Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Massive wings beat the ground as it tears chunks from Devon’s body, the blue glow of its eyes turned purple by smeared blood. We’re all using laryngophone comms so as not to attract it’s attention.
“That’s not my vulture.”
I glance toward Cat.
“Not anymore. Used to be. You can see faded roundels on the tail feathers.”
She nods: “A Calliapteran Model Four. Based on the Cinerous Vulture.”
“Calliapteran? Isn’t that the company who did those mad-dog hyenas?”
“Mad cat, you mean. That would be their Model Two. Seventy kilos of tailored nightmare built from the Spotted Hyena. If the rumours are true, the different strains of Calliapteran faunatech can work together. Imagine that flying horror with ground support.”
Miguel whispers from where he’s watching our six.
“Not funny you should mention that. I’ve got a trio of heat signatures, warm like faunatech, a quarter-click south. They’re problem-sized and coming this way.”
Cat rolls closer to me: “That’s not good. A lone Model Two could do for the lot of us.”
“What are they hunting out here? The front line’s in France. This is Spain.”
“This isn’t Spain. This is the Basque AC.” Miguel points south, “Spain’s over there.”
Cat makes a happy noise and snaps her fingers. Then she stands up and vaults over the edge of our comfy crater.
“Where the bloody hell are you going, Sergeant?”
“Had an idea, Cap. Worst case, you lot can bug out while they eat me. Model Twos always pack an appetite along with their nasty.”
Sam and Col slide into the crater.
“The fuck she goin’?”
Col punches Sam’s shoulder: “Use all the words, big man.”
“What I meant to ask was ‘where is Sergeant Catalin off to now?’”
I grin: “Fucked if I know.”
Miguel sounds astonished: “She’s standing right in front of that threesome and they’re sitting there like it’s some sort of obedience class. Not eating her, for sure. Her mic’s off but I think she’s talking to them.”
Command privilege: I open up a listening line on Cat’s comms. Sure enough, she’s talking, but it’s no language I’ve ever heard. A rare moment of genius drops in and I run a query on her family. It pays off: Cat’s mum was born in the Basque AC.
I waive her muted mode: “So, when did mumsie arrive in the Kingdom?”
“The year before they had to take ‘United’ off the front. She’s been in Scotia ever since dad died.”
Major-General Duncan Catalin is the most recent posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross. He’s the reason the Calais Crater doesn’t have a twin in Kent.
“These are some sort of territorial guardians, aren’t they?”
“Yes. They thought we were sent by factions who still consider the Declaration of Arnaga to be a betrayal. Seems there’s room for a lot of backstabbing while the war rages across Europe. Someone at Calliapteran made an offer. This reassigned faunatech is operated by a Basque subsidiary of Calliapteran. They’re not combatants: they’re testing ‘long-term autonomous patrol protocols and dynamic response scenarios’.”
Sounds a lot like hi-tech gun running with a coat of shiny bullshit to me.
“The hyenas told you that?”
“No, the nice people at the other end of their C&C comms did. They also offered a passably sincere apology and free passage out of the area.”
Arse-kicking revenge aside, surviving to whinge about not getting arse-kicking revenge – and how bloody dangerous the opposition was – is always a winner.
“Get them to stop the birdie eating Devon. We need to bag what’s left of him and get gone.”
“On it, Cap.”