Kai, that’s a monster.
Tegar Daneth KarLagren, current commander of HarRukora’s Bluesky Kerchaxes, stared at the town buried in the megaforest below the cliff while running a finger over the platinum and sapphire ring on the third finger of his right hand. The sensors in his anchor gave him excellent magnification and he could see a guard making his rounds on the high fiber-faced wall surrounding the military post at the center. After a few steps the guard turned a corner and vanished behind the barrel of an artillery piece that could have swallowed a man in powered armor whole.
Dan decided he was glad to be well inside the minimum range of King ArPegel’s prized border artillery. Any of those hulking guns could have wiped out a medium armor cohort without trying. Between all three artillery pieces, his entire company wouldn’t have lasted more than a minute at range, even with their interdiction lasers.
He could see why Rakash Darr HarMakig wanted them for himself.
The headset in his helmet hissed and Darra Krisga HarRukora spoke through it.
“I shouldn’t have accepted this contract. My father wouldn’t have accepted this contract.”
Dan sat back in his crash chair and felt his anchor shift around him as well. He hadn’t meant to transmit that action. Kris’s distraction was infectious.
He put his anchor in stand mode and mentally switched the radio to reply.
“He’d understand, Kris.”
And back to receive.
“Of course he would. We couldn’t even afford repairs. We needed HarMakig’s contract.”
Kris paused and Dan knew exactly what look she had on her face, even without a video link: A thousand mile stare aimed at her left knee and a faint glimmer in her eyes as she thought of her father.
“He’d understand, Dan,” she said. “But he still wouldn’t have taken it. HarMakig’s scum.”
She was right. HarMakig was scum. The old man would have been disappointed.
But, HarMakig was scum with money. And an order from the newly-minted Emperor Orlin ArdAnkadia charging him with retaking the province of Ambril. And to do that he needed mercenaries.
And these mercenaries needed money.
Kai, they needed money.
He watched a young man lead a cow in through the main gate of the city, which was set in a secondary wall shorter than the one around the base.
Civilians were going to get killed on this job. No way about it.
Though if he had anything to say about it, his men wouldn’t be the ones to mess up and do it. He’d leave that for HarMakeg’s distraction team.
He took his anchor out of motion-lock and put the pulse fusion plant to full power. Eighteen vertical feet of bipedal war machine straightened up into into a shooting stance and shouldered the huge 39 millimeter autocannon in its hands. Dan let the nerve interface go to full.
He was the war machine.
“We going in Phan?” Gar Koo Letenwi, his second, asked.
“Is our status green, Ops?” Dan asked, waiting for Kris to give them the go ahead.
The wait lasted a good ten seconds.
Finally, “You are green, Phantom. I am signalling the tanks.”
“We’re going in.”
Dan went straight ahead, right off the cliff he was standing on. Nineteen other anchors followed him, trusting in the tow lines attached to the immense trees behind them to lower them safely as they ran down the rockface.
The ground rushed up at him, rocks and grass and hard dirt. The tow system switched to full at the last moment, slowing him so he could kick off the wall and take the impact with his legs.
The world shook as he hit and he felt an echo of it in his real body. He straightened up and sent a signal through the line. Back at the top of the cliff the cable released and the tow system wheeled it down and back in. Tow cables were cheap as trees, but he could afford the moment and the savings meant something in the ledger.
Ahead, through the woods, the gates of the city blew up as a pair of stealth tanks opened fire on them. Trust the Capitol to have a few of those tucked away.
Well, they wouldn’t do a woods unit like his much good anyway.
He lead his troops through the trees and undergrowth along the base of the cliffs while the stealth tanks started a fight with the base garrison. The gunfire he could hear soon went both ways and included plenty of small arms fire. The stealth tanks had backup and the base had sent in its infantry. The heavier crackle of the base’s own anchors soon followed. Some of them had guns heavier than autocannons.
“We’re coming up on the cut-through, Phan,” Koo announced.
“Got it, Snowtop.” Fusion powered muscles tensed and released, pounding the ground with giant feet and driving him forward so fast the tower-sized trees were a blur. He pulled up the map in front of his vision and saw the “alley” he had marked in for the turn, a path that would bring them to a point where the city wall was close to the base wall, giving the base defenses the least amount of time to respond to them.
He made the turn, leaning to the inside, and felt again the power and wonder as a body both lighter and stronger than flesh pivoted through a turn that would have rolled a wheeled vehicle or slid it into a tree.
Back to full speed in moments, sprinting toward a wall twice his height that was just coming into view.
Jets checked as ready. He looked to the higher wall beyond, designated turrets and guards for his men. All the enemy emplacements were looking to the front of the city, and not at him or his men.
A moment later the first wall cut off his view, but the target would still be there when they made the jump.
He combined thrust from his muscles and a blazing kick from the thrusters attached to either side of his back. The world fell away as he went up and over.
The targets rose into sight again.
He sighted on a turret with his autocannon. Locked the auto-tracking automatic grenade launcher on his shoulder to another.
BRRRRAAAPPPP. Whump Whump Whump.
All around him the air exploded with the fire of his men. On the walls, guards disintegrated and turrets jerked and lost power from autocannon fire.
The ground came up and he swept the force of the fall into a forward dash. At the same time white blasts danced across the base wall, shattering the remaining defenses and scattering debris and bodies.
Dan targeted the double-doored gate ahead with the laser on his shoulder, drawing a box for the cannon to cut on.
Air hissed and lit up green as he let it loose. The doors flared at the edges as repeated licks of the beam sliced through them. But they didn’t fall.
When he was almost to the doors he fired a grenade and blew them into the courtyard of the base. He crouched to the side of the threshold and covered the open ground beyond with his autocannon while his men poured in and opened fire on the few soldiers running around with weapons. He heard the whoosh of an anti-armor missile launching.
A quick check showed status green on all anchors.
“This is Songman. One of the squishies had a dragonslayer, but he fired it too close for a lock,” Dangar Bradik PirHakken said. “Hit a wall.”
“Clear,” Koo confirmed.
Dan stepped out from the wall and ran into the courtyard. They had a brief opening while the first-response anchors tried to disengage and run back to the base and the secondary squads got geared up and into their machines. HarMakig’s command team had estimated that window at two minutes, but it could easily be less.
No time to waste.
Dan set his targeting computer to finding the air defenses. That was what they had been sent for. HarMakig wanted the base intact, with its artillery, and for that to be certain he had to avoid starting an all-out slugfest right next to the big guns. Autocannons might not do too much to them, but lasers and rail-rifles certainly would. But without the air defenses, anything in the base larger than a human would be vulnerable to precision missile strikes. The defenders would most likely just give up once they were faced with a full ground force backed up by unopposed air.
There. His computer identified the main and backup radar and ladar domes for the interdiction turrets, the primary alternator supplying power to the base’s outer defenses, and the communications and control computer running them. Fixing all of those would take days, and without them the base was defenseless.
He highlighted the targets. With a cacophony of autocannon fire his men reduced the critical technology to useless rubble.
Mission accomplished. Now to get out and get paid.
He sprinted across the courtyard, opposite from the way they’d come in, making sure both squads fell in behind him as he did. Then put his back to the wall and watched the courtyard as his men jetted up and over the wall ahead of him. All of them.
Before he could follow, the door on one of the bays started to roll up. Instead of opening fire on the anchor when it was halfway revealed he targeted the garage door motors through the wall. At least, where his computer thought they would be.
An extended laser pulse burned through the wall and through the mechanism.
The door dropped back down.
Dan turned and followed his men over the wall.
They made it out of the city with no interference beyond a few shots from some guards still up on the town wall. Dan linked with his command base, told Kris they were out, then piggybacked through the command radio to HarMakig’s command.
“Mission success. Air defenses down. Base is open for takeover.”
“Good to hear, Phantom. Sending some packages now.”
A half-minute later Dan’s anti-missile radar detected two large cruise missiles burning past overhead.
So HarMakig was getting right to it. Good. His decisiveness boded well for the rest of the campaign.
The radio crackled with another message coming through their base station.
“Phantom. You might want to clear out a little further before you crack your seals. The wind is shifting your way and the gas might make it to you. Copy?”
Dan felt his stomach clench despite the link to his anchor filling him with cold machine.
“What’s the decomp time on that nerve gas?” Kris chimed in.
“Should be safe in about ten minutes, but I wouldn’t risk my life on it for at least twenty. Little bit goes a long way.”
Nat nat nat.
An image of a young man with a cow walking into a town full of civilians flashed in his mind.
Sweet holy Kai what have I done?
This chapter is part of the in-progress serial web novel The Unbroken Blade, intended to be book one in The Shattered Empire trilogy, and features a mix of sci-fi and cultural elements reminiscent of near-future military fiction such as Gasaraki and pure sci-fi combat classics such as Mechwarrior/Battletech and Gundam. The story is rich with battle and conflicts of honor and conscience arising around a civil war on the forested world of Dankar, far from our own, but is primarily focused on how the main characters deal with the challenges they face, not their machines or their world. Follow this blog to receive each chapter as soon as it is released. Like and share to give me a shot of encouragement. Full chapter updates on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.