THIRTY-FOUR

Outside the Exxon Building, New York, NY

Deep Blue marveled at how in moments of extreme action, the human mind could sometimes slow things down to a crawl and your perceptions heightened to the point where you could pick out a speck of dust floating in the air, as if it were suspended in time.

That was happening now for him. He and the dire wolf that had propelled him through the window on the 40 ^th floor of the Exxon Building fell in spectacular slow motion. Tiny fragments and slivers of glittering glass rained down around them. Deep Blue was further from the wall of the skyscraper than the dire wolf that was already reaching out toward the wall of glass. Deep Blue drew his knife. The EOD variant of the Army M9 bayonet came up and Deep Blue thrust the wicked blade down toward the exposed rear flank of the falling dire wolf.

The upside down monster scrabbled at the slick glass and concrete surface of the building with its clear claws. At the same moment that Deep Blue plunged the sharp point of the blade into the creature’s rump, its claws found purchase on the concrete space between the windows. The blade sank into the creature at an angle and a thick white fluid spurted out of the wound in a slow-motion arc, sweeping over Deep Blue’s knife hand. The creature stopped falling. Deep Blue nearly lost his grip on the knife as his fall suddenly jerked to a stop, but he held on with a determined shout that filled his helmet.

Then he slipped lower.

The dire wolf’s claws had found a tight grip on the concrete upright of the building. It wasn’t falling anymore. But the knife, sunken deep into the beast’s flesh, was too sharp. The weight of Deep Blue’s body pulled the blade down, along the creature’s ass and into its lower back.

Finally, the blade chewed into spinal bone-Deep Blue could see the pronounced spinal column pushing against the skin, like the bones of a hideously skinny man. The blade lodged fast into the spine and Deep Blue’s descent stuttered to a halt, just as time resumed its natural pace.

Deep Blue looked back up the building and saw that the spectacular fall had only taken two stories from the shattered window up on 40. The dire wolf clung to the wall upside down outside the 38 ^th floor. Deep Blue hung from one arm, his hand clutching the knife tightly. He looked down to the street far below him.

A mistake.

It was a long way down and the street was totally empty. There was no sign of Keasling or the Army. Then he remembered where he was. He was dangling from the creature’s back over West 50 ^th Street. Keasling and his men were on 49 ^th, under the portal.

He turned his attention back to the dire wolf. It wasn’t moving, but he suspected the beast was in pain. The muscles in its back were twitching out a samba, but it refused to move. The extra weight of Deep Blue, plus the twenty pounds of armor and weap-onry he wore, were clearly taking a toll on the thing. Deep Blue wasn’t sure what his next move would be.

Then the dire wolf made the choice for him.

It slid one of its rear legs backward and up the concrete pillar. The helmet’s heads-up display and the camera built into the faceplate registered the motion and reported it to Deep Blue. The creature stretched the leg as far up as it could and then sank its translucent claws on that foot deep into the concrete. Then it slid one of its clawed hands higher.

Son of a bitch. He’s going to try to climb backward up to the window, with me still hanging from him.

That was not going to work out well for Deep Blue. If the creature made it to the shattered window above, it would be free to attack him while he was still hanging out over the drop.

He tried King one more time through the communications link. “King! Wake up soldier! I need you!”

No response. Whatever was holding the man under its thrall was powerful.

Deep Blue reached his free hand up and grabbed the beast between its legs. The area was smooth, lacking any reproductive organs that he could feel.

Thank God for small favors.

He climbed up the creature’s back as it pulled itself up the wall backward. Once his grip was secure in the beast’s crotch, Deep Blue released the knife and quickly pulled an M67 fragmentation grenade-the only one he had-from a pouch on the front of his armor.

He popped the safety clip, thumbed out the pin and let the spoon flip outward into a graceful arc across the Midtown sky. He then rammed the grenade into the oozing wound left behind by the knife in the creature’s ass. He let go of the device and pulled his fist back. Then for good measure, he rammed his fist back into the wound, punching the grenade deeper.

Then he pulled his feet up and thrust them against the dire wolf’s back. He sprang and flew backward into the chasm of air between the Exxon Building and the Time-Life Building.

Deep Blue was still in his lateral swan dive out into space when the fragmentation grenade detonated, ripping the dire wolf in half and grotesquely sending its severed legs flying first up and then down, while its torso remained clinging to the wall for a horrible second longer, before it, too, began to fall.

With only 450 feet to fall, Deep Blue’s body was moving rapidly, so he just barely had time to twist in the air and pull the ripcord on the small parachute he wore. They had only had one nuclear device, and King carried that. With battle in a vertical space, Deep Blue had thought to carry a parachute-just in case.

As his parachute popped open, Deep Blue enjoyed the relatively calm nine-second ride to the street below him. He reflected that this was now the second time in a period of 24 hours that he had needed a parachute. I might start wearing one of these all the time.

The ground rushed up to meet him as Deep Blue pulled and released the toggles. As he came to a landing, Lewis Aleman contacted him on the headset in his helmet.

“That was interesting, Boss. Twice in one day?”

“Shut it, Ale.” His feet touched the ground and he quickly detached from the parachute and began to sprint back to the building’s doors. He needed to get back inside to help King.

“Got something that might help a lot. The dire wolves don’t see well with interference in the air surrounding them. Bishop reported they can’t deal with rain. Anywhere you can pick up some chaff?” Aleman’s voice sounded excited. They finally had a way to combat the creatures.

“As a matter of fact, yes. There is. Thanks, Lewis. You might just have saved the day.”

Deep Blue signed off and reversed his direction away from the building, and headed toward 6 ^th instead. As he reached the road, an olive drab Humvee came ripping around the corner, its thick tires barking on the pavement. Before it was done skidding to a halt in front of Deep Blue, General Keasling had the door open and was getting out.

“Holy shit, Tom! Are you okay?” Keasling hadn’t bothered to don his hat upon exiting the vehicle. Deep Blue thought this might be one of very few times he had seen the General lose military bearing when in uniform. He felt touched that his friend was exhibiting such care for him. Plus, he was pretty glad to be alive, himself.

“I’ll be fine, General.” Deep Blue shook the man’s outstretched hand. “In fact, I feel like having a party. Aleman says the creatures can’t see though airborne chaff and rain. The sprinkler system in the tower is empty, but there was a party supply store a few blocks down on 6 ^th, remember? Let’s go buy us some confetti. Then I need to get back up there. Something has control of King. It’s time we took control instead.”

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