Breaks between battles were calm and silent. They were brief but sufficient enough for the team to reload, regroup, and rethink tactics. At this point, they still had enough ammunition to be combat effective. However, they did not intend to keep fighting. They had taken some hits and one Marine was already wounded. For 1stLt Terrace, one casualty was simply too many. The team was outnumbered by at least ten to one; any amount of ammunition would not help them. The only advantage they had was the number of factions who wanted to kill them equaled the number of factions that wanted to kill each other. Still, the last thing they wanted was to be caught in the crossfire.
Suddenly, a small group of hostiles turned a corner, and Terrace quickly engaged them with his carbine. A small salvo of bullets fired in rapid succession was enough to keep the hostiles at bay.
"Lieutenant!" exclaimed Major Papadopoulos, "How far are we to the docking port?"
"Two decks up, and we need to pass by the commerce center," Terrace said.
"Great, more chances to get us shot!" Sergeant Spades.
"Shut up, Mack, or I'll shoot you myself," Terrace said then to Papadopoulos, "Sir, I suggest that we use the maintenance and emergency access ways. Less chance for contact that way,"
"Copy that! Be ready to move on my order," Papadopoulos said, "Terrace, make sure all of the package is secured at all times,"
The team was in a vulnerable spot. The station's crew mess hall had simple tables made from cheap material. This meant that they would only provided minimal cover. Bullets would simply punch through while energy weapons--bolts of dense ionized gases--would just destroy the tables to bits, taking out anybody behind it. So far, the Marines' vigilance kept the enemies away while they tended to the wounds of one of them. Luckily, the wounds were very light.
They needed to make a break for the maintenance access door about twenty meters away across the hall. It may not seem to be very far, but with enemies converging on their location, they would be shot to pieces before they could walk a few steps. Terrace felt immense pressure, and so do the other Marines, considering that, even with their advanced training in marksmanship and tactics, as well as experience, the mission had them wearing very little armor and very little individual combat aid systems. For all intents and purposes, they were fighting it old school.
"Go, go, go!" Papadopoulos said after realizing a lull in the fighting.
The Marines made a controlled and paced dash toward the maintenance door with Terrace taking point. They moved in formation, covering all angles. When they reached the door, Spades and Terrace stood near the door. Both looked at each other for a moment before Spades nodded to Terrace, signaling that he was ready to breach.
Suddenly, as Terrace reached the door handle, the door swung open outwards. Terrace was taken by surprise when an enemy appeared right in front of him. Without thinking any further, the Marine officer lunged forward with his carbine and used it to knock and push away the large-built hostile alien before putting three well placed shots into it. It was only three shots and a few seconds later that they realized it was one of the smugglers who they dealt with much earlier.
"They're not as tough as I thought they were," Terrace commented.
"Yeah," Spades said, looking at the large "Plasma Magnum" lying on the floor nearby, "You know, if he had shot you with that, there would be quite a hole in you, sir,"
"That makes me a very lucky sunivabitch," Terrace said, looking at the large plasma-based directed energy pistol still in the hands of the dead smuggler. He wanted to take it, keeping it as a souvenir or as a specimen for examination. However, there were many more important things than ray guns at the moment, so he took point and led the team.
Noises of shouting in several languages and weapons fire were muffled inside the maintenance accessways. Unlike the ships that they were more used to, the station have very large maintenance access. It was like a proper building on the surface of a planet, and it was built exactly with that purpose to give a sense of familiarity for those who were more used to living on the surface.
The team moved with extreme caution, covering every corner, every turn, every door, and every possible concealment. It was four against dozens, maybe hundreds, so they were not taking any chances. This was especially so when they were carrying precious cargo that cannot fall into enemy possession. It almost caused trouble for the Navy and Marines the first time around, so it was imperative that they succeed.
"Hey, are you okay, Hennes?" said Spades to Corporal Hennes as the wounded Marine almost fell onto his knees.
"I'm fine, Sarge," Hennes said, "It's just this wound is more of a bitch than I thought,"
"You better hack it, then. This fight ain't over yet," Spades said again.
The team approached an emergency stairwell. They needed to climb two floors up to get to the designated docking port. Papadopoulos suddenly felt nervous. While stairs may be a tactical obstacle with threats coming from every angle, this was not what the esteemed Major was afraid of. Weirdly, he had developed a phobia for stairs and stairwells as a result of his history of falling down, slipping, and trapped in stairwells. However, that was not severe enough to impair him. Nevertheless, he instructed the two enlisted men to be in the front.
"It's just two decks up, Oz," Terrace whispered to himself nervously.
Halfway up, Spades, who was at the front and above the rest of the team, raised his right fist, signaling a halt, as he heard voices. The team held their position as they listened. Papadopoulos really hoped that they were not seen. Terrace felt the same way.
"Clear," Spades said and continued to advance.
The voices and sounds of footsteps passed by above them. It was just one more flight of stairs and they would get to the floor they needed to be. The atmosphere was as tense as ever, and the Marines gripped onto their weapons with twitchy fingers and clammy hands. Then, when they thought nobody was there, a group of hostiles stood guard at the door out to the main halls.
A salvo of gunfire made short work of the hostiles. The hostiles were human mercenaries, heavily armed and heavily armored, and certainly well equipped. Much like mercenaries of centuries past, they were elite soldiers-for-hire with a reputation spanned across star systems. The Commonwealth considered them as illegal combatants (though it was made clear the difference between legitimate private military and security contractors), and the standing order for military personnel is to arrest or, if necessary, neutralize them.
"I can't fucking believe that we have to shoot these guys," Spades said.
"Better them than us, Mack. Let's go!" Papadopoulos said.
The maintenance access could only go so far. Therefore, the team had to cross out into the main hallways and corridors. Judging from the noise and the proximity of the noise, they were walking into a shootout. They could hear the chatter and sounds of individual factions and identify them, meaning that they would know what and who to expect.
The team took cover in a ransacked store behind some counters. They just witnessed a group of rebel humanoid aliens taken down by a squad of elite fighters from a race known as the Kaparsha. Kaparshans were known to integrate technology and living organism together, essentially making them cybernetic beings, though they do retain their organic qualities. Even though the Kaparsha was generally friendly to humans, the factions in the station were hostile, part of a nation who thought that they must commit to conquest and elimination of all potential enemies to their race, including (and in many cases, especially) humans.
"Damn, there's six of 'em!" Spades said.
"What do we do?" Hennes followed.
"We wait for a bit, see what they do," Terrace said.
So the team waited for a few minutes, simply observing the Kaparshans. They appeared to be holding position, standing by to receive further orders. Just in case, the Marines trained their weapons toward them and switched to full automatic fire for good measure. Terrace could feel his hand shaking slightly, and his index finger, which was put straight on the receiver of his carbine right above the trigger, twitched in anticipation. He observed carefully the structure of the enemy's armor. He knew that it would take more than a few shots or just really well placed shots to take just one of them down. Like the rest of the team, he did not want to engage them.
"They're moving off. Stay low," Papadopoulos said.
The Kaparshan squad split into two teams, and from what the Marines could decipher, it sounded like the squad was ordered to search the area, eliminate all hostiles, and retrieve the package. This worried Papadopoulos, as it was clear that there were not many hostiles left, and whoever would dominate the battle will soon come after them without mercy.
At this point, the team really needed to worry about getting spotted as the Kaparshan squad started to have the same idea as the team on hiding places. However, the Kaparshans were more interested in finding rather than hiding. It started to become a very dangerous game of hide and seek. The team could hear glass breaking and furniture being turned over as the Kaparshan fireteam started to seek for any stragglers.
Papadopoulos then moved his team in an attempt of evasion. As the aliens got closer to them, they maneuvered away to another place of concealment. It was a dangerous game of hide and seek escalated to a deadly game of cat and mouse. The aliens also had a "shoot first, send flowers later" policy, shooting anything that remotely looked human. The Marines saw one of them blasted apart a mannequin at close range, and amusingly, the Kaparshan was berated by his superior officer for being stupid.
The problem was the Marines were moving around in circles. They needed to reach their objective for extraction and their shuttle was approaching the station, due for arrival momentarily. Therefore, they need to step it up and get to the passenger craft docking port.
"Sir, five minutes until arrival," Terrace whispered to Papadopoulos.
"Copy," Papadopoulos responded, "We need to get around them somehow,"
"We need a distraction of some kind," Terrace said, then thought of something when he saw a remote controlled car, "I think I know what that is,"
Terrace took the remote controlled car then took it out of its packaging. He also managed to find some batteries, which was not difficult considering that they were now in a toy and electronics store. Within five minutes, Terrace assembled the RC car and made sure it was functioning. Meanwhile, the team was ready to make a mad dash towards safety.
"Ready when you are, Lieutenant," Papadopoulos said.
Terrace gulped then hit the accelerator. The RC car flew out of the store moving right next to the Kaparshan fireteam. They seemed to be confused at first, then tried to shoot it. Terrace was driving all over the place, essentially dodging the shots. Finally, the Kaparshan team went after it. This was when the team slipped out and ran straight toward their extraction point.
At this point, Terrace lost sight of the RC car and abandoned the remote as he moved with the team. As the team reached a point of cover, out of sight of the aliens, they heard that the fireteam leader sounded very angry and upset while he stomped on the remote controlled car, destroying it to bits. The team had no time to loiter and quickly went towards the docking port.
Surprisingly, the path to the docking port was clear and the sounds of fighting was more at a distant. It was probably because all of the factions still thought the Marines were still somewhere in the commerce centers, and they were fighting each other for it. However, that would not be for long and they had to get out of there.
"Rat Runner, this is Pesky Owl," a transmission was received through the radio.
"This is Rat Runner, go ahead," Papadopoulos replied.
"We are inbound for arrival in five minutes. I say again, five minutes until arrival," the pilot replied, "I hope you guys can clear up the docking port,"
"Roger that, Pesky Owl. We'll see you there,"
"Copy. Pesky Owl, out," the pilots replied.
Finally we're going home, Terrace thought. He made sure that his carbine was fully loaded. He was number three in the four man formation, with Corporal Hennes behind him, Papadopoulos in front of him, and Sergeant Spades taking point. He suddenly felt something was wrong: a deep feeling that was gnawing in him. Fortunately, it was feeling that he mutually shared with his teammates.
Spades raised his fist, signaling his teammates to stop. The team quickly took cover behind some security booths right before the boarding and waiting areas. They did it quietly so to not arouse any attention.
"What is it, Sergeant?" Papadopoulos said.
"I have a bad feeling, sir. It's a bit too quiet," Spades said.
"Me too, sir," Hennes said, "Considering that's a place everybody would go,"
"I agree, sir," Terrace said, "I think we're walking into an ambush,"
"Huh. That part is pretty obvious," Papadopoulos said after a pause, "Suggestions, Lieutenant?"
"I think we can still go around. There is a maintenance access and emergency evacuation paths that go through the maintenance areas,"
"Let's go," Papadopoulos said simply.
The team went around the security area and into the maintenance access where it would usually only be allowed to employees and security officers only. Like before, the place was empty, and like before, the team remained very vigilant.
"Rat Runner, this is Pesky Owl," the pilots said to the team via radio, "We spotted an open docking port that we can lock on to. It appears that they have no interest in us and we can see no action taken against us, over,"
"Copy that, Pesky Owl," Papadopoulos replied, "Suggest that you don't dock until we cleared the immediate area,"
"Roger, we will hold off on docking until area is cleared. Be advised that we will be docking at port Alpha-Seven,"
"Rat Runner copies. We'll see you guys there,"
"Wilco, Pesky Owl, out,"
Alpha-Seven was not far from their current position. They were only a few doors away, and they had a feeling that there will be many enemies simply waiting for them. Again, the light craft dock was one of the only places where anybody would embark or disembark the station, and any open dock would be guarded to not let the Marines escape.
Fortunately, everybody else was still too busy killing each other.
"That's a massive firefight on the other side," Terrace said as he stood near the door.
"Open it," Papadopoulos said
Terrace opened the door, and sure enough, there was a massive firefight. They found themselves in a loading area for baggage and cargo, only one room away from dock Alpha-Seven. There was a few enemies right in front of them who had now noticed the Marines coming through the door. Quickly, the Marines took them out.
However, that meant they became targets of other enemies who promptly fired at them as soon as they were in sight. Taking cover behind equipment, the Marines fired back in a demonstration of their marksmanship. Within ten seconds, enemies who were unfortunate enough to be in the line of sight of the Marines were at least shot. This prompted the enemy to change tactics in and an attempt to outmaneuver them instead.
As the human mercenaries were mostly former military service members, with some of them ex-Special Forces, they were no strangers to human military tactics. This made them more of a match against the Marines than almost everyone else, ironically; most soldiers, with the probably exception of elite forces, were afraid of the Marines as they had a reputation of being formidable adversaries.
A bullet whizzed past Terrace, missing him by mere centimeters. It was a large caliber bullet, too, and if it had hit him in the head, his brain would be splatter from the impact, spraying his brain matter all over the place. He quickly duck his head at the close call as bullets continued coming his way.
"Terrace! Spades! Find a way around them!" Papadopoulos said.
"Yes, sir!" Terrace replied.
Terrace and Spades moved under cover as they were trying to flank the mercenaries. Surprisingly, this was easier than they thought as the mercenaries were fixated on firing at the same position the team was. In less than a minute, Spades and Terrace executed a flanking maneuver, and because the mercenaries were close together, a salvo of gunfire from the both of them eliminated the opposition in a very short time. Finally, there was silence.
"Clear!" Terrace exclaimed.
The team regrouped and proceeded quickly to their extraction point. They approached the door which led directly to the main corridor near the waiting area for Alpha-Seven. They tried to listen through the door in order to hear any enemies. It sounded very quiet with the absence of speech, footsteps, and the more obvious fighting and shooting.
"Pesky Owl, Pesky Owl, this is Rat Runner Actual," Papadopoulos transmitted, "We are almost in position. Use caution when you dock,"
"Copy that, Rat Runner," replied the pilot, "We are making our approach. Will advise once we are in position,"
"Understood, we'll see you guys," said Papadopoulos, then to the team, "Open it,"
Just as the door was slightly ajar, the team encountered some weapons fire. The first salvo almost taken the team out, and it was a close call (a very close call) for Corporal Hennes. Thankfully, the team's training had thought them to not stand right in front of doorways in a tactical situation.
"Crap! Where the hell did that come from?" said Hennes.
"I can't see 'em, sir," said Spades as he tried to return fire, "It seems like it's coming from all over the place,"
"Do we have any smoke grenades?" Papadopoulos said.
"I think I have one here," Terrace said.
Terrace removed his only smoke grenade and pulled the pin. He released the spoon and waited for some smoke to be produced before throwing it into the corridor. Salvos of weapons fire from different weapons continued to come as the smoke was filling. It took almost twenty seconds for the smoke to fill enough to give a concealment for the team. Then, the team moved.
There was a small area that provided some cover to the team and they got themselves to that position. Just as the smoke started to dissipate, the team was in position to clearly take retaliate all enemy forces in sight. Within seconds of shooting, there was a hiatus in fighting, right on time when the crew of the shuttle reported that they had docked with the station.
"Roger, keep the gate open," Papadopoulos replied, "Let's move, people!"
Papadopoulos led the team to Alpha-Seven. The team approached the waiting area to the docking port cautiously. They could see a few of their naval soldiers standing by near the airlock which they waved to. The Navy soldiers waved back until they had to shoot at something.
"Take cover! Take cover!" said one of the soldiers over the radio.
"Damn! They're right on top of us!" said another.
The Marine picked up the pace and hurried to the waiting area. Unfortunately, this was a mistake; the enemy set up an ambush just as they crossed the waiting area checkpoint. The Marine fired back rapidly as they were running for cover as the enemy force tried to take them out. And while the rest of the team was able to get to the sailors' position, Terrace was forced away, back out to the main corridor. To make matters worse, he was being chased, as well.
"This is Terrace! I'm being pursued!" Terrace shouted over the radio.
Papadopoulos and the rest of the team could hear him, but could not respond as they too were under fire. One of the sailors had been shot and the enemy was getting closer to them. The only way that they could survive was to get through the airlock and into the shuttle.
"Sir, we can't just leave the Lieutenant!" objected Sergeant Spades.
"I know! We have no choice, Sergeant," Papadopoulos said.
The team successfully broke contact with the enemy and closed the airlock doors. After the shuttle was locked out from the station, Papadopoulos quickly went to the flight deck. Meanwhile, Terrace only had the clear knowledge of the layout of the station to his advantage, and only luck kept him alive. He still cried out for help, unaware that he was going to be left behind.
In the shuttle, Navy Lieutenant Hussein Malek overheard the radio chatter. From his seat, he was dying to reply to the Marine officer in distress, but powerless to do anything. Also, his instruments indicated that all the doors were closed and the shuttle could unlatch from the station. Then, Papadopoulos appeared on the flight deck.
"We need to undock, now!" Papadopoulos said.
"Why? We still have a man left behind in the station!" Malek protested.
"He'll be fine! Just undock and we'll get him," Papadopoulos said, "We are not leaving him behind. We just need another way to fetch him,"
"Okay," Malek said simply as he started the flight procedures. He reactivated the thrusters then unlatched from the shuttle. He and his co-pilot maneuvered away from the station as he got weapons and defense systems online, just in case. They also did not engage the main engines and stayed near the station. While he was determined to help get Terrace back home, he also had doubts on how they would actually rescue the trapped Marine.
"You are kidding me! You are fucking kidding me!" exclaimed Terrace, breathing heavily, as he was told about the plan.
"Sorry, Oz! We have no choice," Papadopoulos replied, "I know that you know that there is somewhere and some way that we can get you out."
"You think so, sir? Sounds like wishful thinking,"
"There is a leap of faith, but I'm confident," Papadopoulos said, "We'll figure this out, Oz. When we say we leave nobody behind, we mean it,"
"Holy shit!" Terrace exclaimed as there were enemies right in front of him. He reacted by landing on his bottom and slid, then quickly changed to full automatic fire, shooting everybody in front of him. Enemies were still chasing him. As he heard chatter in English, human mercenaries were right behind him, obviously getting the upper hand over all the other factions. "Bad news" was the phrase that came to mind.
"I'm in serious trouble over here, guys!" Terrace said, panting, "Is there anywhere? Anywhere!? That you can get me out?"
"There is a secondary docking port for maintenance craft," a voice said through the radio.
"Too far," Terrace said, catching his breath while hiding on top of a set of crates, "I couldn't possibly make it. I'll be shot to pieces, and I'm being hunted as we speak,"
"Well, what do you want us to do? We don't exactly have beaming technology," Malek said, sarcastically.
As Terrace got his heart rate down and his breathing shallowed slightly, he suddenly got interested at the sign which simply had "Cargo Docks" written on it with an arrow pointing down and to the right. The Marine got a brainwave which would just what he needed to get out of the station and complete his mission.
"Oz, Oz? Are you there?"
"Yeah, I'm still here," Terrace said, moving down from the crates and heading towards the new location, "I have an idea. I'm going to the cargo docks,"
The pilots looked at each other, and Lieutenant Malek said, "Oz, you do know that cargo docks are for much bigger ships, and that the shuttle can't exactly dock with it?"
"Don't insult my intelligence, sir," Terrace said, "I know. Just get the shuttle near there and wait for further instructions,"
"Umm, roger that. Moving to position," Lieutenant Malek said, bewildered.
Major Papadopoulos was there at the flight deck of the shuttle, listened to every word. After a pause, he finally said to the pilots, "I think I know what he's going to do, and I don't think I like it."
Terrace was making his way to the cargo docks silently and stealthily. Using what he still remembered of the schematics of the station, he exploited all gaps, all air ducts, all maintenance access, and all doorways. His small stature was also advantageous in that he could squeeze in places otherwise too small, even though his pack added to his size which was a slight impediment to his mobility.
"He has to be here somewhere!" he heard a mercenary said.
"Yeah, when I find, I'm going to kill his ass!" said another.
"Hold on there. We can't just blow him into smithereens," said another with a deeper voice, "We need that artifact,"
They sounded determined, Terrace thought as he waited for the mercenaries to pass. Then, he took the opportunity to slip past the fireteam into the corridor to another place of concealment. He looked as the armor clad mercenaries passed out of sight then proceeded to move. The corridor led to an area for screening incoming crewmen of cargo ships. The area appeared to be cleared, so Terrace attempted to get himself to the direction of the docks themselves. However, he made a mistake of not making sure that the area was cleared.
"Stay where you are!" he was ordered in an alien language.
"Oh, great," Terrace exclaimed as he had muzzles of energy weapons pointed at him.
He always thought that it was amusing for the Markaal to be wearing clothing that would appear archaic by Earth standards. However, they were much more advanced than Terrace would like to admit. The Markaal may not have a very cordial relationship with humanity, but they generally were not as hostile. However, they appeared to be very, very hostile to him. In fact, their weapons were considered to be overpowered, capable of burning anything into char to anything fired upon. Terrace took a look at the technology, and it scared the hell out of him.
"Not so fast, he is ours," somebody said, in English, behind him.
Terrace looked around and saw the mercenaries came back, obviously interested in the chatter. Now Terrace had two factions pointing weapons at him, and wanted to fight over him. Then, unceremoniously, the Kaparshans joined in.
"Hand him to us!" the Kaparshans said.
"No, hand him to us!" the mercenaries said, "The information have no real value to you,"
"You are wrong. It will give us a tactical and strategic advantage," said the Kaparshans in response.
"So will it to us," the Markaal said.
Terrace felt cornered. He was in a no-win situation unless he does something about it. As the unfriendly factions bickered among themselves, the Marine First Lieutenant started to formulate a plan. Even though there were three factions ready to kill themselves for what Terrace had in his backpack (and probably in his head, too). He noticed that the path that happened to be where he wished to go was clear. He needed to think of a plan, and this was beyond what was in his training.
"Hey! Everybody!" Terrace exclaimed and caught everybody's attention, "If you really want me or whatever it is I'm carrying..."
Terrace finished his sentence by pulling a hand grenade off his vest and pulled pin out. He held on the pin, and the fuse will not count down unless he released it. This obviously alarmed everybody. Terrace then put his plan into work, and hoped his gambit succeeds.
"As everybody knows, this is a hand grenade, specifically a Mark Three," Terrace continued, "For those of you who are not as familiar with the Mark Three, it has a six meter kill radius, and this thing will hurt you if you stay within fifteen without any cover. Needless to say, this thing is powerful, and I will be blown to bits if I released this pin within seven to ten seconds. And like any hand grenade, it can't exactly be disarmed even if I put the pin back in."
"You're crazy!" one of the mercenaries said.
"Yes! I am crazy! I'm crazy because I'm sick of being fired upon. I'm sick having to kill so many people. And I'm certainly fucking sick of being in this God forsaken station any longer! So forgive me for wanting to get this over with!"
"I don't think you are stupid enough to blow yourself up," one of the Markaal said.
"Really?" said Terrace, then pulled another grenade off his vest and removed the pin with his right thumb while holding the grenade with his left hand, "Think again."
Everybody moved back a few steps, trying to get away from the kill radius of the grenades. Terrace knew that his gambit was working as everybody wanted the information and the technology contained in his backpack. He also thought that even if he had to destroy himself and the contents were salvageable, it was only one component of the device as the rest was already in the shuttle with the rest of the team.
Terrace looked at everybody, at every gesture, at every facial expression, and at every action. The Marine wiggled his toes inside his boots and flexed the muscles in his legs. The enemy factions were still trying to figure out what to do, and some of them even lowered their weapons. This allowed Terrace to move near a low wall. He was ready to make his move.
In a swift move, Terrace rolled the grenade towards the enemies then quickly jumped to behind a wall. Some of them reacted quickly then started to fire upon Terrace, but Terrace quickly got out and the blast from the grenade disoriented them. Finally, Terrace got up and made the quickest getaway in his life yet. He dared not to look behind.
As everybody went after Terrace, he finally got to docking ports. The enemies were not far behind him, and he had to choose which of airlocks he needed to go to. He contacted the shuttle again as he entered an airlock and closed the hatch behind him.
In the shuttle, the pilots moved the craft near docking port Charlie Seven where Terrace was. As they knew, the airlock was too large for the shuttle to dock with. The pilots were still confused on what Terrace was trying to do, but Papadopoulos had now a clear idea, and he certainly did not like it.
"He's trying to make a jump," Papadopoulos said.
"Jump? As in a space jump?" Malek said.
"Without a suit?"
"Yes," Papadopoulos said again, then on the radio to Terrace, "Oz, whatever you are doing, it is crazy,"
Terrace started to open the emergency door release panels that protected the controls for any inadvertent opening of the outer airlock door. It would be faster with power tools, but he had to make do with only his multitool.
"I know it is, Major," Terrace replied, "But what choice do I have? Almost blown myself up a couple minutes ago just to make sure I get here,"
"I know, Lieutenant. You were transmitting the whole time,"
"Oh," Terrace said in surprising, realizing he had his comms left streaming, "In that case, make sure that you are at least thirty meters away from door and be ready to catch me,"
"Copy that," Papadopoulos said simply.
Terrace still needed to disengage the safety latches, but that did not require much effort. Then, he started the emergency door release procedure which required three buttons to be pressed for two seconds until the lights were turned on accompanied by warning sirens and strobes in the airlock. This meant that Terrace got the procedure right.
Only two steps remained, and the enemies started to bang on the door in an attempt to break through. Terrace's heart started to race, and he was trying to keep it down. He managed to channel out the noise and concentrated on his task, though he could not help but glance every once in a while to make sure that he could finish his job before he would be finished.
"Guys, I almost got it. When press this big red button, there will be a ten second countdown," Terrace said over the radio, "Are you guys ready?"
"Yeah, the welcoming party's is ready to greet you, sir," replied Spades.
"Copy," Terrace said, then under his breath, "All right, here goes nothing,"
Terrace depressed the big red button all the way in. Pulsing warning sirens were broadcasted loudly, signaling the countdown. This was zero hour. Terrace readied himself and made sure his vest and pack were securely fastened on him. He made a few cleansing breaths; deep breaths to oxygenate his body. This was something he never done before, and he always knew he had to make it someday as long he would be going to space. It was a leap of faith, and he intended to take it.
The banging on the door became louder. The door was buckling, giving in to the forcing of the enemies on the other side. It appeared that they did not realize what Terrace was up to. Finally, just seconds before the door was supposed to blow open, the enemies barged in, forcing Terrace to surrender. Terrace had his hand on his sidearm with his carbine slung right in front of him, but chose not to use his weapons. Instead, he looked at the face of his enemies right in the eye.
"I suggest that you guys exhale," Terrace said simply. As the sound of a long siren wailed, Terrace faced the door and emptied as much air as he could from his lungs. The door blasted open, and the sheer force of air pressure jettisoned everything loose in the airlock into space. Terrace launched himself during the blast and he could see the shuttle right there in space before closing his eyes shut.
"There he is, I'm maneuvering in position," Malek said as he manipulated the control surfaces. In the shuttle, a Corpsman and the rest of his team were standing by to greet him.
The shuttle was positioned fifty meters away from the airlock, the closest that Lieutenant Malek dared to position his shuttle craft. For Terrace, fifty meters felt like fifty kilometers in the vacuum of space. He felt like an overinflated balloon, ready to pop at any moment. Then, hypoxia kicked in, and he gradually lost consciousness. Also, the lack of any sound was disconcerting, not to mention the tinnitus. The last thing he felt was hitting the bulkhead of the shuttle's airlock, almost crashing his head if he did not brace himself.
"He's in! Repressurizing airlock!" Malek said.
"Accelerating away from station,"
Papadopoulos stared at the pressurization meter. He waited until it read "Pressurization Complete" before getting to the airlock. Everybody rushed into the airlock and immediately tended to Terrace. He was lying on the deck, unconscious and not breathing.
"Help me get his pack and vest off," the Corspsman said.
Spades and Hennes assisted Corpsman Soong. When they got him on his back with his shirt off, Soong checked for vital signs; Terrace's pulse was very weak and his heartbeat gradually dwindled.
"I need an epipen and get the defib on standby!" Corpsman Soong said.
He immediately attempted to resuscitate Terrace. His first priority was to coax him to breathe. He pumped his chest a few times to make sure that blood circulated then administered mouth-to-mouth before injected a shot of epinephrine into his thigh.
For Terrace, it was like being awakened by from a nightmare; a sudden jolt like he was dunked into ice cold water. His body tried to breathe. However, he coughed instead and his body was desperate for oxygen. Then, he had an oxygen mask over his face and was told to breathe normally.
"My lungs," Terrace said, panting and wheezing, "It felt like I breathed in rocket fuel,"
"That's normal, Lieutenant," Soong said, "Just keep breathing. You'll be fine."
"I hope so," Terrace said as he coughed and breathed in heavily, then to the Marines, "How're you guys doing?"
"You crazy son of a bitch!" Papadopoulos said, "You has us worried back there!"
"Well, I'm here, aren't I?" Terrace said, struggling to speak.
"Yeah, but you almost didn't," Spades said, "I think it takes a lot of balls to pull off what you pulled off, sir,"
"Thank you, Mack," Terrace said, "Honestly, I almost didn't do it,"
The CDFS Fortitude was located at a very high orbit, almost near the Langrangian point between the planet and its moon. The shuttle took about 45 minutes trying to "catch up" with the Fortitude. Malek approached the large ship with caution, reducing speed and maneuvering in position to berth with it. He gradually matched the shuttle's relative velocity with the Fortitude. Once they were cleared to berth, Malek moved the shuttle into position.
"Berthing is successful. Welcome back to the Fortitude," said the controller over the radio, "Medical team is standby to receive,"
"Thank you, Flight. It's great to be back. We are ready for the medical team,"
The door opened and a medical team went into the shuttle's airlock. The Hospital Corpsmen and medical staff lifted Terrace onto the gurney. They started to attach leads, needles, instruments to monitor his vital signs, as well as replacing the oxygen mask with another one. Terrace felt that they were doing more than necessary.
"Guys, I'm fine, you don't need to do this," Terrace said to the medical team as they wheeled him out to sickbay.
Meanwhile, Papadopoulos and the Marines picked up their things and prepared to disembark from the shuttle. Their mission was complete, and they hoped that Terrace would be all right. The fact that his second-in-command did a cross craft jump out in the vacuum of and actually survived. In hindsight, he thought that they completed the mission against all odds. Then, the Major and the rest of the Marines were told to report for debriefing by the ship's Captain. They had a lot of talk about.
When 1stLt Terrace started to wake up, it was already noon the next day. As he opened his eyes, he saw Major Papadopoulos sat right next to him, who was reading a file. Terrace stayed still, indulging on the comfort of the sickbay's bed which he enjoyed after almost a month of sleep deprivation to complete the last part of the assignment. Now, after almost being killed by enemies with guns and energy weapons, and almost did not make it out alive after being sucked out into space, he felt that he would have a long, fruitful career. All he wished now that his next assignment would be more involved with technology and engineering; in line with his qualifications and occupational specialty.
"What's for lunch? I'm starving," Terrace said.
"Ah, Lieutenant! You're awake," Papadopoulos said, "I think they're serving spaghetti today, with meatballs. You have a choice of a marinara or meatsauce, and I heard it's pretty good."
"I was kind of hoping it's pizza day," Terrace said, "But spaghetti's fine. Am I cleared to eat, though?"
"Doctor's told me you can,"
"Okay. I'll take mine with marinara, and I would like a cherry soda to go with it,"
"Very well," Papadopoulos said, then called a nurse to get Terrace his food.
"How was the debriefing, by the way?" Terrace said.
"You know, the usual stuff. Mission success, enemy numbers, completion of objectives, and all that," Papadopoulos said, "Now that we have the data devices back, you can say that we have done our jobs,"
"What I'm afraid of is that we might be too late and somebody's already know what's in those devices,"
"That's exactly what I said. But I also remembered you said about encryption and all that, and it would take a lot of doing just to get to the information, let alone actually use it,"
"I guess you're right. You know, I never really thought we would find it. I seriously thought we spent six months following leads and such for nothing,"
"But it wasn't for nothing," Papadopoulos said, "Guess what, our job here's not done, yet,"
"Are you kidding? I think we just got started,"
Moments later, the nurse brought him a tray of food and Terrace started eating it hungrily. He did not realize how hungry he really was and indulged. Then, he paused for a few moments.
"It's either I'm really hungry or the spaghetti and meatballs is actually really good," Terrace said
Three weeks later, Terrace was already back on Earth. His small episode of heroism attracted the attention of the Commandant of the Marine Corps who commended his actions and recommended a medal to be awarded to the First Lieutenant. Terrace felt very proud to receive it, and so did his loved ones, even though he cannot divulge the details of his mission mainly because it was classified--and partly because he did not wish to scare his loved ones. Then, it was business as usual at the base, and he was glad to be working where he would go home every evening to his wife and children.
Until, of course, it was time for another assignment.
"Come in, Lieutenant," said Admiral Higgins as Terrace knocked the door.
Terrace walked in and found that Colonel Sparks, his commanding officer, was in the room. He sheepishly entered the office, as if he was a student walking into the principal's office after he had done something mischievous. However, nobody said anything, so Terrace proceeded to close the door behind him.
"Colonel," Terrace said to his commanding officer.
"Lieutenant," Sparks replied.
"Admiral, how are you?" Terrace said to Higgins.
"I'm fine, son. I hope you are well, too," Higgins said.
"I am, sir. Thank you," Terrace said, "I was told that there is something important. And that something is important enough to pull me away from my current duties?"
"Yes, Lieutenant. Correct me, were you part of the team that recovered the data devices?"
"Yes, sir. I was,"
"And I understand that you then became part of the team that analyzed the contents of the data device?"
"That is correct, sir,"
"Then, you will understand what I will be asking for you next," Higgins said.
Terrace was a bit bewildered, so he looked at Colonel Sparks, who simply smiled at Terrace's reaction.
"We're going, Oz," Sparks said with a hint of excitement in his voice.
Terrace could only smile, and then he had a feeling that we going to be part of something more significant that he could ever imagine.