The Hunted

A Seaportian BlackOps team hunts down a group of Cortalan terrorists on the frozen, backwater planet of Kandalash.

The Hunted

Chapter One: Chaos Team

Cortal, birthplace of the human race.

Hundreds of countries living in peace.

Then began the Great Expansion, the sadistic empire of Cortal, named after their planet, began an aggressive campaign to annihilate their competition, the great country Seaport.

After conquering dozens of countries and drafting hundreds of millions of soldiers, they attacked. With over a billion warriors behind them and the belief God was with them, they overran Seaportian defenses through sheer numbers within days. Moving as quickly as possible, Seaport fled on a fleet of ships, escaping with faster-than-light engines and abandoning planet Cortal to its fate.

 With the Seaportians, the only power capable of opposing the Cortalan soldiers, gone, the rest of the planet quickly followed, swallowed up by the growing armies of the sadistic nation.

 Three hundred years later, Cortal was dying. Given advanced technology by the mysterious Ticki-Tickalie race, they built a powerful empire that stretched their solar system, crowding every planetary body with cities and stripping the asteroid belts to create massive fleets of ships. But with a corrupt and outdated government system, the planet was falling apart. The massive cities blanketing the world were killing it, soon it would not be able to support life.

 In an attempt to help ensure their survival, they made an alliance with the Drish Command, a greedy alien race battling the Seaportian Confederation, which after fleeing Cortal had bloomed into a massive and powerful galactic government. Seaport, already hard pressed by the Drish, was alarmed by the possibility of fighting two different empires at once. So in a desperate attempt, an armada jumped out of JumpSpace just outside Cortal, and before anything could be done, set the atmosphere aflame with energy weapons. As the world burned below, the two massive fleets slaughtered each other in orbit. The Seaportians finally retreated after suffering and giving heavy casualties.

 Almost all of the Cortalans died that day. The only survivors were a few hundred warships, and one hundred thousand colonists who had fled before the destruction, rebelling against their government and seeking a new life, free from oppression. However Seaport did not see them that way, they saw them as renegade super-soldiers and deemed them a massive threat which had to be exterminated. In the following months, Seaportian Special Forces hunter down and exterminated the colonists, one by one.

 The planet Kandalash hung in space, a white marble hung by an invisible wire. It was a lovely sight, a brilliant white ball defying the eternal blackness of space, like a flashlight in a dark room. Likewise hanging as if by an invisible wire was the Cyroni, a small Seaportian ship. Hanging in low orbit, just skimming the outer reaches of the atmosphere, it blended into its environment, photo reactive paneling which adorned the ship’s hull shifted and melted, matching the colors of the surrounding environment like a giant bizarre form of chameleon.

Aboard the ship in full armour minus the helmets, were three soldiers. Dressed in black combat armour, Chaos Team stood. Chaos Team was an experiment, a new prototype of soldier that was being field tested in a battle to wipe out the Cortalan terrorists who had spread out far and wide after the destruction of their homeworld. So far, Chaos Team had performed very well, neutralizing and effectively destroying every colony they came into contact with.

Now they had one last challenge, one last task to perform, one last mission to win before they would be fully proven in combat. They stood around a hologram in front of them, armoured arms crossed over their shoulders. They were covered in the scale-like black armour from toes up, except for their heads. Their helmets were a few feet away, resting with their own weapons, ready to go. There was complete silence, the only sound was the gentle humming of the hologram projector. There was no movement except for the gentle rotation of the projected planet.

Then, one of them spoke, breaking the silence.

“So, that’s the target?” The one in the center with streaks of silver adorning his armour, replied without moving.

“Yep.”

“Rechels?”

“Yep.”

“Danger close?”

“Yep.” There was another moment of silence, before the same soldier asked again.

“So, what’s the whole deal on what we got here?” This time the leader broke his position, hanging his hands at his sides and turned his rather thick head to face his comrade as he answered.

“Yeah, I guess I’m allowed to tell you both now. Josaf, you better listen up too ok?” The other soldier likewise broke his posture and moved forward, leaning against the holograms meter-wide circular projector. His blue eye flickered with curiosity, though his mouth stayed silent. Seeing he had his audience, the leader started talking. “Ok guys, this is the stick here. We have a band of Cortalan terrorists, mainly a collection of ex-Rechel troopers and some farmers and other non-combatants. Mission as the same is always. Go in hard and fast, and blow them all away.” As the two troopers began to grin, the leader interjected once more before they could say a thing. “And guys, make sure to not go so heavy on the explosives, we don’t want a repeat of a Teratikalin.” He was referring to the colony hiding on the planet of Teratikalin, Chaos team had been too careless with high-explosives and as a result some very valuable computer intel was lost, intel which could have held the locations of dozens of other colonies.

Josaf grinned rather sheepishly in recollection of his error at the planet before whipping it off his face as he listened for more data from the leader. But the chatty trooper nicknamed Pyro, or Chaos 2, beat his leader to it.

“So, anything else we should know? You know, the little details like target strength, LZ and backup plan? Not that I’m concerned mind you.” He said with a sly smirk. The leader, Jancy or Chaos 1, rolled his eyes before getting onto the important stuff.

“Sure I guess we may need that stuff sooner or later, so here it is. We have estimated there are about ten Rechel troopers on the planet, plus one Tobis, so we need to be careful here.” At this news both Pyro and Josaf exchanged glances. Tobis’s were the best of Cortal’s, forces, the last one they’d fought nearly killed Jancy before being taken down. They didn’t like meeting them face-to-face and didn’t look forward to this future encounter. Jancy continued, oblivious to their concern. “Our landing zone is right here on the map, and our emergency evac ship is over here.” He zoomed in the map to a mile off the ground, showing nothing but an empty white.

The other two soldiers shot a suspicious look to Jancy, like he was telling a riddle. Pyro then demanded,

“What the daje is this? This ain’t a map, looks more like a piece of paper.” Jancy replied in earnest.

“Actually it is a map, a very detailed one. You see, I was just getting to this; the entire planet is covered with white fungus which drapes ‘but sixteen meters or so up. This fungus covers almost everything and whatever isn’t blocked from view by the hanging fungus is covered by ground-level fungus. Oh, and since this fungus contains high quantities of metal, the entire planet is a faraday cage. No electronic signals get in our out, unless you have a portable FTL space communicator.”

“Which we don’t.” Josaf pointed out, speaking for the first time. “We don’t have one, and if we can’t use our COM systems, how do we organize ourselves? How do we communicate?” Jancy tossed a small oblong device at Josaf who quickly snatched it out of the air. Pyro likewise received one and both began examining it before Jancy explained their purpose.

“Since we can’t use our normal COM systems, we use these. Implant them in the back of your helmets, they send lasers between each other, sending information. We have to be in line-of-sight with each other to operate them. They can go through gaps in the fungus so we have to be careful to keep each other in sight whenever we can.” Josaf nodded. It was a little tight, but they could probably manage, they had so before.

Jancy saw Pyro’s mouth open in question, but he quickly spoke first, quickly shutting his friend’s mouth. “Now, you’re also going to have to make sure that your suits sealed up nice and tight, since the planet is rather far from the sun, and the fungus blocks most sunlight at ground level, the temperature is around -70 degrees, give or take a few. Oh, and no energy weapons.” This time both mouths opened in objection, but again Jancy shut them both up. “I know, I know you’re disappointed, but we can’t. The fungus also produces lots and lots of oil which the locals use as fuel, making it very, very flammable so the last thing we’re gonna do is go around blazing away with weapons based on the concept of burning things, my as well take a flamethrower to an oil well! We’ll be using ARG-20’s, no grenades, and sanamantium combat knives. We’ll be using peratalin-cosalind armour piercing rounds for the ARG’s, that’ll punch through any Rechel or Tobis armour. Now, any questions?”

He scanned the small room, looking for the previously open mouths. He didn’t see any until Josaf stood and said,

“Well, let’s go.”

Chapter Two: The hunt begins

 

Chaos team, now fully helmeted and updated on the situation, made a quick visit to the armory, their favorite part of the ship. Every imaginable weapon and add-on for those weapons was there. Extra clips, grenades, knives, attachments, silencers, batteries, chargers, everything! Of course they were only taking a few weapons with them this time. They all carried the Automatic Rail Gun model 20 (ARG-20). These unique weapons were several hundred years old, but effective and crucial in this flammable environment.

The ARG-20 fired super-dense rounds made out of  peratalin and cosalind, two dense, heavy metals. They fired these rounds with six electromagnetic rails which accelerated the slugs to over four thousand feet per second. The sheer speed and kinetic force of these rounds insured penetration of even the best-maintained of Tobis combat armor.

Besides the rifles, each man took a handgun, an even older weapon which propelled metal slugs by exploding powder inside a shell and the resulting blast firing the round down a rifled barrel. An incredibly old technology, but ideal for the parameters of their mission. Still, they fired .60 rounds, so the size of the round would have to make up for the lack of propulsion.

 No grenades were allowed though, the explosives would easily trigger the natural oil in the fungus, and while some of the team took well to this order, Josaf set about trying to bend the rules.

“The answer is no, I don’t want to set the whole bloody planet on fire!”

In a nearly pleading voice Josaf begged, “Come on, it isn’t that explosive! Some tiny charges set off the primer, all well inside the device, and it will blow the crap out of everything around it! Best of all, it is a resetting trap, it can does this six times before a manual reload is required.”

Jancy was still unconvinced, so Josaf continued. “Look, the exhaust won’t go all the way down the barrel so it won’t ignite the fungi. Besides, we can clear the area around it a bit, just to be safe.”

“Oh, and leave our booby-trap in the open for all to see?”

“No, it’s got a texture-buffer system; it’ll blend in to its environment, and with this environments very basic color scheme, that won’t be difficult.” There was a long pause, and then Jancy spoke.

“If you start a forest fire, you’re the one who will have disobeyed direct orders and snuck a prohibited weapon along, ok?” Josaf immediately brightened up and said cheerily.

“Yes sir, all my fault.” With a dismissive wave, Jancy gave permission.

“Fine, take it.” Without another word the armored figure grabbed a pair of the explosives and darted off in the direction of the small dropship which would fly them to their landing zone. Jancy rubbed his faceplate with the palm of his hand, sighed, and looked up at Pyro.

“Hey Pyro, you loaded up?” His visor depolarized, revealing his gaunt, cheerful face as he answered.

“Oh yeah, I am a locked and a loaded!” He racked the bolt on his ARG-20 to emphasize his point. Jancy grinned, and then ordered him away to the dropship. As the armoured man dashed off, Jancy took one last look around the gray metal room before grabbing a big, twenty inch combat knife, a particular Cortalan brand called a Kukila, admired the boomerang-shaped blade, before shoving it into a sheath strapped across his chest, grabbing his own rifle and bounding away to the dropship.

Jancy arrived at the delta-wing style Peralie dropship and boarded, his weight as he stepped up the ramp caused the vessel to bob slightly in its invisible anti-gravity moorings. He pulled open a door, and stepped in to see both Pyro and Josaf sitting in crash seats, rifles between their knees, and clearly waiting for any orders. The other occupants of the ship, the pilot and a co-pilot who was in charge of the guns, had been watching the debriefing by a video feed and were fully aware of the situation, including the fact that their weapons, energy based and explosive, were useless. They could be nothing more than a shuttle, ferry the men to the surface and hopefully, ferry them back to the ship once the deed was done, if it was done.

The pilot, a tall lanky man dressed in a flight suit with a black visor covering the top half of his face, smirked and turned around for the cockpit. His copilot, a shorter, more muscular man dressed the same, sided up with him and together they vanished behind a door into the somewhat cramped cockpit.

The door shut with a bang, breaking the silence in the troop-bay. Josaf’s head snapped up almost automatically with the noise and craned around to look Jancy dead in the eye. Any mischief was gone from his eyes, replaced by a layer of dead-seriousness. Drilling into his eyes, Josaf asked in a flat, serious voice.

“Are you ready?” Jancy swallowed. He was ready, wasn’t he? No matter how many times he asked himself and answered himself, he wasn’t sure if he was ever ready for battle. Now the previously casual and laid-back air of the situation was quickly growing heavy and serious, permeated by a fear of and battle they had never fought and the new possibility of death. Despite the temperature-regulating armor, Jancy shivered. Now, right before battle, he felt sick inside, like he had some sort of hideous cold weight sinking into his gut. Years of training and dozens of battles hadn’t squelched his instinct to back away from a gun fight like this.

He figured he would never ever completely crush that instinct, but maybe, just maybe, he could bury it deep enough to not notice so much. Forcing an enthusiastic, gung-ho voice, he replied, “Yeah, I’m good to go, now let’s get this tub moving!” He raised his voice for the last part to get to the cockpit ahead of him. Jancy sat down on an empty cash seat, thanking god that no one could see through his visor.

It didn’t take long for the Peralie to hit the outer atmosphere, and after a few minutes everyone could feel the ship rattling and shaking as it slammed into the layer of gases so many dozens of miles above the surface. Pressurized gel in his armour kept the jolting and slamming at a minimum, but his teeth still shook in his skull as the small, light craft rocked around, tearing a flaming gash of fire across the sky as it entered the atmosphere. Jancy clenched his teeth down to keep the rattling down to a minimum and looked at his companions.

Now they all had fully polarized visors, making it impossible to see their faces and adding a certain dimension of loneliness to the small troop bay. No one said a word, making the groaning and rumbles of the stressed ship even more loader. Determined to break the feeling of gloom, Jancy piped up over their helmet COMs.

“So, you guys got the plan nailed down right?” No response other than the two helmeted heads shaking numbly. Jancy tried again, longer this time. “The village is about five units from the landing zone, so the moment we land we’ll move up quickly, use your camouflage and blend in with the surroundings. Once we reach the village we’ll set up perimeter, a kill zone, and open up. We’re using armour-piercing rounds remember, and use your thermal sites to pick up targets. In minus seventy temperatures, they’ll show up like ladies with Josaf.”

That drew a faint chuckle from Pyro. Josaf’s head turned from Pyro to Jancy, and Jancy could easily imagine the murderous glare behind the lead-colored visor. A ghost of a grin lit up Jancy’s face. He did like these guys, and through a hundred battles he’d have no one else at his side. They were a living example of the old saying, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’  As if on cue to this last thought, an explosion erupted on the small dropship.

All humor ceased as all heads immediately snapped around towards the source of the explosion. Jancy tapped a small panel on the bulkhead and a viewport flashed open exposing the port wing. Or at least, what remained of it.

 Half of the wing was engulfed in a raging inferno, a blaze of white fire ignite by rapidly spewing fuel shot out into the other inferno created by reentry friction. Jancy immediately sat up and moved towards a small speaker near the cockpit entrance. Slamming down a button with more force than required, he yelled into the speaker.

“Cirel! What the daje just happened?” The pilot replied immediately, panic in his voice and alarms in the background.

“I don’t know! Port engine just exploded, just like that!” There was a pause, followed by some unreadable banter with the copilot Miachen, then he came back on. “I’m going to switch to the main speakers, you should get to your seat.” Jancy left and hurried back to his crash seat, Pyro and Josaf both demanding an explanation. Jancy yelled over the screeching alarms at them.

“I don’t know, port engine just blew for no apparent reason!” Before anything else could be said by the three, Cirel’s face came in over the main speakers with both Miachen’s cursing and the ships alarms in the background. Partly yelling at them, Cirel said, 

“Ok boys, we got some nasty stuff going on up here. Port engine’s gone, completely blown away. We’ve stopped the flow of fuel to there so the fire’s almost stopped not enough oxygen to keep going. I still have partial control so I’m bringing us in at a forty five degree angle now, we’re going to miss the LZ, and our trajectory is taking us to roughly nine units south, and that’s the good news.” Incredulous looks on all of their faces, all three soldiers responded almost simultaneously.

“That’s the good news?”

“Right, the bad news is that our camouflage is out and we’re in very plain view now, I’ve got thermals sighting hostiles following us to our crash zone so we’ll have company. I’m going to activate armor lockdown. Brace yourself!” All three took heed of the warning and sat back into their crash seats, back against the wall. There was a clicking sound and magnets in the bulkhead activated, rigidly holding them in place far better than any safety-belt.

The hull had several holes in it and as the crippled craft blazed towards the surface, the screaming of air shrieking through the punctured skin almost drowned out the constant screech of alarms and klaxons. Jancy could hear the wounded ship groaning like an injured beast, moaning in protest to the abuse being handed out to it. Jancy twisted his head, making one final check on his team. They were both slammed rigidly to the wall, held tight by the magnetic clamps.

Checking to make sure the shock-absorbing hydrostatic gel in his armour was pressurized to the maximum, he clenched his teeth, closed his eyes and prepare for the crash. The whining of the alarms and wind grew and grew, increasing in pitch and frequency until Jancy shut off his external speakers, killing the outside sound. Now all he heard was the pounding of his heart, and the deep breathing of his lungs.

Suddenly his helmet speaker crackled, and Cirel’s terrified voice filled his head.

“Emergency beacon activated, signal sent! Automatic landing sequence initiated, killing engines, brace yourselves! Height is twenty meters and falling!” The vibration of the overtaxed remaining engine, struggling in vain to carry the load of the ship and its precious cargo, finally faded and vanished as it died. Now only the rattling of the damaged ship was felt, small vibrations rippling and shaking his rigid armour.

The silence did not last though, for quickly there was a quiet humming vibration as the emergency thrusters kicked in and the computer took over, trying to guide the ravaged dropship in to land safely.

Cirel’s voice punctured the near-silence his helmet again.

“Height is fifteen meters and falling, contact with trees in three, two, and one!” His voice vanished just as the dropship, coasting at just over the sound barrier; hit the top layer of the towering fungi the planet was swamped in. The ship jolted immediately like it had been hit by a giant club, but otherwise continued, leaving a trail of destruction, shattered and smashed fungus in its wake.

Jancy reactivated his external receivers and he was suddenly hit by a flood of noise. He was surrounded by a constant stream of sound, crunching and smashing noises as the round-nosed dropship plowed a path through the white forest.

“Ten meters and falling, contact with ground in ten seconds, we are coming in for a belly landing here guys so hold on tight!” Jancy couldn’t see, but just imagined Cirel’s white faced and white knuckles, teeth clenched as he tightly clasped the controls and tried to move them in for the least-destructive landing he could. The super-soldier himself grasped at nothing, an automatic reflex prior to a crash. Clenching his fists on nothing but empty air, his body tensed up in anticipation of the impact, the impact which arrived a few seconds later.

At just over five hundred miles per hour, the dropship hit the ground at almost a 10 degree angle. The reaction was immediate. The ship slammed into the slippery, oily ground and bounced. Without restraints inside the ship Jancy would have flown into the roof, probably breaking many bones. His teeth slammed together fast and hard on his tongue, cutting it. Pain flared, but it was barely a background feeling to him. Like the whole ship had been thrown into a paint shaker, the inside buckled and slammed up and down violently, brutally slamming around the occupants.

The coppery tang of blood filling Jancy’s mouth, he closed his eyes and waited for the brutal jarring to stop. His ears were filled full of sounds, the crashing and smashing of the fauna as it was crushed to pulp, the awful, high-pitched screeching of metal against rocks, the clatter as weapons, ammunition and other equipment was torn free from storage and clattered around the bouncing troop bay. Jancy winced; he hoped the weaponry at least would survive the traumatic crash.

Suddenly, something unexpected happened. The magnetic clamps which kept Chaos in place for the brutal treatment broke. They ceased to function and the three armour-clad soldiers, before they could react, flew from their seats into each other with a horrendous crash. Jancy’s head snapped back as he hit Josaf’s torso dead-on with Pyro’s legs colliding with his torso. The breath fell out of him with a whoosh, he slid back from the pileup, dazed and disorientated. He coughed, and then tried to wipe something from his vision, a splotch of red. As he regained his senses, he saw his blood splattered across the inside of his visor.

They all started pulling themselves to the metal handles imbedded in the ceiling, grips designed to grab on to in face of crash. With a grunt, Jancy hauled himself up to the handle and just as he reached for it, the whole craft came to a stop with sudden, wicked jolt. Jancy flew through the air, almost head over-heels, crashing into the far end of the cabin, right by the cockpit door. There he lay, completely stunned, staring at the grey bulkheads, now completely still.

After what could have been two hours or two minutes, Jancy began to regain himself, hearing the murky and rather distant voices of his comrades.

“Jancy, get up! We’ve gotta get moving before we come under attack, come on, get up and hurry up!” Jancy came to, finding himself being pulled to his feet by four black-armoured arms and hands, hoisting him up. Catching himself with his hand, Chaos 1 gasped for the breath he had lost, and then quickly pulled off his helmet. He opened his mouth and spat; a viscous gob of blood and saliva hit the deck and splattered. Bent over and panting, he stayed that way for a few seconds before wiping his visor clean and putting his helmet back on. Now much more alert, he turned around and wrenched open the cockpit door, where he found Cirel and Miachen slumped back in their seats, slightly dazed but quickly coming to.

They both turned around, staring dumbly for a moment before their vision cleared, their eyes lighting with realization and fear. Before a word could be said, Jancy questioned them.“Status, what’s going on here?”

Getting his breath and beginning to scan the instruments console, Miachen answered him flatly, “Well, our last engine was sheared off in the landing, seventy percent of our emergency thrusters are either gone or too badly damaged to function, exposed electronics are frozen from the cold, and since the fungus creates essentially a faraday cage, we can’t send or receive electronic signals. We sent out an emergency beacon before crashing, so that should get through in about two weeks. The hull is punctured in over twenty nine different places, the reactor drive is overheated and the coolant is frozen. We have no way off the planet in this wreck. On the other hand, we do have enough power, for now at least, to create a stasis field around the ship so we won’t freeze to death.” He gazed at the ruined ship somberly, as if it were an old friend of his. Visor transparent, he looked up to Jancy for hope, eyes begging and scared.

Jancy sighed; this is what he hated about leadership. Who gets to stay behind and who gets to go into danger? He said that the plan was to capture the Cortalan ship seen on the planet and make off in that. He and Chaos team would attack while the crew stayed in the ship where the weather couldn’t kill them. The two pilots nodded in understanding, thankful they wouldn’t have to leave, but worried about Chaos’ success in getting the enemy ship.

Before another word could be said between the three, Pyro spoke up.

“Uh, Jancy? We’ve got a problem, could you come here?” He turned and walked out the cockpit, and Jancy turned around and followed him. They stopped and Pyro turned around.

“What’s the trouble?” Inquired Jancy, fearing something bad.

“Um, well when we crashed into each other, we must have shorted out or somehow damaged our camouflage. The paneling’s not working.” Dread rose in the leader’s stomach as he activated his armour photo-reactive paneling, capable of almost perfectly mimicking his surroundings. His armour flickered for a moment, sputtered, then died. Jancy let out a long, heart-felt profanity. With a sigh, he turned to his two friends.

“Ok, the new plan is to engage any soldiers we find first of all, and then hit the village as quick as we can, get it?” They nodded, and then listened for more. Jancy continued planning.

“They’re most definitely coming here to investigate the crash, so we’ll just wait for them. We wait in cover for them to arrive then just mow them down. Now lock and load and spread out! Create a kill-zone!” They nodded silently then gathered their weapons and vanished into the foliage as much as black armour could hide in a complete white environment. Grabbing his own rifle, Jancy quickly and silently dashed off behind the smoking ship and crouched into cover, ready to do his duty.

The End

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