Approx. 2600 words
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2015 SJ
The Chaos Thickens
written by SJ
As Lana and Melinda got ready to leave the Guard HQ, they were offered some sandwiches and soft drinks, which they stored in the Land Speeder's fridge shortly after they had transmitted all the data they gathered from the mysterious hallway to Marine HQ. It was obvious the Guardsmen hated to see them go; but they were happy to learn they might have helped the situation on their planet in, at least, one small way.
The two Marines knew they weren't going to make it to the location given them by Major Boseman by noon tomorrow; it was already getting dark. If they rushed, pushing the Land Speeders at top speed, they might get there by late noon. But to hell with that! They would travel at normal speed, get there when they did. Ops missions had priority, Lana knew that...and so should Boseman.
Early morning the next day, Lana stopped for a couple minutes to eat the nice ham and egg salad sandwiches the Guardsmen had given them. On a round, grassy hill, they were observing a couple peaceful-looking animals that had wandered nearby, when they got a call:
"Hey, ladies...how everything going?" Ramcke's cheerful voice was heard clearly. "Lana...did you find what you looking for?"
"We most certainly did." Lana smiled, joking, "Was there any doubt?"
"None whatsoever, Little Sarge. Hey, we're on our way to this location." Ramcke transmitted the co-ordinates. "It's just outside this village, Neindale. We'll rendezvous with you there. Boseman wants us to be there by late evening–-"
"Late evening!" Lana checked with the co-ordinates she had, and they were the same. "He wanted us to be there by noon today. The Guardsmen told me he was all upset about it."
"He always sounds upset." A rather raspy male voice responded on the squad com.
"Who's this...are you my new squad member?" Lana inquired cheerfully.
"Corporal Sammy Burns, at your service."
"Burns, huh." Lana chuckled. "A flamer expert by the name of--Burns. I think I gonna like you. Hey, what'd you get for a backup weapon?"
"Dervish boltgun. It's a little smaller and lighter than the normal scout bolter, but still has the same range."
"Yeah, I think I've heard of them. Doesn't have full auto, right?
"Is that okay?"
"Absolutely. That's a good choice. I guess we'll be meeting you guys outside of Neindale later tonight. By the way...how are you guys getting here? We've got the squad's Land Speeder."
"We're getting a lift from one of the Guardsmen's civilian speeders. Once they drop us off, they'll head back to HQ." Ramcke answered.
"Did Boseman say why we were going to this location." Lana had to ask.
"He said something about the science ship picking up a WARP signature along with Tyranid life signs." Burns responded.
"TYRANIDS?" Lana was genuinely shocked.
"Yesterday the Omicron Rangers destroyed a small group of them off to the North." Burns commented. "The bugs didn't even fight back. So they don't think is a Tyranid invasion. It's just strange--"
"To say the least," Lana exclaimed. "The WARP and Tyranids don't match. They would never use the WARP for transit. The chaotic nature of the WARP would have a completely unknown effect on Tyranid DNA." She relaxed. "But...I guess we'd better be on our guard just the same. See you guys later tonight. LaFong out."
Cheyenne Ranger Scout squad two had finished up the last of the ham and egg salad sandwiches for breakfast early the next morning, before light. Cornucopia's sun was just starting to rise on a cloudless sky as LaFong's Land Speeder, now carrying the two additional squad members, glided cautiously into the ramshackle assortment of prefabs that made up Neindale village, scanners ready. They picked up the faint sign of a Tyranid location right away, and closed in.
The Land Speeder came slowly to a stop on the cement pavement of a small basketball court. A little over three hundred meters away was the Tyranid nest. The Land Speeder's extra crewman readied the twin-linked bolter, but was cautioned by Lana not to fire unless she gave the order.
One by one, starting with Lana, the four squad members stood up in the Land Speeder to stare at the nest using their Scout binoculars. It was obviously some kind of Tyranid brood nest...but, it wasn't right somehow: The hive structure itself wasn't fully formed, looking more like a misshapen hatchery. There weren't any of the evolutionary structures, only what looked like a dried-up spore pool. And the whole thing was surrounded by some kind of thick, organic, bio-matter, something Lana knew usually depicted that the nest was having trouble surviving. There were also two warriors, dwarves by Tyranid standards, standing nearby, next to the hive. It was Melinda who stated the obvious.
"They're not moving, LuLu." She lowered her binoculars to look at Lana. "Are they even alive?"
Lana didn't answer right away. Eventually, she lowered her binoculars and answered. "They're alive...but not for long." Her comment got the rest of the squad's attention. "I'm reading cellular decay all over the whole nest. Those warriors are totally immature, no biomorphs at all. The nest has no neural activity. By the end of the day, it's just going to be a pile of cellar waste."
"Why?" Melinda asked.
But the same question was in everyone's mind.
"I don't know. That's for the science ship to figure out," Lana responded. "As for me, I need to call, Boseman."
"Careful...he's a stickler for military protocol." Burns strongly mentioned.
"So I've heard." Lana quipped, just before making the call to field HQ.
A woman answered. "HQ."
"This is Cheyenne Ranger Scout squad two reporting in." Lana tried sounding formal.
"Who is calling?"
"This is Major Boseman. LaFong, did you find that Tyranid nest, yet?" The Major responded sharply.
"Yes, sir." Lana continued. "It's located–-"
"Next time you call in, I want rank, name, squad ID in that order." The Major interrupted, then told her to continue.
"Yes, sir. It's located on the far south side of the village, in the middle of a baseball field." She proceeded to give the Major the precise planetary co-ordinates.
"Okay...very good." Even the Major's minor complement sounded a bit grumpy. "I'm going to send you Cheyenne Ranger squad three to destroy the nest–-"
"Sir." Lana quickly tried to explain. "This nest is already in advanced decay. If you give me the call number to the science ship maybe we can work together to obtain some scientific data before--"
"Absolutely not." Boseman answered firmly. "This is a search and destroy mission--Only! And any communication to the Emperor Corporation's science ship goes through me exclusively."
Lana tried to say something, but was cut off–-
"Your orders are to remain were you are and wait for third squad to arrive. Once they are there, you are to proceed directly to this location." The Major listed a new set of coordinates, then gave her the name of a town. He finished up by saying, "do not investigate or engage the hive unless you are attacked. Understood sergeant?"
Melinda gave Lana a look, then responded. "I'm especially glad you are in charge of the squad instead of me this time." She grinned.
Lana nodded, understanding her completely. "Thanks, Melinda...very encouraging."
Burns had to make a comment of his own on the recent conversation. "Hmmm...it sounds like the Major is in one of his better moods."
"You think so, huh?" Lana sat down on the edge of the Land Speeder. "Okay guys...we've gotta wait around here for third squad." She waved her hand, jokingly. "Get out and...play basketball or something."
"What about the Tyranids?" Burns was curiously serious.
Lana smiled, sounding serious herself...but obviously not. "Hey...if they want to join the game...it's okay with me."
The two men got out of the Land Speeder to take a break. Ramcke knew from experience: if Lana wasn't concern about those Tyranids, then neither should he. Eventually, they found a ball.
In two hours, Lana got a call from third squad as they entered the north side of the village, from Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Zook. "Hey...Little Sarge. So you found another batch of Tyranids for us to blow up?"
"Another one?" Lana inquired.
Jeremiah's voice had a kind of friendly, Old Earth, mid-western, accent to it. "Yeah. Yesterday we took out a couple of those gargoyle brood types...five or six of them. They just stood there while we blasted'em."
"Yeah...we expected them to try and fly away or something."
"You'd think..." Lana was interested, but was not too surprised to hear about the Tyranid torpidity.
When squad three's Rhino arrived at the basketball court, Jeremiah had already examined the Tyranid nest from the APC's command hatch. "Looks like you've got some kind of hive structure there...and what's all the goop around it?"
Lana briefly explained the nest's deteriorating condition as her squad mounted their Land Speeder. Just before leaving for her next location, she had to add her own opinion, leaving her com off deliberately.
"If you ask me, we should be trying to scientifically examine as to why these Tyranids are all dying. But...Major Bozo wants us to just destroy them." Lana jested seriously.
Jeremiah laughed. "Major Bozo, huh? Hey, Little Sarge...I'll give you fifty credits if you call'em than over an open com."
"Yeah...that and another five hundred credits just might cover my fine after I do. Well...we're on our way to Cliffdale. Have fun."
Lana and her team started to leave.
"Cliffdale? If that's were you're headed, be careful." Jeremiah's voice sounded serious. "That's were most of the Cultists have been spotted."
Cliffdale was one of the more larger towns among many of the farming towns and villages in Cornucopia's Orchard district. As Lana and her team entered the outskirts, it was obvious this was no hasty group of prefab buildings; this was a real town. All that was missing were the people.
Cornucopia had three small moons, none of which could be seen at night, so it was quite dark as the two Land Speeders crept down Cliffdale's Main Street. All the town's street lights were off. The location given to Lana earlier was in the absolute center of town. After checking with Cheyenne Ranger headquarters, so she could get a full scan of the town via a linked satellite, it was determined that the only life signs were in the same location: the center of town; and those were both human and Tyranid, with a residual WARP signature to go with it. Using the night vision setting on their binoculars, the Scout squad soon spotted two human figures standing outside the double doors of what was Cliffdale's town hall, a six story office building.
Leaving one person to stand guard at all times, Lana's team got some sleep. In the morning, she called field HQ.
After giving Major Boseman her rank, name, and squad ID in that order, Lana proceeded with her scouting report. "From 0200 to 0600 hours, planetary time, we continued to observe two human males standing guard outside of the front door of the building at the location you gave me yesterday. In the morning, two more human males came out, talked to them, then appeared to relieve them. Several minutes earlier, two human males came out and stood guard while the first two began walking around the building. All of the males appeared to be carrying civilian weapons, pistols, except for one, which looked like a colonial six millimeter auto carbine."
There was a delay before Boseman slowly responded. "Have you checked out the rest of the town, sergeant?"
"Yes, sir. I had a full satellite scan of the town made last night. Only this one building has any life signs at all."
"Okay. Very good. I am going to send you squads two and three to handle the situation."
It was hard to tell, but it sounded like Boseman was a little less grumpy today. Even his compliment sounded cordial.
Lana decided to make a suggestion. "You know sir, since it seems like we have situation contained. Maybe I could get a few scans of--"
"No. We are not bothering the science ship." Whatever cordiality the Major's voice had was lost immediately. "Squads two and three are coming to your location and should be there within the hour. I will be accompanying squad two."
"But, sir–-" Lana tried to explain.
"What I want you to do is get me a strength report of that building. It appears it's some kind of six story government building. I want you to take your team inside and get me the number, type, and location of enemies--WITHOUT being spotted. I do not want to take fire from every window in that building. If you find any individual snipers, take them out covertly. Do you understand, sergeant?"
Lana sighed silently to herself; she was not going to suggest contacting the science ship. She was only going to make a few bio-scans with her Ops scanner then send them to the science ship later. But...whatever. She answered formally. "Yes, sir. I understand completely."
"Good. When I arrive, I will contact you. If you encounter anything else out of the ordinary, let me know immediately. Boseman out."
"Major?" Lana needed to ask a question, but there was no answer. "Major Boseman?" Her voice became louder and more urgent.
"...Yes, sergeant, what is it?" His grumpiness became more intense.
She carefully stated her question. "Am I to consider ALL the occupants of this building hostile?"
It was obvious that the Major was becoming more annoyed by Lana's tone of voice. He sighed...and even though she didn't hear anything per say, she could just see him grinding his teeth as he delayed in answering. Finally he responded, knowing the squad leader's question was a valid one, either not liking the way she asked it, or frustrated that he didn't think of it first. "If you find what appears to be prisoners, then report that to me in your next scouting report. Otherwise, yes, all occupants are to be considered, hostile."
Even though the Major answered one part of Lana's question, she had a more important issue in mind. "Sir...these, hostiles, as you call them, were once colonists...and for the most part, still are. Has anyone given any thought to finding out why they are acting like this? Don't you think we should at least try to capture them? Not just shoot them on--"
The Major bluntly interrupted. "I will have you know sergeant that--YES, someone has and still are trying to find out why they are acting like this. Weeks earlier, one of the Federal Investigation teams captured several of them. They were taken to the medical section of the science ship and examined using ALL their technology. However, each one, without speaking a single word or answering a single question, quickly became catatonic, then slipped into a deep coma; within several days, they were all dead."
Lana didn't know if she was more shocked by the content of the Major's answer, or whether it was the fact that he answered her at all. There was a short delay before Lana uttered an almost inaudible, "wow," to herself.
He continued formally. "It was the Federal Investigators' job to detain any hostiles...it's now our job to destroy them. Understood, sergeant?"
"Yes sir. Thank you. LaFong out--" The Major's com signal was already off before she finished.