All around the room behind thick glass panes were a dozen heavily armed guards, their armored visors revealing no expression. Inside the locked room, a marten inspected a few seeds under a microscope, with locked cases of more seeds surrounding him. Each breath threatened to fog up the specimen since it was cold enough to snow inside the room but the marten focused on his task.
"Another shipment," came a muffled voice. Through the only door walked another armored soldier, holding a glass jar with more seeds in them. "This one was big and a lot harder to kill than the normal ones. Where'd you want it, Jun?"
"Put it in the fridge," answered the marten, twisting his neck to look at the intruder. "I'll have the team look at it. I'm finishing up here but I want to talk to my sister. Mind flying me to the mountain, Pilot Juliet?"
"Part of my job," she answered. The armored pilot was very careful at placing the glass jar inside a cold storage unit that kept several other jars and vials of seeds frozen.
Jun placed the seeds he was studying back into their own vial and placed them next to the jar before following the pilot to the sole exit of the laboratory. In a small, sealed corridor, the pilot took off her armor and clothes along with Jun while they went through the usual decontamination protocols. It took nearly ten minutes for them to reappear on the other side with the armed guards.
Walking out of the building, Tang followed the pilot to her ship and quickly bordered. Once in the sky, the marten looked back down at the gated facility. It was heavily guarded but looked rather insignificant considering it's only a service tunnel into the underground roads. On the horizon was the capitol where Yukiomaru killed Aggressor, his ashes still blanketed the entire landscape now that the fires have died down.
Smoke still rose from the city, with the occasional gunfire burst going up in the air as the fighting for the city still continued. There was still hope that the city would be taken with minimal damage but several buildings have already been burnt to the ground in an attempt to contain the threat.
That landscape rolled beneath the ship as it started toward the distant mountains. During the long trip, Jun watched the occasional ships fly by as well. The war kept everyone busy and Jun has had few chances to relax since the invasion.
When the ship reached the mountains, it landed in another gated area with very recently built buildings and bunkers. Jun walked pass more armed guards and entered a tunnel that was dug into the mountain. The tunnel was still being dug but it nearly honeycombed the entire mountain now, capable of protecting the tens of thousands of survivors that have answered to his sister's call.
Navigating through the tunnels, Jun emerged in a bunker built on the side of the mountain where he found his sister, Tang with Commander Yelena, the meerkat who now commands the surviving military. Another dozen officials and politicians were around but they were keeping their silence.
"Theta colony is doing just that," said Tang in response to the meerkats plans. "How many more pairs of paws does the Beta colony need?"
"They're requesting another one hundred soldiers," answered the Commander. "We have the soldiers to spare but while this threat is on our planet, I don't want to risk grouping so many of our soldiers together like that."
"I suppose the military facility they're assaulting is big enough for that not to be a problem," Tang continued. "It's up to you Commander. Theta colony is reinforcing them so if we have the soldiers to spare, then I suggest we do too. This mission needs to succeed if we are to continue this war. We're running low on supplies."
"I know how much we need the factory," mentioned the Commander before glancing at Jun. "I'll send them seventy-five soldiers so only five ships have to go. We can't spare anymore ships than that."
"That'll have to do," said Tang, also glancing at her brother. "Thanks for meeting with me Commander. Good luck with your missions."
Without another word, the marten left the bunker with her brother. Together they walked back into the mountain tunnels and diverted into one of the living quarters built in the soil. Tang sighed and sat on a cot built against the earthen wall.
"I thought you'd be at the research facility for the rest of the day," she said leaning against the wall. "Did you discover something?"
"The Creeper seeds do act unusual but I've already sent you the reports of what I've discovered so far," answered Jun. He smiled. Despite everything that has happened, he still enjoyed seeing his sister; it was much better than being alone. "How's the military doing?"
"We're still pretty much at a standstill since we recovered the supplies from the medical ship," answered Tang, sitting up again. "The hospital is almost finished being built but it's already getting plenty of use out of it. Honestly, I'm surprised that we survived long enough to build this base. When Yukiomaru killed Aggressor, I thought he only delayed the fate of this planet but he really gave us a fighting chance."
Yukiomaru. Jun cringed at the sound of the name of his friend. That arctic fox was the best friend Jun ever had and remembering him was still too painful.
"What of the other colonies?" asked Jun, diverting his eyes away from Tang's.
"They're holding their own," she answered but it was clear that she noticed Jun's reaction to the fox's name. "They're still reporting about survivors and resistant groups all over the planet. The invasion has hit at least every major city but it looks like causalities have remained at a minimum."
"A minimum of over a hundred million," muttered Jun. He looked back at his sister before sitting down next to her. She put an arm around his shoulders in a comforting manner. "It's been six months since the invasion. Where is Velsh'nark and his fleet? How come Drach'n Fury is still missing?"
"I don't know Jun," she answered. "We're rebuilding Drach'n Fang in orbit to lead the other ships we've salvaged but it might be a long time before we're able to take the fight back into space."
"At least the battles will get easier once we get some defense satellites back in orbit," muttered Jun, remembering a few of the battles he's been in. "I need to find a poison that'll kill the Creepers. Their botanical mass is all over the city."
"That's my field of expertise, remember?" said Tang, shaking the younger marten lightly. "It's my responsibility to find a way to kill off this thing so don't burden yourself over it. You're helping me a great deal but I'm still responsible for that project."
Jun smiled reluctantly at his sister. She was always trying to make things easier on him by taking the blame and burden of everything. He knew that the stress was overwhelming her though, and it was clear to see when she had restless nights.
"Come on, let's go get something to eat," suggested Tang, standing from her cot. Jun smiled up at her and stood as well. "Let's not worry about the war for a while. Commander Yelena can handle the botanical parasite without my help for a few hours."
Jun obliged and the two marten siblings walked with each other through the tunnels in the mountain. The alien parasite known as Creepers have failed to assault the mountain but from their behavior, the parasite was now much more disorganized than they were during the initial invasion.
The marten siblings eventually found themselves in a cabin high in the mountain, a cabin that they stayed at only a couple months before the invasion. The building was now the headquarters for the resistance forces on the planet. Salvaged computers and other sorts of consoles now filled the once spacious rooms and a technician or flight instructor occupied each seat.
Jun and Tang went to the large clear wall that overlooked the side of the mountain. The sky had several ships flying to and from the base but other than that, it was a peaceful sight.
"Jun" Tang said, staring out the glass wall. "I'm moving Project Fire to a ship in orbit. It's been repaired enough to sufficiently continue my research there and the first defense satellite will be in orbit next week."
"You're going up?" questioned Jun. He looked at his sister but she didn't meet his gaze. The risk of leaving the planet's atmosphere was great, not only because the massive amounts of debris that threatened to destroy any structure but because they had no idea when the Creepers would be sending another invasion force.
"In four days," she answered. "I'll be in orbit for at least a month."
"It's too risky," objected Jun. He didn't want his sister to leave him. "Can't you just send of your team to study there?"
"No," said Tang sternly. "The point of moving the project into orbit is so I'm not distracted by Commander Yelena's battle plans. And if something were to go wrong, it's much easier to contain the poison inside the ship rather than letting it loose in the atmosphere."
Jun clenched his teeth but he knew he was defeated; the fight in him has long since been depleted and he hasn't been able to convince his sister to change her mind once she's made a decision.
"Do you need my help with anything then?" asked Jun. His solemn tone was easy to detect, even to his own ears.
"While I'm gone, and Father and Mother are still missing, you will be the head of the family," said Tang. Jun knew that she finally turned to look at him but it was now he who couldn't look her in the eyes. "Commander Yelena will come to you for advice and help making important decisions. It's not much different than what you did on Drach'n Fury when we were on that ship but you'll be more involved now."
"And whatever the research on the Creeper seeds?"
"You'll continue that but I'm sending you two of my scientists to help take some of the burden off your shoulders," Tang answered.
"I'll be able to handle it," muttered Jun. For only a moment, silence passed between them before the marten gasped in surprise. Suddenly his sister had grabbed him and squeezed him a hug but without a word, she let go and turned to leave. Watching her leave, Jun caught a glimpse of the vulnerability that his sister has been hiding. She too was hurting, and he has been nothing but ignorant to it. Most of her friends are missing or killed, and their parents so the two of them only had each other left now.
He knew he wouldn't see his sister until she left for the repaired ship in orbit so Jun spent the rest of the day in his new room inside the tunnels. Through his PawPad, which they only returned service to the devices only a couple weeks ago, the marten requested for reports from Yelena regarding the different military operations going on. The meerkat Commander was more than patient with his requests; because Tang had already told her about the change in command.
When the day came to an end, Jun was still fiddling with his paw-held device. The screen flashed and the image of a young arctic fox smiling in the photograph. Jun remembered taking the picture of Yukiomaru. It was after they returned to the ship Drach'n Fury after their vacation on the mountains. The young fox's tenth birthday had come up but he was reluctant to celebrate his birthday. Jun's persistence eventually won him over and the two of them spent the day together playing games and eating treats.
The smiling white fox in the photograph wasn't anything spectacular but it was now the only thing that Jun found comfort in.
I miss you, little brother.
Jun sighed and put the device in a stand by mode before placing it into his pocket. Walking back toward the cabin, Jun hoped he'd be able to get a chance to see the sunset. For the past week he's been studying the seeds of the Creeper race in that bunker near the city so he hasn't really had a chance to view the sky even.
Through his research, he learned that it wasn't just one race of botanical species but several. Some were capable of surviving through its roots absorbing electricity from wires, and that's how the Creepers were able to infect technology. Others found their food source by absorbing other organic mass. Some of the seeds looked different but Jun was certain that someone of them contained the botanical blueprint for the plants to survive extreme temperatures and the complete lack of an atmosphere.
Jun had hoped that he would have found a weakness but nothing has come up so far. Walking through earthen corridors, the marten was reminded that very few of the seeds extracted from Creeper infestations even bothered with absorbing their food source through soil, and those seeds weren't nearly as aggressive as the others.
Wherever this alien is from, they've adapted to infect almost anything, thought Jun. We'll kill them all, Yukiomaru. I promise you that.
The lights dimmed, stopping Jun in his tracks. He looked around the tunnel but nothing was out of the ordinary besides the other confused civilians in with him. A few started talking on their PawPads but not ten seconds passed by before an alarm sounded.
"All military personnel, report to Sector Psi immediately," Tang's voice echoed through the tunnels from the speakers. "A Creeper assault wave has breached our tunnels. I repeat, all military personnel to Sector Psi!"