"Rescue comin' in an hour, hour and a half, the Colonel says
," Trudy tells them after Quaritch signs out.
“Good. But,” Wainfleet says, “the real question is, the margaritas any good?”
Trudy glances over and smirks. “Best damn margaritas in the whole of Pandora.”
“As long as Lieutenant Abdi doesn’t use the fuckin moonshine,” Walker points out, her breathy Georgia drawl made worse by her injuries.
“Now that’s the truth.” Trudy shifts slightly, wincing as the movement sends waves of pain shooting up and down her left leg. “But when she uses the proper stuff, damn
she makes good margaritas.”
“Think she’ll shout us, Chief?” Walker asks, glancing down the length of the Samson at Trudy.
Trudy snorts. “She doesn’t, I’ll kick her ass.”
When they get back to base.
If they get back to base.
Nights on Pandora always fall slowly, when they fall at all. Some combination of the binary system, the gas giant Polyphemus and its other thirteen moons that Trudy doesn’t entirely understand the mathematics of. She understands the effects, though, and what time it is when which moon goes where. She might not be able to write a thesis on any part of Pandora, but she knows
She also knows that in about ten minutes, when the dusk finally gets swallowed by the night, she, Walker and Wainfleet are going to be deeply, deeply fucked
“Wainfleet, go check the Scorp, see if you can salvage anythin.” The large man turns and stares down at her. She stares back. “We’ll cover you.”
He remains still.
“You’ll want to move before it gets any darker, Corporal.” And before I shoot you.
“…right, Chief,” he says at last, and grabs his rifle before hauling himself over the edge of the Samson.
“Sure,” Walker says, shifting slightly and gasping. “Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck
“Just think, margaritas and morphine.”
“That sounds real good, Chief.” The kid pauses, lifts her head slightly. “Hey, I think he’s got someone.”
“Huh?” Trudy looks back out; sure enough, there are two human figures out by the fallen gunship. “I’ll be. Command, this is Three One.”
“Copy Three One, I read you
“Seems to be a survivor at Scorp Nine Seven, no ID as yet. Over.”
“Unknown, but able to walk.”
“Roger that, keep us posted, Three One
“Roger, Three One out.”
The survivor (once he and Wainfleet make it back to the Samson, which requires Walker to fire that monster of a machine gun to scare off some Viperwolves) turns out to be Jesse Ruiz, bringing with him ammo, first aid supplies, and ten years as a combat medic.
(he’d found himself a hidey-hole, and had somehow managed to fold every inch of his lanky body into it, even with those deep scratches across his back and the broken bones in his foot)
“Damn, Ruiz, had to be you,” Trudy says with an overly long-suffering sigh. “Guess my leg’s gonna be splintered after all.”
“Admit it, you love it,” Ruiz says, hauling himself over the edge of the Samson and sliding down. He ends up near Walker, who gets a long whistle. “Jesus, babe, whatcha do to yourself, huh?” She offers him a wan, bloody grin as Trudy informs the COC of Ruiz’s (currently alive
“Aw, I just like givin you opportunities to feel me up,” Walker says, curling her hand around Ruiz’s.
“You did good,” Trudy tells Wainfleet, who gives her a grin just as wan as Walker’s.
“This bush is wrong
,” he informs Trudy, passing over the night-vision goggles.
Trudy just laughs her warm, snickery witch’s laugh. “Beats the hell out of crowd control in Venezuela,” she says, and goes to continue watching the clearing.
Maybe a dozen of them, smart and hungry and determined. The night-vision goggles mean that the Marines can see them clearly, all the animals’ camouflage rendered useless as their body-masses become points of green light, but that doesn’t help with anything else.
It doesn’t help with Viperwolves’ agility, nor their opposable thumbs.
It doesn’t help with their speed.
It doesn’t help with how damn smart
…come to think of it, night-goggles certainly don’t help with that high-pitched, cackling laugh, either. Like hyenas from the movies and old twentieth century documentaries.
The laughing is slowly but surely getting on Trudy’s nerves. She’s far better than most at dealing with the psychological strain of Pandora, and being surrounded by living trees
large and dangerous, with the lack of roads and buildings and hum of human life, with the animals that want to eat you
. However, being ‘better than most’ does not equal ‘being immune’.
Carefully, she aims. Carefully, carefully, she pulls the trigger, and a Viperwolf falls to the ground to the startled yipping and hissing of its packmates, and the shockingly loud crack of Trudy’s rifle.
‘Liquid darkness’, her ass.
She takes the sentiment back half a minute later.
The Viperwolves are fast
and, more dangerously, organized
. Attack, attack, attack, attack – never en mass
, but in teams of three and four, constantly. They yip and hiss at each other, split up and lunge towards the humans’ blind spots. They circle around and jump up and – mostly – dodge the bullets.
However, the Marines are just as organized, and they settle into a pattern. Trudy at one end of the Samson, Walker and Ruiz at the other, Wainfleet in the middle; each covering the others as they pause and call out ‘loading’, or just plain falter. As the Viperwolves test them, the humans aim and fire and fight back.
But the humans are injured, and operating in an environment they never evolved to cope with. The air drags at their limbs, slowing down their reflexes, and as the sweat burns and stings their eyes, they can’t brush it away due to the filter-masks they have to wear. And although all of them are fit, Ruiz and Trudy are used to working in pressurized cabins, or at the base, and Wainfleet is new. It’s Walker who is the most used to operating out in the raw elements, but Walker is faltering, fading fast.
She’s still a Marine, though, and it’s Walker who ends up saving them.
The Viperwolves break off. Yiping and hissing, the remaining members leap away and vanish into the forest, leaving the humans staring after them.
“...did we do that?” Wainfleet asks, glancing at Trudy.
Trudy’s instincts are screaming at her, and she shakes her head slightly in puzzlement. “I don’t-”
“WAINFLEET!” Walker suddenly screams, swinging her machine gun up, “DOWN!” He ducks down just as large paw swipes at where he’d been not a second before and Walker pulls the trigger. She shoots up, and behind them, and straight into a large mouth full of teeth. The humans are showered in blood, and other things, as the bullets from Walker’s machine gun blow out the back of the creature’s head. It collapses, ruined lower jaw hitting the edge of the Samson before falling against the outside of the now-mostly-vertical floor.
The jungle suddenly seems very, very silent.
“What,” Wainfleet asks with exaggerated calm, “the ever-lastin’ fuck was that?”
,” Walker gasps, “kinda…kinda like a cross between a, a tiger and a T-rex.”
“Fortunately, unlike T-rexes, they don’t hunt in packs,” Trudy says, pulling off her bloodied goggles in an effort to clean them. As the other three turn their heads to stare at her, she stares back. “What? Don’t tell me I was the only one who watched dino-documentaries as a kid.”
“…actually, I was just wonderin if that’d make them other things the raptors,” Wainfleet admits.
“…thank you, I so didn’t need that mental image of Viperwolves with large, stabby claws,” Trudy says, but then she grins at him.
“You guys are freaks,” Ruiz tells them after pause, and goes back to seeing what – if anything – he can do to fix Walker’s broken body.
The Viperwolves return. This time, they are wary, and concentrate their attention on the corpse of the Thantor. Wainfleet reloads the door-gun, but before he can aim and pull the trigger, Trudy says, “Hold your fire!”
“Hold your fire,” she repeats. “I mean…they’re hungry, right? So…let’s just…let ‘em have the Thantor. And maybe then they’ll clear off.”
“…you’re the boss, Chief,” he says, slowly, and between the night-vision goggles and the lights in their masks, she can clearly see his disturbed, nauseated expression. She doesn’t blame him; as she listens to the sounds of feasting, of that haunting high laughter accompanied by the tearing of flesh, she feels more than a little disturbed and nauseated herself.
“This is just wrong
,” Wainfleet mutters, and Trudy gives him a sharp, sick kind of grin.
“Welcome to Pandora.”