The whirling motor-blades of the craft kicked up a thick fog of crimson dust. The rear wheels settled on the mud cratered surface. The gravity was thick like soup. The front-wheel thudded. Pulling at their safety harnesses, the shaken occupants got up. The marines were already drained by pulling hard Gs in the descent. Their faces masked their relief as they checked their gear. They loaded their packs and rifles. The youngest grunt got out first. Heaving and spewing a stomach load until he settled. More experienced troopers lurched out after him. The vets nostalgic watching the recruit chunder. They taunted him and jabbed their fists on his helmet in good cheer as they passed.
The General was last out of the high-g lander marked SUV-86. He wore a black buttoned up jacket with matching gloves. A side-pistol in hand. He wore thick UV goggles with an indifferent coolness. As the chopper made its ascent away, he took out a Parejo cigar and cut the end. He took a moment to appreciate the rich smell. Grown and hand wrapped on Jericho, he never took a mission without one at hand. Enjoying it would have to wait until after the job.
The marines fanned out, securing the landing site. A scout trooper set up triangulation beacons around the chopper. The cave entrance leading to the hive was less than two clicks north. The General set the mission timer on his vacuum sealed mechanical watch. With the barest nod to the squad, they set off. A measured pace was set by the lead grunt. The squad’s hearts pumping hard in the thin atmosphere, popping blood thinners as they walked.
The countdown reached the first mark and supersonic booms echoed overhead. The squad braced themselves. Mortar stands and magazines secured by clamps dug into the rock. They watched the flash and smoke ahead before the ground tremors hit them. Lifting the equipment back up, they continued to the cave mouth now billowing out smoke. They put on their masks and infrared hooded lamps. Darting in quick motions, they provided covering support arcs in rotating overwatch guards.
Their enviro hazard meters flashed warnings about bio-contaminants and fire hazards. They waded through steaming pools of ashen goo dripping from the burned sinews of the hive’s walls. The fragmented remnants of alien workers lay strewn in a mess of liquefied silicate and ooze. The walls sheared by plasma burns and the clouds of shattered thick carapaces.
The tunnels stretched deep below the mud flats. The bombers used precision markers planted weeks before to hone in on their targets. The hive were experts at rooting out any human-made tech. But they had missed the bioluminescent markers doused on captured workers. Otherwise benign, the company could track them from orbit.
This hive was not particularly big but isolated from the others, it made a perfect target for the mission. The wasteland of melted organic computers integrated into the sophisticated structure. Its call for help would have a response before the second mission time marker. By which point the General intended to be past the Karman line.
The brood chamber lay ahead behind a solid wall of calcified biomass. The workers had thrown themselves into a sacrificial pile a dozen thick to protect the queen. The oncoming superheated plasma had made a caramelised structure out of them. Hive were tough sons of bitches but the missiles had done their job.
The squad positioned itself into three crossing fire lanes. A scout set thermal detonators at the identified fractures in the wall. The personal shield generators strained to keep the explosion at bay. The fire roared upwards past the squad, leaving two sizeable entry points. The lead grunt threw grenades filled with inhibitor gas into the chamber. The rest of the squad secured the exterior.
The General stepped inside, watching the hive queen within. Rising up to her full height, she expanded her intricate webwork of wings on her thorax. A typical display of dominance. The General didn’t flinch.
“Your majesty,” he said. The Terran basic transmitted over short-range subspace. If the tone was sarcastic, nothing of it remained in the translation.
The General saw the dim blue light of attached neural receptors activate. He knew the queen understood him. The response came after the briefest of pauses. The translation was rich with shrill anger and despair: “Why?”
“It’s moving day.”
The queen lurched forward, intending a swift motion to decapitate the impertinent human. But inhibitor gas had dulled her awareness. Sonic-nets pinned her to the spot, her motion only increasing the tension. It brought the queen’s giant body crashing to the ground. Anguish and fear palpable in its pheromone release. The marines finalised her restraint by drilling metallic bolt pacifiers into her thorax. The nearby subspace reverberated with a tortured scream before unconsciousness took over.
As the marines dragged their prize out, the General took off the breathing mask. He put the cigar to his mouth. Finding some matches in his breast pocket, he lit and puffed until the tip was a glowing ember. The scout set the communication relay before him and handed him the handset.
“Come in, Sierra Uniform Victor. This is Scott. The breeder is ready for transport. Over and out.”