Intercosmic - Chapter 3 - Welcome to The Jungle

Our Vaznian guide led us deep into the jungle through hidden trails. They weren’t marked or heavily used, but there were signs the area had been crossed through semi-frequently. Small chips of blueish-grey plants along the ground showed they had been cut before. I’m not sure what these vines are called but they grow incredibly thick. Our guide would cut through them, only to have them grow back behind us almost immediately after we had passed through the gap. Small animals roam the forest and stay clear of us, but I haven’t seen any large predators. Perhaps the strange plants keep them away. 

The plant I find most interesting is a green plan that looks like an Earth dandelion. They cover entire stretches of land, but as we get near, they retreat below the surface leaving nothing but soft and mailable soil where they once were. It’s interesting that these flowers can not only break through soul, but sense when people or animals are coming near so they can hide. I’ve never been a huge fan of biology, but outside of our solar system, things can get interesting. Most of the planets colonized by humans have brought plants from Earth that grow in the terraformed areas now. Other species are much more willing to just live with nature, we seek to dominate it, same as everything else. I wish this was the type of travel I got to do when I first joined up.

“Equipment test,” Creed calls out as we reach a small clearing.

Our guide slowly vanishes into the slowly closing opening we arrived through. I’m sure a lot of people think about following him, but none of them do. Creed’s wrath, no the fear of Creed’s wrath, is a more frightening idea to them than anything we may face here.

I run through a few tests on my armor. I don’t care for the light models; they cling to your skin too tightly and don’t provide a ton of protection in a fire fight. Essentially, it forces you to move instead of sticking to a vantage point. Casey is the only person wearing the heavy armor besides Creed. Casey is probably terrified, but Creed might know something. He’s never given me a reason to distrust him before now, but I can’t shake the feeling every time I glance over at him. When we’re out here, everyone needs to trust each other or accept we might all die. I check the sights on my pistol and ensure I’ve got a full charge. My assault rifle of choice the PX-293 uses caseless ammunition and fires in bursts using electricity. I’d like one of the Ghuklll rifles that fires shards of shrapnel created by the gun, but we’re only allowed to choose from human created weapons. I suppose the benefit is that this one allows for different kind of ammunition; explosive, heat, electric and so on. It’s a gun nuts gun, that allows for endless customization, but I’m not a gun nut. I just prefer burst firing because I’m not the best shot under pressure. I know my weaknesses.

“We’re splitting into three squads. I’ll lead the first, Gray the second and the third goes with Fujino,” Creed starts to lay out the plan, projecting a map for us all to see. “We’ll split up from here, maintaining radio contact. Each group will move in triangle formation until we find our target. Radio in, wait for further instructions. Real simple. Any questions.”

“Should we expect enemy combatants,” Creed shoots me a dirty look for asking the obvious.

“No, this is a stealth mission. If you find a lookout, terminate without hesitation,” I guess that’s my answer.

I take Casey as my medic, Eva as my scout, then Haseeb and Faramund as my designated gunners. I didn’t necessarily choose Casey, more Creed thought he was a liability so he stuck him with me. The kid seems to be focused, but his eyes are vacant. I’ve seen those eyes before, someone who wants to abandon the mission and go AWOL; a one-way trip to desertion.

“Sergeant Gray, should I move out ahead,” Eva asks.

“First name basis in my squad. Stay out of sight, first sign of trouble let us know.”

“Yes sir.”

I use first names with my squads. It subconsciously makes them trust me, a dirty technique but one that isn’t employed often. Sometimes I have more trouble with discipline or respect than others, but it balances out at the end of the day. They’ll never betray me, and they’ll always be loyal. That’s why Casey wants to run, but won’t.

“Rest of you, remove your safety and let’s move out. Be careful of the local fauna and animals, for all we know they could be more dangerous than our mission.” 

I remember my first mission, it was way different than this. My team was sent out to stop some so-called space pirates from raiding one of the human colonies. The location wasn’t as stunning as this, but the atmosphere was the same. An overbearing sense of dread and anxiety, despite everything going to plan. As we were wrapping things up and preparing to head out, a bomb went off, and then another, six in all. We had been so focused on shutting down the thieves that we didn’t notice a group of Ponarians had been planning a terrorist attack the entire time. They felt that humanity was expanding beyond what we had any right to do so. Despite our best efforts, the colony failed. After the attacks, nobody wanted to stay there. It was then that the Council for the Advancement of Humanity realized why the Ponarians were so feared. They would do anything, even die for their race, any of them. We know they live in hives, but scientist aren’t sure if they have a hive mind or not. If so, they’d be cutting off a toe to save the body. 

I can’t banish the thought that we’re doing the same thing right now, cutting off a toe to save the body. Problem is, it isn’t our body. It’s the Vaznian people, and we don’t really know anything other than someone wants them to join the Galactic Federation. I didn’t see any sex crazed people in the city, but I didn’t see any religious nuts either. I wonder if there’s another reason for this civil war, that we’re not noticing because we’re outsiders. I don’t have time to ponder and philosophize on it. The foliage is getting thicker, and taking your mind off the mission is the fastest way to end up dead. I just don’t feel like getting dead yet.

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