The rocky terrain slowly disappeared and soft earth took its place. Not much, but enough to support life. The damage from the past had not reached here, perhaps due to the arc of mountains that formed about it. Whatever it was, the wilderness was behind and prospects were ahead: supplies, communities, information.
Straker stopped and looked about him, wary of threats, also looking for life. He wasn’t sure what type of being he would come across, but he was confident in himself; there wasn’t anything he couldn’t evade, outsmart or overcome. Even so, he took his automatic rifle from his shoulder and checked it over. Hardly his weapon of choice, old and troublesome, but he had carried out enough repairs on it to know it would do its job. He checked his ammunition in his backpack as well; three more magazines, plus only two grenades – he would have to try to get more if possible. He had a long knife strapped to a thigh and a small one tucked in a boot, plus he could kill with his hands, yet some problems needed an explosion to solve.
He continued his purposeful stride. Tall, muscular, but not bulky; he was a sculpted figure on the landscape. His hands were rough and his face was grim. His green eyes flicked about as he walked. He hoped he met humans or mutants here; he could pass for either, although in time the former would probably detect his superior abilities. Even so, as long as he was brief and careful, he could get what he needed and be gone before suspicion arose. As for mutants, they would revere him or possibly hate him on sight; some were jealous of perfection.
Sounds came to his sharp ears and he dropped, smoothly and suddenly, lying on the grass with his rifle ready. Then beings appeared, not too far away, climbing out of the ground, looking up and around before hurrying in one direction. Straker stayed still, watching, as over twenty figures stopped at a patch of upturned earth and rooted through it. Straker had already noticed a number of such patches about the area. There were also trees and bushes. Some individuals broke off to a nearby cluster where sacks were being filled. It was clear what was happening, but the sense of urgency was mysterious.
Then there was panic as the group heard a whirling noise. Straker had already heard it and seen the dots in the sky when they could not, but they seemed to know what these were and ran for their safety. The fleers were of all shapes and sizes, several moved awkwardly; Straker knew they were mutants and so rose.
“Quick, get in,” he urged, running for the hole in the ground himself, using the situation to gain entrance. They reeled in surprise but never stopped running. He aimed his weapon skyward. “I’ll cover you, hurry up.” The flying objects were closing in. Straker had never seen the like, but the mutants had and fled underground, the last closing the hatch, disguising the way.
“Who are you?” someone asked Straker, who had slipped in with the last few, not giving them a chance to shut him out. “Are you a human?”
“No, he’s a super-soldier,” another, a middle-aged woman, replied for him.
“How do you know that?” asked Straker calmly.
“You look too good to be human.”
The tall fighter grinned at that and rubbed his close-cropped black hair as he dipped his head to her. “My name is Straker and, yes, I‘m a mutant like you.”
“Not like us,” a young man noted, holding up his crooked arm. “Also, your skin and speech is different.”
“I am from far away, the other side of the world, in fact. I don’t know much about my lineage, after all, it no longer matters, but racially I am Hispanic. I believe you live in what was once Eastern Europe.”
“How do you know such old names?” yet another asked of him.
“I was told them.” Straker just shrugged, none of it was important. “But who are you and what were those things?” That mattered.
“Helicopters,” the youth spat. All in the tunnel looked hateful. “The humans use them. We can’t live up there, no one can, but even after forcing us underground they raid us for our food.” He hefted his sack.
“Then destroy them,” proclaimed Straker, fist raised.
“We can’t,” the older woman complained. “They live on the mountains, thousands of them, and they’ve blocked off every route possible.”
“Clever,” commented Straker, his companions’ plight forgotten as his military instincts kicked in. “With those flying helicopters they rule this area while no one can touch them.”
“It also means they have little food, that’s why they raid us,” someone added.
“How do you survive?” wondered Straker.
“We barely do, but we do,” declared the youth.
“This land doesn’t look like much but it produces quite well, it has learned to do better than it ought to, like we have,” the woman went on. “It’s the raids that do more damage; the humans brutally keep us down.”
“Maybe you could help us,” suggested a young woman.
Straker shrugged. “We’ll see. We should move from this hatch, in case they see it and try to come in,” he advised, and together the mutants headed down the tunnel.
“So you’re a super-soldier,” remarked Orlock, the hunched old man sitting cross-legged before Straker. He was the eldest of the mutants and so an unofficial leader. They were nothing more than a convergence of huddles and gatherings that had come to this habitable space before being united by their cruel neighbours. The pair were in his home, a small cave with a wooden door that was moved in and out of its place for entry, but Straker couldn’t care less; he was eating and he would learn more from his host than any other. “You don’t look like a super-soldier.”
“What?” This made Straker freeze – that was the last thing he expected to hear. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“I haven’t seen a super-soldier since I was young,” mused Orlock, “and you don’t look right. No, sorry, I use the wrong word, you don’t seem right.”
“I’m strong, yet agile. I’m not deformed like you,” Straker said without venom. “What else can I be?”
“I don’t know that, but I know other things. I know that super-soldiers are taller than you. They come in many shapes from around the world but all were made well over six feet. You look just over. I know that because of cloning in the past most super-soldiers have a blandness about their features, yet yours are sharply defined. Also, you seem so… independent. Super-soldiers live by their nature. They are very aggressive, they were made to destroy; even now they are war-like. You, however, seem calm, alert and also calculating. I hope that doesn’t offend you.”
“Not even slightly,” Straker said with a grin, but his look was intent on the old man.
“Super-soldiers were made to be clever at war but not much else, the humans only wanted them for fighting. You look like you could thrive in any situation.” Orlock had tilted his head as he studied his guest and his lopsided face sat straight and normal. “You have come to me to talk about our enemy, which makes strategic sense, but you have sat calmly, eating, patient as I tidy my room. What is your focus really on?”
“Very well, you deserve the truth,” confirmed Straker, but he locked his steely gaze on Orlock. “However, if you spread it any further I will spread you out amongst your people, piece by piece.” Orlock nodded quickly. “Then let me ask if you know about the geography of the world, that this area is part of a huge landmass that spreads in three directions? Well, almost opposite this there is another landmass, a long one that stretches down the world, and I am from the northern part. Actually this landmass was cut in half long ago, but that doesn’t matter.
“You see, my tale goes back to the beginning, when mutants were born and the human race was smashed apart. In that northern land mutants were made, super-soldiers, and also other creations – many experiments were carried out. But then they rebelled. The super-soldiers found that they had shortened life spans and had been secretly cloned. They were human volunteers but had been betrayed, so they struck back. Yet they did more than most mutants. They captured the eight head-scientists who had done so much to them and subjected them to the same.
“Only they liked it. These individuals were intelligent, imaginative and ambitious. They saw potential in their new state so continued experimenting on themselves, killing two, but the survivors became super intelligent and used this to improve the super-soldiers. We have already mentioned the limitations of these beings; the scientists had been ordered to ensure they had some to protect humanity. Now they could seek perfection, eradicate every flaw and explore any avenue they desired. They succeeded. They created the ultra-mutants.”
“You?” questioned Orlock. But he knew the answer, it explained everything.
“I am second generation, even better, but yes, I’m an ultra. We are stronger and faster than super-soldiers, and more intelligent, as you’ve noticed. We aren’t as tall, so we can fit in easier with others, yet we are more in control of our bodies; what we cannot overcome through strength we defeat through skill and cunning. We are all from the same mould because ultras were only made in one place. We’re all six two, lean and muscular. But none of us have been cloned; we are varied, racially and facially. The Brainers foresaw the problems the super-soldiers would have with similarity.”
“Everyone wearing the same face, enough to drive… The Brainers?”
“The mutated scientists,” explained Straker.
“An apt name, no doubt,” Orlock remarked wryly. Straker’s nod was firm. “Now I understand you…”
“You do not,” cut in Straker, making the old mutant flinch. “That was just the beginning. A nation of mutants, instructed by the Brainers, with their ultras leading the war against the humans that surrounded them, and just as the super-soldiers had overthrown their inferior masters, so did my kind decide to claim their destiny.”
“Destiny?” asked Orlock.
“We are ultras, the best humanity has become. I’m sure you can see what our destiny is,” Straker said, yet quickly went on. “The rest of my story will confirm it. The Brainers sided with the ultras but still sought perfection: the ultimate mutant. A being not merely without flaw, but unable to be surpassed in any way. Have you heard the name Gilgamesh?”
“Once,” Orlock whispered, “and in such a way…”
“He is a giant, five times my strength, yet fast and with genius crafted by the Brainers themselves, as well as all the knowledge they had gathered, and still have; that is why I know so much. The Brainers and ultras worked together and made him, and the super-soldiers and mutts, uh…”
“Natural mutants, I know the term,” Orlock said darkly.
“Actually, to us, the term has come to mean all mutants not genetically improved. As I said, many experiments were conducted, but there was nothing natural about their results. I understand that in this part of the world radiation was released on people to test theories, that’s why there are so many mutants here.”
Orlock gave a shrug. “I only know we are here,” he replied.
Straker nodded, liking his pragmatism. “Anyway, the other mutants were afraid, and they knew the humans were too, so made a pact and then fled as they attacked. Gilgamesh was complete, about to be born, but the humans came too soon. The ultras fought their way out, with the Brainers, yet Gilgamesh was lost.”
Orlock sat up as much as he could. “Lost?”
“To the humans, a pre-packaged, military and technological expert as well as an unstoppable titan. They chose not to destroy him because, if conditioned differently, he could lead them to victory, as he was meant for us. Only they couldn’t, none can outwit the Brainers. Yet they hoped and kept him in storage. Then others came along and bought him, seeking to use him too, failing as well, and since then the ultimate mutant has been bought and sold around the world, a walking war machine none dare activate. Except us.”
“You? What happened to your people?”
“We were crippled but alive. We went into hiding, knowing how feared and envied we were, and now we wait, or most of us do. Some of us roam the world in search of Gilgamesh, and when we find him we will be able to take what is ours,” Straker now declared.
“He is that powerful?” questioned Orlock, doubtful and yet hopeful.
“We were driven out about a century and a half ago, in that time we have grown strong again. But yes, he is.”
“And…” Orlock paused. “What of us mutts?”
“Super-soldiers were made to destroy monsters. Ultras were made by human-hating mutants. Humans are our enemy and so are monsters and machines, the latter especially because they believe they are the superior beings. We aim to win the world from them all. We do not count mutants as our enemies, although whether they do is another matter. But, to be truthful, the superior must be above the inferior.”
“Funny, I expected you to preach lies to me and even the truth sounded flatly honest, not a proclamation or boast,” said Orlock before grinning oddly. “Do you believe in what you just said?”
“I believe it to be true,” confirmed Straker.
“Not what I asked, but never mind.” There was a glint in Orlock’s eyes now. He also fidgeted. He was nervous about this stranger yet exhilarated by his tale. “So, now we come to it. Why are you here? No, wait, Gilgamesh!”
“Correct.” Now Straker grinned at the other’s shock. “I have a name of a recent buyer, perhaps the latest, and maybe you know it too. The humans on the mountains seem a military people, who leads them?”
“Air Marshal Blitzkrieg.” For a moment Straker was still, then he smiled slowly. “What do you intend?” asked Orlock.
“To have another talk.”
To Be Continued…..