Lost Patrol Part 1

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Gecko Island
10 kilometres north of UN Post 492
April 2183

Water poured down the gorge in a brownish torrent, joining the water dripping off the leaves and onto Reiko's body armour. It was so hot that the mist steamed off the ground with every raindrop. The armour thermometer said 40 degrees C, and even with the cooling system set to maximum she was sweating, the armour unable to cope with the sheer level of temperature outside. Reiko looked enviously at the guide, a violet from the local militia who wore nothing but a light t-shirt and shorts under her webbing and unpowered body armour, though she wondered whether the violet could sweat under the chameleon paint she's slathered all over herself. The woman's gear was pure militia but she had a military optic mask over her eyes and the payload rifle she was carrying was clean and well looked after.

She looked up and down the gushing river, rejected a fantasy of throwing herself into the no doubt much cooler water and turned back to the rest of the squad waiting further up the path. The Harawayan squad wore combat armour had already taken on the local colours, with digital swirls that broke up their outlines and made the armour painful to look at for too long. A pair of gun spiders rested with them in the rain, turrets sweeping noiselessly back and forth, optics shedding water without trails.

She took a sip of her water then looked around at Corporal Tims, her squad leader "There's no way we're crossing here Ruth." Reiko looked back at the water "the fords a total washout."

"Fucking weather." Ruth sighed. Rainy season had come early this year, a vast band of storms blowing off the equator. At least the wind wasn't too high... though a good hurricane might at least cool things off. At least the UN troops in their hilltop position were probably having an even more miserable time of it. Ruth looked over at the violet, who's name Reiko's bravo informed her was Riana "Is there another way we could cross?"

Riana pulled up a map on the squads collective link "There might be, uphill from here the stream narrows, if a tree has fallen across it we can get across that." She highlighted a suggested route "It'll take us nearer to the UN base though."

"Well, we can't exactly not cross." Ruth looked along the bank "It's not like these remotes will lay themselves. I'll call in the route change, rest for five minutes." Ruth turned, her armours antenna extending and began to talk into the radio.

Beside Reiko the youngest squad member, Lisa came up "So I heard" she said without preamble "that Uganda still has the death penalty for homosexuality, so if they capture you they'll kill you and the UN won't do anything" being Point Reiko had a way of getting asked this kind of question. She was a figure of authority to the teams less experienced troops while at the same time somehow more approachable than their own squad leaders.

Reiko consulted her mesh "According to the mesh Uganda lost all laws against homosexuality around a hundred years ago, though they don't have an anti-discrimination statue" She smiled under her faceplate to take the sting out of her shortness "So don't worry, it's bullshit. These guys are UN, not Corporate, they aren't going to commit any war crimes, just facilitate them."

"Oh..." Lisa nodded "I guess that's ok then." She sounded dubious.

"Just obey the ROE and don't hesitate ok? If you feel your life is threatened you can light them up." Reiko patted her arm "I doubt we'll get into a fire fight either, the blue tops are a bunch of cowards." Lisa nodded and hurried back to her position.

Reiko sat for a few more moments just trying not to get any hotter then looked back as Ruth got up and her antenna retracted. "Get on the move Reiko." Reiko nodded and began to make her way forward at a measured pace, picking her steps carefully so to minimize her tracks. The rest of the squad and their guide would follow a bit behind, with the guide (with the advantage of experience of the area and more familiarity with the local data bases) would advise them if necessary. A few moments after Reiko had started moving the rest began to move too, walking with the same kind of careful, ground eating stride she'd used, they walked single file and each endeavoring to step only in the one in front's footsteps.

Reiko moved through the shrub, avoiding the path where there might be ambushes or watchers and looking around her constantly, gun shifting with her eyes. After a time she came to the narrow point Riana had pointed out, true to the violets word she saw a large tree had crashed down across the small gorge. "Mithras-one-four-five this is Four-one-one"

"Four-Five send."

Reiko fell into a crouch "Uh...I've found a potential crossing point now. I'm going to rope onto a tree and see if it'll take my weight over."

"Clean copy... uh... on the other side push forward fifty meters and wait for us to cross over." Ruth replied after a moment.

"Copy, minimap update once I'm across." Reiko moved forward and round her armour's line around one of the trees and snapped the cleat on its end onto the line, securing it, then began to walk across the fallen log. The tree seemed to support her well enough and once she was across she detached her rope and switched the bridge icon on her mesh from yellow to green and then began to move forward cautiously.

After her inertial navigation block told her she'd gone fifty metres she stopped and sunk into the cover of some logs, sweeping the terrain around her. In the distance she could see a break in the jungle, and through it, more distant still flashing lights. It was the top of the tower at the UN post at the top of the Island. Even ten kilometres away the massive duel function radar/communication antenna could be seen, the lights on the top visible even through the low cloud.

On her minimap the rest of the squad moved across the log bridge and Ruth pinged her to start moving again. The UN base vanished into the murk up the hill as she moved through the jungle. Visibility was even worse here, and Reiko found herself more and more relying on her armour's high definition microphones to sight in the misty conditions.

She'd gone about three hundred meters when she heard a twig snap ahead and down the slope, Reiko froze in place and sent out a possible contact alert. Her posture had already been low, now she sunk all the way to the ground, then datavised one of the small drones attached to her armour. In most terrain drones moved ahead of the point walker, but most drones couldn't move too fast and survive in this kind of hot, wet environment. Reiko would rather sacrifice one than get shot though.

The insect like remote sensor crawled out of her webbing then pulled its self up in her armour, shook its self dry and buzzed forward. The drone moved from tree to tree, drying its self like the insect it resembled on every tree. A small window popped up in Reiko's vision as the bug moved forward and saw people, power armoured people moving in a diagonal skirmish line down the hill. They wore armour of fairly similar design to Reiko, if slightly bulkier and with clear face plates and blue painted helmets. Each carried a electromagnetic rifle rather than payload guns and moved carefully, unsure of their footing in the mud.

"One-Four-Five this is Four-one-one." Reiko waited tensely for the response, she didn't really need to speak, her minimap adding the enemy patrol automatically, but saying it made her feel better.

"Four-Five send it"

"Nineteen blue top foot mobiles and four spiders." Reiko reported, "Battle rifles and armour, moving away from me down slope"

"Copy, They're a man short... pull back towards us and avoid contact. We don't want to start anything." Reiko began to do just that, crawling backwards away from the line of troops. Then the last man in the line who'd been, for some inexplicable reason, lagging behind stepped out of the bushes and looked down at her. She could see the Ugandan's eyes through his face plate, surprised, intelligent looking, his rifle began to come to bear on her. Was he going to point it at her? She thought so. Don't hesitate.

Reiko's payload rifle barked and the man's lower body exploded. He fell screaming, his rifle blasting the air above her head. Reiko scrambled backwards yelling "I'm engaged! I'm engaged!" as the slope around her erupted with rail gun fire.

End of Part One