AUDIO LOG 3
[Opens with crackling static on the earth radio band and the whine-and-chatter of Hobbes's minigun mount firing in long bursts.]
BORG: [nearby] "--let that shit rain all over the rovers! I just cleaned those things, goddammit!"
ELLISON: [distant, unintelligible]
BORG: "'Cos you're a lousy shot, Caveman! If ya can't hit it, push it back so it don't come within shock range! Those things can zap a grown man dead at ten meters!"
CHIEF: "Ten-nine, Sweet Home. We're sweeping some of the local pigeons off our roof. We got the coordinates, but say that last bit again. Over."
WARREN: [static] "--straightest course to target area is through the slough northwest of your position by about nine kilometers. Should be obvious on the map when it renders: it's where the river seeps into the surrounding landscape. It's the only path across the river within a hundred kilometers. Even then, the marshy terrain might swallow the rovers. Over."
CHIEF: "We'll walk if we have to. These lazy sunsabitches could use the exercise. Over."
WARREN: "The target of interest is pretty small on our scan, but it's just on the edge of the map. Should see more of it when you cross the slough. Over."
CHIEF: "You're sure it's human this time?"
PARKER: "Your transmission is still rendering, Sweet Home. Please hold."
[Minigun fire for a few moments, Ellison cheering. The IPS grinding away.]
PARKER: "I've marked the area on our map, Sweet Home. It's human, all right. Uh, that is, according to Paxton's scan key. Scan shows it's white, so that ought to mean earth metals." [pause] "Uh, over."
WARREN: [static] "--having some technical difficulties over here. Contact us again when y--" [long hiss of static] "Proceed with caution. Out."
[Chief grumbles something under his breath.]
ELLISON: "Bogeys splattered, Chief!"
BORG: "And it only took him half a goddamned belt of ammo."
ELLISON: "Aw, c'mon, Sergeant--"
AUDIO LOG 4
[Opens with roaring engines in the foreground, echoing and fading as the ATRVs slowly drive inside the 'Keep. As the engines fade, the background noise becomes apparent: general hustle and bustle of Inferno Team, and a distant chorus of hideous calls that bridge the gap between whale, bird, and ghost.]
CHIEF: [aside] "--moving! Adams, strike that tent in the next ten seconds or I'm leaving you outside! Move it!" [to mic] "Mission log update. Mass migration of death heads in progress, bound for our position. Team and equipment being moved to the altar room until it passes. Assuming they don't already know we're here, they shouldn't notice our presence. Otherwise we may need additional support. More as it develops."
BORG: "Rovers are inside, Chief."
CHIEF: "Good. Help the kids strike the base."
BORG: "Dammit, Adams!"
ADAMS: "I know how ta do it, Sir! The damn thing's stuck on--"
AUDIO LOG 5
[Calls of the migrating death heads still audible, but muffled by the walls of the 'Keep. No other sounds in the background -- Inferno Team is quiet, possibly resting.]
PARKER: [softly, nearby] "--think we're being punished?"
CHIEF: [inquisitive grunt] "Say again, Slim."
PARKER: "Do you think God is punishing us? With this...with the invasion. Cashing in all the terrible, selfish things we've done as a species."
CHIEF: [laughs] "I thought scientists were logical people. No room for spiritualism."
PARKER: "We can believe in God and be scientists at the same time. It's not that weird."
CHIEF: "Slim, I've already been punished with endless war for the last twelve years. If that's God's work, I'd sure as hell love to know what I did to piss him off."
[Silence for a minute, then a long sigh from Chief.]
CHIEF: "Fuck it. Forgot what I was gonna say now."
PARKER: "What--? Oh! Oh, you were recor--"
AUDIO LOG 6
[Opens with the roaring ATRV engines and occasional chatter between the marines and doctors.]
ADAMS: [Sings an unidentified country song, her voice shaking from the bumpy ride.]
WARREN: [on radio] "We read you, Inferno Team. Go ahead. Over."
CHIEF: "We've descended the mountain on the morning of Day Four, after the last trace of death head migration was off our radar. Now heading northwest to the slough. Over."
[Whirring wheels and squealing Adams as Hobbes goes briefly airborne, then touches ground again with a rough thud.]
ADAMS: "I think I like Olsen's driving better, Chief!"
CHIEF: "Try to avoid the Dukes o' Hazzard Stunt Course route from now on, Doc."
OLSEN: [laughing] "Sorry, Chief."
CHIEF: "Crazy-ass viking."
[Adams resumes singing.]
WARREN: "Drive safe, Inferno Team. Check in again when you reach the slough. Out."
TEXT LOG 4
Taking five to rest. Everyone's a little shaken after our last encounter.
IPS can track the energy signature of a death head, which is why it can tell us whenever they're in our vicinity. It can't do the same for other hellspawn types. A herd of bulldogs for example.
We were traveling single-file with Hobbes in front. The rovers clock in at 80 mph so we were making good time when we came to the hill. Hobbes went right up the hill with no trouble, and came down the other side...right in the midst of fifty bulldogs, if I had to hazard a guess. Adams and I immediately opened up on them, parting the herd like Moses. Calvin came through behind us as it started to close up again -- came out of the herd with three bulldogs clinging to the rear fender and the other forty-seven hot on its tail, snarling and slavering.
Bastards were only half as fast as the rovers, but the terrain got disagreeable at that point: we'd get about a block ahead of the stampede, then have to slow down 'til they were drooling on our tires in order to make a turn or dodge around a fallen tree, or else risk rolling the rovers. A pack of shit-imps must've spotted us from the top of the hills because now and then starbursts would sail over our heads or explode against the chassis. I sighted one long enough to put a trilogy of lead into one of its arteries, but the rest vanished too quick.
Then over my right shoulder came a bang so loud I could feel it shove the rover as if hurrying us along; looked behind us just in time to see a rainstorm of demon giblets and a black mushroom cloud rising into the air. In Calvin's backseat I saw Ellison loading the RPG-7 with another rocket. The herd was down to about thirty strong and a couple of them were starting to wise up, turn tail and run. The second rocket scattered the herd long enough for us to put three blocks between us and them.
Naturally that's when we came to the steep incline and fucked ourselves.
Hobbes went down at an angle, skidding down the hill in a dust storm of ash-colored soil; we hit the bottom sideways and rolled. I may have blacked out, and my lungs had collapsed and left me coughing, my nostrils choked with a soiled ash scent. Olsen was conscious but in shock, staring at the steering wheel. Took me what felt like an hour to realize Hobbes was lying on its side (my side specifically), and Adams and the minigun were gone. When we heard Calvin's engine roaring down the incline and the snarling herd not far behind it, me and Olsen both scrambled to unfasten our belts.
I know what happened next, but the order of events is foggy. I remember Calvin landed better than we did (on all fours, ironically unlike the one we'd named after the cat), and Parker expertly skidded in a J-turn behind the crashed Hobbes. I remember Ellison helping me and Olsen to upright Hobbes as fast as we could, soiling our envirosuits with terror as the herd's snarls grew deafening. I remember spotting the minigun turret half-buried in a pile of ash gravel twenty-five feet away, with the barrels pointing toward the direction of the herd, which we could still hear but didn't yet see. I remember watching Adams -- on her back about fifteen feet from the turret -- wrestle with a stray bulldog that had approached us from behind, before drawing her sidearm and putting four bullets in its throat.
I remember seeing Borg jump out of Calvin with the BFG 9000 in his arms -- damned thing looks like a white, full-size vacuum cleaner with a black metal underjaw. I remember wondering how he could configure it with inhumanly steady hands while mine were already shaking so badly that a revolver reload was out of the question.
Borg's the best man I ever served with. The thought of losing him turns my stomach sideways. He seemed disappointed when I ordered him to hand over the weapon and move the team behind the blast zone. The herd was just coming over the top of the incline when I locked the BFG's gyro-mount arm over my right shoulder and switched it from "pulse" to "overdrive."
I took three paces back from the base of the incline and waited for the rovers to get about a block away; waited for the first row of the bulldog legion to touch down at my level before I squeezed the trigger.
They got two steps closer while the weapon hummed, building up its charge. Then it sneezed out a small green supernova that vaporized the bulldog immediately in front of me before branching out into a forty-tentacled electric horror, thrashing its tendrils into the herd's ranks and deep-frying any living thing they touched -- like I'd just opened the Arc of the Covenant on them. Most of the dumb animals were reduced to blackened, crumbling husks before their comrades realized what'd happened; by the time they did, there was only seven of them left standing.
I chucked the BFG and finished six of them with my bear killer -- loaded with magnum hollow points that didn't leave much of their skulls behind. The last one scrambled back up the incline and just made it to the top before Borg chopped it down with his ACR.
No casualties on our end, though Adams is pretty banged up: she'd used her terrain-jumpers to fly clear of the rover at the last second, and came away with a dislocated left shoulder and five stitches for the gash on her forehead. The docs unloaded a stimpack on her, so she should heal up pretty quick -- at least long enough to last the rest of the mission. She'll crash hard when that shit wears off.
I scolded Doc Parker for reaching for the "berzerk" pack first, almost wasting it on non-lethal injuries. Adams is energetic enough as it is.
Turret mount is a loss, but the minigun is still functional. Borg configured it for infantry use: swapped for the short barrels and a double-drum magazine. It's his now, to make up for my stealing his BFG glory.
Glory. Guess that's why the idiots back home feed me that "war hero" bullshit: all the times I put my head in the lion's mouth to keep my troops from being swallowed. My last military psychologist said I have a death wish, which is moronic: I wanna live to see my kids again more than anything. Maybe I'm always trying to do my troops a favor, knowing they got families to miss, too.
We set up camp on the edge of the slough just a few minutes ago. The rancid brown river dies off here and bleeds into a soggy spread of marshland several miles across at the skinniest point. The barbed "agony trees" are thick here, standing on their roots at about thirty feet tall, and even uglier when they got vegetation: olive green ropes of moss dangle from the boughs and into the water like jellyfish tentacles. The boughs are thick with mossy tufts: anything could be watching us from up there and we wouldn't be able to see it 'til it dropped onto our heads.
We're waiting for the IPS scan to show a larger picture of the target area before we go slogging across.
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