17 km from HercBase #3
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
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
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...