Doomsday Warrior 17 - America’s Sword (6 page)

BOOK: Doomsday Warrior 17 - America’s Sword
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“Thanks,” Rock said with a smile, as he realized that Chen was right. Sometimes in the name of being the “perfect commander” he pushed his own body too hard, too far. He felt a hell of a lot better than he had the night before. He took a swig of the steaming brew. “Anything happen last night?”

“Not a thing,” Chen replied holding his own brew that wasn’t coffee but something the Scotsman had made from various powders and herbs that he always took with him on missions. “Detroit and I supervised the guard—and other than a few rustlings around the hill, some animal sniffing out the situation, nothing to report. I’ll get the show on the road,” Chen said, letting Rockson sit there on his bedding so he could finish his brew.

They set out, the men in a good mood after they had survived their first day. They headed through the bush for about ten miles and then came to a much less vegetated area, a prairie-like terrain that stretched off for as far as the eye could see.

Rock paused at the edges of the plain and took out his field binocs, standing up on Snorter’s back to check it out. Nothing threatening, he noted. No earthquake faults or herds of carnivores. He sat down again and motioned the unit forward. Immediately they were slowed to almost half-speed. The ’brids kept sinking down a few inches with each step in the soft, sandy soil. The sun was out with a vengeance today, and after just an hour of riding, Rock had them stop and take out the Shecter survival-suits that had been created just months before to cover their bodies from head to toe. It looked like they were covering themselves in aluminum foil. But though the men laughed and pointed at one another with amusement, they quickly found that the things helped a lot, reflecting back over 90% of the sun’s thermal energy. The ’brids didn’t need their head coverings—yet. They could stand far more heat and radiation than their human riders. Though, if it got much worse, Rock would make sure he’d cover their skulls as well.

The terrain got deader and deader. And even within the protective suits, the men could feel the searing dry air. They had been out a good four hours with nothing in sight but more of the same when Rockson saw some white objects poking out of the sand about a hundred yards off their due-north route. He headed the team slightly to the right to get a look, and his jaw dropped open as he came up on the objects.

Bones, huge ones at that; a whole field of them stretching for several hundred yards. It looked like a graveyard for giants.

“What the hell?” Chen asked as he came up alongside the Doomsday Warrior who had slowed them to a crawl.

“I’d bet dollars to synth-doughnuts that they’re dinosaur bones,” Detroit exclaimed, coming up on the side of Rock. “I’ve read all about ’em. This whole section of country is filled with the ancient lizard bones. There’s nothing else that ever lived that had a thigh bone that big.”

And indeed, they could easily see, that many of the bones sticking out were huge, far too big for anything alive on earth whether mutated or normal.

The rest of the crew had pulled to a stop as well, as everyone stared down in utter amazement at the acres of bones.

“How old do you think they are?” Chen asked.

“At least sixty million years,” Detroit replied with a big grin. “Could be a lot older. Some of these real big boys go back 160, even 200 million years.

“Damn, and cheese goes bad after a couple of days,” McCaughlin laughed, as he joined the action at the front of the force.

“Make some soup stock out of that, hey, Cookie?” Detroit said from atop his ’brid, leaning over in the saddle and slapping the Scotsman on the shoulder.

“In Russia—even bigger,” Sheransky said with a self-mocking grin. “Takes two or three of them for even one Russian dinosaur.” They all stared at the huge leg bones, collar bones and so on. A pickup truck could have driven through the eye of a gargantuan head half-poking through the sun-baked sand.

“Mapman,” Rockson yelled out to Peters, a young fellow with concave face and skin still broken out all over with acne.

“Sir!” the youth barked, as he pulled his ’brid up near them and saluted.

“I want you to mark this spot on your map, mister. No big detail, just the basic location and approximate size of the bone field.”

“Will do, sir,” Peters said, quickly pulling out his grid chart and sextant and drawing in some lines and measurements. Dr. Shecter would be interested in this. He and his boys were always eating up new data that Freefighting expeditions brought in. Trying to reconstruct a picture of the new America. What was of value—and what was of danger.

While they were all staring as the mapper took his measurements, two of the pack-’brids had somehow come free from their reins at the end of the convoy. Without really being noticed by anyone, they made their way around the side of the force and before they could be stopped were walking through the center of the bone field.

“Get those ’brids!” Rock shouted out, seeing the steeds loose. For even as the animals crashed through a mound of huge ivory bones, the things crumbled like they were made of chalk dust. In a flash the two animals were coated with the stuff. Probably would be hard to get the stuff off!

“Who the hell didn’t keep an eye on those two?” Rock bellowed out in anger. It was exactly the kind of stupid mistake that would cost them in other, more treacherous situations. He was pissed off too at the destruction of something that had lasted for eons. But in a flash he saw that the hybrid horses were in far more trouble. Suddenly both of them stopped dead in their tracks. They both got looks of surprise on their furred faces and began trembling. At first it was mild, but within a few seconds they were vibrating and jumping up and down as if in an uncontrollable frenzy. Foam poured out from their opened mouths. And, within ten seconds, both had keeled over into the prairie.

Blood poured from their mouths, eyes, ears, and every orifice of their bodies. The shaking grew wilder as they slid around the sand, staining it red. Within a minute they were dead.

“Stay away from them!” Rockson screamed out, as some of the recruits started to dismount to see what had happened to the ’brids. “Don’t go another inch closer! Leave the supplies on them!”

Rockson got them all the hell out of there fast, making a wide circle around the bone field. God only knew just what was inside the decomposing, prehistoric monsters. But he and his team weren’t going to be the ones to find out.

He stopped them after going about half a mile on the other side, and gave the entire unit a stern lecture about being extra careful out here. They had seen first hand just what the fates held in store in the wastelands for anything, man or animal, that didn’t stay alert at all times.

Seven

T
he weather changed dramatically overnight. From bright glaring sun the day before, the sky was now overcast, looking like it was ready for a storm. It was going to be wet; even the ’brids could sense it, neighing nervously as the troopers saddled them up again and stowed all their gear. Rockson was glad to see that they were getting faster at packing than they had been the day before. The recruits were learning. Death is a quick teacher.

“Freefighters ho!” Rockson shouted out, once he saw that everyone was up in the saddle. He held his right arm straight up and let it drop forward. There was no real need for that kind of stuff, the Doomsday Warrior knew, but men need symbols and a regimen. It gives them strength, makes them feel like a fighting unit.

“What’s the plan, Rock?” Chen asked as he rode up alongside the Doomsday Warrior.

“Plan is—we ride til we get there—then we stop.” Rockson replied with a twinkle in his mismatched aqua and violet eyes. “It won’t be that easy, to say the least. How are your men?”

“Not bad—considering,” Chen replied, glancing around at Rock’s words to his eight charges, who rode yards behind, two abreast. They plodded through the increasingly hard-packed surface of the long prairie.

“Considering what?” the Doomsday Warrior shot back as he took a swig of water from his canteen hanging on one side of Snorter’s saddle horn.

“Considering that half this unit, make that three quarters, has never been on a real mission before. Most of them haven’t even been out of C.C. for more than a few days—meat gathering, repairs on external systems, but—nothing heavy duty.”

“Well, keep a close eye on them,” Rock replied. “ ’Cause I have a feeling in my mutant guts that it’s going to get heavy real fast.”

Chen returned back to the lead of his little group of charges. As if Rockson’s words had been heard by the very skies, the cloud line, which had grown thick and dark with shadows moving through them for miles, began dropping. Within minutes he could see the rain line about six miles ahead coming straight toward them. It was amazingly straight along the edge, probably the dividing line between two weather fronts, and it created a blanket of darkness as it swept forward at about twenty miles an hour.

Rock had the force stop and put on the Shecter suits, which were multi-purpose for sun, rain, and snow. And again he was pleased to note that the recruits were moving faster, beginning to understand the need to execute Rock’s commands without hesitation.

Only Chen, who had his own ninja-type outfit on, didn’t put the suit on. He just put on a wide-brimmed, weird-looking Chinese hat. Archer as well didn’t feel the need for a suit. Having lived most of his life in the mountains, before Rockson had rescued him from a quicksand pit, the giant had little need for such accessories. The man had run half-naked with the animals for twenty years.

The rain hit them fast and hard, coming down in sheets of liquid silver and gray. The ’brids hardly noticed, merely snorting their big nostrils every once in a while to clear out any water that had found its way in. With their thick hides and huge manes, they were designed by evolution to withstand much worse than this. But it got pretty depressing for the men. Especially after an hour of the same intense gray downpour.

Detroit began singing a marching song by himself at first. But within a few minutes, most of the team had joined in. It wasn’t an opera, to say the least.

It was a dumb ditty, but the singing took their minds off the wet trek and put them all in a better mood.

They rode for about three more hours straight across the flat prairie lands. Rock was concerned that the relatively hard-packed surface of the ground would saturate quickly and start a flash flood that would sweep across the plains. He had been trapped in a few floods in his time. But, apparently, just because the earth was so parched around the area, it just soaked it all down like a dry sponge desperate for water.

And then just as quickly as it had begun, the rainstorm was past them and the skies brightened up again, as if the storm never existed. They broke for a quick lunch, Rockson wanting the ’brids as well as the men to dry out and get some rest. Slogging through the wet soil was hard even on the muscular steeds. And after some vegi-burgers mixed with vitapacks that McCaughlin had cooked up the night before and handed out, everyone seemed in much better spirits.

They rode for another hour or so and then came to a long rise that stretched a good ten miles across their route. It was only about six hundred feet high and rose at an easily ridden grade. The whole unit followed Rockson up the side.

As he reached the top and started across the plateau several hundred feet across, Rockson’s jaw dropped in amazement. For stretching out below him, extending at least twenty miles, was a vast jungle valley, filled with thick vegetation, towering trees, and mists.

“What the hell?” Chen exclaimed, as he rode up alongside the Doomsday Warrior. The rest of the troop pulled alongside them. They all looked down, virtually speechless. It wasn’t just the size of the low mountain-ringed valley but the dramatic change in terrain. It was a different world in the space of perhaps a thousand feet from one side of the rise to the other. This wasn’t on last year’s survey maps.

Rock took out his field binocs and swept the area slowly back and forth. The rest of the officer-team joined him, bringing their ’brids up alongside and doing the same, all of them looking, but none of them sure for exactly what.

“How the fuck did something like this get created?” Detroit blurted out as he took in the rain forest below. “I mean in the middle of all this prairie?”

“Probably the ring of hills around the whole damn thing,” McCaughlin piped up. “I saw something like this when I was down south about twenty years ago—before I came to Century City—and was a hell of a lot skinnier than I am now. The same configuration—a circle of mountains concealing a low valley. Affects the weather patterns dramatically, catching much more of the moisture of passing clouds than on the outside. Still,” he went on as he continued his own sweep with his glasses, “this one is a hell of a lot more steamy than the one I saw.”

“What do you think, Cap?” Sheransky piped up, a few ’brids down from Rockson.

“I think we head down into Jungleland,” Rockson replied, putting his glasses back in their case. “I don’t even see the stinking end of it. It could add days to this trek to start trying to divert and find the flatlands again. It doesn’t look great down there—but I do see what look like some fairly passable trails.” He looked around at the other officers for their opinions, and all nodded in the affirmative. Rock was the boss. His mutant senses were something they had all learned to trust.

“Okay, men, we’re heading down into the greenery. Be alert—because any maneater or whatever the hell’s down there waiting for us is going to have a lot more cover than what we’ve just been passing through.” There were nods throughout the team as the men checked their Liberator autofire rifles to make sure they were ready for action.

Rock started down the far slope, moving very slowly as he always did when entering the unknown. Even as they headed down the five-hundred-foot gentle dropoff, they could feel the air temperature changing dramatically. It felt like it was getting a degree hotter every twenty or thirty feet. The air was moist and thick, and filled with a stench of rot and decay, as well as the aroma of countless plants and flowering species. It was the smell of rich and abundant life, a rare thing in a mostly devastated world.

BOOK: Doomsday Warrior 17 - America’s Sword
5.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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