Seventy-six bladed falcis strode out into a bright dawn, sunlight catching reflective armor in a blazonry of spangles. Gathering clouds would soon efface the light, but they would certainly not quench the energy of this unique gathering. Inside his own mech, Major Rhys Barisor signaled to his captains to join him at the tip of the wedge. Communications built directly into his link enabled him to speak to his soldiers at will and have them hear as if he were standing beside them. Quickly one each of the red, white, and black marked falcis loped easily to where Rhys himself walked.
The coordination of movement from inside these falcis was both simple and difficult. It had taken a great deal of practice for most of the lance to learn to simply issue mental commands to their mechs and have them obeyed. Some few had tried to control the placement of limbs directly; this invariably led to a shining metallic warrior winding up face-down on turf or tarmac, its operator somewhat chastened by the sheer embarrassment of having tipped over.
Shortly Rhys was joined by Captain Ianoma of the black lance as well as Captains Jakuv and Haitam of the white and red. The major knew all three to be excellent soldiers; Ianoma, in particular, was someone in whom he had invested a great deal of trust in the past. She was a hardy and resourceful individual, a woman tempered and honed into a formidable weapon in her own right. Inside a falcis, she was positively lethal.
“Captains, today is the day. General Uspa has charged us with the removal of the corrupted android Max Haiden. It is possible his condition is contagious, so it is imperative that we approach him only when linked. He has demonstrated cunning and the ability to kill; our orders are to destroy him and any in close proximity to him.”
Rhys paused in case his Captains had any questions, but firm silence relayed the confidence they felt in his command. From inside the belly of his armored symbiote, Major Barisor nodded.
“Then begin. Each lance will search a delta pattern vector as follows. Keep your teams in groups of at least five; Max Haiden has used unorthodox methods before. Expect him capable of anything.”
Keying a few buttons inside his falcis, Rhys relayed assigned coordinates to each lance. Holoscreens flared blue as HUDs were activated, information organized and displayed according to each individual’s personal preferences. Quickly the entire wedge split into its three lances, each one moving with amazing speed in a different direction. The hunt was on.
The major launched himself into motion. Propulsion enhanced strides threw his falcis through the air, each stride tearing up turf in a small explosion of power. With every arcing step Rhys Barisor placed more of Mission behind him. He would rendezvous with his captains at the mining station where Max Haiden had eluded capture, and from there plan stage two of the search.
As he bounded across the roads and into more open areas, Rhys spent much of his time imagining the outcome of this victory. The capture of a rogue was a simple matter, in truth, but the creation of this wedge of falcis under his own direct command was a major stepping stone towards a high-level command position. Though many other things as well, Rhys was truly ambitious, an odd trait for an android but perhaps one that, in the current military structure, fit very well. The drive to improve was motivated by reward, and rank was the true signifier in the military. It was feasible that he would be assigned to work inner-city when the colonists came, a direct liaison to human-led planetary powers. His deep reverie made his eyes tighten in anticipation and, being slightly distracted, almost cost him his life.
The attack came from a thick stand of trees bordering a greater wooded area. Three huge vemethgar launched themselves at the falcis, bringing it crashing down to the soft turf by sheer force. Instantly alert, Rhys rolled and spun, throwing two of the three clear. One of the creatures clung to the back of the mech, tearing at the armour with huge claws. Coming to its feet, the falcis was once again assaulted by the other two creatures, but this time Rhys managed to keep the mech upright. Warnings flashed on the screen; another small pack of the creatures was approaching quickly through the trees.
Deftly Rhys’ falcis spun in a sharp semi-circle, this time with its twin scythes fully extended. Dark crimson splashed in a wide arc as the two closest vemethgar were cleaved in two, their writhing forms leaving trails of blood and gore on the ground and nearby trees. Blades wet and dripping, Rhys lunged forward at the third vemethgar in a mantis-like attack. The beast’s howl ended in a wet gurgle as its head was split down to the base of its thick neck. Wrenching the falcis’ blades apart, the rent beast fell heavily to the ground, twitched, and was still.
The second group was nearly upon him. Turning to meet the charge, Rhys activated the shoulder-mounted cannons with a flick of a thought. Twin mounts extended from the heavy falcis almost too quickly to see. A white blast to rival the noon sun erupted from the mech just as the pack of creatures launched themselves at him.
Most of the pack was vaporized in mid-leap. Flesh and bone and blood were not equipped to contend with such power, and at point blank range there was no hope of avoiding the burst. Still, Rhys had misjudged the speed of the pack. Three survivors slammed into him at the last moment, their dense bulk toppling him to the blood-spattered earth.
Inside the falcis, Rhys was nearly apoplectic. He panicked momentarily as three engineered monsters began tearing into the mech. Synthetic alloy plates screeched as they were torn from the main chassis. The android inside sent his sprawling mech into a series of desperate lurches, trying desperately to dislodge the creatures. He’d never allowed the vermin this close before; he was too sure of himself, too skilled, but now…
New warning lights erupted onto his heads up display, penetrated Rhys’ desperation. Three forms moving rapidly on intercept, all of them mechanical. The sound of metallic tearing continued until a muffled explosion rocked the area.
A cluster of sonic charges sent the vemethgar sprawling clear of the fallen mech, just as Captain Ianoma had hoped. On cue, her two sergeants unleashed destructive beams of force from their cannons. Two of the three vemethgar were killed instantly, but the third rolled clear of the blast. Maimed and bleeding, the beast roared once before racing back to the trees. Ianoma signaled to her two sergeants to find the creature and finish it off while she attended the fallen mech. The two acknowledged her as they launched into the air in propelled arcs that would take them into the trees in pursuit of the fleeing monster.
Major Barisor was just getting his mech to its feet when Ianoma approached. The damage to the Major’s falcis was not as bad as it might have been; only three or four plates had been torn loose, and the central protective cage had remained completely intact.
“Thank you, Captain,” Rhys stated coldly. Clearly he was unhappy at having required rescuing. “The beasts attacked in concert much more aggressively than I had predicted.”
Ianoma signaled in the affirmative without speaking. She knew better, having worked with him very closely for almost a decade. Her display reported the approach of her lance, so she ordered them on a tight patrol loop of the area. Three small, spider-like repair probes were already crawling over her superior’s falcis, gauging the damage and preparing to reaffix the detached plates.
Inside his falcis, teeth clenched, Rhys filed away this embarrassment for future review. He could castigate himself later; for now, it was enough that his mission would continue with only a minor delay. Waiting for the micro-mechanics to complete their works, he thought about his future following the capture of the renegade Max Haiden.
Copyright © 2004-2005 Jay and David Steele. All rights reserved.