“The stronger always replace the weaker.”

­­––Jack Backstrom, Ph.D.


It was hot and humid in the jungle. But the sweat running down Alex’s back was the cold, creeping sweat of fear. One of the deadly creatures they were chasing was just fifty steps away, and another was somewhere nearby.

Hiding behind a bulky, moss-covered tree coiled with thick, woody lianas, Alex Becker stared at the opening in the forest just ahead of his position. Keira Olds, his partner on this mission, was a few paces away from him, hidden exceptionally well, invisible unless you knew where to look.

Alex turned his head very slowly, looked right, and recognized her blue eyes between the leaves. He winked at her, and she winked back. She was the brain of this operation, while Alex was the muscle, guide, and bodyguard. If worse came to worst, he would take the heat and help her escape. Hopefully, it wouldn’t need to come to that.

He turned his eyes back to the opening ahead, which wasn’t easy–the girl was pretty, and way more interesting to look at than the still, dim jungle he was supposed to be watching. Smart and pretty. Unfortunately, they were just colleagues. But who knew? He still had some time to impress her.

Alex desperately wanted to smoke, but knew he couldn’t. And not because it was a terrible old habit he should have abandoned years ago. No, nothing like that. A squashed pack of Marlboros was in the chest pocket of his shirt, but the timing was all wrong: they needed to remain stealthy and undetectable. Otherwise, this expedition would be wasted.

They could even end up dead.

This was why they both had forced their bodies into a tight space between enormous tree roots, covered their faces in mud, and remained motionless since the moment they arrived here. All of this, combined with the drenched-in-sweat camouflage uniforms, made them nearly invisible to the naked eye. Still, Alex wasn’t entirely sure that their presence here was a secret to the two extraordinary creatures they were tracking.

Very slowly, he stretched his right hand out to move aside a little branch obstructing his view. The fresh tattoo above his wrist stated: ‘Screw them before they screw us.’ He admired it for a second.

The discourteous and provocative slogan had a traditional skull and crossbones above it. However, instead of a human skull, it was the red-eyed robot skull from the old Terminator movie. None of his friends back in the States understood this cryptic message, which was an addition to the much older Marine Corps tattoo on his left arm: Semper Fidelis. Always faithful. But Alex was familiar with something his friends knew very little about –– advanced cybernetic creatures, which happened to be his new realm.

Twisting the twig between his fingers, he bent it without a sound. Now he could see everything he wanted to see, which included the incarnation of death itself standing in the center of the clearing in front of him.

Something ugly, remotely resembling a cross between a mechanical lobster and a heavy battle tank from a futuristic sci-fi movie, was having a rest while aiming its polished solar panels at the sun. The creature shifted its massive, armored plates down and extended the panels up.

The tank comprised a collection of what looked like semi-random parts welded and bolted together to form its nearly three-meter tall bulk. Perhaps the sci-fi movie it was in had a limited budget. However, all these parts formed one highly functional fighting machine, and while it wasn’t beautiful, it was effective and deadly. And it was clear to Alex that this machine would attack and kill anything or anyone threatening it.

It does look like a lobster, he thought. Why do they follow animal designs at all?

It’s from the twelfth generation… So let’s see what happens next!


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