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Garden of Serpents

Patrick Chiles

Patrick Chiles began his writing career with the self-published novels Perigee and Farside, acquired by Baen Books in 2016. His subsequent novels, 2020’s Frozen Orbit and 2021’s Frontier, have established him as a rising talent in the realm of realistic, near-future science fiction. Chiles also contributed to the 2021 anthology, World Breakers, with Larry Correia and David Weber. The sequel to Frozen Orbit, titled Escape Orbit, will be released in 2023. He currently resides in central Ohio with his wife and two lethargic dachshunds.

<START RECORDING // PFC CHANDLER, R.A. // 04.19.2583 // 1821 LT>

I hate dropships. Just felt like I needed to get that out.

Maybe I should be more specific: the ships are fine, no complaints there. They don’t get smelly since we’re not in them for long; the g-couches are as comfortable as they need to be, and the ships do what they’re supposed to do. Not much to look at, but they get the job done. It’s the job they’re doing that I hate.

Think about it. After a hundred-year trip, living in a giant centrifuge might keep a normal healthy but it’s not the same as extended jaunts into full (as in earthlike) gravity. The Coriolis force from rotation combines with the ship’s acceleration to create some weird effects that are hard to explain—“down” is more like sideways, and the direction depends on where you’re facing. Take my word for it that it’s not the same as standing on a planet.

Anyway, the fun starts within eight or nine minutes of getting rattled around in the dropship while it decelerates into the atmosphere at four or five g’s. That part sucks. Civilian shuttles follow a gentler descent profile, but Patrol pilots treat every entry like a combat drop: get in fast, get out faster if they can manage it.

After you shake that off, you’re treated to normal gravity wearing an environment suit and full kit after spending most of your life being spun around in a drum. It leaves everybody dizzy for the first day or two, which can be funny to watch. I’m a comms specialist, so I also get to hump our squad’s network relay along with extra batteries and a field repair kit. It’s like every day is “leg day.” You just gut it out. The heavy gunners have it worse so I’m not going to complain too much.

In fact, I’m not even supposed to be talking about this. The Patrol prides itself on stoic dedication to the mission, so we generally keep our heads down and our mouths shut. There was supposed to be an adage from way back in the old army that soldiers weren’t happy unless they had something to bitch about. Admiral Gordon will pitch a fit, but honestly I’ll happily accept my punishment if I somehow make it back up to Guardian E after all this.

I have to say that looks really unlikely at this point.

So yeah, I’m not supposed to do that. I’m also not supposed to be stranded on this planet alone, but that reminds me of another old adage: no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Of course we didn’t come here looking for a fight, so maybe that’s why this all went to shit in the first place. If you assume that your first landing on an entirely new world might not be welcomed with open arms, you’ll prepare accordingly.

That wasn’t the case with 248e, which some muckety-muck optimistically named Eden. Maybe if they’d paid more attention to the old creation story, they’d have recalled that things kind of went sideways there too. At this new Eden, the serpent apparently has the run of the place.

The dim, monochrome light didn’t help. The local sun is big, about ten times the size of ours as seen from Earth, but even at midday everything is a variation of bloodred. Just brighter. The day here is about thirty-one hours, so we spend about sixteen hours in darkness. No stars, just clouds, but our night vision works okay.

The pilot set us down in a large clearing on a small continent about two hundred miles south of the planet’s equator. Maybe we should have asked ourselves why there was a large clearing in the middle of a giant jungle, but we didn’t. After that high-g drop, the touchdown was so light we barely noticed when she announced we’d landed. Our platoon leader was the first one off the dropship, as a good platoon leader ought to be. First thing he noticed was how spongy the ground was. It’s like the whole planet is covered in fungi. When my turn came up, it felt like stepping onto a thick blanket of moss.

First order of business was setting up shelter, which is a lot of work. The shelter domes are easy; even the big ones we used just about take care of themselves. The hard work comes in getting the water extractors up and running, and then calibrating them to the local atmosphere without burning them out. The Ito generator takes a fine touch too, as they get rattled during atmospheric entry. With a couple grams of antimatter inside, you can’t just plant one and throw the switch or you could end up with a city-sized crater where your outpost used to be.

My squad had it easy: watch the perimeter while the other three squads did the hard work of setting up a forward operating base. That might seem boring, but we were grateful for the opportunity. Not that we would’ve minded the work of setting up camp, but this gave us a head start getting familiar with the local environment.

We deployed in a circle with a hundred-meter radius centered on the command post, each one of us taking a pack of sensor quads with us. In short order we had networked them into an invisible picket around the FOB: motion detectors, heat sensors, optics, and audio. We weren’t expecting any kind of armed resistance as there was zero indication of intelligent life here, but the survey drones had shown evidence of large animals that we had to assume might be interested in a new food source. Somebody named the things E-Rexes because they look like a half-scale T-Rex with bigger teeth, a single eye, and big ears. First and third platoons, setting up bases on other parts of the planet, encountered the things and had to kill hundreds of the monsters before they learned to leave us alone. Our drones spotted some of them just a few kilometers away, so we knew they were in the area, yet they never bothered us. Maybe we should’ve asked why.

As I said, the ground was spongy, like walking on partially thawed tundra. At first it made moving about under the 0.9 gravity a little less difficult, though over time the stuff seemed to pull at our boots like thick mud. As I leveled my first sensor quad I noticed fine, hairlike tendrils wrapping themselves around its base. Weird, but not too concerning yet. Apparently the heat from our suits kept the miniature creeping vines at bay; they seemed to react to objects at ambient temperatures. The squads doing setup reported the same phenomenon. It naturally held structures in place until they turned on the juice—as soon as stuff started heating up, the tiny vines withdrew. Such was our first experience with the weird plant life on Eden.

That was fine by me. Once I’d set up my share of the picket net, I took my position “inside the wire.” I didn’t want to have to be constantly shifting just to keep the local foliage from grabbing at my boots, so I cranked up the suit heat another notch just to be on the safe side.

It’s easy for the uninitiated to think of sentry duty as boring—and it can be—but in an alien environment it’s anything but. There’s just too much to take in, too much information to absorb. You’re the eyes of your platoon, and your brothers and sisters are counting on you to put together a clear picture of the tactical situation.

We were lightly armed, each of us carrying a plasma rifle with a chest carrier full of charging magazines and old-fashioned slugthrower sidearms on our hips. More than adequate for a herd of E-Rexes. We set up interlocking fields of fire, with full-auto gunners positioned on opposite sides of the perimeter just in case we needed a whole lot of fire delivered at once. No heavy weapons as we didn’t foresee enemy armored columns appearing out of the thick forests of whatever-it-was growing outside the wire. Pity that. They might have made all the difference.

And there was a lot growing out there. Mostly boulder-sized clumps of the same mossy-looking flora that carpeted our FOB; beyond them was a thicket of taller brush a few meters high. As the day wore on and our enhanced vision implants kicked in, things got even stranger: the local vegetation glowed. Faint bluish-green bioluminescence, which stood out even more against the deep red of 248’s light. That was going to mess with our sleep cycles when local midnight looked more normal to us than noon would. For the first time ever, I hoped our squad pulled night watch.

* * *

As luck would have it, we didn’t. I couldn’t blame our platoon sergeant when he posted the watch rotations; we’d already been on perimeter duty for half the day and fifteen hours on watch is long enough. When third squad came out to relieve us, I was…well, relieved.

The forests—sorry, I don’t know what else to call the thicket of overgrowth beyond the wire—had become more unnerving as time wore on. The outlines traced by the luminous flora moved in a way that didn’t quite square with the wind direction. My first thought was that it might be caused by animals moving in the shadows, concealed behind the overgrowth. Which was definitely a thing, but more on that later.

I figured it was my eyes playing tricks on me. No matter how well our metabolism’s been enhanced or how many stims we take, fatigue eventually has its say. After a while, you start seeing stuff that isn’t really there and your value as a sentry falls off to nothing. Instead of minding your zone, you end up focusing on whatever’s right in front of you because it’s increasingly hard to focus on anything else. And that’s when you’re in a familiar environment. Eden is anything but “familiar.”

A lot of the movement we saw was due to the local wildlife. Nothing observed directly, just shadows and sounds. I did see one creature skulking along the edge of the clearing, just inside the brush line. I couldn’t image it directly, even with my IR implants tuned-in the thing was partially camouflaged against the foliage. All I could get was a silhouette, a sense of shape and size. It was big, at least two meters tall and three long, walking on four limbs. It would stop occasionally and stare at our picket line, almost like it was sizing up the sensor quads. Made me wonder if it could “see” the EM frequencies of our perimeter net. The scientists told us to expect life here to have highly evolved senses to compensate for the low natural light. Did they have more of an advantage during the day, when the vegetation wasn’t glowing? Either way, it was a sobering reminder that we were on their turf.

* * *

The first Patrolman went missing during morning watch the next day. Patrolman Second Class Milley had apparently gotten up early to use the latrine, about ten meters away from the shelter dome but well inside the wire. We’d had to dig an old-fashioned field shitter while we waited for the next supply drop, the one that would have a full water processing unit so we could do our business indoors like civilized people.

Nothing tripped the sensor picket and nobody heard a thing, not even the squad on perimeter watch. No one realized he was missing until he didn’t show up for muster. We started an all-hands search of the FOB right away. It was easy to trace his steps until our platoon leader found an odd depression in the moss-covered ground where Milley’s trail ended. Our first thought was that he’d fallen into a crevasse that had been covered up by the vegetation, but after digging away at it we only found more frozen dirt. Just as the seismic sensors predicted. It was like the tundra had just swallowed him up, or something had plucked him out of the sky.

The scientists had briefed us on what the survey drones had found and warned us that some of the local wildlife was analogous to the dinosaurs of ancient Earth. So did a freaking alien pterosaur swoop down and snatch Milley like he was an overgrown field mouse?

The sky had just become one more thing we had to watch.

* * *

Our squad was in reserve that day, which made us the designated “quick reaction” force. If anything went sideways outside the wire, we were the ones who’d be sent to deal with the threat. We suited up for a search-and-rescue patrol and divvied up the search pattern by fire teams, each one headed for a different quadrant since we had no idea what direction he might’ve been taken. It didn’t leave us with the warm fuzzies, as the farther we got outside the wire the more dispersed we became. Our platoon leader assured us we’d have top cover from a pair of sentry drones, which I reckon sounded like a good idea so long as they didn’t get snatched up too. We were determined to find Milley, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some grousing about it. He was always just a little too sure of himself for his own good.

“Dumbass shouldn’t have been out alone,” our heavy gunner, Patrolman First Class Svenson, had groused. Big Scandinavian guy, selected to carry the full-auto plasma rifle simply because he had the size to match the charging backpack’s bulk.

“The guy was just going for a morning dump,” I’d said. “Probably figured he was safe inside the wire.” I tightened my grip on my lighter, standard-duty rifle and kept it at high-ready, making sure my fingers stayed indexed along the trigger guard. It was hard to work by feel with gloves on, but it was far too cold to work without them. Even along the equator it was subarctic conditions, barely above freezing. “The cold just makes bodily functions more urgent, seems like.”

Sven had answered with a grunt. “He’s still a dumbass.”

“Stow it,” Corporal Mfume had said. East African. Rail thin but he aced every combat fitness test, basically earned his position as fire team leader by proving he could whip Sven’s ass if need be. “Milley might be a pain in your ass but he’s still one of us. Take a look around; I guarantee you’re a pain in someone else’s ass. Stay focused.”

“Aye, Corporal,” Sven had muttered, barely audible over the comms net.

Our fire team—a rifleman, a heavy gunner, a grenadier, and the team leader—moved through the brush in a wedge formation with Mfume on point. It was hard going with all that clingy moss underfoot; every step felt like the ground was trying to pull us back. We all cranked up our foot warmers to keep it at bay; I know mine was to the point where I could feel my socks filling with sweat. That was okay, so long as I could walk without having to work at it. I didn’t want to think about what a firefight would be like in this environment—lay down for cover and you might not get back up.

This was our first close-up look at the world outside the wire and the brush only got thicker as we pressed on. For the most part it looked like outgrowth of that greenish-gray mossy ground cover, the stuff that tried to attach to our boots. The larger brush formed in the exact same patterns; part of me wanted to take a few minutes to study it just out of interest. Most of us didn’t sign up for the Patrol just to be a dumbass grunt, especially if you volunteered for an expeditionary force like Ross 248. We’re genuinely curious. Except Sven. I think he just wanted new, exciting stuff to shoot.

We did manage to take some local samples of ground cover around the FOB and sent 3D microscans back up to the science team on Guardian E. The eggheads are anxious to get down here and see for themselves once we give the all clear, and they were all over the holographic samples we sent. They weren’t saying much, but a lab assistant I know back on Guardian told me later that it’d been giving them fits. Apparently, the stuff is all fractals down to the microscopic level, repeating patterns that reflect and define the whole organism. That’s not necessarily groundbreaking stuff as it happens naturally in Earth biology; the difference here is she said the patterns are “extraordinarily well defined.” That is, no variations whatsoever. Like this stuff was engineered, fine-tuned by somebody.

I was eyeballing one such growth, something that resembled an aloe plant, when Puckett disappeared. There was a grunt and a shout over our comms net. I looked left, where he should’ve been, and he was just gone. I carefully stepped over to where I’d seen him last and there was another one of those faint depressions in the ground cover.

Another old infantry adage: Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action. We just leapfrogged the “twice” part.

Mfume made a circling motion with his hand, signaling the rest of the team to form up on him and take defensive positions. As we did, we were startled by a series of muffled thumps underfoot. We all stared at one another in silence. Puckett was our grenadier. He carried an “over-under,” a standard-issue pulse rifle with a grenade launcher slung underneath the barrel. He also wore a carrier vest filled with explosive cartridges for said grenade launcher. That was when we knew what had happened.

Sven’s eyes about popped out of his skull; first time I’d ever seen the big guy unnerved. “Holy shit. He’s…underground.”

“Perhaps not anymore,” Mfume said, with a casual determination that I couldn’t have managed in his position. He jumped on the squad comms net right away. “Six, this is Bravo lead. Man down, repeat man down. I’m geotagging his last location and we are returning to the FOB.” He gestured for us to get a move on, not waiting for our squad leader’s response.

Understand that this wasn’t something a team leader would normally do with his squad leader, which is how I knew Mfume was spooked. Sergeant Petrov was exacting when it came to tactical discipline, but he apparently wasn’t in the mood to overrule Mfume’s decision. “Roger that, Bravo. All teams, return to base. Check in as you cross the wire and assemble at checkpoint alpha. Acknowledge.”

A half hour later, our squad, minus Puckett, had reassembled for muster and Petrov gestured for the fire team leaders to circle up on him. They were having a powwow out of earshot from the rest of us when an enormous, concussive thump roiled the ground. The kind of thing you might hear when an entire vest full of grenades went off. We felt the explosion up through our boots, a pretty good indication that it had happened underground. We all turned to see a thin column of smoke rising from the brush about two hundred meters beyond the wire. We’d located Puckett, or at least where he used to be.

* * *

Over the next few days, two more Patrolmen went missing. One just disappeared without a trace, again. The second one didn’t. This time a few of us heard Javits, a rifleman in first squad, shout and then go quiet. It was muffled, like he was being gagged as he was dragged off into the underbrush. I don’t know why but that made it seem even worse than it already was. And as usual, there weren’t any tracks.

Getting picked off at random was starting to become routine and an order came down that nobody was to go out alone for any reason, and individual weapons were to be charged at all times. That was a big deal. Normally they only do that when we’re on a “war footing”—that is, expecting enemy action at any time. Otherwise, the only time your weapon should be locked and loaded is when you’re on patrol or sentry duty so there’s no risk of an accidental discharge.

Around this time I was on perimeter watch, which was funny because I was standing there by myself, where if I’d had to get up and take a leak I’d have had a “battle buddy” going to the latrine with me. While everybody on post is in sight of one another, standing sentry all of a sudden felt pretty damned lonely.

I was startled by close movement on the other side of the wire. Didn’t even hear the thing before I saw it, it was that stealthy. Something the size of a large dog crept out of the brush about ten meters away, on funky double-jointed legs that made its movement seem almost like an insect’s. It had leathery skin with bristly hair that reminded me of a porcupine. Its head looked like an extension of its body with a long toothy snout, a couple of stumps for ears, and four bulbous eyes that must have been adapted to see in the dim red light.

The thing skulked along the brush line, every few steps stopping to look at us. Sizing us up. Quiet as it was, it made me think this might have been the kind of creature that had been snatching our platoon mates. It stalked our perimeter that way for a good ten minutes—I know this because I kept my weapon leveled on it the whole time and the recording from my scope said so.

I was ready to shoot the thing dead, except our rules of engagement forbade it unless it presented an immediate threat—no killing the local critters unless they deserved it. The longer I watched it, the more I understood this four-eyed freak probably wasn’t our culprit. On the other hand, it wasn’t something I wanted to mess with either. Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing. Right?

What finally convinced me was when it got spooked by something I couldn’t see, at least not right away. It came near a clump of brush when the fronds or whatever they were from this big, tubular, aloe-looking plant moved. The critter recoiled and just stood there for a second, uttering this kind of low-frequency hum that I guess passed for a growl as it stared at the brush. There was no more movement after a time and the animal backtracked and skulked away.

That got me wondering: why weren’t the native animals getting snatched up? Maybe they were and we just weren’t seeing it; it’s not like we could muster the local wildlife to see which ones had gone missing. Most likely whatever it was already knew the local menu options and had decided the new arrivals were tasty. Kind of like the first time you try a new dish and you all of a sudden can’t get enough of it.

It was weird behavior. I couldn’t see another, more dangerous animal hiding in the brush. There wasn’t a lot of cover in that spot, so what could’ve scared it off?

I kept staring at the big alien-aloe plant and its long, spotted leaves or tubules or whatever they were. Awfully cold climate for plants that size, it seemed. Maybe the deep red sun led them to evolve a type of photosynthesis we didn’t understand? It was one more thing for the eggheads to figure out.

Something about it kept my attention. That critter had skedaddled like he’d just been caught on somebody else’s turf.

That’s when I saw it. A couple of tubules shifted along its edge, just enough to see them move against the cluster of identical growths in the plant’s center (I’m sure there’s more sciencey-sounding names for all this but I don’t know what they are). I know they weren’t moving with the wind because there wasn’t any. Most important, I could see they were moving independently of each other.

The damned plant was alive. Okay, I know—all plants are alive. But I mean alive. Moving with a purpose. All of a sudden, I realized where our missing Patrolmen had gone.

Our platoon leader must have figured that out around the same time, because it wasn’t long before he assembled us for a mission brief.

If the lieutenant was concerned, he didn’t show it. If anything, he looked pissed off, pacing back and forth in front of us like a caged animal. Command probably wasn’t happy that we’d lost Patrolmen, and that turd had rolled downhill from orbit and landed in the L-T’s lap, so now he was spreading it around to the rest of us. But if I’m being honest—and at this point there’s no reason not to be—we were all ready for some payback.

To his credit, the L-T kept things brief, letting the platoon sergeant go through the standard five-paragraph order before summing it up for us. “Ladies and Gents, we came here with the objective of setting up a secure advance base for the science team. Our current situation does not meet any definition of ‘secure.’ Therefore, we are going to damned well make it secure. Our first order of business is to clear the perimeter.” He motioned for the weapons sergeant, who then called up a team with incendiary units—old-fashioned flamethrowers. They took equidistant positions along the perimeter and started torching everything within a hundred meters. It was obvious they’d worked out this piece of the operation ahead of our briefing, and it was quite a show.

Keeping the platoon in formation while the weapons team did their thing might have been for our own safety, but it also made for one hell of a spectacle and showed us the L-T meant business. There was no small amount of hissing and squeals as the dense vegetation went up in smoke, which was a little unnerving. Normally I would’ve chalked it up to moisture evaporating in the heat, but now I couldn’t help but think they were reacting.

“You hear that?” I muttered to Sven, who was standing next to me.

“More like smelling it,” he said, sniffing the air and tightening his grip on his weapon. “Smells like victory.” I could tell he was champing at the bit to get out there himself, but our squad had been assigned to base security, so he’d have to be content with standing perimeter watch while the rest of our platoon went out on an old-fashioned search-and-destroy mission.

To the L-T’s credit, he went out with first squad, “leading from the front” instead of pestering everyone from the command post. Being the comms operator, I was ordered to monitor their progress from the CP and keep Guardian updated when it came back over the horizon. It’s where I’ve been ever since. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing.

Every Patrolman’s biosensor and helmet cam fed into our tactical display, each one of them a slow-moving dot on a holographic map. It was a lot to absorb all at once, but that was a problem that took care of itself over time.

Watching your fellow Patrolmen slowly make their way through the brush is an oddly detached experience. I’ve been in the CP during drills but never a live operation. You can see the formations moving ahead and can call up video from any individual to see what they’re seeing, and you know exactly what they’re doing, but you’re not really a part of it. That gets even harder when things get lively. The platoon was “weapons free” as soon as they crossed the wire. The L-T’s orders were “If it moves, kill it.”

Apparently, there was a lot of stuff moving.

I could hear the buzz of plasma rifles and shouts of Patrolmen over the comms. The thunderclap report of the heavy full-auto guns reverberated through the fabric of the CP dome, their particle beams splitting the air around them like lightning. They were soon joined by the booming thuds of grenades. It’s hard to know how the L-T made sense of all that chaos but that’s why he’s an officer, I guess. Maybe he was just as confused as the rest of us.

I mentioned the problem of monitoring the whole platoon taking care of itself after a time—that was because there were fewer and fewer Patrolmen to monitor. Those dots—their status icons—started going dark. Green dots turned to amber, one or two at first, then whole fire teams started going red. Red meant “dead.” The creepy thing was I didn’t hear a peep out of most of them.

Most of them. There were shouts from one or two that seemed to come from nowhere and were just as quickly muzzled. After the riot of noise over the tactical net, my little corner of the CP became eerily silent.

When it turned noisy outside is when I knew things had gone to shit. I’d filtered my own squad out of the tactical net since they were inside the wire; in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have, but in the end, I don’t think it would’ve made a difference.

I heard Sven’s distinctive bellow and ran outside just in time to see him being dragged off. Vines were wrapped around his legs and torso with another encircling his head just as the damned ground opened up near him. It was one of those aloe plant–looking things, its tubules spreading open in a circle. The vines, thick as tree limbs, yanked him up into the air and pulled him into the plant’s pinkish maw.

I stood there like an idiot, staring in horror at my friend getting pulled underground into whatever this was. The vines disappeared with him, everything withdrawing beneath the ground cover.

I was vaguely aware of carnivorous plants like Venus flytraps but until now had not imagined we were camped in the middle of a patch of their big brothers. That’s when I realized that the clearing we had landed in was their patch. Looking around, I saw the rest of our squad was gone. Every post around the perimeter was empty, a few of them marked by weapons that still lay on the ground where a Patrolman had once been.

I felt the ground beneath the CP dome begin to shift and I stumbled back inside as more of those fibrous tentacles rose up from the undergrowth. I locked the hatch behind me and hurried back to the nearly empty tactical display. A lone comms alert blinked in its center: the platoon leader trying to make contact.

“Th-this is Chandler in the…the CP,” I stammered, trying to sound professional and in control when in reality I was trying not to piss myself. “Go ahead.”

The L-T’s voice was choked, like he was fighting to get the words out. “CP…this is…Actual.” A grunt, then: “Position…compromised. Initiate…Zero Protocol.” There would be no dustoff, no one coming to our rescue. Guardian was on the other side of the planet; even if they sent a dropship right now it’d be another hour before it landed.

He repeated the order, not that I needed any more encouragement. I could feel the floor buckle and looked up to see shadows creeping along the outside of the CP dome, those vines trying to get in. They were pressing against the structure, and more of them were coming up from the ground. The dome began popping and groaning against the strain—they couldn’t penetrate the structure, so they would crush it with their own weight.

Zero Protocol was a sanitized way of saying we were to blow everything to hell. It’s not like the Ito device needs a self-destruct button; the antimatter is contained by quantum fields that draw their power from the device itself. It’s like a massive regenerating battery, the proverbial self-licking ice cream cone. But disconnect the power, and boom. All that stored energy is released once the confinement bottles fail, along with a few grams of matter and antimatter mixing all at once. They’ll annihilate each other and everything else within a couple of square kilometers, converting our clearing into a smoking hole and killing whatever it was that slaughtered our platoon.

It can be a really efficient generator, or a tactical nuke. I set the shutdown timer for the maximum thirty-minute count—that was four minutes ago. Guardian will be over the horizon in another nineteen, which will give me just enough time to send a burst transmission with all of our accumulated data before this place is vaporized. Hopefully they can do something with it, or at least understand what these things are and find a better way to keep them at bay. I’m not getting my hopes up. Maybe if we’d had an AI here it could’ve helped us come up with a better solution than cratering the place, but they aren’t attached to forward expeditionary units since there’s a decent chance we’ll have to kill something. It’s enough to make one wonder how much smarter the AIs are than us meatbags.

And so I wait. The burst transmission finished up and I got the acknowledgment from Guardian that it had been received. The CP dome is beginning to show cracks from the strain. It won’t be long.

It’s better this way. I’d rather go out fighting than get slowly digested by freakish plants that have developed a taste for humans. I’m about to give them the worst case of heartburn anybody could imagine. They can choke on us.

If that sounds tragic, it isn’t. Civilians can never understand why we do what we do, no matter how hard they try. Just know that I have no regrets. I did my duty, as did my brothers and sisters.

Preserve and Protect, at Any Cost.


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