The Foreclay Outpost
Chapter 4: The Foreclay Outpost
I lay there on my side, panting heavily. Most of Lima Company was much the same, temporarily immobilized and recuperating. My legs were no longer on fire, but they tingled all over with the sensation of a thousand fire ants living inside. My feet were of little use in my current state, numb. My arm was beginning to feel that way too as I rested on it. Fresh rubber lay in streaks right in front of me where the forklift struggled to stop. I checked the dimensions of the load it dropped at the face of the door and it was wide enough. Relief washed over me even as the steam and smell of ozone poured outward from where the massive freight met the door jambs.
I looked around the long corridor that barely accommodated the giant forklift and skimmed over the faces and uniforms. Everyone was here. No one among the Company got left behind. One of the guys I hadn't met yet was on his face, though, with a colored patch of steam rising from his upper back. It was the young man pierced by Covenant energy weaponry—probably a plasma pistol. One of the medics was able to assess his condition while I looked up the hallway. The civilian forklift operator remained in the driver's seat and was slumped forward, head resting in his arms—folded atop the steering wheel. He sluggishly dismounted the exposed cab, looking like he'd seen happier days.
Everyone slowly got up one by one, checking for injuries, brushing off dust. Some had already begun personal inventory.
I then looked for her. She was still standing, almost right behind the hulking steel container that kept the enemy forces at bay. She remained stationary, eyes ever glued to the doorway as she spoke up.
"Is this what you've been using as a barricade all along?"
There was no answer for a few seconds, then the man dressed in blue maintenance coveralls stained with grease and blood pushed himself up and out of the forklift a few paces behind her and approached the Spartan's side. "Yes, it's the best we could think of…ma'am." His eyes widened as he just realized he addressed a female. The motion to rear back was written all over him. He found it hard to remain where he stood, but there he remained, petrified.
He slowly turned around and walked back down the corridor, snatching the hat off his head, pressing it to his chest and shaking his head.
"Hey." Amy called out, wheeling around to face him.
The man stopped in his tracks and turned. "Yes?"
"It's a fine idea. Good job. I am Spartan Oh-seven-one. You may call me Amy. What is your name?"
"Name's Hal. Hal Overton. Mighty pleased to meet you." He rushed over to her and held out a hand, almost regretting he did. But he wasn't greeted with the bone-shattering grip he might've expected. She was quite gentle and perceptive of his limits.
"How's the rest of your facility? Is the structure at all damaged? Are all entry points intact?"
"Yes they're all intact and holding. Those Covy peckers are gettin' through no way no how!" He quickly gestured to the container, saying, "We've managed to seal or block all access points with setups like this, but I don't know how long the Omega Wing will hold out. There's just too much Covenant trying to get in over there."
"Where is Omega Wing?"
"It's due North and slightly West of here, where all the action is. Just follow the signs overhead."
The Gunny approached the two and listened as intently as he could, checking himself for embeded needler shards. "That must be the North side." he chimed in. Gunny pulled out his rifle, checked the ammo count, then unholstered his sidearm to insert a fresh clip. "Everyone check yourselves for needler microfragments and check your gear. Make sure your shit's ready to move out."
Hal grabbed the suspenders of his coveralls and faced the Gunny in vexation. "What do you plan to do, Sergeant?"
Gunny Smith raised a brow, looked at Amy and walked off.
Amy saw the Gunny off with a sidelong glance down the hall, then placed a hand on the man's shoulder. "We're taking back this mining station. We're moving up to the North side where we will push back the enemy far enough for an air assault to effectively eradicate the Covenant contingent." She looked on towards the Gunny, Hal unable to gauge her face, and marched down the corridor.
Hal swallowed and stared at her as she leisurely paced away.
Haze got up and moved towards Hal with that antagonizing smile on his face. "Don't worry, she just tries to look like a hard-ass in front of everyone. But I'd recommend making sure that the parking break is engaged. If that door opens, she's gonna have someone's nuts in a ringer, ya know?"
Hal hurriedly entered the forklift and did as Haze said. The humorous Private winked at me and followed the rest of the pack down the hall. I was the last to leave.
A couple of NCOs hefted the injured Private with his arms draped over their shoulders. I hoped the young man would make it out of this mission alive. A single bolt of plasma had the ability to melt its way right through standard-issue armor as well as layers of flesh beneath it. Though I couldn't believe I made it unscathed myself, I didn't have the gaul to wait around and ponder it.
The walls were a thin white styrocrete—just durable enough to prevent someone from crashing through it if they lost balance…or if they dove into one running from a hot Covenant pursuit. I hoped the outsides of the facility weren't as frail as the insides. But this was an industrial complex. I knew that places such as these had to comply with certain building codes. With any luck, the superstructure was solid steel and the outer surfaces were concrete reinforced with some good 'ol titanium-A to ward off our enemies. But it seemed as if the Covenant wasn't trying to level the place. They certainly had the capability with the force held at the North side. Something told me they would've done it already. Something at Zagosa Prime piqued their interest. Something unbeknowst to Lima Company and to HQ. It was why they've accepted such a beating from Zagosa forces and kept asking for more. We'd happily keep dishing it out.
We approached a T-junction at the end of the hall. Hovering overhead were two brown signs—left leading to Operations/Maintenance/Admin/Gamma/Omega and the right leading to Med-lab/Infirmary/Storage/Dining Hall/Gymnasium.
As we approached, Amy nodded towards the right and the two NCOs dragged the injured private towards the medical facilities with one combat medic in tow.
The rest of us veered to the left towards the Omega Wing.
The Gunny stopped. "We're making a quick stop at Admin. We're getting a copy of the blueprints on this place so we know a little something of the battlefield. We may be holed up here for a while until we're able to provide Air Staff with a feasible strike parameters. So fire team Foxtrot and fire team Zulu: you will accompany Amy to admin while myself and fire teams Gamma and Quebec head on to the North side."
I thought it was a risky move—splitting Lima in half. But it seemed a necessity. Granted, we needed to fend off the Covenant at the Omega Wing, but we'd need those blueprints if we wanted to keep the advantage over our enemies. I knew Lima to be capable at holding back Covenant forces, but I would never rule out the possibility that the alien bastards could win in a ground engagement. This was a brigade we were now dealing with. There was still a chance that they'd overrun the combat personnel at Omega Wing and push deeper into the facility. We needed to keep the high ground in case that happened. We needed the blueprints for Intel. So much depended on fire teams Foxtrot and Zulu getting to Admin and acquiring those schematics.
It was a double-edged sword: damned if we did, damned if we didn't.
Such is the life of a spec ops Marine.
We set off on our way. The halls we entered began to feel like a rat maze. Long and narrow corridors went on and on with office doors stemming off from them. A junction here, a junction there. Only ninety-degree bends adjoined them, blind corners perfect for swift ambushes. Had any Covenant already infiltrated the complex? I doubt anyone knew. And the ceiling was obtusely low. I wasn't a claustrophobic, but I just might see the other side of myself if I was cooped up in here too long. The whole path we tread was way too bright with intense fluorescent light. "I'd like to hit the architect of this place with one of their ceiling tiles." I said.
"Good luck." Haze replied. "The architect is probably long gone. This place is pretty old. Thought someone like you would know that."
I checked my canteen and was satisfied with the drinking water I had remaining. It was probable now that it would be in short supply going forward, for after a quick stop at the Admin sector for blueprints we were headed to the thick of battle. That much was certain.
Off one of these paths was Admin.
Navigating the forests earlier seemed a much easier task. Marching cautiously down some narrow hall only to come to an intersection adjoining it to another, the navigation had no end in sight. A seemingly unattainable destination. Needle in a haystack, they used to say. The view ahead was terribly limited, changing abruptly too often. Counter-intuitive as it was, I felt safer in the jungles outside, amidst camouflaging trees and the cover of night. It was comforting in a way, with the sweat and the breeze and the heartbeat between my ears, the wildlife and moonlight.
Lima Company was still together, though. Besides the four currently seeking the medical wing, we had a common direction, though once we reached Admin all would change again. We'd split up and half the unit would take on the Covenant insurgents at the North side. It was risky, though any course of action was a double-edged sword. We could head there together and meet our enemy with full strength, albeit underequipped in the grand scheme if we were overrun with no OPSEC on our own turf. Intel was sorely needed within these damned halls if the battle ever found its way here.
As we meandered forth through this maze, still as a single unit, I issued a silent prayer for the two platoon-sized advance teams. I was more and more of the belief that none of us would know how much more time this hunt for intel would siphon from our mission. How much time would the remaining teams need to search for blueprints while Gamma and Quebec battled? I held these questions as I once again looked ahead to the Gunnery Sergeant, the calmest and coolest NCOIC I ever knew.
We were halted by the Gunny. "Someone radio Foreclay personnel at Omega Wing and let them know we're en route."
"I got it." I said, accessing my LMR.
Upon radiating, I was instantly rewarded with about 30dB of harsh reverb. I viewed an in-built spectrum analyzer and saw the noise floor surpassed the center frequency I was transmitting on. There was too much backscatter from the structure itself.
"Sarge, there's too much passive interference. Must be more steel and concrete here than we thought. I'm going to try and patch into a building network."
"Roger that, Private. Do what you can and keep me in the loop."
"Affirm." I took a few more steps down the hall until I came across an OM5 fiber conduit. Soldiers passed me by slowly as I pulled out a high-speed interface cable from my rucksack. I plugged the connector into the wall outlet and patched the other end into a port on my uniform trunked directly to my HUD. A handshake protocol, then a layered OSI structure registered on my HUD's emulator application, and next I read that a link was established—something on the T-band at about 2.9 THz. I nestled the incoming frequency in between a pair of generously-spaced guard bands, and sent it straight through to the Gunny on an encrypted link. "Sarge, you're live."
"Good work, Shakespeare."
Rather than hold a private conversation and explain to us later, the Gunny shunted his conversation straight to TEAMCOM.
"This is Lima Company QRF of the UNSC Special Operations Defense Forces Zagosa. We are en route to Omega Wing. What is your status?"
Static and a disembodied voice came back, all warbled and fuzzy. "This is Sierra Company. We are experiencing heavy casualties! We need immediate assistance and MEDEVAC! The cordons are being breached! Get to the North side! Too..many…"
The channel became shrouded in noise.
The Gunny shouted over TEAMCOM, "Alright! Double time it! Go!"
The company broke out into a sprint, sliding around right-angle turns at the end of corridors and blowing by their accompanying signs overhead. Left-right-right-left-right-left…It went on and on, until finally after two minutes of full-tilt running we arrived. Off to the left of the hall were wide double doors made half of Plexiglas from the waist up. We stammered through and frantically made out several offices, all of which could contain what we were looking for.
"Change of plans, everyone." the Gunny announced. "I'm staying at Admin and Amy is going to the Omega Wing. Fire teams Gamma and Quebec, hit the North hard and give 'em hell! Amy's in command. We'll be right behind you."
A series of acknowledging clicks came over the net as they sped down the walkway and disappeared into another forsaken hall. I started to wonder what kind of plan Amy would execute out there. She'd be in command of everything at the North. Any doubts I had of her quickly vanished as I told myself she was a Spartan and...
"Shakespeare, check that office! Rios, check that one! Haze find any containers that can be searched! Everyone, start going through all the files and find me those blueprints!"
We all jumped to our tasks like we just got struck by lightning. Marines scoured through filing cabinets, desk drawers, and electronic logs, all frantically on the move in the tight confines of the cubicle-laden space.
"Shakespeare." Haze said.
"Do you know how to crack a safe?"
"You enter in the combo."
"Okay, smartass. Can you pick a lock?"
"Yeah." I said smiling as I made my way over to him. "Let's see what you got here. Okay, fairly old container. This is a Brigger Nine-Thousand. This is a top of the line safe, man!"
Haze's frown intensified.
"For its time, anyways." I grinned.
"C'mon, man. Stop fucking with me."
"How does it feel?" I smiled. "Okay, this should be easy." I pulled from my rucksack the standard lock-bumping kit. Straight Pick, Jagged Pick, graphite lubricant...and all I needed to supply then was a pair of steady hands. I sprayed the inside of the lock with the lube, then inserted both tools until I could feel the tumblers' vibrations through the picks held in my fingers. I finagled and finessed the picks up and down, until I heard a series of satisfying clicks. Once they were all in proper alignment, the picks laid into place with no effort required. With one smooth motion, I twisted the Jagged Pick one-eighty degrees clockwise while maintaining positive pressure against the casing with the Straight Pick, until the bolt fully receded.
"There ya go." I said. "See, you're not the only one with jokes."
I proceeded over to an unexploited area of the office, quickly hacking my way into an electronic log like a thief with an addiction.
Haze laughed as he ransacked the antiquated security container I just opened.
"What?" the Gunny asked.
Haze picked his head up and looked at the Gunnery Sergeant with disdain.
"Look at us. We're trained killers doing office work for the Corps. This is not the kind of job I signed up for."
"Well, then hold on, princess, while I fetch you some capuccino." said the Gunny as he kicked over a desk. It slammed onto the ground, nearly missing the toe of another's boot.
"Capuccino is a morning drink, Sarge." Holmes stated matter-of-factly.
"Aw, who gives a shit. It's fucking caffeine and...damn I could really use some right about now."
"Shit," Rios chided, "we had no time for fancy-ass-drinks back when I was a PFC, Gunny."
"And how long ago was that, couple years? Hell, I've got boots older than you, kid."
After about five minutes of idle chit-chat while ravenously ransacking, Haze was finally the one to find our intel inside the hacked safe. He marched straight over to Gunny Smith and handed it over. "Sarge, do I get a pay raise or what?"
"If we both come out alive tonight, you'll get a three-day pass. Believe me."
We moved triple time as fast as our legs could carry us down the halls. Then, something unexpected triggered our training instincts once again. The lights went out. We froze and activated night vision. It seemed as though my heavy breath put a bull's-eye right on me as we assumed statuesque stances.
"What the hell just happened?" said the Gunny.
"Must've cut the power." Holmes replied.
"Nah, that's impossible." Haze countered. "This place has got to have some kind of redundant power grid. One goes off, another comes on. That's how these places operate. Thirty-two hours a day, seven days a week, and zero interruptions."
"How would you know that?"
"My Father was a miner. Check the blueprints if you don't believe me."
"Gunny has 'em, stupid."
"Check your files. I scanned them and uploaded them to everyone…stupid."
"A five-day pass." the Gunny cut in.
"Okay," Holmes announced, "Haze is right. Redundant power alright, but it's not coming on. Why?"
"Could they have knocked out all the power?" came the Gunny.
"No way in hell." Holmes asserted. "The facility has a huge grid with triple redundancy. One external plant—they could get to that one. But even if they did, they'd have to get two others…and they're both inside the complex. One near Omega and one under us, powered by geothermal."
"So why am I seeing blackness?"
"Could be that the backup for this sector will only charge when there's thermal activity down below, I don't know."
"So then what about Omega Wing power plant? Would these sectors siphon off power in the event of a total loss?"
"No, Omega's juice is apparently only for Omega according to the schematics, and maybe that's why we just lost contact with them as well. They could have literally just knocked out Omega's power simultaneously. Now that I think about it…"
"They cut the power?!" Haze but in. "What do you mean they cut the power? How can they cut the power, man? They're animals!"
"Radio over there and confirm that." the Gunny reasserted.
"Accessing…no signal. The wireless network runs off primary power. We need to get closer to the North side so we can hail them on Land Mobile Radio."
"Shit. Alright, we carry on to Omega. Formation Indig—"
"Quiet..." someone whispered. "Hear that?"
We all froze, everyone looking like green assassins in the blackness through my HUD. I held my breath and concentrated. Then, I heard it. Faint sounds. Metal clanging sounds, like a hammer against sheet metal. Like something in the vents.
"Gunny, we've got company in the vents!"
"Move! Move! Move!"
It was primal instinct.
I heard clanging all around, responding to our quickened footsteps—combat boots pounding into the floor with no etiquette. A green haze filled my blurred vision from my NV-tasked HUD. I struggled to look behind as I ran, wondering if the comrades behind were in step with the ones in front.
"Where the Hell are they?!" someone screamed.
Fear overwhelmed my thoughts, forcing tunnel vision. I became my own fear, as if I turned into some reckless beast charging into the unknown darkness. The clanging grew louder, LOUDER. I almost lost my nerve while styrocrete buckled and broke all around us. Metal grates dropped from their duct seals and toppled to the deck. I heard barks and screams and howls so loud that it seemed to emanate from right beside me.
My insides were on fire, my adrenaline exploding throughout my weightless body as I plowed ahead at full steam.
I heard noise to the left, to the right, back and forward. Our enemies lived in the walls and surrounded us completely. Our only hope was to stampede right through them.
"Switch to shredders!" yelled the Gunny, running as fast as he could.
I desperately fumbled through my utility belt, trying to fish out a clip as I ran with a forty-pound burden strapped to my back. My search came up good and I swapped hollow-points for a full clip of tumbling-shredder rounds. I pulled back the charging rod and disengaged the safety.
"Fire at the vents!"
I could barely hear his voice under all the combined pandemonium of our heavy footsteps and Covenant ruckus. The Gunny must've been too shaken to key his command into TEAMCOM. But soon, it didn't matter. He fired and others followed. The hallway strobed with the shimmering flashes of our rifle muzzles—spitting out chaos and death. Showers of sparks bathed the confines of the narrow walkway as metal and chunks of wall blistered and flew apart. And the sick, horrific music of the Covenant war party was drowned out at each squeeze of the trigger.
We turned a corner. The sign pointed towards the Omega Wing. We ran toward it like demons, the howling and screaming diminishing only a faint amount. An office door to the side opened. From it, emerged a small simian creature with a mask over its face and a Covenant energy weapon in hand. I didn't instantly recognize which species it was. Combat reflexes took a hold of me and my trigger finger tensed. I poured whatever I could into it as I blasted by without a passing glance. There was a yelp. I couldn't see anything more. I heard the alien topple to the ground behind me with a wet Ptoomp!
I did my best to ensure those behind me wouldn't encounter it.
I could feel the wind rush past my face as I ran with all my might and endurance, but it was stronger than before, almost pushing against me. Accompanying the source of the draft was a faint glow not far ahead. The illumination gradually became so bright that I was forced to relinquish my night vision. I no longer had the upper hand. As we ran closer, the light was an irradiating glow—so bright that I had to squint. I could no longer tell how far away it was. I just kept running closer to it—with no idea what was at the end.
Shadows danced across me—my comrades in front. My eyelids involuntarily shut, the light so bright. The glow pierced through my lids, embossing bluish-purple spots into my non-existent vision. I placed a hand out in front, out of air and sight and the will to press on, hoping to run into something. A friend. A Marine. Someone.
But there was nothing but empty air striking my chest.
Just then, at my last shred of faith and breath, a hand grabbed mine and pulled me inward with a jerk. The light faded and my vision cleared. It was Amy. Harsh golden light reflected off her opaque visor.
More and more troops made it through as I peered aft. The light still seared into the hall we emerged from, the corridor seeming to suck it all up. Blending with the darkness, hundreds of creatures swarmed and stumbled and stampeded over one another not far behind the last of Marines to cross over. The Covenant mob chanted something odd and horrid, but it was rhythmic. The shrieks and the wails overtly declared a frantic appetite for blood and pain and death, that much I knew.
The last of us made it through and Amy threw her half-ton MJOLNIR bulk into the heavy steel door. The off-color music faded into near silence as she leaned forward to press it into place. All the while, someone unbeknownst to us pushed past and began keying a sequence of numbers into a nearby electronic cipher lock.
"It's quite fine now. You can stand back. It's a class A vault door." the man in a white lab coat announced.
Not a second later, muffled thumps came from the other side.
We stood there and caught our breath again. I took a look around and felt relieved that we caught up with fire teams Gamma and Quebec. Lima was whole again, almost.
"You got here so quick." Amy said to Gunny Smith. "Did you locate the intel?"
"Yea, found it quicker than I thought we would, thanks to Pennington and Haze."
"Excellent work, Marines." she said. "I was just about to take Gamma and Quebec out there. Now that we're all here, let's wait a minute while you all catch your breath."
Gunny nodded, checked the condition of the doorway we'd just entered, then doubled over as Foxtrot and Zulu did the same.
It seemed this would be our story to tell, this running and hiding and praying for our chance to dig in. But not too far ahead was our true objective. The civilian in the white didn't look our way, but instead went immediately to eyeing a datapad in his hand, seemingly unperturbed by the ravenous alien horde just on the other side of the door. The thumping just beyond was unrelenting and actually getting louder. He raised a brow as he flipped through documents and scratched his nose, mumbling something to himself.
Haze rose from his hunched-over stance and drew one deep breath. "Are you sure those bastards aren't just gonna pour through and rip out your damned lungs?!"
"Ah yes," the civilian replied, "I can see your cause for alarm, but it's quite alright now. You're in Omega Wing. It's heavily reinforced with adequate provisions. If you are settled now, you'll find amicable accommodations in one of our many break rooms. Would you like something to drink?"
"Hell-fuck-no! I wouldn't like something to drink! They're in the vents! We need to setup DFPs for when they bust in here!"
The scientist clenched his jaw and looked upon the rest of us with a body language that implied disappointment. "Do not worry. The HVAC for this wing is internally-routed through underground passages. If you choose not to believe me, ask your Spartan to back-brief you on the situation here. I'm going to be in the laboratory. If any of you require sustenance or medical attention, please visit the lounge on the third floor. I believe the med-lab is no longer a safe place."
"Fuck!" Haze hollered. "Dietz, Hawkings, Seltzin, and Richardson are still out there!"
"We'll get to them in time." the Gunny consoled. "They're four strong guns, five if the other heals fast enough. Right now," Smith faced the other man, "just tell us where the action is."
"The Quick Reaction Force is that way." he said, holding up an outstretched arm. "It's about three-hundred meters further North. Follow the signs to Shipping and Receiving. They are at the loading docks still trying to hold off the Covenant."
"Still?" The Gunny prepared to take off.
"They've had significant setbacks. No one anticipated this large of an offensive from the Covenant. But I have a feeling things will change for the better now that you're here." he said, staring at Amy.
"C'mon, everyone!" Gunnery Sergeant Smith shouted. "Let's get some fresh air and leave the civvies to their…duties."
More like an air terminal than a mining entrance, couches and rows of seats filled much of the expanse and lined the walls. We followed our leader and exited the central lobby, ran down a slew of gently-sloped service ramps at the far side. Adjacent to the aisles were exposed freight lifts. Massive steel girders occupied the ambiance high above. Forklifts and robotic loaders and other machinery took up most of the floor space near the dock in the distance. The disjoined rhythm of staccato gunfire echoed into the enormous chamber we sped through, originating from the space somewhere beyond a massive doorway up ahead. We all hoped it wasn't too late as the reunited Lima Company whisked towards the action.
Finally, a set of massive double doors was the only thing that stood between us and our real mission. We could complete it.
Amy brought up behind Gunny Smith as he punched in the command for the doors to open.