17 km from HercBase #3
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
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
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
compression laser and
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
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.
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...