Even in the 55`F weather, Dirk was sweating profusely under his plastic armor, as they marched along. They had been underway for 6 days now and were three days out of the last village which they had passed through. The weather was actually very nice and the trees were turning beautiful colors. Dirk, however, wasn't paying much attention to the foliage, except to try to look around it to see if anybody was lying in ambush. They had been informed in the last village that they were going to be coming into Hopper territory, or at least on the fringes there of. Now they were coming into typical Hopper territory and tensions were running high.
Hoppers are a descendent of the cute little bunny rabbit that so many people at one time either kept in cages in their backyards, shot to keep them from eating the greens out of their gardens of ran over while driving down the street. After the holocaust, however, those cute little bunnies started getting bigger and bigger. It's funny the way evolution, although great numbers of totally non-viable creatures are created can still overcome and through natural selection, that is survival of the fittest, produce a strong viable creature from the millions of disgusting mutated attempts at duplication. Hoppers now average 5' tall, they go on their hind legs and have, for the large part fairly nimble fingers. They have learned to build weapons, or rather to operate the machines to build weapons which men left behind. They are no longer the harmless herbivores they once were, either. But rather have developed quite a blood lust and rarely eat greenery, although their systems can handle it. Hoppers have, however never forgotten where they came from. That is one of the advantages of having the reproductive capacity of a rabbit. The whole evolutionary process, aided, of course, by the holocaust, took them only the 150 years which have past since the holocaust. And, the abuses that rabbits had suffered at the hands of humans were never forgotten, either. Hoppers now hate humans, and all those who associate with them, with a passion.
Dirk glanced over at seeker, who was walking in the middle of the group. The tentacles going up his spine from the small of his back to spread out and cover his entire upper back between the shoulder blades and then up the back of his neck and onto his head, were thin and about 5 - 8 inched long. They were all covered with a fine fuzz and emitted a kind of electricity as they moved to and fro on his bare back. Seeker could feel Dirk's eyes fall upon him. He looked back at Dirk and said, "No, not yet, my friend, but I think we are approaching them, my friend."
Dirk shivered slightly. It made him nervous to know that Seeker could 'feel' practically his every thought, his every emotion, although he also knew Seeker to be a benevolent man. Indeed Seeker did not like violence of fighting at all, though he realized it's necessity at times, and he carried a stun stick as his only weapon. Dirk also didn't particularly enjoy looking Seeker in the face. "That," he thought, " was worst of all."
It was because Seeker did not have eyes and a nose of 'normal' shape. Seeker eyes were two large white oval discs that went from his forehead down along the rim of the cheek bone. The discs allowed him to distinguish between light and dark, and he could sometimes make out shapes in this way, but he generally didn't try. Seeker's nose began protruding lower on his face and only came out slightly, before turning up, the nostrils opening almost parallel to his face. Seeker's main sense was that of touch, as facilitated through the tentacles on his back, neck, and head. These were very sensitive and he could "feel" through the air everything around him. He had no need to "look" at Dirk when addressing him, as normal humans do, but did so only to direct his voice. The exact range of Seeker's senses weren't known and it always depended on the weather, how far he could 'see', so they didn't rely only on him, but from experience they knew that he usually had at least a few seconds head-start on any enemy actions.
Seeker's comment had not, however, had the effect of relieving some of the tension, but rather of increasing it another notch. Seeker felt the tension and was angry with himself that he had said the wrong thing, again. He had hoped to relieve some of the pressure the group had been under since about the tenth hour that day, when they realized that they were entering into Hopper territory. They were sure that an attack was imminent, the question was only, 'when?'.
They moved along the 5' wide path that was covered with not yet totally dry leaves. The path was heading up hill, they had gone over 6 such hills already. Everything was quiet, only a few birds were singing here and there.
Jeremy, who was 30 yards ahead on point, was moving slowly, but steadily forward. Jeremy moved lightly up the path. His weight shifted smoothly from one foot to the other, while the flaps of skin connecting from his arms down to his feet flapped softly. He made no noise. His back was slightly arched forward and his head was extended fully and moved attentively to and fro, looking with his one good eye, the other covered by a black patch. His nose sniffed actively at the air and his whiskers twitched. Jeremy's senses were not to compare with Seeker's, but he was the best point man any in the group had yet encountered. The light brown fur which covered his body allowed him to blend in, in most settings. His small nimble frame allowed him to move quickly in case of danger and his long bushy tail bouncing behind him spoke a language of its own. Dirk, at least, had learned to read that tail, which allowed Jeremy to communicate everything he saw without a word.
Jeremy's grip tightened and released rhythmically on the bow in his hand. The arrow released rhythmically on the light alloy bow hand. The arrow already notched was barely a sixteenth of an inch thick and three sixteenths of an inch wide, with minimal feathering on the end. A very light but strong arrow made of the same alloy as the bow.
20 yards behind Jeremy was Rom. He got his name from a story he had heard about a great silver knight, who roamed the earth before the holocaust. This knight as the tales would have it traveled the land eradicating a species of evil shape-shifters, that tried to sabotage the society. Rom associated with the knight because he, too, was silver. Rom was a mutant, whose body separated and collected a trace metal from what he ate. That combined with the other elements, naturally present in his body and made Rom's skin, very hard, and great protection from punctures. He could not move as freely as "normal" people and would have been very heavy for a man of 6'. He was, however, extremely heavy, being only 4' tall. Rom was not a dwarf. He was normally proportioned for a man his size. He was, however, also by virtue of the high metal content of his body, very strong and his bones were virtually unbreakable.
Rom wore military fatigues, including a woodland camouflaged soft cap. His hands were covered with black leather gloves and his feet by combat boots. His face was painted with black, green, and brown. He didn't do it out of a great concern for disguising himself for his sake but rather for the sake of his companions who didn't have his kind of protection. Rom had no fear of battle, for his skin had never been broken. He did, however, have a great fear of water. As long as he could see the bottom and it wasn't too deep it was alright. But if the water went over his head he began to panic, because he could not float. For this reason he always carried a fully charged breathing apparatus with him in his back pack. In his hands Rom had an Ener-buss. A primitive form of an Energy Shotgun, which required a full 3 - 5 seconds between shots to build up a sufficient charge again. What issued forth from the muzzle was a ball of plasma energy. The ball expanded as it
traveled disbursing totally after 25 yards. At close range it was a devastating weapon, but at long range it was all but worthless. Rom also carried a double-sided battle axe at his side that he used in close combat, which he loved.
Rom's grip on his Ener-buss tightened in expectation at seeing Jeremy's tail stop for a split second at the top of its bounce then sweep from front to back on the right hand side, indicating that the enemy was to the front and right of the party. Rom glanced quickly back to Seeker who nodded slightly in conformation of the unspoken question. Seeker had already informed the others silently, without informing Rom, who always got his first indication from Jeremy and who probably wouldn't be hurt anyway if caught in unexpected fire. Rom's glance fell on Dirk on the right making sure he was ready and then on Borg on the left.
Borg was a mutant that shouldn't have made it, but because she was born in the laboratories of Corps 1, she was kept alive and used for experimental purposes. Once she was old enough, the scientists of Corps 1 affixed experimental bionic appendages and organs to her body, where the natural ones were not functional. She was turned into a cyborg and was referred to thereafter as 'Cyborg 113'. She just called herself Borg. All of Borg's appendages are energized by her bodies enhanced digestive system. By keeping to a strict diet, Borg is able to generate enough power for her appendages and the weapon she carries. This was the biggest break through Corps 1 achieved with Borg. The traditional problem with Cyborgs was that they had to stay within range of a broadcast power station or carry extra power cells, to power there appendages. Atomic power was tried on many occasions and, while excellent for the short-run, in the long run it caused the premature break-down of the bio-structure of the host specimen.
All of Borg's limbs are augmented to one extent or another, with extra augmentation in the left shoulder and arm, which supports the PAB (Particle Beam Accelerator) Cannon she carries. She can project a force screen from her right arm of up to 3 meters high and 2 meters wide. Both her eyes are perfect. She has an integrated targeting system built into her lead gear. The PAB Cannon has constant power from her systems.
Borg winked at Rom, knowing he loved battle almost as much as she. Rom continued his normal scanning, the whole communication hardly taking enough time to notice. Seeker could feel the tension of his companions decreasing as they finally knew where the enemy was and that they had the drop on them. He also sensed the Hoppers. There were 15 of them; 3 to 1. It was a small force and they had, he could tell from their positioning and uneasiness, set the ambush up hastily. They were definitely on the fringes of Hopper territory and this was just a security patrol. They must have seen the group coming from a small hill-top 250 meters to their right. Seeker knew the hill was there alright, but like human sight, his feelings are less and less accurate at longer distances. He began feeling sorry for the Hoppers that were never going to see their families after that day. He sensed that some were very young and fearful. "Probably new recruits," he though, "just out for the first time. Its going to be a slaughter." Seeker wished he could just speak up and call the whole thing off but, it was too late for that. He knew, despite all of his feelings, that the Hoppers were ruthless and wanted to destroy the party, just because they were related to human kind. He knew they could have avoided the fight, but didn't. They choose it and they would not live to regret the choice.
One of the Hoppers had seen Borg and the news shot down the line. The recruits got even more antsy and a couple decided to take her out first. They lined up their shots and Seeker felt it. He could feel their terror at the prospect of Death. The Sergeant was waiting patiently, a seasoned veteran. The recruits, however, couldn't wait any longer. They wanted to attack before thy were noticed, to have the element of surprise. The way Jeremy's tail bobbed to and fro made them nervous. "If they only knew," thought Seeker, "that we've known about their presence for a full minute already."
Jeremy had given the first signal, indicating the Hoppers' presence, a minute ago, now he gave a second signal, to attack. For three seconds there was nothing. The group progressed normally, each counting slowly, to themselves, "One-one-thousand, Two-one-thousand, Three-one-thousand." Then, at once, as if one mind was controlling their actions, the troupè launched into action. Jeremy sprang off to the left and up landing about 5 meters up a fir tree. He was a descendant of the Squirrels and used his natural abilities to scramble around the far side of the tree from the Hoppers and up another 5 meters. Dirk peeled off the path to the right, the side on which one flank of the ambush lie. He took up behind a tree and fired a shot down the enemy line. Rom fired one shot from his energy-bus while charging forward and untethering his battle-axe from his side. Seeker had let Borg know about the two Hoppers aiming at her. She didn't hold it against them that they wanted to kill her, she was rather quite proud of it. Her force shield crackled to life as the Hopper's shots rang out at the exact second of the group's action. One of the recruit's was thrown off by the sudden flurry of action and sent his bullets over her head. The other's bullets hit the shield which gave off a crackle as each hit and was repelled. Using her infrared sighting device to negate the effect of the foliage covering their position, Borg fired her PAB in a slow, even arc. The first Hopper was hit directly, the beam ripping through his body like an acetylene torch through sheet metal. His body was cut in half from the shoulder to the hip as the beam moved through its arc. The second dove as the first was hit and managed to save himself, but for a shoulder wound.
Seeker was the weakest of them in combat, especially when it had t do with long range combat, but he still tried to carry his weight. He ducked off the path to the right, hitting the forest floor to get completely out of sight before engaging the holo projector he wore. This particular holo projector was a chameleon screen, and allowed the user to blend into the surrounding area. It even functioned whilst the user was moving, although distortion became more apparent as speed increased. Seeker would rather have used a force field, but couldn't due to his hyper-sensitive tentacles. He did also use a semi-soft body armor, to protect his front, but this did not prove to be adequate protection. Seeker rolled a yard and a half deeper into the forest before getting up on one knee.
The Hoppers were caught totally by surprise and the only shots they had managed to get off were those being squeezed off by the two recruits as the attack began. The blast from Rom's Energy-bus swept over three Hoppers who were close together and it singed their fur a bit but because of the range, of 30 yards, didn't do much else. It did, however, serve the purpose of adding to the confusion. Dirk hit one of the Hoppers with his paralyser. Because of the short range he would be out at least five minutes.
The Hoppers were at a total loss, they no longer had the upper hand, which they actually never did have, but had believed they would have. The group of adventurers continued to press their advantage. Dirk swept up behind the Hopper ambush, using the automatic camouflage of his plastic scout armor to cover his movements. Seeker began moving up slowly to where the first Hoppers were. He Paused at the one Dirk paralyzed, his eyes were big, he was still breathing, slightly, and could see and hear everything happening, but could not do anything.
The Seeker probed his mind and on the very surface of it were images of a G-carrier arriving to save the ambushers. Along with the images was a belief. Seeker had been probing for long enough to know that this was knowledge, not hope. The Hoppers had reinforcements coming! He began to move, to warn the others, when all went blank for the Seeker.
Rom plunged into the woods, hacking with his battle axe. The first Hopper he came upon parried his axe with an alloy sword. The two were fairly evenly matched in strength, despite the Hoppers one to one and one half meter height advantage. The Hopper countered with a sweep downward at the base of Rom's neck. The sword bounced off Rom's skin with the clang of metal on metal and the blade reverberating in the Hopper's hand. Rom could feel the impact of the blow, surely. He would be a bit sore the next day, because of the force of the blow, but much better this, he thought, than having his shoulder cleft from his body. The Hopper's jaw would have dropped with eyes wide, if that were the sort of thing Hopper's did to express the kind of utter astonishment that this one now felt. Rom grinned, unhesitatingly he swung his axe up and cleaved the Hopper's head in two.
Borg moved to the edge of the path, took up behind a tree, and began firing at the group behind in front of them, wounding one of the Hoppers whose rear end was sticking up a bit too high.
From up in his tree Jeremy had a good view of the battle and what was going on. He saw dirk before his armor's camouflage made him neigh invisible and followed his path of broken branches and matted underbrush through the woods. He saw Seeker roll into the underbrush and engage his holoscreen, then he lost him. He caught a glimpse of Rom's battle with the Hopper. He saw one frozen Hopper, 2 dead, and one injured on the right flank of the path. Three others had moved around to Borg's flank and were setting her up for a crossfire that would force her into the open. Another three were moving in to take Rom, but keeping a safe distance from him whose silver skin glittered where his shirt had been hacked away.
The five in the front flank were remaining in place. What were they up to? Jeremy wondered. He knew something was afoot. Unless they are just being cautious and waiting for Borg to be driven out into the open. . . Jeremy picked the one who looked to be in charge and took careful aim. His arrow flew straight and true, but his quarry moved slightly just as the arrow was loosed. The arrow was intended to drive down between the shoulder and the clavicle, into the lungs and heart. Instead, it drove into the helmet the sergeant was wearing stopping just short of his skull. The impact did knock him down though.