He was never told what they were or where they came from. Alice once told him that no one but the elite officers really knew and even the Administrator didn’t know everything. All Map knew was that forty years ago the creatures started showing up and he was a product of the program developed to stop them.
The one Map was currently staring down was a level two or three. The more dangerous the creature the higher the level assigned. It was a little taller than Map and half again as wide. It was vaguely human with approximations of arms and legs, but the head was wrong. It was like it didn’t have a neck or a mouth or a nose – just something like eyes. Map had encountered dozens of different types of creature.
Map closed the distance firing shots from his rifle. He didn’t do as much damage as he had hoped but he pushed forward switching to a melee weapon that closely resembled an axe. The creature was halfway up a pile of broken concrete and steel which slowed Map’s charge. The axe felt awkward in his hands, his personal weapon was scrapped the moment he was replaced. He moved the thought aside and focused on the situation and the creature facing him.
Map climbed the rubble with a sure footedness that came from his development and constant training. He found solid footing instinctively and swung upwards delivering a precise and devastating blow. The axe was driven deep into the midsection of the creature. It was nearly lifted off the ground from the impact. Map continued his assault using the momentum of his swing to follow through and topple the unbalanced hulking creature. He rode the fall prying the axe free and driving it into the mound that was the thing’s head as it hit the ground.
“Well that was stupid,” the voice in his ear said.
“Got the job done. One down,” Map replied.
“And how do you feel now?” Alice asked.
“Tired,” Map admitted.
“I don’t need to remind you that you aren’t really up for this do I? You keep up this pace and you’ll be lucky to take down another one. Let’s do this one like all the others. What do you see around you?”
“Rubble mostly.” Map looked around and took in the destruction in every direction. He was at the outskirts of a city that bore the marks of the attack. Map had been too caught up in the moment and failed to follow procedure. He regretted the quiet of the previous year. It made him reckless. He caught his train of thought and corrected himself. It wasn’t the lack of battles that made him reckless – he had something to prove. He scolded himself and continued his survey.
“There isn’t a structure without damage,” Map continued. “Is the whole area this bad?”
“Just about,” Alice replied. “It looks like they were out to cause as much damage as possible.”
“What’s the analysis?”
Alice checked her screens which were constantly fed the most up-to-date information from the other stations in the hanger. “It’s an anomaly but they don’t know what to make of it yet.”
“Trying to get our attention?”
“They did that by taking down Napkin,” Alice said before she could stop herself. “Don’t worry about it,” she continued, “We’re both in it now, time to do what we do. Finish your survey and get moving. You’ve been in one place too long.”
Map scanned the area again. The damage was substantial. Ruined buildings were surrounded by rubble and debris. Large sections of track had collapsed from an elevated transit system, the train was lying on its side across a causeway. Smaller personal vehicles were abandoned and many were completely destroyed. Blood and bodies were everywhere. The level of destruction was massive. It was the largest attack Map had ever known in his time. There hadn’t been this great an attack since the early days of the invasions when the operatives worked with platoons of soldiers.
Map confirmed his analysis with Alice and started moving. He headed further out from the city to give his team time to evaluate the worst threats and plan his assault with Alice – and to rest. His earnestness in attacking the first creature had taken its toll. Alice was right to reprimand him for it. He was sore and moving slowly from the encounter but he did his best to ignore the pain and move forward.
“Map,” Alice chimed in. He had been making his way through the wooded area that separated the city from the suburbs trying to stay hidden while Alice and the rest of his team back at the hanger sized up the enemy. “Can you feel that,” she continued.
“The heat?” he asked stopping to pinpoint the direction of the rising temperature.
“Yeah, there’s a small fire not far from your location. It would be a good place to lay low – you’d be harder to find there.
“How’s the assessment coming?” Map replied.
“Slowly. A few things aren’t adding up.
“Usually there’s the pattern. The creatures hit and cause a lot of damage until we stop them.” Map didn’t reply to Alice’s obvious comment. “There’s no target this time. Usually they go for a building or a specific block and the creatures are usually very similar.”
“Not only is this the largest attack we’ve seen, but it’s spread across the whole city and we’ve identified at least five specific type of creature.”
“What’s it mean?”
“Not sure yet. They’ve called in everyone, this place is a zoo. For now just head for the heat; southwest of your current location. Find a place and sit tight, I’ll get back to you when I find out more. Your landing and outburst caused enough of a stir for the platoons to get the evacuation finished. Whatever this is all about you have a civilian free city to work in,” she said.
“Good to know, I’m heading towards the fire now – keep me posted. I don’t want to sit around too long and wind up a target.”
“I hear ya,” Alice said signing off. She had worked with him long enough to know that he appreciated solitude when she could give it. She would monitor his line and the progress of the scientists and analysts and relay information as he needed it. She sat back from her terminal and watched the bedlam occupying the hanger. She had to wait for them to figure out why the attack was so different from the ones before and what it meant.
She was always proud to be working with “the best” operative but she was worried that he wouldn’t be able to handle – whatever it was this time.
Map headed towards the coordinates Alice sent to his display. It didn’t take long before he could feel the heat rising and see smoke. Within half an hour of walking through the woods he found himself in a neighborhood. The houses were large and the yards were well kept. The thought that people lived there was foreign to Map. He didn’t waste much time looking around. He found the edge of the blaze and picked a house he judged to be far enough away from the fire to be relatively safe for the moment and close enough to hide any signature he may leave.
Map crossed the yard and walked up to the front door.