Chapter 3: PanicMature

All squads were clear of the station, streaking towards the mysterious enemy at maximum burn. Halberd Squad was closest to it and pretty soon they had hit firing range, letting loose with a volley of rockets. Trigger-happy morons, I thought. Did they even know which parts of this thing they were meant to be shooting at? From what I could tell of the images I had seen on the flight deck, this cosmozoan entity was mostly gaseous with a network of organic material that could not be identified; it had no obvious weak points, no systems that were readily identifiable, just some peculiar tears in random areas of its "veins", if they could be called that, which expelled what looked like snowflakes or spores but made out of scar tissue.

The rockets launched by Halberd Squad struck the entity's veins of organic rock and exploded, though my fighter wasn't yet close enough for me to see if they had had any effect. The radio chatter soon answered my unasked question.

"Nothing!" I heard the captain of Halberd Squad cry. "The rockets did nothing!"

I swallowed hard. I didn't understand what this thing was, why it was coming after us, and why the admiral would ever consider sending cadets without complete training to combat it. Then I heard it again. I'm sure everyone heard it. That scream. That malicious, unnatural shriek. This creature, if the word even applied to it, was angry. It was angry before it had been shot at, but the sudden attack had only fuelled its fury, it seemed.

Chaos Squad approached the entity and soared into the swirling, malignant gas cloud surrounding it. I could hear Angel's voice over the radio. "Okay, boys. This... is it. Here goes."

My already depleted spirits completely dried up as I listened to the obvious fearful undertone in Angel's voice. He was one of the toughest guys among all of the Starfather's cadets and it was a pretty rare thing to see him back down or show any kind of worry, and hearing his voice crack like that, I knew that we were really in the shit.

As our fighters plunged deeper into the cloud, the blood-freezing shriek sounded again. I silently counted the seconds as I waited for the shrill wailing to subside, but those seconds felt more like lifetimes as the demonic noise resounded in my mind. It continued to echo, the noise stretching out, dominating my sense of sound. It seemed to be constant now, I couldn't hear the hum of my fighter's systems, nor the radio chatter, my own thoughts. Just that eternal, vengeful screaming.

Amidst the din of the alien entity's screeching, I could see the strange spiky polyps it was spawning rapidly darting through the astral smog that this being was emanating. The things were pursuing the other fighters, that much I could see, but there was so much murky gas and flashes of crackling energy that I couldn't see all the full details. I saw small explosions blossom in the distance. One of the polyps exploded? Was it hit by one of our guns? Did it self-destruct? Maybe these things were projectiles themselves, like some absurd living missiles? I couldn't focus on it, though, I couldn't focus on anything. Not with that horrible screaming. It just kept going. Why wouldn't it stop? Why won't it stop? Why!? For God's sake, stop! Shut up! STOP SCREAMING!!

Something else suddenly cut through the alien shriek. I was stunned by the sound and felt as though time was slowing to a crawl around me. What did I just hear? A red blip flashed on my flight console, accompanied by a burst of radio static mingled with the sound of someone crying out. That was one of our guys. I jerked my head up and saw through my cockpit's canopy one of the fighters hurtling out of control into the thick, nebulous fog. It was barely a second before the ship faded away beneath the alien cloud, but I saw the pattern on the wings. I saw the yellow stripes and the green diamond-shaped insignia.

Johnny had just been claimed.

I grew wide-eyed with terror and punched the comms, frantically shouting at my squadmates that Johnny had just been taken out. I don't quite recall my choice of words during those moments, I had been maddened by fear and that fear now had company in the form of grief. I had no idea what to do; for in that moment, I thought the universe itself was going to submerge beneath a sea of screams, both this alien monster's and my own. I had just seen one of my brothers quite possibly die and thought we would all be going the same way.

My cockpit suddenly shook as I felt something rocket past my ship. I didn't see what it was, but I suspected it was one of those thorny polyps being spawned by the entity, and I could see another one hurtling towards me. This was the moment when I realised that I wasn't dead yet and my survival instinct went into overdrive. I squeezed the trigger on my control panel and my fighter's pulse guns fired, blasting the oncoming object to smithereens. I was not going to die here. I refused to die here, but staying would surely guarantee my death.

"Let's get the fuck out of here!" I suddenly heard over the radio. It was Angel. On my scanner panel, I saw the blips representing my squadmates moving to the far left of the gridded screen, away from the frazzled, digital blemish representing the entity that took up two thirds of the screen.

"I'm all for that!" I heard Pyro say.

"I did not sign on for this crap!" Dark muttered, struggling to maintain his usual cold, detached manner.

"But what about Johnny!?" I inquired, "We can't just leave him!"

"Shut up and let's go!" Dark responded. "We can't help him now! If we stay, we're all dead!"

I wasn't about to press the issue further. We had been sent out completely unprepared to fight the stuff of nightmares, something we had no understanding of that filled us with the utmost terror and we could do nothing to stop it from advancing on the Starfather. All that mattered right at that moment was staying alive, which meant being as far away from that thing as possible. Those other idiots could stay behind and get themselves swatted out of the sky if they wished, but my brothers and I? We were Chaos Squad. We were the smart ones. We knew when to get the heck out of Dodge and that was what we were doing right now. I veered my fighter to follow after Angel, Pyro and Dark, and I wasn't going to look back.

So we ran. We entered FTL-jump and left the Starfather and our comrades behind. But we were family. All that mattered was each other and survival. Fuck the rest of it...

The End

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