CHAPTER 19.4

Approx. 2400 words

All Rights Reserved

Copyright 2015   SJ

A Touch of Chaos:

A New Dougal in Town

 

written by  SJ

 

 

    It had been determined by the previous day’s aerial reconnaissance almost all of the Roaches were at or around the genetics laboratory. Burns used his flamer from the air, firing from the open back of LaFong’s shuttle, surrounding the Roaches with a wall of flames, then attacking the right flank while Bull and Gannon landed and began firing on the Roaches with their heavy bolters on the left flank. After about an hour, the area around the genetics lab looked like a burned out wasteland with hundreds of dead Roaches. Then, everyone landed, all except Lana, who had to stay behind, but remained in touch.
    All Space Marine Apothecaries had battle suits, appropriately marked, so Ramos also accompanied them. If someone did get bit, he’d be there to treat them immediately.
    Before leaving the house, all the Marines not wearing battle suits had reinforced their boots and lower-part of their leg armor with whatever material they could find. It obviously wouldn’t be as good as a battle suit, but should provide them with enough protection to keep from being infected by a bite.
    The doors to the laboratory were open, and inside the emergency lights were on, neither of which looked good. Bull and Gannon unequipped their heavy bolters and took up regular Space Marine shotguns, plus a few frag grenades. They led the way as Melinda and her team followed, Dylan Ramos with them. However, once they saw the initial entryway filled with Roaches, Ramos was given a shotgun also.
    The three Space Marines in battle suits took their time, clearing the entryway, the lobby, then other areas of the front part of the laboratory, which was mostly amenities: cafeteria, dinning room, restrooms, and living areas for permanent workers. Burns stood outside the entryway, taking out any Roaches that tried to escape.
    After about an hour, and after using up almost all their ammunition, the laboratory was declared clear. During that time, Ramos eventually made contact by phone to the scientists inside, all of them alive, but who had barricaded themselves in the plankton research lab. A few of them had been bitten many days earlier, but managed to survive after being treated by first aid kits. They were all very hungry, saying they had used up the last of their food and almost all their water and couldn’t have survived too much longer. The twelve scientists were taken by shuttle to the house along with Ramos; two of them were in good enough shape to answer questions.
    There were two other research areas to the laboratory: microbiology and one whole area dedicated to, Dougals. The doors to those areas were still closed, but like other rooms, the Roaches had chewed their way through some of the doors, and in some places, through the walls, which had been made similar to the bunkers. Each of the areas had been so badly damaged by the Roaches, none of the equipment worked anymore; the computers were useless and any paperwork gone. In the last area, if there had been any Dougals there, they were gone now. It was obvious the Roaches had either eaten or chewed apart almost everything.
    The first question Melinda had for the scientists was obvious: Why didn’t they answer when they were called?
    Their response was simple, saying they DID try to call. For two weeks they’d been calling. They’d even heard LaFong’s call yesterday. When they answered...it was like no one heard them. Once the sound of gun fire was heard right outside their research area, they finally made contact.
    It didn’t take very long for Melinda and Nikolai to put together what had happened. After a few tests, they figured it out:
    The colonists phones used a narrow band frequency. The Marines had to adjust their communications to accommodate for it. The Roaches, as they fluttered their wings, emanated a sound outside the range of Terran hearing. If there were enough Roaches, the sound interfered with the colonist’s phones, blocking them.
    But, that was not all.
    The laboratory was built, in many ways, like the other bunkers. If there was an alert to hide, the scientists could simply turn off almost all electrical equipment and remain inside.
    However, while in hiding, the Roaches began taking over, eating the Dougals and attacking the scientists. Once the scientists had barricaded themselves inside the plankton research lab, the Roaches began spreading throughout the complex where they eventually destroyed electrical equipment, which included their internal, wireless, communication towers, something that would’ve allowed them to reach outside the laboratory regardless of the interfering Roach noise.
    As for the other bunkers, the ones the colonists where currently hiding it, Melinda had to figure something similar had happened. But, that had to mean they had the same Roach problem. But how did the Roaches get into the other bunkers? For that solution, Melinda’s team returned to the house, where they spent the rest of the day questioning the scientists and going though their backup files.
    ******
    “So, many different types of bacteria live inside a Dougal’s body, coexisting?” Melinda questioned, summing up what she’d learned so far. “In fact, the Dougal’s are immune to most harmful bacteria. The only kind of bacteria that can exist in them are those that benefit it, right?”
    One of the lead scientist’s, by the name of Hays, agreed. “We found a long time ago, that it’s the bacteria that allows the Dougals to produce the oil they are so famous for; well, that and their diet.”
    “What do these things eat?” Lana was resting nearby. Bored, she had taken an interest in Melinda’s investigation.
    “Well, they are basically garbage eaters,” he answered succinctly. “In the wild, they ate mostly dead plant material, and sometimes dead animals and even feces. If we feed them a special diet of plant material, they tend to produce more oil; if we feed them decayed meat, their chitin is a little better quality. But, it’s their bacteria that has the most effect.” He stopped to collect his thoughts. “For years, we have been experimenting on different types of genetically altered bacteria, and we found different bacteria produces different types of oils, and in some cases, changes the texture of their chitin and improves the quality of their meat. When we discover a new bacteria, we set up a bunch of test groups and begin collecting results.”
    “Your lab doesn’t have a whole lot of room to set up too many test groups,” Melinda was curious.
    Before she continued, he answered her. “We use the bunkers. That gives us twelve groups. Each of the groups are given a different diet.”
    “You mean the Colony bunkers?” Lana assumed. “The ones you use to hide in?”
    “Well, yes.” Hays answered like it didn’t matter. “Once we’re done, we clean everything up. It’s all very controlled. It has to be.”
    “What happens if there’s an emergency and the bunkers are needed to hide in while you are testing the Dougals?” Ramos proposed a legitimate question.
    “Actually, that’s what happened.” Hays replied. “The alert for the colonists to hide came during our testing. All the bunkers have Dougal pens. When the colonists go into hiding, they fill those pens with Dougals. They’re the primary source of food.” Hays smiled. “We only have to use one of the pens for our testing. Once the alert was announced, we moved the Dougals back to the genetics lab at the same time the people were moving in.” He shrugged. “Our lab was a little crowded at first, but, Dougals tend to die off under crowned conditions anyway.”
    “So, what happened? Do you know?” Ramos continued.
    Hays sighed before speaking. “Well, since we were in hiding, we couldn’t use any electrical equipment. We observed the Dougals that we had tested on and soon discovered they were getting larger. At first, that was good. A bigger Dougal meant more meat, chitin, and oil. But, our preliminary tests concluded that the oil was thinner, the meat tougher, and the chitin softer. But, before we could terminate the test subjects, they had chewed their way out of their pens and into the regular Dougals, eating them. When we found out how aggressive they were, well...”
    “You had a new Dougal in town.” Lana joked, seriously.
    After a pause, Ramos wanted to know, “why did you test such a virulent genetically altered bacteria on the Dougals?”
    “We didn’t.” Hays answered simply. “That bacteria sample you showed me wasn’t the bacteria we used on the Dougals. The only thing I can think of is that it was something they picked up once they escaped the lab, probably by eating feces from the native animals.”
    “So, if the colony bunkers are invested with the same type of Dougals, maybe those won’t have such an infectious bite.” Ramos hoped.
    “I’m assuming that’s so...since all the bites WE suffered didn’t have the same bacteria.” Hays pondered, then had to say. “But, there’s no way the larger Dougals in our lab could’ve gotten inside the bunk--” Suddenly, Hays gasped, thinking. After several seconds, he had a theory. “On our planet, there is a type of flea that uses Dougals, and other native animals as hosts. The Dougals we raise, plus the ones we test, are treated for those. However, this time, with people moving into the bunkers at the same time as we’re trying to move out, it’s possible they brought some fleas in with them...after all, the fleas only bite the native animals.” He shrugged. “I guess it’s possible during all that commotion, the fleas bit our test Dougals, then stayed in the bunker long enough to infect the regular Dougals. That’s the only thing I can’t think of.”
    Nobody spoke for almost ten seconds...silence.
    Then it was Lana who spoke first, speaking as the commander of the Special Ops mission they all had been assigned to. “Okay, here’s what we need to do. Fly a shuttle over to the nearest bunker. From there, have the Governor relay his command for them to open their bunker and come out. Let them know that we can’t hear them and that we’ll be coming in to rescue them...kicking giant Dougal butt if necessary.”
    “We should go to bunker 1 first.” Mason spoke up. “I know were the cave is and once the Governor is out, he probably can find the rest of the caves.”
    “Good idea.” Lana pointed at him. “Let the battle suits led the way, Melinda’s team behind with novaguns since they can’t run out of ammo.”
    ******
    After a rescue team had been comprised of Melinda and her team, plus three members of LaFong’s team, those with battle suits, Mason showed them to the cave, where it led to the first room of the bunker. Lana kept her shuttle in the air above the village of Gravel. And after almost thirty minutes of having the Governor announce to the inhabitants of Bunker 1, asking them to open up, they saw an elevator slowly lower in the first room. But, there were no colonists waiting to leave. Below, however, they began seeing Roaches. It was obvious the bunker was invested.
    The drop to the first level of the bunker wasn’t very far, about three meters. The rescuers quickly shot the Roaches below them, then dropped down. As they made their way through the hallways and rooms of the underground complex, the Governor, now knowing he was being heard, explained to the colonists that they were being rescued by Marines, friends. After about an hour, all the Roaches were dead.
    Inside, however, not all the colonists had escaped injury. Many of them had been bitten numerous times in the process of gathering supplies and blocking the stairways with furniture, which prevented the Roaches from getting to the lower level. Many of the colonists, without full medical treatment, could no longer walk. It was now time for Apothecary Ramos to do his job with help from several of the medically trained colonists. The rest finally were able to return to the surface, and eventually to their homes if they wished.
    The rescue mission had taken most of the day. And they still had eleven more bunkers to go. Bunker 1 had considerable damage done to the walls and floor, not only by the Roaches themselves, but by gunfire. Also, the Space Marines were now completely out of shotgun ammunition. They would have to use other weapons for the next rescue. And even then, they would probably run out of ammunition before they ran out of bunkers. That was until the scientists came up with their own plan.
    The scientists of the genetics laboratory, once they had access to their backup files, and after one day, had come up with a neurotoxin that was specifically designed to kill the Roaches (i.e. the giant Dougals). The toxin would be harmless to people and other animals, but might kill some of the normal Dougals.
    For here on, the rescue mission continued on, one bunker at a time, until all the twelve bunkers were open and the colonists freed. On the second level of most of the bunkers, like in the Governor’s bunker, the colonists were spared being overrun by Roaches, but were still unable to call out.
    ******
    Eventually, the recovery of the Colony was turned over to the colonists themselves. The Governor was happy to receive the news that control of the two Probes on Fallon would be turned over to him as long as he didn’t turn them off, which he agreed. After he had spoken with the General by way of their new FTL com link, he was finally made aware of how dangerous Chaos spaceships could be. This was the first time they had hidden from what they had thought was a threat, very glad it worked, even with the unforeseen complication. And even though the Special Ops mission did not have to deal with Chaos itself, they still needed to rescue a colony from the results of one just showing up.

 



 

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