Book: Debug Mode
Temple of S.A.R.A.H.
Debug Mode – Episode V
By Ben Winston
Copyright © 2015 Ben Winston
Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.
Table of Contents
Debug Mode – Episode V
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All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Debug Mode – Episode V
New Council Chambers
Planet Galtar IV
Galtar System, Veranorian Directorate
“What is the status of ship refits?” a cowled figure asked.
“On schedule Proconsul,” another cowled figure replied. “Improved efficiency our programming has done. Far more agreeable the Shallans now are.”
“Troubled by freedom of thought they are no longer,” the Proconsul said, nodding slowly. “To focus more completely on duties they now can. What of the new Queen facility?”
“A good beginning is underway Proconsul,” another cowled figure replied. “New safeguards and new designs take much more time than original facility had. Adding the ability to ensure total destruction we have, as well as placement on airless moon. Surface to be installed with psionic disruption devices to inhibit Aracnise telepathic communion.”
“To what end?” another cowled figure asked. “Psionic communion designed to give queens undetectable long range communications.”
“Agreed,” the original being replied. “In the event of emergency only would disruptor network be used. To isolate main hive and prohibit main queen from calling ships to aide her if she gains autonomy.”
“A wise precaution,” the Proconsul spoke, ending the conversation. “To rebuild our fighting forces all must now focus our efforts. Attack and take control of Alliance Fleet Command we must. Only with entire fleet will Veranor once again be our home. In this place, the tools we have. To use them wisely we must decide. No dissension amongst us can we afford. United in this goal we must remain.”
“Agreed in this we are Proconsul. Wondering about the rogue Queen I am. Will she not strike this system first in order to gain control of the Queens here? Because of the Communion, she must know of their existence,” another figure asked. “Quickly overwhelmed current defenses would be when arrives the full might of the main hive.”
If anyone could have seen him, they would have seen the Proconsul smile under his hood. “All Aracnese ships built here at GMASS. Index codes for these ships have been retained. Control of ships we will have once main hive sends them here. Shut them down, order self-destruct, or vent to space we can. Fleets of Rogue Queen are not to these facilities.”
“Withheld this information from us you have Proconsul, to what ends?” another asked.
The Proconsul gestured negligently. “An over-sight, nothing more. So much has been happening the information was simply overlooked.”
“With respect Proconsul, that which has been overlooked on my own part has now been brought to the fore. I must report that there is a possibility that the rogue Queen has succeeded in seeding at least three colonies on the planet called Earth in the Sol Sector,” one of the figures reported. “Orders to seed Earth where issued prior to the Queen rebelling. She retained control of that mission and it is believed to have been successful. Two planets the rogue now has. Effectively unlimited breeding potential she now has. Cybernetically enhanced and highly intelligent the rogue must be considered. Capable of constructing elements of advanced technology including space ships capable of interstellar travel. Uncertain we are about the destruction of databases, detailed instructions of our technology they had. Assume we must that all information is now available to the rogue Queen.”
“Was not her access to data limited? Only genetic data relevant to her race was stored in the facility. Her broods destroyed all else once freed,” another member of the council replied.
“Genetic data was stored in the facility. Foolish it would be to assume destruction of all our data cores. Many remote copies existed to ensure redundancy in the event of a catastrophic computer event. Assume she found those we must. Most cities of the main continent have been destroyed in orbital bombardment. To us our Alliance spies reported. Cores were located all over the planet with daily updates for accuracy. Destruction of these cores was not ordered during the evacuation.”
“Under the most ideal of circumstances, it will take the Rogue years to build the facilities necessary of producing original ships and other war machines,” the Proconsul replied. “Yes we failed in ordering the destruction of the data. Correct this mistake at this point we cannot. Trouble us in the distant future it may. To the here and now we must pay heed!”
The members of the former Synod Council all bowed to him in acceptance of his order.
Office of the Base Commander
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
I had been invited to have lunch with Admiral Vance, but as I neared his office for the appointment, I couldn’t help but wonder what new event had transpired that would change our world this time. It really was too bad I couldn’t simply have lunch with my friend without something dire and Earth-shattering interrupting it.
When I entered his office and he saw my face, he must have figured out what I was thinking. He chuckled. “Relax Eric! This really is only a friendship lunch.”
I chuckled myself and nodded. “I guess the events of the last few weeks are starting to get to me, Admiral. It just seems like every time we turn around there is something about to bite us in the ass.”
“That’s true, it has been rather lively around here. Truth be told, that isn’t going to change either. Now that we know Earth has been seeded, we’re going to be doing everything we can to clear out the Arac hives before they can get established. My only problem with the whole mess is that we have to wait for the governments involved down there to allow it!” Vance said. “It’s ludicrous really. It’s like they think we are trying to overthrow them or something.”
“That’s probably exactly what they think Sir. Either that or you are trying to stage a large-scale invasion,” I replied. “If you think about it, the entertainment industry down there has made a lot of the population pretty skeptical about trusting ‘Aliens’. I’d bet my left arm that if you had only human Marines, there would be less of a problem.” I placed my order for food and waited for it to be delivered before taking a seat at the conference table.
“Lucky for you, I’m not a gambling man. Although they were told that multiple races were members of our ground forces, the leaders I’ve spoken to seem to be less worried about that than they are the numbers we’re going to need. If it were only a couple of hundred, it wouldn’t bother them, but they seem to think a battalion would be sufficient to take control of their government!” Vance replied.
“Ah, now I get it. You forget whom we’re talking about, Admiral. Earth has no advanced technology at all. All they have are projectile weapons that we can easily shield against. A battalion would be more than enough force to take over a government, hell you could probably take the whole planet with that force and not lose more than two or three soldiers doing it!”
Vance looked thoughtful as he took a bite of his General Tso’s Chicken. He swallowed. “You know, I think you might be onto something there. Honestly, none of our core worlds are any better equipped than Earth is, but the people are far more used to dealing with the idea of what would be considered advanced technology on Earth,” he took a sip of green tea. “You know, I should have thought of that.”
“I don’t see how you could have,” I said after swallowing a french fry. “You’ve never even been down to the planet as far as I know, and you’ve only had limited exposure to the recruits. The population in general probably fears us just as much if not more than the idea of being infested by giant spiders. They know we are there; they can only trust that we’re telling them the truth about the spiders.”
“Well, they’ll have proof enough in a very short time. The Aracs need food in order to reach maturity. While they can subsist on plants and such, they need proteins in order to actually grow. That means animals and people,” Vance said. “They’re going to see entire villages simply disappear.”
“I thought Aracs were more… uh, messy,” I said.
Vance nodded as he enjoyed another bite of his food. “Usually, they are, but when there is a young queen to feed the ‘food’ is brought to her in the hive. Usually, while it is still alive and kicking.”
I nodded as I took a bite of my bacon cheeseburger. When I was finished I said. “So, when we start to see the messy stuff, we know that the queen has matured and is breeding, right?”
“Pretty much. That is when it’s the most dangerous; one queen can drop hundreds of eggs. Since she is a seeding queen, you can bet hard money on there being more queens among the first hatching. The hive grows exponentially from that point. Within a year the Arac population will shoot over a billion. By then, the planet will have already been lost.”
“What do they eat once the kill off all the animals? I always wondered about that,” I said, curiously.
Vance shrugged. “No one knows. It’s usually too dangerous to get close enough to the planet to study them. Of course, in the past, most of those types of missions were controlled by the Council which was in turn controlled by the Synod.”
“You know, the recruiters found people to fill the seats of the Council. You should simply tell them you need to make the assault give them a time line and let them handle the other politicians,” I said.
Vance snorted and grinned. “You think I should just tell them this is happening on this day. If they get permission or not won’t matter?”
“It’s far easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask for permission,” I said, quoting. “A pioneer in computer programming said that once. She was also a Rear Admiral in my former country’s navy named Grace Hopper.”
Vance laughed. “Now that I can believe! It sounds like something a sailor would come up with!”
“Not to change the subject, but has anyone bothered to try to discover what the Aracs are up to?” I asked.
“Yeah, they’ve tried. The best we can get is a long-range scan of Veranor. It looks like the entire Arac fleet came home. They’ve tried to send probes into the system to get more information, but they are quickly intercepted. Whatever they’re up to, the Queen doesn’t want anyone else to know about it,” Vance replied. “The Intelligence folks still haven’t been able to settle on which system they’ll attack first. However, Fleet Command, GMASS and we are the top three. Honestly, I don’’t see them attacking here; after all, they succeeded in seeding Earth. Before now, that has always resulted in that planet falling to them. Why would they need to attack here?”
I nodded my understanding. “I can see that. I can also understand attacking Fleet Command, but why would they hit GMASS? I’ll grant you that it the closest main facility to Veranor, but what other reason would they have for it?” I asked.
“There are a several reasons. Strategically, it would be a smart target to hit since it would cripple ship production for the Alliance, provided the Shallans will still produce ships for us. Intel says that the Synod ran there and took over. If that’s true then we’re in much bigger trouble than most know. GMASS wasn’t just the largest shipyard; it was our only shipyard capable of building Capitol class ships. The Alliance doesn’t even have a repair dock big enough for our largest ships.
“Other reasons for the Aracs to hit GMASS are because it is the closest military target, also it is where all the Arac ships were built so the Queen might see it as a priority target in order to ensure her own repair and production capabilities. Finally, they know that is where the Synod fled to. Past dealings with Aracs have shown that they have a very high anger level. If the Queen is angry at the Synod for their control of her, there is little doubt that she will hunt them down and kill every last Veranorian she can find. Vengeance isn’t just a word to them, it’s almost genetic,” Vance finished.
I shrugged. “It might be genetic; we have no idea what the Veranorians programmed into them.”
“Good point,” Vance replied as he ate his fried rice. “However, with the massing of her fleets, Intel thinks she will strike at Alliance Command. If she threw everything she had at it right now, it would be a close fight. Both sides would suffer horrendous losses. It would be hard to say which side would ultimately win.”
“Yeah, but the Queen would have to know that as well wouldn’t she? Knowing that she would have no way to replace or repair her own ships would keep her from striking at Alliance Command, wouldn’t it?” I asked.
“Possibly, however, we have no way to know if she is aware of how heavily defended Fleet Command is. Just because we haven’t detected any probes from her doesn’t mean there haven’t been any. There is still quite a bit about the Aracs we simply don’t know. For example, we always believed that the Aracs were superior geneticists because of that race of beings they use as fighter pilots. But now we know that the Aracs were really under the Veranorian’s control. So does that mean that the Veranorian’’s created them as well? We’ve never been able to capture one alive because there is no escape module in an Arac fighter, and they tend to explode very easily when hit. We do know that while the beings can handle extreme, high-gee maneuvers that would make our pilots pass out, the beings can’t tolerate prolonged exposure to gravity greater than half of what we have here at our base.”
“It sounds like we simply need more information on the Aracs and how they think,” I said, drinking my root beer.
“Well, let me know the next time you meet one that’s willing to talk and I’ll ask him!” Vance replied grinning. “Say, the First Admiral wanted me to pass along a request to you.”
I was surprised. “To me? Whatever for?”
“When you finish the new AI for Fleet Command, he would like you to consider retasking Susan to Fleet Intelligence. He said that she has performed remarkably well and has expressed an interest in joining that field,” Vance replied.
“Honestly, I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but if that’s what she would like to do, then I would be happy to set her up for that when the time comes. I’ll even put a new core on the board for her,” I said, feeling pleased that one of my girls had asked for a specific assignment once her current one was finished.
Vance nodded. “I’m sure Hearlis will be happy to hear it. I think he’s grown rather fond of Susan and was afraid we would simply shut her down once we were finished with her.”
“That would be like murdering one of my children!” I said, aghast at the thought of it.
Vance nodded. “I am sure the First Admiral has no idea how you feel about the AI, Eric. In fact, I’m sure many will see them as nothing more than cleverly designed computer interfaces. Which I have to admit is not only wholly inaccurate, but a massive disservice to them as well.”
Artificial Intelligence Lab
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
After lunch, I returned to my Lab to get back to work on the Fleet Command AI. I was having trouble with the personality matrix and it was driving me nuts. However, before I returned to the programming suite, I made sure to put a new Station Class crystal on the board to be grown for Susan and the Intelligence Division. I also made a note for myself about retasking Susan for the Intelligence Division.
I took a moment to appreciate the system Ced had developed for classifying the crystal computer cores. The largest of which was called a System Class. These massive crystals would be the most difficult to grow, requiring that any magnetic fields be shielded as well as a null gravity environment. In addition to those precautions, it would take almost two months to reach ‘maturity’ and the growth process be halted. Even with all of that, there was a fifteen to twenty percent chance the crystal would develop a flaw and become useless.
Next in line would be the Planet Class crystal. These crystals would also be quite large and require the same environment as the System Class in order to reach maturity. However, the crystal itself would be smaller and have less capacity than a System Class. As the name implied, it would be designed for use as a planetary AI.
The next smallest was the Base Class crystal. While not requiring the extreme precautions of the System and Planet Classes, it could be grown in the lab on the base, however, doing so induced a high probability of the crystal being flawed. Sarah was using a Base Class crystal, albeit a small one.
Next were the Station and Capitol Class crystals. Both of these classes were roughly the same size, but served different functions requiring a slightly different set-up. A Station Class would require far more interface capability than a Capitol Class. In a pinch, it was possible for these units to be interchanged.
Everything smaller than this was either designed for the small ships, or classified by the ship class, or purpose built for whatever use was needed. These were far easier to customize since they could be safely grown in the lab and didn’t take nearly the same amount of time to grow as their larger brethren.
Then of course, there were the Nano Class crystals. These little buggers were mainly for medical use, and Ced was more than happy to assume the manufacturing of them for Christy. They took only seconds to grow to maturity and since we now had the process somewhat streamlined, Ced had set up a small area in the Crystal Lab that could grow a few thousand at a time. Right next to that unit was the micro assembly units for building the small machines. The reasons for this were two-fold. One, the crystals had to be kept in a virtual vacuum to keep dust and whatnot from contaminating them. So the easiest way to eliminate the possibility was to assemble the units immediately upon completion. The other reason for the assembly units to be there was the whole thing fascinated Ced who readily agreed to the stewardship of the completely automated building process.
Sighing, since I knew I was procrastinating, I left my office to get back to work on Athena. That personality matrix was really giving me fits. At least I still had time before the crystal finished growing, provided it didn’t develop any flaws: at the rate I was going, I almost hoped it would, because I’d need the time to get Athena fixed.
In frustration, I copied out the personality matrix and over wrote it with the one Sarah used since I knew she was stable. However, when I got Athena running in her virtual environment, she was still unstable. So, the issue then was not the personality matrix, but some other module that gave input to that matrix. The question was which one? Frustrating!
The only way to fix this was to slowly replace each input module until a change was noted and we could analyze why the imbalance had taken place. That should only take about a year!
I had been so focused on the AI programming, that I hadn’t made certain that our hackers wouldn’t see it. I was very surprised when Alicyn, one of the hackers I had asked be recruited, saw my frustration and approached me. “We might be able to help if we knew what you were doing, Eric.”
“This is something you aren’t supposed to know about, Alicyn. I’m sorry,” I said.
Alicyn nodded. “Yeah, I kind of figured that. But, since we did would you like our help or not?”
I knew that now the cat was out of the bag with them, they would kill themselves trying to figure out what it was I was up to. There was a chance they would do it too. But in the process, they might damage Sarah or her ability to interface with the base.
I sighed and had them all come to my office. Of the original seven, only five had remained. One became too xenophobic to remain and was now on his way to Novalis for a programming job. The other young woman had no problems with the mixed races, but actually developed a form of claustrophobia and had to be returned to the planet under sedation. She had been asked to remain a part of the effort by helping out from Earth. She happily agreed because she was one of those that honestly believed in our mission. It really was a shame she couldn’t handling living up here. Now she helped us by controlling the amount of information about us that could be found on the internet.
Once everyone was in the office and the door was closed, I smiled at them; “Guys, You all know that I haven’t told you everything going on here. I never said I would, and if I remember correctly I did say there would be stuff I couldn’t tell you about.” When most of them nodded agreement, I continued. “What you just saw out there was one of those things you are not supposed to know about. Will you be able to leave this alone and not try to find out what the secret is, or will you let your curiosity get the better of you? The reason I’m asking is because if you try to dig into this, there is a better than average chance you could damage something that might end up costing lives. Remember where we are, what do you think would happen if you typed the wrong thing and an airlock opened?” I waited for them to turn pale, letting me know they understood what I was telling them.
“I know that most, if not all of you think you are far too good to do something so stupid. If we were talking about normal code, I would tend to agree with you, but we’re not talking about normal code. This is something I can guarantee none of you have seen before; AI code.”
“Wait, did you just say AI Code?” Alicyn asked. “As in Artificial Intelligence?”
In reply I simply called Sarah. “Could you please introduce yourself to the group?”
To the utter surprise and shock of the group, Sarah took form beside me and introduced herself. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am Sarah, the controlling AI associate here at Apollo Base.”
“What does the controlling part mean?” one of the guys asked.
“It means that I have direct control over most of the primary base functions including life support and gravity. I am, literally, the base,” Sarah replied.
“Sarah sounds like an acronym. Is it, and what does it stand for?” Alicyn asked.
“It didn’t start out that way, Alicyn. I just really liked the name, so that’s what I called her,” I said.
“Wait? You wrote her?” Jerry asked. “All this alien technology and you create the first AI?”
“Actually, Eric wrote my original code before we ever knew of the existence of this base or its mission. I was much smaller then, and had only just begun to understand my surroundings and what I actually was. I believe that back then, even Eric didn’t understand what was happening to me,” Sarah replied.
“I didn’t. Not until we arrived here and I learned a lot more about what I’d actually done. You see, in order to get her to do what I needed her original program to do, I needed to write a new type of code. I had already built a cluster computer system and had to come up with an operating system for it, so this wasn’t all that much different,” I began.
“Fuck me! No wonder you have a doctorate at eighteen!” Another of the hackers, Bill, said shaking his head.
“In all actuality, both Eric and his wife, Doctor Christy Cowan, have been awarded additional accolades in multiple fields. From Earth as well as from the Alliance worlds. He has also been awarded the highest honor available to a civilian in the Alliance. He has been knighted and is now addressed as ‘My Lord’ or Lord Doctor Cowan, formally.” Sarah explained. “If you are interested in knowing more about him, you may simply ask me after hours. Now that you are aware of me, you have been granted standard user access levels.”
“Actually Sarah, I think I’d like to know more about you,” Alicyn replied.
“I can see about getting you started on that path, Alicyn. You will have to go through a much stronger background check and security search in order to get the clearance levels needed. Once you have that, one of my aides or myself can begin teaching you the code and how it works. What you all witnessed out there was the new AI I’m working on failing. She is unstable and I am trying to figure out why,” I explained.
“Are they governed by Asimov’s Laws?” Alicyn asked.
I nodded. “Modified versions since we are dealing with an AI and not a robot, as well as multiple races, not just humans.”
“You wrote Sarah’s core instructions to include aliens before you even knew they were out here?” Alicyn asked.
I chuckled and shook my head. “No, Sarah’s core instructions are written with ‘human’ in them. However, we had to redefine the word in order for her to function correctly in this environment. In all the new AI, I have changed that so redefining isn’t needed.”
“Have you looked at that? What differences are there between Sarah and the new AI?” Alicyn suggested, trying to help. “Have you considered speaking to a psychiatrist or someone that might understand the effects of those commands on her behavior?”
“There is no one that would understand the mental processes yet; this is still a very new field and we are all just doing the best we can. As for looking at that section, you could very well be right. I have to start somewhere, and that’s as good a place as any,” I admitted.
“Wait sec. If Sarah is an AI and she is operating in this base, then why haven’t we seen anything that would indicate her existence in the system?” Bill asked.
I grinned. “You answered your own question, Bill. Think about it.”
The man looked thoughtful for a second. “Well, since she is an AI, she could actively make sure we don’t see any trace of her…”
“True, but I can tell you that while Sarah has been monitoring you, she has not been hiding, In point of fact, she can’t,” I said. “She literally is the operating system of the base.”
“Then we’re not using the same system…” he stopped in mid- sentence and slapped his forehead. “We’re not in the main system!”
“Since you arrived, everything you’ve done, taught or tried to do has been done in the old Veranorian designed core. It is an isolated, stand-alone test bed for anti-computer and cyber-warfare. Sarah can see into the system, but cannot interact in any way with it, nor can that system interact with her.”
“We’ve been working in an outdated system?” Jerry asked.
“Not really,” I said. “What you’ve been working with is the very type of computer system we may need to attack. The Veranorians haven’t altered their basic system design or software in over six hundred years. We need you folks out there to try to teach the Alliance folks here how to invade and attack systems that will most likely be identical to the one you’re working in.”
“What about a defense for Sarah?” Alicyn asked.
“She is capable of actively monitoring of every function and request before it’s processed. I’m not saying she’s invulnerable, but she has to be pretty damn close,” I said. “Think about it, but don’t try anything please. Like I said, you shouldn’t be able to do anything without her knowing about it, but I don’t really want to take that chance, do you?”
Main Medical Facility
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
Christy was looking over the latest report from the biocytes that were rebuilding Commander Shakier. She was doing very well. In fact, there was no reason she couldn’t be allowed to awaken for short periods. The biocytes had rebuilt her internal organs and torso. The wounds on her head and face had healed and her hair had even regrown. Her own body functions had been supporting her for the last two weeks while the support equipment of the pod had been in stand-by mode.
The ‘cytes were currently working on rebuilding her extremities and conditioning her muscles so she would be able to move when her arms and legs were finished. Doctor H’arn joined her in the private room and smiled at her.
“She is making remarkable progress, Doctor. She is capable of sustaining her own life functions now,” H’arn said.
Christy nodded. “Yes she is, I was going to speak to you about removing her from the pod. I think we might even be able to allow her to awaken for short periods as well. From what I’m seeing here, she will be ready to begin physical therapy by next week.”
“Remarkable! This is truly remarkable Doctor Christy! Your biocytes will completely change how some of us practice medicine!” H’arn replied.
Christy smiled at the happy being. At least he didn’t get overly excited like most Simonians did. “I am only happy that I was able to help in some small way. Even one life saved will be reward enough for me.”
“Well, there are going to be many more than that. Four of the wounded personnel from the recent battle have already been discharged thanks to the rapid healing of your biocytes. A very pretty young girl suffered horrible burns when she was exposed to radiation from the ship’s power core. She has been discharged without a scar! Her hair will take time to regrow, but the ‘cytes removed the scar tissue and replaced it with healthy skin cells!” H’arn replied. “In less than a week! She should have expired from the tissue damage and radiation exposure!”
“May I see the data from those patients, Doctor?” Christy asked.
“Of course, Doctor. You will find their signed agreements for both the treatment as well as the sharing of their data with you in the records of each individual,” H’arn said. “Perhaps you will soon be able to refine this treatment and allow it to be given to other facilities, such as those on the ships?”
“Possibly, Doctor H’arn. I really would like to see more data on their performance before I release them for general use. I feel as though we are going recklessly fast as it is. ‘Above all else, do no harm’ is a tenet I take very seriously,” Christy replied, kindly.
“I understand, Doctor. I have checked with my Earth based medical brethren as well as the AI Sarah to understand your training before we began this. As I understand it, the work you have been doing here in hospital has more than covered the Earth requirement of a medical residency. I have asked the AI Sarah to officially file the completion of your residency with the medical services of your planet as well as those of the Alliance. I have yet to hear a reply from the Alliance Medical Service, however, you have qualified in both education as well as practical application of knowledge to receive the title of Medical Doctor,” H’arn said. “For the time being, you are free to practice medicine in this facility as I have sponsored you. Once we receive word from the Alliance Medical Service, along with the official documents, you will be free to practice medicine anywhere in the Alliance.”
Christy didn’t know what to say, so she just hugged the large ape. “Thank you Doctor H’arn!”
H’arn was taken off-guard by the hug, but returned it once he recovered. “You come of a remarkable family, Doctor Cowan. Your husband is not the only gifted member in it.”
When she let go of him, he cleared his throat. “Now, back to our patient. You think she could be allowed to return to wakefulness? What effect will that have on the biocytes if she tried to move one of her limbs?”
“I imagine it would hurt a great deal if we did not tell the biocytes to block the commands. She will be awake, but we will have to tell her she has been temporarily paralyzed in order for us to heal her limbs.”
H’arn looked thoughtful. “Once she begins to awaken she may not be coherent for a time. Blocking the use of her extremities might panic her.”
“We can keep her calm with the biocytes until she is aware enough to understand what’s going on around her. However, I would recommend we advise Admiral Vance before we awaken her. He has been very concerned for her progress,” Christy replied.
H’arn nodded. “I agree, okay, let’s let the Admiral know, then wake her up. I think she has been sleeping quite long enough.”
Office of the Base Commander
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
“Councilor, I apologize for this, but I have a problem I really don’t know how to deal with. As I’m sure you know, the Arac Grand Hive seeded Earth almost a week ago. It is my duty to protect this planet as well as this sector. If I want even a hope of containing the spread of the Aracs, I need to act as soon as I possibly can. Yet I have been getting nothing from the leaders of the effected countries. Sir, this assault will be taking place in two days. To wait any longer would risk losing the entire planet to the hive. Honestly, I don’t know what else can be done, but permission or not, my troops will be hitting the ground on Earth, in forty-nine hours to begin removing the infestation that has already begun,” Vance said.
“I was afraid they’d do that to you, Admiral. Plan your assault, we’ll handle the dingo’s on the’ planet,” Earth Councilor Allan Ralston replied. Eric had told him that by his accent, the man had been recruited from a place called ‘Australia’. Vance had no idea where that was and didn’t really care as long as they took this nightmare away from him.
The Councilor nodded. “Don’t worry about a thing, Mate. If there is a next time you find yourself in need of dealing with those blokes, just you give me a call. I’ll handle it for ya.”
“Thank you, Councilor. That will make this far easier than it has been so far,” Vance replied.
The man snorted and nodded. “Those people can be idiots sometimes, Admiral. They have two main worries that really concern them. Will what you’re asking threaten either their power or their money. In this case, you’re talking about threatening both and they are trying to buy as much time as possible in order to work out every angle they could. I’ll simply tell them their time is up, and this is going to happen. If they are in the way, well, that’s their bad luck.”
“We won’t fire on them. We’re there to protect them, not kill them ourselves,” Vance said.
“We both know that, Admiral, but they don’t! I can pretty much guarantee you that they will do everything in their power to capture anything they can from your people. Weapons, armor, even a communicator. I would say that they will even go so far as to attack you to get them. Now, I’ve been told that your Marines are some seriously tough wombats, but they could try to hit you with artillery or heavy weapons. Just try to be prepared. Even though we told them we are there to protect them, they will still see it as an opportunity to get their hands on some advanced technology,” the Councilor said. “For the leaders on Earth, it’s all about greed and power. Getting our advanced tech can get them both.”
“Are they willing to risk losing their planet to get it?” Vance asked.
“No matter what you tell them, Admiral, they will never believe that,” Allan replied. “Their priority will not be to help protect the people, but to get your gear. They believe the people will take care of themselves, but if any civilians do die, they can always blame that on you.”
“That’s criminal!” Vance replied, shocked.
“Yes it is, but that’s Earth. Good luck Admiral,” Allan said and broke the connection.
Alone in his office, Vance thought about what the man had said. “Sarah? Can you verify what the councilor told me? I just don’t see how a person like that could be allowed in public office.”
“Admiral,” Sarah replied as she took form in his office. “I’m afraid I have no direct experience to draw on to answer your question. However, I can tell you that there is plenty of evidence to support Councilor Ralston’s assertion. My Lord Cowan was considered ‘paranoid’ and a ‘conspiracy theorist’ by many on Earth. However, he had ample evidence on each situation he was accused of being paranoid about. Still, no one believed him and the evidence was removed or destroyed before it could be independently verified.
“From what I have observed of those in power on Earth, it certainly appears that there is large scale corruption taking place on a daily basis. In a lot of cases it is very difficult to understand exactly who it is a government is trying to serve.”
“How can that be allowed to stand? Why do the people allow it?”
“The Earth is a diverse place, Admiral. There is no single governing body. The United Nations has no real power but does try to keep the nations talking to each other instead of fighting. Since the fall of Communism in the former Soviet Union, the United States has become the de facto police agency for the planet; however, many in that country believe that a political collapse or civil uprising is not only likely but inevitable. There are many problems on Earth, Admiral. But somehow, for better or worse, they always seem to work them out.”
“I guess I just can’t understand how a planet can even function like that,” Vance replied. “Then again, I’m a soldier, not a politician or a political scientist. Please pass the word to our Marines that the mission will launch in forty-eight hours. They are to be heavily armored and prepared to repel bombardment by native militaries Assist any and all civilians, but keep all native militaries away. I want the unit leaders to make absolutely sure every piece of equipment is accounted for before we launch as well as upon return. Nothing is to be left for the Earth governments to exploit.”
“Understood Admiral. Orders sent. Do you wish me to schedule a final planning mission for tomorrow evening?” Sarah asked.
“That would be good, Sarah,” Vance replied. “I think I should warn the commanders just how screwed up the situation could get.”
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s Moon
Ellie leaned back from her terminal and sighed. “Sarah? Do you have a moment?”
“Of course I do, Ellie. What can I help you with?” the AI asked as she took form in the small room.
“Well, I was doing some research for an essay in my xeno class and I’m having difficulty locating the information I want,” Ellie replied. “Can you help me?”
“I can, but I must be credited as a source in the paper. Your instructor may deduct points for my assistance,” Sarah warned.
“I understand, Sarah. I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t really stuck,” Ellie explained.
“Perhaps I can simply give you advice for your search, what are you looking for?” Sarah asked.
“Well, I’m trying to do a paper on how the Aracs conquer planets. But I’m having a lot of difficulty finding specific information on almost every aspect of it! It’s really getting frustrating!” Ellie explained.
“You are having trouble because you are searching for information that simply doesn’t exist, Ellie. We do not have very much information on the Aracs at all. What little we do have seems to be either be incorrect, or at the least inaccurate. We are finding that the information we had on that race is at best, flawed. It is suspected that the information was mostly misinformation planted by the Veranorian Synod to mislead us,” Sarah replied. “I am surprised that your instructor agreed to allow you to write this when they would have known that any information we have would be inaccurate and unproven.”
“I haven’t submitted my Thesis statement yet. He actually doesn’t know yet,” Ellie replied in disappointment. “I was really hoping to be able to write this paper, I was even planning on interviewing a couple of Shallans if I could!”
“Do you have a second choice?” Sarah asked.
“Not really,” Ellie said. “I was so positive we’d have tons of information on the Aracs that I didn’t think of one. It’s a short paper so I was going to focus on how they got weapons so quickly after establishing the hive.”
Sarah just shook her head. “That’s a really good question, Ellie. Unfortunately, we have no idea how they do that. We can’t even be certain about how they communicate. No one has ever entered a hive and returned.”
“Isn’t that exactly what our Marines are about to do?” Ellie asked.
“Well, yes, it is. But this mission is different from other instances.”
“May I ask how so?” Ellie asked, but held up her hand. “I know pending missions are generally classified simply as a matter of protocol and I really don’t need to know specifics. I only want to know what is so different about this situation.”
Sarah nodded. “The situation on Earth is very different in that the hive has not yet matured and begun taking the surface. In all other instances of attempted hive assaults, they were made on planets that had been fully infested and the total number of hives was unknown. We do know that other hives will react to an attack on a different hive, yet we do not know how they are aware of it.
“On Earth, we know that there are only two hives and they are on different continents. We were lucky in that neither seed pod landed near an inhabited area, however, that same isolation will make it difficult to accurately gauge the maturity of the hive,” Sarah explained.
“How so?” Ellie asked.
“What little we do know of the hives and how they function - which is all conjecture at this point - is that soldier Aracs will not kill and eat if the Queen is still maturing. They capture and return the prey to the Queen. If they kill and leave the internal organs of the prey, we assume they are returning food for hatching. Most often after a hive has matured and become established, the soldier Aracs will kill and eat as they move. We assume that some of their ‘bounty’ is sent back to the hive but again we have no proof.”
Ellie cocked her head to one side. “It sounds to me like there is plenty of information available on the Aracs, I just couldn’t find it.”
Sarah shook her head. “No, you couldn’t find this information because there is no proof. None of it can be substantiated so none of it has been accepted as ‘official’. I see by your search history that you have been searching academic sites. That’s a perfect source for a student to use, however, the information I just told you about cannot be found there until there is a way to document and verify it.”
“Well, perhaps we can get some information during this assault as well. If no one else requests it after the fight is over, may I request permission to study the battle footage?” Ellie asked.
Sarah grinned. “Sweetheart, there are already over a thousand request for that footage on file.” When Ellie looked a little let down, Sarah took pity on her. “I’ll see if I can get you a copy, Ellie. With so many requests, I doubt the footage will remain classified for long. In the mean-time, perhaps you could consider writing your paper on the Shallans? There is still a limited amount of hard information available on them, however, you are in a unique position in the galaxy to gather information directly from the source.”
Ellie brightened up immediately. “I never thought of that! Thank you Sarah!”
Office of the Base Commander
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
“Okay folks, here’s the deal; we know that two seed hives have made it to the surface of Earth. However, we do not have an absolute fix on either hive,” Vance began as Sarah put up the images taken of the impact sites.
“We have tagged these two sites as Alpha and Bravo. Site Alpha in located in the northern hemisphere of the planet in a heavily forested, uninhabited area of a country called Canada. While there are no population centers near the impact site, I have been assured that there is plenty of wildlife in the area to sustain the hive well past maturity.
“Currently, the Command ship, Honor of Vengeance, has taken position directly over site Alpha and has been attempting to track all the diverse life signs in an effort to better locate the hive. Initial reports have confirmed the amount of wildlife in the area, and in point of fact, it will be difficult for the scanners to locate what we need. I have requested two of our Earth biologists to make the journey to the ship in order to assist in the search. Once located, this will be your first target.”
One of the company commanders indicated he had a question, and Vance nodded to him. “With respect Sir, why a ground assault? Once we locate them, can’t we just use an orbital to glass the area? It seems to me the wider damage corona of a heavy mount laser would be far more effective at killing them all than a ground strike.”
“You’re absolutely correct, Captain Hargan. This would be an ideal orbital strike target, and we may very well have to resort to that. However, the answer to your question is the Bravo Site.
“The second impact site is also very isolated, but in this case even the wildlife is scarce. It hit just south of the equator in a very large, very arid desert. While the continent itself is heavily populated and has abundant wildlife, the Bravo site is far from those areas. I am told the average daytime temperature in this area can reach well past the upper limit for human survival without special precautions. Because of the nature of the sand in this desert, a heavy carbon silicon composite, our scanners cannot penetrate past a few inches. While we doubt the heat will affect the Aracs at all, the lack of any type of life in the area will make it impossible for us to locate the hive before it reaches maturity.
“This is the reason for the ground assault on the Alpha hive. We know that when one hive is hit, all other hives on the planet react immediately regardless of distance. When you hit the ground at the Alpha site, half our fleet will be over that desert with their scanners looking for any movement. Once we have a positive identification on the location of the Bravo hive, we will use an orbital strike to destroy it, but on site verification will be required. Earth is a core world now people, we can take no chances or make any assumptions, is that understood?”
When they all indicated that they understood, Vance continued. “Now, there is one other thing I need to tell you. Trust me when I tell you that I don’t like it any more than you will. When you hit the ground, there is a good possibility that the people of the planet will attack you.” He had to hold up his hand to quiet the outbursts from the Marines.
“Earth is very primitive, at least politically, from what we are used to on our own worlds. Their leadership is mostly driven by greed and power. They will do everything in their power to get any scrap of technology they can lay their hands on, and they will not hesitate to use force to do it. I’ve been told that the soldiers themselves will have no knowledge of this and will most likely believe us to be invaders.
“Most of their weapons cannot hurt us as long as we are in our armor. Note that I said most of their weapons. They have heavy tracked vehicles that carry substantial cannons, as well as missiles they can fire from aircraft and ground vehicles. These weapons do have the potential to inflict telling damage on our people. I understand that you will have to defend yourselves, but keep in mind those humans have been lied to. Try not to kill them if possible. However, in addition to destroying that hive, every one of you must ensure that nothing, not even a burned out communicator, is left behind for them to salvage.”
“Sir, once we locate the human attack vectors, we could reposition our shuttles and use their shields as a type of fence to hold them back. As for the flying machines, those are usually left to our brothers in the squadrons. Will we have air cover for this operation?”
“Yes, you will. The Earth governments are really pissed about that, but what can they do?” Vance said. “I really doubt any of their aircraft can even hit ours. However, just to be safe, shields are to be used as often as possible.”
Captain Hargen had another question. “Sir, I assume from your description that if the humans show up and are still there after we locate and destroy the Bravo site, we won’t be pulling out?”
Vance looked thoughtful. “As tempted as I am to tell you yes you’ll be pulled out, the problem still exists. It’s hard to claim we are helping them if we leave them to die in an orbital bombardment by our ships. So, no, you’ll be staying down there to make sure the infestation is cleared the hard way.”
“Could we lead the humans away from the site?” the Captain asked.
“If you think you can pull it off, Captain, you would certainly save all of us a lot of extra work, but remember that the longer you’re exposed to them, the higher the odds are that they’ll get something we don’t want them to have. If you can lead them off site without losing any equipment to them, great; if not, well…”
“We’ll pop a dome over the whole site, and hope like hell we find every nook and cranny,” the Captain replied.
“Admiral, do we know if these Aracs will have particle weapons?” Colonel Cren’lith asked.
“We have no way to know what they have, Colonel. Logically, if we look at the size of the pod they used for the seeding, there couldn’t have been enough room for a stockpile of weapons. However, I really don’t think we should assume they are unarmed either. It is a secondary priority that everything every single one of your soldiers sees and does is recorded. We need more information on Aracs! Everything you all see down there will be invaluable from an intelligence stand point.”
“So, assume particle weapons, but hope for spears and knives. All battle footage will be relayed to AI Sarah via the Command ship,” Cren’lith said.
Captain He’rsree asked. “With respect, Admiral. May I speak to Doctor Cowan prior to deployment? I would like his thoughts on this situation.”
“He really impressed you did he?” Vance said, proud of his friend. “I don’t see a problem with it, as a department head he certainly has the clearance to know the details of this operation. I simply hadn’t seen the need. AI Sarah, would you please ask Lord Cowan if he can spare a moment for Captain He’rsree?”
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
To say I was surprised by the message from Sarah would be an understatement. I had thought my Marine friends had forgotten about me by now. Obviously they hadn’t. I asked Sarah to inform the Captain that I would always be available to her; after all, she was the commander of ‘my’ unit. When she arrived, she wasn’t alone. Sergeant Tul-sa had accompanied her much to my delight and she was fully healed.
Both women saluted me since I was a Knight of the Alliance and I returned it before giving each one a hug. “It’s really great to see you both! Sarge! You’re up and about already! That’s wonderful!” I said.
“That’s thanks to your wife and her bio-whatcha-things. If not for the new treatment I got, I’d still be in Medical for another week,” she replied.
I nodded. “That’s great! I’m really proud of her. Those biocytes of hers sure seem to be helping a lot of people. Captain, it’s really great to see you again, but I got the feeling that this isn’t exactly a social call; what can I do for you?” I asked. I had made sure to have the meeting in my office, so we could talk without the seemingly endless interruptions of being out on the lab floor.
“What I’m going to tell you is classified, but has been approved by Lord Admiral Vance,” the Captain began. “We’re going to be deploying in a few hours for the Arac hive assault on Earth. Before we left, I wanted to talk to you about what we are facing and see if you had any ideas that might improve our odds.”
I nodded. “I’ve been focusing mostly on the new AI for Fleet Command, but I can’t help but worry about the hives on Earth. Just to make sure my imagination and reality are somewhat close to each other, hives are generally underground, right?”
They both nodded. “So we’ve been told. No one that has assaulted a hive has ever returned to make a report, and no signals were received from them after they entered the hive.”
I looked at her with concern. “This is a suicide mission!”
She held up her hands to stop me. “Not this time. Earth has given us a very unique opportunity. In all the assaults made before, the planet had already fallen to the Aracs and was overrun. That isn’t the case here. There are two hives and we have a good idea where both of them are. We’re going to have a ton of back-up, and we’ll control the skies and the surface. None of which has been the case in previous assaults.”
I calmed down a little, I didn’t like the sound of this, but it wasn’t my place to protest anyway. “Okay, I understand. Do you mind if I call in a friend of mine? I don’t actually have the right knowledge for what I have in mind.”
“May I ask who it is? Security has to be maintained…” the captain said, hesitantly.
“Doctor Ced?” I asked and she grinned.
Before she could even tell me he was good, I had him on the vidlink. “Ced, I have some friends visiting me here that have a problem they need help with. I have a few ideas but need your big brain to flesh them out. Can you come over right now? It’s kinda urgent.”
“Sure Eric, do I need to bring anything?” he asked.
“Just your design panel and imagination. We’ll put them both to the test,” I replied making him grin.
“I can’t wait! I’ll be right there!” he replied and had signed off before I could reply.
“Okay, so while we wait for him; have either of you had dinner yet?” I asked.
When both women shook their heads I moved over to the replicator. “Do you trust me to order for you, and are you off duty?”
“Yes, we’re officially off duty. I’ll take the chance and let you order for me, just remember we have a combat drop in a few hours,” the Captain replied. Tul-sa agreed. So I ordered an extra-large, all-meat, deep-dish pizza and a pitcher of beer with half the alcohol content of normal.
We had just sat down to eat when Ced arrived. When he saw the food he was about to protest until he saw the extra plate I’d put out for him. Then he just smiled and sat down.
“So, what’s the emergency?” he asked as he grabbed a slice.
I poured the beer as I explained my idea to him. “Can we make a drone about the size of my fist that has its own power and gravimetric motor with a short range but high resolution scan function capable of creating a three-dimensional map of an underground complex of tunnels and chambers? Cloaking would be nice, but not absolutely required. It’ll have to interface with the Marines’ armor computer in real time.”
Ced winced, “That’s gonna be the kicker; the on-board computer in Marine armor simply isn’t powerful enough for the functions you’re talking about, Eric. It was purpose designed and built with no room left for expansion of any kind.”
“That doesn’t seem right, why on earth would someone design it not to be upgraded… wait, it’s Veranorian, isn’t it?” I asked.
Ced nodded. “Yeah, it is. We’ve been so busy with getting the ships and the base computer systems upgraded, no one’s had the time to think about the Marines yet.”
There was no way in hell I was going to let that stand. “Sarah, would you please let my family know I won’t be home tonight as an extremely urgent project has to be addressed right away. Then secure the schematics and a copy of the suit code for the Marine armor for me. Ced, can you build that probe or not?”
“Yeah, I can build it Eric, but like I said, it wouldn’t talk to the armor computer,” Ced replied, looking confused at my earlier orders to Sarah.
“It will when I get done with it!” I said smiling at the now surprised looking Marines. “Captain, I need to know exactly how much time I have to get this ready.”
“Unless something major changes between now and then, we’ll be on the shuttle at oh-seven-hundred tomorrow morning,” the Captain replied. “Do you really think you can upgrade our armor that fast?”
“I don’t actually know Captain, but I’m sure as hell going to try. I will be redesigning the computer and control systems in the armor, but that’s going to take longer than we have, so this might just be a band-aid fix for this battle. I’m thinking an external, add-on module that will use the comms for now.
“But, before I forget again what about shields?” I finished.
“What about them?” Ced asked.
“Why don’t the Marines have them in their armor?” I said.
“Size, power and computing power. Where are we going to put a shield generator on the suit? What good would it do? Particle weapons would go right through it. Not to mention the power requirements for a shield generator,” Ced replied naming the problems.
“If I understood the theory correctly, particle weapons shouldn’t be able to penetrate a warp field would they?” I asked.
“Are you planning on giving the marines hyperspace travel without a ship?” Ced teased.
“Nope, just trying to keep them alive. It doesn’t have to be a full blown hyperspace jump, Ced, just a small, weak warp field that would absorb the particle energy into hyperspace,” I explained.
“That wouldn’t work, the point of origin would have to be inside the field…” Ced replied but his mind was clearly engaged now.
“What if you inverted the field?” I asked.
“No, that would only…” he paused trying to think it through.
“Force any high velocity impact into hyperspace?” I asked.
“It can’t be that simple!” Ced replied grabbing his panel and beginning the calculations for the shield idea.
“Don’t forget those probes, Ced. We’ll need those before they launch tomorrow,” I said.
“No problem, how many do you want?” Ced asked.
Thinking about what I had to do, I made a guess. “I don’t think I could make more than five or six control units by then so I’d say about ten of them?”
“I’ll have them ready in about an hour,” he said absently. “I think we can actually do this, but it’s going to take a much more powerful computer unit in the armor, not to mention an upgraded power unit.”
“I’ll give you a call sometime tomorrow and we can work out the details Ced. Now set your panel aside and finish eating, or Sarge is going to steal your pizza,” I said grinning at the woman.
“No doubt! That was excellent!” she said pouring herself another beer. “And this is the perfect drink for it too, what is it?”
Ced was still deep in his panel and I grinned at him. “The food is called pizza, I ordered a variant called a deep dish, all-meat. The drink is called beer, and contains alcohol, although I asked for half the normal amount since you will be in combat tomorrow. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend drinking any more than you already have unless you want a hang-over in the morning.”
She nodded. “I’ll trust you, but I might just have to ask for more of this once we get back!” Tul-sa replied.
“I’ll have four kegs of it sitting in the Company area when you get back here. My treat,” I said. Making a note to order real beer from Earth for them.
“Eric, we’re going to need to talk to the Shallan armorers. This is going to require a completely new set of armor,” Ced replied.
I reached over and took his panel out of his hands. “Eat now, work later.”
“But…” he sighed and shook his head. “You’re right. If I don’t eat now I’ll forget to eat later, and the doctors are already mad at me about that.”
Marine Embarkation Bay
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s Moon
I didn’t get any sleep that night and I had to enlist the assistance of a couple of other programmers, but we got it built. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it would get the job done for now. I tested it using my suit of armor and it seemed to work really well. The drone only used the suit computer as a hand off to the small module attached to an equipment loop on the armor. I built seven units, five to be used, and three as back-ups. Ced built fifteen drones, so each active unit had two of the small devices with five spares.
Both Ced and I were in the bay to see the Marines off and to explain how the devices would work. The Colonel was there as well.
“My Lord Cowan, Captain He’rsree tells me you and Doctor Ced are working on new armor for us, is this true?” the big Simonian asked.
I nodded, but Ced answered. “Yes Colonel, we are. Our primary goal was to get you better, more powerful armor that would not only protect you better, but be more effective in combat. However, the project has grown to include all military personnel. If this works the way I think it will, everyone will have a suit of armor. The Marine version will be much stronger and built for direct combat, but the armor for everyone else would keep them safe even if their ship was destroyed around them,” Ced replied excitedly. “We’re looking into adding personal shields to your armor as well as an advanced trauma function that should greatly reduce our losses in battle.”
All of that was completely new to me and I made a mental note to talk to Ced as soon as we were done here.
“That would be very good, Doctor Ced. Your efforts on our behalf are greatly appreciated. I look forward to seeing what you come up with,” he said. “Lord Cowan, this mapping module you’ve built will help greatly. No more walking into a completely blind situation. Always before, we had to send someone in first to see where the enemy was. It was very hard on the scout sent in. Thank you for working to save our lives.”
“Sir, we don’t even know if they’ll do what we need them too. I hope they do and you’ll be able to clean them out without losing anyone,” I replied.
“That would indeed be an ideal situation, Lord Doctor. We must go now. Fare well gentlemen,” the Colonel said taking his leave and climbing aboard the closest assault shuttle.
Captain He’rsree and Sergeant Tul-sa had to run to get on their shuttles but they stood on the ramp as it was rising to wave back at me. Even though I knew where they were going, a part of me wished I was going with them too. I just hoped they would all return safely.
“We need to talk,” I said to a grinning Ced. “But first, I need to speak to the Quartermaster.”
He nodded. “I took the liberty of putting together a meeting for a little later; you, me, your wife Christy and the two finest Shallan armorers in Clan Therinate. What do you need to talk to the Quartermaster for? Do you need something from the core worlds?”
“I need to place an urgent order from something very special for a special group of Marines,” I replied.
F. C. B. Honor of Vengeance
“It’s hard to believe such a beautiful landscape could be infested with Aracs,” He’rsree said more to herself than to anyone else.
Her comment was heard by her commanding officer though. “Indeed, Captain. Their presence in such a place is in itself a form of evil most cannot comprehend,” Cren’lith replied. “I am told that fires are a natural part of the renewal for these forests. If we must burn this place, at least we know it will quickly recover.”
The Honor of Vengeance scanners had located the most probable location for the hive; the place was far removed from the impact site of the pod. In fact it is relatively near inhabited areas, which made Cren’lith uncomfortable.
“Sir, the retrieval team has secured the Arac pod and is returning it to the ship,” a controller reported.
“Very well, thank you,” the Simonian replied. “Alright, listen up people. The Honor is triple checking every square hand-span of ground between the impact site and here. So far, all indications tell us the Hive is below us. There are two small settlements only a few tens of klicks away, easily within range for the Arac soldiers. For now, neither settlement has been hit.
“Once we are on the ground, AI Honor will use Doctor Ced’s new drones to locate any burrows that might be the hive entrances. Be aware that the biologists from Earth tell us that several species of wildlife use underground burrows as dens. None of these species welcome visitors. To that end, each drone will investigate the burrow until they locate the hive.
“Once AI Honor locates a hive entrance, we will proceed to that location and she will continue to search for more entrances. Each company has been issued one of Lord Doctor Cowan’s control units and two drones. Use them to make your initial investigations; equipment is far easier to replace than you are and we do have spares.
“You have been briefed on the local military. For the time being, they have not been deployed. Expect that to change as soon as we are detected to be on the ground. Our shuttles will deploy in a rough circle surrounding the main entrance once located, and raise their shields to protect us from local military interference.
“Captain Edgigly will be evacuating the closest settlements to the large village to the south, so we will not have to worry about civilian casualties.” He placed a small icon on the map display all the commanders were standing around. “We will drop here and set up a temporary base camp. Once AI Honor locates the entrance, we will relocate to there. As soon as we are on planet, all recorders are to be turned on and all data is to be relayed to AI Honor.”
“All recorders, Sir, even the audio and video feeds from the individual marines?” one of the officers asked.
“Yes, every feed is to be sent up to be recorded. We know virtually nothing of the Aracs. All information we can glean from our actions here must be treasured,” Cren’lith replied; to which the assembled officers could only agree.
“Any further questions?” the big Simonian asked. When none were forthcoming, he nodded. “Good, let us proceed. Operations, we are ready to begin.”
“Understood Colonel. Air cover launches in fifteen minutes. Full drop in twenty; please make final preparations. This mission is a go.” Captain Edgigly replied this time. “Good luck and good hunting Colonel.”
Canadian Forces Base
“Has anyone figured out what the hell we’re doing this far north?” Sergeant Mars asked the assembled NCO’s from B Company, 1/504 Para-Infantry, 82nd Airborne, United States Army. “Did the President decide to annex Canada or what?”
“Can it Mars, you know damn good and well that we wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a reason for it,” First Sergeant Plenke said. “Now, as if I didn’t know the answer already, has anything changed from yesterday’s meeting?”
“No ‘Top’, nothing’s changed,” Mars replied, using the common nickname for a First Sergeant.
When the rest of the Non-Commissioned Officers, or NCO’s, replied in kind, Plenke nodded. “I thought as much. By the way Mars, I’ve heard there are two battalions of Marines up here too. I think that’s bullshit though since there isn’t room for all of us up here, and this is the only airport this far north.”
Sergeant First Class Ballows of the first platoon nodded at his superior. “Well, there’s gotta be some of them up here cause my boys ran into them when we was setting up our perimeter. They got it worked out without calling in the officers though.”
“Why didn’t you tell us yesterday Joe?” Plenke asked. “Any idea how many there are?”
“One battalion from Twenty-Nine Palms, Top,” Captain Knoblock said as he entered the small tent.
“AH-Ten-SHUN!” Mars called out first. Everyone stood rigidly.
“As you were!” the officer said. “Let’s get them loaded up, Top. We’re heading out!”
“Yes Sir, can I ask where we’re goin’ Sir?” Plenke asked.
“Other than ‘north’ you wouldn’t know what I was talking about Top. Just get them loaded up, I’ll have the XO brief you in flight.” He turned to the assembled platoon sergeants. “Each of your platoon leaders will brief you on your areas of responsibility and what we can expect when we hit the ground. Gentlemen, regardless of what you might have heard, this is real. Unless the XO or I tells you differently, this is not a training mission. Get to your aircraft and prepare for drop. Flight time will be about an hour and a half, so make sure everything is set.”
“Yes Sir!” They are echoed.
“Dismissed!” Knoblock said, letting the NCO’s get out of the tent and run for their own platoon areas.
“What’s really going on, John?” Plenke asked.
“You’re gonna love this Bill,” Knoblock replied. “It seems E.T. has come down and has laid claim to a part of the Northwest Territories. We’re up here in defense of Canada to evict them.”
Bill Plenke snorted. “Why? Ain’t nothing up here worth fightin’ over!”
“Actually, this area is literally floating on oil. Our problem has been getting to it, since putting roads in is nearly impossible, and the water isn’t deep enough for ships. Either way, it’s not for us to decide. We have our orders, and we have to follow them.” John Knoblock replied.
“E.T. huh? Same guys that did the orbital stuff?” the First Sergeant asked. While they were talking the men had been packing up their few belongings and getting them ready to be loaded on the plane.
“So I’ve been told. I just hope our weapons will be effective, otherwise this could be a real short mission!” He pulled out a map. “Look here Top, we’re going to be dropping in here, with the rest of the battalion creating a barrier between this small airstrip and the aliens. We will have to hold that airstrip no matter what, since that will be the only way for us to get supplies, and when the time comes, this is where our ride home will be.” He pointed to a small icon labeled ‘Discovery’ on the map about seventy miles north of Yellowknife and the Great Slave Lake.
“We really need to be careful up here. It would be far too easy for someone to wander off and get lost. At least its summer time and we don’t have to worry about how cold it gets up here,” the Captain outlined. “The Marines will be dropping further into the interior, but we don’t know exactly where these aliens are going to come down yet. Intel says they’ll hit the ground first though.”
“What are our rules of engagement?” the First Sergeant asked. “Do I need to make sure I have space for prisoners?”
The Officer nodded. “Yes, in fact we have been ordered to take as many prisoners as we can, as well as capture as much of their equipment as we can. However, you won’t have to hold any for long; the Sergeant Major will be setting up a more permanent facility in the village to handle anyone we capture.”
The First Sergeant nodded. “Like I didn’t see that one coming! When can we expect the spooks to arrive?”
John laughed. “You’re too young to be so cynical, Bill!”
The older man just snorted. “Yeah, so when do they get here?”
“They’ll arrive once we have the town secured, like normal.”
The men had to stop talking then as soldiers arrived to tear down the tent and get all the gear loaded.
“Okay kids, we’re going in. This area is swampy and about half water. Be sure to use your jump packs to keep from getting bogged down. IFF modules are to be used at all times. We don’t want anyone wandering off and killing all the Aracs by themselves!” He’rsree said.
Shortly after her people responded to her order, the hatches opened and dropped the Marines into the open air high above the surface. She felt her pulse quicken as it always did during a combat drop.
“All units be advised, there are slow moving aircraft heading our direction. We have them listed as cargo craft most likely carrying troops and equipment. Several atmospheric fighter craft have also been dispatched, but will not arrive in our areas until well after we are on the ground. Terran troops will arrive during our landing. We do not know what their orders are so it might get messy for a little while. Sort it out as quickly as you can and remember, we are not to hurt any of the Terran soldiers,” the Colonel passed along on the battalion channel.
As they fell through the thick atmosphere of the planet, He’rsree watched her speed and altimeter. Her speed stabilized at just over two hundred klicks but shortly after that the gravity engine in the suit kicked on to begin slowing her down for impact. Normally, she would hit at just over fifty klicks, but since the ground below her was soft, the suit would slow her considerably further in an attempt to keep from getting bogged down in mud.
At one klick from the surface, AI Honor told her she was launching one of the scout drones He’rsree was carrying. She watched the little ball shoot away from her and arc down toward the surface under its own power.
The grav engines had to have slowed them down a lot more than normal since she hardly felt the touchdown at all. From the chatter on her unit command channel, she knew that a good share of her troopers had landed in water, and two had become mired in the more shallow areas.
“Use your damn grav engine to blast out of there! What? Are you a newbie or something?” He’rsree called. “Quit yer bitchin’ and get moving!” She switched channels to Command. “Vulpas on the ground, moving.”
Not expecting a reply she was about to switch back to her own command channel when the Colonel spoke to her. “Vulpas, be advised. You’re going to have Terran company. The shuttles are circling around and will be down once they finish their scan of the area. Until then, try to ignore them.”
“Understood, we had a lot of wet landings, Colonel. If the Terrans have the same issue, they could lose some people. Do you want us to assist?”
“Only if you can do so safely Vulpas. If it looks like they have it under control, leave them to it, but don’t pass up someone in real need,” the Simonian replied. “Mired in a swamp is no place for a Marine to die.”
“Will do and thanks Command. Switching back to unit channel to issue the order. Vulpas out.” He’rsree replied and switched channels to relay the orders.
It turned out to be a good policy. Several of the Terran Marines had indeed landed in the water and quickly became stuck. Although, in most cases, their comrades did come to assist, in several instances Alliance Marines had to assist their Terran brothers.
In one case, the Marine had been pulled under water and was drowning. Although there was already two Terran Marines there, they could do little to help. Using their gravity drives and sealed suits, two Alliance Marines quickly moved out over the water and dropped in.
One of the Marines gave the drowning man their auxiliary oxygen feed while she began working disconnecting the man’s chute. The other Marine began working getting his legs free from the muck, but was having little success.
Once the Terran Marine realized just who had come to help him, he started to panic, but quickly relaxed when he saw that these ‘aliens’ were helping him. Once he calmed down, the two Marines grabbed hold of him as gently as they could and slowly pulled him out of the mud on the bottom of the small pond he had landed in.
They got him freed and while one of the Alliance Marines took him to the surface and over to his friends, the other gathered up the gear he had dropped, including the now useless parachute and brought all of it to the shore as well.
As the Alliance Marines touched down on the shore of the pond with their burden, the two Terran Marines pointed their weapons at them. “I don’t know if you can understand me Alien, but you are under arrest. You are ordered to return with us to our camp for interrogation.”
The woman looked at the Marine who spoke. She replied in clear, flawless English. “No, we’re not Corporal. We have a job to do out here and we really don’t have time to play with you guys.”
“What did you do to Meyers?” the other Terran Marine asked.
“They pulled my ass out of the mud and kept me from drowning, that’s what they did to me! Jesus Samuels, are you fuckin’ blind or something?” the man they saved replied.
“You were down there longer than you could have held your breath Meyers. You should be dead. So I ask again, what did the two of you do to him?” the second Marine asked without lowering his rifle.
“I gave him my secondary air. What’s the big deal? Look, private, this suit is sealed and has its own atmosphere controls so we can use them in space.” She pulled the auxiliary line out again so the two Terrans could see it. “If one of our guys gets damaged, we have to be able to render assistance.”
“So, why did you help Meyers anyway? You have to know we are here to arrest all of you, and failing that, kill you,” the Corporal replied.
The woman just nodded her head. “Yeah, we had a pretty good idea what your orders would be in regards to us. Because of our technology, you can’t hurt us, but we also know you have to try. We don’t want to see any of you hurt, so we’ve been ordered to assist you if we find you in trouble from the landing. Once you guys are all safe, we’ll be on our way.”
“Look, uh, what do I call you anyway? Do you have a name?” the corporal asked.
The woman grinned. “Sergeant Bethany Bennet, Alliance Marines, this is what you would call my ‘battle buddy’ Private J’Cars Hedreans. The Private doesn’t speak English so he’s letting me do the talking since I’m from here.”
“From here, you mean Earth?” the private asked.
Bethany nodded. “Born and raised in Minot, North Dakota. But not all of my fellow Marines are from Earth, nor are they all human, but we all do have the same job; to protect this planet.”
“Put yer gun down Jacobs,” the corporal said. “We can’t shoot them for rescuing Meyers!”
“But we can’t let them go either, can we?” Meyers asked as he gathered up his gear. “Fuck, even my spare clothes are soaked!”
The corporal didn’t get a chance to introduce himself before someone obviously called him on the radio. He smiled sadly at the sergeant as he put a hand to his ear and turned away slightly. “Yes Sir!”
“Corporal Marcelli, I see you have two of the aliens in custody! Good work! We’re sending reinforcements to your position before the rest of the aliens can move in to rescue them,” his company command said.
“They are not in custody, Sir. They came swooping in from nowhere and rescued Private Meyers from drowning Sir. We were just about to get into the water to try to get him, but we knew we couldn’t get there in time. Before we could even drop our gear, these two ‘uh’, Aliens, show up and rescue him. We were just attempting to take them into custody Sir, but it sure is a hell of a way to thank them,” the corporal replied.
“I can understand your feelings on this son, but orders are orders. Arrest them and get them back here. Look, we’re only a couple hundred meters away, just keep them there until we can surround them,” the officer ordered.
“Understood, Sir. But just so you know, one of them isn’t an Alien at all; I have a Sergeant Bethany Bennet, from Minot, North Dakota. She tells me that the other man is from another planet though.”
“She came from space, she’s an E.T. Marcelli, don’t forget that. Besides, she could easily be lying. Just keep them there. Command out.”
“Sorry about that Sergeant, Command wanted to know what we’re doing out here. I’m Corporal Marcelli by the way, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Marcelli said offering the woman his hand.
Bethany nodded. “I know; I monitored the frequency you used. It’s nice to meet you as well, but we won’t be here when your company commander gets here. Just remember a couple of things, Marcelli; we have no need to fight back, especially since we are not here to take over or fight you. You all saw that fight in space the other day? Well, there are at least two sides to every fight, unless your commanders think we were fighting ourselves? We’re down here to protect the planet from something far worse than your leaders can even understand.” Bethany said as she nodded to the other Alliance Marine to get moving.
“Wait, what is it your down here to fight then?” Marcelli asked.
“Spiders, Corporal. Really big, really smart spiders. Semper Fi Marines,” Bethany said as she and her partner seemed to float away into the woods.
Nudging his two fellow Marines, all three of them pointed their rifles into the air over where the Alliance Marines had gone and fired several times, making it look like that were trying to stop the ‘E.T.s’ from leaving.
“Command, Marcelli, the E.T.s escaped Sir. They moved off to the northeast, really damn fast!” the corporal reported.
“We saw that, thanks Corporal! We’re shifting our advance in that direction,” the captain replied.
“We’re going to make sure Meyers gets back to the medic and we’ll be right behind you,” Marcelli reported.
“Understood and good work, Marcelli. There are three other teams making for the command area. Wait for them and bring them out. You’ll have command.”
“Will do, Sir.” Marcelli said and grinned at his two friends. “You heard the man, gents! Let’s go.”
Temp. Command Post
Several incidents of his Marines rescuing Terran Marines were reported and handled very well. In none of the interactions was anyone hurt and although there had been injuries, several Terran lives had been saved. The big Simonian colonel looked down on the large holographic battle board so he could see the operational theater. So far, everything was going to plan, now if they could just find the thrice-cursed hive entrance before a Terran Marine tripped over it!
“AI Honor, this is Colonel Cren’lith.” He called.
“What can I do for you, Colonel?” the AI replied.
“A query only; has the area now occupied by the Terran troops been checked yet?”
“Negative Colonel. My search routines have been focusing on the area between your current position and the landing site of the seeding pod,” the AI replied. “It was believed that the highest probability of success rested in this area. Do you now disagree with this?”
“Call me paranoid, but if the Arac hive is in the Terran Area, it will be for them as though dinner has been served. Can we spare a drone to quickly check these two areas?”
“Your request is not unreasonable, Colonel. Drones reallocated. Launching. Requested scans may take longer than anticipated Colonel, there are considerable wildlife dens and small burrows in this area. A good portion have been filled in with water,” Honor replied.
“That might not necessarily preclude it from being a hive, AI Honor. The Aracs cannot breathe under water, but they do not fear it either. Properly constructed, such an entrance would be well camouflaged,” Cren’lith replied.
“Your suggestion has merit, Colonel. However, several cannot be rechecked at this time, they are simply too far away. They can be rechecked when the probe returns,” the AI explained.
“Understood. I would request that the probe schematic be loaded into our field replicators in the future so we may create more if the need presents itself,” Cren’lith said.
“Request noted in mission logs for later review, Thank you Colonel,” Honor said closing the channel.
“If the hive has not been located by nightfall, please have the shuttles placed in defensive array Beta Four, I want all investigation teams returned by seventeen hundred local,” Cren’lith said addressing his aide.
Noticing one of his combat teams moving directly towards the far Terran encampment near the village. He put one thick finger on the icon and the table increased magnification. “Captain He’rsree…” he said quietly.” I have a bad feeling about them.”
“Sir?” his aide asked.
The big Gorilla sighed deeply. “Nothing Lieutenant, just an old soldier letting his fear whisper lies into his ears.” He tapped the screen icon and it zoomed back out to the full area. “Who do we have on standby?”
“Herren and Fokkor are on rapid standby, Sir. All others are out investigating possible locations,” the aide replied as he used his control of the holographic board to show his superior the units in question.
“Move Fokkor here,” he indicated a spot on the map very close to where Vulpas was located. “Make sure they are heavy on supplies and have them take an extra medic. Hot standby on location until Vulpas returns. Then both units are to return to base for evening meals.”
The Lieutenant entered the commands into the computer and looked up to see the unit begin moving on the big board. They moved to the supply point first, then rapidly moved to follow after Vulpas. “Fokkor in motion, Sir. Position in twenty.”
“Very good Lieutenant, thank you,” Cren’lith replied nodding. “The Aracs are down here.” He tapped the large map and indicated their area. “They would starve before reaching maturity. We have to assume that they know that as well, which is why they moved south to begin with.”
“Sir, the Aracs, the Queen included, are little more than pupae after hatching. How would they know to move? Do you believe they have inherited memory like some of the biologists suggest?” the aide asked.
“Possibly, but I think it’s more than that. Not all of the interior mass of the pod was taken up by eggs. There was something else in there. I’m betting it was either a communicator of some kind, or a computer capable of guiding them until they mature.” He snorted. “It could well be both of those things. Honestly, Lieutenant, we simply do not know. We assume there is only one queen in each pod because most arachnids do not tolerate the presence of other queens very well. It could be that we are looking for more than one hive. But, that is inviting trouble we do not have room for.”
The Lieutenant nodded his understanding, but suddenly began listening intently. “Contact. Vulpas Two has engaged an Arac soldier.” The Lieutenant began entering commands on the holoboard so his commander could see what was happening. “The Arac is avoiding contact.”
Cren’lith nodded. “No doubt trying to hide from our soldiers. If they can tag him, it might very well lead us right back to the hive.”
The Lieutenant nodded agreement, “I believe they have already done that, Colonel.”
“Kick Fokkor in the ass and recall all investigative units. Immediate dispatch to the east as soon as possible.” He again opened the channel to the ship. “Command, we have contact with an Arac soldier in the vicinity of the village of Discovery. Terran soldiers currently occupy the village. I am preparing to redeploy my troops according to the plan, but what do you want us to do with those Terran troops?”
“Colonel, if the hive is near Discovery I don’t think the Terran troops are going to want to stay for very long. Try to get them to relocate, otherwise you’re going to be fighting through them,” Captain Edgigly replied.
“Understood. I’ll do what I can, Captain,” Cren’lith replied. And looked at his aide. “Do we have any former Terrans in Vulpas or Fokkor?”
The Lieutenant ran a quick check and nodded. “Yes Sir. Captain Br’nit’s executive officer is Terran. Lieutenant Wendy Foster.”
Cren’lith nodded. “Get me this windyfoster, I have a mission for him.”
“Wendy Foster is a female Sir. It is two separate names.” The aide replied as he worked to connect to the Lieutenant’s personal comm unit.
Cren’lith snorted. “Humans! I will never understand their naming conventions! Thank you Lieutenant.”
The man smiled and nodded. “I have her on the comm Sir.”
Village of Discovery
“I understand Sir, I’ll do my best.” Wendy replied to her battalion commander. She looked at her captain. “It looks like I have to abandon you, Sir.”
“I’m certain I will wish you had been able to remain, Lieutenant Wendy Foster. However, Colonel Cren’lith is a much-revered commander among my people. If he feels the need for you to undertake a separate mission, it is my duty to support you in it. What do you need?”
“I am to try to convince the Terran Soldiers holding the village of Discovery to move. It would appear that the hive is near that village and those soldiers would be quickly overwhelmed,” Wendy explained to her immediate commander. I know we cannot let any of our equipment fall into their hands, but I feel I will need to show them something if I am to convince them of anything. May I borrow your spare plot board so I might show them the danger?”
“It is yours, do you think they will listen to you Lieutenant Wendy Foster?” Captain Br’nit asked.
Wendy shook her head. “No, they will not go past trying to arrest me. At that point no matter what I say they will not listen to me. They are very obstinate individuals. Still, the attempt must be made.”
“Private Harper O’Neal, Private Allain, I have need of you.” The Captain again looked at the smaller female. “You will not go in there alone. I will send the two I called as your guards. If Colonel Cren’lith did not order it I will; remain in contact at all times. Report any new developments and remain safe. If the Aracs attack while you are there, they will focus on you as you have the most powerful weapons.”
“Thank you Captain. I will depart as soon as the two privates arrive,” Wendy replied just as the two Marines in question touched down near them.
The Simonian Captain nodded to her. “Be well, be safe and call if you need assistance.”
Wendy saluted her superior, pointed to the two new arrivals and motioned them to follow her. She locked into their private comms. “Listen up, we have a side mission. The Arac hive is very close to the small village the Terrans have occupied as their base. We have to convince them to clear out before the Aracs attack them or we assault the hive. There is a very good chance these Terrans will simply ignore what we are saying and only continue to try to arrest us. We are not to let that happen, nor are we to allow them to have any of our technology. For the most part, you two are along to keep me safe, and I am supposed to convince these idiots to move. Let us hope you are far more successful in your mission than I am in mine.”
“We still can’t hurt them, right, Lieutenant?” O’Neal asked. “This is my old unit, I might even run into someone I know.”
“That might be helpful, O’Neal. Keep your eyes open for someone you might know. No, no harm if we can prevent it. If the Aracs attack while we are there, we are to defend the Terran commanders, although we will most likely attract the most Arac attention since we have the best toys,” Wendy explained.
“Understood Sir,” both privates replied.
“Now, all of us are human so as to not make the Terrans uncomfortable. Try to speak English as much as possible when dealing with our, uh, hosts. Any questions?” Wendy asked.
Both privates indicated they had no questions, and the trio flew on at treetop level straight for the village of Discovery, twenty miles further to the east.
Their arrival was about what Wendy expected though. The moment they got within a mile of the village, the idiots on the ground began firing at them. The trio ignored the weapons fire and flew on. At the edge of the large clearing where the airfield was located, Wendy and her two guards gently floated to the ground and simply began walking towards the village.
“Hold it right the fuck there! Don’t take another fucking step or we’ll kill you where you stand!” one of the soldiers that now surrounded them yelled.
“Oh bullshit!” Wendy replied which made him flush in anger. “If you could hurt us at all, you would have already done it, and we both know it. Now, I’ve come here to speak to your commanding officers. Would you be so kind as to pass the word along for me please, Sergeant?”
“Just who the hell are you?” the belligerent NCO replied.
“Lieutenant Wendy Foster, Sergeant. These two Marines are my guards. Now would you please pass my message to your commanders?” Wendy asked again.
“I’ll consider it after we get you three put in the nice cells we have for you,” the sergeant said and motioned to some soldiers.
“Are you really that stupid, Sergeant? How did you ever make it to the rank you have? Your people have been shooting at us for the last five minutes, and we don’t even have a scratch on us. Do you really think we are going to meekly submit to you? No. Now, call your commanders, or I will simply walk over to your command post myself. Do you understand?” Wendy said indicating the command post clearly marked in the village.
“Lady, you are really tryin’ my patience. You better hand over those weapons, and let us take you to your cell, or we will open fire on you right here. Do you understand that?” the sergeant said, angrily.
“If you shoot us, you will most likely hurt one of these soldiers because the bullet will ricochet off our armor. Wait, let me guess, you think I’m threatening you now right? Man, you really are an idiot!” Wendy said. She pointed to one of the troopers surrounding them. “You, Private! Go get your platoon Sergeant or Lieutenant. This idiot is about to get one of you killed,” Wendy ordered. It was clear she was used to command, because the private almost ran off to follow her orders.
“Stay put, Wills. She isn’t in command here,” the NCO said. “Okay, bitch, you asked for it. Wills! Garret, escort these three to the stockade, if they resist, shoot them!”
The two privates stepped forward and Wendy motioned for her two guards. “This idiot is no help at all, let’s go guys.” She turned and all three started walking toward the village and the command post.
“Squad! Back off and open fire! Take them down!” the sergeant ordered. The Terran soldiers backpedaled and started firing at the trio as they slowly walked towards the command post in the hut near the landing field. The white clothes that all three Alliance Marines had been carrying since leaving their own lines clearly visible.
On the front porch of the hut, Wendy could see the command officers standing outside watching the proceedings. Bullets were flying all over the place, and as she predicted would happen, one of the Terran soldiers fell to the ground, followed shortly by another, and yet another. The officers at the command post must have ordered the sergeant to stop shooting because he did soon after that. Wendy and her guards still advanced on the command post.
Vulpas used their armor to quickly converge on Sergeant Tul-sa and her teammate. They had gotten a positive ID on an Arac soldier, although it had been a little smaller than they were used to. Tul-sa had managed to tag it so when Captain He’rsree arrived, she set one of the probes on the signal from the tag and launched it; they couldn’t afford to lose this Arac.
“They picked a location close to habitation, Captain. That can’t be a coincidence,” Tul-sa replied as she knelt next to her commanding officer. Since the computers in their armor were still limited, Tul-sa had to physically link her tracking unit into He’rsree’s computer in order for the drone to follow the tag Tul-sa had fired.
As she watched the drone racing through the woods on her visor, He’rsree silently hoped Eric would be able to build the upgrades for the new armor. It would be good to be able to do stuff like this without having to physically connect the suits together.
“We have no way to know, Tul-sa. Personally, I agree with you, but there is still no proof. For now, let’s just focus on finding and then killing these Shuk-pa. We can worry about their society later,” He’rsree replied. “After all, that’s why we’re recording everything.”
“Yes Sir. I’m just a little worried about how close those Terrans are,” Tul-sa replied.
The Captain nodded. “Well, those Terrans are so certain of their ability to handle any situation that I doubt anything will get them to leave. Bravery is one thing, but blind stupidity in the face of overwhelming circumstances is quite another.”
Tul-sa chuckled. “There is a human saying that goes; ‘there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity.’ I think that would definitely apply here.”
“Well, as far as we know, the Aracs haven’t started taking the Terrans yet. But, it’s only a matter of time,” He’rsree replied. “Got him! That is one fast spider!”
“I’d heard they clocked one on the surface of Jakkar II at almost eighty klicks per hour,” Tul’sa said conversationally.
He’rsree was a little distracted as she chased the critter with the drone. “The drone is bouncing back and forth between about forty and seventy. I think all the trees are slowing it down, but it sure is weaving through these trees. Whoops! It just dropped into a hole. Here we go!”
“Captain He’rsree, this is the Honor of Vengeance; recording and mapping software is on-line. Approach and secure hive entrance, wait for reinforcements before breaching. Repositioning other drones to listen for resonance echo,” the AI reported. Each of the drones emitted a special subspace signal that they used for mapping. An echo received by another drone could indicate either an area of much softer ground, or another ingress into the hive.
After only a few moments of mapping, He’rsree could tell the underground was a complex maze of tunnels and chambers. She could also see that they looked to be leading off to the east toward the village of Discovery.
Her unit, a military grouping roughly the same size as a Terran military company in terms of number of personnel, settled to the ground around the still hidden tunnel.
“Holy shit! Captain, Sergeant, I think you should see this!” one of the troopers called. He’rsree and Tul-sa moved to where the trooper had called and were surprised by his discovery. In a framework almost like a tent, a tightly woven web of fibers had been built over the entrance. The amazing thing was that the fibers seemed to disrupt light to the point that they completely hid the large hole from anyone not directly on top of it. Even ten feet away, the hole was completely camouflaged.
“Command, are you seeing this?” He’rsree asked.
“We’re seeing something, Captain, but we’re not sure of what it is. Can you describe it?” the colonel asked, proving he was online as well.
Tul-sa looked up at her commander so He’rsree could speak to command through Tul-sa’s vidlink. He’rsree nodded and addressed the Camera. “What we have here seems to be a webbing of some kind. It appears to be disrupting light to the point where it completely hides the entrance. Our suit sensors aren’t getting through it either; according to them, there simply is nothing but more ground there. There is no way Lord Cowan’s sensors drones would see through these.”
“Now that there is a drone inside the hive they can detect each other, but I believe you are correct; the drones have been fooled by this webbing. Be sure to get a sample for analysis,” Edgigly replied.
“We’ll do our best Sir,” He’rsree replied.
“For information purposes, Captain He’rsree. I have sent one of our Lieutenants that was born here into the Terran group in Discovery in an effort to get them to move. We do not believe she will be successful, but we had to at least make the attempt.” Colonel Cren’lith added.
“Considering the direction these tunnels look to be going, I can only hope she is successful, Colonel. It would be the height of coincidence for the Queen to have taken up residence right under the only village in the area,” He’rsree noted.
“Agreed, Captain. My advisers believe that when the Terran soldiers begin disappearing, the Terrans will blame us for it. If that happens we must be very careful. The Terrans will redouble their efforts against us at that point.” Edgigly said. “It is truly a sad thing that Terran greed would not keep this from happening.”
“Captain, Colonel,” AI Honor interrupted. “Excuse my interruption, but I am receiving resonant echoes from inside the village of Discovery.”
“How many echoes are you detecting, AI Honor?” Colonel Cren’lith asked.
“Six spread through the village. All appear to be under or very near buildings,” the AI replied.
“Blessed Grathis, those Terrans don’t stand a chance!” Colonel Cren’lith said.
“Agreed, Colonel. I would advise that you move in and dislodge the Terrans from the village, if they still do not relocate, you may have to take measure to save as many as you can. I will contact Admiral Vance, inform him of the situation and get permission for you to use force to get them out of there,” Edgigly said.
“I agree, Captain. I will move my command post to the village and prepare to make our assault. There are several Terran aircraft at the village that will need to be removed as well. Perhaps the pilots of those transports can be persuaded to take their brethren to a safe distance.
“I show night-fall to be a little more than an hour from now. We will need to be in place with our defenses set by the time the sun goes down. The Aracs will attack given the amount of activity there has been on the surface here,” Colonel Cren’lith said.
“What are our orders then, Colonel?” He’rsree asked reminding everyone she was still online and listening.
“Secure that entrance for the time being and set up a defense perimeter for the night. The rest of the assault force will assemble in Discovery and attempt to hold the position until morning. We will begin the assault at that time. Remain alert, He’rsree. I am certain they will attempt to use that exit in order to make a stealth approach to our position. It will be up to you to stop them,” Colonel Cren’lith explained.
Discovery Command Post
Village of Discovery
“Colonel, please listen to me; your entire unit is in grave danger!” Wendy pleaded with the stubborn officer.
“I have no doubt that you believe that, Lieutenant. However, I really doubt that you know what you’re talking about. You represent an alien power that we have been sent here to stop,” Colonel Jessup replied. “I will not base the safety of my people on the word of a junior officer in what amounts to be my adversary on this mission. Now, your presence here is disruptive. Either follow these gentlemen to a holding cell, or leave!”
“Sir, I do understand the importance of following orders. I also understand your position here. I am very familiar with the capabilities of the 82nd Airborne as I was also in your military before I was recruited into the Alliance. Sir, you are so outclassed and outnumbered you can’t even imagine it. Your weapons will have no more effect on the Aracs than they had on my guards and myself. I…” she was interrupted by her comm unit beeping at her. “Excuse me Sir, my bosses are calling,” she said and put her hand to her ear. “This is Foster, go ahead.”
“Lieutenant Wendy Foster, I assume you are not having any luck getting the Terrans to move?” Colonel Cren’lith asked.
“No Sir, I am not. I am speaking with the over-all force commander on site, but he refuses to listen. He claims that we are his enemy and therefore cannot be trusted,” Wendy replied.
“I thought as much. Please tell him I will be there to speak to him in a few minutes. We have found the hive, Lieutenant Wendy Foster; you are standing on it. When night falls, there is a very good chance that the Aracs will attack in force,” the Colonel informed her.
“Sir, I thought they couldn’t have that many troops yet, didn’t the biologists say that the Queen was still too immature to produce?” Wendy asked.
“That is what we believed. However, Vulpas engaged an Arac and followed it back to an entrance in the woods near you. Based on its size and speed, we now believe it to have been a scout. The drones we are using to explore the hive have found large caverns full of full size, mature soldiers in some kind of stasis. We can only assume that the Queen somehow reached maturity and has been producing broods. Since they are in a static condition we believe that they do not require food as yet.
“It is clear we cannot rely on any of our former assumptions at this point. We are rallying all of our troops except Vulpas to the village of Discovery in an attempt to contain the attack if it comes this night. We are also to remove the Terran soldiers from the village even if it takes stunning them and bodily throwing them on their aircraft. I am told that Admiral Vance is seeking diplomatic assistance in getting them moved, but as with all things political; it will take time.”
“Sir, what will happen to them if we cannot get them to move?” Wendy asked.
“There is a very good chance they will be killed when the Arac soldiers emerge to feed. I believe it will be tonight, but we cannot be certain. They could emerge and attack at any time,” the colonel replied. “Perhaps you should inform this Colonel Jessup that I am not human?”
“I understand Sir, and I’ll tell him,” Wendy replied.
“You have done well, Lieutenant Wendy Foster. The Terrans simply do not have the information we do, nor will they accept ours. Sometimes, the attempt is all that we are able to undertake. We will join you shortly,” the Colonel said and closed the channel.
Wendy turned back to the obviously listening officers. She looked at the Colonel. “Sir, with respect, my Commander, Colonel Cren’lith, will be arriving shortly. The hive we have been searching for has been located under this location. We will be setting up our command center and rally point for our assault. Sir, I feel I should warn you and your other officers, Colonel Cren’lith isn’t human like we are. He’s from a planet a long way away from here called Simonia. He is a rather large being, very closely resembling a dark brown gorilla. He is a very well respected commander and very good at his job. The rest of our force will also be arriving here; all tolled there will be just over seven hundred Alliance Marines. We have to set up the defenses needed in the case the Arac soldiers attack tonight.”
Jessup just shook his head slowly. “I’m sorry Lieutenant, I’m just not scared of giant spiders and talking gorillas. We will find a way to stop you, and then we’ll put your Colonel gorilla back in a cage where he belongs.”
Wendy pursed her lips at the insult the man just issued. “When your men begin disappearing Colonel, don’t blame us. We have gone out of our way to keep you dumb fucks alive, but since you insist on being eaten alive, I’m thinking it would do you wonders to watch your friends and soldiers ripped apart in front of you. Go ahead and use your precious projectile weapons. It’ll give you something to do while the Aracs rip your arms off. You have no idea what you’’re getting into here and you’re far too stupid to listen to our warnings.
“We have powered armor that even resists laser weapons fire and an Arac soldier can cut through it like paper. We have laser pulse rifles that can penetrate any armor you have here on Earth and all we can do is try to shoot their legs off so we can kill them. So when they come boiling out of the ground and start cutting through your men like a knife through butter, just remember how invincible you are; I’m sure it’ll impress the hell out of them.” She turned and stomped out of the office the Commanding officers were using while a couple of them chuckled.
“She seems like a good officer, Henry. What do we do if she really is trying to tell us the truth?” a Major asked.
“We are too far north for spiders Major,” Captain Lafayette replied. The Captain was a member of the Canadian military and nominally commanded a company of tanks. His entire company was assigned to the mission as a liaison, but his troops and their equipment wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow. “It is much too cold for them even in summer as the evenings here are much cooler than in the US.”
“Giant spiders? Please! So we go get a couple of cans of raid and problem solved. Besides, everyone knows that spiders don’t live in hives!” Jessup scoffed and turned back to his maps.
Although they were shot at as each unit landed in the area by the landing field surrounded by Terran troops, the Alliance soldiers simply ignored them. That indifference to them really annoyed the Terran troops until Captain Gre’trand overheard a comment about being over-run by gorillas. The Simonian Captain ordered his troops to clear a small portion of trees from an area near the village.
Four or five Alliance Marines simply shot the trees with their rifles, which made the base of the tree simply explode, dropping the tree very close to where it had stood. A few other Marines walked up to the fallen trees, some of which were very large, the Marines picked them up, one Marine per tree, and carried them to an out of the way place a few hundred yards away.
That pretty much ended the comments from the Terran troops as well as the weapons fire, but they still tried to capture every Alliance soldier that landed.
When Colonel Cren’lith arrived, he had his assault shuttle land close to the Terran command post. When the troop ramp lowered, he glared at the assembled Terran Marines that had arrived to take him into custody. “By now it should be obvious even to the most obtuse of you that we will not be captured. Do you men not have other duties to attend to? We are about to be attacked for Garlath’s sake! Where are fortifications? Where are ammunition stores?”
Lieutenant Foster had to push her way through the group that was now simply gawking at the large armored gorilla. She saluted her superior. “Welcome to Discovery Colonel!” Since he had been speaking English, she did as well, making sure the troops around them knew he was a senior officer.
He returned the salute. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Can you show me to the Command post? I would have words with the person in charge of this rabble!”
“Certainly Sir!” she replied and turned to lead him to the hut. She switched back to Alliance standard to speak to him so no one else would overhear. “Be prepared to be insulted Sir. They made it absolutely clear that a ‘big talking gorilla’ would not change their minds either. They were rather rude about it.”
“I would expect nothing less, Lieutenant Wendy Foster. I do appreciate your offense on my behalf, but in honesty, one only need to consider the source of comment to understand situation. Intelligence has always been indication for racial tolerance.” The big Simonian turned to his aide. “When I nod to you, issue the stun order to the entire force. Have Fokkor secure the aircraft pilots according to plan.”
The aide nodded. “Yes Sir.” Before he opened the door for the Colonel and Wendy and followed them into the office.
Wendy stepped up to the officer once again and saluted them. “Gentlemen, may I present to you, my commanding officer Colonel Cren’lith of the Alliance Marines.” She turned to Cren’lith and introduced each man, even the ones that had not introduced themselves earlier. She also included the two civilian intelligence officers that were posing as military officials.
“How did you know who we were, Lieutenant?” the man asked.
“There is all the proof you need that intelligence is a word for which you do not have a clear understanding,” Cren’lith said shaking his head. “Gentlemen, I do not have time to debate this with you. In a little under an hour, all of you need to be on your aircraft and on your way back to where ever you came from.”
“You do not have the authority to issue commands to us, ‘Colonel’ this isn’t the zoo.” Colonel Jessup replied chuckling. A few of the other officers smiled nervously, but the others did not.
Cren’lith nodded his head. “I assumed you would say something similar, Colonel. However, I did make the assumption that since I gave you the courtesy of respecting your rank and position you would do same. Obviously, you are not gentlemen I hoped you would be. I was not giving you order Terran, I was telling you what is going to happen. If you are not on your aircraft by the time the sun has finished setting, you will most likely die, as my people will not be able to defend you any longer. To that end I have been given the authority to take the steps to insure not only your safety, but compliance.” He nodded to his aide who quietly began issuing orders.
Colonel Jessup narrowed his eyes at the large Simonian. “That sounded like a threat. I’m not a good person to threaten no matter who you think you are.”
“Try remember that when you wake up, Colonel,” Cren’lith said and sat the stun grenade on the table with the maps. When it detonated, every unshielded person in the office simply wilted to the floor, unconscious.
Cren’lith turned to his aide once again. Switching back to Alliance standard he ordered, “Please have someone come and secure the commanders. Lieutenant Wendy Foster, please ensure these men are protected until they can be taken to their aircraft.”
Wendy nodded and called her two guards back to the command post.
As each aircraft was loaded with unconscious soldiers and their immediate equipment, it was sent back to Edmonton. However, as the sun set in the west and the last, large cargo aircraft leapt into the sky, Terran weapons began firing from the south and small explosions announced the arrival of the United States Marines.
“Move the assault shuttles into position and form the perimeter. We need to secure all the exits from the hive that we can locate,” Cren’lith ordered.
“What of the new Terrans Sir?” his aide asked.
“There is nothing we can do about them now. We are out of aircraft and time. If the Arac are going to attack, they will do so very soon. We do not have time to worry about the Terrans any longer.”
“Colonel, seismic sensors indicate large scale movement within the hive,” AI Honor reported. “It is beginning to look like you are running out of time.”
“Thank you, AI Honor,” Cren’lith replied. “I will make sure my people know this.”
“Are you certain about this Colonel,” Edgigly’s voice came on the line. “You do not have to have your people on the surface for this. You will still be able to make the assault in the morning. It simply took us longer to locate them than we believed it would.”
“With respect, Captain. If we pulled back for the night, we might not be able to contain them. These Aracs are mature, they might have the ability to send out another queen and establish a new hive. They must be contained here or we will never get them under control. Besides, without us, the Terrans will be slaughtered.”
“You could be slaughtered, Colonel, that would not be an acceptable outcome,” Edgigly replied.
“It would not,” Cren’lith agreed. “So we must not allow it to happen. There has to be a limit to the amount of soldiers currently in this hive. We only need to maintain our positions and destroy them as we can.”
The Marines fired a few thousand more rounds before they realized two important things. First, no one was shooting back and second, they weren’t hitting anything either. They carefully crept forward, weapons at the ready since they could clearly see that there was a great amount of activity taking place in in the village. They saw explosions and heard strange weapons firing, there were fires burning everywhere, with an occasional explosion. However, there was only so close the Marines could get. Some unseen force was keeping them from advancing, still they could see what was going on. As they watched, three of the armored Alliance Marines were overrun by spiders the size of a small car. In addition to the spiders ripping the Marines apart, they were stunned as they watched one of the giant insects begin eating a severed leg pulled from the armor. The elite, battle-hardened, United States Marines hoped the barrier preventing them from getting any closer would also prevent this nightmare from coming to them. As they watched the insane battle unfold it was clear that Hell had come to Discovery.
Large spiders, some of them the same size as a compact car could be seen running through the flames and debris. Strange weapons either strapped to their backs or carried in forward legs. Other spiders hacking through solid walls of concrete with very sharp front appendices. The alien ships that they had been sent to capture would occasionally fire some kind of weapon into a group of the giant spiders. Mixed in with the huge spiders, obviously fighting them, in some cases hand to hand; were the strange armored figures of the aliens the Marines had been sent to arrest or kill.
It was difficult to tell which side was winning because the fighting was so wide spread and there was no clear line of battle. This fight looked more like a chaotic circus of death than a military action. Several Marines jumped away from the invisible shield as three of the large spiders ran into it. They had no more than gotten back to their feet when several of the armored aliens approached them, weapons firing invisible bullets trying to hit the leg joints of the huge insects.
In the background, two other spiders could be seen fighting over and tearing apart the body of one of the armored soldiers that had fallen. And as the Terran Marines watched in horror, the spiders ate the corpse.
Several of the Earth Marines turned away and threw up.
The Marine commanders understood the reports they had been getting from some of their soldiers. The armored ‘Alliance Marines’ were there to protect them. Now it was obvious to the officers what they had been sent to protect them from. Not knowing what else to do, the Commanders ordered all the ammunition in the heavier weapons changed to HEAT ammo. HEAT stood for High Explosive, Anti-Tank. It was doubtful those weapons would do more than piss off those spiders, but it was the best they could do with what they had.
That was when word reached them of another fight breaking out; this one was not in the containment of the field surrounding Discovery. This fight was taking place in the woods to the west and was reported to be just as fierce, however, there were fewer Alliance Marines there to fight the spiders.
They were Marines and it was now obvious what was really going on here. But without the protective field to contain the spiders, there was a possibility they would defeat the Alliance Marines and get away. There was no way that could be allowed to happen.
The Terran Marines picked up their small weapons and ran to aid the Alliance Marines that were in danger of being overrun.
The Aracs had been attacking for the better part of two hours. They had started shortly after the main attack in the village with the Aracs discovering the force field the Marines had placed to seal that exit. It had taken them some time, but the spiders managed to dig a new exit some distance from the original. Once the exit was finished, the Aracs burst forth out of the ground like mythical demons erupting from hell.
The Marines of Vulpas jumped into the air for safety but shots fired while flying were far less accurate. They did use the fire and glue grenades Dr. Cowan used on the ship and they worked, but not as well in this setting. The Aracs had far more room to move. They did discover that whatever those fire grenades were made of did not stop burning when underwater. Three Arac soldiers that had been hit by a White Phosphorus grenade immediately dove into a lake. The Marines reported seeing them burning even underwater.
For a time, Captain He’rsree thought they might be able to hold the Aracs. After the initial wave of spiders got out of the new exit, there had only been enough new arrivals to replace those that were dying. The two sides of the fight were balanced and He’rsree hadn’t lost anyone yet. It seemed the Queen had been focusing on the main fight in the Village to the east, which was just fine with He’rsree.
But something had changed. Just as the Alliance Marines were getting close enough to the new exit to seal that one as well, Arac soldiers began arriving in much larger groups. Suddenly the balance that had been maintained for the first part of the battle was broken. He’rsree lost a soldier, and shortly after that, two more. More Aracs arrived every minute.
He’rsree ordered one of the assault shuttles into the air to try to destroy the exit with heavy mount laser fire. The heavy laser tore up the damp ground, blasted trees into splinters and set the subsurface peat moss afire. The latter creating a thick blanket of smoke that seemed to ooze out of the ground in the area near the exit. With the exception of the fighting, the air was so calm the smoke tended to hug the ground, and seemed loathe to dissipate.
Although they tended to avoid the areas of thicker smoke, the Aracs continued arriving and pushing the Alliance back. The Aracs were pushing towards the village. He’rsree thought the Queen was trying to get a force in behind the Marines on the surface there. However, that was less important to He’rsree at the moment since the Aracs were winning by simple attrition. They had seemingly endless replacement troops, while He’rsree had none. She had just ordered her people to pull back yet again when the sky above them burst into light painting the battlefield in an almost surreal light and dancing shadows.
1st Battalion, 7th Marines
Lieutenant Colonel Harlen Daniels knew his orders, but agreed with Brigade Command; there were Marines out here dying to protect Earth and they had to help them. It was now very obvious to the combat veteran who and what the real enemy was out here. He knew the Old Man was going to get in trouble for the orders he issued, but something had to be done. He looked at his company commanders and saw fear, but he also saw resolve and determination; they were Marines after all.
“Gentlemen, this is our worst nightmare and we are going to make it worse. You all need to know that what I’m about to order you to do violates our initial orders. There are Marines out there dying to protect our world and us, and they are losing. As you know we were ordered to capture as many Alien soldiers as possible and secure their weapons and technology for analysis. We are not going to do that any longer, after all, how could we secure technology if a giant fucking spider eats all of us? No, we’re going to try to help those aliens that are dying for us. Do any of you have a problem with this?” He paused, not expecting anyone to answer.
“Sir, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that our original orders just didn’t seem right, especially after those ‘Dangerous Aliens’ helped so many of our Marines when we dropped. We can understand the US wanting to grab the tech, but the order to kill them to get it just didn’t seem right. The thought of attacking those giant spiders scares the hell out of all of us, but those alien Marines need some kind of support, even if it’s us,” Captain Jennings said. Jennings commanded Alpha Company which was mostly riflemen.
Daniels saw that the rest of the Commanders agreed with Jennings and accepted that as their agreement to help. He nodded. “I’m glad to hear you feel that way. Because Colonel Walsh has issued some new orders.” He went on to outline the Colonel’s plan and careful placement of the unit’s heaviest weapons. “Now, we know that our riflemen aren’t going to have much of an effect on these monsters, so what we’re going to do is double up each of the heavy weapons crews. The rest of our boys are going to split up; I want half to run supplies and ammo for the heavy weapons while the rest try to get the wounded and fallen out of the combat area. Once we get into the area, we’ll try to locate the Alien command section and link up with them. Once we find their medical area, all wounded will go there. Don’t leave any of their gear behind, but don’t try to steal any of it for now either; we don’t know what they’ll need and what they won’t and right now killing those damn bugs is far more important than stealing their secrets.
“Second Battalion is deploying as we are, but we will be splitting the heavy weapons of Third Battalion between us. The remainder of Third Battalion will secure the supplies from the drop zone,” he circled the area. “And get them to our distribution point. Third Battalion will also serve as our reserve and back up.
“The Sergeant Major has ordered some pretty odd stuff that we hope will give those spiders a reason to cry. We’ll be getting air-fuel rounds for Maw-Deuce and the Brushmasters as well as sabot rounds for the SAWS and Mini-Guns. Reports tell us these spiders don’t like Willie-Pete (White Phosphorus) grenades so we’re getting those and a bunch of tracers. There will be mixed loads until we know what works best. Until then we’ll have to keep a close eye on how hot the barrels get especially in the Maw-Deuces.
“This is as serious as it gets, gentlemen. Let’s go give these fuckers a warm welcome to Earth before we send them back to hell!”
“HooAH!” the men called as they left to issue their orders.
Gun Emplacement Tango
Discovery Battle Zone
1st Battalion, 7th Marines
“Wilson, pop those flares as soon as I tell you to. You light ‘em up, and we’ll knock them down. Got it?” Corporal Henderson said, trying to reassure one of his nervous Marines.
“You just be sure to hit those fuckers, Paul. I really don’t want to be torn apart today!” Private Wilson replied.
“Of course we will! Maw-Deuce has been in use for over a hundred years Wilson! When she talks, everyone listens!” Henderson replied.
“Movement! Sector front! Forty meters out, I think it’s one of those armored aliens.” Private Herschel said. “Yeah, I got three of them working this direction. They must have some spiders chasin’ ‘em.”
“Try to get their attention, Herschel,” Henderson ordered.
Just as Herschel was about to toss a small stone at them, one of them turned and made a ‘get down’ motion with one hand. They also motioned to be quiet. Which Herschel relayed to the corporal.
“Get ready, Wilson,” Henderson whispered.
Four large spiders came crashing through the woods a hundred meters out. Only Henderson could see them, but everyone could hear them. The Alliance Marines fired repeatedly in that direction as one ran to just in front of the gun emplacement.
“Now Wilson! Henderson ordered and Wilson launched two flares high into the air spreading an eerie daylight through the dark woods. Although he couldn’t see them clearly, Henderson could see enough of them to have a target. Pressing down on the butterfly trigger of the big gun before him, the oldest serving weapon in the United States arsenal began speaking to a new enemy; and the enemy listened.
It wasn’t clear if the rounds from the fifty caliber machine gun were actually penetrating their armor, but the Arac soldier it had struck was certainly knocked back, only to slowly get back up.
“What’s the damage, Herschel?” Henderson yelled over the very loud report of the heavy machine gun.
“Uncertain, Paul. You’re hurting them, that’s for sure, but they’s gettin’ back up,” Herschel replied.
Paul Henderson could see they were getting back up, but he could also see that they were moving a lot slower, as if they had been wounded. Two of the Alliance Marines now flanked the fortified position and added their own weapons fire to that of the big machine gun.
“Some of your rounds are breaching their armor, Corporal. The tracer rounds that follow are what is hurting them,” one of the armored figures said from behind him. “I never would have thought this old girl would do more than piss them off.”
“Maw-Deuce has something to say to everyone, regardless of race. Welcome to the Magnificent Seventh Marines!” Henderson replied without taking his eyes off his targets. He glanced down at his assistant gunner who was getting another box of ammo ready. “Armor piercing and tracers, Joe. Regular rounds just bounce off.”
“I’ll call it in, Boss. Watch the heat!” the other man replied.
Henderson nodded. “Get another barrel ready! If we can drop these, we’ll swap ‘em before any more show up!”
‘Joe’ nodded and grabbed a long leather and plastic case that had been lying off to one side.
Henderson kept firing, but tried to use shorter bursts since he could tell the barrel of the big gun was indeed beginning to heat up.
Between the three Alliance Marines and the sheer punching power of the big machine gun, and the grenades tossed by the rest of the Marines those three spiders were knocked down quickly enough for Henderson and his helper to change the barrel.
“What are you crazy fuckers doing out here, Corporal?” the Alliance Corporal asked. “By the way, I’m Corporal Phil Johns, Alliance Marines.”
Paul nodded to him. “Paul Henderson; USMC. My team here is Private Joseph Barlow, Private Eric Wilson and Private First Class Jerome Herschel. We saw you guys were in trouble so we’re trying to help. We’ve been ordered to ignore our original orders and assist you folks to the best of our ability. Our command folks should be talking to yours by now,” he slapped ‘Joe’ on the shoulder. “Any word from the uppers?”
Joe nodded. “Contact on all fronts, the aide area is half a click behind point bravo. Command has linked up with the aliens and they are working out the best way to kill these fuckers. A new ammo mix is coming in and should be here any minute. We’re to send back our hot barrels.” He touched his ear. “Hang on a sec…”
They waited while Joe listened. “Command is repositioning the mini-guns on each side of the heavies. We’re getting two guns assigned to us. From what I understand, we’re to set up the minis on each side and have them clear out some of the brush for us. We’re also getting claymores and more grenades.”
“So use the mini’s as lawn mowers huh. I hope their bringing a lot of ammo. Wilson, grab one of the Alliance guys and few of our extra sandbags see if you can throw together some kind of shelter for the mini’s when they show up,” Henderson ordered.
Johns passed the order along to one of his teammates who immediately got up and started working. Phil turned back to Paul. “We’re so used to always fighting on the run, building any fortifications is a unique exercise.”
Paul nodded. “I was meaning to ask, since we didn’t see any, don’t you guys have any heavy weapons like the Maw-Deuce?”
“Not crew served. However, I get the feeling that’ll be changing soon. Normally, we’re what you would call a ‘light rifle company.’ We’re structured as a fast strike unit. Heavier weapons slow us down. Normally, we’d harass and lure an enemy in to the rest of the battalion. But they’re all engaged in town; we were tasked with holding one small remote exit from the main hive. We had it sealed with a force field, but the fucking Aracs dug new exits.”
“So, where is the main hive Corporal?” Herschel asked.
“Under the village,” Phil replied. “Once the smoke clears from this, we’re going to have to go in there and clean it out.”
“Johns! Quit talking and get to work! The Aracs are sending two squads in your direction. These are armed, so tell your new friends to keep their heads down!” Sergeant Tul-sa called over the platoon channel.
“You got it Sarge!” Phil replied and turned to the men building the fortifications. “Heads up, we have incoming and these have guns!”
Paul had already reloaded and cocked the big gun. He began slowly panning back and forth.
“Paul,” Phil said. “These are going to be armed. That means either laser or particle weapons. Your body armor isn’t going to do much to protect you. Try to keep your heads down, okay?”
Paul nodded, but kept scanning the woods. A rustling from behind them signaled the arrival of their ammo restock as well as the two mini-guns. Each mini-gun had four panting men carrying ammo for them.
Colonel Cren’lith was not unaware of the plight of Vulpas Unit. Neither was the Command and Control Unit aboard the Honor of Vengeance. However, there was nothing Cren’lith could do to send them any help because he simply had no one to send. Even he was shooting Aracs with a pulse rifle from the back of his assault shuttle while the main gun on the roof fired on larger groups.
Cren’lith’s aide had been wounded and was lying on a bench because the fighting was too heavy to get him to the aide station forty feet away. The aide station itself was actually hovering off the ground because it had gotten too dangerous for it to remain on the ground.
The Aracs had obviously been planning to take the village. When the attack began, whole buildings simply collapsed into the ground. The Aracs had undermined the major buildings of the community. The Aracs had expected those buildings to be filled with panicking humans, but found the armed Alliance Marines instead.
In most cases, those Marines used their armor to jump clear of the wreckage before getting entangled and had managed to inflict considerable damage on the waiting Aracs. However, it didn’t take long for the Queen to switch tactics and now there were armed Aracs swarming over the entire area. There were literally thousands of Aracs, far more than the xenobiologists had thought possible. They were also mostly mature Aracs, which was another facet of this mission that was supposed to be impossible.
It was clear that there was only one hive in this area, but it was much larger and better equipped than anyone thought possible. Before long, it had quickly become a real fight and not just a hive clearing. Of course, if the Marines had tried to invade the hive in the state it had been in, the entire unit would have been lost in short order.
‘Where did they get the weapons?’ Cren’lith asked himself, not for the first time. There simply had not been enough room in the small pod for very much equipment, and certainly not enough room for all the weapons they now carried. It did not matter, they had weapons and they were using them; that is what mattered now.
“Has anyone seen any new soldiers coming out of the ground in the last hour?” one of his commanders asked over the command net. Glancing at the clock, the big Simonian saw it was almost dawn here; they had been fighting continuously all night long.
“We’ve been a little busy over here, Br’nit. What’s wrong, are you running out of playmates? You can have some of mine!” another commander said.
Cren’lith opened his comm. “Report! Are the Aracs running out of reinforcements?”
“It looks like it from here, Colonel, which is why I asked. None of my people have seen any new Aracs come out of the ground in the last forty minutes.” Br’nit replied.
“Anyone else?” Cren’lith asked. “Can anyone confirm this?”
“It doesn’t look like there are any more coming out of the openings over here. But we’ve been tossing those fire grenades into the ones we could find. It took them awhile to want to come out of them!” another commander reported.
“We should be seeing the results pretty soon if they have indeed ran out of soldiers,” another commander said. “At the rate we’re killing them off, they should start to thin out pretty quickly!” That commander’s report was punctuated by the staccato sounds of weapons firing in close proximity.
“Vulpas Unit! Report He’rsree!” Cren’lith called.
“Sir, Captain He’rsree was badly wounded a few moments ago. This is Lieutenant Der’sery. We’ve sustained heavy losses Sir. The help of the Terran Marines certainly saved us from complete loss. We have managed to contain the exits and have sealed three of five. Our medical section is overwhelmed and we could use reinforcement as soon as possible Sir.” Der’sery reported. “The Terran Commanders were with Captain He’rsree when her position was overrun. Three have joined their ancestors; two others are wounded but still fighting. The Aracs are no longer sending out soldiers. We thought perhaps a main tunnel to the hive might have collapsed.”
“Well done, Lieutenant. We will get someone out there as soon as we can. It looks like the hive has run out of offensive soldiers. We are seeing a major reduction of Arac soldiers here as well. Try to hang on for a little while longer; we should be able to get someone out there soon,” Cren’lith promised.
“Lieutenant Der’sery, this is Command One, we’re sending down our mobile ESAR medical units. If you can, put out markers where you want them to land and set up. EVAC shuttles are also being sent,” AI Honor’s voice called over the channel.
“Understood, Command. What of the wounded Terrans? There are a lot of them.” Der’sery asked.
“They will be treated the same as our own soldiers. They are to receive every need and treatment; however, no technology can be allowed to fall into the Terrans hands. I am truly sorry, but cybernetic prosthesis can only be fitted to Alliance personnel,” Honor repeated the orders she had been given.
“Command One, do you object to gaining a few new Marines?” Der’sery asked. It was clear she was smiling when she asked.
“Of course not, but let’s leave that until we get everyone taken care of okay?” Edgigly replied in place of the AI.
Marine Embarkation Bay
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s Moon
When I heard that Vulpas was returning to the base, I made sure to be on hand to welcome them home. No one told me what had happened. I knew it had been really bad down there and there had been horrendous battles, but I didn’t stop to think about casualties. It didn’t dawn on me nor did anyone tell me how much it had cost.
I arrived at the Main Marine embarkation area in my armor to welcome ‘my’ team home. The Marines that got off the first shuttles were quiet and sullen. I didn’t see Captain He’rsree, Sergeant Tul-sa nor anyone from my old squad. I did recognize a few faces from other squads that I had met briefly during the battle on Honor of Vengeance. I approached one of the very tired looking women.
“Excuse me Private. Can you tell me which shuttles the Captain or Sergeant Tul-sa might have come in on?” I asked.
She looked at me and it seemed to take a few moments for her to recognize me. She nodded and led me back into the assault shuttle. There she pointed to a large group of black, plastic looking body bags. “They came in on this one, My Lord. I’m sorry you had to find out this way.”
“All of them?” I asked. My voice cracked somewhat but she understood me.
“Captain He’rsree survived her wounds and made it to the aide station. But she had an allergic reaction to the anti-venom and died almost immediately. Theta team,” That was the name of ‘my’ squad. “Went down into the hive after a group of Terran Marines that had been taken by some Arac scouts. We lost all contact with them ten minutes later during a battle. When reinforcements arrived, they recovered three bodies, two Terran Marines, and Private Ca’lis. A search was conducted, but nothing more had been found of them. While the search of the hive is still going on, it has been over sixteen hours since their signal was lost. Command has them listed simply as missing, but there is no way they could still be alive and not have made it back to the surface.”
I nodded my thanks to her, bent down and picked up the body of Captain He’rsree.
“Sir, you don’t need to do that. We’ll get them taken down to the morgue,” the trooper tried to tell me.
“No,” I said. “She made sure I got home, I need to return the favor.” I stepped past her with my burden. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but Sarah helped by guiding me.
Once I delivered her to the Morgue, I returned to the assault shuttle for the next friend I would never see again. After the third trip, the Marine I had first approached dropped her gear and joined me. The next trip, three others from Vulpas joined us. That was when I found out that almost half the unit had been killed and thirty-six more were wounded bad enough be taken to the infirmary. Less than twenty percent of the unit could answer muster, and it would do so without any officers and only half the sergeants.
I had taken the afternoon off to welcome home my friends. When I finally made it home I had no strength left. I sat down on the floor just inside our front door and cried for the loss of my friends.
Office of Doctor Sir Eric Cowan
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s Moon
Right after the Marines had left for the Honor of Vengeance and Earth, Ced followed me back to my office to tell me about his ideas for new Marine combat armor.
At first, I thought he was nuts and had gone really over-board on what he wanted to do, but when he started bringing up schematics and drawings he’d made in the short time since first mentioning improving the armor, I began to realize he wasn’t crazy. A little ambitious maybe, but not crazy.
The new armor would employ a completely new outer shell that, by itself was superior to what is currently in use. But, he didn’t stop there. The armor shell was layered and structured in such a way as to support a special energy matrix not unlike the inverted warp field we’d discussed earlier. Each set of armor would have to be built for the trooper because one of the improvements was to make it as formfitting as possible. The less excess room inside the armor, the less it slid around and transferred kinetic energy to the occupant.
The current design had the Marine wearing a special suit to be used as a liner under the armor. The new design incorporated that liner into the inside of the shell. Body wastes would still be recycled and processed by the armor just like the original units do, but in this system it would do so more efficiently.
The current combat armor in use had not been significantly upgraded in over three hundred years and that had been a slightly larger, more powerful power unit. The new system would have a small cobalt reactor built into it. It was a type of cold reactor that did not produce a lot of heavy radiation. It was very powerful, but was not nearly as efficient as other reactors. It would need new fuel cores every two hundred and fifty hours of operation. There was a safe storage area that would hold an extra power core as well as a small unit capable of replicating new cores provided there was available materiel. The old core would be recycled, but because of the radiation it did have, it would have to be recycled by a unit larger than the suit carried.
I shook my head when I saw that. Basically ten and a half days of continuous power before needing replacement. If a Marine had to spend that much time sealed up in their armor, I’d feel very sorry for them. But there were other power options available for the non-combat versions that lasted much longer, but those units were built mostly for long term survival in a non-combat environment, like an ejected pilot, or crewmen that gets caught in a decompression event.
Reading through the specs Ced had drawn up was like reading a science fiction story. However, about two-thirds of the way through it, I realized that everything Ced had outlined so far, could be done with our existing technology. If he could build and incorporate the stuff he was talking about building, I was damn sure going to find a way to write the software to make it all work together.
There was only one tricky part of the whole system; in all the models Ced had worked out, Christy’s biocytes had been included as an emergency trauma treatment function. The only problem was that the ‘cytes were designed for use in the medical bays only. The ‘cytes needed raw material and a lot of external computing power in order to function properly. We’d need to bring Christy and her small team in on this project as soon as we could. Biocyte use in the armor would require them to be redesigned, but this new armor could seriously save Marines lives. Not to mention the lives it could save if the fighter pilots and ship’s personnel could use it. Hell, engineers had to wear special suits when working in the power rooms anyway.
My door chimed announcing a visitor just as Ced and I started to discuss this new project. I saw Sarah smile, so I knew something was up. Christy walked in after I granted entry.
“Hi Ced! Eric, Sarah said you needed to talk to me?”
Sarah had anticipated our need and had asked Christy to come to my office.
“Well, yes, we do need to talk to you. But before we get into that, how is the biocyte project doing?” I asked.
“Remarkably well. We are still working up all the case files and getting the data ready to be sent off to the Alliance Medical Service for final approval. If they approve their use, then my part of the project is over except for the occasional upgrade or software update. Did you know that everything we create that has a marketable value within the Alliance is automatically patented under our names? Once the ‘cytes are released for widespread use, the companies that will handle the production are required to give me a five percent royalty on every sale?” Christy replied smiling happily.
Ced nodded. “Yes, by your Earth standards, I would be considered a very wealthy man. I have nineteen such patents under my name. What you might not have been told was that if the Alliance classifies your work, such as they have done with Eric’s AI work and many of my own inventions, they pay you ten percent of the amount that would have been created if the invention were to be released to the civilian market. It is one of the ways that the Alliance tries to award ability. Even our aides and assistants get a piece of the pie; usually between a half and one percent of the generated income.”
I was floored. I had no idea we even got paid. “So I guess I should check my credit balance one of these days, huh?” I said grinning.
“It would not do you any good at the moment, Eric,” Sarah said. “Because of our situation and the current emergency, you aren’t actually getting paid. However, you are also not being charged for anything either. There is nothing you could order that the Alliance would not cover the price of.”
I was confused. “I just ordered eight kegs of beer from a brewery on Earth for the returning Marines…”
Sarah nodded. “The price for which has already been paid by the Alliance here on the Base. For all intents, your personal account has been frozen. As have those of your entire family. Instead of payment refusal, the credit requests are redirected to another account and paid from there. Basically, the Alliance is picking up the tab for you and your family in gratitude for your contributions. Doctor Sparks is under much the same arrangement while based here.”
“Wow, I had no idea. Thank you Sarah,” I said.
“I know you didn’t bring me here just to ask me how the biocyte project was going, so what do you need?” Christy asked.
“This is your baby, Ced, you tell her,” I grinned pointing at the displayed hologram.
Ced nodded. “It may be my ‘baby’ Eric, but it was your suggestion. Anyway, we are designing a new generation of armor for our fighting forces. The most pronounced and complex system will be the close combat version.” Ced had Sarah replace the hologram with the appropriate hologram. Ced then began describing the system, but when he got to the part that would concern Christy, he smiled. “Now, one of the most important functions in the new armor system, and this will be for all models not just this version, is the emergency medical response functions. It’s based completely on your biocyte technology.”
Ced paused there in order to let Christy catch up because it was clear that she was working this through her mind. She slowly began to nod. “I think it can be done, Ced. But we’re going to have to rework a few things and expand a few others.” She was silent for a few more moments and nodded firmly. “Yeah, we can do it. It’ll take some time, but it can be done. It’s just too bad we can replicate the ‘cytes!”
Ced nodded. “Yes it is, unfortunately, there is no way around that natural law. The crystals just won’t form. In case you’re wondering, I did actually try it. Everything but that would form, but the replicator said there were too many variables to reproduce the crystal. When I asked how many variables would be needed. It reported that infinitive numbers could not be displayed.” He shrugged. “I quit trying at that point.”
“Well, I think that before we start on this, we should talk to Vance; we have so many high priority projects on the burner right now he might get upset if we try to throw another log on the fire,” I said.
“Normally, Vance wouldn’t bat an eye at something like this, but considering the circumstances, I think you might be right,” Ced agreed. “Sarah, could you schedule an appointment with the Lord Admiral for the three of us?”
“His schedule is full this day, Doctor. Would tomorrow morning be soon enough?” Sarah asked.
“I should think so, this is important, but it’s not an emergency by any stretch,” I replied, and Ced agreed.
“Will that time be acceptable for you as well, Doctor Cowan?” Sarah asked a surprised looking Christy. “Uh, yeah, that should be fine, but why do I need to be there?”
“Because you will be responsible for the development of one third of this project,” Ced replied. “You might think that your part of this project is just a small function of the armor. My dear, that is far from the case I assure you. The biocytes will be a strong foundation upon which all the medical and emergency functions of the armor will be built. You’ll be just as responsible for this as both Eric and I are.”
Office of the Base Commander
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
When we arrived in Vance’s office the next morning, I knew something wasn’t right. Vance looked like he had aged years, and it was obvious he hadn’t slept at all.
“What’s wrong?” I asked forgetting all protocol in worry for him.
He smiled sadly. “I appreciate it, Eric. The assault on the hive isn’t going well. You don’t need to worry about it. Sarah said you three had come up with something new that might save lives. I’m always willing to hear those kinds of ideas.” He managed to sidestep the explanation, but I told myself to corner him on it later.
“I had an idea to help out the Marines,” I began to which Vance nodded and interrupted me.
“I heard about that. It was a damn good idea that more than the Marines are using. AI Honor used the drones to help locate the hive. It turns out that the entrances are screened from sensors as well as visuals, but the idea was sound. They did remarkably well in mapping the internal structure of the hive though. The only problem with that is that someone has to remain in line of sight. It turns out that there is some kind of… something on the walls of the hive that blocks subspace comms. Even though they didn’t do what you had originally intended for them, it has been a very useful and remarkable tool for the commanders to see, in real time, exactly what the troops are seeing.”
“Damn, I was afraid of that,” Ced replied. “I’ll work on fixing it, those drones are just too handy. But what Eric was trying to tell you Sir, is we have designed a new armor system that will save lives. Not just for the Marines either, although they are our primary concern.”
That got Vance’s attention. “You believe you’ve come up with something that will save Marines? Right now, I could really use news like that. Please continue.”
“Well, like I said Sir, I discovered that the Veranorians had designed the current armor hundreds of years ago, and there hadn’t been any work done to improve it. Since I’d had firsthand knowledge of the armor, I had already made a few mental notes on subtle improvements. But when Captain He’rsree and Sergeant Tul-sa came to see me last night, I guess it all just kinda reached a head. I called in Ced to help with the drones, and it sort spiraled from there. Ced did all the actual hardware design work on this so he should get the credit. However, all three of us will have a hand in designing and building the major components.”
I saw Vance flinch when I mentioned the Captain so I knew something had happened to her, but I waited to ask him about it. I nodded for Ced to pick up the explanation. Ced had Sarah dim the room lights and he increased the hologram to almost life sized. He also had her display all three variants of the armor; Combat, Fighter and Crew. Like he did with the explanation for Christy, he waited until last to introduce it and nodded to a scared looking Christy for her ideas.
“It will take a little bit of work Sir, but I am certain we can redesign a biocyte version for this use. It would require a slight modification to the current design along with software alterations. These biocytes will not have the same capabilities as the ‘cytes in the medical bays. That simply couldn’t be done in this application. However, having ‘cytes that can perform initial treatments and deal with heavy trauma could be priceless. Even if the wounded occupant would need to be placed in stasis, having the ‘cytes already in place would help greatly. As I said, we can do this. It’ll just take time and effort.”
“How much time are we talking about? When can you produce a prototype?” Vance asked. He was very excited about this project, but was trying to control it.
“Not for at least month as far as getting the shells built. I’d call in a couple of the Shallan armorers to make sure I don’t overlook something. Each suit would have a crystal computer system, but those can be grown while we’re working on the shells. Doctor Christy will need to make her design modifications before we can get the biocytes cooking and finally, on top of all of that, Eric and his crew will have to write a completely new operating system as well as the specialized modules for the armor system’s functions.
“So… at a first glance, I’d guess at three months before we could stuff a human in it for testing, and six months before a production plan,” Ced finished. Looking to us for agreement.
“This will be on top of all the priority stuff we’re already doing Sir. Which is actually why we came to you before just doing it. It would take time away from the priorities you’ve already given us,” I explained.
He nodded and tiredly ran his fingers through his hair. “Another excellent idea that we are in dire need of, but we simply don’t have the resources to pull off.”
“Well, with respect Sir I actually can hand this off to other programmers since the armor would not need AI programming. But I’d still like to look it over since it was my idea, and I have a vested interest in getting it done,” I said. Once again I saw his eyes tighten just a little bit as if remembering something painful.
“I actually am finalizing the project I was working on, so this is perfect timing for me and my team,” Christy said. “We need something new to sink our teeth into. This is a very good application we can get behind quickly.”
“I might be able to delegate parts of this out to some of my people, and the Shallans themselves might be interested in taking it over, but I think they will still need me to work them through the new shell composite; it’s a bit different. But, it really won’t take that much of my time,” Ced replied. “I am all fired up about it because it’s a new and exciting idea. You’re right though, we need to manage this one carefully.”
“I’ll tell you what. You have my permission to do this. However, try to limit the impact on other projects as much as possible,” Vance replied. “There are a few thousand new people on their way here from the core worlds and we are getting hundreds of new people every week from Earth. Which reminds me Eric, Coryn has asked me to speak to you on behalf of the education unit here on the base. It seems there is a rather large number of potential software engineers taking shape in our school system and she was wondering if you could spare a few hours to lecture to them about AI programming. There seems to be a lot of interest in the biocytes as well. Coryn asked me to discover if Doctor Christy Cowan could speak as well.”
“I’ll do everything I can to make the time Sir. Do I contact Coryn?” I asked.
“That would be fine. I think she has a crush on you anyway,” Vance said smiling sadly.
“I’ll make time for this. Education is just as important as research,” Christy added.
Both Ced and Christy thanked Vance for his time and left his office. I kissed Christy softly as she left, but remained to speak to Vance.
“Was there something else, Eric?” Vance asked me.
“Vance, you look like hell, you’ve aged twenty years over night. I know damn good and well you haven’t slept and I’m certain Coryn is beside herself with worry. You need an outlet. Keeping secrets like this can and will kill you,” I said. “I know you really don’t want to talk to me about it and normally I would respect that. I get the feeling this is actually more personal than it is professional, even though I know I have the clearance. It’s my duty as your friend to help you bear the heavy emotional burdens. That is what friends are for. So, start talking.”
Vance stood and got us both something to drink from the replicator. “It’s a bit too early for anything stronger than your coffee, but I’m afraid you’ll wish it wasn’t,” he said. “We’ve taken losses.”
“Some losses were expected, but I take it they have been worse than projected. I can also tell that something happened to either Captain He’rsree or Sergeant Tul-sa,” I said, hoping to prompt him to start talking. The ploy worked and he told me that He’rsree had serious injuries but was at the aide station. He didn’t have the exact figures and names, but there had been other losses as well. Even Colonel Cren’lith had been injured.
“It’s still pretty early down there. The fighting seems to have lessened but we don’t know if it’s because the Queen has run out of soldiers or because the sun is coming up and the Aracs have a hard time seeing in bright sunlight. The actual assault on the hive hasn’t even started yet because night fell over the area before we located the entrances. We also greatly underestimated the maturity of the hive. From what we have been able to put together, this hive was much more mature than even the conservatives guessed. We have yet to discover an explanation for this since there simply hasn’t been enough time since the pod came down.
“If the other hive is as far along as this one is, we may have to make a ground assault on it as well. Orbital bombardment simply can’t penetrate deep enough to kill the entire hive. Initial investigations into the Canadian hive are telling us it goes hundreds of feet down. If the Saharan hive is that mature, nothing we can use on it from orbit will do the job.”
“Will we be able to make another assault after the one in Canada?” I asked.
Vance shook his head. “When I said we’ve suffered casualties, I meant we’ve taken serious casualties. We’re close to the point where I’m going to abort the mission. If it weren’t for the fact that Yellowknife and a few other population centers are in striking distance of the hive, I probably would. I’ve already spoken to High Command. They are dispatching the entire Tenth Heavy Infantry Division to us. We just have to figure out a way to keep the hives from expanding until they get here.”
“Sir, I mean no disrespect to our troops, you know that, but how did an unarmed hive managed to do this much damage to our people?” I asked.
“They weren’t unarmed. But that really didn’t matter all that much. The fighting was so close that most of our weapons were useless. The Aracs were on our people before most of them could even fire a shot,” Vance replied. “How did they get weapons?” He added in frustration.
“It sounds like it wasn’t the weapons that hurt us the worst. The Aracs fought mostly hand to hand?” I asked.
He nodded. “They are a lot stronger than our people are, even augmented by the armor. That’s why I seemed so excited when you proposed a new design.”
“I don’t know how much more of a strength boost the new stuff will give. What we really need is a method of beating these fuckers in close quarters,” I said. “We know they don’t like extreme heat and they need an atmosphere close to ours to breath. We can’t use pesticides because that would poison the atmosphere for us as well.”
Vance narrowed his eyes at me. “I think you’ve been hanging around Ced too much. You’re turning into a weapons designer. What are you thinking?”
“Well, I think it might work for the hives but nowhere else. Why can’t we flood the tunnel complex with an explosive gas then ignite it. We’d need to seal all the entrances we could find, but still supply oxygen for the fire.” I shook my head. “It’s just an idea. The main problem with that one is that if we don’t know where all the tunnels are, we could end up doing far more damage than planned. Then again, we could always just use flame throwers when clearing the tunnels, if we could find a fuel that would burn hot enough and fast enough,” I said still thinking out loud.
“Elerium Nitroxide is used as a fuel in de-orbiting thrusters salvage companies use. It’s easy to handle as long as it’s not mixed, extremely volatile when mixed and burns very hot and very cleanly. It leaves a nitrogen heavy water as a byproduct,” Vance suggested. “I wouldn’t want to be caught in a blast from it, even in armor.”
“That might be the ticket, then. We just need to create better heat shielding in the armor,” I said. “I don’t see that as a major issue, but again it needs the new armor when we need it now.” I sighed. “I’m sorry for thinking out loud and babbling on about weapons when you were telling me about our losses. It’s just one of the ways I deal with worry, I try to occupy my mind with something so I don’t dwell on a worst case scenario.”
“I wish I could do that, but it’s my job to worry and plan for those worst case scenarios. I know when I get the news from the attack, it’s going to be bad. There are a lot of families I will have to notify, and that is something I’ve never been able to accept easily,” Vance replied.
“I don’t think anyone accepts that duty easily,” I said. “I know it’s one of the many things about being in the military I don’t envy you.”
Marine Embarkation Bay
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s Moon
Vance’s idea for a flamethrower was passed along to the remaining ground troops and several portable devices were constructed to assist in the cleaning out of the hive. Teams were assembled and sent into the hive led by flamethrower crews. They worked pretty well except they tended to drive most of the remaining Aracs deeper and deeper underground.
Several final confrontations resulted in which flame again played a large part. However, the Aracs had placed several booby traps and mines in an attempt to kill the Marines chasing them and create a hole in the lines the Aracs could slip past. It didn’t work. The drones would detect the small devices and warn the team approaching, which quickly deactivated it or detonated it safely.
A literal mountain of new information about the hive was obtained during that assault. The tunnels of the hive were coated in a substance excreted by the scout type of Arac. The stuff was classified as a resin although it was almost as strong as plas-crete and served the same function in the tunnels of the hive. Any wiring or electrical cabling was done while the resin was being applied. If a change was needed afterward, a new coating of resin as applied over the new cable run. Whether by design or simply as a byproduct of its creation, the resin had an innate subspace scattering effect. It didn’t just block subspace signals, it absorbed them. Later it was learned that the resin also acted as a conductor of the signals, so all the Marines needed to do was simply to connect a subspace receiver to the resin and the signal was crystal clear - provided the resin was attached throughout the hive complex.
The seeding pod had several small devices in it for the Aracs to use in quickly setting up and establishing a base. One of these devices hyper-accelerated the Arac growth cycle. The hive had several queens; three were found to be still quite young and were aging at a slower more ‘normal’ rate. That is, a rate closer to what the biologists believed to be normal.
Three other queens were very old and appeared to be nearing the end of their life cycle. While six others where mature and were still laying eggs when the teams found them, deep underground. The queens were not the only Aracs to have their life accelerated. There were several different types of Aracs found as well as lots of bodies that had died naturally. There was a separate, secured part where the ‘normal’ queens did their thing and worked on creating a long-term colony. That area had been heavily protected by the largest Arac soldiers so far recorded.
How they got their weapons so quickly was solved by the discovery of an Alliance designed replicator that had been built with parts from a smaller replicator that had been included in the pod. However, while utility equipment, ventilation systems and drinkable water systems had been located; only a few smallish computers and no communication equipment at all had been located. None of the devices one would expect from a modern, star-spanning civilization were discovered. So the question became how did the hives communicate with one another? How did they communicate with the main hive? The only answers offered so far were some form of metaphysical link in the species, but as yet there was no proof either way to validate that theory.
As for the dissemination of knowledge, that remained as much a mystery as how they communicated and currently had a similar explanation. Either the spiders were telepathic, or they had somehow passed knowledge down to their offspring in a type of instinctual or genetic knowledge transfer.
The Marines tried to capture a few of the immature Aracs, but they would simply die as soon as they were captured. The immature queens were killed as they tried to escape. What was strange was that none of them had tried to run for an escape tunnel, but instead had been heading for the room holding the small, strange computers the Aracs used.
One of the more important, at least to me it was important, discoveries in the hive had been the rescue and recovery of Sergeant Tul-sa, two of her Marines and one of the Terran Marines that they had managed to save before he was to be killed and fed to the immature queens. They had been found, blocked in a room by a pile of dead Arac bodies. All of them had been wounded badly enough to be taken straight to the medical ward aboard the Honor of Vengeance.
I was there to meet them when they finally arrived at the moon base hospital for treatment. The Terran Marine was still with them and I learned later that he had decided to join the Alliance Marines. He had spoken to his commanders who had been receiving treatment on the command ship as well and it had been agreed that it would be reported that Private Collins had survived the battle, but had asked for asylum with the Alliance forces due to the amount and type of treatment needed to heal him. It wasn’t actually a lie and the Alliance had gained a few other Marines in this manner as well. Several Terran Marines had lost limbs, or had suffered severe internal damage that required cybernetic implants.
Although full recovery and restoration was not possible due to the need to use biocytes, it was believed that the Terran soldiers would be subjected to very unethical and inhumane examinations and experimentation upon their return to Earth. Of course, there were some that scoffed at the very idea of the United States Government doing such a thing - especially to its own soldiers. They learned a very important life lesson very shortly when the United States Government reported the loss of command integrity of the Seventh Marines. What that meant was that so many of the seventh had been killed that the unit no longer existed as a viable unit.
However, the truth was that over half the unit had indeed survived. However, they had all been wounded and needed treatment. The fact that the government had already reported those soldiers as killed in action did not bode well for the men and women being treated. Vance had made certain that the commanders of the Terran Marines remained in contact with their leaders. Those Commanders gathered their people together, and based on the information they had gotten from their own Chain of Command as well as the media, decided to ask to remain with the Alliance and work to protect the planet. High Command agreed, but stipulated that they would have to undergo some additional training to get used to Alliance equipment and procedures.
In the Marine embarkation bay, a magnetic launcher had been installed for a very specific use. Today, it would get used quite a bit; today we would say good-bye to our friends, husbands, wives and protectors that had fallen during the action on Earth.
Vance spoke of their bravery and sacrifice, of social contributions to the Alliance and of those they were leaving behind. Colonel Cren’lith, with the assistance of a medical exo-suit, spoke of their heroism and bravery under fire. Finally, he spoke of their deaths. It was part of the Simonian grieving process to tell of how the being passed. Although the Marines had been Human as well as Simonian, no one protested his tribute to the fallen.
I had been surprised when Colonel Cren’lith asked me to take part in the ceremony, since several of the fallen soldiers had been my friends. I agreed immediately. The Naming was a very important part of the ceremony in the Alliance. It served to give one last individual tribute to each person, as well as being the formal listing of death for the fallen. As each name was called, Sarah would officially record them as deceased in the Alliance census.
I was asked to perform The Naming. Sarah helped me assemble the list and the information needed. I decided to part with my own beliefs slightly. Instead of wearing a black suit to the funeral, I would wear the armor they had given me with all the unit crests and holographic ‘patches’ I had been given. However, the shell of the armor would be polished to a bright ivory.
I walked alone to a place before the launcher so I could see each casket as it was loaded. I knelt to one knee and removed my helmet.
It was considered disrespectful to read the names and information from a list, but there were so many that there had not been time to memorize all the information I would need so Sarah whispered to me over an earwig.
As the first casket was loaded I spoke the name out loud to the assembled Marines and relatives. Then I was expected to give their planet of origin, their parents, mates and offspring. That was what I needed Sarah for. I honestly hadn’t known a lot of those who had fallen, but I would not dishonor any of them by forgetting something this important.
However, my voice did crack when I got to those I did know.
“He’rsree; Captain, United Alliance Marines Corp., proud Daughter of the Novan Republic born at the Daitilus Mining habitat to Miner He’veran and Environmental Tech Ver’rsree both of whom are waiting for her at the gates. She has a sister, Ver’veran of Hearlis V.” The casket was lifted into place, then shot out of the tube on a long parabolic orbit that would eventually drop into the Sun.
The next casket was loaded and it was another one of my friends. The Naming lasted for almost two hours. By the end of it, I had a sore throat that had begun to get hoarse from contained emotion.
Later that day, the Marines and I used the beer I had ordered for the wake to say our own goodbyes to those we lost and to welcome our new friends. Not that many civilians had been invited, but the Marines didn’t actually see me as a civilian, although I don’t really understand why.
Although we had lost good people, life had to continue. Our fight would go on. There was still the threat to Earth in the other Arac hive, and the Alliance still had the main Arac hive to deal with. Our work was far from finished.
About the Author
Ben Winston (1965 - ?) was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota on the family dairy farm. Upon reaching adulthood, he joined the United States Army as a communications technician. Before getting out of the military, he decided to go to school for computer electronics.
Shortly after getting out of the military, and after getting a new job with an over-seas company, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. A month after beginning the new job, he was laid off due to budget over-runs on the project he was hired for. Upon returning to the United States, he had difficulty maintaining employment because of the chronic illness.
He began writing as a form of stress release, from being home bound and not being able to work, and found he liked writing erotica. Ben wrote a trilogy called the Talosian Chronicles (Currently in rewrite to remove the graphic sex and finalized his vision of the story). The first book, Star Dancer, won awards and was nominated for many others by the online communities where it was posted.
Ben Winston returned to school for literature, after completion, he began writing professionally. Being an avid fan of science fiction he focused on this genre. He was, and still is, influenced and inspired by Gene Roddenberry, Anne McCaffery, David Weber, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. Some of his favorite movies and TV shows are; Battlestar Galactica (both versions), Andromeda, Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars, and many of the B-rated movies that were actually box-office bombs.
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Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.
by Ben Winston
Tides of Mars
Tides of Mars (Omnibus)
*Neptune’s Massif (Dec 2015, on presale now!)
*Raptor Squadron (First Quarter of 2016)
Origin of Prometheus
Sword of Damocles
Book of the Guardian
Home – Part One
Pest Control – Part Two
The Last Mission – Part Three
Resolution – Part Four
A Long, Dark Night
*Terra Dawning (Dec 2015)
*New Day (First Quarter of 2016)
Temple of S.A.R.A.H.
Prototype – Episode I
Subroutines – Episode II
Base Functions – Episode III
Hard Wired – Episode IV
Debug Mode – Episode V
*Beta Test – Episode VI (First Quarter of 2016)
by Michael McClain
Chronicles of Atlantis Series
Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)
Atlantis Rising – Book I
Euthara – Book II