5: Downtime blues
I woke up screaming. I was in a white
bed. White walls and white people. And Merdaamel, with his ever polished
glasses and an incredible aura of confidence and calm.
"Relax." He patted me on my
shoulder. I screamed some more.
He shoved an auto injector into my arm.
I screamed, kicked, fought the drug,
trying to remain in this healthy state of insanity.
No more, I thought. No more killing, no
more running, no more crying, no more insanity.
But my body was having none of it.
Mercifully, I slept.
I dreamt something. It was pleasant, but
I can’t remember the details, like I can’t after most dreams. It
enveloped my like water, patiently and deliberately working my sanity
into place, like you would a broken leg.
I wanted to stay in that dream until I
But, of course, my body was having none
Davidson was sitting by the bed as I
opened my eyes for the second time.
I nearly screamed again, in horrific
realization that I was back.
Back in the nightmare.
Davidson saved me, smiling broadly and
lighting me a cigarette.
"How are you feeling, sir?"
"Well…" I started weakly,
He laughed, handing me the cigarette.
"Well, you sure did pick a nice time
to sleep through."
I fixed his gaze, blue eyes staring right
at mine. He wants out of here as much as I do, I thought. Not that I’m
amazed. The realization snapped me back to reality, once and for all.
No dream. No going home. Not yet.
He leaned back in a white chair, the grin
fading to a faint smile.
Then he put me up to date.
Four days had passed since Lieutenant
Colonel William Gertram, four time decorated combat veteran, launched
himself headlong into our main barricade, carrying something equivalent
to 40 kilos of Thermonex.
They showed up again, about ten seconds
later, in much smaller numbers this time. About two or three hundred,
but if Gertram had done a better job at fooling us with his still human
appearance they would have overwhelmed us easily. That, fortunately, was
not the case.
The new rifles were fantastic. We
basically vaporized the whole attack with the help of twenty men armed
with those things.
Davidson issued double watches with
specific orders to kill anyone, no matter how humanlike, that tried to
enter the base from the outside. We rebuilt the wall, end of that story.
Davidson had gone along with my orders,
assembling a strike team worth the name, which was incredible,
considering the quality of the troops under my command.
I nodded at the list, ignoring my need
Kingby was feeling all right, although
Davidson had brigged him, just in case. According to Merdaamel, he was
showing clear signs of psychosis.
Can’t say I blamed him. With a sting of
guilt, I wondered about my own mental state.
The next time I’ll kill someone, I
thought, nearly losing track of Davidson’s report.
I started feeling it, once again. That terrifying loneliness…
It was weaker this time, but not enough.
Davidson didn’t notice how I froze up,
how I blinked the tears away, how I nearly crushed a plastic cup in my
grasp, just hoping I would blink once more and wake up in my bed, Sharon
next to me…But it never happened.
Or he pretended he didn’t. I hope he
One of the new privates, Cornell, had
shot himself, right on the barricade.
Morale was basically rock bottom, and
Merdaamel had noted an all time high in use of
hallucinogenic and pain relieving
stimulants. It was beginning to dawn on most of the troopers, even the
most inexperienced ones, the fact that had dawned on me when the first
wave fell upon us, screaming, slashing, hacking…
Escape would not be easy.
Davidson tensed up notably when he
started on the subject of Mr. Nuke.
Apparently, one of the techs had managed
to get hold of the firing computer codes, through sources unknown. It
would be a snap to disconnect one of the stages in the firing cycle,
meaning we could have anything from 5 kilotons to 3 megatons.
They were working on hard wiring a remote
control to my armor, meaning we could be anywhere from two meters to
five kilometers away and detonate it…as if that would be enough.
Now, all we had to do was to load up the
nuke on one of the colony hover transports, drive east until we spotted
a target, drop the nuke of anywhere inside a one kilometer radius, and
"Very well, Bob. We’ll move out
He nodded, smiling as ever, saluted and
headed for the door, moving like a freaking cat.
I slept, my thoughts collecting into a
whirlpool, like they always do before I drift away.
One last word clung to my conscience,
repeating itself over and over.
Insanity at its finest.
6: Eastbound, Homebound.
For the first time in a week, I strapped
into my armor.
It didn’t feel good, it didn’t feel
If felt final.
Everyone around me seemed to feel the
same thing. All their nervous joking, seemingly casual talk and macho
posturing were easily seen through with experience. I had been one of
them before, and I knew what it felt like to take that step.
The first step of one too many.
The act of closing the helmet seal sent a
chill through my body.
"Lovely casket." I said without
thinking, tapping the chest of my armor.
I ignored the pale faces staring at me as
best I could, devoting my full attention to strapping another pistol
into my webbing.
I did a quick inventory of my suit a few
minutes later, walking up the slate gray ramp leading to the colony
parking lot. Pbeam in hand, with an extra clip taped to the barrel,
three standard issue pistols in my webbing and a flechette spitter in a
sling under my arm.
Armed to the proverbial teeth, in other
It still didn’t feel as if it was going
to be enough.
Davidson was there, as always, standing
next to our rig, his bright yellow armor glistening in the sun. It was
his trademark, and I’d be willing to bet you a whole lot that everyone
who had ever met him would remember him, big, broad, constantly smiling,
and wearing that damned armor.
The rig was a civilian cargo hauler, built like a
smaller battlecruiser. The techs had welded 20 millimeter plate steel
over the whole hull, meaning they had to boost the engine just to keep
the thing in the air. Still, the fact that it could probably survive a
tac-nuke blast at 500 meters was comforting.
Not enough, I reminded myself as I passed
the rig, watching the two lines of soldiers lined up for inspection.
Eager soldiers. Willing soldiers. Anxious
soldiers. They’d die for me, I thought.
They’d trigger the nuke if I was dead.
My orders would be followed blindly, without a single moment of
hesitation, even if it meant certain death.
And why did I not care? Why was I not
awed, as I usually was when this realization sank over me, as it usually
did when it was time for inspection?
I mulled over this as I passed the last
man in the ranks.
Not enough. Of course.
Once again, I had rediscovered what was
basic knowledge of the Zerg: killing them is not enough.
No matter how many men, how many rifles,
how much expertise that was brought to bear against the apparently puny
technology of the Zerg always resulted in the same thing.
The pattern was the same at every colony:
Random sightings at first, then the odd
attack a week or two later.
Generals get bothered, commission a
platoon, maybe two.
Then comes the first wave.
Charging into certain death was
commonplace, and, oddly enough, there always seemed to be enough of them
alive to make at least some damage, paving the way for another, even
more ravenous wave, one which would slip through in even larger numbers,
and so on…
Until there was nothing left to attack.
Then, over night, another Zerg stronghold
would replace the colony.
And, of course, they’d start looking
for another target.
In this case, some of the high ranking
people argued, nuclear weapons were a sensible alternative.
Sensible indeed, considering the other
option was total annihilation.
The nuke strapped to the back of the rig
was testament to this logic.
Of course, anyone who spent ten minutes
fighting them knew that a simple nuclear bomb would barely slow them
Ten would simply prompt them to send for
Fifty would probably stop their advance.
For a few days.
But it still wouldn’t be enough.
Three or four hundred might do the trick.
Just tow a missile rig into orbit and
keep dropping them until the last being on the surface drew its final
Poison the atmosphere, torch anything
that even resembles a mineral deposit, burn it all.
It was the only way to have a chance
against the Zerg.
Everyone knew it.
Except the generals, that is.
"Mount up." I said, without
Mount up to die.
The age old turbine engine revved up to
operational speed, prompting computers inside the cramped driver’s
cabin to spout random bits of information onto the various screens
around us. The small, bony tech behind the wheel smiled contently at the
stream of garbage rolling across the small strip that remained of the
It shuddered for a second, then it lifted
off the makeshift support racks we’d built, the engine obviously
strained to the limit by our modifications.
"Will it work?" I asked
nervously. No need to be killed by technology when you’ve got two
million Zerg wanting to do it for you.
He nodded, flicking a few switches and
hammering some keys on a portable diagnostics unit in his lap.
"Well then, let’s go."
"Yes sir," He muttered,
grabbing the control wheel and throttle levers.
The hovercraft bumped and skidded across
the courtyard, obviously and irrevocably loaded way beyond maximum
capacity. Still, it stayed in the air, and I couldn’t ask for more.
The tech reached overhead and brought
down a handset for our secure communications array, sending a few
trivial words into it that seemed to weigh a ton.
"Alpha one, Mobile is en route.
Repeat, Mobile is en route."
The soldiers on the barricade waved as we
turned due east.
I’m sure they did.
I couldn’t see very well, you see.
My eyelids were closed.