Chapter 4, AbsolutionMature

Chapter Four


November 10th 2140, Somewhere on the Roman I space station

12:00 A.M.

            "It just hit midnight," Connor murmured. The moon hung to the side of the station above them, faintly illuminating the ground around them. A rough, towering cliff loomed beside them on their right, and a thin plot of trees sparsely scattered to their left. Earth was hidden from them, blocked by the cliff. A subtle breeze made the leaves of the trees whistle. The grass beneath their boots rustled as they stepped purposefully toward the fusion reactor.

            "Not even an entire day yet since the aliens landed on the station," Victoria said.

            "You wouldn't think that creatures who use swords as their primary weapons could wipe out an entire station in just one day," Arden remarked.

            "Clearly, they're not to be underestimated," Viktor added.

            "Once we get to Earth, I'm sure we'll see this invasion is stopped cold," Margaret tried to add some positivity.

            "Let's hope you're right, Dust," Dale said in a hopeful tone.

            Connor, Arden, and Nakahara were walking in the front of the group, weapons trained forward. Viktor and Margaret were back to back, sidestepping in between them. Margaret had her eyes on the top of the cliff, while Viktor had the trees under surveillance. Dale and Victoria had their weapons facing the rear, walking backwards behind the other five. Every one of them nearly jumped when the chirping of a cricket softly sounded from the center of them. They each whipped around and looked down to find a lonely cricket playing its tune from below the grass-line.

            Connor chuckled and knelt down to look at it, "I guess it found its way aboard a transport from Earth and ended up out here."

            "Aww," Margaret reached down and picked it up, cupping it in one hand, holding her rifle in the other. "Poor thing."

            "Awww," Dale mimicked. "Maybe we should take it back home to Earth with us."

            "I know you're being sarcastic, Shadow," Margaret sneered at Dale.

            "That's kind of the point," Dale remarked as he continued walking ahead of them. The rest continued to follow, covering each direction again. Margaret set the cricket down on the cliff wall.

            "Are we getting close yet, sir?" Viktor asked Nakahara.

            "It should be just around the corner of this cliff," Nakahara answered. They stepped furtively around a bend of the cliff, revealing a couple of small, dull hills ahead, with a few scattered boulders with sizes ranging from waistline to twice their height. Aside from the hills and boulders blocking most of their view, they were still able to spot the top of the fusion reactor industrial complex only half of a mile beyond the furthest hill.

            "There it is," Victoria nodded her head toward the structure.

            "Let's not waste any time," Nakahara started to run. "Earth is waiting for us after this." The cliff at their side rose even steeper and much higher, forming a small mountain range that acted as a natural barrier to mark the edge of the station. The mountain range stretched just a short ways behind the fusion plant.

            "You were right, Smoke," Arden said. "That's the edge of the station right there. It'll be easy to get to the escape pods in time before the Roman I goes critical." Vapor Team and Nakahara started to crest the hill closer to the fusion plant and instantly slid to a stop and got low to the ground. "Or maybe not."

            Densely packed between them, the station, and even further to the edge of the ring, were a huge number of alien contacts. The seven of them shimmied back out of sight and huddled behind one of the larger boulders.

            "Well, fuck," Dale muttered.

            Victoria peeked around the boulder and said, "there must be over two hundred of them out there! Who knows how many more inside the facility too."

            "I don't think there's any way we can carry out this plan without getting seen either," Viktor stated.

            "So that's it?" Connor shook his head. "We're just out of luck?"

            "Should we just try going to another fusion plant?" Margaret wondered.

            "No way," Dale shot her idea down. "We're lucky to have made it this far. If we spend any more unnecessary time wandering the station, our luck will run out for sure."

            "Well then what do we do now?" Margaret asked next.

            "I say we rain a shitstorm of bullets in their asses," Dale offered as he tapped his carbine a few times with a nod.

            "We don't even have enough ammo for that," Connor said.

            "Any other brilliant ideas?" Victoria teased Dale.

            "Why don't you come up with one?" Dale shot back playfully.

            "A diversion..." Nakahara's blunt voice stopped Vapor Team's chatter. They all turned their heads to face him, befuddled.

            "A diversion?" Connor questioned. "How so?"

            "Despite everything we just said back at the Roman Prime, you guys weren't wrong when you said I'm nothing but dead weight."

            "Naki, no," Margaret already knew where he was going with his words.

            "I can draw them all away while you guys get inside and finish the job."

            "That's suicide!" Victoria criticized his plan.

            "I know that, but if it can get the job done, and get you guys safely back to Earth, then it's worth it."

            "Naki, no!" Connor shook his head. "There's gotta be another way."

            "There's no time to find another way."

            "Naki..." Dale started.

            "You," Nakahara pointed at Dale. "Just this once, follow my orders on this."

            "But," Dale tried to argue.

            "No, Shadow," Nakahara shut him up. "I'm going to give you guys an opening to get in that fusion plant, and you're going to take advantage of it. That's an order."

            "But!" Dale still tried to change his mind.

            "That's an order!" Nakahara raised his voice. He lowered his finger and continued softly, "please, Shadow, all of you, if there was ever a time that you really need to follow my orders, this is the time. Don't deny me this." Vapor Team fell silent and exchanged glances of defeat for their sergeant. "I'm just one soldier, but you guys... You're Vapor Team. You're a force to be reckoned with, and Earth is going to need you to defend her."

            "Naki..." Margaret spoke in a sad voice.

            "You know you don't have to do this, and you're kind of crazy for it," Connor said to Nakahara. A short moment of silence befell them.

            Nakahara spoke his last words, "as soon as I'm clear, you guys move in and overload that reactor, then get the hell off this station and protect Earth." One by one, Vapor Team slowly brought their hands up to salute Nakahara.

            "Yes sir, Sergeant," Dale saluted with a crisp tone of voice. Nakahara saluted them back, then stepped away to the side. He stayed out of sight of the aliens until he was a good distance away from Vapor Team, and he knew that the aliens would be led far away from their position.

            "Damn him," Dale muttered with a grudging respect.

            "You heard him," Connor spoke of Nakahara. "Let's make sure his sacrifice doesn't go to waste." They huddled close together behind the boulder, waiting for the sound of Nakahara's diversion. They stared in to each other's visors, each of them with knowing looks of humbled respect. Finally, they heard it. Nakahara's gun fired in the distance. He burst fired it here and there, followed by a few shouts that they couldn't make out his words. As expected, the alien horde screeched and roared in to the sky. Vapor Team peeked around the boulder to see every single alien swiftly leaving the premises of the facility and dashing straight toward Nakahara's figure that was now sprinting at top speed directly away from the fusion plant. He holstered his carbine and retrieved his pistol, firing a few potshots behind him as he retreated.

            "Now," Connor gripped his marksman rifle. "Let's move." Vapor Team bolted from behind the boulder and sprinted to the fusion plant. The last of the aliens were leaving the perimeter just as they were reaching the main entrance.

            "Anyone still have one of their blades on them?" Arden asked as he placed a hand on the sliding security door.

            "I do?" Victoria pulled out the alien blade she kept from the Manifest Training Base and handed it to Arden.

            "Why not just use Corpus's credentials again?" Connor questioned.

            "You remember what he said, Smoke," Arden activated the blade and started cutting a hole in the door nearly the entire size of the door itself. "Corpus said to use his info only if there is no other way to complete the mission. Besides, why would he have access to a fusion reactor plant?"

            "True," Connor nodded.

            Arden finished cutting and took a step back to the side, "Shadow, if you would do the honors." Dale stepped to the door and took a sideways stance. He reared his leg around and smashed his foot in to the center of the door, kicking it free. The slab of the door slammed on to a metal floor on the other side. They all sighed a little when they saw a couple dozen of the alien creatures on the other side. The beasts all whipped around and stared at them for a second before shrieking and rushing their way.

            "Me first!" Arden rushed forward. He pulled out his pistol while wielding the alien blade with his other hand. The closest alien jabbed at him. Arden connected his blade under the attacker's and pushed it up against the creature, followed by a couple of wounding rounds from his pistol in to its gut. He took the alien off of its feet and pushed a little further in to the facility before cutting in to its torso entirely and shoving it forward to stagger several of the aliens behind it.

            "For John and Brian!" Dale charged in next. The rest of Vapor Team rushed in and opened fire. This time, the odds were not as overwhelming. Their bullets wounded and slowed the aliens, but not enough to take them down right away.

            "Aim for vital areas!" Connor called out. He fixed his aim on their heads. One shot, one kill, left, right, left again. Margaret did the same. Viktor and Arden retrieved their shotguns from their backs and blasted alien after alien, felling each one with a shell ripping apart their limbs and heads. Victoria and Dale picked up the blades of the falling creatures and protected the other four by blocking incoming blade strikes.

            "That's right bitches!" Arden blasted an alien coming straight for him with his shotgun. It was knocked horizontally on its back, but continued its momentum toward him, sliding along the ground until it stopped right by his foot. Arden kicked the blade out of its hand and brought his fist down, smashing the monster's face.

            Viktor blew the head off of one alien, then sidestepped another's strike before bashing the butt end of his shotgun across the head of a third alien. It was dazed and swung violently around, accidentally slicing the alien that Viktor just dodged in two. Viktor unsheathed his short blade and cut off the creature's arm holding the green blade, then thrust his own blade right through the monster's chin and out of the top of its head. Over half of the aliens had already fallen.

            "Not so tough when there's just a few of you," Victoria blocked swipe after swipe with a brilliant flash of whitish green at the connection of the alien blades. Dale stepped next to her and finished off every alien she blocked. The gray metal floor quickly became a puddle of orange blood and body parts. Two aliens remained, clambering toward them from the far end of the room. Two shotguns and two rifles barraged them, tearing them open and stopping them cold. Then, just like that, the room was silent.

            "Easy," Dale smirked.

            "Feels good to slaughter these things after all they've done," Connor said.

            "Damn right," Dale agreed. They looked around the room they were in. It was a small foyer area with a desk and a few employee time-clock terminals lining the walls. A restroom was on the far side of the foyer, and a hallway with offices doors opposite the bathrooms. A wide window pane behind the desk revealed a huge chamber with the fusion core right in the middle. Catwalks and computer monitors, status screens, forklifts, crates, barrels, and anything else one would find in an industrial power plant complex was everywhere on the other side. Two heavy sliding doors were on both sides of the desk and window.

            "Through there I guess," Victoria pointed at the doors. She squeezed an alien blade and almost started cutting through the door, when she heard the glass shatter right next to her. She looked over to see Dale shaking his hand after having struck the window. He shrugged at her. She knew a sly smile was hidden behind his visor. Vapor Team vaulted themselves through the window and spread out in the fusion chamber. A handful of scattered aliens were spaced along the catwalks and ground floor. They were easy to pinpoint and take down. The chamber was large enough to keep clear sightlines and safe spacing between the creatures.

            "Spread out and figure out how to set this thing off!" Connor shouted as he gunned down a couple aliens on the catwalks. He set his marksman rifle to double-shot mode and dispatched them both with two bullets in each of their heads.

            Arden rushed to a nearby status station with numerous computers and screens displaying information about the fusion core. To his disappointment, the computers needed a form of login credentials to gain access.

            "I think I may have found what we need already!" Arden informed them. "Keep me covered and standby!"

            "Copy that!" Connor acknowledged.

            "Will do, Fog!" Margaret answered.

            Dale snatched another alien blade nearby and wielded one in each hand. He stepped over to Arden and stood at his back, ready to protect him from any alien that got close.

            "Let's see," Arden murmured to himself. He noticed a nametag resting on a nearby table. He picked it up and typed in some of the information, hoping to get somewhere on the computer access.

            Invalid login credentials.

            Arden threw the nametag away and started typing in his own login credentials for the FKPD.

            Invalid login credentials.

            Arden rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Well," he shifted his fingers across the keys. "I guess it couldn't hurt to try." He typed in Corpus's login credentials.

            Martial override accepted. Logging in Corpus, J.F.

            "I can't believe that actually just worked."

            "You got in?" Dale asked. An alien thrashed across the floor and leaped high in to the air coming straight down at him. Dale brought one blade up to defend and readied the other to counter. Before he could engage the alien, it was shot in the head twice. The beast went limp and flipped a couple of times before slamming in to the metal floor. "Oh come on, I had him!"

            "Sorry, Shadow!" Margaret apologized playfully. Arden kept murmuring to himself as he navigated through the computer. He pulled up a maintenance screen, safety information, power intensity level window, anything he thought he could use to set the reactor critical.

            "Alright, first things first," Arden muttered. He set all reactor failsafes to an inactive status.

            "Warning. All reactor failsafes, offline," an automated male voice spoke over an intercom.

            "Well that's a good start!" Victoria remarked as she fired her entire pistol magazine in to an alien on the catwalk in front of her. It roared and continued toward her. She holstered her pistol and performed a backward handspring. The alien's blade nimbly missed her, just a few inches shy of touching her back before she landed on her feet again. The creature took one more step forward and tried another horizontal swipe. Victoria ducked and spun around, pivoting on one foot and swept the leg of the alien. It fell on its back. She rolled forward on top off the beast and pinned it down, one hand on each of its wrists. It roared and tried to latch its maw on to her head, but she kept her head far enough away. "Damn you're ugly!" Victoria raised the alien's wrists up just a couple of feet before squeezing them so tight its wrist sockets were completely disconnected and crushed. No matter how hard the monster tried to fight back now, it simply couldn't use its hands anymore. Victoria let go of its wrists and sent fist after fist in to the alien's face, mashing it in to a messy orange pulp.

            "Fusion processes set to dangerously high levels. Reactivated failsafes in ten seconds."

            "No no no," Arden spoke as if talking to the voice itself. He flipped back to the safety information screens. "There we go." He quickly clicked through a popup stating that the failsafes were about to come back on.

            "Failsafe auto-reactivation overridden."

            "Phew," Arden exhaled in relief. "Now to speed up the fusion process."

            "Fusion processes speeding up. Excess power transferring to neighboring fusion plants, and filling up onsite power reserve nodes. Core heat venting procedures holding steady. Advise reactivating reactor failsafe protocols."

            "Yeah yeah, shut up," Arden furiously navigated through the computer.

            "You need some help with that?" Dale tried to urge him along.

            "Dude, you try overloading a fusion reactor with absolutely no tutorial," Arden snapped back.

            "Just hurry it up," Dale said. He engaged another alien that rushed toward him. It slashed at his torso, but he blocked it with one blade. Dale slammed his foot on top of his attacker's, shattering its bone. The creature bent down in pain as Dale took his other blade and decapitated it.

            "Warning. All onsite reserve nodes at maximum capacity. Core venting procedures reaching critical functionality."

            "Guys!" Arden called out to them. "Help it along! Take out the venting components!"

            "Copy that!"

            "Working on it!"

            Any of them who still had a grenade located any venting components they could find on the massive reactor core towering to the ceiling in the center of the chamber. They pulled the pins on their grenades and lobbed them on top of the components. Each one detonated and caused the component to malfunction.

            "Warning. Venting components malfunctioning. Core overload imminent. Reactivate failsafes immediately to prevent core destabilization."

            "There we go!" Arden raised his hands up in a victorious stance. "Time to get the hell out of here!" The fusion core started to rumble and let loose an unhealthy droning sound. Vapor Team holstered their weapons and rushed back through the window and out of the fusion plant. They took a hard turn around the facility and sprinted straight to the edge of the station. Emergency alarms started blaring over the landscape and another station-wide loudspeaker spoke.

            "Attention. Please evacuate the station immediately. Calmly proceed to the nearest transport station or life pod. This is not a drill. Attention..."

            "Let's go, let's go!" Connor urged everyone. The escape pods were designed for one passenger each. When one pod jettisoned, another would be reloaded in its place from a store kept in the station's sublevels. They reached the pods to find only three stations with pods still left for use.

            "Alright first three, get in," Dale said bluntly.

            "You three first," Arden nodded to Margaret, Victoria and Viktor.

            "But..." Margaret only got one word out.

            "Just do it!" Dale interrupted in a demanding tone.

            "We'll see you planetside," Connor nodded at them. Margaret, Victoria and Viktor nodded back and slid in to the escape pods. The pod itself was tiny. There were no windows, but the seat was rear-facing and the hatch that closed the pod was a window itself. They pressed a flashing green button with the label 'engage' on it. A secondary lever popped up beside them. They each grabbed hold of it and pulled it all the way back. Once they did, the pod's window hatches in front of them closed both airtight and pressurized. Their pods were moved forward down a shaft just a few meters before stopping for a brief second. Three dull beeps sounded in both their pods, and a nearby speaker where the other three still stood, followed by one last higher pitched beep before the pods were jettisoned away from the station. Connor, Arden and Dale took one last look behind them at the station they had lived on for nearly half of a year. They heard a different sounding beep and a snappy clanging sound as three more pods were reloaded behind them.

            "Time to go," Arden remarked. The remaining three of them boarded the pods, hit the button, pulled the lever, and sat tight as the window hatches closed and they too were jettisoned toward Earth. They stared at the station as it started to shrink smaller and smaller. A fuzzy sound suddenly chimed in on their helmets. It wasn't long before the static was cleared up entirely.

            "Oh my god..." Margaret's voice spoke over their helmets. Her tone was full of dread and worry.

            "That doesn't look... it can't be that bad already can it?" Victoria wondered.

            "What?" Arden inquired.

            "What are you guys talking about?" Connor asked. They didn't even take time to appreciate the fact that their helmet coms were working for the moment.

            "Just wait until your pods turn around once, and you'll see it," Viktor answered.

            "See what?" Dale questioned. Before they even responded, Connor, Arden and Dale's pods swiveled around and revealed the Earth to them.

            "No way," Connor moaned in sorrow. They bore witness to an Earth in flames. The dark side of the Earth was facing them, and it was not city lights that scattered the landscape like stars speckling a globe. It was explosions, fires, and signs of conflict that scarred the continents facing them.

            "Damn them," Dale muttered. "DAMN THEM ALL!!!" A sudden vibrant celeste colored light illuminated the continents like the sun would for a brief moment.

            "Behind us," Arden proclaimed the station just blew up. Their pods slowly swiveled back around to show the portion of the station they were on had been blown to bits. Then each neighboring fusion core destructed itself one by one with a blinding celeste flash, causing the rest of the station to destabilize and ultimately crumble apart. Its flaming debris came barreling their way and silently started zooming past their pods.

            "Brace yourselves for possible impact!" Connor called out. Sure enough, each of their pods started to get pelted by chunks of debris. Their course for Earth became slightly askew and they knew they would likely not all be landing near each other.

            "Oh shit!" Victoria exclaimed. "I'm hit! I'm hit har..." Her com cut out short.

            "Haze!" Dale tried to raze her. "Haze! Talk to me!"

            "Haze!" Margaret cried out for her sister. "Haze, respond please!"

            Debris continued to crash in to their pods. It was a nightmare that felt like it would never end. They began to enter the atmosphere.

            "Haze!!!" Dale called out.

            "I see her pod!" Arden said. He spotted her pod barreling out of control. It appeared to be heavily damaged, and looked like it was venting its atmosphere. "Damn, it doesn't look good."

            "What!?" Margaret started to cry. "Victoria!!! Please talk to me!!!"

            Connor closed his eyes in silent anguish. Viktor didn't have any more words to spare in the likely loss of yet another soldier of Vapor Team. Their pods finally passed in to Earth's atmosphere and continued to plummet perilously to the surface.

            "God help us all," Arden muttered.

The End

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