Mega 4: Behemoth Island (5 page)

BOOK: Mega 4: Behemoth Island
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“Tell me about it,” Gunnar replied. He tapped a finger on the schematics and focused all of his attention on Ingrid. “It’s your show now. Time to pull back the curtain.”

“Show? Curtain? Ugh, can you be more gay?” Mike sighed.

“That’s it, you are staying here, asshole,” Gunnar said, pointing a finger at Mike. “And you are sleeping in your own bunk tonight.”

“I was just kidding,” Mike responded. “Chill out, Gun.”

“Ingrid? Where are we going?” Gunnar asked.

“The Toyshop,” Ingrid said. “Where else would I take you?”

 

***

 

The Zodiacs hit the white sand beach and slid up onto land as Darren killed the motor in one and Darby killed the motor in the other. Most of Team Grendel immediately hopped out of the rafts and started tossing gear and supplies to each other, while Lucy and Max covered them with their sniper rifles. Once they were certain nothing was going to come for them right away, they eased up and helped grab gear as well.

Yet, no one relaxed. Their weapons were slung so that they could be grabbed up without a moment’s hesitation.

“We sure those things won’t be coming out to say hello?” Max asked, looking back at the bay and the occasional appearance of a large fin or flipper.

“They didn’t fuck with us while we were in the water,” Shane said. “They probably won’t fuck with us up here on land.”

“High tide line is there,” Thorne said, pointing to a small line of shells and darker sand a meter away. “We set up between that line and the jungle. Max and Darby will stay here at the FOB while we recon the area.”

“Whoa, what?” Max exclaimed. “Why am I staying here?” He hooked a thumb over at Darby. “More importantly, why is she staying here?”

“Legs,” Darby said. “Our legs are still healing.”

“It’s been weeks,” Max whined. “Come on, Uncle Vinny, you’ve seen us both workout and know our legs are in tip top shape.”

“True,” Thorne replied. “But someone has to stay here and watch the equipment and make sure the Zodiacs are ready to bug out at the first sign of trouble. Makes more sense to have you and Darby stay since both of you had severe leg wounds recently. Not to mention that if we come busting ass out of that jungle, I’d prefer to have a shooter covering. That means it’s either you or your brother or Lucy. You want to tell me how I narrow that down?”

“If you say one word about me being only Coast Guard and not a SEAL, I’ll whoop your ass right here on this beach,” Lucy said, pointing her finger at Max. “And Darby will let me.”

“I will,” Darby said, busy unpacking gear and getting it set up in the levelest spot on the beach. “She’ll kick your ass.”

“All the women on this beach can kick your ass,” Kinsey said, grinning from ear to ear. “It’s just a fact of life, cuz. Stay here and help your lady get set up. Then make her a sandwich and rub her feet when you’re done.”

Max sputtered for a moment, threw his arms up in the air and stomped off to the largest pile of gear.

“That was fun,” Kinsey said.

“Wasn’t it?” Lucy laughed.

“He’s easy to get upset,” Darby said. “Little bitch.”

The women kept laughing as they picked up gear and moved it further up the beach, well out of the way of the tide when it comes in.

“I’m not so comfortable with how they have bonded,” Darren said to Shane. “I feel grossly outnumbered.”

“It’s a brand new world, Ditcher,” Shane said. “I fear we must get used to it.”

“Dude, don’t call me Ditcher,” Darren sighed.

“Ditchers ditch, man,” Shane said and shrugged. “You ditched Kinsey, so you are Ditcher.”

“I really thought we were past all that,” Darren replied. “It’s just not funny anymore.”

“Isn’t supposed to be,” Shane said. “Until Kinsey says you aren’t Ditcher anymore then you are Ditcher.”

“Hey, ‘Sey!” Darren shouted at Kinsey.

“Yes, ‘Ren?” Kinsey replied, a sly smirk on her face.

“Will you tell your cousin to stop calling me Ditcher, please?” Darren asked.

“Is he doing that again?” Kinsey asked.

“Yes, yes I am,” Shane responded.

“What do you think?” Kinsey asked, turning to Darby and Lucy. “Should I end the poor boy’s misery?”

“Why?” Lucy asked. “I once hid my ex’s Mustang in a garage three towns over until she apologized for cheating on me. Then I kept it another three months until I knew for sure she wasn’t still seeing the little bitch she cheated on me with.”

“I sliced off an ex-lover’s genitals and fed them to his dog,” Darby said. “He didn’t ever get them back. Unless he kept the dog shit. I didn’t wait around to find out.”

Lucy held up a hand and Darby casually high-fived it.

“Did you hear that, ‘Ren?” Kinsey called over to Darren. “I think you’re getting a pretty good deal.”

“I’d quit while you’re behind, man,” Shane said.

“Fucking A,” Darren sighed as he took off his pack and started double checking his kit. “Will I ever win with her?”

“Not if you think it’s a competition,” Max said, walking by with his arms filled with jugs of water. “Just let go, D. Just let go.”

“I like how you called him D,” Shane said. “It could stand for Darren or it could be Ditcher. Nice.”

“It’s the subtle ribbing that sets me apart from the others,” Max said. “I have a certain finesse about me that—”

“Boys!” Thorne snapped. “I’m done.”

“Uncle Vinny is done,” Max said.

“Apparently,” Shane replied. “Love you, Uncle Vinny!”

“He flipped us off,” Max said.

“With love,” Shane replied.

“Always with love,” Max said.

The two brothers blew their uncle a kiss.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Thorne growled as he took a sip of water and surveyed the jungle’s tree line.

He watched the trees, looking for signs of life, but other than the breeze that stirred the many ferns and palms that lined the beach, nothing moved. It took him a second to realize that aside from the same ferns and palms, nothing made a sound either. No movement with no sound was not good.

“Grendel, weapons up and hot,” he said quietly.

Even though his voice was barely above a conversational whisper, the entire Team stopped what they were doing and lifted rifles and carbines to their shoulders, eyes locked on the jungle. Thorne lifted his left hand and waved it to the left. Lucy and Kinsey spread out that way, crouching down and walking sideways until they were about twenty meters away. Thorne motioned right and Shane and Darren mirrored Kinsey and Lucy’s movements.

Darby and Max came up on each side of Thorne, each taking a knee. Once they flanked Thorne, he took a few steps towards the jungle, his finger resting on the trigger guard of his M4. He closed half the distance then dropped to his own knee.

The Team watched closely, senses on high alert, all noticing the distinct lack of sound coming from what should have been a jungle teeming with life. What kind of life? None could say, but there had been plenty of noise coming off the jungle when they entered the bay. Now there was nothing but ominous silence.

“What’s the call, Vinny?” Darren asked quietly. “We staying put or going in?”

“Staying put for the moment,” Thorne responded, just as quietly. “Ten minutes then we move in.”

They waited there, the sun beating down on them, reflecting up and glaring from the white sand. When the ten minutes was up, they all stood as one and closed ranks.

“Continue setting up,” Thorne said to Darby. “But I want one of you watching this tree line at all times. If something needs two of you to put together then forget about it.”

“There goes the sex swing,” Max said. He winced as Darby slugged him hard in the arm. “Hey. I use this arm, you know.”

“Coms on Team channel only,” Thorne said. “I’m sure Ballantine will be listening, but he has strict instructions not to interrupt or interact with any of us unless in an emergency situation.”

Thorne stuck a finger under Shane’s nose then under Max’s.

“Being smart asses is not an emergency situation, so do not fuck around,” Thorne ordered. “Am I understood?”

“Understood,” the Reynolds said together. Their tone made it obvious they were ready for business and the jokes were going to wait.

“Good,” Thorne said. “This is how we’re going to go. Darren is on point with Kinsey, myself, Lucy, and Shane behind. Darren has the call on this. I trust his eyes in there better than mine.”

Thorne looked at his nephews, but neither made an old man joke. He nodded his approval.

“We do not split up,” Thorne said. “If we get separated for any reason then you are to bug back here and wait. Do not start wandering through this island looking for everyone. Back here and wait. Got it?”

“Hooyah,” they all said.

“Hooyah,” Thorne replied. “In we go.”

They lined up in the order that Thorne had given then slowly made their way into the jungle. Darby and Max waited on the beach, their eyes, and weapons, locked onto the insertion point. After about ten minutes, they eased back and looked at each other.

“You think we can bang one out while one of us still keeps an eye on the jungle?” Max asked.

“No,” Darby said. “And don’t say shit like that. I’m horny enough as it is.”

“Field action gets you hot, doesn’t it?” Max chuckled.

“Shut up,” Darby scolded then pointed to the equipment. “You’re on grunt duty. I’ll take first watch.”

“You’re sexy when you’re bossy,” Max said, not arguing. He secured his rifle to his back and began unpacking boxes, getting equipment sorted and ready for set up.

“I’m sexy all the time,” Darby said, giving him a sly smile before turning her full attention on the jungle.

“True dat, hot stuff,” Max said. “True dat.”

It was nearly thirty minutes of constant work before Max had everything ready to put together. All of their gear—food, water, ammunition, communications array, tents, folding tables and chairs, plus much more—was organized and laid out by category and difficulty of set up.

Max started on the main tent, working hard at getting it set up by himself, moving from one corner to the next and back again until he had poles jammed into the sand and had stretched the canopy across it. He’d just gotten the synthetic material in place when a huge gust of wind tore it all away from him, sending the tent tumbling down the beach, parallel with the tree line.

“Son of a bitch!” Max snarled as he took off after the tent. “You have got to be kidding me!”

He was about fifty yards away from Darby and the pile of gear when he came to a sudden halt and nearly pissed himself. Several large tendrils of green shot out from the jungle and wrapped themselves around the escaping tent. They yanked it into the jungle and it was lost from Max’s sight.

“Darby?” he called over his shoulder, slowly backing up. “Hey, Darby, my love?”

“I saw it,” Darby called over to him. Then her voice was in the com. “Just a heads up that the plant life is active. I repeat. The plant life is active.”

The tent came flying out of the jungle. It tumbled through the air and hit the surf, its poles snapped in half and canopy torn to shreds. The small waves lapped at it, carrying it from the beach and out into the bay.

“Guys?” Max called over the com. “Give me a click if you heard what Darby said. The plant life is active, hungry, and picky about what it eats. Tents are not on the menu. Operators may be.”

There were five clicks in his ear as he hustled back to Darby, telling them both that the rest of the Team heard them and were warned about the new threats the jungle presented.

“Big, giant monster sharks and shit are one thing,” Max said. “But grabby plants that chew up tents and spit them out? Fuck that. Just fuck that.”

Darby nodded, but didn’t say a word, her carbine trained on the jungle, her arms and hands rock solid and steady.

 

Chapter Three- Can’t Stay On This Island At All

 

Thorne and the rest of Team Grendel moved slowly, cautiously through the dense undergrowth of the jungle. It took all of Thorne’s willpower not to jump whenever a low branch snagged against him or a short bush brushed his leg. He’d look over or glance down and take a deep breath, relieved that the encounter was a passive occurrence, not an active attack like Max had warned them about.

By his count, they were at about one klick into the jungle and had yet to see an end to it. Ballantine had said the island itself was at least one hundred square miles, but from what Thorne had seen as they sailed their way from the cliffs they had originally arrived at and around to the bay, the island was considerably larger than one hundred square miles. Unless, for some strange reason, the side he hadn’t observed yet was missing a large chunk.

They continued on, their eyes watching everything at once, their weapons up, an extension of those eyes, and their feet carefully finding step after step in the never ending verdant landscape. It didn’t take them long to discover an unofficial trail. Although, it was probably only unofficial to them. To the creatures of the island, small by the looks of the trail, it could have been a major superhighway.

The trail curved to the right and took them along a row of what looked to be banana trees, although the bunches of fruit that hung from the thin branches did not look like any bananas Thorne had ever encountered. In his former life in the Navy, he had traveled extensively across the globe and knew that plant species varied from region to region. Yet what he saw was not a variant, but a different thing all together.

Kinsey reached out and snapped off one of the fruits, grasping it in her palm like it was about to try to squirm and squiggle away in some desperate attempt to escape its sad fate. Without slowing her stride or losing a single pace behind Darren, Kinsey tore into the fruit with her teeth and ripped back the peel to expose the fruity flesh inside.

She immediately tossed the fruit away and began to gag.

The smell of the fruit reached Thorne and he had to fight his own gorge. The fruit smelled like a corpse. Literally like a body that had been rotting in the sun for a couple of days. The stench coated the back of Thorne’s throat and he swallowed and spit again and again to try to dislodge it.

Kinsey looked over her shoulder quickly and gave them all an apologetic grimace. Thorne didn’t blame her; he would have done the same thing. They needed to learn about their surroundings as fast as possible, and despite the obvious dangers, only trial and error was going to cut it. They didn’t have the luxury of one of the scientists with them to sort it all out. Nor did they have the tech to stream video back to the B3 and let the eggheads whisper answers in their ear.

He wasn’t exactly sad about the latter.

Darren raised a fist and they stopped, crouching instantly. Thorne glanced behind him and saw Shane and Lucy each turn a different direction, watching for possible attacks as they waited for Darren to sign them forward or explain what he saw.

After a couple of seconds, Darren crouch walked back to Thorne, letting Kinsey take point, and huddled close.

“There is definitely something ahead of us,” Darren said. “Pretty sure it has been shadowing us on our right for a good half klick, but now it’s moved forward and is either leading us or getting set to cut us off.”

“Size?” Thorne asked.

“Pony-sized, maybe,” Darren replied. “Hard to tell with the way the light is. All the shadows from the trees and leaves are fucking with my depth perception.”

“Try having only one eye,” Shane said. “That’ll really fuck with depth perception.”

“Not a pissing match,” Thorne stated. “Do you want to move forward or skirt the thing?”

“I’d prefer to split up and surround it,” Darren said.

“But that’s not happening. No splitting up,” Thorne responded. “Forward or to the side?”

“Forward,” Darren said. “My gut says it isn’t dangerous, just something to watch out for.”

“Everything on this island is something to watch out for,” Thorne said. “But we’ll go with your gut. Lead on.”

Darren retook his place as point. Kinsey glanced over her shoulder at Thorne and he nodded to her, showing he was in agreement with Darren. She gave an imperceptible shrug as the Team stood and continued moving again.

A high-pitched squawk rang out above them and the entire Team glanced up, watching as a huge red bird flew from one treetop to another. The thing’s legs seemed impossibly long and were tipped by three claws, each with talons nearly a foot long. The bird squawked once more as it jammed its sharp, serrated beak into a hole in the trunk of one of the trees, yanking free a wriggling worm-like animal that it chomped in half and swallowed in one bite.

The bird’s head turned and its golden eyes surveyed them. It blinked a few times, the lids coming in from the sides like a reptile’s, then squawked one last time and thrust itself up out of the canopy and into the bright sky beyond.

The bird proved to be a dangerous distraction.

When they turned their attention back to the path, they found their way blocked by a herd of pony-sized creatures. But they were most certainly not ponies. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Looking very bird-like themselves, the creatures were each a little over two meters tall with elongated heads that ended in a strange mix between a beak and a lizard jaw. Feathers covered their heads and most of their body. Their arms had feathers as well, quite a few, but the appendages didn’t look like they had the strength to swat a fly let alone help the things actually fly. Their spines were long and angled, with tails that trailed out behind them, swishing back and forth in an agitated, feline way.

But it was the feet that got Team Grendel’s attention. Three-toed, two of the toes ending in long, sharp claws while the third had a thick, raised claw that stuck far into the air. The third claw was at least a foot long and the tip glinted in the dappled sunlight, telling everyone and everything that it was sharp as shit and meant for one thing only.

The creatures packed together in a group of six, their black eyes focused directly on Grendel.

“Thorne?” Darren whispered. “What’s the call?”

“The call is stand as still as fucking possible,” Thorne said. “See if maybe they’ll lose interest and move on.”

“I don’t think that’s their plan,” Shane said. “We’ve got two hostiles on our nine.”

“Two more on our three and one on our six,” Lucy added. “We’re surrounded, folks.”

“Daddy?” Kinsey asked. “Permission to light these weird chickens up, please?”

“Weird chickens,” Shane chuckled.

“Permission denied,” Thorne said. “We do not want to engage if we do not know what we are engaging. We wait. If they make a move then cut them the fuck down. If they go away then we’ve avoided a fight and also avoided alerting the whole island to our presence.”

“Your plan is boring and safe,” Kinsey joked. There was a slight waver in her voice and she took a quick look back at Thorne, giving him a frightened smile.

“Hang tight, operators,” Thorne said. “Be cool.”

They were.

The five of them stood there, eyes and weapons locked onto their new friends. Black avian/reptilian eyes watched the Team and the Team watched back.

Thorne could tell the creatures were studying the Team. He watched as what he guessed was the alpha in the pack kept glancing from the barrel of his carbine then back to directly in his eyes. The other creatures looked him up and down, assessing his strengths, his weaknesses, his will. The standoff lasted for close to thirty minutes.

Then as one, the creatures moved in.

They did not attack like wolves or lions or any other predator pack Thorne was familiar with. The closest he could approximate would be hyenas. That chaotic rush and then the everyone-for-themselves attitude of violence. Get your piece and go.

After the silence of the standoff, the barking of the rifles and carbines was near deafening. Only Team Grendel’s experience and discipline kept any of them from jumping as the first triggers were pulled.

The six in front moved so fast that Darren dove to the side as he fired, avoiding a couple quick slashes by the thick, sharp third claws. He hit the ground on his shoulder and grunted, but didn’t let up as he squeezed the trigger again and again.

Kinsey dropped to a knee and opened fire, aiming for the creatures’ legs, not their chests or heads. Three went down from her carefully placed shots, their bent knees exploding in a spray of blood and bone. She emptied her magazine by the time the other three reached her. Kinsey didn’t have time to reload. The creatures were on her and those jaw-beaks, those third claws, came at her face and belly.

The air above her erupted as Thorne moved forward, standing over her, his M4 barking. He nudged her with his knee in the back and she quickly tossed her carbine aside, choosing to pull her .45s from her hips. She was a good shot with her M4, but she was an expert with her pistols.

Thorne moved to her side, laying down a protective fire, giving Kinsey time to roll away and come up shooting. The two Thornes pressed their attack, driving the three creatures back into the dense foliage of the jungle, the explosive rounds blowing chunks out of everything they touched.

But that was all they could do, drive them back. The things were incredibly fast so the explosive rounds rarely touched the targets. They jumped and ducked, moving and weaving back and forth like supersonic boxers, avoiding the gunfire as if they had stepped out of the Matrix. Ferns were obliterated, small trees were cut down, the stench of the death bananas filled the air, joining the sharp stink of gunpowder and fear.

“Fuck me!” Shane yelled from behind the Thornes. “Fucking die, you fucks!”

Thorne didn’t dare turn to look at the rest of the Team. He had to make sure he kept the bullets flying in front of him, giving Kinsey time to slap two fresh magazines into her pistols. As soon as she was reloaded and firing again, he ejected and replaced his almost spent magazine.

Instead of holding his position, Thorne started moving forward, pressing the attack, driving the creatures not just to a standoff, but further into the jungle. He heard Kinsey call his name, he even thought he heard Max and Darby calling over the com, but he ignored it all. By his best estimate, they had maybe another ten minutes in them before they ran out of ammo. Standing ground was no longer an option.

The creatures, three of them, split up and Thorne found himself in the middle of a dinosaur—since that was what he had to admit to himself that they were—triangle. The sounds of gunshots lessened and Thorne realized he had effectively hobbled Kinsey and Darren because if they tried to shoot at the creatures then they would be shooting at him. It was a rookie mistake and Thorne cursed himself for it.

The first creature to attack leapt into the air, its third claws leading the way. Thorne timed it, counting off in his head, then dropped and rolled to the side, letting the creature hit empty ground where he had just been standing. Instead of firing at the attacker, Thorne came up and fired into the belly of the creature he nearly rolled right into. The thing’s midsection blew wide open, but it didn’t drop at first. It wobbled for a second then fell forward.

That proved to be a problem. The creature landed on top of Thorne, pinning the man to the ground, more importantly, pining his carbine against his chest. His left hand was free, but he couldn’t get his right, and his M4, loose. It was not an ideal scenario.

The plus side was he was out of the way of friendly fire and Kinsey and Darren started shooting again immediately. The first creature, the leapy one, came at Thorne’s head, beak-jaw wide open, shiny edged and sharp, stunted teeth on display. The beak-jaw turned into chitinous mist as Kinsey moved forward and emptied one pistol point blank into the thing’s head.

Thorne smiled up at her as she nodded then turned to take on the third creature. But Darren had that covered. The thing swayed on its feet as round after deadly round tore into its side. Blood and flesh splattered the jungle, the specialized rounds exploding as designed, shredding the creature from the inside out.

Kinsey helped get the dead creature off Thorne. He rolled over and slowly pushed up onto his hands and knees. His compression suit had done a good job of keeping his ribs from being crushed by the weight of the thing, which was considerably heavier than he would have guessed. Most things were when they lay on top of you dead.

“Clear!” Shane called out.

Thorne looked up from all fours and watched as his daughter holstered her pistols and grabbed up Thorne’s M4, putting it to her shoulder and scanning the immediate area.

“Clear!” she called out as well.

Darren and Lucy followed, announcing that the brief battle was over and the jungle was safe once again.

Thorne got gingerly to his feet, mentally assessing any hidden injuries that hadn’t revealed themselves. Other than a bump over his left eye, he was in good condition.

“Report,” Thorne grunted.

“Good,” Shane said.

“Good,” Darren said.

“Good,” Lucy said.

“Good,” Kinsey said. “Daddy?”

BOOK: Mega 4: Behemoth Island
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