by Isegrim - 7th Aug 1999
‘Inert drop’ was quite an understatement, Shanni thought to herself as she plummeted towards the planet’s surface, some 500 clicks below her hindpaws. All systems were shut down or switched to minimum energy consumption, and her mek wasn’t much more than a dead lump of nanites, passive sensors feeding her data on her comrades’ positions.
So far she could detect no enemies, the only anomaly in her displays being the hulk of their unfortunate transport, the Dulwich. No hope for the crew, she thinks sadly, one brief glimpse of what was left of the cockpit had shown her only a twisted mass of metal and composites.. '....and scraps of flesh and bone, somewhere in there...' she whispers into the confines of her suit, shuddering at the memory.
Looking around, the female wolf sighs and takes a moment to admire the stars, not yet obscured by any significant layer of atmosphere. The indigo backdrop is like a velvet bedcover sprinkled with gems, glittering softly, pinpricks of light...
'Ack!' Startled out of her reverie by the gruff command, Shanni scans her displays and twitches the comm to deliver her situation report. She smiles slightly as she hears Grim relay his statistics in a terse voice, waiting for him to finish, then says: 'Shan here. Stats all in the green, no bogies. Reception is 5 by 5, team ILOS, sir.' As she listens to the rest of the squad call in, a satisfied grin spreads across her muzzle, hah, let the ‘bots try and intercept THAT transmission! The acronym she’d used meant In-Line-Of-Sight, as the meks were now using a new tech called pattern-comm. Nanites on the surface of the suits were modulating wavelengths of reflected light by changing their angles of refraction, and these ‘patterns’ were being picked up by passive sensors on the other meks. The end result was instant and secure communication, as long as they stayed within view of each other. These meks were way cool, mheh.
Khantur R’Tan’s voice is businesslike as he continues: 'Good. On my mark, aerodart configuration. We’ll be doing Mach 4.1 when we hit five clicks, then a hard burn, 34 G for four seconds, bottoming out at five hundred meters. After that, switch to passive wing and follow my lead. Acknowledge!'
Small smile at a muttered comment coming in from Derah, on her individual pattern code '...old growl-butt is being his charming self again...but he’s good...heh, the tinheads won’t know what to think...' Yeah...if the ‘bots picked up their radar reflection, which was unlikely, they’d have to assume that they were seeing debris falling to the surface, no living organism would send itself hurtling down at such speeds, ‘cause they’d never survive the impact. With any luck, the scouts would be under the radar umbrella when they started their braking maneuver...
'On my mark then, two, one, MARK!' All five meks shift into a sharp needle-shape, nanites flowing to cover the external weaponry, and angle down to slice through the ever-thickening atmosphere.
'Going DOOOOWWN! Awrrooohh!'
Shanni just HAS to laugh, who else could that be but Grim, he always chose the strangest times to show any flicker of enthousiasm...grinning mischievously, she replies jauntily: 'In your dreams Grimbo!...heh'
Grimar’s laughter follows her down as she accelerates into Vendoria’s gravity well, free-falling at an ever increasing pace...
Four seconds can seem like hell, when your body is being forcibly held together by millions of nanites...tightening, tightening so that the blood doesn’t pool in the bottom of your suit, forcing oxygen to your brain and preventing the body’s cells from turning to jelly...while awesome pressures are trying to crush the life out of you...
The release, when it comes, is almost as bad.
'Oh, be quiet, you whelps, hah!' Harsh, amused voice.
The shocked silence that greets his remark sets Khantur to chuckling...'Hah heh, can’t you take a little ‘pressure’? Take a deep breath, deploy, and follow me!' With that, he reconfigures his suit to a gliding wing and swoops off in a tight arc, bleeding off more speed and looking for an adequate landing site.
Inside his suit, Tors Du’Ran blinks cold sweat from his eyes, the pain in his back excruciating as a wave of nausea almost causes him to retch...The effort to follow the other banking meks is almost too much.
'Hey Tors! ' He can hear the smile in Shanni’s voice, and smiles in response, gritting his teeth. 'Y-yeah, Shan...?'
'You know what bugged me most about that last trans?'
'.....you mean Khantur..?'
'Mheh, yeah, that’s the one. You know any other annoying wolves? Oops, don’t answer that, haha!'
Tors smiles, he’s onto her, she’s trying to cheer him up. He’ll play along, talking with Shanni always did lighten his heart...Besides, anything was better than thinking about his back. 'Okay, I’m guessing...is it the phony way he pretended not to be affected by that 34 gee suicide stunt...?'
Was she yanking his tail..? What was she getting at? 'Err...I give up, I mean, he didn’t say anything else...did he? Tell me, what was it..?'
After a short pause, she finally replies 'He laughed, Tors.' Shanni’s voice seems to falter a moment. 'I-...well, you know, Khantur NEVER laughs, it gave me the chills...'
Thinking of their commander, he could well imagine her reaction... '..don’t let it bug you Shan...maybe being close to death is the only thing that gets him excited...'
Shanni’s only response is a deep sigh, and the rest of the glide passes in silence.
After all the excitement of the drop and the violent braking maneuver, the landing itself proves uneventful, and the five meks swiftly meet up in a small clearing in the middle of a vast deciduous forest.
'Okay, gather round. We only have a few minutes to go to ground, the robots will be here soon. There’s a dip in the terrain five clicks to the north, that’s where we’re going. Any questions?' Khantur’s tone clearly wasn’t inviting any discussion, but that apparently didn’t deter Derah from speaking up.
'Sir...? I think Tors needs medical, ahh, the braking must have been...' Even from twenty feet away, Grim can clearly see her shrug in her suit. 'Well, it must have hurt...' Surprised at this sudden concern, he turns to watch the reactions of the other squad members, trying to read their body language.
Khantur’s reply is a slow drawl, biting. 'So, you think, do you?' Short pause. 'We’re in the middle of hostile territory, and you want to play nurse? Tors! How are you feeling?' Grimar growls softly...Khantur was going to go too far one day... 'You want to stay out here and get us blown to bits, or would you prefer a short walk?'
In the expectant silence, they can all hear the fatigue in Tors’ voice as he answers. '....n-no, sir...I’ll be fine, we have to get out of the open, you’re right.'
'Well, that’s settled then. Grimar, take point. Shanni, left flank, I’ll take right. Derah, since you’re so concerned about Tors, why don’t you and him take the rear, eh?'
Without waiting for a reply the wolf sets off on a northerly course, starting out at a light trot but swiftly picking up speed, his suit shifting to a brown/green camo pattern.
Skidding to a halt on a small rise overlooking the depression he was aiming for, Khantur watches the other male scan the surrounding woods, then turns to scan his own sector. Nothing. Yet. Never underestimate the ‘bots, they were sure to come looking.
'Grim, check the other sectors on passive, then do a brief active scan, 360, medium range. If that stays negative, follow it up with a long-range sweep.'
The scout’s tone isn’t lost on Khantur, hmm, Grim must still be mad at him for giving Tors a hard time...that wolf needed watching, he was becoming too much of an alpha. Smiling to himself, he walks over to the other scouts who’ve just arrived, one mek stumbling as it comes to a shaky standstill. Tors, of course...
'Shanni, Derah, go help Grim with the scans, he’ll fill you in.'
Twitching to a private channel, he continues in a slightly softer tone of voice. 'Tors...how are you feeling?'
The answer, when it comes, is out of breath and obviously surprised. 'S-sir..?' Not unkindly, Khantur continues, heh, dogs always react well to a gentle voice. 'Your stats soldier, I need to know your condition.' Activating an override command, the wolf orders Tors’ mek to transmit all his bio-readings...blood pressure is low, circulation is weak, temperature is high, adrenaline and dopamine levels were almost off the scale...his body was showing signs of shock, not good at all, the nanites were doing all they could just to keep him conscious. Damn.
'I-..I’ll be alright s-sir, just need to...to catch my breath...' Grimacing, Khantur consults the mek’s logs, no medication in the last half hour, so he keys in a general analgesic and a strong stimulant. Careful, not too much or he’d have a dead dog on his paws. Bad for morale, that. Hah. 'You’ll feel better in a minute soldier, just take it easy, we’ll be out of here soon.'
Seeing his scout nod, he turns back to the others, just in time to receive a startled transmission. 'SIR! Bogies at three, groundtroopers, approaching our position at sixty kph!'
Scowling in his mek, the commander takes stock of their situation, cursing himself for being a fool, they had stayed exposed for far too long on this ridge! 'Rraah! Damn, no use hiding now!' Stomping up the incline and twitching on his own active scanners, he starts to get a view of the enemy’s formation, course, and composition. 'Grrr. Thirty-two bots, most of ‘em Shankar-class. Medium armour, lasers, some may have photon blasters...'
Derah has the temerity to interrupt. 'Sir, hostile’s ETA is less than two minutes...!'
Indeed, he can see them now, even without enhanced vision. 'Well, perhaps we should move then, don’t you think, Derah...?' Sarcasm.
Waiting an extra five seconds, he lets the tension mount...then shifts back to command growl. 'All right, enough fun! We’re going to move back down this ridge, give them the impression we’re fleeing. Which we would be, if we could.' This last cynical remark obviously aimed at the injured canine.
'After that, we turn back and deploy along the ridge. Derah, I want you on left flank, Tors, you take the high ground on the right. Here.' Reaching back to unclip the long sniper railgun on his back, he walks over to Derah and affixes it to her suit’s hardpoint, swapping it against her mono-sword.
'Tors, give Grim your gauntlet, you’ll only be needing the heavy railgun.' Watching the dog obey, he affixes his own gauntlet to his left paw, the nanites flowing smoothly to adapt to the new shape. Flexing his paw, he briefly admires the wicked spikes extending forwards over his forepaw, and back beyond his elbow, leaving his paw free to grip any other weapon.
'Muzzles up! With Tors and Derah ready to set up a nice crossfire, we’ll let them enter the depression, then Grim, Shanni, and myself will pop over the ridge give them hell. Heavy railguns until we get into range for the melee weapons. Got that? MOVE!'
A brief flurry of activity, then quiet, while the scouts wait for Gyran’s forces to reach their most vulnerable position...
Barreling over the ridge, the three wolves let loose with their heavy-caliber railguns, the high kinetic impacts exploding three ‘bots instantly while crossfire from the ridge takes out two more.
Weaving from side to side, the small dark shapes dodge the returning laser fire, sending up great gouts of earth and debris as they swerve into high-G turns and crazy gyrations!
'RraaaaahhH! They’re MEAT, get them!' Bloodlust raging through his veins, Khantur laughs wildly as he hears answering howls from the other two. His mek’s inertial balance sys takes over as he bounds down the slope at well over a hundred kph, the comp smoothly guiding him over rough terrain and keeping his weapons steady.
'Mwahahahaaa!' Another five down! Argh, comp tracking was just sooo deadly! A glance tells him that the rest of his squad are doing well, the ‘bots are being decimated...
Another hundred meters, snap off five rounds from each barrel, swerve, dodge! and snap off three more, forty meters and closing fast, laser flashes all over!! 'aaaAHH, DAMN!' Send mek into a spin to disperse the heat, layers of nanites reflecting, some being flash-burned away, no matter, not important now, close, closer!!
Snapping their medium-range weapons back, the three wolves switch to melee weapons, mono-blades and spikes, CRASHING through the ‘bots at high speed, jinking left and right while their blades bite deep, metal screeching as limbs are torn apart, hydrolic fluids spraying into the air and igniting into greasy fireballs!
'Shanni! Watch your six!' Grim’s voice rings in her ears. Spinning round, she sees the ‘bot explode in a shower of fire and schrapnel! Saying a silent thanks to Tors and Derah, she snarls and swings her blade, lopping off a ‘bot’s weapons pod, diving in to rip through a leg and slashing up to open the bot’s belly, sparks flying everywhere!
ScreeEEEeecchh! THUD! as the ‘bot topples and slams to the ground!
'Whoa Shan! Way to go! Hahaha-whahoo!'
'Seem to be *pant!* having fun Grimbo!'
'WhooYEAH! Grrrahrr!' Leaping upon a ‘bot, Grimar drives a spike straight down into the shiny carapace, rrrRRIPPING the ’bot open with his gauntlet and diving off again, tucked in for a roll, hitting the ground and zagging off towards the next target....and the next...
'*pant*, *pant* ...'
Standing amid the debris, Khantur looks around him in satisfaction, his muzzle creased in a grim smile. This had gone well indeed, no casualties, they had literally shredded Gyran’s ‘bots with hardly a scratch to themselves!
'You all did well. Hah. Will you just LOOK at this mess?' One dry chuckle, then back to business. 'Tors, Derah, start scanning, this was just the first wave. Shanni, Grim, scout us a hidey-hole, we won’t be able to keep this up. In the meantime I-...'
'SIR! INCOMING!!' Derah’s shout stops him in mid-sentence.
No time to react as the world disintegrates in a huge fiery conflagration, the shockwave sending his mind spinning into darkness.
But most of all.....pain.
Pain, from the base of his tail up along his spine, searing between his shoulderblades and keeping him hovering on the brink of unconsciousness...Pain, in his bones...Pain...
Blinking weakly, Tors opens his eyes and tries to take in the outside view, but all he can see is billowing smoke and flickering flames...no...that’s not entirely correct...someone is moving about...
'Sh-Shanni...? Grim...? Is that..nnh..you..?'
The shadow stops, then slowly turns and takes a step in his direction. As the figure approaches, Tors stiffens in terror, it’s at least ten feet tall and it’s limbs are shiny, metal! Blinking rapidly, he twitches his comm to radio frequency and starts talking rapidly 'C-commander? Grim? Is anyone there..?'
The ‘bot is upon him, and as it bends down Tors catches a glimpse of it’s eyes...pink...and it’s features ...human?! Switching to external speaker, the canine stammers 'H-hello..oh gods, I’m so glad to see you ...who...?'
The creature replies by lifting an armoured boot and smashing it down into his faceplate.