Chapter 17: Tactical Response Team 17.01 17.02 17.03 17.04 17.05 17.06 (Mission Time: 62.303Pf - 56.346Pf)
Frontier Date 62.303Pf
Days, months and years pass in frozen slumber for the Black Hand Gang as they take their first small step into the future.
More than five years later...
Frontier Date 56.341Pf
xZot awakens to what feels like the worst hangover he's ever had. It is the worst hangover he's ever had, xZot decides as he tries to sit up and look around. Shaking his groggy head, and then thinking twice about doing that again as pain shoots through his brain, xZot looks around the ward. He recognizes some of his friends also slowly regaining consciousness in beds around him, in what is obviously a medical facility. The Eorna have been busy while they were asleep, constructing this facility specifically for their friends from the Frontier.
Yawning and stretching, Con mutters to no one in particular, with an amused smile, "I feel like I napped for five years." In all honesty, Con can't tell how long he's been under or the difference between the hibernation sickness and his last hangover. It all sort of meshes into one big headache for the enforcer.
"Five years, three hundred and fifty eight days, twenty two hours and four minutes to be precise Mr. Anderson," replies Sni'ktl. "Your intuition is most remarkable, within two percentiles of my chronocom. I always wondered if they had a limit on the stopwatch function on these things. It appears not."
"OOOOHHHH...That long was it" The groggy enforcer replies rolling his eyes as he stumbles out into the changing room. "I need a drink."
Gleep wakes with a headache and wants to lay back down. He consumes copious quantities of fluids left by the Eorna Med-Techs and follows the rest of the crowd through their briefing preparation. Raid climbs out of his bed and rubs some life back into his stiff joints. The blood was flowing and the muscles were moving again, but somehow he felt a strange sense of detachment as he holds his hand out in front of his face and flexes each finger to make sure that it still works properly. He shakes the dust and mothballs out of his clothes and gets dressed. At the end of the ward, behind a glass wall, xZot can see Jameson smiling at them then Jameson's voice comes through the PA system in the ward.
"Good morning everyone. I hope you enjoyed your little nap." Louis V. Jameson says "Briefing will be in an hour, there's been a change of plans." He says before exiting the observation room.
"Oh no, now what?" xZot hears someone groan then looks around the room again. Something was wrong, what? Only seven beds! Not everyone was here. xZot takes a quick mental roll call. Sni'ktl, Siu-Ling, Gloo, Gleep, Raid and Con. Where were the others? What date is it?
Once cleaned and dressed, Con straps on his gun belt. He checks the clip inside the weapon, attaches his sonic sword and bull whip to the belt then checks the clip in his second laser pistol and places it in a shoulder holster. Looking into a mirror, Con checks himself out. "I don't look a day over 26." He says with a whimsical smile, and seemingly putting his recent worries on the back burner for a while. Turning to the nearest team member "Well, at least our clothing hasn't gone out of style. I hate it when a quick reaction team looks like it is out of the last decade."
"You're right Con. Who knows how the clothing styles will change over the years." Raid answers before asking about his new hover cycle. Sealed in airtight plastiseal packing it should be like new. "This bike will be a classic in a few more decades. It may turn out to be a better investment than I thought, if I can keep it in one piece that is."
Waiting for the rest of the team to assemble, Con asks one of the aids for a report on current events. "Nice to know the political climate, before jumping in head first."
"That's most likely what the briefing is for Mr Anderson," smiles Commander xZot "that's why it's called a briefing."
An hour later, dressed, clean and feeling much more awake, xZot and his crew were still asking each other the same questions as they file into a briefing room across the hallway from their revival clinic, also a new facility. "It's only been five years since you went into stasis people." Jameson begins the briefing with the first question everyone had been asking. "After my successful revival two years ago I convinced the Eorna to run a test on a larger scale at a more appropriate time. It took two years before circumstance provided me with an opportunity to test my ideas, so here we are. The rest of your companions are all OK and still in stasis, we can revive them as well if you think that will be necessary." Jameson looks around at the group, gauging their reactions and assessing their behaviour before continuing. "We needed to know how quickly the Tactical Response Unit, that's you guys," Jameson smiles "could be put into action. It took two hours to get you conscious, another hour to get ready for this briefing and assuming you are all feeling up to the job, about another hour to have the first team in the air. Not bad at all!" Jameson flicks a switch and a map appears on the wall behind him.
"This is a straight forward search and rescue people." Jameson points to a location in the north east corner of the map. "A ship that has been missing for several days is believed to have crashed into the planet. You must locate the ship, rescue any survivors and find out why the ship crashed." Taping the map with his finger Jameson continues. "An aerial search spotted a grove of barren trees that might have been burned in a fire started by the ship. The ship could not be seen from the air." Jameson pulls out a datapad and hands it to xZot, "We're still a bit light on when it comes to resources. We have your jetcopter, fuelled and ready to go and a second Eorna bird for this mission. If we are going to retain our covert status we are going to need at least another bird of our own, the Eorna technology is a dead give away. We will insert your team here, near the barren trees." Jameson gives xZot a homing device that can detect the ship's emergency beacon. "The jetcopters will return in 20 hours for extraction."
Sni'ktl listens silently at the briefing. He carefully observes the team members for signs of physical or mental effects from the stasis. He silently clicks notes into his polyvox set on memo mode. "Humans and Yazirians seem to have experienced the most intense headaches, recommend increased hydration before next stasis. Con's pride in appearance suggests that the rest has helped mask his recent emotional trauma prior to stasis. Stasis may have a dyslexic effect on Dral. Note to check Gloo and Gleep with complex phrases."
After hearing Jameson's briefing, Con begins to ask questions. "Sir, What do we know about the ship at this time? Was the ship civilian, commercial, or military?"
After getting himself ready after that long sleep and having his hunger quelled Gloo listens in on the briefing that this Jameson clone is giving, "Yep definitely a typical desk jockey!" Gloo thinks to himself, takes a deep breath and lets it out as a sigh.
"It's a civilian ship Mr Anderson." Jameson answers Con's enquiry
"Are we bringing out dignitaries or private citizens?" Con continues
"Just the ship's crew as far as we know."
"Were any distress calls picked up?" Con asks but Jameson shakes his head. "Any knowledge of hostile ships in the area prior to the disappearance of the ship?" The enforcer sits and listens to the answers Jameson gives but before he can Gloo interjects,
"If I recall the planetary defence system was able to track vessels, did you check that? That should give a confirmation if it actually hit, and where, not to mention if there were any escape pods that ejected, or if it broke up on entry that fire could be from parts that fell off.
"You are quite correct," Jameson smiles at Gloo "unfortunately that particular section of the defence grid is not under Eorna control as yet. It may be damaged or possibly even under Mechanon control, our intelligence is particularly limited in this region, hence your activation."
"You say it couldn't be seen from the air," Gloo asks "but if it was an uncontrolled landing it should have made one hell of a hole and a debris field, if it hit land?" Gloo strolls up to the map and points at the lake. "If it hit the water most of the pieces would have sunk and the lighter stuff washed ashore, or it could have hit the swamp, depending on how murky it is, the ship could have been covered up soon after hitting." Gloo turns to the Jameson clone "but if they controlled the landing just a little, it could be in that forest covered by trees and what not, as it ploughed through the forest." Gloo is still suspicious of this Jameson, or as Gloo still suspects, a clone, and his motives.
"It's a forgone conclusion that you know something about the vessel other than it's 'missing', care to share some insight on things like just how many of the crew there were, what type of vessel, its cargo, you know things personnel on missions like this would like to know but hardly ever get told."
"Crew of four, three male yazirians and a human male." Jameson answers the vocal dralasite "One passenger, a yazirian child."
"We get two helos but one tracker? It would be faster with each helo with a tracker, they fly parallel at a set distance with the search zone in between them," Gloo traces a path on the map with two pseudo fingerpods as he speaks "each following the beacon till the two helos meet up at the estimated center of the signal, with only one tracker both helos could be flying around all day trying to narrow down the target point and since your sending us out I'm guessing the planetary defence system doesn't have the capability to pick up the beacon."
"Beggars can't be choosers Gloo," Jameson answers, his annoyance beginning to show "I had all kinds of trouble just getting the second jetcopter for this mission. For reasons not yet clear even to me, the Eorna want this operation to be entirely resourced with Frontier equipment and personnel, specifically you guys and whatever assets you have 'liberated'." Jameson sits back and takes a deep breath before turning back to Gloo. "We also have to take into consideration the Eorna mind set and how we interact with them. The whole concept of a ready reaction force is pretty alien to these guys, it's going to take some getting used to." Jameson hands the dralasite a data pad. "We don't have an unlimited supply of equipment or even reliable supply lines at the moment but if you want to prepare a shopping list of gear this crew will want on hand for future missions, I'll see what I can do. I also suggest you prepare an inventory of surplus items, weapons, etc that I might be able to on sell."
"I think Gloo's suggestion of using jetcopters is excellent" remarks Sni'ktl. "I will join the the copter that covers the jungle, marsh and water zones since my density scanner could pick up signs of debris undercover. I will need to swap my beltpack for one that is charged up"
"All your powerpacks should be fully charged but if you have any other requests please add them to Gloo's shopping list." Jameson says. Gloo strolls back to his seat and lets the Jameson clone have his briefing back.
"Finish kiting up for the mission and take the elevators to the hanger." Jameson indicates the marked elevator as he leads the team to their armoury down the hallway.
After the briefing, Raid listens to the comments and questions. "I guess this is a good chance to get out, stretch our legs and get some fresh air in our lungs. I'd like to see how much Volturnus has changed in seven years, and find out how the inhabitants have gotten along." Raid jumps up, ready to go. "Let's find this ship!"
At the end of the briefing Gloo says, "Excuse me Jameson but if I pushed you naked out of the jetcopter and your screaming obscenities all the way down would that be considered making an obscene clone fall?" Gloo then giggles out the door and down the hall. Jameson shakes his head and then smiles as Gloo rounds the corner.
"Oh my." Jameson mutters to himself as he heads off to C & C still shaking his head.
"I ain't the boss, I is just the the lowly radio blob." Gleep puts in his ten credits worth as he kits up for the excursion. Gleep gives the radio a quick once over and checks his weapons. Everything appears in order, all the team's weapons and equipment have been well preserved in vacuum packs.
xZot is unusually quiet as the team file out of the the briefing room and enter the arms locker. He equips himself silently, listening to the locker room chatter around him. After the meeting Sni'ktl catches up with Gloo and Gleep.
"Ah I was wondering if you could help me something. Could you say the vermin on Volturnus are as voracious as a Vrusk's shell is vivid?" Sni'ktl thanks the amused Dralasites for their observation and wanders off quietly clicking observations under his breath. Gloo stops and listens to what he believes is a request from one messed up vrusk.
"You been in those 'shrooms again haven't ya? Or did the freezers mess you up too? Listen doc, my whole body is sore and stiff from that deep freeze, we drals don't do well inn cold climates ya know, an being stuffed in a freezer for years doesn't help when trying to re-grow my limbs, it hurt like hades, and took longer and not to mention I'm famished still." Gloo takes another deep breath and sighs again "But OK if you want to play theech sperapist then by all means lets get on with it." Gloo adds with a slight giggle, and goes off to get another meal.
xZot goes straight to the hangar and checks out his jetcopter while the rest of the team finish their preparations for the coming mission. After feasting on yet another meal Gloo heads for the stored equipment and gears up, cleans and preps the gear from its seven year slumber. Gloo straps on the toxyrad gauge for easy reference and double checks the lights; blue - radiation, yellow - poison, red - "Aaw man what was it again? Oh yeah low oxygen." Gloo looks around to see if anyone noticed, then double checks to be sure everything works. "Enviro suit, new mil spec skiensuit, albedo screen, first aid pack, compass, map, grenades, all-weather blanket, sonic stunner, gyrojet rifle, reg jetclip loaded, 5 reg jetclips, 5 tangler clips in bandolier, laser pistol, sonic sword. Hmmm something's missing? Aww dammit!" Gloo mutters realizing of all things he still doesn't have a gas mask and no flashlight either, "Jeez I just want to go back to bed now and start the last seven years over." Gloo then checks on the power packs and hopes that given it's been seven years the packs and clips still hold charges.
"Well whaddya know." He mutters when Jameson claim rings true, all the weapons packs have been fully recharged and the weapons all appear to be in excellent working order. Gloo puts one pack on and grabs one fresh clip per weapon, and throws 3 spare packs in each of the choppers for the rest of the teams power hungry gear, then he goes to find water packs for the team and for the survivors. When the efficient dralasite has assembled all the gear and he begins the list for the Jameson clone.
"What would it take to get a holocamera? It may help to take pictures of the crash site and wreckage, we should also take bodybags and stretchers, unless..." Gloo gestures at Jameson as if he is to finish the sentence for him.
Thirty minutes later, zXot and Co. are in the air, gaining elevation and heading away from Volturnus. Gleep's voice crackles over the radio as he tests the equipment once more. xZot glances at the dralasite perched in the seat beside him in the cockpit. Gloo didn't seem happy about the way this operation was being run. Was it frustration or professionalism? Considering everyones experiences, both the recent stasis experience as well as everything else they'd been through in the previous six months. "Damn, gotta stop thinking so linearly." xZot reproaches himself aloud. It would be almost eight years ago now since they first embarked on the journey to Volturnus. How much had the Frontier changed since then he wondered?
xZot flew his jetcopter low across the landscape, following the eorna pilot of the lead bird. For reasons of speed and as an extra safeguard he and Jameson had agreed to leave xZot's jetcopter at the landing site while the eorna bird withdrew for the proscribed 20 hour mission time. xZot followed the eorna jetcopter directly to the location described on their map. As the eorna pilot settled in to disembark his passengers, xZot made a quick circuit around the landing zone before bringing his own bird in to land safely in the clearing.
Con, Gloo and Siu-Ling quickly sweep the immediate area whilst xZot powers down his ride and confers with the rest of the team. The trees in this area are bare and look as though they were burned. Smaller trees, low plants and shrubs are not damaged, however. The tracker picks up the ship's beacon to the southeast, where the team can see something that looks like billowy clouds just above the trees.
"This is too easy." xZot thinks aloud "Everyone stay alert. Raid, you've got the holoscreen so you take point. Let's move out." The rest of the squad form single file as they head southeast, following the now camoflaged Raid.
After trekking for an hour and a half through relatively thick forest, the team arrive below what appears to be the chute for the ship's emergency beacon. "Well someone's going to have to go up there and confirm we've found the beacon, any volunteers?"
Gleep groans when he realizes that he's the only one in the group profifient enough as a climber to undertake the job at hand. As the radio operator prepares to ascend the tree the breeze picks up from the south west causing the chutes caught in trees above to flutter. Gleep begins climbing the tree and after several meters he can make out something caught in the branches above him, about 10 meters from the ground. The dralasite nimble climbs higher, toward the beacon when he spies more movement from the corner of his eyespot. A clicking sound from below tells him, Sni'ktl has also spotted the movement. At first it looks like another parachute floating down in the breeze but closer inspection shows that cords dangling below the chute are actually some kind of tentacle. The creature, for it has to be a creature of some kind, looks like nothing so mnuch as a giat jellyfish floating through the air. The Gleep realizes that the chute is about to come down on the very trees he is climbing within. He quickly scrambles along the tree limb and cuts free the beacon with his machete before lowering himself to the ground, careful to avoid any tentacles. Sni'ktl is fascinated by yet another new creature of Volturnus while Raid and xZot are able to quickly confirm that they have indeed discovered the lost ships's emergency beacon.
"Well judging by the wind direction," Sni'ktl observes "it probably came from somewhere down there." The vrusk points to the south west.
"OK, well let's keep moving. Come on Snik, we can play 'Wild Kingdom' another time." xZot says as he drags Sni'ktl away from their latest discovery. Forty five minutes later, xZot as his team are standing on the banks of a five meter wide stream. On the far side of the stream they can clearly see an oil slick drifting down stream. Scanning the horizon they quickly spot a flock of winged creatures back to the west. With no other clues, xZot nods in the direction of the wheeling avians.
xZot's group scrambles down the creek line and after another hour they are wading around the edge of a swampy bog that the stream flows in to.
Large patches of oil are floating on top of the muddy water in this swamp. There are several dry mounds of land the Frontiersmen can stand on, and the flock of winged creatures can still be seen circling over the trees to the west. As they try to pick the easiest route through the swampy terrain, xZot cannot help but feel a familar sense of foreboding. As if the very planet were reading his mind, one of the mouldy mounds begins moving toward them.
"It's a Slither!" says Sni'ktl as hands, claws and pseudopods reach for weapons.
Gleep doesn't want to remember his last birthday, trudging through the Burning Lands on the way to meet the Kurabanda. Just the worst one he can remember. Now, the one prior to that, that was one to remember, the party, the friends, fun, and that barmaid! Whoa! Considering that the last five birthdays were spent in deep freeze, he refuses to consider them as having past.
The sudden flurry of action quickly snaps Gleep out of his reverie and the team quickly reacts like the well oiled machine it had become, forged in the fires of the volturnus desert. Weapons snap to the front and soon the air is filled with supercharged photons and sizzling lead and steel. An involuntary shiver races down xZot's spine as he sees the moving mound closing on the gang's position.
"This planet has some lovely native wildlife." He murmurs as he swings his rifle around toward the moving object, his finger lightly feathering the trigger as he assess the threat. Hesitating momentarily, xZot opens fire on the mound knowing that, on this planet, the likelihood of it not being hostile are very, very slim. Con sees the mounds and reaches for his laser rifle.
"Shit! I haven't fired this thing in seven years. I hope it doesn't backfire. I hope the ammo is still good? Hey xZot, I point the hole at the end of the barrel at the target right? Heh heh heh." The enforcer chuckles as he takes aim at the mound, keeping it in his sights as it moves. "Shit!" He mutters again when he sees xZot's blasts are wide of the mark. Con squeezes the trigger and burns a hole in the beast (67 points).
"Just a typical day on Volturnus, remind me boss, WHY are doing this again?" Gloo says, sarcasm dripping from his voice while he back-pedals and snaps up the rifle firing three shots, putting two of those in the creatures flank (33 points).
Wishing he'd somehow managed to bring his hovercycle on the mission, Raid watches the slither glide over the swamp through the murky water. He draws his gyrojet pistol and blazes away. "I'll just stay away from those nasty feeding mandibles. Hopefully these things don't travel in groups." He says as only one of his shells finds it's mark (10 points).
Gleep takes his Gyrojet pistol out and opens up at maximum rate of fire from as far away as he can stay. "I seems to recall that these things are not fun." he reminisces, not wanting to waste his backpack right away. "Why can't the sathar let these toys loose in their own backyards!" Gleep manages to shoot the slither twice as it closes in on Sni'ktl (29 points).
"Nik nik tik rick tik" Sni'ktl keens. The team's polyvoxes are dumbfounded by this rather obscure Zik Kit curse used by Vrusk cargo loaders. Sni'ktl backs off from the Slither, punctuating his expletives with shots from his gyrojet pistol and wishing he had left the basic rounds in the gun rather than tanglers. When his weapon spews forth it's standard rocket load, Sni'ktl starts with surprise, but not as much surprise as when two of his shots actually hit! (27 points). As the creature advances remorselessly toward the team, Sni'ktl puts paid to the common misconception that vrusks can't walk backwards as he skitters back trying to keep some distance between himself and the sathar genetic experiment.
xZot continues to blast away with his rifle as he watches the creature close on the group, seemingly targeting Sni'ktl. This time his aim is better and the slither takes another searing hit (29 points). Con fires at the beast and continues to fire until the slither is no more. His second shot burns another hole in the creature (71 points) and out of the corner of his eye, Con spies Siu-Ling moving around to flank the creature as it continues to blindly attack.
Gloo continues to pump rounds into the slither as he too notices the slither has seemed to target their doctor. Two more of Gloo's shells strike home (38 points) and the creature is now beginning to physically react to the wounds inflicted by xZot's patrol. Raid concentrates his fire on the same spot and the slither writhes in apparent pain as all the shells explode in the mass of vegetation covering the creature (29 points). Gleep continues shooting up the beastie.
"Dang thing shouldn't have been 'gen-eered' in the first place!" He cries as the slither takes more damage from the gyrojet shells (20 points). As the Slither closes on Sni'ktl opening its maw for a little snack of vrusk, Sni'ktl detonates two doze grenades in his hands hoping that that the team's pounding of the beast has weakened it enough for the gas to affect it. The monster slams into the vrusk medic, jaws first (14 points to skien suit, 13 to Snik), as the grenades detonate. Sni'ktl's battered body is hurled several meters clear as the slither flails around in pain and confusion, only his skien suit saving the medic from serious injury.
Unwilling to enter the gaseous clouds surrounding the melee, xZot will slams another clip into his rifle and targets the slither as best he can.
"Sniik! get out of there!" Gloo bellows as he changes clips and watches the vrusk grab the grenades and detonate them in his hand. "What the hell is he doing?"
Everyone watches as the unfolding scene takes on the feel of a slow motion holovid. Gloo side steps and circles around the right flank to continue firing, watching the creature and taking note of its reactions for future reference. Raid stands away from the grenades and tries pumping a few gyrojet rounds into the creature's thick hide.
Sni'ktl's grenades explode in the vicinity creatures forward sensory organs and the dose gas is quickly absorbed into the system of the already seriously injured creature. The creature slows and wobbles as Siu-Ling fires the death blow, burning a pair of neat holes through the central body mass with her laser rifle (70 points). The slither drops into the swamp, once more resembling a mouldy mound.
Once the thing is motionless, Raid moves in with his machete. Hacking at its mouth, Raid cuts out a sample of the attack monster's brain to examine afterwards, running it through his bioscanner to check for mad slither disease or other clues to the creatures behaviour patterns. xZot approaches Raid as he is examining the Slither. "This only adds more evidence to my theory; that Volturnus is a world of mostly unfriendly creatures." Pausing thoughtfully he adds "What wildlife hasn't tried to kill us? By my account there haven't been many on this hard planet." Muttering to himself as he walks away xZot can be heard to say "...and this is my home now..."
Gloo takes out his can of spinach and kicks the slithers carcass while singing a poor imitation of an old human animated entertainment form quite popular amongst a growing population of Dral fans. "I fought to the finish cause me ate me spinach, I'm Gloo the draaalaasite..hoot, hoot!" Gloo sings "Uhh sorry, couldn't resist." He smiles.
After updating his diary, in the hopes of writing a book of his adventures, Gleep fires up a radiophone salvaged for this expedition and sends word back to Jameson on the groups progress and Snik's minor injuries. The medic quickly performs first aid on himself and the patrol continues along their way.
As the squad continues it's search for the downed ship Con's mind begins to wander. He thinks back to a happier time before his seven year nap. He thinks back to his last birthday. Life was great. Returning from a hard day of training, all the enforcer wanted was a drink and some sleep. He got more than he bargained for. Exiting the elevator, Con walked down the corridor to his room, slipping the pass card through the reader and opening his door.
"Happy birthday. Hard day playing soldier, baby?" She plants a kiss on his lips. Con pulls her closer.
"You have no idea."
"I ordered dinner from room service, I hope you don't mind" Adi tells her man as the lovers hold each other in their arms.
"I'd rather just move on to desert" The enforcer confesses as he reaches to remove Adi's dress. Once the dress is on the floor he lowers her on to the bed.
"Con!" xZot's voice startles the enforcer out of his daydream "You take point. The rest of you, keep your eyes peeled." The young yazirian commander advises.
Back to reality and Con re-focuses his concentration on Volturnus and her weird and wonderful collection of beasties. Thoughts of home and a happier time can get you dead on this planet. Fast!
Continuing north west through the boggy terrain the group struggle for several more hours until they exit the swampy terrain. Not more than a hundred meters from the point where Con exits the swamp he makes out some forms lying motionless on the ground. The bodies of two Yazirians in, work uniforms are lying here. Upon closer inspection, xZot and his crew make out the Hepplewhite, Inc. logo on the uniform. Sni'ktl runs some quick scans on the bodies and confirms they have been dead for several days. The vrusk slowly nods as he adds. "Yes, they were crewman from the ship." Sni'ktl picks up the Yazirians' medkit which still contains three doses of biocort, two stimdoses and one dose of omnimycin.
Gleep fires up the radiophone again and relays co-ordinates and land mark references back to Jameson for retrieval of the two bodies and the team moves out again. An air of gloom descends over the team after the unnecessary reminder of the fragility of life on this dangerous planet. Another hour and a half march north west across the meadow lands on the west of the swamp takes the team on a parallel course to a small stream flowing from the hills. Then, in the distance, where the stream leaves the foothills, they finally spot signs of the object of their search.
The wrecked ship is crashed into the side of a hill and buried beneath vines and plants. Oil and vapours are leaking from the exposed engines. The entry hatch is blown open, but is hidden beneath churned-up plants and vines. xZot orders Siu-Ling to look around the perimeter of the crash site while Raid pulls a display of the ships schematic on the data pad and overlays it with a rough sketch of the surrounding terrain. "Here ya go boss." The science officer holds up the data pad for xZot and the rest of the team to examine to examine.
As Siu-Ling begins her search of the area, Con continues to standwatch to make sure nothing gets the drop on the team. "What do you think brought this thing down? I doubt if anyone could survive this mess." Watching Siu do her perimeter check Gloo adds to Cons comment,
"I don't know about that Con, we survived the lifeboat here the first trip. I wonder if everyone's first trip here ends like this though?"
xZot's eyes dart across the data pad as he scans through the information provided by Raid. "Hmmm, looks like we're going in." he notes, realising that there are still crew unaccounted for.
"Think we should call this in before we start digging through this mess?" Gloo asks. Nodding agreement with the need to radio this in xZot turns to Gleep.
"You better give Jameson an update."
"We still have one adult male yaz, one adult male human, and a yazirian child to find." Gloo continues as Gleep fires up the radiophone once again. "We should get a medivac going so we can get them to better medical care if there is wounded, no offence doc." Gloo looks over the wreckage hoping to find survivors come popping out at any moment.
"My scans indicate that personnel without breathing apparatus should remain clear of the fumes entirely and we should avoid naked flames or energy weapon use in case of explosion." Reports the medical officer. "I would also recommend that we stop the leaks since the vegetation community here isn't attacking us. That's the kind of vegetation we want to protect and encourage." Sni'ktl begins sweeping the area with his density scanner searching for anomalies that might indicate a buried person or detached wreckage, careful to remain under the watchful gaze of Siu-Ling as he proceeds with extreme caution.
After the perimeter searches are completed xZot assembles the gang at the ships hatch and motions for the group to enter the ship. Flashlight in one hand and machete in the other, Raid hacks the vines out of his way and locates the open hatch. The ship's schematic diagram made the task easy. Quickly reaching the inner hatch Raid discovers it is locked when he grabs the handle and a recording says, "Only authorized Hepplewhite, Inc., employees are allowed past this point. Please enter your security code."
"Huh, of course it's locked." Raid mutters to himself as he fumbles with a piece of wire from his techkit in an attempt to pick the lock. "Hey boss!" He calls out to xZot, "You wanna have a crack at this? I think my brain is still snap frozen."
After activating his albedo screen xZot enters the ship with his rifle at the ready. Maintaining regular checks on his toxyrad gauge xZot joins the others and takes a look at the lock. With practised ease he caresses the tumblers with Raid's makeshift lock pick and the door swings open. Raid enters the ship and moves toward the bridge, looking for a computer access terminal or the ship's controls. "Anyone in here?" Raid yells, sweeping his flashlight beam back and forth in the ship's passageways. When there is no reply the team enter the ships main corridor and turn left, heading toward the bridge.
A short ladder leads up to the cockpit where the body of a Human pilot is strapped into the seat. All of the instruments are scorched and ruined, but beneath the pilot's seat is an orange box labelled "Flight Record" that seems undamaged. A quick search of the cockpit also turns up a fire extinguisher on the wall and an odd, slimy trail on the floor which immediately fascinates Sni'ktl. xZot immediately sets to work on the recorder, sending the others to search the rest of the ship for survivors or clues to this tragedy. xZot soon has the flight recorder working and when he plays the digital tape and turns up the speakers he can hear a Yazirian saying,
"There's been an explosion! Dierba is dead. I'm sealing off the engine compartment. Has anyone seen Rinny?" Heading back toward the engineering compartment, the rest of xZot's team stop to search the cabins to either side of the passage, behind the cockpit. The room to starboard is caved in and contains nothing of value. A black trail of slime covers the plastic floor in the port room. There is a child's toy on one of the bunks. When Raid enters the room to get a closer look, part of the floor begins to give way and he has to dive back toward the doorway to avoid injuring himself on the exposed jagged edge of the new hole.
Behind the port cabin are three storage lockers, all are open and empty. There is a fire extinguisher on the wall and many black slime trails on the floor. In the center of the aft wall is the rear hatch which Raid opens to find dangling wires that are throwing live sparks. Reaching into his techkit once more, Raid produces a length of insulated wire which he uses to carefully move the wires out of the way. Two doors leading down to the cargo area are blown open. A ladder leads up to the engine pods, and the hatch is badly scorched. An access panel in the port wall is open and more slime trails criss-cross the floor.
In the engine pod the team finds the body of a dead yazirian slumped in a control chair. The engines are cracked, and acid and oil are collecting in pools on the floor. Continuing their search in the cargo hold nothing is left but wreckage and slime on the floor. Suddenly Raid yelps in alarm and pain as something sharp pierces his boot (3 points to Raid and his suit). Jumping back, the science officer looks down to see a large flat bug with razor-sharp claws scuttling back under a piece of wreckage.
"Don't hurt..." Sni'ktl cries out as Raid's foot comes crashing down reflexively in the vicinity of the bug. "...it!" The bug scurries out from the other end of the crumpled metal sheeting and slashes out at Gleep as it heads for safety.
"Ouch!" yips another hero of Volturnus when the bug leaves a flesh would in his pseudofoot (5 points to Gleep and his suit). "You gotta be shittin' me!" Gloo curses when he spies the volturnus bug racing toward a crack in the wall. Drawing his sonic sword Gloo takes a swipe at the bug but it is too fast for the dralasite who's footing is unsure on the slippery surface. Gleep draws his gyrojet pistol as Sni'ktl continues to object but it is Con's laser pistol that decides the issue when his second beam hits the bug (32 points).
Sni'ktl is surprised and overjoyed when he scoops up the damaged life form to find that although seriously injured, the creature is still alive. The slime bug, on quick examination, would appear to be an omnivore and Sni'ktl is excited about the discovery of yet another new species on volturnus.
At the sound of gunfire, xZot quickly joins the rest of his squad in the engineering compartment but by the time he arrives the action is all over. "Alright, you keep searching the rest of the ship," xZot suggests. "I'm going to check on Siu-Ling outside and see if we can work out exactly what happened here." The commander merely shakes his head at the sight of Sni'ktl apparently reciting vrusk nursery rhymes to the damaged bug as he turns to exit the wreckage.
With only the port and starboard service passages left to search, the team split into two and head for the doors. Within moments both doors are opened and from the port passageway they can hear the sound of crying, but hot wreckage blocks the crawl way.
"Someone grab a fire extinguisher," Gloo suggests "so we can cool the wreckage and get past." A few minutes later a small yazirian child, who introduces himself in between sobs as Rinny, is freed from his temporary prison in the landing wheel well. He is crying and scared, but unhurt.
Outside the ship Siu-Ling shows xZot what she has discovered about the crash. Pointing to the scarring on the exterior hull Siu-Ling offers her theory.
"That looks a lot like laser damage to me boss, the damage looks more heat related than fragmentation like a missile. I don't know a whole lot about spaceship design but I'm pretty sure they aren't from a meteor either." xZot nods quietly, taking in Siu-Ling's observations. When the chronocom crackles to life with news that a survivor has been found, xZot begins issuing orders.
"Alright, let's get back to our retrieval point ASAP, everyone out of the ship. Snik, you look after the kid. Raid, you've got point, make sure you've got that holoscreen fired up. Con, you bring up the rear. Everyone keep your eyes peeled. I estimate a four hour march due east should get us back to the evac site." xZot and his team strike out east along the edge of the foothills and for the next couple of hours they are almost lulled into a false sense of security, as if out for a Tenday afternoon stroll through the countryside. As the afternoon begins to fade a message comes in from Raid over the chronocom.
"Boss, you better hold up where you are, we've almost walked into an ambush. You ain't gonna believe this!" xZot props where he is and casts his gaze about, which brings the rest of the team to a standstill. All around is open grassland with a small copse of trees to their front, about 500 meters away, marking the line of a creek that the team will need to cross. On the opposite side of the creek are some low hills.
"Sir," Raid reports "I'm just near the trees and still on our side of the creek. You're not gonna believe this boss but it looks like sathar! I count half a dozen deployed in the trees watching you guys approach and I think I also saw a lookout up on the hill top. I think we have to assume assume at least a squad, maybe a whole platoon sir."
"Damn." xZot curses as he calls in the others for a quick conference. "OK lads, take out your water bottles and make like we're taking a drink break while we decide how to deal with this." xZot quickly brings everyone up to speed with Raid's report. "Any bright ideas?"
Oblivious of his immediate surroundings and current events, Sni'ktl continues to speculate and report on his latest discoveries. "You'll be pleased to know that the Sni'ktl's Bug isn't poisonous." Sni'ktl assures Raid and Gloo when he dresses their wounds. Its a hard little critter though and I'm wondering if there may be some component of its diet that hardens the carapace. This could be a significant find" he muses.
Gloo feels the tugging on his suit. "What the hell?" He looks down to see Snik administering on him "WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" Gloo looks over at xZot "Think he is into his mushrooms just a little too much and it's a bit inconvenient to do an intervention NOW."
"DOC, I'm the healthy Dral" shaking his pseudopod free and points over to Gleep "HE'S the injured Dral". Gloo backs away from the doctor and adds "Well boss, we gonna do something before he starts fixing on all of us."
"Thanks for fixing up the wrong Dralasite! " says Gleep
"Ooops" apologizes the eccentric medic as he returns his full attention to the task at hand.
"Great, Sathar! Don't these bastards ever give up? They come back for yet another ass kicking." Says Con, shaking his head in disbelief. "I wonder how long they've been here for." Muses the enforcer.
Gleep quickly opens up a comm link to Jameson back at Volkos and passes along a status update back to HQ. The dralasite radio operator then keeps a watch outward from the site, making sure there are no surprises. Kneeling down with his back to the ambush area Gleep loads a fresh clip into his gyrojet pistol then makes a quick call to Jameson to give him an update. Sathar on this planet can mean a few things, not the least of which is them using it as a bioengineering base for attacks into our worlds.
"I hope this doesn't get messy" Sni'ktl remarks on hearing Raid's report. He is referring to the new suit the Eorna gave him when he emerged from stasis. With his birthday falling on the day the gang was placed into stasis Sni'ktl had informed the technician that what he really wanted for a present was a suit made from the high sheen material that the gang had found in the Eorna storage room. The Eorna had proven themselves to be excellent tailors producing a six legged suit for the medical officer that complemented his envirosuit to a tee. Unable to wear it with his skein suit as well, Sni'ktl stows the shimmering garment in his pack, wishing there had been room to load the bearer bots for this mission.
Looking at Rinny, Con is thinking of his child who is probably about Rinny's age,
"Boss, that kid has seen enough horror in that crash landing. I'm not looking forward to exposing him to combat. Is there any way we can get the kid back to base and then come back for our 'friends'?" Gloo walks over to xZot
"I agree with Con, we can't get the kid in the middle of a fire fight, I can go on up ahead to check the crossing, I'd doubt they'll fire on me as they need to sucker you guys in closer. They'll spring the ambush most likely when you guys are in the river, no cover, can't move quickly. But if Raid and I were already on the other side we could catch them in a crossfire, with the invisible man's help, that sathar lookout on the hill top could be taken out quickly and quietly. They have already spotted us so the odds of us going around or loosing them is remote. Or Raid could just go get the helo and come get us?"
Listening to Gloo present his recommendation xZot nods thoughtfully. "I also agree with Con, we need to get the kid out of the middle of this. Maybe Siu-Ling can shelter and distract the little fellow while the rest of us deal with the Sathar?" His thoughts turning back to the main problem he continues. "Gloo, as long as the rest of us can know where Raid is going to be standing, your plan sounds good. I don't want to blast one of our own by mistake."
"Raid, did you see any kind of weaponry that may bring down that ship?" Con asks. Raid works his way over to one flank and takes up a well hidden position with hard cover behind an outcrop of volturnian rock, then waits for the action to begin. He readies his stunstick to stealthily incapacitate any sathar that come to close.
"No heavy weaponry, apparently." Raid whispered in reply to Con.
Sni'ktl loads his gyrojet pistol with a tangler clip and keeps the jetclip on hand. He also loads his stun stick with an SEU clip and makes sure his enviro kit is stowed away. He keeps his med-kit to hand and loiters as far away from the anticipated action as possible.
After ironing our the details xZot signals everyone to proceed. Flicking his albedo screen on, he moves into formation with the others moving to close on the Sathar. When plans are finalized, Con slips into his assigned position and levels his laser rifle at the closest Sathar as he waits for the signal to fire.
Siu-Ling waits with the young yazirian child and gauges the distance to the sathar lookout identified by Raid as Gloo begins to approach the river crossing. Raid waits until he can see the sathar forward elements are all focused on the approaching dralasite before he slips, apparently unseen by the sathar, across the stream.
As Raid begins crawling forward through the long grass on the far side of the stream, Gloo reaches the bank nearest the main party. The sathar positioned around the creek stay low and concealed from the dralasite who can almost feel their eyes boring into his back as he too enters the water and prepares to cross.
"So far, so good." Gloo whispers into the open comm link of his chronocom. Then the excrement hits the rotary oscillator as laser fire erupts from the right flank.
Two sathar on the far side of the bank, having spotted Raid's disturbance when he attempted his stealth crossing of the water, open fire on the holoscreened scout. None of the laser beams strike home but Raid's position is compromised.
"Damn!" Curses Gloo as he dives toward the far bank in search of cover.
The Sathar on the bank nearest xZot's group begin to raise their weapons to fire on the exposed team and the sathar scout on the hill top above Gloo and Raid also raises his head for a better view. 200 meters away, on the other side of the stream, crouched beside Rinny, Siu-Ling squeezes her trigger and the sathar scout jerks backward as the beam slices through his shoulder (30 points).
Stunstick in his right hand on stun setting, Raid moves forward to attack the nearest opportunity target. He lands a blow on the closest sathar shooter but the stun sticks fails to knock the worm down. Down at the stream bank, Sathar open fire on xZot's group and xZot's albedo screen flares bright when a laser blast strikes home (6 SEUs). Con, xZot, Gleep and Snik return fire as they close on the sathar position. xZot empties his clip to no avail and Con also misses his target. Gleep throws steel and lead into the air as he and Sni'ktl use gyrojet pistols to put in additional supporting fire, covering their advance. As they approach the sathar Sni'ktl attempts to sow havoc in the sathar ranks with aimed tangler rounds.
Gloo scrambles to the relative safety of the far bank and makes a quick mental calculation. Two sathar on the right shooting at Raid, four on the bank behind him firing at xZot's group, one scout on the hill above him.
"Probably two more on the left flank as well" He says to himself as he realizes no-one is shooting at him. "Well whaddya know?" he says to himself as he turns to pin point the sathar shooting at xZot & Co. As Gloo turns back to locate the sathar on the bank, more firing sounds from the left flank confirming his guess about the other sathar. Gleep winces as a laser beam sears his side (28 points) and two sathar shooters are revealed on the left flank of the crossing on the far side of the stream, mirroring the position of the two sathar attacking Raid.
xZot and his group begin sprinting toward the crossing to close the gap with sathar as quickly as possible, while Siu-Ling scans the hill top through her rifle site, looking for the wounded sathar spotter. Raid swings again with his stun stick at the nearest sathar, the worm avoids the blow returns fire along with his partner. Raid's holoscreen saves him from further injury but the science officer knows it's only a matter of time before one of his assailants strikes home.
From his position behind the main sathar force, Gloo opens fire shooting one of the sathar in the back (27 points) with his laser rifle. The remaining three sathar continue firing at xZot's crew while the wounded worm swings around and fires wildly in Gloo's direction.
"I think the lookout got away." Reports Siu-Ling over the chronocom as she swings her sights over to the left flank and begins firing on the two sathar flankers, wounding another worm (34 points).
xZot slaps another clip into his weapon as he races toward the sathar ambush, to his side Con stops and fires off a pair of quick blasts, dropping one of the sathar (43 points) before continuing forward with his friends. Gleep continues blazing away with his gyrojet pistol and when Gloo's wounded sathar turns to fire at him, Gleep puts two rounds into the back of his head (21 points), spraying sathar brains into the water. Sni'ktl's second tangler round whistles high through the air as the sathar ambush falls apart.
Raid swings again with his stunstick and misses but this time one of the sathar manages to find his target and Raid howls as the laser blast singes his side (26 points). Siu-Ling squeezes off another shot, this time killing the wounded sathar flanker. Gloo selects a new target across the stream and a millisecond later another sathar lies on the ground with two smoking holes in his torso (24 & 29 points). His two companions abandon their positions and retreat across the stream past Gloo as xZot, Con, Gleep and Sni'ktl gain the stream.
"Take one alive" calls out the medical officer as the battle ends and the dust and tangler threads settle. "We still don't have a live one to run tests on."
Raid stumbles back from his injury and the two sathar take the opportunity to break contact and join their fleeing squad. Before anyone can continue a pursuit xZot calls in his troops.
"Everyone rally on me." xZot orders as he quickly eyes the sathar casualties. "Something's not right here, the sathar don't run away, it's not their style." xZot nods a head at the sathar bodies, "Check 'em for any clues Gloo. Raid, if you're up to it I need someone on that hill top before we go rushing over it in hot pursuit." xZot flicks on his chronocom "Nice shooting Siu-Ling, pity about the lookout. Bring Rinny up to our position, at least here we have water and some shade if the sathar counter attack."
"You're right boss," Gloo reports after checking the sathar bodies "Something's definitely not right here. Look at this." He hands over one of the sathar weapons, the rifle has not been serviced or cleaned properly in quite some time. "They also look to have very little supplies, these guys were all carrying minimal ammunition and all their equipment looks to be in pretty poor shape."
"Could these worms be survivors from the invasion force?" Con speculates "How else could they have gotten here?"
"I don't know." xZot answers "But I intend to find out." The chronocoms crackle to life when Raid reports in from the hill top.
"I got plenty of movement up here boss, but it looks like it's heading away to the north. You might want to check this out!"
"On my way Raid." xZot answers as he heads up toward the hill top. "The rest of you keep your heads down." xZot creeps carefully up the hill to join Raid who is pointing now at a column of figures marching away from the abandoned sathar camp at the bottom of the hill.
"Those aren't sathar boss." Raid says as he points at the main body of spear carrying reptilian humanoids being herded away by several sathar overseers. "They look like those Yernoids to me."
Raid nods silently as he tries to weigh up the repercussions of this unholy alliance of the Frontiers most dangerous enemies and Volturnus most primitive inhabitants. "We better report back to Jameson. Keep an eye on them, make sure they don't double back on us or try to send a flaking force around us." Raid nods his reply as xZot heads back down the hill to advise his friends and allies of what has transpired here today.
"Guys, we can't let them just wander around the damn planet like that." Worries Con. "I see them finding the H.Q. Probably when we're back in stasis or out on a mission! My vote is to go finish them off and see what else we can learn." Con adds emphatically
"I also agree with Con, we can't let them get a foothold on this planet." Puts in Gleep "We must take care of them, although we know who is gonna get hurt."
The CMO note's how Con's strong, clear determination often eases decision making. What the big man puts as "his vote", captures the gang's mindset of the moment perfectly. Not one for military planning, Sni'ktl busies himself providing first aid to those who need it. While some could benefit from surgery, Sni'ktl elects to keep this option for later, just in case more significant medical interventions are needed within the biocort curing period of 20 hours. Raids lines up for first aid and is joined by Gleep, who could also do with a stronger dose before Snik treats himself.
"I'm all for following them," announces Raid "but I'm wearing my albedo screen for the next encounter." Raid begins switching his defensive gear. "This holoscreen just doesn't do much for stopping laser light." Raid looks for any radio or communication devices on the dead sathar, but finds no samples for his pack today. If anything, Raids search merely confirms the likelihood of the 'marooned sathar' theory. None of the dead worms had spare ammunition, just the clips in their now empty rifles. Gloo speaks up, adding his voice to the growing chorus of approval.
"You count me in boss, I'm up for kicking more sathar tail." Gloo turns to the CMO,
"Hey doc can your medical marvels determine the level of health they were in before death? If they were in good health it's unlikely they have been here since the invasion, if not then we may have a problem with even more of these worms running around."
"Sorry Gloo," Answers Sni'ktl "it would be little more than a guess. I don't yet know enough about their biology to make quantitative statements like that. But based on the wear and tear on what equipment these ones do have, I think it's a safe guess that these guys got left behind by the invasion fleet."
"We should tell the other races that the evil worms are possibly still here, maybe they have been waging a unknown guerilla war without us knowing about it." Gloo continues
"It looks like we are going to have to find out what going on here." xZot confirms the general view of the group "We can't have the Sathar stirring up trouble again." Pausing as he thinks, xZot proposes "I think we should follow the group an see if we can determine their motives. Maybe if we knock out the Sathar overseers we could turn the Yernoids away from any unhealthy alliance?" .
"We wouldn't want to run into too big an opposition force, we only have limited firepower." xZot notes "We may only be able to gather some intelligence at this stage but I am sure anything learned will aide a later confrontation."
Siu-Ling volunteers to guide Rinny to the helo rendevouz while the rest of the patrol pursues the sathar and their new charges into the foothills. As the sniper and the yazirian child depart for the L Z, xZot leads his crew down the hill and along the path taken by the sathar and yernoid column. xZot calls Raid forward to read the tracks as the terrain becomes rougher and rockier. Given their five minute head start, xZot hopes to try an catch the enemy column in the first hour or two. Ten minutes later they make contact with the enemy rearguard.
As xZot's men press forward through the rocky foothills, the yernoids take advantage of the terrain to wait until xZot's men are relatively close before leaping to attack with their spears. Half a dozen spear wielding yernoids attack from behind a pair of boulders that straddle the path taken by the main column.
Raid and Con react first, Raid's blaster appearing in his hand as he fires at his spear wielding attacker. The yernoid staggers back as Raid pierces the humanoids shoulder (29 points) with his first shot. Con cuts down another yernoid with his first blast from his blaster rifle (49 points) and though not killed, the creature is badly injured.
Not taking any chances, Gleep adds supporting fire with his blaster rifle (57 points) crippling another would be ambusher while Gloo wounds yet another yernoid attacking from the flank (31 points) with a well aimed, low powered pulse. But it's xZot who leads the way through the ambush. As his yernoid attacker lunges forward with his spear, the young yazirian commander fires two shots at point blank range (73 points) killing the yernoid instantly. Without missing a step, xZot continues forward through the enemy rearguard and relentlessly pursues his prey. So amazed by xZot's heroic display, Sni'ktl almost forgets to fire at the charging yernoid until it's almost too late. A brief flurry of shots and Sni'ktl manages to hit the yernoid square in the face, immobilizing the creature with the tangler load that seals shut the victims eyes and mouth.
As Con swings around to finish off his wounded yernoid, the creature slashes him across the leg with the stone blade of his spear (3 points, 4 to suit) barely piercing his skien suit. Gleep sustains a similar injury (3 points Gleep and suit) as the rest of the team look too neutralizing the remaining ambushers. Raid quickly dispatches his opponent, as does Con, this time with a single blast. Gleep also conserves ammo, doing the job with a single shot while Gloo fires two shots to drop the last yernoid and finally a third to finish off the squirming creature.
Laser fire draws everyone's attention to xZot who is now returning fire on the leader of the rearguard, a lone sathar armed with a laser rifle. Once again xZot has been saved by the technology of his albedo screen (6 SEU) and fires back at the sathar warrior. He fires twice and hits the sathar with his second shot (26 points). The sathar doesn't even bother firing a second time, instead hurling his laser rifle to the ground, the worm looks directly into xZot's eyes. For a brief moment, xZot begins to feel himself sliding into some kind of trance when the sathar looks as if to bite something. The worm's eyes glaze over and he slumps, lifeless to the ground as the rest of the team reaches xZot's side.
xZot's blood is on the verge of boiling. He can almost feel the adrenaline surging through his veins as the yazirian battle rage almost overcomes him. Gazing about wildly, xZot sees the battle is over and without a word, he turns and strides purposefully after his enemy. "If we've caught their rearguard already," xZot calls back over his shoulder "the rest can't be far away now." Commander xZot marches on and after a quick exchange of glances amongst his comrades, they rush to catch up with their excited leader.
Adrenaline still driving him on, xZot holsters his pistol and readies his rifle. Checking that it has a full clip he turns to the rest of the group.
"If we take out the Sathar, these Yernoids might lose their commitment and flee. Unfortunately, without our jetcopters we don't have too many options but to take the fight to them on foot." xZot watches the movements in the Sathar - Yernoid line. "Maybe if we move into positions 40 or 50 meters away from their line we could pick off the sathar as we spot 'em?" he speculates.
"Yeah, I agree." Con says "That may be the only way to deal with the problem. I also agree that if we take out the Sathar the Yernoids will flee. I think for added measure, if we have some nastier fire power to throw at them and make a big enough demonstration of fire power, it just might be enough to maybe even break the Yernoid line regardless of if we take out all the worms." Offers the big human enforcer.
Gleep makes a point of keeping a careful eye to the rear.
"We don't need to be walking into a trap with the rear uncovered." He says to himself as he scans the horizon.
Pleased that his tangler rounds had the desired effect on Volturnus' more muscular inhabitants, Sni'ktl makes sure he has six tangler grenades and a spare tangler clip to hand.
Gloo decides to sit back and give cover fire, sniping with his gyrojet rifle and using tangler rounds. The dralasite warrior finds a decent spot to fire from that gives him a good view of the bad guys and decent cover from returning fire.
"Maybe it would have helped if I had gotten Raid's holofield and used it to hide." Gloo mutters as he gets into position.
"I didn't like the way that Sathar tried to hypnotize you xZot." Sni'ktl observes "If anyone spots anyone else getting the evil eye call it out and I'll show these worms what hypnosis really means."
"I'll take the left flank xZot." Announces Raid as he attempts to run around the left side of the Yernoid line and engage a Sathar with his machete, since his stunstick seemed to have had little effect on the last worm's nervous system. He makes a mental note of Sni'ktl's mention of hypnosis. "Reminds me of a snake. We'll just need to be cautious about eye contact I suppose."
Raid holds the sonic knife he acquired from the pirate leader in his off hand. It couldn't hurt to have a secondary weapon once the fighting got close enough to see a Sathar's double pupil. Approaching the sathar on his flank undetected, Raid assaults the worm savagely from behind and landing blows with both his machete and sonic knife (43 points). The slain sathar slumps at the scouts feet as Gloo starts giving covering fire as soon as he gets into position.
Gloo fires on the sathar first, since they most likely will be the only ones with any decently powered ranged weapons and the ones in control. Gloo's first shot is high and his target is not yet alerted as to the type of load he has selected.
Con shoulders his laser rifle and instead levels his sonic disruptor at the worms, moving forward to close the distance with his nemesis, xZot by his side. With no sign of trouble behind them, Gleep moves forward with xZot and Con. Snik hangs towards the back, hoping to try and tangle as many foes as possible and constantly looking for an opportunity to match hypnosis styles with a Sathar and hope to catch one of the bad guys alive for interrogation.
Raid's sudden attack behind the Yernoids' startles his nearest opponents and emboldened by his success, Raid swings again, landing another blow with his machete (19 points) eliciting a yelp from the wounded Yernoid. Gloo fires a second tangler load at the remaining Sathar and swears when he misses again, seeing the sathar duck for cover this time.
Several of the Yernoids in the center of the enemy position now show their lack of discipline by moving toward xZot's group while others mill about atop the ridge line. As soon as the spear wielding lizards are in range, Con opens fire with his disruptor, scattering shards of stone over his target from a near miss. xZot also fires and misses while Gleep takes aim and wounds one of the attackers (17 points). SNik manages to land a tangler grenade almost on top of a second yernoid, stopping him in his tracks amongst the sticky strands.
Raid takes a scrape along his side with a flint tipped spear (7 points to him and suit) for his trouble and Con is also winged by a yernoid spear (7 points to Con and suit) before the next volley of fire turns the tide in the Black Hand Gang's favour. With his sathar target out of site Gloo snaps off three quick shots and neutralizes a Yernoid, while Raid lashes out again at the wounded Yernoid and hits him again, this time with the sonic knife (14 points).
In the center, Con fires and misses again but xZot empties his clip into the nearest Yernoid (61 points), killing the reptile. Gleep also empties his clip, putting another round into his wounded yernoid (15 points). When Sni'ktl ensnares another Yernoid with his last tangler grenade, the reptilian humanoids break and run. The team chase after their fleeing opponents, looking for the last sathar but don't have to run very far. Behind the rock where Gloo saw the sathar disappear, they find the worm's lifeless body. With no visible wounds, Sni'ktl quickly runs some tests and confirms the presence of cyanide.
"Interesting," Sni'ktl observes as he carefully extracts the remains of the self administered capsule from the sathar's mouth. "Well now we know that cyanide is as poisonous to them as it is to the other Frontier races."
"Yeah, but why did he kill himself?" Con answers. As the rest of the team ponders Con's question, xZot weighs up the tactical situation. With the survivors of the ambush scattered amongst the Volturnus foothills and his team getting further away from their extraction point, xZot orders an end to the pursuit.
"We could be out here for years and still never be sure if we've caught them all." xZot says before deciding to lead his team back to the LZ and home. The patrol rejoins Siu-Ling and Rinny back at the rally point and successfully rendevouz with the eorna piloted jetcopters.
Hours later and back at their base of operations below the crystal city of Volkos, Jameson debriefs the team. "You've done well boys and girls." Jameson smiles broadly "Although your encounter with the sathar has raised some important questions, you succeeded in all other aspects of the mission. The wreck was located, the survivor rescued and the remains of all the victims retrieved for return to their loved ones." Jameson looks around at the one way time travellers. "Most importantly, we've also established that there do not appear to be any serious side effects from the Eorna cryogenic storage and revival process." Jameson pushes himself back and stands up from the briefing room table, looking around at the assembled adventurers.
"You will all have a couple of days of R & R and we also want to make some additional observations and readings before the next step in the Great Mission." With the debrief complete, Jameson leaves xZot and his companions to their own devices.
Three months later, in a parallel universe, the members of the Black Hand Gang have sent one of their own back to Truane's Star to begin a career in interstellar politics, appointed by the Eorna as ambassador to Volturnus. Con's first Holovid interview for Starplay went exactly as was expected.
Moderator: "Mr. Anderson, how do you account for the fact you dropped out of sight for seven years?"
Con: "Ahhh I fought on Volturnus for Truane's Star and I fought Sathar and I was wounded three times in battle on Volturnus.
Moderator: "Mr. Anderson, how do you account for the fact that you left a pregnant wife alone and have not seen the mother or child in seven years let alone not even know the gender of the child?
Con: "I was a hero on Volturnus. Wounded fighting the Sathar. How dare you attack my war record!"
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