Sairraith Katana closed her eyes and opened her mind. She felt the tendrils of her consciousness reaching out and...making contact. She felt the sentience of a small Infranite War Party, probably Paache, which meant they were fast and supported by a Volcano BAP. And elsewhere were minds similar to those under her command, but not as focused or well-tuned. She identified the mental characteristics as those of UNE Commandos, undisciplined but fierce, and over-confident behind two Behemoth assault units. Sairraith Katana opened her eyes.
She was not surprised to find others here, on this distant and isolated planet deep within Machine territory, as close to the rift as any organic life-form had come within the past fifty years. Katana knew that the Black Empire was not the only sentient race searching desperately for some clue as to the Machines' origin, and she knew that there would be others operating here beside her own Sanafire deep-recon team. An Infranite Prospecting Company was to be expected, but she had to admit that the presence of a UNE Survey force was interesting. She had been unaware that the UNE possessed the technology to send a military survey force so deep behind the Machine lines, and that they had the resources to survive without the support of supply lines.
It was also little wonder that the three craft, including her own, vectoring toward the huge and ancient carbonite pyramid would arrive at roughly the same time. Until moments before the pyramid had been dampened by an absorbant energy field and was thus invisible to sensors. As soon as that shield had dropped, all three races in the vicinity became immediately aware of it presence--and its potential importance. It had been built by ancient, alien hands, and even the most cursory sensor sweeps revieled that it contained a still-active computer network. The contents of that network may hold the clues that each of them had been searching for...
The Sanafire landing craft crashed through the jungle's canopy and met the earth with spine-jarring force. Katana's understrength talon lept into the humid atmosphere as soon as the assault doors burst. Katana directed her Raptor armor toward the pyramids entrance at a dead run, the ad-hoc Seth Talon and her own Takkar guard close behind. As she tasked her armor to cross the distance in the shortest possible time, she allowed her mind to analyze the tactical challenge she was about to encounter. She was confident in herself and her troops--this is why she had chosen Adrakkar Jeda to lead the Seth Triad instead of an Aseth Drakkar. Whereas all high-ranking Drakkar were great individual warriors, trained with the efficiency of a finely honed d-blade, Jeda possessed that quality so often lacking in the males of the Black Empire dynasties--the ability to lead. Seth Drakkar under his leadership performed even beyond their normal heroic standards. Katana often suspected that Jeda possessed the gift, but since psychic testing was never performed on males, she would never know. Regardless, she was confident that her own abilities as a warrior, backed up by the unquestioning loyalty of her Takkar, and the unique talent of her Seth Triad leader, were more than a match for either of her adverseries. The only troubling fact was that the UNE and Infranite were well-known for their cooperation. All the same, these had to be independant, national forces. The League of Aliens could never have authorized an unsupported penetration this deep behind Machine lines. Katana hoped that the Infranite-UNE spirit of cooperation did not extend to black bag operations, and planned on tasking a gifted part of her own consciousness to clouding her enemies minds with negative thoughts.
She reached the pyramid's entrance. With the flick of a wrist her d-sword cut through it effortlessly. And without hesitation she stepped into the darkness...
Talmage rounded a corner and noticed several icons on his HUD moving quickly toward him. He fingered the AutoRAMs trigger and prepared for the first catch of the day. Suddenly a parallax bomb burst right in front of him and two Drakkar raced behind it past his line of fire. Bastards, Talmage thought, somebody's gonna pay for that...he searched his three-sixty and found the Seth that had thrown the bomb hiding in the room right in front of him. The clever little bugger had thrown the bomb in such a way that its inertia-dampening field blocked Talmage but left a corridor in which the Seth could remain free of the bomb's effects. Talmage kicked his Behemoth into a run and charged the Seth. At the last moment he took a quick left and stepped out of the inertia-dampening field with a good six meters between him and the bugger. Talmage could swear he registered disappointment in the Seth's posture--the idiot thought Talmage would get close enough to let him swing his d-blade. Instead the Seth was forced to take a futile pot-shot with his disintigrator, which had about as much affect against the behemoth as farting into a tornado. Talmage rotated his right CDP and watched the Seth disintigrate under a spray of plasma.
Then a poison-seed grenade went off next to him. The force-field shrapnel thankfully missed Talmage, serving only to alert him to the presence of the two Takkar hiding in the corridor a few meters ahead on his left. Talmage didnt hesitate as he continued forward, crossing the corridor, and letting his Independant Targeting System detonate his left SPLAT. The Takkar Lancer screamed hideously as the scattered plasma of the directional mine ripped thousands of holes through the armor and the soft skin beneath it, but the Tarnak Grenadier who had launched the grenade survived the blast. The Grenadier stood his ground and got off another shot as Talmage skidded to a halt and turned the armor to face the bothersome enemy. But the grenade disappeared into the inertia-dampening field. Talmage double-tapped his own Auto-Grenade Launcher and watched with Satisfaction as the super-heated plasma ripped through the Tarnak's armor like it was paper. God bless plasma, thought Talmage, the UNE Trooper's best friend.
Talmage turned his unscratched Behemoth toward the primary objective--the pyramid's computer terminal--and set out to go Storm Angel hunting. And he hoped that Specialist Sculley was doing as well leading the assault against the Infranites...
The two warriors made contact with the UNE before Haji reached the antechamber, but their battlecries were cut-off by multiple Scattered Plasma directional mines detonated by the Behemoth. Haji commanded the Volcano to take down the Behemoth, but the Volcanos twin-linked chaincannons missed, and the pilot was forced to rely on his independant targeting system to guide a rocket into the Behemoth's chest. Haji watched the action from the Volcano pilot's point-of-view--the Volcano's sensor data overlayed Hajis visor as a ghostly image--as the Behemoth erupted into a shrapnel bomb of liquid metal, synthetic weave and human intestine. Haji immediately warned the Volcano's pilot of a UNE Heavy Weapon Trooper following close behind the Behemoth, and the Volcano prepared its defenses. Twenty-five yards further down the corridor a UNE Commando stepped into the Volcano's line of sight, attempting to draw fire away from the heavily-armed plasma Trooper that was planning to mug the Volcano. The Volcano pilot wisely ignored the Commando's threat, wisely, thought Haji, until the Commando triggered an incredibly accurate burst of blaster autofire that penetrated the Volcano's visor and ripped through the pilot's head. The ghost-image overlay of Hajis visor disappeared.
Now Haji was in the antechamber, and already tempest assault rifles were barking to his left. His remaining warriors were fighting off the UNE that had so easily destroyed his left-flank guard, while his chain-gunner started sending flechettes across the chamber toward the Black Empire Drakkar on the other side. Haji turned to face his remaining warriors and direct their defense of the antechamber.
Her raptor's on-board computer beeped when the download was complete. She turned, the huge raptor armor moving with all the grace of a bird, and stepped out into the antechamber.
She was surprised to find so few of her command still alive. The UNE had proven a worthy adversary, the sheer aggression of their attack steam-rolling the hastily prepared defenses of her Drakkar and Takkar. Jeda's entire Triad lay dead, two of their bodies spread throughout the antechamber and a third some distance away where the Talon first made contact with the UNE. There, too, lay the bodies of two of her personal Takkar guard. Though they had failed to kill many of the earth-dogs, they had faired better than the Infranites at slowing the UNE attack, and provided Katana with the precious time she had needed to download the information. She noticed the Behemoth that had cut through her troops advancing on the guards that even now steadfastly protected her. But now, with the data safely stored within her armor's computer, she no longer needed protection. Now she was free to fight. And now the UNE would pay.
Another round of fire and counter-fire erupted in front of him, and two more UNE Commandos and two of Haji's warriors fell. The Chain Gunner exchanged fire with the UNE Sergeant to the far South, and the Diamond PBA proved insufficient to stop the plasma bolt the Sergeant aimed with deadly precision. Now Haji, like the Black Empire leader, was alone without support. But the UNE, too, had only two warriors left--a Commando Sergeant to the South and Warrant Officer to the North. Once more Haji uttered a brief prayer to his totem spirit. And this time, his prayer was answered with a vision.
Haji was a member of primal tribe Paache, Mohica reminded him, and the Paache are known for their speed, not their stamina. Leave it to the cowardly Krayl to hold defensive positions against the enemy, the Paache must always be moving, and must always take the path least expected. Mohica disappeared but his voice remained fresh in Hajis mind. Instead of chasing down the Storm Angel to the South, Haji turned North and sprinted toward the UNE Warrant Officer.
The Warant Officer was surprised, and tried to turn, but he was not quick enough avoid Haji's razor armblades. Then Haji turned South to face the Sergeant--but the Sergeant had abandoned his position to try and prevent the Storm Angel from escaping. Haji sprinted across the full expanse of pyramid, emerging at the Black Empire exit even before the Sairraith Drakkar, who had had a full thirty-yard head start.
Haji waited. The UNE Sergeant had succeeded in blowing down the Storm Angel's protective energy field before dying under her blade, and so now the Storm Angel was acting more cautiously. She waited within the corridor, forcing Haji to come to her. It's a shame, thought Haji, an aggressive warrior is much more powerful than a defensive one. That was the wisdom Mohica had blessed him with in his vision. That is why Haji would be the last warrior standing within pyramid. The Storm Angel was making it all to easy, he thought, as he pulled the pin on his K-Pulse grenade...