"Easy there, Private. Your back was injured in the fighting. It'll be a couple days before you're back to fighting form. Just try to take it easy for a few days," the corpsman said, in a soothing voice.
Kane was confused. "How did I get here?" he asked the corpsman, "Where's the rest of my squad?"
The corpsman's eyes dropped to the floor, and he said softly "I'm afraid they didn't make it, son. You're the last one they pulled out from the field. You should thank Captain Cole, as he picked you up with his Heavy Assault Suit and carried you out of the firefight after you got hit."
"Captain Cole?" he asked, trailing off in thought as he tried to replay the events of the battle in his head...
He remembered never feeling the same height of adrenaline before in his life. He was so scared, it was hard to breathe. It was hard to think, hard to act, hard to do anything at all.
He remembered seeing the monstrosities that were either half alive, or half dead, depending on the way you looked at them. Shambling along in their awe-inspiring gold armor, the half-dead creatures unleashed bolts of plasma at the soldiers that took cover wherever they could find it.
Feeling the hot wave roll over him when a plasma blast missed closely was enough to make him sick, but his Sergeant had pushed him behind a ruined wall. From that point, Kane's memory only consisted of vague images: The corporal that had jested with him on the APC, half his torso disintegrated from an alien weapon, reanimated by some dark energy. The Captain, who must have known about the aliens beforehand, cutting loose a salvo of rockets from the shoulder-mounted pod on his Ares.
The worst one... The golden visage of one of the creatures wearing some sort of death mask, as it picked up Kane and tossed him like a ragdoll... then nothing but darkness and pain.
When he blinked away the recollections, the corpsman was looking down at him compassionately. "It could have been much worse, son. You'll notice that not many beds get filled here anymore. Those... creatures, they don't shoot to incapacitate. They shoot to kill. Whatever they kill, though, doesn't stay dead for long. That's the crux of my problem."
Kane winced at the memory of the Corporal, the wild look on his dead face, darkness filling his eyes as he fired at his squad mates. It was definitely something out of a nightmare.
"You get some rest now, young man. I'm sure you'll be hitting the front lines soon enough. Make sure you pack light; with that back strain you need to take it easy for a few days."
Kane nodded slowly, settling back down on the cot. The corpsman injected something into a catheter in the IV that Kane didn't even notice he had, and Kane drifted off.
Something was happening. Men were running around the bivouac, trying to stay quiet but failing to hide their excitement.
Kane pulled back the flap to the medical tent, one hand on his back. A sergeant noticed him, and strode up to him. The sergeant's nameplate read, "HURT", and Kane thought that a very fitting name for an NCO.
"Get your gear, Kane. You've been assigned to my squad, and I'll bet you are itching to get out of here. How long have you been in the med-tent?"
"About six days, as far as I can tell Sergeant," he replied.
"Then get your ass in gear, son. I don't have all day," the sergeant growled.
Kane hurried off to secure his gear. The sergeant was right, he didn't want to just sit here in the bivouac while other soldiers were out there doing something.
When he returned, the sergeant merely nodded and gestured for Kane to follow. They set off to the Operations Briefing room, a mobile pre-fab set up with briefing equipment and monitors. Soldiers were seating themselves at chairs and desks, settling in for the briefing. Kane hung by the sergeant at the rear of the room, and waited while the commanding officer for this mission arrived.
Kane was pleased to see Captain Cole walk in, assisted by a couple adjutants. He had never properly thanked the man for carrying him to safety, but he hadn't come in contact with the hardened officer since the ordeal.
The Captain was all business as he walked in. "I need volunteers," he stated pointedly. "This is a high-risk, high profile operation. You all have had your share of combat lately, so I only want those who are willing to go on this mission."
His gaze swept the room as a few hands went up. A few soldiers stood and were dismissed. Kane remained, watching the proceedings. Cole's gaze settled on him. "You there, you volunteering soldier?" he said, his eyes piercing into Kane's.
"Yessir," replied Kane, "I owe you that much, sir."
Cole nodded briefly, and turned to a projector. He had an adjutant display some maps on a large sheet of white paper. "I apologize for the lack of equipment, but that'll come later if this blows out of proportions," he addressed the room.
"Here's what we know: Hostiles have bombarded and beseiged Nois Aistrus. We don't know why yet. It appears that they are commencing an excavation on the south end of the city, using our civilians as slaves. Most of you already know that these hostiles aren't human. That makes them dangerous and unpredictable.
"However, we aim to figure out what they are here for so we can figure out what they'll do next. So we have arranged to ambush the excavation site. That means I'll need a skilled group to infiltrate close enough to do so. Out of those here, I don't recognize seeing many of you in the last few battles. That means you need to listen to privates like this one," with that, he gestured towards Kane, "who have seen them up close and know what they are capable of."
Uncapping a marker, be drew out a route on the paper the map projected on. "We are to circumvent the main landing force by taking this route. I'll be leading the mission personally, but I think this time I'll leave the Ares at home," he said wryly, getting a few chuckles. "Staff Sergeant Hurt will by my ranking NCO on the field. An order from him is an order from me, so don't think to question it." He glared sternly at a few privates in the front row, who shifted nervously in their seats.
The briefing lasted for another hour or two, outlining what they had learned in their battles with the Pharon so far. When they were dismissed, Sergeant Hurt brought Kane to the squad's bunking.
As Kane settled in, to catch a few hours sleep before they moved out, he couldn't help but feel as if he might be making a mistake by volunteering for this mission.
They had been watching the creatures for just under an hour when Peterson slipped. He didn't mean to, he was doing alright in one of the ruined buildings nearby keeping surveillance, but the sight of the Pharon emerging from the excavation startled him. He stumbled, sending a chunk of concrete skipping across the floor. It sounded deafening to him, though in reality it was probably much quieter than he feared.
No such luck. The leader's head whipped around, and he gestured angrily to some minions at his back.
"GODDAMMIT PETERSON!" Sergeant Hurt yelled, "GO GO GO! SPLIT UP! TAKE FIRING POSITIONS!"
The squad's Bulldog rifleman and Rottweiler Machinegunner scrambled with another pair of soldiers and darted from the building, heading for the safety of cover from a pile of rubble on a nearby overlook. The ground was slick with mud, the Alaskan fall season always being a wet one, so the soldiers slipped and skid to cover.
Private Kane threw himself against the ruined wall and peeked around it, seeing a group of shambling Pharon footsoldiers emerging around the corner of a distant building ruin. He sighted down the irons of his Pitbull rifle, and let loose a couple of single shots, compensating for the slight recoil as he had been taught.
The rounds skipped off the mud under the creatures, but one solidly connected with a creature. To Kane's consternation, the round failed to penetrate the golden armor wreathing the abomination. The creature barely reacted at all, but to bring up its own weapon and return fire.
Kane saw the plasma weapon spooling to fire, and shouted a warning to his squad mates. They threw themselves down as a torrent of plasma fire impacted the concrete structure around them, sending slivers and shrapnel flying.
By that point, the special weapons team had reached a firing position. Overlooking the rest of the squad's position, they spotted a shambling group of creatures approaching.
Peterson brought up his Rottweiler, its weight heavy and reassuring in his arms. Bracing himself, he sighted down the barrel just before he lost his nerve. Those creatures... they weren't more Pharon...
They used to be humans.
Shambling dead, reanimated by some dark science or sorcery known only to the Pharon, the horde fought for traction on the muddy terrain. Slowly but surely, they made their advance.
Peterson fought to gain his nerve. He brought the machine gun back up again, braced, and let loose a stream of heavy projectiles at the mob of undead.
The heavy-jacketed rounds were of such high velocity that they tore through the reanimated slaves, cutting down a swath of them. The two other privates joined in the shooting, picking their targets carefully, but to little effect.
Then, to Peterson's horror, a group of Pharons emerged from behind a ruin immediately to the front and left of him. There was no time to react.
Peterson took a plasma blast to his stomach, melting through his protective armor. The force of the blast picked him up and launched him through the air, dumping him in an unceremonious pile of raining gore a few feet away. As his innards fell around him, Peterson didn't even have time to feel pain before he passed into darkness.
In the darkness, he could hear chanting. It was an alien toungue, but he felt like it was somehow familiar, like he had heard it before. Then the voice started pulling him, binding him to the body he had just left behind, shackling him in service to the voice. "NO!" he cried in the dark, desperate for an end that would not come.
Kane didn't even register the deaths of the other fire-team, as he was busy. Plasma bursts tore the air around the ruin, making the air hot and blistering.
Captain Cole crouched down at the other corner behind a wall half-destroyed, tapping commands into what looked like a PDA or a cell phone. Before long, a keening whine distinctive of Anti-Grav engines could be heard over the din of the fight. A Mule Drone, laden with extra ammo, hovered over the building before settling down amongst the beleaguered soldiers. Cheers rose from the men as they redoubled their efforts, no longer concerned with ammo expenditure.
Their jubilation was short lived, however, when Peterson staggered in, his intestines trailing behind him.
"What the hell..." Sergeant Hurt had time to exclaim just before the undead machine gunner cut down a private next to him.
Hurt spat an obscenity as he pulled his Pug pistol from its holster, thumbing off the safety in the same motion. Double tapping the former-private's chest, he hesitated before putting one in the head of the undead soldier as well.
The hefty pistol's round tore through the undead's armor, but doing no effect to his already-mangled body. The round through the head pitched him off his feet backwards through the opening, landing in the mud outside.
An explosion rocked the sergeant out of his reverie, and he dimly noticed the Captain discarding the pin from the grenade. Looking out, the sergeant saw a smoking crater lined with human limbs; remnants of the horde of undead slaves.
Kane shook him. "Sergeant, I think we need to pull out! It's too hot!" He shouted over the din.
The Captain shouted, "Agreed, private! Sergeant, we're pulling out! Fall back! I'll buy you some time!" Bracing himself on the wall, he aimed carefully at his targets. The rounds from his Pitbull found purchase, but the Pharon acted as if they didn't even notice. They just kept up their inexorable advance, firing their weapons as they came.
"C'mon, Sarge!" Kane exclaimed, grabbing the NCO and guiding him out the back of the ruined structure, snagging a few magazines for their rifles along the way.
As they burst into the open, a couple of undead slaves formerly of the platoon raised their rifles slowly. The blood already clotting in their veins, they looked grotesque and emotionless as they began to fire on their former comrades.
"Shit!" Kane spat, and the Sergeant brought up his pistol again. The heavy calibre sidearm barked in quick succession, and the two slaves went down hard. The pair then darted off, heading back the route they came by. The mud was no easier to navigate now than before, and they slipped and fell several times before the sounds of battle began to fade behind them.
"When is Captain Cole coming, Sarge?" Kane panted, as they continued.
"He may not be, Private," the Sergeant huffed dourly, an expression of regret on his weathered face.