Basilisk D4

The horns wake us not long after I’d fallen asleep, but long enough after that my brain took a moment to adapt. Someone turns the lights of the barracks on and I slit my eyes to protect my dilated pupils. Sounds of rustling and complaints are all around me as the other fighters get up. I pull myself to the edge of the bed and when I try to deftly slide my legs out from under the sheets, they instead catch up in the bedsheets and I tumble to the floor in a tangle of sheets.

“Nice.” Roman exclaims from a seated position on the bunk next to mine.
I awkwardly kick out of the sheet tangle, pull myself up and groggily set the sheets on my bunk to be dealt with later. I do some squats next to the bunk to try to get blood flowing to my brain.

“Good dream?” Roman inquires absent-mindedly as he examines his tab.

“The best.” I respond, though I hadn’t really been dreaming, or if I had been, it was a dream of sleeping warm in my bunk. I retrieve my own tab from my footlocker. Knowing I’ll be on the move soon, I strap it to my forearm right away. Not surprisingly, the screen indicates an alert. I tap it, and instead of waking to the utility menu, it jumps right into a mission space. My current task is to arm up and report to helo seven. I tap the personnel icon and scan over the names in my unit, then I navigate to the mission brief which is just a single sentence for now, “Repel mutant incursion in Basilisk D4.” Simple enough. I say, “Night attack. That’ll be spiders or canines.”

“Probably spiders.” Roman concludes, “Canines don’t stick around long enough to have to be repelled.” Roman’s right, of course. If it had been canines, the mission would be to hunt and eliminate, not repel.

“Let’s get to the armory.” Sargeant Garret urges in a raised voice. “We don’t want to be squashing spiders in our jammies.” Noises of general agreement answer him, and the men start to gather around him. Roman and I join them. When the sergeant decides that he has a general consensus, he leads us out into the chilly night. The base is illuminated by floodlights, and the alarm has triggered a flurry of activity as preparations are made for the mission. Our armory is another cookie-cutter building much like our barracks, the sergeant unlocks the door with a swipe of his tab, and holds it open for us to stream in. “Nightsuits. We’re on the clock.” The sergeant notes.

I proceed to my locker. I have to shift my heavy rifle to free up my nightsuit. The black polymer cloth of the suit is thick and heavy. I unbuckle my tab and pull on the pants and long sleeved shirt. The weight of the cloth is comforting. It’s some kind of super-fiber with extraordinary resistance to cut and tear. I re-secure my tab over the cloth on my forearm. I sit momentarily to pull on my boots. Then I stand and retrieve a pile of hard polymer plates from the locker floor and begin sliding them into their sheaths in the nightsuit. I do the same with two ammo clips and a trio of grenades. Grenades are good for spiders. That accomplished, I pull on the black cowl. Next I pull a battery from the charger and snap it into my goggles, and slip them around my neck. I separate the earbud from its storage slot in the frame of the goggles and slip it into my ear. Finally, I retrieve my rifle, give it a once over, and then snap in a fresh ammo clip. All set, I look around to see how the others are doing. About the same as me, a few our already ready and a few are just finishing up. Garret is one of the last to pick up his rifle.

“Looking good, fighters.” Garret announces. “We’re on spider extermination tonight. Keep in tight lines. Watch for lures and ambush. Don’t let them get on top of you. Keep your goggles on and watch for mission updates. Now, get over to the pad and report to the helo on your tabs.”

We jog over to the landing pad and break up to find our assigned transport helicopters. Our platoon would be the first on the field and would deploy in small five man units to suppress the muties. A larger group would follow in big transport helos to overwhelm the enemy. My unit would be the other men in helo seven: Roman, Tenner, Song, and Vero. I climb in behind Song and with him grab one of the more spacious two seats that face the rear of the helo. Roman, Tenner, and Vero wedge themselves into the larger bench facing forward. I grab down some headphones and put them on to cancel the sound of the helicopter blades and listen to the pilot. I catch him saying, “… aboard and ready for go.”

“Helo Seven. Go.” The voice from command orders.

“Ack ack, command.” The pilot responds, and then he throttles up and the helo lifts spritely. This helo is light and lightly armored. Most muties don’t mess with helos, perhaps because they’re afraid of the noise. For this reason, after our transport drops us off, the pilot would keep the helo in the operation area and use it for recon and suppression until fuel demands force the pilot to return to base.

The flight to Basilisk D4 took us over farms, grazelands, and homesteads. We had won these lands. We took them back from the muties. The Old Book taught us to defend our lands from the mutants. Historically, this had meant defending the land we had always held. A rising general, Skala, had taught us that we had once held lands much further from the City, and he led us fighters out into the mutie territories and we took them for our own. Our base and all of these ranches and homesteads were once wild and controlled by mutants. I had taken part in the reclamation, though I and many of my generation had come in late. We joined just before Skala retired from the field and took a place as a senator. Since then, our advance had slowed. These new lands brought much wealth and plenty to the City, and it seemed as if only us fighters wanted to continue the conquest.

I review the mission materials available on my tab. Basilisk D4 is a new group of homesteads on the very edge of the mutant territories. This area doesn’t have any geographical barriers or any other passive defense from mutant incursion. A high risk sector. If the bureaucrats had been doing their jobs, then the sector would have been settled by ex-fighters. That might mean that the locals could provide some help, but it could also mean that the locals could have installed some deadly traps. I tapped a warning into our platoon feed on my tab, “High risk sector. Possible mutie traps set by locals.” The sergeant promoted the post into the mission brief.

The pilot brings the helo to a stop in the air and switches on some floodlights to reveal a relatively clear patch of grass below us. The pilot adjusts position and begins descent. I take off the headphones and secure my googles on over my eyes. When I flip the power switch, the heads up display kicks on. I see that Roman and Veros have their goggles on and they have a feint green wireframe over them labeled with their names. Tenner’s wireframe is grey, unlabeled, and less well defined until he switches his goggles on and his form fills in and brightens. The goggles provide some interpolation of the forms and positions of people and creatures, as well as friend identification which helps to reduce the worst kind of errors on chaotic battlefields.

On touch down, I’m the first out of the door and I advance fifteen paces and start scanning the area. There’s nothing to see here right now except us and grass. My heads up display indicates a direction of advancement and a distance. We’re approaching from half a kilometer away. I see that my unit has formed up and is advancing on either side of me and I join them. Behind us, the helicopter lifts and flys over our heads towards our destination.

With the lights from the helo gone, my goggles automatically begin to provide low-light assist. With the noise of the helicopter moving away we can hear eachother talk, but we don’t. My goggles haven’t detected any mutant pheromones, but there is a light breeze, and spider-types aren’t very smelly to begin with. Unless we catch them eating or attacking, the spiders would be hiding and watching, waiting for us to get into strike range.

Spider muties aren’t all that similar to real arachnids. The twisted creatures have a vaguely humanoid torso and head. Their monstrous legs and arms sort of start humanoid at the attachment point on the torso but half way down they split into two segmented appendages. The spider muties can make their closed mouths look sort of humanish, but this illusion quickly disappears when they open to bite because long and dripping segmented parts emerge to rip and rend the flesh of their prey.

I hear other helicopters dropping off other units at staggered intervals. We aren’t alone out here.

We advance at a walk, staying quiet and scanning constantly. This grass is tall and suspicious. A spider could lie in wait in this stuff.
There are several bursts of gunfire far to the left of our advance. At the sound, we pause together and watch the field ahead of us. My goggles inform me of the contact, but there is no change to our course indicated. The other unit either doesn’t need help or we are not in a position to provide assistance.

As we begin to advance again I turn and scan behind us. If a spider lies still as we pass, it could avoid detection and then stalk us from behind until its mutated logic decides that we are more vulnerable. It looks clear. There is some movement in the grass, but I think it is the wind. One thing that you can only learn about grass from experience is that as you move through it, it changes the way that the grass responds to wind such that the grass in the path behind you may well move weirdly in the wind as compared to the undisturbed grass. Nevertheless, I make a point to check behind us more frequently.

There is more gunfire in the night. This time to the right of our advance, and closer. More bursts indicate a sustained engagement. My goggles inform me of the contact and our direction target shifts to the right with the note, “Enemy contact. Unit casualties, provide assistance.” Someone must have messed up. Spiders are solitary hunters, and our five man units have been proven sufficient to provide overwhelming force against them. Casualties are rare and most often occur when a particularly patient spider attacks long after the battle is over.

Still without speaking, we change direction and move towards the engagement. The flurry of gunfire has abated. I steel myself to see the casualty. I’ve seen casualties before. People torn up in vile and unnatural ways. Chewed upon. But having seen it before makes it no more pleasant. Often the injuries are the most gut-wrenching type. The living victim is able to communicate their pain and horror.
I hear no cries of pain from our destination ahead. That doesn’t tell much. We’re trained fighters on a night mission, and sometimes the injured can keep their complaints to writhing and panting. I resist the intrusive imagining of myself as one of the injured.

On my display, the note changes. Instead of “enemy contact” it says “friendly fire?” Roman curses when he sees the change.

“What the fuck is the question?” Vero hisses. “They can see everything from base.” It’s a good point. The camera feeds from each fighter should make it easy to figure that stuff out.

“Keep cool.” Song urges, “Maybe someone’s goggles failed. We’re almost there.”

An alert pops up in the corner of my display. Pheromone detection. There is a mutant nearby. We all raise our rifles and crouch, scanning for movement. After a moment, Song starts forward again and we form up at his sides. I check behind us. This time, the movement of the grass doesn’t look right at all. “Movement behind.” I whisper and halt. I crouch low in the grass. The rustling of my unit disappears, and the movement in the grass stills. I squeeze a 3 round burst into the grass at the last position where I saw movement. There is a small motion in the grass a few feet over from my target, and there are flashes as a burst is fired right back at me.

I feel some bites in my left arm and rib cage. The rest of my unit sprays bursts of fire at the location of my attacker, and there is a bizarre pitiful noise. My rifle seems too heavy to support with my left arm, so I let it fall. I stride over to the fallen enemy, and deliver a few hard kicks. Tenner grabs the attacker’s gun. It’s not a spider. It looks mostly human, except it is bleeding black like the muties do. I’ve never seen or even heard of a mutie that can use a gun before. Its eyes are pitch black pools of madness. It opens its mouth and unleashes a scream that no human throat can utter. I raise my gun with my right arm and fire a burst into its head. Its quiet after that.

Song is pawing at me, trying to examine my injuries. “You’re hit.”

“Yeah. Yeah.” I note. There is a procedure for what should happen to me now. With this new development, I’m reluctant to leave the unit, but I don’t think it’ll help them to be worrying about me. “You guys should see if you can find what this one did to our fighters.” I trigger the process. “Command. Command. I am injured. Signal ID 5716.”

My announcement changes my status on the heads up display to yellow, and a text message appears, “Copy 5716, evacuation incoming.”
Roman is tapping furiously at his tab and I see his post about the new armed mutie type promoted to a division alert. This is a major new threat. We fighters rarely ever train for combat against other fighters with equivalent armament, there’s never been a need. It pains me to raise my left arm to work my tab, but I tap in a post, “I think these ones are smart. Expect that they will adapt tactics like we do. Since they’ve got guns, stay low and silent, don’t give them a target. The goggles can still smell them.” Sargeant Garret promotes my post to the mission brief.

Meanwhile, Vero and Tenner had moved off to search the grass. Vero calls out. “Bodies. West, Fox, they’re all gone.”

“They can go back with me.” I say. One of the helos is heading our way from suppression duty. The approaching sound grows from a buzz to a deafening beating. My goggles identify it is helo eight. I see that there are bullet holes in the exterior, and it gives me a bad feeling. I hop in, take a seat, pull off my goggles, and grab a set of the noise canceling headphones. “Pilot do you read me?”

“Strap in for extraction.” He responds. There is a big flash from the group of homesteads ahead of us.

“We’ve got five dead to pull out, too, but first… ” I say, “you can get a message to the other pilots, right?”

The pilot turns to look at me meaningfully, “Copy additional extraction. What do you want to say to them?”

“You’ve got bullet holes in this thing.” I say, “They should pull back from suppression.”

“Damn.” The pilot exclaims, “Suppression helos, we’re taking rifle fire, pull back from suppression. We’re not scaring these things.”

Roman, Vero, Song, and Tenner load the bodies of the other unit in on the floor in front of me, and then they move away into the grass to face the rest of the battle. Helo eight lifts off and starts back to base. My nightsuit is moist with blood, and I’ve leaked an appreciable amount onto the floor as I’ve sat. I don’t think I’m experiencing bloodloss effects, but I’m not sure I’d be able to tell. I unsling my rifle and use my right hand to apply pressure, trying to stem both wounds. The pain is exceptional at first, but it fades to a dull roar over time. As I bleed among the dead, the return trip feels much longer than the trip out.

I worry that Basilisk D4 will kill a lot of our fighters before this night is out. I don’t feel lucky getting out early, not with the rest of my platoon still out there. I had assumed it would be spiders. The sergeant had said it would be spiders. Was he assuming as well or did we have bad intel? If the homesteaders reported the attack, how could we not know about the muties with guns? I don’t suspect anyone of wrongdoing, but I think that something could have been done better.

I feel the helicopter slow and not long after the light impact of landing travels through the helo. I would normally be up and off as soon as possible, but I find myself reluctant to try to step over the dead, so I wait. A couple of medics open the door and shout something at me. I can’t hear it over the sound of the helicopter. The medic that was shouting has assessed the situation and is telling the other one something. The other runs off, and the shouter climbs in and starts checking the dead. After a while he makes his way over to me and pulls my hand away from the wounds. Then he puts it right back and starts pulling on me in an obvious attempt to get me to stand. He helps me out and another one props me up for the walk over to medical.

The medical building is a little larger, but it is mostly empty now. A practitioner is already masked and waiting for us. She motions to one of the beds and the medic leads me there to sit. She hands me a little cup with some pills in it and a glass of water. I take them immediately. Pain pills, I’m sure. She taps on one of the polymer plates of my nightsuit. “Can you take this off?”

I don’t want to, but I’m pretty sure I can. Thing is, once I get started and I go to do my normal move to pull my left arm out of the sleeve, my arm doesn’t respond properly. “I can’t get this sleeve.” The practitioner notes the situation and pulls the shirt the rest of the way off. “Oh wow.” I exclaim flatly as I see all of the red that is smeared over my left side and arm. The practitioner quickly sets the shirt under my bed and then rushes off briskly. I eye up my wounds. Three small holes, two on my arm, front and back, and one on my side, all seeping a little blood in time with my heart beat. There’s still a bullet in my side. That’ll be unpleasant. I feel the pain pills starting to take the edge off.

The practitioner returns with an IV stand and a bag of blood, and sets them up on the right side of the bed. She disinfects my right arm and inserts the IV needle, then she hooks up some clear tubing from the bag of blood to the IV port. I can feel the new blood coming in. It feels cold. As I examine the IV, the practitioner has moved back to my left side and she is doing some cleaning. I feel a little awkward about all of this. When I’d imagined being injured, I guess I always assumed I’d lose consciousness. This feels like the part that I should be sleeping through. For some reason the practitioner is using a little needle to make injections around my wounds. I must be making a face because she says, “This will numb the area.” Makes sense. When she pulls back, I try to adjust my position to get more comfortable. That accomplished, I close my eyes. The numb warmth of the pain pills beats out the brisk cold of the new blood and I fall asleep.

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