Before the wolf pack can relax and return home, they have one more mission.
A half closed fur fists flew directly at him. He pushed it aside with an arm and countered with a kick at the other wolf's torso but his leg hit nothing but air. With his balance off, his opponent countered with a kick at his back. The smaller wolf turned just in time to block it but not without pain; he snatched out and gripped the leg but the wolf jumped and twisted, landing a kick with his other leg on the wolf's temple.
Yuri fell to the ground, dazed. Before he could recover, A.J. held out a paw to assist him back to his hindpaws.
"You all right?" he asked, allowing Yuri space to regain his balance. The larger wolf was breathing heavily from the exercise.
Holding his head with a paw, he answered meekly, "You always go for the head." The pain throbbed with each heartbeat, making it too painful to use his left eye.
"Sorry Yuri," A.J. said, assisting the smaller wolf back up. "You have to make sure that you don't leave yourself open for a counterattack like that."
Rubbing behind his ear painfully, Yuri resumed his stance and readied himself for another sparring. A.J. also took his stance, and waited for the smaller wolf to make the first move. Not far from the two sparring wolves were the she-wolves of the pack also training. Only the leader of the pack, Alex, was absent.
With other soldiers and pilots coming and going, none of the wolves noticed when Alex entered the gym until he called for their attention. By that time, Yuri was panting heavily and had plenty of fresh bruises and cuts underneath his fur.
"I know you were all excited about getting some rest back home but the flagship's scanners have picked up some anomalies," Alex said, straight to the point. "The Admiral himself is leading a team to investigate."
"What are these 'anomalies'?" Kaitlin asked. She was breathing heavily too.
"All I was told is that it's some sort of ship or facility that was possibly attacked," Alex answered, looking at the four panting wolves. "I wasn't told much but the Admiral will be here in a couple hours so go shower and head to the armory."
The four wolves walked to the showers, leaving Alex in the gym. After they finished showering, they all headed straight to the armory where they found Alex already in his fully repaired armor. Within the hour they were fully geared up and heading to the hangar.
Standing on the hangar floor was the impala commander of the carrier, with several officers and a couple other armored squadrons.
"Not as secretive as the last mission, huh?" commented Yuri from behind his helmet but his team still heard him and he was hushed by Alex.
"Sergeant," the impala greeted Alex. Even with their armor completely hiding all their features, it was easy to recognize the wolves. They were all a full head shorter than any other soldier on the ship. "The Admiral is on his way, he'll be here in a moment. Is your team ready?"
"Yes sir," answered Alex. "Any more information regarding the mission?"
"Everything will be explained when Admiral Alexander arrives," answered the Commander, looking at the bay doors again.
The crew of Drach'n Breath didn't have to wait more than a few minutes until the Adimral arrived on one of the Drach'n Fury's drop ships. Yuri watched as the passengers disembark but when he saw the Admiral step off, he was surprised. He's never seen him up close before and it was shocking to realize that the fox was quite smaller and younger than he was.
Much taller and fully armored officers escorted the fox but Yuri didn't know who they were. The fox was armored too but his helmet was off allowing his golden eyes to look freely around the hangar and glance over the crew of Drach'n Breath. With his escorts, the Admiral stopped a couple meters away from the Commander.
"I'm sorry for the interruption," the Admiral began. "I know we're on a track back home but the artificial intelligence onboard Drach'n Fury detected something... unusual on our way back. A bunch of transmissions were intercepted with signatures from civilian and Velmarian sources. We are still beyond the Black Line and our records show that other than these two ships, no one else has crossed the Black Line. Not even SIO, our intelligence unit, knew of any ships out this far from our systems.
"The transmissions are conclusive that there was some attack," continued the arctic fox. "We don't know who from but it is very likely that there is Creeper involvement. It is also unclear of what we'll be investigating since the transmissions came from a large mass orbiting a still developing habitable planet. There are a lot of anomalies surrounding the mass and although there is no conclusive evidence, it is thought that a colony or military base is that mass. From what we have gathered is that the base is heavily damaged, but some parts of it may still contain suitable atmosphere for survivors to be in.
"Our mission is to search for survivors, and determine if Creepers are still in the area. Any information regarding the ship's origin and purpose will need to be secured as well. Some of you have already fought the Creeper infestation, so I don't need to remind you that you're ordered to shoot on sight, no matter who it is that is infected. If there are Creepers here, then they're uncomfortably close to the Black Line so we'll burn any that are found. Any questions?"
No one said a thing, either because they didn't have questions or they didn't want to ask something from the Admiral. Yuri was still recovering from the shock that he was so young. He thought his pack, full of young adolescents, was difficult enough for the other crewmembers to get used to but the Admiral was still just a pup.
"We'll launching in an hour," concluded the Admiral pup. He gestured to the taller armored soldier to his right. "I will be leading the rescue effort with Captain Redding. Captain DeWitt will be commanding the other teams to secure the facility and search for any signs of Creeper activity. What team you're on has been set to each of your PawPads. Dismissed!"
"All right," Alex said turning to his pack. The Admiral was seen walking toward the senior officers of the ship and chatting with them. "We've been assigned to the Admiral's team. We'll be primary defense of any survivors we find."
"Defense?" commented Kaitlin, folding her arms across her armored chest. "Seems like a waste of valuable resources if you ask me."
"Just don't mess up," Alex stated, his expression hidden. "We'll be working right with the Admiral so don't do anything that'll embarrass the pack either."
"It's odd that the Admiral is going on this mission personally," A.J. remarked.
"Enough," said Alex. "Admiral Alexander has his reasons. Let's just do our job and make sure no one is killed. Get to the ship."
Five armored wolves boarded one of the several nearby drop ships waiting in the hangar bay. While they waited, they chatted among each other on the topic of how their plans for their week off was now delayed and hindered by this new mission. Before too much time had passed, they were informed that the ships were heading out. It was soon confirmed when the engines roared to life and the gravity began to shift around the passenger bay.
Kaitlin managed to gain access to the exterior cameras and she shared the footage with her pack. In a tiny screen in each of their helmets, they could see the distant star and planet that they were rocketing towards. There was a debris field around the planet but all the details were too far to be seen. It took several minutes for Yuri to recognize the pieces of ships floating around a larger cluster of them, their destination.
There was no sure sign an infestation but Yuri kept an eye out for any thing unusual while they drew closer and closer. The cluster of ships was heavily damaged, and it had jagged edges that led the wolves to believe that there were a lot more ships once attached to this cluster. There was some chatter over the radio but none of it was directed at the pack.
Within a few moments, they were too close to see anything other than the hull right in front of them. With a thud, they were attached to the outer hull of the cluster.
The pilot announced the usual procedures when boarding another ship. With the compartment depressurized, the wolves unbuckled themselves and exited the ship. There was no need to cut through the hull as there were several ruptures cutting deep into the cluster of ships.
"Wolf pack," the Admiral's voice said over the speakers. Yuri saw the armored fox standing on the hull, near one of the large ruptures. He waved them over and waited for the pack to join him. "It looks like one of these ships, closer to the middle of this cluster, are still sealed off and that's where the survivors might be. Keep an eye out, I'm not convinced that whatever attacked them is clear of the area. Let's go."
With the Admiral leading the entire team dropped in, escorted by Captain Redding. Inside the ship was dark, illuminated only by the lights from the teams' suits and weapons. Through the darkness, they ventured deeper into the cluster of ships. The other teams were nowhere to be seen, but with the Admiral leading they were more preoccupied on finding a path to suspected ship that survived.
Several corridors were collapsed, with the skeletal structure breaking through the walls and destroying walls and doorways. Sometimes they even blocked their path, forcing them to find another route but once they were deep in the ship, they saw that the damage was the cause of a few casualties as well. An elderly looking reptilian civilian was trapped underneath a beam, it's features disrupted by the vacuum of space.
Admiral Alexander paused for a moment but once the cause of death was clear enough, he moved on and pushed pass the ruin. Once they hit the one hour mark, the Admiral checked on all teams but there still was no contact except for the occasional dead body.
"There's a lot of evidence of parts of this ship on the surface," the Admiral said, after hearing the reports. "I can't imagine how many people burned with those ships. Let's keep searching. We may have to start cutting through these corridors if we can't find a pathway."
Another hour went by before Admiral Alexander grew impatient and began to cut through the hull. Progress was slow and the moment the Admiral began cutting through the second wall, a report came in that a Creeper had been found.
"It's weak but it's like the first dead walkers that was found on Bridging Albatross," a voice said over the radio. Gunfire followed. "It's been taken care of."
"Acknowledged," the Admiral said before finishing his cut. The fox didn't hesitate to hurry down the corridor he cut into. Another fifteen minutes, the team reached the once function bridge of yet another ship in the cluster. The clear windshield was pressed right up against another ship's windshield, and was fused together.
"That's the ship," the Admiral said, staring across into the empty command center. There was a slight movement on the other side, and it reacted to the light. Six wolves snapped up their weapons and aimed on the movement, shining their light at the spot.
There was another stir and it stood up, it's claw blocking the light from shining direct into its eyes. The Velmarian was a young hatchling, younger than the Admiral, and he was alive. A survivor. The clothes on it looked baggy, and it was holding a sidearm in one claw. He must have been fighting for survival ever since the attack.
"Let's find a way in there," ordered the Admiral. His eyes didn't leave the survivor, while he watched it approach the window with wide eyes.
"I'll try to get the schematics from the computer," Kaitlin said, turning back to one of the consoles. "It'll take a minute."
"Mary, Yuri, let's find a way in," Alex ordered, readjusting his aim away from the survivor hatchling. "A.J. stay with Kaitlin and the Admiral. Let's go." With Alex leading, Yuri and Mary followed him off the bridge leaving the other three behind.
For half an hour they searched for a route into the concealed ship but the few corridors that connected to another ship was in another vacant ship. Those ships had no way into the concealed ship either.
"Alex," Kaitlin announced over the radio. "I found the schematics but you need to get back here right away. We're going to have to cut our way in."
The armored wolves hurried back to the bridge and they were there within a few minutes. Yuri was surprised to see that the survivor was missing, and replaced by an older reptilian. It had mortal wounds, and its eyes were fogged over.
"Where's the survivor?" Alex asked urgently, also noticing the infected reptilian. His weapon snapped up and aimed directly on the Creeper.
"Hiding behind one of the consoles," answered A.J. He was at one of the entranceways, forcing it to close.
"We're sealing off the bridge so when the other ship depressurizes we'll catch most of the atmosphere and heat," explained Admiral Alexander, looking over Kaitlin's shoulder at the terminal screen. "I have a medical crew on the way to transport the survivor. In the meantime, we'll secure the ship and search for other survivors."
Yuri watched the doorways close one by one but he wasn't sure if they were sealed enough or not. Looking across the half-meter thick glass, he searched for the survivor. The Creeper was wandering around, only following the lights.
"We need to cut quick but don't shatter the glass," said Yukiomaru, stepping toward the glass. The Creeper took notice and also approached the other side of the glass. Its dead hand started tapping the glass, finally realizing the team on that was trying to cut through.
In the dark distance, one of the doors opened and walked in another infected reptilian, this one still looked alive. It seemed to move against its will, slowly entering the bridge before it stopped and looked directly at one of the terminals. The Creeper at the window stopped its tapping and also turned to look the terminal.
"They found him," growled A.J. He slammed an armored fist against the glass but both Creepers ignored him. From the terminal, the hatchling jumped out and aimed with the stolen sidearm he had. His shots went wild, and the living Creeper twitched toward the survivor. The one near the window more easily took a step toward him too.
With a loud crack and hiss, the infected stopped with a spear through its torso. The Admiral held the other end of the weapon that so easily cut through a meter of glass. He withdrew the spear but the atmosphere of the other bridge quickly leaked through.
"Hurry up and cut through," he ordered, collapsing the spear and hanging it off his hip.
A.J. and Alex began cutting through the glass, removing several chunks of it at a time, allowing more atmosphere to leak from the other room. Meanwhile the survivor ran from the Creeper who steadily pursued, despite the will of the reptilian it was infecting until he was right up against the glass, only a meter from where the Admiral was standing. He didn't move, even as the creature got closer. The hatchling grew stiff and wide-eyed, watching in horror.
"Move!" yelled Admiral Alexander, spear in paw again. The wolves were nearly through when the Creeper tackled and pinned the hatchling to the glass. From its scales sprouted a vine that wrapped around the smaller reptilian's throat. Without any warning, another vine sunk into the glass, having pierced through the center of the survivor's chest and out his back.
The screamed carried through the breach in the glass and echoed in the dark room. Admiral Alexander noticeable clutched at his armored chest and stumbled backwards before leaning back up against the glass. Finally the wolves bashed through the remainder of the glass and stepped through into the other command center. Alex snapped up his weapon and fired a single shot through the neck of Creeper. It released the hatchling and stumbled back; Alex fired several more bursts into the creature until it fell to the ground.
Yuri followed them in, his own weapon raised and keeping aim on the doorways leading into the hangar. Admiral Alexander also walked in and approached the gasping hatchling who was bleeding all over the ground. Something slithered underneath its scales, prompting more screams and tears from him. It started to move in unnatural ways.
"He's infected," Alex said, stepping over the hatchling with his weapon aimed at its head. "It looks like it's trying to take control of his nervous system. We can't save him anymore."
The Admiral's paw was over his chest again, and he was remaining silent while he watched the hatchling struggle. He eventually raised the spear in his paw over the child's throat, which was met with wide fear-filled eyes. Drawing back his paw, the Admiral posed to strike. But the reptilian began to scream and cry, and struggle away from the spear despite the infestation eating him from within his body.
The Admiral hesitated a moment before plunging the spear end through the hatchling's throat. He violently twitched before his body went limp.
"Find the others," said the Admiral sternly, removing the spear from young reptile's throat. He stood up and turned to the shattered part of the fused windshields. Captain Redding emerged from the bridge they came from, returning from his own search. "Ensure that we have suitable atmosphere in here."
"Yuri, A.J., you two go search the living compartments," Alex ordered, before issuing orders to the she-wolves. "Report any signs of infestation and don't take your chances with it."
"Yes sir," barked Yuri, before he followed A.J. into the dark corridor. The wolves searched the ship for the better part of the next hour. They came across a couple infested dead but they had a couple bullet wounds through them that paralyzed the hijacked nervous system. Others were found dead, killed by the parasite but their bodies too mangled for the Creepers to hijack. Unfortunately the wolves had to return with no survivors. The Admiral was upset over the news but only four hours after the mission had started, they all returned to Drach'n Breath.
"What were Velmarian's doing out here?" asked Mary, once they were back on their drop ship. "And where'd the rest of the Creepers go?"
"The Admiral will keep investigating," Alex answered, removing his helmet and taking a deep breath. "For now, we're going to go home like planned."