A handful of Senate Security agents moved down the building nervily, shrouded by the new stealth camouflage tech that had been ripped straight from the Caliterrian Guardians. It wasn’t a secret they gave up lightly but the Forerunner agreed that this particular operation was in need of it. It had been a nightmare to replicate and Larik felt uneasy knowing this was its first field test. They made it down to the ground floor and toward the convoy that had rolled to a halt just outside of the ramp. It was being checked by sentries who were evidently on high alert due to the discovery of the other squad. Larik stopped dead and dropped to the floor to make his shimmery silhouette less noticeable as one such guard passed so close by that he swore he could hear the rhythm of its heart as his own reached the resting rate of a hummingbird. The convoy was four vehicles long. They were designed, as Larik had come to expect by now, matte black with gold tracery. Instead of four wheels they had thrusters on each corner that could be rotated at will for variable direction and acceleration. The unit attached themselves to the underside of the transports and Larik found himself once again next to Isaac whose jaw moved like he was talking but Larik couldn’t tell over the roar of the thrusters as the convoy picked up. They descended the ramp and a blast door edged open to their presence, allowing them through. The Votheen really were arrogant, thought Larik. Not even a cursory glance under or into the vehicle by the sentries. They may have been plotting in the shadows for generations but they were far too big headed of their ability and invulnerability. Today would prove to be a troubling day for their faith.
The transporter continued down a large cylindrical tunnel for several hundred metres before coming to a rest outside a large black panelled facility. The building was split into three sectors, cut into the earth itself. The main building was in the shape of a moon crescent while the other two that flanked on either side were more modest in design and size. Thick power cables ran visibly back and forth between the three, it looked like this base had not been long since completed and Larik wondered whether this world was to be the Votheen’s forward operating base when the war finally came. The convoy ground to a halt outside of the central building and the rear hatch of the transport Larik and Isaac were swinging off hissed open. Two black Votheen emerged first, followed slowly by a pair of feet that looked surprisingly Human. Isaac held in a gasp and Larik an expletive as the well-polished shoes pivoted to address one of the Votheen. They both saw something they immediately wished they hadn’t. Minister of public relations, Leon Winter, looked to be here by choice and not force. He slapped one of the Votheen on the shoulder as if congratulating a friend’s decent joke. They began a brisk walk to the entrance. The two soldiers, still swaying, looked at each other wide eyed and open mouthed for several moments trying to piece together what was going on. “You think Winter is behind the Atlas virus?” asked Isaac, already knowing the answer but not brave enough to believe it.
“Why else would he be here?”
“We need to split up,” Isaac stated. “Send me after Leon and you comb the other two buildings.” Larik could have cursed the headstrong soldier but he knew he was right. There was no way a large team would be able to get in and out of the crescent moon unnoticed.
“You take this on as a vendetta and I will personally court martial you if you survive. Take Ka’Sei with you.” With that Isaac and the Caliterrian demagnified their clamps and rolled out from under the transporter.
The new Indatech HUD was exceptional. The Senate Security special forces unit had amazing equipment, he knew he’d chosen well when he demanded to be put on the next mission against the Votheen. His experience made him a valuable asset and when he saw Leon Winter he knew his stubbornness had paid off. He had only one niggling negative in his mind, which wasn’t a small thing by any stretch of the imagination. He’d done some research on Colonel Larik Kass and he didn’t particularly like what he was seeing. The man was a maverick who valued the mission above all else, that particular didn’t bother Isaac. The Colonel sounded like a man after his own heart on that count. What did bother him is that Larik had a reputation for heavy losses. In his last mission against the Votheen only three men, that was including the man himself, had survived out of a unit of over fifty. Isaac checked the readout of his three dimensional motion tracker, it adapted in real time depending on the direction he faced. They were clear to move across the yard and closed in on the front door. He was thankful that he’d been paired with Lau Ka’Sei but the guy frightened him. He didn’t really speak and was a very reserved character that Isaac didn’t know much about. What he did know was enough. He was unrivalled in hand to hand combat, light on his feet and supremely gifted with any variety of blade. It made him feel safer but no more at ease. The Caliterrian made him incredibly anxious. They reached the shadowy overhang that looked down into a trench near the entrance to the small building on the right. A stench drifted up so overpowering it made Isaac’s stomach turn in on itself. As he reluctantly followed his nose he found the cause. The trench was filled with grey and bloated bodies from all different races, none of which were Votheen. As Lau got closer he noticed evidence of several injection sites on one of the closest victims. “Aurora?” Isaac nodded grimly, the Votheen had taken test subjects to perfect their virus and he assumed some of the victims were the missing crew of Hope’s Deliverance. The front entrance was definitely out of the question, even with the new tech they had at their disposal. It took Isaac a while to accept the route they needed to use but the mass grave was definitely the only way to infiltrate the base covertly. It was foul, as bad and yet worse than he'd expected. Knee high in bodies with a sewage like undercurrent. They followed the trail and shimmied up the chute that had thrown up all the victims. It took far too long to reach a service hatch which Lau forced open. The two soldiers slushed into a maintenance area loudly, Isaac retching on all fours. No one came. They climbed up a set of scaffolding once they had composed themselves and across a walkway with no bottom in sight and no guardrails to stop them finding it. After a while of wandering aimlessly Isaac found a way that led to the proper corridors of the building, just as his radio screeched "Green light, green light."
The larger group of Senate Security personnel outside found themselves spread out on overwatch across several of the buildings in the square. Upon hearing the voice of their commanding officer, Captain Iyin Falon hit the button on the detonator. Plumes of smoke rose instantaneously and Iyin's ears popped for a few moments, everything was muffled. Votheen darted from left and right attempting to unsuccessfully escape the blast radius. The ramshackle checkpoint building in the centre of the street disintegrated in a particularly spectacular flash of reds, yellows and blacks. The Senate marksmen opened fire at the stragglers too dazed and too far away from cover to survive. That's when a high velocity round took a huge chunk out of the corner of the building Iyin was commanding from. Two of his snipers went with the concrete that buckled and fell beneath their feet. "Why the hell is that tank still operational?"
"Charge was a dud, sir!" shouted a silhouette through the smoke. Another blast rocked another of the neighbouring buildings and Iyin could hear the faint scream of another wounded soldier on his watch.
"Heavy weapons, now!" he yelled as a burly Caliterrian thundered forward with an Indatech fusion launchers. He locked on to the vehicle but his head evaporated in a colourful mist as an enemy combatant pulled one back for his fallen allies. Iyin ran toward the weapon and fired in the general direction without waiting for lock on confirmation as a second round from their unseen foe struck him in the shoulder, spinning him wildly towards the very edge of the building. "Tank down!" yelled someone as a set of arms stopped the Captain from falling and dragged him to safety.
The alarm sounded not long after a series of explosions caused stalactites to shake lose in the cavern. A swarm of Votheen filtered out to back up their brethren that Larik hoped were unprepared for the attack. He sneaked into the building on the right which he could only describe as a kennel. In the cages were large numbers of sick, feral and expired captives. Larik moved toward the closest to find it was an incredibly pale Sarcurian, wearing the soiled uniform of the Hope's Deliverance. It looked almost Human. "You have to get me out before they come back," whimpered a voice to his right. In a cage on the centre row was Faros Li’Kar, he looked more like the corpse of Faros than the man himself. Larik placed a solitary finger to his mandibles in the universally understood but ignored expression to shut up now. "I'm okay, just let me out." Larik examined him and it was obvious without getting too close that he was beyond hope as track lines laced his arms. He shook his head dismissively. "You've been infected," Larik said bluntly.
"I feel fine, get me out, that's an order. You can't just leave me here..." Faros trailed off as a hint of panic made his voice warble.
"Quiet, you're going to get us all killed," snapped one of the Caliterrian with Larik but it was too late as a shadow threatened the door. The unit scrambled to conceal themselves, some better placed than others. A black breed of Votheen entered and sneered as he looked around for the source of the commotion. "You! Caliterrian. What is it?" he ordered impatiently, evidently riled by the sudden assault on his base.
"You stupid beast. You have seconds to live and don't even know it." The Votheen moved close to the bars and grumbled at the threat in amusement.
"How exactly are you going to follow through on that in there?" The Votheen's gloating didn't last long as Larik plunged his dagger into its spinal cord, getting right in between the protective plates of its angular power armour.
"He never said he was going to kill you," Larik whispered as he twisted and swiped the weapon upward. The alien went rigid and then limp as it fell away to the floor. Larik struggled to remove his knife and pulled bone with it when it finally gave way. The Caliterrian captive tried to thank and congratulate Larik but as he tried to do so a bullet entered his skull and made the place where his mouth should have been a bloody mess. His jaw fell to one side before he could even get a word out. The rest of his unit emerged from the cracks in stunned silence as Larik put away his sidearm. "He was infected and we don't understand it yet. I'm not putting my men at risk," he said giving no other word of regret or condolence. Larik rounded the corner and went up a flight of stairs to the second floor. As he hid in plain sight from the patrols which had become vastly reduced after the distraction team had done its job, he took in the mannerisms of the new Votheen. They didn’t seem as animalistic or feral. As if they were cunning. He considered how two distinct variants might have come to pass.
The area they found themselves in was clinically clean and not at all like the inhuman kennel in the prison area below. The pungent smell of cleaning chemicals was a welcomed change from the bodily fluids and death. The small unit moved like phantoms hopping from shadow to shadow. After dispatching two guards, Larik found the room the whole galaxy was looking for. Passed the one-way glass was a box room. A chair which had well-worn and blood-stained restraints was in the centre. Tools of all denominations lay on a bench to its left all well used themselves. On the wall, roughly waist height, was the most important part of the room. Two vials. A vial of orange fluid and a vial of blue. “Aurora.” Larik hoped as he moved through into the room. As soon as he entered, the room shut itself down, a heavy plate shutter covered the doorway and began to close on the window. The Human Colonel smashed the glass case and bundled the vials into his trousers as Seretta, one of his Sarcurian pathfinders, smashed through the glass in the window with the butt of a shotgun. Larik dived out but his hand was crushed under the blast shield as it trailed behind him. To his credit he didn’t scream but bit his lip so hard it drew blood. The taste was bitter in his mouth but it stopped him from passing out as his head began to swim. Seretta looked at him with sympathetic eyes as he drew his knife. “Do it,” grumbled Larik as the Sarcurian swung and took off the Human’s limb from the wrist, cauterising it instantly with the super-heated energy running through the blade’s cutting edge.