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An Anniversary to Remember (Part 1 of 2)
Posted By: Mainevent
Date: 30 April 2004, 2:42 AM

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Plaza de Ria Apartments

      Nick had just sat down to his warm plate of spaghetti with his wife. The first real meal either had shared together in months. He wasn't sure it would last. The marriage was rocky from the start; malicious parents and a poor employment record had all turned on him. It wasn't his fault the mining company went under. Coupled with his unsuccessful attempts at various maintenance gigs, life seemed to just keep kicking him back down.
      "So, how was your day?" He asked quietly over the scraping of metal utensils over bone china. The tension was thicker than the sourdough bread, and it was by far easier to cut. Jessica ate without eye contact, seemlingly lost in thought.
      "It was okay." She responded emotionlessly.
      Happy Anniversary. Nick thought to himself. There was nothing happy about it. The flickering candles were steadier than his marriage, or at least mimiced it; and his candle was about to go out.
      "Yea, mine too." He shuffled the meatballs into a neat pile on his plate. His appetite was shot, his marriage was shot, and- there was a knock at the door. Forceful and strong; definitely not the landlord. She was rounding the late seventies.
      Nick wiped his mouth with the fine white linen, spoiling it's cleanliness with a crimson pasta smear. The napkin crumpled on the table beside his plate; it's fall blew the candle out.
      "Mr. and Mrs. Russlebaum, this is the United Nations Marine Core. If you're there I need you to answer the door." That was surprising. UNSC? On Giomat? Huh. That's strange. Nick pondered as he checked the digital imaging monitor and unbolted the door.
      Sure enough, there was a well-built marine standing before him. His MA5B slung over his shoulder, but his M6D in the downward-facing 'ready' position. The man loosened his grip on the weapon's handle and holstered it with a relieved sigh.
      "Sir, I need you and any occupants here to come with me immediately. Don't worry about packing, you'll be fully reimbursed by the UNSC. But please hurry. We don't have much time." The Marine's eyes showed that he wasn't lying, but it wouldn't tell Nick any more. Something was very wrong though.
      The UNSC only had three bases on Giomat, and the closest one to New Mara was over a hundred miles away. Nobody'd even seen a military vehicle in town in two months, and even then they were only passing through. The sound of gunfire rattled off in the distance. What the hell's going on here? Nick wondered as he turned to his wife; who was staring at the two of them with mild interest.
      "Jess, we're leaving."
      "Yes, right now."
      "We've got to pa-"
      "There's no time to pack. He says we have to leave right now."
      If there was only one thing Nick could ask for in any woman, it would be Jess' sensibility. If Nick and a Marine told her they needed to go then, she'd go then. She dropped her napkin on the table as well, and joined her husband and the Marine in the hallway.
      "May I ask what the problem is Corporal Pittman?" Jessie's smooth voice was at least calming. Nick would miss her when they split. He was still very much in love with her; it just wouldn't work.
      "We have a small biohazard situation. We're evacuating everyone just for their own safety."
      "Don't bullshit me Corporal. My father was in the UNSC for thirty years. You don't travel over a hundred miles to do something the locals could do. What's really going on?" Tenacity, spunk, and a ferocity that belittled her sensuous looks. She was spicy and explosive; and every bit as hostile as she portrayed.
      The marine sighed explosively and turned to face her. She was almost as tall as he was, and it showed he wasn't used to it. "There are possible infected persons in the city, and a number of hostile biological organisms rampant throughout the city. I can't tell you any more than that. Now if you'd please, just follow me to the el-zee."
      "Are we infected?"
      "No ma'am." He responded without turning to her. Three more marines and four civilians had joined them in the stairwell. The muffled footsteps of a number of others both above and below echoed about as well.
      "How do you know?"
      "Because you'd know if you were infected. Trust me when I say that." The conversation died at that. The three other Marines glanced at Jess and then grinned at each other.
      Nick noticed Mr. and Mrs. Wilmore, Mr. Robart, and the Sander's son David.
      The Wilmores were a fairly young couple, much like Nick and Jessica; but they were actually making it work. He envied them, wished he knew how to do what they did. But Mr. Wilmore's inherited sixteen million dollar fortune didn't hurt his chances either. Where they just fronting happiness too?
      Mr. Robart was an industrial engineer when he still worked. He'd retired after an on-site incident left his left arm permanently impared on a machine belt in some offworld factory. He was only forty-two, but in surprisingly good shape.
      The Sanders were known for their trips. David had grown up spending many nights alone since he was eight. Everyone in the building knew it, and everyone in the building did what they could to help. From taking him a home-cooked dinner every now and then, to finding some easy chore so the kid could earn a few spending bucks for himself. It's just how it worked in New Mara.
      The entire group was caught off guard by a stifled rumble and severe shaking. Dust and small pieces of debris tinked off the wall and landed around them. That had to be a big explosion. It sounded several kilometers off, but the shaking was too harsh to be anything less than massive.
      "Hey Pitts, that don't sound good at all. We need to double time this." One of the marines said as he hurried his pace down the stairs.
      "Pitts to Command, en route to drop zone. ETA fifteen minutes. What's your status? Over." Pittman radioed over his COM.
      "Command here. We've got you coming out of the Plaza De Ria heading southbound on Marshian. That's a no-go. Multiple enemy combatants all along there. Advise you go two clicks north by northeast to Al Cambre Street. We have a welcome wagon waiting there to pick you up. Acknowledge, over." The bad news went from bad to worse.
      "Roger that Command. Al Cambre welcome wagon. We're heading there. Over." Pitts turned the COM off and hooked the transmitter back to his shoulder. He solemnly checked his clip before the group entered the lobby. Shattered glass from the explosion littered the ornate vaulted entrance to the apartment building.

Al Cambre Street

      The 'hostile biological organisms' was a shitty description if Nick had ever heard one. These grotesque bastards belonged in a nightmare, not here. They were human at one time; the broken-but-there limbs and limply dangling head reminded them all of that. They'd encountered a group of ten of the mindless freaks two streets back, and another group of four a kilometer before that.
      New Mara was a relatively small town, with a population of only 200,000 or so, but now it was dead. The Marines and neighbors he was with had only encountered four other groups of uninfected humans. A maximum of thirty people on a street that usually boasts three thousand at any given time.
      Staccato gunfire, both near and far, was heard coming from every direction. The night had set in more quickly than ever before; and for once Nick wanted the Anniversary to be over. Mrs. Wilmore had a deep gash on her left bicep, but they'd managed to get that under control with anti-biotic biofoam.
      "Where the hell's the welcome wagon?" Nickleson asked gruffly. He'd managed a slight cut of his own, right across his brow. The mix of salty sweat and blood was running into his eyes.
      "I don't know, Command said they'd be here."
      "Well get Command on the line and find out why the hell we're sitting ducks." Lt. Jacobi ordered.
      "Pitts to Command, where's our damn welcome wagon? Over."
      "Pitts to Command, I repeat. Where's our welcome wagon. Over!"
      Pitts shook his head grimly to Jacobi. What the hell's going on here? Ran across everyone's mind. The squeal of tires on asphalt etched itself into existence as an extended transport curbed the corner. The welcome wagon was here, but it was torn to hell. The synthetic canvas roof was shredded and blowing in the wind as it sped towards them.
      Lt. Jacobi rushed over to the driver's side as it ground to a stop before them. His face contorted into sorrow as he saw the driver. The man was writhing in pain as he clutched the infection form clinging to his chest.
      "I, I tried sir. Too many of them. Just get me back to the hospital and I'll...I'll be fine." He stuttered as he grasped for air.
      "I know you will son." Jacobi closed his eyes and turned away as he pumped ten rounds into the Sergeant's body. He opened the door carefully and pulled the man out. His body made a dull thud as it impacted the cement. "I know you will." He whispered to himself again.
      He hefted himself into the driver's seat and was joined in the cabin by Corporal Pitts. Nick, Jessy, and the others all climbed into the back. The attached Larson Technologies Light Machine Gun was nearly empty; only three hundred or so rounds left. Wherever the welcome wagon had been, it had seen a lot of use.
      An odd slushing humm buzzed from nearby. Nick looked up just in time to see a swarm of at least three hundred mutated humans turning to charge them.
      "Get the hell out of here!" Nickleson banged on the vehicle's roof as it began speeding up. The deafening roar of machine gun fire and blaring enginge was enough to put everyone on edge. They were only a block a way and closing extremely fast. One made a startling and inhuman leap...and landed in the trailer. Nick turned to see it's foggy, dead eyes stare lifelessly at him as the body's tentacles rose up and readied to strike.