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The shape slammed into the lead Humvee, knocking it sideways and sending it rolling through the drifts of sand. Kurt didn’t even pause, sending a steady stream of lead towards the monstrosity of a creature that had attacked. My eyes, however, were following the wreck of the Humvee, now a shattered and dented mass lying in the dip between two sand drifts. The impact had reduced it to a nearly unrecognizable ball of metal.
Kurt’s assault rifle had run out of ammunition, and he was spewing a steady stream of loud curses as he struggled to reload in the bouncing vehicle. The gunner on top of our Humvee had managed to drag the heavy mounted machine gun onto the new target, however, and the monster in front of us let out a thin, almost inaudible wail as the new stream of high-velocity rounds tore through it. I caught an impression of flailing tentacles, a jagged, gnashing beak, and far too many eyes of all different sizes, all smashed together into a roiling mass. An instant later, however, the heavy bullets shredded it into pulp.
Still letting out that thin scream, the monster landed in the sand, its death spasms rolling it off the side of the convoy. With the path ahead of us clear, the driver didn’t hesitate to slam the gas pedal all the way to the floor, and we leapt forward.
The soldier riding shotgun in the passenger seat looked down at the computer screen mounted in the central panel of the Humvee. “Beacon’s just ahead,” he announced. “One thousand feet. Eight hundred. Six hundred. Four hundred. Two hundred.”
The driver slammed on the brakes, and I clutched at my seat belt as the vehicle skidded sideways for several feet before coming to a stop. My wide eyes saw that, of the dozen delivery trucks that had originally entered the portal with us, only eight were still with us. The rear Humvee was still with us as well, but I could see smoke emerging from under its hood and with the front wheels twisted at an awkward angle. Several of the large delivery trucks were spotted with what looked like burn marks, and one of them had a large tear in the metal siding.
Kurt reached behind the seat, into the trunk area of our Humvee, and pulled out a briefcase. Hauling it over the seat and into his lap, he popped the side door and leapt out of the vehicle. Bradley, on my other side, followed suit. Not sure what to do, but not wanting to be left alone in the vehicle, I hurried to follow them.
The gray sand that made up the surface of subspace was very light, and small clouds of it swirled around my feet as I landed outside the Humvee. A few of the grains reached my mouth and nose, making me cough. They were gritty in my throat, but tasteless.
I turned towards the other mercenaries. Kurt was kneeling down on the sand, the briefcase lying open in front of him. Inside was some sort of computer machinery, with which he was fiddling. Bradley was standing next to him, his alert and worried eyes on the dark clouds around us and his hands tight on his assault rifle.
I moved towards Kurt, trying to peer over his shoulder in the dim half-light. The computer screen inside the briefcase appeared to be running some sort of program. “What is that?” I asked.
“We need to send a signal to the other side, so that we can get a portal out of here,” he replied. “They can’t just leave the portal constantly open; you’ve seen the kind of things that are out here. So we open a miniature portal, just big enough to send a radio signal through, to let them know that we’re at their endpoint.”
The computer beeped. “How long is it going to take?” I asked, looking around nervously, my eyes on the sky. The low, oppressive clouds gave the entire world a claustrophobic feel, as if a great weight was hovering just above us. There could be an entire army of those monsters, hiding in or above the clouds, and we would never know – until they swooped below to attack.
Kurt straightened up, brushing the ubiquitous sand from his fatigues. “Signal’s sent,” he said. “Should just be a few minutes now.”
Getting towards the end – promise!