Friday, November 30, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Divide Patrol

"The worst part of marching through a deciduous forest like those found here on Foreas, is that there is never a 'good' Pub around after a day's patrol," Wiley muttered irritably.

"Quiet down back there, Wiley", First ordered.

"Nothing is going on out here Top. This region has been quiet, since we beat back the Bane three days ago. They didn't even show at the Thanksgiving Celebration as our Intel suggested."

"Your missing the point," Angel echoed.

First interrupted, "Good Call Angel... Maybe you'll shut up if you have no one left to talk to. Wiley, On Point. You know the route, about 100m out. Local Helm Comm only... Rubin, fall back to tail. Keep your ears open, and mouths shut people."

"SGT Mandalore asked us to check out this sector. His sources indicated that the Bane are still out there. There is still too much signal traffic out there for his comfort level." Angel added.

Wiley retorted, "Mandalore this .. Mandalore that.. With as much as you talk about him, why don't you just ask him out..."

"Mind your own business, Wiley. Now you’re just being disrespectful..."

"You don't have a chance, that's why. Haley has been following him around for years and he has never shown her any attention either."

"He is a busy man... He lost his family... When he is ready, he will open up."

"He's an ice cube... He's cold... Just like those rations we have been lugging around... What makes you think that he will notice a little girl like you, when he has a vixen like Haley waiting on him… Hey Top, did you see those new 'uniforms' that Haley and her staff are wearing now back at The Swamp in Foreas Base?".

"Uniforms? Yeah, uniforms...heh..." First mumbled.

"Was that emotion Top? Hell really has frozen over," Wiley laughed. "If Haley can cause the Old Man to thaw, you are out of your league Angel... You're only 18, barely legal."

"What’s that supposed to mean? I can outfight you anytime."

"Whenever you are ready. I won't even wear my Armor."

"Don't flatter yourself, Shorty. And keep your armor on, I don't think my eyes could take the reflection."


"Your skin is so pasty that I heard that you were recommended for Arctic duty... Natural camoflague and all.."

"I must have really hit a nerve to get her all riled up like that. I'll make a note for future reference," Wiley smirked.

Rubin stopped. "Has the Great White Hunter found something?" Wiley asked.

"Rubin has good instincts. You could learn something Wiley. Shut up and listen," First corrected. "You should have been up there by now..."

"He's too cautious... I've almost caught up to his position, but I don't see him. I'll be up there in a tic," retorted Wiley.

"That's because he knows how to do his job, Wiley," mocked Angel.

"Focus people. You two argue like siblings. We'll have to separate you on the next patrol."

"zzztttt... There will not be a next patrol..." a mechanical voice interjected on their comms.

The dusk air soon opened up in flashes of electric light. Helmet filters indicated the ozone level of the surrounding atmosphere instantly spiked by over 650%. An explosion and fireball of light cut off the trail ahead of them. Sensors indicate about 95 meters ahead.

"Nooooooo!!!!!!!" Wiley screamed, as his body flew past First and nearly into Angel, smashing into a nearby Conifer. His armor was charred, as opposed to the green and brown camoflague dictated by the environment.

"Angel, clear a path..." First ordered.. This was almost unnecessary, as her training made her as deadly as any Mandalorian Commando. Her Heavy Cannon ripped through the branches and underbrush like electricity through water... The trail soon opened up into a road wide enough for a personnel carrier. "I knew the 'Little Girl' could handle that gun..." First smirked. First's carbine rapped a consistent three-shot burst at any motion that popped up... and back down...

Angel's cannon dropped silent as she rolled forward, the barrel bent in a U... Behind her a Bane Hunter of unusual size stood with both arms outstretched holding huge pistols aimed directly at Angel. The Hunter immediately began to be consumed in flame and glow a bright red, then yellow, falling to its knees and then forward.

"Don't forget about me you big ugly mutha..." Wiley growled as the fuel in his propellant cannon expired. Wiley pulled off his shattered helmet as he leaned his body up against the tree that he struck in mid-air. Blood was dripping out of his right ear and the corner of his mouth, as he recovered his rifle. As another large Howler crashed through the treeline, a grenade erupted from Wiley's rifle-mounted launcher throwing the beast back into the woodline in a glowing fireball.

"That was my favorite cannon" Angel howled as she finished her roll back onto her feet freeing her carbine from her pack-mounted harness in one free-flowing motion. "Thanks for the save..." as she dropped three Bane Soldiers in a focused burst.

"Cough..cough... cough.." spitting blood... "Okay, Angel's pissed.. Get out of her way Top." Wiley warned...

"Comms being jammed. Can't notify Forward HQ." First reported, as a blue-green directed energy blast hit him squarely in the side, sending him tumbling over a nearby piece of forest debris. Fires were now spreading all around the squad. A large Kael crashed through the tree line, throwing whatever large objects that were within reach: logs, rocks, branches, or bodies.

Pffzzttt... as a wire solidly connected high into a nearby tree... A large camoflagued form immediately followed smashing feet-first into the monstrous terror, sending it falling backward feet up in the air. With size often misleading his dangerous speed, Rubin was a force to be reckoned with when enraged. Rubin tore off a Forean Mechina’s arm and bludgeoned it into a bloody heap with it. Trees began exploding around him as he climbed up a nearby conifer with the speed of a jungle cat on level terrain. Finding a heavy branch with some degree of cover, Rubin's rifle swung into his arms as if it had a mind of its own. Bane began to fall in rapid succession as blue bolts rained down from above.

"Angel get back to forward HQ and report." First declared crawling back over a log into a prone firing position, carbine dropping smaller Bane in strange harmony with the rifle above.

"I won't leave my squad, Sir!"

"Did it sound like I was making a request? Get this intel back to base, so command can prepare a briefing for the rest of the AFS. These new Bane are dangerous. They are not the garden variety that we usually run into, and your helm recorder should be able to replay the battle for analysis."

"But you and Wiley are hurt. I don't want to leave my brothers behind."

"We'll catch up.. We'll hold them until you can get a head start and then we will follow. Now Go!!!"

"Sir, Yes Sir!!! Angel opened up her Carbine on Full Auto, dropping every Bane within eyeshot. With Motor Assist Armor on full-activation, Angel raced through the ambush directly toward allied lines. Setting her direction toward the Foreas Base, Angel declared, "I'll be back Sir, and I'll bring friends..." Racing quickly out of range, Angel hoped her squad-mates received her last message. She resented leaving her brothers-in-arms... This info may be worth the lives of three good friends... Angel would not fail...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Acts and Consequences...

I was forced to disobey orders today. The Rangers of the Anvil were preoccupied defending a village to the south. I was out on a recon patrol to the northwest of the Anvil. My orders were to follow a specific patrol route. I spend a lot of time out there in the Wilderness on my own. I have fought side-by-side with a few other soldiers for more intense missions into enemy-controlled fortifications, but my skills seem to be best at gathering information. I have found over forty Logos symbols so far, and I even discovered several Logos gates and unlocked them with a combination of up to five other Logos.

Anyway, I digress. I was following my assigned patrol route, and I felt that I had to go off mission. I simply HAD to go off mission. I usually follow my gut, and this time I ended up near Nidu Dav. I was out of mission by nearly twelve clicks. I kept my footfall soft, and I climbed up the rocks behind the village to discover it had been overrun by Bane. The defenders were shot and dying. The survivors were being herded up by some big ugly Bane that seemed to be in control. A Bane dropship was on approach, and I quickly realized that I had to do something. A fate worse than death awaited these poor souls.

I used one set of Logos to call in a Pistoleer to give me a little fire support and cover my flank. It was about to get ugly, and I didn't want some stinking Crustie getting the drop on me. I concentrated very hard, and I drew on as much inner fire as I could to build up for summoning the Logos power of Rage. I pulled out my new Electric Rifle that I recently pulled off a dead Thrax Hunter, set the crosshairs, and offered up a prayer to guide my shots. Through sheer force of will, I started to pull the trigger. If my rifle started to overheat, I alternated with the strongest Lightning Logos I could muster. The field would arc from Thrax to Thrax and thankfully missed the huddled Foreans. Meanwhile, my trooper did what he could to assist by pegging any Thrax that got close enough to my sniping position. Before long, I was out of energy cells, and that big ugly son-of-a-cockroach pulled out a huge weapon and aimed it at the civilians.

Enough was enough... My feet charged with a power I had never felt before, and I ran down that cliff face as if I had wings on my ankles. Pulling out my old-faithful pistol with a few personal modifications that I learned from other Thrax that I had dispatched, I fired as I ran. I dropped his sidekicks like a bad habit, and focused my anger on this evil SOB. This fight soon turned into a brawl. That sucker clawed at me and sent me flying on a couple occasions. I think he actually enjoyed it.

I tried to remember everything that I studied in past martial arts classes, and immediately Master Safakoo came to mind. I cleared my mind, and placed it some place deep inside me. I did not feel anything more past that point. That beast struck me, but I was beyond the impact. I knew what I had to do. I had to save these innocents. Next, I heard Sensei Tomnaka Frutakoshi. My feet felt as if I had a foundation of steel. I focused my ki and struck that bug with all the power I found within me, from earth to fist, over and over.

I next felt a hand on my shoulder, ever so gently, and I immediately calmed down. I turned, and a Forean Elder looked deep into my eyes for several moments. He smiled and simply said, "Thank you."

There was a younger Forean, a small child actually, crying over a severely wounded young Forean woman. I picked up the boy, falling to my knees, and began to cry. I said, "It will be alright" again and again. Then the elder said it with me once, and all fear, sadness, and anger were gone. The boy calmed down, and the Elder then laid his hands on the young woman. A new Logos power that I had not seen before consumed him and passed into the young woman. Her wounds closed; the burns disappated; and she opened her eyes. I could not speak. A joy filled me: A joy that I had not felt, since I held my own children in my arms. "This is why we will overcome the Bane," the Elder spoke. "Foreas itself will sustain us. The Benefactors have told us so... Go now, there are others that need you. We will be alright."

I reclaimed my weapons, salvaged whatever ammo and materiel I could find from the Thrax bodies, and I started back in the direction of my patrol route. As I was leaving the village, I noticed the burning remains of the Forean dropship that I had last seen on approach. I don't know who took care of that. I simply could not remember. Most of the battle was becoming a blur. It happened so fast. I scavenged whatever I could find off the wreckage and kept moving. It may come in handy later.

How did I know to head to this village? Was it my imagination? Did I hear a voice? The adrenaline was starting to wear off. The rest of the patrol was like any other. I dispatched a few aggressive critters. I sniped a few more Bane. I headed back to Foreas Base. If I place this event in my report, I could face a reprimand. Or, I could pretend it never happened, and simply report the number of casualties, as if it were on my patrol route? I don't really want to talk to a shrink. This may raise more questions than answers. I think I will just let it go. I did the right thing. No one was hurt, and I saved the lives of a village of our allies. It is all in a day's work, and I think I just need a nap.

Mandalore, out...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Day of Infamy

Landing Zone Outpost, Foreas, 19:45 hours

At least forty men and women of various military operational specialties and backgrounds were gathered outside the ramparts near Foreas' Landing Zone Outpost. Not all soldiers wore the unit patch of the Mandalorians, named after the unit’s squad leader, but it did not matter. Weeks earlier SGT Gaius Mandalore shared an encrypted frequency to call upon other units if any outpost had an emergency. Those that answered the call arrived from a variety of backgrounds. Some were young. Some were old. Some were new to battle, and the faces of many veterans belied the enthusiasm of the young. Several squads waited at parade rest listening to instructions from their team leaders. Other individuals without clan or organization listened from a distance, eager to prove themselves or to simply stem the tide of destruction. The word was out. The alarms were sent.

The Bane was on the move, and invigorated enemy forces were marshalling on this wilderness continent of Foreas. Close to two years ago the Bane blazed a trail of destruction across the Earth claiming to be threatened by the Terrans’ discovery of Logos. Their presumed birthright was to conquer every world in their path and seize that knowledge for their own intentions. Led by the Neph Samael, it was believed that the Eloh were decimated by the Bane on their homeworld many centuries ago. Scattered but not extinct, the Eloh have left Logos scattered across numerous worlds; we know of Foreas, Arieki, and Mycon. The survivors of Earth have formed the Allied Free Sentients (the AFS). New allies are joining us, and we have discovered many Logos-sensitive among our own. Time is running short, and our gifted ones are scrambling to learn as fast as they can.

"I am very pleased to see so many troops gathering at this remote location," Ranger Gaius Mandalore mentioned. "Putting aside your differences at this critical hour is a credit to your families, your clans, and your countries. Evidence gathered by recon teams in the Pravus Research Facility has indicated that the Bane are no longer content to merely sit on their haunches guarding the known Logos Shrines. Concentrated troop movements and captured encrypted transmissions have led us to believe that the Bane are preparing for a new offensive. We cannot allow the Bane to take Foreas. Our Forean allies do not have the firepower to repel them. When the Bane move, no one is safe, and established laws do not apply to them. We have to stop them."

"What is your plan?" posed Specialist al-Saladin, a leader from the Anubis Platoon, a unit formerly of the Egyptian Army. "We have two full squads formed and are ready to move out on your orders."

"Under the guise of our routine patrols into the Crater Lake Research Facility, we will enter the facility en masse with at least five full squads. The minions of the Bane should not be expecting an insertion of this size, and we should meet minimal resistance. We will sweep through draw, valley, and encampment, identifying and destroying their cache of weapons and constructs scattered throughout the region. We will identify and seize any research or plans indicating any future movements or targets. We will deplete their troop strength with all due prejudice. We can not leave this Bane Expeditionary Force the ability to marshal a presence on this or any other world."

SGT O’Reilly of the Chaos Platoon interjected, "So in short, our orders are to destroy anything that moves... I like it!"

"And gather all Intelligence that we find. We need to know where other cells of the Bane are staging from," added Medic Monroe of the Mandalorians.

"This should work as long as we keep it simple and follow instructions," mentioned Specialist Atkins of the TechnoRiot Detachment.

Gaius Mandalore continued, "Our enemy has a regiment of at least a hundred Bane shock troops, in addition to defiled Machina of various races and various models of robotic constructs."

O'Ryan of the Chaos Platoon fired off his rifle to get everyone's attention. "Clear the deck. Unidentified incoming dropship coming in fast. I'm not picking up an identification transponder. Weapons are cold though." Troops moved to the fringe of the landing deck as an older model Hedgehog with strangely familiar markings settled to the ground. "It couldn't be..."

The hatch opened on the vessel, and a ramp extended to the deck. The chatter amongst the assembled troops dropped to a murmer and soon to complete silence as the gathering quickly realized who had just arrived. Another warrior in a form-fitting black stealth suit strode up amongst them. The soldiers took a step back to clear a path up to SGT Mandalore. After walking nearly halfway through the crowd, the soldier made a summoning gesture to Gaius Mandalore. “Need a hand?” inquired SFC Sarah Morrison, one of the most famous Ranger Snipers in the AFS. Few had ever met Morrison. She appeared too young to be known for her many victories over the Bane. Gaius walked over to meet her. “General British thought you may need some help,” Sarah suggested “Every soldier counts, Ma’am,” Gaius replied. “That better be the last ‘Ma’am’ I hear out of your mouth; I work for a living.”

“General British appreciates your zeal in investigating Bane movements,” Sarah soon added. “Your repeated incursions into the Pravus Research Facility has obviously gotten the Regional Bane Overlord’s attention. Your Intelligence about Crustie’s activities on this continent has been very valuable. Investigate, record, understand. Intelligence saves your life, sooner or later. Other agents have led us to believe that your assembled company is the next target of a full-force Bane assault. I hoped to get here in time to assist. I barely made it. As I was coming in, my sensors picked up Bane forces moving up on your position through the draws from the north, west, and east. Follow me..." Sarah Morrison started to run north up the hill from the Landing Zone Outpost toward what the Foreans call the Memory Tree. Many of the assembled troops rallied behind her running up out of the outpost securing firepoints along the way.

"You heard her, maggots. Move out!!! The party has come to us," echoed Gaius Mandalore. Gathering the remaining troops, Meth led them east into the rocks. “Use cover and concealment. Morrison will draw their attention. We will flank them in a Pincer movement, so they cannot escape.” As the forces redeployed to firing positions outside the outpost, the first enemies came into sight from the north. "Let's give them a warm welcome," Sarah yelled from the front line opening up with her Torqueshell Rifle. Several large Kael and Forean Machina drop-deployed no more than forty meters in front of SFC Morrison. Sarah called upon a display of Logos lightning like no one here had ever seen before. The ground beneath everyone’s feet shook and a concussive blast shocked the enemy centering on the Kael and everything else within thirty meters. The Kael dropped as a charred mess and the surrounding Bane and Machina were thrown in various directions around them. Only the Forean Machina, somewhat blackened from the experience, regained their footing and continued to stumble forward. Her reputation was well deserved. A cheer arose amid the soldiers surrounding her which was soon followed with a volley of gunfire from the assembled soldiers. Taken aback, the Bane seemed to hesitate for a moment then pressed forward, as if something were driving them from the rear, as well. At the same time, Howlers, Hunters, Technicians, and more Bane soldiers fell upon the assembled regiment from the hills to the west. All hell broke loose.

As troopers began to fall, Medic Sanchez of the Alamo Platoon announced on short-range comms, "Doctor Ojy, Franklin, Stevens, and I are setting up a triage at the LZ Base. The generators are powered up and Healing Discs and Pain Killers are deployed in the tents. Bring the wounded back to us and cover our position. We will do what we can to keep our men in the fight. I repeat, keep the enemy forces off our back, and we will keep you alive. Sanchez, out..."

An imposing Bane Officer singled out Commando Ben Rowling of the Mandalorians in the foothills west of the LZ. “Your incursions into our Research Facilities will no longer be tolerated stinking human. Your kind will be exterminated or forced to serve us. Drop your weapons and surrender, we may show mercy,” the Bane commanded angrily from within his powered armor. Other Bane soldiers circled Ben from either side of their officer.

"I don't think so," answered Rowling, his shotgun at the ready. “Bring it on!”

"Not bloody likely," bellowed Dingoe, a survivor of the Australian Special Forces, as he full body tackled the Bane soldiers on Ben's left flank, rolling into position back-to-back with Rowling. Both warriors opened fire with weapons in relentless metallic harmony.

An eirie calm settled on the battlefield as the last of the Bane fell around the encampment. Snipers and Riflemen from the east hills nailed their deadly marks. This calm was to be shortlived as another larger wave of Bane and Mechanoids could be seen and heard marching in toward the outpost from the west fields of Gellman Meadow. Shield Drones were deflecting electric, laser, and EMP ammunition. The remaining defenders fell back to the west flank determined to hold the line behind sandbags and fallen trees. With energy cells primed and full clips loaded in kinetic weapons, the soldiers grimly prepared for the inevitable.

Aviation Coordinator Wagner successfully broke through the Bane jamming frequencies to reinforcements from Imperial Valley. "Launch the dropships. Use the waypoint. This is no routine attack. SFC Morrison was here to warn us. We are surrounded at the Landing Zone Outpost. All hell broke loose. There are dozens of mechs marching in upon us from the west, and Bane soldiers with Shield Drone support are approaching from the north and west. It's chaos..." Signal lost... "Did I get through?" Wagner worried.

Embankments and earth began to explode all around the defenders, Foreans and Humans alike. The Logos-sensitive that remained used Logos to return the chaos to the attackers as they could, but it was too much. "Fire at will," SGT Mandalore ordered.

"What did Will do?" PFC Jenkins retorted, with a smile on his lips and a smirk on his face.

SGT Mandalore lost his concentration for half a second, openly laughing; getting hit by an energy blast from his right flank knocked him to his knees and back to his senses. "You are sooo funny Jenkins. Now, stow it and focus!" Gaius got back up to his feet, unslinging his Chaingun in the process. "Now, I am getting mad..." Mandalore fired bursts randomly several times into the tide of steel and crimson flesh, sending metal and shrapnel into the Bane in a cone of destruction. Several Howlers and Hunters slipped or tumbled, rolling back over fallen trees, comrades, and shrubbery causing new obstacles for the approaching swarm.

At the same time, screams and gunfire could be heard from the east side of the outpost, again. Another wave of Bane Soldiers were scaling down the rock face to the east of the LZ making their way for the nearly unmanned eastern parapets. The Bane Soldiers were followed by another full squad of Hunters and Howlers. These Bane were even bigger than their northern and western comrades and regular ammunition was not making an impression. SFC Morrison and several other Guardians were futilely swatting at the forces with filament blades and energy staves barely leaving burn marks. "Company fall back and reinforce the east flank," Gaius ordered. "Anubis Squads, hold this line!" Al-Saladin and his brothers-in-arms dug in throwing everything they had at the encroaching enemy. Weapons were beginning to glow red from overheating. Weapon jams were becoming more common. The detachment from Chaos Platoon fell in to reinforce the line, their carbines and rifles glowing from the exertion. “Alternate weapons with your pistols,” al-Saladin instructed. The TechnoRiot and Mandalorian Squads rushed in to reinforce the east flank. The soldiers were outnumbered three-to-one holding the west and north lines. Dirt, metal and mortar were raining down from the heavens; ozone was burning the nostrils of those without helmet filters.

“I will enjoy making you grovel before I end your miserable life,” another Bane Officer roared in a sadistic tone, as he held a heavy pistol to Morrison's head after knocking her to the ground. “These are the best troops you can muster against us. We will own this world by nightfall.” Sarah lost not a moment. Throwing her weight back onto her arms, she swung her legs together in a 360 degree arc cutting the Bane's legs out from under him. Before he could hit the ground, Sarah's right foot secured solid earth resulting in an upward thrust with her left foot solidly connecting to the Bane's lower torso. The Officer's body went flying several yards over the edge of the rampart wall tumbling head-over-heels into his approaching soldiers.

"Against toads like you, who needs troops?" Sarah answered in reply, as she hustled to reform her squad.

Again, the blasts slowed and abated. A sense of dread settled on the encampment, like the eye of a storm in the middle of a savage maelstrom. At first softly then gradually increasing in volume, the marching of steel feet could again be heard in a rising din. This time the approach was from the northeast, marching down the road from the Lower Eloh Creek. Several ranks of Stalkers, supported by a flight of Predators, marched toward the LZ followed by a squad of Caretakers and Technicians reviving fallen enemy as they approached. A squad of Linkers and Light Benders now controlled the high ground in the rocks east of the LZ sniping at the defenders. “Our backs are up against a wall. We cannot allow them to take the waypoint network. They could infiltrate all the AFS Encampments in the Wilderness Region before the transport codes could be changed,” Mandalore advised. “They could even take the Dropship Pad at Twin Pillars if their timing was fast enough. We have to fight with our bare hands, if necessary. Evacuate the wounded and incapacitated through the waypoint, and lay a defensive perimeter around it in the Outpost.” A universal sigh could be felt from the entrenched defenders as the weight of resignation fell upon them. Now, it was either kill or be killed. Our options were quickly dwindling.

A self-righteous declaration could be heard in broken guttural English over the weight of the silence. “The Thrax are the true masters of this world, and anyone who attempts to resist us will suffer the same fate as you. Surrender while you can,” announced an immense Bane Officer carrying a huge bloody axe, apparently an officer of some importance as other Bane cleared the path in front of him. The Officer stood arrogantly before the company of steel abominations. The heads of the Bane could be seen rising behind the trees to the west and north. For the third time today, we would have to defend the bloody mud beneath our feet.

"As long as one man stands, we will not bow before you. Any victory will be earned in blood, and you have yet to take it from us," SGT Mandalore roared defiantly. "The battle to control the cosmos begins here." Gaius dropped his empty chaingun, pulling an old samurai sword from its sheath beneath his pack. Gaius cut a line in the sand before him in defiance of the Bane.

At the Human’s words, the Officer lost all sense of his smug demeanor. "Attack! Attack! Attack!" the Officer declared as he charged headlong at Mandalore, axe in hand. When the imposing Bane reached the Ranger, Gaius' hands grabbed the beast’s shoulders falling backwards with the Officer's momentum. Planting his boot firmly in the Bane's abdomen, Gaius rolled backwards sending the snarling behemoth flying haphazzardly in the direction of the troops located to Mandalore's rear. Caught by surprise, the beast was fired upon by several AFS soldiers and quickly dispatched. Gaius readied his sword, a recreation of questionable strength, and charged at the approaching Bane soldiers. Limbs were separated from bodies and weapons knocked loose from enemy hands. The battle was joined and total chaos erupted again as both armies clashed in mutual hatred.

Several AFS dropships from nearby Outposts descended upon the conflagration. Wagner's message had gotten through. One landed in the LZ deploying troops and recovering wounded. Another found a clearing just north of the Outpost Barrier Gate. The last was hit by mortar fire crash-landing in the woods west of the Outpost. An Anubis Squad led by al-Saladin secured the crash zone, rescuing the personnel on board before the Hedgehog fully caught fire. Carrying the wounded pilot, Anubis Squad led the survivors back to the relative safety of the LZ. Meanwhile, other reinforcements flanked the slowly approaching mechs catching the Bane forces in a crossfire.

A huge Bane Hunter in mechanized armor deployed from a fast-moving Bane dropship into the middle of the fray. Flanked by a larger variety of what looked like Howlers, this combatant was a fury unleashed. Holding huge energy weapons in each hand, the mountain of a soldier swept the battlefield clear in a 360 degree circle around him. The Bane stepped back in deference to him. From the markings on his armor, this enemy appeared to be the new regional Bane Overlord. “Who is the Infidel who claims the land I walk upon? I want his scalp for my trophy. I will stretch his entrails on my pike as a standard, and his head will crown it as a warning to others with delusions of grandeur.”

Gaius Mandalore stepped forward holding his sword across his body, patting the blade against his open left gloved hand with blood and oil dripping from its surface. "I am the leader, and you are no threat. What makes you think that you may succeed where all your predecessors have failed?"

Gaius was not short by Human standards, standing a full six and a half feet tall. Despite his stature, he still stood a full three feet shorter than the giant before him. "Little human, make peace with your gods for today you will join them..." The Overlord threw his weapons to a Technician to his right, and turned to catch a huge double-bladed polearm from the Bane Officer to his left. The battle quieted and soon all eyes were on this mismatched pair as soldiers from both sides stepped back to further clear a circle to battle within.

The Overlord began to spin his polearm hand-over-hand back and forth across his body. The weapon itself was as long as the warrior was tall, and each blade appeared to be a three and a half foot spade. The first thrust came so fast that it sliced through Mandalore's armor chestplate as if it were made out of grease. The bite was not deep enough to reach skin, but Gaius would not misjudge the speed of this beast again.

Gaius leaned back in a defensive stance sword drawn in front of him, blade pointing straight down to the ground from his fist, his off-hand swept out behind him in a delicate balance. Gaius did not move. Gaius did not run. This inaction caught the Overlord by surprise. All past opponents tried to keep their distance, but this human must be a fool... The Overlord rushed Gaius, swinging wide to cut the Ranger in half in one stroke. With the Overlord’s forward momentum, Gaius took one step forward and to his left bringing his sword defensively to bear with both hands to his left guard. The strength of the Overlord's swing and clash with the Gaius' katana sliced the polearm clean in half between the spades. The upper severed blade went flying out of the circle, through another Bane soldier, and two and a half feet into the cliffside. The Overlord roared in rage, grasping the remaining spade as a broadsword wielded with two hands. Parry. Thrust. Feint. Steel rang out against steel. Gaius held his ground though both warriors were at a stalemate each failing to gain ground.

"Enough," bellowed the giant. With a nod of his head, two Bane Hunters shot SGT Mandalore from behind with Lightning Rifles, bringing Gaius to his knees, his sword still held up before him in both hands in a last futile act of defiance. The Overlord brought his weapon straight down to cleave Gaius Mandalore from forehead to abdomen.

A Magnesium Flash erupted between the Overlord and the stunned Ranger before him. A nearby Bane Soldier polymorphed into a young woman in tight black stealth armor wielding a filament blade. SFC Sarah Morrison deflected the falling blow saving Mandalore’s life. She followed this strike with a roundhouse kick to the Overlord’s abdomen, forcing him to double him over and fall several steps back. "If you can't play fair, then play with me," Sarah declared.

"Who do you think you are interrupting me?" the Overlord declared. "I'll break you in half, and then I will take this leader's head for my trophy." The Overlord rushed the much smaller soldier with both arms completely outstretched.

With a flick of her waist, Sarah spun her braced blade with her body. The Overlord's momentum pulled him directly into her. Morrison swung her sword upward in a crescent swing, ducking under the Overlords left outstretched arm. The giant grabbed at his own midsection attempting to hold in his own intestines as he bent forward in a lurch. With a second step, Sarah had her arm around the Overlord's neck. With a quick twist and snap, the battle was over. The Overlord's body crumbled before the stunned onlookers and a roar rose amid the AFS Defenders. Those Bane that remained immediately fell back in full retreat. The automated Predators and Stalkers began firing randomly into the crowd again. Only the Forean Machina continued to press forward after repeatedly rising from the ground. Several Specialists began demonstrating how to remove their Machina chips to keep them from rising again. Before long, even the Machina ceased to rise again.

Sarah Morrison half-smiled at the retreating Bane forces. Swapping her filament blade for her torqueshell rifle again, Sarah crouched and started to pick off the fleeing Bane from a distance. “You can flee… But you can’t escape.”

The battle collapsed into small pockets of resistance as the remaining constructs began to fall. Before long, only several Stalkers remained. Equipped with some type of heavier armor, these mechs were difficult to bring down, requiring multiple squads of our strongest soldiers to defeat them. Coordinated attacks with EMS weapons seemed to finally do the trick.

SFC Sarah Morrison addressed the remaining defenders. She paused briefly as the battered soldiers stepped forward. "Good work. Your efforts are much appreciated. I will report to General British the events of this afternoon. We shall see if we can rotate some of you out for R&R to Alia Das or perhaps Foreas Base.” Sarah stopped speaking for another moment, pacing a few steps. "I may have special assignments for you in the future..." SFC Morrison paced back another several steps, considering her words. "For now, press the counterattack. Follow the Bane to their nest and hit them hard while they are licking their wounds. Good Hunting!!!”

As the crowd dispersed, Sarah turned and walked back to where the medics were treating Gaius’ wounds. “You have some ability with a sword, but you need more training. See the Special Operations Trainers at either Fort Defiance or Outpost Intrepid. Good work.” Moments later, Sarah boarded the Hedgehog back in the LZ and departed for her next mission. She only mentioned that it was classified and involved morale for the troops.

Now is the time to care for the living. The Bane will be back. Today was a victory, but it was earned in blood. By attacking the Landing Zone Outpost and the Foreans directly, the Bane have awakened a sleeping giant. The AFS are called upon to do what they do best: to make war... The Bane will reap the whirlwind...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Moral Differences

I never would have imagined being on a new world. If it weren't for the Foreans here in Alia Das or the strange looking animals, I could have sworn I was back at home in the Northwest Florida woodlands.

I went to a military school in Missouri named Wentworth. I always wanted to be a soldier. I even became an officer. I had an uneventful career in the reserves; I never even got to go to the sandbox. I resolved myself to a civilian career of working on computers and taking care of my young family.

I was just returning from a business trip when the Bane struck. I-10 was a smoldering mess of charred asphalt and burning wreckage, and Hwy 90 was not much better. I continued to push forward (thank goodness for 4WD trucks). I had to get home. I had to protect my family. When I arrived the house was gone. It was splinters and debris. It looked like it was struck by a hurricane or a tornado. My wife and kids were missing. There were no bodies, and all the animals had gotten loose too. My sweetheart is a survivor. I will find them all.

I didn't think much about guns after my time in the service. Man, that was a mistake; I should have taken advantage of my right to bear arms. I didn't even hunt like most of my neighbors. I scrounged for what I could find. I could barely fit into my old uniform; camoflague would be a must in the near future. The only weapons that I could find were a survival knife and samurai sword that was a gift from a friend. It had a full tang; I hope it would hold up. I had studied martial arts since I was a kid, but, other than a few fistfights growing up, I never really had to use it.

I started to head back into town. I wanted to rendevous with the local guard unit and offer my services as a troop or whatever. Once a soldier always a soldier, and I needed real weapons. As I crossed the Shoal River, I heard a low flying aircraft, and I ducked into the woods. I heard a human voice over what I thought was a megaphone calling me to come out. Soon I was surrounded by troops in strange uniforms with strange weapons. They hustled me into something that looked like a dropship from Starship Troopers. "If you want to find your family, come with us."

I was taken to a camp with hundreds of other refugees and herded to a pillar of light coming from an elevated ring system; they called it a wormhole. I didn't see my family anywhere. I was not given any options. I heard chatter from the troops pushing us along about something called Logos-sensitive. It did not make sense. I thought I was losing my mind from too many years watching Star Trek and Star Wars; this was unreal.

Well, here I am on Foreas going through basic training again. The Foreans are mostly friendly, except this Apirka character. He wanted me to arrest this Forean kid that had shown aptitude in Logos-energy, like me. The thing was he did not want to be a soldier. He was a Ranger and one of the Elders mentioned that he could one day be a Shaman or Healer. Logos seems to be the key to survival here, so I am going with my gut on this one, just like my sergeants taught me back at the academy. You make a leadership call and live with it, for better or worse, at least you make a decision. Besides, it is the right thing to do. We may have lost earth, but we have not lost our humanity. I guess we have moral differences.

The sirens are ringing, so that means the Thrax are back. I have killed a couple hundred so far; I have really lost count. The natives call me a Hunter now. I found this strange, since I never touched a gun back home. It doesn't matter. They are in between me and my family, and that is a bad place to be.

Mandalore, out...


“Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa game content and materials are trademarks and copyrights of NCsoft Corporation and its Licensors and used with permission. All rights reserved.”