Predators Act 5
"I'm on your side," Royce smirked.
As he saw the stunned expressions playing around the group's faces, Royce just cocked his head, "What, you didn't think you were the first group dropped on this FUBAR shit hole? The fifth? The twentieth? Hell, they're probably in the hundreds by now. Name's Royce, and I was dumped here a while before you. I killed the bastards responsible, but I haven't been able to find a way off since then."
"Ain't that a pleasant thought," Big Rig muttered. Something about a world littered with the bones of dead warriors made him shudder.
"And have you been following us?" Nate asked.
"Picked up your trail twelve hours ago actually," Royce replied, "you got lucky those cat things were attacked first. But this isn't the place to get into that. I've got food and shelter for anyone who wants it. If not, you can stay here, or keep on marching, I don't give a damn what."
Everyone, consciously or otherwise, looked towards the spy.
"Alright," Nate said, "if you're offering, we'll follow. Try anything, and we'll shoot first and to hell with any questions."
"Sounds fair. Just one last detail to take care of then," said Royce. He aimed his AA-12 squarely as Calvin's chest and looked down the sight, "okay old man, I want to know why you're here, and I want to know now."
"Hey!" Big Rig pulled back the hammer on his revolver and leveled it at Royce, "you point that cannon somewhere else, or I put one between your eye and fuck your so-called help."
"You do that, you better prepare for the great beyond yourself," Royce nodded towards a little red dot that was resting over Big Rig's heart.
"Sniper!" Ayhum hissed.
Nate could feel everyone tense, even as no one dared move. There was nothing worse in the field than knowing that you were in the crosshairs of a sniper. Just the thought caused a soldier's natural paranoia to skyrocket, which only made them vulnerable to the enemy. It was one thing to face a hail of bullets in battle, flying every which way, but quite another to know that there was a bullet out there that had taken your snapshot.
"No way you cap us all before we get you," Danny warned as he gripped his blade.
"Look at yourselves," Royce hissed, like an angry teacher speaking to school children, "gangbanger, biker, insurgent, mercenary and what? Grandpa?"
Calvin received a few uncomfortable glances, and felt his throat run dry as everyone began to scrutinize him.
"You people can't be that stupid. We were brought here because those alien bastards saw who and what we were on earth. I got blindsided by a serial killer first time out of the gate, and I'll be damned if that happens again."
"Now look here…" Calvin said defensively, as he saw the others began looking at him with suspicion, "I…I have never done anything to warrant…"
"Confession time, old man," Royce's tone was steel, and he pressed the barrel of his gun to Calvin's throat, "or walk away, right now. Frankly, I don't care which, but every second you delay is more time that monster has to get back to its friends."
"Stand down!" Nate leveled his Carbine at Royce's head, "you point that gun some other direction and you do it now!"
"…Nate," Ayhum saw how the laser sight shifted from biker to spy. Instinctively, he pointed his weapon at Royce, their only bargaining chip in this situation.
"Things are getting ugly," Royce observed casually, "all you have to do is confess, and we can avoid any unfortunate misunderstandings."
"Lower the weapon!"
"Nate, he still has a sniper!" Ayhum warned.
"Alright, everyone calm down!" Billy implored as Jesse searched for the sniper.
"I bombed an abortion clinic!" Calvin blurted, silencing everyone, "…I blew up a clinic, and since then I was hiding in the woods, avoiding a Federal manhunt. I didn't mean to…I didn't think that…"
"Yeah, really don't care," Royce interrupted as he lowered his weapon and brushed past Calvin, and looked towards Nate, "we need to see to the people you lost, get their supplies and move. There's no telling when that thing will get back to its camp, or how the others will react to you flushing him out."
"Their bodies ain't even cold yet, man," Jesse said in disgust.
"He's right," Nate defended, though he refused to break eye contact with Royce, "but that doesn't mean we have to be animals about it. Danny, help me with the bodies. Calvin, I'm going to need your help clearing out the brush. Everyone else, grab a handful of loose wood."
"We're going to burn the bodies?" Zeya asked, "why even bother? They're dead! You heard the man, we should leave immediately!"
"We're going to give them as much respect as we can," Nate replied, "because the next body to hit the ground could be you. And I think you'd want us to treat your body with as much respect as possible, yes?"
Zeya said nothing.
"And besides, if these things come back with dogs, I think the stench of burning flesh might at least mask ours, possibly slow them down. At this rate, I'll take any edge we can get."
They worked as fast as the situation allowed. Nate pulled Megumi's still smoldering corpse and laid it across from her friend, North. Nate knelt down, and closed Megumi's eyes, as he said a silent prayer.
Then he looked across at Danny, nodded, and proceeded to loot their corpses for anything of value.
They took matches, spare shells, back-up knives, loose cash, shoe laces and even socks. Everything and anything they thought they might be useful and easily carried, they took. There were too few resources for anyone to feel too much shame.
As Nate and Danny searched the corpses, most everyone else began to pile up wood around the bodies., as quickly as they could. They stopped for a brief moment as Isabelle strolled out of the foliage, but continued working.
"An Israeli," Ayhum remarked as soon as she was within earshot.
"Got a problem with that?" asked the sniper.
"Actually, it's a relief," Ayhum dropped a bundle of branches, "war is your people's greatest area of expertise."
Isabelle allowed the comment to roll off her shoulders like water off a duck, as she walked towards Nate. She had developed a thick skin long before she was abducted to play prey for alien hunters.
"You must be Royce's friend," Nate somehow managed to sound both chipper and deadpanned in the same sentence, "you got a name?"
"Isabelle," she replied, as she reached into her jacket. She pulled out a cut-off sock that was tied closed with a shoe string, "here, this is gun powder. For your friends."
"Thank you," Nate said softly, as he took the gunpowder.
"Nate, we're good," Jesse reported.
"Alright, everyone stand back."
Nate sprinkled the gunpowder, some on the wood around their bodies and some on their dead bodies themselves. The spy told himself that it would be enough to cremate their bodies, enough to give them some basic, final respect and that he wasn't just doing it in the hope that the smell of their burning body fat and dead branches might make it a little more difficult for the aliens dogs to find them.
"…anyone have something they would like to say?" Billy asked.
Silenced hung in the air like a cloud. Most of these men and women were so accustomed to death in their everyday lives that unless it was someone they knew personally, it affected them no more than the day's weather. To them, death was a simple everyday occupational hazard that they had long since accepted.
"There's not much to say," Nate started, so that everyone could hear, "but North, Megumi, if you can hear me, I want you to know that when we get home, I will track down your friends and family, and let them know what happened here. You will not simply vanish from your loved one's lives. You have my word."
There was a moment of silence, as Nate lit a match, and lit the funeral pyre. Flames leapt into the air, and began consuming the bodies. After a moment of silence, the band of warriors turned to where Royce and Isabelle were waiting.
"You said you knew some place safe?" Nate asked.
"As safe as anything can be on this planet," Royce replied, "but if we do this, I expect everyone to follow my orders to the letter."
Nate glanced at his people, then to Royce and Isabelle.
"Okay then," Royce took a few steps forward, "alright everyone, we've got to cover about three miles of harsh terrain in the next hour. It's a long hard slog, and you do what I say, when I say or I will shoot you. First order of business is that you have to piss or anything related, you do it now, here. These things can track us by scent, and we are not giving them a neon sign to follow."
"If they can track by smell, aren't we already screwed?" Danny walked towards a bush as he unbuckled his pants. He didn't much like Royce even if he was helping them, but he could see the logic, "little piss isn't gonna matter anyways."
"You'll just have to trust me," Royce replied, "we'll be taking the scenic route, and you'd be amazed at the type of plants that grow in this jungle."
They marched through the woods in silence. Nate watched Royce carefully as the man navigated the overgrowth almost carelessly.
Nate quickened his pace until he was walking alongside Royce. Isabelle gave him a brief, suspicious look, but it soon passed and she fell behind the two. Nate was certain she was ready to stab him in the back at the first sign of betrayal, but Nate took it in stride.
You didn't survive alien hunters by being careless, after all.
"We're leaving a trail a two year old could follow," Nate said softly.
"Yup," Royce said simply, "can't be helped."
"Tell me you have an idea for losing them."
"I do," Royce said curtly.
"And if it doesn't work? Do you have a back-up plan?"
"Yeah. We die as we get picked off one by one and take our skulls for trophies," Royce deadpanned.
"Well, as long as it's a plan," the spy replied with a shrug. In every combat situations he'd ever been in, there was always a back-up plan, a fall back option of last resort. Mercenary, soldier, spy, it didn't matter. If you dealt in violence or the potential of violence, you factored failure of your first option into your plans. It didn't matter if you had every advantage, perfect intelligence or even no intentions of violence. No plan survived contact with the enemy, and luck was a damn fickle bitch.
That this 'Royce' didn't have such a plan told Nate that either Royce was simply lucky to have survived this long, or they were really so deep in the shit that a back-up plan just wouldn't much matter.
Neither options were reassuring.
The band of warriors marched for a good twenty minutes before Royce brought them to the edge of a swamp, and signaled for them to stop.
"Oh man, just what the hell is growing in there?" Jessie asked as a shiver traveled down his spine. Having fought alien hunters and dogs with clawed feet and impossible spines in one day, his imagination was running wild over what monsters might be lurking in the swamp. It wasn't like they were happy places on earth, God only knew what they were like here! "probably hiding the Loch Ness monster in there!"
"Nothing much worse than your average tuna, actually," Royce reached down, and began pulling up several distinct plants that reminded Nate of tulip bulbs, "the things that brought us here want to be the ones to kill us. The biggest threats are other game, or them. Otherwise, this planet might actually be pleasant."
"Man, what is that thing?" Danny pinched his nose as he caught a whiff of the plants, "smells like shit!"
"Something to mask your scent," Royce began rubbing the plant over his pants and waist, "those things have an excellent sense of smell. They'll track us here and when they do, I'm hoping the overpowering stench will throw them off our trail. Rub it on your pants or waist, but not chest."
"That may work," Calvin said as he went to grab some of the plants, "we put it on our pants, the creatures think that we're using it to mask our scent, but it gets washed off when move through the swamp."
"Something like that," Royce replied.
"Have you done this before?" Agwang asked.
"With dogs," Royce replied, "didn't work perfectly, but it still gave me an edge."
"Like we don't smell bad enough," Big Rig grumbled.
A few minutes pasted, and everyone was covered in the foulest smelling plant they had ever come across. When added to their less than fresh bodies, it took a certain degree of self control for some of them not to vomit.
"Now that we have our deodorant, everyone into the pool," Royce deadpanned.
"Brazil all over again," Billy sighed as he and Jessie went about securing their weapons.
"There must be another way!" Zeya protested, deathly afraid of getting his only weapon damp. The idea of being helpless here was absolutely terrifying. Just the thought of being at someone else's mercy was almost more than the soldier could stand.
"This is the best way to throw them off our scent and off our trail," Isabelle hoisted her sniper rifle over her head and walked down into the water.
"It will be fine," Agwang placed a reassuring hand on Zeya's shoulder, and gave him a sympathetic smile. She didn't much care for the man as a person, but knew how important it was to keep up morale.
"Walk behind me, and move swiftly," Royce ordered.
The odd ball band of warriors marched through the swamp without complaint. Billy and Jessie were silently thankful that they took the precaution of water proofing their ammos bags, Nate eyed the swamp and Danny just preyed that if anything here did eat him, they'd had the decency to do it in one bite.
The band traveled the distance about ten blocks, before they came to a gently sloping rock formation. Calvin almost couldn't believe the change in geography, as the land went from lush swamp to desert like rock in the distance of twelve feet. He couldn't think of anything like it in all of nature.
"Lets take a minute," Royce ordered, as he slumped against a rock, "wait until we can dry off some, then we move."
There wasn't much argument. Slogging through the swamp had been exhausting, and it been hours since most of them had eaten anything.
"I'd kill for some new underwear," Big Rig grumbled.
"Any idea how well these things can smell?" Nate asked.
"Hard to say," Royce replied, "they're good trackers, but they never saw me when I had the cloaking devise on. Probably because they weren't looking for me, but I made sure not to rely on the thing completely. I stayed downwind, and they never knew to look for me. Now…"
Royce trailed off, but Nate still understood him perfectly. They were in virgin territory now, with Royce sticking his neck out for them.
It was a lot like crossing an old rope bridge. The only way to know if what you were doing was safe was to walk across it with your fingers crossed. If it was a good idea, you'd survive.
And if it was a bad idea, you were too far over the edge to go back, and all you could do was scream as you died.
"Alright," Isabelle was the one who spoke this time, "we need to get moving again. There's a storm coming soon."
"Just one moment," Calvin said, sounding just as exhausted now as when they stepped out of the swamp, "need to catch my breath."
"We don't have time for that old man," Royce said bluntly.
"Just…just a minute," Calvin pleaded.
"You heard the man," Big Rig snapped. He lumbered towards the aged teacher, "we gotta move old timer. Danny, grab his arrows. I'll fix this."
Danny plucked Calvin's quiver off his back in a fluid motion, and before he could even protest, Big Rig was looming over him like a mountain. Big Rig grabbed Calvin around the waist and lifted him over his shoulder with barely a grunt.
"Okay, lets go," Big Rig turned to glare at Royce, for daring the mercenary to suggest leaving Calvin behind.
"Stay close and watch your step," Royce ordered, "this area was a dumping ground for a while."
The group passed a column of stones, and a field littered with skeletons. Some wore remnants of army uniforms, aged and torn by exposure to weather, while others looked like movie props, devoid of all flesh and bleached pure white by the sun above.
From the back, Ayhum watched the paradox of Big Rig carrying Calvin over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, unwilling to leave a man he'd met a day before,. Calvin's face was flush with embarrassment, while the biker crushed the bones and skulls of dead warriors underneath his feet.
"This planet has its own killing grounds," Billy remarked with disgust, "nice. Alien bastards…"
"Why didn't they take trophies?" Nate asked aloud
"Wasn't the aliens that killed them," Royce explained, "the former landlord of our…lets call it a safe house… valued his independence."
"He tried to kill you," Jessie guessed, "so you killed him, and took his pad."
"That's about the gist of it," Royce replied, "its the way of this world. Predator or prey. And I'm not prey."
They marched in silence for a half hour. In that time, Calvin felt recovered enough to walk, and insisted on walking under his own power, Zeya worried about his flame thrower and Danny was quickly shot down as he tried to strike up a conversation with Agwang, but nothing emerged out of nowhere to attack the group.
Nate knew that the longer they stayed out in the open, the greater the chance they had of that changing.
But as luck would have it, Royce led them to a cliff face, and motioned for them to stop.
"Everyone safety their weapons," Royce ordered, "we have to crawl uphill through a very tight space, and the last thing I need is getting shot in the ass."
"I'll go first," Isabelle said.
The Israeli sniper made her way into the cave, and clicked on a flashlight. They watched as she slowly climbed up a slow slope, and she went, they saw just a little clearer what the cave was really like.
It was like the mouth of a great beast. Less than two feet high with jagged edges everywhere, it led up towards a barely visible orange light. It was by no means a steep climb, but it certainly didn't look like a comfortable one.
Ironically, that was its own comfort. What was hard for them would likely be impossible for the aliens hunting them.
"Alright," Isabelle called out. Nate glanced up, and saw her shining a light too powerful to be that flashlight she was using earlier, "head towards me. If you need some light, let me know."
"Head into the light," Calvin chuckled half heartedly, "that's what got me into this mess in the first place."
The climb was slow, but far from uneventful. Zeya struggled to drag his flame thrower up, Billy and Jessie struggled to lug all their weapons up, while Big Rig struggled to squeeze into the small space. The only person that managed to make it up the slope with ease was Danny, the smallest member.
In all, it was a slow, uncomfortable crawl, that ended in a way none of them expected. The kidnapped warriors thought that they were crawling up the mouth of one cave, into another.
Instead, the slope opened out into a metal hallway, complete with orange lights and a slight electric hum. There were cobwebs and dust everywhere, but it was far more inviting than the wild outdoors they, until now, thought they would be trapped in.
"What is this place?" Billy glanced around, looking for anything that might reveal the room's purpose.
"We think this was once a mine," Isabelle said softly, then put a finger to her lips, and then pointed at the grated floor.
Billy, Ayhum, Calvin and Nate understood instantly. Metal could carry vibrations, like someone speaking, a lot farther than most people knew. On a planet like this, they had to take every precaution. The rest simply deferred to the Israeli.
Royce was the last man up, and he motioned for them to follow him.
"We should be clear," Royce said in a hushed tone. Nate observed that Royce didn't start talking until they were no longer walking on steel, "the man who was here before us managed to survive decades. In that time, he built up a fair collection of weapons. And we've been adding to the collection since we've been staying here."
Up ahead, Nate saw a cave entrance covered by one of the parachutes the hunters had used to drop them on the planet.
"And how many other soldiers did you watch die, before you took their weapons?"
The accusation slipped from Nate's lips before he even had time to consider the consequences. But he didn't regret a single word.
Isabelle looked as if she'd been slapped. Royce just chuckled darkly.
"Enough," Royce said, as they reached the parachute. He grabbed a fistful, and pulled it aside.
The cave was about three times the size of the average garage, and it was brimming with weapons of all kinds, and all different eras. C-4 rested next to Vietnam era claymores, hunting rifles lay next to Civil War era revolvers, an FN M249 SAW machine gun sat on the ground, looking brand new.
It was, without question, the largest cache of weapons anyone had ever seen outside of army vaults. There were enough weapons to level a city block, and enough guns to reduce any creature to nothing but a green stain.
"Enough to turn their little hunt…into a God damn war."
Next: War plans.