to wipe some of the gunk off the column, “I think I can see…”
The words caught in her throat. The surface of the column was clear similar to green bottle glass. As she cleared more of the gunk away, the form inside became more identifiable. It was a woman, the breasts and curves gave that away, but grossly distended. Her stomach was enormous, easily three feet in diameter, the skin stretched taut until it was translucent, revealing the tentacled thing that pulsed and writhed within her. Organic tubes had been forced down her throat while others emerged from her lower regions, though the view of these was mercifully blocked by her girth.
“Oh my God,” Bunker sank to her knees, trying not to vomit.
“Not eggs,” Slapdash observed with clinical detachment that was at odds with the paleness of his face, “incubators.”
“Bunker,” Mule called to her in level tones, “Bunker, you have to get up. We have to kill this bitch now.”
The mention of killing was enough to bring Bunker’s fire back to full burn. She let the combat shotgun drop to her body by its harness and eased her rocket launcher off of her back with visible intent. She curses and her evident anger was greater than either of her companions had ever seen from her before.
“Woah, girl!” Slapdash grabbed the top of the launcher, stopping her from raising it to her shoulder.
“Don’t call me girl.” Bunker growled at the devisor like a feral animal.
“Ok, Bunker,” Slapdash tried to diffuse her, “you can’t fire that thing in here. You’ll kill us and bring the whole building down around our ears. Here, take this.”
He reached around to his back and unclipped his secondary armament from his armor. It was a grenade launcher, a heavy rotating cylinder attached to the center loaded with eight rounds. She raised one eyebrow as she hefted the weapon. “You call this safer?”
“Than that fucking missile launcher? Absolutely. Just watch your aim, n’est ce pas?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Bunker muttered, “you still got the fuel air grenades?”
Slapdash nodded gravely.
“Throw one behind us, let’s get this bitch’s attention. Mule, on point, move out.”
Entering the next hallway, Slapdash paused to pull the pin from a grenade that could have been mistaken for a hockey puck at long range. “Fire in the hole!” He shouted a moment before flinging the device into the incubation chamber. The gadget was simple and straightforward, mimicked hundreds of times in films and even video games. The ‘puck’ extended tubes from its circumference, spraying flammable gas into the air until the immediate area was thoroughly saturated in under a millisecond. In the next moment, it issued a spark that ignited the gas. The resultant explosion packed more punch than a regular grenade over a wider area in a package much, much, lighter than regular solid fuel could attain.
The room and all its contents vaporized as they continued down the hallway.
Water trickled from overhead pipes, the entire structure weakened by the massive impact of the drop pod. Carpets squelched underfoot as they cleared the offices one by one. Deeper inside the building, there were no lights or windows though the air became more humid and cloying rather than less.
“Guys,” Mule stopped and whispered through his headset, “I think we’ve got another incubation chamber up ahead.”
“Great,” Bunker muttered back, “you know the drill, take and hold.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
It took a second for his refusal to sink into Bunker’s head. “What? Since when did…”
“Don’t you feel it?” He almost gasped. “Look!”
Peering around Mule’s enormous body, Bunker aimed her flashlight down the hallway towards the open door. Several tendrils of organic matter were entwined around the doorframe, signaling the presence of more incubators inside. The room beyond was dark and filled with mist, making visibility poor. The hallway leading up to it had no doors to either side and the ceiling was intact. Water trickled out of the room across the soaked carpet bringing with it a musky stench like wet hair.
“What?” Bunker asked again. “Mule, get it together, standard sweep and clear.”
“I’ve just got this feeling in my gut screaming ‘trap’ at me.”
“You psychic, Mule?”
He stiffened. “Technically, yes.”
“Technically. Did you suddenly manifest Precog abilities sometime in the last hour and just neglected to tell us?”
Mule pursed his lips. “No, ma’am.”
“Then gird your fucking loins and haul your ass down that corridor, now.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He replied, taking a step forward, keeping both eyes on the doorway ahead and the impenetrable veil of mist that concealed the chamber beyond. “I can’t see sh…”
The ceiling caved in directly above him, debris obscuring the shadowy from that reached out from a nest of writhing tentacles. Mule’s last word was strangled off as ropy tendrils enwrapped his neck, torso and arms, plucking him from his feet and lifting him skyward until his head and shoulders disappeared into the hole above, his body hanging like a puppet by the strands. Hot lead and white noise filled the hallway down range as his fingers convulsed on the machinegun’s hair trigger, bullets chewing away concrete until the gun clicked empty only a few seconds later.
Mule’s eyes opened wide as the Demon’s perfect face emerged from the tentacles, the light from his helmet filtering up through the cracks in the false ceiling. She smiled warmly, stroking his face intimately with her black talons.
“Hey, handsome,” she cooed, “how about a kiss?”
With that she plastered her lips to his. Capitalizing on his surprise, two tentacles snaked into his mouth through hers; wedging his jaws open as her tongue slid down his throat.
“Mule!” Bunker screamed as she hit the deck, clearing Slapdash’s line of fire.
The Devisor whipped his machinegun around over her head but could only growl with frustration. “No shot! I’ve got no shot!”
Mule’s body tensed for a moment, and then went suddenly still.
“Wha…” Bunker didn’t get time to finish. Blood showered the hallway as Mule was ripped apart from the inside, leaving pieces of bloody flesh scattered all over the floor. Both Grunts flinched involuntarily, as Slapdash’s freaking as his visor was covered in gore.
“SHIT!” Slapdash shouted, squeezing the trigger blindly, adding to the carnage in the room by ripping away the false ceiling.
But Sara was already on the ground, having dropped with the bloody pieces of Mule in front of Bunker. “Hey, cutie, thanks for dropping by.” The demon greeted her wickedly even as she hauled Bunker to her feet with one hand, spinning her about until she was wedged into a headlock, one hand covering the girl’s mouth.
Bunker screamed which, muffled though it was, caught Slapdash’s attention though their headsets. He let go of the trigger, the red-hot barrel of his weapon steaming despite the heat in the air. Jerking his blood-coated helmet off, he screamed, “BITCH! LET HER GO!”
“Whoops,” Sara grinned devilishly, “I think I’ve struck a nerve. Poor little Slapdash has been holding a torch for his teammate since the two of you met, haven’t you? Slinking off to bed after each mission, eager to tug the old Johnson…”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
“Oooh! Such language! Face it dear boy, you aren’t man enough to put a bullet in her now. Maybe the basis of her attraction is that she has a bigger weapon than you do? Have you ever thought of that? Slapdash, put down the fucking gun or I’ll do her while you watch.” A tentacle slid around from Sara’s back and snapped the webbing that held Bunker’s armor closed, and then it obscenely revealed the BDU top that was under it, “Well?”
He lifted the gun up to his shoulder, taking a tighter grip on it. “Bunker would rather die. FOG OF WAR, CHICA, NOW!”
There was a pause as utter silence followed. As the three stood in the hallway, the only sound was the steady drip of distant water.
“Bunker?” asked Slapdash as his voice implored the captive girl.
“Oh, she’s doing it dear,” Sara chuckled, “it’s just not working on little old me. You think insanity is a weapon against the insane? Or maybe she’s not doing it. Hmmm… you know, I think she just might prefer me over you, what do you think, Bunker dear?”
A sudden shake of Bunker’s hands made Slapdash acutely aware that she was still clutching his grenade launcher. Slowly, shaking and rattling with each movement, Bunker’s arm hefted the barrel of the gun towards him. Her eyes were wide, staring into his with utter horror.
“Bunker, no! Fight it!” Slapdash shouted.
“Oh, yes, fight it Bunker,” Sara said mockingly with her face next to her ear, “make your choice. Me or him.”
The grenade launcher lurched upward, her finger already squeezing the trigger.
“Well, Slapdash,” Sara addressed him with a pitying smile, “can you shoot her? Go ahead and save her, one way or the other…”
Sara watched as his finger trembled over the trigger, his muscles cramped tight. His whole body was frozen under the powered armor, clogged with indecision, his warring impulses rendering the boy impotent. “Go on,” the demon said as her tongue darted into Bunker’s ear, “prove you love me.”
Bunker pulled the trigger.
Slapdash’s helmet was thrown away as his body was torn apart by the explosion. Laughing, Sara’s shielded both girls from the shrapnel with a wall of tentacles. The remnants of the dismembered corpse that remained were unrecognizable, the blackened, twisted, flesh fused with molten metal and smoldering Kevlar.
“That’s my girl,” Sara congratulated her captive, removing her hand and the tentacle that had intruded into her body through the soldier’s mouth. Several other tentacles were well and truly ensconced in Bunker’s brain already, maintaining the demon’s mental control over her body. The girl’s mind was screaming futilely as Sara slid her fingers under her fatigues, caressing her stomach.
“I told you, your soft little womb was mine,” Sara whispered as she pulled the girl in closer for a kiss, “lights out darling…”
The world went black for Bunker as she tried to scream.
Bunker lurched to her feet and immediately bent over to puke on the floor as the simulation shut down. The Virtual Simulated Sense Environment, VSSE or ‘Sims’ for short, was so realistic that she could still taste the demon’s tongue in her mouth, sweet honey-like saliva more tempting than chocolate.
“Hello, Bunker,” the computer’s soothing feminine voice greeted her, “welcome back to Monday, November thirteen, two-thousand and six. It is now nine-thirty-seven AM.”
The announcement was supposed to help re-orient visitors to the virtual realms back into the real world. It worked for the most part. Originally, the computer had also said ‘I hope you had a beneficial learning experience’, which had been amended to ‘have a nice day’ before being removed altogether. It saved on the cost of replacing the speakers.
“You ok Bunker?”
She recognized Deadeye’s voice as he eased the headset from over her eyes. Looking up, she noticed that he seemed a little green himself. “I’ll… no… but I will be…”
“Well look at your sorry butts,” Bardue scowled as he stormed into the room with Sara Waite following quietly behind. He gave each of the Grunts, all of whom were scattered around the room looking sick, the evil eye. “And here I was thinking I was training you girls to be PROFESSIONALS. Eric Mahren is rolling over IN HIS GRAVE!”
They all looked down towards the floor, except for Bomber whose glare was exclusively Sara Waite’s. “She cheated.”
Bardue slowly turned to Bomber and then blinked as if his ears had just deceived him, his voice turning nasal as his disgust crawled out onto his face. “She what?” he asked the boy who winced under the weight of his drill sergeant’s expression.
“She cheated. I saturated Deadeye’s position with superheated plasma. Any matter within the area of effect should have been vaporized. I know she can’t teleport, so…”
“She wasn’t there, you idiot!” Bardue shouted as he cut the boy off. “She did Breaker and lit out immediately, knowing your response. She faked you out, making her the better killer, beatlehead!”
Bomber blinked, going a deeper shade of green. One hand strayed to his abdomen, where he’d felt his heart exit his body only minutes before.
“DEADEYE,” the sergeant rounded on the team’s leader, “what the fuck happened to you?”
“She was waiting for me,” the sniper glared at the goth girl who smiled at him in return, “I checked my perimeter and everything. However… she was already there.”
Sara shrugged indifferently then spoke coolly, “I know sniping. There are only so many optimal fire positions, particularly in dense urban areas. In that location, I simply picked the one I would have used and then set an ambush.”
“But,” Bardue interrupted, “if you’d had half a brain or some decent close combat skills, you could have called in a warning moments before you ate it. Instead, your lack of leadership got three team members dead and completely broke the chain of command. Breaker, since when was it your job started to entail sitting back and letting your CO make cluster-fuck after cluster-fuck error?”
Breaker blanched as Bardue focused his ire on him, “I thought the plan was sound, sir.”
“Thought? YOU THOUGHT?!? No, you didn’t think, lead for brains. If you’d been thinking it might have occurred to you that you were facing a hostile enemy on their own ground, with plenty of time to prepare for your arrival, and that splitting up might not have been the brightest fucking idea.”
“It was only one projected hostile,” Breaker argued, “an alien, just one thing, that is. We had numbers on our side…”
“What are the basic types of mutant infantry?” Bardue shot back at him.
Blinking, Breaker tried to summon up the words from the textbook into his memory. “Bricks, Blasters, Movers… uh… Brains and…”
“Wild Cards,” Bardue finished for him. “Bricks: tougher than shit, stronger than fuck. Blasters: Walking artillery. Movers: Anyone who can get from here to there faster than you can. Brains: Mages, Psychics, Gadgeteers or Devisors, or anyone who can fuck up your day by being smarter, more imaginative and more inventive than you, with what they’ve got handy. And Wild Cards: Two or more of the above mixed into an unholy union of ass rape. No offence.”
“None taken,” Sara replied in droll deadpan.
“You know Carmilla and she knows the Grunts. You know she’s a psychic; a regenerator and can boost her physical skills at will. What category does she fit in?”
“Wild Card,” Breaker murmured as his face colored in shame.
“And you didn’t say a goddamn thing.” Bardue snorted in disgust. Slowly, his eyes swiveled over toward the last three. Bunker, Mule and Slapdash stared back. “And without their leadership, she played the rest of you like a bloody violin. Mule. What is the key interior SOP for Military Operations in Urban Terrain?”
“Check the ceilings,” he sighed as his shoulders slumped.
“Yeah, and the remnants of your team died because you fucked up one little detail. You were so intent on something coming at you from the front or flanks, that you forgot to look up. I actually held the hope that you had her for a moment.” Bardue shook his head in disgust, “But you screwed the pooch.”
Pointedly looking at the team’s girl member he sighed in disgust, “Bunker… I thought you were keeping the team together. A couple of whispered threats later and a bit of psychological warfare and you’re falling apart on your teammates. What the fuck happened?”
Bunker shook her head, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“The offer to rape you still stands cutie,” Sara cooed wickedly, giving Bunker her best bedroom eyes as she did so.
“FUCKING BITCH I’LL KILL HER!” Bunker roared as her face flushed.
Deadeye had grabbed Bunker before she could get completely to her feet but Mule had to step in to keep her under control. Bunker stood there furiously reaching for Sara as if she were trying to telekinetically scratch the other girl’s eyes out.
Sara nodded mockingly, “Just as I thought, I hit a nerve.” Stepping forward, the demon princess slapped the hysterical girl across the cheek. The crack of skin striking skin echoed through the bare room, stunning everyone into silence. “You think the enemy is going to play nice, Bunker? Do you think a rogue psychic is going to stop short of using your mind or body for his own sick pleasure?”
“You raped me!” she said with a shiver of disgust.
“In a way and only in your head, so metaphorically speaking; yes I did,” Sara reluctantly admitted. “For your own good. In the simulation I did my fucking best to scare the shit out of you. Because scared little girls keep looking for a daddy to keep them safe, it makes them easier targets. If you can’t handle that, if you can’t keep it together, you don’t belong on the field.”
Bunker glared back at her until Bardue stepped into the demon’s place, meeting her eyes with even greater intensity. “Boys,” the sergeant ordered, “let her go.”
The Grunt’s only girl hung her head as Bardue continued to stare her down, making is point without words. After a few moments, he turned to Slapdash. “Why didn’t you pull the fucking trigger?”
He glanced at Bunker for a moment before responding, “I couldn’t.”
Deadeye looked over to Sara, who wasn’t looking at them any more. “What you said… is it…”
“BELAY THAT QUESTION, SOLDIER!” Bardue shouted. “This isn’t the time or place. Besides, if he really loved her, he would have used the fucking flamethrower. Now get out of here, I want a one thousand word essay on this simulation by tomorrow morning. We’re going to go over it, girls, until your fingers bleed from the paper cuts and your eyes cloud over just so you won’t have to watch the video ever again. Now get the fuck out of my sight.”
Disgruntled, the Grunts slunk off quietly, each gravely introspective. Slapdash waited until last, stopping next to Sara on his way out, “What you said…”
“I can smell it,” Sara answered him, “I can feel it. Don’t be surprised if others, especially empaths pick up on it or if the very obsvervant do as well. I can see the little glances you cast in her direction, how your body tenses when she speaks your name. I took everything I knew about you, could feel from you and I twisted it around until I could use it as a weapon against you.”
She paused and waited for him to nod, “Of all the Grunts, you were the least threatening even with the powered armor. Because you are the one person in your team that is least likely to kill one of your own comrades just to win a fight. Either way you chose, I had you by the short and curlies.”
Slowly he nodded, “Was there any way to save her, in the simulation?”
She shook her head and looked him directly in the eyes, “Sometimes there are no good options. You could have killed all three of us and brought me to a draw but you were caught between how you feel for Bunker and trying to use your brain to work out a better solution. Sometimes, regrettably, you have to sacrifice yourself or others to keep the world safe.”
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “Thanks for answering me. The others might be a little distracted right now, but congratulations on your victory.”
Sara nodded to him and he left.
“They are good kids,” Sara said as she looked over to Bardue once the door had slid shut.
Turning around, the old soldier wiped his eyes. “The best. Almost a damn shame to torture them like that but…”
“It’ll keep them alive in the real thing, when it will really count,” Sara finished for him. “So who are our next victims?”
Bardue picked up a clipboard and checked his logs, a smile slowly creeping across his face. Clicking on his intercom, he addressed his assistant for the day. “Martha? Please send in Stormwolf and the Betas in about five minutes, please. I’ll need some time to wipe the evil grin off my face.”
“So is it Elm Street this time or more Geigeresque nightmares?” Sara asked with a knowing grin.
Chuckling devilishly, Bardue produced a coin and then flipped it up into the air, “Call it…”