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Group3 - Chapter 1
Posted By: FoxHound<anglo321@yahoo.co.uk>
Date: 14 February 2001, 11:53 am

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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 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" 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.