Chapter 2: Handshakes, Hand-Grenades, and HVACs
As Galen Khan found himself reassessing his situation, the hangar bay soon erupted into firefight, which quickly became a chaotic storm of fire and blood and bullets as the boarders flooded into the hangar bay and engaged the Republian forces within the space. The marines followed their training and established a firing line, covered by the scattered crates and hangar equipment that had been disrupted and thrown about the room. Against any typical enemy, this would've guaranteed the marines a solid defense. Plenty of guns aimed at a choke point. The only thing they had to worry about was ammo.
But this enemy was anything but typical.
Their boarding method was simple enough, an umbilical tube connected directly into the hangar, almost boring the hull itself, causing the metal to twist and shape around the tube. A constant flow of smoke, or fumes, or steam seemed to leak from the tube. At first, the marines thought of it only as some sort of dramatic effect, or leaking atmosphere from the xeno vessel.
Commander Xander Hodge
had seen his fair share of boarding parties. Pirate Warlords from The Edge, xeno raiders, even Wildmen from beyond the boundary. He had led charges across battlefields, commanded platoons through campaigns, defended colonies from the fiercest invaders. But the enemy he and his men faced that day gave him a harsh reminder of his place in the galaxy, a reminder of what it felt to be afraid.
He'd followed protocol. He knew the signs without needing to be in the bridge, he'd been in enough. Hodge was already in his gear when the EMP rocked the ship, and immediately called all troops in full battle-dress to the hangar. Establish a defense, hold the choke-point, hold firm until they run out of troops or they retreat.
It was all protocol.
"We need to hold them here, we cannot allow them to gain a foothold. This is our ship, not theirs." Hodge called over the chaos in the hangar as his men trained their rifles on the doors. "Don't let them take one damn step out of that door."
Hodge's protocol, all his planning and expectation. It all meant nothing as soon as the umbilical opened.
His marines opened fire, showering the hallway with bullets. All they could see through the mist was vague shapes, and all they could hear was the gunfire. A few screams escaped the haze, but soon fell silent. A pair of silhouettes shook and exploded before collapsing into a heap of armor and gore. For a moment, the marines felt in control. It wouldn't last. A flash of white streaked through the smoke, and Xander Hodge couldn't move fast enough.
The warrior swooped through the smoke, bullets seemed to almost bend and warp around her. As soldiers' fire redirected towards her, she leapt into the air, spinning and propelling herself in a beautiful display of acrobatics and skill. It was a dance of metal and fire aboard the Valiance. With grace she landed behind the barricade, plunging her blade down into the chest of a private, too slow to even stand a chance. They advanced with agility, not quite as acrobatic as the white warrior, but still too fast for the marines.
As the other troopers recoiled, trying to reorganize and engage, she let loose a volley of projectiles at the soldiers. Not quite a bullet, more akin to a needle or small blade. The lucky few receives nasty gashes along their sides, or had taken the hit in the thickest of their flak jackets. Those less fortunate were skewered and sent flying backward. The chaos and confused gave the other enemy shock troops
from within the tube to make their advance, now less burdened by gunfire.
Commander Hodge felt his mouth fill with blood as he was sent to the floor by a spike. He tried issuing an order, "retreat!" He tried, but he only succeeded in spraying his blood across his breast plate. The soldier looked down at himself and the spike planted firmly in his right pectoral, pressing into his lung and flooding his cavities with blood. As he gurgled, he felt a pair of hands grab him by the shoulders and drag his weight across the hangar floor. Friend or foe? He felt himself sink into unconsciousness before he could tell.
His troopers held to their defenses the best they could, but the enemy's advance was too harsh and they closed the distance too fast, quickly overwhelming the soldiers. Those that weren't cut down or pinned to the floor retreated, a pair of gunners with rotary cannons filled the air with bullets.
As they held their ground further back, a pair of warriors broke off to secure the back of the hangar, and approached Arachne, curious of the exotic war machine. The carefree and cocky young pilot was about to meet danger a lot sooner than he'd expected.
- - -
James pulled his red bandana taut around his head and looked at the team, now a fully equipped hyper-lethal squad of operators. An impressed smile crossed his face as he slapped a magazine into his pulse rifle and secured the strap around his torso. James preferred to travel light, and as much as he would've loved to return to his roots as a heavy weapons specialist and tote a minigun and missile launcher, he had to put those aside so he could lead and support today.
"If Roy's head isn't spinning, I think we need to get moving." James slid his knife back into it's holster and counted the spare magazines he had on his person. "It sounds like the fighting is getting pretty bad-" Akari was cut off as the report of a shotgun rang down the hall from just outside the armory. He bolted to the doors, rifle in hand, and poked his rifle barrel and head out and down towards the fighting.
James, and any one else who had followed, watched as the pair of marines behind the barricade were cut down in a matter of seconds. The girl with the shotgun swung around the corner of the hall, dragging one bloodied leg behind her, rife with small, shrunken-like weapons that were imbedded in her flesh. As she approached the machine-gunner, she ducked and crawled while he opened fire down the hall, but couldn't swivel fast enough as his target leapt high above him and landed behind him. "Shit, Crash!-" He called to the female soldier one last time before he was run through the chest by the white warrior's sword. Crash held back a scream as she limped closer to Akari's squad.
Now, in this light Akari and his team could see their enemy in her full majesty
. She stood seven feet tall, with long legs and arms, both strong and swift. They appeared remarkably human, or like your typical upright sentient biped as the designation was now preferred in this galaxy. Her helmet nearly grazed the ceiling as she moved and leapt down the hall, her armor looked more akin to bone or marble rather than metal, it could be presumed that it would be quite a work of art if it wasn't sprayed with human blood and viscera.
He let out gasp for breath as she lifted him off his feet, skewered by her blade. "Xeno b-b-bastard!" He let out as he raised his sidearm in defiance and fired three rounds against the warrior's helm. The bullets met their mark, sending spiderweb cracks across her faceplate. Although no one could see her face, it was obvious she was insulted. In retaliation she swung her blade over her head, sending the poor marine across the deck towards the squad at the armory, leaving a red streak across the deck as he slid.
The shotgunner loaded another shell and fired upon the warrior, but the pellets seemed to warp around her form as she deftly dodged the blast and drew her pistol. The soldier's eyes went wide as another spike was drove into her left thigh, pinning her leg to the starship floor. She bit her lip and put pressure on the wound as the warrior holstered her weapon and pointed her sword toward the group. She let out a shrill cry, and stepped backward.
From down the hall, four xeno shock troops emerged from the chaos of the hangar and advanced towards the squad, rifles raised. They surrounded the warrior in white, calling in tones and vibrating frequencies to each other as they eyed the squad through their helmets.
Akari shouldered his rifle and checked the hallway for cover. A few containers overturned, the remnants of the sandbag barricade, a decent amount of implements that could be used to provide protection from enemy fire. “Doesn’t seem like they’re the negotiating type.” James grabbed a flash grenade from his belt and ripped the pin with his thumb. “Watch your eyes.”
“Squad, weapons free.”
Lux in umbra...
- - -
Lieutenant Gido Rankenn's flight across the barren ice-flats of threshold was beautiful. The soldier had run plenty of training and test ops across the surface of this world, but catching the landscape at dusk. Solitude, the dying gas orbiting gas giant, was at it's most visible. It was an anomaly, as many things were on this strange world. A gas giant of it's size, even giant now in it's waning years, so close in it's orbit with Threshold. The astronomy research department (a shamefully underfunded sector for a world rife with curiosity and questions) also noted the odd absence of moons, with only one orbiting Threshold, and none for Solitude. A gas giant of that size would have countless. Perhaps they were what now form the rings of Threshold? A popular theory.
But beyond planets and moons, the surface had a beauty to it. It was harsh and unforgiving, but the landscape still had sense of peace and serenity in a galaxy lacking such values.
As Gido surveyed, searching for survivors, crew, any sign of life between the R&D station and The Hub, his communications system began to come live. A simple repeating distress call of Republian design. It seemed right ahead of him, why not stop for a look?
As Gido approached, he could still see the smoke from the fuselage of the transport. Most likely someone trying to get from one station to another and crashed. It wasn't uncommon on Threshold. But still, as he came closer he noticed the damage. It couldn't have just been mechanical failure, it almost looked like...
The ground rumbled and the ice cracked behind Twilight, and a high screeching cry erupted from beneath the tundra. As Gido spun his mech, a likely suspect made themselves known.
Gido had never seen a creature like this. It was confusing and horrifying, crustacean and arachnid in some sort of horrific amalgamation of flesh and chitin. It stood taller than Twilight, not by a huge margin, but enough to concern the pilot. Was it native? He'd been told his entire career here that the planet was lifeless, dead. Maybe a bio-weapon? But where the hell would they have hid it?
Before he could ponder this further, the beast charged towards him, frenzied and hell bent to rip steel and crush him between it's claws.
Peaceful and serene, huh?
- - -
Leon's body became a bit more rigid and defensive as the android refused to give up his weapons, even if his revolver looked as though it might fall apart in his hands. Being on the wrong end of a gun wielded by a stranger was never a good thing. His language, his temperament, it didn't do much to calm Leon or his new mechanic friend. Even if he couldn't fully trust the newcomer, he could agree with him on one thing.
They had to get the hell out of there.
"I couldn't agree more, we should all find a transport and get-"
"I'm going inside. If I tell you to run, I want you to run. Go back to the control room. The door is four inches thick and locks from the inside."
"Okay... please be safe." Estelle said sheepishly as she followed Aurora to the vent.
"Wait, wait no... you have to be joking, right?" Leon looked into the air-vent... It looked big enough for whatever the hell it was to have fit through. "Look you can't just-" he tried, but it was too late, she had already crawled inside. It had already kicked his ass, nearly tore him in half, and was now running somewhere to lick it's wounds. Aurora had just patched him, saved him from a quite pathetic death and was now running into an HVAC trying to keep them all safe.
To let her get killed was just wrong, even if she wouldn't let them, he needed to help her. It was what was right.
Leon looked around the room for something, anything to help Aurora. Getting into the vent would've been the most heroic thing to do, but he knew that blocking the already claustrophobic vent was a bad idea. Leon had plenty of experience inside vents like these, and trying not to be seen, he knew the most important thing to do was to ensure an escape route. He bent down to grab a long length of cable, an emergency power line in case of failure to the main systems. He felt fine until the end when pain shot up his torso, he winced as he felt a stitch tense and snap in his wound. Damn... can't be a detriment.
Leon took a deep breath and kneeled down to the air vent. "Hey, before you get too far," he set the end of cable down in the vent, "if you see something. Anything, you tell us and we'll pull, okay? I can follow you, pull you back if need be."
"We don't need you dying in there."
- - -
Once Aurora was past the opening, the vent was spacious enough for her to move along at a tight crouch, although it seemed turning would be quite difficult. The blood continued down the system, and began to become thicker as the trail continued. As Aurora moved further inside, the sound of hurried movement further down the vent echoed back to her, and the coppery smell of gore filled the olfactory sensors of the android. Whatever was ahead was leaking badly, and most definitely going deeper into the system.
|| Obstruction in hallway J7 HVAC vent preventing ventilation. Direct proper maintenance personnel to Hallway J7 immediately.
With no maintenance personnel left planet-side, the android went alone towards the obstruction. The gore coating the floor and walls became thicker and more consistent. She was getting close.
As she rounded the corner, scanner in hand, she came up to the obstruction. A large collection of biomass stuck against the walls of the vent, squirming and alive, like a tumor. Aurora could recognize bits of matter, what could have been beings at one point. A paw, a jawbone of a dog, and a hand perhaps? The vague shape of human anatomy was almost consumed by the growth within the vent. The biomass seemed to web across the entire vent, and although her connection to the station informed her that it was not more than a meter thick, it still provided no space for the passage of air.
Before the android could investigate further, she heard a growl from the darkness behind her, and as she turned, her synthetic eyes met a horrific sight.
The creature was canine, a Doberman offshoot was an accurate guess. But something seemed fundamentally wrong with this beast. Its flesh seemed to bubble and pulsate from within, as if it wished to rip away from it's bones. In some places the flesh seemed to be barely holding on, exposing bone and leaking blood from within. Lodged in it’s ragged neck were a pair of silver medical scissors, a mark from it’s encounter with Leon. It looked to be in both agony and apathy at once as it leapt toward Aurora, it's horrible rotting maw unhinged and eager to rip and tear.
((Hey everyone, plenty of stuff going on with this one! Please direct all questions to the Discord, thanks!))