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 were 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 past 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 toward 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 toward 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 fall back.”
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 were 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.”
“All right, 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 f–king wall,” Bagwell told him.
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