7 | WE ARE NOT ALONE
DECK 12, MENDE STATION | 0445 HOURS ZULU
The long descent to the lower half decks gave Gordon some time to think over the mission so far and the possibilities that were awaiting them below. The Hellcat’s entry into the space station was standard with nothing out of the ordinary, though somewhat unusual that there were no Royal Guards waiting for them in the rec room. Had the Royal Guard taken control of the station, they would have seen the TCD Austin arrive in system well before they arrived and would have prepared for a standard breach of the station. If the computer systems were already having their failures because of some other instance, this would support what actually happen with no Guard at the rec room.
It still did not, however, explain the empty command deck. Even if there was a problem with the power and the main computer was offline, there would have been at least a skeleton crew of Guard at the bridge and then another contingent at the reactor core working to bring it back online. There would also be a third group guarding the scientists in an enclosed space. The empty bridge supported the theory that there was no Royal Guard actually present on Mendel Station at all. It did present a new problem. What actually happened and where were the scientists? The possibilities were too numerous to consider from a biological agent to a mass evacuation of the station.
“Mike.” Gordon said as he and the sniper covered the back of the line during the long trip down the stairs.
“Yes Tony?” Karzarian replied.
“I think we need to be prepared for the possibility of a biological threat on the station.” he said quietly.
Michael raised a brow, “What led you to that conclusion?”
“The empty bridge, the lack of people and the power fluctuations. If the Guard were here, they wouldn’t have given up the bridge without a fight.” Gordon said, recalling on his years of fighting the Pegasus Royal Guard during the long Cold War between them and the Terran Confederation.
Though considered extremists by Confed, the people of the Pegasus system were staunch loyalists of religion and near fanatical in their zeal to protect their religious beliefs after the Religion Reforms of 2482. The Confederation, after mounting tensions with increasingly violent religions, passed comprehensive laws that limited the power that religious organizations could exert over the general population and the government. Religion was supposed to become something personal that you practiced and shared with others in private. It was suppose to bring a new era of peace between people as it would be against the law to preach your faith to others of a different religion or take up arms against a person of another religion.
At first, the Reforms had the desired effect. People focused their religion internally for greater enlightenment. After awhile though, people started to look for ways to reinforce that their way was the right way. This lead to a conflict of views of what was right. In five years, the churches took the wayward children under their wings to show them guidance and to build their power base. The Gods War was the result of religious suppression enforced by the Confederation, led by the Neo-Christian Church of Pegasus. The war was brief as the church believed that their divine right would protect them from the evils of the Confederation. Instead, the Confederation crushed the rebels within their home systems of Sirius and Sol and drove the remaining rebel groups back to the Pegasus system and blockaded the system.
With their subpar fleet of ships destroyed and no means of breaking the blockage, the church of Pegasus closed their doors, broke away from the Confederation and went silent for more than twenty years. Content to leave them be, the Confederation keep a thin line of ships to monitor the blockage while refocusing their attention on their own people.
When the people of Pegasus finally emerged from their system, they were stronger and more devout than before and they had a completely new fleet of ships and soldiers to protect their religious freedom. Seeing the Confederation as the great devil of the universe, the new Unified Church of Pegasus smashed the blockade fleet and established a no fly zone around the Pegasus system. Since that time, the Church of Pegasus Royal Guard and the Terran Confederation Navy and Marines had occasional, but an increasing number of hostile engagements. War was inevitable, even though the diplomats from both sides continued to preach patience while they worked out their differences.
It was the Royal Guard’s fanaticism that made them dangerous and their unwillingness to surrender. They would never have given up the bridge of a space station to Confed Marines under any situation. This ultimately led to Gordon’s conclusion that either the Royal Guard were all dead or they were never here to begin with. He wasn’t sure which situation was worse.
“You have a point. If it isn’t Royal Guard, then who or what is it?” Karzarian asked.
“Biological perhaps? Radiation? We won’t know for sure until the power is restored and the sensors come online. Just keep your eyes open for the unusual hm?” Gordon said.
“Roger that.” Karzarian said with a nod.
The squad made the rest of the way down to the eleventh deck in silence as they checked corners and access ports along the way. The tension was beginning to become palpable as the unknown was quickly coming ahead as they finally reached the door stating Deck 11.
“Daniels, Wells, you’re up. Stay frosty and alert for anything out of the ordinary. I don’t care what it is, you see something weird, report it.” Gordon commanded into the squad’s comm channel.
“Zombie weird or people running in their underwear weird?” Wells asked with a slight mischievous grin.
Daniels gave a chuckle along with the rest of the squad, with the exception of Gordon who narrowed his eyes in all seriousness, “Any weird marine.”
Taking note of the seriousness, Wells cleared his throat as if he was getting rid of a bad joke from his body, “Uh, roger that Sarge. Anything weird. Got it.” he said.
Karzarian rolled his eyes and then checked his Viper sniper rifle’s uplink and noticed that the PMA had lost synch again. He gave a curse and punched in an update code to reboot the software.
“Problem Mike?” Gordon asked without looking away from the door to deck eleven.
“No problems.” he responded and shouldered the rifle as it went through its boot sequence. He drew the spare R-92 from his its resting place across his back with a slight sigh. He never liked the R-92 carbine for sniper work. The rifle was perfectly designed for close quarters action and up to about 50 meters. Anything beyond that, the armor piercing caseless rounds lost a lot of their effectiveness and accuracy. He ultimately gave in to the R-92 since they were on the space station as the chances of being in a situation where he needed to fire beyond 50 meters was highly unlikely. Still, not being able to use his favored weapon always bugged him.
“At your leisure ladies.” Daniels said before tapping the open button on the console. Unlike the bridge, the door to deck eleven opened without issue to reveal a standard white hallway just like the previous floors they had swept clear. The lights were still flickering off and on. In addition to the standard disrepair, this floor also had an odd whirling mechanical noise, like a gear that was stuck but was continuing to run.
The squad filed into the hallway in their standard groups of two and began checking the rooms one by one. Gordon, while at the rear, tracked their progress as usual through his HUD. Deck 11 was primarily office rooms for various scientists and contained a hatchway to laboratory Charlie Six. Without the station technical readout from the main computer, Gordon had no idea what was in lab Charlie Six. The notion was just one more thing to add to his growing list of things he didn’t like about this operation.
Only a few minutes passed before the squad completed their sweep of the deck and found no signs of the scientists or any intruders. McAdams and Yamoto found the source of the mechanical noise coming from the hatch leading into the lab. The door had closed unevenly and there was a sliver of opening only the top edge of the frame. McAdams activated her mic, “Sarge, the door to lab Charlie Six has a mechanical error and hasn’t closed properly. Do we know what is in the lab?”
“Negative on that. Back off while I route back to command.” Gordon ordered and then switched his channel to the Captain, “Captain, we have a broken door at lab Charlie Six on deck eleven. Have you managed to get access to the main computer yet?”
“The last power coupling is being rerouted right now. The main computer will then need to go through a full boot cycle.” Herrera responded.
“ETA?” Gordon asked.
“Uh…twenty minutes, give or take.” he answered.
“Copy that.” Gordon said and then switched off the captain and back to his squad’s channel, “Negative on that info McAdams. Can you reroute the control panel to shut or open it?”
“Rikichi?” McAdams asked as she looked to her partner.
Rikichi gave a frown and looked over the panel, “It would take time. Nothing is opening this door short of a power suit.” he said into the mic.
“Set a sensor pod at the doorway and let’s move on then.” Gordon said and then turned his focus back to the rest of the squad as they made a second sweep of the deck for intel. The sensor pod was a small device that contained a video camera and radar suite that wirelessly connected to a marine’s PMA. Whenever something moved, the pod tracked the movement and transmitted the data back to the PMA with an effective range from 10 kilometers up to a planetary scale if the marine patched his PMA into a satellite uplink. It was useful for keeping track of large scale areas of open terrain when wide scale sensors were not available.
“Pod set and synched.” Yamoto said a few moments later.
“Squad, sit rep.” Gordon ordered into the channel.
“All clear on sector 1.” Wells reported.
“Sector 2 clear.” Barrington responded.
“Lab door secure. The rest is clear Sarge.” McAdams reported.
“Sector 3 clear.” Karzarian replied for the benefit of the squad, even though he and Gordon had personally handled sector 3 of deck eleven.
“Deck eleven is secure. Moving to deck twelve.” Gordon said after switching over to the Captain’s channel.
The marines filed out into the stairwell and headed down another flight of stairs to the main door leading to the lower deck. Just as before, the marines lined up in groups of two before Daniels and Wells opened the door and made their way into the hallway.
Deck twelve was another collection of offices, meeting rooms and compartmental labs for small and nonhazardous work. Daniels and Wells made their way to the right set of rooms while McAdams, Yamoto, Barrington and Rustovich made their way to the left set of rooms. Gordon overlaid his squad’s movements to the new floor and saw that this floor had no large scale rooms or labs connected to it.
He and Karzarian made their way to the next set of rooms just past McAdams and Yamoto. Gordon leaned up against the door way and hovered his hand over the open button as he waited for Karzarian to give his shoulder a squeeze signaling that he was ready to go. When the signal came, he was about to his the button when Rustovich sounded off on his comms in the room just next door the one they were about to enter.
“Contact!” he said, his voice going up an octave in excitement.
Gordon immediately whirled around and motioned with his head for Karzarian to switch and take lead. The two senior marines made their way back down the short distance to the next room where Barrington and Rustovich were already inside. He could here Dominic trying to calm someone down from inside.
Karzarian paused for a moment at the doorway, just long enough for Gordon to squeeze his shoulder to signal that he was ready. The two rounded the corner and made their way into the room.
The room was a white washed laboratory with stainless steel counters and cabinets with various beakers and tubes of various liquids and gases. Between the flicking lights, Gordon could see a hooked nose peeking out from behind a refrigerator unit in the corner of the room.
“McAdams, Daniels, clear the rest of this deck.” Gordon ordered into his comm and then lowered his carbine to hang from the shoulder strap. He raised his empty hands so the man behind the fridge unit could see that he was unarmed. “Sir, we are Confederate Marines here to rescue you. You are safe now.”
“Marines?” a fragile voice came from the hooked nose.
“That’s right. Everything is ok now. My men have secured this deck.” Gordon said firmly to show that he had the situation under control. Like most humans, sounding as if you were in charge of a situation generally made you more at ease, especially when you didn’t have control yourself.
The hooked nose became the face of a middle aged man with salted black hair and black eyes, which darted back and forth across the room. “Are…are you sure?” he asked hesitantly.
Gordon nodded and took a step forward, “Yes sir, you are in safe hands now.”
A look of relief washed over the man’s face as he stood up and away from the fridge unit. He was an unassuming man of average build and height. His white lab coat was wrinkled and showed signs of tearing along the sleeve. His blue medical scrubs beneath the lab coat were unscarred. The name table stenciled above his left breast said Carr, M.D.
“Did you kill them all already?” Doctor Carr asked, his voice cracking from the near nervous breakdown he was suffering.
Gordon arched a brow, “Kill whom? You are the first person we have been able to find doctor.”
Carr’s eyes went wide, “Oh god. Oh god, oh god, oh god. No no no no, we have to leave right now! Right now!” he stammered.
“Whoa, hang on their doctor. Leave from what? What are you talking about?” Gordon asked.
“Specimen 52.” he said quietly with a horrified look.