I Chapter Eleven: Gladsheim
February 22, 2525
(Military Calendar) \
Harvest, Epsilon Indi System
Felt like a lifetime ago since I entered the recruiter's station on Fifth Street to enlist in the Colonial Militia.
Most of the militia was currently stationed at the downtown Maglev train terminal, where the population of Gladsheim was boarding a pair of massive cargo containers for quick evacuation to Utgard.
Right now I stood watch on the Gladsheim Highway with the rest of Bravo.
We stopped any passing vehicles and informing their drivers of the planetwide evacuation ordered by Governor Thune, ordering them to proceed to Utgard or join the population of Gladsheim at the Maglev terminal.
Eventually, Habel's Charlie Squad came to relieve us.
Carrol piled us into warthogs and we took Main Street to downtown Gladsheim, pulling into the choked parking lot of the Maglev terminal.
Two thousand civilians crowded the park outside the terminal.
We were all that kept them from storming the terminal all at once.
After the disaster in the Harvest Botanical Gardens, an alien warship appeared in the sky over Southern Edda. It neither attacked nor retreated – it just hung in midair, waiting.
Daily civilian life on Harvest turned inside out when Governor Thune publicly revealed what happened at the Gardens and declared a planet-wide evacuation, causing a fiery outrage.
Panicked and fearful, the people of Harvest blamed Governor Thune for their predicament.
How long had the Governor known about the presence of aliens?
What was being done to safeguard Harvest's citizens?
Why had the populace been kept in the dark?
Harvest's parliament sided with the public, threatening Governor Thune with a vote of no-confidence unless more details of the alien encounters were released.
As the political front of Harvest turned into a battlefield, the warship suddenly broke orbit and started torching settlements on the outskirts of Gladsheim.
We still had over two thousand evacuees to go, and none of us wanted to be around when that alien warship got here.
We dismounted our warthogs and walked to the Maglev station’s entrance gate, which was blocked by a warthog.
"Ray!" Carrol called over to Dass, who sat in the warthog’s driver’s seat. "You know where I’m supposed to report?"
"Habel’s squad was helping First Platoon’s Bravo with the rations,” Dass replied, starting the warthog’s engine and throwing it into reverse. “When the refugees start coming in, you'll be handing them ration packs for the trip."
Dass eased the vehicle back far enough for us to squeeze past, quickly blocking the gate again once we were all through. The refugees in the parking lot were growing restless.
After killing the engine, Dass hopped out of the warthog and hurried over to Carrol, exchanging hushed words before returning to his jeep.
"Garris!” Carrol called my name. “Hold up a sec."
As the rest of my squadmates filed into the building, I fell out of line, walking over to Carrol.
"You need to report to the roof of the station," he said to me. "Byrne's orders. Critchley wants to see you."
"But what about-”
"All we'll be doing is handing out ration packs with Andersen's squad," Carrol interrupted me. "I think we'll be able to survive without you for a while."
"Good man." Carrol clapped me on the shoulder before heading after Bravo. "Keep your head on straight."
I walked into the station after a moment's hesitation.
Crates upon crates of rations were stacked up on either side of the entrance.
1/B and 2/B congregated by the entrance, preparing for the influx of refugees from outside.
I walked down the short access hallway and into the main part of the station; the long, tubular corridor laid out parallel to the Maglev lines. When the train arrived, the people in the main corridor would pass through the doors and climb aboard.
The roof covering the tracks adjacent to the station had been removed, allowing the pair of massive cargo containers to fit.
Fortunately, the rest of the roof had been left alone, allowing the sharpshooters to take commanding positions.
Jenkins and Forsell were crouched on one end of the terminal roof. I exchanged a quick wave with them as I hurried to the opposite end, where Critchley waited.
Critchley sat on the asphalt roof, leaning back against one of the air ducts, cleaning his rifle. The middle-aged, balding SWAT veteran looked up from his BR55 and gave me a weary nod.
"Hello again, Garris. Good to have you back."
The last time I spoke to Critchley was during our live-fire exercise in the forest. Back when life was simpler.
I had a great deal of respect for him; his marksmanship was uncanny.
"What did you need me for?" I asked.
“Werner is dead.” Critchley cut right through the bullshit. “I need a new spotter. You interested in learning?”
"Hell yeah, sir," I nodded, taking a seat next to Critchley.
"On paper you are still part of 2/B. Off paper, you answer to me. Understood?"
"Good. Take this.” Critchley handed me a spotting scope. “This was Werner's. Now it's yours. Take a peek through it, learn what makes it tick.”
Just as I was starting to examine the scope, a thunderous explosion in the near distance tore my attention away.
The alien warship hung low in the western sky, nearly twenty kilometers outside Gladsheim. Its bulbous curves and contours almost gave it the appearance of a whale.
A beam of white fire roared from a fixture mounted on the underbelly of the warship, completely incinerating whatever was below – probably a family farm.
After a few minutes the hellstorm of white fire ceased and the alien warship resumed its slow crawl toward Gladsheim, leaving behind a fresh plume of black smoke.
As I studied the smoke through my spotting scope, I could see dozens more identical plumes of ash curling into the distant sky. The alien warship had been busy.
"It's been doing that for the past four hours," Critchley muttered. "Not everyone followed Governor Thune's evacuation order. Stubborn sons of bitches…figured they could just sit tight in their homes 'n ride the whole thing out. Poor bastards are paying for it, now…"
I did my best to ignore the warship, opting instead to settle back and sweep the area with my spotting scope.
The scope was amazing. I could zoom in acutely enough to read the words Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut on a book carried by one of the refugees across the street.
It had infrared and thermal settings, as well as a wind gauge and an invisible laser which measured distance – all of which provided knowledge vital for the sniper trying to calculate a perfect shot.
Critchley reached into his pocket, digging around for something, finally producing a contraband pack of cigarettes. "Smoke?" he offered me one.
"Suit yourself.” The SWAT veteran lit the cigarette, took a quick drag. “Pick up the spotting scope. Might as well teach you the basics, while we’re in a lull.”
For the next twenty minutes, Critchley walked me through each of the spotting scope’s functions, how to use the infrared and thermal imaging settings, and – most importantly – the location of the power button.
I practiced with the scope until the cargo containers arrived from the north, rumbling down the Maglev lines, sliding into place next to the terminal.
Dass pulled his warthog back from the entrance gate.
Captain Ponder and Stisen got a steady flow of refugees moving through the gate.
It was slow going, but at least progress was now being made.
The ground shook as the alien warship torched another settlement. The explosions were getting closer and closer.
After about an hour, over a thousand civilians had boarded the first cargo container, filling it to capacity. It slowly accelerated northward along the Maglev line, on its way to join the planetary evacuation in Utgard.
Once the second cargo container rumbled forward to take the first’s place, we allowed the flow of refugees to continue through the Maglev station.
"Contacts at eight o'clock," Jenkins reported over the COM. “Two on top of the water tower. More in the sky.”
I spun around to face Jenkins and Forsell’s end of the roof, focusing my spotting scope on the water tower.
"I don’t remember seeing these things at the Gardens,” murmured Critchley, peering through the scope of his BR55.
Neither did I.
The aliens perched atop the water tower were insect-like, even smaller than the stubby aliens from the Gardens. Looked like they had wings.
"We taking them out?" I asked.
Critchley shook his head. "Don’t engage unless they attack. Best thing we can do is allow the evacuation to run smoothly as long as possible. There’s still a thousand people down there. If we start shooting they’ll go nuts, which could strand us here when the warship arrives."
Dozens more insectoid creatures buzzed around the sky over the water tower. As the crowd of refugees in the parking lot began to shrink, more and more of these new aliens started to land, taking up positions on the rooftops of nearby buildings.
"Captain Ponder, we're picking up additional contacts all over the city," Critchley reported over the COM. "If there’s any way to speed the evacuation, please do it. I don’t like what I see up here."
"Agreed," Jenkins concurred. “We’re already outflanked. This’ll get hairy real fast.”
"Noted," Captain Ponder responded. "Until they attack us or until the last of the civilians are safely loaded into the container, you are still under orders not to engage."
Ponder, likely knowing an assault was imminent, contacted Habel over the COM and ordered him to bring Charlie back to the Maglev station.
If anyone was still out there on the highway, they were on their own.
I heard the Alpha Squads below, moving the civilians along, constantly reminding them to stay calm and keep at a steady pace. At least eight hundred refugees were aboard the second cargo container, judging by how much the crowd had shrunk so far.
Over two hundred remained.
"I've got movement south on Main Street," Forsell reported over the COM. "Around a dozen of those buggers are heading this way."
I swung my scope around and looked in the direction indicated by Forsell.
Sure enough, twelve insectoid aliens had flown out of an open manhole in the street, carrying charged energy pistols, heading right for us.
"Confirmed," I concurred over the COM. "They’re flying towards the terminal. They don’t have friendly intentions.”
"Acknowledged, oversight. You have a green light to engage. Ponder out."
Critchley immediately opened fire. His BR55 resounded with a triple crack, sending three high-velocity rounds into the skull of one of the insectoid aliens.
I watched the bugger’s head explode.
Between the two of them, Critchley and Jenkins dropped half the swarm before they came within weapons range.
The remaining six came within range and returned fire, peppering our rooftop with green energy bolts and tiny purple crystals which exploded shortly after impact.
Critchley and Jenkins kept up their fire as best they could, even if only to draw the aliens’ fire away from the civilians.
Heavy machinegun fire suddenly tore through the air, riddling the remaining six buggers before they could start shooting into the crowd.
Habel’s Charlie Squad roared into the parking lot on warthogs, turrets blazing away at the buggers still buzzing around the sky, scattering them in all directions.
Somehow – to this day, I still have no idea how – the Alpha recruits managed to rush the final two hundred refugees into the terminal without causing a stampede.
By the time the civilians were inside, Charlie Squad had abandoned its warthogs and both Bravo Squads were already aboard the second cargo container.
All the buggers swirling around the sky who had yet to join the fighting were forming up into a giant swarm, preparing to storm the terminal. If we didn’t get downstairs, we were toast.
Captain Ponder ordered us to get the hell off the roof while the Alpha Squads retreated into the station, sealing the entrance doors.
All too happy to oblige, I clipped the spotting scope scope to my belt, grabbed my M6J, and vaulted over the air duct.
Forsell kicked open the hatch covering the roof-access ladder, gripping both sides of the metal ladder and sliding down to the bottom.
Jenkins went in after Forsell, and I followed Jenkins.
Glowing purple needles and green energy bolts rained down, searing into the asphalt roof as Critchley jumped in and slammed the hatch shut.
We hurried down the utility hallway, bursting into the main atrium just as the first of the buggers flew into the doors.
Cracks spiderwebbed across the glass.
Dozens of the insectoid creatures landed outside the entry doors and started hammering on the glass with their weapons and fists.
Those doors were not going to hold.
We heard the glass shatter behind us, the buzzing of so many wings surging after us, but we did not look back. We ran straight for the terminal, where the last members of Stisen’s squad were hurrying across the access ramp to the second cargo container.
More purple needles hissed through the air past us.
Critchley let out a sudden gasp of pain as a purple needle thucked into the back of his thigh, sending him tumbling to the floor.
Forsell helped the SWAT veteran back onto his feet, throwing one of Critchley’s arms over his shoulder.
Jenkins and I shouldered our rifles and lay down suppressing fire on the advancing buggers while Forsell got Critchley into the cargo container.
The moment they were in, Jenkins and I broke off our attack and hurried across the access ramp.
I stepped into the entry airlock of the cargo container, exchanging a quick nod with Captain Ponder.
"Good to see you in one piece," Ponder said to me.
"You too, sir.”
The metal floor rumbled vibrated as the cargo container began its northward journey back to Utgard.
Gladsheim Station slipped slowly by as the container left the terminal behind.
Jenkins and I tried to pick off a few more buggers as we got underway, but the cargo container quickly gained enough momentum and speed that the buggers could no longer keep up.
I lowered my carbine and trudged over to the nearest tower of ration crates, sitting down and slumping against it.
Dempsey came and sat down next to me. No words were exchanged.
We sat in silence and watched Gladsheim burn.