I have to do this because I am obliged to and hope that everyone takes note of this. My editor is SYPHON and I thank him for editing my work. Please be critical about my story. Very critical. I liked the response for Chapter 6. Next one will be out in two weeks, I hope. Separation“Death comes to us all. Embrace it, don’t fear it”
– Corporal Yonder
The day had begun even though the sun was not yet up. Everyday people went on with their everyday lives. People wearing business suits were crammed onto buses and trains. Cars and taxis brought people to workplaces. It was a well-oiled system with everybody knowing what to do and where to go. Marcus was part of the system. He had kissed his loving wife goodbye and was in his limousine on the way to the office. Marcus went through files and documents as he traveled to his office. Time was a very rare commodity in Marcus’ life and he needed to save every bit he could. When the limousine reached the office building, Marcus kept his documents and got out. The door was opened for him and his palm top was given to him, with the morning news already uploaded. It was a well-oiled system.
Marcus took the lift up, reading the news as he waited for the lift to come to his level. When the lift doors opened, his secretary gave him the schedule for the day. Marcus nodded as he listened to his secretary. Just as Marcus sat down, his secretary called him. She informed him that Dan wanted to see him immediately. Marcus immediately froze as he felt a cold chill shoot up his spine. Does he know?
Marcus asked himself immediately. He shook his head to regain composure and took a deep breath. There is no way he can know. I scanned the room for bugs.
Having reassured himself, Marcus stepped into the lift and went up one level. Dan’s secretary looked at Marcus and signaled that he go in.
“Sir? You -,” Marcus started.
“Dan. My name is Dan, not sir.”
“Yes Dan. You requested a meeting?”
“Yes I did. Quite an urgent meeting. A very urgent meeting concerning you. There has been some news going around. Some news concerning you. You have been spotted going to the Frontiersmen training facility. And it just so happens that the Admiral was also there. Some people believe in coincidence but I don’t. Care to tell me why you were there?”
“Who told you this?”
“Well you tell that butterfly to get its facts straight. I was delivering the Frontiersmen’s new budget to the Admiral. I needed to be there to negotiate with the Admiral. I can’t let her take too much money right?”
“I see,” Dan said as he rubbed his chin, deep in thought. “You couldn’t meet the Admiral at her office?”
Marcus froze for the second time that day but he quickly recovered. He couldn’t let his guard down in front of Dan. Think! Think up a reason! Any reason!
Marcus told himself frantically. Marcus began to sweat as Dan stared at him, waiting for an answer. Finally, Marcus said, “I needed her to sign the budget as soon as possible. There was no time so I looked her up at the training facility.”
Dan sat there silently, staring at Marcus. Marcus wished Dan would quit staring at him like that. The tension was almost unbearable. Marcus thought that his collar seemed a little tighter but dared not loosen it in front of Dan. It could be considered a sign of weakness.
“Okay,” Dan finally said. “You may go. But remember, the butterflies are watching. If I were you, I would take care.”
With Dan’s warning replaying over and over in his head, Marcus went back to his office. The game had been brought up a notch. Dan suspected something but could not hone in on it yet. Marcus had to be careful now. One more slip and he could end up like the president. He concluded that he must’ve been followed that day. Marcus wanted to call the Admiral but was worried that the office might be bugged. He had to get out before making contact. Marcus worked all the way to lunch but the annoying voice of Dan kept gnawing at the back of his mind. When lunch came, Marcus told his secretary to re-schedule his appointments to the next day. Marcus went to his limousine, trying not to look too conspicuous, and told the driver to go to the hotel, the Ritz. As the limousine started, Marcus used his vid-phone to call the Ritz. He instructed that a car and a room were to be reserved for him under a different name. When he arrived at the Ritz, Marcus checked in and went into the lift. He took the lift to the twenty-fourth floor, where his room was, but did not go into the room. Instead, he took the stairs down. Marcus hoped he had tricked anyone who was following him into thinking that he was in the room. At the basement car park, Marcus took the car and drove off. I am so paranoid!
Marcus thought. Changing cars and pretending to be at the Ritz, Marcus hoped it was enough to throw the “butterflies” off. Marcus called the Admiral and arranged a meeting at a fancy restaurant. He warned her that she might be followed. Marcus parked his car a few blocks away from the restaurant and walked the rest of the way. Marcus arrived at the restaurant ten minutes before the Admiral. It was a Chinese restaurant and some lanterns hung from the ceiling, just to add atmosphere. The Admiral arrived alone and nobody seemed to be following or watching her.
“What is it?” the Admiral asked. “Is Dan onto you?”
“I think so,” Marcus replied, worry evident on his face. “He knew we talked the other day. He has people following me. I hope I lost them.”
“Hope you lost them? Hoping is not enough. Tell me what you did.”
“I told my driver to get me to the Ritz. I called ahead to get a room and a car. Told them to register it under a different name. So they think I’m still at the hotel while I take the car. I parked the car a few blocks away and walked here.”
“Idiot! You’re not safe. The only smart thing you did was to walk here. Let’s get out of here,” the Admiral snarled. “Okay, here’s what we are going to do. You leave by the backdoor first. I will call a cab and when the cab arrives, I will come out.”
Marcus nodded and left through the back. The Admiral called for a cab and was told it was to arrive in two minutes. She sipped her tea and checked to see if anyone was watching her. There was a Chinese man who had just entered the restaurant and was speaking rapidly into a vid-phone, looking in the Admiral’s general direction. When the Admiral spotted him, he turned away and kept his vid-phone. She quickly exited from the back and the cab arrived just at that moment. Marcus and the Admiral hopped into the cab. The Admiral asked the cab driver to bring them to the zoo.
“You think we lost them?” Marcus asked.
“Unlikely,” the Admiral replied. “But they may not have spotted both of us together.”
The Admiral called someone with her vid-phone and said something that Marcus did not catch. When the cab reached the zoo, the Admiral gave him quite a generous tip. The Admiral walked to the underground car park briskly, Marcus following her. A car was waiting for them and they got in. The driver was wearing a military uniform and the Admiral assured Marcus that the driver could be trusted.
“Are we safe now?” Marcus asked again.
“We should be. Next time, be more careful. We cannot afford to be seen together. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand. Now, I realized that we need an ally in this. Just the two of us trying to take down Dan is no easy task. Furthermore, we need a third-party, someone Dan would not suspect, who can be our relay for information. What do you think?”
The Admiral smiled at that suggestion. “I have just the candidate. One of the best I’ve had. Three star –”
“No. We need someone from the TSA. Your military boys will arouse too much suspicion. Remember, Dan will be watching the Frontiersmen very closely. I was thinking about Philip to be our third-party.”
“Philip. A VP in the TSA. Dan has absolutely no reason to suspect him. But what Dan doesn’t know is that Philip wants to bring Dan down too. We can use him.”
“No way,” the Admiral argued. “He’s like one of you. Only cares about money. He will go to the highest bidder. We cannot trust such a person.”
“Then we will be the highest bidder. Besides, he wants to bring Dan down more than anything in the world. I know him. He can be a useful ally. He has access to some files that Dan dosen’t want me to see.”
The Admiral pondered on that point for a while. “Fine. But first, I will have to do a background check. Make sure he’s clean.”
“Fine by me,” Marcus said. “Have you bugged the places yet?”
“Half of the places. It’s not as easy as you think. But by two weeks, we will have ears everywhere. Then we can nail him. Do you have a secure phone line?”
“Yes. One Dan doesn’t know about. Here’s the number,” Marcus said.
“Good. Use it when you want to contact me. I also have a secure line,” the Admiral said and they exchanged numbers, committing them to memory. “Time is short. See you.”
Marcus nodded. The Admiral dropped Marcus off a few blocks away from the Ritz and drove off. Marcus made sure he wasn’t being followed and went to car park, where his limousine had been waiting all the while. He hoped that nobody had noticed him.
The pain seemed to be constantly increasing. There were voices but Trent couldn’t hear what they were saying. The lights were very bright and Trent had to squint. He was lying down and all he saw was the ceiling. He was too tired and hurt to even move his neck. The voices got louder but somehow, Trent could not understand what the voices were saying. Trent felt so useless and helpless. He wanted to say something but nothing came out. He licked his lips and tasted blood. Suddenly, his view became blurry and unfocused. No! Focus!
Trent thought fiercely. It seemed imperative that he stayed awake. The world became clearer again as things focused.
Sergeant Lane’s face came into view. His mouth opened and closed but Trent could not hear what he was saying. There was a look of concern on his face. Then, Sergeant Lane was pushed aside and Nora came into view. Nora had a look of pure concentration on her face as she studied Trent. She took a flashlight and shone the beam of light into Trent’s eye. Trent was momentarily blinded. Take it away! I can’t see!
Suddenly, Trent could hear properly. The sounds flooded into Trent’s ears and he was overwhelmed. Everything seemed a lot louder than before. He could even hear every individual’s breathing. And then it was all gone. Except for Nora’s voice. It sounded slightly muffled but he could still hear it.
“Trent? Trent? Can you hear me?” Nora asked, her voice tense. Yes! I can hear you!
Trent wanted to say but he could not. All he could do was look helplessly at Nora. Nora nodded at someone and a few seconds later, the ground seemed to shake. Trent felt himself being rocked slightly. The pain was amplified by five times by just that little movement. The ceiling seemed to lower itself. Trent realized that he was being lifted up. He tried to feel with his fingers and realized that he was on a stretcher. He felt himself being moved.
Trent could not remember where he was. The ceiling looked very familiar but he could not figure out where he had seen it before. He could be on a mission but he was not sure. Trent remembered that he had gone on a mission but was unsure whether it was over. The mission could be still on. But the stretcher ruled that possibility out. There were no stretchers on missions. Only stretchers could be found on the Forger. The Forger
…that was it! He was on the Forger
. Kumar’s face came into view and confirmed Trent’s deduction. Kumar’s face was filled with worry. Trent wanted to tell him not to worry but Kumar’s face had gone.
Trent tried to remember how he had got on the Forger
but nothing came. It was as if there was a huge gap in his memory. In fact, he could not remember the mission he had been on. He tried to remember but only bits and pieces came to mind and that made him even more confused. Trent gave up on trying to remember. The others would tell anyway. Trent looked at the ceiling and saw that it had changed. He could tell he was in the infirmary. He guessed that Nora would put him into a healing tank and he would be up and walking by the next day. However, he was not put into a healing tank. Trent saw that he was going into the operating theatre.
The pain was almost unbearable now. The pain seemed to grow and grow. Trent moaned in agony. Timothy’s face hovered above his and seemed to be looking at his neck. Timothy spoke but no sound reached Trent’s ears. However, he could make out what Timothy was saying by reading his lips. We’ll fix you up buddy.
Trent sure hoped that Timothy could. The pain seemed to want to kill him and Trent gave a groan. Timothy held up a needle and it was filled with a red liquid. Suddenly, raw fear gripped Trent. He did not know why but he was just terrified. Trent tried to get away but that only made the pain much worse. Timothy slid the needle smoothly into Trent’s arm and pushed the plunger. No! No! Take it out of me!
Trent screamed in his mind.
Within seconds, Trent felt the pain slowly ebb away. His vision became clouded and his thoughts slow. And that was when everything was the clearest. Red! It was red!
Trent screamed inside his head as it hit him. The memories hit him with full force. It hit him just as the world turned black.
Trent had rested enough and was ready for the new day. He was in the canteen eating breakfast with the rest of the squad, Kumar and Todd. The canteen was filled with chatter as everyone was talking. Sam and Cissy were sitting together at one end of the table and Sam was telling some pretty funny jokes to her. Everyone on board the Forger
already knew that both of them were in a relationship. However, Trent thought that the timing was a bit inconvenient, considering the circumstances. They were in a military ship, that meant no dates, and in the middle of a war. But he supposed that love transcends all boundaries.
John, Jake and Lewis were in a serious discussion about the latest car model. Nicholas, Kumar, Todd, Maria and Leonardo were arguing about the ban on cigarettes and cigars that was imposed twenty years ago. Alan sat in a corner quietly, as nobody was particularly interested in talking to him, and ate his food. Trent was pondering on his dream and was deep in thought. The dreams were still happening and it kept coming back. When Trent had been on earth, he had kept postponing his appointment with the psychiatrist. In the end, he had not gone at all. Maybe he was scared to find out what his dreams were but Trent didn’t think that was the main reason. He promised himself that he was going to see the psychiatrist no matter what once he got back to earth. Trent tried to recall the details of his dream as he ate quietly. Nowadays, he was getting more information from his dreams. Instead of just getting feelings and emotions, he was getting a little bit of sound. He was sure there was an image but he couldn’t remember it, yet.
There were a variety of sounds. There were sounds of glass breaking, deep growling and even muffled laughter. Trent could not piece things together yet. However he knew it had something to do with the Kharaa. The dreams had only started after his first mission. Trent hoped that once the war was over, his dreams would stop too. Otherwise, he would have to take some anti-dream drug. He wouldn’t want to wake up everyday in cold sweat, just barely able to hold back his scream. Trent sighed in frustration. He stopped thinking about his dreams and thought about his family. It was ten in the morning and it was unlikely that anyone would be at home. Trent really wanted to talk to them but it would just have to wait till night, when his parents and brother had finished their work.
Trent finished up his breakfast and went to the infirmary. Jude was beat up pretty bad by the onos and Trent wanted to see how he was doing. In the infirmary, Jude was lying in a bed reading the news from a palm top. Ronald was standing next to Jude and explaining how the stock market worked. Nora was fiddling with a computer while Timothy seemed to be trying out some new equipment.
“Hey Jude!’ Trent greeted. “See that you got all patched up.”
“Thanks to the miracle workers,” Jude said and gestured to the doctors. “But their service leaves much to be desired.”
“Timothy, how long is he going to be out of action?” Trent asked.
“Two days, give or take. Longer if he doesn’t shut up,” Timothy replied. “You will not believe the things he asks for. Says it’s his rights.”
“Damn right! Any hospital gives me better service! You won’t even let me have coffee.”
They talked for a while. Trent noticed that some of the stuff Timothy was looking at looked very high-tech and sleek.
“What are you playing with?” Trent asked, curious.
“See this?” Timothy said, holding up a pen-shaped device. He pushed a button and a four-inch laser beam shot out. The amazing thing was that the laser beam stayed at four inches. “Laser cutter. Just found out about all this stuff in cargo holding. Todd and Andy didn’t tell me about all this cool stuff!”
“Boys and their toys,” Nora commented, rolling her eyes. “Can never separate them.”
“So how does the laser keep at that length?” Trent inquired.
“Beats me. But who cares? This thing is the best knife in the world. It can cut through almost anything. Surgery would be a lot easier with this around.”
“You got any extra?”
“Sure. There is a whole crate full of these. Take one,” Timothy said and gave one to Trent. “Hey, you remember that guy you rescued a few weeks ago. The scientists on earth have found out something really interesting. It seemed that there were small traces of bacterium in his bloodstream. Weird huh?”
“Yeah. Anyway, thanks. See you around.”
Trent pocketed the laser cutter and checked the time. There was still forty minutes until the briefing for the next mission so he went to the resource center to kill the time. Zack was there with Pamela and was playing “Doom 5” with her. Trent watched in amusement as Zack beat her over and over again. Trent felt someone tap him lightly on the shoulder and he turned to see whom it was. It was Sam.
“Well, I thought you had forgotten all about me since you got a new girlfriend,” Trent said.
“Forget you?” Sam asked in mock surprise. “The ugliest person in the whole universe? Not a chance.”
“How’s things with your family?”
“Better. Much better. I think I may quit the Frontiersmen soon. My dad doesn’t seem to enthusiastic about it. Not that I don’t like the Frontiersmen but you know, family is more important. I don’t want to be on bad terms with my family. It just hurts too much. And doing research is much safer. If I quit, Cissy will quit too. Then maybe we will have a chance for a proper relationship.”
“Yeah. I understand.”
“Hey Trent, want some chocolate?” Zack suddenly asked.
“Sure,” Trent said and took one from Zack. “Can I join in?”
“Can you be on my team? Zack is bullying me!” Pamela said.
Trent chuckled and joined the game. He was winning by ten points but had to stop. The briefing was about to start and Trent, Sam, Zack and Pamela hurried to the briefing room. They were five minutes early and the first ones to get there. Seconds later, Sergeant Lane came in with a thick file and greeted them. The marines returned the greeting and waited for everyone else to arrive. When everyone was seated and ready, Sergeant Lane began.
“Okay. This is a last minute mission. Originally, we are supposed to go back to R-329 but something cropped up. R-329 will have to wait. The mission we are undertaking is unique. Unique in the sense that there will be no buildings and we won’t be destroying a hive. I hope you all are familiar with the A-class battleships. It can carry up to ten thousand people. So it is one big ship. Our next mission will be on the Eagle
, an A-class battleship. We will not be taking down any hives as it will be impossible with a squad of our size. Here is what happened to the Eagle
. It got infected two weeks ago and the Kharaa has taken over the whole ship. Before the ship was totally taken over, the crew got it into their heads that they set the ship’s coordinates to earth, thinking they may hold on long enough to reach earth and get some help. Of course, they didn’t make it so now we have an infected A-class battleship traveling to earth. You can guess what will happen if it lands on earth. Our mission is to get in and change the coordinates of the ship and direct it away from earth. Since we are the only ones that can reach the ship the fastest, we are entrusted with this mission.”
The marines cursed their bad luck. They had rather be back on R-329 than on an A-class battleship. They had heard that people could get lost on ships of that magnitude. However, a mission was a mission and they were going to carry it out with a hundred percent effort.
“Now for the details. We will phase in and wind up on the bottom level where the engines are. We will be at cooling system, right next to the engine room. The lifts are broken so we won’t be using them. Anyway, they would be too dangerous to use,” Sergeant Lane explained. A three-dimensional image of the Eagle
appeared and Sergeant Lane pointed out their route. “We will move up the stairs to level three. Now, reports say that the stairs would be blocked by rubble and debris so we have to cross level three to emergency ladder. We will climb up to level seven and move past the cabins to stairwell nineteen. Stairwell nineteen ends at level ten. We will have to cross the simulators, go through computer room nine and the viewing gallery. The viewing gallery is basically a slope, as you can see here, and brings us to level twelve, where our objective is. Navigations is just a few hundred meters away. Is everybody clear so far?”
The marines nodded their heads. They had everything in their heads and they would look at the plan one more time in the resource center. It was going to be a long day for them.
“Since, we won’t be taking the hives out, the Forger
can’t pick us up. So we will have to phase back. The phase room is on level nineteen. There is a stairwell that will bring us straight to level nineteen,” Sergeant Lane said, rotating the map a little. “We will have to walk quite a bit to the phase room. Canteen number four has numerous vents so we will detour around that just to be safe. From there, we will cut across this huge area and recycling plant. Go about one and half kilometers through the nuclear silo and we are there. Now, we will all get level one armour and weapons. Everyone will be equipped with a welder, hand grenade and med pack. I will not be in a CC dropping med packs for you so use them wisely. Everyone will be going for this mission since we really need the firepower. You are all dismissed. Report back in nine hours with your gear.”
Trent and Sam decided to get some shuteye first. They sure as hell weren’t going to get any rest during the mission. They woke up eight hours later and went to the armoury. They passed Willy on the way as he was cleaning the walls. Willy only gave them a snarl before going back to his work. Alan was the only one at the armoury and was looking through all the equipment. Trent and Sam ignored him and proceeded to get their gear on. Once they were done, they checked each other to see if everything was functioning properly.
“You know something?” Alan suddenly said. “I see both of you together a lot. Are you guys in some sort of **** relationship? Doesn’t Cissy find it weird being with a **** guy?”
“Shut up. Do you always have to be an ****?” Sam said angrily.
“Ignore him. He’s probably jealous he can’t get a girl,” Trent said with a mocking smile.
“Hey! You shut up. Because of you, I almost got killed yesterday,” Alan retorted.
“What? You blaming me now? Well, don’t blame other people just because your shooting sucks. You know what sucks? Your attitude. The last mission, you weren’t hurt badly. But you kept whining like a sissy and stayed in base while we were out there risking our ****. You are a big fat bastard.”
“I’m not like you idiots. I’m not in love with death. So you can go to hell if you don’t like the way smart people like me think,” Alan said defiantly.
“Then why the hell did you join us in the first place? You should’ve stayed back on earth and hid in the rat hole that you came from,” Trent replied angrily and glared at Alan.
Alan stared back. Neither wanted to break their gaze. It was all a matter of pride. At that moment, the rest of the squad came in, chatting happily. They saw Trent and Alan staring hard at each other, locked in a battle of pride, each trying to intimidate the other. The squad just stood there awkwardly at that tense moment. Finally, Alan looked away defeated. The squad armed themselves quickly and silently. Nobody knew what to say to break the tension. An hour later, everyone was back at the briefing room and Sergeant Lane went through the plan again. He also informed them that the Kharaa already had two hives and were probably setting up their third hive. They were to stay away from the hive locations at the training area, level five, gravity generator, level fifteen and storage area C on level forty.
The marines went to the phase room, their minds focused on the mission. Willy was waiting for them and had the phase gates already set up. Andy announced that they were within phase range through the intercom. Sergeant Lane nodded and ten marines stepped onto the available phase gate. They had to go in two groups because there were not enough phase gates to phase everyone at the same time. Trent, Zack, Pamela, John and Sergeant Lane were going to phase in ten seconds after the first group. Sergeant Lane pressed a button and the marines disappeared. Trent and the remaining marines wasted no time and hopped onto the phase gate. Sergeant Lane pressed a different button and stood on the phase gate next to Trent’s. The monotonous voice of the computer did a countdown from ten seconds and phased the remaining marines onto the Eagle
. There was the customary white flash and then, Trent was through.
Cooling system was incredibly dark. The lights were all broken so the marines had to turn on their flashlights. Cooling systems was basically an average sized square room with a low ceiling. Pipes ran on the walls, bringing cold water to the engines. Next to the marines was a giant turbine and it made a low humming sound as it span. There were a few traces of blood on the floor but no bodies were seen. There were two doors leading into cooling, each directly opposite each other. Sam and Maria were covering one door while Lewis and Leonardo covered the other.
Sergeant Lane signaled that Alan and Ronald cover the back while Trent and he would be in front. The rest were to keep spread out in the middle if possible. Trent opened the door and peered out. The coast was clear and he waved his hand, indicating that the area was clear. The marines walked carefully into the corridor, trying to make as little sound as possible. They were up against a whole ship full of Kharaa and their best chance was to be unnoticed. A little clicking was all it took to alert the marines. It was coming from a corner and was approaching them fast. Sergeant Lane ordered them back to cooling system with the wave of his hand. The marines rushed back into cooling, hoping they were unnoticed. Ronald closed the door just as the skulk turned the corner. The marines waited nervously on the other side of the door.
Trent heard the skulk stop right outside the door. He heard some sniffing sounds, as if the skulk was trying to pick up a scent. The marines instinctively backed away from the door, their fingers on the trigger. Go away you stupid skulk!
Trent thought. As if the skulk had heard Trent’s thoughts, it scampered away. Sergeant Lane waited a minute before telling Trent to look again. Trent peeked into the corridor and did not see any sign of the skulk or Kharaa. The marines moved into the corridor once again. Trent checked the corners and saw that all was quiet. The marines moved with great stealth and precision. The corridor they were in was dimly lit and the lights kept on flickering. More than once, the marines had seen shadows that looked like skulks. Soon, they came to the stairs.
Sergeant Lane took the lead at that point. He looked up and looked for any hostiles. Thankfully, there were none. Then, Sergeant Lane felt a tap on his shoulder. He spun round immediately, LMG raised. It was only Trent. Trent gestured behind him and pointed to his ear. Sergeant Lane pricked his ears and listened intently. There was the soft, but unmistakable sound of the gorge. It made wet squishing sounds every time it jumped and it was easily distinguishable from all the other sounds. It was coming from behind. Sergeant Lane immediately ordered his marines to move up the stairs and try to avoid contact with the gorge. Hopefully, the gorge would not go up the stairs too.
The marines waited on the second level, to see if the gorge was coming. Luck was not on their side. The squishing noises got closer and Sergeant Lane ordered his marines to keep moving, as silently as they could. Then, there was another sound. It sounded like two or three skulks but Trent couldn’t be sure. Those sounds were coming from above and they were getting closer too. The marines were trapped between the Kharaa. It looked like the only way out was through confrontation. The marines got their weapons ready and waited.
The marines did not have to wait long. The skulks came first and were caught off guard. The marines’ LMGs made quick work of the skulks, shredding flesh with the bullets. The lifeless corpses rolled down the steps and rested at the marines’ feet. The gorge came a few seconds later but it was not as clueless as the skulks were. As soon as it saw the marines, it turned and ran. Ronald and Alan chased after it, firing their LMGs as they ran. The gorge tried to run backwards and spit at Ronald and Alan at the same time but its efforts were futile. Ronald and Alan dodged the green globs of spit effortlessly. As Alan emptied his clip, the gorge flipped over and died. Its blood flowed freely down the stairs, an obvious sign that there were intruders.
“****! We got to move. Now!” Sergeant Lane ordered.
The marines ran the rest of the way to the third level. The way up to level four was blocked by tones of rubble. Trent guessed that there must have been an explosion of some kind. Level three was very dull and boring. Everything was gray, the floor, the walls and even the ceiling. The lights also seemed to have sort of grayish quality. Trent saw that the wall was scarred with bullet holes and some dead skulks lay scattered across the floor. There had been a battle here and Trent wondered if there were any survivors. However, he banished that thought as it was impossible.
The squad walked past chemical storage and turbine generator before coming to a big open area. The area they were in was called “area 3”, one of the many huge areas in the ship. It had an opening where the ceiling should be so people on the fourth floor could look down onto the third floor. A dead soldier lay in the middle of the area, with his gun on his lap. It was as if the soldier was still guarding the area, even in death. Suddenly, there was a low growl from the fourth level. The marines quickly retreated into the shadows and crouched. A skulk jumped from the fourth level and landed on the third level, right in front of the marines. Trent was about to fire but sergeant Lane shook his head. What?
Trent thought in surprise. Don’t shoot the skulk?
Then, Trent finally understood. The skulk may have landed in front of them but its back was turned. It did not see the marines and had not noticed them yet. Trent was considerably nervous. The skulk was so close Trent could reach out and touch it. The skulk looked to its left and right, looking for the marines, totally unaware that they were right behind it. Those few seconds that the skulk stood there seemed like forever to the marines. Finally, the skulk started to move. Alan let out a sigh of relief and the skulk stopped. The marines glared angrily at Alan, wanting to strangle him. The skulk began to turn slowly.
It was close to eleven when the Admiral decided to stop. She could finish up the rest of the work the next day. She was mentally exhausted and drained, mostly due to the issue with Dan and Marcus. The Admiral packed her stuff and went down to her car. What a headache that day had been. She kept on getting calls from Marcus asking if Philip was clean, even though she had repeatedly told him that calling so much would jeopardize security. Philip had seemed clean, from the records and now she was just waiting for her spies to report back.
Then there was the issue on recruitment. In the past week, the death rates have gone up dramatically and that seemed to turn people off. A now there was a stupid new station bad mouthing the Frontiersmen and spreading false rumours everywhere. It was really frustrating. So now, there were short on soldiers but had a lot of funds, thanks to the government’s new policy. The Kharaa were also providing a lot of trouble. Somehow, they had managed to bolster their numbers and had started retaking facilities that they had lost to the marines earlier on. The worst was planet R-329. They had lost all facilities except one and the Admiral was seriously considering giving up that planet for the time being.
As the Admiral reached her car, she heard some footsteps behind her. She wondered who could still be working but did not bother to see who it was. The footsteps stopped right behind as she unlocked her car. The Admiral got a bit worried, even though she had a black belt in aikdo.
“Hello Admiral. I didn’t expect you to be here,” a familiar voice said. “It must be my luck to meet you here.”
“What is it you want Dan?” the Admiral asked.
“A very subtle request I must say. In a hurry? To go back to your husband who doesn’t love you. To that house where you are so alone. To go back to that lousy life you lead?”
“Cut the crap Dan. What is it that you want?”
“I know you have been meeting Marcus. I know both of you have been talking. And planning,” Dan said.
“You are wrong. I haven’t seen Marcus in a week. And the last time I saw him, he gave me this stupid budget thing. You suspect we are having an affair? Marcus is not my type, trust me.”
“Your sense of humour is amusing,” Dan said sarcastically. “And I do have proof you know.”
“What proof? I’m sure you have no proof because I have not been meeting up with Marcus. Can you get that into your thick skull? I really detest people like you and Marcus: only caring about money and yourself. You think everybody will backstab for the opportunity for money. Well, have more faith in humanity Dan. Not everyone is like you. Hell, most of us are not like you. Why don’t you wake up and become a better person,” the Admiral scolded.
“Maybe you are right and maybe not. But the world is not filled with people as charming as you Admiral,” Dan said, unaffected by the Admiral’s admonishing. He took out a couple of photos and handed them to the Admiral. “Take a look Admiral. Can you deny facts?”
The Admiral took the photos and looked at them. It was of her meeting with Marcus back at that Chinese restaurant. How?
The Admiral thought. She managed to keep her expression blank and pretended that they meant nothing.
“Fake,” the Admiral declared. “They’re fake. Any pro can make a fake photo for the right price. And I’m sure you are willing to pay any price.”
“Your self-delusion amazes me. Well, actually, I wouldn’t be surprised. You probably have deluded yourself for years. Especially since you let your son die.”
The Admiral froze. Her mind went totally blank. That was old history, very old history. At that moment, she heard Marcus’ words echo in her mind. Remember, Dan always has something on you.
She had been wrong to underestimate Dan. Her son had died at the tender age of six, the age of fun and excitement. His name was Danny and the Admiral resented the fact that her nemesis had a name similar to that of her son’s. She remembered that night all too well. The Admiral, her husband and her son had gone out for dinner to celebrate a joyous occasion. She had just been promoted and was elated. The dinner was great and her husband had asked for the best wine in the restaurant. One bottle led to the next and the next thing she knew, both of them were quite drunk.
Not at her best, the Admiral decided to drive the family home. At that time, the Admiral was still quite young and enjoyed smoking pot. So, in that drunken haze, she had smoked some as she drove. Her husband, slightly more sober than here, had asked her to stop but she just laughed it off. Her son was asking her what she was smoking. The Admiral never saw the bend. The car just crashed right off the road and rolled over a few times. She vividly remembered the smell of gasoline and pot. That cursed pipe was lying somewhere but she couldn’t find it. At that point, her head cleared and she realized the danger they were in. She dragged her husband out of the car first and that was a mistake she regretted. Just as she was about to go back for her son, the car exploded.
The pain hurt like hell. The pain was like an icicle that cut straight through her heart. She remembered running to the burning car, crying and screaming. The Admiral had tripped over a rock and hit her head on the ground. She woke up in a hospital. Police had questioned her when she was better and they learned the truth. But they felt pity for the poor women and gave a false report. Of course, it was not entirely pity that made the cops file the false report. About ten thousand dollars might have swayed their decision slightly. Of course, that did not make her feel any better. What made it worse was that her husband has blamed ever since.
“Reminiscing on old memories Admiral? They can be quite painful. That is why I always look to the future. There is so much hope in the future. You know, it wasn’t your fault. You could’ve only saved one,” Dan said, with a smile on his face.
“Shut up you bastard!” the Admiral said through clenched teeth. How could he have known? It was so long ago. And there were no records.
“My! What a temper. Did I say something wrong? Well, just know that I know everything. The bribe and the drunk driving. Won’t do much for your reputation if the public came to know about it. If you do not wish that to happen, I suggest you keep far away from Marcus,” Dan suggested. “Have a nice day!”
A limousine came down into the car park and Dan got in. The limousine drove off with the Admiral staring hatefully at it. If Dan thought that he could intimidate the Admiral, he was dead wrong. The Admiral swore that she would do whatever it took to bring Dan down. Anything.
The skulk stared right at the marines but it didn’t move. It didn’t attack and the marines didn’t either. There was something different and captivating about the skulk. It wasn’t any normal skulk, it was unique. The skulk didn’t look any different from any other skulk the marines had encountered. Its claws were of standard length, its skin the usual brown and its teeth, razor sharp as it should be. Then, Trent understood. It was all in the eyes, the eyes that was so intriguing and captivating. Instead of having yellow eyes, it had red eyes. The red in the eyes seemed to swirl and twist, as if it wasn’t an eye but some sort of beautiful red mist.
The eyes filled Trent with fear. Terror gripped him and his limbs seemed to lock up. The skulk looked at every marine and then, its gaze stopped at Trent. Trent thought that the skulk was smiling right at him. And Trent remembered. He remembered where he had seen those eyes before and he remembered his dream. He had seen those eyes back on R-329, on his first mission. Trent recalled the moment when a skulk was trying to bite his fingers off. He had never thought about it before. The skulk’s eyes were red but Trent did not really pay attention. Could this be the same skulk? The skulk that I thought died on R-329?
Trent wondered. Is this why I have been having dreams? Because of a red eyed skulk?
His dream was a bizarre one. He would have a first person perspective and would be walking down a long dark hallway. At the end of the doorway was a door. As he gets closer to the door, he would hear some children laughing. Trent would be filled with a warm fuzzy feeling and he would pick up his pace. Suddenly, there would be sound of glass shattering and the whole hallway would break into pieces. Trent would fall and land in a dark room. Then, he would see the skulk and the red eyes. There was something in those eyes that filled him with terror. Then, he would wake up.
The skulk took a step closer to the marines and yet, nobody fired a single shot. Suddenly, the skulk shook its head and blinked. To the marines’ surprise, the skulk’s eyes were yellow. Not only did the colour of its eyes change, its personality also changed. It let out a dangerous growl and leaped at the marines. Sam aimed his LMG and put ten bullets into the skulk. The little beast was dead even before it hit the ground with a wet smack.
“We made enough noise already. Keep moving people,” Sergeant Lane said, leading the way.
They came to a narrow and long passageway. The walls of the passageway were filled with buttons that blipped constantly. The marines moved quickly, not liking the claustrophobic feel the passageway presented. When they almost reached the end, Ronald suddenly shouted for their attention. Behind them, a fade came into view. The situation had advantages and disadvantages for the marines. The passageway was so narrow that the marines had to move in single file, eliminating any chance of multiple people firing at the fade. However, the fade did not have maneuverability in such a narrow passageway. Apparently, the fade felt that the odds were in its favour and it blinked in.
Ronald only fired ten bullets when the fade reached him. The fade swiped at Ronald’s head at an attempt to take it off but Ronald ducked just in time. The fade’s claw smashed the buttons on the wall, causing some sparks to fly into Ronald’s face. Ronald gave a cry of surprise and fell down. Alan, who was behind Ronald, started shooting at the fade. The fade flinched at the pain and swatted Alan in irritation. Alan fell backwards onto Nicholas. The fade turned its attention back to Ronald and swiped at him. Ronald raised his hand to deflect the blow. The claw made a deep cut in Ronald’s hand and blood splattered all over Ronald’s face. With his uninjured hand, Ronald grabbed his LMG and shoved it into the stomach of the fade. The rest of the forty bullets went straight into the fade’s stomach. By then, Nicholas had started shooting too, with Alan crouched in front of him reloading.
The fade was hit badly and blinked out. Ronald groaned in pain as he sat up and reached for his med pack. He took the nanites first, followed by the morphine. The skin and flesh grew quickly and soon, it looked just as it was. Ronald flexed his arm, testing it and was satisfied that it was fine. They hurried out of that passageway, Ronald and Nicholas reloading as they went. Sergeant Lane checked the mini map to make sure of their position. Once he was satisfied they were in the right area, they continued. The lighting conditions got worse but it was not so bad that the marines had to turn on their flashlights. They made some turns, occasionally hearing skulks, and finally came to a slope that led to emergency ladder. The marines walked up the slope and came to a red metal door. Sergeant Lane tried to open the door but it was jammed. He cursed under his breath and ordered Lewis and Zack to try and force the door open. Lewis and Zack took hold of one of the edges and proceeded to pull.
Sergeant Lane suddenly had an intense look on his face. Trent realized that Sergeant Lane was listening intently to something. Trent tried listening intently and heard something but couldn’t make out what it was. It was very faint and initially, he thought it was just the sound of a turbine. But as the seconds passed, he realized it was not the turbine but the dull thud of an onos’ footsteps.
“Incoming onos!” Trent whispered urgently. “Pull faster!”
Trent, seeing Lewis and Zack were not fast enough, joined in. Seconds later, Pamela also lent a helping hand. The door slowly slid open with a grinding sound. The marines quickly hurried into the small area where emergency ladder was. It was a small circular area painted bright red and white. In the middle of the area, there was the emergency ladder and judging by the dust on it, Trent guessed that it was seldom used. Once the marines were crammed into that small area, Lewis and Zack proceeded to close the door. The onos’ footsteps were very close now and they could all feel the ground tremble slightly. Closing the door was much easier than opening it but Trent wondered if Zack and Lewis were fast enough. Finally, the door slid shut and the marines heard the onos approach the door.
The onos could be heard pacing right outside the door and the marines wondered if the onos had sensed them. The marines didn’t dare to climb up the ladder in fear of making too much noise. It was very uncomfortable in that cramped and dusty area. The marines were all pushed against each other. Trent was stuck between the wall and Cissy. Cissy was so close to Trent, he was feeling rather embarrassed. Then, bad luck struck.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault but just plain bad luck. A fleck of dust just floated down from the ladder and just happened to land on Nicholas’ nose. Nicholas gave a valiant effort to hold it in but nobody could deny a body’s biological function. Nicholas sneezed. He had tried to muffle the noise with his hand but the damage had been done. The onos gave a grunt and a dent appeared on the door. This was followed by another dent only a few seconds later.
“Climb!” Sergeant Lane yelled.
Nicholas started climbing first, as he was the closest, moving as fast as he could. One by one, the marines started climbing. The onos was making fast progress. It already had two holes in it and was bent quite out of shape. Sergeant Lane was the last one to start climbing. He only got up six rungs when the door got smashed open. The door literally flew inwards, hitting the ladder and bouncing against the wall. The onos came in, its huge frame barely fitting into the small area. The onos tried to devour Sergeant Lane, jumping and taking a wild bite. Sergeant Lane barely managed to avoid the onos by using his hands and pulling himself up.
Amazingly, the onos began to climb after the marines. Trent didn’t think an onos could or knew how to climb a ladder. The marines climbed frantically, trying to stay ahead of the onos. Nicholas reached the top and looked at his surroundings. He was in a small room with a red door. Next to the door was a panel and Nicholas pressed it. The door hissed open, revealing a very bright corridor. Nicholas turned to help Maria up, who was behind him. He heard the skulk coming but could not turn in time. Nicholas felt the skulk land on his back and took a bite. The impact the skulk created threw Nicholas off balance and he felt forward headfirst. Trent saw Nicholas fall past him, screaming in fear, but could not grab him in time. Nicholas landed headfirst four floors down and his neck gave an audible snap. At least he didn’t suffer,
Trent thought bitterly.
However there was no time for such thoughts. The marines all got up the ladder, the onos not far behind. The marines moved into the corridor and closed the door behind them by pressing the panel. Just before the door closed, Sergeant pulled the pin of his grenade and threw it into the small gap. There was an explosion just as the door shut.
“Come on. Let’s move it,” Sergeant Lane said. “The grenade should have damaged the panel so the onos won’t be following us. But they will know where we are and if we don’t move, we are all dead.”
The marines got the message and continued moving. It was almost and hour into the mission and they were not even at navigations. As if the other marines knew what Trent was thinking, they automatically picked up the pace. The corridor got slightly brighter and wider. Any skulk that attacked them would have the odds stacked against them. The marines moved past the cabins without much incident. Trent was the first to reach the stairs. He peeked round the corner to make sure it was clear and a split second later, he pulled his head back. Two spikes whizzed past his ear and struck the wall. Trent had spotted two OCs and a gorge.
Sergeant Lane didn’t have to tell the marines what to do. Trent, Pamela, Cissy and Leonardo primed their grenades. They threw it round the corner and waited. There were four explosions that shook the ground. The marines immediately charged round the corner, firing their weapons. The gorge was totally fried and the stench of burnt meat hung in the air. There was only one OC remaining and it was bleeding badly. Just twenty bullets caused it to explode in a mess of yellow blood and matter. The marines smiled with grim satisfaction at their work and reloaded.
Just as they finished reloading, two skulks leaped around the corner. Sam took down one in mid air with just a few perfectly aimed shots. The other skulk managed to get right into the group of marines and proceeded to bite anything that got in its way. Leonardo took a hit in his left leg and stumbled to the ground. The skulk jumped onto Leonardo and took a bite at his helmet. Cissy used her knife and stabbed the skulk before it could finish Leonardo off. The skulk gave a croak of pain and rolled of Leonardo. The marines ripped the skulk apart with their knives, scattering its body parts across the floor. Leonardo groped for his med pack and injected the nanites into his neck. Luckily, the skulk had not penetrated the helmet but now, Leonardo had to do without the mini map and the aid of the HUD.
Sergeant Lane didn’t want to stick around and ordered his marines to continue moving. The marines moved quickly to level ten. Level ten was extremely bloody. Red and yellow blood covered the walls and corpses, both human and Kharaa, lay scattered all over the floor. The stench of death was overwhelming and the marines had to fight the nausea that came with the stench. A few pipes had holes in them and water leaked out from them. The entire floor was covered by water, stained a yellowish red. The marines moved carefully to simulations, moving quickly past all the doors that covered the walls.
Then, without warning, four skulks and a lerk came from one of the doors. The lerk let out a thick cloud of umbra as the skulks leaped at the marines. The marines didn’t hesitate and sparks flew all over the place. Only two skulks made it to the marines alive. One landed on Trent’s helmet while the other landed on Lewis. The lerk swooped in for a kill and bit Sam in the chest. Zack helped to tear the skulk off Trent’s helmet and flung the helpless creature at the wall. The skulk hit the wall with a thud and landed on the floor. Zack fired twenty bullets, reducing the skulk to a quivering mess. The skulk on Lewis had its mouth on his hand and was trying to bite it off. Lewis shouted in panic and started knifing the skulk with his free hand. The skulk let go but not before taking a few of Lewis’ fingers off. The skulk did not notice Alan standing right behind it. It died with all fifteen bullets in its head.
The lerk was swooping all over the place. It took a bite at Pamela, knocking her to the ground. It then proceeded to bite her neck. Pamela screamed in pain as blood squirted out from her neck. Ronald used his LMG and hit the lerk as hard as he could. The lerk fell off Pamela but quickly recovered. It took flight and aimed at Sergeant Lane. Sergeant Lane aimed his LMG and blasted the lerk to death. Bullets ripped holes into the lerk’s wings and it crashed to the ground.
“Pamela!” Cissy cried and rushed over to her.
There was a huge gaping hole in Pamela’s throat. Cissy took her med pack and hurriedly applied it to Pamela. The wound healed slightly and Cissy took Pamela’s med pack and applied it. It was a serious injury and she needed to get back to the Forger
quickly. However, they still had a mission. Sergeant Lane made a decision. He ordered Alan and Jake to carry Pamela. They were going to finish their mission before going back to the Forger
. Cissy started to protest but Sergeant Lane cut her off.
The marines moved with greater urgency. Trent and Zack was ordered to cover the back while Ronald was switched to the front. The marines rushed to computer room nine, moving as quickly as they could. Suddenly, Trent heard something that turned his blood cold. He had only heard that sound in simulations and had hoped never to hear it in real life combat. But the sound was undeniable and the danger real. It was the sound of a skulk screaming, the prelude to xenocide. Trent looked up and saw the skulk come out through the vent. It leapt at Trent and exploded.
From the Shadows...