A Damning Discovery
November 9th 2140, Roman Prime, the largest FKPD base on the Roman I space station
They stepped lightly in to the base until they were in the midst of what felt like a miniature city. The base had many wide buildings, some rising as high as four stories. There were wide roads and thin alleys, parking zones and hangars. They peeked inside every hangar and landing pad they came across, but no space traversable aircraft was found.
Bodies from both sides, FKPD and alien alike, were strewn about everywhere. This time, there were very few empty FKPD armor suits. Most, but not all of them, had the soldier still intact. Possibly the base fought well enough that the aliens either didn’t have time, retreated, or were wiped out before they could maul the corpses any further. Vapor Team periodically checked some of the soldiers that looked relatively able to still be alive, but none were.
They heard another shriek pierce through the air, this time a little bit closer.
“They’re getting closer,” Margaret stated in a worried voice. Viktor jogged ahead a little bit and looked down road parallel to the one they were on. He noticed a building that looked like it had a higher security entrance than the surrounding buildings.
“Sir,” Viktor called back to Nakahara. “Could that be it?”
They reached him and Nakahara responded, “looks like it.” Everyone jogged to the entrance of the building. In bold letters beheld in a placeholder over the door, Operations Center. “Good eye, Steam.”
“You have clearance for this one too?” Connor inquired. Without answering, Nakahara typed in a passcode on a panel by the door and it opened instantly. They all stepped inside. The interior of the Ops Center was lined with high tech drawing boards, computers, monitors, bulletin boards, status screens and more. A massive holographic projector in the center of the room was inactive. A dimly flashing blue button on the side of the projector indicated the button to turn it on. Doors to offices and corridors and other sorts of rooms were spaced unevenly across the walls. To their surprise, the Ops Center looked like it wasn’t attacked. There were no dead bodies, and there were no signs of combat inside. Even all of the lights were turned on and the place looked like it was ready to be used, only no one was around to use it.
“This is exactly what I was looking for,” Nakahara said. “Fog, Smoke, stay in here with me. I want the rest of you outside looking for space transports and keeping watch for alien activity."
“Yes sir,” Victoria nodded and turned to exit. Dale, Margaret and Viktor followed suit. Connor and Arden stayed inside. Nakahara scanned the room for a privileged access computer. He spotted one and briskly walked to it. Connor stepped toward the holographic projector and turned it on. It started up in only a few seconds and projected an image of the Roman I. It was bright blue and spinning exactly how the station normally would. Arden paced the floor.
Nakahara typed in a password on the computer. The screen flashed a brief welcome message, Welcome, Nakahara K.C. In a tiny opaque font in the bottom corner of the screen were the words, limited access. He began quickly searching for the status quotes of all of the other FKPD establishments, but only a select few actually showed up. He scrolled through the few that were shown and hung his head. Every single one of them was labeled ‘offline’. He knew what that really meant.
The hologram in front of Connor showed a few sections of the station in red as Nakahara searched the databases. Connor stared at it with a somber horror.
“Damn,” Nakahara murmured. “I don’t have full access to the databases. Even my rank can’t get me everything. I can’t see just how many FKPD stations are offline.” He tried some more options but nothing worked.
Connor glanced over at Arden for a moment. Arden caught his gaze and knew what he was about to say.
“Fog, do you think…” Connor started.
“I doubt it,” Arden interrupted. Connor cocked his head with a countering doubt of his own. Arden sighed. “I guess it’s worth a shot.” He holstered his shotgun on his back and stepped over to Nakahara’s computer. “Logout, sir.”
“What?” Nakahara questioned in standoffish tone.
“Trust me, sir. I might be able to get you full access.”
Nakahara frowned and logged off, then stepped back. Arden took his place and hovered his fingers over the keyboard for a few seconds. He was trying to recall the memory of a login password that their old mentor, Colonel Corpus, had given them after they completed IBST. Whether or not this was the password to Corpus’s account specifically, they did not know. They had never tried to use it until now. Arden slowly recalled the memory and typed in the password very carefully. Nakahara looked on in apprehensive skepticism. Arden finished typing and looked at the line of asterisks on the screen in front of him. He exhaled and pressed the enter key. A second later, the computer screen flashed the brief welcome message – Welcome, Corpus J.F. – before it pulled up the default operations hub screen. The font in the corner of the screen now read, full access.
“Boom, problem solved,” Arden stepped back to let Nakahara resume his searching.
“What did you just do?” Nakahara asked.
“Colonel Jason Frederick Corpus,” Connor started to reply. “You of all people should know that he trained us. After we finished IBST, Corpus risked his own stature by entrusting us with his login info, just in case our own limited access would get in the way of us completing any of our missions. We’ve never had to use it until now. In fact, I’m surprised it still works.”
“Well we’re going to use it to get the rest of the information we need,” Nakahara pulled up the FKPD station status’s window again. This time, every single base was listed in alphabetical order. Any stations that weren’t listed as ‘offline’, had their status listed as ‘unknown’ instead. As Nakahara scrolled, the hologram in front of Connor changed color like filling in pieces of a puzzle. Most sections turned red, any other parts turned yellow.
Nakahara scrolled past the base they had just checked. J’s, K’s, L’s, in the to the M’s, their own Manifest Training Base was the first one. Its status was listed as unknown. He continued on to find the base they had checked on the way to the Roman Prime. That base too, was listed as unknown. Nakahara reached the end of the list as the hologram filled up completely. Not even the slightest bit of blue color was left. The walls around them were a reflection of red and yellow. Nakahara and Arden turned and stared at the hologram with Connor.
"Damn," Arden muttered.
"There's nothing left," Connor shook his head. A few seconds of silence followed. Nakahara sighed and started toward the exit.
"Now what, Naki?" Arden asked.
Nakahara stopped and faced them to answer, "there is absolutely no reason to remain on this station any longer. Let's find a dropship and leave."
"You plan on just leaving all of the aliens up here while we retreat?" Connor questioned.
"I suppose your idea is we run in to the horde, guns blazing?" Nakahara snapped a look at Connor with a critical tone of voice.
"Of course not, sir," Connor continued. "This station is powered by a series of massive fusion reactor cores, spaced out evenly among sixteen segments of the ring. If we overload one reactor, it could set off a chain reaction to the nearby reactors and destroy the station entirely, or at least disrupt enough of the power grid to cause a malfunction in the Earth-like habitat systems and render the station uninhabitable."
"You want to blow up the Roman I!?" Nakahara couldn't believe his ears.
"If there are no more surviving settlements, we may be the only ones left alive on this station. We're surrounded by savage aliens that are swarming all over the ring, both land, air, and even sea. If we destroy the station, we'll be taking out a huge chunk of their forces, and maybe even catch one or two of their ships in the debris shower."
"What about those down on Earth? They'll be caught in the debris too."
"The majority of the station will burn up on reentry."
"You also realize that destruction of this station will not help your defense for your team's insubordination."
"I'm aware, but I'm only offering a suggestion. The authority to carry out this idea is up to you." They paused for a brief moment. "Given your failure to deny the plan so far, shall that be our next move before we leave?"
Nakahara stood stiff, contemplating the idea. "Even if we wanted to do this, I don't know where the fusion reactors are," he said.
"Right here," Arden suddenly chimed in from across the room. He was in front of the computer again. Corpus's login was still active. "Corpus had access to that kind of information too. The closest reactor isn't far. It's only twelve kilometers this way." Arden typed on the keyboard as the hologram returned to a blue hue. The section they were on enlarged and a golden colored line crossed over the landscape from the Roman Prime to a large power complex. He and Connor looked at Nakahara for a final answer.
"That's close to the edge of the ring too. We don't need to find a dropship if we overload the core. We can rush to the escape pods instead," Connor added.
Nakahara rubbed the back of his neck and replied, "very well. I suppose we've lost the Roman I. We might as well take out as many of these devils as possible. Let's get back to our ve..."
"Bad news!" Margaret rushed in to the room and interrupted Nakahara. "Steam just spotted a huge group of them entering from the gate we came through."
"Can we take them out and still get back to our vehicles?" Arden retrieved his shotgun from his back.
"There's at least a hundred of them piling in," Margaret shook her head. Victoria and Viktor ran up behind Margaret. Dale showed up last.
"We can take them," Dale remarked with clenched fists.
"Negative, Shadow," Nakahara chastised. "We're leaving through a different exit. It's foolishness for seven of us to engage over a hundred of them."
"Leaving!?" Dale frowned. "I thought the plan was to find a dropship and get the hell off this station."
"Not before we complete one last objective. You want these aliens to die, right? We're going to destroy the Roman I."
"We don't have time to argue like this!" Viktor interrupted.
"Agreed," Nakahara brushed past them and out of the Ops Center. "Everyone follow me! We're hoofing it to the nearest fusion reactor, and we're going to set this station ablaze." He disappeared out of the doorway, running the opposite way of their vehicles. Vapor Team exited to follow, but Dale stopped and looked down the road leading to their transports.
Connor placed a hand on his shoulder and spoke in a soft voice from behind, "I want to kill them all too." Dale turned his head to face him. "But we're going to. Just follow this plan, and they'll be blown to oblivion."
"So will John," Dale reminded him in a voice just shy of a whisper.
"There's nothing we can do about that," Connor added sadly.
"Is this just what we're going to do now? Blow up our tracks as we retreat in fear?"
"What we're going to do is survive."
"They..." Dale almost continued, but his eye caught Victoria look back at them from down the road. He couldn't see her face, but he knew it bore a sincere expression of worry and sympathy. Connor turned to see what he was looking at and noticed her too. They both snapped their head back the other way when they heard the shrieks and snarls of the creatures coming their way.
Dale loosened his fists and broke in to a sprint at full speed back to the Nakahara and the rest of their team. Connor sighed in relief and sprinted right behind Dale's heels. Victoria waved a hand to follow and resumed their retreat as well. Alien howls and roars echoed through the complex. They were spreading around the area fast. Dale and Connor caught up with the rest just before they reached another gate at the base's edge. Nakahara stepped in front of the control panel and hovered his fingers over the keys before suddenly punching the metal of the gate next to him.
"The panel is damaged," Nakahara said in frustration. "Let's hurry to the next gate."
"There's no time for that!" Margaret exclaimed. Viktor noticed an alien blade on the ground a few feet away beside its wielder's corpse. He rushed to it and snatched it off the ground.
"Fog, catch," Viktor tossed it to Arden. Arden caught it and instantly activated it. He slid the blade in to the gate as far in as he could and ran it around in a large circle.
"Hurry up, they've gotta be right behind us by now," Connor urged him. Arden finished cutting and kicked the center of the circle. A loud clang of his boot hitting the metal shot through the air, but the gate didn't budge. He kicked it again harder, then as hard as he could. It still didn't move an inch.
"Step aside," Dale told Arden. He stepped back a few steps and charged right toward the gate. Dale hit it with his full body force and it was knocked forward. It screeched and banged as it broke away from the rest of the gate.
"Nice," Victoria bluntly praised him.
"They probably heard all of that, let's get moving!" Nakahara ordered. They all filed through the hole in the gate and dashed forward across the prairie. Nakahara was nearly tripping over himself trying to keep up with Vapor Team. However, he was falling behind.
"We're not going to make it away from them!" Connor said worriedly. "They're gonna see us and catch up."
"No they're not," Victoria pointed across the field slightly to their right. "Tall grass on the right. We can hide in there."
"If it's our only option, it'll have to do," Arden sped up and broke to the right. The rest followed him as they trampled in to the tall grass. They zigzagged their way further in before slowing to a stop and lying down. None of them could see each other. Nakahara looked back as he entered to see one alien after the next exit the base through the hole in the gate. He couldn't be sure, but he thought a couple may have spotted him just before he disappeared from sight in the grass. At last he was deep enough inside to stop fleeing. He rolled on to his back, panting.
"Vapor Team, anyone near me?" Nakahara asked in a moderate voice.
"This is Steam, I'm near you sir," Viktor's voice answered from nearby.
"I think I may have been spotted," Nakahara said dismally. Viktor didn't say a word in reply. "Don't move, see if you can spread the word.
"If anyone can hear me," Viktor spoke in a louder voice. The footsteps of the beasts were getting louder, their snarls and shrieks becoming audible. "Do not move, pass it on."
"Vapor Team, don't move," Arden heard Viktor.
"Heard, don't move guys."
"Copy that, staying still."
"Got it, don't move."
Even though their bodies were at rest, their hearts began pumping harder in fear. The aliens were almost on them. Another few seconds and they heard them enter the tall grass. Vapor Team and Nakahara stayed perfectly still, lying on their backs. The stomping of the creatures were all around them. Growls and snarls assaulted their ears. Every now and then they saw a glimpse of an alien figure in their peripherals through the tall grass. As luck would have it, they were gliding right past them.
One alien's foot landed right next to Arden as it stopped and sniffed around for a second. A trickle of sweat ran down the side of his head as his fingers twitched, ready for the fight of his life. Shit shit shit, Arden repeated in his thoughts. The beast looked one way, then looked right over Arden and sniffed the air a couple of times. It roared in to the sky and continued onward. Arden sighed in relief. A couple more ran dangerously close to Viktor and Margaret. One even ran right over Dale, stepping one foot just above his head, and the next foot right between his legs.
They waited for a whole minute before the footsteps started to die down, and then waited a couple minutes more after it became so quiet they could finally hear the rustle of the grass again. One by one they popped their heads above the crest of the grass. Nakahara was the last to rise. He counted heads, totaling seven including himself.
"Everyone okay?" Nakahara stood up completely, as did the rest of Vapor Team.
A few responded, "yeah."
They regrouped next to each other and aimed their guns all around.
"Area looks clear now," Margaret lowered her rifle.
"There they go," Connor waved his hand forward in front of his marksman rifle, gesturing at the aliens that just passed them, now fading out of sight across the plain.
"Thank goodness we're all alright," Victoria lowered her gun as well. As soon as she did, an alien lurched out of the nearby grass and toppled her. It activated its blade and swung a wide arc at everyone. Most of them stepped back to avoid it, Nakahara ducked under the swing, Arden was the only one at the end of its attack arc that seized the creature's arm and squeezed, holding it in place and crunching the bone in its forearm. Dale lunged forward, unsheathing his curved blades and with a guttural yell, crashed in to its abdomen with his shoulder, sinking both of the blades in to the body of the alien as he lifted it in to the air above his head. Arden quickly yanked the monster's blade from its hand and slashed upward, taking its head clean off before it could screech and alert any other nearby aliens.
"Damn it!" Victoria lunged to her feet and readied her weapon again.
"We have to stay on constant guard, guys," Connor scanned the area around them. They all got back to back.
"This was a close call," Viktor muttered. "A little too close if you ask me."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Arden questioned him.
"Are we really going to have to keep dealing with the dead weight?" he answered.
"What dead weight?" Margaret asked, oblivious to who he was referring to.
"Say again, soldier?" Nakahara demanded.
"Steam, that's enough," Connor scolded Viktor for his comment.
"He's not wrong," Dale dimly agreed with Viktor.
"Shadow!?" Arden was appalled at Dale's remark.
"I'll see to it that you both are given proper reconciliation for every act of insubordination you've displayed on this sta..." Nakahara spoke.
"Will you quit it already?" Connor interrupted him. "Forgive me sir, but I think we have way more important things to worry about than insubordination right now."
"Nevertheless, you're not up to par with our survival skills," Dale proclaimed of Nakahara.
"What are you trying to say, Shadow, Steam?" Nakahara frowned. "That if the situation presents itself where I am nothing but a detriment to your survival, that to you, it will be time to cut the 'dead weight'"?
"If you keep getting us in to trouble..." Viktor began.
"Stop it!" Margaret shut everyone up. "Shame on you! Shame on all of you! No one is dead weight here, and no one is a detriment in any way! We're going to work together to complete our mission and return home. Don't you guys understand, we're in this together! This is not just about a fraction of us! This is a war for the defense of humanity. Selfishness will do nothing but doom us all!"
Everyone fell completely silent. They exchanged glances, swapping mixed looks of regret, mistrust, hostility. Eventually, however, Margaret's words began to sink in, and their glances were replaced with looks of understanding, apology, and a renewed will to stick together no matter what.
"Alright," Arden broke the silence with a light-hearted sentence. "I think after Dust's yelling, it's safe to say that no more aliens are nearby."
"She's right though," Connor agreed with Margaret. "Instead of focusing too much on ourselves, we need to focus on the group. I'm sure Mist and Cloud would have said the same thing. If we don't do that, then we won't be much help when we get back to Earth."
"Okay, so," Victoria looked at Nakahara. "We still have a job to do. Lead the way sir."