Acknowledgments first. Thanks to SYPHON and arcH, my editors. Thanks to all those who have been reading my story. Although I really think the length of my story puts people off. Hope this gets more replies than the last chapter. Anway, please give constructive critisism. Thank you and enjoy the story.Holding On“To give up now, is to let humanity down”
– Lieutenant Jackson
Nobody saw the fade coming in. They were too busy surveying the damage and reporting it to Sergeant Lane. Trent was the first to notice the fade, not counting Sam, but by then, it was too late. The black monster blinked in and was about to attack an unsuspecting Cissy when Sam intervened. Sam pushed Cissy aside, causing her to let out a shout of surprise. Trent watched in horror as the fade collided with Sam, knocking Sam onto the ground. Sam only fired the shotgun once before it was knocked away by the fade. Trent raised his HMG and started blasting the fade. However, it was too late as the fade plunged its claws into Sam twice. The first stab by the fade did not penetrate deeply, thanks to Sam’s armour, but the second strike went right through. After stabbing Sam, the fade quickly blinked out to avoid being cut down by bullets.
“Med pack! Med pack!” Trent yelled as he ran towards Sam.
Two med packs fell as Trent reached Sam. There was a huge hole in Sam’s stomach and Trent could even see some intestines. Maria came and jabbed the nanites into Sam, followed by the morphine. The nanites worked rapidly to stem the bleeding and clean the wound. This was a major injury and was beyond the nanites capabilities. They needed medical facilities fast or Sam would definitely die. Sam’s breathing was rapid and his body began to convulse slightly. Sam coughed up some blood and shook a bit more rapidly. Cissy had just got off the floor and realized what had happened. She took one look at Sam and was overwhelmed with guilt. If only I was more alert!
At the same time, the marine with his arm nearly torn off suddenly fainted. Trent recognized the marine as Leonardo and ran over to him. Blood was flowing freely from the ugly wound, staining the floor around him. Sergeant Lane dropped a med pack before Trent had to ask for it. Trent jabbed Leonardo with both nanites and morphine.
“****! We got two dying here sir! We need to get them back on the ship!” Maria said desperately over the comm-link.
Sergeant Lane was put in a dilemma. If he brought the ship in now, it could get infected. But if he didn’t bring in the ship, two more of his men would die. Sergeant Lane cursed the Kharaa for putting him into such a spot. After thinking for a moment, he decided to call in the ship. The possibility of infection was only forty percent and he could take his chances.
“Andy, do you read?” Sergeant Lane said into his comm-link.
“I read you,” Andy replied nonchalantly. “Do you want us to come in now?”
“Yes. We got two men here who need immediate medical attention! Tell Nora and Timothy to get themselves ready. And don’t land in loading bay three. It is still infested but loading bay one is clear.”
There was a short moment of silence as Sergeant Lane waited for an answer. Then Andy replied. “Did I hear that that outpost is still infested?”
“Affirmative,” Sergeant Lane replied.
“I’m sorry Lane. I can’t go down. You know procedure says that I cannot land unless the area is clear. If this ship gets infested, we are all dead men.”
“Screw procedure! I got two dying men down here and they need some damned doctors! Chances of infection are only forty percent. We can take that chance for my men! Think of their families damn it!” Sergeant Lane yelled.
“And what about Timothy’s family? Nora’s kids? What are you going to tell them when the ship gets infected? Hell, you won’t even be able to tell the families. You would be dead too!”
“****! So are you going to let my men die? Are you going to live the rest of your life knowing you let two men die? Pick us up please! If the ship gets infected, we will handle it. I promise you that. Please land the ship,” Sergeant Lane pleaded. Too many have died and he would not lose another two. “I cannot land this ship. I will not take the risk,” Andy replied. “But I will send Timothy down with some equipment. That is all I can do. I’m sorry”
“I’m sorry too,” Sergeant Lane said. “Sorry I lost my temper.”
“It’s the damned stress. Don’t kick yourself for it. Okay, Timothy’s coming down right… now.”
Timothy appeared through the infantry portal. He was wearing the standard Frontiersmen helmet and that made him ridiculous with his white coat. Timothy’s coat was jammed with all sorts of medicine bottles, needles and some other small medical equipment. Timothy appeared dazed and rubbed his eyes. Suddenly, he clutched his stomach and gave a few dry heaves. Sergeant Lane recognized the symptoms. It was the side effects when a person has been phased for the first time. The feeling Timothy was experiencing would not go away for some time but time was a luxury Sergeant Lane did not have. He ordered Timothy to phase into T-junction and get to Sam and Leonardo. Timothy looked apprehensive at the phase gate for a moment but he closed his eyes and went through. He knew he had a job to do, lives to save.
Timothy appeared at the other end and was instantly dragged to Sam by Maria. Maria paid no attention to the dry heaves Timothy was giving. Timothy took one look at Sam and knew it was going to be a long day. The fade had punctured deep into the stomach and sliced a bit of the intestines. Timothy took some needles filled with green liquid and injected them directly into the hole. Next, he collected some of Sam’s blood and put it into a vial. Timothy took out a torch and screen and proceeded to scan Sam’s body. Trent waited anxiously for Timothy’s diagnostic, hoping Sam could be healed.
“Hmm…” Timothy mumbled. “Not good. I need some cloning equipment. For now, I can keep him alive for about an hour but after that, he will go critical and at that stage, there is little I can do. You guys need to get rid of the Kharaa so the Forger
can come in. Otherwise, there is nothing I can do.”
“Crap! Then we must take down the hive. For our comrades,” Trent said. “Where do we go now?”
“First, I want you guys to build an additional four turrets,” Sergeant Lane ordered. “Then you go to oxygen control. Watch out for onoses and fades. You know they are out there.”
The marines acknowledged the order. After the four turrets were built, the marines moved out. However, John and Timothy stayed behind at T-junction to look after and guard the injured. John gave Timothy a pistol that was lying on the floor and told him to shoot anything that wasn’t human. Timothy gave a nervous nod and went to take a look at Leonardo’s arm. The marines walked through the dark passageway cautiously. The passageway was long and dark, a perfect area for skulks to hide. The acrid stench of death and decay wafted through the air, making the marines wrinkle their noses in disgust. As they went further down the passageway, the lighting conditions grew worse and they were soon engulfed in darkness. Nicholas turned on his torch and everyone followed suit. The marines saw a few corpses on the floor, most ripped apart, and the walls were stained with dried blood. The lights on the ceiling had been broken and shattered pieces of glass lay on the floor. The sound the marines made was amplified by the narrow passageway. Their footsteps echoed back and forth between the walls.
They were all very jumpy and at the edge of their nerves. Any noise caused them to swivel in that direction; guns poised and ready to shoot. Once in a while, there were a few clicks and the marines would stop and scan the area with their eyes. There would be nothing and they would move on. Soon, they could see the end of the passageway. A bright light shone form the end and the marines picked up the pace. They could not stand being in the dark anymore where small things would make them jump out of their skins. Just as they were nearing the end, Edward, who was at the back, felt something cold hit his back. He gave a shout of surprise and turned, firing his LMG. Sparks flew as Edward emptied his entire clip.
“Edward!” Trent yelled. “It’s only a pipe! Relax.”
Edward blinked in surprise. Indeed, it was only a pipe. It had fallen from the ceiling and landed on Edward. The pipe had at least thirty bullet holes in it and the ground was littered with ejected casings. Edward looked a bit embarrassed but yet, he was also pleased with himself. Pleased with the fact that if the pipe had been a real skulk, it would have been dead. Edward reloaded and moved on. The marines came into a brightly lit room that was extremely different from the passageway from which they came. It had been untouched by the Kharaa. The floor, walls and ceiling were clean and there was no sign of blood or bodies. Trent wondered why this area was so clean and untouched. It was spookily clean. The area they were in had three sliding doors and the one on the left led to oxygen control. Lewis opened the door that led to oxygen control and went in first. The room was slightly less bright and had many pipes criss-crossing the room. Some pipes were vertical, some horizontal but most were diagonal. The entire room basically looked like a spider web. Oxygen control had a low ceiling and Lewis’ training told him to look at the ceiling first, as it was perfect for skulk ambushes. It was his training that saved his life.
Two skulks were already waiting there, ready to pounce. They thought they had the advantage. The skulks had thought they would be looking down at some unsuspecting marines, not at the receiving end of a LMG. Lewis did not even hesitate and he pulled the trigger. The LMG bullets killed the skulk instantly and blood splattered against the wall. The dead skulk then fell uselessly to the floor with a wet smacking sound. The other skulk did not wait to be obliterated by bullets and jumped down at Lewis. Lewis quickly aimed his LMG at the other skulk as he jumped backwards. He fired off a few bursts but only half the bullets hit the skulk. Even though the skulk was bleeding form numerous holes in its body, it made a final attempt to kill Lewis. It jumped onto one of the pipes and then at Lewis. Lewis fired again and this time, his aim was perfect. The skulk was blown backwards and across the room, sliding across the floor.
“Nice shooting,” Trent said.
“Thanks,” Lewis replied.
“So what do we do know?” Trent asked.
A waypoint appeared on the marines’ HUD. Trent followed the waypoint, occasionally ducking under some pipes, and came to a Kharaa RT. The RT pulsated as it collected resources. The RT’s base was joined to the resource nozzle and it had two small “stems” that helped to keep it upright. Trent saw what appeared to be a sac on top of the RT and guessed that was where the resources were processed. Trent and Jude did not waste another minute studying the RT and took out their knives. They began to hack the RT to shreds. It was amazing how fast the lessons came back to him. Trent looked for important veins or vulnerable spots and sliced them. Yellow blood spurted out from the cuts, covering the knife and making it very sticky. As Trent and Jude were knifing, the rest of the marines stood guard. Lewis was looking at the pipes when he spotted the lerk. It was camping on one of the pipes and watching them. Once it saw that Lewis had spotted it, it spored the area and glided down. Trent stopped knifing and raised his HMG. The marines all fired at the same time, peppering the lerk with bullets. The bullets ripped holes in its wings and almost tore the creature apart. The lerk spiraled down to the floor and before it could hit the ground, it disappeared. Only yellow bloodstains were left on the floor.
“Redemption!” Trent exclaimed. “Loser lerk got redemption. Argh! We almost got it!”
“Don’t worry. We will get it next time,” Maria said. “Now finish up that RT.”
Trent went back to knifing the Rt. After a few more strokes with the knife, the RT began to sag. Blood was now gushing out onto the floor. Trent knew what was going to happen next and took a few steps back. The RT exploded and yellow blood landed on Cissy who happened to be close enough. After the Kharaa RT was taken down, Sergeant Lane dropped a RT. Trent and Jude began building and within seconds, it was completed. The marines got out of oxygen control and waited for their orders. They were anxious to destroy the hive in the tram station and get the casualties some proper medical attention.
Marcus called Dan’s office to report the how the meeting went with the Admiral. The call went through Dan’s secretary first and then straight to Dan himself. Dan appeared on the screen and smiled.
“Hello Marcus,” Dan said.
“So how was the meeting?” Dan asked.
“Great,” Marcus replied, smiling a bit. “The Admiral complied with our requests. She did put up quite a show though. Tried her best to fight for the funding. I don’t know how she gets her energy at her age. Anyway, not like she had a chance in increasing her funding. So now we got the Frontiersmen funding cut, we can get back our business. Okay?”
“You are not going to do any crazy stuff?”
“No. I won’t”
“And if you did, I will have no part in it.”
“No. You won’t.”
“Then I will se you at the board meeting. Goodbye.”
Marcus knew Dan was lying. It was the way he said it, the way he looked. But at least Marcus had covered his own ****. If Dan did anything, he would deny everything. Marcus knew that Dan would do something very big but he was not sure what. It was definitely something to do with the president or his cabinet. Marcus wondered if Dan had dug up some more dirt on the president. Whatever it was, he had enough of it. Marcus still had fears that the senator job would be discovered. He was involved in that one but the records had been destroyed, or so Dan had told him. However, you could not always trust Dan. He would always try to get something that would have a hold over you. If you had no skeletons in the closet, Dan would create them for you. That was Dan’s secret weapon to keeping in power. He used your conscience against you.
A few thousand miles away, Dan sat in his office, knowing that Marcus knew. But that did not matter. There were the papers for Marcus, the incriminating evidence. Now, Dan took out a hand phone from his desk. Dan was using an encrypted hand phone because Ace would not allow anything else. Nobody exactly knew how Ace looked like and he liked to keep it that way. There were too many conflicting reports on how Ace looked like all over the world. Some would say he was old but some would say he was young. One day he would be blond and the next day brunette. For five years, the police hunted the number one assassin in the world and came up with nothing. That was why Dan used Ace, he was untraceable. Dan called Ace and a machine picked up the phone. The machine checked whether Dan was using a secure phone and after doing so, redirected the call. Finally, an old woman’s voice came on.
“Hello dear. How’s the family?” the old woman’s voice asked.
“Fine and dead,” Dan answered giving the standard reply.
“Really? And the weather?”
“Clear as day,” Dan replied.
“Code?” Ace asked, using his real voice now.
“Seven-Two-Two-Nine-Three-Eight-Five-J,” Dan replied, recalling the number from memory. Ace had told him to keep the code in his head and nowhere else. It was just one of Ace’s paranoid security rules.
“What’s the job?” Ace asked, cutting straight to the point.
“American President. How much?”
“Ten million,” Ace replied immediately.
“Done. Do it quick. By the end of this week,” Dan instructed and hung up.
The call had lasted less than a minute so it would be untraceable. A piece of Dan’s plan was in place and there was no turning back at this point. Now, Dan asked his secretary to let the private investigators in. Two men in business suits and briefcases walked into the office. They were not really just private investigators but freelance professional spies. The two men in front of Dan had worked for America, Russia, China and some countries in the Middle East. They had no official records so technically, they did not exist.
“Here it is. All you need. Our payment?” one of the men said, putting his briefcase on Dan’s desk.
“Already in the bank. Now I have one more job for you to do. Want it?” Dan asked.
Both men looked at each other and withdrew into a corner to discuss. They talked in some sort of oriental language in case Dan was eavesdropping. It was unnecessary as they were talking extremely softly and Dan couldn’t care less about what they were discussing about. After a few seconds, both of them nodded their heads. Dan gave them their new assignments and dismissed them. Next, he told his secretary to reschedule all appointments and not let anyone in his office. Dan opened the briefcase, only after locking his door, and examined its contents. There were a few envelopes that were crammed with photos of the vice president. Some were recent but most were old. Dan browsed through them and smiled at what he saw. Next, he went through all the disks that contained dozens of files each. It started with the birth records and went all the way up to current times. The vice president had a closet full of skeletons. No, an ocean full of skeletons would be a more appropriate expression. Most of the stories on the vice president were nothing major but there were three or four major scandals that could ruin him. The vice president would be an easy man to push into the corner as he had everything to lose. He could lose his money, his power and most importantly, his three kids and wife. It took six hours to read through all the files. By the time Dan was done, it was quite late at night and he was mentally drained. However, he could still go on and do one final thing. Dan was a machine that could always keep on working, no matter how tired he was. And like a machine, he had no guilty conscience. To him, blackmailing another person was just purely business.
Dan typed an email to the vice president and attached one of the pictures to it. The picture showed the vice president with a **** in Manila. They could be seen going into a hotel room. Of course, that picture would be easy to deny but Dan was only sending it to get the vice president’s attention. There would be more from where that came from. Dan sent the email and smiled. Dan packed up everything and went down. He got into his limousine and his driver drove him back to his mansion atop a hill with a magnificent view. Dan looked at his driver and wondered if he should dispose of him. The driver was loyal and could get Dan anywhere in a short period of time. The only problem was that the driver had heard too much. Dan had tried to keep things secret but there were a few unexpected incidents when the driver somehow heard Dan’s conversations. The driver may be loyal but money talks. Dan knew that better than anyone else. Dan decided that it was not worth the risk and decided that the driver must die. Dan made it a point to be more careful in the future. If too many drivers died under Dan, the cops would be suspicious. Two had already died under him but they were covered up to look like accidents. Too many dead drivers also made for bad business.
Once Dan reached his mansion, he took a shower. The mansion had state-of-the-art security system. Dan was not a man without enemies and quite a few have put a price on his head. After the shower, he sat down in his armchair and listened to a bit of Mozart. The music echoed through the cold and lonely house.
“Area is clear. I just scanned it,” Sergeant Lane reported. “Get to the infirmary as quick as you can and I will drop a PG. Timothy says you had better hurry. He is not sure how much longer Sam and Leonardo can hold out.”
Trent nodded. The marines moved out of oxygen control and made their way to the infirmary. A few minutes ago, Sergeant Lane had been studying the map and trying to decided where he should send the marines. He had chanced upon the infirmary and it was quite close to oxygen control. If the marines could get there and build a phase gate, Sam and Leonardo could get immediate treatment. At the marine start, most of the injured marines had gotten worse and Timothy was running to and fro, trying to tend to all of them.
The marines went through a door and up a flight of stairs to the second level. Trent was leading the way as he had the HMG whilst Sam covered the back with his shotgun. On the second level, they came to a door that was jammed. Trent began kicking the door, slowly opening it inch by inch. When the door was nearly opened, a low growl could be heard. A skulk that had been hiding in the shadows rushed forward. It moved lightning fast and with the grace of a ballet dancer. It weaved through the marine’s legs as the marines fired in bursts. The marine did not want to shoot their own legs or their teammates so they were more careful with their aiming. The skulk took advantage of this and took bites here and there, not stopping for even one second. The skulk got a bite out of Jude’s calf and then, it slashed Maria’s leg.
Trent saw the skulk coming his way and pulled out his pistol. The HMG was too inaccurate and could be a danger to the team in such close quarters. Trent squeezed off ten rounds but the skulk dodged that quite effortlessly. When the skulk was within a meter of Trent, it jumped at his chest. At the same time, Trent pulled out his knife and made a wild slash. The knife cut the skulk at its stomach, making a deep bloody gash. However, that did not stop the skulk and it bit deep into Trent’s armour. The scratched armour absorbed most of the damage but a little bit of the skulk’s teeth went through. Trent felt a hot burning sensation on his chest as the razor sharp teeth easily tore some flesh off his chest. After taking its bite, the skulk quickly turned and jumped off. Trent made another wild desperate slash in an effort to kill the skulk. The skulk’s leg got cut clean off but surprisingly; the skulk did not seem to notice. It tried to run, thinking it still had all four legs but tripped instead. Lewis seized the opportunity and shot the skulk dead.
Sergeant Lane dropped three med packs and some ammo. Trent took one and injected himself with nanites. The nanites worked quickly, stopping the bleeding and healing the tissue. The chest wound closed quickly and soon, it looked like it did before. He got up and checked Maria and Jude. Both of them were fine as their injuries were also not too serious. After making sure the area was clear, they reloaded and continued on to the infirmary. The marines came to a huge area that was simply called area three. It was ten by ten meters and the ceiling was five meters high. The ceiling was actually made of reinforced glass and Trent could see the stars through them. There were four sliding doors leading out of the area but two of the doors were blocked by rubble. The floor had around four bodies; all of them soldiers with their mouths open in a silent scream. A Kharaa RT stood in one corner of the room, pumping resources quietly. An OC was defending the RT but the marines were out of range.
Sergeant Lane ordered them to ignore the OC as they were out of time. The infirmary was so close now, just through the door that had “blue sector” on top of it and walk about fifty meters. The marines inched along the walls, trying to stay out of the OC’s range. Trent was the first to reach the door and it automatically slid open. So far so good. They were out of the OC’s range and no Kharaa life form could be seen. Trent stepped into the corridor and then, immediately jumped out. A fade was already waiting there for the marines. It had swung its claws and just missed Trent by less than an inch. Trent had jumped back a bit too far and he could feel OC spikes hit his back. The fade blinked at Trent and aimed swiped at his head. Trent ducked just in time and rolled to one side. He could feel another set of OC spikes fly past his face as he got up. The rest of the team started shooting the fade, filling the room with thunder. The fade blinked behind the RT and used it for cover.
Trent quickly ran to his team mates, getting out of range of the OC. The marines had stopped firing, as they did not want to waste their ammo on the RT. Sergeant Lane ordered them to corner the fade. Maria and Jude inched along the wall, trying to get to the fade’s left side while Sam and Lewis inched to the fade’s right side. The rest stayed where they were, waiting to blast the fade apart. The fade saw that it was cornered and waited till the last possible moment before it attacked. First, it blinked upwards and then blinked at Trent’s group. Everyone started shooting but the fade was too fast. The glass ceiling was peppered with bullets and started cracking. The fade blinked down and swiped at Edward. Edward tried to roll to one side but the fade was too fast for him. Its claw made a deep cut down his back and Edward screamed in pain. The fade raised its arm for the deathblow. Trent quickly stepped in front of the fade and used his HMG as a shield. The fade’s claw cut cleanly through the gun, rendering it useless. The claw came out of the other end and almost slashed Trent’s nose.
The fade tried to pull back but Trent held on. He was almost yanked of his feet by the fade. The other marines took the opportunity to shoot the fade while it was wrestling with Trent. Finally, it flung Trent against the wall and tried to blink out. Jude was way ahead of it and blocked the door. Seeing that it had nowhere to go, it just stopped moving and stood there. It knew it was dead. Why bother running? It got hit from all directions, blood pouring out of various holes. Within seconds, it was only a bullet-ridden corpse on the floor. Maria ran over to Edward and checked how he was doing. The armour was totally ripped off and the wound was an inch deep. Luckily, it had missed the spine. Maria called for a med pack. When it didn’t come, she called again. This time, Sergeant Lane responded and dropped two. Maria quickly applied it on Edward but the wound was too deep. The med packs could only stop the bleeding and heal some tissue but that was it. The marines would have to carry Edward to the infirmary.
Trent got up and shook his head. The white light was slowly fading now and the world had stopped spinning. He picked up his HMG and studied it. The hole was quite a clean cut and the ammo that had been inside was dropping out. Trent shuddered to think what would have happened if he just had a LMG. Since his HMG was useless, Trent took Edward’s LMG. Since Maria had the better weapon, she would be in front whilst the rest would take turns carrying Edward. Cissy would cover the back. Trent and Lewis were the first to carry Edward and they carried him to the door before handing him over to Nicholas and Jude. By the time the marines reached the infirmary, they were exhausted. The door automatically slid open and the marines hurried in.
The infirmary was slightly damaged. Claw marks were on the walls and ceiling, some lights were blinking erratically and some pipes hung form the ceiling. There were some cut up skulk bodies on the floor and one human body. The human was wearing a lab coat and was probably a doctor. The advanced medical facilities were quite untouched but one healing tank was shattered. There were some beds so Nicholas and Jude laid Edward on one of them. Then, they waited for Sergeant Lane to drop a phase gate. Ten seconds later, the phase gate appeared but Trent considered it slow for Sergeant Lane’s standard. Normally, Sergeant Lane would immediately drop the phase gate but Trent guessed that he was tired, just like the rest of the squad. Sergeant Lane had commed for two days, one after the next. That could really tire a man out. Not physically of course but mentally.
Once the phase gate was completed. Timothy phased in first, followed by the casualties. Maria stood guard whilst the rest helped the casualties onto the beds. Sam was put onto the operating theatre first as he was in the most danger. Since Maria was a medic, Timothy asked her to help. She gave her HMG to Cissy and went into the operating theatre with Timothy. Jude and Nicholas helped some of the less seriously injured marines into the healing tanks. They were so busy, they did not feel the ground tremble.
The onos barged into the room, ripping the door apart. Cissy opened fire first but the onos kept on going. The marines stopped whatever they were doing and picked up their guns. Trent tried to circle the onos and block it should it try and escape. The onos saw what Trent was trying to do and ran at Trent. Trent quickly ran backward, shooting as he ran. Trent did not see the skulk corpse behind him and tripped over it. He fell to the ground and dropped his LMG. The onos towered over Trent and tried to crush him with its feet. Trent rolled to the left, just as the onos lowered its foot. Cissy was trying to reload her HMG but the ammo seemed to be stuck. The other marines kept on shooting and that was an annoyance to the onos. The onos used its horn and hit one of the beds. The bed flew right at the marines and knocked them all over. Trent tried to get up and run but the onos kicked him in the ****. Trent slid across the floor and banged his head against the wall. A blinding white light filled his vision as his head exploded with pain.
The other marines were getting up and picking up their weapons. They saw the onos close in on Trent and devour him whole. The onos turned, picking its next target. Suddenly, there was a scream. It was not a scream of pain but of rage. Maria had come from the operating theatre and was holding a chainsaw.
“Come on! Come on you ugly cow! I’m going to slice open your belly now. Stay still like the dumb cow your are!” Maria snarled through clenched teeth.
She charged the onos just as the onos charged at her. Jude tried to hold Maria back but she pulled away from his grip. Maria was in the way so the marines could not fire at the onos. They watched as Maria and the onos clashed. Maria swung her chainsaw like an axe and cut the onos deeply. The onos tried to gore Maria but she ducked gracefully under the horn. Lewis wondered where she got the strength to swing the chainsaw like that and move around so effortlessly. Then, Maria did something totally unexpected. She slid under the huge monster and thrust the chainsaw into its stomach. The chainsaw cut through and mashed the onos’ internal organs. Since, Maria was now under the onos, the marines could fire on the onos again. Maria continued mincing and cutting the stomach, unaware of the fact that if the onos suddenly fell, she would be squashed. The monster finally decided to run. It turned and made its way out of the infirmary. However, Cissy was not letting it go so easily. She had finally hammered the ammo into the HMG and she chased after the onos. The onos gave a final roar of pain before it keeled over and died.
The Admiral was worried. Her troops were in danger of being annihilated. They were just sitting around, defending outposts or facilities. They needed to push forward or they were sitting ducks. The best the defensive is the offensive. Now, the Kharaa could build up their forces. By rights, they should be piling on the pressure, pushing forward so that the Kharaa had no time to recover. But that was not the case. All because some people cared more about money than lives. She should not take orders from some tie-wearing idiots. The Admiral wondered for the thousandth time why the Frontiersmen were not under the government.
An officer interrupted her from her thoughts. “All units have been told to guard their area and not engage until further orders. Five squads are still engaged and could not be reached,” the officer reported.
The Admiral nodded, acknowledging the report. She dismissed him with the wave of her hand. She looked onto the reports on her desk and sighed. After all these years, she had never ever gotten used to the paperwork. She doubted anyone ever got used to paperwork. Except those tie-wearing idiots of course. The Admiral took a look at the recruitment reports. It was quite good actually. More people have been signing up for the Frontiersmen because they feel they have this obligation to save the place they are living on. However, even though so many people are signing up, it was pointless. What’s the point of a huge army if you are on the defensive? The Admiral quickly wrote up instructions to cut down recruitment. It cost a lot to train new recruits and all that money would be wasted if most of them would not even be used.
Four hours later, the Admiral finished sorting through all the files. She had a mild headache and took some aspirin. Doing paperwork always gave her headaches. The Admiral went to one of the meeting rooms. The next meeting was scheduled in half an hour but the Admiral was always early. Over the years, it had become quite a habit. Some people say that the Admiral had the phobia of being late. People began coming in one by one. Ten minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start, everyone was already present. All of them feared the Admiral’s anger and should because she’d be furious if anyone was late.
“Now how are we holding up?” the Admiral asked.
“We have sustained heavy loses on R-318, R-322, R-328 and on R-329. R-357 has been completely liberated and we are working on reconstruction efforts there. The rest of the planets in the Adrian Arm are doing fine. Our defences should be able to hold out for a week. Then, we will need to rotate the marines,” an officer reported.
“I see. Send heavy armour to those defending and give them HMGs as well,” the Admiral ordered.
“Ma’am, with all due respect, that is a bad idea,” another officer objected. “We are already short on resources as you have informed us. Why do you want to send all this expensive equipment down? We just cannot afford it.”
The Admiral stared hard at that officer. “Can you put a value on human life? Can you? How much? Ten dollars? Thousand? Maybe a billion. If you can’t, just send them the equipment.”
“Yes ma’am,” the officer said, bowing his head in shame.
The meeting went on for an hour. The Admiral tried everything in her power to preserve those marines’ lives. After the meeting, she went to meet some strategists and discussed some tactics with them. Over the next two hours, they planned defences and redeployed men. By the time it was over, it was eight at night. The Admiral got a small sandwich at the cafeteria and went straight back to work. She knew that eating so little was not good for health and her doctors frowned upon her irregular eating habits but there was no choice. The Admiral had no time whatsoever. War didn’t stop for dinner, lunch or breakfast.
It was almost midnight by the time the Admiral finished her work. She gave a sigh of relief and went down to the carpark. The Admiral had a Mercedes but no chauffeur. She could not afford such luxuries and besides, she didn’t think anyone could drive better than her anyway. The Admiral lived in a modest house, nothing fancy. When she got home, she saw her husband sitting on the couch, watching the television. There were no greetings or acknowledgements. The relationship was cold and the love long gone. It was all because of work. There was no time for each other anymore, just work. Especially in the Admiral’s case. She would get up early in the morning and leave the house before her husband even woke up. The Admiral would work through the day and come home late at night. Sometimes, her husband would already be sleeping so the day would have passed without them saying a word to each other.
She used to cook dinner for him but not anymore. She would eat her sandwiches in her office while he would eat hotdogs in his office, brought to him by his secretary. The Admiral suspected that he was having an affair with his secretary but she never brought it up. Many a time, she wondered why she never got a divorce. The Admiral would think about it before she went to sleep and promise herself that she would see her lawyer the next day. The next day, she would get up and think about all the work she had to do and postpone it to another day. Today was not unlike the other days. The Admiral looked at her husband and promised herself a divorce. She went up to her separate bedroom and went to sleep, dreaming of green pastures and blue skies.
Maria cut open the onos’ stomach with the chainsaw. Blood splattered all over the place but she did not care. She had to hurry. Trent did not have a lot of time left. Maria wielded the chainsaw with such precision, she was almost like a surgeon. When the hole was big enough, Maria plunged her hands into the open stomach and felt around for something hard. Her hand brushed against something and she grabbed hold of it. Maria pulled and Trent slid out easily. Trent was a wreck. He was covered with slime and was unconscious. The digestive juiced in the onos’ stomach had burned most of his armour and face. Sergeant Lane dropped a few more med packs and some more ammo. Once the nanites were in Trent, his face healed rapidly and in a few seconds, he was back into the world of the awake.
“Thank you,” Trent said as he wiped some of the slime off himself.
“No problem. Just don’t shake my hand,” Maria replied with a smile.
Suddenly, Trent reached for his pistol holster. Upon touching nothing, he drew his knife. Maria saw Trent’s eyes look over her back so she spun around, turning the chainsaw on as she turned. A skulk had seen that the marines were distracted and decided to take its chance. The skulk almost made it to Maria but she swung her chainsaw upwards, cutting right through the skulk. The skulk was splattered to bits. Some of it went onto the wall, some onto the ceiling and its head rolled on the floor.
“Now thank you for alerting me,” Maria said.
“No problem. Just don’t shake my hand.”
“Okay. Enough fun already. HA is ready to go. I want all of you to phase back and get your suits. Nicholas will stay behind and guard the infirmary. He will get his suit later. Now move!” Sergeant Lane ordered.
The marines all phased back except for Nicholas who would do so later. A pile of HA suits awaited them. There was another pile next to the HAs and it contained weapons. Trent took one of the suits and put it on. It had padding inside so it would be made more comfortable for the user. Trent put on the legs armour first as it was the easiest. This was followed by the body and then the arms. The helmet was the last to go on. The helmet restricted the line of sight slightly but it was only a minor annoyance. Even though it was hot in the armour, Trent was a lot safer. He was now immune to spores, thanks to the gas mask on the helmet and some spore countering nanites on the surface of the HA. Trent felt that he was invincible. Anyone behind two inches of armour probably would too. After taking a few steps and making sure the HA was properly adjusted, Trent took a HMG and welder. Sergeant Lane dropped a pack of mines for Cissy and told her to mine the infirmary. Once everyone was suited up, they phased back to the infirmary. As they waited for Nicholas to phase back, Cissy set up mines right outside the infirmary.
Timothy came out of the operating theatre at that time. Trent quickly asked how Sam was doing. Timothy informed Trent that everything was under control and Sam was more or less fixed up. However, he needed the facilities on the Forger
to patch the small remaining bits up. Trent thanked Timothy profusely and shook his hand. Nicholas phased back with his HA and HMG. Now, they had six HAs. Everyone had HMGs except Cissy and Jude. Nicholas was instructed to stay behind with Timothy whilst the rest would move out to the last hive.
The marines walked out of the infirmary and continued down the passageway. A lot of the lights were broken so there were many pools of darkness. Trent noticed it was getting much more humid as they went further down the passageway. Trent soon saw why. Twenty meters later, Trent saw that the ceiling had been severely damage and pipes were broken. Steam hissed out from the pipes, fogging up the whole place and making it very stuffy. The marines proceeded more cautiously now since their view was limited. Their clunking footfalls echoed against the walls as the moved. Soon, they came to a fork. The passageway to the left led to the dormitories while the one to the right led to the monorail. As Trent moved down the passageway, he noticed the insane number of vents on the ceilings and walls. His eyes were looking up much more than they were looking ahead. Click click click
The marines stopped and checked the vents. Lewis spotted the skulk and raised his weapon to fire. The skulk shot a few parasites and scampered off before Lewis could even fire a bullet. Most of the parasites flew harmlessly past but one got stuck in Cissy’s HA. Cissy cursed and tried to yank the parasite out but it was lodged firmly in the armour. Now, the Kharaa knew they were coming. The marines continued to walk down the corridor, past the locked doors and closer to the hive. Suddenly, the sound of grinding metal could be heard. It was the sound of a chainsaw cutting metal. Instinctively, the squad looked at Maria even though they knew she had left the chainsaw back at the infirmary.
“Argh! Come and get sliced and diced and minced and mashed! Ha ha ha ha!”
One of the locked doors suddenly slid open. A man dressed in rags leapt out from the door. He held a chainsaw and swung it with both hands. His eyes were that of a madman and darted all over the place. The man had many scratches all over him but the most prominent one as on his cheek. Or more correctly, where his cheek used to be. It had been sliced open and a fold of skin flapped uselessly against his face. The chainsaw almost cut Jude, who happened to be standing nearest to the door.
“Hey! We are friends. Put your weapon down and we can talk,” Maria told the man.
“What’s this?” the man asked as he swung his chainsaw again, this time much closer to its target. “Talking fades? Well, there is something for the TSA!”
The man laughed maniacally and swung the chainsaw again, charging as he did. Without a moment’s hesitation, Maria whipped out her pistol and shot the man’s left foot. The man howled in pain and dropped the chainsaw. It was lucky the chainsaw did not cut the madman or he would have been dead. Maria quickly jumped on him and pulled him to his feet. She pushed him into the room he came from and the other marines followed.
“Is that bullet really necessary?” Cissy asked.
“What do you want me to do? Reason with a madman?” Maria shot back.
Trent guarded the entrance with his HMG. Maria asked them to look for something to tie the man up. He was too dangerous to be allowed to run about. Maria requested for a med pack and Sergeant Lane dropped it. Trent could not help but notice that Sergeant Lane was now doing things a bit slower. Maria pulled the bullet out of the man’s leg before injecting the nanites. If she didn’t, the skin would grow over the bullet and there may be an infection. Lewis found some electrical cords and used them to tie the madman up. The madman was raving about how smart the “fades” had become to tie him up. Maria got so annoyed; she smashed the madman’s head with her HMG, knocking him unconscious. Cissy gave one of her disapproving looks but kept her mouth shut.
Once the man was tied up, the marines made sure that there were no vents big enough for skulks to squeeze through into the room. When they were satisfied, they got out of the room and locked the door. Nobody could get out and nothing could get in. Trent heard a low hum and immediately dropped to one knee and aimed his HMG. His instincts were correct. A fade was blinking towards them. The marines started shooting. A whole pile of lead went right into the fade but that did not deter it one bit. It swiped once at Cissy before blinking off. The fade hit Cissy but it hardly did any damage. All it did was make a scratch on the HA. The marines shot the fade’s back but it got away before they could kill it. Sergeant Lane dropped more ammo and asked them to hurry up. Trent welded the scratch in Cissy’s armour before continuing.
Before long, the marines came to the door that led to security checkpoint four. It was right next to the hive. All they had to do was walk a bit more and turn right and they would be at the hive. Jude opened the door and was blasted by about eight spikes. Four OCs stood waiting behind that door. Two OCs were on the floor and behind those two OCs were two DCs. On top of the DCs were another two OCs. If Jude had not been wearing any HA, he would definitely have been either dead or severely injured.
Cissy had never seen a DC before. Unfortunately, her view of the DCs were partially blocked by the OCs. The DCs were like short trunks with armour plates at the top. However, Cissy knew that the DCs were not there to be admired. She fired her GL four times, bouncing them against the wall and into the OCs. The explosions rocked the floor. Jude fired his grenades and the thundering explosions were repeated. Trent sneaked a look round the corner and saw that the OCs were still alive. Cissy fired her GL again and totally destroyed the alien chambers. Trent was the first to move into the security checkpoint. He made sure he did not slip on the yellow blood that now covered the floor.
The security checkpoint was almost totally overrun by bacterium. The metal detector was green and the booth where a security guard would have stood was covered in the rock hard bacterium. Sergeant Lane dropped a PG and a TF. Trent and Jude started building whilst the rest covered them. Sergeant Lane scanned the area so the marines could see any nearby Kharaa. Maria looked at her mini map and saw that two skulks, one fade and one onos were preparing to attack.
The skulks charged first. Cissy dispatched two of them with her GL. The skulks were blown to bits by the explosions. The last skulk did not stand a chance against the HMGs and was torn to shreds. The fade followed closely behind. It blinked over the marine’s heads and turned round to attack. The fade knew its limitations and blinked back to the hive after only two swipes. Jude was the one that got hit but he was uninjured. When the fade blinked round the bend, the onos came. By now, most of those carrying HMGs needed to reload so it was all up to those carrying GLs. Cissy fired her GL first. There were two direct hits on the onos but two of the grenades landed uselessly on the floor. While Cissy reloaded, Jude started shooting. All of his grenades landed perfectly, right under the onos. The four successive explosions seemed to lift the onos off its feet.
While Cissy and Jude were shooting, the onos tried to devour one of the HAs. The marines kept jumping away and tried to reload their HMGs as fast as they could. Finally, the onos gave up trying to devour and ran back to the hive before the marines could finish reloading. When the turret factory was completed, Sergeant Lane upgraded it. About twenty seconds later, he dropped three siege turrets. Everyone started building the turrets except Lewis, who was standing guard. Suddenly, Jude felt something hit his back and he fell over the siege turret he was building. He reached for his GL but a claw slashed his armoured hand. Fade!
Jude thought. The thunder of HMGs filled the room and chased the fade away.
“****! That looks bad,” Lewis said when he saw the deep grooves in Jude’s armour. “Let me weld you.”
Lewis used his welder and closed the holes in Jude’s armour. Ten seconds later, the turrets hissed to life. Sergeant Lane scanned the hive and the turrets fired their sonic blasts. The scan revealed two gorges and six DCs at the hive.
“Move into the hive and take down the DCs. There is no more room for anymore siege turrets,” Sergeant Lane said.
Trent noticed that weapons level three was up. He called for ammo but instead; Sergeant Lane gave them an armoury. Before Trent could start building, four skulks attacked. Two came from the front and were totally blown away but the other two managed to get a few bites out of Trent. Trent killed one with his HMG and kicked the other one. The skulk latched onto Trent’s armoured foot and tried to bite it off. Trent tried to shake it off but it was firmly stuck. He looked at it with some amusement and then, brutally squashed it like a bug with his other leg.
The onos and fade came again. The onos from the front and the fade from the back. The onos gored Trent with its horn, knocking him to the floor. Trent fired forty bullets into the onos and rolled to his feet. There was a huge dent in Trent’s chest armour and he thought there was going to be quite a bruise there. The onos turned to Maria and charged at her. Maria stepped aside as the onos ran past her and she fired sixty bullets into its side. Yellow blood splattered everywhere and a lot of it got onto Maria. The onos gave a deafening roar of pain and turned. It charged again and this time, it did not miss. The onos hit Maria squarely in her stomach and tossed her into the air. Maria landed with a clunk and Trent watched in horror as the onos ran over her. Maria curled up into a ball, trying to avoid the onos’ huge feet. However, one foot came crashing down on Maria and there was an audible snap. Maria screamed in agony and clutched her broken arm.
The onos was now bleeding profusely and started to run back to the hive. Lewis tried to block its way as he fired his HMG. With just a swing of its head, it knocked Lewis against the wall and ran off. The fade was doing a lot worse than the onos. It swiped blindly at Cissy and Jude and was going in circles. Cissy and Jude were using their pistols and blasting holes into the fade. The fade only got a few hits and then tried to run. Jude quickly switched back to his GL and shot four grenades at the exit. The fade stepped on the grenades just as they exploded. It was blown back into the room, mostly burnt. The smell of burnt flesh filled the entire room. The fade tried to get up but its strength failed it. Cissy ended the monster’s misery by putting ten bullets between its eyes. Lewis hollered for med packs. About five materialized and landed on the floor. Trent grabbed one and ran to Maria. He pulled her helmet off and injected her with nanites and morphine.
“Hand. Broken,” Maria groaned.
“We’ll get you to Timothy,” Trent said, trying to keep the worry out of his voice.
Trent dragged Maria onto the phase gate and phased her to Timothy. Then he built the armoury and collected the level three ammo. There was no time to think about the injured, only time to think about the mission. Sergeant Lane instructed Cissy and Jude to remain at the back whilst the rest would be in front. The marines assembled themselves and on the count of three, they rushed into the hive. The hive hung from the ceiling like a giant comma and was rocked by the sonic blasts. Directly below the hive was a railway track. A tram could be seen parked on the track and the DCs were on top of the tram, healing the hive. Two gorges were next to the DCs and once they saw the marines, they started spitting at them. Cissy and Jude fired their grenades at the DCs. The grenades landed neatly around the DCs and exploded. The gorges were flung into the air and landed with a wet plat on the floor. They regenerated their burnt flesh rapidly and tried to run behind the tram for cover. Trent did not even give them a chance as he shot them dead with his HMG.
The onos was under the hive healing itself. It heard the noisy intruders and immediately ran towards them. Two HMGs opened fire at once at the onos. A level three HMG was no joke and the onos could not ignore the pain. It roared in pain as it whipped its head from side to side. Some bullets hit its eyes, temporarily blinding him. With his vision gone, the onos ran around and kept hitting things with its horn. This gave the marines a chance to reload. When the onos’ eyes were regenerated, the marines started to shoot again. The onos realized it was better to run off and heal first so it ran behind the tram to get healed. Lewis chased after the onos, knowing that it could not let it go now. Lewis ran behind the tram and continued shooting. The onos was now on the brink of death and began panicking. It charged at Lewis and gored him twice. Lewis got the breath knocked out of him and he could feel the tip of the onos’ horn graze his stomach.
At that moment, the DCs exploded from the grenades, showering Lewis, who was the closest, with yellow blood and matter. The onos’ regeneration rate slowed drastically. Lewis was reloading his HMG and the onos saw it. It quickly rushed Lewis and tried to eat him. Lewis decided that he did not have any time to reload his HMG so he tossed it to one side and took out his pistol. He aimed for the eyes but none of the bullets hit. Once the pistol was empty, he whipped out his knife. The onos did not give him any more chance to attack and with just a fluid motion of its head, it tossed Lewis two meters into the air. The onos waited underneath Lewis, its mouth wide open. As Lewis fell, he extended his arm and made a grab for the tram. He barely made it and he hung onto the side. The onos was just underneath him and it jumped, trying to eat Lewis. Lewis quickly hoisted himself up onto the top of the tram and stayed there.
In the meantime, Trent was taking out the skulks that were spawning from the hive. Jude and Cissy were doing their part in blowing the hive up. Cissy was the one that took the hive down. She had reloaded for the fourth time and fired. The last grenade hit the hive and the hive exploded. Cissy dropped her GL in exhaustion. Then, she remembered the onos was still alive. She took out her pistol and walked right up to the onos. The onos was now freezing to death and it was trembling. It was kind of pathetic to see the monster freeze slowly to its death. Cissy tore her helmet off so she could look at the onos straight in the eye. She raised her pistol and fired once. Bang!
“That is for Steven!” Bang!
“That is for Tom!” Bang!
“That is for Francis!” Bang!
“That is for Ben!” Bang!
“And this is for Daniel!” Cissy screamed, tears streaming down her cheeks. She unloaded the rest of the clip into the onos. “That is for me.”
The onos crumpled to the ground and froze to death. The emotions Cissy had been suppressing for the sake of the mission now came pouring out. She had lost five teammates and four of them were close friends. Cissy fell to her knees and began to weep for her fallen comrades.
From the Shadows...