Star Force: Headstrong (SF72)

BOOK: Star Force: Headstrong (SF72)
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1

 
 

August 29, 2840

Mastodon System
(Ninja Monkey territory)

Kido

 

Morgan stood on the edge of a small, churning pool of
water looking up at the waterfall that stretched above it more than 100 meters
as Ur’va’sel walked up beside her in his red/black Ninja Monkey combat armor.
The Scionate stood as high as her shoulder with his head raised upwards to look
at her with a scorch mark across where the left eye would be, save for the fact
that the helmet, like Morgan’s, had no faceplate or eye slits. It was solid
armor with an interior display screen fed by multiple microscopic cameras on
the exterior, so the quadruped didn’t see the damage he’d taken earlier in the
day, only the jungle around them.

“What is it?” he asked her.

“Just taking a moment to ponder the change in lizard
tactics,” she said, still looking up at the waterfall that was throwing a fine
spray of mist over her golden armor, though the helmet cam wouldn’t pick that
up on contact and cloud her vision, “and to wonder why these battles seem more
personal. I’ve helped take 93 worlds from the lizards, but these last few seem
different.”

“Because you can keep them?”

“Maybe. Or maybe it’s because I’m responsible for them
hereafter, whereas in the past I’d just move on to the next target. Still, I’m
feeling a bit of sentimentality I hadn’t expected.”

“Do you think the lizards feel likewise?”

“No. I think they’re testing us again. We haven’t been
using large forces to take these planets and they either sense a weakness or
just don’t want to let us get away with victories that we didn’t earn.”

“They are not going to take this world back,” the
Scionate said firmly.

“I think their aim is to deny it to us, or at least
stall our advance. Whatever their motivation is, they keep sending more troops
down.”

“In that they are at least making us earn our keep.”

“They’re wasting troops, Ur’va’sel. They may not care
about losses, but they always lose them for a reason. I don’t see their angle
here, but they’re up to something. I know it.”

“What can they hope to gain? Even if we should be
defeated the rest of Star Force will not let them keep this world.”

“Technically it’s all on us, but they don’t know
that…or do they? Damn, I’ve been blind. That is why they’re here.”

“Explain please.”

Morgan shuffled her feet, thinking things through in a
flash.

“There’s been a lingering question concerning their
intelligence capabilities and whether or not they monitor ADZ activities. Do
they even know our language? I know they’re too smart not to take advantage of
opportunities, but we haven’t seen any evidence of it. We make so much public
knowledge they can’t have missed it, and Ninja Monkey’s mandate isn’t a secret
anymore. It’s hit the news networks, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t
monitoring them somehow.”

“So they know we are limited in number?”

Morgan nodded. “I think they’re testing us in that
regard. They want to see whether or not we really are on our own, and if we
are…holy crap.”

“What is it?”

She turned to look at her top ranking Scionate within
Clan Ninja Monkey. “I think the lizards are picking a fight with us, and intend
to take back these worlds if they can. These troop insertions are probably just
scouts, testing our reactions.”

“What of the past years? We never saw this response in
the other systems.”

“It probably took time for them to notice, now they’re
calling our bluff. We either fight them Clan to lizard, or break our mandate
and get help.”

“Why would they care?”

“They know about our no-go line. I bet this is a
taunt.”

“How could they know that?”

“Well, we haven’t publically said we’re not pushing
any further coreward, but it’s pretty damn obvious which directions we’re
expanding. This border is staying essentially the same while the Calavari and
Bsidd Regions are mushrooming out. Either they came to that deduction based on
the map or they deduced it through word of our mandate. If they know, or even
suspect that we won’t push coreward, then I bet this is just the first stage of
them getting bold…and that’s something we cannot have.”

“Bold, as in major push?”

“Possibly. Either way I think they’re going to contend
this world and every other one we take going forward,” she said as a ping on
the battlemap got her attention.

“Another drop pod,” Ur’va’sel said, seeing the marker
for a new lizard craft that was entering the atmosphere at roughly the same
speed as a meteor and would deliver 100-200 troops instantaneously to whatever
location they wanted, and with most of this planet not covered by Ninja Monkey
anti-air defenses they were landing troops everywhere in small groups that were
accomplishing a number of missions.

Morgan had already busted up several firebases they
were establishing in the jungle or digging underground. Nothing large, just
ground work while other teams were hitting soft targets and even assaulting the
two colonies she’d started to build on Kido. The 18 lizard colonies that had
been located here were now toast, but the lizards had not let a day go by
without them having boots on the ground in some location. They owned two more
worlds in this system, with Morgan now owning three if you counted Kido. As was
normal for her Clan, she was renaming every system and world she took, even
though this world was not fully under her control yet.

The other two insystem had been taken some 4 years
ago, but she hadn’t been able to launch this attack until she’d built them up
sufficiently to defend themselves. Her available troop numbers were low, for the
Ninja Monkeys now possessed 9 different systems on the border and had to have troops
in all of them for defensive placements. Even as she was getting in more and
more recruits from a variety of races she was having to hold back her invasions
until she pooled enough to make the next step forward. That more than anything
probably confirmed to the lizards that she was operating alone here, and now it
looked like they had decided to fight her directly rather than playing for time
and letting Star Force have whatever systems it wanted without lizard
reinforcements to contend with.

The enemy’s local defenses in this region were heavy,
given the fact that Star Force had not pushed into this region and the lizards
had been able to build freely since they’d claimed them. They were definitely
challenges to take, but Morgan’s gut instinct confirmed what her mind told her.

This was an entirely new game, and without Star
Force’s backing the lizards weren’t going to be playing shy anymore. Their
claws were starting to come out now that they sensed an opportunity for
victory, either in outright reclaiming some worlds or in at least making Star Force
go back on its stated mandate for her Clan. That would be a symbolic victory
rather than a material one, but if they were monitoring ADZ news broadcasts
then they were probably aware of Star Force’s ‘no nonsense’ reputation and
their credibility when it came to pronouncements and following them through.

If they forced Star Force to backtrack on this one
it’d be a black mark, suggesting that they’d underestimated the threat. It’d
been so long since the lizards had had a victory against them that maybe that
was enough of a reason for them to pursue, or maybe this was just for the sake
of testing how Star Force would react. Either way, more of those drop pods were
coming down from orbit as lizard cruisers dove into the upper atmosphere to
release them before they could be intercepted. Morgan’s small fleet could hold
its own, but blockade an entire planet it could not.

“Crap, they’re coming down further away than we
thought,” Morgan said, turning on her left leg and jumping into a run following
the course of the small river. “We’ve got some running to do.”

“We will keep pace,” Ur’va’sel said as he followed on
her heels while sending out a
comm
to the other
Scionate nearby to join them. Within a couple of minutes a group of 17 others
had caught up and fell into a long, agile line following the trailblazer and
having to work hard to keep up with her despite their quadruped speed
advantage. The jungle was tricky to navigate, which forced them to redirect
with about every third step, but Morgan blazed the trail and the Scionate
followed her marks as they crossed country as fast as they could to get to the
location of the recent drop pods.

It took them almost half an hour to get further to the
south, then Morgan began picking up mental signatures and guessed they were
moving off from the pods so not to betray their locations. The jungle canopy
was thick enough to hide them from all but the closest of scans and the lizards
were making good use of it, with this group of six moving rapidly to who knew
where.


Iv’ra’nom
,
Gha’stiv’kex
…they’re yours,” she said, diverting to the
left to chase a larger group ahead.

“We will be back shortly,”
Iv’ra’nom
said as he and another Scionate towards the end of the line broke off from
their trail and made their way towards the waypoint Morgan set down slightly
ahead of where the lizards were moving. The Scionate didn’t have psionics to
track them, but get them close and they’d be able to do the rest.

Morgan kept their pace hard, forcing their way through
bits of dense jungle and over hillsides rather than trying to circle around.
She had no trouble jumping over the bits of terrain and fortunately the
Scionate didn’t either, for they possessed a vertical jump higher than her
own…though they did have four legs to accomplish it with.

When the trailblazer cut over a short ravine she
hopped up to the cliff edge and grabbed a branch, pulling herself the rest of
the way up and onto her feet at the top while the Scionate just lunged the full
height, clawing at the ground for traction and letting their momentum take them
up and over the rim. Morgan got back into the lead after a moment, then led
them the last kilometer up to a group of at least 100 lizards that were not
moving, or rather not across terrain. They were active, but it looked like they
were setting up another firebase in a fixed location, probably what the group
of six were planning to work out of and extending their perimeter.

The lizards had been using
comm
probes to set up short range sequences that could stretch across kilometers
without being noticeable from range. Star Force couldn’t hack the signals
because they were so low powered that they couldn’t get a receiver on them,
plus it seemed they were mostly directional and broadcasting horizontally,
meaning even the most sensitive equipment couldn’t pick them up from orbit.

Those six might have been going to deploy those, but
she’d have to wait for the report from the two she sent after them. One armored
Scionate was enough to kill six lizards, but she didn’t want to get sloppy. And
while she could easily have tracked down these groups solo, she’d been using
the Scionate more and more as escorts simply due to the fact that they could
keep up with her while running…not to mention that the lizards were now
scattering rather than standing their ground and fighting, and having more
people with her helped greatly in running them all down.

If the lizards had an advantage they’d fight, or had
nowhere to run to, but if they had a choice they’d flee and regroup with
others. It was something new in this campaign, but then again everything here
seemed new, like the lizards were working on another page in their playbook.
Morgan wasn’t sure exactly what they were up to, but the more of them she took
out of the picture the better, as always.

And her team wasn’t the only one out roaming the
jungle. She had hundreds of teams scattered across the planet doing the same,
though she saved herself for the hottest spots, and this region had seen the
most recent lizard drops, hence this was where she’d deployed herself and her
Scionate team.

When they were nearly on top of them Morgan
telepathically gave the Scionate the order to fan out, with her slowing her
speed but still remaining point. Just as she was about to use her psionics to
subdue the outlying lizards she ran straight into an invisible wall and bounced
off it. Three of the Scionate did as well before the others checked up and
stopped short of the shield wall the lizards had deployed.

An armored paw poked at Morgan’s helmet as her Pefbar
returned quicker than her vision.

“Archon, are you alright?”

“What…what the hell?” she asked, sitting up and
feeling a bit dizzy as she looked ahead and saw the tiny fluctuations in her
Pefbar as to where the energy shield was. Just past it she could see the
lizards squirming about, for they’d been alerted to their presence and were
hastily going somewhere further away from the shield wall…which she expected
was around the entire perimeter, but there was no way to know for sure.

“An energy shield,” the Scionate said, looking down at
her helmet as she sat on the ground for a moment before she attempted to stand.
Not seeing that coming had knocked the wind out of her, but she was getting her
balance again quickly.

“How quaint,” she said, looking around for an emitter
nearby but seeing nothing in her Pefbar to telekinetically wrench. Instead she
summoned up a wave of goosebumps and pooled her concussive energy around her
body. “Follow the perimeter and see if you can find a gap. I’m going after
them.”

The Scionate immediately left her and scattered in
both directions while she walked forward and stepped into the shield with her
Jumat disrupting it enough to let her pass through. Unfortunately she couldn’t
transmit the energy around the Scionate or she would have brought them with
her, and trying to knock the shield down for a heartbeat to let one of them
jump through would have taken too much time. As soon as she was on the other
side she ran ahead, tracking the nearest lizard minds through the thick foliage
to try and find out where they were going.

BOOK: Star Force: Headstrong (SF72)
14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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