August 5th 2134, Firebase Epsilon, twenty-two kilometers northeast of Obninsk
“Why is Colonel Corpus here?” John asked.
“How should we know,” Dale replied. Corpus stood talking to Major Nellon in front of the command complex. The two attack choppers that escorted Corpus’s transport still hovered steadily above the sides of the firebase. Vapor Team began walking towards the command complex to meet with the Major and Colonel. As they got closer they began to overhear their conversation.
“Yes sir, they are here. They checked in to base just thirty minutes ago,” Nellon was saying to Corpus.
“Take me to… Oh never mind,” Corpus said as he noticed Vapor Team walking towards them. “That will be all Major.” Nellon nodded once at Corpus then turned around and re-entered the command complex. Vapor Team reached Corpus as Nellon entered the command complex. Corpus had a deep respect for Vapor Team and was always glad to see them. He had personally overseen their development through the training and genetic augmentations that Vapor Team had been selected for. All four soldiers of Vapor Team had a deep respect for Corpus as well, because even with the special training and augmentations that they had received, Corpus was almost as lethal as them. Corpus stood at six feet, seven inches tall, and was large and muscular. He had the appearance of a human giant and a tactical mind like none other. All four saluted Corpus simultaneously. Corpus saluted back. A few seconds passed before any of them said anything. Finally, Corpus broke the silence.
“Well, it’s been awhile Vapor,” Corpus said.
“Sure has sir. Last time we saw you was when we were in integrative accelerated boosted stimulation training,” Dale replied.
“I believe so Dale,” Corpus agreed. Corpus one of the few people in the entire world that knew their real names. “I wish I had time to stay and chat, but I am only here to give you your next mission.”
“What mission? Are we going to the front lines in China instead of here in Russia?” John asked.
“Negative. You are being pulled back to defend a hydroelectric power plant approximately eighty kilometers northwest of here,” Corpus replied.
“But sir, if we are taken off of the front lines now, how do you expect the rest of the Freedom Knights to break the Red Legion defenses? It’s already hard enough with us here as well,” Arden proclaimed.
“I suppose you aren’t too terribly up to date out here on the battlefield huh,” Corpus assumed. “I’ll be the one to fill you in then. The Red Legion knows that they have pretty much lost the war. If they do nothing it is only a matter of time before we can break their defenses and capture the last parts of their territory. So they are now trying anything they can to get an edge, and in a desperate attempt to get a grip on this war, they are covertly assaulting ammunition caches, power plants, bridges, airstrips and other locations in the attempt to slow us down or possibly reverse our advance. Of course, we can’t allow these hostile incursions to continue, or it will be an even longer war. So we are pulling you back to defend this power plant because we believe it is their next target. The squads that were defending the power plant are already on their way here to replace you, and you will take their transport chopper over to the power plant. That means you are leaving ASAP Vapor. I suggest you get ready, and if you have any other questions ask the Major.”
“Understood sir!” Vapor team responded. Corpus saluted them one last time and boarded the chopper he flew in on. The other soldiers that had exited the chopper before boarded the chopper after him. The chopper doors slid shut and the chopper lifted off and flew away. The armed escort choppers flew away with it. Vapor Team stood speechless in front of the command complex for a minute after Corpus left.
“How is this, in any way, a smart decision?” Connor asked.
“It isn’t,” John answered. “We are the best soldiers that this army has, and now we are getting reassigned to guard duty. This is ridiculous!”
“I don’t have a problem with it. We could use the R and R,” Arden said.
“Well, whether it’s a good decision or not, we don’t have a choice. We have to leave,” Connor added.
Dale noticed Major Nellon had come outside again and was walking toward them. “Heads up guys, the cheerleader is coming,” Dale said while shaking his head. Vapor Team saluted her and she saluted back.
“Well Vapor Team, I suppose this is goodbye,” Nellon said to them.
“Yeah, and here I promised myself I wouldn’t cry,” Dale said sarcastically and with a slight chuckle.
Nellon would have called him out for such a snide remark, but just like almost every other soldier in the Freedom Knights army, Nellon was intimidated by Vapor Team, but respected them as well. She just shook her head instead. “Anyways, Vapor, as the Colonel probably told you, you are being reassigned to defensive duty at a hydroelectric power plant west of here. I just got off of the horn with the choppers transporting the old defenses to this firebase, and they are only ten minutes out. You are full expected to come back to this firebase once we can safely say that the hydroelectric power plant is no longer a topic of communist interest. This means that you are going to leave all of your weapons and equipment here. You are only going to take your armor suits with you. This reassignment is short-term, you are only going to be on defensive duty for around two months, although you will be staying there for as long as the power plant needs to be defended. There should be more than enough arms and ammunition on location when you get there, but if you need any other support be sure to let Corpus know. Oh yeah, that’s another thing, you are reporting to Corpus for this assignment, not me.”
“Yeah, we’re going to miss you,” Dale said sarcastically again, with a smirk hidden behind his visor.
“Oh don’t worry, I’m not going to miss you,” Nellon said directly to Dale with a smirk of her own.
“Oh, don’t be modest, of course you will. It’s me, I’m awesome,” Dale replied.
“Okay why don’t you two stop flirting cause we only have four minutes now to be ready,” Connor said. Only a couple of seconds later the roar of three sets of helicopter rotors boomed overhead. Three transport choppers landed in front of the command complex and 24 soldiers piled out of the choppers, eight from each chopper. “Or we are leaving right now, that can work too,” Connor said while shrugging his shoulders.
“Okay, that’s your ride Vapor, any final questions? Or half-assed remarks Shadow?” Nellon asked.
“Nah, but I’ll let you know when I got one,” Dale replied. Arden shook his head at Dale’s comment.
“Shadow, shut up,” John said, then looked at Nellon. “No questions ma’am and we’ll be on our way.” John turned and headed for the choppers. Arden saluted Nellon and then followed John. Connor gave a nod to Nellon and then followed Arden. Dale glanced at Nellon for half of a second, and Nellon glanced at Dale. They both turned around at the same time and walked away. Nellon once again disappeared in to the command complex as Dale reached the transport choppers. All three choppers were facing the command complex and from the cockpit of the chopper to Vapor Team’s left, the pilot motioned to them to board his chopper. All four of them boarded the chopper.
“Welcome aboard masters. I’m specialist Oliver Tennis, and I am your pilot on this fine day,” The chopper pilot announced in a heavy and very sophisticated British accent. The tone of and propriety of his voice suggested he was an older man, probably in his late forties. “Now should you find the need to make a sudden hot drop, jet packs are located in a hatch in the top of the chopper cab. Unfortunately, we haven’t had time to restock and there are only three of them left, so one of you will have to be carried on the way down.”
“I volunteer Fog to be carried for such a situation,” Dale said.
“You would do that wouldn’t you,” Arden added.
The chopper pilot continued to rant on, “Now fasten your seatbelts gents and hang on tight cause this bird is an old one and one of the side doors tends to pop open on occasion.”
“I volunteer Fog to sit on that side,” Dale said.
“Only if I get the jetpack,” Arden added wryly.
The chopper pilot was still babbling, “In the event of my own, for any reason, sudden disability to properly fly this transport, one of you must proceed to the cockpit and pilot the chopper in my place.”
“Now this one I have no problem volunteering to do,” Arden said. Arden, even though he was a close quarter’s expert, was the greatest pilot in the entire Freedom Knights Army.
The chopper pilot continued, “However, if none of you are qualified to fly this piece of equipment then one of you must proceed to this cockpit and pull the red and yellow emergency landing lever. Afterwards you must…”
“Oh for the love of God let’s go already!” Dale interrupted in a very annoyed tone.
“Alright then you wankers, buckle up and enjoy the ride,” the chopper pilot finished. Arden and Connor slid the chopper doors shut then sat down and strapped themselves in. Dale and John sat down and did the same. The chopper’s rotor blades roared to life and shortly afterwards they were in the air and headed west.
“So what do you think of our new directive Mist?” Arden asked John.
“I think it’s stupid. Why should we be reassigned to guard duty? We’re the FK’s most valuable asset. It makes me think that there is more to this mission than the Colonel is letting on,” John replied.
“Wait, you think that FK Command is hiding the real purpose behind this assignment?” Connor asked John.
“I want to say I know they are. This shouldn’t be happening without a really good reason,” John replied.
“You may be right. This does seem pretty illogical,” Connor agreed.
“Or you are all just freaking out over nothing,” Dale proclaimed with a chuckle. “I think you are reading way too much in to this.”
“Perhaps,” Connor said, halfway agreeing with Dale. “But I’m not ruling out a hidden purpose behind this assignment just yet,” Connor stated as he slouched down in his chair stretching out his legs and crossing one over the other, then crossed his arms too. John sat looking to the east out of the side window of the chopper. He activated his helmet’s zoom optics and on the horizon he saw fire and smoke plumes from where the battles were still raging on the front lines. John thought to himself, that’s where we should be. They need us out there. Those fires would be put out faster if we were there and helped push the RLA back. He deactivated his zoom optics and rested his elbows on his knees. John hung is head low a little and remained silent for the rest of the flight.
Dale addressed his helmet AI asking, “Computer, command. Play Welcome to the Family, Avenged Sevenfold.” The AI sounded a short beep in acknowledgement. Dale always liked listening to the older rock music. “It has much more inspiring lyrics because it was composed in an era of more distressful times,” he would always say was his reason of why he liked the older rock. Dale started tapping his foot and lazily air drumming to the beat. A few minutes passed before one of them spoke again.
Connor addressed his AI in a low voice, “Computer, command. Pull up image Penelope Delania.” The short acknowledgement beep sounded and Connor’s HUD disappeared. In place of the HUD stretched an image of a woman wearing a dark royal blue with pink stripes flame retardant jumpsuit. She had one hand on her hip and was leaning on a sleek-looking bright blue racecar with a black racing helmet on the hood. She was in the pit stop of a racing rally course north of Kingswood, UK and there were other mechanics and racecar drivers in the background. The sky was a rich blue with two small billowy white clouds overhead. The woman’s name was the title of the picture file, Penelope Delania. She was an English woman with long, light red hair and deep brown eyes. She had a slim figure that even the insulated jumpsuit couldn’t hide. Connor sat looking at the picture displayed across the interior side of his visor, which covered his view of anything outside his helmet. Connor gazed at the widely smiling woman with a blank expression, but inside he only felt sorrow.
Having heard Connor request his AI to pull up the picture on his helmet, Arden looked at Connor asked, “You still think about her a lot huh?”
Connor, still sitting with his arms crossed, didn’t answer for a few seconds. He eventually replied in a low voice, “She would have turned twenty-two years old today.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry you had to lose her,” Arden said sympathetically.
Connor sat still for a few more seconds. Then he uncrossed his arms, rubbed the back of his neck and sat up straighter. “Computer, escape,” Connor said, addressing his AI. The picture file collapsed inward from the left and right until it was gone. His HUD reappeared and he could see the interior of the chopper again.
“Okay masters we are only five minutes out from the power plant,” Oliver said, addressing Vapor Team. John tapped Dale on the side of his helmet and motioned to the cockpit. Dale addressed his AI to end the song he was listening to. “I hope you all enjoyed the flight. Now with the landing of this chopper, please be sure to keep your head, arms, legs, or other appendages inside the chopper at all times until I bring it to a reasonable altitude and slow down to a speed less than six kilometers per hour.”
“You used to work at Disneyland didn’t you?” Dale asked smartly as he unbuckled himself from his seat, but Oliver ignored him. Dale stepped over to the side of the chopper that Oliver said had a faulty door. He lightly kicked the side door and it did indeed pop open, quickly sliding along the side of the chopper and opening all the way. The sound of the chopper blades and the still air rushing by them boomed. Dale then, with one hand, grabbed a handle bar over his head to steady himself and leaned out the side looking towards the front of the chopper. He saw some scattered structures down below. Farther out, a little under the horizon, he saw a mass of water the size of a large lake. The hydroelectric power plant was along the shore of a river protruding from the lake.
“Now the closest available landing site is just a few miles away from the power plant. I’m going to drop you off there, and you’ll be driven the rest of the way,” Oliver exclaimed in a loud voice in order to talk over the sound of the chopper and wind.
“Understood,” Connor acknowledged. Connor unbuckled himself too. He grabbed a jet pack form the ceiling hatch and secured it to his armor. Connor wasn’t as reckless as Dale, unless he was behind the wheel of a ground vehicle. The size of a standard jet pack was about half the size of an average male’s torso. He stepped over to the open side of the chopper and leaned out in the same manner that Dale was so he could get a view of the area as well. The chopper continued to drift closer towards the power plant. It finally began its decent. As the ground came closer to them, Dale and Connor noticed a small helipad that was surrounded by a light forest of tall pine trees about a mile in front of the chopper.
Connor turned around and replaced his jetpack in the ceiling hatch. He looked at John and Arden and said, “We’re here.” John and Arden both unbuckled themselves and stood up. Connor stepped back to the open side and held on the handle bar. Oliver slowed the chopper down and brought it to a hovering position above the helipad a little over two feet off of the ground.
“Alright then, this is where you get off,” Oliver said.
“Thanks for the lift Specialist,” Arden said.
“Not a problem at all sir, you have a fine day,” Oliver replied. All four of them hopped out of the chopper. A couple of seconds later the chopper lifted high above the trees and flew off back to the southeast. Vapor Team looked around the helipad. There was towering forest trees all around them except for a winding brown dirt road that cut through the forest running generally north to south. The helipad was on the east side of the road. On the dirt road was an STV with the engine running and an FK soldier standing at attention in front of the passenger seat. Vapor Team walked towards the STV.
“Good afternoon sirs,” the soldier said while saluting them. “Load up when you are ready and we’ll be on our way.” The soldier walked around the front of the STV and entered the driver seat.
“Shotgun!” Arden called out. Connor chuckled at the irony of Arden’s weapon of choice being a shotgun as well. Arden hopped into the passenger seat and the other three boarded the cab section of the STV. They traveled up north three miles and reached the gates of the power plant. They could already hear the crashing sound of running water through the turbines and into an outflow river section. The gate was a large, ten foot tall metal gate opened by sliding into two thick concrete walls on both sides of the dirt road. There was also a gatekeeper booth on the right side of the road, but no one was in it. The forest was still tall and thick all around them, but they could tell by looking at the tops of the trees that the forest opened to a glade on the other side of the gate.
“Okay sirs, the number code for the gate is 0425546. Is there anything else you need to know before I go?” the driver asked.
“Thank you, and no. We should be fine,” John replied.
“Okay sir. Good luck,” the driver said. Vapor Team exited the STV and walked up to a keypad on a small pedestal beside the road in front of the gate. The STV backed up, then turned around and drove back down the forest path. All four of them requested that their helmet AI memorize the gate code. John typed in the code on the pedestal and the doors made a loud unlocking noise and slowly opened. All four of them began slowly walking up the dirt path to the power plant. The power plant was only a quarter mile from the gate entrance, and a parking lot covered most of that distance. The parking lot was about halfway filled with cars. The power plant itself was three stories tall. However most of the plant was outdoors. Only maybe one fourth of the power plant was indoors. The actual main complex consisted more of offices rather than the machinery that the power plant utilized. There was a double door main entrance on the ground floor of the main building. A balcony ran around the perimeter of the second story and connected to a catwalk that ran around the perimeter of the power plant. The catwalk also ran through the center of the complex, connecting different small buildings like the main generator room, dam controls, and other power operation rooms. The cat walk had a wide ramp leading up to it on the right hand side of the main building. All around the power plant was tall pine trees. There was a tall cliff on the left side of the power plant where the water was stored. From their current point of view however, the main building blocked most of their view of the plant and they couldn’t see where the water flowed through the turbines and through the middle of the plant, or where the large lake was on the far north side of the power plant. They would have to get to the center of the plant to get the full land layout around them. The trees and clouds cast enough shadow over the parking lot and power plant that only small patches of sunlight could be seen. The grass around them was thick and a deep dark green instead of the bright rich green like on the front lines to the east.
“Well, it seems cozy enough for me,” Arden stated as they continued to walk towards the power plant.
“Let’s get in touch with the plant workers and other civilians and get a better understanding of the land layout, and what else is going on around here,” Connor said.
“You guys go ahead. I’m going to get up on that cliff and get an overhead understanding of the area,” John said. He proceeded towards the base of the cliff on the left side of the complex and started scaling the side of the cliff.
“Hey Shadow, let’s go walk the catwalks. Get familiar with the plant and everything,” Arden requested to Dale.
“Sounds good,” Dale replied.
“Okay, I’ll check in with the main desk on the inside,” Connor stated. Dale and Arden both walked up the ramp to the catwalks and left Connor’s line of sight. Connor entered through the building’s main entrance. Once inside he immediately knew something was amiss. Connor had already thought it was strange that there was no gatekeeper in the gatekeeper booth earlier. But now as he cautiously walked down a dark narrow hallway and into a lobby area, something was very wrong indeed. No one was in the lobby, behind the main desk, or in any of the rooms throughout to the lobby for that matter. Connor couldn’t be sure about the whole building though, but if he had to guess, the rest of the building was empty too. Paper documents were strewn all over the floor. File cabinets and chairs were overturned. Various desktop items like pens, telephones, and a couple of keyboards were all over the ground as well. Over half of the lights in the building were dim, flickering, broken, or just simply turned off. It was dark, but not too dark that Connor couldn’t see straight. Connor walked around the lobby alone, eyeing every doorway and corner, ready to engage whatever caused this disaster. The most disturbing thing was that there were no signs of conflict. It was like everyone disappeared, and decided to trash everything before they left. Connor walked behind the main desk. Computer wires were torn and monitors were either missing or smashed. He looked under the desks, hoping someone was hiding from whoever did this, but no one was there. Connor brought his hands in front of his chest to be even more ready for whoever, or whatever, could maybe still be lurking in the building. He wanted to check all of the ground floor rooms before calling Dale, Arden, or John. This way he wouldn’t run the risk of being heard. He checked room after room, office after office. Every corner and hallway, every room had the same horrible scene. There was nothing but disaster, trash, and malfunctioning equipment, and still no signs of conflict. After Connor was sure he had checked every room on the ground floor, he decided to finally let the other three know what was wrong.
However, before he could, even through the walls of the building he faintly heard Arden yell out, “What the fuck is this!”