Ken hated playing the bait. He was always chosen for it, and it sucked ass. All because he’s survived the most missions, he has to be the bait. Lord knows Hannah tried to volunteer, but she got shot down almost immediately. Probably because she’d screw the mission and try to jump into the monster’s mouth.
Speaking of the monster, Ken looked back to check and see if it was keeping up. It was probably the ugliest thing he had ever looked at. It stood on six legs and reached the height of two grown men. Its skin was a rusty red, with a long mane of brown hair covering its backside. It had a long snout, with a mouth filled to the brim with mangled teeth. Eyes covered the entire length of its body, all the way down to its meaty tail.
The monster panted after him, all of its yellow eyes staring at him. A tongue slipped out from time to time, leaving drops of drool along the tunnel floor. The six legs scuttled rapidly, sometimes almost tripping over each other. Ken had shot at it a few times to wake it up and it was not happy with that at all.
Ken turned his head to look back at the length of the concrete tunnel in front of him. It was definitely following him. He gripped the machine pistol in his hand tightly. Remember, Hannah’s voice ringed in his mind, if it grabs a hold of you, make sure to tear some of its hair or flesh off. I want to get a fresh sample when we collect your corpse.
He sighed inwardly and kept running. There was no way he was letting Hannah get anywhere close to his body. He pressed his com device. “Hey, are you guys set up yet? I’m getting pretty close to the trap site.”
Kaleil’s voice rang clear over the headset. “Yeah, we’re almost done. Remember to dodge out of the way at the last minute, otherwise, you’re getting blown up with the damn thing.”
“Thanks for the advice, Kaleil.”
Ken sighed again and focused on his breathing. The plan was pretty simple when you go over it. Find the monster, piss it off, lure it to a bunch of people with explosive weaponry, and leave the rest to the wonderful world of fire and brimstone. But with the type of job he worked in, Ken knew something was bound to go wrong. He just wanted to know what it was going to be.
His boots slapped puddles of sewer water as he ran. Why did this thing want to sleep in a sewer of all places? A forest he could understand, forests are nice. They’ve got trees, leaves, and plenty of food to go around. But a sewer? Sewers are shitty and the only things to eat are people and rats. If the monster had gone into a forest with a diet of bears and deer, then Ken’s team wouldn’t have to be here right now. But no, the monster just had to go with the cliche of eating people off the streets and now Ken had to run through a sewer.
Ken’s headset crackled and a clear Texan accent spoke. “Hey Barbie, we can hear you and your play date coming down the tunnel. Don’t worry, we’ll wait until it fully enters the room.”
Barbie. He hated that nickname. All because he shared his actual name with the stupid doll.
He touched his com. “Yeah, I got it. And don’t call me Barbie, Eric.”
Ken sighed for the third time. He hated his life.
The dingy lights above him started giving way to more natural, but still dim, sunlight. Ken tensed himself, ready to launch to the side. He saw the tunnel give way to a cavernous, concrete space. Small heads poked out from behind pillars that were supporting the sewer ceiling. He readied himself for the fact that he could die if somebody had an itchy finger.
500 feet. He was using the last of his strength to push himself.
250 feet. Nobody had fired yet. Maybe they really did care about him.
100 feet. Here we go, he thought to himself.
He passed the tunnel arch into the room. Set up in a wide perimeter were 14 US-trained soldiers, all equipped with firepower that could annihilate a house. Ken skidded to a stop and sprinted as fast as he could to the right. He pumped his legs as hard as he could, wanting to put the most amount of distance between him and ground zero. Please don’t let me die like this, he thought to himself. Not intentional friendly fire.
He heard the monster roar into the room and skid to a halt. It was too late though. A voice ordered the soldiers to fire and rockets blew into their target. Immense heat pushed Ken back, throwing him into the air. His back felt like it had melted. Gravity kicked in and he fell hard, rolling to a stop. His ears rang and he lay on the ground feeling like a piece of charred brisket. Looking up at the ceiling, his eyes blurred, and stars dotted his vision. Wow, he thought, I’d be cool with dying now.
Ken, still laying on the cold concrete, shifted his head as his vision cleared to look at the smoke that still billowed from the monster. The air had the smell of burnt flesh to it now, which didn’t mingle well with the already terrible sewer smell. It was like a drunk uncle tripped on the grill at a family barbecue while simultaneously vomiting.
Figures started to pop up from behind the pillars. He didn’t know a lot of the new guys’ names, so they all just looked like regular Joes in black tactical gear to him. They stood in shock at first, but after taking the scene in, they began cheering and high fiving each other. Ken frowned at this. There was something Kaleil always said about these moments. What was it?
Ken groaned and began sitting up, trying to remember what the saying was. He had a massive headache coming on now and no amount of ibuprofen was going to help. Maybe once he got back to base, he could ask Alyssa for some really strong medication. Something like a surgical sedation agent would probably be enough.
A body flew past Ken and slammed into the wall behind him in a bloody pancake. He jerked his head up to see the monster standing up out of the smoke. It had chunks of flesh missing from its body and its left front leg was dangling by a sliver of muscle. Its eyes were all bloodshot and it roared with enough fury to shake every bone in Ken’s body. Suddenly, he remembered Kaleil’s saying. Don’t celebrate unless the bitch is dead. And in this case, the bitch was most certainly not dead.
Ken rose slowly to his feet, body protesting as his back screamed at him to stop moving. His legs fumbled connecting with the ground as he stumbled upright. He slapped his com device on and spoke quickly. “Ok everyone, we have a backup plan for this. Just make sure Hann-“
A loud, girly squeal sounded throughout the room. A flash of brown hair ran straight up to the monster. Standing in front of the beast was a slim woman with wide eyes. She had her messy brown hair done up in a terrible bun and was in the same black tactical gear as everyone else. She stood with her arms outstretched like she was about to hug the monster. On her face was the happiest smile ever.
“Wow!” Her obnoxious voice rang out. “You sure did take a massive load like that pretty well! What is it that makes you so invulnerable? Are you hiding some secrets in that leathery skin of yours or does it have something to do with the luscious hair on your back? Because one way or another baby, I’m finding out!”
“Hannah for god’s sake get the fuck away from that thing!” Ken yelled across the room. He knew it was pointless though. She was fixated and in love.
Hannah danced around the front of the monster getting close and backing away fast. It staggered around, unsure what to do with a suicidal nut like her. It tried to claw at her, but every time it did she would try to high-five the massive claws on its feet.
“Nuh-uh uh, you gotta be faster than that! Let’s see if you’ve got any regenerative abilities! If I poke you hard enough, will they start up?” Hannah skipped around poking fun at the monster. Ken knew sooner or later it would get over its confusion. No matter how fast she could outrun the police on a drunk Saturday night, there was no way she could dance around that thing for too long. Ken slapped the com device on again.
“Eric are you there?! Get Hannah the fuck away from that thing!”
A massive cable shot into the ground next to Hannah’s feet. She glanced at it and started running away. “NO NO NO NOT YET!”
A massive steel armor frame came barreling through, pulling itself along the cable. It landed and launched itself towards the spry woman, grabbing onto her waist.
Like a sack of potatoes, Hannah was lifted into the air as the armor frame shot a cable to fly towards the ceiling. She screamed and banged her fists on the metal grip she was in, crying to go back down. Inside the frame was Eric, pretty much the only guy Ken knew who could operate the thing. From the loose schematics plans he’d seen; the armor Eric wore was some experimental prototype shit. It had a rapid-fire, super-strong cable system that could launch a person like a catapult.
Ken’s headpiece crackled as the duo swung out of his view. “I got her, Ken. Now you and Kaleil gotta get the fresh meat together and kill that fucker.”
Yeah, saying that was simple enough. The only problem was all the new guys were scrambling to get to safety, not bothering to keep their heads straight. Another scream echoed and a body flew into the air. Ken was pretty sure by the end of this they would come out with a single-digit squad again.
Ken looked at the machine pistol in his hand and holstered it. A few small rounds wouldn’t do anything other than annoy the damn thing again. He looked back at the pancake that landed on the wall behind him. Sure enough, a rocket launcher was still strapped to the body. The DEI didn’t know how to train their men, but they sure did know how to make sturdy equipment.
He ran to the bloody pile and tore the launcher away from the mashed torso. Wiping off a few chunks of flesh from the weapon, he began running in a wide crescent path to the side of the room opposite the monster.
“Kaleil, where are you? I’ve got a rocket launcher, but I need a rocket.”
“Over by the pillar with the least amount of blood on it. I’ve got a newbie that’s crying for his mom with me, so you can just take his shit.”
Ken immediately saw the pillar and sprinted towards it. He looked back to check on the monster. It was busy tearing apart a guy on the ground, ripping through the body armor like it was nothing. Ken felt a cold shiver run down his back.
He slid behind the pillar next to the duo behind it. Kneeling with the usual discerning look was Kaleil. He was busy checking the entire room and their current situation. Next to him was a mop of blond, crying hair. With tears running down his face, the man rocked back and forth in the fetal position with his hands covering his ears.
“Oh god oh god why why did I have to take this job I should’ve just stayed with the Coast Guard like my mom told me to.”
Ken tapped the newbie’s shoulder. “Hey little buddy, mind if I take those rockets?”
“Please if this is punishment for me bullying Amanda in the fifth grade then I’m sorry, I was just a kid I didn’t know any better.”
“Oh god oh fuck why did I have to take this job?! I thought it was gonna be some cool secret ops kind of shit, going into jungles at night, not this bullshit! I don’t wanna die in a sewer!”
Ken blankly stared at the newbie for a few more seconds, then looked at Kaleil. “How long has he been like this?”
“Pretty much since everything went to shit.”
“Ok, this guy is gonna need some major fucking therapy when we get back.”
Ken moved past the pleasantries and started to undo the straps to the rockets on the newbie’s back. The man-made no moves to stop him and continued with his delusions about Amanda and the Coast Guard. After taking the rockets and putting them on his own back, Ken focused his attention back on Kaleil.
“Ok, give me a sitrep Kaleil. How’s the view from here?”
“Well from what I can see, at least four guys have gotten eaten and three have been pulverized. Lucky us though, this thing doesn’t seem to have any regenerative powers, so it’s gonna stay fucked like this for a good while.”
“Great,” Ken said as he loaded a rocket into the launcher. “So, where’s Eric and Hannah at?”
Kaleil waved his hand at one of the pillars to his right. “Pretty sure Eric’s holding on to her somewhere over there. Just listen for the screaming.”
Ken cupped his ear and sure enough, he could hear Hannah screaming at Eric from behind the pillar off to the side.
“Alright, well I’ve got a plan. Sort of.”
“What‘s the half-cocked plan Barbie?”
“I’m gonna shoot a rocket in its mouth.”
Kaleil gave him a weird look, then shrugged. “Ok, have fun. I’ll be cheering you on from over here.”
The newbie stopped talking and looked up at Ken with wide eyes full of confusion. “Wait, you’re gonna what? You can’t just go up and shoot that thing in its mouth! You’ll die!”
Ken and Kaleil both looked down at the newbie. “Oh hey, look at who finally decided to join the party,” Kaleil said.
“Listen, new guy,” Ken began. “You gotta understand, dying is kinda part of the job. You just say fuck it and go do suicidal shit. Because if you don’t, then you’re screwed. It’s as simple as that. If you’re not cool with it, then just sit here and watch us do our thing.”
“Watch him do his thing,” Kaleil clarified. “There’s no way in hell I’m getting near that monster.”
The new guy stared up at the two, simply lost for words. Ken took that as a sign to end his inspiring speech and stood up. “Well, I’m off. Make sure Hannah doesn’t get near my body if I get munched on.”
“Will do,” Kaleil said.
Ken took a deep breath and exhaled. Then he sprinted out from the pillar into the open room.
The monster had finished munching on the poor soldier and was busy sniffing around for others. As Ken ran out into the open, the monster immediately locked on to him. It bared its teeth and growled, happy for the chance to get payback on the ant that interrupted its sleep. Ken didn’t hesitate and kept running towards the beast.
Ken’s headpiece sounded off and Eric spoke. “I’ve got Hannah tied up over here. What’s the plan, hoss?”
“I’m gonna shoot a rocket in its mouth. Think you can pry its jaw open?”
A loud hydraulic noise began as a cable shot past Ken into the ground by the monster’s feet. A loud yeehaw echoed through the chamber as the steel frame containing Eric rocketed forward. The monster saw it coming and reared back as it prepared to slam down on the cable.
Eric saw the monster’s actions and changed his own. He disconnected the cable from the ground, leaving him with no control of his propulsion. As it repelled back to him, he slammed his steel legs into the ground, leaving behind a broken trail of concrete as he launched himself into the air with one massive jump. Flying through the air, he reeled back his arm. The monster screeched at this sudden change of tactics and began backing up on its hind legs.
Eric was too fast. As the monster retreated, Eric flew forward and punched the monster square in its chest. The combined weight of the steel frame and the speed it was going at pushed the monster back into the wall behind it and forced it to slam into the ground. Eric shot another cable, this time into the ceiling. He propelled himself up to a certain height and then disconnected the cable again. As gravity took control, Eric kept his legs locked together in a straight posture. He fell fast, the weight of the frame giving him the force he needed once again. As the monster began regaining its senses after the punch, Eric landed on its head legs first, like a meteor coming down to Earth.
The ground beneath the monster’s head broke into pieces. A huge cloud of dirt and dust rose, almost as though a bomb had gone off. Ken stumbled as the force of the dust cloud pushed him back. Show off, Ken thought as he squinted and ran. He didn’t stop though, knowing that Eric’s brute force wouldn’t hold the monster down for much longer.
As he approached the epicenter of the blast, the concrete floor got rockier and rockier. Eric had done a number on the sewer. It was going to take a bit of convincing for the DEI cleanup crew to ward off suspicion. Normally the team was able to keep destruction to a minimum, but sometimes it was necessary, like now. Whenever that happened, the DEI would send a group of agents to set up cover stories so that the public wouldn’t find out what happened. It wasn’t exactly foolproof, but from the rumors Ken had heard from coworkers, it was better than the other options.
The dust began to settle as Ken neared the monster. It lay almost completely still, the only movement being its legs as they groggily scraped along the floor to try and stand up. The eyes along its body were half-open, spinning around trying to desperately understand what had happened. Ken almost felt bad for it. But as he passed the front legs, he saw bloody scraps of a soldier’s uniform on its claws. Ken’s guilt was washed away in an instant.
He reached the head. Keeping its jaws pried open was Eric, standing on top of the head so that Ken had a clear shot. Eric looked up as Ken approached.
“Barbie, shoot this fucker real quick. I don’t know how much longer it’ll stay like this.”
Ken just nodded and knelt down, aiming the rocket launcher straight down the monster’s throat. Looking at its pulsating insides covered in blood, he wanted to vomit. The breath from the beast was acidic and it was almost as though he could taste the stomach acid through the air. Ken’s eyes began watering as the monster panted in front of him. Putting his finger on the trigger, he tensed his whole body.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Eric responded.
Ken held his breath and pulled the trigger. The rocket shot off in a straight line down the throat. As it entered the mouth, Eric jumped off, leaving the monster to snap its jaw closed as it realized it ate something unwanted. Fire glowed from the inside of its belly as the rocket flew deeper. Realizing that the mouth was the only exit for the explosion’s flames to go to, Eric grabbed Ken and lifted him away, shooting a cable to go faster. A second after Eric’s feet left the ground, the monster’s rear end exploded, and a belch of flames came from its mouth. Chunks of meat flew into the air as the hind legs and tail disconnected from the torso. The entire rear end of the monster turned into a fine red mist, with flames and smoke projecting themselves out of a newly made hole on its body. The eyes of the beast exploded all along its body and blood began pouring out of the eye sockets.
Ken swung around with Eric until he landed at the rear end. After being released, Ken went to inspect the mess. It was an ugly sight. Blood began pooling as chunks of meat slid down to the floor. The middle and front legs of the monster still twitched a little, kicking randomly at the air. Ken covered his nose. The smell of gunpowder and coppery blood filled the room. It was a morbid scene, something that people stay silent about after witnessing the awesome power of modern weaponry.
But then came Hannah. Shrieking like a little girl, she ran and dove headfirst into the bloody pile of meat chunks. Squirming around, she dug through the red flesh. Ken and Eric sighed as they watched an all too familiar scene unfold.
“Hannah come on, get out of there. Whenever you do this, we have to force you to take a bath again.”
Hannah popped out of the pile, holding in her hand a bone covered in blood. “Look what I found Ken! I think it might be a piece of its spine! Either that or its tailbone.”
Eric grimaced. “So, what do you think she’s gonna try to keep as a souvenir this time? I’ve got my money on a blood sample.”
Ken scratched his head. “No, I think she’ll try to grab some of its hair. Hannah come on; this is gross.”
Hannah ignored him, moving her way further into the monster’s innards. As she explored, Ken turned around to check out who was still alive. Curious heads began peeking from behind the pillars, checking to see if the monster was dead. Upon seeing the corpse, the men began cheering, crying, or a mix of both. Ken counted the remaining survivors. Other than himself, Eric, Hannah, and Kaleil, there were four others alive, eight in total. Not too bad. Now he just needed to get everyone out of the sewer without drawing suspicion. Looking back at Hannah swimming through the monster guts, he figured it would be difficult to go incognito.
Kaleil walked up to the trio with the traumatized Coast Guard newbie in tow. He glanced over at Hannah and grunted. “I’ve got my money on some bones.”
The newbie looked over at Hannah in horror. “How can she do that?!”
Kaleil shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s insane and scientifically inclined. When you throw a monster into that mix, everything kinda goes to shit.”
Hannah waded back towards the group through the hellish mess with something in her arms. Lifting it up, it was clear to see a DEI uniform strapped to a chunk of unidentifiable meat.
“Hey Ken, I think I found one of the new guys. Can I keep it so I can run some tests to see how fast the monster’s stomach acid dissolves things?”
Eric squinted at the piece of the corpse. “Oh shit, I think that’s John. Man, this thing ate John? I liked that fucker.”
The newbie stared at Hannah. Then he promptly threw up at his feet. Kaleil patted his back as chicken teriyaki and Brussel sprouts exited the man’s mouth.
As Kaleil comforted the soldier and Eric started trying to get Hannah out of the monster, Ken stepped to the side to report to Command. Turning on his comms, he waited for the static to subside. Then he spoke.
“Ken to command, Ken to command over.”
Alyssa’s voice, the moderator between the team and all of the commanding officials, came over his headpiece. “This is Command. How many did you lose over?”
“We lost seven this time. All new guys though, so you still gotta deal with Hannah when we get back.”
Alyssa swore under her breath. Ken smiled at this. She probably just lost a bet. “Alright,” she responded, “I’ll get the showers and hazmat suits ready.”
“Thanks, Alyssa. We’ll start proceeding to extraction.”
“Roger that Ken.”
Ken turned off his comm and turned around to the surviving soldiers. Then he looked at Hannah. She now had somehow pulled Eric into the blood pile and was swinging around some intestines. Ken sighed for probably the millionth time that day and moved to settle everyone down. Five minutes ago, they were all screaming in terror. Now there was cheering and crying galore. Not too shabby for a fight with a giant monster. All in a day’s work.