I didn’t want to have to use the Skatterbox, sure it would scare them off, but it was going to be hard enough finding the way back without being blinded. I didn’t want to use it, but as the Watchers drew closer my choices ran slim. Another few feet and the aluminum pin would need to be freed from its shell. I have to throw it about fifteen feet away, right in the middle of the group, and once it touches the ground I’ll only have half a second to get into cover before the vicious chemicals within began to mix and rupture, causing a flash of light roughly in the range of 10000 Lumens. Such a bright flash will blind the Watchers nearest it for good, while the rest turn and cull the weakened forms. I will have my chance to escape, if I can still see.
The bushes behind me rustled and Hughes looked up at me from the dirt with the worst expression. There were going to be more soon, the damn girl made too much noise and attracted a Chorus of the things. I tapped the Skatterbox to signal him, he planted his face in the dirt and motioned an okay sign.
Okay for you, I thought, he isn’t going to be walking in the dark soon. I had eaten a flash or two in my day, but those were back when I was still a newbie, it must have been six months since my last one. The effects usually last about a week, and you are left to slowly regain sight day by day as your surroundings return. That’s if you’re lucky though, if you have lower than 15/15 eyesight then the effects are much worse. If you need reading glasses you will wear them for the rest of your life, if you happen to be farsighted you get real close sighted, if you are close sighted you will never see clearly again. Still though, some old timers who can’t make out clear lines, only blurry shapes, still roam the Garden on missions. I wasn’t too worried about permanent effects, but sliding my finger through the pin reminded me that at my last checkup my vision was 18/19, down from 20/20. It could have been a fluke, or…
The nearest Watcher threw a spindly arm into the air and pulled a branch from one of the trees. Looking closer I deciphered that it must be a divining rod, they really were looking for us, I would need to be quick. Hughes tapped me on the boot and made a motion telling me to hold it. He brought up his camera and looked at the group as they performed the ritual for divination. At the end there would be about a fifty-fifty chance of them finding us. Not great odds for some unlucky fools. If they failed there would be a moment of pause before they retreated back to their domicile, a good thing. I decided it best to risk a failed divination than to chance us both being blinded in the flash. I agreed to return a journalist, not a dead body, or worse.
There’s not going to be a “worse”, I assured myself stupidly while the chanting began. Luckily he had listened and put in his sound canceling earbuds. Invaluable to a hunt. The voice of the Watchers is shrill, loud, and can drive a person to madness. My mentor told me he thought of it as a sort of dog whistle for humans. Something only we can hear, and something we wish we couldn’t. The earbuds protected us from the physical effects, and most of the audible. Still, some sounds leaked through at times, and you cannot help but feel uneasy, because under the shrill tenor you can almost hear words you recognize. Almost human, but not quite. Something before, or after. Nevertheless they were something else. A step that God had forgotten until he saw need. A misused, unloved crime of creation.
They walked on six grotesque hairy tentacles with monkeys feet, and used four emaciated human-like arms. Their speed was much faster than ours, and if not for the camouflage they would have already killed us. Besides the experiences of Scavengers and the visual observation made by scientists we still don’t know much about them. We are able to observe strange behaviors, like the divination currently being performed, and deduce they must have some customs beyond our understanding. Yet like a hive mind they are able to deduce the weak from the able and prioritize removal of the weakling before conducting their mission accordingly. Such was why the Skatterbox’s were made. By distracting them the only way we know how, by crippling at least one of them you had a chance to escape. You would only need to take hold of that chance. You would only need to not blind yourself doing it.
I tapped him on the shoulder and did a throwing motion. He nodded mournfully and returned to his pasture on the ground. The soil here was soft, I may get lucky and have a delayed rupture. If they looked in our direction I would throw it at the one with the rod, as he would be the first to receive our locational data. If I could cripple him before he was able to transmit to the rest then we would remain hidden while we escape, it was a slim shot but that little extra chance was all I could ever ask for. Arc the arm, grasp the pin and pull. Then, with full force, catapult your shoulder forward and flick your wrist while letting the parcel go. Perfect form, beaten into our muscles by professional baseball pitchers. Never miss, this isn’t the army where you can chuck a grenade and hope for the best, the stakes are different. In the army they made attachable launchers to fling grenades farther than soldiers could throw, those tools were too cumbersome, simplification. If the soldier cannot throw it, teach him to. My eyes rammed shut in an instant and my entire body was buried in the plot of dirt at my feet the instant after it left my hand. It smelled like iron, all of the dirt in this place smelled of iron, aggravatingly, unmistakably, metallic. Dirt would not smell like this anywhere else, the soil would know better than to offend us by reeking so terribly. It assaulted my senses as I breathed in the grainy wet earth. Wet.
Only a moment had gone by, a moment in such briefness that the Skatterbox had not yet reached its full arc, and a startling detail assaulted me. It would be silent. With the ear plugs and the noise of the Watchers in panic I would not be able to hear the Skatterbox detonate. Moreover, if the soil at their feet was as soft and wet as at ours then the predicted detonation would not match with normal standards. The delay was unnatural, and therefore incalculable. It may not detonate at all if the ground absorbs it totally. The mud shaping around it in a perfect catch like a mitt. That was the worst case, but if it did detonate then what would happen? No sound, how would I know? I could not simply wait it out and hope for the best, we did not have that kind of time. If it does not pop we have to run, though a slim chance, and meet up with the girls group to the east. They should only be a hundred or so meters away, if we got up and started then there would be time before we were found. That head start would be pivotal in our success.
I need to look, I need to see the moment it hits the ground before I close my eyes. Once it lands I can return to the ground, count to five and hope for the best. That’s my only option, I have to do it fast. This idiot needs me to see where we’re going, there’s not a chance in hell he can get us through this thick vegetation for a hundred meters with a Chorus in pursuit. Only I can, I need to see.
I lifted my head to watch my parcel strike earth, I lifted my eyes and gazed up at the Watchers standing in their formation. Then it struck. The last thing I saw was a glaze of pure whiteness. Immense. Blinding. Then darkness, why? I saw it in the air, it hit the ground, but then there was nothing but light. Why am I blind, no other thought could reach my mind. Any second the Watchers will finish consuming their allies and find the source that threw that contraption, so why did I go and get myself blinded? The Watchers will only take at most fifteen seconds to finish eating if I only wound three, add five seconds for each one after that if I’m lucky. Judging from where I hit I should have managed at least six, so thirty seconds to figure it out.
The Watchers did not strike it, despite their normally obscene reflexes they are totally immobile while divining. Totally focused on their ritual, the downside to this is that they can cancel the ritual at any given moment when they feel threatened. I saw them performing the ritual, not a single one noticed the Skatterbox. So they didn’t hit it, but I did see it hit the ground, how did I see it hit the ground? It didn’t sink or get caught; it struck like a wall and exploded in light. The soil should be the same, it rained earlier today, so why is the soil so hard over there that it immediately detonated? What is different? The Watchers…
Simple biology, for something that large to function it requires a ridiculous amount of energy. Miracles can only atone for so much of the Watchers strength, a large portion of their basic function still relies on basic anatomy. Miracles can protect them from outward foes, but for their own individual machinations to keep moving still requires the organs and nervous system of any other living creature. For something that large to move, and so adeptly, it needs a metabolism that outpaces our own by such an enormous degree that were it not for divinity it would simply overpower its own musculature. This sort of system is not in a void, intake and outflow. Just like how we humans sweat to cool ourselves down, because when our metabolism exceeds a certain limit our internal body temperature rises to a level that is unhealthy.
The same principle applies to all creatures, and they all have different ways to combat this rise in temperature. One of the reasons we don’t have many melee weapons to fight the Watchers, despite the training of elite soldiers to do so, is because of their metabolism. Such large and awesome designs come with unintended purposes. As a result of their need to be so destructive, large, and energetic, the Watchers, as a result, possess a startling body heat that normally resides over 900 degree’s Fahrenheit. In open battle it can soar well above that into dangerous ranges from 2000 and records show some in 9000. Size and weight vary, as well as their role in the formation. However a group’s Preacher is, at rest, within the range of 1200-1500 degree’s Fahrenheit.
What I had failed to account for, and through no fault of my own due to lack of experience, was the effect such a temperature had on its surroundings. The foliage in this place had evolved to deal with the effects of this heat, but one thing that heat will always combat until the Earth is reduced to no more than ash, is moisture. The environment’s complacency to the heat dulled my sense of danger in regards to it. I only ever considered its effects on myself, not what effect it would have on wet mud. A Chorus of 30 Watchers, full formation, had been standing at that one place for almost 5 minutes. All of the mud there had long since dried by the time I threw the damn Skatterbox. Basing my entire strategy on such a flawed conception, I never deserved the damn promotion. It shouldn’t have been me out here with this reporter. It should have been one of those Old Guard. Good, reliable men who had the wherewithal to understand that things dry out if they are warmed.
I deduced this all before I hit the ground and became enraptured by the darkness. My eyes were open yet no light could enter. A week of recovery, stained eyes that were one step closer to never seeing anything again. What would she have said to me here? No, she never cared about this whole expedition mess, a job is a job.
Hughes nudged and nudged me, but I couldn’t make out his shape at all in the dim. I motioned that I was blind and the nudging stopped. He wouldn’t be able to get us out of here, and I could no longer tell which way led east. This is it. Such a stupid thing led to my death. I hope I can get away with that much, at least I won’t be able to see what they decide to do to poor Hughes. Being blonde must be hard, they like those types, keep them around. That’s why I dyed my hair dear, so they wouldn’t spare me, just kill me like the rest. At least I would still have the appearance of a human. Then, as I accepted the fate before me, a violent hand grabbed my jacket.