Saturday, November 08, 2008


Two men walked along the debris-littered street, the buildings to each side falling into ruin from decay and neglect, where they weren't falling into ruin from damage caused by gunfire and explosions. Fires burned unevenly here and there, the only visible movement besides that of the two men; all else was silent desolation. The sky glowed cherry-red overhead.

"I expected things to be in worse shape," one of the men commented. "But hell, it basically looks like how it was when we left."

"It'll get worse as we get closer," the other promised. "Just wait."

Both wore bands bearing yellow insignia on their arms, and submachine guns at their hips; the latter of which the shorter man unslung. "Jesus!" he swore. "It's a hopper!"

On the street, about ten feet away, was a dark metallic object. It was circular in shape, perhaps a foot in diameter, with three claws evenly spaced about its circumference, half-buried in the pavement. A large light glowed at the top; at the moment, it shone steadily red.

"Dammit," the taller man complained. "I thought those things would've been blown away by the Big Boom."

"Look at it!" his companion said. "Those claws are dug in too tight for it to budge - at this distance from the explosion, anyway. Hopefully, when we get closer to the blast site, we won't have to deal with these damn things."

"What do we do with this thing, though?"

The shorter man looked at it. "I don't want to try to tiptoe about it and hope it won't go off," he decided. "We defuse it, standard protocol."

"God damn it," the taller man complained. "I assume I have to be the one who runs in?"

"Of course you do," the short man told him. "I did it for the last one, back in Route Seventeen, remember?"

The taller man threw up his arms, took a deep breath. Then he folded his arms over his neck and ran toward the hopper. As he approached, it beeped, and he skidded to a halt, turning around as he did so. The hopper beeped once more, and then again; on each beep the red light atop it flashed. At the third beep, it launched itself straight up into the air; the tall man, hearing its claws scraping as they escaped the pavement, launched himself into flight. Frantically, he cried out, "Fire ***ing fire!" even as his companion opened up on the hopper-mine with his SMG, catching it in mid-air and sending it flying backwards. It exploded on impact with the ground. Several pieces of debris were knocked away; a chunk of mortar was blasted out of the ground.

The taller man, panting, came to a halt. "You all right, man?" his companion asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine," the taller man responded. "Don't think any of the shrapnel got through my clothes. Just a little out of breath, that's all."

"Well, come on, then," the shorter man ordered. "We've got a long way to go yet, and I want to find some good shelter before sunset. We've only got a few hours left."

They set out once more, their course pointed in the same direction as it had before they saw the hopper. The flames leapt and danced behind and beside them, casting crazed shadows; and if anything lurked in those shadows, they did not emerge to disturb the travelers' way.

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