"Uh, hey," Hugert said in the Universal Commerce Tongue of Imperatrix. "What brings you odd beasts of this planet to a jungle such as this one?"

"Gu, roxxo," Captain Henry heard the Al-Qaeda terrorist say in his guttural Arabic crazy talk. "Mu-ta undeekii rorshul mikka durna moto?"

"Sir, what the fuck is that thing?!" Specialist Godowsky said with genuine terror.

Captain Henry reached forward, slowly inserting the index finger of his left hand into the trigger guard of the Desert Eagle taped to his M-60.

"A dead Al-Qaeda operative."

Hugert heard the roar of the strange device, saw the angry yellow flashes and wondered what it all meant for a split second. Then enough pieces of flying metal slashed through his body to make him stop being alive very messily. He crumpled back on his inverse knees, chunks of scaly flesh being torn out of his head, torso, and limbs. Even in death Hugert's hand clung tightly to Licky's leash, but as luck would have it one of the bullets sliced through the thin cord and freed Licky from being tethered to her dying master.

Gotuk beasts were not smart creatures. They did not really understand any language, reacting more to tone of voice and olfactory stimulus than any actual words spoken. Licky did not know that her Chimopteran master was dead, but she could tell that he was being hurt by something the strange fleshy creatures were doing to him. The sounds were scary, but Licky was raised in the engine room of starships and was accustomed to sudden loud noises.

Under the circumstances, Licky did the only thing she could; she threw up. Licky hacked and hunched and regurgitated a stream of digestive juices fifteen feet long that showered three of the members of the Gamma Strikers in sizzling high molar acid. They shrieked in agony, dropping their guns and tearing at their clothes even as they dissolved into the flesh beneath. Captain Henry did not even notice, he was still busy neutralizing the Al-Qaeda threat which was lying prone on the jungle floor and shaking with bullet impacts. Corporal Rodriguez, stinking smoke billowing from his acid-splashed arm, raised his AR-15 and fired a three-round burst into the corpulent beast with the pig-snout.

Licky was slammed back by the gunfire, howling in pain but more angry than injured. She recovered from the attack and leapt forward with frightening speed, hurtling over the blazing gun of Captain Henry and landing on the chest of Corporal Rodriguez. She knocked the rifle from his hands and buried her razor-sharp teeth in his throat. Rodriguez gasped and gagged on blood, reaching blindly for his combat knife and flailing with his other hand at the creature's head.

Lieutenant Hwong, the unit's sniper, snapped out of his horrified stupor and drew his sidearm. He pressed the barrel against the shaking head of the creature attacking Rodriguez and fired. He emptied the entire clip and still had to punch its bulk off of Rodriguez's chest.

The ammunition belt feeding Captain Henry's M-60 chattered through the last few rounds and the gun at last fell silent. The area was by no means quiet even after the shooting had stopped. Two of the Gamma Strikers were still screaming about the acid rapidly dissolving them, Rodriguez was making a choking gurgling sound, and Lieutenant Hwong was on the brink of hyperventilating. Captain Henry turned back to his team and surveyed the devastation. More than half of the team was still in perfectly good condition so he wasn't about to abort the mission.

There were several Al-Qaeda terrorists and PCP addicts in the clearing that still needed some American Justice.

"Hwong," Captain Henry placed a firm grip on the sniper's shoulder. "Get it together and see what you can do for Rodriguez and the others."

He was not sure who they were because their faces were so badly burned, although he might have guessed through a process of elimination. Hwong nodded, trying to get his breathing under control.

"The rest of you are with me." Captain Henry picked up Rodriguez's assault rifle and looted his utility pouches for spare magazines. "We've got a cartel compound to clear out."

Eighty miles away on a banana plantation a Quonset hut packed with sensitive radio intercept equipment shook with laughter.

– Zack "Geist Editor" Parsons (@sexyfacts4u)

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