‘No one would have believed in the last years of the third millennium that humanity was anything but alone in the galaxy. With infinite complacency humanity went to and fro through settled space about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their supremacy. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the worlds beyond the borders of settled space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of intelligent life upon them as impossible or improbable. And early in the year 2995 came the great disillusionment.
An armada of newcomers with ships and forms unknown to humanity, poured from unsettled space. Their motives were unclear, their reasons unknown, and even the name they gave themselves was beyond comprehension. Humanity, in their abhorrence of leaving things nameless, gave them one: the Seti.
Everything human these newcomers lay waste to, civilian or not, and from the get-go both the United Terran Commonwealth and the Borean Union were on the backfoot. Many planets untouched during the Secession War were now vicious battlegrounds the likes of which had not been seen in over nine hundred years. One of the most notable of these was the planet of New Atlantis, a storm-wracked ball of water that only had usable land in the form of many large chains of islands, that was also the site of the first time the UTC held its ground against the invaders rather than fleeing before it…’
From 30th Century History Vol 4, by Julius Kowalski (3045).
‘Fiza, get in position on the left flank behind that tower, I want you and Kaidan ready to take action in case they try to play silly buggers,’ Captain Lyyr Zainab flicked her comms and gave the order with practiced ease. This was just another exercise, she told herself, just another war, she lied. ‘You alright back there Samson? Shahid not crowding you?’
‘Just peachy, Cap,’ replied Samson Mora, pilot of the unit’s Bruxa-class. He was the unit's eyes, ears, and e-war specialist, his machine able to detect and interfere with enemy armour at a shocking distance. Such power came with a price, clad only in lighter armour and thus requiring babysitting by one of the heavier mechs. ‘So long as he can resist dry-humping me, that is.’
‘Bite me,’ replied Shahid Schultz. Lyyr rolled her eyes and cast eyes over the scanner, noting her unit’s dispositions around the city plaza and snorting when Shahid’s blip moved a few metres further from Samson’s. At fifteen metres tall and seventy-five tonnes, Shahid’s Hoplite-class was the workhorse of the UTC’s mech brigades – three fifths of Lyyr’s unit were made up of them – capable of anti-infantry, anti-armour, and general all-round destruction.
‘Professionalism, people,’ Lyyr chided, if only half-heartedly. The casual bond between her unit had been a carefully-cultivated thing, forging them tighter than iron discipline ever could. ‘Systems check, sound off.’
‘Alpha-Four-Five, all systems nominal,’ Samson replied.
‘Alpha-Four-Three, looking good,’ Shahid chimed in a second later.
‘Alpha-Four-Two, ready to rock.’ That was Fiza Giles, the faint sound of music heard over the woman’s channel. Lyyr chose to ignore it.
‘Alpha-Four-Four, online and in position.’ Kaidan Whitley bringing up the rear as usual.
Glancing around the cramped cockpit with its familiar smells of plastic, oil, and stale sweat, Lyyr studied the glowing readouts to either side of the control array. Her Ajax-class was a brute of a machine, hunched and heavily-armoured, designed to hold attention and take a beating whilst the big guns closed. Lyyr had never harboured qualms about leading from the front and this was the mech for that; the old girl had got her through a fair number of scrapes.
‘Alpha-Four-One, reporting combat-readiness,’ she confirmed to the others. Switching to the command channel, she said, ‘Command, this is Alpha-Four, we are in position and fighting fit, over.’
‘Confirmed, Alpha-Four, stand by.’
‘Acknowledged, Command, standing by.’
Lyyr cracked her knuckles and gripped the worn handles of the armatures that controlled movement of the torso, limbs, and guns, granting almost-human levels of pitch and traverse. A test wave of the arms and a shrug was enough; the servos were still good.
‘And now we wait...’ she muttered. The history of this new war was one of catastrophic fuck-ups and even worse losses as the UTC adapted to a threat beyond their experience, mostly shitting the bed in panic but also spawning brilliance, overhauling decades-old doctrines and refitting their equipment with remarkable speed. Her mechs, for example, had divested themselves of their traditional solid-armour plating in favour of ablative layers like those found on dropships, more resistant to the intense heat created by the aliens’ beam weapons.
++ALERT: ORBITAL DROP IN PROXIMITY++
Lyyr glanced up as the words flashed angry red across her heads-up display. Micro-cameras on the outside and holo-screens on the inside turned the cockpit into one big AR interface, giving a 180-degree view of the outside world, spattered with raindrops from this damp bastard of a planet’s perpetual drizzle. If the cameras became damaged, she could slide back some armour and look out, something she’d only needed to do once in her career; she’d never felt so damn nervous.
‘Samson, you got a lock?’ she asked.
‘Aye, Cap, looks like the cavalry,’ the Bruxa pilot replied.
Clucking her tongue, Lyyr responded, ‘Bloody late is what they are.’
Crashing down on pillars of smoke, a score of small pods impacted with the surface of the plaza in impressively tight formation, spewing up clouds of dust and pulverised concrete. Explosive bolts popped and the pods opened, armoured figures leaping from within, instantly ready and taking up position on the firing line. The Juggernauts were here.
Powered armour had been one of the more brutal arms-races in recent history. The Mk I suits boosted strength and defence, granting the wearer an advantage over regular grunts, and Mk II expanded on that by installing air filters and slimming things down, making the armour less bulky, the myopolymer bundles more efficient. The Mk III, however, was something else entirely. A neural interface forged man and suit as one, making them stronger, faster, with better reflexes than the Mk II by orders of magnitude, all supplemented by the best on-board computer and pharmacy that money could buy. These warriors, affectionally called “Juggernauts”, were supersoldiers in every sense of the word, and would have won the Secession War for the UTC had public pressure not ended it first, allowing the Boreans their independence and humanity a temporary peace.
Now the Juggernauts had found a new war, a new battlefield, and so had Lyyr.
‘This is Command, all units prepare for contact.’
‘Here they come, people, gird your loins and brace yourselves!’ Lyyr announced, rolling her shoulders.
She raised her armatures and the mech’s arms responded in kind, the multi-barrels of her rotary cannons whirring and her autoloaders clattering. Red markers on her HUD showed the positions of the enemy, tracked by naval assets and supplemented by Samson’s Bruxa, clustering like a swarm of crimson beetles. One kilometre out and closing fast, a mixture of infantry and armour, funnelled into their killing field by careful air strikes and obstacles. Nine hundred metres, eight, seven, six, five – they should be within visual soon – four, three...
All hell broke loose in a castrophony of light and sound, explosions and panic.
‘They’re in the line!’
‘How the fuck-’
Hysterical comm reports and the snap of gunfire erupted from around her. Bright stabs of the aliens’ beam weapons crossed her field of vision in blinding streaks.
‘Alpha-Four, hold position and reinforce!’ Lyyr snapped, hauling on the armatures, feet pushing at the movement pedals, rotating her mech around and trying to get visual on what the actual fuck was going on. Her Ajax clanked and whirred obediently, stomping to the side so she could see the right flank. A mob of Seti, somehow shielded from detection, had come through a side-street to descend on the gun-line when its attention had been diverted elsewhere, tearing through infantry.
Aided by her systems, Lyyr picked out the aliens from her allies and pulled the triggers. The barrels whirred, clattered, and then thundered, spitting high-calibre death and tearing through the footsoldiers like wet tissue, the vibrations reaching her in the cockpit, thrumming down her arms and rattling her teeth.
‘Ha! Fuck you!’ she barked.
Obeying heat warnings, she released the triggers, letting her guns cycle down, confident she’d given her fellow humans the breathing space to consolidate. She cast her eyes across the readouts, noting the main alien force was still two hundred metres away, the new contacts flaring into being when visuals were reported, red flowers in a green field. She could see the icons of Fiza and Kaiden flashing orange as they engaged, hearing the dull, repeated roar of their autoloader cannons from across the plaza, their Hoplites putting up a good fight as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder.
Suddenly, Samson and Shahid were blinking.
‘Contact, contact!’ Samson was shouting over comms. ‘Lycan! Out of fucking nowhere!’
Lyyr swivelled around to get a visual and could see it fifty metres behind, smashing its way through the lines towards him and Shahid, roaring an electronic challenge. With rounded, more organic lines than the human mechs, and digitigrade feet that gave it a loping gait and its designated name, the machine was much like the aliens themselves, possessed of a predatory aspect and a speed and agility that seemed almost impossible. One of its arms ended in a devastating, snub-nosed beam cannon and the other was elongated into some kind of blade that crackled and flashed with coruscating arcs of energy.
She could see Shahid’s mech take a step forwards in stoic response, set its feet, then seem to pause for a moment before unleashing everything it had. Missiles and rockets sped from the shoulders, wreathing the Hoplite in smoke, whilst the arm cannons flashed and thundered.
The Lycan tried to jink but even it could not deny the Hoplite’s targeting systems at near point-blank range, avoiding some but not enough. Shells slammed into it, causing it to stagger, then break, then fall. Lyyr whooped in triumph at her comrade’s victory.
‘That’s how you d-’ Samson began. His icon flashed orange, then solid black. Lyyr looked on in horror as an actinic blade tore through his mech’s mid-section, followed by a close-in shot of energy that burned through armour and cockpit in seconds, incinerating everything inside.
‘FUCK!’ she swore, pushing down the tide of emotion just enough to keep her cool. ‘Fiza, Kaiden, get the fuck back here and form up, this is getting out of hand!’
Lyyr raised her arms to try and wreak vengeance but was staggered as something hit her mech from the back, throwing up impact warnings and damage reports, the word thermal shock repeating over and over on her HUD.
The main force had now arrived.
No time to keep an eye on Shahid, she needed to see to her own problems. Rotating her torso, Lyyr’s cannons were already cycling when they achieved their targets, firing as soon as she had a clear shot.
Her heart skipped a beat at the sight before her, mouth suddenly drying out. The streets were packed with six-legged walkers big enough to scrape the buildings either side as they came, monstrous cannons underslung beneath their bodies – they were designated “Behemoths” for good reason. At each blinding shot, entire infantry squadrons were eliminated, tanks reduced to smoking piles of scrap. They weren’t supposed to be here. The intelligence report said nothing about them. None of this was supposed to be happening!
‘Attention all units, this is Command, withdraw to the Porthrepta Salient! I repeat, withdraw and regroup!’
‘You heard the man!’ Lyyr ordered even as she shot, cranking her mech into reverse, laying down a steady hail of fire. Hopefully she could hold the line long enough for the poor fucking infantry to get away.
A glance at the scanner: three orange blips, three of her unit in combat.
‘Ok, ok, deep breath, we can do this...’
One of the Behemoths fired, Fira’s blip turned black.
‘Fuck, fuck, fuck...’
The withdrawal was turning into a rout, only the mechs and Juggernauts keeping any sense of discipline; everyone else fleeing, turning tail in fear even as they were gunned down. Lyyr’s body jerked as another Behomoth fired, the blinding light slamming into her Ajax. Screens went haywire from the feedback and heat alerts blared red, blowing apart one of her gun arms in a welter of shrapnel that ricocheted from the cockpit in a glowing hail. She swore as the armature seized uselessly and continued to fire with the other, refusing to let up even as the barrels glowed red.
Lyyr’s breath cycled in a rapid pant. This was not another fight against pirates or the Boreans. This was not good. Not good at all.
An almighty crash and her world lurched as something solid hit her mech from the back, tearing metal squealing and grinding, toppling her on one side with a whiplash jerk of her neck. More alerts, more warnings, but there was no paying attention as she scrambled to engage the righting jets. They weren’t working. THEY WEREN’T WORKING. Now looking at her HUD: actuators three through five disabled, coolant leak detected, mass myopolymer failure... FUCK!
Flickering as they struggled to maintain coherence, her screens showed a grim view of the iron-grey sky, raindrops falling straight down, suddenly eclipsed by an alien mech, one of the Lycans that had killed Samson. It seemed to look down for a moment, studying her dispassionately, levelling its gun arm at her.
All she could do was scream impotently as light gathered in that terrible maw.
Then her world went white.