Michael took a step back in dismay, as his eyes clouded over in horror and his mind closed in on itself. I have... just... killed a fellow human...
Thou shalt not kill.
I have shot an innocent, helpless girl--
A time for war, and a time for peace.
Daniel only observed, mutely, watching as the monster lost interest in the corpse.
Sarlena, face all covered with shock and sorrow from her empathy, brought her barrel to bear at her target, but was unable to bring herself to fire. Too much had happened just then, the one unfortunate event that had occurred.
Daniel questioned himself, just as a tidal wave of hatred clouded his vision and somehow prompted Sarlena to pull the trigger.
The creature’s dorsal carapace burst away from its body, accompanied by a shower of red mist. It stumbled, and crashed head-first into a wall. Daniel looked at the dead form, feeling a rising sense of rage. “That is my personal declaration of war against these creatures,” he shouted so that his three subordinates could hear, barely registering that it was Sarlena's kill.
At least killing the alien was easy, thought Daniel. Not like my worst nightmares come true. It'll be a chore, but a light one, to sweep Mar Sara clean of these beast-like pests if a single gunshot is all they can take.
“You’re not at fault, Mike,” Christopher communicated to him via a private channel. Michael didn’t even care to give a reply, but simply stared at the two corpses, mouth wide open, unbelieving.
He hated himself. And to think that an hour ago he was watching television and making jokes. I don't deserve to live, he thought to himself.
"Well, us Marines have got ourselves a job to do," noted Daniel decisively as he got out of his hover-bike.
Daniel had turned off the radio connection with HQ. He hadn’t known that the Confederacy had a brief time earlier issued an executive order to cease fire against these creatures…
The four marines went down the precipice to investigate the settlement, Daniel dragging the traumatized Michael with him. Another similar quadripedal creature noticed, and charged forward.
Sarlena resolutely placed an infrared lock on the rushing creature, the automatic program guiding her gauss rifle so that every one of its six 2mm caliber rounds found the target. Half of the creature was ripped away into a dozen fragments, and a spray of blood surrounded the creature. Yet somehow, the dog-like beast managed to keep going despite its head being ripped off. Much like a beheaded chicken, the remainder of the creature continued straight on, its legs propelling it onward while its scythe-claws slashed mechanically over and over again. Sarlena gasped, and rushed to the side, but she needn't have worried; the dead creature didn't change its path, and soon rushed mindlessly into a wall. It collapsed sideways onto the ground, blood pooling out rapidly as its limbs continued to thrash futilely. On her visor, the light-red text that had said "unidentified" remained until, a minute later (as the others watched on in disgust), the creature finally came to a stop.
"That's payback," she said to her conscience. But she wasn't sure that her conscience sided with her on this one as completely as she would have liked.
"Well then, let's proceed to the settlement," muttered Michael, still very angry with himself. There were grunts of agreement from the others that were relayed to his suit via comlink. Turning on the scanner, Michael noticed that somehow the other few aliens had vanished off of his minimap. "Hey... is it just my suit, or did the others just disappear?"
"... Yeah, they disappeared," said Sarlena, her soft voice carrying through perfectly on the comlink.
But of course, since that was impossible, everyone kept their guard up as they briskly walked on.
When the four had gotten to the center of the settlement, suddenly from all around them erupted four clouds of sand and clay. There had been nothing there but seemingly solid and flat ground but a moment before. Now, four of the nightmarish creatures had emerged.
"They're from underground! Watch it, there could be even more lying in ambush!" shouted Christopher as the four creatures pounced upon them simultaneously. Christopher whirled around while firing submachine bursts at two targets. The head of one was blown backward while the other merely toppled, both taken down immediately, but both continued to thrash their limbs wildly in the air like some sort of rigor mortis.
As the remaining monsters sprung into the air, Daniel prepared to knock it back with a fist blow, while the dazed Michael couldn’t respond in time, but could only shout “Run!!”. Daniel met his opponent at its neck and realized the strong build of the alien as its leap threw him back several feet. Though his suit was supposed to be able to smash a dent in a wall, there seemed to be no such scar on the brute he had just hit - that carapace was hard! He collapsed onto the ground, but managed to shoot his foe a moment later, bringing it down, flailing wildly.
The final creature struck at Michael's combat suit with two of its claws. They did little physical harm to the metal encasing, but at that same moment Christopher and Sarlena gasped in wonder as a brilliant blue-white streak of lightning traversed from one claw to the other along the metal armor, burning parts of it away from the whole and sending miniature fireworks of yellow-hot particles flying off. The support systems in the armor all suddenly buckled and collapsed, and Michael toppled backward onto the ground with a high-pitched, agonied scream, his hair electrifying until he hit the ground. With the suit deactivated, it was impossible for him to get out on his own. His pained screams echoed through the squad's comlinks.
Christopher fired another burst, silencing the final creature. Then there was only the sound of the lifeless creature Daniel had taken out last, still flailing its limbs erratically even though dead, its every flop and twitch getting weaker and weaker, while the four only looked on mutely, analyzing its form.
What have we done? wondered Christopher, still in mental shock.
What did that thing do to Michael? wondered Daniel, just as shocked at the shocking display.
Sarlena quickly analyzed Michael's armor. Many parts of it were burnt to a crisp, and she had the sudden fear that Michael might have died of electrocution.
"Help!" shouted Michael, who felt as if his heart had suddenly stopped. Relieved, the others knelt down and tried to get their fallen partner out of his now defunct armor. Within half a minute, they had succeeded. Several plates of armor had been welded together from the intense surge. It was obviously going to the junk pile now. Michael was starting to breathe heavily.
"Are you okay?" asked Daniel, worriedly.
"Ah... Yes... No... Ah, the pain!" said Michael between gasps, his hand on his lungs. The others looked on with horror, though there were no visible injuries to their comrade.
"He's going to need emergency treatment immediately! Daniel, what do we do now?" asked Sarlena, at a loss.
"Christopher, you're the scholar, think of something!" shouted Daniel urgently. As far as he could think of there was nothing they could do about Michael's situation.
"Well... uh... Let me think... We need to investigate what happened to his armor, maybe that will give us some clues as to what happened to him, and then we could come up with a method for resolving this medical situation--"
Daniel was exasperated. "For goodness's sake, Chris, be reasonable; we don't have that much time on our hands."
"Look, he's obviously suffering from cardiac arrest--"
"Don't we have a cardiac defibrillator in our Vultures somewhere?" someone shouted.
So absorbed were they that they didn’t notice that a Confederate dropship that had gradually approached. This was actually quite noticeable, since the dropship, a transport frigate, was a full eighty feet long and twenty wide, resembling an aircraft carrier of old. Though the dropship could traverse worlds within weeks, near the surface they would be significantly slower. From the impression of its descent one would never have true understanding of their swiftness. As it descended it ignited its bottom thrusters to slow its descent, causing heated air to quietly billow outward in all directions as it came to a rest. Feeling the compressed air a bit belatedly due to his NeoSteel suit, Daniel turned around - to see several Marines - just like him - arrayed, and with weapons pointed at him and his group.
Unsteadily, he dropped his Gauss and put his hands in the air. Christopher and Sarlena did the same. Michael wasn't holding on to his weapon, but he was gasping for breath. He was taking large gasps of air, but, it seemed, it still wasn't enough. All of them were surprised that they were being arrested.
"We will treat him," said someone from within the dropship. "Provided that none of you interfere or try to escape, we will make it a priority to rush your comrade to a medical facility to have him get a good look-over. Now, stand down."
The lead Confederate came closer and slipped a key into a slot that Daniel hadn’t even noticed existed before. Suddenly, he was parading toward the hatch of the dropship, prisoner in a steely suit that was operating according to someone else’s directives. The other two followed, similarly trapped. Michael was brought into the dropship as well.
"Darn it... I can't believe all this has happened today," muttered Daniel. Today... The aliens... Electrocuted... Killing a fellow human... What the heck! thought Daniel. The world's getting more and more messed up now. I guess I'm behind on my studies of state-of-the-art technology. On second thought, Way behind. During the entire journey on the transport, the foursome didn't speak to each other. They were all too engrossed in the events that had just transpired. Daniel was wondering why the Confederacy he was defending had taken them captive; Michael was fighting inside his mind in an attempt to explain and condone his own actions, while at the same time struggling to hold onto life as he gradually felt faint and heavy-headed; Christopher was mulling over the lost opportunity for greeting an alien race for the first time; Sarlena was immersed in thought concerning the aliens that they had encountered...
Daniel was lucky to be put in a position from which he could see out the dropship’s many Plastiglass windows, for he couldn't move at all, not while his suit was under someone else's control. He saw the rare sight of the ground dropping away as the vessel swiftly and silently propelled itself upwards with the immense force provided by its conventional drives. The houses he had been next to a moment earlier quickly seemed to be no larger than grains of sand as the dropship shot up to fifty thousand feet.
He remembered the feeling—the same one he had when he had first come to Mar Sara to accept his position at Artifact Station. The sensation of the gravitic hyperdrives activating was that of absolute weightlessness, even when very close to the planet surface. All he could see out the window was pitch black; he did not feel any acceleration, but knew their position had changed.
The dropship clock said that only twenty seconds had passed since lift-off when the transport descended in the middle of the bustling activity and vivacious cityscape that was unmistakably Los Andares, Mar Sara, the capital and largest city on the planet. That realization, along with his knowledge that Los Andares was on the other side of the planet as Artifact Station, was quite stunning. Perhaps even more stunning was the fact that mere moments earlier he was experiencing the brilliant noon day, and now the skies were pitch black with night and the skyscrapers were aglow with lights like highly ordered constellations of stars. Overhead were brilliant, ten-stories-tall LED advertisements. Cars and buses streaked back and forth on the street while Daniel turned to see the looming prison ahead of him with a small sense of gloom.