"UCAC: United Cybernetic Air Core" - Chapter 1

The Finish foot hills were no joke. It was a very cold, rainy wet terrain with gusts of winds that often went past fifty miles an hour. There was little to no food and all the rations had to be imported. You had to be one tough bastard to make it in these parts and indeed I was!
I have no problem with admitting it. I am the shit, will always be the shit and am nothing but the shit! Some say I’m obnoxious, conceited, arrogant, a douchebag… I just know my worth. The reason why? I’m a winged cyborg, one of few in the world and you had to be the best of the best to be able to wing with us.
I go by the name of Merlin, as you’ll soon learn why. My cybernetic suit was based upon the flight profile of a small robust falcon named a Merlin. Now, bare with me. It will get a little more in-depth as I go along. You think you can comprehend? Here we go!
An Illisian scientist named Dumir Aheem created this mesh suit, called Liquid Flesh. It is filled with gelatinous, electron-responsive fluid that acts like muscle when a current runs through it. Not to mention, it weighs virtually nothing but can increase human strength tenfold. This suit was wired into our nervous system, allowing us to to have the finest control over it.  
Why, you might ask? Because it was only one part of our suit. Our suit was covered in aerodynamic scutes and actuators that acted like feathers. Again, these scutes were wired into our  nervous systems, having pressure, temperature and light sensitive receptors all over them. It made it so we could detect the slightest difference in wind pressure.
The reason for this was because we could fly. The science behind it got rather complicated but it’s not impossible to digest. I stood around five foot eight inches. That means from fingertip to fingertip, I measured the same. At rest, each arm was about twenty five inches long. The primary flight scutes for the suit measured  five feet long at their longest point. This means I had a total of sixteen feet of wingspan to work with for flight.
These wings were relatively high aspect ratio with a broad base. They were built for extreme speed. There also was a tail but it was stout and broad, much like the tail of an actual Merlin. It gave me enough agility at high speed and enough stability at low speed. However, I was all about the ambush, using the terrain to my advantage.
Probably the most important aspect of our suits were the foot geer. They were heavy duty, spring loaded mechanical talons that allowed us to have the ability to make vertical take offs and have astonishing sprint speeds. These talons also were our close quarters weapons during flight. We’d often use them to grapple targets which often was much harder than it looked.
You’d think it’d be easy to hit a target while flying, but no. Humans see the world at thirty to sixty hertz. When you commonly travel well over one hundred fifty miles an hour, it simply isn’t fast enough. So, our brains and eyes were genetically and cybernetically enhanced to see the world at one-hundred twenty to two hundred-forty hertz. What did this do? It slowed down the world around us, giving us bird-like reflexes for flight. It meant we could see a lot coming and react to it faster. As a result, it made it much easier to grapple aerial targets with far more accuracy. It wasn’t foolproof but did result in quite a bit more hit targets.
We also had a ranged weapon, a system of momentum propelled darts called, quills that could be fired at targets at high velocity. It was a discreet weapon, relying on the hertz system as well as advanced computational systems to hit targets with extreme accuracy. Basically it was a cross bow on our chest that got a boost from our flying speed.
Today we had one of the more important missions. We were hugged the lower coastal valley, swiftly approaching an insurgent port. These particular insurgents, known as the Cobalt, smuggled the remaining weapons of mass destruction into  Russia. We only had a limited amount of time before the weaponry would be smuggled through Finland’s dense forests to the Russian border. We simply didn’t have the clearance to enter Russian airspace which made this mission a really tight operation.
The thing was though, we had just gotten from an extremely brutal mission old Venice. That mission lasted six damn months, two of the months being a back and forth between us and the Cobalt insurgents and we were vastly outnumbered. We lost someone valuable, our Second Wing who stuck his neck out for us forever and always. His death was responsible by a team member who simply could have opened his mouth. One word could have saved Second Wing’s life but it was too late. Now the team member responsible for that death is the intermittent Second Wing and it truly revealed a lot about him. The entire thing had us shaken up and it’d be a blatant lie if any of us said we were fine after such a grueling and bloody mission.
Do you know what it’s like to see someone blown up next to you, and there’s little you can do about it? You’re supposed to keep fighting and fight off the reality? Do you know what’s like to be pinned down, not able to move for weeks with supplies running down? Do you know how helpless and frustrated that makes you? Do you know what it’s like to think you’re untouchable in a cybernetic wingsuit, only to be shot down out of your ariel domain by sharpshooters? Do you know what it’s like to realize you’re not invincible, that people will fight you will all they got? Do you know what it’s like to not have the upper hand, come inches away from death? It’s surreal and hard to cope with after the fact but you smile when it’s over. You find reasons to be a changed person! You never view the people you love the same.
When it was all over, I couldn’t stop thinking about him… my one and only. The man who made sure my head was screwed in tight for the past seven years. Watching so many people die around you made you realize that some things that are here to stay need to be cherished and I wanted to cherish him for forever. He was the reason I smiled, sitting on that cold and wet ship, contemplating our loses. When we got back to Finland, it hadn’t even been a day yet, and we were shipped out to fight another battle.
All I wanted to do was be in his arms, and tell him how much I love him, that I never want to let him go. I want to tell him about how so many of our comrades had died before us and we had to sit in their blood, pinned down under enemy fire. I wanted to apologize for being so naive when he was so open to me about the way he felt. I just knew he’d understand but it knew it frustrated the hell out of me not being able to see him, flying over the treetops on yet another mission that would prove to be more trouble than the debriefing suggested.
We weren’t really built for forest missions but the forest team had training mission further up the coast, since their team was still in its infancy. We were considered the Long Wingers, the high speed strike team that specialized in both pursuit and getting in and getting out. However with this mission, we’d be pushed to our limit. We were told that we simply were to kill the insurgents and let the UCMC handle the rest.
Truly, I hated opening for the Marine team. That meant we had a small area to work with and we’d be the targets while they sit back and waited for the job to be done. They were the ones with the heavy artillery yet we were charged with doing their hard work. It truly was another thing that frustrated me.
“You ok Merlin?” Subbu asked. I looked over to him, seeing he was far more hesitant to hug the tree line.   
“Yeah…” I sighed.
“We’re coming up fast on the river…” Gyr said.
“Way to state the obvious…” I said, truly hating him. He was such an obnoxious, debonair know it all, I couldn’t stand it. After his stunt in Italy, I could never trust him again…  
“Ok, break off formation,” Lead Wing said, “Merlin, Subbu and Tinnu will continue flying the canopy to the target. They’ll be first to strike. Run the targets up the valley into Gyr, Lanner and Saker. Gyr and Saker will go for the vehicles. Lanner and I are going for the catalyst.”
“Yes sir.” I said, turning east towards the bay. The quicker we could get this over with, the better. It was always us small guys charged with doing the heavy stuff.
Subbu and Tinnu were based upon falcons as well, Subbu a hobby, Tinnu a kestrel. Subbu was relatively new, being apart of last year’s batch of recruits. Tinnu on the other hand, has been enlisted since the birth of the program. They differed quite a bit in personas too. Subbu was a very...linear person, often succoming to his overreliance on what he found logical. Tinnu was a very meticulous person, taking the time out to look at every single detail in what he could discern. Then that little mind of his would get to calculating a plan that was normally fail proof. He was the brains of the team and the thing I liked about him was that he didn’t let his brains get in the way of action. He always managed to be one step ahead of his enemies.  
The two could out turn me in an aerial acrobatics battle due to having about thirty percent larger tail area than me. Not to mention, they were far slimmer than me. I was considerably more bulky and muscular than either Subbu and Tinnu and had a lot or arm and breast power, power that gave me an acceleration and overall speed boost over either.
I powered over the tree tops, ready to sink my talons into something. My speedometer stated I was pushing one hundred sixty miles an hour and I wasn’t even breaking a sweat yet.
“Slow down…” Subbu said.
“I’m gonna go in low and fast, guys. You two stay behind me while I clear out the first boat.” I said.
“You are not a Forest Winger! Slow down before you crash!” Subbu advised.
I was never one to listen to advice, commands or any bullshit. I was here to get this over with so I could pick up where I left off with my love. Feeling the pressure, I sped up, pushing one hundred ninety miles an hour. As I flew closer to the targets, my active sights, a part of my head’s up display, began calculating speed, trajectory and impact force. The targets stood on a ramp, toting heavy equipment from the barge to the docks. I definitely had the element of surprise.
Entering a swift glide, I crooked my wings, letting my talons hang. I descended into the town, unseen as I geared to puncture an insurgent with my talons. Time seemed to slow down as I neared the unsuspecting man. Just as I was about five meters away, they took note of something approaching at extreme speed. However it was too late, my talons gouged deep wounds into the insurgent as the momentum from the glide sent him into the water.
Ascending rapidly, I spread my wings and tail, letting the momentum dissipate on it’s own. As I neared stall speeds, I dropped my tail to the right, entering a tight hammerhead turn. I descended on spread wings, this time not caring for speed. Within a fraction of a second I was back over the insurgents on the ramp.
They obviously didn’t know what was going on, this being easy pickings. I often forgot that I saw the world faster than normal humans, making them appear slow to react and often at their wits end. No, I simply was moving at speeds far too great for them to have normal reaction.
I stretched out my talons, grabbing an insurgent and clamping down as hard as I could. I could hear the crunching of collar bones and ribs as I dragged him off the ramp. He fell into the water, drowning. I came around for another pass, this time, the insurgents being very well aware the were under attack.
They began dragging the crate containing the catalyst back onto the barge, throwing the ramp into the water. Armed guards began firing at me, forcing me to have to fly behind a row of cranes. Tinnu and Subbu came swooping in, quick to fire their quills at the gunmen. I truly hated the usage of quills. They had perfectly good talons but refused to use them.
Subbu banked and weaved through the high stacked crates, showing his great agility and control. It left the insurgents constantly twisting and turning to find his location.
“There was a third!” An insurgent said, looking around the sky. Indeed there was. Tinnu simply kited in the wind above the docks. He scanned the boat with his infrared and biometric sensors, determining that there were over fifty men on the barge.
His scan showed up on everyone’s head up display, being very disconcerting.
“Guys...this mission is a bigger scope than we thought.” He said. He then inverted, wings tucked. He dropped out of the sky down towards the barge, spreading his wings and tail at the very last second, releasing hundreds of quills into every inch of the boat.
The insurgents fired at him, the nimble cyborg powering vigorously to flee the onslaught of bullets. He disappeared behind a row of warehouses. Seeing the three cybernetic raptors vanish from sight, made the insurgents even more jumpy. Their leader, a man with a black cap and dark sweater ran across the bridge of the massive vessel into the cockpit.
“Let’s get out of here while we can…” He said, falling right along with the plan.
“Guys,” Tinnu said over the radio, “We have a bit of a problem.”
“We know, Tinnu! Dozens of guys on a giant three hundred foot long ship that seven cyborgs are supposed to bring down…” I sighed.
“No…” He said.
“The barge is heading out the sea! There’s no possible way that thing can head up the river being that size.” Tinnu said.
“He’s right. The naval forces will not engage the barge until we get the insurgents up river.” Subbu responded.
“What kind of bull shit is that? Are they too pretty to get their hands dirty?” I asked, angered by the fact.
“And you need to stop diving in talons first! You have quills for a reason! You’re not a Forest Winger, Merlin!” Subbu scolded.
I ignored him, beginning to circle high above the docks. What could possibly be done to stop this ship from leaving port? I could see the hundreds of quills Tinnu released on the boat as it began to pull out the harbor. The pulsated slowly with infrared LEDS. These were timed bombs!
“Tinnu, I love you!” I laughed.
“Yeah, I’ve been taking some pages out of your book. If the Marines want it, let them fish it out of the bottom of the harbor…” He said.
“Really? And this is how the mission is supposed to go?” Subbu asked, not pleased with either of us.
“When will you realize we’re handed a basket full of shit and expected to make miracles out of it… We’ll we’re going to make miracles today...big...fiery...miracles.” I said, steadily rising on the thermal.
“I’m kind of in agreement with Merlin this go. We’re in way over our heads this time and the people that can help, won’t help!” Tinnu said, rising below me on the same thermal.
“Well, it looks like I’m going to have to take matters into my own hand!” Subbu said, diving down to the barge.
“SUBBU NO!!!!” Tinnu screamed.
“Ugh, he’s gonna fuck up everything…” I sighed, diving after him.
I caught him midway, forcing him out of his dive.
“What are you doing!” He asked, angered.
“I need you to take a closer look at Tinnu’s scan’s.” I said. Subbu, pulled up the images of the scans, seeing about fifty or so men loading crates onto smaller boats. Still, the armed guards stood like centuries on the bridge, looking around for any signs of us.
“We don’t have much time, Merlin! They’ll be in Danish waters in a matter of minutes!” He said.
“Subbu! They are boarding speed boats inside the ship! The Catalyst is going on one of these speed boats!” I said, hoping he’d see the grander picture.
“That is all the more reason to halt them!” He said, resuming his dive.
“God, you’re such an idiot!” I sighed, ascending back up to Tinnu.
“I was just gonna let to barge get far enough out that I can blow it up without causing damage to the surroundings. Subbu is about to fuck all that up…” Tinnu sighed, entering a slow and shallow glide as the barge sped along.
“Yeah, man… he’s such a stickler for the rules it’s fucking up the win by all means strategy we’ve been trained to incorporate.” I sighed.
“Subbu,” Tinnu said, making radio contact with him, “You’re fucking up the plan…”
“No, I refuse to be a part of your incompetencies!” He responded angrily.
“You know what, blow his ass up…” I sighed.
“Wait.” Tinnu said, waiting for the barge to reach the center of the bay.
Subbu would simply have to be in the blast radius. The idiot swooped out of his dive, firing quills at the gunmen scattered around the ship. He was so agile, capable of reversing over himself with bone shattering ease. If I tried to stay in those turns, I’d black out. I truly commended him for this ability.
Subbu flew around the cockpit of the ship, releasing a fatal quill that pierced the captain’s chest. As the man fell, he grabbed the throttle, the ship coming to a controlled halt. The captain fell, bleeding out on the floor.
“This idiot…” I said, truly frustrated with Subbu.
“I guess I have no choice at this point….” Tinnu sighed. As Subbu flew around the ship, the ship blew up, destroying the bridge and starboard side. It was just enough of a nudge for the remaining crew to launch their speed boats off the sides of the ship.
“At this point, the Marines can take over…” I sighed, watching the dozen or so speed boats speed away in every direction.
Tinnu turned into the wind, hovering on stiff wing beats. He scanned each one of the getaway boats, the ones heading into the valley being the ones that had the catalyst. About four of them headed east towards the Russian border.
“We need to destroy all of these boats…” Tinnu said over the air.
“What the hell just happened?” Subbu asked.
“The plan…” I sighed, diving after the four speed boats that that headed towards the Russian border. They were obviously a diversion but letting them get away was not an option.
I sped past five hundred miles an hour as I ascended out of the dive. My silvery low profile prohibited me from being seen until I was mere meters away from the first boat. I reached out, grabbing the rear mounted engine with my talons. Using the momentum of my dive, I ascended, yanking the engine off the tiny boat.
I turned around, diving on the second boat, piercing it’s hull with my talons. By now, it was clear to them that they were under attack. With their mounted machine guns, they fired heavy slugs. I had to get away. I quickly inverted, sending two quills into the two remaining speed boats before returning to the coast.
One by one, the floating men were dragged beneath the surface of the sea. Shimmering darting blurs, grabbed the insurgents, yanking them down to the depths of the sea bottom. Not long after, the entire boats were pulled below the surface. This was the work of the Mers, the UCMC. They had ships, submersibles, cybernetic swimmers and all the heavy artillery. Their forces outnumbered ours ten to one but they never got involved with any conflicts. It truly was mind boggling because they could be a truly unstoppable force but they held back.
It was just strange. I continued towards the coast, looking for Subbu and Tinnu.   
“I’m in pursuit of the catalyst. Gyr and Saker, I’m heading your way.” Tinnu said over the air.
“We see you…” Saker said, anticipating the pursuit.
“Sending you scans now…” Tinnu responded.
“I’m on my way!” I said.
I quickly looked over to Subbu who fired a barrage of quills at the speedy vessels. He then turned towards the coast, speeding above the water at one hundred eighty miles an hour.
“Tinnu, Gyr, Saker...I’d advise you to keep a safe distance from those boats. They have some pretty deadly artillery on them…” I said.
“Affirmative, will heed.” Gyr said.
“Did you get shot at?” Tinnu asked laughing.
“Hell yeah, I got shot it!” I responded, “I wouldn’t be doing my job if a bullet wasn’t chasing me!”
“I think you signed up for the wrong division. You seem to thrive off close quarters action as though you’re a Forest Winger! You need to realize you put yourself in more danger than is called for…” Subbu said.
“Just...Shut up…” I sighed.
Gyr and Saker sat in two high firs on each side of the valley. They watched as Tinnu pursued the boats upriver. One of the decoy boats swiveled it’s machine gun rearward, aiming at Tinnu.
“LOOK OUT!” Saker shouted. The gunman opened fire on Tinnu. Someone how the boy managed to evade the stream of bullets, quadrupling his forty mile an hour pace as he weaved through the sky. He probably was just as agile as Subbu but you seldom saw Tinnu flying this way. He spread his wings and tails as he ascended to an altitude in which the bullets couldn’t reach.
“That’s it…” Saker said, taking off from his perch.
Now Saker was like me on steroids… He was fast, one of the highest flat speeds of any of us, agile, having a long broad tail to perform the most daring of maneuvers and not afraid to get his huge talons dirty. He was just as notorious as I was for the low and fast strike. The difference was that Saker had a six foot, four inch frame with two hundred twenty pounds of muscle to back himself up, compared to my five foot eight inches and one hundred seventy five pounds.
He had twenty two feet of cybernetic wings and knew how to put them to good use. He steeply powered down through the valley, accelerating to nearly three hundred miles an hour within a matter of seconds. As he neared the rear boat, he tucked those long wings to the side, reducing his visible profile.
With those mighty set of talons, he grabbed the front of the boat. He spread those powerful wings, using the momentum from the shallow dive to yank the boat into the air. It jettisoned the pilot, gunman and third hand into the frigate water. The darting Mers yanked the insurgents below the surface. Saker released the boat from his grasp, the boat capsizing due to it’s punctured hull. He ascended up to Tinnu, easily powering up to the correct altitude.
“You ok bro?” He asked.
“Yeah, I got a warning blip well before the gun sights set on me. I pretty much saw the bullets coming.” Tinnu laughed.
“Well, now there are only two speed inflatables left.” Saker responded.
“Yeah, and I suggest we all focus attentions on the decoy boat.” Gyr said over the air, listening to Saker and Tinnu’s conversation.
Now, Subbu was very uppity but he had nothing on the obnoxious excuse for a human being which was Gyr. Don’t let his name fool you. There was nothing regel about this douchebag. He often silently judged others, moping around, wishing he was Lead Wing. His superiority complex could put mine to shame.  
He stood about six foot six, weighing in at about two hundred fifty pounds. He was the largest of the Long Wingers, having twenty four feet of wings. He definitely was the most powerful as well, having the best climb rate and being the second fastest of us all. He had been clocked at three hundred twenty miles an hour on the flat alone and god knows how fast he could dive.  In a vertical setting, he was the best performer but he wasn’t very agile. Compared to Saker who was virtually as agile as both Tinnu and Subbu, Gyr simply could not stay in those hard turns.
Not to mention, his pretentiousness often left him at a disadvantage considering he generally underestimated his opponent. It was why he could never be a leader. He only cared about himself and everyone else simply was inferior. The way he treated us all outside of uniform made it quite evident how he truly feels about us. It’s all high strung twoddle in the most snide of ways.
He took off, quickly accelerating to his top speed. It pretty much was only for show, there being no need for him reach those three hundred mile an hour speeds. He swooped over the second boat, the gust of wind in his wake slamming the crewmen on the second boat hard. Gyr road his momentum to a safe altitude before diving in for another pass.
His large wings produced the most terrifying boom as he spread them, pulling from his dive. Saker joined him in the high sped mobbing, followed by Tinnu. Subbu and I were last to join the fray, all of us producing strong winds that kept the riders at bay. The gunner couldn’t even reach the machine gun, having to grab onto the the side of the boat or risk being carried off by the flurry of gusts.
Our job was basically done. It left one last boat, the boat with the catalyst which was not our target. It was the Target for Lead Wing and Lanner.
“Lanner,” Lead Wing said, “Take em out…”
“Lethal force?” Lanner asked.
“Yes…” Lead Wing said.
Lanner was the newest of us and was a pretty cool kid. He stood about six foot two inches high and weighed in at about two hundred. He had about twenty feet of wings and had a nearly identical build as Saker. All and all though, Lanner had the most to prove and none of us went easy on the kid.
He inverted, powering down swiftly before entering a screechingly fast stoop. However he was holding back, reaching just over five hundred miles an hour when, from his altitude, he could go much faster! Maybe he was still growing into those wings of his. We all watched, wondering was he going to do something interesting or take out the boat riders as mundanely as possible.
Lanner suddenly banked to the right, still inverted with his wings deeply crooked. He didn’t break in speed, this obviously being something he had planned.  He tucked those mighty wings into his side as he dove towards the ground again, this time not bothering to throttle himself. His speed steadily increased, pushing the envelope of super sonic speeds. He spread those wings, keeping them crooked as he perpendicularly intercepted the boat.
He careened into one of the men, knocking him into the water. Lanner  ascended, spreading his wings and tail as wide as possible as his speed dissipated. Within the narrowest space, he inverted, entering a broad winged dive as he came down on the second person the boat. He brought those talons forward, grabbing the man from his gunner perch. He dropped the man onto the rocky riverbanks, leaving only the boat pilot who still was speeding up the valley.
It was now Lead Wings turn. Lead Wing had a super sized build which mirrored mine, based upon that of a peregrine falcon. Just like the now extinct peregrine falcon, Lead Wing was the fastest of us. With a flat speed of three hundred sixty nine miles an hour and a dive that could carry him past mach one, he was definitely the most awesome to watch. He was fairly agile, but his agility or speed was not what made him special. It was his conning. He was ridiculously intelligent and the greatest leader we could have. His tactical knowledge was superhuman and his combat readiness was unlike anyone of us.
He and Lanner were virtually the same size, only having different physiques. Lead Wing had a shorter tail actuator, broader based wings and more pointed primaries. Lanner, Saker and Gyr essentially were relatively narrow winged with tapered primaries, having long broad tails which served them well for better agility...on paper. Gyr had a hard time in turns considering his size but he was very capable.
Lead Wing tucked his wings to his side, entering a vapor inducing dive. He landed on the boat within seconds, the impact causing the boat to rock heavily. He grabbed the pilot with his talons, suspending the man high into the air. He began to strangle the man, gripping down with those talons. Within twenty seconds, the boat pilot was unconscious. Lead Wing then tossed him into the water, leaving him to drown.
He walked over to the boat throttle, pulling the yolk back to rest. The inflatable speeder eventually came to a halt. Lead Wing pulled back bak the tarps in the middle of the boat, seeing a metallic casing. He disconnected his arms from the wings, the wings draping over his shoulders like a cape of shingles. He kneeled down, opening the case.
Inside was a small lithium helicase rod, a very powerful catalyst for the rare earth metal uranium. If the two get into contact, it would result in a release of enough gamma radiation to be lethal to all those who are near. One milligram of lithium helicase on one gram of uranium can destroy a military base or a fleet of our ships. As for what the insurgents were doing with this, we had no idea but we had a tipster in the Caucasus...well I did anyways. He was...interesting, an easterner who simply knew everything...I don’t know how but he contacted me a few days ago with this tip. I thought another team could have handle the mission considering it was on the water but no, we had to do it. After our recon wingers followed the tip, learning the lead was authentic. It wasn’t even an hour before we got off the boat from Italy when we received the briefing for this mission. It was completely my fault so I didn’t bother to complain about how exhausted I was.
Lead Wing closed the case, reconnecting his arms to his wings.
“Time to fly boys…” He said. Gyr and Saker both dove down, using the wind in their wake to flip the decoy vessel. The three men on the boat were sent into the freezing water. They were yanked beneath the river surface by the Mers.
“We’re done here?” Lanner asked.
“We’re done here.” Lead Wing responded.
“So,” I began, “Can I go?”
“Go where?” Subbu asked.
“Nah, Merlin, we got to head back to HQ and file these reports…” Lead Wing sighed, taking off from the boat, “And I got a bone to pick with the Coordinator…”
“What’s that?” I asked, zipping over towards him.
“It’s in full confidence. Sorry, Merlin.” Lead Wing sighed.
“Tinnu, download my visual feeds… I’ll write my report later.” I said.
“What trouble are you about to get yourself into, Merlin?” Subbu asked. I ascended up, banking over towards him, wanting my next few statements to be personal.
“Subbu, I don’t know why the fuck you care so much about what I do but I can assure it will not be to your detriment. Don’t question me any further…” I said plainly.
“Stay safe, Merlin.” Lead Wing said.
“So you’re just going to let him go?” Subbu asked, surprised.
“We have very narrow guidelines here in the Air Core and I can assure you that Merlin has proven to be one of the hardest working, most resilient wingers in the entire fleet. You could learn a lot from him!” Lead Wing said.
“I won’t be long!” I said, ascending into the head wind.
I flew northwest towards the boreal forests of central Finland. The wind was biting me through my suit but I didn’t care. I had to push through it. Eventually, I reached the towering trees, landing on a branch. This was perfect! I was about half a mile out, bearing witness to a spectacle I truly loved.
The Forest Wingers were doing a routine hunting expedition, hunting Irish Elk. It was one of the most breathtaking things one could ever see. The Forest Wingers were very anatomically different from us Long Wingers. They had short broad wings with extremely long and broad tails. It gave the the ability to fly at high speed through the dense forest without worrying about clipping their wings.
Their hunt was just beginning. One incredibly small Forest Winger, codenamed Levant, made his way through the the canopy of the trees. He leapt from branch to branch, stealthily. Another Forest Winger, one my sized named Sparrow, sat in another tree. Lastly, there was a huge forest winger, even bigger than Gyr. He most likely was about six foot six inches tall and I believe he was based off a goshawk. He obviously had to be fresh out of basics...
“We’ll lead them to you alright. You take out the one we isolate.” Levant said.
“Alright, sir.” The giant cyborg said.
It was now on. Both Levant and Sparrow took off, flying mere feet above the forest floor, weaving nimbly through the undergrowth. They differed in physique quite a bit. Levant had broad wings that came to a taper much like that of the majority of the Long Wingers. Sparrow on the other hand had very broad wings phalangeal primaries. Sparrow also had a much, much longer tail than Levant.
However, they both obviously were equally as good at maneuvering which was confusing. For us long wingers, it could make or break whether or not we were agile flyers or not. I’m guessing that due to the short wings of the of the Forest Hawkers and their tendency to glide in an anhedral, they were less stable flyers. That meant they could roll very fast as well as yaw very fast.
It gave me an idea. I often glided in an dihedral but I wondered if I brought my wings down into an anhedral, would it boost my agility. I couldn’t wait to try it! Not to mention, I seemed to be much more agile at very, very high speeds rather than low speeds. That could have been due to the fact that at high speeds, we long wingers crook our wings.
Now Levant and Sparrow flew at breathtaking speeds through the forest. Both looked like silver ghosts as they glided and maneuvered on refrained wing beats. I could see a grazing herd of Irish Elk, oblivious to the fact that they were being stalked. They were in a clearing on the valley floor.
“Selecting target!” Levant said.
“I see it.” The giant said, still perched.
I lost sight of Levant but I could see Sparrow erupt from the clearing. As soon as he became visible, the Irish Elks took off in surprisingly fast sprints. You’d think animals with an antler span of twelve feet would have a hard time getting to a high speed but no, these creatures were fast! The chase was on.
Sparrow was holding back. He was obviously a very fast winger but he was maxing himself out at fifty or so miles an hour, flanking the Elks. He led the Elks up the valley, trying to keep them from scattering into the forest. Many of the Elks turned to the southern stretch of the valley, the portion I was situated in.
Suddenly, Levant appeared, causing the herd to scatter in all directions. The largest Elk continued north followed by his immediate herum.  Levant and Sparrow swooped down on the herd, causing the females to scatter, leaving the giant Elk alone.
“Now!” Levant demanded.
Suddenly the giant winger took flight, powering through the air on relatively narrow but short wings. The primaries had a very loose taper and boy was quite the flyer! He accelerated to a top speed of about two hundred fifty miles an hour in a fury of wing beats and wouldn’t relent. His stamina was unreal, covering the distance to the Elk Stag in about forty seconds.
The Elk, realizing it was being pursued from three angles began to make very sharp turns. Still, the giant winger powered along, calculating trajectory as it geared to strike the massive cervid. He tucked in his wings, stretching his long legs out with talons open. Just as he was about to grapple with the Elk, the giant deer leapt up causing the winger to crash on the ground. The spill was nasty, the winger tumbling and tumbling, not coming to a halt.
For a split second, I thought the winger was hurt until he used the momentum from the fall to spring himself up into the air. He continued to power along, pumping diligently through the air. A long winger simply couldn’t take a fall like that. We’re too fragile! It’s why I wished I was a short winger like these boys.
“I got it!” Levant said, pursuing the stag as the creature banked and weaved through the grassland. It was trying to make it back to the forest but knew that traveling a straight path would mean that it would be captured.
Levant broke his pursuit, ascending before turning with the wind. He catapulted swiftly, doubling his speed as he seized the stag by its nape, between the antlers. The mighty creature went down, it’s brain being severed from it’s spinal stem by Levant’s talons.
“WHOOOO!” He screeched out, exhausted.
Sparrow and the giant forest winger made their way over to Levant, landing before him.
“I tried to get him but he leapt out the way.” The giant said, feeling like he failed.
“Ghost, that would have happened to any of us. I didn’t expect this thing to leap out the way!” Levant laughed.
So his alias was Ghost. It was appropriate, forest wingers having the tendency to suddenly appear out of nowhere.
“This was your first training exercise. You did well Ghost...better than most.” Sparrow added.
“This was a first for us all…” Levant laughed.
“Yeah that cloaker is awesome! I was wondering if you were gonna use it” Sparrow said.
That explains why I lost sight of him. He had some type of equipment that made him invisible. The things I would give to be a Forest Winger! It seemed they got the coolest tech!
“So this is where you ran off too…” I heard someone say from behind. Startled, I turned to see none other than Subbu sitting on  branch just behind me, “I should have known…”
“Why are you here?” I asked, truly flustered.
“I’m just making sure you’re not getting into any trouble.” He responded.
“RARGH!!!!” I snarled as I took off, flying towards headquaters.
“WAIT!” Subbu said, following me closely.
My patience with him was wearing thin… It was one thing to ridicule me over everything I did but it was another thing to follow me around as though he was some type of guardian of mine. We had the same rank yet he acted like a superior. It was truly making me angry.
“LOOK!” I said, spreading my wings and tail, suddenly breaking. I inverted grabbing Subbu by his talons. We spiralled out of the sky crashing down on the forest floor. I had him pinned under my mass, “I’m so fucking tired of you… Everything I do, everything I say you got to counter it. You act like you’re so moral and righteous when you’re not and I’m here to tell you I’m definitely not moral… You trying to add rules to something with no rules is frustrating, not to me, but to everyone! No one likes you and you need to fuck off…”
“Let him go, Merlin…” A familiar voice said.
It was Levant, he obviously hearing what I had said over the air. It was why I was silent in the beginning but of course Subbu had to ruin it. I stepped back, freeing Subbu from my grasp. The boy wasted no time in fleeing into the air.
“It’s not what it looks like…” I pled.
“You say that every time…” Levant said, sounding completely unenthused. He turned back, heading down the valley to the kill.
“Great hunt!” I said, truly impressed. He said nothing, taking off on stiff wing beats. It was crushing.
Things would never be the same between Levant and I. It saddened me to say but I was not really a good guy. I slept around a lot and I had a very dark past. Levant waited on me for so long but now, I think he’s moved on. I couldn’t say I had though. No person understood me the way Levant did and I’d do anything to win him back.He was my one true love and I may have fucked that up.
I took off, heading back to HQ. The sun was beginning to set and the temperature was dropping from cold to freezing. I had to get back to HQ fast because this suit was not meant to be flown in too severe a cold. I reached the hangar, flying in swiftly. I landed on the platform, the augmenting arms, disconnecting my suit.
One actuator took off my helmet, while another took off my chest plate. I stepped out of my launcher boots, instantly becoming considerably shorter. More arms came, taking my wings, black, plate and tail actuator off. I ran down the platform barefoot.
“In a rush, Denver?” A technician asked.
“Yeah!” I laughed, leaping down the stairs. I ran towards the inner gate, the door being incredibly slow, “Come on, come on!”
The door opened, allowing me to continue down the hall. I entered the headquarters, making my way down to the cafeteria. There, my boys sat eating. I rushed over to them.
“Took you long enough…” Marcell laughed. You’d never expect Tinnu to look this way.
He was about five foot ten, with rich southern italian skin. His hair was dark brown and mildly curly. He had two big brown eyes, a thin nose and juicy cheek bones. His teeth were perfect, so perfect.
“Yeah, dude. Where do you always run off to?” Milan said. He was Marcell’s little big brother...Saker. He pretty much was identical to Marcell, just stretched out on a six foot four frame.
“Have you two seen Liam?” I asked.
“No he ran off after you! Don’t tell me he hasn’t come back yet…” Marcell said, growing worried.
“DENVER!!!!” A superior shouted.
“Aw shit…” I sighed. I got to my feet, heading out of the dining hall. I knew this had to be related to Liam.
It was Captain Wallace, Lead Wing. He stood in the hall, not looking very pleased. He led me to his office, closing the door behind him.
“I told you not to get caught…” Captain said.
“I was silent. Liam messed up everything...in fact where is the twerp?” I asked.
“He’s in his barracks...I sent him there. What did you say to him?” Captain asked, seeming disappointed in me.
“I told him how I really feel...how everyone feels.” I sighed.
“God, Denver what the hell is wrong with you? That is a fucking kid who you probably just scarred for the rest of his military career!” He scolded.
“He followed me… I’m sorry I lost my temper.” I sighed, clenching my head, “I should apologize…”
“Yeah you should… You’re not the only one with secrets, Denver.” Captain smiled. It caught me off guard.
“Wait, what does that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Liam is gay too.” Captain said, “And…”
“Oh my god...eeew.” I squirmed.
“I’m sorry, but he’s so shrimply and….EEEEW…” I cringed.
“God, you’re terrible…” Captain said, astounded.
“Why’d you even tell me that? Oh god, please tell me you didn’t tell him…” I asked.
“No. I’m just saying look out for the kid because there are some not so nice people here who’ll waste no time in hurting him…” Captain said. His tone made it clear that this was an order.
“Will do.” I sighed.
“I know you’re still in the closet, that this will be difficult for you but since you know the struggle...guide him through it.” Captain said, obviously having very little faith in me.
“And what if he makes a move on me?” I asked, truly fearing it.
“Whatever you do... don’t…”
“Oh god no!” I squealed.
“Hmmmph…” Captain said, arms folded.
“What, you don’t believe me?” I asked.
“Just be considerate of the fact that he comes from a place of rules,  doctrines and key principles… It will be hard for him to adjust to this freer more spontaneous lifestyle, especially within what is supposed to be a military group.” Captain responded.
“So what’s going on with the Marine Core?” I asked.
“I’m not at liberty to say….But I can say,” Captain said guiding me to the door, “That I let them know how we all feel…”
“Well,” I said leaving, “Thank you!”
“You did good today soldier now go make peace with that boy…” Captain said.
“Al…” I began, only to have Captain slam the door in my face. I laughed, heading down to the barracks. It was fairly crowded in this stretch but we Long Wingers had our own area.
I walked up the stairs, entering the long winger stretch. There Liam sat on his bed, reading a book. He looked up at me then back down to his book. I sat on the bed parallel to his. The boy paid me no mind.
“You know,” I began, “It’s been quite frustrating having to do these missions…  seem like their built to take us out. I’m sorry I took it out on ya…” He closed his book, looking at me, glaring.
“Don’t act like it wasn’t the truth. I see how everyone looks at me when I just show up. I know you all think I’m an aggravating idiot. I know none of you like me…” Liam sighed. It was jarring to hear him speak of himself this way.
“Well I don’t want to like to you, now. No one here likes you and truth be told, everyone thinks you’re annoying and that you’re a hazard.” I said plainly.
“A hazard? You and Milan are the biggest hazards of us all!” He said defensively.
“Eh, one thing you must know is that our cybernetic infrastructure is programmed to portray traits of the raptor it is based on. Merlins are very boisterous and so are saker falcons. It’s simply the way we’re wired.” I explained.
“Really?” He asked surprised.
“I never would have known. It’s so disorganized.” Liam sighed.
“Ever since doctor Aheem died, this place has been falling apart at the seams. You just gotta bear with it.” I said.     
“When did he die?” Liam asked.
“It’s been about fifteen years.” I said.
“Really? And they haven’t found anyone to replace him?” Liam asked, startled.
“Nope. When he died, the Cybernetic Human project was lost. Apart from the information that could be salvaged, everything was lost. His biggest project was the Land Core...cybernetic humans that could be mobilized on land, however...he was assassinated before the ideas could be finalized. I think he knew he was going to die. They say he became very paranoid with the creation of the Land Core.” I continued.
“How’d he die?”
“He was so paranoid, he moved way across the world to a strange land known as Patagonia. Our main enemy faction, the Revivalists are said to have done him in but Patagonia is so remote...I’m not quite sure of that. I think that man wanted to die.” I sighed.
“Wait, why would he want to die?” Liam asked.
“His entire life’s work was being weaponized and he bared the weight of the world on his shoulders. He had been working for over thirty years prior to his death and...maybe it drove him mad. I’m not sure…” I said.
“So no one knows what really happened to him?”
“Yeah, by the time they recovered his body, he had decomposed considerably.”
“Yeah, some stuff I learned how to just not question and to simply coexist with. I can promise you if you start doing this, your experience here will be much better. When I was your age, I had no one to tell me that. You’ve been here for a good while now and I think it’s time you heed to this.” I advised.
“Thanks, will heed to this.” He said, opening his book again.
“Sorry about earlier…” I said, truly feeling guilty.
“You already apologized…” He said, obviously growing tired of me.
“Come on, let’s get some food. All that flying today, I know you’re hungry as hell.” I asked.
“I can’t leave...I’ve been ordered to stay here for the rest of the night…” He sighed.
“Well let me bring you up some food…” I smiled.
“Why are you being so nice to me? I mean you made it clear that you don’t like me…” Liam asked.
“No,” I said, preparing to clarify, “I was angry and said some things I shouldn’t. I’ve only been extremely annoyed by you and nothing more. What happened earlier was no exception. There is only one person here I know well enough not to like and that is Jarvis… You may think you’re not liked but Jarvis is truly the epitome of universal disgrace. You’re still very young and have a lot to learn. Jarvis...he’s a bit of a lost cause at this point.”
“I remember when I said hi to him. He just walked past me as though he didn’t hear it...so I said hi again. He turned and ask me was I talking to him. I said yeah and he said oh and kept walking. I was like wow…” Liam reflected.
“Yeah. He has already attempting to befriend Everette after the stunt he pulled today.” I said.
“Oh my god, Everette is awesome!” Liam said, obviously having quite a crush on him.
“You like him?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s an awesome Winger!” Liam said.
“No, I mean you must like him.” I prodded.
“No...I don’t like men. That’s gross.” Liam refuted.
“You’re lying to me.” I said. Liam sighed.
“Ok...ever since he showed up, I just wanted him!” Liam confessed.
“You two are the same age...I see why not.” I said teasingly, “You better pounce before Jarvis brainwashes him.”
“God, I’d never. I’m too frightened to try anyone. I have a question though…”
“What?” I responded.
“Why do you seem to have a fixation on the Forest Wingers?” He asked. I sighed, getting ready to tell him a long story.
“I am... what you call a slut. I have slept around with every in the closet person in this base. I have slept around with the Finnish locals. I have flown hundreds of miles simply to sleep with people. It was all fun but I had this gem waiting on me for the past seven years and today was the first time we’ve seen each other in months. Today though, things just went differently and I don’t think things can be the same. That is why I’m so fascinated with Forest Wingers.” I said.
“That Levant Winger?” Liam asked.
“Yeah…” I sighed.
“Who is he?”
“His name is Raul Sion. He’s the only person I ever think I can love.” I said, truly flustered at the thought of him.
“Well, what if he doesn’t feel the same way?” Liam asked innocently.
“I don’t know what I’d do.” I sighed, truly and hopelessly in love.
Raul was the only person who dared to get to know this misfit. Of course I was dumb and stupid, too blind to see how great a gift he was. He’d always know what to say to make my shitty day special and I’d always know what to say to fuck up his day. My dumb ass would often ramble on about all the dudes I slept with, like Raul took interest. He only was interested in me. Seven long years passed by and I feared the utmost worst… His feelings for me may have dwindled when mine for him were at their most high.
In this world of perils, where nothing was finite and everything changed, having some form of consistency would be great. Raul wanted to be that rock and I truly would do anything to get him to be. I just wanted to know would Raul still be there.
“So do you want me to bring you something to eat or not?” I asked.
“No…” Liam sighed.
“Fine, suit yourself...later.” I sighed, heading towards the stairs.
“Later…” He said faintly, obviously diving back into his book.
I headed back to the dining hall. Marcell and Milan sat, conversing happily to themselves. A few tables over from them, Jarvis and Everette were talking. I just wondered what Jarvis was saying to him… Whatever it was, he had the boy laughing which terrified me even more.
“That is some strange shit…” I said, sitting next to Milan.
“What?” Marcell asked.
“The fact that Jarvis is all over Everette...that leach.” I joked.
“I shall refrain from commenting…” Marcell laughed.


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