Chapter 18: out of sight

Lone cracked an eye open as sunlight spilled through the branches and across his muzzle. After such a long night, he'd almost forgotten what mornings were. "Fifty some goddamn hours of I know how the goddamn Norwegians feel all winter," he muttered as he winced and slowly stretched his arms above his head.

He and Sarge had conversed amiably enough after the 'heart-to-heart'...Lone now had sufficient information on the entire Sarge family history to weave an heirloom quilt, but it had been worth it. The grizzled soldier had at least pantomimed the act of opening up for the wolf, showing him a bit more acceptance as not a potential traitor. Lone was 'gifted' lookout duty after that, spending a few hours keeping the fire alive before passing out when Simmons wearily stumbled out to take his place.

...Not that Lone had been comfortable enough to borrow Simmons's gear, which was why he was still propped against the log by the campfire, covered in ashes and soot and sporting one hell of a sore back. As he grimaced and slowly sat up, the chupadore across from him stirred and then jumped to his paws with a drowsy yelp. Lone stared up at Simmons for a moment or two, then before the soldier could nervously ask, reassured: "Won't say anything. You were awake when I got up."

Simmons sighed in relief and then rubbed his arm sheepishly when the wolf groaned into his elbow as he forced himself to stand as well. " know, you could have borrowed my bedroll last night..."

"It's fine, it's me, spent plenty of nights with even less," Lone mumbled, pushing his hands into his lower back to pop his spine a few times, then carefully straightening as he scratched the back of his neck. "I really wouldn't have minded staying up another few hours 'til dawn."

"No, no, regulation -- the Handbook states that no watch shift should last more than six continuous hours to prevent exhaustion and possible mistaking of an enemy Blue for a wild animal," Simmons mumbled with such confidence that Lone was sure it was verbatim from the official Red Army text.

"Yeah, alright, I gotcha," Lone replied as he shook his arms and tail out. "Appreciate it all the same." He glanced over his shoulder at the truck. "So...Sarge does actually sleep?"

"I think so. At least his snoring sounded real enough," Simmons mumbled. "I'm sure he'll be up soon, either way. We should get Grif up before that -- he asked us to give Grif the regulation wake-up call."

Lone smiled slightly. "Gonna guess that isn't a very polite process."

Simmons cracked a small smile of his own. "We'll need a bucket of water."

Lone found it hard to deny that Grif's furious screeches kicked the morning off just right. And as Simmons suspected, Grif's piercing yowls meant that Sarge woke up with an almost unrecognizable smile of delight. It was a good start to the new day (Grif's drenched fur notwithstanding) and Lone felt like the discomfort of the previous night was finally starting to melt away. They at last resembled a cohesive unit...even with the weird space-wolf alien in their ranks.

Breakfast was simply a portion of rations for each of them, though Sarge did take it upon himself to scour the surrounding woodlands to return with an armful of eggs that he promised were 'free-range' and would make for a fantastic later meal. The other three packed up their supplies and gear while waiting; they were ready to start rolling again before Grif had even completely dried off.

They sat in the same places -- Grif behind the wheel, Sarge unironically riding shotgun with Simmons and Lone in the back. But this time, their conversations were easier. Simmons and Lone shared stories with only the occasional awkward glance in opposite directions, while Grif chimed in every so often...and not even always with an insult. Sarge tossed in his insane anecdotes like he was adding pepper to a stew, which somehow worked despite the ridiculous tangents.

Lone kept quiet about the nagging feeling that remained with him from the previous night. He didn't consider himself prone to panicking over every wayward tug on his instincts...yet he also couldn't deny the number of times he'd saved his own ass heeding them, either. But for now, he tucked the concern away and turned his attention to the odd quest he'd joined. He'd learned his lesson in the past about trying to worry about too much at once. And besides...they were the ones rolling through Sirca, hunting down a group of enemy soldiers while risking gods knew what from the wilderness and what Lone suspected was more than just a slight breach of protocol. Mahihko and the others were back at the base in an empty box canyon; who was really in the greater danger, after all??

"Simmons, can you pass--oh." Lone rubbed the back of his head when he glanced over and saw the soldier was fast asleep. The wolf flopped back against the seat before looking up when Grif snorted.

"Is that pussy seriously passed out?"

"Eh, give 'im a break, he had the early watch," Lone reasoned.

"Yeah, well, you fuckers threw a bucket of water on me, so..." Grif jerked the wheel hard to one side. Sarge seemed to expect it and calmly gripped the roll-bar with one hand just before the back end of the jeep whipped out to send Simmons crashing into the side of the vehicle while Lone collided with the supplies in the middle. "Good morning, assholes."

Simmons jerked awake with a shout, following it quickly with a whine of pain as he rubbed at his shoulder. "Goddammit, Grif..."

"Watch the paint job, Private Grif!" Sarge barked, even as he grunted back toward Simmons. "Simmons, you weren't scheduled for a nap, eyes out for Blues 'n squirrelies!!"

"Yessir," Simmons mumbled around a stifled yawn, shifting and looking over at Lone lamely.

The wolf gave an apologetic expression in return. "Sorry, I uh. Was just asking if you could pass the water."

"Worked out great," Simmons grumbled while digging around for the canteen to pass to Lone. "Here." As Lone took the container, Simmons pulled out a chunky electronic device. " we have a destination, sir?" He powered on the piece of equipment and Lone glanced over curiously.

"Huh. What is that thing? Is that...a GPS?" Lone asked with poorly-hidden intrigue. "You guys have satellites??"

"Uh...yeah, it is," Simmons replied slowly. "Guessing you guys have these, too. But of course we do." He frowned like this was a ridiculous question. "Why wouldn't we?"

"I dunno, just...weird to think about more modern technology in a world that's, um..." He looked awkwardly over Sarge's shoulder as if expecting the shotgun to be pointed back at him. "That's in the sort of world-wide conflict that this one is in," he finished delicately.

Grif made a disgusted sound. "What, you think just because we're at war we don't want fuckin' television and porn?"

"Ain't no reward from Omega finer'n a good sit-down with the soaps for a battle done well!" Sarge declared, apparently in unconscious agreement with Grif. "Anyway -- Simmons, our destination is wherever we smell them dang Blues! We go where they go!"

"I'm, uh. I'm not sure how to input odor as coordinates," Simmons replied while rubbing the back of his head. "But we've been heading east so far..."

Lone blinked thoughtfully. "You...okay, how do cardinal directions work on a ring?!"

Simmons stared back at him blankly before slowly pointing a finger forward. "East is that way." He swung his arm around to point backward. "West is that way. Isn't...that how it is for your world?"

"I think he was expecting a nerdy explanation," Grif called over his shoulder.

"Shut up, Grif," Simmons muttered. "If you guys are gonna keep making fun of me, then..."

"One-hundred percent gonna keep making fun of you," Grif interrupted mildly. "Especially if it means you stop dorking out."

Simmons sighed and glared daggers at the back of the driver's seat before holding the GPS out to Lone. "Did you wanna look at it?"

Lone nodded quickly and tucked the canteen down between his thighs to accept the device. He turned it over while examining it before tilting his head. "Huh. It almost looks like this portable gaming--"

He was interrupted by Grif slamming on the brakes to bring the vehicle lurching to a halt. Simmons and Lone both grunted as they were mashed against the front seats while Sarge scowled and glowered at Grif. Grif shrugged and gestured idly to the road, which forked directly ahead of them. "Hey, you're the sarge, Sarge. You tell me which way to go."

Simmons grumbled quietly again and reached over to snatch the GPS back from Lone. "Hold on..." He tapped two of the buttons in quick succession before squinting at the screen. "Okay, so. The northbound road dead-ends at the rim. And the southbound one continues into Lactan."

Sarge rubbed slowly at his jaw while gazing up thoughtfully. "Hrrnnn. Lactan belongs to the Blues! We been tryin' to take it back for months!"

Simmons perked up. "You think the Blues went that way to fortify a base there?"

Lone blinked a few times. "Uh...again, those three really didn't--"

Sarge slammed a fist into his other palm, standing up in the front seat. "That's just what they want us to think! Heh, we roll in there after 'em an' WHAM!! It's a trap!"

Grif arched an eyebrow and glanced at Sarge. He opened his muzzle, only for the wolf to speak up first.

"Isn't...driving intentionally into enemy territory more of a death wish than a trap?" Lone ventured from the back. Grif blinked and glared back at him, which made Lone look confused a moment before he squawked as Sarge dropped his fist down between his ears.

"Of course it is!" Sarge snorted derisively, shoving a finger into the GPS in Simmons's grip. "But that's only if we follow the road they think we thought they wanted to think!" Lone blinked stupidly even as Sarge plowed on. "If we take the other route, we'll catch 'em in the rear! Take 'em by surprise!"

"I think that's still illegal in most provinces, sir," Grif deadpanned, only to lean quickly away when Sarge glared down at him.

Simmons frowned a bit at the GPS. "Um. But that's the path that dead-ends, sir..."

"Oh no, my poor womanly sensitivities! I sure hope this all-terrain reconnaissance vehicle c'n handle a li'l dirt!" Sarge cried out in a sing-song voice. "Simmons, if you can't deal with a bit'a mud 'n brush, then I'm gonna re-de-promote you an' pass them bars back to the alien!"

Simmons sighed but nodded resolutely as he tossed a grumpy look at Lone, who raised his hands in wordless, awkward defense.

"Well then that settles it!" Sarge grinned and dropped back into his seat before thrusting an arm toward the left fork. "Git'r movin', Private Blob!"

They drove for a few hours before the path veered directly toward the edge of the ring. They were still several hours from reaching the rim, but Sarge wanted to continue heading east, to follow the "unmistakable stench of turned Blue tail". Lone was almost tempted to ask what, precisely, that smelled like, but he managed to restrain himself.

The terrain rapidly devolved into rough overland as they roared across the dry, cracked earth, tearing through brush and dried-up foliage at nearly the same speed thanks to Grif's lead foot. Sarge and Lone, ironically, seemed the most at ease. Clearly this wasn't the veteran's first trip off-road, and Lone had driven more than his fair share of rented jeeps across hundreds of miles of uninhabited wastelands. Grif and Simmons, on the other hand, felt like their bones had been tossed into a burlap sack and thrown off a cliff, and their collective whining eventually convinced Sarge that a small break might be acceptable, after all.

Grif pulled the jeep over to the edge of what looked to be a thicker forest bordering the arid plains. The weary expression on his face was one of the most honest things Lone had seen from him. The wolf glanced over at Simmons, who didn't look any better -- he still had one hand clenched into the cross-bar of the roll cage, his teeth visibly grit. Well, I guess not everyone's a fan of leaving the beaten path...

Sarge hopped out before the engine finished rumbling, stretching his arms up with a grunt. "A'right, ya lazy bums -- this ain't no campin' trip! We'll whip up some grub, take a sit an' then get back on the road before Grif's new bed sores come on in!"

"Still can't get them without an actual bed," Grif muttered, practically melting out of the driver's seat with a groan as he clutched the windshield frame for support. "I didn't think bones could hurt, this is some bullshit..."

"Technically speaking, your bones aren't hurting, it's the nerves around them," Simmons replied. Grif looked at him flatly, and he shrugged before shifting to slide out of the back...only to groan in agony himself. "Holy shit, my bones do hurt..."

"When you ladies are done rubbin' yer achin' bones together, me'n the space-alien could use some help with a fire!" Sarge barked as Lone wandered around the treeline. "Clear out a ring 'n find some rocks, ya useless lightweights!" He slid his shotgun into the rarely-used holster on his back while glowering as Grif and Simmons both stumbled around either side of the vehicle. "Hrrnn like watchin' a damn baby after firin' its first load'a double-aught. C'mon, Unofficial Private Lone! Let's go get some wood."

Lone blinked a few times at hearing his name, almost too surprised to utter: "Phrasing?" But Sarge was already tromping into the forest and so the wolf sighed before trotting after him with a shake of his head.

As soon as the two disappeared into the trees, Grif dropped down against a front tire with a wheeze. "Fuck, driving was supposed to make this stupid trip easier."

"Oh like you wouldn't be bitching if we'd started walking," Simmons grumbled. He hobbled forward before placing his hands against his back and wincing as he arched his spine. "C'mon, get your lazy ass up and help."

"Pass. We don't need a fire, we have jerky snacks."

"No we don't, asshole, you ate them all."

Grif rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. "Oh yeah. Those were good. I wish we had more."

Simmons rolled his eyes and then dug a shovel from the supplies in the back of the hog, searching the ground for a relatively even area to start digging up the dry grass. "God, you're so useless. Can you at least find some rocks or something?"

Grif made a face at Simmons's back, then looked at the dirt around himself without bothering to get up.

A few seconds later, a pebble bounced off of Simmons's head. "Ow, fuck!" He winced and grabbed his skull before glowering at Grif, who grinned in response.

"Found a rock."

"You are such a dickbag, Sarge is gonna kick your ass." Simmons turned back to his shoveling before pausing at the sound of dry branches cracking just beyond the treeline. He smirked back over his shoulder. "He's already back, and you're still sitting there like an asshole."

Grif shrugged and opened his muzzle to reply...only to widen his eyes and stare past Simmons. "Either Sarge got really fuckin' tall or you're about to fuckin' die, Simmons!" He fell over to one side before scrambling to crawl under the jeep with a yelp.

"Yeah, alright, I'm not falling for--" Simmons turned his head and then slowly released his grip on the shovel as a shadow towered over him. He creakily tilted his head up and then squeaked at the sight of a crawbear rearing onto its hind legs. It gave a furious roar and the soldier fell backward onto his rump before struggling to yank his rifle off his back.

The wild animal lumbered forward, the ground shaking with each step, and Simmons barely got off a single burst of gunfire before a vicious swing of a front paw swiped the battle rifle out of his grip to send it skittering into the brush. "Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck!" Simmons cried out, crawling backward and then rolling over to rush on all fours to the jeep. "Fuck this!! Move over, Grif!"

"Fuck you, dude, find your own cover!" Grif protested, trying to shove at Simmons as he squirmed under the vehicle with him. "You're the ranking soldier, it's your job to fight this thing!"

"Fuck you, too! Where's your fucking gun, dumbass?!?"

The crawbear roared again and dropped to all fours to charge the hog, both chupadores giving high-pitched squeals as it headbutted the side and caused the armored vehicle to rock onto the opposite wheels. "I dunno, probably in the front seat?!"

"Well that's a shitty place for it to be, Grif! Regulation says you should--"

"Regulation can choke on a dick, there's a fucking crawbear trying to eat us," Grif yelled before wincing as it shouldered angrily into the jeep again. "Fuck, don't tell anyone I said this but...Sarge, save us!!" he howled as Simmons yelped and clutched into his arm when a thick foreleg reached underneath to try and grab one of them.

"What on Omega's round ring are you pantywaists cryin' about now?" Sarge bellowed from the treeline as he and Lone emerged, an armful of branches and twigs held against the chupadore's armor while the wolf hefted two logs upon his broad shoulders.

The new voice immediately drew the beast's attention and it twisted its head around to zero in on the newcomers. Lone's muzzle dropped open and Sarge blinked a few times before shouting: "Great spicy gravy, it's a gat-damn crawbear!"

It lurched away from the jeep, bounding on all fours to rush them with bewildering speed. Sarge threw his arms out and the pile of branches scattered all around him as he instinctively reached back for his shotgun.

His movement was a hair too slow and the monstrous creature tackled him forcefully, gripping into his shoulders with its dexterous front paws and pushing the chupadore onto his back as Sarge grunted from the impact. Lone's eyes bulged as he dropped one of the logs and rushed in with the other, only slightly distracted by the chupadore's barking laugh and whooping exclamation. "Oh, a'right, we gonna wrassle, huh!?"

Its segmented jaws snapped wildly at Sarge's face, but the soldier snorted disdainfully while shoving a forearm against its throat and keeping it just out of reach. "Yer gonna hafta do better'n that, ya sumbitch!"

Lone shifted the remaining log into a sloppy grip with both hands -- it was too wide around to hold it like a proper weapon, but he made an attempt to wield it all the same. His body twisted into an uppercut and the log smashed against the crawbear's shoulder with enough force that the heavy bit of wood tumbled out of the wolf's grip and thudded to the ground below.

The beast was less than affected, however, simply turning its head angrily to the side to roar at Lone while bearing down harder into Sarge's shoulders. "Gat-dammit, boy, this thing's a tank, quit tapdancin' an' pull out the big guns!!" Sarge shouted, taking the precious few seconds of distraction to rear his other arm back and sling a punch into the crawbear's muzzle. He yowled instantly after the impact and then quickly returned to keeping it at bay when it turned back down to him with an infuriated snarl. "Feels like punchin' a tank, too!"

In a flash, Lone drew his handgun and chambered the first round before leveling it at the creature's neck. He grimaced and then pulled the trigger twice in rapid succession as his eyes narrowed slightly...

....Only for him to stare dumbly as the bullets barely even drew blood. In fact, they only seemed to make the enraged animal more upset as it started to slam Sarge up and down against the hard-packed ground. "I said the big guns!" the chupadore choked out as his arms began to tremble in the effort to keep his muzzle out of the range of those countless sharp teeth gnashing at him. "Land-dragon, son, land-dragon!!"

"Goddammit, not the time!" Lone snarled before he took a few steps back, then raced toward the crawbear. He leaped up at the last second, closing his hands around a low-hanging branch so he could swing himself forward and slam his paws firmly against the side of the crawbear's skull. He grinned victoriously at the impact before yelping an instant later as the branch snapped in a hail of splinters to send his body tumbling gracelessly into the briefly-distracted beast.

The crawbear howled in confusion from the kick, releasing its grip on Sarge long enough for the soldier to quickly roll away. Lone crashed down into the middle of its back, and it immediately reared onto its hind legs to furiously swipe over its shoulders at the wolf. Lone regained his senses in time to quickly roll onto his stomach and wrap one arm around the crawbear's thick neck to desperately avoid being bucked off or snatched up by the thick digits groping blindly for him.

Sarge snorted and yanked the shotgun off his back, swiftly pumping the action and loading a shell. He raised the massive weapon to his shoulder but before he could pull the trigger, the crawbear spun around in its mad attempt to remove the wolf on its back, putting Lone directly in Sarge's sights. "You gat-damn space-dog, get outta the way!" Sarge roared, jabbing the shotgun forward threateningly.

"I'm trying!" Lone wheezed through clenched teeth as he fought for enough control to bring his gun-wielding hand around in an attempt to shove his pistol against the crawbear's head. But it snarled in protest at the last moment and Lone's shot went wide, the bullet grazing the creature's maw and making it squeal in a mix of fury and disorientation from the sharp report directly by its ear.

It spun around again and Lone was unable to keep his grip, yelping as he was flung through the air to collide directly with Sarge, sending the soldier onto his back once more as the wolf landed against his chest with a gasp. "Holy shit, what the fuck is it made of?" Lone panted as Sarge cursed beneath him.

"Get yer fuzzy hide off'a me! It's made'a raw nasty, pure disdain an' a hankerin' for fresh meat! Built like a damn Sarge!"

Lone grumbled and climbed off of Sarge, quickly moving to the side to split the creature's attention and giving the chupadore a moment to crawl back to his own paws. The ploy worked, considering the way the crawbear's eyes followed Lone as it took a heavy step toward him. The wolf started to lift his pistol again but was interrupted by Sarge taking a shot at the creature's back the moment it eclipsed Lone from his line of sight.

The buckshot was somewhat more effective, most of the pellets tearing into the beast's thick hide as a burst of blood exploded outward. It threw its head back with a feral cry, half-turning to glare at Sarge. But instead of charging back toward him, it simply shot a foreleg out and gripped the log Lone had used against it earlier, flinging it effortlessly at the chupadore.

Sarge barely had time to utter a surprised curse before the log slammed against his chest and knocked him sprawling, his shotgun slipping out of his fingers as he bounced against the dry dirt. "My baby!!"

Lone focused himself, shifting the tip of his handgun toward the crawbear's head and pulling the trigger just as it stared back down at him. His shot was true and the bullet struck the crawbear directly in the forehead...but left only a small gash as Lone's widened eyes watched the crumpled round twist lazily into the air after ricocheting off the creature's unnaturally-thick skull. "What the fu--!"

His shout broke into a airless gasp as the beast swung a haymaker into his chest, the blow as blindingly fast as it was powerful. He rocketed away and slammed bonelessly against the front end of the jeep, giving a sharp yelp on impact before slumping down against the tire with a dazed gurgle.

"Oh goddammit, seriously, find your own hiding place!" Grif protested from beneath the jeep, reaching out to shove at Lone's limp arm.

"Shouldn't...shouldn't we help them??" Simmons stammered as he stared between Lone and the rapidly-approaching crawbear, then to Sarge, who was shoving the log off himself twenty or thirty meters away.

"Fuck that, dude, I think they got this covered!" Grif retorted before jabbing a claw into Lone's side as the crawbear loomed over his dazed form. "Move your ass, space-dog!"

Lone shook his head blearily. "I have...a fuckin'..." He blinked and squeaked as the crawbear slammed a fist against his chest and then crushed him back against the fender to hold him in place. "...n-name!" he wheezed.

The crawbear's head snapped down to finish the job, but Lone snarled and shoved his pistol into its throat, barely slowing the descent of its jaws as he yanked the trigger. He felt the first bullet impact the natural armor of the beast and tumble back into his lap but he shouted in protest and continued to fire the gun defiantly into the same spot.

The pistol barked again and again and again before the slide locked open an instant after the final round tore through the weakened flesh and slammed into the roof of the crawbear's maw. It emitted a gargling roar, blood surging out of its muzzle to splatter across Lone as the beast reared back and finally released its grip from the wolf. Its eyes flashed and it slung a foreleg back, but Lone ordered his body to move, sliding up and out of the way a moment before as the animal slammed a vicious punch into the vehicle's fender, creating a massive dent where the wolf's head had just been.

"That's my gat-damn trim yer fussin' with!" Sarge yelled from behind the crawbear, his shotgun once more gripped firmly as he cycled the next shell and blasted it into the creature's spine. It arched its back and howled in furious agony as Lone, now perched on the hood of the jeep, smoothly slapped a fresh magazine into his pistol before jamming the barrel into the crawbear's wide jaws with a snarl.

Lone unloaded the entire clip, his features stony for a moment as the sharp peal of muted gunfire sent several rounds into the unprotected flesh of the creature's throat and gullet. He pulled the blood-soaked pistol free when the magazine was spent and the crawbear's howl trailed off into a tinny whimper before its gigantic frame slowly slumped and then crashed lifelessly to the side, shaking the earth beneath it one final time.

The wolf's cold expression faded into one of relief as he exhaled and slowly dropped to a squat on the jeep's hood. He studied the animal's corpse for a few silent seconds before glancing up as Sarge sniffed calmly and pumped his shotgun with one hand.

"Yer welcome for the fresh lunch, boys!"

"Fuck that, it's bulletproof, which means it probably tastes like shit," Grif muttered as he grunted with the exertion of crawling back out from under the jeep. "What the fuck did the alien do to piss off a crawbear?"

Lone raised a middle finger at Grif ."We saved you assholes from it, if I recall correctly. Also thanks for the help. Asshole."

Grif shrugged easily. "Hey, your face would be part of the fender if I didn't wake you up, so you're welcome."

"Grif, fer yer wholly expected laziness an' cowardice an' continuin' to exist as a Grif, yer on stick-pickin'-up duty!" Sarge ordered while jerking his head toward the treeline. "Get yer worthless hide in gear!"

"Sir, I was only trying to make sure the crawbear couldn't eat the keys to the hog and leave us without a vehicle."

Simmons grumbled as he crawled out from the other side. "The keys are still here in the ignition, dumbass."

Sarge's eyes widened. "So not only didja show near-Blue levels of scaredy-cat-ery, but you almost let the fearsome beast jeep-jack our ride?!? Crawbears with four-wheel-drive capability...the mere thought just makes ya sick! Now git over there an' start fetchin', Grif!"

"Uh, but Sarge, don't you think --"

Grif was cut off by Sarge leveling his shotgun at him with one hand while jabbing a finger toward the treeline. Grif groaned and rolled his eyes before dragging himself toward the spilled pile of kindling. "Ugh, fine."

"Um, for the record, sir, I was only under there to try and get Grif out," Simmons added in as confident a voice he could manage.

"I guess that's why I see yer weapon over there in the grass, Private!" Sarge retorted. "Not only were ya hidin' with the Griffiest member of the team, but you didn't even shoot him in the leg for a regulation orange-flavored lure! Space Private First Class Lone was haulin' some logs -- go on 'n bring 'em over, and make sure Grif ain't loungin' around, neither!"

Simmons sighed in defeat. "Yessir..." He pouted and then went to fetch his battle rifle before joining Grif by the treeline while mumbling under his breath.

Lone felt a pang of sympathy for Simmons but figured he could talk to the chupadore later to try and smooth over the second awkward field promotion Sarge had decided to bestow upon him. The wolf started to holster his pistol before grimacing at the dark vital fluids still coating the frame. "Ugh. Gonna need to clean this thing again..." He shook his head, then glanced down at Sarge while hopping down from the hood of the vehicle. "You're uh. You're not serious about eating this thing...right?"

Sarge laughed raucously. "Son, you ain't never tried the secret Sarge Family Crawbear Roast, or ya wouldn't even be askin'! Now to remove its hide, hrrrnnnn...gonna need either a pool of boilin' acid or a chainsaw." He tapped the end of his chin thoughtfully. "Not sure if we got either'a them in the back, but worth checkin'! You get that li'l baby gun'a yours back to regulation shininess while I take a lookit the cargo...gonna have us a good meal for the road..."

They did not, in fact, have any acid in the jeep, nor anything remotely resembling a chainsaw. Lone had almost breathed a sigh of relief, except when he looked up again from cleaning off his handgun, Sarge had pieced together some unholy amalgamation of serrated cutlery, a few combat knives and a chain, all looped around the handle of a shovel to behave as an axis, with one end levered into place against the fan belt of the jeep's massive engine.

The wolf had the opportunity for exactly one strangled note of protest before Sarge yanked on the cable that controlled the jeep's throttle, which made his impromptu torture device rotate wildly and bite directly into the hide of the fallen crawbear.

Both the nightmarish sounds and fountain-like sprays of blood that ensued wouldn't soon be erased from Lone's memories...but zombified engineering aside, Sarge was able to slice a jagged cut nearly down the entire front of the beast. It left more than enough exposed meat for Sarge to gleefully begin carving away while Lone excused himself to quickly race to the nearest tree and dry heave for a few minutes.

...He felt a little better when he got back and found both Simmons and Grif on their hands and knees, trying desperately to avoid vomiting themselves at the sight of the very messy butchering job. At least they all found it equally horrifying. Lone distracted himself by quickly putting together a fire, using a lighter offered blindly by Grif while the soldier remained bent over a log with a queasy expression.

Lone made a face, but kept it together as he found a suitable grate to place over the fire while Sarge hummed happily and seasoned the cuts of meat with a bag of spices that he'd produced from somewhere. The wolf glanced at the 'instrument' still attached to the motor of the jeep, trying not to stare at the bits of bone, sinew and fur still stuck to it. "Um. So...Sarge, where did you, uh. Learn to make...stuff. Like that?"

"Ugh, here we go," Grif muttered, although his nausea looked to be passing as he warily peered at the steaks. He snorted before rolling his eyes, giving a helpless smile. "Tell 'im about the bee-knive, Sarge."

Sarge's eyes lit up, grinning enormously as he slapped the spices firmly onto the last steak. "Ha! Now there was one'a my finest moments of genuine Sargenuity!! Back at my ol' post in Lactan, I started with a mortar' made some choice improvements to its design! You know what you c'n fit into a hollowed-out mortar shell?"

Lone rubbed the back of his neck slowly. 'Um. A smaller...mortar shell?"

Sarge paused thoughtfully and then gave another small grin. "That ain't a bad idea, Space Private First Class!! But naw -- it's the perfect size to fit seventeen knives an' a fully-occupied hornet's nest!"

"You never remember my full title," Simmons mumbled as he pulled himself back into a seated position, keeping his back to the dead crawbear to instead focus on the fire.

Lone wanted to apologize, but the mental imagery Sarge had suddenly forced into his mind distracted him entirely. He stared mutely for a few seconds, then stammered: "H-how was that a good idea?"

"It wasn't!" Sarge guffawed. "It was a great idea! Now lemme tell ya why..."

Several improvised weapons and three steaks later, their "small lunch" had unfolded into a full-blown discussion on the nature of surviving impossible odds. Sarge and Lone found a kinship there -- the veteran seemed to have an uncanny knack for making something semi-useful out of a bunch of things that...well, were somewhat useful already, just combined in a way that made them more dangerous. And usually no longer capable of performing their original intended tasks.

But Lone had his own tales of beating the odds using unconventional tactics. His story about using a two-hundred year old cannon to escape a sinking cruise ship had made even the old dog of war lean in curiously to hear how it panned out. Perhaps he wasn't a soldier...but the wolf knew a thing or two about making the best of a shitty situation.

He felt infinitely more comfortable as the four of them prepared to move out again; he no longer saw himself as an awkward outcast, unable to relate to the chupadores. He found himself working alongside Simmons, tasked with dissembling Sarge's impromptu butchering tool while Sarge and Grif dragged the body of the animal back into the woods. According to Sarge, it deserved a warrior's burial, after all.

Lone winced as he gingerly removed another chipped and bloodied knife from the chain. "I can't believe this actually worked."

"I can't believe you tried to wrestle a crawbear," Simmons retorted, his voice muffled from where he was leaning into the engine compartment to extricate the handle from the fan belt. "That's like...well, that's like trying to wrestle any kind of bear. You gotta death wish or something? Especially since otherwise you just had that wimpy little gun of yours..." Simmons's head popped back up to peer at Lone, who was fixing him with a glower.

"For a bunch of homophobes, you guys sure as hell have a lot of obsessions about a guy's size," Lone muttered, looking mildly amused. "It got the job done, didn't it? Anyway, I didn't see you or Grif leapin' out to help us."

"Look, even the standard-issue army pistol is a fifty-caliber," Simmons replied with an easy shrug before he reattached the throttle cable and slammed the hood shut. "And hey! I uh. Well, I had my gun knocked away, so, uh. I was just, uh. You know. Waiting. For the right strike?"

Lone glanced at him with a slight smile. "Uh huh. It's fine, it's fine. The thing was terrifying. And I probably shouldn't be alive right now."

"Definitely not," Simmons scoffed, though his grumble shifted into a sigh. He rubbed at his arm and then shifted awkwardly from one paw to the other. "What's it like? To be"

"Stupid?" Lone supplied while grinning easily. Simmons huffed and the wolf chuckled as he pulled the last sharp implement from the chain. "I know what you're asking. I dunno. I've got the scars both physical and mental to show for being so, uh. Bold. It shoulda killed me several times over by now. I mean, it almost has more than once." He tossed the remaining items into the bucket of soapy water to soak and wiped his hands on his pants. "I will say, it''s less about not being scared. Fear is actually kinda important...keeps you sharper, gives you better reactions. And quite frankly, stops you from doing anything too dumb." He smiled a bit and reached out to prod Simmons's chestplate lightly. "The trick is giving yourself a reason to act even if you're scared. Find that reason, and you can be just as stupid as me."

"And stupid is always welcome in the glorious Red Army!" Sarge announced as he and Grif returned to the hog. "You get everythin' tip-top again, Simmons?!"

"Yessir, Lone and I took care of it," Simmons replied with a quick salute.

"Dueling kiss-asses, awesome," Grif grumbled.

"Cut the chatter, Grif! Yer jus' lucky I didn't have ya haul back the giblets to use in our dinner stew!" The veteran grunted before climbing into the front passenger seat and slapping the outside of the door. "Now everyone on-board! Got us a Blue hunt to get back to!!"

Simmons and Lone quickly hopped into the back while Grif continued muttering as he climbed behind the wheel. He started the engine and with one more scowl in the direction of the woods, he stomped the gas pedal down and they roared off to once more continue their travel east, to whatever would be waiting for them next.