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Another foray into the world of [livejournal.com profile] nagasvoice's bug wars. For more of this, see Naga's and [livejournal.com profile] greenjudy's journals, as well as my posts that I've tagged as snake crossover.

Hope I'm not taking too many liberties here, [livejournal.com profile] nagasvoice. It just seemed the perfect place and time for the two groups to intersect.





Wren gets the feeling that the air here would be thick with dust if it weren’t for the current humidity, the water in the air heavy enough that her clothing sticks to her despite the fact that she’s not sweating at all. It’s dense, has a taste she can’t quite place. It’s making goose bumps rise up on the back of her neck, down the length of her spine.

The gas station actually has a porch. She suspects it was once someone’s house – probably still is, actually. There’s even a tired dog stretched out across the warped and cracking boards, tail down, whining occasionally. She half expects an old man to come out with an ancient shotgun clutched in gnarled, age-spotted hands.

There was no question about bringing a car – though they were a bit disturbed to learn it would have to be an old gas-guzzler, that ethanol wasn’t available “out in the bayou.” The nearest bus depot is miles away, back in the small not-quite-a-town they passed through a couple hours ago. It had two hotels. One was closed for the season, boarded up, and the other looked like it was headed in the same direction.

Jian fills the car up, the pump wheezing and hissing as the petroleum flows, while she examines the payphone bolted to the side of the building. It’s about as obsolete as a land line can get and still be capable of interfacing with the modern telecom network. The thing even has a rotary dial on it. The numbers are mostly worn off, have been written back on with a red marker. She can see the faded remains of other colors underneath, black and blue, not quite lining up with the red lines. The ghostly bruises of years of abuse. The wall around it is covered with scratches of phone numbers and smiling faces like the ones drawn by preschoolers, the paint around them peeling back. No one has bothered trying to cover the damage up – half of the vandals are probably dead by now. Some of the marks look that old.

This is the phone the bug’s calling card was used to reach. Doesn’t look like much. All the soft hairs on Wren’s arms are standing up.

There’s no way to feed a credit chit into the petroleum pump, so Jian goes inside to pay the man behind the counter in cash. Wren keeps staring at the phone. After a while, she realizes someone is watching her. She raises her eyes, pulling her gaze away from the chipped black plastic and the Bell logo, walks back over to the car, casual as can be. At least the thing has air conditioning, though she suspects the freon is getting low.

The man on the other side of the road, leaning back against the hood of a pickup truck that gives the impression of having seen better days, doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that he’s looking at her.

“The owner said a storm is coming,” Jian says from beside her. She didn’t hear him coming, but she knew he was there. “He suggested that we find a place to batten down, said that some of the locals might be willing to let us stay with them if we pull our weight.” He pauses. “He asked me if I knew Lacey.”

“Lacey?” Wren glances at the guy across the dirt road as she opens the door, gets into the passenger seat of the old Chevy Prizm. He’s still watching her. “Does the name mean anything to you?”

“Nothing.”

They pull out onto the road. Wren keeps an eye on the side mirror, isn’t surprised to see the man climb into his truck and start the engine. “We’re being followed.”

Jian’s eyes flick up to the rear view mirror. “Yes, we are.”

“Drive a little way. A mile or two. If he’s still behind us-”

“I’ll pull over and we’ll see what he wants,” Jian finishes for her, voice grim.

Wren nods, opens the glove compartment and lifts the H&K MP5 out of it, and the extra magazine that goes with it. She sets both in the console between their seats where Jian can reach them easily, leans forward a bit and pulls the SIU-issue Beretta M9A1 out of the concealed carry holster clipped inside the waistband of her jeans. She checks the magazine out of habit. It’s fully loaded, of course. The spares are in the left pocket of her cappuccino-toned leather jacket.

They give it two and a half miles. The truck is still behind them, rattling along, and Jian doesn’t bother pulling over – the opposite, in fact. He spins the wheel, stops the car in the middle of the road so it completely blocks the dirt track, and puts it into park. He picks up the MP5 as Wren gets out, keeping the body of the car between herself and the approaching truck.

There’s wind now, picking up slowly, but it’s not touching the humidity. A smattering of water hits her face, not even enough to be called rain.

The truck slows, comes to a stop perhaps thirty yards from them, and the man gets out of the cab. He’s smiling, but something about it is off. It’s like looking at someone who’s seen a diagram of what a smile should look like and is trying to copy it. She wonders, briefly, if her first smiles looked that way. Probably. All of her instincts are screaming at her to get the hell out of here. Jian has wiggled over into the passenger seat from the driver’s side and is climbing out next to her. No point in trying to be circumspect – she raises the Beretta, levels it across the roof of the Chevy.

The man doesn’t slow down. Doesn’t even appear to recognize the gun as a weapon.

Wren can hear another car engine approaching in the distance, the sound carried to them by the wind. If this comes down to a fight, it needs to happen now, before any civilians arrive – they don’t want anyone getting hurt. She narrows her eyes, focuses on the man’s face.

Something is…moving…under his skin. Little bulges and ripples are rising and falling on his cheeks, around the orbits of his eyes, sliding about just beneath the surface.

“Bug,” she says calmly, and squeezes off a shot. The bullet takes the thing in the right eye socket, knocks it back a few steps. It doesn’t go down, though, and whatever the liquid is that sprays out of the back of its head, it’s not red. It…screams, or screeches, or something. Mandibles push out of its gaping human mouth, tearing the lips at the corners, widening the opening. Antennae erupt from its forehead.

Jian swears as it comes at them fast – he didn’t see the last one until after she’d already killed it – and squeezes the trigger on the MP5, strafing the area on the other side of the car.

The spray of bullets barely slows it down, and its enraged retaliation – a long hinged thing like an arm, its end a jagged curve of ridged chitin, a vicious length that rips out of its side and darts out at them, grating on the metal top of the car – nearly beheads them both.

Wren hits the dirt hard, Jian next to her, and they roll under the Chevy. Wren shoves her gun back into the holster – Jian’s eyes widen and he tries to grab her, misses – and keeps rolling, emerges from beneath the undercarriage of the car right between the thing’s feet. She doesn’t slow down as she comes up inside its guard. It snaps at her, mandibles trying to close on her face, but she’s just that little bit faster and manages to get a grip on its mouthparts, one in each hand. The edges are like saws, slip a little in her hold and rip jagged gashes in the bases of her fingers.

She pulls.

The mandibles give way, tearing loose with a terrible crunching sound. The thing’s human hands are scrabbling ineffectually at her torso, its longer multi-jointed bug legs trying to fold in and reach her, hampered by the bulk of the car behind her.

While it’s distracted with her, Jian puts the muzzle of the MP5 against its side and squeezes. The gun’s rate of fire can cut a door in half, as long as the person wielding it doesn’t swing too fast. When he finally lets up, Wren and the side of the car are covered in ichor and the bug is dying in the dirt. Its limbs are still draped around her, twitching spasmodically. They’re no longer connected to the body.

Wren pushes the legs off of her, stumbles forward into Jian’s arms. He holds onto her, ignoring the mess of bug guts, and mutters in her ear, “Don’t you ever do anything like that ever again.” His arms around her ribs are tight enough that they hurt a bit. The MP5 dangles from his right hand, ignored now, but not abandoned.

The car she heard comes around the bend in the road and stops, idling, on the far side of the pickup. Wren turns her head, sees that it's a Jeep, one of the old ones with all the side panels that can be removed if the owner wants, and a soft top that's rolled up as far as it will go, lashed and zippered in place. She sees that the pale, ginger-haired woman driving is staring at them both, at the scattered bug parts on the ground. It looks like she has passengers in the back seat – one of them has dark skin, is leaning forward, craning his neck to get a better look at the scene in front of him.

“So much for being discreet,” Wren says. She feels strange. Her hands tingle, a slowly spreading burn with numbness at the edges. Her wrists ache, and she wishes she’d had a brace on the bad one. It’s going to swell, for sure.

Jian’s arms squeeze tighter for just a moment, then relax slightly. She hears the doors of the Jeep opening.
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