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Summary: What does it take to be a Gear? Find out in the stories Echo Squad has to offer.
Four days had passed without reinforcements. Ammunition was scarce and difficult to come by, with what little supplies could be located in the heart of Ephyra. The air was thick with the smell of discharged weapons, dead bodies, and leaking fuel. The Centaur Main Battle Tank that Echo Squad used to traverse the city had been disabled by a swarm of tickers, preventing the Gears from escaping their current location. The vehicle came to a halt within a central courtyard, surrounded on several flanks by Locust Snipers and Drones.
“Webster, get to cover!” The largest soldier in the squad quickly ducked behind the smoldering remains of the Centaur, positioning himself underneath the main cannon.
“We have incoming fire! All directions!” Bringing his Lancer Assault Rifle upwards, Lieutenant Stratford unleashed hell on the incoming Locust forces from a firing stance near the disabled vehicle.
The explosion had torn through the Centaur tank, killing one of the four crew members. Vito could barely manage to gain his bearings, he couldn’t tell where he was within the armored vehicle. The only noise besides the monotonous ringing from the explosion was that of Lieutenant Stratford barking orders to the surviving members of the squad to take cover from the hail of gunfire directed towards them from every direction that could provide an advantage in a firefight.
Vito managed to roll from underneath the wreckage of the Centaur tank and onto the cobblestone pavement below. He finally had a fresh view of things from inside his helmet; the devastation brought from the pack of tickers had been much more destructive than he had originally anticipated. The vehicle had been completely spilt open, with most of it’s internal parts spread across much of the courtyard. Without hesitating, Vito dove behind rubble that originated from a collapsed building, creating a large obstruction in the main avenue upon which the rest of the squad hunkered down from enemy fire. Becoming irritated of being pinned down, Vito returned fire. He emptied half a clip towards the direction of incoming fire, hoping to pepper Locust infantry with a hail of bullets.
His efforts were met with further frustration, as none of his shots met their mark. The incoming Locust Drones quickly scrambled behind stone columns no further than twenty feet away. The sounds of war filled Vito’s helmet with a chorus of gunfire from just about every type of weapon he used during basic training. He was one of the last soldiers in the COG to finish basic training before being shipped out for active duty-that’s how desperate the war had become, command relied on Veteran Gears teaching rookies the ropes.
Vito found himself locked within a dazed, trance-like state, his body filled with fear and his mind wrecked with the thought of death. The sounds of his squad mates broke the silence he experienced in his mind.
“Rodriguez!” “Prime your grenade, soldier!”
Vito quickly dipped his hand into the satchel attached to his thigh, priming a bolo grenade for use. Leaning against a crumbled pile of concrete, he began swinging the grenade in a quickened, circular motion. The explosive attached to the chain-like extension was swung around and released when enough momentum was gained to throw it. He watched the device clatter along the cobblestone surface before landing next to a pair of Locust drones. The next thing he knew, chunks of the enemy combatants landed everywhere near the location he tossed the grenade.
“Echo Squad! Full retreat! Take cover in that building!”
Lieutenant Stratford and Private Webster made off towards the building, filling the air with the sounds of Lancer rifle fire, which echoed loudly in the courtyard. Compelled by the will to survive, Vito followed after both of his squad members, in the hope he too, would survive the ordeal. The young soldier vaulted over a pile of sandbags, preventing incoming Locust fire from hitting him while he had his back turned to the enemy.
The squad seemed to be safe from the Locust threat for the time being. They had made it into the cover of the bombed out building, surrounded by all sides by sandbags and rubble. When ever a Locust soldier would attempt to rush the fortified position, the combined firepower of their weapons quickly destroyed all incoming enemies.
Private Webster turned to face Vito Rodriguez, whispering under his breath. “So…soldier…what unit were you assigned too before coming with us this fine morning? More importantly, what is your name?”
Webster grinned towards the rookie Gear, loading a fresh clip into his rifle.
Vito placed his weapon against the sandbag he positioned himself against, quickly replying to the other soldier.
'“Vito Rodriguez, Private 2nd' Class, COG-117316-AP-17Y. 26'th' Royal Tyran Infantry, 216'th' detachment, Echo Squad.”
“Didn’t need your whole life story, Kid. You can call me Webster.”
Private Webster reached over to Vito, offering him a firm handshake. They exchanged greetings before looking to the Lieutenant.
“That kid… is Lieutenant Stratford. A real hero, a living legend. He served in the Pendulum Wars.”
Vito’s eyes widened beneath his helmet. He leaned up further against the sandbags.
“Wow…really? I didn’t even know that anybody was left from the Pendulum Wars.”
Vito shook his head in disbelief, refusing to believe that anyone could possibly survive so many encounters with the enemy and still be breathing.
A Locust patrol was mounted to search for the Gears who had survived the attack on the Centaur Main Battle Tank. The group consisted of several Cyclops, Grapplers, and Drones all armed with Hammerburst Battle Rifles. Each of the humanoid soldiers marched down the street towards where the human soldiers had last been tracked. They searched through each of the buildings leading up to the factory the Gears had taken refuge in, hoping to evade the occupying force that imposed it’s will on much of Sera.
Lieutenant Stratford could hear the marching of boots and the low grumble of a nearby Grinder approaching. He quickly grabbed his Lancer Assault Rifle and dove behind a pile of sandbags, priming his weapon for combat.
“Gears! Incoming Locust forces. Arm yourselves,”
Stratford casually peeked from behind cover, searching for the enemy from a safe distance away. He counted fifteen drones of various types, armed with assault weapons of every kind. The group was protected from the sides by several Grinders, all of which made a great deal of noise while marching.
“Ah, shit. That has to be a hunting party,” Webster quickly declared, switching the safety off of his weapon.
“I’ve never heard of so many Locust searching for a single squad before,”
Vito chimed in, clambering behind an empty oil drum.
“Be quiet, they’ll hear us,” Lieutenant Stratford remarked, attempting to quiet the chatter between the men under his command.
The Lieutenant quickly calculated what would be needed to dispatch the patrol without alerting the attention of enemy forces in the area. He signaled his Vito and Webster to take far positions along the factory, peeking their weapons out of windows which had a panoramic view of the street the Locust traveled upon. While waiting for his men to get into position, he bolted towards a catwalk, taking a higher firing arc over the approaching infantry forces. Aiming his weapon downwards, he was ready to signal the squad to open fire.
Vito could hear the Lieutenant’s voice over his helmet’s intercom, “Open fire! Priority targets on larger Locust.”
Following the orders given, Vito and Webster unleashed their counter attack on the Locust. Squeezing down on the trigger of his rifle, Vito aimed for the closest Grinder, feeling the recoil of his weapon and watching the 5.56 mm rounds pepper the beast with fully automatic fire. It took the entire clip for the beast to collapse to the rubble filled street. The remaining enemy combatants scrambled in every direction, searching for cover to hide from the concentrated fire.
Webster finally managed to empty an entire clip, loading another one into his rifle in a perfectly timed reload. He went back to firing his weapon, attempting to take down more of the incoming Drones as they rushed his position. He counted three of the foul beasts dead by his weapon, several more returned fire, pinning him down beneath a hail of bullets.
Lieutenant Stratford fired from the catwalk above the street, mopping up Drones that took cover from the weapons fire disbursed by Vito and Webster from their concealed positions within the factory. He managed to kill six more drones, leaving several more wounded. The firefight lasted for ten more minutes, leaving most of the Locust forces in complete disarray, some of the drones managed to slip away, but all of the Grinders had been killed during the intense exchange of gunfire which left emptied magazines and overheated weapons laying about the battlefield.
“That was one hell’uva fight, Rodriguez. Good work…for a rook,” Webster chuckled, shifting his pale oculars towards the direction of the Lieutenant.
“Err… well… thanks,” Vito replied apprehensively, gazing through the face plate of his standard issue helmet.
“Alright, Echo… this is the plan. We have a nearby Stranded outpost about five clicks from here. They might be willing to help us, on the other hand, they might shoot us on sight. We really don’t have many options here and we can’t have an evac in such a hostile enemy zone.”
The Lieutenant checked his data pad, attempting to locate the bearing he would need to lead the squad to the Stranded Encampment. The squad made a steady pace towards the intended target of destination. This day belonged to the Gears. They had lost one of their members in the initial attack on their vehicle, leaving only three more soldiers to carry on in a city occupied by a genocidal race of beings that were determined to wipe any trace of human existence from the face of Sera.
The Stranded Encampment seemed to materialize in the wake of the setting sun. It would be nightfall soon: the most dangerous time for Humans to be wondering in the dark. Echo Squad would need to move quickly if they were to make it to the Stranded in time. The coming of nightfall also brought the Kryll to the surface of Sera; these highly aggressive creatures would not hesitate to devour any Locust, Stranded, Gear, or any living thing foolish enough to venture from the protection of light.
“Damn, it’s getting dark out. We need to hurry up and locate that camp, Lieutenant. I don’t want to end up as Kryll shit,” Webster announced, his voice becoming more filled with anxiety and anxiousness with each passing second.
“Knuckle down, soldier. You don’t have your momma’ here to slap some baby powder on your ass and push you on your merry way,” Bellowed the Lieutenant, his voice filled with bitterness.
Vito knew the Lieutenant was nervous. He could tell by how the hardened soldier conducted himself; his every movement, the sweat that dripped from his forehead, forming beads of perspiration on his brow.
Echo squad continued through the ruins of what used to be downtown Montevado, one of the three cities that surrounded Jacinto Plateau. This city was well known to be occupied by small groups of Stranded, on the other hand, it was also known for the large packs of Wretches that roamed the streets of the city. The squad continued on their current heading, navigating the narrow streets and alleyways that formed the older district of the city. They searched for surviving Stranded anywhere they could, hoping to find some sign of life. One thing was for sure: Echo Squad needed to locate a source of light before nightfall.
Stranded Camp, Downtown Montevado
Larry glanced through the sight of his obsolete Longshot Sniper Rifle. The weapon was well over twenty years old, even with it’s age, the weapon was an extremely deadly weapon in the hands of an expert, able to dispatch a foot soldier instantly with a well-placed headshot. Larry was just such a man, a former Gear, a former leader. He was now head of the Stranded living in the ruined city of Montevado. He continued to scan the Plateau for any sign of Locust incursion into the city, the man had a family to protect and people to lead, he didn’t take chances with their lives. Whilst continuing his search of the local area, he detected movement near the main gate of the city, he quickly adjusted the scope of the rifle, zeroing in on the source of disturbance. As he took aim on the subject, his pupil narrowed to adjust to the scope’s ultra-red function, allowing him to detect heat signatures. In the process of calibrating his rifle, he sighted three Coalition Gears, each of which appeared to be heavily armed. One of the three soldiers wore a helmet, the other two wore no form of head protection.
“Albert, we have guests,” Whispered Larry, attempting to gain the attention of his fellow watchman.
“Who yaw’ got down yonder, Larry?” Replied Albert, scrambling to snatch up his Gnasher shotgun, loading several shells of ammunition into the weapon.
“A squad of Gears. All of them are heavily armed. They mean business. Send Halverson and Johnson out to greet them,” Replied Larry, answering the query that Albert had previously placed upon him.
Albert gave his fearless leader a simple nod of his head, walking towards the ladder that connected to the observation post they previously occupied. He went to gather the men chosen to greet the hostile soldiers, while Larry prepared for what ever situation would come of the encounter.
“We’re almost there. Finally, I was about to worry that we’d never make it,”
Exclaimed Webster, who seemed to be rather elated at the fact that civilization seemed to be close by, or what was left of it.
Lieutenant Stratford noticed the Stranded before they ever revealed themselves, he knew these survivors would be particularly angry for how neglected they had been the past twenty years. Things were changing now and Stratford knew he would make it his personal responsibility to see them through. He lowered his weapon, carrying it in a rather passive stance, giving his men the same command as he watched a pair of Stranded emerge from a mostly bombed out church. Each of the men held Gnasher shotguns and carried several bandoliers over each shoulder.
“Howdy, Gears. Come to ruin our little party with your Fascist ideologies?” Shouted the nearest man, who hadn’t shaved in quite a few years. His clothes were covered with some sort of vehicle residue.
“Only if you’ve come prepared to kiss our asses,” Replied Webster, trying to place as much anger and maliciousness in his voice.
The Lieutenant quickly diverted his gaze towards the mouthy soldier, scolding him.
“Webster, pipe down. Let me handle this.” “The men under my command require food and ammunition. Our vehicle was hit just ten clicks back. We are to meet at an RV Point at daybreak. We’ll be out of your hair the second the sun comes up.” In a gesture of good faith, Stratford lowered his weapon, placing it several feet in front of him and walking back to the place he once stood.
The second of the Stranded stepped forwards, snatching the Lancer Assault rifle. “What the hell makes you think that’s our problem?” Called the bearded man.
“Because…the Locust will attack here. It’s inevitable,” Shouted Vito, moving closer to each of the armed Stranded, laying down his weapon.
“Damn good point, I don’t suppose we should be shittin’ around,” Cut in the Stranded.
Setting their differences aside, the Stranded gate keepers grudgingly allowed each of the Gears to enter the encampment mostly unarmed. The Gears were only allowed to keep side arms and the very armor and equipment they had on. As they entered, the large metal gates slammed shut behind them, the eyes of the Stranded were upon them, they were in the capital of a group of people who completely despised them in every sense of the word.
The Night deceives our eyes. It makes colors seem what they are not. Red turns to grey and yellow turns to white. This is no exception for the planet of Sera, where nightfall lasts several hours longer, allowing the Kryll a long period of time to hunt for sustenance. Being subterranean creatures, they are extremely photosensitive due to the normally low amount of light in their caves, avoiding the light at all costs. Swarms of these fearsome creatures flew through the narrow streets and alleyways of Montevado city, turning the entire fading memory of human existence in the city to a seldom whimper of the past. This populace belonged to the creatures of the night, which occupied every possible region within Sera.
“I remember the stories they used to tell us as a kid,” Webster said.
“Which ones?” Replied Vito, picking up his canteen.
“The ones about the monsters hiding in the dark…too bad they ended up being true,” said Webster.
Vito concluded that much of his childhood past had been spent attending public schools and being raised by his mother. She had always taken care of him to the very best of her ability. His father was a faint memory, however, having only seen the man once in his entire lifetime. He was the very last soldier to die in the Pendulum Wars.
“Hopefully the Lieutenant will be back with more food,” Vito said.
“Yeah, we can only hope this food doesn’t give us dysentery,” said Webster.
Stratford returned several minutes later with more food rations the Stranded could spare. He sat beside Webster and bit down into a piping hot sandwich, chewing it at a slow pace. After swallowing a large amount of his food, he managed to speak.
“I hate to disappoint,” Stratford said. “But we don’t have long before the enemy gets here. The Stranded informed me that they’ve spotted incoming flocks of Kryll.”
“Damn, where did those bastards come from?” asked Webster.
“From the caves in the Jacinto Plateau. That’s their territory now. This entire encampment looks like one big snack. Lock and load. Meet in the main courtyard in five minutes.”
Five minutes passes by quickly when you are nervous. It passes by even faster when you think about starving Kryll looking up you as their next meal. Vito knew that nothing good could come of this engagement, but he planned to participate in the battle. Everywhere he looked, Stranded were turning on lights of all sorts, stacking propane tanks in neat piles for emergency lighting. The impromptu barricades and sandbags piled around the camp would provide for good cover from both the incoming Kryll and possible enemy fire. Vito prayed that grubs wouldn’t tunnel up from beneath their feet and take them for surprise in the middle of battle. He couldn’t shoot at the Kryll and defend from grubs at the same time.
“Alright, all the Stranded have provided plenty of light to protect us. Vito, I want you on one of the UV turrets on the west wall. Webster, I need you on the Eastern wall. I’m going to defend the main entrance with the others. Understood?”
“Rodger that, Sir.” Replied Vito and Webster in unison.
Each of the Gears scrambled to locate their locations within the encampment, readying themselves for anything the Locust would throw at them. The Kryll closed in from above, diving towards the camp in a suicidal attempt to feed upon the Serans below. Swarm after swarm dove towards the structures below, only to be burned alive the second they came into contact with light. Vito grasped the handles of his UV turret, directing it’s penetrating beam to each wave of Kryll that dove towards the camp. The effort to defend against the airborne attack was almost useless, the sheer amount of the creatures was staggering. They numbered in the hundreds of thousands, congesting the night air with the flapping of wings and their cries of pain when exposed to the ultra-violet light. The UV turret was capable of taking down hundreds of Kryll at a time, Vito was sure of this, but the weapon lacked aiming mobility to be completely effective. Swarms of Kryll had had finally managed to knock out several strands of light leaving both the Stranded and Gears in the way of harm.
Vito watched as a large cloud of Kryll tore open a shelter that housed several of the Stranded guards, ripping them into bloody chunks of flesh within seconds. The mess was scattered all over the pavement, it almost made him vomit. Everyone in the encampment shot their weapons upwards, trying to kill as many of the vermin as possible. It took several more minutes before the Kryll retreated from the surrounding areas.
“Gears, head count! Do we have anyone down?!” shouted Stratford over the Tac/com, concerned for the lives of his men.
“Webster here, I lost two of the Stranded on my end. I’m okay though,” Webster said.
“Vito checking in… we lost everyone here. I’m not sure how much longer this flank can hold.”
“Hold tight, soldier. We’re on our way,” Stratford said.
After twenty minutes of clearing the encampment of the mess and policing the bodies of the fallen, the Gears moved into the central gathering place, attempting to check on the other survivors of the camp. They sighted three men, six women, and fifteen children of various ages. The largest of the Stranded stepped forwards. For a Stranded, this individual was very muscular. He stepped forwards, carrying a Gnasher shotgun in his powerful hands, giving each of the Gears a rather venomous gaze.
“You bastards brought the Grubs with you. Give me one reason we shouldn’t just pop you right here?” said the Stranded leader.
“I’ll give you three,” replied Stratford.
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” retorted the leader angrily.
“I’ve watched too many innocent people die because of the Coalition. Countless missions, I’ve had to leave behind women and children, only to find their bodies huddled in corners on the next patrol. That ends tonight.”
Lieutenant Stratford moved towards the leader of the Stranded, clutching his Lancer Assault Rifle tightly in each of his gloved hands. He closed the distance between himself and the hulking Stranded, attempting to show the man his true intentions.
“We’re on the same damn side. Humanity is failing. If we are to win this war, we need to work together,” Stratford said.
“This doesn’t mean we’re in your army now, does it?” replied the Stranded.
“No. We’ll protect you and see that your people will make it through all of this. Gather what supplies you have, we’ll depart at sunrise. The Locust will be all over us if we don’t.”
Stratford turned to face his men, walking back to their company. While doing so the muscular man he spoke to seconds ago shouted towards him.
“What’s your name, Gear?” shouted the leader.
“Stratford. Lieutenant Stratford,” replied the Lieutenant.