After publishing I still left many mistakes in. I hired Nicholas J. Ambrose to give the text a basic edit.
I re-posted the first thee Chapter with the changes added. This Friday and Weekend I'll be adding the changes to my text and reformat the e-book. I plan to add a TOC to it and a few more links. I hope to have the new and improved ebook on Amazon and Smashwords by the end of the week.
“They are all dead.” His husky voice echoed into his helmet for no one in particular to hear but him: the cruiser Athena IV was too far away to pick up his signal and the outpost wasn’t listening — or maybe they did, she did, but he didn’t expect any answer.
Sergeant T. Black looked around him. His fellow marines’ bodies were lying on the moon’s dusty ground where they been killed. Littered between them the spend DU ammunition casings still glowed in the dead of space. Their blood, too light to stay grounded on this low-gravity moon, floated up, a red haze of mist soon to disappear up in the infinite space.
There weren’t many of those things that attacked them left; they overwhelmed them in numbers, but still they were mush to their bullets, which shredded them apart. Their filth covered his fellow marines. Sergeant Black gritted his teeth. They had squashed the bugs, but at what price? The cost paid was way too high in his opinion — not that his opinion mattered. He was now just a non-commissioned officer, once a captain, now a mere sergeant.
His unit annihilated, it left him the sole survivor and stranded on a mission he wouldn’t be able to complete. It didn’t matter much anymore. Maybe the brass still cared, but not him. He had his own mission to complete; he owed it to them. He ingrained what he saw in his mind, tattooed it in his heart, never to forget or stop feeling it. It fueled him for what rested him to do.
“All dead,” he huffed, his breath fogging the inside of his helmet. He eased his breathing. It had been an ambush, and as prepared as they were for such things it had obviously not been enough when these beings puffed out of the ground and trashed their dropship. It had been treachery, could only be treachery. The woman would pay: he would make sure of that. He squeezed his hand to a fist, crushing the skull of a not-so-long-dead bug.
He performed a quick status check. According to the readings, he had not much oxygen left — barely enough to make it to the outpost, and that was only if he had some form of transportation. He looked around. As far the horizon reached he saw a barren landscape filled with holes, made from meteorite impacts that happened ages ago, and those made more recently by the hammer of war.
His dropship was the only sign of technology in the vicinity. Were he a technician he might have been able to fix it, but his skill pertained only into the art of killing. Marine Rhines used to be a technician, but there was not much he could do now, since he lay face down on the gray dust, his once handy right hand with arm still attached lay a few feet away from his body, torn and nibbled on. There would be no fixing anything anymore. It was just wishful thinking anyway: the pilot was also dead, so there was no one left to fly the dropship. He could try, but he was sure he would end up into a ball of fire making yet one more crater on this desolate moon.
He ran a status check on his armored combat suit. The exoskeleton integrity was 99%, electronics were running at 97% efficiency, and pressure was building up slowly. There must be a tiny fracture somewhere in his armor causing the pressure build up. The pressure rose at a minimal rate; not something to be worried about. He would have more than enough time before it could become an issue. The shield was back up at 100%. He still had his full supply of stimulants. He never used them and never needed to; his average performance was already up that of a standard marine full on steroid enhancements. His armor was good to go. He had endured minimal damage during the ambush; his marines took the brunt of the attack by pure chance — he was scouting out ahead, standing about hundred feet away when the bugs burst up and attacked.
He hoped chance would be on his side again, however with its morbid choosing and pickings, the situation always being dire when it showed up, it left a bitter aftertaste. Maybe it would have been better if he had died along with them. He glanced at the torn bodies, the last of the blood swiveling up into space. He fervently shook his head. Nobody would then be left to do what had to be done, what he now had to do.
“I’ll kill the bitch!” he growled.
He looked over the vast expanse of the crater riddled landscape. There was no life here — not on the surface at least. He looked up. The planet AR-01 shone a bright red that left its mark in your eyes if you stared at it too much. One big ball of molten lava, too hot for humans and most living things to live in. He heard there was life there; he just couldn’t imagine what kind of life it was. He was certain whatever it may be, it couldn’t be nastier than the bugs living on this moon. This moon wasn’t the bugs’ only habitat: they managed, in a way only the scientist could explain, to travel space and infest many more planets and moons.
They changed you when they got to you. He had seen it happen. It didn’t matter if you were still alive or dead. That’s why he had to do it. He closed his fist tight. The metal of his gloves crushed against each other. He inhaled deep, gritted his teeth and unclasped his fusion handgun. He walked to Rhines his corpse. Troy stood spread-eagled above Rhines, whose face was frozen in an eternal stare of horror, mouth wide open in a last scream, his tongue out limp at the side. His glazed eyes were back in the eye sockets, leaving only the whites to stare up at Troy. Troy pulled the trigger. With a wheeze, the bolt of burning blueish white light melted Rhines’ face to a boiling soup of bones, blood, and brains, none left distinguishable from each other.
He continued to the next corpse and the one after until he had the last one of his fallen comrades. Each of them was as horrible a sight as Rhines was: mutilated, battered, bitten, killed by the bugs, and now desecrated by him. He had to do this. With no brain intact the creatures couldn’t take over the bodies. No matter how much it pained him, he just couldn’t afford to be followed, chased and harassed by his own unit turned insect.
Troy walked away from the mess. He had no time to bury them nor had he the equipment to do so. If time and circumstances permitted he would come back; however with the odds pitted against him he doubted he would survive that long. His back to his unit and the wrecked dropship, he walked on, on towards the planet looming up in front of him.
He breathed slowly; he had to conserve his oxygen. Why did he try? He knew he hadn’t enough oxygen to walk to the outpost. He should have listened to Lieutenant Mercer — Ann Mercer. She tried to teach him some ancient technique to be able to move while conserving energy, and in doing so, oxygen. She told him that if applied correctly he could do triple or more with the same energy he normally would use. He had tried and failed to master it. How typical and ironic. She fawned him in with her so-called honest help, blindsided him, blindsided them all. She turned traitor.
He had to try that technique and use whatever he still remembered to get as far possible: then maybe he could reach the outpost. Maybe, though not likely. He pictured her how he last remembered her. Her insistence for him not to go. He left her standing in his quarters, naked, eyes hallow, her long, sleek black hair running over her shoulder, her lips thick in a wry downturned smile. She shivered that day. He thought it was the cold, but now he was thinking about it, it could have been something else, something much worse. When he said his goodbye she only looked on, her eyes bland on him like the rope connecting them was already cut — and cut it was. He looked at his hands, the scratches on his steel gloves, the handiwork of those creatures.
He moved on slowly. He had a long way ahead. Better try out his training, make sure he got there to give her the ironic punishment she wouldn’t have had, had she not taught him that one thing. Every ten steps he breathed in slowly, to breathe out after the subsequent ten steps. All the while he focused on one point ahead, trying to keep his head empty. A difficult task with the screams of his unit still fresh in his mind and his hatred voicing ever the harder his want to destroy those that did this to him. He had no choice. He went on trying his best.
Lieutenant Ann Mercer of the Intelligence core, member of a specialist unit in deep cover surveillance, sabotage and liquidations. Not that there was much intelligence to be gained from the bugs with what the humans knew of them. However, she now knew all and would not likely reveal a thing, just like those before her and she knew there were many of them, all dead and destroyed by now.
She looked around the control room. The wall was covered with blinking lights and panels displaying space charts, telemetric readings, and satellite pictures of the moon’s surface. The seats at the controls were empty. She stood alone in the normally cramped and noisy compartment. The red emergency light was still on and flashing. Luckily she had managed to silence the computer announcement from broadcasting the imminent danger message. The danger had come and won. Ann smiled. She walked to the front.
“Open the screen,” she said with a grated voice.
The metal screen didn’t open. Ann closed her eyes. she stood still for a long while, deep in thought. The voices again raced trough her mind. Get society going, get off the moon; spread, build, rise, conquer. The many voices in her head urging her on, she barely contained herself from just taking the only dropship left, use it to get up into space and dock onto the cruiser Athena IV orbiting the planet AR-01, better known amongst the grunts as ‘Fiery Ball of Crap’. Their wishes and voice for her to do was to overtake the cruiser. Ann shook her head, opened her eyes and said in her normal, clear, almost singing voice, “Open the screen.”
The voice recognition kicked in. She heard the humming of the gears, the hiss of the pressure giving out. The screen moved, grating its rails open. Outside was the usual visage, the dust flew up into a hazy gray. The craters were still there: nothing changed. Nothing ever changed. Same planet in the air. Same space.
She saw her reflection on the reinforced windows, her eyes harrow, her face gaunt, the flashing red light altering the shades from light to dark. Troy called her beautiful today before he went on his last sortie. She couldn’t see her beauty. She wasn’t even certain what she saw was still her. Part of her hoped him back, but she knew what would happen if he came on his own volition.
Ann walked back up the steps to the raised platform on which the control isle stood. She stepped over Captain Riker's legs and then his torso. Luckily he didn’t bleed much. The laser had cut him in two and scorched the wound closed. Very neat, much like he was in life. Even in death his navy blue uniform looked immaculate, gold painted epaulettes and buttons shining copper. Even his officer’s hat was still on his head. So boring a man.
She took place on the main seat. She looked at the panel in front of her, pressed some buttons, and a radar screen appeared. A flashing light showed his location. She pressed the blinking dot on the screen. His suit stats appeared; exoskeleton integrity was 90%, electronics ran at 97% efficiency, pressure level was 10% above acceptable. His suit had taken damage. Not enough to become critical. What was critical was his oxygen tank, having only 14% oxygen left, and he was only halfway to the outpost. He wouldn’t last.
She pressed the screen. His biometric status came up. His heartbeat was slow, beating at forty beats per minute. His oxygen intake was slowing down. Who would have thought her training caught on? How impressive he could be once he put his mind to something — however she had an inkling on what his mind had set the arrow point on. She shuddered slightly.
Her finger floated above the screen. She bit her lip, a trembling finger descended on the screen. His biography sprung up. Sergeant Troy Black. She looked at his portrait. His eyes. Even here they pierced right trough the soul. How was it possible she could have deceived those eyes for so long? Or maybe wasn’t she the one doing the deceiving, but he himself. He had to know. After she returned from her last mission, he had to know. How couldn’t he have? Those eyes. She felt a tingle around her heart.
The voices started again, thoughts darted up. They demanded her to get off the moon, conquer, make everything their own, forge a society. She swallowed deep. She would soon, but first she had to do something else. She pressed the button to the intercom.
“Sergeant Johnson, report to me. Bring Private Dencer along with you.”
How much that sounded like mam. How she hated that. Then again, now, especially now, it was very appropriate: because in a way she was their mom now. Maybe instead of ma’am they should call her mother and be over with it. ‘Superior mother’ would sound nice if it weren’t for it brought up the image of the female clerics of the now more than three hundred years defunct religion of that mono-god belief. What was it named again? Something with Kristus… whatever, it didn’t matter anymore. She knew there were things greater than a god that could walk on water. Who knows: maybe she herself would turn into such a creature. She looked at her trembling hands. Her olive skin seemed to pale into a gray with each passing second. Into what kind of monster was she turning? How long could she keep being herself?
The sliding door to her right opened. Two men came marching in. The one walking in front was a tall, broad-shouldered marine: Sergeant Johnson. He dragged his bloody left feet behind him, its bone sticking out the ankle. His face was motionless, his thick lips a stripe, his eyes glazed over. His black skin was covered with gray patches. Private Dencer quickly followed him on his much shorter legs. He barely passed the minimum height requirement to join the marines. His face was covered in sweat; his eyes darted from left to right and around. His neck shook in a spastic fit. There seemed to be something growing out of it; he held it covered with his left hand.
Sergeant Johnson stood in front of her. He saluted. She ignored it. They were no marines anymore; they were soldiers of another kind now. Best to leave what was in the past behind. The sergeant slowly lowered his hand.
“What are your orders, ma’am?”
Direct to business, just like the collective expected. Enlisted men were so easy to take over. It would not take long and Johnson would be taken over completely. Those of a single-focused mind were the first to go. She looked at the private. He also was far along the way, though the way he was staring at her not in the eyes but way below, his mind had another single-mindedness. The change must have removed the restriction etiquette used to have on the young man.
“Go out there and capture Sergeant Black. By the time you locate him, he will most likely be dying and too weak to pose any resistance.”
“Once we have him, what should we do with him?”
“Bring him here,” she said, “unharmed.”
Both man eyed her intently. It wasn’t their prerogative to just capture, the voices in their head must be screaming.
“Unharmed I said! I’ll deal with him myself.”
“You're dismissed,” she said.
He raised his hand halfway to his head, stopped and retracted it back to his side. He turned away, passed Private Dencer, grunted, and the young man followed. Private Dencer’s eyes lingered on her for as long he could while turning. Johnson still dragging his feet, and Dencer trotted behind him, they disappeared trough the door.
Sitting in the chair, Ann closed her eyes and tried to get away from the droning voices, pleading and demanding. One word trailed away in her head. Infest.