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Lunar Loons

Not many people believed in werewolves back then. Not in Havana (pronounced Hayvanna), Florida anyway. But shit changed on that Monday in May... at least for the unfortunate patrons and employees at Crawford’s diner.
The restaurant had been there since the seventies. Not so much a mainstay as a survivor. People in Havana liked the breakfast, the lunch. The cheese grits and fried chicken. But come around sundown, Tallahassee, Florida offered the nightlife. The chain restaurants, the clubs, the cute bars and pretty young people. The type of glitz and glamour Havana just couldn’t afford to match.
With his daddy’s inheritance money, Jackie Crawford bought the abandoned shack-turned-Havana-mainstay. He had a prime location, after all. Right outside the city limits and on that slab of highway leading straight down to Florida State University, Florida A&M, and Tally’s unique vibrancy. Normally, Crawford’s would be packed during the day, but turn into a ghost town by the time evening gave way to darkness. The customers inevitably migrating to bigger and better things. Especially on the weekends. But still, this Southern-fried restaurant wasn’t a bad accomplishment for a black man opening up his first and only business in the first few years after segregation.
Of course, May meant the dead season. Summer semester a lull for the Tallahassee traffic. A lull in students and commuters. With the arrival of May, so went Tally and Havana’s commerce.
Jackie always prepared for this exodus. From mid-May to early-August was when the employees mostly served him and whatever local stragglers appeared. And today was no different.
Monday evening brought about nothing but a stray customer or two. Jackie hid in his usual corner booth. Paperback in hand, glasses in tow. Aside from the occasional glance at the Atlanta Braves game on a bulky T.V., Jackie’s only other entertainment was the whisky mixed into the strongest coffee in town.
Crawford’s hadn’t changed much in fifty years. Not on Jackie’s watch. The small town diner vibe was captured in the form of stained booths, big windows, and bar stools.
Toward the back of the diner, a dusty jukebox offered no tracks past 1981. Just strictly Motown, rock n’ roll, and the occasional doo-wop. All personally curated by Jackie himself.
Standing behind the counter, the lone waitress stared at the homemade hours sign: Sunrise-Sunset. The sign Jackie had Scotch-taped to the glass door entrance numerous times over the decade. Needless to say, Molly Campbell was damn ready for that sunset… For this dull shift to end.
At forty-two, Molly could be doing better. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself... but a GED and a handful of community college credits at TCC only got you so far. Especially for this born-and-bred Hayvanna hostage.
She scanned the desolate diner. Only one customer left, not counting Jackie.
Over by the bathrooms, in the diner’s darkest terrain lurked a tall man Molly had never seen before. He kept to himself right from the start. Never spoke to Molly outside of growling his order: steak and eggs. Medium rare.
This customer was quarantined on his own island. Come to think of it, Molly realized she hadn’t even gotten a good look at him. The man’s scruffy facial hair covered his brown skin. His eyes avoided hers. He wore a dark trench coat weeks before Memorial Day, here in the sizzling Florida sunlight. Molly was shocked when the guy had ordered seconds... especially considering his wiry physique.
Indulging in an internal countdown, Molly ran her fingers along the cash register. The Braves game on a painful commercial break. Neither the man nor Jackie were saying a word. One glance at Molly’s cell phone offered no solace. Such was the life of a single, working-class woman... one living off a modest if not minimum wage. At least, she didn’t have to wear a hideous apron and even uglier uniform… She talked Jackie out of that in 2012.
Sighing, Molly pushed her long red bangs away. Felt the sweat stick through her jeans and gray t-shirt. Crawford’s never a place of class but cheap Southern comfort.
But no Monday evening would be complete without Burl Ward walking in at seven-thirty. Not that Molly minded.
Beneath the stained collared shirt was a stout man. And beneath Burl’s fuzzy beard was a warm, round face. Nothing but smiles and dignity. He waved over at the owner. “‘Sup, Jackie!” rang Burl’s Southern accent.
Moving at a glacial pace, Jackie looked up. His hand slower than his gaze. “Hey there, Burl!”
Molly couldn’t help but crack up.
Burl made his way to his usual spot by the door. In a booth all on its own… and far away from the stranger.
Grinning, Burl waved at Molly. “Hey, what’s going on, Molly!”
On instinct, Molly grabbed a notepad and headed for this ‘patron’ saint. No need for menus. “Just waiting on you!” she cooed.
“Oh really!” Burl replied. “I must be the man of the hour!”
“Always!” yelled Jackie’s rasp.
Molly stopped at Burl’s booth. Her pen and notepad at the ready. “Just the usual?”
Burl gave the table a light slap. “You got it!”
Molly smiled… until she looked off toward the other side of the diner. Toward the mystery man in booth number ten. He sat facing the opposite direction. Just staring at the wall. The bland ornaments before him displaying All-Americana caricatures like smiling waitresses, delicious dishes, and hot rods. A portrait of 1957 struggling to resurrect itself.
The sight unnerved Molly. Sure all she saw was the back of the man’s head, his buzz cut and nothing more. But there was still the trench coat... How quiet he was. Something’s not right, Molly worried.
“You know me too well,” Burl continued.
Back in Crawford’s mode, Molly forced a smile for Burl. “Yeah. That’s what happens when you come in everyday,” she teased. Partly out of attraction and partly out of tipbait, she leaned in closer. “I think we’d be out of business without you.”
Burl just sat there in a schoolboy silence. His grin in a nervous excitement.
With that, Molly strutted away. Flaunting her ass for what she knew would be Burl’s eager gaze.
Of course, she wasn’t wrong. Burl watched her walk all the way up to the counter. Not that Molly was complaining.
Recovering, Burl looked off toward the back. His turn to notice the man in the trench coat. To feel that slight unease...
Molly got ready to enter the kitchen. She brushed aside her fluttering bangs once more. About to push the door-
“Hey, Excuse me, Molly,” Jackie’s voice startled her.
Molly saw Jackie glide right past her. A short and pudgy blur. The speed well beyond his seventy-nine years.
Before she could react, Jackie snatched her notepad. “I’ll tell Zach,” he reassured her.
“Okay,” Molly said.
Recovering from the ‘scare’, Molly watched Jackie enter the kitchen, the door shutting behind him. Molly couldn’t help but smile. Why so jumpy, she told herself. We’re about to close.
Sighing, she confronted the diner entrance. The glass doors and many windows showed only a small sector of the parking lot.
To Molly’s relief, only Burl’s black F-150 was seen amongst the employee vehicles (including Molly’s clunker Camry). And no cars were coming down that highway anytime soon…
However, once Molly surveyed the diner, her relief was short-lived. Now she couldn’t shake the lingering dread. Not because Burl was immersed in his cell phone but because she realized she hadn’t seen Trench Coat Man’s vehicle. Hell, she never saw him in one. Considering he paid thirty minutes ago, maybe this guy couldn’t leave...
At first, Molly wanted to rationalize the fear, but such a skill wasn’t one of her strengths. She looked back out those front doors. Maybe the weirdo had parked further down, somewhere by the alleyway. In the excess spots Crawford’s hadn’t needed since the 90s. Sure, the guy could’ve been homeless. Or a harmless drifter… God knows, Crawford’s got many of those… Just none this fucking creepy.
Molly couldn’t suppress the paranoia. She never could. Especially with the sun now fading fast. Nightfall was upon the diner.
7:55. Still no one had gone near the jukebox. And the weird guy still hadn’t left.
Molly ditched her cash register station. Who the Hell knows what Jackie and Zach are doing back there? With a flirtatious flourish, she stopped at Burl’s table. Put a hand on her hip as she beamed her baby blue spotlight on this valued customer. “You like it?”
“Mm-hmm!” Burl responded. He lowered his fork, the pecan pie melting in his mouth. “It’s amazing like always, Molly!”
Chuckling, Molly tapped the table. “I made it especially for you...”
“I can tell!”
Outside, streetlights began to cut on. One out of three did anyway.
Molly looked out a window. Besides the humming lights glowing above the front door, her surroundings stayed in those twilight shadows. Thank God this place closes at night, she thought.
“Say, Molly,” Burl began.
Shattered from her thoughts, she smiled at him.
Burl struggled with his words. The semi truck driver now skidding on emotions rather than wheels. “I know you’re usually busy on the weekends… but, uh..”
Molly didn’t interrupt. She just kept her gaze on him. Burl wasn’t bad-looking after all. And in Havana, any man without kids or a rap sheet was a plus. Nevermind, a steady job.
“Would you, uh, want to go to Tally with me Friday night?” Burl finally got out. He flashed a toothy smile. “Maybe go see that new Marvel movie or-”
“I’d love to!” Molly replied.
“Great!” Burl let out a sigh. Motioned a trembling hand toward the waitress of his dreams. “Do you want me to pick you up…”
Confident, Molly nodded. “I think I can switch shifts with Suzie.” She turned. Then wished she hadn’t…
Trench Coat Man was now sitting on the other side of the booth. Far away from his food and empty glass of Cherry Coke. He just sat motionless and still. His beard somehow messier and longer.
“So pick you up at your place?” Burl asked.
Molly faced him, her seductive coolness rattled. “Uh, yeah-”
The kitchen door burst open. Jackie Crawford was off and running. A man in a hurry.
Startled, Molly and Burl both looked toward him.
Jackie gave a quick wave. “Melissa called! I gotta go!”
“Aw, okay,” Molly responded.
Jackie rushed past them as he headed straight for the door. Toward the intensifying darkness. He pointed Molly toward the kitchen. “Just hold down the fort and make sure Zach don’t do anything stupid!”
“Yes sir-”
The owner was out before Molly could even finish her sentence. The front door closed quick, sealing everyone inside. Jackie Crawford seen for only a second under that clinical lab lighting before disappearing into the twilight.
Molly had handled the stress of closing on her own with or without an idiot like Zach. Even when Burl was there. Just never with a weirdo in a trench coat lurking inside.
“Who’s Melissa?” Burl quipped. He smiled at Molly. “Ol’ Jackie got himself a hot date?”
“Naw, it’s his daughter,” Molly replied.
“Gotcha. I forgot he had a few kids-”
Molly staggered toward the counter. “Hold on a sec.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“You’re fine!” Molly went straight toward the kitchen door but stopped by the register. Unable to resist one more look at that fateful booth. Trench Coat Man still avoided eye contact... Only now he had both hands on the table. Big, hairy hands.
“Y’all closing?” she heard Burl ask.
Molly glanced back at him. “Uh, yeah, about to.”
“I can wait on you-”
“Yeah, that’s fine!” Molly flashed another glance at the man. Somehow, his hands got bigger. The beard furrier. Eager to escape this dread, Molly rushed inside the kitchen.
Like a rec room, Crawford’s kitchen was a break from the burden of restaurant work. One much needed on the busier nights. Amidst this cluttered conglomeration of pots and pans were several grimy sinks. Stoves and ovens in various states of decay. Molly sweated upon stepping inside. Her nostrils ambushed by the smell of grease. Her gaze greeted by steam… and cigarette smoke.
Groaning, Molly walked toward a far-off corner. “Zach!” she cried as she waved the smoke away. Molly then stopped right in front of the man who’d never be employee of the month. “What the Hell are you doing?”
Sitting on a stool, Zach smiled at her. The twenty-four-year-old not fresh out of college or the service. But about to be fresh out of cigarettes. “Yo… Molly,” said a shrill Southern whine. He slouched back against a counter, letting more stains pile up on his white tee and apron.
Molly glared at him. “Jackie lets you smoke back here?”
“Sometimes…” Molly noticed Zach holding a dying cig in one hand, his phone in the other. A YouTube show called Wolf Women displayed on screen.
“Hell, he never lets me!”
Some concern crashing his chill, Zach nodded at the cig. “Hey, you ain’t gonna tell him, are you?”
Molly shook her head in dismay. Crawford’s version of a disappointed mother scolding a slacker son. “Jesus…”
Zach shushed her. “She’s coming on!”
Zach pointed at his phone. “Listen.”
A wild AWOO echoed through the room. One man-made… or woman-made.
“Whoo, welcome back to our Full Moon Stream, bitches! I’m your host Anne not Annie, and we’re in hour twelve of our twenty-four hour full moon special!” Anne’s voice was deep and engaging. Her natural talent and experience obvious.
“What is this shit?” Molly asked.
Zach waved the phone around. Two women seen on screen in a low-budget paranormal channel. “That’s Anne and Julie! They do all that monster and paranormal shit!” Still Molly was confused. “They’re the wolf women!”
“And tonight we’ve got some clear skies!” Anne continued, the passion palpable. “Perfect for that full moon about to come out for all y’all crazy motherfuckers!”
Not impressed, Molly pointed toward the door. “Well, I’m going back out.” She waved toward the mess. "And clean this shit up a little! We’re about to close in case you couldn’t tell.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Zach muttered.
Molly snatched the cig out of his hand.
Zach stood up, finally showing life. “Yo, what the fuck, Molly!”
“No smoking, Zach.” She took a quick puff. I need it more than his ass.
Unable to argue, Zach grumbled as he ran a hand through his curly blonde locks. At the mercy of Jackie’s most-trusted employee. Jackie’s only trustworthy employee.
“I’m sure it’s gonna get pretty damn crazy out there,” Anne’s voice continued.
“Oh yeah!” her younger co-host Julie added.
Grinning, Molly handed Zach the cigarette back. “Don’t tell Jackie.” She winked and made her way out.
Zach smirked with relief.
“Remember, clean this shit up!” Molly yelled.
Zach just smirked.
“So be sure to watch out for those lunar loonies,” quipped Anne in her lethargic tone. With smartass style to spare. “Or lunar loons, whatever you assholes prefer.”
In the diner, Molly shut off the T.V. The Braves were taking it on the chin anyway.
She walked toward Burl. His arm was draped over the booth. His beer gut dangling from excess food. Nothing but crumbs on his plates.
Molly stole another look outside. Nighttime was getting closer. Now the full moon could be seen… A nocturnal spaceship in the sky. Vivid and bright even when it wasn’t at a hundred percent.
“You can keep the change,” Burl said.
Molly came to a stop as Burl slid the receipt toward her. Two twenties on top of the twenty-four dollar tab... Not to mention Burl’s scribbled phone number. A scribbled smiley face included.
“Just text me about Friday,” Burl said.
“Aww,” Molly gushed. She pocketed the receipt. “I will...”
Burl surveyed the restaurant. “Y’all ready to run me out?”
“Yeah, it’s about that time.” Molly turned. The good moods gave way to diner dread. Trench Coat Man was still there.
“Naw, I understand-”
“Why’s he still here?” Molly said to him, keeping her voice low.
Being discreet, she faced Burl. All while Molly’s eyes kept watch on the mysterious man. From what little Molly saw of it, Trench Coat Man’s face offered no tells. He was a wax figure. A hairy one at that. “He’s been here for hours,” Molly told Burl.
Getting an adrenaline rush, Burl re-adjusted his Ford cap. Even the sight sent chills up his spine. “You want me to do somethin’?”
“Naw. I can handle it.” Molly flashed him a smile. “But thanks.”
“Okay. If you need me, I’m right here.”
Now Molly had to gather up the courage. She hated confrontation… now here she was shivering in May. In Jackie’s makeshift sauna.
Behind a stern glare, Molly walked up to booth number ten. “Uh, excuse me, sir.”
Burl was watching. For once, not just Molly’s ass either but out of concern. The diner had now gone completely silent, desolate darkness plastered against every window.
Molly got closer and closer. Her steps cautious. Still the stranger hadn’t reacted, much less moved. “Sir, we’re closing.”
As she stopped a few feet away, Molly still had no clear view. The trench coat was draped over a body that’d gotten bulkier since the man first walked in.
Molly could now see a cup of coffee at his sharp fingertips. The mug filled to the brim, the coffee long cold.
“We close at eight, sir,” Molly said, her tone shaky. “I’m sorry but you need to go.”
Still no response.
Molly leaned in closer. Daring to even put her hand on the table. “You’ve already paid but we’re closing.” She gave a nervous smile and nodded toward the door. The Scotch-taped sign. “We don’t serve customers when the sun goes down.”
There was nothing. Not a word. The black man looked to be in a catatonic state. Hypnotized by his own hands.
Frustration joined Molly’s fear. “Please,” she sighed. “I don’t wanna call the-”
Still looking down, the man waved her off in a soft dismissal. His long, sharp fingernails glistening in the dim lights. Human talons that emerged from deep within the skin...
Molly took a scared step back.
And then she heard the man give her a guttural growl! A murky low sound devoid of humanity. The stranger still didn’t look at her... those cries were warning shots. Or at least, Molly sure hoped so.
“Oh God…” Molly muttered.
A hand grabbed her shoulder!
Molly jumped and whirled around, startled. “Oh God!”
“It’s just me,” Burl reassured her. Standing behind Molly, he loosened his grip. His concern obvious. ”You okay?”
“Yeah...” She looked toward the man. Burl following her every move. “It’s just…”
Burl patted her shoulder. “I got it.”
Gladly, Molly staggered back. Letting Burl take over.
The trucker stared down the man. Burl standing tall and strong. In a way anyone else would find intimidating. “Hey, buddy.” Burl said in a voice offering anything but friendliness. “She said they’re closing.”
Then Burl saw Trench Coat Man’s hands. The clawed paws. They’d only grown bigger. The fingers elongated. Black fur spreading all across the stranger’s skin with startling quickness.
Suppressing his nerves, Burl motioned toward the man. “Hey, it’s time to go now! Come on!”
But the man wouldn’t budge. Wouldn’t talk. Wouldn’t even look at Burl.
Molly saw how the beard swallowed the man’s face up. Covering his entire neck... His shoulders were only broader. His frame at war with the trench coat.
Burl looked over at Molly. A quick exchange of nervous glances.
Molly reached toward him. “I’ll just call-”
Dodging her grasp, Burl turned his attention to the man. Now the trucker was pissed. His face red, his eyes irate. Not only out of ego but to show off for Molly. “Did you hear me!” he shouted. Burl slammed his fist on the table. Coffee splashed from the cup, the dishes and Molly jumped but the stranger didn’t flinch. Their hands never moved.
“Burl-” Molly started.
“I got this!” he interrupted. Still playing tough, Burl leaned in closer. “If you don’t leave right now, we’re calling the cops, buddy! You hear me!” He reached toward the stranger’s arm. “Get the Hell out!”
Like a gunshot, the kitchen door slammed open, startling Burl and Molly.
They turned in time to see Zach step out of the kitchen. His shit-eating grin instantly made Molly groan.
“Really!” she cried.
Laughing, Zach leaned against the front counter. “Hey, I finished cleaning!” He put the phone in his apron pocket. “Can we go now?”
Molly glared at him. “No! Hell no!”
Zach’s smile vanished. His eyes got big, his expression entering fright.
“You just scared the shit out of us!” Molly continued.
Behind her, a blood-curdling snarl erupted! The man’s growl at full throttle.
“Oh shit!” Zach screamed.
Burl and Moll turned around but it was too late.
The stranger’s hand shot straight into Burl’s neck! Extended claws and all!
Blood sprayed across Molly’s horrified face.
The paw moved back-and-forth, rummaging through Burl’s flesh, muffling his painful cries... Journeying through his jugular! The man’s hand twisting what were essentially multiple knives. Creating a blender of gore!
Burl’s beard turned crimson. His screams grew murky, drowned out by the blood pouring from his mouth.
Now standing over six feet tall, the stranger’s red eyes glared at the group. His trench coat ripping at the seams. The khakis full of tears... None of his clothes able to withstand the transformation!
Struggling against the paralyzing panic, Molly stumbled back, teardrops sliding down her face. And when Burl’s dying body began to convulse, she could only scream!
“Aw, fuck!” Zach yelled.
Snarling, the stranger lurched back, hoisting Burl off the ground! Dark wiry hair coated the man from head to toe, even overtaking his beard. His nose contorted into a snout, his ears sprouting into furry antennas. Toenail claws pierced through the Nikes. From outside, the full moon was a spotlight illuminating what was close enough to a werewolf...
At the mercy of the lycanthrope, Burl’s head swiveled about, the claws a string controlling the trucker’s movements.
Burl looked on at Molly. Faint tears mixed in with his blood.
“No!” Molly cried. “Burl!” Weeping, she backed up against the counter. Her and Zach’s helpless sights glued to the looming execution.
Trench Coat Man then got to work. His paw gripped tighter inside Burl’s neck, squeezing the pulpy grue from this human fruit. A crimson waterfall came pouring out!
Fueled by euphoria and a literal bloodlust, the man opened his mouth and went straight for it. All of Burl’s blood and bits fell right into the carnivore’s clutches. On to the huge tongue and ferocious fangs. War paint for his fur.
“Jesus fucking Christ…” Zach said.
The werewolf retracted his paw in a sadistic flourish! A prized chunk of flesh stuck amongst the claws. The meat almost medium rare.
Burl fell to the ground. The Ford cap tumbled off before getting soaked in blood. Burl was somehow still alive… but not for much longer. His mouth moved but nothing came out. His neck a sprinkler shooting out red spurts. He turned and faced Molly. His stare sad and fading fast.
Distraught, Molly put her hands over her mouth. “Oh God… Burl…”
Now the werewolf confronted the two survivors. His red eyes narrowed. A sliver of a smile appearing amongst the fangs.
“No!” Zach cried. He turned and veered toward the front door. “Fuck this!”
“Where are you going!” Molly shouted. Worried, she yanked Zach’s arm, stopping him. “Call the police!”
“Fucking let go of me!”
The werewolf let out a chilling howl! An air raid siren of the wild. His audience showed terrified expressions… Just the reaction he wanted.
Behind the creature, the full moon stayed a spotlight. The diner center stage for this massacre. Burl’s neckpiece still in the werewolf’s grasp, leaking gallons of blood. Between the added muscles and gooey saliva, Trench Coat Man’s transformation was complete.
“I ain’t sticking around!” Zach yelled at Molly. He gave her a rough shove and bolted for the glass door.
“Zach!” she cried. Covered in sweat and her favorite customer’s blood, Molly looked back at the werewolf.
With sickening showmanship, the creature consumed Burl’s flesh off its claw. A delicacy that could only be enjoyed in slow, methodical munches. Finger-lickin’ good...
Molly watched in disgust. Shivering in the Florida heat.
Glowering, the wolfman made her watch every bite. Working his way down each claw, each gooey piece of meat one by one.
Molly couldn’t watch any longer. She turned away in horror. Then the sadness hit once she saw Burl lying motionless on the ground. He was paler than ever. His dead eyes still on her. The neck still spewing blood.
“No… Burl…” Molly said.
The werewolf released another howl! One of glee rather than anger. The creature loving this lycanthrope limelight.
Backed up against the counter, Molly retrieved her phone. A desperate attempt at 911...
Until she heard heavy footsteps near the front door. Molly looked up to see Zach ready to push his way out.
In a frenzied panic, Zach waved her over. “Come on!”
Molly jammed the phone in her pocket and rushed toward him. The adrenaline carrying her courage.
The creature fixated his glare on her. Growling, he reached out and swung a left hook, the outstretched paw just missing Molly!
More of Burl’s blood hit her but Molly cringed and kept going. She stopped next to Zach. “Let’s go!”
“Alright!” Zach responded. He was ready to lead the way. Ready for this triumphant exit. He threw himself against the door.
A simultaneous BANG and SQUISH smashed against the glass!
Both Zach and Molly jumped back. Reserves of fear surged through them.
“Shit!” Molly screamed.
Like a splattered bug, Jackie Crawford’s body was pressed hard against the glass. Blood dripped down the door. Through the cracked glass, Jackie’s eyes were wide open in fear, his mouth wide open to scream. Deep slices and scratches leaving his dead face in fragments.
Under the vague lights, Jackie’s organs and intestines were seen dangling out. Gory sausages and scrambled eggs his diner could’ve used… Jackie himself a human blockade trapping everyone inside!
“Aw, fuck!” Zach yelled. His quick pathetic attempts to budge the door went nowhere. “We’re fucked!”
Molly grabbed Zach’s arm. “Come on!” Using all her might, she dragged him toward the kitchen.
Zach stole a solemn look at Jackie’s corpse. “But Mr. Crawford-”
“We have to go!” Molly shouted. She pressed on, even as their feet kicked up blood. Struggling through the crimson quicksand.
The next roar was loud! And close...
Turning, Molly saw the werewolf lunge toward them. But she wasn’t gonna stop! Instead, she picked up the pace. Channeling enough strength to carry the nervous twenty-four-year-old with her! She could feel Zach’s every tremble and shiver.
The werewolf’s heavy breathing echoed all around them. The smell of carnage all the more nauseating in the heat.
Molly and Zach passed the front counter. The kitchen door well within reach. Still holding on to Zach, Molly reached for it.
But then Molly felt a sudden pull from a primeval force!
“No!” Zach screamed.
Molly felt Zach fly out of her grasp! Then felt the counter’s brute force slamming into her hip. She cried out in pain.
“Molly!” Zach screamed. He gasped for breath. His screams quickly suppressed into a whimpering.
Like a frightened mother, Molly looked on, her terror at a crippling crescendo. “Oh God… no!”
Lurking just a few feet away, the werewolf raised Zach in the air. Both clawed paws sunk deep into the cook’s neck. The red rivers flowing all along those furry arms.
Zach struggled and kicked his feet. Squirmed in the creature’s sharp clutches. An agonizing, low yell was all that could escape his lips.
Now part of the show, Zach could do nothing but participate in the evil performance. Molly unable to do anything but be a helpless audience.
“Zach!” Molly screamed.
Savoring the sadism, the werewolf faced Molly. He held on to Zach with ease. Held Molly’s attention with relish. The monster exhibiting great strength and agility…
“Let him go, Goddammit!” Molly cried. “Drop him!”
The werewolf’s smile of fangs returned. Now he clasped his claws tighter into Zach’s neck, creating a slow rise of the guillotine’s blade… Zach with no choice but to watch those paws get tighter and tighter. Wolfman enjoying every second of it.
Zach lurched back, his face contorting in pain. Blood instead of words came out his mouth. His swaying, his swinging, his pitiful attempts at escape only heightened the torture. And sped up his own inevitable demise.
Unable to hold back tears, Molly rushed toward them. “Zach!”
The werewolf’s guillotine was ready to come hurtling down…
In a triumphant squeeze, wolfman compressed his claws! A sudden clap burst through the flesh, popping the jugular balloon!
Blood sprayed across Molly. Her hair now even redder.
Zach’s head tumbled straight down! Straight to the floor. Molly jumped back on the first bounce. Fell back against the counter on the second. And then let out a devastating scream when the severed head came to a rest! Zach’s eyes blinking before death.
Blood and gore gave the diner a long-needed renovation.
Now the werewolf lunged in for a feast, gnawing and munching upon Zach’s neck. An all-you-can-eat buffet of human flesh. His snarls and grunts full of pleasure as he made his way down to Zach’s collarbone… Wolfman always one messy eater...
Molly stood still, going out of breath. Simultaneously shocked and scared.
Act II of the violent production continued. Zach finally stopped blinking. His severed head an all-too-real prop. The werewolf now turning most of Zach’s neck into a disappearing act.
The surreal sight chilled Molly to the bone. There was the gore. The werewolf’s carnal strength. His chorus of excited snarls.
“God…” Snapping out of her disturbed daze, Molly retrieved her phone and immediately started dialing 911.
Another howl rejuvenated Molly’s anxiety! She stopped and confronted the creature. Now able to see the man hadn’t grown much taller… just scarier. Especially covered in her co-workers’ blood and grue. He’s a rabid wolf on two legs...
During the feeding frenzy, the werewolf howled again and again. Long bellows from the depths of a dark soul.
Even amidst the scattered blood, Molly could see the saliva slinging off his mouth. She felt her heart sink. Felt her hands tremble. She knew... Wolfman was ready for Act III.
Molly made her way behind the counter. Got ready to mash the call button.
When a CRASH erupted*!* Glass flew everywhere! One shard stuck out the back of Zach’s head.
A growl drifted through the diner! Then more howls… a whole creepy chorus of them.
Frightened, Molly looked on as the call connected
Jackie’s mangled face leaned in through the broken glass, perched right up above the door handle. Now Molly got a better view of those deep slices. How Jackie’s face had been turned into shredded cheese. The old man’s tongue hanging out in dead dog fashion.
But what elevated Molly’s terror wasn’t the dead boss. Nor how the shattered door revealed an even brighter full moon. What shook her to the core were the howls roaring through the rural isolation! Howls so similar to Trench Coat Man’s... just as hungry and unsettling and fierce. They’re everywhere!
“No…” Molly said. She turned toward the werewolf. He stood there, confident. Zach’s decapitated corpse at his feet. The monster ready for back-up.
“911, what’s your emergency?” said a disembodied female voice. The first calm voice Molly Campbell had heard in an eternity.
Panicking, Molly put the phone to her ear. Wishing she could dissolve through the iPhone and straight into the operator’s arms. “Come to Crawford’s Diner! It’s on the Tallahassee highway, and. And there’s animals in here, they’re killing everybody!” At first, Molly was wanting to sound collected but that was fucking impossible right now.
There was no night breeze. Nothing that could soothe Molly’s sweltering unease. Especially once she saw Trench Coat Werewolf turn toward the door. And then heard more of those emphatic howls entering the restaurant.
Of course, the operator couldn’t match Molly’s intensity. No one could. “Ma’am, what’s your name-”
“Two people are dead!” Molly screamed. Trench Coat Werewolf’s guttural growl erupted, making Molly cringe. The sound a battle cry. “Just hurry! Send somebody!”
“Ma’am, we’ve got-”
A ferocious energy knocked the front doors down, sending Jackie’s corpse SPLATTERING near the counter. Right in front of Molly.
“Oh God! Mr. Crawford!” Molly shouted.
All the glass glistened around the three dead bodies. For a second, Molly stood transfixed by the sight. Particularly the glowing remnants clustered along the werewolf’s fur… Jewelry for the creature’s gory glory.
“Ma’am!” the operator’s voice said, finally showing some concern.
ROARS ripped through the atmosphere. Each of them scary, but each of them different in tone and strength.
“Ma’am, are you there!?” the operator continued.
Clutching the phone, Molly scanned the battlefield. Trench Coat Werewolf stayed right where he was, baying at the front doorway. All the other howls and snarls got louder. Their power rattled the other windows. Molly even felt the floor tremble…
“Aw, fuck…” she cried.
Heavy footsteps scurried about outside. They were fast, frenetic. The sounds of stealthy stalkers.
“Ma’am!” the operator said.
Molly now backed into the kitchen door. Her feet crunching countless glass, forming a maddening rhythm, interrupted only by the occasional puddle of blood.
But no matter the horror, Molly couldn’t turn and run. Couldn’t force herself to look away or cover her eyes. No matter how much the dread decimated her or how disturbing this crime scene was or how sickening that smell of grease and death had swelled, Molly just had to see more.
The star werewolf looked right at her. The sinister smirk marking Molly. With triumph, he leaned back and let out his loudest howl yet! One straight from the heart. Driven by excitement. The stuff that wolfpacks are made of!
Molly didn’t have time to react.
In a split second, the werewolf’s supporting cast leaped through the other windows! Four in a row. More sparkling crystals for the diner’s tomb.
But Molly couldn’t move. The sweat and blood kept the clothes stuck to her skin. The heat melting her into the door. Besides the unease, she was awestruck. Trench Coat Werewolf’s final act had left her anything but disappointed. Somehow, the reveal seemed worth the tragedy. Worth the slaughter.
A female werewolf now stood hunched over by the door. She was almost as tall as Trench Coat and just as muscular. Her business suit tattered and torn. Long blonde hair scattered amongst the dark fur. Amidst the smeared blood, faint make-up could be seen on that horrifying face. Lipstick adding a vivid red for her fangs.
The other creatures stood a little bit shorter and skinnier. Juvenile delinquents dressed in high school clothes. The jeans with more holes and tears than usual. One male put an arm around his female companion. An obvious young couple. Lycanthrope love.
All those red eyes stayed on Molly. The saliva smiles as well. The snarls surrounded her. The growls and howls. All the creatures walking on long lumbering legs. Together, they formed a rabid congregation commanded by that strange man in the trench coat.
Molly remained slouched back against the door. She had no choice but to show fear… and fascination.What she was seeing was beyond human comprehension. Cryptic Cryptids that no one had ever seen before… or lived long enough to tell the tale.
“Ma’am, are you there!” shouted the operator.
The alarm shook Molly from the hold of this extraordinary encounter. From the grip of the weird, wondrous werewolves. Through the terror, Molly felt each and every creature watching her. The werewolves enjoying the torturous tension as they deliberated on their dessert.
Business Suit licked her lips.
“Hello!” the dispatcher shouted. “Ma’am!”
Molly jammed the phone to her ear. Submerging it into her skull. Her subconscious. “Send someone!”
The gang of wolves took a menacing step closer. Their congregation in sync. One of the teens pretended to lunge at Molly while another swiped their paw in the air. Cheap tricks to make Molly flinch that worked.
Molly’s grip grew tighter to the phone. Hanging on for dear life.
“We’re sending someone-” the operator started.
“Bring a shitload of silver bullets!” Molly interrupted.
With the tumultuous start of a turntable, the jukebox erupted with The Platters’ “Blue Moon”. The bombastic harmonies startled Molly, making her drop her phone. The incessant tempo matching her pounding heart. Her fright.
“They’re on the way!” said the operator, her yells buried beneath the song.
Blue mooon…
Another howl hit Molly! She looked toward the jukebox. The eyesore antique aglow with life.
You saw me standing alooone...
Molly saw a creature leaning against the jukebox, this werewolf the de facto leader of the teenage pack. His blue jeans and black leather jacket even tighter over the fur and muscles. The young man bringing I Was A Teenage Werewolf to chilling 2020 life.
Without a dream in my hearrrt….
Crawford’s speakers never sounded so loud. The doo-wop was deafening. The backing vocals baying for blood.
The creatures roared with approval! This classic track ready to get the werewolf party started… much to Molly’s unease.
Without a love of my owwwn!
The gruesome group got closer. Their growls and fangs horrifying.
Having fun, the teen leader slid a claw along one of the tables. The long, agonizing screech further unnerving Molly’s soul.
Trembling, Molly pointed at the werewolfpack. Unable to feign toughness. Not when she was this fucking scared. “Get the Hell out of here!”
She got nothing but two choruses. The Platters’ elegant and pretty. The creatures animalistic and savage. One full of soul. The other merciless. .
Blue mooon, blue moon, blue mooon, blue moon
“Get the fuck out!” Molly screamed.
The monsters marched for their prey. For Molly.
Trench Coat Werewolf got in the lead. With a smirk and a snarl, he raised his left paw to lead the charge. These wolves faster on hind legs than all fours.
A shivering mess, Molly pushed open the kitchen door and jumped inside. Into a bomb shelter of stifling humidity and trash but an upgrade over the diner’s carnage. She grabbed a steak knife.
A long, drawn-out howl was heard.
Molly whirled around. One hand ready to slam the door, the other clinging to the first silver weapon she saw.
Snarling for flesh, the werewolves charged past the counter. Their claws and teeth ready to devour anything in its path.
Sitting between Julie and Mack, Anne took command of the latest call. “So what happened?” she said into the mic.
“I was terrified!” shouted the caller, the familiar voice emanating off the speakers. The voice belonging to none other than Molly Campbell. “I didn’t know what to do, the werewolves just kept coming after me!” Her heavy breathing overtook the airwaves. Her sobs theatrical. “They were hungry, Annie!”
“Anne not Annie,” Anne replied with snark to spare.
Her co-host Julie chuckled.
“Mr. Crawford and Burl were dead!” Molly continued. “They slaughtered them!"
Decades of radio and podcasts helped Anne hide her smirk. But still in her mid-twenties, Julie was unable to repress the laughter.
“I’m serious!” cried Molly’s defensive wrath. “I’m not lying, Anne! I saw them kill them at Crawford’s diner! They did it!”
Skeptical, Anne stole a look at the laptop. Many lights were beaming on screen. Dedicated callers awaiting their turn at a North Florida fifteen minutes of fame…
“They, they were closing in on me!” Molly yelled, her voice getting shriller. “They were running inside the kitchen, Anne, I’m telling you! Every single Goddamn one of them! You've gotta believe me!"
To
submitted by thehorrorwriter2 to DarkTales


Humans Are Architects [CH2]

Having received a surprising amount of support for my first story, I have decided to continue the series. I am always looking to improve my writing skills; please give honest, critical feedback.
It had been six years since Earth's first battle with the United Syndicate. Many new technologies were learned through the reverse-engineering of the Syndicate ships and the interrogation of their crews. Earth's defence forces were now equipped with energy shields and powerful sensors. The Syndicate fusion reactor designs were being used all over Earth, creating for the first time an economy where electricity was practically free. However, not one sapient on any captured ship knew how the hyperdrive worked. Some of them knew how to maintain it, but they didn't know how to make fuel for it -- and the logistics craft had been destroyed in the battle. Stuck in their home system, over the past six years the nations of Earth had worked together in relative harmony to create the most powerful defenses possible.
The first sign that something was wrong came when the hyperlane exit point began glowing again. The exit portal was an order of magnitude brighter than it was when the Fifth Frontier Fleet had moved into the system. Human scientists calculated the size of the incoming fleet, and it was much, much larger than expected. The United Syndicate no longer considered Earth to be a bureaucratic hassle -- humanity had proven itself to be a military threat.
The Syndicate warships arrived to a death-trap. As soon as they dropped out of hyperspace, hundreds of gigatons of laser-catalysed fusion bombs exploded, sending shrapnel and radiation in all directions. Briefly, from Earth's perspective, they outshone every star in the sky a hundred times over. At the same time, the defence stations near the sun blasted the incoming fleet with randomly distributed lasers.
Twenty ships, mostly smaller ones, were destroyed in seconds. Even the largest capital ships had their sensors blinded by all the bombs. The lasers continued unabated. Then, the attacking fleet, still more than a hundred spacecraft strong, raised their combat shields.
Even the massive laser arrays could not penetrate the capital ship shields once they were fully operational. An electromagnetic pulse cannon, built into a large ice-ball in the Kuiper Belt, was able to destabilize the shield of one ship... for a few milliseconds. (The cannon in question was promptly destroyed using an antimatter missile.) A desperate attack by a suicidal drone fleet was shut down by a Syndicate laser CIWS. Upon seeing the utter failure of the most powerful Earth weapons, many human captains decided to run, hide, or (in the case of automated ships) self-destruct. Within twelve hours of the attack, the commanders of the Sol Defence Stations unanimously agreed to scuttle the laser arrays and surrender. Governments Earthside also surrendered a few minutes later. The second battle of Sol was over. The occupation of Earth was about to begin.
"Comm line is open. Report."
"We have successfully destroyed all local space-based military assets. Interrogation of prisoners has revealed that the enemy has been unsuccessful in reverse-engineering our hyperdrives. All members of the Human ruling caste have been sent to the Core Worlds for re-education. We'll leave a small guard force to keep the workers in line until we can colonize this world. No rush, though -- it's pretty much barren, and there's a lot of dangerous wildlife."
"Understood. We'll get some agents along when we have the chance. In the meantime, your fleet is recalled to Arcturan Station in Sector C37 -- tensions are heating up. We'll send an order package shortly."
"Yessir. The fleet will be underway within a standard cycle."
Somewhere in Nunavut, there was a cabin. In the basement of the cabin sat half a dozen humans, who drank, complained about the alien occupation, and drank some more.
"You know," said Daviad, who had drank quite a lot by this point, "We've got guns and stuff. We should kick the nasty buggers out!"
Deniigi agreed with the general concept, but found some flaws with the proposed solution. "I don't think it's so easy. If we start shooting aliens, they send more. Or just bomb us."
"Only if they think it's us who need bombing" said Sulvan. "Say, do you still have that bear muppet?"
With a large hiccough, Daviad nodded.
"In that case, I think I have a plan. It starts with warning the aliens about the dangers of bears..."
The New Zealand Aerospace Museum was home to many artifacts of the past. From an ageing Sopwith Camel to the only surviving Falcon rocket, its collection was one of the largest worldwide. In the cockpit of SpaceShipOne, Ricard, the head curator, was speaking with a local welder.
"So, anyway... if you want me to lose any of the smaller pieces, I'm sure that can be arranged. I have some plans that you can take a look at too, if you want."
"Uh, truth be told, I may already have some stuff in my garage. I've figured out a recipe for ablative armour that seems quite effective."
"Really? Have you tested it?"
"Yah. Not nearly as good as the military stuff, but it's dirt cheap. I've been trying to build a shield generator, too, but the commercial designs require some sort of ceramic thing that the aliens have banned."
"Well, congratulations on the ablative armour, at least. If you need anything, let me know."
(21:27:14) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: yeah so don't say what your doing for secrecy but we should probably coordinate somehow
(21:27:48) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: Good idea. How about we all do our stuff six months from today?
(21:28:33) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: 4th of july? bad idea. their going to be paying more attn then other days
(21:29:27) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: Oh, I hadn't thought of that. 1st of August, then? I have all the info from the pre-conquest interrogations (don't ask how), and turns out the aliens don't like the heat, so they might fight at lower effectiveness.
(21:29:54) guest1 [message encrypted]: you really think we can do this?
(21:30:16) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: 9mil of us and 5k of them. why not?
(21:30:18) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: We have to try. And plus, they don't seem to think we'll do anything at all. We have the initiative here.
(21:30:48) guest1 [message encrypted]: Get the word out, then. Coordination only works if we're coordinated.
(21:31:05) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: but if the slimies know were doing it they'll kill us, so get the word out *quietly*
(21:31:16) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: "slimies"? Really?
(21:31:36`) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: im trying to invent new racial slurs here
(21:31:40) HumanGuy838 [message encrypted]: be positive
"Anyway", explained Pau, a construction worker, "I have a plan."
Ella, his longtime friend, was dubious. "Oh, really? And this time it won't be something like 'punch a xeno in the face day'?"
"When will I ever live that down? No, this one is sensible. We build tanks and attack the aliens until they stop fighting back. We then proceed to liberate other towns, one after another, with our tanks."
"You had me convinced until "tanks". Where do we get tanks?"
"Well, I was wondering about that too. Then I remembered an old folktale that my ma told me."
"Oh, perfect! Folktales! Should we call upon the faeries for aid too?"
"Hear me out. If you knew the story, you might understand. Have I ever told you the story of the reasonable man who did unreasonable things?"
Daviad spoke in a low whisper. "They're entering the cave. Be very, very quiet... okay, now. Go in with the bear."
Sulvan and one other person, animating the bear muppet, walked up to the mouth of the cave and played some prerecorded angry bear noises through a portable speaker. After a few moments Daviad whispered again. "Alright, they've probably told their superiors about the bear. Now activate the radio jammer. Let's get the party started."
As they entered the cave, Zorpak activated his headlamp. The wildlife monitoring team looked around cautiously, wary of the dangerous wildlife the locals had warned them about. Zorpak took out a small biomonitor and began scanning the area. Suddenly, the device beeped, the mini-map indicating they were surrounded by warm-blooded animals. Then a loud noise came from the cave entrance: a low, animal growl.
Zorpak whirled around and saw the bear, which was now letting out a loud roar. He shouted into the radio. "Bear! There's a bear! Remember what they told us, everyone! Get close together and wave your arms!"
The bear didn't seem intimidated, roaring again and beginning to stalk towards the wildlife team. Every aspect of its movement made it out to be a vicious predator. Zorpak raised the Bear Spray, a chemical weapon developed by the natives to fight these creatures. He squeezed the trigger, squirting a acrid cloud of mist towards the bear. The bear shook itself off and continued. Zorpak became frightened, shouting into his radio. "I used the Bear Spray and it didn't work! It didn't work!"
Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, the response from the base was nothing but static. Zorpak's teammates tapped their headsets too, indicating their radios were broken. The bear was still advancing.
After the entire team let loose a second salvo of Bear Spray to absolutely no effect, Zorpak gave the order to switch to mag-rifles. It was in that moment, when they were fumbling with their weapons, holding neither Bear Spray nor mag-rifles, that the bear collapsed into a heap, bright lights turned on all around them, and a human voice boomed from a megaphone: "We have you surrounded. Drop your weapons, NOW!"
A terrified Zorpak was the first to comply.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the revolution" began Ricard with some theatricality, "In several months' time, you will be shooting yourselves into space to fight the oppressor in orbit."
He waited for the cheers to die down before continuing.
"With all due respect to our engineers, who have developed and built military hardware in less time and with fewer resources than it took me to build my shed, your ships are terrible."
The engineers, tired from weeks of sleepless nights and the knowledge of more to come, nodded agreement.
"Your weapons are little better than pop-guns. You don't have any shields at all, and your armour is made from tar and baking supplies. Your engines were stolen from ageing museum pieces! In every engagement you fight, the enemy will have larger ships than you, better weapons than you, and will have the defender's advantage."
The entire room was now giving him their full attention. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- Ricard's flair for the dramatic, he was a very powerful speaker.
"The only way that we can win this is through superior skill, tactics, and the element of surprise. I am therefore tasked with turning you out-of-work asteroid miners into useful fighter pilots. It will take time, and it will be hard, but if we all put in as much work as we can, we can pull it off."
(06:48:11) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: Managed to capture some alien troops last night.
(06:54:27) P0weredByCaffeine [message encrypted]: Dammit! Now they know there's a resistance movement! You complete IDIOT!
(06:55:09) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: Calm down, we jammed their comms and framed bears. And now we have some shiny new alien toys.
(06:55:38) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: Be nice, Caffeine. And Yeti, do tell!
(06:55:46) P0weredByCaffeine [message encrypted]: sorry
(06:56:01) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: No worries, secrecy's important. Anyway, we now have translators. I'll post a torrent once our resident egghead turns it into something that can run on human computers. Also weapons and power armour.
(06:56:26) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: Are their weapons / armour even remotely usable by a human?
(06:56:58) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: Well, when you get down to it they're basically humans. Sure, they have three legs, curved spines, don't really have heads, but they could easily be a weird earth animal. We think we can mod their suits for human users.
(06:57:18) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: and as for the guns, we rip 'em apart and build our own guns using the parts. It's easier that way.
(06:57:19) P0weredByCaffeine [message encrypted]: I guess so, that makes sense.
(06:57:45) TheFlyingYeti [message encrypted]: Anyway, with the alien gear, we'll do some crazy awesome stuff on Aug. 1st.
(06:58:13) AzureDiamondhunter2 [message encrypted]: I look forward to congratulating you in person when you succeed.
Ella climbed onto the soapbox and surveyed the tanks. There were six massive hulks of concrete and steel standing before her, bristling with weapons. To the side sat twelve smaller vehicles, covered in corrugated armour with several gun-ports. The large ones were indeed based on Pau's story, but wanting a bit more mobility, Ella had dug up and modernized an old design New Zealand had used during the Second World War. Noticing that the tank crews were waiting for her to speak, she began.
"Right now, we're doing a last-minute retrofit, because we just found some designs for shield generators that only use materials we have access to. We will still deploy on schedule. We're going to be joining up with a commando force from the Canadian arctic -- they're going to be great mobile firepower, seeing as our tanks are pretty slow."
One of the commanders called out to her. "We gonna be doing some more training, then, to learn how to coordinate with 'em?"
Ella considered this for a moment. Ideally, the crew should have some training to work with the Canadians -- but this was such short notice, and they were going to move out in less than a day. She decided that morale and alertness would be more useful than a few hours of training.
"We've done so many scenarios with infantry support that I don't think that will be necessary. Today may be your last day on Earth. Do whatever you want with your time -- but please show up tomorrow well-rested and without hangovers."
As the crews gratefully set off to enjoy themselves, Ella knew that she didn't have to worry about them getting drunk or staying up all night. They wanted to be alert as much as she did. She wouldn't allow herself any relaxation, though. As soon as they left, she took out one of the folders she used for tactical notes, and began sketching revised battle-plans that included the commando forces.
Daviad woke up to the sound of the alarm and quietly got dressed. Today was the day. In about two and a half hours, the improvised tanks should be rolling into town. He and his friends had spent a lot of money to rent these hotel rooms, but it would be worth it -- the balconies provided great firing positions. Plus, they needed a place to sleep.
After hanging the Do-Not-Disturb card on the doorknob and blocking the door with a chair, Daviad roused the rest of the team. After eating a quick breakfast, everyone began checking their weapons, confirming that everything was charged and ready. Seven months, four ambushes, all leading up to today. The atmosphere was very tense.
After what felt like days of waiting, Daviad received an encrypted message. It was short and to the point. "Entering town. Prepare for a fight."
In a farmer's field, at around fifty minutes to midnight local time, three dozen rockets were revealed. They had been smuggled in and carefully hidden for the past week, but now they were almost ready to launch.
The platoon leader checked his watch. The next alien occupation air patrol would be coming in three hours. Although the timing was tight, they had to complete all the checks before they could safely launch.
The pilots sat in their fighter capsules as technicians scurried about, testing and checking. Some tests were somewhat improvised: the technicians would fire an antipersonnel laser at each capsule twice, once to test the shield, and then with the shield turned off to test the armour. One of the capsules had a defective shield, which "flickered" slightly, allowing some of the laser through. The ablative armour held up, and the technician knew there was no time to troubleshoot it -- he simply swapped it for the spare shield generator, and then confirmed that the new shield worked.
One of the command capsules, which had a crew of three, had a slow leak. With only thirty minutes to launch, the technicians, with the help of the crew, lathered the outer hull with dish soap while overpressurizing the capsule, welded a small cap over the source of the bubbles (and therefore the leak), and covered the area in duct tape. The crew made sure to triple-check their pressure suits. Just in case.
"Mission Control" was the semi-sarcastic name given to a group of computers and radios in a nearby cave. They supervised the setup, but they also had several news channels running on TVs in the background. When they started to see a Breaking News story about enormous war machines moving into a small town in Texas, with other reports of riots and resistance coming in, they decided to trigger the launch. All the important checks were done, and the technicians were ready to get away from the rockets at a moment's notice. Within two minutes of the decision, there were multiple loud booms as forty people in thirty-six makeshift rockets began blasting towards their increasingly confused enemy.
"Sir, we're getting reports of a disturbance in Sector B4-Central, planetside."
The commander of the occupation forces took a sip of coffee, a drink he developed a fondness for after a friend in the exploration team introduced it to him. "What kind of disturbance?"
"The natives, uh, appear to have formed a small army. They're declaring independence from the United Syndicate, sir."
There had been a few members of the ruling caste who had escaped immediate detection, but they were only able to evade capture for a few weeks. Had one remained hidden and raised an army-in-exile? The commander decided to start with a simple question.
"They seem to be unhappy with us, sir. They want to end the occupation. We checked the archives, and it seems to be a quirk with this species, they attack their rulers every so often. I've prepared some literature from the former local ruling caste on how to deal with it."
"As long as it remains isolated it can probably be controlled. Deploy some light vehicles, but I don't want any shooting if it can be avoided. I'll look at the info."
As the orders were relayed to the planet, the commander began to skim the first digitized book.
"Let's see... I'll start with Chapter Six -- this is no principality, but it was conquered through 'our own arms and ability'."
Pau was in the lead tank, inside a steel bathtub. There were no windows -- instead, three large monitors displayed the live feed from six cameras on the shell of the vehicle, and one camera from each other tank. The cannon was controlled remotely. Although there were three people in the tank, they all had armour between them, and any one of them could control all functions if the other two were incapacitated.
The tanks made it a decent ways to the centre of town before a few alien vehicles made a roadblock. The alien vehicles shouted an ultimatum through loudspeakers -- something about surrender. Pau spoke into his headset. "What is that thing, and can we fight it?"
He got a response. "They're basically patrol buggies. Their plinky mag-cannon can't hurt our big tanks, but they might pose a threat to the smaller ones."
A quick evaluation: They had six large armored vehicles and twelve small ones. Each of their vehicles had a cannon large enough to damage the enemy, who had brought four buggies. This was decidedly unfair, and it was probably a good idea to keep it that way.
"All units: fire at will."
The buggies were efficiently replaced with smoking wrecks. Only one managed to get a shot off, and that shot was absorbed by Pau's tank's shield. As the armoured vehicles continued moving forwards, Pau activated his vehicle's integrated bullhorns and began ad-libbing a call to arms. "All citizens of Earth, join us! This is a revolution! The occupying tyrants are unprepared and caught by surprise!" He continued at some length. At first no-one reacted, most people still hiding in their homes. Then the pre-planted actors came out of their houses, intentionally drawing attention to themselves. It had the desired effect: Once a few people moved, peer pressure kicked in. More and more people armed themselves however they could and joined the group. Soon there was a mob five hundred strong, chanting and yelling, moving towards the spaceport that was the primary target of the attack.
The constellation of thirty-six spacecraft entered an eccentric polar orbit around Earth. Their orbit would swing them all the way up to the alien space station, they would do a quick flyby, and then hopefully fall back towards Earth before taking too much damage from the station's guns. Their goal on the first pass was to disable as many surface-mounted components as possible.
There was no hope of sneaking up on it. Geostationary orbit was far away from Earth, so the station saw them coming a long way away. Within minutes of the station coming over the horizon, two ships near the station started burning to intercept the fighter constellation. In one of the three-person capsules, Ricard, in command of the constellation, pulled up an image of the incoming ships.
They were nearly identical: two ships of the same class. They were fifty metres from bow to stern and eighteen metres across at their widest point. They appeared very aerodynamic, so they were probably designed with atmospheric flight in mind. They were accelerating at 0.1 gees, so they didn't have as good a thrust-to-weight ratio as the fighters -- but given their size, they probably had fusion reactors, meaning they had almost unlimited ∆v. The commander noticed similarities to the smaller ships of the first alien attack, so these ships were probably fairly old. Nonetheless, they each had two railgun turrets, and Ricard thought it unlikely that the human shields could absorb a single hit from one of them. They would have to evade.
The alien vessels were hurtling towards the constellation, and their radars were scanning. Their railguns -- or rather, the radars aiming the railguns -- were not accurate enough to be effective at this range, but once they got within about six or seven hundred kilometres they would be deadly. Although the constellation would only be within six hundred kilometres for less than two minutes, that would still be enough for most of them to get shot.
Ricard split the constellation into four smaller groups. As they approached five thousand kilometres from the alien vessels, each group burned in a different direction. The orbital change was significant, and it would be impossible for each alien ship to intercept more than one sub-constellation per orbit.
The two alien vessels did not split up. Both burned nadir, pushing themselves towards Ricard's group. After sending a message to the other sub-constellations, Ricard made a plan to hopefully evade the two ships.
At ten minutes to contact, he had his group burn prograde. The plan would involve entering the effective range of the railguns, and he didn't want to stay there for very long. Accelerating seemed like a good idea.
One minute to contact. He grabbed his mic. "Everyone, point zenith, prepare to burn." RCS thrusters fired, bringing all the fighters pointing in the same direction.
Ten seconds to contact. It was time. "Everyone, burn now!"
The first railgun shell missed due to the unexpected acceleration. The alien ships slowly rotated and began burning zenith to follow the fighters, but they were outpaced by the fighters' superior acceleration. They continued firing, and four fighters were destroyed. Their pilots died instantly, the kinetic force of the impact roughly equivalent to a small nuclear bomb. The fighters' responding shots were largely ineffective, dealing some superficial damage but little else.
Very soon, the fighters were out of effective railgun range, the alien ships carried away by their own orbital velocity. The alien ships were practically undamaged, and half of Ricard's sub-constellation had been destroyed, but at least it would be more than an hour before the ships came around the planet and would be able to engage the fighters again. Ricard ordered a small correction burn, bringing the remainder of his sub-constellation back to intercept the station and join up with the rest of the fighters.
The commander of the occupation forces cursed at his aide. "Your books are useless! The first one is a rant about mercenaries that repeatedly insults the reader. The second one is a song about how human blood is a fertilizer. And this! This is an autobiography of a man who never existed, living in a colony that never existed, who started an organization that never existed to fight another organization that never existed, and explaining capitalism, AI, and railguns along the way!"
The aide apologized profusely. "I'm sorry, sir, this is what our searches came up with. I can try again if you'd like."
The commander rolled his shoulder, roughly the equivalent of a human shaking their head. "That probably won't help. What's the status on those unregistered spacecraft?"
"They've evaded our intercepting ships and are headed our way, sir. We estimate they'll be within range in one twentieth of a local cycle."
The commander cursed again. There officially aren't any swear words in United-Standard, but unofficially there are many vulgar loan words and rude idioms. "Stupid out-of-date landing craft! How am I supposed to fight a battle with a pair of glorified transports?"
After taking a moment to compose himself and looking at the map, he gave some new orders. "I want the ships to return to synchronous orbit near the station. They can't evade us if we don't chase them. Get all hands to battle-stations, but maintain the hold on communications for now. Planetside command is still delegated to regional leaders. Ideally we can deal with this without getting either of us being brought before a tribunal for incompetence."
Daviad saw the mob moving downtown. Light tanks patrolled through the alleyways as the heavy tanks (and a few light ones) moved down the middle of the road. The crowd energy was intense, and Daviad took the opportunity to pump his team up a bit, and soon everyone in the room was whooping and cheering.
The cheering was silenced by the engine sounds of three alien helicopters. They descended near the crowd and hovered at building level. A few seconds passed, and a third of the crowd fell to the ground, screaming in pain. Some sort of microwave weapon, thought Daviad. Yep, one of the helicopters has a big antenna on it. He took aim with his plasma rifle, motioning for his teammates to do the same with their weapons. On the count of three, they fired.
The plasma shot tore through the helicopter's fuselage as the kinetic projectiles damaged the antenna and stabilizer propeller. The helicopter spun out of control, crashing into a house. Daviad winced, not knowing if there was anyone in the house. He took aim at the second helicopter anyway.
The other two helicopters fired into the crowd, not recognizing where the shots had came from. Daviad's team destroyed the second helicopter as the tanks tore into the third with heavy machine-guns.
Some fifteen people had been shot in the few seconds before the helicopters were taken down. Far from pacifying the mob, this simply incensed them. This was no longer a rabble -- it was a riot.
The alien soldiers guarding the spaceport had little to no combat experience. They were utterly unprepared for the wave of screaming humans that descended upon them. One group managed to retreat to a defensible position, and were able to force the mob to retreat. Their success was short-lived, though, as Daviad's crew attacked their position from behind, mag-rifle rounds bouncing off their power armour. Sulvan grabbed a key-card from an alien corpse and opened the door to the spaceport, allowing the mob to pour in as the tanks secured the area.
Pau and Ella exited their tanks, speaking with Daviad's team briefly. Ella had bad news. "They're sending so many troops. Every alien within two thousand kilometres is converging on our position. We're going to be overrun."
Sulvan spoke up. "Aren't there riots breaking out everywhere? How can they send everyone our way?"
Ella looked down. "Most of them have already been suppressed. Not everyone has tanks or power armour."
Pau looked at the spaceport. "I've got an idea. Let's go to space."
On board the Orenat, the cargo freighter landed at the spaceport, two dozen alien guards pointed their guns towards the cargo hatch. With the freighter landed, control priority was held by the spaceport to facilitate loading of cargo. Even though the spaceport was overrun, controls inside the spaceport still overrode those inside the spaceship.
As the hatch opened, flash-bang grenades and bullets flew in as mag-rifle rounds flew out. The firefight was brief, with power armour-wearing humans charging in to surround the defenders. Within two minutes, the mob had reached the bridge.
The human leader spoke United-Standard in a robotic voice. With the power armour covering his entire body, he almost looked robotic itself. Along with all the other humans, he had his rifle pointed at the surrendering alien on the bridge.
"Alright, you. You are the captain of this ship, correct?"
The captain meekly responded in the affirmative.
"My allies have sent me schematics for this ship. I know its capabilities. Do not try to fool me. Activate life-support in the cargo holds and take off. Do not make any transmissions."
The captain unsteadily got up and began pre-flight procedures.
Erenchiz, in command of the two alien ships in orbit and captain of the Meranin, received the distress call from the Orenat.
Only one ship would be needed for the rescue, so Erenchiz moved to rendezvous with the Orenat and left the other ship on intercept with the fighter constellation.
Next to the Meranin's interior hatch, medics were standing at the ready. A field hospital had been set up as they waited for injured to come onboard. The distress message had not told them how many evacuees there were, so every patch of floor, wall, or ceiling had been converted to a sleeping area. As the hatch unsealed, Erenchiz floated towards it and extended his appendages in greeting.
It came as a shock to all onboard when a flash-bang grenade was flung through the opening.
The boarding action was nearly bloodless. Using the captain and medical personnel as sapient shields, the mob literally flew through the ship and took control of the bridge. The Meranin had no marines on board, and indeed only a few small arms. It was a bigger challenge for Daviad to convince the mob not to kill the prisoners than it was to take them in the first place.
Ricard received the encrypted message: "Alien warship captured. Please rendezvous." Finally, some good news. Unfortunately, his fighters didn't have the ∆v to rendezvous with the captured ship -- it was in an equatorial orbit, and they were in a polar orbit. No matter. He asked that they join up with him and waited. They agreed.
The other ship had returned to the station with less than half an hour to spare. The captured Meranin, along with the constellation of fighters, was on its way. Against larger targets such as the station, the railguns had an effective range of two thousand kilometres. Moving at a relative speed of 4.3 kilometres per second, they would be in range for just under eight minutes -- and would then move away from each other for another eight minutes, but the efficacy of the railguns would then be drastically reduced.
It wasn't even close. Ricard had given the order to use as much ∆v as necessary, so the fighters nimbly accelerated this way and that, dodging hundreds of railgun rounds. The Meranin got the first shot against its erstwhile allies, knocking out one of the station's turrets in the opening salvo. By the time the constellation flew past, the enemy ship was destroyed and the station had been pacified. On board the Meranin, Pau, Daviad, and Ella agreed that they had won -- there was only mop-up left. Amid jubilation and hugging, Ricard yelled at no-one in particular through the radio, his voice playing in the Meranin's bridge. "This is it. It's time to take the fight to our Syndicate friends. No star is safe from us now. I've just reviewed the plans for that ship you're on, and it's true. We have captured the secrets to faster-than-light travel!"
submitted by RandomIsocahedron to HFY