by James Bright
Erik ducked for cover as another shot rang out. Third squad was holed up in defensive position a block away from the trap, hiding just out of reach of their own traps, in case the enemy’s advance company hit one.
He’d caught sight of green and ordered his squad into cover. He was actually getting verbal reports from the other squads, who had made contact with the enemy as well. They had actually chosen to broadcast not only to him but back to base camp as well, and Erik was getting questions from some of his clones, mostly offering back-up.
He’d expect that from one of his own programs, but these were service clones. That learning circuit the fabricator had must have figured out the situation and added in copied code from some of Erik’s deadlier toys.
Erik sent one member from each squad to flank the enemy as a scout. He wanted to know what and how many he was facing. Within minutes he heard confirmation of his glimpse, “Amoeboid, one. Badly equipped service clones, twenty.” That was just from his squad. The others were reporting, “Badly equipped service clones, thirty.” So only the one green target, good.
He pulled out a weapon that looked like a rocket launcher and tossed it to the closest warrior. “Flank ’em to the right and give the Amoeboid a rocket as a present from me.”
The clone nodded and actually curled his lips in a snarl before leaving. It was surprising just how adaptable they were becoming, and Erik wondered how long the learning curve would take for the enemy to catch up to his tactics. For now they were just acting like a bunch of Cricket riflemen mass-attacking.
Erik heard an explosion, but it was too high off the ground to be one of his traps. The radio report came in. “I shot at it, looks like I did damage, but the thing’s still climbing the dag building. I’m running away now. They’re attacking me and I’m not going to give away our flank.”
Climbing? Dagit, those goo balls could get anywhere it seemed. Erik looked up and ordered his squad to split up and fall back. “Take the long way to base; we don’t want to give that away too soon. I’m going to try something.”
The clones broke up and ran away randomly, leading the enemy clones on a wild chase into the city. Erik watched the rooftops and saw the target oozing its way toward him. “If bullets and rockets won’t kill you, maybe I can stop you in your tracks instead.”
Erik pulled a grenade out, de-pinned it, and hurled it up at the green blob lurching toward him. The grenade exploded in the monster’s figurative face and covered it in sticky, black tar. The creature stopped in place, let go of the building, and plummeted to the ground.
The Amoeboid was trying to swallow the tar, but having a tough time of it. Erik aimed his machine pistol at the creature and fired off several rounds, bursting bubbles through the monster and seemingly injuring it this time. “A program is a program. Overload it and no cool feature in the galaxy’s going to protect it.”
Erik broke and ran after blasting the green gel all over the street. He looked to see if he was being tailed, and shot down three clones that were trying to chase him. He made his way back to base camp and listened as his broken up squads were reporting in. First squad and third squad were giving an excellent chase, actually headed back the way the enemy had come from instead and had racked up at least ten kills between them.
Second squad had run straight west and trailed the thirty clones they’d attacked behind them. They were now holed up in buildings around an intersection, picking off clones with headshots. They’d taken out five so far and were still fighting despite heavy counter-fire. They said their goodbyes as if they were human, shouted out, “To the Death!” and talked among themselves on the frequency only they and Erik could hear, talking kill counts and shouts of “I’m hit! Die, scum!”
Erik looked around at the steadily growing number of soldiers, and watched as his radar calmly counted off 100, 101, 102. He pulled up the frequency for the original twenty soldiers he’d started with and told them, “Orders will be inbound. Find a safe place and get ready.”
Without missing a beat, he broke up his hundred soldiers into five platoons of five squads each, and ordered them to find nearby openings to the highway and wait for his signal.
He cloned another platoon of twenty as his own personal command group and contacted his soldiers again. “Platoons, break up into squads. Platoon one, head for the ICC. Kill their security forces and destroy every set of orders in the fleet command center.
“Platoon two, find life support and mix things up down there. I want as many Conglomerate soldiers knocked out as possible for when the fleet arrives.
“Platoon three, go to the ICC with platoon one, but find the information center just for this ship. Break their sensor systems. We want them blind.
“Platoons four and five, you’re back-up. Split up and join the other platoons as security. Cover their backs. Soldiers, dismissed!”
To his command platoon, platoon six, Erik waved, “Follow me,” and ran back toward the last battle. His platoon followed him at a trot as the rest of the soldiers filed out to their assignments. He keyed the frequency for the original platoon. “Soldiers, disable every service program you see. Close down this ship. We’re taking this place.”
Erik’s platoon arrived at the former battle site to see nothing moving. Erik figured the rest of the enemy forces were still chasing the squads he’d unleashed on them before. While he was ordering his platoons around, the counting from Second Squad had cut out among a final chorus of, “I’m hit!” and a dull explosion that could only have been a suicide strike against the enemy.
Instead of splitting his forces up and sending them in different directions this time, Erik ordered his companions to move to different blocks, securing the surrounding area. “We’ll move block by block and form a corner perimeter as we move.”
Erik doubted all the enemies would be distracted by the army mowing down everyone out on the street. Blown away or not, that Amoeboid had only been an avatar, there was no guarantee it wouldn’t have more virtual selves to throw into the fray.
Erik’s platoon took up positions at nearby intersections and moved with him, one block at a time, keeping close attention to one another as well as the cityscape they were moving through. Erik felt eerie in this seemingly abandoned, now grenade pocked urban territory, and he just knew his platoon wasn’t alone out here even now.
Erik set second squad’s final stand as their destination, and his personal guard moved in the direction he’d seen second squad run in. Their final resting place wasn’t known, Erik would just have to take it one step at a time and try finding them. He needed to make sure there weren’t enemies still standing there who could trouble him.
Northwest squad was the first to notice the trail of bodies leading away, and they alerted Erik the instant they saw it. Second squad had taken down five soldiers before finding their bunkering spot, and a pile of ten more was lying in the street in front of a smoking, burnt-out building. There was no sign of surviving enemies in the area, but the platoon kept their guard up. Erik realized he hadn’t heard from the other two squads in a while, and he kicked over to the frequencies for first squad.
“sir, yes, sir! Still alive and kicking, sir.”
“What’s your situation?”
“Merrily avoiding and harassing the enemy, sir!”
Erik nodded. “Good, give them hell. Second squad has officially kicked the bucket, at least fifteen enemy down, but no sign of the remainder. Keep your eyes open, your friends might be getting help.”
“Will do, thanks for the heads up, sir.”
Erik switched frequencies and asked, “Third squad, still hanging in there?”
“Yes, sir. Taken a couple of casualties, and still under fire, but we’ll fight until the last of us falls, sir.”
Erik was really starting to love that learning virus now, it felt good to be talking like these were real people, for once, rather than computer simulations. “Keep up the good work, soldiers. You might earn your place in Wahal yet, I warrant.” Erik paused at that one. He knew he was getting into this way more than he should, if he was talking to these guys as if they actually had souls.
While Erik talked, his squad investigated the buildings. “Sir, I think we found something!”
Erik turned around at the exclamation from one of his warriors, and looked at the one who had spoken. Looking at the ground, Erik noticed a trail of disturbed dust on the ground leading away from the scene. Erik looked back up at the speaker. “Good find, they probably went that way. We should follow them.”
Looking in every direction, the platoon moved ahead, keeping to the trail of debris they could see. It ended several blocks away. Erik had a squad climb up to the top floors of nearby buildings for a better look around, and one of the soldiers reported in.
“Visual contact made. Fifteen bogies three blocks north of our current position. Looks like they’re headed for third squad’s nesting place, sir. ten more are already attacking the place, and I see a lot of bodies on the ground. Our boys have been putting up a good fight, sir.”
Erik nodded to himself and replied. “I know. You’ve got the better gear, I expect you to cost them dearly for every kill they make. Come back down and we’ll move out in support. Third squad won’t be left behind.”
Erik and his soldiers moved at a dead run and charged right into the enemy mass, shooting at everything that moved outside of the skyscraper being used as third squad’s base. The element of surprise won out, and the enemies fell back from the new rush, headed into the building that now became a death trap as the remaining two third squad members opened fire and lobbed grenades down on them.
Within seconds the mass of Conglomerate security drones was a bloody mess on the floor. With the enemy gone, Erik’s platoon grouped with third squad’s survivors and hunted for first squad and their horde of followers. It didn’t take long to locate the sounds of guns firing and move to support, mopping up what little resistance was left after first squad’s hit and run tactics.
With the known threats dispatched, Erik re-tasked his unit for scouting, and did a block by block sweep, taking his own time to listen to the radio announcements from his other soldiers as they attacked the ship system by system. Suddenly one call came in asking, “Commander, why aren’t you out blasting away at the ship like us?”
Erik opened his mouth to reply, but closed it, thinking, Now why would one of my warriors assume that? Not that it was the soldier’s place to question his commander, let alone a program’s, but Erik answered, “I have my own business to attend to, soldier. Do your job and don’t ask questions above your pay grade.” If they wanted to act like soldiers, treat them like soldiers.
The program wouldn’t let up. “No, why aren’t you out here with us?!”
Erik closed his eyes and sighed, “You Conglomerate creeps are piss-poor spies. You should stick with dying and leave the men’s games to men, idiot.”
A growl was heard on the other end. “Fine, as you wish. We’ll stick to ‘dying’ as you said, but we’ll take you with us.”
Erik felt a rumble and more flickering like before. “Hargrove, what the Hell’s going on?”
“It’s not me this time, Johansen. The flagship’s power is acting funny. Keeps going on and off like some inexpert person is trying to mess with it, probably turn it off.”
Erik had to use all his willpower not to bust out laughing. The dumb asses thought they could kill him by cutting their power? He could just wait it out, though he would suffer minor brain damage if he was wearing the helmet when the power went off. He took off the helmet and sent all the data from the other ship into his visual screen instead. No use taking chances.
The enemies succeeded in turning off the power, which didn’t kill a single thing. Well, almost not a single thing. It killed the ship quickly. Too quickly, it seemed. Rather than turning back on, as the enemy must have thought it would, the ship stayed powered down. They didn’t realize how much damage had been done already. Unless...
“I don’t think they did that, Captain. I think that was my boys.”
“Score one for virtual soldiers hell-bent on maximum destruction, then. Unfortunately...” Erik didn’t need Hargrove to finish the sentence, he heard the proximity alarm as well.
“It does dag all to help us out of this mess, except maybe make the enemies crankier.”
Erik cracked a smile. “At least my job’s done. I lost my clones for sure, but I have the design, and my tools were all logged in here, not there. I think this battle will count as a win, don’t you?”
Hargrove snorted. “Only if we live to report it. Let me focus on driving, you just do whatever it is you’ll do.”
Within two hours the third volley was set to arrive, and soon after a fleet of carriers and battleships that had taken off from the home system well before the first volley had been launched. If everything was timed well, and the volleys weren’t changed, there was a very good chance they’d come out of this a success.
Copyright © 2013 by James Bright