Chapter 6 - The Scenic Route

I hid by the tree until my visor had stopped flashing red, and I continued to move North-West.

The fact they were looking for me was a good sign. This meant they'd not found anybody else yet. Or, so I reasoned. The deployment plans of the Shadowheart program were not common knowledge. In fact, the program itself was a government secret. The only people that knew of our existance outside of the program were Generals and planetary governors.

And of course, the lucky recipients of Shadow aid.

See, the Shadows were used in the same role the special forces were used in the early 21st century. While it's true our main focus was striking heavy blows on the Entity, we were also sometimes used for missions the Navy would normally take, such as rescue operations.

One memorable one was where Admiral Highwater was captured deep inside enemy territory after a miscalculated space jump. 4 Shadow cells were sent in, and 4 Shadow cells came back out, with a total of 37 rescued personnel.They had also rigged the Admiral's cruiser to blow its space-drive engines when they were clear of the sector. Although the aftermath wasn't witnessed, ground was definitely gained in the area of that sector for a good few months afterwards.

Even though official news of Shadow activity was censored, or edited heavily, the common soldiery regarded Shadows as living legends, with whispered tales embellishing our achievements until we become gods among men.

Although, we might as well be. Even the lowliest Shadow was the equivalent of twenty Navy grunts in both expertise and equipment. Though the Navy used low level energy-projectile rifles, Shadows were given free-reign as to the weapons they took. Some even used captured Entity technology. Take for instance, my 'lowly' rifle. While on the outside it looked much like the Navy's standard issue carbine, it had numerous differences which made it so much better. It fired a much bigger round, at a much higher rate of fire for one, and the scope on it made it possible to shoot a hole through a small beetle at 300 metres.

But really, the main difference between the Navy's soldiers and Shadow operatives was the armour. They were clothed in strong carbonate plates, with titanium webbing between them. The Shadows were armoured head to toe in the strongest of alloys, Adamantium. Adamantium has had the claim of 'unbreakabe' applied to it by the modern media, but this is, of course, untrue. It is incredibly difficult to pierce, true. And it's also true that if a nuclear bomb was detonated inside an adamantium bubble, it would be unharmed. But, adamantium's weakness came in that if a strong enough electric charge was passed through it, it could be bent and shaped as though it were clay.

This is why all adamantium battle equipment is fitted with a 1mm wide dead space, that repels all electrical charge.

Despite the prodigous strength of my armour plating, it was startlingly light, and often it felt like I was wearing nothing but a heavy coat, instead of an unbreakable carapace. My armour was painted dark green, an indication of my AO (Area of Operations) and shimmered slightly at the joins, where the paint had scraped off.

I trudged on through the wood until I got another ALERT message on my HUD.This time, there was a dark red mass on the North-Western edge of my EWS map. The scale on the bottom right of the square red '1KM' Thankfully, the red appeared not to be moving any nearer to me.

I decided to go in for a closer look.

As I neared the mass, and the scale changed, I came to a large craggy drop-off, where the trees ended abruptly. The cliffs seemed to be in a roughly circular pattern, and I could just about see the other edge from where I was standing. In the middle of the clearing/massive pothole there was a lot of mechanical movement, and things that looked like ants moving around.

Being curious, I decided to take out my rangefinders. Rangefinders are like 'Binoculars - The Sequel'. My pair could magnify something up to 50 times, and a small box in the top left of the screen told me how far whatever I aimed the small crosshair was away. They also had a variety of viewing modes. IR (infra-red), NV (Night Vision), Thermal and EMF (ElectroMagnetic Frequency). Apart from my canteen, which didn't really count, my Rangefinders were my favourite bit of tech.

I switched them on, and magnified in on the activity at the centre. At 5x, nothing was really any clearer, so I decided to go all in for 50x and was satisfied when I could make out people as though they were only standing a few metres away, not 1654, as the little box read.

I looked over the different parts of the sight, and summed it up to be some kind of excavation, or dig. There was a large machine in the centre of the activity, which was throwing large clouds of dust into the air from a chimney on the top. The figures running around the edge of the machine did not look like the soldiers I had encountered earlier. These were much smaller of build, almost slender. Instead of the gleaming silver armour that the others wore, these ones wore flowing crimson robes, their faces covered by deep hoods, so that they were indiscernable from shadows.

How odd, I thought, for them to be walking around in flowing robes at a digsite. Human mining operations often had the workers in armour almost as good as mine.

I switched to IR, only to see exactly as I had seen without it, but in black and white. Curiously, the clothes themselves seemed to be giving off as much heat as the machine. I decided instead to switch to EMF. What I saw this time made me gasp audibly. There was so much electromagnetic activity around the people, that I couldn't even see the machine. They seemed to be linked by a continuous chain of lightning, emanating and being recieved by their heads.


Once I'd been watching them for a good thirty minutes, I decided to get on with looking for the rest of the squad. Unfortunately, the crater lay exactly in the middle of my route, and meant I'd have to go around.I used the rangefinders on the far edge, and the reading came out at 3520m.

"HELENA, how long will it take?"

"At an average pace of 10km/h, you should reach point A," A large red A appeared above the far point on the crater with the number 3.52 beside it. "in approximately 21 minutes, if you travel in a straight line."

"That's not what I mean. How long will it take to go around the crater?"

"At an average pace of 10km/h, you should reach point A in approximately 33 minutes."

Not that long then, really. Only an extra 10 minutes. I set off, keeping the forest at my right and the clearing on my left. The dust clouds were starting to obscure the activity. Hold on, that means that they've only just started digging. 

Maybe it was connected with my landing on the planet? Only time would tell, I supposed. I noticed, to my satisfaction, that the waypoint HELENA had put on my HUD remained there, and the distance steadily counted down. When I had reached the waypoint, I  headed back into the forest, going North-West again.



The End

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