Someone was gently shaking his shoulder, and he slowly and reluctantly emerged from the sweet emptiness of sleep. The first sound he registered was the prio 1 mission alert, the soft ‘bim – bim – bim’ triggered the instincts to finish what he was doing and go get geared up, but there was no receiving end anywhere; his mind and his body seemed to have merged into a thick, grey pulp.
”Haylen?” At least he recognized Leon’s voice. ”Haylen, you awake?”
He rolled over halfway on his back, trying to blink his eyes open and focus. The pain in his head made him squint despite the dim light.
”You wit’ me, Haylen?”
He took a deep breath, trying to grasp reality and find his voice. ”…yeah.”
”We got a mission. I need to know if you be good to go or not. Can you sit up?”
Not until now memory caught up with him. The stress test. Migraine. Seizure. He was still in the med bay, where they had taken him earlier so he could sleep it all off. It could have been minutes ago, it could have been days. He hated this. Hated hated hated to wake up disoriented, without clear memories, no connection, hated it…
The mission alert signal finally hit a target in his brain, and his body responded. He pushed himself up into sitting, putting his feet down on the floor, inhaling deeply and pulling his shoulders up as his forehead began to pound.
”Haylen?” Leon’s hands were on his shoulders.
“Name, rank, number.”
He recited the lot of it. At least all that came to his tongue without much delay.
”We got a mission”, Leon said again, giving him a water bottle and told him to drink before he continued. ”Alpha Dawn group attacked anot’er research station, prio 1 mission. De UGS Terra sent deir teams dere already, but dey can’ handle it alone. You able to get ready an’ move out in a bit?”
Haylen took a few breaths, closing his mouth firmly to keep the water down. He felt nauseous, shaky, but he could tell that the headache was at least on the going-away-side and not the kill-you-soon-side.
”Yeah, I am…” He put the bottle away and rubbed his forehead. It was easier to talk if he kept his eyes closed. “Section E caused de seizure?”
“Don’ know yet, but it sure dragged more sand in. You won’ be usin’ dem on dis mission dough. Need more painkillers?”
“What’s de time?”
”2:14, you had last dose about seven hours ago, been sleepin’ since. You feelin’ sick?”
“A’ight, drink more if you can, den go gear up. We be gettin’ food on de go, an’ two hours idlin’ on de shuttle.”
The others were almost set and ready when Haylen entered the changing room. Felicia was adjusting her chestpiece, talking to Xander.
“You look as fresh as a fucking rosebud, what’s your secret? You got sleep enhancing implants?” She, as well as most of the others, was puffy-eyed and raspy due to being rallied after too few hours of sleep. Xander wasn’t.
The TR scratched his neck, cheeks turning slightly redder. “I never went to sleep tonight. There was a bug in the engine software I had to deal with, and when I had solved that the alarm went off.”
“Hope that door doesn’t hit you in the back during the mission then”, said Cory.
Felicia turned to Haylen as he opened his locker and asked him how he was feeling, and that was where he had to turn on his heel and get to the toilet to throw up.
“Please don’t say you’re pregnant too”, Keith said as he went back to his locker. Never too tired to joke, was he.
Felicia didn’t ask more, thankfully. However, Cory did.
“I heard the stress test didn’t go so well. Should you really go on a mission right now? You look terrible.”
“Not your call, eh…” Haylen mumbled without looking at him, trying to the legplates in place.
“I was asking out of concern, but okay.” Haylen didn’t need to see him to know his eyebrows were raised in defense.
But before he came up with an answer, Cory left the changing room. Haylen leaned his head against the cool surface of the cabinet door, wishing he could stay there forever. Morgan briefly put a hand on his shoulder, giving it an encouraging rub as he walked past.
Felicia closed her locker as Haylen got a grip of himself again and continued with the armor pieces. “Hate to say it, but he got a point. Are you sure you’re good to go?”
He lifted his chin up, then looked at her.
She held up her hands. “Okay, okay.” She grabbed her helmet and weapon, waiting for him to get finished before they went to the shuttle hall.
– – –
The research station was located on a relatively safe area on UR22, a 1.2 G moon without atmosphere and with active cryovolcanoes. The two Terra teams had suffered casualties and was on their last air reserves, and still they hadn’t been able to breach the enemy defense line. Apparently, the Alpha Dawn group had brought more robotic toys. Not the troopers this time, but the smaller MG:s, Mechanical Guards. Less firepower, less sturdy, but hard to take out in a cramped area where you couldn’t use grenades.
Or when you couldn’t use the Tyrian Tank, Haylen thought as he forced down the last of the nutritional smoothie he had sipped on during the trip. Fortunately he’d been able to keep it all down. Another painkiller and forty five minutes of sleep, and he was almost back to normal. But there was the lingering shakiness and sensitivity to sounds, his reactions were slower, and he had orders not to use anything more than normal barriers.
It could’ve been worse, of course. Much worse. Still, it would’ve been neat not to have Cory’s silent doubt as a fucking flashlight in his face every time their eyes happened to meet. It was enough with his own. Even captain Avril hadn’t commented his general status this time, who was Cory to have opinions? Then again, Leon told him that there had been enough scolding from both the captain and the commander last night, when Haylen was blissfully asleep, to last for the whole mission.
As the team had gradually shook the sleep daze off during the transport, Xander was instead starting to yawn. Leon tossed him a few stim packs to wake up his brain later when it was time to hack MG:s.
They entered atmosphere and it was time to get ready.
“The plan is to join the Terra teams at the rendezvous points” captain Avril informed them. “They need to exchange air tanks so we’ll replace them for a while. Xander will continue their attempts to shut down the MG:s before we move in. If that fails, we’ll have to shoot our way through. There is air inside the station and so far the airlock is working. As per usual, you are not to remove your breather pieces until you get permission.”
“Time to show the Terrables how to deal with Alphas”, Keith grinned.
Haylen didn’t feel like smiling. Enter Task Force Ignis, eh, with its crippled prim duty team. Short of one soldier and half a frontliner, and the remaining half of said frontliner wasn’t even allowed to use his amp force properly… Haylen sighed and put his helmet on, clicking the breather piece in place.
It took Xander a good while to break into the system that controlled the MG:s, even with the progress made by the Terra TR:s. Meanwhile, the Ignis team held the claimed positions until the Terra team got back with fresh air tubes. The air inside the station was still good, but the officers were taking no risks. The Alpha Dawn might’ve been be a young organisation, but they had also shown that they could be reckless and, well. Rather dramatic. There was a risk they’d rather vent the station and die with their enemy than surrender.
This unit seemed to be a great deal more experienced and skilled one than the previous ones the Ignis teams had encountered. When the MG:s eventually were shut down, the teams were met with heavy gunfire as they advanced into the station. An intense fight followed, from which Paavo had to pull out of after taking a rather serious hit in the leg. Tianyi and Rashida were hit badly too, but since none of them got bleeding wounds they had to carry on.
It wasn’t until the remainders of the two Terra teams returned that they could finally turn the tides. At last, there was a desperate request for cease-fire from the Alpha Dawns, and one by one they left their weapons on the ground and crawled out of hiding with their hands in the air. Five of them were dead, another twenty one wounded, leaving only three of them physically unharmed. Those three were hiding in the station’s communication central, three scared witless teenagers who had been seduced by the rebel spirit only to realize that they weren’t prepared to die for this obscure cause at all.
“It’s just sad”, Felicia pondered as they were waiting for more reinforcements to take care of the Alpha Dawn-prisoners and the station crew. “Union research is already common property, their whole agenda is nothing but sheep shit.”
She kept her voice low, glancing at the prisoners in the room. They had been placed in the station canteen and in a conference room, guarded by the Ignis and the Terra team respectively. Leon and Nyree had patched their own soldiers up first, and were now taking care of the prisoners.
“They claim the Union is keeping information from us though”, Cory pointed out. “Which isn’t untrue, there’s a whole lot of things the public never gets to know.”
“Yes, I know, but that’s just common classified stuff. Some information need to be handled with care, right? But they always sound like people don’t get to know even the most basic stuff, like what minerals can be mined from what asteroid, and things like that.”
“What I don’t understand”, Morgan said, “is that if they are connected to the Federation, which they seem to be considering the jammers on that drone we encountered, why is free information so important to them? The Federation usually praises company secrets and the freedom of protecting and selling anything you possess.”
“Hey”, said Keith with a nod in the prisoners’ direction, and they all stopped talking since it was obvious the two closest ones tried to listen in.
Haylen felt a headache build up, and took a dose of the migraine meds just in case it wasn’t an ordinary one. Then he looked at Xander who was leaning at the wall next to him, eyes staring at absolutely nothing.
Xander blinked and looked at him, forcing his eyes to stay open. “I’m sorry, what did you say? I think I was asleep.”
Haylen only smirked, shaking his head. “Sit down before you drop, private.”
The TR blinked again, then nodded slowly. “That’s a good idea. Very good idea.” Xander sank down on the floor and fell asleep in less than a minute.
And, in less than three minutes, reinforcements arrived, and it was time for the Ignis teams to leave. Haylen actually felt sorry for Xander as he had to wake him up again.