Service [hmofa, horse]

Feb 12th, 2020
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  1. >You are a conscript in Major General Burke's 14th Legion, but your life isn't that bad.
  2. >Six years ago, war had begun between the Galactic Alliance, of which the human race is a member, and the Skarl, an alien species from beyond the galactic rim, and eventually you were needed by your people to probably go die on a shitty planet somewhere.
  3. >The advantage that you have is that you have been trained as a Technician, which is very common for humans with their dexterous fingers, and it is your job to maintain and repair equipment and pilot unmanned vehicles and robots. This is good because it means that, generally speaking, you are further away from the actual fighting than most infantry.
  4. >So you are somewhat concerned when a huge horse anthro stomps over to you in the commissary. You are concerned, because before now you haven't been anywhere close to actual fighting, and have just been servicing equipment for your platoon along with most of your fellow Technicians.
  5. >The horse is at least eight foot five, a good two and a half feet taller than you are, and she's built like a brick shithouse. She's wearing dirty red camo BDUs, open jacket showing off her rippling abs and tight sports bra, and no boots. She resembles a Gypsy Vanner, glossy black coat with smaller white splotches, long white fetlocks, and a close-cropped black and white mane and tail. She has to squat down to slap the brown envelope she's holding onto the table in front of you, and her pants become tight against her round ass and thick thighs when she does.
  6. >Her body is streaked with dust and sweat. You see her name on her jacket. "Hudson."
  8. >"Come on," she says, her voice deep and smooth but decidedly feminine.
  10. >You wolf down the rest of your food (is that racist? should you think 'human down' instead?) and grab the envelope and pull the sheaf of papers out, reading them quickly as you follow Hudson out of the building, paying as much attention to her swaying ass as you do to the orders you're scanning.
  12. >You are being assigned to Fire Team Alpha, 2nd Squad, and in the morning you're going to be leaving the base for the first time since you got here. You follow Private Hudson into an unfamiliar bunk house (really just a tent with cots in it,) and continue to follow her swaying tail as she walks up to who you presume to be the rest of your fire team.
  13. >The Sergent, Hicks, is a female spotted skunk. Her BDU jacket is also unbuttoned, and you see she follows the "only the top ones count" rule, as her sports bra covers her small breasts, but rows of black nipples peek out of her white belly fur down her milk line. She's too fluffy to get a sense of her build, really, and you've got a good foot of height on her.
  14. >Next is Gorman, a penguin, and Vasquez, a zebra. Gorman is about the same height as the skunk, slender and presumably male, although it could be really hard to tell with birds. He was wearing a v-neck under his BDU jacket instead of a sports bra, anyway. Vasquez was only a little taller than you not counting the ears. He was fairly muscular, and he was both shirtless and jacketless. You salute the Sergent and introduce yourself to the team.
  16. >Hicks slowly looks up at both you and Hudson with cool, blue eyes, and then back down to the digital tablet she's poking at with a stylus.
  17. >"Try not to lose this one," she says, her voice rough and smoky.
  19. >"If your techs keep getting killed you're gonna be hauling boxes instead of guns," Gorman adds helpfully. "That's been your plan all along, hasn't it?"
  21. >The zebra leans over and punches him on the shoulder. "Shut the fuck up, dude." His voice is a lot higher-pitched than you expected it to be.
  23. >"She's not gonna fuck you no matter how many times you hit me," Gorman says, rubbing his shoulder and earning himself another punch.
  25. >"Go get your stuff," Hicks says to you in a languid drawl, ignoring the other two privates. "There's your bunk." She waves vaguely at some empty cots for people about your size. You're shocked by how empty the whole bunk house is. At least thirty unoccupied cots. A few other soldiers are hanging out on the other side of the tent, but they don't so much as glance at you.
  27. >"I'll come with." Hudson says. Hicks nods impassively. Gorman snickers, and Vazquez punches him again.
  29. >The air is beginning to cool as you step back outside. Wind whips red, gritty dust between the various tents and temporary structures as you take your time walking back across the base to your former billet as a fat red sun slowly slips below the horizon.
  31. >"You green?" Hudson asks, a hint of sympathy in her voice. She casually places her rough hand on your shoulder, gently pulling you against her as you walk. You don't resist, enjoying the feeling of her muscular body pressed lightly against your side.
  33. >"Yeah. This'll be my first time out," you say, trying not to sound too nervous. As you near the big tent that currently contains your stuff, Hudson nudges you slightly off course. "That's me," you say, pointing toward the bunk house, but the huge horse keeps going, and you resist only momentarily before you let her lead you past it, toward the watch towers that rise above the sea of tents and demarcate the perimeter fence.
  35. >"Just stay behind me and make sure my Plasma's charged." Her hand slides off your shoulder and down to the small of your back. You appear to be walking toward the latrines.
  36. >A few things click into place. You'd been wondering why Hudson wasn't hauling boxes, to be honest. Most of the really big anthros didn't do front line stuff and tended to work with Logistics, removing big, heavy things from one location and placing them down in another. In the field, their large profile made them easier targets, and it was harder for them to find effective cover. But it made sense if she was a Focused Energy Weapon Operator. The massive, complex devices were enormously heavy and awkward to haul around, and would be relegated strictly to artillery teams or mounted on vehicles if there weren't anthros like Hudson who could actually shoot them from the hip. It also made sense why you'd be assigned to them. You'd figured that you were going to be assigned drones or something, but if they had a FEW, they'd need a Technician. They had to be constantly monitored to make sure the furnace and the magnetic field generators were all operating properly, and they could be fired much faster if somebody else was dialing in the optimal focal distance and power output to actually make the thing hit what the operator was pointing it at.
  38. >As finicky and awkward as they are, their tremendous destructive potential made them effective weapons when they had competent teams using them. They could melt a fifteen foot diameter hole through fifty feet of reinforced concrete and cut armored vehicles in half. Of course, they could also explode and disintegrate half of the operator's body, so there were risks involved.
  40. >If your fire team was hauling a man-portable FEW, it meant there was probably some very specific, hard-to-reach target that your team was meant to destroy. Further ruminations are interrupted by the smell of the latrines, and shortly thereafter by Hudson dragging you off into the darkness, her hand sliding down to grope the top of your ass while she presses your face into her sweaty tits.
  42. >"Don't wanna risk dying horny," she whispers, her voice thick with lust. She lowers her body, dragging her tits across your face and chest until she's looking into your eyes, squatting in front of you. You discover that you have made your way behind the latrines, a few hundred yards from the perimeter fence. It was fairly dark and isolated and you briefly consider whether there is any possible reason for you to turn down the huge, horny mare.
  44. >So you don't. You run your hands over the silky fur that covers her cheeks, tangling your fingers in her short mane as you lean forward, pressing your mouth against her thick, plush lips.
  45. >Her mouth swallows yours, your nose pressed into her soft upper lip while you run your tongue along her blunt incisors. You have to open your mouth fully to make room for her tongue as yours is pressed against your lower incisors and bottom lip. Your cheeks bulge as her tongue, blunt and muscular, fully invades your mouth, and you feel her hot, needy breath from her nostrils wash across your cheeks and forehead as her breathing quickens.
  46. >Your cock throbs as your heartbeat pounds in your ears, heat coating your body from the inside as you interlace your fingers, turn your head to the side, and trap your mouth against hers. The inside of her mouth has a slightly sharp, animal taste, mixed with spearmint, and her animal musk, not entirely unpleasant, mostly blocks out the scent of the latrines behind you.
  48. >She leans forward in her squat as your lips and tongues press into and against one another, and your hands locked behind her neck keep you from falling over as she lowers you to the hard packed dirt. Her tits are pressed against your chest and her hands are splayed out on either side of your head as you feel her weight settling partially on top of you. You're thankful that she's supporting herself with her arms, otherwise the weight would suffocate you.
  49. >Not the absolute worst way to go.
  51. >Her snorts and moans become shorter and more insistent as she peels one of your arms off of her neck, finally breaking the kiss.
  52. >You can feel your intermixed drool cooling on your chin and neck, and a glint of light catches in the string of saliva clinging to her chin as she rocks back onto her hips, shucking off her jacket. You admire how the muscles on her neck and shoulders flex, rippling under her glossy pelt, as she strips off her undershirt, tossing it to the side as she looms over you, her powerful thighs straddling your hips.
  54. >You reach for her belt buckle as she reaches for yours, metal clinking as you fumble with each others' pants. The heat radiating from between her legs is intense, and a few seconds later it increases dramatically as she kicks one of her legs free, leaving her pants bunched up around the other thigh and calf.
  55. >You feel her hand enveloping your cock, having gotten your pants unbuckled and unbuttoned, and her large fingers invade the fly of your boxer shorts, struggling to get your diamond-hard cock out. You let her fumble as you grab her tits, your hands sinking into them until you can just barely feel the firm muscle underneath. Her nipples are both the size of bottlecaps, one pink and the other black due to the splash of white hide that covers one side of her torso, and you trap them between your fingers, tugging and kneading her breasts as she moans hungrily through her tightly clenched teeth.
  57. >Your cock is free and you feel the furnace of her body bathing your hips even though she's still hovering above you. Glancing down between her legs, you can see her plain white panties do little to conceal the thick lips of her pussy. Her panties are utterly soaked, and you can see her black pussy lips clearly through the thin, wet fabric, and the pink interior seconds later when she 'winks,' her thumb-sized, heart-shaped clit pressing against them as long strings of her slippery fluids drip down onto her hand and your cock.
  58. >She pulls her panties to the side, the fabric bunching between her thick lips and her thigh as she begins to lower herself onto you. You look up at her face and see her brown eyes half-closed, her lips parted slightly as she moans, the heat from between her legs becoming a tight, wet furnace that envelops you as she hilts you completely inside of her.
  60. >The feeling is like nothing you've experience before, and you let go of her tits as she arches her back above you silhouetted in the dim light. Even though she's large, her muscular pussy clamps tightly around your cock, getting even tighter when she presses her clit against you with each 'wink.' Her folded legs are thick enough to keep her weight mostly off of you even when her hips are flush with yours, and instead of lifting herself up again, she rocks back and forward, streaking her natural lube across your body and soaking your boxers. >You bite down on your thumb to stifle a moan, and you can see she's having just as much trouble containing herself, her bottom lip compressed between her teeth.
  62. >"Fuck," she moans, rocking back and forth, riding you, different parts of her pussy squeezing and clenching around your dick, still fully hilted inside of her. You rock your hips beneath her, your own thighs flexing as you thrust your cock against the walls of her cunt, compressing her lips between your bodies as she rides you. You caress her hips and thighs, slick hide and hard muscle, as you begin to match your thrusts with her rocking, her hips rolling in small circles when you bottom out completely, electric heat like bolts of lightning running from your cock to your brain and almost blinding you with pleasure.
  64. >She picks up speed, sweat rolling down her flexing abs as she begins to bounce slightly as you hammer her from underneath. Without warning, she doubles over, curling forward and crushing you against her chest as her pussy grips down on your cock so tight it's almost painful. There's a very audible wet squelching sound as you feel fluids completely inundate your cock, balls, and hips, and her powerful thighs flex beneath your fingers, squeezing against your sides, juddering and twitching, and you don't even try to hold back as your balls tighten. While she's still twitching and moaning on top of you, you grip her thighs and drive yourself as far inside of her as you can reach, her spasming cunt rippling over every inch of you, and the dam breaks.
  65. >White heat courses through your body, and she continues to rock and spasm against you as you feel your cum almost sucked out of your cock by her body, the walls of her pussy rippling with muscular contractions as you fuck her through her own second orgasm. There's another wet squelch as even more fluids bathe your lower body, and you wrap your arms as far around her muscular torso as you can, her own head pressed against the dirt and your face buried in her neck.
  67. >"Fuck." Your own voice is rough and thick as you both shudder against one another, waiting out the aftershocks as you hold one another. She's still holding your cock inside herself, although it's not nearly as tight as it was when you were fucking, and she groans as she slowly slides off of you, a mess of slimy fluids glinting in the dark as she flops onto her side, panting.
  69. >You're just as sweat-streaked and out of breath as she pats your chest. "Good job," she pants, before her arm goes limp.
  71. >You check the glowing hands of your watch once you catch your breath and realize you've both been gone for far too long, groaning as you sit up. Hudson has stripped off her panties and is putting her shirt, jacket and pants back on. She'd kept her own clothes out of the splash zone, but you are not nearly so lucky. The slick evidence of your lovemaking has completely drenched everything from your stomach down to your thighs. You sit dumbfounded, watching as Hudson tosses her wadded-up panties toward the latrines with a wet splat. She helps you stand and pulls up your soaked pants, tucking your cock back inside. Your legs feel like jelly and you have to lean against her as you both shuffle back towards your former billet.
  73. >Right. You had clean clothes there. You start to shiver slightly as the fluids coating you start to cool, and you hustle quickly, doing what you can to avoid the most well-lit areas of the base camp.
  75. >"Sorry," she whispers as you feel your face burning with embarrassment, heat fighting against the increasing cold from your soaked uniform. Both of you quickly slip inside your old billet and you hurry over to your bunk. It is absolutely, abundantly clear what you've both been up to, and whistles and catcalls erupt around the both of you from the other occupants as you quickly strip down. You're are absolutely sure she's blushing at least as much as you are, scratching the back of her neck and staring at the ceiling. The clean part of your undershirt works reasonably well as a makeshift towel to wipe yourself down once you've stripped. A short while later and you're dressed, packed up and ready to go, hoisting your duffel up onto your shoulder.
  77. >Hudson seems just as happy as you are to get out of there, although she's not in a hurry to get back to Hicks and the others.
  79. >"That was amazing," she says, loosely interlocking her fingers with yours as you make your way back to your new assignment. You nod and make appreciative noises. All of her stoic confidence has been replaced by almost demure affection, and she looks down at you with loving eyes as she tousles your hair with her free hand.
  81. >"I've got a thing for humans," she says lamely.
  83. >"You were pretty amazing yourself," you say, patting her smooth, round ass. "I don't think I've ever cum that hard in my life."
  85. >She grins, making a happy whinny, but then untangles her fingers from yours. You've arrived at your destination, and she runs her fingers through her short mane and takes a deep breath. "We'll have to do it again when we get back," she says as she lifts the tent flap, ducking inside.
  87. >You aren't sure what to expect as you follow her. Even though you've changed your clothes and she kept hers mostly out of the way, there's no way you don't both absolutely reek of sex. Hudson's mostly gone back to her cool stoicism as you see her sitting on her cot, taking off her jacket, and Vasquez glowers at you as you make eye contact. Gorman snickers from his own cot, looking directly at the zebra, safely out of punching range. Your sergeant seems completely unconcerned, glancing up from her tablet for only a second before returning to whatever it is she's doing.
  89. >"Hope that's all out of your system," she says in her languid drawl, "Because we're all gonna need to be extra sharp tomorrow if you want to see the inside of this shitty tent again. Lights out. We got shit to do in the morning."
  91. >You drop your stuff down next to an empty cot and get ready for bed as you hear the rest of your fire team doing the same. Snuggling down into your bedroll, you close your eyes, and a few seconds later, the lamps hanging from the ceiling turn off with a sharp click. Honestly, you're barely thinking about tomorrow after your mindblowing sex, and you're so tired that it isn't long before you slip into a dreamless sleep.
  93. -
  95. >You bounce in your harness as the vehicle speeds over rough terrain. Currently, you are all geared up sitting in the back of an APC with your squad, all fully kitted up and sweating under your heavy, uncomfortable plate carrier and gear. Fire team two share the APC with you, and consist of six canids: two dogs, one a brown mutt with floppy ears, the other one black and brown with small, upright triangular ears, two coyotes, and a red fox, with a smaller brown fox as their Sergent.
  96. >The five riflemen are all around your height, although the red fox is a little shorter but the Sergent is a good foot and a half shorter than you, even smaller than Hicks.
  97. >You're sitting between Hudson and hicks, the fox Sergent right across from you, and you can't help glance over there and think about an arctic fox you dated.
  98. >She was all fluffy. Looked amazing. Then four months later, you go see her and she's totally different, scrawny and brown. The Sergeant looks a whole lot like her, so you assume she's an arctic fox too.
  100. >The Lieutenant, Apone, definitely makes an even stronger impression, though. She's standing at the back, holding on to a nylon strap to keep her balance as her body sways with the motion of the vehicle.
  101. >Most of the officers you've encountered have been smaller anthros. You figure that them being a little harder to target made sense, but it definitely isn't a universal rule. Lieutenant Apone, for example, is a maned wolf.
  102. >You can't help but gaze appreciatively at her long, slender legs and lithe figure, her thick fur spilling over the collar of her uniform and her long, fluffy tail waving slightly as she moves. She's maybe six or so inches taller than you, meaning your face would be buried in her neck fluff if you happen to be pressed against her body for any reason. Her uniform flares noticeably at the hips, but you don't notice much of anything in the chest department. Not that that means much when she's wearing a plate carrier and fifty pounds of gear. Not when she runs her tongue along the side of her long, slender muzzle and she glances your way with her smoky golden eyes.
  104. >"Alright. We have a job to do and I intend to get it done and be back to base camp before the sun sets," she says. Her voice is smoky, almost raspy, and it draws the immediate attention of every soldier in the vehicle.
  106. >"We have discovered the location of a Skarl sensory tower, and our job is to destroy it. Therefore, the most important people here today are Private Hudson with the massive piece of equipment between her legs, and her Tech." And, indeed, the FEW is sitting on the floor between Hudson's knees. The whole device reminds you of a jet engine with a handle on top, painted in the same red camo that you all wear. Sitting upright, the business end is pointed at the roof, the control vanes blackened and slightly warped from use. A variety of knobs and buttons are scattered across the upper surface between the carry handle and the firing grip, and the auxilary panel for you to use is situated at the very back of the device, currently obscured by the floor of the vehicle. A thick power cable the diameter of your forearm snakes from Hudson's pack to the APC floor, clipped to the side of the FEW right next to the big rubberized ring that will power the weapon on if it were plugged in.
  108. >"Therefore," the Lieutenant continues, "the rest of you are to protect them with your lives, at all costs. Many soldiers just like you are currently engaged with the bulk of the local Skarl force and have drawn them away from the location of the sensory tower, which is situated in the mountain range that we are rapidly approaching. The enemy does not know that we know where the tower is, but the Skarl are not stupid. The tower will not be undefended. Therefore, it behooves us to make our way carefully and silently up into those mountains until we locate a favorable position from which to fire the FEW." Nobody says anything. We're all completely focused on Apone.
  110. >"After we confirm that the tower is destroyed, we will attempt an extraction. There is nowhere in the mountains from which we could feasibly be extracted by air, and we cannot tip our hand and give the enemy any indication that we know where the tower is, so we will have no support of any kind, and will instead extract on foot, back to our vehicle, and return rapidly to base." We all begin looking at each other, increasing worry visible on everybody's face. No air support? No evac? Once we blew that tower up, every enemy soldier within a hundred miles will know exactly what happened and where it happened from.
  111. >Some of the canids mutter to one another.
  113. >The Lieutenant's voice is sharp and rich. Her eyes almost glow, projecting strength and confidence, instantly silencing the mumbling that was beginning to spring up. "You may be thinking, 'Lieutenant, doesn't that mean that we are all going to die?' to which I say, instead, that you are being given the opportunity to be personally responsible for a devastating and decisive blow to the Skarl forces in this sector. But I do not intend to sell either my own life, or the lives of any of you, cheaply to the Skarl, and I intend to be eating supper with you all in the mess hall once we return to base camp. Do I make myself clear?"
  115. >A chorus of "Yes Ma'am"s echo in the enclosed space, and you can already feel adrenaline flowing through my veins as you unsuccessfully attempt to prepare yourself mentally. You're increasingly thankful for Hudson. If you have to die in some shitty mountains on some shitty planet, at least you got laid last night.
  117. >The APC stops and you all lurch forward in your restraints. Moving quickly, you unhook your harness and clip the FEW to Hudson's harness once she picks it up. You can smell a strange burnt, metallic odor from outside the APC, and you drop off the ledge just behind Hudson.
  118. >The ground underneath you is thick red clay that immediately sticks to your boots in sloppy clumps when you lift your foot. Everyone has fanned out, concealing themselves behind the towering black crystalline structures protruding from the mud like a forest of shattered glass. You hear the engine die as the driver jumps out of the APC. She's some kind of bird, and she and an unseen compatriot on the other side of the vehicle begin to drag a camo tarp over it.
  120. >As you follow behind her, you notice that Hudson is wearing heavy rubberized horseshoes with deep cleats on her feet, and she drapes a camo cloak over herself and her weapon, snapping the hood onto the front of her helmet. You do the same as the oppressive heat beats down on you, the crystal trees doing nothing to shade you from the harsh sun. It's still early morning, the sunlight refracting in blues and grays through the crystals all around you, painting the red mud with a surreal kaleidoscope of shifting colors.
  122. >It is utterly silent other than the sounds your unit makes. Wet mud slurping at your boots as you traipse through the thick clay. No one speaks. You were not issued radios and you all have dummy helmets without any of the communication equipment they normally contain. The Skarl are extremely good at picking up any kind of tracking or communication and if they don't hijack or decode it, at the very least they locate the source almost instantly, and it's imperative you aren't discovered. The thick mud squelches underfoot, and Hudson's fetlocks are already stained completely red and slicked flat against her legs. She stops, and so do you, huddling down and looking around. You clutch your rifle against your chest, looking around for any hints of movement and seeing nothing as sweat drips down your face.
  123. >You spot the Lieutenant off to your right, huddled down under her cloak. She's scooping up a handful of mud and wiping it down her muzzle, slathering it over her black fur. She catches your eye and frowns, nodding pointedly at the mud below you, before continuing to cover herself.
  126. >You let your rifle hang in its sling and squat down further, following her example and smearing mud over your face. Aside from concealing your face, it is also blessedly cool, helping greatly to protect you from the sweltering heat.
  127. >The mud itself is at the same time slick and grainy, immediately gluing itself to both your fingers and face messy clumps. THe smell is sharp and metallic, almost acrid, burning your nostrils like ammonia salt, and you try to think of something else as you begin to move again. Looking cautiously around as you continue forward, you see that every other squad member has similarly covered their exposed fur, feathers, and/or flesh with mud.
  129. >As you walk, the crystal trees begin to thin and the ground becomes more uneven. Hudson shifts her cloak to the side, leaving the FEW exposed, and motions you forward, wrapping one of her large mud-slicked hands around yours and placing it firmly on the carry handle. You slide your other hand underneath the huge, heavy machine. She'd definitely need help carrying it over steep, uneven ground. Standing next to her, walking alongside her, you hear her quiet breath, grim-faced, looking forward.
  130. >The crystal trees transition to dangerous-looking shards that crunch under your boots, and the red rocks scattered through the clay become larger and more prominent until you find yourself huddled in a boulder field, catching your breath with your squad mates.
  132. >Hudson kneels, nostrils flaring as she almost pants, letting the weight of the FEW settle onto the gound among the massive, mud-streaked rocks looming on all sides. You meet Hudson's gaze, hard and determined, the thick lips you were kissing last night parted slightly as she catches her breath.
  133. >She nods, and you reach back, unclipping the plug from the FEW and sliding it into its socket. With a twist it locks into place, and the device begins to hum ominously, barely audible, as you put your hands back where they were, bracing it. She grips your shoulder tightly with one muddy hand, fear and sorrow clouding her vision for just a moment before her grim focus returns and she stands again, looking up at the side of the mountain in front of you, red stone and boulders filling your vision.
  135. >Your squad is spread out among the rocks, muddy camo cloaks helping them to blend in with their surroundings. You can actually only spot the cloaked shape you know to be Hicks, and a few others that you assume are some of the canids. As you stand there, waiting, you can hear rocks falling in the distance, clattering noisily down the mountainside. Wind whistles between the boulders further up, and you look around nervously but don't see any sign of a single living thing.
  136. You start to move again, appreciating that the mountain itself has a somewhat gentle slope. Hauling the FEW, you're grateful that you almost never have to use your hands to actually climb, and you and Hudson make your way further and further up the rocky incline, keeping to the shadows of the boulders. Several times Hudson and therefore you, suddenly stop and go to ground, pressing yourself against whatever's nearby as you wait, heart hammering in your chest. Once, you look back the way you came and can't find any evidence of your passing. You squint, looking back at the forest of black crystals, sunlight still throwing refracted colors across the landscape, but don't spot even a hint of your APC. It should be encouraging, but it only makes you feel uneasy.
  138. >You don't know how long you've been hiking, but the rocks are becoming a lot less muddy, and the air is cooler and dryer. Red dust swirls and eddies around you, collecting in crevices and lightly coating your cloak and any exposed flesh with fine grit. Wind whistles between the stones, scattering smaller rocks that bounce and clatter down into the boulder field below, and the FEW has become almost unpleasantly warm, pulsing rhythmically through the shell of the device. It's definitely ready to fire.
  139. >Making your way slowly and silently between the stones, Hudson sweeps her cloak over you and the FEW as she pulls it tightly against her body. Your breath catches in your throat as you push yourself into her side and she wraps an arm around you, pressing you against her. Her clothes are sweat-streaked, her forearms covered in mud, but there's something comforting about being held by her as you feel her chest expand and contract with slow, steady breaths against your cheek. Laying your head against her side, you hear her heartbeat. It's not racing like yours, just a steady beat of life thumping in her chest.
  141. >You lean slightly until you can see a sliver of dusty rocks through an opening in the cloak, and the red fox slides silently into view, laying prone. Dry mud is caked on his face and forearms and he has one eye pressed firmly against the optics of a long rifle that is mostly concealed under his cloak. You grip your own weapon, index finger just over the trigger guard as you try to calm your racing heartbeat, holding your breath.
  143. >The fox is completely still, wind whipping dust against his nose and mouth, accumulating in little piles where his body touches the ground. When a particularly strong gust displaces some rocks that go clattering down the mountainside, his weapon jerks up slightly, a puff of compressed gas escaping from the muzzle with a sharp hiss.
  145. >You don't exhale. Nothing movies. Seconds tick by until the fox removes his eye from the optic, slowly and silently climbing to his feet. Hudson's arm slides off of your body slowly as she pulls the cloak off of you, trailing along your arm. You grip her hand, interlacing your fingers for just a moment as you look into each other's eyes, searching for something, not sure if you found it.
  147. >The moment is over and you let her go, looking around at the cloudless sky and red rock and dirt. You can't spot anything at all and you let your rifle hang in its harness again as you help Hudson with the FEW. You have no idea what it is her shot, but you stop several more times, waiting in tense silence as your breath catches in your throat, before you can see clear sky overhead instead of a wall of rock.
  149. >You can barely make out Hicks, lying on her belly and crawling slowly forward between two jagged spikes of rock. She motions you forward and you carefully slide up next to her, trying your best to be completely silent, using the wind and clattering rocks to mask your movements.
  150. >You can hear her breathing, slow and calm, pressed up against her side, as you peer over the edge.
  152. >You find yourself looking down into a massive crater, scalloped rock sloping downward into a red, dust-filled bowl. In its center sits the sensory tower.
  153. The massive steel spire rises up at least a hundred feet from the bottom of the crater, still hidden behind the rim of rock that surrounds it. Bits of purple flesh pulse visibly between the sweeping buttresses that protrude from its sides, and the structure terminates in a round bulb that rotates slowly and mysteriously around the central axis.
  154. >No doors or windows are visible anywhere along the surface, and it's been painted rust-red, although the wind and dust has scoured the paint away in a few places, silvery metal glimmering in the sunlight coming down almost directly from overhead.
  155. >You also see the enemy for the first time. Six massive anti-air batteries are evenly spaced around the crater, huge, beetle-like constructions bristling with thick steel legs. Thick wires and hydraulic or pneumatic cylinders pepper the surface, and the batteries themselves, massive cubes with probably fifty holes on one side, turn, panning slowly across the empty sky above the crater. Skarl foot soldiers are scattered across the interior as well, probably close to fifty or sixty of them if you had to guess.
  157. >Each Skarl is heavily augmented, cybernetic tentacles waving like cobras waiting to strike over their shoulders. Their arms and legs appear to be entirely mechanical and steel plates cover most of their heads, bristling with sensors. Most of the tentacles are tipped with rifle barrels, but some Skarl are missing one or both arms and use the metal tentacles for hands instead. Those all have at least one large weapon bolted to their torso where their limbs should be, dangerous, blackened muzzles pointing toward the rim of the crater as they scan for any signs of movement.
  158. >The Skarl's torsos, too, are covered in sheets of steel, their gray, blue, or purple flesh visible in the gaps between the plates. Long, fleshy muzzles protrude from the front of their mostly-metal heads and they pant in the heat, long tongues hanging from many of their mouths as they go about their duties.
  159. >You know that the Skarl all communicate with one another constantly and almost instantaneously through the implants in their bodies, and the sensory towers are relay points that collate and feed data to all of the Skarl in the region, allowing them to coordinate perfectly with one another and immediately relay anything they see, hear or smell to every other Skarl in the area. The Galactic Alliance has never managed to capture an intact, working Sensory Tower, so you didn't know how it worked exactly, only that it didn't use any method that the Galactic Alliance knew of to receive or transmit information. Instant communication at the speed of thought was an unbelievably powerful advantage, and your mouth is dry as you consider just how unlikely it will be that any of you will be leaving this mountain alive.
  161. >You also notice a set of massive steel doors on one side of the crater, currently open, and you can see a tunnel burrowed into the mountainside. More soldiers wandered in and out. There's no telling how many of them there are here, or how extensive the tunnel network is. Worse yet, you see the bodies of humans and anthros riddled with cybernetics like barnacles on a ship's hull, staggering along like zombies as they haul materials or just follow along behind certain Skarl like baby chicks behind a mother. Cold terror grips you as you watch them. Eyeless. Metal plates instead of faces, moving like badly-puppeted marionettes. You'd rather die than be captured by the Skarl.
  163. >You slowly back away, sliding up to Hudson, who is crouched in the shadow of one of the rock spurs. Kneeling behind her, you flip open the auxiliary panel on the back of her weapon to check the screen. Through the front-mounted optic, you can see the sensory tower, and you nudge the weapon gently so Hudson can adjust her aim as you double check the range, amber numbers flickering across the black screen. With deft flicks of your fingers, you preset the aperture size and output on the FEW. You are done. The weapon is ready to fire. You're soaked in sweat, tongue glued to the roof of your dry mouth, heart hammering in your chest. You look up at Hudson, her mud-streaked muzzle facing toward the crater, heavy goggles down over her eyes so the monstrous device won't blinder her when she fires it.
  165. >You give Hicks the sign.
  166. >She holds up her hand.
  167. >You wait.
  169. >How can she be so calm? Laid flat under her spread-out cloak, only her muddy nose sicks out from under her helmet. It'd be almost cute if you weren't all about to die.
  170. >She flashes more hand signals to the other soldiers, none of whom you can actually see. Wind whistles around you. Dirt and grit clog your nostrils.
  171. >You stare at Hicks, small, almost invisible under her cloak.
  172. >You see her red, dirt covered hand.
  173. >You wait for it to move.
  174. >It moves.
  176. >You look through the FEW's optics just in time to see one of the Skarl fall backwards, an arc of black blood spraying from its throat. Like a single creature, the rest of them turn, roughly half of them peeling away and running full tilt toward the crater rim several thousand feet to your right. Their silence is horrifying. They don't scream, or shout or grunt in pain. They move instantly and with purpose, metal feet and hooves clattering over the packed earth, weapons raised and ready to fire as soon as an enemy is detected.
  178. >A second one falls, sliding several yards through the dirt. The first one staggers back to its feet, mouth slack, blood pouring down its chest as its cybernetics animate its corpse, and it begins to stagger after its fellow soldiers as the ominous hum from the FEW becomes a keening wail, waves of heat buffeting you as a searing beam of energy vomits forth from the mouth of the weapon.
  180. >The FEW jumps in Hudson's grip but you were expecting it, keeping one hand on the back of the device so it doesn't slam into your face. The almost-animal scream of the weapon deafens you as it incinerates the air, and through the optics, you see the beam punch directly through the center of the Sensory Tower, molten metal pouring like blood from a wound as Hudson wrestles with the weapon, dragging the beam upwards through the center of the tower.
  181. >The running Skarl stumble, grabbing their heads and screaming in agony as a deluge of black blood pours from the smoking wound that Hudson is carving through the middle of the tower.
  182. >You're momentarily paralyzed in awe of the white-hot spear of destruction lancing through the massive structure below you, but you collect yourself, focusing on the controls.
  184. >With shaking fingers, you adjust the beam and a series of explosions make the rocks shake under your feet as the tower lists to the side, geysers of blood turning the crater floor into a black morass, and then the entire thing goes with an earth-shattering roar and a blinding flash of light, spraying chunks of flesh and steel across the crater. You tighten the beam and lower the range as Hudson slices one of the anti-air emplacements in half, then the beam disappears as Hudson releases the trigger. You quickly set the recharge and cool down parameters, shuffling behind the massive horse before she breaks out into a sprint, dropping down and sliding across the top of a boulder and falling flat on her face before you stagger, dropping on top of her before quickly rolling to the side. The boulder shifts as a massive shock wave rocks it, chunks of stone spiraling overhead as the area you recently vacated explodes into rubble.
  186. >Hicks is on her feet, helping you up, and Gorman and Vasquez help Hudson stagger upright. More chunks of rock and dirt spin through the air as the Skarl appear to blind-fire mortars in your general area. You run back to Hudson, checking the FEW to make sure it isn't damaged, adjusting its output in case Hudson needs to fire it in a hurry. Your ears are ringing and the air is filled with dust as you scurry down the mountainside. Your fire team runs and you run with them, darting from one boulder or rocky outcropping to the next. Weapons fire in the distance as dust and stone rain down around you.
  188. >The dirt has become mud again, and you stagger and slide as you run with your fire team, stripping off your cloaks and throwing them behind you. Gorman is directly behind you and to the left when you hear him say "Shit!" with a sharp intake of breath. Looking over, you see a metal dart protruding from his shoulder, several more hanging from his plate carrier without having penetrated. Everyone slides down into a shallow declivity, their own rifles returning fire at unseen assailants. A choking, gurgling scream makes you turn to Gorman, laying behind you in the mud. The silver dart is gone, as is his shoulder. Blackened flesh on either side of a hole the size of a melon sizzles and pops, his arm hanging momentarily from a disintegrating string of flesh before it falls free, slapping wetly into the mud, curling in on itself as it continues to dissolve.
  189. >His beak is open, thick green mucous bubbling up from his throat, and his eyes are staring at nothing as his flesh continues to burn away, white bones glistening in the sunlight as his flesh melts into reddish-brown sludge.
  191. >"Move!" You're jerked upright, eyes still glued to Gorman's corpse as dissolving organs spill out from between his exposed ribs, and you stagger into a rock before you're dragged bodily out of cover, Vasquez's fist clenched around the collar of your jacket.
  192. >"Move!" He yells again, and your feet connect with the slick mud and the zebra throws you, sending your body spinning across the slick, muddy ground until you slam into Hudson's thigh, kneeling behind a boulder.
  194. >The FEW is pointed toward the base of the mountain. You clamber into a half-crouch behind it.
  195. >"Get us down the mountain," Vasquez shouts, and you immediately understand the plan. You immediately begin to input parameters into the FEW. Seconds later, a blinding lance of energy burrows through solid stone, cutting a u-shaped track down the side of the mountain.
  197. >"Fuck!" Hudson shouts, a silver dart protruding from her forearm, several more embedded in her pack, before Hicks riddles the headless Skarl soldier's corpse with bullets until it falls into a smoking heap.
  199. >"Keep it on!" Hudson shouts, and you wrap your hand around the firing handle, keeping the blinding beam of energy alive as Hudson's flesh starts to bubble as sizzle, the dart dissolving into her body.
  200. >Without hesitation, she shoves her arm up to the elbow into the FEW's beam, instantly reducing her flesh to ash. The beam disappears as you release the trigger, and without hesitation, Hudson dives into the half-pipe you've cut down the mountainside, sliding through the sizzling mud before Vasquez shoves you after her.
  202. >Pain lances through your arm as you tumble, and there is a brief feeling of weightlessness before the wind is forced from your lungs as you impact the ground, sinking into the mud.
  203. >You're drug upright again as something wet spatters across your chest, Hudson hauling you up with her remaining hand as her burned stump oozes blood.
  204. >She'd slid down first, and there were smoking holes in her cloak and pants. You smelled something like frying bacon and chose not to think about it as you staggered after her into the crystal forest.
  206. >You turn to see something sliding down the chute. There isn't enough time to figure out exactly what it is before ragged chunks of Vasquez's body fly through the air, sizzling, and embed themselves into the muddy ground. Looking up, you see the rim of the crater. Skarl pour over it like ants from a nest that's been kicked.
  208. >You grab Hudson's remaining sleeve.
  209. >"Aim there!" you shout, pointing to the ridgeline as you begin to set the weapon.
  210. >"swipe it across their forward line, then jam it into the mud and strip off the pack," you say, and Hudson nods calmly, probably in shock.
  212. >You hold down the trigger and the FEW spits out searing death again as Hudson pans it across the Skarl, slicing through stone, flesh and metal with equal ease. Then she jams the machine into the mud, pointing it at a fixed spot about halfway up the mountain's face. You twist the firing handle, locking it in place, and Hudson's pack joins it in the mud as the FEW begins to bore a hole through the mountain, molten stone pouring down, dislodging boulders.
  214. >The weapon vibrates, slowly shifting position in the mud and drawing a crazed line leaking molten stone in its wake.
  215. >You run. Hudson follows without hesitation, quickly overtaking you as you slip and stagger in the mud.
  216. >You're airborn again as Hudson hoists you up with her good arm, and you wrap your arms around her neck and hold on tight as her jog becomes a full gallop.
  218. >Hudson careens off of a crystal tree as she runs full tilt, the FEW still screaming behind you. She rebounds off a second tree, and then a third, her gallop reduced to a stagger as you let go of her neck and slide back onto your feet. The mud covering her face and arm are both streaked with lines of sweat, frothy drool drips from her slack mouth. You grab her hand and continue to stagger forward, the keening scream of the FEW is still audible in the distance.
  220. >You don't even know if you're going the right direction, Hudson leaning on you as you slide one arm across her back, hooking her remaining arm over your shoulder. If she stops, you won't be able to hold her up.
  222. >This is where you die. Dragging your boots through the clinging mud. Lost.
  224. >Hudson gets heavier and heavier. You lean her against a black crystal spire as you strip off your plate carrier, tossing it into the mud. Then the rest of your gear, stripping off your jacket. You shove one empty magazine into your pocket before you sling your rifle back across your shoulder, returning to Hudson. It'll be too hard to take her gear off, so you just pull the trauma plates out of her carrier and toss them into the mud too.
  226. >"Just leave me," she pants, barely audible.
  228. >"I don't know where I'm going," you say. In the distance, the screams of the FEW are replaced by a hollow thump, the ground shaking under your feet as a massive plume of mud and crystals spray into the air.
  230. >Even at this distance, broken shards of black glass rain down around you. It's enough to give you both a momentary burst of energy, and Hudson staggers away from the black crystal, leaning heavily against you as you stagger into the forest, away from the direction of the explosion.
  232. >You stare at the muddy ground in front of you, finding it hard to raise your head. Your boots are red, totally caked in mud, and your left arm hangs limply at your side, daggers of pain shooting through your flesh whenever you try to move it. The last dregs of your adrenaline must be fading away, pain and exhaustion seeping into your brain. You'd think Hudson would be getting heavier, but strangely, she's getting lighter. It becomes easier to walk, somehow.
  233. >Even stranger, you hear words, although you're having trouble understanding what they're saying.
  235. >"Where the fuck is his harness?" somebody says.
  237. >"Where the fuck is her arm?" somebody else says.
  239. >You feel yourself sitting on a metal bench, and there's a sharp pain in the side of your neck. The fog clouding your mind slowly begins to clear.
  241. >There is an okapi in front of you, black, wet eyes staring into yours as she splints your arm. You see the Lieutenant behind her. One of the coyotes is sitting on the bench across from you, streaked with mud and only lacking his cloak. Hudson is sitting to your left, barely conscious as the Okapi bandages the oozing stump where her arm used to be. The vehicle is otherwise empty, as far as you can see.
  243. >The door of the APC slams shut and the engine roars to life and you list to the side before you catch yourself.
  245. >"Are we going to get Sergeant Hicks?" you ask. The Okapi frowns, looking concerned.
  247. >"Keep still," the Lieutenant says, her raspy voice more somber than you remember.
  249. >You bounce in your seat, silent, taking the opportunity to peek through the firing port as the terrain rushes past you in a blur.
  250. >Until it doesn't. You're almost used to the feeling of being airborn as the back end of the APC kicks up as its forward momentum is suddenly arrested with a crunch. Your splinted left arm is wrapped tightly against your torso, so you grab your rifle one-handed, using the carry strap to pull it tightly against your shoulder as you follow the others out the back hatch.
  251. >you hear gunfire as you round the corner of the vehicle, the driver's severed head sizzling and leaving behind a brown trail of dissolving meat as it rolls out of the open cabin door.
  252. >A multi-legged Skarl transport has been partially collapsed by your APC, its insect-like body ruptured, unmoving, leaking black blood onto the muddy ground.
  253. >Several Skarl lay unmoving on the ground.
  255. >The okapi appears around the side of the vehicle. She hops onto the running plate, hauling the driver's headless body out and tossing it onto the muddy ground as it drips and bubbles, rapidly losing cohesion inside the remains of its uniform.
  257. >"Tech!" you hear the Lieutenant call, and hurry around the side of the vehicle as the okapi unhooks the shattered windscreen before kicking it out. Both the Lieutenant and the coyote are pointing their rifles into the dark interior of the shattered vehicle, and you can see something moving inside.
  258. >She was originally some kind of canine, you think, random patches of white fur visible on her slender muzzle. The rest of her face is gone, replaced by a metal faceplate that covers everything above her muzzle, past where her ears used to be. The back of her head is bald, studded with metal cylinders roughly the size of your thumb, although they vary in size. The flesh is angry and red around them, and you suspect they penetrate her skull. Some of them have tubes or wires leading from them to the articulated metal plates that run from her shoulderblades to just above her tail, angry red skin and patches of fur
  259. >A speaker is implanted in the middle of her throat, and two ports buried in the flesh just above her breasts hiss whenever she exhales. Her breasts are small, her ribs visible, and rows of pink nipples are evenly spaced in pairs down her belly.
  261. >Her organic arms are gone, metal plates bolted into her flesh. On her left side, there is a mechanical arm, smooth plates sliding against one another, articulated mechanical fingers tipped with long, blunt canine claws.
  262. >The other arm is a cluster of mechanical tendrils of various sizes that writhe and skitter across the floor of the vehicle. They're tipped with a variety of tools: saws, knives, syringes, little claws, forceps, and other tools you don't recognize.
  263. >Her legs are also mechanical, terminating in heavy rubberized hooves, although you can't help but notice her thick, canine pussy is still intact. Her skinny tail is pressed between her legs, but doesn't conceal anything.
  264. >"Tech!" the Lieutenant says again. None of the enemy have ever been captured alive, either the Skarl or their mutilated prisoners. Normally, her body would be controlled by a Skarl nearby, and if there were none, the sensory tower would relay information to and from her, making her mostly autonomous.
  266. >But you'd destroyed the sensory tower.
  267. >Her speaker hisses and crackles.
  268. >"Help me," she moans, mouth hanging open and not moving as the speaker vibrates. "I can't see."
  270. >"Can you disable it?" Lieutenant Apone asks, and then "If you move, we're going to shoot you." That, to the captive.
  272. >You crawl into the cavity in the back of the transport, blood dripping from the ceiling, meat visible between the dented plates. The smell is terrible, stinking like rotten meat and infected flesh, and you give her writhing limbs a wide berth as you inspect the wires and tubes studding her head and spine.
  273. >You think you understand the essentials of the design. Letting your rifle hang loose in its sling, you draw your knife, and sure enough, the mechanical tenticles cease to move when you clip one of the wires. The arm, similarly, fall slack when you clip a second one.
  274. >Sheathing the knife, you draw your sidearm, pressing the barrel against the skin on her back.
  275. >"Move," you say, and she does, staggering blindly forward. The coyote catches her under the arm and helps her out the back of the vehicle, the smell of rotting flesh becoming stronger as its meat begins to hiss and sputter, corroding the metal adjacent to it. The Skarl soldiers are little more than piles of bubbling, reeking flesh and rust, and you help her into the back of the APC.
  277. >The Lieutenant and the coyote join you, the Okapi occupying the driver's seat, and there's a shriek of tortured metal before the APC slides backward, tearing free of the wreckage, before peeling out and speeding away.
  279. >"What the fuck?" Hudson mutters, and you help to restrain the captive? rescuee? before you clip on your own restraints, sitting next to Hudson.
  281. "That went better than expected," Apone says
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