rating: +6+x

“Hey, get up.” Hollows pressed Haze’s shoulder gently with the buttstock of his DMR, he looked out the door for the team lead. Hollows was halfway dressed in his exo-armor system, dressed to the waist with the rest of the armor peeling off like an insect’s outer shell.

“Mhm. Gimme ten more…” Haze pulled the pillow over her head.

“I gave you twenty, if Jester sees me back in here he’s gonna beat the shit out of me, we’re stepping off an hour earlier than we expected, anyways.” Hollows peeked again uncomfortably out the door, Sanders passed by but nodded and said nothing, Hollows nodded back “C’mon, go take a shower and kit up, Gen-Two Force Insertion Marine Operations System.”

“The Cyan suits?” Haze groaned.

The Cyan suits were called that because they were essentially the Coalition’s ‘White suits’ (Generation Two TanGent Exoskeletal Combat Garments) retrofitted with ‘Blue Suit’ (Sub Aquatic Low Pressure Environment Suit) gear for quick transition from underwater movement to amphibious warfare. Strike Team 2595 didn’t mind having the suits, they just hated the name, it branded their unit as “The Cyan Rangers” (though with some respect) as a poor reference to the Power Rangers. Of course, none of the suits were actually colored blue, white, or cyan.

“Yup,” Hollows replied beginning to step out the room, he kept his eye on Haze before taking it off to look out the corridor of the submarine, deciding it was safe he finally exited.

Haze sighed and sat up, rubbing sand out the corner of her eyelids then finally got up, and headed through the hall to the shower room. She stripped, showered, and then grabbed the keycard out of a wet pile of clothes on the floor next to her and was blasted with hot air. She accessed the locker room with her keycard and fit on her skin tight combat bodysuit, before accessing the armory.

Stoner and Preacher were there, Preacher was just leaving, Stoner looked up, halfway through putting on his powered armor. “Oh, hiya. How’s the shoulder?”

“Hey. Better, thanks,” Haze replied. Stoner took a quarter minute before he broke off his gaze. Haze went back to the task at hand, accessing her own personal armory. Strike Team 2595 had their external armor systems painted in multicam camouflage, the popular camouflage pattern within special ops units. Solid black looked bad for daytime operations, Strike Team 2595 didn’t like solid colors. Haze fit on her armor, before looking at her reflection off her combat helmet Head’s Up Display, she ran her hand through the small amount of hair that was dignified to her. Which was understandable, there wasn’t much compromise between long hairstyles and kit. She fit it on, sliding her ballistic mask over the HUD, she tapped it twice and turned to Stoner, who was also just finishing up.

Stoner nodded, and walked over to the weapons rack. He grabbed a CCR4A1 smart-rifle, which was really just an M4 modified to shoot 5.56x45mm armor-piercing laser guided explosive ammunition, but PHYSICS loved naming things. After all they named the ‘Cyan’ suits. He tossed it roughly to Haze before grabbing his own XM25 CDTE off the rack.

“Christ, be gentle, yeah?” Haze insisted, sucking air through her teeth.

“Oh they don’t explode that close to I-F-F range.” Haze could feel Stoner’s sly grin through his helmet.

“Not what I’m worried about, but copy that.” The pair exchanged ammo, as they worked through munition boxes.

“Right, let’s not miss it, they don’t hand out pamphlets for these kind of events,” Stoner remarked. Haze nodded and followed him out through the airlock to the submersible deployment hangar.

The squad of twelve now regrouped, kneeled down in preparation for the briefing as Haze and Stoner arrived, the background chatter descended to silence.

“Alright we’re all here.” Jester crossed his arms letting his carbine lay next to an SDV. “Fireteam configuration. Alpha?”

“We’re good, sir.” Harrows nodded.


“Sir, all set,” Westing replied.


“Present, sir.” Burns turned back establishing brief eye contact with Preacher, Stoner, and Haze.

“I’ll cut the shit, the situation is that today the Foundation is shipping a group of Class-Ds from Turkey to Site-77. But let’s be clear, this isn’t a rescue op for them, don’t get sentimental even if you see one. What the Foundation doesn’t know is that they have a KTE being snuck in with the Class-Ds, this is our opportunity to get him before they find out. Any questions so far?”

Westing cleared her throat. “Anything on the KTE?”

“Android, extraterrestrial, might even be a time-traveler. We don’t know if it’s supposed to be infiltrating the Foundation or it just ended up here. But the latter seems unlikely so prepare for a fight. Anything else?”

“Task Forces?” Burns raised his voice.

“Psi-7 is nearby, but don’t count on them responding to anything. Gamma-6 does naval operations, don’t count on them responding either, them and another STRIKE Team are monitoring something in the Aegean, so if they respond, they won’t get the drop on us. But shit goes bad, be prepared. Other than that don’t expect too much resistance from the actual Foundation, but you are not to roll over and get fucked in the ass.” Jester paused and breathed, barely audible but it was there, maybe one of the few signs he was a person.

“More questions?”

“Don’t,” Burns muttered to Stoner.

“What is the meaning of life?” Stoner asked.

“Fuck you, Stoner. I don’t like you.” A softer response than expected, or he didn’t have time to chew Stoner out. “I’m gonna continue. Right now we gotta hit 'em. They’re passing the Turkish southern coast, where a Foundation communications and radar relay are located sixty miles south of the Turkish Riviera, where they just went through. Alpha’s gonna hit the coastal site first and cut off communications between the cargo ship and Site-77. Bravo hits the local escort, the SCPS Scotland, a command and amphibious assault ship in the area. Both of these should delay responses. Charlie, you’re my barrel of fun. That’s right Stoner, especially you.”

Stoner gave Jester a thumbs up.

“Liquidize the KTE, simple. If any security personnel or response units get in your way, put a big fucking hole in their head. High command approved.”

“Ranger 1-1 Actual, Central. We’re receiving, how are you reading us?” An anonymous commander’s friendly voice was audible on the radio.

“Lima charlie, Central,” Jester replied. The fireteam of four STRIKE Members disembarked from their submersible, with their feet hitting the sandy deck of the shore. Jester brought his CCR4A1 to his shoulder but kept the barrel down. He motioned for the team to move forward.

“Castle, don’t blaze a path, trail in Jester’s footsteps,” Iceman radioed in. Castle nodded, pulling his legs behind the team. Jester turned his head to make sure Castle complied, then pulled it back forward seeing through the muddy water. The optics on his ballistic visor offered a full spectrum of infrared vision a full 180 degrees; what couldn’t be seen through the actual visor was made up for by two cameras mounted just under the helmet mounted lights that displayed all peripheral vision but were also perfectly capable of censoring cognitohazards if need be.

“Copy,” Castle acknowledged a little late, pointing his weapon up to the sky as to not flag Hollows with it. Jester’s helmet emerged on the surface, he halted, scoping the horizon, a humvee passing was outlined beyond a chainlink fence about half a kilometer or more away.

If the chain link fence was followed the opening of a large military base was visible, T-Barriers and Hescos lined the perimeter in what was a makeshift wall. Most notable was a massive radar construct that interrupted the skyline. The humvee stopped at a checkpoint, the gate painted in a stereotypical red-white stripe pattern. Two guards in solid white combat uniforms stood vigilant holding P90s and riot helmets. Their head movement was almost erratic.

“Alright, stay quiet.” Jester pushed forward with the stock of the CCR4A1 still in his shoulder, his teammates followed in a file, the entire team felt a burning anticipation as they approached the edge of the fence. Now two-hundred meters out and closing.

“Chief, there’s a sentry tower at Bearing 0-3-0. You want me to get on overwatch?” Hollows shuffled to Jester and motioned his head right towards the tower.

“Alright, but don’t start shooting until I’m in real hot shit, that chemrail rifle makes a trail like nothing else.”

“Roger that.” Hollows nodded. He ran, pushing down the chainlink fence, and then another that segregated a path out of the base. Hollows jumped fifteen feet into the air pulling a guard out of his sentry tower and throwing him down against the road to his death. Then he unholstered a suppressed pistol and pressed six rounds into another sentry in an adjacent tower. The rest of the guards at the perimeter seemed to disappear with only the faintest scream. “I don’t know when these guys were supposed to be relieved, expedite, over.”

“Crazy bitch.” Castle muttered, watching the whole ordeal go down.

“Lock it up. Iceman, work your magic then initiate contact somehow. Castle and I will sweep in through the front, destroy as much comms equipment as you can.”

“Yes sir,” Iceman acknowledged and pulled the charging handle on his weapon. He pushed down the chain link fence activating his invisibility gear (which only half helped due to the rapid tempo of footsteps that was audible) and began running somewhere off in the darkness of the night.

“How long?” Castle wondered, as the first minute without Iceman’s presence passed.

“Eh, give him a minute or two at most.” Jester said, more seconds passed.

“Two just went by," Castle remarked. Jester began to pull his weapon down before the base’s massive radar dish collapsed and was followed by a satisfying explosion.

“There we go.” Jester almost felt pride in his heart, though not quite.

“Comms are down, let’s mop up,” Iceman transmitted. Hollows began gunning down guards at the front gate, two blue traces of smoke whizzed over Castle and Jester’s heads as they began moving towards the frontal wall.

The two formerly white uniformed guards were now a splattered pile of red liquid as the rounds from the chemrail rifle ripped them in half. Jester and Castle passed their corpses sliding into the base under the gate with no mind.

Castle flanked right, jumping fifteen feet into the air before landing on top of a humvee, indenting the roof in. He aimed his M249 and began firing against a stream of infantrymen leaving the barracks, the stream of soldiers stopped at five. A soldier peaked just barely peeked out of cover. Castle’s machine gun jammed and the Foundation guard proceeded in emptying his P90 onto his armor, he fell back onto the humvee.

“That’s gonna scratch the paint…” he complained as grey marks polluted his multicam armor. Jester sprinted by the same barracks, arming a grenade that emitted a blue light before he threw it in.

“FRAG!” Someone inside shouted before a white flash emptied the barracks building of any illumination, a thick black fog exited the building, a few soldiers rushed out coughing, covered with bits of foreign objects.

“Castle, get off your ass!” Iceman ordered as bursts of automatic gunfire continued to pick up.

“Yeah, yeah,” Castle complied, getting up from the caved-in humvee. He walked by a soldier on the ground riddled with shrapnel on his from his hands to his knees which passed through his plate-carrier. The soldier grabbed at Castle’s boot begging to be shot. Partly out of sympathy he was about to empty two rounds into his neck.

“Castle!” Iceman shouted again, this time scolding.

“Christ, I’m sorry.” Castle sighed and continued moving. He looked back, the dying soldier collapsed in agony. He unjammed his M249 and watched as Foundation guards, still undeterred, regrouped.

“Heads up! Helicopter incoming!”

“Ranger 1-3 Actual, Central, 1-2 Bravo just completed their mission, hit it.”

“Copy that Central. Preacher?” Burns asked, his transmission only partially distorted by the water.

“Engine cut.” Preacher’s deep voice was as satisfying as his answer, though Burns for his life would never admit that he liked to hear Preacher speak. “Just waiting on Haze and Stoner.”

“Haze? Stoner?” No response. “Haze. Stoner.”

“Behind you,” Stoner radioed. Burns was confused.

“Shit,” Haze cursed, driving her electrostatic knife through the neck of a Foundation guard, then pushing him overboard into the pitch black water, which only reflected the moon. “Thanks.”

“We’re on deck, give us a minute.” Stoner replied, late as always, but he always said he was being methodical. This time he was. “Haze, you got the right side clear?”

“Yeah, containers are empty too. I checked two or three of em, if you’re wondering.” Haze looked overboard making sure the body disappeared, the gear on the guard dragged him to the bottom of the ocean.

“Roger that. I can’t see any more guys on the edge and I’m up top. Stand by.” Stoner finished. He ranged his XM25 for about 500 meters, exchanging ammo types with a mag. Stoner shouldered the launcher, switching to airburst mode, then launched a pair of grenades, the shrapnel detonated at 500 meters and punched out the lights mounted onto the side of the ship’s tower. Suddenly shouting broke out between the containers and rifle mounted flashlights flickered on.

“There we go. Flashlights?” Haze asked.

“Wouldn’t be much help using night vision for the entire security crew if you’re just covering the deck of a ship. Go.”

“Moving.” Haze began moving down the deck quickly. She skidded to a halt and nearly tripped after spotting a four-man team patrolling between the gap of two container sections. The Foundation guards realigned their weapons and let out a flurry of curses as Haze shouldered her CCR4A1 and fired. The tungsten tip of the guided projectile penetrated a guard’s riot helmet before generating a small explosion. The ensuing pressure wave knocked two of his friends dead, one tripped on the ground and got up attempting to run before Haze shot him too.

“Sick nasty.” Stoner commented.

“Thank you.” Haze replied, adding levity to her voice.

Stoner hopped over a row of shipping containers, and continued moving scanning the gaps between them. He stopped at Haze and waved below, motioning for her to head up. Haze jumped five yards landing perfectly on her feet, then put her hands on her hip.



“I learn from the best.” She took her hands back to her weapon “One team left.”

“Yeah, got em.” Stoner skipped several more gaps with Haze close in trail, before arriving above a blissfully unaware team of security guards. He launched one more grenade detonating it early with the resulting explosion killing the Foundation guards, their rifles clattered to the ground.

“Deck clear,” Haze confirmed, “Gimme an entrance to the bridge.”

“Got it.” Stoner brought his weapon back up and fired an airburst munition into the windows of the bridge shattering them. Haze reprogrammed her rounds to ‘kinetic’ and rushed down the deck. Jumping to the bridge door, she kicked it in and in a series of gunshots and muzzle flashes emptied the room of survivors. “Bridge, clear.”

“Preacher and I will do data extract and destruction on the bridge, Stoner, Haze, look for our KTE below deck.” Burns's presence returned to the comms network as he and Preacher scaled the side of the ship.

“Copy that. Comin' in Haze.” Stoner kept to elevation as he exited off the containers onto the edge of a shattered windowsill climbing into the bridge “Got anything?” he asked looking around at several security guards now bloody and ragdolled against the walls.

“Blueprint of the ship or whatever it’s called. The cargo hold below deck is converted to a mini-prison, a lot of pathing though, like all the Class-Ds are solitary confinement.” Haze traced her finger along the map of the ship, spread out by steering wheel. “There’s two levels of it.”

Preacher and Burns emerged on the other side of the bridge. “You two, hustle.” Preacher commanded. Haze took her attention off the map and followed Stoner out the doorway. The two stepped over the fallen door tucking their weapon stocks.

The couple descended down sharp stairs into left side of the cargo hold of the ship. They stopped at the bottom of the stairs to take a good look down the corridor they had arrived at. The interior was in very sharp contrast to the exterior of the ship. The walls and floor were colored white, lining the right side wall was a line of metal shutters, which were in place of cell bars, barely segregated by white colored wall, D-Class prisoners occasionally banged on them shouting to be let out. The shutters numbered in the tens, or maybe there was a hundred; it didn’t matter.

“Like lab rats huh?” Stoner asked, bringing his weapon halfway down.

“Uh, yeah, I guess. Where do we begin? If we start searching them and the foundation finds this ship one of them is gonna speak about strange soldiers in exoskeletons that look like they’re from a video game. Shouldn’t we remain ambiguous about who did this? Or what, are we gonna sink this ship and drown them all?” Haze polluted the air with a few heavy questions that confronted Stoner with no ease.

“Guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Stoner sighed heavily. “Burns, Ston-”

He was cut off by an inhuman screaming in one of the cells far down the hall, and an incessant banging and screeching. Stoner motioned for Haze to follow, Haze nodded and Stoner began moving towards the sound, the screaming increased in volume as they moved down the white corridor. Their footsteps were almost silent as the two person team proceeded just before the cell where the screaming had originated from.

It stopped. Haze took one side of the shutter to the D-Class holding cell, before checking an indicator on her weapon to make sure her ammunition wasn’t primed to explode. Stoner exchanged airburst grenades for flechette rounds instead, turning the grenade launcher into what was essentially a giant shotgun.

Stoner motioned for Haze to breach. She took one hand off her rifle and pulled the shutter door up, with little resistance from the mechanical locks of it, before putting it back under the CCR4A1’s handguard.

“Oh shit.” Stoner recoiled pulling his launcher down. A hole was left in the roof of the cell, which had nothing more than a bed, a toilet, and a sink. Displayed was a corpse split apart evenly beginning from the head to the middle of the stomach and a bloody pool that covered everything.

The corpse suddenly continued some animation as the leg spazzed out. An oversized beetle-like creature with metallic skin and blue lights in random places crawled out from the D-Class’s entrails. A few smaller creatures of the same species followed.

Haze tasted a tiny bit of vomit though there was none in her mouth; an odd hallucination. But she looked up from the mangled cadaver to find a hole in the ceiling of the cell. There was an odd bit of wiring. Stoner followed Haze’s glare and looked through the hole. It was odd, circular, almost perfect.

Haze took her focus off it and looked past Stoner where small chips of the ceiling began to fall. She tapped his arm and gestured for him to turn around. “What? Oh.” Stoner brought his weapon up against the now collapsing ceiling.

A portion of the ceiling fell to the floor, a man in a prison jumpsuit, pale in color and without any hair emerged from the ceiling upside down gripping the side of the hole he made and emitted an unearthly growl. Stoner aimed and began shooting. The dart rounds penetrated his almost white-colored skin, a slushy blue liquid emerged from the bullet holes before the android opened it’s mouth an impossible degree for a human and extended a machine gun, Stoner continued shooting until it jammed. As the android began firing, Haze grabbed Stoner around the waist and dragged him as she slammed through a shutter door, Stoner fell backwards on her. A terrified Class-D prisoner huddled herself in the corner of the room.

The android was heard scurrying off, Stoner got up, and slapped his grenade launcher in an (unsafe) attempt to unjam it. Whether it worked or not he didn’t bother trying to find out and just let it sling, unholstering his sidearm.

Haze looked at the terrified D-Class prisoner. She slid her ballistic mask up briefly and put one finger above her lips on the glass of the HUD before sliding it back down. The D-Class nodded with her hands clasped around her face, fingers barely open. She returned her attention to Stoner.

Stoner shifted out of the hole in the shutter door and pointed his pistol. A shutter door down the hall made a slamming noise, more screaming. He didn’t bother to wait and began moving with two hands deployed around the grip of his tan colored pistol. Haze followed only a meter behind. She checked the amount of ammo on her assault rifle and decided twenty out of thirty bullets was sufficient, sliding the magazine back into place.

Another rip in a shutter door the size of a large dog, Stoner peaked through the hole to find the android extending an oversized grey colored appendage from it’s mouth into the throat of the Class-D, who emitted a sound of choking and began spasming. Stoner lifted himself out from the hole and shoved the shutter door upwards breaking the mechanical locks.

He stepped behind Haze, she switched ammo type from kinetic to explosive and moved her footing backwards with Stoner in synchronized step. The Class-D prisoner’s skin began turning a metallic texture that began to infect the skin of his neck. Haze aimed at the Class-D’s hip and squeezed off four rounds. The tungsten tips of the projectiles penetrated the orange jumpsuit and metal skin and exploded, ripping the android’s tongue off and sending it flying into the wall. Haze switched back to kinetic course correcting mode.

“Going on point.” Stoner patted Haze’s shoulder and began to move in front of her before she stopped him by subtly jabbing against him.

“You’re too damn tall I can’t cover you.”


Haze began towards the cell with her helmet resting against the butt of her assault rifle and eyes aligned with the ironsights of it. The android made one final movement turning it’s head. Haze bore a shot through it’s head near instantaneously, then two more into it’s neck. The robot powered down in a series of beeps that descended in tone.

“Burns, it’s Stoner.” Stoner keyed his microphone.

“What’s happening?”

“Liquidated one threat entity, please advise over.”

“Gotten used to the new pacing?” Locke asked.

“No. Frankly, I don’t like our last two hops either, feels like we’re at war with the Foundation. We hit some site or camp and then they try to cover the pattern up with a few strikes against some insignificant Chaos Insurgency or Serpent’s Hand target. Usually it isn’t anything more than a small contingent in Yemen or some other shithole.” Jester downed some whiskey before setting the shot glass down. “We’re on standby again though. Someone above me filed a request.”

“Right.” Locke looked down, “My squadron’s been experiencing the same but your guys, they just got done being kids.” Locke looked over at Haze and Stoner who were laughing but not drunk.

“Agh, are you tired at all? What fuckin' time is it? I still feel super twitchy.” Haze sighed across the table.

“0100 Hours… we’ve been here since… 2357. My guess is that they pump some sort of neurotransmitter to increase our combat effectiveness so it’s just a side effect.” Stoner looked around the bar, eyeing the rest of the team who were playing pool. Castle pushed the stick and then Iceman started arguing with him. The rest of the team began laughing.

Haze titled her head curiously reflecting on that for a moment before blinking and bringing it back to a normal position. “Oh you’re bullshitting me aren’t you?”

“Hm?” Stoner returned his look back to Haze, “Nah, I’m not.”

“Alright where’d you come up with this conspiracy theory then?” Haze brought her expression to a slightly smug smirk.

“Noticed how we’re always ecstatic after putting on those suits? The training runs feel the same as regular combat. The exoskeletons produce this sort of combat high somehow, don’t know the details and I wouldn’t ask anyone. Think of uh… cocaine, caffeine or some other stimulant, but without all the shitty side effects from overuse.”

“You’d know about that, I guess.” She leaned back and stretched.

“I would. Wanna hear a story?”

Haze took a swig of beer and laughed. “Sure.”

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