Spiral Nebula - Chapter 17

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18 of Legacy of the Veiled Stars

Despite the objections, Admiral Alexander ordered the mission to proceed and he didn't want to sit this one out. Sitting next to Captain Redding, was the much smaller arctic fox, who looked unusual being dressed in combat attire. Through the dropship's blast windshield in the cockpit, flashes were seen while the two Drach'n vessels shot down everything trying to leave the planet's atmosphere.

The Captain's team was briefed on the mission in less than five minutes, being told that Fury discovered what looked like the source of the infestation. Whether it was a large asteroid, or a broken ship was unclear but his team was to secure it for transport as fast as possible.

"Entering atmosphere in thirty seconds," the pilot announced. Neshant was again the pilot. "It's going to be one rough landing."

Checking his fastened straps, Redding was sure he was secure although the violent shaking began and brought doubts to his mind.

"Understood Fury," said the Admiral, speaking directly into a microphone. His voice was uneven because of the ship's shaking. "Bring the ship in low orbit to provide artillery support should we need it."

When the violent rattling lessened, the wolf glanced again at the cockpit. Through the window was nothing but smoke and burning debris falling back to the planet's surface.

"We have contacts incoming," the pilot announced over the intercom again. The low rumble of the ship's weapons firing was hardly distinguishable above the roar of wind resisting against the hull. "Contacts are dispersing. They look like squid. They're definitely infested."

"Have we taken any hits?" asked the Admiral, his voice heard from the young fox himself and over the intercom.

"No," Nishant answered, with a tone of pride. "They've all been shot down or evaded. We'll be touching down in one minute."

The rumble of the dropship's weapons was heard only on occasion until they touched down. Donning on his helmet, the Admiral one of the dropship's hatch and stepped out. Redding followed, his weapon raised.

Fire had created fissures of all sizes in the ground, after burning everything on the surface. From those fissures and craters rose great plumes of heavy smoke that filled the sky and distorted the star's light. Among the ruin, a slight sight of green or movement could be seen in the distance as the parasite continued to spread.

Gale followed the Captain and spread the team out, forming a perimeter. Weapons being fired were heard but there was no urgent threat in front of Calvin while he followed the Admiral. The fully armored young fox followed one of the larger fissures towards a large crater that seemed to have replaced a large hill.

A serious of pops drew Redding's attention back toward the dropship. One of the hatches was open now, and from it launched dozens of mortars into the sky. The resulting explosions were heard echoing far off.

The Admiral finally stopped, at his edge of the perimeter. Captain Redding stood next to him, taller by nearly a meter, and scanned the horizon through the smoke in search of movement. There wasn't much except for the occasional shadow of an Immunity flying overhead.

"Captain Redding, form up your team," the Admiral ordered. "Let's get this thing and get out of here." The Admiral was gazing at the horizon, watching the fires raging in the distance. He kept looking at the fires and at the ravaged ground that shook at every impact.

Sending his silent orders, a squadron of armored soldiers gathered around the captain. They all sent an acknowledgement that they're ready for the mission.

"Secure the crash site," the Admiral ordered. "We'll be bombing all around it until you're close enough so be careful."

"Yes sir," many of them shouted over the intercom and saluted. Redding also saluted and turned toward the hellish plain. Ahead of them where the large hill had collapsed in on itself were the explosions of more mortars or missiles from the overhead Immunities. Even though no explosion hit the center of the crater where the artifact was located, anything around it would have been blasted apart many times over.

At the head of the squadron, Redding set the pace, moving rather quickly. His experience with these Stealth aliens has not been pleasant, and he didn't want to share another one with them. A strange mass came from one of the fissures that looked more like the parasite's tentacles floating in midair. It was an infested Stealth soldier.

Without slowing his pace, Redding aimed and fired on the center of the creature. Two strange cries were quickly drowned out by the other atmospheric noises while the creature fell back into the fissure.

Meanwhile over the radio, disturbing reports were being shouted back and forth. The perimeter was collapsing; the ground itself seeming to fight back by opening its fissure's larger. The Admiral could be heard shouting orders between deep breaths. And there was something about volcanic activity beneath them.

Even though the radio transmitted directly into all their ears, a high-pitched whine drowned it all out. Glancing up into the sky, a white streak of light pierced through the smoke and disappeared over the horizon. A blinding flash illuminated everything through the smoke, nearly blinding Redding because his suit couldn't react fast enough.

After the flash, Redding glanced back at the horizon only to see a massive shockwave barreling over the hills. Next thing he knew, a powerful force threw him back and everything went dark.

Blood in his mouth, and ears ringing, Captain Redding struggled to open his eyes. Pain lanced from every limb almost as if his nerves were on fire.

When the ringing subsided, it was only replaced by static from the radio. Time moved slowly when he opened his eyes, with nothing distinguishable through the smoke.

A minute went by, feeling like an hour, before Redding sat back up with his body aching in protest. His vision finally started to clear and he was able to see a plume of fire as big as a mountain on the horizon. The destroyed hill looked even farther away now. Redding estimated that he was knocked back at least a dozen meters.

Two signals beeped and flashed inside his helmet display. Two of his teammates were dead and the others unconscious or severely wounded. Warily standing to his hindpaws, Redding sent a signal to his squadron. They slowly responded.

With a cracked visor, Redding helped those who were alive but struggling back up. With half of his force, Redding ordered them to move out again. A few stayed behind to look after those who are too injured to move.

His weapon was missing so Calvin pulled out his sidearm, and marched toward the mountain of fire. The winds fiercely resisted being emitted by the flames.

Sneaking by the frontlines, this mission was supposed to be completely quickly and with no casualties but it already proved to be more trouble that anticipated.

Static blasted in Redding's ear again, with the Admiral's voice hardly breaking through. With only a few words clear enough for the wolf to understand, he replied by sending a casualty report and his team's status.

The Admiral started to say something else but was cut off when the rocks beneath their boots shifted violently. With the fire mountain fading, new plumes of rock, ash and smoke shot toward the sky after smaller shockwaves hit the team.

Frantic reports returned to the radio, but Redding was able to distinguish a few words such as "abort", "eruptions", and "super volcano". The ground again shook violently and a new plume of smoke rose for the sky, raining rocks down on the team.

Captain Calvin Redding didn't hesitate to give the fallback command, and sprinted back to where they left the rest of their team. Earthquakes made it difficult but they made it back to the injured. Risking moving the injured, the team helped carry each other back to the dropship.

During their retreat, Redding saw more projectiles fall from the sky but these were different than the last one. Each one impacted with a loud thud and a strange icy noise but didn't do any more harm to the team.

By the time they reached the dropship, boulders as large as the ship itself were crashing only a few kilometers away. The earth itself started to spit out immense pressure but luckily the dropship was spared for now.

Redding, carrying one of the injured on his shoulders, looked around for the perimeter line but saw none. He didn't stop to observe and ordered the injured onboard.

"Hurry up!" yelled Nishant over the speakers. The dropship's engines were roaring with life, eager to leave this planet.

Redding stepped back from the hatch to make sure his entire team safely boarded. He saw the armored Admiral standing over several infested bodies, a long glowing spear held in one paw. The Admiral kept facing the horizon but slowly stepped back toward the hatch.

"Did you retrieve the artifact?" he asked, once close to Redding. Redding answered. "Damn. Get onboard, we're getting out of here."

Both of them were the last to board, even after the dead were secured. Nishant didn't waste any time taking off.

"What the hell is going on?" one of the team members shouted. The bottom half of his helmet was destroyed and missing, with blood slowly dripping from it.

He was ignored while the Admiral went to the cockpit, followed closely by the Captain. The dropship rose quickly, making Redding grip the bulkhead tightly, denting the metal itself. Turbulence grew more severe, nearly throwing Redding back before Nishant demanded that he secured himself.

In the passenger compartment, and completely oblivious to the events going on outside, Calvin suffered through the turbulence, being rattled to the core. There was a loud crash of an impact that nearly stopped his heart but the dropship continued to fight against the turbulence until finally the flight smoothed out.

"If your armor is damaged, get a mask on now!" yelled Nishant from the cockpit. "I have to depressurize the ship. Structural integrity is failing."

With armored gloves, Redding insured that his helmet was intact. Only a few scurried around to get a proper mask on before they sat back down. The compartment was depressurized and no one was killed by it. Redding did find it difficult to breath, because his suit was comprised somewhere but within a few minutes, pressure returned as they docked on Drach'n Fury. The entire ship was on alert though.

Once the hatches open, medic crews rushed into tend to the injured. Calvin didn't pay much attention to the emergency team while they removed his armor and inspected him. During the inspection, the Admiral stopped by and requested him on the bridge once finished.

It took nearly an hour before Captain Redding finished ensuring he and his team was okay and accounted for. The ship wasn't on alert anymore but walking the corridors in a robe, Redding could still see dozens of personnel running back and forth.

Reaching the bridge, he saw the Admiral sitting in front of a screen reviewing some sort of video. Standing near him was the Commander, Yelena, and the crimson alien. Fury was showing his chosen physical form, an older version of Yukiomaru dressed in unusual clothing.

"Fury, please play your view of the battleground for Captain Redding," Admiral Alexander requested, without looking up from the screen.

Fury's holographic form disappeared and was replaced by a satellite view of the planet's surface. An icon indicated where the dropship landed, where the target was and where the teams were.

"Despite the harsh treatment that land has suffered since the invasion," Fury began. "The fissures and smoke were due to a super volcano that lay beneath the surface. It was normally dormant, not offering a threat until the Creeper's vessel crash-landed on a vital fault line. The volcano's crust was cracking but wasn't in serious danger of erupting until this bomb fell."

The holographic image of the surface showed the explosion that nearly killed Redding's entire team. It was surprised that it was over a hundred kilometers away from his actual position. The magnitude of the explosion was far greater than he anticipated. The shockwave was easily seen from this satellite view.

"I traced this missile to an alien ship in low orbit before the Stealths attacked it and forced it to retreat again," Fury continued. "The explosion destroyed a large infestation but also tore through the crust allowing the pressure from the super volcano to be released. It began erupting just as your team was leaving the atmosphere, Captain Redding."

The view of the planet's surface began to shrink while the surface eruptions continued. There was a bright flash, that sent a shockwave larger than the last across the planet's surface and hurtled millions of boulders and dirt out of the atmosphere. Several were destroyed before they could impact Drach'n Fury itself.

"An eruption like this hasn't been recorded from a hospitable planet before," Fury finished. "The planet will be destroyed as a result of this explosion. It was so large it threw it off its orbit and when it stabilizes, it'll be too far or too close to the star to support anymore life."

"Please show the infested coming from the fissures," the alien requested with the aid of the translator. A new image showed of infested creatures crawling from the smoky fissures in the ground. "Did you see any come up from the ground too Captain Redding?"

Redding nodded.

"That means 'yes,'" Fury informed the alien on the customs of their civilization.

Admiral Alexander stood up and walked to the holographic image. Redding noticed a slight limp in his step. "Fury, did you find anything that'd support Velsh'nark's theory?"

"There was an infestation presence underground but it's unclear if it is as significant as Velsh'nark suggests," answered Fury. "It looks like it didn't get off the planet in the explosion so it was probably destroyed."

"How can such a massive plant live underground?" the Admiral asked rhetorically. "Doesn't it need sunlight or some sort of source of fuel to surv- Gahh!"

It happened so fast. Redding couldn't even react, but his eyes were glued on the Admiral who was clutching his chest. The pressure did little to stop the kit's blood from spilling out on his own white fur, painting it a dark red. The Admiral's eyes were wide with a hint of fear before the young fox fell to the ground.

Everyone reacted, the Commander yelling orders to Fury while she applied pressure to the wound. The crimson alien, Velsh'nark, snarled with his eyes darting back and forth, searching for something. And Fury created dozens of decoys of the Admiral around the bridge.

Recovering from the shock, Captain Redding ran to Yukiomaru, grabbed the Admiral's sword from his belt and hurried back to the entrance of the bridge, searching for any sign of unusual movement. There was none but the alien ran pass him in search of the Stealth.

Glancing back at the Admiral, Redding noticed his eyes were closed and a large pool of blood spreading out on the floor from beneath him.