Adventurer's Notebook: A Scout's Honour (Chapter 5)
The irony had left her speechless.
The mission specs had been easy enough to comprehend, a simple matter of guarding a delivery of cargo. Six-Delta would provide route clearance and flank security, while a squad from conventional ops secured the caravan. There were no specifics on the cargo, only assurances none was explosive or hazardous. A mixed bag of cybernetics parts, electronics and foodstuffs, bound for one of the frontier villages in the Sherbrooke expansion, near the southeastern border.
They listened to assertions from the contractor of the minimal risk, until the convoy approached their final destination. Despite the sanction by Free Quebec’s government, settlements in and around the expansion were not nearly as secured as presumed. The Free Quebec military, once prevalent in the region, were now spread thin as they pressed conflicts within the wilds further south and east to draw away anything that may risk the settlers.
Unofficial reports of military engagements were all the rage, fodder for gossip amongst the MSI crews in the meal hall and during downtime. Even the CFRC, Free Quebec’s government radio station, hotly promoted the campaign. Constant radio reports and interviews from their war correspondents kept the populace up-to-date. It all appeared to be going according to plan, the military keeping the trouble well outside their borders. For the most part. The benign details reporters provided may have been enough to soothe the general populace. To the mercenaries of MSI, the lightly varnished information was enough for them to know the difference.
Several skirmishes within the borders kept people on edge. Considered a hot zone, there was little debate over the need to secure the convoy to assure delivery. Even prying eyes within Free Quebec would look longingly at a supply train with little security other than the drivers' small arms.
That the convoy was the very one that Marco DeGallo was supposed to speak with Chantal about hadn’t escaped her. Apparently she hadn’t yet earned the seniority to be told what that connection had meant. Philippe’s raised eyebrow and the body language of the rest of Six-Delta demonstrated their understanding as well. Her recruitment had long since been a subject of conversation. She had recounted the ordeal in detail, much to the howling delight of Anna and Piggy. Their raucous laughter at the time had been contagious.
A not altogether unpleasant surprise had been the selection of the commander for the conventional ops team. Most called him Preacher; to her, the man would always be Jonas. He had cast her his casual and characteristic wink as he walked in, followed by a toothy grin as he reacted to her gawping expression. Her face had burned with flushed embarrassment; she smiled despite herself. It wasn’t a closely guarded secret, but her attempts at concealing her fraternization with Jonas in a compound filled with spies, cut-throats and snitches seemed foolhardy in retrospect.
That had been three days ago, before they had rumbled out of the MSI compound in force and moved to Trois Rivières. They had overseen the loading and preparations, linking with the shipper's security detail at the warehouses the morning on departure. Hours later, they were underway and heading southeast.
She downshifted her ATV hover cycle and came to a clean stop short of the parked Big Boss ATV. Off to the side, Anna flitted throughout the trees to get a better view of the far side of the forested embankment. Kennie covered his eyes and raised his hand as the billowing leaves and grass of her arrival subsided. Piggy didn’t move, his attention trained on the defile ahead, as the road passed through the wood line. Philippe arrived shortly after, coming back in from over the tree tops with a hard burn and turn, guiding his hover cycle next to hers.
“How we doing,” Philippe asked over the squad’s radio network.
“Southern flank is cleared,” she replied. “Just a radio challenge from a full flight of Sky Cycles. Four of them came in close and peeled off after, heading south and away.”
“Route’s cleared up to this point, boss,” Kennie said. “Anna is just doing a quick defile drill and we’ll push through. How is it up ahead?”
“No issues. This defile opens up and it’s clear sailing the majority of the way onward.”
“I’ll let Preacher know,” Kennie stated. “They’re still about twenty minutes behind us.” He leaned back into the cab and started fiddling with the radio console.
“Eleven massive transports makes a pretty tempting target,” Micheline said.
“Hauling that gear out to Sherbrooke doesn’t make it any better,” Philippe replied.
The massive vehicles in convoy made for an impressive sight. Assisted by a number of escort vehicles and escort cycles, the conventional ops team consisted of a mixed collection from the tapestry of MSI mercs, including some minor celebrities. Abraham, a lean Coalition Dog Boy of Greyhound heritage; Adnix, a Ley Line Walker of repute with a goth bent for fashion; the Twins, a brother-sister pair of City Rats that shared a more intense connection than stereotypically associated with twins.
“Defile clear,” Anna radioed.
“Duke, stay and link with the lead car. Once they secure the defile, keep on the southern flank and we’ll link you back in. I’ll head out with these guys see what’s what.”
Without another word, Kennie kicked up a pile of leaves and grass, charging down the road. Piggy waved and a moment later the shadowy silhouette of Anna pounced from an elevated position. She nimbly landed on the ATV foot rails, one hand clasping a guard rail, in her other her rifle. Not once did it look like Kennnie had slowed.
Philippe provided nothing more than a quick wave and engaged his thrusters to boost his hover cycle up and over the trees, chasing after Kennie.
The lead security vehicle came rushing down the roadway five minutes later, leaving a trails of windswept leaves in the faint cloud of dust they picked up. The armoured jeep fired its encounter code and she answered. The driver manoeuvred around her and came to a skidding stop, tires sliding on the soggy grass. The Twins, dressed in matching Gladiator pattern armour, exited. Their armour was matt black, adorned with muted silver studs and spikes, a chain mail skirt falling from their waists to halfway down their thighs. Both kept their helmets clipped to their waist belts, gripping their energy rifles.
Affectionately known as “Jack and Jill,” the pair of former City Rats exalted in their status as fish out of water compared to their colleagues. They kept many of their habits, clothes styled after what they called pre-Apocalypse grunge, hair styled in a radical array of different colour, and often conversing with each other in one of the street dialects from whatever hive of humanity they had escaped from. Micheline got the distinct impression they knew much more of this business than they let on.
She raised a hand, greeted by both smiling exactly alike, returning a wave with the same hands, arms moving in sync to a degree she found eerily disconcerting. “Defile secured. You want to secure the far end?”
“Got it,” Jack said. “Anna did the sweep?”
“No need then,” added Jill with a smile. The Twins spoke together, a series of clicks, whistles and hand gestures, mixed in with real words in what she thought was no less than five languages; she recognized French, English, some Techno-can, the rest a jumble of syllables.
“We’ve got it from here,” Jack stated. Jill turned and jumped back into the jeep. Another flurry of leaves and torn grass announced their departure down the defile.
“I swear, that driver and Kennie went to the same piloting school.”
“You mean Kennie was actually taught to drive that way?”
“Careful,” Micheline chastised with a laugh. “Philippe won’t take kindly to you criticizing his driver.”
Jack chuckled as he waved. “No worries.”
She engaged her hover cycle’s engine and eased herself away. Once confident the jet wash wouldn’t blow Jack off his feet, she climbed over the tree tops and started skimming the trees. She headed south before continuing east to parallel the route the convoy would eventually follow. She cast her eyes over the landscape for anything unusual. Trying to catch movement, shapes or colours that didn’t belong presented her with a respite she was desperately thankful for. Despite her familiarity with the MSI compound and the others that work for old-man Massey, this was where she felt the most alive. The natural beauty of the wild, the sweeping expanses of grasslands interspersed with quality forests, all leading to the mountainous foothills of the Appalachians to the east.
Micheline signalled her challenge code a couple of times, expecting Philippe or Kennie to reply and provide her a vector to rejoin them. After the third failed attempt, she settled near the peak of a rounded hill that afforded a clear line of site to the north and east.
She keyed in the radio and tried the direct frequency to Kennie’s radio console. Only static returned. She dialled her radio over to the direct frequency for the convoy and met with the same results. Back to Kennie’s frequency, once again only static. Her stomach plummeted. Readying her rifle and pistol in their transport holsters, she gunned the engines and blasted off, clipping the tree tops and she sped northeast.
Her fears were realized sooner than expected. On the horizon, she caught sight of the coloured smoke, barely reaching above the treeline. Purple smoke. Six-Delta was in contact with hostiles. She keyed her radio to the squad frequency and let it fizzle.
‘Someone must be jamming the signal.’
Between her and the smoke was nothing but solid forest, no gaps or openings for her to exploit for entry into the fight. She banked hard right and started a breakneck loop to try and come around from the flank. Once over the edge of the forest she started to backtrack through the open grassy fields. An ominous plume of smoke from a destroyed vehicle clearly announced the escalation of the conflict. She approached dangerously low, keeping her silhouette covered by a lone mountain of rock several kilometers behind her. A flurry of laser bolts cut through the air around her. ‘So much for the element of surprise.’
With a burst of speed, she banked again to reach a small forest. An obvious manoeuvre, it was the sole spot that afforded any cover. Before the hover cycle came to a stop, she had pulled the straps for her transport holsters and was running to the flank of the forest. She eased herself to the northern edge of the trees, her Wilk’s 457 primed. A small spur of rock, still deep in the shadows, provided the perfect spot to see through the edge of the forest. Even without her scope, she could see and now hear the flurry of shots over her laboured breathing.
Leaning her shoulder into a massive maple, she sighted the battlefield. Battle lines had been set, and Six-Delta was holding on by a razor’s edge. A half-dozen armoured mercenaries tried to keep them pinned, while a larger crew tried to sweep in for the kill. Anna flipped through the trees, harassing the larger group with laser fire, not letting them advance with impunity.
Only one of the fire base kept an eye out for her, his rifle scanning, observing the middle of the forest, instead of the edge she had chosen. ‘Amateur.’ She controlled her breathing and aimed. Her burst went through the sentry's helmet. He fell limp to the ground, unnoticed. Another sniped shot, then a third were killed before the fire base ceased trying to pin Six-Delta. The forest around her erupted as laser bolts flew blindly around her, a cacophony of trees blowing into splinters and branches crashing to the ground. Smoke billowed as fires flickered to life, burning the dense cover of fallen leaves.
A pair of mini-missiles whooshed through the air from Six-Delta, leaving twisting, erratic smoke trails. A conflagration erupted on impact at the fire base. As the pair of fiery pillars exhumed into sooty black smoke, two mercenaries were bodily launched into the air. Micheline’s return fire dropped the last as he tried to find a place to hide.
“Good to hear from ya’, Duke,” came the crackled call from Philippe. “Give Anna some over watch. We’re pivoting to help her now.”
From the scope, she watched Anna conducting a display of utter rage. Death incarnate, she leaped from tree to tree in disorienting wisps of colour. Micheline scanned to the far side of the mercenaries and started picking them off. Each time her scope found someone crouched and trying to aim or checking whether they had found a safe spot, she placed a trio of bolts into their helmet. By the time Piggy, Kennie and Philippe had started to add their firepower to the fight, Anna was too entrenched.
Through the safety of her scope, Micheline watched Anna swing an overcharging neural mace in one hand, a vibro-saber in the other. She slammed the neural mace into anyone she could reach, sending them stumbling back to the ground with a blistering shock of electricity, the sabre slicing through those who somehow withstood the incapacitating charge. Troubling enough to watch during training exercises, Micheline could barely keep focus on the Juicer as she dealt death up close. She caught a flash of Anna’s face only briefly, the frenzied rictus enough to freeze her blood cold.
Piggy waved Kennie and Philippe back. Micheline noted he had an oddly disturbing grin as he watched his lover carve through the enemy.
“What about the caravan,” Micheline asked over the radio net.
Philippe turned on the spot, calling orders over his shoulder. He bounded away, an arm waving back to the east.
Moving back through the trees, Micheline slammed her weapons back into their holsters and kicked the hover cycle into gear. By the time she had blasted off, Philippe had already ascended over the trees and was racing westwards.
She followed his wake.
Continue to Chapter 6 (forthcoming)
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