Chapter 24: Breakout
03 January 3049 LDC
Target Area Alpha
11:45 Local Time
Lieutenant Justev Riffost waved his command forward, the Venomian soldiers filing into the darkened corridors of the ancient temple they had been selected to assault. The platoon of Red Storm soldiers he led was among the best the Remnant had to offer; comprised mainly of veterans of the Lylat War. Most had last seen combat on Cerinia, where they were eager to make up for their failure to the Emperor.
The scientists attached to the Fleet had figured out a way to resurrect Emperor Andross, yet they needed the almost supernatural abilities contained within a specific type of Cerinian. He hadn't been told what abilities they had, but there were a grand total of nine on the planet. Unfortunately, Cornerian Black Ops had gotten there first, killing all of their targets. With one sole exception: the Cerinian escapee whose ship they had sniffed out on the primitive, backwards planet of Sauria.
"Alpha Leader, Beta Section reports that the Cerinian's shuttle is empty." The professional voice of the tactical network operator onboard their orbiting cruiser came over his earpiece. "Gamma Section is reporting trouble breaking into the assault shuttle on the beach. They suggest a high probability of Cornerian forces on the ground. Beta Section is reporting the same tread tracks that you picked up inside the temple, so expect a vehicle of some kind."
"Copy that, Tacnet." Riffost closed the connection and turned to the formation of troops behind him. "It looks like those Cornerian bastards might have found our Cerinian first. Be prepared for a fight, but watch your fields of fire. The use of gas is not permitted until we have the target in captivity. Make sure your shields are primed and keep an eye on your sensors."
"What are our orders regarding the Cornerians?" His sergeant, a slender wolfess by the name of Cathia Ales, asked. Like all of them she wore the standard Venomian environmental armor, although her smaller stature and the double rings surrounding the Venom Empire's insignia distinguished her from the rest. She also carried a heavy plasmacaster; despite its short range and massive power requirement it was incredibly effective on shields and armor alike.
"Intel might like them alive, but if they decide to fight back go ahead and dust them." Riffost shook his head. "Our safety is priority, even with these stakes. There aren't many of us old vets left, so keep your heads on swivels and check your shields!" The Remnant officer pointed forward, past the tread tracks and corpses of Saurians caught by blaster fire. "We don't have a lot of time, so move out!"
"We don't have the time to debate this, boy." Yuri spat at the stubborn man who was wearing a mix of combat gear and civilian clothes. To his credit he seemed at least somewhat seasoned; the pistol he held wasn't wavering one bit despite his apparent sickness and injuries. "They will be on our asses in a few minutes. If you don't want to get us killed, then put your damn sidearm away and help us repel the attack!"
"We need your help." Ivan joined the debate. "Sheneeds your help. We didn't do this to her." He pointed to the unconscious Cerinian he was holding up. Despite his stance, he could see the young man was struggling with her. "What will it take to get you to assist us?"
The man's eyes darted between the two, facing a difficult decision. After a moment he relented, a tired sigh given to the still, damp air as he lowered his weapon. "You two better not be screwing me over on this." He holstered the pistol and scooped the Cerinian into his arms, fixing both of them with a hard look. "If you're running this show, what's the plan?"
"I need your rifle." Yuri pointed to the Dragunov slung over the man's shoulder. "I'll give you my carbine in return. This will allow me to cover my colleague as he escorts you to your vehicle. Do you have any heavy weapons there?" As he spoke he held out the stubby carbine, tilting his head towards Ivan.
"I've got a couple of rifles in the cargo area." Brian grunted as he slipped Krystal into a fireman's carry, carefully maneuvering her onto his shoulders as he let the Dragunov slip to the floor. A hasty exchange of magazines was arranged, giving the Marine a total of three for the AKSU. "There's a heavy machine gun, but we took it down to lock the vehicle up. I'll need some help to set it up."
"We can do that." Ivan nodded. "However, we need to do something about your friend. We're going to need as many shooters as possible if we're going to make it." He opened a pouch on his belt, extracting two small autoinjectors and passing one over to the puzzled Marine. "This is a mixture of stimulants and painkillers used in combat situations. There's one for you if you would like it." Without waiting for permission he stepped forward, popping the cap off one of the devices and pressing it firmly into a receptacle in her armor.
Brian nearly dropped Krystal as she gasped, awakening nearly instantaneously as the chemical cocktail coursed through her system. Despite her struggling he gently set her down on the floor, casting a glare to the mercenary as he did so. "Hey, it's okay... we're still here. Are you alright?"
"N... no." The vixen shook her head, glancing up at the three of them with a slightly glassy gaze. "I can't... sense anything. Head... hurts. What's going... on?" Her speech was slurred, though she had no time to recover as the mercenary reached down and pulled her to her feet.
"We're out of time!" Yuri growled, checking his newly obtained rifle. "Just get moving and we'll explain later!" He ran back up the stairs to the platform as Ivan ushered the Cerinian into the waist-deep water, motioning to Brian and Tricky to follow.
"Pushy, disrespectful bastards..." Brian growled as he slipped into the water, making sure Tricky was right behind him. "You can't just up and do whatever the hell you want!" He stormed after the mercenary who was carrying his companion, insistent on making his displeasure known.
"We're saving your damned lives here!" The merc snapped back, balancing his rifle in one hand and holding onto the barely coherent Cerinian in the other. "These men we're dealing with aren't backwards natives or hired guns. They're highly trained, motivated soldiers who have already killed millions to get a hold of your friend! Is that enough of an explanation for you?"
"It's... okay. They're here to... help." Krystal's voice was weak, but she managed to glance back at him. "Trust me?" Her eyes snapped to his; despite the pain and confusion apparent in her gaze she radiated a certain sense of calm and confidence that the young Marine had trouble mustering up.
"We just gotta get home, guys!" Tricky piped in, paddling furiously behind them. "If that means working together, then we gotta work together!" Brian looked at everyone present, suppressing an exasperated sigh at the screwed-up circumstances.
"Okay, but I'm taking point. If these bastards are coming, I'll draw as much fire as I can. Just get her to the Humvee and I'll do the rest." He checked over his weaponry. The stubby little AK had barely any range advantage over his shotgun. Out of anything he had, the blaster rifle seemed the most effective. He tucked the stock into his shoulder and forged ahead, stopping at a hushed command from the mercenary.
"Use a firearm, kid. Venom soldiers use personal shielding systems that are immune to blasters, but do absolutely nothing to stop bullets. That's why my colleague handed you his little bitch." He nodded to Brian's borrowed AK. "It's killed plenty of them in the past few days."
"Thanks for the tip." With a roll of his eyes he exchanged weapons, checking the carbine's chamber before readying it. The AK series wasn't exactly his favorite; they were unwieldy and inaccurate. That didn't mean he didn't know how to use one. If the mercs expected him to screw up with their carbine, they would be sorely disappointed. He pushed forward once more, years of training and experience forcing the nervousness and fear aside as he concentrated on one thing: getting out alive.
Riffost stopped in the middle of the corridor, cycling through vision modes on his visor. The twenty-one men and women he had brought with him did the same, scanning the darkness for any perceivable threat. "I have eyes on the vehicle. No movement detected around it; we might have a favorable condition for an ambush."
"Copy that, Alpha Leader." Tacnet's voice broadcasted to every friendly receiver within range. "What kind of vehicle? Video and sensor coverage is spotty in your location; between the EM jamming and the rock walls we're having trouble getting a visual."
Ales spoke up. "Looks like some kind of... wheeled vehicle, sir?" She paused for a moment, fanning out towards the far wall and taking a few steps closer to confirm. "It definitely is wheeled. No repulsor pods. Judging by the construction, it looks like a light military transport. Definitely armored." The wolfess shouldered her plasmacaster, keeping an eye out for any movement beyond. "Tech-wise, it's beyond what Saurians are capable of, but likely behind what we've got. Some sort of semi-advanced race we haven't encountered yet?"
Riffost cursed underneath his helmet. They didn't need mysteries right now. They needed results. "Okay, take up a defensive position. Detachment Two, move forward to secure the vehicle. Everyone else stand by to provide covering fire. Be aware of your targets; I don't want the Cerinian getting hit by stray fire. I don't need to remind you what will happen if she becomes a casualty."
Fluidly the entire unit reacted; blaster rifles aimed ahead and soldiers taking cover while five of their number moved forward. They were taking no chances; the sensor operator flanked them; attempting to pick up lifesign readings that could spell an ambush. Within thirty seconds the operator's voice entered the channel. "I have three, no, make that four signatures moving in from our left; possibly a hidden corridor. Looks like we have two canids, a Saurian, and... the signature's not an exact match but I think he's a Simian... I can't tell because of the EM jamming but I think one of them's our Cerinian!"
"Good work, Engstrom." Riffost nodded. "Deploy stunners. Hit anyone who crosses our sights." He took a few steps forward, hugging the far wall just behind his sergeant. "Make sure we have the element of..."
The sentence remained unfinished, cut off by a horrifying sound. A high-pitched, hissing crack came from the depths of the corridor, along with a sickening thud. Engstrom fell backwards, the lifesign warning on Riffost's HUD blaring at him. There had been no chance; he was dead before he hit the ground.
"Under fire! Take cover!" He roared; hitting the ground as several of his men opened up with their blasters. Green bolts filled the air, trying to suppress whatever had hit them, but to no avail. Another discharge rang out, followed by a scream of pain from one of the soldiers he sent forward.
"Sladek's wounded!" Ales called out, crawling forward under the covering fire. "Get that Emperor-damned sniper pinned down! Someone, get that fucking sensor unit back online! We're just easy targets without it!"
"Movement!" Weyer, the leader of Detachment Two, called out. "Target's confirmed! Firing stunner!" She lifted the heavy stun rifle, sighting in on the barely visible figures making a run for it. However, one stopped and the world erupted in a cacophony of rattling, hissing pops. Weyer was caught by a burst from the mysterious weapon; there were no telltale blaster bolts. She hit the ground, a warning cry turning into a choked gurgle as she died from a weapon that bypassed combat shields as if they never existed.
"Tacnet, we've got casualties! Two down, one wounded! Unknown enemy force! Whatever they're using is ignoring our shields! We need some damn fire support!" Riffost growled, firing his blaster at the one who killed Weyer. His target ducked out of the way, another series of shots causing the lead element to be forced to the ground.
Tacnet's response was drowned out by another weapon joining in; this one significantly louder. Another muffled cry echoed over Riffost's earpiece as he was driven back to cover by a swarm of angry, popping hornets sailing centimeters over his head. He rolled up against the wall, trying to make as small of a target as possible as blaster bolts competed with whatever they were facing up against.
"Displace! Displace!" Ales growled, aiming and firing a burst from her plasmacaster. The greenish-blue wad spat forth, causing a surprised yelp from one of the targets. She cursed and took cover as the other shooter ravaged her position; sparks and a strange, whining noise ensuing as the first shooter ran behind the vehicle. "They're firing high-speed projectiles of some kind!"
"They have the target under cover! Find that sniper and suppress! Keep the others suppressed if you can!" Riffost snarled as another fusillade echoed from the second shooter, fatally wounding another one of his soldiers. "And make sure you don't shoot that damned Cerinian!"
"Get her under cover!" Brian snapped, firing off a few bursts from his borrowed AKSU as a series of blaster bolts chased him behind the Humvee. Paint blistered and the scent of molten metal filled the air as the armored vehicle took some hits; if they didn't do something quickly they wouldn't be around to tell the tale. "I'll get the hatch unlocked!"
Krystal wasn't looking that great. She managed to stay standing as the merc released her, but she was grabbing onto the bumper of the truck for support. "I'm... I'm trying to fight this. I just don't know how much... longer..." The vixen grit her teeth and shut her eyes against the waves of pain that threatened to overwhelm her. Brian paused for a moment and placed his hand on her shoulder, sticking a key into the locking mechanism for the rear hatch and undoing it.
"We're in!" Ivan called out as Brian slammed the hatch open, boosting his Cerinian friend inside. "Cover us!" Yuri responded with a string of rapid fire as the mercenary vaulted into the vehicle. There was a large fuel drum bolted down to one side, making passage difficult, and the bed of the combat truck was strewn with weapons. He recognized all of them, his suspicions immediately confirmed at the first glance of the nearly two meter-long heavy gun that took up a considerable amount of space.
"Stay down, Krys!" Brian shouted as sporadic fire from the Venom troops started targeting the Humvee. Particle beams collided with heavy armor, massive amounts of energy dumping into the plating and causing it to glow red hot. The Marine snarled as he pushed her behind the front seats; as much as he hated being rough with her there was no time to be a gentleman. "You! Help me get this son of a bitch set up!" He grabbed the barrel of the Browning and started to push it through the turret.
Ivan grabbed the other end of the nearly forty-kilo weapon; with a grunt he helped the young man push it into position. Between the two of them they manhandled it into the cradle which supported it. "Get it operational! I'll cover!" In a flash the former paratrooper grabbed his rifle and emerged from the vehicle.
Brian bent down inside the Humvee, dropping his borrowed AKSU onto the floor. He came up with two items; the M4 that Krystal generally used and the large wrench he needed to secure the M2 to its pintle. A few blaster bolts popped above his head; he returned fire with a few bursts from the carbine. The merc joined in at about the same time; the distinctive chatter of an AK cooperating with the M4 in a dissonant symphony. When he could he tightened the bolts holding the heavy machine gun down; reaching into the cargo area once more to grab the penultimate box of ammunition he had. "Loading up! Give me some cover!" To their credit the mercs peppered the enemy position as he wrestled with the heavy chain of ammunition. Brian snapped the loading cover in place and racked the charging handle. His training took over as he called out to the mercs. "Fifty online! Fire in the hole!"
Riffost stood up as the firing slacked off, surveying the area round him. Six soldiers had been killed, with half of his remaining command wounded to various degrees. The sniper had been deadly accurate, and the return fire from the vehicle had pinned them down. What was going on? They were Red Storm; the best and most dedicated of the Emperor's soldiers. How were they being held up by...
The lieutenant never finished the thought; the last sensation he felt was a sledgehammer hitting him in the chest, full-force. The noise resumed with a deep, roaring thunder of blasts and a gout of fire spewing from the top of the vehicle. Cathia couldn't suppress a frightened gasp as she saw her superior officer, a man who she had known for the past ten years, literally blown apart. The withering projectile fire tore through their ranks as she cringed, the sporadic return of blaster bolts sought out and quickly smashed by the terrifying weapon they had been subjected to. These weren't quick, clean kills by a blaster; it was as if her squad had been torn apart by a rampaging beast. A burning pain lanced against her side; her armor's HUD warning of a minor breach. She had been hit by a fragment; nothing serious but enough to cause her to stay still. If they didn't have lifesign sensors, they might be able to catch the bastards in an ambush.
"Get in! C'mon, move it!" A voice from the enemy position caused her to grit her teeth and melt further into the wall. A dark figure detached from a platform she had just noticed, leaping onto the vehicle. He disappeared into it a second later; the vehicle starting with an unfamiliar, alien rattle and rumble.
Bright lights pierced the darkness, revealing the state of the carnage she had somehow survived. Parts of bodies, encapsulated in crimson armor, littered the area; a quick check of her tactical display revealed that she was one of four to have actually survived the onslaught and the only Red Storm trooper to have not been greviously wounded. Her decision to move ahead had saved her, but for how long? Tacnet was screaming in her ear for a situation report, but she had neither the time nor the will to answer them. A harsh, mechanical whine followed by a deep rumble filled the air; the vehicle had started and was slowly creeping forward. Taking a deep breath, Cathia steeled herself for a chance to strike back.
"Is anyone injured?" Ivan's voice thundered inside the Humvee as he glanced around, surveying the damage to the vehicle. Blistered, smoking welts were apparent all over the armor, and he could see beads of melted glass pooling inside the vehicle due to hits on the windows. While the American combat truck was built to withstand bullets, it was not as effective against heavy blaster fire. A quick glance at the controls revealed the starter; a lever on the dashboard near the steering wheel. The merc flipped it to the right; the engine catching with a familiar diesel rumble he hadn't heard in many years.
"A few close calls, but nothing to worry about." Yuri shook his head, pulling his helmet off his belt. He struggled to get it on within the confines of the armored, cramped interior but he eventually managed. "You, boy! Do you have the helmet that goes with her armor?" He punctuated his remark by pointing at Krystal, whose semiconscious form remained behind his seat.
Brian's focus remained on the sights of the machine gun he was manning. There had been no one-liners; no taunts to the enemy he had simply decimated. To lose focus meant to slip up; that was a death sentence. They weren't up against ill-disciplined Sharpclaw. They were fighting a superior, motivated enemy force. He arched a brow at the muffled question. "It's in the cargo compartment! We don't have the unlock codes for the damn thing, why do you ask?"
"Because the Venom Army isn't known for fighting clean!" The retriever's voice echoed back. "They don't hold back from chemical and biological agents! We can expect them to use some sort of chemical attack; riot control or general purpose subdual agents!" He reached past the Marine's legs as the vehicle inched forward, seeking out and obtaining a nearly identical set of headgear. The helmet was a vital piece of the environmental armor system they used; the set that was on the Cerinian was obviously one they scavenged off the mercs they had prevailed against.
"Then what the hell do you expect Tricky and I to do?" Brian snarled back, bending over to stick his head back into the turret. The retriever was fiddling with the helmet while the husky was donning his own. "If you haven't noticed neither of us are exactly equipped for chemical warfare, here!" The Marine felt a jolt as the Humvee started inching forward, the husky's gloved hands falling upon the wheel and the automatic shifter. A rogue thought popped into his head: how does he know how to drive this thing?
"I'm assuming there's a respirator in that pouch on your belt, boy. I suggest you use it." A muted beep came from the helmet that went with the appropriated armor as he opened it up. The vixen's glassy gaze locked onto the contraption as the mercenary leaned towards her. Krystal's whimper of protest and her weakened struggling didn't prevent him from sliding the helmet behind her head and hinging it into place. "Even their riot control agents are known to have some nasty side-effects!"
"Hey!" Tricky protested. "This sounds pretty dangerous! If you're wearing these helmets, what's to stop us from getting hurt? My parents aren't going to be happy with you if they hear this!"
"At the very least stop this goddamn thing so he can get out!" Brian's argument reached a full-blown shout; his hand dangerously close to the grip of his .45. At that point in time he didn't know who those arrogant bastards thought they were; they weren't going to march everyone he gave a damn about into certain danger without getting a piece of his mind. Without waiting for a response he slid back into the cabin, unlatching one of the rear doors and kicking it open.
"What the hell are you doing?" the husky shouted, stopping the slow-moving Humvee and throwing it into park as Brian urged Tricky out of the cabin. The young Earthwalker complied eagerly, jumping out of the co-opted vehicle as the Marine followed.
Ivan growled under his helmet, exiting the driver's seat as Brian managed to wrap an arm around Krystal's shoulders. "Forget it! We'll take our chances right here, without a couple of arrogant, know-it-all assholes forcing us to go along like a bunch of scared little sheep!"
"And what do you propose you can do? Take on the Venom Remnant with a gun and a bad attitude, like the cowboy you think you are?" The young man stiffened, eyes narrowing in suspicion and anger as the amplified words were uttered.
"Quit this bullshit and get back in here, boy!" Yuri snarled back, attempting to keep his eyes ahead. Reinforcements could come at any moment. He kept a hand on his carbine, ready to lay down fire if needed. The young man's outbursts and paranoia would get them killed if they weren't curbed quickly.
"You expect me to blindly trust you assholes?" Brian tensed, staring down the merc. He didn't make a move for the M4 slung over his shoulder, but the merc had a hand on a holstered sidearm. If it came down to it, his armor could take a few pistol rounds. That merc armor wouldn't hold up to sustained rifle...
"Get down!" The merc roared, launching himself at the Marine. A pulsing whine erupted from behind the Humvee as Brian was tackled, and a searing heat nicked at his side. Whatever it was it was agonizing. He couldn't suppress a scream as he hit the ground, his armor powerless to stop whatever had hit him. The scream was echoed by the merc, who landed with a clatter of armor plates on time-worn stone. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a slender figure in red armor striding towards the vehicle, full of purpose and what looked like a short-barreled automatic shotgun in its hands.
A torrent of gunfire erupted from the Humvee as the other merc tried to return fire out of the opened door, but to little effect. The rounds caused the figure to duck back, but it began to lift its weapon...
...another figure leaned out of the Humvee, grasping a handgun in an armored glove. This time the gunfire met its mark as the pistol cracked twice into the still, damp air. The figure reeled, spun off balance as it hit the ground. He glanced upwards to see an angular helmet and its hexagonal, ruby-colored eyepieces turn towards him. The pain strangely slackened off as his vision blurred, the blissful black curtain rising up to take him away from the abuse his body had suffered over the past several days.
Krystal bit back another whimper as the intense pain assailed her mind; it was as if her own spirit was trying to forcibly leave through her ears. Despite the frightening, stifling confines of the Lylatian armor's helmet she was at least able to think... and move. She wasn't going to let Brian die here. Not after all they had been through.
The 'stimulant' the mercenary had given her helped, at least to an extent. It was taking time to act, even if she couldn't sense anything. The dark, yawning abyss all around her was frightening, but if she let this fear and pain win all of them would die horrible deaths at the hands of the soldiers who murdered her people.
"Damn it! Ivan!" The other merc shouted as he exited the vehicle, rushing around it to meet up with his fallen comrade. Likewise Krystal stumbled out of the open door, gaze locked onto Brian's unmoving form. Unknown readouts from the helmet's eyepieces jumped out at her, most of it meaningless information. The lifesign sensor readout she could decipher; he was still alive. Despite the swimming disorientation and intense pain she grabbed onto him, gently pushing him up onto the seat.
The unnamed mercenary glanced at Ivan, a harsh growl echoing through a set of speakers in her ears. "Fucking plasmacaster. He's alive, but barely. You've got balls, Cerinian. Not many would be able to pull the trigger on someone in your condition, especially hanging out of a door like that."
"We protect the ones who matter to us no matter the cost." Krystal's voice sounded exhausted and worn, even to her. "We aren't leaving anyone behind. Not my companion; not your friend. Are we agreed?" She locked her gaze onto the mercenary; the armor's blank stare greeting her without any indication to the feelings within their unintended rescuer.
"Agreed." The accented voice spat out. "However, we're taking the little sukawho shot them. I want some information." He stormed over to the fallen Venomian, kicking its deadly weapon away from its feebly searching grasp. "Good, you didn't damage the bastard too much. Solid leg and arm hits. The boy must have taught you well." The way he yanked the soldier's injured leg made her wince; she stopped short of protesting as he actually dragged the Venomian survivor to the vehicle.
Once he reached the cargo compartment door he produced a set of heavy plastic straps. One was wrapped around the Venomian's ankles; the other around the wrists. Despite the figure's struggling the mercenary opened the compartment door and tossed them into the back like a sack of junk. Behind the cover of her helmet Krystal gave the mercenary a disgusted look.
"Help me with my comrade. We don't have much time." The merc pointed to his friend before rushing to him. Between the two of them they managed to slide him into the back seat next to Brian. The merc's armor was blistered and blackened; ceramic plates fused together with intense heat. She managed to take a look at Brian; his armor was scorched completely through and stained with spots of blood. She wasn't sure who had taken the brunt of the Venomian's blast, but she wasn't about to let either one of them die.
"K... Krystal?" Tricky's voice echoed from the ground near the Humvee. "Is he gonna be okay?" She glanced to him, trying to force the uncertainty and doubts from her thought. They made it this far. They hadto live through this.
"I hope so. I'll do my absolute best for him." She sighed and looked back up at the vehicle. They were being chased away from a planet that desperately needed their help. The dead and wounded beings around them had thrust her from her life as a young Guardian. They had killed her family. She was being hunted down, cornered; forced to fight back. And yet millions more beings were threatened due to the malicious intent of the Venomians. Even through the pain, fear, and disconnected feeling her senses were struggling with there was a moment of clarity. Everyone wanted her. The Venomians wanted her alive. The Lylatian mercenaries wanted her dead. Their tentative allies wanted her alive. But, for what?
"It's not safe for you to go with us, Tricky. It's me they want." She knelt down and placed a glove-clad hand on his shoulder, looking him in the eyes despite being shielded by what had to be a frightening-looking faceplate. "Find a safe place to hide. We will send for help. I promise you."
With a frustrated sigh Tricky nodded at her. "Be safe, Krystal. May the Krazoa watch over you. When it's safe again, please visit us? Let us know you're okay?"
"I will. Stay brave, Prince Tricky. I will do my best to make sure Scales won't harm your people." She took a deep breath and stepped back into the Humvee. The worst was yet to come, but she had to make sure that they made it off Sauria safely.
The voice of the tacnet operator rang in his ears; nearly constant chatter which provided the most vital battlefield asset: information to be digested, analyzed and turned into action. "Attention all units. Alpha Section reporting one hundred percent casualty rate. Four survivors. Targets escaping in an armed, wheeled vehicle with one Red Storm prisoner. Do not engage with lethal force until we have the primary target secured. Be advised that the targets are using weaponry that negates shields and armor. Use caution."
Jase Aler grumbled under his breath, clipping the heavy blaster cannon he carried to the receptacle on the back of his armor. "Acknowledged, Tacnet. Stunners only until target has been tagged." Aler wasn't a typical Venom soldier or even one of the elite Red Storm unit. He was an Eradicator; one of two brought in for the operation as a contingency plan. However, instead of the Saurian natives they had assumed would be their primary concern they were now facing an unknown, organized force with the firepower to chew through an entire platoon of experienced troops. On top of that, lethal force wasn't authorized.
"What about gas?" The other Eradicator asked. Wyke was his name. The typical response of 'gas them out' was drilled into most Venom troops; the doctrine had been a mantra repeated from Andross to his top leadership. In a way it was poetic; punishing the Cornerians that exiled them to their poison world by subjecting them to the same hazardous environment they were forced to live in. As a child of petty criminals exiled by stuffy magistrates, Aler was accustomed to living in domed cities that barely worked to keep the noxious atmosphere out; equipment failures were accompanied by having to wear a breather mask every time he dared step out of their home.
After Andross arrived conditions improved almost overnight; the charismatic, kindly scientist developed safer living conditions for all Venomians and for that Aler felt he personally owed the fallen Emperor an eternal debt of gratitude. While he wasn't sure this pseudo-science, pseudo-magic mission plan would actually bring the Emperor back from the dead, he was honor bound to serve the Empire even in its current state of decay.
"The use of control agents is not authorized for this mission, Wyke." Instead of the tacnet operator another voice came on the line; Major Silas Mongon, the leader of their particular division. "We don't have enough data on their effects on Cerinian physiology. Anyone caught using Agent K or Delta Blue will be dealt with harshly. "
"Acknowledged, sir." Wyke's reply came instantly. "All nearby units, prepare to deploy stunners and EMP launchers! We need to stop that vehicle at all costs!" Both of the Eradicators realized they would be taking casualties. They were attached to standard Venom Army troops, not the elite Red Storm whose entire unit was wiped out by whatever vehicle would come screaming out of the entrance to the ancient temple.
They had fifteen soldiers each; a grand total of thirty to cut off the escape of the Cerinian's unknown allies. The dropship was empty except for its pilots and the Starwraith, their frigate, was keeping very well clear of the debris field that surrounded the stricken planet. Despite his devotion to the cause, Aler was starting to realize there was enough of a 'hole' for them to escape. Being ordered to use only non-lethal weapons was going to be a major hindrance. The Red Storm had been given the leeway to use lethal weapons; that didn't save them.
The train of thought was broken by the hellish mechanical roar that came from the temple's entrance; its similarity to an alien face gave Aler a scattered thought of a gargantuan stone beast come to life. The vehicle emerged shortly afterwards; a bulky, tan-colored box with large black wheels. Blaster burns and carbon scoring had marred a significant portion of its paintwork, yet it still stood defiant against the punishment it had received. A heavy blaster of some sort was mounted on the top, manned by a figure in sleek, obsidian armor. The gun turret swung around to aim at Wyke's team, who were unlucky enough to have drawn the duty to guard the assault shuttle left on the beach.
Two balls of contained lightning lanced out from the EMP launchers, both striking the vehicle dead on. The headlights on the strange military transport flickered for a moment, but the vehicle refused to die. It did, however come to a complete stop on the stone walkway separating the temple from the lagoon which it had been built on.
The gunner on the top of the vehicle ducked a few close stunner shots, although Aler wondered what a stunner could do to what looked like top-tier Cornerian gear. The answering fire, however, was a sight he would remember until his dying breath. The big gun spoke; staccato blasts of thunder answering the stunners and EMP devices with a deadly authority. Aler's jaw dropped inside his helmet as a soldier pitched backwards, most of his body erupting in a flash of crimson as he was almost literally torn in half. This was no clean death by a blaster bolt; this was raw, primal, and brutal.
One of the troopers growled over the channel. "We're getting slaughtered out here! Screw this; give that bastard some real firepower!" Completely disregarding orders a few of them switched to their blaster carbines and returned fire. A few shots impacted against the vehicle, blackening its tan paint and causing the metal underneath to glow. Those who fought back did so almost futilely; the massive automatic blaster tracked them down and spoke in short, thundering blasts. The projectiles tore through armor, flesh, and bone as if they were mere inconveniences. The vehicle plodded forward, only stopping when blaster bolts or stunner capsules slammed against its windscreen.
Aler waved his team forward, dropping his stunner rifle in favor for his standard weapon. The LC-130 heavy blaster cannon was the Eradicators' standard armament. Basically a scaled-down version of starfighter weaponry, it was used mainly as a heavy assault piece but could be used in an anti-material or anti-aircraft/spacecraft role if needed. "Go for those wheels! Knock those out and they won't be able to go far!" His command echoed to both groups, instantly ducking and dodging through withering fire in order to comply.
Aler, however, had a clear shot. The targeting sensor locked onto one of the rear wheels and he fired a blast, the bright green beam slamming into the wheel with enough energy to almost outright vaporize somebody. The vehicle lurched as it was hit, the wheel and surrounding metal liquefying as it attempted to cross the sandy beach towards their shuttle.
The vehicle slid out of control, barreling into a couple of luckless soldiers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Aler cringed; he didn't know them very well but each friendly loss stung. At least the big gun fell silent as the vehicle rocked unsteadily under the covering fire of blasters and stunners, flipping onto its side and skidding several meters before the hot sand brought it to a halt.
"How did you like that, Cornerian dogs? The Emperor sends his regards!" Wyke cackled over the public channel as he rushed forward, the stunner rifle he was wielding almost comically small in his armored hands. However, his victory was short lived; the gunner recovered more quickly than anticipated and reacted with a torrent of fire from a sidearm he had pulled from his waist. The projectiles slammed into the Eradicator armor but did little more than scratch the crimson paint from the heavy armor plating.
Unexpectedly, a voice responded over the public channel. "Pyos yob toyvu mat, mudak!" Within a split second another alien weapon roared into action, a burst of projectiles tearing into the troopers who were cautiously approaching the downed vehicle. The string of outright enraged, completely alien language continued to berate the embattled squads as the smaller weapon tore through several assaulting troops.
"Tacnet, the vehicle has been disabled! Repeat, the vehicle has been disabled and its main weapon has been taken out! Moving in to engage hostile forces and secure primary target!" Aler started closing the distance to the downed vehicle, gritting his teeth against the supposedly simple takedown that had already cost them far too many lives.
"Shit!" Yuri growled as he emptied the AKSU's magazine, allowing the carbine to dangle from its sling as he searched for another weapon to return fire with. "Are you okay, Cerinian?"Quick reflexes had saved his life; as the armored car had started to tip over he managed to duck back in. The action had kept him from being ejected into a group of angry Remnant troopers. The space-dwelling fascists would not take mercy on those who put up armed resistance.
"...Enough." The vixen's reply at least proved she was alive. The cavalcade of blaster and stunner hits had ceased, which meant they were about to move in for the kill. They had precious little time before that happened. "What do we do now?" Her voice was strangely calm despite the pain and exhaustion he was sure she was fighting against.
"They have two heavily armored Eradicators with them! Besides the main gun is there anything you know we can use against them? We won't be able to take off unless we kill or disable them!" He was sifting through the junk thrown around the cabin, trying to find a heavy weapon of some sort. The image of a Venomian trooper flashed at him through the open hole of the turret, which prompted a burst from his Stetchkin machine pistol. The Venomian crumpled to the sand, kicking and flailing as their life was stolen by the twitch of a finger. "Our weapons won't get through their armor!"
"Like this?" The Cerinian pushed away from the driver's seat to grab a rifle she had spotted. The former KGB colonel turned mercenary gave it a practiced glance. It was one of the American M16 rifles, but with a grenade launcher mounted to the underside. He nodded at her as he switched out magazines.
"Yes! Find any ammunition you can for this!" He snatched the American weapon out of her grasp and pushed out of the turret. One of his first assignments as a junior officer had been to evaluate the new American weapons they had retrieved from their Vietnamese allies. He probably knew how to use it more effectively than the American soldier he was taking it from. "When I tell you it's safe, start helping the others to the shuttle!"
Yuri sighted in on the first Venomians that arrived to help their fallen comrade and greeted them with a burst from the M16. One of them fired a stunner in reply; the bolt smacked him in the leg. The hardsuit he was wearing provided a fair amount of protection; he would have been paralyzed for a couple of hours if he hadn't been wearing it. The pins and needles feeling that shot up his side was reminder enough. In response he bracketed the bastard with his new rifle and ripped him apart with another burst of autofire.
More of them started to arrive; fortunately none of them were brave enough to use blasters in such close proximity to the Cerinian. The idiots probably didn't realize she had been the one driving the vehicle in the first place. Stunner shots competed with the American weapon; more Venom troops fell to the highly trained agent's accurate fire. Most Remnant 'soldiers' were little more than barely trained street thugs that joined up for a steady paycheck; most of the old guard he had been forced to serve with years ago had been killed or imprisoned. The lack of training showed by the fact he was tearing through them with quick, well-placed shots. "I need that damn ammo, vixen!"
Her reply came in the form of several shots of her own. She had picked up the American soldier's CAR-15 and was returning fire. Her handling of the weapon was slightly clumsy but solid enough; apparently she had been at least marginally trained in its use. "Here!" She tossed a magazine pouch to him before offering him three rounds for the launcher. "That's what you're looking for?"
"Yes!" Yuri shoved the extra ammo into compartments on his armor, handing his access card over to her in exchange. "Start getting the others to the shuttle! I will cover you!"
Movement coupled by the explosive sounds of projectile weapons echoed against the stunners the other troopers deployed. The information on Aler's HUD looked very grim indeed; the hostiles and target were fighting back with lethal force while their orders simply amounted to 'throw as many bodies at them as possible until they're subdued.'
The next words over the tacnet were especially frustrating. "I've spotted the primary target! Lifesigns are definitely Cerinian, but she's wearing a full hardsuit! Subdual agents will not be effective. Repeat: subdual agents will not be effective!" The soldier who said that was likely not going to live long; a string of rapid fire from the strange vehicle sent the few remaining members of Wyke's squad to cover.
Wyke himself was making a push, having picked up a fallen trooper's blaster rifle and using the disabled vehicle's underside as cover. "Keep your heads down, fools! I'll keep the Cornerian busy, get the damn Cerinian bitch when you can!" He pushed past the vehicle with the blaster up and tracking.
More shots spat from the Cornerian position as Aler moved his team closer. He wasn't about to compromise the lives of the troops following him on a desperate whim. There had been enough bloodshed just getting to this point. He hissed a few pointers to his team. "Don't expose yourselves to fire needlessly! Get in position, cover your arcs and make this as by the manual as possible!"
Wyke had other plans. The Cornerian stood before him, weapon spitting fire at the bulky Eradicator armor. While the shields did nothing to stop the high-speed projectiles the armor was more than up to the task. The weapon was doing barely more than scratching the paint. He took a step forward, laughing maniacally as he disregarded the blaster rifle in his hand. "Let's see how you like this!" He reached out and simply grabbed the struggling figure by the cloth combat gear he had strapped on over his hardsuit. Another vicious blast from the Cornerian's rifle sparked against the starship-grade armor plating as he picked up his adversary and tossed him with all the strength the power plant could deliver.
The Cornerian went flying, impacting on the soft sand nearly fifteen meters away. "Take care of the vixen! I've got this piece of spacer trash just where I want him! I'm going to make him die screaming!"
"Damn it, Wyke! Don't leave your flank exposed!" Aler's voice called over the channel but went unheeded as the Eradicator stomped over the hot sand towards the fallen Cornerian, bloodlust and anger consuming his thoughts.
Krystal took a deep breath, taking a few errant shots at the Venom soldiers. The pain and nausea that welled up inside her would not go away, even though they were dulled by the effects of whatever the 'mercs' had given her. The massive armored figure had picked the Cornerian up and tossed him as if he was a child's toy. Brian's rifle had done absolutely nothing to stop it, and if she didn't do something he was going to die. She wouldn't let that happen.
Her staff was collapsed and ready for use, tucked away in the belt that also housed Brian's pistol. She put away her rifle as a desperate plan started to take shape. The Venomians would be out to capture her, but she could not allow that to happen. Taking a breath to prepare herself for the onslaught of stun rifles that their enemies were trying to capture her with, she pressed the shield glyph and stepped out into the open as the swirling blue matrix surrounded her.
Several stunner blasts snapped out at her, only to be absorbed by the matrix. The energy caused the matrix to flicker slightly, but she was already committed to her actions. The heavy gun on the damaged vehicle was pointed forward, but the mount was flexible enough that she was able to flip it around. Holding the weapon steady at such an awkward angle was almost impossible; it made the Weight of Trials she had to carry during her Ascendancy feel light.
Her peripheral vision caught a glimpse of two Venomians emerging from their hastily-chosen cover positions, but she had no time to worry about them. The Cerinian held the unfamiliar heavy weapon steady, mirroring Brian's actions from earlier. "This is for my people, you heartless bastards!" Her thumbs pushed down on the trigger, the massive weapon bucking and twisting in her hands as its roar thundered across the battlefield. She swept the weapon's sights across the clustered Venomians, who were woefully unprepared for such a vicious assault. She forced the grisly sight of living beings being torn to pieces out of her mind as she wrestled the heavy weapon onto the armored figure that stalked their unlikely savior.
Yuri's dazed attention was torn from the incoming Eradicator as the heavy machine gun thundered into the air once again. The Venom heavy was knocked to the ground in a torrent of fire, the heavy slugs slamming into the armor with the same firepower that the Americans had used to bring down armored vehicles and even aircraft. Even after the first burst knocked the Eradicator down the weapon continued firing. Yuri had enough sense to roll out of the way as the machine gun raked the armor with everything it had. The Cerinian had actually manned the gun and turned it on their enemies. She was far from the spoiled noble brat that he had figured her to be; a pleasant surprise during this pitched battle.
The battle was far from over, and the KGB officer added his firepower to the fight. A couple of Venom troopers had broken off to make a run at the Cerinian; a fatal mistake made as Yuri's return fire cut them down. She did a damn good job of taking out the Eradicator, but the second was moving in with his squad. It was time to rattle them a little bit.
Ignoring the sporadic stunner and blaster fire that was sent in his direction, he bracketed the second Eradicator and let loose with the grenade launcher. The slow-moving projectile crossed a hundred meters or so in a couple of seconds, landing a few meters in front of the heavily armored trooper. The blast knocked him down and sent some of his squadmates running for cover. "Good job, Cerinian! Now hurry up and get the others to the shuttle!" For punctuation he sent the rest of the M16's magazine into the other squad, taking a couple of soldiers down with it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the vixen go back into the wrecked transport, emerging with the battered American. Fair enough; he was her comrade after all.
Aler's world was turned upside down, the armor's systems howling warnings at him as shrapnel tore through some of the joints. The concussive blast of the grenade had been mostly pushed away by the shields, but the shrapnel was enough to damage the mobility systems that kept the Eradicator suit working correctly. Wyke's lifesigns died out at about the same moment; victim of the same heavy weapon that had terrorized the rest of their platoon. They were getting their tails stomped on by a small group of Cornerians, and there was nothing they could do about it.
As he struggled against the failing hydraulics a flash of movement caught his attention. The Cerinian was wearing the same type of hardsuit the other Cornerians had been wearing, but the figure she was carrying in her arms wasn't. A closer look revealed the fact the figure wasn't Lylatian at all.
The alien resembled a Simian at first glance if it hadn't been for the lack of fur. It wasn't wearing a hardsuit; rather some strange set of what looked like civilian clothes over a set of light body armor. She was rushing for the shuttle; using the covering fire of the Cornerian soldier to its fullest extent. A couple of his squad were killed in the initial onslaught; the rest dropping to the ground to find what little cover they could find. Shortly afterward another grenade blast rocked the area, taking two more Imperial soldiers with it. The damned Cornerian was good, he gave him that. However, to fail was to be subject to harsh reprisals; their superiors were not going to look upon this failure kindly. "Move forward! Close the gap!" The Eradicator struggled to stand, black fluid cascading down the damaged armor as he finally rose to his feet. "Kill that Cornerian asshole!" Shaking with the effort, he brought the LC-130 to bear on the soldier.
The soldier was quicker, snapping the rifle up to his shoulder and firing off another grenade. The projectile hit him dead on, subjecting him to the full effects of the blast. The armor shut down, the tactical HUD and displays blanking out as the mobility systems failed. He hit the ground hard, surrounded in darkness as all power was diverted to the life support systems that would have been needed had he actually been in the harsh vacuum of space. Aler howled with frustration as he realized that the battle was over; he was alive but beaten, a prisoner within the armor that had been the only chance against the mysterious weapons the partially alien force had wielded so effectively.
Mopping up the remaining resistance hadn't been too hard. With the loss of the Eradicators the remaining Venom troopers were beating a tactical retreat towards their dropship. He let them go; policing their wounded would give them some extra time. The Cerinian had returned by this time, the CAR-15 dangling from its sling as she reached in to help Ivan. "Are... are they gone?" Her voice was shaky and her movements were slow, but she was still in the fight.
"A reprieve at best. Once they board the dropship they might try to strafe us. We need to be off the ground before that happens, vixen." He glanced to the mortally wounded vehicle that had carried them this far. "Also, we cannot allow them to get their hands on our equipment. We will carry what we can, then slag the rest. Get my comrade to the shuttle. I'll handle the prisoner, then come back for the gear. Go!" Ivan pointed toward the shuttle as she struggled with Ivan's larger frame.
Yuri reached in and grabbed the Venomian prisoner by the ankle. He was rewarded by weakened struggling, but at that point he was too angry and fueled with adrenaline to care. After tossing the smaller figure out of the vehicle he set to work, gathering Ivan's AK74 as well as the other rifles he could find.The hardsuit's basic layer had a nanomuscular structure built in which augmented the wearer's strength and dexterity to a small degree. This wasn't as pronounced as the hydraulic, power-assisted version on Eradicator armor, but it gave the already impressively strong man an edge when needed. He slung his prisoner over one shoulder while balancing the four longarms he could carry over the other. Satisfied he had enough of a load he ran back to the shuttle.
He had enough time for an additional trip as he kept a sharp eye on the Venomian stragglers hauling their wounded across the bay. Ammunition and supplies were gathered this time, taking what would prove most useful before rushing back to the shuttle. They would slag the rest. With a disgusted grunt he pulled off his helmet as he entered the common area, the Cerinian already busy with dressing the wounds on the other three. Her helmet was off and the armor removed down to the undersuit. She gave him a pained, weary look as she pulled off the remains of the American's body armor. "What do we do now?" Her voice belied her exhaustion and pain; the simple sentence spoken with a mixture of relief and fear.
"We escape, vixen. Keep them stable. We will talk later, after I've gotten us away from them." Wearily Yuri made his way for the cockpit, hoping to beat the dropship in a race against time.
Yuri hadn't been much of a moviegoer. However, during training to act as diplomatic staff he had to watch various popular Western films in order to understand their culture. One of the movies had been the science-fiction film called Star Wars, featuring heavy tones of capitalism and religious faith in space. The obvious disadvantages of the capitalist system aside, there was one major discrepancy the movie had given... its depiction of space combat was complete garbage.
In reality combat happened from kilometers away, with sensor systems outlining threats; computer systems did what mere reflexes could not. The best pilots combined razor-honed finesse with almost machine-like knowledge of their craft's systems. Yuri simply relied on the electronics to get the job done.
For all their posturing the Remnant was mostly a paper tiger; spread thin and long ago forced to banditry and smuggling to survive. Their experienced, tenured personnel were spread thin and in hiding most of the time, leading to the circumstances that left Yuri's Shrike a wide open hole to exploit.
"If you are going to send that distress signal, you had better do it right now!" Yuri's hands wrestled with the controls as they shot through the atmosphere, the engines shrieking against the dense atmosphere to achieve escape velocity. Orbital insertion would take a few minutes, although they would have to dance among the densely-packed asteroids that surrounded the wounded planet. The Shrike's sensor package was already boosted to its full potential, energy flooding various spectrums to search out, identify, and jam potential hostiles. The system had detected the launch of the Venomian dropship, although with a head start of three minutes they would be lucky to even see their Slipspace entry.
He didn't react as the weary Cerinian slid into the seat next to him, reaching for the comms console at the copilot's station. The standard emergency beacon was required on all spacecraft; it was universal to the point where even most pirate vessels were equipped with them. The beacon was launched with a prerecorded message and was equipped with a fusion reactor and a small Slipspace generator. They were designed to home in on the nearest Hypernet relay and broadcast the call in the hopes that nearby vessels would be able to give aid.
"Anyone who hears this, please send help. Sauria is in danger. The planet is breaking apart and will be destroyed unless the Spellstones are returned to their rightful place. My companion and I managed to replace one of them, but were set on by Venom forces. The Sharpclaw army led by General Scales is numerous and bent on destruction and chaos. The Saurian tribes are defenseless against their onslaught. Please... help them." Krystal closed her eyes as she pressed the button; a soft shudder felt as the probe was launched. A bright yellow streak shot out from underneath the craft; the probe thrust forward towards its rendezvous with destiny.
This meant that Cornerian forces were about to descend on Sauria like a hornet's nest. Yuri did not want to be here when that happened. He had absolutely no sympathy for the interstellar capitalists and fascists, but he needed the Cerinian they were looking for a little while longer. Just a few more days and they could leave this twisted, decadent society for good.
But first he had to shake their pursuers. The sensor suite screamed at him. While it was nowhere near the equal of the Great Fox's modified hardware it was still Cornerian military-grade. The Venomians hadn't wasted much time. While the frigate maintained a high orbit above Sauria to remain free of the debris which surrounded the stricken planet it wasn't impotent to prevent their quarry's escape. The dropship was still trying to gain on them, but the Shrike's more powerful engines and lighter mass allowed it to leave them in the dust. The danger was presented in the form of a squadron of Invaderspacefighters that were weaving through the assorted chunks of landmass to lock onto them.
Yuri wasn't a fighter pilot. Before his unlikely introduction to Lylat he hadn't even been behind the controls of an aircraft or helicopter; Ivan had that distinction. While he had learned the basics, he was of the 'let the computers do the work' school of combat and had equipped their craft to cater to that. The sensors sought out individual targets and acquired locks; at the push of a button several missiles erupted from the twin pods mounted on the sides of the craft. The brilliant red flaring of engines were clearly visible against the backdrop of the void; deadly payloads sent towards their targets.
The Venomian pilots reacted nearly instantenously; sensor jamming and countermeasures deployed to attempt to deflect the missiles. Cornerian shielding was somewhat more sophisticated than the older jamming systems, which caused the fighters to veer off course to avoid being destroyed.
The distraction ploy would have to do. While the Venomians were busy with the missiles he deviated wildly, trying to put as much space between themselves and their pursuers as possible. The stakes were high, but they were simple. They would either be going home or they would not be. The engines' tone grew from a muted hum to a rumbling roar as Yuri pushed the throttles to their stops, punching a hole through an undefended part of their screen.
An alarm howled out a warning as the frigate's sensors painted them. The larger craft would likely have ion pulse bombs which stood a good chance of disabling the Shrike. Fingers stabbing at the controls, Yuri launched countermeasures; sensor jamming fields coming online and draining precious power from the main reactor. Several flares were launched, each broadcasting an identical sensor profile to the shuttle. He hoped it would be enough.
It turned out to be enough. Two fighters were reduced to debris by his missiles, the invasive maneuvers giving them enough lead time to get to the relative safety of the debris field. Their destination was already programmed into the navicomp, and there was nothing the Venomians could do to prevent their escape. Slowing down, Yuri jinked the craft to avoid several of the building-sized chunks of rock and fragments of stone temples floating in orbit. The debris field rapidly thinned, giving way to the depths of space.
The navicomp chimed, the Slipspace solution ready to be enacted. The former KGB agent pressed a button on the control panel and the stars faded out to nothingness, replaced with the mottled, stormy chaos of Slipspace. They had escaped Venomian clutches, if only barely. They had won. He was going home.