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 4 : The Realisation of Strategy

Open terrain
17 km from HercBase #3
1003 hrs
Planet Mars

Closing the Tactical Data-Link channel with a flick of a finger, Hanuman, Chief Instructor and Master Strategist of the StormKeepers, sat back and calmly waited for the final portion of his battle-plan to take shape.

He did not have to wait long. Cybrid Adjudicators, each single one of them a heavywight 70-ton monster practically overflowing with firepower, were advancing on him. Armed with two Electro-Magnetic Pulse cannons, one Thermal Lance and a Rad Cannon, the Adjudicator was a terrible sight to behold on the battle-field, and it had been responsible for many a loss on the Human side.

Chief Hanuman commanded his jet-black Basilisk to back off slowly, one step at a time. The Adjudicators would be looking for him and would be upon him any second now. Counting on a multitude of variables to come together in any plan of war was a risky business, but Hanuman had made and survived through these deadly gambles all his life. A long time ago, someone ([SK] Ramrod perhaps) had mentioned to him that some guy named Murphy had once said something like that " no battle plan survives contact with the enemy". Hanuman had replied that it all depends, and that Murphy was probably some kind of a wimp, before he realised that there was no such person anyway - it was after all a myth, an "urban legend" passed down from many generations ago.

But Hanuman had faith, which was somewhat different from believing in random luck. He had faith in his team-mates, he had faith in himself, and he had faith in the Darkstar, which he was sure, was watching over all their actions all this time with its mystical senses, and biding its time for... for what, even Hanuman did not really know... for the moment.

The Cybrids were close, but they had a hill to climb, which gave the StormKeepers some time. As the first Adjudicator popped its head over the crest of the hill, it started to fire all its weapons directly at Hanuman's Herc.

The battle plan had now contacted the enemy.

Jinking left and right, the StormKeepers' Chief Instructor did his very best to avoid the worst of the enemy weapons. A thin reddish beam, intense, yet almost invisible, sliced into the rocky slope just next to Hanuman's left shoulder, melting it instantly into a lava-like mess. Another, this time, actually invisible beam struck his Herc dead center. In the cockpit, Hanuman felt it almost like a physical blow. The shields buckled, but held at 64%. He had survived the Thermal Lance and the Rad Cannon. It was a good thing his "Hanulisk" was more immune to the EMP blasts due to its cutting-edge multi-frequency shield technology. The Hanulisk's black Light/Radar Absorbent Material, LRAM coating also did its part to throw off the Cybrids' laser and radar targeting systems.

"Come on, come on where are you guys", Hanuman was starting to worry now, as he brought his Herc into a dead run further South into the aptly-named Crash Valley. Chief Instructor or not, he was not going to take on four Cybrid Adjudicators all by himself, and furthermore, that was not how the plan was written. Focusing on his radar display, he was very much relieved to see two blue dots flickering in rapidly from the North.

"Nuts", complained Lollipop as he willed his Basilisk to follow the twisting flight path plotted out by Louie and sent to him over the C-Link, a path which tried to take into account the radar detection cones of the Cybrids advancing on Chief Hanuman. Louie replied in his typical 'link fashion, "Target pre-selected co-ordinates maintain flight path passed nav point 14 go to nav point 15 check energy levels select weapon auto-cannon de-prioritise all remaining weapons". Lollipop acknowledged with a terse "ack" as he flew his Herc back over the same incline he and his counterpart Louie had charged down less than five minutes earlier. He didn't bother to check exactly how long although he could have asked his 'link to do so from the mission logs.

The sand storm was really blowing into the valley now, picking up loose sand and flinging it all around, small little particles which the Hercs' shields simply shrugged off. But this storm would not compare to the one that would follow...

Reaching the end of the valley, Hanuman summoned the remaining energy reserves of his Herc and activated the jump-jets, or as the official but whimsical-sounding name termed it, the "Pogo Thruster". Shutting down the shield generator, letting the levels slide precariously down towards zero, Hanuman turned his Herc around, facing downwards, and climbed, and climbed... and climbed, his altimeter registering over 300 m and increasing.

The quartet of Cybrid Adjudicators, arriving at the end of the U-shaped valley, looked up at Hanuman's Herc. But they were definitely looking in the wrong direction, and again, given the Cybrids' usual lack of common sense, failed to realise the literal depth of predicament they were really in.

From four hundred meters away, four unbroken streams of auto-cannon fire slashed into the hillside halfway down the spot where Hanuman was standing, at first knocking down only gravel, but steadily began to gouge out larger rocks, which tumbled downwards and began to pummel the as-yet-unaware Adjudicators. And by the time the Cybrid machines tried to turn around and flee back North, they had been buried under an avalanche of tons and tons of rocks, sand and gravel pouring down three sides of the valley.

Hanuman started to smile - it was a singular achievement, to actually see one of his favourite, but so-far-until-now-theoretical strategies work out so incredibly. He looked across the open space at Louie and Lollipop, standing at the rim of the valley, themselves surveying the damage they had caused, and probably scratching their heads and wondering why the whole thing had worked at all.

"... did some major damage today, but, but...", Louie was saying over the voice channel and Lollipop piped in excitedly, "... we didn't do anything!! And, and... and the whole mountain just came apart!!!"

Hanuman knew why, of course. Three decades ago, a large cargo transport, a Guppy class, largest of its kind, carrying an entire load of munitions to be used for construction work in the martian settlers' underground caverns, had crashed right at this spot. The pilot had thought to fly the ship right down the valley from the North, hoping for a soft landing, but it was never to be. The Guppy was still decelerating when it hit the end of the road and exploded spectacularly at the end of the long U-shaped valley.

It had taken many months for the work teams to pick up the pieces and to salvage what was left. And many, many years later, a geological survey team had labelled the entire square-kilometer area of valley "unsafe" for Herc movement, fearing that the heavy footsteps of the multi-ton Hercs would set off an avalanche - which was just what Hanuman needed today.

Being the fair-minded person that he was, Hanuman decided that Louie and Lollipop should at least know the reasoning behind all this, and he gave them a brief run-down on the spot.

"Wow, and you knew that all along...", Louie was awed when Hanuman concluded, "... but our jump-jets were almost about to quit on us, you know..." Lollipop was concerned about his and Louie's Hercs. They had used up so much energy in the long flight that they were operating vulnerably, with zero shields the whole time. It was a good thing that Louie chose to use auto-cannons - they would have no charge left for the ELF Cannon - which had a voracious appetite for energy - it chewed up one thousand gigawatts of energy each time it was used.

Louie had one last comment for Hanuman, "Hotdamn, Chief and you never even fired a shot..."

"I'd take that as a compliment. Winning a battle without firing a shot has always been one of my favourite tactics... though usually that used to mean some kind of peace talks, yeah, right..!!" Hanuman knew his military history very well indeed.

"Okay guys, we'll leave the salvage for later - if we can ever dig out these dead Cybrids from under all this rubble. Would be useful to take a look at their technology though. Let's go collect the rest of the boys", Hanuman summoned Louie and Lollipop along as he scanned the area, re-assuring himself that there were no more red dots - enemies - on his long-range active radar.

Beginning the long trek back to the point where it had all started, and where Jeffr and Sinclair were waiting, themselves spell-bound by the spectacle they had just witnessed, the three senior StormKeepers marched towards their more junior charges, hopefully for the final roll-call of the day.

Checking his wrist-watch, Hanuman noted that barely ten minutes had passed since Louie had first screamed "CHARGE!!!". Herc combat was fast and furious, and reinforcements usually came too late, unless your strategy was good and sound, and you ignored the little fellow named Murphy...

... continued