(Central Core, T’ler, Beta Darconyx System)
“We’ve got the covers off. We’re going to have to cut power to the relays before disconnecting the drives, or we might screw up everything if we get a power surge.”
Lieutenant Sharel nodded to Baxter. “All right, then. Ten seconds, and do it.” Turning to everyone else, she said, “Beta squad! Grav-belts on! No one goes floating off like a freaking rookie still in training, understood?”
“MA’AM, YES MA’AM!”
She snorted at the perfect boot camp response, and made sure her grav-belt was working, before saying, “All right, you pricks. Just be glad that it is me here, and not—” She cut off as the power flickered, and then failed, with a light show happening as several places exploded in sparks in the distance. The room was plunged into utter darkness, and her sensors indicated that the artificial gravity was definitely offline. And no one was floating off the deck. Good. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance.
Then, her external microphones began picking up what could only be alarms. Alarms were never good, by their very nature. It was in the name, after all. If you heard one, there was something going on that you should be really freaking alarmed about. “Baxter, what happened?”
“The lines were not designed to handle a redirect like this, not from core systems! We had a short that led to cascade failures throughout this part of the ship, possibly further! No way of knowing for sure. The drives appear undamaged, since they were isolated before the surge. We can start removing them now. Give me ten minutes, and we can get out of here.”
“Right, well, make it snappy! We’re definitely going to get company at this rate!” As soon as I said it, I knew I’d made a mistake. But it was too late. It was already out there.
A massive roar resounded from far away, even louder than the alarms that were still blaring. “Sensors, full power! Switch to low-light for visuals! Defensive positions, protect Baxter and the carry team until they get the drives loaded! Everyone, make ready with the high-power weapons!”
What she saw… defied belief. Lit in the glow of electric sparks, her sensors could just pick up, in the distance, a giant door of some kind was ripped apart, revealing a massive creature, like those that the other squads had reported, but scaled to a size of thirty or forty feet tall! Yellow eyes glowed in the darkness, and sharp teeth and powerful claws could be seen as the creature broke through the shattered doorway. Smaller creatures, likely the ones Delta had reported, came crawling in around it, their claws allowing them to find purchase on the floor and walls, keeping them from floating around.
For a moment, the world seemed to pause, as the Marines stared at the creatures, and they stared back. Sharel broke the silence. “Romanov, NOW!” Private Romanov raised his weapon, and a rocket’s red trail lit the darkness in sudden fury, followed shortly by a ball of light bright as the sun erupting as the rocket-propelled plasma grenade landed amongst the horde of creatures. The large creature roared, and the swarm began advancing.
“FIRE! EVERYONE, FIRE!”
(T’ler, Bow Section, Beta Darconyx System)
“Captain! We’ve got incoming!”
Captain Hardbrew cursed under his breath. “Damn it. So damn close.” All right, not so under his breath. But they had been so close to pulling this off without any problems, at least on their end, and now something was definitely going wrong. “Defensive positions! We’ve got a bottleneck here. We hold here. No retreat, no surrender, no backing down. These things aren’t going to let us just waltz out of here, so you are all going to be earning your pay today.”
He took a breath. “As soon as those doors open, we’ll begin recovery of the artifact. We have the drop ships waiting outside to help in that. But it isn’t going to be something you just pick up and move in an instant. So we’re going to cover the ships while they get the thing hooked up and towed out. Then, we are going to stay put, because we’re holding the door open for Beta. So, until we hear that they are dead, we will hold this ground, and not one of those alien scum is getting past us, do you understand me?”
(T’ler, Aft Section, Beta Darconyx System)
“THEY JUST KEEP COMING!”
Corporal Hicks cursed at the outburst. It didn’t do anyone any good to hear that kind of talk. “Stow that chatter, Private! If you have time to shout, you have time to shoot! Now put rounds down range, and make those bastards pay for every goddamn inch!”
He might have berated the private, but that didn’t mean the kid was wrong. Despite being reinforced by Charlie squad and having time to switch to their heavier weapons loadouts, the aliens had pushed them back, hall by hall. They were doing what they could to make them work for it, but it was like the damn things were feral beasts, driven only to hunt and kill in a swarm.
Topping it all off, he was the senior officer present who was still functional. The Lieutenants, both of them, had been doing a good job with keeping the unit together and making sure they didn’t panic. Then, they started bursting out of vent shafts they hadn’t even known were there, and didn’t show up on the scans, at first. Both Lieutenants were dead, as were several other good Marines. And they were locals, so they were dead for good.
He looked over to Sergeant York, the Nomad who had been with Charlie. Switching to a private channel, he subvocalized, “Beta and Alpha are already engaged. There isn’t much more we can do for them as a distraction.”
York nodded briefly. “Right. We’re going to need to fall back more than just a doorway if we’re going to try keeping these locals alive, anyways. We may be able to spot the vents now, but that doesn’t stop the bastards from coming through.”
“Your hole is bigger. Ours is closer. I’m thinking closer, even with the reduced capacity. Anyone still breathing has suit seals, so we can take them through vacuum for a bit. And it might slow these things down a bit.”
“Sounds like a plan. You’re the ranker. Care to fill everyone in?”
“Oh, sure. Be that way. Don’t make me recommend the General makes you an officer!”
“That’s just cold, Hicks.”
Hicks shook his head with a smile, and looked out at his Marines. With a thought, he set his comms to project his voice through external mics and to all the helmet rigs. “All right, listen up! Alpha and Beta have engaged, so there isn’t much we can do back here. Any of these things that are already here aren’t getting across this big ass ship in time to make a difference, one way or another, and any of the aliens that aren’t already here will be responding to the alarms elsewhere.”
“Command wants all Black Stars off this fucking ship, so they can blast it to hell. It’s the only way to be sure these… things can’t spread. They’ve lived who knows how long in this wreck with nothing but each other for food. If they get onto a world that can actually support life, no telling what will happen. So, we are going to de-ass the area with a quickness! Everyone, fall bac to the drop site. Delta, lead the way. Sergeant York and I will be rear guard. Now MOVE!”
They began a fighting retreat, moving as quickly as they could through the ship. The damn creatures were faster than they were, knew the ship better. But once they knew what to scan for to find the vents, surprise attacks became more difficult, and the heavy weapons were actually effective against the enemy. But there was still a long way to go before they reached their exit point.
(T’ler, Central Core, Beta Darconyx System)
Lieutenant Sharel did not know how she was still alive. The swarm of aliens was one thing. Railguns and plasma rounds took care of them easily enough. But that big monster? Even their heavier guns barely touched it! That thing’s armor had to be incredibly tough! And when it managed to get close enough to Jiminez, its claws cut him in two! Even with his armor!
Already, five of her Marines had fallen. Another six were wounded, according to her HUD. Alvarez was trying to ‘kite’ the big monster around, giving the rest of the squad time to finish the job. They needed as much of this ship’s core memory as possible if they were going to figure out what happened, and whether there were any more of these… things out there.
There was a break in the storm. Perhaps they had run through the aliens that were closest to them? No matter. They had time, and that was something she wasn’t going to squander. “Quinren, Romanov, Singer, heavy launchers! Bring that beast down!”
Three trails of fire answered her order, and three globes of white-hot plasma erupted on the massive creature’s back, as the plasma grenades hit their mark. And yet, Sharel couldn’t believe her eyes! The creature was still standing! It had lost two of its four arms, along with what looked like half of its upper body, but the thing still gave off a psychic scream of pain, and turned, wide-eyed and angry, at the fire team that had attacked it.
“AGAIN! BRING IT DOWN!”
Three more trails of fire. Three more explosions of plasma. This time, all three grenades hit next to each other, around the creature’s middle. The creature screamed again, weaker now, as its abdomen was vaporized in sudden light. Its legs fell one way, and what remained of its torso fell the other. And yet, despite it all, the thing started moving its remaining arms, trying to crawl towards them! It just wouldn’t die!
Suddenly, there was a blast of inky black light against the darkness. There was no other way to describe it. A sphere of blackness blacker than the infinite dark of space appeared, for an instant, covering the alien’s head. And then it was gone, and Sharel’s scans indicated that there was a sizeable section of the floor, the floor that their plasma grenades and heavy weapons didn’t even scuff, simply gone, ripped up and thrown into… somewhere, along with the alien.
From the other end of the chamber, Alvarez flew over, using his grav-belt to speed himself along in the microgravity. Sharel just stared at him, as did the rest of the Marines. The Nomad simply shrugged, and said, “Singularity Grenade. Still experimental, and only given to Nomads, for obvious reasons. I was pretty sure that thing couldn’t stand up to a pocket black hole, but the R&D guys haven’t worked out the kinks, yet. The radius can vary from one centimeter to one kilometer, apparently.”
Sharel shook her head. She had told them to bring all the toys, just in case, but the idea of carrying around a black hole on demand scared the living hell out of her. That it was an experimental design that had a blast radius that could only be defined as being somewhere within a centimeter to a kilometer, a difference that was, quite literally, five decimal places in scale, only made it worse. And yet, it had done a number on that big beast.
“How many more of those things do you have?”
“One. They’re still very experimental after all. And Command thinks Marines are less effective if they get sucked into miniature black holes.”
The absurdity of the situation was too much. She couldn’t keep herself from laughing, and soon the rest of her team joined in. Struggling to catch her breath, she said, “Well, I’m very much in agreement with Command on that point. Hold on to that last grenade, in case we see more of those… things.”
“Will do, Ma’am.”
“Lieutenant! We’ve got it! All drives removed and stored!”
Sharel breathed out a sigh of relief. “All right then people, lets get to the bow. Alpha is holding the door open for us, and—” Another psychic scream cut her off.
Turning to the far door, she saw more of the creatures, and, this time, not one, but two of the giant monsters. There was no way they could fight that many. Not in the open.