Cameron’s strike ship was just big enough to serve as a temporary home away from home on extended missions but still small enough, fast enough, and armed enough to pose a threat to most military star fighters of any class. It was called, named by Cameron, The Answer, as it had been just that for her squad on a number of dire occasions.
She leveled the ship as it broke through dense cloud cover. Night had fallen on the moon’s surface, and in stealth mode, she raced across the pitch black sky following the nav-system’s illuminated flight path towards the Pinnacle on her Holo-Display.
Coming up fast in the near distance was a cluster of green, white, and yellow lights shining from the terrain below, but the flight path stretched far beyond it.
“Should be the colony.” Cameron noted as the cluster of lights grew to reveal an array of structures. Some were grouped together, others were scattered around a central hub of buildings nestled against a looming mountain range of peaks jutting high into the sky like the teeth of a giant beast. Even at this altitude, Cameron could make out silhouettes of people through brightly lit windows and glass enclosed passageways, scurrying about like ants, as colonists went about their nightly activities.
“Completely unaware of the danger they’re in.” Vyra6 threw out.
Miyako14 chuckled. “As usual.”
“That’s why we’re here.” Cameron said, then accelerated The Answer passed the glowing colony and over the steep mountain range.
Not far off loomed a giant octagon shaped structure scarcely lit in pale blue light.
“And there’s our home for the next hundred and two-hundred and forty minutes.” Miyako14 remarked.
Vyra6 cleared her throat. “Or less.”
“Yeah, preferably, less.” Mikyako14 corrected.
Cameron sharply dropped speed and altitude as she swooped in and began a slow circle around The Pinnacle. Her intense gaze studied and scrutinized the structure’s expanse. All visible windows and obvious entry points were barred with thick shutters. In stark comparison to the colony, The Pinnacle was oddly still and quiet. Lifeless, like a tomb.
“Miyako.” She called, hearing the woman working her station.
“Okay, we have six levels above ground. Security, Admin, Recreation, Living quarters, blah, blah, blah, with a flight deck on top. Four levels below ground, two labs, storage, and engineering.”
Cameron maneuvered The Answer behind The Pinnacle to an open space in an outcropping of large rocks and boulders where she hovered and began to land.
“System wise,” Miyako14 continued. “It has a few automated defense mechanisms in the form of security doors, gas dispensers, and stationary guns.”
Cameron gently set The Answer down kicking dust, dirt, and debris up into the air. “Vyra.”
“The Pinnacle appears to be operating on emergency power.” she answered. “It’s locked down tight. Completely sealed off. I’m picking up a lot of movement inside, all over the place actually, but no one is answering any of the communication channels.”
Cameron unbuckled her safety harness and stood from her seat. “Of course not.” It was most likely a madhouse inside the lab right now. Survivors, if there were any, would be fighting for their sanity just as much as their lives if a lifetime of battlefield experience told her anything. “Let Knight know we’re on site and begin mission countdown.”
Moments later, before the landing ramp had completely extended, Cameron was striding down its length with an Assault Rifle in her grasp, a Magnum Revolver holstered on her right hip, Combat Knife sheathed on her left, and three Frag Grenades clipped across the back of her utility belt. Her sight barely hindered by the darkness of night, she scanned the rocky terrain around her, then focused on The Pinnacle just ahead. It seemed to be waiting for them, silently holding a grim surprise inside it’s walls.
Her subordinates came to flank her left and right. Miyako14, in all black lightweight armor, slid on a pair of Spectrum Goggles and double checked her Submachine Gun. Her Tool Case was strapped to her back also housing her Twin Laser Blades, and a small Handgun was holstered across her lower back. Vyra6, in green and black heavy armor, switched on her MediTact-Visor and hefted an Auto-Shotgun, perfect for close quarters combat. She wore a large Medical Backpack while her Field-Axe and Auto-Pistol hung at her hips.
All three women wore a small communication node in the canal of one of their ears in the event they became separated or had to split up which Cameron was certain one of those scenarios would be the case soon enough.
They were ready. Cameron checked the chronometer on her wrist, and it was counting down from three hours and fifty-seven minutes.
“Miyako,” she called, eyeing the towering lab. “You retrieve data on the organism.”
“Gotcha.” the scout nodded, then started jogging ahead towards The Pinnacle.
“Vyra, you focus on survivors.”
Cameron herself was set on killing the organism and exterminating its mutations.
With Miyako14 leading the group, the three women stalked up to the rear of The Pinnacle scanning its perimeter, but the surrounding area was completely desolate. No sight or sound of any indigenous life, much less human. They huddled next to an access door beside an even larger cargo door that was tall and wide enough for a three tanks to roll through side by side.
Miyako14 eyed the screen of the Fatherboard Unit strapped to her right forearm. “Okay, this spot’s clear.”
Though Cameron trusted that Miyako14’s motion tracker wasn’t picking up any movement, she knew that alone didn’t guarantee the area was truly clear. The organism and its mutations were unknown enemies, and they had no idea what they were capable of really. In situations like this, it wasn’t an uncommon tactic for enemies to hide motionless, lying in wait for their next victim to come within striking range.
Cameron opened her mind and telepathically reached out feeling for anything with a psychic presence, a consciousness, anything that produced brain activity of any kind, but other than the expected mesh of fading Psychic Trails and Stains, she sensed no living sources outside of her squad. Not even vermin, like rodents or insects, which one would normally find around and within a structure of this size. That in itself was odd and something to take note of.
“Okay. Open it.” She gave the command.
“Of course. That’s what I do.” Miyako14 nodded, then tapped a sequence of buttons on the top side of her Fatherboard.
The access door slid open with a hum revealing an armored security door behind it. Unphased by the discovery and probably expecting it, Miyako14 tapped a longer sequence on her device this time then paused in thought, nodded to herself, and finished the sequence with three more button presses. There was a heavy metallic clank from inside the door itself and a moment later, it slid open too.
Air rushed out from the doorway, and Cameron wrinkled her nose at the smell of bile, urine, blood, and…something else. She readied her assault rifle and stepped inside the main cargo hold with her team close behind.
Despite the dim yellow emergency lighting, Cameron could easily see the smears and splats of blood all over the walls and even on the high ceiling. Large metal crates and pallets were toppled over with their various contents scattered across the floor. There were bodies, what was left of them, torn and mutilated, seemingly tossed about haphazardly. Elongated footprints peppered their way in and out of pools of blood and around faces, frozen in terror, staring at nothing.
“Some nasty work.” Miyako14 noted, then tapped a button on her Fatherboard which caused the security door to slide shut behind them and lock with a heavy clank. “For your security accessing pleasures, the Override Code is: Delta-Eight-Zulu-Two-Six-Hotel-Kilo.” She added. “That should get us through any door in the building.”
Cameron nodded committing the code to memory. Then, she slowly scanned the ceiling and spotted a large air duct that looked like something had torn through its metal vent covering, and she sensed a tangle of Psychic Trails leading to and from it. “They came in through there.” She pointed. “About 20 of them.”
”And seemingly left the same way.” Miyako14 added, reading her Fatherboard. “All the doors leading in and out of here are locked. Unless they unlocked them to get in and locked them back on their way out.” she chuckled.
“From the looks of it, that seems doubtful.” Vyra6 stood over a decapitated body, its entrails were pulled out and seemingly gnawed on. Her MediTact Visor flashed bright red as it scanned. “They’re all dead, and I’m not seeing anything out of the ordinary in these corpses. No signs of abnormality or mutation.”
Cameron knelt over what could’ve been a woman, but it’s torn flesh and ripped clothes made it impossible to know. Claw marks ravaged the carcass, they were long and deep and cut right through the bones.
“It does make me wonder what really constitutes transmission of the virus then.” Vyra6 Continued. “If all of the mutations carry it, and it can be spread through a scratch or bite, why haven’t they,” she gestured at the bodies. “mutated. They just seem to have been slaughtered, just killed outright.”
She was good with death. It was inevitable she knew all too well, but seeing these Humans butchered and partially eaten alive was something else, and Vyra6 fought to keep her emotions, pity, sorrow, anger, in check behind a wall of practiced battlefield calm.
“Good question.” Cameron stood up gazing across the other corpses. It wasn’t odd for battlefield reality to contradict the intel gathered on it, but now, she wondered what other realities in the lab would contradict what they were told. She wasn’t sure if it was good or bad, but the fact that this seeming contradiction was discovered so early in the mission, the fact that it even existed given the stakes, was…annoying, to say the least.
“At any rate,” Vyra6 began again. “If there are any survivors, I suggest we check the Security Center. It’s one of the most fortified areas in the lab.”
Cameron nodded at the suggestion. “Miyako.”
The scout headed straight for a large door at the other end of the room and Cameron followed, her gaze taking in every detail, as she waded through the massacre. Most of the victims looked to be administrative workers with a sprinkling of security personnel. Vyra6 was right, this was a slaughter.
Miyako14 stopped at the door and typed the override code in the keypad beside it which made it slide open. As before, an armored security door stood in her way. She plugged the code in again and came the familiar heavy clank of the inner lock releasing. The security door slid open about five inches before grinding to a halt.
She peered through the small opening and examined the door. “The gears are damaged. Give me a moment. I’ll fix it.” She began to pull off the tool case strapped to her back—
“No time for that.” Cameron stepped up to the door and handed the woman her assault rifle. Miyako shrugged, took the weapon, and obediently moved aside.
Gripping the edge of the door with both hands, Cameron tried to pry it open. The thick slab resisted at first, its inner mechanisms whined and moaned under her flexing muscles, then suddenly, it slid open with a loud piercing screech, revealing a wide hallway carpeted with even more bloody corpses.
“We have movement.” Miyako14 called out. “Picking up five sources coming towards us from beyond this corridor.”
Vyra6 readied her weapon. “Well, that got their attention.”
“Good, let’s see what we’re dealing with.” Cameron took her own weapon from Miyako14 and stepped through the doorway.
Cameron felt them come into her Telepathic range and soon, she could hear them as well. A wild thumping commotion and high pitched squeals echoing through the corridor. She squinted as their pale silhouettes breached the distant darkness. They looked humanoid but had bulbous heads ending in sharp-toothed maws, and they galloped towards her on boney hands and feet tipped with long sharp claws.
As the creatures drew closer, Cameron seized the opportunity to Know her new enemy. She focused on them, and in the blink of an eye, she Knew them. Their conscious thoughts flooded into her mind: Threat, Afraid, Pain, Enemy, Rage, Hurt, Kill, Destroy, Blood, Flesh, Bone, Claw, Bite, Shred, Feed, Spread, Path, Structure, Darkness–
Their minds were wild, frenzied like the rabid monsters they appeared to be, and Cameron nodded towards them. “Engage.”
She aimed her weapon and fired upon the closest mutation, but the creature dodged in a blur of movement that came to an abrupt and bloody end when Vyra6 blew a hole through its chest with her Auto-Shotgun.
The Support-Medic then quickly sighted a second mutation and blasted its stomach open causing intestines to burst forth like a morbid surprise. Her third target crouched low as if to leap at her, but its head exploded under her expert aim and squeeze of the trigger. Pivoting towards a fourth enemy, Vyra6 fired and missed just as the creature skirted around her barrel causing the shot to punch a large hole into the floor where it once stood.
Miyako14 squeezed a spray of bullets at the elusive creature from her submachine-gun, but it jumped over her head and clung to the ceiling, seeming to defy gravity for a moment. Then, it launched itself at Vyra6 with claws slashing for her head, but the Medic quickly raised an armored forearm just in time to block the attack.
The fifth mutation scrambled in snapping at Miyako14’s legs with teeth like shards of class, but the nimble scout spun aside allowing Cameron to counter, slashing deep gashes into the creatures neck and back with her Combat Knife. Dodging Cameron’s third strike, the creature couldn’t avoid Vyra6’s Field Axe as she chopped into the side of its neck nearly decapitating it. Then, seizing the opportunity, Miyako14 quickly danced in with a powerful spin-kick to the creatures dangling head, completely separating it from its body, and sending it sailing through the air down the darkened corridor.
Completing her spin, she unsheathed one of her twin laser blades, fixed on the last standing mutation, and dashed towards the creature slashing left, right, and upward. Overwhelmed by the assault, the mutation staggered back as its stomach and throat were torn open leading up to its face being split in half from chin to crown. It’s face spread apart, and it fell on its back limp with blood pooling under it.
Sheathing her combat knife, Cameron stepped up beside Vyra6 and took in the bloody mess around them. Her team performed admirably. Especially Vyra6 with her Auto-Shotgun. She knew of no one who could handle the weapon better.
“That’s it?” Miyako14 nearly pouted. “Thought they might be stronger than this.”
Cameron studied the scene, her gaze scrutinizing. Upon closer examination, the mutation’s skin, though indeed pale, had a purplish bruise coloration also, and the creature itself looked sickeningly skinny, emaciated. Rib-cages and spines rose through flesh that seemed stretched too tight over malformed bones.
“I’m sure these aren’t the only things locked up in here.” Cameron eyed her subordinates. “Vyra, what do you see?”
“Well,” she said. “I can see how they used to be Human.” Her visor glowed as she took in the pile of mutated bodies. “Internal organs and skeletal system is basically the same, if not a bit…skewed…distorted, obviously.”
Cameron nudged one’s head to the side with her foot and stared into its glossy black eyes. “They still bleed red.” she said. “And their thoughts were sporadic, disjointed, yet driven with purpose.”
“Purpose?” Vyra6 tilted her head.
“To kill.” Cameron nodded. “Hurt, Destroy, Bite, Feed…”
“Oh, nice!.” Miyako14 smirked. “All the good words.”
Vyra6 signed considering. “Yes, well, you are right. They do still bleed red.” she said. “So, if you don’t mind, Commander, I’d like to take some samples of–”
“We’ve got more incoming.” Miyako14 looked up from her Fatherboard then back down the hall. “You’ll get all the samples you need in a minute.”
“How many are there?” The Support-Medic readied her Auto-Shotgun.
Miyako14 chuckled at her motion tracker. “A lot more than before.”
“Good.” Cameron said heading down the dark hallway as the approaching mutation’s squeals began to grow ever closer and louder. “If there are any survivors left, I’d rather these things focus on us than them. Let’s meet them head on and continue to make our way towards the security center.”
“Wait!” Vyra6 alerted “Commander, one of them is…regenerating!”.
Cameron turned and stared at the decapitated creature Vyra6 was pointing out. Something round, wet, and fleshy started to grow from the mutation’s neck stump pulsating and expanding. It’s limbs moved sluggishly at first, but then it quickly gathered itself and started to push up to its feet in a crouch while a new skull, eyes, and teeth began to rapidly form atop its shoulders.
“You wanted them stronger, Miyako?” Cameron slid her a look.
She shrugged. “Spoke too soon, I guess.”
Camron slung her Assault Rifle over her shoulder and pulled out her Combat Knife. With one hand, she held the mutation’s forming skull in place then plunged her blade deep into the left side of the creature’s neck. Twisting the blade to the side, she yanked towards her right cutting through flesh, bone, and even more flesh until the body fell limp again and its head lay barely attached to it by a thin strip of muscle.
Pouring down the hall, a gang of mutations, glaring and hissing, was almost upon them.
“Heads up!” Vyra6 warned, aiming her weapon.
Miyako14 laughed. “Really, Vyra? Heads up?” she motioned to the headless mutation Cameron just killed.
Vyra6 rolled her eyes at the observation.
“Focus!” Cameron ordered and fired her Assault Rifle on the new group of mutations, expertly targeting their heads and hearts while Vyra6 let her Auto-Shotgun bark down the hallway knocking creatures off their feet. Mikayo14 quickly added to the torrent of gun fire and bodies began to drop left and right. Their bullets mowed down the mutations but more came, trampling over those fallen. Taking a step back, Cameron and her squad, each in turn, quickly ejected their empty clips, reloaded, then continued to lay down more suppressing fire beating back the wave of creatures until nothing moved.
An odd silence filled the corridor.
Cameron surveyed her team’s work, and she sensed the psychic presence of the creatures rapidly fading away from their bullet-riddled bodies. For all she knew, they should be dead now, but the reanimation of that one mutation moments ago kept certainty teasingly out of her grasp.
An enemy being able to heal a wound, even a fatal one before death, was something she’d dealt with countless times before across many worlds. Even her very own subordinates, Vyra and Miyako, both had such abilities to a degree; but having to fight an enemy that could come back from death itself was new territory, and in her war-conditioned, war-hardened mind, it was a refreshing challenge to have to overcome.
For the first time in a long time she found herself truly…interested in her enemy. The idea of facing off with the organism that created these mutations ignited long lost feelings of anticipation and excitement deep within her. She found herself suppressing a smile and quickly refocused her mind, but there was no denying the fact that she couldn’t wait for the fight to come.
Vyra6 eyed Miyako14 over her shoulder. “Anything else?”
“No.” She looked up from her Fatherboard.
“Vrya, scan the bodies.” Cameron ordered.
“Yes, Commander.” she complied, and her Meditact Visor flashed red over both piles of bodies, front and back, in turn. Finally, she shook her head. “Nothing. Same as before, but let’s wait a moment to see if any of them…reanimate again, before we move on.”
Cameron nodded in agreement. “Miyako, take point up ahead in the meantime.”
“Got’cha.” She took off down the hall.
Cameron and Vyra stood amongst the massacre, watching the lifeless bodies for any signs of rejuvenation. Cameron took special note of the wounds suffered upon the creatures. Large ragged holes were blown through their chests, legs, stomachs, and heads. “Anything?”
“Still nothing.” Vyra6 touched a button on the side of her visor. “I don’t see any indication of abnormal activity, brainwave, cellular, or otherwise. No physical movement.”
“How did you detect it before?
“I didn’t.”Vyra6 said. “I mean, there was nothing to detect. The mutation was dead. It was decapitated. Then suddenly, its vital signs spiked, and it was alive again, rejuvenating itself.”
Cameron considered the woman’s words a moment. “Okay.”
“Can you believe it, though?” Vyra6 breathed. “An organism that can come back from death like that?” her voice held a tinge of excitement, almost the same kind of excitement Cameron felt deep inside a moment ago.
“Well, it’s only happened one time out of twenty-five or so kills.” Cameron shrugged. “If it is a desired ability, it doesn’t seem too stable.”
“Yes. You’re right.” Vyra6 noded, seeming disappointed. Then she said. “Well, with these being mutations, maybe it was just that one creature, or maybe these others will reanimate ten or twenty minutes from now after we’ve moved on.” an odd kind of hope laced her tone.
Cameron gave her a sharp look. “If that is the case,” she said, firmly. “We’re already dead given our mission parameters.”
Vyra6 sighed, then nodded “Right.”
Cameron understood Vyra6’s interest in the mutation’s ability to seemingly cheat death. The woman was coming from a purely scientific perspective, unlike herself, but if they really had put down even a small percentage of these creatures more than once and at random…well, they just didn’t have that kind of time on their hands. They waited a few more moments before Cameron spoke up.
“We don’t have all day.” She started to wade her way down the hall through the mass of bodies. “Let’s get to the Security Center.” She didn’t have to mention the countdown they all felt ticking away.
Vyra6 followed, still looking back, watching the corpses behind them just in case.
At the end of the hallway, they met Miyako14 stopped at a door that was ripped open. Apparently, its security door hadn’t closed all the way or it malfunctioned altogether before mutations got through.
“No movement directly inside” she informed.
Cameron peered into the security offices of the Pinnacle, a wide open space a mess with destroyed cubicles and overturned desks and chairs. The walls, painted in blood spatter and peppered with bullet holes, the floor was littered with even more bodies amongst scattered paperwork. This time, it was a mix of Human and Mutated corpses frozen in death’s grip.
Miyako14 tapped her on the shoulder, then pointed up towards two destroyed stationary guns dangling from the ceiling by thick sparking wires amongst flickering lights.
Cameron nodded, then gave her a hand signal to move in, which she did towards the left side of the room, scanning the area, her submachine moving in unison with her gaze.
Moving in herself, towards the center of the room, Cameron stepped over bodies as Vyra6 split off scanning the right side. The morbid scene before Cameron told of the valiant fight the security force put up but ultimately lost.
Guards were mutilated and torn apart, some still clutching weapons uselessly in their hands while others seemed to be clawing for weapons just out of reach.
“Commander.” Miyako14’s voice whispered through Cameron’s earpiece. “We have three sources of movement in the Security Control Room at the back of the offices.”
“On my way.” Cameron headed there, making her way through the maze-like cubicles. When she arrived, Vyra6 and Miyako14 were posted up by each side of the door where a loud commotion raged from behind.
Cameron readied herself, flexed her fingers around the grip of her assault rifle, then gave Miyako14 a nod. Fingers moving at blurring speeds, Miyako punched the override code into the keypad beside the door, and it slid open.
Cameron rushed in with her weapon blazing after the first two mutations she saw, who turned towards her just in time for hot slugs to rip through their skulls, and the last mutation quickly fell under fire from Miyako’s submachine gun.
Cameron scanned the area. Cracked monitors lit the room with flickering white light, throwing dancing shadows over the bodies of the dead Control Room Operators. There were no survivors.
“Commander, if anything,” Vyra6 reloaded her weapon. “I suggest we now check the engineering section next. It’s the second most fortified area of the building.” If there were any survivors to be found, she was dead set on finding them.
“Doesn’t seem like that matters much.” Cameron gestured around the destroyed control room. “Miykao, can you access the lab’s main computer system from here?”
“I doubt it.” She shook her head. “The security systems and lab systems run independent of each other. But I can try.” She frowned down at the destroyed main control console, then crouched and pulled the dented covering off of the console’s access panel revealing a mass of circuit boards and wires.
Cameron gazed at the dead mutations. “Any signs of rejuvenation?”
“No.” Vyra6 answered–
Suddenly, one of the mutations sprang to its feet with the bullet holes in its head and chest healing and sealing themselves closed as it rejuvenated. Cameron quickly fired a short burst into the creature with her assault rifle, and it merely staggered back otherwise unphased by the attack as the new wounds healed almost instantly. Vyra6 stepped up placing the barrel of her auto shotgun flush with the mutations forehead and pulled the trigger splattering its skull to pulp. The twisted body collapsed before them.
Miyako14 peered from under the damaged control console and seeing that the situation had been handled, she went back to work trying to get the interface back up and running.
“Well,” Vyra6 said. “It appears the ability to rejuvenate wasn’t isolated to just that one back in the corridor.”
Cameron nodded grimly. “Yeah, and that makes the spreading or their genetic virus the least of our worries now.”
Cameron pursed her lips in thought. “We have to find the organism.” she said finally. “After we check the engineering section, that’s it in terms of looking for any survivors. Our primary focus as a whole will be hunting down that creature and killing it.”
Vyra6 looked from the dead mutations back to Cameron and nodded. “Understood.”
Miyako14 stood from under the control console. “Well, no luck with the lab’s systems, just as I thought, but our survivor slash organism search just got a little easier I think.” She tapped a code into her Fatherboard and the flickering, cracked security monitors blinked back into operation in dreadful silence. There was no audio.
Cameron stepped forward peering up at the many screens. Each one, a fixed camera angle focused on a different room or corridor of the Pinnacle. On random screens, mutations scurried about, or were caught destroying machinery, control consoles, and trying to pry open doors.
“What’s that?” Miyako14 pointed at a monitor.
Cameron shifted her gaze and squinted, trying to make out the image but couldn’t. Whatever it was, it was either extremely close to the camera or too big for the camera to get a full view of.
“I don’t know.” She thought she could see some form of musculature, but then it moved completely off camera.
“Survivors!” Vyra6 called out pointing to monitor 83.
Cameron saw a group of men and women, scientists or lab techs and security guards, trying to barricade a large door.
Vyra6 stepped closer to the monitor. “They’re in one of the cargo storage areas.” she leaned even closer. “Looks like one of them could be Dr. Saul!”
“Then we better get down there quick.” Miyako14 motioned towards Monitor 84 showing a disturbing number of mutations crammed into a corridor, all pushing and writhing in one direction.
Vyra6 studied the screen. “Where’s that?”
Cameron nodded towards camera 83 where the scientists and guards were scrambling to add more boxes, furniture, and crates to their barricade. “On the other side of their door.” she said.
Will Cameron and her squad reach the trapped survivors before the horrific mutations break through their barricade? Find out in the next Chapter!