“We need to get out of here, now!!”
“What?” Shepherd turned around just as Davídrius sped up to the truck and dumped Siyuakén unceremoniously in the truck bed.
“Did you not hear me? We need to go!” the Velocitechnic insisted.
“Hold it!” the Captain barked, “we aren’t going anywhere until you tell me what the problem is!”
“We killed the creature,” Siyuakén explained, “But, it — …its carcass split open and a horde of metal bugs rushed out!”
“I was able to outrun them, of course, but it’s only a matter of time before they catch up!” Davídrius pressed, “that’s why we need to go!”
“…A horde of metal bugs?” Shepherd responded slowly, “the hell are you talking about? They just popped out of that dragon’s dead body?”
“Every second you spend doubtin’ us is a second we’ve lost in gettin’ away from those things!” Davídrius countered irately. “Each of those damn bugs are the size of my hand, minimum! And they sure as hell ain’t just normal bugs ‘cause they can burrow through fucking stone! We sure as hell ain’t equipped to fight ‘em off here!”
The Captain paused for a moment before turning back toward the truck and reaching through the driver’s side window to grab the vehicle’s communicator. “Captain Shepherd reporting! Repeat, this is Captain Shepherd. We’ve got a… Code Blue here—”
Mid-sentence the nearby rock wall cracked and gave way to several sharp, knife-sized projectiles. Davídrius snatched one out of the air and used it to deflect the others before launching it at the cave entrance, impaling one of the metallic bugs just as it emerged from the darkness — only for it to be trampled by a horde of hundreds of metallic beetle-like bugs.
“You were right!” Shepherd exclaimed as he yanked the truck door open and jumped in.
“No shit!” the Velocitechnic growled in response. “I’ll hold them off — or at least, I’ll try!”
“What?” Siyuakén cut in as she moved to climb out of the truck bed. “On your own? You’re insane! I’m helping!”
“No you’re not!” Davídrius shoved her back. “Are you fast enough to run away if you get swarmed? No! You’re not! It’d be one thing if your swingin’ gear still worked, but I saw those lines snap. So sit tight and help the Earthians — I’ll be fine on my own!” He turned to the Captain. “You get back to the base as soon as possible and raise the alarm, or somethin’—”
“Already on it!” Shepherd shouted as he slammed the truck into reverse, backing away from the cave before spinning it around and flooring it across the rocky ground. He momentarily glanced at the rear-view mirror just in time to see Davídrius disappear behind a rock face.
“Are the kids fine?”
“Huh? Oh…” The Captain glanced behind himself to the small back-seat area. Earthian military vehicles — by virtue of being military vehicles — didn’t come equipped with baby seats, so the Captain had been left to secure the children as safely as he could with seat-belts alone. “…They look fine. But they’re still unconscious.”
“Mmm…” Siyuakén responded quietly.
Several moments of silence passed before Shepherd spoke up again. “I don’t know what happened back there… but can he actually hold off those things?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Would you have been able to hold them off?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are they really that damn invincible?”
“I don’t know…”
The Captain glanced back at Siyuakén. “Will we be able to protect Sunova from them?”
The Electrotechnic looked down at her arm wound before sighing warily. “…I don’t know…”
3 Hours Later
“Well, I can’t say I ever expected to have to deal with a Code Blue after a year of uninterrupted Green.”
“Sorry, Colonel,” Captain Shepherd responded uneasily.
“It’s not your fault, Shepherd.” The Colonel passed him a glance. “If everything you’ve told me is true, this whole colony was messed up to start with.”
Siyuakén frowned. “There’s no reason to not believe us.”
“I know,” she replied, “but it doesn’t mean that I’ll send the entire garrison charging in, either. Code Blue protocol simply calls for a quarantine, which I hope we can accomplish with drones. I’ve already called down your Nimalian friends on the Battlecruiser in case things go south; with any luck, the four of you should be able to help us repel this threat.”
“Are you sure you can handle it?” Siyuakén questioned, “I’ve never seen these bugs before.”
“If they’re native, then that would make perfect sense.”
“But… they can’t be,” the Electrotechnic countered, “they’re made of metal! I think they might be related to the galactic metallic infection pandemic.”
“And that means?…”
“…I don’t know.”
“I appreciate your concern,” the Colonel responded, “but we can handle this. Worst comes to worst, the Interstellar Gate is only two levels underground, and there’s two Frigates in system in case even the Gate isn’t an option. But I would rather save Sunova if I can — and I’m sure we’ll need your help to do so.”
“Colonel, this whole situation is in part the fault of the Nimalians—”
“Shepherd, stop right there,” the Colonel interrupted, approaching the Captain and glaring up into his eyes. “You’re a good man — for the most part. But you need to get over this mindset of yours. SERRCom has managed to grow past many of Earth’s old biases — now let’s try to do the same on the galactic stage.”
Shepherd scowled but nodded nonetheless. “Yes… Colonel Yamamoto. I’ll keep that in mind…”
“Good.” The Colonel turned to look at Siyuakén. “That said, I am concerned that you’re the only present witness, so far as killing the cave dragon and seeing these metal bugs spill out of it.” She then turned back to the screens behind her. “Though that is why I ordered drones to the caves and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, the sun is setting, so we’ll only be able to see so much. Perhaps we’ll see what happened to the other Nimalian.”
“Davídrius should be back already…” Siyuakén replied quietly, “…he — Velocitechnics aren’t endurance fighters.”
“And I’d have to wonder just how effective they are against metal bugs the size of a baseball,” Yamamoto responded. “…Regardless, we should find out in about fifteen minutes—”
“Wait, Colonel,” Shepherd spoke up as he pointed at one of the screens. “There — movement. And a glitter. Is that?…”
“It’s the bugs… a whole lot of them,” Siyuakén affirmed.
“…They’re this far? Already?” The Colonel frowned uneasily. “Even for their size… they’ve come remarkably close to the base in such little time, especially assuming that they’re feral–”
The screen suddenly jerked, causing the three observers to jump in surprise. The camera seemed to fly backwards and down until suddenly stopping on a tree – and then turning to reveal Davídrius’s face as his mouth began moving.
“He snatched the drone out of the air?” Yamamoto observed in surprise.
“And he’s trying to tell us something. Do the drones transmit audio?” Siyuakén questioned.
The Colonel flipped a switch next to the screen; a second later, they could hear Davídrius’s voice over the connection.
“—ot feral. You can’t treat ‘em like bugs. They’re too smart for that! They’re— ahk!” He ducked and dropped out of view of the camera — shortly after which the drone stopped transmitting.
“He must’ve dropped it,” Shepherd suggested.
“He looked surprisingly fine,” Siyuakén commented.
“I’m more worried about that location…” Yamamoto scowled. “In three hours, they’ve cleared a hundred and twenty kilometers. They’re disconcertingly fast… and to come this far in a group must mean they’re at least somewhat focused…”
“We should launch the gunships, Ma’am,” Shepherd suggested.
“Against targets that small? I have to wonder about their effectiveness. All we’d be doing is throwing up debris and obscuring the bugs.”
“Besides, they were able to burrow through rocks,” Siyuakén added. “They could just go underground.”
“Which is even more disconcerting,” Yamamoto responded, “we’ll at least know they’re coming when the seismic sensors begin going off. But, given this — we’ll need to seal off the less-easily protected areas of the base, and station personnel and sentry guns along the hallways. Especially the Gate room and all paths to it — those must remain open. And if we lose those, we need to make sure we have enough time and space to fall back to the Frigate clearings, and to do that we’ll need to keep the generators running in order to keep the lights on… Lead already returned to Earth with the children, correct?”
Shepherd nodded curtly. “He did.”
“Call him back and put him in charge of the armored vehicle squads. He needs to make sure the path to the Frigate clearings stays lit and open. Also, see if you can rush the reinforcements; we’ll only have so much time to get vehicles above-ground. We need more sentry guns, too — and mines. Pesticides, too, though I’m not sure how well that will work against metal bugs. Anyway, once you’ve done that, take command of the gunships and get the whole squadron airborne. Intercept the bugs and expend as much ammo as you deem necessary, but don’t fire within two klicks of the base. We need to be able to see the threat.”
“Yes Ma’am!” the Captain exclaimed, stiffening long enough to offer a salute before turning toward the door and rushing out of the room.
The Colonel glanced over at Siyuakén, and then down at her cut and burned left arm. “You should get that checked out.”
“I’m fine,” the Electrotechnic insisted, “I can get it looked at once this situation is taken care of…”
“I appreciate the thought, but I’ll need you at your best in order to help out,” Yamamoto declared, “until the Battlecruiser team returns in an hour, you and your friend are the only Chaotics planetside — and right now you’re the only Chaotic on this base. I’m not saying we’re relying on you — we have plenty of our own defenses — but I’m sure your help would be invaluable. Can you still give your all with an injury like that?”
“It was just a cut. The burn looks bad, but that was just me cauterizing it. I’ll be fine. But I do have another concern.”
The Colonel crossed her arms. “What is it?”
“The Master Ayas…” Siyuakén frowned. “…Is it still on the base?”
“Master Ayas?” Yamamoto echoed cluelessly. “…Oh, you mean that silver stone Shepherd found in the caves? It should still be in MacTavish’s lab.”
“We can’t leave it behind,” the Electrotechnic declared, “it’s too valuable.”
“Hmm… given what I’ve heard from MacTavish, I agree.” The Colonel nodded. “Can you go retrieve it? Bring it down to the Gate room and we’ll move it to Earth. In the meantime, I’ll continue organizing the defenses. I wonder if I should bump us up to Code Red… heh, here’s to hoping we’re over-reacting.”
“Yeah…” Siyuakén replied as she quickly left the room, “…hopefully…”
Siyuakén burst into the dark lab, having overridden the lock with a quick shock. She held her hands close together and began arcing electricity across them, generating just enough light for her to find and flip the room’s light switch. She then quickly set to searching the drawers, cabinets, and chests in an effort to find the Master Ayas. She couldn’t quite explain why, but she possessed an overwhelming sense of dread regarding the Ayas’s safety — were the bugs to claim it, who knew what could happen. Is there a connection between Chaos Energy and the bugs?… she thought to herself, is there a connection between those bugs and the metallic rash? Or was this all just coincidence? She glanced down at her arm wound warily before shaking her head. Even if there is a connection, I shouldn’t worry. I’m sure I burned anything that could’ve been injected… as well as most of what was already there. Maybe I really should get this looked at. I’m sure my nerves would’ve been fried if I weren’t an Electrotechnic…
She paused as she opened a drawer and laid eyes on a silver sphere. “Aha!” She smiled as she reached for the Master Ayas — only to jerk her arm back when it offered her a small shock. “What?!” she yelped, “it shocked me? What for? …I found a shock painful?”
Her thoughts were cut short as the door to the lab burst open and Davídrius dashed in. “…The Master Ayas!” he exclaimed as he grabbed it, “damn good thing it’s still here.” He glanced over at the Electrotechnic. “We need to get out of here, now.”
“Uh, right…” Siyuakén frowned. “I mean, I know we’re in a rush, but we should still have at least an hour before the bugs show up, right?”
“No— they’re fast. Too fast—!” Davídrius responded just as some of the cement in the corner cracked and several metallic bugs emerged. “They’re already here!”