Approx. 1500 words
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2015 SJ
written by SJ
The last message Falconer had received from Cocker was when he arrived at the Mobile Mine, just a recording saying he had picked up some supplies and was on his way to the abandoned town. That was more than three days ago; unless he had found something VERY interesting, he should’ve been finished by now. There was no reason why his phone should be dead.
The spaceship flew high over the Mobile Mine and landed Baker and his eight Marines, Specialist Sheldon, and Lieutenant LaFong right next to the abandoned town on the west side. Captain Falconer had put on his Guardsman armor and decided to go with them, armed with a mastercrafted bolt pistol.
Baker and his Marines had removed their large battle suit shoulder pads and overlapping, lower leg armor, two items that controlled the suit’s light force shield and gave them extra armor. It was very doubtful they would need either of them; at this point, the ability to move around inside buildings was more important. Half the Marines were now armed with shotguns, including Baker, leaving the others armed with bolters and flamers.
“Captain,” Lana began asking, “did Cocker’s airsled have a locator on it?”
He sighed. “No, it didn’t. Before I left, I assigned a satellite team to look for a Terran life sign in this area. They should’ve contacted me by now...if they found one.” He made a call, talked to some people, then responded, “no, they haven’t found anything.”
“So, he’s not here in town?” Lana asked.
“He’s nowhere within a hundred kilometers of this town.” Falconer was sorely disappointed. “Unless he’s dead or hiding in a deep cellar someplace.”
It was by pure luck they found the entrance to the tunnel the Lictor had used. It was small and narrow, and it had collapsed about twenty meters in.
All the Space Marines, except Baker and the two Marines armed with flamers, were told to walk through the town in pairs, make a brief search of the major streets, then return. The rest made their way to the building where the Lictor had been. And like they expected, the front of the building had collapsed, blocking any entrance from that side. However, unlike they expected, Cocker’s airsled was nowhere to be found.
In a few minutes of searching, Lana found a back door, which looked like it had been pried open. When she called everyone over, they were happy to find this one clue, the obvious way the naturalist had made entry.
From the door, there was a hallway leading back to the front of the building. To the right, the hallway sloped down to a lower level, where, on the bottom, to the right in the center, was a double door entrance to a storage area, the doors themselves, missing.
At first there was a short discussion as to whether Baker and his two flamer-armed Space Marines should lead the way, Sheldon saying he didn’t want any Tyranid evidence burned. But, Lana had to tell them there were no life signs coming from the storage area, neither Tyranid nor Terran.
Once everyone had made their way down to the hallway just outside the storage room, only Lana and Sheldon actually entered the room, finding any and all bio-matter in a state of decay. The biologist scanned and took pictures, very interested. However, it was still disturbing not to find Cocker’s body anywhere.
The Tyranid lair looked very much like the one on Moreau Island. It was obvious that numerous small creatures had hatched here, but none were found, dead or alive. As for what happened to Cocker, the scene left more questions than answers. With his airsled missing, it was obvious he had left; but, if he did, and was out there someplace, why didn’t any satellite scans find his bio-sign?
Sheldon explained that Tyranid Hives, and even lairs, have a host of smaller creatures that serve as maintenance. But, those were usually harmless. With Lana’s help, the biologist carefully scanned for Terran blood. They had figured, before arriving, that if Cocker had been attacked, it had to have been a Tyranid at least the size of a Ripper, which would’ve caused him to bleed profusely. Even if he had been attacked by several very smaller creatures, he still would’ve bled a little. But, no blood was found.
The next step was to search the town, check to see if the airsled was parked in an ally someplace. However, after an hour, no airsled was found. If for some reason, the naturalist had taken it upon himself to hide himself and his airsled inside a building someplace, then it would take several days to find him. And that seemed HIGHLY unlikely. Plus satellite, and ground scans by Lana and Sheldon, had turned up no other nonnative life forms within the town at all.
Even with the Tyranid lair in a state of decay, they thought it best to burn it, which eventually, left the whole building a burned out ruin. The next order of business was to find Cocker; but, how?
The only solution Lana could suggest was to use the satellites to try and find Cocker’s airsled; Falconer agreed, having the same idea himself. However, which way did the naturalist go. The search area would be large indeed. But, it was all they had.
With their options running low, Sheldon suggested they do a better search of the town, taking their time, trying to find and check out any underground areas like cellars and sewer systems, both of which the town had few of.
They searched until it started to get dark, however, still, nothing was found. Then they decided to spend the night, and, in the morning, were hoping the satellite scans had found something.
Falconer got everyone up early the next day. He was hoping for a call, which he did get, but not the one he wanted. It was the General, asking how much longer he was going to need the use of the Space Marines and Lieutenant LaFong.
As things were at the moment, Falconer had to accept that all he had right now was a missing person. And he didn’t need a squad of Space Marines for that...nor did he need a Special Ops Marine. He told the General he’d try to send them all back in two days.
While the General was on the line, Lana wanted to ask, “General, I was just wondering about Officer Dakota. Is she still here on Thanatos-4?”
“She was picked up by Officer Dion several days ago. They went to Alshain.”
“Alshain?” Lana was surprised.
“They needed to check something out, there.” The General seemed harried and wanted to wrap up his conversation. “Once you guys get back to Camp Cheyenne, I’m sure they’ll fill you in on what they found. Captain Falconer, if you’re going to need those Marines any longer, give me a call. General Parker out.”
Falconer looked at Baker and LaFong and had to give in. “Well, guys, I’m going to make a couple more calls, then we can call it a day.”
The first call he made was to his satellite search teams. But, they told him they hadn’t found the airsled. However, one of the team members told him he had been analyzing ground wakes for the last couple days. When an airsled moved close to the ground, it tended to make a wake; if it was deep enough, sometimes it could be spotted by a satellite scan...assuming it hadn’t been covered up by the wind. From one of his older scans, he said he had found one that seemed to have been done by a small airsled; but, at the end of the wake, there was no airsled. When the Captain asked why, he was told it ended in the exact location as the Mobile Mine.
After Falconer had said, thanks, he turned to the two Space Marines, wide eyed, happy to have been given this one small clue...then he frowned. “If that damn Cocker is sitting over there at that Mine relaxing while we’re out here looking for him, I’m going to personally stuff him in a shuttle and send him to the Tyranids.” He sighed, then explained, “if he’s still alive, he should’ve contacted someone WAY before now!”
The next call the Captain made was to the Mobile Mine. However, every call he tired to make, he got a ‘line busy’ signal. He called several more times, different numbers, hoping to reach someone, ANYONE, and still couldn’t get through. He looked back at the two Space Marines and sighed.
“Is that unusual?” Lana asked. “To get a ‘line busy’ signal from everyone.”
“That’s DAMNED unusual!” Falconer shouted. “Actually, it’s impossible. Every line CAN’T be busy!” He sighed again, worried and angry. “We’d better get the hell over there!”