Just a quick update: All three Battlecorps stories are still rolling along, and they falling together nicely. I want to have the first drafts of all three stories by the end of the month. Then, the process starts all over again.....
Anyway, Running from the Past, Part 5:
The two hunters left unassigned went with Jägare and Takezaki. Jägare knew both of them, though not well, has Hunters tended to be solitary types. But there was a shared bond between them, one built on understanding and deference of their fellow hunters that Takezaki knew didn't include him.
Reece was tall and thin, with a narrow face. He spoke with a Taurian accent and looked slightly unhappy. No one knew if he had a last name. Homer King was the opposite. Short and stout, he had a plan face and sad looking eyes. Like Jägare, his background was vague, but after listening to him several times, Takezaki decided he was from somewhere along the Davion-Kurita border.
The four veered away from the pirate’s trail and headed northeast several kilometers. Once they were far enough away, they rode at a fast clip north for a dozen kilometers, then angled northwest until they picked up the pirate trail again. A quick examination showed that the trail had only south bound tracks, a sure sign that the Pirates hadn't returned this way. They continued north.
Morning passed into afternoon. The four rode at a steady pace, wary of any possible ambush. The chill had faded somewhat, but it wouldn't be gone for long. In the distance, they heard some explosions coming from behind them, and a few scattered shots, but they were too far ahead to hear much of anything. Radio messages from Sven and Tetsuro were short, but told the four that the pirates were being bloodied severely and slowed. The pirates were concerned enough to call for reinforcements. An hour later, the hunters and Takezaki hid and watched another twenty pirates and two APCs pass them, heading south. They radioed a warning to the others, then continued on.
The long afternoon shadows merged into the oncoming night. Cascade was blessed with three moons, and it was a rare night when at least one of them didn't bathe the land in moonlight on those nights when they wasn't cloud cover. Tonight, two of the moons, Barents and DeLuca, were due to be visible in the clear night air. When night finally fell, they stopped long enough to heat a freeze-dried meal and some coffee, then each getting a hour or so of sleep before moving on.
They rode for another three hours, using the moonlight reflecting off the fallen snow to guide them. just as they began to enter a grove of Cascadian Evergreens, Reece, who was in front, held up a fist, signaling to the others to stop. He slid off his horse, and moved forward, the white sheets that he had draped over him making him look like a wrath in the strong moonlight. He stopped, stared ahead of him for a few seconds, then signaled ‘Stay here’ to the others, He moved into the shadow of a wide tree and disappeared into the snow covered landscape. The other three men slipped off their horses, took several steps away, and knelt in the snow, each covering a third of the surrounding territory
Reece reappeared a few moments later. “One guard,” he whispered. “Not a very good one. He was more worried about the cold then keeping watch.”
Reece lead them back up the trail and into a small clearing. The guard, his face covered with a blanket, was sprawled on the ground. With the exception of a pair of light sticks, a small stove and a radio, there was nothing to suggest much of a guard post. A rifle was propped up on a rock next to the stove.
“Now what?” Takezaki asked in a whisper.
Jägare looked around. “Trail goes through and up that slope,” he whispered, pointing at the far side of the clearing, where the land slanted up. “Homer, stay with the horses. Reece, Marshal, come with me.” The three of them moved quietly up the until they were about three meters from the top. At Jägare’s signal, the dropped to the ground and crawled the rest of their way.
The ground fell away into a hollow roughly the size of a small town. There were a lot of trees covering the slopes, but the trio could still see the pair of DropShips sitting in a clearing some fifty meters away.
“Leopard class,” Reece whispered, motioning to the fat aerodyne to the right of the clearing. “The other one looks sort of like an Union, but it isn't.”
“Mule class,” Jägare replied, peering through his binoculars. “Cargo hauler.” He handed the binoculars to Reece. “And they’re not expecting trouble.”
The hunter took the binoculars and stared through them at the DropShips. After about fifteen seconds, he lowered them and snorted softly. “Amateurs.” He handed the binoculars to Takezaki. “Too arrogant for their own good.”
The marshal peered down into the hollow. “I don’t see any ‘Mechs,” he said softly.
“They may not have any more then the three,” Jägare said.
“I see about twenty or so pirates,” Takezaki said. “One APC. This isn't going to be easy.”
“No, but they’re more concerned about staying warm then they are guarding against an attack. Let’s get back to the horses.”
They crawled backwards until there were some distance away from the edge, then stood and hurried back to Homer and the horses. They walked into the woods, away from the guard post, but close enough to watch it. At Jägare’s signal, they all knelt. “All right,” he said softly. “Here’s how I see it. The Leopard carries the ‘Mechs, while the Mule carries everything else – the vehicles, men and the slaves. Visible security is weak, but we don’t know what surprises there are inside those DropShips.”
“So, how are we going to do this?” Takezaki asked.
“We’ll leave the horses here. I want you three to set up in the woods near the Mule. I’ll use the radio only if something serious comes up or there’s a change in plans. If something goes wrong, kill as many of the pirates as you can and get out of here.”
“What about you?”
“I can find my own way out. Just leave my horse here.”
“Wouldn't it be better if two of us went in?” Takezaki asked.
Jägare shook his head. “I've done this sort of thing before. You haven’t. It’s going to be hard enough without having to watch out for you.” The marshal opened his mouth, but closed it slowly and nodded his head in acceptance.
“How will we know when something’s gone wrong?” Homer asked.
“When all hell breaks loose,” Jägare replied. “First, help me strip the body.”
Sorry this part is a little short, but the next part will make up for it.....