Episode 202: A Bell in the Night
by Fixx Panel
It was cold. It was always cold. While the suits were designed to keep the trooper at a comfortable temperature, he was always cold, a numbness that never disappeared. Major John Rico flexed his fingers in his gloves around his gun. Always cold, he thought to himself. He motioned for two troops to move to the left. They obeyed. He ran in front of them and took four shots that dropped the warrior standing there. Always! he thought again. The two troopers rushed out and covered Rico from all sides.
"Muniz, Kepler, report?" Rico said as he walked to the bug. The soft dirt compressed under his boots as he walked over it. The landscape of the moon designated A 172, in orbit around Armstrong Prime, was a desolate place. Rocky, with blue and gray stretching for kilometer after kilometer. Mountains and spires of rock stretched into the coldness of space. Cold, Rico thought again as he stepped up to the bug and the two troopers took position around him. One was a T'Phetti named Lio'o, and the other, Murhphy, was from Ireland. Both were good troopers and worked hard with what they were given, which in recent times, was not enough. SICON is killing us, Rico thought as he bit down to send another transmission.
"Muniz, Kepler! REPORT!" Rico bellowed. Lio'o and Murphy took a few steps back. They knew that Rico was sometimes accustomed to quick bursts like this when things didn't go the way he was used too. They exchanged a brief glance then both moved a few feet away to survey for bugs.
Rico looked to his south, the location they were closing in on. A small bug mound, maybe a few hundred inside, nothing that wasn't easy. A mound that size could have easily been destroyed back during the Bug War. But noo, SICON needs to watch their budget! Rico thought, SICON needs too make sure that EVERYTHING is okay! And they give me this many troops! Razak would have barked up someone's tree to get what he knew he needed! Rico caught himself on Razak. His old LT, the man who had taught him everything he knew. He looked at the bug at his feet and took a few more shots into it to express his anger. Lio'o and Murphy rushed back up to him, weapons ready.
"No," He said holding a hand up. "It's okay, just a little venting...KEPLER! MUNIZ! ANSWER ME!" Rico finished with that and dropped his arms in frustration and let his head hang. He shook it. I swear....
Muniz's voice burst through Rico's comm. "Major Rico? Major Rico, respond please. Major Rico..."
Rico cut him off. "Muniz, where are you? What's your status?"
"Pinned down, sir! We've got about thirty bugs around us; we're just west of the mound, next to a large crater, sir! We've been trying to respond, but every time...!"
"Hold it trooper!" Rico flipped his visor down and started to scan around the area where Muniz reported his location to be. He scanned for a few moments before he saw Muniz firing aimlessly into about ten or so bugs, one or two were dead in the dirt. Private Kepler was in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, his gun at his feet.
"Trooper! Look where you're shooting!" Rico ordered.
Muniz ducked back and spoke. "Sir, there's too many of them!"
This is what SICON is giving me now. Rico began walking towards the crater.
"If those bugs aren't dead by the time I get there trooper, you're in big trouble!" Rico motioned for Lio'o and Murphy to form up. They began to run ahead of him. "Hold it! He'll be fine."
"But sir..." Lio'o started.
"He'll be fine," Rico repeated and continued on his leisurely pace towards Muniz and Kepler. Murphy and Lio'o nervously formed around Rico. Another day, another battle, another waste of time. Another day since... That thought caused him to shake his head and swallow, keeping the tears at bay.
He watched as Muniz would poke his head above the edge of the crater and take another shot at the bugs, still keeping at bay. As he watched them, Rico noticed they were toying with Muniz and Kepler. Taunting him, maybe confused, but something was not right. He'd seen it before...lure the enemy out and...
Rico broke into a run. The low gravity of the moon made it easy to sprint the distance and jump into the hole next to Muniz and Kepler. Murphy and Lio'o arrived right behind Rico.
"Sir, I'm sorry, I'm..." Muniz began.
Rico gave him the signal to quiet, but he continued to mumble under his breath. Kepler was still rocking back and forth, shaking his head and mumbling too. Rico put his hand on his shoulder and Kepler stopped and looked up. Rico motioned for him to be quiet and pick up his gun. Kepler quieted and retrieved his gun from the dirt.
He then whispered: "Okay, you four cover me, when I give the mark, count to five then follow, clear?"
They all nodded.
Rico flexed his grip again. Cold, I'm tired of the cold, he thought. He took a deep breath then stood up. The bugs, standard warriors, backed off a few feet then moved forward again, about three or four meters from the edge of the crater. Toying. Baiting. Rico smiled. Just like the old days. If he only had a few more troops, this would work perfectly. He moved up and over the edge then took a few shots, then ran a few feet. The bugs retreated another few meters. Rico smiled again. Toy. Rico then jumped forward.
"Mark!" he screamed.
He ran into the middle of the bugs. One. He passed them, and they began pursuit, rapidly gaining. Two. Rico jumped over a large rock then turned to his left, around a huge boulder. Three. The power suit and low gravity were making this easy. He rounded the corner again, Four, leading the bugs right where he wanted them. To the left, right where he knew they would come, the ground began to shake. Five! he thought. He continued to run, sprinting the distance. He jumped into another crater and moved himself to begin firing.
The sight in front of him made him slightly nostalgic. About fifty bugs, running towards his position. He trained his gun and squeezed the trigger. The rounds flew from the muzzle and impacted on the bugs, making some stop in there tracks as rounds impacted and pierced their thick hides, and making others drop dead instantly. The four troops rounded the corner to meet the sight of about forty bugs. They opened fire and slowly began moving forward, closing in around the bugs.
One after another, the bugs dropped; soon it was twenty, then ten, then one, completely surrounded by five troopers. It snapped and hissed as the troops moved in. Rico trained his gun steadily. The bug turned to him and snapped. Rico quickly squeezed and released the trigger and let it fly into the bug's nerve cluster, making it drop instantly. He lowered his gun and looked at the other troopers. Murphy dropped to his knees taking deep breaths, a beaded sweat on his face. Lio'o seemed to be the only one who really appreciated what had just happened, but that's the way 'Skinnies' were. Kepler had passed out not to long after rounding the corner and Muniz was trying to get him awake.
Rico sat in the soft dirt and leaned back against the rock. Murphy and Lio'o both began surveying the dead bugs, shooting a few that were still alive. He smiled; the action reminded him of ten years ago, a simpler time perhaps. Rico waited a moment, taking in the surroundings, his mind stuck in an euphoric, nostalgic state. He turned to see Kepler getting to his feet, his legs were shaking, his pale face covered in sweat.
"Kepler?" Rico shouted, startling the dazed Kepler.
"Y-yes sir?" he responded, his voice weak and shaky. The tone of fear of what Rico may do and the thought of having to face more bugs in just a few moments.
"You do that again, I leave you where you fall." Rico had no plan of leaving the trooper, he needed everyone he could get with all the cut backs the MI was receiving. But he knew that a small amount fear from the thought being left behind in this hell would stimulate the timid trooper.
Rico looked around the four others formed up around him, their armor covered with the green of blood from the bugs. Rico surveyed them all for a moment before he knew they were ready to go.
"Okay apes, let's move out!" he ordered, taking point across the blue and gray landscape. In the distance, Rico could see four other squads moving towards the hive. He frowned. Always behind, Rico thought to himself. ''Okay troops, lets pick up the pace, we're falling behind!'' All the troops broke into a run, easily moving across the landscape through the low gravity.
Rico moved easily across the jutted landscape, rocks and boulders filling his path. He would push lightly and propel himself ten, twelve feet in the air and avoid collision with the inhospitable terrain. The horizon to the north; only four miles away one the tiny landscape was a glow with the amazing purple and yellow of the moon's two suns.
He landed with a thud in front of a large boulder, still about three hundred yards from the hive. It's large rocky mass stretching into the infinity of space. The other four landed behind him and took up positions.
"Forward!" Rico barked and all five began a steady pace towards the hive. To the east, Rico could see two other squads moving in, firing at a stream of bugs coming from a hole that had opened. Two hundred yards to the hive and the ground began to shake. Rico held his hand up and the others stopped. Soon the ground split apart and several warriors swarmed out. Rico quickly took three down, while six more were taken out collectively. The green blood was squirting out from the arteries and flying large distances in the low gravity; soon all the troopers were covered with it. After only a few moment of the 'fighting', the bugs were all dead. Rico surveyed the area; the other two squads continued forward and were almost to the hive.
"Anyone want this one?" Rico shouted indicating towards the large hole. Lio'o and Murphy stepped forward and jumped into the hole. There was a moment of silence the sound of gunfire echoing through the headset on Rico's ears then silence.
"Status?" Rico asked kneeling at the lip of the hole.
"All clear, sir," Murphy came back.
Rico jumped down into the hole, followed closely by Kepler and Muniz. They all dropped in and aimed their rifles in all directions. Rico saw the bodies of six dead arachnid warriors clogging a fork in the caves. Rico smiled. These two would have went far during the war. Rico thought to himself. Rico walked past the two and took point. He flipped his visor down and took a life scan. All the bugs were moving towards the interior of the hive, which meant that it would be a walk before they saw anymore action. Rico flipped his visor back up.
"Forward!" Rico shouted. He began moving towards the fork, the five others falling in behind him. Rico let the elation rush through him; this is the way it was supposed to be. Not as cold as before now.
On board the Threshold the crew was monitoring the battle on the surface of the moon with mild boredom. It was a standard thing now, find a small planet/moon/asteroid with a few bugs on it, send out a task force and wipe it clean. This was the slow extermination of the species as it was. Some people argued about it back on Earth, how justified was this? Many said that this was beyond the war and deep into genocide, while supporters argued just the opposite. They pointed out that this was what the bugs had tried, it was a simple war; the victor would be the strongest in the galaxy, while the loser would cease to exist. That simple.
The crew went about their duties as they had too, much of it was sloppy at best, a haphazard job. No one really cared anymore, the fear was gone, and there was nothing to really push the ships to be in tip-top shape anymore. The biggest remaining bug colonies numbered in the hundreds, not the hundred thousands as in the war. Many of the crewmen would be late to his shift, and as before, such faults could cost lives, now at most they would cost an hour of travel time. It wasn't the same as it had been; it wasn't what it should be.
Captain Michael O'Hare was sitting lazily in his chair, bored, his stern, hard cut features almost sagging from the lack of activity. His military style hair was flat against his head, instead of spiked like many kept theirs, and his face trimmed short, stubble only slightly coming through. He scratched his jaw and yawned as he looked at the readouts in front of him, troop movements on the surface were going well. All eight squads were moving into the center of the hive, closing in for the kill. He rubbed his temples; it was the same thing week after week. Never ending. How long is this war going to drag on? He thought to himself as he looked again at the displays. Rico's squad was cleaning out the tunnels underneath the hive. So like Rico. Michael thought with a smile.
Rico had come on to his ship about two years before, with a squad of eight, fully fitted and ready to fight. The first month or two was easy, taking out bug hives in the inner sectors of Federation Space. Then it was downhill from there. SICON begin instituting their "Post-war" projects, which took valuable resources away from the squads and ships. It was hell trying to get accustomed to the downsizing. It had hit the MI especially hard.
Michael watched as the other squads began their descent into the tunnels, a few minutes behind Rico. Michael diverted his attention to survey the rest of the bridge around him. The crew was young, very few from the war. These young ones needed something to stimulate them. Unfortunately, nothing in the current times could do it.
The crewman at the communications station suddenly jumped and pressed the earpiece hard against his ear. He began nodding, then turned to Michael.
"Cap'n, we've got a priority vid message for Major Rico, sir," he said matter-of-factly.
Michael turned his chair to face the man directly. Michael knew that his looks always scared the crew. "Major Rico's on the surface ensign."
"Yes, sir, I relayed that message, they said it's high priority that the Major be retrieved ASAP," the crewman said meekly.
"Where's the message from?"
"Tophet, sir," the crewman spoke up after checking the instruments.
"Relay that the Major is due back at 1000 hours ensign."
"Aye, sir." The crewman turned and faced the panels again. He spoke his message then cringed as if yelling was coming through the speakers. "Sir, he wishes to speak to you."
"Put him on," Michael said, a small vid screen hummed to life in front of him. The image of an aging Tophetti quickly replaced the SICON insignia. "I am Captain..."
The Tophetti quickly interrupted him. "I know who you are Captain O'Hare! I am Councilor T'Phai of the Tophetti Alliance. Where is Major Rico? I must speak with him at once!"
"Major Rico is on the moon below us, sir. He is currently indisposed at the moment," Michael replied. He recognized now that who T'Phai was, an old friend of Rico's. "He's currently in operation. He will be returning to the ship around oh-ten hundred tonight. If you wish..."
"What I wish is not of concern. I must speak with the Major now! It is of grave importance!" T'Phai shot back.
"I'm sure it is, sir. But I cannot retrieve the Major in the middle of an operation. I know you were a soldier once, sir, you must understand that?"
"I do, but you're also asking me to understand that it is no longer standard procedure to establish a base camp before moving troops. Why is that? Cannot the Major be recalled to the base?" T'Phai asked.
Michael bit his lip. The Tophetti had caught him. He knew he could get a hold of Rico, that was easy, but paper work and time and other bureaucratic dealings were pushing him to deny the Tophetti. "No, sir..."
"Then send a message to Major Rico to return to the camp so that I may speak with him. Or shall I report this to SICON Headquarters?"
"No, sir! That is unnecessary, I will send a message to the Major. You must understand that it's going to cost both me and him paper work and time."
"I believe that the paper work will pale in comparison," T'Phai said looking Michael dead in the eye. "I will wait for your signal that the Major is ready," T'Phai finished. The screen went blank and was replaced with the SICON insignia. Michael fell back into his chair and closed his eyes.
The communications officer spoke up sir. "Shall I send the message, sir?"
"Of course ensign."
Jonnie jumped out from the alcove he was hiding in. He ducked and rolled across the dirt and into a rock. He heard the thwap thwap thwap of the poison darts striking the dirt behind him. He uncurled and fired off two rounds directly into a hopper. The thing dropped from the air like a rock. Muniz dived out and took out a warrior that was behind Rico. It dropped to the ground with a puff of dust from the ground. Murphy and Kepler rushed out and hit the rock Rico was against. Several warriors jumped down from a ledge above them and began moving towards them, immediately troops began firing into the bugs. Lio'o began firing from behind the bugs, pelting them with bullets, sending them into the dirt. One by one, the five troopers moves around the rock and towards the center of the hive.
Rico stood to his feet as Muniz went around the rock. He popped his neck and ran into the fray. The sight that greeted him was not the one he expected; six or seven tankers in the center and about five hundred warriors running towards the entrances. Weapons fire was pouring in from all over the place. Troops had positioned them selves behind walls, boulders, dead bugs, anything. Hoppers screamed from the higher reaches of the cave. Rico saw one fall upon one unfortunate trooper and take his head clear off. Rico rushed forward and jumped about ten feet over a small stream. He landed with a thud and he hit his knees and began firing into the warriors. Murphy came up beside him and began to fire into the onslaught. One of the tankers spewed its acid in the direction of some troops taking cover in an alcove. The acid melted some of the rock and a trooper jumped out and threw a grenade into the center. Rico watched as the grenade bounced then exploded and blew two legs off of a tanker. Rico let a brief smile before he unloaded seven rounds into the nerve cluster of warrior about ten feet from him, sending its blood all over him and making it drop dead. Rico jumped to his feet and moved forward towards the center, firing into more bugs. Three of the tankers were dead on the ground, their blood and acid spewing on the ground.
Rico knelt as his troops ran up beside him. Bullet after bullet began pelting the bugs, but they kept coming. There were more bugs than he had first thought. More bugs the INTEL had told them about. Rico watched as one by one, bugs poured from the center; a hole that the tankers had been protecting, something beneath them that was sending more and more out. Just like the old days of the war. But unlike those days, Rico knew he was under-prepared, there were not enough troops to give him the leverage he needed. He knew for a fact that one squad was already dead. An entire squad, dead, he thought to himself. With the numbers he was up against, that never would have happened like it during the war. But this isn't the war, he told himself. I've got to realize that.
Rico looked around. His squad was the farthest in, but they were as far as they would get. There were to many bugs and not enough of them. This was a lost battle, no need in losing everyone. Some squads had been pushed back into the caves. He looked at Kepler, he was shooting, but a frantic look was on his face, he was terrified.
"Major Rico!" A voice shouted through Rico's comm.
"Rico!" He replied. He didn't have time for this. "Who is this?"
"Um..." the voice came back, there was a click and it was replaced by Captain O'Hare.
"Major Rico, we've got a priority..."
"My troops are getting killed Mike! This place is crawling!" Rico shouted back. "There has to be at least two thousand!"
"No, you listen. I'm pulling out! I want eight squads at the landing site when I get there!" Rico shouted. He stood up and waved his hand, giving the retreat signal. All the squads began moving backwards.
"Jonnie!" Michael shouted through the comm.
"What?" he replied as he jumped over the stream. "We're a little busy!" he said as he turned around and dropped a bug.
"We've got a priority message from Tophet, he wants to speak to you, he says it's really important," Michael said.
Kepler dropped in front of Rico. He saw him trip of them rock and his leg twist, breaking it. "Later Mike!" Rico stopped and picked up Kepler.
"Leave me, sir!" Kepler shouted in pain as Rico heaved him up to his feet.
Rico could hear the screeching of the bugs behind him, and feel the rumbling as the neared. "Not this time trooper!"
"He's waiting for you Jonnie..." Michael began.
"I'll get it later! Rico out!" Jonnie cut the comm link. He began moving through the cave. Lio'o stopped and waited for him to pass with Kepler. She began firing shots as the bugs rounded a corner. She took three down before she began falling back.
"Major! We're about two minutes away from the closest exit sir!"
"Keep going!" Rico shouted. He kept moving, Lio'o shooting the bugs behind him, keeping them just far enough back. Murphy showed up and started shooting along with Lio'o, making one after another drop. He knew they couldn't keep it up for long.
"Muniz! Take Kepler!" Jonnie shouted. Muniz stopped and stepped back a few paces. He took a few shots, doing what he could to stop the advance. He grabbed Kepler under the arm and began moving forward. Rico stayed where he was and turned around, raised his gun and shot into the group. Murphy and Lio'o passed him. The tried to get him to fall back but he stayed and continued to shoot. He knew the bugs would follow just his group, so after a while, they would have to stop. But soon, they were practically on top of them and they had to start moving back.
"Run!" was the only word that he could force from his mouth. He was angry, he was tired, SICON and INTEL had told them wrong. There were too many bugs. It's cold again, Rico thought as chills floated down his spine. He pulled out a grenade and set the timer for 5 seconds then tossed it. The troops turned and broke into a sprint through the cave. Suddenly, they were all thrown down from the concussion; their bodies forced down by compressed gasses released from under them, and rock. Rico saw everything turn black for a few moments then woke up to see Lio'o and Murphy standing over him.
"Are you okay, sir?" Murphy asked extending his hand to help Jonnie up. He took it and stumbled to his feet.
"Yeah, I'm okay," he said looking around. The ceiling had fallen behind him, crushing their pursuers. But he knew that wasn't all there was, and he knew he'd be back in just a short time. Things were going the way he liked them. This was what he needed.
Jonnie stepped into the airlock of the transport and felt the suit tighten and release as the small space was pressurized with breathable air. The light went from red to green and Rico walked through the door, unlocking his helmet. He stepped into the cargo/troop area as he took his helmet off. Kepler was laying unconscious on a small cot with a medic examining him. Rico stepped next to him. The medic detached the instruments from him and faced Jonnie.
"His leg is broken in six places," He said plainly, as if it were evident all along that the break was that obvious. "It's nothing that can't be fixed, but he'll be in the ward for a while, no fighting for him."
"Maybe it's for the best," Rico said stepping back towards for the doorway.
"Nothing, make sure he's taken care of," Rico said leaving. He walked to the cockpit and sat in one of the pilot's chairs. He closed his to let his thoughts gather on the experiences. There were too many bugs; they had been dropped under prepared. When he'd returned to the landing site, eight other transports had arrived to support the four remaining squads. At a standard of 5 troops per squad, they may have enough to take the hive.
He opened his eyes when the beeping of the comm. started. He picked up the headset and placed it on his skull. He flipped the switch and was greeted with the image of his friend T'Phai, staring back at him with a blank expression.
"T'Phai!" Rico exclaimed, not expecting to see the T'Phetti. It was hard to read the species expressions, but Rico knew enough to know that his friend was distressed. "I'm guessing you were the priority message?"
"Yes," T'Phai replied flatly. "I come to you with most distressing news Major. I'm sure you know that Human-T'Phetti relations are stressed at the moment, and they're gradually becoming worse. T'Phal, my son, is screaming for the T'Phetti High Council to secede from the Alliance."
"What's causing things to deteriorate?" Rico asked. This wasn't really his field, but he knew that T'Phai would only contact him if it was something that Rico could actually help with.
"The disappearance of T'Phetti psychics. Now I know that human psychics have been disappearing for sometime now too, that's probably what's keeping things intact at all, the knowledge that we're not the only ones suffering this. But recent sightings of SICON ships over Erubus have got my people questioning the entire way we're going about this. Jonnie, I would not have contacted you unless I knew there was something that you could do to help."
"T'Phai," Rico wasn't sure what to say, he knew the events on Tophet, but it was all political, he didn't want to get involved. On the other hand, he wanted to help his friend. "There's not much I can do, I can contact Carl, I'm sure that he would be able to help."
"I have already tried that strategy," T'Phai said, letting his words hang before continuing. "Carl was last seen on Tophet before he disappeared two weeks ago. No one knows what happened, or where he went. But he did leave a message for you, an artifact actually, something I've never seen, you must retrieve it personally."
"I really want to help you T'Phai, but I can't at the moment..." Jonnie stated before T'Phai interrupted him.
"This is personal too, Major," T'Phai whispered, audible enough that Rico caught the meaning of what he was saying. "M'Rette, my daughter, is one of the missing T'Phetti psychics, and with the way things are going, you were the only person I knew of that may be able to help me."
Rico stared into the black eyes of his friends. He knew his pain. He went over the consequences of the action T'Phai was asking for; this would be a lot of work to do. But T'Phai needed his help. This was a personal matter and Rico was the only one he trusted. He glanced around; the squads were gathering outside the ships, getting ready to move out. Four skimmers were floating on the perimeter, ready to take the squads to their destination. He looked back at T'Phai.
"All right. We have to finish this mission before I can leave; we're prepared to move out, so once I have everything secured here, I'll get the squad together. If everything goes right, it should only be a few days before we arrive there."
"Thank you, Jonnie," T'Phai said before he cut the transmission. Jonnie leaned back in the chair and let out a breath of air. He looked again at the troops gathering and frowned. There was something that could make everything somewhat easier. He flipped the comm. back on and turned to the ship's frequency.
"This is Major Rico. Please respond," he spoke into the microphone. The screen blinked to life to show Captain O'Hare staring back at him.
"Go ahead Major," Michael said bored and with a sigh.
"This is an official request for bombardment of the hive. I'd like to come out with more troops alive than dead." Rico relayed coldly, his voice biting into the Captain's mind.
"Major..." he began but stopped as he gazed at Rico. "Ok, ok. We'll commence bombardment in approximately three minutes. How long should I bombard for?"
"Two minutes, I want something left to clean up," Rico said and cut the link. He took the headset off and threw it down, letting its own chord catch it. He watched it as it swayed back and forth, and noticed he no longer felt the coldness, as before, now it was almost warmth. He shook his head and walked back to the airlock, sealing his helmet back into place. The air was drained out and the gasses of the moon replaced it. The suit tightened and released as it became accustomed to the pressure. The light went from red to green and the bay doors opened to the harsh landscape of A 172. The troops were all standing in attention and ready to begin and finish the rest of the operation. He looked up and could see the ship moving against the stars. He watched another moment as it began its bombardment, blue streaks of fire shooting through space and impacting in a giant ball of red, yellow and blue flame against the spire that was the hive.
He descended the ramp and let his feet compress the dirt and leave their print. He moved forward with an air of power. He took the point with the three remaining troops from his squad and turned to face the others. Most were young and ill experienced, too little time in the sims and little to no action in the field. Most of the LT's and squad commanders were veterans of the war, while others from just after it; he could see it in their faces as they gazed at him, awaiting the orders.
"All right people, listen up!" Rico shouted. His voice carrying through the headsets of everyone. "We're going back into an extremely hot area." Behind him several more explosions ripped through the rocks, sending debris out over the landscape in vast directions. Some was even falling around them from the sky. Rico looked at the blooming balls of fire then back at the soldiers and smiled. "We'll be doing clean up for now, you find anything with more than two legs, kill it. Am I understood?"
"Sir, yes sir!" they all shouted. Rico smiled again and took point with his squad.
"Let's move out!" he waved forward and the troops began jogging toward the skimmers. All the while, rocks fell from the sky, mainly smaller ones, but several large ones. From the hive, two large blue balls sprang up and arched into the sky. Rico knew there was little chance that the plasma would hit the ship, but the fear remained. The squads kept forward until the arrived at the skimmers. Four squads loaded onto each one, a tight fit, but it was achieved. As the skimmers turned towards the hive, two more projectiles impacted on the hive from the sky, sending part of the spire crumbling to the ground. It was only a few moments before they reached the crumbling remnants of the hive. The skimmers slowed to a stop and the ramp dropped. One by one, the troops rushed off, Rico at point, all racing for an entrance into the caves. Littering the ground was the pieces of the bugs while the ground was tinted green and orange.
The closer they got to the entrance, the more uncomfortable Rico felt with the situation. The ground began to shake and Rico motioned for the troops to continue towards the entrance. Behind all of the troops, the ground split open and a large tanker sprang up, with about three dozen warriors following it.
"Cover the flank!" Rico barked into his comm. All the squads halted and turned and began to fire on the bugs. "Squads four and six, move to the east, twenty meters! Behind that rock!" Rico screamed motioning towards a crater and small rock mound. The ten troops moved behind it and opened fire on the tanker, sending round after round into the thick hide. Rico heard the screech from behind him and turned to greet a warrior only a few feet from it. He trained his gun on it and opened fire, taking it down with only a few bullets, but it was soon replaced by another, then another. Muniz and Murphy came to his aide and fired into the steady stream of bugs that was now exiting the hive. It was a last ditch effort. Rico turned for only a moment, but what he saw made him smile. The tanker lay dying in the dirt of the moon, the gray turning orange and only a few of the warriors were left standing. Only one of his was down and she was being tended to, he didn't recognize the trooper but he could tell she was alive. He knew she would be okay with only a few people left behind.
"Forward!" He shouted taking steps forward, firing at the bugs. He wasn't to worried with taking one down as he was with just firing into the cluster as a whole. With the rounds from the other troops also impacting, it all added up. One after another, he found troopers by his side, forming a solid line of weapons fire training in on the cave. He saw a grenade hurled through the air and land in the center. The explosion that followed was enough of a distraction to the bugs that Rico charged forward, followed closely by the rest of the troops. None released the triggers except to change magazines. Soon they were at the mouth of the cave, not a single live bug in sight. Rico stopped and let the troops all gather around the entrance. He motioned them as he went first, his helmet lights on, showing the way through the darkness.
It only took about ten minutes to get to the center of the hive again. The squads split into three groups and fanned out at the forks. They all got to the center within minutes. There was no resistance through the caves, but the main chamber was a different story. Two medium sized plasma bugs sat at the center surrounded by about two hundred warriors. Rico knelt and opened fire. Two others stepped up and fired off two rockets into the plasma bug, ripping into them and sending their bodies outward in an explosion that killed a good number of the warriors. After the smoke had cleared, the MI was greeted with a small brain bug trying to crawl away. The warriors all turned and rushed the troops. Within moments, the remaining warriors were dead or dying on the ground. Rico rushed forward, jumping over bugs and debris. He reached the lip of the cave the brain bug had gone down. Three squads formed up around him, including his. He looked around and saw the others killing off the remaining bugs. Eight hoppers leaped from the upper reaches of the cavern and swooped down. A hailstorm of bullets greeted them and they were all picked from the sky.
"After the brain apes!" Rico ordered. He and the three squads ran down the cave. Soon they reached another large, open cavern and saw a small transport bug with the brain bug boarding it.
"Oh no you don't!" Rico muttered to himself. "Take it out!"
All the troops opened fire on the transport. Several grenades shot through the air and bounced against, into and under the transport. The resulting explosions did a great deal of damage to the transport, but it was still able to take off. It began to rise, the plasma from it propelling it upward slightly. Three rockets impacted on the side of the transport and sent the blue blood and plasma showering over the troops. The transport banked into the wall from the explosion and brought down part of the wall. Bullets continued to trace towards the bug, send small bits of it out all over the place. Small fires burned on the sides and inside it. Two more rockets struck it, sending it to the ground, dying. The ramp lowered from it and two dozen warriors raced from it. A solid line of troops quickly formed and began firing on the warriors. One got through and jumped onto on troopers, stabbing him numerous times before being killed. Soon after, the remaining were killed, leaving only the brain bug inside to take out. Several troops let out sighs, glad the sudden, bloody battle was over.
Rico and Murphy walked up to the transport, their guns trained readily on the entrance. Several fires could be seen burning on the inside, along with dead warriors, a few eggs, a few hoppers and a tanker. Rico began walking up the fleshy ramp, the skin and muscle sinking slightly under his weight. He walked into the transport and saw the brain. It was sitting still, its sides pulsated and veins throbbed as it stared with its multiple black eyes at Jonnie and Murphy.
"Orders, sir?" Murphy asked.
Rico gazed at the bug; its left side was bleeding a purplish ooze, which was gathering on the ground. He lowered his gun and clenched his jaw.
"Kill it," he said plainly, turning and exiting the transport. He walked down and heard six shots, a scream then silence. He walked to the other troops who were checking on the dead one and finishing off the bugs. After a few moments, they were ready to return to the ship.
The trek back to the ship with five dead was a silent one. SICON had misinformed the MI and it had cost them two squads worth. But Rico was more concerned with his dialogue with T'Phai. When he returned to the ship he would have to start the searches for everyone and get them where they needed to be. Rico exited the skimmer and entered his transport. He was really dreading what was to come. The blood between them had been bad for a while, she still wouldn't talk to him.
Major Jonnie Rico stepped into his quarters and threw the file folders down on his desk and walked to the vid-phone. He sat in front of it and dialed in the number. He held the tears back as Dizzy Flores' face greeted him.
"I'm not home right now, please leave a message..." the monotone recording replied to him. He shook his head and began speaking when the beep sounded.
"Dizzy? It's Johnny... Look, I know you don't want to talk to me, but I think Carl is in trouble and he asked for our help... The Roughnecks help... Diz, please pick up." Rico didn't know what to say next. The vid-screen flickered.
"Jonnie...?" Dizzy replied.
"Dizzy..." Jonnie said softly letting the tears flow down his cheeks at the sight of her.
TWO DAYS LATER:
"This is classified Charlie," President Redwing said, showing the papers to Charlie Zim. "No one knows what's going on."
Charlie Zim scratched his chin and looked at his wife. "Good, the least the better." He took the papers and flipped through them. "How the hell does he plan on getting all of them?"
THREE DAYS LATER:
Jonnie stepped off of the transport and onto the Thomas Davis. Admiral Ibanez smiled warmly at him. She walked up to him and hugged him around his neck. "It's so good to see you Jonnie!"
"How is everything looking?" he asked.
"All the orders have gone through. We need to give it a few days," she said, taking his hand. "Now, we have a while, how about we get caught up?" She said pulling on him. Rico followed her down the corridor and on to the elevator. Warm now, he thought as the doors closed.
Next Episode: 203: Reunion