Well, here’s day 6’s words for your viewing pleasure. I couldn’t really think of something to write about today. Guess I was still a little tired from yesterday. In the end I just went for a bit of a mech mercenary style sci-fi, mostly because I’ve really been jonesing for some stompy mech action in my life lately. I’m not saying I did a very good job, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
Stay tuned, because tomorrow is the last day of week 1 for my writing challenge, which means Wednesday I start on phase 2. I’ll have some more specifics tomorrow about what phase 2 entails, so make sure you stop on by.
By E W Morrow
Word Count: 2018
Jamal rotated his suit’s chassis and snapped a few more stills of the larger buildings, then flipped from night vision to thermals. The ground in front of him, a rocky slope rolling down gently from the ridge he was crouchig on, was a patchwork of blues, as was the expanse of ground beyond. Two clicks away was the only bright spot; a collection of squat metal buildings glowing orange and lace with a network of fiery red where exhaust vents snaked their way to the sky. Even now, in the dead of night, those vents belches fire and smoke into the sky. Jamal zoomed in on a few of the denser congregations of hot spots and snapped a few more stills. He mentally labeled the spots as potential targets, ways to cripple production without leveling entire structures. They weren’t getting paid for salvage on this one.
Before turning to go he made another check on all of his sensors. Not much had changed in the last few hours. Radiation was at normal background levels. None of the heat signatures registered as potential hostiles, or even as living. And there was no discernible activity on any of channels, broadband or short wave. Just lonely static.
Jamal frowned as he rose to leave. Servos whined and pistons hissed, and eight tons of metal rose ten feet in the air. He flipped back over to night vision and kept one eye on the ground in front of him, the other on the digital horizon on his heads up display just in case the ground shifted underneath him and he had to correct. In the back of his mind, he cursed. His recon had shown him an easy target, a cake walk of a mission, but his gut was telling him another story. He tried to ignore it as he piloted his suit through the darkness.
“Tell me again,” Gunther said over the comm as the crew looked over the recon images, “why the Egyptian government had to hire a group of mercenaries to investigate an oil refinery inside their own borders.”
It was Jeanie who answered, stepping in before the others could say something snide.
“I think the answer to that would be ‘Politics’,” she said. There was a chorus of snickers.
“I think you may be right there,” Jamal said when the laughter died. “Tensions between Egypt and Israel are pretty high right now. There was that passenger jet that went down last month. Some have been claiming it was shot down by the Egyptian military. And last month one of Egypt’s Oil tankers disappeared in the Mediterranean. Both sides have been gearing up for an armed engagement, and our target,” here Jamal pulled up a map of the area and sent it to the others, highlighting their target and the border 30 km away, “is right in the middle of the shitstorm.”
The others sounded their acknowledgment, each with varying shades of boredom. They’d all read the brief material. Jamal realized, not for the first time, that his team really had crystallized over the years. Gunther, the hot-headed pilot of the squads lone assault mech, sounded off first. Then Spaz and Jynx. The brother and sister team piloted a pair of medium mech-suits, each the mirrored image of the other, which suited their even, easy going attitudes. Last was Jeanie, sweet and calm, the mama bear in a 35 ton death machine. Jamal smiled. They were a good bunch.
“So,” Gunther said, “what’re we thinking? I’ve got twenty on terrorists.”
“Doubt it,” Jeanie replied. “Not enough damage to facility. And nobody’s taken credit for it yet.”
“Could have been a power grab,” Spaz chipped in.
“Yeah, like maybe it was an inside job. Some general wanting to play warlord.” This was Jynx, always eager to support her brother.
“Then why hire us to investigate?” asked Gunther. “Seems like the government would know if one of their own went AWOL.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jamal cut in. “We aren’t paid to think.” Again the crew grumbled their acknowledgments.
“Everybody run last minute diagnostics on your suits. I’m not expecting any action on this one, but I want us ready just in case. We leave in fifteen. Any questions?”
Fifteen minutes later the squad left the ravine and peeled off to the east. Gunther took point, his mech easily the smallest of the group at six tons, but also the fastest by far. It was thin in the chassis and armed with only a single gauss cannon on it’s left side and a trio of linked machine guns on the right. It’s legs bent backwards at the knew, and it chewed up ground in a lopping stride as it scouted ahead.
Spaz and Jynx came next each one flanking Jamal in the middle. Their mechs were all deviations of the standard US military design. Jamal’s had been refitted with extra sensors and comm boosters, all at the sacrifice of a few armaments. Spaz and Jynx, however, had increased the firepower of the original design. Each one could reduce a two story house to a pile of rubble in a single salvo.
In the rear, plodding along at less than two thirds the speed of even Jamal’s suit, came Jeanie, nestled safely in the armored hulk of an old Russian spec Titan. God knows where she got it, Jamal thought, but it was the real power of their squad. It stomped through the desert on four legs, each one able to anchor into the ground beneath it to increase stability for when it opened fire. One arm was nothing but a giant cannon, protective casing for a magnetic rail gun. The other side bristled with a pair of long range missile launchers and a pair of cannons. Along the back were armored cavities housing the various types of ammunition the cannons could fire, from shaped, armor piercing rounds to timed flechette rounds and incendiaries.
It took half an hour to reach the ridge where Jamal had done his recon. He panned right and pinged a location on his hud. Along the bottom of the screen was a row of images, each one the portrait of one of his team. A green light clicked on and off twice below Gunther’s picture, confirming the silent order. A moment later his suit came into view as it sped off to the indicated location. Jamal centered his view and double pinged. The lights beneath the other three portraits clicked on twice, and as one the squad moved forward.
The complex consisted of three main buildings, just huge metal poxes protruding from the desert, and a series of outbuildings, mostly clustered off to the north. Gunther would circle off to the south and come in from that flank, while the others would head in straight from the east. If neither advance met with any resistance, they would meat up in the center of the facility and begin searching the main buildings. The building in the southwest corner of the complex was separate from the others, and the intel they’d been provided said it was little more than a glorified machine shed, a place to park the heavy machinery out of the sand when it wasn’t being used. They’d start there.
Once again Jamal’s gut was telling him a different story than his eyes. His eyes said the place looked empty. His gut asked him why everything was still running if it had been deserted. As they advanced he kept cycling through his sensor channels. Nothing came back as unusual. He tapped a few buttons and half of his screen was suddenly take up by the images Gunther’s suit was recording. Different angle, same story.
Just to be safe, he pinged an order to Jeanine, indicating section on the northwest corner of the complex. It was just outside the outbuildings and would provide some cover if an ambush was launched from the depths of the complex. She clicked her reply and stomped off to her position. Jamal waited until she was in position before giving the order to advance.
The complex itself was a ghost town. Steam hissed from vents, a lone fan whirred somewhere inside one of the buildings, and Jamal half expected a tumble weed to roll past. As they walked, his sensors picked up a faint radio signal at the top of one of the outbuildings. He turned his suit’s torso towards it and zoomed in. It was a security camera, and it swiveled to follow them as they went. Jamal guessed it must be motion activated, and made a mental note to check the smaller buildings for a guard shack once they were done.
They were just reaching the center of the facility, Gunther coming in slightly behind schedule from the south, when it all went to shit. Half a dozen alarms began ringing in Jamal’s cockpit as various sensors started screaming for his attention. What had moments before been nothing but radio static was now the steady, frenzied beeping of coded transmissions on multiple frequencies. Heat signatures were blooming to life behind them and to further ahead to the east. Jamal had his finger on the comm button, about to give the order to retreat and regroup, when the wall to the building beside him exploded. His whole suit rocked and shuddered as the compression wave hit him, and a split second later he saw Jynx’s suit engulfed in flames.
“Multiple targets detected!” shouted Gunther.
“Can you make it to our position?” Jamal asked.
“Negative.” Gunther’s voice was strained. “I’ll have to go back and swing around the other side of the building.”
Jamal back peddled his suit until he was clear of the smoke billowing from the hole in the building beside him. He muted the cries of rage and anguish coming from Spaz and sent a few querries to Jynx. He got nothing back. With any luck the blast had just knocked out her coms and she had pressed forward. When he was thirty meters from the hole he stopped and opened the channel with Spaz again. He was in the middle of trying to shout some sense into the man when something stepped out of the smoke.
It was a mech, but unlike any mech Jamal had ever seen before. It stood at least ten feet taller than his, and walked on two legs, but that was where the similarities ended. The things body was a perfect cylinder, maybe ten feet across, and Jamal could see no obvious spot where a pilot would sit. The sides of the cylinder bristled with turrets, cannons, and various sensors. Sections of it rotated independently, bringing weapons to bear on both Jamal and Spaz at the same time.
Jamal didn’t give it a chance to do more than that. He threw his suit into reverse and strafed to his right, opening fire as he went. Solid, super heated slugs of metal hammered the strange mech as it tracked his progress. A moment later the a brilliant beam of orange light slammed into it from the other side. Spaz could only fire the laser for a few seconds before it shut down, but in that time he seared a wicked wound across his opponent. A second later he hit the weakened armor with rounds from his own cannon and the thing toppled.
“Take that you murdering son of a b–” he shouted before a pair of answering rounds zipped through the still smoking hole in the building and struck his suit dead center. They ripped through him like his armor was made of wood and exploded out the back. He must have died instantly. Either that or his coms had failed. Either way, Jamal was spared the experience of hearing him scream.
He retreated even further, keeping one eye on the building and the other on his sensor readouts. It was strange, there was still a transmission coming from somewhere, and his suit wasn’t powerful enough to crack the coding, but it wasn’t coming from any of the signatures in the warehouse. None of them.