Dirty Pair Fan Fiction ❯ Alien Encounter ❯ Chapter 1

[ P - Pre-Teen ]
Imported From: RAAC
From: Bryan Stone <bnstone@ix.netcom.com>


Kei and Yuri: The Dirty Pair
An Alien Encounter
Chapter One


13:38 CST, 15 March, 2143
Dorman Colony Complex
Planet Locris, Rumic Star System

Hideous cries echoed through the colony corridors, gunfire following
not to far behind as a squad of Confederation Marines scrambled for safety.
At one intersection, a young soldier stood fanning his weapon with wild
abandon while what remained of his section retreated behind him carrying their
wounded, praying that the bugs had not gotten ahead of them.
"EEEYYYAAAHHHH! Go'ta hell you bahstads!" he cried switching his
rifle to full auto. The barrels exterior rippled from the excessive heat it
endured, then a voice called out to him from behind.
"Squiggy, c'mon!" a female marine said. "The Colonel say's we're
slowing up the time table!"
Private Louis "Squiggy" Balboa glanced back at her then stopped
firing, gazing down the tunnel. The motion detector built into his helmets
visor detailed the myriad returns surging towards them. He could hear their
bony hides scraping against the walls, and decided it was time to make a hasty
withdrawal before he became dinner or worse.
As fast as his legs could move, Balboa scampered down the length of
the tunnel rejoining the rest of the rearguard. Suddenly from out of an air
vent along the wall, a wiremesh grill shot off it's hinges. Thin talon like
arms snatched out grabbing one of the marines pulling him inside. His cries
were brief; a sound like a ripe melon being crushed quickly followed. The
marines hardly missed a step, turning briefly to pour a barrage of gunfire
into the opening. A satisfying screech rose up, but there was no time to stop
to see if it was dead. In this war, stopping meant dying, and both sides were
giving no quarter.
Rounding another corner, Balboa spotted the rest of the company at the
threshold of the main tunnel. "Colonel, Colonel!" he called out breaking into
a dead run.
From a group in the center of the corridor, a man stepped out looking
towards them curiously. Lt. Colonel Todd Collins narrowed an eye as they
approached, figuring that the news they brought was not going to be good. He
steadied his tall rugged frame, motioning the marines around him to carry on
with their task. Balboa came to a halt panting hard as he regained his
breath.
"Sir . . . the bugs . . . their coming . . . frigging hundreds of'em!"
Collins gazed in the direction he was frantically point, then frowned.
"Where's Sergeant Ina?" he asked.
"He's dead . . . bugs swarmed him in the first rush. They just, they
just--"
"Get a hold of yourself, marine,"Collins said sternly.
Balboa drew in a deep breath.
"The damn things got past the booby-traps and the barricades. Only
thing that saved the rest of the squad were the droids; and they all got
ripped to shreds."
Collins brows furrowed together. Things were totally out of hand now.
That was the last of the defense droids, the only real deterrent he found
against these creatures. Half a squad wiped out, a third of 46th Battalion
eliminated, it was not looking good for the Corps today. If they could last
in the central module until help arrived, it would be a miracle.
Ordering Balboa to move the remainder of his squad into defensive
positions just inside the security doors, he turned calling to a young, slim
blonde a few feet away.
"Yes sir," she said as she approached.
First Lieutenant Vicky Meyers stood admiring Collins as he paused in
thought for a moment. His calm, confident posture simply amazed her in light
of the severity of their situation. There was nothing anyone in the battalion
wouldn't do for the Colonel. Meyers found herself drawn irresistibly towards
him for more than just friendly reasons. The hard stare he suddenly placed on
her broke Meyers from her thoughts.
"Are those charges set?" he asked.
She swallowed nervously. "Y-yes sir. All the tunnels have been
wired. When we blow them, they should all be demolished . . . sir."
"Good. I'd say we have about three minutes. How many Companies are
left?"
Meyers made a quick mental caculation. "Three; A and B at half
strength, E at full strength. Counting the Techs in Command Control, 715
Marines."
The figure made Collins smirk. Damn, he muttered angrily. This was
no time to show any weakness, Collins reigned in his frustrations.
"Okay, have Sergeant Quinten pull B company back. Move--"
A loud piercing squeel carried through the air, halting everyone dead
in their tracks. Meyers face went white with fear. She brought her rifle up,
glancing around searching for any sign of the creatures.
"Looks like we'll be blowing the tunnels sooner than expected, Vicky,"
Collins said.
The marines began to inch back towards the opening. Suddenly a form
rose up out of the darkness. It moved forwards stepping into the light then
stopped. Although there were no visible eyes, the `bugs' as the marines were
calling the creatures, craned its long obtrusive head around as if watching
them. Its protruding jaw and sardonic row of razor sharp teeth parted,
exposing the retractable second pair of teeth inside, letting out a
threatening hiss. Hunkering down, the deadly spine-like tale rose up curling
forwards, spear tip quivering in anticipation of the kill.
"Oh, Colonel," Balboa said jokingly. "they're here."
"Very obvious, private," snarled Collins priming his weapon. Another
bug appeared behind its cousin, then a third followed by several more. Soon
the expanse of the tunnel was filled with them. "Lieutenant, get your people
back," he said.
Meyers waved A company back through the main tunnel entrance. She
stopped turning to Collins.
"Colonel?"
"Go on, Lieutenant." he replied not looking back. "Oh and Meyers,"
"Yes sir?"
"Stop being so scared. Things will turn out all right."
Meyers frowned, rushing down the tunnel.
Collins placed himself behind one of the barracades next to Balboa.
"Made your peace with God yet, Balboa?"
There was fear on the young private's face, but a gleam of boyish
mischief cut his eyes. "Nah, sir. Ol' mans from da burrough, he still owes me
one."
Collins smiled, then one of the marines cried out, "Here they come!"
The monsters surged forwards only to be met by a furious barrage of
gunfire. Two heavy machine guns at either side of the opening played across
the attacking mass, blasting the bugs apart in great burst of arms, torsos and
legs. Their blood; if it could be called that, ate away at the ferrous
concrete walls and floor potmarking it as the acid burned its way through.
Clouds of gas filled the tunnel limiting the marines view.
Collins had his M61on full auto, tripple kinetic caseless rounds
withering bug after bug that entered his field of fire. They had to have
killed over a hundred of the things, but the horde reached the barracades and
began to climb over. Off to his left, Collins saw a marine get yanked over
the edge kicking and screaming as she disapeared into the waiting arms and
teeth. Another marine could be heard crying for mercy seconds before his
skull was shattered by the rapid bite from a bug.
"Fall back!" cried Collins. What remained of the company began a
fighting withdrawal towards the mouth of the tunnel. A bug charged him,
Collins emptying his remaining rounds into it, then drew his blaster. He
shouted, "Blow it!" to the engineer standing ready, the detonator clutched
tightly in his hands. A loud roar followed, vibrations shaking the ground.
As the dust and fumes settled, Collins shook himself and looked up.
Most of the lights were out, but from what he could see, a pile of rubble and
debris filled the tunnel. The marines staggered out gazing about in wonder.
"We did it," Balboa said.
A slight twitch of rubble caught Collins eye. "No, not even close,"
he replied.
He pointed to a shifting pile of debris. Groping its way up through
the rubble a bug pulled itself to full height. More of them pulled their way
out of the wreckage.
"What's it take to kill these things!" exclaimed a marine backing
away.
Collins could not answer. For the first time in his career a feeling
of hopelessness crept into his mind. By now there were more of the things
arrayed before them. Some of them began clearing away the rubble, but oddly
enough the rest stood their distance. Collins took advantage of the
situation.
"Private Balboa, get everyone back into the central module. I'm going
to drop the blast door and seal the tunnel."
Balboa smirked, glancing over to the control panel on the far wall.
He realized anyone left to work the controls would be almost assured death at
the hands of these creatures.
He questioned the order.
Collins shot him an angry look. "Just do it, Private.!"
Balboa looked at him then at the bugs before backing away, waving his
arms at the marines to fall back. Collins could not believe his own order,
but knew this could be the only chance the surviving colonist would have of
holding out until help arrived. If it did.
He moved over to the control panel praying that there was still power
to it. Opening the cover, a green light lit up as he set the code. The bugs
still had not moved; watching him from their positions as if waiting for
something to happen.
Then came a cry that sent the hairs on end at the back of his neck.
The sound of movement came from the darkness, heavy steps that grew
louder with each second. The cry echoed again through the tunnel, a figure
stepping out into the dim light that made his heat skip a beat.
A bug twice the size of the others stood surveying the carnage.
Possessing that hideous sardonic grin of death, an elaborately shaped mane of
bone flared back like a crown about its head, two smaller arms set midway down
its torso. The featureless gaze stopped upon the blasted remains of its kin,
then looked at Collins.
"Uhoh, somebody's looking for someone to blame," he said. The
sardonic grin stretched into an angry snarl, slime dripping down its chin.
"and it looks like it's going to be me."
A loud cry rang out, the four arms groping angrily towards the sky.
Hitting the button, Collins sprinted towards the opening. He wondered if he
would be able to get past the heavy metal door before any of the bugs caught
him. Something cut him across a cheek, throwing him up against the side of
the wall. Blood from a deep cut flowed down the front of his face, and he
turned looking up into the mouth of a bug perched above him on the wall.
This is it, was all he could think. Suddenly a shot rang out
blasting it away. A stream of gunfire tore into the closing ring, Balboa's
section lying prone on the other side of the tunnel covering his withdrawal.
Balboa grabbed him from behind by the shoulders. With a final lunge,
the two men rolled across the threashold, but they weren't out of danger yet.
Angered by their escape, the giant bug leaped, landing close behind. It stood
snarling over them, but before it could act a creak from the descending door
made it look up. Too late did it realize the mistake, the blast door neatly
coming down behind the hood, forcing its head to the ground. The things
desperate cries and frantic attempts by the other creatures were no match for
one hundred tons of carbodide/technium steel. With a sickening splash of
acid-blood, the door closed down in place.
Collins and Balboa sat still for a moment, staring at the head.
"I thought I told you to fall back, Balboa?" Collins said.
Balboa shrugged. "Guess we's thought you was to valuable ta loose,
Colonel."
Collins glared at him then began to smile, flinching as the cut on his
face made itself know again. "Okay, Corporal. Let get the inner doors closed
and head back to the command center."
"Yes s-- Corporal?"
"Got to have somebody to take over Ina's spot. You're the man."
Balboa paused, a grin forming on his lips. "Yes sir!" he said
cheerfully.
The rapid scrapping of claws on metal brought them back to the
seriousness of their situation. They stood up.
"Let's move out," ordered Collins.
"Right, sir, but first . . ."
Balboa drew his vibro-blade from it's holder, heading towards the
door.
"Corporal, what are you doing?"
The boyish glint returned to Balboa's eyes as he gazed down at the
head on the ground.
"Gotta get my souvenir."




Chapter Two


22 March, 2143
Aboard the WWWA Frigate, Lovely Angel
Rhamnus Star Sector, 14:16 CST

A brilliant white light projected down over the makeshift card table,
stacks of chips piled high between the three players seated around it. Kei
gave her cards a casual glance, smiling slightly then tossed out a fifty
credit marker into the pot.
"I see you," she said tossing out three more after it. "and I'll
raise you 150C."
Across from her, Yuri's expression dropped slightly. For a moment Kei
thought she would fold, but she drew in a sigh, peeked at her cards and met
Kei's gaze.
"Okay, red. I'll match it," she said adding her ante to the pot.
Kei arched a brow, looking over to Mughi. The panther-sized cat
grumbled something, then tossed in his ante. Good, more credit to spend once
we get back home, she thought. Now it was all in the cards, and with luck
they would pan out her way. It had better, she was only holding a pair of
queens, not much to be proud of.
Yuri adjusted the visor on her head as Kei tossed out three cards.
She dealt her three, then waited for Mughi. He grumbled, tossing out two,
then dealt herself two.
Barely able to suppress her nervousness, Kei slowly looked at the
first card. It was the five of diamonds, damn. The second card was no
better, the two of spades. She cast a suspicious eye at her two opponents,
bitting her lower lip nervously then looked at her final card.
Queen of Hearts.
Holding back a cry of joy, Kei gazed up at Yuri. "What'll it be,
partner?"
Yuri's face was turned down in a frown. She scratched her head in
apparent confusion.
She's so easy to read, I'm going to milk her for everything she's got!
"I'll raise you another hundred," Yuri said meekly.
Kei pushed a good part of her winnings into the pot. "Let's be bold!"
she said.
Yuri looked back into her hand, glanced up at her. With some
hesitation she pushed out part of her chips, paused then pushed the rest out
as well.
She can't have nothing better than me? Kei mused. She's bluffing,
and I'm not going to fall for it. Kei pushed out the rest of her winnings.
Mughi folded.
A tense moment followed. "Well?" questioned Kei triumphantly. Yuri
said nothing, hiding her face behind her cards.
"Ha! I knew it. You were bluffing!" shouted Kei. She rose out of
her seat, slamming her hand on the table. "Read'em and weep, looser. Three
queens!"
Kei leaned towards the pile of chips like a hungry lioness pouncing on
her kill. She was just about to rake it in when Yuri placed her hand on the
table.
"Full house," she said calmly.
Kei froze, jaw sagging. "Gaack!" she sounded in disbelief.
The meek look on Yuri's face had turned into a broad grin so wide her
eyes could hardly be seen. She rocked from side to side in her chair,
chortling like a wild hyena.
"Sucker!" she exclaimed with each move. "What a sucker. You thought
I'd fall for your trap. Sucker . . . SUCKER!"
Kei's eyes remained fixed on the cards. "Gaack!" she sounded again
before sitting back down in her chair, Yuri and Mughi's laughter ringing in
her ears.
Yuri raked in her winnings. "Well, this looks like about four months
pay. You'd better make out an allotment to me. Will make accounting much
easier for the both of us."
"Ha ha, very funny," snapped Kei fuming angrily in her chair.
"Oh, come on you sore looser, I'm just--"
[Incoming Transmission.] the Lovely Angel's computer interrupted them.
"Who is it, girl?" asked Yuri.
[Chief Inspector William Galet.]
The Angels cast surprised looks between them; a call from Bill could
only mean one thing.
More work.
Yuri leaned back telling the computer to pull up a holowindow. It
appeared above them, the image of Bill Galet coming into view. Galet's
emotionless expression only made them worry even more. Adjusting the wire-rim
glasses on his face, he began.
"Enjoying yourselves?"
They glanced back at the table, flashing him an innocent grin.
Bill shook his head. Nothing new when you had the Lovely Angels
working for you. No matter what they did, it would never come as a surprise.
"Okay. Anyway, girls I have an assignment for you. Really it's more of a
rescue mission,"
Kei sat up. "Rescue mission. How'd we get volunteered for this?"
"Yeah, Bill," added Yuri. "We're on our way home for some rest. How
am I going to blow all of Kei's money on a rescue mission?"
"Huh?" muttered Kei.
"You know I wouldn't do this normally, but the situation is different.
Let me fill you in."
The Holoscreen split, a star chart appearing above Bill's head. "This
is the Rumic star system, newly settled by The Company four months ago."
Yuri sneered recognizing the name and the notorious reputation it
carried with it. Ruthless, greedy, and at one time the largest conglomerate in
the galaxy, The Company was known for its insensitive misdeeds to everyone its
ever had contact with. In fact there was something that happened in
pre-nanoclism days, something that evaded her memory for the moment.
"It's an outpost colony, furthest in the Confederation."
"Okay. So what's the problem." asked Kei.
"About six days ago a distress signal from the colony on Locris was
received," A scaled down projection appeared of Locris in orbit around its
sun. "Naturally the government was going to send out a ship, but it turns out
that the Company had already taken action on it."
Yuri thought a moment. "Hm. How'd they get the signal so fast?" she
asked.
"Deep comms are available to everyone, Yuri," Bill replied.
"So I assume that the Company ship has run into trouble, and they need
the 3WA to bail'em out," said Kei.
"Eh, not exactly girls. Five hours ago we received another distress
signal, only this time the transmission was cut before it was finished."
Kei looked over to Yuri a questioning look in her eyes. Yuri
shrugged, nothing coming readily to mind. "I still don't see how we're
involved in this, Bill," she said looking back up.
The starchart disappeared. "By Confederation law, any ship can, or
will no matter what mission they are on, be diverted to aid any distress
signals received." said Bill.
Yuri covered her face with her hands, leaning on the table with a
sigh. "And I suppose we are the closest ship in the sector."
Galet shrugged. "Sorry girls."
"Damn!" snapped Kei getting up to pace angrily. Yuri asked the ships
computer how long it would take them to get to Locris. One day came the
reply.
"Okay, Bill we're on it. Anymore instructions?"
"Just keep in touch, okay. No bravado, no heroics, and please no
disasters."
"Sure thing, Chief. We'll talk to you in about a day."
Good luck, girls," replied Bill cutting the connection.
Kei stopped, whirling around to face Yuri. "Just our luck. Another
break lost because of some losers misfortune. It's just not fair!"
"Calm down, Kei," replied Yuri. "This should be a cake walk."
"Oh. How so?"
"We go in, get comms with the colony, find out what's wrong, tell Bill
what needs to be done and when help arrives we go home."
Kei stared at Yuri, then smiled. "Yuri, you make things so easy to
accept."
"Of course. Besides, you think I'm going to pass up a chance to renew
my wardrobe at your expense?"
Kei's smile disappeared, eyes narrowing at her friend.
"Uh, I better go set up for the jump," Yuri said easing her way out of
her chair. "Why don't you clean up down here, hmm?"
"Sure," snapped Kei.
After Yuri and Mughi had left, Kei kicked the side of the chair and
began to collect the chips from the table. Oh well, what could happen to us,
she thought while she worked. Yuri is right. A quick pop in, `hello, how are
you?', and we're off. What more could--
She stopped letting out a gasp of surprise as she stared down at
Yuri's winning hand. Normally not the one to be superstitious, Kei found
herself trembling at what she saw.
Aces and eights, the deadman's hand . . .


* * * * *


23 March, 2143
Planet Locris, Rumic Star System
1738 CST

The Lovely Angel streaked through Locris's atmosphere, leveling out
with the planet's horizon and made it's way towards the colony. An earlier
attempt to contact them was met with static. Kei didn't like the implications
of that. She set the ship on full combat mode, gliding the ship into a low
profile approach. They looked down across the wide semi arid plains searching
for any signs of life.
"Anything on the scanners?" Kei asked Yuri manning the console next to
her.
Yuri switched through the ships sensors. Nothing unusual so far.
"Nope, I'm reading basic life form readings. Animals, non-sentient creatures,
typical class-M planet."
Arching a brow, Kei gazed back out over the terrain. A typical planet
did not warrant a distress call by her reasoning. Guess the only answers were
going to be found at the colony itself. She put the Lovely Angel into a climb
leveling off to get a distant view of the place. Yuri pointed to a patch of
white off in the distance. The sensors had already identified its location,
still as they approached, the Angels did not expect the place to be so large.
Six circular modules sat in the center of a large basin; the largest
centering the other five in a pentagon array connected by a series of surface
tunnels. To the northwest, three elevated landing platforms and another large
building were positioned. As they closed, the expressions on their faces
turned to shock. Clearly it looked like there had been some kind of battle
amongst the colony. Large gapping holes potmarked the outer modules, every
tube had either been breeched, or if their eyes did not deceive them, blown to
seal them shut. Kei stopped the ship just short of the nearest module.
"I'm going to scan for any matter residue," said Yuri.
Kei nodded, studying the damaged colony. "Pirates?" she commented.
Yuri swept the area, but the results turned up nothing.
"I'm not picking up anything that would indicate starships. A lot of
trace weapon fire. Whatever happen, they sure put up a hell of a fight."
Sitting back, Kei ran her hands nervously through her hair, trying to
decide their next move. Easy, yeah right. Yuri called to her, pointing at
one of the landing pads. A ship of some sort sat there, its boarding hatch
still open. Kei moved the ship closer, and they made out the markings on the
side of the Company.
"Abandoned, but why?" asked Kei.
"This is getting really strange, Kei," Yuri said. "I'm picking up
what appears to be the colonist all concentrated in the center module."
"Convention?" joked Kei trying to raise their spirits.
Yuri shrugged. "Who knows. Anyway, there are life readings in the
other modules, but nothing matches analysis."
Kei peered out the window, staring down at the closest module. "Maybe
our `raiders' are still around."
"Nah, closest thing I can come up with is animal life. Probably an
indigenous life form taking advantage of the situation."
Accepting her explanation, Kei was left without anymore ideas. She
asked Yuri if she had any, the Angel thinking for a moment.
"Why don't we touchdown and take a look around," she suggested.
No argument there, Kei picked a spot close to the airfield and guided
the ship over. As the drew closer, she suddenly let out a gasp eyes fixed on
something out the window. Yuri rose up starting slightly at what greeted her.
The northern most module had been completely caved in, a fissure several feet
in depth exposed the interior levels. Experience told them both that from the
way the inner layer meshing had been blown outwards, that this had been done
from the inside, no doubt deliberately.
"What is going on here?" said Yuri in disbelief.
"I don't know, but we'd better find out," answered Kei. She panned
the Lovely Angel slowly around the destroyed module. Kei shook her head.
"I'm not going to touchdown," she said turning to Yuri.
"We can't stay up here."
Kei paused staring back down at the colony. "Try contacting them
again."
Yuri switched on her mic, tunning up to the standard colony channels.
After several attempts she disconnected shaking her head.
Damn, muttered Kei. Caution tugged at her mind. This was not
something to go blindly into, but they couldn't make a proper report back to
Bill without finding out what it was that caused all this carnage.
"Mughi, stay with the ship," she said to their mascot seated behind
them. "If anything happens to us, get word back to Bill immediately.
Understand?"
Mughi grumbled.
"If we're not touching down, what are we doing?" asked Yuri.
"You see where that three way section has been blown open?" Kei
replied pointing below. Yuri stood up, peering out the front. "Mughi's going
to hover down close enough for us to gravpack our way inside."
Yuri stared at her, glanced out the window again, then slowly drew
back glaring at her with a doubtful look.
"Don't start chickening out on me now, partner," she said slapping
Yuri hard on her rear as she headed for the hatch.
A long sigh emitted from Yuri. She and Mughi traded looks, then Yuri
leaned in close so Kei could not hear.
"I knew I shouldn't have won that last hand," she whispered.
Giggling, Yuri kissed the cat on the forehead and rushed off after
Kei.


* * * * *


Inside the airlock, Kei and Yuri waited patiently as the Lovely Angel
positioned itself over the gaping hole in the tunnel section below. They were
unusually quite, a nervous feeling both women felt, nor could they shake off.
Kei toyed with her rifle, a Browning 15mm Caseless Automatic, locking in a
double feed clip. She hefted it to her shoulder, feeling the firm rubberized
grip around the weapons short thick barrel. The feeling of power made her
smile, but then again any weapon in her hands did that. Slinging her rifle,
Kei looked over at Yuri.
She was seated on the bench, staring listlessly out the porthole
apparently in deep thought, a pair of wraparound goggles pushed back on her
forehead. Yuri had opted to go with a more conventional approach; standard
issue blaster, a mini pistol holstered on her right leg, pack of bloody cards
on her left arm.
Bloody Cards?
Kei sat down next to her. She reached over opening the pack, staring
at the ten deadly blades inside the holder. Yuri looked at her innocently and
Kei smirked.
"Really, Yuri," she said.
"You'll never know," replied Yuri.
Kei laughed, draping an arm around her shoulders. "You got the
jitters too, huh?"
"There's something about this that scares the living daylights out of
me, Kei."
"Yeah. I've had the same feeling. If it was avoidable I would, but
guess this come with the job."
Yuri grunted, laughing slightly. "The job," she said. "Sometimes I
just want to boot this job, Kei."
Kei drew back, stunned by her partners comment. Before she could say
anything, the green light above the hatch flashed, their signal to get ready.
The Angels pulled down their goggles, standing next to the hatch. When Mughi
thought they were close enough, he opened it up.
"You ready?" Kei shouted above the rush of air. Yuri smiled, plugging
in the jack to her gravpack. Together they stepped off the edge hovering in
the air. Flashing an okay up to the monitor, Kei started her decent down
towards the gapping hole below.
A few feet from touchdown, the Angels unslung their heavy weapons
turning back to back as they landed, sweeping the area for any signs of
trouble. Nothing happened, the only sounds coming from the Lovely Angel's
engines.
"I'm clean here," Kei said.
Yuri gave her a thumbs up and they relaxed. She told Mughi to move
off and the ship departed. The sun beamed in brightly, illuminating their
surroundings. Despite it's warmth, a cold chill made Yuri shudder
uncontrollably as she looked around. Obviously this blast was caused by heavy
charges placed at the cross supports to bring it all down. Something must
have gone wrong, maybe whoever was planting the charges didn't get them set
right, or they weren't finished when they were attacked.
Off to the other side of the opening, Kei knelt staring at some of the
conduit on the wall.
"Yuri, come take a look at this," she called out.
Yuri looked at the spot she was pointing at. An electrical conduit
lay splayed open on the ground. Nothing unusual, except for the way it had
been parted in two. Melted, or something corrosive ate its way through
continuing on well into the ceramic foundation. Kei pointed to similar damage
around the tunnel.
"Chemical weapons?" questioned Yuri.
"I don't know. Looks that way, but I've never known any C-weps to be
so corrosive. This stuff gnawed its way straight through hardened ceramic
metals and kept right on going."
"Well it was a sloppy job. Look the holes potmark the place, a
splatter job. Something a rookie would do."
"Is that experience talking?" teased Kei.
Yuri cut her a nasty look. She stared down the semi-lit tunnel
frowning.
"Kei, I think we'd better get to those civies and find out what's
going on, ASAP," she said.
Kei agreed and they started down the tunnel. Making their way
carefully through the debris, the Angels soon came upon a series of barricades
blocking their path. Blast marks riddled the surroundings, denoting the
fierce battle that had been fought here. They paused trading questioning
looks, then began to pick their way through the mess. Yuri climbed up over a
pile of shattered concrete sliding down the other side. As she hit the
ground, her foot caught on something buried beneath part of the structure.
She let out a yelp tumbling.
"Yuri!" shouted Kei hurrying over the top.
"I'm okay," she replied. Shining her light at the spot, a combat boot
lay exposed on the ground. She pulled at it, and realized that it's owner was
still inside. Yuri sneered drawing back.
"What'd you find?" asked Kei as she came up behind her.
"A stiff," she replied.
Kei shined her light down on the boot, kneeling closer for a better
look. "Hmm," she sounded moving away more of the debris. "a soldier, and
from the looks of these combat boots, I'd say a Marine."
Further digging uncovered the rest of his body and the weapon he was
using.
"Wow, Kei," said Yuri examining it under her light. "This guy must
have had this thing on full auto. The barrels practically warped."
Kei did not respond, staring down at the dead marine lying face down
before her. There were no gunshot wounds, no burn marks that she could see.
Strange, she thought turning him over. Her cry startled Yuri; she spun around
weapon drawn up.
"What!" she shouted, but Kei was off to one side on all fours,
breathing heavily as she fought to keep her breakfast down. Without
answering, she pointed back at the marine. Where his face should have been, a
bloody jagged hole was situated between his eyes, claw marks shredded the rest
of his face and throat. Yuri jerked away, pulling Kei along with her as she
moved back.
"Boy, you'd figure we'd be used to sights like that," she said panting
hard.
Kei had not been successful keeping her food down. She wiped her
mouth clean with the back of her hand, then shot to her feet.
"It's time to go, Yuri," she said.
"What! We aren't going to try and get to those colonist?"
Kei was visibly frightened, eyes wide glancing around nervously.
"Whatever, whoever did that to that marine, I don't want to meet in this
tunnel."
"Kei, get a--" began Yuri when a scuffling sound caught her ears from
behind. She slowly turned looking down the tunnel. The section was dark, and
Yuri tilted her head to one side listening again.
"Yuri, did you hear me? I said we're leaving." Kei shouted again.
Yuri raised her hand silencing Kei. She leaned forwards, then started
walking towards the opening.
"Somebodies out there," she said.
Kei looked up, trying to peer through the darkness. The sound came
again, and she pointed her rifle down the tunnel.
"Yuri, come back here!" she whispered.
Yuri stopped halfway. "You can come out!" she shouted. "We know
you're there."
Silence.
Kei inched back towards the barricade. "Yuri, damnit, get your idiot
butt back here!"
"It could be one of the colonist."
The sound suddenly returned, getting sharper at a steady pace. It
sounded like several sharpened nails tapping on a hard surface.
"Yuri," Kei said with more urgency.
Clack, clack, clack.
Yuri squinted as a form began to appear at the edge of the light. A
taloned foot suddenly moved in to view, followed by a creature that made her
draw back in shock.
"That is no colonist!" exclaimed Kei.
The sharp row of teeth on the things long head parted. It hissed at
Yuri, drooling as another set of jaws extended towards her. She let out a
scream and leaped back, letting loose a burst of blaster fire. The creature
squealed as it was blown away, thrashing about on the ground. Yuri did not
have time to examine her victims plight as a horde of creatures surged out of
the darkness towards her. She ran.
Kei's rifle fired fast and continuously covering Yuri's retreat. A
portion of them broke off and headed straight towards her forcing Kei to shift
fire.
"Yuri, use one of those damn cards of yours!" she shouted.
Yuri leaped onto the debris, whirled shooting one of the things as it
pounced at her. Reaching frantically into the holder on her arm, Yuri let fly
three of the cards into the crowd before her. Satisfying cries carried
through the air as heads, torsos and limbs fell to the ground. By the time the
cards had passed through five of the creatures, they were nothing more than
globs of melted metal splattering with a hiss on their next targets. Yuri,
stunned by what just happened, started climbing up the barricade.
Close to the top, Kei moved towards her, sweeping the area with
gunfire. She'd already emptied two clips, working on a third, but the things
kept on coming not caring about casualties or their own well being. She
glanced towards Yuri, seeing her partner scant inches from being caught by the
mob, and turned firing into the crowd behind her. The things tumbled back
back down the side. A brief respite, Yuri reaching her as she straddled the
top.
"Take my hand, Yuri!" Kei said reaching down.
Yuri grabbed it, then something placed a tight grip on Kei's left
ankle. She looked around, finding one of the creatures on the other side
latched firmly to her. She smirked, placing the barrel of her rifle into its
face, blowing it back down the side. Another large group of the things moved
up towards her cutting their escape. Kei yelped leaping aside dragging Yuri
along with her. The Angels slid to a stop next to the dead marine, cornered
by the creatures closing the trap around them.
They opened fired, desperately trying to stop the inevitable,
screaming and crying both at the same time as they backed up against the wall.
"Get down!" a voice cried out. Kei and Yuri covered up as explosions
wracked the area. Gunfire erupted from the tunnel, marines stepping out into
the open with guns blazing. A heavy machine gun opened up playing across the
top of the barricade to prevent those on the other side from joining their
cousins below.
The remaining creatures around the Angels attacked this new threat,
and were neatly cut down in their tracks.
"Hey, you two!" a marine sergeant shouted at them. They looked up.
"You guys going to just lay there. Watch you step and get your butts moving!"
The Angels scurried to their feet. Dodging the steaming holes in the
floor, they raced past the marines down the tunnel. A mad foot race followed
as the soldiers withdrew, thundering close behind them towards the narrowly
opened gate at the far end. Threatening hisses and squeals spurred them on.
Kei and Yuri leaped through the gap.
"Close'em, close'em, close'em!" the marine sergeant ordered
frantically.
The two doors began rumbling together when one of the creatures tried
to leap it's way past, getting caught up between them.
"Don't let that thing get crushed in there, or we'll have a hell of a
time keeping the bugs out for sure!"
One of the marines flashed him a thumbs up, pointed his rifle at the
bug and blasted it back out. The doors clanged shut.
Kei and Yuri lay on the ground breathing hard after their near-death
encounter. Above them, the sergeant came into view checking to see if they
were alright. No injuries that he could see, he knelt down beside them
catching his breath for a moment, looked up and smiled.
"Sergeant Reginald Quinten, B Company, 46th Battalion. Welcome to the
Dorman Colony Complex . . . ."



Chapter Three

A shocked and partially terrified Kei and Yuri marched with the
marines towards the command center, thankful to the stars and their rescuers
to be alive. Kei began to notice their surroundings, her curiosity rising.
Obviously this center module was not built for any long term living by the
colonist. There were granaries and production facilities, warehouses, open
pens for automated machinery around the outlying areas. The more habitable
buildings, mainly shops and commerce stores were located further in. Whatever
normal routine had all but faded away as colonist milled around in tight
groups, armed to the teeth and watching them very closely.
They reached a checkpoint at a crossway, the civilian police manning
the barricades drawing up to look at the new arrivals. Sergeant Quinten
muttered something out of earshot to the watch captain. He smirked, giving
the Angels a wry look then allowed them to continue.
"My, aren't we the skittish kind," Kei said as they passed through.
Quinten let out a grunt. "You would be too if you'd been through what
we've been through," he said over his shoulder.
Kei took in his words, not wishing to mar relations. She regarded the
husky Sergeant with some interest. His face seemed perpetually drawn down in
a sneer, eyes narrow as if he was ready to thrash the next person that got in
his way. A grizzled beard speckled with patches of gray and in need of
grooming made him look that much meaner. Each arm was as thick as one of her
legs, straining against the rolled up sleeves of his uniform. Possible, just
possible, thought Kei.
The Sergeant glanced over at her, and for a moment she saw a look of
confusion come across his face. That was the fourth time he's done that. Is
there something wrong with us?
{Kei.}
It was Yuri, using the interlink installed in their brains.
{What?}
{Have you noticed how armed these people are?}
{Yes. Looks like our buddies outside have these folks squirming in
their seats.}
{This is worse then fear, Kei. They even have children walking around
with guns.}
Kei took another look. As Yuri said, there were children standing at
the corners toting rifles or some form of firearms. Rounding another corner,
she spotted a large warehouse, children too young to handle weapons playing in
the street. Several groups of women eyed them as they passed, fingering the
triggers of their guns. Kei noticed the look of near panic in their eyes.
{I sure as hell hope I don't have to go up against that pack,} said
Kei.
Dull sounds of gunfire echoed through the streets and everyone stopped
glancing about. The Angels could hear safeties being released; the group of
mothers behind them called for their children to come inside. A whine from a
hovercraft's engine cut the air, whisking several blocks away down a side
street . After another series of gunfire, it finally quieted down.
"Damn bugs," muttered Quinten. He looked at them again, then moved
on.
"Uh, Sergeant Quinten," began Kei. "I know you want your C.O. to tell
us what's been going on, but could you just give us a little background?"
Quinten was quiet for a moment.
"The bugs have been hitting us day and night. Whole damn battalions
been up fighting'em. A snip here, a tap there. Almost two weeks straight.
Ever since that friggin ship crashed here,"
"Ship. What ship?" asked Yuri.
"Colonel will tell you all about it," He paused shaking his head.
"But I'll tell you this, ladies. It was the damnedest thing I'd ever been
through . . . damnedest thing."
He would say no more, and Kei didn't press the issue.
Finally the group reached the Command Center, a domed building
surrounded by a high thick concrete wall. The guard let them pass, Quinten
pausing just long enough to find out what the trouble was. As they rode an
elevator to the top, Kei noticed the strange stare Quinten gave the Angels.
"Sergeant Quinten," Kei said finally having enough. "Is there
something wrong with us?"
Quinten's eyes widened slightly. "No . . . well yes. I know you
ladies from somewhere, but I just can't place the match."
"Really? Well my partner and I have been around," replied Kei giving
Yuri a sly wink. "And you can stop calling us ladies. My name is Kei, my
partners name is Yuri. Our official designation is the Lovely Angels."
It was the widest they'd ever seen Quinten's eyes open, a look of
terror written on his face. He shook visibly, stammering for words.
"N-n-n-oho . . . n-n-ot the `Dirty Pair'!" he said.
A flash of silver and flesh had the hardened veteran slammed painfully
up against the back of the elevator, Kei and Yuri pinning him each with a
forearm across the throat. The marines around them were too stunned to react.
"We don't take too kindly to that name, buster!" snarled Kei applying
more pressure to the struggling Sergeant.
"Yeah, it wasn't our fault," added Yuri fingering the butt of her
pistol menacingly.
The elevator stopped, its door opening and a tall figure stood at the
threshold. Immediately the other marines snapped to attention.
"Knock it off," ordered a commanding voice.
Kei and Yuri stopped, slowly looking back towards the sound. Lt.
Colonel Todd Collins put a dark look on his face. He took a step inside,
planting his fist on his hips.
"I said knock it off," he ordered them again. Quinten dropped to his
knees coughing and gasping for breath. Not knowing what to do next, Kei and
Yuri looked at each other, shrugged and mimicked the marines around them
snapping to attention. Collins walked to the center of the elevator.
"Are you alright, Sergeant?"
Quinten cleared his throat and stood up. "Ah, yes sir. The ladies
we're just informing me of their proper designation."
Collins glanced at the Angels. "Hm, 3WA," he said.
"You heard of us?" replied Kei.
"Yes, I recognize you from your uniforms," He paused giving them a
quick once over. "What little you wear."
They tensed, but held themselves in check. From behind Collins, a
female marine appeared. An officer apparently, she glanced around at the
scene then with a jerk of her thumb directed the marines out of the elevator.
Collins waited until they were gone before continuing.
"Lt. Colonel Collins, commanding officer of 46th Battalion. You are?"
Kei stuck out her hand. "I'm Kei," she said smiling with a seductive
glint in her eyes. He shook her hand. "Mmm, and strong too," she finished.
Collins frowned.
{Kei, there is no time for that!} Yuri scolded her.
"That's my partner, Yuri. The Funless One."
Yuri gave Kei a sharp nudge to the ribs. "My friend, always joking,"
she said smiling.
Collins laughed. Kei noticed the threatening glare the blonde gave
her, but ignored it as he introduced her.
"1st Lieutenant Vicky Meyers. My Operations Officer."
Meyers gaze remained locked on Kei. "Ladies." she replied in a
chilling tone.
{Bitch call,} sent Kei.
{Stop it, Kei,} replied Yuri. {We don't need to make any enemies in
here.}
Collins felt the tension in the air.
"Uhm, Lieutenant Meyers would you please go and check on the status of
Sergeant StPaul. I'm curious about that attack."
Meyers looked up at him. She cut Kei one last, sharp glance, saluted
and left.
"Excuse her. She's been on edge lately. Stress."
"I wouldn't call it that," muttered Kei.
Collins paid her no mind. He told Quinten to go make his report and
get some rest. Quinten walked by mindful to keep a safe distance from the
Angels. Yuri apologized for their actions, but all he did was rub his neck,
muttering something back to them under his breath.
"Guess we were a bit rough on him," Yuri said.
"Slightly," replied Collins.
He told them to follow him and they walked down the hall into the
command center. Computer consoles manned by marine techs flashed displays and
other information across their screens, relaying inputs to the array of
monitors on the walls around them. Every tech sat glued to each screen,
speaking into their mics and listening intently to the reports coming in. Kei
could see the dark rings around their eyes, haggard and disheveled appearances
that indicated these techs had been at it for some time now.
At a large tactical table, Yuri spotted Sergeant Quinten talking with
another marine officer, pointing at something displayed below them. A Major
she noticed from the gold oak leafs on his collar; something about the man
seemed out of place. Not bad looking for a grunt, he was shorter than
Collins, sporting a marine crew cut and light blue eyes that gave him a boyish
look. Still, she questioned his appearance. Kei called to her pointing up at
the main screen. On it a digitized overview of the colony was displayed.
Moving in a tight orbit around the central module was an icon representing the
Lovely Angel.
"Mughi," she said.
"I assume that's your ship in orbit out there?" asked Collins.
"Yep," answered Kei.
In all the excitement, Kei and Yuri had forgotten about their
mammalian friend. They realized they better talk to him, that pattern he was
flying was a search pattern. If he could not come up with a location, then .
. .
Kei tried to transmit via their link, but the ship's computer did not
respond. Confused, she tried again.
{Save it, Kei,} Yuri sent to her.
{What gives? Why cant we--}
{The place is hardened. Our links can't penetrate it.}
{Wow, talk about home defense.}
Yuri glanced at the chronometer on her wrist. "Colonel, we've got to
talk to our ship. You have an antenna available?"
"Whoa, whoa!" exclaimed another monster sergeant striding towards
them. Bald and from his looks, strong enough to back up his objections, he
stopped slamming his palms down on the table. "Sir, if we try using a tower,
you know what'll happen!"
"May I introduce First Sergeant Kelly, leading non-com," Collins said
to them.
All eyes had turned towards them.
"What's he mean, Colonel?" asked Yuri.
"The Bugs. They don't like it when we talk to the outside world."
"Their intelligent?"
Kei interrupted them, leaning across the table at Kelly. "Doesn't
matter. Look baldy, if you don't want our friend up there to turn this
tortoise shell you people are hiding under into a soup bowl, you'd better let
us talk to him, and I mean fast!"
Kelly drew back. His face turned beet red, his fist clenched tight
ready to tear into Kei.
"Control yourself, Kelly," Collins said.
The First Sergeant shook with rage, but did as ordered turning away.
Collins thought a moment. He came to a decision and moved to a console.
The Major at the table came up behind him. "Risky decision, Colonel.
You know we've only got four left," he reminded him.
"I'm aware of that, Fran. Oh, ladies this Major Fran Welton, my
acting second in command."
Welton nodded in their direction with a smile.
{That's it, Yuri. When I'm done with 3WA, I'm joining the Marines.}
{Oh, Kei you're hopeless!}
At the console, Collins ordered the tech to call up a display.
Reluctantly he did, and the colony schematic was replaced by a scene of an
open field not to far from the landing platforms.
"Mmm, Kei, right? If you would please," he said motioning her over.
On the screen, part of the field parted, and from the opening an
uplink communications dish rose into view. Kei understood. She held out her
hand. The tech disconnected his interface plug, handing it to her. Dialing
up the Lovely Angels circuit, Kei initiated transmission.
[Mughi this is Kei. Stop your sweep and standoff for further
instructions.]
A worried grumble replied to her call. Mughi wanted to know if they
were alright, seconds away from firing a burst from the main gun.
[We've a little situation down here, nothing major. Can you--]
Kei froze in mid sentence. On the screen, the field surrounding the
dish suddenly rippled with dark figures, figures that began to attack the dish
with frenzy. The bugs swarmed it, and in seconds it was covered by hundreds
of them ripping and tearing at the metal. Stunned, Kei unplugged the probe.
"Well, there goes that dish," Kelly said sarcasm lacing his words.
"And we just got it fixed too," grumbled the tech next to her.
Collins reached down changing the display.
"Nothing major?" he questioned Kei.
She shrugged. "Guess I'm wrong."
He frowned heading back towards the table. Kei followed.
"Colonel, Colonel, how many of these things are there?" she asked.
Welton answered. "We don't know."
Kei stopped dead in her tracks. "You don't know?"
"Wish I did." Collins replied flopping down into a chair. "I've seen
a lot more than what you saw on that screen though."
Yuri, leaning over the table in thought, could not believe what she
was hearing.
"Where did they come from, or are they the rightful citizens of
Locris?" Yuri asked.
Collins surprised her by laughing. "Citizens, no, Yuri. Your
question is a good one, and deserves a good answer." He tapped a few buttons
on the arm of the chair. On one of the large monitors, a layout of the
surrounding countryside appeared. Collins continued.
"About two weeks ago, we had a ship crash about 80 clicks east of the
complex. I led a squad with a medical team to investigate and rescue any
survivors. When we got there, the ship was pretty much beat up. Once inside
our teams split up to search, and that's when we ran into the first bugs."
"They hit third squad somewhere amidships," Quinten said. "Don't know
how many, but we lost twenty marines before anyone realized what was going
on."
Kei scratched her head, wondering what they had gotten themselves
into.
"Colonel, in light of what you were up against, did you destroy the
ship?"
For the first time, Collin's calm demure faded. A solemn look covered
his face, staring out into empty space. "No. We had indications that my
people were still alive. Unlike others back in the civilian sector, I don't
consider my people expendable."
"So you tried to save them," Yuri said.
"Never got a chance too," Collins replied. "While we were gearing up
to tear into that ship, word came back of an attack at the airdrome."
Staring up at the screen, Kei analyzed the scenario so far. These
aliens from that ship were not to be taken lightly it seems. It looked to be
a pretty smart move counterattacking like they did. A distraction?
"Colonel, this ship. Was it outside of known space?"
"No, it was a class five star-transport. `S.S. Glory Ann' if I
remember correctly."
He ordered one of the techs to call up the records from the computer.
The scene shifted to the crash site. A ship several hundred meters in length
lay in the open field. Her prow was partially buried into the ground, wide
sweeping wings ripped back towards the rear of the ship. Yuri moved closer to
the screen.
"Hm. That's not a crash if I'm looking at this right," she said.
Collins arched a brow. "Please explain yourself, Yuri."
"See how the wings have been torn away from the fuselage," she
explained pointing at the torn sections. "That tells me that this ship was in
a glide path, human or computer controlled. All the carbon burn is on the
underside flaring up, so there had to be somebody purposely bringing the ship
through the atmosphere."
"Were there any survivors, Colonel?" asked Kei.
Collins stood up. He looked disturbed, passing quick glances at the
Angels. Kei did not like the implications of this.
"Colonel . . . what's wrong?"
He said nothing for a few minutes.
"Yes, there was a survivor. The ships captain."
"Well let's get him up here and tell us what happened."
"I can't. You see he's . . . dead."
That blew any chance of a speedy solution. "Did he tell you anything
that might help us?" continued Kei.
"He kept asking us to kill him," Quinten said.
"And did you?"
Quinten looked at Collins, wondering if he should field this answer.
"We didn't have too, but we should have."
That startled the Angels. They felt the foreboding silence around
them, noticing that Collins had moved over to a communications panel. He was
about to activate the mic, paused and looked at them.
"I know you're curious, ladies . . . guess I should show you this."
Collins hit the button. "Doctor Pellorian."
<Yes, Colonel.> answered a well mannered voice.
"Doctor, could you bring up the vid on the captain of the Glory Ann."
<You really want to see that again, Colonel?> Pellorian answered
clearly with trepidation in his voice.
"Yes, Doc. We have guest who need to see it."
<I'll bring it up.>
Returning to the table, Collins regained his steadfast composure.
"You know when we found him, he was kind of--"
"Glued to the wall," Quinten interrupted. "Just stuck there,
jammering and crying like a baby. He kept--"
"That's enough, Sergeant," Collins said. "As I was saying, the
captain was a little delirious, so we thought."
{Glued?} sent Yuri. {Kei we need to get to the Lovely Angel's data
banks and research this one.}
{If we can get through those things outside, Yuri. I don't see that
happening anytime soon.}
She was right. Unless they found a way to escape this potential death
trap, there was no way to find out what they were up against, or getting word
to Bill to send help. As the Angels conferred, through the main doors, two
men and a woman walked in. The taller of the two men headed for Colonel
Collins.
"Doc thanks for coming," Collins said.
Doctor Pellorian sat down at a console. From one of the deep pockets
of his white lab coat, he pulled out a data cube plugging it in. His thin
fingers tapped firmly on the keys as the information uploaded into the
computer. He appeared agitated, a strained expression on his face.
"Is there something wrong, Doc?" Collins asked.
Pellorian pushed his wire rimmed glasses up and sat back, running his
hands through his dark hair. "This is somewhat of a bad time, Colonel. I was
in the middle of treating the wounded from the last attack."
"What are the casualties?"
Pellorian looked up. His silence told Collins more than what words
could say. Cursing low, he leaned back against the tactical table.
"Major, I need to see Sergeant St-Paul, ASAP."
"He's on his way up now, sir."
Pellorian said he was ready, and Collins called the Angels over.
"This is Doctor Pellorian, head physician for the colony."
The Doctor smiled, eyes roving across their bodies. He said something
about sins of the flesh, shaking his head with a sigh.
"Behind him, is Timbra Brown; the Company's civilian rep," continued
Collins.
"I'm the administrator for the Andimi Etruscan sector." she added.
Kei sized the woman up. She was a head taller than her, well toned
and sporting short fiery red hair. Timbra Brown gave her the impression of a
no-nonsense person, typical for the stuff shirt executive types. A glint in
her eyes, maybe something that Kei could relate to, found the Angel liking her
despite the subtle frowns from the rest of the staff.
"Good to see another red-head here," Timbra said smiling. "Thought we
were becoming an extinct species."
Kei laughed. "Yes, we truly are alone in this world."
Collins cleared his throat. "Ladies, if you are finished have fun,
we're ready," he said pointing to the screen.
All eyes looked up, Pellorian running the file.
"I've advanced it to cut time, Colonel," he said as the display
shifted.
"Thank you, Doc." Collins looked at the Angels. "Uh, this is not
very pleasant. I would prepare yourselves," he said.
The display on the screen was from the view of the medical cam on a
gurney being moved rapidly down a corridor towards an examination room. On it
a man lay struggling to break free from the restraints holding him in place.
His screams and cry of anguish carried through the halls.
"PLEASE! SOMEBODY KILL MEEEE!!!" he shouted to the marines around
him. Colonel Collins stepped into to view, trying to calm the man.
"Hold on, we're getting you to a doctor right now," he said. That
wasn't good enough for their patient.
"NO, its too late for that!" he screamed as they burst through the
doors.
Pellorian came into view. "Hold on, sir. We'll get a--"
"You don't understand . . . you've got to kill me!"
"Why?" asked Collins leaning closer. "What wrong with you?"
The captains eyes were like saucers, rivulets of sweat running down
his face. "There's no time for-- AAAggack!"
He tensed, lying rigged for a second. Pellorian moved Collins back
ordering his medical team into action. They barely made a few steps, when the
captain let out a wail.
"OH, GOD HELP ME!!!!" he managed to say, then began to convulse
violently. Several medics and marines grabbed him trying to hold him still.
Confusion reigned around the room. Suddenly a female nurse screamed backing
away pointing at his chest.
A dark spot appeared on the captains tan shirt; his cries increasing
in intensity. The rest of the group moved away, shocked and uncertain what to
do. One last cry emitted from the captain. His head sagged, a burst of bone
and blood splattering the area. From his chest something appeared to be
pushing its way up, tearing through the cloth.
A prevailing silence followed, all eyes locked onto the snake-like
creature pulling itself clear from the hole in the dead man's chest. With
slow deliberation, the thing looked around at the horrified expressions. It
hissed and leaped to the floor.
"Kill it!" cried Collins. Several marines sprang into action, kicking
aside anything in their path as they pursued the creature. Rifle fire echoed
through the room followed by a loud squeal.
"It's got that damn blood!" a marine cried out. Collins shut off the
screen.
Kei stood with a hand across her mouth unable to move. Yuri clutched
at her chest staring wide-eyed at the screen. Both of them finally turned
away staggering back to the table.
"I said it was the damnedest thing I'd ever seen," Sergeant Quinten
said to them.
Yuri sat down in a nearby chair lost to the world.
"I'm sorry that was such a shock to you ladies," Collins said.
Kei turned around. "He . . . told you nothing else?" she managed to
say.
"No. We did however manage to retrieve the captains and the ships
log. I would appreciate it if you and Yuri would go through them."
"Us?"
"You are detectives are you not?"
"Are you looking for something in particular?"
"Yes. I'd like to know why that ship came here."
Kei arched a brow.
"Okay, Colonel. 3WA will pick up the case."
"Good. Mister Rhodes will help you."
The man escorting Timbra walked up, a cheerful grin on his face. He
appeared young, almost to young to be a tech of any kind. His curly brown
hair made him look that much more out of place. Rhodes stood smiling at her
for a minute, then extended a hand.
"Martin Rhodes, Technical Assistant for the Company," he said in a
thin voice.
Kei hesitantly shook it, unintentionally drawing back.
{Another geek to harass us,}she sent to Yuri.
{Don't complain. I think we'll need all the help we can get.}
"The Company just sent the two of you?" she asked him.
"Oh, no. There was twenty-five of us, and Major Welton of course.
Bugs kind'a killed off most of the crew."
"Sorry to hear that."
"Don't worry about it, sister," Timbra said slapping her hard on the
back. "They took a lot of those bastards down with'em."
"Not enough though to get us out of this mess," Collins said, annoyed
by Brown's carefree attitude. "Why don't you ladies rest a bit. I'm sure you
could use a break."
"Thank you Colonel, but I'm fine. Yuri though might need it."
{Funny.}
Yuri stood up "I'd like to get at those logs," she said.
"Okay. Mister Rhodes will take you down to the computer room."
Martin smiled leading the way. Yuri followed him, stopping briefly at
the doorway.
{Kei, something tells me this is going to get worse. Much worse.}
Their eyes met, and Kei could see the fear in them.
{Don't think that, Yuri. We'll get out of this somehow.}
Yuri held in her doubts and left the room.



Chapter Four

Leaning against a wall in Colonel Collins office, Kei tried not to
look bored as he debriefed Sergeant St-Paul on the attack that afternoon.
Still sweating after the action, his brown skin glistened beneath the lights,
shirt mottled with dark patches along his arms and back. Despite his size and
chiseled features, the long look on his face betrayed the weariness and mixed
emotions St-Paul felt. Slamming down what was left of a glass of water he
continued with his report.
"They came up through a hole in one of the heat exchangers near power
station three. Ripped apart the mesh and plating along the perimeter, and
scattered through the streets."
"How many got in?" asked Major Welton.
"When we got there, twenty of the bugs had already gotten through.
The final count was around fifty."
Collins let out a sigh shaking his head. "And that was just fifty,"
he said. He sat in thought for a moment, then told St-Paul to continue with
his report.
"Took all of D company and part of the security force to root them out
of the buildings. I think we got them all, sir."
"Well we can't take any chances," Collins said getting up to stand
before a map of the central module on the wall behind him. "Fran, what about
damage to the outer module?"
"We sealed up the hole and filled the tubes with liquid metal, but we
had to shut down the power station. Everything between A114 and D100 is
without power."
"Perfect cover for the bugs if they find another way in there."
Welton shrugged. "Either that or burn up the entire northwest side.
I had extra motion sensors placed, and spotlights set up at the
intersections."
Collins nodded, pleased by the Major's foresight, staring at the map.
Kei moved from her spot and walked up behind him, giving the map a closer
look. He noticed, but continued looking over the layout.
"Our Achilles heel," he said rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Bugs get
smarter every day. First they try to dig up under the outer dome, now they're
crawling through the pipes."
"They must realize we've got to breath," she replied.
"Air is no problem as long as they don't get to the recyclers. Water
and heat exchangers, now that's a different story."
A knock at the door sounded. Lieutenant Meyers walked in. She handed
Welton a portable redout. Her gaze fell on Kei, eyes narrowing slightly.
"This is not getting any better, Colonel," Welton said. "Casualty
report."
"Let's hear it."
"Twelve marines killed, six wounded, two of those critical. Nineteen
security force killed, eleven wounded, eight critical." A puzzled look briefly
crossed his face. "Fifteen people taken by the bugs?" finished Welton turning
to St-Paul.
"Yes, sir. Personally I saw only four get dragged away, but some of
the others said they saw more."
"This was during their retreat?" asked Collins. The sergeant nodded.
"Kidnaping people. I can imagine what for," Kei said.
Timbra leaned back in her chair letting out a low snort. "Should be
obvious, sis. They're playing host for their children."
"We've got to go and rescue them then!" said Welton.
"It's probably too late for any rescue, Fran. Besides, where would we
start to look?"
Welton was about to push the issue, but realized that Collins was
right. He walked away from the desk dejected.
"It's hard, Major, but we've got to think about those left inside."
Welton whirled around. "You saw what happened to the captain of the
Glory Ann. That's no way for anybody to die; I wouldn't wish it even to my
worst enemy!"
"I know, Fran," replied Collins. "If we could, we would go after
them, but I just can't take that chance right now."
Kei sympathized with the Major, wondering if she would suffer the same
fate if the bugs captured her. One uplink, one message to Bill and there
would be reinforcements swarming all over this planet. From the way this
situation was deteriorating, waiting for 3WA to initiate a search would be too
late. Somehow they had to get a link up to Mughi and the Lovely Angel.
"Colonel, can we try another communications uplink?" she asked.
"What, you didn't learn from the first mistake?" Meyers snapped at
her.
"Sitting here is not making things any better, and in light of the
situation what have we got to loose!" retorted Kei.
"Maybe our only means to communicate if your little attempt fails!"
The steam rose up in Kei, her fist balling up. She started stalking
menacingly towards the lieutenant, who was showing no signs of retreat.
"Alright, back off you two!" roared Collins.
Timbra was out of her chair placing a firm hand on Kei's shoulder.
She relaxed, but cut Meyers an evil glance before turning away.
"Lieutenant," Collins said breaking the hateful stare Meyers had on
Kei. She drew up to attention. "I know we're all at the ends of our wits,"
he continued. "Let's not start fighting amongst ourselves. That only helps
the bugs. Clear?"
"Yes, sir."
He glanced over at Kei, then back at her before turning back to the
map. "Major, I want you and Lieutenant Meyers to start moving the
non-combatants into the command center."
"Todd, that's almost 1100 people. I don't think we have the room."
"Its going to be cramped, but I don't want anyone else taken by the
bugs. Clear out one of the hangers and put them in there. While that's being
done, have Kelly prepare the dishes for transmission. We'll try to make
contact at first light."
Welton did not like that order but acknowledged it.
Collins studied the map a bit more.
"Sergeant St-Paul, double the guards at the power stations, and the
reservoir. Have the engineers put motion detectors on the pipes."
"We'll get right on it, sir."
"We've got a big day ahead tomorrow," Collins said turning around.
"The bugs have our backs against the wall, but we're not out of the fight yet.
We're going to win this battle. Any questions?"
There were none and Collins dismissed all of them but Kei. When they
were alone, Collins sat down resting his face in his hands for a moment.
"My lieutenant doesn't like you?" he said.
"I don't know why, maybe she at that time of the month."
He laughed leaning back. "Don't be funny," he said. A serious look
came to his face, the colonel steepling his hands together. "That's not why
you're here. I'm concerned about tomorrow's success."
"You mean the transmission?"
"It has got to work, Kei. Our supplies are starting to get low. If
you can't get that signal out, then we're all dead."
Kei swallowed lightly. "All I'll need is thirty seconds, Colonel."
"With all three dishes online, you should have more than that. I'm
taking a big risk with you on this."
"It'll get out, Colonel."
He regarded her for a second. "Okay. Six o'clock sharp in
operations."
"We'll be there. That signal is as good as gone."
Collins leaned forwards, a serious look in his eyes.
"I'm going to hold you to that. . ."


* * * * *


0303LCT, 24 March, 2143

Jacked into a computer interface, Yuri leaned back in the plush chair
she sat in, reviewing the logs from the Glory Ann. Everything she'd found so
far was bad. Nothing helped them explain why the ship came there in the first
place. Next to her Martin Rhodes sported a similar connection, scanning
through the ships computer log. For such a geek, the man sure knew his
computer systems. Together they had managed to salvage a small portion of the
damaged records. It had been long tedious work, but now at least they knew
something about what happened on the Glory Ann. Rhodes's uncanny skill
reconstructing the missing trons was the main reason for their success. It
was almost as if he could understand their language without any need for an
interface.
Yuri snuggled down into the chair a bit more, tapping the end of the
computer stylus in her hands against her chin, watching Martin work. He sat
ridged in his chair face close to the wide screen before him fingers clicking
rapidly across the keys. Abruptly he stopped, looking up then turned around
to her.
"Something wrong, Miss Yuri?" he asked her.
"No. Its just amazing how you work with all these computers. You're
a natural."
He smiled. "Why thank you, Miss Yuri. For a minute there I thought
you were going to heckle me about being such a `geek'."
"Nah! Why, Martin that's not fair. I wouldn't do such a thing. To
tell you the truth, I'm kind of a `geek' myself."
They laughed. Yuri leaned over staring at the his screen. "So how
far have you gotten in this log?" she asked him.
"Not very far I'm afraid," he replied tapping a few more commands into
the computer. "The main sections are salvageable, basic daily routines, status
checks, common stuff. However; it seems that the navigation and
communications data has been scrambled quite severely."
"Damaged from the crash?"
Martin looked closer at the code. "No. It looks like encryption.
Something I've not seen before."
Yuri studied the screen. She knew pretty much all of the languages
and encryption codes used through out the Confederation, but this defied
standard practices. After a few attempts, Yuri sat back frowning while she
thought.
"Its using a new compression scheme," she said. "Private code?"
"That's my guess. Only thing that bothers me is why now?"
"What do you mean `why now'?"
Changing displays, Martin called up the communications log. "All
these transmissions occurred during the ships transit to wherever. Those are
readable, but on the sixth, all records are converted to this encryption."
"Which means somebody is purposely trying to hide something," Yuri
concluded. Who was that someone though, and what was loaded into the computer
that warranted such action? No matter what the reason, obviously somebody
wanted this ship to land on Locris with its deadly cargo.
"Let's review the captain's logs," she said.
Yuri called up the files again. Voice readout for most of the files
proved impossible to restore, so they would have to settle for monitor
displays.
"Okay, lets go past the initial transit to first contact."
Martin advanced the files until he found the right one.
The readout began:
Captains Log: 03 March, 2143
Capt. Michael Fendrov
Ser#0304.120

Have arrived at the source of the distress beacon. What a find!
Glory Ann's scanners readout an early style, MkXV Military Hypership. The
registry code ID's it to be the Sulaco. I'm having my First check the
databanks on her. If there's no pending claims, we might just make big bucks
off this trip after all.
[]

" Money. Causes a person to loose sight of common sense," remarked
Yuri.
" They didn't have any reason to be alarmed, Miss Yuri."
" I suppose, and will you please stop calling me `Miss Yuri'."
" Okay, M. . . Yuri. Shall I advance to the next record?"
Yuri nodded and the replay continued.

Update: 03.1624
Boarding team reports no life aboard the Sulaco. The ship is in total
decay, severe damage to the engines and cargo spaces. Looks like whoever was
aboard got jettisoned in their escape modules. Team continuing investigation.

Yuri took note of the transport's name, making a mental note that if
she made connection with the Lovely Angel again to have Bill check it out.
The computer suddenly pointed out that the next few portions of the log are
marred, and that all information might not be retrievable. It asked if they
wanted to continue. Martin told it yes, and the computer resumed.

-----------@@@#####
@@@@@@----******* located something in---******@@@. I've ordered them
to be sealed and brought ***!@@@ ----@@@@#### for further study.
$$%%%&&&*** A reply from homebase about the Sulaco has me wondering.
They tell us all information on the ship is classified. ***#$$$$**___-be***---
ordered to salvage as much of the s((****--***###@anks as possible,
take---@@@@@@. . .

The readout decayed, Yuri cursing as she tried to make out the words.
"Homebase? Martin where did the Glory Ann launch from?" she asked.
"Cobal Station just inside the Andimi Etruscan system."
He brought up a star chart, highlighting the system. At least four
days max from Locris, without the exact position of the Glory Ann's find, Yuri
could not tell if this planet was in their path.
"I can try to fix it, Yuri," Martin said noticing her frustration.
"No, let's go to the next one."
The log advanced to the next days entry;

04.0015
Salvage operations complete, I have deemed the Sulaco of no worth and
had her destroyed. Glory Ann returning to base. At least--
[]
Ship's computer issued an alarm one hour ago. We investigated and found one
of the stasis containers open, Crewman Henson found lying on the deck
something attached to his face. Report to follow.
04.0147
Crewman Henson is dead. The thing on his face planted a lifeform
inside him then died. Henson came to shortly thereafter. Twenty minutes
later he started convulsing, then the creature chewed its way out of his
chest. Creature escaped into the vents, crew searching.
I've made a report to homebase, anticipating reply within the hour.

"So they lost it, and apparently lost the fight," Yuri said.
"Not to sound cliche, but in the case of Crewman Henson, curiosity
killed the cat?"
"Is that a glimmer of humor there, Mister Rhodes?"
Martin smiled. "Partly. I was kind'a referencing your comment about
money. Our friend got greedy. I surmise that he went down to see what he
could steal for himself."
"And got a nasty surprise." She paused frowning as another thought
came to mind. "Martin, how many crew members were there?"
He gazed up at the ceiling in thought. Suddenly his expression
dropped. "About. . . thirty-five," he answered gazing at her in shock.
The Glory Ann had become a flying death-trap for Fendrov and his crew.
What started as one, must have quickly spread over-powering them in a matter
of days. They needed to find out what it was that carried the bugs, at least
that would help avoid a similar fate.
"Is there more to this?" she asked about the log.
The computer indicated one last entry, damaged but partly readable.

------@@@@ngineer----@@@ damaged, by what I don't know. All -----@@@@ and
I've lost too many people to risk another----@@@. The monsters have
over----@@@'ve only the lower-----@@@@ forward and the bridge under our
control. Contact with homebase is confusing. They-----@@@@
Good God, their trying to break in!

[End of active input]

"They what, they what!" exclaimed Yuri at the screen. She turned to
Martin, but he shook his head indicating there was nothing he could do. In a
huff, Yuri leaned back in her chair.
"Martin, your illustrious Company is starting to get me very
suspicious about it's intentions," she said.
"You think the Company purposely sent that ship here?"
"I don't know," she replied sitting up again. "They gave him orders
to do something, but from the looks of things he never got to carry them out."
"I wouldn't think the Company would do something like this? We might
have a few blemishes on our record, but those were so long ago."
"Remember what you said about greed," she reminded him. Martin turned
away from her and Yuri sensed he was taking this very hard. "Martin, we can't
rule out this possibility." Still the tech said nothing. Yuri placed a hand
on his shoulder. "Let's drop it, okay. Why don't we look into the computer's
logs."
Rhodes glanced at her, then turned typing the command into the
computer.
[Irrecoverable data nodes] reported the computer.
"Filter what you can," he ordered. The computer acknowledged sifting
through the files.
[Extensive repair time needed. One video link available, one
communications entry available, Run?]
"Play the video first," said Yuri.
The monitor flickered, a view of the bridge on the Glory Ann
appearing. What few crewmen left were rushing across the room, piling chairs
and anything loose up against the main hatch. Yuri recognized Captain Fendrov
locking back the safety on a pulse rifle. Next to him, a woman stood holding
a similar weapon preparing for the fight.
"Captain, I cannot protect all of you!" she said to him.
"I don't expect you too, Janna. Just try to keep them off the
bridge," Fendrov replied.
The thumping against the heavy door increased, metal wrenching from
its mounts as the aliens began to tear their way inside. A final sharp snap
sounded and the barricade collapsed. In rushed the creatures, pouncing upon
the hapless crew as they cried out in terror. The woman known as Janna shot
down several, but a group piled on her. Muffled sounds of tearing flesh and
cartilage popping apart sounded followed her own screams. It was over in a
few short minutes. Yuri told the computer to terminate, stopped in
mid-sentence and squinted close at the monitor.
"Back up."
The display went into reverse.
"Hold it right there," she said stopping the replay.
"What are you looking at?" asked Martin.
"Her," she answered pointing to Janna. "Enhance her picture."
A portion of the screen was sectioned off, enlarged and refined to
display the woman's features. In particular, Yuri examined the wounds on her
arms, claw marks that oozed an oddly thick whitish liquid.
"Hey, she's a fake!" exclaimed Martin.
Yuri recognized the term normally used for androids in the
Confederation by regular humans. Kind of a joke really since most humans had
some sort of enhancements done to them. This Android must have been some sort
of combat model. It wasn't standard to allow fully independent one's to
handle weapons, unless there was a need for it.
Unless somebody knew what they were getting into.
"Hmm," she contemplated the idea. "Martin, let's try the
communications log."
"Like I said, it's been scrambled, and--"
"Please?"
He sighed accessing it.
[Access denied.] called out the computer. Yuri sneered at the
console. She tried, getting the same results.
"See what I mean?" said Martin.
"Damn! Why would they cipher the communications log?"
"I could break it, but it will take a few days."
"We don't have a few days."
He shrugged. "Then we need the computer module from the Glory Ann."
"Looks that way." replied Yuri. She knew that the only way to get it
was by going to the downed ship, and that meant fighting their way through an
uncounted number of aliens along the way.
"Colonel Collins is going to--"
She was cut off by the wail of the warning alarm.
{Yuri, get up to Operations, fast!} Kei sent to her.
Yuri sprinted for the doors, Martin close behind.
{What's going on, Kei?}
{Trouble. Just get up here, okay.}
For Kei too be so curt must mean something serious has gone down.
Yuri could only imagine the worst as they ran down the corridor.


* * * * *


In the operations center, Kei, Collins, Welton and Kelly stood around
the tac-table, Lt Meyers on headphones talking to several units behind them.
Yuri rushed up next to Kei.
"Okay, so what's up?" she asked them.
Kei pointed down to the table. An expanded view of the south portion
of the central complex was displayed.
"There was indications of bug activity along the outer dome. A
section of marines were sent out with an engineering team to check and seal
any gaps. We've lost comms with them a few minutes ago."
"So why don't we just seal off the area?"
"Yeah, we can do that, little lady," sergeant Kelly answered. "But
that area is the where our venting outlets to power station two are."
"The bugs are trying to repeat their afternoon attack," added Welton.
Colonel Collins studied the display, noting the icons representing his
forces, then looked up at the main screen. "We have any visuals yet?" he
asked his techs. One of them finished inputting commands. The screen
shifted, displaying the dimly lit outer area. Several large pipes extended
out from the side of the inner dome, angling down into the ground. A series
of horizontal pipes ran parallel to that, running through a squat permacrete
building back into the dome. That was all the camera could see from it's
position.
"You got a better camera?" he asked.
"No, sir. I'm not getting any response from the other remotes,"
replied the tech.
"Failure?"
"No, sir. They're not there."
Welton and Collins exchanged brief looks of concern. Collins ordered
the remote to pan left. It started, but jerked to a stop. The view shook
violently, then the face of an alien filed the screen. Several cries echoed
through the room as it hissed. One more jerk, then the screen winked out.
"The bastards learn every day," said Welton returning to the
tac-table.
"Then we'll have to root them out before they can succeed," Collins
said. "Lieutenant, are our forces in position yet?"
Meyers barked several orders into her mic before responding. "Units
are just about set, Colonel."
St-Paul and Quinten entered through the main door. Collins wasted no
time issuing orders to them.
"Sergeant Quinten get a squad together, you just got cleaning duty.
St-Paul get a backup force ready incase they need help."
Both men held back their curses.
"On the double, gentlemen," added Collins.
"First Sergeant, can I get Balboa's squad?" said Quinten.
"Where do you want them?"
"Have them meet me at the armory."
Quinten turned to go when Yuri suddenly asked, "Can I come along,
Sergeant?"
He froze, along with several of the others in the room. "You want to
go out there . . . with us?" he slowly replied.
She clasped her hands behind her back giving him her best innocent
gaze, head tilted slightly to one side. Quinten drew back questioning the
woman's sanity.
"Colonel?" he said.
"Your call, Sergeant," he replied.
Quinten stared at her again, then ran a hand through his hair. "Nah,
hell. Guess a little mayhem wouldn't hurt us any," he finally said.
Yuri flashed Kei a smile rushing after him. That wasn't enough for
her partner.
{Yuri, what the hell are you trying to do?}
{Getting some field investigation in. Don't worry I'm going to be
okay.}
{You'd better, you crazy Amazon.}
{Sure thing. While I'm gone, talk to Martin,}
{You mean the geek?}
{Not nice. He's got some info I think you'll find interesting.
See'ya.}
Yuri closed the link and Kei sighed, praying that her partner wasn't
getting into something she could not handle . . .


* * * * *


The squad Quinten asked for was gearing up when they entered. All
activity ceased as Yuri walked by. The leering gazes from the male side of
the house made her feel a bit nervous. Quinten sneered at their response,
quickly guiding Yuri into an adjoining room.
"You Troubleconsultants could at least wear a more unprovocative
outfit," he grumbled at her.
Yuri giggled, Quinten's frown growing deeper. He thrust a combat vest
at her.
"I don't think I'll need--"
"Put it on," Quinten said sternly. As Yuri shrugged into it, Quinten
keyed locks on the lockers around them.
"Get a rifle from the rack, ammo's in the cabinets. We move out in
two minutes."
"I'll be there, Sarge," she joked.
Quinten rolled his eyes, grumbling asking himself why he allowed this
in the first place. Yuri quickly chose her weapons, a standard marine assault
rifle and a vibro-bayonet just in case it came to close combat. Synching up
the loose ends of her vest, she rejoined the marines.
The squad was enduring a quick harsh tongue lashing from Quinten.
Their eyes drifted towards her and he stopped, turning around. Combat gear
was not supposed to be sexy attire, but in Yuri's case it was a marines dream
come true. She smiling at them, draping her rifle over one shoulder.
"Uh, sarge. You knows what's youse were sayin's about distractions?
I don't think its gonna happen."
"Shut up, Balboa!" growled Quinten. He pulled at his face, letting
out a long sigh. "Alright marines, let's move out!" he ordered. The squad
picked up their gear moving for the door.
Yuri snickered, pulling a green beret out of her top. "I found this
in the armory," she said. "Mind if I wear it?"
"I don't think it would matter," Quinten replied. He tossed her a
lightweight headphone and a combat communicator. "It's been synced so don't
mess, and for my sake please don't tease the guys, okay?"
"Sure, sergeant, but don't blame me if their natural habits get the
better of them."
Quinten grumbled angrily as he headed for the door . . .


* * * * *


Standing at the open airlock leading to the outer perimeter, Quinten
and St-Paul made final checks as the rest of the marines readied themselves.
"First signs of major trouble you call us, you hear me, Reggie?"
St-Paul said.
"I'll be the first to scream, partner," he replied.
Quinten pulled on his helmet, adjusted the mic then flashed him a
thumb up. St-Paul chuckled slapping him lightly on the back.
"You're crazy, man," he said.
"Got to be in this job."
The smile fade from St-Paul's face as he stepped away from the hatch,
the door sliding down into place.
"And I'm coming back to finish that poker hand, you pirate," Quinten
shouted before it closed shut.
Silence filled the space, Quinten making his way to the front. Yuri
stood nervously at the middle of the group, trying to quell the slight tremor
she'd suddenly developed in her legs.
"Okay, marines. Get sharp. Safeties off."
The light clicks sounded much louder than normal, tension building.
Quinten took a quick head count. Twenty marines, counting himself and Yuri,
twenty-two. Hopefully they would be enough to handle the situation he
thought. Moving next to the controls, Quinten ordered his two machine-gunners
up front. The took stance, weapons pointed at the ready, waiting for him to
open the outer hatch. On the count of three, he hit the button and the outer
door slid open.
A warm gust of air greeted them. Quinten unslung his rifle and walked
carefully out.
<Command this is Quinten, over.>
<Reading you loud and clear, Sergeant,> repled Major Welton's voice.
<Roger. We're in the outer dome perimeter, no welcoming committee
waiting for us,>
<Good. Make your sweep towards the repair parties last position,
we'll monitor you from here, over.>
<I'll check-in as soon as we get there, Quinten out.>
The marines walked out, Yuri maintaining her position in the center.
"Okay people, a nice steady two column approach. Stay close, but
don't bunch up. Let's do it. Balboa, if you can take your eyes off of our
guest, think you can watch our rear?"
Corporal Balboa's head snapped up. "Uh, yea sarge--" His gaze fell
back to Yuri's behind. "Well . . . maybe."
"GET MOVING!" shouted Quinten.
The squad sprang into action, formed up and started down the
perimeter.



Chapter Five

In two staggered columns, Quinten's squad of marines moved towards the
sight of the last attack, watching for any signs of the deadly creatures.
Marching along close to the rear, Yuri held the grip of her rifle tight
feeling a fear she'd never felt before. It was hotter out here than inside,
she thought tugging on her vest to let out the heat. This plus the gloomy
light made everything that much more eerie.
Unconsciously, she shuddered looking up at the side of the inner dome.
If those things did decide to attack them there, it was very doubtful that
they could hold them off before any help arrived. Yuri attempted to contact
Mughi, trying to get her mind off the situation for a moment, but the domes
composition prevented the connection. She sighed, then caught the voices of
the marines behind her. They were talking low, but she could hear them clear
enough to tell what they were talking about. Her brows furrowed together.
"Lookit dat ass, Denny," Corporal Balboa said to the marine walking
beside him. "Will ya look at dat meat, fir cry'n out loud."
The thin marine smirked, cocking his head to one side as he gazed at
Yuri's rear. "I would have to say that it is one of the finest formed
derriere's I've had the pleasure of looking at. In my opinion of course."
"Listen ta'you, ya walking bookworm. Why can't you just say that is a
fine piece of ass fir christ'sake!"
"I did, but my explanation went way above your form of intelligence
and comprehension."
Balboa snickered. "Ya kill me, Denny. Sometimes you just kill me.
I'll bet you say that about the mainframes in Ops, ya geek."
He paused leering at Yuri's frame again. "Then again, if they had
legs and a box like that, I'd be ready ta'jack into them pronto," he said
snapping his fingers.
Yuri's mouth dropped open, the anger in her rising. She was about to
drop back and teach this arrogant fool manners, when a thump sounded. Balboa
muttered low curses as a tall black female rapped her fist against the side of
his helmet.
"Yeow, Hedona!" he said glaring at her.
"Squiggy, you rat! Watch your mouth," PFC Hedona Milles growled at
him. "That Troubleconsultant might hear you. If she decides to kick your
butt, I don't think there's anything you could do to stop her."
"Aw, Heddy. I'm a young male confronting my natural urges like I
should. What's the harm?"
"Well said," Denny added.
"Don't encourage him, Denny," Milles snapped. "What do you think,
man. That women are nothing but receptacles for your oversexed urges?"
"Nah . . . well kind'a--"
Another sharp blow to the shoulder cut him off.
"Squiggy I aught'a go up there and tell her what you've been saying.
A fine way for a Corporal to be acting."
"Okay Heddy, I hear's you. But dammed if you can't agree's wit me
that a combat vest ain't looked so good on any marine evah!"
Hedona guffawed loudly, staring at him disbelieving his comment. "And
what, so us girls in the corps don't do da same thing, Squiggy?"
Balboa smiled. He clicked his tongue, giving his head a slight twitch
looking at Yuri once more.
"Not like that rack of meat," he replied.
Yuri had enough of the corporal's snide description of her body. She
slowed her pace until she was walking evenly between Balboa and Hedona. All
three of them had gone silent staring straight ahead, fearing what she would
do. Yuri let them stew for a few minutes then looked at Balboa.
"I don't mind you ogling my butt, Corporal. In fact I find it a bit
flattering, however; that part about `meat' has got to go." She extended a
hand. "My name is Yuri."
The expression of shock melted away, Balboa smiled shaking her hand.
"I'm pleased to meet ya's, Yuri," he replied. "Let me inderduces you to my
pal here, Private Dennis Fraiser."
Denny gave her a nod. "Charmed, madame," he said.
"Hooeee, listen to the silver tongued devil!" exclaimed Hedona. She
pushed Balboa out of the way. "PFC Hedona Milles, and personally I think you
should have trounced da daylights out of Squiggy, girl."
Yuri could not help but laugh finding herself liking the trio.
"Squiggy, eh?" she said. "You talk funny. Where are you from?"
Balboa drew up, chest puffed up with self pride. "Yuri, youse are
look'n at a true gosh'fer livin citizen of the New Brooklyn biosphere, the
closest one to good'ol Mother Earth."
The Brooklyn biosphere was one of four that survived Earth's
devastating Nanoclysim, recalled Yuri. They considered themselves the last
true remaining Earthlings, thus the point of pride in Squiggy's claim.
"Squiggy, such an unusual name?"
The puffed chest disappeared, Squiggy frowning slightly. "Name's not
Squiggy really. Its Louis," he muttered. Behind him, Hedona and Denny tried
to suppress their snickers.
"What, is their something I should know?" asked Yuri confused by their
reactions.
Denny nudged Balboa playfully in the ribs. "Go ahead, show her,
Squiggy," he said between his chuckles.
Balboa's frown deepened, and he waved him off moving a few paces
ahead.
"He's very shy about it," Hedona explained to her. "C'mon, Squiggy.
Show Yuri here the luck, okay?"
"I don't wanna!"
"Come on, man!"
Balboa smirked. He gave Yuri a quick glance, then sighed slinging his
rifle. Undoing the strap of his helmet, Balboa pulled it off reveling a mop
of jet black hair. Nothing unusual about that thought Yuri, until a long
strand flopped down his forehead, forming into a squiggly curl at his brow.
Several marines close to him patted it affectionately despite his protest.
Yuri gazed upon it in utter surprise. "Why Corporal," she said
reaching up, springing the curls up and down with her fingers. "It's cute!"
"It's not cute!" he replied.
"It's a phenomena really," added Denny. "No matter how much he cuts
off, the curl grows back in a matter of days."
"Really now. Why do you call it lucky?"
Some of the humor left them then. "Da bugs give it to him," Heddy
said.
"The bugs?"
"Yep. During our fight in module two, a bug jumped part of Squiggy's
section and was thrashe'm good. Squiggy here got slapped around and lost his
helmet. Out flops the curl and de bug stops to stare at it."
"Closest I ever want to see one of dem tings," said Balboa replacing
his helmet.
"I'd swear, girl. The damn thing laughed at him. Outright laughed at
him."
"Then Squiggy blew it away," finished Denny.
"Now before we go into a scrap, we pat him on de head for luck."
"Yeah, and dat gives me a friggin headache."
Yuri laughed again.
The squad filed down a ramp out into a wide open run. Here Yuri could
see up ahead the pipes running from the inner dome down into the ground, and
above that white smoke drifting up into the overhead. Quinten snapped his
fingers rapidly, Balboa and Milles taking charge of their sections. The
marines fanned out in a staggered line, one covering the other as they
advanced across the open ground.
Reaching the first series of pipes, Quinten crouched low waiting for
the rest of the squad to get into position.
"Balboa," he whispered low. "By two's, move up along the outside.
Heddy, you're with me. Up and over, slow!"
Yuri chose to stay with Balboa as Quinten lead the rest of the marines
over the top of the pipes. She drew in a deep breath looking at Squiggy. He
just smiled, flashing her a quick wink.
"Makie, Boz, start us out," Balboa whispered.
The two marines peeled off, carefully taking positions at the head of
the section. They peered around the corner, then moved out. The rest of the
marines paired off, Yuri teaming with Denny, following them in a series of
leap frog maneuvers along the silent path. Soon it came their turn to lead,
and Denny went first checking the stray corners as he inched along the base of
the outer dome. Yuri maintained her pace across from him, watching for any
sudden appearance by the bugs. Suddenly he stopped, dropping into a crouch
and pointed ahead. The smoldering rear of a six-wheeled maintenance vehicle
sat parked next to one of the power boxes. Yuri shifted positions, moving
across to join Denny. The marine looked around the bend again, then back at
Balboa a few yards behind.
Balboa quickly understood. He waved up two more marines positioning
them where Yuri had been. Denny steeled his nerves then began to inch his way
forwards, the marine across from him mimicking the move. Yuri held her rifle
at the ready, but nothing happened. Denny reached the rear of the vehicle and
stopped waving them forwards.
"Your turn," he whispered to her.
Yuri took in a breath, then moved around the corner. As fast as she
went around, she came back breathing hard.
"What!" Denny said bringing his rifle up. She said nothing, pointing
around the corner.
Denny slowly looked around. Against the large tire, a marine sat
slumped slightly to one side. Even from this angle, he could tell she was
dead, a wash of blood hanging thick from her mouth and chin. Grimacing, he
moved out into the open.
Just a few steps away lay the headless body of a maintenance man he
cold tell from the grey overalls. Beyond him several short white drums of the
liquid metal compound sat stacked near an open crevasse at the base the pipes.
Denny swallowed the lump in his throat, then called Balboa. Leading the rest
of the section up, Squiggy stopped staring at the scene for a moment. He
exchanged a fearful gaze at Yuri and Denny, then switched on his mic.
<Sarge, we've found the maintenance team, or some of'em.>
<Stay put, we'll be there in a second,> Quinten replied.
Balboa rogered, fanning out his people to cover the approaches.
Meanwhile, Yuri had climbed up onto the edge of the vehicle, peering
inside. There was blood and acid burns everywhere around the interior of the
bed, a gapping hole burned straight through the bottom into the engine
housing. Explained the fire, she thought climbing inside. Denny and another
marine followed her. Yuri reaching the cabs rear door and carefully released
the latch. The marine with them went into a crouch pointing his rife at the
opening. On a silent count of three, she opened the door.
A body slumped back through the opening, Denny taking in a sharp
breath at the mangled opening in the chest. Terror covered the dead man's
face, his eyes bulged almost to the point of popping out of their sockets.
The rush of fear passed from Yuri, and she peered inside the cab. All of the
glass in the windshield had been shattered, gouge marks from the bugs claws
ripping through the dashboard. Another figure sat slumped to the side, part
of his torso just as ripped as the seat behind it.
"Yuri," Denny called to her. He was peering over the side, and she
looked to see what he was staring at. On the ground lay parts of a bug wedged
up under the charred hub of the center wheel. The ground around it still
smoked from the acid-blood. Yuri shook her head.
"They tried to run the things down," she said. "Guess that didn't
work too well."
"We better get back to the others," Denny replied. He gave it one
last look, and hopped out of the carrier.
Sergeant Quinten and the rest of the section had rejoined them by
then. The burly sergeant was surveying the scene, sneering at the large hole
in the ground next to the downlay of a pipe. Three containers of liquid metal
lay on their sides, the contents puddling around the pipes and down into the
hole. On further examination, it appeared that the hole was partially filled,
explaining why they had not encountered more of the creatures. He flicked on
his mic and checked in to the command center.
<Ops, this is Quinten, over.>
<I hear you, sergeant,> came Major Welton's reply. <What's your
status?>
<Looks like the engineers managed to plug the gap, but the bugs jumped
them halfway through.>
<No survivors I assume.>
<Found only one marine and three techs so far. We'll make a sweep and
see if we can find the rest of them.>
<Make sure that gap is secure first, Quinten,> Colonel Collins said.
<Had every intention-->
"Sergeant!" Hedona suddenly cried. She was standing atop the pipes, a
look of desperation on her face.
<Stand-by, Ops. Gotta check something out,> Quinten finished.
Heddy pointed to something on the other side and the marines took up
positions, moving beneath the pipes to see what it was. In the center of the
open walkway lay the remainder of the missing section, pools of blood
collecting around the bodies. The still remains of several bugs lay
intermingled with them. Quinten motioned the sections forwards with caution.
He knelt next to the closest marine. No pulse. The sergeant almost showed a
sign of emotion, but quickly suppressed it and made his report.
<Ops, Quinten.>
<What did you find, Sergeant?> Collins replied.
He paused for a moment. <They're all dead, sir. Either they were
retreating, or chasing the bugs, I can't tell. Must of ran into more then
they could handle.>
The ensuing silence conveyed Colonel Collins anger. Quinten stood
watching as Yuri, Denny and several marines crouched with guns poised at a
bug, Balboa bravely moving up trying to pull the things jaws from the chest of
the marine clutched in its grasp.
<Sergeant,> continued Collins. <Any sign of the bugs?>
Quinten looked around. He spied a series of bloody tracks leading off
towards the ducting station and exhaust vents just beyond that.
<They moved on, Colonel.>
<How many?>
Quinten studied the tracks again. <I'd say two or three score. That's
just a guess though.>
<Hm. Think you'll need support?>
Balboa nodded his head rapidly at Quinten, mouthing yes several times
in rapid succession. Quinten frowned.
<No sir,> he answered gaining startled looks from the section. <We'll
clean'em out.>
<Okay, Quinten. I'll have St-Paul standing-by. Good luck.>
Quinten sighed. <Yes sir,> he said.
"Geesh, sarge? You expects us'ta clear out god knows how many bugs?
By ourselves!"
Quinten stared down at the dead around them before replying.
"You want more marines to end up like this, Balboa?" he asked.
Squiggy lost all his objections, realizing that Quinten was right.
"Nah," he said kicking at the ground.
"Okay then. Get a few people back to that hole and fill it up. The
rest of you form a skirmish line. Boz, Leon you got the point. Let's do it!"
As the marines formed up, Yuri stood behind them checking her rifle
once more. Quinten walked over to her, an I-told-you-so look in his eyes.
"So, still think it was wise to come along?" he said.
She laughed, cradling her rifle in her arms. "No, but I've done
stupider things. Tough decision there, Sergeant."
"Welcome to the Marine Corps."
With the return of Balboa's section, the marines moved out towards
their new objective.


* * * * *


Twenty-three marines and one very terrified trouble consultant worked
their way through the walkways around the pipes, praying that the bugs would
not be lying in wait to slaughter them all. It was too quiet, Yuri inching
along behind Quinten searching the tops of the supports they were passing
under. Despite the layers of insulation, the heat from the gasses flowing
through the pipes still was enough to raise the temperature to near tropical
levels. Guess the 3WA still had a thing on everyone for practical uniforms
she joked to herself, certain that she was cooler than the marines around her.
Her ears caught a faint hiss carrying through the air, making her tense. No,
it didn't sound like one of the bugs. Too steady for that ungodly sound they
made. Apparently Quinten heard it too, raising his arms. The section stopped
taking up defensive positions.
Yuri listened to the sound, glanced up at Quinten shrugging. He
paused then turned snapping his fingers lightly at Balboa. Quinten pointed at
him, held up three fingers, then pointed in the direction of the sound. The
corporal let out a silent curse not at all happy by the sergeants selection.
Quickly picking three others, Balboa started making his way along the walkway
towards the sound.
Carefully he inched along, the hiss growing louder with each passing
second. Suddenly the walkway opened up, Balboa coming to an abrupt stop.
There just visible over the top of a pipe, he saw several bugs climbing and
tearing at one of the main ducting pipes. Already they had tore open a small
hole, the gasses and heat rippling up into the air around them. They seemed
not to be bothered, carrying on at a fevered pace to widen the gap. He moved
in for a closer look.
He could see more of them now, peering slightly over the edge. At
least six bugs was his estimate. Movement off to the left near the transfer
station caught his eye. Three more bugs stalked into view heading over to
another group near the base of the pipes digging into the ground. One of the
marines tugged on his sleeve pointing towards the inner dome. Jeesssus, the
bugs were crawling all over the place, he thought spotting the ridged curved
tails and tubed backs moving around the pipes. The marines wisely withdrew
before they were discovered.
Balboa rushed over to make his report to Quinten.
"There's frigg'n bugs everywhere!" he whispered low to him. "Sarge,
we're gonna need more help than this."
"Quit your whining, Balboa," snapped Quinten. "Now how many did you
count?"
"There's about half a dozen ripping a hole in one of dem big pipes,
counted a few more ripping up the ground not far from that."
Yuri frowned. "If they get a big enough hole in that pipe, we're
sunk." she said.
"Yeah, but their not going to get that far," replied Quinten.
"Sarge, da bugs are all over the pipes. If we blast them, that blood
of theirs will chew its way right through'em!"
"Let me worry about that, Balboa."
Quinten knew that might mean shutting down the power station, but he
could not allow the bugs to swarm in and quite possibly break into the inner
dome like yesterday. Carefully, he made his way through the pipes, peering at
the bugs. They were still at it, the hole much wider than when Squiggy saw
it. He took in the terrain then drew back.
Quinten whispered to Hedona,motioning her over.
"Alright, here's what we are going to do, people. Heddy, get Leon and
three others up on that transfer station. Balboa, move Boz up here with his
machine gun. The rest of us will fan out and move up to cover the area. No
comms, silent approach, and no slip-ups or we've had it. Clear?"
They nodded moving off to carry out the orders.
"Where do you want me?" Yuri asked.
"Choose your ground, little lady," he replied.
Yuri smiled, deciding to stay with him. She moved down a few paces,
making her way through the supports and leaned up against one of the pipes,
letting out a slow sigh. From her position she had a clear view of the area,
watching with some interest how the bugs were tearing up the pipe and
concrete. She found it incredible how much strength they had. Reminded her
in most ways of typical ants, although typical ants don't bleed acid, or think
like these creatures do. She noticed the marines had made it to the top of the
transfer station, Leon training his machine gun down at the bugs. Hedona
moved up into view, giving her a thumbs up to signal that her section was in
position.
Yuri relayed the message, and Quinten checked to see if Balboa was
ready. Squiggy nodded, Quinten looking forwards once more. He reached down
switching on his communicator.
"Colonel--" Quinten managed to get out, but to Yuri's surprise the
bugs let out a shrill squeal and together rounded on him hissing angrily.
"Blast'em!" he shouted and the section opened fire.
The Bugs surged towards them loud cries of anger and pain filling the
air as they were cut down beneath a hail of gunfire. Arms, limbs and puffs of
acid-blood spattered the area, still they came on, reaching the line of
marines bringing the fight to close quarters. Yuri leaped back downing a bug
as it scrambled through the pipes at her, rolled aside and fired catching
another across the chest. It blew apart spraying the area behind it, acid
quickly eating away the insulation and metal. A loud roar sounded, Yuri
scrambling away as streams of heated gas shot out of the holes.
That complicated things she realized trying to see through the haze.
Not only did it jeopardize the power station, but the white mist provided
excellent cover for the creatures. "Sergeant Quinten!" she shouted moving
through the pipes. Between the roar of gunfire and hiss of gas, Yuri's voice
had no chance of being heard. Off to her left she spotted a form silhouetted
in the haze. She spun as the bug's head craned around towards her, snapping
off several burst. It crumpled to the ground, but immediately drew the
attention of two more who rushed towards her. Yuri let out a scream firing
furiously. One dropped from view, the second leaping through the air onto the
pipe above her, then pounced. She dived to the ground barely dodging it's
taloned swipes, but before Yuri could get to her feet, the spiked point of the
bugs tail raked across her chest. She fell back over a support loosing her
rifle.
The creature hissed ready to finish her. Gunfire sounded, the side of
its head shattering.
"Get up, girl!" Yuri barely heard Hedona shout through the din. Yuri
retrieved her rifle, leaping over the twitching body. Together they ran out
into the open.
The fighting had also moved out from the pipes, Quinten leading the
marines forward, laying down heavy fire at the onrushing bugs. His estimate
was not to far off the mark. Yuri counted at least twelve bugs lying dead on
the ground at their feet. The battle was still in doubt, more bugs appearing
from the surrounding structures. There was no time to assess the situation as
another group attacked. Yuri and Hedona cut them down, then from above a loud
cry made them look up.
The bugs had jumped the marines atop the transfer station, Leon the
machine gunner clutching the end of a tail that protruded through his chest.
The bug dangled him in the air, letting him suffer before flinging him
violently to the ground. Hedona cried out in anger, blasting it into pieces.
As she lead the other marines around them in a counterattack, Yuri
rejoined Quinten's group carrying the fight futher out into the open. A
vicious round of close quarters combat ensued, neither side holding back.
Yuri trap-shot a bug trying to leap on her, spun around blasting
another into pieces. She backed against the side of a support searching for
more targets. A figure appeared, an extremely large bug spoiling for a fight.
Instantly her rifle came up, but instead of the roar of gunfire the trigger
snapped home with a loud clack. Her clip was empty, Yuri grimacing as the
thing hissed breaking into a run. There was no time to reload. She dropped
to one knee activating the vibrobayonet just as the bug made a swipe at her.
It squealed drawing back a nub, forearm flopping to the ground. Yuri dodged
the spew of acid-blood, thrust the blade into its throat slashing down and
through its body.
The parts flailed madly at her feet, but Yuri stepped aside reloading
her rifle. Just in time as two more bugs attacked. She blew them away with
hardly a pause, moving further out into the open. Ahead she spotted Denny
blasting apart several bugs near the edge of the maintenance walkway. Behind
him, five more bugs appeared at the railing. Instinctively Yuri drew three
bloody cards from her holder, flinging them with deadly accuracy. Several
cries cut the air, body parts falling back over the side. Denny spun around,
mouth agape at the scene. He mouthed a thanks to her. Yuri flashed him a
quick smile, moving on.
The fight was winding down she could see, most of the bugs dead or in
the throes of death. Up ahead, Quinten and three marines were finishing off
the remaining bugs trying to escape their fire. One leaped at him arms
reaching towards his throat. Quinten ducked, then blocked a thrust from the
creatures tail with the butt of his rifle. To Yuri's surprise, the burly
sergeant threw a solid right catching it square in the jaw. The bug actually
staggered, then Quinten fired a burst into the side of its head. He stood
over the twitching body a dark sneer on his face. Several more shots ended
the bugs agony.
Suddenly from out of the pipes behind him, a bug appeared. Yuri took
aim, then realized that if she fired she might hit Quinten as well.
"Quinten, behind you!" she cried out over her mic.
Quinten spun around staring face to face with the creature, but it did
not attack. Instead, it made the same hiss they heard at the start of this
fight; arms groping madly skyward as if in pain. The bug whirled around, let
out a long hiss and charged at Yuri. "Huh?" she muttered in confusion. It
made no more than a few steps before Denny and Balboa appeared, destroying it
beneath a hail of gunfire.
Quinten stared incredulously at the remains, gazing up at Yuri. She
was just as lost as he was. He shook his head then switched on his comlink.
<Ops, Quinten,>
<Quinten, what the hell's going on!> Colonel Collins shouted across
the net.
<We, uh . . . were kind of occupied, sir.>
<Occupied? What happened to the bugs?>
Heddy appeared with the remained of the section, Quinten took a head
count before answering. <We've cleaned out the bugs, but the station and pipes
are trashed. It's going to take some serious repair to fix this mess.>
<Hold your position. I'm sending St-Paul out to relieve you. When
you get back, I want a full report from you ASAP.>
The link was cut, Quinten flinched at the sharp break.
"Guess the skippers kin'a mad, eh Sarge," said Balboa.
He did not answer, thinking silently to himself. Yuri could see his
disappointment, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"We did what we had to do, Quinten. What more can he ask?" she said.
"We were supposed to prevent this from happening," he replied.
From the edge of the far railing, Denny called out to them. "Come
take a look at this," he said waving them over. Down below lay the
dismembered part of the bugs Yuri had prevented from jumping Denny. One of
them minus the lower half of its body managed to crawl away from the pile,
heading towards the base of the outer dome.
"Oh yeah, target practice!" Heddy said lining up the bug in her
sights.
"No!" shouted Yuri pushing the barrel away.
They stared at her, wondering what was running through her mind. Yuri
did not stay to explain, running down the adjacent ramp. She stood a few
paces behind the injured creature, staring at it for a moment.
"Yuri, you crazy woman!" shouted Quinten. "Get away from that thing
before it comes after you!"
She glanced back at them, then turned on her comlink. <Ops, this is
Yuri. Kei are you there?>
<Yeah, Yuri. What's up?> came Kei's reply.
Yuri did not answer, watching the bug suddenly claw at the ground,
that familiar hiss cutting the air. It reared back, snapped at her with its
inner jaws, crawling towards her. She stepped out of reach.
<Kei, I think I'm on to something,> she said.
The creature hissed louder, increasing its efforts.
<On to what, Yuri? I don't understand.>
<I'll tell you later, out.>
Yuri rejoined the marines her mind in deep thought.
"Mind telling me what that was all about?" asked Quinten.
"Not here, sergeant," she replied.
He arched a brow, but accepted her answer. Quinten told the marines
to finish off the creature. He looked at Yuri again, eyes fixed on her
chest.
"Still doubt me now for wearing that vest?" he asked her.
Yuri looked down. A long deep slash cut across the vest, part of her
bikini top folded down exposing her breast. She flushed red pulling the ends
closed. If she had not worn the combat vest, Yuri would have resembled that
bug she'd just seen below.
"We've got to get back to Ops." she said heading for the nearest exit
. . .


Chapter Six

0634 LCT, 24 March, 2143

With close interest, Colonel Collins listened as Sergeant Quinten made
his report; Yuri, wearing one of Squiggy's shirts, adding her observations to
finish it off. He glanced silently between them, then turned facing the main
screen.
"So you say that one of the bugs actually turned and attacked you
instead of killing Quinten?" he asked Yuri again.
"It responded to the call I made over the net," she replied moving to
one of the communications consoles. Yuri sat down and started punching in
codes to the computer. "Something in the frequency is affecting them I'm sure
of it."
"That's impossible, Yuri," Timbra said. "The communications spectrum
being used is way too complicated to do that."
"These things are being influenced somehow," she replied. "That
response could explain why they are attacking the communications dishes."
On the monitor before her, a list of specs for Dorman's communications
came up. Immediately Yuri smirked sitting back. "Then again, maybe not," she
added.
The people around her glanced close to the readout on the screen. All
the frequencies were signal diversified, auto switching between the
multi-channeled spectrum.
"Could it be that the bugs are sensitive to the electromagnetic energy
in general?" asked Kei.
"That's a possibility," answered Martin. "But if it's just one
certain level, then we'd have to test each freq to find out which one it is."
"In either case, we should concentrate on finding out what freqs we
can use safely and get a signal out."
"That's now out of the question, Kei," Major Welton said.
He placed a digital pad in front of Collins. Silently, Collins read
the report, glancing at Fran several times before pushing it away.
"Six hours?" he said.
"That's not counting the cool down time needed to start work," Welton
replied.
Collins sat down rubbing the bridge of his nose, and closed his eyes.
He let out a sigh. "Well, Kei. Your transmission is not going to happen
anytime soon. Three of the four towers are now out of commission thanks to
that skirmish."
Kei reached over and read the readout on the digital pad. The damaged
caused by both the bugs and the gunfire had vented to many pipes. Without
proper discharge and cooling inlets, Power Station Two would have to be
shutdown until repairs could be made. A process that by the engineers
estimates would take six hours minimum.
{Yuri, we have to try and get to the outside ourselves,} she sent.
{I've fought these things twice now, Kei. We don't stand a chance out
there.}
{Bill has got to know what's going on. Look, you can stay here. I'll
get out and get to the Lovely Angel and call for help.}
{Suicide,}snapped Yuri. {I've got a better idea, but first we need to
talk to Colonel Collins alone.}
Yuri stood up. "Colonel," she said. He looked up. "Kei and I would
like to talk to you in private if we could."
"Will my office do?" he replied arching a brow.
"For starters."
Collins nodded. "Fran, get those crews hot on repairs. Quinten, you
and your squad get some rest, you've deserved it. Ladies."


* * * * *


Yuri sat in front of Collins's desk nervously as the Colonel gazed at
her. Kei stood next to the door more for security than anything else. For a
moment nobody spoke, then Yuri cleared her throat.
"Colonel, I don't believe that what is affecting the bugs is no
coincidence."
Collins leaned back, crossing his arms before him.
"Are you saying that one of my people is a saboteur?" he asked her.
"More likely a spy," she replied. Yuri recounted the findings from
the Glory Anne's records, pointing out the mysterious scrambled portions.
Still Collins looked upon her skeptically.
"Is that all you can base your assumption on, Yuri?" he said. "I need
hard facts too believe that someone would actually want to plant this horror
on the people of Locris."
"Colonel," Kei interrupted. "I've seen people do things to others for
many purposes. Greed, power, whatever,"
"And your point?"
"My point is that the founders of this colony do not have a very clean
record. Everyone know this, so we can't put it past them to have not planted
a spy here to keep an eye on things."
"That's absurd!"
Yuri shrugged. "They apparently knew enough to warn Captain Fendrov
about the bugs, and gave him explicit orders to that effect."
Collins could not argue with that fact. He leaned on the desk,
thinking about the Angels theory for a moment. "So you have any suspects?" he
asked.
Kei nodded. "Three prime suspects," she answered.
"Let me guess, Major Welton, Timbra Brown, and Martin Rhodes."
"They did come from the company," Yuri said.
Collins went silent again.
"I can't believe Major Welton would be involved with this," he finally
said.
"Our thoughts too. He's nothing more than liaison for the military,"
said Kei.
"That leaves Timbra and Martin. Why would the Company sacrifice an
entire landing force just to place one spy in my command?"
"We could asked them, but that would do us no good and we don't want
to alert the spy," replied Kei.
"No grounds for an arrest either without evidence," added Yuri.
"This is not helping us, ladies," Collins said leaning back again.
"You have a lot of theories. Valid, but theories nonetheless. I need facts,
something to one; get some help for the 1200 some odd survivors I have left
out of a 3500 people colony, two; tell me who's responsible for this fiasco so
I can nail their butts, and three; eradicate these creatures before they
infest this entire planet."
The Angels could sense Collins's anger, an awkward pause passing
between them. Yuri shifted nervously, then continued.
"We do have a plan, Colonel," she said.
"I'm listening."
"Well, Kei and I need to talk with our ship,"
"I can't do that effectively with one dish, Yuri. Both of you saw
the--"
"We don't need a dish," said Kei. Collins frowned. "You see,
Colonel, Yuri and I are . . . uh, enhanced Agents."
"We have a mind link between us and our ship," explained Yuri. "Your
domes are cutting us off right now."
Collins's jaw sagged slightly in disbelief. "Well thank you for
telling me this, ladies," he said skeptically. "I would've appreciate this
kind of information well in advance."
"We don't like to let anyone know about it unless we have to," replied
Kei.
He cast them a dark look, folding his arms across his chest.
"Continue."
"All we need is an antenna, something that can carry a signal. Our
ship will do all the rest," finished Yuri.
"An antenna eh?"
"It's got to be secret, Colonel," added Kei.
He understood, reaching over to the commpanel on the desk. <Lieutenant
Meyers.>
<Yes, sir?>
<Report to my office.>
<Aye, sir.>
Collins looked at the Angels. "I think we can trust Vicky," he said.
"Now what about the spy, if there is one?"
The Angels cast hesitant glances between them. They knew Collins
wasn't going to like what they had to say next.
{You tell him,} Yuri sent to Kei. {You're better at this stuff
anyway.}
{Thanks, chicken.}
She placed a light smile on her face. "We can't really feel out the
spy right now, Colonel, but we think we have a way to find out who's behind
all of this." Kei paused to see if there was any reaction from him. He sat
still as granite waiting for her to finish.
"We need to go to the Glory Ann."
That drew a response. Collins was out of his chair, leaning across
the desk a look of shock on his face.
"What!" he shouted.
"It's the only way we're going to unscramble the last part of the logs
in any reasonable time, Colonel," Yuri said.
He looked back and forth at them perplexed by their proposal. "What!"
he shouted again.
Kei leaned on the desk looking him square in the eye.
"Look, Colonel, you wanted us to help you find out why theses
god-forsaken things are here. The only way we can do this is by unscrambling
the last two signals in the Glory Ann's data logs. That means we either try
this manually which, oh I don't know, will take at least a week maybe more, or
we get the computer module that understood the code and plug it in here."

They eyed each other for a few seconds, then Collins drew back. He
shook his head, ran a hand through his hair, and began pacing slowly around
behind his chair deep in thought.
"I have high reservations about going back there."
"It's the only way, Colonel," Yuri said.
Collins stopped, then a knock at the door sounded. He opened it,
Lieutenant Meyers stepping inside.
"Vicky, is the beacon still up?" he asked her.
"Yes, sir. Last time I checked it was still in one piece," she
replied. Collins cut his eyes to Kei, arching a brow.
"It will do," she said.
"Good. Lieutenant, go find two interface plugs and meet us in the
transmitter room. Don't tell anyone what or where you are going. Clear?"
"Yes, sir," she replied and left the room.
After the door had closed, Collins stood staring somberly at the
floor, tracing the edge of his desk back and forth with his fingers. Looking
up, he gave the Angels a hard gaze.
"We'll talk about your proposal later."
"It's your decision, Colonel," Yuri replied. "and too be honest, I
don't envy you at all. . ."


* * * * *


Vicky had everything setup by the time Collins and the Angels arrived
at the transmitter room. They went in. Collins locked the door ordering her
to stand guard and let no one inside. It wasn't a very large room Kei and
Yuri noticed as they sat behind the only console. The beacon itself was
positioned in the center, a short square unit connected to a thick pole that
ran up through the overhead.
Tapping in a code, Collins shut off the transmitter. "How long will
you need?" he asked.
"We can't say," Yuri answered him. "Depends on how long we can keep
up a signal."
"You know this is not designed for your level of communications?"
The girls stared at the console, gave each other a knowing nod, then
picked up the connectors.
"I'll go first," said Kei. She stared at the probe, reached up
pulling back her hair and plugged in. "Now," she said. Collins switched on
the transmitter.
Immediately Kei tensed up as the connection began. She tried to relax
and cleared her mind, letting her conscience flow with the currents. In her
minds eye a myriad of lights flashed around her, nodes of electrons darting to
and fro along the electronic horizon. Kei knew she had reached the nexus,
transmitting to the Lovely Angel. Something buzzed in her head, faintly at
first, growing louder and louder with each second.
[Signal acknowledged,] came the voice of the ships computer.
[Oh girl, thank god!] Kei replied. [Listen this is a code one
priority. Connect me to 3WA headquarters, pronto!]
The ship rogered her request. Mughi suddenly popped up, growling
questionably at her.
[Mughi, we are in some serious trouble here. Whatever you do, don't
set down on this planet and try to rescue us, okay?]
Mughi's reply came back fuzzy. Kei felt her connection start to fade,
quickly forcing herself to maintain the link.
[I can't talk right now, Mughi. Damnit, where's that connection!]
[3WA headquarters online, Bill Galet standing by.]
[Bill!]
Galet's voice came faintly to her senses.
[Kei? Kei is that you?]
[Yes, Bill! We need help, ASAP!]
[What's going on? Mughi contacts me with an urgent Priority One, then
tells me you two are in some sort of trouble he can't explain.]
[Bill, you've got to send the Marines fast. We've got a situation
here that requires some heavy duty firepower.]
[I already have. There's a battalion of Marines enrout to Locris, ETA
is sometime in the evening there. Tell me what your up against.]
Kei felt a wave of elation flow through her at the news. Good
ol'Mughi, she thought. The feeling suddenly increased, and Kei started to
loose her concentration. The strain was beginning to catch up with her.
[Bill, Bill I'm getting tired . . . one battalion is not going to be
enough, you'll have to send at least a division . . . did you hear me, Bill?]
[I caught most of it, Kei. Your signals fading fast.]
[Damn. Yuri!]
[I'm here, Kei.] Yuri said. [Punch out, I'll take it from here.]
Kei's connection faded out. [Hi, Billy.]
[Yuri, good to see you are alive.]
[That makes two of us. Look this connection is taxing, so I'm going
to transmit all the data from my memory cells to you before it drops.
Stand-by.]
Yuri concentrated, commanding her neuralware to uplink what she had to
Bill. After a few minutes, the transfer completed, Yuri sensed the dark fog
of exhaustion creeping over her.
[Bill, did you get it all?] she asked.
[Got it. I'll scan through this stuff as soon as we're done.]
[Great. Bill, check out the Company. We suspect they're up to
something, not sure what it is though.]
[Right. Sounds like you're about to loose me, so I'll get on this.]
Yuri felt herself wavering in her chair. [Yeah, I better go. Hurry,
Bill. We might not be here much longer.]
[Don't say that. You girls be careful. Don't get killed on me,
alright?]
[Gotcha, Chief. Talk to you as soon as we can.]
The net broke down and Yuri returned to conscience. Her eyes
fluttered open and found Colonel Collins holding her in his arms.
"You didn't tell me you were going to pass out," he said.
She stirred, twisting slightly towards Kei. Meyers had her stretched
out on the floor pressing a damp compress to her forehead.
"Colonel," she managed to say gazing up at him. "their . . . their
coming,"
"Who's coming, Yuri?"
". . . the relief force. Billy sent a battalion to rescues us . . .
they should be here in . . . by dusk."
A smile lit his face, Vicky grinning as well at the news.
"That is good-- Yuri?"
She did not answer, slipping into a deep sleep.


* * * * *


0730LCT, Dorman Colony Water Treatment Plant:

Silence prevailed across the wide expanse of Dorman's reservoir,
momentary sparkles of light reflecting off the crest of ripples coasting
casually across the dark water. Private Jim Miller stared at the reflection
in the water, his reflection looking more haggard and aged than a man of
twenty-two should. Fear is what caused it, fear of the bugs and violent death
they represented. That he had survived so far was a miracle in itself. First
the Aerodrome, then the fight in Complex Three, both near run-ins with death
he vowed never to face again.
The maintenance droid gliding across the surface of the water returned
to its storage shed, and as the last ripples dissipated he continued on with
his rounds. Yep, no more daring-do gung-ho marine crap for me, he thought.
Once this whole thing was over, he'd put in for separation. Screw risking my
neck for some civvy. Home was where he wanted to go, working a farm or
anything better than this.
Footsteps sounded from the metal steps behind him. He turned as a
civilian tech stepped out, toolbag in hand. He spotted the Marine and flashed
him a smile, pointing to one of the machinery rooms at the far end.
<Op's, Sentry Three,>
<Yeah,>
<Got a tech here, is he cleared to proceed?>
<He's clean. Let him go.>
Miller waved him on.
Glancing at his watch, he counted only thirty minutes until he got
relieved. Much good that did, everyone was doing round-the-clock shifts. A
slight tremor passed through the reservoir. Miller passed it off as the techs
doing.
His mind wandered again. He stopped, leaning against the railing and
looked out across the water. It was shifting again, gentle ripples traveling
out form the center of the pool. Too bad this wasn't home, the lazy river
behind his parents house beneath a midday sun.
He smiled and found himself staring back down at the reflection
wavering on the ripples below. As they faded, another face began to form
beneath the dark water, a face set in an ever-present grin of razor sharp
teeth, the eyeless forehead set squarely on him.
Private Jim Miller's eyes bulged wide, his only reaction as an
explosion of water shot into the air. A Bug leaped up to grab him in it's
taloned claws, pulling him over the side. For a brief second he broke the
surface flailing desperately for the edge, but several bug bodies rolled over
him, dragging him under. A murky slick clouded the water marking his grave.
Around the pool, sinister forms began to rise from the depths of the
reservoir, climbing up the side into the complex beyond.




* * * * *

A row of jagged teeth snapped at her, Kei running pell-mell through
the darkened expanse of a tunnel that seemed not to end. She heard the hiss
behind her, felt the rush of air as their claws swiped at her back. Kei
extended her stride opening the distance. She rounded a bend and spotted Yuri
standing at the end.
"YURI!" she cried pumping her arms and legs as fast as she could. A
pane of permaglass sealed the opening. Yuri pressed up against it, tears
streaming down her face.
Kei reached the glass pounding her fist furiously against it.
"YURI, their after me! Open this *#%@$ thing!"
Yuri said something she could not hear, weeping openly now. Behind
her, blurred figures suddenly took hold of each arm, pulling her away.
"No, Yuri, help me!" shouted Kei, crying as well. Yuri reached out
desperately to her as she and the unknown figures disappeared around the
corner.
"Yuri, Yuri, YURI!" cried Kei. Suddenly she stopped, sensing
something close behind her. Kei looked back, straight into the open jaws of a
bug. It hissed as the inner pair began to slide forward.
Kei screamed . . .


* * * * *


Kei sat up panting heavily as she woke from her nightmare. She was
lying in the lower part of a bunk bed in one of the marine barracks.
"You okay, red?" a woman's voice said startling her. She looked
around to the woman seated at the side of the bunk staring curiously. A hand
touched her shoulder, Kei yelping as she spun around.
"Relax, Kei. It's only me," said Yuri.
Kei let out a sigh of relief, hugging her tight. "Don't you ever do
that to me again, ever!" she said.
Yuri looked at Hedona, shrugging.
"So dis is your partner," said Squiggy seated on the bunk behind Yuri.
Dennis sat next to him watching them silently.
Kei frowned, drawing back. She looked up at Yuri. "How long was I
out?"
"About an hour. I just woke up myself."
Stretching, Kei swung her legs over the side. She yawned then glanced
at the marines. "Friends of yours?" she said.
Yuri introduced them to her.
"Squiggy? Odd name for a grunt."
"Oh no, I'm not going through this again!" Squiggy declared.
Yuri laughed, calming him down. "Stop bothering the man, Kei. It's
just a nickname. Why the girls in our class used to call you--"
"Don't go there," Kei said cutting her off.
Yuri caught the profound look of death in her eyes and decided to
change the subject.
"Look, Kei. The guys in A Company made me an honorary Private First
Class," she said flashing the stripes on her sleeves.
She smirked and stood up. "This place is a ghost town," she said
eyeing all the empty bunks.
"This used to belong to C company, before they got axed," replied
Denny.
"What happened to them?"
"They got slaughtered in Complex One," Heddy answered her.
"You mean the one with its guts caved in?" asked Yuri. She nodded.
"Mind telling us what happened?" Kei asked her.
Hedona stood up leaning on the top bunk. A distant look passed across
her, feelings Kei and Yuri knew were hard for her to bear.
"The whole damn company," she began then paused taking in a sharp
breath. "I had a lot of friends in C company. When the bugs started
infesting Complex One, Major Christopher--"
"Who?" questioned Kei.
"He was the original X.O. here before Major Welton," Squiggy
explained.
"A decent officer too," continued Hedona. "He led them over to try
and stop the bugs from slaughtering the civvies. Two hundred and fifty fully
armed marines, girl. . . still wasn't enough,"
"Nobody could help them?" said Yuri.
"Hell, Yuri. Everyone was engaged then!" exclaimed Heddy. "A and D
company were falling back from the airfield, we were fight'n for our lives in
Complex Two, and the bugs were swarming through Three and Four!"
Kei could see the tears welling up in her eyes. She felt sorry for
the woman, and everyone was silent for a moment.
"It's not like we abandoned them, Kei," Squiggy said sadly. "We just
couldn't break away."
"No ones blaming you, Squiggy," Kei said. "Just hard to believe there
were no survivors."
"Major Christopher and C company gave those civilians time to reach
safety," Dennis said. "Once they were clear, he set off a kilo charge of
C-36."
"Brought down the roof on the bugs," said Yuri.
"Yeah, but it didn't kill'em all," added Squiggy.
"The bugs?"
"And some of C company."
Squiggy shook his head, leaning back against the headrest of the bunk.
"I can still hear them calling over the net, begging for help . . . shoot'n
themselves before the bugs could tear into'em."
"Two days we heard them. There was nothing we could do," finished
Hedona. She gazed hard at Kei, eyes lit with a look of terror at her
memories. "Do you know what it's like to loose a friend, Kei?"
Kei cut a quick glance at Yuri before answering. "Yes. Yes I do,
Heddy. I know how much it hurts."
Hedona smiled reaching across to pat Kei's forearm tenderly. Her eyes
caught the time on her watch.
"We better go, guys. It's ten to eight, and you know how the First
Sergeant hates late reliefs."
Denny and Squiggy both shot to their feet. Before anyone could move,
the general alarm sounded.
<All personnel to combat stations, immediately!> Lieutenant Meyers
cried out over the intercom. From the sound of her voice, something big was
happening.
The marines dashed out the room, Kei and Yuri in close trail. As they
rushed down the corridors, they were joined by more marines, civilian police
and any armed individual forming a mob that reached the lower level joining
those already there. Squiggy led them to the nearest armory. A marine was
frantically tossing out arms and ammunition to anyone who needed it.
"Hey, Mackie. What the hells going on?" he shouted.
The marine tossed him a belt of reloads without hardly a pause. "The
frigg'n bugs are inside!" he replied tossing Heddy and Dennis ammunition.
"Where, in the outer dome?"
Mackie tossed Kei an assault rifle, Yuri receiving a power blaster and
grenades.
"No! They're inside, Squiggy. The damn bugs are inside with us!"
Kei whirled facing Yuri, her mouth gapping in shock. A disaster was
unfolding before them, and unless a miracle happened this looked like the end
of Locris colony. Squiggy wasted no time, leading them through the milling
rush of civilians not participating in the fight, out into the open street.
Gunfire raged through the air around them, squads of armed troops running or
mounting anything that could move to join the battle.
"BALBOA!" First Sergeant Kelly's voice cried above the din. He walked
over, Timbra and a section of marines in tow behind him.
"Take this group over to twenty-three and E on the double," He looked
Kei over briefly then added, "and take the K-gun with you."
Kei bristled with anger. "Hey I'm not--"
"Save it red. No time to argue with me. Now get moving!"
Squiggy took charge of the detail. Kei fumed for a moment before
turning away with a growl to follow them.
"Hold on, Heddy," Kelly said stopping her and Yuri. "We've got to
join the Major with whatever we can scrape together."
Yuri grimaced. Things must be worse than she thought. "Sergeant
Kelly, is it that bad?" she asked.
Kelly's brows furrowed together answering her question.
"We haven't got time to sit here and talk," he said moving on.
Yuri felt a shudder pass through her. She powered up the blaster and
followed . . .



Chapter Seven


The staccato of a heavy machine gun rattled off amongst the warehouses
a few blocks away, Squiggy's detachment dismounting from the back of the
maintenance car that carried them to the fight. In the street a makeshift
working party hurried to form some sort of barricade between two buildings out
of anything they could get. Kei saw that it was a moot point at best. Off to
the left a wide lot exposed their flank, and she doubted that the bugs would
be hardly hampered by the chainlink fence that surrounded it. A power mover
lumbered up into position, blocking the remaining gap with its wide scoop.
Around her the marines dug in, setting up weapons. Squiggy detailed
some of the force to the roofs, ordering those that were left to move more of
the equipment into line just behind the lot.
The shooting grew louder. Kei found herself a spot on the street
barricade and set up the assault rifle. Not a standard model the 3WA
possessed in their arsenals, this one was much shorter and sported a wide
muzzle to support the various types of 20mm rounds it could use. A stand
flipped out from under the grip, Kei anchoring the sharp ends into the
concrete slab she hid behind. Loading the rotating drum into the frame, she
adjusted the electronic sights, braced the recoil assisted stock to her
shoulder and got ready.
Squiggy stopped behind her as he checked the line.
"Gonna be able ta handle that baby, Kei? It's got a mean kick."
"I'll manage, Squiggy. Just keep that ammo handy."
"You're going to need help for that," he replied.
"I'll be here," Timbra suddenly said moving beside her. She looked at
Kei and smiled. "How's-it, sis."
"Glad you could join the party," replied Kei.
An explosion rocked them, Balboa dropping to one knee trying to hear
what was coming over his helmet's speaker.
"Sergeant Quinten's falling back, I got ta get moving. You guys take
care and don't get messed up," he said rushing off to check the rest of the
line.
Kei locked in a round, flicking off her safety. "Well, Timbra, we're
about to get into one hell of a scrap," she said.
Timbra laughed, priming her rifle. "Let's give'em hell then, little
sister. We don't want to ruin our reputation of redheads as being the
fiercest bitches around, now do we?"
Kei found humor in her words, grinning. Another explosion, much
closer this time, went off littering the area with debris.
Several soldiers bolted around the corner ahead, making a slow
withdrawal as they fired back up the street. More of them appeared dashing
towards them under the cover of their comrades, several carrying wounded
between them. Kei spotted Sergeant Quinten, a marine slung over one shoulder.
With his gun hand he fanned the area, shouting to the other marines around
him to fall back. The gunners on the roof began to fire, Timbra nudged Kei
and pointed up.
Bugs were leaping across the rooftops, a dark mass oblivious to the
furious gunfire being poured into them. More gunfire echoed down the line, no
doubt Squiggy hotly engaged on his front. As the remainder of Quinten's force
scampered over the barricade, the creatures swarmed into view down the street.
Their squeals carried above the violence, sending a chill through the
defenders. Immediately they poured a torrent of gunfire into the horde.
The assault gun spoke with fury, Kei snapping off three round in quick
succession. Balboa was right, this gun had a hell of a kick, she thought.
There was no time to ponder the bruise that would result, increasing her fire.
Any bug caught up in the sights field of fire was immediately splattered
along with any behind it. In seconds their dead littered the street, rivulets
of steaming corrosive acid-blood potting the concrete.
Still they came on, clawing and hissing at the defenders, pressing the
fight closer. The assault gun spoke nonstop, Kei ignored its relentless kick
firing until the drum emptied. Beside her, Timbra laid out a murderous fire
keeping the bugs from climbing over the top of the barricade. They could hear
the cries of people scumming to death around them; atop the roofs the bugs
managed to gain a foothold tearing into the police and marines.
"Kei, hurry it up!" Timbra shouted blasting a bug leaping towards her.
Kei locked in a new drum; 20mm rounds of compressed flechette rods.
Her first shot cleared the area before them, bugs withering in agony as the
spiked projectiles tore through their bodies. The next shots cleared the
street, but it was to late to do anything about the buildings around them.
Everyone knew it was time to pull back before they were flanked. One
last volley, and the defenders broke down the street. The bugs were hot on
their heels pouring over the barricades with a vengeance. Kei's legs pumped
fast and hard, the memory of her nightmare vivid in her mind. Coming out into
the main street, across the way Sergeant Quinten had reformed his force among
the warehouses and streets. Both Timbra and Kei scampered over the bags of
grain being used for cover, the marines covering their withdrawal. There was
no time for pause as they joined the defenders on the line.
The wide street acted as a moat, preventing the bugs from repeating
their rooftop leaps, forcing them to charge across open ground. A horrendous
toll of bodies quickly resulted, and the bugs halted to regroup out of sight.
Kei slumped down behind the barricade to regain what little strength
she could.
"Well now, at least the bugs know when to call it quits," Timbra said
sitting down next to her.
"Yeah, right," said Kei. "They'll be back. I'm betting that they're
just getting reinforcements."
She rose up removing the drum on the assault rifle and slapped in a
fresh one. Not many of them remained Kei noticed taking a quick inventory.
If the bugs kept up their attacks, this fight will be over real quick.
Sergeant Quinten walked the line, coming towards her. His left arm was
wrapped at the forearm with sterile tape and he winced slightly as he knelt.
"Don't get to relaxed, ladies," he said. "They'll be back very
shortly."
A sharp echo of gunfire from the northern section emphasized his
words.
"Hows the fight going over there?" asked Timbra.
"Not good I'm afraid," he replied. "Bugs are pressing on the Colonel
hard. We might have to pull back again if they get between him and us."
One of the marines called to him pointing across the street. The
monsters were creeping up slowly towards them in larger numbers than before.
"Here," Quinten said to Kei handing her a comlink. "Figure you might
need this. Sorry about the blood."
Grimacing, Kei wiped it clean, putting it on then manned her gun.
There was no lack of targets, bugs thick as a swarm of bees moved steadily
closer to the edge of the street.
"What do think, Kei?" Timbra said as she slapped another magazine into
her rifle.
"We better think of something fast, or I'm afraid this is the end of
us all."
With a soul chilling cry, the bugs attacked. . .


* * * * *


Yuri took cover around the corner of a building as Hedona and Denny
let loose with several grenades down the open street, splattering the bugs
pursuing them. She rounded, firing as she joined them in their withdrawal to
new defensive positions. Things had gone from bad to worse when they arrived
with First Sergeant Kelly. The bugs had swarmed over the water treatment
plant, drove the marines out of power station one, and were leapfrogging
towards the command center at a frightening pace. Trying to fight them toe to
toe was pure suicide among the cluster of warehouses and buildings. Major
Welton ordered them to demolish every building they could before rejoining
them in the barricades along the main street.
Fires raged through some of the structures. This was not good, Yuri
thought knowing that the smoke would obscure visibility if it became thick
enough. As long as the bugs didn't destroy the recirculators or cut power,
there was no chance of suffocating. A trail of bullets danced precariously
close to her head and she dived to the ground, rolling out of the line of
fire. Looking back, she could see why they had risked hitting her. A group
of Bugs had moved up a side street and would have caught her if the marines
had not intervened.
Yuri's blaster was hot in her hands, the barrel showing signs of
overheating, but she continued to blast away at the oncoming swarm, scrambling
to her feet. She never thought she'd be so happy to see Sergeant Kelly's hard
scowling face appear from behind one of the barricades in the street. He
barked out an order. Several marines and police rose up, firing a volley that
gave the fleeing group time to scramble for cover. Yuri dropped to a knee to
regain her breath.
"You better stick wit me, girl," Heddy said helping her up. "Looks
like the 3WA needs guardian angels for their troubleconsultants."
"Sometimes I think that myself, Heddy."
Yuri turned back to the barricade and the fierce fight going on.
Kelly's team poured it on thick, but the bugs were quickly growing in numbers.
One final surge and they were up on the crest of the barricade. Kelly
ordered a retreat and everyone broke down the street. Cries and screams of
terror carried through the air, those not quick enough disappearing into the
wave of monsters surging after them. Yuri resisted the urge to toss her rifle
away, praying that she would make the main street ahead and safety beyond.
She could hear the clack of clawed feet, sharp snaps of jaws behind her, and
willed more energy from her body. Somebody just to the edge of her vision
made the mistake of turning, only to be buried under a pile of bug bodies.
She could see the barricade between two building just a cross the main
street. Major Welton stood a top an over turned car waiting to give the word
to fire. For his size, Sergeant Kelly made climbing over the barricade look
like childs play, Denny a few steps behind him. Hedona vaulted over the side
of a crate, then reached back to grab Yuri by the scruff of her shirt yanking
her up. She pulled herself over, then something hit Yuri hard from behind.
She screamed rolling across the ground. With one foot Yuri kicked away the
Bug groping at her face, but it managed to rake her across the side of her
right hip. Yuri yelped in pain, clutching the wound to stop the bleeding.
The Bug that attacked her never managed to recover, marines, police
and civilians setting upon it with relentless fury. They didn't waist any
ammunition, beating the creature to death with the butts of their rifles,
stabbing it until it went still in a steaming puddle of it's blood.
"You okay, Miss Yuri?" one of the marines asked.
"I'm going to need a doctor," she replied through grit teeth. The
marine called for a medic and rejoined the line.
Again, the story was the same; the bugs could not swarm across the
street without taking heavy losses. The crack from the assault rifles along
the line, the gunfire from the defending force grew to deafening proportions.
Yuri ignored her pain, placing her hands to her ears to protect them until the
fire slacked off.
She pulled herself up against the side of the building, Heddy kneeling
next to her.
"Oh, boy," she said looking at the wound. "Were you lucky de bugs
didn't get through."
"Tell me about it," Yuri replied. "Say you want to get me a medkit or
someth'n?"
Heddy called over a medic. He told her to turn and Yuri rolled over
exposing her wound. The young medic paused staring at her body mouth agape.
It took a sharp slap from Heddy to get him in motion again.
"Geeesh, you'd think in our present situation these guys would be
thinking about more than just flesh." she said.
Yuri managed a giggle, wincing sharply as the medic applied medication
to her injury.
"That should kill the pain, ma'am," the medic said. "but Doc P's
going to have to close that up."
Covering the gash with a sterile wrap, the medic moved off to attend
the rest of the wounded. Yuri sighed, looking up at Heddy.
"Wow, I'm some example of a troubleconsultant," she joked. Hedona
helped her up, Yuri leaning on her for support. It sounded like another
attack was commencing somewhere down the line.
"Okay, people," Major Welton said. "We're not out of this yet.
Reload and get ready."
He stopped abruptly upon seeing Yuri. "I'm getting you out of here,"
he said. "Hedona take her back to the Colonel. He'll see that you get to
Doc."
"Major!" Kelly shouted. The bugs were coming again.
"Go," he ordered them leaving to resume his post in the line.
Yuri could see the reluctance in Heddy's face, but she turned guiding
her along down the street. . .


* * * * *


Hedona commandeered a working hover sled, placing Yuri in the side
seat. They whisked away to Colonel Collins position at the center of the
line. The progress of the battle came across the radio, and it did not look
very good.
<This is section Ten, bugs are attacking the recycling plant! Request
reinforcements!> a voice cried out over the circuit.
<Command, Section Three, the bugs are moving around the repair yards.
Request permission to pull back.> another said.
Collins's voice came across the net. <Nobody withdraw! Section Three,
Section Ten, hold your positions.>
<This is Section Ten, we can't hold-- GGGGGYYAAAAAHHH!!!!-->
"Oh, this is bad, Heddy," Yuri said.
Hedona increased speed, and soon they found Colonel Collins. The
Colonel's foresight had been the only thing that prevented the wide scale
destruction of the colony. Early on when things started to look grim, he
ordered barricades built, sectioning off the streets into layered defenses.
The only weak link was a large open park the center, built to commemorate the
colonies foundation. The bugs had not missed this flaw, but neither had
Collins. Anticipating such an emergency, he ordered his engineers to
construct entrenchments across the direct path they would have to take to
reach the command center.
The defenders were holding their own, but just barely as the bugs
surged across the open ground towards them. Machine guns raked across them,
assault rifles and even the added weight from two APC's decimated their ranks.
When the fire became to much the bugs would withdraw, gather more
reinforcements, then attack again. It was becoming a battle of attrition, one
Collins knew that sooner or later they would loose.
This attack was petering out. Collins turned away from the line,
gazed over the schematic he displayed on his pad, then spoke into his comlink.
<Sergeant St-Paul, move part of D company with some of the militia
over to the recycling plant.>
He spotted Heddy helping Yuri out of her seat. <Keep me posted on the
bugs movements.> Collins finished, pointing to Heddy. He waved them over
while switching circuits.
<Ops, have you found out where these damn things got in at?>
Lieutenant Meyers, Martin Rhodes, and four techs sat hunched close to
their monitors, running scans from the various inner remotes around the
complex.
<No, sir. We've still got a lot of area to cover.>
<Damnit, Vicky. I need to know where they are coming from, and I need
to now!>
<We're doing the best we can, sir!>
Collin's reigned in his impatience. <I know, Vicky. Try to speed it
up.>
He cut the link, turning to Heddy. "How's Major Welton doing?"
"Looks bad, sir. De bugs keep pressuring us, moving on our flanks.
They can hold for a few, but eventually something got to give."
Collins rubbed his chin, smirking at her report. "Okay. Get Yuri to
Doc."
"If it's okay with you, Colonel, I'd like to stay here," Yuri said.
"You're not feeling any pain from that?" he asked pointing to her
wound.
"Pain killer is starting to kick in. I'll be alright. Besides, you
need every hand you can get."
The colonel smiled. "Okay. Hedona you stay with her."
Yuri tested her leg. The pain was dull, but she could manage a slow
limp. "Colonel," she called out after Collins. He stopped. "I heard you say
something about searching for a hole. What do you plan to do once you find
it?"
"I'm going to get about ten volunteers and go close it, that's what
I'm going to do," he answered.
Heddy grimaced. "A bit suicidal, if you'll pardon my saying so, sir."
"I'm not totally crazy, Hedona. I'll use one of the APC's to get
there. That will give us some kind of a chance."
"What about coming back?" said Yuri.
Collins did not reply, continuing on to the line. Yuri went after
him.
"We can't loose you now, Colonel. The colonist, and your troops are
relying on you to pull them through all of this."
"WE can't sit here and let them pour in on us, Yuri," he replied
rounding on her. "If you have not noticed they outnumber us, and despite all
of our fancy technology, we will loose in the long run. Supplies are running
out fast. No, I will not sit idle."
"I can agree with closing the breech, but not by committing suicide."
Collins was about to answer, when Vicky called him on the not.
<Sir, we found where they're coming from,> she said dryly. From her
tone Collins knew it was not good news.
<Where?>
Vicky, Martin and the techs stared in shock at the swarming bodies
surging out of the water on the main screen. She swallowed the lump in her
throat.
<The reservoir.>
<Through a pipe?>
<No, sir. Straight out of the reservoir. Hundreds of them . . . they
just keep coming out.>
Major Welton dropped down from his position on the line, activating
his comlink.
<What do you mean they're coming out of the water. The last
indications had the doors closed!>
<They must have broken through somehow, Fran,> Collins said. He
looked over to Yuri, shaking his head. "There goes closing any breech."
<Todd, how the hell are we going to get to that?> Welton asked.
<It won't be easy, Fran. Not counting the fact that we have to close
the gates underwater.>
<How `bout a grenade?> Kei's voice replied.
<Kei?>
Kei turned over her gun to Timbra, moving back so she could hear
better.
<Yep, in the flesh.>
<To answer your question, a grenade might be to weak.>
<You marines have got to have rocket launchers.>
<We do . . . Kei what's on your mind?>
<Tell'ya in a second, Colonel.>
{Yuri,}she sent out.
{What, Kei? Something wrong?}
{No. Where did you put the Grav-packs?}
{I left them in Ops, why?}
{Feel like flying?}
{I'm a little banged up, and where do you want to fly to anyway?}
{Hmm, I'll have to do this alone then.}
{Do what, do what, Kei?}
{Tell you later, gotta go.}
"Kei!" Yuri shouted, but she switched back up to the net.
<Colonel, I'm going to need somebody to bring my Grav-pack down from
Ops, and one of your rocket launchers.>
<Your plan is?>
Yuri heard Collins, turning to Heddy asking her for her helmet. She
doffed it, dark dreadlocks flopping down about her head. Yuri paused for a
second, then put it on.
<. . . once I'm over the reservoir, I'll try to blast the opening
shut,> she heard Kei say.
<I knew you were up to something stupid, Kei!>
<No choice, Yuri. Look I'm on my way to the command center, if I've
got the okay from you, Colonel?>
<Let's run with it. Vicky-->
<Got runners on their way down to the hanger now, sir,> she said.
<Good. Kei once you're outfitted, get hopping. Major Welton, if she
need any support, you're it.>
<We'll do what we can.>
Collins cut the link. "Kei's got nerve," he said.
Yuri handed Heddy her helmet, gazing back towards the command center.
Silly red, she thought sadly.
A renewed attack by the bugs prevented anymore discussion, Yuri and
Hedona manning the line. . .


* * * * *


Kei tapped Timbra on the shoulder.
"I'm going back to the command center," she said. "We've found out
where the bugs are getting in at, and I'm going to try to close it off."
"What, by yourself?" exclaimed Timbra.
"Yuri can't go, and there's no one else available to fly the other
pack."
Timbra stopped firing. She told the marine next to her to take over,
grabbing Kei by the arm.
"What, do you think I'm nothing but another helpless colonist?" she
said to her.
Before Kei could answer, Timbra reached up to the side of her neck,
parting a fold of skin exposing an interface socket.
"You need a plug right?" she finished.
Kei smiled. Together they sprinted down the street. Kei told Meyers
to send down the second pack and a spare rocket launcher. Half out of breath
they reached the hanger; a marine standing by.
"You know we stand a good chance of getting killed, Timbra," Kei said
as she shrugged into the Grav-pack's harness.
"So what's new, sis," Timbra replied. "It's either now or later, and
I'm impatient."
Kei synched the restraints tight, then took the rocket launcher from
the marine.
"Be careful where you shoot that, Miss Kei." the marine said as she
examined the weapon. Thick muzzled at the front, the tube extended back
ending just over the shooters shoulder, gas compensator vents around the end
to stabilize firing. Kei slapping a three round magazine into the open
chamber underneath, taking the grip tight in her hand.
"Why?"
"Those rounds are powerful enough to blast apart reinforced
shielding."
"You mean the dome?"
"If you fire enough of them at one spot."
"Explains why we're not using them on the line," said Timbra.
The marine handed them two extra magazines each. Kei gave herself one
last check, jacked into the pack checking its status. All systems were green.
"You ready?" she asked Timbra.
"Not yet. Hey, grunt. Gimme your commlink."
The marine frowned, handing her his gear.
"And the pistol."
"But, but--"
Timbra snapped her finger impatiently at him. "Come on, come on!"
His frown grew deeper as he undid the holster.
Timbra put it on, jacking into her pack. She flashed Kei a thumb up.
"Let's move," Kei said, and they rose up into the air heading towards
the reservoir. Kei dropped back until she was even with Timbra.
"Two pistols?" she asked her.
"Hey, I said I wasn't going to wait to die, but I'm not going like
some feted calf on a platter. This girl is no easy pickings."
Kei laughed. "Timbra you kill me!" she exclaimed.
"Hope not. Say, I'll race you."
Timbra shot away from before she could respond, Kei quickly following
. . .


* * * * *


It was like a river below them, a river of bugs moving through the
streets towards the defending colonist. Kei and Timbra maintained a careful
altitude as they glided through the haze over the horde. The two were not
missed, several bugs leaping from the tops of the buildings. A small group
paced them, hissing and growling in frustration. Kei watched them, sticking
her tongue out.
"So, Timbra. What model are you?" she asked referring to her wetware.
Timbra, staring down at some bugs scrambling up the side of a
building, answered casually, "A Norita, and you?"
"Lucien upgrade."
"Ooh, fancy we 3WA agents are."
"Helps on those cold, hard missions."
She watched Timbra casually turn, flying with her backside to the
ground. The woman was a natural, no wonder the Company gave her such a
lucrative position.
"Timbra, you'd make a great Troubleconsultant," she said.
A brief frown crossed Timbra's face, Kei noting the slight twitch of
her brows. She started chuckling.
"And give up all I've worked for. Oh nay, Kei. If this an example of
your life, I'm fine right where I'm at."
This wasn't exactly a great example of 3WA life, Kei had to agree.
Anymore conversation would have to wait, the reservoir coming into view. Just
as Vicky said, the bugs were crawling out of the water at a rapid pace joining
their cousins in the streets below. She tapped Timbra, pointing to a series
of supports running around top of the water treatment plant. There was a
crane suspended between them, perfect for their needs.
"Timbra, I'm going to get up on that boom. Cover me, okay?"
Timbra nodded, heading for the platforms running along the side of the
inner dome. Taking a deep breath, Kei hovered down towards the crane.
"Hello, guys," she said to the mass of bugs below. The eerie hiss and
screeches from the creatures brought a chill through her veins. "Oh, don't
mind me, I'm just going to shut down this little party of yours. Won't take
long."
She banked towards the boom and was just about there, when her pack
suddenly sent an alarm. A red alert flashed in her minds eyes, Kei letting
out a loud gasp of surprise. Desperately, she clawed her way though the air
for the nearest thing she could reach, found the edge of an electrical cross
connection and took hold just as the Grav-pack died.
Timbra set down on the platform, turning to find Kei dangling
precariously over the reservoir by one hand.
"Kei, what the hell are you doing?" she shouted.
"My pack's dead!" she cried out.
"What! Hang on I'm coming to get you."
"No, stay there!" said Kei. She slung her launcher, taking hold of
the bar with both hands and began to pull herself up. A low menacing groan
sounded. Kei looking up to see part of the support twisting out of place.
"Cheap Company construction," she growled.
The Bugs wasted no time trying to get at her, breaking off in several
groups to climb up the sides of the supports. Timbra saw them and drew up her
launcher. The explosion shook the area, and Kei slid back down to the end
before stopping. She held on for dear life as the vibrations passed.
"Are you trying to kill me!" she shouted.
"Hey, it knocked the bugs down, didn't it!"
"Yeah, and made you a target. Look!"
Huh, muttered Timbra peering over the edge. The bugs were climbing up
the ladders on both sides to get at her. Quickly she turned the launcher on
the lower platform, demolishing it in one burst, doing the same to the next
one.
Meanwhile, Kei began pulling herself up again, trying to reach a
better position.
"Ugh . . . things I do for people . . . ugh . . . putting my ass on
the line . . . ugh . . . coming close to death . . . ugh . . . and what for .
. . ugh . . . to get some damn . . . ugh . . . accusation that I'm crazy!"
Kei swung her legs up, hooking them around the beam. The metal
creaked again and she paused. Letting out a slow breath, she uncurled looking
down into the reservoir.
"Well I tell you," she grumbled taking aim at the center of the dark
pool, "its just not my fault!"
Kei fired, the rocket streaking towards the water with a roar.
Despite the compensation, the launcher still gave her quite a jolt, Kei
wavering unsteadily in her perch. Damn, another one of these marine `kick-me'
guns, she muttered steadying herself. A geyser of water erupted from the
water, bugs and concrete bits rising high in the air. As the water calmed,
she could see that the shot was well off the mark, the rocket deflected by the
water.
A hurried scrapping along one of the adjoining support brought Kei's
attention to the rapid approach of bugs trying to reach her. "Get back!" she
scowled firing into the support beam. It collapsed; the shock jarring the
crossbeam loose from its mounts. It jerked to a stop, metal creaking against
the strain. Kei grimaced then spotted another cluster of bugs approaching
from the opposite side.
"Timbra!" she called out.
Timbra was having no better of a time, desperately defending her
portion of the platform against the encroaching swarm. She had blown away
portions of the platform to either side of her, switched to pistols to save
her rocket ammunition, and sat trapshooting bugs as they attempted to leap
across with deadly accuracy. Kei's cry for help drew her attention. Timbra
unleashed a furious barrage of blaster fire at the bugs attacking her.
That gave Kei a brief respite, and she returned her attention back to
the reservoir.
<Ops, come in!> she shouted into the comlink.
Vicky came on line. <We can see you, Kei. What do you need?>
<Can you drain some of this water? It's affecting my shots.>
Vicky looked back at her techs. They punched up a series of commands,
tapping into the reservoir's computer system. One of them gave her a nod.
<Yes, Kei. We'll start pumping it out now.>
Kei heard the pumps kick on line. A low rush sounded from the pool,
and the water began to bubble. Soon the level began to recede, the water
being sucked out through several sluice gates in the sides of the reservoir
along with a good number of the creatures. She wanted to laugh as they groped
and fought against the pull, but held it in and took aim.
"Let's see if I can do any better," she said firing again.
The shot detonated closer to the center of the pool, but still not
enough to destroy the opening. Ejecting the spent magazine, Kei reached up
for a reload. In such an awkward position, it slipped from her grip as she
removed it from her belt, dropping into the mass below. A stream of curses
flew from Kei at her clumsiness. That left her with only three rounds, and
only if she did not drop those as well.
Carefully, she curled up, taking the last magazine from her belt and
slapped it home. The metal creaked again. Kei pleaded with it to last just a
bit longer, then leaned back once more. Meanwhile; Timbra had returned to
defending herself and the bugs renewed their attack on Kei. Some of them
reached the top of the remaining support beam making leaps at her. A bug
sailed precariously close by her, Kei crying out as she pulled out of its
reach. Another one prepared to jump, but she was not going to give it a
chance. Drawing her pistol, Kei shot it in mid-form, shooting the rest before
they could strike. For once their acid-blood worked against them, eating away
the metal support. It sagged, widening the gap.
Kei reholstered her pistol and checked on the situation below. The
water was half drained, a thick layer of bugs obstructed her view of the
bottom. From the way they were moving she backtracked, picking a spot that
looked right and fired. More water and bugs sailed skyward, a large hole
shattering the bottom of the reservoir. Kei steadied herself and checked the
damage. Thanks to her shot, the water was leaking out of the cracked sides
into the surrounding street, lowering the level considerably. Without the
added advantage, the bugs were now forced to scurry up the smooth sloped sides
slowing them down.
With a loud screech, they parted trying to avoid her fire. A
desperate attempt was being made by them to reach her once more; a living
bridge of interconnecting creatures formed on what was left of the nearest
stanchion. Kei estimated they would reach her in minutes, and prayed that she
could finish the job of closing the reservoir before then.
Only two rounds remained. From the looks of things, Timbra had used
up all her rockets to stem the tide of bugs rushing her. Well it was all or
nothing, she thought taking aim again. The bugs below noticed and scattered,
exposing the wide opening at the bottom of the reservoir. It was the first
time Kei got a good look down the shaft, and what she saw made her gasp eyes
wide. A sharp snap from the encroaching bugs spurred her into action. The
rocket exploded at the lip of the opening, shaking the area violently. The
metal support creaked again, twisting her slightly around.
Kei paused briefly, then took aim. Out of the corner of her eye she
could see a very mean looking bug climbing up at a fevered pace, hell bent on
killing her. Forcing back the urge to blast them into pieces, she steadied
herself, took a long slow breath and squeezed the trigger.
The rocket shot straight into the opening, through the bugs and
detonated with a loud roar. Metal, concrete and bugs collapsed inwards,
blocking the hole. Kei let out a cry of success. The sudden movement from
the side brought her around in time to see the bug charging her leap across
the void. Kei swung the rocket launcher like a bat, connecting with a hard
smack. Both weapon and bug pummeled to the ground.
"Ha. Suck on that, you ugly bastard!" she shouted down a the
smoldering spot below. Kei pulled her pistol, firing at remaining creatures.
"Timbra, Timbra come get me!"
Timbra was too busy blasting bugs off the edge of her tiny platform to
hear her. Desperately, Kei fired and dodged on her perch. Another creak from
the metal support made her look up. Weakened by all the shock, and the added
weight it had to support, metal continued to sag. A rip appeared, growing
longer by the second.
"Oh, no. Timbra!" exclaimed Kei.
The bugs sensed her apprehension. A mass of inhuman sardonic grins
arrayed below waiting for the inevitable to happen. A final sharp creak
sounded.
"Cheap Company ConstructionnnnnAAAAAYYYYHHH!" Kei cried as the support
gaveway.
She rocketed to the ground and the slavering jaws, when a pair of
hands suddenly took hold of her by the ankles. Timbra pulled against the
force of Kei's momentum, her muscles straining hard as she fought to gain
altitude. Below the bugs screamed with fury, making desperate attempts to leap
up and snare the two women, all to no avail as they climbed away. Kei,
stunned by her close call, looked up at Timbra. Oddly she was still fighting
to maintain flight.
"What's wrong, Timbra?" she asked.
"My-pack-is-about to-die!" she replied.
They reached the platform, Kei clearing away the remaining bugs, and
came down hard as the gravpack's power gave out. For a moment they remained
still, then slowly sat up drawing away from the edge, leaning against each
other drained. Kei rested her head against Timbra's shoulder and closed her
eyes.
"Thank's sis," she sighed.
Timbra patted her on the head. "Don't mention it. You know we still
have a fight here. The bugs aren't going to just ignore us."
"Yeah, but I think we can hold until Major Welton arrives."
Timbra let her rest. She called Ops reporting their success, telling
them to hurry before the monsters managed to dig their way though. That made
Kei open her eyes.
"Timbra, you know what we were saying about the bugs breaking through
the seals in the reservoir?" she said.
"Yeah. Determined sonsof bitches, aren't they?"
Kei looked up. "We were wrong."
Timbra frowned.
"The bugs didn't force their way through . . . those doors were open,
I saw it myself."
"That means--"
"Somebody let them in."
The theory of a spy had turned into fact. Kei knew now that they were
up against more than just the Bugs. Figuring out who it was would have to
wait, the hiss from the bugs below drawing her back to their current situation
. . .


* * * * *


Several more hours of hard fighting remained before the bugs were
finally eliminated. Without fresh resources, they stood no chance against the
marines and their heavy firepower. Still it was a close run encounter, and
the loss of life to the colony was more than they could absorb.
When Major Welton finally relieved Kei and Timbra from their perch,
they immediately went back to Collins with their information. A long dark
scowl came to his face, and he ordered the techs that remained back into Ops.
They all sat slightly afraid as Timbra and Kei glared at them brandishing
rifles, a gleam of death in their eyes. Nor did the withering stare Colonel
Collins gave them make them feel any better.
"I'm told that the bugs were let in," began Collins. "Does anyone
want to explain why that is?"
Several confused looks were exchanged by the techs, finally stopping
on Lieutenant Meyers. "Colonel, there was no indications from the computers
that the doors were opened," she said.
"I saw those damn doors open myself," scowled Kei. "Somebody here is
lying through their teeth!"
"Sir, we're not lying!" replied a female tech. "I can call up--"
"Don't you touch that console," Sergeant St-Paul said, Squiggy backing
him up with the release of his safety.
Collins glared at them. "First Sergeant Kelly, call up the computer
records," he said.
Kelly made his way to the nearest console, retrieving the information.
He and Major Welton read over the readouts.
"Looks like they're telling the truth, Todd," Welton said.
"No tampering?"
"Not from what I can tell here."
Collins frowned and turned away. He looked at Kei and she raised a
brow.
"They were open, Colonel," she said.
"I don't doubt you, Kei," he replied rubbing his chin in thought.
Collins came to a decision. "Sergeant StPaul, I want a detail placed in here
round the clock."
"That's going to stretch us thin, sir," St-Paul replied, but the brief
glance Collins gave him ended anymore comments.
Collins faced his techs again. "Okay, you're off the hook for now."
The techs relaxed.
"But," he continued, "anymore unexplained occurrences, and I'll have
you all thrown into the brig. It would anger me greatly to find out that
there was a marine trying to kill one of his own. If I catch you, I'll have
no mercy."
No one doubted his words, and they returned to their post. Vicky gave
Collins a sad look, turning away as one of the techs called to her. Collins
sighed moving to the tactable where the Angels and the rest of the staff
gathered.
"Okay, people. We're in bad shape now. No water, the colony is in
shambles, and casualties are high. I'm going to ask you all to hold things
together until this evening. By then everything should pan out in our favor."
"What's happening this evening, sir?" asked Kelly.
Collins gave the Angels a quick glance before answering. "Thanks to
Kei and Yuri, we were able to get word out on our situation. The
Confederation has sent a relief force due by dusk, with more to follow."
A stunned silence passed through Ops at the news, quickly turning into
cheers of joy.
"Okay, okay!" shouted Collins settling them down. "Its good news but
we have to be here when they arrive. I'm sure the bugs are not about to leave
us alone anytime soon."
Vicky called out to him. "Sir, I've got an image from one of the
outside remotes. It looks like the bugs are massing again."
"On the table."
The display shifted to the overview of the colony. A large patch of
white was moving down from the direction of the lake, several more moving in
from the north and west.
"Damn, damn!" shouted Kelly banging the side of the table with a fist.
"These things just don't quit!" added Welton. "If we can only get a
break, a few hours at least to repair the defenses."
Collins was silent, studying the display. "Fran, have Fraiser prepare
the command carrier."
"Sir?"
"Have it ready to go in half an hour. First Sergeant Kelly form a
detail, thirty of your best people, full gear. Vicky, find a relief. Timbra
you're coming with us so you better get outfitted as well."
Collins headed for the door.
"Colonel, where are you going?" asked Major Welton.
He stopped at the opening.
"Back to the Glory Ann," he replied. "Ladies, you wanted to do this .
. . thirty minutes, in the hanger," he finished walking out.
The Angels looked at each other, wishing they had never brought up the
idea at all.



Chapter Eight


1115LCT, 24 March, 2143

Yuri sat at table in the marine barracks running diagnostics on the
two Gravpacks; Kei checked out the rifles she'd acquired from the armory on
the table behind her. The readouts on the interface displayed its findings,
ending the test. She turned disconnecting from them, pondering the results.
Kei paused and looking up.
"And the verdict is?" she asked.
Yuri moved to the seat across from her. "The packs say they've been
on highpower since we came here," she said in a low voice.
Kei leaned close. "You know that's bullshit, Yuri. Those packs
shutdown automatically when they break interface."
"They could have been damaged in our first fight, Kei. We did roll
down the side of that barricade pretty rough."
"Both of them? No."
"So are you saying sabotage?"
"Yes!"
Kei sat back and continued to load her rifle while Yuri contemplated
her suggestion.
"I guess that means we're back to the usual suspects," she said.
Briefly, Kei cut a dark determined glance at her.
"I have one person in mind who fills the top bill right now," she said
letting the slide on the rifle spring forward with a sharp snap. "Your little
computer buddy."
"Martin?" said Yuri in disbelief. She shook her head. "No, not
Martin."
"He's a geek, Yuri. You said yourself he's one of the best you've
ever seen,"
"But Martin wouldn't hurt anybody. I don't think he's capable of it."
"It makes good cover doesn't it," Kei answered rising from her seat.
She picked up a combat vest, pulling it on. "He's got the knowledge to trick
those lower level chips into thinking they were on and discharge like they
did."
"So? One of those techs could have done the same thing, Kei."
"Maybe, but I don't think any of the grunts in there would try that."
"Not even Major Welton?"
"No. The Corps have that code ingrained in their souls. You know,
all that we're together, trust your buddy stuff."
"That leaves Timbra Brown."
Kei stopped doing up the clips on the vest for a moment.
"I haven't ruled her out yet."
"But you want too, because she saved your life."
"I'll admit to that. I find it hard for someone to put their life in
that situation just to keep a secret."
Yuri leaned on the table, resting her chin in one hand and smiled
lightly.
"Make's good cover," she said.
"Funny," Kei replied with a smirk. She tossed the second vest at her.
"Come on get dressed. I told Squiggy and Heddy we'd meet them at the
elevator in five minutes."
Yuri giggled and got up. "You know, Kei, I just thought of
something."
"What's that?"
"Now that our spy is alerted to the fact that we'll be reinforced in a
few hours, whoever is going to try their best to short circuit us."
"Uhuh,"
"So the best time to strike would be during this trip."
"Yep."
"If only Colonel Collins had not told anyone."
Kei grabbed her rifle heading for the door.
"Yuri, I would bank that's what the Colonel had in mind," she replied
giving her a knowing look.
Yuri's expression brightened. "Ah!" she said tapping a finger against
her temple as she followed her out the door. . .


* * * * *


The Angels met Heddy and Squiggy at the elevator, and the four rode it
down into the hanger bay talking about the first trip to the Glory Ann.
Squiggy detailed some of the finer points of the skirmish missed by Collins's
briefing, how the bugs had sealed off portions of the ship with some sort of
secreted goo. The girls cringed at the thought of touching the unknown
substance. By his description, this would not be a pleasant walk once they
were inside.
"Dis is great, another sled run," Squiggy said excitement in his eyes.
"A sled?" questioned Kei.
"That's Squiggy's description for the command carrier," explained
Heddy.
"You'll likes this machine, Kei. It's got speed, firepower, all the
makings of a full blown tank with a hyper motor attached to it," added
Squiggy.
Heddy rolled her eyes shaking her head.
The elevator lurched to a stop, and they got out heading towards the
staging area. Suddenly Squiggy stopped turning around.
"Say, Heddy. Think we's aught'a show them our souvenir?"
"Ooh, yeah. They havn't seen it yet, have they?" she replied.
"What, more surprises?" exclaimed Yuri. "Look, you people better come
clean on this stuff."
"Calm down, Yuri," Kei said. "So what's this souvenir you have? Some
part of a bug."
Squiggy and Hedona snickered.
"Sort'a," replied Balboa. "This way. It's in the maintenance shop."
"Colonel didn't want it out on display," added Heddy. "Might scare
the civvies."
Exchanging quizzical looks, the Angels followed them over to a set of
double doors. Squiggy peered inside.
"Come on," he said stepping in.
Kei and Yuri stood gazing around the work stations searching for
anything unusual. There was nothing.
"Okay, what's the joke?" said Kei.
The two marines snickered again, Squiggy pointing above their heads.
They looked up. Immediately Yuri made a record dive over a nearby work bench,
Kei rolling across the floor. As Heddy wrestled with Kei to prevent her from
firing a round into the air, Squiggy rushed towards Yuri.
"It's dead, it's dead, it's dead!" he cried out frantically waving his
arms at her.
"Whatisthatwhatisthat!" she cried pistol in hand.
Squiggy grinned. "Dat is a bitch bug," he replied.
Above the entrance was the head of a creature the Angels had never
seen, now the proud trophy of the marines. A swift kick from Hedona made
Squiggy cry out, holding his rear as he staggered away.
"Doc P thinks that was a female bug," she said, giving Squiggy another
withering glance before continuing. "He thinks these things have a society
much like ants. Warriors, workers--"
"A queen," Yuri finished walking around for a closer look. She stared
up at the head, noting its features then turned.
"Kei, this is what's putting those larva into people," she said.
"Well I hope we don't run into anymore of these . . . `queens'. Look
at the size of that head."
"It was enormous," Squiggy said as his pain subsided. "Screaming and
wailing like a-- well lets say it was very pissed off."
"Where did you kill this one?"
"It was com'in up the tube from Complex Two, but just quite didn't
make it past the blast doors."
"Fortunately for us," added Heddy.
The PA system came to life, calling for all members of the expedition
to muster on station. They headed out the door, Yuri stopped to give the
Queen one last look. An uneasy feeling passed through her then Kei called,
and she ran to join them.
Outside, the crews were making final preps on the command carrier.
Twice as large as the rest of the hovercars, it was just as Squiggy said, a
combination carrier/main battle tank. Sloped at the front with an armored cab
for the driver and forward gunner manning a smaller auto turret, the carrier
extended back sides slanted out ending flush at the rear by a large loading
ramp. On top, offset to the right side forward sat the main turret, housing a
short barreled pulse cannon and 30mm chain gun. Four hatches ran in two rows
behind it to allow easy disembarkation and fire support if needed.
Kei whistle in admiration. "Wow. Why can't we get all these neat
toys, Yuri?"
"I don't think we'd look good appearing at an investigation in this,
Kei."
The marine detachment stood in three ranks at the side of the carrier,
First Sergeant Kelly barking orders, giving the det a final once over. He
spotted them and a frown covered his face.
"About time you four showed up," he snarled at them. "Was our
timetable too much for you to handle?"
Squiggy and Hedona grimaced, knowing that the full wrath of the First
Sergeant would be unleashed on them after this mission was over. Kei just
smirked.
"Nah, my alarm clock just went off late. Got to get my beauty sleep
you know," she said walking scornfully past.
Yuri put a hand to her face, waiting for the fireworks to start.
Kelly, remembering Collin's words, let out a restrained grunt rounding on the
two marines.
"Get in ranks!" he said. Squiggy and Heddy scurried past. Kelly
began pacing up and down the line.
"Now listen up! I selected all of you because you are part of the
best we have. We're about to go out into the middle of the bugs, that means
you can expect some heavy action. I want you all to stay on your toes, be
alert, and follow the orders given to you. Do I make myself clear?"
"YES, FIRST SERGEANT!" the marines shouted.
Kei leaned casually up against the side of the carrier, yawning as if
bored.
"Listen to this drabble, Yuri," she said.
"Kei, will you behave!"
Kelly continued. "Now I don't want any mistakes, and I certainly
don't want any `K-guns' getting us all into trouble."
Kei bristled at the insult. Yuri grabbed an arm preventing her from
leaping out at the man.
"Do you hear this crap, Yuri! This Seargent is bucking for an
ass-kicking, and what is this K-gun garbage anyway?"
Yuri held her back. "Will you stop. Squiggy told me what it means
and you don't want to know."
Kei paused glaring hard at her partner.
"Promise you won't go off the deep end?" Yuri said. Kei just arched a
brow.
Yuri continued. "Well . . . that's a Marine term for a rifle going
into automatic fire during a jam. It, ah. . . kicks uncontrolably. Kick,
`K', see the--"
Kei swiveld slowly around towards Kelly. "I'll polish his head with
this hangerdeck," she growled.
Yuri grinned, taking a tight grip on one arm, listening in to the rest
of Kelly's instructions.
"We all go out, we all come back. Any questions?"
Squiggy raised his hand.
"What is it, Balboa?"
Squiggy turned to the rest of the detachment. "I'm ride'n shotgun,"
he said.
"Shut up, Balboa!" roared Kelly amidst their snickers.
Colonel Collins, Lieutenant Meyers and Timbra appeared, Kelly called
them to attention. He reported to Vicky, and she looked over the det.
"Colonel has a few words to say," she said to them.
Collins stepped up. "I'm not going to lie to you, people. We're
going back to the Glory Ann."
Stunned faces gazed back at him.
"We're not there to kill bugs. We're there to retrieve a computer
module. Ms. Brown."
"It's about half a meter long," said Timbra holding her hands apart.
"Square, around seven centimeters wide. There should be two on board the ship,
one in the computer bay near the bridge, and one in engineering at the
auxiliary control panel."
"I'd like both of them, but if we get one that will be enough," added
Collins.
"And if you find them, give them to--"
"One of us," Kei cut in pointing to herself and Yuri.
The marines looked at Collins awaiting his word.
"You heard the lady. Nobody but them unless, god forbid, they're
killed then give them to me."
Timbra finished her brief, "Be careful pulling them out. They are
sensitive. Treat'em like babies."
"Newborn, or prebies?" joked Hedona.
Kelly's withering gaze quickly silenced them.
"Alright then," said Collins. "Let's do this right the first time.
Mount up."
"You heard the man. Let's move!" shouted Kelly. "Milles, Balboa,
bring your happy ass's over here!"
The rear hatch opened, Collins leading the det inside. They took up
positions, some manning the turret controls, others taking the seats at the
foot of the firing platforms along the side. Up forward Kei and Yuri moved
into the heart of the carrier, two stations full of electronic equipment and
monitors on each side. A tactical display sat flush with the wall, Collins
sitting in the chair before it. Vicky manned the communications, powering up
the displays.
In the cabin, they could see Denny at the controls, and much to their
surprise jacked into the computer interface.
"Hey, Denny. I didn't know you were an augmentee?" Yuri said.
"Yeah, I thought you grunts weren't allowed to have jacks?" added Kei.
"I'm a specialist just like our techs in Ops, but only a level two
operator. No valuable combat secrets to lose if I'm ever captured by the
enemy."
"Oh, a tin can model, eh?" said Kei.
Denny smiled looking back. "Hey come on, Squiggy. We've got to get
moving!" he called out to the rear.
"I'm come'in, I'm come'in," grumbled Squiggy taking the seat next to
him. He doffed his helmet, pulling on another one connected to a series of
connectors in the overhead. Snapping down the smoke-colored visor, Balboa
twitched his head. The forward turret shifting with the movement.
"I'm good," he said.
Kei leaned on the back of his chair. "I'm surprised you can sit down.
Do you still have a rear to be comfortable with?" she teased him.
"Yeah, right. Funny, funny, funny."
"I take it the First Sergeant had no sense of humor again," Denny
asked.
"As usual," replied Squiggy.
Denny flipped on his mic. <Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this
is your pilot speaking. Flight 216 will be taking off shortly right after I
get coordinates. Until then, sit back and relax. Lunch will be served by our
two Lovely Angels, Kei and Yuri. Enjoy your ride.>
A series of hoots and cat calls carried through the carrier, then the
net crackled to life.
<Cut the comedy up there, Fraiser!> shouted Kelly.
"Hmm. He is a bit grouchy today," Denny said shaking his head to
clear the ring from his ears.
An alert sounded from the dash, Colonel Collins calling him over the
net.
<Fraiser, you copy coordinates?>
<Copy, sir. All systems go.>
<Get us moving then.>
"You ladies need to get seated," Denny said to the Angels.
"Yeah, when the sled get's go'in, you want's to be in a chair."
The girls left, Squiggy and Denny watching them go.
"That babe still has a nice ass," Squiggy said clicking his tongue.
"Probably more than you have right now," Denny replied taking hold of
the controls.
Squiggy smirked at him. "Let's go, ya'bookworm."
The hanger chief signaled all clear to them, and Denny brought the
repulsors up guiding the carrier towards the main doors.


* * * * *


The Command carrier glided down the main street, coming to a stop at
the inner lock of the east gate. St-Paul was there with two squads of marines
plus one of the last remaining hovercars incase the bugs had any surprises for
them when the lock was pulled. Up in Ops, Major Welton watched their progress
on the tactable.
<Okay St-Paul get your people into position. Colonel stand by, we're
about to open the inner doors.>
<Okay, Fran. Our diversion ready to go?>
<Soon as you get down the tube, I'll start it.>
<Roger that. I'll see you when we get back.>
<Good luck, sir.>
Welton turned to his techs. "What's the scan look like?"
"Inner tube looks clean," replied a tech. She switched scanners.
"Outer tube has some bugs in it. Most of them are still a few clicks off."
Welton nodded. "Open the inner doors," he ordered.
At the gate a shift of gears sounded, the two heavy doors parting with
a loud groan. Fraiser moved the carrier inside as soon as there was enough
room. The doors shifted locking back into place and the inner tube was lit up.
Silence prevailed amongst the expedition, nervously awaiting the trip to
begin.
<Fraiser, once we get to the blown section of the tunnel, hang a
right,> Collins ordered Denny.
<Roger. I'm opening the door.>
The blast door ahead creaked into life, rising up. At the threshold,
a large group of bugs stood hissing at the carrier.
"Oh look, a welcoming committee," Squiggy said flicking off the
trigger guard on his controls.
The forward turret spoke, raking the area quickly joined by the chain
gun of the main turret. The bugs scattered, charging at them. Fraiser wasn't
about to let them get on top. He pushed the throttle forwards and the carrier
shot out of the tunnel like a missile. In back, Kei grit her teeth surprised
by the force pressing her into her seat. The sound of the turret guns firing
again made her peek over to Vicky's monitor. Bugs were appearing all along
the side of the tunnel, springing from the overhead trying to get on the
speeding vehicle. Most of them were missing, or bouncing off the sides onto
the ground. A dull thud sounded directly above her head.
<Bugs on the hull!> Denny called out over the net.
Three of the monsters clawed their way upright, talons scraping on the
metal against the rush of air forcing them back. The main turret spun,
catching the first one with the barrel tipping it over the side. A short
burst from the pulse cannon made short work out of the other two. Denny began
to weave, and more of them splattered on the ground behind them. A barricade
loomed ahead. He gave the carrier more thrust and they rose up sailing over
the top.
"Yeah, that's it, D!" Squiggy shouted ecstatically, the rest of the
marines howling along with him.
Up ahead the light from outside lit the tunnel.
<Approaching the hole,> said Vicky.<Get ready to turn.>
<One minute, Lieutenant. I've got to clear us of some excess
baggage,> Denny replied.
Collins frowned, calling up his interface display. There on the left
rear bumper, a bug hung on by one hand for dear life. It screeched loudly,
flailing with its other hand trying to pull itself onboard to no avail. The
carrier inched close to the side of the tunnel, Denny picking just the right
moment then tipped them slightly to one side. The bug hit a support, smashing
into pulp and dropped away. Collins laughed.
Up in Ops, Major Welton waited for them to reach the opening.
"Rhodes, are we ready to do this yet?" he asked.
Martin sat next to a tech, plugging in the last bits of a preamble he
made from their earlier transmissions.
"Almost, Major," he replied.
"Hurry it up, times running short."
The red icon passed through the breech in the tunnel, heading south
towards the second breech in the tube connecting modules two and three. The
white swarm of dots moving up from the south shifted towards them.
"Rhodes?" Welton said with more urgency.
Martin finished, spinning around. "Do it now, Major."
"Bring up dish two!"
A spot near the open field next to the aerodrome parted, one of the
colonies communications dishes rising up from the ground. Power was rerouted
to it and it hummed into life.
"Ten second burst, stand-by," Welton said. He paused allowing the
carrier to get past the second gap. "Now!"
On the carrier, all eyes were glued to the monitors, staring in horror
at the dark mass of bugs charging across the open plain. They suddenly
stopped, snapping their jaws, heads sweeping back and forth then surged away.
Denny brought them around increasing speed.
"Holy Cow," muttered one of the marines. "Did you see how many bugs
there were out there?"
Kei stared at the screen then sat back briefly. She thought, undid
her harnesses, moving up behind Colonel Collins.
"Colonel, you said that half of your colony had been either killed or
captured by the bugs?"
"Yes."
She glanced up at his screen before continuing.
"That looked like more than half."
"I take it you are accounting for the several hundred we've killed
during this entire encounter?"
"Ahuh. They're spreading like the plague. These Queen bugs must not
care what they inject their children into as long as its warm and breathing."
Collins turned around to face her. "We had livestock with us, and
there is indigenous animal life on Locris too."
"Which means that there's more Queens."
That was news Collins did not like in the least, rubbing his forehead
to suppress the tension he suddenly felt. A loud roar streaked overhead,
Collins looking up.
"What was that!" he shouted.
"Mughi!" exclaimed Yuri dashing for the comms.
In the distraction, the Angels had all but forgotten their mammalian
counterpart up in the Lovely Angel. The ship banked wide, coming around to
pace protectively over them.
"Alright, now we've got air cover," said Heddy.
Meanwhile, Yuri rapidly called up the ships communications freq, Mughi
appearing on one of the monitors. Vicky let out a yelp drawing back.
"Don't worry, he doesn't bite," she said. "Mughi, am I glad to see
you."
Mughi growled, relieved that the Angels were safe.
"Mughi, reconnect us to 3WA Headquarters."
Minutes later, Bill Galet appeared. He held an expression of shock on
his face, several stacks of records and data cubes scattered across his desk.
"So, Billy. Looks like you've been working late I see," Yuri said.
<Understatement, Yuri,> he replied. <Where the hell did you find these
Aliens?>
Aliens, hm? thought Yuri.
"We didn't, they found us," Kei said standing next to her partner.
<Well whatever, this has the entire Confederation up in arms."
Colonel Collins came up behind them. "What about the relief force?"
Bill paused. <Colonel Collins I assume. The first part of your relief
should be entering the Rumic system now. I'm going to try and get a patch up
to them.>
"Excuse me for being so bold, Mister Galet, but one battalion is not
going to be enough."
<Like I said, Colonel, the Confederation is quite upset by this whole
thing. As soon as I saw what you were up against, I went straight to the
Council. They took one look and immediately mobilized the closest military
forces. Last count, six divisios were en route, with more on the way. Hell
we even have several packs of Hunters racing to Locris.>
"Well tell'em to bring plenty of ammo. These `Aliens' are expanding
at an incredible rate," Kei said.
<I was afraid of that,> Bill said. <Damn, I thought they were
extinct.>
"You know something about them, Billy?" asked Yuri.
<You forget, I'm from way back, remember? At one time, they were on
Earth.>
Yuri snapped her fingers. "That's where I remember these things
from!" she exclaimed. "Pre-Nano Earth History. Something about the Company
and a radical group that let a specimen loose."
<Almost wiped out humanity on the planet. Fortunately we stopped
them. Small enclaves in the Amazon and lower Southeast Asian jungles were all
that remained.>
"Guess the Nanoclysim took care of everything else," finished Yuri.
Withering stares beamed on Timbra from the marines. Collins cast an
accusing look at her then faced the monitor again.
"Mister Galet, what about the Company?" he asked.
<Ah, yes the Company,> Bill replied. He pulled a folder from the pile
opening it up. <They seem to be ripe with Alien tampering. LV472, Bunda,
Terminal 949 just to name a few,>
Some of the marines were inching up on Timbra, cracking their
knuckles.
<However; most of the incidents were caused buy individuals out for
themselves, or so they report.>
"No direct connection then that they caused the Glory Ann to land on
Locris."
<None.>
He thought, then motioned Timbra to come over.
"Well, Ms. Brown, any ideas on this?"
"No, but when I get out of here, I might take up Kei's offer of
employment," she answered him.
Kei chuckled lightly behind them. Collins frowned.
"Mister Galet, I'm on my way back to the Glory Ann to retrieve her
computer modules. I should have an answer for you about that shortly."
<Yes, we'd like to know why ourselves. Let me know what you come up
with.>
"Okay, Billy. We're going to sign off now. We'll check in on our way
back."
<Okay girls. Take care now.>
The screen shifted back to Mughi. Collins returned to his chair,
calling up a layout of the route to the Glory Ann.
"We have about twenty minutes before we get to the site," he said.
Timbra stood behind him, gazing upon the display.
"So, you think my soon to be ex-employers have something to do with
all of this?" she asked him.
"If there is any evidence that they are involved, Timbra, I'm going to
find their board of directors and personally beat the living shit out of
them."
"You'll have to beat me to them then, Colonel. I'm not fond of being
cannon fodder for somebodies personal greed."
He gazed up, seeing the seriousness in her eyes. "You're on," replied
Collins.


* * * * *


Five minutes from the crash site, Collins gathered the senior members
of his party to plan their excursion into the Glory Ann. He pulled up the
layout of a standard class five star-freighter.
"Okay, this is what I want to happen. We'll break into two groups.
Myself, Timbra and First Sergeant Kelly will take one group and sweep the
upper levels forward. Vicky, Balboa, Kei and Yuri, you'll sweep the lower
decks aft towards auxiliary control with the rest of the team."
"What if we can't get down?" asked Kei mindful of Squiggy's
description.
"Do the best you can. If you get stuck, wait for us. I don't want
any heroics here."
He enlarged the view, zooming in amidships.
"The first time we entered through the airlock here, so I'm going to
assume that's still an option for us. If I remember correctly, the ships back
is broken so be careful moving along the passageways."
"If the bugs are still here, this is going to be really a challenge,
sir," Kelly said.
"I know Sergeant, but I'm betting that most of them moved over to one
of the colony modules. I'm not saying that there aren't a few stragglers left
behind. Don't take any unnecessary chances people."
"We can have the Angel scan the ship before we go in, Colonel," Yuri
said.
Collins nodded then the marine manning the comms called to them.
"Excuse me, sir, but I think this cat is trying to call us," he said.
Kei went over and interfaced with the console. Mughi appeared on the
screen and he began to grumble something to her. Kei's eyes widened slightly.
"Put it up for us, Mughi," she said.
The scene shifted to an overhead view of the carrier and the
surrounding valley. Behind them several miles away they could see a mass of
dark bodies moving steadily towards them.
"I don't believe it," Kelly said.
Mughi magnified the view, but it was obvious who was after them.
Aliens ran in a dead heat across the open plain. The computer readout at the
lower right clocked them well over 65 kph.
"Looks like we've drawn more attention then we expected," said Timbra.
"How far behind us are they?" Collins asked.
"About 40 clicks, sir," answered Vicky.
"That gives us about half an hour or so before they catch up to us,"
added Kei.
Collins knew that would put a severe constraint on their search of the
ship. He'd hoped to have more time, but now they'd have to rush through it if
they wanted to get out of there alive. The carrier shuddered lightly and he
looked up for a moment.
<Fraiser, why are we slowing down?>
<Colonel . . . you've got to come and see this,> Denny replied.
He hurried up to the cab. Denny had them down to a slow speed as they
approached the site of the Glory Ann. A lost look covered the young privates
face, Collins looking out to see what was ahead. His jaw went slack unable to
comprehend what it was they were looking at. The Glory Ann, or the spot where
the ship should have been, was nearly covered by large dome-like structure
sickly green-brown in color. Several ribbed extrusions sectioned it off,
running up to the top opening back like a vent, a light mist billowing up
towards the sky. The view was being displayed on the tactical monitor, all
eyes locked on it.
"Well it looks like the bugs have been redecorating," Timbra said
gaining several wry looks from those around her.
The carrier came to a stop, Collins eyeing the structure then ordered
everyone back to their stations.
"Kei, can the Lovely Angel slow down our unwanted tail?"
"There's a lot of them, but I'm sure she can handle that."
"Do it. We need about fifteen extra minutes to sweep the ship."
"We're still going in?" asked Yuri.
"Yes, but let's be clear about this, people. The ship and the ship
only. Nothing else. I don't know what's inside that thing, and I don't want
to find out."
"Amen," Squiggy said.
The Lovely Angel moved from its protective cover above them, taking up
position a short distance away. It turned, canting down slightly then the
main cannon flashed to life. A distinct, satisfying explosion echoed across
the valley.
Collins gave the word to move and the carrier continued on towards the
Glory Ann . . .


* * * * *


The up close look at the side of the dome reviled that it was organic
in nature. Yuri stared at it curiously while the marines formed a defensive
cordon around the carrier. Behind her Collins, Vicky and Kei stood gazing up
at the forward cargo bay, the only exposed part of the ship. It was partially
buried into the ground, the mounds of dirt high enough for them to climb up to
the top.
The only way in would be through the upper lock they could see.
Collins ordered Kelly to leave a two man crew with Denny, giving him strict
orders to keep the carrier buttoned up at all times. Denny rogered, moving
away from the site.
Yuri peered close to the domes side. It was almost translucent, she
noticed. A poke on the side with her rifle found it hard and solid. Yuri was
about to retrieve a sample, when Kei placed a hand on her shoulder. She
yelped, turning around.
"You want to get away from that?" Kei said.
"It's not alive, Kei," she replied.
Kei smirked. "Let's not play, okay. We're getting ready to move in
so let's go."
Quickly, the Angels rejoined the column of marines climbing up the
side to the top of the ship. At the airlock, Kelly had one of the techs
running a bypass on the controls. While they waited, Collins stood near the
front staring out at the horizon through his macronoculars at the advancing
Aliens. The blast from the Lovely Angels main gun echoed off the surrounding
hills, plumes of smoke rising up from the burning plain. The devastation was
great, whole groups of bugs evaporating in burst of energy, but at best all
Mughi's firing did was force them to spread out and take alternate routes
towards the ship.
Kei watched him curiously. She put a knowing smile on her face,
standing next to the Colonel.
"You knew they'd follow us," she said.
Collins remained locked on the Aliens. "Yes," he replied.
"Hmm, pulling them away from Dorman. Not a bad idea. Risky on our
part, but understandable."
"I'll take that as a complement, Kei."
Kei regarded him for a moment. "You have good character, Colonel,"
she continued. "I like that."
The Macros came down, Collins turning to her. Kei grinned up at him.
A slight cough from behind broke the moment, Vicky Meyers standing
behind them. Collins actually looked perplexed for a second, then asked her
what she wanted.
"The airlock door, sir. It seems to be jammed."
"By what?"
"We don't know, sir."
Returning to the lock, First Sergeant Kelly and Yuri were lying prone
on the hull, peering in through the small opening they had managed to make.
"I can't tell even with this light," the heard Yuri say to Kelly.
"Looks like something hard . . . I don't know," he replied.
"Kelly, is this going to take long?" Collins asked.
"Hard to tell sir," he replied standing up.
Collins furrowed a brow, kneeling. He studied the edges then stood
again.
"Blow it," he ordered.
Heddy pulled a concision grenade from her belt priming the pin. "Fire
in the hole!" she announced, the rest of the party moving back to a safe
distance. She tossed it through the gap and scurried away.
The explosion blew the hatch up from its seals. Cautiously, Collins
lead them back up. When the smoke cleared, He looked inside.
"Eeew, what is that?" Yuri said frowning at what was below.
The entire sides of the airlock were covered in a translucent green
crystalline substance. Squiggy squinted hard at the stuff.
"Hey I'll bet its that goo," he said pointing to the Alien dome.
Kei shuddered. "M-maybe we should try another way in," she said.
"Come on, K-gun. Don't loose your cool on us now," said Kelly. He
pulled on a pair of gloves, stepped onto the first step and started down.
"Ladies first," Squiggy said to Heddy.
"Oh, thanks," she replied.
Heddy slapped him on the forehead and followed. At the bottom,
Sergeant Kelly stood at the open set of inner doors shining a light down the
darkened passageway. The resin smeared the walls, draping down across
conduits and supports in eerie, twisted shapes. Heddy took up position across
from him.
"Hey, sarge. I tink Squiggy's right," she whispered, feeling the coat
of resin on the wall.
"Don't touch that shit!" scowled Kelly and she jerked back. He rolled
his eyes up, then called back up the hatch it was all clear.
Meyers detailed the rest of them down by twos. Before Collins climbed
down, he took one last look at the Aliens. They were so spread out that Mughi
and the Angel were finding it hard to acquire targets, repositioning for a
better shot. The Command Carrier sat off at a short distance, doing what it
could with its main gun.
<Fraiser.>
<Yes, Colonel.>
<Stay mobile. I don't want the bugs to pile up on you like the first
carrier we lost.>
<Roger, sir.>
<Let me know when they get ten minutes away, then stand-by to pick us
up.>
<We'll be ready.>
Collins glanced at the horde once more, then climbed down.


* * * * *


The party moved along, taking directions from Timbra as they advanced
further into the bowels of the Glory Ann. The Alien resin made it hard for
them to make out their positions, but soon they came out into the main
corridor of the ship. Collins called a stop.
"Alright, Timbra, which way?"
Timbra studied the pad in her hands for a moment.
"We are going to have to go this way," she said pointing left.
"Should be an access ladder five frames forward. Computer bays are three decks
down."
"And us?" asked Vicky.
"Aft. About twelve frames back to another access ladder. Aux Control
is six decks down."
"Six frigg'n decks," Squiggy sighed. "If I remember's correctly, we
only got two decks down before the bugs attacked."
"Alright, can it, Corporal," ordered Collins. "Vicky, get moving.
Time is running out, so be quick but careful. Check in every five minutes."
"Yes, sir. Let's move out, Balboa."
The party detailed into two squads, Vicky taking charge leading her
group down the corridor. Collins waited until they were safely away before
turning to lead the rest of them forwards, a determined glare in his eyes.


* * * * *


Timbra's directions proved accurate and soon Collins's team was
climbing down the damaged levels into the Glory Ann's computer room. The
place was in shambles, console ripped from the bulkheads, computer bays
smashed or burnt from either the fighting, or the following crash. To make
matters worse, the bugs had coated everything in the offensive goo making
visual recognition harder.
"Oh lovely," commented Timbra looking around. "Late Alien decor, the
puke green-black goes quite well with the scorch marks, don't you think
Colonel?"
Collins was searching the far wall for the computer module. He pulled
up a schematic of the ship.
"The memory banks should be right over there," he said pointing to a
section on the right.
Kelly shinned his light on the spot. Through the thick layer of
translucent resin, they could see what looked like part of a console, a
control panel set in the bulkhead next to it. With a sneer, the First
Sergeant broke away some of the resin. He yanked, more of the stuff pulling
away with a sticky screeching sound. Several other helped and soon they had
enough of the console cleared to work with. Timbra shined her light on the
underside of the workstation.
"Yeah, this looks promising," she said pulling out a tool kit.
She undid the panels as the rest of the team waited, wondering if
their trip was worth the effort. A snap sounded, then Timbra sat up holding
the first computer module in her hands. A brief examination made her frown.
"No joy, Colonel," she said holding it up for him to see.
On either end, dark scoring marked the connectors. Collins didn't
need a tech to know that the thing was shot. He cursed turning away.
"Let's hope the one down in Aux is still salvageable," he said. His
commlink beeped.
<Go.>
Outside, Denny moved the Command Carrier to the foot hills north of
the crash site. He stared down at the scanner display, a slight feeling of
fear running through him.
<Colonel, I've got some more bad news,>
<Spill it, Fraiser.>
<Looks like there's some bug movement inside with you. Not a whole
hell of a lot, but it's there.>
The marines in both parties tensed, gazing around.
<Location?> asked Collins.
<Sporadic, I can't get a good lock. Some unusual returns, not like
the norm.>
<Try to get a location and keep me informed.>
<That's not all sir,>
<There's more?>
The sound of the main turrets gun in the background startled him.
<We've got more bugs coming. This cat up in the Lovely Angel flashed
me a sweep to the north. There's whole new horde flowing in from the hills.>
A new twist in this complicated affair, Collins looked back at his
team.
<What's the ETA?> he continued.
Denny glanced at the screen. <North group about fifteen, twenty
minutes tops.>
<Status on the southern group?>
<They've spread out so thin that the Angel is making strafing runs
now. ETA's a little under twenty minutes.>
<Okay. Let me know if anything changes.>
Denny acknowledged and Collins called Meyers.
<Vicky, you have about ten minutes to get down to Auxillary Control
and get out. Where are you now?>
Vicky's section was finding it hard going down into the bowels of the
ship. The Glory Ann suffered more damage aft, parts of her hull broken open.
That plus the added lining of Alien construction made their progress slow at
best. Currently, they stopped on the fourth deck to listen in on the
conversation. The news of bugs inside only made things worse.
<We've made to deck four, sir, but it looks like I'll have to bypass
the main access tube and move further aft due to all the damage.>
Collins looked at the layout on Timbra's display. She nodded,
pointing out the alternate route into the engineering space below.
<Move fast, Vicky. I'm going to cover the main deck incase you need
support. If you don't think you can go any further, get back here on the
double.>
<It's scary, but I think we can make it. I'll be in touch.>
Vicky signed off. Across from her, the Angels stood ready to move on.
"Advance?" asked Yuri.
She nodded and the squad moved out.
With motion detectors on full sweep, they advanced down the length of
a side passage, picking their way through until it opened up into a wide
semi-circular cull-du-sac.
Kei held up her pad. "Say, this isn't right," she said.
"According to the schematics, there should be a series of access
ladders leading down to engineering," added Yuri.
They shinned their lights around the space, but there was no signs of
the exits anywhere.
"Looks like de bugs closed this end off," said Heddy.
"Ma'am, no disrespect intended, but it's time to get the hell out of
here," added Balboa.
Vicky looked frightened, staring up at the overhead and the odd
patterns in the resin. "You might be right, Squiggy."
"Lieutenant," one of the marines called to her from across the room.
Several of the marines were kneeling down, looking at a spot on the floor.
Vicky told Hedona to watch their backs, walking over.
"I think I can see a light through this stuff," he said.
True enough, a dim white light shone up through the resin. Kei
spotted another not to far away. Her eyes suddenly went wide.
"Oh my God! This isn't the Glory Ann, this part of that dome.
We'd--"
A long cracking noise stopped her, then part of the false floor split
behind them. Kei spun around intending to leap back, but before she could the
floor gave way.
Cries of fear carried through the air as they fell into the abyss
below. . .


Chapter Nine


Hedona and the two marines with her crawled out to the edge of the
hole and peered down.
"Jesus, Heddy, what the hell do we do now!" exclaimed one of the
marines, panic in her eyes.
"I'm thinking, now shut up!" replied Heddy.
They could see the lights on the floor below, fuzzy figures sprawled
about the space. Heddy cupped her hands to her mouth.
"Squiggy!" she shouted. There was no reply, and she activated her
comlink.
<Colonel Collins!>
<What is it, Heddy?>
<The floor gave way, Lieutenant Meyers and most of the squad dropped
into the lower part of the ship!>
Collins called a stop to his squad. <Where are you now?>
<Somewhere's around the fourth deck still. No one's answered my call,
Colonel!>
<Alright, stay there. We're coming down to get you.>
<Hold on, Colonel,> a voice interrupted them.
<Vicky?>
Vicky slowly turned on her stomach, rising up on her elbows and paused
to regain her senses. She shook her head.
<I'm alive, sir.>
A relieved looked appeared on Collins's face. <Are you or anyone else
hurt?>
<I don't feel any broken bones, and I still haven't got my sight
adjusted yet so I can't see anyone else.>
Somebody moaned off to her left. She rose up on her knees retrieving
her light. Something slightly moist and sticky came back with it. Vicky
frowned trying to wipe the offensive mess from her hands with no success. Her
vision was starting to adjust and she made out a series of consoles at the far
part of the room, a hatch leading into another space just beyond that.
<Colonel, I believe I'm in part of engineering, but it doesn't look
right.>
<We're on our way.>
<I don't recommend it,> she replied spotting several of the marines
pulling themselves from the debris. <It's going to take too much time for all
of us to climb out of here as it is.>
Collins knew she was right. Reluctantly he told Kelly to continue on
towards the upper decks. <Vicky, I want you online continuously,> he said.
<Yes, sir.>
Something moved beside her. She whirled, training the light on a
partially dazed Kei.
"You wann'a point that somewhere's else," she said holding an arm up.
"Damn, Kei. You scared the living daylights out of me."
Kei sneered shaking her arms, light trails of the goo on the floor
streaming from them. She felt like throwing up. Out of the darkness, Squiggy
appeared helping one of the marines along under one arm.
"Squiggy!" Heddy exclaimed, happy to see him.
"Yeah we're alive, Heddy," he replied. The reminder of the marines
joined them and he took a quick head count. Somebody was missing.
"Hey, where's my Yuri?"
Kei called out her name. Lights snapped up sweeping the darkness.
There were odd shapes intermixed amongst the remains of the false floor,
oblong shapes that seem to dot the floor near the center. Something stirred
between several of them.
"Yuri?" Kei said spotting her friends head rising up from the floor.
Yuri pawed at the sticky mass of goo in her hair, trying to clear her
eyes. Sensing the lights, she blindly made her way towards them. Her foot
caught on one of the objects, falling face down to the floor.
"Yuri! Crawl towards us!" shouted Kei.
Yuri sputtered, wiping her face clean. "Kei, what the hell is this
crap all over me!" she shouted.
"Forget about your looks, Yuri. Just crawl straight towards us!"
Yuri knew when not to question Kei in times of emergency. When she
was safe, they peered around at the objects.
"Hey, what da heck are those?" Squiggy asked. He shined his light on
one of the things and moved in for a closer look.
It was a pod of some sort, leathery brown in color; the top opened
back like a peeled banana. He peered inside, finding the thing empty, a
sticky membrane hanging loosely around the sides. Kei tapped Vicky on the
shoulder, pointing to more of the things in the same condition off to the
right.
"We're leaving now," declared Vicky. She looked up to Heddy.
"Milles, tie your repelling lines to something sturdy and throw'em down here."
As Heddy rigged the lines, the rest of the squad began to explore
their surroundings. Squiggy helped Yuri up, wiping away the mess from her
face.
"That's better," he said.
She smiled at him. "Thank's, Squiggy. I knew you were a gentleman
inside all of that macho exterior."
Yuri saw a boyish blush color his cheeks. "Nah, only for the best
look'n marine on Locris," he replied.
"You mean that?"
"Would I lie?"
Yuri gave him a hug.
"Hey, this is no time for new found loves," Kei scolded them. She
handed Yuri her rifle. "If you still can remember, we are in enemy territory."
Squiggy stepped back turning to the rest of the squad. "What da hell
are you guys do'in?" he shouted at them.
"We're looking around," one of them replied.
"Get back here!"
Another marine called to them. In the beam of her light an Alien
construction hung down from part of the overhead. Between the drapings a long
whitish tube lay collapsed on itself, the end limp on the floor in a puddle of
ooze. One of the marines with her poked its surface with his rifle.
"It's kind of like a rubber balloon. Smells horrible, probably been
like this for at least a week," he said.
"I want everyone back here now!" Vicky ordered. Somebody cried out,
bringing them around with rifle drawn up.
"What's going on!" asked Squiggy.
"Nothing," answered a marine. He held his head. "I just hit my head
on something, that's all."
"That's all? Get over here!"
"It's probably just a pipe." replied the marine shining his light up
at the wall. "Nothing to get-- huh?"
He leaped back letting out a cry of surprise. There on the wall,
partially cocooned in resin was one of the colonist. His face was frozen in a
permanent look of pain and terror, chest ripped open from the inside. They
all gazed at the deadman in horror.
Kei panned her light up, and another body came into view. She drew in
a gasp as more and more victims of the Aliens were discovered along the upper
portions of the room. Men, women, children, animals both wild and
domesticated all cried out in silent agony to them.
"Oh my god," muttered Vicky. Her light was on a figure high on the
wall. A marine they could tell, several of them dropped to their knees, arms
limp at their sides in shock.
<C-C-Colonel C-Collins,> stammered Vicky into her mic.
<What is it, Vicky?>
She hesitated, fighting to find the words. <I-I found Major
Christopher . . . he's been glued to the wall just like the captain of this
ship was when we found him.>
Collins could hear the rising hysteria in her voice.
<I want you and your squad out of there now, Vicky! Is that clear?>
Squiggy managed to break from his shock.
"Heddy, where's that friggin line at!"
"I'm throwing it down now, Squiggy!" she replied.
The combined lengths of tylacord line draped to the ground. Squiggy
started the marines up without a second of hesitation. Meanwhile, Yuri gently
shook Vicky from her shock, turning her away from the view.
"Get a hold of yourself, Vicky," she said. Meyers took in several
deep breaths easing the tension from her body.
"This isn't a colony, this is Hell," she said turning away.
Yuri felt Vickyi's sense of despair. This whole excursion carried a
pallor of death that was strangely foreign to her. She looked around to find
Kei, spotting her off to one side holding up her pad.
"Kei, come on we're leaving," she said.
Kei cast a curious gaze around the room. She checked the schematic on
the display then stepped out a few paces looking up.
"Yuri, I think we got lucky here," she said.
"What's so lucky about this place?" answered Yuri.
"This area here should be just around the forward part of
engineering."
"And?"
"Yuri, don't you see?" Kei said. She gazed slowly around, eyes
searching the darkened recesses. "We were on the fourth deck, we fell two
decks down . . . that means that somewhere in this room is the back-up
computer."
Yuri took the pad from her looking at the schematic. Comparing what
recognizable equipment she could see with what was there, Yuri frowned.
"I'm not too fond of probing around looking for that damn data bank,
Kei."
"It was our idea in the first place to come here, partner," Kei
reminded her.
"We were stupid too. Kei, something is not right with this place!"
Kei held back the urge to tear into Yuri. "Vicky, can you hold some
of the squad back?" she said ignoring Yuri's protest.
"Hell no!" exclaimed Vicky. "I agree with Yuri, let's get out of here
now."
"We need that module!"
Vicky pursed her lips angrily. <Colonel, did you manage to find the
main module?>
<Yes, but it was shot. I heard everything Vicky, and I agree with
you. Sorry Kei, get out of there.>
<Give me five minutes, Colonel. Just five minutes!> Kei pleaded.
<You only have five minutes, Kei.>
<Three, just give me three then!>
A short pause followed. <Three minutes. Vicky, give her that much.
When time expires, drag her kicking and screaming if you have to out of
there.>
Vicky started her chronometer. "Okay, red, three minutes and
counting. Balboa, leave two people here, the rest of us are going to cover
our hero."
Kei took her pad, frantically searching for something that looked
compatible to the schematic readout. Beneath a darkened section of the room
she saw parts of a shattered bulkhead. Waving them to follow, she moved
closer picking out consoles and monitors along the sides. Bodies and pods
dotted the floor, but Kei could see a bank of computer controls heavily coated
in the thick resin.
"That's got to be it," she said.
They kicked their way a path through the pods, Yuri and the marines
taking up positions around them.
"Two minutes, Kei," Vicky said.
Kei shined her light at the bay, then began pulling away part of the
resin. Some of it was still soft, peeling away in strands in her hands. Kei
let out a light moan.
"Oh, this is gross," she said.
Yuri smiled watching a dark opening across from them. Her light
played across the floor, and an odd form caught her eye.
"Hey, Squiggy. Have you guys seen anything like that?" she asked.
Squiggy peered at the thing lying on the floor. It looked dead, eight
withered legs curled up into its chest area, a long spine-like tail draped
beneath it.
"Look's like a dead spider, but I ain't seen no spider da size o'dat."
There were more lying close to that one, Yuri not liking the
implications of this. She told Squiggy to cover the opening, moving back to
Kei.
"You gotta hurry, Kei," she said.
Kei looked over the console once more, kneeling down to see the panel
barely through the goo. She knew she could not use tools effectively, and
pulling the last of the stuff away would take to much time.
"I'm going to borrow this," she said reaching up to pull one of the
last two Bloody Cards from Yuri's holder. One minute thirty seconds remained,
and Kei grimaced. She closed her eyes tight, pressing her arm through the
offensive stuff.
"Eeew yuck, Kei!" exclaimed Yuri and even Vicky had to wince at the
sight.
"Don't you think--ooh gosh--I feel the same way, Yuri?" Kei said as
she pressed deeper into the stuff. The Tegnoid alloy card cut through like a
hot knife on butter, clearing a small path to the console's underside. Kei
was shoulder deep into the cocoon, semi-dried goo sticking to her arm
weighting it down. Yuri stood unable to bear anymore.
"Are you almost through?" she asked.
Kei held the card on one end, cutting away at the seals holding the
panel closed. It was beginning to become too much for her to bear, but she
made the final swipes pulling the panel open.
"You want your card back?" she said.
"Oh, I don't think so," Yuri replied.
"This is going to take several hot showers, plus maybe a new arm
before I can get over this."
"One minute, Kei," Vicky told her.
Kei felt the ends of the module, searching for the release buttons.
Yuri watched, then a light sweeping sound caught her ears. She tensed panning
her light around behind the console. Vicky noticed her reactions, bringing her
rifle up. To the left, part of the bulkhead was cracked open, the space just
beyond visible in the light. Three pods sat in the center of the room, all of
them opened back. Another room full of victims thought Yuri, then paused
noticing that out of the three one of them looked fresh, driblets of clear
slime dripping from the peeled ends.
"Kei," she said with some urgency.
"I've almost got it!" she replied.
Yuri drew back, eyes roving the overhead. The sweeping noise sounded
again, this time Vicky heard it snapping her fingers to alert the rest of the
marines.
"Times up, let's go," she said.
Two sharp snaps echoed through the room, and Kei drew back.
"I've got it!" she exclaimed holding a resin covered arm and module
high into the air.
At the same instant, a scurry of legs shot across the top of the
consoles straight towards Kei. Yuri cried out her name and leaped just as the
thing shot through the air. The light fell from her hands, both
Troubleconsultants rolling around on the floor in the dark.
"Balboa!" cried Vicky rushing to help. Squiggy and the others were
quickly at their side.
Kei screamed loudly, Vicky pulling her back as Yuri let out muffled
cries clutching at her face. Something warm and wet grasped tightly to her
head, a thick appendage wrapped tight around her neck. She could taste the
slime in her mouth, a tube from the thing forcing its way down her throat in
steady thrusting motions, cutting off her breath.
"GET IT OFF HER!" cried Kei.
Squiggy was already trying to pry the things legs apart, but they were
latched to tight . Yuri reached out desperately for anything and Kei grabbed
her hand. Her grip tightened, then abruptly went slack along with the rest of
her body. In desperation Squiggy drew his knife, but before he could cut,
Vicky forced his hand away.
"Acid for blood!" she reminded him. Collins angry calls caught her
attention.
<Meyers, what going on, why are you all shouting?>
<Something's happened to Yuri, sir,> she answered. <A bug we've never
seen grabbed on to her face and we can't get it off!>
<Is she dead?>
Squiggy placed an ear to her chest, hearing her heart beat.
"She's still alive!" he said.
<No, sir.>
<Get out now!>
Gently, Squiggy hefted Yuri from the floor. He draped her over a
shoulder and they started back, when a familiar hiss carried through the room.
"Keep moving!" Vicky ordered. <Colonel, I've got bugs down here with
us!>
<Double time it, Vicky!>
The hissing sounded again only much clearer now. It focused out of
the adjoining tunnel, and they turned rifles at the ready.
At the opening, a bug appeared, much bigger than any of the normal
warriors they'd been fighting. It looked stronger, meaner than its cousins,
the smooth forepart of its head a dark jet black. It was so large that it had
to force its way through the opening, rising to full height before them.
Shocked expressions covered the squads faces, too stunned to react to
the new threat. Another made its way through to stand next to the other.
Around the rest of the room, regular warriors were pulling themselves from
crevasses in the dome walls, hissing in anticipation as they crept closer.
"I hope that module was worth it, Kei," snarled Vicky as they backed
away.
Kei could not reply, stunned as the bugs moved towards them . . .


* * * * *


Step by step the small band retreated, the Aliens surrounding them but
maintaining their distance. Up on the fourth deck, Heddy's eyes went wide as
the bugs came into view. One of the marines took aim, but she told him to
hold his fire fearing that they would hit the team.
"Lieutenant, what do you want us to do?" she shouted down.
Vicky and Kei stood side by side, rifles shifting from bug to bug
keeping them at bay. The two larger Aliens let out a low grunt, more warriors
moving from behind to form a protective wall between them.
"Stay up there!" she answered. "Be ready to cover us when we start to
climb up!"
One of the bugs started to charge forwards, but skidded to a halt when
Vicky trained her weapon at it.
"What are they waiting for?" she said.
Kei wasn't paying attention, staring at them. They seemed not to be
interested so much in the marines, their heads locked on something behind her.
Squiggy was the only thing at the center of the group, Yuri still
unconscious over his shoulder.
"They want Yuri," she said in sudden realization. "That's why they
won't attack us."
"Well then throw her out there and lets get out of here!" one of the
marines exclaimed.
"Shut yer yap!" Squiggy shouted. "We ain't leav'in nobody for da
bugs, nobody!"
"But that gives me an idea, Squiggy," Kei said.
Kei told him to hold Yuri up. She slung her rifle and took her
partner in her arms. Yuri hung limp like a rag doll, the gruesome thing on
her face tightening its grip.
"Don't worry you slug. I'm not about to mess with you right now," she
muttered drawing her pistol.
"Hey what are you do'in!" Squiggy said.
"Trust me," she replied placing it to the side of Yuri's head. "I'm
sorry, Yuri, but this might be our only way to escape this trap."
Kei turned towards the two larger aliens. Immediately they let out a
horrid shriek, heads sweeping across the encroaching bugs. They stopped and
began to pull back. Vicky understood then what Kei was doing. She ordered
the marines to start climbing up the rope.
"You know those monster bugs won't let you get away, Kei," said Vicky.
"You do have a plan for that, don't you?"
"Squiggy, before you start up, tie the end of that line around us,"
said Kei. "On my signal, you guys haul us up as fast as you can."
"No sweat," Squiggy replied.
The last marine was just reaching the top; Vicky and Squiggy got ready
to climb.
Vicky slung her rifle and grabbed the rope, pausing for a second.
"Are you sure you can pull this off?" she asked Kei.
The Troubleconsultant gazed around at the slavering jaws in the gloom.
"Just hurry."
Vicky started climbing up.
Taking the end, Balboa tied the rope securely around the Angels. He
pulled his gloves on, leaped into the air grabbing the line and hauled himself
up.
The Aliens began inching forwards again, several swipes and inner jaws
snapping in her direction. Kei pushed the muzzle of the pistol up beneath
Yuri's chin. Her head lolled back turning to the side. Again, the larger
aliens screeched out a halt. Kei noticed dark figures climbing along the
sides of the walls. Bastards were going to try and swarm her she thought.
Above, Squiggy reached the top and scrambled to his feet. He called down to
Kei to let her know they were ready.
"Okay," she replied, pulling Yuri closer to her. One of the bugs
hissed at her.
"So I see you guys aren't so tough after all," Kei said. A slight
step from behind brought her around. "Get back!" she shouted at the bug. It
quickly retreated.
"Squiggy!" Kei shouted.
Balboa stood at the edge of the hole gripping the line tight in his
hands.
"Okay, guys. On the count of three," he said to the four marines
behind him. The rest of them stood ready on their weapons.
"One . . . two . . . three, PULL!"
A cry came from Kei as she and Yuri shot up into the air. Surprised
by the move, the Aliens charged. Vicky gave the word to open fire and the
roar of gunfire filled the air. On the line, Squiggy pulled with every ounce
of strength he could muster, biceps bulging from the strain. They had already
pulled the girls up one deck and were half-way past the second.
Kei held Yuri tight to her, ignoring the thing pulsating on her chest
where Yuri's head lay, watching the darkness for any unwanted visitors. One
of the bugs suddenly leaped towards her, but a burst from Kei's pistol sent it
spiraling to the ground. A hand grabbed her by the collar, Balboa hefting
them up over the side of the hole. He dropped to his hands and knees panting
hard as Heddy undid the line.
"We gotta go, people!" Vicky said to them. Too emphasize her point, a
taloned hand reached over the edge, an Alien clawing its way over the top. It
was blasted back over the side, but several more appeared.
Squiggy scooped Yuri up and ran down the passageway, the rest of the
squad covering their retreat.
<Colonel, we're coming out!> Vicky reported to Collins.
The Colonel had not been idle through all of this, his squad moving
rapidly aft to help their comrades. They were just reaching the second deck
when Meyer's call came over.
<Vicky, we're on our way to get you!> he replied.
<The bugs are on our ass, sir, and it looks like they mean to get Yuri
back.>
<Keep falling back, I'll be there in-->
A scream sounded, the marine running point squirming in the middle of
the passageway. From out of the resin wall, a bug clutched him tightly by the
throat. It twitched snapping his neck and dropped the man to the floor. They
fired, more of the bugs appearing from a tunnel in the overhead.
<Vicky, I've got bugs up here. We'll try to meet you on the third
deck near the bridge.>
She brought up her pad, checking the layout.
<We'll try sir!>
<Don't try, do. Keep your head and I'll see you then.>
He switched up to the Command Carrier. <Fraiser, what's our status!>
Denny had the carrier in a slow glide backwards, both turrets firing
continuously at the Aliens in the field.
<Colonel, you've got to get out of there now. Something's got the
bugs all riled up. They have increased their pace.>
Collins wondered if the bugs had a form of telepathy. He'd discus
that with Doctor Pellorian later. Now the main concern was to get out of the
Glory Ann alive before it became their tomb.
<Fraiser, get ready to retrieve us. We'll be coming out near the
bridge.>
<Roger,> Denny replied banking the carrier around.
The squeals from the Aliens grew louder as the marines slowly fell
back.
"Sir, how the hell are we going to get out of the bridge!" Kelly asked
him.
"That obstacle we'll cross after we get there," Collins replied.


* * * * *


Vicky's squad leapfrogged back through the Glory Ann's corridors,
desperately trying to stay ahead of the Aliens. Mindful of the fact that
there were bugs somewhere ahead, she decided to take an alternate route which
took them through the crews mess. Here another portion of the ship had been
cracked, alien construction blending in with the regular parts of the
bulkheads and floor. Now wasn't the time to make another trip to the lower
portions of the ship and they quickly came to a halt.
Concentrating their firepower stopped the bugs at the hatch, driving
them back.
"Okay, so does anybody have any ideas?" Heddy said while reloading.
"I'll check to see if this floor is strong enough to support us," one
of the marines answered dashing for the far exit.
"Get back here!" Squiggy called to him.
He took a steady step out onto the mottled colored floor. It creaked,
but held and he stomped down on it. Still nothing.
"Hey, Lieutenant, it's solid--"
An arm broke up through the floor grabbing hold of an ankle, pulling
him down to the floor. Fearful cries called out as more arms reaching up to
snare him. The marine let out one last cry before disappearing into the
darkness.
From the shattered floor, the Aliens began to crawl up cutting their
escape.
"Damnit, we're trapped!" snarled Kei.
More bugs were punching their way through the resin walls, a move not
missed by Squiggy. "I like dat idea," he said. Switching to his rifles
grenade launcher, Balboa pointed it at the nearest side of the dome.
"Fire in the hole!" he called out.
The round blasted a large hole through the wall to the outside.
"We're out'a here!" exclaimed Squiggy draping Yuri over his shoulder.
Carefully stepping along the jagged edges, they peered out of the hole looking
down the curved side of the dome. It was either sliding down or face the bugs
pressing hard on their heels.
The trip down was swift, several cries carried through the air as they
fell into the grass below. Kei rolled, tumbling a short distance away. She
cleared her head and looked back up. Obviously the Aliens were accustomed to
this kind of travel, moving nimbly on all fours down the side after them.
Gunfire sounded, Mughi directing the Lovely Angel through the air strafing the
side.
<Colonel Collins!> she said over the comlink. <We're outside heading
for the Carrier.>
Collins and his squad had retreated into the bridge area, holding the
Aliens back with some difficulty. <Outside? How the hell did you manage
that?>
<We blew a hole through the wall!>
<Ah, not bad. Stand-by, we'll be with you in just a minute.>
Vicky and the marines raced past her as a score of bugs reached the
ground.
"Wait for me!" cried Kei following their lead.
Around the front of the ship, Denny brought the command carrier to a
hard stop, dropping the rear ramp. The main turret cut down their pursuers
and they scrambled inside.
"Lieutenant, where's the Colonel?" Denny asked.
Vicky grimaced, fearing for the other team. <Colonel Collins!> she
shouted across the net.
Just then the bridge of the Glory Ann exploded with a powerful roar.
Out of the smoke, Collins's squad crawled out onto the bow of the ship heading
for the edge. Vicky ordered Denny to move them closer as the rest of the team
opened the top hatches.
"Jump!" Balboa called up to them. Most of them were already making
the leap, Collins and Kelly covered them until the last of their people were
safely aboard, then together leaped over the side.
<Let's move, Fraiser!> he said and they pulled away from the ship.
As the carrier was buttoned up, Collins stopped to look down upon Yuri
lying on the floor, Kei at her side. She gazed up at him, tears brimming her
eyes. Denny called back to him.
"What about this, Colonel?" he said.
Ahead, the Aliens were moving to cut them off weathering Mughi's fire
in an attempt to board the fleeing carrier. He knew that if enough of them
got on, they would tear their way through the hatches and slaughter them all.
"Get ready people, this is not over yet," he said.
Kei stood up. "Hang on, everyone. We're getting out of here," she
said.
[Mughi, put a gravfield on this carrier and fly us out of this mess.]
Mughi growled, banking the Lovely Angel down above them. The carrier
lurched, startling the marines inside as it rose into the air. Mughi brought
them to a safe height, and whisked them over the Aliens below.
Collins dropping into his seat, letting out a long sigh.
"Too close for my liking," he said.
At the rear of the vehicle the det stared down at Yuri somberly. They
felt helpless, watching the thing on her face do its deadly deed. One of them
spread a blanket across her.
"We can't let her die like that," said Heddy wiping the tears from her
cheeks.
"Doc P will save her," said another. "If anybody can do it, he can."
Kei broke out in sobs, Timbra hugging her close.
"I should have listened," she said. "Now look at her. That thing is
planting one of those larva in her and all I can do is stand here and watch .
. . IT"S ALL MY FAULT!"
"It's not, Kei," Timbra replied firmly. "You did what you thought was
right. Doctor Pellorian will figure a way to get that out of her before it
wakes up."
Kei drew back, sniffling. Timbra gave her a concerned look, and she
quickly nodded. Her expression shifted, a hard gaze filling her eyes. She
went forwards and punched up the Angel's net.
<Mughi, put us down,> she said to the cat on the screen.
Collins did not object seeing that they were well clear of the Alien
horde. The carrier sped off under it's own power; Kei staring at the screen
for a moment.
<Go back and destroy that nest,> she finished. <Burn it to the
ground.>
The Lovely Angel peeled away to carry out her order.
Collins watched her for a moment.
"I'm glad I'm not on the receiving end of your wrath," he said.
She smirked.
"Wrath? I'm just beginning to get pissed, Colonel. These bastards
haven't seen nothing yet."
Several large explosions wracked the sky as the command carrier headed
back to the colony . . . .

Chapter Ten


1323LCT, Dorman Colony Complex,

A small crowd gathered outside Medical after the news of Yuri's
condition reached the colony. Most of the people were worried about the
Angel, hoping and praying that Doctor Pellorian could come up with a way to
save her.
Most of the senior members stood before a large observation window
watching Doctor Pellorian run the computer scans across Yuri's inert figure.
The multi-armed unit moved with intricate precession, various medical
tips on the ends rotating and adjusting as a blue beam of light dancing across
her body. Up on a wide screen behind it, a computer generated scan displayed
what was happening inside Yuri. Something dark was moving down her throat in
slow pulsing motions, fitting itself between her lungs and chest cavity.
Kei pressed up against the glass, her eyes wide with fear and worry,
watching the unholy sight. She clenched her fist trying to stifle the cry her
body so longed to let out, guilt over causing her partner of many years to
suffer so. Timbra placed a hnd on her shoulder sensing the Angels feelings.
"It should be me on that table," Kei said pressing closer to the pane.
"I shouldn't have been so stubborn."
"We all knew the risk, Kei," Collins said. "Yuri knew too, yet she
willingly sacrificed herself to protect you. She's a brave woman, and given
any similar circumstances you would have done the same for her without a
thought."
"But there was--"
"There are no but's in this, Kei. That module will expose who's
responsible for all of this. What's happened to Yuri gives me more incentive
to find out why that ship came here. Believe you me, retribution will be
swift and brutal."
Kei laid her head against the glass, closing her eyes to force back
her tears.
"That damn thing better not kill her," Sergeant St-Paul said angrily.
"Or I'm gonna tear every bug on this planet to bits with my bare hands if need
be."
"Don't worry, sarge," Squiggy replied. "You'll have plenty of help I
assure you."
In the operating room Pellorian stood looking up at the main screen,
rubbing his chin in deep thought. He turned, staring close at the alien on
Yuri's face then stepped away. Giving the medtech manning the controls
several instructions, Pellorian headed for the hatch.
Kei was there to greet him. "Can you do it, doctor. Can you save
Yuri?" she asked.
Pellorian pulled the mask from his face, a troubled look in his eyes.
"I knew it, I knew it, you can't do it!" screamed Kei bursting out
into tears. She buried her face into Collins chest. He looked down upon
Pellorian.
"Well, doc?"
"I did not say we couldn't do it," Pellorian answered. "But the larva
must be allowed to finish gestation."
"What!" shouted Kei rounding on him.
"You've got to be kidding!" added Major Welton.
"No. You see the larva is only halfway down Yuri's esophagus. If I
go after it now, then the creature on her face might get in the way, or she
might move and that would be a bad thing with a vibro-scalpel so close to
arteries."
"What about going in through her chest?" asked Denny.
"That brings up problem number two. If I try that approach, then I'll
have to cut and break open her sternum. By doing that, I most likely will
injure the larva. We all know that if any of its blood gets out, Yuri will be
dead before we knew it."
"She's dead now if we don't do anything, doc!" said Squiggy.
They stared at him not ready to admit that there was nothing Pellorian
could do. He felt their concerns.
"Colonel, I cannot provide the accuracy that kind of surgery would
take,"
"Well you're just going to--"
"But!" continued Pellorian rasing a finger to stop him. He pointed to
the operation room. "The medical computer can."
Above Yuri riding a gravity track, a scanner traveled slowly down her
throat humming lightly as it worked. Six angled arms had also extended to
project a grid of blue light across her entire body.
"You see, Colonel, there is no natural way any being could do what you
are asking," he explained.
"So what's it doing?"
"The computer is doing a Spectragram of Yuri, mapping every detail of
her body storing it into memory. The smaller unit is tracking the larva as it
moves. Once it has fixed a position, it will conduct a macroscan of the
surrounding area. As soon as that thing on her face loosens its grip, the
medical computer will start detailed surgery on Yuri, remove that thing and
repair what damage that is done."
"But what if that thing decides to stay, or that larva thing decides
to wake up?" asked Timbra.
Pellorian arched a brow. "I don't think the face-hugger will stay.
As for the larva, reviewing the earlier records from our initial contact with
the bugs, and based on Captain Fendrov's demise, I estimate Yuri has around
thirty to forty minutes before she awakens, twenty minutes after that
depending upon how agitated she gets."
"I assume the medical computer can do what needs to be done before
then?" Collins said.
"Oh yes. Its very quick, and very efficient."
Kei sadly went back to the window. There was nothing left to do but
wait and pray that the medical computer could get to the alien larva in time.
"Doc, you've got to save her," she said. Pellorian could see the
sorrow in her eyes as she turned to him. "I've lost her once, I don't want to
loose her again."
"I'll do every thing I can."
She smiled. That was the least she could expect, looking back to Yuri
once more.
"Kei, there's nothing more we can do here," said Collins. "Why don't
you go get some sleep. Doctor Pellorian will contact us as soon as its time."
She wanted to stay, but knew he was right. Kei remembered the
computer module from the Glory Ann was waiting to be decoded.
"I'll be down in the computer room," she said heading for the door.
"Going to need some help?" asked Timbra.
She stopped, thinking a moment. "No. I'd rather be alone while I do
this."
Timbra started to go after Kei, but Collins stopped her.
"She needs to be alone right now," he said. "Besides, I want you and
Martin to continue looking for that virus in our communications codes."
She smirked slightly, but gave in to his order.
"Doctor Pellorian, I want to know immediately when that thing comes
off Yuri's face," continued Collins. "St-Paul, detail a guard here . . . just
in case."
Major Welton's commlink beeped. He answered it, a look of surprise
covering his face.
"Todd, Ops says that they're picking up a ship approaching the planet
on the scanners!"
"The relief force!" exclaimed Heddy hugging Balboa tight with joy.
Excitement flowed through Collins. Only a few hours more and they'd
lick the bugs. Just a few hours . . .


* * * * *


Kei locked herself into the Computer room, setting up the interface
between the module from the Glory Ann and the mainframe. She hoped this thing
was good. They hadn't had time to check to see if it had suffered any damage
from the crash, or during their escape from the ship. The computer came up,
Kei leaning back in the chair.
"Computer, begin scan of interface module," she ordered.
It acknowledged, running its checks in a matter of minutes.
[Interface isolated,] it replied.
"Isolated?" wondered Kei leaning forwards. "Run decode of Glory Ann
records."
A foreboding silence followed.
"Computer, hello? Are you still there?"
[Yes.]
"So lets run a decode on the requested records."
Again the silence. Kei started to get impatient.
"What-is-the-problem?"
[Requested interface is not allowed. Firewall has detected a
hypervirus in the preamble. Direct contact will result in destruction of main
computer memory and data banks. Access denied.]
Kei shot to her feet, fist clenched tight at her sides.
"Access denied! I'll give you some--"
She stopped, taking a deep breath to relax herself. It's just a
computer, she thought sitting back down. Calmly, Kei re-evaluated her
position. Those bastards at the Company had thought of everything. This
would seriously delay her. Oh, what would you do, Yuri? I'm not as good as
you when it comes down to all this techno stuff, and I can't risk involving
anybody else either. Damn!
Her eyes roved across the consoles, several scenarios running through
her mind. Holding a gun to the computers core would do no good, and cursing
at it was just as useless. Kei looked at the three consoles again, then an
idea came to mind.
"Oh, Computer," she said in a sweet voice.
[Yes?]
"Is there a way to isolate just this one console from the rest of the
network without triggering the virus?"
[It can be done, but voice command interface would be lost. Any
request will have to be entered via keyboard.]
"Do it! I can work without that."
[Once isolation is done, this console will not be allowed to re-enter
the network.]
"Understood. Now get on with it!"
[Isolation complete.]
Kei started, surprised by the speed of the computers response. She
pulled out the keyboard and tapped in her request to interface with the
module. The console came to life, and in a matter of seconds a list of files
scrolled up onto the screen.
"Yes!" cried Kei victoriously. She tapped in the command to run the
encoded logs on the monitor. For a moment the screen remained frozen on the
list. Kei thought her success would be short lived, then it winked out. A
new display appeared.



- Navigation logs
- Communications logs
- Terminal orders

"Hm?" muttered Kei. Shrugging, she typed in the navigation log entry.
Again the screen flashed, then a readout appeared.



SS Glory Ann, position coordinates UC314-060235.

"Uncharted space, okay. So what is this--"
The readout continued:



Confirmation of change verified, Code 200#12 in effect. Divert acknowledged.

"Divert. Who diverted you?" said Kei. She realized it could not hear
her, and quickly punched the query in.




Code 200#12, transmission code log number 060200.02.

Immediately Kei backed out of the navigation mode and called up
communications. The Glory Ann's module displayed a short list of entries.
She found it strange that the last one ended on the sixth around mid solar
day.
"Yuri said that the ship was overrun by the fifth. Everyone was
either dead or awaiting to die. That means that the Glory Ann was given
remote orders to divert to Locris. Let's call up the days activities for the
sixth."
The computer began its readout;


060000.01: Ships status report,


Crew: unknown


Engineering: Partial damage to main core. Estimated time till
automatic shutdown: 4 days.


Cargo Status: unknown


Current status: En route back to Homebase at best safe speed.
Request Company intercept to facilitate completion of
mission.


Request repair facility availability.


Recommend Quarantine alert to Confederation authorities.


[]

The ship knew!
Kei sat back stunned by the information. Obviously the Glory Ann's
computer understood that a dangerous lifeform was onboard and tried to alert
the Confederation. That meant that the Company reps knew the Glory Ann was
contaminated well before she crashed on Locris. A beep from the console
indicated that there was more, Kei leaning forwards again.



060015.01


Transmission override code 200#12. Disable Executive order nine, override
navigation input, stand-by for further transmissions.


[]


060025.02


Overr ide code 200#12. Communications blackout initiate, Navigation
coordinates follow: 3 Delta Omega 1 - Rumic H5X9


[]

Executive Order Nine was a mandatory command all ships computers
possessed to avert possible life threatening contaminations such as this.
Overriding it was literally an act of god. The mere mention of Rumic verified
that the ship was purposely diverted. She could not believe that they would
risk the colony and all of its inhabitants. Now the question was why?
Obviously there was an interest in the Aliens. What could anyone gain by
keeping them around? The only answer to that would be gained after
questioning the source of these transmissions. Now all that was left was to
find out if this was a company directive, or individual generated.
"To disable Executive order nine," she said typing in another query.
"Why that alone is the death penalty. Somebody has pretty large balls to play
with fire like this."
Kei queried the computer, asking if it could tell her who authorized
the overrides of the Glory Ann's systems.
[Access restricted] came the reply.
Kei started. Restricted? She typed in a new request, asking for the
source of the restriction.
Override code 200#12, it replied.
"There's that number twelve again! This guy must wield some power in
the Company. I can't wait to find out who it is so I can beat the shit out
of'em!"
Frustrated, Kei sat back thinking. A starting location would help she
mused, then and idea came to mind.
"Computer, can you extrapolate a source location based upon the Glory
Ann's last position, and the date-time registers if I read them to you?" Kei
called out to the main computer.
[Yes.]
Kei called out the last position of the Glory Ann, and the serial
times of each transmission on the sixth. After a few minutes, the main
computer brought up a star chart. From the position of the Glory Ann, a
yellow line ran across the chart, ending on a star in the Andimi Etruscan
system.
Kei's mouth fell open. "Cobal Station," she said in disbelief. That
meant that the orders came locally, the Company stooges carefully concealing
the fact of contamination from the rest of the Confederation at the source.
To have that much clout meant somebody in the upper chain gave the orders. An
exec, or maybe--
Kei sat up sharply. A Company Administrator!
The main screen suddenly winked out, a hand reaching down over her
shoulder to shut off the interface. Startled, Kei leaped away landing behind
the far chair and peered up over the edge.
"T-T-Timbra?" she gasped.
Timbra Brown smiled down at her.
"Hello, sis," she replied . . .


* * * * *


The call beckoned them along, leading them, taunting them. A faint
cry heard only by the senses of the four chitinous creatures scurrying through
the brush outside the softone's hive. It could not be ignored, a lust so
strong, so vital that it meant the difference between survival and extinction
of their species.
The softone's hive loomed ahead, claws racking against its shell in a
desperate attempt to enter and retrieve what was theirs. It chipped and
flaked, but remained impervious to their attempts.
A faint hum sounded, an opening appearing before them. The call
increased, drawing them to it, pulling them inside . . .


* * * * *


Kei stood up slowly. "Timbra?" she said again.
Timbra glanced up at the main screen, then reached down to shut off
the console that Kei was working on.
"So ah, what did you find out?" she said.
Disbelief ran through Kei's mind. She could not believe nor accept
that this woman, the woman who'd saved her life hours ago, might be
responsible for all of the deaths here on Locris. "I found out enough to
verify that the Company caused all of this, that you might be responsible for
the Glory Ann coming here."
Timbra glanced up at the screen again, then crossed her arms thinking.
"Damn, you accessed the module locally. I didn't think about that.
You're very smart, Kei. That's unfortunate."
"Why, Timbra? Why!"
Timbra started moving towards Kei. "They're worth billions, you know.
Lost technology we thought we'd never recover after the Nanoclysim. Now a
chance to continue our regrowth, and Kei you can be a part of it."
Kei inched back, her hand dropping to her pistol. "Money . . . all
this for Money?"
"Billions, Kei. Think about it!"
Kei looked away, lost. Her breath became shallow as confusion
overtook her thoughts.
"How did you get in here?" she said looking back at Timbra.
She laughed lightly. "There's no place in this complex that I can't
get into."
In a flash, Kei drew her pistol, halting Timbra in her tracks.
"Don't make me have to kill you, Timbra!"
"You'd kill me, little sister?" replied Timbra. A hurt look covered
her face. "Oh please, Kei, don't make me have to do this. I like you, really
I do."
Kei's chest heaved with anger. "Shut up. I trusted you, Timbra. I
really believed you to be innocent! How can you expect me to accept this
while my partner is lying on a table hosting some thing that's going to kill
her at any moment?"
"Kei, listen to me--" began Timbra taking a step forward. The release
of the safety stopped her.
"No! You've hurt a lot of people, Timbra, and now you and your entire
pack of leeches are going to pay dearly for this! Now move away from the
door."
"Kei--"
"Move!"
Timbra stood her ground. "I can't let you tell Colonel Collins."
"I won't have too. The records will speak for themselves. Computer!"
"It won't respond."
Kei frowned. She called to the machine again, but there was nothing
but silence. She took a step towards the door, but Timbra moved along with
her, blocking her path.
"Damnit, Timbra. Get out of my way!"
"No."
Kei gripped her pistol tighter. "I don't want to shoot you Timbra,
but I will if I have too."
Timbra glanced at the weapon pointed in her face. She started to turn
away, Kei thinking that she'd cooperate, but in a blinding motion effortlessly
snatched the pistol from her grip . Kei yelped, stumbling back.
For a moment, Timbra stood calmly looking over the weapon
"Nice," she said crushing it in her hand. Kei's eyes went wide.
"I don't want to use that on you," continued Timbra tossing it aside.
She started moving towards Kei again. "Really little sister, you should have
taken up my offer while you had the chance. I'm sorry, now I must kill you."
She reached down, yanking Kei from the floor . . .


* * * * *


Prey moved amongst the hard walls, deathsticks in hand. They were
scared, their minds dancing with the sweet taste of fear. The four eyeless
heads crouched low in the darkness, waiting until the time was right to pounce
upon the unwary victims below.
Blurred forms shot out of the darkness, grabbing the softones before
they could utter the sounds of despair, ripping away the moist outer skins to
drink the warm juices from their bodies. The deed done, the figures felt the
tug from the call once more, guiding them down a side path towards the center
of the hard walls around them . . .


* * * * *


In Ops, Collins and Welton gazed upon the main screen with interest,
watching as the slight image of a ship began to make it's way into orbit
around Locris. The techs manning the consoles were talking excitedly about
the ship, its appearance a new hope for the colony and their survival.
Collins, though relieved was still nervous, more impatient than anything else.
With communications limited, there was still no way to contact them, and more
importantly alert them to the dangers waiting around the colony.
He turned away from the screen, leaning over the tactable in thought.
"Something wrong, Colonel?" Welton asked noticing his expression.
"There's got to be some way to talk to that ship, Fran," he replied.
"We could try a squirt burst, Todd. Risky, but if all we need is to
get the word out--"
"And if they don't get it, what then?" He looked up at the screen
again. "They're establishing orbit now. Soon, they will be trying to contact
us. If we can't answer, the next step will be to land and feel out the
situation."
"I think we should risk the last dish."
"Yes, and two to one the bugs are waiting for it to pop-up. They'd
have it torn to shreds before a squirt message got out."
Welton ran a hand through his hair, rubbed the back of his neck as he
struggled to come up with some idea. Vicky came over.
"Major, we've calculated that the decent time for the ship would be
two hours minimum." she reported.
"Thank you, Vicky. At least we know that we won't be annihilated in
the next two hours."
"I hope not."
"Fran," called Collins. "Where's Timbra?"
Welton shrugged looking to Martin at a near-by console.
"She said she had to go get some air," he said.
Welton arched a brow. "At least she could have told us she was
leaving. Rhodes, what's the status on that frequency problem?"
"We've located all but the main code, Major. For some reason it seems
to elude all efforts to find it."
"Keep trying."
Collins looked upset about Timbra's disappearance, but put it aside
for the moment to concentrate on the problem at hand. He milled about
thoughts of taking the command carrier back out, relay the information via the
Lovely Angel to the relief force, then play a game of tag with the bugs until
they arrived. A call from one of the techs caught his attention.
"Sir, Doctor Pellorian."
Collins pulled on a headset. <Yes, Doc?>
<Good news, Colonel. The facehugger is starting to loosen its grip.
I figure about ten minutes and the medical computer can start surgery.>
<Excellent. Let me know when it does, and I'll be down.>
Collins dialed up the Computer room. <Kei,> he said. There was no
answer. He tried again with the same results.
"She could be asleep," Welton said.
Collins pulled off the headset. "Have somebody go down and tell her
the good news."
"I'll send Balboa. He seems to be on good terms with her, and I'm
sure he's been waiting for this news as well."
"Have him find Miss Brown also. Bring her back up here."
As Welton went to call Balboa, Collins sat down in his chair. A sigh
of relief passed from him.
"Things are looking up now, sir," said Vicky.
He paused, smiling slightly.
"Keep your fingers crossed, Vicky. Just keep them crossed."


* * * * *


The birthing was complete, the young one's cry adding to the call.
Nothing else mattered, only the retrieval of their kindred could satisfy the
needs of the tribe. The softones have grown blind to their sense of victory,
not realizing how useless it was to resist any longer. Ahead the main hard
wall dwelling lay, the call guiding the four dark figures to an opening in its
side. None of the deathsticks lie in wait as they crawled inside . . .


* * * * *


Squiggy lead Denny and Hedona down the corridor towards the Computer
Room, excitement in his eyes. Yuri would soon be free from that things
clutch, the medical computer pulling that god-forsaken bug out of her chest.
"Come on, guys!" he said picking up his pace.
"We're coming, Squiggy, hold your horses," Heddy replied trying to
keep up with the man.
"Kei's gotta know `bout this, and I want to get to medical ASAP."
"Well its not like she's going anywhere," Denny said.
"I want ta be there when that thing gets pulled. Only then will I be
satisfied that Yuri's gonna be alright."
They rounded the corner the computer room a short distance ahead.
Suddenly a sharp crash made them stop. Another loud thump followed, Squiggy
moving towards the door.
"What da hell is going on in there?" he said. He peered through the
small window in the door, then started in surprise.
"What is it, Squiggy?" asked Heddy.
"A fight!" he replied.
Denny moved him aside looking in. Kei appeared, staggering back
beneath a flurry of blows to her head and body. She caught one up under the
chin and was propelled across the room.
"Hey, it's Kei!" he exclaimed. Timbra stalked across, a maddened look
in her eyes. "And Timbra too!"
"Lemme see, lemme see!" Heddy said pushing her way in. A sharp kick
from Kei sent Timbra reeling, clutching her face. Kei leaped at her, and they
tumbled over the top of the consoles.
"Yes, Kei! Kick de bitch's ass!" she cried out.
"Calm down, Heddy," Squiggy said. "We better get in there before Kei
kills her."
"I don't know, Squiggy," replied Heddy. The arms and legs flailing
behind the console parted, Kei rising up from a sharp blow to land on top.
Timbra leaped up grabbing her by the throat and hefted her in the air. Kei
struggled, then grabbed what hair she could, pulling Timbra's head back. She
lost her balance and they disappeared behind the console again.
"Looks like Timbra's giving her a run for her money."
That couldn't be right, thought Squiggy. Something was wrong even to
him. He went over to the communicator on the wall.
<Ops, Balboa,>
<What is it, Squiggy?> came Kelly's voice.
<We got a fight down here in the computer room.>
<What! Who's fighting?>
<Kei and Timbra.>
Operations went silent, everyone turning towards Kelly. Collins was
out of his chair in a flash.
<Balboa, get in there and break it up. Bring both of them up here on
the double!> he said.
Squiggy acknowledged. Heddy and Denny both were peering through the
window, shadow boxing with each punch as the fight progressed.
"Ooh that's it. Hit her, Kei!" cried Heddy. She grimaced sharply.
"No, no, hit her!"
"Heddy! Open the door," shouted Squiggy.
"And stop this?"
"Do it!"
Heddy grumbled, casting him dark looks as she hit the open button on
the wall. Nothing happened. She gazed at the panel, noting the green light.
It should have worked, she thought hitting the button again. Same response,
Heddy shaking her head at Squiggy.
<Ops, Balboa. The door won't open!>
<What do you mean it won't open?> Collins replied.
Denny was trying now, running a bypass through the emergency keyslot.
Still no response.
<We can't get it open, sir.>
Welton, Vicky and Rhodes were already working on the problem on a
console. The tech punched up a layout of the computer room, highlighted the
door and sent it an override command.
<Try now, Balboa,> said Welton. It still was negative.
"That can't be," said the tech running the command again. "That's the
master override. It should be working, sir!"
A scowl crossed Collins's face. <Balboa, I don't care what you do, but
get those doors open!> he said rushing for the door. "Fran, Vicky, Rhodes
you're with me! Kelly, get St-Paul and Quinten down there with a security
team on the double!"
"I don't get it, Todd?" Welton said as he ran to catch up with him.
"I thought they were friends."
"I don't know what's happening, Fran, but let's hope we're not too
late."


* * * * *


Kei slammed into the far wall, dropping to the floor in a dazed
stupor. From behind the computer consoles, Timbra pulled herself up breathing
hard as she glared at her. She wiped away the stream of fluid running from
her nose and stepped out into the open.
"I'll say this, little sister," Timbra said as she approached. "You
have quite a punch there."
Kei shook her head, eyes clouded over. She could barely see Timbra's
form coming towards her, but gathered what strength she had left coming up on
all fours. Timbra smiled, thinking this would be the end, but Kei lunged
hooking her around the waist. They tumbled into a heap on the floor fist
flying. Timbra let out a cry as Kei held her down, delivering punch after
punch to her face and head.
"You-hurt-Yuri!" she scowled clutching her by the throat.
Kei squeezed with all her might, fingers digging deep into her flesh.
Unexpectedly, Timbra grabbed each of Kei's wrist, slowly pulling her arms
aside. She continued to spread them apart, Kei fighting the overwhelming
strength Timbra possessed until they lay eye to eye. A pause passed between
them, Kei noticing a hint of compassion in her eyes. Timbra kissed her
lightly on the lips.
"Good by, little sister," she said.
A sharp headbutt sent Kei rolling away, hands clutched to her face in
pain. Timbra quickly got to her feet. She jerked Kei up, delivering a hard
right to the stomach doubling her over, following up with a sharp hook lifting
Kei from the floor.
As Kei tumbled to a stop against the far consoles, Timbra smirked at
her. She wanted this to be over quick sparing Kei any unnecessary pain, but
the Troubleconsultant's stubbornness prevented that. Pausing to glance
curiously up at the ceiling, Timbra stood over Kei's dazed form, a fist
planted on each hip. She looked over the consoles, searching for something
that would kill her nice and clean, spotting an interface cable. Doubling
both ends, Timbra twirled it until a knot formed at the middle then wrapped it
around Kei's neck.
"Hold still, Kei. This won't hurt a bit," she said jerking tight.
Kei gasped, eyes bulging from their sockets as the cable cut off her
air. Desperately she tugged at it, trying to get some kind of grip at the
ends, but Timbra pulled tighter preventing that. The pressure was becoming
unbearable, Kei squirming madly on the floor. She reached back, punching
Timbra hard in the arm. Timbra grimaced then a second blow made her cry out.
Angrily she dragged the forlorn Angel over to the nearby chair, pulling her up
against the backrest.
"Please, Kei, stop this. I'm trying to make it as painless as
possible, okay?" Timbra said. She placed a foot against the backrest and
pushed away.
Darkness was beginning to overtake Kei, her senses failing. She
desperately groped back in a vain attempt to reach Timbra.
BOOM!
The explosion at the doors startled Timbra bringing her around. Out
of the smoke, Balboa, Denny and Hedona appeared, rifles leveled at her.
"Let her go, you bitch!" Heddy shouted. Collins and the rest of the
security team rushed in. Timbra released the cable and raised her hands.
They stood staring at the blood running from her wounds.
It was white.
"My god, she's a fake," Denny said over the ensuing silence.
"Fake or real, lets kill this bitch," snarled Squiggy. Quinten
stopped him, looking back at Collins.
"Sir?" he asked.
Collins glared at Timbra, death in his eyes and she trembled.
"No, don't kill her," he said.
Visible relief passed through Timbra. She relaxed head sagging to
her chest.
"Disable her," finished Collins.
"What?" said Timbra looking sharply up.
Several shots echoed down the corridor . . . .

Chapter Eleven


"There, how's that?" Doctor Pellorian said to Kei as he applied a
salve to the dark marks on her neck. Kei cleared her throat the cool burn a
welcome relief from the pain she felt, working her head from side to side then
nodded.
"Those wounds of yours are ugly, Kei," continued Pellorian. "You
should let me try and do something for them."
"Later, Doc. I have some unfinished business to attend too," replied
Kei rising up from the chair.
They were still in the Computer Room, Collins and the rest of the
staff glaring down at Timbra seated in the center. Even though the marines
had shot her several times in the arms and legs, they were taking no chances;
binding her securely to the chair.
Timbra returned the hateful stares with one of arrogance, acting as if
things were normal. She laughed lightly, looking at Collins.
"So, Colonel. What do you plan to do with me, hmm?"
Collins shook his head. "You people . . . a mere hand full of lives
meant nothing to you." he said ignoring her question.
"This was something that we could never hope to recover again. A few
lives lost for a whole gain of benefits, such a small price to pay."
"A small price!" Martin exclaimed. He looked visibly shaken, all
hopes and beliefs lost in the Company by Timbra's treachery. He moved close,
fist held up shaking with rage. "People are dead, Timbra! The Company has
committed murder in the name of science . . . our own landing party--"
"Was sacrificed, Martin," she calmly replied. "I must give you
credit. You were not supposed to survive. An error on my part."
"So they sent a fucking robot to kill us all," Welton said.
Timbra cut him a sharp glance. "I am not a robot, Welton. I helped
make this choice. You see I too have a large stake in this."
"Yes you told me," said Kei stalking menacingly over to her side. She
leaned close, hate written on her face. "Now all the cards are on the table,
Timbra. Everybody knows that the Company tried to off this colony, and when
the relief force gets down here, heads are going to roll."
Timbra looked away. "You fools . . . you really think you've won?"
Taking a hand full of her hair, Collins angrily jerked her head back.
"You and the Company are finished, Timbra. Why don't you make this easy for
yourself and give us the names of those involved."
She sneered at him contemptuously. "You have nothing, Colonel.
Nothing! So you tell the Confederation about the plot. What proof do you
have? I'll tell you what you have. A contaminated back-up log that's
partially damaged, no names, and only a vague trace of evidence that really
can't be linked back to anyone. So if you don't mind, I'd appreciate if you'd
let go of my hair."
Collins tensed, barely able to fight back his urge to kill her now.
He pushed her head away, realizing that in all actuality Timbra was right.
"What about yourself?" he asked her. "Are you willing to take the
fall for your masters at the Company?"
Timbra shrugged.
"Like I said a small loss, or price if we look at the overall
picture."
An angry silence followed, Collins moving back to confer with the
others.
"Total dedication," Welton said low. "She's probably programed to do
what ever it takes to ensure none of this, or us ever speak to anyone period.
Bargaining is out of the question."
"I'm not about to bargain with her, Fran," replied Collins. He
glanced over his shoulder; Timbra staring out into empty space like a lifeless
mannequin. "This does not feel right."
"Colonel, let me blow this bitches head off now," Squiggy said. "We
don't need her!"
"She's definitely asking for it," added St-Paul.
"Yeah, but why?" asked Kei.
"She acts like all the cards are in her hands," said Quinten.
Kei cast them a worried gaze. "Maybe they are," she replied turning
back around.
"Timbra, since we know now that you're the one who loaded the
communications virus, mind telling us how?"
"Oh not at all. I sent it down when we first established comms with
the colony."
"No," declared Vicky. "No . . . our system has a checker for things
like that."
"If the virus is complete. Mine wasn't. It came in two parts. The
first imbedded in the preamble of my first transmission, the second in the
body of the last one. Once they merged, it was easy to contaminate the
computers controls."
"I never would have thought of that," Martin said smacking himself on
the forehead.
"Can you fix it?" asked Welton. Rhodes shook his head, telling them
it was too late.
"Pretty smart," Kei said. "Now why are you being so cooperative?"
Timbra gave them an evil grin.
"Because all of you are dead, and you don't even know how it's going
to happen," She started to laugh ignoring the hostile stares. "But I do!"
she finished laughing louder.
Kei drew back, fear in her eyes as Timbra's laugh filled the room . .
.


* * * * *


A steady beep from the monitor tracked Yuri's pulse, the medical
technician studying the readout with close interest. On the monitor behind
her, an internal scan displayed the larva lodged in between Yuri's chest and
lungs. Occasionally, it would twitch giving her a start, imagining what it
would feel like to play hoist to the thing. She never wanted to find out
ever, and turned away looking into the operation bay where their patient lay.
The face hugger was limp now, its barbed tail once wrapped tightly
around her throat, hung loosely to the floor. Any moment now that thing would
move away its deed done, but what then? Would it search for a new hoist, or
crawl away to die. No matter what, the marine standing guard just outside the
door would take care of it right quick. She only hoped that he'd leave just
enough to study.
A dull thump sounded from outside, the medtech turning slightly
around. Probably the guard, she thought. He'd been waiting impatiently for
news on Yuri's condition, and when he'll get the chance to blast the bug to
pieces. From the console, a readout appeared on the center screen. Great,
the bug's arms had finally gone slack, just as she predicted. Reaching over
to alert Doctor Pellorian, the sound of the door opening made her pause.
"Well get set, my friend," she said spinning around in her chair. "
It looks like--"
Her voice dropped away, terror snatching away the last of her breath
as she stared up into the jagged rows of teeth parting with a long hiss.
She'd never get to study the face-hugger, never know another second of life as
the inner jaws ripped through her skull . . .


* * * * *


Timbra's laughter finally tipped Collins over the edge.
"Stop it!" he growled at her. She paid him no mind, giggling like a
madman. Angrily he walked over, drew his pistol from its holster and placed
it to the side of her head. That got her attention.
"You kill me Colonel, and the bugs will be in here before the shot
dies away!" she said.
Collins tensed, knuckles white as he fought to control his temper.
The pistol came up. "What do you mean by that?" he said.
Timbra peeked around. "Just what I said, Colonel."
He stepped back, but before he could demand an explanation, the alarm
sounded.
<Colonel, Colonel Collins!> First Sergeant Kelly shouted across the
net.
Collins rushed over to the nearest communicator.
<Where and how bad?>
<Inside, sir!>
<Again? Get the-->
<Not inside the inner dome, sir. Inside here, inside the Command
Center!>
That shocked them all; Collins speechless for a second. <Where!> he
finally managed to say.
<Medical!>
Pellorian had to race Kei for the door, both of them darting out the
room before anyone else could react.
"St-Paul, Balboa get after them!"
As the two marines ran out, Collins glared at Timbra for a moment.
"Quinten, you and Heddy stay here and watch our `guest'," he said leading the
rest of them out.
"Oh, don't worry, Colonel!" Timbra shouted over her shoulder. "I'm
not planning to go anywhere just yet!"


* * * * *


Blood smeared the walls outside Medical, the sentry guarding the place
lying in a heap on the floor. Kei hopped over the dead body, sliding to a
stop just inside the threshold. All of the glass in the observation bay had
been shattered, the door to the operating room pulled back from its seals.
Despite being unarmed, Kei bravely entered the room.
Pellorian arrived seconds later, gazing around mouth agape. He moved
to the observation booth, opening the door to find his medtech still seated in
her chair. Most of her face was gone, the splatter of blood, bone and brain
covering the console behind her. It was more than even the good doctor could
stand. He placed both arms up against the wall and rested his head against
them.
The stream of curses from outside announced St-Paul's arrival. As the
sergeant knelt to examine the dead marine, Squiggy stepped inside. Pellorian
looked up face ashen and pale, a long expression on his face.
"Kei?" he said lightly. The Doctor gestured towards the operating
room.
He went in and found her standing immobile next to the operating
table. The covers lay scattered about on the floor, Yuri nowhere to be seen.
"Kei?" Squiggy said moving up beside her. She did not reply, staring
down at the husk of the dying face-hugger.
"We've got to go after her!" she suddenly cried grabbing onto his arm.
He nodded, and they headed back for the door only to be cut off by Major
Welton. Collins and Vicky surveyed the damage behind him in stunned silence.
<Ops, where are those bugs at?>Welton said into his commlink.
<We don't know, sir,> Kelly replied.
<You don't know!> he shouted incredulously. <One minute you have them,
next minute they're gone?>
<That's about the size of it, sir. I can't explain it.>
"I can," said Collins bitterly.
<Kelly have every available person out searching the perimeter around
the Command Center. Everyone, do you hear me!>
<Yes, sir,> Kelly replied cutting the link.
"I'm going out there," Kei said heading for the door.
Collins caught hold of an arm, stopping her. "It will do no good,
Kei. They're probably long gone by now."
His hard gaze made Kei think a moment.
"Timbra!" she finally said. He let her go, nodding to her.
Kei went silent, storming out the room . . .


* * * * *


"Bitch!" scowled Kei slapping Timbra several times hard across the
face. She was virtually in her lap, gripping her furiously by the collar.
"Why? Why did you let those damn things in. Why did you let them take Yuri!"
"Really, little sister, you should--"
"Stop calling me that!" Kei cried slapping her again. "Why, why,
WHY!"
Quinten and Heddy had to pull her away before she killed the android.
Kei struggled in their grip, straining to reach Timbra once more. Collins
walked up to Timbra.
"So you let those bugs in through the reservoir. All this time its
been you allowing them inside the outer dome. I should let Kei have her way,
but I want you alive so we can probe your memory crystals and draw out what
information we need."
Timbra licked away the artificial blood from her lips, staring
somberly at the floor. "You won't get the chance Colonel. The reason I let
those bugs into medical was for proof that I control the master computer."
She looked up. "Yeah, I let the bugs in through the reservoir. Kei and
Yuri's ploy forced my hand."
Kei stopped her struggles. "You can read our signals?"
"I've been reading them since you came into the inner dome. Luck was
on my side that you both could not contact your ship, otherwise I would have
had to use more drastic measures."
"You sabotaged the gravpacks, then turn around and save my life. If I
was such a threat, why did you do that?"
"Like I said, Kei. I really like you. Bad programming maybe."
Collins drew his pistol. "That's not going to save your ass," he
scowled pressing the muzzle to the side of her head. "Tell us how to clear
out that virus in our system."
"Puhleese, Colonel," replied Timbra. "You are in no position to make
demands on me."
Welton's commlink beeped.
<Go.>
<Major, all the gates, all the locks, every vent or opening possible
to the inner dome has just gone from red to yellow!> Kelly reported.
Fran grit his teeth with a scowl. "I suppose there's no way to
execute override?" he said to Timbra.
"Precisely," she answered.
Collins thumbed back the hammer on his pistol ready to blow her brains
out. She cut him a contemptuous glance, almost daring him to pull the
trigger. The colonel let his arm drop to his side in bitter defeat.
"Timbra . . . you wouldn't," said Kei. "That's beyond murder."
Timbra gave her a cold steady stare, then gazed around at the fearful
expressions on the people around her.
"Humph. Well, you look like intelligent people. What say we make
a--"
A shot startled them, Timbra's head lolling forwards. Collins stood
clutching Martin Rhodes arm by the wrist, forcing it up. He snatched the
pistol from his hand, turning to Welton.
<Ops, status on the doors!> Welton said.
A short pause followed, everyone fearing the worst.
<Major, we have control again!> Kelly came back. A deep sigh of
relief flowed through them.
<Keep us informed, Welton out.>
Collins let go of Martin's arm, knelling down next to Timbra. Rhodes
had blown the backside of her skull open, a mixture of artificial nuralware
and biocircuitry splattered down her back. Martin cupped his hands to his
face, staggering away in shocked astonishment.
"Rhodes," Collins said standing up. Martin turned awaiting the
Colonel's wrath. "You, mister. . . might have just saved our lives." He
tossed his pistol back to him. "Thanks."
Martin holstered his weapon and sat down in the nearest chair, staring
at his one time associate.
"So what now, Colonel?" asked St-Paul.
"What else. We wait for the relief force to get down here."
"You can sit here, Colonel," Kei said. "But for me, I'm going after
Yuri."
"We don't have the forces to go toe to toe with the bugs, Kei," he
replied. "I still have the rest of the colony to think about."
Kei could not believe that Collins was going to allow Yuri to die.
Angrily she headed towards the door.
"With or without your permission, Colonel. I'm going to save my
partner."
"No, Kei. That's suicide, you won't last a second out there by
yourself."
"I'll go with her, Colonel!" Squiggy said, Hedona and Denny joining
the call.
"Four, six, twenty marines won't make a difference. You'll all be
killed. Let's wait until we're reinforced, then go after her."
Kei rounded on him. "That's at least an hour away. We don't know how
long those bugs have had Yuri, or when that thing inside her is going to do
it's jack-in-the-box routine. I'm not going to wait!"
"Kei, we can't risk it!"
"You might want to reconsider your decision, Colonel," Doctor
Pellorian said standing at the doorway.
"Why, doc?"
Pellorian went over to the computer consoles, inserting a data cube.
The screen winked into life, an image appeared that looked all to familiar to
them. It was an Alien larva, but one with a very notable difference.
"Hey . . . that bug. It's got a hood!" Heddy said pointing to the
screen.
"Another Queen," said Vicky.
Collins closed his eyes, shaking his head disbelieving.
"Todd, we don't want another one of those running around here," Fran
said.
"I know, I know," replied Collins.
Kei tapped him lightly on the shoulder. He looked up.
"We're running out of time. Orders?" she said.
Collins smirked. There was only one thing to do he knew, and that
meant more people would die before this was all over.
"Damn . . . "


* * * * *


1405LCT, Dorman Colony Complex,
The hanger was full of activity once the word got out that Yuri had
been kidnaped, and the Colonel was leading a force to rescue her. There was
no shortage of volunteers. It seemed that everybody wanted to go along, but
Kelly selected fifty of the best marines for this mission. Denny had the
Command Carrier prepped and ready to go by the time they finished drawing
weapons and equipment from the armory, running final checks as the force
loaded up.
Across the hanger bay walked Kei, Colonel Collins with Vicky and
Sergeant Quinten in tow. Apparently Vicky was highly upset about something.
"Why, Colonel. Why can't I go along?" she pleaded to him.
"Because I want you to stay here with Quinten and wait for the relief
force to arrive."
That wasn't good enough for her.
"Colonel, what good am I going to do here? I'd much rather--"
Collins stopped, facing her.
"Damnit, Meyers. I gave you an order, now follow it!"
For a moment, Vicky hesitated, then a determined look came to her
face.
"No! Todd, I want to go with you!"
Kei stepped back out of the way; Quintin scratching his head as the
two stood angrily eye to eye. Without warning, Collins pulled Vicky close and
kissed her. All activity stopped in the hanger as they embraced.
"Hubba, hubba," Hedona said to Major Welton.
From the cockpit of the carrier, Squiggy and Denny stared wide-eyed at
the scene.
"Well if dat ain't against regulations, I don't know what is,"
commented Squiggy.
Denny chuckled, continuing his checks. "Squiggy, I don't believe the
Colonel's worried about regulations right now."
They parted, Collins gazing deep into Vicky's stunned eyes.
"Now you stop worrying about me," he said to her. "I'll be back, I
promise. Okay?"
She gave him a slight nod still reluctant to be left behind, but knew
it was for the best. Collins gently rubbed her cheek and continued on.
Kei grinned broadly, nudging Meyers playfully in the side. "And you
were worried about me," she said giving her a sly wink.
Vicky blushed. She called out to Kei.
"Be careful," she said.
Kei flashed her a thumb up, rushing to rejoin the force. At the
Carrier, Welton updated Collins on their status. Everything was ready, the
only thing that remained was a destination.
"Once we get outside, I can get Mughi to crossfix her position to us,"
Kei said.
"Then let's get going," Collins replied. Before he could get inside,
Doctor Pellorian called him. He was dressed out in combat fatigues, three
silver colored yokes over his shoulder.
"Doc, you planning to come along?" Collins asked.
"Yep. Got something here that might extend Yuri's chances of
survival," he replied. Pellorian handed Collins and Kei each one of the yokes.
"What's this?" asked Welton.
"Portable Stasis Fields," explained Pellorian. "It might not stop the
larva, but I'm sure that it will slow it down."
Kei looped the yoke through her belt, then kissed him lightly on the
cheek. "You're so thoughtful," she said.
Pellorian grinned. "She is my patient, and I don't like having anyone
trashing my medical room."
They boarded the Command Carrier. Inside the marines checked and
rechecked their weapons, anything to get their mind off the fact that for some
of them this would be their last ride ever alive. There were no second
thoughts amongst them though; Yuri had become sort of a mascot, and they
weren't about to give up on her now. Collins took his usual seat, Kei and
Welton moving towards the comms station. Much to their surprise, Martin
Rhodes was already there, also dressed out in combat gear. He looked up,
noting their expressions.
"Well . . . it's the least I can do for all of you seeing what the
Company has done," he said with a shrug.
Welton smiled. "You'd be more than welcome, Mister Rhodes in any
case."
Collins pulled on his headset. <Fraiser, lets get moving. Same
departure, we'll choose a course from their once we're outside.>
<On it, Colonel.>
The carrier lurched, moving down the ramp . . .


* * * * *


As the Command Carrier moved into the inner lock, Colonel Collins gave
Vicky last minute instructions. This time, the transmission from the dish
would contain a message to the approaching relief force, informing them of
their intentions and to stand-by for further comms once the force reached the
outside.
<And you stay in listening mode, Vicky,> he finished. <Monitor our
comms, and be ready to take over if things go wrong.>
<Don't say that, sir.>
<Got to plan for the worst. Talk to you later.>
He cut the link, turning to Kei. "All up to you now."
Kei nodded, praying that whereever the bugs took Yuri, it wasn't to
far.
The outer doors opened, but this time there was no welcoming party to
greet them. Denny took no chances, throttling the carrier up to high speed and
they shot down the tube. Nothing happened as they whisked down the tunnel. A
bad omen to most of them, feeling that somehow the bugs had anticipated this
and were up to something. Ahead the opening appeared, Locris's sun still at
full zenith. The carrier turned out of the gap. Half-way across the open
field towards the second breech, the sensors suddenly kicked off scale.
"Bugs!" cried Denny.
Hundreds of Aliens exploded from out of the ground, pouncing at the
carrier. The turrets opened up, fanning away several, but some of them
managed to get on top. Denny did his best to keep them off, weaving and
applying more speed. There were too many, and it looked like they would swarm
over the carrier when the Lovely Angel appeared overhead. Her chainguns and
particle beams swept the area, decimating the horde around them.
<Fraiser, give it all you got. Vicky now!>
The Communications dish sent its transmission and the Aliens reacted,
surging away to attack leaving the carrier free to dash out of the second gap.
"The only good thing Timbra did for us," commented Welton watching the
retreating forms on the monitor.
"That won't last long," replied Rhodes. "We'd better locate Yuri
before they come back."
Kei quickly linked up with the Lovely Angel.
<Mughi, scan the area for Yuri's bio-signature and send us the
coordinates.>
Mughi growled, sweeping the area. It did not take him long to pick
out the Angel's specs, downloading her position. An overlay of the colony
appeared, a flashing red dot marking her.
"Well this is not bad," said Collins. "She's in the aerodrome."
"Yeah, her and about an umptyscrunch number of bugs just waiting for
us to show up," added Welton.
This was true, Kei realized. She knew that it was going to be an ugly
fight. What they needed was something that would equalize their situation.
"Colonel, can we slowdown long enough for the Angel to send us down
something?" she asked.
"Sure, the bugs are still tearing apart the dish. How long will you
need?"
"Just a few minutes."
Collins told Fraiser to slow the carrier.
<Mughi, prep a Graser rifle and grav it down to me, ASAP.>
"Graser rifle?" questioned Welton.
She nodded heading to the back.
The Lovely Angel hovered down as close as it could to the carrier.
Out of the underside hatch, a rectangular box glided down. Kei opened one of
the upper hatches and pulled it inside. Opening the lid, the Graser rifle was
broken down into three parts with a pair of shaded goggles. The main frame was
short, slight recoil ports running up along the top. Extending from the left
side was a handgrip housing the trigger near the thumb rest. A long barrel
with a wide muzzle into place; the stock/arm grip folding out from underneath.
Kei pushed a magazine sized powerpack into place on the bottom of the frame,
grabbed the goggles and stood.
"This thing will shoot one half gigajoule of energy bright enough to
blind you even with your eyes closed," she said. "The only draw back is that
I've only got around ten shots max."
St-Paul whistled sharply. "Are you sure we want that around?"
"I'm not arguing," Kelly answered. "If the K-gun thinks we need it,
more power to her."
Letting the First Sergeant taste a burst inside the carrier would be
stupid, Kei straining hard not to loose control.
"When I say down, everyone duck and turn away," she continued.
"What if we can't. What if we're in the way?" asked one of the
marines.
"Don't be."
A hot Graser lobotomy was not an inviting picture to them, mental
notes to stand well clear of Kei registering.
She slung the rifle across her back moving to the front of the
carrier. Collins called to her.
"Interesting piece of hardware," he said.
"I'm only supposed to use it in emergencies . . . I consider this one
fits the bill."
He laughed. "Think we can establish comms with the relief force?"
Collins continued.
She readily complied, and in seconds they picked up the transmissions
from the ship in orbit.
<Locris Colony, this is General Santos Breten. Come in, over.>
Collins answered the call.
<Todd Collins?> Santos replied.
<Yes sir,>
<Todd, what the hell is going on down there? I'm told you've found
Aliens on this planet. Is that true?>
<Unfortunately so, sir. Its a long story, and right now is not a good
time.>
<I can see that. My scanners show you are heading straight for a
large group of Aliens. What are you doing, Colonel?>
<Trying to conduct a rescue. General, what's your ETA?>
<We should have dropships down to you in thirty minutes.>
"Doc, is that--" he began to ask, but Pellorian shook his head.
The added marines would've made rescuing Yuri easier. <General, I
might be engaged by the time you arrive. If you can't contact me, my position
should be somewhere inside the aerodrome. Any assistance will be greatly
appreciated.>
<We'll try to expedite. Whoever you're after must be somebody
important.>
Collins smiled. <If you only knew, General. See you when you
arrive.>
Pulling off his headset, the Colonel turned to study the tactical
display. Like the General said, the bugs had finished demolishing the dish
and were surging back across the open plains towards them. He did not like
the odds and neither did Kei.
<Fraiser, try to head us towards the concourse.>
<Colonel, that will take us right through the Aliens.>
<I realized that, Fraiser. Increase speed. When you get to the
tarmac, head straight for the doors.>
Fraiser rogered, but grimaced at the orders banking the carrier around
towards the long permacrete run leading up to the Aerodrome's baydoors.
"Kei, your ship can clear us a halfway decent path I hope?" Collins
said.
Kei instructed Mughi to fly shotgun over them. The Lovely Angel
swooped down low and started firing at the Aliens ahead.
"This is going to be tight, Todd," Welton remarked watching the
distance decrease between them and the Alien horde.
Both turrets were blazing away at a rapid pace. The marines opened up
the gun ports on the side and joined in the fray. The roar was deafening,
acrid fumes and vapor burst filling the inside, but their efforts were well
rewarded, keeping the Aliens a good distance away. They were going too fast
now for any of them to get a chance to climb on the command carrier, whisking
up onto the tarmac to begin the final approach.
At the comms console, Kei, Rhodes and Welton tried to get a better
location on Yuri. A detailed layout on the screen displayed the large hanger,
maintenance and cargo handling facilities, three split levels of storage
bunkers and the service tunnels leading to the lifts for the landing pads.
"I've got a general location, Major," Martin said. He displayed a red
dot on the screen in the vicinity of the tri-level tiers. "That's the best I
can get right now."
"We don't have time to do much more, Martin," Welton replied.
"Then that's where we'll start and find my partner before its--"
{k-k-Kei?}
Kei stepped back, cupping her hands to her mouth.
"What is it?" asked Collins.
She shuddered. "Yuri . . . she's awake."
{Kei} Yuri's weak signal called again.
Doctor Pellorian came up to her. "You must keep her calm," he said
with some urgency.
Kei nodded, reopening the mindlink.
{I'm here, Yuri.}
{Oh, thank god!} Yuri replied relieved. {Kei, its dark. What's going
on, and why can't I move?}
{Yuri, Yuri listen to me. Stay calm, whatever you do, just stay calm,
okay?}
{Oh I know why its dark. Silly me, my eyes are closed. Still must
have some sleep in them.}
{Yuri wait--}
Yuri let out a yawn, thinking she'd just awoken from a terrible
nightmare. Breaking the crust around her eyes, she slowly opened them up.
There was light around her, dim but enough to make out the shapes gathered
before her.
{OOOOOHHH, KKKKKKKKEEEEEEEEIIIIII!!!!!}
Kei clutched her head, staggering around in pain. "She's screaming
like a banshee!" she said to the others.
"Tell her to calm down!" said Pellorian. "It only speeds up the
gestation process."
Crumpling to her knees, Kei leaned across the workstation of the comms
console in a daze.
{Yuri, please you're killing me!}
{Killing you? Kei I'm surrounded by bugs, why aren't you here getting
me out of this mess!"
{We're coming, Yuri, but you've got to stay calm.}
Yuri squirmed against the resin holding her fast. She started to cry.
{KEI! Please help me. Get me out of here!}
"I'm not having much luck calming her down, Doc."
"Can you patch us into your link?"
She nodded, taking one of the connector cables and jacked in. Over
the speakers, everyone could hear Yuri's cries. Collins checked their
position. Only three miles remained until they reached the Aerodrome.
"You've got about five to ten minutes before we get into action," he
said to them. Pellorian pulled on a headset.
<Yuri, this is Doctor Pellorian.>
<Doc?>
<Listen to me! You must stay calm.>
<Why?> she moaned.
<You're hosting an Alien larva inside you. Any additional agitations
might accelerate its awakening.>
<OOOOOHHHH, NNNNNNOOOOOO!!!!!!>
"That was brilliant, Doc!" Kelly said covering his ears.
<Yuri, stop it! You are only endangering yourself.>
Yuri cried harder, moaning with despair.
<I don't want to die like this. Somebody kill me!>
Hearing that made Kei shoot to her feet.
{Alright, that's enough of that, missy!} she scolded her. Apparently
it did the trick, Yuri's cries dying down. {Now you listen to the Doc, and
stop all this kill me crap. We're on our way to save you.}
<So what do I do?>
{Talk to me. Keep your mind off of this. Tell me anything, anything
that you want to say. Men, secrets, anything!}
Yuri swallowed hard, fighting back the screams in her. She let out a
long sigh, shutting her eyes for a moment.
<Anything, huh?>
{Anything.}
<Well . . . If I'm going to die I might as well go with a clean
conscious. You remember that hunk you were cooing after on Stigmus IV,>
{How could I forget. He up and walked out on me while I was in the
ladies room, bastard.}
<No he didn't . . . I took him.>
Kei stammered. {Yuri, y-y-you?}
<I lied about the date I hade that night, and waited until I knew he'd
be alone, then . . . told him you had left with another guy.>
Around her, everyone had stopped to listen in with keen interest.
"Alright, some dirt," Hedona said rubbing her hands mischievously
together.
Counting silently to ten, Kei maintained her composure.
{Okay, I can forgive that.}
<Good, then you won't get mad when I tell you about your
Double-Creamy-Thick-nChewy-Marshmallow Swirl-Extra Chocolate Ice Cream with
Original New German Cheesecake Ribbons and Cherry Jam.>
{What about my favorite, once in a lifetime dessert I seamed to have
missed this year?}
<The delivery came alright, but-->
{Let me guess, you ate it.}
<No, Mughi did, but I had just a small piece. Really, it was a small
piece!>
"Oh no!" exclaimed Kei in disbelief. {Yuri, I should leave your happy
ass to rot in there!}
<NO, KEI! Please, please don't! I'll buy you a trillion billion
cases of it I swear, just please don't leave me here to die!>
It was a bad choice of word, Kei realizing her mistake to late.
"Don't excite her!" Pellorian reminded Kei.
{Yuri, don't worry. I wouldn't do that to you even if you took all my
favorite issues of Guns'n Ammo.}
<How did you know that?>
Kei grit her teeth.
Suddenly Martin was calling out excitedly to them.
"I've got a good fix on her now!" he said. "Second tier, repair dock
one."
"That's it! Now all we have to do is get inside," St-Paul added.
<Kei, Kei are you still there!> Yuri called out to them. Kei checked
the distance remaining. Half a mile, about two minutes to go. Aliens began
to appear on the concourse ahead in what looked like a last ditch effort to
stop their approach. Yuri's call again brought her back.
{I'm here, Yuri.}
<Kei, the bugs are mad at me!>
{What! What's happening, Yuri?}
The Aliens around Yuri began to close in. She could sense a feeling
of confusion amongst them, building into concern. One of them moved closer,
staring at her face to eyeless face. It let out a hiss, then rubbed the
smooth part of its head against her cheek.
<It's kissing me!> cried Yuri cringing as far back as the resin would
allow.
"They must be trying to get her agitated again," said Pellorian.
<Oh, Kei, please (cough) come get me (cough) (cough) out of here!>
"Damn, it's already starting!" he continued. Pellorian spun around to
Collins. "We can't stop now Colonel! Yuri has not much time left!"
"But we've got to in order to get those doors open!" answered Collins.
"Wrong!" exclaimed Kei. {Yuri--}
<Kei! Something very big just moved above me. (Cough) (cough) I
can't see it, but I heard it very clearly!>
Kei paused for a second. They'd have to deal with it once they got
inside.
{Yuri, close your eyes. We're almost there!}
Kei pulled the plug from her socket and looked out the cabin windows.
"Colonel, shall I slow down!" Fraiser shouted back to them.
"No! Drop you blast visors and give it everything you can muster!"
replied Collins. He anticipated what Kei had in mind, giving her a nod.
{Mughi, blast the doors!} she sent out.
Above them the Lovely Angel slowed, her main gun locking on to the
Aerodrome doors. In a wash of bright light, they disintegrated with a loud
roar . . . .


Chapter Twelve


Flames licked the edges of the shattered Aerodrome doors, a dark plume
of smoke curling up into the air. The Command Carrier shot through the
opening, into what the marines would later describe as a nightmare gone wild.
The massive open hanger, large enough to house three middle sized
freighters, was dotted with hundreds of Alien pods. Thick layers of resin
covered everything, victims of the Aliens arrayed in grotesque positions along
the walls and resin covered supports. Several maintenance viehicles burned
from the blast around the hanger, Dante's Inferno coming to several minds as
the threatening forms of Alien warriors began to appear.
Denny brought the carrier screaming to a halt. Both turrets blazed at
the charging bugs adding to the destruction around them. The marines opened
up the upper hatches and began to pour a murderous fire into their enemy,
machine guns sweeping the area, Serec and grenade rounds tearing the hanger
apart.
"Fran, keep your section with the carrier, the rest of you out!"
Collins ordered. Under the cover of the heavy guns, Collins lead his troops
out the back, guns blazing. They formed a perimeter, moving towards the
nearest stairs leading up. A large group of Aliens rose up to meet them
determined to kill the intruders of the hive, but the marines were not to be
stopped. Kei wielded her rifle with deadly accuracy, cutting down bug after
bug as she followed St-Paul, Squiggy, Hedona and their section across the
first tier. There would be no time to stop for any wounded, no time to think
about anything other than moving on before the bugs managed to cut them off.
Several cries and shouts of pain could be heard behind them; Collins and
Sergeant Kelly's teams fighting a determined rearguard at the stairs to by
time for the rescue party. Ahead more Aliens surged out of the darkness.
"Down!" cried Kei shifting weapons. The marines covered up and Kei
fired the Graser rifle. It's bright blue beam tore through the Aliens like
paper. She called an all clear, and the force moved on past the burning
bulkheads. Up the next set of stairs they went.
"Which way!" shouted Squiggy.
Martin panned the scanner in his hand around. The beeping sound it
made increased,and he stopped. "That way!" he shouted pointing off to the
right.
The squad charged on fighting off more defenders scrambling out of the
tunnels and holes in the walls around them. The tier suddenly opened up to a
wide bay, several catwalks extending across the large pit below. Stopping to
get their bearings, Heddy tapped Kei rapidly on the shoulder pointing across
the space. On the upper level, an Alien Queen sat suspended by thick strands
of resin to support her massive frame. A white sack pulsing eerily from the
unfinished pods inside, draped below her falling out of sight into the pit.
Smaller, less threatening Aliens carried newly laid pods out into the hanger
bay, oblivious to the fighting around them. Kei's eyes trailed over to the
stanchion next to it, Yuri thickly cocooned in resin at the base. Without
hesitation, they charged for the steps.
A loud screech emitted from the Queen, her head tracking their
approach. New forms appeared, Bull Aliens rising up to defend their mistress
and the unhatched queen. St-Paul fired a furious burst of gunfire over the
Queens head. The resin holding her up shattered and she let out another
hideous cry, collapsing in a heap on the deck. Yuri shouted out Kei's name,
struggling to free herself.
"Don't move, Yuri!" Kei called to her. "We'll be there in a minute!"
"Hurry!"
One of the Aliens leaped at her, Kei quickly training her rifle on it.
It studdered in its steps, staggering back to topple over the side. Kei
grabbed Rhodes by the collar pulling him along. Together they raced up the
final steps, blasting away another bug as they reached Yuri.
"Kei, Kei hurry! (Cough) (cough) Get me out of this stuff (cough),
get me out, do you hear me (cough)!"
Kei slammed the butt of her rifle against the hard resin, breaking
small bits away. Martin covered her, firing at several warriors frantically
scrambling across one of the catwalks to aid their stricken Queen.
"Kei, we're running out of time!" he cried.
Kei worked faster. The resin was hard as rock refusing to give
easily, but Kei managed to free part of Yuri's left arm. Yuri suddenly
grimaced clutching at her chest.
"OH GOD, MY CHEST!" she exclaimed.
Kei's eyes went wide. She increased her efforts, dropping her rifle
and began to pull on the resin. "Squiggy!" Kei shouted.
On the steps, Squiggy's detachment fought the Aliens at close quarters
blowing them apart, shooting down those moving towards Kei's position. He
heard Kei's cry, looking up. "Sarge, I'm going up!" he shouted back to
St-Paul.
St-Paul covered him, ordering the rest of the marines to follow. They
moved up covering the area as Balboa, St-Paul and Heddy broke away the resin.
Yuri shuddered in fits, holding back her screams.
"Forget it Kei!" she said looking up. "Shoot me now, kill me, kill
me!"
"Stay calm, Yuri. You're almost free!"
Yuri convulsed again, shaking uncontrollably. "It's too late for me,
Kei. Do it, please. This pain is unbearable!"
Kei drew back their eyes meeting. She made a fist, cocking back.
"Kei?" Yuri said.
"I'm sorry partner," she replied socking her hard across the jaw.
Yuri went limp. Quickly, Kei drew the portable Stasis Field from her belt
clipping it around her. It let out a light hum; Yuri's skin turned a
bluish-pale from the field coursing across her body.
The last bits of the resin were pulled away, Squiggy draping her over
his shoulder.
"Damn, Yuri. I wanted'ta see youse nekkid, but not like this," he
joked giving her a playful pat on the butt.
Smoke started to obscure their vision, St-Paul quickly ordering a
withdrawal. One of the marines yelled as he was suddenly yanked from the deck
by a pair of taloned hands that shot out of the gloom. As he struggled in the
grasp of her lower arms, the Queen Alien stepped into view. Angered by the
destruction of her children, she had broken away from the birthing tube,
intending to hunt down and kill everyone associated with the invasion of her
home. She sensed the aurora of the unborn queen, muted by one of the softones
devilish devices angering her even further. Her head snapped down and bit off
the marines head, flinging his body aside.
Aliens charged out from behind her.
"Lay down covering fire. Fighting withdrawal!" St-Paul shouted to the
beleaguered squad.
They poured it on thick, retracing their steps back down to the second
tier. Kei could hear the furious screams from the Alien Queen berating her
kind, sensing that they would escape her clutches. She paused for a moment,
searching through the veils of smoke for the Queen, finally spotting her at
the top of the steps.
"No way, your Majesty!" muttered Kei taking aim.
Too late did the Alien Queen spot Kei, too late was her cry for help
as a kinetic round cut cleanly through her head. She collapsed in a heap,
acid-blood eating away the metal around her body. A roar and twisting of
metal followed. No one stayed around to see where she fell, darting across
the second level back to the Carrier. Colonel Collins and what remained of
the marines were in a stiff fight around the command carrier, trying to hold
back the surge of Aliens entering from the blasted main entryway. Outside,
the Lovely Angel did what it could to support them, but there were to many.
Collins was just about to call a retreat when the rescue force scampered down
the steps.
"About damn time!" he shouted to them as they climbed aboard.
More shrieks from the upper levels sounded , Collins looking around to
see the Aliens pouring over the sides. Hatches clanged shut, Fraiser powering
the engines. With the only route of escape cut off by the mass, he turned the
carrier down one of the tunnels leading to the launch pads.
As they streaked along, Collins took count of his force. More than
half had been killed in the fighting, several marines showing scars or wounds
that needed better medical attention. He looked down at Doctor Pellorian; who
kneeled next to Yuri on the floor.
"Status, Doc?" he asked.
Pellorian said nothing, pointing to the slow mound rising up and down
below the base of her sternum.
"You can't do anything to stop it?" asked Welton.
"Only the medical computer can stop this," Pellorian replied. "It
still has Yuri's physical data inside its memory banks."
Collins knew that it would be close, Yuri's life hanging in a thin
balance. He placed a hand on Kei's shoulder, guiding the Angel out of
earshot.
"Look, I know she's your partner, but if things come for the worst . .
. what I'm saying is, there's one shot that belongs to you. If you can't take
it, then let me know."
The seriousness in his eyes made her look back to Yuri. A sad feeling
ran through her mind, then she shook her head slightly.
"No, Colonel. If I must, I'll do it," Kei replied.
Taking a glance forwards, Collins could see the end of the tunnel
approaching. Kei followed him, and it looked like everything would turn out
alright. A call to Mughi, and the Angel would grav them out of this mess,
back to the central dome and Yuri's plight would end. It all seemed easy to
her, until several hard thumps sounded from above.
"Bugs on the hull!" cried the turret operator slew the main gun
around. Several dozen Aliens clawed their way across and attacked it before
it could snap off a shot. They tore away the barrels while others began to
pull at the rear hatches. Fraiser juked the carrier around as best he could.
Suddenly, the hideous face of an Alien appeared in front of the viewport. He
shouted, ducking aside as the things inner jaw shattered through the hardened
glass.
They spun out of control, screams and cries filling the carrier as it
slammed against the tunnel sides. It slammed nose first into the ground short
of the opening. Several moans from the marines sounded, Collins lifting
himself painfully from the floor.
"Get up!" he shouted jerking several of them to their feet. St-Paul
and Kelly quickly recovered, helping them along. The carrier was finished,
consoles sparking wildly from the impact. Kei had been thrown to the floor
just behind Denny. She pulled herself up to her knees rubbing the lump that
had risen on her forehead.
"Kei!" shouted Collins. "Get those two out of there, we're moving out
ASAP!"
She nodded, slowly moving around to the front. The marine manning the
forwards turret station was dead she could see, his neck tilted sharply to one
side. As for Denny, he was pushed up against the side of the cab, part of the
control panel and siding lodged deep in his stomach. Blood trailed down to the
floor, a slight trickle at the corner of his mouth.
"Hang on, Denny. I'll get you out of there!" she said to him, tugging
on the metal.
He grimaced and reached out, taking her hands in his.
"It's too late for me Kei," he said frowning in pain. "No . . . you
go, but first tell me if that panel in between the consoles is still lit up."
Kei looked down at the panel he was referring to, three yellow buttons
lit at the center. She told him it was.
"Good, hit those buttons."
She did and the top snapped open. A small keyset with digital
readouts lay underneath.
"What now?" Kei asked.
". . . type in-- type in the word `bookworm'. . . hurry!"
She started to type, then stopped halfway. "This is a self-destruct,"
she realized.
Denny smiled. "Can't let . . . the bugs get to you now . . . can I?"
"Denny--"
"Arguing will do nothing but waist time."
Kei knew he was right. She finished plugging in the code and stood
up.
"One more thing, Kei," Denny said.
"What's that?"
"Give me my pistol."
Her lips trembled, tears building up in her eyes. Collins called to
her again.
"Denny, no!" she said.
"Come on, Kei. If . . . the carrier doesn't go off, you want the bugs
to rip me apart?"
She cried freely now, reaching down to draw his pistol from his
holster.
"T-t-thanks Kei," he said. "Go on, you only have about three minutes
left."
Sadly, Kei gave him one last hug, then headed for the rear.
Collins stood waiting as the Marines climbed out the upper hatches
behind him.
"Where's--" he started to say when a shot rang out. The dismayed look
in Kei's eyes told him everything. "Let's go," he said and they both climbed
outside.
Down the tunnel, they could hear the Aliens shrill cry carrying up the
tunnel.
"Where to now, Todd?" Welton said.
"Let's get away from the carrier, Colonel," Kei interrupted. "Denny
left those bastards a surprise."
"Where is Denny?" Hedona asked.
"He's . . . he's gone, Heddy," she answered. Hedona sobbed, Squiggy
gazing sadly back at the carrier.
"No time for this, people!" Collins shouted. "We still have to get
away from the bugs."
"Let'em come," said Squiggy, hefting his rifle in his free hand.
"Don't be a fool!" Kelly snarled jerking the angered Corporal towards
the end of the tunnel. The others followed, and soon they reached the open
tarmac. Aliens swarmed across the open fields as far as the eye could see.
There was no way the force could reach an open spot to allow the Lovely Angel
to grab them, Collins ordered them to head for the platforms. Several loud
detonations roared from the tunnel and a jet of flame shot out incinerating
those Aliens closest to them.
The landing platforms loomed high above their heads, shading them from
the suns heat. Kei looked up, seeing the Angel fly overhead.
{Mughi, get ready to pull us out of here!} she sent. Mughi grumble
back that there were too many bugs close by to make a safe pick-up.
Collins glanced around, seeing a large swarm of Aliens surging from
another tunnel to cut off that route. Welton called him, several marines
firing at another onrushing horde through the platform stanchions.
"Up!" he said.
Three sets of ladders ran up the length of the support closest to
them. A mad scramble followed, arms and legs pumping hard as the marines
climbed up. Squiggy pulled himself steadily forwards despite Yuri's
unconscious form draped over his broad shoulders. Kei climbed just behind him
to make sure that her partner did not slip off. The Aliens reached the base
of the ladders and nimbly started after them. This was their environment,
climbing across and up crossbeams and wires with comparative ease. A marine
at the rear shrieked as she was tackled from her perch by one of the aliens,
disappearing into the seething bodies below. Another cried out, a bug latched
tightly to his ankle. St-Paul drew his pistol and shot it away.
"Use your pistols!" he said to the teams. "Cover each other before we
get cut off!"
Shots echoed through the air, aliens falling to the ground, but the
horde continued to close the distance. Kei heard the Lovely Angels engines
blaring behind her. She looked back, and saw Mughi trying to work the ship
into a better position to help them. The ship may have been to big to fit
between the overhang of the landing pads and the Aerodrome, but she could
still see and move along the sides. Particle beams pumped out careful burst,
cutting away parts of the ladders the Aliens clung to. An angry group made a
desperate leap at the ship, barely missing the tip of a wing.
{Back off, Mughi. We're almost at the top. Get ready to get us.}
Mughi growled, banking the ship away.
At the top Kelly and St-Paul helped the rest of the group up over the
side. Heddy wired a Serec grenade to the edge and they sprinted away. The
explosion blew off part of the edge giving them some breathing room.
"Mughi, get down here!" shouted Kei. As the Angel dropped down, over
the far edge boiled the threatening mass of Aliens. The ship sensed their
approach, kicking in thrusters, propelling it away before they could swarm
over her. The marines opened fire, pulling back to the side. A long open
maintenance pit running the length of the pad offered some sort of a
defendable position, everybody piling in.
"Kei, get that ship of yours over here!" Collins shouted.
Mughi was already trying to get into position. He brought the ship
around into a low approach, coming to a hover just over the end of the
platform. Kei thought they were about to be rescued when the bugs surprised
them all, sprinting across the pad to make spectacular leaps through the air.
Several of them landed on the canopy of the Angel, clawing and smashing at the
glass to get at the cat. The Lovely Angel shot up into the air.
"No!" muttered Kei watching her ship bank madly through the skies.
Alien bodies could be seen fall towards the ground. Kei unlimbered the Graser
rifle. She gave out the warning, waited briefly for everyone to duck down
then fired. The onrushing Aliens were stopped dead in their tracks as the
wash of the deadly beam ripped through them. A second burst drove them back.
Kei knelt down to allow the pack to recharge. She found herself
looking at Yuri. Doctor Pellorian was checking on her condition, monitoring
the slight fits and starts Yuri made. It looked like the mound on her chest
was starting to get bigger.
"Doc, do something," she said.
Pellorian pulled out the Stasis Field he carried, snapping it into
place over the first one. Slowly the mound receded, but Yuri's skin had taken
on a deathly pale shade.
"That's the most I'm going to place on her," he said. "She's very
weak now, If we don't get her to the lab . . . I'm sorry, Kei."
Kei refused to believe that Yuri was about to die. She glanced up at
the Lovely Angel, but it still hovered in mid-air away from the platforms. An
alarm from Kelly alerted her to the renewed attack by the Alien swarm. Guns
blazed once more, sizzling craters of acid-blood eating its way through the
thick surface sent up steaming clouds of white vapor into the air. Kei
repeated her actions again stopping the attack.
"How many more shots you got left?" Collins asked her.
She glanced at the power gauge, the indicator low. "Two, maybe three
more."
"Save them, then. We'll just have to fight it out. That relief force
should be here very shortly."
"Yuri doesn't have much longer, Colonel," she replied.
Collins glanced down at the stricken Angel, then at her.
"It's your decision," he answered.
Desperately, Kei called up to Mughi and the Lovely Angel. Neither of
them responded, then the Aliens attacked again.
Instead of attacking directly across the pad, the Aliens sent two
large groups to either side, attacking the flanks and preventing Kei from
getting a clear shot without endangering the others.
"These bastards learn fast!" Welton said firing into the crowd. In
minutes the right flank was swarmed over, the marines falling back dealing out
a murderous volume of fire. Kelly, covering their withdrawal, was suddenly
set upon by two Aliens clamoring across the edge of the pad. He let lose with
a flurry of burst, alien blood splashing across his leg. He cried out
dropping to the deck.
"First Sergeant!" Heddy called to him.
"Get back!" he shouted at her. From his combat vest, he pulled a
Serec grenade, popping the safety. An Alien pounced down on him, but the
sergeant grabbed it by the throat, forcing it's head up.
"You want me, you son-of-a-bitch. Well you can have me!" he raged
forcing the grenade into it's mouth.
Kelly, the Alien, and a good part of the pit around them disappeared
in a flash of fire and smoke. St-Paul pulled away the stunned marines staring
at the spot where Kelly had been. Welton told them to make a stand, turning
around checking on Collins and the rest of the group. They managed to hold on
to their precarious position, taking heavy casualties in the process. Kei
leveling part of the surrounding walls with the Graser gun had a large part to
do with their success, the marines finishing off the bugs dangling along the
edges. He caught movement across the launch pad, grimacing as Aliens began to
swarm over the top in greater numbers than before.
"Todd!" he said urgently to Collins. The Colonel gave them a slight
frown, directing the fire back to the front.
{Mughi!} Kei sent anxiously again. This time there came a response.
{[Mughi is injured.]} the ship answered.
She started, drawing in a sharp breath. {Is it critical?}
{[No, but he will need some attention.]}
{Girl, get down here and help us before we're overrun!}
The ship obeyed, banking down sharply to strafe the aliens.
As the battle raged, Doctor Pellorian stayed close to Yuri's side,
fending off any Aliens that managed to get to the edge of the pit. Yuri's
features were fading fast he saw. Sadly, he pulled his machine pistol up
priming the feed. Before he could do what he thought was the only merciful
thing possible, a scraping noise sounded from behind him. Pellorian frowned
drawing a mirror from his medical kit inching it over the side. It shattered
in his grip, the extended jaws of an Alien snapping in the air.
"I need some help!" he shouted blowing the Aliens head to shreds as it
rose up. His cry brought several of the marines around, engaging this new
threat.
Collins could see that they were trapped now, with no apparent way to
break out. More Aliens swarmed across the launch pad, pressing on them. He
realized it was nothing but a matter of time now. At least there was one
thing he could do to hurt these monsters.
"Kei, it's time!" he said.
Kei spun away from the fighting, staring in shock at the Colonel. One
of the Aliens reached the edge then, leaping at her.
"Look out, Kei!" Martin Rhodes exclaimed pushing her out of harms way.
The bug hit the back wall, rebounding into the middle of the deck. It stood,
standing over Kei ready to kill her. She screamed, then three burst form
Squiggy's rifle tore into it. Blood splattered the area behind it, splashing
Martin across the chest. He let out a horrid scream, falling to the deck
writhing in pain.
Kei scrambled to her feet. As Pellorian went to help Rhodes, she
looked down at Yuri. For a moment Kei thought she could hear Yuri's voice in
her head, pleading for her to end her suffering. Her vision clouded, Kei's
hands trembling as she drew her pistol.
"Oh, Yuri," said Kei wiping away the tears in her eyes. "I wish we
didn't have to end like this!"
Kei took aim at Yuri's head. The first shot would kill her, the
second was for that thing inside her chest, and the third shot she'd take
herself. "Good-bye, Yuri!" she said pulling the trigger.
Her hand was forced up, the shot discharging harmlessly into the air.
Collins gripped her wrist tight.
"Look!" he said pointing up.
Coming in low flew three attack ships, guns and missiles blazing at
the Alien hordes. They streaked over, slaughtering bugs without remorse
clearing part of the pad to allow a combat dropship to land, disgorging it's
load of Confederation Marines. The force could hear gunfire below, three more
dropships landing in the open plains unloading marines and armor, with more on
the way. They let out a cheer as the Aliens fled before the new onslaught.
Kei scooped Yuri up in her arms.
"Come on Doc, we still have time!" she said.
The Lovely Angel hovered in low, caught Kei and those around her in a
tight grav field and drew them up to the ship. Making a sharp bank, it shot
off towards the central dome . . .


* * * * *


0900 CST, April 02, 2143
Aboard the WWWA Frigate Lovely Angel
Transiting the Gillian Star System

Rubbing her chin in deep though, Kei studied the cards in her hand,
glancing up at Yuri several times attempting to read her mind. She smiled,
reaching over to a heaping mound of chocolates at the side of Yuri's bed.
Plucking two from the pile she tossed one into the pot, throwing the last one
in her mouth.
"You'd better slow down on those," Yuri said. "Eating all of the
winnings is going to leave you in the hole."
Kei laughed, grabbing two more. "Don't worry. We've got twelve boxes
left in the fridge, thanks to the Marines," she replied tossing one to Mughi
laying the corner. The cat caught it effortlessly in his mouth, growling
lightly as he rubbed at the white cast on his right paw.
"Stop it, Mughi," Kei scolded him. "Doc Pellorian said two weeks more
before we can take that off."
Mughi growled again, resting his head on the ground.
"Such a thoughtful person," Yuri said about Pellorian. "I really
think we couldn't have thanked him enough."
"The man pulled you out of a near death experience, partner. You'd
better send him something for Christmas."
Yuri smiled, feeling the gauss and wrapping around her chest and
torso. Doctor Pellorian and the medical computer had indeed saved Yuri's
life, extracting the Alien Queen larva before it could chew through her chest
bone and rip apart her heart. Several long hours followed as he meticulously
repaired and stitched her back together. It would take weeks, maybe months
before she could be ready for action again, but that suited her just fine.
They were due a long vacation anyway and this provided them the perfect
excuse.
"Hey, play your hand," she said to Kei.
With a smirk, Kei glanced at her cards again.
"You gotta Queen?" she asked leaning towards her.
"Fortunately, no. Go fish," Yuri replied.
The paused, staring at each other then burst out into fits of
laughter. Yuri started coughing placing her hands to her chest. Immediately
Kei was at her side, helping her lean back against the pillows.
"Are you all right, you need anything?" Kei asked frantically.
Yuri waved her hand to calm Kei down.
"I'm okay. We've got to stop doing things like that though."
"No more cards for you then," Kei said shaking a playful finger at
her.
Yuri smiled, then the ships computer chimed.
[Incoming transmission,] it announced.
"Oh, who now?" asked Yuri.
[Chief Inspector Galet.]
Yuri's eyes went wide. "No, no, oh no. Kei!"
"We're not doing anything, Yuri!" Kei angrily replied. "CC or no CC,
Bill's just going to have to find somebody else for this one!"
A holoscreen appeared overhead, Bill's image coming to view.
"Hello girls. I just--"
"No way, Mister Chief Inspector Galet!" exclaimed Kei cutting him off.
"Yuri's in no shape for any missions, Mughi's down and the ship still needs
repairs. No!"
Bill looked at her for a moment, a bemused expression on his face.
"Well I can see we're all in good spirits here," he continued. "I did
not call to give you an assignment, ladies."
"Gaack!" Kei sounded.
"I merely called to see how you were doing, and relay a signal."
"Ah ha ha ha ha," trailed Kei all of the fire out of her now. She
lost her words and grinned.
"Hello, Chief Inspector," Kei said timidly.
"Hi, Billy," Yuri added. Kei retreated to the bed.
"And how is the `Flower of Locris' doing?"
Yuri's cheeks reddened.
"I'm fine. Doc says this should all heal with minimal scars."
"Great. I can see you two have been attack that chocolate the marines
gave you. Better watch those hips, or I might have to reassign you two to
desk jobs until you come down to size."
Kei smirked, popping a square into her mouth. "So who's the signal
from?"
Bill split the screen. Vicky Meyers appeared now sporting Captains
bars on her lapels. She waved.
"Hi, girls."
"Vicky, what a pleasant surprise." Yuri said.
"Yeah. Todd and I wanted to talk to you before we set off to the
southlands."
"Oh? How's the clean up operation going?"
"You were right about the bugs spreading, Kei. We're finding nest all
over Locris."
Meyers paused, turning back to somebody out of view. Todd Collins, a
full Colonel now, leaned down over her shoulder.
"Ladies, glad we caught you."
"Colonel!" exclaimed Kei. "I was just thinking about you . . . both
of you I mean."
Yuri kicked her lightly in the back.
"I hear you guys have your hands full with the Aliens," Yuri said.
"Now that the Corps arrived, we've been running them to ground. That
plus those Hunters working the planet gives us a very strong advantage."
"Hunters eh?" said Kei. "I'd like'd to see them in action."
"This place is a tourist attraction for them. Every day we get two or
three more shiploads full of them." Vicky said.
"Surprising in light of the quarantine the Confederation had placed
around Rumic," remarked Bill.
"Well it's a necessary evil that serves a good purpose." continued
Collins. "But that's not why we called you. We, Vicky and I, would like to
know if you two would do us the honors of attending our wedding."
Both Angels perked up at the news.
"Vicky!" Kei exclaimed. "You don't waste any time, do you?"
Vicky blushed burying her face into Collin's arm.
"It won't be until after we've cleared Locris, but we'd like you here
if possible."
"Bridesmaids!" Yuri said clasping her hands together.
"Of course," answered Vicky.
"We'll be there, Colonel. Can we bring guest?"
"Sure. Colonel Welton is coming, Heddy and Balboa will be here--"
"How is Squiggy?" asked Yuri.
"Sergeant Balboa is fine. Right now he, Sergeant Milles, and First
Sergeant St-Paul are clearing out the hills north of Locris." Collins told
her.
"How's Martin?"
"Doctor Pellorian fixed him up fine. He's recovering nicely," Vicky
answered.
"Yes. He also joined the Marines too," added Collins. "I made him a
Corporal."
"Great. I'm glad Martin pulled through."
From behind the image of First Sergeant Quinten appeared drawing
Collins's attention away for a moment.
"I'm sorry girls. Love to chat some more, but we're about to land."
"Okay, Colonel. You guys take care of yourselves." Kei said.
"Yeah, I've never been a bridesmaid before, so don't let me down,"
added Yuri.
Collins laughed. "We'll try not to."
Vicky was just about to cut the link, when she suddenly paused.
"Oh, yes. Yuri, Squiggy wanted me to relay a message."
"What is it?"
"He says, `thanks'."
"He did? Oh how sweet."
"Bye," Vicky said cutting the connection.
Kei stared at her partner slightly confused. "Thanks?" she said.
Yuri leaned back, looking innocently up to the overhead. For a moment
Kei thought, then her eyes narrowed, brows furrowing close together.
"Slut," she muttered.
"Cute couple," Bill said. "Anyway, don't worry about any more
assignments for a while. I've placed you both on the injured list, so the CC
can't complain."
"That's good news to hear," Kei replied. "Now we can take that
vacation you've owed us for so many months."
"And you'll get it. The Confederation owes you a lot, girls. With
the Aliens nicely contained, and Yuri's Queen larva eradicated, that threat to
the universe is eliminated once and for all."
Slowly, Kei rose up from the bed, her expression lost. Bill noticed
the change in her, sitting back in his chair.
"Something wrong, Kei?" he asked.
Kei remained silent.
"Uhm, ladies you did destroy that Queen Larva did you not?"
Yuri said nothing at first, waiting for Kei to respond. When she
didn't, Yuri hunkered down low amongst the sheets.
"Kei . . . you did see that queen get killed, right?" she said.
Kei spun around.
"No." she said. "All I remember seeing was that thing getting pulled
out of your chest and get placed into another stasis container."
"So it was destroyed?" Bill said.
"I don't know," she answered him. He hung his head letting out a long
frustrated sigh.
"I was worried about Yuri," Kei explained. "It did not occur to me to
check."
"Bill, it had to be destroyed," Yuri added in her defense. "It's been
over a week now. If the Queen had developed into full maturity, they
definitely would know it by now."
Galet looked up. "And what if it got off-world, before they
established the blockade, hm?"
"Who'd do an insane thing like that?" snapped Kei.
"The Company for starters," he replied. "We still haven't brought
them down yet, and there are other interested parties out there."
Kei could say nothing, looking over to Yuri for support. Her partner
shook her head slightly, turning over on her side.
"Bill, you don't think--"
"I'm going to get in touch with Colonel Collins again. If he doesn't
have an answer . . ." Galet paused tapping his chin in solemn thought. "You
two better lay low for a while. If this gets out, I don't think even the
Central Computer could avert the lynch mob that would come looking for you.
I'll be in touch."
The holoscreen winked out leaving the two troubleconsultants in a
stunned silence.
Kei felt nauseous, another disaster looming on the horizon to smear
their name.
"Yuri . . . you don't think that Queen got off Locris, do you?"
Yuri remained silent, pulling the covers tighter around her. She
shuddered, praying that it would not be; that somehow everything would turn
out alright . . .


* * * * *


0930 CST, April 02, 2143
Aboard the CMC LCPL Roger Williamson
Bhernshards Spiral March, Tau Ceti Galaxy

Heavy footsteps stomped along in unison down a lonely corridor, four
guards escorting the high ranking officer between them. They rounded a corner
stopping before a set of thick double doors. The officer reached out, sliding
the only keycard through the lock and the doors parted.
"Stay here," he said walking inside.
The doors clanged shut behind him and he moved on, accessing several
more doors coming out into a sophisticated science lab. Several military
techs and scientist monitored displays around the room, checked over equipment
and adjusted cameras on the dark form suspended in the blue light of a
powerful stasis field. A slight grin came to his face.
Those fools at the Company, he thought moving closer to the container.
Thinking that they could pull the wool over our eyes. Idiots! Who did they
think they were dealing with. Children? We'd known all along what they were
up to. Money drives even a sane man to act stupidly, and those pompous slugs
heading the Company let greed blind them to the true aspects this could bring
them all.
The figure turned slowly around drifting in complete weightlessness.
The Alien Queen, fully developed into her proper state, remained in a fetal
position, her tail tucked up and around her like a protective blanket. He was
sure she was awake, unable to move in the fields binding force.
Money, Ha! Ideological symbols that meant nothing in the face of
power. Power in the form of perfect fighting machines which, unleashed at the
right time would help create an empire never before experienced in any of the
known civilizations. They would study them, develop more ways to harness and
control the Aliens, and with time create an army that would finally bring some
sense of order to the known universe. He laughed not caring if the people
around him stared.
Colonel Fran Welton placed his fist at his sides laughing at the
Queen, then spun around triumphantly headed out the doors . . . .


Fin


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