Aysha’s sisters rolled over the stumbling Imperials like stormsurge. The first base fell in minutes. The second held up for half-an-hour, but collapsed when Aysha sent Commander Chellris’ hoptanks around to a flanking ridgeline to shoot out their command team, after which the Warsisters washed them away in detail.
Why was this so simple?
This was not the mighty Imperium that Aysha had expected. Part of it was explained by the decoys they found in the camps. Their satellite had indicated two battalions per camp, but the reality was closer to one. Further, half the forces that were attached to the camps had been fragmented into large scouting groups. Oddly, those groups came in from the west when the camps were attacked.
What had they been looking for over there?
Aysha had expected a feast, but this was more like a sampler plate from one of the mixer parties the goldhairs were always setting up. Damn stick-brain three-legs, poking around on her border with a tenth the forces they needed for a proper invasion. Their whole expedition had to be exploratory. That was the only thing that explained it. Draw her sisters out, observe their forces, then adjust the real invasion plans for maximum effect.
That still didn’t explain those scout groups, though. Sadly, the survivors from the previous two camps knew nothing or weren’t talking. She had to find out.
“Cavelurk Alpha to Dingo Alpha.”
Aysha put her full attention on the incoming comm. Cavelurk Alpha was leading the team she had sent to scout the third camp.
“Go ahead, Cavelurk Alpha.”
“Third camp looks like it was three times the size of the others, but it had a skeleton crew when we got here. Wasn’t even a fight. We questioned the camp staff. Looks like a third of the group picked up and headed north two hours ago, before we started our attacks. The rest followed about the time we hit the second camp, thirty minutes back.”
“Any info on what all the scouts have been out looking for?”
“No one in the know would talk. Orders?”
There was nothing north but fishing villages and abandoned city. The primary mission for the Imperial forces near Emprin was to scout out Irtrallan territory. But they hadn’t been doing that. Instead, they had sent scouting groups to the west. From the time it had taken those scouting groups to arrive, some of them had been a good way toward Lake Baergan. That indicated Imperial forces were looking for something they thought would be coming through there. And now the forces in one of those camps had completely abandoned their post and gone North en masse.
Whatever they were looking for they had found it North of that camp. Whatever it was, their Emperor considered catching it more important than holding the ground outside Emprin.
That meant it was something that was at least more troubling to him than losing five battalions.
If it was worth five battalions of Imperials, it was worth Aysha’s full attention.
“Cavelurk Alpha, follow the forces from the camp and find out where they’re going. Harry them at range if you can, but do not engage further. Update me as soon as you have more data. I’ll bring the rest of our forces behind you. They’re after something. If we can take it from them, I intend to. Confirm orders.”
“Track Imperial forces North, distract at range, update with any new data.”
“Good. Victory, Cavelurk Alpha.”
“Victory, Dingo Alpha.”
The channel closed.
Aysha informed command of her suspicions and got approval to take the majority of her force north after the Imperials. The First Mother agreed with Aysha’s desire to find whatever that force was after and take it if they could.
If Cavelurk Alpha’s estimate of the force size was accurate, there could be up to three battalions somewhere north. That was closer to the kind of force Aysha had been looking forward to. A battle that might offer a real challenge.
And maybe something else that could hurt the Emperor even more than losing a few battalions.
Time to make that stick-brain pay.
“Deep Den to Dingo Alpha. We spotted what you’re looking for with Skyguard. Routing it to you now.”
Aysha heard the words perfectly despite the crack and crackle of railguns, hi-vee cannons, lasers and small arms going off all around her. She dodged into cover behind a stone-faced office building, then brought the view from the tightbeam datalink up in the center of her vision.
The first thing she saw was a square of city highrises, two blocks by two blocks, with the streets leading in blockaded by collapsed buildings. Someone had made an improvised fortress. Highlighting from Skyguard picked out portable anti-missile radars on the building tops, four interdiction tanks parked in spots that gave them a view of the sky but hid them from line-of-sight shots, and a small number of anchors that were mostly crouched in good cover. Also, some infantry and support vehicles. An analysis note from Deep Den listed the total numbers as roughly 40 anchors, four tanks, and a company of powered armor, far more than she could see, meaning they were good at hiding.
Also, there was one lunger. Odd.
Most of the anchors were Makegs, a model used by some warlords, but not the Imperial military, and the markings were a non-standard camouflage that also wasn’t Imperial. Deep Den’s best guess was that they were mercenaries. Whoever they were, they were definitely what the Imperials had been looking for.
So far they appeared to be holding the Imperials at bay. Forty or so Imperial Danags littered the streets near the rubble walls, probably shot during an assault run. Aysha imagined that the first Imperial battalion to arrive had backed off and surrounded the mercenaries after the first attack failed, probably to wait for the rest of the units from the base. That they hadn’t called their attack off completely once the Warsisters began attacking the Imperial camps, but had instead consolidated around the mercenaries, meant that the mercenary unit, or something it had, was even more important than Aysha had first estimated.
That the mercenaries hadn’t surrendered against these odds meant that it was something so important that they had no option but to keep fighting to protect it. Unless they themselves were the issue.
It was a mystery. Aysha determined that she would find the solution. In usable condition.
“Dingo Alpha to all sisters. Designating unaffiliated high value units, currently engaged with Imperial forces. Do not fire on them. If they fire at you, take cover and retreat. I want them intact.”
She got a chorus of affirmations.
She called up Commander Chellris.
“Rockturtle Alpha here, Dingo Alpha.”
“Head to the parking garage at the coordinates I’m sending. That will give you a good spot to cover the eastern rubble barricade. If any Imperials try to get over it, terminate them.”
“We’ll take care of it, Dingo Alpha.”
Aysha sent the rest of her tank squads, with anchor packs as guards, to other locations around the city where they could keep a long range eye on the Imperials and gun down anyone trying to get into the Mercenaries’ protected zone. That would stabilize their situation and give her time to deal with the Imperials without giving the prize a chance to slip away.
Of course, it would be easier if she could be certain the prize wouldn’t shoot at her when she came to claim it. There was only one way to accomplish that.
She contacted one of her electronic warfare lungers and had it blast a parley signal toward the mercenaries on a continental hailing frequency. There wouldn’t be any way to get good encryption on a first-time contact in the middle of a battle, but she didn’t need to hide what she was saying from the Imperials. She just needed to make a deal.
“Who is this?” A rough man’s voice asked.
Signal origin was correct. The person asking the question was in the middle of the mercenary group.
“This is Commander Aysha Theron of Zdar Army. We are currently engaging the Imperials surrounding you. Why are they engaging you?”
There was a long pause, during which the pilot of her EW lunger informed her the Imperials were trying to jam the communication. Aysha wasn’t worried, but tasked another lunger to boost the signal anyway.
A different voice spoke next, brighter and more refined, but still male.
“This is Rixken ArdAnkadia. I am the new Preparer of the Ankadarul and the rightful Emperor. My brother Orlin is trying to get rid of me. Thank you for your aid.”
Aysha clenched her fist at his thanks. She hadn’t offered anything yet.
No. Calm. This was more than just a fight between rival stick-brains.
She pondered what he had said. She didn’t know much about the the Empire’s religion, but she did recognize the title of Preparer. She also knew that the Emperor had two titles, one political, and the other religious. If this man was the Preparer it meant he was the religious leader of everyone who followed the Empire’s religion. Conversely, the new Emperor was the political leader, and only had half a title.
The Emperor was trying to kill this man to prevent a civil war.
The First Mother would want him alive. What she would do with him, Aysha didn’t know, but she would want him alive. She prepped a very quick report and sent it off, then figured out how she was going to negotiate.
“Rixken ArdAnkadia, if your men will agree not to fire on my troops and surrender to our custody, my forces will clear out the Imperials surrounding you as quickly as we can. Additionally, I will guarantee all of you safe passage to First Mother Mesra Trayl at our base, where she will hear you out.”
“You are a Warsister?”
“What will happen to my men?”
“I can assure you that if you have any women with you, they will be well treated, and any non-combat men with you will be able to find a place in our civilian population. I cannot say more.”
“That’s not much assurance.”
“Your other option is that we take our time with the Imperials and capture you by force when we’re done with them.”
Another pause. Not a long one.
“I accept your offer. As soon as you deal with the Empire forces, my men will surrender.”
“Very wise.” Hopefully he honored that agreement. Otherwise she would shoot him herself.
Aysha closed the channel. A moment later a message came in, just text, updating her orders from the First Mother. Bringing the Preparer back alive was now her priority.
She re-assessed the battlefield. The Imperials had settled into cover all the way around the mercenary holdfast. Getting rid of them would be tedious, but not difficult. The Imperials had better numbers, but couldn’t concentrate their forces without risking a breakout from the mercenaries. Also, any of her sisters were easily worth two or more of those stick brains, and that was before the better quality of Warsister anchors was added in.
No. They would beat the Imperials. That was just a matter of time.
What they might not be able to do was keep the mercenaries alive. Once Aysha’s forces began applying serious pressure to the Imperials, they might just swamp the mercenary holdfast, take the losses needed to overwhelm the Preparer and his defenders, and then make an ordered retreat North.
If she wanted to bring the Preparer back to the First Mother, she needed to get reinforcements in there. That would require opening up a corridor to insert a force through. A two prong attack would work best. She drew out a set of attack patterns on the map, then sent it to her sub-commanders.
Half her anchors went straight North, leapfrogging through cover along the main avenue running to the holdfast and pressing the largest body of Imperials. Her power armored infantry she sent Northwest, through the alleys and across the rooftops to apply pressure to the Imperials on the West side of the holdfast.
As soon as those groups moved off she closed the map and took the rest of her forces West and North along the side streets, curving around to come back at the Western Imperials directly from the West and hit them hard from another direction while they were dealing with her infantry.
Aysha and her anchors came in past a parking garage stocked with Warsister hoptanks. A block past that, an Imperial Danag poked its autocannon around the corner of a building eight blocks further in and fired at them.
Three thundercracks split the air overhead. Heavy railrifle rounds from the hoptanks ripped through the building and cored the Danag.
Aysha sprinted three more blocks, then decided it was time to transition to the slow approach and dodged into an alley.
“Battallion Alpha, continue leapfrog advance. Packs Bushdog and Fayrzeg, find some sturdy roofs and give overwatch.”
The anchors of two of her elite packs stowed their railrifles and scaled nearby buildings, mechanical hands smashing windows as they crawled up the sides. When they hit the roofs they went prone and crawled to shooting positions. The rest of her forces dodged through the streets from alley to alley, firing at Imperials with bursts from their autocannons and lasers.
“Deep Den to Dingo Alpha, Imperials are pressing the attack on the mercs.”
Aysha checked the sat view again and saw more anchors moving through the streets toward the mercenary holdfast. Some fell from hoptank fire, but more made it to positions close to the barricades. They were getting ready to charge in.
“Battallion Alpha, doubletime. Enemy is advancing on our prize.”
Her sisters doubled the distance of their runs between cover, relying on the oversight from Bushdog and Fayrzeg packs to keep the Imperial’s suppressed as they dashed through the streets. Aysha stayed with them, keeping her railrifle up and ready. Soon the barricade came into sight. Still ten blocks distant, but she glimpsed some of the Imperial anchors gathering nearby.
Eight of those anchors poked autocannons out of cover at the same time and fired.
Aysha was near cover, but not in it. She punched her jets and lunged for the alley.
Shots spanged off her anchor’s glacis.
She snapped off a return shot, dropping one of the Imperials, and cut the front off the gun of another with her laser.
Made it to cover.
Dingo Pack was there with her in the next moment, sliding into the same alley and the one across the street. Aysha sent four other packs through the alleys to flank the blocking anchors. Two more packs up and over the roofs.
She called Bushdog and told them to roofhop to a closer position while Fayrzeg maintained suppressing fire.
Poked her railrifle around the corner, looked for a target.
Spotted the foot of a Danag.
Knee should be right… there. The computer helped but it couldn’t do everything.
She shot through the building and was pretty sure she scored a hit.
Let’s see how the three-leg fought with a limp.
The anchors of Bushdog made it to a better spot at the same time that her flanking units opened up on the seven remaining blockers.
Six. No, five.
Her sisters made short work of them.
Aysha was out in the street again, dashing for the barricade. Her flankers took covered positions and opened up on the next set of Imperials. She joined them quickly and told Fayrzeg pack to pick up.
One of her anchors went down. Two. She had lost a few here and there over the past several minutes, but the Imperials were still falling faster.
Deep Den sent her a text ping. Imperials charging barricades now.
Aysha commed all her forces.
“All units, press the attack. Battalion Alpha, advance full speed. We need to break through now.”
The noise of gunfire tripled across the city. Aysha glanced up and saw her power armor troops leaping across the rooftops. Some Imperial infantry rose up to stop them and the Warsisters mowed them down without slowing.
A shadow passed overhead as a member of Bushdog pack made a jet-leap over the alley. Two more followed.
Over a hundred Warsister anchors poured out of alleys onto the wide stonetop and jogged forward with weapons shouldered and firing. Aysha joined them. Groups of Imperial anchors fired from cover, highlighted in red by her computer. Warsister hoptanks and rooftop anchors fired back with more precision and dropped them one after another.
Lasers flashed green and bullets ripped through the air everywhere.
Some of the Warsister anchors in the street fell.
Aysha picked one of the responsible Imperials and blew its arm off.
Found another. Shot it’s ankle, then cored it when it fell out of cover.
The barricade drew near, a pile of rubble as tall as her anchor. She could have jumped it, but if there were Imperials waiting on the other side they would have clear shots at her weakest armor. She pushed ahead of her sisters and scrambled over instead, depressing her railrifle and sweeping the street beyond as she reached the peak.
No Imperials. Because there were merc anchors hiding behind cover, autocannons pointed around the corners.
A moment passed where Aysha aimed at them and they aimed at her.
They lowered their weapons first.
“Over the wall, sisters!”
Aysha saw more mercs covering the opposite barrier.
And a horde of Imperial anchors coming over it.
She slid back down the barrier and dropped to a crouch. The rest of Dingo Pack joined her. More Warsisters beside them. Aysha picked a target and fired. Fired again. It fell. She picked another.
All around her railrifles thundered, lasers hissed and snapped, and grenade launchers whumped. Hy-vee rounds cracked past her in reply, tore armor off her anchor. A laser shattered one of the cameras in her anchor’s head. Grenades exploded all around. She kept firing.
There had to be more Imperials coming in at the South and North barriers. Especially the South. With the Warsisters covering the West and East barriers the mercenaries would have more forces to devote to the remaining barriers, but they didn’t have any of the Warsisters’ advantages.
Her forces still had to get in there.
“Battalion Beta, press the attack. Break the Southern force.”
Confirmation came back to her, and a glance at the map showed Beta tearing into the Southern Imperials. But it also showed Imperial units pouring in from the South, pushing in from the North, and exchanging fire with the mercenaries as they drove them toward the middle.
“Battalion Alpha. Smoke and advance!”
Aysha switched her automatic grenade launcher to smoke and covered the ground ahead with a cloud. As soon as it was thick enough she rose and ran over the barrier, heading for proper cover inside the holdfast. All around she saw the green ghosts of her sisters’ anchors doing the same.
She found a huge pillar where the smoke was thin and crouched behind it. From there she had a view of the Southern barrier, covered in advancing Imperial anchors. She chose a target and opened fire again, using her laser to destroy cameras and weapons and coring every anchor she could with her railrifle.
Somewhere nearby a heavy hy-vee cannon roared. Aysha found the source. A lunger, predictably out in the open where it could lay in with its dual autocannons and heavy central cannon. It dropped an Imperial anchor as she watched.
Near it, firing from cover, was another anchor, not a Makeg like the mercenaries, or a Danag like the Imperials. Much finer. One of the newest models. A Girden.
The Preparer. She was certain. It’s pilot was at least competent. He held several Imperials under suppressive fire, keeping them from advancing by landing a burst of shots on them every time they tried to come out of cover.
Aysha picked off another Imperial.
Checked the map. Most of Battalion Alpha had made it into the holdfast and found cover.
The Imperials kept coming, but now they were fighting a fully supported entrenched enemy, and dealing with Battalion Beta, which was still mobile on the outside. Aysha ordered Beta to move around, hitting the Imperials in different places.
Soon the Imperials stopped coming in.
And then they were retreating.
Now to secure that stick-brain Preparer they had been trying to kill.
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 thematic elements reminiscent of near-future military fiction such as Gasaraki or Isaac Hooke’s Atlas series and 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.