• Francois DesRochers

Adventurer's Notebook: A Scout's Honour (Chapter 4)

Updated: Apr 24

Micheline swiped the branches from her face as she pushed through the copse of trees and alders. Branches bearing fewer and fewer leaves swirled back in place as she advanced to the small ridge overlooking the commercial sector. Finding her position, she clicked her radio as couple of times, signalling her arrival to the remainder of Six-Delta. After twenty four hours of tracking, they had finally reached their goal. Philippe had allowed her to flex her tradecraft, chasing the target through heavy and dense forest into this small built-up area. Her team mates now deployed to help eliminate their target.


There had been a lot of this over the past week. Training exercises and practices upon another in order to develop the dynamic so crucial to small team operations. Developed to expose each other’s quirks, how each operated and would react to challenges; expectations were high. While the others had been together for years, they had developed a camaraderie that included Grappler, someone they still mourned in their own ways. Philippe maintained the façade of a happy drunk, which she doubted was really how he felt. Kennie found his way through humour, which he did as much to help the team as himself. Anna and Piggy were a tough pair to read. Lovers, they spent most spare time together, something she had little intention of intruding upon.


Grappler. He had earned the name from his prodigious wrestling abilities and skills in climbing. A good friend with Kennie, he was physically comparable to Anna and Piggy and a deserved member serving under Philippe. To say she had big shoes to fill seemed to diminish Grappler’s legacy; a decent tracker, more comfortable in the wilderness than most, and a good friend to the survivors in Six-Delta. Despite the unspoken truth known by everyone in MSI, their lives were only worth the next contract. Micheline could never hope to replace him. She could only strive to prove her worth.


As Kennie had once recounted after collecting a serious haul of empty liquor glasses, Grappler’s demise had come at the end of a ‘seek and destroy’ mission into the Lac St. Francois region. Outside the eastern borders of Free Quebec, rumours of a rogue Shifter starting a remote cult and making trouble in the border towns proved all too accurate. Grappler had led them cross-country, tracking down and cornering the target. Apparently that was when bad went to worst. In desperation, the Shifter forced open a rift, a Deevil coming through at pace. Before they could draw a weapon on the demon, it had cast a spell creating a blinding flash. When their eyes had adjusted, the Deevil stood over Grappler, elongated and razor sharp talons dripping in blood, armour and flesh underneath in ruins. As Six-Delta blasted the Deevil into oblivion, Grappler lay dead, eviscerated.


She had known better than to ask what they had done with the Shifter.


Micheline dropped into a prone position, the barrel of her Wilk’s 457 propped on a small bipod. She engaged her cybernetic hearing and could hear Kennie and Philippe moving from the cover of the treeline into the outskirts of the urban area. The pair used a storage facility to her right to mask their approach. They slipped through a massive crater in the ruined wall of a building and out of sight.


“Got him. Main thoroughfare,” Anna whispered into her comms device. After Philippe clicked the response code, she sent her acknowledgement.


She was pretty sure she could make out the heavy footfalls of Piggy, the softer movements of Anna almost whisper silent. They had moved off to her left, the two pairs creating a pincer movement as they closed in. They hoped to pin their quarry, keep them occupied and give her the shot she needed to eliminate the protected target.


Piggy was everything one would expect about a heavy weapons mercenary. Broad shoulders and chest, massive muscled arms hefted his favoured ten kilogram particle beam rifle with the ease she handled a broom handle. He was as gruff and undiplomatic as she anticipated. He greeted her with a jovial enough grin and a nod but didn’t extend a hand. It would have dwarfed hers. He was the most reserved about her inclusion to the team. After thoroughly losing four rounds in a row of target practise, he squared his jaw, grunted and gave her a friendly slap across her shoulder. She had to fight to keep her knees from buckling under the weight of his arm, but that had been the last of his hesitation.


She still wasn’t sure about Anna. The woman was positively Amazonian and scared the daylights out of her. Standing almost seven feet tall, Anna was physically every bit what she expected about a Juicer. The woman’s physique was simply astonishing. What threw Micheline off was just how truly composed and glamourous the woman was. When not in combat gear, her ‘civilian’ clothes were tailored to conceal her bio-comp system and accentuated her slightly oriental features. Anna also displayed a composure and calm demeanor not normally associated with a Juicer; it was completely unnerving. Everything she had heard led her to believe Anna would be a jittery, overbearing warrior elite with a superiority complex, something she expected a Juicer most times could back up. When Anna switched from her calm, off-duty persona, to that of the violent mercenary warrior, it was ferocious and dramatic.


Micheline trained her rifle down the length of the main roadway cutting through the commercial sprawl. She drew a line almost straight down the remains of the paved road, but elsewhere there were too many spots to duck behind, cover to mask one’s approach. To either side were a variety of different structures, collapsed or pitted with holes, most windows long since shattered or scavenged. Open parking spaces were covered in a layer of weeds and trees long since piercing the pavement; nature’s reclamation of the world at work, the leaves now turned from green to a tapestry of beautiful golden oranges and reds. What was once an open space that would have provided little cover, now presented a terrible challenge for visibility.


Their target’s bodyguard really had no understandable way of keeping hidden, despite the overcast skies. She continued scanning, wondering how the heck a Glitter Boy, in all its ten foot reflective glory, could hide so well in these overgrown ruins.


She trained her augmented hearing to try and discern where the power armoured behemoth may be skulking its way through. Guarding the rogue scientist with his cache of classified data for sale to the highest bidder, Micheline resigned to the fact it was likely she would never get a sightline to the scientist. The slight breeze would mask his movements too easily, the slight sway to the juvenile trees and bushes enough to cover any cautious movements he may commit to. The Glitter Boy on the other hand, that guy should have made a mess of noise crunching through the ruins.


‘This guy is really good.’ She forced herself to calm her breathing to counter her frustration. “How the hell does he hide a walking mirror,” she whispered.


“Gas station, red sign about five hundred meters from you, Duke,” Kennie called out over the radio in answer.


She smiled. Her call sign had been adopted a couple of days ago, celebrated by the squad in a small ceremony Philippe had developed. It felt akin to a birthday celebration, one she felt grateful for. After only a week or hard training and simulations, she felt like a welcomed part of the team. To everyone in Six-Delta, she was Duke, a name that had caught on back at MSI.


Her cybernetic hearing pinged a warning as it activated its sound filtration. She felt and saw movement a fraction of a second before the sonic boom scattered the few remnants of nearby windows and sent vegetation swaying wildly in the wake of the shot. Still the Glitter Boy remained out of sight.


The boom gun’s report faded, a series of echoing booms coming back from nearby buildings.

Rapid fire energy rifle shots from her right signalled Kennie and Philippe attempt to draw out their target. “Vertigo, now,” Philippe said over the radio as another round from the Glitter Boy’s boom gun blew out the roof display of a commercial structure. “Vertigo, now,” he repeated.


Vertigo.


The code word given, Anna and Piggy launched their part of the plan. A fusillade of heavier laser fire erupted from Micheline’s left, beams criss-crossing the space around the corner of the gas station.

Micheline trained her scope on the small fragment of a window on the far side of the clearing. She caught a glimpse of the highly reflective power armour making its way out towards the main roadway. A few seconds later, the mirrored behemoth backed into view, shielding the scientist with its body from Anna and Piggy. It let loose another round, the gas stations red sign shattering. Red and yellow glass shards rained down on the pair. The scientist raised his arms protectively, his rifle held above his head in a vain attempt to shield himself as the Glitter Boy shrugged off laser rifle bolts.


Micheline trained her rifle. Armoured in Huntsman pattern armour, the scientist haphazardly returned fire in Philippe and Kennie’s direction. With a release of her breath and steadying her aim, she sent a bolt of energy. The scientist took the shot in his helmet, his feet kicking out from under him as he fell. He flopped to the ground, movements sluggish and ill coordinated. The Glitter Boy reached down and forced the man into the gas station structure. Inside and out of sight. ‘Bastard.’


“Target injured,” she radioed. “Inside the gas station.”


A number of reports from the boom gun later, fire from her left ceased.


Both the scientist and Glitter Boy turned their attention back onto Phillipe and Kennie. Laser fire and boom gun shells ripped into one of the adjacent buildings.


“No clear shot,” she sent.


“Pinned” came Kennie’s quick response.


‘Dammit. Time to get creative.’


Her scope centered on the Glitter Boy, heel spikes puncturing the pavement in a puff of hydraulic exhaust. Stabilizing jets on its back flaring to life each time it fired a shot, her chest rattling as the sonic waves washed over her. The shadowy movements of the scientist were revealed on the mirrored surface. Not content to remain hidden behind his imposing body guard, the scientist added to the fusillade of shots.


“Hold tight,” she murmured.


She didn’t wait for any reply or confirmation.


She depressed her trigger and kept firing, her clip was spent.


Laser fire rained down in an almost steady stream, dozens upon dozens of shots ricocheted in myriad directions off the laser reflective armour. Normally an exercise in futility, she now counted on the reflective qualities of the infamous battle suits to deflect the majority of her shots. It provided her the only vector into the gas station.


The majority of shots bounced away harmlessly, pitting holes into the surrounding pave or shredding through greenery. Smoky fires started in a couple of shrubs, the pavement pitted and steaming with an angry sizzle. The Glitter Boy’s attention shifted as her final bolts were spent. Micheline frantically ripped open a pouch, desperate for a new e-clip. The Glitter Boy released one of its heel spikes, pivoted its body around and lined its weapon on her. The spike redeployed.


“Clear stations, clear stations,” a voice announced over the radio.


The Glitter Boy turned away its aiming point, the dreaded boom gun mercifully canted off to the side. Micheline removed her helmet and wiped the sudden flush of sweat from her forehead, strands of hair stuck to her cheeks as she fought to catch her breath. Test or not, facing down the barrel of a boom gun was not something she cared to repeat. She paused and finished loading her e-clip with a slap. Standing up from her position, she turned and nodded to the observer-controller kneeling ten meters away.


Lowering his binoculars, he nudged his chin towards the commercial sector.


As the pair made their way down to the gas station, Philippe and Kennie sauntered in from across the street and shook hands with the scientist and the now disembarked pilot of the Glitter Boy. Anna and Piggy emerged from around the corner of the station, their faces shrouded in disappointment. A trio of other observer-controllers joined them from different directions as she arrived.


“Simulation over. Disconnect your weapon inhibitors and hand them over,” announced the controller that had accompanied her, a small sack held open. “Jeremy, you can unlock the training protocols on your suit and swap out the training rounds when we get back,” he added as everyone disconnected the small black boxes from the sides of their rifles. “We’ll collect the laser trackers applied to your armour after the sim review.”


The GB pilot looked across the group. “Nice shooting, Duke,” Jeremy offered. “I didn’t think I gave you the angle to reflect those shots into Tony here,” he said thumbing to the man playing the part of the scientist.


Tony nodded in agreement.


“It took the whole clip through,” she replied, “and only because you were planted and occupied with Philippe and Kennie.”


“Which is why this counts as a victory, but with conditions,” another observer-controller interrupted. “You may have eliminated the target, but you lost two of your squad,” he motioned to Anna and Piggy, “and the remainder were pinned,” now gesturing to Philippe and Kennie. “You succeeded in killing the target but the squad was essentially wiped out. You yourself were a few seconds from eating a few rounds from Jeremy.”


“A good thing we’re only in the MSI training grounds then” Philippe said. “It was my plan, so any failure falls on me.” He waved down the protests from the remainder of Six-Delta.


“Let’s head back,” the controller suggested.


“Kennie, you take the stick,” Philippe announced as Six-Delta approached their transport. Kennie jumped into the pilot seat of the dark blue van, Philippe riding shotgun. She scrambled into the back seats, allowing Anna and Piggy the extra room in the row ahead of her. “Good shooting there, Duke” Philippe called back as they started back, followed by a murmur of agreement from the squad. “More importantly, we won a bet back at the barracks. We made a tidy sum! Even better, we get to hold this over Jeremy for a bit. The man’s always been a little too cocky.”


“He sure as heck knows how to use that suit though,” Micheline said.


“That he does,” Philippe said turning around. He wore a swaggering grin. “Which makes this victory all that much sweeter. Cheer up guys! We weren’t expected to get a bead on the target, let alone survive. Drinks on me when we get back.”


“You mean out of the winnings,” Kennie corrected. His laugh was infectious, the mood lightening.


They passed through security and disembarked the van in the relative comfort of the MSI compound. A guard approached and silently handed Philippe a tablet.


Philippe scrolled through briefly, and grunted as he returned the tablet. “I’ll be there,” said. The guard turned and walked straight towards the headquarters building.


“I know that look,” Piggy rumbled. “When are we deploying?”


“The old man has put us back to operational,” he said. “Looks like we’re having those drinks another time.”


Continue to Chapter 5

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