"Storm Horizon" by Patrick Stacy

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Storm on the Horizon
by S.E. Eggleston

 

The air was thick with the smell of burnt flesh and overturned earth. Death was in the air.

Corporal Jordan Storm knew the taste and reek of death, as did every Terran Marine. The landscape that his combat boots slightly dug into had just recently been the location of a beautiful and exotic intergalactic zoo, in the middle of a city in which millions of inhabitants had lived. The buildings around Storm had once been gorgeous skyscrapers, each one seemingly reaching for the stars. What they were now there was only once term for. That term was ruins. The bombardment from the Terran Battleships was enough to vaporize a small moon on occasion, but this time was different. Different because humans wanted this planet as their own, to rape it of its resources and use them in an attempt to save a dying home world called Terra. The once impressive skyscrapers and surrounding buildings were now just broken heaps, steel frames bent into horrifying skeletons that protruded from the ground and cast a silent shadow on those who dared travel in the day's light.

Terra had sent Storm and his fellow marines on a “contain and neutralize” mission, one more commonly spoken about as a search and destroy. The old timer marines usually didn't appreciate these types of missions, particularly due to the high mortality rates that these missions boasted. In the Terran Marine Corps, if a soldier was fortunate or skilled enough to survive ten full missions he was granted a retirement or a cozy desk job on some star ship or on-planet shuffling papers and sorts. Out of the six million marines that signed up every year, a startling three point six percent happen to make it to the decision. Out of that two hundred and sixteen thousand, seventy five percent opt for the retirement package. Storm, now he knew what he was getting into when he signed up. Most marines sign on the dotted line because it's their only way to get off planet, to see the universe perhaps. Storm, on the other hand, signed up because every male member of his family had joined the Corps since before humans began to travel off-planet. He had no intentions of breaking that tradition and hoped that his baby boy Marco back on Mars Colony had no intentions of doing that either. His wife, Carlie, and his son were waiting for him back home, and he thought about that every day. He had traveled six days straight with his fellow marines aboard the TMCS Julius Caesar while in route to this hole, and he had full expectations of spending six more days on the way back.

The one thing about the Corps was they never let you go planet-side without knowing what the hell you were getting yourself into. By the time the marines had established orbit and before Dragon Platoon had prepared to drop to the surface, the Corps had supplied them with the planet's specs on its inhabitants, atmosphere, history, and current tech level. Not one marine was going to Beta two-five, more commonly known as Apox Five, without knowing what he was going to kill. The planet was known to be inhabited by a host of different species before the bombardment began, but only two were known to be sentient. The first and more pacifistic of the two species were known as the Bpanias, a race devoted to welcoming and exchanging knowledge with space faring races. The basic society was a common one with the male as the dominant member, one that ran all forms of government and business. The race itself had seemingly evolved from a feline type of species that probably had inhabited Apox Five at about the same time Terra had its primates. Even though their history was blemished with horrendous battles and world wars, the Bpanias managed to forge a peaceful government and an open armed society.

The other species, more commonly known as the Klintoks, were a race of subterranean origin. Resembling a six-foot tall spider, the creature's distinguishing characteristic was its face, which rested on the underbelly of the body. Human representatives that had attempted to settle a peace agreement with the Bpanias had never actually witnessed the Klintoks, but the very name sent a wave of silence through any room or meeting it was brought up in. Contact between the two races had been very limited up to about two hundred years ago when the Klintoks began assembling raiding parties that were sent to abduct young members of outlying villages that were well away from large cities and military bases. Immediately after the abductions the Klintoks retreated with their captives to underground Klintok cities where they were presumed sold into slavery or possibly sold as comestibles. In retaliation, the Bpanias sealed every cave opening and fissure crack that led underground with newly developed force field tech. Since that action by the Bpania, no movement or attempt to reach the top world had been noted. Terra sensors had documented the planet as sentient controlled and Terran forces had ignored the inhabitants until two months ago. Relations had started unpleasantly and went downhill from there. In a meeting between representatives of both worlds, a delegate from Apox Five had referred to humans as a regrettably accidental evolution of a virus that sweeps from system to system devouring whatever they could get their furless hands upon. To Terran citizens that was a simple thing, an act of war. An election was immediately held in which ninety seven percent of Terran citizens voted for an all out war. Three weeks later, Terran Naval batteries tore the planet's surface to shreds. Cities were vaporized and oceans were nearly evaporated, millions upon millions were killed with the push of a button. After bombardment, atmospheric processors were released into the planet's oxygen supply to cleanse out any possible contaminants that may have infected any military personnel that would be going planet-side.

That's where Storm's situation began, planet-side with his platoon and patrolling rubble for Apox Five survivors. Little did Terra know what waited for the marines that they sent to Apox Five, nor did the marines there realize when they landed that their probability of survival was to be next to nothing.

“This place smells like your momma Storm!” Corporal Michael Carlson called out over some smoldering wreckage of what seemed to have once been a flying form of transportation. Carlson was a relatively short man, standing below the Terran average at five foot six inches. He was quite young, full eighteen Terran years to be exact, younger than the average corporal due to the fact that he had signed up when he was sixteen. He had been living on the Mercury Mining Colony and had just two choices for the direction that his life was to take. He could have stayed at the colony, spending his life mining rare minerals for the factories on Terra like his family did. Or there was choice number two, the Terran Marine Corps. With the TMC he could sign up and get off-planet and out among the stars. He chose the latter. Being a handsome man, Carlson's face showed his young age instead of the years that had been added thanks to the Corps. His piercing blue eyes seemed to try and gather everything they saw. He usually stayed clean-shaven and kept his brown hair trimmed short in the Marine Corps standard. Throughout the years Carlson had made it very clear that he was interested in the opposite sex, but never seemed to find a girl that interested him enough to live an eternity with. Storm had known Carlson from the day the younger man walked into the barracks. As they had found out, Storm had only graduated two days prior to Carlson's own graduation that made Storm the ranking soldier in a sense. The two were inseparable after the first day, requesting to be assigned to one another on pair off. Not that the old timers minded, they didn't want some greenie covering their backs. Now Carlson and Storm were the old timers though, only two more missions to survive and they were both going home. Storm knew where his home was and knew where he was going, but Carlson was another story. Storm had always figured that Carlson was going to be in for life though, sticking it through with the Corps.

“I just hope it doesn't start smelling like you,” Storm replied with a grin, both marines letting out a quiet laugh. It was still hard for Storm to believe they had survived eight missions together. Sure, four of them were simple missions like escorts and patrols, but the others were all contain and neutralize just like this one. As Storm made his way over a pile of scorched debris his eyes focused on a limb that was lying near some metal shards mixed with what looked like glass. The limb, lying to the left of his position, was badly burned and ripped from its previous owner. Nothing unusual if the victim had been in a building when it was hit by bombardment or even if it was near a building when it collapsed. Something about this one seemed peculiar though so Storm decided to investigate it.

“Carlson,” Storm breathed into his comm, his voice growing stern, “I want you on my six immediately.” There was no reply, just quick steps and then silence. As Storm approached the severed limb he could hear Carlson's footsteps behind him, letting him know that there was cover fire if he needed it. Storm quickly compiled the facts in his head as he neared the limb. It was apparent that the appendage was a Bpanian arm, easily distinguishable by the long fur that covered it and the retractable claws that extended from the six stubby fingers. The fur was a tan-brown color, darkened by the blood that had splattered over it. That's when it registered in his head. “What looks wrong about that severed arm?”

“Nothing.” Carlson responded with sarcasm. “Nothing except it's missing its rightful possessor.” Carlson's dry humor had gotten him in trouble more than once yet he continued to lay it on thick.

“Look at where it was severed.” Storm responded with a cool, collected voice, not allowing his annoyance to be heard. “It's fresh blood.” To emphasize his point Storm removed his glove and ran two fingers through the pool of blood at the base of the arm. “Still warm,” he said as he wiped his fingers off on his fatigues before replacing his glove. Storm had been in a situation that reminded him of this one once before. It was on one of his last missions. A body of a young native child had been fastened hastily to the wall of what seemed like an abandoned structure. As he went up to release the child from his restraints a hail of weapon fire tore through Storm, shredding his left lung and shattering six ribs, his right femur, and the knee cap of the same leg. After a brief firefight, Storm's attackers fled, leaving the marine there to bleed to death. As duty requires, Carlson was within earshot of the assault but failed to make it in time to assist Storm in the fight. Carlson managed to get Storm to the shuttles and off-planet in time for him to be placed on medical reserve in a medi-tank where it took almost a week for the nano-surgeons to mend his flesh, cartilage, and bone. They managed to get the job done though, and in time for Storm to hit the bunk one night before his next mission. Storm hoped that this situation was going to be different though. He prayed that he would make it through this mission and the next so he could go home to his family, he prayed for that every night. If anyone were listening, he would know soon enough. As Storm reached for the appendage he held his breath, waiting for the shot he would never hear. It never came. With the limb in his hand, Storm's attention was caught by something strange. It was the claws. The claws of the hand had seemed to have ripped strips of flesh from what ever had killed it, or perhaps something that was close to it when it had died. With a quick hand signal Storm motioned for Carlson to stay alert as he quickly but carefully removed one of the strips of flesh before setting the arm back on the ground before him. Blood had dripped generously from the limb and onto his fatigues, allowing Storm to catch a trace of a scent that must have been a trademark of the Bpanians. The blood actually smelled as bad as entrails did during a hot afternoon. Storm blew air through his nostrils to clear the smell as he diverted his attention to the flesh in his hand. With a more careful inspection Storm found the flesh seemed to not be flesh at all, more of a hard, exoskeleton type of tissue.

“Feels like a big bug,” Storm said, more to himself but out loud as well as he handed the tissue back to Carlson. His eyes scanned the area for any movement that he might be able to detect.

Carlson slung his weapon just long enough to inspect the tissue before immediately pulling his weapon back to his shoulder as he passed the sample back to Storm. “Or maybe one of those Klintok things,” he said as he did. Storm's heart jumped in his chest as Carlson spoke.

Suddenly a scream tore through the silence in the air and seemed to echo all around the two marines. Storm raced to his feet, his weapon at his shoulder ready to be fired.

“Storm's a comin',” Storm said and quickly checked the sky. It was always misunderstood what Jordan was trying to convey when he said those words. In the academy everyone thought it meant that he was coming. Shipboard everyone thought it meant that Storm couldn't wait to head home. Carlson was one of the few who knew it meant that Storm thought there was trouble on the horizon.

“What the hell was that?” Carlson asked, his breathing still calm despite the excitement in his voice.

“I don't know,” Storm responded, “but I think it was human.” As he spoke, Storm's training took control. His mind was no longer that of Jordan Storm, but now that of a well trained and disciplined marine. His hand shot to the comm control at his side, flipping the frequency to universal width instead of two-way communications. The screams of the dying soldiers echoed in his ears. An enemy that he had yet to see was slaughtering the platoon. He quickly tore the comm from his ear, trying to drown out the death cries of a hundred men from his mind with the sound of his own voice.

“Ready yourself Carlson,” he spoke coldly, not allowing his voice reveal the fear that was quivering through his body. “The comm is packed with chatter,” Storm said as he checked his extra magazines for a count of his rounds. “We'll never make it through to command from here. Our only option is to find a shuttle or a comm officer carrying a pack with him.” Carlson said not a word as he unfastened the restraints on his ka-bar knife. The knife was a marine tradition from the times long before the space ages. Storm's ka-bar was dated back to Terra's First World War, passed down through the generations from father to first-born son. His son would receive this ka-bar one-day, upon Storm's return from the service. Younger marines saw the ka-bar knife as an obsolete waste of valuable sidearm space. Storm had seen a ka-bar save too many lives to look at it that way. A pistol can run out of rounds, as can a blaster. A ka-bar is there forever, to be used as necessary. In hand-to-hand combat, a ka-bar was almost unparalleled if used by a competent individual. Carlson knew that as well, as did every other marine that experienced a close combat knife fight.

“We'll have to go back,” Carlson said as he checked his coordinates. “Retrace our path.” Carlson had always had a well-rounded tactical mind, able to see and think of details most would over look. “They'll be expecting any surviving marines to swing out and try to flank them.” Storm wasn't as sure as his friend. The scream of the marines over the comm unit was enough to convince him otherwise.

“No,” he said, startling his friend. “We'll circle back and around, flanking them. A whole hell of a lot of marines are getting massacred out there. Most of them are young, inexperienced, and just like we used to be. Remember how you would have reacted back then?” Carlson opened his mouth to protest but Storm cut him short. “Think, damn it!” He screamed, his voice rising higher than he intended. “You would've retreated! Fear would have had you shaking in your boots so bad you would have been barely able to think let alone get technical!” Storm's heart was racing, his nostrils flared with each breath he took. “Those marines out there turned their tails and ran for it, meeting their maker in the process.”

“For all we know, those things out there could have some heat seeking sense that will tell ‘em where we are before we even get a chance to run for it!” Carlson argued, trying to make sense of it all. “Military Intel told us that we would be dealing with just one species here, one that would be practically wiped out!”

“When have we ever taken Military Intel's info as script?” Storm said as he stepped face to face with his friend. “You listen here soldier and you listen hard!” Spit flew from his lips as he spoke. “We're going to flank, coming around the enemy while firing a cover fire for any marines that might still be alive. We're getting the hell off-planet and we're going to vaporize this hole from orbit, got that soldier?”

Carlson's face grew suddenly pale as his jaw dropped in a silent scream. He shoved Storm to the ground. As he hit, Storm let his momentum take him and he rolled. Before his mind had caught up with his eyes, his ears had already registered the sound of weapons fire. His roll brought him to his knees in a crouched position; his rifle at his shoulder prepared to be fired. His heart jumped as he saw the Klintok that had risen from the ground just meters from where he had been standing. The beast was nothing like the sketches and artist renditions that the Bpanians had given the Terran government. The creature stood approximately seven feet from the ground, its black exoskeleton covered in dark patches of hair. Its face was almost centered perfectly on its underbelly, about level with that of a man's head. Its eyes glowed with a fierce emerald green and its mouth secreted what must have been thick saliva. It gripped the ground and rubble it walked over with sharp, hook like feet that dug into the soil as it moved. The creature began towards Carlson, four powerful legs propelling it with ease. Two more sets of legs swung about wildly in the air, as to distract its enemy from the real danger of its teeth and claws. The beast's back carried upon it a machine that looked as though it may have been a drill of sorts, possibly used to dig above the Klintok for easier access to the surface. As the creature moved Storm noted the legs were jointed in three separate areas, giving the creature a hypnotic type motion as it walked.

Weapon's fire slammed Storm's concentration back to the situation at hand. The blaster rifle that Carlson preferred to carry seemed to do no visible damage to the great beast as it continued to lumber forward, its pace unhindered by the assault. Storm's choice of weaponry was as different from a blaster as a moon was from a star. His rifle was a solid projectile weapon, releasing gases in a chamber that sent a solid bullet from a long barrel. The weapon was still mass-produced by the Corps but was usually passed up by the younger marines for a lighter, more rapidly firing blaster. As a young boy, Jordan's grandfather had hunted white tailed deer in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. One of the stories his grandfather used to tell him was about how he used a 30-.06-bolt action rifle with a one hundred and eighty grain bullet to hunt with. He told of how when hit by this rifle's shot, the entrance wound on the deer would be about the size of a man's thumb. The exiting wound, on the other hand, was the size of a man's fist. Even at that age Jordan knew what kind of weapon he was going to carry when he joined the Marines.

The deafening sound of Storm's rifle fire tore through the air, echoing off the rubble and shattered buildings. At first the bullets just ricocheted off the Klintok's thick, armor like skin. Bullet casings began bouncing off the ground at Storm's feet as he watched in horror as Carlson tripped over some debris, landing awkwardly on the ground with a yelp of pain. Determination kicked in as Storm's shots became more precise, his aim just short of perfect. With a swing of his barrel, Storm sent numerous rounds thundering through one of the creature's joints on the far side of the Klintok's body. As its leg gave away, the massive body of the beast crashed to one side, it's four good legs holding it up on one side. The beast's body was at an angle with its underbelly facing Storm and his weapon. With out releasing the trigger of his rifle, Storm blasted through the creature's underbelly causing gook and blood to pour out in massive quantities. With a loud howl of anguish the Klintok's body convulsed and collapsed to the ground, as its legs could no longer support the dead weight. Without lowering his rifle Storm scrambled to Carlson's position.

“What's your status?” Storm inquired as he approached, his rifle still on the unmoving Klintok.

“Alive,” Carlson responded as he struggled to his feet. “I broke my ankle though.” The grim look on Carlson's face told Storm how bad it was without question. Storm said nothing as he put his arm around his friend's waist, preparing to hoist Carlson onto his shoulder. “Get your damn arm off me!” Carlson barked. “I will not be the one responsible for an officer showing up at your wife's door!”

“What're you saying?” Storm said as he checked the comm channels.

“You know damn well what I am saying!” Carlson snapped out, more in pain than in anger. “You get yourself off-planet now!” Storm knew what his friend was saying; marines don't let other marines die for their sake.

“I'm not leaving you here,” Storm said quietly, but the look on his face was loud enough. “I won't leave you here to be slaughtered. Now let's get moving before one of those things happens to find us again.” At least know he knew why marines were dying; you can't run from something you can't see or hear. An enemy that could come from your left, your right, even from beneath you was an enemy that you didn't stick around in one place too long to fight. Only god knew how many Klintoks there were out there, but Storm wasn't sticking around to count. Reluctantly Carlson draped himself over his friend's shoulder and let himself be hefted into the air.

“You're my rear gunner,” Storm said as he lifted his own rifle with his left hand, steadying Carlson with his right. They both knew a marine carrying a wounded soldier was going to travel quicker that way, helping the other walk and limp over rough landscape. Without a word Storm took off, taking the longer but less cluttered path back to the landing and return coordinates. Traveling was tough, slower than the two would have preferred. As Storm came down a small fall in the landscape he felt an urging kick of a blaster rifle.

“They're coming out of the ground behind us!” Carlson yelled as he squirmed into an awkward position and squeezed off a couple shots. “Move it!” Storm felt his foot catch some debris, causing him to stumble before quickly regaining his footing. Suddenly the ground before him began to crumble away, revealing a large cavity that was too dark to see into clearly. With he added weight of Carlson resting on his shoulders; Storm's momentum took him to the edge of the menacing darkness, his foot kicking loose dirt into the pit. Without a second thought, Storm fired his weapon into the abyss at whatever may have been unfortunate enough to be lurking down there as he began to make his way around. Carlson kept his blaster firing at a constant in an attempt to keep their pursuers at a safe distance. Sacrificing a glance at his GPS, Storm verified their coordinates. He prayed the shuttles would still be there when they arrived.

As Storm tore his way through a jungle of wires he lost his footing, crashing headlong into a dark room. Carlson rolled off of his shoulders with a yelp of surprise and Storm's weapon slid out of his reach as he hit the ground. The room was too dark to make any details out, just the shining light from the entrance behind them. Carlson's squirming on the floor kept the need of urgency first and foremost on Storm's mind. He began to make his way to his feet when he was suddenly struck down from behind.

“Oh shit!” Storm exclaimed as he quickly rolled onto his back, his eyes attempting to focus on his attacker. The Klintok had managed to dig a hole without Storm even hearing it and it had now risen out of the opening in the floor of the room. The creature had managed to shove Storm right next to his rifle, making it easily accessible to the marine. His first thought was to fire upon the Klintok, but he knew the instant he reached for the weapon that he would be slaughtered where he laid. Carlson's shot bounced off the exoskeleton and the creature reared up, its front legs almost reaching the ceiling of the dark room. Storm whipped his rifle to his shoulder, the trigger already held tight. The shots were absolutely deafening in the enclosed room, the bullets ringing and ricocheting as they exited the rifle's barrel. The bullets tore into the beast, causing warm, jelly like liquid to coat Storm's body as he lay just under the great beast. With a roar the Klintok knocked the weapon from Storm's grip, driving its hook like claws through the palm of his left hand. The look on Storm's face was of pure pain, but he bit hard on his tongue to stop his scream. He could taste the iron of his blood as his teeth chewed muscle and tissue. The Klintok doubled over in pain, the creatures roar dwindling to a whimper. Storm slid his hand slowly to the knife at his belt and released the restraints that held it firmly at his side. The Klintok had begun to produce a noise that made Storm freeze in mid motion. It was like that of a rattlesnake, a rattling that began to increase to such intense levels that it pierced the air.

“Shut up!” Storm howled as he pulled the knife from its sheath and drove the blade deep into the Klintok's jaw, piercing the lower and upper jaws together. With a howl the beast threw itself off of the marine and crashed into a nearby wall. Storm scrambled to his feet and dove for his weapon rolling to his feet as he grabbed it on the go. “Eat lead till you're dead!” The Klintok's roar was stymied as hot bullets tore into its face and underbelly. Goop sprayed into the air, some splashing on Jordan's foot as he released the trigger of his assault rifle. Without hesitation he ran and helped Carlson to his feet. “Let's go now!”

Half walking and half being dragged behind Storm Carlson fought to pull the sidearm from his holster. Shooting glances over his shoulder Carlson almost knocked Storm over as the other marine suddenly stopped.

“There's a shuttle!” Storm hissed between clenched teeth as he pointed. “No one around it either!”

“You've been hit!” Carlson said as he caught site of Storm's upper arm. Storm clenched his teeth together and shrugged as though he couldn't feel a thing.

“It's all right,” he responded as he stood to his feet. “Stay here, I am gonna' get you out of here.” Without another word Storm took off, his rifle at his shoulder as he ran. After a quick survey of the area Storm sprinted back to his friend.

“Clear,” he said as he helped Carlson to his feet. The two struggled as they traveled to the shuttle. Storm opened the side door and helped Carlson in before turning to enter the pilots' cockpit. Suddenly Storm stopped, his eyes wide with terror as he looked straight as Carlson.

“What is it?” Carlson asked, his face showing his confusion.

“Go,” Storm whispered before he screamed out. “GO!” The blood that flew from Storm's body flooded the inner compartment of the shuttle as his abdomen was torn in half. The top half of Storm's body landed roughly inside the shuttle, his eyes wide in the final stare of death as his lower half dropped out of sight. The Klintok that stood behind him had risen out of the ground, silent and deadly, screeched in victory as Carlson scrambled to the cockpit, pulling himself on his elbows.

“Son of a bitch!” Carlson screamed as he punched the igniter switch. The engines of the shuttle flared to life as Carlson, still lying on the floor, yanked the flight stick back. The shuttle lurched and then spit off the ground and into the thick atmosphere of Apox Five. With tears streaming off his cheeks Carlson managed to set the autopilot to the fleet's coordinates and drag himself back to close the shuttle doors. His eyes couldn't leave his friend's; their cold stare would be burned into Carlson's memory for the rest of his life. The shuttle made it to the fleet with no problems, just no pilot. After being pulled in to the hangar bay of the medical ship TCS Plourde Carlson refused to leave the shuttle until they took Storm's body first.

“Storm's a comin',” was all he could repeat.



Story copyright 2002 by S.E. Eggleston Spirit_of_the_Slayer@msn.com

Illustration copyright 2002 by Patrick Stacy pld895@aol.com



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