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Endless Infinity (ST, SW, SC)

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Ok, so I'm a little unsure on how this works. But I'm guessing non-completed fics go here? Right?




Well, in any case, here's something I've posted elsewhere. It's a WIP (and probably always will be) involving a threeway crossover between Star Trek, Starwars and Starcraft. For those who don't like things like exploding heads and the like, consider this a warning... as there will be exploding heads and the like.




Yeah, well, anyway:








<strong class='bbc'><span style='color: orange'>PART I</span>[/b]




<span style='color: orange'><strong class='bbc'>Prologue:[/b]</span>




<em class='bbc'>Survival of the fittest... Darwinism... Evolution.




Among all of the various laws, rules and regulations that govern reality, these are the most pertinent ones when it comes to life-forms inhabiting the multitude of universes in the multi-verse. The concept behind the words is a simple one; the strong survive and the weak perish, and for the strong to continue surviving they need to adapt to changing circumstances, growing ever stronger and more intelligent. Stagnation ultimately leads to extinction.




No life can escape this fate. It's forced upon everything from the most primitive biological organism to the most advanced inter-galactic civilization. The evolution of a species becomes like a race, forcing it to forever fight for its continued survival.




But what lies at the end of that road? Is there an end to this seemingly eternal struggle?




There aren’t many civilizations that manage to reach the required sophistication to answer those questions, but yes, there is an end. After a species manages to exert dominance over the world it was spawned on, the star system it inhabited, the galaxy around it, the universe around it, the various timelines, the alternate realities of multi-verse, the species ultimately finds itself in a state where it knows everything about everything. The civlization can predict the motion of the smallest sub-atomic particles at all times, all the way from the birth of the universe to the end. It can foresee the fates of entire mortal civilizations with unflawed perfection. Nothing is obscured from it anymore, and there’s no need for further change.




But then what?




After a species has made the multi-verse its own, what is there left for it to do? If you know everything, and can predict anything, then there’s nothing more to learn. A species loses its ability to change and evolve. Its very purpose for existing will vanish, as if into thin air.




It’s ironic that at the highest peak attainable for a species, it finds that self-termination is the only way to continue.




The most recent civilization to have reached this peak is known to lesser beings as the Q continuum. They know everything, they can do anything, but at the same time their reason for doing anything has ceased to exist. The dilemma has been wrestled with for ages, but for the last few thousand years the species hasn’t changed or evolved at all. They have simply existed.




But one member of the continuum has decided to take it upon himself to solve the ultimate riddle, and his experiment will see three separate galaxies bridged, bringing them all to the brink of annihilation before the results of the attempt will be determined as either a success or failure.[/i]






<span style='color: orange'><strong class='bbc'>Chapter 1: The Koprulu Sector[/b]</span>




In one of the many realities of the multi-verse, a region of space known as the Koprulu Sector exists. For the people inhabiting this sector, the name has become synonymous with war and strife, as that is what most of its history has been composed of. It’s a place where the darker nature of mankind is made manifest.




On the edges of this sector a star system called Chara exists, and within this system floats a rust colored planet called Mar Sara.




A dropship made its way across the surface, flying over the broken and barren landscape below. Its four rear-mounted thrusters glaring a bright yellow, propelling the vessel forward at what most people would consider unsafe velocities. The fact that the vessel was barely ten meters off the ground at any given time didn’t make things better. The risk of crashing into a mountain would seem high indeed to the unknowing spectator. But in the hands of the experienced pilot, the feat was no more difficult then a quiet stroll through a calm and peaceful meadow.




The dropship was of a simple and utilitarian design, which spoke of practicality over looks. The rounded edges and overall sleekness to its appearance set it apart from the larger space-faring vessels usually seen in this part of space.




A peculiar looking symbol had been painted on the hull. It was the image of a flag, with a blue cross drawn across a bright red background, stars had been drown on the blue cross. Some historians would recognize the symbol as the Confederate flag from a civil war fought hundreds of years earlier on a planet thousands of lightyears from Mar Sara. But whether it was by chance or purpose that the current government affiliated with the flag was also known as the Confederacy, no one could tell anymore.




Blue highlights here and there on the vessel further told of its affiliation with the colonial militia, rather then the inter-planetary forces the Confederacy had at its disposal.




Dawn had just broken, and the first rays from the scorching sun cresting the horizon were already visible, lighting up the red and brown landscape all around the speeding ship, bathing it in a bright light and making the sand shimmer, as if it were made of small grains of gold.




Nothing except a few plants and trees could be seen on the otherwise barren surface streaking past the ship, no water, no buildings and no people, this was what the Confederacy had termed a backwater planet and it was true to its namesake. Scarcely populated, with only a few mining colonies here and there. The natural resources being the only real reason anyone had taken any interest in the planet in the first place. The vast mineral deposits and the vespene gas, that the Confederate industry relied on so heavily, could be found in abundance on the planet.




Corporal Chris Morham, a marine in the service of the Mar Saran colonial militia, sat in one of the many uncomfortable seats lined on either side of the dropship’s interior, strapped in tightly, which was something he was very thankful for every time the pilot had to maneuver sharply to avoid a mountain or ridge.




With him there in the drop bay were four other marines, familiar faces all of them, as they were part of Morham’s own little squad, and had been so for the last three years.




Where the hell was the magistrate going to send them this time, Morham wondered as he sat there, pondering the mission that was to come.




Planets like Mar Sara rarely saw any real military conflicts, so the tasks usually performed by the local militia were nothing more then keeping the peace, enforcing the rule of the Confederacy, suppressing the occasional riot or civilian uprising, as well as helping out during crisis situations. The only real combat action they ever saw was when a pirate or terrorist organization decided to land on the planet. But those incidents were few and far between these days, what with the Confederacy slowly tightening its grip on even the most remote worlds it had under its control.




So what was so important as to merit a general alarm in the middle of the night at his base, rousing every single man and woman on base from their slumber? Morham could count the number of times general alarms had been sounded during his time at Firebase Ambillion on one hand. Something important had to be up.




The problem wasn’t made better by the fact that the higher ups were all being very secretive and enigmatic about what was going on. But being the good soldier Morham was, he obeyed whatever orders he was given without question.




That didn’t change the fact that he had questions tough. Questions like why his squad was the only one that had been rushed off to a dropship preparing for take-off, while the rest of the base was simply made combat-ready with no immediate orders.




Morham checked the cord linking his suit to the power bus in the wall next to him, realizing it wouldn’t be long now before his suit would be juiced-up and ready to go. He might’ve been wearing the older CMC-300 model combat suit, which didn’t have all the fancy gimmicks and features the newer CMC-400 models had, but it served its purpose nonetheless, providing the wearer with armor good enough to deflect most small-arms fire, a slew of combat awareness enhancing equipment, as well as increased strength in mechanical form.




As the trip grew longer, the sergeant’s thoughts shifted to something he had been thinking about on and off for a few months now. He had been wondering what life would be like outside the military, what it would be like spending his days as a civilian. He had served as a marine in the Confederacy almost all his adult life and the reasons for joining up he considered naive by now. At first he had been stationed on his home planet of Tarsonis, but later, after the guild wars broke out, he had served with Omega Squadron, being constantly shifted around from planet to planet, where he had spent two very long years trying just to survive.




The sergeant looked over at his armored left shoulder. He could still see traces of the Omega insignia he had worn so proudly back then, despite doing his best to erase it after being re-assigned to the Mar Saran colonial militia.




During his time with the Death’s Head Legion, as Omega squadron was more commonly known as, he had voiced his opinions and dislikes of the Confederacy and their policies once too often. His outspoken ways had climaxed with him striking a superior officer, and so he had finally been demoted and shipped away, just as the war had ended. And that was why he was now a mere sergeant stationed on Mar Sara, even after countless years of service. He still counted himself lucky though, most officers wouldn’t think twice about executing someone doing what he had done.




The position on Mar Sara had originally been intended as punishment, but Morham had grown to like the peaceful little planet and the quiet atmosphere it harbored. It was a welcome change from all those muddy trenches he had spent most of his time in during the guild wars, with the sounds of hypersonic projectiles and explosions ringing constantly in his ears.




But he had to ask himself, why would he even want to leave the service? All he knew was war and how to be a soldier, and a damn good soldier he was too. Was it simple curiosity about what lay on the other side of the fence, or was there something more to it?




No, he had to admit he was getting tired of the same routines day in and day out, serving a master he no longer had any faith in. Life had to have something more besides drilling and killing to it, right? And the thought of someday having to re-live those two years of hell he experienced during the guild wars wasn’t all that comforting. He wasn't sure he could go through all that one more time and survive, at least not with his sanity intact.




Morham was shaken from his thoughts rather abruptly as an armored hand slapped him on the shoulder with a loud metallic clank.




"'Ere, have a drink, you look like you could use one." The marine sitting next to Morham said, extending a small silvery flask his way.




Morham looked over at the man and his toothy grin. His voice was raspy and his breath reeked of the stuff inside the flask. Anderson was his name, a private in service of the Mar Saran colonial militia, and one of the closest and most trusted friends Morham had, despite his love for the bottle and his lower rank.




The higher ups at Firebase Ambillion hardly agreed with Morham’s high opinions of private Anderson though. Being drunk during combat operations wasn’t a quality they liked in their soldiers. But they also had to admit that the private was good at his job. And out here on the very edge of civilized space you couldn’t be too choosy; you had to make due with what you had, even if that was a slightly drunk marine with an itchy trigger finger. It wasn’t as if the best and brightest got assigned to the colonial militia.




"Nah, thanks for the offer but I'd rather be sober during this one, I've had a bad feeling about this mission ever since they first woke us up." Morham replied.




"Me too,” Anderson said. “At first I thought it was just a hangover, but it dang well just won’t go away," he explained, taking a big gulp from the flask. “Sure you don’t want a swig?”








"Suit yerself then, me on the other hand, I need a little alcohol in me to get the old blood pumping." He said, finishing with a laugh and another gulp from the flask. “Besides, I’d probably go insane if I didn’t have something calming my nerves during the fightin’.”




Morham didn’t doubt that, but if the man kept going like this he would probably pass out long before they made the drop. Then again, that might not be such a bad thing.




Chris took another look at the faces around him, wondering why the lieutenant was still cooped up in the cockpit with the pilot. Usually he would spend at least some time with the rest of them just so he could insure himself they were fit and prepared for the mission. But not this time. He was probably just as much in the dark about the mission as the rest of them, and currently awaiting more information from the Confederate commanders, Morham guessed.




The thought of the lieutenant being in the dark left Morham a bit uneasy, it was a rather alien concept to him.




The sergeant hefted up his C-14 from his side for one last inspection, if for no other reason then to ease his own tension. Just holding the bulky rifle gave him an odd sense of security. He checked to make sure the weapons wasn’t loaded, switched the safety to single-shot mode and heard the familiar hum the capacitors made as they charged up. Then he pressed down on the trigger to hear the sound of the magnetic coils discharging. Everything seemed as it should. Just like it had the last time he checked the weapon.




The text ”I come in peace” had been scribbled on the side of his rifle. Just one of the many small ‘augmentations’ the members of the militia liked to do with their equipment. And out here on the fringe they could get away with it. It’s funny how attached people can become to their material possessions, Morham thought. He’d even gone so far as to name his rifle ”Bertha” and often talked about as if it was a real person.




He reached down to the right side of his waist and slid open a hidden compartment with a simple flick of his wrist. The compartment held his spare ammo, and he checked his three magazines, pre-loaded with standard 8mm steel spikes. He closed the compartment again and reached over to the other side to check on his grenades, three anti-personnel grenades, ready for use.




Just as Morham was completing his inspection the door separating the drop area and the cockpit slid open, revealing a burly looking lieutenant Coldwell with sour look on his face. His suit, a CMC-660, was even bulkier then the one Morham and the rest of his squad wore and made the image of the lieutenant that much more impressive.




As the lieutenant stepped over the threshold and into the drop area with the rest of the marines, another figure deftly slipped in right behind him. A tall and lean man with black hair, wearing a skin-tight suit of some sort. Morham didn’t recognize him from before so he presumed he was a technician of some sort, or perhaps an engineer assigned to their squad for the duration for the mission.




There was something very odd about him though, something that felt very out of place. Morham couldn’t quite put his finger on what that might’ve been at first, but there was definitely something strange about the man. The way he moved for instance, it almost seemed too graceful and controlled. And his eyes, they had a very hollow look to them as they darted around the drop bay. And when they met with Morham’s own, the marine couldn’t help but turn away from the sheer intensity in them. It was as if the man was looking straight into his soul, reading Morham like an open book.




No, there was something very different about this man, that much was plainly noticeable, and the realization of what exactly that was hit Morham like a brick to the head a few seconds later.




"Alright marines, listen up!" The lieutenant barked, demanding everyone’s full attention. The men quieted in anticipation, perhaps he had finally deemed it fit to let them in on their orders, they had been waiting for nearly an hour already, after all, without the slightest idea about where they were going and what they were supposed to do.




”For some of you, what I’m about to say is not going to be easy to hear. But out of all the squads operating out of Firebase Ambillion, you were the one with the least ties to Chau Sara, so consider yourself lucky.”




Something big had happened on Chau, that much was as plainly obvious by now. Perhaps a major terrorist strike? Morham thought.




”Three hours ago, a number of ships of unknown design dropped out of warp-space in high orbit around our sister planet. All attempts at communication with them failed, and without warning or provocation this fleet then proceeded to lay waste to the planetary defenses in orbit with little effort. Afterwards they turned their attention towards the planet below, unleashing a massive bombardment that lasted for almost an hour. We’ve yet to get any detailed scans of the planet, but long range telemetry suggests that most of the surface of the planet has been devastated and the ambient temperatures exceed levels where life can be sustained.”




”LT, just wha... what exactly are you saying?” One of the privates besides Anderson and Morham asked with a cracked voice.




Coldwell’s eyes almost took on a sad expression, something Morham had never seen before. ”I’m saying that everything on the planet is dead and destroyed. It’s been completely incinerated.”




Out of all the possible things Morham had speculated on earlier, nothing had come close to the truth. A fleet of unknown vessel had attacked Chau Sara? What faction could possibly muster an attack like that? The defenses around the planet would’ve been strong enough to repel anything but the most determined Kel-Morian or Umojan attack, and they had been behind this, then the vessels wouldn’t have been of an unknown design.




”I know that some of you had people that you knew on Chau Sara, but I’m asking you to put aside your grief for them a while longer. Because right now, I need you all focused and alert for the mission ahead.” The lieutenant continued, once he had deemed the information had been absorbed.




Morham knew that Orwell, the marine that had just spoken up, had family on Chau Sara, so it was little wonder he had seemed so distressed. With Chau and Mar Sara being the only two habitable worlds in the entire system, and both harboring populations that barely reached into the millions, it was quite common for people to know a great deal of people from the neighboring planet. Some of the other marines looked affected by the news as well, but Morham himself couldn’t recall anyone he knew being on Chau Sara, he was after all, still relatively new to this system.




”Sir,” Private Sanders spoke up. ”You said the hostile vessels were of an unknown configuration. Are there any indications as to who they were?”




Coldwell looked at Sanders, as if pondering whether to answer the question or not. ”There is no reliable information as to who they were at this time,” He answered briefly, before deciding to go on. ”However, intelligence is of the opinion that the enemy is most likely of alien origin. Their technology was beyond anything we’ve ever seen before and distinctly different from anything previously seen in the Koprulu Sector. It’s doubtful even old-earth could have reached such technical sophistication by now.”




”Aliens?” Anderson blurted. ”Are you saying that Chau Sara was attacked by... by little green men?”




”I don’t know what they look like or what color their skin is. Like I said, intelligence is only speculating on them being alien at the moment, nothing is certain. What I do know is our orders, and if you ladies are ready, I’d be eager to share them with you.”




Coldwell took a slow look around the bay to see he still had the marines’ attention. Convinced that he did, he continued.




”Immediately after the attack had begun, the Confederacy sent whatever military vessels it had in-system to attack the enemy fleet. However, the attack resulted in an un-coordinated disaster, and we lost nearly all of our attacking assets. There is one piece of positive news though. We managed to separate two smaller craft from the main bulk of the enemy fleet during the attack, and after a lengthy chase forced them to crash land here on Mar Sara. The first ship was reported to have completely broken up upon re-entry into our atmosphere, and is now spread out over an area of several hundred square kilometers; the second one came down fairly intact however. Needless to say, it’s imperative that we capture the remains of that ship for study, as it would give us a much needed look into who exactly we are dealing with.”




Most of the marines were still hung up on the fact that Chau Sara had been attacked and that everything on the planet had been destroyed and killed, however. And the realization of what kind of mission they had just been sent on hadn’t dawned on them quite yet.




”The situation in space is a mess at the moment. The hostiles warped away over an hour ago and haven’t been seen since. The Confederacy has dispatched a large fleet toward our system, but they are still in-transit and won’t get here in a few hours. That’s why they’re relying on the colonial militia to both lock down the system and secure the crash site.”




”Sir, are we expecting to actually engage these hostiles? Shouldn’t we have dispatched a larger force?” Private Sanders asked.




”Confederate intelligence assures us that nothing survived the crash, they’ve been continuously scanning every centimeter of the crash site, and so far there’s been no discernable activity there. Besides, the vessel crashed straight into the ground at over thirty kilometers per second, there’s no way anything can survive something like that.” The sergeant said. ”The reason we’re being sent in is simply to keep away potential scavengers. That ship would no doubt look like a mighty fine piece of loot to any and all who want to make a quick buck. So we’re going to make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. And one squad of marines is more then enough to keep away such rabble.”




Morham couldn’t help but chuckle a little at the fact that he a moment ago had been hoping never to re-live those years of hell during the Guild Wars and that he’d even entertained the idea of quitting the service altogether. This would be all but impossible after today’s events.




"And what might your part in this mission be?" Private Yurio asked, directing the question to the man who’d been standing silently beside the lieutenant. There was obvious contempt in his voice, which wasn’t all that surprising to Morham. The private had most likely figured out who and what the stranger was by now.




”Specialist Resnick has been sent by speedboat all the way from Dylar IV to act as an observer during this mission. And you will address him as Sir, from now on.” Coldwell replied.




The question had been a moot one, of course, since the marines had all pretty much guessed what Resnick’s role in all this was by now. He was a ghost, a highly skilled Confederate assassin and infiltrator. There were a lot of strange rumors floating around about his kind, suggesting that they had a wide variety of inhuman abilities, even such crazy things as telepathy, though that seemed a little too fantastic to be true. The Confederates no doubt wanted someone they knew they could trust on this mission, and who more loyal then someone trained to obey since birth?




No one liked the ghosts, as bad things seemed to follow them wherever they went. Yurio himself had once said he’d been apart of a mission with a ghost. He never did give any details, but it was obvious that whatever happened had left a deep seated hatred towards the assassins in him.




”Ok, alright, so what might your part in this mission be, Sir?” Yurio asked again, this time emphasizing the word Sir, perhaps a bit too much.




Resnick’s eyes narrowed dangerously on the private. "As was already said, I’m here as an observer. Other then that my orders for this mission are exactly the same as yours - secure the crash site."




"We will be touching down a few klicks from the crash site, as we don’t want to draw unwarranted attention to the site from potential onlookers, if there are any. We’ll then make our way towards the target on foot. Get your gear in shape, we’ll be making the drop in a few minutes." Lieutenant Coldwell said, and then marched back into the cockpit, the ghost following him silently, letting his gaze linger on Yurio for a while, before stepping through the hatch.




The door slid shut behind the pair, leaving a very quiet pack of marines behind.




"Wow,” Sanders finally said, breaking the silence. ”I always thought those crack-pots going on about aliens were mental.”




”A shame none of the ones on the crashed vessels are alive.” Orwell said, his voice stretched and thin. ”I’d love to be the one to put a spike through each and every one of their heads.”




”Bah! Confederate intelligence!” Anderson laughed. ”You’re expecting them to actually get something right for once? Not damn likely. This was nothing but another one of those stunts pulled by the Son’s of Korhal. Probably tricked the sensors to make it seem like there were alien ships out there or something.”




”I wonder if they are the short gray type people always claim are snatching their cattle.” Morham said.




”Didn’t you hear what I just said? There are no stinkin’ aliens!” Anderson shouted.




”Now there’s a freaky thought.” Sanders chuckled. ”I don’t suppose small and skinny fellows like that would respond well to a good old fashioned impaler burst, eh?” He said, tapping his rifle with his metallic hand.




Anderson threw up his hands in resignation, as no one seemed to be listening to him anymore. ”...Bunch o’ damn idiots.”




”I don’t think we should be worried about the aliens right now. It’s the ghost we should be keeping our eyes on. He’d have no qualms killing our entire squad if that somehow improved the chances of him fulfilling his orders... whatever those might really be.” Yurio said.




But Morham couldn’t help but wonder, if the alien fleet had been able to destroy their ships as easily as the lieutenant had implied, and then moved on to destroy the entire surface of Chau Sara in short order, then what would their soldiers be capable of?




Good thing they were all dead.

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<span style='color: orange'><strong class='bbc'>Chapter 2: First Contact[/b]</span>




The marines were getting really riled up now, their anxiousness at getting a glance at the supposedly alien vessel manifesting itself in lots of idle speculation and nervous chatter.




Orwell was the only one to remain silent during their approach to the crash site.




Morham, taking a closer look at the man, noticed that he was visibly shaking, and clasping his rifle so hard in his metallic hands that the sergeant thought it might break under the strain. He could only guess at what it might be like to hear you’ve just lost your entire family. He considered himself lucky for not being in Orwell’s boots right now.




The soft red light that bathed the drop-area suddenly changed to that of green, informing the marines that it was time to get ready for the drop.




Methodically, they all slid down their visors, detached the power cords that had been powering their suits, unfastened the clamps that secured them to their seats, and got up to a standing position, grabbing hold of a railing just above their heads with one hand and hoisting their rifles in the other.




The hatch separating the cockpit and the drop-bay slid open and in stepped the lieutenant and his pet ghost once again. “Alright boys, our pilot has scanned the LZ and there’s no indication of any activity there, hostile or otherwise, so we’ve got the green-light for a drop. Sergeant, prepare to deploy your men.”




Morham acknowledged the order. He also noted that the lieutenant was carrying a massive E-8 Gauss Minigun, a particularly powerful piece of hardware, while the ghost was now wearing his full gear, and holding a C-10 Canister rifle. The firepower those two carried was probably in excess of what the rest of the marines had on them.




Coldwell and Resnick took up positions with the marines, waiting for the rear hatch to open up and allow for the men to be disgorged.




The shaking grew more severe as the dropship started maneuvering sharply in the turbulent atmosphere, making its final approach, and the marines had to hold on tight in order to keep from falling over. Inertial dampeners on dropships like this weren’t exactly known for their efficiency. Then the craft jerked heavily, pulling its nose up, which was closely followed by a large thump, as the craft slammed down on the ground, coming to a standstill.




The hum of the servos controlling the hatch at the back could be heard as they slowly started shifting it opening. Bright light spewed from the cracks at the edges of the opening door, and the suits’ visors automatically adjusted to the brightness, allowing the marines near-perfect vision when normally their eyes would have had trouble adjusting to the sudden increase in brightness. Dust and sand came blowing into the drop-bay and the torrent of rushing air whipped against the marines, trying to grab hold of them. But a mere gust of wind stood no chance against the likes of a half-a-ton combat suited marine.




“Exit the vehicle!” Sergeant Morham shouted.




The first two to rush out and disappear into the swirling maelstrom of dust and sand on the outside were Sanders and Yurio. The two men quickly checked the area for any hostiles, using the close-range motion-sensor system built into their combat suits, as their eyes were all but useless in the storm the downward blast from the thrusters had whipped up. It was somewhat of a redundant step, of course, since the dropship had already used its more precise scanners to check the area. The real reason these precautions were used was to ‘check the water’, so to speak. There was technology around that would allow people to hide from even the sophisticated sensors on a dropship. And if this was the case, all the marines could hope for was that the enemy would be foolish enough to take a pot-shot at the first marines out and thus reveal themselves.




As it was however, there was no one there to greet them, just as predicted.




“Clear!” Sanders shouted over the comm., and one after one, the rest of the squad ran out to join the men already there, with the lieutenant and the ghost being the last two to exit the craft.




The men spread out and took up defensive positions around their drop-zone.




“Alright boys,” The dropship pilot said over the comm. “I’m heading out, so you’re on your own from now on, command says Confederate forces should relieve you in about three hours.” The pilot in the dropship said, and then broke off towards the horizon. The engines on his vessel blearing deafeningly and accelerating it away faster then one would think such a brick would be able to.




The landscape surrounding the marines was composed of the usual red sand and rust-brown dirt of the Saran planets, with sharp ridges shooting up on all sides around them. The entire length of the path to the crash-site would be dotted by mountains and fairly craggy terrain, the men noted as they stared off towards their destination. It would be perfect for a stealthy approach, but it’d also be perfect if an enemy had spotted them and wanted to ambush their squad. Of course they’d have to know the exact route the marines would take to do that, so the risk was minimal. And the chance that some rag-tag pirate group actually dared attack them was even more remote.




"The crash-site is three clicks east from here. We should be able to make it there in short order. I’ve uploaded topographical data and geographical information into your suits’ HUDs, check them regularly, if something goes wrong it’s good to know the surrounding terrain." The lieutenant said. “Sergeant, take your men out.”




“Alright, you heard the man,” Morham shouted. “Single file, loosely spaced. Sanders, Yurio, switch to infra-red mode. Orwell, keep an eye on the motion tracker. The risk of hostile encounters might be minimal, but I want everyone on their toes.”




"As for you, specialist,” lieutenant Coldwell said and turned towards the ghost. “You’ll approach the site from an elevated position, using stealth. I want eyes up high, understand? Follow us by the path I’ve marked for you and contact us the second you see anything suspicious. Otherwise I want minimal comm. chatter."




Resnick nodded and took off towards one of the ridges without so much as a word. He was moving gracefully, with a speed that seemed unnatural for the human form. And when he reached the first crags up in the distance, Morham could swear the man just up and disappeared, as if he had simply vanished into thin air. The sergeant knew that cloaking technology that could render objects invisible to the naked eye existed, but not that it’d been miniaturized to the point where individual soldiers could carry such systems.




“Alright, file in, were headed out! Yurio, take point.”




Morham watched as Coldwell started off towards the objective in his lumbering combat suit. At one point in time the sergeant himself had walked around in a CMC-660, though his had been the “Firebat” version, rather then the “Painkiller” modification Coldwell currently donned, the main difference lying in the weapons loadout. The 660 was less nimble then the CMC-300s, but it packed a lot more armor and could carry far heavier firepower due to the increased mass and stability it provided. The 10mm gauss minigun, firing depleted uranium slugs at hypersonic velocities had such tremendous recoil, that such a suit was required in order to fire the weapon with any degree of accuracy.




Not long after, they were making their way across the rocky terrain at a brisk pace. All of them were on the alert and keeping a lookout for anything suspicious, but the land around them was as dead as a rock, and apart from the occasional plant there was nothing but sand, dirt and stony earth in every direction.




Anderson, through his alcohol impaired senses, thought of the march as a nice little outing rather then the advance towards a military objective that it really was, and he was happily whistling a cheery tune to himself inside his suit. No one else could hear it, of course, since he had his comm. systems switched off.




A kilometer passed without incident, but a sudden shout broke that tranquility. "Contact!" One of the marines up ahead bellowed, and the shout was quickly followed by the sounds of rifle fire.




Orwell had been the one to open fire, Morham saw.




The rest of the squad scrambled for cover and swung towards the area the private was targeting, they joined in and sprayed the entire area with hypersonic spikes, though their targeting systems hadn’t registered any enemy yet. The needles tore their way to their destination with a crackling sound and peppered whatever it had been Orwell had been shooting at, barely two hundred meters away, throwing up dust with every impact, making it impossible to see what the marine had been firing at in the first place.




"Goddamnit! Hold your fire!" The lieutenant shouted over the comm. and the rifles quieted in obedience. For a few tense moments the entire squad sat there, silently watching the target area for any signs of movement.




"The motion sensors registered movement out there, sir!" Private Orwell said, wanting to press the attack.




"I know you did, private, I saw it too. But what makes you think you can go around shooting at anything that moves? What if it had been a curious civilian? Would killing him help us secure the crash-site? We only open fire if we can confirm the targets are indeed hostile." The lieutenant said, and strode over to the spot Orwell had targeted. There was still too much dust in the air to see the what he had been shooting at, but it all became much clearer when Coldwell hoisted a dead rhynadon, or rather, the largest piece of it that remained, into the air.




"This, dear ladies, is not a hostile target.” The lieutenant said, pointing an armored finger at the shredded beast hanging from his hand. “This is a rhynadon. A one-hundred and twenty kilogram herbivore that wouldn’t threaten so much as a bug, much less a fully armored and armed marine! Now while I can see how some of you can make the mistake of confusing an armed and dangerous pirate for a docile animal, I would suggest that you think before you shoot next time. Giving away our position like this might cost us more then a few rounds of ammo next time!”




Coldwell dropped the broken beast to the blood soaked ground and marched back to Orwell, sliding up his visor as he did. If Coldwell had a happy-face, then this would probably have been the closest thing to the exact opposite as you could get. “Explain yourself, private.”




Orwell slid his visor up to meet the gaze of the furious lieutenant. “I… I thought it was one of those aliens… Sir.” Orwell explained, showing Coldwell that his hate for the unknown aggressors was clearly clouding his judgment.




“I want you to listen closely to me, private.” Coldwell said, leaning closer. “The aliens, if they are even aliens, are dead. They died in the crash. I know you lost your family in the recent attack, but if you don’t get a hold of yourself, you’ll be relieved of duty. Now can you focus on the objective at hand or am I going to have to order you to remain behind?”




“I’m fine, sir. I won’t make the same mistake again.”




“Great,” the lieutenant said. “And don’t go making any new ones either.” He added, heading back up the line of soldiers. “We’re moving out!” He said over the comm., and added a few berating words to Morham as well, telling him, in private, to better control his men.




“Nice move there, Orwell. You sure showed that critter who’s boss.” Anderson taunted over a private comm. line.




“Shut up.” Was the only forthcoming reply.




The column of marines continued their advance, the tension relieved somewhat by the brief slip-up.




Some time later, after rounding yet another one of the endless ridges, the marines came into visual range of the crash site. The still burning hulk of the downed alien ship lay a little over three hundred meters away, at the end of a long trench that it had created when it came down. A black column of smoke still rose from the burnt and broken carcass of the vessel.




Intelligence had said the ship was one of the smaller ones, but it must’ve been nearly three hundred meters long, which was almost half the size of a Confederate Behemoth-class battlecruiser.




“Whew, that must’ve been some landing.” Yurio said, giving a short whistle of appreciation.




“Yeah, I’d hate to have been one of the bastards inside the ship when it came down.” Sanders added.




“Cut the chatter and take up positions along the lip of the trench, fifteen meter spread between each man. I want your full attention focused on that wreckage and its surroundings.” The lieutenant ordered. “Sanders, Yurio, IR scan. The rest of you zoom in to visually check for movement. I want every centimeter in and around that ship checked and then re-checked.”




The marines scrambled to do as they had been ordered, and soon they had taken up their positions, just like the lieutenant had ordered. Their eyes were fixed on the burning mass in front of them, their suits visors zooming in on the smoking wreckage, searching for any signs of life. But unsurprisingly there were none to be found.




“Sir, the heat radiating off the ship makes IR equipment virtually useless, it’s all just one big blur.” Sanders reported.




“Roger, switch to normal imaging.”




On the incline to their left, Resnick, who had been silently flanking the group all along their trek towards the crashed ship, was doing the same thing, combing through the area with the scope on his rifle, trying to find some evidence of something still alive down there. But the smoke and debris clouded most parts of the ship from his sights, and the landscape around it was completely barren. Neither did his motion sensors find anything, and they had a significantly longer range when compared to the ones the marines carried.




What troubled him was that even though he registered no life with any of his normal equipment, he thought he could feel something down there, a psionic presence, although a very strange one. But even so it barely registered on his psionically attuned senses. He finally shrugged it off as interference from the tense mood of the marines down below him. If there was something alive down there, it would be registering more clearly.




“Why the hell are we crawling around in the dirt for?” Anderson finally asked, growing tired of all the needless caution. “Nothing could have survived that crash and neither are there any scavengers present.” He added, voicing what everybody else was already thinking.




Even Morham, the rational part of him, had started to think that maybe his anxious mood was needless. But then why was he sweating so much? And why couldn’t he shake that deep-seated feeling in his stomach that something wasn’t as it should.




“That’s just a damn shame now isn’t it?” The voice of private Sanders echoed through the headset of all the marines. “I was looking forward to seeing some real action.” A few muffled chuckles could be heard from the other Marines. Much of the built-up tension was now turning to a light mirth.




“Well, in that case, Sanders won’t have anything against taking a closer look at that wreckage, will he?” Lieutenant Coldwell’s voice cut through the quiet laughter of the others. “But don’t you worry, the rest of us will cover you from up here.”




Apparently the lieutenant wasn’t completely satisfied with the idea that the area was clear just yet.




Sanders didn’t doubt his own assessment of the situation, and there was no way anything could be hiding inside the burning hulk of the alien ship, they’d be burned to a crisp in seconds. But he was still a little nervous about getting closer to the wreckage, what if something volatile blew up, what if the aliens had rigged their ships with booby traps just in case they crashed?




“Well, what are you waiting for? Get down there and report back when you’ve searched through the immediate area.” The lieutenant insisted.




“Yes, sir!” Sanders replied grumpily and got up.




The marine walked over to the edge of the trench the crashed vessel had dug, searching for an easy way down. He didn’t fancy taking a tumble now that all the others were looking.




Just then, Yurio thought he saw something shimmer briefly in the sunlight, some distance away, at the edges of the wrecked ship. But by the time he had focused his sights on the place and realized what it was, it was already too late.




“Get down!” He shouted, trying to get Sanders to take cover, just as a small object shot from the vessel and crashed into the bewildered marine standing out in the open. The thing that hit the soldier couldn’t have been more then a few centimeters in diameter, but the blast from it blew the entire nearby area sky-high, the shockwave making itself apparent on the two closest marines and showering the entire area with dust and raining pebbles of rock.




Yurio looked back at where Sanders had stood, but there was nothing but a crater there now. A quiet terror gripped him, even as he could hear the other marines shouting out frenzied commands and opening fire all around him. He himself found that he could not move. Unlike Morham and most of the others, he hadn’t seen real combat before, much less had a friend blown into pieces only a few meters away from where he was.




None of the other marines had seen where the shot had originated from and they all knew they were hitting nothing but dirt and metal as they sprayed the wreckage with spikes, but still they held their triggers down. They couldn’t see the vessel through all the smoke, but the HUDs showed the location where it should’ve been clearly enough.




Coldwell, confident that the smoke would shield him from enemy eyes, got up and aimed his weapon in the general direction of the wreckage. He pulled down on the trigger. The air around him was filled with the noise of the spinning barrels and discharging coils as he peppered the enemy ship with one hundred and twenty hypersonic depleted-uranium spikes per second. The spray looked more like a stream of blue energy beams then physical projectiles, as the continuous flight of metal ionized the air. The recoil dug his feet into the dirt around him as he braced against the massive force the weapon produced. Back and forth he swung his minigun, making sure that every single inch of the vessel had been hosed with spikes.




One of the other marines got up and threw a number of grenades in the direction of the enemy, his suit enhanced strength easily propelling the grenades across the distance. Explosions augmented the noise of rifle fire, and the entire area in front of them was turned into a giant orgy of flame and destruction.




"Hold your fire!" The lieutenant finally shouted over the comm. and the sound of weapons fire died down. By now the entire area from the marines to the ship was bathed in nothing but smoke and dust. "Visually locate the hostiles before opening fire again, otherwise we'll just end up hitting nothing!"




He was hoping that their massive barrage had at taken at least a few of the enemies out and given the survivors a good scare. With some luck there were no more enemies… But that thought felt unpleasantly familiar.




The marines acknowledged the orders and reloaded their rifles. Then they started scanning the area again, their motion scanners running in the background all the while. They might have a hard time finding the enemy through all that smoke, but the enemy would be hard off getting a clear shot at them as well.




Morham felt cold sweat trickle down his face and his heavy breathing echoed in his ears. Somehow he had known that something like this was going to happen.




And it was still far from over, so he focused his sights on the general area of the wreckage again.




There! What was that? For a split second the private thought he saw something, a shadow perhaps, moving behind the thick veil of dust and smoke, and it was coming straight towards them. He searched for the figure again but couldn’t find it. There was nothing there now but clouds of sand. He checked his motion sensors, but he knew it to be futile, the enemy would still be out of range, and IR was too blurred to make any sense.




Then he heard a shout from Orwell, who was situated far to his left. A second later, gunfire was heard. Morham turned to look at where the marine was firing and saw what looked like the contours of a bipedal creature approaching the shouting soldier at a running pace. When it exited the cloud Morham saw that it wore golden armor of some sort that shone in the sunlight, and it looked wholly alien. It covered the distance between itself and the edge of the trench in only a few seconds, and then leapt what must’ve been six meters into the air to land no more then a few strides from Orwell, all while the private kept emptying rounds at full auto into the beast.




It had to be at least a head taller then a human. Twin blades jutted out from its arms, but they didn’t look like they were made from any tangible material, indeed they seemed almost as if they were made of pure energy -- azure fire, of some sort.




The two marines closest to the enemy got up to their knees and opened fire at the monstrosity. They had to be careful not to hit Orwell though. Yurio was one of those marines, he’d snapped out of his panic stricken state, the combat suit’s drug-injection system making sure of it. But the slugs that were spat from their rifles never connected with the beast itself. A blue field of some sort shimmered into existence and harmlessly repelled the spikes just before they were about to impact.




Morham tried to get a fix on the target, but he knew he would only risk hitting Orwell if he opened fire at this distance.




And before he knew it, the warrior was at arms length from Orwell. He could only watch in silent horror as the alien made a few swift slashes with its blades and cut the marine down, the energy plowing through solid metal armor like a hot knife through butter, leaving behind cauterized flesh and molten metal. The comm. filled with the blood-filled screams of the dying marine even as the gunfire continued to rain down on the slashing enemy.




The alien turned to head for the marine next in line -- Yurio -- Morham realized. But by now the strength of the field surrounding the creature seemed to have weakened from the continuous fire, and then it finally failed. The monster tore forward even as the first spikes started penetrating its armor and skin. It gave one final thrust with one of its blades and stabbed it straight through Yurio’s visor, killing the marine instantly. But without the shielding to protect it, the warrior was torn to pieces even as its bladed arm was still lodged in the dead marines head. Its body came apart and blue ichors sprayed from the beast, leaving nothing but a crumpled heap of guts and gore on the ground after a few more seconds of continuous fire.




Another shout pierced the comm. line, this time from Anderson, who was situated furthest to the left, beyond where Yurio and Orwell had been. Morham realized that in their concentration on the first alien, another one had managed to cover almost the entire distance between itself and the marines.




Morham got up and aimed his rifle at the alien running for his friend. This must have been the one who had killed Sanders, he realized, as he noticed the rifle like object slung across its back. Morham and Anderson let out burst after burst of fire but the enemy didn't so much a flinch as it advanced, much less slow its inhuman dash. The momentum from their combined fire must’ve been massive, Morham realized, but the beast didn’t even seem to notice it.




Then the alien had reached him. Anderson gave one final horrified scream and pressed down on the trigger as hard as he could.




But nothing happened.




He looked down and realized the problem, his finger and rifle were no longer attached to the rest of his body. His eyes focused on his arm, lying there on the ground beside him, still clutching the rifle, acrid smoke rising from seared the flesh. It had been cut clean from his body with a single swipe by the enemy’s energy blades.




Private Anderson knew he was already dead, but he wanted to see his attacker, so he lifted his head to meet its gaze even as it prepared to strike him. Its eyes burned with an unnatural fire. It was no alien, it was a demon, were the final thoughts of the marine.




Morham watched in silent impotence as a final swipe finished the life of his closest friend, sending his headless body crashing to the ground.




He could feel tears building up behind his eyes, blurring his vision. The fear that a moment ago had dominated his mind was gone now, replaced by a hatred he hadn’t known he was capable of, and probably wasn’t capable off without the synthetic drugs being pumped into his bloodstream. He gave a primal scream, slammed another magazine into the rifle and pressed down on the trigger. He ran towards the enemy, all rational thought suppressed and replaced with an overpowering need to hurt the beast that had killed his friends. He would see the creature dead for what it had done, no matter the cost to himself.




The beast turned to focus its attention on Morham and his advance. The projectiles from the marine’s rifle still slamming against the energy field surrounding it, but it was only a matter of time before it would fail, he knew. And he would refuse to die before the alien did.




As it was, the protective shield failed long before the creature even got close to Morham, the strain put on it from before had been too much to cope with. The fiend was killed shortly thereafter, it’s body ripped apart by razor-sharp shards of metal. But that wasn’t enough for Morham. He spat and swore as he kept on pumping the creature full of spikes even as its broken body lay there in the dust. The assault subsiding only once the magazine clicked empty.




Morham looked down at his dead foe, his finger still pressing down on the trigger. He didn’t want to stop the assault. His chest heaved with exertion and he could feel his heart beating in his ears. Slowly, as his bloodlust subsided, he realized the pounding in his head had been replaced by an angry voice.




“Morham! What the hell are you doing?! Get back here and provide support, goddamnit!” The voice of lieutenant Coldwell barked.




The sergeant turned around to look at where his lieutenant was. In his hands he held his gauss-minigun, spraying an advancing alien with it, but the energy field halted the slugs in their tracks. It seemed impossible to Morham that anything could survive such an assault.




“Get here now!” Coldwell’s angry voice repeated.




Morham did as he was told and started for the lieutenant, lifting his rifle to his shoulder and aiming. ‘Click! Click! Click!’ was all that was heard when he pressed down on the trigger. Damn, he thought as realized he’d used up all of his ammo, and he had no more spare mags. He threw the rifle to the ground and reached down for his sidearm, a piddly pistol. It would be all but useless against enemies like this, he realized, but he had to do something.




As it was, his pistol wasn’t needed. The energy field the alien surrounded itself with was strong, but even it couldn’t withstand the massive firepower the lieutenant wielded. The field failed, and in less then a second the creature had been reduced to mincemeat. When Coldwell finally eased off the trigger, nothing remained of the fiend except a field of blue blood and ripped flesh.




But despite his victory, something wasn’t right with the lieutenant, Morham realized. He was screaming like he was in intense pain.




“Sir, what’s wrong?” The sergeant asked over the comm. But Coldwell didn’t answer him, instead he slumped to his knees clutching the headpiece of his suit with his armored hands, shaking uncontrollably.




Just then, Morham spotted a fourth enemy emerging from the dust cloud. But this one didn’t come running at them like the others had. It didn’t even look like the others, instead of the golden armor and twin blades the others had had this one sported a long, flowing robe and it carried no visible weapons at all.




And it almost looked like its feet were hovering slightly off the ground as it approached.




But when the lieutenant gave a scream so loud that Morham had to tone down his comm., he knew he had been wrong when he had thought it unarmed. He looked back to the strange enemy and saw that it held its hand stretched out towards Coldwell, as if it was reaching for him from afar, trying to grab him. Morham lifted his pistol and fired at the strange warrior, but that all too familiar blue shimmering field intercepted his slugs.




The lieutenant gave one final scream and jerked violently, his visor exploding from the inside out as the man slumped to the ground. On the inside of his headpiece, Morham could see that there was nothing more then a gory mess of brain and pieces flesh left where his skull should have been. His head had exploded -- but how? The sergeant didn't know what to think anymore, his entire squad had been taken down by only four of these strange aliens, and now he was out of ammo, with the most dangerous one of them slowly approaching him.




"You bastards think you’re tough, huh? Well let’s see how well you’ll swallow this!" He screamed as he grabbed a grenade from his waist. But something very odd happened before he could throw it. He felt the grenade being physically torn from his hand and thrown aside. Then he felt a heavy thud against his chest and was sent flying backwards through the air. His flight came to an abrupt halt before long though, as he hit a solid rock wall behind him and came crashing down on his face.




He managed to get up on all fours again, only to see the beast closing in on him, slowly reaching out for him as he had reached out for the lieutenant. A pain started growing in his head. He thought he was going to die right then and there.




But suddenly he saw something shimmer behind the alien. At first he dismissed it as a trick of his eyes, but realized it was something more when three explosions hit the alien’s shields in rapid succession, and then, to Morham’s surprise, the strange beast fell to the ground.




It hadn’t been knocked out by the explosions, indeed the shield had repelled those blasts, something else had done it, as if the enemy had been hit in the head by some invisible force.




"This one I think we’ll need alive." He heard a disembodied voice say. He looked around but couldn’t locate the source. If he’d managed to stay conscious for a few more seconds he would have understood why, as Resnick disabled his cloak and became visible, standing over the unconscious alien with an emotionless stare.

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<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.

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