Saturday, July 14, 2018

Magnum Thrax: Future Fossil, Part 2 of 5

Sci-fi babe with BFG


Thrax tromped back to the tank in a grouchy mood. The rest of the team was already gathered around the metal behemoth.

“Andromeda!” said Thrax. “What’d you find?”

“Women and children, sir. Dead but uneaten. Lots of blood,” she responded flatly. “The perpetrators were… without honour. These were civilians.”

Well, at least that explained where everyone was, thought Thrax.

Sister Cinnamon stepped in front of him. She bowed her head slightly and kissed her necklace cross. “It was a massacre of innocents, my lord and liege. They desecrated the alter with a great red circle, painted with the blood of the devout. It was sacrilege of the worst kind. Their heresy cannot go unanswered.”

“I’m just a squad lead,” Thrax grimaced. “Not a lord or liege. And, yeah, sure, we’ll smite them good when we find’em. If we do. Kitty?”

“Nobody home, boss-man.”

Thrax plunked his rifle atop the tank’s glacis plate and adjusted his laser battery bandolier. He thought aloud: “Okay, so there were claw marks in Betty’s, and bite wounds and blood and guts. So I’m thinking animal attack, and yet, the bodies weren’t eaten. Which is completely freakin’ weird because you’d expect that if it were animals, unless they weren’t hungry, in which case why were they killing everyone.”

“Something else, sir.” Andromeda pointed towards the canyon entrance. Dust was blowing in from the desert beyond. “Sand’s been swept over blood stains at the front of the compound. There was a fight there, but the bodies were removed.”

That didn’t sound good. Thrax rubbed his chin and considered. He had to watch what he said in front of the team; they might be androids, but they had simulated feelings and their morale could be affected by everything he said and did. So he wanted to think first, which he always found frustratingly hard to do. With no missteps, either, which was even harder. Don’t appear dumb, he admonished himself. “Okay. So… smart animals, then.”

“Oh, come on,” blurted Kitty, emotions boiling over. “We all know what everyone’s thinking. What you’re talking about, so stop beating around the bush like a wuss. Just say it!”

“Raptors,” breathed Andromeda softly. 

The word sent a chill down their collective spines. 

“Utahraptor Sapien,” said Miss Jade sagely, explicating upon what everyone already knew for no reason other than obsessive compulsion. “Enlarged brain casings. They exhibit more than just pack behaviour; they’ve been known to form nomadic, albeit stone age, societies across the Midwest.”

“Naw.” Thrax wasn't convinced. “Doesn’t make sense. What’d raptors want with a smeggin’ zinc mine? I mean, they don’t have the tech know-how to do squat with it.” 

“Oh, who knows? Who cares? Like it would make any difference,” replied Kitty, waving her rifle about. “You think raptors need reasons to kill people, huh? Unh-unh. They fix you with those dead, soulless eyes, an’ hold perfectly still, an’ wait. You never know what they’re gonna do till they do it; share a meat morsel, all nice like, or rip your freakin’ arm off. This one time–”

“Point made!” Thrax held up his hands. “They’re gone, if they were here, long gone. So, let’s all relax.”

Kitty gave him a condescending look. “Okay, well, you know what else is gone, Sherlock? The zinc. So what are we doing here, huh? You tell me.”

Thrax opened his mouth to respond, but found he had no witty retort to deploy. He was thankfully saved from embarrassment by a horrible, blood-curdling shriek. It faded into a wet, sloppy gurgle that didn’t sound healthy.

Everyone froze.

“You guys… I don't think they left,” whispered Candy, clutching her rifle.

“No shit,” snarked Kitty.

“Came from the mine shaft,” noted Thrax. “I think.” He scooped up his rifle and primed the fusion pile. “Ready up, team.” 

“Hold.” Andromeda hopped up on the tank, reached into an open hatch, and hauled out a mesh sack of plasma grenades.“These may come in handy.”

Thrax grinned. That was why he so liked Andy. 

A sudden gust blew sand in their faces. Thrax’s jacket flapped as the wind picked up. 

It was growing dark, and threatening clouds roiled overhead.

“Storm comin’. Let’s move, faux-people,” advised Thrax. “Before it rains acid. Or worse.”

“We’ll be safest underground,” offered Miss Jade.

Thrax nodded in agreement with her statement of the obvious. “Good idea.” 

The team swarmed around the mine shaft opening. Miss Jade reached it first, and peered into the abyss. Thrax thought she seemed real eager to go below. A little too eager for his liking. She started to spout off some poetry: “‘Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.’ Millay.” 

“Oh please, girl, we don’t need you getting all dramatic on us,” said Kitty, peering down. “Whoa. It’s damn deep.” She spat her gum in, and it fell away into darkness. “You see that? Reeeeeal deep.”

Miss Jade was aghast. “Did… did you just litter? People live here, you know.”

Thrax shook his head. “Not anymore.”

“You’re both missing the point.”

“I think the people here are a little more concerned with their guts being littered all over.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!”

Thrax held up a hand. “Let it go, Jade. It’s just legacy code talking. Now. Everyone go subvocal,” said Thrax, activating his tooth comm toggle. He motioned them onto the lift, but blocked the sexy nurse, who tried to totter aboard in her stylish boots. She seemed really sweet and innocent. “Candy, right? Yeah. I want you to stay up top. Operate the lift for us, then lock yourself down in the tank. Shoot anything with feathers, or scales. Or that moves.” 

Candy didn’t seem put out at all. She nodded eagerly. “Okay, Mister Thrax. Lower you down. Then, tank. Lock down. Shoot birds. Got it.” She smiled and showed great big, perfect teeth.

Her earnest enthusiasm freaked him out a little. Like she was getting her first assignment, ever. Thrax gave her a half-hearted grin and the thumbs up, then shut the lift gate. 

There was a flash of lightning, followed by a crack of thunder. Thrax looked up. The western sky was red and turbulent, like an angry lava lamp. His mom had one in their underground unit, back at The Pit. Electrically charged blobs of radioactive gas were coming their way. Fast. 

“Let's get underground. Hit it, Candy… Candy?”

Candy wasn't listening. Something had caught her eye, in back of the lift machinery. 

Movement.

Another flash. 

Thrax squinted. Light glinted off what he thought might be razor sharp teeth, for a brief moment, then they were swallowed up by comforting darkness. Could have been pipes. Plating. Trick of the light. Anxiety messing with his mind.

“Candy! C’mon! Lower us in! Then get back to the tank.”

“Oh sure, sure, sorry, Thrax,” she said apologetically, tottering over in her high heels to the lift controls. “This place gives me the creeps, that’s all. I get nervous kinda nervous.”

“No problem, Candy. Take a pill if you need to.” He tried not to worry about the cute medic android. She’d never survive on her own, poor thing. But someone had to lower them down. “Hit it, babe.”

Candy licked her lips and then threw all her weight against the lift mechanism’s oversized lever. With a jolt, the lift began trundling down into the dark abyss.

“Good luck, you guys!” called Candy from the ledge above. She blew them kisses.

Thrax didn’t think he’d ever see her again. But if she got eaten by raptors, they could just find her memory chip after it was passed through, well…

Kitty rolled her eyes and pretended to gag. “That girl is on something.”

“Not Candy,” said Thumper. “Too straight.”

“She’s high on life!” gushed Miss Jade. “The exhilaration of combat! Of adventure, the thrill of the unknown. Anything could be around the next corner!”

“Unh-huh,” said Kitty, looking at Miss Jade like she’d just admitted to having a highly infectious airborne disease. “Until you get your guts ripped out, girl.”

Sister Cinnamon began to pray. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me…

“Amen to that,” said Thrax, and he double-checked his weapons.

Ten minutes later, and a thousand feet down, the dilapidated cage banged roughly against the shaft’s bottom.

Thrax snorted. The air smelled like wet rock grit. Acidic. He rolled back the gate and the team spilled out, weapons at the ready. They formed a half-circle, facing outward, just like he’d taught them, which was nice. They had been listening after all! 

Two tunnels led out of the chamber before them, one to the southeast and one southwest.

Thrax noticed strange glyphs lined the rough hewn walls. Like something his little sister might scrawl on the hallway walls back at The Pit. “Huh. Check it out: rock art, ladies.”

“Oh, my word! That’s bloody gorgeous!” declared Miss Jade, and she rushed past Thrax to the west wall. She ran her fingers over the deep, moist grooves.

“Miss Jade!” hissed Andromeda. “Back in formation!” 

Andy had a good point, thought Thrax, as usual. “Do what the lady says, Jade.”

“Yes, yes, of course, my apologies, just… one teeny-tiny moment, if you will,” responded Jade, her voice quivering. “This… this is remarkable, absolutely fantastic. More than I could have ever hoped for from his messages. Kal was right, everyone! These are rock gnome glyphs. I'm completely positive. Well. Ninety-percent positive, which is pretty close.”

“Gnome what?” queried Thrax. He didn’t like disruptive weird new things that were totally unrelated to the task at hand interrupting everything, and this sounded like one of those weird disruptive things.

“Rock gnomes,” replied Miss Jade, grinning wide. Her enthusiasm was admittedly a little infectious. “Igneous Notator. Silicon creatures The Ancients created. Organic tools, you might say. They live inside solid rock, swimming about, sweeping up minerals, barely more than information waves. Really amazing. They defecate bricks of these indigestible elements, and The Ancients would harvest them. A totally symbiotic relationship with an entirely new form of life.” 

“Oh, gross,” said Kitty, making a face. “They harvested shit? That’s disgusting.”

Thrax kind of agreed, but Miss Jade rounded on Kitty, indignant. “Oh, honestly! Their feces are made of silicon. Could you please stop being juvenile, just for a moment?” she demanded. “This is a remarkable life form, unlike anything else on earth. The creation of it goes far beyond resurrecting an extinct species. That's a trifle! This is an industrial engineering feat of sheer, unparalleled genius! Proof of The Ancient’s god like ability.” She looked back at the glyphs approvingly. “These are so very sexy.”

Kitty was having none of it. “Girl, they’re chicken scratch on a rock wall. You think that’s sexy, you got bigger problems than me.”

“What difference does it make?” said Thrax. “Look where the genius of The Ancients got them. Wiped out, save for a porn emporium bunker. We’re the last remnant. Wait… Can you read the glyphs?”

Miss Jade adjusted her glasses. “A little. I recognize a few of the more common symbols. That’s ‘home’. There… ‘Love’. And I think that’s… ‘Don’t trespass.’ Yes, that’s it. Then things about, uh, pain of death, burn for all eternity, damn the human creators, followed by dozens of expletives. Um, yes. Die forever, you bastards. You get the gist.”

Thrax smirked. “Nice.”

“Do… do they believe in God?” asked Cinnamon. “The rock things? They must be offered the chance of salvation. Their human creators may never have offered them the opportunity.”

“Girl, damn, you is stubborn,” said Kitty. “You’ve been trying to convert those pervs back at the pit for decades, and no luck. And now you’re going to try and convert a rock. That is hard core in my books.”

“They just need to stay out of our way,” said Thrax. 

Miss Jade shrugged and pressed an ear against the slick rock wall. “I can hear a rushing noise!” She bit her lower lip. “I think there’s an underground river behind the rock. A rather big one.” She stepped back and observed the wall.

Thrax was distracted by a call from the far side of the chamber. Andromeda stood before the southwest tunnel. “Sir! There’s air coming from this direction,” she said. “Very slight. And noises. Growls. Sound like raptors to me.”

“Sweet,” said Thrax, growing enthused. Growls suggested both action and answers were ahead, nice and simple like. “Southwest it is.”

Rock crackled overhead. 

Instantly Thrax swept his gun along the roof of the chamber. 

Nothing. Just rock.

Damn his newbie jitters. 

The team entered the tunnel, Thrax in lead. The tunnel angled gently downward. Five hundred meters on they heard chanting ahead. Voices that were a mix between growls and aggressive chirps. 

Thrax knew the sound: raptors for sure.



*****



For more Magnum Thrax, see the novel, Magnum Thrax and the Amusement Park of Doom

Available on Amazon. 

starsIt's Mad Max on crack – Glen Conley

"Underneath this outlandish story’s brash exterior lies astute social commentary and sharp, unapologetic humor." – Kirkus Reviews


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