The Star Eagle Adventures VI SEMPER FIDELIS Author's Note: Welcome to Semper Fidelis, the sixth novel in the Star Eagle Adventures series. As usual, this novel is a self-contained story and can be enjoyed without previous knowledge of the Star Eagle or the United Trek universe. And as usual, it tends to be better the more familiar you are with the characters. But don't let that stop you. Star Eagle I-V, as well as novellas, vignettes and short stories are available as ebook downloads at StarEagleAdventures.com. Feedback and comments are of course always greatly encouraged. Special thanks to kes7 for her beta reading assistance. Imagine there's no countries It isn't hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too Imagine all the people Living life in peace You may say I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will be as one John Lennon Soldiers, when committed to a task, can't compromise. It's unrelenting devotion to the standards of duty and courage, absolute loyalty to others, not letting the task go until it's been done. John Keegan Stardate 52864 November 2375 CE PROLOGUE Two days after the Treaty of Bajor The attack had started at dawn. It wasn’t anything Gunnery Sergeant Jonar Arik hadn’t seen before. They had used artillery fire to soften them up and weaken their air defenses before they brought in the hive swarms which unleashed their firepower with pinpoint accuracy, decimating half the base within a few minutes. It was ironic, Arik had thought when the bombardment had commenced. After all only a day earlier this base had belonged to the very same people who were now trying to turn it into dust. It wasn’t entirely unexpected and actually made a certain kind of sense. If the enemy couldn’t have it, they would make damn sure Arik and his men wouldn’t keep it either. And if the sixty or so Marines which occupied this base now would lose their lives defending it, then so much the better for the enemy. Arik was determined not to let it come to that. He rushed into the main command and control room, dodging light fittings and pieces of the ceiling coming crashing down onto the floor. He found the room much like the rest of the base. Dark and brown colors dominated the interior design and symmetry was seemingly everywhere: the door frames, the support struts, even the bolts holding the place barely together. The designers had heavily favored trapezoids instead of squares, and ovals in favor of circles. Arik had only spent a small amount of time here, but he was already tiring of the design. Not that he expected to be staying much longer. “Where’s the LT?” Sergeant Thiago Carvalho, manning a control console, turned to Arik. He shook his head. “She didn’t make it, was one of the first to go down when we were hit by the hives. You in charge, Gunny.” The Deltan turned to see the the prone form of Lieutenant Yiigar lying on a stretcher, covered with a blood-soaked tarp. He allowed himself a brief moment to grieve her passing. She had been an outstanding Marine and a fellow comrade for almost two years. She deserved better than to be taken out by a stray explosive round at the beginning of battle. He uttered a quick prayer for her soul and joined Carvalho by the console. “What we got, Thi?” “Oh, you gonna love this, baby,” he said with a grin. “They’re hitting us from all over with everything they’ve got. They must be really mad we took one of their forward bases from right under their ugly noses.” The dark haired, broad shouldered Brazilian looked like he had been born to be a Marine, putting Arik’s much more slender Deltan frame to shame. And yet even though the two of them could not have been more different in appearances and backgrounds, they had somehow become fast friends during this seemingly endless deployment. Arik offered his own little smile. “I do like making them mad.” “I know you do, but we really shouldn’t stick around for this one, trust me.” Arik studied the screen and then pointed at the far east sector. “That’s our way out of here. Get everyone we’ve got left to fortify the northern perimeter, that’s where they’re going to hit us next. We need to buy ourselves enough time to get out of this mess.” “You got it, Gunny.” He quickly relayed his orders. The enemy carried out another strike. This one hit mere meters from the command room, blowing out all the windows and throwing everyone to the floor. Carvalho picked himself back up. “That was a close one.” “Double time.” Arik scrambled back to his feet himself and headed toward the exit. Halfway there, he stopped, spotting Yiigar’s body again. He turned around. “And Thi.” He gestured towards the dead lieutenant. “Nobody gets left behind.” Carvalho gave him a sober nod before he went back to issuing orders to the remaining men. Arik turned out to be right. They were making their move from the north and they were bringing quite a force with them to do it with. Fortunately for the remaining Marines, they had a little bit of heavy ordnance left themselves. “How many?” “Enough to make them wish they hadn’t come here,” said Corporal Chuba Tinbu, a thin and wiry Nigerian who was the unit’s heavy weapons expert. They were both standing in the base’s courtyard, where most of the Marines had assembled to make their stand against the incoming enemy. Small explosions ripped into the ground all around them at irregular intervals and occasionally hitting a building as well. Arik wasn’t too concerned. He knew their shields had a little bit of juice left, and their scatterers were still in full effect. This made it fairly difficult for the enemy to target with much accuracy. Tinbu peered through a gap in the wall, staring out beyond the shimmering transparent shield that still surrounded the base, but offered less protection with every successive hit. Arik followed his gaze and spotted the first ground vehicles hovering through the narrow canyon, right towards their position. “Makes you wonder why they even bother,” Tinbu said. “There won’t be much left of this place once they get here. Why not just bomb it out of existence?” “They want prisoners,” said Arik. “And we’re not going to give’em any.” Tinbu nodded, catching Arik’s meaning immediately. “On your word, Gunny?” Arik nodded. “Let’s give’em hell before we haul ass out of here.” The corporal nodded again and turned to his men, who had set up six smart launchers in the courtyard. The mobile weapons platforms were not much more than tripods with spheres the size of bowling balls positioned on top of them. “Fire on my mark.” Arik stared through the gap in the wall and waited until the enemy convoy was close enough that he could start to make out the infantry units moving along with their vehicles. He wanted to do as much damage as he possibly could. Finally, he turned to Tinbu. “Fire.” Arik watched as the six devices came to life, the dark spheres readjusting quickly and then revealing a number of perforations within their smooth surface. Once again, Arik was struck by their uncanny resemblance to bowling balls, but putting one’s fingers into the holes on one of these would have been instant suicide. Within seconds, the weapons erupted like fireworks, shooting at least two dozen missiles high into the sky. Arik craned his neck as he attempted to track their progress. Not all of the missiles survived— nearly half were quickly neutralized by the enemy’s countermeasures. That still left plenty of missiles to do some damage, though. Once they reached their designated altitude, the remaining missiles exploded, creating dozens of smaller projectiles that rained down on the advancing enemy like hellfire. The destruction was impressive, as at least three heavy tanks were ripped apart instantly and the cries of pain and agony confirmed that a number of infantry units had fared no better. Arik and the others had little time to bear witness as their enemy’s response was almost immediate and devastating. The remaining tanks unleashing their own firepower, this time with much improved accuracy. Two of the launchers were ripped to shreds within moments, forcing the Marines manning them to desperately scramble for cover. “Time to go.” Arik quickly gestured to his men. “Set them to full auto and fall back.” Tinbu and the others wasted no time, but Arik waited until the last man had stepped off the courtyard before he followed. He ran into Carvalho just outside the east gate. The Brazilian spotted the Deltan approach. “That’s everyone. Just your beautiful ass left.” Arik wanted to shoot back a stinging retort, but stopped suddenly when he spotted his friend’s rifle go up, the muzzle pointing in his direction. Without a second thought, he jumped forward and dove into the mud, just as Carvalho fired three quick bursts that passed right over his head. When Arik turned to look behind him, he saw three enemy soldiers cut down less than fifty meters away. He turned back towards Carvalho, who quickly extended his hand. Arik took it without hesitation and pulled himself up again and retrieved his helmet which had tumbled from his head thrown himself to the ground. “Just can’t let me die a noble death, can you?” Once outside the shield perimeter, they were exposed to the planet’s seemingly never-ending rain which pelting Arik’s face and his smooth bald head causing it to drip into his eyes. Like most others he had long since gotten used to it. He secured his combat helmet again to get at least some relief. Carvalho grinned. “And break a thousand hearts? Fat chance I’ll be responsible for that.” “I’ve been celibate for six years.” The Deltan wiped the mud and rain from his face as he began jogging alongside Carvalho to catch up with the rest of the unit. “So you keep saying, and yet I’m not buying it for a minute. Not with all the ladies melting at the sight of those big blue eyes of yours.” Arik tossed his friend a good-natured smirk. “Jealous much?” “Hell, yeah. Damn Deltans. It just ain’t fair.” They were on a small hill a hundred yards or so from the base perimeter when they heard the telltale fizzling sound of failing shields behind them. Arik stopped and turned back to look at the base—or what was left of it. He watched as the energy barrier surrounding the walls flashed a couple more times before vanishing completely. The hives moved in with little delay— dozens of tiny machines, flying in such tight formations they looked like swarms of bees. They were hundreds of times deadlier than even the most vicious insects as they unleashed massive amounts of fire power, bombarding every square inch of exposed ground, ripping deep seams into the earth itself. Next came the bombardment by the enemy ground vessels, still a good two hundred yards away from the base. Their attack systematically tore up one building after the next. Carvalho considered the destruction below. “Looks like they switched to a scorched earth approach after all.” “How many did we lose?” “Yiigar makes twelve. But we hurt them a lot more than they hurt us.” Arik frowned, but nodded. A silence fell between them as they watched the base being torn to rubble. “Hey, you mind if I ask you a question, Gunny?” The Deltan squinted through the rain at the man at his side. He had known Carvalho for nearly two years, since the day they had arrived on this world, and in all that time he had never once sounded quite so serious. “No, Thi, I’m not helping you hook up with any of the women in the unit.” That got a guffaw out of Carvalho. “That’s what you say now. My plan is to keep at it until I wear you down.” He grinned but then shook his head, his features turning serious again. “It’s not what I meant to ask though.” Arik gave him a short nod to let him know to go on. Carvalho gazed down at the blackened, soggy, smoking wreckage of the base. “You think it’s all worth it?” “Course it is.” There was no delay in his response, he didn’t even have to consider it. “It’s all working out exactly like the general predicted. We take their base, they send units to take it back and Fourth Battalion uses the distraction to hit them where it really hurts. It’s a thing of beauty.” But the Brazilian shook his head, looking pensive. “I mean all of this.” He made a sweeping gesture across the horizon. “The entire damn thing, you know? Goddamned planet in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I wonder if there’s any point to all of this.” Arik turned to regard his friend with a surprised look, not used to hearing him talk like this at all. “Well, stop wondering right now, Marine.” He spoke in his best command voice. Then his tone softened. “Look, Thi, the general knows precisely what we’re doing here and you just gotta have faith in that,” he said. “This is war and we’re fighting for our gods-given right to exist. And we’ll take this fight wherever it may lead us. We’ll beat this thing and this godsdamned, rain-cursed planet as well. But we gotta stay focused, Thi. We gotta stay strong. And we don’t go home until the job’s done.” “Victory through strength.” Carvalho fell back onto the battle mantra their entire regiment had long since adopted. “Oorah,” Arik said. “Victory through strength.” “Oorah and right as rain, as usual, Gunny.” “Don’t even talk to me about rain.” They both laughed at that. “Now let’s haul ass. Only a question of time until these guys decide to follow us.” He turned and headed away from the stricken base with Carvalho close behind to get to their rallying point. They didn’t get far. At the edge of the canyon they found Chuba Tinbu and a dozen Marines crouching by the tree line. Arik immediately noticed their tense body language and both he and Carvalho approached low and with caution. “What’s up, Chuba, why are we still in this damned valley?” Arik kept his voice low as a whisper and took a knee next to the corporal. “Scout team says they detected some movement just ahead.” Tinbu pointed towards what looked like a small settlement of now mostly abandoned buildings which stood right between them and the canyon exit and their rallying point. Arik knew these weren’t unusual in these parts and that the locals had long since deserted those hamlets to stay out of the way of the fighting. Carvalho glanced at Tinbo. “Tricorders?” “Bloody useless. Scatterers are in full effect. Can’t even tell if its ours or theirs but its scrambling all our scans to practically nothing.” “So we’ll do this the old fashioned way. Nothing new there. Get second squad to move up along the tree line just beyond that clearing.” Arik understood that as the highest ranking Marine left in the unit, it was up to him to give all the orders now. “Prepare the rest of the platoon to stand by to move up slowly. If there is somebody there, I want us to outflank them before they can outflank us.” The Nigerian nodded sharply and relayed the orders via his personal comm unit. Carvalho sighed. “I’d be more comfortable with some reinforcements.” “So would I, but you know that’s not going to happen. Whatever is scrambling our sensors is doing the same for comms. Anything further away then line of sight is out of reach for now.” He checked over his phaser rifle. “You ready?” Carvalho shot him a dark smirk. “Who wants to live forever, right?” Arik uttered a short, subdued laugh. “We’re not, they’re not.” As soon as he received the signal from Tinbu that everyone was in position, he gave the order to advance. They did so slowly, staying as low as possible and close to the underbrush, the intelligent camouflage of their fatigues adapting to their green and brown surroundings, making them nearly invisible. Arik stopped and raised his fist to let the others know to follow suit when he thought he spotted a hidden figure partially concealed behind a dilapidated building and less than thirty feet away. He wiped his wet face with the back of his hand, a temporary solution at best as the rain had not stopped since the night hours, and then activated the holographic target module on his helmet which slid over his right eye. It was designed to assist him in identifying targets, but the heads-up display dancing in front of his vision was struggling to tell him anything of use. Frustrated, he tapped the side of his helmet to allow the module to withdraw and brought up his rifle to take aim manually. Carvalho gently touched his arm. “Do you hear that?” Arik listened. At first, he heard nothing. But after a moment, it was unmistakable: a low-pitched hum that was getting louder and more intense by the second. He knew precisely what it meant. Trouble. “Hives, get down!” He flattened himself to the ground and activated his personal shielding system. Within seconds, the miniature drones had swarmed over their position and opened fire. The barrage was so intense Arik could feel the vibration through his shields. Without them, he knew he would have been instantly incinerated. Being careful to stay low, he reached for his belt and unfastened a small cylindrical device, not much larger than his hand. He pressed a button and a spike shot out from one end. Then he drove the spike hard into the ground in front of him. A bright blue light shot straight up into the sky from the device’s upper end and the air seemed to shimmer around him. He glanced up and breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that a large shield bubble had successfully formed overhead, putting a barrier between them and the drones. He knew it wouldn’t last long, but he hoped it would be enough to allow them to reach the rallying point and keep them safe from the threat above. He scrambled back to his feet. “Move out, now!” A quick head count revealed that one man was down, taken out when he hadn’t activated his shield quickly enough before the hives attacked. Two Marines were carrying his lifeless body. “Move, move, move!” Arik gestured forward. “Get to the rallying point!” But they made it less than a hundred yards before they encountered the next wave of opposition. The figure he had thought he had spotted earlier, concealed behind one of the buildings, turned out to be just one of many. Arik fired before the first enemy solider could take aim, ripping him off his feet. He fired again, three shots in rapid succession, taking out two more. A direct hit to his flank nearly threw him to the ground. A shrill warning sound from his belt let him know that his shield was almost gone. He ignored it and kept firing. The enemy kept coming. He never stopped moving, firing to the left, to the right and directly in front of him. The unrelenting phaser fire from his own men and those being slung towards them by the enemy, sizzled through the heavy and wet air, quickly turning it into thickening mist. Soon enough he perceived nothing more than shadows moving through fog. It didn’t stop him from shooting at anything that could be an enemy. When his rifle gave out, he swiftly jammed a new power cell into it from his belt with practiced ease and kept on firing. “Go, go, go!” He had no way of knowing how many of his people were still with him. He took another hit. This one forced him to his knees. An enemy soldier bore down on him, murderous fire in his eyes. Arik swung his rifle up, took aim at his attacker and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The rifle didn’t fire. Not enough time to reload. Without a second thought, he launched the weapon like a spear at the incoming soldier, but the man dodged it at the last moment. With lightning fast reflexes, Arik grabbed for his sidearm, brought it to bear and fired. This time, the approaching soldier was not fast enough to avoid the fatal blast to his chest. But before the man’s body even hit the ground, something hard and unrelenting hit Arik from the side, and his phaser went flying out of his hand as he was thrown into the mud. Another enemy soldier had tackled him. He was much larger than Arik, and after a very short struggle the attacker had managed to get the upper hand, pinning Arik beneath him. With a vicious smirk, he pulled a large knife from his belt and and brought it swiftly down toward the Marine below him. At the last moment, Arik jerked his body to one side. The knife missed him by inches, burying itself hilt deep into the mud instead. His opponent’s eyes widened like saucers as he realized his fatal mistake. Before the man could free his weapon, Arik had slipped his own knife from his thigh holster and driven it deep into the man’s side, catching him right underneath his clamshell like battle armor. The man’s eyes locked with Arik’s, and time seemed to slow down for a moment as they stared at each other, their faces just inches apart. For the first time, Arik realized that as large as this man was, he was really just a kid—maybe eighteen or nineteen years old, but not one year older. Panic gripped the boy’s face and his eyes pleaded silently, trying to somehow avoid what he must have already known was inevitable. The young soldier broke eye contact, and time sped up again. In a last, desperate effort, he managed to free his knife from where he had driven it into the ground. Arik pushed his own knife deeper into his opponent’s flesh and twisted it in response. The young man moaned in agony, but he somehow managed the strength to bring the razor-sharp blade down on Arik again. The Deltan yanked his own knife out of the boy’s side only to drive it back into his flesh, over and over again, as fast and as hard as he could, until his hand was soaked with blood. And yet it wasn’t enough—Arik felt searing pain as his opponent’s knife ripped into his flank, tearing through his fatigues and flesh. It was, however, the young man’s last act. With a final, rasping cry, he collapsed lifelessly on top of Arik. He breathed hard, trying to focus on the pain at his side and willing it away. With great effort, he pushed the dead soldier off of him. He got back onto his hands and knees and looked up. The air was still dense with the smoke of weapons fire. He could see bright powerful discharges blasting back and forth, but not much more. He crawled around the body-strewn battlefield until he found a discarded rifle, not his own, and forced himself back onto his feet. Gingerly, he touched his side. His hand came away warm and sticky with thick, dark blood where his attacker had stabbed him. Only his adrenaline kept him upright as he continued slowly towards the direction he believed the rallying point to be. He wasn’t sure how long he had walked before the haze finally began to clear and he could see the end of the canyon. He heard a voice call out. “Gunny?” Chuba Tinbu rushed towards him, and Arik could spot quite a few more of his people behind him. He had reached the rallying point. He felt an immense sense of relief take hold of him—not so much that he had survived, but that his unit had. Tinbu looked rough. He had lost his combat jacket and the olive shirt he wore underneath had been ripped in various places. His dark skin was crisscrossed with wounds. Fortunately, none of them looked life threatening. Tinbu helped Arik over to a nearby rock and sat him down. Arik looked around at the handful of men who had gotten out of the ambush. Most of them had made it. But one face was missing. “Where’s Thi?” The Nigerian Marine locked eyes with him. “I saw him take a blast right to the head with his shields gone.” He shook his head. “He didn’t make it.” Arik closed his eyes as he felt fury swelling in his chest. Then he felt nauseous. He turned away and emptied his stomach into an adjacent bush. “Gunny, we need to get out of here.” Arik wiped his dirty face and looked for the corpsman. He called her over and instructed her to seal his wound and give him a stimulant. But the woman didn’t seem to like what she saw. “That’s not going to be enough, Gunny. You need the hospital.” “Just do it.” His intensity quickly convinced her to do as she had been told. He checked over the rifle he’d picked on the battlefield. It had at least half a charge left, and he had another power cell on his belt. He stood up slowly with the help of the corpsman and looked back from where he had come. There wasn’t much to see through the thick haze of the battle he had left behind. He took a deep breath, as he felt the powerful stimulant reenergizing his broken body. “We’re going back.” Tinbu was unable to hide his surprise. “What?” Arik whirled around to face him and the other beaten and exhausted men. “We don’t leave anyone behind. Ever.” The corporal looked unconvinced. Arik squared his shoulders and raised his chin, ignoring the pain in his side and his bruised muscles and limbs. “We’ve got men back there. Some may be dead already and some may still need our help. Regardless, we are Marines, we don’t leave our men behind, alive or dead. And we don’t ever go home until the job is done.” He looked at each and every one of them. “Victory through strength.” “Oorah.” Tinbu responded. “Victory through strength!” Arik roared back at him and his men. “Oorah!” This time their response matched his intensity. Arik turned around and led his people back towards the battlefield. Marines didn’t leave their own behind. And they didn’t go home until the job was done.