Inmates, Part IIEdit
Emptiness. No activity happening, except listening to the thinking of your own mind and the scratching and tapping noises of the other inmates. Monotonous monotony.
Now he understood why convicts would often choose the dangers and rigors of a military over serving prison sentences for years:
This ennui could drive almost anyone mad. Especially those four who thought that they would be freed soon, and always listened for the tinkering of a guard's keys, for the merry ring of freedom.
Except, of course, for Daniel, concentrated as he was on the computer as it showed the newest exploits of the bestial xenomorphs.
It all seemed so brutal, so impossible, so fearsome an opponent to be fighting.
And there kept being more and more of them, rushing Los Andares-ward at a maniac pace from who knew where.
It was out of this world.
He watched as the dog-like creatures pounced on victim after victim, learning new tricks against the Marines. He watched them become more adept after every encounter, learning slowly but as a collective--the entire thousands of them on the planet becoming more and more practised with every single encounter. He watched as the creatures learned to hide behind bushes and the giant cacti in the wastelands beyond the Los Andares suburbs, as the creatures moved upon their targets simultaneously with not a single error in their logistics, and analyzed their swarm procedures. He watched as the creatures jumped right as the marines fired at where they were, suffering fewer and fewer casualties for the same distance they had to travel to get to the marines. This was the case despite the fact that he was watching snippets of recorded video which had transpired in reality far apart from each other. The aliens couldn't be this disciplined considering the amount of change they were making in their tactics...
And suddenly, Daniel came to the conclusion that the aliens he was fighting against were all coordinated by a single entity, a hive mind of gigantic proportions and near-infinite processing capability.
A near-infinite processing capability was Not something that these hundreds, or even thousands, of aliens, even if they were mentally linked, could possess. There had to be more than just what met the eye.
He knew, right then, that even the well fortified city of Los Andares was doomed, that many other Confederate planets were liable to be lost as well.
He could only wish well for all those who would be caught up in this maelstrom. He thought about his family--but then blocked it out of his memory. It was too painful. He hadn't said bye to them for so long. The prospect of never again seeing them in person sent his fragile mind into disarray.
... More waiting...
A full two weeks had passed, and although guards passed by his cell three times a day to provide them with meals <<glucose crackers! Who did they think the inmates were, dogs?>>, none came with the errand of setting Daniel free. He was becoming desperate. For if they didn't let him out soon, he was afraid his need for activity would slowly drive him insane.
And how was Michael? Daniel knew that he had been sent to the medical ward ever since the guards realized that he had a psychological problem, but shouldn't he have recovered by now?
The days of waiting, imprisoned, do not seem like all that much; they get used to it, after the first day or two. At least, they did on the surface.
But for the alien menace! Each time they thought about that topic, they felt the goosebumps, knowing that it was only a matter of time before something more consequential and--deadly--happened.
Every day, there were more casualties of war, as Daniel could see quite clearly from his computer--the only thing preventing him, and his comrades, from going insane. What was it? Thirty, fifty, or a hundred? Several hundred was more likely... --that had died so far from the onslaught, and it seemed only the beginning. It seemed they had all died the same way - from melee combat with the alien dog-like creatures. While Marines - infantry grunts like Daniel's squad members - could easily pepper their enemies from far away, if they ever got close it was the end. Every time the aliens jumped them they seemed to be immediately electrocuted, blasting away parts of their armor and messing up the suits' circuitry. He just hoped that the government was doing something about this threat.
Still, no one coming.!.
In the meantime Daniel had been getting periodic written reports of the situation as well. Evidently some people still thought that there was a very good chance that Daniel's squad might be dispatched to action in the near future.
In those two weeks, scattered parts on the far side of the planet had become overrun with the aliens. Black, fungus-like matter had started spreading across the desert sands, something which had been identified as comprised of a "techno-organic material" as mentioned in a report. It seemed like it oozed, exuded from some... things that were growing out of the creep or even, out of the ground like a tumor. As far as Daniel could imagine, they would seem to be the base of operations of the aliens. By now most of the military on the planet knew they were going up against a concerted alien invasion.
Sure, the human defenders had made inroads in getting their forces in better shape (at least, that's what Confederacy propaganda said), and had launched a few minor skirmishes against reported regions where the xenomorphs were spotted. Starfighters streaked across the sky to investigate the situation, flying far above columns of Marines marching toward their destinations. But the humans had yet to put their all into the fight. In fact, many of the forces on Mar Sara were instead being sent wandering around on seemingly pointless expeditions, bringing civilians back to Los Andares for evacuation, that kind of nonsense. To the squad it seemed ridiculous that the military would avoid fighting the enemy and that the government would prefer evacuation. Daniel didn't even know if they had enough transport frigates for the entire population, which numbered over a hundred thousand.
But the aliens have proven to be much more aggressive than they had originally thought, for their numbers were now in the thousands and slowly, inexorably spreading across the surface of the planet. One of the three Televista satellites was now being turned to the skies to search for any aliens coming to reinforce their planet-side brethren. Meanwhile, those already on the ground, claiming its desert grounds as its own, continued their progress as they went mostly unopposed, so far were they from Los Andares. It was clear that the city was their ultimate goal, at least on that planet.
But they were getting closer. Their rate of expansion--nay, conquest--had been picking up in the last few days. Three more perimeter settlements had been overrun, their civilians long evacuated back to Los Andares...
There was every indication that freedom would soon come to Daniel and his faithful friends, being as they were of the military.
By now it was very obvious that the previous order not to attack the aliens should have been rescinded. But instead, something strange was happening in the Confederate bureaucracy.
A guard walked past. Christopher called out to him, asking, "what's with the Confederacy not wanting to attack the aliens?"
This guard was actually ambivalent, so he promptly replied, much like speaking to a friend, "the government still hasn't directed any offensive missions against the aliens, unfortunately. But I don't they can do this forever. Sooner or later the proximity of the critters will force the people to take action. Seeing as how Mar Sara is mostly a plutocracy, we'll be seeing the monopolists run away with their stashes and assets; they care a lot more about their wealth than the safety of others. That's why the transport frigates are currently traveling between Mar Sara and several other planets in the Koprulu sector: they want to move out all their financial and physical capital."
"So... is that why there's no military action? Because we can't get around fast enough without the dropships?"
"Exactly. And the last few dropships still in Los Andares at any one time are there to evacuate the rich people off planet."
"Those government bastards," said Sarlena from behind a wall. "They've been using us the whole time!" If it wasn't for this outburst, Daniel would have thought that she had broken down from the sheer boredom. Only then did he realize how useful their last three years at Artifact Station had been in preparing them for just this form of torment.
"Well, I guess you could look at it that way," said the guard. "But it won't really help, seeing as how people are just like that. Well, at least the rich people. They Always care more about themselves than about others. You know, you just have to forgive them. I'm not going to assume this of any of you, but I'd think that people in general value themselves and their possessions more highly when they've gotten to the top of the social ladder."
"What, you want me to just eat that fact?" asked Christopher, a frown spreading across his face. "I'm going to beat some sense into those bastards!"
"Yeah, I understand. But really, you won't have to, because the magistrate is going to have to defend this planet, no matter what the confederacy says, because it says in his tenure that his repute and future is tied to the success or failure of the colony. So you can be sure that at least one important person on this planet will be looking out for the well-being of Los Andares. The other thing is that, going on the defensive isn't all that bad either. Here we have concentrated weaponry, armor, artillery, and aircraft, so we can be sure that we will be able to win the battle here. That can't be said out there in the open desert, where we have lost enough casualties already," said the guard.
"But if the Confederacy doesn't allow it, wouldn't the magistrate be breaking rules?"
"Remember this too: the plutocrats still have a lot of assets that they won't be able to get off-planet in time. It will be in their best interest to lobby in favor of allowing the magistrate to use whatever means necessary to slow down the alien offensive. I think that would include fighting."
"So... We still have a chance of getting out of here," muttered Sarlena moodily. The weeks had evidently worn her down; no longer was she the ebullient damsel they had come to know her to be, and here she was, monotonously stating something that should have sounded more like a question.
The guard smiled at her. "Exactly. Now, I must be going. Nice talking to you all, though." He ran off to survey the next few cells, leaving the foursome to themselves.
Daniel spoke first. "I think we just wait it out now?"
"Nope," said Christopher. The others raised their eyebrows at him.
"We have to have a plan before we get out," he explained.
"You have an idea?"
Christopher sneered. "Oh yes." He shouted, "Oh, guard! Get us each a physics primer, will ya?" Sarlena looked at him as if he were driven insane, but Daniel did not comment, futile thoughts racing through his mind as the guard that had just left them grunted assent without turning back to look at them.
...Still; no action...!!
Daniel had been pacing inside his diminutive cell for the last five days, nearly endlessly, while simultaneously reading the physics primer, wondering how any of it would come in useful. It was the least he could do to get his mind away from the sorrowful thoughts.
If only they would soon come, I would definitely prove my self-worth... Oh, how long would it take?
It was so boring, this long, two-week wait. For every day of that wait, he must have remained, expectant of salvation every minute, knowing that the pardon would soon come, would come soon, soon shall arrive--and it not ever arriving...not yet, not yet, not yet..........
Daniel began considering the various ways of striking his next victory against the mystery invaders... And ideas fluttered to his awed mind.
That night, a healed yet still shaken Michael returned to the prison wards where Daniel, Christopher, and Sarlena were being kept.
"Hey Mike, you okay?" asked Sarlena, waving gracefully to him as he was escorted to his cell.
Michael seemed clearly discomforted, and was shaking a bit. His face was all contorted into sadness and woe; psychological therapy clearly didn't work in this case.
"I... Don't want to talk about it," Michael replied, much to the sadness and disappointment of the others.
Michael... You've got to start getting into better shape, man. "Mike, you've got to get over it," said Christopher.
"Yeah? Well, it's not working, all right?" Michael said gruffly, and Christopher decided to take it no further.
Sarlena told him, "Michael's having trouble recuperating from post-traumatic stress. Do you think he's still fit for the next mission?"
Christopher didn't answer her directly. Instead, he asked Daniel, "Daniel, do you think Michael will be able to fight the aliens when we get out?--"
"RUN!! Run for your life!" shouted Michael, half-dazed and obviously terrified by the prospect of his killing that girl in the broken record that was his memory for the hundredth time...
"I don't think so," Sarlena answered for him.
Still, he had been barely able to sleep, still lying wide awake for the expected saviors; nearly all else fell out of his mind, nearly. The clock inside the minimal-capability computer said that it was night here at Los Andares, and Daniel had already adjusted to those space problems. And, would they ever come?
Not that night, no. In the small hours of the morning, Daniel finally fell asleep.
And was suddenly brought awake by the loud calls of a military official, calling his name: "Corporal Travincal!"
Daniel's first instinct was to rub his eyes and yawn. "Aa....ermm..what time is it?"
"Six o'clock! Now Git-up!!" Daniel forced his tired body to obey. "What's the matter, can't you get up? Oh, had a bad sleep... You been waiting for someone to free you last night? I kinda feel sorry for you then."
Insightful, that guy, Daniel remarked to himself, not in his best mood (or his second-best).
All four of his team were whisked to a nearby room for a rapid debriefing, performed by the same military official. "Name's Trevor, Daniel," he begun, then continued, "as you know from watching the computer, the current situation is gradually degrading, though the rate is increasing. Being former military, you probably have had experience in war, and your record says that you had engaged the enemy. Therefore, your captain has given the order that you are to be dispatched to a location soon to be disclosed to you, where PFC Higgins, Jr. had been reportedly downed and probably awaiting rescue." The plasma screen television set flicked on, showing the view from within Higgins's visor.
He was floating high above the ground, on sustained-combustion rocket boosters. He was training a burst laser on the various targets below--obviously helpless; they were the dog-like aliens that Daniel's team had earlier fought against. The burst laser was very potent; bursts of it seared through the unhelpful creatures' carapaces, immediately turning them and the underlying flesh into burned holes and smoke. Each burst seared another creature, until from Daniel's view, all of the aliens were lying dead, muscles twitching, approaching rigor mortis.
Then suddenly, there was a violent shake, the private first-class shouted "ahh!!!", the soldier was losing altitude, and the next moment there was only static.
"That's all there is to see," said the military official. "We don't know what we're up against. At the time all three of our Televista satellites were focused on other places. By the time the queue got to investigating this incident, there were no signs of the living aliens around. Either they had all left the place of incident, or they are able to somehow avoid our detection - perhaps by burrowing into the ground."
"When did this happen?" Sarlena asked.
"Only three minutes ago," replied the official, looking at his gilded watch. "Aren't you lucky, to get out because of someone else's death. But enough of that; I need to brief you over your new equipment. Now, before I came here I took a good look at what you've been using the past three years. Evidently the military saw it fit to hand you three-year-old weaponry without giving any of you the updated versions," he said disgustedly. "So now you're going to get some better equipment."
He led them down the hall to the military compound next door to the prison. It was far from utilitarian and actually quite spacious, and only now did it seem like all the luxuries were a waste. As they went, he continued: "In the last year we've developed a new model of the light combat suit, the CLCS-400. In addition to all the features from the 300 version, such as life support, A/C, digitized visors, and etcetera, you're also going to be able to take advantage of the 400 model's added resilience to fire and ability to temporarily take off using the jet packs on the back. Please, we're short on time, get dressed. As I was saying... and over the past two weeks, our analysis has shown that simple modifications to the combat suit will make it nearly impervious to the electromagnetic interference from the aliens' melee attacks. The CLCS-410 comes complete with Faraday shields built on the nanoscale level to provide state-of-the-art shock protection even when under physical stress. With it on you, the aliens will be hard put to put you out of action like they did to the other perimeter stations' sentries. But be warned: we have already tried out the suit in combat and it does not afford additional protection against the... for lack of a better word... "electric shock" physical damage that their attacks might cause."
By now they had reached one of the military compound's ventricles, and the officer promptly showed them to their suits. "The 400's models also make bearing laser weaponry more manageable. These are your weapons. The standard Gauss submachine gun, which hasn't changed for a long time, and recently, a personnel-sized version of our starfighters' laser weapons," he introduced, lifting up what looked oddly like a meter-and-a-half-tall staff shaped as a rod. "These laser weapons are far more reliable than submachine guns when it comes to hitting a distant target accurately, but because they are small as far as laser weaponry goes, they pack a much weaker punch. You have the option of using it just once, depleting all of its power for a stronger attack, or splitting up the charge within for several strikes. After they've been depleted you'll have to plug it into a power outlet for a few hours to recharge." He tossed one over to an amazed Christopher. It was a lot heavier than what one might have expected from its size. "You'll get used to the weight," promised the official with a smile. "Just don't break it. The whole thing is a heavy-metal battery wrapped around a synthetic ruby."
"We're expected to go into action without the chance to try out this thing beforehand?" Sarlena asked incredulously.
"Hey, good news comes with a price too, you know," stated the official. "Now, I believe the rest you are all familiar with. It'll just be you four to go investigate the situation and hold position if there's anything there worth salvaging. There's a transport frigate waiting for you right now, I should presume, with the rest of your supplies on board, so hurry to it!" And with that, the official heard something on his intercom, and rushed out of the room on some other errand.
The foursome looked at each other, unknowing what to say, relieved that they had been set free, yet also wondering what fate would hand them... and what had befallen a certain Private First-Class Higgins, Jr.
"Well, isn't that interesting?" asked Christopher, perhaps a bit relieved.
"Time to resolve this," muttered Michael as they all checked their suits and got ready for departure.
The following moment saw them rushing out toward the prison complex's docking bay...
But they were then unceremoniously stopped at the entry hatch to the dropship. "Sorry, but there's been a change of plans," explained the guard, extending his arms in a gesture that meant quite clearly, please return to your cells, with a Gauss submachine gun to boot.
Daniel's heart fell. "But the military official, he said--"
"Well, you see, someone else has just been assigned to the rescue mission, and your aid is now unnecessary..."
Behind, several prison guards arrived, and escorted the four back to their cells.
"They just had to screw over the human-alien relations, didn't they!" exclaimed Christopher.
"This is ridiculous, I can't believe it!" muttered Sarlena.
"Well, it's not like it was our one and only chance. It seems the situation is getting beyond the Confederacy's control. At least that means that we will have more chances to prove our worth in the future," said Daniel.
Soon, they were all alone, once again. Christopher asked, "Don't you get the sneaking suspicion that at least someone's still ordering that there be battle against the aliens? Like, didn't the bastards demand that the military not fight them?"
"Intrigue runs deep," said Sarlena sulkily. "I'm thinking there must be a political battle right now."
"And you'll be right, too, considering the corrupt politics in this government," muttered Daniel.
"I think what the guard we talked to several days ago said was right. The magistrate must be rallying the military for a stand to give the plutocrats enough time to evacuate. As long as they don't finish getting their crap off planet, the military has a license to act, and the civilians will remain safe."
"Yeah, well they'll still fight once the aliens get to Los Andares anyway," said Christopher half-insightfully. "No one will simply put down their arms against an alien race known for destroying everything in their way."
"Exactly. And when the time comes, someone will be rushing here to thrust weapons into our arms."
"Too bad the political stuff is hidden out of view," said Daniel. "I'd like to see what they are up to right now. It'll certainly be more interesting than this."
"Flee! Get out of there!!! Get away from that beast any way you can!" Michael abruptly interjected, prompting the others to look at his stricken, terror-filled face.
"Poor man's been having worse nightmares than mine, I'll bet," said Daniel sorrowfully, just as an alarmed guard walked by to take a look at the commotion.
Just then, he remembered what Michael was saying, and that gave him an idea. After days of boredom, this thought made his heart pace a bit too quickly for comfort. Daniel asked him, "could you please give us a few supplies?"
The same guard replied, "sure, if I'm allowed to do so. We're all military pals, anyway. What do you want sent over?"
Why is he being so nice? wondered Daniel. Maybe it's because he realizes that what I'm about to do will perhaps save a few humans from their deaths, and that one of those saved could very well be him...
Twenty minutes of waiting in his cell again, and Daniel received his asked-for shipment of supplies. "Right then, Corporal, here's the wooden planks, superglue, axles, drills, gears, and wheels."
"Don't give them to me, give them to the know-it-all Mr. Wise," Daniel ordered, wondering how Christopher would respond to that.
The guard batted him a querulous eye. "Chris?"
"Yeah, he's the technician in our team, not me." At this, Christopher gave the two a weird look that meant to say, what's up?
When the guard had gone, Daniel began to explain. "We're not freed yet, but our time's about to come--and very soon. We'll be running into more of those alien dogs, lots of them. Gauss submachine guns have plenty of recoil, and that's why we're always told to wear our power armor when using them..." Christopher was nodding very soon, for after all he was an engineering major, and started tossing equipment to the other three.
Then there was the excruciating wait. The team was now far more alert than their lethargic past selves, rushing to get the four crafts built in time...