November 9th 2140, Somewhere on the Roman I space station
The Earth still looked serene to their eyes. Its twinkling city lights were unaltered. The invasion was still young, and the oblong alien spaceships were likely in Earth's atmosphere by now, but no conflict was noticeable to them yet. The drivers of the transport vehicles glanced up at its majesty periodically as they drove across a vast open plain. The gunners and passengers glanced at the Earth momentarily as well, before returning their attention to a three hundred and sixty degree situational awareness. The droning hum of their engines worried them a little. It was no doubt easily heard by the creatures that now swarmed all around the station. Their headlights would not help them keep a low profile either.
However, the biggest thing on the minds of Vapor Team was the death of their most original and unofficial leader. The image of John's body flailing through the air flashed behind their eyes over and over again. Then the image of Brian's doubly pierced body lying in his own blood assaulted their thoughts all the same. The want for revenge blazed through ever fiber of their muscles. Arden and Connor were even warping the steering wheels of their vehicles they were gripping them so firmly in their hellish rage. John's brother was a volcano of vengeance on the brink of eruption. His heart was filled with nothing but pure malice, loathing, and a desire for every last alien in their entire solar system to die the most cruel death they could possibly receive. His fingers twitched across the trigger of the turret in front of him, waiting to squeeze at the first sight of another alien.
"... I repeat, does anyone read me?" Nakahara had spent the last few minutes trying to hail any friendly forces on the space station. "This is Command Sergeant Major Katsuo Nakahara. Our base has been overrun and we are currently heading down the station's spin. Does anyone out there hear this? Anybody, anybody hear this broadcast? I am with Vapor Team and we've taken casualties. Anyone, please respond!" His transmission was working, since Vapor Team heard it in their helmet coms, but no one responded to him.
"This is Sergeant Nakahara. Please, is there anyone out there, anyone at all?" Silence defeated his attempts at contacting friendly forces. Nakahara gave up and addressed Vapor Team instead.
"Okay Vapor Team, listen up," he began. "Approximately eight kilometers from here is a small FKPD establishment. Head there first and we'll see if they haven't been hit yet."
"And if they have been hit?" Connor wondered what their 'plan B' would be.
"If they were taken out just like our base, then we'll go to the largest FKPD station this ring has," Nakahara continued. "They've likely to have been hit since they're the biggest station, but that also means they're the most likely to be operational. With the way these aliens fight, it would take a force twice as big as the one we just witnessed back there to even get close to wiping it out."
"Understood," Arden spoke an acknowledgement for all of them. The plains they were crossing started to get more and more covered in trees. They were sparsely scattered at first, but as they kept driving they grew more dense until they were driving through a thin forest of trees with skinny trunks and low canopies.
"Stay sharp people," Viktor reminded them. He and Dale swiveled their turrets continuously left, right, and behind. Connor, Arden and Margaret's eyes darted from tree to tree as they slalomed between the trunks. Nakahara resumed his droning radio chatter. Their headlights offered an adequate view of the sightline in front of them, and the turrets had a high powered floodlight wherever they were aiming as well. The areas that their lights didn't cover remained almost pitch black. They were blind everywhere, and their only cure was the mounted lights on their vehicles.
"How long until we are out of these trees?" Victoria interrupted Nakahara. She kept her head turned, looking out of the side of the STV with her helmet torch lights on in a petty attempt to match the illumination level of the turrets and headlights.
"About... another five kilometers," Nakahara replied. "The outpost we are looking for will be in sight once we leave the treeline."
They traveled for a few more minutes and were nearing the edge of the small forest. Dale tensed up when he swiped his turret's light across an alien-looking figure between two trees. He instantly swiveled the turret back in time to catch a glimpse of its leg before it disappeared behind a tree.
"Contact, ten o'clock," Dale growled. Over the droning sound of their engines they heard the infamous shriek the aliens commonly roared. It began with one, echoing between the tree trunks, then more were heard from all around them.
Connor looked to where Dale was aiming but saw nothing. "I have no visual," he said quickly. "Does anyone else see anything?"
"Negative," Viktor replied.
"I have nothing over here.. wait!" Victoria spotted one. "Three o'clock, I just saw one. It climbed a tree."
"Well crap," Margaret looked up. "We're dealing with multiple planes of engagement."
"Acknowledged," a few of them responded.
"I have visual on three at our six!" Nakahara proclaimed. The three were only a little ways back and were trying to chase them. He braced himself in the cab of the STV and fired his rifle. One alien was struck and faceplanted in the dirt, though he knew it may not even be dead. The other two scattered out of sight. Even more shrieks were heard after Nakahara had fired.
"Where are they? Where are they?" Connor asked. They all offered a barrage of responses.
"I don't see any."
"Over there, eight o'clock."
"Watch the right!"
They continued to frantically call out targets, but most vanished as soon they were seen. A minute of anxious tension passed. To their pleasant surprise and relief, the shrieks of the creatures began to subside and began to sound like they were coming from behind them.
"Sounds like we're outrunning them," Arden stated.
"Good," Nakahara spoke. "Keep it up Vapor Team. We're almost there."
They kept driving. The screeches behind them waned completely. At last, the trees started to thin out. Just as Nakahara said, the FKPD outpost came in to view atop a sizable hill. It was positioned in the center of a U-shaped glade. However, it came as little surprise to them to see battle-worn with scattered fires here and there. None of them even said anything as they pulled up to the outpost's perimeter marked by a flimsy chainlink fence. They stopped and exited.
The fence was cut in several places. It had gaping holes and large sections of the fence were lying on the ground around them. Scattered from the perimeter of the outpost, all the way to the buildings just a bit further away, were FKPD armor suits and alien creatures. To their morbid delight, the amount of alien bodies easily outnumbered the amount of human bodies. To their disgust, however, they found that almost all of the armor suits of their friendly casualties were empty, torn open, and taken apart. Only blood-soaked grass and human bones lay in proximity to the armor suits.
"Oh my god..." Margaret muttered. "We noticed when we first checked that residential quadrant before that only blood and bones remained. To see it again..." she choked a little.
"To see it again," Victoria picked up her sentence. "To see it again makes me think those things eat their kills. They devour their victims." A few seconds of silence befell them. Dale placed a hand on one of the fence's metal posts and squeezed it. It creaked and bent.
"Why?" Arden pondered. "What kind of savages are these? Are they, hunting us? Are we nothing but food to them? Is this their only motive?" Connor placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and gave a small jerking squeeze. Arden sighed.
"The only way to know for sure would be to question one," Nakahara proclaimed. "But so far, that proves problematic." He changed the frequency of his radio to all channels and tried once more to contact anyone. "Attention, attention. Does anyone hear this message? This is Command Sergeant Major Katsuo Nakahara. Anyone at all?" There was no reply.
A few more seconds of silence passed. They continued to stare in horror before they jerked their heads upward at a sound coming from the sky. Three lances of alien phoenix fighters screamed overhead, passing over one side of the glade to the other. Naturally they ducked down slightly to avoid being spotted until the fighters flew out of sight.
Viktor knelt down and picked up the dog tags of the closest soldier's remains. He wiped off the blood and frowned at the familiarity of the name. "Watonga, Vince K.," he read. Nakahara stepped over and took it out of his hand.
"He was a soldier from our training base," Nakahara closed his fingers in to a fist around the tag. "One of the many soldiers that volunteered to be a part of the emissary teams I sent out after you told us about what you found at that residential quadrant." He put the tag in a pouch on his waist armor.
"So, Naki," Connor addressed Nakahara. "Plan B?"
"Affirmative," Nakahara nodded. "Let's go, there's nothing left for us here, and we don't want those aliens we outran catching up to us." They piled back in their vehicles and drove down the hill. Nakahara stood up, holding on to a handle bar with one hand on pointing with the other. "We came out of the trees there, so from here we make a perfect ninety degree angle that way."
"That goes right back in to the forest," Viktor stated.
"Great," Arden remarked sarcastically.
"Stay alert just as before. We need to go thirty-six kilometers that way before we reach a bridge that we have to cross. Then five more kilometers and we've reached the outpost, Roman Prime," Nakahara informed them.
"Let's go," Dale said in a frustrating tone. The vehicles' wheels kicked dirt behind them as they sped back in to the forest. The rest of Vapor Team worried for Dale. He was acting so cold since John's death. They knew his emotional fury would make him a true terror for the aliens, but it would also make him vulnerable or unpredictable, even uncontrollable. They hoped they could just get off the station without any more engagements and let his anger subside naturally. None the less, they didn't blame him. They were enraged too, but John was Dale's brother, and they simply couldn't condemn him for his feelings.
Connor was also struggling to keep his emotions under control. John was his best friend. He knew that he would feel the sting of his death later. Emotional outbreaks always seemed to hit him really late for some odd reason.
Vapor Team scanned the area around them just as they did before. To their relief, no aliens were around them. They drove for minutes on end, constantly in fear of being ambushed from any direction. They started to worry when their helmet coms emitted a scratchy droning noise.
"Do you guys hear that?" Victoria asked.
"Yeah, I hear it," Arden responded. "You're breaking up in my helmet though."
"What did you just say, Fog?" Connor didn't hear properly through the static.
"I sa..... ear it, but..... ing...... my helm...." Arden's voice came through on their helmets in pieces.
"....ain.. di....... it out..."
"I can....... last......."
"Entering..... ark..... ay...rt..." Nakahara tried to address them all, but everyone's coms were now completely defunct. He stood up and shouted at the top of his lungs instead. "Entering another dark zone! Stay alert!"
"Not again..." Margaret muttered to herself.
"We'll be alright," Viktor assured her from the gunner platform at her back.
There was nothing they could do now but hope the remainder of their presence on the station would go unnoticed. With no communications again, there was a highly reduced chance of survival. Nakahara clambered to the front of the cab in Arden's vehicle.
Arden glanced back at him for a split second and asked, "do you really think the Roman Prime will have transports left?"
"If they were not completely evacuated, they are bound to have something we can use to get out of here," Nakahara answered. "But if even the Roman Prime has no dropships to spare, our last hope will be to travel all the way to the edge of the ring and use the station's escape pods to get back home."
"How many escape pods does this station have?" Victoria wondered.
"It has enough," Nakahara replied. "We should be perfectly fine with that option as our last resort."
Arden shook his head. "I can't believe this kind of thing is actually happening," he said. "If the Roman Prime outpost is in a dark zone, they're likely wiped out just as the Manifest Training Base was."
"Don't be so sure," Nakahara denied his claim. "Let's also hope you are wrong, because the Roman Prime holds all of the data on all civilian and FKPD establishments on the Roman I. Some of it may be classified, but from there we can see just how many FKPD bases have been confirmed destroyed, or at least in distress. If there are several FKPD outposts that have not been wiped out, we might be able to rendezvous with friendly forces for some extra firepower before we return to Earth."
"Earth..." Arden moaned in thought. "I hope everything is going okay down there. Surely they're faring better than we are. They had to have had some kind of warning from the Roman I right?"
"That depends on how many long range communications establishments were suddenly put in the dark from the alien jamming towers before we had identified the threat. The aliens arrived just last night while we couldn't see anything because of the thin atmosphere up here. They set up those jamming towers and prevented earthbound communications very quickly. Earth may not even know for sure what's coming, but even if they do, they aren't prepared for these creatures. Think of the amount of innocent lives lost if just one of their spaceships decides to land troops in Chicago, or Beijing, or Moscow. They won't have any defenses set up for an alien ship that comes from directly above them."
Arden's thought suddenly switched to his father. What if he is caught in the midst of the first attacks? he wondered. What if any of our loved ones are caught in the eye of the storm? Dale's parents, Connor's family. He dreaded the initial report they would get upon arriving at Earth, if they made it back.
At last the forest began to thin out again. The landscape began to slope upward and to their far right was a winding road leading to a steep cliff in front of them. They could barely make it out in the severe darkness, but the bridge was at the end of the road hanging over the gap to the other side. It was a moderately sized suspension bridge about half of a mile in length. A small waterfall poured down from an even larger cliff-face on one side of the bridge, dropping all the way to a rocky creek far below them. The creek flowed beside a vast open prairie at the bottom of the cliffs. Right in the middle of the prairie was the Roman Prime FKPD base.
They drove their vehicles on to the suspension bridge and pulled off to the side, then killed the engines and exited. All of the lights on their transports switched off and they could barely see a thing. They stepped close to each other before gazing over the edge of the bridge. They were delighted to see that the Roman Prime appeared from their vantage point to be unharmed. However, there was no visible movement they could spot. All of the base's lights were on and it looked in decent shape.
"It doesn't look like it's been taken down to me," Victoria stated.
"Yes, but I don't see anyone down there," Connor activated his zoom optics. "There's a lot of dead aliens surrounding the base." The rest of them activated their zoom optics as well.
"I don't see hardly any human casualties," Arden noticed.
"Maybe they evacuated much quicker than we or the other outpost did," Margaret suggested.
"It's possible," Nakahara nodded. "But the more likely scenario is they were simply better prepared. We may find some friendly's down there. Let's get going."
The moon started to show itself from behind the space station ring and the landscape began to slowly become more discernible. They piled back in their vehicles and drove across the bridge. On the other side the road ran in the middle of a cliff edge, no wider than a football field's width. A two way fork was in front of them with one road leading up to the top of the cliff, and the other down to the prairie. They drove down the cliff ramp and proceeded all the way across the prairie. Connor, Margaret and Arden parked the transports just outside of the base's main gate. The base was surrounded by thick steel walls with several watchtowers and gates on each side. They stepped up to the main gate as Nakahara moved to a control panel on the outside wall.
"I'm sure I have clearance," Nakahara said as he typed in a passcode on the panel. A tiny green light flashed on the panel and the gate unlatched and opened. "Okay Vapor Team, stay alert. Keep a sharp eye on your surroundings, check for survivors, and get to operations complex. Try to find a dropship in the process. However, I want everyone to remain in eyesight of at least two of us. No one wanders off alone, not with our coms being jammed."
"Understood, Naki," Connor acknowledged for them all.
"Let's go," Nakahara stepped through the gate. Vapor Team readied their weapons and followed behind him, covering every direction.
"Are you familiar with this base's layout?" Viktor questioned Nakahara. "Do you know where the operations complex is?"
"Negative," Nakahara replied. "It shouldn't be too hard to spot however." As he finished his sentence, the now infamous shriek of one of the aliens was heard in the night sky. It sounded very far away, but they all tensed up regardless.
"It sounds like we don't have much time to linger here," Connor remarked.
"Agreed," Nakahara said in a hushed voice. "We should hurry."