USD: A few days after AMCN-AADN5 detonation
Location: Nu Crateris System, Dedia IV, Near Tifara
Elis raised her hand in a fist, and the small column came to a halt. Her HUD had picked up some type of movement on the next hill and signaled a warning to her. The combat bots reacted immediately to spread out in a line abreast beside her, taking care to stay behind whatever rocky cover was available.
Ash sleeted down in a horrible mix of sludge from the twilight that had replaced the day, coating and turning her MK4B suit into a messy gray and black mess. Elis put it out of mind, the suit was perfectly sealed and only concern would be not slipping in the thick coating that had covered the surface.
Their assigned tank support unit was almost a kilometer back and picking its own path through the hills. It accepted her remote sign to halt without her needing to speak. The armored vehicle had its own scouts spaced around it to prevent an ambush, but Elis’s team was still the spearhead.
“Nameless, what do we got?”
[Notice: Degraded optical telemetry available. Observation from orbital altitude impossible. Correlating movement and MK4B telemetry data and drone sensory data. Possible small-medium Rexxor pack units ahead.]
“Send one drone ahead. If they have a pack, try to pull it back to lure them into the open.”
After the bomb had annihilated the Rexxor hive, the ‘war’ had stopped near the city. The smaller number of fauna that had been spread out between the city and the front lines had been aimless and the militia had easily retreated behind the safety of the walls with all their refugees in a matter of days.
It wasn’t as simple as that in the outlying settlements.
The sky had filled with dust, and although the prevailing winds had blown most of it to the northeast, there was so much of it that the ash had swamped the entire area. It was not as radioactive as Elis had feared, but it had turned the once green landscape into a nearly perpetual gray haze as the sun tried and failed to illuminate the countryside.
The furthest forward combat drone darted forward down the hill and toward where she had spotted the movement.
The smaller combat drones were capable of quite fast movement, even if the planet’s gravity slowed them. They were certainly faster than she or Booper could run.
As it reached the valley between the two hills, one spike-spitter came out from behind a rock to take aim at the charging orb of metal.
Elis raised her pulse rifle, the HUD automatically helping her adjust her aim by taking into account the wind and bullet drop, and she pulled the trigger.
A spike flew off the thing’s tail at the same moment, but Nameless directed the bot to swerve at just the right time and it impaled the ground harmlessly a few meters away.
The spike-spitter was not so lucky. The small burst of energy burned through the alien’s carapace, blasting a devastating hole through its chest cavity. It fell to the ground almost immediately in a dead lump.
“One spitter, down. Figure out what’s on the other side, Nameless.”
The Rexxors near Tifara had attacked savagely for several days after the AMCN had gone off. Elis figured they had sensed the main hive die somehow, and that had made them angry.
Except, after the first few frontal assaults, they had changed tactics. Instead of rushing the walls madly, they had stayed at the peripheral, sniping at the guards, probing for vulnerabilities, and even aiming at the shuttles.
Shuttle two took a hit while landing, and had almost crashed. Now it had been grounded for three days under repair by the remaining militia engineers.
It had required that they send out their own forces outside the walls to push back the Rexxors.
The fact that their orbital eyes and ears had been shut down because of the amount of ash and dust in the skies had hurt their recon ability badly. Even the newly freed air units that had been supporting the front line had been of little help as their atmospheric engines had clogged and sputtered in the deteriorating conditions.
Alex had informed her that Dedia was likely going to experience a small ice age with several degrees of cooling because of it.
Elis watched the bot reach the other ridge, then carefully raise its hover thrust upward to peek over.
[Notice: Hostile forces detected.]
Elis’s HUD blipped and filled with dozens of red dots on the other side of the hill.
She immediately called their backup tank for indirect fire support.
“Red-Star to Apricot-Alpha, read immediate coordinates from TacMap and fire for effect. We are hardened and behind cover. Just don’t drop it on our heads, over.”
“Roger Red-Star. Firing for effect, ridge to mass.”
A spike flew up from behind the other hill and clipped the forward combat bot, sending it falling and spinning. Barely recovering, it sped its way back toward her.
The ridgeline blipped red.
“Nameless, get ready for company. Booper, we might need you.”
The bipedal war bot was still quite a far way back escorting their armored support unit, but a “Boop” of acknowledgement came and Elis could see its icon surge forward in their direction.
The moment the hostile aliens crested the ridge, Elis and the combat team opened fire. The advanced FedTech weaponry was extremely effective, and the drone’s power cores meant they effectively did not have to worry about reloading.
After a brief butchering, the Rexxor fell back, something they had never done before the main hive had been destroyed. Elis would have much preferred if they had continued to shove themselves into the kill-zone for her.
Thankfully, that’s when the hail of artillery shells arrived. The support-fire tank could step its fire angle and muzzle velocity in a way that the shells would all land nearly at the same time. The result was a massive, obliterating explosion that covered the entire area.
The damaged drone had fallen into a ditch near the bottom of the two hills, and when things had stopped shaking, it lit off its thrusters and headed back over the ridge.
As soon as the drone crested the hill to check on the bombardment’s handiwork, Elis’s HUD flashed. The red blips quickly turned gray, showing nearly 95% of the Rexxor had been eliminated.
“Good kills, Apricot-Alpha. We’re moving forward again.”
USD: Around the same time
Location: Nu Crateris, Dedia IV Orbit, Tears of Fire, CIC
Alex had read what the effects of dropping a 200-megaton bomb into the ground would be before pressing the button. She had, on an intellectual level, understood what it meant, and the challenges the colonists would face in the aftermath.
She had allowed more experienced heads to convince her. It was their home, and their people that were dying, and it had seemed like the only effective way to end the conflict.
But seeing the effects was different from theoretically understanding them.
Already a massive dark cloud had spread out from the explosion site, covering several thousand square kilometers in a never-ending storm of black ash that would likely circle the planet.
The radiation spike had ended quickly, most of the energy being released as gamma-rays due to the anti-matter nature of the explosion. Yet the missile was not perfect, and fissionable material had released more long-lived waste into the dust.
Everyone on the planet would need to take radiation blockers for decades or risk an alarming rate of cancers and other effects.
All the crops and food being grown inside the city would die from lack of sunlight, and the once green landscape had already turned into a devastated gray wasteland in the few spots that cloud cover thinned, allowing the optical sensors to penetrate.
She had pressed the button. That made her partially responsible. She wouldn’t accept total guilt, but she still felt horrible.
Something in her chest ached. It was an emotion she had never felt before.
The consolation was that the attacks on the army had stopped. Only a few Rexxor had needed clearing between the walls and the refugees, and a successful fallback into the walls had been carried out in haste.
There had been no reports of anyone being killed or harmed from the blast directly, although windows across the city had shattered from the shockwave. The citizens of Dedia Prime had taken to the bunkers and protective walls with little resistance, having quickly understood the danger.
She had already drawn up a new plan to build a large, tanked orbital that could produce vat-grown food with a steady supply of raw materials. Even with a rapidly built thing with the help of Nameless, it didn’t seem like the standard spacer infrastructure could scale up to supplant the now sudden loss of the crops on the planet in the short term.
She wondered if the government had considered the implications of that mess, or if they had enough stores for everyone?
A beep turned her attention from the display of the black clouds below to her HUD. Nameless had finished a new computronics module. She carefully considered how best to use it.
USD: Several hours later
Location: Nu Crateris System, Dedia IV, Near Tifara, Entrance to Szizsielia’s Hive
Elis looked down the gradual slope that bit into the hillside. A heap of the smaller Rexxors was piled to one side of the entrance. They’d had to stack the bodies because the creatures had been in such a frenzy, they had blocked the way in.
Pulling out a smaller handheld launcher, she fired a flare into the darkness. Light flashed down the tunnel as the flare quickly flew through the dark space. Nothing showed up on her infrared sensors, but that might have been because the walls of the cave were covered in a thin layer of mucus that was giving off its own heat.
“Fuck, this is some real nasty alien shit.”
“Red-Star, this is Apricot-Alpha. We have dug in and are entrenched on the nearby ridge. Over.”
“Copy that, Apricot-Alpha. Still figuring out what they want us to do about this cave. Analysis shows it could lead to another Rexxor Hive network.”
The tanker on the other end of the comm took a breath. “God, I hope not. We might have got all the civvies out, but if they hit us like they did Prime…”
“Yeah, well, keep the guns pointed over here, in case they rush out. It’ll be a killzone ‘til the entrance collapses.”
“I’m more worried about there being more than one entrance. Got eyes out for any flankers, Ertan knows they turned into wily bastards on us.”
Elis agreed. That was always a concern. It was just that she was sitting on one of the entrances, so it felt like the highest priority.
Now that they had found the source of the Rexxor attacking Tifara, Elis wondered what the militia HQ and Lieutenant-Colonel Wesley were going to have them do. Looking back into the darkness, Booper let out an unhappy broop sound. If it desired, the bot would just barely fit inside the height of the cavern, which added an extra worry to Elis.
If the cave was that tall, then there was a reason for it, she was sure. That meant they might meet one of the larger Rexxors that they had only seen on the front line at Dedia Prime. Elis shivered in her suit; she didn't want to meet anything worse than they already had. They were nasty enough already.
Her radio buzzed to life with a call from command.
“Red-Star, this is Tifara-Alpha. A company in force is en route to your location. Brass wants you to scout the tunnel and get some mappings if possible. ETA for company arrival is three hours.”
Elis bit back a curse. She didn’t like the fact that they had been sent so far afield, and now they wanted her to go cave-crawling with fucking aliens?
“Red-Star to Tifara-Alpha, you realize my boss is going to be really upset if you get us killed and she has one or two dozen of those nukes in orbit, right?”
“Tifara-Alpha Actual to Red-Star. Take it easy on the scouting. No need to push through if there is resistance, but if you can get some acoustic mapping done, it will speed things up. It’s possible we will drop a bunker buster on it and knowing where the core is will assist.”
“Red-Star to Tifara-Alpha. Roger that. I’ll see if I can have a map tied up with a bow for you when the company gets here.”
Elis flipped her radio comm off and looked up at Booper.
“Yeah, I know. Let’s go back to the tank first. We need some proper gear for this.”