Alright, this looks good.
Sit down, deploy groundsinks, and…
Snow coated the ground and the trees on a hillside that was about half evergreen forest, half moss-filled meadows, and all frozen. Jáchym Georg Fortuin, Jack Fortune to everyone who knew him except his mother, waited in the midst of it, warm, comfortable, and bored inside the slope-armored torso of a five-meter man-shaped walker that was doing a good job of pretending not to exist. Jack had the walker seated on the hill in a shooter’s rest with its back propped up by two large heatsinks driven into the ground. It’s absurdly large rail-rifle was resting on one knee, ready to fire, while every part of the gun, the walker, and the heatsinks was hidden by perfectly bent light.
One kilometer downrange a road cut through a relative low point in the surrounding hills. Made out of gravel-topped fibercrete, the road sparkled just a little where broken bits of quartz caught the dull afternoon sunlight sloping in from the yellow star Oppenheimer as it rode a low winter course through the blue-black sky. Jack saw that road through the eyes of a machine, able to pick out individual rocks in its makeup even at his current distance. Soon a convoy would be coming along that road, armored trucks covered by plasma shields, missile interdiction lasers, and at least two walkers in the same weight class as his own. The trucks were nothing but armored targets, but the walkers would have a mix of mid-to-long range weapons and additional defenses. Heavy carbon.
A warning popped up in his vision, then shrank and moved to the corner, staying as a small red box. He pulled it open and saw a possible for drone signs. Some radio flares off atmospheric dust. He activated two remote sensors near the road with laser comms and set them to report back through the relays in burst mode.
One of them immediately picked up a bug, a saucer type by the pattern of the cavitation in the air. The sound of its fans followed, audible only when something with a good audio-processor was looking right at it with a directional mic.
Reporting back to the convoy by tightbeam EM, and from the convoy to the walkers, probably just as invisible as himself. No free lunch.
He aimed for the horizon and waited for the first truck to emerge. The trucks were what mattered. Not the walkers. If he got the trucks and got away, it was mission success.
Of course, there were ten trucks. Ten trucks, two walkers, one of him. And as soon as he fired, the walkers would be onto him, and he might still not know where they were.
He tasked his two remote platforms to ready shooting solutions for the drones and power their lasers. Then he linked to his one missile platform. It only had two missiles, but both were skimmers, and might make it into range to do some damage.
If he could spot the walkers before the trucks passed, he might be able to drop the walkers and the drones without ever revealing himself. He did have one profound advantage in that task. Their invisibility might be almost as good as his own, even when moving, but they were moving, and big things that moved made noise. Even big things with padded feet and sound dampers.
He checked the seismic readings on his walker and the remote platforms.
Where were they?
Lord, give them into my hand.
There. Thumping along at a brisk sixty kph. One in front of the convoy and one behind.
Come on, guys. What are you thinking? So obvious.
The first walker breached the horizon.
It was very visible, surrounded as it was by a faintly glowing plasma field almost as hard as its heavy black nanocarbon armor. It looked like a fuzzy armor-ball player with boxes on his shoulders wearing a bubble.
Oh. So they dispensed with stealth. What’s that thing about assumptions?
He pushed thoughts about himself aside and figured how he was going to take out at least one of the walkers with his first move. Because he wasn’t going to manage two.
If he hit with both missiles and followed with the rifle…
But that would leave the other one, with only shoulder launched missiles.
Why hadn’t they just given him a nova cannon? Sure it screamed shoot me to anything in orbit, but it would have made his job a lot easier if he could just burn through the shield, and the armor, and the whole torso.
Oh well. Maybe the Ankadian adaptations on his new rifle would do what they were supposed to and make a hole.
Okay. Get the rear walker with the missiles. Might drop him in his place. Might make him turn. If he took even one hit in the back, his shields would be low there. Regardless, if he turned to face another attack from behind…
Bam with the rifle. Differential armoring always left off a little in the back.
And even if he didn’t, the hits from the missiles would sap his shield, and a shot might still make it through from the front. Go for a knee in that case. The Ankadian setup should allow for a decently accurate shot through a weakened shield.
Maybe if he was really lucky both of them would turn their backs to face the launchers.
He sighted in on the rear walker as it appeared behind the last truck. A quick check showed the drones still visible to his sensors and ready for destruction. The trucks were moving steady at sixty KPH, just like the walkers, and the walkers were only doing basic scans.
So dumb. Where was the imagination?
He sent a ready message to the launcher. Confirmation was next.
He checked the seismics again.
Something… something else. Very light on the ground.
They had a spider!
Somewhere in the hills, looking for him.
It had to have good sound damping, because it barely showed. It also couldn’t be very large. Maybe one of the Audax units the ESU were using. Rigged for above-ground use rather than cave diving.
He waited for triangulation to lock in on it and stayed very still.
There. moving along behind him. Had they seen him?
No, they would have fired. He had no shield up and it would be game over in one shot.
Still could be.
Now he had to take the Audax, and both walkers, and the convoy. Oh boy.
He tasked a sensor on it. Once he locked in on its location with the seismics he was able to, just barely, see some heat leakage in the air. A computer doing a broad scan probably would have written it off as an anomaly, it was so faint.
But the footprints in the snow didn’t lie.
Hmmm. He couldn’t turn around to engage without possibly revealing himself and inviting fire from the two heavier walkers down with the convoy. Also, if he didn’t take out at least one of the convoy walkers with his first shots, he would never be able to take the rest in a stand up fight.
On the other hand, he could let the Audax think he hadn’t noticed it while he disabled the first two walkers. It was risky, but the whole mission had reached suicidal proportions, anyway. If he ignored the Audax while he engaged the two anthros, the Audax would probably try to stay hidden. That would give him a chance to land one hit on it with no shield. He’d have to be fast, and he’d have to get his own shield up as soon as he used his surprise shot on the first two, so the Audax didn’t blow him away from behind with one hit, but it could work.
He juggled his assets and then decided to stick with the same opening. The missiles would still be a good distraction, and the walker in the rear was the biggest chunk of firepower he could probably take out with his first action.
Time to engage, then.
Deep breath. Let it out.
Again. Let it out.
Lord, give them into my hand.
The command to the remote platforms went out and a moment later the drones appeared as flaming chunks spreading in the sky. The lead walker locked onto both platforms immediately and opened fire.
The instant after that Jack’s missile platform launched two skimmer missiles on a supersonic course that hugged the ground. One blew up from laser fire before it reached the rear walker. The other slammed into its back and exploded. It stumbled forward, turned the stumble into a spin, and began walking backward with its front armor facing any further missiles.
Jack sighted in on the weak spot in its shield and triggered his rail-rifle with a thought.
A triple arc of lightning slung three 13mm darts along a spinning course between two superconducting rails locked together in a double-helix, taking them from standing still to ten times the speed of sound in an instant.
1, 2 ,3, so close together they made one sound leaving the barrel.
Jack’s walker rocked back, absorbing what recoil wasn’t soaked up by the gun, but the computer tracked the results.
The first two rounds hit the shield, spot on, and flared into explosions of sun-hot plasma.
The third round punched through the weak spot that made in the shield and connected with the weak armor in the back, right over the power core.
Jack smiled as the distant walker slumped to the ground
The lead walker had turned around as well. Jack almost retargeted and took a shot at it, but the Audax was behind him. He had less than seconds.
With another thought he dropped his groundsinks and pulsed his thrusters.
His walker popped to its feet and skipped sideways.
A missile passed through the air where he had been and turned a tree to flinders.
Jack danced his walker backward, spun, dropped, powered his shield.
Stealth vanished and a bubble of plasma boomed outward from the armor… meeting another missile incoming.
A roar of fusing plasma popped the shield before it had firmed and set the surroundings on fire. Jack locked onto the Audax through the glare, right where he had already known it was.
It was still in stealth mode. As he fired he saw its shield projectors flare.
Three penetrators to the undercarriage and power systems put an end to that.
And a roll to the side avoided the large hypervelocity penetrator from the lead walker that would have put Jack’s unshielded walker down with a back shot.
Up, sidestep, forward, zig to the dip.
Jack danced down the mountain, launching smoke and sparkle ahead to throw off targeting and blur lasers and lobbing missiles in trios from his shoulder pods to keep the remaining walker distracted.
He slid to a crouch behind a large boulder as tall as his walker, ducked around the side to fire a burst, and thought about how to bring the fight to an end.
Missiles wouldn’t do it. All he had left was small aerial stuff, and the remaining walker had the laser defenses on the convoy to shift the balance in his favor. Smoke and sparkle were at half, so Jack could close the rest of the way, but his main weapon was long range.
He could just outshoot over long range. He did have more gun. He could probably win. Probably.
Was there another way?
He looked at the boulder and wondered.
Was it loose, or part of the mountain?
This had been volcanic territory, right?
It did have that rounded shape…
Nah. Crazy thoughts.
Sometimes crazy works.
He hooked the rifle to the back of his walker, braced on the boulder, and pushed. Electroactive nanocarbon muscles that gave the best hydraulics stiff competition strained as wide feet pressed into hard dirt and found the underlying granite of the mountain.
The boulder moved.
Just a creak, but…
This is insane.
Could he aim it? And where?
Right into the convoy, but he would have to lead it.
He projected a simulation of the local surroundings and asked the computer to estimate how long it would take a boulder of that size to reach the road. Angles, times, and paths came up.
He saw one that would work, shuffled around the boulder, squatted for a good low grip, and let loose with the biggest push he could get. For good measure he added his Tzu thrusters to the mix at full power.
The boulder move, lifted, rolled.
And with a crack it started down the hill, crashing, rumbling, tumbling, and shattering trees and smaller rocks as it went.
Jack ran in its shadow, keeping it in between him and the remaining walker. Missiles splashed against it, blew off great chunks, but it was too big to be stopped easily. Weapons made to create small holes in armor didn’t do so well at obliterating gigantic masses of solid stone.
He reached the convoy with his remaining reserve of expendables and slipped between the convoy trucks as they scattered to avoid the boulder that crashed between them.
He caught one and flipped it on its side while his launchers shot smoke and sparkle canisters everywhere. He switched to sonar, locked his rifle on the walker trying to dodge through the mess of convoy trucks and take a shot without hitting any of them, and opened up with everything he had. Missiles flew, hypervelocity rounds cracked, and he even added the clank and boom of a few toss grenades.
When the smoke cleared his cover truck was out of commission and the last walker was down. The other trucks were scattering, but they wouldn’t get far.
His comm lit up with a general announcement.
“Match over. Victory to Purple Team. Congratulations, Jack Fortune.”