Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Outskirts: 3200 local time (almost midday). [0400. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Phillip Raegas, foot officer of the Uewo Cartel.
"Targets in sight."
Endlessly intense summer heat does strange things to the eye; the molten air lazily swells upward and causes a slight refraction and curve of the light, distorting distant solid images into amorphous images taking unpredictable shapes.
The broad view of the surrounding rugged vista was a testament to this optical illusion; the sun beat down onto a range of stone, grit, sand, and drifting mists of light dust. The sparse vegetation in the outback is stale, starving for the rains that rarely fall here. Cautious breezes flow between the nooks and shaded crannies lying between the broad mesas and larger boulders; nature's only mercy on this harsh moonworld.
In a kilometer wide valley shaded by a particularly wide ridgeline is a strange vehicle with a stranger collection of four men. They are dressed in a garbled collection of light cotton shirts and pants, a coarse leather jacket and a duster; all are wearing large boots of an indeterminate material. The largest man wears an uncomfortable and rudimentary flak jacket, the pockets of which are hastily stuffed with roughly hewn slabs of steel and tungsten. A fair - if somewhat impromptu - homebrewed work of body armor. All of which - boots, shirts, jackets, armor - show sign of their constant exposure to desert heat and billowing dust storms.
The vehicle was a fair sized iron-wrought monstrosity, several meters across and a few in breadth. It had a small sealed compartment for the driver, with a very large and open cargo bed in the back. When turned on, it produced but a whir as it hovered a few feet off the ground and soared across the desert.
Each man was laden with an assortment of gear, tools vital to life and occupation, especially in these turbulent times. The man in a leathern jacket bears a badly pitted and slightly rusted FN FAL rifle. After a gentle tug of the wind, the open jacket flaps open to reveal a web belt peeking from underneath, packed with fresh magazines. The owner's aggressive, and tanned face is encrusted with desert dust; making the thirty-two year old man seem fifty with a cursory glance.
The man cloaked within a wide duster had his weapon holstered at his right side; it is a powerful though rudimentary energy weapon, its bulbously circular chamber has a small ejector with a protruding charging handle from the left side. A simple magazine filled with small, luminescent green charges. The bulk of the large handgun aborbs the sun's glint with a black surface, though small pits of rusts scatter across the welded surface. The man bearing it appeared to be the leader, his authoritative stance and deciphering gaze watched the opposing edge of the valley with a fervent anticipation. His age is also hidden under the grime and natural confidence of leadership, though his fair sized and unkempt beard almost heightens this authority.
The man with body armor bears a powerful 8 gauge lever action shotgun. A sling hangs from his shoulders supporting the weapon's considerable weight while his right arm rests loosely over the barrel. A belt also hangs across his body, filled with a brace of large, brown shotgun shells. Though he's physically the largest of them, his plain and unassuming face sports barely a stubble. His gaze shifts from boulder to boulder across the hilltops, almost mechanically scanning for strange movement.
The final man's youth is obvious, his stature and complexion warrant him to barely be sixteen. His dress and weapon are the simplest of the four. He grasps a small pistol grip shotgun, the poor condition and quick repairs of which rivals all the others. He is the only one showing his fear; his searching gazes nervously fly from one clifftop to another, betraying a climbing sense of panic as to what approaches.
Their bodies are as abused and scarred as the weapons they carry.
The man in the duster lifted his hand to his ear, slightly cocking back a wire which protruded and vanished into the back of his duster's neck. "What was that?"
The voice crackled over the radio to repeat, "Targets in sight." The tone relayed relaxed professionality in the baritoned yet still sing-song cadence of a Gahlic accent. Typical of the Doglos and other free clans.
"I count two trucks and a speeder, at least six visible occupants."
"Can you see the goods?" His accent was native to this world though the language was not; it was more brusquely spoken and rounded about vowels.
"Drop the sirs Logan, we aren't the fucking federals." Mild annoyance crept into the man's controlled expression. His face drew taunt as he chewed over his lower lip, his personal habit preluding any major business deal.
"You're the boss Mister Raegas." He wasn't sure if that was an affirmation or an explanation.... Whatever.
The sound of two distant combustion engines echoed faintly across the mountains. Finally, they pulled over the ridge and came into full view. The pulled to a momentary stop as the occupants surveyed the valley before them; satisfied with their recon, they revved their engines and drove straight up to the four men and their hovercraft.
The radio made a slight buzz and simmer, Logan was mumbling to himself and the small ear piece couldn't pick it up.
"Range of 482 meters..... Occasional minor crossbreeze...... Zip humidity..... Fair elevation difference....." Though it would be impossible to pick up over the radio, a bystander might hear a few faint clicks as Logan re-adjusted the MOA on his scope; re-accounting for each successive factor on his well rehearsed mental checklist and compensating for each as his decades of experience dictated. Automatic scopes were of course common and available, but Logan had always preferred the controlled certainty of manual. No need to work in tandem with a scope's self adjustments, no need to adapt to a new scope's timing or computations. "I can do my own budahl solutions and put in my own indexes." Logan had said on other occasions.
The arriving hovercraft was a smaller model intended purely for personnel transportation, it parked with both trucks flanking it. Two men rode in the back of one truck and one in the other, they were crouched atop what could now be seen to be some nondescript wooden crates covered with desert camo tarps. From which the three men smoothly dropped to the ground, weapons carefully in hand as they eyed the four men with careful - but not hostile - caution. The doors of the trucks and hovercraft opened, and four more men exited and examined their surroundings and scrutinized their business partners. All were carrying old and homemade AK74s, 101s, Rheik army M4 carbines, or hobbled blasters. Their dress and armaments are similar to the four, though with two exceptions. The first was obviously their leader, he wore an old bomber jacket and distinctive dark glasses; though he shared the same perpetual layer of dust as everyone else, he was washed and comparatively clean. At his side he wore a large .44 mag revolver. The other one was a rather stoutly little man with a cyborg monocle implant; he was well dressed with a white buttoned shirt and a portly vest covering his sweaty frame. He was the only man not obviously armed.
Mr. Raegas stood facing his counterpart.
"Where's MacElroy? I cut the deal with him, not you, captain." Bitter sarcasm oozed from that last word.
The captain also stood his ground and stared firmly towards Raegas. "New policy, the head honcho doesn't show his face in foot deals; I'm sure you understand, being a busy man and all."
"I expect to see the man I deal with."
There was a moment of silence between the two, before Raegas silently acquiesced and turned to the trucks while speaking over his shoulder.
"As per the agreement, I examine the goods before payment."
"I'm familiar with the terms, go ahead."
Raegas approached the trucks maintaining his air of absolute confidence; one of the gunmen slung his weapon over his shoulder before leaning into the truck and flipping the canvas completely off the crates. Raegas unlatches and opens the lid, gingerly reaching in and pulling out a small package. He massaged the clay-like texture of the thick package; taking a few minutes to smell, poke, prod, and taste it.
"That's fucking enough; I'm 482 meters away and even I can see it's pure, immaculate, grade VIII. If you checked it anymore you'd be raping it."
Raegas's expression didn't change as Logan muttered over the radio. He merely cast a sly smile toward the patiently waiting captain while remarking. "Forgive me, but I like to be thorough."
"Oh really? Don't stop now, there's so much more plastic to molest!"
Raegas made a note to correct Logan's professionalism later, he returned the package to the crate and latched it shut; motioning for them to be loaded. Immediately two of his men and a few of the captain's began hauling the several crates from the trucks to Raegas's speeder.
"So, you've checked the goods, where's the payment?"
Raegas seemed to consider for a moment as the tension quickly built; this was the few seconds that could either conclude a successful business deal, or initiate a savage firefight. Though his face betrayed nothing un-inentional, he was relishing the thrill involved in such moments; seconds where his immediate response either saved or condemned him.
"Boss... You're scaring me."
"It's under your feet, just below the surface." Raegas gestured.
The Captain's face displays some confusion before he steps back and kneels down. Realizing the dirt in fact had been disturbed, he drew out his knife and began to carefully dig; after a few scoops of dirt had been turned aside, he drew out a small, nondescript bag from the hole. The captain made a small gesture and the portly man waddled forth, he tossed the bag and quickly set him to work. He immediately began opening the bag as he walked toward the front of his hovercraft, gingerly pouring out a fistful of crystal white stones, many barely the size of gravel. His cyborg eye rotated and adjusted as he began holding up each stone to it.
"Oh shite." Logan commented over the comm.
Trying not to appear nervous or too quick to intervene, Raegas put on a show of annoyance as he said with an exasperated sigh, "Do you really think we managed to fake Keschem diamonds?"
"One can never be too sure."
Raegas's mind raced in the next few seconds as he tried to think of something as the portly man went from examining one stone to the next.
"I have the shot lined up if you're ready Sir."
All he had to do was scratch his head, and the captain he stared at now would lie dying at his feet while a dangerous firefight ensued. And that would be a sweet sight. Still, even with that merc Logan on overwatch it'd be a very close fight.... No, Raegas's quick wit had proven his salvation before... And occasional damnation come to think of it.
The portly man picked up another stone to examine.
Raegas broke the silence with controlled anger, "Ok, I filled my part of the deal and we both have the goods we came for, I'm leaving."
He made a half hearted motion toward the hovercraft before a cold stare from the captain froze him solid.
"Places to go?" The captain narrowed his eyes with suspicion.
"The terms said nothing about a third party security risk, that jeweler will take hours; besides, we called you, remember? We've both completed the terms of the deal, so I'm leaving."
Raegas turned around and started walking back to his vehicle; the captain stood in silence behind him.
"10 meters to freedom, 6 meters to freedom...."
He was going to fucking kill Logan.
"Sir!" The dreaded jeweler spoke up from the truck, one of the rocks clasped in his hand and a terrified expression on his face. That one word sped everything that followed into the space of a nanosecond.
The captain glanced at the jeweler and immediately began backing up, hand drifting toward his revolver. "You ripping me off gobshite?"
Raegas slowly turned around with a confused smile, "Wait, just hold on, I'm sure there's been a simple mistake." He had raised both arms in a peace making fashion, while almost absentmindedly brushing away his hair.
Everyone froze at the sharp crack in the distance for the minutest of moments, but before anyone could react, one of the captain's gunmen who was standing atop their hovercraft was struck in the kidney area; the force throws the man down from the truck onto the ground. The body goes limp, his breath was knocked from his lungs twice over; not that it would matter anyway.
Everyone leapt for cover behind their vehicles, a few fired wildly to suppress the others. Raegas dove behind his hovercraft as the sharp crack of a passing bullet split over his head. He got up to a crouched position, his eyes meeting with the three other men. They'd escaped the initial wild gunfire and were now likewise huddled behind the precious cover of the cargo hover. Raegas looked down and realized he had reactively drawn his blaster, he turned about and leaned from his cover to pull off a quick shot. The captain's men were also taking cover and carefully taking shots, Raegas popped his blaster forward and double tapped two pulses into the car door of a truck. The cones of green energy punched through the door, rocking the truck and shattering the windows. The two gunmen hiding behind held their AK's over and fired blindly toward him.
"Not exactly riflemen material are they?"
"Shut up and blow them away!"
One of the gunmen was slammed into the truck, the AK-74 falling into the bed, a slug ripped through his chest. Raegas could see the man slumping under the truck, his hands vainly clasping at the air and ground around him; his mouth gasping for air as his pupils dilate.
The second gunmen turned in surprise toward his eliminated companion, his eyes widening in surprise as his gaze darted around the mountainside. Just in time for another slug to slam through his sternum, slamming and slumping the body into the truck. After a couple desperate gasps, his head falls back against the car door; the shock of the blow stunning his heart into confused palpatations.
"Three down, four standing."
The four men start firing away over and around the hovercraft; bullets and energy pulses snapped through the air, pinged from the metal vehicles, and kicked up tufts of dust. The youth was particularly terrified, barely glancing at the enemy before blasting his shotgun around the corner of the hovercraft. Before a splash of metal ricochets drive him cowering back under cover. The man wearing body armor fired over the hovercraft, each powerful retort echoing throughout the mountains with that weapon's distinctly bestial roar. The man in the leathern jacket had his FN FAL couched against his shoulder, firing chattering bursts around the opposing corner of the hovercraft, with Raegas firing his blaster over the shoulder.
The captain was kneeling behind his hovercraft, .44 in his hand. He quickly squeezed off two thundering shots that rung from the thick metal of Raegas's vehicle. Responding fire from the FAL and blaster forced him to duck back behind. As Raegas paused to change magazines, the other man was taking careful aim with his FAL before firing two shots. The resulting cry was unmistakably the captain's, and honestly more due to surprise and shock than pain. The high rise design of the transportation hovercraft had inadvertantly left his right shin exposed, an error that his compatriot quickly took advantage of.
His ears were ringing painfully, with every additional audibility sounding strangely muffled. Yet even with this, he could still hear the weirdly tinny, wet slap coming from behind him. Quickly looking back, he saw the youth's body crumpled face first across the desert sand, part of his skull blown away and a shocked eye staring into oblivion. The other man bearing the 8 gauge was thumbing shells into the magazine tube while swearing loudly.
The captain had crawled to the more protected center of his hovercraft, arm clutching his shattered and bleeding shin; the exposed and wrought nerves sending potent waves of pain through his body, deadened only by the surgence of epinephrine. When one of his men attempted to assist, he waved him away; instead dropping his revolver and drawing out a small tourniquet.
"Why aren't they dead yet Logan?" Almost thirty seconds had elapsed since the first shot, the initial wild firing died down a bit, and both sides were taking more careful fire.
"Don't have a good shot, only the one truck was facing me."
"I don't care, I want lead, downrange, NOW!"
"Your call." Raegas ran to the opposite corner of the vehicle, standing over the youth's corpse and crouching at the ready. The man firing the 8 gauge had been swearing incessantly, but was suddenly interrupted with a soft slap. Fearing the worst, Raegas checked to see the man had merely stumbled back, thrown off balance by the shot to his body armor. A round had slapped into the uppermost part of a kevlar chest plate, cracking his collarbone but not penetrating skin.
Raegas leaned around the hovercraft with his blaster at the ready, he saw a glimpse of two feet below the truck, crouching behind the driver's compartment, the gunman must be reloading; Raegas tried to line up a shot but he just didn't have enough target. He lay his sights above the hood, waiting for the man to finish reloading and look up. Raegas's focus and aim was shocked when the back window of that truck was smashed through, so he reflexively leapt back behind cover. Realizing it must've been Logan's shot, he looks out again to see the bare outline of the gunman rolling about on the ground.
"Messy, don't put that one in my resume."
Lying prone on the ground, Raegas took aim again and fired one, then a second pulse into the wounded gunman. The outline jerked in reaction to the force from each shot and stilled, he was still alive but out of action.
"Got yah motherfucker!"
Raegas turned to the man with the 8 gauge, who had just made his triumphant announcement.
"Not quite; I think just a few pellets hit him, or he's wearing armor."
The gunman lying behind the first truck - shot through the lung - starts to slowly crawl away; breathing in long, drawn out gasps as he coughs up white froth from his mouth. Crawling over the dead body also slumped against the truck. The other wounded gunman Raegas shot starts screaming, the pain from an off hand .308 slug and two blaster pulses beginning to encroach upon his confused and translucent conscience. The jeweler had spent the majority of the gunfight crouched in terror behind the hovercraft; now he ran for one of the trucks and leapt into the driver's seat, ducking under the dashboard as he tried to start it.
"You want the jeweler alive?"
"What do you think?"
A .308 slug tore through the truck door, was deflected slightly and thrown through the jeweler's left lung, slamming him against the wheel.
"Five down, two still kicking. Reloading."
The captain had barely managed to tie the quick tourniquet around his leg, tighten it ferociously, then inject himself with a small syrette of morphine. For the pain was beginning to culminate. He finally loaded a few .44 rounds into his revolver, and held it in one hand as he began crawling to cover one side of the hovercraft. A sidearm - especially a revolver - was far less firepower than he needed, there was no way he could gain fire superiority. The last gunman standing crouches with the captain behind the hovercraft, he pops up to fire a quick burst before returning to cover.
"Logan, cover me, I'm running for that car."
"Care to specify?"
"Back window smashed."
"Roger, got you covered."
Raegas rushed headlong for the truck nearest him in an attempt to flank the hovercraft; as the captain leaned up to fire, several rounds pinged off the metallic finish and sent him collapsing back into the dirt. His eyes widened in an epiphanic horror as he realized the disturbingly divergent trajectory... They had a sniper.
Raegas moved to crouch behind the truck bed, but suddenly stumbled over a prone and now screaming form. The wounded gunman was clutching at his M4, an arm weakened by blood loss and shock trying to drag it up to fire. Raegas cursed and stomped the barrel down into the dirt, but the gunman's fingers managed to curl around the trigger, and a long burst of fire emanated from the weapon as Raegas stomped it down and shot a pulse into the man's head. But the hand, filled with adrenaline, continued to grip that trigger and fired the full magazine.
Shaken, Raegas knelt down and motioned for the man wearing body armor to make the same rush; he covered him with a burst of pulse fire while the FAL chattered a few quick rounds. The large man crouched close behind Raegas, the light of combat in his eyes.
"Boss! He's pulling a frag!"
Immediately after those words, the small metal object fell right between Raegas and the other man. Before Raegas realized what happened, he had already leaped and was rolling over the truck's hood. The grenade went off almost half a second after it hit the ground. Most of the shrapnel dug into or ricocheted off the truck, but some still bit deeply into his leg; the force of the blast shoved him across the hood and roughly into the ground. He's momentarily blinded by disorientation, the only sensations that comes with absolute certainty are the multiple dull bites that pepper his leg and thigh. He realizes his hands are empty, his blaster went flying after the grenade went off. But he begins to quickly recover, shaking his head and finding the ground again, his heart skipping a beat and catching up again with a chortled gasp; his hands and legs clawing and clasping forward, trying to quickly rush back behind the truck. His right ear had been facing the blast, yet his ear piece still saved most of his hearing when the gel automatically filled and cushioned that ear. His unprotected left ear was completely filled with a painful ringing. Despite this, he could still only faintly hear the tinny shouting of Logan over the radio.
"Boss! Boss! You still with us?"
He groped and dragged himself the several feet to the back of the car, to cover. He sat on the ground with his back against the grill, a hand brushing away blood from his face as he looked about to get his bearings.
The gunman standing beside the captain stood up to fire upon the still exposed Raegas, but a shot from the FAL slammed into his neck and spinal cord, throwing a lifeless body to the sand. The man in a leathern jacket then cautiously moved from their hovercraft to the first truck; quickly shooting the one gunman crawling through the sand, and another who just wasn't quite dead. He stopped after taking cover and wildly waved in Raegas's direction as he screamed to be heard.
"Boss! You alright!?"
"Peachy." Raegas had shaken off most of the disorientation from the blast; he stood up and took several steps around the truck, though he kept tripping over his knee. There wasn't much blood, and the entry wounds didn't look too deep or large, so he stumbled and continued on. Through the clearing haze he could discern his blaster lying on the ground. Falling to his knee again he snatched it up.
The man with the 8 gauge was lying on his back and covered with shrapnel wounds; he was bleeding, blinded, and utterly incoherent. A ghastly moaning sound escaped his lips as he blindly groped for his weapon with mutilated hands. He could wait until the firefight was over. Raegas glances over to the man in the leathern jacket and signs for him to flank the captain.
He couches his FAL and begins to approach toward one end of the hovercraft; whereupon, Raegas leans against the truck and calls out.
"Hey captain! You still breathing?"
"Come and die you fucking gobshite!"
"Getting desperate are we? Your men are dead captain! All are breathing their last! Just like Kona! Remember Kona?"
"Quit bitching and come fight me like a man!"
"Oh! Like you did at Kona captain?"
A sudden simultaneous burst of gunfire erupted, the stacatto of the FAL, which almost muted the roar of the captain's .44 revolver. "Ben! Did you get him?"
He was met only by silence.
"Logan, can you see him?"
"No sir, but the captain's definitely alive; I assume you want the honors?"
Raegas didn't reply, he just thumbed his blaster and limped slowly towards the captain's hovercraft. He raised his weapon while carefully turning the corner.
Ben was lying down on his face, hands jerking slightly but otherwise quite still; an exit wound gaping through the back of the leather jacket. the captain was sprawled next to another body, his torso riddled with .308 slugs and his hand still trying to raise his revolver. He looked up, his eyes filled with some fear, pain, but principally?
Raegas proffered a painful smile.
"Shouldn't have brought the fucking jeweler."
He fired a pulse straight into the captain's face.
A strange, unexpected, and abrupt silence filled the air; a silence kept from being total only by moans from the wounded and the dull ringing in his ears. Raegas turned around to limp back toward his hovercraft - ears still ringing and blood pouring from his leg - to retrieve the squad medic kit. He thumbed his radio.
"Logan, meet me down here, LeBron is out of it from the frag, so we need to take him back to the doc soon; Pack up and come on down, your work here is done."
"Actually Mr. Raegas, not quite yet."
Mr. Raegas stopped in puzzled annoyance.
"What do you me....."
A sharp crack from Logan's rifle and a .308 slug punched through Raegas's heart, spinning his body about and slamming it into the ground. The feeling was ethereal, a sort of morbid euphoric confusion as the stuttering and shocked heart began to starve the brain of oxygen; before it began convulsing as it vainly tried to cycle again, to cough up another absolutely indispensible beat. But it could merely pump blood through wrent arteries, run over destroyed flesh and flow into desert sand; with each convulsive attempt quaking the body with increasingly violent, increasingly desperate reverberations.
He tried to prop himself onto an arm, but his hands and feet were already getting a sharp prickly numbness; odd, he would've laughed if he could, he'd never think he could feel that numbness when he had a gaping hole in his chest. Lacking the strength for anything else, he shifted his gaze and examined the sand and dirt that he lay upon, that his blood was slowly flowing into. He dragged his hand across the ground - using every last reservoir of will he had to do so - and weak hands gently scratched into the wet soil, taking a fistfull of dirt soaked with blood. His blood.
Logan snapped the bipod on his rifle shut, packing it snugly away in a long field bag with a few empty magazines and other gear. He stands up and stretches out his hands, the first time he's really moved in over an hour. His right hand moves to his side, flipping out a small keypad connected to his earpiece via a thin yet durable rubber cord. He keys in a frequency with his thumb before slipping it back in its webbing pouch.
“Hey Chief, interesting development in that little overwatch job; by the time you hear this message, I’ll have the transport loaded with the demo and diamonds moving to exfil point Alpha. I’d appreciate a prompt pickup. Their backup’s about sixty mikes out.”
Slinging the field bag over his shoulder, he takes up an FN-FAL carbine and looks up at the chaotic remains of a fierce firefight, with eleven dead and dying corpses strewn about the bullet ridden vehicles. But there's no time for sight-seeing, many of those diamonds are real, and a full cargo of high grade explosives await him.
"Nothing personal Mr. Raegas, just business."