Two Clicks East of the Wreckage
by Aaron Willis
Carter heaved the box into the corner and tried to catch his breath as
he placed his back against the wall.
Clay and Franklin pointed their rifles and moved around the perimeter
of the roof in that lateral squatted-duck walk all miltary personnel
are trained in. Their beige fatigues blended with the desert sky,
though soon it would be dusk, and that would be trouble.
Clay removed his pack, dug the handheld out, thumbed a keypad, thrust
it at Carter.
"Tell 'em the roof of the bank two clicks east of the wreckage."
Carter nodded, put the pod to his ear. His chest heaved, but his lungs
no longer burned. Clay shouldered the rifle, stood by Franklin as he
surveyed the area with his scope.
The pod crackled to life, a buzzy drone, then a voice:"......opy?"
Carter cupped a hand over the receiver. "Yes, we copy. Uh, pick-up
will not be the rallying point. New pick-up will be roof of the bank
two clicks east of the wreckage."
"...eckage?" the pod droned.
"Vehicle is down. We hit a mine. Ericson is gone. Repeat, driver and
vehicle are gone."
The pod crackled out and a hot sandy wind sluiced figure 8's across
the surface of the roof.
Clay spun, rubbed his greying head with a wet bandanna. "How long?"
Carter shrugged. "Lost the signal. On their way, though."
Franklin peered through the scope at the pillar of smoke in the
distance. The vehicle looked like a black, burning ribcage. He moved
the scope from Ericson's body to the surrounding dunes. The terrain
was mostly flat, but there were many pockets to hide.
Clay put the pod down, took out a '46 model Geiger counter. A gravelly
pip-pip report started. He moved it 360 degrees, then nodded to
"Clear?" Franklin asked.
Clay nodded and set the device down next to the pod, still on. Carter
stared at it, a chill coating him despite the desert heat. This was
the very situation he had wanted to avoid. He was angry at himself for
letting the soldiers convince him of the plan's ease and his role in
it of mere observer, a field expert who would never be in any danger,
as if the soldiers controlled every nuance, every angle, every
The very nature of a soldier is not to control everything in a hostile
situation, but merely to have the training to deal with whatever
happens. That, and to be able to talk a good argument for intelligent
individuals to go along with their insane schemes. The money was a
tempting factor, and Carter's safety was guaranteed. Now, one mine
later, nothing was a guarantee except their peril. The closer it got
to dark, the enemy would arrive, scurrying out from around the green
glass craters caused by the "pinpoint nukes" of the fifth conflict.
"We're fine on ammo, right?" Franklin asked, not quite able to conceal
concern in his voice.
Clay patted the large pack. "Golden."
Franklin tapped the scope. "We've only got the one scope, though."
Clay laughed. "Pfehh. I was completing distance targets with 98%
accuracy when you were still swimming in your daddy's balls. And I
didn't have any goddamned scope, either."
The counter suddenly pipped louder, a different register, deeper.
Carter let out a nervous laugh. "It must be picking up the chopper,
right?" Carter himself knew how stupid this sounded. It was the
illogical hope of the scared shitless. The chopper wouldn't be
triggering the Geiger counter, only the enemy.
Clay nodded to Franklin, who spun with the scope in the direction of
their vehicle. He let out a pained sigh.
"Three of 'em."
Carter's bowels writhed. Clay dug out a pair of binoculars, peered
over the roof to the west, where the column of smoke twisted into the
sky like a tourniquet.
Clay moved the binoculars over the scene. Two of them were already
tearing at Ericson's corpse, the third stood a few meters away,
sniffing the air, a paw raised in indecision. The size of them! They
were easily three times the size of Ericson. That little of meat would
not satiate them. The smoke was not coming towards them, but away,
which meant they were upwind. The lead dog would soon know this.
"Carter!" Clay said, "Get over here with the recorder."
Carter's legs wouldn't function. "W-Why?"
"Because you're getting paid to document, so document."
Carter unhinged the box, got out the stillcatcher and flipped the
commentary switch to "on."
He shakingly moved over next to Franklin, zoomed in on the scene,
licked his lips.
"Uh... S-September 28th, 2083. Ruins of Fallujah, northeastern part of
Greater Israeli Territories. The species is canine in appearance,
extensive radiation poisoning, no doubt due to prolonged exposure to
depleted uranium. Three to five times the size of a human, although
difficult to gauge at this distance. Skin is a pale pink with patches
of green, light sensitive, a nocturnal creature. F-five eyes, a second
mouth and muzzle, though limp and non-functioning. Long claws, for
digging shelters in the sand, perhaps? They are...feeding on the body
of our driver. This species has more than likely sustained itself
primarily on the dead in times of conflict..."
"Take that last part out!" Clay snapped. "You want Ericson's mother
hearing about how her son..."
"They're coming..." Franklin said.
The three had broken into a lope, pausing to sniff the air and making
zigzags, but always in the direction of town.
Clay dragged the ammo bag over and positioned his rifle on a level
part of the concrete. "Controlled bursts at 200 yards."
Franklin muttered something under his breath, to Carter it sounded
like a prayer.
Clay conjured a wad of phlegm, spat it over the roof, fixed his eye in
the crosshairs. Franklin scraped the pavement with his boots in
succession, resembling a bull about to charge, then stood still.
Carter slunk against the wall and hugged his knees to his chest.
"Ok, now," Clay said.
Carter screwed in his earplugs and the reports of muffled cracks
immediately bled through, sounding no more threatening than a staple
gun. He closed his eyes, wishing for it to be over.
Minutes rolled on, with the staccato gunfire beating its rhythm into
his temples. He opened his eyes at last, saw the pod's green light was
on. He scrambled for it, dug out an earplug, rushed it to the side of
his head so fast he clobbered himself.
A buzz and then: ".....isual confirmation."
Carter spun and saw a black dot on the horizon, with incredible speed
it grew from a dot to a a flapping bug, then to a black twin-prop
chopper, their ride.
"Yes, I see you! We're here! Roof of the bank!"
"....ing the walls!"
"Yes, the one with the green walls! I'm waving my arms!"
Carter waved his arms frantically. The chopper was close enough to
hear over the shooting. Then the shooting stopped.
"....re climbing the walls! Get out of there!"
Carter heard the click of long claws behind him and spun to look into
five eyes. Carter was wrong. That second mouth functioned just fine.