The Lone Prospect
Saturday or Sunday: Somewhere in Africa
June 3rd or 4th
Pande-fucking-monium. Gideon jumped into the air over the chaos. Rockets built into his armor kept him above it all. Soldiers shouted and waved their arms. The back of Gideon’s head still echoed from explosions. Music, like a psychotic backdrop, blared out of the enemy camp’s speakers from Blake’s earlier hack. Conflicting smells of gunpowder, chemicals, animals, and the smell of humans living together in packed quarters overwhelmed his nose. And ahead of Gideon, an enemy soldier pulled a truck into the middle of his flight path.
His partner, Savannah, made it. She was indistinguishable except by her size from any of the others of the crew he found himself in because of them being in full coverage combat armor, including helmets and sunglasses. She landed on the hood of the truck, her firearm pointed at the windshield and chattering with explosive pops of gunfire.
He swore and tried to brake. He was going to slam into her if he wasn’t careful. The ground came up too fast. His brakes cut out and he careened out of control. Gideon fell, hitting chest first, the air knocked out of him and an ache in his chest despite the armor.
He rolled and stared up at the clear blue sky and tried to breathe again. Damn it. He was out of practice. He should have been able to land behind her. She was small enough.
What in hell was he doing here? In Africa? He knew why he was on the ground, stupidity and poor muscle memory. He managed to inhale. “I didn’t ask enough questions.” He said. His tenor voice sounded strange to his own ears.
A few weeks ago, he’d been leisurely traveling the North American countryside after finally being discharged from the New York military after months of surgery and physical therapy. Now, he was back in the middle of an African jungle hell, where you didn’t breathe the air, you swam in it. The bugs were big enough to make a meal out of. And the only thing between his hide and the bullets that the Africans viewed to be their version of rain was half an inch thick, maybe, articulated combat armor.
And for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out how he got roped into this mess. In fact, if memory served, his opinion hadn’t been asked.
Why the hell was he trying to get into this club again?
Savannah stepped to the side and peered down at him, her sunglasses slipping down her nose. He could see her bright green eyes. In the shadow of her helmet, he wasn’t sure if they were the true green of her eye color or if they were backlit by the light hitting them right. She still seemed too tiny to him to be on a mission like this. Was she over five-foot-two? She couldn’t be. He seemed to recall thinking that earlier on the way here. That and she was cute without the helmet.
He could always blame the girl. Except he’d met the girl on the flight to Africa and said girl didn’t know his name. No matter how cute she was and how much he’d like to do something with those curves.
He didn’t have time to be thinking about this. He blew out, rolled over and started shooting at the legs he could see on the other side of the truck. He heard more shouting and the legs began to move. He dropped the gun, letting it go back into his bracer– a piece of tech that stored weapons like computers stored data and cost more than he dared think about. He shoved to his feet, and steadied himself against the hood of the truck. He selected the gun out of the bracer again and began to fire down the road.
Savannah jumped to the top of the truck, lay down, and started firing.
From his viewpoint, there were too many of the enemy soldiers ahead of them. They couldn’t fight their way through. Not with their medic, Jordan, holding onto the doctor they’d come to save. Gideon dodged behind the cab and clutched his gun to his chest as the soldiers returned fire. Gideon glanced to see where the almost seven foot tall giant of a man was.
Jordan was in the center of the formation. He cradled the doctor his chest in one arm like a child. He held a big machine gun in the other, firing behind them.
Gideon wasn’t the only one to see what shit of a position they were in.
Eberron, clean shaven and with olive skin of undeterminable ancestry, turned to the nearest tent, pulled out a plasma cutter usually used on metal fences, and ripped through the flimsy fabric. “Short cut!” he shouted in a gravelly bass voice.
The fabric parted. A group of black faces dressed in their version of a soldier’s uniform stared back at him, their eyes and teeth startling white. They looked surprised to see Eberron. Eberron didn’t mince words. “Shit,” he swore and pulled out a pair of curved knives.
Savannah rolled over and glanced down. She’d been thinking about using the truck as a battering ram. She scowled. “Wrong way, Eb!” she shouted. Her sweet soprano voice fit her body, but didn’t fit the situation.
Slug spit, did anyone pay attention to the briefing materials she gave them? The next road over there was a tower between them and the position of Morgan, their sniper. It looked like an unholy mating of a cargo container and the communications array off of a scrapped naval vessel. A couple of I-beams from a building propped it up.
Once upon a time, from what she could see of the lines of the camp, the camp had been set up in a military, logical, ordered grid pattern. However, what had probably been supposed to be a temporary base had become more permanent. Armies like these constantly switched commanders. It was possible the base had changed hands several times as boundary lines moved. The base was now more like a chaotic mess of a maze and something of an obstacle course.
Tents had been expanded. Boxes piled up. Ramshackle houses had developed. Large shipping containers sat on or erupted out of the ground. Vehicles were left where they shouldn’t be left. Animal pens sprawled across thoroughfares if the animals were penned at all. And their invasion had turned this chaotic mess into a panicked beehive of activity to make things worse.
There was one clear path and they were on it. They could not go off course!
With a crazed grin, Eberron charged into the tent.
“Rabid rhododendrons,” Savannah muttered. Males. She jumped up, threw a grenade into the cab of the truck through the hole she’d made in the windshield. It landed on the body of the driver and bounced down to the floor. Gideon saw her go. He used his arms to climb up onto the hood and run after her. She spun around, held another grenade up, pulled the pin, flipped the lever, and threw it behind her.
Gideon’s eyes widened as he figured out her ploy. She was bat shit insane, trying to use a concussion grenade to fling them over the tent. He turned around and ran like hell after her. She jumped. He jumped after her, piling on the rockets.
The concussion grenade exploded. A shockwave hit them mid jump and helped push them over the tent. Gideon swore internally as it shoved him in the back and he had to compensate. There was a reason this ploy was discouraged in all army manuals.
It didn’t seem to bother Savannah one bit though. She landed on her feet and in the middle of the road, her gun up and firing. Gideon hit the ground with his shoulder, rolled, knelt, and faced the other direction, his gun out. That was going to hurt when he had time to actually feel pain.
The truck exploded, cab rising up off the ground before falling back down with a metal creak. The ground shook.
In the tent, soldiers surrounded Eberron. He grinned and swung his knives around. Spike, Hispanic and female, backed up, disengaged her gun, and then spun about and clobbered one of the men with a stiff upper cut. The guy next to him turned and threw a punch at her. Her hands up, Spike dodged out of the way.
Blake and Dana protected Jordan with their guns, shooting at those coming at them. Both Blake and Dana had short beards, though Blake’s hair was black and he had a long ponytail.
One of the men in the tent grabbed a machete. Out of the corner of his eye, Blake saw it. The man swung his machete at Eberron. Eberron caught it by crossing his blades. He grunted, his eyes back-flashing green behind his sunglasses, and Eberron threw the man backwards.
Dana saw it too. “Go,” he said to Blake.
Blake nodded. The man with the machete struggled to his feet. Blake dropped back, spun, and drew a broadsword as he did. The man shook his head to clear it, and lifted the machete again. He swung it down to go after Eberron. Blake caught the machete on his sword and turned it away. The metal clanged as they hit each other. The man’s eyes widened.
Dana turned back to the road they’d come from. His eyes narrowed. He returned one of his pistols to his bracer and set himself in front of Jordan. He let out a breath, and his world turned to tones of gray. His eyes became more sensitive to movement. He brought his gun up. A man charged at him from over fifty feet away. Dana steadied his hand and shot. He sensed movement out of the corner of his eye away from the tent. He spun, adjusted his aim and shot again.
Another man attacked Eberron. Eberron turned and used the hilt of one of his knives to punch him between the eyes.
The man with the machete swung at Blake. Blake parried the blow. The two began to fight in earnest.
On the other side of the tent, men started getting past the gunfire that Savannah and Gideon were laying down. Savannah muttered that they were lucky that it appeared these men were either unarmed or couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
Gideon surged to his feet, flipped the safety on his assault rifle, and ratcheted out the bayonet on the end. He dodged under the swing of one of the soldiers. He used the butt of the gun to hit the guy in the chest, slashed at him with the bayonet, and then kicked him away. He punched the guy straight in the throat that came at him next.
Savannah made a small shriek, and put her assault rifle away. She brought out a pistol, and shot a guy at close range. She saw a fist in her peripheral vision. She dodged out of the way of the punch, spun about and used her elbows to jab at them.
Gideon spun on his toes and jabbed the bayonet into the gut of one soldier. He pulled it out and used the gun to block the blow of a baton from yet another soldier. He pulled his pistol with his other hand and shot the guy.
Blake and the guy with the machete fought each other across the width of the tent, swinging and hacking at each other. Blake swatted the machete out of the way and, with his next motion, ran him through.
Out of desperation, the man facing Spike pulled a knife and slashed at her with it. Spike dropped back, and then dodged forward. She jabbed a feint at his face with one hand, and with the other, she pulled her switchblade and jabbed it into his stomach. His eyes bulged.
“Nice try,” she said, voice flat, a husky alto. She twisted the blade and pulled it out.
The guy crumpled to his knees.
Eberron punched the last guy, slashed the other side of the tent, and charged through and tackled one of the men attacking Gideon and Savannah. The two rolled away from each other.
Savannah shot the soldier. “So good of you to join us,” she said and held out her hand to Eberron.
Spike punched the guy facing Gideon.
Gideon shot him and nodded at her. He panted and glanced at Savannah. Not only was she cute, she was crazy. Not knowing what was on the other side of the tent, two of them against an army, almost being clobbered, and then she had the gall to sound calm when the others finally broke through to help. Maybe he was crazy too. He’d followed her over the tent after all.
Eberron waved her hand away and rolled to his feet. “Clear,” he said into his microphone.
Jordan ran through the tent carrying Doctor Brown, Blake and Dana with him.
Eberron switched to his big gun and shot an incendiary into the tent.
Savannah started running forward, Gideon and the others on her heels. The tent exploded and started burning. Ahead of them, out of the road that they needed to take to get back to the correct road to the courtyard, came another group of soldiers. They turned and started running towards Savannah and the others.
Savannah shouted. “Cover!”
The group knelt and started firing.
Savannah growled. “No-good, dirty-rotten, bloody amoeba-breeding bastards.” She swore. “Morgan!”
“Can’t see you, boss,” Morgan said over the communications link, her voice a slightly warped throaty soprano from the equipment. “There’s a big tower in the way.”
“Grenade?” Eberron asked.
“I’m out,” Savannah said. She sounded put-out and annoyed. She’d used her last one to get over the tent. “You?”
Eberron shifted and brought up his ammunition screen. He hmmmed. “Sparkies, smokies, acid pops, frosties, anti-grav, EMP,” he said. “Poppers.”
Gideon’s brow furrowed. He didn’t know what half those were and he had grenade certification training.
“No. Not unless we’re getting dirty,” Savannah muttered. “Acid pops. I object morally to that.” She wasn’t going to shoot what was essentially a concentrated dose of hydrochloric acid at people. Poppers were as likely to hit them as hit the enemy when the miniature explosives inside the bigger one went. Her brow furrowed. “Frosties? You brought frosties!”
“Damn it, Eberron! What have I told you about bringing those? They’re useless!” She glowered at him, truly pissed. Why oh why did he have to bring the grenades that had the same effect as liquid nitrogen?
“I don’t know what they’re for yet,” Eberron said.
“I don’t care what they’re for! Right now they aren’t any help to me!” Savannah replied. She glanced at Gideon. “Prospect, do you have any grenades?” she asked. She didn’t know his name and didn’t care at the moment. As long as he answered to “Prospect”—which is what he was, a prospective member of her club—then they’d get along fine.
Gideon raised an eyebrow at her. “Hunter barely trusts me with guns,” he said, referring to the person in charge of the armory.
“Couldn’t you have snuck grenades?” Savannah muttered. She glanced away from him quickly, though there wasn’t much to see of his face other than his square scruffy jawline and full lips. She was going to have to teach him about sneaking things.
“We haven’t gotten that far in the armory yet,” he added.
Savannah blew out a breath. “Morgan! Anything?” Her brain scrambled to come up with a plan, any plan that wasn’t an all-out suicidal charge.
Morgan replied, “That big tower, it hasn’t moved.”
Savannah glowered at Eberron. “Slug spit, Eberron. Did you not look at the map I gave you?”
“Maybe I have peppers,” Eberron muttered. “No. Must have used those.” He smirked at her. “I got a spidey.”
“I can see the enemy quite clearly,” Savannah said, and put her assault rifle over the barrier and fired without looking. “I don’t need a camera unless you’ve armed it.”
“Next batch,” Eberron promised.
Blake rolled his eyes. He nudged Dana. Dana looked at him. Blake jerked his head at the group of soldiers firing over their heads. Dana craned his neck back, looked at them, looked at Blake, and raised an eyebrow. Blake turned around and started inching backwards.
Dana blinked once and then grinned in understanding. He crouched, popped up and shot off a few rounds. Unlike Savannah, he actually hit the soldiers he was aiming at.
Blake put his gun away, brought up his armory, and selected his bow and arrows. He pulled it out, pulled an arrow, and then out of his ammunition, he selected a large triangular shaped arrowhead. He unscrewed the head currently on the arrow shaft, changed them out. He calculated the distance and the angle he was going to need, screwed the arrow down, and pressed a button on it. The arrowhead beeped and a small LED light turned green. Blake nocked the arrow to the bowstring, pulled the string back, stood up, and let it go upwards at an angle.
They all watched it go upwards.
The arrow reached the apex of its trajectory and started down, straight towards the middle of the group of men. Wind whipped through the holes in the arrowhead causing it to scream. The LED light turned yellow and the arrow embedded into the ground.
The soldiers turned to look at it.
The LED light turned red and the arrowhead exploded. The men dived out of the way.
Savannah blinked. “Right,” she muttered. “Thank you, Blake.” She’d forgotten about Blake and his archery. Plus, she hadn’t a chance to ask if he’d brought it with him. She’d been too busy being harassed about the new prospect. She glared at Gideon for a moment.
Blake put his bow away and cradled his assault rifle. “Happy to help,” he said, a fuzzy tenor.
Savannah got to her feet and started moving. She approached the group of men, her gun pointed at them. Gideon followed her, his gun pointed downwards. The others got up and followed, going through the group of soldiers groaning, injured or dead lying on the ground with caution.
She turned the corner, saw stable solid objects, and jumped upwards to get onto them. Gideon rolled his eyes, shook his head, but followed her.
The music stopped.
Blake tapped his computer and checked the video feed. The battle armors turned, formed a straight line, and marched back to their hangar, where they returned to their stations and powered down. He smirked. He wished the soldiers all the luck in getting them going again. He’d attached a virus to wipe their memories before they powered off. He clicked his computer closed.
The pirate laugh resounded over the camp again and then faded away.
Savannah laid down cover fire. Her gun clicked onto empty. She swore, “Slug spit.” She kept moving forward though. She pulled her pistol and started shooting. Gideon continued to lay down fire in short bursts.
Dana heard Savannah’s change of gun fire pattern. There was a group of men approaching. With Savannah down to her pistol, she and Gideon couldn’t handle them on their own. Dana grinned. His turn to back them up and have a little fun.
Dana saw a board leaning against a barrel. He ran up it, shooting at the men. When he got to the top, he shifted his weight and let the board roll down the other side of what it leaned against. He rolled off the end as it hit the ground, came up in the middle of the group, and spun about shooting each one of them. The men fell to the ground.
Savannah jumped to the tops of the buildings, with Gideon on her tail.
A soldier popped up behind them. Dana saw him and saw a rope nearby on a pulley. Dana ran towards the rope, grabbed it, shot the weight off the pulley on the other end, and let the rope pull him up. He narrowed his eyes, brought his weapon to bear on the soldier who had his weapon trained at Savannah. Dana squeezed the trigger. The soldier jerked and fell over.
Dana let the rope go and dropped to the ground.
They came to the corner. Savannah looked down. She breathed out. The truck was still burning nicely but there was a group of men. She looked for cover as she put her pistol away. She pulled out a small machine gun. The box of ammunition attached to it wasn’t much bigger than a six inch square box. Damn it, the sole cover was across the road. They’d be seen before they could get there. So much for quietly trying anything.
Gideon looked at it and his eyes narrowed. That was the cutest, smallest machine gun he’d ever seen in his life. Jealousy surged. He wanted one. Where did Savannah get all these ‘her sized’ weapons anyways? She had a smaller sized assault rifle. The pistol had fit her hands too and now a mini-machine gun. It was adorable and borderline psychotic.
He shifted his assault rifle closer to his chest. “Plan?” he asked. He’d seen where the good cover was too. He didn’t like it, but any port in a hurricane. He’d rather have something between his hide and the bullets beyond half an inch of metal alloy.
“Jump to cover, come up shooting,” she said. There were so many of the bastards between them and the rendezvous point, it didn’t matter to Savannah that it would give away their position. They were the group of white people in a camp mainly of Africans. The point was to thin the enemy before the enemy got them. Being on point, they were the ones to make sure that there was a path for the group behind them to keep running down. This wasn’t a war. This was a rescue mission.
“And that thing can hurt people?” Gideon asked. He had to be sure.
“If I hit them right, it will.” Savannah checked the safety.
He grinned. Yeah, he wanted one then. He checked for the rest of their company. They were getting close. He exhaled. “After you then.”
“You’re such a gentleman, Prospect,” Savannah said. “I like it.” She checked where the rest of them were, double-checked the group of soldiers. “On three,” she said.
Gideon glanced at her and was glad he did. Her body language showed she was already set for the jump.
“Three,” she said and jumped.
He growled and jumped after her.
They hit the ground and rolled upwards, shooting. The soldiers dived to the ground.
The others came around the corner. Blake almost stumbled over a cat. He saw it, let his rifle go, dove, grabbed the cat and rolled behind cover. The cat yowled. He smiled down at the cat and scratched the cat’s head with the tips of his fingers. Blake looked over his shoulder. Maybe Poppet was old enough for a pet. He kissed the cat’s head.
One of the soldiers struggled to his feet and saw Blake.
Blake’s eyes widened. He threw the cat at the soldier’s face. The cat screeched and started scratching at the solder.
Blake surged to his feet, and pulled a pistol. “I’m so sorry,” he said, and shot the soldier. The soldier dropped to the ground gasping for air. The cat darted away and hid under a tent. Blake paused. “In case you were wondering, I was apologizing to the cat,” he said to the solider.
He glanced around for the cat. It was long gone. So much for Poppet getting a kitten. Blake checked the ammo level on the pistol and kept going.
Spike jumped over a box, shooting at the soldiers. One grabbed at her. She spun and used the motion to punch him. Another guy got near to her and she punched him in the chest. A pair of brass knuckles appeared on her hand and electricity sparked. The guy jerked around and fell downwards. Spike grinned. That never grew old. She put the brass knuckles away. Another guy tried to shoot her and she moved forwards and delivered an upper cut to his chin.
“Spike!” Savannah chided.
“He got too close!” Spike said. She shot the guy. They started forward again.
Savannah glanced up. The transport flew overhead. From underneath it looked like a squat glowing blue cross with a rocket attached to the back. They were nearing the courtyard.
“Stop shooting. Stop shooting! They have the doctor!” someone shouted.
The shooting lulled.
Savannah grinned. “Time to run!” she said.
Jordan grunted and hefted the doctor better. They ran across the courtyard towards where the transport was coming in for a landing. A white tube with the bottom half covered in black ceramic tile and a fin like that of shark on the back before a rocket hovered above the courtyard. It descended vertically at an even rate before coming to a stop a foot above the ground.
“Shoot! Shoot! They’re getting away with the doctor!” the same voice shouted.
“Maybe they should make up their minds,” Spike commented.
Savannah hit the edge of the transport with her shoulder. She ducked down and pointed back towards the rows of tents. Gideon stood over her. Blake and Spike managed the same on the other side.
Jordan jumped up into the transport.
“In, in!” Savannah shouted.
Eb and Dana jumped after him. Blake swung Spike up into the transport and jumped on himself. Gideon waited for Savannah.
“I’m behind you.” He said. She’d been the one to order him to stay on her tail after all.
Savannah rolled her eyes, fired a few more rounds, and grabbed the edge of the door, jumping in. Gideon jumped up into the transport backwards and knelt by the door.
“Go!” Savannah shouted and came over to stand behind Gideon. She used him as brace and started shooting. Eberron moved to the other side of the door.
Skyler was already in motion. “On it,” she said. It was hard to hear her voice, terse with concentration. It was hard for Gideon to classify it. Was she a soprano or was she an alto?
Gideon fired in short bursts down at the soldiers converging on their position. He happened to glance up. There was a white contrail headed towards the courtyard. “Oh hell,” he whispered and reached up and slammed the button for the door. “Rocket incoming!”
“I’m going as fast as I can!” Skyler shouted, her voice definitely between a true soprano and an alto.
The door shut as the rocket exploded. Gideon flinched. The transport rocked. Savannah grabbed his shoulder.
“Damn it, Morgan!” she shouted into the microphone.
“Can’t hear you,” Morgan said. “There’s bad break up in the transmissions.”
“Coming about,” Skyler said.
Savannah squeezed Gideon’s shoulder and let go. She headed towards the cockpit.
Gideon looked over at Eberron. Eberron shrugged.
Savannah fell into the co-pilot’s seat and jerked her head to the side. “How soon?” Her helmet folded up into her earpiece. She raked a hand through her short black hair.
“One minute,” Skyler said.
Gideon sighed, reached up, and opened the door. He pointed his gun downwards and out, looking.
The transport hovered over the trees and then carefully moved downwards. Eberron reached out a hand and grabbed Morgan, pulling her in. Frankie jumped from her branch and inside. Morgan headed towards her seat and Frankie towards the cockpit.
“I tried to stop her,” Frankie said, her breathy soprano emphatic. She glared at her sister.
Gideon made another sweep, and then shut the door. The transport moved upwards. Gideon sighed and sat down where he was.
Eberron grinned. He stood up and walked over to his chair. Gideon thought about standing and then decided it wasn’t worth the effort. He used his hands to walk backwards and push himself up into his seat.
Spike snorted as she passed him on the way to the cockpit.
They settled back in. Jordan hovered over Doctor Brown. Gideon sighed and closed his eyes. It was going to be a long trip back. It was almost as an afterthought that he took off his helmet.
Dana took out his bouncy ball and threw it against the wall.
Jordan’s hand lashed out and caught it. “No,” he said.
Gideon grinned. The exchange felt like being back in the service again. It felt like home. He settled in for a nap.
Savannah turned around and happened to see him. The prospect looked like he was sleeping. His brown hair was a bit too long to be a buzz cut and too shaggy to be intentional.
She frowned. She knew she should have gotten involved with the puppy. But no, her grandfather had insisted to let Ashley keep an eye on him. And then, at first opportunity, her grandfather had dumped the puppy into her lap for her to deal with. If she’d been able to deal with him in the first place, maybe they wouldn’t have gotten into such a mess.
She reached up and rubbed her temples. Of course, it would have helped if she hadn’t heard about the puppy and about the job at the same time. She glowered, and remembered how it had all freaking started, as usual, with her grandfather being her grandfather.