14 | Friendly Fire
DECK 17, MENDEL STATION | 0700 HOURS ZULU
The stench of death and blood filled the hallway of deck seventeen quickly and on any other day, it would not have bothered Gordon. Today, however, Gordon just wanted off the station that had claimed the lives of two of his marines.
“All right hellcats, listen up.” Gordon said as to the gathered marines in the hallway. “Cap has called for us to evac that station. The remaining life forms on the station are now considered enemy combatants. If you see something moving, shoot it first and ask questions later.”
“About damn time we are getting off this hell hole.” Yamoto quipped.
“McAdams, are you good to move on your own?” Gordon asked.
She nodded, “Yes Sarge. I’m wrapped up and the painkillers are doing a good job.”
“Good. Mike, how’s the arm?” Gordon asked.
“Hurts like hell.” Karzarian said. They hand whipped up a makeshift splint for his arm and put it in a sling around his neck. He still held his R-92 in his good arm.
“Yamoto, you got Daniels. Barrington, you got point.” Gordon ordered.
“On it.” Yamoto said.
“Now, the service stairwell only reached through deck eleven and the main stairwell is, as far as we know, blocked off. My plan is to use the service elevator up to eleven and then find the secondary service stairwell up to deck three.” Gordon said.
“Won’t that take us right through the middle of hostiles?” Karzarian asked.
Gordon nodded, “Most likely, but evac is now in twenty five so we don’t have the luxury of taking the safe route.”
Karzarian gave a sigh and nodded, “Par for the course.”
“I will be leading you into harm’s way marines, but I know you will hold to your training and march out of here. Now let’s move it! We’re late for our ride into the sunset.” Gordon said.
“Hoorah.” his marines responded together.
Without the civilian doctor to slow them down, the marines quickly made their way back to the service stairwell with Barrington in the lead and Gordon directly behind her. Yamoto was in the middle carrying Daniels and McAdams and Karzarian were in the rear since they were the most wounded.
Barrington quickly made her way up the stairs with her R-92 pointing the way. As she reached each door to the next higher deck, she punched in a code into the control panel to lock down the door to slow down anything that might try to follow them from behind.
Upon reaching deck eleven, Barrington came to the edge of the doorway and waited for Gordon to get into position behind her. He then punched in the open code to the door and squeezed her shoulder to signal that he was ready.
The doors to deck eleven swished open and Barrington hit the deck with authority, sweeping her carbine to the right while Gordon stepped in and swept left. He spotted a hybrid standing in the middle of the hallway about twenty yards away, hunched over a bloodied body. Gordon took aim and fired off a single shot when the creature looked up at him. The round slammed into the creature’s skull and blew its brains out the back of its head.
On the right side of the hallway, Barrington spotted two hybrids fighting in the hallway. Their augmented strength and agility made it difficult to get a good aim on either one of them as they tore up the walls of the hallway flinging one another up and down the hallway. When the marines filed into the hallway, however, the two hybrids stopping fighting one another and gave a howl that sounded like they were setting upon a hunt of prey. It was all the opening Barrington needed to fire off a burst of rounds into the lead hybrid. Its head exploded in a mist of blood and brain matter as its body collapsed to the ground. McAdams was quick to reinforce Barrington’s shot with a single shot of her own that blew out most of the second hybrid’s neck. With its head hanging by a few strands of flesh and muscle on its shoulders, the hybrid flopped around the hallway for several moments before stopping.
“Clear!” Barrington called out as she saw no other hybrids.
“Clear!” Gordon affirmed that his direction was also free of hostiles.
“Pulling up the deck plans now.” Karzarian said as he rested against the doorframe to the stairwell and pulled up the schematics on his HUD.
The rest of the squad took up defensive positions in the hallway, keeping the left and right directions covered. The red emergency lights still made it difficult to see anything clearly.
“Got it. Port forty five yards. Access panel is on your starboard side.” Karzarian finally said and then shut down the schematics and hefted up his carbine.
“All yours Barrington.” Gordon said.
“Oh happy day.” Barrington grumbled and began moving down the hallway at a crisp and steady pace. She paused briefly at the hybrid to make sure that it was dead as well as to check the unknown body it was feasting on. The fatigues and half torn battle armor made her stop in her tracks. The name plate on the breast read ‘Smithson’.
“Sarge!” Barrington called out and motioned to the body.
Gordon moved up and took a closer look at the body. Most of its face had been chewed away, but he could see signs that his skin had begun the mutation into one of the hybrids. “He’s one of Goddard’s men.”
“What the hell is he doing on this deck? Aren’t they supposed to be up near the extraction point?” McAdams asked.
“I’m not sure.” He said and then flicked on his mic, “Hellcat One to Hellcat Two. Over.”
Static came over the channel.
“Hellcat One to Hellcat Two. Over.” Gordon said again, but was answered with static once more.
“That’s not a good sign.” Karzarian said from the back.
“Take a look at this, what do you make of it Sarge.” Barrington asked as she knelt down to get a closer look.
“I don’t know, but he started changing I think. Maybe he got separated from the group and started to change when he got jumped.” Gordon said and reached down to yank off his dog tags. He slipped them into his leg pocket and then raised his carbine. “Let’s get moving.”
Barrington nodded and made her way down the hallway, checking rooms as she went until she finally reached the access panel to the service stairwell. She punched in the access code and opened the door to reveal a red lit stairwell that was void of any persons or creatures. Since the stairwell ended on their deck, there were no stairs leading down and nothing that could come up behind them.
The marines made their way up the stairs to the next deck where Barrington checked and then locked the door at the control panel. When the rest of the squad made their way up the stairs, she ascended the stairwell to deck nine and repeated the process.
Upon reaching deck eight, Barrington found the door open and the flickering red lights of the deck created a strobe-like affect. She put up her hand as a fist to signal the squad to stop moving. The squad came to a stop and then fanned out based on her next hand signals to breach the doorway. Gordon came up behind Barrington and then squeezed her shoulder to signal that he was ready to go.
Barrington swept into the hallway of deck eight and turned to her left while Gordon came in right behind her and turned to the right. Deck eight was designed differently from the previous decks that had encountered. It was designed as a series of adjoining laboratories that resembled a complex beehive. The walls were made of reinforced plexiglass that allowed someone to see nearly the entire deck unhindered. At the far end of the deck, she saw a group of people standing at the far side and though it was hard to see detail from the dim red emergency lights, she thought that they looked like marines in battle armor.
“Contact, two o’clock.” she whispered into her mic as she moved to the nearest door to a lab that already had an open door.
The rest of the squad moved into the lab behind her and took up positions behind desks and counters. Yamoto set Daniels down as gently as he could behind a thick table and then readied his carbine towards the unknown targets.
Once everyone was in position, Gordon clicked on his mic to the platoon channel, “Hellcat One to Hellcat Two. Over.”
The squad watched the men at the other side of the deck react to the communication by raising their carbines and looking around the deck. The marines of Hellcat One ducked behind their cover at the suspicious activity and the silence over the comm channel.
Gordon took another peek around the side of the table where he could get a partial look at the men. It was possible that they all had been mutated into hybrids and that presented a number of problems. Thus far, the hybrids had only shown animal-like instincts. This could have been because the only ones they had come across had been scientists who were not trained for combat and at best, knew boxing to pass the time between test results. There was no telling what a fully trained Special Forces marine with millions of credits and years of training could do after being fully mutated. As much as he hated to do it, Gordon had to consider the marines of squad two hostile.
“Mike,” Gordon said after switching his mic over to the squad channel, “Is that Viper still cutting out on you?”
Karzarian set down his R-92 and checked the HUD uplink with his V-10 .50 caliber sniper rifle. The light instantly turned green. “She’s primed and ready Tony. Are we really going to shoot on our own guys.” he asked with a voice of concern.
“Just set up and be ready. I don’t want to be caught with our pants down if these guys have been turned.” Gordon said.
“Copy.” Karzarian said flatly. He slowly and quietly made his way a little farther back to another table that had a more clean line of fire. He set the V-10 on top of the table and then pulled out a thin semitransparent blanket from his pack and draped it over himself. The blanket was a personal camouflage device that had micro reflective nanobots woven together. The nanobots were all wirelessly connected to scan their surrounding area and then project a composite image of what the blanket would be covering. The result was a near perfect camouflage blanket that allowed a marine to remain hidden in plain sight. In addition, the nanobot weave also projected an image inside the blanket to allow the wearer to see unhindered. This allowed a marine to remain completely covered by the blanket without showing himself.
As Karzarian got into position, Gordon spoke into the mic again to his squad, “Marines, I know that things have gone south, and I will be the first one to tell you that this mission is fubar. It is our job now to get off station alive, but it is also our mission to ensure the safety of the Confederation and the billions of lives that depend on us to keep them out of harm’s way. If those marines are in fact turned, they are now our enemy. If just one of those things gets on the Austin, it could carry those mutated genes back to the innocent men, women, and children of the Confederate worlds. Well I’m not going to let that happen. Not on my watch, no matter the cost. Semper Fi.”
The marines of Hellcat One each nodded. None of them liked the events that had unfolded and the friends that they had lost. Their sergeant’s speech, however, put their situation back into perspective as he always had a way of doing. They each checked their carbines to make sure that they were locked and loaded and then took up firing positions from around the table they were using for cover.
Gordon, upon seeing that his marines were ready for the worse, locked and loaded his own carbine. He then took aim and took in a deep breath before shouting, “Thunder!”
It was an old tactic used by the military for generations to detect friend from foe. If the target didn’t call out the predetermined countersign, then they would be considered hostile. It was a risky chance in their particular situation as Gordon was not sure if the mutated marines would be able to recall the countersign or not, or if they could talk at all.
Gordon watched as the marines on the other side of the deck whirled around in their direction and raised their carbines to take aim. He wanted only a few seconds for the countersign and when the marines did not answer, Gordon gave a small sigh and spoke into his mic, “Take the shot.”
Karzarian gave an exhale as squeezed off the first shot from his Viper sniper rifle. The loud gunshot echoed across the deck and five reinforced plexiglass walls shattered as the armor piercing round made contact with the lead marine’s head and blew half his face off.
The hybrid marines roared in anger as they opened fired against the marines of squad one. The six hybrids didn’t bother to take cover as their talishar genes overrode their sense of self preservation. They did move forward as they fired, using suppressing fire to keep Gordon and his marines pinned down behind their cover.
Their fire, however, was concentrated on the squad and not Karzarian as the hybrids could not see him underneath his personal camouflage device. Whether it was their now mutated bodies or that the camouflage was doing an excellent job at hiding his presence, Karzarian wasted no time in using it to his advantage. Since the hybrids were not making a concentrated effort to take cover, he easily was able to get a bead on the lead marine and put a bullet between the eyes. Karzarian then shifted his position and turned the muzzle of his Viper sniper rifle to get the next marine hybrid in his sights. A second later, he exhaled and fired off another shot and dropped another hybrid.
Now down to four, the hybrids’ marine survival instinct finally began to override the talishar aggressive trait. They took cover at the nearest lab table to them and began spraying bullets across the entire area that forced the Hellcats to duck behind their own cover even more. Even Karzarian was forced to roll back and get behind his table to avoid the sea of bullets that were being sent down their way.
“We’re pinned down!” Yamoto called out as he ducked away as a bullet ricocheted off the top of the table next to his head.
Barrington was on the other side of the table from Yamoto with Daniel’s unconscious body between them. “At least their aim is shit.” she replied over the roar of the gunfire.
“Grenades!” Gordon called out over the squad channel.
Yamoto and Barrington grabbed their stardust grenades from their harness, popped the ignition switches, and tossed them overhead across the deck towards the hybrid marines. They then waited for the familiar sound of the explosion of molten shrapnel.
The usual time delay on the stardust marines was five to seven seconds and Barrington looked over to Daniels to make sure that he was situated in a way that any debris wouldn’t hurt him. She then noted that Yamoto had closed his eyes as he waited for the explosion to rip through the deck. Lastly, she looked forward near her feet as she heard a clinking sound.
Rolling to a stop was a stardust grenade with a dent in the side of it and the blue LED counter on the side of clicked down from three to two to one.