5 kilometers west of the Maglev
Approximately 75 kilometers NW of Khayr ad-Din
Late afternoon, 30 Summer TN1940)
The sound of particle cannon fire pierced the air as the CEF forces made their push. Hovertanks and Flail Infantry advanced on the Badlands Outpost building as CEF APCs lurked just out of range of the Ranger guns. And that situation wasn’t going to last, if the closing Earth forces were any indication.
it could be worse Sergeant Mackenzie Ian mused. I was told there’d be days like this. Leaning his Jaguar around the rock he had been hugging, the Ranger let loose some of his precious autocannon rounds at the approaching light hover tank. Never thought it was gonna happen like this though… Tapping the com switch, he called out. “Swyft! Where the heck are you, lass? Its getting a bit difficult right now…”
A handful of seconds passed then his sensors picked up the location of the former duelist’s Cheetah as it raced around to the rear of a pair of CEF type 67 tanks.
[Taking out the trash,] Was her curt reply as his Jag registered her gear’s pack gun cutting loose in a long burst of fire. The result of her mad dash as she skated past the enemy vehicles was one dead tank and the second crippled- but still active.
Ian shook his head. It was a risky move but one she usually managed to do in every engagement. She had the lives of a felinid…
Swyft, for her part, was mentally both in the now and in the arenas of Khayr ad-Din as her cheetah, Jediah, ducked and weaved around the rocks of the battlefield and wrecked equipment. Her lips were pulled back in a slight manic grin as she danced her Gear across the ground- potshots with her pack gun or the rocket pod issuing forth to keep the enemy honest…
Desperate battles…. She so hated them but also found life within, her skills with a gear hard won during the faction wars of the Trash City and the gladiator arenas of her youth. Swyft had learned the lessons well of kill or be killed… then opportunity came to get out and she took it.
She joined the Northern Guard. A sharp-eyed Gear trainer had seen her talents in the assessment sims and convinced her to go for the Duelist Programs… where she shone. And performed brilliantly for the nine years as the Regimental Duelist after graduating, gaining win after win and often without killing- just disarming opponents. Which was far harder than it looked…
She was no Miranda Petite; the famed SRA gear pilot/duelist was a legend from pole to pole- but more than a few had said Swyft was as talented, perhaps even more so. And those comparisons…. Embarrassed her.
More than once, she had said she was just a lucky piece of Trash City refuse who got out. But the comparisons remained… and then she quit. Quit after a very bad encounter full of risk and treachery. She was done… but she wasn’t leaving the Guard. Got transferred to a recon Strike group and tried to be just a really sneaky solider…. Until this shit.
However, the middle of a suicidal fight was NOT the place to be thinking and reminiscing that stuff.
Swyft kicked her little gear into a sharp juke to the right as a blast from a distant tank’s rocket pod struck where she had been about to go. A feral snarl escaped her mouth as she returned fire with her own rocket pod. Not stopping to see where the salvo went, Swyft encouraged her walker to a sprint as she weaved her way towards another hovertank bearing down on her team…
The CEF, for its part, was not just taking fire. As Swyft was rampaging through their lines, the Earth forces had managed to damage several of the Rangers trying to hold them back. The Captain in charge of this strike knew he had a limited time to punch through to the Mag-Lev Line and as long as nothing complicated matters, they would carry out the mission.
The captain smiled as one of the hated gears before him, a Northern Jaguar, exploded from a rail gun shot from one of his medium tanks. A second later, a different Jaguar sprinted past the remains of its companion and managed to damage two of the Medium Troops vehicles. Tapping a screen on his command console, he ordered the Flails to hunt that one down.
Ian cursed as he maneuvered his Jag past the smoking remains of Corporal Jenks. The young man had ducked out of cover to try to hit the Command Hover car of the earth forces and missed. The tanks covering the command car didn’t… and Jenks paid for it. Ian had brought up the plan not ten seconds before when it was clear what the car was…. And Jenks jumped the gun.
Timing is everything…. He thought as he stopped dead in his tracks behind another set of rocks.
A Comm request chimed and he activated the receiver with a subconscious flick. “Striker Actual.” He answered as he hunkered down.
[Striker Actual, Sous-Lieutenant Bin-Dahl, 5th SIU. My two cadres are moments from you; situation please.] The cool Eastern Suns accent translated well through the comms.
Ian blinked. Twice. Mahmoud’s tears… “Sous-Lieutenant, Sergeant MacKenzie, 3rd Rangers… We are holding barely. Expendibles be low and the Toasters be pushing.” A pause. “Never thought I’d be glad to hear a Southerner…”
A low chuckle. [Likewise, Sergeant- I never thought I’d be helping a Northerner… But The Needs of the War dictate strange events. If you have flares, fire them in about 90 seconds. This way we know where not to shoot…]
“Understood… there be only four of us left… so you got plenty o’ targets to choose from…”
Swyft dodged a particle cannon shot barely, the EMP effect of the weapon scrambling her secondaries temporarily just as Ian’s message about a flare came through and something about help incoming. Furrowing her brow, she tried to remember where the damn thing even was on her gear… Not that she could ask him what he was talking about- the EMP had sent her comm gear into reboot.
Better to worry about the trouble present than events coming. Otherwise she might not be here.
Spinning in place, she sent her Cheetah into a headlong sprint after the Command Car target from before. She had managed to maneuver into a spot where a mad charge might get her there…. And buy her squad time.
The odds of them all living through the next two minutes were slim and none, but if she could drop the CEF commander, the chaos that would cause might help the overall.
“Now or never, Girl…” She said to herself as she stowed the now-empty pack gun and drew her gear’s blade. The vibro-blade, a smaller version of the one she had on her old Wildcat, had been with her since she graduated the Gear Academy. Light and sharp, the weapon was designed to carve through the armor of Gears and Tanks… and it too had become part of her rep within the Regiments.
Two Duelists had outright challenged her in the past… Having fought both of them before, she had agreed. When they ambushed her to kill her, their underestimating her and a willingness to kill was their undoing. It was why she no longer was one of the Few. Killing for no reason was something she hated. And to her, Death Duels were among the biggest senseless killings one can do, right up there with Assassinations which is why she had never killed in a Duel.
Honor is honor… but living is harder. And there was no honor in that battle…
Being a scout was more satisfying to her and in many ways, less violent. Though today, Death was on the field and its siren call… was beguiling. If she was not the pilot she was, she’d have fallen to its seduction by now, given the odds against them.
Which still may happen. With luck, maybe she’d live through this to become an old scout. Fat chance she snorted to herself and kicked her baby into top speed…. There are no old and bold scouts.
The CEF captain stared at his screen. The northern gear that was charging him was evading everything being thrown at it…. And it dared to come for him.
How cheeky. “Unit 68-1, engage the scout gear to our east north east”
Unit 68-1, a Medium Hover tank that dwarfed the Command car glided forward and shifted its main gun to aim at the on-coming Cheetah. Tracking, the turret adjusted aim and fired its heavy particle cannon at the agile Gear.
The bolt struck the gear in an arm and the electrical discharge of the EMP inherent in the energy bolt had a noticeable affect in staggering the walker…. But it did not stop it.
Swyft screamed in pain as the discharge and damage from the weapon short circuited her Cheetahs electronics, causing it to slow down from top speed as the gyros and compensators worked to keep her from crashing. The field armor on Jediah now gone- had been the only thing that kept her alive to even know it was gone…
Her momentum however was enough to get her within reach of her quarry… and she lashed out with her blade even as the command car spun to engage with its laser cannon.
Laser Weapon-light flashed as vibro blade struck.
Neither missed… but only one target lived.
Ian, sighting in on a type 95 class medium hovertank, fired off the last of his autocannon rounds. Looking over the battlefield quickly, he saw that the other Cheetah of his troop was down and McGee, the third Jag in the squad was still alive but surrounded by Flail infantry.
Swyft, he saw, was deep in the enemy rear and charging the Command car. “Of all the crazy… Mahmoud watch over her,” He breathed as he took off to be a distraction and help McGee with his problem.
As he slid into cover, he watched the former duelist charge forth, the wicked blade of her Cheetah out and ready to strike. The -68 fired and grazed her gear then she reached the Command car and swung the same time it fired its laser. It looked like she survived and took out the enemy vehicle… but the -68 shifted to bring its weapons to bear on the very damaged scout gear.
“DAMNIT!!!” He snarled as he stepped from cover, hoping like hell his rocket pod would hurt the tank that was about to kill his friend even as he fired a flare. McGee fired off his flare too, even as he fired his rocket pod at the swarming battlesuits.
Just them, music was heard over the Comms…. The anthem of the Southern Republic, to be specific….
Warning bells and lights were lit up all over the cockpit as Swyft managed to keep her Gear on its feet. Quickly assessing the damage, she knew she wasn’t getting away. Too much wrong with her baby; hell it was a small miracle she was even alive to know how lucky she was at this moment. That she even had a leg to stand on, an even bigger miracle. The absolute last piece of armor on her gear was slag… and she could sense Death behind her.
And she would face it.
Shifting unsteadily on a sliver of leg and missing her Gun Arm, her Cheetah faced the CEF hovertank that was just now lining up to remove her from existence. In a last act of defiance, she lifted her gear’s blade arm and saluted her enemy as any Duelist would, given the situation… “Not that he’ll understand…” Swyft muttered.
Then the tank exploded. Autocannon and Artillery Rockets slamming into the vehicle and detonating the anti armor missiles it carried in a display of pure carnage.
“What the…” She said in shock just as her Comm system reset and the sound of music came out of the damaged speakers. “The SRA?”
Quite literally, the 5th SIU detachment cleared the pass and raced in at top speed, guns barking and blazing with fury at the CEF forces.
A lone Spitting Cobra, clad in the deep blue-black and green of a SIU Duelist, raced towards the nearly dead Cheetah as fast as the Gear could move.
The Southern Gear’s weapons smoking from when it had unloaded on the CEF tank, continued to track and target. As it approached, its weapons spoke again, this time targeting another nearby Earth tank as the cadre with it raced to fill in holes in the line and support the Northern troops.
Stopping next to Swyft’s Cheetah, the assault gear shielded it from incoming fire as best as it could and continued to fire its heavy autocannon even as it drew a vibro-rapier from its back.
Over Swyft’s comm, she heard a woman’s voice call out as the Spitting Cobra pointed its rapier in the general direction of the remaining CEF tanks. [Camarades…. Clean these Vermin from here… No quarter offered!]
As the two cadres of Southern Gears began to hammer the CEF tanks which had begun to retreat, the Spitting Cobra turned until it faced the Cheetah.
Within her Cockpit, Swyft saw the diode for direct comm request light up on the channel reserved for the Duelists- something she forgot she had left installed on Jediah. Curious, she accepted the comm request. “Hello?”
[Salutations, Mon Ami… Sorry we were late,] The voice on the other end said. [My fault, I insisted on coming with them to meet you.]
Blinking hard, Swyft was speechless. “Me?” She transmitted back.
[Oui… Of all the individuals I may wish to meet from the North, the famed Ranger Duelist in the small Gear is high on that list,] Came the bemused reply. [And not to fight, I assure you… I would much rather drink and talk of things other than war with one who is my younger twin in skill.]
Younger twin? “Ummm… I’m no longer a Duelist. You got the wrong ranger.” She said. It can’t be…
Laughter came through the speakers. [Non… I have the right Ranger. I have drone footage of your fight. And I can think of no other who could do as well as you in this mess. Maybe me… but not in this beast.] The Spitting Cobra in front of Swyft tapped its chest. [Jules is too slow.]
The Spitting Cobra turned and motioned for Swyft to follow. [Come come… You are under my protection and No one harms anyone guarded by Miranda Petite…]