Captain Otumo buzzed insistently over coms, seeking communication. I had not turned off combat protocol yet, I was not yet ready to move on. First Leopard, Jessup, and now Nova and Quake. A kind of numbness was creeping over me, a profound apathy in the aftermath of battle. A nomad suit can regulate the wearers physical responses to battle, including the adrenaline crash and fatigue, but it is not designed to help cope with the mental shocks. Three Nomads had died today. Three people under my command.
“You coping Raven?” Triumph said, he was close enough to use vocals. He sounded tired.
“I’m still standing,” I said.
“I’ll handle burial detail,” said Triumph. “You don’t need this right now.”
“Its my fault,” I said, crumbling.
“Bugshit,” said Triumph. “You had no control over how Jessup went down; hell, that old bastard never listened to anyone even on the best of days. Quake and Nova were unlucky.”
“It was my bad call that put them in that position,” I said.
“Nobody expected a serious fight on this outing,” said Triumph. “Two directing intelligences is unheard of in an engagement of this size. I’ve never heard of one being used as bait. We will morn our fallen, as we must. We will learn from what went wrong, as we must. But don’t blame yourself: if you hadn’t stood up and pushed back on those bloody creepers when you did more of us would have died. That risk kept them off of us long enough to turn the tide.Think on that.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I’ll save the self pity and introspection for downtime.”
“Damn right, I’ll bring the whiskey,” said Triumph. “Now, I sent half the squad over to secure a landing area for the shuttles. Everyone else is clearing their way to that bunker. Sunspear swears the unknown director was bipedal, which could be interesting. Otumo is raising hell on secondary channels, you will need to deal with him sooner rather than later.”
“Thanks,” I said. I’d seen the unidentified Scourge form through my seeker drone; Sunspear wasn’t wrong.
I switched coms to standard protocol as I moved through the ruins toward the bunker. I remained alert, there are always strays after and encounter with the scourge, but there were no nasty surprises waiting for me in the shadows this time. Otumo’s voice roared through my personal coms channel as soon as we connected.
“… highly irregular,” he spat, I could easily picture the man’s glower. “As captain I must be kept apprised of all developments regarding important cargo–“
“I just lost three Nomads down here,” I said. “The cargo really doesn’t interest me at the moment Captain.”
“Nomad Raven,” said Otumo. “A cryopod containing a human survivor from another part of the diaspora fleet is a find of tremendous importance. Casualties are well within acceptable limits for a find of this magnitude; I will make sure Fleet Command knows you were acting in that knowledge. You won’t suffer any repercussions.”
I was struck dumb for a moment. Otumo didn’t seem to care about the dead. He was focused on the damned cryopod. Objectively, he was right. A find like this could give us access to new ideas and technological advancements. It might even lead us to contact with another Fleet. I couldn’t even imagine what that would bring. It was a glorious find. Worst of all, however, was that he seemed to think that I was more worried about blame than I was about the deaths of my squad. He took my silence as an acquiescence to his continued speech.
“Bring the cryopod to the shuttle,” he said. “I’ve fitted it with stabilizers and a power field to make sure it does not take any further damage from transit. The dropship is for your squad. Understood?”
“Understood,” I said. I swore under my breath, the man did not show any concern for the ordeal we had just endured. I wonder if he even knew the names of the fallen. I put it out of my mind. Otumo’s lack of human emotion was nothing new.
The bunker was ankle deep in bug gore, which made me feel a little better. Some tribalistic part of me still revels in things like vengeance. Sphinx, Shrike, and Sunspear were in the process of cutting up and lifting a Wallbreaker corpse that had fallen on top of the cryopod. A quick scan told me that the pot was still intact.
“Any sign of your mystery bug?” I asked Sunspear.
“None,” she said. “But this pace is a mess.”
“We do have an intact carcass of one of the brutes, Raven,” said Sphinx eagerly. “Its like a mini Wallbreaker, but it projects a kind of radial shield that protects other scourge.”
“Like a bodyguard?” I asked.
“More or less,” said Shrike.
“Lovely,” I said. “Bloody scourge are learning new tricks.”
We cut the Wallbreaker into chunks. The thick carapace was nearly as tough as armour grade steel alloy. We were careful to keep an eye out while we did so. We’d all heard the old Nomad horror stories about living scourge popping out of dead ones. We worked in silence. Even Sphinx was subdued.
Another one of the brutes was huddled near the cryopod underneath. Tough as metal, it still had some life left in it as well cleared the debris despite being punctured by beamer fire. Shrike fragged it at point blank as it tried to get up, splashing bug goo everywhere just as the shuttle crew arrived. I struggled to keep myself from chuckling as the poor shuttle engineers were splattered with innards.
We loaded the cryopod onto a gravity effect vehicle. As we secured it with magnetic clamps, I heard Sunspear give an excited shout.