It's been a long time hasn't it. For those people out there, it's been a long time to wait for this story to come out. I hope it will be worth the wait. This story was originally meant to be posted a year back but the forums went down. So here it is. I haven't been writing since the forums went down so this would be the last chapter I have written. I will try to start again but it is not easy so I make no promises. Anyway, thanks to my editor SYPHON for doing his job. So here it is.Faceless“A man with no soul is just an empty shell”
– Professor McLain.
Lieutenant Lane was ordered to hold the phase facility until reinforcements arrived. That was just in case the infestation had come back but Lieutenant Lane thought that was unlikely. Timothy and Nora had gone round the facility spraying nanites at Lieutenant Lane’s orders. The place was deemed to be totally bacterium free from the scans but Lieutenant Lane just followed his orders. The only way bacterium could get to the facility was through the monorail, linking the phase facility to another facility. Those in group two that had not been on the previous mission were stationed throughout the facility. Most were put at the monorail station, just to be on the safe side.
When the reinforcements came, they took over the entire operation. The research scientists came with the reinforcements and were given free reign over everything, as long as they operated within the safety limits. Lieutenant Lane watched what they were doing with some interest. The scientists wore those biohazard suits, which Lieutenant Lane thought were extremely hilarious. The whole place was disinfected already and the scientists still wore those ridiculous suits. They must be really scared of the bacterium. His marines had been in contact with bacterium for such a long time and nothing had happened to them. Lieutenant Lane didn’t suppose that the scientists had noticed that.
Lieutenant Lane sighed as he thought about the previous mission. It had been totally shot to ish. Sam’s death had cost him two more good marines, at least temporarily. Cissy had taken it very hard and she needed time to cool down. Trent was also hit quite hard by the loss and Lieutenant Lane was not sure whether Trent would ever get over it. Sam was his best friend after all and they had been through a hell lot together. He had made them both rest for the time being and he hoped a mission wouldn’t crop up. Trent was his best, although he never told the other marines, and without him, the chances of success on a mission were considerably lower, considering the fact that he had a lot of new recruits without much experience.
Trent had blown up during the mission. He had gone on a rampage with Talos. They may have been killing machines but they did not stick to their orders and that was what ###### Lieutenant Lane off the most. More people could have gotten killed. He had meant to talk to Trent but Timothy had asked Lieutenant Lane to give it a few days. Timothy was no psychiatrist but he could see that Trent needed time. Lieutenant Lane planned to talk to Trent in a few days time.
Talos was a different story. He just hungered for blood and violence. That was one quality Lieutenant Lane did not wish to see in his soldiers. Talos was a loose cannon and he was most likely going to get himself killed if he persisted with his behaviour. His motion tracking was indeed very useful to the squad. Talos just didn’t know how to work with the squad. Lieutenant Lane had seen people like that many times in his military career. They wanted attention and recognition at being the best, that was it. Most did not last more than a few weeks in the field. Trent had fought side by side with Talos and had probably encouraged him. Trent’s behavior had shown the darker side of him and Lieutenant Lane wondered if it affected the squad.
Lieutenant Lane watched the scientists work, fascinated by their work. Lieutenant Lane watched one scientist scrape something off the floor with some surgical equipment and place it in a jar. A few guys were placing floodlights around the facility and with a click of a button, the whole place was lit up brightly. Two female photographers were busy clicking their cameras. It was very much like a crime scene. Electronic tags were placed on the floor to mark where certain items had been. A few bodies were being carried out in body bags. Lieutenant Lane could not tell if they were his men or the unlucky workers of the facility.
One of the scientists said a silent prayer for the dead and that reminded Lieutenant Lane of Dorian. The guy was a coward and was not suited for battle. Lieutenant Lane was going to request a transfer of the guy as soon as he gets back onto the ship. During the mission, Dorian had been quaking with fear. He had spent half the time praying instead of guarding the base. Whenever he heard some clicking sound, he would go into one of his prayer modes and start asking for help from god. When a skulk peeked in to parasite, Lieutenant Lane had to scream at Dorian before he would start shooting. Most of the bullets were wild shots but it had scared the skulk off. Lieutenant Lane was glad he was not going to be on the next mission.
Lieutenant Lane got bored from watching the scientists and went back on board the Forger
. Willy greeted him with a smile and Lieutenant Lane smiled back. Lieutenant Lane wasn’t a bit fooled by Willy. He knew what was going on behind his back but that did not concern him. As long as Willy showed the proper respect to a commanding officer, he had no problems. As Lieutenant Lane walked to his quarters, he saw Kumar. Kumar was always one person he was glad to see. He was sincere, enthusiastic and always took initiative. If only he was a bit smarter and fitter, Kumar would make a good marine. Lieutenant Lane knew that Kumar didn’t come from one of those privileged households so he always tried to help, giving good advice and counsel.
“Hi sir!” Kumar said brightly.
“Hello Kumar. How’s work?” Lieutenant Lane asked.
“Quite okay. It’s not so hard. We only have thirty or so people on board so it isn’t too tiring. It’s the ships that have crews of fifty or hundred that I am scared about. I probably won’t be able to rest on those kinds of ships.”
Lieutenant Lane let out a hearty laugh, the first one he had since the mission. “It’s not so bad on the hundred man ships. The cleaning crews are bigger and sometimes, if you are lucky, the ships may have some droids to help,” Lieutenant Lane said.
“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, was the last mission bad? I mean, is everyone okay?” Kumar asked.
Lieutenant Lane frowned. “No. It didn’t go well. We lost Sam and a few others. Trent and Cissy are taking it quite hard.”
“I noticed,” Kumar replied. “Trent has been very quiet and Cissy has been crying a lot. This is terrible. Both of them are good people.”
“Yeah. Look, I’ve got some business to attend to. I will talk to you later if I have time. Okay?”
“Sure. Bye!” Kumar said as Lieutenant Lane went back to his quarters.
Lieutenant Lane’s quarters were not as big as the marines thought it would be. No doubt it was bigger and more comfortable but it was only better by the normal sleeping quarters by a small margin. Lieutenant Lane sat down on his bed and looked at the screen on the wall. His quarters were one of the few that had computer screens in it. He started typing a request to the Frontiersmen headquarters requesting Dorian’s transfer. The email only took five minutes and once that was out of the way, he used the ship’s intercom to call for Talos and ordered to meet him in the shooting range.
Lieutenant Lane knew handling Talos would be different from Alan. Alan was just a daddy’s boy hiding behind that huge mountain of cash and influence that his father had. Alan couldn’t stand up for himself and fight. Talos could, and that would make it more challenging for Lieutenant Lane. Talos took his own sweet time to get to the shooting range. He strolled in nonchalantly with that smug smile on his face. Even when he saw Lieutenant Lane’s serious face, that smile didn’t waver a bit.
“Wipe that smile off your face,” Lieutenant Lane snapped. “I didn’t call you down for happy time.”
Talos saw that Lieutenant Lane meant business and the smile disappeared. He tried to look solemn but was not doing a very good job. Talos wondered why Lieutenant Lane had called him down. It was not like he had done anything wrong.
“Do you know why I called you down?” Lieutenant Lane asked.
“Yes sir!” Talos lied.
“Tell me,” Lieutenant Lane said.
Talos racked his brains and gave the first answer he got in his head. “I missed too many shots sir and you want me to train my shooting now.”
Lieutenant Lane didn’t know whether to laugh or hit the guy. He never took anything seriously and never thought about anything except himself. Talos probably just wanted the limelight and attention. If that was the case, Talos should have just gone into acting. Probably too stupid
, Lieutenant Lane thought.
“It’s because of your attitude!” Lieutenant Lane suddenly shouted. “How many times must we tell you? Klion has told you, Trent has told you, I have told you and you still don’t get it into your head! What must I do to get that message into your head?”
“What message?” Talos asked dumbly. He realized that was not the brightest thing to say considering the circumstances but it was too late to take it back. Lieutenant Lane nearly exploded with frustration.
“Oh my god! What the hell is wrong with you? Do you see anyone patting you on the back and saying ‘good job’? I don’t think so. And if you would even try using what little brain matter you have left in that useless head of yours, you might think that it was because you are doing something wrong. I know you want attention. It’s written all over your face and you know what? You aren’t going to get any. This isn’t some huge big stage where you perform and everyone claps their hands. This is war! The only audience is the dead and they sure as hell don’t clap their hands. Can this get through all the ish in your head?” Lieutenant Lane shouted, poking Talos’ head repeatedly with his index finger.
“Stop poking me!” Talos suddenly shouted. “I am not some little kid! I understand all this. Why do you have to repeat it over and over again?”
“It’s because you are a little kid!” Lieutenant Lane shouted back. “You are behaving like a bloody little kid who still sucks his god damned thumb. You want me to stop repeating this? Then you had better listen! You endangered yourself and the squad during that mission. You acted like Rambo and went round shooting aliens like they were harmless and couldn’t hurt you. Newsflash! They have razor sharp teeth and fangs that can take your head off. There is no doubt you are fit and can shoot well but that doesn’t make you god. You can still get ambushed.”
“Trent was also screwing around. Why don’t you talk to him?”
Lieutenant Lane gave an exasperated groan. “The man’s best friend is dead and you want me to lecture him? Don’t you have any EQ? He was hurting and he took the pain out on the Kharaa. I can’t totally blame him for that. But that’s beside the point. The issue at hand is you, not him. Why do you fight? Tell me. I’ve seen the way you fought with the Kharaa, that bloodlust.”
“You want me to kill, so I kill.”
“I want you to work with the team! Not kill just because you like it! What you don’t have is discipline and I’m going to teach you some,” Lieutenant Lane said. “Go to the track and run till I tell you to stop.”
Talos sprinted to the track and started running. Lieutenant Lane stood at one side and just watched silently, arms folded across his chest. He did not bother counting the number of rounds Talos ran as it was irrelevant. Talos seemed to be holding up pretty well. He ran ten rounds like it was nothing and only began to show signs of fatigue after fifteen rounds. By the time he had run twenty rounds, he was exhausted. Talos was giving looks at Lieutenant Lane, as if asking if that was enough. Lieutenant Lane just looked stoically back at him with no hint of emotion.
When Talos began to slow down slightly, Lieutenant Lane shouted at him to maintain his speed. Talos did as he was told and continued running. Every time Talos showed signs of slowing down, Lieutenant Lane would shout at him to keep up the pace. By the time Talos had run thirty-one rounds, he was completely exhausted. His mind was not really functioning properly at that time and the only thoughts that were in his head were keep moving, keep moving.
When Lieutenant Lane finally asked him to stop, Talos collapsed to the floor, gulping in lungfuls of air.
“Are you ready to learn discipline yet soldier?”
Trent lay on the bed in the infirmary. He was out of the healing tank already and most of his physical injuries had healed. Timothy and Nora were much more worried about his mind. Trent just lay on the bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. He was by no means daydreaming. He was re-enacting the scenario in his mind over and over again, the one where Sam died. Trent kept wondering how he could have helped, how he could have saved Sam. One part of him kept on telling him that he was useless and the other part of him told him to let it go. Trent felt confused, sad, angry and torn apart. It just hurt too much.
When Trent was sleeping, Timothy and Nora would sometimes hear him say something in his sleep. He would say something about him being sorry and then he would moan in terror. Trent would always wake up soaking in his own sweat and his eyes looking wildly around the room. Timothy and Nora considered giving Trent some sort of sedative to relax him but they decided against it. It was better not to be playing with the mind. Trent seemed to be a shadow of his former self. He ate very little and spoke very little. The spark of life in his eyes was gone and replaced by an empty blackness. When Timothy asked questions, Trent would either keep quiet or give monosyllabic answers. He really didn’t feel like talking.
Some of his squad mates had come down to see how he was coping. Trent gave them a polite nod but didn’t really talk much. They all had their things to do and they had left quickly. Trent wanted some time alone. He was too busy thinking about Sam to notice Cissy had come into the infirmary.
“How are you doing Trent?” Cissy asked.
Trent shifted his head slowly so that he faced her. She looked into his eyes and knew her question was a stupid one as the answer was obvious. Cissy’s eyes were red as she had been crying in her quarters for the past few hours. She had loved Sam deeply and the loss was tough for her. Both of them had discussed about getting out of the Frontiersmen and finding a nice place to settle down. It would not happen. That almost brought a fresh wave of tears but Cissy controlled herself. She didn’t want to do any more crying especially not in front of Trent.
“When did the doctors say you can get out?” Cissy asked.
“Tomorrow,” Trent replied nonchalantly.
“I see…” Cissy said. She didn’t know what to say.
“There is going to be a mission tomorrow. On another part of this planet. Team two is on this one. Did you know that Lieutenant Lane asked if I wanted to sit this one out?” Cissy asked, trying to get things started.
Trent shook his head slightly but did not reply. He did not seem very interested in what Cissy had to say. He appreciated what she was trying to do but right now, he just wanted her to go away. He knew that she was hurting too, maybe more than he was but she seemed to be coping. How she managed to keep it all together, Trent didn’t know.
“We are all pretty worried about you. I know Sam was your best friend. He…” Cissy’s voice wavered slightly but with a deep breath, she regained her composure. “He told lots of things about you. About what you guys did together. All the great times you had together. Both of you had quite a history, going all the way back to when you joined the army. Keep those happy memories. Sam would always be with us as long as we remember the happy times together. Like when both of you were trying to get in the Frontiersmen. He said he remembered how you were there for him and…”
“It was my fault!” Trent suddenly shouted. Cissy was shocked at his sudden outburst. It was so full of anger and remorse.
“No, it wasn’t your fault. You have to stop thinking like that. Nobody could have expected this to happen. You have to stop blaming yourself. The fade was too fast.”
“It’s my fault,” Trent repeated. This time, his voice was soft and dangerous. “I got him into this.”
“Sam chose to be in the Frontiersmen. Nobody forced him. Not you, not his parents, not anybody. Stop blaming yourself. Sam knew the risks involved and so do all of us. This job is no walk in the park. It is hell out there. And Sam knew that. Please, stop bashing yourself because it is not your fault. Sam… Sam wanted out. He was going to pull out the next time we went back to earth,” Cissy said. Trent saw tears well up in her eyes as she said that. “God damn it! I should have asked him to get out earlier. I wanted to quit the last time when we were back at earth. But I just wanted to get another paycheck, you know? ish! It was all my fault!”
“No no no. It has nothing to do with you. I got him into this in the first place! I pushed him for the physical tests. I got him in. And now I can’t get him out…”
Cissy started to cry. Trent suddenly felt something stir in his heart. Before he knew it, he was crying too. They both hugged each other tightly. They were two people who just needed some comfort. Both of them stayed in that position for five minutes before finally letting go. Cissy wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Trent was back to his old stoic self and settled back into bed.
“Thanks. I needed that,” Cissy said. “It has just been so hard with nobody to talk to. I just felt so lonely. But I’m better now, I guess.”
Trent didn’t respond to that. He stared blankly at the ceiling. Cissy sat by his bed for a moment longer. There was a certain sense of awkwardness for the next few minutes. Cissy wanted to say so much but just didn’t know how to express herself. Trent had enough visitors for the day. He was just waiting for the next day when he could finally get out of the infirmary. Nora walked over and told Cissy that Trent needed some rest and she probably should go back to her quarters and get some rest.
“See you around Trent,” Cissy said. “If you want anyone to talk to, I’m always here.”
Then, she saw one more bit of humanity from Trent. He smiled at her. She didn’t realize it was going to be the last bit of humanity she was going to see from Trent for a very long time.
“Phase net?” Marcus asked with his eyebrows raised.
A short, slightly plump, bald man stood in front of Marcus, fidgeting nervously. He was Ronis Short, the chief engineer in charge of the phase network program. The phase network program was supposed to take current military phase technology and improve it for civilian use. Side effects of the current phase technology ranged from nausea to hallucinations. Those who were obese or old would have a fifty percent chance of getting a heart attack. The frontiersmen could use the phase gates without problems as they were physically and mentally fit. Most civilians weren’t. The phase networks program was one of the TSA’s biggest projects and frequent reports and updates were necessary. The goal of the program was to have at least one civilian friendly phase gate in every country. The number of phase gates in each country would depend on how big the country was. Current civilian use of phase technology was restricted to cargo.
When the program first started, progress was fast and everybody was pleased with the amount of work getting done. Working with new technology got the scientists pretty excited and they just threw themselves into their work. However, as time passed, things became more complicated and work slowed down. Ronis spent a lot of time in front of his computer, pencil tapping against the side of his head, as he tried to think his way around a problem. The bosses got unhappy and called Ronis up and more and more. Improving something relatively new like phase technology was not an overnight thing but the bosses didn’t seem to care about that fact. Ronis was really nervous about this meeting. If he didn’t tell Marcus something pleasing, Ronis guessed that he was going to be out of the job.
“Phase net?” Marcus repeated. “Is that what you are calling it now? Isn’t that a bit too old? I think you had better leave this name stuff to the marketing people. Your job is to produce results so the marketing people have something to work with.”
“Well… err…you see… there have been some complications on the project. There have been some technical difficulties and my team is working twenty-fours to fix these problems. We are working extremely hard to solve this problem. We just need time. I don’t mean that we are slow… it’s just that working with new technology is hard. There are some limitations… not that we are incapable or anything. It’s just that there are some constraints you see. And we are working round the clock to go round them. We are working especially hard and the guys are giving their all. We have made some progress… not that we are stagnating or anything…” Ronis realized he was blabbering at that point but couldn’t stop himself. He wanted to keep his job so badly.
“Ronis…” Marcus said.
Ronis didn’t hear Marcus and just went on. “We love our jobs, you know? And we’d do everything we can just to make sure everything is in order… and it is! We have been busting our ###### trying to make this project work. I mean, making it work. We don’t try. We do. Anyone can tell you that we deserve to continue working on the project. Have you gotten the latest report? There is some err… breakthrough in what we are doing. There has been a six percent improvement in… no, I meant eight percent improvement in cutting the nausea. It might not seem like much, not like I’m saying it isn’t… Don’t want you to think we aren’t making improvements right? But things happen slowly. Paris wasn’t built in a day right? Err… I meant Rome. Rome, that’s right. It took… I don’t know. But it wasn’t a day. And it’s the same with this so…”
“Ronis!” Marcus snapped sharply.
“Yes sir?” Ronis replied, his face almost a pale sheet of white.
“I want you to look at me and take a deep breath, okay? Look at me. Now breath in… and out. Feel better? Now, relax and tell me your progress.”
“You see… we have reduced some of the feeling that… Is ‘sensations’ a better word? Let me say that again. We have reduced some of the sensations that the test…”
“No. Try again. And this time, relax.”
This time, Ronis did relax. He took a deep breath and cleared his mind. “We have made some progress. There has been an eight point two percent decrease in nausea experienced by the test subjects. Michelle, the scientist in charge, says that once the new reports come in, she can further improve on the technology. The nausea, as indicated in the reports, is caused by the stomach being taken apart and reconstructed. We are trying to decrease that level of nausea by making the phase reconstruct the stomach more ‘gentle’. There has not been much improvement in trying to decrease the hallucinations. We do not have the adequate equipment. Our technical guy is working on a list of what we need to increase productivity. He has told me we are severely lacking in scanning equipment. Especially those for brainwaves. There is also the issue of test subjects. We need more people to test the phase technology. These tests only work for a few times. After that, the effect wears off. Overall, we are making good progress, considering how new all of this is. If we can get the proper equipment and a slight boost in funding by next week, I am sure we can finish this project in a few years.”
“Years?” Marcus said. “That long?”
“This is very new territory here sir. We do not have much information to refer to. Most of the things are done by trial and error. We just have to keep testing until we things get right. And there are millions of tests to perform. Once we get a certain pattern, progress will pick up. But until we get that pattern, progress will not be very fast. I hope you understand.”
Marcus nodded. He understood Ronis perfectly well. Marcus had actually expected a horrible report from Ronis. He had gotten quite poor reports from Ronis’ supervisors. Ronis just needed to relax and to put things into perspective. Marcus looked at his watch and noticed that he was supposed to meet Philip soon. He dismissed Ronis and went to one of the many meeting rooms that the TSA headquarters had. Ronis’ impression of Marcus was quite good. He had heard some horror stories about Marcus but he didn’t think they were true anymore.
The meeting room Marcus was in was of a moderate size. Moderate by TSA standards, huge by the average company’s standards. The seats were all made of leather and the table was a stunning black. There were a total of twenty seats and there was a lot of space in between the seats. A holographic projector was placed in the middle of the table and was a relatively new model. The room had a surround sound system that was one of the best in the world. A small panel on one wall, which only a few people knew about, hid a small refrigerator and liquor cabinet.
Marcus only had to wait five minutes before Philip came. Philip was on his phone and yelling at some poor soul angrily. When Philip saw Marcus was already there, he hastily ended the conversation and sat down at the table. Philip had some notes in his palm top and transferred them to Marcus’ palm top.
“What is this?” Marcus asked.
“The Pioneer space station. The Frontiersmen are currently building it as their largest and most sophisticated facility on any planet. I told you about it last week. Have you forgotten?”
“Oh! That one. I remember. It’s supposed to be on planet U-005 right? But what has this got to do with me? The Frontiersmen are given free reign over all their projects. They can do whatever they like as long as they don’t make the TSA go bankrupt. And I have faith in the Admiral’s financial management.”
“But this is one of the major events. The type where there will be reporters and you have to give a speech. That’s right, you heard me. You have to be there. I got your speech all written out for you already.”
“Hold on a minute,” Marcus said. “The press is going to be there? Are they crazy? Do they know that they are going to be in hostile territory? Who is in charge of the security? The press is crazy. They’d do anything to get a story!”
“They do know the risks. The Frontiersmen are taking care of the security. The government isn’t going to do the security and neither are we. If anything goes wrong, only the Frontiersmen gets blamed. I have taken measures so we will be totally devoid of blame if anything screws up,” Philip said. “Here is your speech. Just keep smiling for the cameras.”
“So when will the facility be completed?”
Philip checked his palm top for the date and said, “By the end of this year. They got all the best people building the damned thing. Probably break a world record at the rate they’re going.”
“You sure plan ahead.”
“It’s my job. So how’s things with Kathy?”
Marcus’ demeanor suddenly changed. The warm expression on his face hardened and his eyes narrowed. Philip immediately wished that he had not asked that question. News was going around that Marcus’ life wasn’t going too well. Most of the time, Marcus was able to separate work from his private life. However, if he got too stressed, he would blow his top. Things would start to get personal, and ugly.
“None of your business,” Marcus said harshly.
“I’m sorry. I was just concerned about you. Kathy may not be very reasonable now but with time…”
“Everything’s fine with Kathy. Whatever you hear are just rumors. She loves me and I love her. Nothing will change that. Now get back to work,” Marcus said coldly.
Philip left without another word. Marcus collapsed into one of the leather chairs and closed his eyes for a moment. He felt the onset of a headache and sighed. Kathy had refused to have any contact with him. Marcus had tried the conventional diamonds, chocolates and flowers. Then he had moved on to the spontaneous, writing poems, songs and letters. It was as if he was courting her from the beginning. However, none of it worked. Marcus was at his wits end. Kathy was being silly if she thought that power was getting to his head. Marcus took a bottle from the liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass before going back to work.
Cissy did not sleep well. Her sleep was plagued by nightmares and when she woke up, it felt as if she had not been sleeping at all. She looked at her clock and saw that it was almost four in the morning, earth time. Cissy stretched and got ready for another day at work. She went to the cafeteria and got a quick bite. Most of group two were already there and they looked really energetic. Ready to kick some Kharaa butt. Cissy felt quite the opposite. When it was five, Lieutenant Lane gave them their final briefing. The entire squad was there, even Trent. It was a simple mission or at least they expected it to be. Just go into a lightly infested installation and blow every Kharaa to bits. The installation was pretty small with only five RTs. Lieutenant Lane was going through what tactics they were going to use, Cissy fingered a pendent around her neck.
To any other person, the pendent was nothing special, just some green piece of jewelry. To Cissy, it was the most important thing in her life. Sam had given it to her. She still remembered that night. They had gone over to his apartment. At first they had just sat down in front of the television and watched some videos. Sam had bought some chocolates and they finished the box together. Then, Sam had pulled the pendent out of his pocket and gave it to Cissy. On the back of the pendent were the words “Sam-Cissy”. She was elated. The next thing she remembered was that she and Sam were kissing passionately and then…
“Cissy! Pay attention!” Lieutenant Lane barked.
“Sorry sir,” Cissy apologized.
“Anyway, we’re just going to mine everywhere. With such a small place, they’re sure to touch the mines and blow themselves to kingdom come. Spread the mines evenly. Do not clump them together. I’m not expecting any early fades. Remember. Capture the middle node and we win. Now go get your gear. See you at the phase room at six.”
The marines went to the armoury and got their gear. It was just standard armour and ammunition. Trent kept to himself and donned his armour silently. Cissy tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey. See you’re up,” Cissy said, trying to sound cheerful. “Ready for the mission?”
Trent nodded listlessly. Then, he got his guns and walked out of the armoury without saying anything to Cissy. Cissy was slightly miffed by his response but forgave him. Trent just wasn’t himself.
By six, everyone was good to go. Groups one and two were just waiting for the Forger to position itself properly. Lieutenant Lane was going through the plan over and over again as they waited for the ship to position itself. Once the ship was in position, Todd turned the green light on and group two phased in. One by one, group two stepped into the phase gates. With brilliant flashes of light, group two was instantly teleported into the underwater installation. Group one watched the screen and saw the green blip appear and begin to move around. Trent’s face was a blank, expressionless wall. He was impartial to what was happening down there. Death was death and it was the same for all. No point shedding any tears.
As Trent sat and watched, he recalled the conversation he had with Lieutenant Lane just two hours ago. Lieutenant Lane had approached him with a stern face and Trent knew that a lecture was on the way.
“I am very disappointed in you Trent,” Lieutenant Lane said. “You should have had better judgment. You have been in the field for quite some time and you know better than to let your emotions get the better of you. What you did was extremely dangerous and you put the entire squad at risk.”
Trent had nodded his head. He was at fault and he wasn’t going to push the blame to somebody else. Trent bowed his head and reflected on what he had done.
“I know it’s a rough time for you. You lost many good teammates and your best friend. I know what it is like to feel loss. But you just have to cope with it. What you did was let your anger control you went on a rampage. You are lucky you are still alive. Did you know many of the new soldiers look up to you and the others? By acting that way, you told them it’s all right to act the way you did. Especially that Talos. He’s a wild gun. We can’t give him an excuse to be a Rambo. He’s a damn fine soldier and we need him. You set the example and show him what teamwork is. I do not want to see this happen again. Understand?”
“Yes sir,” Trent had said.
Trent looked back at the screen. Lieutenant Lane had already set up base with an armoury, infantry portal and observatory. The marines in group two were going together to the resource node in the middle of the installation. The marines were moving slowly and cautiously. They were currently going through a slightly curved walkway. Suddenly, a red blip appeared, representing a skulk. A split second later, two more blips followed this. Trent heard a sharp intake of breath from the people in the room but he remained calm. The marines from group one didn’t have to worry. The red blips disappeared quickly, before they even had a chance to get close to the marines.
The marines reached the middle resource node pretty quickly. It was called gas chamber one. The room was in the shape of a hexagon and was relatively big. Three doors led into the room and they were all two inches thick. From the screen, Trent could see two vents leading into the room. Inside gas chamber one, there were already three OCs but no RT. The Kharaa must have also realized that gas chamber one was a crucial chokepoint. Two gorges were also in the room and as soon as the marines arrived, the Kharaa started attacking.
The green blips on the screen moved rapidly across the screen, criss-crossing and moving all over the place. The gorges hid behind the OCs and kept on healing them. It took a storm of med packs and ammo to keep the marines alive. After five tense minutes of running and shooting, the marines only managed to take down one OC. By then, the other Kharaa had been alerted and they rushed into the room. Four skulks and three lerks came from the vents. The room was soon filled with noxious green spore. Every marine had at least one parasite and virtually no armour. With their coordinated attacks, the Kharaa managed to push the marines back.
Lieutenant Lane gave the order to retreat. Amazingly, neither side had suffered any fatalities, just lots of injuries. The marines stopped outside gas chamber one and waited for orders. Lieutenant Lane decided to slowly pressure the Kharaa. He dropped a turret factory right outside gas chamber one and the marines immediately started building. A few seconds later, the marines were busy building turrets. Lieutenant Lane had dropped only four turrets due to the lack of resources. It was at that moment that the Kharaa chose to press the attack.
This time, there was one fatality. One marine got hit and Lucas had to replace him. The Kharaa were not expecting turrets and were totally unprepared for the new threat. The skulks scattered and the lerks flew back to gas chamber one. One of the skulks was killed almost instantaneously but the other three managed to group together for one last valiant counter-attack. It was a valiant effort but it failed. Without support from the lerks, the three remaining skulks were easily dealt with. Instead of dropping more med packs and ammo, Lieutenant Lane dropped an armoury for them. Once the armoury was completed, five welders were dropped. The marines hastily stocked up on ammo and welded each other. They didn’t want to lose the slight advantage they had over the Kharaa. If they took their time, the Kharaa would eventually make another attack.
Lucas had just finished building the arms lab at the marine start and was making his way to join the other marines. Once Lucas joined the other marines, they made another attempt at gas chamber one. The two gorges were still there and were building an OC. There were no skulks in sight so the marines just rushed the gorges and ignored the OCs first. The gorges tried to run but the marines had surrounded them. The red blips on the screen disappeared instantaneously. Suddenly, four red blips representing skulks appeared on the screen. They had been hiding in the vents and were waiting for the right time to strike.
The marines had not reloaded and didn’t have enough bullets left in their clips to kill the skulks. Two green blips disappeared. Jake and Hank sighed as they picked up their guns. They phased into the installation. Lieutenant Lane knew that more were going to die if he didn’t do something so he used a distress beacon. Lieutenant Lane dropped a phase gate at base before asking them to make their way back to gas chamber one. The lockdown outside gas chamber one was untouched and everything was still functional. Another phase gate was dropped and by the time the phase gate was up, armour level one had been researched.
Lieutenant Lane organized them and got them ready for another attack. The green blips got into a column position and made their way into the room once again. The last OC was up and firing. Only a lerk could be seen but Lieutenant Lane wasn’t taking any chances. He scanned the room and was relieved to see that there were no other Kharaa hiding in the vents.
This time, the marines focused their fire on the OCs. The lerk spored the area before swooping in for the kill. The marines skillfully dodged both the lerk and spikes from the OCs . The OCs were taken down efficiently and the marines then changed their focus to the lerk. The lerk was extremely fast and unpredictable. It made sharp turns and banks, did barrel rolls and bobbed up and down like a pendulum. It made use of all the tricks it knew to evade the marines. The lerk managed to get out alive. Lieutenant Lane wasted no time and dropped a turret factory in gas chamber one and recycled the one outside. He wanted to lock the place before the skulks came. Unfortunately, the skulks had already arrived.
It was the battle over gas chamber one. The marines held their ground as the Kharaa tried to drive them out. The skulks were being careful, just trying to get one bite before retreating to heal. One marine was building the turret factory while the others covered him. Once the turret factory was up and running, it was pretty obvious the marines were going to keep gas chamber one. Turrets were dropped and built, keeping the Kharaa at bay. The marines then began to weld the vents shut to prevent the lerks from sporing them. Finally, the marines had gas chamber one.
Lieutenant Lane’s strategy was to take it slow and steady. He saved up resources for turrets and kept on dropping them. When there were enough turrets in an area, he would drop a turret factory a bit closer to the hive and continue dropping turrets. He also kept researching upgrades. Within half an hour, the marines had level two weapons and armour. The Kharaa seemed to have lost all hope. Attempts to take back gas chamber one slowly declined and soon, there were no counter-attacks.
Trent didn’t need to watch from that point onwards nor was he interested. He could tell that the win was theirs so he just spent the rest of the time looking at his fingernails. Once the shotguns were handed out, the marines just dominated the Kharaa. Their hive was taken down in a matter of minutes. Lieutenant Lane called for the Forger to pick them up. A few minutes later, they were back on the ship. Trent didn’t see Kael and didn’t need to ask what had happened to him. There were two badly wounded marines, Cissy and John.
Thirty hours. She didn’t think it was possible but she was doing it. Thirty straight hours. Her body was exhausted. Her neck muscles were aching and she could hardly keep her eyes open. Her mind was mentally drained and it was hard to stay focused. Her eyelids were heavy and drooping, just waiting for the chance to close. It was difficult for the Admiral to stay focused. It had been thirty hours. Thirty hours since she started working and she had been going non-stop.
There was a sudden increase in workload due to the Pioneer
facility. To top it all, the Admiral was sick the previous day and couldn’t do much work. She now had to catch up with all the work and she wondered if she was going to get sick again if she kept on going like this. Some of the more concerned staff had asked her to take a break but she had refused. The Admiral looked out of her window and saw the sun setting. She thought it was probably time for her to stop and get some rest. Another part of her told her that there was still a mountain of work to do. Fatigue prevailed and she started to pack her stuff.
required a lot of attention. Most of the funding was going into that facility. It was the biggest project the Frontiersmen had taken. It would be like a second Frontiersmen headquarters, except on another world. Half of the employees on earth would be shifted to the facility The Frontiersmen was currently recruiting many talented graduates to fill the many job positions created by the facility. The Admiral was scheduled to make an inspection in two months time on how the construction was getting along. It was one of those “guest visits” that made the workers work faster. Research had been done and it was proven that when someone important was coming to visit, the people would want to impress that person.
What really worried the Admiral was the safety of the construction workers. Security was a major issue. Nobody knew what could happen in space. So far, the only known way the Kharaa could have jumped between planets is by hitching a ride on spaceships. The Admiral didn’t know if there were any other methods the Kharaa used to travel. She had ordered that all security measures possible were to be implemented. She had even gone through the whole security detail herself, word for word. And it was not only the Kharaa attacks she was worried about. The Frontiersmen and TSA had many enemies. Some of their enemies were not unwilling to use underhand means to harm them.
All ships were to be scanned at least twice by the security personnel. Only ships with the proper authorization papers were allowed to land at the facility. Even after searching the ships, the facility’s temporary medical personnel would disinfect the ship with nanites to prevent any chance of bacterium getting into the facility. The searching and disinfecting of the ship would be carried out in orbit around the planet, just to be safe. The security personnel would be patrolling around the construction site twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The medical personnel would go around once a day to disinfect the entire place and check for signs of bacterium. Even with so many security features in place, the Admiral was still pretty worried.
The Admiral turned her computer off. She began to walk to the car park. Most of the staff were still working and she felt really weird. When she normally left the office, the whole place would be empty and quiet. Now, it was bustling with activity, with people hunched over their computers and people handing files to other people. The Admiral hoped she wasn’t giving her employees the wrong idea that she was slacking.
Just as she was approaching the lift, one of the secretaries approached her and handed her a thumb drive.
“Your speech ma’am,” the secretary said.
“Excuse me? Speech? For what?”
. You asked for me to give it to you when it’s done.”
“Oh! Right! Thanks… err… I’m sorry. What’s your name again?” the Admiral said.
“Denise,” the secretary said, rolling her eyes.
“Sorry. It just slipped my mind there. I’ve been busy with work,” the Admiral explained.
“Yeah. Been working for like twenty-six hours or something like that? I really admire your stamina,” Denise said.
“I’m getting some rest. See you tomorrow,” the Admiral replied and got into the lift.
The Admiral had totally forgotten about that speech. She was not one who desired attention and was not keen on giving speeches. She thought that the whole speech thing with reporters was totally unnecessary but one of the image consultants said it would be better if the Frontiersmen got some good publicity. The thing she dreaded about that speech was that she would have to meet Marcus after wards. She was not sure what she was going to say to him. It would be best if she could avoid him but she doubted that was going to be easy with the press.
When the Admiral got into her car, she took a look at the speech. It was pretty predictable. It said how the Admiral appreciated all the support from the government, TSA and people. How wonderful the construction crew had been. Then she would go on and describe the capabilities of the facility and the role it would play in the fight against the Kharaa. Luckily, she would not have to do the question and answer session with the reporters. Some poor guy from the TSA would be handling that.
The Admiral just wished that the damn war would end. She was getting tired of all the planning. That was why she had approved of the proposal to send thousands of scout droids into space in search of the Kharaa home world. If they found it, she would just get all the troops to focus on that planet. Or maybe she should get some nukes from the president and blow the planet to hell. That was one happy thought. As the car neared her home, she thought if she could invite Trent to the opening ceremony of the facility. Trent was some sort of hero in the higher levels of the Frontiersmen. He was highly praised by his commander, had a good track record in the field and had a lot of teamwork. She longed to meet Trent, along with a few other talented soldiers.
“Where is Willy? Get him up here now!” Timothy yelled.
“I’m here!” Willy said, running to Timothy. “Had some trouble with the heater.”
“Screw the heater! Help me bring these marines up to the infirmary!”
Cissy was bleeding badly from a gaping hole in her stomach. John had his entire arm ripped open and Trent could see the bone. Luckily, both were unconscious so they didn’t have to feel the pain. Dorian had his hands clasped and prayed for his squad mates. Alan was there and he looked on indifferently. The other marines watched as the wounded were put on stretchers and brought to the infirmary. The doors closed and the doctors went to work.
“Look on the bright side. If Cissy dies, she can join Sam for all eternity. Now isn’t that a happy thought that keeps us going?” Alan said sarcastically.
Suddenly, something slammed into his throat. For a second, all the air was knocked out of him. The next thing his mind registered was that he was not on the ground anymore. Instead, he was hurtling through the air in a somersault. The side of his face connected with the floor and Alan howled in pain. The side of his face felt hot and swollen, like some sort of balloon. Alan shook his head to clear up of the fuzzy images he was getting. He sat up and clutched his face, uttering curses. Just as his vision was about to clear, he saw a fist going straight for his face. Alan tried to duck but he was too slow. The fist connected with his temple and sent him sprawling back on the ground.
“Break it up! Cool it, okay?” someone shouted.
“I’m cool. No problem,” Trent replied calmly.
Alan felt somebody help him up. He was seeing bright white stars in front of him. He thought that “seeing stars” was just an expression but now he knew that if somebody hit you hard enough, you were apt to see anything. Somebody asked if he was okay but he didn’t reply. A hand rested on his shoulder but he brushed it off. Alan touched his forehead and felt something sticky. He looked at his fingers and saw it smeared lightly with blood. Alan felt his blood boil and he stared savagely at Trent.
“What the hell’s your problem? It was just a bloody joke! You don’t have to get all serious you ######! You owe me you ish faced ######! I got your brother a job. Now guess what? It’s gone! Let’s see how tough you are now. You want to hit me again? Here! Come and get me! Let’s have a fair fight, not like how you snuck that cheap shot!” Alan yelled.
Trent tensed up for a moment and his eyes narrowed. Then, he was back to being cold and emotionless. “If you want a fight, take it elsewhere. My brother doesn’t need you. He’s good enough for a job.”
“Hey! Don’t you walk away you coward! I’m right here! You want a piece of me?” Alan taunted.
“Just cool it Alan,” Dominic said.
“You can’t tell me what to do! I can do whatever I please!” Alan yelled.
“Not when I’m around,” a voice said.
Alan turned around and saw Lieutenant Lane eyeing him with his arms folded across his chest. Alan seemed to deflate immediately. He looked at his feet awkwardly and tried to look injured. Not that he needed to look injured with blood trickling down the side of his face.
“No fights on my ship. Got that? And you know what? You deserved that punch. I heard what you said so don’t try and argue. Now get yourself cleaned up,” Lieutenant Lane ordered.
“Yes sir,” Alan said bitterly and walked back to his quarters.
Lieutenant Lane then went off to look for Trent. Alan had deserved that punch but Trent was still in the wrong. Trent had to be punished. Lieutenant Lane could not show favoritism and he needed to set an example. Lieutenant Lane was sure there were going to be more incidents like the one that had just happened. He could only hope that Trent would get over this stage in his life quickly. Lieutenant Lane found Trent walking to the resource center talking to Stephanie. Lieutenant Lane caught up with them and cleared his voice loudly. Trent turned to see who it was.
“I need to talk with you,” Lieutenant Lane said.
“Okay,” Trent replied simply.
“Let’s go to the track.”
Once they were at the track, Lieutenant Lane started talking. “What the hell do you think you are doing? You want to get a fight, go look for one somewhere else. You are under my command and you will follow my orders. That means no fighting aboard this ship or anywhere else for that matter. If I wanted hooligans, I would have looked in the jail. You are a disgrace to the Frontiersmen. We have spent thousands of dollars in your training and this is the ish attitude I am getting? What the hell happened to your gratitude? If you can’t exercise self-control, you are no better than an animal. Animals belong in the zoo, not here. Up here, we are saving humanity. If you don’t want to do that, you can pack your bags and go home. Is that what you want?”
“No sir!” Trent said.
“You want to stay? Then we need to exercise some discipline. Start running.”
Trent began running.
From the Shadows...