USD: Five hours later
Location: Dedia IV Orbit, Space Elevator Rendezvous, Tears of Fire, Mess Berth
Alex confirmed a third and final bombardment, this time drawing a line of horrific fire in front of the main front. It was more spread out, but the Rexxor nest had spat out an increasingly large number of units after the first bombardment, which had taken the beleaguered militia by surprise.
If the Tears had more ammo ready, they would have likely called for a fourth, but as it was, they had already held position over the battlefield for over five hours and they needed to return to a proper orbit before they ran out of gas and fell out of the sky.
They also needed more tungsten for more kinetic projectiles.
She was also ready for a nap.
“Nameless, notify the ground that we are pulling out for resupply and replenishment.”
[Affirmative: Changing Tears of Fire ready status to non-active.]
Alex leaned back in her chair, looking over to confirm Elis and Booper’s telemetry, and saw they were fine for the millionth time.
Everything was nominal, except for Booper’s low ammunition levels and a maintenance alert on one of its multi-barreled gatling guns arms.
Elis and the Tear’s complement of combat drones wouldn’t be returning to the ship until the last of the militia evacuated out of the town, and that worried Alex. The attacks had rapidly continued to escalate as the colonists had brought more firepower to bear. Alex wasn’t sure the militia had a concrete plan for evac if they came under heavier pressure.
There was a certain amount of people required to defend the town’s walls and it was not going to decrease as more and more of the defenders reached orbit. They had no real smaller secondary lines of defense or fallback positions once the main wall was breached, something she thought the command should have realized. Her opinion wasn’t consulted or wanted, however, as the ground commander had shrugged off her single attempt to provide her opinion.
That disregard felt like it stemmed from a complete lack of recognition for the Rexxor’s seemingly intelligent tactics. She didn’t understand how simple ‘fauna’ could be capable of anything at this scale, even if they were supposedly like ants going into a frenzy. Even more, she didn’t see how the colonists had such a large blind spot in examining that thought.
“Nameless, can you send over an invoice to the Governor’s office for today’s bombardment? Three volleys should be 150 million SE. Find out if they are going to reimburse us for fuel costs and we have to find our own supply or if they will transfer the fuel directly.”
[Affirmative: Generating invoice and sending clarification request.]
She was just about to leave the CIC when a sudden sad beep chimed in her head.
|Credit Balance -1,560,344 SE|
|Total Balance: 630,421,507 SE|
“Wait, what? Nameless, what just cost us over one and a half million credits!”
[Informative: Credit balance update stems from updated system relay information. Analysis has detected a packet ship has arrived from 92 Pegasi. Inference has determined Starlight Revolution funds have been spent outside the system.]
Alex mentally pounded on the transaction in an attempt to expand the information to see just what had cost her so much money. Her vision filled with a glaringly red ad that filled her HUD.
|INTERESTED IN SEEING A DETAILED BREAKDOWN OF YOUR EXPENSES? THE CEC OFFERS AN ANNUAL SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE FOR THE LOW PRICE OF 500 MILLION SE CREDITS. SEE ALL COST REPORTS, INCOME STATEMENTS, AND SYSTEM ORGINIATION LOCATIONS, AS WELL AS REPORTS ON ALL MANAGEMENT AUTHORIZATIONS! |
“Fuck! Is this thing seriously streaming adware into my fucking head?”
The angry thought dislodged the text, but Alex wasn’t pleased.
“Nameless, can you, like, hack the CEC and fix this or something? Hell, fuck them and give us an infinite money cheat or something.”
[Informative: The CEC SE standard is a quantum-triangular-matrix with 1024 mutations per–]
“You’re not smart enough to do it? Got it.”
[Notice: The inability to perform this computation is not about intelligence, the time requ–]
“Blah blah blah. Nevermind, okay! If you can’t do it; you can’t do it.”
Another sad sounding chime, then a third and fourth in rapid succession sent Alex into a mild panic as their balance rapidly began to move down in alarming chunks.
|Credit Balance -589,886 SE|
|Credit Balance -3,587,456 SE|
|Credit Balance -2,145,685 SE|
|Total Balance: 624,098,480SE|
She took a deep breath. There were only four members of Starlight Revolution. Nameless, Elis, and herself were all in the system. That left only one other person capable of spending the corporation’s credit chit like this.
“A-3123Y, what the fuck are you doing!”
USD: A few hours later
Location: Nu Crateris, Dedia IV Orbit, Rendezvous with Space Elevator, Tears of Fire
Alex slipped her captain’s jacket on. There was no way she was going to get it as neat as Elis had insisted, but she did her best to get it as close as she could in the time she had.
She’d spent the last few hours observing while a government freighter had replenished the Tears. Having another ship dock to the Tears had been a bit nerve-wracking. She had Nameless keep the few combat bots they had remaining on alert just in case, even if the idea of them being boarded had seemed ludicrous. For some reason, the kidnapping and assassination attempt had come to mind. Probably because Elis had been gone for so long.
Nothing had happened, and she had watched their propellant tanks slowly rise as the fluid swished across the feedlines.
That had relaxed her a bit. Normally she didn’t have to worry too much about propellant levels, but the increasing thrust power and mass of the Tears had made Linear Drive travel bite into their tanks quicker than she was used to.
Now she was preparing to leave the ship again, and that prickled at her earlier anxiety. Elis wasn’t with her to act as an escort. It was the first time she’d be going alone off the ship into a populated space.
Still, the space elevator was much more strictly regulated than Ackman Station had been, and she doubted she’d run into problems going to the meeting that would include the Governor, both Brigadiers, and Captain-Major Thraker.
They were going to deliberate on the usage of an AMCN on the Rexxor hive.
Alex had considered it and wasn’t sure what to think about it, so she had postponed her judgement of unleashing the weapon until after hearing what those at the planned meeting had to say.
It wasn’t ultimately up to her, either. She would not hold on to the missile that she had fairly sold to MilTech Arms and was now theirs. If they wanted, they could transfer the missile from her ship and fire it themselves if she objected.
What she was more interested in was the opportunities she had found while scanning the system’s infonet.
There were many more system bodies in Nu Crateris than in 92 Pegasi, so those opportunities abounded throughout the entire system. What had caught her eye, though, was closer by.
The islands north of Dedia Prime had two small settlements that were nearly abandoned. Those small towns weren’t as interesting as what those settlements had once supplied. Both islands had once been hematite, bauxite, and copper mines. One island had the old skeleton of an industrial foundry. They both had moderately sized concrete landing pads for shuttles.
When Alex had checked into the reasons, she found that they had been abandoned because the Solarian corporations running them had felt the increasing dangers on the planet made protecting the investments cost-prohibitive. That made a certain sort of sense to her.
Paying for security would have been expensive. The Rexxors had no presence on the islands, which was rare. That didn’t mean they couldn’t suddenly appear, though. Their prevalence on most islands and all the other continents meant they must have some way to travel over the water.
The security issue didn’t seem like a massive hinderance to her, or Starlight Revolution. If she developed the area, she could probably build the same walls that the city had, only with automated defenses. Replace the militiamen with combat bots and Sentri turrets.
Most of all, they could automate the mining. She wasn’t very experienced with planetary mining techniques, but she was reasonably certain that Nameless or a new sub-core, if she made one, could figure out what to do if the deposit ran out. Planetary core mining was a thing, even if she had no experience with it, and planets had a lot of material.
Alex headed toward the airlock. Mooring to the Orbital Elevator was much the same as at Ackman Station. The only difference was the tube that extended out to the Tear’s main airlock was mostly transparent.
It surprised her when she saw that Captain-Major Thraker standing station side, examining the Tears through the glass.
She swallowed and tried to straighten her uniform again as the airlock cycled her through.
She still could not shake the feeling of the old man’s gravitas. When she talked to him the times before, it felt like she was talking to someone with much, much more experience than her. It made her feel small.
That was at odds with the persona she was supposed to project as a Federation Captain, who supposedly was of nearly equivalent authority and rank. She took a breath and steeled herself before moving.
She waved to him as soon as he saw her. Stepping through the airlock tube, it only took her a few seconds to shave the distance between them, and then she was shaking his hand once again.
“Captain-Major, it’s nice to see you again.”
“Likewise, Captain. I just wish it was under better circumstances. This whole situation is quite bad luck for the colonists, or should I say it was quite a nasty thing dropped into their lap?”
“I would venture it was the latter, with the actions of that Solarian Captain.”
Thraker nodded slowly, “We saw them open fire on you as you passed them by, and I heard about their demands as well. We gave them a wide berth on the way in, and thankfully had no contact. Your restraint impressed me when you did not respond to their provocation.”
“I assure you, I really wanted to thrash that Captain Walker. It just wasn’t as important as getting the relief supplies and weapons to the colonists in time.”
“A professional sentiment I wish more could follow. I expect he’ll file a complaint with the Solarian admiralty against you. Not that they should have much information on the Tears since it was so recently registered, but I have a few bits of advice for you later on ‘covering’ your tracks, so to speak…”
“I would be very grateful to hear them, Captain-Major.”
“Please, you can just call me Captain, or Major. The full title can be a mouthful.”
“Very well, Major. I understand you’ll be at the meeting with the Governor and Brigadiers?”
Captain-Major Thraker nodded and waved toward the center of the station, and Alex’s eyes followed the gesture to the inhabited sections where the Governor’s office was located.
“Yes, the IHMC has been providing ground support and assistance with the evacuation, much as you have been doing. Unfortunately, we’ve had more casualties and the settlement west of Tifara was overrun. Since then, we’ve been prioritizing the evacuation of the smaller settlements, especially the ones in the path of the rampaging Rexxors.”
Alex nodded and they headed to the meeting location together, discussing the events on the planet as they went.
USD: Five hours later
Location: Nu Crateris, Dedia IV, Tifara
Elis left the Militia HQ building with a brisk step. With the additional artillery fire that she’d called down along with a healthy dose of orbit-to-ground laser fire from the Tears, the defense had pushed back the Rexxor assault without disintegrating. Especially when the combat bots had finally arrived. They had assisted Booper in mopping up the remnants in the nearby hills. The exhausted militia could not call up the reserves to sally from the walls.
She, like many of the others that had borne the brunt of the Rexxor attack, had promptly gone to collapse and get some rest. It had been a measure of endurance to strip out of her MK4B suit, and she had considered just falling into the bed and sleeping in it with the suit still on.
Ertan knew it wouldn’t have been the first time.
She didn't even get a full six hours of sleep when a knocking at her door woke her with a request that she report for a debriefing with the militia’s command.
Unfortunately, Lieutenant-Colonel Wesley had not liked the proactive nature of her not going through the chain of command to secure said artillery fire. He’d spent a good fifteen minutes chewing her out in front of the entire command, and she felt terribly worried for those poor tankers that had saved everyone’s ass.
Wind gusted, blowing a thin line of dust through the area. It hadn’t rained once since she had arrived, although the forecast had warned of an approaching storm-front. The weather in the region was always a mix of heavy rains, followed by dry air. The time for the seasonal shift was arriving.
A huddle of civilians being guided by a team of militiamen passed in front of her as they headed in the direction of the landing pads. The automated shuttles were probably due for another cycle, but Elis had lost track of the schedule after the combat.
The crack of distant rifle fire was now a constant companion. Even if the assault ended in defeat for the Rexxor, there was now a constant pressure being put on the militia guardsmen. Thankfully, the evacuation had taken care of over half the civilians already. Nameless had also been delivering the basic firearms that the colonists were used to. Every man and woman who had requested one, received a weapon.
It was in the hopes that if a few Rexxor broke into the perimeter, people would at least be able to protect themselves.
As long as it wasn’t a horde. The imagery from the earlier battle came to her, and she leaned against the brick of a building. She’d seen a lot of shit and been in it, too. But the sheer savagery and bloodletting of thousands and thousands of the creatures mindlessly throwing themselves into bullets and explosives was something else altogether. She couldn’t imagine what the main army’s primary front looked like.
Even fighting the nannies hadn’t been as visceral. They weren’t flesh and blood, and although their swarms of machines might have been just as terrifying in some situations, they at least acted with rational thought processes that could be understood.
What she had seen earlier in the day was just pure bloodlust, akin to something she would expect from a rabid dog.
Elis had intended to go back to her room and get some more sleep, but feeling the need to unwind changed directions. She had noticed an active bar nearby that the local militia had taken over near her quarters. She turned to go in that direction.
There was no alcohol on the Tears, and she hadn’t seen the need to correct that.
There were a dozen men and women outside underneath the cover of a porch, bottles of beer or other drinks in hand. It sounded like a lively crowd had gathered. They were probably here for the same reason she was, even though it was already in the wee hours of the morning.
As she started up the steps to the entrance, a man’s arm suddenly came up to grab the porch post, barring her way.
“Darling, this ain’t the place for a civvie, although I’m sure we could make an exception for a pretty thing like you. How about ya’ spend some time with us?”
Although she wasn’t in her armor, she was still wearing her normal federation fatigues. She wondered just how lit the man was to not recognize that while she wasn’t in a militia uniform; she wasn’t a civilian either. One of his companions who already had a girl on his arm let out a laugh, but Elis only felt annoyance.
“Move your arm or lose it.”
“Wooooah. Relax, doll. No need to be so tense. But if you’re the frisky type, that’s exactly what I’m—”
He never finished his sentence as Elis slammed her shin between his legs, his shocked look disappearing as she followed up by grabbing his arm and flinging him to the ground behind her.
The sudden violence surprised everyone watching, but the man’s buddies responded quickly, squaring up for a fight and moving toward her. A bar fight hadn’t been in her plans, especially not before even getting a drink, but she’d was alright with it. Although three on one was a bit much.
Fighting and being a bit rowdy was almost as good an outlet as drinking, especially after being blooded. It was a marine tradition. One she had been a part of many times before. Elis spat on the ground, backing up into the street to gain some space as she moved into her own stance, “Alright, motherfuckers, let’s dance.”
Before they could oblige her, an earthquake sent everyone staggering for their balance and a cloud of sandy dust erupted behind Elis, rapidly enveloping her.
She didn’t quite manage to suppress a cough as she tried to wave the dust out of her face, and a hand landed on something metallic as she regained her posture.
Booper was standing above her at its full height, its multi-barrel gatling guns spinning slowly in a threatening manner as it shined its floodlights on the three men she’d been about to brawl with.
A low, angry “Broooop” escaped from the steel chassis, and for a fearful second Elis thought it was about to turn the men into meat paste.
She recovered first and patted the robot’s leg. “Guess you assholes aren’t interested in a two versus three?”
The men didn’t respond, but their NCO did, bursting out of the building and taking in the situation in a single glance.
“What the fuck are you ass for brains doing? That’s THE mercenary.”
The off-duty militiamen looked at each other, uncomprehending expressions on their faces as their boss rounded them up and led them away. Elis didn’t blame them for the shock. Booper had made one hell of an entrance.
The NCO waved at her, and Elis waved back.
She patted the robot’s side. “Thanks, I think it’s fine now.”
It let out a “Boop” and then turned to walk idly down the street, resuming its patrol throughout the town.
Entering the building without issue, she homed in on a lonely stool at the bar. The bartender wasn’t interesting, but they did get her the drink she ordered in record time.
Although it had been outside, no one inside had missed the interplay between her and the idiots. She tried to strike up a conversation a few times, but she realized she had somehow become off-limits to socialization. Either she was too intimidating, or it was resentment for the damaged pride of their compatriots. Having a several-ton robot as a friend was also possibly damaging to prospects.
That suited her just fine, and Elis laid into several glasses of whatever the place was calling their liquor. The warmth had settled into her stomach and the heat of the room washed across her face.
It had been a long time since she had done this. Before her last cryo-tour had been cut short by the war. Normally, she had her squad beside her. She edged closer to the line of drunkenness that she would have not tolerated before. And that was saying a lot because her tolerance was high thanks to whatever ancestor had played with her genome.
She ignored the other patrons, but their sounds and laughter still poked at her senses. About to finish and go back to her room, a young man approached.
“Is this seat taken?”
She glanced at all the empty barstools that been vacant soon after she arrived before studying his face. He was young. The marks on his collar showed he was a lance-corporal, or whatever the militia’s equivalent was called.
He was handsome in a puppy-dog sort of way. He wasn’t exactly her type. She would have liked to have found a woman, but she was thankful she wasn’t very picky with that sort of thing.
A roll of laughter caught her attention, and she noticed that a table in the corner had its attention pointed at the two of them.
“Looks like the seat is free. Those your friends?”
He winced and looked back at the jeering militiamen. “Uhh, yes Ma’am.”
<A small portion of text has been removed due to Writathon rules and will be restored after the contest>
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