“Garcia and Hyatt. No answer from either,” the square faced mercenary said to Smith.
“That’s because they’re dead.”
The man had been trying to reach them via radio since the first sound of gunshots had reached their position.
“TelleTeamqOmegapthatatheyuaregclearttoaengage.u Ifatheyshavexthesshot,itakeuit,” Antoine Smith said. “And if they miss, then they better be able to kill me, because I’ll be coming for them too. Tell them that.”
The square faced mercenary started to lift the radio mic to his lips, but Smith turned to him.
“No. In person. Leave that with me.”
The mercenary paused for a moment, then pulled the H&K that was slung onto his back around and into position.
“Of course,” the man said, and ran to meet up with the other Hulong hired guns, passing the radio to Smith as he went.
The squared faced mercenary was a professional and in peak physical condition. He quickly closed the five hundred meters to Team Omega, consisting of three more heavily armed mercenaries.
They saw him coming up behind them.
“Smith says kill him,” the square faced mercenary said.
“Change of plans, then?”, one of the mercenaries asked.
“Yeah, we go on the offensive,” the square faced mercenary replied.
“Sounds good,” another one said.
“Trail me. If he’s tracking the same path as Garcia and Hyatt, he’ll be coming through that low ravine to our left. Let’s get there and set up interlocking fields of fire.”
“Copy,” the third man said.
The four mercenaries moved efficiently, covering each others steps and occasionally stopping to scan the horizon. Within a minute, they had reached their new location.
Each dropped into the ravine and pointed their weapons downrange to cover their actions.
The last to re-acquire his sight picture was the square faced mercenary, and damn if Hubert Farlowe wasn’t standing fifty feet in front of him.
“There!”, the square faced mercenary opened fire, tapping rounds into the silhouette.
The others quickly followed his lead, until all four men were unloading their entire magazines of 5.56, 147 grain, full metal jacket at Farlowe. The sound of metal ricocheting off of metal was almost audible over the noise of the weapons.
All of the mercenaries realized that although collectively they had put at least forty rounds into Farlowe, he wasn’t going down.
They all stopped firing, as if realizing both simultaneously and too late the mistake they had made.
The Kimber opened up behind them. Three shots. The first two men dropped forward, both hit in the back. The third was felled by a head shot.
The square jawed mercenary barely had time to turn around and see Farlowe closing the distance on him when the Kimber barked for a fourth time. The .45 slug hit the man center mass. He was dead by the time his body collapsed to the sand.
Farlowe moved to the dead men and studied the scene. Maybe this would work after all. His hope was that Devra was still alive. That all this chaos had provided the distraction that would keep them from outright killing her.
The bullet-riddled rusting woman was, amazingly, still standing.
Hubert hadn’t buried her that deep, but the 5.56 rounds were designed more for penetration than impact. An array of jagged wounds spread across her in full display. Hubert smiled at the metal sculpture.
“I knew there was a reason I saw you,” he said.
Then, he moved forward. He figured he had at least a few more Hulong men to deal with, and he wanted one alive long enough to talk. To tell him about Devra.
Farlowe rushed forward, running with a speed that surprised even him. The footsteps of the dead men were still clear in the soft earth under his feet.
He was closing the distance. Not long now.
And then he hit the tripwire.
Farlowe waited for the explosion that would vaporize him, but instead, he was knocked from his feet by extreme pain, as if a million needles had passed through him. And then passed through him again. And again.
Hitting the ground, Farlowe clenched his teeth and forced himself to regain control of his body. He shuddered against the strain and turned his head toward the source of his agony. A metallic case, about the size of beer keg, and heavily shield, was glowing in a most strange way. It seemed to amplifying the light hitting it rather than radiating any of its own.
Farlowe struggled to make sense of what he was looking at.
“A normal man can take about 30 seconds of exposure before this becomes dangerous,” Antoine Smith said. “An extraordinary man such as yours truly can take a few minutes before things start to go south.”
“Da… ark X...M?”, Farlowe choked out the question.
“Correct. And since you are neither normal or extraordinary, but something else entirely, something of an XM construct yourself, it really does a number on you. Instantly.”
Smith moved to the Dark XM container and activated a switch. A front panel dropped down, sealing the device.
“So many amazing uses for this stuff. Really boggles the mind,” Smith said to Farlowe. “By the way, you’re going to be like this for a while. Maybe permanently. Fortunately, that’s not too long for you, of course. Hurt?”
“Like a mother,” Farlowe managed through gritted teeth.
“I killed the rest of your men.”
“Hulong’s, not mine. Mine wouldn’t be dead. But to get to this moment, and allow you to think you were winning, an acceptable sacrifice,” Antoine Smith said.
“I doubt they would agree.”
“You hear them complaining? I don’t. Now, let’s go see Devra. It’s almost time for the show to start.”
Farlowe felt Smith hog-tie his legs together, but was in too much pain to resist.
A moment later, he was being dragged through the desert, toward the moment he knew would come when the day began.