Map turned the handle and pushed but the door didn’t move. He stopped, stepped back and kicked. The door swung open taking part of the jam with it. No one had ever taken the time to explain what fancy was to Map but if they ever had he would have imagined a home something like the one he was in. It was the kind of place he imagined the Administrator would call home, though his house wouldn’t have fit on the land that two of these houses occupied.
“I’m in,” Map said.
“Graceful,” Alice replied in his ear. “Find a place to rest, the boffins are still working on your next move.”
“Can I make a suggestion?”
“You can make it but you know what that’s worth. Just try to relax; your vitals are a little off. Map,” Alice’s tone dropped, “stay sharp. Their signals are doing something.”
Alice shushed him. “Hold on. This doesn’t look right,” she said engaged in her thoughts.
“Hang on. I’ll be right back,” she said switching off her mic and pushing away from her station. She looked back over her chair to where Henry and the rest of Map’s team were arguing with the specialists who had arrived to assess the unusual situation.
“Henry,” she yelled. He looked up not sure who was calling his name. “Henry,” she repeated, “take a look at this.”
“I’m a little busy,” he said.
“Just take a look, something’s wrong.”
“With Map?” he asked hurrying over to the station.
“No, he’s holding up, but look at the signals,” she said pointing to the display.
“What is it?” Henry focused on the dots that represented the asset and the creatures.
“The display isn’t picking up all the targets,” she said. “There are only seven on the screen, still gathered together.”
“We are still working on figuring out why they are behaving so uncharacteristically. You’ll have to be patient.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. There were nine, two of them blinked out. They had been heading to the landing site then they started heading towards the neighborhood where Map is and now they’re gone.”
“Maybe Map –,” Henry started.
“He’s by the fire lying low like he was ordered. He only took out the one at the landing site.” Alice pointed to the spot on her screen.
While she and Henry were looking two more dots started to move towards Map’s position and blinked out. “Map,” Alice said turning on her mic. “You may have incoming.”
“May?” Map said. He had been busy fortifying his location and put down the table he had been moving into place where the front door had been. “How many?”
“I can’t say for sure but it looks like two groups of two.”
“What’s going on over there?”
“Technical difficulties,” she said as she opened access panels and checked connections. All I have is four of them moving to your location then not showing up on our screen. I’m running a diagnostic but everything seems fine on this end.”
“What’s the ETA?” Map went back to blocking off the front door.
“That’s a great question. Could be as soon as five but they shouldn’t be able to pinpoint you with that fire so close.”
“I’m taking up a defensive position.” Map moved to the back of the house to see what he could do to block off the sliding glass door and the windows. He was moving a couch in front of the door and noticed that the wind had shifted. The fire that had been content devouring the woods behind the neighbourhood was moving towards the houses.
As if reading his mind Alice chimed in his ear. “Do you see it?’
“Yeah – I’m on the move.”
“Still no sign of your targets; stay sharp,” she said.
Map pushed the couch aside and missed the movement in the back yard. The glass door smashed as the first creature lunged at Map. The glass gouged at the exposed parts of Map’s left side. Then the creature was on top of him trying to do its own damage. It was a heavy class four. It walked on four trunk like legs and had a huge bulbous head with an equally huge mouth full of even jagged teeth. It bit down on Map’s arm but the rig took most of the damage.
Map swung his free arm down in the thing’s head trying to knock it off him. He shifted and struggled to get out from under it as he battered it but his hits weren’t enough to free his arm from its powerful jaws. Map reached for the knife he kept at his right thigh. He twisted violently shifting his weight enough to tug it free. Map pulled his left arm as hard as he could, moving the creature’s head and exposing its neck. He jammed his knife in to the hilt and twisted.
The creature reared back releasing its grip on Map’s arm and pulled the knife from his hand. He rolled away into a crouch and brought up his rifle. He fired several shots at close range and had better luck than he did with the first creature. It was badly injured. Map was reloading when the second creature crashed through the window behind him. It was another of the four legged things and it took part of the house in with it.
Map spun around and fired. The creature dodged and Map only grazed it. He stood up and tried to assess the situation.
“Alice,” he said.
“I’ve got nothing Map, just you.”
“That’s not comforting. I’ve got one down and one – mad.”
“You’d better take care of it and get moving. The other two won’t be far behind,” Alice said checking and rechecking her sensors trying to figure out the cause of the glitch. “And your vitals are still tacky, try to calm down.”
Map didn’t respond. He was watching the four legged creature circle around and look for an opening to attack. With Map ready for the attack and armed it was at a disadvantage.
Map didn’t waste time. He targeted the thing and fired. Even though it was at a disadvantage the creature was still quick and the blast did little damage it as it jumped aside destroying a chair in the process.
Map moved to try and pin the creature in the kitchen. It stomped back still looking for its opening. Map lined it up again but pulled when he shot trying to anticipate which way it would try to evade. He judged wrong and the shot was wide. He didn’t have time to curse himself though as the creature saw its opening and lunged. Map spun away putting up his sleeved arm to try and block the attack. Claws cut deep gouges in his arm where it was unprotected and where the armor was damaged but Map had moved quickly enough to avoid anything worse. He rolled away before the creature could strike again, stood back up and aimed for a fourth shot. This time he faked his movement and got the creature to commit. Map landed the shot and lined up another.
The blockade at the front door burst inward as the third and fourth creatures broke their way in. These two were tall with arms and legs longer than Map was tall and huge hands. They crouched in the doorway looking like one tangled mass. Map wasn’t prepared to face them even with the four legged creature injured. He made for the back door but the fire was now scorching the back yard and licking at the house. Charging towards the creatures at the front door Map emptied his clip and darted up a set of stairs at the last moment. Hands and arms scrambled after him.