by O. J. Anderson
|part 1 of 9|
Jack Creed and his squad are under attack from hordes of giant beasts and are running out of ammo. But don’t worry, their troubles are just beginning. They’re up against the World Order: a mad scientist’s combination of man and animal, with weapons on full automatic.
St. Lawrence Island. The Bering Sea. October 14
The GIANT KING CRAB ascends onto the rocky shoreline. Walks to within ten feet of the kill zone.
Jack and the crew have been lying in ambush for three days. Cold and wet. Been living on nothing but stale granola and cocoa powder. Face feels like he’s been using a wheel of gouda for a pillow. Working on a wicked case of crotch-rot too. For which, up until a few minutes before the giant crab’s arrival, Jack had been pondering having to use an old field-expedient remedy: opening up a 5.56 round, dumping the powder on the crotchal region, and setting it afire. Works every time, so they say. But now that the GIANT CRAB is here, he won’t have to find out.
Two hundred meters from the kill zone, tucked into the wooded area, dug in and camo’d, Jack’s hand tightens on the demo trigger. Almost time to go.
The GIANT CRAB is at least thirty feet high. An ugly reddish-blue with white knobs all over. Eyes like beach balls. Claws that could crush a Buick. A rare specimen. About to be blown into the world’s largest crab salad.
It creeps forward, halfway onto the open grassy area laced with P-10 nodes. Maybe a bit too much P-10. The load was hotly debated. “It’s only a crab,” Rivers said.
Now, Jack doesn’t know much about seafood, but he does know this: a marine crustacean of the order Decapoda this size, i.e. a GIANT Paralithodes Contschatica, is going to have a prosoma carapace with a thickness of somewhere between a BRDM-2 and an M-1 Abrams battle tank, conservatively speaking. And that’s a lot of chitin! Better to be cautious, and hit it with everything you’ve got.
The GIANT CRAB is an awesome sight. Like Godzilla, but a crab instead. Its movements are slow and labored, almost robot-like. It probably looks more menacing than it really is; however, it’s about to die as though it were the most menacing thing ever to walk the Earth. Standard doctrine.
It’s time. The monster walks right into the center of the ambush site. Now standing atop more than four hundred pounds of super-high explosives, just like Jack knew it would (based on the seasonal temperature of the Strait and its effects on the crab’s enlarged hepatopancreas, the Earth’s precession, trade winds, et cetera).
The ground lurches upward in one great heave. Grey-black miasma of topsoil. Dirt rains down on them as the concussion wave rolls into the forest, wiping away the island’s tranquillity like crumbs from the dinner table.
When the earth has settled once again, Jack and his crew stand. A couple of high fives. They move forward for a detailed blast damage assessment. But there’s not much to be found. A small section of a cheliped, half an antennule. Not much else. A job well done.
“Hey, boss...” Smith says. “How’s about we toss a few grenades into the water? Scare up some dinner.”
Jack grunts. Spits out his toothpick. He’s hungry, real hungry, but his crotch is flaming. Feels like he’s squatting on a camp stove.
“Not a bad idea, boss,” Rivers adds. Everyone’s hungry. And they just sent a half a million dollars worth of potential crab gumbo into the ozone layer. Maybe a precision shot through the mouth, taking out the heart or brain would have been more adroit, saving something for dinner. But the past is in the past.
Jack just stares into the crater. A hard grimace on his mug. His feet are in a wide stance, trying to get some air to circulate. Dry it up a bit. Anything.
The crew is silent, standing around the perimeter of the blast crater. They are laden with gear. Tired. Cold. Hungry. Hard men, all of them. But even the hardest of men have to eat.
Finally, Jack looks up and asks them, “Who’s got the baby powder?”
He extends one leg and breaks into a tortured lunge. “Anti-fungal cream? Wet wipes?”
Still nothing. Nobody has anything except weapons and ammunition and other assorted gadgets designed to kill things. Heavy load, light on the creature comforts. No aspirin, snivel gear, coffee creamer or baby powder.
The water begins to agitate.
“Come on, somebody must have...” Jack stops. Turns his head slowly out toward the sea.
There is a bubbling, roiling sound now coming from about a hundred meters out. The brackish water is turning white and foamy. It’s growing, whatever it is. The crew starts to back off the ambush site. Barrels rise. The metallic snick of safeties being flicked to FIRE.
The white, churning water comes closer to the rocks. Moving slowly, but deliberately. Whatever it is, it’s coming out. Coming for them. Can’t be another GIANT CRAB though, the water is too shallow there. They’d see it by now — and be planning the dinner menu.
The first wave of mini GIANT CRABS come scurrying over the rocks a few seconds later. These are about five feet tall; big, but they’ve seen bigger. Just babies. But their claws are still large enough to snip off a grown man’s arm or leg.
“It had kids,” Rivers says.
Jack begins touching off well-aimed shots. Right for the face. Blind them, shut them down at the control unit. “Fall back to the extraction point!” It’s time to bail out. This has ceased to be a job for small arms. Need something bigger. He shouts to his radioman, “Call in the choppers. We’re pullin’ out!”
Jones shouts back, “Roger that!”
Dozens of crabs are now clambering over each other onto the island. And the churning of the ocean hasn’t calmed even a little. There must be hundreds of them in there. Maybe thousands — more crabs than bullets. But the men are not going to stick around to count them. They’ll finish this one from the air.
The squad divides itself into its two break-contact teams: Alpha and Bravo. Alpha drops and sets up a wall of suppressive fire as Bravo moves back one hundred meters. They alternate like this all the way back to the PZ.
The three Blackhawk helicopters are circling the pickup zone. Each chopper dangles a rope with a metal ring attached to the end. All squad members have a three-foot exfil line hitched in to their assault harnesses with which they will clip into the ring and get airlifted out of there. The door gunners pick up fire with their M-240s as soon as they positively ID both teams and the crabs.
Bird 1 descends and hovers thirty feet off the ground.
Bravo Team arrives first at the PZ. Four men, Chalk 1, clip in to the ring hanging from Bird 1. It lifts off, jerking the team up from the ground like a cluster of weeds. The other two men take a knee and pull security until the next team shows up.
When Alpha Team arrives two minutes later, they form a perimeter. Take cover behind thick trees and rocks. Wait for a lift.
Jack lets rip a short burst. Stitches up a crab to his left. Then swings high to a large mound of dead crabs and puts the brakes on a couple more. His M-4's barrel is getting hot, and he’s down to three mags. He slings his rifle, tosses a few grenades. Jerks the two Smith & Wesson 9-mm pistols from their holsters and proceeds to take down crabs like a movie star in the third act of a crappy, big-budget action flick.
He can tell by the lessening sound, the decreasing vociferousness, of the gunfight that his squad is getting short on ammo. He looks up and sees the second Blackhawk come down. Rotor wash like a hurricane. The sound of the machine guns like a warm blanket at night. The four-man team dashes to the ring and hooks up. Lucky tosses Jack a couple more mags, then Chalk 2 ascends into the overcast heavens.
Jack stuffs the magazines into his shirt and switches back to the M-4. Scratches his crotch. Kills another crab. He then moves back to the PZ for his lift. Jones, Simms, and Kessler meet him there. They form a tiny perimeter. Aim carefully before firing so as not to waste any ammo. Kick spent brass onto each other. The slower rate of fire means the crabs advance onto their position faster.
The clickety-clack, scritch-crack, tick sound of crabs beating against each other, clambering over each other, and becoming entangled with each other grows louder. The noise is eerie and coming from all around, like the prelude to a typhoon wreaking havoc on a bamboo wind-chime factory.
The crabs are piling up, forming a crescent-shaped wall arcing around the north side of the pickup zone. It’s providing a bit of an obstacle at the moment, but the crescent is slowly turning into a circle — it’s expanding. And they are now running out of ammo.
The third bird comes down just as Jack loads his last magazine. The bolt slams forward. He takes aim at a crab barreling straight for him. Center mass. Three rounds. The jacketed 5.56 rounds sizzle through the crab’s mouth with barely any resistance. They then burrow through the spongy gray-matter of the stomach at nearly 2,500 feet per second. The bullets, now deformed into mangled drill bits, pass completely through the stomach and penetrate the crab’s heart.
The crab stops five feet short of Jack and Chalk 3. Falls flat on its belly.
Jack feels a tap on his shoulder. He grabs his D-ring and hooks in.
The Blackhawk lifts. Beneath them, the crabs overrun the PZ, snapping their claws up at them crazily. At this point, the chopper banking away, Jack has to wonder just who sits atop the food chain on St. Lawrence Island.
* * *
Once they get back to Allen Army Airfield in Alaska, Jack calls in an airstrike on the entire island.
As his crew hurries off for the Mess Hall, Jack ducks into a nearby Quonset hut in search of hot water, a bar of soap, towel. Time for a much needed tune up. Change the oil in his shorts. There’s a locker room type setup at the south end of the hut — for the pilots. There’s always something left behind. A sliver of soap, shampoo, something. But, just as he’s reaching for the hot water faucet, he hears Jones somewhere outside.
“Hey, boss. Boss!”
Jack walks to the small window, opens it. “Yeah?”
Jones jogs over. Looks inside. “Sorry, boss. We got a call from HQ. Sounds important.”
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by O. J. Anderson