Something stirs in the darkness on the planet Zilith. A team of physicists working on a black INTEL project code named ‘Element’ has vanished. A SEAL recon team has been inserted to find out why.
Lieutenant Jackson and his team must recover an anomalous heavy metal, discovered by a long range geophysical probe on the outer rim of charted space.
Stalked by elusive night creatures and hunted by a hunter-killer platoon of Caldarian assassins known as the Black Order Legion, Jackson and his team move toward an ultimate confrontation.
Extracted by the battle-damaged HMCS Haida and pursued relentlessly by the Sipedesis, they race for the USS Lexington and Battle Group Six, positioned as a blocking force in front of the main Caldarian Armada. There is one final task to complete. They must penetrate the security perimeter around the Caldarian command ship, the Shimmering Wind, and assassinate the High Admiral.
Chris Besse has a diploma in geology and a degree in theology, and is currently working in engineering systems at a large petrochemical facility. He has been an avid shooter since age fourteen and is a passionate motorcyclist who also practices traditional Shotokan Japanese karate. All of his life, Chris has been a student of history in general and military history specifically.
Chris has worked the science that paints the background for 'Element' for many years, and his study and continued interest in theology has been a unique microscope with which to observe and study human nature and social behaviour on every level. He is currently working on book two of his 'Element' trilogy.
Chris and his wife, Pat, live in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada and in his spare time Chris enjoys playing with his granddaughter and four grandsons.
Visit Chris' official website at www.elementscifi.com.
An action-packed page-turner to the final page. In Element, Chris Besse has given new meaning to the phrase "military science fiction." It's Heinlein meets Clancy...sit back and enjoy the ride. You'll be begging for more.Major Michael Farmer
Nothing moved in the alien night shadows, but the stillness and silence itself was a danger. It meant that whatever was following them knew that Jackson and his team were aware of their presence.
Mike Platoon's Wheel, Lieutenant Thomas Daniel Jackson, turned his head and let his eyes sweep the trail below him slowly and carefully, his Night Referencing Helmet (NRH) turning the shifting darkness into a holographic display of what passed for day on this strange, dark planet. He read the numbers off his display and cursed silently. Biological—nominal, infrared—nominal, electronic distortion—nominal, filter search parameters, random-passive—nominal; nothing! And that scared him worse than a full-redlined passband would have. Jackson felt a whispering echo as his platoon level neural link went active. The neural link had been a major step forward in secure tactical communications systems and was ideally suited for recon teams. The neural energy was instantly translated into normalized speech patterns across the team’s tactical net.
"I don't like this, Sir. We've been patrolling for four days with all active systems shut down and now, all of a sudden we make signature contact. Two nights ago we picked up a return on the thoracic passband just as we settled in, then it disappeared until now and wham, we’ve got hard lock on a residual shimmer envelope when we shouldn't," Jeff Choi’s thought echoed across the neural net.
"So what you're really saying," DeLuca broke in over the link, "is that we're ass deep in alligators in Indian country, and you think things are going to get ugly really quick. Is that it?"
"We were ass deep in alligators the minute we inserted," Jackson thought back in response. "Let's just see who these folks are, shall we, and we'll take it from there.
"Give me a suit check. Send the data stream now. I want sensor arrays in standby mode and all implants powered down. Nothing running but your thermal grid and HUD, all transmissions across the neural team net only. Chief, I want you to monitor the Hancock's command link and get ready to call for an extraction run if we make contact."
"Aye, Sir," the Chief responded.
Jackson watched as the numbers took shape in his mind and were instantly displayed across his helmet tactical display.
"Affirmative, all suits and implants nominal, no emissions. Neural network is set to team net, narrow band, standard battle format," Jackson confirmed.
Jackson knew his suit was working. Liquids moved through five kilometers of microscopic tubing, making it feel like a million Duvarian swamp ants trying to lift his body up and carry it away. He remembered the shock at the caressing feel the first time he had put a Bristol Dynamics class one recon suit on. Now he rarely noticed this second skin. The flexplate armor was as supple and oily smooth as a serpent moving through the grass, and it's bonded outer Chameleon coating could be used in passive or active mode, drawing power from the suit’s tiny, nuclear power module.
On the left flank, Doc Hearst felt uneasy and exposed, as if something was watching them from the darkness above them. She carefully shifted her weight, trying to sink a little deeper into the dark ooze that seemed to bleed from the planet's surface.
"I sure wish I had my Class One assault armor on," she thought, and immediately regretted it as soft, chuckling echoes momentarily filled her mind from the other team members.
"Somebody forgot to set their privacy passband," Dyer whispered.
"What's the matter, Doc," LPO DeLuca thought back at her. "You miss all those servo manipulators and heavy plate armor the line grunts wear?"
Jackson had to smile grimly at DeLuca's comment. Suit technology had come a long way. During the 21st Century, several nations began developing suit armor to protect their armies. At first, suits were the exclusive domain of Special Operations teams. They had fully integrated electronics, multi-weapon platforms and high tech munition dispensing systems, all available at the tap of a chin control or retinal blink. So suited, a recon team could take on a full company of regular line grunts and their support elements. It only took a few years for the more developed nations to realize that they needed to extend similar protection and abilities to their regular forces or they would loose any tactical advantage no matter how well trained their military forces were.
But that all changed, Jackson mused bitterly, when a desperate weapons technician with the Russian Twentieth Tanks released a low yield plasma discharge over an entire Chinese division at the Third Battle of Peking. They were slaughtered to the man because all their implants, nano enhancements and advanced acquire and engage electronics were disabled by the low energy pulse that radiated their position.
The two Russian regiments holding the line had descended on the helpless Chinese division that writhed and twitched like a bowl of squirming cockroaches, and put them to the sword in a crazed killing frenzy.
The slaughter at Peking-Three, Jackson thought.
After that, the focus on suit technology was stealth. Simply put, in the long run it was better to be invisible, get into knife cutting range, and kill them quick.
Bringing his mind back to the present, Jackson listened to the thought link and checked his suit. He was acutely aware that the ceramic deflection plating along the suit's dorsal line was not vibrating.
That's a good and a bad thing, he thought. Good because it meant he hadn't been illuminated, bad because it might mean that they had already been painted and were in the kill zone of whatever was stalking them.
"What do you have?" Jackson asked.
"Thoracic lock!" Choi’s thoughts echoed across the neural net. "Confirm signature as thirteen Caldarian bio's, one unknown on point, running database on the unknown now.
"I don't know why they decided to close the distance here and now but they have. About 200 meters back and they know we're just in front of them by the way they're moving, and like I said, I had shimmer acquisition even before my passives picked them up."
"That's impossible," Jackson’s mind whispered across the link.
Jackson scanned the bush around him and gestured to the dark section of trail across the narrow canyon to a point just before the switchback they had just walked. "OK, we're going to take them from here. I know it isn't the best spot but right now, this is all we’ve got. Hopefully they'll bunch up as they approach the turn but if these folk are who I think they are, their point element will probably flank the turn in anticipation anyway."
His team lay spread out in a ragged ambush line covering the trail across from their position. It was 40 meters across. The danger signal had come up the line from Choi. As rear security, he had been waiting and listening off the trail for two or three minutes at a time, then racing ahead to catch up with the team. Jackson's intuition told him they were in deep, serious trouble.
In eighteen months of bitter, bloody fighting, Jackson had learned to listen to that intuition. For one side or the other, the waiting and running was over. He and his team could run no further. This was the final jeopardy in a game of evasion that had begun two days ago when they got a twitch on the thoracic array. Last night, before dusk settled in, Jackson had located their Remain Overnight (RON) site, passing it and fish-hooking back to it just at dusk; so that anyone following would think their RON was 500 meters from where it actually was. Jackson’s stomach felt empty, a reminder that their last meal, if field glop could correctly be called food, had been several hours ago.
Four days of eating patrol glop. His mind recited the training droid's litany of ingredients. A balanced meal of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and electrolytes, all tailored to each individual's specific tastes, heated by the body and eaten using either the nourishment dispensing tube or, if you were stupid enough to take your helmet off while on patrol, by slurping it straight from the pouch.
"It's times like this when I sure wish they could do this without hanging us out so far on a limb," Wicker said. "We always seem to pull the really long distance recons."
"All our resources are spread thin. The Ramillions have eight teams deployed in the Ortesian Rift, trying to interdict Caldarian troop transports coming through the corridor. And two Myloen deep insertion teams vanished without even a trace of residual DNA dust when something killed the Mylock and her escorting frigate, the Day Star. It doesn't matter how many high tech electronics they deploy, you and I both know that the only way to gather reliable, hard intelligence is to insert a recon team and let them do what every army since the dawn of time has done—find the enemy."
"Well, that's why they pay us the big bucks," Hearst whispered. "It's a good thing these Neural COM links are secure or we'd be crow bait by now," she added.
"Can't patrol in the dark with Chameleon mode on like we did in the old days, Doc," Chief Miller responded.
"Until now," Jackson thought. "At least, if what the spooks briefed us on is true. This of course raises an interesting question. Is there such a thing as truth in the intelligence business?" he asked the team in general.
"Rhetoric, Sir, pure rhetoric because we all know there is no such thing as an intelligent spook," Hearst’s cynical thought echoed back.
Jackson felt dark, rippling laughter echo across his neural nodes and could sense the team’s bow-string tight acuity as Hearst’s anecdotal comment relieved some of the tension.
At 29, Jackson was still leading platoon recon teams. He had specifically been asked to stay at the platoon level by Captain Jim Ortello, commanding officer of SEAL Team One, Earth-Prime, and had agreed. The Confederate recon teams were desperately short of officers who could lead teams in the field and with their resources spread so thin, a man with Jackson's unique abilities was needed where he was.
At first glance, Jackson wasn't what people would think of as part of the varsity-elite of the Confederate armed forces. His brown hair was cut to the standard military length but all one had to do was to look into his deep, hazel eyes to sense that there was more to this man than what was first seen by the casual observer. He bore a confidence and casual lethality that said loud and clear, 'enter at your own risk'.
He was barely six feet tall and his frame was small but it hid a deadly litheness and whip-like suppleness that spoke of years of hard training and disciplined martial arts at the masters' level. It was rumored within the close-knit family of the teams that the knife scar Jackson carried low down on his left side was the result of an encounter with a Black Order hunter-killer team on his first deployment on Galdaris-One.
Jackson reached down with his left hand and tapped a small control node on his left thigh. A signal was transmitted to the other seven members of his team. He felt the locking lugs on his particle rifle latch into the battle lock position on his conformal pack and a small blue dot of light, low down in his HUD, informed him that the power source was switched off. Seven small, blue ID signatures appeared for a brief moment on his battle display, indicating that his team had followed suit.
The last goddamn thing we need right now is for a power pack to go active and start radiating a signature, he thought.
Suddenly Jackson tensed, and his eyes swung to the slope above the trail he was watching. Movement! Just a nuance but something was there. Jackson's eyes were drawn down and to the right. He worked the starlight filters on his helmet trying to gain more resolution on his display.
A spot of deeper darkness detached itself from the lighter background of the surrounding night and seemed to glide down the slope. The spot stopped, and Jackson’s display went nominal momentarily as he lost target lock. He adjusted his filters again and swung his head. He felt his heart quicken as ghost-like, the rest of the hunter-killer team came into view.
He thought over the neural net and seven helmeted heads swiveled in the dark, in response to his terse command. Weapons came up and seven black-gloved hands moved to safeties and gently thumbed them off.
"I have lock," Doc Hearst whispered. "Tracking." She was holding the left flank and in the darkness her weapon slowly tracked on an invisible target. The eyepiece of her night scope was locked in the eyecup of her battle helmet. The target and acquisition features on her MP-225-N allowed her to lock and fire without necessarily bringing her targeting scope to the eyecup on her battle helmet but experience had proven that a shooter was more stable and accurate using the systems inherently built into the battle helmet. Where the acquisition and shoot system really shone was while patrolling. Snap shooting from the patrol position had saved more than one point man's life while allowing the team to roll out and outflank a hunter-killer team. Another part of her mind cataloged the hard edge of tension in Jackson's voice. It was feral and a savage elation took shape in her mind.
"Patience," she whispered to herself.
Jackson watched the Caldarian point man. He had gone to ground. His pulse quickened and his mind instantly began analyzing the tactical implications. Some sixth sense born in combat warned Jackson that whatever or whoever was walking point was uneasy and had sensed that they were being watched. An old memory flashed through his mind and he recognized that these were skilled and dangerous professionals stalking them in the darkness. "Point man just went nominal."
He felt the team’s heightened acuity across the neural link.
Choi watched the data scroll across his helmet display. The scrolling stopped and he felt a cold needle of dread as he read the data.
"Unknown bio identified as Andorian, Sir," he whispered.
An Andorian tracker! "Shit," Jackson breathed.
"Why aren't they cloaked?" he whispered. "Something's wrong here. We're going to do this real careful and make sure we watch our backs."
"Whoever they are, they're definitely way too serious about their job," Hearst whispered. "Well spaced and spread out. I'd say they're definitely the varsity team. Fourteen against eight, not bad odds," she added as an afterthought.
"It could be worse, Doc," Dyer's thought echoed back. "It could be us in the kill zone." There were no comments.
"Robbie, I'm going to let them close it up as much as I can into the kill zone. I know they’re close but with them spread out like they are, we're only going to get one shot at this before they realize what's going down, and then they're going to try and roll us up on the flank and break out. I want you to take out the Andorian first and I want your second shot on the COM man, if you get a second shot. He's two behind the one I think is the officer. In this dark it's hard to say. But the first shot goes to the tracker. Whatever else happens, take him out first.
"Chief, as soon as it starts, hit the transponder. That shuttle is gonna be coming in hot with no brakes and we’re gonna be hauling ass to get the hell out of Dodge."
"Aye, Sir," was Senior Chief John Miller's only response.
Weapons Specialist First Class Robert Michael Dyer pressed the contact on his night scope. As it spun up, he placed the custom made eyepiece into the shooting cup of his battle mask and watched as his helmet display spooled the telemetry to his target. Everything came into sharp relief and he could see the Andorian tracker and the COM man clearly. His rifle was a fully automatic and optically integrated Tactical Operations 2351 chambered in .50 caliber. He could let his systems shoot for him, driving nails in the dark at a thousand meters but like most shooters, he preferred doing his shooting manually. He was a purest in the truest sense of the word and a perfectionist when it came to applying his particular deadly art form. His optical system had a built-in shine collector to dampen and absorb 'street shine', the tiny glimmer of detectable light from the reflected light off the forward lens of a light-intensifying night scope. The can or silencer pulled about three minutes of adjustment (MOA) but any silencer does that, and he simply made the proper adjustments to compensate. The rifle and scope were current issue, the stock made of the most highly advanced components in the combined Confederate inventory, overlaid with a composite chameleon skin to match his recon suit.
So, he thought wryly to himself, the Jarheads use the great, great grandchild of the 1996M40A3, the army ranger teams use an adaptation of the M24 SWS (Sniper Weapon System). Dyer's weapon of choice was the Tango Operations 2351. He loved the big TO-51. It was chambered in .50 Cal and yet it was lighter than one of those ancient, heavy barreled sniper select M-16’s in 5.56 that sat in heavy lexite museum cases in the run down, rusty range building in Coronado, California. He tapped in a command on his chin bar and checked the wind and humidity. He made a few minor adjustments and settled down to wait.
"Go to exotic places, meet new people . . . kill them," he whispered. His heavy weapon swung up, tracked and then settled. "I have lock," he confirmed a moment later. His finger took up the slack and he waited. He watched as the Andorian's head slowly rotated from side to side.
"One two hundred grain, urillium cored, armor piercing, tactical smart-point coming your way," he whispered. "It'll punch through your body armor, even that terrilium field armor you Caldarian recon bastards wear. And I hope you're just regular Caldarian legs and not Legion," he added as an afterthought.
Dyer was brought back to reality by Jackson's terse order. "When I blow the claymores, it’s show time. Confirm!"