Bughunters 2 Wolf Pack

Bughunters (Amazing Engine) –  RPG sessions.  Run by Jason (jymmijamz)

Players – Me (NightUlf) = Charlie Chiung, Chris (alcoholandaphorism) = Rhobyn O’Leary, and Will = Richard Strawbridge.

All previous second encounter game sessions written as one by Jason (jymmijamz).  Art also by Jason (jymmijamz).

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So here we are back in the world of Bughunters, back to the near future!

We find ourselves on the planet Wolf 259/7. The seventh planet of the Wolf 259 system characterised by rolling grasslands and forests, the sky has a slight orange hue and a gravity slightly higher than Earth. Insects are the predominant life forms, most notably the herds of nomadic ant like creatures roaming the plains.

We join our hero’s, our band of brothers, our warriors three, planet side. Having landed, the platoon spends the rest of the day setting up camp, organising a perimeter and unloading supplies and kit. The next day all unnecessary personnel are given a rest pass. Our little band of deviants decides to take the opportunity to head into town for some drinking and carousing. Jumping on the first transport heading into town they make the ten mile journey, having landed well clear of the colonial capital, a town called Newton, to protect it from the ships back wash and any trouble that the ship may attract. Their transport had been passing through farmland for the last ten minutes or so when the town came into view. It appeared to be made up of shipping containers with doors and windows cut into them.

 

As the transport entered town it was forced to pause at a junction, to allow a farmers wagon train to head out of town, back to the fields. Looking around our trio spot a large building off to the right made of several containers stacked and welded together. Over the door was a sign emblazoned with the name Eli’s General Store. As the transport moved on, our threesome spotted a structure in the middle of the junction, apparently made from a ships support struts with what looked like an Isler drive jump pod on the top.

The APV finally dropped the three marines outside the council chambers, also a large building constructed from multiple shipping containers. Standing on the steps of the chambers the trio looked out over the towns central square – if you can call it that, being oval and all – off to their left they can see the towns communications and radio building, which appeared to be made from the stripped down flight deck and com’s array from the original settlers ship. Next to it was a building signed as Shilocks Saloon, and opposite it was the Wanderers Arms.

“Let’s try Shilock’s.”  Private One O’Leary said in his broad Irish brogue. “It looks like my sort of place.”

The guy’s headed across the square, and pushing open the doors of Shilocks Saloon, they enter.

Stepping in out of the mid morning sunshine, our heroes pause a second to allow their eyes to adjust to the relatively shadowed interior. Looking around it looked pretty quiet, just a few patrons sitting quietly drinking what looked like mugs of Caff. Looking to his friends Starhand Strawbridge wandered over to the bar, whilst Chiung and O’Leary took seats close by.

“Howdy! What can I get you?” the barman said as he put down the glass he was cleaning and stepped up to the bar.

“Three cups of Caff please.” SH Strawbridge replied.

The barman looked Strawbridge over as he set about pouring the three drinks. “Are you off the ship that landed yesterday?” he asks.

“Yep!”

“Here to help us with our problem?”

“You have a problem? I’m sorry we haven’t been briefed yet.” After a brief pause Strawbridge continued. “What could you tell me about your problem?”

All the while there had been a steady stream of comments and questions of a colourful nature coming from the table occupied by the two marines; more telling was the fact that the most vocal of the voices, pitched in a carrying stage whisper, had a strong Irish accent. The barman cast a disparaging look over the Starhand’s shoulder “Friends of yours?”

“You could say that.” Strawbridge answered with a slight shrug.

“Well if he doesn’t keep it down, I will have to ask you all to leave. We are just simple farmers, things do tend to liven up a little at the end of the day when everyone comes back in from the fields, but at this time of day we like to keep things quiet, so that business can be conducted!”

SH Strawbridge looked back at his colleagues before turning back to the barman. “I’m sorry! I will talk to them. Now you were saying something about the troubles?”

“Just be sure you do!” Giving PO O’Leary one last look of distain the barman turns his attention back to Strawbridge. “Yes. The troubles, there’s not a lot I can tell you, other than the fact that there have been attacks on farms and crops further north.”

“Really, what can you tell me about the attacks?”

The barman shrugged his shoulders. “As I told you. Not a lot.” With that he hesitated and glanced to the far end of the bar. “You should talk to old man Hubble if you want to know more, he’s had firsthand experience hisself. It was on account of what happened to his family that a call for help was put out in the first place.”

“Thank you, maybe I will talk to Mr Hubble.” With that SH Strawbridge picked up the three cups of Caff and headed back to the table where he deposited the cups and told PO O’Leary what the barman had said.

“This place stinks! There’s more fun to be had in a nunnery, on Sunday.”

“Just drink your Caff and keep the noise down!” leaving O’Leary to sulk SH Strawbridge wandered over to the old man sitting at the end of the bar hunched over his glass. “The barman tells me you’re the one to ask about the troubles.”

Instead of answering the old guy picks up his glass, and finishing his drink in one long swallow, places it in front of our hero. After weighing up his options SH Strawbridge signalled the barkeep to refill Hubble’s drink. The young engineer took the opportunity to take a closer look at the oldster, and was surprised to realise that this supposed old men was in fact only in his mid fifties. After knocking back his new drink Hubble turned to SH Strawbridge. “That Shilock’s a good man, but he should leave a man be to grieve!”

“I’m sorry for disturbing you, but I am just trying to find out what’s going on. Maybe we can help.”

Hubble locked eyes with Strawbridge, and then glanced down at his now empty glass. After doing so several times he gave a slight shrug and continued. “It’s the farmsteaders! They’ve all gone mad.”

“Mad?”

“Yea, mad. Running around, burning everyone’s crops. Why just last week they knocked out the connection with Upton.” Strawbridge noted that there was a steady increase in mutters and snickers coming from the table behind him. Looking over at his friends he frowns, the two of them have their heads together passing comments back and fore, occasionally looking at him and laughing. Seeing Strawbridge looking at them they stop laughing, sit up straight, stare at him and then looked down at their empty mugs. After doing so a couple of times they looked at each other and fell about laughing. Shaking his head SH Strawbridge turned back to Hubble “Really! And how were you affected, Shilock said you had had some personal experience of them.” Hubble paused, and looked down at his still empty glass. Seeming to gather his nerve, Hubble looked Strawbridge in the eye. “It was some five months or so ago. One evening, as we was bringing in the first cart load of crops. We was set upon by a pack of those nutters, I managed to get away.” He pauses, takes a deep breath, swallows and continues. “But my family didn’t. I went back, but there was no sign of them. When I made it to town the Sherriff sent out some of his boys to investigate, and when they failed to return he sent out a larger party to look for them. But they never returned either. That was when the call was sent out for help.”

Strawbridge paused a moment as shylock appeared with another drink, Hubble gave him a grateful smile.

“Your family has been missing for five months! And a search hasn’t been mounted yet?”

“What can we do? People go out looking and they don’t come back! That is why we called for help.” Strawbridge could see how upsetting Hubble was finding their conversation. “I’ll tell you what. I don’t know what our mission is, but if we can help find your family we will.”

“Thank you, my friend. But I fear it’s already too late for them.” Strawbridge laid a hand on Hubble’s shoulder. “We will know more in a few days, I think.” Giving Hubble’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze, Strawbridge headed over to rejoin his friends and tell them what he had discovered. After a short discussion, in which they all agreed that there wasn’t much that they could do for the time being, they decided to try the other bar across the square.

Entering The Wanderers Arms, they found it to be a little better appointed than Shilock’s and a little busier. Even so after a quick drink, they realised it was still only business cliental. Farmers and landowners discussing crop yields, seed prices and the like. Quickly ordering and downing a second round of synthetic whiskey derivative, they all agreed to explore more of the town.

Standing in the square they discuss what to do next, looking around PT Charlie Chiung pointed north up North Street. “Let’s try there; they may have some things of interest.”

Looking in the direction indicated by their friend, they could make out the large structure of The Emporium.

“Okay, It’s gotta be more interesting than standing out here.” Was PO O’Leary’s response, as he turned and started off up North Street. As they left the square they passed an alleyway to the rear of the pub. Glancing up it PT Chiung could make out a wooden hut with a large ‘S’ painted above the door and an antenna mounted on the roof. Although PT Chiung found this, his friends were already starting to pull away from him and he was forced to lengthen his stride to recover lost ground.

The Emporium was a large structure made up of a dozen or so containers fixed together to form one building. On entering they find themselves in a large open area with shelves and racks of ordinary day-to-day items. Towards the rear of the store is a flight of stairs heading to a second floor. The three not so happyshoppers head for the stairs in the hope of finding something more interesting up there. What they find is primarily items of interest or oddities made from local rocks and minerals. But toward the front of the store was a sight to brighten their mood. They wandered over to take a closer look at the range of weapons and ammo for sale.

“Howdy gents.” A Bright, cheerful voice greeted them. “See anything of interest?”

PT Chiung looked at the overly happy, smiling man on the other side of the counter. “Hi, what do you have in the way of pistol?”

“Well these two are our best sellers. The smaller one is ideal for the lady or as personal protection, but this is the one I would recommend.” He says as he places a long barrelled weighty, but slick looking pistol on the counter.

“This one packs a bit of a punch and…” He glances around, and lowering his voice, continues. “It also takes jet assisted rounds.”

PO O’Leary, peering over Chiung’s shoulder clears his throat. “What are the rules around here on carrying?” “Carryings fine, so long as you’re pen about it. Most folks carry some form of protection on them. On account of the Herd’s.”

“Yeh, the Herd’s.” The saleman glanced over his shoulder and lifted his chin indicating a wall mounting, housing what looks like two crossed swords, each about the size of a machete, but oddly serrated. The sales assistant looked back at our now slightly perplexed shoppers as if all was now clear. Smiling he from one to the other. “So are you interested in anything?”

Chiung looked at the offered pistols. “How much for the big one, two mag’s, plus one mag JA’s?”

“Hmm, let me see?” the salesman turned to an embedded data slate set into the counter. After a brief pause he turned back to his three customers. “$975 each, including tax!”

PO O’Leary blinked, frowned, cleared his throat and looked at his friends. “$975! That seems a little steep.”

The salesman smile broadened a little “Well that is the going rate our here on the rim, it may be a little cheaper further in!” His final comment was accompanied by a slight shrug of the shoulders.

PO O’Leary smiled back “what’s your best price, if we all buy a set?”

The sales assistant paused for a moment seeming to be running the figures. “What would you say to $900 each?”

“I would say that we’re getting there. What else could you offer?”

The salesman’s smile slipped slightly “You drive a hard bargain! Okay I’ll throw in holsters and some mag clips for your belts.”

O’Leary looked at his colleagues, both nodded in reply to the unasked question. “Okay, good enough. We’ll take them.”

After filling the necessary papers and paying, the three marines headed back out on to the street.

A little the worse for wear, having returned to shylocks that evening. Where they stayed eating, drinking, dancing and flirting, until the Provosts men came to gather up the stragglers and return them to the ship. The next morning, Pt Chiung and PO O’Leary are told to report to the firing range. On arrival they are greeted by their squad leader, Master Sergeant Burgess.

“Right you two! The results from your last AR training session are in. Chiung! Your inability to utilise your rifle is a disgrace. For god’s sake man, you couldn’t hit the side of a barn with that thing.” MS Burgess paused before turning his attention to O’Leary. “You O’Leary were a little better, you showed some flashes of true skill during the session, but it’s felt that there is still room for improvement.” Burgess stepped back so that he could address the two of them. “You two will stay here and practise until I see some noticeable improvement.”

Meanwhile SH Strawbridge had been told to report to the office of the chief engineer.

Our young Starhand arrived to find Chief Petty Officer Kinsinger seated at his desk. “Come in Strawbridge.”

Feeling a little uncomfortable, SH Strawbridge waited to find out why he had been summoned.

“So tell me, what kind of engineer can’t use a computer?” Kinsinger finally said putting down the file he was reading. Strawbridge noted that the file was in fact his own AR training review. “Don’t bother to answer that. You and I are going to spend the next few hours getting you reacquainted with the basics of computer operations. And so it continued for the next few days, anytime not spent doing vital jobs was spent on training. Honing and sharpening their skills.

Until late one evening, they were called into the briefing room. On entering PO O’Leary realised his whole squad was there, all ten of them. In addition he also spotted Richard Strawbridge and the chief engineer, whose name he couldn’t recollect.

As O’Leary took a seat, Master Sergeant Burgess stood and addressed the room. “As we are all here, I will begin. At 11.23 hours contact with the relay station 50 kilometres north of here was lost.” He paused, looked around the room to make sure he had the attention of all present, Burgess proceeded to pick up a remote and pressing a button, activated a screen behind him. An image appeared showing the location of the ship, Newton and the relay, overlaid on a topographical map of the area.

 

We have been tasked to make sure that CPO Kinsinger and his associate make it there, get it fixed and make it back in one piece.” Turning to the map MS Burgess indicated the ship. “At oh six hundred hours tomorrow we will be dropped at the northern edge of town.” He tapped his pointer on the screen where north road left town, before turning north east. “The heavy transports are all in use visiting the other towns; all we are able to use is the RnR shuttle into town. So we walk from about a mile out of town.” Master sergeant Burgess moved the pointer over the screen in a roughly north, north westerly direction. Until reaching the sight of the relay station, situated in a hilly area overlooking a forest. “The whole mission is expected to take 3 to 4 days depending on what we find when we get there. Any questions?” The sergeant’s eye’s swept the room. “No. Good. Okay, the quarter Master has your equipment ready. Muster is at 05.45, in the cargo bay. Dismissed!” With that MS Burgess turned and left the room. As the door closed a murmur arose as the marines started to discuss the upcoming mission.

Six the next morning the marines are ushered aboard the light troop transport used as a shuttle in and out of Newton. Because of the range of the vehicles fuel load, the squad are deposited approximately 1 mile north of town.  After a quick check of their kit they set off into the long grass, its blades rising up over their heads, severely limiting their field of vision. About midday the group of twelve UTRPF clones stopped to take on food and fluids. As they rested the marines could make out clouds of flying creatures, possibly birds, taking flight in the distance before swooping back down and disappearing from view. After about half an hour the marines packed their kit and set off north again, with Private Two Charlie Chiung leading the way.

A few hours later PT Chiung suddenly heard a yell behind him. Turning Charlie could make out a large insectoid creature in their midst. The only analogy could draw for the thing was that it looked a lot like an ant. An ant the size of a pony, but an ant none the less, and right now it had PO Lester pinned to the floor. The thing started trying to bite PO Lester head off. The bulk of the squad opened fire on the thing just as PO O’Leary became aware of movement in the grass. As the thrashing moved closer PO O’Leary made a snap decision and launched a grenade off into the grasses. There was a loud WHUMP as the grenade went off in a spray of grass and soil, accompanied by a rasping shriek, PO O’Leary smiled to himself. More of the squad spotted the movement headed their way and were firing off sporadic bursts of automatic gunfire into the grass around them. Meanwhile PT Chiung added his fire to that already punishing the ant. With a clicking groan the ant finally dropped dead. PO Lester was just kicking himself free of the dead ant, when several more burst out of the grass. Antenna twitching they turned to look at their fallen comrade before turning their attention to the marines.

As the dust finally settled, all the ants were dead. The marines had suffered some minor scrapes and bruises, CPO Kinsinger was crawling out from beneath one of the recently deceased insects.

Taking this all in PO O’Leary activated his helmet mike. “Sir, May I have permission to scout the area?”  MS Burgess’ voice came to him through his ear piece. “Granted! I don’t want any more surprises.”

It soon became clear to PO O’Leary that the route they had taken crossed a run. Although the grass was little disturbed, the grass in an almost straight line was packed hard by the passage of many feet. Looks like we stumbled across an ant run! Rhobyn O’Leary thought to himself. Activating his mike again he relayed his findings to Master Sergeant Burgess.

“Okay! It looks like a case of wrong place, wrong time. Return to the squad, we move in five.” MS Burgess turned to the rest of the squad. “Okay people, listen up. We move out in five. I want everyone in pears. Chiung you’re on point. Keep your eyes open for any more tracks. I want them checked out before we cross them. Let’s not have any more surprises shall we!”

Once O’Leary rejoined the group they set off again. Progress slowed as they now move more cautiously.  As the sun started to set over the savannah, the marines stopped for the night. After the camp was set up they were split into teams of four, to enable a twelve hour watch pattern.

Suddenly PT Chiung was startled awake by a loud scream. Rolling out of his sleeping bag Chiung was on his feet, rifle in hand, and alert in a flash. The camp was erupting around him, as is comrades also readied themselves for the perceived attack. Scanning the grass around the campsite Charlie spotted PO Lester stumbling back into camp, hands covering his ears, and muttering to himself. The Master Sergeant also spotted the distraught marine and wandering over to him Burgess laid a hand on his shoulder.

“What’s wrong son?” At the sound of his voice Lester got even more agitated. “Calm down son! What’s gotten into you? I can’t understand what you’re trying to tell me, you’re making on sense. What’s yours? Where’s the pain?” As MS Burgess placed his free hand on Lester’s other shoulder, Lester’s head suddenly snapped up and he abruptly stopped moaning. Eye’s locked with Burgess’ He swung his rifle up, and before anyone could react put a single round through the sergeants skull. There was a moment of stunned silence before the camp erupted into chaos again. As the Master Sergeants now inert body slumped to the ground, seven rifles came to bare on the now silent marine standing in their midst. Seeing that this was only going to end badly, PT Chiung launched himself at PO Lester in the hope of stopping it. Tackling Lester to the ground Chiung leans his weight on him. “Calm down! Tell me what’s going on.”

“Oh the pain! Oh it hurts, it hurts. Its ours, this place is ours. Stop the pain! It hurt us, oh it hurts!”

Lester’s moans were so quiet Chiung had to lean close to better hear them. At that moment Lester’s eyes snapped open again. Head butting Charlie he tried to bring his assault rifle around to fire at PT Chiung. Seeing this PO O’Leary, who had moved over to help his friend, stepped in and kicked the rifle out of PO Lester’s hand. This sent Lester into a frenzy. During the ensuing struggle he managed to pull his combat knife, which with some determination started stabbing at PT Chiung. Charlie’s body armour did its job, protecting him from any serious harm. Things were getting out of hand again, someone else was going to get hurt. In that moment PO O’Leary made a snap decision to end the struggle. And stepping in again, he pulled his pistol and put a round through PO Lester’s head.

As PT Chiung climbed to his feet Private First Class hurried over. The medic gave Chiung a quick once over and finding no serious wounds, turned his attention to Lester. A few moments later he confirmed Lester’s death. Oddly he did comment on an older wound, the blood already drying in a trail from his nose, with no obvious cause.

Chief Petty Officer Kinsinger called to PT Carlock, telling him to get on the radio and report what had happened. A short time later the radio operator reported that HQ had told them to continue with the mission, with CPO Kinsinger in charge. After a brief discussion it was decided that they could not take the bodies with them. So as the sun rose over the grasslands, the marines gathered at two pyres to say their farewells to fallen comrades. Sometime later, with smoke still drifting lazily on the breeze, they broke camp. As they headed out into the rolling hill at this edge of the grasslands, they could just make out the relay tower rising over the hills in the distance. Hours of hard slog followed, up one hill and down another. Until suddenly Lance Corporal (Spec Op 4) Webb shouted a warning to PT Chiung. Charlie Chiung glanced in the demolitions expert’s direction. Suddenly the ground was no longer there and PT Chiung found himself plunged into darkness.

Seeing his friend disappear into the ground SH Strawbridge rushed over. Peering into the large pit that had opened beneath Chiung’s feet. Strawbridge could make out his friend, some five metres below, climbing to his feet and shaking his head as if to clear it.

“I’m going down there to make sure he’s okay!” With that the Starhand turned around and started to lower himself over the edge. Just as his head drew level with the ground, he let out a yelp and he too disappeared into the pit.

PT Chiung shook his head trying to clear the last of the grogginess caused by his fall. Looking around he realised he was in a deep pit, some three metres across. Just then something blocked out what little light there was. Just as he looked up he heard a yell and the shape blocking the light was plunging towards him. Strawbridge crashed to the ground amid a shower of stones and soil. Chiung staggered as a booted foot clipped the side of his face. Shaking his head to clear it again, Chiung helped his friend to his feet. “What was that? Now they need to get the two of us out!”

Strawbridge at least had the decency to look embarrassed. “I was trying to see if you were alright.”

“Well I was, until I took a size nine to the face!”

Just then the light level dropped again. “Are you two okay down there?” It was kinsinger.

“We’re fine. Can you throw down a rope or something, so we can climb out of here?” Kinsinger’s silhouette disappeared and they could hear him calling for a rope.

Whilst they were waiting for the rope PT Chiung’s attention was drawn to a corner of the floor, by the sound of shifting soil. As he investigated a bug similar to an earwig, but around three inches long, broke the surface and climbed out on to the floor. Pausing, its antenna twitching, it seemed to be taking in the situation. PT Chiung decided not to wait and see what it did and stamped on the thing, but the thing was quicker than if looked and darted clear. Turning, it made a lunge for PT Chiung. Just then there was a shout of “Below.” From the opening above their heads and a rope snaked down the pit wall. Both of our brave heroes made a grab for it, with Strawbridge getting there first. As the engineer started to clumsily clamber up the rope, Private Chiung turned his attention back to the bug, which had just bounced off the wall near his head, having launched itself at him again. Feeling an inexplicable sense of dread, Charlie Chiung pulled his pistol and back against the wall, started firing of shots at the earwig. The thing was fast and he just couldn’t get a clear shot at the thing. After what seemed like an eternity, Strawbridge shouted down that he was clear. Firing one last shot, PT Chiung holstered his gun and scampered up the rope. Clearing the edge Chiung found PO O’Leary waiting for him.

“I heard gun fire. Was there any problems down there?”

The young private looked sheepishly at his older comrade. “No. No it was nothing.”

The sound of a raised voice drew Chiung’s attention off to the rear of the group, where CPO Kinsinger was giving his subordinate a good dressing down. Turning CPO Kinsinger addressed the rest of the squad. “We’re nearly at the relay now. When we get there, we go in hard and fast.”

PO O’Leary voice rose from the rear of the gathered group. “Chief, can I suggest that we fan out and come at the relay from as many sides as possible. This pit was manmade, someone’s been here. We could be walking into a trap!”

The Chief Petty Officer threw O’Leary a dirty look. “As I was going to say before I was interrupted. We will encircle the relay and then on my command, assault the site. Are we clear?” looking round Kinsinger could see no sign of anyone having any questions, so he continued. “Okay, let’s get going. And keep your eyes open for more traps. Where there’s one there is likely to be more.”

So they set off again in the direction of the now towering relay mast. Suddenly there is a hiss of static and PO Pickens’ voice erupted in their ears.

“Aargh!” There was a moment’s pause. “That was a close one, a wall of spikes just sprung up out of the grass. I barely dodged it.” Just as Pickens’ voice died away, PT Chiung heard the sound of a twig snapping under his feet. Suddenly, with a whoosh, a wall of spikes sprang up in front of him. Throwing up his arms PT Chiung took a spike to the forearm, leaving a small gash. With no real damage done Charlie continued on. A couple of minutes later the clearing around the relay station came into view through the long grass. Taking up positions to observe the structure and its surroundings, they could see no sign of any activity. After a couple of minutes CPO Kinsinger’s voice Rang out over the comm’s.

“Look’s clear. GO. GO. GO!”

 

Our three heroes, along with CPO Kinsinger, converged on the door of the bunker like building at the base of the relay tower. Meanwhile the rest of the squad took up positions behind the towers stanchion pads. Taking up positions covering the door, the two marines watched as CPO Kinsinger input the entry code and hit the activation stud. Nothing happened. Seeing this SH Strawbridge flicked open a panel and started tinkering, but apart from a fizzing sound accompanied by a slight smell of burning, had no more luck than his superior officer.

“Move over. Let me look at that.” Kinsinger said, pushing Strawbridge out of the way. As he worked they could hear him muttering to himself. “Bloody apprentices these days. Bloody useless the lot of them.” Moments later there was another fizz and a spark. With a loud sigh the door slid open. Stepping through the door, assault rifle raised, PO O’Leary scanned the one room interior of the building. All around the edge of the room were ranks of electronics, fuse boards and cables. Several of the cables ran up the walls and across the ceiling, before meeting and disappearing through the centre of the roof. Signalling the all clear Rhobyn entered the room with the others hot on his tail. CPO Kinsinger looked around, opening several panels. “Looks like some sort of animal had been at the wiring. We can fix it, but it will take time.”

O’Leary and Chiung shared a look. “Okay. We will join the others outside. Let us know if you need anything.”

The two marines waited for the door to close behind them. Looking around they could see that the others had already set up a perimeter. After a quick discussion they decided that the best thing they could do was climb up on the roof of the building, as it would offer them the best view of the surrounding area. Shortly after getting themselves settled in position the first calls came in.

“Movement!” “Target!” Two distinct voices. PO O’Leary activated his comm’s “Direction?” He asked. “Ahead.” “12 o’clock.” Again, two distinct voices. “Where are you? I can’t see anything.” PO’OLeary sighted down his rifle, scanning the grass as he waited for a reply. “North east pad.” “South west.”

PO O’Leary scanned the grass of to his left – nothing – Glancing over his shoulder. He nudged PT Chiung, who was facing west. “Anything?” Charlie glanced over at O’Leary and shook his head. Activating his comm’s again O’Leary hoped the others weren’t playing some kind of game.

“Are you messing with me? We can’t see anything!” The response wasn’t what he was expecting. “No contact. All quiet now.” Private One O’Leary cut the comm’s connection, muttering to himself.

A few minutes later the contact call went out from marines in all directions. This time our two heroes could clearly see the grass moving in several places all around the clearing. And the movement was closing in. Drawing a bead on the closest patch of quivering grass, PT Chiung fired off a volley of shots, and was rewarded by a loud scream. As the grass stopped moving Charlie realised that the scream was definitely human.

As if the sound of Chiung’s assault rifle hosing the area was a catalyst, the rest of the squad opened fire. Inside the bunker like control room CPO Kinsinger had the upper half of his torso inside a control unit splicing and reconnecting severed wiring. As all hell broke loose outside Richard Strawbridge slimed to himself, as his commanding officer gave a little jump. There was a yelp, followed by a thud from inside the panel. CPO Kinsinger backed out into the room, sucking his slightly burnt finger. Strawbridge quickly went back to his work as Kinsinger glanced around the room with a scowl on his face.

Meanwhile outside, a number of people dressed in simple farm clothes and armed with a mix of civilian weapons, had burst into the clearing. Unfortunately things were going badly for them. They had lost several of their number before they had even made it out of the grass. The marines laid down a punishing hail of fire, their body armour and the cover giving them virtual impunity to anything the farmers could bring to bear. O’Leary took his time; the last of the farmers was staggering across the clearing covered in his own blood. He looked a little dazed, but was still firing off shots indiscriminately. The private released a long, slow breath and squeezed the trigger. The farmer dropped to the floor, his crutch a bloody mess. PO O’Leary opened a squad wide comm’s channel.

“Someone see to him. I want to talk to him. Let’s see if we can get some more out of him then we did from Lester.” PO O’Leary killed the comm’s and started to climb down from his perch on top of the control bunker. By the time he reached the wounded assailant P1C Carter was already treating the man. The medic glanced up at O’Leary as he approached and gave a slight shake of the head. Rhobyn knelt beside the dying man, but he quickly realised that there wasn’t much he could get from him. Standing the grizzled private pulled his pistol and put the man out of his misery. PO O’Leary turned and headed back to the relay. Suddenly the medic let out an exclamation of surprise.

Turning O’Leary noticed that P1C Carter had moved onto another of the bodies. “What’s the problem?”

The medic, who was still kneeling next a fallen rancher, looked up at him. “Something just crawled out of this one’s ear!”

“What do you mean? What crawled out of his ear?”

The medic climbed to his feet, seeming to gather himself as he did so. “I’m not completely sure. It looked a lot like an earwig, but it was a lot bigger. About so big.” He explained, holding up two fingers approximately three inches apart.

O’Leary glanced at the body lying beside them. “What happened to it? Where did it go?”

Carter squatted back down next to the body, and indicated that O’Leary should do the same. Once PO O’Leary had joined him he pointed out a trail of blood coming from the body’s right ear. “This is where the thing exited.” He then indicated a rough north easterly direction. “After it dropped to the ground it hesitated for a moment and then headed off in that direction. If you look you can make out its trail.”

Our inquisitive hero looked where the Private First Class had indicated. When he was sure he could recognise and follow the trail, he activated his comm’s and contacted CPO Kinsinger.

“Sir, I think I have a lead on what’s happening here. Can I have permission to take Private One Chiung with me and investigate?”

Kingsinger soon responded, his voice sounding tinny and there was a slight echo. “Granted, and you can take Strawbridge with you. We are almost done here. I can finish on my own.”

“Acknowledged.”

O’Leary waved Chiung down to join him. As Chiung reached the ground he met Strawbridge coming out of the relay room’s door, and the two of them joined O’Leary, next to the farmer’s body. After showing his two comrades the trail, and making sure they knew what they were looking for, they set off towards the north east.

A few hours later finds our heroes standing on a hill top. The expanse of the forest, they had seen on the map, spreading out before them. There was something odd about this forest, something they couldn’t quite put a finger on. As they studied their surroundings and considered their next course of action, it hit them – There were flowers in the canopy – The more they thought about it, the more they came to realise that the forest looked a lot like an overgrown shrub border. The sort of thing they could remember cultivating, or at least their donor’s cultivating back on earth.

“Oh well there’s no point standing here, let’s get moving.” Charlie said looking to his companions. As if his voice had broken a spell, the other two blinked and set of almost due east. “Where are you two going? The trail heads this way.”

His friends stopped, examined the ground around them. And then they headed over to join PT Chiung as he set off down the hill again. Twenty minutes or so later they entered the forest, the light levels dropping as the canopy closed in over their heads. A short while later they started to hear voices in the distance. The three marines shared a look and corrected their course, closing in on the location of the voices. Some moments later the voices seemed to fade away and eventually cease completely. Continuing in the direction from which they had last heard the voices, they soon came across a clearing. Keeping to the shadows at the edge of the clearing, the three of them scanned the area. In the centre of the clearing was a large mound of earth, with what looked like a mine enterence in the side facing them.

 

After a few moments PO O’Leary signalled that he would stay here an cover Chiung and Strawbridge as they checked out the tunnel entrance. Darting across the clearing the two intrepid explorers took up positions on either side of the opening. After spending a moment making sure the tunnel was empty, PT Chiung signalled the all clear and O’Leary soon joined them. After a quick check of their kit, slotting home fresh magazines and checking that grenades were easily accessible, the marines headed off into the darkness. They paused briefly to allow PO O’Leary the time to set up a grenade and tripwire. The tunnel sloped sharply down, and the marines soon have to turn on the lamps mounted on their shoulders. PO O’Leary glanced back after a few minutes and realised that he could no longer see the entrance. We must be travelling in n arc. He thought, and voiced his opinion to his friends. Who, after checking for themselves, agreed. After what seemed an eternity the marine sensed that the slope was levelling out. It also seemed to be getting lighter, probably due to the bioluminescent algae forming in patches on the walls. Eventually it became light enough to turn off their torches. Shortly after that they came to a junction, the first change in the tunnel wall since entering. As they stood at the junction trying to figure out the best way to go, SH Strawbridge could the sound of distant voices. Signalling his colleagues to silence, Strawbridge tried to ascertain where the voices were coming from. As his friends fell silent he was able to hear the voices more clearly, and they were heading away from them down the tunnel on the left.

PO O’Leary, also having realised the voices could be useful, started to lay out a plan in a hushed whisper. “I Think we should follow those voices, they may lead us to whatever is behind this. It’s gotta be better than wandering around in the hope of finding something of interest.”

The others agreed and they set off in pursuit of the fading voices. The three shadowy figures followed the voices for several minutes. PT Chiung was just thinking that they must be roughly under the location of the relay station. When, after a louder exchange, the voices up ahead suddenly cease. So sudden was the silence that the marine froze for a heartbeat, before frantically looking for somewhere to hide. They had just made it into whatever cover they could find, be it a crevice in the tunnel wall or a deeper patch of shadow, when two figures strolled around the corner. PT Chiung soon realised that there was no way they could stay hidden for long and, at the last possible moment, launched himself at the nearest figure. Seeing his friend burst into action O’Leary followed suit and attacked the second figure. Running in PO O’Leary kicked out and was rewarded with the sound of breaking bone. Screaming the man collapsed, his knee having exploded, piercing the flesh in several places. Hearing the scream PT Chiung glanced over to see what was happening. Unfortunately this lapse in concentration allowed the man he had in a sleeper hold, to alter his position and take a gasp of air. Cursing himself Chiung also shifted his position, and tightened his grip once more.

Meanwhile SH Strawbridge trotted down the tunnel and positioned himself to keep watch, in case someone happened along. Strawbridge cringed at the sound of the first call for help. Risking a glance back up the tunnel at his friends, the scene that greeted him would have been funny under any other circumstances. Chiung was rolling around on the floor with his arms and legs wrapped around his opponent. He shifted his gaze to O’Leary just as he bent and grabbed his opponent, the one calling for help, by the collar in an attempt to drag him to his feet. All he actually did was remove the man’s jacket, whilst the man continued to crawl along the tunnel floor calling for help as he did so. Shaking his head Strawbridge turned his attention back to keeping watch.

Behind him O’Leary had decided that he really needed to finish the guy off and quickly. He rained down a series of savage blows on the man but, almost as if the man could sense where the blows were going to fall, the man managed to move out of their way. It wasn’t as if he dodged them. He just happened to flop this way or roll that way, at just the right moment to avoid them.

PT Chiung climbed out from under his now unconscious combatant, and got to his feet in time to see O’Leary grab his opponent by the scruff of the neck and haul him to his feet. Releasing the man’s neck, O’Leary launched into a series of fast roundhouse kicks. Unfortunately for O’Leary, the man’s weight was too much for his broken leg. And with another scream he collapsed to the ground again, leaving O’Leary spinning on the spot like a ballerina. PT Chiung would have laughed, but he had just spotted Strawbridge sprinting back up the tunnel.

“We’ve got to get out of here! By the sound of things, there must be close to a dozen of them heading this way.”

“Okay, you grab this guy and I’ll get Rhobyn. There was an intersection a few hundred metres back, we’ll meet you there.”

As Strawbridge bent to pick up the unconscious farmer, Charlie turned his attention to PO O’Leary. Picking up the jacket that O’Leary had discarded during his fight, PT Chiung crossed the tunnel. O’Leary was now stamping on the prostrate man. “Just die will you, what does it take to kill you people?”

Charlie grabbed O’Leary’s arm and pulled him off of his victim. “We have to move! We’ve got company on it way.” PT Chiung indicated the unmoving man lying on the floor. “Grab him. We’re making for the last junction we passed.”

O’Leary stepped back over to the injured man and, after one last savage kick to the head, picked the man up and slung him over his shoulder. As the two of them hurried back along the tunnel, they could clearly hear the sound of running feet and raised voices. Ducking around the corner, they found themselves in a short corridor with cubicles on either side. They found Richard examining one of the small rooms. The three marines squeezed inside with their loads and held their breath. Moments later they heard the sound of several people hurrying past the end of the corridor. After a minute PT Chiung cautiously peered out into the corridor. Seeing it empty, he went down to the junction and peeped out in to the tunnel. It was deserted. Listening, Chiung could still make out the sound their pursuers fading into the distance.

Returning to the cubical, Chiung found his comrades huddled over the man he had put to sleep. His friends were trying to revive him. Charlie took the opportunity to look at their other prisoner – dead – At the sound of a quiet moan he turned to find his friends had succeeded in reviving their patient. As O’Leary started to question the man, PT Chiung moved into a position to keep an eye on the corridor.

PO O’Leary made several attempts to talk to the man, but just couldn’t get any sense out of him. In the end, not wanting to leave an enemy to raise the alarm, O’Leary pulled his combat knife and slit the man’s throat. As the light of life faded from the man’s eyes, his ear started to bleed. Moments later an earwig like creature wriggled free and dropped to the floor. It stayed still, as if stunned by the sudden demise of its host. PO O’Leary took the opportunity and stamped on the thing. It died with a satisfying crunch.

PT Chiung popped his head back into the room, just as his friends out the two bodies. In what looked like sleeping areas, on either side of the room. “What’s going on in here? This is taking too long.” He whispered, glancing back down the corridor. O’Leary looked up from laying a rough blanket over one of the bodies. “We won’t be long now. We just need to disguise these bodies; hopefully this will buy us some time.” As O’Leary and Strawbridge finished up, O’Leary commented on the bug he had just killed. “That sounds just like the think that attacked me in the pit.” O’Leary grinned at him as if to say – I knew you panicked down there – but didn’t say anything. Once they were happy that, at least to the casual eye, the bodies looked to be sleep, the marines gathered up their kit and set off back down the tunnel.

When they reached the site of their recent skirmish, they paused and a brief whispered discussion, settled on following the tunnel from which the voices, and the party responding to the calls for help had come. After a couple of hundred metres of so they came to another junction. Looking down each of the connecting corridors they noticed, one in particular seemed a lot brighter than the others. After a quick look to the other marines PO O’Leary led the way down the brighter tunnel, moving much more cautiously as the light levels continued to rise. Rounding a bend, they were confronted by an opening directly ahead of them. The opening was as bright as day, and they could hear activity on the other side. Being careful not to step into the light, our little band of sneaks, cautiously edged forward until they were able to see through the opening. The tunnel opened out into a large cavern, approximately thirty metres long and ten high, all around the cave were settlers, going about a variety of tasks. Either tending to the phosphorescent algae bloom. That was giving off the brilliant light, or some other unidentifiable jobs. Ducking back out of sight, PO O’Leary signalled that he was going to fire a frag grenade into the cavern. SH Strawbridge shook his head, in an attempt to forestall a massacre. Ignoring him O’Leary stepped into the doorway, closely followed by PT Chiung. There was a double whump and two grenades arced out into the cave. One of the grenades soared through the air, before landing and rolling where it rolled into a crevice. There was a muffled explosion and a spray of soil as the grenade went off. Meanwhile the second one actually did its job, well sort of. The explosive device landed in amongst a small group of workers, killing one and injuring others. Activity cease all around the cavern. And the marines quickly reloaded their launchers, as all hell broke loose, they fired two more grenades.

Standing to one side, Richard Strawbridge looked around, trying to find some way of stopping the carnage. Looking across the cavern, SH Strawbridge spotted a mound in the middle of the cave’s floor. An almost perfect scale replica of the mound they had used to enter the tunnel system. As he examined the strange mound, he spotted movement in the miniature tunnel entrance. Moments later an earwig appeared in the opening. It just sat their waving it’s antenna from side to side. The gathering mass of angry bodies fell silent, and started to file out of several other openings in the cavern walls. At the sudden change of attitude from their opponents, O’Leary and Chiung stopped and looked at each other. Seeing their confusion, Strawbridge tapped them on the shoulder and pointed to the mound. The two gung-ho warriors looked at the mound, then each other and almost in unison said.

“Incendiary.”

Before a stunned Strawbridge could react, the two death bringers stepped back into the cavern and launched their grenades. With unerring accuracy and in perceived slow-motion the two grenades impacted with the mound, where they exploded, bringing fiery death to anything inside. As the mound baked hard in the heat, the marines became aware of a howl of great despair, emanating and echoing from the tunnels all around the cavern. The three marines looked at each other, wandering what was going on, when suddenly the first of the workers burst back into view. Screaming out her anguish, she grabbed the first thing she could use as a weapon, and charged the bemused marines. She was rapidly joined by more workers as they flooded back into the cavern. The marines very quickly realised that if they didn’t do something, they were going to be in trouble, and opened fire. The shear weigh of numbers soon meant they were fighting at close quarters; their shot’s being knocked off aim as they were jostled by the milling mass, their shouts and screams filling the air.

“You killed them! You killed the council. You killed, you killed them. You’re killers. For that, you too must die.”

As their attackers pressed up against them, the three swamped marines were forced to start slowly retreating, one step at a time, firing all the while.

As the dust settled and the thick cloud of cordite smoke cleared, the marines were some hundred metres further back along the tunnel. As they caught their breath, they surveyed the scene of devastation before them. After checking each other over, to be sure that there were no serious wounds, they turned their attention to the fallen. Moving amongst the bodies they checked to see if there were any survivors. Any they found were swiftly dispatched, in the hope of destroying the bugs controlling them. Once they were sure that all the settlers in the cavern were dead, they wandered over to the mound. Kicking and hammering at it, they flattened the mound. Going through the resulting debris, they found only dead bugs. Happy that the nest was no longer a threat, they piled up the bodies and set them alight with a couple of incendiary grenades.

Acrid black smoke starting to fill the cavern, the marines made their way back out of the tunnel system. At the entrance they disarmed O’Leary’s makeshift booby-trap. Stepping back out in to the shaded light of the forest, the marines stopped at the tunnel mouth, to rig up a clutch of grenades on a long trigger. And then, from a safe distance, set off the improvised explosive device. The three watched with satisfaction as the tunnel entrance collapsed, sealing the network behind tonnes of rubble. Turning, our battered and bruised champions started the long walk back.

By the time they reached the relay it was dark. Seeing who it was the squad lowered their weapons and the call went out of their return.

CPO Kinsinger had finished repairing the relay sometime earlier, and was in communication with HQ, when our heroes trudged back out of the grass. Kinsinger slammed the radio’s mike back on its hanger, and turned to our three battle wary warriors.

“Where the hell have you been? I was just on the radio trying to persuade them to let us look for you.”

“Sorry things got a little crazy for a bit.” PO O’Leary glanced at his friends, before looking back to the Senior Engineer with a cheeky grin. “But it’s all sorted now.”

“What’s do you mean, Sorted? We thought you were dead. HQ wanted us to leave, but your, um, colleagues wanted to search for you.” He paused as if waiting for an answer, but with none forthcoming continued.”Oh forget it; I’m sure there will be enough questions to answer when we get back. Get some rations in you and rest up, it’s too dark to start back now, so we will start back first thing in the morning.” After they had eaten, Kinsinger took them each to one side and quizzed them about their activities over the last eight hours. Once he had spoken to them they were dismissed for the night, and Kinsinger made his report back to Newton.

The journey passed without major incident and they made good time. On their return to the Dountilus, they were told to clean themselves up and change into their fatigues, before reporting to the Battalion commander.

During the debriefing, the squad outlined their parts in the mission. Once it became clear that the bulk of the squad could add no more to the meeting. They were dismissed, just leaving our heroes and CPO Kinsinger to face the Major.

“Okay! Why don’t you three tell me, in your own words, what happened out there. Hold nothing back; I need a clear understanding of your actions.”

The three told the Major what happened, trying to gloss over some of the more onerous parts, but the Major seemed to see through them getting the whole story. As they finished the Major sat quietly for several minutes, just looking at them.

“Thank you. I needed here the story for myself.” He paused again as if trying to make a choice. “So that you know, in the last two days there has been an exponential increase in attacks. Not only are they more frequent, but they are more savage. And it’s spreading; several of the outlying settlements have been attacked already. I think that your actions at the nest may have triggered all out war.”

The Major paused again to allow this information to sink in, before he continued. “I need to speak with Stargate. It looks like we have two options, leave or fight. I can’t see the top brass going for the first option, can you? The second one is more likely, but I think we will need more men, to achieve the complete eradication of this creature.” He stopped talking and looked at each of our heroes in turn.

“As for you three, I think I will leave it up to them to decide whether you are to be praised or punished.” He nodded his head towards the door. “Dismissed!”

The young man reached up and removed the AR jack from his neck and, as he flexed and stretched muscles not used for several hours, looked around the darkened room. In the gloom he could just make out his business partners and friends, doing the same.

That Bughunters MMORPG, is way cool!

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