Thanks to SYPHON for continueing his good editing. Nice to see I have a fan base
. Constructive criticism is encouraged. I notice a lot of you guys don't like to say bad things about other people's work, unless it is really bad. Please wait a week or two for the next chapter. I'm not superman you know.Territory“When someone pushes you, you push back”
– Private Elder
It was the twenty-ninth of October when Trent went back to the Forger.
Most of the crew was already there but no one from the squad has arrived yet. Trent greeted the crew with a smile and they did the same except for Willy, who just frowned. The rest of the squad began to arrive slowly. Zack arrived a few minutes after Trent and they started talking. They both discussed the president’s assassination and came up with wild theories on why and who would assassinate the president. One of the theories was that the president actually stole a piece of ham from the butcher and the butcher decided to take the law into his own hands. Trent and Zack continued to joke as the squad began to arrive. Zack had brought a whole bunch of sweets and snacks and shared them with everyone. He claimed that the canteen food was not satisfying. Within half an hour, the whole squad had arrived except for Sergeant Lane. Everyone was talking and Zack told a few jokes to pass the time. Finally, at exactly eight on the dot, Sergeant Lane arrived, not a second more or less.
Andy and Todd got the ship ready for takeoff as supplies were loaded onto the ship. Sergeant Lane ordered them to dump their stuff and report to the briefing room in fifteen minutes. Trent bunked with Sam, as usual, and once they had unpacked, they walked to the briefing room. They met Roland and Curtis on the way and they looked as dirty as ever. Dirt and grime covered them from head to toe and Trent was sure Willy was going to **** about the footprints Roland and Curtis were leaving behind.
“You guys always this dirty?” Sam asked.
“Physically or mentally?” Curtis joked.
Roland and Curtis hurried off to get their showers whilst Trent and Sam got into the lift. Five minutes later, the squad was in the briefing room, ready for Sergeant Lane to start. Just as Sergeant Lane was about to say something, the Forger
started to shake slightly, an indication that it was taking off. Trent was slightly disappointed that he could not see earth from space but he guessed that he would have many more opportunities in the future. That is, if he managed to live that long. Sergeant Lane waited until the Forger
was in space and had stopped shaking before starting.
“You all know that no attack policy given by the TSA. We are only going to be defending facilities and such until there is a change in policy. For the next mission, group one will be active. We are going back to planet R-329. Group one will relieve a squad that has been guarding a research facility for a week. Group one will do guard duty for a week before turning it over to group two. Since group two only has five marines left, some of you from group one will have to do double-time. I have randomly selected the lucky marines and they are Alan, John, Maria, Nicholas and Lewis. Clear so far?” Sergeant Lane said and looked around the room. He was glad to see everyone nodding their heads.
“Because we are being defensive, the brass figured that they got a little bit of extra cash to spend. So when we get deployed, we start off with level one weapons and armour. For this mission however, we will not be using the armour. The squad we are relieving has already established a base with adequate turret and mine defenses. They already have level three armour and weapons. We will get these benefits when we relieve them so we will not have to use the level one armour and weapons in our armoury. Group one will spend most of the time patrolling the area and whacking unwanted Kharaa. Since the…”
Sergeant Lane continued for about fifteen more minutes before dismissing them. They could have some free time but after lunch, they were to report to the track. Trent was rather glad he was doing guard duty and just patrolling round the place. It was a lot better than hunting hives and running about with all that gear. Being safe and bored is better than adventure and dead. Trent and Sam went to the resource center, hoping to get a game of online checkers. Trent knew that it was quite dumb to be playing online checkers at the age of three-dimensional gaming but there was no other game to play. Of course there was solitaire, free cell and minesweeper but online checkers was much more fun. When they got to the resource center, they were pleasantly surprised. Zack had a whole boxful of computer games and was installing all of them into the computers. Hell, Zack even had a couple of DVDs of some of the latest movies. Trent looked at the titles and found games like “Demon Hunter”, “UT2054” and a weird game called “Naturally Selected”. It was quite ironical as the game was about humans fighting aliens.
“Damn! Where did you get all this stuff from?” Trent asked.
“I bought them. Duh!” Zack replied.
“Did Sergeant Lane clear all this?” Sam asked.
Zack gave a cheeky smile and shook his head. He wasn’t sure how Sergeant Lane would react so he sneaked them onboard. Zack knew that Sergeant Lane hardly ever came to the resource center. Zack asked if Trent wanted to play but Trent shook his head vigorously. Zack was puzzled by Trent’s reaction until he realized that Sergeant Lane was standing right behind him. Sergeant Lane had his arms folded across his chest and stared down hard at Zack. Nobody dared to move or say anything for a few seconds. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Sergeant Lane sat down in front of one of the computers and started playing.
“Why aren’t you guys playing?” Sergeant Lane asked. “I bet I can own you all!”
Trent, Zack and Sam took up the challenge. The news of the challenge spread like wild fire through the Forger
and most of the squad and some of the crew came down to watch. Two hours later, Sergeant Lane walked out smiling whilst the three just sat in their seats in a state of shock. Cissy tried to cheer Sam up by saying that Sergeant Lane probably had years of experience playing that game since he was older but somehow, Sam felt even worse. During lunch, the whole squad was talking about the humiliating defeat. Sam, Trent and Zack ate their food in silence, wondering how on earth they could’ve lost to a middle-aged man. After lunch, they went to the track. The three were too embarrassed to see Sergeant Lane eye-to-eye. Cissy guessed it was some sort of male pride thing, something she would never understand.
Sergeant Lane made them do more push-ups than running this time. Trent, Zack and Sam pushed themselves to their max, somehow trying to prove that they were not lousy at everything. After four hours, Sergeant Lane gave them a one-hour break. They were to report to the shooting range later. Zack went back to his bed and munched on his snacks, thinking of ways on how to improve his gaming skills. Trent went to the canteen to get a drink. Sam said that he would join Trent later but he did not show up. Trent was just drinking some water when Kumar came in.
“I heard about you getting thrashed by Sergeant Lane,” Kumar said.
“Yeah,” Trent replied.
“Don’t feel so bad.”
“Why not? I just lost to a thirty something year old guy in a computer game. I mean, he hardly ever uses the computer. How can we lose?”
“Of course it is okay to lose. I mean, you don’t expect to beat the world cyber-games champ do you?”
Trent dropped his cup of water. “Oh sorry! Sorry! I will clean it up later. Did you just say that Sergeant Lane was the world cyber-games champion?”
“Yup. He won about five years ago. And don’t worry about that water. I’ll clear it up. It’s my job anyway.”
Trent was totally stunned by that piece of news. He never figured Sergeant Lane to be a gamer. Trent ran to Zack’s cabin and told him the news. When Zack heard it, he burst out laughing. They felt a lot better now. Half an hour later, the marines reported to the shooting range. Sam was with Cissy and he was telling her some joke. Sergeant Lane then ordered them to practice their shooting. Compared to the targets in the training facility, the ones on the Forger
were easy. That was why Sergeant Lane expected them to get hundred percent accuracy. That was the routine for the next week. Whenever Trent was free, he would challenge Sergeant Lane to a friendly game and always ended up losing. Zack just went round the ship talking to people and sharing his snacks. Sam was spending more time with Cissy and getting to know her better.
A week after the Forger
left earth, they reached R-329. The ship hovered above the planet as the marines got ready to phase in. However, they did not phase down onto R-329 that day. Sergeant Lane had just gotten new orders. The election was over and obviously, the vice-president, now president, won. The president has agreed that the government was to bear all the costs of the Frontiersmen. This meant that they were on the offensive again. The marines were to now re-capture a ship that had been overrun with Kharaa. It was a H-class destroyer and was five times bigger than the Forger
. The destroyer was called the Horizon
and could carry two hundred people. Trent sighed when he heard the news. Now he would go back to all that shooting and running. Just what he didn’t need.
The marines were back in the briefing room. They were all in their gear already and had been just about to phase in. Sergeant Lane started the briefing.
“New mission guys. You already know the gist of it. We are going to recapture a ship. Here is a map of the ship. I am going to upload it into the resource center right after this,” Sergeant Lane said as he pressed a few buttons on the projector. The map of the Horizon
appeared. Trent saw that it was massive compared to the Forger
. It had ten levels and each level was huge. “We will be on level ten, the highest level. The MS will be at the officer’s lounge. Group one will split into three teams. Sam, Trent and Alan will be team one. Maria, Lewis and Edward will be team two. John, Jake, Nicholas and Jude will be team three. Now, the reports say there may be two hives but most likely there is only one. The Kharaa had just taken over the ship so not many RTs are taken. Suspected hive locations are at biodome, level eight, defence systems, level five and at the engine room, level one. Clear?”
The marines nodded. “We will set up the base before moving out. Sam won’t be guarding on this one. I will just use four packs of mines for base defence. Right, since this is a H-class destroyer, there will be RT nozzles for us to use. And since it is a military ship, the RT nozzles will not be concealed, unlike civilian ships where they want the ships to look pretty on the inside. Team one will disable the lift, then proceed to mapping which will be on level ten. Team two will go down to level nine and secure piping. Team three will go to level eight and get resource center. Welders will be given out, one per team, as there as just too many vents to cover. People, I want to play this one safe. We get all the RTs, rush HA and hopefully, come out with zero casualties. Trent, Jude, here are the building positions…”
was still brightly lit. Trent thanked god that the Kharaa had not touched the power generator yet. Trent had not come across any bodies yet but there were a few bloody hand smears on the wall. The corridors were long and narrow, good for the marines and bad for the Kharaa. However, the ceiling was irregular and that made it a good camping spot for skulks. The floor and walls were standard TSA green whilst the ceiling was mostly gray. Trent was in front, leading the team while Sam was at the back, making sure they didn’t get backstabbed. Alan was in the middle and he held the welder. So far, he had welded two vents shut, one in the marine start and one in the corridor they were currently walking in. The base was up and well guarded with four sets of well-planted mines. Sergeant Lane had dropped an infantry portal, armoury and observatory. He had not dropped the arms lab yet as the marines already had level one armour and weapons. Team one was now moving to lift controls. They had to disable the lift as the Kharaa might use it for ambushes or quick skirmishes.
There were no sightings of any hostiles yet for team one. Team two had sighted a lerk but it got away. Team three had numerous skulk reports and had taken one down. At least the Kharaa only had one hive. Sergeant Lane had scanned the hive locations and informed the marines that the hive was at defence systems.
Trent approached the lift control panel carefully. He checked the ceiling and once he was certain the area was safe, he waved at Alan. Alan immediately opened the lift control panel and exposed a mass of wires and buttons. Alan began welding the panel, disabling the lift. Suddenly, Sam heard some clicking. It was coming from the ceiling and by the sounds of it, there seemed to be three skulks. Sam clicked his tongue to attract the attention of Alan and Trent. He aimed his LMG at the ceiling and raised three fingers. Trent realized that there was a vent that had not been welded shut yet. Team one aimed their LMGs at the vent and got ready to fire. There were a few more clicks and then, nothing.
Trent was convinced the skulks were still there and waited. After five minutes, there was still no sound and Trent lowered his LMG. Alan went back to welding the control panel. A minute later, the control panel emitted some sparks and basically blew up. Alan wanted to weld the vent next but it was simply too high up. After a few attempts to weld the vent while jumping, Alan gave up. They turned back to go to mapping. At that moment, the vent broke open and three skulks rushed out.
Trent fired twenty bullets and took down a skulk. He aimed at another one but it was already dead, thanks to Sam. Alan fired his LMG wildly, totally missing the skulk and some bullets came quite close to Trent and Sam. The skulk jumped onto Alan and bit his neck. The skulk’s teeth crunched the armour and poked two holes on Alan’s neck. Trent couldn’t use his LMG without shooting Alan so he used his knife and stabbed the skulk. The skulk screeched in pain and jumped off Alan. It shot one parasite at Trent but Trent dived to the ground, the parasite just missing him. The skulk turned its attention to Sam and jumped at him. Sam let loose twenty-five bullets into the skulk, turning it into a bloody mess.
Sergeant Lane, who had been following the action dropped a med pack. Alan clawed at his neck as blood flowed out. Trent applied the nanites and the wound healed rapidly. Alan calmed down and managed to sit up.
“You know, I had everything under control! You didn’t have to interfere!” Alan said indignantly.
“What? I saved your butt!” Trent said.
“Hey guys. If you realize, we are in the middle of hostile territory. I suggest we move to mapping,” Sam said. Trent glared at Alan for a few seconds and then, moved to mapping.
Sam was right. There was really no time to be **** off. Team one proceeded to mapping without much trouble. Mapping was basically one huge hologram projector. It projected the whole universe with a huge dome shaped projector in the middle of the room. Mapping was quite dark so the hologram could be viewed and there was no light switch. Trent, Sam and Alan turned on their flashlights and scanned the ceiling for any signs of skulks. There were none and Trent requested for a RT. Sergeant Lane dropped one and Trent started building as Sam and Alan stood guard.
There was a “whoosh” and Trent felt something stick to the back of his neck. He heard some gunfire and turned to see a skulk just running away. Trent instantly knew that he was parasited, marked for death. However, he was not too bothered with it. Trent knew that if he thought too much about death, it was sure to come for him. Trent continued building and once the RT was complete, he waited for new orders.
“Crap! Base! Team one, come back to base! Skulks are attacking the base!” Sergeant Lane suddenly shouted over the comm-link.
Team one immediately raced back to the marine start. As they neared the officer’s lounge, they could hear the skulks happily chomping away. Trent went in first and stepped to the left. Sam followed closely behind and stepped to the right. Alan was the last to come in. There were three skulks biting the armoury and did not notice the marines. Each of the marines picked a target and opened fire. Ten seconds later, the armoury was splattered with blood and pieces of Kharaa flesh. The skulks had destroyed the observatory and the armoury was badly damaged. There was a scorch mark on the floor and was evident that a skulk had stepped on a mine. The broken observatory lay on the floor, practically ripped apart. Trent tossed it to one side as Sergeant Lane dropped another observatory. Trent started building the observatory as Alan welded the armoury. Once the observatory was completed, Sergeant Lane dropped an arms lab. Twenty seconds later, the arms lab was built and vibrating slightly as it researched armour level two.
Sergeant Lane ordered team one to proceed to level nine and move out to cold storage. Team one got some more ammo from the armoury before moving out. Team one went down a passageway and turned left. Since the lift was not working anymore, they had to take a flight of stairs down. Team one took a left, then a right. Trent spotted a skulk but it was gone before Trent could even start aiming. After walking down a long corridor, they finally came to cold storage. The door slid open as Trent approached it and cold air billowed out. Cold storage was basically a huge freezer to store the food and Sam could see huge chunks of meat inside. Team one went in, shivering as they walked. The RT nozzle was in the corner of the room and Trent went up to it. Sergeant Lane dropped the RT and Trent finished building it in twenty seconds. Just as they were about to get out of cold storage, the door suddenly slid shut.
Trent thought that it was a minor bug in the ship and stepped up to the door, waiting for it to slide open. When it didn’t, he pounded the door several times, thinking that it may be jammed. When that didn’t work, he began to get worried. Trent was only in standard frontiersmen armour and it was not good at keeping marines warm. Sam started yelling, hoping that someone will respond. Sam got a response but it wasn’t from a “someone”. On the other side of the door, there was an inhuman chuckle and it chilled Sam to the bone. Sam knew what locked them in. Kharaa
“Sir, we are locked in cold storage. Somehow, the Kharaa managed to find a way to lock the door. Send help immediately. I’m not sure how long we can hold out at these temperatures,” Trent reported,
“Got it. Team two is on their way. Hold on in there.”
It was very cold. They could see their breath condense right in front of their faces and their hands shook constantly. Trent tried rubbing his hands vigorously but that hardly helped. Next, he tried walking around but that did not help either. The worst part was not the cold but the waiting. The seconds dragged on slowly and time seemed to be mocking them. Each second seemed longer than the last and at one point, Trent was sure that time had stopped. All they could do was wait for team two to come and rescue them. What made it worst was Alan’s whining. Alan complained about his bad luck, the cold and even blamed Sam for not watching the door. Trent and Sam tried to ignore the whining for a few minutes but it was impossible to bear with.
“Shut up!” Trent suddenly yelled at Alan.
Alan blinked in surprise. “What?”
“I said shut up! Do you know how annoying you are? You are worse than a broken record. So shut up before I rearrange your face.”
Alan did what he was told but a few moments later, he began to mumble under his breath. Trent was tempted to ask Alan to shut up again but decided that it was not worth the effort. Sam tried counting the seconds but realized that it just made time seem even longer. Team one was shaking quite badly from the cold. Trent wrapped his arms around himself and tried to keep the cold out but of course, it was quite useless. He wondered how much longer he had to wait for team two. After what seemed like fifteen minutes, Trent still could not hear team two. He asked Sergeant Lane how much longer they were going to be stuck in cold storage and Sergeant Lane told him to be patient. Trent was sure that team two was taking their time to walk slowly to cold storage. Trent began to feel frustrated, wishing that team two would have a sense of urgency and hurry up. He looked at his mini map and saw that team two was close.
After a long wait, Trent finally heard some footsteps on the other side of the door. Sam shouted at team two to hurry up. There were some welding noises and the door slid open. Trent, Sam and Alan stumbled out of cold storage, glad to finally feel some warm air on their faces. Trent walked round the area, touching anything that was warm and tried to get some feeling back into his fingers. The marines didn’t hear the lerk approach. It did not spore, as it was afraid that would alert the marines and it just went right in for the kill. It landed on Sam’s back and took a bite. A huge chunk of armour was torn off as Sam clawed his back frantically. At the same time, two skulks rushed in from around the corner. Maria, Lewis and Edward opened fire on the skulks. Their yellow blood splattered all over the floor and walls, their bodies split open by bullets. Trent and Alan took out their knives and rushed the lerk. Sam was spinning round like a clumsy ballet dancer, trying to get the lerk off his back. The lerk dug its teeth into Sam’s back and Sam fell to the ground screaming in pain.
Both Alan and Trent plunged their knives into the lerk. The lerk spored the whole area before hopping off of Sam. Trent switched back to his LMG and started shooting at the lerk. However, the lerk was gone only after getting hit about fifteen times. The marines dragged Sam out of the spore cloud and requested med packs. Sergeant Lane dropped five. Trent healed himself before attending to Sam. The ugly wound on Sam’s back healed quickly and soon, Sam was able to get back on his feet. Alan welded everyone’s armour and they were all ready to go.
Sergeant Lane merged team one and two, making them team four. He ordered them to move to the canteen, which was also on level nine. The marines went down a short passageway and came to an open area. It was circular in shape and had a low ceiling. In the middle of the area, were the bodies. There were not just three or four bodies but dozens. Trent counted thirty-six bodies. They were piled up on one another, as if ready to be torched. The smell was overwhelming and Trent had to swallow to avoid puking all over the floor. Maria reported the scene to Sergeant Lane, anger evident in her voice.
Sergeant Lane ordered them to ignore it and proceed. They will have time for it later. Team four went through one of the doors and Trent cast one more look at the heap of bodies. The Kharaa had hell to pay. After a few turns, they were at the canteen. It was huge and was five times the size of the Forger’s canteen. However, it was not as clean. The walls were a faint brown and the floor had a greasy layer over it. The lights flickered occasionally but that did not affect visibility much.
The marines were not alone in the canteen. In the middle of the canteen, a gorge was building an OC in front of its RT. Just as the marines aimed their LMGs, the OC came to life. The marines fired a few bullets before ducking behind the tables. The spikes hit the table with a metallic clang and stuck there. Alan tried to peek over the table but had to quickly duck back down again to avoid a glob of spit. There was a gurgling sound as the gorge dropped another OC. Mushy stuff flowed freely from its mouth and formed the shape of an OC all by itself.
“We need to split up. That way, we can confuse the OC and hopefully, destroy it. We got to act fast or the other OC will be up. Sam, Lewis and I will go to the left and shoot the gorge. The rest of you go to the right and shoot the OC. If any of you got a better plan, I want to hear it now,” Trent said.
Nobody suggested anything. Trent got his LMG ready and counted down from three. The marines sprung out, three going left and three going right. The OC was confused for a moment and couldn’t decide on which group of marines to shoot at. Using that small window of opportunity, the marines opened fire. The gorge tried to hide behind its OC but it was too late. Within seconds, its head looked pretty much like a mashed potato. Without the blood of course. The OC got peppered with bullets and blood streamed out of numerous holes. By then, the OC had already locked onto a target. It fired at Edward. Edward did not manage to duck fast enough and the spikes hit his chest plate. The spikes did not penetrate much and he kept on shooting. The OC quivered and collapsed, spilling blood all over the floor.
Nobody wasted another second. They all attacked the unbuilt OC with their knives. Blood splattered all over the marines as the OC bled to death. However, in their hurry, they forgot their training. Always have one person guarding. A skulk came in without anyone noticing. By the time Edward noticed, it was too late. The skulk bit Edward’s leg, causing him to collapse. He tried to reach for his LMG, which lay next to him, but the skulk beat him to it. It jumped on his stomach and took a huge bite. Before anyone could react, it took another bite, bringing up a coil of intestines.
“No!” Maria yelled and pounced on the skulk.
She grabbed it with both hands, ignoring the fact that she could have lost her fingers, and tossed it away. The skulk did a twist in mid-air and landed perfectly on its feet. Maria pulled her pistol out and fired all ten bullets into the skulk. The skulk jerked to one side and fell over dead. Maria yelled for a med pack and ran over to Edward. Edward’s eyes were rolling in their sockets, darting left and right. Sticky red blood was all over the place and even more was still flowing out. It was evident that Edward wasn’t going to make it. Even if the Forger
picked him up now, the chances of survival were still very slim. Sergeant Lane knew that and did not drop any med packs.
“I can’t see! It’s too bright!” Edward whispered.
“It’s okay. You are going to be all right,” Maria said, trying to reassure him.
“I can see Elvis! And JFK! They want me to join them.”
“No!” Sam yelled. “Stay away from them! They are bad people.”
“They are not bad,” Edward said and then, coughed up some blood. “They are in the shadows though.”
Edward shuddered violently and he was gone. Just like that. His final words carrying no deep meaning, just babble. Trent looked at the Edward’s body, remembering the time they had spent together. Edward hardly talked, always the deep, thoughtful one. But now, he would never talk again. Somehow, that was the thought that had the most impact on Trent.
“People, take down the RT. There is a time to mourn but this is not it. You got a mission to do! Zack just phased in and he is coming over to join you at infirmary,” Sergeant Lane said.
Trent nodded, acknowledging the order. Sergeant Lane was right. Edward was dead but he was not. He intended to take out every last one of those damned Kharaa in memory of Edward. The marines took the RT down with a vengeance, all having the thought of revenge on their minds. For Edward and for everyone who had died under the Kharaa. Alan stood guard as the other marines knifed. They were not too keen on being sneaked up on. The marines didn’t even bother to step out of the way when the RT exploded. They took the shower of blood and in a weird way, it energized them. A RT was dropped and built in less than twenty seconds. Team four’s next waypoint was on level seven, at the infirmary.
The marines reloaded as they went. Lewis took the welder Edward was carrying. He and Alan sealed off a vent in the canteen. After the vent was sealed, a blip appeared on everyone’s HUD, signifying that armour level two was up. Nanites rushed to join with their armour, making it slightly thicker. Team four made for the stairs with Maria in front and Trent behind. The marines found a body lying on the steps. It was one of the crew and his face was completely torn off. In his left hand, he held a chopper and in the right, a cross. In the end, there was still faith. The marines stepped respectfully over the body and went down two levels. Stairs were great places for skulk attacks, especially if the skulks were going downwards. Once, they heard some clicking but it faded away after awhile. Level seven was the brightest lit level. Instead of green walls, it had white walls. The floor was also a smooth white, except for a couple of bloody footprints. Maria checked her map for directions and moved down a curved passageway. The bad thing about curved passageways was that one could not see very far. The marines passed “specimen storage” and “cryogenic freeze” before reaching the infirmary. Trent observed numerous claw marks on the infirmary door.
Maria approached the door and pressed a button on the panel next to the door. The door only slid open halfway and it was not enough for them to squeeze through. Lewis used his welder to weld the panel while Alan tried to push it open. Sam, Trent and Maria stood guard. Trent looked down the passageway, ready to blast any Kharaa that came into sight. A sudden movement caught Trent’s eye and he immediately turned. It was a skulk, slowly walking on the ceiling. It walked so slowly that its claws hardly made any sound.
“Skulk!” Trent shouted as he let loose fifteen bullets.
Sparks flew as bullets ricocheted off the ceiling. The skulk dropped from the ceiling and fired three parasites before running off, leaving a trail of blood behind. Two parasites hit the floor harmlessly but one got stuck in Trent’s boot. Trent shouted in frustration at getting parasited again. The parasite had bruised Trent’s toe a bit but that was only a minor injury. Trent heard a clank as the panel Lewis was welding exploded. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. The door finally slid open. Trent got his first look at the Horizon’s infirmary. It could not really be called an infirmary. It was more like a small hospital. It had all the facilities and equipment, a hundred beds and four operating theatres. The infirmary was totally empty except for the body in the middle of it. It was a doctor and it was evident that he had committed suicide by using a standard TSA pistol to blow a hole in his head. Trent was sure suicide was better than being eaten by the Kharaa. Sam looked around for the RT nozzle but could not see any. He looked at his map and to his surprise, it said he was right on it.
“Sir, where is the RT nozzle? I can’t see it. The map says I am right on it,” Sam asked Sergeant Lane.
“Hm… what are you standing on Sam?”
“It seems to be some sort of carpet. I don’t know.”
“What is under the carpet?”
Sam knelt down and peeled back the carpet. Underneath it was a trapdoor. Sam tried to pull it open but it seemed to be stuck. He tried again and this time, it opened. Trent could see that the area was very dusty and guessed the RT nozzle was not even maintained. He hopped down the hole and checked to see if it could still work. Only a small stream of resources escaped the nozzle due to the dust blocking the nozzle. Trent had to stick his gun in the nozzle to clear the dust and after he did that, he requested for a RT. Sergeant Lane dropped one instantly and Trent started building as the rest guarded the area.
Suddenly, Sergeant Lane shouted, “Go back to canteen! Maria and Lewis go back to canteen! There are two skulks biting the RT. Alan, Sam and Trent, stay where you are and wait for Maria and Lewis to return. Maria and Lewis, you will meet Zack on the way. Link up and go together.”
Maria and Lewis left the infirmary in a hurry. Once Trent finished building the RT, he got out of the hole and covered it up. Trent, Sam and Alan split up and covered as much of the infirmary as possible. There were no vents leading into the infirmary but there were four doors. Trent went to each of the doors and checked what was on the other side. One led to a storage area for medicine whilst the other two led out to some open area. The marines camped there and waited. Five minutes later, Maria and Lewis had not returned yet and Trent took a look at his mini map. There were three blips in the canteen. That meant that Zack had joined them already. The RT was saved but a pesky skulk kept attacking them. Maria, Lewis and Zack would shoot at the skulk but it always retreated just in time. Trent thought that the skulk probably had regeneration.
The clicking was not noticed at first. The marines were too preoccupied with the mini map to notice the clicking. When Trent heard it, he immediately became alert. Another set clicks came and then another and another. There were now four. The noises were all coming from the ceiling. Sam and Alan had also noticed and had aimed their guns at the ceiling. Trent scanned the ceiling for any signs of entry but there were no vents, no cracks, nothing. The clicking went on, more constant and faster. The skulks were running about on the ceiling. The skulks started biting and soon, they could see teeth poke through the ceiling. Alan fired a short burst at the area and the teeth withdrew. Two seconds later, the skulks began biting at other spots. Four sets of teeth appeared in four different locations on the ceiling. The teeth cut through some wires, showering sparks on the floor. Trent instructed Sam and Alan to hold their fire until they could get a clear shot.
That was when the lights went out. The area went totally black and Trent fumbled to turn his flashlight. Trent could hear the skulks rip through the ceiling. The flashlight finally came on and Trent looked at the ceiling. There were four holes but no sign of skulks. That meant that the skulks were already in the room but Trent couldn’t hear any clicking.
“Sam you okay? Alan?” Trent shouted across the infirmary.
“I’m here,” Sam replied.
“Here,” Alan said.
“Let’s group up. Keep your eyes peeled. They are hiding in here somewhere,” Trent informed them.
Sam and Alan moved cautiously over to Trent, watching out for any sudden movement. Clicking was heard from one corner and three beams of light immediately swept in that direction. A skulk was seen running into and out of the pool of light. A chuckle came form behind them. Sam and Alan turned while Trent kept his light trained on the original area. Another skulk ran into the pool of light and Sam opened fire. The skulk scampered off, only getting hit twice. The clicking suddenly started all at once. There seemed to be more than four and Sam guessed that another two skulks had joined in. The marines stood back to back, shining their flashlights all over the place. Circles of light moved jerkily over the surfaces, occasionally revealing a skulk.
Alan heard a chuckle that seemed to be right in front of him. He fired off a burst but hit nothing. The clicking got close each second. Trent was now frantic, his flashlight going all over the place. Another skulk was spotted and he fired off five rounds. He saw another skulk and fired off another five rounds. Only a few of the bullets hit.
“Comm! Scan the area! I can’t see anything!” Trent yelled into his comm-link.
Sergeant Lane obliged and the blue ripples spread across the floor. It did illuminate the area slightly. However, its real use was putting the skulks on the map. Trent’s mini map showed six skulks surrounding them, barely three meters away. The skulks were playing with their food. The food does not want to play with you
, Trent thought as he opened fire.
It was one of those very rare moments. The Admiral had personally gone down to the training facility. There were two reasons why the Admiral went down to the training facility. One was to check on the new recruits and two, was to get away from the office. The Admiral arrived in a limousine with her personal aide. Anyone who saw her would immediately give a crisp salute. Joe was the one who brought the Admiral around, showing any new facilities or recruits. To the admiral, the tour was one of the few breaks she could get. Once she stepped into the training facility, all thoughts about her, her useless husband and Marcus would be gone. The Admiral was checking out the new features at the shooting range when her aide approached and whispered something into her ear.
“No!” the Admiral immediately said. “Marcus is not welcome here. Ask him to go back to that rat hole he came from.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late. I am here already,” Marcus said from behind her.
It was supposed to be her day of rest but it was not meant to be. All happy thoughts went out of her mind as she glared angrily at Marcus. She started to walk back to her limousine but Marcus stopped her.
“We need to talk,” Marcus said.
“I’m busy,” the Admiral replied stiffly.
“This is really important. I need your help.”
“Find your help somewhere else.”
“I really need your help,” Marcus persisted.
The Admiral sighed and realized she was not going to get rid of this pest. She nodded her head and instructed her aide to bring them to a quiet place to talk. Marcus and the Admiral were led to a large meeting room. The aide left, leaving the two alone. Once the aide left, Marcus took out what appeared to be a black stick. On closer inspection, the admiral realized it was a bug detector. When the admiral was about to ask what the bug detector was for, Marcus put a finger to his mouth, indicating that the Admiral keep quiet for the time being. Once the entire room was swept, Marcus turned the bug detector off and kept it.
“What was that for? Who wants to listen?” the Admiral asked.
“Walls have ears Admiral. As who would want to listen to us, I will not divulge the information just yet. You must agree to help me first.”
“What do you want me to do? What does a businessman want from an admiral? If it concerns money, then I cannot help you. I deal with guns, spies, war and death. I do not think I can help you.”
“You have not even heard my request, how can you turn me down?”
“Look, I don’t give a damn! You can go screw around with your money and I won’t care. The only reason why I am sitting in the same room as you is because you will pester me until I listen. So I am listening. Just tell me what the hell is it that you want!”
“I need you to help me to bug someone’s place. A professional top-notch job. And do some hacking.”
“No. That is my answer. Goodbye!” the Admiral said and got up to leave.
“Wait!” Marcus cried desperately. “This is not about money. It’s about justice and doing what’s right.”
The Admiral chuckled at the ridiculous notion. Bugging and spying on someone was justice and doing what’s right. “Get real Marcus. Now get lost.”
“I know who ordered the assassination of the president,” Marcus said just as the Admiral reached the door.
Over the next hour, Marcus told the Admiral everything, starting with the senator. It happened five years ago, when the senator was in the TSA’s way and had to be taken out. Dan had persuaded Marcus to be part of the plan. Marcus went on to describe his confrontation with Dan. The Admiral listened, absorbing all the extraordinary information. Marcus finished with how Dan controlled people, by using their guilt and conscience. When Marcus was done talking, the Admiral sat silently in the chair, her mind reeling from the scandals and deeds. Marcus let the Admiral think about it for a while.
“Will you help me?” Marcus asked.
The Admiral looked right into Marcus’ eye. “What do you want me to do?”
Marcus took out a file and placed it on the table. It had the TSA logo printed on top. The Admiral took the file and flipped through it. It showed all of Dan’s links with the black market. Marcus told the Admiral just showing Dan’s links with black market was not enough, they needed more serious offences. The black market was just the tip of the iceberg. Marcus outlined his plans to the Admiral, telling her where to bug, what to steal and what to hack.
“You want me to spy, steal and hack?” the Admiral asked, her eyebrows raised. “You do realize that it is all illegal.”
“I know that. I also know that what Dan has one is even worse. You know people who can spy, steal and hack. Contact them. I am willing to spend any amount of money to bring Dan down.”
“Why don’t you hire people yourself?” the Admiral inquired. “People like you always know somebody who knows somebody. Why do you need me?”
“Because Dan is watching. He is watching very closely,” Marcus explained. “Whatever I do, he will know. I cannot afford to draw more attention to myself.”
“If he is watching, won’t he know you came here?”
“Yes, he will know. But I got a reason for coming here. Besides asking for your help. My cover is coming here to give you a report about your new budget,” Marcus said as he handed a file over.
“One thing I want to know. Why do you want to bring Dan down? You can join him and basically rule the world.”
“As shocking as it may sound to you, I actually have a conscience. I know what is right and what is wrong. Another more practical reason is I want Dan’s job. I can give you ten other reasons but I need to go now. Remember, Dan always has something on you. Some skeleton in the closet you thought was gone. Don’t forget that.”
Marcus walked out of the training facility. It had started to rain. Marcus hurried over to his car where his chauffeur was waiting. He had accomplished something today. He had gained an ally in the fight to bring Dan down. Marcus did notice the man standing next to a lamppost. When Marcus’ car drove off, the man next to the lamppost dialed a number into his vid-phone. He spoke a few words and was instantly ten thousand dollars richer.
Trent fired wildly. He had no idea where the skulks were. Trent, Sam and Alan sprayed the floor, lighting up the room with their muzzle flashes. Sparks flew as bullets ricocheted off the floor and walls. Trent could feel some blood splatter on his face and he wondered if it was Kharaa blood or human blood. Before they knew it, their LMGs gave a dry click. The immediately dropped their LMGs and drew their pistols. Trent began blasting away, aiming at what he thought were skulks. There was a scream of pain from behind him and he turned around. His light fell on Alan, who had a skulk biting his inner thigh. Trent fired the remaining two bullets at the skulk and threw his pistol at the skulk. The skulk jumped off Alan and ran into the cover of darkness. There was another scream and this time, it was Sam. A skulk had sliced a neat gash down Sam’s side and blood dripped onto the floor.
A set of teeth attached themselves onto Trent’s back. Without even thinking, he jumped up into the air. In midair, he curled up into a ball. Trent landed on his back, with the skulk underneath him. Since Trent had curled up into a ball, all his weight was centered onto the skulk. Trent heard the skulk give an inhuman scream of pain as it died. Even though Trent had killed a skulk, he had lost his pistol in the process. Trent got up and reached for his knife. To his horror, he found out that the knife was gone. It was a wonderful situation. Five skulks left, two downed teammates and no weapons.
“Trent! Catch!” Sam yelled as he threw his pistol to Trent.
Trent caught it just as he saw a skulk jump at him. Trent blew the skulk’s face off with just four bullets. Trent felt the wound on his back throb with pain and he knew he was losing a lot of blood. Trent heard Alan scream again and shone his flashlight in Alan’s direction. A skulk was on Alan’s stomach and was about to rip his stomach open. Trent aimed, hoping he wouldn’t miss and hit Alan, and fired. The skulk died just as Trent felt the three remaining skulks attached themselves to his leg. Their teeth sunk into his leg, tearing the armour and flesh. Trent fell to the floor, clutching his leg in agony as a skulk jumped onto his face. He saw the rows of teeth close in. He closed his eyes, waiting for the teeth to dig into his face.
Then, there was the familiar feeling of being broken apart and put together again. Trent opened his eyes. Trent raised his hand to his face, trying to block out the white light. Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the light and realized he was back at the marine start. The whole group was back and Trent realized that Sergeant Lane must’ve distressed. Trent tried to sit up but he found out that it hurt too much to move. His back and leg burned with pain. He looked to the side and saw Sam and Alan also lying on the floor. Sam was injured much worse than Trent. Both of Sam’s legs had deep slashes, his chest had a set of bleeding teeth marks and his neck was bleeding profusely from a huge hole. Maria got a med pack from the armoury and jabbed the nanites into Sam’s neck. The nanites could not totally heal Sam’s legs and chest so he was counted as a “downed operative”. Alan was not as badly hurt as Sam but he was making much more noise than Sam. Alan only got a gash on his leg and stomach but he kept complaining loudly at the pain.
Maria used a med pack to heal Alan. Trent saw that Alan’s wounds totally healed. However, Alan still complained about some pain and reported that he could not walk for the time being. In the end, Sergeant Lane considered him a “downed operative”. Maria came to Trent last. Once the nanites did their work, the pain faded to a dull throb. Trent tried to stand up and found that he could do so without much pain. He tried to walk but could only limp. Ronald and Leonardo phased in to replace Sam and Alan.
Trent noticed that a prototype lab and phase gate were new additions to the base. HA had just finished being researched. Sergeant Lane decided that he had enough resources and dropped ten sets of HAs and welders. He also gave out six HMGs and four GLs. Now, the marines were a force to be reckoned with. Trent put on his HA with a little difficulty, because of his injured leg, and took a HMG. Sergeant Lane ordered them to move out to turret defence on level five. Before Trent left the marine start, he glared angrily at Alan. Trent was disgusted with Alan. Alan obviously could still fight but was faking injury so that he could stay in base and relax. Somehow, Alan could feel Trent’s stare through the HA helmet and he turned to look at the floor.
The HA train clunked noisily to the stairs. Those carrying HMGs took the back and front while those with GLs were sandwiched safely between them. They made their way to level five without much incident. The entire level five was solely dedicated entirely to turret defence. The marines were in a huge room, its walls were covered with panels and buttons that beeped occasionally. Trent saw pillars all over the place but on closer inspection, he realized that the pillars were actually supercomputers. The marines moved cautiously and slowly. Suddenly, two skulks popped out from behind them. The skulk shot parasites into every marine and ran. Ronald quickly turned and pulled the trigger on his HMG. One of the skulks didn’t make it and literally got cut into two by the bullets. The marines cursed the skulks for parasiting them. Now, every Kharaa would know where they were.
“Guys, do you feel that?” Maria suddenly asked.
“Feel what?” Lewis said.
Trent started to feel it too. “Heads up! Onos!”
Those words were scarcely out of his mouth when the onos came. It crashed through one of the walls, leaving a trial of wires and sparks in its wake. Leonardo, who was in front, did not react fast enough. The onos rammed right into Leonardo, tossing him through the air. Leonardo’s head hit one of the supercomputers and he slumped to the floor unconscious. The rest of the marines started shooting, spraying the onos with a few hundred bullets. The onos roared in pain as it bled from various points and bits of its flesh fell off. It made a lunge for Lewis, attempting to devour him. Lewis jumped to the side as the onos brushed by him. Instead of getting Lewis, the onos knocked over a supercomputer and it fell with a loud crash. The onos turned to try again. John, who had a GL, fired two grenades into the onos. The grenades exploded on contact and rocked the onos. There was a sucking sound and the onos disappeared.
“****!” Trent cursed. “Redemption!”
The only thing the onos left behind was the smell of burnt flesh. Trent knew that they had almost gotten the onos. If he had fired ten more bullets, the onos would most probably be dead. The marines began to reload their weapons. As Trent inserted a new cartridge into his HMG, two lerks glided down from a vent in the ceiling. The lerks spored the area and made one round. Luckily, spore did not affect HAs and the gas mask did not allow any of the spore get into the marines’ lungs. Trent fired off a few rounds at the lerks but they had gotten away. Leonardo had regained consciousness and staggered groggily to his feet. Maria ran over to him and checked if he was okay. After taking a few steps and answering a few questions, Leonardo was declared okay.
A blip appeared on everyone’s HUD. Weapons level two had just been researched. Sergeant Lane dropped the improved ammo for everybody. The marines grabbed the ammo and reloaded again. However, they forgot one very important rule Sergeant Lane had taught them back at the training facility. The whole squad should not reload at the same time. It was just their luck that the onos came again. This time, the onos came through a door on their left. The marines could only try and jam the ammo into their guns as fast as possible. The onos went for Jude first. Since he had not finished reloading, Jude switched for HMG to pistol and fired at the onos. The bullets did little to the onos and the onos gored Jude four times in the chest. Jude’s heavy armour was split open at the chest and blood streamed down from the wound. Jude staggered backwards and fell against a supercomputer. The onos turned to destroy the rest of the marines. It was met with six blazing HMGs.
The onos turned and ran. Run you bastard!
Trent thought as he blasted the onos. In his mind, there was only revenge for Edward and all those it injured. Hate was fuelling Trent and it made him forget about the pain in his leg. The marines chased the onos, except for Maria who went to Jude. The onos ran down a corridor, away from the hive. Trent was puzzled. The onos should be running to the hive to heal, not away from it. Suddenly, two skulks and lerks dropped on the marines from the ceiling.
“It’s a trap! Retreat!” Jake yelled.
It was too late. A gorge jumped from the shadows and dropped two OCs behind them, cutting off their escape route. The skulks and lerks started biting them, slowly wearing down their armour. The skulks jumped from marine to marine, only taking a few bites before moving on. The lerks also did the same. The marines had to be careful with their bullets, as they did not want any friendly fire. One of the skulks jumped from Trent to Zack. Zack saw it coming and sent an armoured fist right at the skulk. Zack, the strongest person in the squad, crushed the skulk’s skull and it fell to the floor. Bits of skull and gray brain matter stuck onto Zack’s fist.
The onos came back. Using its body, it smashed Trent into the wall. Trent felt his muscles go slack form his waist down. Dear god, please don’t let me be paralyzed!
Trent thought. The being paralyzed was in Trent’s top ten “fears list”. The onos stepped over Trent and went for Jake, who also had a GL. The onos opened its mouth and swallowed Jake whole. John screamed in fury and fired four grenades at the onos. The onos was shaken by the explosions and retreated. Suddenly, the beast stopped. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!
Those four explosions came from within the onos. A second later, the onos disappeared, leaving Jake lying on the floor. The marines did not have time to get to Jake. The two lerks attacked them with a frenzy they had never seen before. They flew up and down, weaved left and right. One flew right over Trent and Trent fired his HMG. He was lucky enough that forty of the bullets cut through the lerk’s wings, causing it to fall to the floor. Trent wasted no time and fired another twenty bullets into the lerk.
The other lerk and skulk sensed that doom was close and started to escape. The skulk did not make it. Ronald’s HMG came crashing down on its small head. The first hit only stunned the skulk but the second one smashed it. Unfortunately, the other lerk got away. However, the fight was not yet over. The annoying gorge had just finished building its OCs and was hiding behind them. The OCs fired their spikes at the badly damaged HA train. John, Nicholas and Leonardo emptied their GLs at the OCs. Twelve consecutive explosions rocked the marines. The OCs exploded in balls of yellow blood and the gorge lay on its back, its body totally burnt.
“Med pack!” John yelled frantically. “Sir, we need med packs!”
A hail of med packs landed in the area. Every marine took one and injected nanites into themselves. Jake was very badly injured. His armour was totally gone due to the explosion in the onos’ stomach and most of his body was had first-degree burns. John used two med packs on Jake. The med packs healed what they could but Jake needed better medical attention. Then, Maria came, dragging Jude by the arms. The marines had another two “downed operatives”. Sergeant Lane instructed them to quickly move to turret defence room two. When they get there, Sergeant Lane would drop a phase gate. The casualties would be phased back to base while Cissy and Pamela would phase in to take their place.
John, Nicholas, Leonardo and Maria carried Jude and Jake while the rest covered them. They were three rooms away from the hive. Their destination was turret defence room two, right next to the hive. The marines moved quickly now, knowing that there was no time to lose. They went to turret defence room four. It looked the same as the one they had just came from. The marines looked out for Kharaa and vents. There were none and they quickly rushed to turret defence room three. Trent was in front, leading the squad. He went to a door and it slid open. On the other side of the door were two OCs. Two gorges were behind the OCs, preparing to heal it if anything went wrong.
Trent got four spikes in his chest armour before he could dodge. John fired four grenades at the OCs. Four successive explosions followed. Trent turned to see if it was clear but the OCs were still there. Trent quickly withdrew his head before he could get shot again. John reloaded and fired again. This time, Trent could hear a satisfying splat. The marines finally came to turret defence room two. The room was different from the other rooms. It was dense with bacterium and the area was very humid. The panels on the walls were all broken and wires spilled out. Some supercomputers had fallen over and were covered in bacterium. The light was also covered with light bacterium, giving the room and eerie green glow.
Sergeant Lane did not waste any time. He dropped a turret factory and phase gate. All the marines, except Maria and Ronald, started building the phase gate first. Seconds later, the phase gate hummed to life. Maria phased the casualties through. Once that was done, Pamela and Cissy phased in with full HA gear. Trent started building the TF by himself while the rest guarded. When Trent had gone back to the Frontiersmen training facility, he had practiced a lot on building. He had cut down the turrets factory building time by about ten seconds.
There were two ways to go from the hive to turret defence room two. John, Lewis, Nicholas and Pamela covered one way while Leonardo, Ronald, Cissy and Zack covered the other way. The crackling noises Trent made while building masked the clicking noises underneath the floor. Trent only noticed the noise once the turret factory hissed to life.
“Under the floor!” Trent shouted, warning the others.
The marines instantly aimed their weapons to the floor. Five skulks shred the metal floor with their teeth and burst out. Three skulks were immediately taken down. Their brains were splattered all over the floor. The remaining two skulks latched onto Pamela and started biting. Pamela gave an evil chuckle through her helmet. She dropped her HMG and grabbed both skulks with her hands. Then, she crushed their heads together and tossed their worthless bodies aside. Thinking it was temporarily over, the marines relaxed a little. However, the skulk attack was just a prelude.
The onos came again for the third time. The lerk followed closely behind it. The marines with GLs opened fire first. They expertly bounced their grenades against the walls and caused them to land under the onos. The onos was much more experienced, since it had confronted the marines twice already. The onos hurriedly ran away from the grenades but it still got half force of the explosions. The marines with HMGs started shooting. Trent could not tell which was louder. The roar from the onos or the thunder of HMGs. The onos ran right at the marines. Trent attempted to roll away but he was too slow. The onos’ horn hit his shoulder and he was flipped a hundred and eighty degrees in the air before landing on his face. The lumbering beast did not finish Trent off. Instead, it left that to the lerk while it continued on its rampage.
The lerk landed on Trent’s back and started biting. Trent tried to grab the lerk but his arm couldn’t reach that far down his back. Trent did the only thing that he could think off. He rolled onto his back, putting the lerk under his weight and the weight of the HA. Trent did not just roll over onto the lerk and stay still. He started shaking, squashing the lerk a bit more. The lerk screamed in agony and tried to get away but Trent wouldn’t let it. Finally, Trent spread himself out, suffocating the lerk with his body. A few seconds later, the lerk finally stopped twitching.
Trent got up and picked up his HMG. The onos was still running wild, knocking marines over and goring some of them. Trent pulled the trigger and fired the remainder of his clip into the onos. Suddenly, the onos turned abruptly and started to run towards the hive. This is my chance!
Trent thought, his heart racing. The onos was dying. Trent did not bother reloading. He just whipped out his pistol and squeezed off ten rounds. To his surprise, the onos was still moving. Trent did not want the onos to get away so without even thinking, he threw his knife at the onos. The knife struck the onos in the leg and the huge lumbering beast collapsed. It made a feeble attempt to get up but Zack blasted it with his HMG. The onos breathed its last.
Trent breathed a sigh of relief. The monster was finally dead. Sergeant Lane did not give them time to rest. He dropped five siege turrets and ordered Trent to build them. As Trent went to work, the marines started welding each other, patching up the holes in the HA. Once Trent was done, Sergeant Lane scanned the hive. The marines listened with satisfaction as the siege turrets proceeded to tear the hive apart. The Kharaa never stood a chance. In less than a minute, the hive was down. The marines cheered whole-heartedly, hugging each other.
They were all very tired. Twenty minutes later, they were all aboard the Forger
, listening to Sergeant Lane’s debrief. Trent smiled, knowing that he had avenged Edward.
From the Shadows...