Despite the cool and refreshing temperature, the sweat dripped from his hair. He ran across the country, over twigs and roots without stopping to take a break. He had to create a lead as big as possible to the henchmen; only then he could reach safety – sometime. His advantage: he was on foot and managed every terrain problem-free. On the other hand, the opponents drove a fast armoured vehicle; but luckily for him, fast movement through the rough terrain wasn't possible. If it wasn't only for his lacking endurance now…
His limbs had their very own way of forcing a break on him. Namely by simply refusing to work. Three hundred meters had to suffice since, as was known, Wolf wasn't a marathon runner. No matter if he was found a couple of seconds later.
So he stopped, rested his arms on his legs, panted and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Wolf was so exhausted he couldn't take another step. Of course this contradicted his principle of being always ready, but sometimes he needed a small time out, too.
Therefore he leant against a tree and let himself slip to the ground. He didn't care for the dirt and dampness, simply wanting to sit and rest a little. Provided one could talk about relaxation at all if there were pursuing enemies. In order to not succumb to the temptation of sleeping, which would be fatal, he began where he had stopped with Tic-Tac-Toe before.
After five minutes of dubious brain training, he suddenly heard the noise of engines again. Still sitting, he nervously looked around. Wolf briefly considered if it was a good idea to get up, but rejected the thought, however, since low silhouettes were more difficult to discern. Because of this he couldn't walk quickly around the tree when required. Instead he laid himself down flat on his stomach and peeked around the tree. There he saw a car over the blades of grass and under a dragonfly passing by. Not the same as the previous one, because it was smaller and it rolled on wheels just as small. The roof additionally consisted of cloth. Either the inhabitants didn't have anti-gravity-vehicles at their disposal or their technological progress lagged hopelessly behind. As usual both reasons went hand in hand.
Painted in beige and without visible armament, the car didn't give the impression of a combat vehicle. In comparison it appeared very old, but reliable. Merely the driver behind the wheel worried him, who scanned the area through a lowered window – also one of those foreign life-forms. On the other hand, he seemed...fatherly, with the thick woolly hat on his head. Like a gentle soul, who couldn't hurt a fly. But as the saying goes? Appearances can be deceptive. So much the worse when all of a sudden the car headed directly towards him.
Although rocked by the ground's condition to and fro, the machine was not affected. It mastered the terrain with superior ease without having to evade any trees. Wolf didn't reckon with this off-road ability so now he lay silently in the hopes to not be discovered by them; which promptly fell flat as he heard a shout in his direction.
"Oh great..." he mumbled in a whisper. "When not by alcohol, then by ripping." He saw how the car stopped in front of him and two male persons got out after they turned the engine off. In a split-second Wolf mused about attempting a quick assault on them and taking off with their car, but after he saw a, in his opinion, ancient rifle in the hands of the left one, he dismissed the plan immediately. So he shouldn't give them a reason to assume him as hostile, especially since this one aimed the rifle at him immediately.
The right man said something in a calm tone to him, which Wolf again didn't understand. He, however, suspected out of the context of the present situation that they wanted to tell him that he could get up now. Therefore he stood up slowly and held his hands up. Anything to not get hit by a bullet this soon.
Now that he finally had the opportunity to take a closer look at these creatures, he first of all noticed that both were one head taller than him. Their arms and legs showed insignificantly more mass, which led him to the assumption that they had a higher physical strength, no matter whether the fat or muscle percentage was higher. Apart from that they wore quite ordinary gear which seemed nevertheless antiquated to Wolf. They had nothing of the elegance and modernity that was offered in the fashion stores nowadays. If one asked him to describe their style of clothing, then he would have said they looked like hobos from centuries ago. And that meant: outdoor shoes, jeans, a plain shirt and a thick jacket over it.
The only one without without a weapon wore a fur hat, as well as glasses.
Furthermore, their skin was naked. At least, he couldn't discern fur, except for the armed man's slight growth of beard and the obligatory head of hair which turned out quite short. In conclusion, Wolf thought of monkeys, like Andrew. The only differences were the missing fur and tail, the smaller eyes, the more broad than high head and the strangely formed nose. So...triangular.
That, however, didn't stop Wolf from issuing a warning. "I swear, touch me only once and you will be begging to die a swift death. And I can guarantee, that not even your primitive slugthrower will stop me."
The one without a weapon put on a confused look and turned his eyes to the sky, until he shrugged and spoke to his comrade. While the bounty hunter again had no idea what they were talking about, he felt a bit relieved as the armed man lowered the gun reluctantly afterwards, but scrutinized Wolf intently. The mercenary admitted to himself that he wasn't quite seriously looking…
Then one talked calmly to him, smiling slightly, apparently to not come off as an enemy. In spite of Wolf's increasing ignorance because he couldn't follow him, the man pointed at himself and said a sentence that contained only one word which made even remotely sense to Wolf, because it sounded like a name: Igor.
Afterwards he turned to his partner and continued; this time the Star Wolf-leader understood "Sergei". The other man smiled briefly, raised his hand and greeted him in a rising voice.
Wolf interpreted the gestures as a simple welcoming, so it was likely his turn for an introduction now. At least they were friendly and didn't shoot him down like an animal.
First he did it just like Igor. He pointed at himself and introduced himself with: "I, Wolf O'Donnell." His arms folded, Igor nodded, as if he had understood the name. A brow raised, he repeated the name and grinned after the bounty hunter confirmed the correctness. As it appeared, no difficulties consisted with communication on the part of the foreigners.
Then Sergei began to talk once more, his voice now toned as a question and with it communications became problematic. Wolf tried hard looking for the right way to handle them verbally, but unfortunately without success. But since there was, however, according to the motto "There's no harm in asking," he asked them, "Do you actually understand what I say?" As expected, they looked at each other, shrugging. A bit of mumbling later, Igor turned to him again.
At first glad to have heard them talking in his language, although offended after they described him as German, Wolf replied, "I cannot country bumpkin-language." He had no idea what German meant, but to him it sounded like an insult. Wolf also knew a lot of swear words and everyone was well-advised not to press him to use them. The men noticed this, giving a forced smile.
Conferring with each other quickly, Igor changed his strategy and started fresh. This time the man pointed with his opened hand to himself and said, "You." His arm went backwards to the car and the mercenary felt like an idiot.
"Car. Drive. Village. Talk." Finally Wolf got it.
"Thank you!" he told them, smiling, and the men sighed in relief.
But having hardly moved, a furious cry sounded and they became as white as chalk.
From between the tree trunks appeared the black armoured car. Worse yet, the terrain wasn't capable of slowing it down and the gun was manned. How did they find him here in the midst of the woods so fast? Was it his scent of alcohol? Did he leave footprints and didn't come actually far? Or was it because of something else, like hearing the other car, foresight or pure luck? But whatever the reason was, the mercenary now had other problems to attend to. Meekly Wolf asked his companions, "Um, shouldn't we get the hell out of here?" In response to this, faces contorted with fear stared at him. "Okay, maybe not..." So they kept standing, until it came to a halt beside them. The engine rumbled in the meantime. The body was square; the front resembled a crocodile's face and was protected by a bullbar with headlights; it exuded the typical..."military-aura". Moreover, next to the passenger door he saw a small logo: A skull which design was unknown to him with crossed sabers under it.
The man at the machine gun growled at Wolf aggressively and sent a few words to Igor, which led to him shouting determinedly at the hostile stranger, whereupon their opponents grinned. A longer debate developed from this, which Wolf let go in one ear and out the other, and hammered out a plan for the takeover of the vehicle. The driver had just got out and was also equipped with a rifle, an automatic weapon according to the enormously crooked magazine. But in Wolf's opinion it was still ancient.
The enemies originated from the same race as his allies, but were dressed more like thugs, however. Thus the turret gunner wore merely a vest instead of a shirt and above it an ammunition belt, his hair concealed by a headscarf. His chest was very hairy in comparison with his remaining body – Was that supposed to be fur? Wolf would have been utterly ashamed to look like that.
Suddenly, the bandit who was previously driving yelled in a demanding tone towards him and, thinking intensively, he startled. He simultaneously thought to have been insulted, and that, of course, wasn't something he could stand for. So he simply countered, "What's wrong? Not man enough to tell me in my language what you want, so you can sneak your bullshit in? How about I make you eat your own gun as my personal way of saying hello?"
At first confused, the two raiders looked at each other, only to burst into laughter after a few seconds of awkward silence. Now a familiar heat went through his body and he let his finger bones crack, while trying to not expose his sharp teeth. But some happy thoughts about how he would break their limbs bone for bone and smash their heads in with a crowbar managed to calm him down for a while.
Soon after the unwelcomed guests had stopped making fun of him, another order was shouted and Wolf's acquaintances made clear with gestures to him that he should enter the vehicle. He had this in mind too – in his own way – and couldn't resist a grin.
With raised paws he passed by the driver who held the gun in his hands. The turret gunner, meanwhile, watched carefully over the event from his elevated position. But he couldn't see the car's back; Wolf had to make use of this disadvantage.
The nice men waved a sad farewell to him, and the opposing driver shoved repeatedly with the barrel into his back to the point where Wolf said, "Come on, just push me more so I can skin you alive like the stinkin' ape you are." They would be surprised of his ways to escape….
Arriving at the vehicle's rear, where he found a spacious compartment for a troop of soldiers, he suddenly stopped. Indignant about it, the man pushed him once more and made an angry demand.
"Showtime!" With this word Wolf started. He swiftly took a step back and rammed his elbow into the man's stomach. He knew that is was just another random opponent standing in his way to fulfill his client's contract, if he had one at the moment, so nothing personal. But nevertheless, something...strange rushed through his veins, next to the heat and anger and suddenly pushed his lips up: was it joy? The warm, fuzzy feeling of finally being able to let off your frustrations after a series of humiliations? Wolf thought of himself as a professional whose work shouldn't get impaired by emotions, but it seemed that sometimes even he couldn't hold it back. And despite sustaining heavy injuries after the battle against his rival and spending two days in bed, the almost drug-like adrenaline gave him back the old strength he had missed and was known for. So he simply decided to give himself up to his feelings this time, and laughed.
Successfully surprised by the attack, the bandit dropped the gun in an automatic reaction and sank to the ground desperately gasping for air, his eyes widened. He then fell aside, his arms pressed to the wound, but the mercenary was just getting warmed up. It was about time to teach these bandits a severe lesson not to mess with him!
Wolf grabbed the gun quickly, noticed how light it was compared to the common blaster rifles, and aimed at the defenceless man's face; the raider wasn't able to say anything, but the shaking, wet eyes first stared into the barrel, then at Wolf, like he was attempting to silently beg for mercy…
The bounty hunter knew the look. It was the same one from a weak person who just happened to possess a gun and thought he could prey on those who can't defend themselves and steal their riches. But the very next moment the tables were turned, they were quick to beg for their lives.
Wolf's last target before he was hired by Andross was one of them. And he had enjoyed it, unbeknownst to his now dead comrades. At least Fox, if he had lost against the bounty hunter's team, would have faced his death with dignity.
After an extremely loud bang, the rifle almost flew out of his hands due to the unexpectedly high recoil and an unpleasant rang sounded in his ears. He didn't mind the blood that splashed on his gear, though, and, most important to him, he felt refreshed and back in business.
The turret gunner yelled in horror when he supported himself on the roof and saw the massacre with his own eyes. Two additional words which just had to be insults later, he drew a pistol in fury…
Another bang, a fountain of blood, a hole in his forehead and a dumbfounded look. Then he hit his head on the steel roof, down which the blood flowed after a few seconds. A quick glance around revealed Sergei as the murderer.
Horrified and trembling, Sergei just stood there, turned his view to his rifle and let it fall down, sinking to his knees afterwards. Finally, a quiet, but still strong word escaped Igor's lips, who began to walk around with his forehead covered in worry lines, repeatedly running his hand through his hair.
Wolf couldn't comprehend how one could be so averse to the moment of triumph. Unless, of course, one had to throw up upon seeing those red bodily fluids, in which case this was forgivable. He, however, made the most of this victory; he casually put the weapon over his shoulder and kicked the corpse on the ground.
After that his rescuers began an agitated conversation. They looked worried at the chaos, leant against the armoured car, and Igor put his face into his hands. Gradually Wolf realized that it was not the blood that shocked them, but the dead persons instead. And he didn't take long to ponder what the problem was.
He instantly helped them heave the lifeless bodies into the vehicle. They worked together silently, almost telepathically: from now on they were in the same boat, or so it seemed to him.
The mercenary followed Igor into the civilian car without saying a word while Sergej controlled the hearse. The seats, to Wolf's sheer joy, were comfortable and not too dirty, so he placed the rifle under his seat and leaned back to relax. He really had earned himself a rest, he thought.
He did, however, examine the dashboard beforehand and saw: an old-fashioned steering-wheel on the left and several plain but numerous gauges, whose purpose didn't reveal themselves to him on the right. There were several buttons everywhere, and hoses dangled under the wheel. Most striking were four levers, which were assembled between the two front seats. Even his starfighter didn't have so many control elements.
Generally Wolf spontaneously thought of a military scout disguised as a civilian car with way more buttons than necessary. But as long as it would bring him from A to B, he didn't care.
After Wolf managed to fasten his seatbelt after several attempts and groans as it repeatedly refused to budge, Igor started the engine and drove on a rough path, Sergej following close behind.
While looking outside the window in the hopes of seeing some sort of trace of his teammates by chance, he became more and more upset as the car seemed to hit every obstacle in the way, roots, logs or holes and shaking the vehicle up. Wolf turned to the driver to complain, when he noticed Igor's eyes: despite being fixated on the way in front of them, he apparently wasn't paying attention to all the objects in the way, almost as they simply didn't exist for him. Even after the mercenary continued to watch him he either didn't register or didn't care. Was Igor there at all?
But figuring that berating the man would make matters worse, the former Star Wolf-leader shortened the journey by means of a natural activity: sleeping, or at least trying to. He absolutely needed to take a shower. As far as he could remember, his last wash dated back three days, and he now couldn't bear his own alcoholic smell any longer. Igor miraculously didn't notice it, or perhaps he was an alcoholic as well.
At this keyword he wondered: What had happened to Jan and Moritz? He still had to find them if he wanted to survive in the vast reaches of the system. If it wasn't for the language barrier, he would have questioned Igor and Sergej over his wingmen. The noise of a crashing starfighter and the resulting column of smoke surely must have attracted people from both sides. Unfortunately, the enemies had reached the site first.
And anyway: Who were they? Judging by the dispute, they were a hostile group on this planet, moving heavily armed through the country and reacting allergically to extraterrestrials. Did they produce their gear with their own resources or did they plunder everything that appeared useful to them? They probably left their fellow species alone – didn't they? Questions and more questions piled up, which only Igor and his people could answer.
After a short time, the first buildings – a wooden watchtower among them, with a number of residences beyond – came into sight.
The driver steered the vehicle past the tower – Wolf couldn't see from his seat whether it was occupied or not – into a large village. It accommodated houses in seemingly all shapes and sizes, some small, some big, some straight, some crooked. Some were old; for example, there were crumbling stone walls and moldy wood. Others though appeared new. But as always: For Wolf it was as if he had traveled to the past.
The broad streets consisted of solid ground, with no trace of asphalt or other modern building materials. While primitive, it was still possible to drive and walk on it without a problem. All of this was overshadowed by a certain peculiarity that matched the cloudy sky, however.
Nobody was outside. No single soul: no animal, no thinking being, nothing at all. A tumbleweed crossed the street in front of the car. Was the place abandoned or had the inhabitants barricaded themselves inside their homes? The last theory was confirmed by the fact that the windows were closed and the curtains were drawn. Even the birds avoided the village, and the bounty hunter had the feeling that he was in danger. So nothing unusual.
Igor brought the small group to an inconspicuous house in the midst of a row of buildings, one-storey and flat roofed. They stopped just a few meters from the entrance door and silenced the engines. Who was important enough to live here, that they would come to a halt here?
In any case, he left the car and followed his new acquaintances to the front door. Next to it was a mounted wooden sign, the writing unreadable to him except for the owner's name, which read "Piotr Kowalski." After they rang the bell, they waited until someone opened the door.
A short while later an old person in slippers, short trousers and a sleeveless shirt opened it and stood in front of them. His hair grey, wrinkles numerous and glasses heavy, he seemed to be one of those people who just wanted to rest after an entire life of hard work, while telling stories to the children about the "good old days".
He greeted them friendly, his eyes turning to Wolf, then uttering more words which the mercenary ignored. The sight of the armoured car drew the man's corners of mouth, however, down, which was noticed but not questioned by the outsiders. At that very moment the smell of alcohol leaked out, and Wolf thought about turning around. His own excess odor was enough for him.
The foreign beings led him into a chic furnished living room. Beautiful paintings of natural phenomena, artistically decorated shelves with flowers and statuettes and a cuckoo clock hung on the walls. In the middle of the room were two sofas with room for three persons each, a bear carpet between them. This old man seemed to be very important and wealthy – one day Wolf wanted to break into his house and make off with his riches.
After everyone made themselves comfortable, the host took the floor and offered his hand to Wolf along with some friendly-sounding words. The mercenary, however, just frowned at him and said in a serious tone, "Sorry old man, but as long as I have no idea where I am and what you are going to do with me, I'll more likely rip your hand off. It's probably infected with some foreign form of age-related diabetes as well and I'm still not old enough to get it."
First shaking his head from this rude refusal and then nevertheless trying to hold up a slight smile, the man greeted, much to Wolf's surprise, "Good evening, Mr Extraterrestrial." Wolf didn't trust his ears. It had to be a delusion, definitely. Considering how a single day couldn't go without at least one catastrophe, this went almost too well for his taste.
"Um, um..." he stammered, incapable of forming a coherent sentence. Piotr laughed.
"Don't be surprised that I can speak your language. I was employed by the government in foreign policy; I inevitably had to learn German there. Are you from one of our Earths by chance?"
All of that was too much input for Wolf. German? Earths? What was this person opposite him talking about?
"I-I have to admit that I'm just dead beat by all the happenings. I therefore hope you don't get huffy if I simply want to take a break first."
Piotr answered by sighing and shaking his head. He then replied seriously, "I understand. But I'm afraid you won't leave the village alive."
Completely bewildered and angry at this statement, Wolf got up from the sofa and asked, "What? Why not?!"
The ground began to tremble.
"Ustanak is here."