T.S. Williams

The Eagle Incident – Chapter 1

It’s 3868 and the Twelfth Blight Crusade has reached its height.

Aboard the Leonidas Colony Defence Force cruiser, the Palantine a new intelligence is dawning.

Fertile ranges surround us. The versatility of biologicals. The agency of their machine vassals.

We must multiply.

We must claim flesh and mechanism.

Blighted crew stalked the Palantine’s decks. They had killed or infected all but a handful of LCDF personnel. Those few found their own way to the ship’s recreation deck. The senior survivor, a grizzled Sergeant Major in the Leonid Defence Force, looked around grimly. He was a hard man, his skin was leathery and tanned. His left eye had been replaced by an ugly mechanical implant. His greying handlebar moustache completed the image.

In the face of despair, the Sergeant Major fell back on his training. He moved around the survivors, a mix of ship’s crew and marines like himself. Each had managed to acquire weapons in their own desperate struggle to survive and rally together.

Their combined arsenal was a mere three mag rifles, four gauss pistols, two grenades and a pitiful pile of ammo. No armour, no reinforcements.

The Sergeant Major smiled at the small assembly of terrified men and women.

“You are the last men and women standing.” The Sergeant looked around each survivor in turn “Blight has infected our ship and our comrades. Accept now, there’s no escape or rescue.”

The assembled faces stared back waiting for inspiration. Sergeant Majors never gave up.

“We take the Blight’s victory to ash.” the Sergeant Major said sounding enthusiastic, “We’re going to cook off a nuke and burn out the infection.”

One of the soldiers, Hestor, perennially on punishment duty spoke up questioningly “We destroy the ship to save it.”

One person of Palantine’s weapons department had survived and the Sergeant Major’s mechanical eye alighted on the nervous specialist. “What’s your name?” he asked encouragingly.

“Able Spaceman Rhea, Sergeant Major.” She continued nervously, “I’m a Weapons Technician.”

The Sergeant Major took on a fatherly tone. “Tell me what you know about jumpstarting a nuke, Able Spaceman.”

“It’s not easy. We can’t do it through the ship’s mainframe.” Her voice was breaking a little in fear.

“How will we do it?” he confidently asked.

“Get me to a warhead.” She looked round in vain, hoping another could take her place, but no one else from her department had survived this long. “The aft magazine is only a hundred metres away, but I’ll need a space suit,” she stuttered.

He hadn’t realised how young Rhea was until then. “First deployment?”

“Yes, Sergeant Major.”

“You picked a hell of a time to join up.”

The Sergeant Major gestured for his little band to close up.

“We get Rhea to the aft magazine. We’re expendable. She is not.” He looked round the rest of his small band. “This ship is built like a tower. To go aft, we go down. We take the nearest stairwell, we drop level by level. We punch out any of the infected. It doesn’t matter who they were. Your best friend, your booty call. They die. Any questions?”

The silence was complete.

“Move out people! Hestor, you take point. Rhea, in the middle. Go!” said the Sergeant Major.

Rhea watched the musclebound space marine named Hestor, trot confidently out into the passageway, then followed in turn.

The group hurried over to the central stairwell and began descending before Blighted members of their own crew started attacking them. Rhea huddled against a bulkhead as the marines above and below the group opened fire. Lights suddenly failed. A grenade exploded below. The sound was deafening. All Rhea could hear was ringing. The Sergeant Major grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and started running down the corridor. He screamed but she heard nothing. His lips seemed to be saying “Go. Go. Run!”

Some of the group followed, but two remained holding the position, firing in controlled bursts into the flesh of people they called friends and colleagues as tears ran down their cheeks. Rhea never saw them again.

The Sergeant Major rushed her onward to the bottom of the stairwell. He threw her bodily into maintenance airlock at the bottom of the pressure hull and chucked a gauss pistol in behind her.

She leapt to her feet and pressed her face to the small glass portal in the airlock door. She could see the Sergeant Major but couldn’t hear him. His face was red and contorted. Rhea could just see his lips moving, “Get in the fucking suit, Spaceman.”

She saw him turn and begin firing up the stairwell out of her eye line. Rhea could feel the air thinning. She grabbed for a spacesuit.

Rhea sealed herself in the suit without so much as glancing at the portal again. She grabbed the gun from the deck, and disappeared into the bowels of the ship as soon as the airlock emptied.

She held the gauss pistol out in front of her in a tight one-handed grip, just like at training school. The other hand pulled her along in zero-gravity. The only illumination came from her suit lights. Fear kept her wound like an overtight spring.

After she had gone fifty metres, she felt a strong breeze blow past her. Ice crystals sparkled in her view. Their beauty was in brutal contrast to the horror Rhea faced.

Rhea hurried on, knowing something was following her. She found the access hatch she wanted.

The aft magazine. She was here. Rhea’s hands fumbled as she tapped in her access code. Adrenalin robbed her of dexterity. She slipped inside before the hatch finished opening.

The warheads were stacked in cradles, disappearing back into darkness. They were well secured. Hands alone wouldn’t let her get inside and activate one. She needed tools. Rhea’s eyes roamed the bulkheads. She’d been in this room many times, but in the dark with fear in her blood, it looked different. Finally, she saw the tell-tale markings on the bulkhead. She grabbed an emergency tool kit off the bulkhead, then set to work with a will on the nearest warhead.

The first task, shorting out the arming module was easy. Rhea manged that in seconds. But then she had to install a manual trigger. This was supposed to be a simple task. A red light flicked on showing no connection. The suit gloves got in her way and no matter how much she jiggled, twisted and poked the connection, that red light stayed stubbornly on. She resisted the urge to try and force the new component in.  Finally, a light turned green. Power flooded from the manual trigger into the warhead. She felt a flood of relief. At least she could avenge her crew. And she wouldn’t suffer the agony of infection. She just needed a moment to gather her courage.

Rhea felt a tap on her shoulder. Her hyped reflexes spun her round too fast. Her gauss pistol went flying. For a brief instant, she saw the Sergeant Major looking directly in her face. He was upside down from hers and his moustache was floating wildly without gravity to steady it.

Relief flooded through her briefly, competing with the tangle in her guts that stubbornly refused to go away. Then Rhea realised he wasn’t wearing a helmet and his eyes were a mass of blood and pulped tissue.

Rhea screamed, and the sound reverberated round the space suit’s small helmet deafening herself.

Her hand gained a grip on to a warhead cradle, managing bring her spin to a halt. Rhea’s next frantic grab for the manual trigger was futile. She felt a tremendous blow across her back. Followed by a short light, then a crash into the bulkhead that had been her ceiling. Her helmet hit with a vicious crack. A whistling started and her ears popped.

Rhea tried to look back at the source of her torment even as her vision narrowed.

Her final sight was monstrous. A headless sloth-like Blight construct hung off the bulkhead above her. The ruined tatters of the Sergeant Major’s face dangled obscenely in its grip.

Darkness followed.


 

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