Slowing the truck as he rolled past a group of M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles, Jaspers had to lift the back of one hand and wipe his mouth. “Really, couldn’t we bloody convince Richards to let us bring a few of these?” he asked into the comm. “Look at the bloody gun on that thing!”
“Need a big gun, do you?” asked Sergei, snickering.
Jaspers didn’t even snap at the tease. “Just look at it,” he breathed. “Bushmaster 25mm chain gun, anti-tank missiles as backup if they’re needed. Psychic horror or not, nobody’s bloody standing up to that.”
Jaspers slowed down his truck, empty aside from him now that Brian had run off on some other errand. There wasn’t anything wrong with the truck, not in particular, he mused, but it was, when things came down to brass tacks, just a civilian vehicle, right? It didn’t have armor, and while it had a great big bloody engine under the hood, that wasn’t much good if you didn’t have any weapons to shoot back at the enemy with!
He considered the crushing power of that… that devil, monster, whatever the hell it had been that attacked them at Blue Diamond. Jaspers never had much truck with the supernatural; he could still remember fidgeting on the hard pews in church as he squirmed next to his mother. She insisted on attending every Sunday, praying for the both of them.
From the day that she died, he never set foot in another church again.
Oliver Jaspers, from as far back as he could remember, didn’t put much faith in the supernatural. Lead, on the other hand, he trusted. Lead was easy to use, easy to measure its effectiveness.
And best of all, if lead didn’t work, the easiest solution was to simply add more. He looked up again at the Bushmaster mounted on the Bradley. He probably couldn’t convince the Captain to let him bring that thing along on the hunt, he mused, but there was no reason why a place as big as Fort Hood wouldn’t have a few extra chain guns stashed somewhere else. He could probably figure out how to rig one to fire out the truck, especially if the Captain took over driving once he came back from his errand.
Giving one last envious look up at the Bushmaster, Jaspers drove on towards the armory.
In his truck, Sergei sighed, glancing over at Feng. “Man is like a little boy when he’s around these guns,” he complained. “Is like a small child being let loose in a toy shop. Just wants it all.”
Feng leaned forward and peered at the Bradley. She didn’t look impressed. “Zijiang bring it down with one shot,” she pronounced.
“Anti-materiel.” She struggled slightly with the phrase.
“Ah.” Sergei steered the truck around Jaspers’ own, which had slowed down, and navigated towards the buildings that Brian had pointed out as the armory. He thought back to the encounter with the strange monster, which he’d named the zduhac. It seemed like as a good a name for it as any, he admitted to himself.
In mythology, from what he remembered, the zduhacs were usually great men, noble protectors who went out and fought to keep their families and loved ones, their towns, safe and protected. He’d never before heard of one turning cruel, against its own kind, but there had been rumors that it could happen.
He remembered sitting in his mother’s kitchen, his cheeks still stinging with scrapes from brawling with his older brothers. His mother, sighing, wiped tenderly at his cuts and bruises with a damp rag as she chattered over his head to her friends, talking of spirits and ghosts and all other things that the textbooks claimed did not exist.
Sergei grew up a pragmatist, a word he held closely. After all, there might be gods and spirits, but what use were they when he fought against other men? Better to put his trust in his knife, in the placement of his shots, in trusting in his companions to hold the line.
Still, when a man among his enemies stepped out into a hail of bullets, bravely thrusting his chest forward as if believing that a god or spirit gave him true invincibility, Sergei always made sure to put a second shot through his head. After all, he figured, even immortality couldn’t help much if you were blind and brainless.
But now… he thought of the zduhac, the great spirit presence that nearly crushed them as if they were truly nothing. Brian, zer Captain, told them to arm themselves. Jaspers, the Brit who thought mostly with his muscles, would come staggering back with enough arms and ammunition draped over his body as to act as body armor.
But what use was that against a creature of spirit?
Sergei glanced over at Feng. She sat next to him in the other seat of the truck, motionless and silent as usual, her dark eyes down on her lap. She looked back up after a second, as if she felt the weight of his eyes.
“This place surely must have a chapel, da?” he asked.
She considered the question for a moment, and then nodded. She didn’t ask why, for which Sergei was grateful.
“Might be worth a stop,” he said. “You need things from the armory? Bigger rifle?”
Another pause of consideration, and then she lifted a single shoulder. The message wasn’t hard to read. For her small size, Feng carried a very powerful rifle. If it wasn’t enough to bring down this monster they faced, what good would a bigger gun do?
Sergei nodded. “Do you have gods to pray to?” he asked, feeling a little strange about that question. He’d never really ventured into this territory with Feng before, despite being probably the closest to the little woman of the group.
Another pause, and then a single nod. Sergei kept his eyebrows from climbing, maintaining a stoic face.
“Maybe ask them for ideas,” he suggested, as he steered their truck towards a building with a cross rising up on a steeple.
Henry slowed down, panting and huffing and cursing nonstop under his breath. He wasn’t angry at the Captain, precisely, but he hated running! In part, he associated it with trouble. When an ordinance technician ran, everybody ran.
There was some saying associated with that, wasn’t there? One of those “military slang” things that the Brit and the American seemed so fond of repeating, and so often traded back and forth for chuckles. Something about when an explosives expert started running…
It wasn’t even mid-morning yet, but the sun already blazed down on them from a cloudless Texas sky, filling the air with heat. Henry muttered another curse up to it. He had the true French gift of cursing, of summoning forth a non-stop stream of witty insults to mock every aspect of any target he selected.
Trying to keep his mind off his aching legs, he turned his thoughts towards that monster, their prey. Prey was a good word, he decided, as it made them seem more in control. Better to think of it as “prey” rather than “potential supernatural killer.” That didn’t sound quite so nice.
In any case, he knew the answer.
Henry hadn’t been a pyromaniac as a child, hadn’t strapped firecrackers to cats or started fires in the forest. He’d grown up as a normal, bright child, had gone into the military to pay for college, and ended up staying because he had an aptitude for keeping a cool head around explosives – a place where many other people lost control.
But that didn’t mean that he didn’t have a secret love of watching things explode.
Every ordinance technician had a secret love of the boom, Henry believed. Even the most dour explosives experts loved that moment when they pushed a button and, through simple extension of their will, wreaked great destruction on the world where they chose. Why deny it? He’d seen his own instructor, a iron-haired matron who never cracked even a hint of a smile during any discussion, let loose a microsecond-long grin as she blew up half the ordinance range.
And now, hunting this prey, Henry insisted that he didn’t need to know too much about it. Let the Captain, Sergei, all those others argue over whether the thing was a supernatural spirit or a physical monster, what name it should be known by.
Henry hadn’t met a single thing that couldn’t be eliminated with enough boom. Now, finally approaching the welcome shade of the armory, he snapped his fingers as he remembered the saying.
“An ordinance technician at a run outranks everyone,” he chuckled to himself. “Sounds quite good to me.”
To be continued…