Ndlovumzi Nature Reserve, Xanathan Territories
<< Atlas, Atlas this is Hornet-Actual. Standby for report 2-2. Over.>>
<< Hornet-Actual, this is Atlas. Send your traffic, over. >>
<< Atlas, this is Hornet 2-2. We are in Sector 3755. Gunner up and scanning with thermals. >>
The data being fed into the gunner's visual cortex from the cameras affixed to 2-2's hull was an achromatic panorama. White flames rose from an overturned jeep and danced against an atramentous backdrop. A sickening gradient of grays trickled through the carnage and thickened as blood mixed with soil loosened by the helicopter's blades.
<< Line Eduard, line Dirk showing Hond squad's immobilized ground vehicles. Biometrics register heavy casualties; requesting evac for wounded. Negative visual on enemy element. Requesting further orders; how copy? >>
The squadron of four heavily-modified helicopters that made up Xanathan's elite Hornets circled high above the smoking husks of the convoy below. Each manned by a pair of cybernetically-enhanced soldiers integrated into the Hornet's operations and weapons systems. Through an infrared haze their sensors continued to search for further signs of the perpetrators. Silence overtook their comms awaiting a response from XSF military command.
<< Roger 2-2, Atlas copies all. Proceed to Sector 3700. Rules of engagement have been modified. Support local detachment in suppressing hostile element. Atlas out >>
With a thought, the Hornets broke formation and veered off towards the neighboring village of Phalaborwa; a half-hour away by air. Its population had swelled since the diaspora and the town proper now found itself encroached upon on all sides by a mass of corrugated sheet-metal in the form of shanties and impromptu markets. Orchards of orange trees on Phalaborwa's outskirts shuddered at the Hornets passing. They approached the small detachment of XSF guards at the relay tower that dwarfed all around it. An array of advanced sensors kept the populace under constant surveillance, monitoring their whereabouts amongst other nefarious criterion. The leader of the squadron, designated Hornet-Actual, attempted to establish a link with the tower's local biometric monitoring system as they were hailed on communications.
<< Tower Pieter-0, this is Hornet 1-2. Requesting sitrep. We have orders to engage enemy foot mobiles in area. >>
Hornet-Actual felt a tension rising behind the cold implants embedded into his eye-sockets as the network was as slow to respond as the ground force. The sudden writhing of crimson plasma against a greyscale world sent Hornet-Actual and his aircraft into paroxysms as the panicked cries of an altitude alarm fell on deaf ears.
**Remote access to the local network denied**
<< Atlas, tower Pieter-0 is compromised. I repeat, tower is compromised. >>
Caught in the throes of a violent stroke, Hornet-Actual felt his consciousness drowning in the onslaught of information relayed as sensory input. It would have taken weeks to process a modicum of the torrent; but only seconds to impact against the tower. The three remaining Hornets tore away from the explosion and lunged headlong in opposing directions. They traversed in wide arcs above Phalaborwa as the concussive percussion of 30mm chainguns firing 650 rounds per minute pierced the sky. The township quavered in the wake of the sudden destruction; memories buried beneath smoldering rubble in an instant.
From a distance Najwa peered through the latticed prisms that shielded the town hall's interior. In her perch she saw heat trails with absolute clarity as each round tore through the air in an outraged buzz. The rounds had a secondary incendiary element and within minutes only the district of Old Phalaborwa remained relatively untouched. She adjusted the straps of a pilfered ballistics vest, amazed at the composure with which the few operatives they'd embedded had mobilized the citizenry. At least half the town was now being evacuated through tunnels that had appeared while Najwa neutralized the small contingent that guarded the relay tower.
A voice, soft against the garbled interference of encrypted channels, rose from a bloodied handheld transceiver that lay propped up against an H&K G36 beside her (all graciously provided by Xanathan).
<< Kengue, incoming. >>
Najwa switched the transceiver off and shouldered the rifle as the familiar rasp of Kengue greeted her from behind.
"Sis, this.. is bad. Boss says.. we have to go.. before they kill us.. for being madzviti." Kengue spoke through labored breaths, the rattle of his respirator heard with each pause.
Najwa knew that if Ayanda had sent him to the frontlines, things were not well. He was barely into his sixteenth summer; gaunt features hidden beneath a hodgepodge of foreign clothing. She gave him a quick hug before looking gravely into his obscured eyes.
"I can't just leave them to be slaughtered," she gestured to the huddled group of townsfolk, "and she knows that. It's my duty to protect them. Those madhimoni are here because of me."
Kengue laughed and playfully pushed Najwa away. He looked up at her and removed his sunglasses, doing his best to imitate the look she just gave.
"Boss.. figured.. you'd say that," he paused to regulate his breaths before continuing, "and wants you.. all... back at base."
Najwa smirked at Kengue before she gave a sharp whistle and a rallying yell. "Everyone, we're leaving!"
She then turned to her young companion and inquired if he'd made contact with the pair she'd entrusted with the child.
"Of.. course," he smiled mischievously, "can't.. wait for.. the Lion.. to meet.. the american."
80km W of Saudade, Glasslands (formerly Sollum, Libya)
Nuberu sat at the precipice of a brobdingnagian chasm; one of legion created in the aftermath of nuclear holocaust. Within its abyssal depths bubbled malice and sorrow ineffable. He felt an atomic patina spread over the exposed flesh of his face and forearms; it renewed him. Weeks since his last meal, life was nearly impossible to find in the wastes. The land sustained him, but peeled away his humanity with each passing hour.
A plume of noxious fumes and scouring detritus erupted before Nuberu as violent gales tore through the gulch.The brief respite in the nigh-perpetual tempest that had swept across the region for thirty years had ended. Covering himself once more in thick hides, he set out for the remnants of an old Ottoman fort across the expanse. A flash of lightning in the distance and once more did Nuberu set eyes upon the phantasmagoric vista of Saudade eerily framed by preternatural effulgence.