A tick was circling around overhead. It's brain looking body looked very out of place against the clear blue sky. It worked it's way across the sky with it's big paddle like wings. Matt was aiming carefully with his Magnum pistol. Chances to hit the tick from this distance were less than decent. The shot cut over the sky towards the innocent tick. The tick jerked instinctively to the side to the loud sharp sound. The shot passed the tick on it's left side several meters away. Matt continued firing several shots until his clip was empty. The tick flew unharmed away and dived down into a valley, disappearing behind the large trees.
Matt reloaded his gun and put it back in it's holster. He took a deep breath of the fresh air. It had been awhile since Durandal let them go outside. He took one last look around in case there was something which he had missed. Everything seemed fine. He climed down the south slope to the hill, sliding down the steeper parts. At the foot of the hill he had to slide down a couple of meters. His right foot got caught by a tree root sticking out of the soft soil. Matt fell helplessly down head first. He landed with his face sliding against the grass. He layed there awhile laughing at himself. He felt blood starting to run down into his left eye and got up on his feet. He started walking back to the base. It took him about 15 minutes or so to walk back.
"Hey Matt, what on earth has happened to you?" one of the two guards asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Uh, your face, it looks like you've been dragged behind a truck!"
Matt had forgotten about his little slip at the hill. He must look awful.
"Oh that, a little accident, I'm fine. Is Blake in?"
"Yah, his waiting for you in the messroom. You better clean up before you go see him though."
Matt stopped by the toilets on his way to the mess. He looked at himself in the mirror.
"Christ!" Matt exclaimed.
The left side of his face was covered with mud, dirt and dried blood. He really looked like he'd been dragged behind a truck. He cleaned up the best he could and walked up to the mess. Blake sat alone in a corner of the mess studying a screen on the table. Matt walked over to him.
"Reporting back, sir."
"At ease, sit down Matt."
"Thank you sir."
"So, did you find anything?"
"Not really, the hill looked deserted, the only thing I saw was a lone tick."
"Hm, did you get it?"
"It was too far away. It dived into a valley when I started shooting at it. It behaved pretty normal to me though."
"Okay, that would be all for now then. Go back there tomorrow just in case. We don't want any unnecessary surprises."
Matt got up and walked over to the coffee-machine. He poored himself a big mug. He started walking out of the mess. He grabbed a sandwich on his way out. He thought that Blake had looked a bit worried. Something was up, Matt was sure.
He walked to his quarters. He pulled off his boots and sunk down on his bed on his back. He checked his watch. 5 o'clock. He could rest for a couple of hours before people started gathering in the mess. He slowly drifted away to sleep.
The tick circled around the hill, sending signals downwards. The signal-waves penetrated the ground and got picked up by the receiver burried a meter under the ground. The tick flew away after awhile disappearing beyond the trees. It flew across the vast landscape. After flying for a few minutes it landed on the top of a tree on the other side of the base. It's mechanical head studied the surroundings, recording everything it saw.
A loud sharp sound echoed across the sky. The tick got hit in it's belly. It lost ballance and fell down. It struggled to keep itself it the air but to no avail. It slammed into the ground with a bang. A human ran up to it and grabbed it by the neck. The tick tried to hit the human with it paddles to break free. The human grabbed a paddle and broke it over his knee. He grabbed another one as well on the other side of the ticks body and broke it. Then he took a rope and tied the two remaining paddles together.
Jim gathered the broken paddles and stuffed them into the backpack. He shoved a hand into the ticks face and pulled out the recorder. He put the recorder in the backpack. He grabbed the tick by it's paddles and started pulling it back to the base. He got to the base without any trouble along the way.
"I see you've been out fishing." the guard said.
"Yeah, a pretty big catch, huh?"
"Are you sure it's not sending back signals to the Pfhor?"
"I tore out the recorder and put it into the backpack. Besides, they can't send anything from more than 50 meters away. The Pfhor won't know what happened to it."
"Well I hope you're right, Blake is waiting in the messroom. Matt was just there."
Jim walked into the mess dragging the tick behind him. He walked over to Blake and held up the tick the best he could with a big grin on his face.
"Look what I found crapping around in the forrest."
"Hi Jim, did you find it on the south side?"
"Yeah, that bastard was sitting in a tree spying on us. Good thing someone here can handle a gun huh?"
"Oh, don't get cocky Jim, good work. Do you have the recorder?"
"Yup, it's in my backpack."
"Good, take the recorder and the tick to the scientists, make sure not to take out the recorder unless it's in an anti-penetrater."
"Sir, yes sir." Jim said in a teasing voise.
Blake shook his head slowly with a sigh and gave Jim a lecturing look before he returned to the monitor. Jim walked away dragging the tick behind him. He walked into the lab and threw the tick up on a table. He tossed his backpack into one of the anti-penetraters and pressed the comm-button on the wall.
"Hey, where are all the nerds, calling all nerds. We have a situation here."
"Jim, what is it?"
"Oh, I just brought in one of the paddle-wheels. Thought you might wanna have a look. But if you rather just wank all day, fine by me."
"A tick, huh? We'll be right there."
"I have a recorder in one of the anti-penetraters too. Just give me back my backpack when you're ready, OK?"
Matt woke up with a cramp in his left foot. He bent over and rubbed the foot until the mussels relaxed. It was two hours since he had fallen asleep. He got up and went to the toilets. He washed up and continued to the mess. There were about 30 men there already talking and playing cards while eating supper. Matt took a big plate of soup and some bread. He spotted Jim sitting by a table talking to some other guys. He walked over to the table and sat down opposite to Jim.
"Hey Jim, what's up?"
"Oh nothing much, just shot one of the paddle-wheels today." Jim said with a light smile.
"Of course it was mechanical. Otherwise I wouldn't have shot it now, would I?"
"You can't have been more than a meter away if you could see that it was mechanical." Matt said grinning teasingly. Some of the others started to giggle.
"Oh, aren't we a smart-ass today? Actually it was sitting high up in a tree. You see, some people are blessed in this life with a slightly sharper sight, and mind for that matter than the more mediocre people."
"Hm, interesting. So you are saying that one of those people helped you shoot the tick?"
"Look here you bastard. I shot a tick today and you didn't, so shut that hole in you ugly ass looking thing you call face!"
"OK, relaxe, I was only teasing you. Are you up for some poker tonight?"
"Sure, Eric and I was just thinking the same thing before you showed up. I have to do a guard shift at 8 but after that we could get together back here."
"Sounds good. I'm gonna have a look in the lab after supper, if you don't mind."
"Just don't break anything."
Matt ate his supper and strolled away to the lab. The scientists had removed the ticks skinn and were tinkering with it's circuits. Blake was standing by a table looking at the ticks recordings.
"Have you found anything of value yet?" Matt asked Blake.
"No, we don't really know what exactly the Pfhor are doing. I'm not even sure if they have a plan or if they are just gathering information."
"Do you think they will try a ground attack?"
"I'm pretty sure they will. If we only knew where they were operating from. The tick recorders never start to record from the same location. They must poor their information to the Pfhor base, then fly away randomly and start recording after a few minutes."
Matt walked over to the tick. It was a cyborg. Half tick half robot. It's circuits was burried into the flesh and meat. Cabels and vains were running about parallel to each other. The tick was still alive but sedated. It's body moved slowly up and down when the air was pumped in and out through it's lungs. Matt walked away from the lab and to his quarters. He grabbed his gymbag and walked to the little gym they had established in the old base storage room.
The gym was empty and Matt sat down on one of the machines and started working out his lower body. Matt wasn't very thewed. He was actually quite lazy and didn't work out much, but lately he had spent more and more time in the gym. There wasn't much else to do in the base. He was in the gym for almost two hours that evening. Not training all the time, mostly just sitting, thinking about nothing in particular.
He took a shower and went back to his quarters with the gymbag. Jim must be getting off his shift pretty soon, so Matt decided to go to the mess and wait for him and Eric. Eric was already in the mess, sitting alone in a corner waiting. Some other guys were on the opposite side of the mess playing a game.
"Heard anything from Jim?"
"No, I had to do some paperwork, I just got here a few minutes ago. I forgot to ask before; what happened to your face?"
"Oh that, a little accident, I slipped and fell."
"Did you find anything by the hill?"
"No, just a tick, might have been the same one that Jim shot."
"That's interesting. Jim came in just after you. If I got the facts straight the tick which Jim shot had just started a new recording when Jim shot it."
"Hm, I didn't really think of that. That would mean that the Pfhors base could be somewhere close to the hill."
"What was the tick doing when you saw it?"
"Well, it was just ci... SHIT!"
"It was circling around the hill! I just thought it was curious of me or something, it looked natural for being a normal tick. But why would a cyborg tick be circling around a human? The cyborg ticks are programmed to stay out of our sight. It couldn't have seen me. It was circling around the hill for some other reason."
"Do you think the hill could be their base."
"Could very well be. It could be an underground base. I'm gonna have a talk with Blake about this. Tell Jim where I am will you?"
Matt knocked on the doors to Blakes quarters. A green light came on, signaling Matt to come in. He stepped into the office and saluted Blake.
"Won't you sit down Matt."
"Thank you sir."
"So, what's on you mind?"
Matt told Blake about his theories about the tick and the hill. Blake didn't look very surprised, rather a bit releaved by Matts theories.
It was just after midnight. Blake had sent out a team to blow up the hill. The dark would give them the element of surprise. Twelve men had been sent out, three teams with four team members. Matt, Jim, Eric and another guy named Jason were team alpha. Team alpha had orders to place out mines on the south side of the hill. The other teams would take the other sides. Matt had orders to wire together all the mines to a trigger device.
It took them about an half hour to place all the mines and connect them to the trigger. The teams grouped together on the south side of the hill some hundred meters away. Matt pressed the trigger when everything was set. Nothing happened. He pressed it another time. Nothing. A cylider shaped object came out on the top of the hill. The earth started to vibrate as more cylinders penertrated the surface of the hill. Hatches popped open on the sides of the cylinders. Pfhor fighters and troopers started climbing out of the cylinders and running towards the humans.
"Open fire, OPEN FIRE!" Jim screamed to the rest of the stunned men.
Matt dropped the trigger device and pulled out his magnum and started firing on the Pfhor troops. Jim came up behind Matt while firing on the Pfhor.
"Matt, see that antennae on the first cylinder?"
"Yeah, what about it?"
"I think it's messing with our mines. It's too far away to shoot down. I'm gonna try to sneak around the Pfhor and shoot it down. Wait for my signal and then press the trigger device, OK?"
"Alright, hurry up."
Several Pfhor got hit and fell to the ground, but more were coming out of the cylinders all the time and they were getting closer to the humans. The humans had advantage over this distance since they could sidestep the fighters projectiles and the troopers machine guns were very inaccurate. But in the long run they would lose, unless they could blow up the hill.
Jason got a trooper grenade in the stomach. His torso was ripped appart, arms, head and flesh was blown away. Blood sprayed out over Matt and the rest of the men. Jasons right leg left standing for a few seconds before it fell to the ground. Eric got hit in the left arm, but continued firing at the Pfhor as if nothing had happened. Matt could see a trooper shoot one of it's comrades with a grenade by accident. The explosion picked up the pfhor sending it flying several meters up in the air, arms spread out flapping like it was a bird which had lost it's wings.
The fight continued, several humans were blown away or fell dead to the ground. They were only four men left now. The pfhor were almost upon them.
"Oh dear God!" Matt shouted out as one of the humans was ripped open by a grenade, spilling out his guts on the ground. Matt saw Jim in the distance by the antennae. Jim climed up the cylinder and kicked the antennae down to the ground. The antennae broke in the fall sending flames and black thick smoke up in the air. Jim gave Matt the signal and started running down the hill. Matt crawled over to the trigger device. He hesitated, Jim would die if he blew up the hill now.
"Blow it up! blow it up!" Eric shouted from a distance.
A projectile hit a human right in the face. The head exploded leaving the human stading there without a head before the body slumped down on the ground. It was only him and Eric left now. He shouted to Eric to get down on the ground. He waited a couple of seconds and then pressed the trigger. The hill lit up with a bright light, the explosions were so loud that Matt thought his head would explode. A wave of dense air swept over Matt and Eric. They were picked up in the air and was thrown away tens of meters. Matt crash landed on the ground. Everything went red before him then black.
He could hear voices in the distance. He couldn't hear what they were saying, it was all a blur. He slowly opened his eyes. He was stearing into bright over head lights infront of a white celing. The voices were coming from his left side. He slowly turned his head. To his left Jim and Eric was laying in two beds. They were playing poker over a little table between the beds. Jim lay on his stomach with a big bandage over his rump. A pipe went in between his butt cheeks with a black bag attached to it on a low table. Eric had a few bangages here and there.
"Hi" Matt managed to say in a low voice.
Jim and Eric turned to him in surprise. Then Jims expression turned into a grin.
"Hey Matt. By the way, thank you for blowing up my ass! The doctors tell me that there is a slight chance that I will never be able to take a normal crap ever again!"
They all started to giggle, the giggle turned into violent laughter as Jim blew up the black bag with a huge fart.