Relic – Jaid Black

She landed on the pavement with the quiet stealth of a panther, a gun palmed in each bloodstained hand. She wore head-to-toe black, blending in with the night, her senses in tune with her surroundings. There are so many of them, but I can’t retreat… She hesitated. The enemy’s numbers were unfavorable to a quick defeat, yet she’d made it too far to turn back now. This could be the last chance fate gave her to escape from Hell—her final opportunity to kill or be killed. Her stomach revolted, reminding her she hadn’t eaten in days. She ignored the painful memento from her encampment and concentrated instead on the men she needed to take out if she was to live—human men. Human collaborators. Human traitors. You can do this. Remember your training. One of the U.S. Navy’s first, if classified, female SEALs, giving up simply wasn’t in Octavia Benatti’s DNA. She had fought like a wildcat to not only compete with the male candidates, but to excel beyond their skill levels.

She’d had to run circles around them just to gain their begrudging acceptance and so run she had. Being a blackbelt in two different forms of martial arts still hadn’t prepared her for the rigorous, intense, often dehumanizing SEAL training, but it had instilled within her the tenacity and quickness she was known for. Squatting low behind a row of tall potted plants, guns still palmed, Octavia made a quick, calculated assessment of what she was up against. Her green eyes narrowed as she counted ten human collaborators guarding the portal she sought. Again, she hesitated, uncertainty rippling through her, though this time for a different reason. “Go to the portal,” Admiral McAdams had commanded as he lay dying in her arms. “But—” “Go!” He ground his teeth against the pain. “There’s nothing left here. No hope. No future.

” “There is only death on the other side of the gateway.” Octavia considered that the rapid hemorrhaging might be causing the admiral to hallucinate. “That’s how the Xenocanns pass back and forth to and from their planet,” she reminded him. “When it’s violet,” McAdams murmured, his eyes closing. “Go through on violet.” “What’s violet? What are you talking about, sir?” But no explanation would be forthcoming. His final words, forever seared into her brain, brought her to where she now watched and waited. “Twenty-four hundred hours,” he said as firmly as a dying man could. “That’s an order, Commander Benatti.” She glanced at her watch.

One minute to midnight. Octavia eyed the large, circular portal as it glowed a menacing red. In the two years she’d spent in internment camps never once had she seen any of the alien portals display a color other than crimson. But she’d been given an order—even if it was under duress. She would simply have to trust that, by virtue of his rank, the now deceased admiral had known something she didn’t. Forty-five seconds. Her nostrils flared. Whether or not McAdams had been hallucinating, she would still take out those ten human traitors. It was the least she could do to avenge her superior. If she died in the process, so be it.

She was slated for execution tomorrow anyway. Execution. An ironic word for being the morning meal. Thirty seconds. A loud, whirring sound emitted from the middle of the circular portal. A shiver worked down her spine. Octavia palmed the handguns tighter, though the gateway remained a glowing red. “This is the last departure!” one of the human traitors shouted to his comrades. “Where’s Dr. Fancy Pants?” His accent was distinctly American, making her eyes narrow in disgust.

For some reason or another it burned her ass even more when a collaborator turned out to be one of her own. There were human traitors in every nation these days, though their numbers were sparse. Fewer still were military collaborators, yet she could see by the dog tags the men wore that she’d happened upon some. “Right here, sir!” a traitor with an English accent answered. An unwilling man in his late forties to early fifties was shoved up onto the platform and brought to a halt in front of the apparent leader. “Here’s the doctor and here are the cloaks.” Octavia watched uncomprehendingly as a black cloak was shoved over the captive man’s head. That accomplished, the ten military collaborators donned hooded cloaks of their own. What the fuck? Fifteen seconds. The whirring sound grew louder.

Octavia’s eyes widened as she watched the portal flicker back and forth with tangible ferocity. Red. Violet. Red. Violet. Red. Violet. The colors blinked so rapidly that she had to glance away for the briefest of moments. “Get ready, doc,” the leader sneered. “But—” “Be grateful you ain’t feeder-chow.

” Five seconds. “Please,” the older man pleaded. “I can’t leave my wife and children behind.” “You can and you are.” The leader grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. “Let’s go.” Twenty-four hundred hours. The portal swirled, switching to violet. Octavia’s musculature tensed. She heard the doctor scream as he was shoved into the portal.

He disappeared, his body transported to only God knows where. It was now or never. She couldn’t let the human collaborators follow the doctor. Raising both hands, the commander fired her guns simultaneously and in rapid succession as she sprinted to the next row of potted plants and lunged to the ground. Her knees and elbows scraped the pavement, though she paid the pain no attention as she scrambled to a sitting position. She heard the leader mutter a curse just before he returned fire. In a matter of seconds she counted four more guns firing and knew instinctively she’d managed to take out half of them already. Five down. Five more to go. Turning around and crouching low, Octavia raised her weapons and killed two more men with shots to the head.

Again she ran to the next set of potted plants, skidding to the unforgiving ground on already injured knees. Her breathing was heavy, her skin sweat-soaked. Seven down. Three more to go. “Fuck it!” she heard the leader yell. “Just move!” She cursed under her breath. They were going for the portal. They no longer gave a shit who was firing at them so she no longer worried about giving up her position. Growling low in her throat, her green eyes narrowed as she stood up and prepared to fire both guns at the retreating figures. Three Xenocanns materialized from seemingly out of nowhere.

The feeders roared at the betrayal of the human collaborators and made short work of tearing the remaining three men to pieces. Yelling in their alien tongue, they repeatedly jabbed their serrated claws toward the portal. Octavia recalled the lone, weaponless doctor who lay in waiting on the other side of it. “Shit,” she muttered, checking her ammo. She was down to almost nothing. She peered through the plants that provided her with cover. Her stomach muscles clenching, she watched as one of the Xenocanns walked through the portal, disappearing. Her heart racing, Octavia determined not to let the second and third enter the gateway. She’d studied their kind for two years while imprisoned within the various encampments. From the Dallas Concentration Center to New York City to London and onward to Glasgow, one internment was no different from the rest.

Where slaves were needed, slaves were sent. It was rare for an alien to get killed in the process, but she’d taken out four tonight to make it this far and knew exactly what needed done to take out two more. Xenocanns—the scientific term for unknown or alien cannibals—had but one weakness… their hearts. She would get only one shot at each of the feeders. Her aim had to be true. “Please God,” she begged, preparing to stand up and fire. “Help me.” The next few heartbeats felt like they ticked by in slow motion while paradoxically being the quickest of her life. Standing up and opening fire, she killed one of the Xenocanns instantly and wounded the second. She was out of ammo.

Fuck. This is it, she thought, turning around and falling to her knees. The end of the line. Wounded or not, the alien invader’s superior weaponry would zero in on her location and sizzle her to nothingness before she could blink. “You ain’t going down without us, boss.” Octavia’s head whipped around. Nobody snuck up on her and lived to tell about it—never—yet two of her team had done just that. Relieved they’d made it out of their prison cells alive, she mentally blew out a breath, thankful for Jackson’s and Bellamy’s assistance. Their hands, as bloodstained as her own, told her without explanation they’d managed to overpower and kill their alien guards. Commander Benatti threw her men the look—a signal they understood too well.

Two men she’d believed long dead immediately opened fire, their bullets lodging in the heart of the wounded Xenocann. She—he—it—was dead. The portal started up that whirring sound, forcing Octavia’s eyes to round. The gateway, she intuitively knew, was closing. “Let’s go!” she yelled to Jackson and Bellamy. “Into the portal!” “Are you crazy?” Jackson yelled back even as he followed her up to the platform. “We can’t go through there!” “That’s an order!” the commander shouted back, making herself heard above the deafening sound. “Grab their weapons and three cloaks!” She tore a fourth cloak from one of the human collaborator’s bodies and quickly fashioned a sack of sorts from it. Throwing as many weapons as she could inside it, she also stripped the dead feeders of the various alien paraphernalia they sported on their bodies. Medical kits, bio weapons— she took it all.

She had watched the invaders use all of it and would figure things out when time allowed. Preparing to stand up from her crouching position, Octavia’s gaze landed on a circular, gold, ring-like object in the hands of one of the dead aliens. Having never seen it before, she almost left it behind, then decided at the last second to retrieve it. She tossed it into her makeshift bag and stood up. The gateway was whirring so violently that Octavia guessed they had maybe a few heartbeats left. Pushing aside her doubts, she held up one of the pilfered assault rifles and walked into the pulsing violet portal. She understood without visually confirming it that Jackson and Bellamy were on her heels. They might have thought she’d gone crazy, but they’d never defy a direct order. A fierce wave of nausea overwhelmed Octavia as a kaleidoscope of colors zipped her body into the unknown. She could hear Jackson’s roar of pain, could sense Bellamy panting for air beside her, yet she saw nothing but whirling, jarring, vivid colors sucking them into some type of maelstrom.

The dizzying vortex lasted maybe twenty seconds, yet passed like an eternity. The three of them landed with a thud, hard, onto an unforgiving ground. Jackson was instantly impaled through the head by a jutting tree branch, his lifeless body twisted in an unnatural position. Blood gushed out, spraying the two survivors. Octavia closed her eyes, guilt consuming her. She had ordered Ensign Jackson to follow her and said order had gotten him killed. “Marcus is dead,” she murmured. “Because of me.” * * * * * ”Where are we, Commander?” Lieutenant James Bellamy whispered. Octavia said nothing.

She continued to lie on the grassy embankment, her eyes unblinking. Bellamy sighed. “It wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known.” She knew he spoke the truth, yet the guilt remained. Pulling herself up into a sitting position, she wrapped her arms around her knees. “I don’t know where we are,” she said truthfully. Octavia quickly recapped her last conversation with Admiral McAdams. “All I know is I was given a direct command.” She glanced around, her sharp gaze taking in their near idyllic surroundings.

They were in the middle of a dense forest, trees surrounding them for as far as the eye could see. Her acute hearing picked up the vague sound of trickling water, telling her the rare stuff was close by. She blinked, unwrapping her arms from around her legs, and let her hands come to rest on the grass around them. Grass. It had been over a year since she’d seen a single blade of it, much less felt the soft, fragrant stuff with her own hands. There were rumors that grass and trees could still be found within the compounds where human collaborators dwelled, but she’d never been outside of an internment camp to see if it was true. But this… this was different. It was as if she was in a naturally wooded forest rather than a carefully constructed compound. “This place looks like a feeder’s worst nightmare,” Bellamy said. “And that makes it my best case scenario.

” Octavia agreed, but said nothing. She was too busy assessing their surroundings. Still, Bellamy was right. For whatever reason, Xenocanns preferred their environments to consist of rocks, dirt, and heat. In areas not given to high temperatures, the aliens set up towering heat lamp contraptions to warm themselves. She supposed it had something to do with the reptilian part of their DNA. “One of the feeders got through the porthole, James.” She told him about the doctor, the ten military traitors, and the three Xenocanns. “We only killed two of those alien fucks.” She sighed.

“I guess where we are doesn’t matter so long as the final feeder remains alive. We have to track it and kill it. And we need to find that doctor.” “Maybe the doctor knows where here is,” Bellamy agreed. He ran a hand over his unshaven jaw. He had developed a thick, black beard since she’d last seen him. “But before we do anything else…” Octavia nodded. They had to bury their dead. Jackson hadn’t deserved his fate any more than the millions of innocent people who’d already been turned into Xenocann food. The least she and Bellamy could do was give him a befitting send-off.

“Gather all our supplies, Lieutenant,” Octavia ordered as she hoisted herself up from the ground. “I want a weapons and ammo count by the time I find a suitable burial place.” “Yes, Commander.”

.

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