Remember Your Black Day


rating: +9+x
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Salisbury, Rhodesia, 1973


It was a hot and muggy day in Salisbury, and Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith didn't want to be around in a cramped meeting room for long. He sat idly from his desk, hands clasped together as he silently observed his military commanders and intelligence officials drone on in the background.

There were maybe a dozen or so men in military uniforms and suits in the room, all discussing the low-intensity conflict currently plaguing their nation. Smith could hear the occasional mention of "ZANU" and "ZIPRA"—the communist dissidents respectively funded by China and the Soviets—in their discussions. The Communist Terrorists, or "CTs," as they were called, were just one of the many myriad of problems facing his nation, but he simply couldn't stand to listen to his men talk about bloody communists for any longer when they had graver, more esoteric threats to face.

Smith's eyes then met with a man in a decorated camouflage uniform standing at the opposite end of the room—Lieutenant General Peter Walls, commander of the Rhodesian Security Forces. Just a glance at his tired face was enough for Smith to know what exactly needed to be said now.

"Alright. I'll adjourn this meeting for now," Smith spoke up, much to the chagrin of the lower officers and men in the room, who all stopped talking and assessing their reports. "I have another meeting slotted for this time, this room. Thank you all for coming, you all are dismissed."

They looked at him and Walls like something had been said in an alien language. Smith waved his hand, as if beckoning them out. "Call the men from outside to come in on the way out, please," he added.

Soon, Smith and his top general were alone. He saw that Walls was still intently looking over a large map of the country sprawled out on the central table, peppered with markings and colored figurines indicating friendly and enemy deployments. Smith strolled over to the man slowly and looked down at the map.

Everyone knew that the world was split. While the East and the West quarreled with proxy conflict after proxy conflict, pitting country against country in their massive game of geopolitics, Rhodesia had remained an outlier. The African continent was marred with conflicts spawned from the personal greed of incompetent politicians and various external factors influencing the decolonization process, but it was their country that had remained strong in the face of adversity.

Ever since the UDI in '65, the entire world seemed to be against Rhodesia's white minority government, hellbent on turning their way of living upside down. They had very little help from the outside world, save for a select few countries and other private actors, which was why the men outside of the room calling a meeting was so important to Smith.

"ZANU's getting cocky, sir." Walls noted, just now noticing that Ian was looking over his shoulder. Given that the most powerful man in Rhodesia rarely came to these military meetings, it was understandable that he was a bit nervous. "The, uh, 'contractors' outside have more to say on that matter, but… just so you know, the CTs are now working with you-know-who."

"GZ?" Smith muttered. Walls nodded. This caused the Prime Minister to let out a hiss as he turned to the door, right on time to watch it open. "Let's just hope our fixers have got a plan or trinket for this one."

A pair of men entered in lockstep: one tall man in civilian clothes and another in an expensive-looking suit and tie. The taller man shut the door behind them and locked it, before proceeding to join his more well-dressed colleague by the Rhodesians.

The room was quiet for a moment as they all shared a few glances at each other, before the tall man spoke up first. "Howdy."

Smith stared at them with a poker face. "Whatever news the Chaos Insurgency has to bring me today better be worth my time," he stated matter-of-factly, scanning the two men with judging eyes. "I understand that Delta Command is iffy with sending themselves in, but I'd much rather have them here in person than a proxy."

"Prime Minister Smith, with all due respect, we are Delta Command," the man in the suit gestured to himself, then his partner. His accent seemed to suggest that he was English. "Although, not all of us are here. We were simply the closest two."

Smith nodded. "Ah. Well, if you're here in person, you'd better have some bloody good news to tell me, because I have some bad news you that probably are already aware of. I've just received word from my top general that the CTs are now cooperating with the Great Zimbabwe terrorists."

"Great Zimbabwe, the hostile reality benders…" the American in civilian clothes had an almost stereotypical southern drawl as he began a monologue. He paced around the map in the center of the room. "It's exactly what it sounds like: a group of some hundred or so tribal savages that wanna rewrite history to make Rhodesia irrelevant. Imagine how much of a shitstorm that'd cause with the Scippers if that happened."

Smith impatiently tapped his fingers against the table as the American spoke. Of course, he already knew this information, so hearing a cowboy reiterate it dramatically was a bit annoying.

"If you're finished, I'd like to continue." Smith growled. "You're already aware of my policy with the SCP Foundation. Any group that intends to operate within Rhodesia's borders must come to me first. They never seemed to get the memo… given they have a handful of active Sites within our borders." Smith paused. "On top of this, they choose to study Great Zimbabwe, as opposed to simply eliminating it…"

Another pause. "They're irrelevant. We cannot have Rhodesian history be rewritten by these anomalous CTs."

The American winced, inhaling sharply through his teeth. "Well, technically, they've always been here… but just decided to reappear at the most inopportune time— "

"I don't care." Smith snapped. "Great Zimbabwe wishes to erase us with whatever abhorrent monstrosity they're building near Masvingo. Does that not go against the Insurgency's mission statement, hm? Of wanting to protect humanity from the anomalous by fighting it with their own arsenal of anomalies?"

He stopped, glowering at the two Delta Command members, who only folded their arms and listened. "I want to know what progress Great Zimbabwe has made on their efforts in building their device, and how the Insurgency or my special forces can sabotage it."

"Well…" the American continued. "As of now, it's about halfway done. Lately, they've been using ZANU to do their dirty work, collecting materials and the like to assemble their little superweapon, while they remain in the shadows. Again, Great Zimbabwe is small, highly-centralized, too, so they wouldn't want to waste their precious own with such tasks."

The American shifted for a moment. "We of Delta Command know just as much as the Foundation does on the superweapon itself—that being we don't know much—but ambushing supply convoys occasionally guarded by reality benders is about as hard as it sounds."

"My special forces have fought impossible odds before," Walls noted. "Like the Prime Minister said, we simply need the necessary intelligence from the Insurgency to ambush these convoys and sabotage their weapon."

The American nodded, presenting a few documents enclosed in manila folders and setting them down onto the table. "Been workin' on that."

"If I were you, I'd save your men for conventional fighting…" the English Insurgent replied, his voice trailing off ever so slightly as Walls grabbed the files. "Or defending your own logistical lines. It's suicide to engage in direct combat with reality benders, so leave that task to us."

He lowered his tone for a moment. "On that note… The Engineer has received word of the existence of an anomalous entity that the Yanks fought in Vietnam. I believe Great Zimbabwe found a way to bring the beast here, though no one knows for sure. In the meantime, I've tasked Hudson's Scouts to look into it."

"So, on top of dealing with Great Zimbabwe, we have to deal with… monsters." Smith sighed loudly, rolling his eyes. "I do hope your little pet unit is well-equipped enough to destroy this threat."

The American flashed a smirk. "Hudson's Scouts are, for sure. So are the GOC."

Smith let out an audible groan.

Once the GOC was involved, there would have to be a whole new level of negotiations and diplomacy. Knowing the UN's negative view towards his country, negotiating with their anomalous peacekeeping force would be even more difficult. He'd have to deal with an organization that not only was well-funded and highly-trained (like the Foundation), but also was a bit more nosy and assertive in their demands, as the GOC tended to like doing things their way, unassisted.

Smith scowled at the two members of Delta Command. "Don't tell me the Coalition are already on their way to destroy it."

Walls coughed. Smith turned to his general, who sighed once the Prime Minister set his eyed upon him. "I called it in. The GOC are sending a Strike Team in to liquidate the parathreat. They should be arriving today." Walls paused. "Sir… I simply couldn't send any more of our men to destroy it—"

"It's fine." Smith muttered, knowing it really wasn't. "It's fine. What's done is done, and I appreciate you for what you've done to preserve the lives of our men, Peter. In the meantime…" He turned to the American and the Englishman. "I need the Insurgency's help in finding out more about Great Zimbabwe. Send us as much information you have on them as possible. If they truly are potent reality benders, perhaps removing them from the picture would remove any curse they've put on us. No matter how well we fight, how effective our Fireforce tactics are, and how many CTs we kill, I still have the feeling we are fighting a losing war."

"You'll have my assurance that the Insurgency's Research and Military sections will be workin' hard on that," The American noted.

"I want to task Hudson's Scouts with assisting the GOC in neutralizing the current threat," Smith continued. "Have them cling to the GOC like flies to a corpse if they have to. I don't care if the GOC don't want it, because I don't want them running about unattended to."

"It will be done." The Englishman gestured to himself. "My associate and I will attend to your concerns immediately. When additional orders come from the Engineer, you shall be second to hear them."

"Good," Smith replied. "If you don't have anything else for me, or any other news I should be made aware of, you are dismissed."

He watched the two men leave and returned to the map. Nothing would get in their way. That is, so long as Smith had his way. In spite of all of the embargoes and international condemnation, or the CT raids, or the actions done by Great Zimbabwe, the Rhodesians which fought under his and Walls's command were hellbent on preserving their way of life and keeping Rhodesia as the shining beacon of defiance and democracy in Africa.

Many of them, Smith included, were prepared to fight to the bitter end, and with the Chaos Insurgency on their side, they at least had a fighting chance.

Only time would tell if the Insurgency's contributions and the so-called prophetic orders from The Engineer would come to fruition.


Seeing the sun descending over the horizon was a view that would never get old to Jai.

There was something about experiencing such a beautiful sight on an ancient continent like Africa that was simply so surreal to him. The land around him was all the same as far as the eye could see; tall grass intersected with the occasional acacia tree, all saturated in a deep orange hue from the setting sun.

It was a view one could only get in a postcard or a photograph, yet, here he was, experiencing it in person.

Jai silently strolled around the perimeter of the firebase, taking in the sights as much as he could. His trusty M16 was slung around his neck, in a fashion not too different than his days in the jungle. It made such "lone wolf patrols" around Hudson's firebase all the more nostalgic to him, as they reminded him of the quiet moments in the jungle, when one wasn't getting shot at.

Even now, though, the memories of his time there, both good and bad, clung to him like the stench of marijuana that he couldn't quite get off, despite the hardest of showers. But why forget about those memories anyways? Vietnam, his interrogation with Zmiejewski and Watkins, and his talk with Hudson were only the beginning of his story. Jai had entered a world where the only way to survive was to abandon all reason and understanding of the world he once knew. He figured he didn't have any time to ponder these kinds of things anymore.

Though… there was still something. Some lingering thought tugging him in the back of his mind, some fleeting feeling that simply wouldn't let him forget about his platoon, or Cody Parsons, or even boot camp. He couldn't ever shake it off, so the next best option was to just leave it alone.

But would that even work?

The new khaki uniform he wore and the rifle he bought had come from his own pockets ever since he started working for Hudson. In spite of how he carried his M16, how he customized it—hell, even the lax way he wore his new uniform, everything was a constant memento to his days in jungle…

…and those memories wouldn't go away.

"Hey, Perryman!"

Jai stopped, turning around to see a white man in a khaki military uniform jogging towards him. "Yeah?"

The man pointed back to the firebase with his thumb. "Boss needs yah for a mission briefing. Quick one, from the looks of it."

"Alright." Jai nodded. Without much else to say, he passed the man and uneventfully walked towards the base.

Gradually, the grass and trees around him began to transform into dirt roads and gravel paths, which made way to pre-fabricated concrete walls and other fortifications. A machine gunner in a watchtower waved to Jai as he passed the gates and entered the base, where his ears were then filled with the sounds of people barking orders, men tinkering with vehicles, and other general noise.

He approached a large, central prefab building beneath the Rhodesian flag, where he could hear psych rock guitar riffs coming from a boombox, followed by a familiar Afrikaner's voice discussing something in a briefing manner. As he entered the building and and stepped inside of the room, he almost sent a startled Hudson into the ceiling as the man turned around and saw him.

"Fuckin' hell, Jai, at the least announce yourself before you enter!" Hudson chuckled. "Welcome."

Jai only shrugged his shoulders as he sat in one of the folding chairs in the room. "I'm quiet, sorry."

Already, a few glances around the room confirmed that there were about six people in attendance, sans Hudson, but there was someone new whom he hadn't recognized. A woman sat in one of the front seats, tan-skinned and with short dark hair, though Jai couldn't tell what nationality she was. The "duck hunter" camouflage uniform she wore was also intriguing… maybe a new recruit?

Additionally, half of the people in the room wore yellow armbands, while the other half had red armbands. Jai's own seat had a yellow armband in it; he picked it up and inspected it as Hudson continued talking.

"Right, so…" Hudson continued, gesturing to a board he had been presenting on, which had a map attached. "I'm going to reiterate your missions one last time for Mr. Perryman. Red Team will take the Unimog and will be establishing a forward post here," he pointed to a hill on the map, then drew a larger circle around their position that covered much of the map. "They'll set up the field guns and maintain constant communication with Yellow Team from there."

He then looked over to Jai, his eyes locking with the marine's. "Yellow Team… I understand this mission might be a little… personal, to some of you…" He smirked for a moment, then turned back to the board. "You'll be establishing a movement to contact on a Large-Scale Aggressor whilst within Red Team's effective range."

Jai raised an eyebrow. What the hell was a 'Large-Scale Aggressor?'

"Target is believed to be an entity capable of manipulating the earth. It can travel in the ground much like you can swimming in a lake, attacks by warping the earth around…-"

The world around Jai suddenly slowed to a crawl as Hudson began describing the entity in detail. He stood straight up from his chair.

"…-elieved to hunt by sou.-" Hudson paused. "There a problem, Mr. Perryman?"

"Hudson… that thing wiped out my entire platoon in Vietnam." Jai stuck a finger out at the man, glaring at him indignantly. "And just now you want it dead?"

Hudson held his palms up in an exaggerated manner, as if showing his hands were clean. "Well, I wasn't the one who ordered it, Jai. Command and the Rhodies want it dead. By some stroke of unluckiness, it's found its way over from Asia to Africa. If ya ask me, I think GZ's got something to do with it."

He folded his arms behind his back, then smirked. "Besides, a little revenge ain't gonna hurt nobody, friend."

Jai sat back down, but before he could think any further about the situation, the strange woman from the front turned to him. "Got a grudge with this thing or something, Jay?"

Jai glared at her. "Yes… and it's Jai—sorry, who are you exactly?"

"Right, we're gettin' off track," Hudson snapped. "How you choose to terminate this entity is up to you, but I'd say get it while it's tryin' to eat something or someone. In the meantime, Jai, Mira, Darren, we've fitted the Land Rover with heavy weapons. Feel free to take one of our Items with you on your way out. Any other questions?"

The "Darren" sitting adjacent to Jai, a huge, bald-headed white man, shook his head. "Just let me bring the microwave along for this one."

This was utterly unbelievable, and Jai was speechless. He had no words for the briefing or the mission, no thoughts but irrational anger and frustration, so the balled fist and scrunched up face conveyed what he wanted to say well…

…but maybe Hudson was right. Maybe revenge was exactly what he needed to get those memories out of his head. Besides, what better way was there to enact his revenge than with people who specialized in destroying these things?

"No." Jai shook his head and grabbed his rifle. "I'm ready."

Hudson smirked, as if Jai standing up was some sort of plan of his. "Great. Go rock and roll."

Flanked by no one else, Jai stormed out of the room. If he wanted to avenge Cody Parsons and his platoon, he couldn't afford any second thoughts now.

Do or die.

***

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The Land Rover was fitted with two main weapons: a heavy machine gun mounted on a swivel on the passenger side door, and an anti-tank guided missile launcher mounted atop the vehicle. Theoretically, any conventional threat they faced could be eliminated with ease… not to mention, they could simply outrun anything too dangerous to be destroyed.

Despite all their firepower, though, Jai still felt vulnerable sitting out in the open. The most pressing reason was simple: he knew they had nothing powerful enough to destroy a monster of that size. Then there was the other reason: this was something that could travel in the ground much like one could swim in water.

Just like a submarine in the open ocean, they had no idea where it was or where it was going. For all Jai knew, they could've been parked atop it all this time.

He tensely scanned the horizon through his binoculars. They still had some daylight left, but not for long, so they would have to be quick with whatever they were doing…else they'd have to risk sleeping out here and tracking it in the morning.

"Where was it that you said you were from again?" Darren asked out of the blue, his legs sticking out the passenger window as he used the door to rest his legs.

Jai responded succinctly. "Atlanta."

"I'm ain't talkin' to you, boy," Darren replied, gesturing to Mira. "Talkin' to her. She hasn't spoke at all."

Jai glanced back to the woman for a moment, then returned to looking through his binoculars. Her attention was also fixated on something off in the distance, perhaps an animal in the hills or the grass, though he couldn't quite tell what it was. In spite of their chatter, her eyes remained glued to the horizon.

"Up north," she replied. Jai had heard people from all walks of life claim they were from "up north," but the lack of any discernable northern accent made him wonder where it was she was from.

Darren scoffed, as if unamused. "How'd you get in on this?"

"Job offer."

Darren raised an eyebrow at this. "He's the jarhead, she's got a job offer… y'all wanna know how I got involved in this shit?" He paused. "Was supposed to be on death row, man. Got framed for some cult murder shit, then some cat apparently workin' for the Feds bailed me out and got me working this. Last I checked of him, he's still wanted for impersonation. 'Stole the real guy's face,' he tells me."

Darren chuckled at his own story. No one else was buying it, so Jai turned back to looking throug—

"Oh, fuck." Mira swore, pointing to a direction Jai was looking at. Atop a hill to their front, he saw a small cloud of dust, as if some small animal had darted away randomly.

"What?" Darren asked, scrambling back into his seat.

"Saw some dirt bulge out, then a genet or something got grabbed," Mira explained. "It went into the ground, moving north, Jai."

Jai immediately dropped his binoculars, started the engine of the Land Rover, and floored it. They bounded across the savanna, briefly fishtailing over a mound in the ground, before he cut the engine once again atop the hill Mira had pointed out.

As per usual… they saw nothing. Nothing but grass, hills, and the occasional acacia tree. Jai sighed loudly and slumped back down into his seat.

"Looks like we missed it. Again." Darren noted the painfully obvious. He turned to Jai. "Hate to break it to you, boy, but this dumb-ass "slow tracking' plan of yours? It ain't gonna work unless we start making some more noise to draw it out."

Before Jai could even get a chance to counter, the handheld radio on the dashboard crackled to life. "Hudson to Red and Yellow Teams: Heads up. Gockies are inbound."

"Gockies?" Jai snapped his head up to the sky. As if on cue, a shadow suddenly appeared atop them, as a large cargo plane materialized out of thin air. The massive, chrome-covered jet plane shook the ground and their Land Rover from the flyby, dropping four sets of parachutes from its open rear cargo door, before accelerating off into the horizon.

Jai saw the plane assume a glassy appearance as it did this. He blinked again—it had vanished, leaving only the four slowly descending objects from the parachutes in the sky, and a pair of contrails that seemed to disappear abruptly. "The hell?"

"Yeah, that's the GOC alright," Mira scoffed. "Don't worry, Jai. High-tech is just the tip of the iceberg with them."

High Tech? Iceberg? Not to mention, what even was the GOC? "I… okay." He just shook his head at that point. No time for questions. "I'll figure it out later."

"Think they know we're here?" Darren asked, leaning up in his seat, as if to get ready to man the machine gun.

Mira shook her head. "They probably think we're Rhodies, if we play it right. Jai, drive over to the other hill, they landed past that, then follow my lead."

Jai did as he was told, bringing the Land Rover over yet another hill closer to where the parachutes were dropping. He and Mira then dismounted, leaving behind a confused Darren to keep manning the machine gun on the Land rover.

"So," Jai began, breaking his streak of silence as they bounded down the hill, then began trudging up the next. "You gonna tell me who the GOC are, or no?"

Mira was still looking straight ahead as she made her way up the hill. "The Global Occult Coalition," she began. "It's the UN's high-tech shadow military basically. Think of the blue helmets, but specifically for dealing with anomalies, and people like us."

"I take it they ain't very friendly."

"Depends on how they feel for the day. I don't like 'em."

"And what was with the disappearing plane, huh?"

Mira shrugged her shoulders. "If I were to guess, some magical invisibility and sound-dampening crap. In case you haven't realized… they're a couple decades ahead of everyone else in terms of anomalous technology."

Jai just sighed at that point. "I suppose the less I know, the better."

Mira gave a thumbs up. "That's not a bad mindset to have, Jay."

As they crested the hill, Jai watched the parachutes slowly drape themselves over the four now-grounded objects, concealing them from view. Before he could approach any further, though, Mira held out a hand in front of him as her other hand kept a tight grip on her rifle. He saw her flash a sideways peace sign. "Two of them."

Sure enough, Jai could see two bulges slowly moving around underneath the chutes. He instinctively reached for his M16 from the slung position on his back. "Why'd they only send two?"

Before Mira could respond, there was suddenly a flash. Jai saw the parachutes dissolve into glowing embers before his very eyes, as if they had spontaneously burst into flames.

This revealed their two GOC arrivals to them: there was a tall white man in presumably his 40s, boasting an impressive mustache and the physique of a Renaissance sculpture underneath his unmarked short-sleeved uniform. There was also a woman around his age, with her hair tied into a ponytail, fumbling through a rucksack by her feet. The nuclear trefoil printed onto her tank top made Jai flinch, but he wasn't sure why.

Jai blinked, turning to Mira. "We shoul-"

"HEY!"

He snapped back over to the parachutes. Before he even had the chance to get his rifle up, the woman was already within melee distance of Jai and Mira, wielding a weapon Jai had only seen American special forces use in the jungle: a CAR-15. A pair of LAWs dangled from a sling on her free shoulder.

Yeah. We're outgunned here.

"Who the FUCK are you guys?" The woman demanded, pointing the weapon at Jai, then at Mira.

Jai held his hands up. "Woah, woah, we're-"

"Ey, calm down, Jackrabbit," The man said, jogging up the hill to join the others. His speech was quick, rapid-fire, even, as if he were in a rush to get out every single word. Despite this, Jai somehow knew what he was saying. "These're locals. Didn'tcha remember this from the briefing?"

Jai saw the woman look at him for a moment, before lowering her gun and stepping back. "Um. Yeah. I did. Quit running your mouth, Roadrunner. I packed accordingly."

The man cringed for a moment, then continued with his same rapid-fire speech as before. "Sorry 'bout my partner, she's a little gung-ho. Name's Roadrunner. That's Agent Jackrabbit. We're Strike Team 079, "Hot Heads". I was told you were expectin' us."

Jai opened his mouth to speak. Mira spoke before him. "We were. We're with Hudson's Scouts, an anomaly detachment from the RLI."

"Mmm. That I see." Roadrunner nodded, placing a hand on his chin. "Well, we were told there's a monster around, LSA-type. Mind showing us where that is?"

Mira gestured to Jai. Now on center stage, he begrudgingly stepped forwards. "We've, uh, been tracking it for the last thirty minutes, and it's somewhere north of here." He then gestured out to the open savanna. "It's just gone into hiding now, and we're trying to relocate it."

He continued, raising a finger for emphasis. "Even if y'all are here to help, I don't know if killing it is even an option with our current ordinance, and we've got artillery support."

At that moment, Jai saw Jackrabbit scoff, as if what she had heard him say was a joke. She then rested something large against her shoulder. It was a large, boxy weapon, but the four tubes for rockets immediately gave away what it was to him: an M202 FLASH rocket launcher. The words "JENNY DEATH" were stenciled on the side in white, bolded text, along with six tally marks.

"I'd like to see it try," she sneered.

"Son, with all respect to you and your efforts, we've been tracking this thing since it appeared in 'Nam in '69," Roadrunner added. "We know it hunts using vibrations, and we know it can be beat. Just show us where it is, and we'll handle it, okay?"

Jai blinked. Were they for real? Were they really this arrogant?

"I was there," he said coldly, emphasizing his point with a finger pointed to his chest. "It shrugged off everything my platoon and even the Vietnamese threw at it. Napalm, artillery, rockets, everything."

Roadrunner stepped forwards, then looked down Jai. "My condolences to your unit. But I reiterate: we can handle it."

Jai scoffed. "I don't think you understand that it's going to kill all of us if we don't play this slow and smart. Running into it head-on is not the way to go."

"…Look, buddy, I understand you're, y'know, new to all this," Jackrabbit began suddenly, a tinge of sympathy in her tone. "But I don't think you realize who it is we are. Blowing big shit up is kind of our job. I've got a goddamn doctorate in pyrotechnical engineering—I'd say that makes me pretty fucking qualified to do this."

"Touché." Mira interjected.

Jai's mind raced for a moment, trying to find a witty retort or something similar, but the words came out of his mouth faster than he could think. "I, uh, know a few things."

Everyone but Jackrabbit chuckled. She narrowed her eyes, obviously knowing that he was lying, but Jai saw an additional emotion behind her eyes: curiosity. "You ever killed a type green before, bud?"

"No, I, uh, assumed you just shot them when they aren't looking," he fibbed, unsure of what she was talking about. "Can't be that difficult. Besides, I qualified as an expert marksman in the marines. They say the deadliest weapon in the world is a marine and his rifle."

Jackrabbit's jaw dropped. She immediately whipped her head over her shoulder and looked up at her partner, smiling wildly. "Roadrunner, this guy knows his shit." She pointed at Jai. "I want him with me. We need a plan first."

"…I was thinking Jai's previous plan was moot," Mira began. "What I was thinking—and he might agree with me on this—is that we force it into an ambush."

"Right," Jackrabbit chirped, as if understanding. "Once you draw him to us, while we're in a well-defended position, all we've got to do is just blow the fucking shit out of it once it's in the kill box. If that thing's caught between me, Roadrunner, and your artillery, we'll smoke it."

"There's a long stretch of open ground surrounded by hills to our east," Jai added. "We can draw it into there with the artillery."

"Good thinkin'," Roadrunner smirked. "But what's stoppin' it from just running away to the side and leaving our kill box? We've read the data: it likes to single out targets on the run sometimes."

At that moment, it was like a lightbulb went off in Jai and Mira's heads. Both Insurgents looked at one another and smirked, as if no other words needed to be said, then turned back to Roadrunner and Jackrabbit.

"We have bait alright," Mira smiled, "And he's going to love this plan."


"You want me to WHAT?!"

Darren stopped the Land Rover. He turned around to Jai and Jackrabbit, the former just staring at him while the latter had a wide and psychotic-looking grin on her face. His nose wrinkled in disgust as he processed the final details of their plan.

"Well… what other ideas do you have to kill this thing, jackass?" Jackrabbit scoffed. "Besides, whether you want to agree with it or not, everyone's in on this new plan." She pointed to the hills on their left side. "Now, all we gotta do is wait for Roadrunner and Jai's friend to finish low-crawling to the ambush point."

Darren placed his forehead on the steering wheel as Jackrabbit chuckled. "This shit is fuckin' ridiculous."

"Hey, at least you got a jeep, buddy, we've only got our feet!"

"It's a LAND ROVER."

Jai listened to the two bicker back and forth for a moment, before he heard the radio on the dashboard crackle again. He grabbed it and keyed it, surveying the area Darren was slated to drive through one last time. "In position, everyone?"

"We're here," Roadrunner responded, slightly out of breath. "In position."

"Darren, go." Jai muttered, keying the radio once again as Darren continued driving. "Jai to Red Team, fire for effect on that grid reference I gave you, moving north along that line."

There was a pause, before a voice answered, "Red Team here, copy. Stand by, five shots out."

Jai then heard five low booms off in the distance. Darren was already flooring it at that point; their Land Rover skimmed across the savanna and bounded over grassy hills and across dirt roads alike. A cloud of dust was left in its wake, but past that, Jai saw something else pursuing them.

A ripple, much like that of a pebble dropping in the water, had appeared in the hill behind them. Then, the hill began moving after them.

grrrrrrrrrr

"CONTACT, rear, in pursuit!" Jackrabbit's mouth was open in awe. "Hoooly—that's a big motherfucker! Let's get him pissed off!"

Darren shouted over the roaring engine of the land rover. "Wait, what the fuck are you doing?!"

Shrill whistles screamed overhead as several explosions suddenly flowered out atop the moving hill. Though the trees and grass atop the hill were scorched by the explosions, the mound itself shrugged the incoming artillery off like a rock thrown against a main battle tank.

He heard a click above his head, followed by a loud WHOOSH, as a rocket flew from the ATGM launcher mounted atop the vehicle. Another explosion appeared on the mound, then Jai saw the mound stop for a moment. It then changed directions and and gave chase, demolishing everything in its path as it made a beeline for the Land Rover.

"Oh, what the fuck?!" Darren shouted. "That wasn't part of your plan, Jackrabbit!"

"I know!" She cackled, clambering down from the turret. "I just wanted to piss it off!"

Jai's heart was pounding in his chest. He clenched the handle atop the passenger window with all his might as Darren continued driving. Up ahead and to their right, he could see a large hill approaching. "Get ready to dismount!"

grrrRRRRR

Darren struggled to even keep the Land Rover in a straight line as the ground shook terribly from the approaching monster. He suddenly grabbed something at his feet, shoving the boxy object into Jai's arms as he looked him straight in the eyes. "Just take the goddamn microwave, Jai! Get going!"

Jackrabbit was already out the side of the Land Rover, bounding up the hill to their right in spite of the fact that she was carrying such a large rucksack. Jai followed soon afterwards, rolling out of the moving vehicle and pushing himself to his feet as he began the steep uphill sprint.

GRRRRRRR

His legs felt like they were on fire by the time he reached the top of the hill. Jai slid onto his back like a baseball player rushing for home base. He promptly rolled into a prone position besides Jackrabbit. The GOC operative had dropped her rucksack to her feet and was already fishing out a clip of four rockets for her launcher, which she then shoved into its rear.

She brought the FLASH up to her shoulder as she dropped to a knee, slowly tracking the mound chasing the Land Rover. "Get me a range, man…"

Jai took a glance downhill, making a ballpark estimate of their distance to the target. "One hundred meters—it's gonna fucking EAT him!" he suddenly screamed, watching the mound warp the earth around the Land Rover into an inverted bowl shape. "Do it!"

Jackrabbit primed the safety of the launcher, and Jai could see a strange red light gathering inside each of the four tubes. She looked over her shoulder at him. "CLEAR BACKBLAST!"

As if understanding, Jai low crawled the hell away from her. Once a safe distance away, he looked towards her, then behind her, before plugging his ears. "BACKBLAST CLEAR!"

WHOOOOSHH WHOOOOSHH

A thick cloud of dust was kicked up around them as the two rockets were fired downrange. There first came a deafening clap, followed by an even louder kaboom, as two pillars of fire emerged from the flank of the living mound. Two more rockets from the opposite hills slammed into the monster's other side—Jai could see a blue explosion sprouting outwards, followed by a whitish column of balefire that caused the air around the target to shimmer.

The Land Rover sped away as the mound stopped, before letting out a guttural, earth-shaking roar in pain.

"FUCK YEAH!" Jackrabbit was already preparing to fire again by the time Jai looked over to see what was happening. As bits of the earth were chipped away from the mound, he saw pink, fleshy exposed bits, pale enough to show the network of blood vessels beneath the skin.

He cringed as Jackrabbit fired two more rockets at the mound. More chunks of the earth were blasted away as a massive firestorm erupted on the moving, somewhat fleshy hill. She then snapped her head over to him. "Since you're being fucking useless right now, get me some more rockets!"

As he reached for the rucksack on the ground, Jai paused as the earth suddenly stopped vibrating. He slowly brought himself back up onto his knees, clutching the boxy object Darren had given him in one hand like a football, while a clip of four rockets dangled from the other.

Had they crippled it…? Immobilized it, even? He reluctantly keyed his radio. "Jai to Red Team, fire for effect, adjust east to our grid reference—"

GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

The mound suddenly plunged into the earth as ripples blasted outwards from where the hill once stood, like a stone being tossed into a pond. Jai and Jackrabbit were swept off their feet by the ensuing tremors as the hill they stood on swayed around like a tree in a storm.

Jackrabbit sat up with a surprised look on her face, even managing to laugh a little in spite of the dire situation. "Oh, fuck!"

She then pointed to Jai to get up, barking at him in a somewhat singsong and slightly panicked tone. "Time to leave, buddy! Go, go, go, go, go, go, go—"

Fissures split open in the ground as a smaller mound bulged upwards, racing uphill towards them with unprecedented speed. High explosive artillery pounded it from the heavens, but it ignored nearly everything else thrown at it.

Jai stumbled back onto his feet and rushed after an already fleeing Jackrabbit, whom was screaming at him to "get the fuck away" at the top of her lungs. He heard more whooshing overhead as she peeled off to the right; Jackrabbit had since tossed her FLASH and instead had resorted to firing at the mound with the disposable LAWs she'd brought along.

In spite of this, it still kept chasing him, no matter how fast he pumped his legs, or how many rockets Jackrabbit shot at it. His panicked breathing and the thumping of his heart filled his ears as he ran as fast as he possibly could, not even daring to peek over his shoulders at certain death.

He then heard a sharp whistling noise above that abruptly cut out. Jai swore and covered his face.

The tree next to him exploded, knocking the wind out of his lungs and buffeting him with a hellish heat and chunks of wood and dirt. The ground made way to the twilight sky as Jai was flung over to a boulder, where the momentum of his fall rolled him onto his back.

He was facing the encroaching mound, had an awful ringing in his ears, and had no energy left to keep moving. Jai contemplated what to do next… then paused, feeling the boxy object he had been clutching all this time.

The microwave.

Maybe there was still some time left.

He was moving faster than he could think. Jai fumbled with it, catching sight of an incomprehensible mess of wires, circuits, and inscriptions inside of the microwave oven, which connected to a lens-like apparatus welded to the door. Common sense told him to turn the lens away from his chest and point it towards the incoming mound, as he frantically punched in the only two buttons that weren't marked out.

10 SECONDS. HI POWER.

Jai gripped a pair of handles on the opposite side of the microwave as it began humming and vibrating. As he did this, he caught glimpse another, smaller inscription on the rear of the microwave that he had seemingly missed. He then immediately regretted even picking it up from Darren in the first place…

…as an inscription of a nuclear trefoil began to glow white hot.

Ding!

Jai slammed his eyes shut and braced for impact, right as a tidal wave of rock and dirt washed over him.

WHOOOOMP

There was a flash as bright as the sun, even as Jai had clenched his eyes shut. The hairs on his arms were instantly singed as an overwhelming heat washed over his body. He dropped the now-sizzling microwave as he opened his eyes, expecting to see himself in the afterlife or in a casket six feet under.

Instead, he saw a large wall of earth, and an even larger hole blasted into it, exposing the purplish sky above.

Jai sat there for a moment as the earth around him shifted. It wobbled. It shifted again. He heard one final, weak grumble coming from the monster—like a rampaging beast on its death throes—before its earthy shell gave way to pink, veiny skin covered in countless boils, bruises, and burns.

The rock formation around Jai collapsed. In its place was a fleshy mound that formed a concentric ring around him, surrounded by a fiery inferno that illuminated his body. A cone of scorched earth and embers had appeared in front of him; anything caught in its path had been totally eviscerated or charred beyond recognition.

Like David standing before Goliath's corpse, Jai stood among the flaming remains of the monster. He then looked at himself. The body armor he wore had been ruined, and burns and tears crisscrossed his uniform and body.

In spite of it all, though, here he stood, defiant over the enemy, and intact. He had defeated the unknown, and lived to tell the tale. He had avenged his platoon, Cody Parsons, and everyone else who had suffered under the wrath of this monster. He was alive.

As the flames around him died out, Jai could see the others approaching. A deathly silence filled the air, save for the crackle of small fires around him, and a slow wind passing over the area. No one spoke a single word, yet everyone innately knew what had been done.

He looked up at the sky; a lone, red star gazed back down at him from the heavens. Seeing this, Jai let out one final exhale. A feeling of relief passed over his body as he finally set his eyes upon the others.

"I am alive."

***

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Somewhere in Southern Africa


On the front porch of a lavish lodge in the middle of the savanna, a man sat reading a book in silence. In the background, the sun had since set beyond the mountains, and the last lights of day had begun to paint the skies a phantasmagoric mixture of blues and purples.

Although darkness was slowly encroaching upon him, the man innately knew that he was being watched. He averted his gaze from the pages for a moment and stared out into the wilderness.

"Come." He spoke punctually and clearly, in a baritone voice that commanded one's attention. Out of the shadows, he saw another person approaching on a dirt path leading to the porch; it was a white man in a khaki suit and white shirt, smelling slightly of cleaning agents. Attentive gray eyes peered back at him from behind boxy glasses.

Both men looked at each other for a moment, as if there was a silent exchange to be said, before the man sitting on the porch lowered his book—Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf. He set it down on a smaller table besides his chair. "Good evening, Director Stine."

"Evening, sir." Stine responded politely. "I have come to give you your daily briefing. Agent Tanner is busy with other things… but I was available."

"Tanner's a good kid. Makes me wonder what sort of mission he'd need to be sent on by my colleagues to warrant him missing his daily briefing." The man sighed, pausing to take a sip from a glass of rum sitting atop a coaster beside the book. "Oh well. I suppose I haven't disturbed you from your duties too much. What have you brought to me today?"

Stine revealed a manila folder he had been carrying and set it down atop the table. He opened it for his superior, presenting an assortment of documents remarkably free of any black redaction boxes. A chaotic, spiraling insignia centered around a red dot was printed at the top of the page.

Grainy black and white photographs were additionally attached to the dossier, particularly of a large man with an impressive beard in military fatigues. A few medals were pinned to his uniform. The man took particular note of this and inspected the photographs.

"The kingpin," Stine began, setting his finger upon the headshot of the bearded man for emphasis. "Is him. Hudson Croix, commander of the combat reconnaissance unit Hudson's Scouts. On paper, it's Rhodesia's primary anomalous task force, tasked with pinpointing paranormal threats and reporting them back to command."

"Or neutralizing them," The man added, to which Stine nodded. "I don't think I need an explanation as to why our public enemy number one is working with the Rhodesians. It's a front for their operations."

"Indeed, and given the Rhodesians' combat records, and the Scouts' current arsenal of anomalous weapons, its safe to say they are some of the most dangerous men and women on the continent right now." Stine grimly noted. "He's been quite difficult to track. Most recently popped up around the time when Director Simon Márkó was assassinated."

"We taught him well," the man said. "But his history within our organization is not important to me…" His eyes drifted back to the other photographs. "What about them?"

Stine took the two remaining photographs and dispensed them to the man. The first was a black and white photo of a tanned woman with short black hair, whose face was barely visible in the camera, as her hair occluded much of her face. Her eyes, though, seemed to be peering right into his own.

"Her?" The man asked, a bit unnerved by the uncanniness of the picture.

Stine shook his head. "Nada. New recruit, from the looks of it, though Tanner swears he's seen her before."

"I'll have to consult with him once he returns then." The man nodded. He then picked up the second photo, holding it up to eye level.

A black man stared blankly back at him, his uniform and flak jacket ragged, and his helmet missing. Two men surrounded him, both tugging him along in each arm, but their eyes were invisible behind their black sunglasses. Spooks, from the look of it.

"And him?" The man asked, still inspecting the photograph. Were it not for a few minor differences like eyes and facial structure, the man would've figured the soldier he'd been looking at was his long-lost son.

"Their new mystery operative," Stine replied coldly. "I would've assumed him to be a nobody, if the PENTAGRAM report on him didn't exist, that is."

"What do we know about him?"

"Two PENTAGRAM defectors handed us most of what we know about him. We turned them away, but took the information in exchange for not telling the Feds about their two newest desertees," Stine explained softly. "He's an ex-marine, expert marksman. All reports and psych evals say he's a good listener, but deathly quiet."

The man took another sip from his rum, pausing as he swallowed the liquid. "I don't like quiet."

Stine nodded, as if agreeing. "We believe he's been involved in numerous raids against Rhodesia's anomalous enemies. For someone whose only experience with the anomalous was a freak ambush in Vietnam, I'd say his current track record so far means he's adapted quite well to the new world."

"So, he's a wildcard."

"Indeed."

"So, you understand what I'd want to do with him."

"Indeed."

The man set the now-empty glass back down onto the coaster. He forked through the contents of the dossier for a moment, finding a photo that portrayed Hudson standing atop two battered bodies of rebel fighters inside a decrepit prison. The Insurgent was making a peace sign in one hand, had a cigar in his mouth, while an ornate and glowing dagger in the other hand loomed above the two prisoners. The man likened it to a hunter ready to skin his game.

He cringed at the photo and set it back into the folder. "The one thing which I have always known about Hudson is that he's unhinged. I knew it the moment I saw him lie about his age to convince the mercs in the Congo he was good enough to join them. I saw it when he defected and nearly left me for dead. And I definitely saw it here, with this photo."

He paused, as if for dramatic effect. "Do you know what that means, Stine?"

"Nein, sir."

He clasped his hands together. "It means that I have a window to finally take him down, to do what my colleagues are too cowardly to do. I wish to play the mystery operative against him. Destabilize the Insurgency's little game here long enough to make him go off the deep end. A few strategic ambushes here and there, and hitting his Scouts where it hurts… that may be enough to make him break…" His voice trailed off. "…and once he does…"

"…the wildcard shall be sent after him." Stine finished. He stepped backwards, leaving the folder for the man to keep. "I'll ensure the necessary orders are made on your behalf at once."

"Very well." The man picked up his book once again, opening to where he had last finished. "Is that all you had for me, Director Stine?"

"Ja, Overseer."

"I see. Farewell, Stine, and stay safe."

"Likewise, sir."

Overseer Seven watched the enigmatic man as he walked away and melted back into the darkness. Once he was gone, Seven turned to a new page, crossed one leg over the other, and continued reading.

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