The StormKeepers Chronicles
Volume IV "Masters of the Galaxy"

Copyright (c) 1998 by Low Ee Mien
All references to Hercs and the StarSiege Universe (c) 1998 Dynamix Corporation

Chapter 3 : The Imposition of Order

Open terrain
17 km from HercBase #3
0957 hrs
Planet Mars

High up, seated safely in the pilot's couch, being physically present in the cockpit and yet mentally elsewhere, Louie thought the Basilisk through the motions of walking, and then, as the Herc gathered momentum, running at full throttle. And Lollipop was right beside Louie all the way, matching step for step, downhill, heading into the heart of the storm, compensating with a human sense of balance for the strong winds that threatened to topple the mighty war machines. The Winds of Chaos, the local citizens sometimes used to call them, as they appeared without any warning whatsoever, had caused grievous damage to the earliest settlements that had sprung up on Mars, before the intrepid pioneers learnt the hard way, and began to build their colonies underground.

Only two hundred meters away, a mere stone's throw away in the scaled-up dimensions of Herc warfare, the four Cybrid Bolos, neatly arrayed in a diamond formation, rolling impressively fast for their size on caterpillar tracks, locked their targeting lasers on to the two Human warriors charging straight at them... and who continued right past them.

If Cybrids could be surprised, they would have been wearing a bewildered look right around then. Carrying a different main weapon each, a refreshingly new Cybrid tactic, the Bolos made as if to re-track their guns, turn around and attempt to follow the Louie-Lollipop pair, when, from the South, a sheer barrage of auto-cannon fire tore into the lead Bolo, punching through its shields in a matter of seconds, ripping its Rad Cannon from its turret mount, and riddling its armor through and through with armor-piercing, depleted-uranium rounds. The Cybrids had not anticipated the feign and had ignored the other three StormKeepers completely, which was not exactly a smart thing to do under the circumstances. So much for machine intelligence. The Cybrid AI simply was not devious enough at times - a loophole that the Humans exploited whenever and wherever possible.

Jeffr and Sinclair yelled "YES!!!" almost simultaneously into the voice intercom channel as they proceeded to turn around and converge on the second Bolo. Dire Wolf, the new recruit, smiled quietly in his cockpit and thought that he would like these StormKeepers fellows, although, wasn't he supposed to be .... ? Dire Wolf shrugged off these troubling thoughts of his own and grinned to himself. It didn't matter, probably they would sort it all out later, what mattered most right now was getting rid of these Cybrids, to settle more than a few scores for the good guys. And, after all, it was his auto-cannon rounds which had taken off that evil-looking Rad Cannon from that oddly-shaped Cybrid tank.

The Cybrids' cybertronic brains had taken mere milliseconds to acknowledge their error, and they had their more ponderous mechanical bodies rotated around to face the oncoming Humans. Answering back with their own heavy weaponry, the Bolo tanks began to launch blow after blow into the Human Hercs' shields.

Enclosed in a dimly-lit world, bathed in the glow of holographic heads-up displays, the entire environ punctuated by loud and insistent low-shield warning messages, Sinclair brought his crosshairs to bear on the compactly-built Cybrid vehicle in front of him. At the same moment, the Cybrid elevated its Plasma Cannon, pointing it straight at him.

Sinclair's gaze narrowed as he watched the electric-blue glow at the tip of the enemy cannon coalesce into existence, launching a sizzling blue ball of plasma in his direction. Instinctively, he reached for the crouch lever, when a blur of movement whizzed past him. All he saw for the next second was the distinctive bluish-green hue of a fully-charged shield absorbing all the unleashed energy of the plasma bolt meant for him.

"Owww that hurt... but I'm fine, I'm A-Okay, thankee velly much," declared Jeffr as he brought his Minotaur to a dead stop at Sinclair's two o' clock position, and performed a V-turn to re-align himself with the targeted Bolo. Jeffr had noticed Sinclair taking two consecutive plasma hits and he knew that the third shot would most likely cripple Sinclair's Herc beyond all economical repair.

Sinclair breathed a sigh of relief, "Phew, thanks Jeffr, owe you one," at the same moment linking his auto-cannon, compression laser and ELF together in one long firing chain. He clicked the Fire button on the control stick with his index finger. Fully aware that it would be at least two more seconds before the deadly Plasma Cannon could charge up again, he gave the Cybrid no time to recover before lancing it with bolts of destructive kinetic and photonic energy, culminating with a long sustained burst of man-made lightning from his ELF Cannon, reducing a fully-functional Cybrid weapon of terror into a fully-inoperational dead hulk.

Jeffr's Herc, still smarting from the point-blank plasma shot to the torso, wobbled a bit as he tried his best to keep it from tripping over in the wildly random gusts of wind that threatend to simply pick the 32-ton machine up and deposit it on the other side of the planet. He was glad that Sinclair reacted as fast as he did, or else that Bolo would have picked on him next.

Meanwhile, less than four hundred meters away, Louie and Lollipop were engrossed in a fierce engagement with the four Goads in the dead center of the Cybrid attack force.

"Target Goad at 002 degrees 34.30 m location left knee joint center select weapon ELF", whispered/thought Louie over the C-Link. Less than a hundred milliseconds later, Lollipop thought/sent his acknowledgement back.

In battle situations, the Human voice itself was often too slow to convey the most important information. The C-Link negated this disadvantage and brought with it wondrous new insights into the realm of accelerated thinking powers. Of course, that meant a certain change in the personality of the person using it at the time, and Louie was inwardly glad that it could be turned off whenever it was not needed. He hated the thought of becoming more like a machine than a Human, but he remembered vaguely the disembodied words of the Darkstar, speaking directly into his mind : "You will remain as Human as you have always been... your new capabilities are now an asset to you, and if used wisely, to all whom you hold dear. Utilise the C-Link to its full potential. The Aldur has great hopes for you... and for all of Humankind..."

In the totality of the two seconds it took for the left knee joint of the first Goad to collapse, bringing down the ungainly-looking Cybrid creature, Louie had already brought his heavy laser to bear on the second Goad and in the next heartbeat, had already drained 30% of its shields. The next co-ordinated pulse from Lollipop's own heavy laser brought it down even further, and they dispatched the second Goad, and then the third one, and finally the last one, with unbelievable efficiency. Having completed their role in the first part of Chief Hanuman's still-as-yet-unknown plan, Louie reached into his C-Link's /graphics database and sent Lollipop a GFX image of the classic victory V-sign, an upbeat hand gesture that had lasted through the ages.

Bringing up the tactical map into his mind's eye, Louie looked around to see how the rest of the squad fared. From the computerised symbology, it looked like Jeffr, Sinclair and Dire Wolf were giving the last two Bolos the run-around, or perhaps it was the other way round. Looking further South....

"Hotdamn", Louie almost shouted out loud. His sense of urgency washed over to Lollipop, who came to the very same conclusion.

"Targets four Adjudicator class 120.35 m from Chief Hanuman is outnumbered 4-to-1 tonnage-wise 280 to 41 ratio 6.83 recommend immediate assistance alternative option assist remaining squad targets two Bolo class 365 m with final convergence by all members", Lollipop sent over the link at the speed of thought in the compact protocol that they had developed over the years of fighting together.

Louie was mulling over the odds of either course of action when Hanuman sent the second, critical portion of his battle plan over the intra-squad TDL (Tactical Data-Link) display...

... continued