Patrick S. Baker
“No kidding, I was with a broken ankle, fighting a monster the size of a small truck,” I said as I took a long pull of my beer. “With nothing but a forty-four magnum Taurus Raging Bull and a gladius.”
“Bollocks,” my closest neighbor, a big Special Air Service man with a heavy Yorkshire accent said. “Manties don’t get that big, maybe as big as a Cooper Mini, but not a lorry!”
“Let me start at the start,” I requested.
The big SAS man nodded his assent as did the rest of our drinking mates.
“This is what we’re up against, a mantyger. It’s a cousin to the more familiar manticore.” I said as I showed the digitally enhanced picture of the creature on the screen behind me. The monster had red-gold colored bristled fur, a scorpion’s tail, a baboon-like face with notable fangs projecting from its mouth. It had primate hands at the end of its four muscular limbs.
“The wild-life photographer that snapped this picture said it was about twice the size of a Bengal tiger. That makes it about three meters long from nose to tail and about a 1000 to 1200 pounds.”
I let that sink in for a moment and then went on.
“So far this thing has eaten at least three Air Force Academy cadets and a couple of hunters that went looking for it.”
“So, only one?” Shelley asked.
“As far as we know. Presumption is they are like tigers. Solo hunters that only get together to breed.”
The other four members of team grinned and nodded. All were experienced with monsters and knew exactly what that bit of intelligence was worth. That is to say, not much.
“Also, according to the ancients they can shoot poisonous spines from they’re tails. The poison is some kind of neurotoxin. We have an antidote that might work. We land in thirty. That is all from me. Questions?”
There were none.
This was my first mission as a team leader. The team and I were military, but the unit we belonged to wouldn’t show up on any public table of organization and equipment. I didn’t know how many other teams there were like mine, or much of anything else about the organization, except our job was to kill monsters and we were very good at it.
Our C-21A Learjet rolled to a stop on Peterson Air Force base’s standby runway. We were all in Air Force uniforms as so not to attract attention at the Academy. We met our transport. An AF Security Forces captain named Scott was standing by with three Humvees. He and I shook hands and we loaded up. It took three trips with all of us helping to load our gear into the back of the vehicles. I pulled out my tablet and showed him where we wanted to go. Scott merely nodded and told the driver where to go.
“So Captain George,” Scott said to me. “What’s this all about?”
“We’re here to try and capture that escaped lion that has been killing your cadets,” I said, repeating the cover story.
“I wouldn’t think that kind of thing would be classified.”
“Environmentalists,” I said, then added: “PETA.”
Scott nodded knowingly and we finished the thirty-minute ride in silence.
We entered the Academy grounds by the south gate, had our IDs checked by the SF gate guards, who saluted us sharply and let us through. Just past Falcon Stadium we turned left and headed up into the hills that surrounded the Academy proper. We’d gone an about four kilometers when we turned off the paved road and moved higher into the foothills. The dirt road petered out at a thick stand of pine trees.
“This is as close as we can get with the Hummers,” Scott said.
I check my map and nodded. We hopped out and unloaded.
I handed Scott a piece of paper.
“Monitor this freq. We’ll call for pick-up when we’re done.”
The captain and his men drove off and we were alone.
“Okay, armor up and weapons free from here forward,” I said.
Our armor was the latest and greatest; a combination of Nomex, Kelvar and other artificial and natural fibers that was supposed to protect us from impact, high and low velocity projectiles, temperature extremes and also mask our human scent, while allowing for almost complete freedom of movement and all the while keeping us relatively comfortable. Each suit of armor was custom-made for each wearer and cost about 25K. We all stripped down to our, also custom fit, silk long-johns and donned our armor. It took some twisting and turning to get them on but the armor had been designed to be put on by the wearer without any help. The helmets had fully integrate night vision, CBRNE protection and an integrate video-display.
We shouldered our equipment packs and moved up into the forest. Shelley took the lead. He was six-foot four-inches tall and weighed close to 300 pounds, mostly muscle. His obsidian face rarely showed any emotion and his long legs easily covering ground as he strode forward. He carried a .308 L2A1/C2A1, the light machinegun variant of the FAL rifle, a Taurus Raging Bull .44 Magnum pistol and a Claymore, not the directional mine, but the sword. Sometimes only edged weapons will do.
Next went Van, he was of average height and build, but very fit, with brown hair and brown eyes. He had a SCAR-H, Mark 17 with grenade launcher, also a Raging Bull on his left hip and a hand and half sword in a baldric across his back.
Then went Dee, a lean six-footer with corn-silk hair and startling blue eyes. Dee was the team sniper with a .50 Barrett Model 82A1 and a .500 S&W Magnum pistol. He didn’t carry a fighting blade.
After Dee went Love, the demolitions man. He was slim to the point of skinny, with a thin face and sad brown eyes. He carried a 9mm Uzi, claymore mines, and pounds of C-4. Our robot mule followed Love. On the four-legged automaton was a 20mm Lahti, M202 Flash rocket launcher, spare ammo and gear.
Then came Prince, our electronics and sensors tech. The only female on the team, she was about five-four, 120 pounds, and massively strong for her size. She kept her dark hair cut in a Prince Valiant and had green eyes. She lugged a laptop and bags of electronic equipment and our main radio. She was armed with matched set of Taurus 24/7 .45 ACP OSS pistols. All of us were expert shots, but Prince was cold death with her pistols. She also had a 20-inch Ang Khola kukri strapped to her left side.
I was tail-end-Charlie. I carried a spare radio and my beloved .45 M3A1, commonly called the Grease Gun, another Raging Bull in a hip holster balanced by a gladius, the short stabbing sword and the Roman legionaries’ best friend.
Every member of my team believed there was no such thing as overkill.
About thirty minutes of steady hiking brought us into what we thought was the monster’s hunting ground. The area was a shallow bowl in the hills with a thin aspen forest and tall grass.
Dee took his rifle and found a good place to cover us from the hill to the right of the Command Post. Meanwhile the rest of the team went about their jobs. Shelley and I put sensors out in the woods, in an arc from the CP, while Prince set up her computers and wireless network. Love set up his Claymores and also set demo on some of the trees to drop them if we needed to.
Our Command Post was in the notch between two low hills. We covered it with some high-tech camouflage netting that was supposed to mask our scent and our electronic signature, as well as obscure any visuals. We settled in to wait for sundown.
“I’ve got movement.” Prince announced, just as the sun disappeared. “Whatever it was it was making straight for our position.”
“Dee, do you have a visual?” I asked the sniper over the team net.
“Let us know when you do.”
“I have a visual,” Dee announced a few seconds later.
Prince sent the visual from Dee’s sniper scope to our HUDs. It was the mantyger.
“Take the shot when you can,” I ordered.
We heard the roar of the Barrett and watched on the video feed from Dee’s scope as the mantyger dropped in its tracks.
“Well, that was easy,” Love announced.
We all looked at him.
“Why did you say that?” Shelley growled at the demolitions expert.
I caught some motion out of the corner of my eye and a second mantyger tore down the hill to our left and through our camo netting. It had completely avoided our sensors.
Faster than I thought a human could move, Prince pulled her pistols and fired. The monster leapt and got Prince’s arms, head and shoulders into its mouth and bit down. I heard a couple of muffled pop and the creature flung her away. She tumbled through the air, landed on her neck and back and lay still.
“Holy Mother!” Shelley shouted and we all started to fire.
Our rounds blew chucks of red fur off the monster, but didn’t seem to penetrate. My bolt locked back, empty. I moved to change magazines when the mantyger charged me. The others stopped firing for fear of hitting me. It turned it scorpion-like tail and shot some spines at Van. They impacted his chest and he went down. The mantyger roared and I saw two nasty, open wounds in its palate from Prince’s .45s. I reloaded and gave the thing a burst of .45 ACP right in the open maw. It snapped its mouth shut and rammed me instead.
I felt like I’d been hit by a wreaking-ball. I flew and landed on my back, hard, knocked breathless. I sat up, dazed.
Shelley and Love continued firing. The mantyger ignored them and moved back toward Prince who was unsteadily back on her feet.
“Hey, you furry mother pus-bucket! That hurt!” she shouted and plucked a M61 fragmentation hand-grenade from her harness, pulled the pin and thumbed off the spoon safety-clip. The mantyger roared a challenge and shot poisonous spines at Prince. She ducked under them and in the same motion, like a cricket bowler, snap-pitched the grenade overhand into the monsters open maw. The monster instinctually swallowed as the grenade hit its throat. I heard a stifled explosion and the mantyger staggered and dropped dead, five feet from Prince.
“Incoming,” Dee shouted over the team net and then rapidly fired four rounds.
The mantyger we thought Dee had killed burst into our CP area and grabbed Shelley by his legs with its hands and shook him like an angry child with a toy. We held our fire. Shelley, hanging upside-down drew his Raging Bull, but creature gave him a shake and he dropped the pistol. He then drew out his claymore and swung it two-handed at the monster. The sword rebounded like it had hit iron and gave a loud unmusical thwang. Then Dee appeared and fired five .50 BGM rounds into the monster’s side from three meters away. The last round caused a spurt of black-red goo to geyser out. The mantyger tossed Shelley away, over its back. The older man landed ten meters away. The monster turned on Dee.
“Goodness,” Van said, as he sat up, looked at the spines sticking out of his chest-plate.
They had not penetrated his armor. Van stood and fired his SCAR. We all joined in the fusillade.
“Run, I need room,” Van shouted.
We all turned and moved away as fast and we could. Prince and I were much slower than Van, Love and Dee. The mantyger couldn’t seem to make a decision on which one of us to chase. We all turned when we were about twenty meters away. Van loaded a XM1060 thermobaric round that had been modified to arm at a short range into his grenade launcher and fired.
The round landed at the monster’s feet and everything within two meters was engulfed in flames. The heat was noticeable, even from where we stood, even in our armor. The mantyger screamed a surprisingly human sound, and fell, its fur blackened by the flame.
“Burn,” Love whispered. “Burn.”
Van almost silently recited Proverbs: “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.”
“So much for lone hunters,” Prince said to me.
The fire burnt out in just a few moments and Love and Van rushed forward to see to Shelley. Dee reloaded and reoccupied his position on the hill. Prince and I, much more slowly, walked back to our destroyed CP. The air was full of the sickening smell of burnt fur and overcooked meat. We were both sore and hurting, but I had nothing broken. Prince said she had a cracked rib. She pulled her body-armor tighter in lieu of bandages.
Shelley was badly hurt. Both legs were broken. Van soon had an IV going and had given him some heavy pain meds as he splinted Shelley’s legs.
“We need to evac Shelley ASAP,” Van told me.
“Okay, load him on the mule and contact Captain Scott for pick up. Prince, you go with Shelley.”
“Sir, movement,” Prince said from her station. “And it is big.”
“About four times bigger than the others,” she said.
“Aw, hell.” I said. “Love, drop the trees, let’s slow this thing down.”
Love touched two buttons on his tablet and a series of explosion rocked the forest as the det-cord sliced the trees in two. The advancing creature paused for the moment.
“Van, get the Lahti out and set up. Love, you help Van. I’ll get the Flash. Prince get Shelley out of here.
“Too late,” she said as the huge mantyger, broke over the small rise to our front and smashed though the last line of trees. It was the size of a large SUV and roared at the sight of its dead offspring. Mother Mantyger charged forward, moving fast for her size.
“Grendel’s mother!” Prince yelled and moved toward the mule.
Love fired off the claymores, which stunned the creature into stopping for a very brief moment, but did no apparent damage. Dee fired five rounds that merely bounced off the mantyger’s fur.
Van and I grabbed the anti-tank rifle and a couple of spare magazines and tried to move it into a firing position. Then the monster was on top of us. It swatted us with a hand. I went one way, Van went another, and the anti-tank rifle a third. I landed hard and felt my right ankle pop as it broke. I rolled five meters before stopping, piled up against a pine tree. I sat up, my ankle hurt like hell and fingers of pain shot up my leg. I checked my weapons and got in the fight. I blasted at the monsters face with .45 ACP rounds from my grease gun, trying to take out its eyes.
Dee was firing again as I heard and saw the .50 caliber rounds striking the monster’s head. Then a 40mm HE grenade landed at the creature’s feet, exploded and forced it back a pace. To my left, Love had Van’s grenade launcher in action. Prince was guiding the mule and the wounded Shelley down the hill, with the Flash still on the robot.
“Prince, come back!” I shouted. “We need the rocket launcher.”
I got no response.
I scanned for the Lahti and saw it about ten meters away. I couldn’t stand, much less run, so I crawled as fast as I could. Dee’s sniper rifle and Love’s grenades seemed to be confusing the creature.
I got to the heavy weapon and righted it. It was undamaged. Thank God for Finnish engineering. I loaded a top-fed ten-round magazine of 20mm AT and fired. The recoil was brutal and shocked me down to my broken ankle. Tears of pain filled my eyes. I readjusted my aim. The round blew chunk of flesh out of the monster snout. I fired again and again. My fifth shot took out its left eye. The giant mantyger now decided I was the biggest threat and moved toward me. Without waiting to re-aim I fired my last five rounds as fast as I could pull the trigger and then I started to crawl away without looking back.
The giant manyger grabbed my good leg. I twisted around Raging Bull in my right hand and gladius in my left. Then a wave of heat and pressure washed over me; my armor protecting me. The monster let me go. I emptied the magnum at the creature than rolled face down again and started to crawl away. Prince was firing the Flash from about 100 meters away. She fired again and again and again. All four of the 66mm incendiary rockets hit the mother mantyger in the side. It was on fire, yet slowly still moving toward me. When I reached a tree I sat up and turned back toward the creature, weapons in my hands. The mother mantyger gave one last roar and dropped over, dead and burning. I watched for several minutes. The nasty burnt hair smell made me want to vomit.
Prince limped over to me, still carrying the now empty rocket launcher. She pulled off her helmet and sat down heavily next to me.
“Hope that was the last one,” she said and leaned back, eyes closed.
“Me, too,” I agreed and also shut my eyes.
Love and Dee came up to me. Prince opened her eyes.
“Sir, Van’s KIA,” Love said.
I said a small prayer and shook my head. A good man was dead while I was in charge. I was not a good leader.
“Bring his body over here. I’ll guard it. Prince, can you make it down the hill?”
She nodded yes.
“The rest of you take Shelley down and get him medi-vaced. Then come back for me and Van and the equipment”
They moved off to finish the mission. I sat and listened to the gathering night, said a longer pray for the dead and the wounded, and then thought about what I could have done better.
“Well, coulda’ been worse,” the big SAS man said as he turned to me and tapped his new metal and plastic composite arm on the rehab facility bar.
Then he downed a shot of scotch, took a deep breath and said to the collected multi-national monster-killers undergoing rehab.
“No kidding THERE I was. . .” the SAS man started.
Patrick S. Baker is a U.S. Army Veteran, currently a Department of Defense employee. He holds a Bachelor degrees in History and Political Science and a Masters in European History. He has been writing professionally since 2013. His fiction has appeared in Aurora Wolf, magazine, Broadswords and Blasters Magazine, and Mythic Magazine, as well as the Uncommon Minds and After Avalon anthologies. In his spare time he reads, works out, plays war-games, and enjoys life with his wife, dog, and two cats.