Thursday, July 27, 2017

Birthday - Part 6

    The ride felt like an eternity. The dropship rocketed towards Charlie's last known coordinates with and the radio constantly chirped with sounds of combat and chaos broken only by the sporadic explosions of gunfire.
    "Get over here!"
    A minute in, the radio signal for Charlie went dark in a burst of static that petered out to a soft, unending hiss.
    Two minutes later, the dropship touched down and Coughlin with Alpha team in tow stepped down into a salty muck. It might have once been like the rest of the marsh, a serene pool of sea water and mangrove trees, but not anymore.
    They were standing in waist deep water filled with churning mud and far too much blood.
    Bravo arrived seconds later, slipping through a small thicket of trees a dozen yards away.
    "What've we got?" Kuroba whispered quietly as his squad rejoined theirs.
    Coughlin looked around and considered.
    The marsh was an absolute mess. Along with the churning stew of mud and blood, the surrounding area had been torn apart. Piles of trees and foliage had been blown apart by small arms fire or torn apart by some unknown force. There were massive, gaping holes carved out of what little solid ground there was and those were quickly filling in with sea water. Chunks of flesh and viscera were thrown this way and that but there were no obvious bodies from either sat of combatants.
    And, probably about fifty yards away, there raised a wide cave opening jutting only barely out of a patch of solid ground. The sight of it made Coughlin think of a giant, gaping mouth.
    "Well," she began, "at the very least we should be in the right spot. We've got Quinn's cave he mentioned over there."
    She nodded towards the gaping maw set into the ground.
    "As for what happened: based on what I heard and what I'm seeing, it looks like these things pulled their way out of the ground." she continued, motioning towards the quickly filling sinkholes. "After that though..."
    The two fireteams watched her expectantly. All except for Dixon. He had his rifle butt to his shoulder and was slowly scanning the area, his eye to the scope.
    Coughlin appreciated it.
    "Alright, we can't presume anything, but dirty guess is that with these things coming out of the ground, maybe they're a fan of being under it. Everyone fan out, see what you can find, and then we're going to check out that cave. I'm not seeing any bodies so maybe our boys are just down there waiting for the cavalry to roll in."
    "Sir." a few of them responded sharply.
    Eight of the soldiers fanned out in different directions, their eyes downward as they searched the ground and the muck to try and find any signs of what they were facing. All except Dixon. He remained planted in place, slowly turning this way and that like he were some kind of automated turret.
    Again, Coughlin was alright with it.
    It didn't take the soldiers very long to find something though.
    As it turned out, the reason that there were no obvious bodies had more to do with the nature of their environment then anything else.
    "Got something." Brick called.
    The massive man, waist deep in the marsh, strained as he grabbed something beneath the water. His face turned red and he snarled as he moved slowly towards the gathering marines. With a huff and heave, he pulled out the largest, ugliest son of a bitch Coughlin had ever laid eyes on.
    "Jesus christ!" Ludwig exclaimed.
    The monster was large. Even without pulling it completely out of the water, they could tell it could probably take on a Land-Master rover head-on and win. The ugly bastard was covered in natural, chitinous armor with a huge mouthful of teeth. Further inspection revealed large scythe like limbs and a lower torso that reminded Coughlin of the old stories of centaurs.
    Despite its ferocious appearance, the thing was riddling with holes. Charlie wasn't caught with their pants down.
    Dixon gave it a half an eye before focusing back on his scope. 
    "Least we know what we're looking for." he said quietly. "But if you like that, you're gonna love this one."
    Coughlin glanced at Dixon and followed his line of sight and gasped in surprise that they had missed it.
    There, mostly buried in a downed thicket of trees, was another corpse. However unlike the huge creature before them, this one was notably smaller and disturbingly human in appearance. While still monstrous in nature and covered in sharp edges and armor, there was no doubt that this was a humanoid.
    "That one's different." Dixon observed.
    "No shit." Coughlin agreed. "Alright, I want one more sweep before we hit the cave. Anything else, shout out; but more importantly I wanna make sure we're not following ghosts into the dark."
    There was a grim nod. They knew what she meant. If Charlie team was dead and submerged in water like the big thing was, they'd rather not be going into the cave to rescue those that didn't need rescuing.
    If Charlie was dead, Coughlin would have no apprehension to calling in some bigger guns to clear the tunnels.
    The squad spent another few minutes searching, but didn't find anything substantial. Plenty of blood and one more of the dead humanoid monsters in one of the gaping holes, but no bodies from her squad.
    Charlie was still alive.
    And, as they made their way into the gaping maw of the cave system and stepped into the water in the humid, dark rock tunnel, that was the driving thought that pushed Coughlin forward.
    Charlie was still alive.
    And she'll be damned if she wasn't going to save them.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Birthday - Part 5

    The dropship tore over the fog-shrouded wetlands. The twin engines roared loudly and scattered small creatures from their hideaways; their departure illuminated by the powerful floodlights that sliced through the darkness.
    The ship had stealth options, of course. A means of making them run quieter in exchange for minor loss in capabilities. But Coughlin had no interest in that now.
    If she could scare her quarry into the open, whatever the organism was, it would make it all the more easier to deal with it. Blowing something away from the sky while it was out in the open would be much easier than trying to stalk it through the salt marshes.
    "Anything yet?" she asked.
    "Nothing." Bullock confirmed.
    The five of them all had their eyes glued to their respective monitors. Video feeds from the hull cameras showed the darkened landscape lit up by the floodlights as water and trees rushed by. They could see lizards large and small as well as jakdus, the strange deerlike creature that inhabited the small continent, but nothing else showed its face.
    Nothing that appeared particularly dangerous and definitely nothing they didn't immediately recognize.
    "It'd be nice if we knew what we were looking for." Greer commented.
    "But ve wouldn't be marines then. Ve'd be qualified exterminators." Mikhailov remarked as she flipped through the cameras.
    They all chuckled a little bit at that but said nothing further. After another extended period of staring at the landscape rolling by, a tone chirped in her headset.
    "Talk to me."
    "We're approaching Calenburg again, sir." the pilot reported.
    She stared down at the screen. It was the fifth time they'd approached the little town and so far their patrols had been totally fruitless.
    "Alright. We're going to be making one more round and then rejoin Bravo and Charlie."
    "Yes, sir."
    Coughlin closed the channel and scanned the monitors again. She tapped the mic again.
    "Bravo. How are you guys looking?"
    "Quiet so far." Kuroba answered shortly, the sound of sloshing in the background and someone, probably Ludwig, speaking indistinctly.
    "Not sure, Staff Sergeant" Quinn said. "Found some tracks. Might be nothing, some kind of large pachyderm maybe, but we've got a bit of blood too so we're going to check it out."
    "Yea. We think it is blood anyway. Seems to lead to some sort of low cave structure in the marshes. We'll keep you in the loop."
    "Be careful, Quinn. And keep us informed if you find anything."
    "Yes, sir." 
    The mic went dead and Coughlin felt the dropship lurching to the side as they made their pass over the town. That was when Bullock spoke up.
    "Hey Mik, have you looked at Calenburg the last couple passes."
    "Da. Why?"
    Bullock remained silent, seemingly staring hard at his screen.
    "I'm not sure." he finally said.
    Mikhailov glanced at Brick and Greer who both shrugged. But Coughlin was the one to ask the question.
    "Sergeant." she said flatly; her request for more obvious in her tone.
    "I'm not sure, sir." he said again, answering the unasked query. "It might be nothing, it just seems like something's weird."
    "Care to elaborate?"
    "Can't, sir. Something's grabbing me about the images and I'm not sure why."
    Coughlin gave him the stink eye but said nothing further. Instead, she deactivated the live monitoring and started rolling through the recorded vids from their passes over the town. It was pretty easy to find their Calenburg passes just by how well lit the video was compared to the rest of the dingy media.
    She cued it up and watched it carefully.
    The first video didn't seem that interesting. Just the town. Bright lights, plastisteel buildings, civilian vehicles...
    Nothing outstanding.
    The second video was very much the same.
    So was the third.
    Actually, it was exactly the same.
    "Nothing's moving?"
    "Yea." Bullock confirmed. "That's definitely it. I knew I noticed something but I couldn't put my finger on it."
    "At the very least on this side of the town." Mikhailov added.
    "Small town. Quiet night." Brick suggested.
    Coughlin studied the monitor. There was logic to the statement and with a town of only ten thousand or so, one couldn't expect a lot of nighttime activity. This wasn't some dense urban area and it wasn't uncouth to expect the majority of the population to be asleep at night.
    But at the same time...
    "No. Bullock's right. We don't know what we're dealing with and we don't take chances. We need to investigate any possible leads. We'll make one more sweep and then set down a~"
    The sound of Quinn's panicked voice exploded over her headset and she nearly jumped in surprise. She could hear the jackhammer sounds of pulse rifles rattling off over his yelling and could indistinctly pick up the other soldiers in the background.
    She slapped the mic in response.
    "Quinn? What the hell is happening?"
    "They're coming out of the swamp!" he screamed, barely audible over the crashing roar of gunfire. "There! And there! GORMAN! Behind you!"
    Another explosion of gunfire.
    "Quinn? Corporal?"
    More static broken by screams and gunfire.
    "ZZZT~ Hands are full right now, Sarge!" was his only response before the line went dead.
    "Bravo?" Coughlin demanded quickly.
    "I heard it." Kuroba confirmed over the radio. "We're zeroing in on their location now. Sending the coordinates back your way. We should be to Charlie in five minutes."
    "Make it two. We're en route."
    A moment later, Coughlin felt the ship shudder as the afterburners kicked in and she sunk back into the seat as the dropship. They tore away from the silent town, the question of why it was so motionless slipping from her mind as she steeled herself from the coming combat.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Birthday - Part 4

    A short fifty three minutes later, the dropship touched down hard.
    Simultaneously, thirteen flight harnesses disengaged and men and women whose sole purpose in life was dispatch violence exploded from the rear hatch of the ship. Fire in the bellies and rifles in their hands.
    Fireteam Alpha was first.
    They moved with purpose and conviction. Every step was calculated and four sets of eyes scanned their surroundings as efficiently as any radar could hope to achieve. Bullock and Greer, both armed with their pulse rifles, stayed glued to "Brick" and Mikhailov. Mikhailov brandished a heavy, articulated gauss cannon while "Brick" swept the area with a heavy set, grenade launcher; both of them ready to dispense death to anything that threatened them or the dropship.
    But their reign was not challenged.
    Moments later, the next two fireteams, Bravo and Charlie, emerged from the belly of the dropship. They moved to the left and right of Alpha team, with Staff Sergeant Coughlin taking up a position in the middle of all three.
    But still nothing moved.
    And for that, Coughlin let out a small sigh of relief.
    Having the members of her squad around her was comforting. She wouldn't trade any one of them for a million recruits fresh out of boot. They were her armor and her weapons; her very extension of self. She knew they'd give their lives just as soon as she'd give hers to save them all and she could trust any of them to cover her back just as well as she could cover her own.
    Luckily, there didn't seem to be a need.
    The swampy area where they stood was less than appealing, but given the mention of "dangerous organisms" it was hard not to imagine hulking monsters emerging from the darkness as they landed. Instead, they were greeted by a gentle, almost serene night-time landscape.
    The dropship had touched down on a large, dry area in the swamp that may very well have been some form of atoll. Surrounded by thickets of mangrove trees that jutted out of great pools and lagoons of sea water, her mind wandered briefly to the time she'd visited a similar salt-water swamp on Earth to see the sharks and rays that lived among roots of the strange trees.
    Absently, Coughlin wondered if these pools held similar beasts as the lemon sharks back home.
    She quickly perished the thought; focusing instead on the small lifeboat that was settled quietly in waist deep water a hundred meters away. It nearly blended into the background, shrouded by a thick fog and the heavy darkness provided by the mangrove trees, but the hard metal was difficult to miss once she focused on it.
    Without a word, Coughlin pointed at the ship and all three fireteams moved through the murky surroundings with surprising silence given the wet environment. They formed up around the ship in a triangle that encompassed the little ship.
    "Alpha team." she whispered into the mic. "You're on breaching duty. If it's closed, we don't want anything nasty waiting for us inside."
    "Won't be necessary, sir."
    A moment later, she saw why.
    From their initial landing position, the little lifeboat appeared fine. Unpowered and dark, but no worse for wear short of sitting in a shallow pool of salt water.
    The rear end was another matter.
    The entire rear of the little ship where the rear-hatch should have been was demolished. The metal had been pushed and shredded outwards as if there had been some sort of explosion.
    No. Not an explosion. The edges were too ragged. Too uneven and twisted. And there were bits of flesh and gore splattered across the broken edges of the bent metal.
    "Looks like something ripped its way out." Greer commented; reflecting her own thought process.
    The question was: was it still somewhere inside?
    The ship was by no means large and it was obvious that something had come OUT of the ship, but that didn't mean that it didn't find the ship's interior more suitable than the surrounding swamps. Underestimating whatever these things were could get them all killed.
    For all she knew, it had stepped out, changed its mind, and was hiding just inside the darkness of the downed lifeboat waiting for an unsuspecting marine to bumble their way in.
    "Bravo and Charlie, secure the ramp. Alpha, clear the ship."
    Again, the groups moved seamlessly. Bravo and Charlie appeared on either side of Coughlin at the bottom of the ramp as Alpha moved deliberately up towards the shredded hole in the ship's rear. Four chest-lamps ignited the dark interior and the blood streaked walls and seats. However, with the exception of surprising amount of dried blood and some serious structural damage, the lifeboat was empty.
    There weren't even bodies.
    "Empty, Staff Sergeant." Bullock confirmed.
    "Whatever party happened here, we missed it." Brick agreed.
    "B'ylad'..." Mikhailov muttered just loud enough for her mic to pick up.
    Coughlin glanced around, taking in her surroundings once more. The deep, penetrating darkness of the forested night. The thick, winding trunks of the mangrove trees. The heavy fog. The salt water.
    All the hiding places.
    And then, as she stared, she saw a glow. It was hard to see through the fog, but against the dark backdrop, she could make out the faint lights from the nearby town.
    Could whatever this creature have been seen those lights and moved towards it? Would it have been attracted to civilization? Or would it have sensed the light and, like a beast fleeing from fire, turned and gone the other way?
    Coughlin looked over her should in the opposite direction. Another thicket of mangrove trees and probably even deeper salt water marshes lay there.
    She really wished she knew what this organism was.
    "Alright guys, let's find this son of a bitch. Calenburg is just a little over a couple miles from here. Myself and Alpha team will take the dropship and skim the area between here and there to see what we can find. In the meantime, Bravo and Charlie, you're to sweep this area for anything that might point us in the right direction."
    "What exactly are we looking for, Staff Sergeant?" Kuroba asked cautiously.
    "Something big, ugly, and mean enough that the brass don't want to tell us what it is."
    A few brows arched as she and Alpha made their way away from the ruined lifeboat and back towards the dropship.
    "And if we find it?" Dixon chimed in.
    "You do what marines do best, Specialist."
    "Ooo-rah." he mouthed with a smirk.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A List and a Name

Hello, Lovelies!

After posting 'Birthday - Part 3' yesterday and making a comment about creating a list of the soldiers in the squad, I had a friend of mine ask a very direct yet amusing question. To quote: "How many f***ing characters do you have in that story?" This gave me a good laugh but I figured it would also be worth it to provide an accurate answer.

With that said, the squad is just that, a military squad consisting of one squad lead and three fireteams. Each fireteam consists of four people that therein contains a lead, a rifleman, an automatic rifleman, and a specialist. This equates to a grand total of thirteen people who I'm attempting to give snippets of their personality given the short-story medium while still focusing appropriately on the tale.

Without further ado, here's the breakdown:

Squad Lead
 - SSGT Rebecca Coughlin

Fireteam Alpha
 - Lead
     o SGT Alfred Bullock
 - Rifleman
     o PVT Katelin Greer
 - Automatic Rifleman
     o PVT Darya Mikhailov
 - Grenadier
     o SPC Jack "Brick" Warfield

Fireteam Bravo
 - Lead
     o SGT Akihiro Kuroba
 - Rifleman
     o PVT Carter Ludwig
 - Automatic Rifleman
     o PVT Elena Cooper
 - Designated Marksman
     o SPC Adewale Dixon

Fireteam Charlie
 - Lead
     o CPL Jeremy Quinn
 - Rifleman
     o PVT Vicente Nunez
 - Automatic Rifleman
     o PVT Henry Gorman
 - Medic
     o SPC Mei Xi

Hopefully this gives you insight into who is who along with the hows and whats.

Now that we've shared that, I wanted to turn a question around to you. I blasted this out on Twitter a little bit ago, but didn't really get a response so I thought I'd ask again where my real commenters tend to be.

Obviously, we've been referring to the past few short stories as all being part of the 'Lost' universe; so named because of the first story 'Lost'. While that was not what it was meant to be called, that's definitely been the working title for a couple weeks now. I don't really feel like it's a good name overall, particularly given the presence of the 'Lost' TV show, so I've been debating a couple of other options. There are three names I'm debating on for the collection of short stories.


What do you think? Do any of these grab you? Personally, I'm thinking 'Infested' might be my favorite, but figured I'd blast it out for consideration.

As always, I hope you have a wonderful day. Thanks for joining me.

- RB

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Birthday - Part 3

Film/Image Credit goes to 'Roughnecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles'

    Ten minutes later, they were in the air and hurtling at top speed towards that upper atmosphere.
    The sensation of intraplanetary travel always made Coughlin's guts clench.
    Everyone was strapped in to their seats and they were traveling at a hard 40 degree angle as the dropship rocketed upwards. Ignoring the concept of 'the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line', the path was designed to create a great bell curve that went up and came back down over the small continent known as Han'ei. It cut travel time down by ninety percent and turned what could be a twelve hour flight into a one hour one.
    In exchange, they got to be plastered into their seats in the equivalent of being strapped to an intercontinental missile.
    They got used to it however.
    All around her, Coughlin's squad was busy preparing.
    Most everyone seemed to be doing something. A lot of it was little more than pre-game ritual. Afterall, a lot of the combat gear had been double checked before they even dispatched to the training ground for just such a potentiality. Even then, the team had immediately started field checking the equipment while they'd waited for the dropship.
    Now it was little more than nervous habits.
    "Brick", as everyone referred to Specialist Warfield from Bullocks' team, was counting out boom-tube grenades and muttering to himself. Next to him, Bullock's Rifleman Private Greer was quietly running her combat knife along a whetstone. Across the hall, Specialist Xi was rummaging through her medic's bag.
    Technically all of it was against safety protocol, but Coughlin trusted them enough to not give them shit about it.
    Most of them chattered with each other or went about reading the mission debrief. A few others, namely Specialist Dixon and Private Gorman, had simply laid their heads back against the chairs and passed out due to not having anything to occupy their minds.
    Coughlin, on the other hand, read.
    According to the dossier on the dimly lit screen, they were on their way to the eastern coast of Han'ei where a life pod struck surface a few hours ago. It was one of roughly a dozen ships that came down across the planet. While there was no response to initial hailing, automatic metadata claimed the ship had been dispatched from a science mega-cruiser owned by the Notori Corporation called the 'Icarus'.
    Coughlin couldn't help but scoff at that name. Bad luck to name a ship that.
    She kept reading.
    The metadata also confirmed that some catastrophic event had occurred on board the Icarus of a 'Code 25436'; a proprietary company code that meant nothing to her. This led to an involuntary evacuation of all crew members. After traveling for over a month, it landed on autopilot just outside the coastal town of 'Calenburg'.
    Her squad was to secure the ship, provide aid as necessary, and take any survivors to the closest base for medical care, debriefing, and relocation services.
    In short, it was a cake walk.
    "Yo Staff Sergeant." Private Nunez called. "What's the sitrep?"
    "You didn't hear?" Cooper interjected quickly. "Your mother stopped by. We need full deployment just to move her fat ass."
    A couple of the squad chuckled but Private Greer leaned forward, her features stone in the red light of the dropship.
    "Seriously, Sarge." she said, being one of the only ones that didn't call her by her full title. "What's the deal?"
    Cooper looked like he was about to say something else, but Greer glanced over at Private Mikhailov who promptly placed a hand over his mouth. He didn't fight back; it was all in good fun after all.
    Also, Mikhailov had already proven she had no problem in knocking the wind out of him for being a smart ass.
    "Looks like we're touching down about twenty clicks outside of a little coast town on the small continent. Standard rescue op. Pick up some civvies for a life raft, get em back for cocoa, call it a night."
    Greer shrugged a little, but Bullock, sitting next to the Rifleman, narrowed his eyes a little as if judging Coughlin.
    "You sure about that, Staff Sergeant?"
    "Why wouldn't I be sure?"
    He gave her that same questioning look and it was then that she noticed he had a screen pulled up as well. She reviewed the document before her again but saw nothing to the contrary.
    There was a flashing circular arrow in the very bottom right of the screen.
    She updated the document and, lo and behold, there was more information then when the flight began. Except now, the bottom text was bright red and highlighted.



    Coughlin's eyes widened at that last part.
    She had certainly been on confidential missions before. It was nothing really new for most people in the military and sometimes you were exposed to weird or different shit that wasn't even supposed to exist.
    But she couldn't think of anytime she'd ever seen a document refer to field executions.
    She glanced up wearily at Bullock and could tell he was stonefaced, his focus on the ill-begotten document that he wasn't supposed to be reading. The soldiers all got watered down versions of her own dossier, but Bullock's technical aptitude tended to let him 'look over her shoulder' so to speak in exchange that he got to act as second in command and know that, if he ever shared unnecessary secrets, she'd castrate him with a rusty bayonet.
    She went back to the update.


    Coughlin let out a long sigh.
    "Well this is gonna be fun." she said flatly as she felt the nose of the ship dip forward into descent back towards the planet's surface.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Birthday - Part 2

Film/Image credit to 'Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow'

    "Nice shot." Coughlin complimented Dixon. "Hurts like a fuckin' bitch."
    Dixon chuckled and took her hand, pulling her to her feet.
    "Just lucky, Staff Sergeant."
    "How modest." She said, wiping off her uniform. "But before you let your ego inflate however, care to explain why the fuck you were away from your fireteam?"
    "I wanted to make sure my target was eliminated." he responded calmly.
    Coughlin's eyes narrowed.
    "In exchange for their lives? You understand all three were taken out before you 'eliminated your target' right?"
    Dixon shrugged but she could see a tightening in his expression that suggested she was getting to him. No sane soldier wished his squad dead even if they considered them to be extra baggage.
    His lips curled back into a smirk as he tried to rebuild his armor.
    "It's not a real op. And I think you're just mad I got you this time."
    She grabbed him by the front of the armor and pulled him so close she could smell the S.O.S on his breath from mess.
    "Get this through your thick fucking head, soldier. You are part of a fireteam. You are not team lead. You are part of my squad. You are not squad leader. You're a damn good marksman but if keep up with this horseshit the only thing you'll be in the brig for insubordination."
    "This isn't boot camp, you little shit." she continued, yanking him hard again. "I'm not going to threaten to make you clean the latrine with your tongue or some outlandish crap like that. If your cowboy bullshit gets one of my soldiers killed, I will bust you down myself and you won't see anything but the inside of a hard-work camp til hell freezes over. Get me?"
    His expression hardened and his smirk faded.
    "Sir." he responded sharply.
    "Good. Now I'm going to say it again. Do you get me?"
    "Sir. Yes, sir."
    She smiled at the man's submission and backed off. Looking around, she realized the entire squad was standing nearby, watching the interaction. All eleven other soldiers remained silent but attentive to the ass chewing.
    Sensing the tension, she decided to use it.
    "The same goes for the rest of you." she said loud enough for everyone to hear plainly.
    Several of the men and women grimaced.
    "You're the best goddamn unit the Corps has ever seen. A group of one hundred percent human badasses made with one purpose. To Kick. Ass. But if you're as sloppy as you were today, I'm going to be mailing flags back to your mamas with notes saying 'Dumbass couldn't figure out who her fireteam leader was', Xi or 'Decided to be a cowboy with another deadman', Ludwig."
    The group gave each other a few terse glances and Coughlin could tell be the flush red dominating Xi's cheeks that the comment had hit home.
    "Still...dumbasses that you all are, you're the best. And, as much as I might want to kick Dixon's ass for it..." she said, allowing herself a smile and smacking Dixon's armor playfully. "You did beat me."
    The group chuckled softly and let out a few small whoops.
    "That means you're buying the beer, right?" Kuroba yelled playfully.
    "Man, it's her birthday!" shouted Bullock. "Y'all should be buying her a beer."
    Coughlin laughed again as the group converged together, no longer a competing set of teams but as a single unit. A single body of brothers and sisters acting together in perfect unison.
    Well, almost perfect.
    "Tell you what Kuroba: I'll buy you all a beer but you get to buy my beers."
    "Don't do it Sarge!" Dixon shouted at his fireteam leader. "Don't forget what happened on Christmas."
    "I'm pretty sure that's above your paygrade." Quinn agreed.
    The squad all laughed together and started to make their way through the dingy, abandoned alleyways they had used for training and back towards the APC.
    "How about this:" Kuroba offered. "Can I waive the alcohol-fee in exchange for a cake?"
    "Depends." Coughlin commented. "Where'd you get a cake?"
    "Don't ask. Don't tell." Cooper said with a smirk and a wink.
    The group burst into laughter again as they exited the alley and found themselves in the large open field outside of the training facility. The large, boxy APC was parked right where they left it, encased by a shroud of heavy fog that drifted through the darkness.
    But there was something else.
    Two, heavy duty spotlights shone down from a dropship as it tore across the open field towards the training facility. It was moving at a steady click low to the ground. The beams sliced through the darkness as it sped towards them.
    "The hell is that?" Dixon asked with a suspicious tone.
    "Ain't no other teams out tonight, are there?" Bullock asked.
    Seemingly in response, Coughlin's mic buzzed in her ear. She tapped it and the gravely voice of Lieutenant Freeport growled in her ear.
    "Staff Sergeant Coughlin?"
    "Sir." she confirmed.
    "I know your squad just got done with a training op, but I'm sending a dropship your way to pick you all up. There's an op I need you for on the east coast of the small continent."
    Quinn grimaced, listening in on the conversation, but said nothing.
    "Sir, is there a reason one of the other squads is unavailable?"
    "All squads are in deployment and we needs yours too. We've had a number of lifeboats crash land on the planet and we need immediate response to save as many lives as we can."
    Coughlin let out a long, controlled sigh but quickly said, "I understand, Sir."
    "SitRep will be on the dropship. Over and out."
    Short and sweet. she thought to herself.
    The squad looked at her expectantly, but they all knew what was coming. They didn't know where they were going or why they were going, but they knew based on what they had heard that they weren't getting back to base right away.
    "So, you think dragging us on an Op is going to get you out of your beer duties, Staff Sergeant?" Kuroba asked playfully, trying to lighten the quickly tensing mood.
    "Yea, probably. But you still owe me cake when we get back."

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Birthday - Part 1

    With a scream, Ludwig' legs gave out from beneath him and dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
    His arms were locked and his jaw was spasming against the electric current that was arcing through his body, setting his nerves on fire. However, the pain wasn't severe, just restrictive.
    Ludwig's scream was more of defiance than anything else.
    Staff Sergeant Coughlin smirked and gave the downed private a swift kick in the ass. Not hard, but enough to get his attention through the haze of the zapper.
    "What the hell did I tell you about checking your corners?" she said with a disciplinary tone. "That's the third time this month."
    Ludwig growled in response, but given his locked jaw, she doubted he'd be able to say anything intelligible.
    She moved on.
    Coughlin crossed an alley and ducked under an over hang. She could hear the patrol moving slowly and carefully. That was good. But it did annoy her that she could hear them at all. She'd have to chew them out for that.
    Slithering under the low cover of old supply crates, she creeped to the edge and saw an entire fireteam.
    Gorman, Xi, Nunez, and Quinn were all in the alley not twenty meters away. Quinn and Xi were quietly bickering over something...that was hardly new. Corporal Quinn was fireteam leader, but that didn't stop Xi from trying to interject her will and be an all around pain in the ass.
    The flip side was that Gorman and Nunez were waiting quietly, guns trained on the empty alley. Their eyes were scanning the gloomy fog like hungry raptors.
    But the bitching had them distracted.
    She'd have to talk to them about that too.
    Pulling the shock grenade, she yanked the pin hard, but held on to it. Cooking the fuse inside for an extra second or two. And, once she felt the timing was right, she slid the grenade along the wet stone floor right between the four of them.
    She was already disappearing into the darkness when Nunez frantically scream "GRENADE!"
    Of course, they didn't have time to react. The cooked grenade went off before they had so much as twitched.
    All four hit the ground with shouts of anger and shock promptly followed by the clatter of armor on stone.
    Coughlin was tempted to give them all a quick kick like she had with Ludwig, but restrained herself. There was still one man unaccounted for and she'll be damned if he wasn't the biggest threat.
    Sergeant Bullock's fireteam had been dealt with pretty easily, although they at least put up more of a fight than Corporal Quinn's had. They had been ready and focused and had gotten a few pot shots off before she zapped them.
    Kuroba's team on the other hand...
    She had found Kuroba and Cooper stalking the alleys with Cooper bitching about 'just letting them go'. After quickly disabling both of them, she realized that Ludwig and Dixon were unaccounted for.
    It wasn't the first time it had happened. Neither of them played well with others and Ludwig had been taken out just as easily as Kuroba, but Dixon was another story.
    Sliding from the cover, her eyes scanned the foggy rooftops.
    Nothing. Just darkness.
    For the first time in the drill, she felt her heart rate increase. Her squad was good and they all knew the reason she put them through these exercises was to make them even better. No. To make them the best. But there was something about Dixon that always stood out.
    Something predatory.
    Something frightening.
    The Designated Marksman had risen through the ranks faster than any other soldier she had commanded. He'd been put through sniper school immediately after boot due to his aptitude and passed with colors not shortly after. While he'd been on his own sniper team, he'd been busted down and reassigned to Coughlin for 'classified reasons'. She'd raised holy hell about not being told why, but was still quickly satisfied with the results he provided.
    Coughlin glanced down on the readout for her zapper-rifle, confirmed, and started slowly moving through the alleys; keeping to as much cover as she could find.
    The man was a hunter through and through. While he had a bad tendency of breaking off from his fireteam, often with Ludwig going along to act as his unofficial spotter, she couldn't argue with the results. Honestly, they were a little scary sometimes.
    But he got the job done.
    And so, for the sixth time in the last second, her eyes scanned the rooftops and the windows.
    Little did she know that her own knowledge of the DM was working against her. She was so focused above that she failed to think of her own trick being used against her. Down the alley, a good fifty meters out, a single rifle barrel was extended through a large pile of garbage.
    She'd passed by it earlier, literally meters away, when she'd felled Ludwig.
    He just hadn't been ready to strike yet.
    And so, as she stalked, and as she hunted, Dixon held the rifle steady. He had walls on all sides, appropriate camouflage, and, in this environment, only a single target.
    He squeezed the second trigger.
    Coughlin only saw the glint of the barrel a split second before the gunshot.
    She hit the ground screaming in fury as the electricity arced through her body.
    A few moments later, her nerves shot and her body smoking, the dark-skinned sniper appeared over her; his rifle slung over his shoulder, his eyes malicious.
    "Happy Birthday, Staff Sergeant." Dixon said condescendingly with an outstretched hand to help her up.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Survivors - Final Part

    Dr. Patang and Cisneros both jumped back as the mass of darkness split into two chitinous forms. They slammed hard against the triple-state glass and it squeaked as clawed talons raked the slick surface.
    Dr. Connel laughed.
    The two creatures trying with subdued fervor to escape the operating theater were about two meters tall, with the creature on the right being the smaller of the two. They resembled bipedal versions of the huge monster in the front viewing area.
    However, Cisneros thought they were far more disturbing.
    The pair were both covered in hard, insect-like armor in a number of places; particularly along the arms, legs, and torso. Hands, eerily human, were long and gangly; tipped with several inch talons that looked like they could tear through a military hardskin as effectively as a housecat could shred a tissue. Their flesh was thick and leathery, mottled with bleeding sores; oozing holes that didn't appear to be injuries as much as part of some horrific design.
    But the worst were their faces.
    The gaping mouths filled with jagged, needle-like teeth were bad enough. They reminded Cisneros of some demented cross between an Anglerfish and a Great White Shark. However it was the beady, human eyes their stared back at him that chilled his blood.
    The larger creature on the left had soulless, black eyes that looked more like obsidian orbs than eyes. But the smaller one on the right had brilliant blue irises that reminded him of his wife's back home.
    "Well that was unexpected." Cisneros commented as he attempted to regain his composure.
    "They do that." Dr. Connel said off-handedly. "Tried a hell of a lot harder for the first hour or so. I think they're smart enough to realize that they were trying in vain."
    Cisneros chuckled at her cockiness.
    It was comforting.
    "So what am I looking at Doctor?"
    "Assistant Director, allow me to introduce Adam..." she said, motioning to the larger beast on the left. "And Eve."
    Stepping forward, Dr. Connel examined the beasts closer and started to notice more differences than just their eyes.
    'Adam' as Dr. Connel called him, was completely nude though he was reassured to find that the human similarities stopped at genitalia. Additionally the creature seemed heavier set, with more armor and hard edges than its compatriot, and seemed to have some sort of clawed tentacles that were tucked away behind him, sprouting from its back.
    'Eve', on the other hand, seemed to be wearing the shredded remains of a lab coat and pants. The remains hung loosely in random patches of torn fabric. Its form seemed more leathery and less armored and definitely had more of a human appearance than its partner's.
    A name tag hung on its breast but the name had been obscured by a large spray of gore.
    "And here I would have thought biblical names would be in poor taste." Cisneros said with a sideways glance before trying again identify the name beneath the blood.
    "It seemed appropriate, although it was arguably done backwards."
    "Eve was the first, uh, created."
    "One of your peers?" Cisneros asked in a detached tone despite the fact it made his stomach churn.
    "Correct. She was the unfortunate one to discover the effects of blood exposure."
    Dr. Patang made a gagged sound behind them and both turned to look at him.
    "Wait a minute. I-Is that...Sasha?" he asked.
    Dr. Connel gave a curt nod and Cisneros had to admire her cold professionalism. He would have at least reacted but she seemed unfazed.
    "Unfortunately, Dr. Garcia fell ill after you last saw her." she said softly before turning away.
    Dr. Patang stifled a sob and Cisneros could see the tears welling around his eyes. He was clearly biting his lips but said nothing more. Dr. Connel was already focused on the holding cell again.
    Cold and professional. Cisneros thought again.
    "Adam, came later." she said, redirecting the conversation.
    "Another scientist?" he asked, making an edge of annoyance clear in his voice.
    More dead meant more paperwork and he wasn't in the mood for his head researcher to be sloppy.
    "Better. He was grown."
    There was a bang from behind and Cisneros realized that Dr. Patang had left, slamming the door behind him. He was stalking away openly sobbing.
    "Don't mind him." Dr. Connel said shortly. "But yes. Grown."
    "From what?"
    "The larvae. As I mentioned earlier."
    Cisneros stared wearily at the hulking 'Adam' and felt his nerves fraying.
    "I really don't have time and patience for your games, Samantha." he said, putting on his best, managerial tone.
    Dr. Connel's eyes narrowed, but despite their history, she knew it was better not to mouth off when Cisneros pulled rank.
    "In that case, Assistant Director, allow me to show you to the Hatchery."
    Cisneros again glanced at what the doctor had identified as 'The Nest' and then back at Dr. Connel in confusion.
    "After Adam, we realized it would be a bad idea to keep the eggs in the nest."
    "Then lead on, Doctor."
    And Dr. Connel lead them out of the operating theater to a nearby security door; leaving Adam and Eve still softly clawing at the impenetrable glass. The dried blood chipping just enough to reveal "S. Ramirez" on the smaller monster's nametag before it clattered to the floor and was subsequently consumed by the throbbing, pulsing alien matter that covered almost every surface of the room.
    "Do we have a name for these things yet, Dr. Connel?"
    "Well, nothing official yet, but a few of the scientists of taken to calling them furamorphs. Poetic idiots, that they are."
    "It's old Latin. Translates roughly to 'Stolen Form."

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Fourth of July

Hello Lovelies,

I'm glad you all enjoyed Survivors - Part 3 yesterday. Today, I just want to take a moment and wish everyone a very Happy Fourth of July.

I know not all of my readers are American and this day has more meaning to my side than yours, so I do apologize if this is a whole lot of nothing to you. Still, with everything that's been going on and with the raw turmoil that's boiling within this country, this day and the flag have taken on new meaning in light of the chaos.

So, for all of my fellow countrymen, I do hope you enjoy your day. I hope things improve and I hope that we don't descend into that which our rhetoric is threatening. I don't necessarily know you or know what your beliefs, but I know that you and I are both American and that's enough for me.

I hope you all have a very Happy Fourth of July. I hope it's safe and wonderful and you enjoy it in any way that you desire.

Have a wonderful day.

- RB

Monday, July 3, 2017

Survivors - Part 3

    Dr. Connel led Cisneros and Dr. Patang through the door and into the lab.
    The first thing that Cisneros noticed was the smell.
    Despite the heavy presence of anti-septic and bleach in the air, the stench was overpowering. It reminded him of wood-rot and rotten eggs somehow blended together into something worse; a very earthy that stuck to the back of his throat and seemed to slide down and make him want to gag. His stomach lurched and rolled a moment later.
    It clearly was showing on his face.
    "Well that's...uhhh..."
    "Yea. Smells like shit doesn't it?"
    "I think shit is more appealing."
    "Doctor, where did that smell come from?" Dr. Patang, an equal look of disgust twisting his features. "I know it wasn't here when I left to retrieve the Assistant Director."
    "Well, that's what happens when you're gone for so long."
    Cisneros glanced at Dr. Patang who was quickly turning a deep shade of crimson. The man looked even more fidgety and uncomfortable than before. He had to idly wonder if Dr. Patang wasn't just a brown noser for executives, but for literally anyone higher than him. It sure did seem like he didn't have a spine.
    "Either way, you'll find out shortly." Dr. Connel continued. "Let me show you what I was talking about."
    She motioned down a long hall set up with a number of observation areas on either side. One side was dominated by the massive monster they had seen earlier. The opposite side had more windows and more monsters.
    All of the ones on the left seemed notably smaller than the first creature. Bipedal by nature but just as hideous.
    And everywhere, in almost every room, men and women in full hazmat suits worked diligently.
    Cisneros kept walking.
    "Doctor Connel..." Dr. Patang began.
    "I'll explain what you're seeing better once I've shown you their larval and nesting stages first. It'll make more sense starting from bottom to top versus the other way around."
    Patang quickly grew quiet again, but Cisneros was not so easily subdued.
    "They have multiple life cycles then?" he asked pointedly with a tone that told her he was not to be pushed around like Patang.
    "Yes. We initially thought of their life cycles almost like the Spider Wasp from Earth, but quickly realized that comparison just wasn't accurate."
    As if on cue, they walked by an observation area that was darker than the others and immediately stood out. Cisneros stared at in in confusion for a split second before he realized that the walls, floors, and even the ceiling and lights were coated in viscera.
    "Not even a little accurate." Dr. Connel repeated as she followed their gaze around the bloodied room and quickly began walking again.
    "I'm sorry, but humor me. What's a Spider Wasp and how is their life cycle different?"
    "A Spider Wasp is an insectoid creature from Earth that immobilizes and lays eggs in the body of a spider; the most common being the tarantula." Dr. Patang quickly chimed in. "The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the paralyzed Tarantula."
    "Gruesome." Cisneros observed.
    "Very." Dr. Connel agreed. "But, while there are similarities, we were quickly shown that the analogy just wasn't close enough."
    "How so?"
    Dr. Connel didn't answer. Instead led them around a bend in the hall back towards another large operating theater labeled '2-D'. All the while, the stench grew worse and worse.
    For a brief moment, Cisneros believed that this room was similar to the one before. Covered in blood and bits, it had a similar darkened look to it as the overhead lights were mostly covered with gore. However, peering through the haze, he quickly realized this was very different then the remains of violence he'd seen before.
    For one, the walls were moving.
    A thick, viscous substance covered the walls, floors, and ceiling. It was intermingled with the viscera that he'd noted, but it was definitely different. It had a thick, fleshy appearance that made Cisneros feel like he was staring at the inside of an intestine.
    And somewhere in the darkness, he could see something moving.
    "God. Damn."
    "Right?" Dr. Connel asked rhetorically. "Took them a matter of hours to set this up. A few of the other nerds have nicknamed it 'The Nest'."
    Cisneros leaned against the glass.
    "What am I seeing here, Doctor?"
    "One of the organisms we brought aboard created this." she stated calmly. "It was one of two that were found alive. We put it in here and, a couple of hours later..."
    "What's all the gore? An accident?"
    "The creature."
    Cisneros looked at her sideways for a moment.
    "We reviewed the state of the creature when it entered. Other than being heavily sedated, it was also the most healthy. However, shortly after containment it collapsed and..." she grimaced. "...exploded. The larvae were birthed from there and, shortly after, the drones did the rest."
    He looked inside again and focused on the movement in the dark. He could barely make it out, but squinting he could see something that resembled a large and spindly Japanese Spider Crab. Long legs, big claws, and a hard, armored body.
    It was working on something unseen.
    "Where the hell'd the drone come from? That was inside the creature as well?" Dr. Patang demanded.
    "Not exactly. It was birthed from one of the larvae."
    "Start at the beginning, Doctor. Neither of us are following your train of thought."
    "Fine. Through a...well, let's say through an accident, we quickly found out that exposure to the creatures' blood has very unwanted infectious qualities. Even in death, the microscopic larva will bury into exposed flesh and start quickly having an effect on the patient's neural pathways."
    Cisneros arched a brow but said nothing. Something told him there was going to be a lot of paperwork he'd be dealing with in a week.
    "Most immediately, they feel hot. The exposure feels almost like a burning and, within minutes, the hosts, for lack of a better term, begin to feel like they are running an intense fever. Funny enough, their core body temperature doesn't raise until later." she observed off hand. "They then quickly develop hallucinations, relative insanity, and then catatonia."
    "From there, two alterations happen." she said, holding up two fingers. "One: the parasites begin to infect the host on a genetic level, changing the creature's very DNA. Two: newer, larger parasites begin to grow around and within the primary organs."
    "Once the genetic transformation is complete, the host has taken on a completely brand new form. Likewise, the secondary larvae have grown to about a half foot to a foot long. So far we've observed a half dozen or so within a fresh subject."
    "And this is when they pop?" Cisneros asked with a grimace.
    "Oh no, this is when they try to capture more hosts." Dr. Connel said with just a little bit too much enthusiasm. "We suspect that they don't 'pop', as you put it, unless they are exposed to an environment where a nest or hive is not readily available."
    Cisneros rolled the information around in his head before asking.
    "We're going to be having a long discussion about missing personnel later, aren't we?"
    He clicked his tongue in annoyance, but filed that away for further consideration.
    "So, just to confirm what you're saying: these things can infect another creature. I'm going to guess that includes humans based on what you just said. They then transform into something else. If they don't have a nest, one of them explodes and the larvae inside make one...meaning that literally any one of these things could make a nest?"
    "But it destroys the host in the process?"
    "So all you need is two to create an possibly infectious situation."
    Cisneros considered the math for a minute. He felt like he was missing something.
    "One could create the nest. But where would your theoretical monsters come from that would do the rest of the work? That would create drones and gather new hosts?"
    Dr. Connel smiled that same wicked smile as something hulking and monstrous emerged from the darkness.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Updates and Changes

Hello Lovelies,

It's no mystery that I've been missing in action for the last week. In short, the week has been absolute insanity. Aside from a few medical things that dominated my early week, anyone who happens to know that I live in Southern California might have realized a little of what we've been dealing with over here. If you don't, a couple of my favorite highlights are that California decided to just BE ON FIRE and we've had multiple fires raging out of control all around us. More than a few people have been sick from smoke inhalation and raining ash. Not only that, we're literally having planes fall from the sky. I ended up having a plane crash literally a couple hundred yards from where I work on Friday and making even more of a mess of an already out of control week. I'm just happy that, from the last time I checked, the pilot and passenger were okay.

So, with that silliness aside and with a sense of calm starting to settle on all of the above, I return fresh and ready to go.

But, for the changes, this silence made me realize a few things. First and foremost, I should probably utilize the tools that I have available more effectively. I realized that I have a social media platform that I originally utilized just to share blog posts. As such, it's gone largely ignored since I've started trying to pre-write and schedule different posts. That should change.

Moving forward, I intent to utilize our Facebook and Tumblr pages more effectively to create simple but regular posts. Maybe sharing content or minor thoughts or, and here's the important one, updates like this (instead of creating 'excuse' posts on the blog). In short, these will be light hearted content or links to other pages/content along with news updates. Additionally, since I've only just been informed of the fact that Twitter is the BIGGEST social media platform (I honestly thought it was Facebook), I've added a Twitter account to the mix. You can find it here (

As always, I intend to create and schedule more content so I have a buffer for failures like this. As always, I'm simply defeated by the raw facts of life as I try to juggle more than I can bite off and chew.

Is what it is.

However! I will be posting the next part of Survivors tomorrow. From there, we should return to our regular every-other-day schedule and get back on track. I thank you all for rolling with the punches and would like to encourage you to check out the three previously mentioned social media platforms in the mean time as I should start updating those shortly.

I hope you all have a wonderful day.

- RB