November 9th 2140, Top secret training facility on the Roman I space station
There was no proper funeral. There were no speeches. There were no tears. There was no time. A cruel and bloody war loomed around Earth, and there was just no time for honoring the dead, even a super soldier.
To say that this fact angered Vapor Team and the rookies would be an understatement. In reality, fury and hatred burned in their souls. Death turned its tragic gaze upon one of their own. Now, seven of them remained.
John had screamed at the top of his lungs when he saw his former trainee's lifeless body lying in a pool of his own blood. He was the one most infuriated by Brian's death. In his heart, he claimed full responsibility. He believed it was his training that failed Brian, his ignorance to let him go downstairs to his doom.
"He did it to save you," Dale remarked.
"I heard you the first time!" John blew up at his brother. "And I don't care! He should have kept the stairwell open, I would have been fine! How stupid could he be!?"
"Damn it, Mist, we're not invincible!" Arden shouted. "Show a little respect! He gave his life so that you could live! It was his choice! Honor it!"
"Well what about you two!?" John questioned Dale and Victoria. "And you, sir!?" He pointed at Nakahara, using the term 'sir' in a derogatory way. "Why couldn't any of you save him!?"
Connor grabbed John's armor collar and shoved him against the wall of the main facility's chamber.
"That's enough!!!" Connor yelled at him. John shoved him away.
"Don't you dare do that again," John glared at Connor.
"You know full well that nothing could have stopped this from happening," Connor spoke directly to John. "It's not your fault, it's not their fault, it's not anyone's fault but his own. He did what we were trained to do! You may believe that your training failed him, when in reality it succeeded more than you could have ever hoped. We were trained years ago to kill our enemies to lessen the casualty rate among the Freedom Knight forces and ensure our victory in the Great Civil War. That training remained the same just a few months ago. We trained them to fight with superior lethality and the skill to decimate any opponents who may arise, not to ensure the safety of ourselves, but to ensure the safety of those we swear to protect! Our brothers in arms, our civilians, our families. He succeeded in his goal to serve and protect. He protected you. Now take that gift so that we can all, as a team, continue to serve and protect those who we care about most. Death will come to all of us, but we will not die before we save the lives of those we have sworn to defend."
John shook his head and stormed off toward one of the mess halls. Victoria outstretched her arm and almost followed him, but Dale grabbed her armor collar and stopped her. She turned around to see him shaking his head at her.
"He'll come around," Dale assured her. "We always argued when we were kids, but we always found ourselves laughing together the next day."
Connor smiled at the memories.
"Damn, that feels like ages ago," Arden chuckled.
"He's a smart guy, just give him an hour," Connor said.
"What are we supposed to do in the meantime?" Margaret wondered. Nakahara stepped forward to address them all.
"We evacuate," he said in a low voice.
"Naki, evacuate?" Dale questioned him. "We don't have enough transports to leave. Plus, where would we go?"
"Back to Earth," Nakahara continued. "We cram as many of us as we can in the dropships that we have available. I hope we can get all of us out of here in two trips."
"That will take a long time to load up, fly all the way to Earth, unload, then come back," Viktor criticized Nakahara's plan.
"Approximately six hours, yes, but if we stay here much longer, we'll all end up dead," Nakahara said. "We just lost half of our base defense forces, not to mention our emissary teams have probably been fruitless in their efforts."
"You don't know that," Connor tried to be optimistic.
Nakahara stood quiet for a moment. He finally spoke, "Spread the word. Tell everybody to gather in this chamber in one hour, and to prepare to leave immediately."
"Yes sir, Sergeant," Arden nodded. Nakahara briskly walked off.
"I can't believe we're giving up the Roman I," Dale shook his head.
"Yeah, but what do you think we should do?" Victoria wondered.
Dale sighed and shrugged, "I dunno."
"Hey, we're going to rally our base's personnel," Margaret spoke for her and Viktor.
"I'll go with you," Connor added. All three of them left the chamber to rally their still scattered defense forces.
A miniscule amount of gunshots still rang through the air in the early afternoon. The ferocity of the battle had died down significantly, but there were still a handful of aliens spread out around the area. Vapor Team had taken Brian in their arms and placed him on his bed in their bedding room. It was awkward, but they didn't know where else to put him.
"You guys wanna help prepare equipment for evacuation?" Arden asked Dale and Victoria.
"Maybe, yeah, just let me take a quick walk," Dale shook his head and headed up the watchtower stairwell.
"Come on Haze, let's ask Naki what we need and what we can spare," Arden said to Victoria.
"Alrighty," she responded.
Dale kicked a rock off of the plateau above the main facility. He grunted in anger at Brian's death, and tried to push the thought aside. Brian was the youngest out of their team. It shouldn't have been him, he thought. He turned his eyes to the sky and frowned. There were more lights sparsely scattered around the space station ring than he initially remembered. They weren't fires either, for these twinkling lights had a greenish glow to them.
He pondered what the lights could be in his head for a moment. Emergency lights? Signal flares? Then it struck him.
"Could it be?" Dale talked to himself. "Could those lights be the source?"
"I'd rather focus on more people getting evacuated than wasting space on worthless supplies," Nakahara told Arden and Victoria.
"Understood sir," Arden nodded.
"It's hard to say right now anyways. Just wait until we all meet in the next forty minutes," Nakahara continued. Suddenly, Dale burst in to their room.
"Naki! I know what's jamming our coms," Dale proclaimed.
"You know what!?" Nakahara couldn't believe his ears and his face lit up with a glimmer of joy.
"Well, I think I know," Dale backpedaled slightly.
The light on Nakahara's face faded, but he nonetheless, raised his eyebrows and said, "you know, Shadow, I don't have the luxury of refusing to listen to any idea right now, even one that is a mere assumption. Just spit it out. What do you think is jamming us?"
"Scattered all over the Roman I are bright green dots. I don't remember seeing them before. You can just look up and you'll see them. I think these lights could be jamming beacons. One might be close by and I want to find out."
"Absolutely not," Nakahara denied his request to leave. "I don't want anybody to leave this base unless it's on a shuttle back home. We lost half of our defenses here, and we're well supplied and in a very tactical location. If I had to guess, this station is falling fast and it won't be long before there are no FKPD forces left. I want every soldier of Vapor Team here to defend this base to the last minute."
"With all due respect, Sergeant, every one of your orders are being based on assumptions right now," Dale narrowed his eyes at Nakahara. "Wouldn't you rather restore communications so we can get some useful information about the state of our forces?"
"To be fair, you're basing your actions on assumptions as well," Nakahara shot back. "My decision is final, Shadow."
"Well then let me rephrase my last statement," Dale said. "One of these beacons might be close by and I am going to find out."
"Your words are treasonous, Shadow," Nakahara lowered his voice slightly. "If you know what's best for your military career you will stow such talk and forget about your foolish endeavor."
Dale exhaled through his nostrils with rage and left the room.
"Oh boy," Arden muttered. He knew Dale didn't take well to rejection.
"Dismissed, you two!" Nakahara bellowed.
"Come on Haze," Arden ushered her out, following closely behind. They entered the main chamber and noticed Dale walking swiftly toward the mess hall that John had left to. Victoria ran to catch up with him. She finally reached him, but he didn't slow down.
"I'm coming with you," Victoria knew Dale still intended to check for a jamming beacon.
"Negative," Dale bluntly refused her offer for assistance.
"Come on Shadow, I want to help."
"You need to stay here and help defend," Dale reasoned.
"Now you sound no different than Naki, what's your deal man?"
"We just lost Cloud while merely defending this base, the mission I'm about to go on is far more dangerous."
"Which is exactly why I should come with you!"
"Haze, I said no!"
"You can't stop me from coming with you!"
"Wanna bet?" Dale turned around and clenched his fists. Victoria almost ran in to him he stopped so quickly.
She couldn't deny he was a very imposing figure. "I'm not just some inexperienced rookie anymore!" she shouted at Dale.
"That's debatable," Dale tilted his neck side to side and cracked it a few times. "Care to debate with me then?" he popped his knuckles.
"Enough, stop it!" Arden stepped in between them. "We're all on edge, I get that, but remember what the real danger is! Haze, you should stay here. We need to keep this base as well defended as possible while our civilians load up on the dropships. And Shadow, you're an idiot for leaving just because you have a hunch... But you give those beasts and hell and restore our communications as quickly as possible."
Dale looked at Victoria, waiting for her response. She looked away to the side and said, "go."
"I'll try and be back before midnight," Dale turned around and continued toward the mess hall.
Arden placed his hand on Victoria's shoulder to comfort her. She crossed her arms, lowered her head and let out a sigh.
"He'll be fine. Let's just help Smoke, Steam and Dust rally our forces in this chamber," Arden said in a soft voice.
Victoria nodded and replied, "okay." They both headed up the watchtower stairwell.
Dale walked down a short hallway to the mess hall doorway. He turned to enter at the exact same moment John was leaving and they smacked in to each other rather forcefully. The sound of their armor colliding clanged and echoed through halls. They both looked around and were thankful no one was nearby to witness that. Dale shook his head and sighed in embarrassment.
"Um, look," John started to say. "I apolog..."
"Apology accepted," Dale interrupted. "Now let's move," he turned around and headed right back down the hallway he came from.
"Wait, where are we going?" John questioned as he jogged to catch up. "Did Nakahara give us new orders?"
"Screw Naki. No, we're going on a stealth op to restore our communications."
"Scattered all across the ring of this station are bright green lights that I've never seen before. I think they're jamming beacons."
"You think?" John criticized.
"Dude, don't start," Dale didn't want to listen to more antipathy for his actions.
John chuckled and continued, "fine, but a stealth operation in the middle of the day?"
"Yup. We're going to grab jetpacks, get on top of the highest mountain here and see if there are any alien devices around the area."
"Is this okay with Naki?"
"Not one bit."
"So we're committing mutiny."
"We're doing what's necessary to get a grip on the current situation."
"You're crazy, Shadow. They'll arrest us and discharge us from the FKPD."
"Us? They're greatest assets for six years and counting? I doubt it."
"Well regardless, you know this action won't go unpunished."
"Fine then, wuss out if you want to."
"I really do want to stay and obey orders," John weighed the two courses of action he could take. "But right now, I'm with you. We need to get our coms back online."
They proceeded nonchalantly to the armory, keeping a sharp eye for Nakahara. They peered inside. Surprisingly, there was no one inside. They hurriedly gathered the gear they needed. John suppressed his sniper rifle and grabbed two single handed submachine guns, then suppressed those as well. Dale grabbed a suppressed carbine and two suppressed pistols. They both donned jetpacks and snatched three grenades each as well. They peeked out of the armory and saw Nakahara walking directly their way.
"Crap," John whispered.
"Wait," Dale hushed him. Arden rushed up to Nakahara. They both talked to each other for a brief moment, but Dale and John couldn't hear them. Nakahara turned around walked back the other way with Arden in tow. Arden held his hand behind his back and showed a 'thumbs up' to Dale and John.
"Nice," John praised Arden.
"Let's move," Dale said with a heavy sense of urgency. They rushed back across the chamber and up the watchtower stairwell.
Connor, Margaret and Viktor were walking back to the main facility with the rest of the base's defense. They noticed two figures fly out of the watchtower and head toward the highest mountain peak on the mountain range beside their campus. Margaret activated her zoom optics and noticed the figures were John and Dale.
"Hey, where's Mist and Shadow going?" Margaret asked worriedly.
"I dunno," Connor muttered an answer. "Pick up the pace men! Move it!" They all started to jog. They filed in to the main chamber quickly and gathered around the elevated landing pad. Nakahara was on the top of the pad waiting for everyone to get inside. Arden and Victoria were sitting with crisscrossed legs under one of the ramps leading up to the landing pad. Connor, Margaret and Viktor made their way over to them and squatted down to their position.
"Where did they go?" Connor asked Arden and Victoria.
"They're going to restore our communications," Arden replied. "They think an alien jamming device is nearby and they're going to take it out."
"Alone!?" Margaret questioned.
"Yup," Victoria answered in a slightly frustrated tone.
"Why are they going alone!?" Connor continued off of Margaret's question. "Didn't Nakaha..."
"Shhhh!" Arden quieted Connor. "Nakahara doesn't know yet that they're gone. He refused to grant them permission to leave."
"Why?" Viktor asked bluntly.
"He wants every super soldier here to help evacuate and defend the base," Victoria responded.
"Ah," Connor acknowledged. Nakahara finally spoke as the last of the base's personnel trickled in.
"Quiet down everyone!" Nakahara hushed the murmurs and worried conversations in the chamber. "I'll cut right to the chase with you all. We're evacuating the Roman I."
Gasps and more murmurs arose in the crowd.
"I said quiet! Now listen up. We'll be able to evacuate everybody in two trips. I want to evacuate most of our nonmilitary personnel first. Scientists, engineers, technicians, you know who you are. Get ready to leave immediately. I need five military volunteers for each dropship to escort them all to safety when you land back on Earth. The rest of us, hunker down here and pray that the aliens don't come back until we're all gone. Pilots, fire up all of our dropships and start loading up. Leave as soon as possible so you can come back as quickly as possible. Head to the nearest FKPD station, unload and come right back. Move it!"
The base came alive with everyone moving every which way. Connor, Margaret and Viktor sat down with Arden and Victoria, ready to wait out the next few hours still on the station.
"Sir! Sir!" they heard one scientist desperately call out to Nakahara. "Permission for me and the rest of my team to stay and wait for the next round of dropships!"
"On what reasons?" Nakahara asked him.
"We're on the brink of completing a prototype kinetic shielding technology for your armor suits, so close that a matter of even a few hours can be all that we need. Our team believes that these," the scientist showed Nakahara one of the aliens' blade handles. "These may hold the key to solving our need for a small, portable power source that has a high output magnitude."
"Granted," Nakahara said. "Hurry it up, you only have a matter of a few hours."
The scientist rushed with the rest of his team back to the large science building that Dale and Victoria had infiltrated during their training session.
"That will be useful," Victoria remarked.
"Yeah, if they reverse engineer those blades, and integrate their power sources with the shielding they've developed, as well as integrate that with our armor suits in the few short hours they have," Connor doubted them. "It can't be done."
"Well, they'll try their best I suppose," Arden tried to be positive. They sat silent and still, waiting. They knew it was only a few hours they were going to have to wait, but it was going to feel like years. They worried the transports wouldn't make it back in time before another wave of alien attackers came.
"Where are they?" Nakahara's voice suddenly broke the silence. He had noticed Dale and John were missing.
"Who?" Arden asked innocently.
"Don't play games with me soldier," Nakahara continued. "Where are Mist and Shadow?"
"Why do you need to know?" Victoria questioned.
"Know your place Vapor Team!!! I didn't ask for your lip! I am in charge around here, I outrank you, and I am ordering you to tell me where Mist and Shadow are!!! You have three seconds to tell me before you too are added to the list of traitors for refusal to obey orders!"
Vapor Team stood up with imposing stances and glared at Nakahara. Nakahara's body language showed no fear, but inside he felt more threatened than ever before.
"It sounds like you already know where they are," Connor crossed his arms.
"Then they will die on this station if they don't come back," Nakahara grumbled.
"Ha! Clearly you do not know our strength, their strength," Arden said with a smirk.
"They either come back and go back to Earth to stand trial for their war crimes, or get left to rot on this station," Nakahara said, pointing a finger to the floor. He stormed off with clenched fists.
"I don't know why he's so upset," Connor remarked. "It's not like it's his butt that's been put on the line."
"He is such a basta..." Victoria started to say.
"Stow it, Haze," Arden stopped her. "He may sound unreasonable right now, but he's only doing his job. What he says is still all one hundred percent true. If they don't find what they're looking for and restore communications in the area before we leave, they just might be left up here with no easy way off of the station. Of course, if they succeed and are back before the dropships return, they will be apprehended and possibly discharged from service. They have disobeyed direct orders after all."
"But we'll stop Nakahara from arresting them right?" Margaret questioned.
"No, Dust," Connor shook his head. "We won't. It would only make things worse."
Margaret and Viktor sat back down leaning against each other tenderly. With them trapped on a hostile alien infested station, they could be overrun and killed at any moment. They didn't care anymore to hide public displays of affection.
Connor noticed and felt happy for them to have each other in such a perilous time. Victoria and Arden didn't care. They all ended up sitting back down to wait out the long six or more hours for the dropships to return. Victoria sighed.
"I hear ya sister," Margaret empathized.
Dale landed next to John on the highest mountain peak in the area. They could easily see the curve of the station around them. They looked toward Earth and felt a solemn sadness in their hearts. Most of the alien spaceships had left the center of the ring and proceeded toward the planet. They watched as their dropships began leaving, then straying off course to avoid confrontation with the spaceships.
"That's gonna slow down their return time," Dale proclaimed.
"You're right," John agreed. "That's a good thing for us, bad thing for the training base."
"You think they've already landed some of their troops on Earth?"
They took a short moment of silence, then looked around them for any signs of alien technology. At first glance they saw nothing.
"This may have been in vain," John remarked. They kept scanning the area when Dale noticed something off in the distance.
"There!" Dale pointed to a cave on the other side of a very thin chasm. The section of land he pointed at was arid and sandy. The chasm ran a long length along the station. On one side was the cave with small sandy dunes filling the gaps between a rocky landscape. On the other side was tall plateau that block most of their view.
"What?" John asked. "It's just a cave."
"See the color of the lighting inside?" Dale returned. Even in the bright mid-afternoon sun, they noticed a greenish glow faintly illuminating the inside of the cave.
"Score," John smiled. "We'll make these savages pay for killing a soldier of Vapor Team."
"Let's get over there," Dale said. They both activated their jetpacks and glided toward the plateau.