Counterstrike, Part IIIEdit
"How much longer do we have to wait?" whined Michael. He was slumped listlessly over Christopher's back, and Sarlena was lying on the tan ground looking at her fingernails without much interest. The three men of Riley's squad sat huddled in their own group, waiting silently as well. All three of them had no armor on. Daniel was the only one still standing, constantly looking at the radar to see if he could find any sign of Cory's dropship's approach, hoping that green dot would appear on the edge of the range before the red ones did.
"I don't think we have to wait at all," concluded Daniel sadly. "It's been fifteen minutes already. We've waited here long enough for someone to have come and picked us up. We've even sent out alerts to the government HQ themselves, and no one has taken any action. It's as if they have forsaken us for good. Now, I don't know about you but I suggest we get a move on before the aliens show up on our doorstep." He gave the others a hard look that told them, this is a suggestion you'll be sorry not to take. Slowly, the trio got back into their armor.
"So what's the plan?" asked Christopher.
"Well Chris, we head in that direction and accomplish the mission objectives we've been given," stated Daniel resolutely. He didn't know how he was going to accomplish it, as he had seen the place and knew how many enemies he faced, but he hadn't been so well fed by the Confederacy just so that he could quit on them now, not when he was expected to do his duty for them. Of course, he also knew that it was likely to be a death trap.
"Uh, Daniel, I don't think that would be a wise idea--" began Corporal Riley.
"Now look here!" Daniel interrupted unpleasantly. "I may be on first-name basis with the men and woman of my squad but I'm still your superior. You talk like they do and I promise I won't be easy on you," he threatened.
"Whoa, Daniel, you're settling into the sergeant thing very quickly," mused Sarlena, to which Daniel merely winked, all traces of anger completely vanished.
"Permission to speak freely?" begun Corporal Riley again.
"I don't think that would be--"
But he was interrupted yet again by Daniel's outstretched hand, gesturing for him to stop. "Actually, I know what you're going to say. "You're going to say that you are too cowardly to face death when you confronted by it. You're going to say that you aren't going to do any good for our glorious government in its time of need. You're going to say that you'll just lie in wait huddled in your abode while we wait for the alien menace to continue to spread across this planet until it consumes us all." That left Riley speechless. "Now, I don't actually believe that you're that kind of a chicken, are you? Come on team, we got a job to do. Do it well, and you will be rewarded!" he goaded them.
And with that, the team set off on their speedbikes back the way they had come from. Within minutes they came across the place where the aliens had surrounded them. Now all that were left was a graveyard of alien remains that seemed particularly decomposed, and streams of red flowing off to the distance. All was silent in this area, and the team quickly sped past, well reminded of how their sergeant had managed to save the day.
"Here we are again," noted Christopher when they got back to the hill overlooking the alien encampment. The fibrous network that was spreading across the ground - the creep - had already reached halfway up the hill they had been on earlier, and was spreading very, very quickly. It rapidly covered the surface of the planet, as if the planet were infected, like mold on a fruit. In the plains before them were the dozens of minions that had not pursued them only minutes ago.
"Come on, we haven't a lot of time left."
"See that? That's probably one of their important factory-buildings," said Christopher as he pointed to a rather pointy structure, the largest of its kind as far as anyone in the team could see.
"Great, so we get up close, take it out with our store of grenades, then get the heck out of here," concluded Sarlena very quickly.
"No, actually that might not be a particularly good idea. We've got incoming!"
Oh no, not again! "We just won't get any peace, will we?"
The team drove their speed bikes forward to engage the approaching aliens.
"All right everyone, on my mark, launch your grenades! I want them scared into retreating!"
"You got it, sir!" approved Corporal Riley. The team waited as the houndlisk line approached. As the alien line advanced, more came out to join them, popping out of the ground like a sea of moles and sending clouds of sand into the sky.
"Wow, they look like they're a veritable sea of demons arising from the sand!" exclaimed a marine as what they had originally estimated to be thirty entities now grew to over two hundred. They were approaching swiftly now. "How're we going to fend them off?"
From each of the parked speedbikes launched a pair of intensive-fragmentation grenades. A string of detonations lit up before them, their brilliant yellow light soon darkened by red as pieces of obliterated houndlisks flew everywhere. Yet there were still more that had not been harmed, and they were closing.
"All right everyone, evasive maneuvers! Evasive maneuvers! Don't let these lisks get too close to you, or else!" Daniel shifted out of park and immediately made a swift turn, narrowly dodging a melee attack before launching another pair of grenades. He knew very well that the rest of his team must be doing likewise, for explosions were going off all around him. Alien debris shattered, their anti-bullet carapaces easily torn apart by the sheer explosive force of the grenades. He fired, veered off in a new direction, and fired again... Before long, it was clear that the human contingent had won this battle. And since the speed-bikes far outpaced the houndlisk runners, none of them had landed a scratch. Only a minute after the battle started, it was over, and the humans regrouped, ready to face their next challenge.
But none greeted them. Finally, after a minute of waiting, Daniel led his force down the hill, hovering over the carapace toward their first major target. One of the smaller - buildings, if one could call it that - suddenly stuck out what appeared to be a tongue.
"Did you see that?" whispered Sarlena to Christopher.
"Don't you ever worry," he calmed her... right before the hovering mechanism under Corporal Riley's speedbike gave out. With a cry he and his critically punctured Vulture collapsed onto the mold-like, black creep. "What the!?! Evasive maneuvers! Don't ask why, just do it!" Right in front of his eyes he saw a massive spike-like - thing - slashing through the downed speed-bike like scissors through paper. "Damn it!" he cursed, then rushed over with his own speedbike.
"Chris, don't be stupid," warned Daniel as he and his men continued onward.
"I can't leave a man behind," protested Chris.
"Then you too will be dead," Daniel warned once again, right before Chris parked his hoverbike next to Riley's. Dropping a cord, he then drove off with a vulnerable Riley hanging onto the cord by the strength of his hands. Just too late, the tongue-tentacle came out of the ground once more, slashing through the downed bike's engines and causing a fireball. "Congratulations, but that was a close one," Daniel cheered for them. Christopher nodded, but Riley was too stricken and hyperventilating to respond with anything more than a sigh. Below them were miles and miles of creep.
"Now, let's get out of here before they take down another one!" called out Sarlena, right before the subterrannean tentacle came shooting out of the ground a third time and impaling right next to the engine. She ejected her cockpit just in time, narrowly evading another fireball, all the while screaming at the top of her lungs.
Not to be outdone, Daniel swept his hoverbike over and managed to catch the falling ejected cockpit just in time. It crashed into Daniel's hoverbike, but did not knock it out of the air.
"Thank goodness you caught that one," remarked Christopher, silently blushing.
"Yeah, you thank me with some actions once we're out of here," Daniel replied nonchalantly as the remaining five speedbikes made it to the target structure.
"Anyone notice something strange?"
"There's a lot of strange things happening lately," Daniel stated blandly.
"I mean, no more tentacles?" hinted Sarlena a bit obviously.
"Ah, right, no more tentacles..." He looked over his shoulder and instantly concluded that all this devastation was because of a single smaller structure that he had discounted earlier: a sunken colony. "This is too easy. Right, then I guess we'll be avoiding those from now on. Let's inflict on them some vengeance, shall we?"
"No, Daniel, don't--" began Michael.
"Mike, are you out of your mind? If we don't take care of the aliens, the aliens will take care of us. I think you know what that means, don't you?" retorted Daniel as he turned to look at the large, pulsating violet structure they were now facing. "Everyone, open maximum fire on this... thing."
Just then, a wave of spikes shot outward from the ground, striking directly into a speed-bike, forcing the driver to hastily retreat the half-burning tank out of its range; another shot would have destroyed it completely. "There are lurkers around here!" he explained to an upset Daniel.
Daniel didn't ask what the man knew about lurkers, if anything at all. Instead, he ordered them all: "Okay everyone, back away from the building! We don't know if it's the thing causing this new attack!" Very quickly, the speedbikes dashed away from the pulsating organic mass and as a further precaution broke into evasive maneuvers. Daniel merely watched from afar as the thing - whatever it was that was underground - periodically sent out a column of spikes every three seconds. Although the waves of spikes were certainly destructive, they lacked the quick readjustment that his marines had with guns, instead always emanating from an unmoving point of origin and striking in a line outward even if they couldn't reach a target. "Now I wish we weren't alone here," remarked Daniel dryly, his mind racing to come up with a counter. "Riley's team, keep your distance. Okay, my team, we're going in! Wheel formation around the point of origin!"
In the few years that Artifact Station's squad had been idly waiting for something to happen, they had managed to accomplish some things, things which were starting to become useful now. One of them was wheel formation - Daniel, Christopher, Michael and Sarlena would get in a circle around their foe, which for a team of four also meant a square, before assaulting them from all sides, taking advantage of any vulnerabilities they may encounter. They had for a while practiced with it, but the tactic had immediately fallen into disuse just like everything else they had done at Artifact Station. And now Sarlena was in Daniel's passenger seat. As with much anything in war, tactics evolve, and in this case it was going to be a triangle instead of a circle.
By now Daniel, Christopher, and Michael's hoverbikes had taken up positions that formed an equilateral triangle around the burrowed lurker - not too close to the threat, but close enough to attack where they thought it was. The subterranean spikes lashed out, but hit no one. Daniel's orders were thrown out in a hurry, but timed well. "Everyone rotate clockwise, NOW!!" Immediately all three crafts seemed to revolve around the lurker, keeping their distance.
It chose a single target, and a row of spikes rose out of the ground. None hit any of the moving crafts.
Immediately thereafter, Daniel ordered, "Stop and fire!" A rain of bullets struck into the soft earth, many missing, and those that were on target were mostly being absorbed by the sand covering the lurker or bouncing off the thick carapace, but a few impacting. Daniel counted to two seconds. "Counterclockwise, NOW!!" Just in time the trio stopped firing and shifted their craft into backwards drive, going around in cyclical fashion, just as two waves of spikes thrust past where they had been moments earlier. The trio then resumed their attacks on the disconcerted lurker. Whenever the lurker was about to attack, the trio would immediately drive off, then return to firing their guns on their target. The process continued for several more rounds, with the lurker repetitively hitting nothing as Daniel randomly ordered them to move in either direction randomly. Toward the end of its life it tried to strike out randomly as well, and of course as a blind attack it struck absolutely nothing.
The target location was now peppered with bullets, carapace fragments, and blood. Finally, the bursts of subterranean spikes coming from the first lurker ceased.
"You got the drill yet?"
"I think so" replied Christopher, amazed by what he had just been able to do. He suddenly moving his vehicle out of position and narrowly avoiding spikes from a second lurker, while beside him Daniel and Michael took up the other two vertices of the new triangle. Once again, following the tempo, they cycled around their target. Although it tried to be tricky by altering the periods between its attacks, the beset lurker failed to make contact with the humans. Soon - after hundreds of rounds had been pumped into the ground - the second lurker died as well.
And none of the three vehicles had so much as a scratch from the confrontation.
"Wow, you really are the best, sarge!" said Christopher and Michael, still giddy with their inspiring victory.
"These alien pests ought to know when to give up, won't they," remarked corporal Riley.
"Maybe. Now, let's show them what we got!" rallied Daniel, streaking toward the giant red, tumor-like structure next to them.
From each of the five vessels came out pairs of fragmentation grenades and endless streams of submachine gun fire. Before them, the alien growth blossomed with red blood, which soon coalesced into a large, glistening pool all around it. Pieces of the whole were systematically blasted apart, revealing the complex internal organs, which too came under heavy fire. The pulsating gradually stopped as alien blood was simply pumped out of its meter-wide arteries. in large red globs. As the attacks continued, the thing began to collapse onto itself, breaking apart more and more. From its sacs crawled large pillbugs which Daniel somehow immediately knew were larvae - dozens and dozens of them. They too were blasted into oblivion. By the time this rampage was over, there was no trace of the building left.
As the guns and grenades finally came to a stop, Daniel paused to look at the result of his command. What have I done? You have only done what you had to do. But... This? Is this who I am? Oh, what have I done? He couldn't face his own actions. He needed to get a good break, or else he risked being driven to insanity.
"Well, so you got your revenge--" began Riley (finally managing to climb up into Daniel's cockpit), but he shut up the moment he saw the fire in Daniel's eyes directed at him.
"You think I did this for revenge? What have I to seek revenge for? I haven't lost anything! True, we came close to death several times already, but no member of my team has yet died! So why would this be about revenge? No, this is not for revenge, but as a warning strike. We're here to tell these aliens - whoever they are - that we humans, unlike cows, won't simply wait for them to eradicate us. We won't be making so easy for them to overrun us." He glared at the rest of his team, who were all scared silent by his apparent rage. "And now that we've done what we set out to do, we're headed back for New Haven."
He and his men turned their attention over in the direction of the settlement. "All right, everyone, we're going to go through the patch of land covered by that same sunken colony once again, so we'll have to take evasive action. Only this time, we won't give them the pleasure of taking down our ships for free. We will make them pay for the near losses of two of my team members," he announced decisively over the comlink. And with that, the five remaining speedbikes rushed back the way they came. "When I say swerve, do it unless you want to die," Daniel ordered them.
The tongue came shooting out of the sunken colony, as if a gigantic mouth were making fun of them, before retracting. The next moment, a subterrannean tentacle, made of the same fibrous material that composed the creep, only red and far more dangerous, came rushing out of the ground, nearly slicing away at Daniel's craft. He turned to look at the sunken colony they were swiftly approaching, and timed it. Moments later, the tongue came out again. "Swerve!" shouted Daniel, and the entire group did so very suddenly. The tentacle shot out where Michael's craft would have been, and cleanly missed.
"Target in range," announced Sarlena.
"Open fire immediately," Daniel commanded. "Swerve!" The unbelievably corrosive tentacle came shooting out of the ground, missing entirely yet again, as the first of the grenades and bullets slammed into the alien growth, sending bloodied chunks flying upward. Moments later, the tongue came back out, and was blown to smithereens by the team's combined firepower. The core of the colony suddenly liquidated into blood and ichor, and the sunken colony melted from within as it, an ugly digested mess, sank into the surrounding creep.
An odd silence fell over them all - the sigh after the battle - before they all burst into cries of victory. But that joy was cut off as Sarlena spotted a squad of marines slashed and diced into pieces near the outskirts of the blackened creep. Soon the entire team looked toward the pile of corpses in dismay.
"It was obviously the doing of the subterrannean tentacle; these soldiers, fully armored as they were, moved too slowly and didn't stand much of a chance against such a swift and deadly attack," commented one.
That is the proof of power of the alien menace, thought Daniel gravely.
But he had the creeping feeling that he was wrong. For there would be many future situations that would also seem like the aliens' proof of power. Or wouldn't there be?
Sarlena recited from Corinthians:
"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
There was a minute of a silence that seemed to last for an hour, as the group wished that the man's soul would rest in peace.
A peace that the living would not be able to obtain for a quite a long while.
A few minutes passed in silent mourning. Unlike Daniel's team, which as far as Daniel knew hadn't suffered any loss, this squad had been entirely wiped out. Sad as it might be, we really shouldn't be staying here forever. "Come on, everyone, let's go," he ordered. He gave one last look at the dead, and noticed that the black creep had become white and started decomposing from the edges pretty quickly. Within moments a whole swath of creep had lost all color and sank into the ground. Well, we did something good today, Daniel thought to himself.
He just didn't know how much it mattered in the grand scheme of things. The universe was so large...