Feeling a soft warm body press against her leg, Master Sergeant Kat “Reaper” Bacque reached down and absently petted the black dog that had adopted her and Corporal Obara “Ghost” Yoson. Her eyes remained fixed on the communal area the hall emptied into. It was massive. Easily a million square feet. Ghost or Hatchet would know the exact measurements but she didn’t feel like asking—Ghost. Asking Hatchet wasn’t a choice at the moment; and it didn’t really matter. At a little more than or less than a million square feet there was an awful lot of open space and hiding spots for any remaining Yosem Mirs or their sympathizers.
“Fucking grims could be out there,” she muttered. The dog wasn’t excited so maybe there were none nearby. Maybe there was a entire army ten feet away. Who the fuck knew? Not her. This whole fubar scenario with losing almost all her team, the grims, the grims and their relationship with dogs was…fluid.
“Wonder how many grims are out there,” Ghost commented.
From her peripheral she caught him squatting to pet the dog. Strapped across his chest and resting on his back was the pulse cannon they had acquired through a tense shopping experience that culminated with an entire Yosem Mir cell dead. The weapon was a two-hander to her and he had it across his back like it was a standard issued rifle. Fucking dick.
“I was just thinking that,” she said.
There was a lot of vegetation in this communal area and the other seventeen in the arcology. The uneducated may have thought the trees there to help scrub the air made disgusting by a million people living on top of each other, on top of the pleasant ambiance they added. The uneducated would be wrong. While there had to be twenty or so mature live oaks in each communal area and hundreds of bushes, there simply were not enough plants to make a difference in air quality which was now the elephant in the room.
Engineering had never been a strong suit for Reaper, but she knew oxygen generators needed a power source to function. She also knew that backup power was finite. What she didn’t know; what Ghost, the only Black Dragon she could talk to, didn’t know was just how long the backup power would function. Even though everyone seemed to be in hiding, at least those who were not Sympathizers, it still meant there were a shit lot o’ people breathing in oxygen in a building on a planet that had practically no atmosphere. Thus, no oxygen.
“I also want to know why there are so many Sympathizers,” Ghost added. “Four levels now and each has been full of the fuck faces.”
Reaper shrugged. “We always knew intel was going to be a little off on this place.” She gestured absently in front of her. “Everybody in this goddamn hell hole hates Trinity.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Ghost stood, towering a foot over Reaper. “Trinity government shits all over everybody who isn’t making them money and shit like that. Still don’t explain why so many Symps here.”
“Probably why we were brought in to close up shop.”
“Speaking of closing. How’s the arm?”
Reaper looked down at the arm immobilized against her side. It was shredded. From shoulder down, the black shirt was missing along with a good portion of skin and muscle. The exoskeleton, made of some sort of graphene polymer and was sinfully strong, was mangled. It looked like a stick of wax had been softened, wrapped around the arm and then cooled.
“Right as rain and I don’t need another fucking injection.” She shoved him with her right arm, the good arm. “Stop hovering like a goddamn momma hen. You’re worse than my mother.”
“Well.” The words died on Corporal Obara “Ghost” Yoson’s lips. As one, both he and Reaper looked down at the black dog. Shoulder coming to her hip, it looked like a black lab with the musculature of a racehorse. Queen had called it a Hoisin Hybrid, before paths had diverged. Whatever the breed, the thing was fucking pissed. Hackles up, tail down, and lips pulled back revealing fangs that were downright scary; and she’d fight anyone who had a problem with her acknowledging that.
“That pulse-,” she glanced down as the dog started making a growling sound that mimicked the concussions of large artillery, “cannon can light that oaks on fire. I want them all roasting.”
“Which way we going?” Ghost pulled the gun metal gray cannon from his back. It was reminiscent of the ancient Browning .50cal, only it had a 3 inch wide barrel and the stock was 14” in diameter to hold the fuel cell. Reaper knew from practice on the range that the thing was twice as heavy as her. Even taking into account the exoskeleton it was a bit awe inspiring the ease of maneuvering he displayed.
She looked down at the mangled arm and then back at him.
“Oh yeah,” he winked, “you lost our sat comms link.”
“One arm or not, I can still kick the shit out of you.”
Ghost grinned and then rolled his shoulders as the cannon settled in his grip.
“Just follow the fucking dog.”
“Good i-.” The rest of the word was lost in a roar of sound and light. The five foot long cannon let loose a torrent of silvery hellfire that vaporized a line through the trunk of the closest tree. The line traced its way right, zig-zagging a bit as Ghost adjusted his grip. Thunderous sound and ozone filled the air. Heat buffeted the duo and canine. Flames danced shadows around the cavernous space. And then the thunder ceased along with a considerable amount of light.
“Fuck yeah!” Ghost yelled over the sound of boiling water exploding from trees and massive branches falling.
Reaper just shook her head. It was no longer a wonder why Trinity banned the weapons. It would’ve taken missiles, plural, to cause the same devastation. The heat was unbelievably oppressive, stealing the breath from her lungs and burning the breath that went in. It was probably just four trees that Ghost ignited, but that was quickly spreading and—she arched an eyebrow and looked around. The fire suppression system wasn’t kicking in. Oh yeah, no power. Then as if her thoughts were magic, overhead lighting kicked on and a claxon shrilled.
“It’s gonna get messy in here,” Ghost yelled and pointed toward the ceiling.
“Snow?” There was so much white falling, drifting on the thermals of burning vegetation and reinforced concrete. A surreal beauty in a hellish landscape.
He shook his head. “Oxygen eating foam.”
Master Sergeant Kat “Reaper” Bacque brought her eyes down from the falling death to the bonfire in front of her. It was like she was suddenly encased in gel with weights on her hand. She shivered from a chill that belied the heat. Raising her hand to point at the voids of light moving through fire that the flames didn’t even reflect off, an overpowering desire to run washed over from head to toe, followed by a fucking bullshit realization.
What the fuck? Scared? “Scared?” she said aloud. The Hoisin Hybrid canine next to her started to stalk toward the flames. Ghost just stared. “Scared!” She roared. “You motherfuckers have no fucking clue who you are fucking with!”
With a scream of rage, Reaper yanked her Stallion Black sidearm from its holster and ripped off six shots. Missing with all of them. The grims were just too fast. It just wasn’t natural.
“Fuck you!” She glanced at Ghost and then jammed the Stallion Black back into the holster. She then punched the terror frozen Corporal in the back before yanking the pulse cannon from him. “Grab the fucking dog!”
Powered by rage, for fuck those motherfucking things fucking thinking they could fucking scare her, she spun once and flung the three hundred pound pulse cannon like a discuss into the raging inferno. That got Corporal “Ghost” Yoson moving. Like the dog were a puppy, Ghost scooped it with one arm and then ran with Reaper. Away from the fire.
“We just came from this way,” Ghost yelled.
“There’s a lot of Symps this way!”
“Shut the fu-.” Reaper bit the tip of her tongue off as the concussion wave punched them like a hundred cars.
Her first thought was good thing the syringes are in my front pocket. Then, fuck you Ms. Stevens. I can fly without wings; and then, shit. Reaper bounced off a pylon into a flat spin, boots cracking against Ghost’s head. Red and a few little flecks of white spewed from his mouth, the dog fell from nonsensical arms, and then Reaper crashed onto her bad arm.
Contorting in agony, Reaper slid on wet ground, eventually coming to a stop. Breath coming in gasps, bum arm twitching like mad, and vision getting hazy she moved on instinct and hardened training. Her good arm groped around her chest until coming in contact with a tubular piece of graphene-titanium alloy. She then pulled the syringe from the pocket and dropped it. It clattered and rolled to a stop next to something. Reaper grabbed for it. She felt something soft and then something hard. Wrapping her fingers around the hard object, her arm moved as if possessed, snapping up and then down. Just as the blunt end of the syringe slammed against skin and bone, the needle snapped out, sliding through bone like butter and into her heart. Instantaneous…less agony. No fucking way this is what relief feels like.
“At least I don’t feel like I’ve fallen through Death’s door,” she said aloud.
She slowly craned her neck in the direction of the speaker. “Goddamnit.”
Underfed, under-clothed, too much facial hair, and holding a machete the Symp looked like a cave dweller who just made human contact after forgetting what people looked like. Beady brown eyes roamed her body. He licked his lips and then grabbed at his tiny dick.
Reaper touched her holster or where there used to be a holster. She turned the touch into a leg rub and then winked at Tiny Dick. His mind couldn’t have even registered the wink for that dog came out of nowhere. It was Reaper just a few seconds from castrating a fuck face with his own machete; and then it was the machete clanging on the ground and the dog tossing half of Tiny Dick’s neck into the air.
“Christ Almighty,” she whispered. The machete was still quivering to stillness as the dog walked away from the newly made corpse. Reaper ran it over in her mind. Nope. Fuck that. Better to just thank the dog and move on.
The dog looked over to its left. Shit, even the muscles in its face rippled as it moved. Reaper followed the gaze and gave Ghost a dip of her chin. Damn did his face look bad. There was a hole in his right cheek and it looked like his right ear may have been partially ripped free. Blood ran a waterfall from his head, thought it was slowing as she watched the hole stitch itself closed. She snorted. Modern medicine.
“Help me up will ya?” Reaper asked.
Ghost shook his head a bit and then gave her a nod as he walked over. “Hoisin Hybrid, she called it?”
For as strong as he was, he was surprisingly gentle in helping her up. “Hoisin Hybrid.”
“We should name it.”
She shook her head. “We should keep moving. We need to find a palmlet, and I no longer give a shit about entering a dwelling without receiving permission.”
Ghost shrugged and then picked up the machete. He handed it to her and then held up his hands. “Your guess in a direction is as good as mine, Master Sarge. Where to.”
Reaper slowly looked up and down the corridor. About fifty feet wide, it appeared to be a people filler for the concourse they had just tried destroying. A body, missing its entire right side, lay a few feet away. The soft thing she touched while searching for the syringe. She let out a sigh at the sight of it. Symps didn’t do that, nor did anyone belonging to any Yosem Mir terror cells that may still have been functioning inside Olympus Mons Arcology.
She cleared her throat and then blinked away smoke stinging her eyes. Just then the power cut, plunging the corridor into darkness. Reaper counted to three before the three emergency lights in the corridor came on. Either the failsafe backup power supplies were failing or wires were being severed. Whatever the reason, it didn’t sit right.
“That way,” she pointed in the direction of the concourse, “between the inferno remnants and the foam is a death sentence. We have to go back the way we came.”
“Six one way, half dozen the other,” he muttered.
“Keep your fucking comments to yourself Corporal. You’re a Black Dragon. Act like it.” She started walking, feeling more than a little glad that horse of a fucking dog fell into step with her.
Ghost flinched at the comment as if she had slapped him. Served him right. He shouldn’t have pointed out the obvious. That was an officer’s job.