The problem as Michael saw it was unpredictable response to fire. The… things would cringe from it on one encounter and roll in it like a dog in mud the next, sometimes only a few hours later. Which was still sort of helpful, in a short term and really fucking weird sort of way. Nevertheless... Maximum efficiency required consistent weapons, damn it! They were wasting ammo on what was basically a trial and error bombardment every single time, but it still wasn't worth going directly for the riskier blade work without trying it. Also, there was the tiny issue where occasionally, when the wind blew from the east, blowing them up just made them angry.
The problem as Fiona saw it was that she didn’t have enough Molotov cocktails.
“I think we lost it!” Michael panted, leaning against a hedge that still showed marks of its past life as a garden feature regularly trimmed by a migrant worker in its vaguely rectangular form, here and there between patches of overgrowth and singed branches.
“That’s great, Michael, but I think we also lost the kid,” said Fiona, brushing soot off her dress.
“What?” Michael staggered upright again and looked around wildly, as though their charge might have become temporarily invisible.
“It must have been when we dived out of the way of that tentacle about five minutes ago,” Fiona added. “We rolled one way, the kid went another.”
“And you didn’t think to mention it at the time?”
“I had a grenade pin in my mouth,” Fiona pouted. “I thought you’d notice.”
“Fuck!” Michael spun around and tried his best to bang his head against the hedge, succeeding only in getting twigs in his hair.
“Cheer up,” said Fiona. “He’s probably not dead yet.”
“His mother promised us a goddamn chicken,” Michael said, trying not to shout too noticeably. “We need that chicken, Fi.”
Fiona shrugged. “So go back for him. I’ll circle round and make a diversion.”
“What kind of diversion?” Michael demanded. “That was your last grenade.”
“I’ll think of something.”
The problem as Sam saw it was that vodka was for drinking, not flambéing creatures from the proverbial black lagoon. Entertainment was short in Post-Incursion Miami, and man could not score on beer alone.
“Soooo,” he said to Leyla, who’d been silently pacing the main room of the safehouse for the last three hours, “Sure you don’t want some more interesting way to pass the time? I haven’t really got enough booze for a drinking game, but we could play spin the- erm,” he trailed off at her glare. “Twister? Truth or dare? …Charades?”
“Your friends said they’d be back by now,” she said. Her fingers reflexively stroked over the stuffed toy she was clutching, pushing stray stuffing back into it.
“Well, you know how it is,” he gestured with his beer bottle. It wasn’t rationed for today but he’d made a special exception on the basis of stress. “Any little thing can delay a mission. Maybe your son had to make a toilet stop.”
She did not look impressed at that. Pity. Her face might have been more attractive in the good old days of make-up and regular shampoo, but she still had a decent rack on her.
The good news was that the kid had had the sense to climb up a tree and then sit very still until Michael found him. The bad news was that the goddamn kid was up a goddamn tree and that slimy motherfucker was only going to chase Fiona around for so long before it got bored and/or lost a limb and slithered back to base, and the tree was unfortunately directly between that and the ruined hotel she’d led it to.
“Come on, just put your foot down on that branch underneath you,” Michael coaxed.
The kid continued to stare at him with those huge blue eyes, clinging to the branch like it was his favourite stuffed toy. The worst thing was he actually did have a favourite stuffed toy – the mom had shown it to them when she asked for help. It had been a goddamn bunny with a fluffy tail and one missing ear.
“Your mom’s waiting for you, kid,” he tried with a desperate grin. “And, uh… Flopsy, too.”
The kid mumbled something.
“What was that?”
“S’not Flopsy,” said the kid. “Her name is Flops. It’s different.”
“O-kay,” said Michael. “Still gotta come down to get back to them, right?”
He tried a trustworthy grin.
Sam had just finished his third check of the perimeter defenses, mostly to escape the cold-eyed stare of their latest client, when the phone rang.
“Thank g- I mean what’s the sitrep?” he blurted.
“Where’s my son?” cried Leyla.
“How’s your little trophy cabinet doing?” asked Fiona, sounding slightly out of breath.
“Um,” said Sam, grimacing at Leyla. “Chitinous?”
“Fantastic, you can expand into a new category soon.” With that she hung up.
“Well?” demanded Leyla. Sam got a horrifying feeling that the damn rabbit was staring at him accusingly.
“Er,” said Sam. “Perhaps you might be interested in my collection of oh my god please don’t look at me like that.”
The kid clung tighter to the branch. “The monster will get me.”
“I promise the monster will definitely not get you if you come down within the next thirty seconds or so,” Michael said, as reassuringly as he could under the circumstances.
There was a brief tense silence, broken only by faint crashing noises from Fiona’s distraction. Then there was a flurry of movement in the tree, followed by an ominous snapping noise, and suddenly Michael was on the ground with a bony yet somehow unexpectedly heavy eight-year-old sitting on his chest.
“Haaaah- that’s… great,” he wheezed. “Now-”
“Get up, you layabout.” Fiona waved a bizarrely hairy segment of tentacle at him. “This lad’s mother will be worrying herself to death, and you’re laying about on the ground like some sort of… laying about thing.”
The boy sprang to his feet with a “Mommy? Where is she?” and Michael slapped his palm directly over his face and coughed some more.
“Come along,” said Fiona.
“Why do I have to take first watch?” Sam grumbled. “It’s not my turn. It’s Fiona’s turn.”
Fiona turned back from the table where she’d been cleaning up. Her face was now only two-thirds covered in soot, but the effect of her glare was not in any way softened.
“Alright, alright,” said Sam. “I’m not saying I won’t take it, I’m just making a point.”
“Make your point to someone who didn’t bring you back that lovely souvenir,” said Fiona. Sam poked the tentacle gingerly and Fiona smirked. “This is conservation of resources.”
“Stop arguing,” groaned Michael. “I am trying to sleep.”
“All I’m saying,” said Sam, “Is I definitely recall having to take my regular shift last time I got back from blowing things up.”
“You pushed a button,” said Fiona, waving a hand. “You didn’t get up close and personal.”
“That’s because I’m not a crazy person.”
“Will you both shut up?”
“Sweet mother of fuck.” Michael pulled the blanket over his head.
“Now look what you’ve done,” Fiona said reprovingly. “You’ve gone and woken the chicken.”