by O. J. Anderson
|part 6 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.
After Simms and Jones make it up to the shaft, the four men set about building a sturdy anchor point for the zip line.
Jones lines up the power drill and bores some holes. Simms follows up with a hammer and bolt kit. Behind him, Smith begins to string up biners, runners, and a self-equalizing multi-point octopus of rope between the bolt hangers and the edge of the shaft opening. Jack backfeeds the 12mm static rope. All 500 feet of it.
The sun has set. They’ve got about an hour of light left, which will work in their favor as the crew starts coming up the zip line. One thing is troubling Jack though: there hasn’t been the massive attack he’d been expecting by now. Their location is obvious, as is their plan for entry, and it’s been obvious for some time now. Why no full-on assault? The possible reasons for this are many.
Maybe winged monkeys, bat-rats, viper dogs, and company just aren’t that smart. Have no idea how to conduct a proper assault. Could be. Or maybe they’ve already sent everything they’ve got. The chimeras have been depleted, no longer able to defend the castle. Could have pulled back all remaining forces to secure the core. That’s what Jack would do. Sit tight and defend.
Plausible scenarios, both. But Jack knows better than to underestimate his enemy. He wishes it were that simple. And, as Creed’s Laws of Combat also states, it’s never that simple. He must assume that the chimera army is the smartest, most sophisticated and highly trained paramilitary force he’s ever encountered. Ergo, he must assume that they’re waiting for his unit to split in two. One on the ground, the other in the shaft. They could be setting an ambush right now. Packing the tunnel with explosives. Flying monkeys could blow the shaft opening from the cliff, trapping them inside. Flood it, blow it, seal it and cut off the air supply. A myriad of opportunities.
The first of his crew climbs into the shaft. It’s Lucky. He disconnects himself from the zip line and hands Jack his assault vest and MP-5.
After Lucky, the men appear at seven-minute intervals. A little less than an hour and they’ll move out.
Jack sends Smith and Jones to begin reconning the shaft. He then tells Simms to collect demo as it arrives and rig up a booby trap for the shaft entrance. Those chimps won’t get the satisfaction of trapping them inside. It won’t be much of a demo job though; they’re going in light. Carrying only what they need to fight their way to the access road and open the gates. When Brogan and his crew get on site, then it’ll be time to party.
Inside the shaft it is nearly black. Jack busts two green chemlights. Drops them on the floor. Pushes his men deeper into the tunnel. He can take a short break now. Wrap some tape on his bleeding fingers. Stretch out his calf muscles. He’s starting to cramp up. Shake it out.
Rivers is the last man in. He disconnects and gives Jack the thumbs up.
Time to move. The demo is armed and the laser tripwire network enabled. The crew heads into the bowels of the mountain.
* * *
They creep a good distance into the shaft before they come across anything but smooth straight tunnel work.
Smith makes a tick tick sound with his tongue and signals for a halt. The crew stops, takes a knee. Up ahead is a dogleg to the right. Good place for an ambush or boobytrap. This is a bad spot. An unknown fifty meters to their front, hundred meters of tunnel and a cliff behind them.
Jack moves forward to the head of the formation. If he were going to throw a surprise party for unwanted guests, this would be a good place. The tension moves up a notch. He can already taste the grenade pins. He kneels next to Smith. They are quiet for a minute. Just listening.
A distant sound soon becomes noticeable: cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck...
Like wood on stone. The echo drifts through the tunnel. A steady rhythmic beat.
Cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck...
Jack whispers: “Sounds like hooves.” Probably a goat crossed with a rabbit. Or a llama with an inchworm. Something weird.
Smith whispers back: “Sounds like a man with a wooden leg on crutches hangin’ drywall. Or... wait... snapping rivets?”
Huh? Jack gives Smith the that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard look, but it’s too dark to see. The sound grows louder. He waves a four man team up to the dogleg. They wait. Jack doesn’t have to tell his men that it would be better to take this thing prisoner than to kill it. They don’t know where they’re going; it does. They’ll use the elbow in the shaft to their advantage. It probably doesn’t know they’re there. But it’s about to.
The wooden steps get closer.
Smith and Jones flatten themselves against the wall, poised to tackle it, whatever it is.
Thirty seconds later, it turns the corner. Jack and Lucky click on their high-powered flashlights. Right in the eyes. Blinding it. He catches a glimpse of it — man-shaped, sport coat, very hairy — before the two-man hit team blurs across the shaft and sacks that thing like a 300-pound linebacker on a fluffernutter football. They slam it into the wall. Take it down. It doesn’t put up any fight.
“Hey... dammit!” it shouts. “Get off me!”
“Just be cool,” Jack tells him, “and you won’t get hurt.” The thing’s face is mostly covered with hair, except for a T-shaped section around the eyes, nose, mouth area. Looks like a werewolf. Not too original. He shines his light down at the legs. No pegs. No crutches. It’s wearing brown leather loafers.
Smith: “It’s clean, boss. No weapons.”
“All right. Let ’im up.” Jack lowers his weapon. “Try anything funny and you’ll be splattered all over the walls before you can count to zero.”
“Uh... okay,” the wolf-man sneers. He straightens his tie and dusts off his coat sleeves. Shakes his head like he’s got a case of the ass now. He seems very put out by all of this. “I don’t know why you think this is necess-”
“Right. Listen up, ace. I’ll do the talking and you’ll just answer the questions and do what you’re told. Got it?”
Tucking in his shirt, he rolls his eyes and says, “Got it.”
“Good,” Jack says. “So, who’re you?”
“I’m Lucas,” the man-wolf says after he finishes squaring away his outfit. He stands up straight now. “Mr. Balthazar’s public relations representative.”
A PR rep. If he weren’t in an air shaft below a castle filled with paramilitary chimera... he would laugh. But he is, so he doesn’t. With utmost sincerity, Jack squints and asks the man-wolf, “Get a lot of PR work, do ya?”
Lucas frowns and shakes his head, like he’s disappointed, or bored, or both. “No. No, I don’t. This is actually my first assignment. But Mr. S says I’ve got a natural way with people.”
“Well, if you want to live to see your second assignment you’ll lead us into the castle. Preferably a tactically sound part of the castle; you know, with good cover and concealment, limited avenues of approach, plentiful exfil routes, et cetera. And somewhere near the front gates.”
Lucas sneers again. “Gee, anything else I can do for you? Coffee? Danish?”
A wicked stink eye from Jack wipes the sneer off the man-wolf’s hairy jib. “Yeah,” he growls, “it would behoove you to notify us of any boobytraps or ambushes along the way.”
“There aren’t any.”
“Look, tough guy. Why would I come down here if there were boobytraps or ambushes? Hm?”
“You tell me, furball. Why are you here?”
“Because you and your gang of hooligans have been invited to an early dinner with Mr. S. I’m here to show you to the great room where drinks will be served until the meal is ready. That is, of course, should you accept the invitation; and also assuming that you people know how to use silverware properly.”
Jack’s had enough of this clown. He balls up his fist, hauls back and pops the man-wolf right in the forehead. Bam!
Lucas’s head snaps back like a party balloon in a stiff wind. A deep grunt of pain echoes through the shaft. Pain mixed with surprise. Most people expect to get punched in the jaw, maybe the nose. But never the forehead. Getting punched in the forehead rattles the brain, makes the whole central nervous system shimmy. Right down through the spinal cord. Makes the legs tingle. Feels like being run over by an ice cream truck.
“There now,” Jack says. “What were you saying?”
“Uh...” Lucas is dazed. Head wobbling like an infant.
“Drinks in the great room?” Jack knows this could be a trap, but his instincts tell him it isn’t. Not yet anyway. These old rich buggers always like to talk first before they set you up. So they’ll go, assess the situation, recon the site, and then become the worst dinner guests the world has ever seen. “We accept,” Jack tells Lucas.
“Huh?” He looks drunk now. His memory and all cognitive abilities temporarily wiped clean.
“Let’s move out. Smart ass here’s on point.”
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by O. J. Anderson