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Month: November 2018

The Redeemer: Hawk

The Redeemer: Hawk

“The Plan” by Robert Griffing.

Brave Mohawk warriors, feckless colonials, the mighty Adirondacks and our favorite revenge dealing spirit. Not exactly the Last of the Mohicans but hey! Enjoy and let me know how to improve this story!

Hawk looked down upon the land between the two waters and had no doubts as to why the spirits held it dear.  The morning sun had climbed over the mountains and lifted the night’s mist exposing a blanket of bright reds, oranges and yellows that covered the mountains, hills and valley in preparation of the cold winter to come.  A cool breeze wisped through every few moments carrying the occasional scents of the small campfires, chimneys and smokehouses of those that lived in the valley.  The waters of the End Lake glistened and the birds soared high above either waiting for the sight of prey in the forest below or bellowing as they started their long journey away.

Hawk stood with one leg up on the rocky perch of the overlook. His deerskin leggings and shirt bore the marks of many days of travel and the numerous beaded necklaces around his neck marked his great victories over the Barkeaters, Frenchman and a great bear. His new long rifle was strapped over his left shoulder and axes hung from his belt ready to capture a meal or fell the next great enemy of the Kanienke. A single thin white cloth sash was tied to the stripe of black hair on his head marking him as a friend of the Englishmen. He did not like it.

The white tribes had come to these lands a few generations before and like flies had made their way everywhere.  They brought many marvelous things with them like medicine, delicious foods and rifles but also disease and foolish wars to Hawk’s people.  It is a great thing to want to bring wealth and lands to one’s tribe but foolhardy to be careless and destroy everything and everyone to accomplish it.

Hawk’s green eyes and thoughts turned to the other four brave warriors and an Englishman wandering about the small camp below him. They were all busy cleaning the camp from the night’s sleep, watering horses and carrying out other tasks of a small scout troop.

The first was Great Owl who was the eldest of the group and giving direction. He had taken many Barkeater scalps before he was Hawk’s age and carried them with great pride. He was now old and had grown a great stomach that he said contained the great wisdom he had collected. Everybody questioned his ideas why stomachs are big but did not question his great skill with the English rifle. His great scarred but smiling face was always behind it guiding the iron ball to the mark.

River was breaking down their tents and was Hawk’s best friend for a long as he could remember. He was a proven warrior but his true passion was the summer games. He displayed his many victories of these matches rather than those won in battle. He would speak nightly of his new strategies in sport and his blue eyes were always looking for the best tree to climb or rock to scale.  He had recently found his mate and prayed that his firstborn would be the finest runner in the tribe. He looked forward to showing him how.

Loud One was the son of a great chief that was proud to let everybody know. He was doing that now while rolling blankets and speaking to the Englishman in his language.  His skills in battle were not great but he always made up for it with his skills in medicine and talk. Hawk thought he would make a great leader one day.

The Englishman was a skinny blue-eyed boy named Tim that was here to help them communicate with the English hunters and warriors. He seemed to have much knowledge about the tribe’s ways and spoke their language better than most white men. He dressed in deerskin leggings, shirt and moccasins but did not take on the warrior’s hair but instead wore a flimsy leather sculpted leather hat.  He did not require help in moving about or living in the woods which made him very likable. He was currently digging out an alcove to stash their heavier tools which would be retrieved later. Hawk hoped he would be with them for some time and could perhaps pass on greater wisdom to the English. He is proof that perhaps there is some hope for them.

Hawk’s attention quickly shifted back to the task of hand which was a final survey. He glanced down the valley to the right toward the shores of the End Lake and could see smoke trailing up from a campsite along the north-south road the French traveled between the great forts on the lakes. This was likely the French fur traders the English and the tribe wanted destroyed. Looking to the left he saw the first waterfall and knew the ambush site was near. No fires or movement seemed to be nearby which meant their morning trek could be uneventful.

Hawk quickly climbed down from the rocky outlook and joined the group at the forested bottom.

“The Frenchman’s fires still burn so we should have time to get to the hunting ground,” Hawk said walking up to help the group finish packing.

“Good, the quicker we can get this deed done the quicker we can get back and prepare for winter,” said the Great Owl.

“Yes, many more deer must be caught to fill the great bear’s belly!” said Loud One causing the group to laugh.

“One day you will have a great one to fill as well!” replied Ox with a smile.

The group then finished hiding the tents and heavier equipment and moved out for the morning trek down through the forest to an ambush site with only weapons, water skins and a lunch in hand.  Travel was easy as most of it was downhill and the forest was thinning out as the fall season progressed. The group moved carefully with each member taking a turn to dash ahead and scout for friend or foe. Running into either wouldn’t help their cause and nobody wanted to kill when they did not have too.

The terrain was starting to flatten out when Tim jogged back toward the group rapidly showing the hand signal for bear. The group members quickly crouched in place or in Tim’s case crawled underneath the nearest pine. Great bears were not to be trifled with.

Their efforts were rewarded when a black giant slowly lumbered bye only a stone’s throw away. The great beast was almost as tall as a man and likely weighted four times as much. If he stood he would tower over any man and it would take many rifles to bring it down. Its great head moved back and forth as it sniffed at the ground and air knowing something was near. It let a low bellowing growl warning away all from challenging it.

River looked over at Hawk and smiled giving the sign of the Great Spirit.

Hawk and watched the great beast pass. The beast didn’t seem to be hunting and that was a good omen. Only foolish men would confuse it as otherwise, he thought while noticing Tim’s exposed foot from underneath a great pine.

The group continued on through the morning and arrived at the ambush site when the sun was high. Great Owl had chosen it because the nearby falls would mask most sounds and they could shoot from high positions down on to the passing road. This would make it harder for the caravan’s guards to detect the ambush and put up a good defense.  Not only would they have to pick out Hawk’s group hiding behind terrain and trees but it would be an uphill run to attack them. Loud One was positioned at the bottom near the trail as a lookout and to prevent any scouts from outflanking the shooters on the hill. It was also a great way to keep him quiet.

The group didn’t have long to wait. The first sign was the rhythmic hum of a stringed instrument in the distance that got louder as time passed.  Soon a baritone voice joined. It was unintelligible at first but then clearly French as time progressed. The group looked at each other knowing their pray was quickly approaching.

Hawk could not believe what he was hearing. The French would be caught unaware and would be at a supreme disadvantage.  There was no signal from Loud One so the French hadn’t even sent scouts ahead. How foolish, he thought.

Hawk’s thoughts quickly drifted to the task at hand as Loud One’s hand came up signaling that four riders were approaching and three wagons. They all quickly lifted their long rifles onto the trees, mounts or rocks provided cover and stability. All eyes went to their sights with a second ball and powder in hand to fire accurately and then quickly reload.

Minutes later the wagon train and riders appeared. There were four French riflemen on horseback in front of three covered carts. Drivers were perched high on a wooden bench at the front of all carts and the first also held the musician who continued to bellow a tune for all to hear.

A tension-filled minute passed as the caravan drew closer and below the group into their hunting ground.

It was River who fired first followed by the rest of the ambushers.  The drivers are all three carts were thrown violently off their mounts as the balls struck their bodies.  The armed horseman dropped from their mounts seeking cover beyond their horrified mounts.  They then brought their rifles to bear only to be torn to the ground by a second volley of gunfire. A half dozen more Frenchman poured from the now stopped carts only to be shot down in order with the last victim being cleaved by a thrown tomahawk that buried itself in the victim’s back.

The firing then stopped leaving great puffs of gunpowder smoke in the air and one whimpering musician behind the first cart. He stepped out holding his instrument high. “Please, stop this now. We surrender!” Great Owl’s rifle boomed as he humanely shot the entertainer through his right eye.

The group then descended on the wreckage of the caravan and quickly silenced the gravely injured and then scalped the dead much to Tim’s dismay. They then set horses free and put the pelt filled carts to the torch for all in the valley to see. They then disappeared back up the mountain as quickly as they had arrived.

The trek back to their mountainside camp and observation point was uneventful and solemn. It was only after they had unpacked and set up for their last night’s stay that Great Owl spoke what they all were thinking.

“It appears the Frenchman still have not learned much from their years here.”

“Yes. No scouts, their eyes were not up and the singing,” said Loud One putting a chunk of cooked rabbit in his mouth with his knife.

“Foolish French. Not as smart as the English, right Tim?” said Owl.

“Ha! Yes in this case old one.” Tim said with a slight grin.

Hawk sat quietly, eating and thinking while the fire crackled and dark blue sky was starting to give way to a black one. What was the purpose of doing this? Those foolish Frenchman were doing nothing but traveling from one village to the next. There was not a worthy warrior among them!

A pebble painfully bounced off his forehead which snapped him away from his internal dialog.

“The soaring Hawk is brought back to the ground by a rock!” River said with a smile.

Hawk smiled and the group passed the evening on happier subjects, the rest of their meal and a night’s rest. They would need to move early as the French would send soldiers to search for the missing men.

The next three days were filled with travel back to the village beyond the pines. His Chief, Fox, had brought the war band there to trade with the English. He would be happy that his tribe had lived up to the bargain and the English would provide more food for their village further west.

Cold rain was falling and the morning fog was thick as they walked into their band’s camp outside the great village. The group and the camp’s denizens had covered themselves with great deerskin cloaks that kept them warm and water running off of them. Smokey Fires were kept alit and the spitted remnants of the last mean remained above them filling the air with the delicious scents of smoked deer and fish.  The dozen or so dome like tents were abuzz with activity with Indian warriors and craftsmen walking in and out carrying out the day’s tasks.

The group walked to the center of the camp to a large tent with both an Indian and English guard on either side of the door. The tent was twice the height of a man and as long as any longhouse. It was decorated with many drawings of his tribe and was noisy with both Tribe and English voices.  Hawk, Owl and Tim walked into the tent while the remaining pair remained outside under the solemn glare of both guardsmen.

Hawk cleared the entry flaps and ahead of him sat Fox who was flanked on the left by his trusted warriors and advisors. The chief of the English, Colonel Stroud sat to his right surrounded by his warriors, advisors and toad-like son. Fox was old and had brought many victories and much wealth to his tribe. His many scars showed this much better than the sashes and beads on his clothes and body. General Stroud was also very old but was the cleanest of chiefs all had seen. His face, hands and clothes were clean and without wear.  To the trio’s left and right, the craftsmen of both tribes were meeting working out smaller trades of the day. Fox smiled as he saw his warriors approach him.

“Great Ox and our Hawk. I am glad to see you have returned. Was your raid successful?” said the Fox in a volume great enough to catch the attention of the entire room.

“It was. The Frenchmen were caught unaware and quickly defeated.  Their bodies and carts were put to the torch. All of our brave warriors are unharmed and acted like seasoned hunters” replied Ox in their native tongue.

“What is this one saying?” Colonel Stroud asked in English pointing a finger at Great Owl.

“Their raid has been successful,” replied Tim.

“And how do we know this?” asked Lieutenant Stroud stepping from the shadows behind his father.

Hawks stomach ached at the site of the two Strouds. They were not good men and should not be trusted. Their tongues are silvered and they delivered half meals.

Great Owl replied by opening his cloak and tossing the bundled French scalps at their feet with a soft thump. An unseen Englishman in the rear muttered, “Bloody Savages,” loud enough for the group to hear causing them all to look back.

“Ah yes. I’d assume these would be French….” said the elder Stroud.  He then clapped his old hands together and said “Very well then. We’ll provide payment right away. Lieutenant, please go see that payment is provided for services rendered.”

“Right sir,” the younger Stroud replied. He then turned and walked off to see to it.

Fox looked back toward his Hawk and Owl.

“You have done well. Tonight we will have a great feast in celebration of your victory. Please let the rest of the band know.”

The pair nodded and then walked out and joined the rest of the band leaving Tim behind.

“Is the clean Chief happy?” asked Loud One.

“He is satisfied and Fox wants to eat,” replied Hawk.

“That is as good as it gets!” said Owl.

The four warriors moved back to their tent for the afternoon to rest and remove the days of travel from them.  It was vacant, stuffy, damp and cold when they arrived but a small cooking fire and an open flap soon rectified that. The group washed, dressed in fresh skins and was in good spirits for the great feast to come.

When the sun set the group walked through a cold and misty rain to the great tent. This time two smiling Tribesmen guarded it and once entered a totally different scene awaited them. The great Chief still sat in his great chair but two great long tables were set out in front of him the length of the tent.  All sorts of spitted meats and fish were there were as well as dishes their wives and mothers made for them at home. Most of the war band was also here cheerfully talking and conducting anything but business. The group quickly dispersed to enjoy the fun with their brothers and sisters.

Many hours passed and the group had eaten twice that of any man. The Great Owl was now telling the story of the Great Bear in the woods that had looked them all in the eye to give them strength in battle. River then caused much laughter as he mentioned the bear probably saw Tim’s foot from beneath the Pine and moved on for better tasting prey. The laughter then subsided as Fox approached them and waved the group over to speak.

“You have provided our wives and children more food to get through the cold season and I thank you. You are all brave warriors who serve your tribe well!”

“Thank you for this great feast Fox. It is good for the band to celebrate and be happy,” replied Owl.

Fox smiled and at that moment Hawk’s stomach ached as he knew what Fox was about to say.

“Colonel Stroud would like us to raid soon again. The entire band would attack the Frenchman’s outpost close to the Bulging Lake. This will feed the tribe for the entire winter and into the thaw.”

“Great Fox, that fort has many riflemen. We would need the help of the Englishmen or another band to even hope to defeat it,” said Loud One.

“The French are weak and do not belong there. The Englishmen are better and this will feed the tribe”, replied Fox sternly.

“The English are not true friends. We just took the scalps of craftsmen and merchants not warriors. It was below us!” said River in a raised voice.

Great Owl put his hand out toward River.

“You will respect our leader and not speak so loud at him.”

“This is my decision and it must be done.” Fox replied flatly.

“A leader does not sacrifice his warriors or old fools!” River shouted looking ready to pounce.

The room suddenly got silent and the conversation a whole lot less private.  Owl grabbed his knife from his belt and pulled it.

“You will not speak to the Great Fox in such as manner.”

“This is not our way!” replied River looking at Owl with Rage in his eyes.

River’s hand went to his blade and the worst scene possible played out in front of the entire war band. The Great Owl charged River with his blade raised high to slash down upon him. River used his great speed and agility to dive below it and with a quick backhand slash carved a vicious gash into the back of Owl’s leg causing him to crash to the ground. He then jumped on to the Giants back and quickly drove his blade down into the back of the giant’s neck killing him instantly.  It was a quick, vicious and final end to a friend.

River turned and looked toward the Chief with rage in eyes. He hopped up from Owl’s body and with one shoulder down and blades in hand charged Fox. The thunder of a rifle and the violence of a musket ball strike then sent him to the floor of the tent, face down in a great pool of his and Owl’s blood. His body twitched for several moments as if trying to rise again and then fell still.  A guardsman stepped forward from the shadows lowering the smoking rifle that had stopped River’s rage permanently.

Fox looked at him and nodded and then looked up at the group. His voice then thundered, “I am this band’s leader and you will do what I think is right for our tribe! Does anybody else wish to challenge me?”

The reply was utter silence. Fox looked up and around at the crowd angrily and stomped out of the tent.

Hawk was frozen. He could see his dead friends and couldn’t understand how things had escalated so quickly. This was madness! He sat there looking down at them for several minutes until the guards dragged their bloody corpses out the front door. He said a small prayer to the great one for them.

The now somber crowd vacated the tent to their own for the night.  An eerie silence filled the camp only to be broken by the occasional pop from the burning pyres on the camp’s periphery. This was not their way and the camp drifted to into troubled sleep. Some were angry at the attempt on their wise chief’s life but others mourned the loss of friends.

Hawk tossed and turned as his mind traveled a gauntlet of memories to the final scene of the death of his friends. His mind then drifted to the memory or vision of being on a great hunt with River. It felt good to see his friend and the weight of what had happened seemed to fade away. He was sure it was his friend leading him into a dream away from his troubled thoughts so he followed.

Hawk and River prowled through the great forest in search of deer. River was twenty paces ahead leading this hunt looking left and right.They were not carrying long rifles but instead the traditional bows of their tribe. Arrows were knocked as they carefully moved ahead one quiet step at a time. Hawk could feel the soft forest floor beneath his feet, smell the pine of the forest but mostly of all relished their near silence.

The ground rose below then and they moved like slithering snakes knowing that he could find a great position to shoot any passing deer below with far less obstruction.  River stopped, looked to Hawk and smiled and pointed to the cap of the rise ahead. Hawk nodded and moved swiftly over the rise.

In front of him stood the great black bear he and his comrades had experienced days before near Lake End. It looked toward him and then rose on two feet towering over him and gave a ground-shaking roar commanding his attention.

Hawk was frozen. He knew the smart thing to do was freeze and hold one’s ground but the horror of the moment was also telling him to raise his bow. He nearly did so when River walked calmly in front of him with his hands raised.

“The Great One would like to talk with you,” he said.

The Great Bear then looked down at him and in his mind he could hear it speak.

“A great evil is consuming your tribe like a great fire.”

Hawk nodded in agreement.

“It has killed your friends and many innocents. It will kill more. What do you intend to do about it brave warrior?”

Hawk then thought about the twice-talking Englishman and his men. He instantly knew what he wanted to do.

“Go warrior and protect your tribe. Do what you must” said the Great One.

Hawk nodded lowered his bow and put the arrow back in his quiver. With a final glance at a smiling River he quickly disappeared back over the rise and into the mist of the valley floor.

The Great Bear grinned as it slowly reverted back to the great demon it was.  The fuse was once again lit and the show was about to begin.

Colonel and Lieutenant Stroud were now on the hunt as well. They had left a successful meeting with the savages happy and had a wonderful meal and sleep. This weather this day was as miserable as the last though but it wasn’t dampening their spirits. A fox was about to be released and along with twelve other officers they were about to run it down in sport.

“Do you think that Mongrel will attack? “asked the younger Stroud as he mounted his horse.

“The savage will do anything we ask as long as its feeds his tribe,” replied the elder Stroud from his well- groomed horse.

“Transactions with them are uncomplicated. Right, wrong, expensive, inexpensive, profitable, wasteful are words that mean nothing to them. We can use them to grind down the French at will.”

“Yes, Dad,” replied Lieutenant Stroud with a smile.

A cold wind blew forcing them to pull their cloaks closer to them for a second. Looking to the north they could see another great tuff of fog rolling down the valley toward them.

“Oi! Lets get this hunt on and done before we’re chilled to the bone,” said Colonel Stroud.

He raised his rifle high and a trumpeter blew the starting note. A responding note was then heard from across the field at forest’s edge noting the release of the foxes. Dozens of dogs were then released with the Strouds and two dozen other hunters in tow. The hunt was on!

The Strouds pushed into the light wood closely following a pair of excited hounds that seemed to have their prey close at hand. The morning fog was thick but the dogs pushed it aside in great twirls leaving a clear path for the Strouds to follow. They both had a good feeling about these two mutts as they did not stray and seemed fixated on something ahead.

They then came to an abrupt stop. The mist opened up and two of Stroud’s officers were stopped on horseback ahead. One had his right palm facing them that signaled a halt. The dogs continued on but the Strouds did as directed and their mounts reared back into first a trot and then a complete stop. One of the officers started to say something but was drowned out by a great roar that seemed to come the forest around them.

The Strouds looked at each other and pulled their rifles from the holsters at their side. The elder looked into the eyes of his son and could see fear on this face. The morning fog was starting to creep back in at them covering the once open trail to the dogs and others. The rumbling was now close perhaps a stone throw away.

It was then that a great black bear emerged from the fog and launched itself at one of the officers that had ordered the halt with a great roar. The officer never had a chance to even see what was coming at him as the great beast simply barreled through his mount pin-wheeling the soldier to the ground. The second officer was able to pull his pistol but did not see his demise coming in the form of a great claw that then ripped him down from his mount with enough force to also snap the bones his neck. The pin wheeled officer then attempted to rise from his fall only to have the great beast stomp down upon on his form visibly crushing most of his body.  With a mighty roar, the beast then grabbed its victims head its maw and twisted and pulled until it came loose.

The younger Stroud stood in horror but the older pointed his rifle at the murderous beast . The target took notice but did not flinch and with a flick of its head launched the head in its maw off into the fog. The beast roared as it looked at the two Englishmen.

“Iain fire that rifle!” shouted the elder Stroud.

Lieutenant Stroud then lifted his rifle to fire but with amazing speed the great bear then disappeared back into the fog.

Both men dismounted their horses. The senior quickly bit down upon a packet to reload his rifle with ball and powder. They could hear great thuds of the running beasts punctuated with the screams of dogs and men alike. They quickly positioned themselves defensively behind their mounts ready to take the beast under fire if it appeared once again.

Hawk emerged from the fog with fire in his eyes and a Tomahawk in each hand. The Englishmen first turned their rifles toward him but did not fire, recognizing the form of an Indian. “Savage! Get over here if you value life! ”said the fearful Lieutenant.

The younger Stroud then took a closer look and for a moment his eyes locked with Hawk. He saw fury and a murderous rage looking back at him.  He turned his rifle toward Hawk and fired and heard the roar of his father’s rifle right after doing the same. The savage was thrown backward through his own bloody mist as both shots struck true.

Hawk’s chest exploded in pain and his breath quickly vanished as he felt his back strike the earth. He looked down briefly to see two great gory holes in his chest. He started to panic briefly as he could not catch his breath but he felt something inside of him surge and the panic was replaced by anger.  Carry this out, do not die yet!

Hawk lept to his feet and charged Iian Stoud. The young man lifted his rifle to block but Hawk hooked his right Tomahawk around the younger enemy’s rifle and tossed it aside. The young officer stared at him with open mouth and eyes as if to express his shock but never had the chance as Hawk’s second axe split his skull ending his life.

Hawk then released both Tomahawks and turned to face the elder Stroud but was quickly blinded by the flash of Stroud’s pistol firing and great pain on the right side of his face and head. His energy and strength start to drain from his body and his head back and chest were felt as if they were on fire. His vision returned to his left side and his target was still at hand and started reloading while snarling and saying indecipherable things. Hawk looked at him and knew this man could not live. He will murder many more if allowed.

Reaching down Hawk felt the great hilt of the knife at his belt, pulled it and dove onto the old man with his blade raised. The elder Stroud dropped his pistol and caught Hawk’s downward plunging arm but could not hope to match Hawk’s strength, ferocity and momentum which pushed them both backwards toward the ground.  When they struck the ground the sharp blade entered Stroud between his neck and chest.  His dying vision was of the great bloodied but victorious warrior Hawk looking down upon him.

Hawk rolled off the man on to his back.  Looking skyward he could see the morning mist breaking revealing the blue sky above. A lone bird sailed far above twisting and turning through the cool breeze that carried it. With a smile, he closed his eyes and let go.

The hunting grounds were now silent and the Great Black Bear stepped over the bodies of the Englishmen and looked upon the brave warrior Hawk. It then rose on two feet and gave a mighty roar. Vengeance had been achieved and it was only right to give this brave warrior his due for the sacrifice. It then dropped and trotted quickly into the disappearing fog making way for the sun.

Pulp: Extermination at Outpost X

Pulp: Extermination at Outpost X

Alien space marines hit the dirt hard looking to wipe out a nest of human parasites only find they’re on the receiving end of a bug hunt as well. Who will prevail. Enjoy!

Cal Dreadnaught

Rathman closed all eight of his eyes and floated weightlessly in a warm gel filled tube the Corps provided for each one of its soldiers to endure the rigors of space travel in their great ships of war.  It was just big enough to allow him to twist his many limbs to any position while providing the necessary moisture for his black scales and sounding proofing to allow for long periods of healthy hibernation and full dream cycles. It was one of the key technologies that allowed his race access to the travel the stars while maintaining their health and sanity. His brief awakening was part of a scheduled check which he passed with flying colors and he passed back into his dreams.

In his mind, he could feel his bare feet on the soft peat of his family plot inside the marsh. The sky was the darkest of reds and the air warmed from an active eruption cycle of the Great Harum volcano which towered over the region. He could see the gray ash start to fall and inhaled the sulphuric fumes that were slowly overpowering the smell of cycled vegetation. In the next day or two, the ash would cover everything until the volcano calmed and the rains returned returning the ash to the deeps. It was a wondrous cycle that fueled the evolution of the Calith people from six-legged carnivorous lizard to spacefaring race.

He then looked over at the small family plot he lived in and could see that his mother had already rolled a protective thermal tarp over the small cabbage garden out front and was rolling another over their utility vehicle parked in front. Four great rubber tires on each side provided traction, flotation and protection to the box like body in between but made it difficult to cover as they were almost as tall and wide as any Calith.

“Rath! I could really use your hands over here. The ash is falling quickly,” his mother shouted.

“Ah, of course, Kartis!  My thoughts were drifting.”

He then walked to the other side of the vehicle, grabbed the corner of the tarp opposite of his mother and in practiced unison they tossed it up over the first set of tires. A string hung from each corner of the tarp which they grabbed with their lower arms and guided the rest of the tarp over the vehicle while using their upper arms to unsnag any part of the tarp that got caught. Once the vehicle was covered they then tied each corner down to some notches in the vehicle.

“Kartis. When are you going to get a new rover that comes with a shield? I’m leaving for the academy soon and won’t be around to help you!”

“Ha, I’m never giving this ride up. I’ve had it for ages, it has never left me in the swamp and it still blows away anything rolling out of those fancy starship factories. It is good to cherish good things as long as possible. Besides what do you think I have your father around for? He had this job before you did! ” She then smiled at him and waved to go inside. “Come on, let’s see what your father has to eat!”

Rathman followed his mother up the two stairs into the domed shelter. When the front doors opened he heard the familiar roar of a show on their entertainment system punctuated by the metallic clicks of the humidifier. The smells of peppered Kric and Wovvle meats filled his nostrils reminding him how hungry he is. His father was standing over a sizzling grill staring at a ball match on a great wall mounted display.

“Who is winning, Gatis?” asked Rathman walking toward his father.

“They both are. They are lucky enough to live in a world where they can play and watch games, Rathman.”

“Come on Gatis!  We all know you’re hoping your Reds win,” Rathman said smiling.

“Unfortunately hope doesn’t make it so!  Anyways, food is done,” said Gatis who had forked the two grilled creatures on to a large plate. Rathman moved toward the spigot to fill their water pitcher and then his ears were filled with the roar of an alarm.

He opened his eyes and his mind quickly came into focus as the light in his tube had changed to the bright reds of the morning and the gel that filled his tube quickly drained. He started a quick vomit cycle which expelled that same oxygen and nutrient-rich gel from his lungs and stomach and started a painful series of waking stretches that included rolling his neck, arms, legs, fingers and toes to get this muscles activated. Seconds later he closed his eyes as he felt numerous hot water sprayers hitting his body which removed the remaining gel from his black scaling and helped with the muscle pain.  Finally, he felt the brief rush of air from the dryers followed by the loud clunk of his tube opening that allowed him to roll off on all six limbs to the floor where he then rose on his two legs.

Rath turned his head and saw that his squad mates were going through a similar routine.  Grung, a large weapons specialist stood and stretched his four arms out wide allowing the room to see the blue scales of his southern island roots and the hammered tattoos of his many campaigns. Tinder quickly stepped her green form into her athletic bodysuit while all eight eyes looked down at the flat display pad she had placed on her closed cryogenic pod.  Riff, the team clown stayed in his pod rubbing his eyes with six and two appeared to be checking that things were still there down below.

“What does command have for us Tinder?” Rath asked.

“Looks like a bug hunt. “Briefing in 1 increment, ” replied Tinder.

“Great! Wonder what it is this time? Hope it’s not another hairball hunt. I hate those things. They get all over the place,” moaned Riff.

“You’re just mad they almost took you. It’s a good thing you got that long tail of yours or we wouldn’t have been able to drag you out of the hole they stuffed you into,” said Grung.

“Hmmm. Looks like the meat sacks again,” said Tinder.

“Well at least we’ll eat well,” replied Rath.

The group continued their wake-up routines and then walked out of the sterile cryogenic barracks at the aft end of the warship into the lively but grimy business end of the forward spaces. They were joined by numerous other fire teams that would be formed into squads and a platoon at the coming briefing.

The first stop for all was the cafeteria where their first real meal in some time was waiting and the crewman of the Dreadnaught would catch them up on galaxy and planetary events, the current sport’s champions, and what entertainment shows to watch. The joy of this was short lived though as a bell rang clearing all but the warriors from the room. The great wall on the left hull was illuminated with a map of a large moon and a wireframe diagram of the Meat Sack outpost.

A battle scared Colonel stepped in front of it. “Glad to see you are all awake, know who won and are ready to go! This rock will be your platoon’s target. It is now suffering a humanoid infestation centered on this hardened outpost. You may be asking yourself why can’t we just hammer these bugs from orbit and move on to a real fight? Well, that is because our scientists list this low gravity rock pile as part of our national reserve. It is stuffed with all the good things that make warships like this one.  So you will be sent down to crack their shelter open and clean them out. Your platoon leader, Lieutenant Grigith will now be taking over the briefing to provide organization and detail. Good luck and eat well!”

A young and ambitious Grigith nodded to the old warrior and then quickly dove into the minutiae of the operation.

Riff looked at the group and quietly mimicked the Colonel. “Hey, Tinder. You might ask yourself how Grigith is the boss on this one?  Well, that’s because he’s got his maw wayyyy up-“

“Errr that’s enough Riff,” interrupted Tinder. “You need to tell yourself to know the difference between your internal and external voice unless you want to be on these rodent hunts the rest of your tour.”

The briefing carried on for several more sets in which Tinder’s squad learned the plan and their roles in it. The platoon was to be divided into three squads which would hit the dirt in three assault craft. Two squads would breach and carry out the assault with the third in reserve.  Their team was assigned to the second squad and would be hitting the south end of the bunker. They’d breach with the assistance of the heavy weapons team and do their thing shortly after. The humanoid shelter was expected to be torched and done well before the night call.

Outpost X

Mission Commander Tom Smote was awakened to the wailing of a warning klaxon that shook the entire facility and made a human hangover feel like a vice around his head. “Good god almighty, what in the deviled hell is going on now!” He said out loud quickly rising from his bed and rushing to the facility command center.

“Sir, a large spacecraft of unknown origin has been detected by our early-warning satellite constellation. The craft does appear to have emitting sensors and a significant fusion power source. It is three times the size of any known earth ship and is on a vector to put them in orbit with us within the hour,” said Ensign Delotte in a near panicked tone.

“Calm down son. Bring it up on screen,” said a now sober Smote to the young and polished Ensign.

Just then an armored trooper thumped into the room with a helmet in one hand and a pulse rifle in the other.  “What we got, Commander?” The trooper asked rubbing a gruesome scar that ran along the bridge of his nose from mouth to the top of his bald head.

“Hi Grimsy. We’re about to see.” said the commander as he squinted toward the display above.

The large display in front of the room lit up with an image of the largest spacefaring ship they had ever seen.  It was twice the size of the massive deep space bulk freighter that had brought them here and was emitting enough power to run a small city for years. Four double-barreled turret structures protruded from all four sides protecting a broad armored tube-shaped hull in the center which gently converged into almost a point at the front that by all appearances looked a bridge.

Delotte then spoke. “Sir, it is certainly a warship. Scanning indicates those four turrets are large energy based cannons and the thickness of ship’s armor is well beyond civilian requirements. I can’t see what’s inside but given some of the waste emissions it got to be biologic. There appears to be large doors on the bottom making it an assault carrier of some sort.”

Tom cringed. The outpost was weeks from the nearest military outpost. This system was supposed to be clear and only interesting to the rock hounds. “Commander Grim, what is your assessment?”

“Oh we’re fucked. Those cannons could crater this place at will. Given the fact that they haven’t yet I’d expect an assault. They want this place in one piece.  My advice is to hold the defensive drones until their assault is launched and can be directed against landing forces. My troopers will meet what’s left at the doors. I highly advise opening up the armory to your folks as well until we know what we’re into and I’ll need your cops as well. That’s it for now. Call me on the com net when needed.” Commander Grim then rushed from the room.

“Right then.  Ensign, please send the message out to everybody that we’re now under a defensive protocol.  All armories should be opened and weapons, helmets and vests distributed. Let ship security know they are to report to Commander Grim and are at his troop’s disposal. The rest of you work through your task lists. I will be asking for a report in five minutes.” Commander Smote then walked to a small compartment on the side that contained weapons and armor for the bridge crew to get his list started.

Cal Dreadnaught

Rathman banged the last bulky plate of battle armor on to the top of his leg. His battle armor consisted of a form-fitting exoskeleton that allowed for armor and equipment modules to be banged in where needed offering a wide range of flexibility. He looked over at a bulky Grung who mounted very heavy plating on over his head, chest and legs but actuators over his four arms to help hold and aim heavy high volume plasma throwers. Tinder looked light and nimble as an avian with actuators on her arms and legs and light armor over her head and chest.  She carried a simple pulse rifle and a sleek communications pack on her back that allowed her to be the central node in their small attack network, to scout, direct attacks and move where needed. Rathman and Riff wore medium armor plates and held pulse rifles with explosive launchers.  They were the primary assault and maneuver elements of the team and were now ready to go.

Tinder’s voice came through all their helmets. “Alright, complete your checklists and make sure your blasted breathers are working correctly. We’ve been ordered to assault craft zeta in bay two. Let’s go!”

Outpost X

Commander Smote listened to the final report from this deck crew and was satisfied they’d done their jobs.  His eyes were now just watching the lumbering warship on the display get larger and larger as it approached. He then saw four large plumes erupt from the flanks of the ship and almost on queue the nervous ensign shouted “four small launch transients originating from Bandit one and each tracking true toward our early warning satellites. They’ll intercept in 15 seconds!”

“Right then. Commander Grim, you hear that?” Tom asked through the open communications channel.

“That’s an affirmative, Sir. Guess the shows over. My radar techs are ready to light up and catch what comes into their horizon. We’ve got 12 new Lockmart drones ready. Let’s hope they work like the salesperson said,” replied Commander Grim.

“Aye. Best of luck Grimsy.” Said Tom with a slight smile.

”You too Tommy and let’s hope these guys are just galactic sugar junkies trying to poke us with their magic fingers. Grim out.”

“Sir, what did that mean?” asked Ensign Delotte.

“It means he likes old sci-fi movies. You should look into that one day, Ensign. Anyways, everybody get ready,” Tom ordered while his mind recited the Lord’s Prayer.

Cal Dreadnaught

Tinder sat strapped to her seat in the assault craft and addressed the rest of her team. “Ok, here is what we know about the target. The humanoid outpost is simple block configuration with an outer armored wall and an equally armored inner wall protecting the interior compartments. In between these two is a hallway which runs the circumference of the installation with many sealed doors allowing them to be isolated in case of a breach. It is defended by a company of armored troopers, two external defensive turrets and is supported by reconnaissance or attack drones.  Their known positions will be updated on your displays as we get sightings and reports. The humanoids are the size of Calith child but do appear to be anti-armor capable. They are oxygen dependent but the pressure differences between the interior of the installation and the moon’s atmosphere will cause explosive decompression if any of the sealed modules of their compound are opened to the outside. Once the initial breaches have been made set your weapons to low power and use aimed fire to prevent any further catastrophic breaches from occurring.“

“Fleet will open the attack with some low impact precision strikes on the turrets followed by a perimeter bombardment to cause chaos and obscure the assault force landing zones and initial push on the north and south sides of the facility by two squads with one in reserve. The squads will then concurrently carry out their breaches and the extermination by clearing each section of the compound and coordinate a final attack on the central command center. We’re assigned to the south side and looks like the reserve squad will land in our landing zone as well.”

“Does it say what they taste like?” Grung asked.

Tinder looked at Grung for several moments trying to formulate a response but her thoughts were quickly interrupted by the blazing lights and sounds of their launch warning. They all quickly stowed their gear and leaned back against the hull and prayed that the bracing that held them locked against it would hold against the great forces of gravity experienced during any planetary assault. She grimaced as she knew the craft would be dumped through the hull shortly.

Outpost X

Commander Grim looked down at his displays. The top two were feeds from their two radar displays and the bottom four were cameras on each side looking out to the horizon.  The two displays started flashing and he could hear the yells of incoming coming through his helmet speakers.

“Get those defensive birds up and on auto. Let’s hope those hunter drones find something! Everybody hunker down, here comes the bombardment!” he shouted to those around him while hunching down over his displays.

The two large defensive turrets located a hundred meters to the west of the compound swiveled up and toward the heavens as the flat radar arrays next to them fed them telemetry data. Unfortunately, they were built to counter known human threats and couldn’t calculate a firing solution due to the odd trajectory and immense speeds the four guided projectiles targeted against them traveled. As the first rounds were being chambered the turrets were struck and crushed flat by the kinetic force of solid metal slugs hitting them at thousands of earth miles an hour instantly destroying them.

Well, that worked great!  Grim thought as he looked at his displays. He was then shaken violently as something struck the ground with tremendous force. Refocusing he saw only operable camera quickly being obscured by a cloud of dust and debris.

Grimsy started to feel the first twinge of panic. He had to get to his men.

Landing Craft

Rathman closed his eyes tight as he felt the high g-forces slam his body against the hull. His stomach then turned as the craft took on the sharp angle of decent that was required to reduce the effectiveness of the defenses of many planetary species. He could hear one his squadmates puking. Rathman giggled as the yells of spillover followed soon after.

The pilots were busy keeping the craft at the correct vector, watching for threats and preparing for the rapid deceleration maneuver that would be required for a safe landing. The orbital artillery barrage had just landed on the periphery of the humanoid base throwing debris and dust well into atmosphere limiting their sensors and reaction times. Their training and experience kicked in making this process mechanical but their heart rates were definitely up.

“Threats front left!” the copilot screamed as he saw small metallic contacts burst through the debris clouds in front of them. Both pilots braced against their restraints as their systems provided a steeper high-g vector to avoid the threat and felt the thump of the ships small missile defense turrets rapidly firing airbursts in hope of shredding any incoming threat. They were happy to see the first two targets explode into pieces but the third whizzed by their cockpit and craft. The sky then lit up behind them as it seemingly struck something.  As the pilots corrected their course and started the instrument movements for deceleration a flaming hulk that could only be one of the other landing craft shot by them trailing smoke and heading toward the dirt.

Rathman opened his eyes and could see Grung laughing at him through his helmet from across the craft and Riff was still flinched. He could feel Tinder shifting in her restraints next to him. He never felt completely safe on any assault entry but this had been a bit more violent than most.

He then was slammed downward as the pilots pulled up and fired the landing thrusters and he tensed up and closed his eyes once again. It ended seconds later as he felt the craft land softly and the rear entry door drop. He became quickly alert and focused as his restraints released him which dropped him in line with the rest of the squad. They quickly rushed out the landing craft, fanned out defensively by squad while their assault craft took off rapidly.

“Look at that!” said Grung pointing to a large wreckage in front of them. One of their landing craft had crashed nose first into the gray surface and looked like a crushed metal cylinder pushed into the sand and coarse rocks of the surface. There were a few flashes of electric shorts but the fires were already starting to burn out due to the lack of oxygen. The squad on board could not have survived.

“Ok. Focus. Objective is ahead. Let’s get moving before that debris cloud settles. Squad three has landed on the other side and moving toward their assault point. I’m on point, Rath and Riff take the flanks and Grung center. Our team is the front left anchor of the squad. Let’s move and stay alert.” ordered Tinder.

Outpost X

Commander Grim lifted the welder’s shield from his face and looked at his job securing the outer door. He had arrived there a few moments before he discovered the team wasn’t welding it correctly. “That’s how you do it Sergeant” He said looking at the young trooper next to him.

He then got up, replaced the welder’s helmet with his tactical helmet and looked at the troopers charged with defending this point. “Alright, troopers any minute now whatever it is out there is going to try and breach this place. Get your helmets on and oxygen going. The moment any door blows you let them have it with everything you got. They can’t get by you. You got that?”

Grimsy then made his way back to the central command center of the outpost to see Commander Smote and Ensign Deloitte looking at him.

“Any indication our drones did anything, Ensign?” Asked Grim.

“No idea sir. We used the debris cloud as cover and set them to autonomously hunt air contacts. No idea what happened after or if they even go through the cloud,” replied Deloitte.

With a huff Commander Grimm said, “Okay, Let’s see what’s going on.” The three soldiers looked up at the display that was now showing blue wire map of the facility. It was clear that there were teams of troops defending the sealed facility entry doors at all four points of the compass. In theory, once the points of entry were determined the nearest group could suppress the invaders while the two other groups could attempt to counterattack in hopes of driving the invaders off.  If these teams failed or were clearly overmatched all would fall back to the command module and fight to the end. It was by the book and scary as hell to all involved.

South Side of Outpost X

“You sink right down into this stuff like the marshes back home! I thought this marble was low grav?” said Grung once again stepping up and out of the sand his weight had pushed his feet and tail down into. He looked through his helmet’s display and could see the rest of the team but Tinder had to do the same every few moments.

“Ok hull down troops. Squad north is in position and the weapons teams will be firing their breaching rockets,” said Tinder who dropped to a head down crouch.  The others in the team followed suit knowing it would protect them from debris and the intense light of plasma-based breaching munitions. They all saw the flash of an engine ignition in their peripherals and the intense shock and vibration of a supersonic rocket striking the hardened wall of the facility.

Rathman looked up at the humanoid compound and saw objects and debris being blown from the hole due to rapid decompression. He then saw Grung and the heavy gunners with the other teams fill the hole with a high volume red plasmic fire until their magazines were empty and gap that had been opened glowed red.

On queue Rathman, Tinder and Riff started their assault toward the breach at the highest speed possible in the porous sand. Their heads were down with eyes and weapons forward charging like a herd of grass eaters. Their hearts pounded and limbs started to ache but their adrenaline and lust for battle pushed them harder. There could be no greater glory.

Then they were all knocked to the ground. The sand below them was rumbling and shaking violently enough to look like the waves of a great sea. Rathman had fallen face first into the sand and raising himself up on all six he saw even the compound was moving and could see it crack and breach in several places. It was an earthquake.

Outpost X Command Center

“What the bloody hell was that!” Asked Commander Smote said picking himself up from the ground.

“Sir, lots of chaos on the radio after that. North and south teams appear to be holding two large initial breaches but all teams are reporting small leaks throughout the facility,” replied Ensign Deloitte.

“What about Grimsy?” asked Commander Smote.

Commander Grim picked himself and his rifle off the tunnel floor and double-timed it toward the northern side of the facility that first had reported the explosive breach. He rounded the corner and could see eight troopers positioned behind a now sealed door.

“What’s going on?” he asked sliding into a position facing the door.

“Sir, the hostile’s breached the outer hull with an explosive which blew A team right out. We were able to drop the emergency doors before the whole lot of us were blown but they’re coming,” replied an older security officer.

“What the hell knocked me down on the way over? The whole facility shook!” Grimsy asked pointing his rifle at the door.

“Nobody knows sir!” replied the officer.

South Breach

“Shake it off. Get up and get in there!” ordered Tinder over the team’s net.

Rathman, Tinder and Riff once again rose and charged the breach and after several heart-pumping sprints were meters from the facility when the sand in front of them exploded outward forcing them once again to the ground and peppering them with dust and debris.

Rathman raised his head and his rifle and as the dust cloud dispersed noticed a large grayish form slithering high above him and the group. It was a similar gray to the sand it was caked with and appeared to be smooth and clay-like. It has no eyes, ears or mouth but stood coiled like the many serpents that inhabit the Cal homeworld.

“Oh screw this. Bodies down!“  Shouted Grung over the net. The three quickly complied and could see the flashes and almost feel the heat of a three-round plasma burst striking the creature above. Grung laughed maniacally as his rounds seemed to splatter the upper end of the creature over the dull black exterior of the humanoid facility and rain goo around it. What was left collapsed into a gray pool on the ground like a large raindrop striking the surface of a pond.

Tinder was the first up but the other two followed but as quickly as they rose so did the great gray appendage.  They all fired their pulse rifles at it but the green bolts seemed to pass through it like liquid and disappear into the space beyond. The creature then quickly reared back while a great ball of mass formed at its base and traveled to the top. Once there it struck down like a hammer toward the team. Rathman, Tinder and Riff quickly darted to the left and right avoiding the mass but Grung was caught wide eyed.  It struck him dead on crushing his massive form down to the ground and popping off the heavier pieces of armor into the sand around him.

“Kill that thing!” Tinder screamed over the net once again releasing a volley of fire at the now retracting appendage.

Rathman turned to fire as well but the sand in front of him exploded outwards around a hardened appendage that struck him dead center and sent him sprawling backward.  As he rolled at landing he could see flashes green grow of pulse rifles going off all around him as if the battle had extended behind his team and to the remaining squad beyond them. Rising back up he saw a flash of movement and sand as another appendage barreled through the sand toward him. He tried to raise his rifle to try and blast the thing but it was quickly struck from the side by the butt of a rifle and Riff’s form which diverted it enough to miss Rathman. The two warriors then fired their weapons only to see their munitions pass through.

“This is not working out too well!” Rathman screamed. Not hearing a reply he looked over to where Riff had been firing prone to see that another creature had him wrapped around him like a constrictor and his form was already broken and bent in many gruesome directions.  Rathman momentarily froze in horror at the sight of it.

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” Tinder said as she grabbed on to the horrified Rathman. He quickly snapped back to reality and dashed with her toward the breach in the human facility. The ground seemed to erupt around them with every deep footstep but with a final leap they jumped into the darkness of the breach and landed on a hard steel floor of the facility.

North Breach

“Our remaining camera captured several images of the invading force on the north side of the facility. The combatants are large bipedal military force of unknown origins. Weaponry is modern, precise and energy based. As they were making their assault a level two earthquake occurred which compromised the integrity of the facility in numerous places, disrupted our one camera but also seemed to disrupt their attack. When imagery was restored their bodies were strewn about and the terrain appeared disturbed an in some cases cratered.  No sign of movement since.” Replied Ensign Deloitte.

“What’s the south side say?” asked Grim into his helmet.

“Nothing sir. They said after the initial breach they felt some movement on the other side of the sealed door but nothing since and it’s been quite some time since.” Replied Deloitte.

“What do you make of it Grimsy? I got nothing here” added Commander Smote.

“Breaching is about speed and action. They should have come by now. Best thing we can do now is to get some eyes on whatever is left out there. I’ll grab a few of my best and go out and poke around. You keep an eye on them with that camera!

South Side Breach

Rathman and Tinder lay prone against the steel deck of the hallway inside the human facility with their eyes and rifles pointed outward on to the moonscape battlefield. They watched in horror as their remaining squad mates from the other teams made a dash for the safety of the compound only to have creatures burst from the ground in front and around them. Their defensive bolts and pulses seemed to splash harmlessly through their serpentine attackers into the sky leaving them to be smashed, squashed or squeezed by their attackers sending streams of fluid gore into the atmosphere and sending weapons and armored plates into the sand.  Squadmates they couldn’t see quickly disappeared from the map displays in their helmets as the sounds of their last shots and death screams echoed through the comms unit. Soon the only voice that was left was Tinder dutiful giving an update report on their destroyed squad to the Dreadnaught in high orbit above them.

“Squad is now combat-ineffective. Two survivors. Suggest reinforcement or withdrawal. Please advise?”

Rathman was looking at Tinder when she said this but quickly noticed a bulge in the sand just two meters away and raised his rifle as one of the creatures broke the surface and slowly pushed its mass upward to height as nearly as high as the top of the breach in the compound wall. A massive ball then formed at the base and moved up to the top of the creature’s serpentine form giving it the appearance of a head. It then slithered toward the edges of the breach as if examining it. It then pushed through the breach just a bit as if testing what was beyond.

“Uh Tinder we better come up with something fast,” Rathman said quietly into his helmet microphone.

North Side Breach

Commander Grim and three other troopers quickly jumped down from the darkened breach in their facility to the remnants of a battle. It was clear from the blast patterns and the scorching of the facility that a technologically similar enemy had assaulted but something else had brought it to a quick and brutal end. Many large hulking armored forms with modern energy and rail weapons lay about the field in front of the breach each broken and battered as if hammered down in the ground itself or squeezed to pulp.  In some cases, gases or bodily fluids still seemed to be spewing up and out due to the low gravity of the moon.

“Sir, I’d say we got real lucky,” said one of Grim’s older troopers.

“Yeah, if you look these big things were in a classic line assault formation and the bigger ones toward the rear seemed to mount the firepower. Those were definitely pulse rifles and the armor does look almost composite. These beings were smart.” replied Grim trying to make out the facial features of one through its gore-filled helmet.

Suddenly as if something new what their next question was a great black appendage sprouted from the ground just meters from where they were standing and wrapped itself around one of the larger alien bodies like a great constrictor. Before a word could leave anybody’s mouth it squeezed the body with great force popping many most of the armor off and forcing gore from any opening. “Now, that’s gross.” Grim murmured quietly and slowly into the mouthpiece of his helmet.

As if hearing Commander Grims comment the appendage seemed to take notice of its audience as and quickly retracted itself from around the massive carcass forming a sludgy puddle in the ground. Four new appendages then slowly sprouted from it stopping inches from the faceplates of each human onlooker as if staring back at them.

“What do we do Commander!” one of them asked.

“Hold fast, Son.” Grim replied in as calm a voice as possible.

The trooper then made a mad dash back toward the breach but his appendage struck out toward him like a striking snake and quickly wrapped itself around his form. In horror, the other three members could hear him scream as his left leg quickly warped under a crushing grip followed by his body and helmet. His death was gruesome and as final as the dead alien warriors around them and there was no question as to what had happened.

“Commander, Grim report!” screamed Deloitte through his helmet.

“No time now!” screamed Grim raising his assault rifle toward the appendage closest to him and firing. His rounds seemed to pass through the appendage into the sand or air behind it but it did retract back toward the source puddle giving Commander Grim an opening to dash the twenty meters back to the breach. He leaped from the sand into the dark hallway as soon as he thought he could and could almost feel the appendage that was right behind him try and make a final grab before halting at the breach. Grim struck the hard compound floor and slid to a halt meters away. He then twisted around quickly hoping his men were behind him but it was not the case. Two great appendages were wrapped around them and were smashing them to pulp against the ground outside the breach. Grim quickly banged on the sealed door hoping to get back into the fortress as soon as he could.

South Side Breach

Rathman looked over at Tinder who was now back against the wall opposite the breach looking down at her map display while glancing up every few moments toward the slithering threat at hand. The curious creature did not appear to notice them yet and was slowly poking and prodding its way in as if testing the hard steel floor below. It would be within striking distance soon.

“Rathman. The only choice we have is to move deeper into the human compound. We can use our breaching charges to blow through the doors to the left and right of us or through the wall behind us. Scanners show human defenders all around. My call is to breach the wall behind us and take the most direct route toward the central command center. We might be able to turn this defensive system off there.”

Rathman quickly reached into the pocket of his suit and pulled out a tube of breaching charge and along with Tinder made an outline of the hole they’d like to create with the gelled explosive. He then pressed a small detonator into the substance and both of them rolled away from the area they wanted to breach with backs and tails against the wall. “Breaching!” Rathman shouted as he closed his eyes tight and sent command the detonator.

The room shook and his teeth crashed together as the breach was made.  Rathman opened his eyes to first see the curious creature being blown apart and out of the breach like a thrown drink and then a mass of debris tear through from new breach to old as the compartment they just cracked suffered from a rapid decompression. He could see several mangled humans tossed like dolls into the floating debris filled battlefield beyond.

On queue both Caliths then pulled thermal explosives from their belts, rapidly them tossed them into the new breach and rolled themselves away from the hole with backs against the wall. This careful maneuver was rewarded as several energy bolts lanced out from the new breach indicating defenders were still there but suddenly stopped as the devices detonated likely incinerating all within the compartment. Tinder quickly poked her head around into the breach. “Ok Rath looks clear in here!”

Rathman was busy looking outside the breach though as the light from outside was quickly blocked. He had just mouthed “Will you look at that” as Tinder noticed the change of light as well and turned to look. Outside the outpost a giant was forming. As if leaking from the ground the grayish ooze of creatures seemed to be congealing into one massive amoeba like blob with many pseudopodia like appendages similar looking to the smaller creatures that had decimated their force. It was growing taller by the moment and you could watch the flow of its mass as it growing upward and outward as more of it was pushed to the surface. It was starting to take on the appearance of a great water wave which was not a good sign.

“Lets go Rath!” ordered Tinder. He quickly turned and hopped into their newly blown breach not waiting to see what happens with the creature outside next.  Both quickly dashed as fast as their suits would allow down the narrow passageway toward the door to the command center beyond. They were quickly knocked to the ground and into the wall as something struck the compound hard enough to knock it a few feet.

North Side

Grimsy’s men had thankfully heard his banging, opened the sealed door and dragged him into the corridor. After several moments of realigning his suit and unsticking a jammed oxygen nozzle he yelled into his comms.

“Commander Smote. I take it you saw what just happened out there Sir.”

That’s affirmative Grimsy. Sorry about your men but glad you’re still with us. Suggested course of action?” replied Smote trying to keep his command from panicking anymore than they might be already.

Grim just opened his mouth to reply when the entire facility violently shifted as if knocked from its foundation. People, objects and things were knocked to the ground and atmospheric pressure alarms started going off throughout the facility.  A crack appeared in the wall to the left but luckily several of the men had a patching plate handy which they pushed over the breach allowing the pressure to form the seal. Grim managed to keep his footing and wits but by the chaos over the radio that was not true elsewhere.

“Sir, Deloitte here. Commander Smote is injured and should be back with us momentarily. It looks like something hit the exterior of the facility hard enough to knock it several meters south. We’ve got pressure and oxygen leaks all over the place.  Oh sweet J, we’ve got heavy casualties on the North side and we’ve got a large breach in the central corridor leading to the Comm Center.”

“Ok son hold it together. Get your weapons out, we’ll be there shortly,” said Grim.

Grim looked up from his display and was just about to order a withdrawal to the Command Center when the door in front of him suddenly dented in toward them.

“What the fuck!” a soldier said for the back.

“Command our door just got nailed by something big. Deloitte you see anything?” yelled Grim into his comm-link.

“Sir just got an alarm that the door on the other side of your breach just failed. Camera’s show something flooding the room before they went dark.” Deloitte reported.

Just then a bolt popped from the door and the door itself was slowly pressed out from the hinges as if being slowly pried by a slow goliath force. From the seams and grayish ooze started to seep in like the slow flood of toothpaste being squeezed from a tube forming long slithering tentacles that seemed to probe the floor, walls and ceiling ahead. Slowly as more seeped in and it started building mass the door was torn from hinges completely. Several troopers fired their rifles into the mass only to watch their bolts enter and disappear into the mass with no apparent effect.

Grimsy recognized it instantly and started waving his troopers back. “Back. Back. Let’s go! Rifles do no good against this. Fall back to the next portal.  Let’s see if we can torch this fucker using the decontamination system. Deloitte! On my signal try to decontaminate that corridor. Perhaps we can burn the fucker out.”

Deloitte was busy watching the corridors on the south side. Two large combatants had just barreled through another breach into the central corridor and the blob-like creature was starting to push in behind them as well. “Sir we’ve got two armed combatants in the south-central corridor and the blob has breached.

“Deloitte!” Commander Smote yelled with a splinted arm and bandaged head.” Decom those fucking corridors! All of them!”

“Right Sir!” Deloitte said as he watched Grim and his forces pull back beyond the next sealed door and slam it shut. He then entered the commands and then nothing. He entered them again and again nothing.

“Sir? Decom system not firing. It’s been compromised! I’ve got no warnings on the system!” reported Deloitte.

Fuck! Thought Grim as his mind quickly went through a list of limited options. They could pull back to the command center and hope more options are available there. They could move maneuver around to find a corridor where the decom system might work or they could make a stand here in hopes of something working out. These options weren’t good!

South Corridor Just outside Command Center

Rathman lifted himself up off the floor slowly and noticed Tinder was getting up very slowly while flexing her bottom right leg.

“You ok?” he asked.

“No I’m stuck in tube with a bunch of meatsacks and a blob that what wants to press us into paste. I’m also really tired of getting knocked down!” she replied.  “Took a good hit to my right joint but it is functional.”

While Tinder was saying this Rath looked back down the hallway and the corridor they had been in was now completely filled by the grayish mass of the creature and he watched in horror as its mass seemed to slowly squeeze itself into the corridor filling it from top to bottom. Several pseudopods seemed too pop out on its surface to probe ahead of its great mass.

He quickly switched to his map and by all indication this thing had entered the facilities for from the north and south breaches and was slowly filling it. He also noticed that the humanoids seemed to be fleeing from it or in some cases were disappearing under it.

“You see what’s going on Tinder? This thing is taking everybody out!”

Rathman quickly turned and used the rest of his explosive gel on the door into the central command center of the human facility. He noticed many humans behind the door but didn’t matter to him at all. He had to get in there and find something to stop the thing pressing itself slowly down the hall at them.

Tinder was busy trying to radio the Dreadnaught above with no success.  “Rathman I can’t reach Command. Something is blocking our communication line of site.”

“Ok cover!” Rathman screamed and they both hugged the wall once again as his breaching charge blew.

Command Center

Deloitte had seen the reptilian attackers arise and quickly do something to the door and screamed “Cover!” Unfortunately, this wouldn’t do much as the massive decompression once again sucked loose debris and humans out including Ensign Deloitte.

Rathman watched as once again the pressure seal was broken and a mass of debris and humans were blown out toward the creature. The creature’s mass seemed to bowl in slightly as the heavy wind and debris battered it but then reflexed back out as the pressure normalized. The debris that hadn’t passed deep into it seemed to hang there and get rolled toward the top and sides as the creature continued slowly forward. Rathman watched in horror as a shattered human body appeared on the front surface of the creature and was slowly rolled against the steel wall where it was pressed into a flat gory mess.

Tinder threw her thermal grenade into the breach and with a yell, they both braced again as the great flames lurched out from the portal they had blown open. This time there were no rifles fired in response just silence.

They both then quickly jumped into the now blackened control room and there were no human survivors. A headset buzzed in on a central console and many displays which were now cracked or melted flickered in the darkness.  Their attention though was now on the great blob which was slowly pressing its way down the hallway toward the breach they had just made.

North Hallway to Command Center

“Deloitte! Tom! What’s going on in there!” shouted Commander Grim into his comms. He had heard Deloitte’s warning but then nothing but a massive whoosh sound followed by what was clearly an explosive blast after. He silently cursed himself for not moving back to the command center immediately.

Grim and his men were now at an intersection that led to the Command Center. They could see the blob pressing its way slowly down the hallways at them from the left and right. One of his more ingenious troopers had suggested trying to electrocute or zap the thing with their central power lines and they had spent the last few minutes digging the lines from the steel walls of the compound.

“Sir, we how do we cut these cables without electrocuting ourselves?” she asked.

Grim thought for a moment and didn’t want to tell his troopers what he’d just heard over comms.

“Get back.” He said. His trooper obeyed and he quickly raised his rifle and put numerous bolts into the cabling on each side of the hallway until the lights went out. He then reached a gloved hand in and grabbed the still powered end of the broken cable by its sheathing and ripped it out so that it hung across the hallway. Seeing what he had done another trooper did the same on the other side. Both were thankful their gloves and suits were lined with earth rubber.

“Ok let’s set up a defensive position at the door. Don’t open it!” ordered Grim.

“Why on earth not?” One of the troopers shouted.

“Because the comm center isn’t ours anymore!” Replied Grim trying to not think about the consequences of it.

Command Center

Rathman and Tinder were both at work in the scorched command center. Rathman was busy scouring the room for anything that could be used in either fortifying their position or could be used as a weapon.  Tinder was at what she hoped was the humanoid communications console struggling to decipher the meaning of their buttons and in some cases unable to press them as they were so small.

Rathman looked up at a cracked but functioning display and saw a group of human’s in a position in front of an oncoming creature. It looked as if two cables had been deliberately ripped from the walls and set across the beast’s path.  All power seemed to be out beyond it so it had to be power cables.

“Tinder, take a look.” He said pointing to the screen.

“Ah good blasted luck to them but I’m trying to figure out a way to talk to our friends upstairs. If we can somehow get through we might be able to cut through the roof and get an evac,” said Tinder.

Rathman watched as the creature slowly merged with the cross cables and for a second it seemed to stop and jiggle like for a second. It then lurched forward passing the halfway mark toward the humans. They responded with a massive volley of fire which like every previous case just passed into the blob as if it was nothing. He then looked back into the corridor they had come from and could see the creature was meters from entering the room. The slithering tendrils were already feeling their way around the frame of the blown door they had entered. Things were not well and everybody was running out of time.

End of North Hallway to Command Center

“Mother fucker!” shouted Grim loudly as his troopers responded to the failed electrocution with a heavy volley of fire.

“Commander what do we do?” asked one of them reloading his pulse rifle.

“What you do is stand here and fight like a trooper! When your rifle ammo is out, use your grenades!” yelled Grim.

His mind now was panicking as they were down to two options. Fight here against this massive whatever- it- is or try and retake the command center.

“We got to go in. Trooper Hanson, open that door! The rest of you cover him!” shouted Grim.

Trooper Hanson pulled a large Allen type wrench and pushed it into a small console to the left of the door. With a quick twist to the left the door opened.

Command Center

Rathman had watched the human make for the door and new they were coming in. He unslung his pulse rifle and raised it and fired numerous bursts as it opened which blew the upper half of an unfortunate humanoid trooper that had started to charge in on to the floor beyond.

Rath then screamed, “Cover!” as two objects were thrown in. The first exploded well short of the Calith’s but peppered Rath’s body with hot metal and flash blinding him. The second seemed to spew smoke into the room. Tinder saw Rath get almost blown off his hind feet and fired into the portal shredding two humanoids that had decided to rush the gap.

Commander Grim and his four remaining troopers watched as their comrades had died horribly trying to assault the command center. They were all huddled on each side of the doorway against the wall not knowing what to do or where to go. The blob was minutes away. They’d have to do something.

Tinder looked and the creature had now breached the room and was starting to fill the south side.  Its tendrils were reaching out and poking and prodding any screens or electronics that were on or vibrating. She looked over at Rathman who was drunkenly wavering in a firing position on a console facing the door and saying nothing.

“Rath, do not fire! We need the humans to operate the console for us. We don’t have much time,” Tinder said with a slight shiver in her voice.

“Human show yourself. You won’t be killed!, Tinder shouted toward the portal.

Grim was sitting back against the wall watching the oncoming goliath getting ever closer. They were dead and he knew it. Would it hurt? Should he dive in head first? What would his wife and family think? Would he be buried somewhere? Would it be a nice funeral?

He then heard a large gurgling noise come from the Command Center. He was initially going to dismiss it as nothing but then he heard the exact same gurgle. They were trying to talk to him. Without another thought, he got up and stepped into the open doorway his rifle raised high in surrender. He flinched slightly expecting a bolt to blow him into pieces. It didn’t happen.

He opened his eyes to see two large upright armored six-legged lizards wielding modern weapons starring back at him. He could see eight eyes and great maws behind their helmets. Behind them was another great blob which was quickly filling the other side of the room and its tendrils were now grabbing items as it pushed further into the room. It was clear they were all in a bad spot.

Rathman and Tinder saw one of the meatsacks step into the open with his rifle up.  Tinder quickly said. “We don’t have time for first contact stuff. Walk over grab him and place him in front of this console. If he knows what it is he’ll get it.”

Rathman let go of his rifle and swiftly walked over to the smaller human and managed to pick him up with two arms and take his weapon away with the other two. The then walked him over to the console and placed him in front of it. Tinder pointed down at the communications console.

Grim’s mind was barely processing what was going on but found himself in front of the communications console with one of them pointing at it. They all then jolted and the pointing alien quickly aimed her rifle at the door as his remaining troops rushed with their rifles high. Seconds later the first tendril from the creature that had been making its way up the south corridor started poking in giving a good reason why. The troopers took up defensive positions around them as masses on both sides started pressing in threatening to squash them in between.

“Turn it on!” Tinder gurgled to Grim pounding her finger down on the console.

Grim jumped as the warrior’s finger came down. He had no idea what frequency or band they should be on but he just turned it on and waved at the angry being.

“Command! This is squad bravo lead. Do you copy!” Tinder yelled into the air.

Immediately a response was heard. “Squad Bravo lead. Received. Authenticate!”

“Code Alfa Lima Two Five!” Tinder yelled as she watched Rathman and the human warriors push closer to the center of the room and out of the way of the pseudopods probing the room. The masses themselves had both pushed into the room and now covered the north and south sides.

Cal Dreadnaught

The Colonel stood next to the communications officer along with much of the command staff of the warship.

“Sir that code authenticates!” the Ensign reported causing the captain of the warship and colonel to look at each other solemnly. They had watched every event since the shootdown of one of their assault craft, to the ambush of their forces by a mysterious life form to the emergence of a great amoeba-like creature that now seemed to be ingesting the entire human complex. It was a disaster.

“Admiral go ahead and bombard that location. I’ll add the note to our report that I authorized it. We’ll need to consult with Science on that new lifeform and how to deal with it.  There was no hint of this anywhere in the history of that world. We’ll also note that all squads died valiantly defending their positions against a new unknown threat. This is how they will be remembered. Are we all clear?” asked the Colonel.

“Yes Sir!” the room said in unison.

The Admiral then said “Fire at will,” and walked toward the portal way from the bridge.

Command Center.

The group had formed a tight circle around the communication console with the great amoebic masses having now filled the perimeter of the room and slowly closing to now meters from them. Tinder stood looking at the ceiling waiting for a response from the Dreadnaught. A human warrior fired into the mass in front of him and a tendril stuck at him like a fist knocking him into the mass behind him. He screamed as it sucked him into it slowly leaving a grasping hand handing out.

“They’re not coming are they?” Rathman said.

“I don’t……”

Dreadnaught

The weapon’s officer on the Dreadnaught watched as one low yield fusion munition struck the center of the human facility and created a large circle swatch of destruction almost three turns beyond the blast site. Dust and debris were blown high into the atmosphere which blocked all sensors across the spectrum. He quickly turned his attention to the sports news at Calith which was more interesting than looking a new crater one some infested moon.

Far beneath Outpost X

The being quickly pushed its massive gray form past the debris and radioactive dust of the surface into the welcoming soft sand of its home. It quickly reattached itself to its brethren and felt all the questions come in about what had gone on at the surface. It quickly reported that the infestation had been worse than thought as two invasive species had appeared. It then added that neither tasted all that good.

The End