Overstep lore #03 – Second Contact
“I can only say this as I saw it, no more, no less.” – 1st Lieutenant Blackford. discharged for bad conduct.
“Well I guess that will have to do, it’s better than the nothing we know now.” – Captain of Blackford’s vessel.
Bravo Team edged further into the foreboding darkness of the tunnel, their every step enveloping them in the rock of Mars’s crust. They were packed tightly together, their close proximity to one another was not through any tactical manoeuvre or strategic positioning, but by the cramped limitations of their environment. Deep below the surface of Mars was not a place Captain Howis wanted to be, especially after the stonewalling he’d received from his superiors at the briefing.
“What do you make of it, sir?” Flint’s unmistakable Texan drawl crackled across the com-link.
“I say whatever the hell, or whoever the hell is down here is either blocking our sensors, or we’re so far down the planet’s throat that we’re too close to its arsehole and can’t penetrate the tunnel walls. Plus, I can’t see shit in this darkness,” replied Captain Howis.
“I mean about the briefing, sir!”
“I see, well, whatever happened to Alfa team can’t have been pretty, or we wouldn’t be here.” Howis fiddled with his combat armour’s torch but it was no use, he resigned himself to the fact that a visibility range of around five metres was as good as he was going to get. They’d have to eyeball this one the old fashioned way, the technological wonders of mankind were no use here.
The tunnel widened, and Howis breathed easier. He paused and squatted into a combat ready position. His move spread across the team like ripples across water, each member following suit, their training and conditioning coming into play without a single thought. He raised his hand above his battle-scarred helmet and extended all four fingers and thumb.
“Five metre spread,” Howis whispered across the comm-link.
The team moved into position, a long defensive line with five metres between each man. That tactical manoeuvre would allow them to quickly cover the span of the tunnel as they advanced.
1st Lieutenant Blackford sighed, leaned back in his seat and put his feet to the left of his console’s controls. The captain didn’t like him doing this but at that moment in time he didn’t care, he was a dark shift and no one else would be on the bridge for hours. He looked at the console through his dreary eyelids. The seven dots were still barely visible and all the marines were still accounted for. There was nothing else to see, it was a waste of everyone’s time being there. Alfa team had gone missing a mere three hours ago, they’d vanished off their transport’s scanners that were identical to their own. It was three hours, there was still time for them to show up. Blackford knew Alfa’s signals were either being blocked by whatever alien construct was down there or by the planet itself. Mars was like that, he thought to himself, it seems to want to hide its treasures from the galaxy, keeping them entombed in its red rock. He looked out of the view port and saw that Alfa team’s transport was still there, suspended in space waiting for any news. He sighed again, tucked his chin into his shoulder and fell asleep.
Bravo team had moved roughly fifty metres down the tunnel before it opened into a chamber. Another tunnel, considerably larger than the last ran off the east wall, framed by a gigantic, intricate archway. The other three walls were covered in ornate alien constructs and writing, but no one had any idea of what it said. The most concerning however, was a half-congealed blood-like substance on the floor. Howis leaned in and pointed his camera at it, it analysed the composition and beamed the data up to the transport.
“Blackford?” Howis queried, “Blackford!” he said again promptly.
There was no reply.
“Probably asleep,” said Flint.
The comms were definitely working, despite the scanners being dead. “Probably right, Flint,” sighed Howis as he stood up. “Guess we’ll have to wait on the analysis. That guy seriously needs to lay off the Cidrofluid.”
Howis felt it first, that uncomfortable twist in the stomach, the overbearing feeling of dread, a sudden unease that is the mind and body’s call to arms against a mishap that is about to pounce upon you. It was one of those gut wrenching moments that turn your situation upside down. He had no time to speak, to warn the others, although he was certain they had felt it too. And he was right! A sudden gust of air whooshed and blustered down the eastward tunnel, it felt like a door had been opened. The smell and mustiness of the air said it was a door that had long since been sealed.
Bishop’s Plasma Repeater spat and bucked as it’s brilliant blue projectiles sprayed and sped down the corridor toward the winds. It was to be the marines only retort to the danger, and with that, it was over.
Blackford jumped and had to extend his right arm to prevent himself falling off the seat. He sat up straight and stared at the console, aghast. The critical alert’s shrill tones had woken him. A sample sent from the planet was the blood of a member of Alfa team, but that was old news. The seven blips for the Beta team marines had gone, just like Alfa team before them, but he wasn’t interested in that. What had got his attention was a growing power source which careered its way toward them, a power greater than anything he had ever seen. He looked up at the transport in front of him, just as a brilliant white ball of light rocketed from the surface and straight into the ship, tearing it clean in two before vanishing into the brilliance of space, faster than it had arrived. And with the sudden arrival and departure of the power source, the scanners on every ship in range sprang to life. Mars had opened like a flower, its pollen suddenly visible to the swarm of ships buzzing around Mars. What ever that thing was, it was hiding a whole planet from them.
Charlie team entered the chamber, confirming Alfa’s blood stain and Bishop’s sliced up plasma repeater shortly after. What could have done that to such a rugged weapon they did not know. They could also confirm the doorway and battle-scars the chamber bore wounds and witness to. The captain opened his comms, “Send down the boffins,” he said, “we have clear access to the corridor and room.”