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Category: Pulp Fiction

Pulp: Escape from Drone Island

Pulp: Escape from Drone Island

Can Malory and her team escape the terror of the drone? A little injection of tech into a horror inspired tale. I get to practice action sequences and dialog. Let me know what you think.

Malory pushed clear of the Navy minisub and propelled herself forward. It was close to midnight but the shallow water was far from dark due to a full moon above.  She could see the shadows of swimming sea life moving about the depths and the long dark outline of the reef Mal and her Seal reconnaissance team would need to breach.

She looked back over her shoulder and saw the other three members of her team had emerged and the vehicle was anchored to the sea floor. Several hand signals were exchanged confirming they were ready and all their equipment was accounted for. Mal looked down at her watch, noted their GPS location and noticed that there were was no mission abort message. She raised the final go signal and the group pushed off toward the reef in formation.

Mal went over the mission brief in her head as her legs found a comfortable rhythm. Their target island was reef enclosed, crescent-shaped and about six square miles which was a norm for islands and atolls in the South China Sea.  What made it a bit more unique though is it was covered by a small tropical forest that supported a small ecosystem of sea birds and lizards and sheltered a bunker filled with American and Philippine signals intelligence folks who monitored Chinese military communications and traffic in the region. Communications from the spooks had ceased a little over a week ago. Satellite passes revealed nothing and putting a loitering drone over the area wasn’t an option as it would tell the Chinese something was there.  Mal and her reconnaissance team were assigned to clandestinely investigate as they were in the region operating with the rest of the Seal platoon from U.S.S. Jimmy Carter.

Mal angled her swim toward the top of the reef as she approached it. The water’s surface was about ten feet above, which allowed her to place a small marker on top of the reef that would help her team find their minisub on the way out if GPS failed.

She then turned as her team converged on her and through another signal for a new formation change. Paul and Wing took point and she kicked off the reef and paired up with Dave. Dave was great. He had fifteen years in the teams and was a dive instructor who loved his craft enough to do it in his free time as well. He had tons of sport and wreck dive stories and always looked for better and safer ways to dive. He was a great family man as well who told just as many stories about his family and teammates. He brought up everybody around him and made them feel safe.

They started their descent down the other side of the reef wall close to the seafloor. The idea was to get close to the terrain to help mask their approach from underwater sensors. This worked but increased the odds of losing equipment, getting lost or getting bit by something mean.  All of these were a pain but preferable to a drone or artillery strike which didn’t need to hit you directly to kill you. Many military divers had learned this in recent years as the technology gap had closed between the US and its potential adversaries.

The divers remained in eyesight of each other as they wound through the broken coral towards shore. The coral soon gave way to waves of grooved sand and visibility dropped considerably as the floor and ceiling merged in clouds of sand and white froth a short distance away. Mal’s head was filled with the steady roar of the breaking surf.

Wing stopped in front and gave the signal to halt. Mal liked Wing. He was a cheerful east-coaster who grew up in a small Vietnamese community just north of Boston.  He was an absolute tech wiz who could probably make millions of dollars in Silicon Valley but got drawn into the teams for the challenge. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of all things action movie, which gave them a lot to talk about.

Wing pulled a small bundle from his pack that encased a Mosquito drone and pulled a string that inflated a small float attached to the bundle. He then released it to rise to the surface. If all went well, the small surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle would surface, take off and fly a preprogrammed orbit to survey the area with visual sensors. The remaining float would relay what is transmitted back to the divers to be viewed on their watches.

Twenty seconds passed and Mal looked down at her watch’s display as the drone made several circular passes over them and then their target beach and forest line beyond. It provided multispectral views including the cool heat signature stuff that reminded her of how the Predator viewed things in the original movies.  She saw no threats but oddly, no other heat sources. There should at least be birds and night predator wildlife out and about. This was really strange.

Mal looked up at the others and after several hand signals, they confirmed that no threats were detected. Wing and Paul took point again and the group pushed ashore. As they emerged from the churning surf they each removed the protective covering from their weapons, removed their masks and fins, attached night vision goggles and trotted inland gathering in the foliage at the tropical forest’s edge.

“Ok, anybody else notice not one thermal other than us?” Mal asked.

“Yes, really strange. Could be equipment or an environmental condition,” replied Wing.

“Shhh. listen,” said Paul.

“What?” replied Wing.

“Not one birdsong, “said Paul.

“Fuck. Bio or Chem. Respirators back on!” said Dave.

The group put their oxygen masks back on and Dave rifled through his pack. He pulled out a small biological and chemical detection device. He turned it on and then pulled out several test tabs out of his pack which he rubbed against the leaves of the foliage. He examined both and then nodded to the group and removed his mask from his face.

“I forgot, are you supposed to shit your pants before or after you die?”

“Very funny Dave,” Mal said after spitting her breather out.

“Yeah, just be careful. Because we didn’t detect it doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” replied Dave.

Paul kneeled down and rolled a large stone in front of him and looked into the hole it left. He picked up a long centipede letting it wind about. “Nightcrawlers are still around.”  He tossed it towards Mal who darted out the way with a laugh. Big Paul always found something weird to do but that’s why they all loved him. It also helped that he hauled their heaviest gear and was a solid shot on the sniper rifle.

Mal looked down at her watch and switched to the GPS nav system.“Ok, we’re about a click out from the spooks’ hide. Wing how much battery we got on the Mosquito drone?”

“We’re good for the night if needed. You want to send out a spot report?” replied Wing.

“No, let’s hold until we’ve got something more to say.

“What about the next Chinese drone pass?” asked Mal.

“Two hours. Plenty of time to make the hide,” replied Wing.

“Dave you got point. Let’s go,” ordered Mal.

The team pushed into the forest for the better part of an hour. Dave came to a halt and threw his hand up. He removed his goggles and looked down at something. He waved the team over. Mal moved forward and saw what he was looking at was a dead gull that had been torn apart.

“That’s gross Dave,” said Mal.

“Yeah, big bird, but look. It has very neat wounds and it has been here for a while. No predator did this and nothing was trying to eat it,” replied Dave.

“Mosquito detects something.” Wing said in a loud whisper.

Mal looked down at her watch but her attention quickly shot skyward as a loud crash was heard above them.  Small metal parts rained down in the forest around them.

“Fuck. Our drone just bit it.” Wing said.

“Paul, tarp out. To cover guys.” Mal said.

Paul pulled a large pack and unfolded it. The group them crawled under it hoping it would provide protection from a bunch of detection types on the spectrum. It was heavy but had proven the difference between life and death under the drone.

Mal listened for the hum or pulse of the engine of an enemy drone but heard none.

“Mal, permission to take a look,” Paul whispered.

“Go for it”

Mal watched Paul remove the multispectral site from his rifle and carefully pop his head out from under the tent for a look.

“Nothing in view above us,” Paul said after a few moments.

She looked down at the GPS and noticed they were less than a click away from the spook’s hide. They were close but likely made. Fuck, can’t risk it.

“Ok. I don’t know how, but we’re blown guys. Time to bug out,” said Mal.

“Wing our intel report had the nearest Chinese response about twenty minutes away at best. Sound right?” asked Mal.

“Yes. There’s a Chinese frigate somewhere out there, their daily drone pass is close and there are about four bases which could launch aircraft or missiles soon,” replied Wing.

“Ok Wing, fire off a quick satcom message to HQ that this mission is over, we’re moving out and looking for our ride. “Dave you got point. Paul let’s get this tarp folded back up and ready to go” said Mal.

They repacked the tarp and moved tactically with one pair moving and the other covering from hide-to-hide. The moon was high and casting beams of light through the canopy. The wind had picked up just enough to be heard through the trees.

Mal was anxious. What had just happened and why didn’t they know more. This wasn’t fucking good. She wanted all of them in that water now.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the hum of a motor.

“Drone!” Paul yelled as he once again pulled the large tarp from is pack.

Mal dove under it. The rest of the group did as well. They huddled together as they heard the drone get louder and louder.

“Low altitude type.” Wing whispered.

The drone sound evened out and then fell into the pulsating rhythm of an orbit.

“Paul, any chance you could nail that thing?” Mal asked.

“Seems low enough but you willing to risk eating a missile or artillery shell to do so?” He asked.

No. She thought. This fucking sucks.

“Ok playbook says we wait it out then try to transmit for help or bug out when it returns to base or a replacement drone is transitioned in.  Problem with that is threats and time. We don’t know if Chinese troops are inbound and our tarp is pretty useless during the day,” said Mal.

“We could try and make the spook hide. It is a better place to hold out,” said Dave.

“Yeah was thinking about that,” said Mal.

The sky above them flashed and they heard a whump sound. Debris rained down on them once again.

“Was that what I think it fucking was?” Mal asked.

“Yes,” Paul replied as debris rained around them again.

“Beach. Let’s go!” She said.

The group moved as fast as they could. Mal kept an eye on each of her men as the moved back through the forest quickly but carefully. Mal was in peak physical condition but started to feel herself tire maneuvering through the terrain at a rapid pace. Finally, the forest floor started to give way to more sand and eventually she could see the line where the forest ended and the beach began.  They were close.

Dave hit the forest edge and quickly dropped behind the cover of a Palm branch laid out in front of him. His hand went up and signaled threat ahead and to seek cover. Mal and the group did.

Mal slow crawled to a position parallel to his and looked out on to the beach. Un-fucking-believable. A large six-legged drone was sitting on the beach between them and the water.  It was insectoid in design, the size of a small electric car, mounted a large high caliber gun on its back and had a great big red Peoples’ Liberation Army star painted on the side of it. Fuck! She looked at her comrades quickly and didn’t have to ask to know they were thinking the same thing. The drone then turned in their direction. Fuck, fuck it’s got us.

“Move. Egress!” Malory yelled. She quickly tossed a multispectral smoke grenade to the front of their position and the combat drone.

She bolted back into the deeper woods behind her. She heard the whine and roar of heavy caliber machine gun fire and the forest around her disintegrated. Mal heard Dave yell from behind. She grabbed a tree and swung around low to see him on his knees holding the gory cave of an exit wound in his chest. As his eyes met hers more rounds hit vaporizing his upper body into mist and pieces. In horror, she turned and ran away as fast as she could. She heard another great salvo tear through the woods around her. She could feel the rounds passing bye. She kept running until the firing stopped and she found her other two comrades in defensive positions. Her lungs and legs burned from use but she was unharmed.

“Dave?” asked Wing.

“Gone,” Mal replied.

“Fuck,” replied Paul who siting his sniper rifle.

“Fight or flight Elle-Tee? I’ve got some anti-vehicle rounds but not sure they’ll work” Paul said.

“Take the shot. Blind it or go for the weapons system.” Mal ordered.

“Roger that,” replied Paul who was now lying on the ground with his sniper rifle mounted on a stump.

Mal heard mechanical movement in the forest where they had run from. Paul put his eye to the sniper rifle’s advanced site and the weapon kicked as he fired. He then fired again.

“Hit,” he said.

Mal heard three distinct poof sounds in the distance.

“Mortars!” yelled Paul.

Mal heard a brief whistle and was violently pushed to the ground by the concussion of an explosion in the trees above her.  She felt the sting of shrapnel on her back, neck, and arms. She panicked and rolled over thinking she may be on fire and sucked in trying to fill her lungs back up with air.  Her ears were ringing with one hurting badly.  She moved her arms and legs. They seemed to work and she was breathing normally. She patted her body and found no large open wounds or blood gushing.  She calmed. She was hurt but ok.

Shit, her team. She rolled back over and looked over to Paul’s position and saw his torn form in a shell hole. He was gone. She looked towards Wing’s position and saw he was up on one knee and saying something to her. She could barely hear him. Touching the ear that really hurt she noticed she was bleeding from it. Her eardrum must have been perforated. Fuck. She looked turned slightly away and then his words began to be heard. Looks like her other ear seemed to be ok. Wing was saying “What do we do?”

A strong breeze lashed her from above and the muffled thump of a helicopter rotor came into focus. She looked up and saw the silhouette of one hovering over the broken canopy. Its spotlight was shining down through searching for their position. Was this it?

Something struck the helicopter with a flash. It spun on fire off to the left. Her hearing was getting better. The rotor noise was broken, irregular and moving away. She then heard a large impact. The chopper must of gone down.

Mal’s focus shifted again. She heard Wing talking and pointing to where the helicopter was.

“Mal, you see that? Double-rotor configuration. That was Chinese or Russian,” said Wing.

“Uh yeah.  You ok Wing?” Mal asked looking him over.

“Physically ok. Brain no. How bout you?” he replied.

“That hurt but ok. Left ear is really screwed.” She said.

“I’ll check it out when we can lay low.” Wing replied.

Mal heard the distant chatter of machine gun fire. They both looked in that direction.

“Looks like the bug is busy. Let’s make that spook hide and ride this out.” said Mal.

Mal picked up her rifle, took point, and jogged into the forest. She looked behind her to see that Wing had fallen in. She’d lost two good troopers and wasn’t about to lose Wing. Something had really gone wrong, she didn’t know what but needed to get somewhere to think.

They traveled through the tropical forest for just short of an hour when they approached the GPS position of the hide. It was a battle site. The forest and foliage were torn and burned apart. There were bodies and body parts strewn about and the stench was nauseating. The spooks and what looked like Philippine Marines put up a fight and lost.

“Mal, tree, wire,” said Wing.

Mal looked at the tree Wing was pointing at and saw a series of wires leading up to a series of dishes and antennas concealed at the top.  Wing followed the other end which terminated into the ground. He moved some foliage around with his foot revealing a trap door that led into the earth below. He carelessly opened pulled it open and walked down a steep ramp into it.

“Clear!” Wing yelled from the hole.

Mal hopped down in after him closing the trap door behind her. Wing was standing in an open door at the end of the small tunneled ramp that led from the trap door.

“Holy shit, it’s a buried shipping container,” Mal said.

“Yeah its got all the amenities of to.” replied Wing.

She walked into the lit bunker. To the left, there was a pair of cots, portable toilet, boxes of food supplies and jugs of water. To the right, was a large filled computer cabinet flanked by two desks with laptops on top. There were several posters on the wall of the latest bands, a lot of empty energy drink and protein bar wrappers strewn about and it smelled like sweaty dudes. Not exactly home-sweet-home.

“Wing, power up the radio and see who you can get in touch with. I’ll dig up their first aid kit and start working on us,” Mal said.

“Will do Mal. Look, Paul and Dave?” Wing started to say.

“I know Wing. We’re alive so let’s focus on that for now. We’ll make sure they go home.” Mal replied.

Wing walked over to the computer cabinet and pressed the power button at the bottom and every component lit up. Yay for that, Mal thought as she walked toward the bunks and noticed an aid kit was under each. She pulled and opened one happy to see it was filled with the alcohol and bandages they’d need to treat the many small shrapnel wounds on their bodies. Her ear still hurt but she was happy to see a bottle of Ibuprofen was in each.

“We’re up and connected via text net, Mal,” said Wing.

Mal walked over and sat in the chair in front of the computer. She worked through a quick series of authentication and then typed out a very quick report and asked for instructions. She received an acknowledgment and instructions to power down and to check back in an hour.

“Well, at least they didn’t yell at you.” Wing said.

“Wing, do you know anything about the signals intelligence equipment in here?” Mal asked.

“Not a clue and don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese so wouldn’t do much good if I did,” Wing replied.

They both heard an explosion and the container and its contents shook slightly.

“That close?” Mal asked.

“Dunno, but somebody is putting up a fight out there,” replied Wing.

Noticing several small wounds on Wing’s face Mal got up and retrieved the first aid kit. She then walked over to him and started wiping his face down and treating the wounds. He repeated the process for her.  Both found a chair to sit in after. Wing closed his eyes and Mal rubbed her temples and drifted away.

Mal awakened to her phone’s alarm. It was time to call in. She looked over and Wing was already powering the transmission equipment back up.

Mal looked at the laptop screen. Shit. Mal reread the message to be sure.

“Chinese and US forces are converging on the region with a Chinese frigate already off the coast. There could be a bit of crisis spewing up over this. We’re to hunker down and wait for further instructions.”

Wing turned the transmission equipment off and sat grumbling to himself in his chair. Mal got up, walked over to the boxes of supplies and rifled through them to get an accurate idea of what they had.

“Good news, plenty of food and supplies. We can hold up here for a while.” Mal said.

“Don’t suppose there are any antitank weapons in there?” Wing asked.

“No such luck Wing. Sorry.” Mal replied.

The bunker shook at a large explosion detonated close to them. A few boxes toppled over.

“Here we go again,” said Mal.

The container shook twice more, some boxes toppled over. The then heard the chatter of machine gun fire.

Mal got up and opened the door and went to the trap door. She noticed it had a small periscope set into it. She put her eye to it. She saw movement in front of her and then falling and flying branches and debris as a salvo of fire seemed to tear across the forest. She then saw a soldier burst from trees and fall meters in front of her. He pushed himself up by his hands and Mal could see the horror on his face.

“Mal what the fuck is going on out there?” Wing said.

She thought for a second and then swung open the trap door. She couldn’t leave this guy to die. He looked right at her in shock. She waved him forward and he sprinted the short distance and dived almost taking Mal with him. She dropped the door with a thump and turned to see Wing already had the Chinese soldier at gunpoint.

She turned back to the door and looked through the periscope. Fuck. She saw not one of the six-legged hunter-killer drones but two.  Their sensors and smoking weapons scanned back and forth across the area looking for their prey. They didn’t appear to have a clue where their target was.

Mal turned and looked at the Chinese soldier. “Well buddy, it’s a good thing those two bit-brains out there don’t seem to have any sort of hunting logic beyond see and shoot. Speak English?” Mal asked.

The soldier was on lying on his back trying to catch his breath. He wore a flight suit covered with Chinese Navy markings and emblems. He was very young and visibly frightened.

“Do you speak English? What is your name?” Wing asked.

The soldier looked at Wing and said something indecipherable.

“Guess that’s a no.” Wing said. He then said something to the soldier in another language. Mal assumed it was Vietnamese. The soldier responded and they had a short conversation.

“Mal this is Li Jun. He was on the helicopter we saw overhead. He says it was damaged by a drone and they crashed on the beach. His comrades were killed by the hunter-killers. He’s not hurt but scared shitless,” said Wing.

“Ok. Tell him he’s safe here and ask more about the drones,” Mal responded.

Wing spoke to Li Jun some more.

“He doesn’t know shit about them other than they are Chinese. He says he was told there were American spies on the island who had shot down a surveillance drone and were engaging others. They were sent to investigate and were attracted to the gunfire and explosions. When they approached, they were hit. He wants to know if he’s a prisoner,” said Wing.

“Tell him it looks like we all are,” replied Mal.

The soldier smiled and spoke with Wing again. “He wants to know if he can report in. Maybe his government can help us all,” said Wing.

“Think he’s full of shit?” Mal asked.

“He might be. Those monsters were hunting him too though. Something is definitely fucked up and this clown is ranked low enough to get the mushroom treatment regardless,” said Wing.

“Ok let’s sit tight and wait for the next communication with HQ. Not sure getting nabbed by the Chinese is better than getting pulped by those drones. Let’s get this guy something to eat and check him over for injuries,” said Mal.

Wing spoke to Li Jun and pointed to an empty chair. Li Jun got up and sat in it. Wing then walked over to look him over and started cleaning the visible cuts and scrapes. Mal threw Li Jun a bottle of water and a protein bar which he caught and opened to consume.

Mal looked down at her watch. It was nearly daylight.

“Alright, fuck this. Everybody already knows we’re here, so not communicating isn’t doing as us any good. Power us back up, Wing.”

Wing walked back over and switched the power back on. Mal picked up the headset of an attached satellite phone and called in. The on-duty officer finally jumped on the call once several minutes of challenge and reply security questions were completed. She reported the capture of Li Jun and their current situation and asked for an immediate evacuation.

The duty officer started to reply but then dropped off the line momentarily. He popped back on. “Lt. Sullivan, Chinese bombers have left Hainan island on a course toward your island. Intentions are unclear but consider this is a raid warning. Suggest you power down and shelter in place.”

“Raid warning. What! Repeat?” said Mal. Wing turned to say something but Mal put her hand up. The officer repeated.

“Acknowledged. Raid E.T.A? ” replied Mal.

“Four hours give or take,” he replied.

“Thanks. Acknowledged. Alfa four out.” Mal said.

She slammed the headset down. “Chinese bombers inbound in four hours. They want us to hunker down.”

Li Jun asked Wing something in Vietnamese. Wing looked at Mal. He wants to know what’s up.

“Tell him his air force is about to bomb us,” replied Mal.

Wing spoke to Li Jun in Vietnamese. Li Jun responded angrily.

“He doesn’t believe us,” Wing said.

“Well fuck him. I don’t know what they’re up to either. Could just be posturing,” said Mal.

She looked at the bunker walls and wondered how much protection they could actually provide. Dead on-they’re vaporized, near hit and they’re squashed in this can. No-fucking-way. The only option was getting off the island.

“Wing what do you think? Want to get bombed, chewed up by those hunter-killers or ride it out in here pondering it all?” Mal asked.

“I don’t want to die. I still owe on my truck,” replied Wing.

“Me too,” said Mal smiling.

Li Jun threw up on the floor between them. The room smelled like yesterday’s fish sandwich.

“Gross. Well, that makes me not want to stay here,” Mal said.

Wing spoke to Li Jun. “He says he’s fine, just nerves.”

“Yeah, let him know he can use the toilet whenever, just pull the curtain around him so we don’t have to watch that too. Fill in him on our options as well,” said Mal.

Wing and Li Jun talked back and forth. “He thinks we should wait it out here. His government will sort this out.”

“Hmm yeah. I just thought about another issue. This guy isn’t going to be like us in the water. He may not have the endurance and it is gonna be hard getting him to the sub. He’ll panic out there.” Mal said.

Wing considered that for a moment. “Fuck it, why don’t we leave him? It is his government’s problem that got us in this spot to begin with.”

“That’s not the right thing to do. You know that,” Mal replied.

“Ok. Those things out there are tough but dumb. We know they just go after what they can actively detect. You remember the Predator movies?” Mal asked.

“Yeah, but we’re not Arnold or Danny Glover. No mud masks, hefting trees and jabbing them with punji sticks until they nuke themselves,” replied Wing.

“Ha. Yeah wasn’t looking to go that far. We’ve got some smoke and incendiary grenades, good terrain and a lifetime of human intuition to work from though. We can work them until we can get out to sea to catch a ride or at least ride out the air raid,” Mal said.

“Sounds like, no plan to me. I like it.” replied Wing.

“Exactly but it is what we got. Tell barf and if he gives you any shit, tell him he’ll be our distraction off this island,” said Mal.

Wing spoke to Li Jun for several moments.

“What about the Chinese frigate. What if they find us?” said Wing.

“Better captured, then dead. They’re less likely to waste us with him around. Shipmates generally don’t fuck each other over.”

“Call into HQ. Let them know our plan and that we’ll be looking for our ride. Let’s look through all this stuff and see if we can find anything useful to help,” said Mal.

Wing spoke to Li Jun and then sat in front of the laptop typing out a message. Mal walked over and started rifling through the supply boxes and their vests.  Between them, Li Jun and the spooks’ supplies they had a handful of smoke and incendiary grades, a couple of flares, a very small breaching charge and, their weapons and equipment kits. They decided to leave most of their ammunition, communications and dive equipment but retained their fins and masks to help them get to sea quickly. They were very light but it would make them fast.

“You ready to do this?” Mal asked.

“No,” said Wing smiling at her.

Mal looked down at her watch and saw they had about three hours left until raid time. She waved them forward and they gathered behind her at the trap door.

“Let’s go.” She ordered.

Mal opened the door and jogged up the ramp into a bright morning sun. She looked left and right and didn’t see any immediate threats, but that didn’t matter. She dropped a multispectral grenade that spewed out a strange mixture of multicolored smoke around her. She then waved the other two forward out of the trap door. Li Jun emerged with Wing after him who threw another multispectral toward their intended path. They all broke into a sprint in that direction.

Mal had just cleared their smoke clouds when she heard the familiar poofs of mortars. They were distant. She ran faster and yelled to keep moving. She ran for twenty yards then turned a sharp left. She was relieved when she saw the other two in her peripherals.  The forest then thundered with the sound of the mortars impacting their prior position.

She put her head down and pumped hard trying to create distance. She ran for at least another few minutes then saw mangrove swamp up ahead. She turned to wave her comrades toward but was interrupted by heavy machine gun fire. She dashed to the water’s edge and then dove in as soon as it was deep enough. She surfaced and turned her head to see Wing and Li Jun in the water behind her. She looked forward, saw a partially submerged mangrove. She swam to it and tucked herself into the root system. Her comrades followed trying to tuck themselves in deep.

Fuck. What to do? Those things have thermal detection. She then thought about a flare and unclipped one from her vest, ignited it and tossed it into a patch of mangroves fifteen feet to their left. It landed in the branches and hung as flames spewed out of it.

A hunter-killer emerged from the forest line and charged the flare. It hit the water at full speed spraying water everywhere but then sunk underneath as it reached deep water. Mal wiped the water from her eyes and looked for the beast. The water was churning where the hunter-killer had dived into it but it wasn’t coming to the surface. The churning stopped a moment later.

“Holy shit,” Wing said. Li Jun nodded, looking like he knew what was said. “It’s dead, right?”

“Yeah guess water resistant but not waterproof,” said Mal.

Mal noticed the water was salty. “Heh, maybe we can just swim out to sea,” she said.

They heard the now familiar sound of mortars firing in the background.

“Down!” she screamed and pushed herself down deep into the water amongst the roots. She was rocked down by the concussion of the as the mortars exploding in the trees above her.  The water and roots protected her from the wood and metal shrapnel. She popped back up and saw the other two had survived.

“That’s not gonna work. The other hunter-killer can mortar us faster than we can swim.” Let’s go.

She pushed off toward the opposite shore they had come from.  Several more mortars rained down around her. She rose out the water once she felt her feet hit bottom and ran as hard as she could up on to the muddy shore and into the forest beyond. She glanced behind and saw Wing and Li Jun were still with her.  She pushed herself and them harder, the water may not stop the second hunter-killer but it will buy them some more time. They needed to get out of its detection range.

They pushed forward for ten minutes but stopped suddenly when Li Jun fell and started vomiting.

“This guy is not winning the marathon. He’s a crewman, not a SEAL. Let’s push toward the sea again.” Mal said while catching her breath. “Wing, you hear anything out there? My left ear is still shot.” said Mal.

“Nope. Looks like we got two hours until raid time too,” said Wing.

Mal looked at the GPS info on her watch and then headed toward the sea. They’d make it in forty if things went well.

Ok, let’s go.” she said pushing her body back into a jog.

The forty-minute trek turned out to be an hour. They needed to stop several times for Li Jun to recover and several scares forced them to cover. Mal was sure the hunter-killer hadn’t pursued them but was nervous about where it was and what it was doing now. She slowed to a prowl as they approached the forest edge and she began to feel a bit of relief as the forest canopy started to open back up. Wing moved up next to her.

“We make it, boss?” he asked.

“Not just yet Wing. How’s our guy doing back there?” she asked.

“He’s gonna be sore tomorrow.” Wing replied.

Mal saw a flash behind her and heard the sound of a flare igniting and turned to see Li Jun holding it.

“That fucking dipshit,” Wing said.

Wing said something angry in Vietnamese and Li Jun said something angry back.

“Says he’s signaling his frigate for help,” said Wing.

Mal moved quickly and in two moves kicked Li Jun in the stomach and knocked the flare from his hands. She tried to extinguish the flare by stomping it into the sand. It took several tries.

“Let’s go. Let’s hit the beach.” Mal ordered.

The group started their run but the forest to their left erupted in gunfire.  They all went to ground as the forest around them was torn apart. Mal pulled her last two smoke grenades and threw one to Wing. She ignited and dropped hers letting it spew a great cloud of smoke. She started to sprint away and made it ten feet but a close burst of gunfire fire forced her to the ground. She looked up and back to see Wing on one knee behind her. He was hurt bad. His left arm was gone and blood was pouring out from the wound and on to the sands below. She could see the agony on his face. Wing!

It was then that the beast emerged from the cloud behind Wing. It towered over him, optics and turret were pointed down at him. Wings eyes met hers and he smiled. She looked to see that he had the small breaching charge in his remaining hand.  He rolled backward, rose, and charged at the hunter-killer. It fired but the rounds cut a swath well above him carving into the ground behind him. It tried to step back to correct the angle.  Wing launched himself toward the monster. There was a great flash and explosion.

Mal opened her eyes several seconds later. Her vision cleared but her ears were ringing again. Wing was gone but hunter-killer now blackened steel form lumbered in front of her. She waited for the kill shot to come at her but it didn’t. She noticed it was searching back and forth as if looking for something. Its sensors were blinded. Wing!

Mal sprinted around the beast toward the beach without a second thought. She heard the hunter-killers gunfire again and by instinct looked over her shoulder.  Li Jun had waited too long and paid a deadly price.  She looked forward again and the forest gave way to the beach. She sprinted toward the water. Her legs burned as she pushed hard. Gunfire roared from behind her. She could feel the sting of thrown sand and see the splashes of errant rounds in the sea ahead. She hit the water, dived and then swam hard. She heard the sound of mortars firing and the impact of rounds. She pumped her arms hard in a breaststroke. She heard and felt several mortars explode close and the last hit close and hard. She felt her body propelled downwards and then up. She opened her eyes, gasped for air. She could see the blue sky and clouds. She then heard the sounds of sonic boom followed by what sounded like a thousand thunderstorms erupting at once. Things went dark.

Weeks later Mal looked down at her phone while lying in her hospital bed in Guam. She was reading the latest tweet on how the Chinese system was compromised by a bunch of young Russian hackers. Nobody would ever really know as the island had been bombed and anything valuable destroyed.

Mal then heard the mechanical whine of wheels as something rolled into the hospital room behind her. Her pulse quickened and she turned.  It was one of the small box-like unmanned service robots the hospital was using to dispense meds.  She gave it a hard kick causing it to roll onto its side, wheels still turning. Its dispenser opened dumping a hand full of pills across the floor.

“We’re not close to even yet.” She said with a smile

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