I crawled to the edge of the crumbling rooftop, looking out at the facility devoured by the Paradiso jungle. The dense canopy cast the squat overgrown buildings in a twilight gloom, only relieved by the flickering light of the spacecraft’s burning wreckage.
Determined clumps of jungle undergrowth had forced their way through the concrete roads and thick vines had conquered most structures. Only the blackened scar that the wreckage had gouged during the crash showed any contest with jungle vegetation.
“Good. We beat them here. Let’s find Liu Fe’s body and get out of here.” I had my arms under me and was about to stand when the Hac Tao, Voodoo 6, interrupted.
“Stop. They’re there. See that rooftop over there? By the exhaust funnel? Bagh-Mari HMG.”
I froze and looked at the rooftop he’d indicated. All I could see was a rat’s nest of coolant pipes and vines, dappled in shadows. A few leaves fluttered in the breeze as I scanned the rooftop.
Wait. There was no breeze, just the stifling humidity of the jungle.
I snapped my gaze back to the fluttering leaves and could just make out the outline of the disguised trooper.
“Seen. Fu Lan, Feng Bo, cover that contact. Ding Tai, hold that walkway and prepare to flank any Bagh-Mari hiding behind the building. Keep eyes out for that TAG. Voodoo 6, Tai Sheng, you two will push up the right flank and locate Liu Fe’s body. Mai Lei, you stay back here and support the fireteam remotes. First Strike, move out!”
“Moving into position. Wait. Movement ahead.” Ding Tai reported. A flock of colourful birds took flight from the dense clump of trees highlighted by the Zhencha. It was easy to see why the birds had startled as the trees were shaking violently.
“Looks like something’s coming through. Something big. Contact! It’s a T-“ The rest of Ding Tai’s frantic report went unheard as the piercing whine of an HRMC drowned out the normal sounds of the jungle. Beside me, the Son-Bae disintegrated under the hail of the super-accelerated slugs.
“TAG identified. Looks like the Dragao.” Fu Lan radioed in the abrupt silence following the first volley. He stared down his sniper rifle, unfazed by the settling cloud of splinters and destroyed foliage masking the TAG. “Engaging.” The Haidao’s sniper rifle cracked twice before being overwhelmed by another burst from the HRMC. At a pained grunt from the Haidao I looked back along the rooftop through the cloud of disintegrated concrete from the HRMC fire. I grimaced as I spotted Fu Lan sat down behind the parapet, a length of rebar protruding from his shoulder.
I turned my attention back to the TacDisplay as the Haidao grabbed the bloody rebar and began pulling it out of his shoulder. With our sniper and ML down, the Bagh-Mari HMG was taking the opportunity to try and take on Feng Bo. Distracted by the TAG firing into our right flank, Feng Bo had taken an HMG round to the chest before ducking into cover. I checked his vitals on the TacDisplay and saw his armour had suffered a catastrophic failure and he’d probably broken a few ribs from the shot.
“Cpl Feng Bo! You alright?”
“Yeah Boss, just a tickle. I’ve got this bastard.” I smiled at the response. Most normal people would be collapsed mewling in pain after a hit like that but very little seemed to phase the beefy Zuyong.
My smile disappeared instantly as I noticed a new contact rapidly appear above us on my TacDisplay. Before I could try to scramble his jump designator, an Akalis Sikh Commando dropped through a gap in the canopy to land behind the building we were holed up in. Two barks from it’s shotgun were followed by the Pangguling’s indicator going red on the TacDisplay.
“Sir, enemy approaching my position. Ready to engage.” Mai Lei’s trembling voice came over the net as I watched the TacDisplay in horror.
“No, Mai Lei get back into cover! Fu Lan!” I frantically grabbed for my shotgun. Looking over I saw Fu Lan crawling one-armed towards the stairs with his Breaker pistol out. A short burst of combi rifle fire and a Mai Lei’s terrified roar were cut off by two loud shotgun blasts.
“Fuck!” I punched the concrete wall beside me as Mai Lei’s indicator went red. She’d tried to tell me she wasn’t suited to a frontline role and yet I’d insisted. Then I’d gone and blundered my team straight into an Aconticimento Shock Force ambush.
“No… you… fucking… don’t…” Fu Lan gasped out as he fired his pistol down the stairway at the Akalis. The Sikh Commando looked up from where it had been trying to drag away the unconscious Mai Lei and put two more shotgun rounds into the wounded sniper. I was four paces away when the rounds hit and had a clear view as the back of the Haidao’s helmet disappeared in a spray of red mist and metal.
“Fuck this! Feng Bo, keep their heads down!” I shouted over the net.
“With pleasure Boss,” the Zuyong responded grimly. The roar of the HMG and his confirmation of a kill were muted, as if heard from a different room. I could only hear my breathing and Mai Lei’s last message, both echoing loudly within my helmet as I sprinted to the edge of the roof.
Looking over I saw the Akalis with his back to me, crouched over the unconscious body of the engineer. My shotgun barked twice, and I was rewarded with the grim satisfaction of seeing the Commando’s body spin away and crumple in a spray of blood.
“-keep them suppressed… No, I’ll deal with the Boss…. Keep an eye on Rao. Sir? Sir!” Staring at the broken body of the Akalis next to the unconscious Mai Lei, I gradually became aware of Tai Sheng shouting down the net trying to get my attention. As if a switch had been flipped, suddenly all of the muted battlefield noises came roaring back at me.
“Sergeant, SitRep.” I replied as I studied the TacDisplay.
“Good to have you back Sir,” I winced at the Sergeant’s rightfully admonishing tone. “We’ve pinned down the Bagh-Mari fireteam but that Dragao is still a hardpoint. Ding Tai thinks he’s ID’d their Lieutenant. I suggest we take him out and sow some chaos.”
“Good plan Sergeant. Private Ding Tai, I need you to take out Rao. This is priority one. It’ll leave you exposed to the TAG, however, so be careful.”
“Roger, Sir. We all gotta go someday right?”
I watched from my rooftop as the Zhencha erupted from his camo and sprinted forward. He clearly caught the Bagh-Mari team by surprise as their pot shots flew wide. Unfortunately, the Dragao was more alert. As soon as Ding Tai began his run, a loud hiss preceded a huge jet of fire erupting from the Dragao’s hiding location. I looked on as the flames engulfed the Zhencha, his armour melting and sloughing away in the face of the heavy flamethrower. Despite the awful pain and heat he carried on driving forwards, raised his submachinegun, and got a burst off at Stephen Rao.
The rounds flew true and riddled the PanO Lieutenant’s back. His objective achieved, Ding Tai collapsed. Hardly recognizable as a human, the remains of the Zhencha were a smouldering heap of slagged metal.
“Priority One neutralised.” Tai Sheng’s clinical voice brought me back to the battle.
“I believe this is where I come in,” Voodoo 6 announced before dropping off the side of the building he’d been waiting on.
“Sergeant cover Voodoo 6. Push up the right flank and take out that TAG.” I watched from the rooftop as the two HI disappeared into the warren of overgrown containers and pipes.
The loss of their lieutenant clearly threw the Aconticimento team. My TacDisplay showed a panicked flurry of communications amongst the PanO forces. My radar pinged another PanO transport aircraft overhead, but the canopy was too dense for this jumper and he aborted his drop.
It was Voodoo 6 who clocked his approach vector first and gave me an opportunity to see the Hac Tao in action. The Operative waited patiently as the Akalis charged forward, shotgun blaring. Voodoo 6 didn’t flinch an inch at the shotgun blasts but simply squeezed the trigger on his MULTI rifle and put a DA round straight through the Akalis’ forehead.
The Dragao pilot must not have been phased by the death of their lieutenant, safe back in the security of its remote control suite, or it might have been the positive sighting of Voodoo 6 that catalyzed it. The clump of trees creaked and groaned before splintering and cracking as the TAG forced its way through. With heavy footsteps, muted by the bed of vines and undergrowth, the Dragao clumped through the maze of old extraction fans and exhaust ports.
Finally finding the Hac Tao, the Dragao charged between Tai Sheng and Voodoo 6. Both HI stood their ground and opened up with their rifles. The Dragao confirmed my suspicions that it was hunting Voodoo 6 as it unleashed its heavy flamethrower on the Hac Tao. It appeared the rumours of black magic that the Unit was named after were true as Voodoo 6 walked out of the flames unscathed. Only the delicate thermo-optical camo systems on his armour had suffered.
Ignored in the shoot-out, Tai Sheng managed to land a round into the TAGs back, her Breaker round melting its way through the heavy armour plating. The single-mindedness of the Aconticimento hunting of the Hac Tao made me wonder what terrors he had inspired when stalking this force.
The focus on Voodoo 6 meant the Dragao was positioned perfectly with its back to Feng Bo. I watched the Zuyong stand up, line up his HMG, draw a long deep breath, then delicate squeeze the trigger.
Feng Bo and I exchanged brief looks of horrified confusion before he frantically re-cocked the weapon. It was too late, however. One of the Aconticimento support troopers spotted Feng Bo and alerted the TAG who spun to face the HMG threat.
“I’ve got this. I think.” Tai Sheng radioed. Emptying her entire Breaker rifle mag into the Dragao she dived around the corner of an old container. Flames from the Dragao’s heavy flamethrower licked after her but ceased their chase when her Breaker rounds finally melted their way through the TAG’s armour and burnt out its drive core.
With the threat of the TAG neutralised, Tai Sheng and Voodoo 6 both moved up to get eyes on Liu Fe’s corpse. Unbeknownst to us one of the Bagh-Mari had been similarly moving up the left flank. My first indicator was a warning beep on my TacDisplay seconds before Feng Bo’s anxious report that his suit had been hacked and immobilised.
“Shit,” I muttered as I watched the Bagh-Mari grab our emergency beacon and retreat into a clump of jungle foliage. I tracked Feng Bo’s suit systems slowly switching from amber to green on my TacDisplay as he reset his suit. The seconds it took dragged on like minutes until a victorious shout from Feng Bo was followed by the heavy thump of his HMG.
It was too late, unfortunately, and his HMG rounds shattered tree trunks and vines where the Bagh-Mari had been.
A message from Lieutenant Jin Li flashed across my HUD. PanO troop transports detected incoming. We needed to end this quickly and bug out. Reading my mind, Tai Sheng slotted a PanO Trauma Doc watching over the corpse of Liu Fe.
Without a thought to the danger to herself, Tai Sheng sprinted from her cover to the Crane’s body. A nearby mine exploded, showering her in debris but leaving her unharmed as she gunned down the Bagh-Mari paramedic across from her.
I watched as she drew her knife and crouched down by the mangled body of the Imperial Agent. After a grisly minute’s work, she stood up and stashed the bloody Cube in her pouch.
“Right team, we’ve got what we need. Start withdrawing to RV 5-“ I started before Tai Sheng interrupted.
“Sir, I’m going for that Bagh-Mari. We don’t know the damage they can cause with an encrypted YJ emergency beacon.” With that she charged into the undergrowth after the Bagh-Mari.
“Damn it Tai Sheng! Get back!” No response met my order.
“Captain leave it to me. I’ll watch over your hot-headed Sergeant. We’ll meet you back at Special Operations HQ,” Voodoo 6 radioed in his perpetually unfazed voice. I resignedly acknowledged as I watched him prowl after the Zuyong.
The PanO troop transports were noticeable as a growing howl now. Feng Bo hefted Fu Lan’s messy corpse onto his shoulder as I picked up the unconscious Mai Lei and led us into the concealing embrace of the jungle.
IA 5-3 SAA
Daaaaaaaamn. Honestly thought I was gonna lose that game on Round 1 Turn 1.
My dice were distinctly subpar all game but even without them Alex played a stormer of a first turn. That Dragao did a great job of neutralizing my fireteam, then the Akalis dropped in perfectly and continued the job.
It was a miracle that I managed to claw the game back and I attribute it solely to the Zhencha gambling on killing Stephen Rao. Putting Alex in Loss of Lieutenant didn’t do much to stop the Dragao’s rampage, but it forced him to burn all his Command Tokens to enable it. This meant he couldn’t reform his fireteam which saved me a lot of hassle when pushing Tai Sheng to collect the beacon.
TAGs are tough to take down, especially when I’d lost my sniper and ML, but I felt really unlucky with the HMG rolling 3 20s. Even when I did hit it kept tanking its armour saves. Weirdly it turned out that Tai Sheng and her Breaker rifle were the best tools for putting it down!
We really wanted to use lots of jungle terrain, but the store was limited due to a tournament going on at the time. I liked how the jungle terrain interfered with fireteam dynamics and demanded different tactics. I was terrified of the Bagh-Mari fireteam in the jungle terrain before the match, although in the end it was the Akalis and Dragao that did all the damage.
A great game all-in-all. We were both exhausted by the end from the constant swings back and forth.