Gregor laughed. Shook his head at the sight of the thing, and then laughed some more. He didn’t expect to find this kind of entertainment out here. So far away from any active combat zones, on some long DefenseCorp patrol given to Sever and the Nautilus as a sort-of break. And here he was, face to face with something he’d never seen, never heard of.

The monster was disgusting. A living mess.


His visor, coated with a super-slick film, washed itself clean of the mud that stuck to every other part of him. Gregor even had to heft twice to pull his hammer out of the grime it’d been stuck in after his swing. Fine. He preferred having to work for his fun.

Holding his maul in his hands, Gregor stared up at the blob. Looked for a weak point. Didn’t find any. Which meant straight ahead.

“Cleared to go in?” Gregor said.

“Cleared,” Aurora replied a moment later, her voice coming clear through their suit’s communications.

They gave Gregor an early break in the laser fire. Sever’s assault weapons would superheat a mud beast like this one and turned it into a boiling mass of crap. Before that happened, Gregor wanted to get his swings in. He double pumped his heels, activating the boost pads in his boots, and Gregor popped out of the mud. He swung the hammer left to right as Gregor flew through the air and connected with the mud beast. Grime and glory splattered all over as the weapon found its mark. Then the hammer head stuck, and Gregor, his momentum still going, flew chest first into the front of the beast. Smacked it like a wet noodle, the hit jarring Gregor’s weapon free — of his grip, the mud still had strong hold of the hammer — and Gregor rolled down the thing’s front, splashing in the water at its base.

On his back, he could see his hammer still sticking out of the creature as Sever’s bright yellow bolts resumed. He had to get the hammer back. Couldn’t risk losing it in the swamp. Gregor tried to sit up when something collided with his face. Pressed him back down into the muck and cut off his vision.

“Gregor, hold on! One of the tentacles— ” Sai, the one who got them into this mess.

“I can tell,” Gregor cut him off. “Get it off me.”

Gregor’s suit registered the ripples in the water as Sai made his way over, while Gregor reached with his hands and grabbed the tentacle slamming his face down into the swamp. Tried to get a good grip, but the slime-coated trunk made for difficult grabbing from a pair of metal-covered armored gloves. Defense tended to trump grip, but, far from the first time, Gregor cursed their suit design anyway.

Fine. Gregor dropped his left hand away to his waist, slapped it against the side of his power suit and popped a small little disk free. Held it up into the air,, just out of the water, and squeezed. A single long blade unfurled from the center of the disk, and once it had straightened, the last quarter of it bent to a right angle, blade to the side. Gregor couldn’t see any of this, but felt the expected vibrations in his hand as the tool spun up. An emergency saw.

Gregor held the blade to the trunk. Felt it dig into the muddy, moldy mass. And just as quickly felt the blade gum up. Snap and break apart. Not surprising – the disks were meant to cut through malfunctioning harnesses, safety nets, and ropes. Not to cleave through a mud monster in the swamps of Dynas.

Gregor felt, rather than saw, Sai collide with the trunk. A shuddering charge, which did nothing. At least that Gregor could tell.

“Use your damn sword, Sai,” Gregor yelled. That was Sai’s whole point anyway. Bombs and blades.

“I wanted to keep it clean,” Sai replied. Because of course he did.

“Where do you think you are? A showroom?”

The pressure increased, and the tentacle pushed Gregor deep down beneath the water’s surface. Till he felt the swamp-floor mud sucking at his back. Creasing into his armor and wrapping around the sides of his helmet. He’d be buried in moments.

All once the pressure ceased. Gregor had his own power again. He pressed his arms, kicked his legs under him, and pushed them into the goop. Propelled his way to the surface. The suits weren’t made for swimming, but the swamp wasn’t an ocean – the shallow and thick water gave Gregor enough heft to pull himself to the surface.

The end of the trunk still stuck to Gregor’s mask, so he couldn’t see, but the little heads-up display, in neon blue letters, told him he’d made it out of the muck. That he could, if Gregor so chose, open his helmet without sending swamp water cascading in. Opening a helmet in a live combat zone, unless in cases of critical malfunction, was against DefenseCorp policy. Voided his insurance – particularly the large payout that would come if Gregor met his demise. Too much to lose, and Gregor had heard DefenseCorp would take any opening it had to keep that payout low. Like most of Sever, family — siblings, parents in his case — waited and no doubt hoped to one day receive the final payout from Gregor’s suicidal career choice.

Gregor set his hands to the trunk again and, without the rest of the tentacle pressing it, managed to tear the suction away from his helmet and launch the limb away into the swamp. The ugly swamp once more made itself visible, and once more left Gregor utterly unimpressed.

The rest of the fight was going about as well as he’d expected. Aurora, Eponi and Rovo were still launching spit-fire at the creature, which seemed unaffected. Its tentacles whirled around, and Gregor saw that some of the them were longer than the shuttle, blazing through the air like swinging tree trunks. The monster made Sever squad dive and roll around. Dodge the swinging limbs, keep from getting sucked in or captured. Or beat down into the muck. Near him, Sai tried to go to work with the blade, but every cut came away with more mud and zero creature.

Gregor could help with that. He turned towards the monster, saw a tentacle start to swim through the swamp towards him. The mercenary squatted and snarled, “Come and get me you bloated bastard.”

The long, slimy limb swept out of the swamp and Gregor jumped, caught hold of it as the tentacle scooped up beneath him. It lifted Gregor up, higher than the creature itself, trying to fling him off. Exactly what Gregor hoped. As a trunk flew over the mud creature’s head, Gregor let go, dropping and spinning through the air until he landed, with a sickening splat, right on the creature’s head. Not that there really was a head, more like the top of a mound.

Gregor glanced left, down. The hammer stuck a meter beneath him, jammed into the side of the beast. Even if he could get to it, how would Gregor swing it before he wound up back in the swamp? One problem at a time. Gregor reached over his back, where, aside from the hammer, hung a pair of heavy assault rifles. Latched into the back of his power suit. Ready to go.

He popped one off, swung it over his shoulder as Gregor knelt on the beast. Pressed the nozzle down into the top of the mound. Pulled the trigger and held it.

A DefenseCorp heavy assault rifle spewed fifty bolts a second. Even without a laser’s recoil, repeated fire superheated the mirrors in the barrel and tended to send accuracy plummeting. The weapon ought to scare the living hell of anything Gregor shot as it filled the air with lethal fire. But the monster was as big as a house, and Gregor was right on top of it. Accuracy was not a question. Terror a secondary concern. Death mattered most, and at this range, the assault rifle delivered.

Bolts bubbled down into the creature, boiling deep holes that, in the moments before mud rushed to fill them, Gregor could see what looked like green-colored flesh. Good to know something lived beneath the gunk, that they weren’t fighting the swamp itself. Real life could be taken, could be scared away or burned to a crisp.

“The fun part’s beneath the mud!” Gregor shouted.

And then he was flying. Hit by a tentacle, soaring through the air. Gregor felt a crack in his back as he slammed into a tree and plummeted face first into the mud. Down and out.

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