Fuck me rigid, it’s been a long day. There’s going to be a LOT of long days for a while. Frighteningly enough, there’s something reassuring about being in the saddle so much. Ghoul School really warps the hell out of us Engel runners doesn’t it. The can-kickers seem to be keeping up, but that’s not saying much. Viking is a damned rock. I wouldn’t know he was teetering on the ragged edge until he toppled off the other side. Bastard isn’t going to open his mouth to admit fatigue short of a direct order. And Cut-throat… fuck what a mess. She’ll run herself to exhaustion because she still thinks she’s got something to prove. Never mind that the bitch is so fresh from the hospital, you can still see the IV marks. Never mind that whatever is going on in her fevered little mind has bled into reality. I’ll never know how Hu Xian managed to play it so calm with all of us trying to macho ourselves into an early grave.
I got us down intact.
Most of us.
Not enough, but everyone the Fates put in my reach.
Fuck if we weren’t hard to the metal when we touched down. Gave a little payback, caught a little breather. No bitching from Chapel or Cut-throat about getting sent out to poke dead bodies with a stick, playing the lottery they’d find our missing siblings intact. At least they were moving. Crouched at the base of the bluff, standing over the only grave likely to be dug for our fallen, waiting for the Rapine Storm to get around to noticing we aren’t in enough small pieces yet was a slow, sip of hell. I told them they had twenty minutes to search. I was prepared to give thirty.
I almost pushed it too far. Quetzalcoatl dove on Cut-throat short of the second crash site. Those garish shit-snakes are a nightmare. I should know, Cassiel ate one’s face about fifteen minutes earlier. We got lucky. Chapel managed to distract this one enough with a grav bomb for Cut-throat to break contact, but it was touch-and-go for her too after that.
I slugged a couple rally points through our net while the sneakers worked on getting the hell out of the line-of-fire. Cut-throat came in on us like her ass was on fire and I decided it was well past time to find a new neighborhood. My gut wanted to hook up with Chapel to get the fucking stormies off her six, but she said she had it under control. Got to hand it to the Prussian princess, she has ice-water in her veins. She said she’d meet us at the first rally point and I took her at her word.
I managed to establish contact after we left the debris field. You know it’s bad when you have so many cracked D-engines it blacks most of your comms. Like I expected, it was a little bit of good nestled in a whole lot of bad, like finding your peek in the latrine. It might be almost vital to have, but you can’t take any joy from it.
The offensive against Migou-held Korea caught them flat-footed. The Rapine Storm caught us just as unprepared. Who says the universe has no sense of humor.
I have no idea how a bloody Sentinel pilot managed to keep his bird in the air, but I’m not bitching. Whoever the crazy bastard is, I’m recommending him for a medal.
I don’t think High Command was too impressed by my summation of the tactical situation here, but I was a bit too occupied for tact. Either they’ve been on the front lines or they haven’t. If they have, they’re saying the same damned thing. If they haven’t, then every last one of us in uniform is on our own. I got to hit them with a high-speed intel dump. It was a nice surprise they returned the favor. Always good to know just how rough the neighborhood is.
I also caught Mauler’s carrier wave. Dead air. I toggled the channel a few times in case he’d lost voice. There was no response. Damn. He was a good man. I hope he died well.
Around 1130, we detected stormies to our southwest a few klicks out. Approximately four Gibbering Horrors and a mix of about a dozen ATV’s and converted civilian trucks. Too strong for us to tangle with since I had the choice. Kicked the sighting up into the net though. I was surprised when about a minute later the remnants of a mobile artillery brigade hopped on to say they had the range. I detached Cut-throat and Viking to roll out the welcome mat. They took a solid paint and the cannon-cockers turned the stormies into paste. Not sure how many escaped the pocket, but it couldn’t have been many. It is so nice to work with professionals.
They offered to link up. I had to decline. It was nice of them, but we’d more than double their sensor footprint. We’d be able to see what came knocking but neither of us would be able to slug it out toe-to-toe, and they’d be hard pressed to even outrun a converted delivery van. Chicken-shit as it feels, they’re sneakier without us.
1205 Harp came on the net. I don’t know who was laughing in the background, but he was screaming. What remained of him. He deserved better. I’m glad the channel wasn’t wide open. The others don’t need this memory of him. Cut-throat tried though. As soon as I tagged him KIA on the roster, she had to pry. Everyone knew she had a thing for him. She needs to let this go.
Approximately 1220, we found a hollow in the foothills we could get our heads down. We needed to get at least a little sleep. Two down, two up. I wish I could’ve given them more than an hour of shut-eye.
Couldn’t risk staying in place too long though. We’d gotten the broadcast that the NEG was overrun. Friendly forces were to converge on some major cities to fort up and await further orders/help if possible. No word of evac. It’s unspoken, but we all know the cities aren’t going to survive. I hope they make the Storm bleed dearly for every step.
I’m pushing for India. It’s a rough slog, but our best chance of slipping the Storm. There should be friendly ports we can make it home from.
At 1547, we detected a column of vehicles headed up what looked like an abandoned jeep trail. I was able to confirm they were neither evacuating NEG forces nor refugees. The once human monster peering out of the tank hatch left no doubt. We immediately moved to engage. At approximately 1600, we took the column under fire. The lone tank was immediately disabled by plasma cannon and acted as an effective road block. Cut-throat ripped into the technicals to good effect. As the squadron continued the ambush, one of the three “water buffaloes” went up in a rolling fireball that pretty much destroyed the rest of the column for us. Obviously, it wasn’t hauling water.
Three hostiles had managed to eject from the tank when it went down. I was able to pin them down on IR and detached Cut-throat to euthanize them.
The previous explosion was detected by overhead aircraft and I got the call to investigate. Talk about your easy tasks. They seemed a touch non-plussed that it was us who caused the big, showy fireball. Hell, I was non-plussed it was us. The bad guys aren’t supposed to be stuffing their jock-straps with high-yield when we’re keen on being deadly little ninjas. Command wanted us to secure the site. I told them, respectfully, to suck it. Unfriendly company was most definitely on the way and we were overdue to be anywhere else when they arrived.
We secured the site. We did need to find out why the “water” tank went boom, the Engels needed a snack, and Cut-throat had brought back a thank-you gift from the three amigos for throwing such a killer surprise party.
The metal suitcase she brought back wasn’t transmitting as far as I could detect. X-ray scan merely confirmed it was technology of some sort. Probably wasn’t explosive. I declined to attempt opening it at that time. I also surmised it would be more helpful to bring it with than reduce it to slag. Allegedly, there was a conglomeration of NEG personnel headed our direction not very far away. The engineers were probably already complaining about being bored and would celebrate the arrival of this puzzle box.
Flash-broiled barbarian is not the next big Engel taste treat. They ate it because they needed the calories, but Cassiel made it abundantly clear he expects an extra serving of dessert when it pokes its head out at us. According to Chapel, her Aral is of similar opinion. I’m inclined to try and avoid a repeat. Arals are not designed to burp.
The answer to both the explosion and Engel disgust is that the water tanks were filled with a volatile chemical slurry. Very volatile. Very caustic. Very unhealthy to breathe around with naked lungs. I’m guessing it’s the Auphan equivalent of brussels sprout extract.
I made the judgement call that the site was no longer tenable.
Within an hour, we linked up with the larger NEG force. Captain Sturgis had set aside parking for us once he heard we were coming to link up. After we dismounted, I was beginning to forget what fresh air felt and smelled like, we were invited to meet him at his command tank.
Both he and it were a bit worse for wear. Better rested though. Must be nice when you can fall asleep in your nice comfy chair and let someone else worry about driving without near certainty your “vehicle” is going to make a bee-line to the nearest concentration of screaming, bleeding toys/snacks.
He had someone to open the mysterious suitcase almost immediately. The guy was greasy, moved in a series of twitches, and continuously licked his lips, but his uniform name tape read “Ubaru” which was not even remotely similar to the name he introduced himself with. Simply oozed trustworthy to me. The captain vouched for him within a limited scope.
I did not allow the case to leave my sight though I let the “engineer” move it a modest distance away from other personnel in case it was rigged.
I observed him pull a piece of wire from his pocket and immediately gain access to the contents of the suitcase. Did I mention he oozed wholesomeness and honesty yet? As soon as he threw the lid back, he uttered what I took to be a sound of surprised excitement. He was flipping switches.
At this point, I drew my sidearm and pointed it at him. He stopped, hands in the air, and stepped away from the case. It appeared to be a remote to a probable munition. I judged his actions might have put innocent lives at risk.
Captain Sturgis stated, “Go ahead if you wish.” I put one round into the man’s left arm.
He might regain the use of it.
Depends on whether I hit the bone or a major blood vessel. I doubt the medics have the supplies to do more than plug the hole for a non-combatant. Maybe he’ll think before fiddling with things he wasn’t asked to.
A para-psychic combat unit managed to get swept up in the parade. Cut-throat didn’t seem overly happy to share her little dream issue nor the prospect of racking out on their floor, but I’m hoping they can do something for her. I’ve got to be able to depend on her.
Infantry was kind enough to loan us the use of some grunts for sentry duty. Everybody gets to enjoy the well deserved sleep of the pure and just. Chapel seems determined to make that an order. Either she is a secret slob in the pod or a compulsive cleaner. As long as she gets enough slumber to run at the tip of the spear, I don’t care. Much.
Seemed like I had just closed my eyes when someone started rapping on Cassiel’s armor plating. I was contemplating shooting whoever it was if it wasn’t vitally important. Seems the Stepchildren aren’t out of miracles just yet. Majorbat’s still with us. Walk ourselves out of the Grim Reaper’s belly-button, and next thing you know he’s bitching me out for dinging up his Engel. Ungrateful little gnome. He managed to save half his crew. Survival odds of lemmings and formidable as sheep and he gets half of them out of the Storm’s playground, with equipment. Don’t know how, but I’ll take it. Any names I can reclaim from the butcher bill are sweet nothings in my ear. Saw’d off punter deserves a medal. I’m going to sleep sounder tonight thanks to him.
He had some interesting theories about the portable launch control and the solid-state rocket fuel slurry we busted up in the foothills. Not much of it was comforting for us locals, but it doesn’t look like anyone further than the coast is in the line of fire. The Stepchildren might be going on a hunt soon.