"Move, move, move, move, move!" Jack yelled, jumping over a fallen tree trunk as he ran through the woods behind a quartet of American soldiers. The path was narrow, and thankfully meandering, else the Aschen anti-personnel drone that was tracking them would have had a clear shot at their backsides. As it was, they were barely staying ahead of it.
Its big brother had busted the bunker defense station at the stargate minutes ago, but was too big to navigate the thick forest. The smaller orbs accompanying it were, however, ideally suited to track down the fleeing Humans, even if they were lacking a bit in maneuverability. Get them in the open, however, and they were nearly unstoppable.
Jack had just gated onworld with a convoy of supplies and new personnel for the freshly minted firebase located over a high, tree-covered ridgeline from the stargate. He'd been talking with the gate guards, getting a lengthy report of the lack of activity when the Aschen dialed in and sent their drones through. The 50cal turrets had responded instantly, downing the first floating orb to emerge from the event horizon, but the next two pinpoint shot out the gunners on a pair of the turrets, through the narrow slits in the concrete bunkers.
Four more orbs came through before big brother showed up, nearly as wide as the stargate. It was a large scale hunter drone, and made quick work of the turrets themselves before floating off down the dirt road in pursuit of the vanishing convoy vehicles as they ramped up their speed to avoid the firefight taking place in their rear view mirrors. The firebase was more than seven miles away down the U-shaped road that skirted around the perimeter of the ridge.
Jack and about a dozen personnel had fled the gate defenses and headed into the woods just before the bunkers detonated in a shower of hot concrete and dust. There was a single trail leading up and over the ridge to the firebase less than a mile away…a shortcut that the guards used when vehicles weren't available, and now the only reason they were still alive.
The oscillating whine of the orbs' anti-grav engines were faintly audible from behind, and Jack knew they had multiple units in pursuit. Unlike the soldiers, the drones weren't dependent on foot travel and could fly through the trees off the path, which meant they could hit them from any direction.
A blue beam shot out from the left and impacted one of the soldiers in the shoulder as he ran for a split second before a tree blocked the beam, only allowing a tiny piece of it to hit its target. The man yelled and fell to the ground, his arm limp. Jack slowed for a heartbeat and yanked the man to his feet, not daring to completely stop running.
"Keep moving," he yelled into his ear, then released him and ran on. He didn't wait to see what happened…couldn't wait to see. He'd got the man to his feet and that was all he could do at the moment. With the drones so close behind he couldn't wait for anyone.
The old saying about a chasing bear and not being the slowest man flashed into his head as he caught up with the now three soldiers ahead of him on the trail. There had been others behind him, but he had no idea how many were left. In a moment he could very well be the last man in the bear's jaws.
"Move…your…ass!" he bellowed when he caught the slower moving soldiers.
"Trying!" one of them gasped, stumbling over a large root. The path wasn't smooth nor straight, and they were now running slightly downhill, making their footing even more perilous.
"Get down!" someone ahead yelled. O'Neill barely had time to realize what was going on before he stood face to face with the barrel of a rocket launcher.
"Oh!" he yelled, throwing himself into the brush as he juked out of the way, half tripping himself in the process. A powerful 'whiff' sounded next to his head and the rocket launched off the shoulder of the soldier that had come up the path from the opposite direction.
Jack turned to look back just in time to see the remains of one of the orbs fall to the ground some twenty meters back…no one else was visible behind them.
"Fall back!" the rocket launcher yelled, already backpedaling and retreating down the trail with the others.
Jack scurried to his feet and quickly caught up to the survivors as they ran the remaining quarter mile through the woods back to the firebase.
"Colonel!" one of the firebase defenders yelled in greeting as Jack and the others ran out of the woods into the large clearing that had been carved out of the valley for the firebase. The Major and four guards were stationed at the fence line checkpoint waiting for them.
"Baaack!" O'Neill yelled, pointing towards the base.
The Major hesitated, then began a hasty retreat as the survivors caught up with them. He'd received a brief radio message from the bunker guards that they'd been attacked and were fleeing on foot over the ridge. One of his men held his ground and took a knee, launching another anti-tank rocket into the tree line.
The Aschen drone took the hit to its shields, completely draining them of strength and leaving just enough explosion to tear open their pristine white outer shell. It fell to the ground as the guard quickly chucked the expended one-off launcher and hightailed it back to base…but just as he passed through the fence line gate a thin blue beam punctured his back and exited through his chest as another of the Aschen drones emerged from the tree line. He fell to the ground in a rolling bundle, then flopped over motionless.
The nearest wall turret started belting 50cal rounds across the wide open grassy area at the drone, doing little more than trying to distract it as O'Neill and the others ran across to the wall gate which was laying wide open for them. One soldier with a sniper rifle took a shot at the distant orb, only to have his round deflect harmlessly off its shields.
"Close it up!" the Major yelled as the last of the survivors slid through the gate. Two thick door sections slid across the gateway and clicked into place as mirror pairs of concrete/metal pylons rose up outside and inside the wall to stop any vehicular traffic that might attempt to ram the gate. Up top on the wall Jack heard another 50cal turret open up on the drones, along with the 'whiff' of a rocket being launched.
"We've got a fat boy headed up the road chasing the supply convoy I just brought," O'Neill told the Major as they both ran across the inner courtyard to the base HQ. "Any sign of enemy air support yet?"
"I checked first thing," Major Hastings said. "Nothing on orbital scans."
"We need an eye in the sky," Jack said as they slowed to a walk and entered the small base HQ.
"We'll be up in four minutes," one of the staffers said, overhearing the comment to the Major.
"Get every rocket launcher we can up on the wall," O'Neill ordered. "We need to take down as many of the Kenobies as we can before the fat boy shows up…if he's even coming here. Get me a comm to the convoy."
"Here, sir," a female staffer said, tossing him a headset.
Jack caught and slid it onto his head in one smooth motion. "Report?"
"We've lost our back two vehicles, but for the moment the terrain has put us out of the enemy's line of sight. We're making best speed to the firebase, but this road is shit, sir."
"Good, Lieutenant. Bring them here. Under no circumstances take the road to the mines, factory, or airfield."
"Make sure the rest of the convoy knows," O'Neill insisted.
"Will…do, sir," the Lieutenant stammered as the lead Humvee hit a pothole.
"Carry on," he said, handing the headset back to the woman.
"Make ready to bring in the convoy," he ordered the Major.
Hastings nodded. "You heard the Colonel! Let's move people!"
The airfield, situated 5 miles northeast of the firebase, was so new that only half the runway had been paved, with the construction equipment sitting at the far end when the unarmed Predator took off and began gaining altitude. Its belly mounted surveillance equipment gave the firebase a good view of the incomplete airfield and the surrounding forest as it traced its way up the dirt road leading to both the firebase and the not so new mining complex situated across 50 square miles to the east.
The planet, designated P7T-882, had been a naquadah mining site for Stargate Command for the past 7 years, but had seen a drastic increase in staff and resources since the start of the Aschen War and was now mining a variety of different materials from the low mountain chain situated around the stargate, including trinium, iron, nickel, silver, and carbon. There were 16 separate mining units in the overall complex, and none of them had so much as a single gun turret in defense…only a handful of armed guards which would be useless against the Aschen orbs.
Further to the south was the planet's industrial complex, still in the construction stages. Two factories were operational, one producing structural components for the X-304 battlecruiser and the other foodstuffs to replace military rations that could no longer be sent via stargate from Earth. An agricultural sector for the colony, codenamed Pennsylvania, was in the planning stages but for the moment nothing more than preemptive clear-cutting had been accomplished in the area northwest of the firebase. At present all raw materials for the foodstuff factory were being shipping in via convoy through the stargate or brought en mass by one of the Americans' few cargo-hauling starships.
Small residential buildings were situated in both the mining and industrial camps, but no true residential section had yet been added to the American colony, though that was also in future plans. Under General Carter's command, as much infrastructure as possible was being relocated from Earth to American holdings elsewhere in the galaxy and 'Pennsylvania' was one of an ever growing number of colony worlds that had begun to show results.
"What have we got?" Jack asked as the Predator finally gained enough altitude and distance to come in view of the stargate.
"The gate appears to be shut down," the Major commented, looking over the shoulders of his command staff as O'Neill watched the main feed on the big screen. "No activity around the gate. Follow the road," he ordered the pilot.
"Colonel," the Corporal at the comm station called out. "Perimeter guard says all attacking drones have been destroyed."
"Good," Jack said, grateful to see the mechanical bastards die. "Tell them to stay on guard until we figure out how many more are out there."
"Yes, sir," she said, relaying the message.
"There!" the Major said, pointing at a tiny dot on screen. "There's the big one."
"It's got company," one of the staffers noted as the Predator flew closer, yet still maintained a high enough altitude to avoid drawing fire. "I count three smaller drones."
"Hold up," the Corporal said. "There are multiple groups. Narrows checkpoint says the convoy just passed with a single large drone in pursuit."
"How many do we got? Come on people, I need numbers!" O'Neill barked.
The Predator continued to fly further up the road until it hit the 'narrows' point where the dirt path split between the offshoot to the industrial complex and the U-turn through a low point between two ridges that led back to the firebase. It turned north and hopped over the ridgeline, quickly spotting both the convoy and the following heavy Aschen drone.
"Two groups confirmed," the Major stated. "One with escorts, one without."
"Keep a lookout for stragglers," O'Neill pointed out. "The small ones can move through the trees."
"Convoy arrival estimated at 10 minutes," another staffer said. "First Aschen drone estimated at 11 to 12 minutes. Second group 20 plus."
Jack nodded. "Send all available troops to the front wall, outfitted with as much ordinance as they can carry." He turned and looked at the Major. "Get the Abrams ready."