The Kohl's last transit took her into the Röt Hafen system at the highest velocity she could safely make while entering warp. The jump was intended to put her almost one and a half million kilometers from the shuttle release point. It was the closest distance she could accurately warp herself without running the risk of damage from the planet's gravitational field. Hauser was pleased that the required in system course correction was small, only 2.5 degrees. Kohl executed a fifteen-second burn, then went into cloaking mode. While cloaked, using the new Mk IX mod, she would be invisible to all active and passive sensor scans, or so the crew hoped. That was providing they made no further maneuver or main drive burns or attempted to power weapons or active sensors. The biggest difference with the Mk IX mod was that it allowed the Kohl to use her passive sensors while cloaked. While not invisible to he naked eye, the Kohl's VSRLBF, (Visual scan Range Lightray Bending Field), ensured that one would need to be looking right at the Kohl at close range to see her. Of course, given the vast distances ships usually engaged themselves in combat, the Kohl could be lit up like a neon sign and still go unseen, provided she made no active emissions.
The insertion plan called for the Kohl to come in at a shallow trajectory, coasting past any Kra'Vak pickets. The trajectory would take her on a sling shot around Röt Hafen. In passing, Kohl would deploy two objects. One was the shuttle, which would skip into high altitude and deploy the Special Forces. The second object would be the surveillance and communications satellite.
Kohl had been in system just five days earlier observing the Kra'vak forces. Most of their ships had remained in orbit over the planet's western hemisphere, where the main settlements were, or between Röt Hafen and its one moon. The Kra'vak had nuked any settlements elsewhere on the planet. Hauser hoped that any enemy ships which could observe the eastern hemisphere would actually be looking out into the direction of any incoming invaders than inward to the planet. That would make the insertion task infinitely easier.
It was a long eighteen-hour transit to the insertion point. Initial passive scans detected nothing in the vicinity. As Kohl approached her sensors began to pick out enemy ships and other emissions. Tension amongst the crew rose with each passing hour. Hauser knew he would need to make one final course correction to time his arrival correctly. The main computer calculated the heading, duration, and intensity of the burn. Hauser wanted to make the correction as far out a possible, and the computer determined this to be 5 light seconds out.
946 conducted their final mission prep. First, rucksacks were packed. Each man carried a personal hygiene kit, sleeping/shelter gear, four days rations, one IV admin set and 1000ml lactated ringers, two gallons of water and personal survival gear. Added to that were sufficient power cells for their undersuits and system electronics to last two weeks. Each man carried extra ammunition and APDs (Anti-pursuit devices). Then there was the team gear. Freeman and Miner handed out explosives to each man to ensure proper crossloading. Molitoris and Frament, carrying theirs M5 first aid bags, divvied up spare medical supplies and handed each man his own small kit which he called their "itchies and scratchies" bag. Brooks, carrying the primary SATCOM communications system, handed the secondary to Captain Gerard. Lawrence, Donner, and Miner each carried one MBE (Message Beacon, Emergency). The team also divvied up extra communications, electronic and ECM gear.
After rucksacks were packed, each man checked over his web gear, which carried water, combat knife, utility tool, ammunition, grenades spare power packs, personal survival kits and other equipment. The team packed in a three-tiered system, meaning that if they had to dump their rucksacks in an emergency, they could still carry on the mission with their web gear only. If hey had to dump their web gear, they could still survive on what they carried on their person.
For weapons, most of the team carried the L7A4. This was the cut-down SOFMOD kit (Special Operations Forces MODification) version of the NAC's standard L7A3 assault rifle. The L7A4 was a bullpup- style weapon that fired 4mm tungsten-core projectiles from a binary liquid propellant mechanism. It carried a 100- round magazine, which also contained the binary liquid propellant supply, which was loaded behind the pistol grip. It was designed in an over under configuration with a 25mm rocket assisted HE grenade launcher loaded from a ten-round cassette. The SOFMOD kit grenades available included AP, HE (available in contact, timed detonation or airburst/proximity, opacity (smoke), flare, and anti-personnel flechette, all selectable by the firer). It had an integral laser-rangefinder/ aim point which fed into the firer's heads-up display (HUD). The weapon was designed with minimal maintenance and high survivability in mind. The A4 version had a shorter overall length, slightly shorter effective range, and was lighter. It was also capable of accepting a number of special modifications. One in particular, was the laser designator mount. This included both the designator and encryption discriminator software needed to guide in close air support, PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) and Ortillery. Another special modification was the IR aim point, which worked with the firer's HUD in night vision mode without the signature of the standard laser sight. Each man also carried the 10mm Browning 227 sidearm.
946 carried two special weapons. Ken Mellor, the team's sniper, carried an L9A3 sniper rifle (Gauss). This had been phased out of service by most of the NAC in favor of the newer L10A2 sniper rifle (Laser). 946 chose not to carry any power-weapons on the operation due to the scarcity and weight of power reloads. Their mission was reconnaissance, not combat, and they figured on replenishing 4mm ammo from local sources on the planet, if necessary.
Freeman carried the team's one heavy weapon, an L5A4 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). The A4 was the lighter and shorter than the standard A1, but still required a gyromount harness to carry it. Normally, 946 wouldn't carry a heavy weapon on a mission like this, but given that they would be on their own on Röt Hafen, Lawrence opted to take the SAW. Besides, Freeman was a young buck.
All equipment was rigged with H-harnesses and attaching rings for he drop. Loose straps and bits were duct-taped down, or dummy corded. Sensitive electronic gear received extra padding.
With equipment rigged, checked and double-checked, the team began suiting up for the drop. First on was the enviro-undersuit. This was a light-weight undergarment interwoven with a capillary-fed heating and cooling system run form a lightweight circulator pump. Attached to the suit was a health monitoring kit, which could be read by Molitoris by activating a chest mounted control panel. Morphine, stimulants, and antibiotics could also be administered from the panel. Over that went the ballistic cloth SOFMOD battlesuit, also known as the Stealthsuit or cameleonsuit. This garment was an active-camouflage battledress, which changed pigment depending on the immediate surroundings. The suit was treated to dampen heat signature. It gave the team an odd mottled look as they suited up. Molitoris had modified the suit further, after learning of the Kra'vak ability to se deep into the UV spectrum. Working with NSL technicians, he had put together an Aerosol UV-dampening spray with which he treated the team's equipment.
Over the suit went shin/knee, arm and chest flexible poly-armor. Often, 946 left the armor behind, but they opted to take it this time. They could always leave it in their patrol base during their recon patrols. It remained to be seen whether the armor would be effective against Kra'Vak rail systems. Finally, they wore new SOFMOD 2189-pattern combat helmet. It was lighter and less bulky than the standard infantry combat helmet, a feature that was always a necessity for heavily-laden SOF units, which often found themselves travelling great distances on foot. The helmet's electronics included a voice-activated three-channel low power communications system, which could be set to work on either HF or IR mode. This comm system could also interface into the team's long range communications. The helmet incorporated flip down light amplification and IR goggles as well as 4x10 image enhancement. Targeting data for the soldier's weapons system were fed right into the helmet's HUD system. Also incorporated into the helmet's microcomputer were IFF, GPS and navigational systems.
After suiting up, Mellor and Lawrence, working with Waldek, conducted a jumpmaster inspection of the small shuttle. All the seats had been removed to make room for the team and their gear. Once the shuttle was pronounced jump worthy, they conducted the final pre-jump briefing for the team, which covered actions on the shuttle and all jump the performance measures. Waldek, who had perhaps the most dangerous task given the insertion profile, attended the briefing since she would be wearing a parachute also. Once completed, Lawrence had the team gather around.
Captain Gerard had a few words: "Remember guys, accurate reporting down there is paramount. We'll be feeding this data back to the fleet, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what's coming next, even if they haven't come out and told us. Everyone on Röt Hafen is relying on us doing our job. I'm sure you guys will do fine."
Lawrence spoke: "All right you guys, it's that time of the month. Everyone knows what to do, where to go, and what to do if something shits the bed. And we all know that something always shits the bed in this business, don't we? Once we're dirtside, it's just us, so use the buddy system. One other thing. I noticed that everyone's been a little edgy about dealing with these Kra'Vak." Lawrence activated the holoprojector, which displayed the image of the Kra'Vak carcass taken from the briefing. "These things are not invincible. This one as killed in battle, by a slug just like ours. So stop worrying about what they're going to do to you and start figuring what you're going to do to them. You guys got that?"
There were murmurs of approval.
"I don't say this too much because it'll go to your fat heads, but you guys are the balls. Every one of you is a bad motherfucker. Together as a team there's nothing we can't accomplish. Now lets rig up and get the fuck off this tin can and into our element."
They turned to the huge pile of team gear. Its size made them wonder if they were pack mules or commandos. Mellor and Lawrence supervised as the men donned their para-rigs. The Mk VII high altitude low opening parachute, consisted of an initial drag chute which slow them in the initial phase of their decent. A main chute opening at 1500 meters would follow. The pack also incorporated an emergency reserve. The L7A4s were attached through the main lift web of the parachute harness. Eve if they had to jettison their rucksacks, each man would have his web gear and weapon. Next would be the altimeter automated opening and oxygen regulator unit, which snapped onto a chest mount. This would track their altitude, keep oxygen flow regulated at the right pressure, and automatically open the chutes at the pre-programmed time. The data was fed through a cable to the helmet HUD. The panel interfaced with an O2 bottle, which fed a mask, (this would be donned later), that sealed against the combat helmet. Thus kitted, each man's combat suit served as an effective vacc suit in low-pressure environments.
Once the initial parachute O2 bottle and gear were on, Lawrence and Mellor performed a JMPI (Jumpmaster Parachute Inspection) on each man. They went over everything with a fine tooth-comb since the slightest mis-cue would be fatal at that altitude. After the initial JMPI, they worked in buddy teams to attach their bulging, heavy rucksacks. These hung below the parachute against the back of their knees. Once this was done a second JMPI was performed. As each man was inspected, Mellor and Waldek helped him into the access tube to the cramped shuttle, the men waddling through the hatch under 150 lbs. of heavy gear at 1G. Mellor and Lawrence were the last to enter. They would don their rucksacks just prior to departure.
Waldek donned her emergency chute. Survival gear and O2 equipment also encumbered her. She was JMPI'd by Mellor. Afterwards, she went forward to perform final pre-flight. Mellor and Lawrence stepped over the prostrate team as they secured everyone to the floor of the shuttle with breakaway straps. Ken swore to himself about the ramshackle job they were forced to do, given the cramped ship. From a console above in the ceiling O2 hoses ran to each man, which they connected to their masks. This would provide the team O2 while preserving the little air in their tanks. Once all masks were sealed and O2 was flowing, they performed a team O2 check, to ensure proper oxygen flow. Having secured everyone, Lawrence and Mellor secured the shuttles tailgate, donned their rucks, and JMPI'd each other.. Internal cabin lights switched to red. As the tailgate shut, two rating on the other side of the door gave them a final wave, Both wore a "better you than me" expression on their faces. Noone spoke.
Lawrence and Mellor had a communication jack plugged into their helmets, which allowed them to speak with Waldek. They could hear her chatter with the ship's traffic control officer. It was easy to pick out the tension in her voice. None envied her. She had been thrust into this position with little notice, forced to operate the shuttle on the edge, or just outside it's envelope. But desperate times called for desperate measures. The insertion flight plan had to be performed precisely if there was any hope to put them on target without being noticed. The Kohl would not wait around for the shuttle, it too, being on an automated flight plan. She had one shot to nail the insertion, then get back. 946 was usually inserted by the 720th SOW (Special Operations Wing), a highly professional group of crew who Charlie trusted implicitly with his life. Waldek gave him an uneasy feeling, though he hid it from the rest of the men.
"Sergeant Lawrence, The Kohl is on final approach. All systems nominal, no sign of detection by enemy forces. Release in sixty seconds."
"Thank you Leutnant. Run the disk please."
"Very well." Over the rear comm system Holst's Mars the Bringer of War played. Charlie relayed the music through the team commo so he rest of the boys could hear it. The ominous, martial music would help focus their minds and put them in the right frame of mind for the coming ordeal.
"Thirty seconds until release." Charlie held up his pointer finger, bent over, the signal for thirty seconds. The music continued to build. Each man's emotions were hidden behind his oxygen mask.
They felt a sudden lurch, then weightlessness, as the Kohl released the shuttle. Ten seconds later gravity returned as Waldek ignited the main engine. Below her the dark mass of Röt Hafen awaited. The Kohl had released the shuttle well below the planetary horizon of the main settlement and the station in orbit. Waldek would bring the shuttle in "nap of the earth" so to speak. 946 would be released just beyond line of sight sensor range of the main settlement, also named Röt Hafen. Their drop zone was about 40 kilometers from Röt Hafen.
"On flight path. All systems nominal. Enemy sensor sweeps, negative. IP in three minutes."
Mellor gave a two handed motion like breaking a stick. 946 decoupled the external oxygen supply and switched to bottled O2. The team performed another O2 check.
The shuttle bucked violently as it entered the upper
atmosphere. The roar outside increased in volume, as did the music.
"IP reached, five minutes until release."
Mellor held up one hand fingered splayed: five minutes. This was followed by two hands palms facing out: get ready. Mellor and Lawrence stood, Mellor heading to the tailgate, Lawrence to the front. Mellor gave another hand signal, which indicated remove restraining belts. These were passed towards the skin of the shuttle and stowed. The next command, given with both arms extended to the side, palms facing up, then raised above head was: stand up. Heavily burdened, shuttle buffeting, this was no easy task, and the men helped each other to their feet. All were sweating and breathing heavily under the high G, and internal heat. Each grabbed onto each other or whatever he could to keep on his feet. Mellor beat his chest with both hands, signifying: check equipment. The men made a last perfunctory inspection of their own gear. Mellor held up two hands to his ears, signaling: Sound off for equipment check. Each man returned a thumb's up.
One particularly violent bump nearly knocked them over. "Two minutes to drop, one minute to deceleration." Mellor relayed the signal and everyone held on tight. Charlie was flushed with a mixture of fear and excitement, which kept his heart in his throat.
Up front, Waldek felt the same. The glow of the shuttle's heat shielding was subsiding. On the horizon she could see a faint hint of planetary dawn. She felt particularly vulnerable up in the cockpit. Were enemy defenses tracking her now? The threat-warning receiver remained silent. Waldek was preparing for a tricky maneuver. The shuttle would have to slow down to almost a standstill, pitched up to stall with the tailgate down in order to dump its cargo. A normal insertion, in a specially designed interface lander would entail and automated release for the men, ensuing they were put out together in the correct pattern at the correct height while maintaining the proper speed. 946 could rely on no automation. At this height they had to be put out together at almost a standstill, or they would b spread all over the planet. She could feel the overweight condition of he shuttle in the seat of her pants and the straining while of the engines. Worse still, atmospheric conditions were much rougher than she had planned as high altitude winds buffeted the shuttle like popcorn. Odd lighting fluctuations disturbing the atmosphere on the horizon concerned her, but the TWR remained silent.
Charlie and Kenny sensed that the ride was even rougher than anticipated, but that was the pilot's problem. They had to concentrate on getting the team out. They were pitched forward as the shuttle began massive deceleration. Regaining their balance, the buffeting increased. Each man weighed 500 pounds one second, then was weightless the next. Several felt airsick.
"One minute." Mellor relayed the message by holding up one finger: one minute. He signaled for Lawrence to release the communications lead form his helmet. This would avoid a nasty whiplash on exit. The shuttle's tailgate dropped, multiplying the roar by tenfold. This was the moment Charlie liked best. It was pitch black outside. He thought back to home for a quick second, sensing his family peacefully asleep in their beds while he was hanging it out on the line here. What a job! He was focussed and readies to get it on. Though he had disconnected the lead to the ship's comm system, he still could hear Holst in his head. Everyone switched to night vision. He felt a tingling mix of excitement, anticipation and fear. These ties deeply effected him, as he knew he shared this feeling with every soldier that had ever been in combat since the beginning of time. It was what defined them as warriors.
Brooks was praying to himself. Jeez, God. I know you know I ain't that religious. So it would be hypocritical for me to ask for your help now. But I just wanted to remind ya' that my Mom goes to church like every Sunday. And I know you wouldn't want to disappoint her, would ya?
Mellor had little time for anything but his jumpmaster duties. He reported rear tailgate down and secure, then unplugged himself from the comm system. He stepped onto the tailgate, holding on to the hydraulic lift bar, checking for any obstructions. Turbulence whipped at his uniform and gear. He began to make out terrain features, ten miles below. A red light beside the tailgate illuminated, signifying thirty seconds to release. Mellor pointed to the floor at his feet, signifying: stand in the door.
946 waddled up behind Mellor as best as they could, the team packed in tight behind their jumpmaster. Lawrence was the stick pusher, his shoulder in the pack tray of the man in front of him. Each man's eyes were on Mellor, or the man in front of them.
The shuttle pitched up violently, engines screaming as Waldek fought to hold it in the proper attitude. The ship's computer calculated they had reached the release point and switched the jump signal from red to green. Mellor had whacked his head against the bulkhead beside the tailgate at that last lurch and almost missed the light. Brooks, behind Mellor, gave him a swat on the head. Mellor saw the light and leapt. In less than two seconds all eight men were swallowed by the blackness.
With stall warnings blaring, and the sudden loss
of almost four thousand-pounds of payload, combined with a sudden violent
gust, flipped the small shuttle over like a toy and spun it earthwards,
engines whining violently. Waldek had failed to tighten her restraints
before the maneuver and she banged her head against both sides of her shock
frame as she fought to regain control. A fuel pressure warning light glared
red, as one of the engines developed a malfunction in the heavy spin. The
small shuttle plummeted like a rock.
946 dropped silently in the thin high air. To them it seemed as if they were still in space. The stress and sickening feeling of being in the shuttle washed away. They tracked together into a tight group that would facilitate control during descent. Lawrence looked around to acquire the team. He spotted seven of he eight, and performed a quick IFF check to determine who was missing. Freeman. A pang of concern washed over him.
Lawrence knew their low power comm systems wouldn't carry across to Röt Hafen but he was reluctant to break radio silence. Still, he had to locate Freeman. "Freeman? Freeman, what's you position?"
"About 500m below you, Sarge." Charlie felt a sense of relief. "I was unstable on exit and tumbled like a turkey." Freeman was jumping the SAW and gyromount, which made a stable exit difficult.
Charlie searched below him, increasing magnification
to 2x, until he picked up Freeman's IFF beacon. "All right I got you. Hold
what you got, we'll be right there." Charlie signaled the rest of
the team. "Let's delta on down to Freeman. No hot-dogging. Follow Kenny."
Each man switched his position from arms and legs spread, with back arched to arms straight and tight against the body, legs together. This streamlined position, known as a delta, increased rate of descent. As the team strove to catch up, Freeman continued to hold his own rate of descent steady. The team slid up on either side of him, or passing slightly below. Freeman maneuvered with arms and legs to assume his proper place in the team formation.
Waldek wrestled with the controls of the small ship. She corrected the spin, pitched nose down and picked up some forward velocity. Her precise flight plan had gone to hell. All that remained to be seen was if she had the fuel remaining to make orbit and the reach the Kohl. Her fuel readout was depressing, and a quick check with the computer confirmed she had missed the narrow window that would allow her back on board. She knew Kohl could not and would not alter its flight path to get her. She fought to keep down the panic rising within her at the realization that her chance for refuge had slipped away.
Waldek had enough fuel to get back into orbit, but
not enough to catch the passing Kohl. There was no way to make the
figures work. Damn. She began searching for a place to set down. A quick
glance at the threat-warning receiver showed no activity. Somehow the shuttle
had not been spotted. In the convoluted terrain below there had to be someplace
"Coming up on first automatic release, twenty seconds," said Mellor. "Let's flatten out and spread." The team maneuvered themselves so they were all at the same altitude, but at least fifteen to twenty meters between each man. A preselect on their HUD readout gave them their relative hold angle and rate of descent against the primary, Mellor. Opening up the formation ensured there would be no fatal collisions as the drags chutes deployed.
"Drag release in five, four, three, two ,guhhh!" From the main pack tray, a drag streamer deployed, slowing each man's rate of descent. It had been found that for drops above 40,000 meters, this mid drop slowdown was necessary. The drag chutes remained deployed for fifteen seconds, then were automatically cut away. Once gone, the team would need to reacquire each other and make any necessary course corrections. Each drag chute was interwoven with a magnesium filament, which would ignite in twenty minutes, destroying the evidence.
Mellor watched the cut away timer drop to zero the flash red, signaling a malfunction. He noticed the rest of the team fly past him. Shit. He reached up behind his head, groping for the cut away pull tab with his gloved had, found it and pulled down. The drag chute cut loose, and Kenny stabilized and tracked down to the rest of his team. He pulled up into the lead again, checked his systems, then finally started breathing again.
With everyone once again in formation, it was time to start looking for landmarks. Both Kenny and Charlie called up the drop zone imagery overlay into their HUDs to see if they could find match with the confusing terrain below them. They were plunging into a rocky mountainous region. The ridge and valley patterns looked off. Twenty seconds of searching brought neither any closer to pinning down their position.
"Ken? Any ideas?"
"I've got no acquisition of the DZ. Primary release in forty seconds. Let's flatten out and spread."
"Fuck it, then. "Find us a place to land."
"I'm on it." Kenny, having anticipated this likelihood, searched the terrain below and quickly found a contingency DZ for the team. He made some alterations in their track, which the team followed without comment. The ground was now rushing up at an alarming rate. They would have to pull sooner than the automatic release point. "Listen up, everyone get ready to pull on my mark. Quick! Give me a heads up."
Everyone gave a quick response to Kenny, and he was satisfied they had heard the command. "Pull in four, three two one, pull!"
Eight chutes blossomed in unison, tugging heavily at their burdens. Lawrence breathed a sigh of release at keeping everyone together up to this point. A miracle. Main chutes deployed, 946 formed up into a wedge with Kenny at the point. His eyes on the drop zone, he guided the team into a small clearing between two peaks. They tracked and circled over the clearing as each man spiraled down to a landing. Kenny touched down, gathered up his chute and ran off the small clearing to make room for the others. Kenny fell to his knees, removed his mask, and kissed the rocky soil. He activated the harness quick release, and shucked out of his gear. His L7 was intertwined in the spaghetti of his harness, and he knelt down to extract it. He pulled the duct tape from around the magazine,(It had been there to ensure the magazine stayed in place in case the release button was activated during descent.). It wasn't until he charged the weapon that he could sit back on his haunches, take a breath, and look around. First order of business was to take a piss. He called up the temperature, 4 Celsius. Despite the cold, he was overheated and sweating profusely from he excitement of the jump, and he dialed down his undersuit accordingly. That complete, Kenny set about unhooking the rest of his gear, then gathering up his parachute and sticking it into a kitbag. In there went also the oxygen bottle, mask, and control panel.
Lawrence appeared at his side. "How's it going?"
"I'm Ok. Geez what a jump."
"Yeah, that was a pucker factor of ten, easy."
Donner joined the group. "Hey have you guys tried digging in this shit? It's like solid rock,. We'll be here hours trying to bury our stuff."
Charlie scratched at the dirt with his gloved hand, thinking. They couldn't afford to take that much time. He didn't even no where they were yet.
"I've got an idea." Added Gerard, who a just joined them. "We can gather the kit bags up and stash them under a overhang I found, then set the burn timers. We need to get out of here."
"Agreed, Sir. Why don't you and Donner see to the kit bags. Kenny, Brooks, and I are going to figure out where the hell we are. The rest will pull security. Let's be gone in ten minutes, tops."
"Sounds good. I'll get you Brooks."
"Hey check that out." Kenny was pointing skywards. The sky was blanketed with a shimmering glow. Red, green and blue curtains danced in the night sky.
"What is that, aurora borealis?"
"Or something like it," said Gerard.
"That looks pretty damn heavy," observed Lawrence. "Funny I didn't notice it on the way down."
"There was no mention of it in the area study," said Mellor. "That's another bone to pick with the S2 shop when we get back."
Lawrence went back to studying their position. "I don't suppose you recognize any of this on the map?"
"Hmmm, well we need to get a fix from the satellite then. Assuming Kohl deployed it successfully." Brooks lumbered up with his gear, breathing hard. "Brooks, we need to activate the satellite and get a fix, so get to work."
Brooks looked up at the night sky with a quizzical expression. "Well, I hope that fuckin' thing is up there. Geez that's a fuckin' heavy disturbance. Hope it doesn't screw up the commo." He shucked off his ruck, opened he top flap and fished out the antenna unit, Setting up the small umbrella shaped assembly on level ground. He connected the cable to the main unit in his ruck, then connected anther cable to his helmet. Before activating the satellite, he had to find it. Removing a small card from his breast pocket, he aligned the dish according to those numbers. His first attempt was unsuccessful. He knew they were off course, but it couldn't be by that much, so he fished around in the sky with the antenna, by moving it in small increments until he received a bounceback.
"Bingo. Reading two by two. Pretty shitty. Interrogating now."
"Hooray for small miracles," said Kenny. "Without that thing, this was going to be a real short mission."
"OK, Sarge it's active."
"Download and fix, send up this ANGUS now, then shut it off." Lawrence handed Brooks a small list of scrambled letters, which represented the ANGUS report. That was the code name for their initial entry report, which hey were expected to send within 24 hours of insertion. It basically said: "We're here, we're safe, and we're continuing with the mission."
"Done. Satellite is shut down. I didn't get a very strong signal. That aurora is definitely screwing with communications."
"Would it also effect sensors?"
"Yeah it would."
"Well then, that's good. Anything that helped hide our insertion from the Kra'Vak is a good thing."
"Here's your fix. Sarge." Brooks downloaded the fix to Charlie's helmet via a little IR eye in both helmets. Charlie passed it along to Kenny. They compared the fix with their map datum, which was in each helmet's computer. Charlie also had a hardcopy of the map, which he took out and looked at.
"Goddamn, we're eight Ks off course."
"The winds were a lot higher than expected. Without the GPS up there was no way to correct during descent."
"Well that means we got a lot more humping to do." Gerard and Donner returned.
"Chutes are done."
"Good, here's the fix." Charlie downloaded it to Donner and Gerard. "Tim, you have the point. The adjusted waypoints and route should be on your map. Set your GM angle to 9 degrees right."
"Let's get everyone together."
The rest of 946 tightened the perimeter. As the excitement of the jump faded, they began noticing the cold, and undersuits were turned up accordingly. Each man received the updated map data. "Ok listen up", said Lawrence. "We're eight klicks off course. That means instead of moving twenty klicks, we gotta move twenty-eight klicks in the same time in order to make the RV. I know it sucks but that's life. Look at it this way. You guys were getting over in point eight five gees, so this'll help bring the universe back in order."
"Ha.Ha. Very funny," said Miner.
"OK, let's ruck up and move out. Direction is due west. We're going to be moving down this valley for five klicks. Let's go."
They picked themselves up and donned their rucksacks. As each man struggled to put his on, he wondered about the ordeal ahead, the barren inhospitable planet they found themselves on, and the dangerous alien foe. But mostly, they thought on the move ahead of them carrying the heavy burden upon their back. The team set off in loose order, five-meter interval between each man. Donner and Mellor at the point, followed by the Captain, then Freeman, Molitoris, Brooks, Miner, and Lawrence.
They slipped off silently into the darkness, alert and satisfied to be in their element.
The story continues in Looking for a Dog Röt Hafen chapter 3
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