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Palindrome’s base was located near the bay a few cities over. Five buildings were surrounded by a moat with no visible way to cross the water. Theodore surmised they used a shipping company as a front if they were doing something illegal with stolen materials. He saw why Boss wanted to avoid eliminating them completely. If he played his cards right, he could absorb Palindrome into Rift and have access to their port. 

The werecat sneered. It wasn’t like Boss was short on transportation companies.

Theodore looked back at the members accompanying him on the siege. Lying in wait with fifty men and many more aboard the aircraft parked on the farther side of the bay, Rift was more than prepared to face their adversary. Palindrome must know that they were here. 

To his knowledge, he had no main target. They were tasked to clear everyone out of the buildings. The larger of the five buildings supposedly held the communication station. If they reached it, they could gain access to all of Palindrome’s operations. Knowing Palindrome packed explosives in the same bag carrying stolen goods, Theodore was wary about them rigging their own buildings to eliminate evidence.

“We’re going to split up into teams of ten,” he ordered, turning to his people. “One person from each group will stay behind to pick off any runaways, report the situation to the airship, and relay messages to the other squads. Ten people, our sharpshooters, two from each group will help set up bridges and start reducing numbers. Once the route is secured, everyone else will—”

“Oh my God!” “Shit!” “What the heck?” and numerous other proclamations interrupted Theodore. He turned to see what had them frazzled and witnessed a huge amphibious fish drag the airship into the bay. The thing was ugly, but the familiar scar running from its jaw to hind leg stuck out to him. 

Desperate but futile attempts to kill the fish filled the air. 

Then there was silence. 

Theodore was uncertain how to react. He had lived through too many firsts today, and he wanted some semblance of normalcy and predictability to return. 

He worried about the fish being E.O. Two people having the same scar was impossible. Him being a fish was impossible…Theodore pressed his lips together. He could transform into a snow leopard, so perhaps transforming into a fish several times E.O’s size wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities? 

What about the airship Rift destroyed only two hours ago? E.O couldn’t have survived! Nervous, he itched to transform but knew he couldn’t do so in front of the others. 

“Jeremy…your knife.”

“What? Why? Did you see how large that thing was? A knife will do jack shit to it.”

Theodore looked at him and narrowed his eyes. “Give it to me.”

Jeremy hoped the others would back him up. As much as he probably hated to admit it, Theodore outranked him. With the leopard being so close to Boss, Jeremy had no choice. Ignoring the werecat’s order meant ignoring Boss himself. Theo never corrected that thinking since it proved useful when they were among Rift members. 

Begrudgingly, Jeremy forfeited his custom blade.

“I’m going to miss that knife, but I know escapin’ Boss has been a lifelong dream of yours,” Jeremy spat, already surveying the area for a place to hide. “Didn’t think being eaten was the way to go.”

Theodore ignored him. “One team take Jeremy and our other hackers into the tallest building. The other four teams will clear out the rest. The rest of you, stay alert. Palindrome isn’t afraid to blow themselves up.”

The werecat led ten men towards the moat. He kept looking to the bay for any signs of the giant fish, but it was quiet. As they got closer, bridges rose from the water. The men quit advancing and drew their weapons. 

Theodore heard then saw the giant fish emerge near their location. The creature’s scars were much clearer now, and he cursed beneath his breath. What may be E.O was met with a volley of bullets. The fish had advanced on shore a bit before retreating into the water with a splash and what sounded like a battle cry.

As the water rained down, a few tongues lashed out to grab Theodore and other nearby Rift members and reeled them towards the moat. With no time to react, he was dragged under the water and faced his enemy. 

There were three of them. Like something out of a sci-fi movie, they had chameleon like eyes, a wide mouth, apparent gills, and six limbs ending with webbed appendages. Was Palindrome doing human experiments? He swung the knife forward to defend himself.

Is that why O.E. recognized IAM Pharmaceuticals? 

He pulled up his captured leg and used the knife to set himself free. As the creature writhed and moved to grab him again, he landed a solid kick between the eyes and swam to the surface for air. He pulled himself out of the water and onto the ascended bridge. Immediately, a burning pain on his leg forced a yelp. Noticing that his pants had melted away, Theodore gagged at his skin bubbling at the contact site. 

Gross, he thought as he rose to his feet. He wavered, but he braced himself and removed the handgun from his waist. Without glancing in the creature’s direction, he fired one shot toward the lengthening tongue and another at its emerging head. He transferred the gun to his other hand and took aim at the creature drowning his colleague. He pulled the trigger, but the bullet fell short.

Of course, that was what the damn movies got right. 

Rest in peace comrades. 

Sensing no other enemies charging him, Theodore pressed forward towards the buildings. 

His injured leg was a deadweight. He felt dizzy but knew the toxin wouldn’t kill him. There were too many things he needed to do before he’d keel over. 

Eliminating the roaches was the current hurdle.

Theodore clenched his chest. 

Urgh. Why was the building so far away? 

The gun slipped from his hand. He dropped to his knees and wheezed in attempts to catch his breath. Struggling to recover, he inspected his leg again. The skin bubbled more, and the calf noticeably swelled.

“So, da rabbit can even withstand poison?” a familiar voice asked. 

He flinched. He hadn’t sensed her!

“O.E.” Theo breathed, looking up to see the bright-haired woman with an arm covered in yellow paint. Recovering his gun, he shakily pointed it at her and continued through clenched teeth, “How are you alive?”

“By da same reason as you: I’m not hu—” 

Theodore shot at her heart. 

O.E. fell backwards. 

As soon as she hit the ground, her body disintegrated into a pile of ash.

She wasn’t lying. Theodore knew no human who would dissolve like that. Rolling to his back, he watched the rest of Rift retreat from the  amphibious monster that had made another appearance. It looked in his direction and roared before diving into the bay once more. Some Rift members fled further from the shore. A handful were dragged into the moat, but many Rift members continued with their siege. 

The idiots. What were they promised? A promotion? Did they not see that he had fallen? They had so much to lose. The plan failed. They needed to retreat.

It was too late. Palindrome returned fire. A few enemy ATVs and stripped Jeeps rolled out onto the property and mowed down Rift members with no hesitation. Theodore’s nose tickled with the stench of blood polluting the air. His ears tingled at the gun shots. Was this Boss’ intention? If they strategized, they wouldn’t be in this precarious situation.

He wanted to go home. This was game over.



© 2021: Operation: UGAWTS || The Cat in Rabbit's Fur || Short Story ||


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