Chapter 22: Cross Country 22.01 22.02 22.03 22.04 22.05 22.06 22.07 22.08 22.09 X Points (53.169 906 hours - 53.169 13:22 hours) 22.01
Frontier Date 53.169 09:06 hours
Boro reverts back into a state of combat limbo as the fire fight winds up and the technically orientated party members get all wide eyed over the opportunity to stick their collective noses into what was once other peoples business.
"You Tech Heads knock yourselves out..." Boro quips as he ponders over the installation of one of the recently liberated vehicle mounted weapons. xZot, Gleep and Raid exit the computer shed and deliver the news on the identity of their foes to the rest of the team, eliciting the expected response.
"Damn....Streel....I hate those guy!" Con exclaims as he turns to Kane, "At least they aren't Sathar!"
"Sathar or Corporate. Makes no difference to me." replies Kane as he brandishes his laser rifle once more. "Way I see it, this just means that there will be more to "salvage" when this mission is over."
The sharpshooter, Siu-Ling, keeps her rifle power setting on 13, hoping to not have to drain her backpack further. They'd found some more, but who knows how long they'll have to stay here and how many beasties they'll have to fight along the way, if not for protection at least for food?
"All's clear. What are your orders?" she quietly asks xZot after securing the barracks and shed. Mack O'Malley also approaches xZot while the rest of the team go about their salvage operations.
"So now what Boss? Where to from here?" xZot nods at O'Malley's question.
"We'll move out at zero nine thirty hour. Salvage, reprogram or modify whatever we can for the explorers. We'll head for the other installation shown on our map. Sp'ock, put out some pickets, I don't want to get caught with our pants down while we're messing around with the vehicles."
Kane immediately volunteers for sentry duty, keeping a look out for both additional hostiles and further evidence of Streel's presence, in addition to anything else of value as he thoroughly sweeps the compound. Starting at the reactor and processing plant, he keeps his chronocom's line open to report any findings, heeding X'anthe's warning about the reactor's radiation leakage and monitoring his own toxyrad gauge, Kane remains outside the building. Sp'ock and Crisbel complete the perimeter security detail while the others set to work inside the compound.
Gloo takes inventory of the weapons and supplies in the cache and notes it all down, hands the list over to xZot.
"Boss since we are working for CDC it's a foregone conclusion this equipment will be wanted back, here's the list of what was found. I'd like to get the two heavy lasers on two of the explorers for Siu and Boro as they are the better beam shooters, and place a Recoilless Rifle on the other explorer for either OMAC or myself."
"Agreed." His commander nods. "Get Gleep and Raid on it right away. You crew the recoilless, I think we'll let OMAC play with a rocket launcher." xZot smiles at the mental image as Gloo continues. "
"Thanks, Gloo," Siu-Ling takes the magnigoggles and puts them on, adjusting the settings as she looks up at the nearby tree line. The human, satisfied, pushes them up over her forehead and thinks aloud, "Wouldn't it be tight if we had these built into a helmet visor, and maybe even have like a mini grenade launcher on top of the helmet? What if you could rig a power supply to the back of it? With a snappy name, like the PowerHelmet, it's bound to have some market value, don't you think?" She asks the dralasite before going back to the explorer with the heavy laser and inventorying her goods. Already wearing her favorite skeinsuit, she picks up her albedo screen and clips it onto her belt.
"Since the other weapons require a heavy mounts to use and we don't have any more they'll have to be left behind, but you might be able to get some demo charges out of the rockets though." xZot shakes his head.
"We'll take the extra weapons and ammo with us and nominate some people to handle the heavy weapons outside the vehicle if we run into anything serious."
Raid starts thinking about all the charges and lawsuits that could be brought against Streel Corp at this point.
"We need to keep anything that can be used as evidence against Streel for later when we get back home."
"Oh I think the evidence we have now is pretty compelling." xZot answers grimly as he indicates the collection of skeletons representing the former CDC employees.
While the others discuss their options, Boro slides into the back of one of the explorers and takes the opportunity to produce a pouch of hidden herbal stimulants. He indulges and as a result dozes off slightly. It won't be until he awakens, however when he does, he is somewhat reluctant to share the vision just experienced of Gloo running rampant with a Mini Gun...
The next order of business on Raid's agenda is to reprogram the functional security robot. He sets to work, planning to give it orders to follow simple commands and defend the CDC team. Hopefully it can ride in the back of the explorer that he will be driving. First the robotics specialist takes care to remove the security lock (successful) before he attempts to list the robots functions. After several minutes, the roboticist is rewarded with a string of data on the robots tiny display panel listing the machines programming.
Security lock, attack/defence and search and destroy. After any intruder approaches closer than 4 meters to the computer shed,destroy all intruders in the compound. Destroy -"inflict damage upon any intruder that moves." Intruder - "any object not in the compound at the time the robot was reprogrammed." Compound - "the area inside the fence.
"OK, now for the fun part." Raid says to himself as he proceeds with altering the robots mission. After only a few minutes, sweat is beading on his brow as Raid is distracted by the image of the robot blowing up in his face if makes a wrong move. He'd heard some pretty nasty stories at his lectures on basic robotics. Desperate techs attempting battlefield conversions that had fried, toasted or poached the very same unsuccessful technicians. "I think I'll just go with "defend Raid" to keep it simple." He decides and breathes a sigh of relief when a few minutes later, he finishes the adjustments without any incident.
Once Con is finished with the bots in the garage he offers to help Raid load up his security duty robot into explorer A and hops into the explorer.
"Who wants to ride with me?" Raid asks the assembled group, still smiling from ear to ear after having successfully reprogrammed the security robot and getting it into his explorer. Raid contemplates the time and wonders aloud about reprogramming the functional heavy duty robot. Gloo turns to Raid,
"I'll go with your explorer if you can mount that rifle up there for us, your security bot can hand rounds up to the rifle if we are attacked on the move since it doesn't get tired. I don't see how you plan on getting that heavy workbot across those rivers between us and that other facility, the explorers are amphibious, I'm thinking that heavy bot is not so much. Maybe we could use it's parabattery to power one of the explorers heavy lasers instead? Those heavy lasers eat a lot of SEU's and it would be nice to have a decent power supply for at least one of them instead of using power packs."
Seeing the logic of Gloo's assessment Raid just shuts down the heavy duty bot. "I'd take its parabattery out to keep as a spare, however it is not possible to use a parrabattery to power the laser weapons Gloo. Sorry about that." Raid says to his friend. Gleep also volunteers to drive one of the explorers.
"I would prefer a laser mounted one, with most of the backpacks." The dral asks.
"Take explorer B Gleep" says xZot "I'll drive explorer C with the other heavy laser and we'll put the recoilless rifle on point. If we run into trouble, you go left and I'll go right so we have a laser on each flank with the recoilless in the centre."
"Only one reason someone would leave an arsenal like this Boss, they were expecting to need it." Gleep speculates.
Siu-Ling, with her specialization in Beam Weapons, happily to sits in the turret of Gleeps' explorer, keeping the bulk of her equipment in that vehicle.
"If there are enough power backpacks, I'll be happy to put a few to good use." She says as she checks out her field of vision and examines the heavy weapons controls, aware that her antics will use up more SEU's than any other team members.
"We have no idea what we are going to face over there and it would be nice to not have to use all the power packs for the heavies and fate knows some of you non shooter types couldn't hit the broad side of over there at ten paces so we'll need to be careful with the ammo." Gloo gathers up the two CDC supplied magni-goggles and hands them to Siu-Ling and Boro. "Here, you'll be up in the hatches with the heavy lasers so you'll have a better chance to spot trouble first with these." Gloo then goes back to the cache and starts loading supplies into explorers.
Boro assists where he can with installation, training, maintenance etc of the recently acquired heavy weapons but expends minimal energy whilst the group completes securing the area before xZot determines it's time to move out. Kane continues sentry duty until the team departs the compound, at which time he will makes his way to the garage and take a seat in Raid's explorer next to Con.
"To the victors go the spoils, Kane, to the victors goes the spoils" chuckles the enforcer as he slings his rifle over his shoulder.
Sp'ock, OMAC and X'anthe climb into xZot's explorer while Crisbel and Sni'ktl board Gleep's vehicle and McKilin climbs into the lead explorer.
Frontier Date 53.169 09:30 hours
Not two hours since storming the CDC compound, xZot and his team are ready to leave the defunct mining camp. Siu-Ling, Borovski and Gloo each take positions in the upper hatches of their respective vehicles as the drivers fire up the engines of the explorers. The first explorer engine roars to life and Raid begins manoeuvring his vehicle through the gate, Gleep behind him with xZot bringing up the rear.
Over the sound of the engines, Gloo begins to scan around him, another noise cutting through the sound of their vehicles.
"I've got a bad feeling about this." Gloo mutters to himself as he begins swivelling around in his mount, scanning for something that doesn't belong. Driving the vehicle behind, Gleep smiles at the site of Gloo spinning around in his turret when suddenly Gloo's recoilless rifle opens fire over Gleep's head. The team's chronocom's burst to life as Gloo alerts his comrades.
"Incoming! We've got incoming! Aircar on your six xZot! Siu-Ling, Borovski! We've got bogies behind us!" The sound of Gloo's shell exploding in the air behind them is answered by another explosion, this one in the compound next to xZot's explorer. Dirt and shrapnel spray across the side of the vehicle as Borovski and Siu-Ling return fire with their heavy lasers. Bright flashes of light lance into the sky from both weapons but the enemy aircar whistles through the air safely, skimming across the compound at an altitude of under 100 meters, a recoilless rifle barrel clearly visible protruding from the front of the vehicle.
Decelerating and banking around, the pilot is obviously bringing the vehicle back for another run over the compound. In the forward explorer, Gloo reaches for another shell to reload his recoilless while Siu-Ling and Borovski try to bring their weapons to bear on their aerial attacker.
"Turn this thing around!" says Con as he grabs and readies his laser rifle, moving towards the door. Con pulls the door open with the vehicle still moving and leaps out the rear of the explorer, rolling when he hits the ground searching for some cover. In the following vehicle, Crisbel emulates Con's actions, throwing open the rear door and hurling himself out before the explorer reaches a dangerous velocity.
"Spread the vehicles out!" Raid yells over the chronocom. "Make a quick turn, laterally, if he is lining up for a shot at your explorer. Don't give them an easy target." He then listens to his gunner, Gloo, for any additional manoeuvres and to avoid interfering with the dralasite's aim. Raid swings the explorer around to follow the trajectory of the aircar as Gloo reloads the recoilless rifle. Sitting in the cab next to xZot, Sp'ock quickly analyses the tactical situation, watching the rear doors of both vehicles in front of him the vrusk nods silently before activating his chronocom.
"Dismount the passengers from all vehicles and engage the aircar when it comes back to make a strafing run. Conserve your ammo and we will all open fire as he passes over the compound." The vrusk security chief orders as the Black Hand Gang rush to bring as many heavy weapons to bear on their aerial attacker as quickly as possible.
After reactivating his albedo screen, Kane is out the explorer's door shortly after Con, with his laser rifle in one hand and a power backpack in the other. Diving for cover, Kane takes careful aim and waits to fire-for-effect on their airborne attacker on his next pass.
In the turret of the second explorer, Siu-Ling checks her fire on Sp'ock's command, waiting for the aircar to circle back around. The beam weapons specialist swivels her turret around, keeping her weapon tracking on the target as it curves around for another attack.
"Good looking out, Gleep!" The all-too grateful sniper yells down to the driver. "I'll try to use up as little ammo as possible!" With as much care in her aim as is possible, she swivels around and delivers her payload in the direction of the aircar.
In the passenger compartments of each vehicle, the medics and scientists cling to handles on the walls and roof of their vehicles as they anxiously await the next wave of weapons fire.
At the first sound of combat, Mack O'Malley reaches for the rocket launcher in his explorer and turns toward the rear hatch, grabbing several rockets as well.
"What the fuck! Where did that come from ?" Boro wonders before the Dralasite equivalent of adrenalin kicks in with the realisation that he finally has the opportunity to unleash hell with a heavy duty weapon. That first shot fired was just a reflex action, he realizes. "Well, someone had to be the first!" he says to himself, "and a moving target will be fun!" Glancing down into the passenger cab he sees OMAC with the rocket launcher. "Hey OMAC, Stop stroking that rocket launcher and get your skinny human ass off this cyber-horse and give 'em a dose or two." The dralasite gunner flicks on his chronocom to speak with xZot. "Boss if you want to manoeuvre us towards some cover, I'd be all for it."
At Borovski's urging, OMAC slings open the rear door of the command explorer and runs out the back with the rocket launcher. Gleep turns his explorer sharply before getting to the gate to try and use the buildings to his left for some cover. He stays on inside if the compound for now to give Siu-Ling a 270 degree field of fire. "Everybody lock and load, we are firing for effect! OK, maybe we take one alive if we can?"
xZot drives the last explorer over to park beside the barracks and activates his chronocom. Watching the incoming aircar xZot begins issuing commands to his troops.
"Wait for him to make a pass at Raid's explorer then volley fair as he passes by the compound. Let's give him something to think twice about people."
In the cab beside xZot, Sp'ock continues to watch the action unfold. Without a heavy weapon at hand Sp'ock decides not to get involved in the weapons fire, instead adding tactical reinforcement.
"McKilin, you need to unload the rocket launcher and some ammo for either Kane or Con." Sp'ock says over his chronocom, "Raid, you swing your explorer around so McKilin can unload for the fighters. Snik, you need to unload the other recoilless and ammo for Crisbel."
Responding immediately to Sp'ock's orders, Crisbel darts back to the rear of his explorer to take the recoilless rifle handed out by Sn'iktl.
Raid decides to continue driving straight at the attacking aircar to show a smaller profile and execute the explorer equivalent of a handbrake turn, to bring his vehicle back past the gate to the compound.
X'anthe peers out the passenger window towards Raid's explore and has an excellent view of the action as the aircar makes it's second run over the Black Hand Gang. She watches Kane and Con take careful aim and shoot maximum charge beams at the aircar as it approaches Raid's explorer. Both men miss, Kane grunting at the wasted ammunition.
"Bugger!" Curses Con as his shot also misses its mark.
With the turret spinning like a ride at the annual Groth spawning festival as he tracks the enemy aircar, Boro prepares to fire off an aimed shot from the explorer when it's stable at the next possible opportunity. The aircar flies straight at Borovski, skimming in low over the tree tops, the forward mounted recoilless rifle pointing right at him as he pulls the trigger of the heavy laser. The aircar pilot shows uncanny skill as he jinks the aircar out of Boro's line of fire at the last nanosecond, avoiding the destructive beam. Then the gunner shows his skill as well, launching a shell with precision accuracy to land directly in front of the explorer and explode almost directly under the explorers cab as the vehicle drives forward.
"Damn," Raid reacts immediately. "They must've cut the hydraulics, the steering's jammed! I can't turn either way!" He cries out to his companions.
Despite almost never having fired a rocket launcher, Mack O'Malley judged the aircar's trajectory accurately, estimated the flight time of his rocket perfectly and pulled the trigger at precisely the right moment the achieve the desired result. X'anthe cheered and clapped the result. Borovski punched the air, Kane and Con whooped for joy and OMAC barely cracked a smile as his rocket slammed into the rear of the aircar. Chunks of metal and smoke pour from the rear of the vehicle and it briefly looses altitude before the pilot recovers and begins pulling the damaged aircraft up. Then Siu-Ling and Gloo open fire from their turrets. Gloo's shell flies over the top of the erratic aircar but as it begins to climb over the trees, Siu-Ling's blast slams into the vehicle where the wing joins the body of the aircar. Sparks fly and more smoke trails from the aircraft is it curves away from the compound and down into the trees, plunging into the surrounding forest in a ball of fire. A second or two pass before the sound of the explosion reaches the compound but it is a little longer before hearts stop pounding from bursts of adrenaline in the CDC compound.
"Nice shooting Siu-Ling." OMAC compliments his comrade. "I must have slowed it down for ya." He smiles as he hefts the rocket launcher and strolls back toward his vehicle.
Raid pulls his vehicle to a stop, climbs out of the cab and underneath the explorer to examine the damage from the aircar's attack.
"Nice shooting Siu-Ling." OMAC compliments his comrade. "I must have slowed it down for ya." He smiles as he hefts the rocket launcher and strolls back toward his vehicle.
"Yeah, you know I like 'em slow," one human says to another. Many years have passed since their brief fling, and she still feels a bit of sexual tension between her and the mohawked male.
"Nice shooting, Siu-Ling." Con compliments his team mate. "Too bad we couldn't take this guy as a prisoner to get some intelligence from him." Con ejects the empty clip from his rifle and inserts the new one in and sets the weapon back to its original setting.
Siu-Ling checks the power supply on the heavy laser to make sure it has not drained the powerpack. Sure enough, the power cell is still over halfway charged.
Gleep recommends that they check out the aircar wreckage as quickly as possible to prevent being exposed too long. "That fire might attract some attention. We can take the two working explorers, one group to check things out, and one to stand guard. The other group can try to fix the steering on their explorer." Gleep suggests, before adding, "I want to look at their comm gear and see if I can find the freq's."
"I agree with Gleep." says Kane to xZot via his Chronocom. "Since Con, Mack, and I are already on foot, the three of us can guard Raid and the explorer while the rest of you huff it over to the crash site and secure it." he adds as he resets his laser rifle's power setting back to normal. "We will either rendezvous at the crash site, or catch up with you along the trail if Raid thinks the repairs will take longer." Turning his attention to Raid as he inspects the damaged explorer, Kane offers to assist in the vehicle's repair. Raid agrees with Gleep.
"Splitting up for a few minutes or so won't hurt anything." He gets out his techkit and surveys the damage to his vehicle. "If it's just the steering, it may only be jammed. Hopefully a quick fix will be enough. Between Kane and myself this should be running again in no time. Just cross your fingers." With that, he begins the repairs.
xZot nods his assent as well.
"But only take one explorer, I'll keep mine here in reserve." The yazirian says before turning to help Raid assess the damage to the third explorer. "Kane you patrol the perimeter until we're ready to move." The eager young soldier trots off to fulfil his duty as the rest of the Black Hand Gang go about their business like the professionals they are. Rifleman Con looks for a nice place to set up as a piquet. Someplace where he may not be seen by anymore unwanted visitors. He selects a decent size tree giving him overwatch on the compound and surrounding horizon north, south and east, leaving Kane to scan the western approach. When Con is set up in a comfortable crook in the trees branches he uses his magnigoggles to make sure no more welcome wagons can sneak up on his friends.
When Gleep's explorer arrives at the aircar crash site all they can find is a smouldering wreck, the pilot and gunner are both dead and there is nothing salvageable. Still in chronocom range Gleep reports back to xZot who orders him back to the CDC compound.
By the time Gleep's group return from the crash site, Raid and xZot have isolated the severed hydraulic cable and sealed the breach. Raid turns the ignition and begins testing the vehicle's steering as Gleep makes some suggestions to xZot about their planned route. X'anthe and Snik join the conversation when a map is produced and they begin discussing options.
"This way," Gleep indicates his markings on the map," avoids the mudflats, which can play havoc with exposure and speed. It makes use of valleys and forests and comes in from the north, using natural cover. We can park in the little box canyon just before the settlement and come in on foot. Much quieter. I would also want to keep scanning for any electronic signals on the trip."
"The travel plan sounds good for safety reasons, too bad it has to take us all over the place." Con adds, "Maybe it will give us a reason for our science guys to study things and us soldier boys some good intel about the area so we can use the surroundings to our advantage if we need to have a running battle."
"At this stage it's all unknown terrain for all of us but I think sticking to the forests as much as possible might make it harder for Streel to track us." xZot concludes. "Alright, let's mount up and move out."
OMAC beams from the back of his ride, "We're burning daylight!" The roughneck yells, quoting a famous line from a classic pioneering holovid harkening back to the horse and buggy era.
Frontier Date 53.169 09:45 hours
xZot and his intrepid explorers set out westward into the forest of Alcazzar, their vehicles in single file with all three weapons turrets trained on the sky and surrounding forest. Towering to heights of 100 meters or more, the mighty karakah trees seem to declare dominance over the rest of the planet. These trees sprout from huge bases, 10 meters wide, and shoot straight upward. Long slender branches extend to the sides at about 5-meter intervals, drooping with the weight of heavy pointed needles and fat fruits.
Although the forest canopy is dense enough to practically blot out the sky, the floor is remarkably open. Visibility averages 100 meters. Many overripe fruit, as well as large, hard pits from inside the fruit, litter the ground, but no underbrush impedes progress.
The upper reaches of the forest are draped with long, supple vines, creating easy passage from tree to tree; but no vines fall within 10 meters of the ground.
After less than a kilometre's travel through the forest, the team reach their first of many river crossings. Raid quickly finds an accessible approach and guides his explorer down the river bank. Engaging marine mode, he drives into the river until the vehicle's flotation device become fully operational. Behind Raid, Gleep and the xZot follow suit and the Black Hand Gang complete their first river crossing like a text book exercise.
Following the northern river bank first west and then north, Raid takes several compass bearings before turning west once more at another easy approach into the river. As the three vehicles conduct their second river crossing the Black Hang Gag have their first encounter with the native wildlife of Alcazzar. Several shoals of fish swim by and around the explorers as they cross the river and enter the forest once more heading west.
About 2 kilometres west of the river crossing their vehicles alarm a herd of what appear to be local grazing animals. X'anthe is fascinated by the alien deer-like creatures that dart away into the surrounding forest at the sound of the approaching vehicles. As Raid drives the leading explorer west he approaches the end of the ridge line he had been following. Turning the vehicle left, heading south by south west, Raid slams on the brakes as he comes almost face to face with by far the biggest animal he has ever encountered.
The Trivid images the team were shown at their first briefing about Alcazzar do not do justice to the towering form of the gwerrah in front of him. The gwerrah lumbers around the hill in front of the Black Hand Gang. The gwerrah utters an earth-shaking bellow, and charges toward the first explorer.
Siu-Ling rides atop the explorer with the heavy laser on standby and her laser rifle, plugged into a power backpack, at the ready. She also has her sonic sword on her, plugged into a power beltpack. Wearing her coveralls and usual skeinsuit, she also has an inertia screen clipped on, but it's turned off. Early in the trip Gleep traded a frag grenade for a doze grenade with Siu-Ling, now she has 2 spare SEU clips, the doze grenade, and 1 frag grenade along with her compass, a granola ration and her chronocom. Everything else is stowed below in BHG-decaled duffel bags and packs.
Gleep drives his explorer along a cruising speed, or at least what passes for cruising speed in the forest, about 40 meters behind the lead explorer to give himself time for reaction as well as better sight around Raid's vehicle. At the river crossing he had recommended that they all stay buttoned up inside.
"The explorers are capable of carrying the load and anyone not on board will get wet feet." he suggested. "I would also recommend that we cross with one at a time while the other two watch for external activities."
"Agreed." xZot replied and at Sp'ock's positive response they decided to follow this procedure for each coming river crossing.
Cruising through the forests of Alcazzar, X'anthe and the other scientists are quickly and quietly enraptured by the sights, sounds and smells of the distinctly new and alien life forms surrounding them. While the warrior types either scan their surroundings for possible threats or catch zzz's in the passenger compartments of the explorers.
The sudden appearance of a charging gwerrah only meters away electrifies the BHG into action. Raid turns the lead explorer to the left to avoid the huge beast and give the weapons a clear shot, but also checks his rear view to avoid bumping the other vehicles while watching out for trees all about them.
When Gleep sees the rather imposing beast coming at the lead vehicle, he quickly moves to a more lateral path to take the good guys out of the line of fire. He moves 20 meters to the left to pull up even with the other explorer, avoid several trees in the process. Seeing the gargantuan beast making headway for them at an alarming speed, Siu-Ling activates the heavy laser firing mechanism and swivels forty degrees clockwise and twenty-two degrees down.
"Incoming!" she calls out. "Sorry, big mama; nothing personal."
Gloo, up in the hatch of the lead vehicle and watching off to the right of the lead explorer is surprised by Raid's sudden braking and then smacking into the recoilless rifle almost falling completely into the explorer, "WHAT THE HEE-OLY SWEET MERCIFUL VOID!" Looking up to see a towering beast before them. Gloo quickly moves the recoilless rifle aiming at the beast, the explorer suddenly lurches again throwing his aim off as the explorer swerves away from the charging gwerrah. Gloo's recoilless rifle shell whistles harmlessly past the gwerrah as Siu-Ling's laser bolt sears into it's flank (102 points) causing the beast to holler even louder.
"Something tells me that those guys are going to need backup boss." Boro says to xZot as he preps himself by setting his laser rifle to maximum damage, making sure he has a power backpack or sufficient SEU clips, a frag grenade. "Are we going to try and flank it and get some attacks on it from multiple sides? Surely it's a big enough target to go around?"
"I'm going right, open up when you get a good sight picture." xZot responds as he wrestles the explorer to the right side of Raid's machine. As Boro swings the heavy laser around to bear on the gwerrah he has an excellent view as the huge animal lashes out with a massive claw at Raid's explorer as he tries to steer past the oncoming creature. Raid's explorer shudders under the impact and visibly slows as it continues past the gwerrah. Boro fires the heavy laser as the gwerrah turns to give chase, striking the creature in the same flank as Siu-Ling's blast (96 points) and barely slowing it down.
Kane interprets Raid's slamming on the brakes and the jarring motion that followed as the sign that he is needed. Moving quickly to stand behind Raid at the driver's seat of the explorer, Kane also looks out the front windows of the explorer. After several seconds of stunned silence as he stares face to face with the towering form of the gwerrah. Kane merely grabs his laser rifle and a power backpack, once again turns its discharge setting to maximum, and calmly says, "Raid, I think we need to open a window." Con stares out of the window,
"Space! He's a big bugger, isn't he!" The enforcer says quietly as he proceeds to set his laser rifle to max damage.
Over in the command vehicle, X'anthe is mesmerised by the magnificent sight of the raging gwerrah and saddened by the teams need to destroy the creature even though their very lives may depend on it. In Gleep's vehicle, Sn'iktl is more concerned about the creatures effect on the occupants of the lead vehicle, even more so now that the gwerrah is pursuing Raid's explorer and yet he is clearly slowing down.
"I've lost power!" Raid's voice crackles over the team's chronocoms. "I can steer but we've got no acceleration!" he reports from behind the wheel of the lead explorer.
"Dismount the other heavy weapons." Mr Sp'ock's distinct clicks respond across the comms. "Circle the damaged explorer with the other vehicles and bring all our heavy weapons to bear ASAP." Sp'ock continues as he gathers up ammunition and follows Mack O'Malley to the rear hatch of xZot's explorer.
In Gleep's vehicle, Crisbel is already reaching for the recoilless rifle when Sp'ock's orders come through the comm system.
"Hey bus driver, you wanna let me off at the next stop?" He quips to Gleep as the explorer bumps forward through the trees in pursuit of Raid's tormentor.
Watching as the towering beast charges the explorer again, "RaaAID, FASTER WOULD BE BETTER. I CAN RUN FASTER THAN THIS!" Gloo struggles to reload as the gwerrah barrels once more into the explorer. From either flank Siu-Ling and Borovski open fire again with their heavy lasers. Siu-Ling's blast is intercepted by a tree as Gleep slows the vehicle to allow Crisbel an opportunity to leap out the rear hatch. xZot executes a similar manoeuvre, disembarking OMAC and Sp'ock and giving Borovski a clear line of sight at their target.
Before Boro can fire, the gwerrah slams into Raid's explorer, this time with more force than a passing blow. The vehicle slides sideways, a front wheel is caught under a toppled tree and suddenly the rugged, all terrain vehicle is temporarily airborne as it completes one and a half rolls, coming to rest on it's side. All the occupants of Raid's explorer are battered by the vehicles sudden aerial manoeuvre (8 points to Raid, Gloo, Kane, Con and McKilin) but miraculously, Gloo sustains no additional injuries, despite hanging half in and half out of the rolling vehicle. McKilin helps Gloo crawl back inside the vehicle now that his turret is all but useless, while Con and Kane grab their weapons and move toward the rear hatch to see if they can still exit the vehicle.
"Why, oh why does everything have to conspire on killing us at every planet we go to on a mission?" Gloo grumbles.
"What do you think Con? Shall we concentrate our fire at a vulnerable region of this Gwerrah? Someplace like the eyes?" says Kane to the rifleman on his right.
"Preferably by us firing through the open window of the explorer while we are both on the inside!" Kane quickly adds after shuddering at the thought of the extensive bodily injury a creature that size could cause.
"Good idea, Kane. I think the eyes would be the best cause he can't attack what he can't see, maybe the nose cause he can't attack what he can't smell."
"You're right Kane, just use the passenger window or the rear hatch. Don't expose yourself too much though!" says Raid as he scrambles out of the cab and into the passenger compartment.
Boro blasts away at the gwerrah. Once engaged in combat Boro is heard to scream with his second round of fire "B.O.H.I.C.A!" Turning to OMAC, Sp'ock asks the obvious,
"Bend Over Here It Comes Again" O'Malley responds wryly.
"Cook my sock you ugly, soon to be piece of inter stellar highway, road kill." Borovski roars as his second blast strikes home (97 points). The other drals in the team smile at Boro's invection, an ancient dralasite insult.
Sp'ock observes the team's deployment and counts their heavy weapons coming to bear as the gwerrah circles it's 'prey'. He activates the chronocom.
"Raid? How's your cargo? Can your team keep it busy while we try and finish it off?
Con moves to the window and opens it to try and set up a shot. Con will take careful aim and take shots at the eyes of the beastie. Gloo, hearing something being discussed about windows and eyes, quickly re-arms before the beast gets too close.
Nodding his head at Raid's suggestions, Kane moves to the explorer's rear hatch and begins setting up for his shots. "Con, your plan has merit so I'll aim for it's left eye. You aim for the right." says Kane to the rifleman, noticing that he to, is ready to take his shots.
Weapons fire seems to come from every quarter as Con and Kane open fire at the gwerrah. Trying not to expose themselves to the monstrous creature and avoid hitting their own vehicles, Con and Kane open fire with their laser rifles but both trooper manage to miss. Surrounding the gwerrah and the motionless explorer, Siu-Ling and Borovski fire the heavy lasers as Crisbel and OMAC add to the confusion with the rocket launcher and recoilless rifle.
Explosions and laser blasts rock the forest as the gwerrah manages to lumber through the deadly weapons fire unscathed. The Alcazzar native takes a swipe at Raid's explorer but the amount of smoke and other combat debris is enough to distract the gwerrah's fearsome assault and it manages to uproot a tree instead.
Crisbel comes brings the recoilless rifle to bear on the giant gwerrah, with the massive beast filling his sights, Crisbel is unable to miss, despite his almost complete ck of proficiency with the projectile weapon. He squeezes the trigger and is strangely unsatisfied with his success. Although inflicting serious damage (65 points), the recoilless shell doesn't even slow the gwerrah down.
Siu-Ling continues to pummel the ursulan bitch with as clean a shot as she can manage to get in the thick of battle, what with all the debris and leaves flying about. She squeezes the trigger and swears when she realizes the power pack is drained. Siu-Ling quickly unplugs the empty pack and switches to the next full power backpack.
Gleep holds position so the gunners can get off shots while not moving. "If the beastie starts towards us, I am going to try to use the biggest tree I can find as cover." Gleep announces to his passengers over the chronocom link. "What's the hold up back there?"
"Siu-Ling is just reloading" Sn'iktl answers Gleep's question as he watches the combat grimly through the windscreen of the explorer.
Inside the upended explorer McKilin notes Kane's injuries and administers first aid (10 points) to his companion as the warrior types begin pouring fire into the gwerrah circling them. Con lines up another shot using careful aim to take a pop at the beastie's eyes. He pulls the trigger and drains the power backpack, striking the gwerrah where he has always trained for, right between the eyes (124 points). Although he didn't blind the creature, Con does elicit another earth shatter roar from the alcazzarian.
After checking the condition of himself and his team-mates after that tumble, Kane again takes careful aim at the gwerrah's eye and resumes firing from the relative safety of the explorer. Kane's blast arrives only nanoseconds behind Con's blast, further enraging the gwerrah (93 points). The phenomenal amounts of damage inflicted on the gwerrah finally appear to be having some affect as the creature looks around dazedly, trying to fix on one particular target. Each time the gwerrah sets it's gaze, another prickling attack from a different quarter distracts the creature.
xZot brings his vehicle to a halt also hoping to improve Borovski's percentage as the Black Hand Gang now deploy completely surrounding the gwerrah and the damaged explorer. "Poor it on people," xZot orders "Let's try and finish this quickly now!"
With little ammunition on him, Sp'ock elects to put in some low power suppressing fire. His two blasts (10 SEU) manage to drain his powerpack but one of them strikes the massive bulk of the gwerrah (44 points) manage to slowly drive the advantage home for the technologically advanced, invaders from outer space.
Unable to assist in the slaughter of such a magnificent creature, X'anthe watches and weeps as the gwerrah begins to show signs of pain, slowing down and continually distracted by the onslaught of heavy weapons fire.
Raid turns on his security robot, pulls out his laser pistol and flicks on his holoscreen. He gets ready to shoot at the first visible sign of the creature through any opening in the explorer. Nearby, Mack O'Malley reloads the rocket launcher from behind a tree, hoping the fight isn't finished before he gets to make another shot.
"I gotta score me a hit on something bigger than a barn! Surely!" He curses himself at having missed his first opportunity.
Seeing the rest of the explorer's crew engaged, Gloo picks up his laser rifle and joins the fray. Stepping out the rear hatch of the explorer, Gloo rounds the corner and opens fire from the hip, directly into the creatures exposed underbelly (103 points). Gloo's smile melts away as fast as it forms when he sees the empty indicator flash on his power supply and a very angry gwerrah staring straight at him with death in it's eyes. Gloo braces himself for the worst.
When Borovski tries to fire again he realizes he to, is empty and fumbles to switch power packs as the gwerrah looms over Gloo.
"If I have my way, once we're done with you, you'll be the Last of the BOHICAn's we'll ever encounter". Boro smirks like a disgraced former FFL star (Frontier Football League) at his own sense of humour and mentally notes that during the next available R&R opportunity to get that tattoo on his torso he has also wanted - "Such is Life"
The monster wavers over Gloo's shrinking form, and slams it's claw down at the dralasite. Somehow Gloo manages to fall back into the explorer as the gwerrah's blow lands only centimetres away from his fleeing form.
The gwerrah is now clearly distressed but too enraged to cease it's onslaught, even though it's end is now approaching fast. It is the sniper, Siu-Ling who delivers the final blow, a heavy laser blast to the back of the neck (140 points) that ends the battle abruptly. The huge body of the gwerrah smashes to the forest floor with a solid thump as the Black Hand Gang slowly get to their feet, safety their weapons and gather around the body of their defeated foe.
The human female, Siu-Ling human wipes a few beads of sweat from her brow as she exhales with a stressed "Ahhh" and a sigh. She smiles down at the crew and calls out over her chronocom to everyone, "Woo hoo! That was as close as I'd ever want to get to a bugger that big. At least we don't have to worry about finding a good source of meat tonight. Anyone for jerky?"
X'anthe glares at Siu-Lig's comments as she climbs out of her ride and approaches the dead gwerrah, her envirokit in hand and her eyes full of tears. Determined not to let the gwerrah's death be completely in vain, X'anthe begins to take a series of blood, skin, hair and tissue samples. xZot signals for the others to leave X'anthe to her work.
"Gleep and Raid check out the damage to the explorer. Sp'ock..." xZot smiles as he realises he doesn't need to complete his sentence. The reliable security chief already sending troopers out patrol the perimeter or remount the vehicles and man the heavy weapons.
"That thing drained away a decent share of our ammunition and maybe cost us a vehicle and we're barely out of the CDC compound." Sp'ock reports to xZot a few minutes later.
"The good news is, Raid says he can fix the explorer's acceleration issues. Apparently the gwerrah did us a favour knocking the explorer over." xZot chuckles "It made it easier for Raid to see what the problem was and fix it. Gleep is organising one of the other vehicles to set Raid back on his feet again ASAP."
Fifteen minutes later, the Black Hand Gang are mounted up in their explorers and back on track.
Shortly after leaving the site of the fight with the gwerrah, the team stumble across a far more docile inhabitant of Alcazzar. A massive herd of deer-like mammals is spread before the teams vehicles. At the sight of the three vehicles approaching their position, the herbivores cease their grazing and dart off into the surrounding trees. Although not fleeing the area completely, the animals leave at least a hundred meters distance between themselves and the alien vehicles. The sight of the herd brings a much more positive reaction from X'anthe. Even Sp'ock and Raid are pleased at the discovery of a benign species upon the planet. Everyone ignores O'Malley's taunts about grenade toting deer's as the leave the locals to their dining.
After another couple of kilometres south through the forests, xZot's team approach the narrow gap between two of Alcazzar's moraines, the name Sp'ock and X'anthe had begun referring to the ridgelines as. Not without some trepidation, Raid guides the lead explorer through the defile. Still anxious about being jumped by the gwerrah at the last pass between moraines, Raid breathes a sigh of relief when the entire column pass safely through the gap.
Through the flat terrain of the forest they make better time before encountering another of Alcazzar's herds. These particular herbivores resembling something more like a bison are bigger than the deer-like creatures from the previous encounter but they are just as wary of the newcomers. Although slower and more deliberate in their movements, the herd once again makes way for the team and their explorers.
With another moraine appearing on the forest shortened horizon, xZot consults the map. "Raid, we need to follow this moraine south then do a dog leg around it and head north by north west along the edge of a bog or swamp."
"Roger that." Raid responds and almost swallows his tongue as a chillingly familiar sight fills his windscreen.
"Gwerraaaaaahhhhhh!" Raid yells as another of the massive, carnivorous mammals according to X'anthe's examination of the last corpse, lumbers around the end of the same moraine xZot and Raid were discussing.
"Cap'n, I would recommend we give this beastie a wide berth." Gleep communicates immediately to xZot via their trusty chronocoms. "Maybe we can go back and uphill a little and he will saunter by?" Gleep suggests. "At any rate, we might be in a better position to outrun the creature where we are, rather than taking him on." Gleep veers off to the right as he communicates his thoughts to the commander.
"Oh, you're a big bitch!" Siu-Ling excitedly blurts out as soon as she spots the gwerrah. She swings her heavy laser around to bear on the looming target. In the cab beside Gleep, Sn'iktl glances up nervously at the female sharpshooter before casting his eyes and antennae about, weighing up their options. Inside the passenger compartment, Crisbel groans as he reaches for the recoilless rifle once again.
"SPACE!" Curses the enforcer in the second vehicle. "Just what need!" Con says as he quickly double checks the load in his laser rifle.
"Damn, more company!" Says Kane to no one in particular. "Guess we'll be using the same plan as last time."
"Yeah, let's do a U-turn and keep our distance...long range distance! Use the hatch mounted weapons if you need to." Raid starts turning his vehicle around and accelerates to an appropriate speed within the Alcazzar forest. He takes no chances with getting too close to the huge beast this time.
Boro's eyespots widen at the sight of the second gwerrah, unsure whether is due to his heightened senses and awareness that accompanies him in each and every combat situation or whether it's due to the sheer surprise of encountering another of these beasts in such quick succession.
"Hey xZot, it looks to me that we've either come across a family of these or perhaps even worse, a settlement of them. What if this is even some sort of mating grounds or religious area of significance. Could be that or simply someone is not to happy we wasted its relative. Do we have the ammo to take this one out as well? Or should we be giving it a wide berth, move around it and move on towards our objective?"
"Everyone break right!" xZot commands the teams drivers. "Hold fire and button up! Let's see if we can get away from it first."
"Thank you xZot." X'anthe murmurs quietly to herself. The human environmentalist wasn't sure she could handle the sight of another of these magnificent creatures torn apart by their high tech weaponry.
As Raid manoeuvres his explorer away from it's rendezvous with the gwerrah, James McKilin watches the animals reaction through the windscreen. The huge creature appears mildly surprised by the appearance of the vehicles but quickly changes course to run alongside Raid's explorer. The gwerrah tries to bump the side of the explorer with it's shoulder but Raid manages to swing around one of the massive trees, leaving the gwerrah picking itself up from the ground after slamming into said tree.
Gloo, Siu-Ling and Borovski comply with xZot's orders with varying degrees of enthusiasm, closing the topside hatches behind them as the Black Hand Gang veer off along the side of the moraine in their explorers with a frustrated gwerrah in hot pursuit.
Raid's vehicle now pulls away from the gwerrah and his companions, his detour around the tree giving him valuable seconds to accelerate away from their pursuer. The gwerrah rolls back to its feet and leaps toward the turning explorers landing between xZot and Gleep. He lashes out with a claw at each vehicle in vain as the yazirian and dralasite drivers race away from the gwerrah in opposite directions.
In a final desperate attempt to satisfy it's frustration the gwerrah makes a final sprint after xZot's explorer. The creature manages to land a claw on the rear hatch of xZot's explorer but does little more than scrape away paint flakes as xZot accelerates away from the danger at last.
The three explorers reunite a kilometre down the moraine which actually turns out to be a mountainous ridge line bordering a swamp region.
"So what's a 'moraine?" Mack O'Malley asks X'anthe, hoping the conversation might help to pass time in the confines of their explorer.
"Moraines are long, high hills of sand, crushed gravel, and clay, covered with a thin laver of topsoil. The moraines on Alcazzar were most likely created by the movements of glaciers thousands of years ago." X'anthe begins with a brief geological description. "Since that time, the topsoil formed and plants grew on the hills. The animal life on a moraine is probably the same as the animal life in the area around the moraine." She concludes before turning back to the window of the explorer.
Following Gleep's projected route along the edge of the ridge line, they get their next adrenaline rush from Alcazzar's version of Mother Nature. As Raid successfully negotiates a particularly rocky section of their route, Gleep's vehicle is caught in a minor rockslide. xZot manages to hit the brakes in time to avoid the area of the rockslide and Gleep is fortunate this time. Some decent size rocks block the way forward and several hit the side of the explorer with no small amount of force but the occupants are all safe and sound. The only casualty is their time table, as the Back Hand Gang have to dismount and remove some rocks from around Gleeps explorer before resuming their trek.
Turning west, Raid leads the small convoy across several kilometres of forest before reaching the southernmost end of another mountainous ridgeline. Sheer spines of grey and black stone rise abruptly into the sky. Traces of snow cling to the higher pinnacles, and steep, narrow gullies scar the shoulders and sides of the awesome formations. The clatter of falling rocks is a common sound here, first near then far away, erosion is a living force at work.
The steepness and height of these stone mountains is forbidding. So too, is the absence of life. Only the howling wind and the occasional crash of a rock slide disturb nature's silence here.
As Raid leads the explorers around this obstacle the frontiersmen catch their first glimpse of one of Alcazzar's more interesting inhabitants. About a dozen primitive humanoids, covered in full, bristly coats of hair, watch curiously from atop several boulders as the explorers make their way around the ridge line. The Lokkuku have flat, monkey-like faces, but no tails. The colour of their fur varies from individual to individual, but it usually some shade of brown.
X'anthe is now at her most animated since the beginning of their mission, as she gazes longingly out the explorer window. Even Raid and Sn'iktl are fascinated at the primitive humanoids but it is O'Malley who points out that several of the males are carrying clubs and wooden spears.
"Apparently combat is not unknown among them." He smiles as he makes his observations known to Mr Sp'ock over the chronocom.
Siu-Ling rolls her eyes at the anthropological types and sighs, "Whatever, I'll get my shit ready just in case." Nonchalantly pointing the heavy laser downward and away from the lokkuku, the sniper makes sure she's got a backup power supply handy at her feet, though she notes that the local primates are neither hostile nor overly extroverted. She finds them, in fact, cute, and is reminded of the fondness she had for Nounouche, the half-tamed Tomar's horse on Volturnus, surely now a skeletal silt on a well-plundered countryside.
"Let's not anyone do anything stupid." xZot comments as he follows Raid and Gleep past the end of the mountain ridges.
Past the ridgeline they encounter another of the bison-like animals as they continue to skirt the edge of the swampland. As the team reach the far side of the swampland, Raid spots yet another new species of animal in the Alcazzar forest. Five speedy little rodents, covered with soft, brown fur. Their gleaming, tiny eyes are set above a pair of huge teeth. Scurrying about on four legs, the gnawhare always seems in a hurry. As his vehicle approaches their position the gnawhares scurry off deeper into the forest as the convoy continues on northeast through the forest, skirting the moraines as much as possible.
Another of the bison's is a marker for their next change of direction, almost due north as they head toward the location Gleep picked out for their next series of river crossings. For almost another half an hour they travel without spotting animal life until Raid spies another group of half a dozen gnawhares.
"Not bad." He says after they pass the gnawhares. "We've only been on the road two hours and we've spotted half a dozen new species of animals and who knows how many plants, already. Pretty diverse ecology happening here."
Half an hour past the gnawhares the team have their third encounter with a gwerrah and this time their is no confusion at all about their tactics. As soon as McKilin spots the creature and alerts his friends, the gunners immediately duck inside their vehicles and close the hatches. All the drivers gun their engines and begin evasive manoeuvres. Their experience with the last two monsters holds them in good stead and this time they are able to evade the massive carnivore unscathed, although there was a brief moment when Gleep was crossing a gully when the gwerrah almost had him before he pulled free of the far bank and accelerated out of reach. Again the encounter caused a brief detour but xZot and his crew were more than grateful to avoid a repeat of their first gwerrah encounter.
The convoy turned east and headed for their next river crossing. Their circuitous route now having taken the team around the mudflats they execute the first river crossing without incident but now they have to head east, into moraine country once more. The entire team are once again straining on high alert as they approach the first moraine ridge line and are relieved when they come across another party of almost a dozen young lokkuku, playing on the sandy dune side. At the sight of the vehicles the young lokkuku dart away among the trees but are soon back, peering curiously from behind the vegetation at the strange and wondrous sight of the three mechanical creatures rolling over the moraine.
Siu-Ling presents the lokkuku youngsters with a mock salute as Gleep crests the ridge, chuckling to herself as some of the lokkuku youngsters attempt to imitate her mannerism. Their progress through the moraines is uninterrupted and shortly before arriving at the edge of a marshland they pass the three hour mark of their journey. Pushing west across the swamp the explorers arrive at their next river crossing. Raid enters the water and crosses without incident and Gleep follows suit without any problems as xZot watches from the east bank.
"Well according to Gleep's calculations we should be about halfway to the other settlement." Mr Sp'ock reports from the passenger compartment.
"Yeah, we seem to be making reasonable time so far." xZot replies as he watches Gleep's explorer drive up the opposite bank of the river. The yazirian commander steers his explorer down to the waterline and engages the rudder for the river traverse. As xZot's explorer approaches the west bank of the river, Raid and Gleep drive up the western slope of the depression along the west bank of the river.
xZot drives his explorer out of the water and straight up the bank between Gleep and Raid. As the three explorers reach the crest of the slope, a plain opens up between the river and the forest. Crossing the plain toward them are several columns of dust demanding the scrutiny of xZot's magnigoggled scouts.
"Groundcars!" Comes the report over the chronocoms. "I count five vehicles at one kilometre and closing."
Turrets swivel, weapons clear and engines rumble as the Black Hand Gang goes into action once more...
When the opposing forces first ID their enemies it is xZot and the passengers of his vehicle who leap into action first. Man Tis Sp'ock surveys the situation as he alights from his explorer, laser rifle gripped firmly in his claws. Taking a prone (for a vrusk) position between two of the BHG's explorers he flicks on his chronocom to offer his tactical counsel for xZot. "This calls for what I believe Mr O'Malley calls, a 'Yippee Shoot'." The vrusk security chief suggests, before answering the expected question. "We target everything we've got at one of their vehicles until we knock it out, then we switch targets."
"Agreed." xZot answers. "Unless someone's got a better plan?" xZot leaves the question hanging long enough for anyone to speak up before he continues. "OK, we'll target the centre ground car first. We might get lucky and take out their commander with the first volley?" He adds hopefully. "Hold fire until they are in effective range, say 500 meters, then we hit 'em with everything." Sp'ock nods in agreement at this last instruction, all too aware of their limited ammunition supply.
"For fuck sake!" Mack O'Malley swears under his breath as he follows the security chief out the rear hatch of the explorer, rocket launcher and ammo in hand. OMAC heads for a spot just below the crest of the river bank between xZot's explorer and Raid's vehicle. Behind O'Malley, X'anthe heads in the opposite direction, taking cover between xZot and Gleeps' explorer. Boro fixes his gaze upon the approaching ground cars, prepares his power and ammo supplies and settles into position to unleash a furious volley of attack rounds at the Streel Corp enemy once given the command.
"If we do just roll back down the slope and hold our position, that will present only my turret as a target for enemy fire. I'm sure that I can serve up enough damage from here to soon have them crying for their ugly mamma's." Boro makes a final transmission before he then maintains silence over his chronocom, listening for enemy comms and so as to not give away any of the BHG personnel and attack details. "In position, holding fire and awaiting your orders xZot!"
As soon as his passengers are out, xZot slams his explorer into reverse and heads back down the river bank as a cacophony of suggestions explode across the BHG chronocoms, xZot smiling to himself at the result.
"Should we try to get the vehicles behind some cover?" Comes Raid's voice. "This slope we just drove up might work. Just back up a few meters."
Gleep looks for cover to present less of a target then says, "Maybe we should wait until they let their intentions be known before we blast them out of the water? They may not be intent on evil."
Before anyone else can react, the first enemy incoming fire arrives in the form of a most optimistic rocket, the mobile munition exploding harmlessly to the front and right of xZot's explorer, showering his vehicle with a spray of muddy soil and grass. It's the second missile that brings their situation quickly into focus. A well placed shell from a recoilless rifle strikes the front right panel of Gleep's explorer at an angle and bounces off, the resulting explosion only denting the panel and scratching the paint job but waking up the occupants quick smart!
As Gleep reverses his explorer back down the river bank, Crisbel follows Sn'iktl out the rear hatch. Sn'iktl heads right, between Gleep's explorer and the team's command vehicle while Crisbel moves off to the teams right flank with the recoilless rifle.
Gloo listens to Raid wanting to back the explorer up and hollers back as he drops down. "Affirmative Raid back her up, I want to have only the turret above the rise so I'll tell you when to stop." Instructs the dralasite warrior. "The rest of you should get out and spread yourselves out away from the explorer, if this thing does get hit and the ammo does cook off and you're nearby I guarantee you will have a very bad day." He continues to his fellow passengers before contacting xZot over the com. "Boss, we'll need a rear watch, the best choice for that would be OMAC and the rocket launcher. He has got better mobility to reposition if needs to with that thing. They have hit us with aircraft before and now would be the most perfect time to do it again and they still have that damn Assault Scout out there someplace too."
"Whoah!" Exclaims Raid as the unmistakable flash of a laser beam zaps only meters over the top of his reversing vehicle, the explosion erupting on the far bank of the river.
"Here we go again!" Grumbles the enforcer as he ducks out of his explorer. might be a good idea to take one of these guys alive so we can get some intelligence." Con suggests as he bails out of his transport. He takes covers on the left flank of the team's position, readying his rocket launcher. Leaping into action, Kane prepares to face the oncoming threat posed by the five approaching ground cars. Hearing Gleep's indecisiveness about an appropriate response to the approaching ground cars, he feels free to make his express his own thoughts. "Gleep, they can only be Streel Corp and judging by what they did to the CDC compound, we already know their intentions!" says Kane flatly, as he moves.
"And there's always all that incoming fire!" Adds McKilin as he exits the vehicle behind Kane. When Kane is ready, he reports his status to his CO, and then takes the opportunity to scan the surrounding area, to make sure that these ground cars are the only dangers the team faces. McKilin follows Kane and Con out of the explorer and into the section of river bank between Raid and xZot's explorer's.
At her turret, and happy to not have had to kill any of the amiable lokkuku, Siu-Ling d'Avignon clutches the base of her crotch rocket, pivots seventy-one degrees counterclockwise, and releases the safety mechanism, ready to squeeze the handle that would release a ravenous blast of kinetic energy in the direction of the ground car. She'd love to be the one hailing these guys, but she is glad to at least be xZot's enforcer, and let him do the talking. "Standing by," she calls flatly into her chronocom, catching sight of xZot in the next explorer over tilting his neck towards her to acknowledge.
Another laser beam lances out from the approaching ground cars, followed by a second recoilless rifle shell. Both attacks smash into the ground in front of the teams defensive position, hull down behind the river bank, throwing up more mud and dirt in fountains of fire and earth.
Mr Sp'ock makes some rapid mental calculations, estimating they would open fire in about 30 seconds if they waited until the range closed to 500 meters. He opened a comm channel to xZot. "Commander, we'll only get about four volleys into them before they are at point blank range." He reports.
"Well by then, there should only be one left." xZot replies.
"The rocket launchers and recoilless rifles will only get two volleys though." Sp'ock continues.
"Anyone without a heavy weapon, set your laser rifles to max." Is xZot's only reply on the open channel. "Fire on my order." He finishes grimly.
X'anthe meets Sn'iktl in space between the explorers and the pair take up positions with their laser rifles, both hoping the success of this encounter will not rely on their martial skills. On hearing xZot's command they both take pains to check the power settings on their rifles.
On the left flank, Con drops to the ground and then takes careful aim at the centre ground car, as per Sp'ock's tactical analysis, and awaits xZot's fire order. On the opposite flank, Crisbel mirrors Con, taking aim at the same vehicle with his recoilless rifle.
A laser blast slams into the forward slope of xZot's vehicle, chewing up another chunk of the Alcazzar plain.
Kane sets up a prone sniper's position from which to fire from, double checking his power pack to make sure he brought the fully charged one with him. Satisfied he has the right pack, Kane lines up the centre Streel vehicle in his sights. Another searing, heavy laser blast rips into ground near Raid's position but again no damage is inflicted on the CDC search and rescue team.
Mack O'Malley shoulders his rocket launcher and taking a position behind Sp'ock, he turns and begins scanning the horizon across the river, checking back the way they came for more bush whackers.
Dropping down next to Kane, Jimmy McKilin rests his rifle on a tuft of grass as he checks the weapons power setting and resets it to maximum, as per xZot's orders. Shrugging at his situation, he attempts to imitate Kane's disposition, aiming roughly in the direction of the approaching ground cars.
The team's female sniper, sitting in the turret of Gleep's explorer, breathes slowly, focusing her concentration on the vehicle in her sights. Siu-Ling wipes away the sweat on her forehead as she waits for the target to reach xZot's selected killing zone.
Having found the best cover available for his vehicle on the right flank, Gleep presents his shooters the best view of targets.
On the left flank, Raid backs up just enough to get Gloo into the position he is requesting. He then stands by in the drivers seat with his pistol ready and the security robot standing just behind him, activated. "Can anyone hear those people on any of the radio frequencies?" Raid asks. After helping Raid get the explorer positioned, Gloo takes aim at the approaching ground cars, ready to fire when they get within range.
While the real fighters set up to trade volleys with the advancing ground cars, Gleep tries using his comm equipment to set up a frequency jammer. He sets up an overpowering white noise to hop across the known Streel frequencies at 100ms intervals and begins sweeping the spectrum.
X'anthe wriggles amongst the dirt and rocks as she tries to press herself into the ground while keeping her rifle directed toward the oncoming ground cars, the sound of their engines now audible above the teams idling explorers.
In the centre vehicle, xZot checks the deployment of his troops before reaching for his own laser rifle and selecting the maximum power setting before putting the weapon on the passenger seat next to him in the cab.
He squints and looks again, low on the horizon where he thought he saw some movement. "Nothing." Mack O'Malley says more to himself than anyone else as he continues to scan the horizon behind the BHG.
As he tracks his target closing the distance Gloo's mind wanders briefly back to the incident with first gwerrah when he was in the turret as the explorer was flung through the forest by the massive beast. Gloo had been in a rolled in an armoured vehicle with a turret mount back in basic training on Truane's Star, long before joining the Black Hand Gang. That time his weapon mount was rendered unrecognisable, this time he had been extraordinarily lucky.
"Hmmm, strange that I should think of something so ancient at a time like this." He wonders aloud as he focuses again on the approaching Streel threat. A recoilless rifle shell explodes nearby and Gloo is back to the here and now as another plume of fire, shrapnel and earth leaps into the sky.
Continuing his mental countdown, Sp'ock calculates that xZot's gunners should open fire when Streel forces fire their third volley with every weapon. "Assuming they fire everything they've got as fast as they can." The vrusk qualifies himself as he estimates the current range to target.
Gleep curses that he was unable to acquire the Streel frequencies from the broken air car radios. After he makes several attempts to find an active frequency to jam other than their own comm channel. He grabs his laser rifle and attaches it to his backpack as he waits for the next phase of the battle.
The rest of the team hug the ground or stare down weapons sights at the ground cars as the next barrage of enemy fire falls around them. Rockets, shells and laser beams ravage the river bank in front and behind the teams defensive position and one lucky beam strikes the security chief as he exposes himself to view, trying to get a more accurate estimate of the closing range between the antagonists. Sp'ock's albedo screen flares brightly as his power beltpack is drained below halfway (18 SEU's), keeping it's wearer alive in the midst of the deadly maelstrom.
The Streel vehicles continue to close on the team's position, now almost halfway across the plain. While their projectile and rocket weapons are reloaded, a pair of Streel heavy lasers continue to put in fire at the teams position. Two more curtains of light and debris fly up, one quite close to Snik and X'anthe as xZot prepares to give to order fire. Then O'Malley's voice crackles over the chronocom.
"We've got company!" The rearguard announces. "Jetcopters. At least two of 'em, about a kilometre out and closing." He reports as a collective groan runs through the team.
Seeing all the high energy laser fire out his window, Raid signals for his security robot to exit the explorer as he grabs a power backpack from the rear of the vehicle and hooks it up to his albedo screen. He activates the shimmering defensive field before stepping out the side door of the explorer just in time to see his robot knocked over by the searing blast of a heavy laser (72 points), seriously damaging the automaton and sending shards of metal spraying back toward the river.
"Damn!" The technician gasps as he dives to a prone position.
Con continues to hold his position waiting for the order to fire, keeping the Streel weasel in his gun sights but when the nearby robot is slammed into the ground he decides it's time for the BHG to return fire. He squeezes the trigger of his rocket launcher and watches the missile race toward the oncoming Streel vehicles, swearing profusely when the rocket explodes short of his target.
Kane is likewise holding his position, continuing to point his gun where he hopes that it will do the most good, at the unarmoured ground cars. As he patiently waits for xZot's order to fire, meanwhile trusting in his personal defences and in his BHG team mates to protect him from the incoming jetcopters, Kane sees Con's rocket fly toward the enemy. He itches to pull the trigger but knows the enemy are still outside the effective range of his laser rifle. As Kane continues to wait he is struck by a sudden thought. "How is it that our Streel adversaries knew where to find us?" says Kane aloud into his chronocom. "We're being hit from both the ground and the air. That's way to much firepower to be amassed for your typical patrol sweep. We should have run into either a ground patrol or an air patrol, but certainly not both at the same time. And I don't believe for one minute that this just a case of bad luck on our part."
To their rear, one of the incoming jetcopters opens fire with a heavy laser, sending a fountain of water boiling up out of the river. Mack O'Malley returns fire at the jetcopter with his shoulder mounted rocket launcher but his target easily slides out of the path of his rocket at this range. O'Malley grunts and begins to reload his weapon. "Lucky bastard." He grumbles. "You won't get away next time!" The other two jetcopters continue in their flight formation, one on each wing of the laser mounted aircraft.
Borovski and Crisbel now open fire with their heavy weapons, sending up showers of dirt, fire and shrapnel in front of the approaching groundcars but causing little, if any, damage to their opponents. Incoming rounds from the groundcars add to the confusion as a shell and rocket tear up the landscape and shatter the eardrums of the unfortunate life forms caught in the battle zone.
McKilin and X'anthe both huddle in makeshift shell scrapes as the weapons fire fills the air around the BHG position while Gleep, having set up as much as he can, decides to take aim at the jetcopters to the rear. Using the door frame of the explorer to steady the laser rifle and take careful aim, Gleep waits for the jetcopters to come into range of his rifle.
Still stunned from the heavy laser hit, Sp'ock hunkers down and double checks the power setting and ammunition levels for his laser rifle before deciding to add his firepower to assaulting the aerial threat of the jetcopters.
In the cab of the centre explorer, xZot activates his chronocom to issue more orders when his vehicle is struck by a blast from a heavy laser. Coming in low to the horizon, the beam slices through a thin screen of soil and vegetation, slamming into the vehicles forward engine bay (Speed -20/turn). Startled by the laser hit, xZot forgets about the chronocom and throws the explorer into reverse, backing down the slope further to protect himself and his vehicle. From his position beside X'anthe, Snik whips his head around at the sound of the laser hit to see xZot frantically backing the explorer further down the bank to improve his defensive posture.
"Are you OK in there boss?" The medic asks his commander via chronocom.
"Yeah I'm fine, just a little shaken up." xZot replies. "Gloo, Siu-Ling open fire on those ground cars. We need to even the odds before they get much closer."
xZot's warriors open fire with their heavy weapons and the BHG score their first success of the engagement as Siu-Ling's heavy laser slams into the front right wheel of middle Streel ground car. The vehicle leaps into the air as it's own momentum continues to carry the wreckage forward but before it completes it's first roll, Gloo's recoilless shell rips into the soft under belly of the vehicle and explodes. The Streel groundcar bursts into flames as it rolls three, maybe four times before coming to a fiery halt as the other vehicles continue their advance.
A roar of triumph erupts from the Black Hand Gang as they inflict their first casualty, but the whine of the approaching engines both fore and aft and the whistle of another incoming recoilless shell, quickly brings them back to reality. This battle is far from over.
Mr Sp'ock opens a comm channel to the entire team and quickly issues new tactical advice. "Con and OMAC, both of you use your rocket launchers against the jetcopters, anyone without a heavy weapon should also target the jetcopters. We want both heavy lasers and both recoilless rifles to continue engaging the ground cars." No sooner has he issued his orders than Sp'ock opens fire with his laser rifle at an approaching jetcopter, sending a pair of laser beams into the sky behind the enemy flight. Gleep adds his fire, sending another supercharged beam of light into the Alcazzar atmosphere.
Another blast of laser fire hammers into the river bank in front of xZot and the commander smiles, comforted by the improved disposition of his vehicle. Looking to his left he notices the cab of Raid's vehicle is now empty. "Raid, get back in your vehicle now. If they get right up to our position we need to be able to manoeuvre our explorers!" A second eruption of laser fire, this time from a jetcopter, underscores xZot's command as more Alcazzar dirt showers his command vehicle.
Raid struggles to help his damaged robot back to an upright position before clambering back into the cab of his explorer as the battle continues to rage on.
"As we haven't seen any sign of electronic surveillance either on the ground or in the air, is it possible that we have been tagged with an electronic homing device? Or that are we currently being ghosted?" Kane speculates.
"Good point, Kane!" Con answers as he reloads. "Maybe we were picked up by other patrols, or the last patrol never reporting in got their attention or they picked up our ship in orbit. I'm, sure they knew we were here for a while. They just decided to do something about it." The enforcer explains. "Maybe some of our technically able friends can maybe use their gadgetry to pick up anything that may be following us in the future?"
"That does make some sense Con." Concedes Kane as he ponders the rifleman's words. "However, I didn't realize we were that close to Streel's mining operation for them to throw this kind of attack at us now. It was my impression that we were still a few hundred kilometres from their main base." added Kane, remembering the CDC briefing at the onset of the mission. "Perhaps Streel has a secondary base set-up someplace near our current position, from which they launched this attack?" Offers Kane as a possible explanation. Kane fires at the nearest jetcopter but he misjudges the speed of the aircraft as it passes through the air where he had aimed before the laser beam even arrives.
"That may very well be the case Kane." Answers Con "Streel may have 'claim jumped' the CDC operation. This would not go over well in the corporate world. It only makes sense that they would want to cover up their involvement in case anyone came to look in on the CDC operation." Con also adds, "Then again who's to say that Streel wasn't here all along? We aren't going to learn anything until we walk into that compound or we take one of these buggers alive to give us some answers!"
The Streel ground cars continue to close on the river, another heavy laser opens fire sending up another gout of earth and fire from in front of the team's explorers.
"Is anyone injured?" Sn'iktl clicks over the comm channel
"That's a negative!"
"Fine here." The reports continue coming in, calming the worried vrusk medic.
"There's a pair of roasted Streel workers out there, you wanna check 'em out Snik?" OMAC chips in. Sn'iktl, ignores OMAC and pulls in his antennae as more incoming fire shoots overhead and a new sound is added to the cacophony of combat. The rip and tear of heavy machine guns sends a shiver down spines, carapaces and epidermis as the other two jetcopters open fire. The jetcopter to the north stitches the edge of the river with lead while to the south, McKilin, Con and Kane are the targets. No sooner had Sn'iktl asked about casualties than the BHG obliged with the three humans all being struck by lead (23 points each, half to skiensuits), although none of them are seriously hurt. McKilin immediately pulls open his medkit and begins first aid on himself before turning to assist his team mates.
With the other heavy weapons being reloaded, Borovski and Siu-Ling put in more fire but neither manage to strike home as the Streel attackers continue their remorseless advance.
Con shoulders the rocket launcher again and lets fly at jetcopter roaring overhead but his aim is rushed and the jetcopter is gone even as he pulls the trigger. Gleep repeats the sequence, firing and missing with his laser rifle.
"Wooo Hoooo!" Yells Siu-Ling at the top of her voice as she fires again and hits another groundcar. The vehicle flips, rolls, burns and then explodes as the ammo from a recoilless rifle cooks off inside. The other groundcar on Siu-Ling's flank returns fire with a heavy laser and the sharpshooter covers her head as debris is thrown up by the blast. The laser armed jetcopter swoops over the team's position and fires another heavy laser blast and Raid's robot disappears in a cloud of vaporised metal.
Mack O'Malley returns fire at the jetcopter and when he misses, raises a string of expletives that blisters the paint off his explorer. Kane grins at OMAC's frustration before firing, missing and adding his own adjectives to OMAC's curses. Gloo takes aim and fires at another groundcar, smiling as he watches the shell fly true but the smile turns to a frown as the shell glances off the groundcars side panel and explodes harmlessly behind the enemy vehicles. On the opposite flank, Crisbel fires and misses again, his shell exploding in front of the enemy vehicle.
With the enemy vehicles now at 250 meters, Borovski's sights are filled with his intended target. He approximates a human smile as he pulls the trigger and watches the groundcar explode in a flash of energy and light. When the flares and sparkles disappear from his eyespots, all that remains is a tumbling, burning mess of metal, smoke and fire.
X'anthe quickly pokes her head up above the edge of the river bank and drops back down immediately after seeing the burning vehicles. Cowering in her shell scrape, X'anthe looks up and around for the jetcopters she can hear roaring through the skies above the carnage. Although she can't see the aircraft, the sound of machine gun fire is unmistakable. Gloo's explorer is hammered with bullets along it's right side but nothing penetrates the vehicle's interior or causes any damage more sever than dents and paint chips. On the other flank, McKilin, Con and Kane are strafed and again wounded (22 points each, half to skiensuits). McKilin shrugs off his own wounds and turns to render first aid to Con.
"Kane, call Snik over here." McKilin says as he works "You might need more than first aid now, although that doesn't look too bad." He offers, gesturing at Kane's new injuries.
"Snik, you better get over here." Kane squawks into the comm unit. "We've got wounded here now."
Sp'ock fires again at the circling jetcopters as he considers their options. In the cab of his explorer, xZot is thinking the same thing. Across the plain in front of him, the three enemy vehicles continue to burn, recoilless shells cooking off in two of them, while the third burns a hot blue flame. "Two ground cars and three jetcopters!" He mumbles to himself then flicks on his chronocom. "OK gang, three down, five to go. Let's finish this!"
Kane will continue to fire as ordered at targets of opportunity, squeezing off another shot at one of the circling jetcopters and praying that someone starts knocking them out of the sky quick smart. He misses again, noting his power backpack has two more full power blasts before he needs to switch power supplies. Beside Kane and Con, McKilin assesses the injuries to both his wounded team-mates.
"You guys both probably need minor surgery but I can't help you if you insist on continuing to return fire. Come to think of it, I could probably do with surgery myself." The medtech smiles then ducks for cover as more laser fire slams into the river bank. The gunner in the jetcopter returns fire at the BHG explorers, the laser blast missing the vehicles and burning another hole in the pristine landscape.
Borovski swings his heavy laser around to cover the left flank, firing another blast into the path of an approaching groundcar. A column of dirt erupts in front of the vehicle and the Streel driver swings his ground car around the resulting crater. "What the blazing satellites is going on with these heavy weapons?" Boro blurts out his frustration into his chronocom. "Has some inter-stellar carnie slipped on a warped barrel or tampered with the sights or something? I'm having trouble hitting anything with this near useless oversized taser. Hey OMAC, ya mama got any wrinkles she needs treating?"
With the enemy vehicles closing in, Sp'ock flicks his power setting to maximum and fires off a pair of beams at the swerving groundcar. His first blast misses but the vehicle almost appears to drive directly into his second shot. The laser blast rips away the front right tyre and wheel of the vehicle as it swerves, catapulting the car into the air and rolling end of over end to land in a twisted wreck less than a hundred metres from the teams defensive position, smoke billowing up from the wreckage. The remaining groundcar gunner turns his weapon on the now exposed vrusk officer and fires. Fortunately for Sp'ock, this vehicle is also armed with a heavy laser and his powerbelt pack has enough power to absorb the resulting energy discharge as the Streel gunner scores a direct hit (13 SEU's) and Sp'ock is temporarily blinded by the flare of his albedo suit as it once again saves his life.
Overhead the jetcopter on the right flank opens up again with a machine gun, this time Crisbel is the sole victim and his already damaged skien suit losses it's integrity, literally falling off his now shattered body. Bullets slam into his slender frame (51 points, 13 to suit) and the pain sears into his brain as the brave yazirian is knocked to the ground, battered and bleeding while attempting to reload his rocket launcher.
With only one ground car left intact, xZot decides it's time to become a moving target instead of a static one. He keys the ignition as he yells out to Borovski in the turret. "Hang on Boro, we're going over the top." xZot slams his foot on the accelerator and launches the explorer up the bank and onto the Alcazzar plain, swing around to the right to engage the last enemy ground car.
"Man down!" Siu-Ling yells when she sees Crisbel go down, then she continues firing the heavy laser. "Let's murdeliz'em." She continues grimly to herself as she lines up the last Streel vehicle in her sights. Squeezing the trigger she proceeds to do exactly that, sending a powerful energy pulse through the windscreen of groundcar, ripping apart the interior of the vehicle and igniting the combustibles of the interior. A split second later the blast explodes the groundcar, roasting the crew and sending pieces of plastic, steel and flesh flying across terrain in all directions.
Mourning the loss of his robot, Raid gets ready to move his explorer should the need arise. When he sees the last enemy ground car explode and xZot driving up the river bank, he decides that time is now and he starts manoeuvring his explorer forward. He keeps his personal albedo screen on and his pistol at the ready.
Hearing Siu-Ling's alert, X'anthe jumps up and rushes toward the right flank and the wounded Crisbel, hoping to reach him before the jetcopters swing around for another pass. From behind her she hears the other jetcopter open fire with it's machine gun and looking back over her shoulder watches bullets slash around and over Raid's explorer as he climbs the river bank.
Inside the explorer, Raid winces at the sound of bullets bouncing off his vehicle but apart from the beginnings of a headache and a ringing in his ears, there appears to be no serious damage this time.
Gloo slams another round in the heavy weapon, watching the fires of the ruined ground cars, muttering dral curses and grimacing every time one of the BHG members needlessly chatters on the communication system. Figuring in his mind if they had brought along a thousand piece marching band, a mobile fireworks display, and a giant neon flashing blimp overhead with a sign pointing down saying WE ARE HERE it would have been less noticeable then the transmissions the BHG has been spewing out for all to hear, triangulate, pinpoint and track.
Finally the useless chatter gets too much for Gloo, and he bellows as loud as he can. "Will you fucking monkeys just shut the hell up!"
Con reloads the rocket launcher while he watches the Streel jetcopters and considers switching to his laser rifle for a better fire rate but the jetcopters appear to be circling at 300 meters, extreme range for his rifle.
Mack O'Malley watches Sn'iktl race between himself and Sp'ock toward the wounded on the left flank as he reloads his rocket launcher. Seeing two more columns of smoke rising from the plain OMAC moves up the river bank for a better line of fire at the circling jetcopters.
Gleep now follows xZot's example and he too, drives the third explorer up the river bank, hoping to draw the remaining enemy fire away from his wounded comrades.
The three Streel jetcopters circle the BHG vehicles, maintaining a distance of 300 metres with their weapons now trained on the vehicles. As the jetcopter armed with the laser weapon swings around the teams' left flank, Con fires his rocket launcher. The missile lances out toward the target, causing the pilot to jink away to avoid the rocket. Borovski fires at the other two jetcopters as they come together in front of the BHG explorers, the beam slicing through the air between both aircraft.
The Streel gunners begin returning fire, this time peppering xZot's vehicle with machine gun fire, again ineffectual against the rugged all terrain vehicle. Raid's explorer also takes a hit but the laser weapons fare better against the explorer and after the shuddering impact of the blast, Raid realises he now has a problem with his steering. The explorer veers away to the right and he can't correct his course (Steering jammed right).
Reaching Crisbel's battered form, X'anthe immediately plunges a sprayhypo of biocort, borrowed from Snik, into his arm to stabilise his injuries before ascertaining the full extent of the damage. "Snik, I'm gonna need you over here PDQ!" X'anthe reports via chronocom, ignoring Gloo's outburst and assuming he would understand under the circumstances. Even while being treated by X'anthe, Crisbel attempts to continue fighting, taking a feeble shot in the general direction of the jetcopters to his front. Not surprisingly the shell soars way off target, exploding harmlessly beyond the intended targets.
Gleep's vehicle comes under fire from the third jetcopter, machine gun bullets tearing up the ground in front of him, suddenly his explorer lurches and slows down and Gleep realises his front tyres have just been shot out, and while he still has mobility, the vehicle is dramatically slowed (Speed -20).
Slamming another round into the heavy weapon and ready to fire, Gloo wonders to himself if he should shoot a Streel target or the next BHG member who says something needlessly over the coms. Simultaneously Kane, Gloo and OMAC fire a volley at the pair of jetcopters directly in front of the advancing explorers. Kane's laser beam splits the pair of aircraft while OMAC and Gloo bracket them. Shrapnel from O'Malley's exploding rocket and Gloo's recoilless shell, slice into the tail sections of both jetcopters and although neither aircraft is brought down, smoke pours from the tail of Gloo's target and fluid is seen streaming from O'Malley's damaged copter. A nanosecond later, Sp'ock sends a pair of beams at the same targets and although one laser blast appeared to strike Gloo's target, there is no noticeable effect from the hit apart from draining Sp'ock's power supply.
Struggling with the steering wheel, Raid swings his explorer across xZot's path, crossing in front of the slower vehicle as xZot guides his explorer between a pair of smoking Streel groundcars. Gleep presses forward with his vehicle and presents Siu-Ling with an excellent shot at the rear of the northbound jetcopter. The sharpshooter fires as the explorer achieves a right angle to the retreating target and the heavy laser blast tears off the tail of the jetcopter, sending it into an uncontrollable spin at low altitude. Seconds later the jetcopter spirals into the ground, snapped rotor blades slash across the plain as the jetcopter erupts in a ball of fire, incinerating the Streel crew immediately.
"Stay with these two." Sn'iktl orders James McKilin, "I'm going to assist X'anthe. As soon as these two stop shooting begin minor surgery." And with that, Sn'iktl races away along the river bank to help Crisbel and X'anthe. McKilin opens up his medkit and begins removing the drugs and equipment he will soon require for the task at hand.
Before the southbound jetcopter can swing around for another pass, citizen Kane fires his last 20 SEU blast. Kane was never exactly sure what it was he hit but the aircraft immediately began loosing altitude and before he could reload his weapon, the jetcopter appeared to fly straight into the ground, not even slowing down. The undercarriage was ripped away from the jetcopter before it's nose ploughed up the earth. The momentum of it's sudden descent then caused the jetcopter to flip forward, snapping off the rotor blades before exploding. As both downed jetcopters burn, columns of oily smoke rise into the air and machine gun ammunition begins to cook off, adding to the cacophony of death and violence.
Worried about ending up back in the river, Raid takes his foot off the accelerator and allows the explorer to come to a halt once more, putting his faith in the gunnery skills of Gloo to protect them both.
X'anthe breathes a sigh of relief when she spies Sn'iktl skittering along the river bank toward them, medkit in claw. Reaching over to grab the recoilless rifle, she helps Crisbel reload in case their attackers come back to finish the job.
Seeing the pair of jetcopters knocked out xZot thumbs his chronocom again, hopefully for the last time. "Don't let him get away." The yazirian commands his troops. "Let's not give them any more intel on us than they already have." He continues as he brings the explorer around to try and pursue the last jetcopter.
Borovski and the jetcopter gunner trade shots with their heavy lasers but it is Siu-Ling who has the final word, putting a shot into the rear of the cockpit. The jetcopter appears to move sideways in the air before tumbling out of the sky and crashing into the east riverbank sending flames skyward and wreckage every which way.
The three explorers return to the river bank as the sound of combat dies away but not completely. The Streel vehicles seem to moan and groan as the fires consume all the combustibles on board. With ammunition still cooking off from most of the vehicles, xZot gathers his vehicles and people together back in their original position to take stock of their injuries, damaged vehicles and to check their remaining ammunition supplies.
"Hey you Techo's, it would stand to reason that the explorers would be fitted with some navigational and/or tracking devices from their previous owners and Streel corp. probably has either the base unit or has hacked the frequencies which would allow them to see us coming. Not that it matters right now." says Boro
After the battle, Gleep starts searching his explorer for tracking devices and Kane gives in to his 'paranoia' and search for tags and ghosts. Both of them come up empty.
"They have the high ground."
"Huh? What was that Sp'ock?" xZot asks his security chief.
"If Streel attacked our transport ship in orbit then they have the high ground. There are any number of ways they could be tracking us but it would seem most likely they are simply watching us." He jabs a claw into the sky. "They would most likely have mapped all the possible routes from the CDC camp to their camp and have been monitoring likely river crossings since we knocked out that air car back at the CDC compound."
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