Dozens of men in leather boots scrambled through smoke and scattering trash. Explosions echoes off the alley brick. Pulverized grit sprayed sparks into the chaotic mire below. A solitary street light imploded in shards of night glass and shredded gleaming metal.
Eye sat deep underground in a reinforced concrete bunker. His plastic earset crackled and hissed with strategic barking. “Female target: mark alpha niner, clock now.” Eye was exhausted from his 24-hour vigil. He tried focusing on the monitor before him. His face glowed green like an irradiated mask. He adjusted the console’s thick black dials, slowly scanning the surface above him. “Damn,” he muttered squinting into the monitor. He saw a Royal Bodyguard of the SCARAB rebel militia emerge from the green shadows.
That’s when Eye, Forward Scout of the SCARAB rebel militia, first saw the Royal Bodyguard in the black shadows. She wore two cutdown strapped-on SCARAB missile weapons. She was dirty and gritty. Her weapons communicated a warning, “deadly street fighter”.
“Ocean Smudge, I’m watching,” Eye said to no one. Observing her magnified up close with a night-vision K-scope, he deduced her post was near the sea. She wasn’t dried out and withered yet like the Golden City people. She was hauling a smaller body in a limp rag of shredded cloth. The cloth was bleeding. Hot dripping blood glowed across the greenish checkered screen; a fresh hit. Miss Smudge, as Eye dubbed her, was dressed in black leggings, black vest, black everything. Some subtle insignias indicated she was friendly military personnel with high rank or perhaps she had pillaged a uniform off some dead guy. Her red hair was pulled back tight. She wore no shoes or stockings. Eye deduced she was easily capable of fatal combat by hand or foot. She seemed resilient.
“So Miss Smudge has a prisoner;” Eye whispered, “or a survivor.” He spoke again for no reason but to seemingly comfort himself in his nightly solitude. He feigned knowing Smudge in some very special manner. He wondered sometimes if he was losing his marbles.
Eye clicked on the surface targeting laser and plopped the glowing red dot directly in front of Miss Smudge’s dirty bare feet. Startled, she hopped back. She realized she was dead already if Eye’s little red glowing dot was a hostile one.
Eye wiggled the remote laser control creating a glowing-light pattern on the wall next to her. The silent laser pattern said appropriately, “Duck.” It was a street symbol she quickly acknowledged by diving against the wall with full body force. A roaring hand-launched rocket passed through where she had stood and exploded not far down the street.
“We’re good friends. I’ve just saved her life. Lucky me,” Eye said to himself mocking his loneliness.
Eye spun another laser symbol. She didn’t recognize it. Miss Smudge looked stumped.
“Of course, Ocean Woman doesn’t understand Golden City talk. I’ll try movements a little more raw.”
A “FOOD” street symbol did the trick. Eye pointed the brilliant laser light on a concealed armored chemplast door. Eye felt smug as if conducting a Zoo tour or teaching chalky thoughts on a steelboard. Smudge jostled unprotected with her bleeding rag-doll bundle toward the indicated entrance. And stopped.
A low sputtering rumble with sharp popping ticks resonated like mechanical insects swarming and squawking. Unbearable ground shaking and vibrating followed.
“Did Miss Smudge’s attacker summon a stupendous killing weapon just to slay poor little Miss Smudge and her bleeding bundle? Shameful!” thought Eye sarcastically, rapid-scanning the dark area. He saw nothing but smelled acrid electrical smoke close by. This worried him.
A huge crashing monstrosity of metal, wire and light, clawed its way straight out of the ground.
“It’s after the wonderful Miss Smudge! Incredible!” Eye yelled in his microphone as if announcing a fast-action to-the-death sporting event.
The supple girl knelt on one knee. At first, Eye thought she was praying but then realized she was adjusting her rocket launcher for close range targeting. She stood balancing the rocket over her shoulder and took a firing stance.
“Folks, looks like she’s cooked a few of these hostile turkeys before,” Eye wagered to himself.
She quickly launched one of her fiery weapons. The projectile sizzled and whirred like a death toy. It spun straight into the mechanical monster’s heart. It smoked a moment then the killer cracked, exploding: another android skull whacked by the human killing sledge.
“Impressive lady.” thought Eye.
Minutes later when the red-haired Miss Smudge came gliding backward in through the armored door, weapons still up and smoking. An experienced warrior, she glanced distrustfully at details of her new surroundings as if they were a steely trap. Eye, of course, for his own self-interest, was there to receive her and her ragged package. But, it seemed, she really didn’t need him. At least, there were no indicators. She was graceful and strong simultaneously. She tended to herself and her ward. But painfully, Eye felt a straining tug inside himself, he felt a need for her. He hated the one-way emotional advantage women had over him. He was definitely suffering from isolation stress or it felt like it anyway.
He watched every ladylike motion she moved.
“Definitely isolation stress,” he repeated in his jelly male brain.
The wrapped young friend appeared wounded seriously by shrapnel. Eye winced when Miss Smudge pulled back the wet, red bandage.
“You two must really be pretty big combat objectives? Our specialists here can help your companion. If you’ll trust us?” said Eye. He was testing the collective waters and over enthusiastically volunteering himself as escort to the subterraneous hospital.
“Why shouldn’t I trust you? You’ve given us sanctuary, taken some risks, and saved our lives. Definite evidence of trust on your part, hmm?”
She was right, of course. Eye recognized his predictable macho pattern of being a jerk and simultaneous buckaroo; all the male cliches.
“How was your sister wounded?”
“She is not my sister. She is the Royal Princess of the Golden City of Shiloh,” she said, provoked.
Eye thought to himself, “Foot in mouth again. But why is she dodging my direct questions?”
Now Eye understood all the heavy gunfire. Assuming this royal sovereignty thing wasn’t a deception. This princess was dangerous to be around.
“A precious cargo, entrusted to you then I don’t believe you’ve told me your name?”
The bodyguard was beginning to feel distrust now. A social advance from a warrior made her uneasy.
“She is not cargo. She is my 17-year-old friend. I am entrusted to her.”
“I am so sorry. Excuse my crass manner, it’s the war, I suppose. My name is Mark Skorn, Forward Scout. But my friends call me Eye. I’d like it if you’d call me by my battle name, too. I don’t want you to think I mean,” he fell silent during a shared awkward moment.
“I’ll call you Eye, then,” she said, helping him, “My combat name is Arrow, Royal Bodyguard. My real name is Linda Silva. Happy?”
“Arrow, you were escort to the dethroned royal family?”
“Yes. The royal family all traitorously deposed especially this poor wounded heiress to the throne, poor Anchor. She has suffered more than others.”
Eye looked at the limp young woman suspiciously. He’d never heard of her.
“Anchor? A strange name? What an unconventional name for a female.”
“Yes. You feel the strength of the name and her importance. Almost poetic, don’t you think?”
“You know, you and I don’t talk much like tough combat veterans. I’d rather call this pretty girl something more domestic.”
“I’m sorry. Anchor is her divine name. She acknowledges no other. She is an anchoress. Do you know what that means?”
“Not really. But, Anchor’s fine. No problem.”
Eye carried the feeble Anchor, as if she weighed no more than the wings of a butterfly. Arrow tired, steadied against Eye as they pushed through the underground crowd of refugee and military people.