As far as jungles went, Felina imagined things could have been worse. The foliage wasn’t so dense that it required a machete to get through, nor the canopy so overgrown that it blocked out the sun. Had the circumstances been different, being here on Cyrmic Island may have been pleasant. The shade the trees provided helped keep the sun at bay, and for a tropical area the humidity felt reasonable.
Brightly colored flowers could be seen blooming in patches here and there. She didn’t know if it was naturally this way or a result of the earlier explosions, but there were no sounds of wildlife. The only thing Felina could hear was the occasional rustle of a branch, bush or leaf cluster when one of Turmoil’s troops pushed though.
If it wasn’t for the various small gnat-like insects hovering around her, she would have considered it a paradise.
Elsewhere on the island, Felina knew the other three teams of Turmoil’s forces were dispatched to mop-up whatever the missile attack and airstrike might have missed. They’d no doubt be dropping det-packs into weapons platforms, chasing down any mercenary forces that hadn’t abandoned their posts, or using Creeplings for target practice. It was the team Felina was in, the one being personally led by Turmoil herself, that was going after the main objective: Dark Kat.
Up ahead, in an unseen bunker that was no doubt a smoldering ruin after the Turbokats attacked, was the man of the hour.
At least that’s what Turmoil thinks…
If Felina were to judge this entire operation objectively, it would be generous to only call it unorthodox. From her perspective, everything seemed a little bit too fast and loose. Not a lot of planning or practice. A lot of things could go wrong, and not a whole lot of contingencies prepared should they. But then again, Felina imagined that despite Turmoil’s invitation, she was still an outsider, not privy to all of the details.
Felina still had no idea how it was Turmoil had a small fleet of modern naval warships at her disposal. Also, despite Turmoil’s explanation about how her followers sympathized with the cause, Felina found it strange that she had so many under her command, not to mention the fact that all of them were women.
And again, there was doubt about Turmoil’s motives. No doubt helped along by the skepticism that T-Bone had expressed over the surreal meal of the previous evening. Felina had a hunch that she’d never get the answers to those questions.
“Are we there yet?” T-Bone asked, feigning a childish impatience.
Felina smirked, on the verge of asking the same question herself. She had no means of telling time, and estimated they’d been walking for almost an hour, with nothing but the greenery of the jungle in every direction. It was unsettling to realize there was only about 50 meters of good visibility.
“Soon,” Turmoil replied cooly.
“How soon?” T-Bone continued.
“If you’re so impatient why don’t you go and take point?” Felina chimed in, gesturing to the front of the group. Turmoil’s soldiers had roughly dispersed into ten rows of interspersed groups, each one with their AK-74s at the ready, looking in all directions as they moved forward at a cautious, but steady pace.
“That’s not a bad idea,” T-Bone replied, and then followed up sarcastically. “If her ladyship will permit it?”
Turmoil raised an eyebrow at the remark, and extended her hand in a gesture of approval.
“Be my guest,” Turmoil replied.
“I’ll join you,” Felina said, not bothering to ask for permission.
The two walked together at a quicker pace, passing between the groups of soldiers until they were in the lead. The foliage had grown thicker, and Felina had to push through vegetation, snapping through a weak vine as she did so.
“Here,” T-Bone said, and held up his Glovatrix.
Three long blades jutted out from the barrels of the device, and he used them like a machete as he chopped at the minimal obstructions, clearing the way forward.
“What else you got in that thing?” Felina asked, following behind him.
“All kinds of toys,” T-Bone said as he completed another chop.
Felina glanced over her shoulder, deciding they were far enough ahead that their conversation wouldn’t be overheard.
“So, what do you think?” Felina asked.
“I think I should’ve packed some bug-spray,” T-Bone said as he swatted at the back of his neck.
“You know what I mean,” Felina said.
He slashed at some more vegetation.
“Well, we’re not dead,” T-Bone said. “That’s always a good sign.”
Felina sighed, and decided to change the subject.
“You remember that time you offered to buy me a drink?” Felina asked.
“Yeah,” T-Bone said. “Back at Shenanigans?”
“Why didn’t you just come out and say what you were doing?” Felina asked, referring to Chance’s undercover investigation of the traitor Captain Ritz.
He glanced back over his shoulder at her, and shrugged.
“I dunno, probably because I thought you wouldn’t believe me,” T-Bone said. “I mean, what would you have thought if some ‘wash out,’ as you put it, told you your boss was probably working for Dark Kat?”
“I’d have at least heard you out,” Felina replied. “It’s not like I was on Ritz’s good side, anyway.”
“Well, next time I’ll let you know,” T-Bone said.
“It’s just,” Felina said, and began to wonder why she was even talking at this point. “I don’t like being misled.”
He paused mid-slash, and relaxed his stance, turning around to face her.
“You know, I can make all kinds of excuses about the whole secret identity thing,” he said, realization in his voice. “But you’re right. Jake and I have had our eyes on you for a long time. I should’ve been able to trust you, back then. I’m sorry I didn’t. And, I’m sorry I lied to you.”
The words were sincere, and they came from Chance Furlong, not the masked caricature he’d created for himself. The misgivings, uncertainty and anger she’d felt toward him that had culminated in the SWAT Kats’ hangar diminished. It wasn’t completely gone, but the tension she felt around him eased.
“I-,” Felina began, but didn’t get to finish the sentence, as T-Bone disappeared from sight, the last thing she saw were his feet as they ascended above her.
“Gah, get off!” T-Bone was shouting from above as he was pulled upwards into the trees.
The jungle was no longer quiet, as familiar chittering noises came from all around.
T-Bone had been attacked from above by at least a half dozen of them, using their talons latched to his shoulders and arms in a combined effort to fly him upwards. He was struggling in their grasp.
Felina heard another shout of surprise behind her, and then to the left, as Turmoil’s soldiers were picked up in a similar fashion. Automatic gunfire rang out, the nearby area awash in muzzle flashes. Felina brought her own rifle up, tucking the stock into her shoulder, her eyes wide as she scanned the surroundings. The trees were alive, filled with moving, gremlin-shaped silhouettes.
There’s got to be a hundred of these things.
She took aim and opened fire, letting out three quick bursts. The gunfire rang in her ears as the recoil kicked into her shoulder. The trees screamed in return, an animalistic screech conveying pain. Several of the pink creatures dropped down and nearly landed on her head. She looked down at them, to see their black eyes open in an emotionless gaze. Dead.
Another, larger thing also fell from the sky, landing in a less-than-graceful fashion. Out of reflex Felina took aim at it, stopping just short of pulling the trigger. It was T-Bone.
“I hate those things!” he shouted.
The top of his BDU was torn to shreds, revealing several bleeding cuts. He tore what was left of the jacket off himself, tossing it away. He then raised his Glovatrix and pointed upwards, shooting several projectiles in the air.
Felina watched as the items flew toward the troops still caught in the air by the Creeplings. The projectiles exploded in a harmless flash-bang of smoke and light. It was enough to disorient the creatures, and they dropped their victims. Each of Turmoil’s caught soldiers fell a short distance back to the jungle floor.
“Suppressive fire!” Turmoil shouted from behind.
The unhindered troops responded and began to unload a steady stream of hot lead into the canopy. The Creeplings swarmed out of the trees in a bat-like cloud and began to circle the soldiers. Several of them fell from the group as they were shot, but the swarm did not relent.
What are they doing? It’s almost like they’re trying to distract us…
Before Felina could finish the thought, she saw it. Other Creeplings had approached on foot, just within view, and they were carrying belts of ammunition, along with something else they were mounting to a tripod.
“Oh no,” Felina said, and shouted out. “Hit the dirt!”
Felina followed her own advice, hugging the damp jungle floor, seeing T-Bone doing the same. The place her torso had been a second earlier filled with bright streaks of tracer fire that made short work of the tree behind her.
The Creepling swarm dispersed, moving out of the path of destruction the .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun they had erected was creating. Felina heard several shouts coming from behind her, and briefly wondered just how many soldiers had been caught in the gunfire.
“We need to take out that gun!” T-Bone shouted next to her, the sound of bullets whizzing past just inches overhead.
“No kidding!” Felina replied, and began to crawl army-style toward the direction of the automatic fire, feeling thankful for the foliage providing at least some visual cover. She recalled the shouts of the drill instructors from BCT as she advanced a foot at a time.
“Keep your head low!” the DI had said.
The gunfire continued, its report deafening.
Takka takka takka takka takka…
Felina crawled closer.
Takka takka takka takka takka…
T-Bone moved along.
Takka takka takka takka takka…
Felina could see the muzzle flashes now, even though the foliage. They were almost on top of them.
“Stay behind me!” T-Bone shouted, and then lifted up his Glovatrix. Like magic its faceplate split open and telescoped outward, extending and unfolding into a large metal dish, and he positioned it like some kind of medieval shield. He stood up and rushed forward.
He’s crazy! He’s gonna get himself killed…
To Felina’s surprise, he continued rushing forward, directly into the machine gun’s line of fire. The shield he’d deployed was deflecting the rounds, and they ricocheted harmlessly off.
She quickly got up and charged after him, staying in the shadow of safety he’d created.
“Enough!” T-Bone shouted as he drove the shield forward like a defensive linebacker stopping the offense’s play dead in its tracks. He brushed past the barrel of the gun and into the Creeplings operating it, scattering them like bowling pins. Not all were hit, however, as some tried to flank him from both sides.
Felina saw this, and hit one in its snout with the stock of her AK-74, breaking its face as she brought the weapon to bear and shot two others.
T-Bone had retracted the shield by now and aimed his Glovatrix into the trees, shooting what looked to be a 40mm grenade that exploded above and caused a large tree branch to collapse down and crush another group of advancing Creeplings.
Above, the initial swarm that had ambushed the group was starting to reform.
“Hold this!” Felina said as she tossed her rifle at T-Bone.
He caught it clumsily, a confused look on his face.
Felina jumped over to the now unused Browning, and swung the gun around on its tripod, the belt dragging, making it resist the movement. But it didn’t stop her as she lined up the weapon and pulled the V-shaped butterfly double-trigger, her thumbs pressed down hard.
Takka takka takka takka takka…
The barrel spewed hot fire, and Felina could feel the vibration from the recoil going deep into her arms. She muscled the weapon in an arc, aiming upwards, the long belt of .50 caliber cartridges feeding into the weapon, the spent shells ejecting out into a hot, smokey pile at her feet.
Takka takka takka takka takka…
Creepling after creepling was turned into a pink mist as branches of the canopy exploded into splinters, several of the creatures falling out of the sky, large swathes of the swarm cut down like a painter’s stroke on a canvas. It was a turkey shoot, and Felina yelled, expelling her anger and fear in an overdose of adrenaline.
The weapon’s action clicked back, the belt of ammunition expended, the barrel smoking just as badly as Mt. Dragon Li in the distance.
There was no more noise, only the sound of deep inhalation and exhalation. Felina realized it was her making that noise, and she realized her thumbs were still locked in place. She forced herself to let go. Her hands were shaking.
“You okay?” asked T-Bone, who’d apparently been standing off to the side, observing the outburst.
“Yeah,” Felina said, not sure if that was true. “You?”
“Yeah,” T-Bone replied, watching his step, avoiding several Creepling carcasses.
He handed her the AK-74 back, and she took it.
“Very nicely done,” a voice broke the silence, causing both Felina and T-Bone to jump and take aim.
“At ease, you two,” Turmoil said, emerging from the vegetation, unfazed by their reaction.
Felina relaxed somewhat, and slung the rifle over her shoulder, finding herself wishing she could get a drink.
Turmoil approached the nearest dead Creepling, knelt down, and curiously poked at it with a gloved finger. It remained motionless.
“How many did they get?” T-Bone asked.
Turmoil looked up.
“The sergeant is assessing the damage, but from what I could see, no one was killed, thanks to your warning,” Turmoil said as she stood back up. “And your reaction.”
Felina glanced over to see that Turmoil was looking at her. In the background, the troops were collecting themselves, the sergeant in question going among the soldiers checking for injuries. The collective mood appeared to be one of relief.
Felina, however, wasn’t feeling so upbeat.
“Dark Kat has to know we’re here, on the ground, about to knock on his front door,” Felina said.
“I agree,” T-Bone said, crossing his arms.
“I have no doubt,” Turmoil replied as she started to walk forward, ascending up a small slope.
T-Bone followed along, as did Felina.
“So you have to know that if we keep on going like this, we’re just going to walk into another ambush,” Felina said. The slope eventually leveled out, and as it did they surprisingly reached the edge of the jungle. Beyond it was a clearing, an obviously artificial one as the trees and vegetation had been cut back.
They were at the foot of Mt. Dragon Li, and it was not unoccupied.
Craters and the still smoldering ruins of military equipment lined the several hundred acre area. What looked to be the remains of T-90 battle tanks sat in front of a partially collapsed concrete building, which was adjacent to an airstrip. Pieces of F-16 fighters could be seen strewn about as small fires burned in places. Abandoned barriers made from sandbags could be seen around the perimeter, several of them blown up and charcoaled.
Felina imaged it had been quite an impressive and intimidating looking facility just hours prior, but thanks to the airstrike from Turmoil’s Turbokats, it had been reduced to shambles.
“Perhaps,” Turmoil said. “Or, we could be walking into victory.”
“Clear!” Turmoil’s sergeant said as she jammed a thermite grenade into the action of the M2 Browning. The grenade ignited and several sparks shot outward as the weapon that had been used by the Creeplings to almost kill everyone began to glow red and melt, becoming a useless hunk of steel.
Felina watched it, thinking about just how close she’d come to having one of those .50 caliber rounds end her life just ten minutes earlier.
If I’d been half-a-second slower to take cover, it’d be me lying dead here, and not this thing.
She kicked at one of the dead Creeplings with her boot. Seeing them up up close didn’t make her feel any more amiable toward them. In fact, seeing their scaly, leathery exterior reminded her of the mythical creatures of the underworld that would often be the topic of scary stories told around the campfire.
Maybe not so mythical after all…
Turmoil, T-Bone and herself had walked back down from the slope that led up to the ruins of Dark Kat’s compound, with Turmoil taking inventory of her force’s progress.
Turmoil’s soldiers had taken some casualties, mostly from the Creeplings’s initial attack. Half had suffered broken bones, lacerations and bites. Turmoil had ordered them taken back to the drop off point, which required the other half to coordinate the move.
“So, that doesn’t really leave a whole lot of us left,” Felina said. “You going to abort the advance, or wait for reinforcements?”
“Neither,” Turmoil said, and then she spoke into her radio, using that same foreign language Felina didn’t recognize. A response came back in-kind, and then she approached the sergeant.
“Sergeant, fall back with the injured to the landing point. Once they’re aboard the LCAC converge with Delta Platoon and assist them with their objectives,” Turmoil ordered.
LCAC? Didn’t see one of those…
Felina knew LCAC stood for Landing Craft Air Cushion, a common acronym used for military hovercraft. They were used to rapidly transport anything from tanks, Humvees and soldiers from a ship right onto shore. The well deck, an internal bay exposed to the ocean toward the rear and underneath a Wasp class carrier was built specifically for them. In hindsight, Felina realized it was a part of the ship she hadn’t seen during Lt. Durov’s tour. On typical invasion-style missions, the LCAC would be front and center. But, this one had apparently been launched afterward.
Wonder what it was carrying…
The sergeant seemed hesitant, which was the first time Felina had seen any of Turmoil’s forces seem so.
“Commander, what about you?” the sergeant asked.
“The objective is at hand, and I don’t intend to stop now,” Turmoil said, and then gestured to T-Bone who’d been standing off to the side in quiet contemplation. “We three will conduct the next objective.”
“Your pilots did a great job softening up the place, but if you intend to properly clear it we’re going to need more than just three people,” T-Bone said.
“I’d have to agree,” Felina said. “Who knows what could be holed up in there. We could be walking right into a trap.”
Turmoil smiled and placed a hand on Felina’s shoulder, in a motion of what was probably intended to be reassuring, but Felina found to be slightly worrying.
“I trust your abilities,” Turmoil said, and then walked forward, heading back up the slope, speaking over her shoulder. “Carry out your orders, sergeant.”
“Aye aye,” the sergeant said, and walked away.
T-Bone sighed and he followed after Turmoil.
Felina followed along, and unslung the AK-74, keeping it at the ready.
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