This is the very first fan-fic I am posting here. I do hope you will read it and give constructive comments on this one. I would like to thank all the writers who have posted here in this forum. this includes fire eel, that annoying kid, deepshadows, manta, thardin and many more. I would like to thank my two editors arcH and SYPHON, who are unregistered in the forums. Sunrise“The winners of war have also lost”
– General Pince
A flicker. Nothing. A buzz. They could almost see her now. She was talking but they could not hear her. At least not yet. Slowly, the image began to clear. The woman on screen was talking but they still could not hear her. What she was saying was very important and they needed to hear it. A crackle and then the sound came on. The men huddled closer around the television screen, in their cafeteria, and watched the news.
“… government has confirmed that alien life-forms do exist in the Adrian Arm. It is now confirmed that the TSA has been covering up their contacts with the alien life-forms for at least six months. This would explain the sudden quarantine of the Adrian Arm six months ago. The reason given was that the radiation level there was too high for humans. The law clearly states that any contact with alien life-forms must be reported at once. The government is extremely disappointed with the TSA in not reporting such an important discovery and the court is currently discussing what action should be taken against the TSA.
As far as we know, the alien life-forms came to the Adrian Arm from an asteroid that crashed into planet R-365. No personnel were hurt on R-365. The scientists stationed near the crash site gathered asteroid specimens and brought them back to the lab for thorough analysis. From the scientists’ logs, we know that some microscopic organism, called bacterium, was present on the asteroid. This led to an infestation of the facility. A TSA spokesman stated that the bacterium spawned aliens that wiped out the facility on R-365. The TSA had sent an expedition in an attempt to collect some alien specimens once they had found out what had happened. Unfortunately, that expedition never came back and the TSA then decided to send in mercenaries to destroy the hostile alien threat. The mercenaries were unable to complete their mission and returned with heavy losses. This has been…”
“God damn! Stuff this important and they have been hiding it from us? Damn! This is some big stuff guys!” Sam exclaimed with excitement. Sam was of average height and had a muscular build. In fact, all the soldiers in the cafeteria were muscular, thanks to all the hard and sadistic training their sergeant had given them. All the soldiers knew that Sam was an E.T. lover and used to make fun of him. They played jokes on him but nothing too serious. The other guys could never really hurt Sam with his boyish face and infectious grin.
“Shut up Sam! If you think E.T. is so friendly, why do you think the TSA sent in mercs to blow the little green men up?” someone shouted from the back.
Sam appeared to think for a few moments and said, “Well, how did you know we didn’t attack them first? Maybe its some kind of… erm… big government cover up?”
Sam didn’t seem too sure of himself now. He felt a comforting hand on his shoulder and turned to see who it was. Who else could it be, except his best friend Trent.
“Come on buddy. Don’t take these things too seriously. These aliens, well, they may be friendly and stuff and we could have whacked them first. Or they could be crazy bug eyed monsters wanting a piece of my ****. Let’s watch the news and see what they have to say,” Trent said.
Sam smiled. Trent could always make him feel better even though he was not sure how. Sam was pretty sure he was not ****. Trent just had this charisma around him. It also helped that Trent looked good with his brown hair and deep blue eyes. Trent was slightly taller and stronger than Sam but he had never bullied Sam. Instead, on the first day Sam got into the army, Trent had been looking out for him. Sam guessed that was when the friendship started. For now, Sam sat down and watched the news. He needed to know if the aliens were actually friends, or foes.
“… TSA could be shut down for breaking the law. The president is about to give his views about the TSA cover-up in Washington. Our Washington correspondent is on the scene. Over to you Kyle.”
The image on the screen changed. The studio disappeared and a room filled with reporters came on. In the middle of the screen, stood an average looking reporter.
“Thank you Michelle. As you can see here, this place is packed. The president will be out soon to give his views on the TSA cover-up and what actions the court will be taking against the TSA. As far as we know the court has been deliberating on what to do abut the TSA for about two days now. The TSA has made… the president is about to come on air now.”
A few seconds later, the most powerful man in the world, or the galaxy for that matter, came on screen. The reporters stood up in respect and then, seated back down. The lights were on the president as he stepped up to the microphone.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. As you all know, the TSA had discovered an alien species and has kept it secret. Such an important finding should be reported to the world for the good of mankind. New areas of research can be opened but due to the selfish nature of the TSA, we have been delayed by six months. These six months could have been used to discover something significant, something that could change our world. I am deeply disappointed with the TSA and can only hope that this kind of incident will not happen again. To do this, I have to enforce some action on the TSA. By law, the TSA should be shut down. However, the courts have taken into account the advances in science the TSA has provided us.
The TSA will have to give up the Jacobs project immediately and give it to Innovate Corporations. Furthermore, since the TSA has selfishly decided to keep their findings from the world, they will be the ones who will counter the alien menace. All their resources will be used to form an army to combat the aliens in the Adrian Arm. People of the world, I promise you, the deaths in the Adrian Arm will not go unavenged. These aliens may think they are superior to us but let them say that when they see our fire. Let them say that when they see our strength. Let them see that when they say our commitment, to fight for humanity. I pledge…”
Click. The screen went black. The paper-thin television, hovering a few centimetres above the ground, folded up automatically and landed on the marble floor.
Dan Mercury sat in his comfortable leather chair, eyes burning with anger. Across him, on the other side of his big table, sat Marcus Black. Both were in Dan’s office, on the top floor of the TSA headquarters. That meant that Dan was in charge of everything in the TSA. Dan’s office was very posh. There were ten paintings that decorated the walls, all done by famous artists, six television screens to monitor the news and such, an exquisite carpet that covered half of the floor and a huge bookshelf. Dan still believed in books, even in this age of technology where people just downloaded stories onto their palmtops. Marcus, being the vice president of the TSA, had his office just 1 level down. His office was less lavish but contained more paintings and some sculptures. Marcus always thought that rich people should cultivate themselves to appreciate art.
Currently, Dan was furious. After working with Dan for a long time, Marcus knew when he was going to blow it. Of course, Dan never blew it in front of anybody. He would appear cultivated, in control when with somebody but when he was alone, Dan would start shouting. Marcus could hear from his office but Dan didn’t know about it and Marcus was going to keep it that way.
“How did this get out to the press? I thought we had this tightly clamped down Marcus? It seems that my trust in you has been misplaced,” Dan said softly.
“Sir, this was - ” Marcus started.
“Marcus, we have known each other for so long. Can you just call me Dan?” asked Dan, knowing the next day, it would be back to “sir”.
“Yes Dan. Anyway, I think it was from research and development. Since the budget cuts, they have been pretty unhappy. It is quite possible that one of the guys there decided to go to the press. I have a few agents of mine working on it. He should be tracked down in no time.”
“What about our business partners? What is the situation?”
Marcus sighed and said, “Not good I’m afraid. After the president condemned us, our partners do not want to do business anymore, unless we accommodate some of their demands. At least he took away the Jacobs project and paid us some money. It is election year after all.”
The Jacobs project was a disaster, given by the government. Since the TSA took it up, all they had gained was headaches. Only the government and the TSA knew this. To the rest, it was seen as a lucrative deal.
“They owe us that money Marcus. You are too soft on them. Remember, they put all the blame on us. I never thought that the government would go this far to shed blame. We reported it just like the law says and what does the government do? They tell us to shut up and keep it quiet. Then when the truth surfaces, we get all the blame. Giving the Jacobs project to that infernal Innovate Corporations and giving us that fifty million dollars is not a favour. To hell with their election year. They have driven off our partners. It would take months to regain their trust. Marcus, contact the president and tell him if he doesn’t pay us more money and give us more contracts, we are going public with the deals,” Dan said.
Marcus took all this down quietly in his head. Marcus knew that the president would comply. The president would definitely want his underhand deals with the TSA kept secret. It could affect the election.
“What about the leak? What do you want to do with him once we find him? And the alien threat?” Marcus asked.
Dan smiled. He said, “That guy would wish he had never been born. Spread some rumours about his family and him. If he has a wife, set up a mistress. Mess his finances up and get him in debt. And make sure he never ever gets a job again. Not even if he wants to wipe my ****. Set an example. Nobody crosses Dan Mercury. Ever. About those aliens, the government will be funding three-quarters of it and you get some military person in charge of it.”
Marcus nodded his head and headed to the elevator. His pitied the poor bloke who would get caught. The poor guy would really need pity.
In a week, the Frontiersmen were formed. To get in, applicants had to pass a series of stringent physical, psychological and mental tests. Initially, the public response was enthusiastic. Men and women queued up at recruitment outlets to get into the Frontiersmen, trying to do their bit for humanity. Later, the queues thinned out once the public realised that the tests were too difficult for them. The TSA needed more people so they turned to the army. The army, unlike the people, were less enthusiastic about the Frontiersmen and hardly any applied. The government then lent a helping hand. They made applying for the Frontiersmen compulsory for all soldiers and threw in a heap of benefits. One of the more popular benefits was an increase in pay. By five times. The soldiers took one look at their pockets and started to take the tests seriously. No one knew why the pay was so high; they just knew it was high. Later, they would regret finding out the reason.
In the science area, researchers have been working round the clock studying the new alien species. Scientists with military escorts have been sent to the Adrian Arm to do research. The weapons development team have been doing very well. Tacticians have been formulating strategies for days to help the Frontiersmen. The current tactic was to deploy the Frontiersmen with temporary buildings in an alien infested area. This would make use of the small pool of manpower the Frontiersmen had and make the operations cheaper, in terms of human lives and money. Unfortunately, only very small progress has been made in understanding the aliens. The science team has determined the number of alien types and what some of their structures are. However, they have no clear idea how the aliens attack. The science team has decided on a temporary name for the aliens. They are called the Kharaa.
Trent and Sam knew about all of this from the news, which they and other soldiers so eagerly watched. Trent and Sam were waiting for their turn to take the tests. The first of which was the intelligence test. Most soldiers have failed that area and returned back to their low paying soldier jobs. Trent was slightly worried. He may have been a bit brighter than the rest but that did not guarantee his recruitment. Sam, on the other hand, was not worried at all. He had a better education than most of the soldiers and the past few days, he has been studying everything. The other guys called him a nerd when they saw Sam studying but Sam kept telling himself, “Five times more. Five times more. Five times…”
On the day of the test, the soldiers were brought to a huge hall somewhere in the army base. Trent had never seen this place before and neither had Sam. It seemed to have sprung out of nowhere but that would be ridicules. Above one of the doors, the words “Bush Hall, since 2008” were clearly written. Sam thought that he must have been really blind to miss something this big. In actuality, the soldiers had never missed this building before. All they had ever seen of it was the back of it when they were running round the track. They always thought it was a wall from the back.
Inside, it was really grand. The soldiers were on the bottom level, standing on the varnished floor. Above them, was a gallery round the edges of the hall and invigilators watched them from above. The hall was full of desks and chairs. The front of the hall had a stage with beautiful red drapes. A fat woman in a funny green uniform strode up the stage and spoke into the microphone. Immediately, her voice filled the hall.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats.”
At the sound of the word “ladies”, the men looked around. Indeed, there were a few female soldiers standing in the corner. Some of the men made some rather loud snide remarks at them.
The woman on stage rolled her eyes and said, “Please take your seats. You will be seating according to your number. Your number is written clearly on the back of the seat. If you have any trouble finding your seat, go to the invigilators standing at the left and right side of the hall. I will have to request that you be silent once seated.”
Trent looked for his seat, scanning the rows. Finally, he found it and walked to it. As he walked, he saw Sam going in another direction. Trent sighed. He was hoping that he would sit next to Sam so that he could cheat a bit but now, that was not possible. He just had to rely on himself. He almost regretted not staying up late to study. Almost. When he sat down, he saw someone had carved some obscene words on the table dedicated to the invigilators. Trent smiled. Maybe he would add his own thoughts later. After everyone had seated, the invigilators wordlessly handed out the question booklet. The soldiers were told by the fat woman on stage not to open the booklet until told to do so. Trent got his booklet and eyed it with dread. It was almost as thick as a book and Trent just prayed half of it was filled with instructions.
“You! I saw it! Jason, will you please show him out?” the fat woman suddenly said, pointing too a guilty looking soldier.
An invigilator walked to the soldier and led the soldier out, quietly ignoring the soldier’s pleas of misunderstanding. Trent made it a point to keep his hands right where the invigilators in the gallery could see them. The whole room was now silent, not wanting to get thrown out on claims of cheating. Finally, the fat woman told them to begin. Trent opened the booklet and found a pen inside. The gods must have heard Trent as about half the booklet was just instructions. Still, that left a lot of questions. Trent tried his best to answer them. A variety of topics were asked from geography to mathematics to general knowledge. Once in a while, an invigilator would spot a cheater and lead him or her out. About three hours later, the test ended. Trent was mentally drained as he leaned back in his chair.
The invigilators collected the answers and told them the results would be sent to them via email. The soldiers left the hall, most looking downcast and disappointed. Trent noticed the women were looking less depressed and three were even smiling. Trent saw Sam running to him from a distance. Sam was smiling.
“How did it go?” Sam inquired.
“Crappy. What about you?” Trent asked, already knowing the answer.
“Good,” Sam replied quickly. Then he saw Trent’s face and then said, “I mean it was a bit tough… or bad.”
“Whatever. Let’ get out of here. Wonder when we will get our results? Probably a month. The markers are probably drowning in answers right now.”
Sam laughed at that. As it turned out, it took less than that.
They got the results the next week. The soldiers had been doing their running and just got back to the barracks. Trent was thankful for the new generation of barracks. It was way better than the ones in the twentieth century. He wondered how they had survived in those days. The barracks had comfortable bunk beds with personal fans attached to each bunk. There was a LCD screen attached to the foot of your bed where email could be sent or received. Right now, there was a red blip at the side of the screen, indicating unread email.
Trent quickly touched the screen and a list of unread email came out. He looked it through, looking for the results. It was at the bottom. Around him, he could already hear sighs of disappointment and one or two curses thrown in through the air. Trent stretched his hand towards the screen and pressed the screen. The message opened and Trent read it quickly. The first few lines were all nonsense telling him about how the TSA appreciated him taking the test and blah blah blah. The he saw a line that said “marginal failure”. Trent sat there for a moment thinking about what “marginal failure” was. He got up and went round asking what other people got. Most got “failed” and a handful got “pass”. Nobody got “marginal failure”.
Sam came up to Trent and asked him what he got. Trent told him and asked what that meant.
“I don’t know. You just failed so maybe they might let you in. The test was quite hard anyway. They might make an exception. It is not like you failed terribly. Let me look at your email. Did you read the last part?” Sam asked.
Trent shook his head. Both of them went to see the email. Indeed there were a few more lines underneath the results. Trent had missed them while he was too busy worrying.
“You have got a marginal failure. You may still join the Frontiersmen but only if you manage to get an “A” in the physical test and a “pass” in the psychological test. If you get the required results, you have to appeal to join the TSA. The physical test would be held a week from the intelligence test.”
“That’s just as good as fail! Get an “A” and “pass”? I’m not even the fittest guy here!” Trent lamented.
“Hey! At least you didn’t fail terribly,” some guy said from behind.
“It isn’t the end of the world. You can still do it. We do it one step at a time. All you have to do is work at it. Come on, we have a week to train. You can help me out in the fitness area. I have to get a “D” to get into the Frontiersmen. I’m not that sure I’m up to it. We cannot give up,” Sam said encouragingly.
They did not waste any time. Both of them trained hard for a week, on top of their normal army exercises. They did everything. Push-ups, sit-ups, running, jumping, squats and used the gym when they were free. Trent and Sam pushed themselves to the limit, encouraging each other not to give up. Every tiny thing became an exercise to them. Going up the stairs was a race, going to the canteen was a race and instead of sitting, they were standing, instead of standing they were jogging. Both of them never felt so tired in their entire lives. It did not just become an issue of money, it was a matter of pride and that is one thing men just can’t let go of.
The week passed without them knowing it. Trent felt ready but he was unsure about Sam. Sam had made remarkable improvement but he wasn’t sure it was enough for a “D”. From what he had heard, the physical test was a killer. Trent, Sam and seven other guys went to the track. That was where the test was being carried out. There were quite a few people there already, doing push-ups or running while some guys in a green uniform watched them and took down notes. There were noticeably less men that day but the number of women at the track did not seem to have been less than that on the day of the intelligence test. Trent walked up to a man in the green uniform and asked him where he should report. The man just pointed at another man in a green uniform sitting on a chair in the middle of the field. He reported to the man, followed by Sam and both of them were assigned a “tester” each.
“Good luck,” Trent said.
“Yeah, you too,” Sam replied.
Trent was put through a series of gruelling exercises. He ran harder than he ever ran before, did more push-ups than he ever did before and did everything to the best of his ability. The hot afternoon sun shone done relentlessly on him, causing him to sweat madly. Trent was determined to get his “A” and was not going to let anything stand in his way. His “tester” just watched wordlessly and took notes. By the time Trent was done, it was evening and his limbs were aching. Trent was not sure whether he was walking properly, his legs were too numb. He asked one of the guys in the green uniform when he would get his results. The guy gave him an annoyed look and said, “Later.”
Trent went back to the barracks. The other soldiers were back from the shooting range and were curious about how the test was. Trent was given a barrage of questions but he was simply too tired to answer. He shrugged the questions off and went to his bunk. He looked around for Sam but Sam was nowhere to be seen. Trent deduced that he was still taking the test. Trent was asleep even before his head hit the pillow.
“Wake up. Jesus, we’re late already. The sergeant is shouting his head off.”
“Huh? What the…” Trent said, just getting out of his sleep.
Sam was shaking him. Sam was already in his P.T. set and Trent could almost see the sun. Instinctively, Trent jumped out and started to put on his P.T. set. Within seconds, both of them rushed out to assemble with the rest of the soldiers. The sergeant was jawing at them already and gave Trent and Sam hell for being late. The sergeant made them run a few extra miles as punishment. Trent’s legs were already tired from the test but he pushed himself, for the team.
After P.T. was over, the men were allowed a shower and then breakfast. As usual, they ate the same muck the computer always ordered for them and they had no choice to eat it. The soldiers could return to the barracks for a while and Trent went to check his email. There was one from his father and mother and another email form his younger brother. It had been quite a while since their last email. Trent read through them eagerly and thought about the coming weekend when he could go back home. Just three more days. The emails basically said the same things but Trent read them all the same. He decided to tell his family that he was trying to join the Frontiersmen. He pressed a button on the screen and half the screen showed a virtual keyboard. Trent spent the next five minutes typing his message and sent it. He returned back to the email menu and started deleting spam. He almost deleted the results for his physical test.
Trent opened it, hoping for an “A”. The email contained the usual mumbo-jumbo about how he made it this far. Trent skipped all that and went to the results. “A”. It showed an “A”. Trent whooped for joy. Two down and one more to go. He read some more and saw that the next test was going to be on Thursday. That made it two more days. Trent went to Sam and asked him what he got.
“I got a “B”! Can you believe it? I thought I wasn’t going to make it. Thank god for all that hard work,” Sam said.
“I got in too. I guess the hard parts over. Now just some weird people are going to look in to our heads.”
A soldier shouted, “Hey! Drill starts in five minutes. You guys better stop dancing and get out. Or else the sarge is going to have our necks.”
Trent, Sam and a few thousand others were shuttled to the Frontiersmen training facility by buses. They had passed the psychological test and they were in. The test had been easier than any of them had suspected. Some doctors had asked questions and shown them some ink blots and asked them what they were. Hardly anyone had failed that test. After the physical test, the number of females had been cut in half. The number of men was about the same. Trent had gotten the reply from his family. His mother and father were not too enthusiastic about the Frontiersmen, fearing for their son’s safety. They had wanted him to wait first and learn more about the Kharaa first before doing anything. His brother’s response was different. His brother had encouraged him and asked him to be careful.
The emails had also told Trent what was happening in the city. The talk of the town was obviously the Kharaa and the government had put propaganda posters up to gain the people’s support in the “war for humanity”. Some religious fanatic had come and claimed that Armageddon has finally arrived. There were a handful of Kharaa sympathisers asking for the Kharaa to be left alone. Things were pretty normal except for the slight increase in the number of protests.
So there he was, ready to start his first day in the Frontiersmen. The Frontiersmen training facility was surrounded by a three metre high wall. On top of the walls, there were old-fashioned spikes to prevent anyone from climbing over. A few cameras were positioned round the walls. This place is pretty tight
, Trent thought. The buses got to a guardhouse and were checked by some security guards. One even got on the bus and checked the new recruits’ credentials. After checking everything, the guards waved the buses through. Once inside the walls, Trent got a better view. The training facility was brand new with the smell of fresh paint. It was a squat green building four storeys tall and had satellite dishes on the roof.
“Looks okay. Not the best but it still looks good,” Sam commented.
“I heard that it has one of the most sophisticated training equipment in there. I don’t think they can let us use anything less. Especially when the human race is depending on us,” said a man sitting next to Sam.
“I guess you are right. I’m Sam,” Sam said, promptly sticking out his hand.
“I’m Zack,” the man said and shook Sam’s hand. “Who’s that guy?”
“Oh, that’s Trent. We were from the army.”
Zack laughed and said, “Hell, who isn’t?”
Trent started to like Zack already. He was a big guy, rippling with muscles and had a tough face but under that formidable exterior, there was a gentle person. The buses stopped and the recruits were told to get out. They were ushered down a long hallway to a security checkpoint. They were told to line up as a security guard checked their identities again and then, they were told to follow another guard. The guard led the group through some corridors, all with some sort of posters stuck onto the walls, and to an auditorium. Trent wondered when they would be shown their quarters. He and Sam were tired of lugging their stuff around. Trent, Sam and Zack found some nice comfortable seats and sat down, waiting for something to happen. Thirty seconds later, a brisk young man in a suit walked up to the stage and addressed everybody.
“Welcome to the Frontiersmen training facility. You are the lucky few who have made it thus far and we are expecting even more that will join our ranks. I am Mr. Quin, the administrator for this building and my job is to make everything run smoothly. If you have a problem adjusting to life here or any problems of that sort, you can always come to me at any time. For any other problems, you will refer them to your drill instructors whom you will be meeting soon. I have arranged for a guided tour of the place for you today so you will not get lost. Tomorrow, training will start. You are the best of the best so it is only fitting that you be given the best. With that, I hope you will make good use of your time here and not disappoint us. A lot of people are pinning their hopes on you.”
Mr. Quin just walked off the stage after his short speech, leaving the recruits there, waiting for their new orders. Finally, a man in a green uniform came running into the auditorium, a bit out of breath and muttering under his breath. He looked at the recruits and motioned for them to follow him.
“I’m sorry I’m a bit late. I wasn’t told you were here already. My name is Joe. Just plain Joe. But around the officers you call me Mr. Down or you will get into some trouble. Er… oh yeah. Follow me, the tour is starting,” Joe said.
The recruits warmed up to him somehow. Joe was unlike the other people here who looked like they had no idea what emotion was. Joe did not always seem to know what he was doing and the recruits could relate to him.
“You notice the guys round here behave like they got some stick shoved up their ****?” Zack said jokingly.
“I wouldn’t say that if I were you sonny. These walls have ears,” Joe told a horrified Zack. Then in a lower voice, “Sonny, it ain’t sticks up their **** but airplanes.”
That got a chuckle form the group. Joe led them on to their quarters. Like most of the doors in the building, it had a security panel on it. Joe told the recruits that they were already registered in to the system so to open the door, all they had to do was use their thumbprints. Joe opened it for them and the door slid open automatically.
“Now, let me see…” Joe said, referring to a clipboard. “Twenty people in this room. Now if I read out your name, you go in here. You dump your stuff in there and come back out. Okay, Ronald Togardo… Trent Brendwood… Sam Holt… Cissy Lowe… Zack Kleiner…”
Their quarters were quite good. It had ten bunk beds and lockers, protected by a biometric system. The bunks also had LCD screens but this one could be used to surf the net and also had a camera for video conferencing. There even were two television screens at each end of the room and a portable radio. Surprisingly, there was air-conditioning but Sam wasn’t too sure it was a good thing. Coming back from a good sweat and going into an air-conditioned room was bound to make it stink. The guys noticed that there were three females with them and two of them looked tough; tough as a guy.
In total, there were a hundred different living quarters. However, only twenty of them were filled. Joe assured them that more would be coming in over the period of a week. They couldn’t move in everyone at once, it would be utter chaos. Joe informed them that the people they were staying with would be their squad mates. Each squad would then be divided into two groups. The drill instructors would decide the groups. After everyone had dumped their stuff, Joe led them to the shower rooms, the canteen and the lecture theatre. Each was very close to the recruits’ quarters and each was extremely advanced. The lecture theatre even had a holographic generator. A class was currently going on in the lecture theatre. A pretty young woman was lecturing and did not pay heed to the new visitors.
Joe said, “That’s the only real woman round here. The rest are half male. You people will be here often as there is a lot to learn. You all better listen well to Dr. Strom. She’s the smartest person in this building… actually, I am.”
This got a chuckle from the recruits. The next stop was the track and field. All the standard equipment were there and a few extra fancy ones. Other recruits were already running round the track while a red-faced drill instructor kept shouting at them. The group exited the track and went back into the building. Joe showed them round the whole day, pointing out important places and people, only stopping for lunch and dinner. By the time the recruits got back to their quarters, it was almost midnight and they still have not explored the whole complex. Joe assured them that they would learn more later. The recruits quickly went to sleep, knowing they would need their energy the next day.
Trent bolted upright. Some idiot was shouting and making a lot of noise. Just his luck to have a maniac in his squad. Trent looked at his screen and saw that it was still three in the morning. Slowly, Trent cleared his head and realised it was not a crazy guy from his squad shouting. It was a crazy drill instructor shouting.
“Get your fat **** off that bed private! Do you read me? Up up up up! What kind of **** soldier are you private? You get up when I tell you to get up! You sleep when I tell you to sleep and you **** when I tell you to goddamn ****! Stand to attention maggot! Where did you learn to stand like that? Jackass school?”
Trent got up quickly and stood to attention. He didn’t want to have to deal with that foul-mouthed drill instructor. The drill instructor was shouting at Joseph Garraty. Trent knew everyone’s name by now. He had gotten on with most of the people on the tour but Sam had mostly kept to himself, talking only when someone spoke to him. Zack was also trying to be friendly with the other recruits but due to his “bully” appearance, most of the recruits tended to avoid him. The only person Trent had not liked was an arrogant guy just out of school named Alan. Alan had seemed a bit arrogant to everyone and always seemed to talk with a tone of contempt.
The drill instructor walked round to inspect everybody and scrutinised them closely, always finding some fault. Every fault meant one minute of blasting from the devil. After dampening everybody’s spirits, the drill instructor stood in the middle of the room started shouting.
“You are all worthless scum. Useless scum! You guys are supposed to be the best? What kind of crappy test did you take? The loser test? I have to train you guys to be killers and I will do it! You are now useless scum but I will soon turn you into useful scum. I am drill instructor Klion and I have always generated useful scum. You will all call me “sir”. Not “sar” or “that crazy ****”. It is “sir”! So you understand me privates?”
“Sir! Yes! Sir!”
“Good. To the track! Now! Move your sorry ****!” Klion shouted.
Trent and the others did not dare do otherwise. They raced to the track, with Klion at their heels. Klion actually reached the track faster than any of them. This caused another bout of shouting.
“Pathetic! Lousy speed! We will have to fix that!”
The recruits were sent running. Round and round the track they went, with Klion right next to them, blasting their ears. He never said how many rounds they must run, he just made them run. Trent felt his legs were about to give way and slowed down a bit but Klion’s keen eyes were at work. Klion immediately ran up next to Trent and gave Trent an earful. How does he run like that?
Trent thought. Sam was doing the worst. Sam could hardly keep up with the pace and found himself stumbling a few times. Trent did not dare fall back to encourage Sam but someone did. Klion. He saw Sam and did his routine again. Even though Zack was big, he was holding up better than Trent, which made Trent feel quite ashamed. The female recruits were somehow doing better than the men and that made the men want to run even harder.
By the time they stopped, Trent’s legs felt like jelly and he desperately wanted to sit down. Jason, a short and broody recruit, made that mistake and got Klion right on him shouting. For Jason’s mistake, they were made to run a few more rounds. Incredibly, Klion was still smiling.
“Now what did I teach you today?” Klion barked
“Nobody? Fine! Drop a hundred!”
They did the push-ups and were asked the same question. This time, Cissy, a good-looking blonde recruit, took a chance. She said, with a little doubt, “You taught us how to run sir!”
“No. I damn well didn’t teach you how to run. Are you telling me you did not know how to run before today? ****. I taught you that in war, nobody gets any sleep and that is what you little boys and girls are getting into!” shouted Klion. “Another hundred. Except for Cissy.”
They did the push-ups, just hoping they did not get any more running. They were right. No more running. Something much worse.
They hit the showers at seven. Their every limb was aching and their movements sluggish. Until Klion appeared and shouted for them to “step it up”. Trent welcomed the hot water and soaped himself down. There was a lot of talk about Klion.
“The guy’s nuts! Doing all that running and stuff. And still not tired!”
“He’s a freaking animal. He should be locked up in the zoo.”
Trent did not bother to comment. What he would have said would have the same as what the others were saying and besides, he was just too tired. Trent finished his shower and changed into a new set of clothes. Sam sat next to him, much more tired than Trent, and said, “Great guy huh?”
“Do you think we will need all that exercise? Is it really necessary?”
Trent sighed, “I will decide once I got Kharaa biting my legs off.”
Leonardo approached them, with a towel round his waist.
“You guys know what’s next? I hope it’s breakfast. I am really starving,” Leonardo asked.
“Ugh. I don’t think I can handle breakfast. My stomach is too tired,” Sam replied with a smile.
After the shower, Klion announced it was time for breakfast. The canteen was squeaky clean and you could see your reflection on the floor. There were television sets on the walls and air-conditioning. Trent and Sam lined up for their food, expecting nothing better than mush. To their surprise, it was not mush. In fact, it looked pretty good. However, not many had the appetite to eat but Klion made them eat it anyway. Trent took the opportunity to get more acquainted with his squad. Trent took his food and moved next to the two recruits. They were talking excitedly about fast cars and had not noticed Trent.
“But the new Honda is too noisy and has only one LCD screen,” argued Jake, the taller of the two.
“Yes but you cannot deny the auto drive. It is one of the safest in the world. I know you take safety as the number one factor in choosing a car,” countered John.
Even though Trent did not know much about cars, he attempted to make an intelligent comment. Trent said, “What about the new Mercedes?”
Jake and John looked at each other and burst out into thunderous laughter. They only started to stop laughing when they realised that everyone was looking at them. It took them some time to overcome their fit. Trent felt his ears go red with embarrassment
“God, you are funny,” John said, wiping tears from his eyes. “The new Mercedes? You really don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Did you know when was the “new” Mercedes released? Ten years ago!” Jake explained and broke off into another fit of laughter. Trent felt even more embarrassed. He tried another stab to get into the conversation.
“So, you guys seem to know each other well,” Trent commented.
That was another mistake as the two burst out into laughter again. Trent decided it would be in his best interests to just shut up.
“Know each other? Why, we are brothers! The Toland brothers!” Jake said.
That got Trent by surprise. Then, Sam came along and asked what was happening. Trent knew that Sam was very interested in cars so he told Sam that they were discussing cars. Sam’s eyes immediately became animated and went into an intense discussion with the Toland brothers. Sam finished his food and waited for any new orders. Klion told them they had a lecture in an hour’s time at lecture theatre and they ha better not be late. After that, there would be more exercise. There was an audible groan and Klion immediately told them to drop a hundred.
The lecture theatre was buzzing with noise. Dr. Strom was not there yet and everybody was talking, just like in school. Trent was sitting next to Cissy. After talking for a while, Trent had learned that Cissy was quite a wild girl who likes to go partying all night long.
“So, why did you join the army before this?” Trent asked.
Cissy seemed a little embarrassed at that question. Trent told her she didn’t have to answer the question if she didn’t want to. However, Cissy finally said, “I didn’t have a job. I was an alcoholic. I was fired from my job and nobody wanted to hire me. The only available job I knew that was left was to be a **** and I didn’t want that. So I went into the army, hoping to kick the habit and get some money. Once I got in, I liked it and stayed in. That’s my story. What about you?”
“Well. I wanted to defend the people, simple as that really. I felt obliged to do my duty as a citizen. My dad was a military man so that kind of influenced me a bit although I am not really sure he wanted me to join the army. That’s my story.”
“What about your friend there? That Sam. He’s awfully quiet,” asked Cissy.
“Sam? He’s a deep thinker and quite smart. Not much of a people person though but once you get to know him, you will realise he is a nice guy.”
At that moment, Dr. Strom came in. The lecture theatre quietened down. Dr. Strom walked up to the desk and picked up a digital clipboard and looked it through. She kept looking at the recruits and then back at the clipboard. Trent guessed she was referring to a name list or something. Finally, she put down the clipboard and looked at the recruits. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before Dr. Strom said, “So this is my new class. I am sure Mr. Down has told you about me already. You are here to learn more about the Kharaa and the technology you will be using. Right now I am handing out manuals on how the Kharaa work and how the technology you will be using works.”
Dr. Strom handed out manuals and had them passed down. The manual was as thick as a dictionary but lighter. Dr. Strom expected them to finish the manual in a week. Sam thought that was a reasonable time but for people like Trent, it was as possible as walking on water. Soon, the class learned that even though Dr. Strom was quite pretty, she was as serious as hell with a very sharp tongue. That day, they learned about the Kharaa and the five different known life-forms.
Once the lecture was finished, Klion came back again. They went back to more exercises and Klion pushed them to the limit. Once they reached their limit, Klion pushed even harder. This went on for about four hours before Klion let them off with lunch. Trent and the rest could hardly stand and Trent did not know how much more punishment he could take. Trent wondered if the extra pay was really worth all this torture from a crazy drill instructor who seemed inexhaustible. Trent could eat lunch this time and enjoyed it thoroughly. He was sitting next to Sam and Zack. Sam, who listened to every word Dr. Strom had said and even taken down notes, was really interested in the Kharaa and kept coming up with theories on how the Kharaa functioned. Trent and Zack just listened as Sam kept on talking and nodded in the appropriate places.
“Let’s go people! Firing range! Now!” Klion shouted, suddenly bursting into the cafeteria.
The recruits quickly got up and ran to the indoor firing range, stomachs full and trying to keep lunch down. They got to the firing range building and of course, Klion was faster than them. Klion put his thumb on the scanner and the door slid open. Klion got in, followed by the recruits. Trent looked around and saw that the walls had posters about weapons on them. There was a security guard who checked them before waving them through. They went down a corridor and into the firing range. Trent saw there were a hundred different booths and each was soundproofed individually. There was a screen in each booth and you could select your weapon from there. Klion went to a booth and selected the LMG. Klion went into a lengthy explanation about how the gun handles and works. He then ordered the recruits to start practicing. Trent got into a booth with Sam next to him. Both began firing. Trent was amazed how little recoil the gun had and that made him pretty accurate. Trent was firing at a holographic dummy and he was happy with his results, until he saw Sam’s dummy. Sam’s dummy had one ragged hole in its head. Sam had gotten all his shots into one small area. Trent knew that Sam was good but that was too good. Klion made them shoot till dinner and Trent wondered how much money they had spent on ammo.
Trent wanted to get back to his quarters fast so he could try video conferencing with his family. He knew his brother had a camera somewhere. Trent ate his food quickly, hardly tasting anything. However, Klion had different plans. He announced more exercise and Sam rolled his eyes. Although his legs have been given a break for the afternoon, Sam was not sure he had recovered enough. Alan walked past and noticed Sam massaging his legs.
“Too hard for you Sam? The Frontiersmen do not tolerate wimps.”
Sam glared hard at Alan and was about to make a nasty remark when Trent said, “Ignore him. He isn’t worth our time.”
Sam nodded and went back to eating while Alan just walked off. That night, Klion made them do push-ups with sacks off sand on their backs. If anybody’s sack fell off, they would get extra push-ups. In the end, Trent was too tired to even try video conferencing. Back at their quarters, Zack entertained everyone with some funny story about a dumb blonde and a horse. Trent and Sam were too tired and they went to sleep before half the story.
It went on like that for two more weeks. Pure physical training for the recruits and brain demanding lectures. Most of the recruits had adapted to the physical training after a week except Sam but at least he was coping. For the lectures, Sam seemed to be the only one really interested and he even stayed after the lectures to talk to Dr. Strom about his theories. Joe heard about this and rumours began to go round that Sam was going out with Dr. Strom and there was no end to the teasing Sam received from the recruits even though half of them knew it was not true. After two weeks, the recruits finally learned about the tactics needed to fight the Kharaa. Sergeant Lane, the meanest looking person Trent ever saw and the scars on the arms didn’t help very much, was supposed to teach them the tactics. He was also going to lead them into the field when the time came. Sergeant Lane taught them how to build buildings and how to move as a team. One week later, the recruits were assigned their groups. Trent, Sam, the Toland brothers, Maria, Alan, Nicholas, Edward, Jude and Lewis were in one team. The rest were in the other. They were simply called group one and two.
Trent was wearing his armour, upgraded to level one. His weapons were the standard issue LMG, pistol and knife, none upgraded yet. Trent was with Alan and moving to a RT location. They were two minutes in and still capturing RTs. No sign of Kharaa by Trent and Alan but earlier on, Sam had killed a skulk while he was building a RT. Trent was taking the lead whilst Alan covered his back, not Trent’s choice but it was Sergeant Lane’s orders. Sergeant Lane was comming for this round. Trent walked down a corridor slowly, checking the ceiling for possible ambushes. Ten metres later, they saw the RT nozzle, right there blasting out resources, waiting to be collected. Trent moved over and secured the area. There were two entrances, one from a passageway to the left and one from the corridor they just came from. Trent requested orders and waited. Their current res count was fourteen as sergeant Lane had just upgraded weapons. Things were pretty quiet and Trent liked it that way. Hell, he wouldn’t mind if he didn’t have to fire off a single shot. Click click click
“Did you hear that Alan?”
“Ya. I heard that.”
“Sir, I am reporting a possible skulk at sector two. Hold RT till alien threat eliminated,” Trent reported over the inter-comm.
“Roger that,” Sergeant Lane replied and informed the others of the possible skulk position.
Trent waited tensely with his LMG raised. He could not afford to screw this one up. Two minutes passed and no sign of the skulk. Trent decided it was finally safe and requested an RT while Alan covered him. Sergeant Lane had assigned the roles of each group member already. Trent and Jude would be builders while Maria would be the medical personnel and Sam would be the demolitions expert. The rest were soldiers. The RT Trent requested for was teleported onto the resource nozzle and Trent began building. Sergeant Lane had drilled them again and again and made them build in the fastest possible time. So far, Trent had the record for fastest build time for the RT. Trent opened a panel and began pressing buttons, joining wires and pulled some parts into place. Once the RT was finished, it hissed to life and started collecting res. Alan turned to look.
Trent saw it but it was too late. The skulk jumped onto Alan and bit the back of his neck. Alan fell face down but was still alive. The level one armour had saved his life but only barely. The armour at the back of the neck was gone and the skulk had “bit” a chunk of Alan’s neck out. Trent fired his weapon in controlled bursts. The great thing about the helmet Trent was wearing was that it had a cursor on the visor that followed where the LMG was aiming so Trent would not have to look down the sight. It was some new gadget the weapons development guys had come up with a week ago. Trent’s first burst missed and the bullets flew harmlessly past the skulk. This was enough to get the attention for the skulk and it jumped at him. Trent sidestepped and fired another burst. This one hit but it only injured the skulk. The skulk turned and “bit” Trent’s chest, tearing off the armour. In Trent’s helmet, he saw his armour count go straight to zero. Trent fell back onto the floor and fired a few wild shots. Luckily, one of them hit the skulk and it died.
Trent got up and requested a medpack. Sergeant Lane dropped three. Trent took one med pack and opened it up. Inside, there was a needle and some morphine. Trent “applied” the medpack and “applied” two on Alan. Alan got healed and stood up.
“Next time, pay attention,” Trent snarled at Alan.
“Hey sorry. It was an accident,” Alan said.
Then, a fade came and took them out from behind. Trent did not even know he was out. He fell to the ground and his visor blacked out. When the suit loosened up, Trent stood up and took off his helmet. He was in a large blue room, a virtual training ground. There were three other rooms like these and Trent had already practiced in one. The skulks were computer generated with very smart AI. If Trent got a hit, the virtual reality suit he was wearing would stiffen up so he would fall down. Alan was already up and walking through a door at the side. Trent followed him and up a flight of stairs and into the control room, overlooking the entire scene. Trent could see his teammates walking around the room and it was quite ridiculous to watch but he knew it was serious business. Drill instructor Klion was there watching the scene and was extremely unhappy two had “died” so early. Sergeant Lane was frantic down there, trying to regroup his men to counter the fade.
Two others were phased down from group two to replace Trent and Alan. The strategy was at any given mission, both groups would go. If one person died, another would be phased down from the other group. The training exercise had ended as a success. They had won but only barely with six dead. Lane and Klion were not pleased and they made the recruits go through the training exercise one more time.
A few months had passed since the recruits had come in. The strongest were kept and the weak thrown out. Jason and Joseph were amongst the weaker ones so the squad was now reduced to eighteen. They were now mean and tough but not yet totally ready for combat. However, there was no choice. The government has announced that it was the time to strike and it could not be delayed. Dan was furious but he could not argue, or blackmail, the president out of this one. Attacking the Kharra now meant mobilising the entire Frontiersmen and that was not going to be cheap. Sure, the government were secretly subsidising the TSA but Dan needed the money for other deals. Anyway, Dan could do nothing except obey the president.
Trent and the others had heard the news a week after that particular exercise. They felt ready but Lane felt otherwise. However, he would not share his opinion; it would only demoralise the men… and women. All he could do was train them harder than ever before they were deployed and hope it was enough. All he had was a week. That week, the recruits were drilled harder and went through more physical training. The lessons were cut down to the dismay of Dr. Strom but it had to be done. Anyway, they had already learned what they mainly needed to know. On the day before they left, the troops were allowed to go out for a day. Some went to party while others, like Trent and Sam, went back to their families.
Trent was happy to see his family again, even though he had just seen them last week. Maybe it was because he was going to war. They sat round the dinner table and talked, somehow avoiding the subject of Trent’s going away. Even though nobody said anything about it, Trent knew they were thinking about it. He saw the worry in his parents’ eyes and the concern in his brother’s face. When Trent was about to leave, his father finally said something.
“Son, be careful out there. Know that we will be praying for you and we will always love you,” his father, Kent, said and gave him a hug. His father had a stern exterior but that seemed to crumble away now.
“Trent, don’t forget to email. Please be careful now. When you get back, I will make your favourite cake…” Trent’s mother, Elizabeth, said with a shaky voice and then started crying.
“Hey. I am coming back. Don’t cry mom.”
Finally, his brother, Walter, had just said, “I will see you when you get back.”
Trent knew that his brother was not one to show his emotions. Trent hailed a cab back to the Frontiersmen training facility. He looked back and saw his family waving him goodbye. This was what he was going to be fighting for.
Back at the facility, everyone packed up and got transported to the spaceport by buses. Trent’s squad was assigned a J-class cruiser, a spaceship able to house fifty men. Forty for the soldiers and ten for the crew. The ship was enormous and Trent looked at it with awe.
“So this is it,” Sam said at Trent’s side.
“For humanity,” Trent echoed.
He walked into the ship and cast one more look back over his shoulder asking himself one question. When?
From the Shadows...