Phalanx 15: Eerie Findings
Gordon awoke in the dim twilight of the barracks with Noel's face leaning over him. Her eyes were red and puffy and she sounded brittle as she called him to wakefulness. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Gordon rose, fully armed and armored. Priscilla had declared a yellow security state following yesterday's locust attacks. This meant that they had to be doing constant around the clock patrols. After a brief stretch, Gordon asked Noel: "What's the time?"
"Two 'o' six." she answered, looking at the clock on the wall. As she spoke, Irene crawled into bed for the first time all night. The redhead had been awake all night, taking the first two patrols with Gordon and later, Noel. Gordon watched her fall asleep, then said: "Let's get going. Is Kappa pitching in?"
She shook her head. 'Yes, they got patrols outside the walls." The pair began their route, at first heading to the overlook, along the main corridor through the facility.
"How many of them are out there?"
"Three; they've been doing three hour watches. Sam and Mick have been up pretty much all night." Her voice was slightly hoarse. After that, there was silence. Breakfast was the usual affair, save for Carmine taking an extra five minutes to arrive and Priscilla having an announcement that couldn't wait for their daily briefing.
"Iota Squad" she said, holding up the strange locust pistol. "After breakfast, report to Overlook Command Post immediately- no exceptions!" Fifteen minutes later, they were gathered at the overlook, presiding over the trainyard in full gear and sitting attentively looking at Priscilla, who was holding the strange pistol and giving them a good look at it while also sending a live feed to control.
The pistol was quite slender, even more so than the COG's stripped down police-issue snub pistols. The grip was at the very back of the weapon, angled at fifty-five degrees from the barrel. The barrel was made from a single tube of metal and was completely smoothbore, measuring eleven inches in length. It had a mere guiding rail on top for sighting, and the loading port at the rear of the weapon was extremely odd.
In accordance with standard procedure, Priscilla began: "Lieutenant Priscilla Camilla Dally, Iota Squad of COG Army under ranking commander Colonel Hoffman, serving under Chairman Richard Prescott. Date: The 16'th of January, 15 years after E-day at 0714 hours. Location: New Hope Research Facility Command Post Overlook. Attendees from left to right: Sergeant Bianca Noel Rider, Lance Corporal Gordon Iago Kim, Private Bejamin Carmine, and Private Zoey Hannah Irene. Purpose: the discovery of a new locust pistol and the discovery of a new locust melee weapon." She paused briefly before beginning her presentation in full.
"This is a new locust pistol that was discovered yesterday by Lance Corporal Gordon Iago Kim." Priscilla held the weapon up to the camera and held it high. Obviously, she had taken a good look at it. Pointing to the loading ports of its side, she said: "These ports can be operated ambidextrously, allowing for left-handed and right-handed operation. Priscilla pointed to the trigger. "There is no safety catch on the weapon. Instead the trigger has a long pull which brings the rounds into the firing chamber and fire the weapon."
Resting the pistol on the floor, Priscilla picked up the clip of the several small, pointy bullets and showed them to the camera and the squad. "These are bullets intended for the new pistol. They are of a low 32 caliber size, but are capable of penetrating armor, as discovered yesterday by Lance Corporal Gordon Iago Kim." Priscilla put down the pistol and picked up the whip.
"This is a locust barbed wire whip. It is made of steel cable with long barbs distrubted over the front seven-eighths of the weapon, itself measuring six feet long.. Its purpose is to disarm and kill COG soldiers in melee combat as a counter to the lancer's chainsaw bayonet. Priscilla gave it a few swings and called attention to a ball of spikes on the end. "These spikes are present to both increase the damage inflicted by blows and to better entrap the target's weapon. This is Lieutenant Priscilla Camilla Dally signing off." She reached over and turned off the video camera. Afterwards, Iota Squad resumed patrols with Irene and Noel.
Gordon was going about maintenance duty on the squad's weapons when Priscilla interrupted him. "Gordon." He jumped up, still holding the partially disassembled lancer.
"Ma'am!" he saluted.
"At ease." He dropped his arm.
"I'm looking for volunteers to deliver the video to command. The video feed was cut and intelligence is getting on my ass about wasting time. I managed to get Dizzy to volunteer, but I need someone from my squad to go."
"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but I refuse. Requesting permission to make a suggestion, Ma'am."
"Ma'am, I suggest that you seek Noel for this mission. She seems like the type of person who would jump at the chance." Priscilla seemed to mull this.
She said: "I will look into that." With that, she turned and left, leaving Gordon to his task. Meanwhile, Dizzy was mounting up for the trek, topping off the APC's fuel tank and loading its machine guns with more ammo. After supper, he was approached by Priscilla, followed by Noel, who was carrying a satchel. The latter was well armed.
"Ma'am," he said.
"At ease." said the officer. "Sergeant Noel will accompany you to command. Your destination is four-hundred miles due west. Get moving." Noel walked passed him and ordered:
"Follow me." Dizzy followed her while she gave the briefing. "For the duration of the mission, I am in charge of you. You will obey all orders without question. You will give me your respect and you will be treated with respect. Do you understand?"
"Ma'am, yes Ma'am!" Dizzy followed her to the APC and climbed in after her. Dizzy got into the driver's seat. Noel took navigation and settled in. It was going to be a long trip. Dizzy drove out the front gate and oriented the vehicle in the right direction. However, the area was forested much too densely, impeding their progress.
"Dizzy," asked Noel. "Do you by chance know any locust tunnels that lead to where we're headed?"
"Nah, sorry, Ma'am."
"Never mind. Just take the first road we see." This made Noel nervous.
"Yes, Ma'am," he consented and backed up, turning onto the road. Noel stayed inside the APC, not wanting to risk exposure to sniper fire and monitoring navigation. The equipment displayed a convenient G.P.S. map of the local area in real time. It needed a jack bot to work fully and restore IFF capabilities to the display. Reasonably secure with their odds, Noel settled in for the trip.
Back at New Hope, Priscilla was rounding up the troops to go on another patrol. One group, consisting of her, Kyle, Irene, and Sam, and the other group consisted of Mick, Carmine, and Gordon. The first group took the call sign Luther-1 and the latter took the call sign Luther-2.
"Luther-1, this is Luther-2, do you copy, over?"
"Luther-2, this is Luther-1, we read you loud and clear, over."
"Luther-2, give us a status report, over."
"Luther-1, we are scouting near the southwest corner of the courtyard. Nothing's showing up on scopes. Can you reciprocate, over."
"Luther-2, we have entered the new section, over."
"Anything suspicious yet, Luther-2, over."
"Negative, Luther-1; we haven't seen anything here with more life than a cockroach. There are no signs of the Thicores. We're entering the main Beta area now." A chainsaw bayonet gave it's roar and Luther-2 heard the barriers come off. and a gunshot ring out.
Mick attempted to open the door to the Beta section, only to find the door be stuck by something very heavy. With effort from the team, they at last managed to open the thing. The first thing that they were greeted with was a terrible stench of mold, feces, and dead bodies. Stepping inside, Irene's boot landed on something moist and squishy. Irene looked down. "Eww." He had his boot on a rotten human arm and hastily took it off.
"Uhh, Lieutenant, said Irene slackly. "Don't look down." Despite the warning, Priscilla did, and found them all to be standing on a crowd of dead corpses, all crammed up against the door. Most of them looked eaten. Some of them were picked clean into bones. Behind them somewhat, lay a completely foreign looking body.
The anomaly has twisted, monstrous dark-gray, almost black skin, yellow eyes, and worst of all, several long, thin tentacles with what looked to be huge, crude stringers on the ends. The mouth was huge in comparison with size, and housed oversized canines, measuring five inches in length and a pair of lemon-sized swellings set into its upper gums. The thing must have been about seven feet tall and standing on two clawed feet. Even more frightening than this was the fact that it was covered in a multitude of wounds which would be considered severe, even by boomer standards. Sam looked at the spectacle until Priscilla snapped him out of it.
"Private Sam, Private Sam, snap out of it!" He looked up at her blankly. "Most of these bodies aren't very old; let's keep moving, Luther-1." She walked further back into the facility, reluctantly followed by her subordinates.
Over the radio, Gordon heard the sickening news and subconsciously tightened his left hand around the handle of his boltok revolver. Mick had point on the operation, and Carmine was in the middle, leaving him as caboose. Despite his injuries the previous day, the helmet had protected him well enough to let him sleep off the concussion in a single night. As Priscilla had remarked "The kid's tough."
Their team lined up, backs against the wall while Carmine went prone and stuck his rifle around the corner. He waved then on, prompting them to storm around the corner. You never lowered your guard on a patrol, even if things appeared calm. Especially if things remained calm, because the locusts could never wait to stuff a few more COG into coffins. Action was preferable to quiet, because once you started shooting grubs, things remained fairly straightforward, but if you didn't see the enemy first, you'd never have a chance. Kyle called it the 90/10 rule. 90% of people died by surprise in ambushes, while only 10% of people died in firefight. The individuals had chalked it up to different factors including luck, god, and life. Gordon just figured it to be that the locusts were mostly just disposable redshirts. Theron guard's didn't carelessly rush into gunfire, unlike drones, so the locusts had to be at least reasonably close to human intelligence, but just really dumb-as-dirt soldiers.
They repeated the procedure around the next corner and Carmine reported something: "Attention all: stranded in lot 6. There's two guys and a girl."
"Luther-2, Luther-1 advises that you maintain caution. Have they sighted you yet?"
"Negative, Luther-1. In fact, they just seem to be, standing there."
"Come again, Luther-2. What are they doing, over?"
"Luther-1, the stranded are just standing in the middle of the clearing. The tall one seems to be struggling with something on his face. The girl's just sitting down and crying about something, and the last one isn't even blinking, over.'
"Investigate." Cautiously, Luther-2 approached the oddly-behaving stranded. Gordon put his weapons away and waved to them.
"Hey, you!" he shouted. "What are you doing here?" The girl didn't stop rocking and crying and the other man turned, giving him a vacant look, while the tall guy turned, giving Gordon a glimpse of what was tormenting him. Gordon tried to parlay with the group while Carmine tried to radio the surreal situation back to the others.
"Luther-2, this is Luther-1. The stranded are unarmed. One individual is in pain. The other two are psychologically unavailable." He took a brief look at the man's glazed-over eyes that stared without seeing. "One's giving the thousand-yard stare. Another's got shell shock. Gordon is attempted to communicate with them"
"Who are you, what happened?" asked Gordon with concern. The tall stranded was the only one to respond. While clutching his cheek over a great black piece of necrotized flesh, he gasped strainedly: "We were with Bear's group, going into that building… looking for some medicine. Listen man, that place… ain't safe- there're these monsters, I don't know what they are." He took a deep breath, clenched, and continued. "The things are huge, and strong, and sneaky- really sneaky, like a cat." At this point, Kyle pressed him for more answers and abandoned all pretense of concern, Gordon watching the proceedings.
"Cut the shit and give us the skinny. What the hell were they?"
"I don't know."
"Bullshit. Now tell us what happened." He reduced the callousness in his voice, instead flling it with a vaguely violent malice like that Sergeant Tiger would use before delivering a massive cluster f-bomb. He cast a fond glance to his chainsaw.
"I don't really fucking know." grunted the stranded, attempting to remain calm but starting to flow with tears. Asides from those two, everyone paid no heed to the proceedings.
Kyle blew his temper. "Bullshit! You saw something, now tell me what the fuck it was or I'll tear you a new asshole!"
The stranded broke down and cried. He continued between tears. "Here's what happened, you fascist pig!" Kyle struck with his boot. Gordon got ready to intervene in case if it got worse.
"Not cool, man!" said Carmine, shoving Kyle off the stranded. "It's okay, he's not going to hurt you. Just tell me what happened. If you do, we'll give you guys whatever supplies you need. Deal?"
"Deal.' While this was going on, Gordon was preoccupied with keeping Kyle of the stranded, explaining that beating the shit out of him was liable to make him curl into an incoherent ball. The radio being on, Priscilla heard the proceedings. When she heard Carmine give his offer of supplies, she facepalmed.
"We don't have a lot here, Carmine." She growled this while scanning a central plaza area that was at least half-sunken into the ground. She had her eyes fixed on a row of empty stasis tanks, which were in varying degrees of dilapidation. A few of them appeared just old and grimy. However, the majority at least had large, jagged holes where she assumed something had escaped and a certain few had been completely destroyed.
Irene wordlessly bent down to examine the shards. She noticed the lack of fine grit. "Ma'am, these aren't new." There was a bad feeling in her gut that was making her almost physically ill. "I think we should come back later."
"I'll take that under advisement." growled Priscilla absentmindedly, surveying the ground for tracks. On the floor, there were spots where plaster had fallen from the ceiling. After a brief internal game of eeny-meeny-miney-moe, Priscilla led Luther-1 into another corridor, opening up into a maintenance access hatch. She stuck her head through the opening and found the skeleton of a man holding an ancient weapon. She grasped the rifle by the barrel and pulled it into the better light of the passage.
A cursory inspection piqued her curiosity. "An old Pikeman rifle- and it's in good condition." She paused for a moment and noticed something that smelled horribly, like rotting seeder covered in guts. Absentmindedly, her fingers brushed the trigger guard and felt something wet, sticky, and squishy: decaying flesh. Disgusted, she wiped the handle clean and handed it to Irene, who grimaced.
"Yuck!" she squealed girlishly. Kyle gave a brief snort. On the surface, Luther-2 had the whole story, and was radioing Priscilla. The stranded had been placed under armed guard for escort when Gordon heard the part about the pile of corpses.
Immediately, images flashed across his mind; Memories from years ago: a bolter, a file, and a hammer. They weren't properly in his vision. Instead, they seemed to zoom around his subconscious, just beneath his perception. He could hear and see everything in the real world, but those images wouldn't leave his mind. He was snapped out of it by Irene's voice. "You alright, Gordon? You haven't said anything."
It took him a moment to respond, finding himself 500 yards away and watching the rear of their stranded prisoner column. "Um- uh, yeah I'm good. Sorry, I guess I zoned out there. I'll see you tonight Irene." With that, he ended the conversation without revealing anything. He didn't want to worry her, not when things were already of the edge of being absolutely FUBAR.
The rest of the day went by in long stretches of awareness punctuated by occasional periods of spaciness when standing around. That night at supper, Gordon caught up on the day's events with his squadmates. He acted automatically, his mind being currently elsewhere, trying to keep something that was just out of his awareness from entering it. Curiosity getting the better of him, Gordon tried to uncover what it was, but every cognitive grab made for the murky mysteries only made them murkier. Ultimately, he could remember fewer than ten words from that meal. However, he was in full charge of his faculties for when Priscilla gave her daily debriefing.
"Iota Squad," she customarily began. "Today, with Kappa Squad, we explored the second section of the facility. We uncovered several remains and several mismatched firearms, likely from a stranded party. Nothing of note was found, save for several large broken stasis tanks." She continued on, but Carmine noticed something in her voice.
She's worried! The thought struck him hard. If something could scare Priscilla just by existing, then it had to be absolutely nightmare fuel incarnate.
"Also," she continued, casting an angry glare in his direction, "we have several stranded in our custody. They are to be treated with respect and guarded at all times. It's only a temporary arrangement, so don't worry; we won't have their feral asses stinking up the place for very long." Priscilla finished her speech and dismissed the squad for the night. That time, Gordon was with them. He tried to sleep, but was kept awake for many hours by the mysterious siren's call in his mind reaching for him to remember something in his past, but every time he tried to grasp it, it slid away from him. And so he lay there.
It was early in the morning when something dripped down the ceiling and onto his face, for he was on the top bunk. In the darkness, Gordon gave a start and felt extremely alert, like the wakefulness of a dream. He rubbed the wetted patch on his cheek and tasted it with his tongue. The flavor was salty, familiar and to him delicious; blood!