I knew my luck couldn't hold out forever, and that wandering aimlessly around this huge forest would get me nowhere.
After switching out the barrel of my rifle, and stowing everything back into my battered pack, I decided I needed a plan of action.
I racked my brains for a while before I had an epiphany.
"HELENA, do you have a record of all intercom transmission while we were aboard the lander?"
Small white text flowed across my visor.
"Would you like the recorded video feed from your helmet camera, too?"
I was somewhat awed. I really should have read the manual.
"You're videoing everything I see?"
"Would you like me to stop?"
"No, no. Okay, show me the video feed from when Lt. McAndrew showed us where we were landing from space."
I found it odd how I was referring to HELENA as a person.
Suddenly I was sitting back in the cabin of the lander, looking at the Lieutenant. In fact, the picture was so perfect, I felt naseated by my head's past movement, which I was no longer in control of.
Luckily, my head had remained blissfully still while McAndrew pointed to a spot on the planet.
"HELENA, pause it here."
"Enlarge the planet to full screen."
It looked as though I was moving closer to the window, but much quicker than I could actually move until the planet, and McAndrew's hand, filled the screen.
So, if I'd come in from what I guessed was the West, the designated LZ was North-East of my current position. If I moved towards it, perhaps I'd meet up with McAndrew or one of the others.
"End the playback and bring me up a compass."
The compass was correct to wherever I looked, and I was currently looking in a South-Westerly direction. I turned around until I was facing North-East and began to walk through the forest, pack on my back and rifle in my hands.
The walk wasn't taxing, and if I had been anywhere but dead in the centre of enemy territory, I would have found it to be quite enjoyable. The monstrous trees shifted slightly in the breeze, and shadows played and chased across the forest floor. There weren't many plants down here. From lack of light, I guessed.
I lost track of the time while I walked. So far, this was nothing like Mars. This was a lot easier. There were no crazed animals trying to claw me up for dinner, and there wasn't the constant threat of running into well armed militia. Although, the militia were somewhat easier to handle than Entity soldiers. At least, from the stories the others had told.
While a lot of the rumours varied, they all agreed on one thing. Entity soldiers were huge. Some unnofficial reports had their height at 8ft tall, while others put it closer to 15. Some stories said this was their natural height, borne from millions of years of military breeding, and others said they were actually little aliens, in very big armoured suits.
The real truth was that no one really knew much about the Entity. It was somewhat silly, really. We'd been at war with them for over 100 years, yet we knew as much after all that as we knew when they first attacked outer colonies.
Of course, the usual rumours surfaced that the Navy was hushing it all up for morale reasons, but being a soldier for both them and the Shadowheart program, I knew that the real reason for the lack of intel on them was more harmful to fighting spirit than the actual lack itself. No one had survived long enough to document them accurately.
Yes, the Shadows sent off the distant worlds knew a lot, but they never really returned to Earth to provide a full report. Most were redeployed to another assignment as soon as they had exfiltrated successfully. Granted, the project had only been running for 20 or so years, and it took 2 years to train to be a Shadow, so they needed every last operative they could get.
I guessed I'd learn my fair share in my time here.
Out of nowhere, my entire visor display flickered to red, and began to pulse. The word ALERT appeared in bold, yellow letters at the top.
"HELENA, what's wrong?"
"Your EWS (Early Warning System) had detected Entity presence."
"Where? How far away? How many?"
A small square with a blue dot in the center drew itself into the top right corner of my HUD, and a large number of red dots lined one edge of the square. The Northern edge.
"Total count: 15 Entity Signatures. On their present course, they will encounter you in approximately 86 seconds and counting."
"Have they noticed me?"
"All Darkline class armour is fitted with stealth systems and protection from thermal imprinting up to 30cm."
"What's my best course of action."
"Evade and escape is the recommended course of action. Risk of mortality against 15 combatants is critical."
Excellent. In just over a minute, I'd be getting shot, unless I did something quickly.
"Does my armour come fitted with a stealth field system?"
"All Darkline class armour is fitted with stealth systems."
"HELENA, how long will my suit's power last if I engage full stealth field?"
"Indefinitely. Suit power is recharged by kinetic, thermal and light energy."
So as long as I kept moving, and stayed in the sunlight, I wouldn't run out of power.
"Activate full stealth field."
Although I couldn't feel anything, I looked as though I was dissolving into my scenery. I raised my hand just as it blended fully into the tree behind it. I could only see it if I moved it, and then it looked no more than a shimmer in the air, like a heat wave from a road in Summer heat.
"Hostiles will encounter you in approximately 15 seconds."
I needed no more time. I ran to the nearest tree, and sat down next to it with my back facing North. They'd walk right past me without even knowing I was there in the first place.
I heard the sound of footsteps as soon as I'd secured my hiding place. They grew closer, until a shadow appeared to both my left and right side. They grew in height until the beings casting the shadows came into focus on both sides of my peripheral vision.
I drew my knees in slowly, being careful not to scuff the ground, or make any noise at all.
When I looked up, I nearly gasped. The sound was only just choked down my fear. In front of me were two of the tallest looking humanoids I'd ever seen. Whether I was more overwhelmed because I was in the foetal position on the ground, and they were stood up, or they really were that big, I didn't know. To my eye, they looked to be around 10ft tall. Even bigger than Walsh. They were dressed to kill, literally, with sparkling silver armour seemingly welded to their monstrous muscles. And how big their limbs seemed. Each of their legs was twice the width of mine, and their torsos were about as wide as the massive tree trunk I crouched next to.
For seemingly no reason, the line stopped moving, and they all came to a smooth halt at the exact same time. It was like they were on a parade ground, the precision with which they moved. After the awe had subsided, the fear set in. Why had they stopped?
I heard more footsteps, and an even larger one walked from down the line to stand in front of the two I'd seen first. While the original pair looked completely alike, this one was a good foot and a half taller, with black patterns swirling across the seamless metallic armour.
The helmet, of which I'd only previously seen the back, was stunning. It looked like a perfectly sculpted human face that had been blurred out to make it smooth. The only part that stood out was the visor, which was V-shaped and stretched across the face where the eyes should have been, like a set of sunglasses.
A click resounded from the large soldier. This was followed by a low-pitched noise, like the sound of someone humming a particularly complicated tune. I didn't see any speakers on the helmet, and nothing on it moved. A responding click, without the humming sounded from both the smaller soldiers at the same time, and they moved off in a diagonal fashion.
So, the black-patterned one was an officer.
They all walked with the grace of proffessional dancers, despite their massive size.
Then it hit me why it was they were here at all: they were searching for me.
And I intended to keep it that way.