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Upon this Stage (Prologue 2): History Repeats Over and Over and Over Again
Posted By: Gordi<gorditio@budweiser.com>
Date: 27 May 2002, 4:08 pm

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İİİİİ"They're late," a raised eyebrow.
İİİİİ"Don't worry, they'll be here. Raoul told me they were going to pick up an extra."
İİİİİ"Who? Why didn't anyone inform me of this?" the man known as Bram sounded irritated. Of course, he always sounded irritated now, probably something to due with the fact his wife had left him six months ago and he still wasn't over it. He'd caught her with the other man, 'fucking like pigs' as he put it, and afterwards she had just up and left him. Staying informed was almost an obsession with him.
İİİİİ"A specialist. Claims he can get us access to the command level."
İİİİİ"That's bull and you know it, what's this cracker wizards name?"
İİİİİ"I don't bloody well know, he's one of Raoul's regulars, and that's good enough for me. Questions is bad business where I don't need it, and neither do you for that matter."
İİİİİ"Whatever, all I'm sayin' is that I don't like bein' --" he was cut off with a wave of the other mans hand.
İİİİİ"Shhh, there's something comin' up the road," he said. Switching off the red navigation beacon, he tucked himself behind the fallen log Bram had been resting on just seconds earlier and waited.
İİİİİThere were no artificial lights to help give definition to the approaching sound, only the illumination from the sun reflecting off the two moons orbiting endlessly high overhead, but it was enough. Inching quietly down the road was a dark silhouette some 9 feet tall and 23 long, a large, squashed oblong bulge protruding atop the front of the vehicle. The form was unmistakable; a turreted Mitsubishi Motors Mk IV 'Scorpion' APV. The primary buyer for these highly specialized, highly dangerous and extremely expensive vehicles was the I.D.F. ground forces; their marines and security troops.
İİİİİRolling silently along the asphalt on its eight specialized rubber silicone tires, the steel behemoth pulled to a stop not 100 yards from where they hid. It had probably been en route to the orbital driver, 13 klicks down the highway and had seen their solitary light in the tree line and was now coming to investigate why anyone was in the 30 kilometer dead zone that separated the I.D.F. facilities with the rest of the planet.
İİİİİBram reached his hand down into one of the black bags they had been carrying, but the other man slapped it viciously away.
İİİİİ"What the hell are you thinking? Do you believe for a minute they won't see that from the driver? Damn fool," he whispered fiercely.
İİİİİ"You'll have all the MP's on the base swarming us in less than twenty minutes. Now listen to me, and do exactly as I say and we'll get out of here," he said as he reached down into the duffel bag. After a minute of searching with his hands, he pulled out a long, thin object, wrapped in cloth and bound with construction wire. Fishing around in the bag for another 30 seconds produced a second something, much smaller than the first but wrapped in the same manner. He handed it to Bram, along with 2 small spheres that glowed a dull green in the murky half light.
İİİİİPulling the cloth away from the object in his hand, he revealed a mottled grey/green rifle, almost 4 feet long, and probably automatic judging from the large rectangular opening in the bottom that was unquestioningly meant to receive large caliber magazines. Two tripod legs were folded against the barrel, running a quarter of its length back towards the trigger. Atop, built into the sight mount was a scope, probably the biggest scope Bram had ever seen. It was a full foot in length, and at the eyepiece, nearly 4 inches high, tapering off to a tight one inch opening at the opposite end. Three buttons ran along the top, halfway between base and tip of the scope, but their purpose was obscured by the darkness.
İİİİİ"Take the gun and tape it between your shoulder blades. Are you right handed?"
İİİİİ"Yeah...why," Bram asked.
İİİİİ"Put the grip facing your right arm," he said as Bram fastened the firearm to his back as he was instructed. The man continued.
İİİİİ"When I say, I want you to stand up and start walking towards the APV. Do what they say, but get as close as you can. They're going to ask questions, so that second heat signature they see on the scopes? That's your wife, we're doing xenobiology work on the nel lizards, we think they're breeding here somewhere. Got it?" he rolled over and positioned the legs of the rifle's tripod in the mud, slowly pushing apart the thick ferns that now obscured their view of the APV and the road.
İİİİİ"One more thing, when I say duck, hit the ground unless you feel like dying with our I.D.F. friends out there. Use the gun once you're down and get on that APV," he flipped up the lens caps on the scope, looked once, then tapped two of the buttons on top. The eyepiece began to emit a tiny green light, so faint that it was almost obscured by what little light there already was.
İİİİİ"Hand me the grenades," he stretched his right hand towards Bram without his head ever moving from the scopes padded eyepiece. Bram had almost forgotten about them, and looked on the ground in front of his face for a minute before finding them nestled in a small pocket of earth.
İİİİİ"Ok...go now," he hissed, motioning towards the APV.
İİİİİGram stood up quickly, almost losing his balance in the process, and from his comrades prone figure, he could hear a grunt of dissatisfaction for his graceless movements. But that wasn't what worried Gram, not in the least. What had his full attention was the 20 ton I.D.F. monster sitting silently on the path, like some ancient and terrible beast waiting to devour him whole. Slowly, he began to approach the monolithic machine, step by step, almost as if he were afraid he would startle the titan and it would dart off into the night.
İİİİİHe had walked almost 30 yards, 30 eternal yards in which time stood still, when the turret began to whine as it began to track slowly in his direction. Please, Lord... he had begun to pray, when suddenly the red night light mounted next to the cannon flashed on, bathing the path and tree line in an eerie ruby glow. The hatch popped open, and a helmeted figure rose from the armoured cupola. On its head were a pair of glowing red goggles, probably infrared, or zero-lux, but Bram felt as if they were letting the figure bore right through him to his very soul. Then he spoke.
İİİİİ"BRAM YOU BUGGER, WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!" the voice boomed, and it took him a moment to realize who was speaking, and how it was that they knew his name.
İİİİİ"Walking towards my tank like you know what you're doing. Did Quinn put you up to this?" the man laughed, a nasty, high pitched noise strikingly similar to that of old Earth hyenas. Not that Bram would have know the sound anyway, having never visited the planet itself, and have an unfortunately limited education growing up on the fringe, all he knew was that he always hated it when Raoul laughed.
İİİİİ"Raoul? Raoul you bastard, I almost bogged myself," Bram said, only half joking. Looking down at his hand, he realized just how scared he had been; it wouldn't stop shaking until he crammed it in his jacket pocket.
İİİİİ"QUINN, GET OUT HERE, WE CAN SEE YOU ON THE IR SCOPE," Raoul yelled into the tree line where the man with the rifle was hiding.
İİİİİ"You know, Raoul, I should kill you for being so late, and the way you're bobbing around out of that hatch like a stuck xe'neng bird, it wouldn't be any trouble at all," a voice floated out from the ferns. Raoul looked shocked, but regained his composure seconds later as if his mortal being hadn't just been threatened.
İİİİİ"Kennedy wouldn't appreciate that, Quinn, he's quite fond of me you know," Raoul said defiantly, but noticeably inching his way back under the armoured canopy.
İİİİİ"No, probably not, but Kennedy's not here to stop me, now is he?"
İİİİİBram finally spotted the muzzle poking out from the bushes, aiming right for Raoul and his APV. Maybe Quinn wasn't kidding, maybe he was, but Bram was certainly glad HE wasn't looking down the receiving end of that massive gun. From the way Raoul looked, he wasn't quite sure if he were about to die either, so Bram decided he was going to end it before something seriously nasty happened.
İİİİİ"C'mon, Quinn. We're late you said, let's get going, eh?" he called out, his voice shaking a little more than it should have.
İİİİİ"Don't worry, little Bram, I'm not going to kill your friend, he's the biggest, most incompetent bugger in the world, but I'm not going to be the one to do that deed," Quinn rose from his hiding spot, his massive gun in one hand, the two black bags in the other. He flipped the lens protectors back into place, and started a quick trot across the red glow of the spotlight towards the APV. The rear hatch was flung open from the inside, and the two men crawled into its cramped interior.
İİİİİThe Mk IV was officially designed for "close battlefield fire support and deployment into situations not suitable for simple wheeled or unarmoured vehicles." The resulting marriage was an ungainly mix between tank and truck that produced a vehicle not even its staunchest supporter could call attractive. But then, the I.D.F. didn't give one god damn about the aesthetics of the vehicle so long as it got the job done, and that was were the beauty in the Mk IV came from.
İİİİİOn flat, open terrain or roads, the Mk. IV was capable of nearly 140 kilometers per hour, and had a functional range of 350 miles on a single battery charge. The 8 wheels were attached to the vehicle by independent suspension mounts, giving it versatility to tackle obstacles nearly as well as a tracked vehicle, but without the low speeds and high maintenance that were trademarks of the tread world. The turret, set 6 feet back near the front of the vehicle held the gunner and commander positions and was rotatable a continuous 360 degrees, independently from the chassis. It was also home to the main gun; a Bushwhacker 60mm cannon, firing either HE antipersonnel or AP anti-tank rounds. The rest of the available space on board was dedicated to a cramped passenger compartment for the eight man marines squad the Mk IV was designed to carry into battle.
İİİİİ"And who the bloody hell are you," Quinn demanded to the man holding the entry hatch open. He was known for his prowess as a killer, not his niceties.
İİİİİ"Alan," replied the man before shuffling back into the red bathed interior.
İİİİİTo anyone unaccustomed with the world these men lived in, it would seem completely dysfunctional that they went by first name only, that these men who spent so much time together could only know the slightest scrap of information of those to whom they entrusted their lives. It was best that they knew as little of each other as they did though, it limited the damage when the I.D.F. Inquisitors laid their augmented hands on you.
İİİİİRaoul dropped down through the turret hatch from the command cupola, flipping the zero-lux goggles off his eyes as he did so. Taking a knee in the middle of the group, he reached over to a backpack resting against the far wall, withdrawing a keyboard and a small glass cube about the size of an egg. Before Bram could wonder what all of this was, Raoul plugged the board into one of two ports in the cube, tapped some keys and set them both on the floor.
İİİİİA rotating green and gold box appeared in the space Raoul had previously occupied, emanating from a small black lens in the center of the cube. In the muted red light, Bram hadn't noticed that silver lines crisscrossed the interior of the cube, running back and forth in that compact space until they all intersected with the lens until the cube had turned on, then all the silver lines began to glow and pule with the rotation of the green box. It was an optical memory and projection cube, they were incredibly expensive, and he had only seen one other in his entire life.
İİİİİSometime when he was sixteen or seventeen, the I.D.F. recruiters had come to his school, searching for enlistees, and on the table there had been a holocube playing three dimensional Propaganda vids from the early Covenant battles. Of course, the propaganda footage didn't mean much to Bram, he was too worried about where he would sleep the next night, and the next. His house had been among the first destroyed to make way for the orbital driver support facilities. How he hated the I.D.F., his mother had had to go out every night for a month and - he could feel the old anger rising just as Raouls' voice snapped him back to reality.
İİİİİ"This is the layout of the orbital driver facility. There are eight of them, located in blocks of two, spread out over nearly 30 square miles, but there's only one we want right now, located here," the green box was now a three dimensional map of the complex. Somehow, somewhere Raoul or...uh, Alan had gotten ahold of a tightly guarded holoprint cube of the base, and, almost as an afterthought, the steel beast whose' very belly we're sitting in right now. Impressive. The map zoomed, and Raoul continued.
İİİİİ"We're going to drive right on through the main checkpoint, Alan and I managed to get ahold of a level two security pass and some uniforms. They'll only get us as far as the third guard fence, but the less initial fighting the better," a red line appeared at the outskirts of the map, tracing inward through a winding road, past several checkpoints and fences, and onto one of the massive orbital driver platforms. Raoul tapped several keys, and one of the smaller buildings highlighted itself in gold, flickered once and the map zoomed again.
İİİİİ"Ok, this is the uplink building, it houses the secondary transmitter for this series of drivers. If the main antennae ever go off-line, and they're going to, the secondary building takes over all the primary functions for the payload rocket - guidance, burn time, etc," he said, tapping the keyboard once again.
İİİİİ"There's a two man team already in place in that building, so nobody has to worry about guiding the payload once it's off the ground," he finished tapping the keyboard, and the map shifted rapidly to a much larger building in the center of the complex.
İİİİİ"There's a barracks next to this orbital gun platform," Quinn said, pointing to a spot on the map, causing the cube to immediately zoom. "What about that? It's close enough to the command complex that we might have some trouble."
İİİİİ"Don't worry about it, Alan has command level access. Alan?"
İİİİİ"That's right, once we're in the building, I can route the troops to a different sector of the facility. By the time they figure it out, we'll be halfway back to the colony," said Alan, although Quinn didn't look satisfied in the least. Raoul continued anyway.
İİİİİ"The command complex is fifteen stories tall, and the primary communication dish controls and fuel control valves are located on the thirteenth floor. I want everyone to know that there IS a launch scheduled for 0830, day after tomorrow, so the complex is going to be fairly busy with test personnel," he touched the building at the base, and the walls disappeared, giving them a cutaway view of the interior.
İİİİİ"There's no use in being quiet by this point, the command complex is two levels past where our security pass can take us, so they're going to know we're in," he grinned wickedly as he explained the rest. "Alan is taking the Mk. IV directly INTO the building, I want you all buckled down until he gives the all clear..nobody gets hurt going through that wall. After that, STAY TOGETHER, we're not going back for anybody that gets separated, there's no time to wait for stragglers," he looked around the circle, making eye contact with every member of the team until they nodded their understanding.
İİİİİ"all right then, let's move. Quinn, you remember how to work one of these?" he pointed up towards the gunner position.
İİİİİ"No problem," said Quinn.İİİİİ
İİİİİ"Bram, take seat in back until we're through the wall. It's about fifteen minutes to the first checkpoint, get your gear and be ready to move out," said Raoul, before disappearing up into the command cupola, followed shortly by Quinn, who flashed Bram a quick grin before pulling the hatch shut.
İİİİİA low hum, and the APV lurched forward, the engines whining quietly through the metal walls as they turned back onto the main highway and began their short drive to the orbital driver. Bram checked his watch, it was 0230 now and they weren't due at the command complex until 0330. Might as well get some shuteye, he thought, before closing his eyes and letting the peaceful drone of the electric motors lull him gently to sleep.

İİİİİSomething hit Bram in the face, snapping him out of his light slumber. It was soft and wet, and it stunk like feet. Jerking upright, he looked blankly at the lumpy object for half a second, waiting for his eyes to focus. Once they did, he recognized the standard tan and black jumpsuit worn by the I.D.F. security vehicle crews. The dampness came from a spot the fabric where the small of his back would be, covered in some kind of black liquid. Near the center of the mess was a jagged hole through the mesh like material, and he stared at it for a minute, the wheels in his brain going round and round, searching for an answer. AH, DAMN! Blood! He pushed the soiled clothing onto the floor, wiping his face with the sleeve of his own jumpsuit. It came back streaked with red, and he spat in disgust to clear it from his lips.
İİİİİ"I'd put that on if I were you, and clip this to the outside," Quinn, down from turret was just zipping up his own jumpsuit, bloodied at the neck where Raoul and Alan had undoubtedly sawed through the poor mans spine. He tossed Bram an I.D.F. security badge. Turning it in over in his hand, Bram noticed a clear plastic information strip, and a small blueish silver computer chip emblazoned on the front. Probably his access into the restricted areas.
İİİİİ"Every person in the truck's got to have on of these, or the alarm goes off before we're even through the first checkpoint," Quinn said, confirming his thoughts.İİİİİİİİİİİİİİİ"We're going to hit the first checkpoint in less than six minutes," he said, clipping a similar badge onto his own suit. "Get two of the ISR-32s out of that bag," he pointed to one of the sacks they had carried to the rendezvous.
İİİİİ"Armour piercing rounds please, and use the alternating tracer clips. No, look, there, they're under the fletchet shells. Good." he made sure everything was set, then set them next to the door, against the rear hatch.
İİİİİ"Get theTAS for yourself, I.D.F. wears body armour so get fletchets and aim for the head, or load up with slugs. Keep it hidden in case they come through, it's almost show time," he said, before crawling back up into the turret.
İİİİİFive minutes later, Bram had just finished assembling and arming the shotgun when he felt the Scorpion slow, then stop. Alan opened the driver hatch, and a flood of harsh artificial light shot through the open compartment door and into the passenger cabin. He could hear voices coming from the outside.
İİİİİ"Where have you been?" the voice was not kind, Bram hoped to God they didn't have to start fighting now.
İİİİİ"There were some fringies in the restricted zone we had to deal with. They won't god damn learn the driver is off limits to their filth."
İİİİİ"You got that right, I say we should wipe 'em off the planet right now. The whole lot is nothing but trouble," the voice was warmer now, if only by a degree. "Wait a minute," suspicion now. "Where did the blood come from?"
İİİİİ"Like I said, we had to deal with 'em. One of the buggers bit me before I had to kick in his throat."
İİİİİ"Hah! Brass should give you a medal. You should be set, let me run the scan, everyone have their badges?" Brams heart jumped to his throat, and he prayed that the badges worked.
İİİİİ"Ok, everything looks good, you're free to go," the hatch was sealed, returning the interior to its familiar hellish glow, and a moment later, the APVs engines hummed to life, pushing the vehicle back on her course into the heart of the driver.
İİİİİ"If that didn't get your blood pumping, nothing will!" Alan shouted back from the driver compartment. "There should be a few firing ports back there, you can take a look around until the next checkpoint."
İİİİİBram looked around for a moment until he spotted a small rectangle of metal extruding from the side. Above were rails of some kind, running perpendicular to the rectangle, and on the left was a small black button with lettering beneath that read, 'once to open, twice to close'. That was it, pressing the button produced a small whirring noise next to the slot, and a second later it slid upward to reveal the world outside. Bram was totally unprepared for what he saw.
İİİİİThey were traveling at a decent speed, enough to push air through the slot, drying his eyes and forcing him to blink every few seconds. They were traveling on a raised causeway, some 20 feet above the surrounding landscape. Every so often they would pass an off ramp that led to various nondescript buildings that towered high above the highway. They were not large enough to house the orbital drivers, but they were still soaring monuments of concrete and steel, taller and wider than even the tallest and widest colonial buildings he had seen in the capital city. For a ten minutes he stared at the passing scenery until the APV once again rolled to a stop.
İİİİİThis time it was much quicker, the bright light shot through the vehicle and the scan was performed without any exchange of words. Then the guard asked where they were headed, and Alan told him they were going to the medical bay for a quick rundown for any colonial pathogens they might have received in the skirmish. The guard grunted and waved them through.
İİİİİRaoul came over the intercom, "We're going to be hot in about two minutes, Alan and I will take the right side, Bram, take the left."
İİİİİBram shuffled to the left side of the APV and punched open one of the gun ports. The view here was exactly the same, except now far off in the distance, bathed in floodlights were two of the orbital drivers. Imposing structures nearly 300 stories tall and one third as wide, they were used as launching bays for the massive fusion rockets that delivered the unconventional payloads that were too heavy for shuttlecraft and transporters into orbit.
İİİİİ"Get ready," Alans voice came through the door as the APV pulled to a halt. The hatch opened, and Bram waited tensely by the portal.
İİİİİ"State your business," a harsh voice came through the door.
İİİİİ"Transporting Colonel Mazier to the command complex," Alan replied just as venomously.
İİİİİ"I don't have any officer transit papers here, let me see your -" the voice, turning into a wet gurgle, and Bram heard liquid spatter quietly on the metal APV floor. Gunshots followed, and he heard thuds from outside the vehicle. Alan gunned the engine, and the Scorpion shot forward, making the last run of its short life.
İİİİİThey had missed a guard in one of the guard houses, and Bram fired two rounds into his head as the man reached over to grab one of the emergency phones. His head collapsed with the first round, and exploded into mist with the second impact, pasting the wall with fine red spray before he was obscured from sight.
İİİİİThe turret overhead whined, and the APV bucked gently as Quinn expelled two 60mm shells from the Bushwhacker gun. Flames roared in the distance, but the limitations of the firing port prevents Bram from seeing their destruction. They passed a cratered building, Quinns work no doubt and judging from the number of men running out, the security bunker located on the perimeter of the command complex fence. A burst of fire from Quinns .50 caliber machine-gun on the turret cut down all but three advancing soldiers, who promptly took cover in the rubble.
İİİİİ"Impact in 30 seconds, buckle down!" Alan shouted over the intercom, and Brams' stomach lurched, a sickening indicator they were speeding up! The Bushwhacker roared again and again, pumping half a dozen HE rounds into the wall directly in the path of their onrushing APV. "Impact in 15, BRACE YOURSELVES," Alan shouted...and then they hit.
İİİİİThe force of the blow ripped the shotgun from Brams grip, flinging the TAS through the air and into the drivers compartment, luckily for Alan, he had safetied the weapon before the collision. Their bags skidded along the floor, smashing into the far bulkhead with a sickening crack that told Bram at least one of the weapons was no longer functional. He heard Raoul scream from the cupola above, but a string of obscenities said that he was still alive. A jagged steel girder ripped through the side of the APV with a deafening shriek, creating a three foot tear in its bulletproof skin where Bram had been sitting not minutes before. A final wrenching impact and they moved no more. Raoul dropped down from the cupola, his face bloody from a gash running the length of his forehead, followed by Quinn who was apparently unhurt. Alan jumped through the driver compartment door, tossing Bram his shotgun in the process, and drawing his own ISR and jamming a clip into the magazine.
İİİİİ"Ready?!" shouted Raoul, his hand on the door.
İİİİİQuinn grabbed their duffel bags, tossing one to Alan and one to Bram before slamming a clip into his rifle and meeting Raoul at the door. "Let's rock," he said, flashing one of his toothy grins, pushing Raouls hand down and opening the hatch before leaping through, his gun at the ready.
İİİİİBram was the last one out the door, and he shivered to himself as he heard Quinns laughter, puncuated by bursts of gunfire and remembered his wicked grin. No man should be that happy killing, it doesn't matter who, he though before stepping through the Scorpions door and onto the Command Complex lobby turned killing floor.