It was like dogfighting, except that the dogs in this case were intelligent and alien. Matt watched with growing excitement as four of the remaining Jackals ganged up on the fifth, happy that he had won, yet again. He thought he could make out the one he'd bet on, that tall one with the stump for its right hand, digging in on the now-dead Jackal, teeth snapping and ripping at the skin and bone. The others all joined in, feasting on the corpse.
"Aw, what the fuck, man?" Some idiot who'd bet on the loser spat into the hole. "You gotta be kidding me, I lost again?"
"There's a trick to it, bro." Matt happily began collecting the loot from those who'd lost, things like cigarettes, niconicos, cash, random souvenirs--it wasn't much, but was sure as hell better than nothing. Admittedly, he knew that he did this mainly because of the thrill of winning for once, and also, he was good at seeing temporary alliances forming between the Covenant things down there. After all, he came out once a night to check up on them, although he was careful to not let himself be seen from within, as they flung shit at anything they could see.
"What trick? Rigging that shit? You probably shot that fucker up during the night or something."
"Why would you think that? It's all about intelligence." Matt tapped his head as he said this, grinning all the while. Too many idiots in the military these days. "Nothing is random, bro. You can't just pick one you think is strong or something, you gotta, like, deliberate and stuff."
Sometimes, a bullet placed in the knees did wonders. Especially if it was fired from a suppressed weapon, better to keep it all secret. Just aim into the hole at night... remember who you shot. Easy money.
"Right. Go fuck yourself, Matt." The loser shoved his way out of the crowd, after spitting one last time into the hole. Matt wondered, idly, just how that asshole knew his name, but he pushed it out of his mind to see if anyone else owed him something.
"Hey, hey! You there, you owe me that fucking watch!"
It had all started as a little trap in the forest. Seattle was a wreck, but the tall green trees had made for good hunting ground. Only that no one had a clear idea as to who was hunting who, and that the only certainty that remained to them was to make sure to position themselves clearly as the predators. But intentions rarely become reality. That relationship between prey and predator was hopelessly murky, and the lines blurred with every battle, every conflict.
"Come on, man," Melissa pleaded with him. But Matt was unyielding, and in the end he stripped her of her watch. It was a cheap little thing of synthetics and 12-karat gold, but still, a watch was a watch and the winnings needed to be collected. She glared at him and he stashed it in his pocket.
"Hey," he said to her, "don't blame me."
"Asshole," she said. But she said with a light grin, as if she didn't care about some cheap fucking watch--and she probably didn't. Melissa turned without speaking and went off to chat with what he supposed was one of her friends.
Matt shrugged, and moved on. He kept a little tally in his head, marking out who owed him and who he owed; the former he intended to find, and the latter, he intended to dodge. Thankfully, the list of those he owed was a small one, and he was able to keep himself out of the way.
"Hey," someone called out to him. "Matt!"
He turned. It was Melissa again. She waved him back, and he shook his head. "That's what you get," he shouted, "for calling me an asshole!"
"Fine," he called back. "I'll be right there."
Normally, the soldiers--both professionals and amateurs alike, UNSC marines mingling with local militiamen--were supposed to keep a low profile. But Jackal Day was something special. The first such event had been held with eight Jackals trapped within the pit. It had been an extraordinary stroke of luck, for a whole roving troop to sink and be imprisoned so. Matt remembered coming across them, hands tight on his assault rifle, nervous, sent to investigate the source of the awful screeching noise--stepping closer and closer to the source of the noises, and the rather terrifying shriek of the jackals when they saw him, alien teeth bared bloody under the dim sunlight. His first impulse had been to toss a frag in and say goodbye--but his entrepreneurial instincts had kicked in, and here he was, now. Jackal day was truly something unique. It was like a barbecue with military rations, and a horse race without the horses or any sort of racing, but with competition left intact.
"What's wrong?" Matt asked, but she dragged him back to the hole. "Hey?"
"Look," she said, pointing down. "Someone pointed them out for me as well."
He looked. The jackals had finished eating. The remains of the unfortunate victim lay ripped apart at the bottom of the hole, blood mingling with alien shit. "Looks perfectly normal to me," he said to her.
"No," she said, "look at them. Their jaws."
"Oh," he said, "I've seen it before. They do it all the time."
"Right after they eat, they all stare up at the sky with their fucking mouths open."
"All the time?"
"Yeah." He grinned. "What were you worried about?"
Melissa laughed. She had white teeth, perfectly aligned with one another. Matt wondered if returning her watch could yield some satisfying results. "Nothing, I guess. I thought they were communicating to the mothership or something. You know, dogs and stuff can hear things we can't? I thought it'd be like that."
"Sounds rather unlikely."
"Probably." She turned to him, eyes green with bags under them, tired, but jubilant as well. "Hey," she said. Matt never did find out what she was going to say next.
When a human being is shot in the head, two things happen. One is that they die. The other is that they leave a big mess behind. That mess depends on the weaponry used; a projectile weapon tends to be more violent, although nothing beats a sledgehammer, or a Brute's punch. Suffice it to say that he was splattered a bit. More sharp popping noises burst around them, and their purple trails stayed in his vision even after he closed his eyes. They seared through the darkness, big purple lines glowing malevolently in his sight. Matt stayed low, eyes open as slits because they were still stinging from the shock of seeing enemy plasma fire. He found cover behind a stump of a thick tree, and pressed his back against it, trying to become as small a target as possible.
Many of the others hadn't fared so well. It was the usual battlefield chaos, human misery overriding the sharp gunfire and the distant thunder of explosions. The usual set of dying men calling out for their mothers in fifteen different languages, the women doing the same. Matt thought he could see about eleven lying on the ground, and one looked to be still alive. The sniper's shot had taken him in the stomach, and had carved a thick hole through it. Blood and what looked to be his intestines were trying to spill out between his fingers, and he was trying to keep them in, weeping, perhaps numb to the pain.
Sad bastard. Matt didn't intend on becoming such a casualty. He watched as the man was shot once more and fell jerking to the packed earth.
"Hey," he yelled. "Hey! Guys, we gotta--" and he looked around, and there was nothing but silence in the forest outside Seattle. Only the dead men and the occasional scream as those running away were hunted down, one by one. That line between prey and predator had finally solidified, and it had been decided against the interest of humans.
"Not good," he said to himself, loudly, trying to keep the panic away. "Not good at all." In his pockets were a thousand useless things, cheap jewelries and even cheaper souvenirs. His take of the day. But where the fuck were his grenades? His gun? Not there. Nothing. No one had expected this, because everyone had grown complacent. Matt remembered stashing them inside the camouflaged 'hog. It was so far away.
"It's a fucking alien invasion," he choked out. Matt began sobbing, fat tears running down his cheeks. "How the fuck--" oh, right. My Jackals. Melissa had mentioned them staring up at the sky, right? Some dog-sound frequency shit.
As he drowned in self pity, the enemy climbed down from trees and began walking on ground. With each odd step, the Jackals came close and Matt finally noticed them. Surrounded. A fucking hound dog sniper corps. Covenant weapons aimed at his face. Matt stared at them, the lizard eyes and the sharp fish teeth.
"I'm not going to survive, huh?"
Their answer was to fire at his feet. The beam scorched the earth, and left a sizzle of smoke drifting upwards into the sky. It faded quickly.
The next shot hit him in the foot, the right one, and he felt his toes simply melt away in the heat.
Screaming, he rose, and the Jackals opened up a path for him, a way out of the deadly little circle. He ran, frantic, and he didn't notice his own hole. His left foot sought firm footing, but found empty air instead. It was with that step that he stumbled into his own trap.
Matt landed face-first into the muck. Something soft had broken his fall. He opened his eyes and realized it was the freshly killed and eaten Jackal. Its fellows hadn't stripped the bones clean, and flesh was left hanging in many spots.
He looked up, and saw bared teeth. Matt thought he could spy anticipation in their alien faces.