<span style='color: orange'><strong class='bbc'>Chapter 3: Aftermath[/b]</span>
Morham woke with a start, forcing his body to an upright position before he even realized what he was doing. The immense beating in his head made him regret that sudden and abrupt move quickly. He clutched his forehead and gasped in pain.
“Easy there big guy,” he heard a female voice tell him. “Just relax and try to breathe normally. The pain and confusion will pass in a moment.”
As simple as that task sounded, it was easier said then done. His heart was beating so hard he could hear it in his ears, and his breathing was frantic. He couldn’t even open his eyes because of the intense pain in his head and the knowledge that light would only serve to amplify it.
“Where am I? Who are you?” He asked.
“You’re in a make-shift infirmary on Mar Sara, and I’m the medic making sure you’re alright.” The voice answered in a calm, but somewhat detached, tone.
Morham tried to focus, tried to remember what had happened, tried to make sense of it all. But his mind was racing and his body felt like it was running on constant overdrive. He slowly re-opened his eyes, squinting so as to not allow too much of that bright painful light in. But everything around him was just a blur.
“I had to give you a hefty dose of stims to wake you up. What you’re experiencing now is the initial shock of your body absorbing them, something that can be very distressing if you’ve been sleeping or unconscious when the shot is administered.” The woman explained.
“Stims? We don’t use stims in the colonial militia.” Morham said. “Too dangerous.”
“Yes, I know.”
“So why’d you inject me with them?” Morham asked, able to see a little bit clearer now. He focused on the voice he was talking too and could see a silhouette there, but nothing more.
“Colonel Hauer has demanded to see you, and stims were the only way I could think of to get you up and running again in any reasonable amount of time.”
Slowly the beating in Morham’s head eased up, and he realized that he could focus somewhat again.
He looked around and found himself in what looked like a small tent. There were beds laid out on either side of the space, but they were all empty. The only other people in the room were the woman who had been talking to him and two marines standing at the entrance of the tent.
“What happened?” Morham asked, rubbing his temples. His pain might’ve subsided a bit, but his headache was far from gone.
“That’s what the colonel would like to know. But from what I can tell from your injuries, you were in combat and managed to get banged up quite a bit. Nothing too serious though, mostly bruises and cuts…” She replied as she went over the information a nearby machine was feeding her, then added a somewhat disconcerting “Not quite sure what to make of your neural readings though.”
“My head feels like its going to split open any second now.” Morham said.
“Yes, like I said it’s quite common for people who are given stims to experience a headache if asleep when administered, an unfortunate side-effect of your brain being jump-started and processing faster then it should even when awake. However, the readings I’m getting don’t quite correlate to what I should be seeing… I don’t think the stims are the only thing responsible for your headache. No need to worry though, it doesn’t seem to be anything all that serious, and the numbers are slowly returning to normal, I’m sure the pain will ease up soon enough.”
“Thanks doc, that’s very reassuring.” Morham said in a sarcastic voice.
“Don’t blame me, sergeant, by all rights you shouldn’t even be awake right now, any decent physician would recommend that you’d get a decent amount of rest in the state you are in right now, but the guys who are running the show were very persistent when it came to talking to you.”
Morham tried to remember what had happened and how he’d gotten here, but his memory was sluggish. He’d been sent on a mission, that much he could remember, and he had a nasty feeling something had gone terribly wrong.
“Where’s my combat suit and rifle?” The marine asked, having just noticed he was only wearing his pants. He felt somewhat naked without his gear in this banged up state.
“Right there,” The medic replied and pointed to a rack by the entrance, where all his stuff had been neatly stowed away. “But don’t worry, you won’t be needing them for a while. You’re quite safe now that reinforcements have arrived.”
Morham’s breathing was returning to normal, and he felt his mind clearing up somewhat. The worst of the initial shock from the stims must be passing by now, he thought.
“Now tell me, how much do you remember from what happened before you just woke up?” The woman asked, intently watching the never-ending numbers scrolling across the screen.
The marine tried to focus and conjure up those elusive memories again. “I… I was sent on a mission with my squad. We were supposed to…” Morham had to pause to gather his thoughts. “We were supposed to secure a crash-site…”
“Can you remember anything about the crashed ship or what happened when you arrived at the scene?”
“There was a lot of smoke and fire… and we couldn’t see properly,” he started. “Then we were attacked-”
Morham halted abruptly, his eyes wide open in shock.
‘By aliens’, his mind finished the sentence for him. And now it all started coming back to him, as if the gates holding back a great flood had been released. His squad had been massacred by a group of extraterrestrial monsters. And just before the world went dark for him, he’d been lying on the ground, with one of them slowly advancing on him, preparing to kill him. He’d seen his lieutenant, and all of his friends, brutally murdered while he’d been watching helplessly.
“Was it a dream?” He asked, though he knew it hadn’t been. “…Tell me it was all a nightmare.”
The medic looked at him, a hint of pity in her eyes. “I’m afraid it was all too real.”
“Then my squad… my friends… they’re all dead?”
“I’ve been told that you’re the only marine from your squad to have survived the encounter. But there was one other survivor, a ghost, did you know him?” She asked, perhaps hoping that that piece of information would alleviate his mental duress.
Resnick, Morham remembered, the assassin who’d been sent with them to ‘observe’ the mission. The realization that the ghost hadn’t lifted a finger to help them before it was already too late dawned on the sergeant. He could’ve easily used his higher ground to snipe the incoming hostiles, but he hadn’t. He had waited until everyone except Morham was dead before he made his move.
The sergeant squeezed his fists so hard his knuckles turned white.
The doctor, noticing the clenched fists and the angry expression on the marine’s face, decided that it would perhaps be best to not mention that again. At least not while the sergeant was hopped up on psychotropic aggression enhancers.
“Well, from what I can tell you’re stable and recovering just fine.” The medic said after letting Morham cool down for a moment. “Like I said earlier, the only reason I woke you up was because the higher-ups wanted to debrief you on your mission as soon as possible. So if you feel like you’ve cleared your head, the soldiers over there will show you where you need to go. Sorry to be so hasty, but they really gave me no choice in the matter.”
Morham did feel much better now though, the pounding in his head wasn’t as bad as before, and though his muscles felt like they’d been strained to their limit and then some, he knew he could move around easily enough. In fact, he felt oddly rejuvenated and alert given the state he was in. The occasional urges to kill and maim were a little troubling though.
“Damn stims…” He whispered to himself. It wasn’t hard to understand why some people chose not to use them.
“Right, I better get going then, I wouldn’t want to keep our dear generals waiting.” Morham said and got up from the bed. The guards volunteered to help him, but he waved them away.
Pulling the flaps at the entrance of the tent aside, he found that the bright sunlight on the outside made his headache flare up briefly again. But this time it didn’t last. He shielded his eyes from the brightness so he could take a look around. The whole area was crawling with Confederate forces. People were rushing too and fro while heavy vehicles were excavating and ripping the entire place apart. The perimeter was patrolled by walkers and several marine squads, all belonging to Epsilon Squadron, by the looks of it. A mobile base had also been flown in. And up, high above him, Morham thought he could even glimpse the dark silhouette of a Behemoth-class Battlecruiser watching over them. The doctor hadn’t been kidding when she said he was safe without his combat suit.
“The whole damn place looks like an anthill.” Morham mumbled to himself.
“What’s that?” One of the marines escorting him asked, thinking Morham was talking to him.
“Nothing,” Morham replied. “Where exactly is it we’re supposed to be going” Eager to get the debriefing over with.
“That command center there,” The guard replied and pointed. “Colonel Hauer is waiting in one of the conference rooms on level three.”
The debriefing was a quick but unpleasant ordeal. Morham was shown to a very plain looking room with nothing but a camera and a very stern looking colonel Hauer there to keep him company. He was then asked to recount the events of the mission as he remembered them. Several times the colonel interrupted him and requested elaboration on certain things that piqued his interest, such as the mysterious powers the last alien had demonstrated. The debriefing finally came to an end two hours after it had begun and Morham was dismissed. But not before the colonel had made it clear that he could expect more briefings like this in the future. No doubt the Confederacy wanted to pump him for every bit of information he had.
The sergeant left the room with orders to board a transport bound for Tarsonis.
After a quick trip to the infirmary to suit up and get his gear, Morham found himself at the transport he was supposed to board. It was larger then the dropship that had carried him earlier and capable of the warp travel necessary to get him to his destination. But he also found something he didn’t expect there. Resnick was standing outside the vessel, probably waiting for him. He was wearing his form-fitting black suit, though he’d removed the headpiece.
“About time you showed up. We were supposed to dust-off half-an-hour ago, we’ve just been waiting for you.” He said as he spotted the approaching Morham.
Without saying a word the marine walked up to the ghost, grabbed him by collar of his suit and slammed him against the dropship with his combat suit enhanced strength. “You have one chance, and one chance only, to explain why you didn’t help while my squad was getting torn apart by those… things.” He said in a tone the promised Resnick he would regret it if he refused.
“I was following my orders by observing you. I don’t easily dismiss orders.” The Ghost said, his eyes narrowing. “And I think showing a little respect to the man who saved your life wouldn’t be out of order.”
Morham slammed his free fist into the hull right beside Resnick’s head, a punch that could’ve easily crushed the man’s skull. “Why didn’t you help us?!” Morham repeated, this time a bit more forcefully.
Resnick’s façade remained calm, the only physical response to the marine’s outburst a slight smile. “Exposing myself too soon in the fight would’ve been a tactical error. I wanted to make sure the enemy had no more surprises up their sleeve before revealing my position. And I also realized that if the enemy was too strong, there’d be no reason for me to engage at all… Now if you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you let me go.”
Morham wanted badly to pulp the ghost’s face, but felt his headache suddenly returning, so strong that he had to step back and compose himself. Not long after the strange pain disappeared again. He couldn’t help but wonder if the ghost had somehow triggered it.
“Good,” Resnick said. “I’m glad we could reach an understanding. Now, if you’re done with your pointless bluster, I suggest we get on with our assignment.”
Resnick turned around and marched off into the belly of the transport without so much as another word.
Morham grudgingly followed. The argument between him and Resnick wasn’t over yet. But for the moment, the marine was too exhausted to do anything about it.
* * * *
Some time later Morham found himself in the cargo-hold of the transport, speeding through space at faster then light velocities.
The place was a lot larger then the dropship he’d been strapped into earlier. And people could move around freely among the various boxes and goods that had been stored there. Most of it quite likely remnants from the crash site and the alien ship.
Like earlier that day he was surrounded by marines again, but this time the faces around him were all unfamiliar. None of the others wore their combat suits either, since the trip was going to be a long one and they weren’t expecting any trouble. Morham still wore his though, for no other reason then that he’d simply been too tired to remove it. After boarding he’d just sat down on one of the benches in the corner, hoping that the others would pay him no attention as he tried to get some much needed shut-eye.
As it was though, sleeping seemed nigh impossible with all the ruckus around him. He might’ve wanted to rest but the others seemed quite animated and excited. No doubt because of the news of what had happened to Chau Sara and the prisoner they were transporting.
Morham glanced at the coffin-like contraption that held the alien that had tried to kill him earlier. Colonel Hauer had referred to the monster as a Protoss, a somewhat strange sounding name for the species, but suitably alien. The front of the portable cell was transparent. And Morham found himself wondering how a creature so imposing as the alien had seemed earlier could look so helpless right now. Indeed it seemed little more then a caged and naked animal.
“You sure it ain’t gettin’ free?” One of the marines asked while eyeing the imprisoned beast, tapping the transparent cell to see if there was any reaction.
“They said it’s been pumped so full of tranquilizers that it’ll be out for days.” Another one said. “And even if it managed to wake up that cage would stop him from doing much harm. It’s designed to issue electrical shocks until the captive is either dead or unconscious again.”
“Good, ‘cause it would be a shame if the bastard tried to escape and I had to kill him.” The first marine said to the others and chuckled, with the others joining in.
Morham found himself smiling as well, though more at the pointless bluster by the marine then anything else. If that creature really got loose, there was nothing on the transport that would stop it. The marines standing there, gawking at it, probably didn’t even know of its seemingly magical abilities.
“What about you, sergeant,” one of the marines asked Morham. “I hear you were with the squad that actually brought this sucker and his friends down. What can you tell us about it?”
“I can tell you that I wouldn’t want it to wake up.” Was the only reply Morham cared to give. He didn’t want to join in with chest-beating of the other marines, in fact, he had no wish to even be in contact with them right now, and so he just slid down his visor and sealed himself inside his combat suit. He could hear one of the marines saying something about ‘fringe-world yokel’ to the others while pointing at Morham, but he found that he didn’t care too much.
Morham’s eyes were drawn to the Protoss again. It was a strange looking critter indeed; gray when it came to skin color and roughly humanoid in form, though taller then a human and quite lean compared to its height. The legs were reverse jointed in stark contrast to humans though. And the head was anything but human. It didn’t even have a visible mouth or nose.
How do they communicate without a mouth? Morham briefly wondered. They had to be able to speak to each other in some way, all intelligent species had to, otherwise they couldn’t coordinate. He knew some animals communicated through smell, some via body-gestures, but that’d be very cumbersome for any sentient species.
Suddenly the intercom crackled to life, breaking his train of thought. “We’re getting some anomalous sensor readings from a system we’re passing through. You boys better strap in, we’re temporarily dropping out of warp to check-”
The pilot never managed to finish the sentence.
The transport suddenly jerked so sharply that Morham was thrown of his feet and to the floor, while others were thrown into walls and one even managed to slam his head so hard he started bleeding. The ships had dropped out of warp space but obviously not by any will of the pilot. Then there was another sudden jolt accompanied by a sound like something physical had crashed. Morham found himself briefly rolling across the floor.
‘We’re under attack!’ Morham’s mind screamed, thinking the Protoss had returned for their captive. But the truth was far stranger then that.
The sergeant shouted for the other marines to suit-up. A prudent move considering whatever was assaulting their vessel right now stood a good chance of cracking the hull. But it was also a near impossible feat to accomplish amongst all this turbulence. Indeed several marines had already badly injured themselves, one even lying unconscious on the floor, blood seeping from his head.
Then a third impact rocked the ship, and Morham found himself sliding into a wall. This time the NeoSteel frame of the transport was bent to the point where a long thin crack formed in the ceiling. The air started rushing out as the compartment underwent explosive decompression. It was clear to Morham that the others were doomed. Morham had just enough time to switch to the suits internal air-supply before a fourth impact split the entire cargo-hold in two, blowing all of them out into space.
Morham was robbed of his consciousness as he forcefully hit one of the edges of the ship on his way out into the great void.
The others weren’t so lucky. Except for a few that met their ends by being impaled on the jagged metal edges of the ship, the men were terribly conscious as the ship exploded them out into space with no more protection then their skin.
Some tried screaming, but the cold vacuum stole their voices without a trace, and suddenly the space around them made itself terribly apparent. Dying from exposure to space wasn’t considered a terribly nice way to die, and the reasons why became all too obvious too them.
The strangest thing of all though, was that the space around them wasn’t black like you’d expect. It was a bright golden in color, and they were surrounded by something that looked almost like a nebula viewed from afar. Off in the distance something that looked like a giant pulsating star seemed to have been born. If the men hadn’t been terrified to the point of madness, they would probably have considered it all quite beautiful.