Approx. 4500 words
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2015 SJ
The Chaos Begins:
Search and Rescue
written by SJ
When they awoke, the corsair, aptly named, the Chaparral, had already made the jump to Proxima Altair, 25.6 light years from Cheyenne, and was preparing to land. Normally take offs and landings were not that rough, but sometimes they could be depending on the planet's current weather. This landing was perfect and the weather was good, only for some reason it took twice as long.
The landing site was an abandoned bauxite quarry, where the few remaining planetary officials met with Colonel Gallardo and the other members of headquarters squad, informing them of any current events of the past 2.56 days, the time lost during the Chaparral's space jump.
Whenever any spaceship made a jump, the time it takes for that jump was measured in jump-time, usually in Galactic days. For the crew aboard the spaceship, the jump was instant, during which for everyone and everything else in the Universe, time had passed; this was known as jump-time, and in the case of this jump, it was 2.56 days. Time pieces aboard the spaceship, crew, and passengers were re-calibrated and reset to normal Standard Galactic Time immediately afterwards as per procedure. They were also set to planetary time based on the current planet they had arrived at, based on the new hours in a day, and days in a year, which could, and in this case, be a big adjustment.
Cheyenne had 25 hours in a day, 300 days in a year. Cornucopia had 19 hours in a day, and 73 days in a year. As per their training, Space Marines were expected to make the adjustment quickly based on a 24 hour day, for which humans had evolved to be more accustom, even if this meant occasionally having lunch at midnight and sleeping during the afternoon, until a more regular planetary routine could be established. They also were expected to adapt to the weight difference. Gallardo had joked about it before they left. Cheyenne's gravity was 0.98g (measured in Old Earth's gravity, which was 1.00g). Cornucopia's gravity was 1.07g. Nine percent may not seem like much numerically; but after awhile, carrying nine percent extra weight around could get to be exhausting, at least until they got used to it, which they were expected to do quickly, like the Space Marines they were trained to be.
It was late afternoon, Cornucopia time, when the Chaparral had fully made its landing in the abandoned bauxite quarry, where there were plenty of empty buildings, which quickly got turned into supply, mess hall, headquarters, and barracks. Medical section stayed on board the spaceship, which remained landed, at least for the time being. It was well into the evening before they were finished. Afterwards, the troops were allowed only four hours sleep before they were awaken, had breakfast, squad leaders briefed, and had reported to a meeting area outside the make-shift mess hall. Colonel Gallardo was there to update them on current events, and the details of their upcoming missions:
"As of yet, we've had no response from the Marine Base. Even more disturbing was our initial long-range scanner report shortly after we jumped into the system." He paused a moment to think. "Let me explain: The Marine Base on Cornucopia, like most of the colonization here, was new...just beginning. Before we left Cheyenne, we did not even know if the base's underground power plant was fully operational. It was not supposed to be...however, our sensors told us otherwise. That's why it took so long to land. If the power plant is online, then very possibly, the base's planetary defense gun is online also--and, at this point, we have to assume hostile, until we find out otherwise. We had to land outside the gun's horizontal firing arc, then fly low to land here." He smiled and jested. "If I had gotten myself blown up...well, my wife would've had my ass..."
There were only a few slight chuckles.
He continued. "However, our first order of business is to search for colonists left behind after the last evacuation, which was about three to four months ago, Galactic Time. Now...at this point, any colonists that you find, we have to assume, for some reason or another, stayed behind because they wanted to or because they couldn't leave. When we landed, I met with several of the planet's official representatives. They told me that in the past month, they have sent out several search teams. Half of them came back empty handed, the others have disappeared. The last group they sent out, took a vehicle to the Marine Base; they are missing also. I guess, the primary point I am making is that all colonists found must be either assumed hostile, held captive, or hiding. Find the missing teams, find any colonists left-behind, but be prepared to defend yourselves. If at all possible, use the hand stunners we supplied you with."
The Colonel went on for awhile longer about where generally the four Scout squads would be searching. The planet's desert area far to the southwest was still occupied by colonists and had been for some time, and for some reason, did not appear to be affected by whatever was happening to the rest of the planet. The few large urban cities were mostly abandoned, but had already been searched and cleared by each city's remaining security personnel. However, that still left the vast rural areas made up of mostly farms and small towns.
The Emperor Corporation's scientists were supposed to have found and fixed the problem by now, whether it be cosmic rays, unknown atmospheric radiation, or pathogens caused by flora or fauna. Professionals of all kinds had been working on the problem only to find nothing; when many of them became missing, that's when they had to call in the Space Marines. After all, no matter how unlikely, they still had not ruled out the possibility of an unknown hostile alien presence.
Colonel Gallardo summed up the morning's meeting. "Okay...we already have a number of search satellites in orbit. HQ will update you on what they find, when they find it. Search your assigned areas...update us, then move on. If you encounter any real armed resistance, a Space Marine squad will move in by Rhino to back you up."
The Colonel usually tried to end many of his meetings with a joke. He dismissed the squads, but then turned around and spoke as they were starting to leave. Many of the Marines that had been with the Cheyenne Rangers for awhile knew what was coming and where getting ready for a complimentary chuckle. "Oh...and guys, listen up. Some of those towns have a few high-rise buildings in them. If you get shot while on top of one–-don't just slump over...let out a yell and throw yourself over the side."
Lana was confused at first...not knowing what to think of the Colonel's comment. One look at a couple of the other Marines' expressions, she figured it out. She sighed, then chuckled a bit before moving on to her assigned Land Speeder.
The Land Speeder only had a driver, and no attached twin-linked bolter. Melinda and Reggie sat in the front two seats, Lana and Hank in the back; they weren't assigned a fifth squad member.
For several hours, the Land Speeder literally flew over the rolling hills and verdant landscapes of Cornucopia at a little over one-thousand kilometers per hour, staying at treetop level most of the time. Eventually, they slowed down and came to a stop so the occupants could get out and take a break.
The Marines had more than just MRE's to eat. The Land Speeder itself had two small refrigerators, one in the front seat next to the driver and one in the back, plus there was a small trunk they could store outdoor supplies, backpacks, and extra ammunition.
Each Scout squad had their search areas marked off in grids; they were expected to search one per day. When entering a small town, sometimes they were allowed a little longer depending on the town's map, which each squad member had downloaded into their oPOD before leaving HQ. However, after two days, no survivors had been found.
Other Scout squads had come up empty finding survivors also. However, for the first two days, they weren't expected to.
On the third day, Melinda's squad was contacted by someone using their com frequency. When they found the location, she recognized it as a Country Club with a sizable golf course in back of a fancy lodge building. After everyone in her squad had dismounted and taken up guard positions, she used the building's intercom to call.
Melinda's parents used to be members of several Country Clubs similar to this one. She didn't have to talk long to find out that the owners of the Club had stayed behind, taking cover in an underground bunker to wait out the problems the planet was having, going to the surface from time to time to maintenance the grounds. Knowing how dedicated these Club owners could be, Melinda understood completely. She reported the finding to HQ, then had her squad mount up to continue their search. However, just as they were getting ready to leave, the Club owner called, remembering that a couple days earlier several people passed by in a speeder going south. After reporting the unidentified speeder to HQ, Melinda ordered her squad to follow.
Land Speeders had almost twice the speed of a normal civilian speeder. She was hoping to find it. After hours of searching in the late afternoon, they found the location were it had stopped, and unfortunately, a place where the occupants had been apparently ambushed.
There was evidence of a short battle which left two civilians dead, and the others, by the blood stains, captured. The two bodies had IDs, and when Melinda reported it, she was sad to hear crying in the background of the HQ, obviously someone that knew them, a side effect of being a Space Marine squad leader she wasn't fully prepared for.
The next day, they continued to follow the speeder with the help of a satellite, one allocated to their need because of their earlier report. In the evening, when they finally found it, they decided to approach cautiously using night vision. Space Marines had very good night vision equipment. In this case, it paid off, allowing them to find the captors before they were spotted.
In a barn, they found four men, all carrying machetes. When they challenged them, they charged manically, something they didn't expect, figuring they would be rational and surrender since they already had guns pointing at them. Melinda, Lana, and Hank had to fire, the women with their 9.1s, and Hank with his backup pump shotgun, hoping to wound them only.
Only one of the suspects was killed outright. The others were wounded. Afterwards, Melinda called for medical support and transport for the two captured civilians.
The two civilians had been ritualistically tied to a wall inside the barn, numerous rune symbols cut into their skin. They said they were to be killed in the morning, sacrificed...as to why, they weren't told.
Both Melinda and Reggie had good medical training. They tended to the wounds of the three colonists-turned-cultists; but, still, during the night, they all died. Melinda was surprised, since for two of them, their wounds weren't that bad. It was like, once they had found themselves helpless, they gave up. And they refused to say anything...not even their names. They wore plain civilian clothes with strange red symbols painted on them, any ID, not with them.
In the morning, a medical shuttle landed, picked up the bodies, the survivors, and the speeder. But, Melinda was happy she was able to save two people, something she never got a chance to do as a Federal Agent.
Only one other Scout squad had a similar incident, saving one person. All the other squads either found survivors hiding, or dead bodies.
As another two days passed, the Scout squads came up empty, even with satellite searches. The next day, Lana was on guard duty when they got a call from HQ, reporting bio-signs from a nearby town. Melinda and her team immediately proceeded to the target location, which wasn't very far away.
In the cool of the morning, the four squad members knelt down on the short, dew-covered, grass using their binoculars to peer over the crest of the hill into town. However, along the south side, there were a number of large warehouses located in a long row, west to east; it was all they could see. They had no view of the inside of the town at all. Bio-scans had picked up two or three individuals, located somewhere in or behind the warehouses.
The first thing Melinda did was to contact HQ, who conferred with planetary officials. Eventually, she was given permission to approach using extreme caution.
At first, Melinda had her team wait, observe, hoping one or more of the individuals would move out into the open so they could see how, or if, they were armed. After about an hour, no one showed. That's when she made the decision to move in. She and Reggie would circle around and approach the town from the west, while Lana and Ramcke took their time to covertly search the warehouses, but not to make contact until Melinda was finished with her sweep and the two groups were closer together.
This time, if the individuals were hostile, they were hoping to capture someone using their stunners. But, they needed to find out more about them first...and, whether they had any captives.
Once Melinda and Reggie were gone, Lana made her way silently to the warehouse that had the bio-signs while Ramcke covered her with his sniper rifle.
The windows to the warehouses had been painted black from the inside. However, one of the windows next to the building's back door had a small hole in the glass.
Lana had her hand stunner ready. Carefully, she peeked inside, spotting two men talking.
They were dressed similar to the last group, plain civilian clothes with strange, red, symbols painted on them--with what looked like blood. They both had machetes, but no visible firearms. She listened, trying to hear what they were saying:
"...we've found all the sacrifices for Corn here we can." One man mentioned, his voice sounding weirdly psychotic.
The other man answered, his voice equally ominous. "Yes...now is the time to make our way to the Erebus Cathedral--"
Suddenly Lana heard a woman's voice, angry and agitated, like she was warning the two men. "We have an intruder!"
That's when the door burst open. A woman stepped out quickly carrying some kind of shotgun. As she started to raise the weapon, she was knocked back inside the door as a bullet ripped through her left shoulder and out her right side, followed by the zip of a sniper bullet. The woman was dead before she hit the ground.
Lana prepared to use her stunner. When no one came out of the door, she proceeded to make an entrance; but it was a mistake. As soon as she stuck her head in the door, she was grabbed and hit.
She could feel herself being dragged, held painfully tight by two pairs of strong hands. Suddenly she was dropped face first on the ground. When she looked up, she saw the two men getting inside a civilian speeder. She wanted to get up and say something to them, but they sped off, disappearing quickly in the distance.
When the other three Marines in the squad reached her, worried looks on their faces, she looked back at them, then frowned, mad at herself. "That was a stupid thing for me to do."
"Are you alright, LuLu?" Melinda asked, a little concerned.
Lana had some blood running down one side of her face from above one eye, but answered. "Yeah...I think so."
When Melinda got a call on her com from fourth squad informing her they had spotted a civilian speeder coming from her location, she informed them it was probably the same speeder.
It was Hank that noticed Lana's bolter was missing, apparently taken by the two men. Melinda then updated fourth squad with that information.
Lana was upset again. "I lost my bolter? Damn!" As she threw up her arms in frustration, she grabbed her shoulder and moaned. Melinda quickly determined she had a sprained shoulder.
When Melinda was ordered by HQ to move on, she had to inform them of Lana's condition, which made Lana sigh with frustration one last time as she was told she'd have to stay behind, wait to be picked up by a medical shuttle. She wanted to continue on with the squad; but, with her injury and missing bolter, it was only logical not to continue.
To add insult to injury, while Lana was waiting for the medical shuttle, she watched as a Rhino, in hover-mode, pull up and stop in front of her. From the open, top-back, hatch, she saw two Marines in battle suits stand up, their helmets open. She instantly recognized them as Gannon and Bull, who said hello and comically asked her what she was doing there.
"I'm waiting for a manicure!" She snapped, joking.
At that moment, Gunnery Sergeant Evans showed himself in the command hatch. "Are you alright, looks like you're favoring that one arm. I could have my medic take a look at you?"
Lana sighed. "No...no, I'm just--really embarrassed."
He chuckled. "Ah...bad case of embarrassment, huh. Well, my medic can't help you with that. Medical shuttle should be here in about ten minutes. Later..."
She watched as the Rhino sped off leaving a small cloud of dust.
After being picked up by the medical shuttle, and being deposited back at the bauxite quarry, where she was treated in more detail by the hospital section of the corsair, she sat with her arm in a sling, sitting depressed in a chair next to one of the hospital beds in the urgent care section. Colonel Gallardo entered, immediately saying. "at ease," before she could get up.
After walking across the small room, then sitting on the edge of the bed, he looked at her, waiting until she was just about to say something before speaking. "You guys did good out there."
Lana held back any comment...a little stunned.
"What were you going to say? I know: I'm so embarrassed." He had that comical smile of his.
The woman smiled back after a short sigh. "That's really getting around, huh?"
He laughed, then commented again. "You guys did good." He became more serious, explaining. "There's going to be times when you do everything right and still get beaten up. It comes with the job. For a basically green Scout squad...you guys did good. Now, with that over with, I want to ask you some questions."
Lana had been the only one in her squad that had heard the two men talking. And so far, none of the other squads had obtained ANY information or had heard ANY conversations from anyone, no matter how nonsensical.
These people, previously normal colonists, were now, for reasons unknown, acting cult-like in nature. And, they knew, it couldn't be just because they had been led astray by some charismatic religious leader, something they read about happening on Old Earth. It just didn't happen anymore...not to Terrans.
After Lana had repeated the comments she heard from the two men, there were two words that stuck out: The mention of sacrifices for Corn, and the Erebus Cathedral.
"Corn, huh?" The Colonel pondered, then took out his oPAD, scanning through the files.
"I think that's what it sounded like." She scratched the back of her head with her good arm. "Why corn? I don't think any crops have been planted since the evacuation."
Colonel Gallardo, despite his comical sayings and expressions, was one smart Space Marine commander, if not the smartest.
It seemed he had found something on his oPAD as he began explaining: "One of the colonial engineers...about five months ago, described a book he saw. He said he found it in the basement of a power plant, near one of the big cities. They never recovered the book...but, he said--it looked like it was made of some kind of skin--possibly human skin. It scared the crap out of him...so he left. He said the whole area in that basement made him feel--like he was in some sort of hell with strange symbols written all over the walls in what he said, looked like blood. It frightened him so bad he had trouble saying anything about it to anyone afterwards. After a couple days or so, he finally told someone; but they couldn't find the place he described, and he began to think he imagined it."
Gallardo finally found what he was looking for on his oPAD. "Here's what that guy said was the title of the book. Take a look." He showed it to her. In quotes were the words, "The Blood of Khorne."
"Couldn't that last word be pronounced, ‘Corn.' Gallardo asked plainly.
Lana shrugged. "I guess it could be." She continued, almost comically. "It'd make more sense than spilling blood in the name of some vegetable."
After a chuckle, the Colonel continued to show Lana more information about the strange book. "You see that symbol?"
Lana examined the strange red symbol. It looked like a heavy rectangular base with an ‘X' standing on top of it–-only each of the top ends of the ‘X' were bent outward, left and right, at ninety degree angles. Horizontally, through the center of the ‘X' was a heavy line, in length, the same size as the ‘X's width.
"I think that was the same symbol I saw on the clothing of the men...in both incidents. What is it?" She queried.
"I don't know. It was on the cover of that book. The best guess we have is that it's the symbol for, Khorne." The Colonel stood up. "I'm going to download this symbol, and some others, into all squads' oPODs." He showed her another symbol, a heavy red circle with an array of eight arrows sticking out from the circle on all sides in varying lengths.
"Do you know what that symbol means?"
Lana looked at the Colonel and slowly shook her head, no, then waited for him to answer, because it looked like he knew.
After a concerned pause, he continued, reluctantly answering his own question. "It's the universal symbol for, Chaos. It was also on that book...four times--one in each corner." He started to leave, but then turned to Lana again. "You mentioned that one of the men said something about needing to get to the Erebus Cathedral?"
"Yes." Lana was certain.
He sighed, then asked rhetorically. "You know what Erebus means, don't you?"
Lana smiled then answered at the same time as the Colonel started to. "It's described as a mythical dark place under the earth, through which the dead pass before entering Hates."
Gallardo gave Lana a look. "You had no life whatsoever on Pavonus, did you?"
The woman didn't answer.
Gallardo pondered, thinking out loud. "I wish we could've followed those guys to...wherever they thought they were going."
"What happened? I thought Melinda gave chase." Lana asked. "Our Land Speeder HAD to be faster than that civilian speeder."
"They crashed." The Colonel shrugged nonchalantly.
"No." He chuckled. "The guys they were chasing."
Lana was relieved, but had to chuckle also when the Colonel pointed an I-got-you finger at her.
"Corporal Dion said they were driving like lunatics, redlining the speeder. None of them even wore seatbelts. Their speeder clipped a rock, throwing them out of the vehicle–-at over five-hundred kilometers per hour. You do the math."
"I heard squads one and three were chasing civilian groups. Maybe some of them were heading--"
"Same place?" The Colonel already knew what Lana was going to ask. "Nope. They went in almost completely the opposite direction...toward the Marine Base."
"The Marine Base?" Lana was surprised and curious. "All of them?"
Gallardo nodded affirmative, then smiled. "Reynolds chased them all the way until...well, let's just say, he told me--that was just about as close to a burst of heavy bolter fire as he ever wanted to get while confined to a Land Speeder."
Lana remained interested, listening carefully.
"Yes...they have a least one heavy bolter turret operational. It's a pop up...and it's hostile. And it DIDN'T fire on the civilian speeders." The Colonel was more emphatic about the last part. "I've ordered all squads back to base; they should be back in a little over an hour. I've already made the call back to Camp Cheyenne--we're bringing in the big guns...everything except the Thunderhawks. He paused, then asked, "LaFong, have you had dinner yet?"
She nodded, yes, gesturing to an empty hospital tray on the bed next to her.
"Good. Run over to supply; the sergeant's going to need a hand. Thanks."
Lana sat bored behind a long counter inside one of the quarry buildings now being use for Base supply, her arm still in a sling and her legs dangling down from a tall stool as she waited for more Marines to return. After explaining he would be busy elsewhere, the supply sergeant had given her an armband of sergeant stripes, which meant, officially, she was acting supply sergeant.
The Scout squads returned first; Lana checked in the bulk of their equipment, bolters, ammunition, body armor, helmets, and backpacks. When her squad returned, Ramcke was happy to turn in her previously captured bolter.
It was a little while longer, after all the Scout squads had turned in their equipment, when she heard the well-known bellow of a couple friendly bozos. Gannon and Bull's squad had already checked in their battle suits, done so at another section of supply. They stomped in noisily with the rest of their squad, talking up a loud storm...until Bull, who was carrying a Mk-2 heavy bolter with relative else over his shoulder, spotted Lana sitting on her stool. He mentioned jokingly to Gannon, referring to her armband. "See...I told you she'd make sergeant in no time."
She was almost finished checking in the men's weapons when the supply sergeant returned and she was relieved. The woman then proceeded out of the supply building, then strolled across the quarry under an open, starry, night, sky. She sighed, tired; it had been a long day...even by Cornucopia standards.