The light flashed before the eyes of the UNCC units. One moment they saw the night time surface of UBW, the next moment they found themselves in a dark rocky terrain. The sky was a dark gray ruled by dense storm clouds. The ground was dark enough to barely see where they were standing. Atmospheric readings showed heavy concentrations of carbon dioxide. Kellogg was the first to assess the situation.
"Snowden! Where did you send us?"
"Planet Hellus, sir. My team and I set coordinates to the closest enemy outpost while far enough to stay off of their radar."
"How far are we from their nearest base?"
"The nearest base is a mine 10 kilometers north, sir."
Kellogg raised his voice.
"Alright everyone, we have 10 kilometers of land to cover before we siege the enemy's first outpost! There's no telling what horrors lay ahead! Keep your weapons free and make every shot count! And most importantly, stick together! I don't want a single one of us wandering off!"
"Yes, sir!" They all shouted in unison before beginning their trek.
The Outback from Hell
The UNCC regiment treaded carefully across the dark valley. The scouts took point while navigation remained in the center of the group. After a solid half hour of walking, a strong wind blew through the valley. Thunder raged throughout the sky and a light rain sprinkled down below. As the rain sprinkled down, the regiment’s equipment began to dissolve.
"Kellogg! This rain is acidic!"
"Damn it! Where is the nearest cover!?"
"Kellogg!" Sardec shouted. "I can use the Catalyst to shield us while we can find the nearest cover!"
"Everyone get close to Sardec!"
Like a herd of emperor penguins in the winter, the regiment huddled close together as Sardec deployed his Catalyst VOID. The shield was just wide enough to cover the humans' compact formation.
“Snowden! Is there anything nearby that we can take shelter in?”
“Yes! There's a large cave that's about 35 meters!”
“Listen up everyone! Once the Catalyst shield runs out, make a run for it!”
They watched as the light sprinkle turned into a heavy downpour. Each drop of acid left a small impact wave on the purple shield surrounding them. The color began to flicker away. The shield’s duration time was up.
The acid fizzed upon collision with their metal suits. Soon they saw the cave within their sight. Everyone made their way in as the rain began to fall sideways.
“What now, Snowden?” Kellogg asked.
“It looks like there is a series of caves and crevices that we can take cover in. That is, if everyone’s willing to sacrifice bits of their armor integrity.”
“Hold on!” Sardec intervened. “Hygeio, can you help out my friends?”
“Of course, Sardec. It will take some time for me to recharge though. I can only heal users one at a time.”
“Tell that thing to do it already!”
“Right away, Kellogg. Hygeio, patch us up. Order doesn’t matter.”
Collapsar began to float around sporadically.
“Danger! Danger! Incoming hostiles!”
The soldiers turned on their flashlight weapon attachments. A series footsteps rushed closer and closer. Out of the dark, entered several large wolf/rat hybrid creatures.
The dark cave lit up with muzzle flashing. The creatures were downed and piling up bodies. Despite the growing pile of corpses, the hostiles were still coming. Sardec’s HUD identified the creatures as Maulers. They began pushing the soldiers back. One Mauler reached close enough to Sardec and swallowed Hygeio.
Sardec deployed Collapsar at the Mauler’s position. Before the VOID could begin the singularity, the Mauler leapt out of the range and outside the cave, where the rain had suddenly stopped. Sardec followed suit.
“SARDEC! GET BACK HERE!” Yelled Kellogg. “Damn it! Everyone fall back! Get outside!”
The soldiers backpedaled slowly while gunning down the incoming Maulers. Soon enough, no more came out from the cave.
“Sardec! SARDEC! Where are you!?” Shouted Kellogg.
Blue lightning zinged through the sky. Nearby the roar of a Mauler could be heard, as well as gunfire. Kellogg ordered the regiment to follow the noise. The thunder became louder and the lightning even brighter. They arrived at Sardec’s position, where he was scurrying to catch the evasive Mauler.
“Help me out here! That damned creature has my Hygeio unit!”
“Everyone! Concentrate fire on that Mau-” The roar of a larger creature sounded nearby. A gust of wind pushed everyone down on the ground as a blue dragon swept by low to the ground. It opened its mouth and blue lightning fired out from it.
“What the Hell!? Shoot that thing down!” The regiment averted their aim to the dragon. It flapped its wings to send another gust of wind to knock the soldiers on their backs. Its four eyes were set on the Mauler and pounced. The Mauler leapt out of the way and jumped onto the dragon’s back. The dragon roared in frustration and flew up into the air, performing acrobatic movements in an attempt of shaking off the Mauler. The Mauler’s claws dug into the dragon’s scales. It screeched in pain and flew off with its prey.
“NO!” Sardec shouted. “FOLLOW THAT THING!”
“Sardec, stop!” Kellogg interrupted.
“NO, I HAVE TO GET HYGEIO BACK!”
“SARDEC, SNAP OUT OF IT! Focus on the mission!”
Sardec grudgingly obeyed and kept quiet. He examined the blue dragon in the distance. His HUD identified the creature as “Siaga”.
“I will find you, Hygeio...” Sardec said under his breath.
Red Light, Green Light
Thunder roared throughout the land. Acid rain began to fall once again. Kellogg directed the regiment to the next cave. As they waited for the rain to halt, incautious creatures outside cried in pain as they slowly died. No Maulers were to be seen within the second cave. The rain stopped and they hurried onward.
"Snowden! How much longer until our destination?"
"3 more kilometers. We're almost there!"
"Stay determined everyone! Soon we'll be raiding the mine!"
Sardec positioned Nirvana high above everyone's heads to keep on lookout for hostiles. The VOID had not discharged once since their Mauler encounter. Thunder once again reigned throughout the dark gray sky.
"Next cave is several yards ahead, sir!"
"Pick up the pace, everyone! Get inside before the acid rain starts again!"
Everyone rushed forward to the third cave entrance. Sardec took it upon himself to take point as they entered, keeping Nirvana and Collapsar close as he kept the F-ADV HatredSpine at the ready. The rain took longer than usual to stop. Sardec waited patiently for any creatures to come near. After nearly 15 minutes of waiting, Nirvana discharged a laser into the darkness. Nearby soldiers stood up straight and readied their weapons.
From the darkness, large arachnid creatures rushed out.
"Oh God!" Shouted a soldier. "NOT SPIDERS! ANYTHING BUT SPIDERS!"
The third cave lit up with muzzle flashing from the gunfire. The arachnids spread out, crawling on the floor, walls, and ceiling. Sardec's HUD identified the creatures as "Crawmites". He then tossed Collapsar in the center. Its singularity effect pulled in the arachnids from all 4 surfaces. Upon explosion, entrails splattered across the cave.
The Collapsar's explosion triggered a chain reaction throughout the cave. The walls shook and the ceiling was crumbling.
"Ah shit!" Sardec exclaimed. "Kellogg, we have a problem! We have to evacuate!"
"What did you do!? Fine! Everyone get out! Evacuate! Go, go, GO!"
As they ran out, more Crawmites followed suit. Sardec activated Brand's Gift to hover above everyone else and take point. He deactivated the backpack and grabbed Catalyst as he was nearing the cave's entrance. He tossed the VOID out into the acid rain and a large shield deployed.
"EVERYONE GET IN!" He shouted.
One by one, soldiers made way under the shield. The ceiling of the cave crashed down and crushed any Crawmite remaining inside. The ones outside dissolved by means of the acid rain. Soon enough, the rain began to die down. Just in time, as the Catalyst's shield duration ran out.
Kellogg addressed the regiment.
The soldiers began to whisper amongst each other.
"No one here is missing, sir!" One soldier exclaimed.
"Excellent. Snowden, what's our progress?"
"Just over this next hill is the mine!"
"Everyone get ready! Once we get to the top of the hill, charge forward!"
Kellogg was the first to reach the tip of the hill. Before his eyes was a flat plain with a large rugged door. He drew the Gemini-32 and fired a helix rocket, blasting the door open. Everyone rushed down the hill and towards the mine entrance. One by one, soldiers rushed into the mine with weapons ready. The deeper they descended, they had failed to find any life signs.
"Area is clear!"
"Is this mine abandoned?" Kellogg pondered. "No, I won't believe it. Keep searching the area."
Soon enough, the whole regiment had searched the whole mine. Not a single life form was found.
"Entire mine is clear, sir!" Reported Nikida.
"That is very strange. For now, let's set up base here. This mine is at least clear from the acid rain. Well done, people. Rest as best as you can for now. We still have a lot ahead of us. But whatever you do, do not. I repeat. DO NOT! Remove! Your! Suits! This atmosphere has very little oxygen. Not enough for a human being to live for longer than 30 seconds."
Soldiers unpacked their backpacks and placed sleeping bags throughout the mine's largest room. As they began to rest, Sardec held his HatredSpine close, still bitter over Hygeio's abduction. After a few quiet moments, Nikida approached him.
"These VOIDs have saved my life numerous times while I was gone. As much as they seem annoying to others, I... I value them."
"Hey, they saved all of us today. Especially that Catalyst one."
"Yeah... I worry though. Hygeio is the only non-combatant VOID. That Mauler is probably busy digesting her."
"Hey, don't think like that. She's a repair bot, right? I'm sure she can hold her own even if she can't harm other creatures."
"That's... actually a fair point. Haha. Look at me, moping about my helper bots when the rest of you have had to rely on your own wits."
"Yeah, you really don't give us enough credit, rookie!" She said as she nudged his shoulder. "Seriously though. At least we've had backup. I still can't wrap my brain around the fact that you survived alone on an alien planet for so long, regardless of those VOIDs being around to help you."
"I still have unfinished business there."
"Focus on one thing at a time, Julian. UBP116 is far away from you or the rest of us. We need you here with us to focus on the mission. I know I try to act tough and resilient, but the truth is..." She looked around before leaning closer and whispering. "This place really gives me the creeps."
Sardec chuckled. "I think we all hate this planet. You're not alone."
Nikida sighed. "Well anyway, come by if you want to talk some more. And rest well. You don't give yourself enough credit either." Nikida walked away.
Sardec attempted to lay down, only the Brand's Gift to obstruct the way.
"Gah, friggin... stupid backpack. I guess I'll lay on my stomach...?"
Sardec rested his face on the dirt floor, closing his eyes, only to see the last Mauler in his mind.