“Evacuate. This is not a drill. All civilians make your way to the escape pods.”
The sound of the automated warning reverberates as the twenty-four of us stand in a circle around Jacobs in the middle of one of Portway’s massive hallways. Chaos is erupting around us as civilians begin to evacuate. They may be desperate to leave, but this is exactly where I want to be, in the eye of the storm. Our heart rates are barely elevated; none of us have started sweating yet. Either our training is serving us well or reality hasn’t kicked in yet. Jacobs is receiving orders from the command section of Portway through the small implant in his right ear.
“Roger that, sir. Any means necessary.” Jacobs waves a hand signaling us to draw in closer. “Listen up. We have confirmed reports that a small squad of Ralgoths have boarded this station. We don’t know why they are here, and obviously we don’t give a shit. We are to intercept and execute them at first sighting.”
Jacobs is having to raise his voice to be heard over evacuation and warning sirens, but there is no panic or excitement in it. This is what we are trained to do, business as usual.
“Intel says the Ralgoth boarding party has broken up into two groups of eight intruders. One is heading toward the command deck and the other was last seen near engineering. The group heading for the bridge is our primary offensive objective. If they hold the bridge, they will have full control of this station and its databases. That intelligence will not fall into enemy hands. Our secondary objective is the group headed to engineering. They could still do plenty of damage there, including cutting off life support. The other Marines on Portway are providing defense for the evacuating civilians. If you can assist an evacuating civilian, that’s a bonus, but our main objective is taking down these bastards.”
No more simulations. No more lectures.
“Mendoza, I want you to lead a squad to the engineering chamber. Johnson is our tech specialist. He will accompany your normal crew of Smith, Rendez, and Rodgers to undo any damage the Ralgoths have already done. Shoot first, interrogate them later.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way, LT!”
I motion to the rest of the guys and we set off into a hard jog toward the stairs leading to engineering. It’s a solid kilometer sprint and a fifteen story climb, but none of us will feel it with this amount of adrenaline pumping through us.
I’ve been in the engineering chamber several times on patrol duty. I could navigate it blindfolded. One large circle, 73.48 meters in diameter, the fusion drive reactor centered in the room. Low ceiling with three stories of lifeless conduits and cabling above, poor lighting, no cover.
Suddenly the alarms become muted. The flashing red lights still continue, but the wailing of the evacuation signals are silent. Does that mean all the civilians have been evacuated?
I turn my head around to yell at the men. “Put your helmets on and go on air. We have Ralgoths to kill.”
Engaging the enemy in battle has been my sole purpose, so why do I feel a wave of uneasiness wash over me? Is it first time jitters or is my gut is trying to tell me that something is wrong? My mouth grows dry as my arms and legs begin to lose feeling. Vomit is collecting in the bottom of my throat.
Focus. Remember your training.
We get to within thirty meters of the engineering chamber without spotting an enemy presence. I wave at the guys, ordering them to slow down and get into formation. As we get closer, a group of civilians runs out, heading for an escape pod that may not be there.
What kept them in engineering this long?
I slap the back of my rifle stock twice, telling the entire squad to stop.
They’re in this room.
“Nut up, Gentlemen. This is why signed up.”
“Let’s fuck ‘em up, Mendy.”
Rendez’s words sent a bolt of courage through my body. A single slap of my rifle stock tells them to push forward. Once we cross the threshold into engineering, we see four large creatures huddled over the mutilated body of a human. We instinctively fan out and begin to surround the Ralgoths while keeping our backs to the walls. Rendez and Rogers go left. Smittie and Johnson follow me to the right. We have them in an angled crossfire.
One Ralgoth turns its head apathetically to appraise us. The rest follow suit. Their authenticity is not in question. These are no projections. Flesh and blood stands before us. Even with our simulations, they are bigger than I expected. Thick greasy hair covering concrete skin. They each carry a bladed weapon larger than any of us could wield.
A strangle growl begins. Lips curl to expose sharpened teeth. Spiked hair stands at attention. Their posture mimics frightened animals backed into a corner. Nowhere to run.
For what feels like an eternity, we engage in a staring match: the Ralgoth invaders versus the men sent to destroy them.
Are they just going to just stand there and growl at us?
They begin to charge before I got off the first shot.
The engineering chamber erupts in barrel flashes.