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    • There is a war...A war humanity can't win. When your best chance for survival is recent enemy, things aren't looking good.

    The teeth, it was often the teeth. The little mongrel probably couldn’t help it, being at least part monster. Jarak did not care however, and saw it as yet another reason why such creatures should be put to death. Not that he would ever do such a thing off of his own back. As much as he despised it, Samuel Thom was still a soldier in the Terran Army, and there was only so far the judicial system went. Even out on the frontier, where it went much farther than back home. Back in the core they wore a velvet glove, out here in the devil’s snatch it was a knuckleduster. Jarak wanted the little beastie to react, to retaliate even. It would give him fair reason to put the rat down, but even after months of such treatment, the mongrel had took everything that came to him. There were the teeth, but nothing more. Even Sergeant Jarak begrudgingly admitted that it was the Thom blood in mutt that gave it just about enough to survive. It was given enough to respect true authority; the creature should thank its whore mother for that. Jarak did not blame Jamisia Thom for her offspring, but rather the filthy beast that stole virtue from such an incredible bloodline. Nevertheless, his face had no tears for the death of an inbreeder, no matter who her father was.

    The little shit thanked him for the punishment. So he should, really, but Jarak was oh so disappointed. Even out here, there was only so far he could push before one of the other sergeants would step in. Fortunately, he was rewarded an out that saved face and allowed him to bring fury down on someone else. “HAVEYOUGOTSOMETHING to say, Private!?!” With this, a red angry face rounded on Private second class Francesco “Mustard” Musacchio and brought up a knee to match Mustard’s smirk. Jarak was often accused of speciesism, something he only ever publicly denied, but he would always give punishment where it was necessary. Musacchio clearly felt that his fellow soldier’s lack of ability was a laughing matter, and his jaw needed to be broken. Sergeant Jarak did not say anything to the now prone Mustard as he stepped away, a slight limp in his walk.


    Several hours later the fifth infantry division had been dispatched further south, and was now committed to an aggressive action against Swarm assets. The four squads had been split, with one heading south west, one heading south east – and the final two heading directly south. It was supposedly an effective military tactic. A pincer movement lead by Sergeant Jarak driving deep into Swarm territory. He honestly could no care how the other two arms did, so long as the operation was successful. He wanted the enemy vanquished, personal ambition did not stand in the way. If the other squads succeeded he would still take credit, but his aim was to wipe out the swarm in every way possible.

    Jarak was sure to make sure Private Thom was in front of him at all times. The General of the same name was up there with President Lorick in terms of admiration, both this unwanted mutt was something different entirely. There was no way Sergeant Jarak could trust it. Really, he wanted it dead, yet he would never personally pull the trigger. Happily though he would push the mongrel into battle, making sure the Private was the purest of frontline infantry. It was a happy accident that Samuel Thom was provided with a rifle that had zero ammunition. An oversight that the good Sergeant clearly had no involvement with.
    #1 Jazavaq, Jan 3, 2016
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 29, 2016
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  1. The knee to the Mustard’s stomach hurt more than a humiliating bitchslap. There were so many things he inherited from his father: fangs, complexion, stark white hair and gleaming, unsettling eyes that creeped out humans. One of very few things Samuel actually got after Jamisia and Thom was empathy. Els were beings more akin to autistic sociopaths and in many ways they had easier lives. Without being so self-conscious about everything, so reflective and focused on their inner life. From what he saw of Jarak, this man seemed more like an Els than human. Mustard coughed, but quickly straightened his rather meek posture. Maybe the young soldier nicknamed after a flavory sauce was small, but thought as nails. He wasn’t as afraid of Jarak as the rest, which made him either brave or stupid. Probably both. Still, the sergeant hated the Els progeny in fiery passion, whilst Mustard was merely disliked like everyone else in Jarak’s sad, lonely life.

    When their tormentor was gone, Samuel patted Mustard on the back. His friend dismissed this with a shrug. No one said anything, but all of them were a band of brothers by now. Even their presence didn’t sooth Samuel’s worries - the hate he saw in Jarak’s eyes. It wasn’t just resentment, but a true, burning passion for hurting him. Like a crusader smiting the infidel. How far would that wacko with a violent track record go to abuse him? Samuel only hoped his squad didn’t suffer in the cross fire. So many times in his dreams did he kill the sergeant, in so many different ways. Shame they were just hopes. He didn’t want Jarak to die in the embrace of the Swarm, that was the fate Samuel didn’t wish on anyone. Even the devil incarnate.

    They headed out the next day. Fixed on stims and in their full gear. The armour increased their performance and breathing masks, Els’s curtesy, filtered out the Swarm’s spores. Toxic fumes that in excess turned the living victim into the slobbering, braindead being. It worked like rabies, if not treated. The antidote, also the alien’s gift, worked only until two days after exposure. There were soldiers who killed themselves when the cure didn’t work, just to avoid this fate. No Els nor humans were safe from the infection - the Swarm’s main weapon aside from deformed ground forces. The creatures formed from countless lives consumed. For thousand of years the viral Swarm, a fungi like hive creature fed upon the Galaxy. Swallowing world after world: from sea algae to intelligent beings. It left nothing but arid globes.

    The killed Swarm horde, the individual warriors spawned by giant, organic ships that hung in the orbit had to be burned or they would be consumed again, strengthening the one that swallowed it. Every squad had few cleaners: those that turned the enemy to ashes with their powerful flame throwers. Samuel wasn't one of them, he was a jarhead. A one that had to put as many rounds into the shapeless beast until it fell. Thank the God they burned like nobodies business. The Swarm was close, Samuel could hear its hissing and gnawing. Even if the humans behind him hadn’t yet. Thanks to the stims his fear was dulled, coined into rage but it was still more than the Swarm possessed. You didn’t have to be Sun fucking Tzu to know that real fighting wasn’t about killing or even hurting the enemy. It was about scaring them enough to call it a day. Swarm felt no fear, no compassion, no remorse. Swarm only hungered.

    The boy clenched finger tightly on the rifle and tried to stay in front of Jarak. Who probably counted on him being killed quickly. Samuel had other plans: not today. Not ever.
  2. Jarak exhaled heavily into his rebreather mask, almost snarling behind the alien architecture. It was not lost on him that this technology helped keep him and his men alive so that they could better combat the Swarm. The fact that it was Els technology he tried very hard to ignore, and completely failed at doing so. Which was why his breaths often came in a rattle, gritted teeth allowing only chunks of air to escape to be filtered. It was not the only thing however, Sergeant Jarak was so angry that he was forced to use alien technology that he often spat in his own face.

    The good Sergeant glared at his two squaddies ahead of him, Thom and Musacchio were commanded to take point, and both eagerly accepted the assignment without complaint. Although Mustachio’s affirmative was a little muffled, and it afforded Jarak great pleasure to force the injured Private to repeat his words several times until he was satisfied. Medical advancements were extraordinary these days, and Mustard’s broken jaw was all but healed in less than a day. The soldier had choked down morphine like it was candy, but Jarak still took a twisted desire out of humiliating the private further. He sounded like a dog trying to eat its own tail and lick its bollocks at the same time.

    Jarak allowed himself a sadistic grin at the thought, but then something ahead caused his face to change. All mirth was gone, and the part of him that was actually a professional soldier took over. There was something out there, and it was close. There was movement, or rather the anticipation of movement. A slight change in the vista ahead, scratching noises so almost imperceptible it was almost imagined. But Jarak knew they were out there, knew they were close. The scratching, the scrabbling, It was in his brain, but soon it would be replaced by the thunderous drums of war. Sergeant Jarak dropped to a crouch and signalled his squad to do the same.

    “Mustachio, drop back to the rear. Corporal Kenna, front and centre.” Corporal Suzanne Kenna was the squads designated Cleaner, and whilst often they were given derogatory names by other soldiers, Jarak valued the need of the so called sanitation specialists. The swarm were a disease, and it took someone like Kenna to completely cleanse the area. The Sergeant wished more of his problems would be solved by burning it with fire. He looked pointedly at the half breed private while he thought this, the beast towering over everyone else with them all hunkered down and trying to be inconspicuous. Jarak sighed to himself behind the mask, his thoughts of slaughter and ‘accidental’ death twisted up in something approaching morality.

    He signalled to the other member of the squad, calling the private to his side. “Stanis, I want you to take up the rear with Mustachio, watch our flank.” He paused now, looking at the rough and ready Arnold Stanis, a man not far off his own age but never looked likely to move up the ladder. It was not really something he wanted, and he had the charisma of a dead moose at any rate. What he did have was experience and a soldiers mind, something Jarak respected and relied on more than he would admit. “You brought the extra ammo, right? I know you did. Give me two clips.” There was a brief frown from Stanis, who knew where this was going, before handing over the ammunition cartridges without further comment.

    Still on his haunches, Sergeant Jarak moved back to the hulking goat they called a soldier and forcibly slammed the clips into Private Thom’s chest. “You’re running dry, Private. You should keep care of your equipment better. Take point. Forward march!” There was no doubt that Jarak wanted the mongrel put down, but sending a soldier out into battle without a hope in hell was worse than murder. It was practically treason. Today Private Thom was a solider in Sergeant Jarak’s Glorious Badgers, tomorrow he would be a stain on the galaxy. Jarak could wait until tomorrow before dispensing humanity aid and putting the beast out his misery.

    With Thom leading the way and Kenna primed and ready beside him, the squad marched forward deeper into the Swarm territory. Many would be killed today, and Jarak was adamant that it would only be the blood of his enemies spilt this day.
  3. The breather mask wasn’t the most convenient of devices, but far above human technology. Els developed a formula that neutralised the toxins the Swarm used. More than once Samuel wondered how truly alive the monstrous creation was. Even Els, the territorial predators, showed more empathy and social self-awareness than the Swarm. They were pure intelligence, but without any remorse, any emotional reactions. Just simple reflexes in a disgusting and hungry form. He adjusted the mask that was never comfortable. What Samuel noticed, the Els tolerated discomfort much better than humans. Maybe it was some old evolution related mechanism - they could stay still for hours, hunting for their prey. Humans amused them with the soft cushions and warm beds. Not that the Els didn’t use those beds, just for something other than sleep.

    Somehow Samuel wasn’t surprised Jarak pushed him onto the front. The man hated him and Samuel sensed for more than just his race. He knew such prejudice, better than anyone else. Those spieciests looked at him with disgust, sometimes pushed around, often spat on - but no one tried to kill him. Jarak was different, in much worse way. The half breed looked at Mustard who grinned behind his mask, even if the pain from the jaw had to be stirred by this expression. That was Mustard alright - unbroken one. From all the humans Samuel knew, Mustard belonged to the best of them. When put next to the worst among the homo sapiens, like Jarak, his star shone even brighter. Samuel considered himself more a human on the inside, but it wasn’t the truth. It was just something his mother told herself to sleep better. Els hybrids weren’t a fair split between parent’s traits. Els adaptable genome changed and twisted human chromosomes. Creating an Els with human traits. Humans knew that, Els knew that and it was unvoiced concern on both sides. The purists screamed about assimilating humanity, like Borgs.

    The orders were muffled by the masks, but they all heard it and acted accordingly. Samuel hated Jarak, hated him with passion and burning atypical for his level headed, analytical kind. He hunched behind the cover, waiting for the Swarm to come. They had the higher ground, but the creatures would quickly climb the rocky surface. The Badgers weren’t there to win this fight, just to bide time for the airstrikes to clean the area off the plague. The screeching and hungry slobbering was closer one, Samuel aimed his rifle but Jarak handed him two clips. At first the hybrid looked at him, dumbfounded then checked his weapon. ”What the…” His green eyes, so much like his mother’s glared at the sergeant. Begrudgingly, Samuel accepted the ammo. ”Yes, sir.” He said and couldn’t hide spite in his voice. The boy checked it twice before moving out, Jarak had to humiliated him further.

    There were other platoons spread out, but Samuel’s one would be the first to meet the enemy. They moved forward and didn’t have to wait long, from the horizon came the wave of twisted monsters. Every one of them different, mutated in the hideous, unique form. The young half-breed felt sweat trickling down his neck. He was scared, scared shitless. Even pure Els were afraid of the dark tide coming at them. Let alone humans, who evolved from omnivores and not vicious predators. They had something else, they had strong, herd bonds. A brotherhood Els would never understand and Samuel felt a part of it. Even with Jarak breathing anger at him.

    Someone put through the main comm a booming song. Slowly they all began to sing.

    [i]Oh well, honor for all
    Of the big and the small
    Well, the taller they stand
    Well, the harder they fall.

    The voices rose louder, joining in one defiant cry.

    No, we shall not fall
    We shall not crumble
    No, we shall stand tall

    Death, it will come
    As sure as a night
    We will not run
    No, we live but to fight.

    With unified battled cry, the swarm and human soldiers clashed with the Swarm. Sound of rapidly firing rifles and exploding bullets was swallowed by the Swarm’s screech. The first monsters lounged at Samuel and his squad. The tentacle creatures, jaws spread to swallow their prey.
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  4. It was the eyes, the gorram eyes. Jarak would happily gouge out his own so that he would not have to see them again, the painful reminder of a world now devoured in flames. Yet here they were staring back at him, the dazzling emerald of a beauty stolen by this unworthy beast, this pest that hardly deserved life in the first place. He stole her eyes, a crime that for Jarak was worse even than treason. It was truly unforgiveable. One day he would have to make sure he would never be forced to revisit such pains again, but for the time being there were more important things to be concerned about.

    “This is Sergeant Jarak of squad K-314 infantry, reporting enemy contact.” Jarak had switched to main comms, reporting in to the rest of the regiment. “We have swarm activity at immediate range, engaging.” Not seconds after he signed off did the song start ringing out, as it always did. This was of a newer brand, the influx of younger recruits influencing even that. Paul Jarak had other preferences, it was a long time since he had heard All the Little Angels. He glanced at Stanis, and even through the mask he could tell that the veteran soldier was thinking the same thing. They shared a solemn nod, both men remembering those who no longer sang alongside them.

    K-314, also known as Jarak’s Glorious Badgers, were officially the first to engage with the Swarm on Pericles-3, but only by minutes. Outright war soon broke out, and the five man squad were just the first fly in the ointment. They pushed on until the metal met the meat, and under Jarak’s command made sure that it were them that held the metal. The Swarm, if they ever lived, were killed in dozens, but it mattered very little. Dozens from billions was less than nothing. All that stood in their way were four soldiers and an unshackled beast. Jarak would never trust the Paleskin, but when it were matters of war, there was no time to think about prejudice.

    Kenna was the first to fall. The cleaners usually were, they were frontline. Whilst the flamethrowers were incredibly effective against the Swarm, there was only so much they could do before they were completely overwhelmed. She fell quickly, and Jarak did not hesitate – moving forward to fill the gap. His friend and squaddie was dead, but mourning was for later, right now even winning the war was not important, it was all about survival. This was not the first time Jarak had lost a squad member, or even an entire squad, and it would not be the last. His rifle hammered at the enemy, and he contented himself that for every one they took of his, he took a hundred of theirs. The fact that the swarm outnumbered the Alliance by more than a million to one was lost on a man who thought Arithmetic was a bone disease.

    It wasn’t clear when Stanis got taken out, it was realised only when the Sergeant failed to reach him over any channels. He could not ignore the sense of loss in this instance, a great soldier had passed this day. Arnold Stanis was one of the most unsung heroes of the Arxis Falls, yet now he was reduced to being disintegrated on some backwater world. He deserved much more than that, and was owed much more than that. An NCO’s recommendation would be certain to get him a hero’s funeral back home. Jarak promised himself that it would happen. He would not die here, if only to guarantee Stanis got what he deserved.

    “Squad, on me!” It was just him, the pest and Mustard now. His attempts at contacting command were lost, it was well documented that the Swarm interfered with communication. They were in far too deep now. They were alone. “We will not fail here, you understand? If you die here today I will kill you myself! Now let’s show the bastards that they don’t fuck with the Badgers!” Jarak used the age old logic of Sergeants everywhere, inspire fear where it cannot possibly exist. The grizzled human had survived much more than this, but seldom had he done so accompanied.
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  5. The Els were patched through to the commanding officers. The singing annoyed them. The time for battle cry was over when the enemy moved closer, a flooding mass of misshapen creatures. Swarm had no single shape, no rule on how it created its minions. They were echoes of devoured species. They were terrifying, even for Els, who evolved as apex predators. No one knew from where the infestation came from. It didn’t possess a space travel - the Els found it on a derelict ship drifting through space at the edges of Milky Way. There had been new ships incoming every cycle, one hundred years thousands crossing the void between galaxies. All in ancient, derelict ships were not even molecule of their builders survived. Els were lucky, they had developed technology capable of fighting it off, other civilisations weren’t so lucky. Those that worships the aliens claimed if not for them, the humanity would have been consumed long time ago. Others accused them of brining the plague. Samuel didn’t want to think about it, his inner conflict was already terrible, without adding more self-loathing.

    Jarak hated Els with fiery passion, on deeply personal level. It disturbed Samuel, if only because toward him this hatred seemed to double. At least Jarak had enough common sense not to let his beliefs to take hold on the battlefield. A part of Samuel believed the grizzled veteran appreciated his strength, agility and killing instincts. Majority of him belonged with Els, in biological terms he was one with subtle shifts in genetic material that showed in neurological functioning - it made him a fierce beast like other pale skinned creatures. No one knew if certain warmth to the character was just a matter of upbringing - his mother and grandfather paying close attention to any anti social deviations. Military had woken up those instincts, in a way that scared him.

    Their squad got decimated quickly, as it was expected. They weren’t there to win, they weren’t there to survive, but to buy the colony time before Els will glass the planet. Half a million civilians waited for extraction. Again Els came through, sending their large cargo ships to help, since humans had no technology to build so monstrous cruisers. When it came to pure facts, humans weren’t so unique nor special in the Galactic scale. Homo sapiens survived only because it had been hidden at the edges of Milky Way, far away from where the Swarm first came. Some weren’t comfortable with this notion.

    Samuel saw Kenna falling under the giant ball of slime, Jarak already filled the spot. Samuel had his own troubles - the high velocity, burning rounds Els had manufactured quickly laid down the infested creatures, but they just kept coming. The squad became to pull back, a tactical retreat to get the aliens where they wanted to have them. Far in the horizon neutrons bombs were detonated, soon the radiation would reach the colony - they had no more forty-eight hours to reach the evac zone. Through the white noise, fragments of conversations could be heard. None of them pleasant. How much manpower would the UNoE lose? Twenty thousand? Maybe more. The total casualties of this war already hit few millions. Els had stopped counting after it reached trillion for them. They had sacrificed world after world, until only a handful was left. Humans used to be reluctant to use scorched earth tactic, up until the infection spread to few space stations. Ones dangerously close to Earth.

    Samuel saw Stanis falling, when they had been only few feet away from the canyon that would trap the infestation’s march. No, not stop. Delay. It was unstoppable. The old soldier had been torn asunder by giant maw. He would never forget his screams. Almost out - the charges would detonate in a moment. Just when Samuel thought the three of them made it, one of the monsters jumped Mustard. The young man raised his rifle, he could feel the chamber emptying and salvo of bullets bit into rotting flesh. The creature stumbled back. He had just enough time to grab Mustard and throw him over his shoulders. Single blasts could be heard, other squads already pulled back or in the act of desperation sacrificed themselves to slow down the death march.
  6. The world was now just a cacophony of gunfire. The orchestra was being reduced one by one though, until only two instruments rang out. Once Musacchio fell, Jarak moved to the side of his one remaining squad member. The fact that Private Thom risked life and limb to retrieve Mustard’s body was impressive, but also highlighted the mongrel’s naivety in the field of battle. The death of Stanis hurt Jarak incredibly so, more so that he was lost long before it was known. Yet even if he saw his friend and ally die in front of his own eyes, he would not have gone after the body. He knew that his old compatriot would do the same should the situations be reversed. It was all about survival now. Stanis, Kenna and Musacchio would all be mourned, and Jarak had to believe that they would be the only deaths amongst the K-314 today. For all that he despised Jamisia’s offspring, Samuel Thom was still one of his little lads. And Sergeant Jarak would protect his people as much as he possibly could. Even if they were filthy ratbastards.

    A two-three burst from Jarak’s rifle took care of a swarm grunt that had its teeth set on the paleskin soldier, and now the two were completely shoulder to shoulder fighting against the mutual enemy. All prejudices forgotten, Jarak would do whatever it took to make sure that they both came out of this alive. Behind them the ravine was fast approaching, the Heyerdahl Canyon that was so heavily mentioned in their mission parameters. This was never intended to be a suicide run, they weren’t exactly expected to lead the swarm to Heyerdahl then jump off themselves. The small cave set just off the cliff face had been scouted out by the TR previously, and Jarak knew that there was a small cache of supplies installed there. It was supposed to enough to last five people 48 hours. For two it would be considerably longer.

    The flip side of this was that the cave was determined as strategically viable for a squad of five to hold. Against the swarm there was no telling how long two of them could last. Sure, Sergeant Jarak was about as hard to kill as a rhino, but then came the wet-behind-the-ears private. Thom had genetic advantages from his father’s side, but he was still a mutt. Jarak would hardly count being tall and having sharp teeth as useful in a balls to the wall fire fight at any rate.

    “Thom! On me, boomtown then move behind.” The order referred to the fact that the Chalkface was equipped with several high explosive incendiary devices. Specifically designed to combat the Swarm. The grenades would hopefully stall the advance long enough for them to get in the cave and dig in. If need be, Jarak would blow the entrance himself. Even if it meant he was trapped with Jamisia’s son, he would still be alive. Paul had had to go far worse in the past to ensure his own survival. And the survival of his species.
  7. Samuel saw a shadow hovering above him. For a moment all he could see was a teeth filled gape. Like an open wound in the crimson and violet flesh. He didn’t want to let go of Mustard who was wheezing heavily. It would be low, it would be what Els did. The boy looked up, freezing in a moment that stretched into eternity. Maybe that how it felt to be dying, replaying your last moments in a loop over and over. A sound of gunfire broke his stupor, pieces of torn flesh fell on Samuel who managed to dodge the convulsing tail. He almost dropped Mustard, but his natural strength kept them both up. Samuel knew who had saved him, even without looking back. Many things could be said about Jarak: spiteful, arrogant, impossible simple minded but certainly not disloyal. In the heat of battle Samuel turned from loathsome mutt into a fellow soldier. In the distance another bright flash appeared, like a glow of thousand suns. The else already bombed the surface where civilians had no hope of being rescued. Where the plague overwhelmed them. Men, women, children – so many dead. Back on Earth what Els did was called cruel, inhumane, but who had seen the plague with their own eyes.

    The Swarm was almost gnawing at their feet, but unlike the mindless funghi, humans and Els could use the planet's terrain to their advantage. The planet possessed a vast cave system, drilled by now evaporated water. Thanks to Els cutting edge scanners K-371 was mapped and every soldier had a map to help them navigate the narrow passages. Most led to the evac outposts where tall Els warriors checked if no one carried the deadly funghi. If they did...that meant only one thing. The aliens didn't screw around, taught by the harsh experience. If only he had time for such musings, Samuel would have let got of Mustard whose lungs were deadly infection had spread. The young soldier carried his friend while dispatching deadly proximity mines. A feat accomplished only by a handful of humans, but almost every Els. Or part one.

    Still, his body grew tired. The left arm and shoulder on which Mustard rest became numbed. The last mine had been dispatched before Jarak gave the order for something the proud humans would call: a tactical retreat. It was running for their lives. Once on the planet's surface, the plague couldn't be stopped, only slowed down. ”Done.” Samuel confirmed and dashed back, only moments before the charges went off, forcing the young soldier on the ground. He let go of Mustard who, by some strange miracle, fell into the cave that was about to become their shelter. Still jolted from the explosion, Samuel grabbed his rifle. Pressing his back against the hard rock, the young soldier cut down another two monsters, but as ordered, he moved behind Jarak, giving the veteran a much needed suppressive fire.

    Another charges ripped a scar along the canyon's wall, it was time to scram. Samuel waited for Jarak to dive into the cave before following. Just in time to escape the incoming rock avalanche. Below only the faint light flicker, a string of tiny LED's installed, aimed to lead the survivors toward safety. The hybrid fell hard on the ground, almost breaking his neck. Only the well adjusted armour broke his fall and saved the boy's life. From the seven men squad only three remained and one of the survivor's lifespan was growing incredibly short with every passing breath. Samuel blinked, instinctively wiping sweat from his eyes. The armored hand only met plate of the advanced helmet. He quickly glanced at the atmospheric status indicators – funghi clear, oxygen levels - normal. The visor opened with a hiss, taking with it the rest of the helmet. Another piece of Els technology. The aliens, or Chalkfaces, like some humans stubbornly called them, shared only small pieces of their technology or rather integrated it with human one. Not enough for humans to take them on if the plague suddenly ended.

    Samuel coughed as the air was still thick with dust of grinned stones. He cautiously looked around – the cave was basked in pale, ghostlike LED light which gave it ominous wraith qualities, Samuel tried to find his team leader. Unlike many believed, Els had no better nor worse sight they humans. They both were day global superpredator in their respective eco systems. Els more so humans...
  8. The explosions on the far horizon were soon echoed by their non-nuclear counterparts just slightly behind the remnants of the 314. Jarak expected them, and did not need to turn around as fire rained down on their arses. With any luck it would take a sloid chunk out of the swarm, and perhaps even slow their progress. It was all just stalling the inevitable, though, in all his years of combat the Sergeant had never faced something as terrifying as a swarm advance. Even when the Els announced themselves by invading Arxis did not compare to this. Whilst an unknown enemy was incredibly frightening, it was nothing compared to the first-hand knowledge of exactly what the Swarm was ultimately capable of. It was a death that no one deserved, a matter which was going to have to be addressed soon, he knew.

    The decimated squad hurled themselves into the relative safety of the cave, pre-installed systems sparking up as they approached. It was nothing more than a few lights and a solitary mark one turret, but it was certainly better than nothing. One of those Els near-impenetrable defence shields would have been nice, but the big whiteys did not play well with others. Not that Jarak felt they needed such help at any rate; the Badger’s would get out of this just fine. Although at this point he felt like it was himself he was trying to convince. They reached the far end of the cave, and with the swarm bottle-necked behind them, had a short amount of time to regroup. He looked over at Thom and Mustachio, the latter seemingly unconscious and in bad shape. Jarak knew exactly what needed to be done here, and it would be far from the first time it was needed. An unspoken wartime story, sometimes your friends and comrades needed a little help getting to the other side.

    Jarak looked at the brute of a mongrel, taking off his helmet and stooping over his fallen friend. Jarak had a half a mind to bark at Thom for removing his gear in a hostile situation without permission, but just this once he let it go. The mutt may be an abomination, but he was still a solider, and now he had to do one of the hardest things a soldier ever had to do. The Sergeant would say it gets easier, but really it doesn’t. The scarred veteran does not remember every kill he has ever made, but the faces of all the good men and women are etched deep into his brain. Every time he closes his eyes he sees the face of those lives he took himself, sometimes a dying soldier needed a different kind of soldier.

    He stepped over to the Els half breed, placing a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder and putting on his friendliest face. Which was much like his normal face, but with less bared teeth. “He’s gone kid, his brain just doesn’t know it yet. That’s what these bastards do to you, take you down from the inside out.” Jarak didn’t fully understand the swarm, and would never pretend to. What he did know was that they were vicious little tossers, and no one should have to live through that. Under his watch, no one would. Stripping the sidearm from his hip, he passed the pistol over the young man’s shoulder to Private Thom. “It’s better this way, and you should do it. But make it quick, we don’t have long before they break through.” The harshness in his voice was dropped, but not completely. He forced the pistol into the boy’s chest and turned back to stare down the cave. Taking a knee, he brought his rifle up and made himself to be ready to shoot anything and everything that wanted to try and eat him. If this was to be Sergeant Jarak’s last stand, then he would damn well go out swinging.
  9. “Samuel.”

    He was still shell shocked from the blast. His head pounded like a jackhammer and vision was blurred and pale light left smudges on the boy’s vision. The sound of distant gunfire and explosions created hollow, trembling echo. “Samuel.” The young soldier whipped his head. He knew this voice - warm and delicate, but belonging to a woman with sharp wits. Mother. Samuel thought and for a moment the cave around him fell apart, giving a room to strangely vivid memory. Jamisia leaning over him more than a decade ago; her dark hair touching his still pudgy cheeks and hand moving to caress dark bruise forming beneath right eye. “World won’t be kind to you.” Her voice trailed off, became a faint whisper. “I am sorry.” Something wet fell on his face. Semi conscious, Samuel licked off salty droplets odd his cracked lips. Salt. Tears. Those were his tears.

    The boy blinked. He stood over Mustard’s unconscious body. His friend was heaving like something was sucking life out of him. Then Samuel realised with terrifying clarity that Mustard was already being eaten away by the aggressive infection. The spores nestled in the brain, hijacked it like well equipped hackers. ”Jose.” Samuel whispered and touched Mustard’s chest. It rose and fell in frantic rhythm and disturbing, gargling noise left his lips. White foam gathered there and Mustard began seizing.

    For a moment Samuel sat there, frozen, until a gentle touch pried his attention away from dying friend. The young soldier jerked scared, when noticed who was bending over him. Jarak. Even when smiling, the human looked like an unpleasant orc. His features were marred with scars and expression of permanent displeasure was engraved into this withered skin. Unconsciously Samuel tensed, too surprised by this run of events. He expected plenty from Jarak, even killing him at one point, but not this…this…kindness? Samuel pressed his lips together. They were full and pleasant, one trait of very few Els humans could find familiar and attractive. Jarak spoke truth, of course. Reasonable and fair. Samuel didn’t expect he would have been spared when infected, Mustard was a dead man the moment spores found a way into his lungs.

    ”I …” Samuel began to speak, his voice cold and sharp, but before the half-breed could finish the sentence, Jarak pressed a handgun against his chest. The boy gasped, still too shocked to react. Few months ago he was just a kid - a tall, dangerous creature but still a kid interested in parties, girls and booze. Now, they forced him to kill his best friend. Samuel couldn’t really peg ‘them’ precisely, but knew Jarak had to be one. Leaving him like that, to finish Mustard off as if he was a rabid animal. They shoot horses, don’t they? Crossed through his mind as Jarak was taking up his rifle. Samuel looked at him with burning hatred and a dark temptation occurred, to shoot the man’s head off. Before this could happen Mustard woke up and grabbed Samuel’s arm. Do…it.” His friend wheezed. Mustard’s face was growing red and dark vines wormed their into his capillaries. There was nothing else to be done.

    A single gun shot filled the cave with sharp echo. Samuel pulled himself up, fighting away nausea. He refused to give Jarak this pleasure. The old sergeant would probably have a good laugh, sick bastard. Jarak knew how close him and Mustard were and yet pushed guns into his hands rather than do the deed like a good team leader. ”We can go.” The half-breed stated flatly and something changed in the young soldier. Bringing in those traits his human upbringing had tried to weed out for so long. It wasn’t avoidant mongrel that met Jarak’s gaze, but a full fledged Els.
  10. The boy manned up quicker than Jarak expected, he thought that they would be up to the knees in Swarm before the mongrel got the job done and put Mustachio out of his misery. The shot rang out quickly, the echo soon disappearing down the dark and desolate cave systems. There was a quick response however, the clitter and clatter of the approaching enemy soon moved from an itch on the inside of the ears to something approaching thundering drums. War drums, at that. Checking his rifle one last time, the Sergeant glued his eye to the scope and prepared himself for what was to come. “Thom get your arse up here. There’s no way I’m dying on some backwater with just some no good half a soldier boy as company. Front and centre!” This was all yelled over his shoulder, and at the top of his voice. With the sound of impending death now reverberating around the cave walls, it was hard to be heard. When they got out of this he would have to sit the kid down and explain to him why killing Mustard was a necessity, and a kindness. Thom hated him, no doubt about that – and so he should. A Sergeant wasn’t doing his job properly if those under his command thought he was a loveable old chap.

    The Private took up position mere moments before the Swarm would come barrelling around the corner, announcing surprisingly calmly that they could leave now. Seemingly oblivious to the hundreds – if not thousands – of enemy troops between them and the exit. “We got a little pit of spring cleaning to do first kid, shoot anything that moves and try not to get yourself slaughtered. If you die out here I’ll kill you myself.” It was illogical and made little sense, but neither of them had time to ponder on this as hell itself came plunging into the cave. The first rattle of gunfire came from Jarak himself, soon to be followed by the only other surviving member of his squad. The two rifles battered away in a near perfect disharmony of violence and fire. The only silver lining of being horribly outnumbered, if there was one, was that it was incredibly difficult to miss. Each shot fired registered a hit, it really was like shooting fish in a barrel. Only more bitey.

    It felt like an eternity until they stopped coming, but really it was four minutes and eighteen seconds. Jarak hit the timer on his wrist as soon as he let off the first volley, it was good to keep track of how long the wave lasted. He had had enough last stands to know this wouldn’t be the end of it, they would keep coming until one side was dead. Using the lull in combat to check over supplies, Sergeant Jarak swore under his breath. They’d expended more than half the ammo they had left, and no way would they have enough to last another wave like that. Probably struggle to last eighteen seconds, let alone the rest of it. Ignoring Thom for the time being, he strode over to the corpse formally known as Mustard, rooting through the soldiers pack and body with little ceremony. Not like the boy himself would care, and Jarak promised to say something nice at the funeral –when- they got out of here.

    Finding what he was looking for, he pulled the charges out of the pack and strode back over to the cave tunnel where Samuel was still waiting. It was good to have a backup plan, and there was a good chance Private Thom would get mowed down by the Swarm, or else pick up a stray bullet from his commanding officer. Tossing two of the four charges to Thom, he got to work placing them on the opposite side of the tunnel. “Arm them Private and strap them to the wall. I’d rather bury myself then get turned into one of them freaks.” Of course, regardless of what happened, the human had no plans on dying here, last resort of otherwise. Despite the outward appearance of an anger fuelled idiot much of the time, Jarak was a damned fine Sergeant and he’d done his due diligence. This cave was solid, been here centuries, and should hold up even if they set off ten bombs. Bringing down that wall would keep the swarm off them long enough for them upstairs to wipe the planet completely then come dig them out. Could be down here weeks though, and even with rationing the supplies wouldn’t stretch. Private Thom had difficulty killing his friend, was going to be a real kicker when it came time to eat him. Personally Jarak wasn’t a big fan of Mustard on his food, but it didn’t pay to be picky.
    • Thank Thank x 1
  11. Jarak was a dick. And a damn good soldier. Samuel never doubted it, neither denied his sergeant was not only a dick but a vile human being. Abusive, abrasive, uncaring with a twisted sense of misguided patriotism which led him to be a mindless racist. The boy knew this man had survived the attack on the first colony, he had taken part in Els-Human wars, but it didn't excuse his hatred. At least not toward him. Samuel took no part in own conception, never asked Jamisia Thom to screw a two-meter alien. The young soldier hated Jarak with burning passion, without even noting that his hatred more than anything else would keep him alive. Someone had to pay for what he had to do to Mustard. Might as well be the next monster rather than Jarak.

    Some of the infested aliens managed to squeeze into the cave opening. Smaller ones, but no less vicious. Samuel heard the order and reacted with almost inhuman swiftness. Els were large but strangely agile. Their planet had bigger core than Earth which forced higher gravity on their evolution. Still, with two suns making nights much brighter than those on the human homeworld, Els suffered from nyctalopia. They struggled with dim- lighted interiors, just like Samuel in a scarcely lit cave. He learned to see shapes, react to movement, but still, some shots missed. Jarak's natural advantage made him place every shot perfectly.

    They were close now, Samuel could smell their rancid stench. The never ending wave. The only option left was blowing up the damn entrance from the inside as well, risking burying them alive. Better to die crushed by a falling rock than becoming the Funghi foot soldier. Jarak came to the same conclusion and threw at him few small, but powerful ion charges. He caught them mid-air, glad for standing in a bright spot.

    There wasn't even time for simple 'yes, sir'. Samuel only hoped Jarak didn't hate him enough to deny any cover fire. For a moment there was silence, but not for long as another monsters pulled themselves through an opening in a rabble. An opening that was rapidly growing. "Done!" Samuel shouted out when placed the last charge. "Fire in a hole!" He added and dashed deeper into the tunnel as the mines blew up. In a narrow cave, the echo was deafening. His hearing, acuter than this of a human, was a torture. Samuel could feel his eardrums almost exploding. The boy screamed, unable to quietly endure the pain that filled his skull. Blood trickled from his ears and nose from the pressure put on the capillary vessels.

    The screech of dying monsters was horrifying. Samuel had a feeling some got out from the blast, but it was just a torn leg which fell near him. The boy realized something and began to frantically touch his face before letting out a sigh of relief. The mask was there, he had put it on protect himself from Mustard's blood. His friend's last moment returned with painful vividity, but Samuel pushed them away. Hid in a mental box, cut off like the moment of his mother's cold execution. He had endured this, he would endure Jarak and face the disgusting monster. Nothing was worse than watching life escaping from the eyes of the only person who had genuinely loved him.

    Slowly, the tall boy pulled himself onto knees. Dust and few small stones fell off his shoulders and helmet. Blood was dripping from Samuel's nose into the mask, but he didn't dare to remove it. Not with a torn, Funghi leg laying next to him. Close by, the young soldier could see spread five fingers and what could be a shred of clothing once. It downed on him this creature could have been a human. One of the first infected. With a shudder of disgust, he shoved the severed limb away.

    "Sergeant!" He called out, unexpectedly realizing he wanted to see Jarak alive. It was better to die in two's than alone. Even with such an insufferable prick like his team leader. Not to mention it increased his odds of survival. Soon the Els start to glass the planet starting at the northern pole regions, making their way down to the south pole. Leaving nothing but molten rocks that would turn into hardened, black glass. They had less than forty-eight hours to find the nearest evac point.

    "Sergeant!" Samuel repeated and finally stood up. They lost few LED lights to the blast which meant the cave tunnel was now much darker than before. It left Samuel virtually blind. He reached to touch the wall close by and pressed his back against it. The boy's entire body ached, head was pounding, not to mention blood clogging the entire mask.
  12. Jarak swallowed a snarl as his Private shouted the age old terminology for setting off the bombs. He hadn’t given that order, and was not quite ready to bring the whole world crashing down. The kid was scared, and desperate. Jarak recalled the first time he had to kill a friend, and after he got over the soul crushing mortification vowed it would be the last time. It wasn’t, not even close. Didn’t mean this was an excuse to make irrational battlefield decisions, the Sergeant would have to reprimand the youthful exuberance of Thom when they got out of this. Right now though, he was more concerned about the explosions a split second away. Activating the auditory dampeners built into his helmet, Jarak let his jaw go slack and turned away from the cave mouth. The initial blast knocked him from his feet, and the first few seconds were nothing more than a disorientated blur.

    Whilst the cave was secure enough not to completely fill in, there was still enough rubble falling to cause considerable risk. It didn’t help that the explosion took out the guiding lights and they were now navigating blind. Jarak did not have the foresight to activate the headlamps on his suit in time, a sign of age no doubt. So now they were here, with enemies up their arseholes, no way to see – and too much to hear. The human stumbled forward in the darkness, almost tripping over the detritus of the battlefield a couple of times. More than once he felt something go squish. Eventually though, the controlled cave in subsided, and the noises – all of them – went away. No more falling rocks, no more scratching swarm. It was quiet as a grave, which it in fact was. Then a high pitch noise – a voice tinged with panic – rang out from the darkness.

    The veteran swore quietly, he really hoped he didn’t have to die on this backwater world with such an idiot half breed. He tapped the side of his helmet to activate the headlamps, and then swore again – a little louder. The lights wouldn’t engage, the fall must have damaged something in the suit. Damn substandard technology. A sudden panic escalated in the human, and he checked the rebreather equipment and safety levels inside the suit proper. No ruptures and no issues on that end at least. Something he and the mutt shared it seemed, neither wanted the spore infection to bring about their end. Well, no lights, that was a problem – fortunately not for a wily old Sergeant who knew how to be resourceful. He may not have been able to handpick his team, but having Stanis as quartermaster was a masterstroke.

    Rooting in his pack, he pulled out one of a handful of small cylindrical items. It closely resembled a painted breadstick, but it had its uses. Low tech compared to what the great and bountiful Els Empire had at their disposal, but it did the job at hand. He pulled the cap off the flare and threw it forward and up as soon as the smoky red light filled the small chamber. He saw three things in the moments before the flare clattered off of the near wall and fell beside him. The last was the hulking figure of his private, looking all alone and vulnerable. The Sergeant reacted quickly, rifle up and squeezing off two slugs no more than a half second later. The two swarm troopers that had miraculously survived the cave blast dropped to the ground with a sudden case of exploding head syndrome. They had been moving towards Thom, the fool’s calling out guiding them towards him like a shining beacon in this liquid darkness. Confident that they were the only ones that got through, Jarak walked over to where he knew they fell as the flare spluttered into nonexistence behind him. The silhouette of him stamping down violently on the corpses of corpses being the last thing illuminated in this cave.

    Jarak exhaled a growling grunt before pulling out another breadstick flare, slowly walking over to where he thought he last saw Samuel. He wouldn’t pull it until he needed to, he had less than a dozen of these things and it could be that they were their only source of light. He had studied the topography of this cave system intensely; it was always part of the plan to be here. He knew how long the system could be if they got turned around in the dark, and they had a limited amount of time to traverse through this place and get to the evac point. The Sergeant imagined traipsing through this backwater with just this bastard child as his company was bad enough without them getting lost in the dark. He stopped a few feet short of where the oversized rodent was last positioned.

    “Thom. Don’t you fucking dare scream and shout like that again, you could have gotten us both killed.” There was a tint of anger in his voice, but not as much as normal. As much as he despised the hybrid, and everything it stood for, Jarak was still glad to have one of his squad survive. Plus, he knew his own limits – not that he would ever admit it, but they both had a much better chance of survival together than not. “Please tell me your goddamn headlamps are working. I don’t much fancy tripping over your big mongrel feet and cracking my skull open.” He knew they had to work together, but he was still the ranking officer here. He did not have to be nice.
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