The following is a standalone story but operates as a prequel to characters and events seen in Kill Switch and Kill Switch: Serial Escalation, available on Amazon in eBook and paperback form.
“Run, rabbit, run rabbit! Run! Run! Run!”
Sweat drips into eye. Hot. Baking in the cave like an oven. Fire crackles orange and fills it with smoke. Man across the fire. Singing.
“Run, rabbit! Run, rabbit, run, run! Run!”
Man is one they were ordered to bring in. Tall. Looks like some kind of savage. Markings cut into face fresh. Pink and scabby. Tribal. Man he sings to is a soldier, in uniform. Man singing across the fire is a better soldier, not in uniform.
“Your target is Michael Faulds, Special Forces, codename ‘Maneater’. He was sent on a long range recon, intel gathering, but ended up going native in a big way.”
Maneater née Michael Faulds’ face, no scars, dominates screen at front of room. White room full of chairs. Chairs are full of fellow soldiers. Full of dead men.
“He’s gone rogue and needs to be put down, but the intel in his head is too valuable. You need to take him and bring him in alive.”
Hovercraft crosses desert at night. Troop carrier. No running lights. Black on black. Full of dead men. Full of weapons too. Droids. Drones. Overkill, thinks the soldier. It’s not. Maneater knows they’re coming. He’s waiting.
“Bang, bang! Bang! Bang! Goes the farmer’s gun. Run, rabbit, run, rabbit! Run! Run! Run!”
Long piece of meat over fire. Soldier can smell it cooking. Like pork but not pork. Smoke and heat drying out eyes. Maneater holds knife. Cuts a strip off meat and tastes it.
Front of cave opens up like a funnel. Dozens of rooms and passages bored deep into earth. Some natural passageways. Others cut from stone. Used by insurgents. Used by Maneater now. Full of traps. Hidden doorways. Drones go in. Can’t map it. Don’t come back out. Dead men go in. Don’t come back out.
Deactivate the IEDs. This is too easy. Board with nails springs out of wall. Punches through Parker’s face. Blood everywhere.
“Got him in the fucking brain, man!”
Passageways are single file. Some so small they’ve got to crawl. Hands and knees. Squeezing. Rats in a warren. Soldier is behind Hodgson. Hodgson in lead. Hodgson goes down, nearly takes soldier with him. False floor in tunnel. Rotten plywood covered in dirt. Breaks and goes a long, long way down. Hodgson mangled by walls before he hits bottom.
Double back. Trap in room wasn’t there before. Some kind of acid. Gets Struthers. Holy Shit, Man. Holy Fucking Shit. Did You See His Face, Man? Did You See What It Did To His Face? We Got To Get Out Of Here, Man. We Got To.
Maneater is in the walls. He’s a part of this place now. He’s already behind them. He’s everywhere. He’s got this whole place memorised. They can’t stop him. He’s like a ghost.
“Crazy or not, do not underestimate Faulds. He is a very dangerous individual.”
“Don’t give the farmer his fun, fun! Fun! He’ll get by without his rabbit pie! So run rabbit! Run rabbit run rabbit run rabbit run!”
Cuts more meat off bone. Eats. Soldier’s heart is pounding. Mouth dry. Knows something he doesn’t want to know. Stares at man across fire.
“Best way to keep the meat fresh out here, you know? No refrigerators, no sir. No ice. A walking larder is just the thing to-, well, not walking but you know what I mean.”
“Bedouin used to do it with their camels, you know? Keep them alive, every day, take a sharp, sharp knife and cut a little slice off the top of the hump. Just a little piece, like they was straightening out a piece of wood, roll it up, eat it. Keep going until there was no more hump. Then they’d eat the tail. Then they’d take one of the legs, camel can keep going on three legs. Then they take the other one, then the other one, make that mother hop-pop-pop-pop. Then they’d take the last leg, make it keep crawling on its belly like a snail. Then they’d eat the rest of it. Save the head till last, alive, and then they’d eat that mother too.”
Soldier looks down. Both legs end below the knee. Uniform pants knotted up and soaked in drying blood. Jag of bone. Looks up. Meat over fire has a foot on it.
“You-, motherfucker, you eating me.”
“Damn, Slim, you got me. Hardly anything of your skinny ass though.”
“Run, rabbit! Run! Rabbit! Run! Run! Run!”
“On the farm, every Friday! On the farm, it’s rabbit pie day!”
Walls shake. Dust falls from ceiling. Maneater is caught with his mouth full. Starts toward AK-47 propped against rock at back of cave. Walls shake again. Roof of cave fissures open with blast of heat. Maneater fires into hole. Laughs. Spidery droids scuttle out of hole. Metal gleams in firelight. Bullets bounce off their sides. Stun weapons flare. Blinding flash fills cave.
“You did a fine job, soldier, a fine job. Your country thanks you for your sacrifice.”
Another white room. Hospital. Sterile. Harsh lights buzz in ceiling. Beeping monitors and smell like antiseptic. Curtain is drawn around bed. General leans over. Badges shine on chest.
“Amazing what they can do with prosthetics these days. You watch, we’re going to get you new legs, better than your old legs. You’ll run faster, jump higher, than you ever thought possible.”
Soldier’s eyes track around room. IV tube winds its way into arm. Sheets are clean. Crisp. They drop away too soon, just below knees. Neatly tuck away at corners at bottom of mattress. Nurse looks over. Concern.
“Do you know-, where you are, soldier? Do you know what happened?”
“He’s on a lot of medication, General, when they found him-,”
Soldier hums to himself. General and nurse walk away. He needs his rest. Hums. Tune comes from far away. Empty eyes stare far. See nothing.
“He’ll get by without his rabbit pie, so run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run.”