Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Outskirts: 3330 local time [0530. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Justin Raegas, Uewo Cartel Enforcer.
Six vehicles roared across the rocky wastes, dodging the occasional larger boulders with reckless abandon. The two largest were souped up Union deuces with bullet proof compartment windshields and 'fringer armor,' thick steel sheets bolted onto the truck's sides. The four smaller vehicles were rusty Shaog made pickup trucks, three of them are armed with crew served weapons. The first two have .50 caliber Brownings and another a Mark 19 mounted over the back. Fifty-three Uewo cartel foot soldiers clutching various AK's, shotguns, M4's, and RPG's are packed into the deuces and hanging onto the trucks; they shielded their eyes with hands, scarves, and face masks from clouds of dust that billowed in the convoy's wake.
The green tarp covering the bed of the deuce was flipped back, and a figure leapt up onto the railing, one hand gripped the metal frame while the other held a comm unit to his ear. The man was in his late thirties, his red - though grey speckled - hair and starkly sky blue eyes were cloaked by a thin cotton headscarf and black ballistic goggles. A Krinkov was slung over his shoulder, the banana magazines were roughly stuffed into a Rheik made web vest designed for M4's. The vest bulged from his large pot belly, though he still moved like he carried himself well. His name was Justin Raegas, and he commanded the most well organized Quick Reaction Force in the whole Uewo cartel. Though not the most well equipped; supply issues were always a major thorn in his side.Though the man was Nergovian born and raised, he always vehemently insisted on using military protocol and procedures from the galactic militaries. Despite the occasional local incompetence and the Cartel footmen's strange insistence on calling him, 'Mister Raegas' instead of 'Sir.'
He lifted up the comm one more time and spoke into it, "Repeat! Phillip! Ben! Le Bron! Anyone! Respond!" After another span of silence he swore violently and handed the mike back down into the truck to Dobh; the huge man crouching in the bed of the deuce was a bouncer from a Uewo cantina, he wasn't too bright, but he could carry Justin's ancient and huge squad comm/scanner system.
Justin waved over to the leading three vehicles, then made a cutting motion back and forth with his hands; the three leading pickups kept driving straight.
"Come on, secure the target site, just like we drilled." Justin irritably thought to himself.
He did it again - more forcefully this time - and they finally split off from the main convoy and sped up; they were going to circle around the compromised deal site to check for ambushes.
"Hate this." He'd been begging his younger brother Phillip Raegas for years to get a comm unit in each vehicle so he wouldn't have to gesture like a spastic dancer every time they needed to change formation or halt. The ancient one he used now was always strapped to Dobh's back. Phillip was a talented Uewo foot officer that handled supply acquisition and freelancer contracts, but he was unfailingly stingy with cartel funds. He had a knack for getting the 'most affordable' prices for everything, beer, whores, ammo... Everything. It took Justin forever to convince Phillip to buy a new Mark 19 for his Enforcers; and even when they got it, it turned out Phillip had just contracted a merc to covertly steal it from the Uewo's big rivals, the Sanhuro. The same Sanhuro's that he was cutting this demo deal with.
"Relax Justin," he could remember Phillip saying, "that's why I contracted it out, the Sanhuro will never discover it was me. You'll get your Mark and then I'll cut the demo deal."
"Why even steal it? Are there seriously no dealers that you can just buy one from?"
"They're all too expensive and in shitty condition, it's much cheaper to just pay a merc to steal one."
So Justin was nervous about the deal before he learned that Phillip was ripping the Sanhuro off in the demo deal with fake diamonds.
"Well they aren't all fake, just a third of them."
"Why the fuck are you running this kind of risk with those dogs?"
Justin could see Phillip in yesterday's memory chewing his lower lip while keeping that cocky half smile; starting to speak before Justin interrupted,
"Wait, don't tell me, it's cheaper."
Justin insisted that he'd form his squads into a Quick Reaction Force in case shit happened on the deal. Phillip further put his mind at ease by contracting a freelancer sniper to pull security on the site. If shit happened, that sniper might buy enough time for the QRF to get there. "That's a huge might." Normally it'd take a whole hour to go around the Tortuga ridge to reach the deal site, which was utterly useless; they couldn't standby closer out in the desert, if the Sanhuro scanned the area they'd understandably assume a trap. So Justin had worked with an offroad route over the ridge, cutting reponse time in half. Still, if shit happened, there was little chance they'd get there in time.
"And shit has happened."
The valley was just ten minutes away, Justin slammed his fist onto the top of the truck a couple times before screaming down at the driver, "FASTER!"
"Stay alive brother."
Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Skyborne Skylark: 3400 local time [0600. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Jeremy Brock, Skylark translator and mercenary.
"Is it on now?"
Brock had laid out the Kartoa built TSC (tactical squad comm) system on one of the sturdy steel grey supply chests in the cargo bay.
The technical confusion he now faced was particularly frustrating, he had been his Platoon's CTO for his whole last deployment; but those were Federation built systems, not Kartoa. The general layout was similar, the black boxlike transmitter had a small numerical keypad and display screen; an incredibly durable hair thin cord ran from the main transmitter to a small reactive speaker/mike headset and black tinted goggles with a built in HUD.
"A great system, if it'll just fucking sync."
Three other members of the Skylark were chatting nearby; "Chin, Cook, and Clutch." All three had changed into identical Aynland made red dust ACU's and FLC's; they all carried black AK's mounted with ACOG's and PEQ's. They were already wearing their TSC's, the large black goggles obscured their faces; Chin was a head taller than the other two, but Brock wouldn't be able to tell Cook and Clutch apart if it wasn't for their nametapes.
"Huzzah! Finally got the batteries in right did you?" Weasel rolled his eyes behind his black TSC goggles and spat a black glop into his little green bottle. He was wearing full combat gear with a Rheik M4 secured to his packed Disukan web vest. He swallowed his tobacco leaves before saying, "Key in the freq again."
Brock took a second to carefully recite the frequency aloud as he punched it into the trans. Weasel had dictated it to him just a few minutes ago. "I can at least get THAT right."
"Hotel, Quail, seven, niner, six, six, two, niner, one, tree, two, eight, seven, zero, zero." After double checking with his notepad he logged the contact.
"Now request entry to the channel." Weasel instructed.
Moving quickly now, Brock mashed a few buttons before seizing the headset and checking it, "Testing, testing, testing."
"Slow down private, still got to approve your TSC." The Federation version of the acronym sounded like a 'tsk tsk' sound. Weasel typed across his controls for a second before walking a dozen meters away and muttering something into the mike.
"I can't hear you Starshiy."
"I can hear your bitch ass voice over the comm, what's your volume set to?"
"Uh.... Manual low, I'll turn it up."
"No, switch it to auto; it won't muffle gunfire on manual."
Brock spent a couple minutes worrying over his notes and fumbling with the keypad. "Ok, I think that's right."
"Try it now Starshiy."
The Starshiy's deep, throaty voice came in crystal clear over Brock's headset, "Brock's mother sucks me off."
"...Uh, roger Starshiy, I can hear you."
"Finally! Sync in to mass comm."
After switching, Brock was surprised to meet with silence; he was expecting some sort of ongoing chatter between Chief and Logan out in the field. Like an ongoing SITREP or something. "Well, it has been a while; the Starshiy's been listening the whole time." Brock pushed away his mike and spoke, "Is there an active sitrep?"
"Starshiy, is there an active sitrep?"
"Yes, Chief's going to brief us after he's done up in the TOC."
Brock attached the headset to the goggles and strapped the display to his web vest, then grabbed his ACH (helmet) and buckled it over. The fit was a bit snug with the TSC headset, but it would do for now.
"Lucky or Blessed?" This was the same ACH that caught a rebel sniper's bullet on his first deployment with the Feds, his closest brush with death, his most vivid memory.
Taste of stale dust, painfully dry skin, filthy ACU's. FOB's taking sporadic sniper and mortar fire all week. Sentry duty. Drawing a sketch of the setting twin suns, peeking over the wire.
His fingers traced the rough kevlar and stiff old padding inside, the small and rough bullet hole had nearly cut through the front; it barely scratched his skin. The deployment was on some fringer planet whose name he couldn't remember, nor cared to.
Heard the shot. Gunfire nearby all the time, didn't duck. Didn't duck. Didn't fucking duck.
He spent the rest of the day waiting on the medic to check his concussion before bedrest. He got drunk as hell on some local moonshine afterward. Alcohol was illegal in the Federation, but there weren't any customs enforcers in the war zone, and his CO didn't care. As long as you cleared with your SL first you could spend down time passed out on your bunk. His CO even gave him his two hours of satellite a week early, he called his Dad for five minutes before spending the rest it all that night sexting his immediate girlfriend. "Tania? Or was it Huia?" Something like that.
Head snapped back. The world spinning. Drowning in a dream. Crawling across the ceiling. Black blue sky. Thompson and Little standing over me. Face sticky with blood. "Sketchpad, where's my sketchpad?"
Little especially thought that was hilarious, Little said that he was only worried about his sketchpad. The bullet shattered his rhino mount and scratched his NVG's. Everyone else in the platoon wanted to see his ACH, they passed it around like a holy relic. He was supposed to get a new one, but the supply sergeant let him keep it. Brock had never gone on patrol without it after that, it was blessed, or lucky, he didn't know which. He did have a religious spout after the incident, he actually went to a few Church of Reason services after he got back, but that got boring quick.
Brock snapped to the present and looked from one man to the next on the Skylark crew; he suddenly realized that the left velcro where "Auld Army" should be was conspicuously blank on all of them. He glanced down at his own Federation issue ACU's and the stitched "Federal Army" tape. "I'm a mercenary now, no allegiance. Gotta cut that off soon."
Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Outskirts: 3340 local time [0540. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Justin Raegas, Uewo Cartel Enforcer.
Justin could see the leading three trucks from his vantage point on top of the duece; one armed with a browning went left, heading for a ridge that overlooked the valley, the other two went right to fully circumvent the site. The main convoy roared straight for it, as planned; Justin ground his teeth for the few minutes it was taking to reach the top of the ridge and finally get in view.
Justin Raegas turned back to the bed of the truck, twenty three faces looked back at him, displaying a conflicting mixture of apprehension, anticipation, and boredom. He found his leaders for Gecko and Lion squads - Yujan and Alharan - sitting at the back. Neither were professionally trained, but they were the most 'commanding' of his men, and they had experience as bounty hunters. Yuj was an impressive shot, while Al had a reputation for being absolutely unkillable.
"They're smarter than Dobh, still better double check they remember." Justin had to scream to be heard clearly over the engine.
"Three mikes! EPW first! 360 second! Casevac last!" He spoke Derisian, the common cartel language.
Yuj tapped his brow* in acknowledgement and leaned over to shout it again to Alharan, whose hearing was all but blown away, along with most of his left ear by a farmer's shotgun in a sting last year. Justin remembered how that only pissed Al off though. After that little firefight he took it out on the farmer's widow with the rest of Lion squad, Justin could still see Al's laughing, bloody face as they took turns with her.
Justin turned to Dobh, "Anything on the scanner yet?"
"Well... Uh... Nothing moving Mister Raegas," Dobh replied in his deep voice,
"Fucking protocol dumbass."
Justin leaped back onto the railing and craned his neck to see the deal site just as the deuce cleared the ridge.
"Stay alive brother."
There were two unfamiliar Sanhuro trucks idling in the open and a hovercraft; a few windows were smashed, and he could already see the pockmarks from bullets and energy pulses.
"That's Phillip's hovercraft."
A knot quickly formed and then relaxed from the pit of Justin's stomach. "The Sanhuro's transport vehicle with the high grade, it's gone. Phillip wouldn't have left without the goods; that must be it."
"Fuck! Focus! You have a job to do."
Justin didn't see any movement, the dozen bodies were clustered around the different vehicles, most of them at least. He slipped back down into the bed of the deuce as it came to a screeching halt right outside the circle of vehicles. Two of the footmen leapt out first with Al and Yuj close in tow, the Lions and Geckos quickly filed out and scattered in loose groups of two and three. They quickly and carefully swept the bodies and area.
Barely a minute passed before Justin shouldered his Krinkov and hopped off the deuce with Dobh close in tow; Yuj ran forward to report.
"Mister Raegas, there are eleven dead, no movement, and we can't find the demo or the diamonds yet; or your brother."
"They're all dead?"
"Some were wounded, bullet through the brain, all of them. Someone finished them off. One of em's scalped too."
"Scalped? Doesn't make sense, who the fuck scalps bodies? Did the Sanhuro contract some clan mercs?"
Freelancer mercenaries and private contractors from the Allied Clans had a particular cultural reputation for taking trophies from a battlefield.
"Scalps are their thing, not ours."
Justin seemed distracted as he looked over and recognized the duster on the scalped body. His face was still hidden by those ballistic goggles. "You're a fucking dumbass Yuj, don't you know that duster?"
Yuj looked over, suddenly unsure of himself. The body lay crumpled facedown, the skin had been sliced off from the brow along the hairline to almost the nape of the neck; leaving the white skull still wet and red with blood to shine against the sunlight. The face was covered with sand, and a mangled exit wound from a small calibered hollowpoint between the eyes made recognizing him very difficult. But Justin knew who that was.
The trucks had circled about the site a couple times and stopped, pulling security. The remaining two deuces and truck in the convoy had unloaded their troops, with Al and the other squad leaders directing a thorough search of the shot up vehicles and the bodies. A footmen ran up to check Phillip's body, but he paused when he saw Justin staring.
He spoke up carefully, "Can I search the body Mister Raegas?"
"Of course, what are you waiting for?" The footman was somewhere in his twenties, with curly brown hair and a badly pox scarred face. Justin knew that face, he was with Lion squad drinking and whoring in an Oruna cantina just last week. He was new.
"Can't remember his name."
The footman slung his AK, knelt down, and started carefully going through the body's pockets. He was acting like the body was rigged.
"He's going to take forever."
"Hurry the fuck up, we don't have all day."
"Yes Mister Raegas."
The footman rolled the body onto its back and started moving more quickly, ripping a blaster from its holster, a wallet from an inside pocket, a transmitter, a penknife, and various other items.
When he was done, the footman stood up and ran over to several other footmen who were searching Phillip's hovercraft. Justin found himself still standing over Phillip's body, he leaned over and picked up a bulbous blaster pistol from the sand. "He always loved that blaster."
Justin noticed one of the footmen looting a massive shotgun off a body. "That must be LeBron." Another glance confirmed, he was still wearing that weird body armor he always carried around. The body was slumped against a Sanhuro truck, he'd obviously crawled over to it and had rested his back against it. There was a splash of blood on the metal behind his head and a bullet hole between his eyes.
"He was wounded first, then executed. Small hollowpoint again. Same with all of them? That's what Yuj said."
One of Gecko squad ran up to Yuj talking excitedly. He was wearing a face mask so Justin couldn't recognize who it was. After a moment, Yuj turned and ran up to Justin with the footman in tow,
"Mister Raegas, the Sanhuro truck with the demo, Pruner says we just missed it."
"Pruner, the outskirts tracker; the fucking fringer could barely speak Derisian through that annoying outskirts accent, but he knows the ground better than anyone else on Nergovia."
Justin looked at Pruner, suddenly alarmed, "What do you mean just missed it? How long?"
"No mo' an fiftean minutes Mista Raegas. Dhey is goin' noth'east."
Justin sprang into action, "Al! Yuj! Hue! Mount up NOW! The Sanhuro dogs took all the goods and ran like rats! MOUNT UP!"
The squad leaders echoed his command and the entire force started scrambling for their vehicles.
"I've got to give the scanner to someone other than the dumbass Dobh, they would've been just in its range. If those dogs get away, I swear I'll kill him."
Justin Raegas leapt up onto the deuce's railing and thumped the roof twice when the last man from Gecko jumped in.
*'tapping the brow' is a cultural gesture specific to Nergovia that indicates, "I have heard," or "I understand you."]
Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Skyborne Skylark: 3350 local time [0550. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Jeremy Brock, Skylark translator and mercenary.
Chief stormed into the room, he had changed into the same uniform and gear as the others, a black AK slung over his shoulder. He was speaking rapidly over his mike with Pimp back at the TOC. He paused mid sentence when he saw Scout's TSC laying on the chest next to Brock.
"Whose TSC is that?"
"Scout's Chief." Brock answered.
He finished his sentence to Pimp before pushing his mike back and addressing the group, "Clutch, get back to sublight, I want you in there if shit goes fubar. And bring Scout his TSC in the infirmary. I don't want that fucker feeling left out."
"Aye aye Chief." Brock could hear the disappointment in Clutch's voice.
"Chin, Brock, after this op Logan's going to smoke y'all."
Chief pointed at Chin, "You for knocking out Scout. I hate starting a mission with a man down. And you," he gestured to Brock, "just because you're new."
"Nah, I want to see what he's made of." A Gahlic voice interjected over the comm.
"Logan!" Chief pushed his mike back down, "Where the fuck have you been?"
"Been busy, the fuckers are catching up, Plan B."
Chief silently and rapidly typed a series of buttons on his display and Brock's HUD in this ballistic goggles lit up with an interactive digital layout of a relatively small Taharan mesa. It looked similar to the virtual sand tables that his old Federation TSC's had.
Chief continued, "Logan's being pursued by a platoon sized element from the Uewo cartel, between 30-55 thugs armed with small arms, ATM's, and crew-served weapons. From Pimp's last scan their convoy numbers two flatbeds and four smaller trucks. Jay's gunning sublight as hard as his lazy ass can, but by Pimp's estimates they're going to reach Logan a good thirty minutes ahead of us. More may be on their way."
"Logan is carrying the diamonds, but he parked the truck at the top of the mesa just over the road. He's positioned just outside the potential blast radius here." On Brock's HUD a small green figure was illuminated against the upper side of the mesa, underneath one of the massive boulders overlooking the road. "He's going to slow down the Uewo with sniper fire to buy time for us. Jay's going to strafe the thugs and bring us around to land on the mesa here at Exfil One." A yellow marker appeared on the dark green mesa top in Brock's HUD.
"Alpha team," Chief beckoned to the little group around him, "will dismount and provide suppressive fire from the ridgeline for Logan to withdraw. We'll grab the truck, mount up, and bug out."
"If the Uewo have reached the mesa top, Jay will make a second strafe run and drop us off at Exfil Two, here. If shit goes fubar, we'll pull Bravo team from the ship; Clutch, MD, and Pimp, that's y'all, roger?"
A chorus of affirmations echoed from the comm.
"We are absolutely NOT engaging their main force. This is a hit and run. I want to be dusting off this AO sub fifteen minutes."
"Yeah, did plan A involve not being outnumbered 10 to 1?" Scout asked over the comm.
"Yeah, it was boring." Logan replied.
"Shut the fuck up Scout; I gave you the TSC to listen, not clutter up the channel. And don't fucking encourage him Logan." Chief paused a moment for affect, "Any questions?"
"How likely is it they'll reach the top?"
"Unlikely," Logan answered, "only one good approach and I own it."
"Any other questions?" Chief asked,
"What if Logan's hit?" Weasel asked while stuffing another wad of leaves in his jaw.
"Initial plan, except I pop smoke to cover Chin when he runs down to drag his ass up."
"We're done here," Chief announced, "keep hydrating, do your PCC's, keep clean comms, and double check the plan; we'll reach the mesa in thirty two minutes."
Chief spoke into the comm as he turned around and headed back to the TOC.
"Hey Logan, I just bought you like five jars of that Disukan dark jelly, you're the only one that likes that shit, so get back here in one piece, ok?"
"Don't worry Chief, I never let dark jelly go to waste."
Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Outskirts: 3340 local time [0700. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Justin Raegas, Uewo Cartel Enforcer.
One of the leading trucks fired two bursts from their fifty. He watched through the railing as the tracers slowly arched chaotically through the air toward a small mesa, but he wasn't really trying to hit them anyway; Justin Raegas told the other NCO's to ensure the first fifteen rounds in the fifty belts were tracers, with limited communication, it was a good way to mark target location.
He could see it now, the mesa had a single winding road that gradually switchbacked up to the top. A heavily loaded Sanhuro truck was parked prominently right at the crest.
"There it is, the high grade." In case they couldn't find the diamonds, the Uewo would need to recapture those explosives. "We're strapped for money as it is." Justin had given strict orders that the high grade not be fired upon, it took a direct electrical charge to detonate it, but he wasn't planning on scattering it all over that mesa.
"They're making a stand, or waiting for backup; from up there they can pound us the whole way up that road. Can't see their shooters."
On a sudden instinct, Justin dropped back off the railing back into the truck bed; it was extremely unlikely that the Sanhuro had a shooter good enough to slot him on a bouncing, moving deuce at this range, but better safe than sorry. Peering through the wooden slats, he could see one of his trucks with a fifty and Hue's truck loaded with troops peeling off to encircle the Mesa and pull security; to watch for Sanhuro backup.
He had gone over the drills and protocol with Hue, the pseudo Weapons Squad Sergeant in his little QRF; Hue use to be a squad leader with the Allied Clan Army and had sound judgement. Justin trusted him thoroughly. Both Alharan and Yuj were two loose cannons that he had to keep on a tight leash.
Justin knelt to his assault pack - which was secured through the deuce's railing - and drew out an orange pen flare. He flicked and set it alight, holding his arm just over the railing so the rest of the convoy could see it. "Orange flare, command vehicle leads assault, follow behind as applicable." After ten seconds he dropped it into the wave of dust outside.
"Fuck this. Just several secure comm units and we don't have to do all this bullshit. Why are they so fucking rare? How can we get bulletproof glass and sidings for the deuces and a fucking Mark on this Hierarch forsaken rock... But we can't get motherfucking radios!" Why can't Phillip just..."
Justin stared at the shuddering floor for a few seconds before turning back to face the two squads in the truck. The footmen looked at him expectantly, "Someone up there is carrying a scalp! I want them alive!" They tapped their brows in recognition.
The two leadings trucks pulled back to allow the deuces to go first. The Mark's whomp whomp whomp and resulting satisfying explosions on the clifftop of the mesa coupled with steady bursts of fire from the fifty. "Could they see targets?" Justin studied the mesa top as best he could between the railings, but there was no movement. He leaned over to the driver and slapped his shoulder, "Stop at the foot of the road, then head up slowly when I tell you! Got that? SLOWLY! And WATCH your RIGHT mirror! I'll signal for you to stop and go!"
The driver thumped his chest in response.
When the deuce's ancient brakes screeched to a halt, Justin turned around and beckoned for Yuj and Al to dismount with their men. His plan was to climb up the road with the squads following on foot, using the deuce and sharp switchbacks for cover, with the two trucks below laying suppressive fire on the top. If the Sanhuro laid a mine or were waiting halfway up with some AT, they weren't blowing away his best men with one blow. "Never again."
As the last man hopped off the deuce, Justin slapped the driver on the shoulder and hopped off himself. Al and Yuj were directing the footmen as they were moving slowly up the road and took cover on the side of the road beside the deuce. Several of the footmen tried to cautiously peek over with their rifles raised, but nothing responded. That's when he realized, the Mark's comforting whomp whomp had been silent for almost a minute. "Please be a jam." At the same moment, he heard Alharan yell, "Raegas! The Mark!" He leaned up against one of the tires and craned his neck to see.
It was empty, the truck was empty.
Confusion set in on Justin's mind, "Didn't hear any returning fire from the mesa. Hot granny? Did they get a hot granny and abandon the truck?"
A 'hot granny' is when an unexploded round jams in the feed and threatens to cook off. "He should still be able to clear it, why did they abandon it? Where the hell did they go?! Did it really jam? Fuck I need comms! We need it firing!"
"Al! Did you see what happened? Did they abandon it?"
"No Mister Raegas, they're down."
"They're down! Whoever was on the Mark was hit, and look! Front window's smashed."
"I didn't hear any fire. I didn't hear any fire. We should've bulletproofed the support trucks."
Justin Raegas glanced up toward the mesa top,"Recall Hue? Pop a red flare, he'd lay down fresh support fire, Lion and Gecko bound straight to the top. No, no, have to keep perimeter security, their backup is coming. Don't have much time."
Justin waved to the driver to stop the deuce before turning to his squad leaders, the second deuce following close behind the footmen halted as well. "Yuj! Grab two guys who know how to operate the Mark and send them over there to get it back online! Al! Get your squad and the RPK's up to lay down some sustained fire on that ridge top! I want to know where they are!"
"Mister Raegas," Yuj said, "it's a good sprint to the truck, those bastards up top are going to slot the only two guys left who know how to operate the Mark before they get there."
"Not if we find them first."
"I'm just saying," Yuj lowered his voice as he got closer, "if we send six, the bastards can't get them all."
Justin considered that for a moment, "Fine, fine, just get it done."
Yuj quickly pointed out six men, four from Lion and two from Gecko; their eyes grew wide in realization. He instructed them them to quickly chuck off their gear and rifles into the deuce so they could run faster. Al was taking the rest of Gecko and Lion on line, preparing to lay down suppressive fire.
That's when he heard it.
Four muffled shots from higher up on the mesa, they came in right after another burst of fire from the fifty down below. They were controlled, just under a second between them.
And that's when the fifty went silent.
Both Gecko and Lion crept on top of the switchback, getting on line with Al, the air seemed to split in two as 20 footmen from Lion and Gecko and 13 from Scorpion and the second deuce unleashed a torrent of firepower on the ridgeline.
Yuj must have heard the snipers too, he slapped his six runners on the back, and pointed at the truck. He was screaming over the gunfire, running through his words, flooding the runners with quick advice, "You four! Run for the driver's seat! Gun the truck for the mesa the moment you get there! You two! Just jump in the back! Don't get on the gun till the truck is moving! If one of you drops the rest gotta keep going! Zig zag! Don't run in a straight line! And whatever happens keep moving! Understand? KEEP MOVING!"
The six runners nodded, acting like their ears weren't ringing with the gunfire and they could hear every word. Four looked scared, the other two excited. The curly haired new guy was with them, he looked a lot younger without his AK or web belt.
"That's what I like about Yuj, he knows what has to be done, and he cares for the men."
With one more glance back up the mesa, Yuj slapped them on the back and screamed, "GO!"
They took off, flying down the rocky outcropping with impressive speed. "They have motivation."
Yuj immediately turned and jumped on line with the rest of Gecko. He shouldered his G3 and started laying down suppressive fire. Popping bursts at likely enemy positions. A couple footmen were pointing and yelling where the Sanhuro snipers might be. Justin hoped they were right.
The six runners were off the mesa now, a couple had fallen behind while the other four were keeping a good pace in the dirt; they dodged back and forth as they moved, yet were still sticking fairly close together.
"Too close! They're too close together! Split up!"
Another started slowing down, falling behind the others. One was sprinting ahead, he was already halfway there.
Then he tumbled into the sand, rolling head over heels from a sniper's bullet before lying still.
"SPLIT UP! FASTER!"
The lead runner's death panicked the others; the one nearest the mesa turned and started running back, the remaining four finally split up and kept running.
A second runner dropped to the ground, he rolled across the dust, kicking up a large rock that went spinning through the air. The remaining three didn't seem to notice, they just kept running. One was taking the zig zagging advice a bit too literally, he was falling far behind the other two.
Justin wanted to shout at them, to speed them on! Several footmen who were reloading turned around and watched them run, they started shouting encouragement downward. Al screamed at them to watch the mesa and find the shooters.
"Get there! Just get there!"
One of the lead runners reached the truck, he tried to leap into the bed, but was too exhausted and his jump fell short; he slammed himself against the steel plating and paused for a moment before he tried to scramble into the truck bed, but his leg jerked awkwardly to the side, and he fell to the ground, writhing. A round through his thigh.
"Almost there, almost there."
The last runner did make the jump, he vaulted into the truck and vanished as he crouched below the armor. A cheer erupted from the footmen.
"Shit, should've made for the driver's seat."
After an agonizing minute wondering if he actually did get hit, the runner sprang onto the Mark, swinging it to face the mesa; he was crouching as tightly as possible behind it.
"No, no, no! You're a target! Just jump behind the wheel and drive it dumbass!"
He slammed back the charging handles and started firing, the whomp whomp returning. The footmen cheered again, even Al yelled defiance up toward the mesa top.
Then the Mark just... Exploded. The force sent the man flying off the truck and across the dust, his eyes were blinded and his hands blown away.
"I know that flash, before the explosion, a HAPR, they used a HAPR. The Mark's gone now." (High Explosive Penetrating Round)
The three squads' fire had become sporadic, after a minute they still couldn't see an enemy.
"Fuck this," Justin said aloud, "Yuj we have the numbers, we still have the firepower, let's fucking use them!" "Use them or get picked apart, it'll take forever to follow the deuce all the way up the switchbacks." "Al! Yuj! Assault straight up that slope! Walk Lion and Gecko up! Scorpion! Mount up on the deuce, drive around to the other side of the mesa, and climb up that way!"
"You mean, flank them?" Scorpion's squad leader asked,
"Yes! We're fucking flanking them! Now!"
"GECKO! ON ME!" Yuj screamed over the gunfire before rushing up the mesa with his men close behind. "LION! Shift fire right! Shift fire right!" Al yelled to his squad, redirecting their sporadic shots away from Gecko. Scorpion squad filed off line and ran crouching one by one to the second deuce, quickly piling in.
A couple of the wounded were overcoming the initial shock of getting hit, Justin could hear their distant screaming. The runner shot through the thigh by the truck was clutching his leg. "The new guy." He started crawling for the driver's compartment; a hand clawing upward for the door handle.
"No! No! NO! Just stay down!"
The new guy dropped to the ground as a round ripped through his chest.
"Ambush, this is an ambush. They lured us from the site to ambush us. And I fucking fell for it."
Yuj directed his men to get on line 50 meters up the slope, before he turned around and beckoned for Lion to move up. A round exploded through his chest; he fell forward, rolling several meters down the slope until his body hit a bush. His G3 went flying as he went into shock. Gecko squad froze in uncertainty, scattered in a ragged line. They hugged the rocks and shrubs on the ground for cover as they fired their weapons blindly overhead.
Someone from Lion took a glancing shot through the side, he limped to a rock while screaming, "I'm hit! Oh god I'm hit! I'm hit!" over and over again. The medic from Lion squad grabbed the footman and started quickly dragging him back to the roadside ditch before taking a shot to the chest that flipped him over onto his back. Another two footmen from Lion were turning around to go help them, but Al screamed at them, "Stay on line! On the fucking line!"
"Fucking nightmare. How many snipers do they have?"
Justin scanned the ridgeline looking for movement, "THERE!" At the foot of a large boulder, in the shadow of an overhanging cranny, he saw the slight movement of a prone figure behind a large shrub.
"I saw the fucker! I saw him!" One of the footmen from Lion must've seen it too, he gestured wildly toward that direction.
"Three D's! Three D's!" Al shouted.
"Three hundred meters! Bigass boulder at 370!* One contact!" A Lion squad RPK gunner shouted as he slid his weapon over and started firing bursts at the target. Other footmen started echoing the target's location up and down the line.
"Dobh, stay close!" Justin raced up the rocky incline toward Gecko squad, rushing from boulder to boulder at a steep crouch, constantly watching the mesa top. With Yuj down, he needed to take control of that element. Dobh followed right behind him, keeping up easily; the huge man was surprisingly agile with that huge comm system on his back. "The dumbass is strong, I'll give him that."
"Nail that fucker!" Someone shouted as Pruner from Gecko popped off a 40mm grenade from the 203 attachment to his M4 before diving for cover again; it was barely twenty meters high of a direct hit, striking the top of the gigantic boulder. A bright flash instantaneously created a column of red brown dust, uprooting a small tree and shattering a stony chasm from the boulder that sent shrapnel in all directions. There was about a second delay after he saw the explosion before Justin's ears rang with the deep, resounding slam of detonation, and a few more before the shower of debris was cast over a thirty meter radius.
A chorus of "Fuck yeah!" and "Cocksucker!" echoed down both squads. Justin was out of breath when he reached Gecko, his thick headscarf was sopping wet with sweat. Yet he still managed to loudly gather Gecko back on line. He plopped down on the ground before shouting back to Lion squad, "AL! Move up! Bound past Gecko!"
He had to repeat the command and gesture toward the next switchback before Alharan waved his squad forward. Justin Raegas shouldered his Krinkov and studied the ridgeline, watching for anything that could betray a sniper's location. But everything was still. Gecko's fire quickly petered out to a few stray shots. Pruner fired off another grenade that was nearly a direct hit on the foot of the large boulder.
"GECKO! Shift fire LEFT! Shift fire LEFT! Watch for targets!" Pruner and the other six in Gecko squad echoed his command back and forth as Lion squad passed their right and kept moving up the slope.
Then a light caught Justin's eye, from the other side of the mesa, a single pulsing red flare from Hue's trucks arched high into the sky and turned sizzling toward the earth. He could barely make out bursts of gunfire coming from the other side of the mesa.
"The Sanhuro, they're here."