• The hallways were a blur of motion by the time Ethan and Samantha reached the armory door as soldiers rushed to their various stations throughout the base. Inside, a squad of Marines were busy clipping on their gray-colored combat armor and readying their weapons to go out and meet the new threat. Ethan grabbed his own armor from the rack and while he was fastening it around his torso, Samantha trotted over to the weapon’s rack and selected two XM8 Assault Rifles and several extra magazines. “Fifth time this week.” Samantha said as she handed Ethan a rifle and his share of ammo, “Think they’ve made our position yet, or are they just coming over ‘cause they like the view?”

    Ethan slid a fresh clip into his weapon, “Don’t think so. My guess is that they’re getting restless and impatient, so they’re checking the same area more often to make sure they didn’t miss anything.” He smirked, “I’m sure this whole guerrilla warfare thing is feeling like a big game of Whack-a-mole to them.”

    Samantha chuckled, “Yeah, and I hope we’re not the ones they finally manage to whack.” She caulked her XM8 with a loud click, “Ready to go kick some alien butt?”

    “You know it.” Ethan replied. He then turned his attention to the other soldiers, “Alright, boys, let’s go. Double time!”

    With that, they all sprinted out of the armory and down the crowded corridor. A couple of minutes passed before the group reached their destination: a massive hangar that housed all of the base’s land and air combat vehicles, and were immediately approached by a middle-aged soldier with black crew cut hair and brown eyes. “Morning, sir.” The man said, snapping off a crisp salute.

    Ethan casually returned the gesture, “Morning, Jensen. What do we got?”

    “One of our recon teams spotted a small group of Zaron units headed in this direction.” The man, Lieutenant Sean Jensen, reported, “We’ve got eyes on them right now. Looks to be comprised of a medium sized group of Raptors along with four Watchers and a couple of Widowmaker light assault vehicles.”

    “Any signs of air support?” Ethan asked.

    Jensen shook his head, “None yet, sir. We’ve got four Gladiator LAV’s prepped and ready to go. Command thinks you’re gonna need the extra firepower.”

    “Sounds good.” Ethan said, “Let’s mount up!”

    The soldiers ran towards the waiting buggy-shaped vehicles located near the giant metal doors of the hangar. The TD6 Light Attack Vehicle, codenamed “Gladiator”, was the military’s latest and greatest achievement in hit-and-run technology. On flat terrain, the Gladiator could hit speeds of over 180 miles per hour and could drive over anything the size of a small car on rocky surfaces. The rear portion of the vehicle sported a heavy .50 caliber chaingun turret, capable of firing eight hundred high velocity rounds a minute at a range of roughly a hundred yards. The olive drab hulls of some of the vehicles were scoured with several burn marks from enemy weapons fire, along with patches of purple and red smears of blood, signifying the amount of grisly battles they had endured.

    Ethan jumped into the driver’s seat of the Gladiator while Jensen climbed into the passenger side and Samantha took control of the rear turret. He plunged the starter key into the ignition and twisted it clockwise, instantly causing the powerful engine to purr beneath the hood. “Command: this is Major Hawk.” Ethan said into the radio earpiece’s receiver, “Echo Team is ready to go, over.”

    “Rodger, Echo One.” An authoritive-sounding voice replied, “Opening hangar doors. Good hunting, over.”

    “Be back before you know it, sir.” Ethan said, “Over and out.”

    With a low groan of straining machinery and the squeal of rusty gears, the thick metal wall before them slowly parted in the middle and began to retract into the hangar walls. Once the doors had opened far enough, Ethan pushed down on the accelerator and the Gladiator jumped forward and into the outside world beyond, followed closely by the three other vehicles.

    The chilly Sierra Nevada winter breeze caressed Ethan’s face as the Gladiator bounded over the various rocks and ditches that littered the narrow mountain trail. There was a thin layer of snow on the ground, blanketing what few trees there were in its white embrace. Two or three miles further down the road, Ethan spun the steering wheel to the left, causing the vehicle to fishtail slightly before climbing up the adjacent hillside. “The recon team should be a click ahead.” Jensen informed as he studied a tactical map on the small device he held in his hand.

    Ethan nodded and switched his radio to the recon team’s frequency. “Cobra Team, this is Echo Team.” He said, “We’re under a click out from your position, over.” Static blared into his ear in response and Ethan’s brow furrowed with concern, “Cobra Team, do you copy?”

    “Nothing’s blocking the signal, sir.” Jensen said, “We’re just not receiving any reply.”

    “Maybe they’re all out getting a cup of coffee.” Samantha suggested casually through Ethan’s earpiece, “That’s what I’d be doing.”

    Ethan’s lips pressed together, “Something doesn’t feel right.”

    As if on cue, the team spotted a thin column of black smoke curling up into the overcast sky as they peaked the next rise. Ethan gunned the engine and sped towards the smoke’s origin located in the small valley up ahead, and what they saw when they eventually reached it took all of them by surprise. Sprawled nearby the smoldering remains of a Gladiator lay the three mangled bodies of the recon team; the snow around them tinged red with their blood. Ethan brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt and jumped out of his seat. “Gladiators two, three, and four: secure the area. The rest of us will check for survivors.” He said. Radios clicked in acknowledgement and the three other Gladiators roared off to form a temporary perimeter. As Ethan, Samantha, and Jensen approached the chaotic scene with their weapons held at the ready, Ethan could begin to smell the sickening aroma of melting fiberglass and charred human flesh. When they reached the first body, Ethan knelt down and pressed his fingers against the soldier’s neck to check for a pulse. He shook his head sadly after finding no signs of life and reverently removed the man’s dog tags from around his neck. “I’ve got nothing.” He reported as he stood up.

    “Same here.” Jensen said, shutting the vacant eyes of a dead female recon soldier, “Looks like the Zaron found out they were being watched and blew the team’s cover.”

    “I don’t think it was the Zaron.” Samantha said from where she stood looking down on the third body. The two men joined her and saw that the soldier’s wounds were not that of plasma burns, but of high grade titanium bullets found mostly in standard military weapons. “Looks to me like this guy took some fire from an MP5.”

    Jensen raised an eyebrow, “So, what, the Zaron are using our own weapons against us now?”

    “I doubt it.” Ethan replied, “Zaron soldiers never use any weapons other than their own. They won’t take a fully loaded rifle that’s laying right next to them even if their lives depended on it.”

    “So…they shot each other?” Jensen asked.

    Ethan shook his head, “No. Recon teams are too tight-knit for that. We should bring this up with the General, see what we can find out.”

    Moments later, Ethan’s battle-tuned hearing picked up a high-pitched whine echo across the white peaks and steadily grow louder as it’s source drew near. His radio suddenly hissed to life as one of his men activated it. “Incoming bogies from the southwest!” the soldier cried in alarm, “It’s a bombing run! Take cover!”

    Ethan’s combat instincts immediately kicked into gear and he bolted for a nearby rock formation, Samantha and Jensen hot on his heels. He briefly glanced over his shoulder just in time to see a small, triangular-shaped aircraft speed towards the valley and release a glowing red orb from its fuselage. Recognizing it as a Zaron incinerating bomb, Ethan forced himself to run faster in order to get out of the way, but there was a slim chance that they would escape its blast radius in time. Two seconds later, the valley exploded into a raging inferno.