by Matthew Sanborn Smith
The army poured downhill on foot and I tried to catch up on a beat-up mountain bike with a skipping chain. Bred for speed and killing, they were as demonic-looking as they were deadly. Scoping, red goggle eyes and photo-negative smiles chilled me in the sultry night air. Their deathbreathers drew energy from the land. The weapon's master thought Fire,' and its huge mouth roared hell upon their enemies. What DNA was left was too mutated to identify.
The brass had barred reporters tonight; There had to be a great story behind it. I'd disobeyed orders, escaping the press pool to watch the action. The soldiers weren't hard to fool. They were mindless, outside of their instructions. With a borrowed helmet and a habit of hanging back, they didn't know I existed. Their officers were never in the field, issuing orders remotely. It all seemed too easy.
Then they started moving.
The sand below my tires flowed like it had muscles. It was viscous and choking, wanting to pull me into its sucking depths. The bike nearly shook apart when I hit the rocks, twigs and plastic bottles buried just out of sight. The infantrymen's reflexes made this downhill clusterfuck a cinch for them. I lost ground fighting for control, but they weren't even looking down.
I hit a log and flipped, ass over elbows. The back of my helmet quickly ran down my spine and grabbed hold on impact to keep my neck from breaking. As for my head, I couldn't believe I had fallen at all. I sprang up and saw consuming flashes in the reflecting clouds and heard the screams below. The battle had started. Why had I been so eager to go into that?
It was too close to home. Internal GPS told me we were still on base. Tell me I didn't waste an escape on a top-secret training exercise! A couple minutes later I almost bounced across a road that wasn't so familiar in the darkness. I skidded across the concrete and my mouth went dry. Gowrin Road. The road to that roach motel where they kept . . .
. . . the press pool.
My legs pumped like I was fourteen again. Red carnage splashed across my field of vision, flames rushing to the midnight sky, gore misting the black teeth and white lips of the man-monsters. I wondered why I'd wanted to hurry. My sensors buzzed around my head, hungry for the data they drank. Foul smoke and the stench of evaporating flesh, the roar of the deathbreathers and the sight of my colleagues' corpses seared my mind. Somewhere in there was Desmond, who won five bucks from me at this afternoon's poker game. And Marion, whose cow eyes made me forget Sylvia over beers last week. I fell, stunned, forgetting the danger I was in. Why would they do this? There could only be one reason, my conspiracy-soaked mind surmised:
To prevent an even bigger story from being uncovered.
The Army was already moving on and I followed.