Chapter 9, Graduation DayMature

Chapter Nine

Graduation Day

November 8th 2140, Top secret training facility on the Roman I space station

8:30 P.M.

            "Congratulations once again, rookies," Connor addressed the rookies. Vapor Team and the rookies were standing facing each other, on the landing in front of the blast door of the main facility. "And should I say, congratulations newest members of Vapor Team."

            "You guys did it," Dale remarked.

            "You persevered through the torture that is Integrative Boosted Stimulation Training," Arden added.

            "And now you are a part of Vapor Team," John began. "This means that we are no longer split by mentor and apprentice-like boundaries. We are now one unit. We've taught you everything we can. Now experience is the only thing you need, but that will come with time. Almost five months ago we met. Let's go ahead and meet again."

            John looked around them to make sure no one was nearby and could hear them.

            "Greetings," John restarted the initial meeting. "You call me Mist, but my real name is John Baynard Lawton," he said with a smile.

            "You call me Shadow," Dale spoke. "But my real name is Dale Avery Lawton."

            "You call me Fog," Arden said. "But my real name is Arden Julius Garcia."

            "You call me Smoke," Connor finished. "But my real name is Connor Michigan Sam."

            All of the rookies' eyebrows were raised in shock of hearing them tell them their real names. They felt it was only necessary for them to recite their names back, even though they knew Vapor Team already knew them.

            "Well then nice to meet you guys," Brian reached out his hand to John for a friendly handshake. John took it firmly and shook it, and nodded his head. "You can call me Cloud, but my real name is Brian Pewdimont Chaston."

            "Yeah you guys call me Haze, but my real name is Victoria Mary Stownin," Victoria said.

            "Nice to meet you on equal ground Fog," Viktor nodded at Arden. "My call sign is Steam, but my real name is Viktor Gregory Andrews."

            "And I'm Dust, but my real name is Margaret Erika Stownin," Margaret finished.

            They all exchanged friendly handshakes, fist bumps, and rough pats on the back. The rookies were definitely a part of Vapor Team, all of eight of them.

            "Alright, let's finally get some downtime!" Dale exclaimed. "We've been working and training nearly nonstop for over four months, it's time to relax."

*

            Vapor Team was sitting at a poker table in the recreation building in the main facility. It was now 3:00 A.M. in the morning, and the station was hidden in Earth's shadow. A small AM radio on the side of the table was softly presenting the world news.

            "Since the Hubble telescope was launched in 1990, and the James Webb telescope was launched in 2018, Ginger-Von telescope in 2040, Sam Gnochs telescope in 2074, and Longday telescope in 2105, the Howard Kissinger telescope has proven to be the greatest and most advanced long range space telescope yet."

            "The Howard Kissinger telescope was launched on July 22nd, 2140, exactly one month after the activation of the famous Roman I space station. Since then, the images and readings picked up by the Kissinger telescope have been phenomenal, and a spectacle for space frontier investors everywhere."

            "However, what's most alarming are some readings that were picked up right here in our own solar system! We have the lead manager of the Kissinger project with us this afternoon, Lionel Carrington. Lionel, tell us about what the Kissinger telescope has discovered here in our own solar system."

            "It's actually quite alarming Chuck, and we haven't been able to identify anything yet, but the Kissinger telescope has picked up physical anomalies at the edge of our solar system just five nights ago. The size of these anomalies range from five hundred yards in length, to an astonishing three thousand yards in length. Now we don't know if we are seeing overlapping of anomalies meaning they may not actually be that large in size, but we're looking at something large nonetheless."

            "Do you think these anomalies are anything we should worry about? Could they be a large group of asteroids about to stampede through our solar system?"

            "Well, if they are a large group of asteroids, previous telescopes and observatories would have already identified them. These anomalies seem to have popped up overnight, so what we believe is there is a short range bug in the telescope and we may have to recall it back to Earth for maintenance."

            "Well that's not a very good circumstance there Mr. Carrington. Are there any other theories on what these anomalies may be just in case we aren't looking at a software bug?"

            "Umm, we haven't given much thought to it to be honest because whatever it would be would have already been seen through prior scans of our solar system. We are almost certain it is a software bug in the Kissinger telescope."

            "Well there you have it. Mr. Carrington, thank you so much for your time and we'll be anticipating the re-launch of the Kissinger telescope shortly I'm sure."

            "Seriously?" Dale questioned the radio. "We figure out how to build a massive space station ring, have the ability to sustain its perfectly Earth-like habitat for years on end, but we can't build a fucking telescope?"

            The rest of them laughed at his comment.

            "It doesn't make much sense," Connor agreed.

            "I bet Howard Kissinger is very displeased," Brian remarked.

            "No joke," Victoria agreed.

            "Alright, my hand is shit," Arden admitted. He laid down his five cards with not even a single card pair. The rest of them laid down their hands. Viktor ended up winning with a four of a kind.

            "Aww, come on!" everyone but Viktor blurted out.

            "Looks like the winnings are all mine," Viktor said with a smile.

            "Yes, enjoy your bullets," Connor sneered. They were betting bullets as a humorous currency.

            "Him and his perfect poker face," Arden scoffed with a wave of his hand.

            "Yeah, it's not fair," Margaret said. "None of us are as boring and straight-faced as you."

            "Laugh it up, Dust," Viktor remarked.

            "I dunno," Connor began. "Shadow can be pretty straight-faced."

            "Did you just say I'm boring?" Dale questioned Connor with piercing eyes.

            "Well if you ain't boring then ante up!" Connor told Dale.

            "Alright fine, ante up guys," Dale tossed a few bullets in to the middle of the table.

            "Ha, is that an order Shadow?" Brian joked.

            "Shit, that's a standing order," Dale joked back.

            "Belay that order gentlemen," a voice came from the doorway to the room. Vapor Team and the rookies turned to see Sergeant Nakahara enter with a prominent and serious pose.

            "Hey! Naki, join us man," Connor suggested.

            Nakahara ignored Connor's plea for him to play. "We have a situation," Nakahara said in a serious tone.

            "Yeah we heard, the mess hall is all out of steaks," Arden rolled his eyes with his comment.

            "What kind of drill do we have to run this time?" Brian wondered.

            "This is not a drill," Nakahara told them, narrowing his eyes. A few seconds of silence befell them. Vapor Team and the rookies laid their cards down and slowly stood to their feet.

            "You're not kidding are you?" Victoria asked.

            "No, Haze, I'm not," Nakahara answered. Another moment of silence fell upon them.

            "Give us the sitrep," John demanded in a serious tone.

            "It may be nothing," Nakahara began.

            "Well then why the fuck are you talking to us if it's not serious? Do you remember who we are?" Dale questioned as he plopped back in his seat, not interested in what Nakahara had to say anymore.

            "Because if this situation is serious, I want to send the most universally qualified group of soldiers to investigate it, and from what I see you have no orders to follow right now, so stop whining and pay attention," Nakahara shot back at Dale. Dale sighed and stood back up. He didn't feel like arguing at the moment.

            "Now listen closely," Nakahara started. "Approximately eighty kilometers downspin of this station, an entire residential quadrant went completely dark. We've lost all communication. We contacted neighboring quadrants and they have no idea what is going on. They've sent a small squad of FKPD soldiers to investigate, along with a crew of technicians to get things back online. Like I said, it's probably nothing, but I want you guys to check it out anyways."

            "When did this quadrant go dark?" John asked.

            "Only twenty minutes ago," Nakahara answered. Dale sat back down again.

            "Sounds like you guys have your first assignment," Dale addressed the rookies.

            "Yeah, a perfect first mission for you four," John agreed.

            "We'll stay here and hold down the fort," Connor proclaimed as if it was an important task. Connor, Arden and John sat down in their seats, same as Dale.

            "Will do," Viktor nodded.

            "Hey, we were gonna show you later when we went to bed, your custom ordered armor suits are ready. We had them delivered to our room in armor suit crates. You should find them by your beds," John informed the rookies with a smile. "Go ahead and have fun breaking those babies in." The rookies beamed with excitement to try on their own custom armor suits.

            "Very well, depart immediately you four. I want you in that quadrant ASAP," Nakahara said.

*

            The rookies entered their bedding room and instantly spotted the armor crates beside their beds. They quickly opened them.

            Inside Brian's crate was an armor suit colored a deep seaweed green with black stripes. His helmet was very similar to the standard issue armor suit helmets, but had only a slightly larger visor. His shoulder armor was thinner for ease of movement. He had extra ammo pouches on the abdomen area of his armor, and his knife sheathe was on the top of his left shoulder where standard armor suits' knife sheathes were. There was also a well sized flame resistant cloth case on the side of his upper leg, and the forearms featured muscle endurance bracers just like John's armor had.

            Inside Victoria's crate was an armor suit colored a bright shade of black with golden stripes. Her armor was thicker and heavier just like Dale's. The helmet was sleek and portrayed a wind blasted style, with the focal point being the center of the visor and widening behind her head slightly. The visor itself was barely thinner than normal, but stretched further around the sides of the helmet and had two very thin sections of visor on both sides that looked almost like single thick eyelashes. The shoulder pieces stretched a little further around than usual for more protection. Her chest piece was smooth and had a gentle curve to it. She also had her knife sheathe on the top of her left shoulder.

            Inside Viktor's crate was an armor suit colored a rich royal blue with silver stripes. His helmet was sleek as well, but significantly smaller and lighter than other helmets. Every other section of his armor was rigid and shaped oddly, but yet still appeared aesthetically pleasing. His knife sheathe was on his right shoulder, opposite the standard. He also had a blade nearly the size of a machete in a sheathe placed horizontally across his lower back.

            Inside Margaret's crate was an armor suit colored a dark, yet still vibrant purple with orange stripes. The helmet was shaped nearly the same as the standard version, but had a visor that looked like a pair of large sunglasses. The chest armor had clear cut angles that look almost sharp to the touch. Her shoulder pieces were no different, and the armor's forearm gauntlets were thinner and lighter for easier aiming. The rest of her armor was thinner and lighter as well, ensuring speed and ease of movement when sprinting and climbing.

            Vapor Team suited up in their armor suits and took a minute to revel in the way they looked. They ran their suit diagnostics and everything checked out.

            "Let's get to the armory and grab some weapons," Viktor said. They went to the armory and each grabbed weapons, ammo, and one grenade each.

            Viktor grabbed an assault carbine and shotgun. Brian grabbed a sniper rifle and pistol. Victoria grabbed only a light machine gun, and Margaret grabbed an assault rifle and pistol. They headed up the watchtower stairwell.

            "Good luck sirs," a soldier in the watchtower said when they got there.

            "It's just a simple communications failure, how bad can it be?" Margaret remarked. The rookies exited the watchtower on to the near pitch black plateau. They made their way to a helipad and boarded a transport chopper that had a searchlight on the bottom that the pilot could control, and two manual searchlights on the open sides of the chopper that two people in the back could man. Viktor entered the pilot's seat and the rest got comfortable in the back.

            "So we're looking at what is most likely a simple communications failure, but remember what the rest of our team said, to always expect the worst," Viktor addressed Margaret, Victoria, and Brian in the back. "Keep your eyes open, anything might've happened, and we can barely see when it's nighttime out here."

            Brian and Victoria manned the searchlights on the sides of the chopper. Viktor lifted them in to the air and flew down the spin of the ring. Everyone but Margaret scanned their searchlights over the landscape.

            They looked out of the side of the chopper in awe to see Earth once again. The dark side of Earth was dotted with several twinkling city lights.

            "Wow, it's beautiful," Margaret proclaimed. Minutes passed and they were halfway there, none of them had said a word. Minutes more passed and they were coming up on the distressed quadrant.

            They had passed over several different populated quadrants until they reached the perimeter of a wooded area just next to their destination. Viktor flew low to the treetops until he noticed a flickering orange glow against the trees at the edge of the tree line. He raised their altitude and spotted the residential quadrant behind the trees.

            "Turn those searchlights off!" Viktor instantly ordered. He, Brian and Victoria switched off the searchlights on the chopper. They all spotted the apartments and houses behind the tree line, but their composures changed entirely at the sight they saw.

            Numerous fires engulfed the buildings, burned in the streets, and spat out of windows, illuminating most of the entire quadrant. Cars and electrical wire poles were busted or destroyed. Strangely, nobody was seen in the streets. Power to the quadrant was lost too, for no lights were on.

            "I'm putting us down in that parking lot in front of the apartment building," Viktor stated.

            "What the hell happened?" Brian wondered.

            "Some communications failure," Margaret said sarcastically.

            "What could have possibly done this?" Victoria questioned. Viktor set the chopper down in the darkest part of the parking lot, furthest away from any of the raging fires. He cut the engine and the chopper blades slowly ceased their spinning.

            "My money is on terrorists," Viktor said as exited the cockpit.

            "Or a poor group of radicals who can't afford to be up here and got way too jealous," Margaret suggested.

            "That's still terrorists sis," Victoria glared at her.

            "Well let's find out," Brian said as he took two steps out of the chopper. He accidentally kicked something at his feet and heard it chatter as it bounced across the pavement in front of him.

            "What was that?" Margaret asked.

            "Hang on," Brian answered. "Computer, command. Torch light, on." The AI's acknowledgment beep sounded, and two high powered lights beamed out of both sides of his helmet near the chin. Brian looked down to find a human femur bone a few feet in front of him.

            "What the hell?" Victoria muttered. The rest of them turned on their helmet flashlight beams as well. They looked all around the parking lot to find human bones of all kinds strewn all over the pavement. Blood covered nearly half of the parking lot, but oddly enough, very little actual body parts other than bones and blood were seen.

            "Good God," Brian whispered. "Is this a nightmare?"

The End

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