Group3 - Chapter 1
Date: 14 February 2001, 11:53 am
It had been a long day, Jahal and Kryno were overlooking the Hog making sure everything was ready for the mission tonight, well that was if we were to get one.
Our patrol had orders to lie low and await further instructions. We had driven the jeep up onto a ridge and made camp near the top. It had good cover from the south-east with broken brush and a small outcrops of trees. The trees near us covering the jeep gave us good camouflage from the air too. The north and north west were almost inaccessible due to the open cliffs faces descending down to some small rocky beaches below.
We had used the time to dig in and to check and double check our gear, never leaving anything to chance, least of all our only means of survival or escape should it come to it.
The early evening sky was looking beautiful yet different tonight, red clouds diffused a strange light on the surrounding area. I glanced up at the Threshold, our massive solar sun. At this time of the evening Basis was also visible but minute in comparison to Threshold, 'she' was setting down over the MauKookie mountains to the west casting long shadows over the valleys and lakes below us. It all looked so tranquil, so peaceful. The soft warm winds came from the west caressing the foliage and gently swaying the trees. Without thinking I reached down and plucked some young grass roots from a clump of rock near my boot, taking off the hard outer husk, I sucked the sweet juice from the plant and threw the remnants to the ground. I called over to Jahal who had his hands full stripping down one of the weapons off the jeep, "Any news from base camp yet" I muttered, "Not a word, we've only got about 2 hours of light left too" replied Jahal. "Yeah" I said, thinking about what the night might bring if we were to stay here.
Temperatures fell dramatically during the night. It was also the time the Covenants did most of their reconnaissance, not the best time to be stuck on top of a ridge with a jeep.
"Right Kryno get on the radio and see what the hell we're doing out here" I said.
"Aye aye sir" Kryno said with a sarcastic grin on his face. He swung himself into the front of the jeep. I took Kryno's sniper rifle scope and starting scouring the horizon to the south. The zooms and magnifications were incredible, optically linked with your cornea giving you the options on accurate distance calculations and elevation measurements to be used with the rocket launchers and bigger weapons.
It all looked clear, the only signs of life was a large herd of Stegosaurs grassing near one of the southern forests. Probably having their last bit of feed for the day before they returned to the forest at night for safety, even they never ventured out in the open at night.
"What's the news Kry", looking at up at him with a concerned expression,
"We're to wait here, I'm can only get the automated response from base at the moment, there's no secure channels open."
Just at that moment the radio crackled into life, "Base to group3 over" I reached for my mic adjusting my remote ear piece at the same time. "group3 to base, read you loud and clear over", I replied anxiously wanting them to call us home and back to safety. I looked at Kryno and smiled knowing that he was thinking exactly the same thing.
"group3 break camp and rendez-vous at 220.127.116.11. with Zulu squadron currently en route, over".
"What!"....I whispered to myself... "Zulu squadron? repeat please over" I questioned.
"Affirmative, rendez-vous with Zulu squadron at co-ordinates 18.104.22.168" I checked these were logged into the Hog's computer system.
"Yes Sir, orders understood, out"
"Jal, get that weapon ready, we move out in 10"
"Already on the case" he muttered with an anxious undertone in his voice. The dashboard lit up in a soft red glow. The glowing monitor showed a map of the local area. I zoomed out to get a better idea of our rendez-vous point... suddenly I realised where base wanted us to go, not only had we a long journey, but it was going to take us into the canyons we could see across the lake, up to the north, north-east. These were sometimes used by the Covenant to engage surprise attacks. The canyons also help our dropships in that they gave good cover from the early warning systems used by the Covenant. The only problem was the canyons also cut us off from communication with base camp. In bad weather when the wind storms raged through that area it was difficult to even see your own men let alone talk to them. I didn't like this. Normally there was a through briefing before we embarked on a mission.
"Shit man, here we go" said Jahal fixing the rocket launcher to the jeep "another day another war, will this shit ever end?" as he gathered up his helmet and webbing. "Kryno, your rear gunner" I stated, knowing Kryno could knock the teeth out of a Covenant at 2000 meters.
"Wooyah" he shouted and jumped up onto the back deck. The suspension bounced slightly as his big frame swung up onto the gun mounting.
"Jahal you navigate and front gun". Jahal didn't say anything. He jumped into the front seat and flipped the seat up enabling him to stand more easily adjusting the red monitor so he could navigate with ease.
The clouds were getting darker now, just the top edge of the Threshold was visible, like a huge orange soft ball it slowly lowered us and the surrounding land into darkness. I hit the ignition button on the jeep pumping the gas. "Night vision until we get off this ridge" I ordered. "No shit"
Kryno yelled, "not unless you want us to look like some damn Covie with a flare up his ass". I knowingly laughed at Krynos' crass humor, knowing it would help to relax the team. The hours ahead were going to be full of surprises, some of which we were not going to be so funny.
As I put the jeeps wheels into action, spinning out of our nest kicking off a spray of dirt as the wheels caught grip, moving onto the grass plains below. I switched to night vision and an alien green colour took hold of the landscape in front of us. It worked well tonight, Basis was small but she was bright. As we drove slowly over the rutted terrain my mind started to wander. Zulu squadron were specialist in 'heavy insertion' they took no prisoners.... "what the hell were we doing with them, why us?" I thought, I racked my brain for any mention of them I might have overheard while at camp over the last few days. I hadn't and therefore had no idea what lay ahead This didn't feel good.
We drove down off the ridge taking it easy trying not to draw attention to ourselves, the Covenant would soon be out scouting. A patrol had been seen not far from our position just a week or so earlier. The jeep rocked and rolled over the rocky terrain, occasionally I'd hit the gas when we moved over dirt or grass. We proceeded on down towards the forests where I had seen the Stegosaurs' grassing earlier. They were the least of our problems at the moment and we could use the cover of the forest tonight.
"Kry, keep those eyes of yours peeled, I don't want any damn Covie getting a sniff of us" I shouted into the mic. The crackle of Kry sniggering and his response of "man those blue babes belong to me" made light of the situation we were in, this was starting to feel a bit too easy going. As we hit the edge of the track the jeep lifted and bounced onto the dirt track. "Hold on" I screamed as I floored the last half mile of flat track to the forest edge. We had about a twenty minute drive through the forest, the canyons lay on the other side of the lake, just north of where we had made camp. From the far end of the forest we could take a short but hazardous ride up and across Leean Bridge. We'd be in the open for about 8-10 minutes but it was by far the safest route. The only other option was along the shoreline heading west, with minimal cover and a bright Basis moon, it wasn't an alternative I'd want to consider.
As we drove into the forest the darkness loomed with the huge trees spreading their branches over our heads creating a canopy, our speed was kicking up a lot of dust "spotters on" I yelled as I switched the head lights on. The beams were a soft light but gave us a good visual of the road ahead. My heart was pumping, I could feel it pounding in my throat, I loosened my helmet strap to ease the strain and again went back to thinking about our planned rendezvous with Zulu. A part of me felt excited that we were going to meet up with these guys yet something in me was terrified. These troops were hardened pros, there were myths in the ranks of the battalion about their legendary and sometimes bloody battles. A lot of their missions were classified which only made meeting up with them more exhilarating.
I looked up at Jahal, his arm poised over the top of the windscreen, "you OK up there Jal" I said glancing in his direction, he looked down "never felt better" he replied. I had known Jahal for many years, we were in the same squadron, 'C' squadron when we joined up. He came from one of the colony ships, his family were well off and involved with biotech and nutrition development, dropping of the delicacies of the universe to grunts like us. A pretty humble start in life, some of the film and pictures in his memory cubes were of a homeworld I had only dreamt about...why he'd joined up, I'll never know. He never talked about his background. I suppose being on this 'new world' it didn't matter two hoots anyhow. I had to give it to him though, if I ever needed a man for point, I'd pick Jal over anybody. He moved like the wind through long grass, elegantly yet with poise to strike at any given moment, ever shifting eyes that could catch the least auspicious object in the foliage around him. A true gift, like he was made for the job. We had been on many ops together and become good friends over the years.
Jahal's voice came over the comm, crackling but yet so familiar "Incoming message from base camp, passing it through"
"Base camp to group3, base camp to group3, over", I eased off the gas I didn't know what was going to be said, "group3 here, over" I replied.
"Get ready for encrypted data burst time index 4.325, over". This was serious, encryption was rarely used, we were still not sure if the Covenant had hacked our comm systems. It was unlikely but this meant we were almost defiantly going to see action. I eased off the gas looking up and catching a glimpse of Basis through the trees.
"Roger that base camp, data burst at time index 4.325, over". I punched the code into the console in front of me. We had about 5 minutes or so before we would start to receive the transmission. "Good luck group3, out" the comms then went dead. Those words echoed through my head, good luck group3... good luck group3.... We had to get the jeep to a safe area, somewhere we could have the time to decrypt it, and read what was in store for us before moving off. There was an uneasy tone in our commanders voice, I hadn't heard him say good luck before. This didn't sound or feel right I was starting to feel anxious about what lay ahead.
"Hey Jal, find us some cover quick" I said peering through the front screen scouring the track ahead looking for a spot where we could stop.
"We're about to reach the far edge of the forest" he replied "should be some openings up there". "Roger that, go thermal Kry and keep your eyes open for those Stegosaurs, I don't want them getting near us now". Just as I said that "ahead on the left" Jal shouted. How he saw such things in the dimness of the forest light, just amazed me. "Ok, Jal your on point, Kry you cover our backs". I slid the jeep nose first into the forest Jal had jumped out before the jeep had stopped and he was off, disappearing like a shadow into the forest. I heard the whirring of the mounted gun turret turn and saw Kry cover the road. I looked down at the screen, in the red glow the words 'incoming' flashed on the screen. The data burst and decryption took a matter of seconds. I punched in my personal code to finally open the file. The screen scrolled a number of maps with highlighted areas. I glanced to my right to make sure Krys' eyes were not overlooking. We all had a soldiers agreement that tactical information was only for the eyes of the person in command. We knew the Covenant are experts in interrogation, there were even stories of them gaining information from half dead corpses.
We still had a lot to understand about the Covenant, they were a race apart, yet evenly matched on any battle field we had faced them on. It was basically accepted and felt that what you don't know wouldn't hurt you, or your friends, and we all stuck by it.
Kry was a gentle giant, Yeah sure he was loud mouthed and cocky, even in the face of the enemy sometimes. I still hadn't figured out whether he was a 'true brave' or an absolute madman.
He had been in my squad for about 8 months but had originally come from one of the mining colonies on Tagar 4. His clans had been genetically enhanced to deal with the temperature fluctuations and the sheer work load needed to exist on Tagar 4. He wasn't a mutant though, he just had a superb physical build, a perfect fighting machine. I hand picked him out of the specialist training unit after our last tail gunner, Onyx, got killed in a firefight by a Covenant energy blast, poor man, he hadn't stood a chance in hell. Still, at least it was quick and painless, the way we all want to go...if we have to. Every couple of months I would go down to command HQ to see the new recruits work out, having the best there is by your side is sometimes your only reason for survival on this construct we called 'home'. Early on I noticed Kry's stats on the command computers, he was way above average on the big guns but also matched the top ranks with his sniping. These were two skills combined in one person, a rareity indeed. I used to go out onto the ranges and training arenas to watch him in action. On more than one occasion he would carry his sniper rifle on his back and in his hands he'd carry one of the heavier guns. He looked so at ease, with perfect balance, almost as if he was carrying nothing more than a baby in his huge arms.
These guns were built for him. Most men go through six months of training before they can handle rocket launcher's or the big chain guns. He was pretty much trained up the day he arrived. Due to his build he wasn't like the other snipers, his big frame didn't help him at times but the accuracy of his shots were what caught my attention. If we ever needed a pick-off shot from a mile out, Kryno was the one. He was a great addition to squad3.
I gazed down at the maps on the screen. We were to move into the canyons and set up a chain of beacons, lay them out on the designated co-ordinates and then meet up with Zulu south west of the canyons. These beacons had to be programmed from the data we had just received. My immediate worry was the distance we had to cover and I immediately felt uneasy about this whole maneuver. It was going to take us a good 3 to 4 hours to lays these beacons, some of them deep into the canyons. We called them 'moles'. They could be programmed for any number of objectives, they carried top of the range transmitters and comms modules. You could set them down on the ground, activate them with certain command codes and away they would go, burrowing about 2 feet under the surface until it was time to re-surface, Their ability to move under the surface using sophisticated AI programming to hide from any threatening action was incredible to see, burrowing up to 50 feet if needed. I set about programming the moles from the console, each one taking a minute or so to sort out, we had a dozen to load. I again looked over my shoulder, "ok 10 minutes till we move out" I whispered over the comms. "roger that" came the replies. The forest was silent without the humming of the jeep engine, you could hear the wind blowing through the tree tops and occasionally you would hear a very low but soft growl from the Stegosaurs foraging in the thick of the forest.
I continued to load the moles, making sure each one worked ok. Suddenly the headset awoke me from my thoughts, "We've got movement up ahead," Jal said
"150 meters to the right". I grabbed my gun, waiting to hear Jal's confirmation. "All clear" came the reply, "two Stegosaurs moving down to the waters edge". I let out a sigh of relief, we hadn't even crossed the bridge and I was already getting jumpy, the realisation that we were deep in the 'midlands' with no back up was a thought I tried to push to the back of my mind. I shuddered for a second then looked at the last mole, we were ready.
"Move out" I whispered, Jal appeared from the forest like a ghost making me jump leaping into the hog. I started up the engine, the sound was reassuring to hear again. Leaving the silence of the forest behind us we headed for Leean Bridge.
Group3 - Chapter 2
Date: 01 March 2001, 4:55 PM
No-one knew who had built Leean Bridge, whether it was the founders of this ring world or the Covenant. We had certainly gained tremendous advances in engineering from it, much like the other alien structures around us we had found on our arrival. The material composition and construction methods of these enormous creations were unique, how long they had been standing there, we could only guess at. Like the canyons ahead of us, most of the ring world was yet unmapped in detail so we had no idea what lay before us.
"Night vision on" I said in a low voice reversing the jeep from the undergrowth and then slamming it into gear. Emerging from the broken edge of the forest Basis gave us good light and we could clearly see the colossal structure towering up towards the heavens. I gazed down to our left and saw the two Stegosaurs that had disturbed us earlier, now wallowing in the water, their bodies glistening in the moon light. Along to our right you could see the large river open up into a gigantic lake, stretching as far as the eye could see. The harsh white light from the night vision intensified the reflection of Basis on the waves as if someone had strewn a million diamonds across its surface. From the data we received in the transmission I knew we had a lot of distance to cover, some of which would have to be on foot. I had sketched a plan out in my head. We were going to drive deep into the hills, laying the moles as we went. If we had to get out in a hurry I wanted to know that we had done our jobs with the outer ones first then we could just concentrate on our escape. From what I could gather from the transmission the moles were to act as motion tracking sensors, relaying the position of the Covenant were they to try and confront Zulu squadron in the canyons. In truth, I had no idea what operational plans Zulu had.
This reminded me of a mission close to the time i meet Jahal, We had to layout what we called 'self healing' minefields, These mines have ultrasonic sensors and a piston driven foot, enabling them to hop 30 feet in the air. Again equipped with primitive neural network systems, they could detect the distance to neighboring mines, sense when some were missing and leap around until the un-penetrable pattern is re-established again, they had been very effective in the early conflicts and I presume the ones we were to lay were a new type. I just hoped they would be as successful.
The jeep hit the edge of the stone bridge, the tyres making a 'humming' noise as they ran over the smooth stone surface of the construct. I didn't hang around on the bridge as we would be sitting ducks if spotted. I was surprised we had seen no Covenant tonight, this was an area renowned for activity particularly at night. We reached the other side of the bridge in no time, my eyes fixed on the rocky hills in front of us. The terrain changed from the loam of the forest to loose stones and shingle, there were piles of it at the entrances to the canyons, yet the walls looked so smooth on the surface from a distance. With there close proximity to the lake it wouldn't have suprised me if they had once held water, maybe as part of an ocean, who knows?
As we crossed the other side of the bridge I headed the jeep towards the entrance of the canyons. "Jal, take 2 moles and meet me 600 meters east of here in 20 minutes, take one of them 200 meters deeper into the canyon and watch your back,". "aye" he replied as I veered the jeep to the edge of some shrubs and tall grass. Jal rolled out of the jeep and disappeared into the undergrowth. Looking down at the terminal I realised I had to drive Kry for about a mile east if we were to cover the area specified in the transmission. Through the NV I could see the edge of these canyons spanning out in front of me like some sort of organic creature, the rocks were so flushed and smooth, yet they looked like rock and certainly had the presence of rock. I couldn't work out where the mounds of shingle had come from at each entrance and dotted about inside. I thought the NV was possibly playing up or maybe I was just scaring myself and seeing what I was feeling. I shook the thoughts from my mind and drove close to the entrances trying to keep the Hog within the shadows and out of the bright light of Basis. "Kry your next, get your butt up here". Kry leapt from the rear mounting into the front seat, unhooked his sniper rifle from the jeep and slung it over his shoulder. "Same plan" I said, "put one in here and another 200 hundred meters in, meet me and Jal 600 meters back west of here, and don't get yourself into any contact Kry, we've got allot to do tonight". Kry leapt from the jeep without a word, I could feel the release in the suspension as he jumped from the Hog. Sliding the jeep round giving it some more gas spinning it to face the way we had just come, I took off. I was going to take the middle section. Once Jal and Kry had returned we would head further into the deeper regions together. I parked the jeep under an overhang of rock, It would give it good cover if any covie scouts flew over. Checking the terminal, the map showed me where I was to lay my moles and also the six to be layered after. These were to run down a further two gullies about 100 meters from my drop point. That was bad, It meant we might have to split up if there were any hold ups. I checked the time, I had ten minutes to sort mine out, plenty of time. Looking down the massive and dark, almost tunnel shaped canyons was terrorfying. I felt caged with the massive smooth faces of rock disappearing up into the night, there was certainly nowhere to run if we did engage and I didn't like the feeling of being trapped. "Right lets do this" I muttered to myself. I picked up the two moles and ran along the bottom of the canyon wall, dropping one near the entrance to the canyon, it lay there for a second and then started to burrow into the ground, it was gone in a second or two. I walked on into the darkness and without warning I felt a rush of cool wind come from within the canyons, dust was being kicking up, leaves and dead debris were being spun into small squalls all around me, I could feel the wind gather pace and before too long it had become a full blown wind storm. Even with the NV goggles on, the amount of debris was starting to hinder and break up visability. The canyons were renowned for these freak weather conditions, always high winds, normally charged with some sort of ion energy that knocked out most types of communication systems. I figured this is where 'us' and the moles came into play. No one knew why this phenomena happened. The theories spoke of the canyons channeling the winds, increasing their speeds and velocity but the same sources for these theories also spoke of the Covenant using the high winds as a slingshot for their airborne brigades. In the early years of our arrival they had used these with devastating effect. These 'sudden strikes' came without warning and without remmorse, our forces stood little or no chance. Whether it was coincidence or not that they attacked during the later stages of the storms, and therefore could possibly control the weather conditions within the canyons, we still hadn't figured out. With one just storm starting up, I wanted to get this job over and done with as quick as possible and get the hell out. I nervously looked around, tasting the beads of sweat running down my face into the corners of my mouth. I wiped my face on the sleeve of my jacket. The adrenaline pumping through my body was making my mind rush. I activated the second mole and dropped it on the rocky floor below. The LED's flashed for a couple of seconds signaling the activation of it's neural network and then it just disappeared. By the time I was on my way back to the jeep the visibility around me had dropped considerably, the winds were whipping up what felt like mountains of dirt and shingle all around. I starting to feel a little disorientated as I thought about the other two and if they were experiencing the same situation. Jal would be ok but if the storms were reaching Kry he might have some difficulty in finding his way back to the jeep. He had only done a handful of under cover Ops before. I know for a fact that not many had been through these canyons. I remembered the jokes we used to play on him about being big and ugly enough to look after himself, and forced a smile. Sure that was true on the field but this was something different, for us all. I got myself against the towering wall of the canyon and managed to claw my way back along to the jeep. Jal was there waiting, I could see he had just arrived, he was both out of breath and surprised to see me.
Jal motioned to speak to me, trying to shout over the level of noise the winds created, "Where's Kry", leaning his head towards me trying to make out my response, "I dropped him off after you, he should be here any minute," I shouted trying to keep my balance from the force of the wind holding myself steady on the Hog. "Lets get in" I suggested. The jeep offered some shelter from the winds, at least we could hear each other speak. Jahal then mentioned that he had seen a Covenant recon patrol, they had gone up river, thankfully in the opposite direction to where we were heading up towards the Fanwoun Plains. I just hoped they stayed up there long enough for us to get out of this hell hole "Shit man, where the hell is he?" I said looking through the windscreen into the haze outside. I tired the squad comm link then flicked on the console in the jeep, just to see if there were any signals. There was nothing, nothing except the dry crackle of the damn energy storm, all communication in our vicinity were dead, for the time being anyway. I again looked out of the windscreen..." there", shouted Jal, "there's Kry" I looked out and saw the outline of his big frame looming up through the jeeps windscreen. "Holly shit this place is a friggin nightmare come real" he said. peering in over the wind shield "Get in" I said, "once this dust's down we're gonna finish this off and get the hell out of here". "Next drop off is about a 600-800 meters in," I shouted. "You gotta be kiddin me man" Kry questioned, "we can't even see our dicks in this weather, how the hell are we gonna find the drop off man". He was right, this was madness but we had our orders, I would loose my squad command for sure if we headed back now, even though at times it felt a better option... But then we were doing this for a reason, and it was called Zulu squadron, and anyway they were the last people I wanted to turn my back on! "Get back on that gun!" I yelled to Kry, "and keep your fuckin' mind on the job not on your dick for a change!", snapping back at him. "Jal you take point and keep within arms reach of the vehicle, keep it slow". "Lets just get this over with" I said "we lay these 6 moles and we get the hell outta here, ok". They both looked at me for a second and then moved, I started up the jeep. Our whole situation was starting to feel uneasy now, even I was starting to question what we were doing here, the lads were feeling as anxious as I was and they knew I felt as confused as them. I rolled the jeep from under the overhang of rock and we moved off slowly into the darkness of the canyons. We passed my first drop off point where I had put down the mole earlier. Jal came up to the side and leaned towards me shouting "we got a right turn coming up ahead, there's a load of rock on the left so keep to the inside of the bend". I looked to the front and just managed to see the wall edge. I felt like I had about 5 yards visibility 10 at the most. Moving the jeep across I hugged the inside of the turn. Once we had turned the corner visibility suddenly became clearer and the dust just dropped and settled in front of our eyes. Just as the winds had risen so rapidly, they fell into nothing. Jal came around to the window with a look of bewilderment, "sheez man, this is some strange place. I've seen a lot of shit before but nothing like this " . "I think that goes for us all Jal" I said. "Lets get going, we got a 4 or 5 minute drive so keep you eyes open for those blueys". We soon came to the fork where we either split up or went on as one. The initial storm had caused us some delay but by my calculations we still had time to do both of these last gorges together. It was going to be close, if another storm started and we were this deep in we had no chance of finding our way back out again, we would just have to sit it out, even worse if we had to move for some reason we could get lost. Leaning out of the jeep I motioned over to Jal who had moved off to the opposite side "hold up , just going to check the map", I looked up at Jal as he crouched down picking up some of the dirt, lifting it to his face and smelling it, then slowly rubbing it through his fingers as he let it fall. Lifting his NV goggles up onto his forehead he looked up at the top ridges and the sky above. He looked uneasy as if he sensed there was something not right. "what is it?" I said. "I dunno sir, it feels like we're being watched". "Kry, top ridges" I said immediatly. Kry slung the rifle off his back and into the firing position in one fluid motion, aiming the scope along the top edge of the canyon, moving the scope slowly along on both sides. "Nothing, nothing but rock" he said. I looked at Jal "I can't explain it", he said glancing over his shoulder, "it's close, real close".
Group3 - Chapter 3 (Final Chapter)
Date: 09 April 2001, 1:46 pm
We all felt apprehensive as I eased the hog down the gorge and into the depths of the canyon, there was no turning back now, the freak storm had startled us earlier, we knew they happened but the ferocity was something none of us had been prepared for. As we hauled ourselves further in, the canyon walls seemed to change, the rock now seemed to be patchy in places almost as if some crystal resin was slowly ebbing from the rock, making the rock glint like metal under the moon light. "Hold up, Jal check out those patches on the walls, what the hell is that" I said. Jal jumped out of the jeep and crossed over to the wall, approaching the surface slowly "Looks like some sort of organic residue, maybe some sort of resin" he said. I could see him keeping his distance and refraining from touching the surface. We hadn't worked out the ecco system on this ring world let alone the huge bio-diversity that was available to us. We would be ignorant to think it was all harmless. "Ok, stay on point, we must be nearly at the first drop point." I gave Jal a hand signal to go on ahead, I could see a large opening in the canyons appearing so I sent Jahal on to sweep the area and make sure the hog was ok to proceed. We needed to pick up the pace, time was of an essence now. Picking up a mole and switched it on, I let it fall to the ground and turned to Kry, still poised on the chain gun. "Ok two more down here then we cut across to the other channel and lay the remaining three on our way out". Jal had gone round the corner to scout the layout ahead I had lost a visual on him and thought nothing of it, it was quite normal for Jal to look after himself on point, in fact it was rare for him to be in such close proximity on a mission. The mole activated ok so I readied the next one so we could make up some time. I remember wondering about the crystal on the rock and thinking about the struggle we've had here on the Halo construct. A bio division and genealogist group had been set up on our arrival and I'm sure they would be keen to question us on our return, they very really got out beyond the safe areas. So our stories and the samples we collected were really the only material for them to understanding how diverse the gene pool was on this construct. It had become apparent quite early on that our co-habitants, who we called the covanent, were not indigenous either but then nor was most of the plant life here. In fact we had no idea how many species there were on the construct. This place was still very much an enigma that no one knew the answer to. Looking up from my thoughts I motioned to Kry that we were to move on.
Following round with the jeep with Kry covering the tops of the canyons as usual, nothing had prepared me for what was to happened next. As we rounded the corner I immediately saw Jahal, his body was limp and looked affixed to a patch of the organic resin on the rock, similar to the ones we had seen earlier. His arms and legs were outstretched, his body and head hung there motionless and lifeless. On the floor in front I saw his helmet and webbing scattered as if it had been torn from his body. I felt paralysed, transfixed by the shock of seeing him there. I slammed on the break not knowing if this was a trap, looking upwards to the high ridges at the same time trying to see if there were any Covanent. It was at that moment the chain gun spun into action. "Covies" Kry screamed. Huge flashes of white light shot from the rear gun and a thundering noise shook the hog, I was showered in ejected casings as the massive gun came up to speed. I turned to see what Kry was firing at. His focus of fire was into a small cave almost opposite where Jal stood. The gun spun down in a matter of seconds making a cold whirring noise as the barrel chambers slowed to a halt, the barrel smoldering from the volume of lead discharged. There was no movement from within the cave. "Two of them, in the cave" said Kry. As the dust from the obliterated rock settled there was what looked like 2 Covanent lying in a heap on the ground their bodies torn and mutilated by the volume of rounds ejected into them. The surrounding walls were splattered and scared in what I presumed was their blood, bone, sinew and the marks of the bullets. The air stank of a putrid stench like some decomposed amphibian, burning the nostrils into a submission making me breath through the mouth. "Cover me" I said as I slid from the jeep, gun poised at the crumpled mess of bodies. Approaching the cave I let off a number of rounds into the carcasses to make sure there was no retaliation. The bodies lay there motionless. I wiped my nostrils with the sleeve of my jacket, helping to ease the irritation of the smell and lifted a part of one of the carcass' with the muzzle of my gun, letting it drop slowly with a dull squelch... they were dead. My attention then quickly turned to Jahal, approaching him slowly repeating his name in a whisper, my weapon raised and covering my every eye movement. There was no reply from him. "Keep your eyes open for covies Kry, we must have awaken the dead with the chain gun". I raised my NV goggles onto my forehead. Moving closer I saw what they had done to him. Down the side of his face and neck was a huge gaping wound. It looked like it was some sort of high energy burn or maybe a knife wound. As I encircled him calling his name again I saw further wounds on the left side of his torso, the blood running down his leg and collecting in a pool at his feet. Those bastards had got to him quick and had hit him hard, how the hell did they do this to him without him being able to let off a shot or raise the alarm. As I moved closer he lifted his head an inch or so and in an blind gaze, slowly mumbled something, I lent towards him to hear what he was trying to say, "leave me...leave here, no time" he said in a gurgled plea. "Kry, bring the hog over, he's alive" I shouted. "No way Jal, we're gonna get you out of here, you hang in there". I said trying to give him some reassurance. Jal coughed with a mumbled groan, the gurgling blood trickling from the edge of his mouth, falling to the floor. "OK buddy, we'll have you out in a minute". Kry skidded the hog to a halt close to Jal. I was aware of the organic matter his body was attached to on the rock wall. We had no idea what it was but it looked as though it was causing him incredible pain, you could see him trying to arch his back away from the wall but for some reason he was trapped. "Kry, give me a hand, we'll put him up front". Kry jumped down from the rear of the jeep and came over, 'those bastards, what the hell have they done to him?"
"Take his arm and ease him off the rock face, watch that shit he's stuck to". I took hold of Jahals' arm, "OK on 3.... 1..2..3". As we eased Jahal off the wall his back came into view, "Sheeez man" Kry said, I looked down at his back, the material from his combat gear appeared to have been dissolved almost as if it had been eaten by some sort of acid and his back looked horrific, the flesh had been brutally scared and was covered in lesions, almost as if it had been exposed to some sort of high intensity radiation. As we eased him off the wall some of his jacket and skin tissue stuck and tore from his back leaving patches of torn flesh and fabric on the rock face. Jal let out a loud groan and then just slumped onto our supporting arms, no doubt blacking out with the pain. "Get him up front quick Kry". Kry slung him over his shoulder and laid him on the front seat of the hog, on the passenger side. "What the hell is that stuff?" Kry motioned to the patch where Jahal had stood. "I have no idea, it looks like some sort of organic energy matter, see if you can grab a sample but be careful, by the look of those burns on Jals back, it's almost like some sort of natural radiation. Damn, we haven't got time to play scientists, Lets get outta here, this place is going to be crawling with covies soon." I watched Kry prize off a small lump, this was something new. If this resin held radioactive properties it could be the reason they were mining on the construct. If this was indeed a source for their energy matter it would go along way to better understand their firepower. I looked over at the rock as Kry stepped into the hog realising we now a real problem on our hands. This organic matter was nothing we had ever come across, and why were those two covenant standing nearby in the cave... where they guarding the resin, pin pointing it for excavation, why did they sling Jahal across the rock, was there a reason or was it just in their oppressive nature to do such things? My mind was spinning, nothing made sense. Our mission now felt almost impossible to complete. Jahal was wounded bad, if there were any covanent in the near vicinity they would be on their way to intercept us by now. I wasn't even sure Jal would make it through the night especially if we made further contact with the covanent. Without someone on point our options were narrowing. I looked up to Kry "lets get moving while we still can, I'll drop a mole here, it's close enough". I picked up the device that I had activated earlier and let it fall to the ground. I quickly prepared the other three and lay them next to Jal.
Kry stood ready at the gun, I pushed the ignition and the hog came to life. As we edged the hog forward along the rock edge we came into the large opening with a further two openings opposite, the place was like a labyrinth, out of the corner of my left eye I spotted some sort of constructed opening in the rock face, this was no natural cave. There were stairs leading up into the opening which had massive stone carvings worked into the rock face. Out in front was some sort of stone platform. with pillars on either side, the entrance looked decorated in some sort of pattern or alien glyphs. Just at that moment I saw a covanent appear from the darkened entrance he spotted us, raised his head upwards unleashing a guttural roar like a deranged animal howling at the moon, tit echoed around the huge opening we were in and within seconds they came running First the sentry grunts, then the elite covanent . A flash of blue scorched the air in front of us hitting the rock face we were up against bringing a small shower of rock fragments down on top of us. "Get moving" shouted Kry, "there's loads of them, shitttt!" Kry swung the mounted gun around and as it spun into action, managed to take out the initial rush that came through the opening. "Shit...we've walked right into some sort of base or mine complex, lets get the hell outta here" I yelled slamming my foot on the accelerator, "move" screamed Kry "they're everywhere". There were now blue flashes all around us, screaming past us making a deathly 'whoosh' as they hit the rock and ground. I spun the jeep and headed up an opening to our right and opposite the covanent base. I checked my mirror and saw light scout hovers appearing from one of the side entrances, firing wildly in our direction. A stray low energy beam struck the side of the jeep lifting it up onto two wheels. It came back down with a crunch and bounced heavily under the suspension, I held onto Jahals limp body with my hand as he was thrown about like a rag doll. Looking up through the front screen I steered towards the opening ahead of me, the pounding of the chain gun mixed with the screaming of the damaged engine tore through my body, huge flashes of blue and white light rupturing the ground around us shaking the hog making the whole jeep shudder. Sometimes the blasts were so close that it distorted my vision, making my eyes reverberate with the intense impacts. I kept my eyes ahead frantically trying to keep the hog under control. As I steered the jeep down the thin canyons trying to miss the outcrops of rock hidden round the blind bends I threw another mole out, I didn't bother to check if it activated ok, in fact, I didn't care if the moles worked or not, one wrong move and we were either dead or going to be tortured to death. Some of the rocks were impossible not to hit, the dust and dirt made the hog drift and one point we crashed side-on into the rock wall. Again the hog shuddered and the front screen caved in shattering glass all over myself and Jahal. I looked up at Kry to check he was ok, his leg was drenched in blood, you could see the flash burns where the energy blast had grazed him, tearing some of the leg muscle with its energy "keep moving" he screamed "they're still coming, shit... move it, move". I spun the hog back onto into the middle of the canyon, tossing out another mole as we moved off. I could hear the hog engine grinding and grating, the sound of metal grinding against metal was one that sent shivers down my spine, at times it sounded like someone screaming, only adding to the insane situation we were in. The damage to the engine grew worse very quickly. Without warning thick blue smoke started to appear from under the front, I wasn't sure how long she would last so I just kept my foot floored on the accelerator. We couldn't have been to far from the edge of the canyon, almost near to where we had entered earlier on that evening. I reached down and flicked on the comm system "Group 3 requesting immediate evac from South East of Leean Bridge at rendezvous position 22.214.171.124" there was no response, I tried again "Group3 to Base Camp, Group3 to Base Camp, request immediate evac from 126.96.36.199, do you read, over", again nothing but silence. I threw the warthog around the next bend releasing the last of the moles, I saw it bounce off a rock and hit the dirt. I just hoped in all the action and confusion the covanent hadn't see them. As the jeep slid in the dirt I glanced back and saw what I shall never forget, it looked like a whole legion of covanent were after us. There were airborne and infantry, a sea of blue was swarming towards us, relentless in their pursuit. The onslaught of their energy pulses passing us shaking and tearing the ground around us. Suddenly from out of nowhere our comm link crackled and a voice came over,
"Group3 proceed west, I repeat west, from exit of canyons towards rendezvous point 188.8.131.52, over".
Thank the stars, there was someone there, "the covanent, they're right on our tail" I yelled, "we need suppressing fire" trying to make my voice heard over the grinding engine.
"Affirmative Group3, understood", came the distorted reply.
"Prepare for dust off and immediate medevac, we've got a man down." "Roger that Group 3, proceed to rendezvous point. Network trackers on-line, we see the enemy, Zulu out."
Zulu... Zulu...they were here, talk about timing, my hopes were suddenly raised now, I prayed they had enough fire power to take out what we had just stirred up. The moles were obviously working and tracking the covanent movement within the canyons. I looked down at Jahal he was wincing at the pain of being thrown about. "Hang in there bud" I shouted as the hog was flung savagely by the deep ruts in the canyon floor "we're nearly clear". I felt him reach up and grab my arm then he fell back into unconsciousness and his grip weakened and fell. I saw the opening up ahead, dawn was just starting to break and you could see the top of Leean Bridge about half a mile to our right. I turned hard out of the canyon and tried to keep close to the open wall, it was then that Zulu appeared from the valley floor there were 8 or 10 heavy vehicles racing towards us with a number of hogs with the missile launcher on them. They released a volley of missiles over us and into the canyons, the exhaust trails arching over us homing in on the targets. As I straightened up from the turn I saw a BAT division on the opposite side of the river open fire. First only the sight of smoke appealed from their turrets then the delayed 'boom', then a second of silence before the rush and whistles as the high energy shells flew out over our head. I punched the air elation and looked down at Jahal again, there was no movement. I lifted my foot off the gass and turned to check on Kry, he was lying on the floor in the back. I couldn't see his face only his outstretched legs and a hand on the edge of the jeep. I shouted his name but there was no response. A drop ship appeared from the valley and I watched it dust off lowering it's ramp at the same time. The wind from its jet engines billowing up a cloud of dust as we drew nearer. I covered my eyes from the dirt and noticed three Bob's descending down the ramp holding their medi packs as we slid to a stop. Pulling myself up on the steering wheel I looked over at Kry, a part of his jacket was still smouldering from a direct hit, he was still with his eyes gazing up at the mounting. I shouted his name again "Kry... Kryno.... "Excuse me sir, excuse me" one of the bobs startled me at my door, "check them first I'm ok", waving my arm at him. One of the Bobs had jumped up in the back and was leaning over Kry, he looked up at the other Bob and then me and slowly shook his head, I quickly turned to the Bob looking over Jahal, he had some small device on his chest and had his head cocked as if he was looking out over the valley. Slowly he turned to me, "I'm sorry sir, there's nothing we can do." I felt an emptiness in my soul. And then it came, like a wave from the bottom of my stomach, racing up through my body and exploding through my mind "NOOOooo" I screamed. "No.... no, do something, help him you damn piece of junk, help him." The last I remember was the noise of the vapour jab in my neck. The Bob in the back had sedated me ready for transport back to base, the mission completed. My eyes slowly closed, the warmth of the darkness shrouding me in contentment as I eased off into a deep sleep.