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Grand Central Arena: Chapter Thirty Three

       Last updated: Friday, January 15, 2010 19:24 EST



    DuQuesne snarled something wordless as the gun buzzed silently in his hand, demanding a new ammo pack. He dove for cover as a screaming storm of edged shrapnel shredded the foliage where he'd just been standing. Yanking out another from his fast-shrinking store of magazines, he ejected the empty and slammed the new one home. "Carl?"

    The control expert's voice answered in a whisper off to his left. "Still here. How the hell many of these things are there?" Hearing movement off to the left, Carl fired several bursts in that direction.

    "No idea. We killed the first four, but at least one of them managed to call home base and they sent out commando parties to get us. I think I've killed five or six more, how about you?"

    "Five or six? How the hell do you get that kind of accuracy with these things?" Carl demanded. "Their armor shrugs even the AP stuff off unless you get a joint or the eye."

    DuQuesne saw movement out of the corner of his eye, whirled and fired a burst that made the Molothos whirl away in a dancing gait like a spinning top; as the thing spun towards cover, he switched to single-shot and fired; the bullet carved its way straight through the narrow seam that joined the lower body to the upper; the creature collapsed like a deflated balloon, legs splayed limply about it. "The waist seam's my preferred target. I think they keep their brains in that area."

    "The waist? Every time I try for that shot, it bounces off the body armor. Anyway, I think I got two." Carl's eyes narrowed. "Marc…"

    "I hear it. They're rushing us." He glanced around quickly. "This way!"

    The two humans sprinted from cover. The hissing screeches of the Molothos, translated into various equivalents of "there they are!" and "get them!", competed with the screeching hisses of their weapons. A rattle of impacts jolted the two, but failed to penetrate the ring-carbon composite armor. Just before reaching the clearing ahead, DuQuesne pushed Carl, pointing, and the two raced around the edge of the clearing.

    Seeing an opportunity to cut them off, two Molothos sprinted across the bare ground, seven legs blurring like piston-driven shafts.

    As the two aliens passed the lone tree and a third appeared at the edge of the clearing, DuQuesne fired a single quick shot backwards. The bullet missed both Molothos and smacked squarely into the trunk of the tree.

    A hailstorm of black and purple shapes plummeted from the branches above, erupted from the ground, spewed forth from fissures in the tree trunk, and enveloped the Molothos. The aliens shrieked in consternation and began firing randomly.

    "What the hell was that?" Carl demanded.

    "No idea. I figured you never got bare ground in a jungle without good reason. And one of the trees on Earth that's like that, has some very nasty ants clearing the area around it. Figured it was worth a try."

    "Two or three more down?"

    DuQuesne shrugged, bulling his way through the undergrowth ahead of the more slender Carl Edlund. "Maybe one, if we're lucky. The Molothos' armor probably will hold up against those things, it's just going to slow them up."

    "I was afraid you'd say that." More movement off to the side. Carl reached into a side pocket and fiddled with something, then pitched the small object in the direction of the noise. A blinding detonation and shockwave followed, and DuQuesne saw with approval that one of the fragments of debris that rained down around them was a jointed leg in armor.

    "I didn't recall bringing grenades, more's the pity. What did… a power pack?"

    "Yep. Programmed a short across the mains on the pack I had for the laser cutter. Figured I wouldn't be needing it."

    "Good thinking." He heard more noise to the other side, fired and modified course. "We're in trouble, you know."

    "The thought had occurred…" more gunshots, "…to me. On the positive side, they're using some kind of needle-shotgun thingies that don't work so well against our armor; probably standard issue for dealing with animals or primitives and they didn't expect high-tech types here. I guess you're about to tell me some bad news?"

    "We're being herded. Don't know what towards, but we can bet it's not good."

    "Time to make a stand?"

    DuQuesne shook his head, then saw the river ahead of them. "Can you swim?"

    "Like a fish, and this armor won't get in the way." Carl grinned. "I get the picture."

    The two sheathed their guns and dove in, going as deep as they could into the water. The Molothos might be able to climb, and could certainly walk well, but they were not built at all well for swimming. They might, if heavy enough, manage to walk along the bottom, but with the fast-running current…

    The current hurled them along, bouncing DuQuesne and Carl against rocks. Once, something huge with a lot of teeth made a snap at Carl, but broke teeth on the armor and fled, as the two battled their way through the water. Suddenly gravel grated underfoot, and they staggered from the river, battered and bruised but mostly unharmed. "Quick, into the trees!"

    The two barely made the treeline before they saw their pursuers emerge on the other side. "Six of the bastards." DuQuesne took careful aim, as did Carl, and opened fire.

    Two of the crab-centauroid monstrosities went down in the first barrage, the other four scattering; one's weapon suddenly exploded in a sun-bright flare, leaving a staggering headless corpse. The others hunkered down behind shoreline rocks and returned fire, scuttling from rock to rock until they reached the water and, to DuQuesne's dismay, disappeared beneath the water. "Damn. Didn't slow them as much as I hoped."

    "We got three, though."

    "And I've got one and a half mags left. What about you?"

    "One. And my sword."

    He gritted his teeth. I'll be damned if it's going to end like this. Not if I can help it, it won't. The two kept moving, not intending to be caught as sitting ducks.

    It was the sound of vines against carapace that warned DuQuesne, just before the Molothos charged from both sides. He and Carl, with almost rehearsed accuracy, fired on the one on the left; a bullet found its mark and the creature went down, and only one piece of the alien shrapnel-loads penetrated, making an annoying but far from crippling cut in DuQuesne's upper arm.

    Carl's katana streaked from its sheath in an iai draw so fiercely driven that the ring-carbon reinforced steel blade carved its way through the armored striking-claws and buried itself in the torso of the second Molothos. The creature shrieked its agony and struck out, barely missing Carl as he wrenched the blade free. Hurt but still mobile, the Molothos tried to bring its gun to bear on Carl but the sword struck the weapon, tearing it from the alien's grasp and possibly rendering it useless. DuQuesne fired the last burst from his gun, failing to kill his opponent who dodged at the last moment. The last bullet did, however, strike the Molothos' weapon, shattering it. With the two aliens momentarily taken aback, the humans sprinted back into the woods. "We've got to find some way of ambushing them. And then finding out where they're based."

    "Easy to talk about," Carl gasped. DuQuesne realized that despite being in excellent shape Carl simply couldn't keep up with him much longer. But if he let Carl fall behind…

    More movement, to the side. More of these damn things? They turned slightly as they ran.

    As they burst out into a clearing, DuQuesne staggered and went down, as did Carl, striking the ground heavily. For a moment DuQuesne thought something had leaped on top of him, something massing around a hundred kilos, but as he rolled over he felt nothing there, just the increased pressure of …

    "Enjoy our gravity, do you?"

    In front of them, silhouetted against a sharp, angular shape which could only be some form of vessel, were three Molothos – armed and ready, weapons trained on the prone humans.

    Even getting across the river was in their plan, DuQuesne thought with grim admiration. They may not have expected the casualties, but they knew just how to herd us.

    The trap was set, and now… now it's closed on us.

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