The cries and howls of the wolf pack mourning their lost companion grew dim as the higher walls of the canyon widened again as they descended back down the valley. The rain stopped and the clouds broke revealing the eerie greenish glow from twin moons.
“Cheese. Stinky, green cheese,” Oliver said, pausing to look up before setting his gaze on the valley that opened to their left.
Barklay used the pause to finger another dental hygiene tab out of his pocket. The first one was wearing off and the retched taste of that mouthful of water was returning. Melissa plopped down, pulled a boot off, and reached in, her fingers searching for the small rock that had become her personal hellish torment.
Natalia habitually twirled her blasters a couple of times before sliding them back into their holsters. She smirked, unknowingly, at the comfort the weight and feel of the weapons against her thighs brought her. “Oi, boss? Anything,” she said.
Oliver had his helmet on scanning the valley through the HUD and retrieving a single geologic sensor ball. The hiss of escaping oxygen preceded the nano’s releasing the faceplate and “un-zipping” down the neck and collar so it could be taken off. Oliver shoved the faceplate back into its pocket on his sleeve.
“Yea,” he said transferring some data to the others. “First, the demonstration Barbara gave when she gave us the new armor didn’t do it justice. The detail is amazing. I’ve sent you the clearest path so when you fire up your HUD it’ll be marked.”
“Are they still in the cave?” Barkley inquired before washing his mouth out with water from a canteen and spitting it out.
“You see ‘em through the HUD or just the little geo balls?” Natalia asked.
“Just the balls, the HUD can’t seem to penetrate rock,” Oliver said.
“Wonder why that is,” Natalia mumbled.
Melissa pulled her boot back on and stood, rubbing her ass. “Probably because the little geo balls were made to, you know, look through rock and the armor wasn’t,” she said.
“I know that, I was putting the coming task in the back of my mind,” Natalia said.
“And I know why little sister. This night has been shit, hell this entire job is shit, and soon we’re probably going to get into a massive shoot out,” Melissa said wrapping Natalia in her arms and planting a kiss on her cheek. “Speaking of shit, you stink.”
Natalia reached up gently taking Melissa’s hands in her own and leaning her head into her friend, “So do you bitch.”
The armor, Barbara said, was standard issue Galactic Marine and a gift from Oliver’s old friend Drago the spook. When she delivered it Barklay couldn’t help notice that hers was slightly different in look and texture. When he pressed she’d simply reiterated theirs was standard marine. “But, you’re not standard marine Major, you’re Spec Op,” he said. She ignored him and continued the way she did with Oliver before he accepted he didn’t have the necessary need-to-know. What Barbara couldn’t say was that her armor, banned by Earth, was perfected stealth and could stop much heavier weapons fire than standard issue.
“And shootouts are why we don’t do people,” Oliver mused.
“Um, Oliver we did do that job with Makinaw,” Barklay said.
“Okay we do…did people when the money was right, but those twenty-five million GC’s are worth exactly dick now,” Oliver said.
“And that’s another reason to be pissed at the assholes who started this war,” Natalia said drawing away from Melissa and taking a defensive stance. “Those assholes up in that cave, the fucking traitors, they helped to start this war.”
Remembering why they’d been recruited the four set off with renewed vigor towards the cave; they made their way down into this new valley, their HUDs highlighting the near invisible path snaking up alongside the cave. Their path was temporarily hidden from the cave entrance by massive boulders that had been deposited in the area eons ago. When the boulder field ended they were above the entrance moving slowly, deliberately at a narrow angle down towards it.
Oliver glanced at his command console Two hours of air. At least the environmental system flushes the stink out.
Barklay had taken point when they began the ascent and now he was poised on a knee with his rifle leveled on the cave. The weapons scope was hooked into his HUD and a fire inside that licked the edges of the cave opening causing the night vision to increase the eerie creepiness of the moons greenish glow setting his hackles on end. He cycled to infrared then x-ray fully aware of first Natalia’s presence, then Melissa, followed shortly by Oliver kneeling beside him.
“Anything,” Oliver whispered more out of habit than anything; the armor prevented their voices from carrying on the now windless night.
“I’ll take point now,” Oliver said slipping past the others towards the dancing light from the flames.
“Oliver stop,” Kara said.
“What is it Kara?” Oliver asked continuing on.
“I’ve been scanning the area and believe some of the rocks may not be—,”
The blast threw Oliver backwards and rolling down the side of the hill a few meters. Only the sound of the explosion could be heard as it made no flash, but the boom was deafening even though the armor’s exterior audio sensors were tuned low.
“Oliver! Oliver!” Kara exclaimed.
Barklay rushed forward and rolled him onto his back groping for Oliver’s command console to check his vitals.
“Barklay, the new armor has prevented any internal damage, but his hearing may be affected. His blood pressure has spiked as has his pulse.”
Melissa and Natalia rushed forward to Barklay’s side falling to their knees. Melissa cradled his head while Natalia grabbed his free hand and gave Barklay a pleading look.
“Kara’s right. He’ll be fine,” Barklay said and Oliver opened his eyes.
“What the hell happened?”
“You blew our damn surprise attack is what happened,” Melissa said.
Only moments had passed since Oliver stepped on the homemade land mine when the first shots ripped through the night. In practiced symmetry Melissa and Natalie un-holstered and returned fire. Barklay grabbed Oliver by the handle on the back of his armor and drug him further down the slope behind the safety of a boulder. Melissa and Natalia provided the cover as they matched Barklay’s movement.
“This is why we don’t do people,” Oliver said sitting up and massaging his neck.
Barklay smiled and un-slung his rifle flicking the safety off and over to full auto then he stood and leveled a barrage at the mouth of the cave before taking cover again.
“What’s the plan now?” Natalia asked before sneaking her blasters around the corner of the boulder and getting several shots of her own off.
Oliver brought up the earlier topological scans on his HUD searching for the safest path. “The plan is this, Missy and Barklay break right to the next boulder. Nat, you and I are gonna press forward to the boulder in front of this one. Ready?”
Barklay stood and laid down suppressing fire as Oliver and Natalia, bent low at the waist, moved quickly to their target. As soon as they were set Oliver and Natalia provided the other two with the same courtesy. Slowly the hunters leap frogged their way towards the cave until they could clearly understand the shouts from the hunted.
“Why do they always have to call us cunts and whores?” Melissa asked.
“Why can’t they call us cocks and dicks for a change?” Natalia asked Oliver before turning her mike volume to max. “Hey! Traitorous assholes in the cave! This bounty specifies dead or alive so which would you like?” She was answered by a hail of laser and plasma fire.
“Melissa, are you close enough to use those grenades?”
“Nope. Barklay, give me your rifle.”
Melissa and Natalia gave cover while Oliver and Barklay tossed four grenades into the cave. The hunt was over and Oliver registered the bio-signatures of the dead.
“Kara, power up the ship and come get us,” Melissa said.
“Powering up. I have added a series of fragrances and other compounds to the ships bath water supply. That coupled with a thorough sonic shower should get the stink out of all of you.”