"[M]eet your mission leader, Eva Mercury."

stories

Curtis Livingston Edwards

Of himself, the writer tells us: “I am a native Californian, born in the heart of Los Angeles, and look forward to transferring to a UC university with a major in physics. I have not only taken an deep interest in creative writing, but also have dabbled in art and music. Since reading the incredible works of author R.A. Salvatore, Eion Colfer, and D.J. MacHale, I took an immediate interest in science fiction and fantasy stories. To me both genres represent a world where your imagination takes full control, and the writer (and the reader) is brought along for an unpredictable, always exciting ride. One of the best writers from these genres, I believe, not only fulfills the basic requirements of a sci-fi/fantasy story, but also inspires the reader to craft his or her own worlds in turn.”

Other Work:


Stranglehold 313

Present day, present time...
 
Eva Mercury leaned forward in her seat, slender arms resting on the
conference table.
 
“How long would I be gone from the city?” Eva asked, black curly locks dangling over her pretty face.
 
“Not long, the trip to the asteroid Obos takes only a few days.” answered General Stewart from the Exocet military. He passed a thick red folder to Eva’s waiting hands. “All the information you need to know is in this file. For your eyes only, of course.”
 
“‘A hostile biological entity’, that’s your problem?” the superheroine asked after a moment of scanning the papers. The General blinked in surprise, until he remembered that Eva was a person with superhuman acumen.
 
“Yes, but we have never encountered a lifeform ever on Obos. Obos, which is a research station, had 313 inhabitants. It's just a simple search and destroy mission.”

"Of what, the scientists or this hostile biological entity?"

"We haven't received contact from them for a month, so whatever that doesn't look friendly is your target."
 
“What are The Thousand Barrels, then?” Eva glanced up at the soldier, a few leaflets in her hand.
 
“Your comrades to the asteroid. They’re the elite of the Exocet military, and all ten members are supersoldiers.”
 
“Define supersoldier. I don’t want to accidentally break one.”
 
“Well, all their muscular systems have been bonded with fibers of an adrenal activator called NX-26. These fibers essentially increase the amount of adrenaline their body produces during moments of accelerated heart rate, such as a firefight. Don’t worry, though, The Thousand Barrels are subordinate to your commands only. You are their leader for this mission.”
 
Eva nodded, but privately resolved not to squeeze too hard during their first meeting's handshakes.
 
 “Speaking of which, I would like to meet with these Barrels before we reach Obos.”
 
The general nodded his agreement, stood, and motioned to the closed door behind him.
 
“Follow me. They’re training not too far from here.”
 
*****
 
Proud Lincoln Creed, Commander of The Thousand Barrels, darted forward, a combat knife in his hand. His opponent, a combat android, lunged for him, heavy arms spinning furiously. He ducked its tackle easily, and the machine helplessly swept overhead. His knife-a serrated instrument-pumped upwards, opened wide its armored chest easily. The supersoldier reversed direction, and slashed the thing twice more before it crashed to the floor.
 
“Ahem.”
 
Lincoln twirled at the sound, and then automatically saluted as General Stewart and Eva entered their vast training center. He studied the beautiful superheroine a moment before offering a sharp whistle and reaching for a handheld device. As the nine other Barrels, who had been training in a similar fashion as Lincoln, gathered the androids slumped and deactivated.
 
“You know about our mission to Obos, correct? Good, meet your mission leader, Eva Mercury.”
 
“The hero of Ten Gates City,” commented Lincoln, drawing a nod of recognition from the woman. “You saved an infantry unit pinned down by tanks, right?”
 
“Yes I did,” replied Eva, glancing at the nearest android closely. She pointed to one and said, “You’re using Series III tech for training. What Series weapons are you bringing to Obos?”
 
“Plasmite grenades and halo rifles. Only Series IV, of course.”
 
“Nothing else?”
 
“No. Nothing else,” replied Lincoln, annoyed. “Why do you ask? We know what we‘re doing.”

“Because Obos strictly had Series III weaponry, and you’re training with the same. I’m asking you because there’s allegedly no one left on Obos to ask.”
 
Stewart glanced at Lincoln’s narrowing black eyes, and quickly suggested that Eva herself demonstrate.
 
“I understand she’s a superhero, but she doesn’t understand military logistics like a soldier does,” whispered Lincoln Creed.
 
On the general’s recommendation, who had seen firsthand Eva Mercury’s strength, the military outfit slid back forty feet. Lincoln focused the radio signal on one android and reactivated it when Eva stepped forward.
 
Overhearing Lincoln’s words, Eva Mercury hid her grin behind her black hair and exploded into motion. Her open palm slammed into the android’s chest, violently ripping open its carbon steel chest. As bolts and rivets showered the ground, Eva sidestepped and reached for the stumbling android’s arm. She bent the limb to the side and pulled hard, effortlessly lifting the machine into a short and devastating flight.
 
It, a dead mass of steel, bounced to a screeching rest at Lincoln’s shiny boots.
 
“I trust you’ll bring Series VIII now,” finished Eva, with a wide grin on her undeniably beautiful face.
 
*****
 
72 hours later on Obos....
 
In her customary tight jumpsuit Eva Mercury slowly pulled open the hydraulic blast doors. They shuddered open with an awful groan of metal, echoing through the facility’s lightless halls. In her earpiece, Eva heard the sharp intake of breath from one of the Barrels behind her. She paused for a moment, hearing nothing, and then spun around.
 
“Sorry, I just hate that sound,” admitted the tall supersoldier sheepishly.
 
“It’s alright, just maintain radio silence unless you spot something,” ordered Eva, shaking her head.
 
She glanced to either side and entered the corridor leading to Obos’ main compound. Beside her Lincoln motioned left with two fingers and raised his Series VIII Surge rifle. Six of the supersoldiers immediately split from the others and vanished into the darkness, heading down the hall opposite Eva. After counting the remaining soldiers Eva led them down the corridor.
 
For several hours they ventured into Obos, finding little evidence of life, or more importantly, their deadly quarry. Even with her eyes, which afforded her the ability to see as though it were shining daylight, she spotted nothing that even remotely resembled the violence she had read in the file. Still the woman noted the smell of blood-inky, metallic, and pestering-along the metal walls.
 
“What’s going on here?” asked Lincoln during one of the group’s five-minute breaks. While three of the Barrels kept a vigilant guard in either direction, the superheroine and supersoldier crouched together. “Why can’t we find just one body?”
 
“I don’t know,” replied Eva Mercury with a shrug. She produced a holographic map of Obos from her jumpsuit and regarded the flickering image for a moment before answering. “We’re only on Level three, though. Just four more--”
 
“--Heads up, I’ve got motion up ahead!” warned the tall supersoldier, Moyer, who had startled Eva earlier. Through the infrared filter on his helmet’s visor he had spotted a series of hazy gray blurbs. “It’s not a Barrel, by the way.”
 
Eva Mercury quickly ordered the four Barrels to either side of her, directing them to fire only in a straight line as long as she stood in front of them. While the bullets would have little effect on her, she felt an unsettling fear swirl in her chest and realized that every bullet might count. She strained to hear the expected sound of footsteps; she instead heard the noises of something wet repeatedly slap the floor. She heard shuffling, and a low menacing moan...
 
“What in the--!” asked Moyer as the image crystallized in his visor.
 
Even Eva hesitated slightly as she studied the creature’s haunting features. The superheroine briefly regretted her super-vision and barely suppressed a shudder.
 
The creature opened wide its lipless mouth, scarred tongue dangling freely. Its outstretched arms clutched the air and Eva winced as she looked at broken, jagged bone. She looked downward, unable to turn her gaze from a missing chunk in its chest, the flesh torn and ripped. And the blood-not a full crimson color-but instead tinged with blue-dripped freely. A thin ribbon of muscle-Eva guessed the thing’s intestine-lay wrapped across its legs, slapping the ground with the same awful noise she heard earlier.
 
“Don’t fire, I‘ll take care of it,” Eva heard herself say.
 
She took a step forward-and the creature lunged forward with startling force. Quickly as the creature thrashed in her arms, Eva thrust for its throat with wide fingers. She gripped its thin emaciated neck, and threw it across the length of the corridor. The woman watched it bounce across the floor, splattering the walls with blue blood, until she noticed the motion behind it.
 
“Now you should fire.”
 
Lincoln, his Surge rifle leveled, immediately squeezed off a short burst of tungsten shells; that short burst of light revealed at least two dozen more of the creatures. The corridors flared with thunderous reports as the Barrels opened fire with their Surge rifles.
 
“Behind us!” yelled Moyer, watching as more forms staggered from the blackness. Eva motioned for the supersoldiers to continue their barrage, and then spun to meet the next threat.
 
She struggled to ignore their hideous wounds as she waded into their midst. With a sweep of her hand she knocked the nearest off its feet, hard into the ceiling. From midair she quickly snatched it and flung it bodily into a mass of others. She grabbed the next by throat, shaking it violently, and pressing it against the wall with incredible force. Once Eva felt its spinal column shatter beneath the pressure she let it slide helplessly to the ground. Even then the creature fixed it with blank eyes and struggled to stand.
 
Eva's ensuing gentle to the chest broke its sternum in half, slid a couple ribs up into its heart. She glanced back at the Barrels, to find Lincoln breaking formation and rushing to meet the creatures!
 
“What are you doing?!” the superheroine screamed, noticing that the Barrels had turned their fire towards her position. Then that downed creature stirred at her feet, jaw reaching for her ankle.
 
Lincoln Creed, meanwhile, ignored her question and readied his serrated combat swords. The supersoldier sauntered forward as the familiar sensation of NX-26 rushed through his veins. As a creature lumbered forward, he focused carefully on its bloody features and NX-26 activated.
 
The world slowed around while his limbs filled with adrenaline, with incredible vigor and strength. As though ensnared by glue relative to the soldier’s impossibly quick movements, the zombie lunged one step forward while Lincoln lunged three to the side. He batted aside its outstretched arm, then slammed his forearm squarely against its throat. The creature stumbled back, chest rising, and Lincoln automatically pounced with his sword. The supersoldier spun back around, yanking back its head, and introduced his other sword’s tip to its exposed neck.
 
He was dancing away the next instant, between the arms of a pair of creatures. With a simple twist of his feet he pierced each of their right eyes with his blades, then pivoted neatly. Each of his combat swords lifted sharply, then plunged into their craniums.
 
He noticed a swift blur appear over his shoulder, and pumped both blades simultaneously.
 
But his attacker, an enraged Eva Mercury, was much faster. She gripped both of Lincoln’s hands tightly with enough force that even the supersoldier dropped his weapons. Quickly the superheroine kicked out Lincoln’s boots from beneath him, and threw him down to the ground.
 
“What do you think you’re doing? Why did you leave your position?” Eva demanded as Lincoln continued to struggle, NX-26 increasing his adrenaline. Holding his armored shoulders Eva suddenly realized that the man--no, the supersoldier--was actually resisting her. His metal fist suddenly clipped her chin, and up lifted his other. So Eva simply caught that fist, then punched the supersoldier just once in his chest.
He gave a wheeze, then relaxed and grew still.
 
“I asked you a question,” said Eva calmly. Below her, NX-26 subsiding as the air was exploded from his lungs by Eva’s punch, Lincoln struggled to answer.
 
“You’re...not our...Commander. I....am.”
 
“What?”
 
“You...lead....the mission, not The Thousand Barrels,” replied Lincoln.
“I can’t see how you lead anything, with tactics like what I just saw,” answered Eva coolly, stepping back from the dangerous supersoldier. “For this mission, you only act when I give the order, understand?”
 
“Are you hurt?” interrupted Moyer, glancing down at Eva’s jumpsuit, the material torn around her ankle.
 
“No. I caught him before he bit down.”
 
Eva Mercury breathed out slowly as she regarded the mass of corpses stretching the length of the hallway in both directions. After another cautious glance at Lincoln, who slowly stood, she approached the nearest body.
 
“Does anyone know what this is?” the woman asked, two fingers glistening with the bluish fluid leaking from the broken skull.
 
“No,” answered Lincoln, sullen as he recovered his combat swords.
 
“Cranial fluid?” suggested Moyer.
 
“No. I've seen cranial fluid, and this isn't it. It might be this ‘hostile biological entity’ that we're looking for.”
 
After a moment Eva produced a small glass vial, slipped the slimy liquid into it, and stood.
 
“In any case, we should regroup with the others and look for the other two hundred or so.”
 
“Well, actually two hundred and ninety six scientists left, ”offered Moyer, drawing a surprised glance from the other four.
 
“Oh, joy.”
 
*****
 
Six hours later...
 
"Grenade!"
 
Eva, at the tip of their spearhead formation, ducked instinctively and the napalm grenade sailed over her head. It vanished immediately in the mass of withering bodies and blood, exploded a second later. As liquid fire rippled through the ranks, bubbling and blackening many of the creatures, the superheroine glanced around her. In the narrow corridor, wide enough for only a pair of soldiers to stand side-by-side, all ten Barrels tried to hold their rear flank intact.
 
But the wall of creatures running fast for them surged with frightening hunger.
 
She caught Lincoln's visor looking at her, hesitated, then gave a short nod. The supersoldier holstered his Surge rifle, held up three fingers, and slid out his bloodied swords.
 
Feeling the rancid breath of one of the dead behind her, she twisted around. The creature immediately latched onto her forearm, but she shook it off, clasped its chest, and hurled it against the wall. Her right leg leapt up, slamming the next squarely in its exposed chest and launching it away. Then the creatures caught in the grenade's fiery radius staggered toward her.
 
"Keep your fire above my head," ordered Lincoln as he and three other close-combat Barrels kept the frenzied creatures at bay with their swords.
 
NX-26 fueling his movements, Lincoln Creed leapt into a sidelong roll, swords spinning. Two creatures immediately collapsed, the tendons in their ankles sliced in half. Out of the corner of his eye Lincoln watched as a blast of gunfire stabbed their chests. He pivoted nimbly as another creature separated itself from the frenzied mass, and pumped his swords into its spine. As the thing, impaled by the swords squeezing its back, thrashed Lincoln lifted the hundred pound thing easily over his shoulder.
 
A blast of gunfire met the creature in midair, splashing the walls with blue gore. The supersoldier launched his sword abruptly, the tip driving perfectly into the cranium of one near the mob's rear. His remaining sword flashed as it carved away muscle and bone from three more of the things.
 
“They never stop!” shouted Moyer. Lincoln, hearing his words, twisted the pommel of his sword twice and quickly tossed it over the dead crowd.
 
“Fire in the hole!” cried Lincoln an instant before the nitroglycerin valve in the swords exploded; the zombie's head detonated, waves of shrapnel from the first sword piercing at least half a dozen around it; the second sword flattened more than twice that number.
 
With a smug nod Lincoln Creed produced another pair of combat swords and waded in.
 
“Retreat, there’s too many!”
 
Lincoln stopped, whirled around, spying Eva Mercury in the center of the bloody mob. Even from the fifteen foot distance between the pair Lincoln noticed a menacing red glow appear in her eyes. Through his combat helmet Lincoln heard a low hum pervade over the roar of gunfire, the moans of the dead.
 
And the proud supersoldier grew afraid.
 
He followed the woman’s finger to an empty adjoining corridor, and swiftly gave the command to retreat. Sheathing his blades he offered Eva Mercury one final glance before he followed the Barrels into the corridor.
 
“Go!” ordered Lincoln. “And turn off your IR filter!”
 
In that moment, as NX-26 reached its adrenal peak, Lincoln Creed recalled how the superheroine had exactly saved Ten Gates City. A vibrant crimson flash flooded his eyes next, as though a star had exploded somewhere behind him. Seconds later a swirling torrent of fire coated the corridor; Lincoln found himself yelling as the flames bit at his armor, sizzling the steel.
 
Then the inferno was over.
 
A thick haze filled the air, peppered by ash and the fetid smell of decaying and burned flesh. Lincoln loosened a deep breath, then reached for his Surge rifle. Pausing a moment to check the conditions of the nine Barrels, Lincoln approached the eerily still-corridor first.

In the center of a circle of ash, bodies lying in bubbling heaps, stood Eva Mercury. She lowered a fist, her fingers glowing with thermal energy, and sighed loudly.
 
“What did you do?” wondered Moyer breathlessly.
 
“My surname...its there for a reason,” admitted the exhausted superheroine as she knelt on the floor. “I’m able...to produce a...large...thermal explosion when I need to. The difficulty is controlling it. I might have destroyed this entire facility if I added too much flame.”
 
“We’ve taken out more than two hundred in the last few hours. Just sixty more to go.” said Moyer, quickly changing the subject.
 
With a decisive nod Eva Mercury found her wits and joined her standing soldiers.
 
“Let’s get to work, then it’s homebound for all of us.”
 
*****
 
48 hours later...
 
Eva Mercury leaned forward in her seat, slender arms resting on the conference table.
 
“So it’s a parasite?” asked the woman as she looked at the steelglass cube on General Stewart’s desk. Inside, inert and still, was the sample taken by Eva from Obos.
 
“Exactly. The parasite was probably taken from a nearby rock quarry on Obos and infected the entire facility. We’ve identified it as an organism that actively feeds on its hosts collagen to reproduce.”
 
“Collagen?”
 
“Yes, collagen is the substance that holds your skin, bones, and cartilage together. Without it you’ll just fall apart and dissolve. I’m sure you saw evidence of that on Obos.”
 
“I did. It is not a very appealing sight.”
 
“In any case, this parasite is not going anywhere soon. It’ll remain quarantined on Earth for now, then we’ll firebomb it as we did Obos.”
 
Eva nodded, then stood when the general stopped her with a question.
 
The Thousand Barrels, did you find them worthy comrades during the mission? All of them?"
 
Eva paused, considered the question and nodded.
 
“Yes, they're an impressive unit. Exocet trained them well. Wait, you want me for another mission, don't you?”
 
General Stewart nodded, slid yet another red file across the table.
 
“We’re having severe problems with a Reptoid presence in Kato Ton Syn.”
 
“The City of Scattered Hills?” said Eva, effortlessly translating the reptilian phrase into English.
 
“Exactly. Are you interested?”
 
“Yes, I am.” replied Eva Mercury as she eagerly sat down.
 
“Good. Reptoid forces are currently holding the capital of Kato Ton Syn hostage, as well as its three thousand inhabitants. You and the Barrels will airdrop in under the cover of night....”


Editor: LinckeN@WLAC.edu | West Los Angeles College | 9000 Overland Ave, Culver City CA 90230 | www.wlac.edu
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