Author : Benjamin Fischer
“How do I feel about this?” Tavare said, repeating Arcand’s question. The hard-faced Spaniard frowned and didn’t immediately answer. Arcand was tempted to open his mouth again, but then Pack Instructor stopped that mistake.
“Arcand! Suit up, you damn mutt!”
Arcand barked his response and hefted his helmet. Squat, matte black and prominently featuring a beat-up pair of oversized wolf ears, Arcand and none of the other Cubs would merit factory-fresh armor until they passed this, the last of their exams.
He lowered the helm onto his shoulders. There was that jarring moment of pitch black, and then the suit’s systems blinked to life. Arcand’s heads-up view was restricted only at the very edges of his vision, where Tavare and the other two Cubs in the Pack lurked.
The tingling of the jacked-in nerves at the back of his neck told him his Mark XI was all up round–one hundred and fifty rounds in his right forearm, sixteen twenty millimeter grenades in his left.
“Cub Three up,” Arcand barked. Tavare was right behind him as Cub Four.
“Alright, mutts,” called the Pack Instructor, somewhere safe and in the rear, “I have one last piece of advice for you. Make it quick–no points for style or technique.”
Arcand mashed his heavy mauling claws together, nervous.
Pack Instructor paused, probably to sip from his ever-present mug.
“The coffee’s only getting colder. Range is red.”
With those words, the heavy blast doors swung open before Cub Pack Sixteen Dash Twenty. The blasted, raped remains of the New Manchester colony reared up before them–an O’Neil space colony that had seen better days but now was nothing better than a combat training ground. Once a verdant parkland, the innards of the long cylinder were a dusty, log-strewn clearcut dotted with hexagonal shipping containers serving as makeshift bunkers. What atmosphere was left was barely thirty percent Earth normal, and the station’s spin was so weak it resembled Luna’s gravity.
Sixteen Dash Twenty moved out in a ragged line, Arcand taking the extreme left flank. Cursory scans of the O’Neil’s interior revealed no signs of life, but Arcand still felt conspicuously naked. Loping along at a half-sprint, he hoped he could trust the pre-mission briefing’s promise of no snipers.
His ears pricked; Cub Two was engaging.
“Small arms, and a squad weapon,” Cub One reported.
Glowing icons of target detections popped up in Arcand’s vision. A running leap, and he was circling around the side of the hostiles.
“Cub Two is down,” said Cub One.
“Jesus,” swore Tavare.
Arcand had no time to comment. Scuttling over a tremendous deadfall, he landed face to face with a hostile armed with a rocket launcher. The man staggered back, just out of claw’s reach, but Arcand was already hosing him with his automatic. The hostile went down with a shriek, and something dinged off Arcand’s helmet. He reactively fired a grenade to his left and the air went pink.
Tavare had found trouble, by the cluster of red icons around a bullet-riddled Lunar Transport container. Cub One called in a medevac on Two, and Arcand readied both his weapons.
Suddenly a pair of small hostiles bolted from behind the container. Arcand fired on the lead, smashing him to the ground.
“No!” screamed the second hostile, who Arcand suddenly recognized as a woman. She dropped to her knees, clutching at the mangled man.
She looked up at the huge and brutal form of Cub Three. She started to say something but a flurry of high velocity rounds interrupted.
Tavare strode around the container, his forearms smoking.
Later, at Cub Two’s funeral, Arcand answered his own question.
“How do I feel?” he said, meeting his new brothers’ yellow eyes.
“I feel like a wolf.”