One stellar week's leave and suddenly everything changes. That's what suddenly ran through my mind as I stepped into the new squad dormitory I and the rest of Chaos Squad had been assigned to.
Dark, Pyro, Johnny, Angel and I had just returned to the Starfather after a nice, relaxing sojourn to the New Richmond colony. Eight stellar days hardly seemed like much leave time, but the Hegemony of Terra Grande liked to keep its up-and-coming elite personnel fit and alert at all times, so the policy was that fighter pilots, marines and enlisted men - all the frontline grunts who do the dirty work, basically - got shorter leave periods so as to prevent their coordination and essential skills from becoming dull. Nice to know the brass put such value in us, I thought to myself with just a touch of sarcasm.
Before we left, Chaos Squad's dorm area was comparable to a reasonably large bungalow; it had individual bedrooms with a shower booth in each of them and a communal lounge. Now, however, we had been shuffled away into something resembling a studio apartment or worse. We all had to sleep in the same room and had to use a communal shower. I tell you, if Johnny decided to whine and bitch about this, I wouldn't blame him. It seemed Angel was going to kick up a fuss first, though, as he turned to the lieutenant who had ushered the squad down to the new dorm. "What the fuck is this? Is this the Admiral's idea of a joke!?"
The lieutenant replied in the most irritable tone that made it clear he wasn't in the mood for anyone's shit. "No joke. As of today, Chaos Squad is being relocated to H Block while repairs are being made to B Block. This emergency dorm doesn't have the capacity for all your belongings and so they've all been put in Storage Bay 5 on Level 7. Take what essentials you need from there but bear in mind that space is limited."
"Yeah, we noticed," muttered Dark as he peered inside the emergency dorm.
"Hey, I saw B Block from the viewport on the shuttle," I said to the lieutenant, "and I didn't see any damage."
"Internal explosion," the lieutenant replied. "Apparently one of the hotheads from Halberd Squad had procured some kind of volatile substance that didn't get caught by the scans when they came back from their leave."
Figures, I thought. Occasionally, dissidents and separatists sprung up in the colonies and expressed their disdain for Terra Grande's policies through acts of terrorism. Some nutcase sells a cadet or junior officer a bomb disguised as a souvenir, waits for them to take it on to a Hegemony ship or station, then it arms once its been scanned and counts down. There were dangerous materials that couldn't be recognised by standard scanning equipment out there, usually strictly controlled by Hegemony law, but once in a while they could slip through the cracks and wind up being used to commit sabotage and assassinations.
Well I wasn't really in the mood to look any deeper into it and the lieutenant probably didn't know the whole story anyhow, I just knew that the trip back to the station had been long and cramped and I was really goddamned tired. I padded into the room and just flopped on to the nearest bed, I'd worry about storage later. The others followed suit and after about another hour of lying in bed talking about advanced squadron maneuvers and the state of affairs in the outer colonies, we all managed to nod off.
"RED ALERT! UNKNOWN ENTITY DETECTED IN LOCAL SECTOR! ENTITY IS PRESUMED HOSTILE! ALL PILOTS TO YOUR SHIPS AND PREPARE TO ENGAGE! THIS IS NOT A DRILL! REPEAT: THIS IS NOT A DRILL!"
As I jerked awake to the din of sirens and alert announcements, I thought to myself 'I did not sign on for this.' But then I remembered that this was exactly what I signed on for and made a hurry to get into my pilot suit and head for the hangar deck. Pyro and Johnny were right behind me as I entered the lift to the hangar.
"Where's Dark and Angel?" Pyro asked.
"Didn't see them as I was prepping," I replied, "they must have got there already."
"I was wondering when we'd get the chance to kick some ass," Johnny said in an upbeat manner.
"Why?" I asked. "This is a training academy. Cadets don't get shipped off to frontline service, despite what some of the higher-ups would have us believe. Besides, we're not even at war with anyone at present."
"Thanks, Dove. Way to kill my enthusiasm," Johnny complained.
"My pleasure. Anyway, why do we assume that whatever approaches us is hostile? Not everything in the universe wants to kill humans, maybe they're just trying to communicate?"
Before I could say any more, the elevator - no, the whole station - suddenly rocked. The lights inside the lift flickered and went out, replaced a second later with the faintest of crimson light that cast the small lift carriage in a blood-red hue. Moments later, a low sound like wind blowing through a cave built up inside the lift. It was getting louder still, changing in pitch and resonance, and suddenly the three of us were clutching our ears in agony as an indescribable shriek echoed - yes, echoed - inside the small carriage. The din was horrendous, I had never heard anything like it and I couldn't imagine the others had either.
The torturous, inhuman screaming continued at its peak for at most six seconds before it died down, but to me it felt like forever. I felt nauseous and could've sworn I could feel individual blood cells freeze as they ran through my veins. I looked to Johnny and Pyro with wide eyes. They looked back to me and Pyro said "Well... What do you think that communication meant?"
I painstakingly swallowed before uttering "They want to kill us..."