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Jaime Jimenez adjusted his goggles, slipping the cloth that was wrapped around his head under the straps. He glanced at the others through the tinted lens, twelve in total. They were waiting for his command, a gesture to move forth into the scorching light. He jabbed his finger in front of him, and the group stealthily moved forward, dipping their heads from the sun. Each wore a uniform that protected them, yet they couldn’t stay out for too long, or they would die.
An old scrap of newspaper tumbled towards Jaime; it latched onto his leg. He peeled it off and glanced at the headline. It was news from four years ago that read Scientists Baffled by Solar Flares. Jaime tossed it over his shoulders. He remembered reading the last newspaper printed before the meteor hit the world.
Scraping alerted Jaime and his crew; they hid behind turned-over cars and remnants of walls. From behind a car, he peered over to where the sound came from. It was one of the Lizards, and it was alone. Sniffing the arid air, it lashed its tail back and forth. The Lizard hopped onto a pile of rubble; it turned in a circle and hissed. Jaime knew that the Lizard sensed their presence.
Getting the attention of the others, Jaime gesticulated his plan of attack. His people would have to encircle the creature. He watched as part of his crew stepped into a crumbled building; they headed out the other side. Jaime glanced back at the Lizard; it had jumped down and was approaching slowly in his direction. Catching sight of the few tightening the circle, Jaime left his hiding place.
The Lizard snarled and curled its talons, raising on its hind legs to spring. Jaime pointed his weapon towards its head and fired. A cacophony of shots rang out as all of his crew fired upon the Lizard. It shrieked, not knowing who to pounce. Two of the fighters flung themselves to the ground as the Lizard plowed into them. The Lizard darted off on two legs, a cloud of dust and blood following its wake. The two that dropped to the ground gathered themselves up quickly while the others slapped at their bodies, trying to relieve them of the hot dirt.
“We need to follow it back to its lair,” Jaime told the group. “It will alert the others of our approach.”
With a clipped nod, the few most nimble of the group dashed off after the injured Lizard. Jaime brought up the rear with the last remaining. He couldn’t tell what time of day it was, he only knew that it would be setting shortly, and it didn’t matter since he and the others weren’t sure if this would be the last time they saw the bright light of day.
Jaime and his crew trained for a year; having been special ops, he molded them into a tight, lethal team against the Lizards. They were young and old, women and men, a varied group with one thing in common – they had no one left besides themselves. Jaime chose them for that exact reason: they were responsible for taking out the Lizards’ lair and their Queen, a one-way trip to the bowels of hell.
Underneath the layers of clothes, Jaime wore sweat like a fitted glove; it barely kept him cool. Slowing down, he grabbed his dented water bottle from his hip holster and dragged at the spout. Some of the crew passed him and flanked out to kneel behind the large detritus. Among the swirling sand and heat, Jaime could see that the smaller group had caught up with the beast in the corner of a half wall. Signaling to the others nearby, they took off individually to assist.
The Lizard hissed and lashed as blood dripped from the bullet hole wounds on its abdomen. Reaching his arm towards his back, Jaime pulled out his Katana blade. One of his crew members noticed and taunted the beast; with the Lizard distracted, Jaime sprinted forward and drove the blade across its neck. He dipped to the side as blood sprayed like a sprinkler during Summer. It sizzled on the ground as if acid had rained.
“From here on out, we use our hush weapons,” Jaime said as he wiped his Katana.
Each pulled out a sharp tool – an axe, a machete, a sword. They glinted fiercely under the waning sun.
Huddled behind boulders in a deep valley, Jaime and his crew waited as the sun slipped into a soup of pink and purple clouds. The Earth gave off a scent of toasted dirt and Lizard musk. They were not too far from the entrance of the lair. The group began to remove their goggles. Jaime scanned their eyes for fear, yet there were none. After losing everything, what was there to fear, not death, at least not for Jaime; he only wished it to come for him quickly.
It was always in the back of his mind, festering like an open wound. After all, he had seen during his years in combat; he was numb from the killing and the dying. He witnessed many civilian deaths and held on to his comrades as they slipped away in his arms. The world had gotten plagued by civil wars, and he was sent to every single one. When the news came of the impending end of the world, Jaime thought it was the best thing that could have happened to it. He hadn’t expected to live or continue to; he had found a purpose now; to help the world start over.
Blinking out of his reverie, Jaime surveyed the burrowed tunnel. It lay about 50 feet from where they hid. The opening was wide enough to fit a utility van, big enough to fit the Lizards and their Queen, a massive creature that laid eggs once a year. Jaime couldn’t recall at what time of the year since the last remaining scientist that was trying to study them was killed.
“Alright, does anyone have anything to say before we go in?’ Jaime asked; it was a ritual he began on his first combat mission.
One of them raised his hand slowly.
“Yes, Isaac?” Jaime said.
Isaac lowered his covering over his mouth and turned to the person beside him. “Robert, I just wanted to say that I love you and that if it weren’t for you, I would have killed myself on that day you found me after the meteor. I live because of you.” Isaac said as his last words quivered on his lips.
Robert took hold of Isaac and embraced him tightly. Some of the others sighed. For a brief moment, Jaime felt that he was at a family gathering where everyone he cared about spoke to each other with love. He rubbed at his eyes as he realized he didn’t have anyone to talk to like that. A hand touched his shoulder, and he glanced at the person it belonged to.
“Angelita.” Jaime breathed.
“Jaime,” She said, leaning over to hug him.
Then he remembered – the feelings he kept pushing down into his gut stirred and released into his chest. Jaime didn’t want these feelings for Angela to surface; it was dangerous to love someone knowing they could be gone. The surreal haze of the hug shimmered into reality, and Jaime pulled away.
“We have to go now.” He said and gradually stood.
Criss-crossing before him, Jaime and the soldiers snuck up to the entrance. They paused as they listened for any sound of movement. Giving the signal, the group grabbed their night vision goggles from their belts and placed them on. Jaime indicated that he would go first and that the rest would follow suit; he waited for the acknowledgment meant. Raising his head towards the sky, he genuflected and stepped into the opening.
Nothing prepared Jaime for the precision of the tunnel; he touched the wall and was impressed by how smoothly dug and stable it was. The others glanced from side to side, no doubt marveling at it too. The scientists had compared the Lizards to Earth’s Australian monitors, large reptiles with yellow and black scales and elongated necks. But, instead of eating small mammals, these aliens were after bigger game and have preyed on the remaining humans. Flung to Earth riding a meteor by a solar flare from the void of space, the Lizards didn’t hesitate to claim the planet for their own.
Stepping in unison into the corkscrew tunnel, the crew held their sharp weapons high. The goggles provided a neon sign-style lining over every rock and human bone. The musky smell intensified as they continued. Jaime dropped to one knee and held a fist up; he heard the gravelly sound of knees hitting the ground. He signaled that he had heard a sound. They paused and shifted into place. Rapid clacking of gravel approached. Looming out of the darkness ahead, a Lizard snarled and dashed at them.
Jaime waited as it reached a foot from him, and he brought his blade from below up toward its abdomen. A squelch and a splash hit the ground. The crew increased their steps behind Jaime as he picked up the pace. More appeared like stragglers at the end of a marathon from different tunnels, and each one the soldiers tactfully slaughtered. Jaime expected this, was hoping that they would reveal themselves. It was the only way to know where the nesting grounds were, by following the trail of the dead.
The group advanced into a massive cavern strewn with human remains. Jaime stood transfixed at the number of eggs nestled around the Queen. He sensed the others stiffen next to him. The Queen had its back to them and began to stir as the shuffling of Lizards from the connecting tunnels descended upon them.
Jaime gesticulated to the others to cover his back and the entrances, and they took off. Angela flanked his right side as she always had for the past four years. He glanced at her, and even though they were wearing night vision goggles, he imagined her smiling. Yanking the explosive from his belt, he ran towards the nearest egg; it bulged and heaved as he placed the bomb on it.
Setting the timer quickly, he backward stepped. The Queen was nearing its complete turn to face them. Jaime pushed at Angela and whoever else was close. The others at the entrances took notice and began to ascend the tunnel back to the surface. There was a scream, and Jaime turned to see one of the soldiers drop under the blow of a Lizard. Another soldier tried to turn back to the fallen and was taken too.
Chaos reigned as sharpened weaponry was replaced by bullets. Jaime waved his arm at the soldiers encouraging them to escape. His goggles bobbed as he alternated shooting and running. The Earth beneath their feet quaked, causing Jaime to tumble forward. Scrambling to his feet, he grabbed onto Angela and tugged. Dirt rained on them, and the floor cracked. He gave up shooting and focused on making it. The opening came into view as he felt a billowing of dust roll onto him; he was dragged forward and slammed to the ground.
Jaime lifted his head. Spitting the coarse dirt from his mouth, he slowly got to his feet. He searched for his crew but only saw a dense curtain of sand. A shape came forth, then two, in all five. One of them wrapped their arms around him. Releasing Angela, Jaime removed her goggles and then his. He embraced her once more.