His trusty stun baton scraped along the ground throwing sparks in the air. The threat was clear even if the infected on the other side of the gate were too stupid to understand it. Well...except that big one up front...that one looked like one mean motherfucker and he was making Robert nervous. It could easily clear the fence but it was just pacing out there, as if sizing him up. With a glare on his face Robert got into a fighting position and his Wisemen held their guns up, firing past the fence into the infected beyond. The Big Guy didn't even seem to notice the bullets. Shrugged them off. Like Mercer.
"Come at me you whoreson!" yelled Cross, he'd always hated waiting for a fight.
The big Hunter was up over the fence in one fantastic leap, odd skin glistening slickly in the dreary Manhattan sunlight. Robert dodged an attack that would have separated his head from his neck and fired one of his rockets as he moved. Two, three, four rockets. All of them a hit. The Hunter screamed and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. The Wisemen cheered but Robert frowned. That was too easy, he'd seen Mercer take six rockets to the chest and come up snarling, four rockets should hardly- The Hunter lept from the smoke, Robert employed an evasive roll but a man beside him wasn't fast enough. Before Robert was even back on his feet his soldier was in pieces. Using the unfortunate distraction he reloaded his launcher with a speed and precision borne of years of practice. Smoke was obscuring everything and the air was full of the discordant sounds of Infected screaming. The Hunter was oddly silent as it began to try and circle around Robert like a wolf stalking a moose. Robert snarled at it and refused to get backed into a corner.
Another of his soldiers fired an entire magazine point blank at the Hunter and was impaled on a spike for his trouble. Now there were only two Wisemen left under Robert's command. And they were going to die if he didn't defeat this thing or order them to retreat. He'd already lost an entire team once during training...that disastrous town taken over by Infected animals. It had been Randall's "test" and nothing made Robert quite as angry as remembering it. All those lives lost for a fucking test.
"Retreat! I'll hold him off!" Cross glared at his men, daring them to challenge his authority as he backed carefully away from the stalking Hunter...it was almost toying with him. Like a cat with a mouse.
His men almost looked like they WERE going to disobey...but they shared a look and made a run for it. The Hunter swiveled it's head around but Robert distracted it with a rocket right to the face. It immediately lost interest in the fleeing soldiers and lunged for Robert. Why it was so interested in him was a mystery. It seemed far more intelligent than the other Hunters Cross had killed with hardly a thought...it reminded him of Mercer if Mercer was some kind of instinctual animal. Cold, calculating...but also a little curious.
It ran at him again and Robert used another dodge roll, one of the first things he was taught after waking up on a cold metal operation table, no memories beyond his name and his age. Though sometimes he would have...dreams of a family that lived on an old farm. A small boy with a white streak in his hair (him?) and a black haired girl in pig tails and a dress (his sister?). Two parents (his parents?) but their faces were blurry.
Eeeeekkk moooom Robert put a lizard down my dress Mooooom!
That was all he had though. Sometimes dreams. Robert dodged again and slammed his stun baton against the Hunter but it just growled and knocked it out of his hand as if he'd poked it with a stick. Damn, even Mercer couldn't stand against the stun baton without inevitable retreat to just run around and throw stuff at him. This was a bad time to get introspective. He couldn't help it though, he was getting tired and...death seemed to loom ever closer as every biomass attack, every swipe, every lunge got closer and closer to the mark. Robert was out of ammunition and he tossed the husk of the launcher off his arm, jettison the weight. The Hunter seemed to know victory was close because if Robert didn't know better he would have thought it was smiling.
The only regret Cross had was his lack of a past. There was no one he could remember fondly, except the dream people perhaps, but did that count? After rolling off that slab, naked and cold as a newborn, he'd been put straight into training as Blackwatch's new Captain of the Wiseman team. The man in charge of hunting down each Runner and killing it. His men were his family now and that could hardly count. Robert took care of them as best he could but...they died a lot. He learned not to get very attached.
Sometimes he'd wonder if he even had a family or if Blackwatch had grown him in a tube somewhere. Did he have parents that worried about him? A sister (with black hair and pig tails and a dress) who wondered where he'd gone off to? Was he an orphan that Blackwatch had just picked up? Maybe that was why he'd felt so bad for Alex Mercer, a man just trying to figure out his past. Robert could relate to that.
The Hunter employed another leap and Robert dodged, however this time the Hunter gave a graceful spin a it's feet hit the ground and it changed direction straight for Robert before he'd even gotten all the way to his feet. Stuck in a half-crouch he had nothing he could do. The Hunter's big claws crunched against his armor and Robert was pinned with a pained yell and a vulgar curse, "I hope you know chewing on me is going to be like eating rusty nails!" snarled Cross, spitting blood up into the Hunter's deformed face, "Bring it motherfucker, I'll break you!"
Further threats died on his lips as the Hunter transformed into... "Mercer?!" No....not Mercer... It was close but the eyes weren't quite right and the teeth when he sneered were too sharp. It was an Almost Mercer, "What the fuck," deadpanned Cross, staring into the Almost eyes of the Hunter. He didn't know they could transform.
"Hello Captain," said the Hunter in an Almost Mercer voice, it was a deep growl but it was almost TOO deep..., "Happy to see me again?"
"You're not Alex Mercer!" snapped Cross, struggling to get free and then gasping as one of the Hunter's clawed hands pushed down on his elbow joint until it snapped like a twig, "Aaarrggg!"
"No," it snarled, looking angry that Cross had seen right through it's disguise, "I'm not...I only got a taste of him..." At the word 'taste' the Hunter leaned down and one long slimy tongue slipped between it's lips and ran along the side of Robert's face, licking up some blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, "But with you...oh I'm going to get everything from you...you're going to give it all to me..."
"Fuck you!" rasped Robert before he trailed off into a scream of pain as the Hunter slammed it's palm down against his chest and broke a few of his ribs.
"You know...Mercer wants to fuck you," purred the Hunter, leaning down as if he hadn't just wounded Cross, brushing their lips together and smearing the blood bubbling up from Cross's mouth, "Maybe after I take you...I'll give him a good fucking, you want me to fuck you in Mercer's body, Captain? It would be a good way to go, wouldn't it?" As it spoke it pressed surprisingly soft teasing kisses along Robert's lips, rancid breath wafting over his face with every breath.
"H-how a-ab-bout..." talking hurt...it hurt bad...and breathing was becoming labored, he thought maybe one of his lungs was pierced, "Y-you g-go f-f-fuc-k yours-self..." gasped Robert, coughing against the soft lips against his, green eyes staying open through nothing more than sheer stubbornness.
The idea of the Hunter taking him, becoming him, was akin to rape in his mind. Nothing would be sacred and when he died it would be as an empty husk, wouldn't it? Robert didn't want the Hunter taking his memories and his form, his speech and mannerisms, his life. Those were his things. When he died he wanted to take them with him. The Hunter growled, obviously not pleased with his response, "Fine!" it snarled in his face, "I'll consume you slowly... so slowly...you'll feel every snap of bone and every nerve unwinding as I make it mine!"
Robert glared up at the Hunter and then realized with a start that it's eyes were green. His green. No...not his green...an Almost green...a green like...
You have your father's eyes
A shape like...
You have your mother's...
Robert sucked in a great breath and choked on a mouthful of blood, coughing it up in a greatly painful burst of whoops, splattering the blood over the Hunter's face. He could feel the Hunter starting to consume him, starting at his feet. The pain was unbelievable, it was as if he were getting stretched apart bit by bit until his bones and blood turned to a paste, taken in by the Hunter's body. It's face was changing further, but slowly, oh so slowly. With the change came...Robert shut his eyes tightly as images flashed through his head.
Mooooom Robert's putting dirt in my dresser!
Robert go out and feed the cows, and no lizard hunting, leave those poor things alone!
You get that white stripe from your grandfather, bless him, we called him Badger and he'd wallop us so hard...
Images of a boy growing into a teen growing into a man. Dropping out of High School in Senior year to join the Marines. Ignoring the teasing about his hair, ignoring the nickname of Skunk and then Badger when they realized how mean he could be when provoked. Going into battle. Coming home. His sister had children.
Unca Robert! Unca Robert pick me up! Pick me up!
No, me! Me!
They are really fond of you
Spending time with family, children crawling over him as if scaling a mounting, chasing them around the house as they screamed with laughter. Father sitting in a chair with a pipe in his hand reading the newspaper and Mother in the kitchen with his sister making dinner.
For the love of God, Robert stop riling them up!
Going back into the service. Promoted and transferred.
You're good, son, really good...we have something that might interest you....think it over...
Driving his nieces and nephews to school.
Ahhh don't kiss me it's embarrassing! I'm not a kid anymore!
But they would always be kids to him and he'd grab them around the waist and pick them up and plant a big wet kiss on their cheek even as they struggled and tried not to laugh. Let them go. They were growing up so fast.
Son, I think it's time you think about this transfer...we have no more opportunities for you...make a choice...you've been dragging your feet...
Oh go on Robert, what are you afraid of? This promotion sounds perfect, we're so proud of you!
Saying goodbye, I'll be back in a month or two after this new training...
Waking up naked on a cold slab.
Robert's eyes snapped open and he gasped in pained breaths, the Hunter was glaring at him suspiciously, wearing his face...his Almost face. Robert turned his head to the side and vomited up a stream of blood and bile, choking and gasping against the pain and the memories. What had happened to those people? To his family? Did the military tell them he was dead or did they say nothing at all and they just waited and waited for a son that would never return?
The Hunter was almost done consuming his legs and Robert knew it would all be over shortly. He glared up at it defiantly, refusing to give over these new memories. Those were his. They would go with him when he died. The Hunter seemed to sense this as it grabbed the lapels of his coat and shook him, "You're holding something back!" it screamed furiously, "Give it to me!"
No, thought Robert blearily, you can't take what I won't give you. Instead he managed to say one last thing, muffled through blood and pain, "Alex...Mercer... is... g-going...t-t-to...k-k-kill...y-you...."
That was the final straw, the Hunter wearing an almost perfect copy of his body screamed in fury and sucked him up all at once. It was more of a confusing feeling than a painful one at this point, like he was being spun in tight crazy circles and sucked under water. The last thing sucked in was one hand reaching out to a past he'd forgotten, and would die with him. There was no time for last thoughts and no room for regret.
There never was.