: “ The Downward Spiral ”

Theres no time to discriminate,
Hate every motherfucker in your way.

B. Warner


Bravo Squad
Planet Nephele II; outside Hightower Flats
The Nephele System, Downing Quadrant, Vega Sector
FEB 10 2681/2681.041; 2030 Hours (CST)

Offhandedly, her finger pulling the trigger of the M-58A1 Laser Assault Rifle she had trained on the wiry frames of the Nephilim pouring out of the drop pods immediately ahead, First Lt. (O-2) Temuulan Dshugder-Warmuth found herself remembering the creed of a TC Marine she had once learned in basic training...

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. . .

"Keep it together, people!" Dshugder shouted over the ensuing gunfire. "Move!"

"Christos, there’s too many of them!" PFC Coontz gasped.

My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life. . .

"Shit! We’ve got airbornes!"

"Get down!"

Above them a wing of Moray medium fighters swooped by, firing their dual heavy maser cannons and attempting to strafe Dshugder and her Marines with a bombardment of ImRec-equivalent missiles. Only one of them came close, impacting near two of the PFCs. Both men cried out before their lives were abruptly snuffed out.

A glance behind the Morays revealed Major Frederick "Doppler" von Richthofen’s three-Vindicator Talon Flight on HAVCAP in hot pursuit of the Morays, burying salvos of fire into the Morays’ afts as they streaked by.

My rifle without me is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. . .

Even as she finished with one mantis-like Nephilim, another burst out of the sand to her side with a shrill hiss. After the Alien shook some of the sand off its half-emerged body it curiously cocked its head from side to side at the Lieutenant, as if sizing her up.

"What the fuck do you want?"

Before the creature could have a chance to think about coiling its pincers and limbs around her, Dshugder was already making her move. Bracing a booted foot against the bug’s thorax and jamming the barrel of her M-58 through its mandibles into its open mouth, she pulled and held the trigger down.

I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. . .

"Keep moving, Marines!" the Lieutenant shouted behind her, signaling for her Marines to follow her onward with a wave of her rifle. They still had citizens to rescue; still had a mission that needed to be accomplished.

My rifle and myself know that what counts in war is not the round we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. . .

"Fuck! Somebody help me -- my leg! Fuck!"

Nephilim popped up left and right without warning as the Marines moved on, recoiling on their haunches as they prepared to strike every time. Unarmed the Aliens presented more than enough of a threat to Bravo Squad in the current environs, but some of them were bearing the bug equivalent of assault rifles. Their versions apparently fired normal enough laser bolts, and were made or at least coated with a dark, rigid, coral-like substance not unlike the hull of their fighters. Their weapons, their ships, their technology -- everything at the Nephilim’s disposal Confed had seen so far seemed to have some living organic quality to it.

As the soldiers made it just past the rock face, they found themselves staring at the beady, inhuman eyes of over a dozen bugs lying gathered in ambush.

We know that its the hits that count. We will hit. . .

"Stand back!" shouted Comtech Corporal T.J. Allston, seizing the initiative. When the other Marines saw what he was raising—Dshugder included—they obeyed without question.

"Grenade!" Dshugder exclaimed.

T.J. Allston slung the stock of his Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher overhis shoulder, got his footing, and fired. The RPG’s missile streaked forth thirty meters, impacting the mob of Nephilim dead in the center. Gore, blasted limbs, and pieces of bug carapace blew outward, only a few bugs left standing when the smoke cleared.

"Resume firing! Fucking resume firing!"

My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weakness, its strength, its sight, its barrel. I will even guard it against the ravages of weather and damages. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will. . .

Chief Warrant Officer Cantieri slowed down his men, having to drag the critically wounded PFC Collins along with the help of Master Sergeant Halverson, Dshugder’s senior NCO. They had all already left behind two of their own, PFC Mullon and Lance Corporal O’Bannon, during the Moray sweep earlier.

Still onward the Marines marched, watching their sixes as they went and shooting at anything that moved.

Before God I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my nation. . .

"What the fuck..."

When the target area finally came into view after crunching across the sand a while later, the Marines found themselves facing a short, stubby-looking man in a brown robe. He stood square in their path, his lanky body looking like a scarecrow in the Marines’ starlight vision.

One of the monastic Zen Buddhist monks they were supposed to evacuate.

Dshugder gave the appropriate hand signal and they fanned out to take up positions around the monk. No bugs were anywhere to be seen as they warily approached the man.

"Welcome, Marines." The voice that came from the monk sounded labored and coarse, followed by wheezing. It was if each word was forced like air through a bellows. "You shouldn’t have killed those creatures. They are not your enemies."

Still wary, the Marines kept their firearms trained on the monk, the laser sights of their firearms painting red pinpricks on his body. "Who are you?"

On a closer look, the monk seemed to be wounded. His head bobbed forward as if he was drunk and his arms hung limply like he was dragging them. His brown robe had splotches of blood about its tattered fabric.

Dshugder lowered her M-58. "Who are you?" she repeated. "Where are the others?"

It was then that the monk looked up. His eyes seemed wide and dilated. They were also staring straight up at the night sky. It was then that she noticed the trickle of blood flowing from his nose, eyes and mouth. She saw something pulsing beneath his flesh. His temples seemed to move, as if the veins underneath were pulsating. Something was strange. One thing was certain -- he didn’t look right.

"Speak, damn it!"

The monk seemed to get another intake of breath, wheezing all the way before replying, "Free you... we will. Life is a curse. We will free you! The harvest..."

Then the monk—or whatever it was—lurched forward. The Lieutenant felt sick to her stomach. Everything from the waist down was missing, something his robe had concealed. His entrails dragged along, leaving wide crimson blotches along the sand. Blood from torn arteries punctuated the thin trail of blood and entrails like crimson punctuation marks all over the surrounding sand.

We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life. . .

"Hey, I heard about this shit before," Lance Corporal Stevens remarked. "Yeah -- the Tanfen Homeguard Marines ran into something like this a while back in Hellespont. Found one of their own puppeted like this..."

Stevens was right. Something was stuck in the monk, right up his spinal cord, something no medical journal in history had a name for. It seemed to pulse and writhe like a weird tentacle of sorts. And attached to it was a bug, hiding deep within the sand beneath him.

The monk’s hollow eyes locked with Dshugder’s, streaks of crimson blood with a strange tint to it trickling from his tear ducts. He rasped, the Nephilim attached to him beginning to slink above the ground, sand rolling off its carapace, "The harvest..."

Lieutenant Dshugder unleashed full-auto fire into the bug and its humanpuppet, mowing the two down in one concentrated burst of railgun-like flechettes.

So be it, until victory is the Terran Confederation’s and there is no enemy, but peace. . .

When the Marines finally reached the monastery farm estate of the Buddhist monks, they found at least ten monk corpses strewn about the premises in no particular fashion. Limbs were severed, heads missing, and trails of blood could be seen on all sides.

Dshugder noted two weathered stone Buddhas -- massive, thirty feet tall -- sitting near the central walkway. She paused in the center of the premises, feeling the majesty of the sky in this unusual place. Spirelike structures suggested themselves in the dusty haze beyond the monastery.

Lance Corporal Stevens grunted, gave one of the monk bodies a kick to the side with his boot, hocked, and spat on it. "Fuckin’ monks..." he seethed, "You robed, Friar Tuck-lookin’ sons of bitches are causing us a lot of trouble..."

"Secure that shit, Lance Corporal!" Master Sergeant Halverson shouted, giving the Marine a light shove to his shoulder.

Second Lieutenant Sallinos and Charlie Squad’s fire teams arrived only a couple minutes later from the opposite direction, joining up Dshugder’s Bravo Squad as they made preparations to secure the farm estate. Charlie Squad had evidently taken the brunt of the planetbound Nephilim -- they were down to eleven Marines, two of them having to be carried because of their injuries.

As stealthily as possible, again fanning out, the thirteen remaining Marines in Dshugder’s unit made their approach of the central barn while Charlie Squad covered the rear. As it came into better view, they saw the entire structure was secured fairly thoroughly. What looked like isometal slabs were welded on over any windows and doors, completely barricading however many monks were inside.

"Allston—into position, now!" Dshugder barked at the Corporal.


Dshugder nodded at him as he did so and came to attention. "You know what to do," she instructed.

"Sir!" Corporal Allston prepared his RPG and crouched down to load up the weapon. The other Marines taking cover while he did so, he took aim on the barn’s front gate and fired. The grenade blew the door, its reinforcing slabs, and the adjoining barn wall to smithereens.

What followed was a mottling of barked orders, over fifty monks running and flailing about in a panicked fashion, and Marines jamming their guns in the monks’ faces and forcing them into cooperation. None of the monks were "puppets."

Lieutenant Dshugder stood back, let out a long breath of dry, desert air, and watched her Marines for a moment. They proceeded to march the Buddhist monks in a roughly single-file line off the estate and into the oblong, hovering M-77 HAPC that most of Charlie Squad had ridden to the premises from LC Scythe Three. One of the newer M-71 "Drake" Hover Tanks of the United Defense Corp might have served the mission better, but the Forge had only the single HAPC, its large flight wing worth of fighters taking up most of the available space.

Only seven Marines of Sallinos’ Charlie Squad would return to LC Scythe Three, taking twenty-five of the monks on the Hover APC with them. The seventeen remaining Marines -- the wounded going with them -- would be making the trek back to Scythe Two with the rest of the monks.

They’d done well.

In retrospect Temuulan may not have gotten the revenge she had convinced herself she sought, but instead had come one step closer to achieving peace of mind anyway. If she couldn’t avenge the man she had loved, she would instead honor his memory by leading his men in his stead.

"Our job is done here, sir," reported her somber ExO. "Should I radio ahead for the two Tigershark squadrons and the ’Squitoes to prepare to escort our LCs back to the Forge?"

"Do it."

"Yessir." Second Lt. Sallinos turned on his heels and carried on, leaving her standing alone.

"This is babysitter to Papa: the bunch is ready to load up," she sighed into her helmet comset. She tried to squeeze some measure of authority into her voice, coming up lacking after enduring their desert romp. "The kids are picked up. Over."

"Colin Burdock here," replied a sharp, collected voice. It was their external Mission Commander as delegated by the Captain, the CEO of a primarily transport conglomerate holding the brevet rank of Lt. Commander in the UBW Space Navy for the current crisis. "Outstanding job down there, Lieutenant -- you just get those monks off the surface and let East-West Trade worry about the rest."

"Copy, Commander Burdock." Dshugder switched channels, keying up the platoon-wide frequency. "First Lieutenant Dshugder to the pilots of LCs Scythe Two and Three... ready for retrieval at target coordinates. Over." When the escorted LCs reached the tightly-hyperbolically orbiting East-West transport SS Seven Seas, the second phase of the Neph II evacuation would begin -- Dshugder’s Marines had done their part. They had little more to look forward to now but a six-hour decontamination.

Vini, vidi, vici...



F-108A Panther 001 [ Alpha Lead ]
200,000 klicks to upper atmosphere, planet Nephele II
2035 Hours (CST)

Major Hishori "Ronin" -- formerly "Dragoon" -- Nawazaki’s gloved hand briefly brushed over the ornate wooden handle of his kamikaze dirk at his hip. It was a family heirloom, a blade passed from father to son since it had been recovered from the wreckage of his ancestor’s plane during Earth’s ancient World War II in 1945. Japanese military tradition dictated that, were one of their kamikaze pilots to be captured by the enemy, they would draw their dirk and commit the ritual disembowelment seppuku suicide.

"It won’t come to that," he told himself.

War. Real war, declared or not... the facing of the feeling that the same people who stand with you today could—and many would—be having their funeral tomorrow changed people as precious few emotions would. Fighting against overwhelming odds had taken a toll on every squadron in the Valley Forge’s flight wing, and the Aztecs were no exception. After losing half of their pilots—including both the CO and XO—morale had been shot to hell, the squadron seemed ready to break apart. Why wouldn’t it? But then, it had happened. Passing through the baptism of fire that had claimed seven Aztecs to date, they had transformed from being simply a group of nine semi-proud pilots to a real unit, a whole which thought and acted as one with a single, all-too simplistic yet effective desire: revenge.

Major Nawazaki had readily accepted his new role of leadership as squadron commander. He did so in honor of Major Cardoso, taking the new callsign of "Ronin," the meaning of which translating into "masterless samurai." He was his own master now.

Ronin looked first to the right and then to the left, scanning the perimeter ahead for any unusual activity. Just when it seemed the outlying escort mission was going to be a cinch, one of the Tigersharks in the White Hopes waiting to escort the Marine LCs back off-planet got double-teamed by a pair of Stingrays and a Skate-B. The ’Shark was hit up with a salvo of ImRecs, sent plummeting on impact into Neph II’s gravity well. The squadmates of 2nd Lt. Mo "Voodoo" Ayibobo could be heard crying out for their lost comrade on the comm as the ’Shark continued its doomed spasmodic fall.

Shaking his head, Ronin brought his throttle all the way up. Side by side, nine F-108A Panthers headed out against the enemy group, escorting six Shrike torpedo bombers of the 402nd "Lancers," and nine Wasp interceptors of the 323rd "Fire Balls." Their task would be to suppress enemy activity and protect them while the bombers/interceptors destroyed the larger targets.

"Aztecs, before we engage our opponents I have a few words to say." Ronin cleared his throat to continue, "If there was one good lesson I learned the time I spent on the Kirathi POW camp in that Hell’s Kitchen star post, it was that if someone pushes you then you must push them back." An experience he had never mentioned to his squadron before, save once to his old friend, Alan, it was difficult to bring up now. "If they kill one of us we must lash out at five of them... at least. Do you know why? It’s all about respect... no matter what you can say about them, the Kilrathi understood it as few but my own Japanese ancestors did. Never mind the Cats’prophecy -- why did the Nephilim invade our territory when they could have just as easily gone somewhere else and still have found the same or better resources out Spinward? The aliens did it because they thought they wouldn’t be meeting serious opposition. Well, they pushed us; now, we are going to push them back.

"All right. Draft, you’re leading DDT Wing with Burrito... consider yourselves responsible for the Lancers. Gamma Wing will be with me protecting the Fire Balls. Break on my mark."

"Aye, aye, Major," replied Captain Angela "Draft" Rai, Ronin’s XO.

"Nice speech, boss," piped 1st Lt. Bruno "Nitro" Dias.

"Shut your mouth, Nitro," was 1st Lt. Miani "Shiva" Tnisu’s response.

"Jus’ talkin’ ’bout Shaft!"


"All right -- that’s enough, you two," Ronin spoke in moderation. "Major Adrian, Colonel Hale... the Aztecs will split up to protect you both. At 50,000 klicks the Wasps will engage their afterburners while Panther Alpha and Delta Wing forms up on autoslide, as to conserve fuel. The objective will be to get their asses out there fast, and take out as many enemies as possible. Panther Gamma and Echo Wing and the Shrikes should be arriving to meet with us at the same time. Afterwards, we will all hook up and set out against the Nephilim. Any questions?"

None of the Aztecs’ pilots or other squadron commanders had any.


Charlie Squad
M-77 HAPC Rover One
Planet Nephele II; outside Hightower Flats
2049 Hours (CST)

Second Lt. (O-1) Mitchell Sallinos, the OIC of Charlie Squad, stood from his seat and made his way over to the Hover APC’s driver. He leaned over Pilot-Corporal McDermitt’s shoulder and gave a welcome sigh as LC Scythe Three at last came into plain view on the horizon, nestled near some rockery just like they had left it.

"Lower the ramp and take her in, Corporal," he spoke to the driver.

"Yessir." The younger Marine didn’t need to be told twice. He was as glad to be leaving the hell hole of a planet as much as any of them.

Dshugder’s Scythe Two would be taking off a few minutes behind them as they had to go it on foot, but so far Operation Scour was turning out to be, for the most part, a rousing textbook success right out of the SOP docs. Secondary Objective might not even end up being necessary, but that was not the Marines’ problem.

"Hey, Lieutenant," Dshugder’s topkick First Sergeant Laura DeWitt called.As he approached her she nodded to one of the twenty-five robed Zen Buddhist monks of obvious Asian descent occupying the HAPC’s left row of seats. "Something wrong with that one, sir... looks sick or something. Maybe you should have a look at him."

"I’ll check it out." Sallinos cleared his throat and walked over to the monk. While the other monks were seated proper with their arms folded since, none of them saying a word since they had boarded the HAPC, the monk DeWitt indicated was hunched forward, his head rolling back and forth on his shoulders. He sneezed once, then twice.

"What the hell’s the matter with you, monk?" Sallinos demanded, feeling some of the monk’s spittle hit his chin. "Speak up!"

Slowly, painstakingly, the monk craned his head up in response. Unnatural purple and green veins jutted out of his cheeks, temples, and neck. As his eyes locked with Sallinos’, the Lieutenant drew himself back at the sight of the streaks of dark, discolored blood running from the tear ducts of the monk.

"The harvest, Brother... the harvest," the monk said in wet, broken speech. A thin smile played on the robed man’s pale face. The monk stood in the aisle. "Let me free you, Brother."

Lance Corporal Daneiri rose from his seat, recoiling as fear set into his dull-set features, "*Fuck*... it’s like the guy the Bravos shot up on the way to the monastery -- he’s one of them!"

"But..." Sallinos’ gaze switched back and forth between Daneiri and the pale monk, not convinced. "The monk Bravo Squad ran into... he was puppeted through the spine by one of the xenos. This guy, he’s just -- "

"He must got some kinda bug symbiote in’im -- sir, shoot him! Do it now!"

Shedding no emotion, the Lieutenant didn’t want to make the mistake of giving it another thought. Taking a step back and snatching his M-42 machine pistol sidearm from his hip holster, Sallinos pumped seven rounds into the monk’s frail body, the last one to the base of the skull. Blood, brain, and skull fragments spattered over those unlucky enough to be near the monk, the Lieutenant included.

The other monks fidgeted, giving one the impression they were trying to suppress the horror they so obviously must have been feeling at this point. Sallinos knew better but had to sympathize. Still, he had his duty.

"Christ, what if more of them are infected?" Private Jansen voiced the concern of every Marine on the HAPC, then going on, "Mother of God... what if we’re all fuckin’ infected?"

There was insufficient information on Nephilim biology to say one way or the other, but the Lance Corporal’s thought could conceivably carry weight -- TCIS xenobiologists had been warning about the possibility they were still looking into of a potential Nephilim biohazard from their ship debris. If such a biohazard could be carried back aboard the Forge, an airborne virogen that could be transmitted through floating particles or spores merely by normal breathing...


Sallinos wiped a few speckles of the monk’s discolored blood from his sweaty face and looked at it. His brow furrowed in a heavy frown as he realized the potential risk he had just exposed he and his Marines to.

"Corporal McDermitt, stop the HAPC and open the hatch!" Lieutenant Sallinos bellowed at the driver.


"Do it!" As the Pilot-Corporal did so, the Lieutenant waved the Marines up from their seats and jabbed a finger toward the rear hatch as it unlatched and retracted into the roof. "Everybody out of the HAPC -- now!" Sallinos waited as the Marines hurried out of the HAPC, each taking a four foot drop as they hopped below the personnel carrier/light ground assault vehicle’s suspensor field and regrouped on the ground. A couple of the monks hesitatingly stood and gave blank stares to Sallinos, as if silently asking if they, too, should exit.

Damn it, he thought, don’t want to do this... not to these people. No choice...

Sallinos’ religious training had been complicated. Born of a Colombian father and a Navajo mother on Earth, he’d been an altar boy at the Catholic church in Bowie, Arizona, and had as well been initiated into the sacred Indian rites at his mother’s tribal village outside town. But though moved by both devotions, it had not been until his tours during the Second Kilrathi War that he had chosen a religion for himself rather than the two which by the circumstances of his birth had been chosen for him.

If he’d been asked to declare his affiliation, he’d have described himself as a follower of Zen, one of the original Buddhists. In the mid-2670s he’d acquired this persuasion because of an old man living amongst the primitive Mopoke race, a mountain tribesman with whom he’d worked during his first planetary mission on Rostov III. Having endured the rigors of Special Forces training, having become among the elite, the best, he had still not been ready for his initiating test-under-fire. Still, everything aside, he’d embraced his patriotic duty with determination and fervor. Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do?

But training was one thing. Actual combat was another. He remembered a line from an ancient book that he’d admired in his innocence -- Catch-22 -- and its main character’s sudden understanding about the ultimate secret of war. "Holy fuck, they’re trying to kill me!" Having nearly frozen in a firefight against the Cats, flechettes and laser bolts slicing the leaves around him, members of his team screaming and dying around him, his urine staining his pants, he’d felt the mountain tribesman grab him and drag him back to safety.

And because of that tribesman that had saved his life, that tribesman had no choice except with honor to acknowledge the profundity of their spiritual bond. Thus, from that tribesman, who showed no fear, Mitchell had learned how he himself could not show fear. Because he didn’t feel it. Zen. The ultimate weapon. What reason would he have to be afraid of death once he understood that death did not exist? That nothing existed. That life itself -- this tree, this rock, this butterfly -- was but an illusion. A veil. A magical trick that the Holy One played on us. And if you saw through the trick, you learned the essential difference between the illusion and what was real, which was the Holy One, then in passing through what the ignorant referred to as death, you entered the truly actual. You merged with the Holy One.

And you achieved your destiny.

But if you took too much for granted, if you didn’t respect the challenge of illusion that the Holy One had set for you, if you simply invited the mystery called death, then instead of merging with the Holy One, you might come back as a leech.

This powerful vision, this understanding of the unimportance of what was foolishly called life, had given Mitchell Sallinos strength. He thought back in history to another time, another war he’d studied.

The twentieth century, the Vietnam War. Zen, more than the government at the time’s halfhearted commitment to the war, had been what caused the Viet Cong to win. Because the Cong had understood that years, even centuries, didn’t matter. That the rivers, the rainforest, the bullets that pierced their throats or tore their skulls apart, weren’t real. But during this present stage in their existence, they had to comply with the Holy One’s wishes and pretend that the physical was real. But to an American, for whom Disneyland and Slurpees and Star Trek were examples of all that was real, the rainforest, the bullets, and the Agent Orange were enough to drive you insane. "Christ, get me out of here!" And so with the echo of Jim Morrison and the Doors reverberating in the nation’s consciousness, America had left and lost.

Zen. The religion that seemed to most powerful to Mitchell. The most practical. Because of what he did. Because of who he was. In the killing fields of combat, a Catholic might lose his soul. Even a Navajo.

But not a Buddhist, and not the monks before him now.

"No," he finally said in reply to the monks’ unspoken question, a sad note to his low voice, "not you, monks... you’re staying here."

Sallinos and the Pilot-Corporal hopped out of the HAPC last, rejoining the five other Marines. From a glance, the men and women seemed in shock, mortified at what they had seen and at the thought of what could lay ahead for each of them. "C’mon!" he shouted behind him. He sprinted some twenty meters away from the HAPC toward Scythe Three before stopping.

"First Sergeant DeWitt," he addressed the topkick. The embittered woman pushed her way through the others and came to attention in front of him.


"Destroy the HAPC."

"Sir, yes, sir!" DeWitt popped off a salute before readying her RPG. The Marines didn’t have to be told to stand back as she prepared to perform her duty.

Lieutenant Sallinos watched three of the monks walk up to the open hatch at the rear of the HAPC, shooting innocent, solemn stares at the Marines that had now abandoned them.

They were sad. Not for themselves -- no, they were followers of Zen -- but for the Marines whose fate had already been sealed.

Sallinos closed his eyes when DeWitt fired; heard the explosion of the HAPC as his topkick’s rocket must have impacted perfectly on the aft fuel lines. Always was a good shot...

"C’mon, no time to fuck around, people -- everybody aboard the LC, double time!" he shouted, again leading his Marines onward. "Move!"

The ramp already lowered, Lieutenant Sallinos made a dash over the last stretch of Neph II’s sandy terrain between him and the LC. His six Marines charged in behind him as he made it up the ramp, favored M-47 Semiauto Laser Rifle in hand. It was strangely dark inside, giving him an uneasy feeling to begin with. When he heard the soft rustle and skitter of movement around him, the Lieutenant caught his mistake too late.

Should have taken precautions... should have been ready for anything...

"Shit -- they were fuckin’ waiting for us!"


"Oh, God..."

Last mistake he would ever make. Then again, maybe it was justice.

One of the silhouettes in the shadows moved. Lieutenant Sallinos took a slash to the chest from one of the lead creatures that lunged at him, the praying mantis-like Nephilim’s talons gouging through his C-520 Combat Armor like it was nothing, instantly snapping a couple ribs and rending the flesh beneath. Before he could even think to react he was struck again, this time thrown back several feet above Lance Corporal Daneiri to crash into PFC Jansen.

From where he painfully lay, paralyzed, he could hear a few stray gunshots as his Marines moved in, but it wasn’t long before the gunshots became screams; screams and death cries.

Then silence.

His dead Marines lying in crumpled, bloodied heaps around him where their bodies had been discarded by their killers, Sallinos was dimly aware of one of the spidery-limbed creatures edging its way toward him from the darkness of the LC. As it came into the light and he could hear the foreboding sounds of the creature fluttering its thoracic wings, Sallinos’ quivering hand fumbled for his side. He retrieved something, keeping what he drew out of the creature’s sight.

After hearing the news yesterday of Lt. Colonel Vance Trelane’s last stand on the bug cruiser he’d spent the night running over endless possibilities in his mind. He wanted to figure out where the Marines’ late CO had gone wrong, mentally retracing the grim set of events that had led up to the sacrifice of Trelane and his surviving Marines. Today Sallinos had found the understanding he sought, only confirming what he had known all along -- war is hell.

"Why do you resist?" resounded the high-pitched, yet booming voice of the advancing Nephilim.

Sallinos coughed, choking on the blood that was coming up from his lungs. His vision blurring as he defiantly met the creature’s hollow gaze, he managed to rasp four words to his quarry before letting go of the safety release on the grenade he clasped, "Why... don’t... you... burn?"

Even as the grenade, the Nephilim around him, the LC, and everything within a twenty-meter radius went up in flash incineration to be rendered scorched and barren, nothing mattered to Second Lieutenant Mitchell Sallinos.

After all, none of it was real.



“I can try to get away but I’ve strapped myself in
I can try to scratch away the sound in my ears
I can see it killing away all of my bad parts
I don’t want to listen but it’s all too clear.

“Hiding backwards inside of me I feel so unafraid
Annie, hold a little tighter I might just slip away.

“It won’t give up it wants me dead
God damn this noise inside my head.”
- The Becoming (NIN), 1994