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  07:48:55 am, by Nic Wilson   , 3229 words  
Categories: Nexus


The radiation suits were less comfortable than even the antacid wear from Caulerpa. And the shuttle down to the planet was having a bumpier ride than we were comfortable with. SecDiv was antsy, but didn?t want to let on when she asked, ?So how confident are we that these, what the hell was the name again??


?Romaleon,? I told her. ?After one of the North American genus of crabs. I also think some smart-ass liked that it has ?alien? in it.?


?It seemed clever at the time,? SciDiv broke in over the comms.


?Were you high at the time??


?Drunk, I think. Though there may have been uppers involved. Prescription, of course.?


SecDiv rolled her eyes. ?Okay. So how confident are we that the Romaleon aren?t going to just smash our heads in with rocks the moment we land??


?Meh,? I said, and shrugged.


?What the hell does ?meh? mean??


?It means they said they wouldn?t. And that it?s pretty much all we have to go on. I?m not taking them at their word, but throwing a hissy right before the meet and greet isn?t likely to alter their mood.?


She gave a disgusted sigh. ?Haley? Do you have a slightly more useful answer??


?I have insufficient data to properly calculate the likelihood of species hostility. If you want me to pull a number out of my synthetic anus? 42.03%.?




?There?s no reason ass-numbers can?t be specific.?


?She?s becoming as much of a fucktard as you.?


?Worse, actually; she?s on par with NavDiv, now.?


Haley interrupted. ?I have no denotative entry for ?fucktard.? Lieutenant Templeton, would you like to log a definition at this time.?


?You. See also NavDiv.?


?Cross-referencing Haley operational statistics with all personnel files related to NavDiv. Match found. Fucktard, definition, navigational technician.? 


?You hit that nail on the head, Haley,? I said, just before we touched down.


I didn?t rush out of the shuttle this time, but I did make sure I was first out the door. Then I helped Sam step down. ?I?m not certain my presence warrants removal of a SecOff,? she said.


The earth was rocky and hard. I helped SecDiv step off the shuttle. ?Well, we know next to nothing about the Romaleon, aside from the fact that their reproductive habits are a little on the vicious side. Anything you can tell us, or even the off chance you might be able to tell us something, is worth sacrificing a SecOff.? SecDiv glared at me; she wasn?t happy being a man down while having less intel than usual.


We held position at the shuttles for the better part of an hour before I contacted the Nexus. ?Haley, can you give us a scan of where the hell the people are??


?One moment. They are massed in the central structure. The city was not designed symmetrically, so the ?spoke? is north of your current position.?


?They?re all there??


?Everyone in the city.? She sent me the feed, first thermal, then 3D.


?At least it doesn?t look like an ambush.?


?Or,? SecDiv butted in, ?it looks like an amateurish ambush by a backwater people who could still kick our asses through sheer numerical superiority.?


?That?s why I told you not to CC her on the important things, Haley.?


?I thought you were ?joking.??


SecDiv touched my shoulder. ?You?ve really got to stop using sarcasm with the ship. It can?t be long before she snaps and murders you.?


?Oh, I couldn?t do that; it would violate my primary directive. Also, I enjoy watching him bathe.?


?Has the ship developed a crush on you??


?Maybe she?s learned to deadpan.?

?I?m actually not sure which is scarier.?


?You?re quieter than usual,? I said to HR.


?I?ve got a bad feeling about this.?


?Am I the only one who?s determined to try and have fun on this planet?? I asked.


?Have you already forgotten where your fun time on the last planet landed you?? SecDiv said. She?d been trying to needle me, but Sam took it personally- at least long enough to glare at SecDiv before telepathically finding out what she?d meant. By then SecDiv was pissy, too.


Every step we took away from the shuttles made us more uncomfortable. The ?building? was carved into a mountain. At some point, it had probably been the entire city, before the population expanded.


?The fact that they?re banding together and not randomly murdering one another long enough to build a city like this speaks well for our odds, right?? I asked SciDiv, not quite nailing hopeful with my tone.


?Or maybe they group themselves to better kill whoever they class as outsiders. Think of it as an early form of racism- or nationalism, or religion, if you think that?s any better. Pretending whatever modest difference in physiology or habitat justify genocide- so long as your political stance makes it more likely you?ll survive, with larger territory and more access to females as a sweetener.?


We walked the rest of the way in silence. The city opened up around the mountain/building. It was surrounded by Romaleon, pouring out of every available doorway, save for the front. Unlike previous species, they barely paid us any heed as we approached, just stared dumbly ahead, like cattle.


The Romaleon were larger than I?d thought, about the size of a small horse; thicker, too, built as much like a rhinoceros as a pony. One each opened the pair of stone doors at the entryway, doors so thick it would have taken a half dozen men to budge; I don?t think it was even a show of strength, just them opening doors. 


Then the smell hit. Apparently nobody on their planet had invented hygiene, yet. ?Huh,? SciDiv said over the comms, ?from the chemoreceptors in your suit, I can tell something- they use a mixture of feces and mud, smeared over their bodies, to stay cool in sun. Like elephants.?


?Good. I was worried HR had lost control of his bowels.?


 ?Quiet,? he said, ?I don?t want you undermining my negotiations.? There was a stone table carved into the floor. There were no chairs, but HR, took up his place on one side of the table, standing, and still looked too small for the furnishing. Low and quiet grunts rippled continuously through the crowded Romaleon.


?Sam,? I whispered to Vipisana, ?what?s your read on them??


?I?m not getting anything. For all I can tell they aren?t even thinking.?


?Commbox had similar issues. Let me know if you break through.?


?They look like a pig had unpleasant intercourse with a pile of mud and picked chicken pox scars,? HR muttered.


SciDiv broke in over our comms. ?Uh, just so you know, the communication device is functioning properly. They probably understood that.? The same flow of groans continued to echo from side to side.


?Shit,? he said. ?Okay, who?s in charge here??


There was uncomfortable silence.


Sam didn?t whisper: ?We should leave.?


HR turned and spoke, too loudly, to both of us. ?We can?t just get up and walk out of a negotiation.?


?We need to go. I couldn?t read them before because they don?t have higher social functions, very little passes through them by means of complex thought. But they?re a war-hungry race. The only reason they haven?t attacked yet is they were trying to decide where your squishy parts are. And I think they?ve come to a consensus.? 


I caught the eye of one of them, and he knew that I knew. He let out a cry, and kicked his front legs into the air. The Romaleon charged.


?Surpressing fire!? Elle yelled over the comms.


HR got smacked pretty good in the ribs, and I shoved him and Sam down, behind the table and readied my pistol. We should try death. Death would be interesting. ?I shouldn?t have to explain to my brainworms why brain-death would be inadvisable.? He believes they would not scoop us up and send us home. We would live out our existence on the cold floor. That would be most unpleasant. But new.


SecDiv?s team folded the left wing pretty tight, and made for a doorway on that side of the room; didn?t look like anybody got too seriously hurt in the retreat. The wing to my right were the opposite story. Whoever was in charge from security didn?t have SecDiv?s instincts, and the Romaleon hit them hard, and they walled up like phalanx.


Our center, which had been tactically weak, retreated out the front doors. ?On your feet, numbnuts,? I told HR, and Sam got under his arm and helped him limp to the door. I turned my pistol up to 11 and fired it into the nearest Romaleon?s face- and then it isn?t there anymore. It gave them pause; after all, they were charging us with slings and spears, so face-melting tech had to be a little eye-opening. But it didn?t give us more than a second before another of them got brave. 


I fired into his chest- figuring from the scans that?s roughly where the genitals are- hoping to make more impact. Sam limped HR to the door, and I covered them. Three SecOffs had gotten a member each of the med and sci teams out this way. ?Sir?? the ranking SecOff asked when I turned to go back inside.


?Get them to the shuttle.? I gestured to HR, still wobbling against Sam?s shoulder. ?He?s your chain of command, and priority.? Sam hesitated. She wasn?t up for the fight, but she wasn?t happy watching me run back into it, either. I caught sight as we parted of the Romaleon ranks closing up behind me, weakly because of the area they were covering, but strong enough I wasn?t breaking back out alone.  


SecDiv?s wing had made it all the way into the western antechamber, and had it well secured, at least for the moment. PsychDiv was the highest ranking officer in this group that was still stranded in the open, fighting to get into the eastern antechamber. 


I had an instant to make the call before the Romaleons closed in from behind, but it was an easy one. I shoved my way through their line, blasting wildly at the doorway. The rest of the wing spilled in after me.


The SecDiv number two was the last man through the door, trying to hold his blood in through a gash in his stomach. One of the MedOffs pushed him onto the ground and started bandaging him as two SecOffs covered the door into the hall. 


?They can?t have more than a thin column outside. And they don?t seem very fast. So we should be able to punch a hole in their perimeter and make a run for it. Haley? I want you to bring the planet cracker online and power her up.?


?I presume you mean the terraforming laser.?


?That?s the one. If the goddamned space crabs do get too close, boil them in their own juices.?


?Can do, captain,? she said cheerily.


?This door is stone, and going to be a beast. I?m going to need everybody to push, but know that the moment we get it open we?ll be fighting to keep them out.? It took eight of us to budge it. And at first all we could see was a sea of gnashing teeth, flailing arms, and tumors.


Then a spear, at least what I thought was a spear, nearly took out my eye. I grabbed it before I realized what it was, smashed it up against the stone doorframe. It snapped in half, and the Romaleon I?d just turned into a eunuch wailed in his new soprano. I jammed the poker right back in his open mouth, and it punched through the back of his skull. The male beside him got a pistol blast in the leg, and he fell over. There were others standing near, but they hesitated long enough for the SecOffs to shove their way out. They?d seen what my pistol could do, and none of them wanted to test the bigger SecOff rifles.


The Romaleon began to stamp their feet. They?d been cautioned by the castration, but they weren?t about to let some puny humans best them in their territory. But they also weren?t organized- they were sloppy. Five of them peeled off towards us. They closed a third of the distance before rifle bursts put them down. The Romaleon stamped harder, but it was frustrated aggression. None of them wanted to die to prove their ruggedness- particularly without an potential mates in play.


The MedOff was out last, helping the wounded SecOff along. The nearest Romaleon reared up. I shot him, but even dead his momentum came down on them. I shot him several more times as I ran- punitive, to keep the other crab people from following his lead. A SciOff helped the MedOffs his feet. And I helped them me roll the heavy Romaleon off SecOff, and through him over my shoulder. We ran.


For a moment several Romaleon got brave, and started to give chase. ?Across the bow,? I told one of the SecOffs, and they all stopped in a line and started firing. The charging Romaleon broke off. I set the


?Any of them been near the shuttles, Haley??


?Visual and thermal imaging have shown no disturbance of the crafts.?


?Beautiful. Everybody without a military or security background pile into the first shuttle. You?re getting off this rock right the fuck yesterday.?


HR spoke up. ?Give me a gun.?


?I?d give one of the newborns a gun before I gave you one.?


?I?m combat-trained, you unbelievably enormous ass. And you need all hands.? He was right. He was also the only one prepared to take over command if I got myself killed, which seemed kind of likely. So I hit him hard enough in the temple with my pistol that he went down. He wasn?t unconscious, exactly, just in no shape to protest my decision anymore. When everyone else was in the shuttle, I laid HR across several sitting crew members? laps. ?Haley, get this fucktard off planet.?


?But captain, HR is not a navigational technician.?




?Getting the fucktard off planet. Revising fucktard definition.? The shuttle took off. ?And sir, per protocols. MilSec commander has been thawed. He is standing by on the line.?


?Captain, this is no longer your mission. Stand down, return to the ship.?


?You?re new to the Nexus? culture, having been a popsicle for the balance of our trip so far, so let me welcome you by saying fuck off. I have SecDiv and a handful of personnel pinned down, waiting for extraction. I have a security force big enough to free them up before we talk about whatever crazy and or genocidal operation you?re planning.? 


?Protocols state that in this situation I have authority to pacify the planet.?


?If you try to pacify the planet while a full third of our ground team is in play I will pacify all of MilSec. This is still my command. And the best chance we have of getting our people back is you idiots standing down and letting me extract them.?


Haley butted in. ?A minimum of one hour is required to fully thaw and equip MilSec.?


?I guess you have an hour, then, Captain.?


?Great, because this kind of operation always benefits from an arbitrarily short time limit.? I hung up, and turned towards the SecOffs. ?All right. Nobody has to come with me. That is a shitstorm, beyond what any of you signed up for. Anybody who decides to stay back, you?ll have my full support- presuming I survive- besides which, if we have to get out in a hurry it?d be nice not to have to worry about finding one of those things in our shuttles. But I?m marching back, no more talking, you?re coming with me or you aren?t.?


I didn?t look back to see who might have stayed. I could hear boots behind me, enough not to think this was necessarily a suicide mission. The Romaleon had stopped trying to cover the front entrance. There seemed to be confusion in their ranks, because they were massing around the antechambers, as if we still had people in the eastern one.


So we walked through the front door without opposition, and stopped within spitting distance of the Venn area of the two forces. They didn?t seem to be able to figure out why we were back. ?What?s the plan, cap?? one of the SecOffs asked nervously.


?Flying wedge. We?ll have to hit that doorway hard, and break their line. They?re swarming. But I have an idea that?s going to make this easier. Key up the cracker, Haley, right in front of me, minimum distance to leave me on my feet. On my mark.?


?Firing solution acquired.?


?You crab people fucked with the wrong Earthman. Mark.?


The laser burned a hole in the mountain, a hundred feet in diameter. I was hit with an ocean spray of crab meat. I smiled through the carnage, then pointed my pistol at the biggest, meanest looking bastard left standing. It took him a moment, but he crawled off.


The rest aren?t all as bright as he is- or maybe they?re brighter, and realized the laser can?t be fired too close to us without cooking us, too, because they rushed. But the SecOffs were ready this time. They fired strategically, building a wall of Romaleon corpses that held back the tide of their charge, and we advanced in a wedge towards SecDiv.


Of course, our luck continued to hold shitty, and the laser caved in the doorway. I pull up SecDiv on my eyescreen. ?Y?okay??


?You caved in our entrance, ass- and there?s a backdoor choked full of crab rapists.?


?Hold your position. We?re nearly there, and we?ll clear your egress. Suppressing fire!? I yelled. ?I?ll clear the rubble.? I knelt down and started clawing like a madman. Fingernails would grow back, and if enough radiation got into the tears opening up in the fingers of my suit, well, that?s what clone back-up hands are for. I didn?t stop until I saw SecDiv peering at me through the hole I?d dug, smiling- then terrified. 


I felt a sharp pain in my back, just under the ribs. My first thought was that I?d managed to hurt my back- during a rescue- which SecDiv would never let up on the old man wise cracks. My second was that it hurt inside my back, and past it- I?d been stabbed. My last thought, before I passed out, was that I hoped one of the SecOffs had flipped his shit and decided to stab me in the back, and that I hadn?t been stabbed with what I thought it was.

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