Gulvarian Breach – Recon: Aftermath (Rest of the Story)

This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning

The evening came far too quickly for Scrub’s liking, but at least he no longer felt like it was an impossible task to place one foot in front of the other more than ten times in a row.  It was still a chore, but it was do-able.

“Drax, you’re on point,” said Sarge as they prepared to leave.  “Baggy, bring up the rear again.  Scrub… try not to pass out on us.”

That got chuckles from Drax and Baggy, but Drax slapped Scrub on the shoulder fondly.  Scrub knew the jokes wouldn’t ever stop, but after what they’d been through the squad was more closely knit than before.

Drax went out the door cautiously, then moved forward, with Sarge covering him from the door.  He soon gave the all clear signal, at which point Sarge and Scrub moved out.  Baggy followed once they were well clear.

The town felt different with twilight falling, more deserted, if that was possible.  And oppressive.  Scrub shrugged.  Maybe it was just that he now knew where everyone had gone.  They hadn’t disappeared off to have a wild party.  They hadn’t decided now was the best time to get all their logging done.  They’d been drugged then sacrificed by a bunch of insane cultists.  Scrub couldn’t help but think that changed the feel of the place.

He shivered as they moved through the settlement, almost feeling the eyes of the ghosts watching.  Judging.  Asking why he and the others hadn’t arrived sooner, in time to save at least some of the inhabitants.

The dark houses were bad enough, but several still had lights left on inside.  Those grated at Scrub’s nerves even more than those that were dark.  There was something almost mocking about them, shining out their light against the darkness, illuminating the rooms for people who would never return.

“Should we turn the lights out, Sarge?” he asked quietly.

Sarge glanced at him, then shook her head.

“I don’t want to waste time on that.  Is it getting to you?”

Scrub paused for a moment, then decided to be honest.

“Yeah.  It feels like all the people we didn’t save are watching us go past.”

He expected Sarge to make a caustic remark but she just nodded.

“It is tough.  It’s important to focus on real threats, though.  That’s part of the reason I want to leave the lights on… it’s a good way to keep you all on your toes.”

“I guess.  I don’t like it though.”

“That’s kind of the idea.  Now focus.”

Scrub did, or tried to at least.  The feeling of the ghosts silently judging didn’t leave him, even as they neared the edge of the small settlement.  At least the last few houses were dark.  As Drax drew level with the last two, one on each side of the road, something caught Scrub’s attention.  A movement in the shadowed trees ahead of them.

“Possible contact,” he snapped out.  “Eleven o’clock.  In the trees.”

“Scrub, you’re jumping at nothing,” said Drax.  “There’s no ghosts here and no…”

“Get down!” yelled Sarge.

Scrub did… just in time.  He heard the crackle of rifle fire, and felt as much as heard something flash through the space he’d just been standing in.

Drax cried out, first in shock, then in pain.  Scrub was already laying down fire, targeting the area where he’d seen movement and from where he now saw muzzle flashes from a weapon.  A moment later he struck… something.  Something which let out an inhuman scream before it fell silent.

“What the hell was that?” shouted Baggy.

“Danger,” snapped Sarge.  “Drax, how are you?”

“I’m hit in the leg, Sarge.  Don’t think I can walk but I’m not dying.”

Before Sarge could speak again more shots crackled through the air around them.

“Damn,” Sarge grunted.  “Drax, you’re close to the house on the right.  Can you crawl to it?”

“Yeah.  I can manage that.”

“Do it.  We’ll make our way there too and lay down cover as we come.  We need shelter and a chance to work out what we’re fighting.”

“Yes, Sarge.”

“Scrub, you stay put and lay down covering fire.  Baggy, you and I are getting to that house and making sure it’s clear.  Then we’ll give enough covering fire for Scrub to move closer.”

Scrub acknowledged the order, then kept firing intermittently into the trees where he saw movement or the flash of weaponry.  These enemies seemed to be further back so hitting them was unlikely, but if he could at least prevent them moving in quickly it would help the situation.

Enemies.  The right word.  The only word for anyone ambushing his squad.  But what enemies?  Who, or what, were they?  And why were they attacking?  Why were they even here?  Was it related to the cultists in some way, or just damn weird coincidence?  He didn’t know… and if he didn’t do his job right he might not live to find out.

Sarge reached the door to the house at the same time as Drax.  The two of them slipped inside, Sarge walking and Drax limping.  Baggy followed shortly after.

“Baggy, lay down some cover from the window,” said Sarge.  “I’m going to bind up Drax’s leg.  Scrub, find some cover out there.  I don’t want us all bottled up in here.”

“Yes, Sarge,” said Scrub.

In the fading light he could see a log pile to the back of the house.  He crawled his way toward it and then settled in to provide more cover.

Strangely, despite his being the most exposed he seemed to be taking the least fire. Possibly even none.  Even as he continued to lay down cover very little return fire came his way.  It all seemed to be focused on the house.

“Drax is patched up,” said Sarge over the comm.  “Scrub, how’s it looking out there?”

“It’s odd, Sarge.  All the fire seems to be aimed at the house.  Whoever it is still seems to be out near the trees, but I think they’re getting closer and spreading out.  There’s at least three of them, maybe more.”

Sarge was quiet for a long moment before she finally replied.

“All right.  I need to call this in.  Scrub, you and I are making a run for the building at the centre of town.  Baggy and Drax will hold on here.  I’m heading for the door now, try to keep their heads down.”

“Yes, Sarge.”

Scrub wasn’t certain splitting their squad was a great idea, but from the sound of it Drax wasn’t going anywhere fast.

Scrub laid down more fire, and a moment later Sarge was out of the door and running while keeping her body low.  She ran past where Scrub was firing from, zig-zagging as she went.  Twenty seconds went past before she spoke again.

“Scrub, I’m in position.  Fall back past me.”

Scrub took a deep breath, then it was his turn to be up and running, keeping as low as he could and dodging randomly to the sides.  He heard several shots whistle past him, but he managed to dive behind a solid stone wall and set himself up to return fire.

“Sarge,” said Baggy over the comm, his voice crackling with static.  “They seem to have lost interest in us.  They’re flanking us but don’t seem to be coming close to the house.”

“Good!  Stay put.  Look after Drax.  It sounds like they’re jamming comms so don’t worry if you lose us.  We will come back for you.”

“Yes, Sarge.”

The reply was almost entirely drowned out with static.  Scrub shook his head.  Just who was it that was firing on them?  Whoever it was seemed to have combat-grade equipment.

“I’m moving,” said Sarge.

Scrub forced himself to concentrate on laying down fire, on trying to spot where the enemy was in the ever-darkening gloom.  He switched to image intensification and was rewarded with some vague shapes which made aiming easier but didn’t answer the question of who they were facing.

“I’m in cover,” said Sarge.  “We’re nearly there now.”

“Good!” said Scrub.  “I’m seeing more of them coming in, and they’re starting to flank us.”

“Move now then.  I’ll cover you.”

Scrub did.  This time several shots came close and his heart was hammering in his chest as he ran.  Thankfully, the enemy was either struggling with the near-night or were just poor shots.

This time Scrub ended up under a large logging vehicle, sheltered beside one massive wheel.  Not the best shelter, but better than nothing.

“I’m in position,” he said.  “Sarge, any idea why they’re chasing us so hard?”

“Yeah,” said Sarge.  “One.  I found something on one of the cultists you killed.  The one with the purple robes.  It’s a small silver sphere with more of those weird diagrams on it.  I thought Command would want to take a look at it.  Seems like they aren’t the only ones.”

“Oh great.  That’s why they’re not focusing on Drax and Baggy then?”

“Not yet.  If they get this then who knows what they’ll do.  Anyway, I’m heading for the storm drain near the main building.  Then you can head to the building.  I’ll join you and we can lock it down while I make the call.”

She was up and moving before he could acknowledge the order.  Scrub was certain there was more fire coming in now, despite his efforts, and from more angles.  But Sarge had made it…

No… she almost made it.  Just a couple of paces from the target she cried out and tumbled to the floor before crawling out of sight into the small ditch leading into the storm drain.

“Sarge!  Sarge, are you alright?” asked Scrub.


The pain in her voice showed that was a lie.

“I’ll be right there.”

“No!  Get to the comm equipment.  Call this in.  Tell them…”

The voice trailed off.

“Sarge?  Sarge?  Sarge, are you there?”

There was no answer.  Scrub tried to reach Drax and Baggy on the comm, but again there was no answer.  Damn it!  He was on his own.

His gaze flickered between the storm drain and the main building.  In the end he made a run for the storm drain.  It was closer, that’s what he told himself.  It was the logical choice.  He wasn’t doing it just to check on Sarge.  He wasn’t.

Fire spattered around him as he ran, much closer than he liked but none hitting him.  He wasn’t firing now so there was no muzzle flash giving away his position.  That told him whoever was out there had some way to pierce the gloom.

He threw himself the last few yards, skidding to the edge of the ditch and scrambling in.  Sarge wasn’t there.  Scrub looked around.  The trail of blood told him she’d crawled through the grating and into the drain.  It also told him she was hurt.  Badly.

He moved to the drain and found her pack discarded beside it.  He shoved it through, then took his own off so that he could squeeze through the bars.

The drain beyond was low, the curved pipe barely half his height, but to his surprise another similar pipe branched off at ninety degrees just a few feet in on the left.  The blood trail led that way.

Scrub was relieved it hadn’t rained recently, both because the drain was dry and because it let him follow the blood trail.  To his surprise Sarge had made it another five meters down the pipe before collapsing propped up against the wall.

Scrub scuttled over to her and winced at the ragged wound in her shoulder.  He pulled open his pack to grab the medical equipment.

“No!”  Sarge gasped.  “Take this.  It’s what they’re tracking.  I’m sure.”

Scrub was shocked that Sarge was even conscious.  Her eyes told him how much pain she was in.  She was holding out one hand which clutched a smooth metallic sphere large enough to fill her palm.

“I need to patch you up, Sarge.  I can’t leave you here like…”

“Take it!” Sarge ordered.  “I took it from the hidden room… under the main building.  It was in… the robes… of the one that… the leader.  Get somewhere safe.  Call… Command… and…”

Her words trailed off and she slumped against the wall.  The sphere started to slide out of her hand.  Scrub’s hand lashed out and he grabbed it without thinking.

It was cold, colder than he’d expected, and it felt as if it was vibrating slightly.  He held it for a moment then tucked it safely into a zipped-up pocket on his jacket.

Then he looked at Sarge.  Her orders had been clear.  Leave her.  Get away.  Contact Command.

“Sorry Sarge, didn’t quite hear you at the end,” he muttered.

He dragged out the emergency med-pack, pulled Sarge’s uniform out of the way, and snapped the med-pack in place on her shoulder.  It immediately lit up with warnings and alerts.  Scrub studied those relating to its positioning, then adjusted it several times until those alerts went green.

The majority of the alerts remained, but those represented the Sarge’s health.  The med-pack would fix those.  Or it wouldn’t.  Scrub couldn’t hang around to do any more.  Not if Sarge was right about the object being what the attackers were tracking.

He started to move off, then grimaced and grabbed Sarge’s rifle.  She still had her pistol, but even if the med-pack worked she wouldn’t be in a fit state to use either for a long time and he was starting to think he might need the extra firepower.

He grabbed his pack, both rifles, and her spare rifle ammunition then scuttled back to the storm drain entrance.  He couldn’t see or hear anyone nearby, but if they were above the drain itself he wouldn’t.  He grimaced, uttered several silent curses, then squeezed through the storm drain bars again.

No attacks came, but he was sure the enemy were out there.  He slipped on his backpack and stowed Sarge’s rifle.  Carrying his own gun, he crawled the short distance to the other end of the ditch.  There were several smaller ditches that fed into the main one, and so into the storm drain, but none were anywhere near deep enough to conceal him.

Where should he go?  The answer was obvious.  Back to the main building.  Only there could he contact Command, and if he could get it secured he might be able to hold out for a time.  If.

“I really hate being a hero!” he muttered.

Then he was off.  Scrambling up out of the ditch, then running as if he was heading for the house to the right of the main building, dodging back and forth.  When he got closer he’d change direction.  For the moment he didn’t want to make targeting him too easy.

Weapons fire flew his way immediately.  A lot more than before, if still not particularly accurate.  That was the only thing going in his favour.

After a dozen steps he jerked to the left, sprinting for the main building.  The door was closed but thankfully it opened inwards and they hadn’t locked it when they’d left.

Something streaked past, burning a thin line across the side of his face.  That one had been way too close!  And more fire was striking the building and the door he was heading for.

He slammed into the door, shoving it open, and tumbled through just as something much heavier smacked into the building with a loud roar.  Scrub felt a blast of heat wash over him, but he still felt intact.

He scrambled up and shoved the door, wanting to slam it and drop the bars before anything could get to it.  The door closed almost all the way… then jammed.  He shoved again, panic lending him strength, but nothing happened.

Looking up he saw why.  The door was buckled at the top thanks to whatever had hit it.  It was never going to close… and he could hear something yelling outside.  Something large.  Something getting closer!

Scrub turned and ran for the stairs, adrenaline making him seem to fly across the room.  He fought the urge to watch behind him.  Either he made it or he didn’t.

He did.  He was up the stairs and round the corner into the room with the comms equipment before he heard something massive slam into the door, sending it flying open and banging into the wall behind it.

He just hoped whatever it was didn’t work out where he was too quickly.  If the object he carried allowed accurate tracking he might be attacked almost immediately, but if it only gave a rough area then maybe, just maybe, he could alert Command before…

Well, most likely before he died.  At the hands of this enemy or the others behind it.  He wasn’t under any illusions, but he was damned if he was going to go out without doing his best to warn Command what was going on.

He activated the comm then keyed in the emergency override for headquarters.  A bored looking officer appeared on the vidscreen.

“Private Scrub, I’m feeling kind.  If you disconnect right now I’ll pretend you never made this prank call.  If not… well, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.”

“Prank?  This isn’t a prank!  We’re under attack and I think it’s aliens.  I don’t know what type.  They hit Drax so he couldn’t walk, and Sarge was badly wounded.  I’ve not got long before they get up here.  I called to warn you, and to see if you can get here in time to save the others.”

“Fine.  Play it your way.  Your Sergeant already called in hours ago according to the log.  Your mission is over.  You’re supposed to be heading back to the pickup point.”

“I know that!  We were ambushed.  Stop being an idiot and get some backup out here.”

The officer’s voice hardened.

“You had your chance, private.  Now this is official.  You’re already in the penal unit.  I don’t know where they’ll throw you next but I doubt you’ll ever find your way out.  Now clear…”

“Wait!” hissed Scrub.  “It’s coming up the stairs!”

Whatever was on the stairs was big.  Scrub raised his rifle, then shook his head and unslung Sarge’s too.  He wouldn’t be accurate trying to fire each one handed, but with only a few metres to the door he didn’t have to be.

“This charade isn’t convincing anyone,” snapped the officer.  “Put your Sergeant on now.  Unless you’ve deserted, in which case…”

The rest of the sentence was drowned out by the roar Scrub had heard before, but this time it was coming from almost on top of him.  Moments later something massive appeared at the door.  Scrub hadn’t put the light on so he could only see it dimly, but it was massive.

As it moved for the doorway it struggled to fit through.  Scrub shook off his shock and opened fire with both weapons, pouring fire into the creature’s chest.

For a moment the alien staggered, then it roared again and charged forward despite the twin lines of fire smashing into its chest.  Scrub lifted the gun in his right hand to target its head, but still it kept coming.

It had a gun on a strap around its neck, but in its rage it had let it go.  Instead it was reaching for Scrub with long-taloned fingers.  Scrub screamed defiantly and continued to fire as he backed up the last three steps he had before reaching the transmitting equipment.

The creature lurched forward, hands almost reaching Scrub… then it slammed into the floor.  Scrub stared for long moments, still pouring fire into the creature, but it showed no signs of getting back up.  He stopped firing and studied it, but it seemed to finally have succumbed to the intense fire he’d poured into it.

Scrub took a shaky breath, then turned back to the comm.  The officer’s face was white as a sheet.

“Now do you believe me?” shouted Scrub.

The officer nodded, then seemed to find his voice.

“That’s a… that was a Grogan brute.  There aren’t any Grogan forces on the planet or anywhere near.  Or there shouldn’t be.”

“Well news-flash, there bloody well are!  Now I doubt I’m going to get out of here alive, but there’s a chance for Sarge and the other two.  Get a force down here now!”

For a moment the officer stared back, then he turned and started shouting at someone off screen.  Whoever it was must have argued because the officer screamed back about seeing the replay.  Then there was more shouting, barked commands this time, before the officer turned back.

“Private Scrub, hold fast,” he said, his tone completely changed.  “We’re sending out an emergency response team.  They’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

“Thanks, but I doubt that I’ll be around by then.  I can hear another of those creatures downstairs, and you know as well as I do that brutes don’t travel alone.  Just get those forces here for the rest of my squad.”

He turned back to face the door as he quickly reloaded both rifles.  If the next creature soaked up that much punishment and used its weapon he was dead.  There was no cover in the room.  Nowhere to shelter.

Except… the idea made his skin crawl but it was the only option.  He knelt by the dead alien, or the alien he hoped was dead, and wormed his way under the dead weight of its arm with both guns pointing out into the room.  Other than a small part of his face he was protected by the massive creature.  Maybe, just maybe, he could turn its toughness to his advantage.

Only moments later another of the brutes was shoving its bulk through the doorway, but this one was more cautious.  It was still wielding its gun and it started to fire immediately.

Shots slammed into the body of its comrade as Scrub returned fire.  With the body to prop the two weapons on and knowing where the creature’s head would be his fire was more accurate.  The second brute fell to the floor after only a couple of seconds of fire, but without the makeshift barricade Scrub knew he’d have been dead well before then.

He reloaded the rifles, conscious that while he had ammo left it wasn’t going to last long at this rate.  And the second brute was in a position that it could be used to shelter from his fire, especially if something other than a brute came next.  Hell, a single grenade lobbed into the room and he’d be dead.

He needed somewhere more secure.  He needed somewhere to hide.  There was one obvious choice… the hidden room downstairs.  The only problem was getting there.

Damn it.  He was dead if he stayed.  He was probably dead if he moved, but it beat sitting there and waiting for another of those creatures to arrive.

He clambered out from under the creature he’d used as a barricade, which was easier said than done.  How could anything’s arm be so damn heavy?

He glanced behind him at the comm unit but it was a smoking ruin.  It didn’t matter.  He’d got through.  Command knew the danger.  Now he had to take care of himself.

He left Sarge’s rifle.  He needed to be able to move quickly, and even with it stowed away it might get caught and cost him valuable seconds.  He couldn’t afford that.

Then he crept toward the door, listening carefully.  There were no sounds of movement.  Not yet.  He readied himself to run… then paused.  With a grimace he pulled out four grenades, linked them, then set them to a short timer.  Three seconds.  Then he strapped them to his jacket.

He hoped he wouldn’t need them… but he did not want to be taken alive by the Grogan.  Not ever.  If the worst came to the worst he’d activate the grenades and just maybe take one of them with him.  Then he took a deep breath and eased out of the room.

* * *

The landing was clear.  Scrub moved to the top of the stairs.  The room below looked clear so he eased his way down.  He was halfway down the stairs when he heard a roar from outside.  Then a shriller call in reply.  That meant at least one Brute and one Grogan with more brains than brawn, relatively at least.  Shit!

Scrub abandoned stealth and charged down the stairs.  As he reached the bottom weapons fire started to smash against the outside of the building.  He saw at least one round strike a window, but surprisingly the window held.  Those damn cultists had used armoured glass!

Thanking the stars that at least something had gone his way he raced across the room keeping his body low.  He reached the door to the kitchen and rushed in, just as he heard another roar and the sound of the main door slamming open again and crashing to the floor.

Scrub sprinted for the freezer section door.  He had to get in and get the door shut.  If they knew where he’d gone then he had no hope.  They’d rip the place apart trying to find it.  He reached the door, grabbed it open enough to squeeze through then slammed it shut… his last sight of the kitchen showed the door into the main room was still shut.

Moments later he heard it fly open, and another roar sounded.  Damn it, he’d never get hidden in time!  But he wasn’t going to give up.  He ran to the back of the room and twisted the hook, urging the hidden door to open more quickly.

From behind him he heard another roar… and then the sound of crunching.  But the freezer door remained closed.  Not understanding why Scrub dived through and hit the control to shut the door.  As it ground closed he heard the shriller alien call again, and the sound of something heavy being dropped to the floor.  And still the freezer door remained closed.

The secret door finished closing and Scrub slumped against the wall at the top of the stairs, his rifle trained on the door and his thoughts on the grenades.  Moments later there was another roar from the Brute and he heard the freezer door being wrenched off its hinges.  The shriller voice rang out again, and then he could hear something heavy moving around.

They were bound to find him.  He still had the metallic sphere that Sarge had pressed on him.  The very thing they were tracking.  And now all that lay between them and it was the hidden door.

There was more crashing around, but also what sounded like a whimper.  A few more crashes… and then the sounds of something heavy moving away.

So quickly?  Even if they weren’t sure where he was, why wouldn’t they spend longer searching in the freezer?  Then it struck him, and he had to hold in a laugh.  The Grogan were a jungle race.  They disliked the cold and hated subzero temperatures.  Like those in a freezer.

Moments later his heart sank as the metallic thud of several objects landing in the freezer rang out.  One hand strayed to the grenades on his jacket.  He was sure the equivalent had just been lobbed into the freezer… and even if the hidden wall somehow absorbed enough of the blast that he wasn’t killed it was sure to buckle and give away his location.

He didn’t have the energy to try and move.  His hand went to the grenades again.  Best to be sure.  Before he could activate them a massive explosion shook everything around him, half deafening him.  And then… nothing.  The wall was intact.  There were no holes.  And he was fine.

Just what the hell were those cultists expecting to come?  The Grogan?  Something worse?  He had no idea.  But they’d built their building with armoured glass and bombproof hidden rooms.

It couldn’t have been just the four that Scrub had encountered.  Others must have been involved.  A lot of others.  Maybe many in the settlement, though Scrub would guess they hadn’t expected to end up as sacrifices.  Or maybe outsiders… but then where were they now?

More importantly… where were the Grogan?  There were no more sounds.  No roars.  No heavy footsteps.  And no sounds.  Scrub smiled.  Was this the point at which he was supposed to think they’d gone and come out to check?  Hah!  Not a chance!  He settled down to wait.

And wait.  And wait.  Before long he was wishing he’d grabbed a bottle from the bar on his way past, even as he knew that delay would probably have cost him his life.  But he really wanted a drink, and his hangover had started to make itself known again now the adrenaline was ebbing.

He had no alcohol so he settled down and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Until suddenly his comm crackled into life, an indicator showing it was a secure channel.

“This is heavy rescue unit Delta-Twelve to the scout unit. Do any of you read us?”

Scrub was about to answer, but someone beat him to it.

“Delta-Twelve, this is private Drax.  Damn it’s good to hear your voice!”

“Give us a sit-rep, private.”

“Two survivors here.  Baggy is seriously wounded but stable, he’ll pull through.  I’ve taken a couple of hits to my leg.  I can fight still but I’m not mobile.”

“What happened to the other two?”

“Unknown.  Our comms were jammed.  The aliens might well have got them.”

“Not me,” said Scrub.  “But Sarge was hurt.  Badly hurt.  I tried to patch her up but she ordered me to raise the alarm.  I had to leave her.”

“You did the right thing, private.  Thanks to you we know the Grogan are around.  We have four heavy weapons teams and six armoured units closing on your position, though so far we’ve seen no sign that the Grogan are still there.  Whatever was blocking short range comms seems to have gone which makes us think they’ve all cleared out.  We won’t be taking any chances though.”

“I’m holed up and will move out when you’ve secured the area.  Sarge was in a storm drain not far to the south of the main building.  She needs to be the priority.”

“Roger that.  Stay put and stay safe.  We’ll be with you soon.”

Scrub let the grip on his rifle ease and leaned his head back against the wall.  Drax was alive.  Baggy too, even if badly injured.  So was Scrub.  If Sarge survived… damn it, that was a big if.  But even if she didn’t he knew he’d done her proud.  He swallowed a lump in his throat as he realised how much he wanted to hear that from her.

* * *

Surprisingly Sarge was still alive, and by the time Scrub was shown to the evac roto-copter she was even sitting up and talking, though her face was damn pale.  Drax sat next to her, his eyes wide and a dreamy smile on his face from the painkillers.

Baggy was strapped down in the middle with medical units secured in several locations, but the indicators were mostly amber rather than red.  He was stable enough to survive until the docs could patch him up.

Scrub dragged himself into the roto-copter but he wasn’t looking forward to the flight.  His stomach was churning again after finding out just what had delayed the brute in the kitchen.  It had been the meat in the sink.  The badly rotten meat.

The brute had decided to stop off for a meal before investigating the freezer room, and that had saved Scrub’s life.  But having to walk through the bloody remains had not helped his stomach.

The strange sphere was gone, taken from him by an officer and two people in uniforms he’d never seen before.  From the concerned looks on their faces he was glad to be rid of it, though he still wondered just what it was.  He shrugged away his curiosity.  More than anything else it was a trouble magnet, and for that reason he was glad to be rid of it.

Sarge smiled at Scrub as he strapped himself in and the roto-copter started to lift off.

“You did good, soldier,” she said.  “I think you might just have earned your way out of this unit.”

Scrub looked from Sarge to Drax to Baggy, then back to Sarge.  His head felt heavy, but he still found himself shaking it.

“Strange thing, Sarge,” he said.  “I don’t think I want out.  But if I’ve got a bit of leverage at the moment, do you think I could get the squad up to full strength?  Ideally with someone who’s a bit on the lighter side.  Dragging your three’s arses up the stairs from the cultists room was damn hard work!”

Sarge chuckled, then nodded.

“You know, we might just be able to do that.  Either way, damn well done.”

Scrub opened his mouth to speak, but at that moment the roto-copter hit a pocket of turbulence and dropped fifteen feet.  Just for a moment Scrub thought he’d be able to hold on… then next moment he was leaning out of the open door, emptying his stomach over the treetops below.

He could hear Sarge laughing, then she spoke.

“Some things never change, soldier!  Some things never change!”

The End

More stories in this series…

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