[a sequel to Not Until It was Too Late]

The Headquarters, Command Center.
Present.

They never believed. Perhaps, they never did, until he proved them wrong. Doubt was no longer in the air. Everyone was silent. The ever graceful room that was always filled with laughter and cheerful chatter was soundless, save the sounds of beeping from the color-coded panels.

They  saw it from the big monitor, just at the center of the vast room. From the camera, fixed at the Vulture’s side, they witnessed the dread, their faces filled with dismay. It was like a tiny little antelope being mauled by hundreds of hungry and starving lionesses.

The camera could not be zoomed further in anymore. They could only see black shapes like ants, enveloping what seemed like a tiny little piece of flesh. Then, as the Vulture reached the planet’s outer surface, the sight of their valiant hero vanished from view.

“We may have succeeded the mission. But we ourselves have failed in having the faith on a courageous young man,” breathed the Major. “Gentlemen, let’s give a moment of silence to our gallant warrior, who had no doubt in doing what he believed in.”

And there was stillness in the atmosphere. Heaviness fell in everyone’s heart.

The Armory, HQ.
Several hours before the event of the creatures.

There was a sleek-looking monitor at the very end of the corridor, where two individuals seemed to be paying attention to. Moments later, there came a hologram, materializing just in front of them.

“This is how the creature looks like,” said the one wearing white clothes.

“It’s good that I’m not surprised when that hologram pops out of nowhere, Rod. Looks too real to be one,” snorted the other. His hair was long, overshadowing his face. One could barely see his real face, which he never wanted any to see.

“Welcome to the 41st century, Isaac,” Rod smirked. “Okay, so here’s the catch. After seeing some live-feeds sent by your comrades out there, I can at least say that these creatures are, well, frustratingly quick.”

Rod pushed an invisible button that made the hologram move and jump relentlessly at its spot.

“Now that makes me feel the goose-bumps. Haven’t they any achilles’ heels?”

Rod looked at Isaac, pointed a finger upwards, and turning simultaneously back to the hologram. “Yes, they do have. You only have to dismember them. Like this.”

He pointed at the creature’s limbs. As if his finger was an invisible, piercing bullet, the limbs were quickly severed, leaving the creature in mid-air, squeaking and screaming like a feeble, helpless baby without his bottle of milk.

Isaac looked tense. Then he turned to Rod. “This information seems really helpful. But there is something that really disturbs me, Rod.”

Rod raised his eyebrows. There was this skeptical look in his eyes. “What?”

“Don’t tell me you have played any first-person-shooter video games lately.”

There was a pause. Pin-drop silence, until Rod broke it with his horrific laughter. “You know me, Isaac. Games inspire me!”

“You can go on with all your inspirative things all day, Rod, but this is not really what I came here for.”

The engineer’s laughter was cut short. “Pardon me?”

Isaac handed a package from inside his backpack to Rod. “I need you to fuse this to my exo-suit. Third level.”

Rod stared at the package. The moment he raised his head to see Isaac, there was hesitation in his face. “Is this…?”

“I am not allowed to talk about it here. You’ll find out when you open it. And I am hoping that you do not hesitate.”

“You’re joking, Isaac. You’re not going alone,” Rod paused, his eyes fixed on Isaac, “are you?”

Isaac turned around and began to walk away. “That’s why I asked you not to hesitate.”

“Then, you have already… known about this—creature?”

“More than you ever expected. Pretended not to. It’ll ruin your surprise.”

Rod looked at the package in his hands. “Surprise ruined. Big time.”

The Wasteland.
Moments after the departure of the Vulture.

He did not feel any rain-drops hitting his head anymore. In fact, his vision had become even clearer than ever, though his body had lost too much blood. He was shrouded by a group of vile predators, and was pinned by their weight.

Yet, he never wanted to admit his defeat.

They were severing his exo-suit, extremely fast like raptors. He’d be dead soon if he was not going to do anything. And yet, it never seemed to him that he could survive the ‘avalanche’ of the creatures. The suit’s visor was beginning to crack.

He gritted his teeth, ignoring the buzzing and wheezing his exo-suit made. The left arm of his exo-suit was broken, and he could only depend on his right one. If only he could execute the final blow…

And for a sudden, from the center of the heap of creatures, there came a blinding flash.

Time froze.

The Headquarters, Command Center.
Present.

The main door wheezed. Someone rushed into the room and got quickly to the main computer. Several guards came in, rushing for the unwelcomed guest.

“Rod?” muttered the Major. “What the—?”

“This is crucial, Major!” cried Rod as the guards pointed their guns at him. “Please let me do this. I need to rewind the video feed from the Vulture. We do not have much time!”

The Major was dumb-founded. He did not get the words. Rod, at the other hand, was almost breathless.

“I know this sounds crazy.”

“Crazy or not, you better have an appropriate reason to enter this prohibited area, Rod.”

He did have the appropriate reason. His next line made everyone speechless.

“It’s Isaac. He’s still alive.”

The Major looked flabbergasted. He stared deep at the engineer. “You sure about this, son?”

Rod took his seat. “Let me show you.”

The Vulture.
Present.

The radio crackled.

“HQ to Vulture One, HQ to Vulture One. Do you copy?”

It did not take long for the pilot to respond. The Major’s daughter cared less about the radio call. Her cheeks were soaked, as if there was unlimited amount of tears leaking from her very eyes.

She was torn by guilt. She began to realize that beauty’s just an outer shell of a creation. It never reflects the heart. It was not his mistake that he had that hideous face.

She remembered. Back there when she was still an intern, she did almost every means to humiliate him. But never did Isaac retaliate to even the score. She made him her arch-enemy. She never went anywhere near him.

It was all because her father chose Isaac to be the leading man of his army.

She wanted all the bad memories vanish. She bit her lips, never wanting any more tears to break. But she couldn’t.

The only thing she could think was to wind the clock back to the past. She was praying that she could get another chance for an apology. But, of course, it was impossible to go to the past.

“Doctor, I got an order from the HQ.” The pilot suddenly spoke through the channel. Something must had happened, thought the woman. “We’re going back to the Wasteland. I’ll go swift, so please hang in tight back there. We do not have much time.”

“What happened?” asked the woman through her sobs.

“I cannot believe it myself, but it’s Isaac.”

She was thunderstruck. No words escaped her lips.

The Wasteland.
Present.

There was some kind of gigantic dome coating around the area of the so-called Lair. Inside, things were very surreal. The rain-drops were stopped mid-air. There was no sound. Not even the slightest. The mound of creatures were scattered and froze inches above ground as if a bomb had exploded right beneath them.

Not far from the spot, a figure was limping slowly away from the creatures. He had far too many experiences inside a time-field, and had wished not to use any of it anymore. It blocked his ears as if he was inside a noiseless void. He hated that, and he never expected to use it in his mission.

But things went unpredicted.

Moments before the woman left the ground, he had planted a tiny device, known as the chrono-mine, on the ground beneath his feet. At first, he never thought of using it to save himself. His only thought was the Major’s daughter, just in case she could not make it to the Vulture.

He would then detonate the mine, enveloping everything in its huge blast radius with time-shield and make sure she had the time to escape. The stasis explosion could only react to organic creatures, which meant the woman, too would be time-frozen. Only his exo-suit, which was equipped with anti-stasis device – the one he gave to Rod to remodel the suit with, earlier that day – could move freely in the dome. He and the woman could make it to safety.

That was what he first planned.

But it seemed that there was a change in the plan. She managed to flee and he had begun to think that there was no point in using the time-field.

Then, it dawned on him. Death was never his choice. As long as there was a means to live, he would rather try his luck, though he never knew if he could still make it after he executed the time-field maneuver.

It was a one-shot method. Whenever the time-field expires, he would be the creatures’ meal.

He was at the edge of the dome when he realized that it began to flicker. The time-field was fading away. Trapped rain-drops started to fall slowly towards the ground. The creatures’ momentum from the explosion started to continue from the sudden stop of the time-freeze. And he began to hear someone shouting his name.

He looked around. There, just a stone’s throw ahead of him, outside the vanishing dome, he could clearly see the Vulture, hovering a few meters from the land.

“Isaac! Come on!”

The ground below was beginning to shake.

“Mister, could you just lower this wretched plane?” barked the woman. There was a hint of mixed fear and anger in her sodden face.

“I can’t! And this is not a plane!”

The exo-suited man finally stepped out of the dome, just a few seconds before it fully evaporated. The creatures that just fell onto the ground, instantly got back to their feet, racing towards their fleeing dinner. Again.

“Go! You won’t make it!” roared the man. “Just… go!”

The Vulture ventured right above the man. The huge metal closing beneath the transport flung open. The woman did a daring jump onto the ground below, bearing a huge, lengthy rope.

“After all you’ve done to save me? You just want me to chicken out?”

“What’s your idea? Hauling me up using this puny… cable?”

The woman ignored his words. She was not going to give up. She strapped the cord around the exo-suit as quickly and as tight as possible. They could now see the creatures more clearly, approaching them even faster.

The man realized something at her face. “Were you crying?”

There was no answer. It was not that she was being egotistical, again. Her eyes were different the way she looked at him just now.

As she finished fastening the cord, she hugged the exo-suit firm. “Mister, NOW!”

The mechanism inside the Vulture began to heave the weights up. The creatures were getting nearer.

“Come on, MISTER!”

It was too late. One of the creatures leaped forcefully towards them. The woman screamed in panic.

Someone yelled. “Close your eyes!”

Then it was dark.

She could feel someone shaking her hand. As she opened her eyes, she was suddenly inside the Vulture. A huge metal suit was sitting at her left.

“Turns out I’m the one who saved you. Again.”

She scratched her head. “What… what happened?”

“Long story short, daddy came for his daughter, dealt with the nasty ones, bang! bang! and… here we are.”

“Dad defeated those creatures, all by himself?”

The man snorted. “I wish. There were too many of them. Didn’t you see? Your dad merely frightened them with an aerial squad. I myself was surprised, but they could not exterminate all the creatures. They ran. End of story.”

“And… the one that leaped at us?”

The man simply watched the woman, giving a ‘the-answer-is-within-you’ expression.

“What? What are you looking at?” she cried, before looking at her dress, tainted with reddish blotch. “This—this is—?”

“Yes, it is. Now please, I need a moment of peace here. I’m really tired. You can continue your yapping when we got home. Now just…”

The woman cut his words. “O—okay.”

But there was still something unfinished. She was going to say something to the man.

“Um… Isaac, I—” The man did not respond to her words. She continued. “I’m sorry… for everything.”

He still did not react. There was silence, save the silent humming of the engine.

“You could at least nod, Isaac.”

Yet, there was no response.

“Isaac?”

Still the same.

“Isaac! Don’t do this to me! Don’t just die yet! ISAAC!”

Then she got to him and hugged the exo-suit the way she did earlier. Firmly. She sobbed too hard even the pilot could hear her cry.

“Didn’t I say I need a rest? Or should I make it clearer to you?” muttered Isaac suddenly, his voice muffled.

The Major’s daughter was surprised to hear him, released the exo-suit from her hug and turned away. “I was… I was just…”

The Wasteland.
Present.

It was not clear where the creatures went into hiding. The Major’s aerial squad did not want to risk venturing into their realm in the bad weather and thus, withdrew to the HQ.

But somewhere in the Wasteland, the biggest of the creatures laid in the thick forest, its body gravely injured. Its breath was heavy and there was some kind of buttery liquid beneath its body. And just at its side, several egg-like objects laid untouched.

One of the ‘eggs’ began to throb moments later. Lenthy, fingery cracks began to appear. Finally, there came a shrill shriek.

Another creature was born. But it seemed that it was slightly different from the other grown-ups. Something resembling a pair of wings began to flap from its back. The other ‘eggs’ seemed to undergo the same process.

Another nightmare was about to haunt humanity. But were they ready for this one?

No one knows.