For the second straight day, Jenkins hadnt shown up at work. As much as Carl hated the career change, it was not like him to not show up. As she approached the door of his quarters, McCormick wondered what kind of reception would greet her. She vividly remembered the one occasion she and Sharaabi both were wrong about him the first time he wasnt around. McCormick had knocked, rather persistently, and by the time Jenkins opened his door, she found herself being stared down. The man simply refused to work that day. Granted, with his newfound fame, he could be rather obstinate. And it was one of those unwritten rules that psychics shouldnt be pushed beyond their limits. The limits that would make them absolutely useless, and force Intel to dump them in a home for the criminally insane.
So, McCormick, per Sharaabis personal request, braced herself at the door. With a deep breath, she knocked. She counted to ten, and knocked once more. This time, she put her ear to the door, hoping to hear footsteps. Not a sound was heard. With her heart pounding, she punched in her code on the display next to the door. It unlocked, and she pushed it open.
The first thing she noticed was how stale his room was. The second thing she noticed was his motionless form on the bed
Spitz! Spitz, wake up! Theyre coming!
The female trooper tried to open her eyes. Carl
Move it! he screamed inside her head, Get out!
This time, Spitz opened her eyes. The kink in her neck made her wince, and the hunger pains in her stomach caused her to tremble. Why cant I just sit here and let them find me? she thought weakly.
Because I wont let you, came the response.
She blinked. Carl?
Her voice, raspy as it was, startled her, and she jerked awake, adrenaline pumping her heart.
Spitz, theyre onto you.
And the adrenaline was fueled by fear.
Sharaabi rushed in with the corpsman. McCormick looked up, her eyes wide with fear. Hes dying!
Angrily, Sharaabi pushed her out of the way. To the corpsman at her side, she snarled, Dont wake him. Just get his heart rate up. McCormick was at the com-panel, demanding a stretcher and jeep for transfer to the base hospital.
Carls eyes flew open, and locked with Sharaabis. She was surprised at how swift he grabbed her around the neck, and yanked her close to his face.
Get her out now!
And a second later, his heart stopped beating.
Hook raced into the barracks, startling the three troopers.
Grab your gear, now!
As he ran into his own small quarters, he was satisfied to hear the locker doors being swung open, and seconds later, being slammed shut. By the time he had his armor on, and the Morita slung on his back, Cyber, Kai, and Chiquita were waiting and ready for him.
Spitz panicked. Exhausted, starved, and dehydrated, she couldnt get her bearings straight. She could hear the warriors whining when they found her hiding place, and she was no longer in it. Scrambling among the rock, she clawed her way through the hole she and her team used to get back to the surface.
Along the way, she lost her rifle. Not that it would have done her any good she was completely out of ammunition. She didnt understand why, but tears fell like rain from her cheeks and onto the rock. She had lost her link with Carl Jenkins.
Sharaabi and McCormick both were yelling instructions to the medical team, as they wheeled Jenkins into the emergency room. A weak pulse. What do you want me to do?! Just concentrate on keeping that pulse. Get that IV going. I cant find a vein. Dont revive him. Hes dead already. Where the hell has he been?! If he dies, youre all going on report!
Carl couldnt distinguish the voices, but he could feel the urgency. Why did people shout whenever a crisis occurred? Didnt anyone have the good sense to just shut up and figure out how to solve it?
Soft fingertips brushed his temples, and a whisper tickled his ear:
Carl? I need you to reestablish that link with the trooper in the cave.
Carl just wanted to sleep. Mac? He asked softly, his eyes still closed.
McCormick swallowed the lump in her throat as she nodded. Carl, listen to me. I know youre weak, but please. Can you reestablish that link with the girl?
For a moment, he wondered, What girl? But as her words sunk in, his heart rate jumped as he remembered,
She stopped in her tracks. And this time, unabashedly let the tears flow.
Im here, Spitz.
She pulled her knees to her chest, and tried to take in slow, deep breaths, but she was unsuccessful.
Spitz, listen to me. Theres a transport on its way to get you out. But you need to let me guide you.
Even her thoughts were shaky, as she replied in his head, All right.
Chiquita, Kai, and Cyber glared at the three men that stood before them. Two were old enough to be uncles: Doc, a Marauder driver, and Smoke, some foot soldier. But the third, the black, beefy-looking fellow, he seemed to enjoy the threesomes hostility. Hook ignored it all. There wasnt time to establish territory.
We land in five minutes, people. Doc, Nanoforge
Cyber and Chiquita turned to each other, and mouthed, Nanoforge?
Be ready with those Marauders. Even Intel doesnt know what to expect. As he climbed in the Duck Marauder, Doc asked, Sir, what are we expecting?
A lone trooper.
Smoke winced; his body was still rehabilitating with the new mechanism in his leg. Sir, what about imposter bugs?
Hook turned to look at him; there was something reassuring about the older mans manner.
Unfortunately, itll be your best judgment. I would like to think you know a human survivor when you see it.
At the word survivor, they fell silent. All that was heard was the pilot and her radio conversation with SeaTac Command.
The needles that broke his skin had no effect on Carls link with Spitz. Somehow, his mental presence was the catalyst for Spitz to regain command of her senses, and she stayed ahead of the arachnids search for her. As she made her way closer to the surface, Carl probed the tunnel for her. Behind her, beside her, in front of her
testing the rocky wall and floor and ceiling.
Although the medical staff, including a hushed McCormick and Sharaabi, could see his lips move, they could hear nothing. Carls eyes fluttered, yet he was still unconscious. He continued a steady stream of assuring words to Spitz, pausing only when he felt a shudder in the psychic link. And when he paused, Spitz stopped wherever she was, waiting for the all clear.
The transport landed, and even as the ramp was lowered, Cyber was the first outside. Kai and Chiquita flanked him, and behind them, Smoke followed. They could hear the whine of the Marauder servos, and feel the pounding footsteps as they formed a large circle around the transport.
The ground beneath them shook.
We got movement! Nanoforge shouted to Hook.
The only reply was the sudden burst of ammunition from Cybers Morita as a tanker bug emerged from the forest ground.
Ripplers! Kai screamed. And she rolled to the left as a rippler passed overhead, shooting the arachnid down.
Fire at will! Hook ordered, and everyone let loose.
Spitz could hear the firefight, and she moved to greet her welcome rescuers.
Carl had yelled so suddenly in her head, she froze.
Its a trap. The bugs are trying to draw you out. Youd never make it.
But I can hear them.
Several more minutes, Spitz.
At the foot of Mount Rainier, Hooks squad vented their emotions on the arachnid army. Cyber almost felt giddy from killing the real thing. Hook saw Chiquita manage to corner Kai between her and Cyber, and figured thats the way it was going to be. It was oddly...normal. Hook turned his head the other way to check on the new guys. They were holding their own.
Where the hell is this trooper?! Kai shouted angrily above the din.
Nanoforge turned the Ape Marauder to follow a line of bugs. His line of fire also happened to go right between the few meters of space between Kai and Cyber.
What the -?! Cyber glared over his shoulder.
Nanoforge didnt seem to notice.
Chiquita shot a warning right in front of the Marauder.
You trying to kill me? Nanoforge snarled.
Look whos talking! She screamed back.
Doc interrupted them. I see a trooper.
Hook avoided the carcasses of the warriors, and ran up to Doc. He flipped down the visor.
Sure enough, it was a lone trooper. And gut instinct told him it was definitely human. No way could bugs imitate the hollow eyes of a ghost. He met her halfway, and she collapsed in his arms. As he carried her over his shoulder, he was mildly surprised that she weighed almost nothing. Even with her filthy armor, she was light. Followed by Doc in the Duck, he raced back to the transport.
Lets go, people!
No one had to be told twice.
Nanoforge and Smoke were the last ones up the ramp.
There was no answer.
The response was weak: Youre okay, Spitz. You made it out.
Ill see you when you get back.
McCormicks knees buckled when Carl relaxed, and a bit of color returned to the cheeks of an already pale young man.
No sooner than the transport pulled for the sky, than Doc emerged from the Duck, and checked the trooper over. Severely dehydrated. Starved.
Not intended, several relieved sighs were heard simultaneously.
Nanoforge approached Chiquita angrily. The man towered above her. What was that move back there? He demanded.
She narrowed her eyes. Oh, hello! What was that mistake you made back there?
I dont make mistakes.
Cyber stepped between Chiquita and Nanoforge. Seems like you were ready to skewer us back there.
Nanoforges smile was malicious. Then Ill be more dead on the next time.
Chiquita shook her head. Dont even think
Thats enough! Hook roared.
And they turned to gape at him. Hook was still kneeling above the unconscious Spitz, lying on the grated steel floor of the transport.
I hate to mention the tiny fact that you people seemed to have forgotten. And that is, you are all now part of a team. He stood to his full height, and glared at them.