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First Contact - Chapter 325

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Herod opened his eyes, groaned, and rolled onto his side. He got his faceplate open fast enough to avoid spraying it with vomit when his internals suddenly convulsed.
Clear fluid mixed with digital code that was suspended in the thick viscous fluid.
He hacked and choked a minute more, than slowly pushed himself into a sitting position.
"Took you long enough," a woman's voice said.
Herod nearly screamed. He'd forgotten about the human woman. He slapped his faceplate closed and looked over to where she'd sat down on the floor, her back against the wall.
She was staring at him, her head cocked to the right slightly, one eyebrow raised, looking concerned but slightly amused. Herod noticed that the way she sat, with her legs open, seemed almost deliberately and lewdly provocative.
"So what did you eat that left behind garbled computer code?" she asked.
"Don't know. Things are a little confused," Herod said. He took a pull off of his water, ignoring the taste of lilacs, swished his mouth out and swallowed.
"You aren't human, are you?" she asked. She closed her legs, pulled her knees up to her chest, laced her fingers over her knees, and put her chin on her knees.
Herod shook his head. "No. I'm a digital sentience."
"So, a robot?" she asked.
Herod frowned. "No."
"Like... an android?"
"God, no. Those guys are complete assholes and kill anyone they come across. Be glad I'm not an android," Herod said.
"Wait, like a Terminator? Only instead of hunting Sarah Connor you're a maintenance man?" she asked, smiling slowly. "Or are you just some kind of jumped up disc defragger walking around in an Erector set?"
Herod understood exactly zero of the references except the defrag part.
"So, an artificial intelligence in a heavy repair body," she guessed.
"That's insulting," he snapped. "I don't call you a meat bag or a fleshy."
She shrugged. "It has no cultural connotations to me, feel free. Words only have the meaning society proscribes to them and only as much power over an individual as that individual gives them."
"I'm a digital sentience," Herod said. He stood up and looked down at Wally, who blinked at him. "We have work to do."
The human woman stood up smoothly, shrugging as she did so. "If you say so."
"We need to get you a hazardous environment suit. It's dangerous out there," Herod said. He moved up to the door and turned the handle, feeling the complex latch system inside the door move as smooth as butter.
"Sure," the human said.
Herod moved out to the control room, looking it over, committing it to memory.
"Are we it? Are we the entire repair team?" the human asked.
"Yes," Herod said. He moved over to the emergency supply room, opening the door and looking in inside.
He jerked back with a scream as a pair of dessicated bodies fell out, still holding onto each other. Their faces and necks were ragged and torn, their mouths still open in silent screams. Two flickering transparent version of the two combatants surged out of the room, through Herod, leaving him shuddering and shivering, down on his knees with Wally patting him on the back.
The human woman moved over and knelt down, staring at the two.
"Evidence of cerebral trauma, dentation matches wounds on opposite, dried blood around fingers and on hands," she said, kneeling down. She put her hands between the two bodies and pulled them away from each other.
"Phasic Energy Section," she read off the nametags. "Red stripes on one's legs, black on the other," she turned over their hands. "No calluses common to martial artists or those who have lived a martial life, no tool calluses. Computer workers or secretarial pool," she stood up, slapping her hands together. "An event caused a mass psychosis due to neural trauma and cognitive disruption. They each victimized the other even as they were victimized by some outside force. Doubtful it was a bioweapon or even a chemical weapon, as I didn't see any sores around the mouth or nose or eyes, no discoloration of the skin, and no smells that match known chemical weapons."
Herod looked up at her.
"Stand up, Pinocchio," she laughed. "I get that it was scary."
Herod got up, putting one hand against the wall, staring at her. "Didn't you see them?"
The human woman looked down at the bodies. "Yes. I just analyzed for them. Pay attention, Speedy, I don't want you to get Prime Law conflicts here."
"No, the temporal shades," Herod said. He coughed for a minute, trying to ease the ache in his chest.
"Didn't see anything," she mused. "Maybe I didn't observe in the right time?"
"Huh," Herod grunted. He stood up. *Sam*
No answer.
Luckily, Sam had given him the route and map to the mag-lev that would take them to the damaged section.
The human woman was already looking at the hazardous environment armor and Herod moved into the room.
"Try this one," he said, taking one down that was still in the packaging. He opened the package, handing it to her. "It's unisex, but has waste disposal systems, you should be able to wear it."
She nodded, taking the hazard suit and looking at it closely.
She only paused a second before putting it on.
"All right, do a quick self-test, sometimes these things fry out if they've been sitting too long," Herod said.
"How long has it been sitting here?" the human asked. "How long have I been gone?"
"We're not sure. There's temporal stability issues in this place," Herod said. He looked down at Wally. "If I had to estimate, it's about eight thousand years old."
"Humans look much different? Seems like every day there was a new news article about how fucked up humans would look in a hundred years, much less almost ten thousand," the human woman said, her hands moving. She grimaced. "I would have figured someone would have invented better plumbing attachments."
"Do a test," he said, tapping his own wrist.
Something about her bothered him.
She flipped up the wrist and followed Herod's directions. He corrected her twice and then did it himself, making sure he quickly connected to the suit's network and frying some firmware.
"Two red lights. Bad suit?" She asked, smiling at him.
"Bad suit," Herod said. "It happens. The power from the first test shorts something out after it registers as green," he turned and got a suit.
He missed the calculating look in her eyes as she narrowed them slightly. By the time he was turned around with another suit she was smiling again.
She dressed quickly. Herod looked then shrugged. "Have you ever trained in extreme hazardous environment armor?"
The human shook her head. "No."
"We don't have time to teach you. There's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of damage control repair autonomous systems that need brought back online to fix a lot of systems," Herod told her.
She stretched, then bent down and touched her toes, then twisted at the waist first one way then the other.
"There, fitted," she said. She looked at him. "So what do I call you, instead of HAL or Speedy?"
"Herod," the DS said.
"Roman King of Judea, circa First Century B.C.," the Terran said. "Interesting name. Did you choose it yourself or was it chosen for you?"
"I chose it when I left the digital creche I grew up in," Herod said. He motioned. "We've got to take a mag-lev train. It's about a three hour ride."
"You grew up, weren't programmed fully formed?" she asked.
"I told you, I'm a digital sentience, not an AI," he snapped.
"Core life coding, then exposed to digital experiences and stimulus to form a unique being. Less artificial intelligence or digital intelligence and more pure energy being that can only exist in a dedicated electronic ecosystem," she mused.
"Pure energy beings are different," Herod said, frowning slightly as they wound their way out of the mat-trans facility.
"Like those Temporal Shades you mentioned. Those are pure energy beings. What kind of energy?" she asked.
"Phasic energy residue," Herod said.
"Caused by massive psychological trauma," she said. She was quiet for a second. "Phasic... phasic energy is psychic energy, isn't it?"
Herod nodded. "Yes."
"Psychic powers are an illusion. The amount of energy it would take to simply move a matchstick across a table with mental powers would require more bio-electric energy than the human body could store or handle, much less the human brain," the woman said. "Phasic energy is what psychic powers use?"
Herod sighed. "Yes," he stood there, waiting for the door to rise. "Phasic energy exists between two sub-quantum particle layers. Humans have a part in their brains that allows them to direct the energy."
"Sounds like bullshit to me," the woman said. "You'd find phasic channeling fibers in the brain and body of anyone able to use it."
"Like in Mantid bladearms and upper caste Mantid neural tissue," Herod said, dredging up a memory from school.
"So why didn't humans run around blasting each other with psychic powers for all of history?" the woman asked. "Seems like being able to melt each other's brains with psychic powers would have slowed down technological progression. No need to make a bow or a gun if you can just mind blast the other guy, Herod."
"Humans suppress and disrupt psychic powers in others around them. We found that out during the Terra/Mantid War," Herod said. He paused. "Did you work here?"
She shook her head. "No. I worked in a high security facility. My work is classified."
"We're inside a Dyson sphere, that's inside another Dyson sphere, that's wrapped around another Dyson sphere," he said. "It's called a Matrioshka brain and used for systems where sheer computing power is preferable to signal propagation."
"How big?" She asked. Herod noticed her eyes were particularly intent.
"The one we're on is roughly five hundred sixty two million mile radius," Herod said.
She narrowed her eyes again, then smiled. "That's big. How long did it take to make?"
"That doesn't really have a meaning here," Herod said. "It used self-replicating robotic systems to build each shell."
"What happened to the robots when the shell was completed? An orgy of destruction with the last one shoving the rest into a trash compactor and jumping in?" the human woman asked.
"We don't know," Herod admitted.
"Might want to find out," she smiled. "So, I'm warned, I'll be looking at something outside of my experience, and there will be a roof over my head. How far from me?"
"There will be one or more suns, moving through magnetic fields that will polarize to simulate night time. Those will be exactly ninety-five million miles from both this inside layer and the outside layer of the sphere inward from us," he warned.
"So, alien landscape. Got it," she smiled. She held up her hands. "I guess we better get going. Maybe I can help you repair things."
"Doubt it," Herod said, stepping outside. "This is pretty high tech stuff."
He missed the flicker of pure rage on the human woman's face.
When he turned around, she was looking up into the sky, her eyes narrowed. He watched her eyes moving rapidly, scanning the whole sky. She then slowly moved in circles, looking around her, and he frowned behind his polarized visor as he noticed she was only looking down a minute amount each time.
"How did you beat the magnetic issues for a mag-lev?" she asked at one point, mid-turn, pointing at a far off train that was slowly (to his perception) moving by.
"Monopole magnets and superconductors," Herod said.
"Hm," she said.
Herod sighed, waiting until she was done. That was one thing he hated about working with fleshys, they took forever to do anything that required mental exercise.
"The mag-lev is only a mile away. We'll take the travolator," Herod said, walking toward the entry station for the moving sidewalk.
"Be faster to walk," she said, looking around her as they moved toward the entry area. "Lots of dead bodies."
Herod stepped carefully around a trio of corpses, watching closely for any of the translucent apparitions. "The Glassing drove them mad."
The woman kicked a pair of desiccated corpses out of the way as she just moved forward, making Herod frown. She didn't seem to care about the dead.
"Don't do that," he said.
"What, they're dead," she smiled.
"Yes. Don't do that. Don't disturb them," he said.
"Fine," she said, walking around a corpse. "Better?"
"Thank you," the DS said.
"Funny that you'd say that, Herod, seeing as you're not human and you probably don't usually have a body. Is mortality a thing for you?" she asked.
"Yes. Eventually my core life strings will be too fragmented and I'll suffer core software failure," he said. "And no, I can't just be restored from an earlier backup, that's not how we work."
"Sloppy engineering," she muttered. She skirted around the weaving queue area while Herod walked back and forth along the line. "So what made them all go batshit insane?"
"The Great Glassing," Herod repeated.
"You said that, Herod. Why would aliens attacking Earth make everyone go crazy?" she asked.
Herod stepped onto the moving sidewalk, wishing she would be quiet. "The Mantid pushed the death experiences of everyone through SolNet and the SoulNet, every survivor had to withstand the death of billions," he told her as she stepped onto the moving sidewalk and then walked up to stand next to him. "Roughly half of the survivors went catatonic and never woke up. Two thirds of the remaining half became the Screaming Ones, attacking everyone around them in their agony."
He ended up explaining SoulNet, SolNet, and the SUDS system to her, staring off into the distance at the strange buildings and structures they passed. Once they got away from the Mat-Trans area the system smoothly put them on a high speed walk, moving them at close to a hundred miles an hour.
The whole time she listened, asking pertinent questions.
She seemed really interested in the SUDS system.
Together they got on the mag-lev train, sitting down after Herod punched in the transit code number. He looked at the ETA and looked at the human woman.
"It's going to take nine hours to get there. Sleep if you can," he said.
"I'm starting to get hungry," she smiled. She opened her faceplate and lit a cigarette. "These help, but I'm going to need food soon."
"I'll find some when I wake up," he said. He checked the mag-seal on his toolkit then looked at Wally. "I'm going to defrag. Wake me if anything bad happens."
Wally made a beeping tune and nodded, blinking his eye shields.
Herod closed his eyes.
"Herod, don't move, just move your awareness up," Sam's voice said.
Herod just brought his awareness almost fully up, leaving himself disconnected from his body. "What's going on, Sam?"
"What did you learn about our newest member?" Sam asked.
Herod thought, then quickly ran through his memories. He was surprised. He knew almost nothing ab out her.
"She said she worked in a secure location, on classified work. She got in the mat-trans, there was a stuttering, and she arrived here. She didn't know about the Great Glassing, I don't think anyway, but she knows Confederate Standard. She seems really interested in the mat-trans and SUDS systems," Herod said.
"So, we don't know anything," Sam sighed. "I checked her visual appearance against what little records are left. She didn't come up as a match."
Herod avoided smiling. "I've got good news for you. I left you a DNA sample in the mat-trans facility."
"Really? How?" Sam asked.
"I had her put in the catheter in one of the suits, shorted out the suits radio and beacon, and had her change suits," Herod said. "That'll give you DNA."
There was silence for a minute. "That was a good idea. Give me a few to check on it. I'll have to send in a bot."
"What's she doing now?" Herod asked.
Sam paused. "According to the cameras, she explored the train, busted open a vending machine, and gorged on the food inside. She's currently sitting across and down from you, looking out the window and smoking a cigarette."
"Oh, she said she was hungry."
"That's... weird..." Sam said.
"What's weird?" Herod asked.
"Her cigarette brand. I've got the inventory of the types and brands of cigarettes available here for the Treana'ad workers and some humans. Hell, apparently adult Pubvians viewed cigarettes as.. ahem... martial aid stimulants due to the cardio-vascular effects," Sam said. He giggled, and Herod began talking to him, just talking about their work together in the Black Box under Legion, trying to ground the younger DS as he screamed and raved.
"Sorry. It's getting easier, but I feel like I'm bleeding inside somehow," Sam said. He sobbed, but managed to control himself. "Where was I?"
"Her cigarettes," Herod said.
"Yeah. I can't find the brand. You know Treana'ad, they absolutely love Terran cigarettes, they're a luxury item. 'Terran Grown and Sown!' you know?" Sam said. "And her lighter."
"What about it? I've seen a few Treana'ad with that kind of lighter," Herod said.
"It's stamped on the bottom, look," Sam said, giving Herod the image.
"Is that..." Herod asked, feeling a chill at the three letter abbreviation.
"Yeah. The acronym for the Hamburger Kingdom. PA is the two letter code for the state region," Sam said softly.
"That would make that thing like eight or nine thousand years old," Herod said. "Except, I've seen her use it. It works."
"It's not a modern one, watch," Sam said. He passed the image to Herod.
She flicked open the top, put her thumb on the ridged wheel, and spun it by applying pressure. Sparks flew out, the ones hitting the twisted fiber wick bringing up a blue and yellow flame.
"That's flint and steel. That fiber, that's cotton according to the sensor systems. Not synth-cotton, real cotton. That's a steel casing, I can see the imperfections in it from here," Sam said.
"Give me a spectrograph of it if you can," Herod said. "I know enough about materials to get information."
It took a minute, then a little longer while Herod waited for Sam to deal with some lost children. Sam tossed him the spectrographic image of the lighter along with other scans.
Herod was not only able to identify the metal as 'stainless steel', but that it had enough impurities to prove it was mined metals.
When Sam came back he sighed. "I got the robot to the suit. You were right, there's DNA. Looks like she nicked herself a little with the catheter tube, there was a tiny smear of blood as well as fleshy fluids. Ew," Sam said.
Herod chuckled.
"Running a DNA comparison against everyone who worked here, who had authorization to work here. It's millions of records, so it'll take a few minutes," Sam said.
"That lighter? It wasn't made with a creation engine," Herod said.
"They were in their infancy back during The Glassing," Sam said.
"It was hard manufacturing, inside a gravity well and a magnetic field. If I had to guess, I'd say it was actually manufactured on Earth," Herod said.
"Look at the cigarette pack," Herod said. "American Favorite. By the Digital Omnimessiah, those are actual relics, not forgeries."
"You need to be careful, Herod," Sam said, somewhat unnecessarily to Herod's thoughts on the matter. He paused. "Um. Oh, wow."
"What?" Herod asked.
"Her DNA. Holy shit. Um, look," he said, and tossed Herod the image.
Herod took one look at it and did the digital sentience equivalent of shake his head. "I'm not Legion, this is meaningless to me."
"Here it is compared to modern human DNA," Sam offered.
"Sam, I'm in a hazardous environment frame, I'm not using the network, just tell me. All you did was throw two plates of pasta at my brain."
"OK, they're wildly different," Sam said. "Even compared to Glassing human DNA, like the people around here, hers is really really different."
"Define... different," Herod said.
"No genetic prothesis or overlays, I can see where the Glassing DNA and the modern DNA have been modified through time, genetic drift, evolution, or genetic manipulation, but wow, her DNA is damn near off the charts. Lots of bad DNA in it, it's... it's really weird."
Herod felt a kick against his foot and heard from far away. "Hey, we're here. You said this stuff needs repaired, Speedy. First Law and all that."
"What is she referring to?" Sam asked.
"I have no idea. Maybe the Four Laws of Robotics?" Herod suggested, opening his eyes. He switched from talking on the digital frequency to his vocal cords. He looked around, the mag-lev train sitting in the station.
"Hang on, let me talk to the facility VI," Herod said, standing up.
The human woman nodded, folding her arms, exhaling smoke out of her nose.
"How bad is the damage to the phasic array automatic repair system?" he asked.
"Bad," Sam answered, obviously (to Herod) running his voice through a synthesizer.
"It isn't going to get fixed if we just stand here. Besides, I'm eager to see technology used in application of something that I was informed was make belief, confirmation bias, and attention seeking," the woman said.
"Ask her her name," Sam said.
"What am I supposed to call you? I keep forgetting to ask," Herod said.
"Miss Nee, my middle name is Tay," the human woman said, her smile getting wider. "But you can call me Dee."
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submitted by Ralts_Bloodthorne to HFY


First Contact - Third Wave - Chapter 363 (Memoirs)

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A Great Herd Main Battle Tank Type XIX. IXTB-38A8r4. One hundred fifty tons of armor, molecular circuitry, guns, and hoverfans. Designed 638 thousand years ago and never having needed a single upgrade. A 180mm main gun that fires an eight pound plasma shell. Two rows of 80mm vertical launch systems capable of delivering a variety of variable fuzed munitions. A driver's, tank commander's, communication's officer's, and an electronic warfare officer's external 18mm quad barreled plasma machinegun that could be controlled inside or manually by partially exiting the appropriate hatch. Capable of reaching a top speed of nearly forty miles an hour. The crew can survive inside the compartment for up to 11 hours without discomfort. Single layer medium grade battlescreens often used on light frigate naval vessels. Waterproof, soundproof, able to be piloted and operated even in vacuum thanks to sixteen antigravity pods, although at a much slower speed and slower response.
The mighty armored fist of the Unified Military Council, in support of the Unified Civilized Council.
According to my trainers, the last time a single tank had been damaged to the point that it could not fight, excluding operator error or sabotage, was nearly 23 thousand years prior to my introduction to my first tank.
I was excited as I inprocessed. I was to be assigned to one of the most modern tank designs around, military war machine made manifest. Perfection achieved and domination assured. I was almost eager the day I was allowed to enter the motorpool and taken to where the tank I would be a crew member of was parked.
It was love at first sight.
My fellow crewbeings thought I was a bit insane, to be honest. I worked on my tank, learning everything about it that I could from the neo-sapient mechanics. The driver was happy I could start it up for maintenance, meaning he could continue on with his long running alcohol related binge.
Within a month I could tear apart my gunner's sight, even the firing mechanism, and rebuild it from spare parts found in the motor pool supply shed. I even knew workarounds and field repairs that existed only in esoteric manuals and passed down in whispers between mechanics.
I earned my "gunner's bite" at my first live-fire range, where I learned that it was best if I let my helmet push back a little instead of pushing it against the padded sight. Pushing my face against the padding, using only my forward eyes, concentrating on putting each shot right where I wanted it.
Everyone took notice when I scored a perfect 1,200 points.
Some were happy for me, considered what I'd done proof of the Great Herd's might.
Others were jealous, starting whisper campaigns that I had somehow rigged my software to give me an illegal edge during live fire gunnery practice.
My fellow gunners led the campaign to have my accomplishment gone over with a fine toothed comb, many of them accusing me, to my face, of cheating.
My gunner's station was pulled apart, each block of circuitry examined, each byte of firmware and software gone over, even the gearing examined closely to see if I had somehow pulled off the shroud at the base of the barrel and adjusted the microgears that did the minute changes to barrel angle and elevation.
In the end, my score would have been stricken from the record, since my gunner's sight had gotten early maintenance, the neo-sapient maintenance crew replacing it twenty years before necessary. I would have been sent to do manual labor as punishment, or perhaps worse.
There was even talk of a court martial to put me in my place.
Mil-Sec officers had arrived in our motor pool to place me under arrest when the sirens began to wail. Everyone looked around confused, even the Mil-Sec officers, at the tone of the siren.
It came over my implant at the same time as everyone's else, my lockout being lifted.
My platoon Most High began rearing up and down, screaming at all of us to get into ranks for inspection. The platoon Second Most High began galloping in circles, shrieking that we were all going to die.
He was wrong.
Only most of us were going to die.
--Excerpt From: We Were the Lanaktallan of the Atomic Hooves, a Memoir.
"I hate landing into an ongoing fight," General No'Drak said, staring at the various holotanks. He had been in the same place for six hours, watching everything take place. The counter-attack, the first in the five days since Confederate forces had arrived, was moving in fits and jerks.
"It's a mess out there," General Moffeta said, watching a map of the megacontinent where her air support assets were spread around widely.
"Are you concerned, Most High?" Grand Most High Ge'ermo'o asked.
"Always when even a single one of my men are engaged in combat," No'Drak admitted, tapping a cigarette against the railing he was leaning against. "There are a million ways this can all go sideways on us."
"Sir, signal from Space Force!" came the cry from below.
"Throw it up here," General No'Drak snapped, bringing up a secure holo-port.
The twinkling cone resolved into a tired looking Rigellian female with admiral's pips on the brow of her armored vac-suit. She had bags under her eyes from stress and her eyes were bloodshot. Static kept rippling across the hologram and General No'Drak knew it was from phased wave plasma motion guns and C+ cannons firing.
"General No'Drak here, can you hear me, Admiral?" the Treana'ad said, slowly and distinctly.
She spoke for a second, obviously to someone outside of view, then looked forward. "Admiral HawGawk here, General," the rippling went over the hologram and she waited a second. "We've got a status change out here."
"Go for sitrep," No'Drak said.
Ge'ermo'o watched interestedly. He had seen how his fellow Lanaktallan reacted to a changing situation obviously getting worse and was curious as to how the lemurs would react.
"Eighty plus point sources just came in at the Hellspace limit. The stellar stabilizers and the Hellspace interdiction craft from the Crusade of Wrath helped. We have eighty plus Harvester Class, including what look like mostly new classes, out near the far gas giant," the Admiral said.
"I repeat back, Eighty plus Harvesters at the far gas giant, primarily Type-III," No'Drak said.
The Admiral nodded. "At least three hundred are coming straight at you. I've detached two Battlecruiser Groups to defend the planet, but the heavy hitters have to stop those Harvesters from spamming ancillary vehicles and swarming you under," she said. The lights around her flashed and she rocked slightly to the side. "We were right not to break up into hunter killer groups to go after the last of them, looks like the initial wave was simply to pull us out of position."
No'Drak nodded. "So, whatever gets through, we're on our own," he said gravely.
Ge'ermo'o felt a little bit of fear at that.
"Sorry, General. Space Force has its hands full up here," she said. "We've already sent out a distress beacon. The Crusade ships have sent out a call for reinforcements, but with the Case Omaha on TerraSol, options are limited for them."
"Understood. Have you tactical forward what they can. Good luck, Admiral, and Fight the Ship," No'Drak said.
"Pound the Ground, General," the Admiral said, and then she was gone.
No'Drak tapped the cigarette a few times against his bladearms and Ge'ermo'o could smell the scent of freshly cut grain. The Treana'ad stared at the holotanks down below as he slowly put the cigarette into his mouth and brought out the lighter.
Ge'ermo'o was slowly learning Confederate map symbols, he could see how the soldiers of V Corps were spread all over the planet, fighting the landing Precursors and their forces.
General No'Drak unfolded his lighter with a snap of his fingers, spinning the striker in the same motion and bringing up a yellow flame. He slowly lit the cigarette, staring down. He puffed on it for a moment and exhaled the smoke around his footpads as he put the lighter away.
"The Precursors have adjusted their tactics," he said softly. "Never count on the enemy staying stupid."
"How many of the next wave do you think will reach the planet?" Ge'ermo'o asked. In his opinion, the planet was lost and there was nothing anyone could do about it. But if the lemurs were willing to fight, he would stand right here next to them.
He'd come to like them.
"Just a little over a third. Sixty or so units," No'Drak said. He brought up the map. "We got lucky they didn't catch us out of position. We knew there were still Googly-Eyes in the Oort Cloud, which meant either they were going to come back in again or we'd missed something."
"Harvester-Twenty-Nine is breaking up," Someone called out from the floor below. "Harvester Thirty-Eight has dropped out of formation, looks like someone got a piece of his engines."
No'Drak nodded.
The icons for the lighter units, the Dreadnoughts and below, were burning brightly. Space Force was concentrating most of their firepower on the massive Harvester Class units that had been forced to drop out further from the gravity well of the stellar mass burning brightly at the center of the system.
The Treana'ad officer knew that every kill counted with the big Harvesters. They'd sit out there and keep producing lesser units until the sun burned out if given the chance.
He had ordered the BOLO units to switched targets, ordering them to engage the incoming planetary assault units, leaving the already planet-side units to the ground forces.
It was a calculated risk, and General No'Drak was an excellent mathematician.
General Moffeta's units were hitting the Precursors as soon as they made atmosphere, pushing through the leading wave of fire to attack the Precursors during the short time their battlescreens were down. The interference from entering the atmosphere was scrambling the Precursor's sensors, putting their point defense offline. That let General Moffeta's units take long strafing runs at the massive machines.
No'Drak winced when one of the incoming Jotuns broke up at 15,000 meters up, the huge chunks tumbling to the ground.
The planet was taking a pounding.
General No'Drak made a motion, bringing up the communications section. The PFC who answered was a Terran had oversized eyes and whiskers.
"Is the hypercom still functional?" he asked before she could speak.
"Yes, sir," she said.
"Contact the Telkan system. Tell them we're going to need a full elven court here," No'Drak said. He sighed. "Tell them we're going to have massive Precursor wreckage as well as..." he paused, took a deep drag and exhaled it.
Ge'ermo'o noticed that it was pushing back the smell of freshly cut grain.
"We're going atom smasher. We've got over two billion civilians in shelters. Put out a request for evac ships, even on the junker channels," he said.
"Yes, sir," the female Terran said. Ge'ermo'o wondered why her eyes were so big. If they helped with her job, if her parents had possessed big eyes in their DNA, or if she just had liked them.
No'Drak cut the link and looked at the surrounding officers. "I'd give my mandibles to have Tik-Tak here."
That got chuckles.
No'Drak knew that the elven queens could repair the damage he was about to order his troops to commit to.
But if his men couldn't get it under control, couldn't smash the Precursor threat, there wouldn't be a planet to fix. He could see that the Precursors had arrived to strip mine the planet, probably down to gravel.
Part of him wondered why they wanted the planet so bad. The asteroid belts had been mined to nothing over the last twenty thousand years. Most of the easily accessible minerals were gone.
Then he remembered that elements of Third Armor were engaged with mining machines.
He looked at the icons for the Treana'ad Infantry Hordes and Air Mobile Clouds and a small part of him wished he was a Lieutenant again, charging across the ground in armor with his heavy weapons on the top of his abdomen.
After a moment he made a decision.
"Order all personnel on planet into armor and to draw weapons from the armory," he said. He turned to the two Lanaktallan. "Gentlebeings, I'd advise you to prepare yourselves."
"You think we will be attacked here?" Ge'ermo'o asked.
"Can't discount it at this time," No'Drak said. "The reinforcements were a high probability and it looks like our cards weren't as good as we hoped."
"Surely you won't be defeated," Ge'ermo'o said. "You won't withdraw!"
No'Drak shook his head. "No. There's too many people in shelters, too many people in hiding. We'll fight to the last."
"The Confederacy doesn't leave civilians behind to die," General Pulgrak said. He stretched, his shoulders popping. "Glad I qualified on my armor and weapons two months ago."
General Vandu licked her lips, looking around, her eyes moving back and forth. "Are we staying here?"
General No'Drak put away his cigarette. "Yes. We will still coordinate the battle, but we must be ready to join the ever put upon lower enlisted and junior officers should the Precursors assault our command and control area."
General Vandu nodded, her lips twitching in a smile. "Just standard body armor, or can we..." she started to ask.
"Put on power armor?" No'Drak asked. He gave the equivalent of a shrug. "There are several companies of power armor troops here to defend this base, you know that. If you wish to lead them from the front, you have my blessing."
General Vandu hurried off.
"She will see if the taste of combat is as sweet as the fantasy of combat awards," No'Drak said softly. He turned to his aide. "Let's suit up."
The Colonel nodded. "This way to the armory, General."
A Terran captain next to Ge'ermo'o touched his lower right elbow. When Ge'ermo'o looked at him, he noted how grave the Terran looked.
"If you Lanaktallan gentlemen will follow me, we should have time to fab and fit you with armor."
Ge'ermo'o was proud of himself for how calm he knew he looked as he nodded.
Trucker dropped down into his tank, slamming the hatch shut over him.
He'd waited till almost the last second. The tank shuddered as the lead of the debris wave hit his tank. The wave was thick dust, formerly ferrocrete and asphalt, all ripped up by the massive Precursor combat machine going nose first into the suburbs beyond the city and scraping the bedrock for nearly eight miles before it had lost momentum and slammed down into the channel it had carved.
"Can't see shit, sir," his driver said.
"Tell all units to hold position, give the air a minute to clear," Trucker ordered. He heard his radioman passing the orders and looked at his sensor tech. "How many?"
"I saw four entering atmosphere before that big monster hit," he said. "Maybe more. The sky's on fire."
"331, how's it look in there?" Trucker asked.
--rough shape-- the Mantid Engineer Team Leader admitted. --try not to let them hit you--
"We're a tank. We're a little obvious," Trucker chuckled. He tapped his software and tossed a meme at the Mantid team of his tank, with great big googly eyes, trying to hide behind a tree, with meters of hull and an eye on each side of the tree. The caption "I R HIDYN!" at the bottom.
That got back giggling emojis.
"All Regimental Commanders, check in," Trucker said. He scooped out his dip and slung it into the can. He repacked it while he waited for his commo tech to get in touch with the different regiments.
"Trucker wants a sit-rep," Colonel Dremsal heard faintly over the roar of his quad-barrel.
"TELL HIM I'M BUSY!" Dremsal yelled back. As soon as they'd moved in between the two massive Precursors their air support had come out to play.
The sky above him was a whirling gnashing death snarl, with 19th Air Cavalry Regiment fighting six times their numbers with seemingly infinite reinforcements. So far they'd only lost three strikers, but each casualty counted.
"Told him you were still alive and we've still got tanks even if we're rolling coal," his commo tech said. He put his hand to his ear. "Most High A'armo'o wants to talk to you."
"Put him through," Dremsal said. He let go of the quad-barrel and ducked back into the tank, pulling the hatch shut. The last thing he wanted is some Precursor machine getting past the battlescreens, reaching down into the tank, and snatching his head off.
"Dremsal here, go ahead," he said.
"We're coming up on your rear. We've got 15th Sustainment inside our ranks. We had to drop back from the river, large machines were making landfall," A'armo'o said.
Dremsal closed his eyes, bringing up how his vehicles were arranged. He gave the orders and shot A'armo'o his plan.
"You keep 15th covered, we'll drop back to get refit," Dremsal said.
"What, may I ask, is our target?" A'armo'o asked. He glanced back at the half dozen Telkan Marines on the back deck of his tank. A quick glance showed his second in command had several Terrans on the back and it looked like they were doing something important.
"Juggernaut. It looks like it almost broke up, but if they get the auto-factories running we'll be in a lot of trouble if we let it just sit there without busting up its plans," Dremsal said. "We'll knock out the supply lines, get close, and open fire on it."
"What about the Great Gobbler back there?" A'armo'o asked.
"He can watch from behind us. He won't be able to catch up to us," Dremsal said. "We'll keep ahead of it close enough to keep its attention, keep it from diving, but we won't let it get close."
"I understand. Your warplan is loaded, my men are moving up," A'armo'o said.
The tanks of the Great Herd slowed for a moment as the Terran tanks widened the wedge they were in, giving room for A'armo'o to bring his brigade up tight to the formation and slot into the middle. Once the manuever was finished, the Lanaktallan tanks formed another layer of protection for the lightly armored and lightly shielded (for Terran vehicles) vehicles of 15th Sustainment.
A'armo'o looked through his laser designator ranger at the big vehicle behind him that his men were still 'teasing' with random shots. He frowned and dialed up the magnification.
Was that... people on top of it?
Vuxten stared down at the grinders below him, kneeling down on the ten foot thick protective housing right above them. He stared right into a massive glowing eye that looked back.
"Howdy, sailor," he heard a female's voice over the radio. "Buy a girl a drink?"
Vuxten chuckled. "We thought you were dead," he said honestly.
"I'm stuck. I came up from under me, I got caught on the cables and conveyors, then sucked into the grinder," Glory said. She wiggled her fingers. "I'm OK, probably scuffed up real bad, but I'm definitely stuck."
The gears tried to reverse, jammed, then tried to pull the massive skull and shoulder in.
"My feet and shins are outside the grinders, but they're hung up on my hips and shoulder," Glory said.
"Gonna have some greenies check it out, see if we can help you out," Vuxten said.
--hopefully no fall whirr blarg dead-- 471 said.
"Can you move your arms?" Plunex asked.
Glory shifted slightly and the grinders howled, showering sparks everywhere. "Nope. My arms are at bad positions, I've got no leverage."
"Lemme look," Casey said. He grabbed onto the edge of the housing and swung down.
"Wait..." Plunex said.
Casey dropped down, landing agilely on Glory's face.
"Aw man, first date and you try to do me right in the face?" Glory laughed.
"Don't kinkshame me," Casey said, moving slowly and carefully. Vuxten could see his feet had the bluish purple of active graviton generators around them.
"Really? Graviton? Wow," Glory said. "Do you have any idea what it feels like to have you walk on my face with grav-stickied boots?"
"Don't kinkshame me," Casey said again, his voice slightly distant.
"Kinkshaming is my kink," Glory laughed. The grinders whined, clattered, and bucked. "Ow, it's starting to pinch."
"Enough leverage and pressure and they'll bend the warsteel," Casey knelt down, looking at the gears.
"What do you see, Sergeant?" Sergeant Addox asked.
"Drive shaft is exposed on two of them. Look about three to four meters of endosteel," he said.
"What..." Plunex started.
"Shh," Vuxten said, watching the Terran. "Listen and learn."
"Looks like she shattered one of the grinders and when it tried to bring up a new one it hung up on her shoulder armor," Casey said.
To Vuxten it just looked like a whirring nightmare of massive toothed screws. He started tracing the lines, looking at them. A small window in the upper right of his vision showed 471 was zooming in on sections.
--stress points here here here here-- 471 said, tossing the red dots. --bearing housing covers here here here here--
"Casey, my greenie's ID'd a bunch of stress points and stuff," Vuxten said.
"Pass it to me," Casey said.
"What if it sucks you inside?" Vuxten asked Glory.
"My arm's at a bad angle. It might rip it off," she answered. "Beyond that, I'll probably be inside a massive area where ore and rock are pulverized and I'd like to avoid that."
Vuxten remembered the First Telkan War. "How's your coolant?"
"Good. All my lobes are intact," she answered.
"All right. We can get her out," Casey said. He jumped up and grabbed the lip of the top of the housing and pulled himself up with the hiss of loading frame hydraulics. Vuxten noticed his eyes weren't amber any longer. "I'll mark the areas, in order. Those armor defeating missiles you Telkan's use should do the trick."
"Sergeant Canton, I need ten men," Plunex sent out. "All with rocket launchers."
"Roger that, sir," the section sergeant radioed back.
"We're going to free your right arm first. Once we do that, I want you to pull it out, brace yourself, and we're going to blow the driveshaft on the one on your left shoulder, then the one pressing against your chest," Casey said.
"With missiles?" Glory asked.
"Your warsteel hull could take a direct hit from them. They're forged up for Precursor armor," Vuxten said.
"Units on top of Precursor mega-structure mining vessel, fire green star cluster flare if friendly," came a voice across the command channel. It was staticy and full of pops and clicks.
"I read you," Vuxten said. He ordered the round in his grenade launcher to reconfigure to the right munition, aimed it straight up, and chugged out three, slightly spread apart.
"We validate three green star clusters. Mark with single red," the voice said. "No voice commo, IU say again, we are not receiving you."
Vuxten fired a single red flare into the sky. "This is first platoon, HHC, First Telkan Marine Division," he said.
"We read one single red flare. Signal with red white red star cluster flares. I say again, red, white, red star clusters, when in need of assistance," the voice continued. "One green flare if under operation."
Vuxten fired another green.
"We read green. Will designate spotter to overwatch. Pop orange smoke or two green star cluster if in need of assistance at later time," the voice said. "Dremsal out."
"Telkan out," Vuxten said.
Dremsal looked back at the massive vehicle. He could see the Telkan Marines plainly, and they were involved with something on the massive vehicle's port side, but the huge scoop wheels blocked whatever it was they were looking at.
"Can we even hurt that thing?" He asked. "Without killing them?"
His gunner shook his head. "Negative, sir. That thing's shields could match a BOLO."
Dremsal frowned.
Where the hell had it come from?
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submitted by Ralts_Bloodthorne to HFY