Archive for April, 2013

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Beyond Death’s Door: Fortune Favours The Brave

Excerpt of Chapters 1 to 5 (unedited)

A Science Fiction Novel by William A. DeSouza © 2012 


Chapter One

The drop ship engines rotated as the pilot throttled up, the nose lifted slightly as the tail ramp closed like a vice. The main motors whined as the nacelles, one on each wing, shot out a blast of hot exhaust into the ground sending debris flying into the recon team just disgorged from the rear ramp. The four skids shifted slightly on the earth, the weight transferred off the landing gear as it retracted into the belly of the ship, Ten thrust vectoring nozzles around the armored drop ship pivoted, pushing the beast higher into the air. It was a black monster rising higher into the sky, its bite even more lethal than the deafening roar of the motors.

As the ship lifted off, Corporal Heather Brassard ordered her squad to check the perimeter. She was in command of the four man reconnaissance team ordered to scout an area reported to be increasing in rebel activity.

She looked back toward the drop ship as it quickly vanished from site, loose rubble, sand and dust still swirled around in vortex patterns from the powerful main motors.

The recon team was on their own now, with just enough supplies to fend for themselves. This was a quick, no contact mission. ‘Recon and Return’ was the order and Heather was more than happy to comply.

Her squad was made up of three fresh minted newbie’s and this would be a good way to break them in.

Heather checked her arcs and surveyed the area. They were dropped near an old sports field; a gothic styled two story building surrounding the playing area in decay. One entire side of the building was shattered, leaving her a good view of the inner playing area.  The bleachers on either side of the field framed the empty, open and long disused playing surface. Twisted rubble lay among the tall weeds and grass. On each of the two levels, arched entrances spaced out behind the bleachers open to the dark shadows of what was once a cultured and vibrant civilization engaged in sport, art and music.

From what Heather could see, it had been some time since anyone watched an event or played on the overgrown turf. Giant poster boards either hung at awkward angles from posts and the sides of the arena, or lay crumpled along the ground. Some showed upcoming concerts while others still had images of the last event to be held here, a football match between a local and a visiting off planet team.

A large digital score board lay half leaning on the ground and the wall it once hung on, garbage strewn all around it. The scene of destruction was spread over a wide area, evidence of a decades’ long struggle between humans for control of a population that couldn’t even remember what started the war.

It was time.

“Liam, take point,” Heather ordered over the squad net, the internal communication kept silent within the enclosed combat helmet.

Trooper Liam Hudson didn’t hesitate as he checked his front, stood, and moved forward about thirty meters before the rest of the squad followed.

Heather advanced the squad, stopping every hundred meters to take measurements and scans of the area. The routine lasted for the next three hours before their first break. They encountered no other life and found no rebel activity; at least no recent activity in the recon area.

Heather set up a defensive perimeter as she chose a defendable spot for their breather. Each squad member ensured they had overlapping arcs of fire as they kept one eye open for any activity while grabbing a quick bite of a nutrition supplement and water.

The air was hot and thick, with shimmers of heat rising from the black rock and debris strewn about the streets. It was still early in the day and UV light from the sun passed through the thick cloud layer that blocked much of its visible light, heating the planet and cooking the local life.  It would get hotter once the cloud layer was burnt off by a rising sun.

Entire sides of houses and low rise buildings were blown out while others stood as though nothing had happened. Transports, public and private ground effect vehicles could be seen from the squad’s vantage point. Some burned out, some lay crushed under the weight of the rubble while others just looked as if they were quickly abandoned by their drivers. A number of bodies, bones really, could be seen, some piled in heaps, others where they first fell.

After ten minutes, Heather got her squad up and moving forward, line abreast, keeping parallel with the buildings as they followed the prearranged trace. They checked each doorway, window and blast opening they came to.

There was an eerie silence to the place. Heather cranked up her helmet pick-ups, trying to force some sound to be made. The only sound however was crunch of gravel or branches beneath the combat boots of the squads combat armor.

No animals or insect sounds could be heard either and that concerned Heather. She had the squad spread out even more to avoid bunching up. In a way, the lack of noise was tranquil and inviting. It was also something to be cautious of.

All that calm changed quickly as rounds suddenly rang out around the four man squad.

Each member dived for cover as automatic weapons released burst after burst of deadly seven millimeter darts. They smashed into the ground around the squad. Heather slammed hard against a fallen stature of some long dead local colonist. Liam and McDonald dived behind a low wall while Fortran ducked into an old bomb crater at the entrance to a shell of a building.

As they took cover each trooper released their safety and fired a wild burst into the air in an effort to keep whoever opened up on them down.

“What the hell is that,” shouted Fortran as he hit the bottom of the crater head first. The first thing he did was curl up into a ball hoping the rounds being fired at him would bypass his head and body, his head ringing from the pain of impact with the bottom of the crater.

Heather scanned the area and still found no electronic signatures, telling her that she was fighting against people that either found a way to mask their signature or removed all their electronic gear, turning off all electronic piece of equipment. She chose to believe the latter.

“That, trooper, is someone trying to kill you, now keep your head about you and find us a target,” Heather tried to scan the area directly in front with no luck. She was hoping to see a muzzle flash but no such luck in the early afternoon sunlight.

She was also surprised at how calm she sounded.

McDonald lifted his weapon above the wall and fired widely back hoping to hit something but he wasn’t sure where the fire was coming from. Feeling frustrated, he switched his weapon selector to grenade and let loose a two round volley at a hundred meters.

“Grenade!” he shouted on the squad net, adrenaline pumping through his body.

The explosion sent rocks and other debris flying but the enemy fire did not let up.

Rounds pinged off the marble body of the fallen statue protecting Heather, causing her to duck lower for cover. It also forced her to look for different cover. If they have her squad ranged in, something heaver was headed their way. Disengaging her site she held it up just above her cover. The view being patched through her helmet display was not encouraging.

Finally she spotted some alternative cover, “Liam, McDonald, Fortran, on three, we move toward that low building, just on the right of the shed at seventy five meters. Fortran, pop smoke at twenty five and fifty meters.”

The other’s all looked up when Heather finished, each one seeing the new cover using the same process as Heather. The gray and white walls of the two story building were pitted with holes. The windows were blown out and part of a wall had collapsed in the front, but it did have all the compulsory bits and pieces that made it a defensible position.

It would be a run to get there, but at this point, Heather did not see much of a choice.

They all acknowledged the move order as Fortran switched the ammo selector on his rifle to smoke.

“One, two,” she took a deep breath, then, “three,” Heather finished counting and they all rose up, fired off covering rounds in the hopes their attackers took cover of their own, long enough for the four troopers to make a run for it.

Fortran popped the smoke rounds as ordered. Less than three seconds later they exploded just above ground, sending a dense cloud of dark smoke wafting in the air.

Dust and pieces of stone erupted where Heather’s squad fired in unison. Debris fell to the ground in the area of impact as darts exploded off the side of buildings. She hoped that this was enough to create confusion upon those firing at them.

As she took her third stride, Heather caught site of a puff of smoke or dust followed by a large flash from the corner of her eye. The helmet vision enhancers made it clear that someone just fired at them with something bigger than a rifle, and in that instant she knew this was not going to end well.


Chapter Two

Heather stood, supporting her weight by leaning up against a wall, her armored back pressing hard into the cold stone and composite support column. Her breathing was labored and heavy as the pain medication began to wear off. Heather wasn’t used to feeling this much pain but her wounds were beginning to rip open and the sensation of flesh ripping apart by shrapnel was once again at the forefront of her thoughts.

Quickly she scanned her surroundings, trying to keep her mind focused and divert attention from the wound and her pain.

The support column was one of twelve holding up a crumbling ceiling located in what used to be the main public transit station for this city. Years of conflict had reduced the once grand and mighty building to an empty shell. Overhead, light fixtures once touted to be the most grand and ornate on the planet, lay in ruins along the length of the building.

She was on the second floor concourse overlooking the large space. Heather could see its gothic arches and pillars, no longer the prominent feature of years gone by. Two of the meter wide pillars lay across the floor, each one shattered by the impact of a smart bomb dropped long ago. Heather looked up to see a hole in the roof several meters wide where the columns once intersected, reinforcing rods bent at odd angles.

The cream coloured marble walls were pitted, gaping holes blown through into adjacent rooms or to the outside. What doors she could see were hanging off on their tracks or hinges, many of them just leaning up against debris or on the ground. Smalls arms fire clearly evident on much of the surface. Small painted murals or laser etched works cut into the marble for passerby’s of an earlier period in time were now faded. Some walls had growths of creeping vines while others covered in debris or furniture piled along lengths, set as barricades for firefights.

Heather also saw the human side of this long drawn out conflict. Two bodies, well, what was left of them. The first was more a skeleton than body, still in its fatigues, lying behind a low wall. It was about thirty meters from Heather but she could clearly make out the hole in the skull. The second was mostly body parts, the remainder of what was human now lay scattered around the open floor on a lower level, further away than the first. As she continued to follow the carnage that took place here she became aware of more skeleton remains, one with flesh still dripping off the bone. It was evidence of more recent action.

“Time for another dose,” she said quietly, the pain getting worse as she winced.

She hated the meds but thankful for them at the same time. There was always a risk they could dull the senses, making her more of a target than she already was. There was also the risk of passing out from the excruciating pain.

“Stop over thinking this Heather and take the meds trooper”, she said to herself between clenched teeth.

She pressed her back against the pillar for support, and keeping her injured leg as rigid as possible, she lowered herself into a seating position, grimacing as she did.

Heather laid her T12 pulse rifle across her waist with her left hand while removing the dust cover from her body armors medical control panel. She selected the dosage and keyed the button that sent relief through her body and into her leg.

Afterward she checked the seal on the quick patch at the entry point for the metal barb that pierced her leg. The blood had stopped and the seal was still in place, however she thought, that it would be time to change it soon. Replacing the cover on the panel, she let out a quiet sigh.

The explosion from the grenade could have been far worse for her if it wasn’t for the fact that it landed on the far side of her recon team. For three of the four man team it was as bad as it could get – they didn’t make it.

Body parts scattered around the area along with various other debris. A one meter piece of metal reinforcing rod ended up flying almost twenty five meters, coming to rest in Heather’s leg just above the knee. It just missed the femoral artery, the large blood supplying artery that begins in the lower abdomen and travels down into the thigh.

A centimeter or two on either side and it would have likely been game over, she thought.

In the aftermath of the explosion and flying debris, she found herself hurled into the air, landing beside a rubble pile. Dirt, rocks and building material scattered about in heaps as if someone tried to clean up the mess. It lay just on the edge of a drainage canal running the length of the street toward a row of houses. It was not previously visible from her vantage point but clearly, if she had seen it that would have been a better point to run for. Hind sight is twenty-twenty is the old saying she thought.

Heather needed to work quickly, her ambushers may think she was dead with the rest of her squad but they would make their way down to verify that assumption.

She had to remain conscious, and she needed all her strength and concentration to remove the metal rod. The pain was as close to unbearable as she fought the urge to pass out. She first cut the penetrating barb as close to her wound with a laser cutter and mustering all her will, pulled it out, sealing the severed flesh with the medical laser. Her blood loss was minimal as the barb had sealed the artery, so blood only flowed when she removed it. The warm and dark liquid that fed the body with life began to flow quickly until the medical laser sealed the leaking artery and skin.

Heather wasn’t a hundred percent certain she managed to seal the all the artery but she did not have the training or time to check. She had to get out of there in a hurry, no time to think, only to react and stay alive. She activated her med kit and pain killers mixed with a cocktail of antibiotics streamed into her blood stream from the self injector built into her combat armor.

She rolled down into the canal and disappeared into the smoke still drifting about, finally making her way to safety.

Now, after an hour of running and trying to evade her pursuers, she sat back against the pillar. She would mourn the loss of life and her team later, if she lived.

It always came down to that, living or dying. Both options followed a hard road with twists and turns and every trooper had to figure it out for themselves. You did not have free will when it came to dying in a combat zone, that option was left up to the enemy. But you could affect the outcome by using everything you learned in life and battle school; if you used your head and had a certain amount of luck on your side.

Right now other more pressing things needed to be dealt with, death would have to wait.

After the pain killers came the antibiotics. Heather first removed the old seal and compress bandage, careful not to pull on the wound itself. She then pulled a new compress from the medical pouch on the tac-harness and striped the protective back off. The antibiotic compress would cover the wound area and protect it from infection and dirt.

Heather did a quick ammo check, “Just fuck’en marvelous.” She exclaimed after counting only four and a half mag’s plus another half load in her rifle. With each mag holding fifty darts, she knew the remainder of the seven point five millimeter darts would exhaust itself in no time if she was caught in a fire fight. The grenade count wasn’t much better.

She chided herself for not policing up the ammunition, weapons and explosives from her dead team. At the time the pain and her immediate survival was the top priority. Their attackers were not about to wait for her to get settled and any future action she may have to take did not enter her conscious thoughts. It was a first year rookie mistake and she was undeniably not first year.

She took the time to put a fresh mag into her weapon, redistributing the two half mags to make one and reloaded her grenades. To help conserve her ammo she put the fire selector switch to single shot. Each dart had to count now. The power pack would last and she had one other so that wasn’t an issue.

She rested, but she struggled to control her breathing while waiting for the pain medication to kick in. Heather took the briefest of moments to close her eyes. It was a vulnerable time for her and she knew it. She must focus her mind on survival.

In combat, treating the wound was only part of the equation for staying alive. Not only could your injuries kill you but you also have others still trying to kill you finishing off what they started. She counted herself lucky for getting out of the grenade blast area before a cleanup crew came in to check on the dead. Whoever fired off that grenade would not have just run off, they would have come in and finish off any survivors.

She knew there were no other survivors of her recon team. Her tactical combat helmet readings showed no life signs from them.

Corporal Heather Brassard was part of a rear breed of Humans, a trooper in the Terrain Armed Forces. The TAF only took the best humanity had to offer from the colony planets around the New Confederation. A veteran at four years she had already proven herself in combat several times over and this was just another mission to her. Life and death was a constant part of her world and she would never change any of that.  Death was something to avoid at all costs, and that struggle gave you the main reason to live.

Heather opened her eyes, startled by a noise. The combat helmet she wore amplified the sound and if she still had a team, she would have known exactly what direction and distance it came from. The pick-ups from each trooper would exchange information through the data comm link and triangulate the source. This time however she was alone and all she had was her own personal equipment, her wits and experience.

I’d be dead already if they knew where I was. She reassured herself with that thought.

Without moving her body too fast or too much, Heather released the safety on her weapon and lowered the helmet visor. As soon as the visor locked, thermal and other sensor data scrolled across her heads up display.

The sound could have been anything – a ventilator fan moved by the light breeze, an animal scavenging for food, loose debris falling, anything. Something, call it instinct, told her that the source was human however.

The self administered medication was beginning to kick in. The pain was still there but it was bearable, a dull throb instead of a sharp stabbing. It was enough however to help her focus on the current circumstance.

Heather, still leaning against the post with her back began to slide down slowly. She needed to get flat in order to roll over onto her belly without string up any dust or bringing attention to herself. As she repositioned she heard another sound, this one clearer but still unfamiliar.

Once on her back, Heather took a deep breath. With her face shield down no one would hear her breath. Any noise she made would have alerted her enemies.

The break-away rebel faction the TAF was engaged with were well armed, well trained but not always disciplined. Heather was counting on a mistake or two being made by the other side if she was going to live. A hell of a lot of luck couldn’t hurt either, she thought to herself.

Without making a sound she rolled over in place, making sure she remained behind the cover of the column. She winced when the skin on her leg stretched near the injury, treating to rip it apart.

It was now she realized breathing was a good thing and took two deep breaths. Heather wasn’t even aware she was holding her breath. She could only hope she didn’t stir up any dust.

Slowly she removed the gun-site camera from her rifle and activated the imager on her helmet display. Holding the rifle camera in her left hand and keeping it close to the ground, she moved it past the column, giving her a panorama of the far end of the building.

What she saw was discouraging and heartening at the same time. At least six rebel soldiers were making their way toward her position. They were line abreast about two meters apart sweeping the debris. Heather could only assume they were searching for her, maybe part of the group that took out her squad.

On the up side, she thought. They’re doing such a clumsily job, I could just get lucky.

The other positive was the squad searching was one level below her on the far side of the concourse and this provided her with a good field of fire should she have to engage, which at this point seemed very likely to Heather.


Chapter Three

In a high geosynchronous orbit onboard the Terrain Armed Forces Navy Ship Athabaskan the communications room was ablaze with activity. Much of that activity focused on finding Heather and her squad. TAF sensor drones orbited the planet sending out a spider web of sensor signals, trying in vain to reach the recon patrol sent to investigate reports of rebel activity in an isolated section on the planet.

“Status!” barked the comm officer as she entered the room. Commander Latrell was small in stature standing only one and a half meters tall but her presence was felt everywhere she went. She had a voice that would put the best drill sergeants to shame and she was as intelligent as she was beautiful. Her blond hair fell on her shoulders in waves. This only highlighted her deep blue green eyes and a body that men, and some women, would kill for.

“No return signal from the recon team Commander. Their last check in was seven hours ago and they are one hour overdue.” Came the reply from the senior NCO at the off ship comm duty station.

“Has their CO been notified?”

“Aye – they have been. Commander, they have also been ordered to stand down by Flag. The orders just came in as you arrived.”

Latrell cocked an eyebrow. “The flag ship ordered the unit stood down?”

“No Commander, Flag actual. I suspect he has something else in mind.”

This was a surprise to Latrell. Whenever a unit or squad was in trouble and needed to be retrieved, it was the squads’ base unit that would have pulled the rescue mission. In this case it should have been the Terrestrial Light Armored Guards, Heather’s home unit.

“The old man must have something special in mind for him to pull us from the rescue.” She said to no one in particular. “Has the captain and the unit CO been notified?”

“Aye Commander, just prior to your arrival.”

Lets see how this plays out then, she thought.


Chapter Four

“Launch CAT” The Admiral was matter-of-fact, hiding the reality and magnitude behind the first CAT mission.

Rear Admiral Walter Affleck sat in his command chair onboard the flag ship York, showing no emotion. He was hoping not to have to use the CAT teams so soon after their formation, but it was as good a time as any for a real world test.

In front of him, the flag bridge was silent as his orders were passed to the CAT commander.

The envoy from the New Confederation government looked back at the Admiral at the command chair and asked, “Ah, sorry to interrupt Admiral, but what is this CAT team? I was informed that this was only going to be a reconnaissance mission but at the sign of any action, I assumed that you had ground troops ready and we would be treated to a show.”

Nevus Stevens was part of a delegation from the New Confederation budget committee looking at how the military functioned. It was hoped that the new members of the committee would gain a better understanding of the reasons things ran as they did with the military and the immense responsibility the New Confederation had towards the many worlds that made up its membership. The others in the committee had left the flag bridge when action stations were sounded, content to see what was happening from a briefing room several decks below, all except Nevus however.

The Admiral did not look directly at the envoy. The disgust he was feeling now would only spill out and he was not sure what the consequences would be. He was tempted to find out however, should Nevus continue to be a pain. Biting his lower lip instead helped to subdue the rage that he felt for bureaucrats and this one in particular.

Not long ago the corrupt bureaucratic system was purged and what was left was an efficient and coherent system of government. The purge however did not remove all of the incompetent individuals. Some inept individuals had had been missed.

Affleck had to deal with this medium level pen pusher, at least for now. He was sure that the purge would catch up to those stragglers representing what he considered to be the lowest facet of human evolution.

Taking a slow, deep breath, the Admiral answered, “CAT Mister Stevens is short for Combined Arms Team and this is their first operational – combat – mission that you know about. They are ground troops of a sort – they are an off shoot of the Joint Task Force, but while the JTF functions as individuals and in very small unit operations, the CAT team operates in squad to platoon size units and with a highly specialized mandate. They would be the equivalent of an old Earth marine unit.”

Affleck took another deep breath before continuing, “I will be happy to answer your questions,” pausing briefly to add emphasis. “After this mission and my troops are recovered.” The sting in his tone was evident and Nevus took the hint, backing slowly away into the corner of the bridge, just behind Affleck’s command chair.

—-

Major Jerold Braun watched his team gear up with a proud smile. His CAT team’s first active mission was starting out on a high note and it would afford him the opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of the CAT concept – at least in a limited operation.

“Major, all drop ships report ready for departure,” Captain Norton, Braun’s team commander, said as he approached.

“Very well Captain, you know the drill, time to prove this concept.”

Norton saluted, turned and with a spiral wave on his right hand in the air gave the ‘go’ order for the pilots to seal the hatches and start pre-launch drop procedures.

“All personal clear the bay – all personal clear the bay,” repeated the AI voice over the intercom. “Drop ship sequence has begun – launch in tee minus two minutes.”

Major Braun saluted and quickly removed himself from the bay, joining the other navy personal. One by one the blast doors lowered into their recesses, sealing the launch bay. Red lights flashed on as the warning klaxon sounded.

Swing arms, attached to contact points on the dorsal of each drop ship lifted them as the drop bay doors swung open to the vacuum of space, cutting off the klaxon at the same time. Without air, there was no sound. Braun watched as water vapor condensed and disappeared as quickly as they formed when the bay doors began to open.

Braun activated his headset, “Flag actual this is Major Braun, drop ship launch has begun.”

—-

From outside the enormous troop transport ship, the drop ships paled in size as they exited the bay. The four black drop ships would not even be seen if it wasn’t for the outside running lights of the massive transport.

Inside, Captain Norton checked the status of the troopers through the telemetry link. All showed green as he gave his final orders, “Squad leaders, we still haven’t picked up a transponder from the recon team but the initial drop point is where we start our search. Landing sequence is CAT two, three four and one.”

The squad commanders knew the rest of the mission orders and all acknowledged the landing sequence.

Sergeant Maya Schenk switched the comm channel to her squad,

“Fifteen minutes – stand by.”

The drop ship shuddered as the engines rotated to slow it from mach five to less than five hundred kilometers per second. The drop ship gunner scanned for targets as the pilot lined up on the landing zone.

“Stand up – prep for action,” ordered Schenk.

Each trooper reached over the shock frame and released the safety, swinging the frame over their heads. They reached for their weapons and loaded them, inserting a fresh magazine, then put their safeties on. No trooper said anything. Just before the rear ramp lowered, they would remove that safety, allowing death to rain down on anyone who impeded them from the mission.

As the ship neared the ground, at twenty five meters, the pilot flared the nose, raising it up while the tail dropped. They were coming in hot and expected enemy fire as soon as they landed. The gunner had previously picked out possible targets based on years of experience and training and he let go a salvo of Hyper Velocity Missiles or HVM.

From under wing pylons, the sleek short missiles shot across the sky to impact with the ground around the LZ. Plasma bursts fired from the belly turret burned through the air, killing anything in its path. Anything that was alive in the landing area was now dead.

“Ten seconds!” barked Schenk as he stood by the ramp controls.

Experience gave Schenk the sixth sense to know exactly when to toggle the control key, dropping the rear ramp and giving everyone a view of the ground below them. The squad started to move out a split second before touchdown and they fanned out to either side of the drop ship, taking up a perimeter.

As soon as the last man left the ramp the pilot throttled up and rotated the engine pods. Dust and other loose rubble flew about as the ship lifted off to assemble in orbit with the other drop ships.

Schenk barked his orders through the internal communication of the combat helmet, gathering his squad as they headed out in their assigned search direction.

Just as the last squad left the LZ, Norton’s ship landed and the command section, along with the heavy weapons detachment disgorged, allowing the drop ship to blast back into orbit. They would await the pick-up orders or act as close support, where they would release their arsenal of missiles and plasma weapons.

—-

“Admiral, the CAT is on the ground and searching,” reported the communication officer on the flag bridge.

Affleck sat waiting for confirmation, “Thank you.”

He showed no emotion on the outside, but on the inside, hidden from prying eyes, he felt pain for every injury or death inflected on his people. It was a personality trait that he was told would eat him up from the inside, but Affleck did not care for that assessment. He felt that it gave him the strength he needed to make the right command decisions. He would not give an order that had no gain or made no sense and he would not second guess his own orders.


Chapter Five

The six men searching for Heather stopped moving forward as the lead rebel soldier signaled, holding up his left hand. She was seen as the puppet of their enemies and had to be killed; to be made an example of. It would not do to allow this one survivor escape.

—-

Heather was not sure if he was the squad leader at this point or just the scout for the squad. Nor did she care. The six men took up a clumsily position behind anything they could find for cover.

She looked for any escape, trying to find a way out without engaging the people out to kill or capture her. Checking the exits available to her only confirmed that there was no other ways to escape the group below. Nothing she did would give her a free pass. It was about to come to a fire fight and she wanted to make sure she had the upper hand.

Scanning the group, she spotted one of the men pick up a portable radio from his pack and say something. She could not make out what was said, even with the enhanced pickups in her helmet, but her instincts told her that this was the most likely leader of the group, and her first target.

Her mind raced through different scenarios as to what would happen once she let go the first round. Where would the others run to? Would they go to ground? Or would they just become embolden and attack with renewed anger.

As she contemplated her alternatives, training and instinct took over as she replaced the gun site camera on her rifle. Slowly she moved the rifle to the edge of the pillar and sited her first target, gradually squeezing the trigger.

The man on the radio did not hear or react to the sound Heather’s rifle made. His head split apart from the back, sending blood and brain matter to the ground behind his body.

One of the others closest to the dead man stood and shouted a name, horror on his face as the first man died in front of him. Heather did not care why at this point, but aimed at the new target and fired.

The second man slumped down to the ground as the dart ripped through his heart, joining his comrade in death.

The other four men in the rebel squad avoided make the same mistake, instead, they began to fire anywhere they thought Heather was located. Some of the rounds came close to her, ricocheting off the wall above and beyond her. Her training told her that she was still hidden as their rounds were scattered and not aimed, so moving at this point would only serve to draw unwanted attention to her position.

Time and the odds were not on her side, but with patience and training there was improvement.

Heather did not have a direct line of site to the remaining four so she decided to use a couple of grenades in the hope of drawing them out into the open.

In the front of her thoughts was conservation of ammo as the counter changed from green to yellow and the number of rounds showing decreased with each shot. She would not mind if the shrapnel or concussion from the grenades killed or wounded the remaining hunting party. Switching the fire selector from dart to grenade, she sited-in on the impact area and fired off two grenades in quick session.

The first round landed just to the rear of the stone information kiosk being used as cover. The grenade was set for impact detonation, allowing the explosion to throw as much debris and shrapnel in the air.

Heather cranked hp her magnification on the helmet camera and watched for any sign that the solder would attempt to escape the massacre, assuming he was still alive.

She got her wish as he dived out from behind cover on three limbs, with his free hand dropping his weapon in the process. Heather squeezed the trigger just as he looked up, his thoughts registering his impending death.

One of the remaining rebels stood up to fire on Heather’s position, her muzzle flash giving away her location. He only managed to let loose a quick burst as the second grenade went off. The concussion throw him forward into the low table, his arms flung forward throwing the rifle loose as his head slammed into the top of the table. Slumping to the ground as his legs bucked out from under him.  Heather sighted on the soldier but lost sight as he fell behind the table, not getting a chance to fire a round into him.

Heather, realizing she still had the magnification ramped up on her helmet display, adjusted it down giving her a wider field of view. She scanned the area hoping the remaining two would show themselves.

She could hear the two of them shout something, but her audio pickups could not decipher what was being said. Whatever it was, it was not in Standard English. Still, she only had two left out of the original six to contend with.

—-

Schenk had his section fan out, ten meters apart in a line abreast and moved forward once the drop ship cleared the LZ.

“I want to hear a sit-rep before anyone opens up,” he ordered.

Each trooper acknowledged the order as they advanced quietly through the brush, toward the edge of a large city park, now overgrown with trees and low growing foliage.

As the squad approached the edge of the park, Schenk looked up above the tree line that was now beginning to thin out and saw the top of an old stadium, one side of it missing. He ordered a halt and took out his hand scanner.

Passing the scanner in an arc just in front of him, it picked up no other life but that was never the only tool used to accurately determine if someone was in the area. It was easy enough to mask a human’s body signal if you really wanted to.

“Dostoyevsky, set up the track-mine. We don’t have a lot of time but I want cover if we have to get out in a hurry.”

“Right Sergeant.” Responded the young trooper as he removed his pack, taking out a tripod and tube.

Trooper Dostoyevsky popped the tripod open and leveled it. Quietly but with deliberate purpose he secured the one meter tube at a connection point and plugged in the fiber optic cable to the power supply attached  to the tripod. As soon as he did, a three by three centimeter control panel opened at the mid-point of the tube and telltales changed from red to green after the built in computer powered up the tracking mines arming sequence.

“Mine is up and running Sergeant,” said Dostoyevsky as he took up a position just left of the now active mine.

“OK people, this is the route the recon squad took and we’ll follow it till we find something or get a recall.”

—-

Heather’s original despair began to diminish as the odds were beginning to improve and she started to feel better about her chances. It looked as if she would survive this brief battle and she had forgotten about the pain with the adrenalin rush she was experiencing. Her muscles began to relax and she found herself breathing again, not realizing she was even holding her breath for a second time.

That initial elation she felt quickly disappeared though when she was forced to withdraw as automatic weapons fire knocked fist size chunks of marble from the column and it rained down around her.

“Shit!,” she cursed trying to avoid being hit.

Having to back track from the edge and loose her line of site was not doing her any favors. This was a rookie mistake and she chided herself for it. She let down her guard for just a split second and it was going to cost her if she could not gain back the advantage she just had.

The fire coming down on her position was not aimed, more random covering fire. “Dam it, they’re trying to get under the walkway,” she said out loud.

As one of the solders provided covering fire, the other took full advantage and ran toward the door at the far end of the concourse. It led to a service stair to the upper level walkway where Heather had taken refuge. Getting to the door he slammed his back against the wall. He gestured to his comrade, holding up five fingers, then four, counting down.

At zero he fired a grenade up the stair case to the second level where Heather was situated under cover.

The grenade detonated on contact with the door to the second level sending it flying off its track. Bits of building material, dust and shrapnel exploded out from the stairwell entrance forcing Heather to roll for cover again.

Acting on instinct alone she snapped the selector switch on her weapon to grenade and fired through the now open space to the stairs. It thumped and clanged as the grenade bounced off the wall and fell toward the bottom of the stairs. Heather, now well back from the edge of the walkway and out of site of her initial targets, quickly realized a classic distraction tactic and threw herself back toward the column, taking aim at the rebel soldier begging his run toward cover. Heather instantly moved the fire selection switch from grenade to automatic fire and get go a quick burst just in front of the target.

Darts ripped through his upper body dropping him to the ground. At the same moment the grenade she fired exploded at the bottom of the stairs. A muffled cry could be heard as she turned toward the open doorway, ready for action should someone come charging though.

Nothing happened however as the dust settled and pebble size pieces of material fell to the ground. She increased the audio pick-ups on her helmet and could hear a faint moan from below.

The scatter of dust and smoke cleared as Heather made a move toward the stairs. Leaning against the column for support she pulled herself up, standing with the most of her weight on her uninjured leg.

As she reached the door, she braced herself and tentatively moved her gun camera around the corner and aimed it down the steps. At the landing she spotted the lone rebel sitting with his back against the wall. His head was slumped forward and his arms limp by his side. Heather looked for his weapon but could not see one in the area.

She began to enter the stairs when her audio pick-ups heard the unmistakable sounds of more solders coming into the station.

Her heart fell at the thought she was not getting away this time. Well, it was a good fight and a good run she thought.

Instead of going back down the steps, she made her way back to the column and settled in for what she assumed was going to be her last stand. Double checking her ammo status, she counted one and a half magazines of darts and two grenades.

She thought, that would take care of half a squad if my luck lasted that long.

Her injured leg began to throb again and she felt it become cold and wet as the blood leaked out from the quick patch. “Fuck it, I may as well go out lucid – to hell with the pain meds,” she said out loud.

She watched as a full squad entered the far end of the station, this time however, they were dressed in armor.  Then she saw it, TAF armor. It was her people.

—-

“Watch for snipers people, this is where we picked up automatic fire,” warned Sergeant Schenk.

Switching over to a TAF emergency frequency, he called, “CAT Team Bravo to Recon Two-Six Alpha.”

Heather was never more excited to see anyone, other than Peter Talbot, her on again off again lover. “Recon Two-Six Alpha, Rodger. Look up CAT Team.” She sat up and using her rifle waved toward Schenk.

Schenk returned the wave and sent the medic and three of his squad to secure the upper area and treat Heather’s injuries.

For Heather, the blood loss was beginning to have an effect as she slowly felt very sleepily, darkness beginning to overtake her senses. The relief of seeing her rescue was enough for her mind to relax, and body to give way to the adrenaline rush and shut down.

After getting a preliminary report from the medic on Heather’s condition, Schenk switched frequency to the platoon net and called for recovery. “Have a med team stand by, we have one survivor and she’s lost a lot of blood.”

To Be Continued…..

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