This is the second installment in my series. I will try to post one story every week. Please give constructive criticism. If there is something you think needs to improve, please state it. I will not be offended. I will like to thank my editors SYPHON and arcH for doing such a good job. Enjoy the story!Beginners Luck“Life is just one very long lesson”
– Professor McMahon
A few hundred ships lifted off at a military spaceport on the fourth of October. They ranged from the titan sized A-class battleship to the K-class scout. In one of these ships, Trent and his squad looked out from the windows. They saw smoke billow out from beneath the cruiser as it slowly lifted and then began accelerating towards space. The cruiser was shaking slightly but the squad hardly noticed it. Most of the squad had never been into space before and for those that had, it was still a thrill to see earth grow smaller and smaller. Trent squinted and could make out the Great Wall of China and a huge nuclear reactor plant, the only two buildings that could be seen from space. The nuclear reactor was built to give energy to the entire world and was totally safe or so the government claimed. Soon, the earth became a small speck and the recruits reluctantly looked away from the window.
Two men came in from a door, dressed in orange uniforms. One was a young and enthusiastic Malay while the other was an old and grumpy-looking black.
“Welcome aboard the Forger
. I am Willy and this guy over here is Kumar. We are the cleaning crew on this ship so we mop the floor and stuff. You are currently in the boarding area and we will be going to your cabins. Since there are only twenty of you, I guess it won’t be so cramped. Remember what these areas are called or you might get lost. There will be a map in your cabins in case you forget. All right, follow me,” the old and grumpy-looking black guy said.
They walked down a passageway and turned left, then right and went straight. There were four lifts, just enough for everybody. Trent saw they were on the second level and they were going up to the third. The lift doors opened and they got out. One thing Trent couldn’t help but notice was that the ship was incredibly dull. There was the gray ceiling, gray tiles on the floor and even the doors were gray. Only some green could be seen here and there. Willy led them past a few doors and told them they were the shower rooms. Finally, they came to a fork in the passageway.
“Okay. This will be where you will be sleeping There are ten cabins on each side,” Willy said and indicated to the fork in the passageway. “Each cabin can hold two people. Try not to mess up this place. At the end of the passageways are the resource centers. There aren’t any screens in your cabins so you will have to use the resource centers. Now go put your stuff in the cabins and come back out. I still got stuff to show you.”
Trent and Sam shared one cabin and found it quite big. It had two beds attached to the floor and a desk and chair. It took them quite some time to find the overhead compartments as it was well concealed. After dropping their stuff, they went back out again. They saw that Sergeant Lane had a cabin all to himself and it was bigger than theirs. After everyone was done, they went up one level. Kumar had gone off somewhere and only Willy was left. Willy told them the fourth level was where the canteen was and it was also where the infirmary was. The canteen could seat forty men and was surprisingly clean. Sam observed that that the food was served by machines and pointed that out to Trent. Currently, there were only two people sitting in the canteen eating. One was a middle-aged male whilst the other was an old female.
“These here are the doctors. You lose an arm, they fix you back up. The only thing they won’t treat is a cold. They say you would be wasting their time. Okay, that ugly woman down there is Nora and that ugly man down there is Timothy.”
Both doctors gave Willy the finger and the recruits laughed at that. Willy didn’t seem to mind. They exited the canteen and walked a short distance to the infirmary. It had twenty beds and ten healing tanks. The infirmary was very neat with bottles arranged in precise rows. A door at the far end of the room had “operating theatre” written above it. Trent definitely would not want to go there. After showing them around the infirmary for a bit, Willy led them back to the lift and they went to the fifth level.
The fifth level had a recreational area but Trent doubted that he was going to have a good time on that level. There was a basketball, tennis and squash court, a track and a gym. Trent had this feeling that Sergeant Lane was not going to make this very “recreational”. There was even a shooting range just like the one in the Frontiersmen training facility and an armory next to that. Next was the final level. When the recruits got out of the lift, they saw two doors, one on the left and one on the right. The one on the left was just a normal sliding door but the one on the right was extraordinary. It was made of metal and had a camera above it. There were three biometric scanners for different parts of the body and a number pad where a six-digit code would have to be entered. Willy explained that the security was necessary because if anyone hijacked the ship and sent it crashing into earth, there would be a really big “boom”. Willy unlocked the door for them and led them inside. The control center was big and like the canteen, extremely clean. There were dozens of panels and computer screens on the walls and Trent could hear the hum of the computers in the background. Two men were sitting in front of some panels and pressing buttons.
“This is where it all happens. Don’t touch anything or you may just slow us down a few days. Those two fine men there are the pilots, Andy and Todd. They are real busy. Have to keep alert or else we may crash into an asteroid. They only get a few hours of sleep every day,” Willy said. The pilots turned and waved at the group.
“Okay. Let’s get out of here. Air conditioning isn’t functioning right over here. I have to check it out.”
The group got out and Willy le them into the other room. As soon as Trent went in, he knew it was the briefing room. It had charts and maps on the walls and around thirty seats. The seats surrounded a square metal object in the middle of the room but Trent didn’t know what it was. However, Sam did. It was the latest holographic projector in the market and the images were as real as they could get. Sam read that somewhere in the newspapers. Willy went to the projector and turned it on. An image of the Forger appeared and started rotating.
“This here is the briefing room. Your commanding officer would brief you here before a mission. Now we make one last stop. The engine room,” Willy said with a smile. Trent could not tell whether that smile was sinister or whether it was just a normal smile.
They went back into the lift and went down to level one. Once the door opened, Trent was hit by the heat. It was very hot and he began sweating almost immediately. The noise level was also very loud and Willy had to shout to make himself heard. Trent looked round and saw that everyone was also uncomfortable in the heat, except Sergeant Lane who showed no discomfort but was sweating. Willy led them through some pumping machinery and to a cooler place. Somehow, Trent felt that Willy was enjoying this. Willy pointed out the different engines and machines but Trent could hardly hear him. There were four people working in the engine room and they were wearing thick uniforms. At first, Trent thought they were crazy to wear such thick uniforms until he realized they were cooling suits. Willy tried to introduce the maintenance crew.
“This is Pete, that is Roland, Curtis is over at that corner and here is the beautiful Stephanie,” Willy shouted.
Pete, Roland and Curtis were burly men who looked like they ate metal. Stephanie looked tough and had big muscles. Sam and Trent initially thought that all of the maintenance crew was black until he saw that their faces were blackened by dirt. Willy went round and explained how the cruiser worked. It was rather cramped and the group had to go in single file. Will often had to rub against them to get past. Sam wondered if the women minded. Finally, they went back up again. Willy said he needed to go clean something and went off. Sergeant Lane took over and ordered them back to their cabins. More orders would be given after lunch. The squad went back to their cabins. On the way, Trent saw Kumar mopping the floor.
“Hi. I’m Trent.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Kumar said with a slight Malay accent.
“This is Sam,” Trent said and pointed to Sam.
“Pleased to meet you too.”
“Willy seems to be very grumpy. Is he always like that?” Sam asked.
Kumar paused and though for a moment. He scratched his head and said, “He has been like that since his wife died. Killed by some street junkie. He took it quite hard. That was five years ago. He is coping better now. But I’d still stay out of his way. He used to all cheery and smiley last time. Now he is hard and cold.”
“He didn’t seem so bad to us,” Trent commented.
Kumar laughed and said, “That’s because there is an officer around. When your sergeant is gone, the claws come out. And today, he was in a good mood. Just won one grand from tiger racing.”
Trent and Sam went back to their quarters and discussed what they were going to do once this was all over. Trent wanted to go back into the army while Sam wanted to go into military research. They talked all the way through lunch.
It was better than the training facility. Sergeant Lane made them do the physical exercises but it wasn’t as bad as Klion’s. Lane had also made them go to the shooting range almost everyday. It was tough but it wasn’t hell. They had been traveling for a week and the Forger
had almost reached her destination. They were going to planet R-329, on the edge of the Adrian Arm. Sergeant Lane had told them that they were going to take over the outer rim first and then slowly move in on the Kharaa. On planet R-329, they were going to be deployed in a refining facility some distance away from the other buildings on R-329. The refining facility was connected to the other buildings by a tram tunnel. Once they had captured the refining facility, they would press on to the other buildings.
Briefings started on the twelfth of October, two days before the squad’s deployment. They all gathered in the briefing room and sat down. Sergeant Lane stood in the middle of the room, next to the holographic projector and inserted a small disk into the projector. The projector whirled to life and displayed a three dimensional map of the refining facility. It had around ten different sections and eight resource nozzles. Sergeant Lane wanted them to memorize the map and area names so there would be no confusion during the mission.
“We will be deployed here,” Sergeant Lane said and pressed a few buttons on the projector. The image rotated and zoomed into a room. “This is the water storage room. For the mission, we will be using group one. Group two will be waiting here until we need you. Hopefully, we won’t have to use group two. Now, once we phase in, I want Nicholas, Alan and Lewis to cover this point.”
The image rotated again and zoomed in on one of the two entrances to the water storage room. The water storage room was twenty meters by thirty meters. Three water tanks covered one third of the area. The ceiling was low so that made it hard for skulks to ambush by the ceiling. The image rotated and zoomed in on the other entrance. This one was bigger and had pipes on the walls that eventually led to the ceiling.
Sergeant Lane pointed at the entrance and said, “Edward, John and Jake will cover this entrance. Watch the pipes. Skulks may use them for cover. Trent and Jude will start building while Sam and Maria will cover them, just in case. From there, we will capture resource nozzles. I will be using mines to defend the base but Sam will stay behind for extra defense. Clear so far?”
All the heads nodded. Jake and John were talking softly about something but a stare from Lane shut them up. Sam was taking notes as usual.
“From here, you will be split into two teams. Team one will be Nicholas, Alan, Lewis and Trent. Team two will be Edward, John, Jake and Jude. Maria will follow the team that I think will be in higher risk. Team one will go to the security room and team two will go to the heating room. I will decide a course of action from there since we do not know where the hive is yet. Most likely, team one will proceed to drill sector one while team two will move to the turbine generators. Remember, these orders are subject to change and this is just a guideline.”
Trent pondered on this for a moment. He had memorized that part of the map. The security room was quite close to an estimated hive location, the loading bay. He quite envied Sam who he thought got the safest part. Just standing in base was not difficult especially with mines around him. Trent sighed and wondered how he ever got into this in the first place. Oh yeah, the money,
he thought. The next day, they went back to the briefing room and got briefings on building positions and lockdown strategies. This was important to Trent as he was going to be building. After that briefing, Sergeant Lane let them take a break for the whole day and they could do whatever they wanted. He didn’t want to ear his troops out just before war and he knew they wanted to talk with their families before they went on the mission.
He was mostly right. Trent immediately went to one of the resource centers but Sam and a few others didn’t go. Sam didn’t go because he was not on good terms with his family. His family had been angry with Sam for joining the army and now they were furious with him for joining the Frontiersmen. Every time Sam talked to his family, it was always the same scenario. His family would try to talk him out of the army, now it would be the Frontiersmen, and he would defend it and soon, it would escalate into a full blown shouting match. Sam would always leave in a huff and feeling a bit angry with his family. When Sam had first told Trent about his family problems, Trent had encouraged Sam to keep on trying to communicate with his family and to keep his temper down. It didn’t work and Trent did not interfere again. Sam promised that after all this, he would get out of the Army and go into research, just like his family wanted him to. Maybe it would make them forgive him.
That night, Sam lay on his bed looking moody and glum. Trent was concerned and asked, “What’s the matter? Something on your mind? No, that’s a stupid question. There is something on your mind. What is it? Is it about tomorrow? Because if you think being afraid is - ”
Sam raised his hand and cut him off. He said, “No. It’s not tomorrow. It’s my family. You know how it is, they wanting me to get out and all. But I like it here. At least I am starting to. My family wants me to get out and go into research and think I like that too but… I don’t know. I like both choices but I can only choose one. What do you think I should do?”
“Sam, what do you really want to do? Would you rather be in the army or be a researcher? Which one would have some meaning in your life? It is your choice and your decision alone. I can’t help you on this one.”
Sam sighed and lied back down in bed. So much for help.
The squad woke up and had breakfast in the canteen. Everyone was a bit edgy and nervous about the mission. Breakfast was eaten in silence as each squad member pondered on the mission. Sergeant Lane saw all this through his sharp eyes but did not know what to do about it. He supposed he could tell a joke but he was never good at any. He knew his stern face always killed the punch line. After breakfast, Lane went through the briefing one more time and ordered everyone to get suited up. They were ten minutes away from their drop zone.
Trent and the others went to the armoury and got their weapons and armour. The armour was pretty thin and it could only hold up against one bite but Trent guess that was all they needed. The squad donned their green uniforms and armour in silence, adjusting certain straps. After donning their armour, they grabbed their weapons from the weapons rack. They got the three basic non-upgraded weapons, the LMG, pistol and knife. The knife was just an extra precaution and Trent remembered how Klion taught them how to use it in the training facility. Finally, they took their helmets and turned it on. The visor brightened up and the HUD immediately appeared. Trent could see the mini map, his ammo capacity and his squad members’ names. Trent ignored the armour and health count because those were quite inaccurate. Trent made a mental note to tell the weapons development guys about that once he got back to earth.
“You nervous?” Zack asked Trent.
“No. Why would I be? I am going to go into an unknown planet, with three crappy weapons, paper-thin amour and meeting very unfriendly green men. Nervous? No I’m not nervous. I would be more nervous if I was sitting back here waiting to phase down there and replace somebody,” Trent replied with a smile.
Zack laughed at the sarcasm.
“No. Actually I am damned scared. Scared enough to **** my pants.”
“What’s happening over here?” Sam walked over and asked.
“Zack is asking me whether I am scared,” Trent replied.
“Well. I’m not,” Sam said.
“Why not? You are about to go into hostile territory with aliens that have teeth the size of my legs and you are… going to be safely in base with about twelve mines around you. Damn! I wish I was demolitions,” Trent said.
Sam shrugged. Edward tapped Trent on the shoulder and made a twirling gesture, signaling that they had to go. Edward had seemed to be quite a quiet person to Trent and always brooding over something. The only person Trent knew Edward really talked to was Sam. Maybe it was because both were equally smart but Trent didn’t know for sure. On the way back to the briefing room, Trent met Kumar who was mopping the floor as usual. Kumar was right about the Willy. Whenever Lane or any other person of authority was not around, Willy was one mean ****. Shouting at the slightest smudge or dirt and always making degrading comments about the way a person looked. That only stopped when Willy was in a good mood but that was very rare.
Kumar waved to Trent with a smile and greeted him with a “hi!”. Trent waved back and went on walking. Kumar was a good kid who liked everything he did. Over the past week, Trent had learned that Kumar was a school dropout and had a poor family. Since he had no secondary education, nobody would hire him so he just had to settle for cleaning although he often called himself the “sanitary officer” to the amusement of the crew. Trent pitied Kumar in a way and wanted to help him but was not sure how.
Back at the briefing room, Lane gave tips and advice on what to do one last time. Then, he ordered them to go to the phase gate. Suddenly, Trent realized he didn’t know where the phase gate was on this ship. He tried to remember where Willy had said it was on the first day. If Trent had been looking around the room, he would have noticed that all his squad members also had the same look on their faces but he was too busy remembering. Sergeant Lane let out a groan and slapped his palm against his forehead.
“You mean you do not know where it is? Oh my god! Am I about to lead a pile of dimwits into battle? Idiots. It is next to the infirmary. I thought they taught you that at the training facility, in those theory classes. What the hell were you doing at that time? Staring at Dr. Strom’s ****? Now get your butts moving!”
The recruits jumped to their feet and quickly made their way to the phase gate. Trent didn’t recall Dr. Strom saying anything on where the phase gates on ships were. And he had not been staring at her ****. Well, not most of the time.
“Sam, how come you didn’t know where the phase gate is? I thought you pay attention during classes,” Trent said.
“I did. She didn’t teach us that though. She just told us how phase tech works and where phase gates could be placed in hostile territory but she didn’t say anything about where the phase gate was on the ship.”
The squad went down two levels to the phase gate and met the doctors on the way. The squad had learned that the doctors were quite cheerful people and could tell very funny jokes. The jokes always had to do with body parts and most of them went like “What did the… say to the…?” but they were funny anyway. Once they got to the infirmary, they looked for where the phase gate was. Alan spotted it and pressed a button on the wall. A well-hidden door slid open and the squad walked in. There were in the phase room. Apparently, Willy did not show them this part of the cruiser. The phase room did not just have one phase gate but ten and one huge portal to phase the buildings down. The room sparked with the glow from the phase gates and Trent had to take a while to get adjusted to the brightness. There was a control panel at the end of the room and a door next to it. Sergeant Lane went to the control panel and ordered Willy and Kumar to get up to the phase room. Next he pressed some buttons and the door next to the control panel slid open.
“Get the CC out now! Move it to the phase portal!” Sergeant Lane barked.
The Toland brothers moved the CC over to the phase portal. The CC was heavier than the rest of the buildings mainly because it was the only building that was pre-built. Dr. Strom had told them that the CC was the only building built because it was the only building that had to be there. The other buildings were optional and therefore, should be built on site as it would be more practical. Willy and Kumar arrived and Sergeant Lane gave them orders on what to do. Next, he ordered the group one soldiers to get onto the phase gates. Trent, Jude, Maria and Sam would phase in later. Group two would be on the standby.
“Okay men. Be on the alert. The designated marine start would be far from the hive but that does not mean some Kharaa may be walking past it. Once you phase in, secure the area and remember your objectives,” Sergeant Lane reminded them. “The rest from team one will phase in thirty seconds later. Trent and Jude first.”
Sergeant Lane pressed a few buttons and stepped into a phase gate. Ten seconds later, there was a flash and they were gone. The computer began counting down from thirty seconds. At twenty-five seconds, Trent stepped onto the phase gate, next to Sam. Five Four Three Two One
“See you on the other side”, Trent said.
There was a bright flash as Trent was broken into millions of tiny particles and transported through to the other side. Trent remembered the first time he phased in the training facility. He actually felt torn apart but strangely there was no pain. At the other end, Trent had felt nauseous and sick. After a few times through the phase gate, the feeling slowly subsided and then disappeared altogether. The phase technology for humans was not perfected yet as it had just been developed about two months ago. Now, Trent was glad that he had gone through the phase gate back in the training facility. No way he wanted to land on planet R-329 feeling like he wanted to puke.
On the other side, Trent was reassembled in a split second. He blinked his eyes trying to see where he was. His first thought was The lights are off
. His eyes adjusted quickly and realized it wasn’t so dark. The light source was from one fluorescent tube and hardly gave out any light.
“Trent! Over here! Get your bloody **** over here!” John shouted.
Trent looked around and saw a few unbuilt building around the area. Jude was already building an infantry portal and Trent hurried over to build the armoury. An observatory and arms lab were still unbuilt. Trent and Jude quickly built all the buildings, adjusting parts, joining wires and pressing buttons. After the armoury was built, Sergeant Lane dropped three sets of mines. Sam quickly set the mines to defend the buildings. Within two minutes, the buildings hissed to life. The soldiers took turns to take ammo such that two soldiers were always guarding. Lane started scanning hives and informed the squad that the hive was in the loading bay. That was closer to the security room, meaning Trent would be closer to the hive and Maria was automatically assigned to team one. After everyone got their ammo, they moved out and followed their waypoints.
The refining facility was every bit as dull as the Frontiersmen training facility. There were gray ceilings, gray tiles on the floor that were once polished and gray walls. The walls had some holes in them and you could see wires through some of the holes. The area Trent was walking through was illuminated with dim fluorescent lights, making the area slightly dark and gave a sense of foreboding. Team one made a right turn and then a left, moving into a larger room with a higher ceiling. Nicholas went in first in immediately looked up at the ceiling for possible skulks. Alan and Lewis who checked the left and right sides followed him. Trent was the last in the room, covering their backs all the time. He looked at the floor and noticed there were about two red bloodstains on them and three bodies. One looked confirmed that those were dead bodies. The bodies had their stomachs open, limbs missing and one of them didn’t have any eyes.
“What the hell?” Lewis exclaimed, once he finished his sweep and got to look at the bodies more carefully.
“Those Kharaa… are going to pay for this!” Alan exclaimed in anger.
Trent looked around and saw that they were in the security room. There was a security booth in one corner and three doors in the room, one of which led back to the marine start. Trent looked up and saw a ventilation opening. Trent looked at his mini map, trying to see where the resource nozzle was. It was in the security booth, or rather below it. Trent had to climb down a ladder to the underground resource nozzle and that made him a little nervous. Trent requested a RT through the comm-link. Five seconds later, Trent heard the unmistakable sound of teleportation as the RT dropped onto the resource nozzle. Trent went into the security booth and saw a hatch on the floor. Maria went with him and she was aiming her gun at the hatch, expecting something to jump out any second. The rest of team one was guarding the area, making sure no skulk got in. Trent put his hand on the hatch and raised three fingers at Maria. She looked at them and understood. Trent then showed two fingers and then one finger… and threw the hatch open.
Maria was waiting and immediately aimed inside the hole, switching on the torch on her helmet at the same time. The light shone through the darkness and revealed nothing except the RT. Trent breathed a sigh of relief and climbed down the ladder to the RT. Once he reached the bottom, he started building while Maria guarded the top of the hatch. Trent turned on his torch for some light and quickly built the RT, not liking the dark area he was in. In less than thirty seconds, he was done and began to climb back up the ladder. Suddenly, he heard gunfire. Trent immediately dropped back down to the bottom and raised his LMG. Maria, who was guarding the top of the hatch, ran off to somewhere.
“Maria, over here!” Trent heard Lewis say over the comm-link.
“Oh dear, this is not good,” Maria said.
At this point, Sergeant Lane cut in an asked, “Was that a kill?”
“Roger that sir. We got one but the other got away. I think it ran towards the observation deck,” Alan reported.
“Copy that. Stay on your toes.”
Trent deduced that the coast was clear and climbed out of the hole, closing the hatch behind him. He saw Lewis sitting on the floor and Maria was examining his chest armour. Nicholas was walking to something whilst Alan stood guard.
“What happened here?” Trent asked.
“Two skulks. We killed one and the other got away. The dead one parasited me,” Lewis said.
Maria had taken out a pair of tweezers and was trying to pull the parasite out of Lewis. Unfortunately, it was stuck and they just had to leave it there. It was better than Lewis throwing his armour away just to get rid of the parasite. Trent walked over to the dead skulk and studied it closely. The skulk looked like a small dog with claws instead of paws and without the fur. Well, my first sighting with a real skulk,
“Team one, I am going to electrify the RT. Guard it until it is done and after that, move out to the storage facility. Armour is being researched now so just wait a while. It is relatively quiet at base and on team two’s side although there is a possible skulk coming your way,” Sergeant Lane informed them.
The team stood guard and waited for the RT to electrify. Everyone was tense because the Kharaa knew where they were. Lewis stood in the middle of the room and well away from all the entrances. Being this close to the hive was very dangerous, especially with a parasited person. Soon, the RT got electrified and seconds after that, their armour upgraded. The Frontiersmen armour was actually made up of millions of nanites. When the armour upgrade was researched, more nanites would be released from the ceiling and join with the armour. Now, Trent could hear a faint humming sound as nanites were released into the air and the armour became a bit thicker. Ten seconds later, they were moving in single file through a corridor. Alan and Trent were in front, Lewis in the middle and Maria and Nicholas were behind. Once in a while, they heard some clicking noise and stopped, going into guard mode and ready to shoot the first thing that wasn’t human. After going up a short flight of stairs, they came to the storage room.
Sam stood in the middle of the marine start and watched the others on his mini map. There had been quite a bit of action in the security room but luckily, there were no casualties. Well, unless Lewis could be counted as a casualty but all he got was a bruise under his armour. Sam was feeling quite safe being in the middle of twelve mines but somehow he wanted to be out there shooting skulks. All he had to do in the marine start after everyone had gone was to build a turret factory and three turrets. The turrets kept revolving round, making their annoying “beep” sound. Sam thought the “beep” was very annoying and found it to be a stupid idea. It would just alert the Kharaa that people were around. Sam was absorbed in his thoughts when he heard something.
Sam quickly raised his LMG and looked around. Upon seeing no sign of Kharaa, Sam looked at his mini map. If there was a Kharaa in the vicinity, the observatory would be able to locate it. Currently, there was nothing. Sam relaxed a bit and lowered his LMG but that did not mean he was complacent. He was every bit as cautious as before. An icon appeared on his HUD and Sam saw that phase tech had just been researched. A few seconds later, a phase gate got teleported in. Sam immediately started building it. He was a demolitions expert but like the rest of the non-builders, he still knew the basics of building structures. Flap flap
There it was. Sam quickly stopped building and aimed his LMG in the direction of the sound. He didn’t see anything so he looked at his mini map. There was a red dot on it moving very quickly. It was in the passageway that led to the heating room. Sam reported the Kharaa and Lane took note of it. He told Sam not to engage unless the Kharaa became hostile. Sam nodded and went back to building, one hand always on his LMG. Once the phase gate was finished, it hummed to life. Now, Sam had both hands free and watched the entrances very closely. He waited a minute but still heard nothing. Just as Sam was about to relax again, the lerk came. Sam had seen lerks before in the training simulations but the real one seemed different somehow. The lerk was very much like a bat and had a face that was just as ugly.
It moved very fast, gliding low towards Sam. The lerk opened its mouth and spored the area. Green gas filled the area and it started to eat into Sam’s armour and skin. The armour stared corroding and bumps began to appear. Sam’s face began to sting and his face felt like it was being rubbed with sand paper. Sam quickly ran out of the green cloud into a small area of clear air. The lerk followed him and swooped down, with its mouth wide open, barely two meters away from Sam. Sam opened fire on the lerk, shooting it with around ten bullets. All the shots hit and the lerk sprayed yellow blood all over the floor. Sam even got a few drops of yellow blood on his armour. However, ten bullets could not stop a lerk and the lerk tried to take a bite out of Sam’s head. However, Sam was too quick for the lerk. He lunged sideways to the left and rolled to his feet. Sam didn’t realize he almost hit his head against the wall. If he had hit the wall, he definitely would have been knocked unconscious and that would have been the end of Sam. The lerk had to retreat as the turrets were doing too much damage and it flew out.
Sam got to his feet quickly and went to the armoury. He definitely needed a med pack. A slot opened up in the armoury and Sam took a med pack from the slot. He opened it up and jabbed a needle full of nanites into his neck. The nanites immediately went to work as it traveled up the bloodstream and into Sam’s face. The skin healed at an extraordinary rate and soon, Sam’s face was back to normal. If there were no such thing as med packs, Sam reckoned he would be slightly disfigured for the rest of his life; unless he went for plastic surgery. Sam took some ammo from the armoury and reloaded his LMG. Sam thought it would be awhile before the lerk came back.
Hardly five minutes after the attack, the lerk came back, ready for some blood. Sam was waiting for it. This time, he had weapons upgrades. The weapons upgrade made the bullets more penetrative so as soon as the weapons got upgraded, Sam took the new bullets from the armoury. However, the others were using just plain old normal bullets but Sam thought they could survive. The lerk came in sporing the whole area. This time, there wasn’t a place for Sam to escape the acidic green gas so he just stood there and fired. Sam never missed and thirty bullets went in to the lerk. The turrets were also firing with precise intervals, hitting the lerk with more bullets. Sam saw a few bullets tear through the wings and the lerk crashed to the floor. Blood was gushing out of it as the turrets continued to shoot the dying creature. The lerk tried to scramble to its feet and run but it slipped on its own blood. The lerk flapped its wings one final time and lunged towards Sam. Sam just took two steps back and the lerk landed on a mine. There was an explosion as the lerk was torn to bits. The explosion knocked Sam off his feet and sent him flying two meters through the air. Sam got up, feeling a bit dizzy as the world seemed to sway left and right. There was little left of the lerk and yellow greasy blood was all over the floor.
Sam went back to the armoury and took another med pack. His skin on his face and neck had been partially melted away and his neck was very sensitive. As Sam jabbed the needle in his neck, he held back a scream. Within seconds, the pain was gone and his skin was restored. Sam picked up the dead lerk and threw it in a corner. The lerk was repulsive to look at but Sam kept looking at it. Somehow, it seemed intriguing in its own repulsive sort of way.
“Are you all right Sam?” Sergeant Lane asked over the comm-link.
“That was some fine shooting there. Every bullet well spent.”
“Thank you sir,” Sam responded.
Sam went back into the middle of the “minefield” and stood guard. Nobody was going to step on his turf. After standing guard for a while, Sam looked at his mini map. Team two was doing a good job capturing resource nozzles and they even had a lockdown on a hive location. Team one was doing well too and had scored a kill. Team one had gotten the RT in the storage facility and was moving on to the hive at the loading bay. Meanwhile, Sergeant Lane had dropped a prototype lab and Sam built it.
When Sam was doing battle with the lerk, Trent and his team got another RT and waited for it to electrify. There was a lot of movement in the storage facility and many clicking sounds. Alan and Lewis were constantly looking all over the place, their guns aimed at possible entrances. Alan had even fired a few shots at a skulk that was hiding on the ceiling but the skulk managed to run away. When the RT was electrified, they moved on. Their next waypoint was on to the hive.
The team walked through a passageway and made a turn into another narrow passageway. As they were walking, Trent spotted a skulk and fired a burst but missed. The skulk had tried to parasite Trent but it missed. The parasite hit the wall just ten centimeters away from Trent’s face. The team had orders to proceed to the airlock where they would set up siege and attack the hive from there. It was a risky place to be as there were about three vent ducts leading to airlock and one door the separated the airlock from the hive. The team moved with caution, not wanting to die this close to victory. The narrow passageway they were walking in led to the airlock. It was very dark and the fluorescent lights were flickering, making it harder for the team to see. Suddenly, Alan spotted sudden movement at the end of the passageway. It was a skulk and it dashed towards Alan. Alan fired his weapon without a second thought. The skulk got hit a few times but it kept going. Within seconds, the distance between the skulk and Alan decreased rapidly. Alan continued firing but the skulk was quick and dodged left and right. The poor light conditions didn’t help at all. Sparks flew all around the skulk as it jumped, jaws full of sharp teeth open.
At that moment, Alan’s ammo in the LMG clip ran out. There was a dry click and the skulk bit Alan. The armour took most of the damage but that did not stop the skulk. Alan landed on his back hard and it knocked the wind out of him. The skulk bit one more time and Alan’s flesh was exposed. Alan dropped his LMG onto the ground and tried to pull out his pistol. However, the pistol was stuck in its holster and refused to come out. Alan thought it was going to be the end when Trent used his gun as a baseball bat and hit the skulk with it. There was a sickening crunch as the skulk flew off Alan. Alan seized the opportunity and tugged at his pistol, hoping it would come out. It did. Alan fired the entire clip at the skulk. The skulk climbed up the wall, trying to evade the bullets. The skulk almost made it. Alan missed his first nine bullets but the last one hit. The skulk fell to the floor with a thud and lay there, unmoving.
“Watch out!” Lewis suddenly shouted.
Alan and Trent were so busy with the first skulk, they did not realize two more skulks approaching them. Lewis could not shoot as Trent and Alan was blocking the way. Alan lay on the ground and reloaded his pistol whilst Trent opened fire. Trent’s first few shots hit a skulk, splattering the wall with yellow blood but the skulk managed to evade the next few as it jumped onto the wall. The third skulk jumped left and right, making it very hard to hit. The second skulk closed in on Trent and got ready to bite his head off when Alan fired. Ten rapid shots went into the second skulk and basically blew its head off. The second skulk fell off the wall right next to the first skulk, creating a bigger pool of blood. The third skulk managed to dodge all the bullets and launched itself at Trent. Trent raised a hand to block it and the skulk bit into Trent’s hand. Trent felt the teeth crunch through the armour and scrape the skin. Trent tried to shake it off but the skulk just bit harder. Seeing that he had no choice, Trent whipped out his knife and began stabbing the skulk.
“Behind!” Nicholas shouted.
Trent barely heard that cry and the gunfire that ensued. He was too worried about the skulk attached to his hand. At first, the skulk didn’t let go and Trent felt its teeth slide into his fingers. My fingers! Oh god. Its gonna eat my fingers!
Trent thought. However, that did not happen. The skulk finally let go and tried to have a piece of Trent’s leg. Trent decided that was not going to happen and stabbed the little beast. The knife went into the skulk’s neck and the skulk cried out in pain. The skulk jerked its neck from side to side so violently that Trent let go of the knife. The skulk ran off but it got nowhere. Alan had reloaded again and fired off six rounds. The skulk got hit and tumbled forward, blood dripping down its neck.
Behind, there was more action going on. A lerk and skulk had charged Nicholas and Maria. Both of them fired frantically and killed the lerk but not without the lerk sporing the entire passageway. The skulk, upon seeing so much firepower, turned and ran. Nicholas pulled out his pistol to kill the skulk but it was already long gone. The green gas started to burn their armour and skin so the team quickly ran out of the passageway. Sergeant Lane dropped them six med packs. Alan used two while the rest used one each. Alan’s chest armour was basically gone and useless but his leg and arm armour were still intact. They were now in the airlock and Lewis requested orders. Sergeant Lane dropped them a phase gate and turret factory. Trent and Maria started building whilst the rest stood guard. Sergeant Lane was recalling team two and getting them ready to phase in. Trent and Maria worked as fast as they could. Once the phase gate was up, they went to work on the turret factory. Half way building the turret factory, the team heard a familiar faint humming sound. Nanites came from the ceiling and attached themselves to the team’s armour.
“Where is team two?” Lewis asked. “They should have phased in by now.”
At that moment, there was a flash and a growl. Two skulks jumped from the vents and down onto the unsuspecting marines. One of the skulks missed a target and landed on the floor but the other one landed on Lewis’ back. It bit hard into the back of Lewis’ neck but due to the extra armour, the bite didn’t even touch the skin. When Lewis was getting bitten, team two phased in. The first one to come in was Jude and he was holding a shotgun. He scanned the area quickly and took in what was happening. Then, in one fluid motion, he stepped off the phase gate and shot the skulk that was on the floor. John phased in next, followed by Jake and Edward phased in last. All of them were carrying shotguns. Meanwhile, the skulk on Lewis was still biting. It had destroyed all the armour and was about to bite into Lewis’ neck. Maria took out her pistol and took careful aim. She didn’t want to miss. She squeezed off two shots first and waited, hoping she scared off the skulk. The skulk got hit and splattered blood all over Lewis. It decided it had better run and jumped off Lewis and onto the floor. The skulk made a run for the door and almost made it. Four shotgun shells were pumped into the skulk simultaneously. The impact of the shells literally tore the skulk apart and its remains just rolled on the ground.
“Dropping sieges. Trent and Jude build while the rest guard,” Sergeant Lane ordered. “After that, team one come back and get your shotguns.”
Three siege turrets dropped and Trent and Jude went to work. The rest guarded the area. Jake had asked for a scan of the area and Sergeant Lane did just that. The blue ripples shimmered across the floor and revealed around five skulks in the different vents and one waiting through the door.
“Looks like we are surrounded,” Jude said.
“With these babies, they won’t even get near us,” Edward said, patting his shotgun.
Suddenly, someone shouted, “Fade!”
There was a humming noise as the fade blinked in. The fade had an eerie resemblance to humans. It walked on two legs and was about as tall as humans. Its black skin and outstretched arms made it look like death itself. The skulks came in at the same time, swarming the marines. Shotguns and LMGs were fired and the noise became deafening. Trent could hardly make out what was going on. Skulks were everywhere and he tried his best to shoot them. A skulk on the wall got twenty bullets from Trent and another on the floor got the rest of the clip. Yellow blood rained down on everyone but nobody noticed. They were too busy splattering more blood. At one point of time, Trent saw a gorge come in and started spitting. Two globs of spit somehow made its way past all the people in front of Trent and hit him in the chest. The acid burned through his armour revealing two small holes. Trent heard a scream somewhere and saw it was Alan. The fade had swiped his leg clean off and Alan lay in a pool of his own blood screaming. The fade had blinked out and Trent was sure it would come back for another go. Sergeant Lane dropped med packs and Maria took one of them. She jabbed both morphine and nanites into Alan and quickly dragged him into the phase portal. Maria phased him back to the marine start and went back to shooting. A minute after it all started, it was over.
The floor was littered with empty shells and skulk bodies. It was also stained a sickly yellow by all the blood. In one corner, lay Alan’s leg, strangely out of place. The squad took that time to reload their weapons and use whatever med packs they could. Sergeant Lane also dropped some ammo packs, which by then had been upgraded to level two, for the squad. The only major casualty was Alan. The rest got minor injuries like scratches and bruises. Trent got a deep scratch on his leg but in the whirlwind of events, he could not remember where that scratch came from. It did not matter as the nanites fixed that up. Maria took Alan’s leg and phased back to the marine start. Trent and Jude built the remaining siege turrets. After building the turrets, Trent phased back to the marine start and got his shotgun. Lewis and then Nicholas followed him. They both got their shotguns and loaded it up with ammo. Sergeant Lane dropped some welders and they picked it up.
“Crap! Fade attack again! Phase back!” Sergeant Lane suddenly ordered them. “Sam, you too. I think they’re too busy at the hive to bother us.”
Sam nodded and phased back with the others. Maria stayed behind to look after Alan. Sam was the first to go and he was followed by Trent. The first thing Trent heard when he got back to the airlock was the Boom boom boom
of the siege turrets as they fired their sonic cannons. The next thing he heard was the firing of four shotgun shells. Trent stepped off the phase gate and saw the fade blinking out of the airlock and back to the hive.
“Comm, scan area,” Sam requested.
The blue ripples appeared on the floor again and it showed a skulk heading for them through the door, followed by the fade. A few seconds later, the skulk appeared and the squad fired. The skulk was hit from all sides and seemed to implode. Its body squeezed in from the impact of the shotgun shells whilst blood gushed out. The fade came in next and made an attempt to swipe at Jude, who was closest to the door. Jude ducked down as the fade’s claw sailed just an inch above Jude’s head. Sam fired first and a split second later, the squad joined in. The fade swiped again and hit Jake. Jake got hit in his ribs and the claw went straight through Jake’s side. Jake just stood there, staring unbelievingly at the hole in his side. The fade pulled the claw out and attempted to blink away. John screamed in fury and chased after the fade, firing his shotgun rapidly. Edward tried to grab John but it was too late. He had already followed the fade back into the hive.
Without thinking, Trent followed John into the hive. Sam thought, What the hell!
and followed Trent. Everyone else was unsure what to do now. Then, they tossed all logic out of the window and ran into the hive. Only Jude stayed back and helped Jake into the phase gate. In the hive, the fade was bleeding from various bullet holes but was quickly regenerating its wounds. John didn’t give it a chance. He fired all the shells into the fade, knocking it back into the wall. When the shotgun was empty, he threw it to one side and blasted the fade with his pistol. At the same time, the siege turrets fired its sonic blasts at the hive. The sonic blasts drowned out the fade’s dying roar. John just stood there with his empty pistol, breathing deeply and watching the hive swing to and fro from the blast impact. He would have died if the squad didn’t come rushing in. A skulk was in a mid-air jump at John but Trent caught it with a shotgun shell just in time. The skulk flipped in mid-air like an acrobat and landed on the floor dead. Another skulk rushed out from behind a crate and tried to take a bite out of Trent’s leg. Sam took the skulk down with one shot. The rest of the squad came in and started blasting the hive with their shotguns.
The hive was bleeding and looked very deflated. Four marines blasted the hive continuously and mercilessly. John just stood there with a blank look on his face, observing what was happening. He looked around at the loading bay and examined it closely for the first time. John looked at the ceiling and saw the bacterium growing on it. In fact, it was growing all over the place. There was a huge door for spaceships to come in and load their cargo. A huge crane was suspended form the ceiling that would help move the cargo. John also noticed the entire area was full of crates and huge metal boxes. While John was doing his observing, he was oblivious to what was happening around him. What he was actually doing was looking for Jake. Somehow, he could not remember or did not want to remember that Jake had a huge gaping hole in his side.
Meanwhile, the siege turrets fired one last time and the hive exploded. Bits and pieces of it landed on the ground with loud squishing sounds. Blood splattered all over the place, some on the marines. The bacterium was beginning to die off. The once rock hard bacterium turned flaky and disintegrated. Soon, the loading bay was mostly clear of bacterium and Sergeant Lane ordered the Forger
to land in the loading bay. The squad retreated to the airlock. They didn’t want to be in the loading bay when those huge doors opened. They would be sucked out into the barren wasteland outside that was filled with poisonous gases. Lewis helped a still-in-shock John back to the airlock. Five minutes later, the Forger arrived and landed in the loading bay. There was a hissing sound and the airlock opened.
Back on board the Forger
, Jake was in the operating theatre. Nora and Timothy were trying to save Jake’s life. John waited outside and was drinking a cup of coffee. Alan had his leg sewn back on and was in one of the healing tanks, immersed in billions of nanites. The rest were being debriefed in the briefing room.
“Good job people. We completed the objective and there were no deaths. I’m sure Jake will live through this and be up on his feet in no time. Good job in handling the fade and destroying the hive. However, we will still have to work on the shooting. This time, you guys were lucky. This is probably the only time you will ever meet such light resistance. The Kharaa probably didn’t have time to capture RTs, therefore the lack of resistance. Your job on this planet is not done yet. Tomorrow, we will fly over to a military outpost and secure that area. That will be group two’s job. For now, you get a good rest and take a shower. Now get out of here,” Sergeant Lane said.
Trent and the others took showers and then got something to eat. After eating, Trent went back to his cabin with Sam. During the intense firefights, Trent hardly had any time to think and so much adrenaline was being pumped into his system he didn’t feel tired while running around down there. Now, was different. All the aches and tiredness flooded into his body and all he wanted to do was rest.
“Trent, how was it down there?” Sam asked.
“Crappy,” Trent replied.
“I wish I was out there with you guys instead of just guarding the base, you know? The base had nothing much, just a lerk. But you guys went through about ten skulks. Man! I wish I were there. Would you rather be walking round the area or just guarding the base?” Sam asked.
Trent didn’t answer. He was already fast asleep.
From the Shadows...