CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" EQUUS "
"Looks clear." It was Tomlinson, still on the east bank of the Cheyenne.* * *
"What's your status?" Tremblay wanted to know. Before the echo died on the bell's ringing he'd triggered the 'Tripoli Link' putting the three field leaders and the senior Hornet pilot in conference call mode.
Tomlinson looked over at Blocker, who was pulling the last spark plug from the second boat. The archaic internal combustion engines at the back of each watercraft couldn't work without them, at least that was the consensus of his 23rd Century Squad, although none of them had ever seen a working gas engine before.
"We've secured the site. Opposition isn't going anywhere by water." He was wrong. The boats had switched over to paddles for the last two clicks of the trip down river, and their members were strong enough that they could paddle back up river if the need required it. No one on Bravo Squad paid the slightest notice of the long wooden poles in each boat.
Across the water Algiers was hawk-eyeing the area behind them. His Marwayne rifle was up and ready, the scanners were searching on the hyper-sensitive setting.
The bell sound had come from the opposite direction but Algiers was sure he'd heard something whiz by him just before each shot struck. Problem was the waters edge had attracted a variety of insects, the noise could have come from nearly any one of them, but Algiers didn't think so.
His unresponsiveness was unusual. Tremblay knew something was up. "Charlie?"
Senior Leftenant Paul Algiers continued to scope the region; confident that if he looked carefully enough he would see the threat. The intensity caused him to forget that 'Charlie' meant 'Charlie Squad' and as its leader he should respond.
The tone alone woke Algiers from his reverie. He brought his hand up, holding the face guard over his mouth as he whispered.. "I don't think we're alone out here."
Tremblay stopped where he was and looked around. All he saw was his team, but the woods were teeming with flora. As unlikely as it was that someone could hide in that thicket he couldn't be sure. "Vogel, do you have anything?"
Five kilometres away Senior Fleet Lieutenant Jamie Vogel was focused on his displays. He had direct link to the five other Hornets, the overheads from Cimarron, and could pull up any of the Marwayne scans he wanted. He scrolled through the recent images quickly until he got to the moment of the bell strikes. The imaging system was so sensitive that it was able to visualize the sound waves emanating off the bell, through which were three distinct and very fast disturbances.
"I've got confirmation of weapons fire. Configuration isn't friendly."
Whether a product of training or not Tremblay automatically crouched as he continued to peer around. He was completely unaware that the rest of Alpha was watching him and instantly shifted to a defensive position, closing ranks and crouching, facing out, ready for an attack.
"Can you back track?"
"Affirmative," Vogel replied calmly, "All three came from the same place, approximately twenty metres back of Charlie."
Algiers allowed a half smile to cross his lips, he was focused on the space twenty metres back of them; staring here because he was sure that's where the whizzing had come from. Algiers was absolutely convinced he'd heard the shots; the only unanswered question: where was the shooter now?
"Do you see anything yet, Charlie?"
Algiers replied negative.
"Can we get overheads of that moment? Back trace trajectory?"
"Not likely sir, cloud cover is limiting overheads. Maybe we just need to flush them out."
Tremblay knew what that meant. "Lead only," he ordered.
- - - YAW – Zero Point Zero One Two / ROLL – Zero Point Zero Zero Zero / PITCH – Zero Point One Zero One / ALTITITUDE – Seventy Seven Metres even / MOTION – Zero - - -
Fleet Senior Lieutenant Jamie Vogel, or 'Hunter' as his call sign read, sat in Hornet 3 as though he were a statue. He knew how his craft was operating, so well in fact that he could call out the Y-R-P-M info without even glancing at the displays.
Like most pilots, Vogel had originally shunned the Hornet. As they taught in the Academy, "real pilots went fast", but the Calvary Recruiter knew his prey's weaknesses, and she knew how to create the desire to at least try the clunky machines out. Once Vogel had stepped inside the simulator, familiarized himself with the controls, condescended on their simplicity, smug and assured in his skills, the Recruiter... damn, he couldn't remember her name, just that smile, and the curve of her... well the trap was set.
The simulator bucked like an untamed steed and even getting a shaky control of the craft proved daunting. By the time the sim had finished Vogel was sweating, his heart racing and his breathing shallow, all the signs of an early love.
Since then he'd found, as all Hornet pilots did, that the relationship between Pilot and Craft was more intimate than with any other craft. They referred to these vehicles as their 'mounts' and that's because a Hornet Pilot knew his craft, related to it, as though it were alive, just as the original Cavalrymen had with their horses.
They spent their off-hours doing their own maintenance and Vogel allowed a slight grin as he fondly remembered the camaraderie of his first Calvary Regiment, each of them sitting beside their mounts, in their bay on the Astral Carrier Krulak, pulling the guts of their vehicles out and doing their own repairs.
Because of this, Vogel, as was true with every one of his Squad, could land his craft, pull out the emergency tooling system housed in the back under his access tube, extract some raw blocks of composite material, and carve out nearly any part required to get airborne again. He'd done it more than once, slapping together his own repairs so he could rejoin the battle. That sort of bond between operator and machine was unmatched anywhere in the Network.
- - - YAW – Zero Point Zero One One / ROLL – Zero Point Zero Zero Zero / PITCH – Zero Point One Zero Two, Zero One / ALTITITUDE – Seventy Seven Metres even / MOTION – Zero - - -
Vogel had been watching the long-range scope with his usual intensity. It's display, projected on the inside of his full length cockpit glass - a misnomer as the poly carbonate transparent material was three times stronger than diamond - presented a crisp image, topographical as well as visual, of the target before them. The No. 1 Cheyenne dam. Other, smaller displays fed overhead views to him of all three field groups, and the other five Hornets, including full imaging and bio-resonance.
That's why Vogel had flinched a half hour earlier when a deer jutted out from a cluster of trees and bounded toward Bravo Squad, his hand was already on the throttle ready to push through the tops of the massive growth pine trees he was hovering behind. He'd held back simply because the motion was too 'non-human' to be a concern, although in truth Vogel couldn't really tell a bounding deer from a charging bear.
His weapons pod remained on stand-by, his forward thrust cluster was idling, the only thing active on Hunter's steed was the quietly humming resonance of the grav-plates, keeping him steady seventy-seven metres above the forest floor below, the occasional slight nudge of station keeping reactors held his position behind the top three meters of pine trees, while the threat warning array, swept the theatre of operations ahead.
The shots that rang off the bell deflected westward in a slightly raised parabolic arc, which took them, over the life of the trajectory, almost a hundred metres higher as they ricocheted west of the Dam, or, in other words, directly towards Hunter and Hornet 3.
It was enough to trigger the threat register, and although the bullets - having already lost a third of their momentum, were no danger to the armoured vehicle - they were immediately identified as being from a weapon other than the Astrals, and therefore hostile shots.
Vogel waited until Captain Tremblay had activated the 'Tripoli Link', a term none of them knew the origin for, and participated in the conversation as requested, because frankly that was protocol. Unless the teams were under direct fire he and his crew would wait for the Captain's word.
The moment the word came Vogel pushed the throttle forward, bringing his Hornet to life as it eased between the tops of the two trees he was hiding behind. He descended quickly, dropping very near to the forest floor, before accelerating on a break-neck pace, rushing between grand trunks of wood and the occasional outcropping of rock.
"We going in?" The call was from Hornet 2 but each of the other pilots had the same question.
"Circle round. Idle. Ready to join, but stand by!"
* * *