“Step away from the portal, Grant.”
Jack felt the sting of a frigid steel barrel driving into his neck before he’d even heard his name at the end of the sentence. A blooming warmth at the contact point and the feeling of trickling beads rolling down his back confirmed broken skin.
First blood. That means they’d forgone the concept of compromise before arriving. A swift wave of morbid satisfaction washed over him for just a second. After all the time that had been lost to arguments about this possibility, it couldn’t be helped.
Jack lowered his head ever so slightly to diffuse a bit of the pressure coming from the loaded barrel drilling into his cervical spine.
“Now is this your way of asking a favor? You know that if you kill me while I’m holding the key, it’ll be useless. You’re still not getting off this planet.”
Jack felt the barrel’s tension ease up ever so slight as the man let out a laugh like chalk scraping together. “You really are a piece of work, you know that Grant? Just like your piece of shit daddy. A dedicated bullshiter to the very end. Never paid me back either.”
The barrel’s tension redoubled.
“But YOU, you’re payin’ us back for his bullshit with interest. What you’ve got there is the key to our new house. Kindly hand it over so I don’t have to reach for it through a hole in your head, and you just may have a story to tell your grandkids on this shit heap when we’re long-gone.”
Jack exhaled sharply from his nose. “Your house? You’re not even on the guest list for the housewarming party, Cliff.”
The rifle’s gunshot was drowned out by a blast loud as point-blank thunder. A brutally brilliant burst of light washed all the colors of the landscape to monochrome.
When the natural color of the grass returned, it was immediately bathed in blood red.
Jack, now several hundred yards removed from where he’d been held at gunpoint, surveyed the scene of chaos rapidly unraveling where he’d left. Brisk wind nibbled at the fresh lead graze slashed into his left cheek.
Where Jack had been standing was now occupied by his backup. 100 bodies strong, each of them with a weapon and a live body to use it on.
His comrades had waited on standby to warp with weapons at the ready where he stood. In one flash of the sonic light geyser, Grant converted from cornered combatant to Trojan Horse.
Though in all parts but nominal a flash bomb, the sonic light geyser was technically a mine. A tool meant buried at the best area for an enemy to get too comfortable with their footing. Loud as a exploding star and twice as bright.
It was designed as brutal flank assault on the senses, intense enough to rattle the bones of every living being with eyes and ears; that is, of course, only for those without the only noise-canceling ear pods and eye shuttering contacts invented to withstand it. One for Grant and every soldier that replaced him after he warped away. Their targets, virtually blind and deaf, were not so lucky.
From the start of the race to the portal, Grant had known from the beginning that the public awareness of his speed and warping would be more of a nuisance than an advantage. It made them paranoid. Hypervigilant. Far too invested in creating complex plans explicitly intended to single him out.
Opposing squads could even form a temporary alliance to take him out. That was especially annoying.
The other factions had assumed that he’d arrive at the portal with the key to unlock it first, and at the time, they were right. What they didn’t expect was for him to leave the finish line entirely and drop an army on top of their heads as a parting gift. For a first finisher to fall back intentionally was nearly unheard of unless they’d been led to an illusion as a trap.
Jack had made the finish line itself a trap in advance. Before even completing the key, he paid it a visit to set the geyser. There was no need to wait for an enemy to step on it. As soon as they ambushed him at his second trip to the portal, he’d just stepped on it himself.
With operation Flash Warp, the most troublesome of the schemers had been dealt with. Now remained the rest. He’d take a spiral scenic route around the field to confront the top weapons before heading back. The most valuable players would be sure to come after him to acquire the portal key, which would keep his men at the portal capable of giving their undivided attention to their current cleanup job.
Jack took another hard look at the key, rolling it over in his hand to see how the texture caught the moonlight. He closed his eyes, took a single slow breath and smirked at the thought of the sonic light geyser’s inventor.
Dad, you sadistic bastard. No wonder they wanted you dead so bad.