The Notrium Saga

The Survivor


By HarmlessHermit

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Ø      Chapter 1: The Crew

Ø      Chapter 2: Ambush

Ø      Chapter 3: A Not-So-Dead Planet

Ø      Chapter 4: The Aliens and the Dream

Ø      Chapter 5: A Prototype Enviro-Suit

Ø      Chapter 6: Roasted Brown Alien

Ø      Chapter 7: Not Alone

Ø      Chapter 8: An Unexpected Meeting

Ø      Chapter 9: The Marsh

Ø      Chapter 10: A New Toy

Ø      Chapter 11: All Too Much

Ø      Chapter 12: Misery Loves Company

Ø      Chapter 13: An Old Friend, Some New Guns

Ø      Chapter 14: Stealthy Infiltration

Ø      Chapter 15: A Coward's Reprieve

Ø      Chapter 16: Bloodbath at Bunker Beta-3

Ø      Chapter 17: Arrival at the Desert

Ø      Chapter 18: Mirage or Vision?

Ø      Chapter 19: A Cube within a Sphere within a Machine

Ø      Chapter 20: Ville

Ø      Chapter 21: What Happens Now

Ø      Chapter 22: Boarding of the Ville Corp Flagship

Ø      Chapter 23: "Then You Will Someday Meet a Bloody End"

Ø      Chapter 24: Secrets of the Hive

Ø      Chapter 25: Heart of the Mind

Ø      Chapter 26: A Familiar Name, A Familiar Place

Ø      Chapter 27: The Grand Altar of the Psionics

Ø      Chapter 28: Notrium's Swarm

Ø      Chapter 29: A Path to the Future

Ø      Chapter 30: Fleet Admiral Michael Jozwiak

Ø      Chapter 31: Delayed Finality

Ø      Chapter 32: The Beginning

Ø      Log of the Var' Equinallin's Captain










Chapter 1: The Crew-


    “You can’t do this, I know how much you think this is your big chance of proving yourself but it's too dangerous.

You can stay here, you don't need to go a distant pla-"

"If I stay here I am nothing more than a runt. Don't you see? I would rather die than to lead a life of ridicule and shame among my own kind!" She growled.

"Nobody expects anything of you. You have nothing you need to prove to them."

 "Exactly! They treat me with such little respect as to expect nothing from me. They think I am useless!"

Seeing that she could not be swayed, he gave in.

"Fine, I'll let you go on one condition: That you let me come with you. It's too dangerous for you alone."

She snorted in disgust, but was left no choice. "Besides," she thought, "I could get rid of him if he gets in my way."

"The ship’s about to leave. Come on!" The two aliens left their hiding spot and rushed into the cargo bay. Seconds later the blast door closed, leaving them enshrouded in darkness.


The android heard something run into the cargo crates. With his new audio sensors, every small wave of sound was clear. He thought about reporting the intrusion to the captain of the ship, but then he would have to explain how he heard them in the first place. No, it was better not to bring attention the already curious new capabilities he had most recently. Certainly the medic would reveal his actions to the captain, and he would be decommissioned immediately. Yes, it was better to go unnoticed for another day.


BANG! The clamor echoed in the hallway. "Aahhhhh! Let me go! Ahrrgh!" the crewman yelled in agony as an invisible force pressed him against the wall. The captain rushed into the room to find the medic and the pinned crewman.


"Stand down!" he yelled, but the medic paid him no attention, only pushing harder with his mind.

"That's an order!" Finally, the medic relaxed his composure and the crewman fell onto the ground, dazed. The captain rushed over and helped him up. The crewman looked up at the medic in fear and hastened to leave the room.

"What was that?!" The captain demanded. "You nearly killed that man!"

The medic did what passed as a shrug among his kind. "I was having a nightmare, and that man made a jest at me. I simply was not in the mood for it."

"Listen, I know you've been getting fidgety ever since we set a course for the Hive, especially in the last few days, but smacking a guy around for making a crack at you is not acceptable."

The medic's large eyes blinked a few times. Then he nodded.

"I understand. It won't happen again."

"Good." The captain made a move to leave but changed his mind. "What is it about these dreams that bother you so much anyway?" The medic's eyes looked up at the captain, a deep sadness inside them.

"Have you ever looked at me and wondered where I come from? Surely you have never seen another who looks like me."

The captain shook his head.

"Neither have I. Whatever this Hive sector is, it is something incredibly meaningful for me. I both fear our arrival to it, and long for it. Don't worry; my loyalty is to you as always, which is more than I can say for others among us."

"You are too suspicious. The 'others' have the same opinion about you. I would prefer not to take sides. Good night.”

With that, he left the medic before he started accusing more crew members. The medic had a strange dislike for Sterns, the engineer, and many others. The captain wasn't entirely trustful of his crew either, but to let them know that would be disastrous.


He walked out of the room, took a deep breath and looked around at his crew, busy doing their assigned duties on the bridge. The first mate, Jack Sterns, was giving orders to the others. He was one of the few humans on the Var' Equinallin. With the low number of humans ever since the destruction of Sol, aliens on human vessels were quite common. This was especially true for a low-priority exploration expedition such as this. Among the haphazard mix of aliens working on the bridge, there were none that seemed to care for the ship's cause. To them, this was simply another job. All that mattered was the money, excitement, or recognition. Indeed, the Var' Equinallin appeared to be a ship doomed to failure, although her captain was convinced otherwise.


The star chart said they were 56 hours away from their destination, the Hive. The captain chuckled to himself,

"Not likely," he thought, “In that time frame, the warp engineer is bound to come up with at least a dozen ways to increase warp efficiency." The captain walked over to his quarters and entered the spacious room. He turned on his log and said to it,

"Aboard the Var' Equinallin, en route to the Hive, ETA 48 hours..."




Chapter 2: Ambush-


Footsteps resounded in the darkness but they faded as quickly as they came. The captain stopped and turned his gaze toward the direction he heard them in. This was the cargo bay, why would anyone be here at this hour? He shifted uneasily and was about to leave when he heard the footsteps again. This time, the captain immediately pulled his pistol out and aimed at the source of the noises. He walked closer slowly, and saw a shadow, furtively ducking behind crates.  Suddenly, the shadow disappeared and its owner leapt out at him. The captain barely had time to react as the pistol was knocked out of his hand. He tried to push back but was knocked onto the floor. His attacker was a strange alien and possessed enormous strength.


"Oh no you don't!" The captain screamed as the alien tried to lock its jaws onto his throat. The struggle went on for a long minute that seemed like hours. The alien was not tiring at all yet the captain was reaching the limits of his endurance. Out of pure desperation, the captain kicked the alien with all of his remaining strength. One of his kicks connected with the alien's vulnerable abdomen and it reeled back in pain. Taking the opportunity, the captain rolled sideways and grabbed the pistol. He aimed at the alien's torso and emptied his clip into it. Its chest was soon riddled with holes. The alien stumbled for a bit and then, emitting a weak growl, it collapsed.


Gasping for breath, the captain got back up and wiped the green blood off of his cheek. The security squad arrived and surveyed the scene.

"What happened sir?" asked the squad leader.

"Well men, there was quite a show, and you just missed it."



The captain and his team left, leaving the body for the cleanup crew to take care of. If they had paid closer attention to it, they would've found it was still faintly breathing. The nearly dead creature noticed a second alien approaching it and released its last breath when a sharp claw beheaded the fallen hunter, snuffling out what little life was left in it. The second alien could hardly contain its glee. A whole week living off of barely edible ship rations had made her forget what real meat was like. As she bit into her decapitated comrade's body, she licked every drop of blood and chewed on every bone, leaving nothing behind. She savored the last morsels slowly and then retreated back into hiding. The cleanup crew's job was already done.




Chapter 3: A Not-So-Dead Planet-


The planet was unlike anything he had ever seen before. The atmosphere was a hazy green that almost completely hid the wilderness below. One could spend hours gazing in awe at this planet. It seemed completely impossible that something like this could develop naturally.

"What is this planet called again?" asked the captain.

“I can’t say for sure.” The navigator scratched his chin in confusion. “There are many folk tales and myths surrounding this planet. The most common name would be: Notrium.”

“Notrium.” the captain whispered. It was a strange name. The planet would probably be stranger.

"In depth analysis shows that in most areas there are signs of alien life. They're all over the planet. There’s a huge variety of ecosystems and climates on the surface, so life would be varied, too. (That’s only an assumption though) Another thing is that the poles aren't cold at all, in fact, both of them seem to have warm climates."

The captain walked over to the scanner station and looked over the planet analysis himself. A few red dots glowed on the map. The captain's eyes widened.

"Those electronic signals. Crashed ships, Ra'keesh?"

"Yes Captain and quite a few of them too."

"What could possibly cause all of those ships to crash?" The captain asked but his question was shortly answered by small blips on the radar display.

"Missiles!" yelled the weapons operator, "They’re coming in fast!"

The captain sprang backwards and yelled, "Get the shields online! Turn the ship around! Turn it around!"


The ship shook violently, its shields failing the instant they flickered on.

"Hull integrity failing." beeped the computer. "Engine detonation imminent."

A stray missile hit the bridge, creating a rupture in the floor. Most of the crew in front were gone, the rest hung tightly on to something. The artificial gravity was worse than gone, it was fluctuating rapidly. Soon it might’ve slammed them repeatedly against the ceiling.


A few managed to crawl into the hallways. The captain and first mate both reached safety before explosions engulfed the bridge completely.

"We have to hurry!" the captain urged after helping Sterns back up.

The two fought past smoldering gas pipes and leaking coolant until they reached the port side of the ship.

The captain opened the door and the two of them rushed in and pressed the launch button. In their haste they neglected to fasten their seat belts. The captain and the first mate both got flung into the back wall by the force of the launch. The escape pod started hurtling into the planet's atmosphere with its heat shield flaring brightly.

The captain looked out the small window to see that many of his crew had not made it in time. The few that did make it were almost instantly destroyed by the continuous volley of missiles. He braced himself as the pod pounded right into the planet's surface, going from 800 mph to 0 in a millisecond.


After recovering from the thundering impact, the captain looked around and quickly assessed the situation. The escape pod's fire control system put out the fires but the emergency lights were shattered, making the inside of the pod almost pitch black.

"Sterns, are you okay?" The captain asked, feeling his way around the pod for his first mate.

When he got no reply, the captain started to search the floor. His foot grazed against what felt like the first mate's head, and he instinctively got to his knees and felt Stern’s pulse and breath. He was alive, but unconscious. The captain, got up, grabbed the escape pod latch and wrenched it with all his might. No good. Then he remembered that there was a welding torch in the emergency survival kit and grabbed it. He started to carve his way around the latch. When he was satisfied it was weak enough, he gave a swift kick to the center of it, sending the latch outward. Light streamed into the cramped pod and for the first time, the captain looked out at the planet of Notrium.


The pod had landed in what seemed to be a jungle or forest. Grabbing the survival kit and his first mate by the leg, he hauled them both out of the escape pod and looked at Sterns. His injuries were severe. Blood trickled from the back of his bald head and he was suffering from a concussion. The captain grabbed the first aid kit, hoping that there was no permanent brain damage. As he was emptying the contents of the first aid kit, he heard a rustle in the underbrush. A few seconds later dozens of small blue aliens came rushing out, apparently attracted by the scent of blood. The captain groaned, this was going to be a long day.




Chapter 4: The Aliens and the Dream-


The aliens started running on their clawed feet, jumping and snarling as they went. The captain reached for his pistol but remembered that his holster had been lost during the escape from the Var' Equinallin. He immediately grabbed the welding torch and turned it on. It wouldn't be enough for an entire pack of aliens but maybe it would scare the rest off if he could kill a few. He immediately turned toward the closest alien and charged at it. He bashed the aliens head in with the rear of the welding torch and then lit it on fire. He then grabbed another alien and burned its head from its wiry neck. With two of the aliens dead, the captain wondered why all of the others were still continuing their attack. He was outnumbered, the aliens didn't bother to flank him or catch him unaware; they just attacked relentlessly. One of them leapt four feet into the air and sank its claws into the captain's back.


The captain screamed in pain and whirled around while more aliens grabbed onto him. He swung around wildly, throwing a few off, then he smashed the welding torch onto the ground with all his might, breaking the fuel container and sending flames roaring up. The captain rolled onto the ground with a couple aliens still trying to hang on. The fire set the aliens aflame and they started to writhe in agony. The captain quickly rolled away from the fire and started to breathe heavily. "So this how they welcome me." The captain muttered, wincing at the cut wounds the aliens tore into his back. Blood streamed onto the strange vegetation that grew on the forest floor. The captain grew lightheaded, and felt strangely weak.


“You’re nothing but a scummy, low-life pirate. Just deal with it. When you were faced with dying for the good of mankind, and saving your own thieving derriere, you chose the second option. Made a hefty profit in it too.”

Unaffected by the teasing, the captain replied calmly,

“I did what was best for the crew and for you, Joe. I gave them a chance to survive. Those alien bullies only took the rich aristocrats and powerful captains. If it weren’t for me, they would be burnt in the sun like all those other poor idiots.”

At this, Joe raised an eyebrow. “Those idiots also happened to include your family, your friends, and most of the human species. But that don’t matter don’t it? Honestly, I’m not too patriotic either, but it’s something to think about. When does survival of the fittest stop working for you? A man’s got to have his loyalties you know.”

“Loyalties are what kill you if you don’t let go of them when you need to. Sure my crew is loyal, but only because they depend on me. Why else would they risk their neck for a scummy, low-life pirate?”

Both men chuckled heartily and knocked their cups of whiskey against each other.


Without warning, Joe’s face contorted with rage and he bellowed in a fearsome voice.

“They’re suffering right now.”


“You let them be captured, tortured, and humiliated.”

“Joe? What’s wrong?”

“And the worse part is, you’re not going to do a thing about it aren’t you? You know that the aliens captured humans to be sent off to the Zoo system. They’re slaves of the enemy.”

The captain jumped up as if his first mate was suddenly a terrible disease.


                       Joe’s body began fading away.

“I’m at the Zoo system. Waiting, waiting for you.”

“No, don’t go. I didn’t let you go. I can’t have!”

A now infuriated captain grabbed at Joe but felt nothing but air. He realized now that he was in a dream. Joe had been gone for 10 years. It had been 10 years since he was on this pirate ship.

“I swear to you, I’ll kill those who destroyed Sol. I won’t rest until I make them scream for mercy the same way they made us. I promise you. I promise!”

Then he was on Notrium.




Chapter 5: A Prototype Enviro-Suit-


Awakening. He looked around and tried to get up, but his whole body ached. He could hear growls from a distance. "Where am I?" He thought to himself, "What happened?"

Then it all rushed back to him in a flood of memories. He was on Notrium, nearly killed by the planet's strange inhabitants. He remembered that he had suffered severe back injuries and burns. But when he passed his hand over them, he found that they had disappeared. Was it all just part of a dream?


He rose to his feet with some difficulty due to his stiff joints, and was surprised to see that the leafy plant that he had been sleeping on had oozed out liquid all over his body. The liquid had magically healed every one of his wounds, leaving not even a scar behind. If the circumstances were different, the captain might've been utterly astounded by this discovery, but he simply made a mental note of the plant in case he might need to heal himself in the future. Walking over to the escape pod, he could see that Sterns was still there, unconscious and breathing shallowly.


It occurred to him that if he could barely keep himself alive, then he couldn’t care for another person. For a moment he thought of leaving Sterns but it went against everything he had been taught. Survival is your main concern, urged a little voice in his head, but another shouted, Sterns would do the same for you. He stood there for a while, thinking. Then the voice of reason won out, and the captain decided to leave his fellow crewman here. He could not survive unless he kept moving, so caring for Sterns was out of the question.


He grabbed the survival kit and carefully inspected its contents. A few packets of rations, enough for a day, a traditional lighter, a flask of water, a medical kit, a flashlight, and a large unmarked box. The captain examined this last item carefully and opened the seal. Inside was a folded up green metallic suit labeled: Infantry Standard Issue Prototype Enviro-suit. It had an airtight inner mesh and the headpiece had vision enhancing goggles built in. He grabbed the suit and slipped it over his burnt clothing. He then took the helmet and put it over his head. A little bit of tinkering revealed that the helmet was not upgraded with night vision. He would have to use the flashlight for now.


The captain looked down on his first mate. No doubt the aliens would eventually kill him. He said a quick prayer for his first mate, and then started hiking through the forest. If he was to survive, he would need shelter. The Notrium sky was bright and the slightly frigid temperature was easily compensated for by the captain's new suit. He was alert, but perhaps not alert enough, for he did not notice that something was in the shadows, following his every move.





Chapter 6: Roasted Brown Alien-


The captain's stomach grumbled in want of food. The sun was setting beyond the horizon and only a greenish glow came through the thick clouds. It was obvious that it would soon be a Notrium "night". The captain had already consumed the rations that he brought with him. He now regretted not taking some of the blue alien corpses with him. They were thin with little meat on them but even they seemed appetizing to him now. As he was slowly limping along, he spotted some orange fist sized mushrooms growing next to a bush. He ran to them and stuffed a few into his mouth, hardly chewing the mushy flesh of the fungus. The first few went down with no problem but as he bit into one of the larger ones an acidic juice started to burn his tongue and throat. He spat it out in disgust and grabbed his flask to wash down the rancid taste. It was empty. Coughing and wheezing uncontrollably, he staggered about with tears running down his cheeks.


Then he heard a faint growl close to him and he barely was able to keep down his coughing. There were quick footsteps and then a death cry piercing the night sky that didn’t sound like a blue alien. The captain started to sneak to the source of the sound. It was getting closer. Then he peered past a large tree and saw a silhouette against the sunset. It was feasting on something on the ground but when it raised its head to sniff the air, it immediately ran off, leaving its meal behind. The captain waited until he was sure the other creature was gone to approach the corpse. He examined it closely. It was an alien but instead of being one of the small blue aliens that attacked him earlier it seemed to be much larger, about twice as large as himself. It had large claws and brown, extremely tough skin. The captain took a look at its wounds and saw that its stomach was open and its entrails were strewn across its body. Whatever did this to it was a dangerous creature indeed.


His stomach growled once more, dissatisfied with the fungus that it got earlier. He found a sharp rock after a few minutes of searching and started to slice away at the meaty parts of the dead alien. When he was finished he found some of the more flammable pieces of wood lying around and laid them out like he was taught so many years ago in his childhood years. The fire was now blazing at its full strength with meat roasting over it. The captain ate to his heart's content and put the rest away for later. He was content and comfortable but was careful not to let sleep seize him, lest the aliens start picking his remains off their teeth by morning.




Chapter 7: Not Alone-


A deafening report of a pistol woke up the captain from the little "bed" of leaves he had been dozing off on. He cursed himself for falling asleep, imagining how lucky he was to be still alive in the morning. A shelter would make his life here much easier, but so far he hadn't seen anything that could be used to make one. He wondered where the pistol firing had been from. It seemed he wasn't alone with the aliens on this planet.


As he was ambling aimlessly around, a gleam from far away caught his eye. He squinted at the object far in the distance, but it disappeared behind the trees. Perhaps it was a survivor from the Var' Equinallin? He hurried in the direction he saw the person. A pistol report went off again, and he heard a bullet whiz past his head. The captain ducked and hid behind a tree. Heavy footsteps came ever so close to the captain's hiding place. Whoever that person was, he definitely wanted him dead.


When the person who shot at him passed his tree, he saw that the person wore a heavy suit. Its visor completely covered the person's face, and the rest of the armor was made of a shiny metal. On the bicep plate it read: "Ville Corporation Marine" in small black letters. He held a large pistol that was also labeled "Ville Corp". The way the marine walked indicated that he was familiar with the surroundings.


The captain's first thought was to sneak away slowly and leave the marine alone, but then he thought of the pistol, and the rations the marine undoubtedly had. It would be in his best interests to try to take this guy down. The captain followed him from the underbrush, using the occasional rock and tree for cover. Finally, after nearly an hour of stalking him, he heard the marine turn on a radio and say, "I saw something a few miles back. It can't have been an alien." The radio crackled then replied, "Never mind that, we need your help over here. He's not coming out."


The marine turned off the radio and finally put his pistol next to his hip. A short while later, he came upon what looked to be a crude cabin made of rocks and logs in a small grove. There were three other marines with slightly different suits than he, each heavily armed.

"Surely," The captain thought. "These marines aren't simply marooned survivors." He saw them approach the thick door. One of the marines knocked on the door and yelled, "We know you're in there. If you come peacefully then maybe I'll think about letting you live."


There was a barely audible whimper from inside.

The marine who knocked on the door looked at his companions, and they nodded. One of the marines reached into his pack and pulled out a small device which he placed onto the door. The marines ran back and 10 seconds later, there was a huge explosion. The door was vaporized along with half of the entire cabin. The marines rushed inside with their weapons drawn out. They grabbed the sobbing man from the corner of the house and one of them knocked him out with the butt of his rifle.


"Sergeant, he didn't have his suit with him, or any weapons and food. We're probably doing him a favor by taking him back."

The leader of the group turned and looked at the miserable heap they were placing on a stretcher.


This was no favor. Once they got back, he would most likely be tortured for three days straight, the standard disciplinary punishment for desertion. For a moment, he felt a bit of pity for his fellow marine, but he quickly shook it off. He knew the consequences for his actions. He deserved what was coming to him.


"You guys go ahead" said the marine that the captain was following. "I'm going to go look for the person I saw earlier. We have to get our hands on him before it's too late."

The other three left, carrying the unconscious man on a stretcher.


The marine started walking in the other direction, but suddenly somebody jumped in front of him, pointing a pistol straight at his forehead. The marine reached for his own pistol but it wasn't there.

"Don't move." the captain commanded.

Showing an utter lack of fear, the marine tried to disarm his opponent, but the trigger was pulled before he could move an inch. The bullet pierced his helmet and entered his skull, killing him instantly. The captain searched the remains and found a radio, a few packets of rations, and a few boxes of bullets for the pistol. He quickly gathered these items and ran off, his mind still mulling over what he just saw.




Chapter 8: An Unexpected Meeting-


The hut was a sorry wreck. The foundation was weakened, the roof was caved in, and the heavy wooden door was all but burned to ashes. Despite all this, it was better than starting from scratch. The captain finished his brief inspection of the remaining parts of the hermit's hut and decided that if he could work through the night he would be done by morning. While searching the wreck he found an archaic hammer, saw and nails, along with leafy journal propped up next to a rock.

The journal was written in Runic Follian:


"Day 2, Week 1, Year 4- Finally! My walls are built, my hut is done! I am safe from those hideous aliens and the mean sergeant. Yes, mean sergeant can't get me here! My pistol is broken but I have enough food to last me a day or two.


Day 3, Week 1, Year 4- Ville Corp, I knew it was bad news when I first joined. Too late now! I can't go back, but I can't escape either. All my friends, turned into heartless marines of a mysterious company of an even more mysterious man. I regret coming here. No amount of money can convince me to stay, no no no no!


Day 4, Week 1, Year 4- I saw the former companions of mine. They are searching for me but they can't get through my walls. If the sergeant comes I'll tell him 'No no no no! I'm not going back!' I am safe! Safe! My walls shut out the cursed planet. Safe!


The rest of the scratchy writing was not legible. It was clear the hermit was losing his mind the past few days. He seemed to be a marine from the strange "Ville Corp". The captain wondered what such an organization would be doing on Notrium. He promised himself he would look into the matter as soon as possible. Beneath the rocks he was surprised to find a battery and a few computer units; both invaluable to his survival if he could find some use for them. He grabbed the hammer and nails after lifting away the roof. First he would replace the missing wall and then he would repair the ceiling. "These walls will keep me safe." said the captain aloud, chuckling a bit.



The rising sun cast long shadows from the trees onto the ground. The captain wiped the sweat from his fore head and knocked the final nail into place. He walked a few paces back and admired his work. The hut would provide shelter for him during the cold nights and the constantly roaming aliens. His belly ached for something to fill it, so he grabbed some of the packaged rations to quell his hunger. During the night, the captain kept an estimate on how long had passed. It turned out that a Notrium night was around 20 hours. It was peculiar that throughout this long period, the captain didn't feel sleepy at all. Even right now there was no sign of fatigue in his eyes, nor were his actions lethargic in the smallest bit.


Now that his food was nearly consumed, he packed his pistol and a few packs of bullets with him. He had developed a craving for some meat, and remembering the brown alien flesh he ate the first night of the crash made his mouth water uncontrollably. He wiped his mouth dry, wondering why he salivated so much at the simple thought of food.


While he was hiking through an extremely dark part of the forest, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He pulled the pistol out and slapped a few rounds into the chamber.

Growls from behind.

He whirled around held his gun steady. Suddenly, a green alien leaped from inside a bush and rushed towards the captain. He was awestruck, this certain alien looked like the stowaway he killed on the Var' Equinallin. The surprise only lasted for a second, and within moments bullets were zipping through the air towards the alien. Three glanced off its hard carapace but one found it's way into the alien's chest. It screamed a horrid sound and swung its tail at the captain. He dodged it barely but the alien clawed out again in anger and cut his forearm. The pistol fell onto the ground and the alien charged at the captain again. However, this time he was ready. He braced himself and threw the alien over his shoulder onto the ground, using a move he had learned for subduing stronger foes. He jumped onto the alien and punched it with all of his strength. The alien struggled and squirmed but couldn't break free. The captain kept punching straight at its face until, in a surprise action, the alien spat acid through the helmet and into the captain's eyes. Temporarily blinded, the captain lost his grip on the alien and it ran off into the woods.


The acid lasted for a few minutes and by then, the captain's vision was restored. The first thing he did was look around for the alien that had just attacked him, the one that looked almost exactly like the one that ambushed him a few days ago. But he could see nothing, the alien was gone.




Chapter 9: The Marsh-


After recovering from the close encounter, the captain started walking back to the hut. His arm was cut badly and he wouldn't mind having some of those red plants he had found the first day. He bandaged it up as best he could with various leaves and vines and then stumbled upon some orange mushrooms. This time, instead of blindly eating them he inspected each one with a watchful eye. He sniffed each one, tasted each one, and then came to the conclusion that the reddish small ones were the only edible mushrooms. He gathered as much as he could find and continued to hike through the forest. The dark forest no longer seemed so dark, but still the captain could not fully see. He grabbed his flashlight and inserted a battery into it, the light flickered on.


He looked around warily as he went through the darkness for many hours until he almost walked straight into a marsh. His feet sank into the wet ground and the suit quickly sealed itself tight. He looked up in awe.

There was a huge cliff that the thick forest prevented him from seeing earlier. A waterfall emptied down the cliff and into a ravine. Twisted green foliage overshadowed seemingly endless swamps. Some small insects flew above the festering pools.


"Interesting," muttered the captain. He kept wading through the swamp, then began to wonder why he had seen no survivors out of all the crashed ships the Var' Equinallin had detected while above Notrium. It wasn't plausible that all of them were captured by the Ville Corp marines or eaten by aliens. There were no signs of distress calls or even bodies to be seen during his whole time on Notrium. And how long had he been here? Nearly three Notrium days, which was about... the captain's thoughts were interrupted by some low hisses and the sounds of splashing water. He turned his flashlight downwards and was surprised to see strange spider-like aliens swimming through the water. His other hand instinctively hovered near his holster, but the spider aliens paid him no heed, and swam away.


The captain trudged through the bogs slowly but steadily, pausing periodically to eat and rest.

Hours later, he finally came upon some solid ground. The flashlight passed over a large object from inside a cave. It was a ship! The captain quickened his pace through the cavernous cave. As he came closer, the ships outline became clearer. The outer plating was mostly ripped off and there were small electrical fires burning inside, suggesting that the crash happened not so long ago.


"Help! ... no!" shrieked a voice from inside the ship. The captain ran over to it and pulled open the ship's hatch. Expecting to see some survivors inside, he was caught off guard when several blue aliens leapt at him and clawed furiously at his suit. The captain threw them off and emptied his pistol clip into their fragile torsos. He crawled into the dark ship and looked around. There were no bodies, not even any bones, blood, or flesh. The aliens had apparently consumed all. He opened the door to his right and saw a few crates scattered around the hold. He rummaged through each one and took with him a few batteries, fuel cells, and light diodes. When he left the wreckage, he could see movement from far away. Three humanoid figures were running toward him. He dashed to the side of the ship and hid behind some rocks, while peering over the top.


The radio the captain took off the dead marine beeped, and he grabbed it. "This is a universal broadcast to all marines: We are at crashed ship #1839 from 2 days ago. There are four alien corpses with bullets embedded in their flesh." the radio said, "We are the first to arrive on the scene so the aliens must have been killed by a rogue survivor. Has anyone seen someone who could have done this?" The radio went silent for a few seconds. A new voice replied. "One of my privates went after such a survivor a couple days ago. He disappeared and we couldn't find his body."

"Can you track down where his radio went?"

"Standby... sir, it's, it's four meters north from your position."


At this point the captain tossed the radio aside and started sprinting back to the entrance of the cave. The marines followed in pursuit and the captain had to duck as bullets flew past. Rocks exploded around him but he didn't slow down. He fell to his stomach on the swamp and slowly sank in. The enviro-suit began filtering oxygen from the water through his respirator. The marines started searching the swamp floor with their spotlights, but the captain was already safe under the murky waters of the marsh.





Chapter 10: A New Toy-


The dark water completely surrounded him. He could not see a few inches from where he was. As he put more distance between the cave and himself, the captain began to tire of crawling on the swamp floor. He finally stumbled onto his feet and looked backwards to make sure nobody followed him. Some marsh plants were caught on his suit, hindering his movement, so he took a few moments to pick them off. The surroundings looked familiar; this was the same place where the spider aliens swam past. The captain continued onward back to his hut, for he was eager to dry off his food and sleep, if only for a few short hours. Then the thought first came to him, what if he could make a map of all the places he visits? It would certainly make finding hunting areas and marine camps easier. That would be the first thing to do once he had some time. For now, memory would have to be his only guide.


He saw his hut from a distance between the many trees and bushes. Never did a simple wooden structure seem so much like home. The captain eagerly ran the last few dozen paces and opened the door with his key. He quickly got a fire going to dry off his belongings, which he looked over once again. A few computer units, batteries, a flashlight, pistol, fuel cells, fuel converters and a couple light diodes tumbled out of the bag. "Hmm," the captain stared at each one, apparently in deep thought. He grabbed the light diode and examined it. It was a few centimeters long and had a bulbous end. The laser that it would emit would be powerful enough to see easily, but not enough to actually damage anything. The second diode was a different story. This one was a lot larger, the size of the captain's hand at least. The end had refracting lens to concentrate the beam into a potentially devastating weapon.


The captain took the first one and removed his helmet. He tried to insert the diode into the missing slot but it would not fit, so he put it away for now. Then he turned his attention to the larger diode. Evidently it was meant to be part of a weapon or a cutting tool. It was unpowered however. To solve this, the captain took a fuel converter and easily placed a fuel cell inside. The resulting energy source hummed with life. He combined the light diode with the energy unit, then, suddenly the light diode emitted a hissing sound and a beam punched a hole into one of the walls. In his surprise, the captain dropped the weapon and he had to duck to dodge the long continuous laser beam the light diode was firing. He grabbed it in a panic and yanked the energy unit out. The beam stopped.


The captain mentally smacked himself for being such an idiot. Of course putting an energy source with an uncontrolled light diode would create an uncontrollable weapon. He needed some way to control when the beam fired and how it fired. He took a computer unit and connected it to the light diode. The bare wires of the universal computer unit were simple in concept. Each wire or chip had multiple jobs that could be interchanged to fit different situations. These units could serve in many roles but could never excel at any of them.


"Hopefully it will suffice." thought the captain as he started tinkering around with the little chips and wires. After a few minutes work, the computer unit had a small button that triggered the diode to fire, and a few buttons that could be pressed to change the intensity of the beam. He combined the computer unit onto the light diode, and then added on the energy unit. Perfect, no random firing yet. The captain took the pistol and went outside. He pressed the trigger button and a beam split through the air and turned a tree stump into splinters. The captain smiled. Maybe now the marines would think twice about chasing him down, but for now, he would go back into the cabin and catch some well-earned sleep.




Chapter 11: All Too Much-


The morning caught the captain off-guard. While his first few nights lasted for up to 20 hours, this one seemed to barely last 10 at the most. It was either caused by his intense fatigue or by some strange anomaly unique to Notrium. The captain rose reluctantly. As much as he wanted to sleep some more, he knew that every day time hour had to be cherished if he was to guarantee his continued survival. He left the hut to explore the surroundings some more and to gather some food.


While he was walking to the top of a hill, he saw an escape pod that looked like it was from the 'Var Equinallin. He hiked up the hill and saw that there were no bodies, but supplies were strewn across the ground. He climbed into the escape pod and found it to be in better condition than the one he had been on. The lights were still on, and even some of the control displays flickered on and off. He started to tap a few buttons and the words "self diagnostic initiated" flashed across the screen. A few seconds later it beeped and the screen displayed a few options. The captain selected "internal video recording" and the screen went black again. Then, it started playing footage from the 'Var Equinallin. Explosions shook the camera and the silhouette of someone appeared in the background. As it got closer to the pod, the captain could make out the crewman, it was the Psionic! The Psionic glided over to the controls, the door shut and the escape pod blasted off from the ship. The captain fast forwarded to the moment of the crash. The Psionic exited the pod, and left the crash site. The footage ended there.


The captain pondered what he just saw; this was the escape pod of his medic, which meant that one of his crew just might be alive. The Psionic certainly had special abilities which might help him survive, but even so, the odds were astronomical that he could evade the Ville Corp marines and the aliens. The captain salvaged the rudimentary navigational computer of the escape pod and found that it had a coordinate system which the captain could use to map out the areas he came across. This would definitely be useful. The Psionic also had no need for the emergency supplies inside the escape pod so the captain grabbed its contents. The welding torch was too large and bulky so he broke it down into its basic components and emptied some of the ether.


The captain left the crashed pod and decided to try out his laser pistol on some of the aliens. He gave a loud yell to attract their attention and looked around alertly. A short while later, three brown aliens lumbered out of the trees and up the hill. The captain aimed his laser pistol at the first one and pressed the trigger. The beam knocked the alien back but did nothing else. The captain turned up the beam intensity and fired again. This time the laser shot through the alien's head and killed it instantly. A few more shots more and the other two were also dead. The captain ran over to the bodies and immediately dived into the corpses, tearing at the meat with his hands... then he stopped, what was he doing? The act came without thought, driven by his instinct, as if he was meant to hunt and feast on the flesh of his prey. He walked back a few paces, horrified by what little control he had over his own actions. He ran off, not even stopping to take the alien meat with him.


After a brisk walk cleared his mind, the captain came to the conclusion that the whole thing was simply due to his hunger. He refused to believe that his own self-control failed him. The thought of death did not scare him as much as the thought of losing control over his own self, his own mind.

For a brief moment he had become something other than himself.

"It is nothing." He said aloud to comfort himself, "I was just a little hungry, that's all."


The captain continued exploring for many hours later, aided by the new navigational computer he got from the escape pod. By the end of the day, he had mapped nearly 10 acres of land within the vicinity of his hut. He found mushroom patches, areas of denser forests and a few natural wells of water. For the first time since his time on Notrium he began to appreciate the beauty of the planet, from its lush plant life to its calming green sky. A few times the captain even thought of settling down here and living out the rest of his life in the wilderness of Notrium, but he always remembered the incredible burden that was on him. There were others, enslaved without any hope of freedom. He had made himself a promise that they would be liberated. He had promised them that one day he would come to them. The captain was their only hope. Staying on an alien planet and pretending the rest of the universe did not exist would not solve anything. Everything had sped by so fast, it seemed like yesterday that he was the proud captain of an explorer ship, ready to leap into the unknown, and now... now he was stranded in the Hive, on a planet with alien life, and a group of marines intent on gathering all the planet's stranded survivors. "It's all too much to comprehend." thought the captain.


And somewhere else on the planet was another survivor from the 'Var Equinallin who was thinking the exact same thing.




Chapter 12: Misery Loves Company-


A week or so passed without much happening. The captain hunted frequently during the night in the past week and in using this tactic he was able to stockpile many alien corpses. He had enough food in the hut to last a while but he was eating more than usual from the constant exercise he got during both the day and night. One day he discovered that using the hard carapace pieces from the more mature blue aliens he could reinforce the little protection his enviro-suit gave. Using the welding torch he slowly turned his suit into a fairly sturdy armor. The fact that it covered up some of the shiny parts of the enviro-suit was another benefit. Soon the captain felt a bit safer behind his improved suit.


As he walked out into the bright morning sky he felt ready to venture a bit further away from his hut than he had done so far. Therefore, he brought some meat and firewood along with him and set out at a strenuous pace. There was a small mountain range in the opposite direction of the marsh that the captain had wanted to explore for a while. As the hours of the morning passed, the captain finally reached a pass in the mountains. He was about to continue but he felt the ground he was standing on start trembling. The tremors continued for a while then they ceased. After that the captain felt the air around him start blowing slightly and when he looked up he saw a small dot in the sky above the horizon. The dot grew larger and larger and he could see that it was a ship on fire. It dropped quickly and the captain could make out missiles exploding all around it. When it was nearly over his head the word engraved deeply on the side of it read: "Unrelenting"

Time froze as the captain slowly let the word sink into his mind. His knees grew shaky and he found that his face was dripping sweat. "No!" he whispered. "Impossible!"


The bulbous ship flew out of control straight above the mountain range. Its underside caught on the tallest peak and the ship was gutted from front to back. Debris flew everywhere and fire erupted from the belly of the ship. It dived downwards and came to a dead halt a few kilometers away from where the mountain pass was.


The captain watched this scene unfold with horror. He ran down to the valley the "Unrelenting" crashed in encircled by the mountains and hills. His feet carried him along with frightening speed and he felt his heart pump faster and faster. The thick black smoke funneling upwards that marked the site of the crash looked like the grim reaper himself, come to take the souls of the ship's dead.

When the captain got to the crash he could see aliens and the occasional marine squad moving into the enormous ship. The "Unrelenting" had its nose submerged underneath the ground but it still seemed to tower over the mountains themselves. He took out both of his weapons holding one in each hand. He climbed into one of the many gaping holes the missiles made in the hull.

A pack of blue aliens rushed at him but they were no match for both bullets and laser beams shot in quick succession. The captain snuck in the shadows, progressing to the mid-section of the ship. A brown alien nearly saw him but the place was so packed with aliens it quickly found another meal to catch.


At the bridge door, the captain shot through it with a strong laser beam and a hail of bullets came out to meet him. One or two hit him as he dodged aside but they were deflected by the blue alien plating on his suit. There were some moments of uneasy silence while he inched toward the doorway with his weapons gripped tightly. In one swift move the two guns popped out and blindly fired all around the room. Then the captain leapt in and looked around frantically. There were a few dead marines and crewman lying on the floor. He advanced cautiously to the front of the bridge, aiming at any possible places someone could use for cover. It was all clear.

Relaxing a bit he kicked the bodies around gently to see if anyone was alive. Suddenly he swung around and knocked a tazer out of the marine's hand. The marine countered by grabbing his wrist and twisting it so the laser pistol clattered to the floor. The captain tried to use his other pistol to kill the marine but his enemy was too fast. The weapon was knocked aside and the marine kicked the captain in the stomach with terrific strength. He punched the captain's face and shoved him into the corner.


"Come on," said the marine in a hoarse voice. "The commander wants you alive and not too injured." The captain looked up at him and noticed that his armor was purple and there were many emblems painted on the chest plate. The captain also glanced around for any weapons and was surprised to find he was sitting on one.

"Urgh, you're pretty good, I don't think I can stand up.", he faked a grimace.

"Heh, not as tough as I was told you'd be. This was damn easy." The marine walked over and extended his hand to the captain.

The captain grabbed the hand and supported himself by putting his hand where he was sitting. He stood up and said, "Thanks."

He pulled the pistol out from behind his back and shot the marine three times in the chest before the clip ran out. The marine reeled back a little bit and fell backwards to the ground.


The captain heard somebody groaning underneath an overturned table. He lifted it upright and looked at the person that was pinned down. The trapped person turned his head upwards. The captain looked incredulously at man beneath him. "Admiral Thorpe?" he asked, "What the hell are you doing here?"




Chapter 13: An Old Friend, Some New Guns-


Admiral Thorpe coughed violently and sat up with his arm leaning against the table. The captain took off his helmet and held it under his arm.


"You're alive after all aren't you Captain?" the admiral seemed to laugh but clutched his side in pain as more coughs came up. "Hold on, I'm going to make this room more secure." The captain dragged the table over to the doorway and leaned it so it would cover up the opening. He walked back to Admiral Thorpe and said, "There. Now you haven't answered my question admiral. What exactly are you and the Unrelenting doing here?"


Admiral Thorpe struggled to stand up. "The fleet sensors near the Hive system lost your ship's signal six weeks ago. Of course we couldn't be certain if it was due to some solar interference as the signal was getting weak already as you were approaching the Hive. I wanted to send some of our fast destroyers to make sure you were all right. The other admirals didn't agree. They argued that it would stretch their forces even thinner for a captain who wasn't even fully part of the United Confederacy."


"But obviously you didn't listen." the captain replied.

"Yes. Enraged, I ran off with the Unrelenting and her crew to find and perhaps save you, and now this is where we stand. The ship is in ruins, and the crew is all dead. An interesting planet, pity we couldn't explore it under more favorable circumstances."

The captain shook his head and sighed. "So, all of this is my fault. You come rushing in to save my butt just like always Jared. You shouldn't have come, what were the chances of me surviving anyway?"


The admiral laughed again. "Yet here you are standing before me having lived alone on a hostile planet for over a month!"

"Enough warm sentiments, we have to plan our next action. The armored soldiers that entered the bridge are marines of an organization called Ville Corp. I assume they were the ones that shot your ship down. While they are still here we can't leave the planet or we'd get killed by those defenses."


Admiral Thorpe thought for a moment and said, "Those defenses! The rest of the fleet will come looking for us now that both an exploration ship and a heavily armed combat ship have disappeared. If we don't do something about the defenses our entire fleet may be destroyed!"

The captain became extremely worried. The marines might have multiple missile stations around the planet.

"After we get you armed and suited up let's try and find a marine outpost. Maybe it will have information on where the planetary defense stations are and how to deactivate them."

The captain lifted up Admiral Thorpe but he winced.

"Where are you hurt?" asked the captain.

"I'm fine, let's go." The admiral walked to the door by himself, while the captain retrieved his laser pistol.

The two removed the table and tiptoed out the door.

"That is where the armory is." whispered Admiral Thorpe, pointing at a charred door across the hall.


The captain pressed the button and the door slid open silently. The lights in the armory were flickering and weapons were scattered all over the floor and shelves. The captain looked around and picked up a graviton rifle and a rapid fire pistol. The admiral chose a shotgun and a scoped magnum. Over in the corner of the room were a few boxes fixed to the wall and the captain walked over and opened them. Inside each of them was a black lightweight sniper rifle with a scope and an oblong particle accelerator housed inside the stock. The barrel was quite long with a small silencer on the end. The captain took one and inspected it carefully. He gave a low whistle, stroking the scope gently.


"One for me and one for you." said the captain, grabbing the other and tossing it over his shoulder. Admiral Thorpe had already put on a combat suit that was capable of limited environmental protection capabilities. His dull grey armor changed color with the flickering lights, as its camouflage made the outer layer pitch-black whenever the lights went off.

"Alright, I'm ready to leave this place, let's go." The admiral announced after thoroughly checking his suit.

“What about the other crew members?”

“They’re dead. We didn’t have any warning before the missiles hit us hard. It was a miracle that I lived

The captain let out a troubled sigh.

“There has to be at least a few other survivors.”

“Even if there is, this place is crawling with aliens and marines by now. We have to go before more arrive.”


Outside the ship, the two looked back at the wreckage in a solemn respect for the fallen ship. Each had his own thoughts about it. The captain felt guilt at the death of the many lives that once manned the Unrelenting. The admiral reminisced over the many journeys the ship had been taken on under his command. Then they both turned and left the Unrelenting to the hands of Notrium, to be battered and eroded for centuries until it becomes one with the planet.




Chapter 14: Stealthy Infiltration-


"I'll meet you there exactly 5 Notrium days from now. Don't forget." The admiral said, while pointing to a place on the nav map. The captain and Admiral Thorpe had made a plan to destroy the planetary defenses. While the captain would try and find a marine outpost in hope of finding a map to the marine headquarters, the admiral would go to the source of the missiles just in case the captain couldn't disable the defenses remotely. This way they would have double the chance of succeeding, yet the odds were still against them. "If I'm not here, don't try and find me. If the defenses have been shut down just lay low until the United Confederacy fleet arrives, then you can contact them for extraction. Chances are that the marines won't be too happy about this so try to be careful." The captain nodded and turned to leave. "Good luck admiral." He said to which the admiral replied, "To you as well. I'll see you in 5 days."


The captain went back to the area in which his escape pod landed and he saw his first marine. He ate his dinner there and kept going. If he was lucky, he would stumble across a marine patrol.

He was lucky. Where the trees slowly thinned out and the grass turned to rock, a marine squad of at least twenty-four was marching around in perfect unison. They were led by someone in purple armor. The rest wore white and grey armor. The captain watched them march back and forth across the forest edge until they eventually met up with a second squad of marines, also numbering twenty-four. At this point the two leaders talked with each other before turning back and backtracking to where they came from. After the two squads were out of sight the captain passed them and ran further away from the forest. Off in the distance he could see blue smoke in the air contrasting with the green Notrium sky. The air began to taste very foul even when being filtered by the captain's suit. The ground inclined upwards and soon the captain was standing on the edge of a cliff. He saw the source of the blue smoke beneath him and brought out his sniper rifle.


Click. The rifle zoomed to a 200x magnification. There was a base with two huge smoke stacks emitting smoke on a regular basis. Large blue crystals jutted out of the ground that strange machines were drilling into. People wearing orange suits much thinner than the marines' suits were hard at work carrying loads of blue objects from a mine in the cliff face to the outpost. Marines guarded the entrance and the towers had powerful spotlights scanning the ground constantly. The captain decided not to make them on the alert by shooting the guards already so he walked along the ridge looking for a way down. There was what seemed to be the remains of a rockslide below him and the large rocks made climbing down seem possible. Still, it was too risky. As he kept going he saw a strange object in the distance that pulsated every now and then. A strange lift came into view, with carts full of blue crystal ore being ferried down the cliff and empty carts going up. Two marines guarded this lift. The captain raised his rifle, aimed carefully, and fired once. The bullet tore through the heads of both of the marines and they fell to the ground, dead. The discharge made hardly any noise. The captain smiled at the deadly efficiency of his weapon. He jumped fell downwards onto a cart and covered himself with the blue crystals. They were beautiful ores and felt extremely cold. It was no mystery why the marines wanted such valuable crystals.


The descent down the cliff was actually pretty smooth. Something on each platform made the carts hover in mid-air stably to prevent any ores from falling out. The orange workers ran up to the cart and lifted it up. They carried the cart over to the base and into some sort of processor. The captain had to bite his lip to prevent himself from crying out when he was tossed down a tube and into a large bowl-shaped container. This container was underground, filled to the top with crystals of varying sizes and shapes. The captain got up to the top of a particularly large one and looked around. The walls were reinforced by steel plating and the tube that brought him down had just sealed itself. The crystals started to sink deeper to the bottom of the bowl, like water down a drain. The captain ran over to the very edge and looked around frantically for a way out. He took out his laser pistol and tried to blast a hole into the tube. The beam just dissipated when it hit the shiny metal. The big crystal the captain was standing on slid down the hole at the bottom of the bowl a set of lasers cut it into smaller piece. He held onto one for dear life as the crystals were sucked back up to the surface. The captain flew out of a hole and found himself right in the middle of the marine mining outpost.


He raised his weapons at the workers staring rather dumbstruck at this unexpected surprise. The captain anticipated a fight but to his confusion, they ran off screaming for help. One thing was for certain, these guys weren't marines. The entire base went onto full alert, the guards scrambled for the base, and all machinery stopped. The captain loaded his gravitron rifle with a fuel cell in one deft move. He had practiced this before in simulations: insertions into an enemy base outnumbered and outgunned.


The gravitron rifle glowed green and he closed the fuel cell chamber. This was just like those simulations. Just keep a cool head and a focused will and it wouldn't be too hard. The captain lifted the rifle and turned off the safety. It didn’t hurt to have a highly destructive weapon either.


Once the guards were in range he held down the trigger. Hundreds of green orbs flew out like angry bees swarming at the marines. The gravitron particles bypassed their suits and exploded on impact, killing dozens of them within seconds. The remaining few ran for cover but there was nowhere they could hide from the gravitron rifle's onslaught.


When it overheated, the captain turned off the energy restraints and tossed the rifle at the remaining marines.

Normally the energy restraints would've prevented the fuel cell from overloading but the severe heat caused the fuel cell to explode, sending shrapnel flying everywhere. A second squad ran out of a nearby bunker. They quickly dispersed behind cover and shot their tazer pistols at the captain. One hit him square in the back as he was retreating, immobilizing him. He struggled to move as electric currents swept through his body. The suit quickly compensated and he regained movement.


The captain sprinted away from the bunker and into the refinery. He climbed onto the roof and took out his sniper rifle. The marines moved back together and searched for the captain. He aimed at the closest marine and fired. The muzzle flashed briefly and the bullet hit home. The captain loaded a bullet into the chamber, aimed, and fired. Another marine was down. The marines were panicking and another three of them were dead before they found out where the shots were coming from. They ran towards the refinery and a few even made it before being shot. The captain climbed down the ladder and easily dispatched the rest of the marines. He was at the refinery entrance when the last marine rushed at him with a knife in his hand. The captain turned and grabbed the marine's hand. He disarmed the marine and pinned him to the wall with the barrel of the sniper rifle. The captain was about to shoot but then he realized that the marine was sobbing.




Chapter 15: A Coward's Reprieve-


"Oh God..." whimpered the marine. "Please dun... dun shoot... oh my." The captain was so dumbfounded by this marine's behavior that he didn't even pull the trigger. The image of a marine was an emotionless, fearless, and efficient fighting machine. The last thing the captain expected was to have one groveling at his feet.

"Please, I have... valuable money.... good goods, and... and shiny trinkets!" The marine begged while holding out a pitiful pile of ore dust, old Sol currency called "pennies", and a few broken gadgets. He tossed these at the captain's feet. "Here, now don't press that trigger. I'm not one of them. I swear! I swear!" The captain recovered from his daze and pulled the marine to his feet.


"Who are you?" He asked. Not expecting an answer, he reached behind the marine and lifted up the headpiece from the rest of the armor. Behind the breathing apparatus that was still attached, the face looked awfully familiar. "I know you! You're the hermit I saw in that hut!" Said the captain.

"Yes, yes, I'm not a marine. Don't kill me.. please." came the reply.

"I'm not going to shoot, now tell me who you are and what you're doing in a marine suit if you're not ‘really’ a marine."

"Oh, right. I... I come, I mean I came here a few months ago. My ship, oh how I miss her, my ship... crashed onto this planet. Terrible soldiers, marines, yes, they took me but killed the rest of my crew. I was the only human. That might have something to do with it. Yes, yes, I'm human, but I wish I weren't. The Ville Corp-" The hermit hesitated at the thought of his employing corporation. "- only takes humans. Death would have been much more... better. The rest of them. I saw. The rest of them had these, these things put into their skull. They lost their self becoming empty shells of a computer, a strange computer chip. Oh but I got out of it. I escaped for a while and they thought, they thought I already had it. I became, I pretended... acted to be brave, and ruthless, but I couldn't stand it. I couldn't, I wouldn't do this to my fellow stranded survivors. I deserted, left them. Made my own hut. That's when they barged in and took me back. Tortured me for days. Oh God."


The hermit clutched his head at this horrible memory. The captain held onto the shoulders of the hermit while he breathed heavily. "About these chips, are you saying that those marines are humans being enslaved by Ville Corp?"

The hermit took a deep breath. "Yes. Another, like me, he got away the second time I was captured. They recovered him too. I saw the fear in his eyes. Like a madman! He was no marine, he was just a fatigued survivor forced into being the arm of Ville Corp. He became crazy, wacko, cuckoo! I sure am glad I didn't go mind-sick like him!" The hermit forced a laugh, showing his relief that he himself was not crazy. The captain looked at the hermit and laughed genuinely himself. The whole time he thought he was dealing with a marine, in truth he was dealing with a nut.

"And I got away again. Pretended to be like them... I accomplished, like them, being them. Until you showed up. I don't think I could've kept, keep on, rounding up humans and killing the aliens. I just don't have the nerve for that kind of, business, stuff. "

 The hermit sighed and looked around at his dead comrades. His eyes welled up again with tears, and for the first time since they met, he said something that didn't quite seem like something a crazy coward would say.

"You know, you got to stop this Ville Corp. These men, marines, don't deserve this. Nobody does. To lose your own identity, horrible. But to never know freedom anymore, even worse. They are humans, there are so few of us left. Stop them stranger, please stop them. I... I don't want to see humans gone forever. I want to leave this planet with my brethren by my sides. Stop them, that's all I ask. I don't want to be the last dignified, free human in this universe."

The captain shouldered his rifle and turned around. "Me neither."




Chapter 16: Bloodbath at Bunker Beta-3-


The hermit picked up a pistol and attached his headpiece again. He took his radio and smashed it. Apparently calmed that Ville Corp would not be able to track him, he grabbed rations from the storage vault in the refinery. "When this things over, blows over, I'll be happy. Until then, I will hide, not only that, but evade the marines. I don't fancy getting shot right after I get freed."

The captain extended his hand and bade the hermit farewell. Before the hermit left, he called after him. "By the way, if you ever need a home, I rebuilt your hut. It's quite comfortable!" The hermit turned around and shouted a quick "Thank you!" before running off into the distance.


The captain started his search of every single building in the walled marine base. None of them held anything interesting. The only remaining one was a large bunker at the back of the base. He approached it cautiously, eyeing the glowing lights at the top of it. There was a landing pad next to it with a yellow triangular shuttle. He climbed onto it and looked for a way in. He shouted out voice commands and kicked the thing until his foot hurt. Just when he was convinced the shuttle was just for looks, a holographic screen popped out right above the wing, the glowing letters on the semi-transparent screen read: "Please Insert Landing Bay Security Card." The captain turned it off, he did not find any card on the bodies of the marines he killed. He reasoned that such a card would only be carried by top ranking officers in the Ville Corp.


After climbing down, the captain opened the latch leading underground. Red emergency lights gave the narrow corridor an ominous appearance. Off in the distance there were the sounds of footsteps marching in unison, echoing throughout the entire underground structure. The captain slid down the ladder. He took his rapid fire pistol out. It would be effective in close quarters against groups of enemies. The darkness was occasionally broken by the rotating red lights, and the silence was interrupted by the insistent drone of the sirens. Off in the distance he could hear two marines arguing.


"I don't get it sir. There was no perimeter breach, no warning. We lost contact with the guards. The attacker just popped out of the ground."

"Popped out of the ground? If there was anybody else to do this job, I would bash in your control unit!"

"Always some idiot barking orders into my ears, jeez. Sometimes I wish I could esca-" The marine paused for a while and said unemotionally, "No, I serve Ville Corp."

"Get somebody up there. Send our whole platoon up there if you have to. The attacker could still be on the loose."

There was the vague sound of an intercom giving orders. The marching stopped, replaced by the light pattering of feet moving towards the exit. The captain slid into a small groove in the wall. For what seemed like hours, the marines filed out the bunker in a single line. The captain waited and slowly stuck his head out. It was all clear. He crouch-walked with his back to the wall, always making sure nobody was behind him, or in front of him for that matter. It was so dark he had to rely purely on his ears. He could hear growling and sounds of scratching from around the corner. He snuck into the room the sounds were coming from.


Two security screens were suspended from the ceiling displaying what appeared to be a cage full of blue aliens squabbling with each other over scraps of meat. The captain pressed a few buttons on the nearby terminal and discovered that he could open the two alien cages from here. He could also seal the titanium doors to keep the escaping aliens out of the room he was in. When the marines got back then he could eliminate them by releasing the aliens on them. Just for good measure, he also spent a few minutes locking down all the defense systems in the bunker, and shutting down all the door controls except for his own. A critical error to the mainframe then just "happened" to appear as a finishing touch. Then he waited...


The marines ran back down trying to remain as calm as possible. They carried down the charred bodies of their dead comrades and reported to their leader, the one who gave the orders to go to the surface. The sirens stopped and a few lights turned on, but they did little to brighten the dark bunker. On the security screens, the marines returned to their quarters for the night. Once all of them settled in, the captain opened the cage doors. Around the base all the doors opened at once and the starving aliens tore apart every marine they came across. Apparently human meat was tastier than the sinewy flesh of their alien brethren. It was a grotesque sight as the marines hopelessly tried to fight back, but the defense systems didn't seem to work, and normal side arms couldn't deal with so many intruders.


By the time it was over, dead bodies littered the floors of the bunker. Human blood mingled with alien blood was splattered on the floor. The captain turned on the turrets and other automated defenses which quickly got rid of the remaining aliens. He opened his door and stepped over corpses and body parts. Now the captain could explore the marine bunker undisturbed.




Chapter 17: Arrival at the Desert-


Inside what appeared to be a command room of some sort, the captain was surprised to see a spacious circular room with dozens of computer panels giving a low hum and a faint heat. The captain looked closer. Strangely the computer panels and even the input devices were different. Some were plasma screens, and others used holographic technology. A few used voice recognition but the rest used a variety of other contraptions. It was almost as if someone had taken computers from all races and time periods and jammed them into a single room.


Were the marines from different backgrounds? No, some of the tech here was completely alien. Then the captain remembered the ships he had seen on the planet, and the marine squad in the marsh. "These people must be scavengers." he thought, as he tapped the buttons of a rather primitive keyboard. Perhaps Ville Corp. did not even understand the science behind their weapons, armor, and other equipment. If so, then the captain had at least one advantage. The thought of this weakness comforted him. He spoke aloud to one of the consoles:


"Access bunker information."

"Bunker Beta-3 is a means of defending Mining Base Beta-3. There are approximately 50 marines stationed in and around the bunker. It is also used as a research lab for captured blue aliens. The most fascinating discovery that the research team has made is that the brain of a specimen secretes a chemical that the team can use to build an antidote for the-" "Stop." The captain interrupted the console. He had no use for minor details.


"Where can I find information on all of the Ville Corporation facilities on Notrium?" "To the console at the very bottom right." A hologram of Notrium popped up that seemed to show all of the marine bases on the planet. There was a dot with a label next to it that read: "Current Position" and another one with the red letters: "HQ" flickering above it. There were two missile shaped icons on opposite sides of the planet, obviously the planetary defenses that would endanger the United Confederacy fleet if left activated. Then he saw it. It was a slight fluctuation at first as the computer ran more cycles to compute what had just happened. The icon disappeared, replaced by a red X and a bomb symbol. A few seconds later the missile icon returned, as if nothing had ever happened.


The captain typed furiously onto the keyboard, but nothing would confirm what he saw. He paused to think about what it meant. If Admiral Thorpe had succeeded and covered up all traces of anything happening, then all that was left to do was to go to the second one and disable it. But if it was just an error in the system-which was not out of the question, considering the age of some of the computers- then what could he do? Two choices presented themselves to the captain. He could either go to the second defense area and disarm it, or go to HQ and hope that it would be possible to shut them both down from there. He closed his eyes for a moment, weighing the odds and imagining the outcomes.


It did not take long for him to decide. He would have to trust that Admiral Thorpe had succeeded. The other missile site was almost halfway around the planet. Getting there by foot would take months. Then he recalled the shuttle out on the launch pad, and the marine that was barking orders in the bunker. The captain entered the room their leader was before he was clawed apart. He searched the remains of the body and found a light metallic card. He jumped in surprise when the card melted into his hand, eventually disappearing. He shook his hand and looked around the floor but the card was truly gone. The captain ran out of the bunker and to the shuttle. He gasped as the card reformed onto his hand and lit up brighter when he brought it past the holographic screen.


The top of the shuttle lifted and buttons started flashing. The captain climbed in. He gave a sigh of gratitude when he realized that the controls were taken straight out of a human shuttle. He started the engine and lifted it off the pad. The handling was a little choppy as one would expect from combining an alien shell with a human interior. He typed in the coordinates for the defense area and drove it up to maximum speed. The yellow shuttle shone with the moon's reflection, but then its light stretched out into a long tail as the speed increased exponentially. The captain would arrive in 30 minutes.



The view screen displayed the barren desert beneath the shuttle. Occasionally a small moving dot could be seen speeding around. Craters from hundreds of years of crashed ships appeared as specks against the unending expanse. He was at the desert. The shuttle slowed down. Its sensors had picked up some energy signatures. The captain turned the view screen and he could make out a structure in the distance and quickly approaching missiles. He banked hard to the left just in time to dodge the speeding missiles. The missiles took a U-turn and tried again to hit their target. He lowered the shuttle's nose to gain more acceleration. Then the shuttle plummeted down and lodged itself between two rocks. The captain opened the door and leaped out of the shuttle. A series of explosions sent the captain flying face first into the sand. He got up painfully and looked behind him. He cursed and kicked at the sand. All of his rations and water had gone up in flames. Only his weapons were on him. The captain looked around him. Tiny purple robots with wheels and two long bars at the front were surrounding him. The captain pulled out his pistols. "This situation seems awfully familiar."




Chapter 18: Mirage or Vision?-


The long bars of the robots crackled as electricity coursed in between them. They rolled forward by digging their treads into the sand. The captain quickly counted how many of these machines were attacking. The total came out to be 14. He ran backwards and shot at the robots until his pistol ammo was out. Only the laser pistol seemed to be doing any damage so he hastily put away his rapid fire pistol. The glowing red beam sliced through each robot one by one until there were only two left. His foot caught on a rock and he fell backwards. One robot followed him down but the captain was able to barely shoot it in between its electric rods. The robot exploded in his face and sent battery acid flying across the suit. He sat up and wiped some of it off.


Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain on his back that spread throughout his body. A thousand tiny needles seemed to jab the insides of him, keeping him from moving. The pain became duller and duller until all he felt was his own heartbeat. He struggled to move against the current but his suit was totally fried. In one last attempt he turned the laser pistol to his back and fired. The crackling stopped. He knelt there for a moment wondering if he was still alive, whether his heart was still beating like before. Then he fell sideways against the burning sand. Burning? That couldn't be right...unless something was wrong with his suit. When feeling came back to his body, he realized the inside of his suit was searing the surface of his skin. He screamed in anguish. The rising sun had heated up the environment suit so much it might've been doing him more harm than good. But how did he know if the conditions would be even worse without it? He looked around and spotted an enormous tree off in the distance. Its shade would help him cool off. The captain ignored the pain and continued. He did not even know if he was crawling or walking and, in truth, he didn't care. All that mattered was the shade that would greet him if he persevered.


Underneath the tree he could feel his head start throbbing. He removed his helmet and all of the pieces of his enviro-suit. The shade helped cool down his body temperature, but he was still sweating straight through his soaked shirt and pants. This was the first time in a long time that he had completely removed his suit. When he touched his cheeks he found that a beard had grown in the place of his cleanly shaven face. He sat down with his back resting on the trunk of the tree, whose boughs were swaying in the wind. The sun had had just begun to rise, which meant it would only get hotter.


The captain was half unconscious when his mind began to conjure up vivid images of a dark night in the desert. There was an illuminated person floating towards him. Then it was under the tree. The captain got up and felt the imprints this person had left behind. He followed it with his eyes still closed, oblivious to the sun's harsh glare. He opened his eyes, bent over, and saw a tear-shaped pool of shining liquid that swirled and shone with an inner light. He found himself bending closer and closer and closer, breathing heavily upon the surface of the liquid. He began fading away from his corporeal being and his mind was being warped. The captain could see blue waters rolling all around him. Floating clouds of mist approached him and clouded his thoughts. Just when he glimpsed deeper into his mind than he had ever seen before, he pushed himself away from the pool and lay flat on the sand, catching his breath. The strange thing was, all throughout his body there was a feeling of being bathed in cold water. He was no longer delirious from the heat nor did his skin still burn.


The captain gathered his belongings and put on his suit. There was no time for mirages and delusions. He only had three days left before his meeting with Admiral Thorpe. The enviro-suit was still broken, but it's insulation kept him somewhat cool. The distance between him and his goal would decrease slowly, but he estimated that by noon he would get there.


The captain noticed a few turrets around the structure as he approached its walls. The sand exploded in the captain's face. Yellow energy blasts shot from the turrets around the building's perimeter. The captain backed off and wielded his sniper rifle. He was disappointed to see that he only had a dozen or so of the specially made sniper bullets left. He zoomed in on the turrets. There were four guarding the main door with sand barricades set up around them. He aimed at the little openings for the turret gun and destroyed them all with only six bullets. He put the rifle back on his back and pulled out the laser pistol. The door was made of thick wood, no match for the cutting beam of the captain's weapon. Once he kicked it open, he saw a giant room with pillars arching to the wall to support the building, yet still being open enough for the planetary defense robots. The floor rumbled. Two robots each the size of at least twenty shuttles turned towards the captain. Missiles fell into the launcher with an ear-splitting "CLANK!” The captain instinctively jumped behind a pillar. In a ground-shaking explosion the pillar exploded leaving only a cloud of dust and debris behind.




Chapter 19: A Cube within a Sphere within a Machine-


When the dust settled, the captain could clearly see the two robots. They had treads like the smaller ones but obviously on a much larger scale. The purple plating was held together by silvery alloy joints. Mounted on top of each of these robots was a long double barrel launcher that swiveled on a pivot. Again the missiles rose from inside the robot and down the loader. The captain had no choice but to dodge behind another pillar. A series of explosions shook the entire building and the second pillar was destroyed. He was slowly being hounded by two machines of enormous firepower given nothing but a few sidearms. This was not a battle he could win by brute force, but by cunning. The captain noticed a little niche in the plating left a small opening in the front. It would not be large enough for him to fit but maybe... CLANK!


He ran to the next pillar. There were only so many pillars he could hide behind, and once enough of them had fallen, the whole complex would cave in. The captain cast a furtive look at the two robots. His window of opportunity had arrived. Sprinting at the robots as fast as he could, he pulled out his laser pistol and set it on maximum intensity. Soon he was in between the robots. They aimed at him, but could not fire without destroying each other. It took their artificial intelligence a few seconds to find a second course of action, which fell perfectly into the captain's plans. Sand began flying out the other end of each robot as the treads grinded against the rocky floor. The captain ran backwards while harassing them with a few shots.


"If this doesn't work, I'll be flattened out and my remains stuck on their treads." He mused, not as confident as he was a few seconds ago. The captain fired again and again making only slight dents in the heavy armor plating of the robots. His back hit a boulder and one of the robots had him cornered. He took in a huge breath. The front of the robot squeezed him against the rock and the treads started pulling the robot upwards to a tilt. The metal of the front slid up the captain's abdomen and against his ribs. Now his abdomen was through, so he let out all the air in his lungs to shrink the size of his chest. His ribs were being pushed up so much they were beginning to crack. The captain only felt the pain in his chest and upwards, for the lower half of his body was numb due to lack of blood. The bottom ribs finally gave way in a horrifying noise that sounded like a gunshot. The captain slid through the niche and onto the ground.


He struggled to compose himself from the excruciating pain that wracked his entire body. Above him he could hear the roaring of the engine, and the mechanical whirring of the gears. He climbed the ladder before him as quickly as he could with his broken ribs and the interior's dark lighting. It appeared to be leading to the center of the machine. Hydraulic pumps caused the insides to shake. The stench of smoke combined with the heat almost overwhelmed the captain. At long last, he opened a panel and fell into a spherical chamber. What he saw was the strangest thing he had experienced so far on Notrium. In the middle of the chamber floated a metallic box that shone as bright as the sun itself. It defied gravity, staying in one place while slowly spinning. The captain approached it. He was surprised to feel an invisible force pushing him away from the cube that grew stronger as he got closer. Then, it threw the captain back against the wall and held him there for a few seconds before letting go. This was the heart that held the machine together. If he could destroy it somehow, then the robot would not be able to support its own weight. The captain inserted a clip into his rapid fire pistol and shot a continuous stream of bullets at the floating cube, only to have the bullets frozen in mid-air, and slowly orbit the cube as planets orbit the sun. He wielded his laser pistol, kept it on maximum, and shot straight at the cube. The red laser beam almost reached its target, but then it curved sideways and formed a bright red ring around the cube. The captain shot again but it only added another ring. He noticed something odd though. The second ring was tighter around the cube than the first one by just a tiny bit. If the cube had to support more things then it would be weak enough to destroy. The captain aimed his laser pistol at the walls and started slicing them neatly into squares. Now the cube was the only thing holding them up, and the room dimmed slightly. The captain walked as close as he could to the cube and raised his weapon.


He fired, and the laser slowly sliced through the cube causing it to fall to the bottom. Gravity once again gained hold on the robot. The parts and pieces that were once held by the gravity cube creaked in protest of having to bear their own weight. The captain exited the central chamber and headed for the niche again. All around him the robot was falling apart. He dived for the opening right before a pipe landed on the spot where he was. He didn't slow down even with the pain from his ribs growing again. Behind him, the missiles exploded from all the heat, creating a chain reaction with the other robot's missiles as well. The stone structure collapsed, crushing the robots and the captain into the ground.




Chapter 20: Ville-


Consciousness slowly returned to him, but he had no way to be sure. He felt nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing. It was as if he was being enshrouded in darkness. The only thing that told him he was awake was the pain in his mind. Little by little, he could see light again. The feeling of numbness wore off all around his body, and he could barely hear the hum of electronics all around him. There were bars around him restraining movement. The pain he felt in his mind now came from the wounds of his body. He... the captain, reached out for the memories of where he was, and about the events that happened to bring him here. The captain had disabled both of the planetary robots in the desert, only to be crushed by the building's destruction. Now where was he? A new feeling wormed its way into his thoughts: fear. Something wasn't right. His wounds were mostly healed; he could feel the effects of anesthetic on his mind. The bars that held him to the bed were placed there to imprison him. The captain bent his head as much as he could to see the room in which he was in. There were X-ray screens and tables full of medical instruments everywhere. A person walked over to him, and the bars retracted. He was lifted off the bed and dragged out of the room and down a long corridor. They threw him down onto the cold metal floor. He looked up.


At the center of the room sat a figure covered in darkness who studied the captain with his head cocked to the side. He spoke with a deep voice that echoed off the walls of the room.

"So you are the captain of the Var' Equinallin? I must admit, you have put up quite a fight on Notrium, but, in the end, nobody escapes from my grasp." He tossed his head back and jabbed his finger at the captain. "Nobody." The captain couldn't find any words to say in return. Seeing him remain silent, the masked figure continued. "You know, I once thought of making you one of my commanders because of your skill with weapons and survival, but now I see that you are far more valuable. You have walked the surface of Notrium for how many days now? Over three "Earth" months. But the effects of the planet have only begun to manifest itself now." Now the captain's puzzlement gave him the incentive to finally speak, "What are you talking about? Who are you? What is this place?" All of these questions came tumbling out of his mouth. The person replied,

"To answer your first question, I must tell you a little about Notrium. This planet has existed for countless millennia protected by an ancient, for lack of a better word, curse. I suspect that this is just one of the many defenses Notrium's original inhabitants created. Any sentient being that sets foot on Notrium and breathes its air will quickly morph into a more primal state. For some species, this primal state resembles a predator animal, while others become carnivorous plants." The captain pondered these words for a moment. "What about those robots? Those bore the mark of Ville Corp."


"The robots were built by me to augment Notrium's defenses against other ships. My corporation's marines cannot remain in the harsher climates of some of Notrium's areas so the robots must be used instead. I believe the equatorial desert defense facility was where we found you, and the one which was destroyed." He said these last words with a barely contained bitterness. And to answer your second and third questions: My name is Ville, and you are a guest on my flagship in orbit above Notrium. But like I said, you have somehow negated the effects of Notrium's "curse", so while your suit is being dismantled and examined, we must dissect your brain and your internal organs to see what allows you to fight off the chemicals in the Notrium's air. Hopefully the solution will be obtained. Losing my marines randomly is incredibly inefficient." Two armed guards appeared again and grabbed the captain. He flailed around but could not free himself from their grasp. "Ugh, it's useless." he muttered as the guards stuck a needle in his arm. The lights swirled around him and he entered a deep slumber.


When he awakened for the second time, he saw that he was back in the medical room. This time there were saws and hooks dangling above him. A marine approached him. The marine grabbed the surgical utensils and prepared to jab a laser knife into the captain's chest. "Damn, what a way to go." he thought to himself as he saw the knife fall. However, when he expected to feel a searing blade in his flesh, instead he felt sparks fly out of the restraints holding him. The metal bars split apart and the marine tapped the captain on the shoulder.

"Come on, we have to get out of here. Your dissection wasn't scheduled until an hour from now. Shake off your drowsiness. We're going to head for the portside shuttle bay." The captain got up and followed his unexpected rescuer. Alarm sirens started blaring from all directions. They turned a corner and the marine sliced through the lock on the door. Once they were inside, the captain saw two yellow shuttles like the one he found at the marine bunker. They entered the newer looking one and primed the engines for launch. Seconds later, marines burst into the bay and fired their bullets at the shuttle's engines. The shuttle lifted off the ground and flew out into space, with the afterburners roasting all the marines inside the bay. The captain noticed they were on a direct course for Notrium. The marine that just saved him set it on autopilot and looked at the captain.

 "I expect you're a little confused, captain. Don't worry, I'll set everything straight once we're on the surface." The captain nodded, but secretly gripped a pistol he had found behind the shuttle's seat. He didn't trust the pilot at all, even if he owed his life to him.




Chapter 21: What Happens Now-


The latch popped open with a hiss. The captain was grateful to stretch out his legs on the ground. The shuttle was definitely not made for two. Around him were tall trees whose green hue blended in with the sky, giving the captain a feeling of being extremely small. He turned and aimed the pistol at the marine who had exited without a word and began performing repairs on the shuttle. He did not see the captain and patted the shuttle. "This thing will be our ticket out of here if things get rough."

The captain took a few steps backwards. "So why don't you take that helmet off and let me see who you are? I can't recognize your voice through the visor." The marine looked at the captain and then at the gun. He appeared rather irritated but shook his head a few moments later, in the same way an older brother scoffs at a younger sibling's words.

"Didn't any of Ville's words sink in? If I take my helmet off I run the risk of getting mutated into one of those damned aliens. Heck I could sprout into another one of those trees right before your eyes." The captain self-consciously looked down at his clothing, and realized that he didn't have his environment suit on. "What about me then?"


The marine replied, "Yeah, well... there's nothing much we can do about that. I don't have an extra breathing mask for you and besides, Ville said you had some kind of immunity to Notrium's air. I guess that explains why you aren't like the others." The captain said, "The others. Were all of Notrium's trees and plants once sentient beings? That means the Var' Equinallin... my crew...The medic, android, and Sterns..." The marine studied the captain's troubled expression and told the captain to follow him. They walked on the forest paths until they reached a small bunker, filled with overgrown vegetation and moss.


Inside, the marine sealed the door and turned on the lights. He clicked the locks off and air spewed out of the suit, obscuring the person's face. When it stopped, the captain's heart stopped with it. He stumbled backwards as if he had seen a ghost. His rescuer had been none other than First Mate Jack Sterns, the same man whom he had left to die at the escape pod now returned. His eyes still had the same coldness, darkness to it, but it was counterbalanced by a smile of genuine happiness. "Captain, it's good to see you again." The captain let out a big breath and uttered, "Sterns... I'm sorry I abandoned you. I had no other choice. I couldn't save both you and myself." Sterns shook his head. "I understand, and I forgive you, even if there's nothing to forgive. As you can see, I've been doing well for myself here." He pointed around at the battery generators, packs of rations, and the crates full of folded turrets. The captain sat down and asked simply, "Well, what's the story?" Sterns wrinkled his brow as he tried to recall the events that had happened after he regained consciousness after the escape pod crash.


"I woke up in one of the marine bunkers grouped up with other humans. All of them were dead, but I wasn't. I think my coma made it seem as if I was already dead so the marines tossed me and the other bodies into what appeared to be a garbage pile of some sort. When one of the marines came for us, I killed him and put on his suit. Without his uniform I could clearly see cybernetic implants in the marine. He was a male human but half his head had been replaced by a metal shell and his chest was patched up with all sorts of implants. It was like nothing I ever saw. I trashed the bodies and the evidence. Anyway, I found out the identity I took was actually one of the Ville Corp leader's personal bodyguards. So I was one of the few allowed in his personal quarters on the flagship. There, I learned that the Ville Corp marines had computer implants that controlled their every movement. In some instances, he even had their entire brain restructured. It was like a ship full of guinea pigs, each with different implants and tech mixed in." Sterns sighed. "They weren't even human anymore. I knew that I would have to destroy this corporation or else who knows what he might do with an army of marines. Before I could get close enough to Ville himself to kill him, I heard news that a very important survivor had been captured. I knew that it had to be you." The captain remained silent throughout the narrative, listening attentively to Sterns. He let the entire story sit in his mind for a while, before shunting it away and returning to his thoughts about the present.


"What about Admiral Thorpe? I don't know if you know but he and his ship crash-landed on Notrium and we disabled the two planetary defense facilities. I told him I would meet him at a certain spot... two days ago." When he heard this, Sterns frowned and told the captain, "The Admiral was captured and executed right after he was caught in the act. I heard that the marines shot him in the back after he shut down the robots. I'm sorry to tell you that." The captain's mood was being torn in two directions now. One part felt happy to see his first mate alive again, and another saddened by the loss of Admiral Thorpe. He ignored these feelings; they only served to distract him. "So what now? For the past few months I've been striving for a single purpose: to get off Notrium safely. But I've got a hunch that this about more than just survival now." At this point the door opened and a dozen marines marched in from a nearby dropship that landed just then. The captain raised his weapon but Sterns held him back. The marines gave Sterns a crisp salute in unison. Sterns returned the gesture.

"This is what happens now. I reprogrammed some of the marines on Ville's computer to follow me and start a base of operations at this abandoned bunker. It was real easy actually. I just used a program stored in his databanks called 'Mod' or something like that to switch a few parameters around. These guys will be helping us destroy Ville Corp's flagship once and for all. My business with Ville isn't finished yet." He handed the captain a Ville Corp Assault Rifle from one of the boxes and said to him. "We could really use an extra gun to help us out." The captain replied with a hesitant "all right". He looked around at the orderly marines arming themselves. Sterns entered the dropship that would get them into space. The captain had an odd feeling about all of it. Something wasn't quite right, but he didn't know why.




Chapter 22: Boarding of the Ville Corp Flagship-


Thud! A dull thump sent the dropship's computer on a series of operations. It had been programmed to put its passengers into a deep freeze to fool any life sign scanners. As Ville's flagship clamped onto the dropship with two magnetic rods, the captain, Sterns, and the marines were being gradually thawed out. A team of Ville Corp marines in space suits floated over to the derelict ship. One of them took a carving laser and sliced a hole into the back, right under the main engines. He took a peek in. A blinding flash was the last thing he saw before a bullet blew silently through his neck and spherical drops of blood splattered on the dropship's hull. The seven other Ville Corp marines let their jets guide them back to the flagship. They weren't about to fight in the empty vacuum of space. The captain was in quick pursuit and gunned all of the marines down before they could even reach the airlock.


Alive that is, for what remained of their bodies landed on the sealed door with a wet smack. Sterns and his marines exited the dropship rather sluggishly, still feeling the effects of being frozen alive. The captain quickly plucked a bloody I.D. card off of the abdomen of a dead marine. A short swipe through the airlock door mechanism and it opened. The captain signaled for the rest of his team to follow him into the airlock. He then closed the outer door, and pressurized the room. Metal locks slid back and the inner airlock door retracted. There was no one there. The marines advanced and cleared the room. Still nothing. Sterns gave hand signals for two marines to stand guard while the captain and the rest would sit down with him to discuss their plan. "I know this ship as well as Ville himself." he whispered proudly, "There are three shield generators placed in this vicinity. There is a hall that leads from the shield generators and storage rooms to the bridge and crew quarters. That hall is going to be our choke point. Eight of our twelve marines led by me will set up a barricade there to prevent any reinforcements to arrive from the main parts of the ship while the captain will take five marines to disable the shield generators. Once they're disabled the main force field leading to the bridge will be gone, giving us a straight shot at Ville."

The captain smiled shrewdly, "Looks like you've got this all figured out."

Sterns snorted and replied, "Oh yeah. I've been looking forward to this for a long time."


He gathered his squad and got ready to leave. The captain organized his five marines and carefully exited the room. He started walking down the corridor but Sterns tapped him on his shoulder and pointed in the other direction, "That way."

"Oh, right."


He had never seen such a well trained squad unit in his military career. The marines moved without fear, performing their separate duties in an efficient manner. The generators' guards weren't prepared for an organized assault. Once all the shield generators were either shot to pieces by their weapons or blown up with explosives, the captain returned to the main hall to find Sterns and his marines on the retreat while under heavy fire. Enemy marines swarmed out of the doors and willingly let themselves be shot, if only to buy a nearby marine just enough time to make a shot. The captain dodged to the side. They couldn't survive this bombardment forever.


The Ville Corp marines charged down the hall and finally broke through the sandbags that Sterns had laid down. A purple armored marine aimed directly at Sterns with his shotgun. Bang! Sterns was knocked backwards and the captain thought he was hit. But it wasn't just Sterns; the entire ship had just been hit by something from the outside. Sterns took the initiative and seized the shotgun. He turned it on its original owner and fired two rounds, sending the tattered body flying back to the end of the hall. The impact from the outside was repeated again but this time it was ten times more powerful, sending some marines straight through the ceiling and walls. The ship's lights shattered. The captain couldn't tell friend from foe, and neither could the Ville Corp marines. There was only one thing he could do: run. Past the sandbags, piles of bodies, and dazed marines with his only goal being the end of that hallway. Behind him there were confused gunshots and screams of pain. He hoped that Sterns was still alive, though the chances of that were slim. Ahead he saw some light. Was it from the bridge? Yes. That light looked familiar and he realized this was the same passage that he was dragged through during his capture on the flagship. Sweat dripped into his eyes, obscuring his vision.


There he was. The bridge viewscreens were on, showing the planet Notrium, and asteroids floating dangerously close. Ville had his back turned to the captain. His wavy hair fell onto his shoulders. Strangely enough he was wearing the old-fashioned "jeans" and "t-shirt" of a long forgotten era. Without even looking at the captain, who was breathing quite loudly, he spoke in his deep voice, "Isn't it cruel how fate toys with us in such a way, to constantly remind us that our struggle against mortality is utterly futile. Yet we still try, even if our efforts are for nothing. For eons mankind has arrogantly ignored the fact of life and death. To have fought a losing battle so long and have been so blinded, being able to see the truth at last is painful." The captain walked a few steps closer and said, "Turn around Ville."


Ville ignored him. "But it is necessary. My only hope is that he will see the truth as well. I have fought with machines and technology, but I know not what he have fought with, or even if he is still alive. Captain, I have tried to save the race of humans but I know that it is useless, and I know that your attempts will also be in vain, but still I wish you luck, for you will need it." The captain grabbed Ville's shoulder and turned him around. What he saw triggered a feeling of disgust mixed with awe. Ville's face was part mechanical, part rotting flesh. His neck was nothing but a group of wires and metal parts. His eyes had the red glow of infrared sensors. The captain could make out that he was a young man before normal growth had stopped, replaced by cellular degeneration. Ville looked over the captain's shoulder and whispered, "My time has come." before his head exploded in a shower of sparks and dry bits of flesh. The captain whirled around with his assault rifle ready. Sterns held a smoking rifle in his hands, smiling shrewdly.


"Very good job. Now that Ville is dead his marines will no longer be under his control. They will be under my control. I have waited forever for this day to come. Now I have taken the opportunity to rise." Marines marched into the room and surrounded the captain. All of them had their guns pointed at him. The captain aimed his at Sterns.


Sterns spat some blood out of his mouth and said, "When we were on the Var' Equinallin, I wondered if I would stay '2nd in command' all my life. I doubted myself more than ever. Now, I see a glorious future ahead of me: Jack Sterns, leader of the Ville Corp-- renamed Jack Corp of course-- marines, lord of Notrium, conqueror of the galaxy. His usually dark eyes burned with the glow of raw ambition. The captain inched slowly backwards, not taking his eyes off Sterns. "So all this time you were just playing along until the right moment to seize my ship?" Sterns nodded. "But a mutiny isn't good enough is it Jack? Your ambition would pull you up to the top no matter what the cost. Well let me tell you something: If that is what truly drives you, then you will someday meet a bloody end, perhaps sooner than you think."


The captain reached back and hit a switch on the bridge computer. The remaining lights dimmed, then completely shut off, and the low purring of the ship's engine faded out. Sterns shouted out an order to fire, and white hot flashes followed. The captain couldn't see anything but he could hear bodies hit the ground and bullets hissing through the room. The entire flagship shuddered in defiance of Notrium's gravity, but it slowly fell into the grip of the planet. Without power it was nothing but a giant hulk of metal drifting in space. The captain had snuck slowly out of the bridge and into the corridor, but if a marine happened to stumble on him or hear him, he would be dead. It was still a mystery to him how he was still alive even, given that twenty marines had fully automatic rifles all aimed at him.


 The ship's artificial gravity field collapsed, and the life support would soon follow. Again the captain's life was at the mercy of Notrium.




Chapter 23: "Then You Will Someday Meet a Bloody End"-


This was one of those rare moments when the captain knew that death was imminent. It did not frighten him. He had learned long ago that one life was a small loss compared to everything else in the universe. No, it wasn't death that he feared. It was the ending of so many unfinished plans; so many things he had been expected to do. His life wasn't his own, so he had no right to lose it. Time seemed to have no presence on that doomed ship. Add on the fact that there was no gravity; it would be a lonely and unearthly way to die. The air was getting thinner and the temperature was dropping rapidly, but along with that he began to feel the pull of Notrium's gravity and the turbulence of atmospheric entry.


The nearby windows were filled with the image of flaring heat and flame. The rumbling grew more intense, and the captain held on as best he could. Judging from the slant of the ship he guessed that it was coming in at a very steep angle. He got up with some difficulty and stumbled his way to the back of the ship. The rumbling got louder and louder until the sound made him want to cover up his ears, if only his hands weren't so busy clinging on for dear life.


The first thundering explosion slowed down the ship and sent him skidding down the hall. He stuck out his legs against the walls to slow him down, but ended up doing a very painful split. Everything on the ship just floated in the air for a moment. The bouncing of the ship created an artificial weightlessness. Then another impact sent the floor coming up to smack the captain square in the chest. He flew up like a rag doll, slammed his back against the ceiling at the same time the ship came to a grinding halt. But the captain was still going at the ship's original speed. He was thrown forward out one of the shattered windows and after what seemed like an eternity, he landed on the ground.


The captain dug his way out of the soft dirt he was buried under. It felt like that somebody had individually broken every one of his bones. The broken ribs from his fight with the planetary defense robots were broken again, along with some new ones. When his head finally reached fresh air he realized he couldn't see a thing. He stumbled forward blindly for a few minutes. A tingling feeling began to move its way up his feet, and then his legs. This surprised him at first, so he tried to move, but was held back not by something physical, but by a roadblock in his mind. No matter how hard he urged himself to move, his mind kept his body rooted to the spot. His bones cracked as they were being set straight. What used to be a tingling feeling turned into a feeling of euphoria. At the very end of the process, when the feeling spread to his head, and to his mind, he realized that much of his mental anguish was gone as well. He never felt better in his life. The mind blocks were gone.


The captain fell onto his knees, both exhausted and energized at the same time. He opened his eyes. The glowing being dimmed gradually until the captain could make out its outline. Two large eyes were jutting out from the top of this creature's head. An arm extended from either side of the tapering body, both thin and wiry. The entire body floated two feet off the ground. It all looked somehow familiar. Before the recollection came to him, his exhaustion finally won out. As if the creature sensed his fatigue, it created a soothing light to put him quickly to sleep.


The captain woke with his head throbbing painfully. He was seated on a leaf bed that reminded him of his first nights on Notrium. Then it struck him that this was exactly like his first nights on Notrium. The crash, the loss of consciousness, and the- what happened after that he did not remember. He jumped to his feet and instinctively reached for a weapon. There were none. All that he could see was thick bushes and tropical trees. There were ominous growls, echoing in the distance.


He walked out of the stone grotto the leaf bed was placed in. The first thing that caught his eye was the glowing translucent creature that hovered with its back facing the captain. He remembered now. "You look different from the medic I knew months ago, but somehow I know you are him."


The creature turned and his inner light dimmed. "Sorry, I was meditating. It is good to see you are awake. I was able to heal most of the major injuries but only your body could mend the rest." The captain recognized this voice as well.

"But you look so much more... I don't know how to describe it. What happened to you?" The medic's eyes bent slightly to examine himself. It was true. His transparent body now had a white hue instead of a pink one. An inner white glow coming from inside him gave his appearance a pure and ethereal look.

"Yes. Much has happened ever since I landed here in an escape pod. I will tell you later, but now we have to keep moving. Since you are awake, we can travel much faster now. This area is dangerous, even for me." The captain merely had to conjure up a thought of agreement, and the medic understood.


"By the way, what should I call you? I have a feeling that you aren't the same person I met during the Var' Equinallin's maiden voyage. I never even knew your name." The medic thought for a moment then answered the captain. "Neither do I. Remember when I told you about my nightmares? There was a terrible emptiness that I felt, a... void. Then every time I couldn't remember anything after that. There were just screams and flashes of green. I know this planet holds the key to my past, and when I finally rediscover it, I'll be sure to tell you my name. For now, just call me by what any of my race was called: Psionic."


"Quiet." urged the Psionic. There was a rustling from across the bridge. The bridge itself was nothing more than a log with lava oozing past. The volcano spewed out more lava, turning the log into ash. Suddenly a silhouette appeared from the trees. The person panted heavily, and looked panicked. It was Sterns. He looked at the river of lava in dismay, and stamped the ground in frustration. A series of sounds nearly sent him into a nervous breakdown, and he picked up a rock and started brandishing it at the trees. A lob of acidulous liquid sped through the air and splashed on his eyes, and he screamed so loudly that he almost drowned out the sounds of frenzied growling.



Small aliens poured out of the trees, grinding their teeth together in anticipation. Their skin was dark green, and they ran forward on two legs instead of four. Sterns screamed even louder as one of them latched its teeth on his leg. He slammed the rock down on the alien's head until blood flowed down its jaws and seeped into the ground. The other aliens picked up on the smell and it enticed them even more. As they were all going to attack, a shrill screech pierced the air. They stopped in their tracks. Even the dazed alien with the bashed-in skull withdrew. Sterns was now on the ground clutching his leg, and was still blinded. Out of the shadows walked another green alien. This one was still small compared to the larger aliens of Notrium, but amongst its brood, it dwarfed them all. The captain gasped. He had met this alien before. It dashed forward and locked its jaws onto Sterns' throat in one blindingly fast move. Sterns was screaming again but stopped when his own blood began to choke him.


The captain didn't want to see the rest. The whole scene nauseated him. Nobody deserved that fate, except, maybe Sterns. "Come on." He spoke in his mind. "Let's move on."

While they were leaving they could still hear the victory howls of Sterns' killers.




Chapter 24: Secrets of the Hive-


The jungle area teemed with life. The scorched air, dark underbrush, and ambient noise would make any living being feel extremely claustrophobic. As he walked on, sometimes the captain would see a pair of glimmering eyes staring at him, only to disappear into the shadows of the trees. The Psionic, too, was unusually on edge. Occasionally they would stop after hearing a suspicious sound, but nothing happened.


They descended into a depression in the ground which was overcast by the clouds' and trees' shadows. That's when they were attacked. In the complete dark, their stalkers took the opportunity to make an easy kill. The captain felt claws swipe inches from his face. He spared a second to see how the Psionic was faring. What he saw amazed him. The Psionic's light revealed nothing at all. Invisible scratches appeared on the Psionic's delicate skin but their origin was nowhere to be seen. The captain felt himself be grabbed by the invisible attacker and thrown back. There was a purple flash. A monstrous roar shook the trees with its volume, and the captain felt a dead weight fall on him in a heap. Blood oozed all over his shirt.


He strained his neck to see the Psionic. The Psionic was simply floating there, casually sending purple orbs of energy out in all directions. Some hit the invisible attackers and exploded into dozens more energy orbs. Then, with the strength of his mind alone, he lifted what the captain guessed were the remaining enemies, and froze them into blocks of solid ice. The dead body lying on top of the captain disappeared, but its blood remained behind. He got up.


The clouds parted to let some of the sunlight through again. The captain wiped some of the blood off of his face and noticed it was purple. He turned his finger slightly and the blood gradually became light blue. Finally it faded into nothing. He looked at the Psionic, who was still holding the blocks of ice motionless above the ground. The captain asked in bewilderment,

"What were those things? I couldn't see them at all." The Psionic relaxed his composure and the lowered the ice blocks to the ground. He lifted one of the blocks of ice and brought it in front of the captain. Frozen in its final position, was the mold of a reaper body. For a moment he thought he could see two yellow eyes glaring at him, watching him from a faraway place.


"Reapers. The ghosts of the Hive. These are beasts that have survived on Notrium for eons, slowly letting their souls be absorbed by this cursed planet, until they barely exist in a corporeal form. See this one?" he brought another block in front of the captain. "It was probably a bumbling explorer searching for riches on the planet of Notrium." Another block moved to the front. "This one was probably a crewman of a fallen warship, stranded here from an ancient battle in the space above Notrium. They were all once like you, merely survivors in an alien place. After they die, their bodies lose their last hold onto our world. They simply vanish."


With this, the Psionic shattered the ice blocks with a single thought, and left the captain there to stare at him in amazement.


"Wait up!" The captain yelled out. The Psionic stopped and turned to face him. The captain caught his breath, "How the hell did you do that? You don't get those powers overnight." The Psionic replied as if it were nothing,

"Oh you mean the freezing? That's from combining my knowledge of the basic blast and the water tok-" He stopped, noticing the confused look on the captain's face. "Like I said: Much has happened since the last time we met. And again, like I said, I will explain them to you later but right now just isn't the time."

The captain was about to retort with a sarcastic, "Oh of course." but kept his mouth shut. Friend or no, the Psionic could kill him with a single thought. He remembered suddenly about the Psionic's telepathic capabilities, so he tried his best to banish these thoughts from his mind.


As if they witnessed the death of the reapers, the rest of the aliens they encountered ran off as soon as they were seen. Little by little the light from the sky faded, and so did the captain's energy. He was hungry, tired, and frustrated. Hours of stomping through a death-trap had a tendency to do that to even the most seasoned hiker. The Psionic whispered in his mind. "This is the way to the central nest of the blue aliens. We would be better off taking a detour."


The captain followed without objection. It was true though, for he noticed many blue aliens peeping out of the jungle to see who was intruding in their turf. A few of the smaller ones left, but the fully matured blue aliens reared their narrow heads and shouted their battle cries. Almost simultaneously with these cries, countless more blue aliens ran out to claim their prey. The Psionic floated in front of the captain and told him, "I'll handle this. Just run when I tell you to." He lifted his arms to gather his energy. His outline blurred, and then doubled. The captain blinked again to make sure his eyes were working right. He saw his own outline be doubled over and over until he was surrounded by exact replicas of himself, each one looking around in puzzlement just like him. The Psionic shouted, "Run!"


All of the decoys scattered in every direction. The captain wasn't sure which Psionic to follow. At first the decoys were able to distract the aliens but then their numbers dwindled until only three were left. The captain kept on running away from the group of aliens that decided that he was the real one. Never before in his life had he ran so desperately, swinging his legs with every muscle, every tendon straining to their limits.


But his lungs couldn't keep up. Blood pumped into his head furiously but he still felt light headed. His legs and arms just gave up. He curled up into a shivering ball. For once in his life he felt what it was like to know fear. Not the fear that he knew of being alone, nor was it the shallow fear that he felt towards the marines, crash onto Notrium, and its subsequent dangers. He thought that he didn't fear death but he was wrong. He was afraid. At this moment what he wanted most was to survive, no matter what the odds were. He would survive, and if he couldn't, at least he could take as many of those alien bastards down with him.


A pressure came from inside him, and it came out as an odd sort of croak. It grew louder, more ferocious, until his mouth was wide open, a sound of primal fury blasting out of his throat. He saw the aliens who were chasing him, he smelled them, heard them, and felt their heartbeats vibrating off of the trees. He felt alive. Then, by instinct, his claws flew up to slash the throat of the nearest alien. Blood sprayed into his eyes, only making him want more. Another alien fell before him, and then another. With each small death he felt angrier. There was a presence past those trees, he could sense it. It drew him like a magnet, but he didn't care. All the voice inside his head told him was to kill, kill, kill.


And so he followed this attraction, leaving behind a trail of disemboweled bodies. His sense of smell was driving him mad. The smell of life came from beyond those trees, and he would go there to end it. There was its origin: the queen of the blue aliens, sitting in her nest. Literally hundreds of tiny baby aliens poured out of the nest to protect their matriarch. They were all clawed apart easily. The mighty queen ran off of the nest to face the intruder. He leapt onto her back and created two gashes down the length of her body. She hissed while trying to swat him with her tail. The blood splashed up to him, and he buried his head into her back to devour her from the inside out. She screamed for help from her broodlings, but none of them answered. All she could do was to wait for the end to come. Slowly, her cries grew softer, until they were barely a whisper.


He ate her corpse up, relishing every bite of it. Another creature appeared by the nest. A bright light appeared in his eyes. Then he could see it in his mind. "No! What are you doing? Get out of my head!"




Chapter 25: Heart of the Mind-


Time stopped in its tracks. The captain was running down a long hallway. He wasn't sure where he was going, or what was causing him to run, but he just kept going. Screams echoed from behind, and whispers from the front. Something was chasing him. He could feel that something running as well, only faster. He was out of breath.


A crystal barrier blocked his path. On it, his reflection was gazing back at him. The captain kicked it as hard as he could. It shattered easily. As the shards flew by, he felt a stale breeze blow from ahead. There was another barrier. This one was much thicker, but he managed to break it apart too. The air was growing warmer, and it felt pleasant against his skin. He wanted to find the end of the hallway. Something warm and comfortable was there. It motivated him to continue destroying any obstacle in his way, to get to the end of the hallway.


Then it started to burn. The heat was no longer pleasant; it seemed to sear every inch of skin on his body. He wanted to turn around, but found he couldn't. There was one final barrier in his way-- a door with red light pouring out the edges. He opened it with a slight push. A burning core that pulsated violently rotated in the center of the chamber he found himself in. This was the source of the whispers. At first he heard words being uttered quietly: "Regret... Sorrow... Duty" The voices grew gradually louder. "Pain... Emptiness... Loneliness." In a crescendo of sound and intensity, the voices started shouting, "Anger...Fury... Rage... Revenge..." He clutched his ears, not wanting to hear more, but the voices weren't from outside, they were from within. The red blob stretched itself to become larger. It extended an amoeba-like arm towards the captain. The arm curled itself around his neck. "...Death" He was lifted off the ground and his body absorbed into the blob, until only his head wasn't submerged. While he let himself become assimilated, that last word echoed in his mind. He saw nothing now. Only the absence of everything he once knew. There was only a void.


A piercing beam of light fell upon the captain. As if it were a poison, the red blob instantly recoiled, letting the captain drop unconscious to the floor. Something lifted the captain and ran out the hallway, with the red tentacles of the orb in close pursuit. Occasionally a beam of light would cause it to slow, but it continued steadily onwards. The tentacles formed a solid wall around the captain and the light source. In an explosion of energy, white rays of light were shot outwards, withering the tentacles away. The captain woke up.


He was on an enormous nest of eggs, with blood all over him. A giant alien corpse was beside him, along with the bodies of hundreds of alien offspring. He sat up. There was the Psionic, focusing deeply on the captain. His eyes slowly opened, showing a look of weariness. "I don't remember what happened." the captain said. The Psionic closed his eyes again. "I was afraid that this would happen, which is why I wanted to get us out of the Hive as quickly as possible."

"I don't know what your talking about." said the captain.

"Then I will show you."

The Psionic placed one hand on the captain's forehead.

"These are the memories buried in your mind."

The captain relived the whole experience again. When he was finished, he nearly fell back from surprise.

"How did that happen? One moment I was running from the aliens, and the next I was killing them."

The Psionic replied, "Remember what Ville told you? You already know of this. Any survivor on Notrium will eventually turn into a different life-form, but it's not as simple as that."

"He also said I have immunity to this."

"Immunity? There are ways to slow it with technology and barriers erected around the mind, but there is no immunity. Not even for me."

"Why does it happen now? I've been fine before, why all of a sudden now?" The captain asked.

"Because when you felt such an animal instinct as fear, it shattered all the defenses your mind has put up to shield you from yourself. Notrium takes the base instincts that exist in every life-form and then magnifies it, until the life-form is consumed by them. Eventually there is nothing left but the animal within. Like the reaper, you would become a ghost of what you are now, nothing but a phantom to haunt this planet for eternity." He lowered his eyes. "But, as my race knew all too well, the animals aren't the only victims of Notrium's influence."


The captain ran over to the Psionic and asked desperately, "Well, did you stop it? Did you stop that thing inside my head?"


The Psionic shook his head. "I only delayed the inevitable. You saw the heart of your mind, the thing that drives your very being. Only by replacing what you saw will you save yourself." He then looked the captain straight on. "Revenge must not be what motivates you, nor should death." The captain's eyes widened.

"How-?" He stopped mid-sentence and let out a long breath he had been holding.

The Psionic floated away and said, "I may yet know of a way to save you. And in the process of doing so, accomplish my purpose on Notrium as well."


The captain followed, his mind preoccupied. How could he find a new motivation when all along he had been planning his revenge? His goal from the start had been to hear the death cries of Sol's destroyers. If the Psionic was right, this urge would eventually consume him. He shivered at the thought of becoming one of those reapers they had killed.

He looked down at the eggs in the nest. What about them? They weren't once survivors on Notrium, but yet... wouldn't the progeny of nothing still be nothing? He had no way to test this theory, but the thought still gnawed at his conscience. He had killed many of these aliens. Whether they were transformed or not, in his eyes it was still murder. He was a murderer.


The two left the site of the massacre promptly to continue their hike through the jungle.

"Luckily for us, I think we're not too far away from our next destination." said the Psionic with optimism. The captain wasn't so hopeful...



Chapter 26: A Familiar Name, A Familiar Place

The trees were spaced more apart now. The captain knew what this meant. They were finally about to exit the Hive, and about time too. He didn't feel at ease by these trees, and his dislike for it grew after the recent turn of events. Most of his senses had been heightened by the ordeal he went through (or perhaps just residual effects from his brief transformation). He was able to see a little better during the nights before, but this was remarkable. While he couldn't see things that were in complete darkness, he could notice movement much more quickly. Any small twitch from an enemy and he would know. His ears heard things that he never knew existed before: the rumble of the ground as a volcano erupted, steam rising from an evaporating pool of rain, the feasting of a nearby alien hunter; He could hear it all.

Along with the augmentations to the basic senses also came new senses barely opening their doors to him. Oftentimes when the Psionic and he would stop to rest, he felt something strange about Notrium. Before, Notrium was just another series of landscapes, a planet among many. But now... he felt almost attached to it. It was a beautiful planet, albeit a graveyard to the souls and bodies of countless dead. If he ever had to name a home other than with a ship and a crew, then this planet would be it. It was a strange connection, like discovering an old friend after many years.

But never was the connection stronger than when the Psionic lead him out of the borders of the Hive. They were noticing the ground had changed color from a crimson soil, to a bright green. The trees thinned out, and the ones that dared to sprout this far were overridden with fungus and moss. Some were reduced to nothing but green tentacles in the ground. When the captain looked up from the ground, he saw a panoramic view of flat land occasionally marked by a vine-like tree. Rain poured down on the captain, and it felt good against his skin. The air was crisp and clean. There was no doubt; they had arrived at their destination. "This is indescribable." said the captain in awe. The Psionic told him, "This is the land of Eden."
"Eden?" thought the captain. The name sounded oddly familiar.
The Psionic sped up his pace, obviously eager to press onward. "My people once lived on this exact same ground, until something terrible happened. This was their paradise. This is my home." The captain closed his eyes. He found that without his sense of sight he could feel the life around him better. Eden was a name he had heard before, but now he couldn't recall when.

They saw a strange stone building surrounded by orbs of light. Inside stood a spherical altar, overgrown with vines and moss. Light from the orbs focused on this altar. The Psionic entered the building, gently moving aside some of the debris in his way. He bowed down in front of the altar. The captain didn't know why but he mimicked the gesture. It felt like that was the proper thing to do.

He was almost in a trance state when he felt a strong force knock him into the air. A green tentacle had shot out of the ground and smacked him upwards. The Psionic turned and shot a glittering blue projectile at the tentacle. It was frozen in place, seconds from another attack. Three more tentacles rose out of the ground and batted the Psionic around easily. The captain ran behind one and grabbed its tip. He wrestled with it for a while before twisting its tip around and repeatedly pounding the tentacle into the ground. The Psionic shot out pink blasts of energy that ripped the last two tentacles to shreds.

The captain hopped around, not wanting to stay on the ground for too long at a time. The Psionic focused for a moment to heal his wounds. Then he destroyed the tentacle that was frozen solid. "Apparently we aren't welcome to pray in Eden's altars. Let's leave before more of them show up."

They traveled deeper into Eden until they saw smoke rising from a nearby swamp. It was still thick, suggesting that the crash was fairly recent. "Strange" whispered the captain. The grey smoke was in stark contrast to the light-green sky. "Should we check it out?" he asked.
"Yes. Nobody would crash here purposely, and Eden is too far away from the missile defense sites. If they are enemies, it would be a good idea to kill them before they can do any harm to this place." He heard a deep concern in the Psionic's voice.

After wading through the wet swamp (the captain at least) they reached the crashed ship. It looked like a Ville Corp dropship but it was so horribly disfigured that nobody could tell for sure. The wings were missing, the after burners had all fallen out except for a dangling one, and what remained of the cockpit was a molten slag of metal. The captain stepped in front of the Psionic and picked up a piece of the hull plating. It read "VC". When he saw this he instantly raised his guard. Their leadership might be gone but he had fought alongside and against these marines before. If they were here then he and the Psionic were both in danger.

A silhouette rose out of the wreckage holding a firearm, followed shortly by a second, shorter one. The heavy fog obscured their outlines. A gruff voice yelled out, "Don't move!" and one of the people aimed the gun straight at the captain. The two people ran forward until they were only a few meters away from the captain and the Psionic. Now was his chance. The captain jumped and slid under the swamp until he was right below one of them. He kicked down and threw a punch simultaneously, knocking the person down with him, but his legs grappled the captain's neck, and he pulled him up to the surface. It was already too late. The captain found himself staring down the barrel of a VC pistol, the kind that killed. The second person shouted out, "Wait, stop! He, that man, isn't an enemy, yes..." The captain saw the pistol move sideways as he was released from the painful hold. The person who had told his companion to spare him now extended a hand to lift him from the wet ground. "Good that you are alive, truly, not dead. But why, how... are you here, now?" The captain rubbed away the mud in his eyes. He looked deep behind the visor of the marine that held him up. He said happily, "It's good to see you too."


Chapter 27: The Grand Altar of the Psionics-


"This is the last place I'd think you would be hermit." said the captain, looking at the same man whom he said goodbye to so long ago. The other marine placed his pistol back in his holster, but his hand still gripped it tightly. He looked the captain straight in the eye, and the captain was sure that if his visor was off, that look would be ten times as piercing. The marine asked slowly, "And who is this man?" The captain didn't wait for the hermit to provide an answer before giving his own. "I'm not your enemy, and that's all you need to know. Now why don't you relax, we don't mean any harm."

"We?" he asked.

The Psionic walked out of the thick puff of fog he concealed himself in. His posture was almost as hostile as the marine's. The Psionic sent a thought privately to the captain, "You know one of them, but not the other."

"Yes, the shorter one is a hermit I encountered who deserted the marines. He is a friend, but the other..."

"In the other, I don't sense the usual servile and orderly mind of a typical marine. His mind is chaotic and willful."

The marine whipped out his pistol without a second thought.


"Another one of those alien creatures. Don't even try to make a move toward me or else I'll blow your brain right out of that freak head of yours!"

The hermit forced his companion's hand down. He coerced the marine in a calm voice. "If alien travels and captain travels together, then alien is friend of us and me too. They, the alien too, won't harm you. If all else fails to convince, persuade you to not shoot them, then know he was the one who killed Ville."

The captain interjected, "No, actually-"


Tentacled creatures suddenly appeared, their shadows amplified by the fog. They ran towards the marine, hermit, and captain with their "roots". The hermit tossed a shotgun over to the captain, and pulled a shotgun out for himself.

The marine raised his weapon at the nearest of the plant creatures.

"I'm not spending one minute in this god-forsaken place." said the marine with unwavering conviction, despite being extremely afraid. He fired off a few bullets at the creatures and ran away from the crash site, into the fog. The plant creatures were in close pursuit.


The captain shouldered the shotgun and raised one eyebrow quizzically.

"Right." the Psionic said, "I guess there are only three of us now. Don't worry; those plants won't harm us unless we provoke them." The hermit shrugged,

"I never really liked, was fond of, him anyway." he stated a little nervously. The Psionic then turned to the captain. "These are all that are left of the Psionic race. I saw them in my dreams, mutilated and transformed. I beg of you, as a friend, to accompany me on one last action. With my newfound power I am now capable of breaking their imprisonment. You have given me your help in coming to Eden with me, but I ask that you go with me to see this through to the end. If you do not, I will continue alone, because this is something I feel compelled to do for my race. So, captain, what say you?"


The captain smiled and clasped the Psionic's hand, a human gesture that bewildered him. "It's the only way I can repay the help you've given me. I will be by your side in this final task."

Then he asked the hermit, "What about you? Are you still the coward you were before?"

the captain teased.

The hermit frowned, "I resent that remark. You know that I am in your debt, I will help you, and this 'Psionic' any way I can... even if it means, spending more time in this dangerous, no, deadly, place." He shivered.


The Psionic appeared extremely relieved.

"Thank you both. First we must find an orb that I saw in my dreams. The curiosity of my people proved to be their downfall. When they discovered such energy located in their oldest and most sacred altar, they let their guard down. They unleashed the orb's powers and the entire planet fell under its power. I think that this orb would be located in the largest altar in this area. Then all three of us working together can destroy it."


"I saw a large structure in the middle of four other altars while we were coming in. If, maybe... if my memory's right, it should be that way." He pointed to the direction their ship came from. The three of them left the swampy area and headed towards their final destination.


It was enormous. Stone slabs were stacked on top of each other to create a towering building with three prongs stretching into the sky. A single, long stairway lead up to the inner chamber. The stairs were broken or missing in some places but the entire structure looked as stalwart as it was millennia ago. Once they got closer, the captain could see that the three prongs weren't stone like the rest of the tower, but were instead long vines that formed the base for a large green sphere. "That's it!" the Psionic exclaimed.


They ran up the stairs, occasionally jumping in surprise as a step crumbled away. The Psionic was the first to reach the top. The orb was suspended above their heads, slowly rotating. When the captain looked more closely, he noticed that it was an exact replica of the planet Notrium. Every minute detail was faithfully replicated. Even the small dots

of crashed ships were recreated flawlessly. It was like seeing Notrium from space.

The Psionic stood in the center of the room and raised his arms above his head


"Come, both of you. Close your eyes. Imagine the orb above you and focus only on this object. In each living being lies their soul, their life force, their inner essence. Find the reason you two are still alive. Whether it be determination, cunning, cowardice, resourcefulness, or guilt. Let it be your strength, and in turn, send your strength out to the orb, using your mind as the catalyst for this transfer. Focus now."


The captain did as was commanded by the Psionic. He got a small taste of what it was the enabled the Psionic to do what he did. Deep in his self, he took his willpower and channeled them through his mind. A beam lanced out from his forehead and into the orb. He could only guess that the same thing was happening to the Psionic and the hermit. The orb had its defenses against this intrusion. Slowly but steadily a feeling crept into the captain's awareness. It was the exact opposite of the primal instincts he felt in the Hive. This time, there was an overpowering desire to simply stop. He wanted to settle down into the ground and stay there for the rest of his life. He felt tired, helpless, and worst of all, he didn't care. This is what must've happened to the Psionics and some of the survivors. Rather than become a things of impulse, rage, and hunger, they became driven by apathy and inaction. Instead of spending the rest of their days killing, they spent the rest of their days dying a death that would take an eternity.


He felt the ground shake under his feet. There was danger nearby, but what did he care? Perhaps he would deal with it later, any time at all, just not now. Then another voice said defiantly, "Snap out of it." He shook his head, "No, No. I won't."


The captain's opened his eyes and the white beam of energy disappeared. He ran to the stairs and looked down. It didn't seem possible at first. There was no way that so many of them could be there so quickly. Beneath the fog were the familiar outlines of hundreds, if not thousands of blue, brown, and other breeds of aliens, all madly racing to the stairs. "It's... it's the orb. They're drawn to it."


He shook the hermit by the shoulders and it immediately put him out of his stupor. "We've got some major problems. Get your weapon."

"Leave me be. I will finish the job. You two deal with the them." echoed the Psionic's strained voice. "But, can you do it alone?"

The Psionic could barely answer, "Go... can handle... this." His skin's hue tinged with green.


The captain and the hermit both looked down the stairs at the sea of hostile aliens, all screaming for their blood. "I'd say we run, flee, if there was only another exit." said the hermit. The captain looked at his face, which was glistening with sweat and extremely pale. "Don't worry; as long as we don't run out of ammo we can hold them at bay. I hope."

The aliens climbed up the stairs, some of them losing their balance and falling to their deaths. The nearest blue alien was only a few steps away. The captain and the hermit fired their shotguns in unison, killing it instantly. The appearance of a fresh corpse didn't cause the other aliens to slow down even a little. The captain loaded another round into the shotgun's chamber. It would be a miracle if he got out of this one alive.




Chapter 28: Notrium's Swarm-


They fired their shotguns straight into the aliens. There was no aiming or timing. It was just shoot and reload. The crack of weapon reports and the dying cries of wounded aliens broke the peaceful silence of Eden. Blood sprayed in synchronization with the gunfire. Bodies dropped as quickly as they appeared. It was almost like music, in a twisted sort of way.


The captain didn't dare pause or hesitate, or the aliens would break through the doorway. Wave upon wave of frenzied beasts threw themselves against the two defenders. Some even attacked each other in order to get ahead. Even though they were holding the onslaught at bay, the captain knew it wouldn't last. When he reached his arm down to grab another box of bullets, there were none left. The delaying of the inevitable had ended.


Like water rushing over a fallen dam, the aliens burst into the altar room. Using the shotgun as a club, the captain batted away the attackers. The hermit began wrestling with two brown aliens. In the struggle, his pack came loose and was flung at the captain, He caught it and ripped it open. There was nothing but some repair tools and a survival kit.


He stared blankly at the bag, while the aliens ran straight past him, leaving him alone. They were closing in on the Psionic.

There was no time to think. Only instinct guided him. He gave one last swing at the aliens before reaching into the repair kit. He grabbed a black metal object.


He flipped a switch that sent it on overload. A loud whirring sound muted out all the other noises. The whirring became a screech. The screech died out. In a bright blue flash, tendrils of electricity shot out in all directions. The aliens went into shock-induced spasms. The captain grabbed more of the repair kits and tossed them into the alien masses, stunning them, blinding them, or killing them outright.


He was only then noticing the Psionic, who was in a struggle of his own. The planetoid above him was glowing with greater strength, and the Psionic was visibly fatigued. His skin slowly transformed into a thicker, organic material. He too was fighting a battle with no victory in sight.


"Hang in there." The captain whispered. He pulled out the bulky survival kit and saw the familiar silver gleam of an ether container. He took it and hooked it onto a glass tube. He took a strip of heavy duty tape, and taped down a lighter to the end of the tube, and its ignition button. Finally, he used a second lighter to weld the glass to create a leak-free surface. The whole series of actions took only moments. The pile of stunned aliens lodged in the doorway finally gave way. At the same time the captain grabbed his hastily-made flamethrower and pressed the "ether release" button.


A shroud of flame engulfed the nearby aliens. They were instantly lit aflame by the sudden stream of fire. The captain ran around, roasting the helpless aliens without remorse. The flames crackled malevolently, daring the aliens to leap into its heat. Many of them did, disregarding the charred corpses that the flamethrower had already created. The hermit resorted to stuffing pebbles in his shotgun. It worked, but barely.


The incoming tide of enemies could no longer be halted. The sheer number of them created violent tremors in the ground. This was no longer a matter of being able to repel them; it was now a matter of not being trampled by thousands of clawed feet. The captain and the hermit slowly lost ground until they stood with their backs almost touching the Psionic. They looked exhausted, yet defiant.


The captain gazed out at his doom. He saw the blue shiny skin of small blue aliens. He saw the spiked arms of the brown aliens. The teal claws of white, arctic aliens were also among the crowd. He could've even sworn he saw a few pairs of faded yellow eyes.


This was his end: To die fighting for not only his own survival, but for his friends' as well. On a strange world far from his home, but which was in, so many ways, his true home. His last act to defend it would not be in vain. And as he gave one last look at his death, he did not see the black empty void awaiting him, but instead, a warm, lasting haven for his soul. He turned on the flamethrower at the same time the hermit fired his gun. It was to the captain's surprise that a wave of energy expanded from behind him, knocking him to his stomach. The aliens were pushed aside by the energy bubble. The altar room was cast into a bright, pure light. The captain slipped from consciousness with a slight smile on his lips.




Chapter 29: A Path to the Future-


Light ushered into the room, disrupting the captain's sleep. His eyelids reluctantly opened. With a great effort, he looked around him. There was no one there. Whether they had left him or were no longer alive, he had no way of knowing. He did know that he wanted to give in to the strong urge to close his eyes again. His body was telling him to stay on the floor for just a little longer.

Just a little longer...


With that matter resolved, the captain closed his eyes, granting himself another restful nap. That is, what would've been a restful nap if a person hadn't ran up the stairs, stomp to the center of the circular room, and loudly shout,

"Hey, captain! You're awake, not asleep any more, any longer. I feel lively, I have energy. Why do you sleep and are so drowsy? You won't believe thi- hey... Hey I'm talking to you!"


The hermit delivered a swift kick to the captain's side. Needless to say, he was then fully awake. The captain asked, "What happened? All I remember is a blast of heat from behind me, I was knocked unconscious, and then... I don't know."


"I don't know any more than you do." said the hermit "but something, anything, could've and must've happened while we were unconscious, because look." The captain looked upwards. The vines that held the planetoid were withered away completely. The planetoid itself was missing. Three crystal prongs, previously covered by the vines, reached into the sky.


"The sky-" the captain muttered in awe.

Gone was the thick fog that covered much of Eden. The sky was clear and bright, with a barely noticeable green hue. The change was astonishing. The captain ran out the room, down the stairs, and onto solid ground. Above him, birds, who were bold enough to venture in the once-forsaken land, chirped in celebration of Eden's transformation.


Spheres of light mounted on columns were now visible in the absence of fog. They were centered around the grand altar and all shone magnificently.


The captain fell to his knees. Without the overgrowth of plants, things were back in balance. This area now recalled images of the home of his childhood. The wondrous things here had a strong resemblance to Earth. A place he had forgotten long ago, but now was clearer than ever in his mind.


The hermit caught up to the captain, catching his breath.

"Beautiful, it is. Pretty indeed." he noted.

The captain returned to his senses for just long enough to realize that something was wrong. "The Psionic. Where has he gone?"

He ran in random directions, looking for the one who saved both of their lives just in time.

He called out with his voice and mind but received no response. Tired and frustrated, the captain gave up the search. The hermit placed a hand on the captain's shoulder in order to comfort him. The captain shrugged it off.


At that very moment, several shadows passed over them. They looked up. Flying right above them was a familiar sight. At least, familiar for the captain. It was a United Confederacy Heavy Assault Variant dropship, escorted by two Mark III Interceptors, each with a laser coil heated and ready for firing.

As they circled lower and lower, there was an uneasy tension in the air. A single fear-induced finger twitch and the dropship would kill the two survivors instantly.


But there was neither an accidental firing, nor a hostile gesture from the captain and the hermit, so the dropship lowered itself onto the ground. After making sure that the two were unarmed, four drop troopers approached them cautiously. When their leader saw the captain, he peeled off his helmet and craned his neck to examine the captain more closely.


"You're the captain of the Var' Equinallin?" he asked. The captain had to think hard to remember the name. It seemed like a lifetime since he was on that ship. The Var' Equinallin had nearly faded from his memory altogether. "Yes." he finally replied.

"The Fleet Admirals have been looking for you for days. We were about to leave the planet until our sensors detected a crashed ship in this sector. Is the perimeter secure?"

The captain just stood there with a dumb smile on his face. It was the smile of a lost man who had been found at last.


"It's good to see some Confederacy ships again. There's nothing left to be done here so if you would," he looked for the trooper's rank insignia "Lieutenant, we would like to go aboard the dropship. I'll explain everything there."

Looking extremely dissatisfied, the trooper nodded. It was a long time before he remembered to add the words: "Yes, sir" in acknowledgement of a senior officer.

The captain laughed. The very fact that a meticulously groomed, fully clad Lieutenant had called a dirty, bloody, and half-naked man "sir" was ironic.


"What's your name, Lieutenant?" he asked.

"I'm Lieutenant Mathew Bergman, sir."

"Well, Mr. Bergman, when I get a long shower and a real set of clothes, then I assure you I will look more captain-like, but until then, you don't need to call me 'sir'."

Lieutenant Bergman nodded again.

"As you wish, si-. Ahem. As you wish. Who's this?" he asked, pointing at the equally bloody hermit.

"This is a friend I've made on this planet. Don't worry about him."

Lieutenant Bergman motioned for his men to lead the two survivors back to the dropship.


They boarded it one by one until only the captain remained outside.

He looked back and took one last glimpse at the altar. He noticed glowing dots floating up the stairs, and felt the presence of the Psionic. Immediately, the captain turned around and sprinted back a few steps, but stopped and hung his head in dismay. The last figure disappeared into the room. He knew it wasn't possible to be with the Psionic now.


The Psionic must have known that as well, which is why he avoided a confrontation with the captain. They each had their own paths to take and their own legacies to create. No matter how tightly friendship bound them together, duty and responsibility could tear them apart temporarily. Their paths were at a fork, and the captain had to take his own way. The thought of maybe seeing the Psionic again, someday, comforted him. So, the captain turned and walked back towards the ship that would lead him to the future.


But after the dropship rose to the sky and the altar was no more than a speck on the ground, the captain couldn't help but think about the Psionic.

He never even knew his name.




Chapter 30: Fleet Admiral Michael Jozwiak-


There were three capitol ships in orbit around Notrium. The captain saw them out the side window and could identify them easily. The carrier Crego was withdrawing its search parties, the frigate Poseidon was lending its maintenance crew to the Crego and the destroyer Havoc... well, the Havoc just floated aimlessly while its crew tried to keep themselves occupied. When the dropship arrived in the main hangar of the Crego, the captain felt himself be pulled down by more artificial gravity. The dropship was an energy-efficient machine, yet it lacked a strong gravity field.


The side doors flipped open and down, serving as ramps. The captain stepped down.

"Welcome aboard the Crego sir. She's a beauty of a ship, built 2 years ago to serve as Admiral Jozwiak's flagship. I think you'll find it more than accommodating for the time being." Bergman said proudly. Without even asking, the captain could tell that this was his ship. Every naval officer each had a ship to call home. Few ever let themselves become too attached to a certain planet or space station. After all, planets and stations couldn't jet away at moment's notice to the very borders of known space.


Bergman led the captain and the hermit to a service lift. In barely a minute, they had passed through 300 meters of metal infrastructure. When the door opened, the captain found himself on the bridge, with all of the crew members smiling at him and cheering.

A man in neat, folded uniform and covered with medals walked over to the captain. Emblazoned on his chest were the words: "Fleet Admiral Michael Jozwiak".

He was a legend among legends. The captain had studied Jozwiak's master tactics and brilliant strategies that led him to victory time and again.


And here the captain was, being applauded by this hero of mankind. He could only stand in awe.


"Bergman told me all about you over a private channel. I... I don't know what to say really, except that it was an unbelievable feat of willpower to survive on that hostile world for so long. We thought that you were gone for sure."

Then his smile disappeared slowly as he walked closer to the captain.

"What about Admiral Jared Thorpe? What happened to him?"

The captain winced at the mention of that name. At that moment he wanted to forget that anything had ever happened on Notrium. A lump in his throat swelled so much that his voice was hoarse.


"He's dead. He gave his life to disable a potentially dangerous weapons station so that this fleet would not be destroyed upon reaching Notrium. He had guessed that you would come, and apparently he was right. By infiltrating the base of a hostile collection of enemy soldiers, he was able to shut down the defenses."

There were no tears in the captain's eyes, and his voice didn't break up much, but saying those sentences seemed like it tore his heart apart. The events on Notrium had happened so fast, he didn't have enough time to let the full impact of Jared's death sink in. Now that he was forced to relive it, it was 10 times as gut-wrenching.


Admiral Jozwiak paced around with a deep frown. He finally said, "These soldiers have caused some problems in the search party. They call themselves the Ville Corporation right?"


The captain nodded.


"They're scattered almost everywhere on the planet's surface. We lost a few groups because of them. It just didn't seem like they were a huge threat at the time, and I never imagined they had the capability to destroy our fleet. If that's the truth, then these marines are extremely powerful." Jozwiak said while tapping a console displaying maps and records.


"Not them." the captain said.

"Pardon me?"

"They are scavengers of technology. Whatever they used were either found on Notrium, or salvaged from the many shipwrecks. They aren't organized enough to be a threat off-planet, and they lack understanding of the weapons they use. Kill off their leader, and the rest will follow. I don't think you should worry about them."

The captain made these statements sounding absolutely sure of himself, but the hermit was still behind him, shaking his head slightly after hearing the captain's report. It didn't seem right that the captain, out of all people, would be so cocky in his description of the VC marines. Unless, that was his intent.


"Sir," one of the ensigns at the forward station interrupted "There's something coming towards us from Notrium's surface. It looks like a ship, and a big one at that."


Admiral Jozwiak looked at the scanner screen and the captain looked at the viewscreen. He couldn't believe what he saw. The captain squinted and walked up to the screen to look at it more closely. There was no mistake. He was looking right at the front of the Ville Corp flagship. It was patched up in multiple places along the hull. There were several turrets missing from the underbelly, and, most noticeably, there was an enormous dent on its nose. The Poseidon and Havoc turned their guns toward the ship. Fighter wings were launched out of the Crego in case additional help was needed. The Crego itself maneuvered so that the many fighters and bombers in its bays could launch straight at the ship.

A message from the incoming vessel appeared on the viewscreen. On it was the tall personage of a Ville Corp marine.

The marine had his helmet off, so beads of sweat pouring down his head glistened in the light. His suit was ripped and punctured. He looked as raggedy as the ship he stood in.

Admiral Jozwiak crossed his arms and focused his attention on the message. The captain was silent.


Before the marine on the screen said a single word, the hermit closed his eyes, secretly wishing that the captain would be able to stop what was to come, but he knew that it wasn't likely. With a weary resignation, he prepared to hear the marine's message.




Chapter 31: Delayed Finality


The marine's voice was deep and rough, instantly identifying him as the same marine who ran from Eden mere hours ago. "You have intruded in the territory of Ville Corp, killed countless numbers of our soldiers, and disrupted the everyday operations of our corporation. If you surrender yourselves and your ships to Ville Corp, we will treat your plight with sympathy."


Jozwiak looked at the wrecked flagship and then at his own fleet. He raised an eyebrow in puzzlement. Turning towards the captain, he said, "Well, you know their capabilities better than I do, so I relinquish command of the bridge to you, temporarily. She's all yours captain."

The captain gave the Admiral a quick salute and stepped up to the view-screen as commander of the Crego. When the marine saw the captain, he nearly fell over in shock.

"You! You don't what you've gotten yourself into, captain. Ville Corp is much more powerful than you think. Meddling in our affairs can only mean trouble." The transmission cut off abruptly, leaving the captain standing there, wordless.


"Let's not take any chances. Power up our forward turrets and launch all fighters." the captain ordered. "Once they open fire, throw everything we've got at that ship."


Then everyone stopped, poised to carry out his/her job. It was a period of uncertainty, when neither side wanted to fire the first shot. Seconds that seemed like minutes became minutes that seemed like hours. A realization suddenly struck the captain.

The marines were stalling.


What other reason for this wait could there be? The marines were so confident in their abilities, yet hesitated to actually engage in combat.

"Admiral, tell the other ships to fire all weapons. Do it... now!"

Jozwiak went the order over the broadcast. The Crego shot its charged weapons at the flagship, whose shields flickered amidst the oncoming torrent of energy. The Poseidon and Havoc launched their missiles and fired balls of plasma. The heavy fire of the gunships dealt heavy damage to the flagship's shields. The Crego's fighters closed in and began peppering the shields with laser fire.


"Their shields are down, launch all torpedo tubes." the captain told the crew.

Ten slow-moving torpedoes exited their tubes and made their way to the flagship, which tried hopelessly to shoot down the incoming torpedoes. The heavy fighter squadron had already bombed out most of its sensor relays. The first torpedo blew off a sizeable chunk of the flagship's hull, exposing the sophisticated wiring that once powered the shields.


Just as the second torpedo exploded, the captain saw a blue flash of light from far away, and the explosion froze completely. The rest of the torpedoes slowed, and eventually halted, as if time itself had stopped. The captain looked in disbelief at the now immobilized torpedoes. A slight ripple in space signified the arrival of objects into the system. At first, the objects forming out of space were bright white silhouettes, but then their color faded in. There were about five round ships drifting in the Crego's direction. One of the ships latched onto the marine flagship, and dematerialized out of the system.


Every human aboard the Crego who saw these ships had varying degrees of shock and recognition. It was not often that they saw their enemies this close firsthand.

"Alien scum." mumbled one crew member with genuine loathing in his voice. The alien ships positioned themselves between the human fleet and the crippled flagship. Following their usual tactics, the aliens formed a semi-circle around the woefully outmatched United Confederacy.


To the captain, the very sight of these ships brought back memories that he wanted to stay buried in the back of his mind. However, this time, fury didn't surface, revenge didn't cloud his mind. These aliens were his enemies, nothing more. This time he would fight because it was his duty to defend his friends and fellow humans. If Notrium, no, the Psionic, had taught him anything, it was that.


A message appeared on the viewscreen. Loud shrieks in an alien tongue resonated from the speakers. Strange hieroglyphs danced across the screen.

"Do we have a translation program compatible with their language?" asked the captain.

One of the ensigns inserted a chip into the communication console and the alien voices became a little more understandable."

"Again... meet... planet.... Gruushnik [error]... death to you...." The message broke into static.

Jozwiak spoke over to the fleet comm. channel. "I didn't like that last sentence. Prepare all ships for a quick get-away. We don't have a chance against so many of them."


They're all concentrating their fire on the Poseidon!" shouted out a nervous cadet. Energy beams focused on the Poseidon and obliterated it completely in a matter of seconds.

"We have to jump." the captain said.

"She can't jump so close to gravity sources."

"Then turn and accelerate as fast as you can."

Again, all of the weapon fire was concentrated on one ship. This time, it was the Havoc.


A few of the remaining fighters attempted to destroy the nearest alien ship, but nothing they did could penetrate their shields. All of the guns pointed at the Crego, aiming the first and only shot they would need.


Something else caught the attention of the alien ships. They turned towards Notrium and let the weapon charges die out. Like a tidal wave of fire, an overwhelming number of missiles flew out of a spot on Notrium's surface and exploded against the alien ships. At first these caused nothing but blackened spots on the hulls, but then, the three ships closest to the missiles were soon obliterated.

The fourth was disabled before it could leave the system. Only the smallest and fastest one disappeared with no significant damage, carrying the Ville Corp. flagship under its belly.


"We're far away enough from the system center to jump, Admiral." reported one of the crew members.

"Do it before those missiles decide we're the next target."

The stars in space stretched out and even light from the sun began to bend and warp.

The planet Notrium was unaltered. The captain looked at its swirls of green clouds and the varied terrain of the planet. Despite having fought against Notrium for so long, it still brought a sad smile to the captain's face to look at it as it appeared when he was aboard the Var' Equinallin.


"But wait," quipped Admiral Jozwiak, "Wasn't the last defense installation disabled by Admiral Thorpe?"

The captain thought to himself for a while, and then replied, "Yes. Yes it was."




Chapter 32: The Beginning-


The captain sighed, straightened out his black shirt, and lifted his head. He never did like funeral services; they only made letting go of the dead even harder. The large cafeteria on the Crego, usually a place of food and fun, was changed into a graveyard. Among the hundreds of modestly decorated tombs, each symbolizing a dead crewman, there were a few other ones that immediately caught the captain's eye. One was of Admiral Thorpe, which had replicas of his medals draped over the stone. There was one for the Var Equinallin's medic. The captain didn't tell Bergman everything about the Psionic, partly because he wasn't sure if anyone would believe it.


One by one, the captain gently passed his hand over the stones, reading the names to himself. Finally, he stopped after the last one. There was a tombstone missing.

"Excuse me?" he motioned for an attendant to come. "I think you missed a crew member. Do you have records of the Var Equinallin's engineer?"

The busy-looking attendant walked over to the nearest computer, and searched through rows and rows of words and letters. The flow of data stopped, replaced by a black screen.

"I'm sorry. These tombs are for the dead crew members, not the equipment. If I'm not mistaken, the engineer was an android?"


"That explains it then. You'll find its report in the 'Missing Hardware' list."


She left the captain wondering why the engineer didn't deserve a spot right next to every other casualty.

The captain caught Jozwiak's attention, who started making his way over to him. The Admiral's graying hair was combed over to the side, and his moustache might've been combed as well. The captain rubbed his hands over his own face, still getting used to the shave he just had a few hours ago.

"Captain," said Jozwiak "I heard that you were wondering about your engineer. I know I should've given it to you before, but here it is anyway."

He extended his hand and revealed a small, computer chip.

"One of our search parties found this in a dense jungle area on Notrium. It's a wonder how they ever saw it hidden beneath the trees, but we think it may have belonged to your android engineer. None of our computers can open it though."

The captain plucked the chip from Jozwiak's hand, and examined it. It had scratch marks on it, but was otherwise in perfect condition.

"Thanks. I think you're right. It looks like it belonged to him."

He walked out of the funeral with a vague sense of guilt hanging over him.


Safe in the steel bowels of the Crego, the captain let go of his worries, at least for a while. It had been a long time since he was not in immediate peril, and he thoroughly enjoyed the relaxation. The captain sat in his small quarters on the maintenance level, drinking whiskey. A few workers were hefting a large crate past his quarters. All of them tried not to look at him, but were too curious to ignore him either. They lifted the crate onto a massive shelf and then departed. The captain tossed his empty cup onto the ground and entered the hallway. He looked up at the clock hanging from a support beam, stopped occasionally to greet the workers, and quickened his steps. It was getting late.


A nervous-looking Jozwiak was awaiting the captain at the amphitheatre. Hundreds of crew members sat in the many rows of benches that sloped down towards the stage. If it had been any other Admiral, this amphitheatre wouldn't even exist, but Jozwiak appreciated the classic plays enough to have one built in his ship. It also served as an announcement room; the holo-vid system was scarcely used at all except for urgent messages. Jozwiak's tendency to gather all of the crew without warning annoyed them enormously.


"There you are." announced Jozwiak once he saw the captain peek into the amphitheatre. The captain winced as all of the heads in the room turned to look at him. Jozwiak marched down and greeted him with a handshake.

"I've been waiting for you to come and say a word or two. My officers were beginning to bore them.

The captain instinctively shook his head, "I don't think I can say anything that will help. I hardly know them. Any words of encouragement I say will be empty."

The smile on Jozwiak's face vanished quite abruptly.

"My men and women have just seen most of our task force destroyed by a mutual enemy after pulling your ass out of that planet. It doesn't matter how well you know them or if you even like them." he said, trying to keep his voice down. "Their friends lie dead in space. Their families are halfway across the galaxy. They’re morale is as low as ever. It would sure mean a lot if the one person they did manage to save said something, ANYTHING, in return."


This little outbreak surprised the captain. He never expected the thin wall of courtesies and niceties surrounding Jozwiak to break now. The point that Jozwiak was making was something that the captain could not refuse.

"Yes, sir"

He remained silent and walked slowly up onto the stage, his footsteps amplified by the hovering microphones around him. Speaking in front of audiences was something the captain avoided doing if possible, but now his fear seemed silly after what Jozwiak had said. 


"Hello, I am the only remaining survivor of the United Confederacy sanctioned ship, the Var' Equinallin, which crash landed on the planet Notrium during an expedition to the Hive sector. My crew is dead, and I would be too if Admiral Thorpe hadn't gone to rescue me.” At this point he closed his eyes for a few moments to think.

“I know you are resentful that so many of your leaders and peers died to save just one man. You think your sacrifice was not worth it, and I agree. My life is and never will be worth the lives of so many others. Questions begin to arise, as to whether the war is worth fighting after all. I can see doubt in your eyes. It gnaws at your loyalty, erodes your sense of duty, and eventually kills the love you have for your cause. My survival was a gift given by many people." He thought of the Psionic, the hermit, and Admiral Thorpe.

"A gift I intend to repay. So far, I admit, I have been reaping the benefits of being a United Confederacy captain without bearing the responsibilities. I have been more eager to fight against the enemy, than with my friends. My love for mankind was diminished by an even greater hate brewing inside of me, but no longer. Let me say this: I will pay you back by fighting just as hard as you have and dedicating the rest of my life to serve the same cause that you have worked so tirelessly for. Think of our future, one in which you and I stand against all odds and bring our race back from extinction! Together we will emerge as conquerors of our enemies... No, what am I saying.” he stopped again, the flow of inspiring words halted. They were lies.

“Last time we came out with our lives but not our pride. I cannot promise you a golden future, but I can promise you one in which we either achieve victory and unity, or die in the attempt. And I will be just another man rejoicing at our success, or buried along with my comrades. If I die in the struggles to come, at least I can say I did while fighting amongst you. It is the only way in which I can redeem myself and earn my place here. Put the losses behind you. There is a greater war to be fought, one that can grant us the same happiness we once enjoyed in Sol. Let the universe know that we are not dead yet, that we still fight on.”


Unanimous applause broke out from the crew. A few stood up, and others gladly followed suit. The captain bowed his head to the audience and stepped modestly off of the stage. It was a short address, but it achieved its purpose. Jozwiak clapped and nodded as the captain walked by, filled with a newfound respect for him.




Log of the Var' Equinallin's Captain:


These past... what have they been, months? They seem more like lifetimes to me. I once went to the Hive to discover its secrets, but ended up knowing more about myself than I would ever imagine possible. Sometimes people don't like what they see, so they refuse to open their eyes. I've opened mine, and I can see my true self  for the first time in my life. It may seem like I'm exaggerating, but that's really how it's been for me. I was a blind follower of the shadows of my foes, but now I see. I can see the balance of life and death in the universe, much like the one that existed on Notrium. I can see how I can make a difference in these constant struggles.

Everything has happened so quickly. It's almost unreal. Even so, I feel that at these very moments, my life has just begun. There will be more battles in my career, so it’s to them that I turn my eyes to. There is still a hostile galaxy, willing to prey on the weakened humans. The alien threat is still out there, endangering humanity every second it lives. I want to preserve whatever those aliens left behind years ago, because I know someone who almost lost his identity when his race was destroyed. To me, it would be worse than death.

I must carry the dangers and responsibilities that come with the job of navy captain. It is better to start sooner rather than later, in my opinion.

Once the Crego reaches New Berlin system for repairs, I'm immediately due for an assignment. The recent battles against pirates and aliens have left the United Confederacy shorthanded. To tell the truth, I'm anxious to get back to the front lines. All of the desperate men and women whom I fight alongside and the thought of home... are what will bring me through these difficult times.

Well, I'm going back to analyzing the sensor records we took of the alien ships. I've rarely seen so many of them up close, and this is a good time to get to know the enemy a little better. Their tech is superior ours, but, like ours, it's bound to have weak points.


--End Log—





Discuss the story and leave feedback here.

This work is based off of Notrium, an awesome freeware survival game by Ville Mönkkönen.


Many thanks to the readers of The Notrium Saga who replied in the forum, ZeXLR8er!! and Arcade for helping me with ideas in the early days of writing.