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I am pissed. Really pissed. The seven foot tall man-mountain Longbow has codenamed Blackstar (I know it’s a stupid name) just finished throwing a member of Swaziland military into a pool table and is beating him to a pulp.
As the supposed leader of the Longbow metahuman forces deployed in the disgustingly poor hellhole of Swaziland, it is my job to prevent Blackstar from getting himself court-marshaled.
“Don’t do anything stupid Warren. Just walk away, whatever he said to you isn’t worth getting sent to jail.”
Warren looks down at me and snarls “He called me a fag, I think.”
“What do you mean, you think?”
“I mean he was talking to the bartender in that weirdo language they speak around here and they started pointing at me and laughing.”
This is the same way Warren’s last fight started, he’s paranoid about foreigners and always thinks the locals are laughing at him. We never should have gone out for a drink. What was I thinking? “Come on Warren, you touch him and the goon squad will be here throwing your ass behind bars. Longbow doesn’t care enough about you to get you out this time.”
“You’re probably right.” Warren says, dropping his head and walking away from the pool table. As Warren and I trudge towards the door, trying to ignore the jeers and cheers of locals, Born to Run plays on my cell phone. I flip it open and tell Marshall, my information officer and the technician of my powered armor to talk to me. “Hey Jeff. We need you back at the Fort. Is Warren with you?” Marshall sounds on-edge, he has been ever since we arrived in Swaziland.
I answer Marshall with “Yeah, he’s here. What’s going on.”
“Some of the local Lost have been spotted Maputo River, we think they’re doing recon for a Rikti assault on our testing station at Area 84.”
“We’re on our way back.”
I had changed into my powered armor when the almost-to-stereotypical-to-be-real voice of Captain Aaron Hunt boomed across the conference table at the motley crew of Longbow personal assigned to Fort Valiant. “Members of the Swaziland army were found dead along the banks of the Maputo River two hours ago. Cause of death was extreme psionic trauma consistent with previous attacks by Aberrant Rectors, everyone is this room knows the Rikti have been taking and mutating members of Swaziland’s underclass and it looks like they’re finally being put to use. Intel reports that the Lost are traveling slowly on the river to maximize their stealth. Therefore, Winter’s Rage [that’s me] and Pandora will take Alpha Section thirteen miles upriver from the discovery and Blackstar, Ambrosia, and Beatbox will take Bravo Section thirteen miles downriver. Alpha Section is deploying in our Mil Mi-8 so Bravo Section will be taking the RG-12 fleet.” The Captain’s briefing was interrupted by groans from Blackstar and assorted members of Bravo Section. “Don’t groan to me because you got to take the APC, groan to the asshole in central command who only gives us three helicopters, two of which have never worked. Get moving people, time is of the essence.
Somewhere along the Maputo River.
“God, she is beautiful.” I thought to myself as Pandora got up and walked across the Mil-Mi transport helicopter, treating me to a view of her wonderful, one-piece black spandex clad body. I banished the fantasies from my mind as she turns around and tells me that I should get my armor on, because we were coming up on the target site. Moving to the back of the helicopter I buckle my chest, head, and leg plates on to my armor and ask Marshall to run a full systems check before sending power to the armor.
“Okay Winter, just move your arms and legs and head.” After I move around for a few seconds Marshall chimes in with “All systems are go. You are two minutes away from the landing zone. Tell Pandora I’m saying hello.”
As the helicopter touches down I order the first two fireteams to take up camouflaged positions along with river bank and the third fireteam is sent to an observation position on a hill. They move out in their moss green and brown uniforms, a huge shift from traditional Longbow colors. I tell Marshall to move my armor into the camouflage pattern and my armor quickly changes into the same colors as the Longbow troopers. “Pandora” I say curtly “move with Fireteam Bravo on the left bank.”
When Pandora runs to join the fireteam Marshall chirps in with “Look at that woman. Fireteam Beta’s going to have their morale rise just by having her kneeling in the mud along with them.”
“Stay focused Marshall, I need you watching my radar so we’re surprising them not vice versa.”
“I know Winter, I know.”
Twenty Minutes Later
Fireteam Alpha’s continued begging for Pandora to be sent to the right bank was starting to annoy me when my earpiece crackled with Marshall’s voice. “Charlie company’s seeing three boats coming down the river, they look just like peasants but methinks they’re just Scrounger-class Lost.”
“Have the Mil-Mi do a flyover.” I snap back.
“Roger that.” Marshall says, and I see the Mil-Mi moving across the river. My men set their rifles up in firing positions along the bank while Pandora’s group does the same. I find myself wishing Central Command would send us cloaking devises rather than the shipment of useless patrol skiffs we got last week. My thoughts are interrupted by the roar of an explosion. Looking up I see the Mil-Mi crashing into the river completely engulfed in flames. Almost on cue Marshall informs me that the river boats are definitely Lost. The crackling sound of suppressed gunfire cuts through the air, and a burst of Pandora’s black fire sets one of the boats aflame. My armor crackles as frozen deuterium projects on its surface.
The Lost are out of their boats now and swimming towards shore. None of them seem all that mutated, just Scroungers led by a few Headsmen. I ask Marshall what their numbers are and he chimes in with “Thirty-one Scroungers, four Headsmen. This should be a piece of cake. Still trying to find out how they downed the Mil-Mi.”
By the time the Lost reach the bank their ranks have been depleted, I super-speed towards them hoping to draw fire. I do and feel the mild impact of pistol shot hitting the deuterium carapace. The Lost scatter as I get within striking distance but I managed to clock one of them with an energy punch. I spin around for another pass and see that only a few Lost survived the Fireteam’s rife fire and that those who did were fleeing into the forest.
I tell Marshall to alert command of the fleeing Lost and take stock of my men. Everyone seems okay, with two people sustaining minor wounds in the fight. Within two minutes Pandora’s group has joined up with us and Fireteam Charlie was on their way down from the hill. I try not to notice the mud smeared on Pandora as we wait for the APC’s to come pick us up.
During Alpha Section’s debriefing I ask Captain Hunt how Beta Section was doing. His face paled as I brought it up and he asked Marshall and I to step into his office. The moment he closed the door I could tell something was very wrong. “Beta Section is dead." the Captain says with a scowl. "What I am about to tell you is CTS classified. Beta Section was killed by a group of Razorvine’s from the Devouring Earth. The Mil-Mi was downed by a Devouring Earth swarm. Other instances of this have happened, I don’t know specifics but I know they happened. You are both smart and you probably know what this means.”
Stunned I managed to spit out “I don’t have CTS clearance, and neither do you.”
“I do on this, given my previous service against the Devouring Earth I am being placed in charge of Operation Clothespin, which is heading up an investigation of a possible Rikti, Devouring Earth alliance. Unfortunately, this investigation should be led by the Vanguard, at least in theory. They are very critical of Longbow’s Rikti combat efforts and would want to know about what’s being developed in Area 84. Operation Clothespin is being disguised as a scientific research lab in Paragon City. I’d like to bring you and Pandora with me. I know what you’re capable of, you've been stationed in Paragon before, and I can trust you."
I simply nod my head, glad to be leaving Swaziland, but frightened at what I’m about to be investigation.