Episode 206: New Enemies
by Kaiser Don
"Major," Zim called out to him over the power suits comm.system.
"Here" Rico answered with out much tone in his voice. T'Phai's death was not something he was prepared to deal with. He had seen many troopers die in battle, but this was different. They had all made it home. The war was over, this was not supposed to happen. He shook his head. But since when was anything supposed to go the way you wanted it to?
"There's a ship approaching, it's coming in now."
Rico left the old dropship and stepped outside on to the planet's surface. He could see the silhouette of the ship against the sun growing. It was T'Phetti. Zim and Dizzy covered the perimeter about thirty meters out. Rico called them back in. "Everyone off the ship! Our ride's here."
The Roughnecks came out, followed by the T'Phetti carrying the body of T'Phai. The Roughnecks formed two lines like an honor guard as T'Phal and his men carried T'Phai out.
The T'Phetti ship landed and lowered a plank to the surface. A couple of T'Phetti stood in the doorway with Morita's trained on them and the horizon.
T'Phal and his men were the first up the plank with the Rico and the Roughnecks close behind. When Rico reached the open hatch the two T'Phetti guarding the entrance blocked his way leaving their Morita's at him. Right at that moment, T'Phal stepped up to the entrance.
"What's the meaning of this T'Phal?" Rico demanded.
"The humans responsible for my fathers death will not step foot on this ship!"
"Are you out of your mind!" Rico almost shouted but held himself in check. "If not for your father and the Roughnecks, you and your men would be dead. For that matter, if not for you, your father would not BE dead. He was injured coming to YOUR rescue!"
"Human! Remove yourself from the plank or my men open fire."
"Go ahead and try it Skinny!" Max shouted leveling his morita along with every rifle in the squad.
"Stop!" Rico shouted holding his hands up. One towards the T'Phetti and one towards his own men. "This is not what T'Phai would have wanted!" He turned to his men. "Lower your weapons and disembark."
"What? Major are you..." Max asked incredulously.
"Don't finish that question sergeant."
Slowly the roughnecks lowered their rifles and made their way down the plank. "I don't get it. What's going on? We could have taken them easily," Max muttered.
"Exactly what Rico was trying to avoid, Gossard told him, "Open your eyes Sarge. T'Phai was one of us, a Roughneck, Rico was not going to kill his only son to get on that ship."
"And just what are we supposed to do for a ride?" Max spouted angrily.
Zim made eye contact with Max and gave him a look that could kill. "Sir, should I radio for a SICON dust off?" He asked Rico.
"Roger that, contact the Thomas Davis and have them send their best checkered cab."
There were no radio packs like that back in the Bug War. The power suits now contained a communications array all it's own nearly as powerful as the old packs. The radio man in the unit was to have a small attachment on his suit to boost power and signal levels, beyond what even the old packs could do. Zim was wearing a power suit with just such and attachment. "Roughnecks to Thomas Davis. Roughnecks to..."
Higgins saw Dizzy as shee started to turn and stumble a little. No, more like her leg about gave out. He reached for her grabbing her shoulders. "You OK, Diz?" She didn't turn or answer but he heard a sob from her. "Doc! Doc, I think Dizzy's hurt!" Higgins continued to hold her. "It's gonna be OK, Diz."
"Look out Paperboy." Doc brushed Higgins aside but he sensed no rudeness in Doc, he was only doing what he was trained to do - help.
Johnny had heard Higgins and his heart dropped again for the second time that day. He pushed his way though to see Doc already helping her.
"Where are you hurt Diz?" Doc inquired. He was about to plug his diagnostic linkup into her power suit when she brushed him off.
"Let go of me! Back off!" Dizzy pushed Doc away and stepped back. "T'Phai is dead, don't any of you care about that? You're all walking around like it didn't happen. or worse, like it didn't matter! What's wrong with you?"
"We care Diz," Doc tried to console her, "He was one of us..."
"You care?" She shouted. "Read my lips...T'Phai is dead!"
"Dizzy!" Rico shouted. "We care. We all care...but right now there is nothing we can do about it. There will be time to morn later. Right now we have bigger problems, we got Bugs and not just the same old ones either, new ones. We could be facing a new Bug threat, maybe a new Queen developing new forces, I don't know, but we have to focus on that right now. T'Phai would want that because a new Bug threat would threaten both peoples."
"That just like you, Johnny. Cold, unfeeling, and unavailable, unless it's going off somewhere to fight, unless it's a Bug!" Dizzy made a noise almost like laughing and crying at the same time. Tears began to streak her face.
"What? Dizzy look..." Rico softened his voice and tried to talk to her. He was shocked. She just let slip more than she had ever said to him before...before she moved out after Miguel died.
"Oh shut up, Johnny...or should I say Major!" She mock saluted him and walked away stopping several meters out.
"Major, dust off won't get here for approximately 12 standard hours." Zim reported.
Rico didn't answer, he just stood there staring after Dizzy.
"Sir, what are your orders?" Zim asked deliberately pushing him.
Rico turned solemnly. "We track those Bugs and try to find out where they came from.Where there's Bugs, there's a Hive. We find the hive and nuke it when the Thomas Davis gets here."
"Yup, just like the good old days." Higgins smirked.
No one else felt like laughing.
The Roughnecks were spread out combing the ground of the battle looking for any traces of the Bugs. With the exception some very dark green goo which Doc believed to be Arachnid body fluid, there weren't any Bugs. No bodies. Nothing.
"The T'Phetti forces had some caught in their constrictor foam but they're gone now. It looks like something sliced them out of it." Gossard said.
"How is that possible? Rico asked. "That foam is active for nearly forty minutes. It's just passed forty minutes now. For them to get out they would have to be here, now, doing it."
Zim reached out and grabbed a piece of the foam. His fingers dug into it crumbled it into powered dust. "This stuff looks like it's been inert for awhile. Even the color is faded."
"Look at this, Major, Gossard." Doc pointed to a patch on the ground where the dust had been when just in front of the foam and was drying. Doc took a scanning device from a compartment on the side of his thigh. He pressed a button on the device while pointing it at the spot on the ground. The scanner emitted a soft beep, then stopped. "It's biological, Doc concluded, "Readings say it's a very strong base material, similar to the spray we use on constrictor foam but a hundred times more concentrated."
"A specific Bug that neutralizes T'Phetti constrictor foam? That a little precise on the genetic engineering level isn't it?" Rico asked.
"More likely it emits a chemical that just happens the have this effect on constrictor foam. Don't forget you high school chemistry, Major."
Rico knew Gossard was enjoying this too much. "Why don't you remind us all."
"A base, depending on concentration can be as corrosive as acid. Anyone remember the spitters?"
"So it's a new kind of spitter?" Zim asked.
"Dunno. Just speculation right now." Gossard added.
"But look at these marks in the foam." Higgins said. "there are four gaps in the foam and the sides of the gap look like they were cut into. There is bug goo all around, but no bodies. I also noticed T'Phal's hand and arm were covered with the goo. He nailed a bug with that 'spider tooth' of his, I just know it."
"So roughly there should be five bodies around here." Doc said looking around the site.
"They take away their dead...but why?" Dizzy asked.
She sounded almost normal if it weren't for the faint shake in her voice, Rico thought. "To hide their tracks. They don't want anyone to know yet." Rico's mind raced, going over everything.
"Too late for that." Doc took out a plastic specimen bag from his med kit and smeared a fresh sample of Bug goo on the inside with his gloves. "This will help back up our report...when we talk to SICON." He sealed the bag, pocketed the sample and took out another specimen bag to store a sample of the soil which had the base chemical spray on it.
"Alright Roughnecks, we have plenty of time before dust off. I want everyone paired off," Rico ordered."Higgins and Diz, Zim and Doc, Gossard and Max: ten meter intervals. Let's track these bugs back to the hive." The Roughnecks paired as ordered and spread out along the canyon floor following the tracks of the bugs.
Higgens could hear an occasional sob coming from Dizzy. Once in awhile he caught a glimpse of her tear streaked face. This wasn't the tough, "take no guff from anyone" he remembered from the days of the Bug Wars. "You gonna be OK, Diz?"
She glanced over at him and turned away. "Yeah. I'm just worried more of my friends are gonna die before this is over. We're older now, the Bug War was a long time ago, and none of us are at the peak of our game anymore."
"We may be older, but we're not invalids. We're the Roughnecks and we can still hold our own."
"I wish I could share your enthusiasm, Paperboy, but I just can't"
"Well don't you worry one bit, Diz, I'm here to protect you." Higgins hoped she would laugh.
"Oh my God, we're all going to die!" cried Dizzy
Higgin's could only hope Diz still had room for sarcasm in her heart.
Rico walked apart from the others at a ten meter distance. He was glad to be alone. Between his feeling for T'Phai and the urge to take Dizzy into his arms to comfort her, he felt a tear forming in him just like the one when Dizzy moved out and again...when she called him to sign the divorce papers. How did all this happen? How did we all come to this? Despite his feelings towards SICON, he wished he was back there right now leading mop up on some distant planet.
"Major." It was Zim, on private frequency. "We got eyes on the canyon walls. We aren't alone."
"I know. They've been there for awhile."
"What do you make of it?"
"Dunno. I hear them, and odd as it sounds, I feel them, but I haven't seen them."
"Same here. Something's not right about all this."
"You're preaching to the choir, sarge, but we don't have a choice. There is obviously some sort of hive around here, and we gotta find it, and destroy it."
"Yes sir. But if we are being scouted by a Bug, we should try and take that scout out," Zim advised. "My morita is a P-7."
Rico knew what he was getting at. The P-7 was identical to the standard issue morita with the exception of a slightly longer thicker barrel and a scope. The P-7 doubled as a sniper rifle.
"If you spot 'em sarge, drop 'em."
"Yes sir." Zim maintained his pace with doc but began to scan the canyon ridge on both sides with his rifle. He saw nothing. Occasionally he thought there was something but it was only some disturbed rocks and ruble tumbling over the side. They were there, all right, but it was like they were avoiding him. How could they? Frustrated he lowered his morita and walked on for a bit. He would wait and try again.
Several hundred meters further on, the Bug goo trail veered right as the canyon began to open up and level off over the course of the next several kilometers. At this point the canyon began to branch out where ancient river veins had cut into the rock leading up and out. The wind picked up through these hollows blowing dust and sand. Visibility was not greatly impaired, but the trail was beginning to become more difficult to follow. Rico called his people in to single-file formation at five meter intervals in pairs.
The Bug tracks led into one of the veins going out from the main canyon. The passage was narrow with high walls. Rico stopped before entering the area.
"We're sitting ducks in there Major." Max sounded out.
"I know. Something about this is not right, but I just cant seem to put my finger on it."
"I know what you mean." Doc said. "Once in awhile it's when I try to think about it...it's like trying to walk in molasses."
"Good, I thought it was just me." Gossard added.
"Doc, why would we all feel this?" Higgins asked.
"I haven't the slightest idea. Maybe something electrical or magnetic in the atmosphere here?"
"Then why aren't the human colonists affected?" Rico asked.
"Like I said, I don't know. It was just a guess. Maybe something in the rock in this canyon. I couldn't begin to say with out data," Doc said defensively.
Rico broke up the chatter. "The canyon walls here are less than ten meters on either side. Zim, jump and take the right. Diz, you take the left. I want our best shots up top, Max, you take point, Gossard, bring up the rear."
Amid acknowledgments, Zim and Diz jumped to the top of the Canyon walls, and (without argument) Max took the lead. Despite any attitude issues, Max had come a long way. He was a fighter and a good one, which is why Rico wanted him on point. If they were surprised by the Bugs, Max was a good wall to throw them against. Dizzy could shoot the wings off a flee at 200 meters. Zim was even better. They would be the guardian angels above.
Rico followed directly behind Max as he followed the Bug trail. The only sound aside them was the occasional jump jets of Diz and Zim as the jumped over gaps where the canyon walls forked.
The silence was soon broken by several shots. They were spaced and not rapid. Zim had taken aim and was firing. Soon Diz was firing too. "Roughnecks on your toes." Rico warned them in the canyon. "Zim what do you have?"
"Dead?" Rico asked him.
"No sir." I caught a glimpse of it in the distance and got a few rounds off, but it scampered down a crevice. I'm sure I hit it though but it didn't slow down or move like it was hit. I tried to zoom with the scope but it was gone before I could see it close up. It had a silhouette like none I've ever seen."
"How about you Diz?"
"I saw something but it was to far away to make it out." Rico could still hear the coldness in her voice.
"Keep moving then. You see a Bug, you kill the Bug," Rico told his angels above. They acknowledged and moved forward.
The small sliver of a canyon they followed began to widen and open up. In the past dozen meters or so it was three times wider. The canyon continued to open up, widening until Rico called Diz and Zim back down. The canyon began to drop down becoming deeper. Finally it opened completely into an clearing the size of a few sports stadiums with no way out except the way they came in. Below them was a cavern. A hole straight down with a hive mound coming up the center.
"Would you look at that?" Gossard let slip aloud. "I never saw a hive like that one."
"Everything is different about his mission." Max said.
"Do we recon the hive major?" Zim asked.
"Negative. We're not equipped for that. We've located the hive, we have our sample now we get back to the dust off coordinates and wait for evac."
"Best idea I've heard all day." Higgins said.
"Move out." Rico ordered.
As Max took point and the team started moving there was a loud screech followed by another and another.
Max brought his morita to bear. In front of him was a Bug. A big one. It was whitish in color, it's exo skeleton seemed to flex and roll with it's body movements. It had two very large hind legs like a giant grass hopper and the fore limbs were pincer shaped like a lobster. He started firing dead on almost point blank at the Bug.
Zim and Dizzy saw the Bug and fired almost right in time with Max. The Bug was taking it and still coming on. Finally it dropped. Right then two humans in power suits appeared. They appeared to be unarmed but they started walking forward with their left arms raised. Zim and Dizzy took aim on them then their arms jerked to the side as if they had been grabbed or shoved then they doubled over grabbing their heads shouting in pain.
Gossard fired on the one to the right, several rounds hit it in the head and chest. "They must be Imposter bugs." He shouted. Then his own skull lit on fire from the inside.
Several more of the large whitish bugs surrounded them. Rico continued to fire on them when his own rifle was ripped from his arms by an unseen force and his head began to burn on the inside. He screamed aloud and tried to force himself to draw his sidearm. He couldn't move. The whole team was down writhing on the ground. The whitish bugs advanced. One picked up Diz in its claws and for a moment Rico saw sparks arc across her power suit then the Bug began to spray her with web from a its thorax, spinning her rapidly until she was fully cocooned. "Di...Dizz..." A blackness swallowed him.
Zim was not a stranger to pain. He pushed himself, shoved himself without mercy. He managed to reach his sidearm and pull it. He took out the one in the power suit in front of him. It waved it's arm and his hand jerked to the side. He pushed himself again and brought the gun and and fired without taking time to aim. Bug or human two rounds in its face shield stopped the burning in his skull. Zim quickly looked around and saw they were surrounded and he was the last one standing, before he realized it, he was being hoisted in the air. A pair of whitish claws clasped him tightly. Just as he was about to shoot them his body tensed and danced in their grip. It felt like someone laid into him with a shock stick. The power suit was insulated but this thing was shorting out his systems, shutting the suit down. He couldn't take it anymore. The light began to swirl and go out.
Rico suddenly became aware of the pain in his eyes. His sight cleared and he could see. He Gossard, and Zim were sitting up amid large cocoons and several bugs, and what appeared to be humans. A couple of the humans were cutting the others free from the cocoons. The large white bugs surrounded them. Talk about ugly, Rico thought. That's a face only a mother could love.
"Right you are Major.But they serve their purpose."
Rico looked around trying to see who spoke. He stood up with a moan. "Who are you?" He asked the man standing before him without a powersuit on. It was then he realized his helmet had been removed, as had Zim's, and Gossard's. The humans were removing the others as they released them from the cocoons.
"Why are you taking our helmets off?"
"I assure you the air is quite breathable here. Besides, after the Snatchers shocked you and shorted out your suits they would hardly be suffient in providing life support."
"Who are you?" Rico asked again.
"I am Marcel Rouche. It was my troops that took you down and brought you here."
Rico's mind raced. He had many questions and a lot of anger.
"Oh you're quite right. I am Human, and so are many that you see here, and yes we work with these Bugs...or rather...they work with us." He paused then answered an unspoken question. "No Mr. Brutto, I am not a traitor. To be a traitor one must turn his back on something he believes in and belongs to. No we do not work for the Bugs, they work with us."
"Stop doing that!" Max said angrily.
"So you're a telepath." Zim said.
"There's more than one psychic here." Rico said. "After what we saw in the canyon, I'll bet there are a whole mess of them here."
"Right again, Major!" Marcel chuckled. "In fact every Human and Bug you see here possesses some extra sensory ability or another. We all belong to the same Nation. We all are loyal patriots to our Nation. Not traitors, as young Mr. Brutto surmises."
"An what nation would that be?" Rico asked.
"Why one composed of those superior to yourself, to all humans and T'Phetti of the more mundane variety. The lesser 'evolved' you might say."
"A nation of physics?" Dizzy asked.
"So you're the reason behind all the disappearances." Rico accused.
"No, but I am part of the reason."
"This guy likes to play games." Dizzy said.
Marcel looked over at Rico. "Tisk, tisk, Major. Such thoughts."
"Believe me, I meant it." Rico added.
"You don't like what he's thinking then you defiantly don't want to know my thoughts." Max said.
"Without doubt, of course." Marcel brushed Max's comment aside.
"Why don't you cut to the chase." Rico grew tired of this guy's verbal dancing.
"You are prisoners of ...Freeman."
"What?" Doc asked. "Freeman's dead."
"No, I assure you he is very much alive. He faked his death all those years ago to begin his new life. He came to the realization that psychics were the next stage of human evolution, and as such were superior to ordinary humans, therefore, they should not be subject to ordinary humans. But therein lies the problem, ordinary humans control everything and have harnessed physics like cattle to work for them. We are not enough to break free yet. That is why we have collected or brothers and sisters from across the galaxy."
"How do you explain these Arachnid hybrids?" Doc asked.
"Very good, Doctor LaCroixe. You figured that much out. The snatchers you see before you here, are the first results of the genetic combination of Bug and psychic DNA."
"What!" Rico (along with almost every Roughneck) said.
"You're combining Human DNA with Bugs?" Doc could hardly believe he was even asking.
"Not just Human, T'Phetti too." Marcel proudly told them.
"You're insane." Rico said to him.
"Insane is allowing a superior species like psychics to be controlled by ordinary humans." Marcel paced around the Roughnecks. "Freeman is a genius. He believes that with the our evolutionary superiority and the Bugs' ability to procreate rapidly, organize, and created such precise diversity in its species, that these 'Super-Imposter' Bugs should be the perfect specimens to act as a catalyst, to propel the psychics forward into a position of authority. One which not even SICON could defeat or defy. Eventually the psychics will take over as the dominate species in the galaxy.
"How did you get so many psychics to sign on with this insanity?" Rico asked.
"Not everyone did. Many had to be coerced and convinced in one fashion or another. One of our little creations here has helped quite a bit with that." Marcel held out a hand and with a telepathic command a figure from behind him came forward. It was a human female, dressed in a SICON uniform. She removed her uniform jacket turned her back to the roughnecks and began to remove her blouse, letting it drop over her shoulders revealing a bug clinging to her back. "This little darling is the latest in the evolution of the Control Bug you discovered on Tophet."
Dizzy began to cry. Doc place an arm around her. "You freak!" Rico spat at him with seconds from Gossard, Doc, Zim, and Max. Higgins was the only one who didn't speak. He had switched on his recorder for the whole event and was now too frightened to even turn it off.
"So if you don't have any problem telling us any of this..." Higgins started.
"Then they don't plan on any of us leaving to tell about it," Zim finished.
"Oh, take heart. We won't have you eliminated...yet. Or maybe not at all, we may only wipe your minds. The point is, we cannot have you simply 'disappear' yet. SICON would come looking for you, and we cannot have that just now."
Rico lurched forward but was immediately caught in a psychic grasp. He strained but could not move. It was Marcel.
Marcel held his hand out glaring at him. "Major, you are in no position to do anything. Take them away!" he ordered his 'soldiers'.
The Snatchers moved forward with the humans controlled but the control bugs. Max and Doc tried to struggle but the Snatcher Bugs took them in their claws and shocked them unconscious. The others were telepathically compelled forward but the controlled humans following the snatcher bugs. It occured to Rico that this was the tightest spot the Roughnecks had ever been in, which was saying something (or would be, if they were allowed to speak).
Next Episode: 207: Decent Into Hell