At the top of the stairs Map turned and dropped a grenade. He only carried two preferring more precise combat, but Map felt there were times when a big bang came in handy – even when it cuts off your only escape route.
Map ducked into a bedroom leaving the grenade to sort itself out. He reloaded and checked his ammo. He’d used close to half of what he brought and felt sloppy for it. The fire had spread to the house and left Map with few options for escape. Map found himself in a room with a balcony. He went out onto it to look for a way to lower himself down. He considered jumping but didn’t want to risk turning and ankle or worse. He moved to the bed and stripped it intending to tie the sheets together but the sound of hands and feet scrambling up the space where the stairs had been told him he wouldn’t have time. Instead Map carried the mattress to the balcony and dropped it. He was gauging the jump when one of the huge hands appeared at the door.
Map threw his second grenade behind him and jumped. He hit the mattress and rolled off managing to avoid anything worse than getting the wind knocked out of him. He heard the explosion and moved to get out of the way of any objects that would be blown off the balcony. While he was watching the ensuing destruction he missed the movement coming out of the front door.
The four legged creature used surprise as an advantage again and caught Map off guard. Once again Map was thankful to Henry for saving his rig; it took most of the impact but Map was pinned and this time without his knife. He tried to reach his gun but it had been knocked away in the attack. Map did his best to keep the thing’s teeth from causing any more injury and his armour kept its claws busy. He struggled to move the creature but it was too heavy and was too well planted.
Map lashed out battering the creature with his protected arm but it wasn’t enough. He pushed frantically and felt the wounds he had caused when he shot it. He pushed harder and felt his hand move inside a gash. The sound was among the worst things Map had experienced but the smell was at the top of the list. He dug in deeper and felt the weight of the creature shift. He twisted and managed to roll free scrambling for his fallen gun. Map moved quickly and ended the struggle.
Fatigue and pain swelled in him and his arm screamed for attention.
“Alice,” he croaked.
“Do you have eyes on the rest of them?”
“Yeah, for now.”
“I’ve got to do something about my arm. Let me know if there is any change.”
“I always do,” Alice said, relieved to hear his stalwart tone.
Map bandaged his arm and checked his equipment while he watched the house burn. He relaxed when it finally collapsed in on itself ensuring nothing else would come running out looking to continue the fight.
“Any updates?” he asked testing his bandaged arm.
“Nothing yet,” Alice said. “The remaining five are still in the same spot.”
“North of your current position and west of your drop point – in the old city center.”
“Any word on what they are doing?”
“No. Satellites are blind over the spot and any drones sent in have been destroyed.”
“That’s not a concern to anyone?”
“We’ve been trying to fix what we can from here. You’re the only one who can get a visual.”
“I’ve got my objective then?”
“Your objective never changed.”
Map headed west leaving the houses to burn down behind him. He went to find the edge of the fire so he could get around it and head to his next target.
Alice was under her terminal checking connections while Henry read off points from the schematics. Each station in the hanger was running equipment diagnostics and getting nowhere.
“This is ridiculous.” Alice said. “Everything checks out.”
“There has to be something,” Henry said. “All our readings are affected.”
“And what does the Administrator have to say about it?”
“Nothing I know of. Last I heard he was in a conference with the Board.”
Alice pushed herself out from under the terminal. “Well the problem’s not here. Satellites?”
“Work fine everywhere but over the targets.”
“So it’s got to be something they are doing.”
“They have never been able to do anything like that before,” Henry said as a sneer crossed his face.
“There have never been sixteen of them before either,” Alice said. “I’ll clean this up. Go see what you can find out.”
Map stopped at the edge of the city center. He had been making good time through the brush and the suburbs that surrounded the city. He considered that though he was injured in his last encounter he was halfway through and would be able to get the drop on the last of them. He was starting to feel good about his chances.
“You stopped?” Alice’s voice crackled in his ear.
“Just catching my breath. How’s the hangar?”
“Still a mess. I sent Henry to see what he could get out of the Administrator. He came back empty.” Alice said, static punctuating the words.
“And the targets?”
“Haven’t moved as far as I can tell.”
“I’m going to scope it out and report before I engage.”
“By the book, sounds good. Be careful Map.”
The last words stuck in Map’s ear. Alice had never said them before. It wasn’t her job to care or his to be careful. Map cleared his head and focused on his task. He moved through the streets looking for a vantage point. The map on his display flickered. From what he could make out the location was an open space with buildings tightly packed around the perimeter. e found one that looked tall enough to keep him out of site but not put him out of range of his targets.
Map entered the building and quickly headed for the roof. The building was quiet and Map worked out his strategy as he climbed the stairs. His pace slowed by the third floor and he struggled up the last two flights.
The air was calm and cool on the roof. The sun was sitting above the taller buildings in the distance drawing out their shadows. Map checked his gear and made sure his rifle was loaded and ready. He hoped he could end it with five well places shots. He flattened out and crawled to the edge of the building facing the open area and the remaining creatures.
The space was a small park surrounded by quiet streets. Map scanned the park and saw four of the targets at the base of a strange metal structure. What they were doing shocked him.
“Alice,” he whispered.
Her response came in faintly and broken up by interference. “How’s… look?”
“Not sure. I’ve got four of them out in the open. From here they look to be class ones, standing upright, a little taller than me. But it looks like they are building something. What can you make of it?”
“…our? … visuals… gy… but I… ve… five… vacinity.” Alice’s words were severed by the static.
“What about the object?” Map said slowly and clearly assuming Alice was dealing with the static on her end too.
“Can’t… re…d… ything. I… bottom… is. …ing you… condar… ation.”
Map worked out the broken words. He had worked with Alice long enough to know what she would do. She didn’t know any more than he did and she was passing him off to a backup terminal while she went to find out what was going on.