This is for @Lifeline
Decanus Jaraley spread his twenty hestatii carefully throughout the town. They floated through the buildings like ghosts, invisible and silent. He checked his single triarii, resting apart from everything on the edge of town, still invisible. He felt the terrain around him, checking for a third time on the map the battlespace where his ambush would take place. There were fifteen buildings, twenty-seven floors, sixty rooms, one main road, fifteen auxiliary roads, minor paths between buildings, and one enemy unit.
Decanus instead of Squad leader. Hestatii instead of drone. He was already tired of these Earth soldiers and their outdated terminology.
The enemy point-man stumbled into range, a New Linz soldier. Jaraley refocused his attention. Although the Linz army was slow they were ruthless and deadly. Four armored cars rolled down the road. They scanned windows lazily with their turrets, their distant human controllers connected precariously to the machines through barely encrypted wireless signals. Two cyborgs clawed at the angles of the town with their minds, calculating tirelessly, chipping away clumsily at the fog of war. Forty infantrymen, the poor beggars, crept over the warped and melted landscape in what Jaraley assumed was their own sad attempt at a tactical column.
He fiddled with his digital radio and map; such luxury in the legion, and set the final touches on the software program for his attack. His hardware was almost in place. Two of the hestatii were having trouble navigating a door, but it didn't matter. Jaralay had stalked this unit for three days, taken a whole day to write his attack, and another day to approach. His hestatii's movement was preplanned, his triarii placement perfect.
One of the Linz infantry had fallen in a small hole, his leg stuck. "Notice." Jaraley's partner chirped quietly on the comm. "I'm picking up some out of place comm chatter from the enemy. What are you observing?"
Jaraley flexed his muscles, held his poncho close, and leaned. He leaned a total of five centimeters over the course of a whole minute, disciplined, and careful, his camouflage remaining undisturbed. He leaned gently to the left, arching his head to look out of the second story window, down at the street the Linz unit was patrolling through. They were stopped two hundred meters away, the scene his hestatii had shown him earlier. It was strange to see something for real after four days of camera video.
"One's stuck." The Jaraley explained to his partner.
"I see." Breann was silence for a moment. "Is that a gunner or a 'tac' holding up their advance?"
"Don't go down a rabbit hole right now." Jaraley finished his program, preparing the data packet for transmit to his hestatii. "Play the panther."
"Prowling." Breann's response was followed by radio silence.
Jaraley took a breath and looked over his digital map one last time. His awareness was heightened, his eyes dilating as he check and rechecked the placement of his 'squad'. He felt himself, felt his drones as they floated, felt the wind against his skin, imagined the sensations the little machines would feel. He scoured the digital screen for all information. He noted the space the drones occupied and the images they saw. He saw, heard, and felt the entire town. He was not a man with a remote control moving a score of robots through some structures. He was a panther, crouched in a tree, watching a sloth.
Jaraley tightened his shoulders, flexing his claws slowly, baring his teeth gently in anticipation for blood. His trance was ruined for only a moment as he sent a message to his operations commander. The message carried his current 'sensation', the enemy position, and the program Jaraley had written to complete the attack.
He waited for his plan to be approved, patiently maintaining his awareness of the battlefield. The answer came in the form of a logistical list. A wave of wirelessly transmitted energy would bathe the town in magnetically charged particles, which were soaked up by the drones once they expended all their current energy. His actions were sanctioned by command. He took a breath, his trance broken for a final time, as he pecked a button on the screen of his device. In a short burst of nigh undetectable radio waves, he sent the program to the hestatii.
Five drones with 10mm weapons opened fire on full automatic from windows and blast holes, raining hundreds of metal fragments on the enemy unit. Linz soldiers scrambled frantically to find cover. Two were injured, crying helplessly as they bled in the street. The enemy returned fire blindly into the town, sowing wanton destruction with their clumsy energy weapons. Two drones were taken out, the particle beams and heat rifles of the sloth damaging or obliterating the drones. The three surviving drones withdrew into defilade unscathed.
Jaraley focused on a cyborg. Two drones, perched side-by-side at the highest point in the town, fired a short burst together. The accurate cones of fire shredded the cyborg's legs from the knee down, and mutilated part of his right hand. He fell on the ground, bleeding and oozing, but still alive. The second cyborg withdrew into the dead-space of a building. No matter. Jaraley had time. He would snipe him eventually.
The armored cars fired at the two drones on the high point, then zig-zagged their beams down the entire structure. Jaraley watched in disgust as the Linz army melted their own building, the beautiful structure warping and collapsing as it was blasted apart and melted at the same time.
The scene was surreal, and Jaraley made a point to shifting a lesser engaged drone to observe the act of destruction. The beams tore huge 'trails' in the surface, sending rubble and debris everywhere. What remained after the beams had passed began to melt, slowly warping and collapsing in a disgusting display of raw, unrestrained power.
Jaraley focused on his second heaviest drone, latched to the side of a structure far away and high above the enemy. He issied no commands- just waited for it to play it's part in the program. The 20mm auto cannon fired, sending high explosive anti-personnel rounds tearing into the enemy. The enemy had spread into the two buildings flanking the road as the rounds exploded in their midst. The armored cars angled their armored hulls to protect the infanry, their dangerous particle cannons lancing everything.
A building, next to the one Jaraley was inside, was fired upon. The beam was close enough that he could hear its hum. His calm was broken for a moment, his attention split between accomplishing his mission and monitoring his unit, and a the image of a white hot beam melting stone.
"They're getting close..." Breann reported gently.
"Thank you." Jaraley pressed his mind back towards the battle. One last note to play. Six kilometers away, at the edge of the town, his triarii engaged. The massive drone tank fired it's 120mm cannon. The blast shook the entire town. The projectile traveled from the edge of the town, through the preplanned trajectory perfectly, into the side of it's target. The sabot round pierced into the side of the lead armored car. T
The enemy vehicle jerked from the kinetic energy, two nearby soldiers falling on their faces from the shock-wave and reverberating metallic snap.
"Help!" Breann's cry broke Jaraley's concentration completely, the voice ringing in his ear mic loudly. He jerked around towards it's origin, his reflex disrupting his perfectly aligned camouflage.
Damn it. The fact that Breann had broke radio silence in the middle of an attack indicated an emergency. "I'm hit!" Of all the luck, in a town this big, with millions of possible origins of fire, the Linz and their clumsy weapons had actually found their mark. What stupid, blind luck.
"Hide!" Jaraley yelled as he surged up from the prone, making a quick assessment of his gear as the world around him became suddenly real and immediate. He backed out of the room where he had stationed himself, coming into the hallway in the center of the building. His pancho glimmered for a momment, but quickly conceled him again. He felt his modular vest, ensuring the armor and pouches were in place. He secured his mich helmet tighter, and adjusted his hud over his eyes. Finally, with some reservation, he felt for his weapon. Hanging on his right hip, the 9mm sub-machine gun. Ready.
Convinced he had it all, Jaraley looked at his tablet on his forearm, transmitting an emergency program into his hestatii.
"Shockburst!" He yelled the program as he finished the transmission. "Lock them here." Every drone unmasked and fired, any semblence of subtlety discarded, traded for brazen firepower. The town transformed into a nightmare of reverberating gunfire and deafening echos, ricochets and snaps shredding all ambient noise. The Linz forces strove in vain against the machines, crying for help, and melting everything around them. As chaos descended, the Panther became the Boar.
He began to run, vaulting down the stairs and sprinted silently through the small abandoned house, holding his poncho close to his body. He came to his exit, a blasted back door, pausing at the entrance to let the light pass over the pancho for a moment. Outside Jaraley could hear the battle, his hestatii assaulting the enemy wildly with automatic fire.
Once his poncho had adjusted to the light, he surged into the street. He ran along the side of the buildings on the sidewalk beside the road. He ran southwest, a barely visible shade of movement. To the east the front of an armored car visible in the intersection. A 120mm round came within two meters of the armored car's surface. The vehicle's particle beam had seared the projectile out of the air at the last second. For all their brutality and obliviousness, Jaraley had to admire these soldier's in once the battle was in full swing.
"There, up on that roof!" They were so close he could hear them. The Linz soldier screamed above the ehoces of fire, his voice barely audible from the structure he hid inside. Jaraley crossed the road as enemy voices shouted drone locations. An armored car crept forward, it's engine loud, its turret aimed upward.
Jaraley strained his legs and hopped, entering a building through a broken window without breaking his stride. Once inside the structure he changed direction, sprinting through the building directly towards the concentration of enemy forces. He tightened his pancho around his body, the enemy force directly in front of him, outside in the roads and two buildings.
Jeraley exited through a window facing his opponents, vaulting expertly through another empty frame again. To his left a concrete structure burned. He looked to his left as he sprinted, the particle cannon of an armored car deafening him as it seared only five meters above his head.
Breann hadn't said anything in a while. Jaraley wanted to call his team mate, but it might reveal either of their positions. His heart was throbbing in his ears, his muscles tense, eyes searching for every angle as he planned his attack. He considered the risk he was taking. Layer the attack, pull away, and let the enemy fester. That was doctrine, and it worked. What he as about to do was brash and dangerous, but if he was going to save his comrade he could not passively confuse his enemy. He needed to tear away their focus completely.
He reached into a pouch under his poncho, producing a small spool of metallic wire. The pancho concealed his form as he made his move. He noted the gravity of his actions, memory of his training instilling a sense of fear into his mind. Since he had landed on this planet, although he had observed dozens of drone skirmishes through a tablet screen, he had never once engaged a Linz soldier in direct combat.
He was already there. In his stupid pondering his forward charge had already made a decision for him.
Jaraley scaled the large tires of the armored car almost as fast as he was running, pulling himself up to the top of the hull. He landed beside the soldier on the back. The enemy was on a small radio, completely focused on guiding vehicles' beam across the target area. No situational awareness at all.
He grasped the soldier by the back of the head and slammed his face into the back of the turret. The soldier's head bounced, lulling from side to side, his hands up by his ears. Jaraley wrapped the wire around the soldier's foot, then jumped off the vehicle, guiding the wire gently behind him as he sprinted. He was between the armored car and one of the buildings the main force of infantry occupied.
Jaraley took a split second to catch his breath, then delved in. He leapt through a blast hole, landing right in front of a soldier. The woman's eyes widened with disbelief as Jaraley's wraithlike form shifted in front of her. She inhaled to yell. He smashed her throat with a quick jab, wrapped the wire around her wrist, then kicked her on the heel. She fell to her face on top of her rifle, Jaraley guiding the wire carefully so it had no tension; not yet.
He scanned the room. Two entrances, two more soldiers firing out of windows. Neither had seen or heard him yet. He ran behind them, still undiscovered, to the entrance heading west into the building. As he stood in the door frame, he felt his weapon with his hand at his side, it's presence nagging at him. He paused in the doorway, looking at the two soldiers with their backs to him.
"No." Jaraley pushed the weapon aside and wrapped both hands in wire, surging through the hallway. He passed a few doors on his right, finally coming to the west corner of the structure. He charged through the door.
A soldier was staring straight at him, a small optic held up to his face. Another soldier was on the opposite side of the room aiming out a window, but was still looking back at the hallway. As Jaraley sprinted at the soldier facing him, he noted the strange smell of static in this room and the faint pale glow in the soldier's eyes. Jaraley had found his target. He had found the other cyborg.
"Shit, right there!" The soldier at the window was looking right at Jaraley. He could not run any faster, raising the wire in his hand as he charged the cyborg. Calmly, and with strange quickness, the half-machine soldier dropped the optic and brandished his rifle under his arm tight against his body in an improvised firing stance. His expression was bland, his eyes robotic and emotionless. Jaraley was not close enough.
The cyborg fired. Jaraley had moved in fast and was past the front of the muzzle. His poncho was not. He felt the heat as the shot seared away the back of his poncho, energy spalling melting the back of his web gear, pants, shirt, and flesh. Jaraley punched the cyborg's nose, but the soldier jerked back, stealing the power from the strike. Jaraley jerked the rifle from the cyborg's hands. The soldier let it go without struggling, reaching behind his back for an unseen weapon.
The soldier in the window was turning his weapon towards Jaraley. It felt like time slowed down for a moment, as he was presented with a millisecond decision. He could still feel his weapon at his side, chaffing at his leg, its weight a constant reminder of it's power and effect on the battlefield. The cyborg was still drawing the weapon. Jaraley had practiced presenting the weapon a hundred times. The drill fresh in his mind, begging to be used.
Jaraley looked past the demeanor of his enemy. Past the hard stance, military uniform, trained bravado, and actually looked at this half-human soldier. The childish fat was still present in the cheeks, the stature small and lanky. The person the cyborg was built around could not have been more than 16 years old
It was the oldest enemy soldier Jaraley had seen today. "No." Jaraley proclaimed, out-loud, the answer to the question the enemy presented with him every day of this goddamn war.
"Your philosophy is moving." Jaraley was shocked as the boy spoke to him calmly. The world around him shifted, becoming surreal and wavy. The window soldier was aiming at them both. "But, if you're not here to kill us..." The cyborg pulled a pistol from behind his back. "... Then you lost this war before you even started." Jaraley had been shot by a heat rifle earlier. Right?
The cyborg snap-fired; Jaraley was already diving facedow to the floor. As he landed he thumbed the control on the spool. The entire line was electrified. The boy jerked and twitched as the wire Jaraley had wrapped around the boy's shoulder shocked him.
The other two along the line would be getting shocked as well.
Jaraley stood up and sprinted past the subdued cyborg. The soldier at the window chose not to melt everyone in the room with such a close range shot, opting instead to stand up and swing the butt-stock of his rifle. It was a clumsy, childish strike, but Jareley was angry. He was deafened by the cyborg's pistol shot and tired from sprinting so much. His response was unbridled and ruthless as he tackled the soldier with his shoulder.
Blood smeared on the floor. His back hurt. Jaraley's legs weren't working right, and he tripped over his foe. The two fell into a heap together on the ground.
Jaraley struggled against his enemy, breathing heavily as the soldier scrambled away. The damage to his back was starting to manifest, the pain slowly growing as he wrestled. He managed to wrest himself from the child on the ground, regaining some of his composure. "Help!" The soldier yelled at no one as Jaraley wrapped the wire around his hand, tying it off quickly. "Someone mark him-" The soldier was silenced as Jaraley slugged the child's mouth violently.
Energizing the spool one last time stopped the soldier from fighting. Jaraley stumbled towards a wall as the two enemies shuddered and twitched. He walked towards what looked like a door. It would not open, but then again his hand wasn't even on the latch. He felt the pain again, and his vision suddenly blurred. It was not a door, it was a window.
Idiot. As he leaned on his side against the window he remember something from his training, some distant memory of a lesson, or maybe a drill, about the effects of plasma weapons on human flesh. Tenatively, Jaraley reached behind his back. Breathing was not a rhythm anymore, but came in quick, spastic rasps. Where was his back? Had he stopped reaching. Come on Jaraley, wake up!
His hand found a warm, wet mass of material. It did not feel like his poncho or uniform, and it did not feel like his skin. It was a new texture, smooth, mushy, and damp. He pulled his hand slowly to the front of his body, flapping his hand on a pouch on his stomach. His hands were numb. Jaraley looked at the two limp soldiers in the room with him, their breathing slow and gentle. The were moving so. Slowly.
Jaraley finally pulled out a small syringe, made a mental note of resource expenditure, and stabbed the needle into his neck.
"Kay, help me!" Hearing Breann's voice crack in pain combined with the weaponize, hyper-concentrated shot of methamphetamine into his head, and the hum of a particle beam as it seared into the room, galvanized Jaraley into action. As the Linz armored car melted the two children in the room, trying to get a fucking kill, Jaraley brandished his weapon for the first time in this 'war'.
As the heat grew in the room behind him Jareley aimed it at the window and fired, blasting out the pane and frame with a burst of automatic fire. He crawled out of the opening- finally finding himself on the west side of the enemy structure. As the drugs surged into his brain, his battlefield awareness was brought to a godlike high, and he pissed himself in the street.
"Hah!" Armored car surge forward, trying to gain an angle on him. "Calm down, lover boy!" As the big stupid car-thing rounded the corner, the soldier on top was yanked by his foot from the top of the car. Screams and cries rang from the building as the whole wire went taunt, the armored car clothes-lining at least three enemy soldiers, maybe more.
The enemy was blind, his path was clear, and he was a god. The hestatii protected him as he ran the remaining five hundred meters to his partner. He was floating above his body as he ran, his consciousness sweeping from point of view to point of view. He tried to look at his digital map, but quickly discovered that he had become a drone, hovering gently, pooping little wireless energy farts in the space time- shutup!
Jaraley found himself inside a small warehouse. He was a 10mm equiped drone, sitting ten meters from Breann. He rotated his small body on its axis, adjusting airjets and stabilizers gently. He faced his old friend, noting his position beneath an enormous beam scar. Linz fire had seared the top of the warehouse away, leaving the metal walls misshapen and melted.
Breann lay on his side in the fetal position with his blackened poncho wrapped around him, molten metal still bubbling on the edges of the impact area. Breann's body sizzled quietly, shivering against unseen cold.
Jaraley cried and forced his mind away from idiotic fantasies. He sprinted harder than ever, his own wounded body finally approaching the warehouse. Somehow, the beam scar was more terrifying to look at in person, hot and smelly as he ran through it. Breann's body was awful to see, the stench of cooked meat sapping Jaraley's will.
"Breann!" His voice sounded far too weak.
"Here, Kay." Breann's voice was weak as Jaraley knelt close to him. Breann had a syringe in his neck too, his eyes dilated and quivering. "I'm sorry. They spotted me."
"Don't talk." Jaraley was elated to find his partner's head undamaged. He was only burned. Terribly, completely burned, but his head seemed fine. "We'll be fine." Jaraley was half talking to himself.
The pain was more real than ever as Jaraley hoisted Breann's warped form onto his own melted back. "Where are the rest of your squad?" Not a real squad. Drones. Jaraley would have given anything just to have a real team. He was tired of machines and children.
"I set them into a connecting file leading out of the town-Augh!" Breann grunted and cursed as Jaraley wrapped what was left of their ponchos around their mutilated bodies. "I wanted to be ready..." Breann was struggling with the words, his eyes clenched tight, tears streaming. "... For retreat."
Jaraley carried his wounded partner out of the town, leaving the decapitated enemy unit to fester and die under a constant barrage of fire. The Linz army melted one of their own towns, the Earth invaders long gone by the time the drones ran out of energy and ammo. The scent of ozone and molten concrete delayed them even longer.
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