Topic: Predator: Deadly Tide (Read 616 times)
In anticipation of Predators, the latest entry in my Predator short story collection.
Predator: Deadly Tide
"Stingray 21 this is Armor 4, outer hatches are open."
"Roger Armor 4, Stingray 21 and 22 docking. Time now."
A rush of air bubbles burped to the surface, flooding Petty Officer First Class Mark Stones' diving mask as he clung loosely to the side of "Betty," one of the team's SEAL Delivery Vehicles. The tubular machine whirred to life as the small propellors navigated towards the gaping black holes sticking oddly from the top of the USS Florida's massive hull. Even in the dim light, the size of the nuclear submarine was intimidating, and dwarfed the tiny vehicle that ferried the SEALs to their areas of operation.
A school of orange fish banked and darted around the SDV, brushing alongside Stones' wetsuit, as the craft neared the hatch of the Dry Deck shelter, or DDS. The USS Florida, one of four Ohio-Class Guided Missile submarines, could support twin DDS modules, allowing for incredible flexibility in the missions asked of NAVSOC. Avery, the team sniper, eased them in slowly as the modules swallowed them with circular mouths. There was a long moment of silent darkness before the pressurized tubes roared to life, flushing the seawater like an unwelcome intruder. Lights flickered to life, and four human figures emerged from the churning foam, bristling with weapons and equipment.
"Armor 4, docking is complete, charlie mike, Stingray out." Stones turned to see Lieutenant Watson click off his radio and begin the mechanical post-mission routines they were all familiar with.
"Stones, you've got the package until we're home," the Lieutenant nodded.
"Yes, sir," Stones replied, with a hint of unease that his squadmates noticed.
There was a silence full of questions as the men shuffled around in the chamber.
Finally Watson paused as Archuletta, the team's heavy gunner, hefted the case containing the mission objective from his pack. All four men exchanged glances, and the Lieutenant shook his head.
"Same shit, different day, men. We'll find out what we saw up there later. Let's get the hell off this tin can and haul that thing back to Little Creek."
"Yes, sir," came a calm chorus of response.
Watson dripped with stern authority, but his men knew that he shared their curiosity. If they were as dumb as the brass thought they were, they wouldn't be able to hold their rifles with the muzzles pointing forward. Watson respected his men, wanted them to think for themselves, and this earned him a lot of respect. It was that sort of thinking that could one day save your ass.
Stones swept the unease from his mind and cleared his weapon, there would be plenty of time for bored speculation on the way home. Not much else to do on this hunk anyway.
Archuletta sneered a wicked grin at Stones as they moved to the inner hatch. He returned with the most sarcastic look he could manage. Another mission where everyone came home. A soldier could never ask for more than that.
"Lieutenant, well done," came the submarine's commander with a stiff nod. "I wish all of our missions were that easy."
"So do I, Captain Davesco," Watson said with a dry smile. "Thank you, what's our schedule look like, sir?"
"We're underway, will rendezvous with aircraft from the Harry S. Truman in four hours to take you boys home. Debriefing at 0800 and the chow is hot, wish I could say it tasted good too."
"0800, don't be late, assholes" Watson affectionately dismissed them. The team headed for the crews quarters, eager to shed their soaking wet piles of gear.
"Too easy, Stones. When are we going to get back to it, man?" Vormoot said, team breaching expert. Stones eased his way through the cramped quarters of the sub, leading the train.
"Starting to get the itch, dead man?" Stones said. Doc Morowitz laughed loudly, heard from the back of the line.
"That's not the same itch, Stones." This brought laughs from the rest as Vormoot stuck a black middle finger above his head, aimed rearward.
"I'm glad we didn't have to stick around that hole. Fucking Nigeria, I'd rather do a mission in dead man's ass." Said Avery.
Vormoot smacked his backside with a gloved hand, hard enough to echo. "It's big enough for all you ladies, baby."
"Me too," came Richards' belated two cents. "Whatever happened up there, I think I'm glad we missed it." The silence that followed was heavy and serious.
Stones noticed the sub crew, working around the hulking forms of the SEALs as they joked and gaffed to their bunks. The scene was fairly normal after missions, you needed to bleed off the tension. Stones always assumed that everyone was so damned happy to be alive, like himself, but in spite of the comfort of a flawless operation, this mission left a bitter taste in their mouths, and everyone knew it.
It was a straightforward op, with a single element taking SDV's to the coast, parking them, and locating and securing the objective. Intelligence had confirmed reports that a foreign military power was using the current bloody conflicts surrounding the Niger Delta region to secretly test some sort of prototype weapon. Their sources had also confirmed that this weapon was 'misplaced' after a botched engagement with local rebels, creating a window of opportunity. We were given a location and a description of the device, which sounded seriously weird, and deployed immediately.
The entire mission went off without a single enemy contact, despite a random rebel beach patrol that was easily handled. The target area ended up being what was left of some poor bastards village, after some sort of engagement had ripped the hell out of it. Stones knew what the Africans meant when they said "fighting," which was usually a massacre of some variety, but what his team saw set a new standard in brutality. Bodies were flayed like fish, beheaded, gutted, entire buildings were blown to splinters, like a wrecking ball hit them. The team also discovered burns, on the ground and some of the bodies, that nobody recognized. They had to have been caused by intense heat, as some of the wounds were cauterized.
Stones and his team assumed that this was the result of the weapon they were retreiving. Whichever government possessed that sort of technology, we had better catch up quick or we wouldn't remain the top dog in military power for long. The idea was unnerving to Stones, and he wasn't alone.
"General, my men collected some data that they thought may be pertinent." Watson said, handing a data card to the communications officer. A few seconds later, high-resolution photographs began appearing in a slide show, transmitting over the satcom link. The images gnawed at the team, Stones noticed as he glanced casually from face to face.
"Lieutenant, this is why you and your team were put at risk today," came the General's deep voice. "I cannot confirm this, but we suspect that this is what the weapon we now possess is capable of." The words carried an acute severity. That was all that was said, and all that could be said.
"Yes, sir." Lieutenant Watson let his gaze drop to the deck, brow furrowed. Stones had doubts that anyone expected more. They were all used to the dog-and-pony-show of military command, protocol, procedure; once you rose above a certain rank it became politics. That's why they were here instead of there, they all cherished the lifestyle that came with direct action, with boots on the ground.
The rest of the debriefing was stale, and unusually short, and the team went about steadily forgetting what they witnessed. If you let it keep you up at night you were just wasting energy on things that were beyond your ability to know. Saying 'fuck it' was a skill more valuable than most people would admit, until they experienced the enduring confusion of war.
Watson caught Stones as he made for the door.
"I want you guys to keep it down about this, more than usual." His eyes were hard slits.
"Alright LT," Stones managed with genuine concern. He waited for a moment.
"I don't like it," Watson said carefully, almost in a whisper. "Tell the men."
Stones sighed, "they already know." Watson smiled.
The USS Florida hurtled silently through the Atlantic like a giant steel finger pointing the way home. The crew were manning their stations, vigilant, well-trained, and the Captain confident after returning from another successful mission. Three hours to the rendezvous.
"Yeah, Richards was having one hell of a time with our comms, too," Eddington said, carefully cleaning his Mark 46 light machine gun. The man sometimes literally slept with it.
"I don't get it," from Doc. "They have some shit storm firefight, blow everything to hell, and then somehow a weapon that powerful just gets dropped on the ground?"
Stones rubbed his short hair. "It was actually beside a crater, doc," he said with a smile.
"I know that smart ass," Doc chided. "Looked like a 20lb HE, probably a Hellfire, have to ask dead man..." Doc trailed off in his own world.
Members of the sub crew passed the cramped aisle where the men perched, talking quietly. Glances were exchanged, polite smiles now and then. It was a lot nicer being with your own branch, though the higher tier elements rarely got into pissing contests like the grunts. It was a different world.
"There was a platoon, at least, of bodies. What was with those three guys strung up like fish?" Eddington said with a pissed off look. "I've seen some shit, but never anything like that."
The memory flashed before Stones mind's eye. Grown men, gutted, beheaded, hanging from a thick wire. Half of him wanted to meet the bastards responsible, save the earth some CO2, but the other half remained skittish, unsure. He didn't like that feeling.
"The Lieutenant doesn't like it either, told me after the briefing if you all couldn't tell." Stones said to the two men. Watson himself was in the control room with the Captain and Richards, the SEALs communications specialist. Eddington and Doc eyed Stones thoughtfully.
"Ya know, if we had an op where I felt good about everything, I'd probably get my ass shot off." Eddington said, slapping the feed tray down on his weapon. Eddington could carry the stress of sixty men and never crack, he was cold as a stone and just as hard, the best you could ask for in this line of work.
"Speaking of ass, I'm going to go fuck with dead man. He's been in the shower for three minutes, that's two minutes too fucking long!" The men laughed as Eddington moved to the center aisle, facing the stern of the ship where the showers were located.
The racks were about half filled with off-duty submariners, with a handful moving about the aisle in one direction or the other. A strange commotion interrupted Stones' thoughts just then, a sort of angry barking at the end of the corridor towards the showers. He was prepared to see Eddington staring down some young seaman as he leaned from his bunk to look, but this is not what he saw. Eddington was off to one side, his large figure squeezed in between rows of bunks, watching some of the crew help their friend from the floor. Must have tripped.
"What the hell was that?" The seaman griped, genuinely confused. He shoved off back towards the showers and Stones watched as something strange happened. The man went to step through the hatch to the shower room when he seemed to bump into the air and bounce back a step. It looked comical from Stones' point of view.
"What the fuck, man?!" The seaman looked around, as if the victim of a cruel prank. His mates watched along with Eddington, puzzled look and half-smile on his face. In another step towards the hatch, the man stopped and lurched over, both hands suddenly grasping something beneath his chest. Everyone watched as he was raised into the air, a hair-raising scream choked to a gurgling squeal, and then blood just tore from his back like water from a crack in a high-pressure pipe. By nothing, by the thin fucking air.
Time slowed down as a thorough panic fell on all witnesses to the man's death.
"What the hell, Jones! Jones!!" Screams, men flying out of bunks in briefs, running, alerts being shouted through the deck phones. Stones was on his feet with Doc, wide eyes finding Eddington's in the chaos as the man moved slowly back through the flood of crew trying to help their brother. Doc was jerked by the powerful force that causes combat medics to run headlong towards death while others run away, but something made Stones grab his shoulder with a steel grip.
"Stones, lemme fuckin go," Doc snapped, wild-eyed.
"Wait, doc," Stones shook his head. "Something isn't right. Wait."
Stones appeal was cut short by a second scream from a fresh throat. You could see nothing now, especially through Eddington's body charging back to them, only a crowd. Stones continued looking anyway, however, long enough to see a second crewman thrown like a bloody corpse into the ceiling. Not thrown, spiked, he stayed there, stuck, the last sparks of life dripping from his flailing fingers as they searched the air for some reason. Eddington saw their faces, and in one flash of time they went from normal men to elite warriors, to survivors.
They loaded weapons with lightning speed as the corridor filled with the screams of thirty terrified men. The sounds of thrashing and fighting broke out, and men fled in fear down the aisle they had seconds ago rushed down to help their crewman. Stones snapped glances down the aisle, through the sweaty bodies to see images of men being killed. It was something big, powerful, using hand weapons, and if he looked carefully he could see it when it moved. It was something cloaked, invisible, and it was definitely hostile.
Eddington grabbed his shoulder and jerked him back as hot blood sprayed their faces. All of the men in the aisle toppled like dominoes, some screaming, some instantly dead, hit by a projectile with enough force to penetrate fifteen bodies. The entire scene was enough to rush anyone to the doors of insanity. It was like a nightmare, some impossible nightmare that children might have, but the dying was real. The SEALs knew it.
Eddington leaned around the bunk and took aim for a fraction of a second before opening up. The roar of the Mark 46 was piercing in the narrow confines, but Stones was comforted. He slapped in a magazine and shot a leg out into a crouch beside Eddington, joining him with bursts of fire. Down the aisle men were screaming and clawing for safety in all directions, but their line was clear to the hatch. They were shooting at nothing, that shimmer in the air, but their rounds were clanging and bouncing as if they were hitting iron, and the sparks were getting closer.
Doc had crawled with his kit to the nearest crewmember, doing his job without hesitation as only the best could. You couldn't hear anything through the gunfire and screams, but Stones tried to shout orders to fall back anyway. Eddington was fixed, he knew his rounds were hitting something, but he could see through it to the damned shower room behind. Stones slapped his shoulder as he moved back with Doc, attempting to pull the wounded to the hatch behind them.
The blazing fire suddenly stopped as Eddington spun around with a scream. His arm smacked Stones in the face, but as Stones hit his ass on the floor he realized he had moved at least ten feet away. Eddington stood for a moment staring at the stump below his shoulder, and Stones watched a round object flash over his head, back to the mirage in the aisle. Doc was watching too.
"Eddy, get DOWN!" GET DOW-" The shimmer was right next to him, standing on screaming men. Stones fired, bullets glancing in all directions, but Eddington was lifted off his feet, stabbed in the chest, and thrown at them.
Doc lost control. He shot to his feet as Stones tried to catch Eddington but was bowled over by the man's weight. Doc ran screaming with his rifle, spraying in lethally accurate bursts at head and neck level, closing on the thing. Stones screamed, pointlessly, and leapt to his feet to follow Doc. As he chased the back of the man he had fought alongside for two years, Doc's head exploded in a blue flash that sent a searing bolt tearing through Stones' arm. The pain was unreal, and the smell of his own flesh made him stumble.
"DOC!" Stones fired, fired, fired as the nightmare flew at him. He would die, but the pain of losing his brothers to such an unfair enemy would be gone. Something struck Stones in the chest so hard, he barely had time to see his rifle fly from his outstretched arms as he struck the bulkhead and everything went black.
A wail punched through the pain to reach Stones' waking mind. He thought he was dead, but the siren of the general alarm told him he wasn't so lucky. Slowly, starting with one battered and bloody eye, he took in what little he could see. Bodies, everywhere, like a slaughterhouse, smoke, blood, and relative silence besides the alarm. It sounded, gong-like, and Stones could hear the transmissions over the speaker.
"Enemy presence onboard, hostile, severe casualties! Battle stations!" The voice was mad with fear, breathless, and the background was a broadcast of murderous chaos. It was a repeat of the scene in the crews quarters, but some of the crew managed to secure weapons. The screams echoed through the ship, and Stones wondered how much time had passed as the intense pain brought him starkly back to reality.
Attempting to move, he let out a breathless scream. His entire chest felt like it was on-fire, like he'd been run over by a truck, and he was certain at leas two ribs were broken. He rolled back to the floor and crawled in agony, trying to remain silent. How many of them were there? How in the hell had they gotten aboard? He fumbled for his rifle, but had to use it as a crutch to drag himself to a knee.
He tripped on Eddy's armless body as he moved back into the aisle of death. Every few feet he had to stop, fearing the pain would render him unconscious. The thing must have moved further into the bow of the sub because he was making so much noise it would have killed him if it were still here. Stones managed to get to Doc's radio, still in his kit, and turn it on. Nothing. He rolled over on his back, struggling to breathe when he heard the ship's captain come over the loudspeaker.
"Silence on the line." The voice was calm, worthy of a captain in this situation, but also hurried. "There is a hostile force onboard." The alarm sounded for emergency surfacing. "All hands to escape trunks, all hands to escape trunks. Abandon ship." A deep and horrible pause in which Stones heard sounds of distant gunfire. "All hands, abandon ship!" The line went dead, and Stones wondered if he was the last one in his team alive.
Coming to again, Stones realized he had passed out. More of the excruciating pain brought him back, but this time he was being hefted into the air.
"Comeon, damn it, I know it hurts. We're getting the fuck out of here Stones." It was Avery's voice, and it was the sweetest thing Stones had ever heard. He choked out some words coated in the blood that dribbled from his chin.
"Where is the team? LT?" Avery had his UMP in one hand and Stones in the other, dragging him out of the crews cabin.
"Don't talk, I will," his voice was steady. "Everyone's dead, I think literally everyone, unless anyone managed to escape. We haven't surfaced, the control room is dead and we're dead in the water." Stones watched Avery from the corner of his eye, and one side of his head was covered in blood.
"LT and Richards were with the captain, they sealed the control room and tried to fight the motherfuckers." Things, there was more than one? Stones ground his teeth and suppressed a scream as he was half-pulled over a step. "It was fucked man, I've never seen anything like that. Whoever it is, they were almost invisible, some sort of optical camo."
Avery leaned around a corner, weapon trained down the hall. "Cut a hole in the deck with some sort of laser, started tearing everyone in the attack center to shreds. The LT told me to get the weapon, and anyone still alive if I could find them, and get the fuck out of dodge." He stopped and caught a breath, jaw chattering. "We're it, man, Richards and the LT went down with the captain." His eyes narrowed, the pain recent. "We're getting to the SDV, we'll make it bro you hold on."
Stones wasn't reassured.
The state of the boat was unbelievable as the two men carried each other through. It looked like a starving pack of lions had been let loose without warning. Men were simply butchered, hacked and burned just like the village where the weapon had been found. Avery and Stones both knew what had happened, though how the fucker had followed them back to the ship remained a mystery. Must have been some sort of super-soldier to infiltrate a US Nuclear Submarine without setting off any alarms. Stones was no expert, but he would bet on that being impossible.
Where it was, or how much time had passed, was also impossible to know. Stones knew it hadn't been more than a half hour, with how many men killed? Someone would pay dearly for this.
"DOWN!" Avery screamed as he shoved Stones painfully to the floor under his arm. A burst of rifle fire careened from the hull next to them as a terrified submariner emptied his magazine.
"Hold your fucking fire, damn it!" Avery shouted around the corner. They had managed to stay silent until now, this was like waving a flag while standing on a hill. As Avery helped Stones to his feet, the nervous seaman stepped around the corner, rifle raised. He was wearing a flak vest, must have made it to the armory.
"I-I'm sorry, I thought I was the only one left." The man was next to insane. "Are you going to the dry deck? I'm coming to, I'm getting the fuck off of this ship!" Avery and Stones were already moving past. "Sure, man, just keep up and stay quiet."
It was fortunate that they almost got shot by Petty Officer Third Class Harrison, Stones thought, as without him, Avery wouldn't have been able to drag his broken body up the ladder to the top deck. They were in the room adjacent to the after hatch, which connected the DDS Module to the Florida. One more door, and one more ladder, and they were at the mercy of the ocean. Hopefully their emergency transponder would be picked up within the hour, and Stones wouldn't die quite yet.
"What the f-fuck is that?" Came the unsteady whisper from Harrison. Avery spun them to see what the fuck it was. On the hull, about shoulder height, was a hole. At first glance it was startling, as it broke straight out into the open water, but there was obviously no leak. The three men stared like peasants at a magic show, taking it in. The edges were perfectly cut, and the hole itself was a perfect circle sliced through 3 inches of high-yield steel. On the outside, you could make out a strangely shaped device around the hole's circumfrence, with a sort of field holding back the waiting ocean.
"This is how the bastard got in," said Avery slowly. Harrison looked at him, fear thick in his expression.
"No fucking way. Through a hull that can withstand 600 psi, without setting off the flooding alarm?" The man was beginning to break. "Or the fucking collision alarm? How did it get down here, we were cruising at speed! What did it do, swim?!" Harrison began shaking, sweat pouring from his round face. Avery simply began moving me again, slowly.
"You'll have to help with the next ladde-" Avery's voice was cut off by a hideous, beastlike roar that tore through the ship, coupled with a man's scream. It sounded close. We all froze, prepared to die, until Avery managed to break free and continue moving, hasty this time.
"No," cried Harrison. "We're so close, fucking leave him man. We need to get out of here!" His volume rose.
"Shut the fuck up or I'll leave you," said Avery as he leveled his weapon on the man. This seemed to work and we moved through the last hatch. You could see the ladder, the portal to the DSV as we sealed the hatch behind us and started to don our gear.
Avery watched Harrison closely as we finished, and my body still shuddered with pain. One ladder left, it might as well have been a mountain in my condition. The hatch behind us was sealed, but as we approached the ladder it buckled under the force of a massive blow. This was all Harrison needed to rabbit.
"Fuck this! Fuck you, I'm not dying down here!" The man scrambled for the ladder and began to climb. Avery fumbled to unsling his UMP, determined to shoot the coward before he could reach the SDV. I was no help, just dead weight, and thought this the final nail in our coffin when we heard a new sound. As Harrison reached the top of the ladder and stuck his head through the open hatch, a tiny electronic chirp reached our ears. We looked up just in time to see Harrison's headless body tumble heavily to the deck, the neck sliced and cauterized in a neat edge.
The invader had anticipated this, as well. Another slam on the door, followed by a blinding flash as some sort of cutting device began working on the steel. The renewed fear of death syphoned a burst of adrenaline from the deepest part of me, and I yelled and moaned as I heaved myself up the ladder, Avery's arms beneath mine. Three rungs, then two, then the arm on my good side managed to gain some purchase on the ledge above. I pulled my worthless body across the threshold with a loud, cathartic scream.
I was running on auto-pilot as I crawled to the manual controls, expecting Avery to slam the hatch shut and dash past. He didn't, and I rolled on my side to see him just breaking the surface of the hatch when the door beneath fell inward with a thunderous crash. Avery threw himself from the hole and swung his weapon into the opening, firing blindly as I finalized the pressurization and launch procedures.
His magazine clicked dry as he rose to a knee, free hand lifting the hatch to slam it down. I heard a scream instead of a slam, and Avery flew backward clutching his arm. The shimmer rose from the opening as Avery kicked away from it, my back to one wall and his to the other. I tried to throw the lever, spilling water into the chamber, but the safety stop wouldn't allow it with the hatch ajar. I watched as the hulking, invisible killer closed on me. We were all out of options, time to die.
I watched as his distorted figure pulled a knife from somewhere and leapt at the creature, visible through the ripples of it's camoflauge. Avery was smart, not suicidal until there wasn't any choice, and came down hard on what he thought should be a leg. His knife struck to the hilt and sprayed a glowing green. The chamber shook with the same roar we had heard in the sub, and the thing spun for Avery. He threw himself at it's knees, and held on. Both lost their balance, first Avery and then the invader tumbling back through the hatch.
"AVERYYY!!" I managed to cry weakly, lunging for the open hatch. I peered over the edge to see the man responsible for saving my life held down in the things arms. It was visible now, and I saw it's reptilian skin and alien weapons, it's armored head with black tendrils dangling from the back. I saw the skulls, polished like trophies, as it lifted him up.
It tore Avery's living head from his shoulders as a man picks fruit from a branch. His spinal cord ripped free as blood arced through the air like a fountain.
I screamed in rage, in pain, in fear as I slammed the hatch and hit the lever. I shook violently, wishing I didn't survive, wishing to wake up as the water rushed hard around me. The pressure equalized and the outer hatch opened, and I clung to the SDV that less than an hour before had borne my squadmates, my friends, to the beginning of this insane nightmare. I floated through the infinte deep, mindless, weightless, a single guilty survivor. Petty Officer Mark Stones escaped the massacre on the USS Florida.
Petty Officer Mark Stones died with his team, the proud warriors of SEAL Team 8, on USS Florida. Who am I? I am only a ghost, and I will avenge the men that saved my life.
A single beam of sunlight broke through the surface of the water, piercing the darkness of the great and merciless deep.