Back in the dark ages of the early 90s, I was very much enamored of the Battletech novels and computer games. As anyone can tell you, giant, anthropomorphic tanks are just plain cool. Back then, I wrote a short story set in my own version of a Battletech style dark age, with the names changed to protect the innocent…errr, I mean, the copyrights. It wasn’t anything I ever wanted to pursue because I wanted to write something a bit more my own, if not original. But here’s the short story, because why not?
Cinching his harness tighter, Keller Savage stamped down heavily on the foot pedals at the floor of his cockpit, was slammed back into his seat as his Vindicator’s jumpjets ignited. Sucking in air through the fan vents mounted in the mech’s lower chest and running it through the small coldfusion reactor to heat it to a plasma, the jets mounted on the back of the vaguely-humanoid assault mech lifted it over the low ridge on streams of blinding fury, setting it down just outside the fence of the bandit compound.
Not waiting to see if the other members of his Assault Squad were following, Kel immediately launched a flight of Fire-and-Forget missiles from the pod mounted on his Vindicator’s left shoulder. The flight of missiles slammed into one of the two Hopper light assault mecha patrolling the compound, covering the machine in a fireball of multiple explosions as the warheads sheered armor from its chest and legs.
The other Hopper, so named for the curious gate its ostrich-like legs imparted to the ten-meter tall mech, swung around, managed to fire off a burst from the 25mm cannon mounted beneath the cockpit. The heavy, tungsten-core rounds slammed into Kel’s mech’s chest plastron, sending bits of armor flying, but not doing any real damage.
Muttering a curse, the warrior steadied his forty-ton machine, cut loose a burst from the 30mm Vulcan cannon mounted on the Vindicator’s right shoulder to keep the enemy pilot busy, while Kel brought up his machine’s right arm.
The burst of tungsten slugs sloughed armor from the Hopper’s left leg, caused the mech to lurch to the left as it launched a flight of missiles from its right-shoulder pod. The missiles, lacking a target lock, streaked wildly off into the night, and then Kel had the enemy machine lined up with the weapon mounted on his mech’s left arm like some kind of ridiculously large pistol. Kel hit the firing stud on his joystick.
Inside the weapon’s reaction chamber, a small laser heated up the liquid hydrogen squirted into the chamber to a plasma state, and magnetic coils ejected it out the bore at relativistic velocities. The Vindicator rocked back as the superheated packet of ionized hydrogen jetted out, took the Hopper dead in the cockpit, incinerating the entire cockpit structure and the pilot within it. The Hopper, bereft of any control, went limp, and Kel scanned for more targets just in time to see the Hopper he’d hit with his missiles suddenly emerge from the wreath of smoke that had engulfed it.
Its left arm was gone, and the multiple flamethrowers therein, along with the turbine mounted on the left shoulder, and most of the armor had been stripped from the machine’s left chest. But it was still moving, its pilot showing surprising courage for a bandit, and its missile launch pod was still intact…
Kel tried to swing around and line up his Vulcan, but was beat to the punch when a cannon round streaked from somewhere behind him and slammed into the Hopper’s missile pod. The launch pod exploded with a starburst of light that cut through the misty darkness. The missiles cooked off in a huge secondary blast that blew the entire upper torso of the mech apart in a burst of plasma from the reactor. The mech’s legs and lower torso collapsed to the ground, still on fire.
Kel turned his machine, saw a huge Sentinel strike mech plodding up behind him, the long barrel of the Electro-Thermal cannon still glowing red at its right shoulder mount.
“Thanks, Colonel Anders,” Kel let out a deep breath.
“Wait for your squad before you rush in headlong, Lieutenant,” Colonel Connal Anders chided him. “These may be bandit trash, but don’t underestimate them.”
“Yes, sir,” Savage acknowledged, abashed.
Behind him, the rest of his squad of assault mechs had dropped in and was fanning out across the compound. “Keep your eyes open, First Squad,” he cautioned. “There’s no telling how many of the bandits weren’t in the compound.”
His Vindicator walked through the fence as if it weren’t there, the remaining three machines in his squad following behind him in a wedge, while Colonel Anders hung back in his grey-tinted, fifteen-meter Sentinel.
“Lieutenant Savage,” one of Kel’s junior lieutenants radioed. “I’m picking up multiple heat sources to the southwest at .21.”
“Prevatt, Coughlin,” Savage ordered, “position yourself around the main hangar. Langella, you and I are jumping two hundred meters southwest, fifty meters up.”
“Yes, sir,” Sublieutenant Mark Langella acknowledged, bringing his Golem assault mech abreast with Kel’s Vindicator.
“On my signal,” Kel intoned. “Three, two, one…now!”
Both mecha rose on columns of hot gas, arcing over the camp to the wide, dirt trail that led up the plateau from the valley below. While he was still in mid-air, Kel picked up half a dozen Hoppers bounding up the trail, coming back, he guessed, from a patrol.
And then he and Langella were in the midst of the ostrich-legged machines, landing back to back. Kel cut loose with a flight of F&F missiles, all of them impacting on the center torso of a Hopper to his left and about forty meters out. The machine was consumed in an incandescent cloud of smoke as the armor-piercing warheads ate through its honeycomb boron, through the depleted uranium beneath that and into the fusion bottle. Plumes of plasma shot out from the machine and both shoulder-mounted, spiked-plasma MHD turbines blew outward, taking the machine’s arms with it.
Langella, meanwhile, opened fire with the ElectroThermal cannon that was his primary weapon, mounted as a pistol, like Kel’s plasma gun. Unlike normal chemical propellant weapons, the ETC used a high-power electrical pulse to ignite the expanding gasses expelled from the main charge, boosting its velocity to nearly that of a railgun. The 100mm tungsten projectile blasted out of the gun’s muzzle at 6,000 meters-per-second, coring one of the Hoppers like an apple, blowing its reactor in a starburst of plasma plumes.
The remaining bandit Hoppers tried to return fire at near point-blank range, but they were frightened and confused—what missiles, lasers and cannonfire didn’t go streaking off into the night actually wound up striking their own machines. For Savage and Langella, it was like hunting baby whales in a bathtub.
Savage cut loose with everything he had, his Vulcan and the twin five Megajoule chemical pulse lasers in the Vindicator’s upper chest taking out the right-hand turbine and igniting the flamethrower fuel in one of the Hoppers. Sheathed in unquenchable flames, the Hopper’s pilot ejected, his canopy blowing out and his control couch rocketing into the sky to come down kilometers away on a billowing white parachute.
Savage’s plasma cannon, at the same time, sent out a plasmoid—a coherent packet of ionized gas that resembled ball lightning—that exploded against another Hopper’s right leg joint, severing the limb in a spray of molten metal and sending the small mech lurching over to crash heavily into the sandy ground.
Langella, by now too close to the remaining two machines to use his missiles, opened up with the twin Vulcans mounted just above his mech’s hips, chewing at the armor on one of the smaller mechs’ left chest. The other tried to get in close and use his left-arm flamers, but Langella jammed the muzzle of his ETC against the mech’s “chin,” fired. The huge round tore through the cockpit, vaporized the pilot within and soared upward into the sky. The headless machine tottered backwards, fell with a shriek of tearing metal.
The last mech, battered by Langella’s Vulcans, tried to jump out, the hydrogen jets in its broad feet carrying it about twenty meters off the ground before Kel’s last flight of missiles slammed into it. The warheads struck along the Hopper’s right flank, stripping armor from the leg and chest and, most devastatingly, blowing out the right-leg jumpjet.
The mech’s left leg jerked upward from the unbalanced boost of the remaining jet, tore loose of the main body with a shower of hydrogen plasma and the Hopper spun crazily back to the ground. It laid silent for a moment before the hydrogen fuel went up, consuming the torso in a shower of flame.
“White Leader, this is White One,” Kel radioed Colonel Anders.
“Go ahead, White One,” the Colonel replied.
“Neutralized six unfriendlies,” Savage reported. “All light assault types. Going to make a quick sweep of the area…”
Kel’s words were interrupted by a jolt that slammed him violently against his seat restraints, an incandescent cloud of smoke drifting across his view.
“Missiles, sir!” Langella’s panicked voice shouted in his ear.
“Where, damn it?” Kel spun his mech, trying to determine the source of the launch, turned just in time to see Langella’s humanoid Golem rock back, a heavy ETC round catching it in the left shoulder. The tungsten slug tore off the mech’s left arm in a shower of sparks, spinning the machine around and sending it crashing onto its back.
Kel slammed his booted soles down on the pedals, shooting his Vindicator into the air in the direction from which the cannon round had come. He came down, much to his shock, almost directly on top of a huge Scorpion strike mech.
Ostrich-legged like the Hopper, the Scorpion outweighed that light mech by at least half and mounted much deadlier weaponry. A large ETC cannon was fixed to the top of its podlike torso, complimented by a chin-mounted Vulcan, a six-tube integral missile launch system on either side of the cockpit and a pair of five Megajoule lasers on its lower torso. But the machine’s deadliest armaments were the twin plasma cannons that each formed the end of a long, claw-like arm. It was fifteen meters tall and weighed nearly sixty tons.
It was the most fearsome fighting machine in the human worlds, and Kel was staring at it nose to nose. His jump, however, had taken the big mech’s pilot by surprise, and Kel was enough of a warrior to take advantage of the situation. Moving in closer to the Scorpion, Kel fired his lasers directly at the mech’s cockpit—the polished transplas diffused and reflected the thin red pulses as Kel knew it would, but the twin blasts temporarily blinded the enemy pilot and burned out the Scorpion’s thermal and infrared sensors.
Savage gritted his teeth, grabbed the Scorpion’s left-hand plasma cannon with his Vindicator’s articulated right hand, jammed the muzzle of his own plasma weapon against the enemy mech’s right-hand cannon and fired. The burst of superheated gas burned through even the thick armor like butter at that close a range, blowing the heavy gun apart.
The Scorpion pilot pulled his mech back, freeing it from Kel’s grasp and knocking the lighter mech off-balance. Kel struggled to keep his machine upright as the maimed strike mech cut loose with its Vulcan and twin lasers, chewing armor from the Vindicator’s left arm and chest.
Kel lunged forward, let the bigger mech have a wide right hook with the Vindicator’s armored fist, smashing the Vulcan cannon and one of the laser projectors off their mounts, the laser falling to the ground in a shower of sparks while caseless ammo for the Vulcan spilled out like coins from a slot machine. The bandit pilot tried to back his machine up, knowing he was at a disadvantage at this close a range, but Kel stuck to him like a boxer trying to get under a bigger opponent’s guard.
Trying to apply his unarmed combat training to the situation, Kel received a sudden inspiration. Still controlling hid opponent’s left-hand plasma gun with his mech’s right hand, Kel ducked his machine’s shoulder under the Scorpion’s torso pod. Planting his mech’s feet solidly beneath the enemy mech, Kel hit the jumpjets. The plasma flame turned sandy ground to polished glass, pushed the heavy Scorpion backward off its feet, slamming it to the ground with a crash of metal.
Knocked half-conscious from the concussion of landing on top of the other mech, Kel shook his head to clear it, assessed his situation. He tried to get the Vindicator’s legs beneath it, but couldn’t get any purchase on the sandy earth. The Scorpion, at least, was equally helpless, unable to roll over and regain its footing with the forty tons of mech laying across it, and unable to reach Kel’s machine with any of its weapons.
Then Kel saw the escape hatch beneath the strike mech’s chin swing open, a rope ladder spilling out of it.
Damn, Kel thought. Can’t let this guy get away.
Using the quick-release to free him from his harness, Kel nearly fell straight into the canopy of his cockpit. He stopped himself with an outstretched arm, hit the emergency canopy release switch, allowing the transplas dome to swing outward on its hinges. Drawing his sidearm, Kel shifted his helmet back and climbed carefully onto the upper section of the Vindicator’s chest, found himself directly below the Scorpion’s escape hatch.
Climbing out of that hatch, he could see because of the infrared function in his helmet optics, was a tall, rangy male. Bereft of a helmet, he looked to be in his late forties, with long, braided black hair. He wore a pistol in a shoulder holster, but hadn’t yet tried to draw it.
Kel braced himself against the side of the mech’s chest, brought up his heavy pistol and tried to draw a bead on the man. With the IR sighting in his helmet, he could see the full beam of the targeting laser built into the weapon, brought it around to the enemy pilot’s chest.
Savage’s gloved finger was squeezing on the trigger when the bandit’s head suddenly whipped around and he threw himself away from the Scorpion’s hatch, caught the hanging rope ladder about five meters down. Swinging back towards the main body of the downed strike mech, the bandit drew his weapon faster than Kel thought humanly possible.
Kel ducked as the bandit opened fire with his machine pistol, slugs from the small-caliber weapon ricocheting off the armor on the Vindicator’s chest, but none hitting Savage. Kel returned fire with his large-bore semiauto slugshooter, managed to hit the bandit pilot in the upper chest, knocking him off the rope ladder. He twisted in midair, rolled to absorb the impact as he hit about five meters below.
Kel cursed, realizing the bandit’s tactical vest had absorbed at least some of the round’s energy, jumped after him. Savage tried to roll with the fall, but it still half-knocked the wind out of him, and, in the seconds it took him to stumble to his feet, the bandit opened up again with his weapon.
The burst of tiny tantalum bullets struck Kel in the left chest and he grunted, fell back heavily as a sharp stinging shot through his left arm. Even as he slumped to the ground, Kel knew that at least one of the rounds had missed his armored tactical vest and buried itself in his left bicep—not deep, thanks to the ballistic cloth of which his fatigues were woven, but it still hurt like hell.
The bandit pilot tried to turn and run, but Kel brought up his own pistol, sighted the aiming laser and fired. The 12mm slug smashed the pilot’s right forearm in a spray of blood and the tall man screamed, dropped his machine pistol and stumbled to his knees.
Kel struggled back to his feet, stepped cautiously up to the man, covering him with his sidearm. He knew he should just blow the pilot’s head off, but shooting an unarmed man face-to-face was a few factors harder than shooting into a cockpit.
“You want to die quick,” Kel told the bandit, “this is your one chance. Otherwise, you can come back to Nike and stand trial—then be executed. Your choice.”
By way of reply, the bandit lunged for his fallen weapon. He was fast; he had already wrapped his fingers around the grip before Kel’s slug took him in the side of the head, exploded out the other side of his skull in a spray of blood and brains. The man dropped, twitched once and then lay still.
Kel took a deep breath, fell heavily to one knee, his arm on fire with pain. He bit back the wave of agony, looked up in time to see Mark Langella walking towards him from his still-downed Golem, sidearm drawn.
“You okay, sir?” The sublieutenant helped him to his feet.
“I will be,” Kel promised. “You’d better call the Colonel, Mark. Looks like we’re going to need a ride.”