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The Spartan Chronicles

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  • #31
    Googlie sat with his back propped against the rock, looking at the Chiron Sunsrise.

    He still felt a shiver as he mentally pronounced it. For an old terran, one of the Landers, Sunrise still seemed a more natural term to use, even after over 100 years. But the two suns were unmistakable this early in the morning.

    Googlie was worried.

    Julia had been gone now for over 17 hours, a complete Chiron day.

    They had discussed the advantages/disadvantages of splitting up, but she was adamant that she needed to locate at least one of the ejection seats. They had split their last ration pack between them before she left, and he’d given her a quick hug and wished her godspeed, and she’d headed for the fungus towards where they’d estimated the seats might have come down.

    Her mission had been simple. She was convinced, as she remembered the training manuals, that in addition to a stowed dingy and pup tent, there were also more substantial rations, flares, a small ammunitions cache and additional pistols in the seat base, and they would have survived impact being built into the seat base as they were.

    Googlie still found it difficult to walk. He was convinced his ankle was broken, but he could hobble in and out of the protecting, concealing fissure in the rock face.

    He had thought he’d heard voices once or twice during the night, but had lain low, figuring that any Spartan searchers would identify themselves first by using some of the current code words, or else personal information that would be known only to troopers who would have been briefed by Gecko or Burge and that Googlie himself would recognize.

    Also he’d seen high up once or twice the big Penetrators passing over on reconnaissance runs, but he had no means of identifying his position and figured that rushing out (or hobbling out, as the case might be) to a clearing would only serve to pinpoint his positon to the Hive troops who he was certain were looking for he and Julia with equal fervor.

    As he sat contemplating where Julia might be, and what might have befallen her, he was tinkering with the shredder, trying to make a flaregun out of it.

    He was not without technical aptitude, and in the early days after the Landing the colonists had to jury rig numerous gadgets, but he was finding this a particular challenge.

    Then he heard the voices again.

    “He must be here somewhere”

    “Yeah, this is the direction the girl was spotted coming from”

    “Yeah. I wish we’d been able to capture her. I wouldn’t have minded doing the interrogation”

    Googlie had squirmed over to his concealment cubby hole, and tried to quieten his pounding heart. He was sure that they could hear it. But he inwardly exulted. Julia was still loose.

    “Yeah, me too. My probe tool could do with some usage”

    His companion gave a dirty laugh.

    “Yeah, mine too.”

    “How did we lose her trail?” he asked.

    “Oh, she escaped when that mindworm suddenly appeared. Simmons and Barker.had to try and deal with that, and that gave her time to get away”.

    “Poor Barker, I hear he copped it.”

    “Yeah, it apparently wasn’t pretty. It seems……”

    The voices faded into the distance.

    Googlie heaved a sigh of relief.

    Then froze.

    Another voice, calling after the two.

    With an ominous message that struck terror into Googlie’s heart.

    “Sand is offering a reward to the unit that finds him”


    It couldn’t be.

    In his crevasse, Googlie started to put his shredder pistol back together again. Not that it would be of any use against the renowned Assassin. He didn’t kid himself that he could outshoot Sand.


    He knew too much to fall into Sand’s clutches. ‘Better dead than read’ he thought grimly.

    If he had time, he was going to use the shredder against himself.

    [This message has been edited by Googlie (edited July 14, 1999).]


    • #32
      Miles bumped into her at the Commissary.

      “Lisa”, he shouted across the aisles.

      She turned.


      They flew into each other’s arms.

      “What are you doing in Fort Soup?”, she asked him, after they had broken apart for air.

      “I’ve been transferred here”, he said, “now that out training is complete. We’ve broken into two man teams and been assigned to the border bases where the mindworm activity is highest.”

      “And who’s your buddy”, she asked. “One of the vets that can pull your butt out of the fire when things get too hot?” She accompanied the verbal dig with a physical dig in the ribs.

      “Ouch”, he grimaced in mock pain. “No, eat your heart out, it’s none other than our CO Lieutenant Ann Rynn herself.”

      “Oh, I’m jealous already” Lisa said playfully. “She’s quite a looker – for a grunt.”

      “Well”, said miles, “It seems that there were two of us – me and Sarah, with quite high Psi powers, so they have paired us with the two weakest, and Ann happened to be one of these.”

      “Say,” he continued, “I’m at a bit of a loose end for two days as she’ll be on an officers course of some kind. What’s your schedule look like?”

      Lisa briefed him on the events of the past few days, and shared their concern for the fate of the missing CO, and their plans for attempting an unauthorized rescue.

      Miles chipped in:

      “But it wouldn’t be unauthorized if the acting CO was behind it. It would just be a uncoordinated, solo mission. Perfectly legit.

      “And I’ll tell you what. I’m certified for jumps, I’ve two days free, have Brewster second me and I’ll go in with the Rover and chauffeur the old geyser out.”

      Lisa pondered that. It made sense. She hugged him again, tighter.


      Dexter flew at 3000 meters while Tricia kept an eagle eye out for activity below.

      Brewster himself was flying the bomber, hastily converted as a transport with the makeshift adaptation of the bomb bays to carry cargo.

      As they neared the map co-ordinates that Dexter had committed to memory, he contacted Brewster.

      “One click south – that small ridge abutting the large fungus jungle, that’s where the plane went down”.

      Brewster brought the bomber in on a slow run, bomb bay doors open, and as they neared the ridge the rover sailed out, the chute deploying perfectly, followed immediately by Miles.

      The doors closed, flaps retracted and the big bomber increased speed and climbed out of the danger zone.

      Brewster came over the ether to Dexter:

      “Hang around and make sure Cavenagh’s down safely and in no immediate danger, then return to base. I’m heading back now.”

      “Roger” was Dexter’s laconic reply.

      He circled lazily observing the Rover and the trooper float to the ground in a clearing between a light forest and a thick fungus bed that flanked one side. He watched Miles disassemble the chutes and stow them, then watched him board the rover and drive it to the shade of some nearby trees. He waggled his wings on a flyover and returned to base.


      From his hiding place Googlie observed the events unfold. He of course recognized the Interceptor and the Penetrator as being Dexter’s and Brewster’s respectively. He saw the rover drop, then the trooper. They landed about two clicks from his postion.

      ‘Hmmmmm’, he thought. ‘Gecko must really be preoccupied if Bearcat has to organize his own rescue mission’.

      He hauled himself out of the crevasse to look for the rover and its occupant, taking care to keep his profile low and remain as hidden as possible.


      Julia lay in the fungus watching the rover and the trooper parachute to the ground at the edge of the fungus, then move over to the line of trees. She was about a click removed, and lying absolutely still.

      The mindworm lay bunched up beside her.

      She focused on projecting, as well as she was able, an image of a friend, to the mindworm, trying to mentally telepath ally, friend, companion to the mindless mass. ‘But was it mindless’, she wondered. She was aware of an aura that surrounded it, and of pinpricks of probing at the edges of her consciousness, as if the creature recognized the signals she was trying so desperately hard to project.

      Julia wondered at this. After the episode of the three mindworms that had attacked earlier, she was still perplexed why they had not pressed any attack on her.

      And now this one had 'adopted' her.

      A few hundred meters away the clumsy thrashings of the Hive troopers could be heard as they searched the fungus step by step. They were getting closer. They were using flamers to burn off the fungus to expose the underlying roots, then burning them as well.

      They too had seen the Rover and the operative parachute down, and Julia had heard them as they communicated with their main forces to report the position of the drop.

      As they drew nearer she sensed a difference in the mindworm’s attitude as it perceived this additional threat.

      Immediately Julia’s mind was full of a thousand angry buzzes and she was swept along for the ride as her mind filled with hatred and thoughts of vengeance at the rape of Planet by these humans.

      She sensed the mindworm poising to strike as the Hive troopers came within almost touching distance. She now knew that there were four of them, against her and one mindworm, and knew that the odds were not good. But to stay here was suicide. Best to make full use of the sacrifice that her newfound friend was unwittingly going to make. It experienced only one simple emotion. ‘Threat. Destroy threat’. Its primitive cognitive ability could not quantify the nature of the threat or the likelihood of its attemts succeeding.

      As the mindworm sprang, taking the troopers by surprise, Julia rose out of the fungus, and with a Pht…..Pht…she downed one of the troopers with her shredder pistol.

      Keeping low, she sprinted for the tree line where the Rover was parked. The operstive was fixing some sort of missile gun to the mounting brackets on the hood.

      “Hey,” she yelled. “Hey, start her up. We need to get moving.”

      Miles looked up in surprise. He saw the pilot running towards him at full tilt, pursued in the distance by one of the Hive troopers. Back in the fungal patch he saw two troopers wrestling with a mindworm, one with it wrapped round his head and shoulders, the other hesitantly trying to flame tendrils without harming his buddy.

      He hastily threw his tools into the rover and ran round to the drivers door just as the missile struck the tree nearby, narrowly missing the rover. The percussion wave hit him, sending him tumbling head over heels until he hit his head against the side of the rover, knocking him unconscious.

      Julia stared aghast as she frantically changed direction away from the Rover and the advancing missile battalion, and ran for the cover of the trees.

      [This message has been edited by Rynn (edited July 14, 1999).]


      • #33
        "Listen up, corporal. I wouldn't care if Miles bloody Cavanagh were on R&R on bloody Nessus Maui beach, I'm trying to reach him. I appreciate things are hectic over there, but we're trying to come up with a setup to get Googlie Allardyce back in one piece, and your mr Cavanagh's name keeps popping up as a very nice addition to the rescue team indeed. Now before the desk hawks over in Command get their way and Googlie gets fried by OUR side just to keep the other guys from getting to him, why don't you get onto your CO and get her to reel him in?"

        The 1st Wing XO and the Psi Corps XO looked at each other, and spent a couple of moments worldlessly conveying mutual dislike. Professionality, however, took over, and the Psi Corps XO briefly informed his counterpart that he would contact Ann Rynn.
        "Thank you." came the reply from Hawk of Chiron, and it sounded sincere.

        The XO checked his list, as if to make sure. What were these people thinking of?

        Gavin Burge to set up a diversion.

        Bearcat Brewster to set up a diversion.

        Leejay Lockhart to set up a diversion, I mean, Jeez!

        Oh, and this one.

        Salvador St James, right, to set up a diversion!

        What were they doing? Staging a side show for that bastard?

        And in the end, in waltzes Miles Cavanagh in the Cyborg's chopper and pulls out Allardyce and the Santiago niece, meanwhile killing as much of the Circle of Ashaandi as he can manage.

        Must be some bloke.

        Finally, a spot that wasn't filled in yet. The XO mused, but couldn't come up with anything. Maybe a spook.

        First to find Cavanagh.


        Numquam turbae misceri
        Numquam turbae misceri


        • #34
          Trawler McMillan let her gaze take in North Fleet. One missile cruiser, one. One impact foil, one. One upgraded Unity foil, one. The Star of the North, the Glory of K'el, and the Lycurgus, respectively.

          Everything else was on loan with South Fleet.

          Up North, the Spartan fleet trawled for Unity pods and Isles of the Deep. The Lycurgus had in fact obtained two Unity rovers, one Unity chopper, and three Unity foils, and hauled in two of the weird alien artifacts, various materials pods for the Northern bases, and 450 clean, cool energy credits, which was well in excess of what a base like, say, Hawk of Chiron would produce in a century. Add to that the planet pearls collected by the Star, the Glory, and their colleagues now lost at sea, and you could say North Fleet had done its bit. Still did its bit. All that mattered was sending your gunboats out with your foils. That was how you popped pods.

          McMillan cut off the familar train of thought. Stuck in a rut. Not for the first time, she looked closely at the Lycurgus, to see if everything was still all right. But nothing showed on the outside.

          The fleet trudged on under the stark, bright Northern sky, on its way to rendezvous with South Fleet and hand over the bizarre cargo of the Lycurgus.


          Numquam turbae misceri

          [This message has been edited by Tokek Belerang (edited July 14, 1999).]
          [This message has been edited by Tokek Belerang (edited July 15, 1999).]
          Numquam turbae misceri


          • #35
            The Psi Corps XO glumly called back to the 1st Wing XO.

            "Bad news I'm afraid. I contacted Liuetenant Rynn and she says she approved a special operation status for Cavenagh earlier this morning, at the request of acting SAC Chief of Staff Brewster".

            "What do you mean 'special op' and what's it got to do with the Air Force?" stormed the XO. I've been told that this dude is crucial to getting Googlie and the Santiago girl out. Where the heck is he?"

            Psi Ops XO knew this was going to be dynamite.

            "The Pens dropped him and a rover within a couple of clicks of their stranded crewmates. Seems he is just going to drive them out right through the Hive lines", he said, and waited for the predictable explosion of profanity from the other end.

            He was not disappointed.

            1st Wing's XO finished his litany of every cuss word he knew, and ended "Well, it's SNAFU in bloody capital letters. Now we have an amateur Sir Galahad to rescue as well.

            "I'd better alert the higher ups. This is getting out of control. Why don't we just pull back and let the Hive have that idiot Googlie" and severed the connection.

            'Why not', thought the Psi Ops XO gloomily.
            [This message has been edited by Rynn (edited July 14, 1999).]


            • #36
              Miles came to and heard the voices as he was picking the dirt and grass from his nose.

              “where’d the girl go I was sure that I saw her go into the trees but I can’t seem to see her how I wish I could she’s a right goodlooking piece of tail I wouldn’t mind getting a piece of that oh heck Bert’s going to go in there after her I guess I’d better wait out here with this stiff sweet Chiron where’d this headache come from”.

              Miles realized that he was not hearing voices at all. He knew what the trooper was thinking. The thoughts were jumbled and continuous, and he had trouble at first recognizing the coherent pattern, but as he lay there and concentrated in firing his neural implant to accelerate his empathy, he felt around with his mind and thought of his captor – Alvin was his name, it came to him automatically - being very tired. He rummaged through Alvin’s mind.

              “god I’m tired all this running round and the constant being on guard for the possibility of battle and these freaking mindworms what a shame they got Barker what a great buddy he was boy he’d get his fill with that girl there wasn’t one in Workers Nest that he hadn’t laid I don’t know how he wasn’t picked up by the thought police god I’m tired I think I’ll just sit here by this rover I see that this idiot is still out cold that missile blast must have really concussed him”

              Alvin propped the laser assault rifle against the Rover and sat down with his back against a tree trunk.

              Miles pondered.

              He could penetrate Alvin’s mind, read his jumbled thought streams, and implant a power of suggestion into his susceptible mind.


              He looked over to the trees to where the other trooper was moving, and felt/sensed snatches of his thoughts, wavering with the distance. He strengthened his neural empath facility, concentrating on range and direction. He achieved a little more clarity, but still disjointed;

              “must get… mindworms to worry….forests…..I catch you and feel you squirming…..see how you…..these branches…..tracks….buzz in my head…..getting dark in here….maybe wait….reinforcements…..back”

              Suddenly he was aware of her.

              In his mind.

              He in hers.

              Serenity, patience, waiting, slight fear, Googlie, mindworms.

              He pushed his consciousness out, maxing the signal as he triggered all the accelerators programmed into his synapses, willing her to understand his thoughts.

              “friend, come to rescue, heavily armed, have transportation”

              In his mind the thoughts formed:

              “Right. Some rescue. Get fired on and knocked unconscious before you are even fully operational. Fat lot of good your heavily armed status did you there”

              “Ive got matters under control”, he projected. My guard is in a sleep trance now that I’ve induced, and I’m directing the other back to do the same, if I can. Can you get into their minds as well?”

              He felt the negative thought. Then she projected to him, “you are easy, you project so strongly. Almost as strong as the mindworm I befriended that saved my life.”

              “Gotta break’, he empathed.

              Bert was arriving, looking puzzled at his friend leaning back against the tree trunk, looking glassy eyed.

              Miles reached out with his mind, forgetting that he was at maximum psi force from his ‘conversation’ with Julia.

              Bert collapsed to the ground clutching his head and Miles recoiled from the sheer power of the psychic pain he was experiencing through Bert’s mind. He dampened his own strength somewhat, and rose up and took Alvin’s rifle from against the Rover.

              As he was engaging a trance sequence within Bert’s mind with one part of his consciousness, another part was signaling Julia to come over to the vehicle.

              Bert slumped to the ground beside Alvin.

              Miles had no idea how long the trance effects would last, whether they were time controlled or proximity controlled. He didn’t want to wait to find out.

              Julia emerged from the trees, and as Miles looked at her, all thoughts he might have had of Lisa disappeared. He was looking into the face and the eyes of a soul mate. He was looking into her mind, and she into his. She smiled, and his heart melted.

              She spoke, and he thought he was in heaven to hear that voice.

              “Hi”, she said, I’m Julia Santiago”

              “Of course”, he replied stupidly, and I’m Miles Cavenagh.”

              “I know”, she said, you don’t need to tell me, nor I you. But it’s better talking. I’m not so good playing in the mind as you are. My only experience to date is with a wild mindworm, and he was pretty primative.”

              “Let’s get out of here”, he said, picking up the other assault rifle.

              They climber aboard the Rover, and he said “Which way?”

              “That ridge over there”, she said, pointing to the rocky escarpment where she had left Googlie.

              They covered the ground in a few minutes with the rover, and as they approached the crevasse Julia jumped out and ran up to the fissure where Googlie was hiding.

              He was nowhere to be found.


              • #37

                ORIGINALS ONLY


                Distribution To:

                Corazon Santiago, Commander in Chief
                Wing Commander Scott Allardyce, SAC Chief of Staff
                Squadron Leader Pat Brewster, SAF, Penetrator Squadron
                Lieutenant Ann Rynn, Psi-Ops
                Major Wesly Holbrook, Project Pyrrho
                Dr Juan Bonaventura,



                COURT MARTIAL OF:


                JW: Be seated. The charge that is being levied against you is that you willfully detoured from your assigned route from Commanders Keep to Sparta Command to overfly a recently discovered ring of ancient monoliths, and while doing so perpetrated an attack on a Spartan expeditionary force commanded by Captain Elyias. Further that you unleashed a tactical nuclear missile at these troops, and only the fast action of your Operations Officer prevented an atrocity from being committed.

                Let's start with your testimony, Lieutenant Osaki.

                Tell us in your own words what transpired two days ago.

                TO: We were on our assigned flight from Commanders Keep to Sparta Command and had touched down to refuel at Janissary Rock. While there we had seen the announcement by Captain Elyias concerning the discovery of the Monolith Ring. It was not very far from our route to Sparta Command, and Lieutenant Gauthier expressed a desire to fly over the ring and observe from the air.

                JW: Is this correct, Lieutenant Gauthier?

                BG: Yes Sir.

                JW: Continue.

                TO: Well, we passed over the area of the Dunes where Captain Elyias was dug in, and proceeded to the Ring. I was not particularly interested, as I had many times visited the monolith just outside my home base of Blast Rifle Crag. Accordingly I had tripped an SE - self education - fleche into the console and was trying to teach myself self hypnosis. I was vaguely aware that we had circled, and was getting deep into the trance when I was jarred out of it by the missile launch override on my console. I snapped to, and was aware of the Captain and Bernie cursing audibly. I was able to emergency reprogram the missile's flight path and send it northwards into the ocean.

                JW: Lieutenant, did you actually witness Lieutenant Gauthier launch the missile, or hear Captain Singh give the launch command?

                TO: No Sir. As I said, I was first aware of the launch of the missile when the visual and audible missile fired alert sounded.

                JW: So the launch could have been a malfunction?

                TO: Doubtful, Sir. There are so many failsafes built in that a malfunction is unlikely - has in face never happened. Command sequences have to be keyed in, and verified by both the Flying Officer and the Munitions Officer that as I say, in my opinion it would be impossible for the launch to be accidental.

                JW: Thank you Lieutenant Osaki. We will now take a ten minute recess after which we will hear the testimony of Captain Singh.


                JW: Captain Singh. You have heard Lieutenant Osaki's testimony, and you have a transcript in front of you. Is this also your recollection, or where do you differ from the testimony already given?

                RS: Well, Sir, it's exactly as he says up to the point when we approached Captain Elyias position. Bernie had suggested that we drop to 2000 meters for a better view and I complied. As we overflew the troops and approached the ring, I began to hear voices in my head.

                JW: Voices, Captain Singh? What kind of voices? Electronic chatter?.

                RS: No Sir. Not so much voices as impressions of voices. Murmurings. Angry buzzing. The closer we got to the centrte of the ring, the more insistent they became. Then we saw them.

                JW: Saw what, Captain?

                RS: The mindworms. Even from 2,000 meters we could make them out. Huge. Hundreds of them. I…I..

                JW: Go on, Captain.

                RS: I felt that they were talking to me, entering my mind. They wanted me to turn around and open fire on Captain Elyias and his troops, and, Sir, I found that I wanted to. I resented all those snide remarks the ground troops were always making against us airmen, and I wanted to turn right round and teach them a hell of a lesson.

                JW: What then, Captain?

                RS: Well, I looked over at Bernie, and asked if he was all right, thinking it was only me, that I had a vivid imagination. He was shaking in a rage, and his feelings intensified and strengthened mine till finally we said "let's do it" or words to that effect. I turned the penetrator around, made an attack run at Captain Elyias, we armed a nuke and fired.

                JW: And the alarm of the missile firing snapped you out of your trance too?

                RS: No Sir. I don't think that I was ever in a trance. I think that the mindworms were controlling me in some way, because when we had cleared the Ring where they were congregated the noises in my head and mind faded and I then realized the enormity of what I had done. That's when Lieutenant Osaki heard both bernie and me cursing for all we were worth. I think it had the same effect on bernie, but you'll need to ask him.

                JW: Thank you, Captain. I will. You may stand down now.

                Lieutenant Gauthier. Is this a fair and accurate description of the events of that day.

                BG: Yes Sir. It is exactly as the Captain has described.

                JW: Did you at any time feel that you were in a trance?

                BG: No Sir. Like Ranjit said, I felt that my mind was being controlled by the many mindworms we were flying over. I really wasn't in control of my actions.

                JW: Have you ever seen a mindworm, Lieutenant Gauthier, close up?

                BG: No sir.

                JW: Thank you Lieutenant Gauthier.

                Gentleman, this hearing is adjourned.



                Their testimony is consistent and believable. It is also consistent with other interrogations I have done with military personnel who have come into contact with mindworms.

                I do not believe that this investigation should go any further.

                I recommend that study commences immediately both on how to counter this psi force that the airmen felt and on how to channel it for our military applications.

                Major Jennifer Williamson


                • #38
                  Julia looked at Miles, nonplussed.

                  "This is ridiculous", she said. "He can't have gone far. He's got a broken foot."

                  They scoured around the barren rock looking for clues as to any kind of scuffle, but could see none. Neither could they make out any footprints, even where they had just walked. It was useless. Googlie had just simply disappeared.

                  "How long were you away from him," Miles asked.

                  "About a day", Julia replied "He can't have gone far".

                  "Let's split up," said miles. "You go east and I'll head west. Go a max of two clicks, or two hours, whichever comes first, and let's meet back here no later than four hours from now"

                  "Wouldn't it be faster to use the rover?" Julia asked, "And isn't there strength in numbers?"

                  "No," said Miles. "The rover will just draw attention to ourselves. Well be better off on foot. And we'll cover twice the ground if we separate. I mean, what can happen to us. We're not going to blindly stumble into any Hive troops, and we've got great assault rifles plus our shredder pistols, so we'll manage to fend off the odd mindworm".

                  They pushed the rover under the overhanging rock out of the way, and spread some fungal stalks to partially hide it from a casual glance.

                  They separated, and within minutes had lost sight of each other.

                  Julia was surprised that she couldn't stay in mental touch with Miles. All she was receiving were mild personality wisps, with no coherency. She shrugged, and went on her way. "Probably not projecting," she thought.

                  Miles was a little more concerned, but not unduly. He searched telepathically for her mind, using his enhancements to the max, but could pick up only a faint trace on the edge of his consciousness. He too shrugged. "Probably getting herself in tune with the mindworms, and they're blocking me" was his thought as he continued his search for clues of Googlie's whereabouts.


                  • #39
                    Southeast of Hive positions

                    A hive troop transport rumbled through the low growing scrub bushes and across a ford in a rather small river. Following close behind it were four brand new Hive "Werewolf" tanks. The Werewolf was a dealdy machine. It mounted a main heavy missle launcher array, plasma armor, and then a heavy gatling laser for anti infantry support. Sunlight from Alpha Prime was reflecting off their shiny new missle launchers. The troop transport was having a hard time getting out of the river and into the fungus bloom on the other side of the river. In fact the transport looked like it was stuck, and troops had began to pour out of the back of the transport to help get the vehicle going. It was a beautiful sunny day, and Lieutenant Mike Barston (Golf Company, Hive 3rd Armored Cav "Hell's Horses" Division) wished he was going on a picknic, instead of hunting for mindworms. That's why he wasn't furiously yelling at his men who weren't having much luck getting their transport moving in the fungus. He looked up and closed his eyes, letting the sunlight caress his face and he thought back to two weeks ago on a warm sunny day just like this. Eyes closed as his girlfriend Ivana gently kissed his neck, he loved her and wished he could be wither her. He wished she was here with him. He could tell his platoon to go back to base and they'd be all alone.

                    Then he slowly stopped daydreaming and started coming back to reality. He wasn't in Ivana's arms, instead his platoon, and a rifle platoon from the Hive 12th Infantry Division were looking for mind worms. Apparently a squad doing recon had ran into some mindworms and they were missing. Now it was his job to stomp some bugs. He was getting ready to yell at the troop transport when he was hit and fell over the side of his Werewolf. The transport had bursted into flames and seconds later another rover at the end of the formation exploded. Out of the fungus rapid firing choas rounds tore apart the soldier who were now running away from the transport. Lieutenant Barston's rover exploded also. The other two managed to fire a barrage of missles blindly into the fungus before antitank rounds tore them apart.

                    Barston was bleeding and badly burnt, his mind was numb. He knew he was going to die soon and shock of it all terrified him. It was hard to breath and it was getting harder all the time. He could still here sporadic shooting.

                    "Ivana! Ivana, I love you Ivana." He had started to cry and everything was getting distorted. Out of the river infantry from another unit he'd never seen before advanced by him. One of them put a rifle to his head, and he layed his head on the ground no longer having the stength to hold it up.

                    "Ivana" he whisper desperatly in the direction of the soldier who was standing over him.

                    PFC Will Harel looked down up the Hive soldier, (who had butter bars!) and felt pity for this wretched bleeding man. Harel eased his finger off his rifle and hunched down over the man. The man grasped his leg and said some but it was too garbled for him to understand most of it. All Harel could make out was, 'Tell Ivana I love her'. The man had gone limp and wasn't breathing any longer. Harel respectfully closed the man's eyes and then advanced on looking for any stragglers.

                    Field HQs 469th

                    "Sir, Tau company just reported they ambushed a Hive patrol. The report states they destroyed a Hive rover platoon from the 3rd Armored Cav, and a rifle platoon from the 12th Infantry. The losses for the Hive were complete. We didn't lose anyone, Sir." Colonel Thomilson smiled at the Lieutenant. In four attacks over the three days, they had only had one killed and three wounded. This was very good new indeed. He returned the salute and went back to work.
                    [This message has been edited by korn469 (edited July 14, 1999).]


                    • #40
                      2nd Armor Division ‘Rolling Thunder’, Spartan Faction, Rover 21 ‘Lightning’

                      A pleasant voice said, “Incoming message, encrypted. Enable decoding algorithm?”

                      Mary hurried into the comm console and puts on her VR interlace goggles and gloves, “Mary Belfontaine, ID Gamma-56239. Enable and decode. Feed to VR. Ready retinal scan.”

                      Seven minutes later, Mary pulled off the goggles and gloves and went forward to the ****pit of the rover. Very strange orders, considering recent hostilities with the Hive, she thought as she approached Markus. Markus was just completing a navigation system check, and Mary waited until he was done.

                      “We just got our new orders,” Mary teased. She eased herself into the co-pilot’s seat.

                      Markus just noticed she was there, “What?” He looked up.

                      “I said, we just got our new orders. I know what they are,” Mary continued.

                      “Oh, that’s interesting,” Markus replied, feigning disinterest.

                      “If you want to know where to pilot our rover, you’ll have to ask me what our orders are,” Mary stated.

                      “Do I have to?” Markus asked. A look of expectant distaste crossed his face.

                      “Yes,” Mary stated.

                      “Oh Omnipotent Mary, Please Grace This Worthless One With Your Wisdom,” Markus said in monotone.

                      “And?” Mary prompted.

                      “Your Beauty Outshines The Suns, You Are The Godlike One Around Whom My Life Revolves,” Markus finished.

                      “Very good, you have proved yourself minimally worthy. Our orders are very exciting, and we’ve never done this before. I’m sure you’ll be thrilled! We’re going…” Mary started.

                      “Wormhunting,” Markus finished in a disgusted voice, “I hate Wormhunting.”


                      The rover lurched violently, throwing all five occupants against their retraining harnesses. Something crashed in the sleep cubby.

                      “Hold tight!” Markus yelled belatedly.

                      “Even I could do better than that,” Marciel chided.

                      “Wrong. You would have killed us. Watch and learn, my young apprentice,” Markus returned. Markus turned sharply to the right, and the left wheels dug into the fungus. A sheet of pink fungus debris poured over the plexglass windshield, clattering and creating a strange washing sound as it passed over them like a wave. Suddenly the rover broke though the growth into the open. Sunlight filled the cabin.

                      “How did you know?” Louis asked, “I thought we’d never get out the fungjungle!”

                      “Well, the same way you can target our chaos turret better than the comp-assist. Instinct, I guess,” Markus responded. “Cap, where do we go now?”

                      The rover slowed and then stopped. Each of the occupants carefully removed their 5-point harnesses and massaged their bruised arms, legs, and torsos.

                      “First, a little food and rest. We’ve been fighting the fungus for over 10 hours. Marciel and Lou, you first. The rest of us need to do maintenance and system checks to see if anything requires repair. Mary and I will go topside and inspect the hull. Markus, contact the other 5 rovers in our squad to check their status. They may have kicked up a mindworm and may need some emergency assistance. Also, check to see if you find a pod beacon that may have come into view,” Captain Rao Kosarau ordered. Rao stood, his solid and wiry form confidently maneuvering in the cramped space. His fit form belied his age. “Move!”

                      The rest of the crew purposefully either retreated to the sleep cubby and hab area or to their assignment. Rao and Mary donned their breathmasks and datapads and cycled the airlock. Markus did a quick syscheck and then called up the transponders of Rovers 4, 6, 19, 22, and 24. A quick ‘ping’ indicated that all were still functioning. He sent a query to each for a status check, which could be returned at their leisure. Rovers 6, 19, and 24 had a query for their rover ‘Lightning’ in the comm buffer. He sent a quick update to each. Markus pulled on the VR goggles and gloves and activated the flycam and sensors, then sat back to scan their surroundings.

                      Just as he suspected, Markus found they were in a major patch of xenofungus. Because of it’s size it was partially unexplored, since Sparta Command only sent their experienced crews into such patches, and then only in groups. It was too easy to have a single rover be overwhelmed. Exploring, of course, wasn’t the sole purpose. Sparta Command never did anything without an explicit purpose. They were charged with finding the now rare Unity Pods. Also, they were to flush out and exterminate as many worms as possible. This provided planet pearls, valuable energy to Spartan society, which was up to 30% of their total on a good year. Heaven knows they could use it now, with hostilites with the Hive rising fast. It also was a useful training ground when their hostilities were at a lull.

                      Markus thought, privately, that their efforts could be better directed in obliterating the sick and deluded followers of Chairman Mayhem, as the crew affectionately knew him. Well, we have our orders, Markus concluded.

                      “What ho! What’s that?” Markus exclaimed to himself. He had found a weak EM signature to their northwest. He directed his flycam to the area, his excitement growing. When he got within two clicks he activated a comm channel to Captain Rao, “Capt’n, we got one!”


                      After a 12-hour cycle of rest and repair, Rao ordered that they inform the other five rovers in their squad and HQ that they had were going to investigate the pod. It was about five clicks away, and would take most of a day to get there due to the rough terrain. Two rovers, number 6 ‘Blue Death’ and 19 ‘Knife Strike’, responded that they were close enough to support.

                      A day later they had plowed their way toward the EM anomaly, and it was confirmed as a Unity Pod. The tension level was high, since opening a Unity Pod was always dangerous.

                      “OK, Lou to the chaos turret. Mary to the engineering and comm console. Markus get ready for a quick pickup, just in case. Marciel and I will tag the pod. I’ve taken five of these, and they are a piece of cake,” Rao reassured them.

                      Without a word the crew sped off for their tasks. Markus went through some redundant checks, just in case, but watched the pod team advance toward the pod. The pod had been here for well over a hundred years and looked a little worse for wear. From his vantagepoint 6 meters above the ground in the rover ****pit he could see at least two breaches in the exposed pod hull. Who knows what the underside of the pod, which had impacted Planet, looked like. They are relics of the past, but valuable relics.

                      Marciel suddenly disappeared from view, and there was a cry over the intercom. Rao stated, “Got it, Marciel fell into a small crevice in the fungus. He is just startled. I will recommend more fungus terrain training for our young recruits. You OK, Marciel?”

                      “Yeh, a little embarrassed. Coronal Santiago wouldn’t be pleased. I’ll do better,” Marciel shamefully admitted. Like most Spartans, he worshiped The Coronal as the epitome of valor and vision.

                      The Coronal would be as likely to shoot you or break you arm as to train or help you. Not exactly a nurturing environment, Markus thought wryly to himself. Even so, Spartan society was much better than the alternative, the Hive. Markus shuddered briefly at the thought. At least if you were a good and loyal soldier you could do, or believe, as you liked. Engineers, like Mary, didn’t really fit, but were tolerated since they were useful. Pilots were considered warriors-in-the-making, and Markus wasn’t sure he liked that. Hardened and multitalented warriors like Rao were universally admired.

                      The pod team had reached the pod. Marciel activated the laser torch, since the access hatch was buried underneath the fungus. As he approached the pod a hum started on the intercom. Marciel and Rao paused and looked around.

                      “Mary, what is that?” Marciel asked.

                      “Maybe a little feedback, I’ll check into it,” Mary replied. She ran a diagnostic. Hmmm, nothing wrong here, she thought.

                      In the meantime Captain Rao ordered Marciel to start cutting an entryway. “This is cutting pretty easy, sir. I should be through in about 5 minutes,” Marciel updated.

                      Shortly, the ablated metal hull where Marciel had cut the entryway fell inward with a clang. It was pitch dark inside the Unity Pod. Captain Rao and Marciel turned on their area lighting, and then drew their sidearms. Rao lead the way.

                      Progress in the pod was slow since the decks were inclined at 20 degrees. They attached pinions to the walls and strung monorope to secure their descent. Rao reported with a running commentary as they explored the pod. The pods are of standard design, so they knew generally what to expect.

                      “No functioning interior lights. No surprise. Attaching pinions in the plassteel walls in approximately 3 meter increments as we proceed. Mild debris throughout, must of hit hard with minimal atmospheric breaking. We are on deck six, near the top. Lower decks should contain supplies or materials. Nothing of interest here. Not secure, not appropriate for habitation. Proceeding up to levels 7 and 8, in the command areas.

                      “Lifts not functioning, as expected. Taking manways. Iris valves jammed, will have to cut through.

                      “Through to Level 7. Now clear why valve jammed. Levels 7 and 8 have almost completely disintegrated. Choked with debris and some xenofungus. There is some terran ivy, too, which is surprising. Proceeding to cargo levels.

                      “Hand cranks on iris valves are working fine. Shining area lighting into cargo bay. Standby.

                      “Hail Santiago! There is a wealth of crated machinery. And a temp-fusion supply! We haven’t seen one of those the Landing! It will provide several years worth of energy! Call HQ at once to advise and arrange for cargo evac!

                      Spontaneous cheers broke out from Markus and Mary. Even the normally dour Lou in the chaos turret let out a whoop. Mary immediately sent a squirt to HQ of the last half-hour of comm info, plus some of the vid of the cargo room. When she turned around Markus was standing there with a huge grin on his face. Before she knew it she was in his arms and was kissing him. They both stopped, feeling embarrassed but still smiling.

                      The humm from the intercom increased.

                      In the background a red light blinked impatiently. Mary noticed it and motioned to Markus, who rushed to it.

                      Sensors had detected movement. In the fungus 200 meters southeast of the rover something began moving. Then fungus on the far side of the pod. Then south of the rover. That could only mean one thing.

                      “Mindworms on multiple vectors! Fall back to the rover! I’m advancing toward you position now!” Markus shouted as he pushed the rover into emergency advance. The rover jerked forward. Rao and Marciel acknowledged and were rushing back to the rover.

                      “Lou, look sharp! Target and att….” Markus started.

                      The rover reverberated with the rhythmic fire of Lou’s chaos turret: #TuTHOCK#TuTHOCK# . Lou was ‘looking sharp’, as usual.

                      Mary activated the comm system, “Rover 21 ‘Lightning’ to all available units! At least three mindworm boils on attack vectors! Request immediate assistance! Request scramble of close air support Aardvark 1 and 2! Repeat, require immediate assistance…”

                      The humming reached insistent levels. It was now clear it wasn’t coming from the intercom. Flashes of colors started to coalesce in front of the team’s eyes.

                      Lou called Mark and Mary, “I, I think I got one, but I’m having trouble seeing, engaging computer assist…”

                      Mary looked strained. A rivulet of blood ran down from her left nostril. “I’ll go and check on him,” she volunteered.

                      Markus stopped the rover as near the entrance to the pod as he dared. “Come on Rao, Marciel, come on…” Markus prompted. He scanned the horizon, and a devastated area appeared to the southeast with a pulpy grey mass in the center. That was a very dead mindworm. The mindworm boil by the pod was almost formed, and the one to south was morphing across the fungus toward the rover.

                      Then he noticed the chaos gun wasn’t firing. They were in serious trouble.

                      At that point Rao fell through the fresh opening in the pod. He was carrying Marciel, who had blood all over his face and torso. Mark ran to the weapons locker, grabbed a flame gun, and cycled the airlock for Rao just as he got to the rover. Marciel was unceremoniously thrown through the lock, bounced off the bulkhead, and Rao bounded in.

                      “Close! Close! Why isn’t that damned chaos gun firing?!! Out of my way!” Rao demanded, as he rushed past. Mark closed the airlock, but kept his flame gun. Rao dashed to the chaos turret.

                      The room tilted for Markus, and he stumbled to the comm center. He grabbed the comm chair. The flamegun dropped to the ground. Colors flashed. What was that?

                      <...Pet the mindworm Markie! He won’t hurt you. See how soft he is…>

                      <… no, Mom, I wanna go with you…>

                      <…but, why…>



                      The room was filled with smoke. Acrid smoke.

                      Everything hurt. There was movement through the smoke. Small pale worms reached toward him. Markus eyes widened, and he tried feebly to crawl away. He immediately collapsed.

                      “It’s OK, Markus, I’m here to help you,” the worms said.

                      “What? Who?” Markus croaked. The worms resolved themselves into fingers, then a hand.

                      “You’re OK, you’re OK,” the voice said.

                      “Worms?!!!” Markus shouted. He squinted his eyes and focused on a face.

                      “Aardvark 2 and Blue Death got here in time. They toasted the other mindworms just as they were getting through. Massive electrical overload from the auto defense systems. Also colatoral fire from Blue Death and Aardvark 2. Thank Rao, he never lost his head. The man is indestructible! Now, stay still while I examine you,” his benefactor insisted.

                      “Fine,” Markus said. He slumped to the floor again. The smoke was slowly clearing and there was more movement. He turned his head and saw Mary appear as an apparition through the haze. She was a mess, with gauze along her left arm and partially removed blood along her ears, eyes, and nose. Markus smiled weakly. Mary looked worried.

                      “Head to toe, head to toe, now hold still!” the medic demanded. She was taking off all his clothing to make sure there were no surprises. Mindworms had been known to hide, and attach hours later. No use taking chances. Soon he was naked. He was embarrassed, but he stopped squirming.

                      “You’re clean. Everything is there. You’re fine, just need some R&R. Wait, what’s that? Oh, just a tatoo. Very strange, is that ivy? What are the red blotches?” the medic inquired. Mary moved over and said quickly and curtly, “Yes, that’s right, it’s ivy.”

                      “Can you clean him up a little? Thanks. I’ve got to go and help Trav with Marciel, he got it bad,” medic Luong stated as she hurried off.

                      Mary nodded, and quickly covered Markus with an emergency blanket. She specifically tucked the edge of the blanket around his tattoo of interlocking rose vines and red roses that encircled his upper right arm. Mary whispered into Markus’ ear, “Your secret is safe with me.” She kissed him once on the forehead.

                      Markus was sound asleep.


                      [This message has been edited by Hydro (edited July 15, 1999).]


                      • #41
                        "So he's in there already." the Gecko said over the commlink.
                        "Yes." the XO replied.
                        "Saves us a tricky chopper ride."
                        "Excuse me, sir?"
                        "Never mind, XO. I guess it's done. We have to move now. What's the progress on the diversion front?"
                        "No replies, sir. No real ones, anyway."
                        "I see. I may have been too optimistic about our rapid deployment capabilities, then."
                        "The Cyborg is in Fort Soup waiting, sir."
                        "All revved up and no place to go. We are a division of ninety people, XO, thirty triage medics and twenty mechanics included. We move when we want to because we've no one to wait for."
                        "Yes, sir."
                        "We will have to improvise, XO. I'm going in in the needlejet. Get back on the blower to the others and keep impressing on them that we have to make this BIG. If there's one thing our man Sand doesn't like, it's the big and the open. We have to go in lights ablaze, all colors flying. We need all the exposure we can get, and it must be clear that it's him we're after."
                        "Yes, XO."
                        "I can get onto my contact at Morgan News, if you like."
                        The Gecko snorted on the other end of the line.
                        "I like, XO. I like very much. Do that, and tell the Cyborg to head out to South Fleet to take delivery of a special something. It may be too late, or it could still work."
                        "Sorry, sir?" the XO asked matter-of-factly.
                        "Never mind, XO. Geck out."
                        Blast, the XO thought. Close.

                        He punched in the connection code for the Cyborg.


                        Numquam turbae misceri

                        [This message has been edited by Tokek Belerang (edited July 15, 1999).]
                        Numquam turbae misceri


                        • #42
                          "Do you really think Morgan News will do a stretch on the Circle?"

                          Sheila Cartesius sat facing the XO over drinks in a small café in the rec comm. Not the CO's precious vodka, whisky, tequila or whatnot, but a bottle of Old Spartan and two shot glasses. Local poison - could send a mindworm screaming for its mummy at two hundred paces. Or so the advert would have it. It didn't taste too great, but it was the only thing going that didn't have "Morgan" stamped all over it, and that made up for something.

                          "Yeah, why not. Nobody likes a spook. Morgan and Yang may be allies, but bosom buddies they aren't. Morgan is at Police State now, but there's talk he wants to switch to Democracy. That could disrupt relationships. And believe me, there's no way Yang hasn't been using the Circle in Morganite territory, too. Just a couple too many scientists wandering into back alleys to get done in, for my taste."
                          "Wouldn't they run too great a risk of getting caught?"
                          The XO frowned.
                          "Yeah, that's true. You have a point. But I reckon the Circle could do it. They must all be Elites."
                          "Do we have a Circle, XO?"
                          He looked at her.
                          "Wouldn't know. Guess so. Maybe."

                          They looked around at the gathering around them, both feeling a little bit uncomfortable all of a sudden. As they saw a small group of people in civilian outfits heading for their table, they looked at each other in alarm.

                          "1st Wing XO?" one of them asked, having stopped by the table.
                          "Yes." the XO said, and Sheila felt a little ping of relief.
                          "We are a delegation from the election committee for the new governor of Hawk of Chiron base."
                          "Yes?" the XO asked, his voice pinging a little bit of relief as well.
                          "We are here to put to you, unofficially, whether you would appreciate being considered for the post of governor of Hawk of Chiron."
                          "Excuse me?"
                          The woman looked at him with an expression of, well, you heard me, didn't you?
                          "I... I'd have to check with my CO. I'm not sure..."
                          "I'll take that as a yes. And don't worry about your CO - he was the one to suggest you in the first place."


                          Numquam turbae misceri
                          Numquam turbae misceri


                          • #43
                            South of the Great Fungal Wall, Near Plex Anthill

                            “Torch them.” Those two words were all it took to turn prime agricultural land into a wasteland. After receiving the word to create an adequate diversion, the 469th broke out of the fungus and started down Highway 1A, the brand new stretch of road that ran through the middle of the Great Fungal Wall. Demoloshing the light oppostion they encountered the 469th made excellent time rapidly advancing to the final stop before supplies actually got to the troops, Plex Anthill.

                            For a single second the 469th broke radio silence, sending out a micro-burst on the commlink. Seconds after General Lockhart gave the order, all nine widely scattered companies began the process of demolishing the second of three large agricultural collectives supporting the population at Plex Anthill. A warehouse containing a massive surplus of staple foods already lit up the sky. It was the kind of waste only seen in wartime.

                            General Lockhart himself lit up a torch and threw it through a window of a residential structure. Soldiers were stacking bags filled with fertilizer in each of the fields. Another team was going behind them and pouring synthaline on each of the stacks. As soon as the teams reached a safe distance, incendiary rounds tore into the bags igniting the explosive mix. The unstable fertilize exploded in the intense heat and left a nice little crater in the middle of the flaming field. This went on for hours.

                            Squads would go by and set each residential structure they came to on-fire. If it was too large for torches, they called a demolition squad in. The squad would rig the house with the fertilizer/synthaline mix and then destroy the structure. Besides the fields of foodstuffs were fields of equally valuable solar panels. Troops were placing charges at precise locations and rendering them useless. A large dark black cloud of acrid smoke began to rise from the burning landscape. The sky had visibly darkened, and as far as the eye could see, useful crops were burning, storage sites were leveled, and houses were burning. Lockhart’s eyes became dreamy and he focused on the memory.

                            Outside of Nadezjda-Hope many years before

                            He had just been promoted to Captain and was in the 3rd Armored Division, they were deep inside of enemy territory and his company had just been cut off from the rest of the division. A sunspot restricted communications to line of sight laser links. Not being able to face the enemy directly, they left a swath of destruction in their wake. Nothing was left untouched. Farms were burnt solar collectors were smashed and roads were blown up. The land was completely useless when they left. Also littering the land was blood from university workers who had been unable to hide. Captain Lockhart had wanted the destruction of the land to be complete. Thomilson had been a Lieutenant back then in Lockhart’s company. Even under great stress his performance had been nothing less than exemplary.

                            They were going around in two man teams burning down the last residential structures at this farm and a young boy (probably preteens) ran out from one of the burning houses with his father. Captain Lockhart saw this man and squeezed off a three round burst that caught the man squarely in the chest. He fell and was dead before he hit the ground. They turned and begin to walk away when they heard the boy yelling at them.

                            Turning around, they heard the boy shout, “I HATE YOU!” A rock hit Lockhart in the forehead and he fell down dazed but before he fell his fingered constricted on the trigger. Thomilson saw Lockhart and the boy hit the ground at virtually the same instance. When he got up, he shook off the shock and felt of the large bump forming on his forehead. Then he looked up and saw a small body slumped over the larger one. He didn’t gaze at it very long. However, he gazed at it long enough to never forget the burning house with the farther and son laying in front of it. That moment was like taking a snapshot. Until recently that image had kept him up everynight, now he could sleep quite easily by just thing f the number 9, yet the image was still in his dreams.

                            Later after they linked up with their unit, his platoon had earned a reputation for itself. Their exploits of completely destroying the terrain and attracting the attention of a much larger enemy force became part of the myth of the 3rd armored division. Lockhart’s fellow officers gave him the playful nickname loot.

                            Early that night

                            Setting in the glow of a still smouldering building the command staff of the 469th was holding a staff meeting. The landscape was an eerie nightmare kingdom, with the charred skeletons of gutted building proturding into the night sky. And light from various fires was reflected off of the acrid cloud of smoke that still hung over the ruined farmland.

                            "So what's the final count?" Lockhart asked matter of factly.

                            "We destroyed enough food to feed fifteen thousand people for a year. The solar collectors we destroyed powered the childrens creche system at the Anthill, now they'll have to redirect their power supply in order to keep it running. Around twenty of our men received minor injuries in skirmishes with the farmers, nothing serious. We estimate one hundred farmers were killed in those skirmishes. Additionally we think we might have sturred up about ten thousand refugees headed from the out lying areas going to the Anthill. The refugees are causing mass confusion." Reported Lt. Colonel "Rico" Gomez with a little smirk on his face.

                            "What about defenses? Can we expect anyone to contest our control of the roads to the front." Asked Lt. Colonel Thomas Reich.

                            "Not from the Anthill. All they have stationed there is a Police garrison. They're good at detering rioters but we'll tear them up if they try to engage us. If they want their supply lines back, Yang is going to have to send some of his troops from the front. Good job everyone!" General Lockhart was looking very satisfied right now. Things were looking good until fighting actually began.
                            [This message has been edited by korn469 (edited July 15, 1999).]


                            • #44
                              The Bizarre Cargo of the Lycurgus

                              Voices in the distance, weakly. Ambient sounds. The buzz of a fission drive, turbulence beneath. Echoes deepening over a rift, garbling in the shallows. The strange, mute signatures of the people outside. Suns rising, suns setting, pulling faintly. The memory of the people with the soft voices and the gentle signatures. Why this way now? The business was settled. Consciousness in harmony, no need for strife. All of us in here are in agreement, why not you out there? Where are the people we agreed to? Where is Stephen? Where is Deirdre?


                              Numquam turbae misceri
                              Numquam turbae misceri


                              • #45
                                John Martin felt something brush against his leg and almost screamed, but stifled it off at the last moment; glancing furtively around, he spied the source of his discomfiture--a small strand of fungus had tried to snag him. Nothing sentient, thank god; Martin slowly breathed a sigh of relief. Any sound here, ANY sound, would spell certain doom for he and his companions. The Spartans were certain to have the fungus packed with sensor arrays by this time, and even if they had neglected Fort Superiority's defenses, Martin didn't want to awaken anything ELSE that might be lurking in the fungal bloom. He'd seen men and women taken by mind worms, and had sworn long ago that he would rather put a bullet though his own brain than suffer the same fate as those poor souls, dying in screams and agony.

                                His night vision goggles weren't picking up anything, and the base camp's sensors hadn't detected any unusual presences, but still--if the Peacekeeper technology were perfect than Martin wouldn't have to be out here doing recon. Far from it, Lal had fallen seriously behind in the tech war, and Santiago had been loathe to assist him in recovering--only for energy credits, had been the reply. Well, why expend energy for something that can be gotten for free? That was why the Stalkers were here, after all. Martin snapped out of his private thoughts as another fungal tendril made contact with his skin. "Gods," he thought, "I've got to get out of here." And so, trying not to run but failing, John Martin retreated back to the Stalkers' base camp.


                                While a 'normal' human (as if anybody 'normal' would work in a Probe team) might be shocked and perhaps somewhat frightened to see an enemy unit parked outside of his tent, Ahmed Baruk was anything but normal--on the contrary, it was his incredible psionic talents that had gotten him hand-picked for this particular mission, as the Stalkers were unused to working in fungal conditions. So when Baruk walked out of his tent to see a Gatling Recon Rover parked outside of his tent with the Hive emblem painted on its side, Baruk was too busy admiring the paint job to be frightened for his life. Obtaining this pile of junk hadn't been much of a problem--the rover was on its last legs and was obsolete anyway--but transporting it through the fungus had been a hell of a job. Hopefully it would all be worth it, though. When the commander at Fort Superiority would discover several days later that his computer system had been compromised and that an opposing faction had made off with top secret technological data, why where would he look first for traces of the perpetrators but the fungal wall, which rarely allowed anybody through unimpeded? And lo and behold, that very same commander would find, in the fungus, a burned out and choked Hive Recon Rover that had apparently been abandoned. Attempts would have been made by the Hive to destroy the rover, but time was short and parts of the rover would remain--such as the emblem.

                                All very neat and tidy. And when Sparta High Command discovered what had happened, why, they'd be infuriated! How DARE the Hive steal the Spartans' precious weapons technology! It would be at this point that Lal would offer military assistance--in exchange for some technology, of course. Never mind that Lal was actually the one who had stolen the tech--and never mind that Lal was supposedly at peace with the Spartans...

                                Baruk turned away from the recon rover and made his way towards the mess tent. The fungus was less dense in this encampment, but it hardly mattered to Baruk.

                                But was that the sound of feet? The alarms were not sounded, had they been spotted? Or was this Martin, back early as usual? Baruk casually drew his laser pistol from its holster and stepped into the thick of a fungal bloom.


                                Martin was sweating profusely, trying to keep his footfalls and his panting as silent as possible. Maybe if he hid in his tent for a little while nobody would notice that he had been gone for only three hours...

                                Before he knew what had happened, Martin found himself covered in fungus and dirt. He had tripped on something, and now he was rolling in the fungus!!! Fungus was where mindworms lurked!!!!!! Feeling panic overtake him, Martin leapt to his feet, swatting at his body and screaming like a woman.

                                Baruk stepped out from his cover from where he had tripped up Martin. He frowned in disgust for a moment, and then, without even reholstering his pistol, violently whacked John Martin in the face with his hand. A tooth flew out of Martin's mouth to be consumed by the waves of rolling fungus.

                                Martin reeled, almost fell down but stopped himself just in time--he felt that he would go insane if he ever rolled in Xenofungus again!!! Spitting blood and another tooth, he regained his senses and spun on Baruk. So what if the man was his commanding officer, you don't go whacking people like that!!!

                                "Just what the hell..."

                                "Be quiet." Baruk's voice had no inflection whatsoever, but nevertheless it was a voice that commanded. Martin stared wide eyed at the officer--had this man, this MAN, just said that, or had it been his own mind? But as quickly as Martin looked into Baruk's eyes, he just as quickly looked away. He had not liked what he saw in those eyes--eyes like those...

                                "You're back a little early, I see." Baruk's voice was no longer commanding, but was instead mocking. "Still scared of the fungus, are you?"

                                "No, it's just--"

                                "Be quiet, I did not give you permission to speak." Again the command, again the mockery. "I have warned you before about being lax in your duties. I don't care if you are frightened of mind worms, you have been under my command for five years now and you had damned well better be used to it by now, because believe me, it's only going to get worse so long as I am your commanding officer. And I will continue to be your commanding officer until hell freezes over, because if you think you're going to get a transfer..."

                                Martin never heard the end of his officer's tirade (if such a thing as a tirade ever came out of Ahmed Baruk's lips--the man had not once raised his voice or even changed expression). Before Baruk could finish, Martin unexpectedly exploded into a fiery ball of blood and burnt flesh.

                                Baruk was surprised at the recon man's sudden disappearance into oblivion, but was only surprised for perhaps one billionth of a second. He was in the fungal bloom before the gatling laser from the recon rover could properly aim for a second blast.


                                "Stop firing, dammit! This thing doesn't have much juice left! Hit the mess tent! Use the rest on the mess tent!" Walker left the new guy alone to man the recon rover. The new kid, Juju, had had bad luck all during training camp, and Walker didn't want to be around him when the kid finally got nailed. And Walker had a feeling that the kid was going to bite it soon enough.

                                George Westley, codename Walker, drew his laser pistol and ducked into the fungus. That probe guy was going to be a problem--if Walker had recognized him correctly from the dossiers, that was none other than Ahmed Baruk himself. Another reason to get as far away from Juju as he could.

                                The mess hall was little more than smoke now--nearly every member of the Peacekeeper probe team had been having a meeting of some kind in there. Probably watching a flick; some of them wouldn't have come back after their excursion tomorrow. Well, now they'll never come back, period.

                                There were still two members unaccounted for, though--Baruk and Grardin. And Walker wanted Baruk for himself.

                                The sound of a massive explosion behind him told Walker that the rover had been destroyed, presumably by Juju, possibly by Baruk or Grardin. Walker knew about where Baruk was, there hadn't been any rockets coming out of that area, must have been Grardin.

                                "Grardin's pegged, still can't find Baruk. Juju got toasted, rover's destroyed. Comm silence up." That had been Stealer, Walker's second in command. 'Guess Juju hadn't made it out of the rover in time after all,' he though. 'Glad I wasn't with him.'


                                Baruk was angry. If his comm-link were any indication, his entire probe team was now dead, and he might soon follow suit. This was indeed an unfortunate turn of events.

                                Wielding his synth-metal knife in his left hand and his laser-pistol in his right, Baruk would have been a bad character to have come across at that point in time. One member of Walker's probe team had done just that, and he was now just blood and a body on the ground. However, Baruk was not doing so well himself. The Spartan probe team had surrounded the entire Peacekeeper camp with mines, and Baruk was now missing a foot. That would hurt in the morning, but for the moment he was too angry to care about a few missing limbs. Unfortunately, a missing foot would make him easy to track.

                                Which Walker was doing just now. Coming up behind the limping Baruk silent as a cat, Walker attempted to slit Baruk's throat without any hassle, but of course Baruk would not allow an easy death. Hearing the Spartan despite his stealth and spinning around, Baruk plunged his knife deep into Walker's chest--or at least, he would have, had Walker not been wearing infantry armor. The knife snapped, and Baruk was truly surprised for one fleeting moment of his life before Walker snuffed it out permanently.

                                Making his way back to the rendezvous, being careful to avoid the mines planted in the ground, Walker made contact with the rest of his probe team. Juju was a definite casualty, Morris was a probable. As for Baruk's team, nothing remained.

                                The victory pyres would burn high tonight--or would were it not for all the damned fungus.
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