By David O’Hanlon
The 1st Space Battalion’s Orbital Ranger Company, or ORCs, had two platoons aboard the Low Orbit Tactical Operations Center. Their powered exoskeletons were mounted to hard points on formfitting jumpsuits which served as an extra layer of protection against burns, cuts, and abrasions beyond the ballistic protection of the armor plates attached to the skeletons which allowed the ORCs to carry more than a regular soldier.
And they utilized that ability to its fullest. Altogether, an ORC platoon carried more firepower than an infantry company. And they needed it, as they were often on the ground hours, or even days, before reinforcements could arrive.
Captain Palmer Bagwell stood before the twelve soldiers of Charlie platoon, every one of them tooled up and ready to deploy. He walked the line and inspected their loadout as he addressed them.
“Twenty-eight minutes ago, an unidentified space-borne object approximately ninety to one hundred meters wide impacted in central Arkansas. We are to deploy and secure the impact site. Once on the ground, we will assess the environment for investigative assets. We will identify potential threats and secure a perimeter around the point of impact and then, only then, will we begin a sweep for survivors.
“Initial estimates based off of mushroom cloud height, speed, mass, and blast radius put the force at approximately one and a quarter megatons. That’s almost twice that of the Pyongyang detonation and some of you can attest to the damage that did, so hopes are not high inside the first three miles. The airburst alone will have produced wind speeds of well over two hundred kilometers per hour and enough overpressure to flatten most residentials. We’re looking at seismic activity in the neighborhood of a six on the Richter scale. No thermal damage is expected due to estimated impact velocity, but that doesn’t mean this thing didn’t bring plenty of nastiness from wherever the hell it came from, so bring your bucket and keep airtight.
“The dust cloud it kicked up is screwing with comms and SATINT, so we’re going in blind and won’t be able to talk to the LOTOC, or probably anyone else. We’re not expecting any problems, but we’re going heavy just to be sure. Again, this object was of unknown origin. While it was more than likely a natural occurrence, we cannot assume someone won’t take advantage of the gaping blind spot in our security or the ensuing chaos that’s more than likely already spread across the country. With annexation of NoMex last month, we’ve been seeing a lot of nut pumping from the Federation. This might be just what they’ve been waiting for. Hit the ship, we drop in five!”
The drop was rough, but it always was. Essentially, the LOTOC’s dropships did exactly what the name implied. They dropped from the base of the station and relied on gravity for their acceleration. Small jets fired to correct path and angle of descent, allowing the craft to either glide to its target or to flatten out and “take off” just inside the atmosphere. They could be anywhere in the world in a couple of hours or even mere minutes.
The dust cloud was considerable given the size of the object. The thirteen Rangers occupied the cargo area at the underside of the ship’s aft. It was really nothing more than a densely packed metal box with jump seats mounted to the walls. Below their seat, their pack was locked in place and beside them, their primary weapon allowing them to move as soon as they hit the ground. The ship’s turbulent drop from the upper atmosphere leveled out as the pilots brought them onto target.
Eighteen minutes after their initial departure from the LOTOC, the ORCs were landing in what was left of Little Rock. The ramp came down, and the Rangers charged out, weapons up, and tried to maintain their composure at the sight before them. A massive crater spanned over three hundred meters across and at least five hundred deep. Around it, the buildings had been reduced to rubble by the impact. Fires blazed in the distance, and the acrid smoke of the burning structures was engulfing the midday sky. The sounds of wailing sirens and collapsing of buildings surrounded them. The roaring boom and pillar of fire from an exploding gas line drew the ORCs attention to the north.
Bravo team split up into two groups of three and began working around the perimeter of the crater. The exoskeletons were lined with sensors that assessed the air for contaminants. At the moment, they were reading off the charts. The pulverized buildings threw up particles of asbestos and fiberglass, wood burned, plastics melted, utility lines oozed natural gas and sewage. The team kept their masks on and brought out more sophisticated equipment for testing the air and soil for radiological or viral threats.
“Bravo team,” Palmer’s voice sounded inside the soldiers’ helmets. “The area will have to be monitored until all this shit settles. I want you all to stay here while I take Alpha to look for survivors. We’ll radio back in two-hour increments. VLF transmissions should remain functional. We’re going to move northwest towards the river. As soon as you regain contact with LOTOC I want to hear about it. Alpha, let’s move out.”
Lost among the burning ejecta and chunks of asphalt, beneath the settling dust, the team didn’t see the claw marks at the edge of the crater.
The satellites showed nothing but smoke and dust over a ten-mile radius around the unknown object’s impact. Feeds from the rest of the country showed the situation was far from better elsewhere. The nation was in an absolute panic. Radio chatter was non-stop as the military and law enforcement tried to coordinate their efforts. The civilian channels were full of claims that a nuclear attack had finally happened. Millions were in the streets preaching that it was the End Times. Freeways were packed. Looting and riots choked major cities. And Colonel Alexander Jameson was there to watch it all, helplessly, a hundred miles above the Earth he was sworn to protect.
“Activate all ORCs, I want them ready for deployment in fifteen! Guard units are being overrun in Chicago, so we’ll start there. Get Lieutenant Chandler up here, his PJs need to be ready to move in case Palmer and his team need evac.” Jameson watched as the control room swarmed with junior officers trying to process the data and relay it to the correct locations. “We’re initializing Prometheus protocol, start system checks now.”
“Prometheus, sir? We haven’t received the order,” a Warrant Officer said.
“Well when we do, I want us ready to act, not blowing dust off the damn thing. This isn’t going to end well and every second is going to be crucial. Start system diagnosis, now.” Jameson turned back to the monitors and watched his country turn into a warzone.
He didn’t have to look at the feeds to know that the rest of the world was falling apart as well. Years of combat had given him a sixth sense about how just how bad a situation could get and at that moment he knew that this was just the beginning of something much worse.
They’d been walking for almost ten minutes when the point man, Cromartie, picked up multiple heartbeats on his Personal Display Unit. He slowed his march and watched the unit carefully and then looked out in the direction that it indicated. The blips on his screen were in a tight cluster, thirty meters in front of him. A large fissure in the road led to a massive hole in the middle of the street. Cromartie moved forward cautiously, sliding between abandoned cars and looking over the edge of the hole. He pulled up a shoulder-mounted searchlight and illuminated the abyss below.
The road had collapsed into the subway tunnels taking several cars and a city bus down with it. Cromartie stepped off of the edge and landed on the roof of one of the cars. The bus had come down on its nose before flipping over and now sat upside and at an angle. Cromartie saw the faces of the survivors pressed against the glass as they called for help. He grabbed the bent bus door and pulled with the extra strength afforded him by his exoskeleton, ripping it free from the frame. He stepped inside the bus and took a headcount.
Two of the ORCs, Sandow and Peterson, lowered themselves into the hole to help with the eleven survivors. Bagwell tried to radio the LOTOC, but there was still too much interference to get a clear transmission. Corporals Del Carmen and Wexler pulled the healthier survivors out first before trying to retrieve the wounded. Oluwo, the team’s sniper had mounted the roof of a truck and used his digital scope to scan the perimeter.
One of the survivors, a black woman in a blood-soaked pantsuit, stepped towards Bagwell. “Are you in charge?”
“Yes ma’am. I’m Captain Palmer Bagwell, UM 1st Space Battalion. We’re going to get you someplace safe.”
“Maxine Glover.” She extended a hand as she introduced herself. “You’re not extracting us?”
“No ma’am, not yet. We’re having difficulties establishing contact with our superiors. We’re going to find a safe place to hold up until then.”
“I’d recommend the fire station then. It’s only about seven blocks from here and they’ll have food and medical supplies. You can coordinate your search and rescue efforts from there.”
Bagwell eyed her suspiciously. “What exactly do you do, Ms. Glover?”
“Nowadays I’m a lawyer.” She grinned.
“They trust us with state of the art combat suits, robotic exoskeletons, prototype rifles, and a then they give us a goddamn radio off the Wal-Mart clearance aisle,” Sergeant Harker bellowed as he received yet another garbled and broken transmission from Colonel Jameson.
Bravo team had finished taking their samples and were trying to relay the analysis back to the eggheads at the LOTOC. Harker and his engineer, Danvers were monitoring the crater while the other four ORCs ventured off into the blast zone trying in vain to find survivors.
“This shit reminds me of Damascus. No contact, no movement, can’t see shit. The only thing missing is a regiment of pissed off bad guys,” Harker said.
“Night’s still young, Top.” Danvers knelt down to examine something in the settled dust.
“Don’t think there’s a lot—” The radio interrupted him.
“I’ve got movement! Looked like a kid maybe,” Corporal Blake said.
Harker couldn’t see her through the swirling dust.
Blake checked her PDU for a heartbeat. A tiny flashing heart icon appeared showing a rate of sixty-eight beats per minute. “Cox, converge on me.”
Private First Class Cox ran towards Blake’s location. A scream cut the air behind him and his boots slide in the rubble as he rushed to a stop. “The hell was that?”
“McGraw, check in,” Harker radioed.
“Goddamn it, does anyone have eyes on McGraw? Mitchell, what about you?”
“Negative sir, I got nothing. Heading to his last.” Mitchell ran as hard as the exoskeleton would allow and then jumped, launching himself over twenty meters before landing and repeating the process. The hopping method allowed the ORCs to cover massive distances with little fatigue.
Cox continued working his way through the wreckage towards Blake. Not much was left in the area. He jumped over a pile of rubble and came down on an overturned vehicle. He stepped off and saw the tracks in the dirt. “I got tracks. Blake, where’s the kid?”
He bent over to inspect them closer under the light from his MTR. The low growl was almost inaudible with the sounds of destruction echoing throughout the city. His legs were jerked out from under him. His face mask cracked against the concrete and the exoskeleton sparked as he disappeared inside the toppled vehicle.
He didn’t have time to scream.
“Jesus Christ! McGraw’s down,” Mitchell’s voice said across their earpieces. I got—” The transmission ended and gunfire filled the air. Blake’s PDU pinged as another heartbeat was detected. And then another. And a fourth. She spotted the kid moving through the stirring dust and started towards it. She switched the PDU over to motion tracking and watched as the little red blips moved closer to her. She saw the kid moving closer.
Then she realized it wasn’t a kid at all.
Blake’s scream pierced Harker’s ear and tapered off to a gurgle. He and Danvers bounded to Mitchell’s location. They found the corporal in two separate places and McGraw’s headless body sprawled out in between. Their killer was nowhere to be seen, but around him and Danvers growls and hisses began. Shadows moved through the dust. He opened fire with the big .50 caliber machine gun.
Danvers pulled out his grenade launcher and fired a flare into the sky. A demoniac red glow reflected off of the dust and turned the area into a hellscape not meant for mortal eyes. He saw the killers, but there was nothing he could do. He was driven to the ground under their weight and felt the claws rend his flesh. He lashed out at his attackers trying to knock them away from him. Harker came down a few feet away.
Claws and blood.
That’s all he could see.
The fire station was locked down, but it only took a moment for Cromartie to bypass the security and get the people inside. The team’s medic, Del Carmen, made her way to the station’s medical lock up and acquired the supplies she needed. All the ORCs had basic medical training so Wexler, one of the team’s machine gunners, assisted with the treatment. Sandow and Peterson prepared and distributed MRE’s to the survivors while Oluwo established overwatch on the station’s roof. Bagwell, Cromartie, and Maxine Glover gathered around a city map to plan out the team’s next move.
“We’re here.” Maxine pointed at the map. “Most of the area is commercial, lots of newer construction, but there are a few apartment buildings spread throughout. Given the time of impact, there shouldn’t be a lot of people stuck in the businesses, but there could be a lot of commuters trapped in their vehicles. Your closest residential is here. It’s an old building, probably should have been condemned years ago, honestly.”
Cromartie set the coordinates into his PDU. “Want me to recon it, Captain?”
“Negative, we move together. Grab some grub and help everyone that can move to the bunks upstairs. We don’t know when the emergency vehicles will be returning. Or if they will. Shit sounds pretty bad out there.”
“Yes, sir.” Cromartie snapped a quick salute and joined the other Rangers.
Eight of the eleven survivors were in the bunks upstairs, most of them sedated. Two were too badly injured to risk moving any further than they already had and were left downstairs. Maxine guarded the group while the Rangers went out on patrol. She busied herself taking inventory of supplies. She didn’t know if they would be at the fire station long, but she couldn’t sit still either. Like the ORCs, she was used to being in action, being on the move. She checked the kitchen and took note of the food. The electricity was out, so she focused on the nonperishables. The pages of her notepad blew in the breeze. Her eyes scanned up the wall to a shattered window.
Brayden, a boy that had been trapped in the bus with her, came around the corner. He was twelve and slightly built, his sandy hair was caked with blood. “There’s a lot of cool stuff here. Think the firefighters will be mad about us using it?”
“No, they’d want us to use it. They want to help as many people as they can and right now there are a lot more people needing help than they can get to. Anyone that can assist should, so they’ll probably be quite happy about Captain Bagwell and his team using it to help us.”
“The thing that hit the city, it was an asteroid or something right?”
“It might have been,” she said.
“An asteroid killed all the dinosaurs. Do you think this will kill all the humans?”
“That one was a lot bigger, baby.”
“We’re a lot smaller.”
The building had partially collapsed on its street-facing side. A sheet hung from the edge of a shattered floor with “Help Us” scrawled in shoe polish. Bagwell used his onboard PA system to call out for survivors. A middle-aged man came to the edge and called back down announcing six survivors in the apartment with him. Water cascaded over the artificial cliff face from the busted water lines. A small fire burned in one of the apartments and the shattered bodies of residents lay amongst the rubble. Supports creaked and groaned as the building threatened to collapse.
Bagwell turned to his team and started barking commands. “Del Carmen, Peterson! Ninja up there and check the status on the survivors. Cromartie! Enter the building through the ledge on the second floor and give me a detailed scan of the lower levels. I want to know how long we have until this thing comes down. Oluwo, take Sandow and Wexler and start checking these cars for wounded. Fifty yards, each direction. Let’s go people. You should be moving already!”
Del Carmen ran towards the building and leapt at it, grabbing a ledge on the second floor. Peterson ran behind her and jumped up, grabbing her exoskeleton and using her pack to spring to a living room on the third story. She pushed off of the wall and jumped to meet him. Peterson knelt and let her jump off of his shoulder, standing as she leapt up to give her an extra boost and then jumping up to grab her legs as she dangled from the edge and used her as a ladder to the next floor. They repeated the process, using one another to climb, jump, and pull themselves to the ninth floor where the survivors met them just seventy-eight seconds later.
“Sir, the building is FUBAR,” Cromartie said over the comm unit.
“That your scientific opinion?” Bagwell asked
“Sir, there ain’t enough time in the day to tell you how fucked this building is. Looks like it wasn’t that stable to begin with. Structural integrity is, best guess, about forty percent. Got maybe a half dozen heartbeats up to the fourth floor, two on this level. Going for retrieval.”
“Copy that sergeant, make it fast.” Bagwell opened a holographic projection on his PDU. The green wireframe image was a prediction of the building’s structure based on a sub-sonic echolocation system install in each Ranger’s body armor.
Above them, Peterson was hanging from the ledge on the ninth floor. Del Carmen shimmied down his body and hung from the suspension on his exoskeleton’s boots. Slowly the survivors climbed down them, using the exoskeletons like ladders to reach the lower floors. They made it to the fifth floor when Peterson saw someone moving in the darkened hallway.
He snapped on his shoulder lamp to investigate. The light pierced the darkness, but nothing moved. He scanned the hallway carefully. Something darted just outside his field of vision. He snapped in the direction and pulled his rifle high. The shape streaked through the darkness, straight into him.
Bagwell watched in horror as his man flailed through the air and impacted into the rubble below. He sprinted to him and found him alive, but just barely. A piece of rebar jutted through his neck and out his jaw just below the eye. He twitched and shook in agony. Then he was gone. The long tone of the flatline sounded from Bagwell’s PDU. He silenced the alarm and called an abort to further rescue attempts.
He ordered Cromartie to help Del Carmen retrieve the survivors. Oluwo and Bagwell freed Peterson’s body from the rebar and made their way solemnly back to the fire station carrying their fallen brother and bringing with them an additional seven survivors.
Colonel Jameson pushed buttons on a control panel and sent the feed to the White House situation room. The dust had cleared off significantly, allowing them to see the crater and devastation more clearly than before. The screen zoomed in on two dead Rangers then panned to the mutilated remains of another. Jameson zoomed back out and selected another part of the city.
A raging inferno was spreading and firefighters worked desperately to contain it. A group of survivors was huddled around the fire engines. Then the horror came. Something sprinted through the flames. Then more of the things followed. Jameson watched the entire group being torn to pieces. Jameson changed the view again. More strange creatures ran down survivors in the street.
“Wormwood has landed, Madame President.”
The somber face of President Deburn nodded softly. “Prometheus is a go, Colonel. Contain these things, whatever they are.”
The ORCs moved Peterson’s body to a storage room and stood in silence for a moment before stepping back out among the civilians. There were nineteen of them total. Most of them gathered in the garage to express their condolences to the Rangers. Screams rang out from upstairs. Bagwell and Cromartie charged towards the commotion.
Two of the civilians were mauled in their beds. A strange animal throttled about with its head buried into the abdomen of one of the survivors. It tore its head back, slinging blood across the room, and stared at the Rangers.
The thing’s body was pink and wrinkled, flaps of excess skin hung from its diminutive frame. A wide mouth full of conical teeth and curved gray-brown claws gave it a look of absolute menace. ORCs knew exactly how to respond to menace. Cromartie brought his rifle up and opened fire. The strange goblin jumped clear. Cromartie’s barrage ripped apart the man’s body behind it. The creature dived through the hole passed the fireman’s pole.
The survivors panicked. One of them ran to open the bay doors while the monster tore apart another. Oluwo grabbed a fire ax and charged the beast. He swung the ax and missed. The goblin took advantage of the mistake and clawed open his thigh before climbing up his exoskeleton clamping his massive jaws around Oluwo’s face with a sickening crunch. They both fell to the ground. The creature jerked its head from side to side and tore the sniper’s face off with a wet pop. It chewed as it scanned the crowd to pick its next target. Crimson blossoms exploded across its torso as a burst of rifle fire tore into it. More rounds fired and the goblin’s head came apart, splattering ochre pudding across the station floor.
Maxine lowered Peterson’s rifle and then noticed the bay door rising. “No, don’t! Close the door!”
Her warning was too late.
Moving on its knuckles like an ape the beast bolted under the door and swiped a disemboweling blow across the nearest man’s belly. The creature was larger than the first, man-sized, with its skin stretched taut over an inhuman skeleton. The same wide head and fearsome grin dominated its features. It bounded across the station and more of the smaller things spilled in behind it. Maxine and the Rangers opened fire. The civilians fled as fast as they could. Some ran upstairs and others tried, and failed, to run past the creatures.
Wexler shouldered his heavy machinegun and cut loose. One of the beasts popped apart like a child’s toy as the half-inch bullets snapped bones and tore flesh. Bits of the monster blew into the air like pink confetti. Brayden ran past Maxine yelling something but it was lost in the din of the gunfire. Maxine chased after him.
Cromartie and Bagwell guarded the stairs as four of the survivors ran passed them. Two children cowered behind Del Carmen while she blasted away at everything charging toward her. One fell in bullet-riddled heap, but the other swatted her rifle away. She caught its arm as it slashed at her. The thin bones snapped in the mechanized grip. Del Carmen slammed a punch into the creature with enough force to collapse its skull. She pummeled it again until she saw the reassuring spray of brain matter on the pavement.
Sandow managed to get the bay door closed, but not before three more monsters slid under it. Wexler directed fire towards the larger troll in front of him, but it was too agile and knocked him across the station with a meaty, pink fist. It stalked towards him to finish the kill when gunfire rained down on it from the portal above.
Cromartie and Bagwell stood at the pole shooting down at the beast. Wexler blasted it in the chest with a canister round from his launcher. It stumbled clear of the withering barrage of gunfire and shrieked at Wexler. One of the survivors, Larry, buried the spike of the fire ax through its nasal passage.
Maxine came around the corner, firing until the rifle went dry, and then she switched to the underslung shotgun. “There’s a bomb shelter back here, everyone fallback.”
Wexler and Del Carmen grabbed the kids and ran to the shelter. Sandow was busy chopping one of the beasts into pieces with his field utility knife. Cromartie slid down the pole and fired a dazzler—a bursting grenade that launched a half-dozen miniature flashbangs and a cloud of pellets that popped in flashes of color. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have any effect on the creatures except to draw their attention to him.
Cromartie ran for the hallway as Bagwell slid down the pole behind him, firing the whole time. The survivors came down the stairs and Maxine led them to the shelter. Sandow and Bagwell had managed to kill the last of the creatures, but there was more beating on the door. A window near the ceiling cracked. Glass broke upstairs. The scrapping of claws could be heard sliding across the floors.
“It’s about goddamn time you answer the phone, Captain,” Jameson said. “There’s been a development, but judging by the look on your face you’ve already seen the damned things.”
“Yes sir, we have. We’ve lost two Rangers and twelve civilians. Any idea what they are?”
“In need of killing. That’s the best answer I can give you.”
“Any word on Bravo team?”
The colonel sighed. “Gone. Every last one of them.”
Bagwell slammed a fist into the cinderblock wall. Bits of concrete rattled to the floor.
“Captain Bagwell, these things are all over the city. We can’t risk them getting any further. We’re going with the Prometheus protocol. Lieutenant Chandler and his PJs have already dropped. They’ll be waiting for you at the coordinates I just transferred to your team’s PDUs. I can’t risk putting them any closer, I’m sorry. You have an hour, Captain. Godspeed. Jameson, Out.”
Bagwell looked at the group. They could have waited out a rescue in the bunker for weeks, but if the LOTOC was really following the Prometheus protocol then there wasn’t going to be a bunker. He had four Rangers with him, three children, one geriatric couple, Larry the ax-wielding plumber, and Maxine Glover who had at some point become a commando.
“I thought you said you were a lawyer,” he asked her.
“Nowadays I am,” she answered as she rocked one of the little children to sleep.
“Guess it doesn’t matter what you did before.”
“There was no before.” Maxine’s eyes were solid stone. “Thinking about before, back home, all of that. It doesn’t exist.”
“You’ve been in battle before.” Bagwell started consolidating partial magazines.
“Yeah, once or twice.” She slid the child to the floor. “I was in Mexico during the Narco War.”
“You don’t look old enough for that.”
“Sir,” Cromartie interrupted. “I think I’ve found a way out.”
“Alright, what have you got?” the captain asked.
“We’re going to blow a hole in this wall.” Cromartie punched it for effect. “It opens up into the sewer or a subway line, I can’t be sure which. There’s definitely a tunnel there of some sort.”
“I’m not hearing any better ideas. Blow the fucking wall,” Bagwell told him.
Cromartie moved through the storm drain with his rifle up. Wexler’s heavy machine gun was too long to provide adequate fire, so he was stuck on rear guard detail. Between them, Del Carmen, Larry, Maxine, and Bagwell formed a defensive circle around Brayden, the elderly couple, and the unarmed Sandow who had the two small children strapped to his exoskeleton. They still had forty minutes to reach the rendezvous point before Jameson erased the city and everything in it from the map.
Wexler slowed to a stop when he heard his PDU pinging. He checked the readout “Shit.” A dozen red dots blinked on the screen and moved towards them rapidly. He didn’t even wait for visual contact as he fired two short bursts into the tunnel behind the group. “They’re already in the tunnels with us. Move your asses”
Three creatures slid out of a side tunnel in front of Cromartie. He let loose with a shotgun blast that turned one inside out. Del Carmen and Bagwell fired from either side of him, spraying the other two across the tunnel. They continued moving as more joined the crowd. The little beasts weren’t much larger than beagles with round wide snouts and the excess flesh rolls they’d seen on the first creatures.
The team moved fast, trying to keep ahead of the swarm. The elderly man shimmied up a ladder as they ran past it and climbed up to the manhole. He heaved against the steel cover, but it wouldn’t budge. He could hear his wife screaming for him to catch up as the little imps scurried up the ladder after him and chewed his ankles. Blood rained down as they tore through the flesh.
“Drainage ditch coming up. Three hundred yards on the left,” Cromartie said over the comms. Wexler’s machine gun was drowning out any other communication between the group. Brayden slipped and fell as they rounded the bend and Wexler tripped over him falling to his back with a splash. Del Carmen fired a thermobaric grenade down the tunnel and pulled the kid to his feet. She grabbed the drag handle on Wexler’s exoskeleton and pulled him along unceremoniously. The Ranger fired into the darkness as she pulled him along.
They came to the storm grate at the end of the tunnel. Cromartie and Bagwell grabbed the bars and bent them away from one another and waved the others out of the tunnel ahead of them. They climbed out of the ditch and ran down the street.
“Garbage truck at two o’clock, that’s our ride.” Bagwell pointed it out.
Maxine jumped into the driver’s seat. Unable to find the keys, she ducked under the steering column and set about hotwiring it.
Bagwell climbed into the passenger’s side. “Lawyer my ass.”
“I went to law school on the GI Bill. I was military intelligence for six years, on loan to the Agency for two.” The engine coughed and sputtered before coming to life.
Wexler climbed into the dumpster hooked on the front of the truck which Maxine raised up to give him a better vantage point to shoot from. Sandow and the civilians got in the back. The ORC quickly piled the trash over the others. Del Carmen and Cromartie hung from the mirrors as the truck made its way down the road to the exfil site.
A sharp shriek filled the air and something shot into the back of the truck. It looked like one of the sewer imps, but had long flaps of skin that it used to glide into the truck. It bit into the old woman’s throat before anyone could react. More of them dropped from the buildings, gliding towards the truck. Larry took a swing with the ax and knocked the creature out of the garbage truck. Sandow loaded canister rounds into his grenade launcher and shot the creatures out of the air like a duck hunt in Hell.
One of the harpy-like creatures latched onto Cromartie’s pack and bit down on his neck. The arterial spray washed across Bagwell’s face. He laid back and kicked the door. It swung open and the creature was smashed between a street sign and Cromartie’s body. The impact slammed the door shut and Bagwell grabbed the sergeant and put pressure on the wound, “Sorry about that, it was the first thing that came to mind.”
“No problem, sir.” Cromartie’s words came in between gasps.
And then something hit them. It was massive, close to twenty feet tall. It slammed into the door, smashing Cromartie like a bug and knocking the truck off of its path and into a row of parked cars. Sparks and fiberglass flew into the air and the big utility truck ground to a stop with an electric car twisted underneath its front end.
Wexler opened fire from the dumpster, but the giant reached in and grabbed him. It smashed him against the asphalt and flung his lifeless body across the street with the slightest effort. Larry took the tiny children from Sandow and ran down the sidewalk to the rendezvous point with Brayden on his heels. Sandow climbed out of the back of the truck and fired a phosphorous round at the beast, which roared in annoyance more than pain. It charged toward the ORC who climbed back into the truck and turned on the compactor unit just as it closed the distance. It swung a massive fist into the back of the garbage truck for Sandow who moved out of the way and scurried over the top of the platen as it pressed the garbage further into the truck. He ducked under the behemoth’s massive arm and hit the emergency stop leaving the giant’s hand trapped.
Del Carmen, Maxine, and Bagwell opened fire on the monster. Their bullets finding their mark on the creature’s head. It screamed at them ferociously.
Sandow fired a grenade at its mouth and watched as the cataclysm of blood and brain erupted into the sky. “That’s right, mother—”
The harpies swarmed down on him and tore limbs away to get to the soft bits inside the armor. A swarm circled the three survivors who fired their last few desperate shots into the air hoping to bring down as many as they could.
Staccato bursts of gunfire came from down the street. Lieutenant Chandler and his pararescuemen had arrived. They marched in a line, firing into the flock of monsters with deadly accuracy. Bagwell, Maxine, and Del Carmen ran for the extraction ship. Two more of the giants came barreling down the street after them. The survivors climbed on with the PJs following close behind, still firing back at the creatures. The ship lifted off before the ramp was even closed and began flying away from the city.
“We did it,” Maxine said softly. “We made it out.”
Bagwell’s chest exploded as the broken light post punched through his torso. Maxine watched helplessly as his lifeless body slid out of the rescue ship and toppled to the street below. The two giants beat on their chests and through more debris at the ship, but they were too far away for it to matter.
“We’re clear, Colonel. Prometheus is a go,” Chandler radioed to the LOTOC.
Jameson watched in horror as the bombs detonated. He had just erased a large chunk of his own nation to protect it from monsters. The whole thing sounded insane. The fallout from the bombs would kill thousands. It was over at least. There was no way anything could have outran the orbital bombardment. He had stopped whatever that asteroid had brought. Through the view screen, something caught his eye.
He pulled up feeds from earth-based telescopes and saw around the world simultaneously. Amber lighting, flashing inside clouds of gases and space dust—the energy crackled and tore open the abyss. He watched an object streak through one of the tears. Then another.
He recited the ORC creed as dozens of the things shot down to the surface from their cosmic storms. “I represent the spirit of the warriors that came before me. I am a deterrent in peace and a weapon in war. I am a guardian of freedom and a defender of my people. An expert and a professional. Relentless in my tasks and merciless in my execution. I am a mean motherfucking front line morale destroyer. I am a United Militaries Ranger and I will prevail.”
Plumes of shattered earth and dust rose into the atmosphere. Jameson lowered his hand to the launch button, ready to fire the last of his arsenal at the landing sites. More eruptions filled his monitors. He leaned on the console, watching the view from cameras and satellites around the planet. He had been given the eyes of God and all he could use them for was to watch the world end. He slumped into his seat and let his fingers slide away from the button. An orange glow shined through his view screen. Something moved across it—something impossibly large on the other side of space. It reached through the rip and twisted a serpentine appendage around the station and dragged it through the storm.
Jameson removed the pistol from his belt. “I am a United Militaries Ranger.” The claxon sounded, but it was lost over the rending of the metal. The thing, the horrible thing from somewhere far beyond was devouring the station. He pressed the pistol to his temple. “And I will prevail.”
David O’Hanlon is a horror writer, father, and combatives instructor. He is been published in several anthologies, as well as online. He is known for his dark sense of humor, morally-challenged heroes, graphic violence, and over-the-top action sequences. He lives in Arkansas and regularly uses the diverse ecology and unique folklore to set up his own brand of horror.