My third part of the story. It took a little longer than expected but it is finally here. The next one may take a bit longer. Anyway, traditional thanks to my editors SYPHON and arcH. Constructive critisim is always appreciated. And please, tell spread word of my story. My last one didn't get as much attention as I hoped it would.Loss“It is okay to fear but it is not okay for fear to control you”
– Sergeant Phil
Trent woke up with a start, breathing heavily. Even though the cabin was air conditioned, his body was slick with sweat. The nightmare was beginning to fade slowly, as dreams tend to do. Trent tried to remember what the nightmare was about but it was gone. He sat up and looked around. Sam was still sleeping and snoring rather loudly. Trent looked at the clock on the wall and saw that it was only four in the morning. He lay back down in bed, trying to get some more sleep. He definitely needed the rest for the day to come. However, sleep didn’t come. Trent lay there for twenty minutes but sleep always seemed to elude him. Trent was at the brink of sleep but he just couldn’t cross over to the world of the unconscious. Finally, he gave up and put on his uniform. Trent made his way to the resource center intending to have a videoconference with them. As he was walking there, he remembered it was four thirty in the morning and decided to go to the cafeteria instead.
Trent saw that the cafeteria was already occupied. Timothy and Curtis were sitting at the same table drinking coffee. Trent took a cup of black coffee and joined them. At first, they just sipped their coffee in uncomfortable silence. Trent could not stand the silence and asked, “So, how’s Alan doc?”
“He’s recovering remarkably well. In a few hours, he should be able to walk but no way he’s going for that mission today,” Timothy replied. “You know, you should get some sleep. You need all the rest you can get.”
“He’s right you know,” Curtis chipped in.
Trent nodded and said, “Ya, I know. But just can’t sleep. You got pills for that doc? No. Never mind. I’m up already.”
“We saved Jake. He’s going to be up and walking in a few days,” Timothy said.
“Wonders of modern day medicine!” Curtis remarked with a smile.
Trent nodded in agreement. Since he was up, he decided to look over the map for the military outpost. Trent left the table and went to the briefing room. He could have gone to the resource center and checked out the map but Trent wanted to see it in three-dimensional form. Trent could not help but notice the eerie quietness of the cruiser at this hour and wondered if there were any haunted spaceships. He thought any deserted spaceship looked haunted and would probably be surprised at the number of people who would agree with him. Trent went up to the projector and pressed a few buttons. The three dimensional image of the military outpost materialized in front of him. It was much bigger than the refining facility and much more complex. There were two levels in the military outpost and a lot of vents. It was perfect for skulk ambushes. At least he was just part of the reinforcements, not the main assault team.
Trent noticed a pile of documents on the desk. He picked them up and skimmed through them. The documents reported the condition of the military outpost and it was a grim reading. The Kharaa already had two hives and half the resource nozzles in the outpost. The situation was bleak and Trent wasn’t sure they could take the base. The only good news was that the resource nozzles were all very far from the hive locations so that gave the Frontiersmen some chance of getting the RTs they needed. Trent spent one and a half hours looking over the plans and reports. He was so engrossed in the information that he didn’t notice Sergeant Lane come in.
“What are you doing?” Sergeant Lane asked.
Trent got spooked for an instance before realizing that it was Lane. He got himself together and said, “Just looking through the map.”
“Yeah. Did you touch the reports?” Sergeant Lane asked.
Trent looked rather sheepish and nodded his head. Sergeant Lane just told him not to touch any other documents in the future. Sergeant Lane went over to the projector and looked at the map displayed. He pressed some buttons and the map rotated. To Trent’s surprise, Sergeant Lane took out a pen and notebook and started scribbling down plans. The pen and notebook was something before Trent’s time. Using a palm top was the norm nowadays and Trent could not believe that Sergeant Lane was so old fashioned. Sergeant Lane caught Trent’s stares and explained, “I’m not much of a tech guy you know. Never got around to being modern. And I somehow like pen and paper. Now would you mind not staring?”
Trent hastily apologized and went out of the room. By then, it was six in the morning. His family would still be asleep so there was no point going to the resource center. He decided a trip to the infirmary would be nice and he could see how Jake and Alan were doing. Trent took the lift down to the fourth level and walked to the infirmary. On the way, he met Willy mopping the floor, grumpy as usual. Even though Willy wasn’t the most pleasant person at times, Trent still tried to be nice to him.
“How’s it going Willy?” Trent asked with a smile.
“Crappy! What else would it be when mopping the floor? And you keep you white **** and feet off the goddamned floor! I don’t want to waste my bloody time mopping that part again!” Willy yelled and went back to mopping.
Trent wondered how Willy could always get away saying things like that. Somehow, he would always know when there was a superior round the corner. Anyway, Trent had tried being nice and it hadn’t worked but he did not let such a small thing bother him. The infirmary never slept. Most of the time, both Timothy and Nora would be there but they also needed breaks so after a few hours, one would get some rest while the other covered. Now, only Nora was there. Alan was out of his tank, awake and grumbling. Jake was sleeping in a bed and Trent was surprised to find John sleeping in the bed next to his brother.
“Hey Trent. Same to you.”
“Why is John here? Sick or something?” Trent inquired.
“Oh no. Nothing like that at all. He’s just keeping his brother company. Real nice guy. Told him he could go back but he insisted on staying here. Wish I had a brother like that,” Nora explained.
Nora was massaging Alan’s leg as she talked. From the grimaces on Alan’s face, Trent could tell it wasn’t all that pleasant. Nora said she was also testing the nerves on Alan’s leg; see if everything was functioning all right. Alan still had that arrogant look on his face, as if getting his leg chopped off made him better than anyone else.
“Hi Trent. You know, I noticed that you seemed to be always at the back in the refining facility. Never really got injured did you?” Alan said in a condescending tone.
Trent tried not to let that get to him but it was quite impossible. Unlike Willy, Alan did not have a justifiable reason to be an ****. The only reason he had was that he got injured but that happens to everybody in war.
“No. Maybe its because I’m better than you,” Trent retorted.
At that moment, Jake woke up. Trent couldn’t be bothered with Alan anymore so he went over to Jake. Jake seemed to be fine and tried to sit up. He winced as he did so an instinctively touched his side. Nora immediately went over and ordered Jake to lie back down. She gave him a jab of nanites to speed up the healing process and asked a few standard questions. Jake answered and Nora said that everything was fine.
“How are you feeling?” Trent asked.
“Fair,” Jake replied.
“You got us all a bit worried there.”
“How did John take it?”
“Well, he rushed into the hive and blasted the fade that got you. Then he nearly got killed about three times because he was in shock,” Trent replied, trying to keep a straight face. Jake tried too but he burst out laughing. Laughter is contagious and soon, Trent joined him.
The commotion woke John up. The first thing he looked for was Jake, as if Jake would have run away when he was sleeping. When he saw Jake up and laughing, John gave him a hug. Nora watched, not wanting to interrupt and again, wishing she had a brother like John. John and Jake talked about how foolish John was and how Jake was doing with his injuries. However, the topic soon turned to cars but Trent tried to learn as much as he could. After listening to the brothers talk for a while, Trent decided that once the fighting was over, he would get his driver license and get a car. By the time it was eight, Trent decided to take his leave. Jake thanked Trent for visiting him but Alan just turned the other way. By then, Trent’s family should be awake so he went to the resource center. Most of the squad was also up by then and he greeted them on his way to the center. At the resource center, Trent logged in and went into CamChat. Just as he was about to select “home”, he felt a shudder. Then, he heard Todd’s voice over the inter-comm.
“We are lifting off now and moving to the new location. We will be reaching our destination in five minutes. Because this is only J-class cruiser, our communications system isn’t that advanced so contacting anyone not on this ship will not be possible during take-offs and landings. If you wish to do so… well, you just have to wait for a H-class carrier.”
Trent sighed. After a minute, the shuddering stopped as the Forger
smoothly flew over the planet. Trent linked up with his home and waited for someone to pick up. He didn’t have to wait long. On the second ring, his brother picked up. Walter was already in his business suit and just about to leave for work.
“Hello,” Trent said.
“Hi! How are you doing bro? Didn’t get bitten or anything?”
“Where are Mum and Dad?”
“Just wait a minute,” Walter said. A few seconds later, their faces appeared.
“How are you?” his father asked.
“Good. Just thinking about you. I just had a mission yesterday. Went pretty well, nobody dead yet. Look, there is another one today and briefing is in an hour. I’m not going to be in much danger because I’m just the backup. So you don’t worry about me, okay?” Trent said.
“Sure Trent. We know you will be careful,” his mother said.
“So how are things at home?” Trent asked.
Walter said, “Great. Remember that vacant place next to ours? Well, someone finally moved in. It’s a teacher, from Memphis. I think she’s called Kathleen. She is holding a house warming party on Saturday and invited the whole neighborhood. On the world issues, there was some rioting in Washington about some religious thing. The cops have convinced those nutters that Armageddon is not coming. Oh yeah, remember your old friend Benjamin from high school? Well, he’s like a fitness instructor and doing very well. He came over yesterday looking for you, asking you to be a trainer in his new fitness club. You can call him at erm… let me see… 84261465-D. That’s about it.”
“I will give him a call. Look, I got to go now. Call you tomorrow if possible. I love you guys. Bye,” Trent said and disconnected.
It was almost time for the briefing but there was still time to grab a quick bite. Trent walked briskly to the canteen and got a sandwich. He ate as he went to the briefing room. On his way, he met up with Zack and Sam. Zack was visibly nervous and kept asking Sam and Trent what it was like to be in combat and any tips. He kept asking all the way to the briefing room and kept quiet only once they got inside. Sergeant Lane was already there and going through his notes one more time. Trent and Zack sat somewhere behind whilst Sam took a seat next to Cissy.
“Hi. Nervous?” Sam asked.
“Yeah. You felt nervous too?” Cissy countered.
“Everyone does. Where do you live?”
“Illinois. In an apartment. A few blocks away from my folks. You?”
“Pennsylvania. In a nice cozy house with a beautiful garden,” Sam replied. “Do you like reading? I do. My favourite author is Jeff Tell.”
“Really? Mine too! I really love his books, so full of mystery and intrigue.”
They only got that far when John came in. Even though he was a few minutes late, Sergeant Lane was not mad, as he knew where he had been. The briefing started with a brief overview of the military outpost and the map layout. This was followed by the grim situation which Trent already knew. Sergeant Lane proceeded to split the soldiers into five groups of two and told them where to go. It was a complicated operation and needed speed and surprise so the groups would be constantly running around. There would be two people guarding the base instead of one due to the increased Kharaa threat. Zack, the soldier, was in team three whilst Cissy, the demolitions expert, would be guarding the base. The reinforcements would be given orders upon arrival in the outpost. After briefings, Sergeant Lane ordered them to get their gear.
Trent watched as group two phased in. There was a screen on the wall that showed what was happening down there. Upon phasing in, the marines split up into their respective groups and went to their waypoints. The marine start was in the command post and two marines were there building and guarding, one of which was Cissy. Sergeant Lane only had the basic necessities, as he needed the resources to get RTs. The marine start only had an armoury and infantry portal, defended by only two packs of mines. Form the start, it was chaos. Within two minutes, skulks started leaping in and attacking. The skulks tried to get one bite and then leaped out of there. The skulks were too fast to hit and Cissy only got one. Another unlucky skulk accidentally stepped on a mine and blew itself up. The skulks were much more accurate than the marines. They kept on hitting the armoury and occasionally, gave the marines some serious scratches. Sergeant Lane had to give them a welder to save the armoury.
The other marines were not doing much better. Out of the four teams, only two managed to secure RTs. With limited resources, Sergeant Lane could not afford to electrify the RTs so the marines had to stay and guard them. The RT in checkpoint three was constantly being attacked by lerks and Sergeant Lane had to use a lot of resources on the med packs to keep the marines alive. The other RT in the heating room was quiet for now but skulks could be constantly heard going through the vents. Since teams one and three could not secure RTs, Sergeant Lane merged them into team six. Team six went to the officers’ lounge and tried to get a RT. The lounge was blocked by two OCs but they were quickly taken down. This only alerted skulks to their position and three skulks rushed them. Trent heard a lot of gunfire and biting and a minute later, there was silence. Then, he heard someone shouting for a med pack. Apparently, one of the marines got his shoulder bitten off. Trent hoped it wasn’t Zack.
“This is pretty serious,” Lewis said.
Nicholas nodded. “I hope nobody gets seriously injured. I’m the first replacement.”
“And I’m second,” Sam said.
“Yeah yeah, we know. Nicholas is first, Sam second, Trent third and followed by Maria. Then it’s me, followed by John, then Edward and last but not least, Lewis,” Jude said.
“Why no observatory yet?” Trent asked. “They may have SCs already. The Kharaa have two hives down there.”
Maria rolled her eyes and said, “Trent, are you blind? Can’t you see Sergeant Lane just got the arms lab so he doesn’t have any res. And our guys only got three RTs.”
“Now we got four,” Jude observed as team six got the RT in the officers’ lounge.
Team one went back to looking at the screen and the red light came on. The red light was right next to the screen and means that replacements were needed. Nicholas sighed and phased in. The marine with the shoulder wound could not use his arm so that counts as a “downed operative” and Nicholas had to go. Next was Sam and he was very nervous now. This was worse than the refining facility, a lot worse. He took back his wish that he wanted to be running around instead of guarding the base. The skulks have eased off a bit in the marines start but they were going all out for checkpoint three. Nicholas was sent to assist checkpoint three. A few seconds later, armour one went up. Now team six was attempting to press on to the computer mainframe. They got there without any resistance and captured the resource nozzle. Team six was ordered to stand guard over the area for a few minutes whilst Sergeant Lane tried to save up some resources. Team two moved from heating to the nuclear reactor, which was one floor up, and captured a resource nozzle. As they were about to move on, five skulks spilled out of the vents and attacked. From the screen in the Forger
, Trent could only see a flurry of med packs and some muzzle flashes. It went on for a few minutes and there were repeated calls for ammo. The skulks were taken down at the cost of sixteen resources.
The marine start had been relatively quiet but suddenly, a fade showed up. It went round the base once, aimlessly swiping and stepped on two mines. Cissy and the other guard got a few shots into the fade before it blinked off. However, it was back within a few seconds and charged into the marines start. Five of the mines were gone by then and the fade had no trouble from the rest of them. It was there and then, did the squad lose its first soldier. The blip representing the soldier disappeared from the screen while the fade blinked out. Trent felt sad but yet, he also felt oddly detached. He knew everyone in the squad but was not close to those in team two. Right now, he didn’t know what to feel. The person could have been Cissy or someone not as familiar. All Trent could do was hope. Either way, it was a bad situation.
Everything was wrong. It was all going downhill and Marcus knew it. Dan knew it too and he was furious. The money had all gone into the Frontiersmen and not much was left for business. Sure, the other businesses appreciated what they were doing for the world but appreciation did not fill stomachs. There were promises of contracts and dealings after the war as a sign of good will but Dan knew that verbal promises meant nothing. The deployment costs were astronomical and the costs of maintaining the Frontiersmen were even higher. Currently, Marucs’ office had six other voice presidents but none of them had the power Marcus had. Each of the vice presidents were much older than Marcus and Dan and they resented being ordered around by people who they considered to be inferior in terms of experience. But they kept their mouths shut. Dan and Marcus were where the money was but now they were not so sure.
Each vice president had a thick report, ready to hand it over to Marcus. Marcus took the reports and skimmed through them, always looking for the numbers right at the end. The vice presidents braced themselves for the rage to follow and they were not disappointed.
“Before all this alien nonsense, you know how much we were making every damn month? A billion! That’s what it is! A billion! I had so much money I could use fifty-dollar bills to wipe my ****! Now what have we got? What have we got? Five hundred million! That’s half of what we were making last time! Jesus, what have you guys been doing?” Marcus shouted and was on the verge of screaming. “Advertisments! Where are they? All I see is the same old crap everyday! Boring! Where are the new ads? Phillip, you want Dan to fire you? Is that it? No? Then you damn well better do your job! By looking at this report, you spent millions on ads. So where are the new ones? I only see the old ones. Tell me Philip.”
Philip, an old scrawny man in an overly expensive suit fidgeted. “We have been developing some very high budget advertisements so it will take a while. As of last week, we have been giving out free hampers and organizing lucky draws.”
Marcus thought about it for a while, and then ordered that he see the advertisement reports by the next day. He hoped it was something new and shocking that would catch the public eye. That always brought in more business. If not, Philip would have to get a job somewhere else. He dismissed Philip and looked at the other reports. There was not enough money for the energy needed to operate the phase gates. Cargo delivery time had been slowed by half because of this and the customers were not too happy about it. Somehow, he had to divert some of the funds going into the Frontiersmen to the businesses. The scolding and the screaming continued for another ten minutes before Marcus dismissed the other vice presidents. Marcus told his secretary to set up a meeting with Dan in an hour’s time.
An hour later, he was in Dan’s office. Dan was talking to someone on the computer and Marcus waited patiently. Finally, Dan finished his discussion and turned to Marcus.
“Yes Marcus? What is it that you want?” Dan asked.
Marcus took a deep breath and said, “Dan, we need to cut some of the funding to the Frontiersmen. We need the money for our businesses. Look at the reports. We only have half the profits we used to have. If this continues, we will be losing money very soon.”
“Marcus, I can’t do that.”
“Why not?” Marcus asked.
“The president is pushing us very hard. The hopes of this world are pinned on us. You know how much the president hates us. If we cut funding, he will find out and leak it to the press. Then the condemnation will start and he will use it to shut us down. I tried pushing for more money but they only let up a bit. And he doesn’t give a damn about the scandals. You read the polls. He is winning by sixty percent and he knows the scandals won’t do much damage,” Dan explained.
“****!” Marcus cursed. “What are we going to do? Sooner or later we are going to fold.”
Dan sat in his chair and thought very hard. He had an idea but it was a crazy idea. It was risky, terribly risky. However, Dan knew it would be worth it. After all those years trying to claw up the corporate ladder, he was not going down without a fight. Dan dismissed Marcus and told him he had a plan but the needed to plan it. Marcus knew what he meant but he did not like it at all. It had been done before and very successfully too. Marcus had a family and once was enough. He tried to say something but Dan silenced him with a wave of the hand and gestured for him to leave. Once Marcus was back at his office, Dan proceeded to make a few phone calls to some people who did not exist.
The command post was the highest point in the military outpost and overlooked almost everything. There were two sliding doors on each side of the forty by twenty- meter room. The reinforced glass window showed the other parts of the military outpost. The room had control panels all over the wall and the room was brightly lit. However, the abundance of light only made it worse for Sam. On the floor was a marine Sam recognized but the marine wasn’t whole, he had been cut in two by the fade. His blood stained the floor a deep red and his intestines trailed out from his stomach. Sam did not socialize much with team two but somehow, there was still sadness and grief. The Kharaa did not give him much time to grieve. One of the doors opened and a skulk leaped in. Sam ducked just in time as the skulk sailed over his head and went out through the other door. Cissy had fired a few shots but had missed. The bullet holes in the wall were testament to how fast the skulks were.
Sam looked around and noted that the observatory had been placed. He went over and built it while Cissy stood guard. Once it was built, it hissed to life and unfolded its dish. Seconds later, the weapons were upgraded so Sam and Cissy took the improved ammo from the armoury. At one corner, a marine lay as if dead but Sam knew better. Sam could see the marine’s name on his HUD and it said, “Ronald”. Anyway, Ronald had a deep gash in his shoulder but it had been mostly healed by nanites. Timothy and Nora would have to take a look at that nasty cut. Sam remembered that Ronald had been hurt earlier on and Nicholas had been sent to replace him. The Forger
could not pick Ronald up because there would be a danger of contamination. It had happened before and there were hundreds of infested cargo ships floating around the Adrian Arm.
Sam took one door while Cissy took the other door. Currently, they had only six RTs but the Kharaa had ten. The situation was looking very grim indeed. On the mini map, Sergeant Lane was trying to use team two to sneak a phase gate into the hall, where one of the hives was. Team two almost made it but they were thwarted by a fade and a few lerks. As Sam was watching his mini map, he saw some movement at the corner of his eye. It was a skulk, leaping into the room from the right and right at the armoury. Cissy had already seen it and opened fire. Sam joined in and both managed to hit the skulk a few times but they did not kill it. The skulk got one bite at the armoury and was out in a second. Just as Sam lowered his gun, another skulk leaped in from the left and aimed itself at Sam. Sam did a split second decision and let himself fall backwards, firing his weapon as he did so. The skulk barely missed him and Sam could almost feel the skulk brush against his nose. Sam rolled over and fired his remaining bullets at the skulk as it ran out through the right.
Sam quickly got to his feet and reloaded his LMG. This was too fast for him and he wondered if the skulks ever got tired. For the next five minutes, no skulks appeared though there was still the annoying clicking. Sam looked at his mini map again and saw that Sergeant Lane was trying to sneak the phase gate in again. He watched his HUD anxiously as team two slowly proceeded to move forward. When the team got into position, Sergeant Lane dropped a phase gate. Another phase gate was dropped at the marine start and Cissy began building, while Sam covered her. The phase gate was almost completed when Sam heard the familiar sound of flapping.
The lerk came in quick and swooped towards Sam and Cissy, its wings outstretched as it glided on a cushion of air. Sam aimed and fired ten bullets. All ten bullets hit the lerk in the face and it had no choice but to circle. The lerk was slightly slower than the skulks but it made a lot of difference to Sam. As the lerk turned round again, it fired spore at the area twice. At the same time, the phase gate was completed and Cissy started firing as well. Sam’s skin stung from the spores but his aim was true. He unloaded his remaining bullets right into the lerk and it splattered blood everywhere. However, it was not enough to finish the lerk and it quickly made its escape. Cissy did not get one shot in as the lerk was too fast for her.
Sam hoped he hurt the lerk enough so it wouldn’t come back too soon. He got a med pack from the armoury and quickly healed himself. He wondered if all the nanites would affect his health in the long term. Sam checked his mini map to see team two’s progress. The turret factory was up and it was being upgraded. Sergeant Lane gave the distress signal and the siren sounded. All the marines were teleported back into the marine start.
“Go to the hall. Now! Phase in! Don’t care about ammo. Sam and Cissy, stand guard,” Sergeant Lane ordered.
The entire team phased into the hall and began building sieges. From the mini map, Sam could see them constantly being attacked by skulks, lerks and a fade. At least that would keep them away from the marine start. There was a rain of med packs to keep the marines alive as they defended the siege turrets. Four turrets were up and blasting away and that made the Kharaa more determined to take it down. On the mini map, Sam saw three skulks collide with a marine and the marine blip disappeared.
“Crap! Daniel is down!” Sergeant Lane reported.
“No! Not Daniel!” Cissy cried.
Trent phased down and appeared in the infantry portal. He listened to Sergeant Lane’s orders and quickly phased in. Cissy was now visibly furious with the Kharaa at the lost of her latest comrade. She walked to the phase gate when Sam grabbed her arm.
“What are you doing?” Sam asked but already knowing the answer.
“I’m going to help,” Cissy said.
“I know you are angry at those monsters and you want to help kill them. But that is not your place. Your place is here. You will be of most use against the Kharaa here!” Sam said, trying to dissuade her.
Sam felt her muscles loosen under his grip. She stepped away from the phase gate and went back to her spot. Sam was glad Cissy knew her place. A rash soldier was a dead soldier.
Suddenly, Sergeant Lane cried, “Onos! Onos! Phase back! Get out of there!”
Immediately, the marines started phasing back. Soon, the whole group was in the marines start. All the marines were sweating and panting for breath. They collected the ammo they needed and waited for more orders.
“Oh my god!” Sergeant Lane suddenly exclaimed. The marines automatically tensed at this. “The hive is down! Hive down! Our sieges took it down before the onos could get the TF!”
The marines let out a cheer. Now their job would be a whole lot easier. However, in taking down the hives, they lost all but two RTs, not including the one in the marine start. Sergeant Lane split them back into their old groups and ordered them to get the RTs back. As usual, Sam and Cissy guarded the base. Armour two was up shortly and the nanites from the ceiling attached themselves to the marines’ armour. Sam and Cissy just sat there, waiting for some skulk to come into their line of fire. After a while, it became boring and Sam had to say something to break the silence.
“How many Jeff Tell books do you have?” Sam asked.
“Seven. And you shouldn’t be talking to me. Watch the doors,” Cissy replied.
Sam nodded sheepishly. He admired Cissy’s focus on the mission compared to his. He needed to concentrate. All that hell he had been through with Klion was to help him focus but just then, he had actually lost concentration. Sam reproached himself for that. That loss of focus could have cost his life and the lives of the entire group. The armoury was currently being upgraded and Sam could see it shuddering slightly. Soon, the big guns would be available and he would feel a lot safer. Sam remembered when he was back at the training facility, when he was in the heavy armour, otherwise known as the HA. It may have been hot but that two-inch wall between him and the Kharaa sure made him a lot safer. Stop it!
Sam thought. He was letting his mind drift again.
Sam looked back at his mini map. The RTs were recaptured and a steady resource flow was going again. There was only minimal resistance with skulks and that caused Sergeant Lane to worry. The Kharaa had an onos and fade out there but they were not attacking the marines, as they should be. Something was indeed very wrong and Sergeant Lane told the teams to be very careful and alert. Now, the different teams converged into one at T-junction. Sergeant Lane studied the map layout and decided to fortify the area. He dropped a turret factory first, followed by two turrets. As Sergeant Lane had just started to research weapons level two, they were low on resources and the marines had to wait for the next turret. Then, the Kharaa struck. It was like a crushing wave that swept over the marines. Sam watched as the dots on the mini map clashed. Two marines died when the onos and fade plowed into the marines. Sergeant Lane could not let his marines get slaughtered so he distressed. The marines were pulled from hell and dropped back into the marine start. Sam, like Cissy, looked anxiously at the survivors. He was looking for Trent and Nicholas and he spotted them bent over, panting for air. They were barely recognizable. They were splattered with a mixture of red and yellow blood and their armour had deep scratches all over. Blood trickled from cuts on their faces and hands. They looked more dead than alive.
The Admiral stood ramrod straight, looking at screens and statistics. Admiral Rathine Studaber may have been a she but she had quite a reputation and the respect of all the men. She was in the underground Frontiersmen headquarters. The Admiral would have preferred a view on top but there was not enough space. Instead of a view of snow-capped mountains, all she got to look at were screens of war. The war effort was going rather badly. Somehow, she had to explain why it was so to Marcus. An aide approached and told the Admiral that Marcus had arrived. She sighed and turned to receive him. He came in with an aide of his own who was constantly looking at a palm top.
“Hello Marcus. It is a pleasure to see you here,” the Admiral said.
“Dispense with the formalities Admiral,” Marcus said briskly. “What’s our status?”
The Admiral sighed and gave the report. “Not good. We have only recaptured fifty facilities. Hundreds dead and we are expecting the number to continue rising. We got ten infested ships because of careless idiots. Two A-class ships got hit by asteroids and the whole crew got wiped out. We are not sure how that happened and it is pending investigation. We have underestimated the Kharaa Marcus. Their numbers are simply too great. I need more funds to make this thing work.”
Now it was Marcus’ turn to sigh. “There is a problem. There are no more funds. In fact, I have come here to tell you that funding to the Frontiersmen will have to be cut. The TSA is losing a lot of money over this.”
The Admiral’s eyes widened slightly. She did not expect this to happen. Though news that the TSA had hit bad times had been going around, she did not expect it to be this bad. The Admiral regained her composure and went back into her old stoic self. She was not one to show emotion and she was not going to have another slip.
“You cannot cut funding,” the Admiral said. “We are already short of money. Deployment costs are skyrocketing. If we get that extra money, we can afford to give those marines level one armour and weapons even before they go into hostile territory.”
The Admiral gestured to the screen’s monitoring missions and ship movement. There were hundreds of monitors that showed what was happening and at every monitor, there was a person analyzing the situation. Most of the analysts were looking grim and constantly shaking their heads. At the front of the room, there was a giant projector that showed a huge hologram of the Adrian Arm. The Admiral walked up to it and pressed a few buttons. The image rotated ninety degrees and zoomed in on a planet. The planet had a portion coloured red and another smaller portion coloured green.
“The red represents the Kharaa,” the Admiral explained. “And the green are our guys. As you can see, the Kharaa control most of the planet. With a little more money, we could push back the Kharaa. You know, if we nuked the entire planet, a lot of young men and women would not be dead.”
“God damn it! How many times do I have to explain?” Marcus said angrily and was on the verge of shouting. “Those facilities are worth millions of dollars. And there may still be survivors.”
The Admiral shook her head in frustration. She did not understand these suits. All they cared about was dollars and not the future of mankind. Somehow, they could not get it into their heads that without mankind; there would be no money. The Admiral whispered to her aide and her aide immediately got a sheet of paper. It was a report on the survivors. Most of the numbers on the sheet were highlighted in red.
“Don’t feed me this ****! You damn well know that the scanner systems do not function properly there. It’s the crappy nano-gridlock!”
“So what?” the Admiral said. “We sent in thousands of teams into the Adrian Arm. You know how many survivors were rescued? None.”
The Admiral snapped her fingers and her aide handed her a stack of photos. Contrary to many scientists’ beliefs, photographs did not become obsolete. In fact, it had grown. Three-dimensional pictures were invented and the photographs were made more durable. Photographs were much more convenient than palm tops and mini screens.
The photos that the Admiral showed Marcus were of gore and blood. She wanted to make Marcus realize that those were real people out there, not some pieces in a chess game. The photos showed half eaten bodies with many gaping wounds. Some pictures just had body parts like an arm or leg. It was not pretty. Marcus tried to control his facial expressions as his stomach suddenly decided to go on a roller coaster. Marcus was not going to let the Admiral see him break. Marcus had this immense distrust of the Admiral and other military personnel. All they understood were bullets and bombs, not the economy that helped sustain civilization. The Admiral looked closely at Marcus’ face, scanning for any sign of disgust or revolt. There was none. She took the photos back and handed them back to her aide.
“That is what they do. There is no place a human can hide form the Kharaa. Our scientists have discovered this very interesting fact about the Kharaa. They can detect humans through walls with the aid of a certain ability. The scientists call it the Scent of Fear. There will never be any survivors Marcus.”
“But there are still the million dollar facilities,” Marcus reminded the Admiral. Damn! I shouldn’t even be here. I should’ve got some lackey to do it for me.
“It’s all about the money isn’t it? Never mind. I don’t want to know. Come. Let us talk somewhere more private.”
Marcus followed the Admiral through a passageway and down some corridors. They went into a conference room where they debated for an hour on the funds. Marcus left the room smiling slightly whilst the Admiral was frowning heavily. The Admiral had lost the argument. Marcus had even demanded that the Admiral would make no offensive moves against the Kharaa. They were to defend what they had and only strike out occasionally. That would keep the president happy. The Frontiersmen would now be on the defensive to keep costs low.
Marcus called Dan and told him an agreement had been reached. Hopefully, Dan wouldn’t do something foolish. Dan may think there would be no trails but Marcus knew better. There would always be a trail, a leak. Money talks and nobody knew that better than Marcus. Marcus knew what Dan would do if he was left no choice. Dan had done it before and he would not hesitate to do it again.
Maria and Jude came in through the infantry portal. Sergeant Lane handed out three shotguns as he did not want any more loses. The second level of weapons went up and the soldiers collected more ammo. Sam, on seeing the tired looks of his comrades, volunteered to trade places with one of the soldiers but Sergeant Lane told him to stay in his position. However, the marines did not forget this gesture on Sam’s part. Their RTs were currently untouched but Sergeant Lane knew that the offensive would be coming soon. He had to make a counter-attack as quickly as possible and ordered the tired marines out. There were a few audible grumbles but the marines had a job to do.
Sam was stuck back at the marine start with Cissy again. He felt kind of bad not going out with the group. He felt he got the easy job and was worried that his teammates would see him as a slacker. They currently had eleven resources and Sergeant Lane dropped another pack of mines. Sam took it and placed it carefully around the buildings, trying to use one mine to cover two buildings. The mines clamped down on the floor and waited for some skulk to run over it. Sam looked at his mini map and saw that the team was hurrying towards T-junction again. Sam hoped that the Kharaa there would not expect a counter-attack so soon. Luck was on their side. The onos and fade were not alert and the marines managed to sneak up on them. They didn’t know what hit them and ran off in panic, leaving two gorges behind. The skulks weren’t even there to defend the gorges. The gorges were torn apart by the spray of bullets. Sergeant Lane didn’t waste any time. He tried to fortify the area before the onos and fade could recover.
The Kharaa struck back rather quickly and with a bigger force. There were two more fades and an extra lerk. Sam watched the battle unfold on his mini map, silently praying for his comrades. The fact that Sam could see the horror happening but could do nothing was tearing him apart. By some act of God, the marines drove off the Kharaa without any deaths although there were plenty of cuts and bruises. Sergeant Lane decided he needed extra backup and dropped a phase gate at T-junction so that Sam and Cissy could phase in. Sergeant Lane hoped that the distraction at T-junction would divert any attack on the marine start. It was a dangerous gamble but it was one that had to be made. If they lost T-junction again, a lot of resources would go down the drain and that could turn the tide against them.
Once the phase gate was completed, Sam phased in and got his first look of the outpost outside the marine start. The T-junction had a ceiling three meters high. Six fluorescent lights hung from the ceiling but two were broken. The walls used to be pearly white but it was now a pale yellow with flecks of red that could only be blood. The tiled floor was gray with dust and there were a few footprints here and there. The T-junction had three passageways converging there in a T-shape. One brightly lit passageway led back to the marines start whilst the other two led to the hive locations. The last remaining hive was at the tram station and the passageway leading to it was narrow and dark. A turret factory was already in place and two turrets had been built. The phase gate’s glow illuminated the area with an eerie glow. The last thing Sam noticed was the bodies. Two were the fallen marines, placed respectfully in one corner with a sheet of cloth covering them. The rest of the bodies were a combination of decomposing scientists and soldiers. Their bodies had been piled up at the other passageway, blocking it so the marines would not get backstabbed.
Sergeant Lane’s orders were for them to stay put and defend the area until ten turrets were up. After that, they would take down Kharaa RTs one by one. The marines would move all the way to the communications control and siege the hive form there. Of course, that plan might not work. There were too many unknown variables working against them. In the event that the plan did fail, the team would withdraw back to the marine start and fortify it like hell.
“Welcome to the wild,” Trent said jokingly to Sam. “In just a few minutes, you might just get a rare glimpse of a rare breed of rhinoceros called the onos.”
That stab at humour did not go well with the group. Cissy gave Trent some disapproving looks but Zack gave a polite laugh. The team waited there for the resources to gather. Once the resource count hit ten, a turret would be dropped and the builders would quickly do their jobs. Soon, another six turrets went up, bringing the total number of turrets to eight. Sergeant Lane then told to them to wait awhile as he was saving for a prototype lab. A minute later, Trent had to phase back and build the prototype lab for Sergeant Lane. Surprisingly, no Kharaa had attacked the marine start or T-junction. Sam hoped that the Kharaa were not saving up for a bunch of onoses. Just thinking that though caused him to shiver.
Suddenly, Sam heard a low thumping sound. He looked at his team to see if anyone else had heard. They certainly heard it as they were standing quite still, heads cocked as they listened. Then, Sam felt the slight tremors under his feet. He actually wanted to believe those tremors were actually the beginning of an earthquake. The alternative was just too scary to think about. Sam could see little flecks of dust on the floor shaking slightly and he started to feel very afraid. It was not that he never felt fear throughout the entire mission. Fear was always there, underneath the surface. But this time, fear stabbed right through his heart like a cold blade. The thumping got louder and louder and louder. Sam looked down the dark passageway and could not see anything.
One of the marines turned the flashlight on his helmet. The light filled the passageway, exposing the monsters that had hidden in the shadows. Five onoses were in the narrow passageway, lined up behind one another. The first one was just twenty meters from T-junction. The onos reminded Sam of a rhino. It had a big horn that was used to gore, just like a rhino’s, and had it really thick skin. The onos stared at the marines for a second and they stared back. The onos was too surprised by the bright beam of the flashlight while the marines were in state of fear and shock on seeing so many onoses. It was Sergeant Lane that broke the paralysis.
“Shoot! Shoot god damn it! Shoot for your bloody lives!” Sergeant Lane screamed over the comm-link.
The marines opened fire on the onoses. That caused the onos to roar in anger. It ran forward, head down, horn ready to kill. The yellow blood from the onos splattered all over the wall. However, the onos did not seem affected by the bullets and kept on coming. Within five seconds, the onos reached the first marine. It hit the marine with its horn, tearing a hole through his arm. The marine was thrown through the air, screaming as he went, and hit a wall with a smack. Sam heard an audible crack and cringed involuntarily. Sam’s clip ran out and he reloaded as fast as he could. His hands seemed to move by itself, pulling out the magazine and slapping a new one in. The second onos was already in T-junction and causing a lot of damage. Zack could not get out of the way in time and had his legs squashed by the onos whilst another was impaled on its horn.
The onoses streamed into T-junction and Sam saw that he was most probably going to die. He could think of no other outcome for this battle. He felt like giving up, to stop shooting. It was not like it was going to make any difference anyway. They were already dead. Sam wondered how the team had managed to survive so long against such extreme odds and he saw how. He looked into their eyes and understood. Right now, in the darkest hour, as many died, Sam could still see that little glimmer of hope in their eyes. That was how they didn’t give up and run. They still held on to the hope that they would live through this damned war and come out heroes of humanity. Sam saw that hope and caught it from them. For humanity!
Sam thought and continued firing. The onoses came closer, plowing through the men but the marines stood their ground, defiant to their fate.
Three onoses were already in the room when Trent phased back in. Trent looked like he had replaced his arms for two metal poles but when Sam looked closer, he realized that Trent had a HMG in each arm. Trent threw one HMG over to Maria and kept one for himself. They started firing and T-junction was suddenly filled with thunder. One onos, who was bleeding quite badly, started to retreat. It turned and tried to run back into the passageway that it had come from. However, it was blocked by two onoses who were trying to get into T-junction. What they got was a jam where nobody got anywhere. Sam saw this and suddenly, he was filled with hope that he might live.
Sam reloaded again and fired all his fifty bullets into the onos that was trying to run. The onos let out its last roar and tumbled over to its side, blocking the entire passageway. Yellow blood slowly oozed from the corpse, creating a slick puddle. The two onoses trapped in T-junction began to panic. It ran all around, knocking marines over and sending some ailing through the air. One marine had dropped his shotgun and Sam picked it up. One of the onoses was charging towards Sam. Sam dived to his left, firing his shotgun as he slid across the floor and rolled to his feet. The onos turned and charged again. This time, Trent took it down. Trent blew a hundred holes into the onos and it collapsed to the floor with a sickening thud. The last onos lunged at Maria as she was reloading and attempted to devour her. Maria nimbly jumped aside and jammed the ammo into her HMG and began firing. The last onos literally got one of its legs cut off by the HMG. The onos fell to the ground and the turrets finished the job.
There was one fatality and three major casualties. Sergeant Lane dropped med packs and ammo all over T-junction. Jude had been knocked unconscious with a big bruise on his head and Trent jabbed a needle full of nanites into him. Zack lay on the ground screaming in pain. Sam saw that Zack’s legs had been totally crushed by the onos and it lay at an awkward angle. Maria was tending to him and trying to calm him down. Another marine had his arm almost torn off by the onos and it hung from his shoulder by only a few sinewy threads. Somehow, the marine was able to hold back his screams but tears flowed freely from his eyes and his mouth was twisted into a grimace. Sam went over to the marine and gave him a jab of nanites and morphine. Nicholas reported that they had three downed operatives and needed replacements. John, Edward and Lewis phased in, making the total marine count nine. Now, Cissy was the only marine from group two that was left standing. She had a sullen look on her face as she silently mourned her fallen comrades.
Cissy’s back was turned when the fade came. It blinked in, with its arms outstretched and aimed for Cissy. Sam didn’t even think and lunged at Cissy, pushing her aside. The fade collided with Sam and he thought he felt his ribs crack. Sam raised his shotgun and fired a shell into the fade. Sam clearly saw the holes in the fade’s body but a second later, the holes closed by itself. The fade knocked the shotgun away and raised its claw. From that point onwards, everything seemed to go in slow motion. As the fade lowered its claw, Sam saw his life flash before his eyes. There was the moment when he was a little kid and he fell down. There was his tenth birthday. There was when he went to school. There was when he got bullied. There was when he was doing his exams. There was when he graduated. There was when he joined the army. There was when he was in the Frontiersmen training facility. And it all led up to this moment with the fade standing over him. So this is how dying is like
, Sam thought.
The fade jabbed the claw into Sam’s stomach. The claw cut through the armour but did not reach the skin. The fade stabbed again and Sam felt the air rush out of him as he gasped. The pain was immense but somehow, he was feeling detached from his body. Suddenly, the fade turned and blinked away. Sam felt something wet on his mouth and he wiped it away. Weird, Sam thought as he looked at his fingers. Why is my blood red and yellow?
At that point, Sam slipped into the land of the darkness.
From the Shadows...