15 | Wavering Faith
DECK 11, MENDEL STATION | 0712 HOURS ZULU
Explosions rocked the deck as the stardust grenade that bounced in between three of the hybrid marines. The super heated starium metal shards ripped through the battle armor of the hybrids and tore through their mutated skin scales. A secondary explosion went off as an exposed grenade on one of the hybrid marines was shredded by a shard of molten starium and ignited the fuse inside the casing. Both explosions sent pieces of wood, plastic, glass, and body parts in every direction by the concussive force of the grenades.
The carnage of the double explosion with the hybrids completely overshadowed the explosion that was muffled on the side of the Hellcats. Barrington watched the indicator tick down and she immediately reacted by pitching forward on top of the grenade as she screamed for her squad to take cover.
The muffled explosion caught Yamoto’s attention as he saw Barrington’s body nearly disintegrate from the power of the grenade, but the shrapnel and concussion wave were smothered by her body and saved him and the unconscious Daniels.
“No!” Yamoto screamed and scurried over to her in a vain attempt to try to save her from her valorous act. He rolled her over and saw that her front torso had been eaten away by shrapnel and fire, but there was a peaceful look on her face as if dying to save her comrades.
Gordon turned his head to see the drama unfold and closed his eyes for a moment in recognition of his marine’s ultimate sacrifice. He then opened his eyes and watched Yamoto go to her side. Instead of watching over him, he turned and took up aim over his table to make sure that the grenade had taken out the remaining hybrids.
The main table that held the hybrids was gone, destroyed by the grenade. He then panned left and saw nothing there but smoke and knocked over chairs. Panning right he saw the last hybrid taking aim on Yamoto as he turned over Barrington’s lifeless body. He calmly squeezed the trigger as the hybrid fell into his sights.
His first shot ricocheted off the shoulder plate of the hybrid. The second shot moved closer to the center mass, but bounded off the chest plate. The third shot missed entirely as a .50 caliber armor piercing round from Karzarian’s Viper sniper rifle plowed into the neck of the hybrid, pushed it back, and off its feet as its head was detached from its body.
The room fell silent as all of the hybrid marines were all dead except for the cries of denial from Yamoto as he cradled what was left of Barrington’s body. McAdams moved from her table over to Yamoto and tried to quietly comfort him with an embrace.
Karzarian slowly removed himself from the camouflage blanket and walked over to Gordon who was still keeping an eye on the deck to make sure that no more hidden surprises presented themselves. He knew that look on Gordon’s face, it was him trying to keep his face calm and cool even when inside he was torn up from the loss of so many men.
“Let’s check it out.” Gordon said. He stepped away from his cover and slowly made his way towards the remains of the hybrid marines. Karzarian moved with him armed with his R-92 again instead of the sniper rifle.
The stardust grenades had done their job in taking out their opponents, leaving only body parts at the point of explosion and shredded bodies on the fringes. None of the hybrids survived the firefight after a quick check of their remains.
When the check was completed, Gordon collected the dog tags from the bodies and put them in his breast pocket. He then looked to his friend, “All of them were turned, including Goddard.” he motioned to the body that killed last by Karzarian’s sniper rifle.
“How do you think it happened?” Karzarian asked.
“I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t think it was the medical pads, though I’m sure they helped speed things along. When we left station, we all went through medical and got inoculations.”
“Sure, that’s SOP after an op off world.” Karzarian said.
“Sure, but those new pathogen blockers use nanobots to prolong their effectiveness.” Gordon said.
Recognition of where Gordon was going with his train of thought washed over Karzarian’s face, “Oh god, those shots made us all susceptible.”
Gordon nodded, “I think we got set up.”
“Set up? You think they did this on purpose?”
“Why not? It is a perfect way to live fire test the drug with marines you can write off with any explanation you want.”
“Now you’re talking paranoia Tony.”
“Am I? All the secrecy of this mission? The false information about Royal Guard and no mention of this transmittable mutation? Something’s wrong and now good marines are dead.”
“They died fighting.”
“They were murdered.” Gordon said flatly.
Karzarian gave a sigh, “Ok, maybe. Let’s just focus on the here and now for the moment. We can cover conspiracy theories when we get back.”
“Fine.” Gordon said and then began walking back over to the rest of the squad and saw Barrington’s body. The sight made him frown and drop his head in sadness.
“There was no other way.” Karzarian said quietly.
“I know.” Gordon replied just as quietly. He then looked back up at McAdams and Yamoto huddled around Barrington’s body. “She was talking about getting out at the end of her tour and get her M.D. Go help kids in Proxima Minor.”
“She would have been good at it.”
“Wells and Rustovich were career like you and me. Dedicated and good marines.”
“And they did their jobs.”
“For what?” Gordon asked, a hint of spit flowing onto his tone, “To die for some black op corporate project where they genetically splice humans and talishar? What kind of circus show has this universe come to?”
“The top gives the orders, we follow them Tony. You know the drill.” Karzarian said.
“You got a wife and kids at home Mike. Your wife wouldn’t forgive the Corps or me if you came home in a body bag. Hell, I can’t even get my marine’s bodies home now. All of them will be left here to rot. No Arlington, no Terra Major. Just dust in the stars.”
“Tony,” Karzarian put his hand to his friend’s shoulder, “We knew what we signed up for. Spec Ops carries the risk every time we go downrange that we may never come home. We remember the dead and then move on.”
“I had the Austin download the data core from the station.” Gordon said.
“You what?” Karzarian asked confused.
“I had them download the memory core from the station’s main computer.” he repeated.
“I understand. Why?”
“I’ve lost eighteen men under my command in the twenty five years I’ve been in Mike. Do you know how many of those soldiers I have been able to bring back to be buried? Five. Do you know how many I can tell the truth about their deaths? None. There has to be a line Mike.” Gordon said firmly.
Karzarian gave a sigh and shook his head, “They won’t ever let it get out Tony, you know that. Black ops doesn’t exist. They would throw you out of the Corps at the least or throw you into the brig, or at the worst, have you killed for treason.”
“I wasn’t given papers for reenlistment. I was being put out to pasture anyway.” Gordon said.
“Forced retirement? Why? When were you going to tell me?”
“When we got back on station. The Hellcats are yours once we get back. I’ll make sure no one else gets wrapped up in my little last charge with the brass.”
Karzarian frowned, “Not the way I wanted to take command.”
“Just stay alive for your kids hm? And who knows, maybe this old warhorse can really make a difference.” Gordon said and then clasped his shoulder. “It has been an honor fighting at your side Mike. You’re like a brother to me.”
“Brothers always.” Karzarian said quietly.
Gordon nodded and then moved away over to the rest of the squad and knelt down by Barrington’s body.
“She saved us.” Yamoto said as he lifted his head from McAdam’s shoulder.
“Yes she did. Let’s honor that act by getting to that extraction point.” Gordon said. He then reached over; collected her dog tags, and put them in his breast pocket next to the other ones.
“Roger that.” Yamoto and McAdams said together.
The marines gathered themselves and formed back up with Yamoto now carrying Daniel’s unconscious body. McAdams moved up into the point position with her R-92 at the ready and Gordon right behind her. Karzarian and Yamoto pulled up the rear of the group and took one last look over the deck and the blood that had been spilled upon it.
“I hate this place.” Yamoto snarled.
“Amen.” Karzarian agreed.