Scattered and Beaten
November 10th 2140, Earth
"Fuck my life," Dale groaned. He leaned back and closed his eyes in annoyed disbelief.
"That's riiiiight," the voice spoke flippantly.
"Alright Mr. drama queen, up up up."
"Bet you won't."
"I bet I will."
"I bet you won..." before Dale could finish, a powerful punch was sent right in to his abdomen that made him lunge up to a sitting position.
"Looks like that worked."
"Damn you punch hard for a cheerleader," Dale rubbed his stomach and looked up to confirm who it was. Major Nellon stood at the entrance to his pod with her arms crossed and her weight on one foot. "What are you doing here anyways?"
Nellon sighed, turned around and started to walk away.
"Hey, wait!" Dale clambered out of his pod.
"Next time I'll weld the door shut," Nellon called behind her.
"Yeah, yeah, thanks, whatever," Dale spat out a thank you. "But seriously, are you alone out here?" Dale looked all around to find out exactly where 'here' was. They were at the edge of a forest that his pod was facing. Behind his pod was just as Connor and Margaret had emerged to see, a wide open prairie of red dirt and dying grass with a small mountain range in the distance. Dale started to walk straight in to the woods and follow Nellon.
"Not exactly," Nellon answered while rolling her eyes at Dale's pitiful graces. "I was given orders four hours ago to search and secure human survivors from the Roman I wreckage. The rest of my company is scattered all throughout these woods, doing the same."
"Good luck," Dale muttered.
"We found you didn't we?" Nellon stepped over a log. "What do you mean, good luck?"
"After just the first few hours of the invasion, everywhere we searched on the Roman I was nothing but death and destruction."
Nellon sighed. "You'd think they could have just stopped there, but they had to blow up the station too."
"Heh, well, actually," Dale stuttered a little.
"You blew it up," Nellon looked over her shoulder, already knowing what Dale was hinting at.
She paused for a couple of seconds. "Was it really that bad up there?"
"It was as bad as it could possibly get," Dale answered, stopping right behind Nellon after catching up with her. "That's why we blew it up. It was already lost completely, and destroying it would mean an instant massive number of dead aliens."
"Trillions upon trillions of tax money and investment dollars wasted," Nellon shook her head and started to walk again.
"Spare me the judgment, I believe it was a good idea to help take out a shit ton of them at once."
"Let's hope it was worth it," Nellon crouched under an overhanging tree and neighboring rock crevice. Dale followed her through. "So where's the rest of you guys? Where's your brother?"
Dale stopped in his tracks and clenched his fists, "my brother is dead."
Nellon froze completely. Her eyes widened and her hands quivered slightly. She slowly turned all the way around to face Dale. His stance was solid and resilient-looking. She knew hatred was boiling inside of him. "No," Nellon shook her head. She couldn't believe it. It seemed unfathomable that a soldier of Vapor Team could die.
"Believe it," Dale's voice turned harsh all of a sudden. "Same with Cloud."
Nellon had no words.
"And now I don't even know if Haze is alright either!" Dale began pacing back and forth. "Her pod was hit hard by the debris shower. Hell if I know, I could be the last member of Vapor Team left!" He slammed his fist across a nearby tree, splintering the bark and sending wood chips sailing through the air. He started to throw another punch, but Nellon grasped his arm with both of her hands and tried to hold it steady with all of her might. Dale barely slowed down, but her clutch was enough to surprise him and make him stop. Nellon nearly fell down after being pulled across the ground a little from holding his arm. Dale turned his head and glared at her from behind his visor.
Nellon was shaking, looking back in to his visor with a scared and worried expression hidden behind her own. "I'm... sorry, Shadow," Nellon expressed all of the empathy that she had in her. She felt truly sorry for him.
"I don't need your sorries," Dale shoved her away with the arm she was still holding on to. "I need some aliens to shoot."
Nellon wasn't sure what to do or say. She looked at Dale only with a sidelong glance, as if directly looking at him would set off an aggressive reaction.
"They invaded our solar system. They've destroyed our land. They've killed us. They've feasted on us. They are on Earth right now, ravaging us as we are completely unprepared, and we can't do anything to get a grip when they have devices that jam all communication signals!"
"Wait, so that's why our helmet coms don't work?" Nellon questioned carefully.
Dale sighed and replied, "yep. They probably have jamming towers set up all over the continents already."
"We need to get back to the nearest FKPD base so you can tell us everything you know about these things."
Dale paced the ground a little slower before agreeing, "yeah."
"Follow me, Shadow," Nellon cleared her throat. "The rally point is this way." She started off in the direction she was headed before. Dale followed quietly. The woods around them were gorgeous, and for the first time in months, Dale heard hundreds of birds chirping and insects buzzing. The sounds of nature dulled his rage significantly.
"This is," Dale broke the silence. "Colorado?"
"That's right," Nellon answered. "We're center-state right now, just east of the rockies. Our rally point of return is Echo Base."
"The largest FKPD base in Colorado?"
"Just a few thousand kilometers southwest of Denver, yes."
"Good, we can get a formidable counteroffensive going from there."
"That's the plan," Nellon hopped over a rock, then slid down a smooth rocky slope. "But with such a large amount of Roman I debris landing in the western portions of North America, General Clay wanted to conduct a quick search and rescue before charging in to the enemy masses blind."
"That's," Dale almost started to chastise Clay's plan, but thought it over a little more. "I guess that's what has to be done. However, every second you spend out here on your little scavenger hunt, is a second spent not defending an area that's been overrun by the creatures."
"Believe me, he knows that," Nellon started to jog. "But the last transmission we received from the Roman I was from your training base, and it didn't exactly provide a lot of intel on what we had coming to us."
"Got it," Dale picked up his pace to follow Nellon.
"From what little communication capabilities we have, mainly landlines and emissaries, we can tell that the United States region is largely untouched, but there have been sightings of the supposed alien contacts making their way south in to the U.S. from Canada."
"Well," Dale started. "Everyone still needs to stay on constant guard."
"I know, Shadow." They weaved all throughout the forest, traversing cliffs, logs, boulders, streams and hills. At last the woods began to thin out. They stepped to the crest of one last hill before their eyes witnessed a gathering of thousands upon thousands of FKPD soldiers all waiting for orders just on the other side. The soldiers were conversing, gearing up, and stuck in a general commotion. Behind the mass of troops was Echo Base.
"Whoa," Dale muttered.
"You're looking at one of the largest regiments on the western side of the continent. Clay managed to gather troops from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada and Idaho. The states directly to our east are rumored to have been attacked by a small group of enemy contacts, so our forces have likely already engaged. Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma are probably in moderate distress. Hidden behind Dale's visor, his eyes glossed over with dread.
Mom, Dad, Dale thought of his parents in Oklahoma. I hope you're okay. I hope Connor's family and Arden's mom is safe too.
"Tell me," Nellon interrupted his thoughts. Dale blinked and snapped out of his worry. "Just how comfortable are you with commanding an army?"
"What?" Dale questioned her with a blunt and confused tone.
"It may sound strange, and it definitely goes against chain of command," Nellon's words sounded like a disapproving murmur for a second. "But believe it or not, Clay has ordered me that if the search group came across any soldier of Vapor Team, that I am to relinquish command of the regiment to one of them."
"... What?" Dale repeated himself.
"That's right," Nellon turned her head to look at him. "Despite your rank as a Specialist and my rank as a Major, now that I've found you I have to do this. The General informed everyone you see down there that such an action would be taken too."
Dale was at a loss for words. His mouth hung agape in shock that he was now the one issuing orders to an army of several thousand-strong. A single soldier spotted Nellon and Dale on the hill and pointed their way. Another soldier looked at what the first was pointing at, then another. Soon, the entire army halted their activities and talking and turned to look directly at them. The air fell quiet enough for Dale to hear an insect buzz by his ear again. Slowly, the first soldier who saw Dale brought his hand up to the tip of his helmet's brow and saluted him. A ripple effect started as every single other soldier followed suit. The motion didn't stop until it reached the edge of the army in front of him.
Dale was frozen with surprise and humility. He noticed a snappy movement just beside him and turned his head to see Nellon at attention with her hand saluting him too.
"I wish I could see the look on your face," Nellon smiled.
"This is insane," Dale mumbled. "Why me?"
"Because you know what the enemy is capable of, I don't," Nellon replied. "Look, instead of bumbling like a dumbfounded idiot, look at it this way. You always made fun of my plans and strategies during the Great Civil War. Well, now's your chance to try and do something better."
"So... Sir," Nellon finished her salute before placing both hand on her hips and shifting her weight on to one foot. She cocked her head slightly and continued, "what are your orders?"
"Come on slowpoke!" Margaret leaped several feet on to a rocky ledge above them. They were traversing the mountain ridge between them and Victoria's suit beacon. Connor leaped on to the same ledge, only to find Margaret already on a higher ledge further ahead. He rolled his eyes and sprinted after her.
"Your sister's a big girl," Connor said. "I'm sure she's fine!"
Margaret vaulted over a few short crags, then leaped clean across a twenty foot wide chasm and continued sprinting up the mountain slopes. Connor was barely keeping pace with her.
"Well I'm glad to see you guys have definitely surpassed the physical aspects of a super soldier!" Connor remarked.
"Should I slow down and stop making you look bad!?" Margaret called behind her.
"You talkin' smack!?" Connor questioned jokingly.
"Show me up then, Smoke!" Margaret clambered on to a wide ledge that led around the side of one of the mountain's peaks. Connor jumped on to the ledge behind her and sprinted as fast as he could. He gained on her quickly and started to overtake her.
"Grow some legs girl!" Connor passed her.
"No fair, you're too tall!" Margaret complained. Connor chuckled as they both skidded to a stop on the other side of the peak. A nearly identical prairie was on the other side of the mountain ridge, but they saw several neighborhood suburbs and commercial districts surrounding the prairie in the distance. A few rolling hills sectioned off the prairie from civilization, and right in the middle of the landscape was Victoria's pod. To their disgust, a few aliens were meandering around in the prairie.
"There's her pod," Connor pointed.
"It looks pretty bad," Margaret said sullenly.
Connor glanced at her and took a few steps back. "Come on," Connor motioned her to do the same. "Race you. Let's secure that pod before those freaks get to it first." Margaret nodded and reared back with Connor. They simultaneously leaped over the edge of the ridge and descended close to one hundred feet before landing on the face of a steep precipice and sliding halfway down the mountain. A narrow ledge interrupted their path. They launched themselves outward against the back of the precipice and perfectly cleared the ledge. Both of them continued sliding down the next cliff face until it started to get too rocky near the bottom. They dug their knives in to the cliff at their backs and arched the fingers of their other free hand like claws in to the wall as well. Their decent slowed enough to launch themselves forward a second time and clear the perilous-looking jagged rocks below them.
The dirt they somersaulted on after landing splashed up around them. Gentle declines were all that remained between them and the prairie. They dashed down them at top speed and sprinted out in to the open field. They made it halfway to the pod before a handful of aliens spotted them and charged directly toward them.
"On our left," Connor retrieved his marksman rifle from his back. Margaret retrieved her rifle too. They slowed to a casual walking speed and set their sights on the creatures coming their way.
"Get off of our planet," Margaret remarked before she opened fire. Connor fired immediately after she started. The aliens were still tens of yards away. The beasts activated their blades but couldn't close the gap between them before getting struck in the head or heart. Every one of them fell dead before they could even make it fifty yards away.
"Easy," Connor snickered. "Let's go, just a little farther." Margaret followed closely as they came upon the pod. Their hearts sank when they saw just how damaged it really was. They could tell that not only was it beaten by debris from the space station, but the entire pod itself was shaved and cut to pieces like a diced cantaloupe. "Oh no," Connor moaned with fear.
"Haze!" Margaret sprinted to the pod and placed a hand on its jagged side and pulled herself up. She placed her foot on a different piece, but slipped on something wet and ended up falling back on to the dirt. Her fall felt unexpectedly soft. She sat up and realized the ground around the pod was fairly moist. It wasn't water or some kind of liquid that may have leaked from the pod itself. It was blood, red blood.
Margaret trembled and crawled around the side of the pod, too paralyzed with terror to do try and get back on her feet. She saw a crack in the side of the pod and peered inside. Through the crack, she saw Victoria's golden visor looking directly at her.
"V-Victoria?" Margaret shakily pleaded for her sister's reply. She crawled closer to the crack and set her visor right against it. Her eyes filled with tears and her heart felt like it stopped. Victoria's armor, with Victoria inside of it, was mangled and sliced to pieces, nestled in a bath of blood that was dripping out several ruptures in the exterior of the pod. Margaret slinked back and turned her head away from the unspeakably horrific sight she just witnessed. With quivering hands, she took off her helmet and dropped on the ground next to her. She stared to the side with wide, red eyes. Tears flowed down her cheeks and she scrunched up her face in sorrow.
Connor didn't need to see for himself. After seeing Margaret breakdown and weep, he knew Victoria was dead inside the pod. He stepped over to Margaret, dragging his heels on the dirt beneath his boots. Margaret was sitting with her knees to her chest. She had one arm wrapped around them, and the other placed on the dirt beside her. Connor dropped to his knees next to her and took off his helmet next. He laid it down on the dirt and placed a hand on Margaret's shoulder. She barely even noticed as she continued to cry and sob. Connor's eyes teared up as well.
"This can't be," he moaned. Margaret lost all of her composure after he spoke. She broke down entirely and started to bawl. She sniffled and buried her face in her hands. Her gloves wet with her tears. Her cries turned in to wails. Connor did his best to stay composed, but tears continued to fill his eyes.
A shock of surprise jolted through him when a single alien creature jumped on top of Victoria's pod and screeched at them both. It activated its blade and almost jumped down to attack them, but was blasted in the back by a shotgun blast before it could. Connor's eyes widened. A bittersweet relief coursed through him to see Viktor dash around the side of the pod and aim his shotgun at the creature he just shot. It was dead already. He immediately noticed Connor and Margaret and straightened up his posture in surprise.
"Smoke, Steam," he greeted them, but frowned at noticing their laments. "What is it?"
Connor merely pointed at the pod to answer his question. Viktor looked at the beaten down pod and knew immediately what was wrong. He hung his head in woe. Connor stood to his feet and stepped off to the side, looking up at the sky. Viktor took his place on the ground and wrapped an arm around Margaret. She looked up in to his visor before suddenly burying her face in to his chest. Viktor embraced her with a comforting hold.
"I'm sorry, Steam," he murmured to her. "I'm so sorry." Viktor ran his fingers through her hair. She moaned and sobbed all over his chest.
"Why?" she sputtered. "W-why did this have to happen?"
"I don't know," Viktor said apologetically. "I wish I had the answers."
"She's gone," Margaret whimpered. "She's really gone now."
"I'm so sorry," Viktor repeated and held her closer.
Connor's shared sorrow switched to a pissed off rage. He clenched his fists and started to pace back and forth. He kicked a small rock at his feet a couple of hundred feet away. Margaret continued to weep.
Viktor looked to Connor and asked, "what should we do next?"
Connor turned to face him and replied, "reunite with FKPD forces and go from there."
"I might have a different plan of action to take before we do that," Viktor offered.
"Like?" Connor questioned.
"I landed in the middle of the suburbs just behind those hills," Viktor pointed to the smooth hills that sectioned off the prairie from the neighborhoods. "Farther behind those houses I spotted a tower structure that matches the description Mist and Shadow told us was the alien jamming beacon."
"Really?" Connor confirmed.
"It would be easier to regroup with the coms clear," Viktor proclaimed. Connor rubbed his chin in thought.
"We don't have any heavy weapons ordnance to destroy it," he shook his head.
Viktor reached behind him and pulled out an alien blade hilt. He showed it to Connor and cocked his head with a suggestive look. "I'm sure we can figure something out," Viktor said.
Connor stared at the blade. He glanced at Victoria's pod again and frowned. Viktor put the blade away and picked up Connor's helmet, tossing it to him. Connor caught it and put it on. He stepped over to Margaret's helmet and picked it up.
"Dust," Connor knelt down next to Margaret. "I know it hurts. I know it's not right. It's unfair." Margaret pulled her head off of Viktor's chest and peeked at Connor through her hair out of the corner of her eye. "You remember what you said at the Manifest Training Base when Mist was killed. You have to let your grief come later. What would Haze want you to do?"
Margaret looked down. Her breathing was shaky and full of sobbing hiccups. Connor handed her helmet to Viktor. Viktor placed a finger under her chin and raised her head up. He delicately wiped away her tears before putting her helmet on for her.
"I know..." Margaret choked. "I can't be like this. Not now. I-I'll be strong. I'll be strong for her." Margaret stood up a little wobbly before inhaling a strong breath and clenching her fists. Connor and Viktor rose to their feet too.
Connor placed a reassuring hand on Margaret's shoulder and spoke empathetically, "I'm sorry this happened. We still have each other, and we're going to make sure these monsters pay with their blood for all of the pain they've caused already. Let's make your sister proud."
"They're going to wish they hadn't messed with Vapor Team," Viktor nodded and readied his shotgun. Margaret shakily took her rifle off of her back. Connor gripped his marksman rifle too.
"Steam," Connor addressed Viktor. "Take us to that jamming tower."
Arden exited the FKPD base out of the front gate with all of the local FKPD soldiers in tow. Arden carried his shotgun and pistol. The rest each carried a sniper rifle, assault carbine, and pistol for maximum battlefield adaptability in case they ended up getting engaged somehow. The streets were even livelier than before he had resupplied at the base. All of the civilians were being urgently ushered in to the subway tunnels by police. Arden noticed the ex-soldiers of Lima Sierra squadron helping them here and there. He and the other forty-two soldiers at his back proceeded straight down the center of the main street. Everyone noticed them and made a path for them to keep moving. They were the center of hundreds of stares. The police marshal stepped up to Arden and walked with him for a moment.
"I have an officer on every rooftop, ready to assist you however they can," the marshal informed him. "That spaceship out there is getting closer and closer. Can we count on you to hold out until the reinforcements arrive?"
Before Arden could reply, the captain of the old Lima Sierra squadron stepped up to them and answered, "This city is safer with this soldier defending it than a garrison of five hundred troops."
The marshal raised an eyebrow and looked at Arden. Arden shrugged and said, "I don't mean to brag, but he's not wrong." The marshal flashed a skeptical smirk.
"Well let's see you get it done then," he remarked as he walked off. The captain nodded at Arden and followed him. Arden and the other soldiers proceeded all the way to the end of the road at the edge of the city. They looked in to the sky at the approaching alien vessel. It started to descend until it turned slightly and landed on the far outskirts of the land outside of the city.
Arden activated his zoom optics and saw numerous doors of all different sizes unlatch and open across every face of its hull. Ramps extended outward and sent the dirt flying to the sides of where they made contact with the ground. Arden's face scrunched up slightly when a massive amount of alien creatures, both male and female, started to pile out of the ship by the hundreds.
"Post up on the rooftops around me," Arden ordered the soldiers at his back.
"On it," one of them responded. All of the soldiers used their jetpacks to fly to the rooftops beside them. Arden looked behind him to see the citizens were over halfway done taking refuge in the subway tunnels. He looked forward again, pulling his shotgun off of his back and pumping it once.
"Come and get it."