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View Full Version : The Caliban Drop, Chapter One (sci-fi; graphic content warning)



CyberWar
September 10th, 2014, 04:20 PM
Date: August 16, 2549
Location: Federation of Mankind
Sycorax system
Former Imperial world Caliban
Time: 1315 Hours


"Incoming!"

The anti-armor missile roared overhead and impacted squarely in the narrow gap between the hull and the turret of a Battlemaster tank, where it's electro-reactive armor offered no enhanced protection, the thunderous explosion spraying troops covering ahead of the tank behind a slab of concrete with white-hot shards of metal, only their powered armor saving them from severe injuries. A gout of flame erupted from the turret hatch, popping it's cover off like a bottlecap and certainly incinerating everyone inside.

"We need fire support! We're being slaughtered out here!" one of the soldiers in cover cried, clutching his wounded shoulder, a bloodstained armature bar protruding from it.

"You there, rookie!" decurion Alaric bellowed over the battle noise, "Get to it! Contact Gorgon and call in a kinetic strike on that tower! This is our last fire mission, so make it count!"

"Aye," Serena said, tapping the appropriate holo-keys on her tacticomp as she set the built-in laser designator of her energy rifle to "designate" mode, "Gorgon actual, this is Kappa-Seven-Six, requesting fire mission, grid coordinates 70-56-83-25, danger close, designating target now!" With that, she leaned her rifle over the concrete slab her decury was covering behind, the link between her rifle's optics and her helmet visor allowing to see the target through the scope without exposing herself.

"Kappa-Seven-Six, this is Gorgon actual, fire mission confirmed, danger close! Specify ordnance!" the reply buzzed in the earphones inside Serena's helmet.

"Kinetic strike, precision, 5 kiloton range!"

"Roger that! Kinetic rod away, ETA 30 seconds, stand by!"

The thirty seconds seemed like an aeon with the volume of fire pouring at their position from the arcology tower half-a-click ahead. The defenders were surprisingly well entrenched and prepared, having decimated the armored column that Serena's decury was part of on the skybridge and pinned the survivors down. Then, a brilliant-white streak of fire pierced the clouds above and slammed hard into the arcology tower with the force of Thor's hammer itself, piercing the building in it's entire height, it's 500+ floors successively erupting in a colossal explosion from top down as the 500-ton tungsten rod passed through them. Chunks of supercrete the size of a city bus were broken off the building and flung far in every direction by the violence of the impact. Serena and a few others had made the mistake of standing up from cover just as the kinetic rod struck the building to better observe it's effects, and an instant later, the blast wave reached them, throwing them back violently. The last thing Serena felt was a blinding pain as her head struck the track of the burning tank behind her.

---

15 minutes ago
Aboard Typhon-class battleship Gorgon

"All personnel, prepare for drop in 60 seconds!" the feminine computer voice echoed throughout the drop bays as scores of armored troops hastily boarded the Thunderhawk dropships. Psychologists had determined a long time ago that males generally tended to respond better to a female voice, hence most Imperial ship AIs came pre-installed with a female voice package and personality. Given the prevalent suspicion towards artificial intelligence, it was also deemed necessary to make the ship AIs appear more friendly and sypathetic to the average soldier.

"Alright, lads, listen up!" centurion Aurelius bellowed over the general commotion, "This one's going to be a hot drop! While the humans don't know we're coming, and our infiltrators should have taken care of most of their orbital defenses by now, the same cannot be said about their ground forces! We're going in with the first wave, which means we'll be taking the brunt of their fire, but fear not - should you fall in battle, know that the Emperor himself awaits you in the Halls of Eternal Glory, where the brave live on forever! As I explained in the briefing already, we will be dropping straight on their positions, so anybody who isn't wearing powered armor is to be considered hostile and terminated with extreme prejudice! Be fearless, show no mercy, and may the Emperor's spirit hand guide you all! Ave Imperator!"

"Ave! Ave! Ave!" his century of 120 troops enthusiastically responded, pounding their armored chests with their fists.

"One more thing," centurion added, "I have issued an Imperial standard to each decury, as you already know! The first one to plant it on top of that arcology complex we'll be hitting will be promoted in rank, a promise given by the strategos himself, so make me proud today, and who knows, when this campaign is over, maybe I'll have to salute some of you!"

---

The troops assumed their seats aboard the dropship. Although regulations required everyone to be secured in their seats by safety harnesses, many deliberately failed to secure theirs - in the event their Thunderhawk was hit by AA fire, a distinct possibility especially for the first wave of a planetary assault, the second it took to undo the harness could mean the difference between life and death. It wasn't like an armor suit would help much if they had to bail at sub-orbital altitudes, travelling at speeds of several kilometres per second, but at lower altitudes, they would at least stand a chance of surviving, landing with the aid of their jetpacks, or in the old-fashioned way with parachutes if all else failed.

"Drop commencing! Stand by!" the ship's AI warned as the Thunderhawk's cargo bay door closed, shrouding the interior in darkness lit only by the dim red combat lighting as all power was routed to more critical systems. The ship shook slightly as the docking clamps began to move it inside the airlock. As the massive blast door behind closed, the ship was for a moment enveloped in complete darkness. The air outside began to hiss as it was vented from the airlock, the noise rapidly growing quieter until complete silence ensued, interrupted only by the steady hum of the Thunderhawk's fusion core, the occasional distant creaks and clanks from outside, conducted to the ship's interior through the metal of it's hull and the docking clamps, and the nervous, rapid breathing of the many troopers sitting quietly inside, audible outside even with their fully enclosed helmets on.

Then suddenly, the darkness was pierced by brilliant bluish-white light as the outer doors of the airlock were opened, revealing the planet about to be invaded below. Although only the pilots of the cockpit could see it, the sight was indeed breathtaking, seas, clouds and continents laid out before them a few hundred kilometers below, their ship racing over them at orbital speed. White trails of smoke and brilliant bluish streaks of light could be seen, rapidly rising towards the ship from the surface - the anti-ship missiles and plasma bolts fired by the human aerospace defenses. The density of incoming fire affirmed the predictions expressed in the briefing that this was going to be a tough fight.

"Drop commencing in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... " the ship AI that the crew had nicknamed Elena began the countdown. Some programming enthusiast had illicitly outfitted the AI with a holographic avatar of a well-endowed female with writhing snakes in place of hair, a pun on the ship's name. Although this had led to an internal investigation at first, the brass had soon relented without punishing anyone after finding out that the crew found this improvement rather pleasing compared to the AI's usual absence of physical presence.

"Launch!"

Next moment, zero gravity ensued inside the Thunderhawk as the docking clamps were released and the dropship left the mothership's artificial gravity plane, dropping out of it's bay in a free fall like a bomb. Troops who had not secured their harnesses held on tightly to keep themselves seated, especially after the ship's fusion engines kicked in. Acceleration wasn't much of an issue, since the Thunderhawk only needed engine power for maneuvering during the drop, planetary gravity doing the rest of the job.

---

Caliban was once an Imperial world, before the Age of War had torn the Old Imperium asunder. The surviving Sidhae had evacuated into uncharted space on what was now called the Second Pilgrimage by historians, while Caliban and countless other worlds had fallen prey to the greedy claws of the Federation of Mankind. Most of the old Sidh cities now laid in ruins, while others had long since been redesigned and repurposed by their new owners. Being an Earth-like world that required no terraforming or special habitat protection, Caliban was a precious holding to anyone who controlled it. The Federal government had until recently left the world largely untouched, selling it's continents off to various mega-corporations for use as they saw fit at a nominal price.

Obviously, that was going to change today. For the last few weeks, Sidh armadas had been assembling at staging areas in uncharted systems beyond the Terminus Line, the line at which the Federation's conquest of old Imperium had stopped and, for the last three centuries, also the border of human-explored space. Awaiting the "all-clear" signal from the hundreds of infiltrator teams infiltrated in the targeted human systems years ago to sabotage their primary defenses, these fleets had grown in strength by the hour, new and new ships arriving from all over the new Imperium and ferrying in tens of millions of troops to finally strike back at the age-old foe and exact terrible revenge for the human treachery 300 years ago.

When the jump signal had finally been given, Imperial fleets almost instantly emerged dozens of light-years away in close proximity to target worlds in over a dozen Federation systems. Navigation computers and star drives had evolved considerably since the Age of War, jumping in large formations close to the gravity well of a world no longer being an act of valor bordering on foolishness - where battlefleets once took days of sub-light travel to reach their targets after a jump, giving the defenders ample time to prepare, now an entire armada could jump straight into high orbit of a target world, taking mere minutes to reach low orbit and start pummeling the completely-unprepared defenders with orbital strikes as the first waves of the invasion force would begin to rain down from the sky.

Now the sky above Caliban darkened as hundreds of ships simultaneously unleashed their payloads, thousands of dropships and tens of thousands of drop pods blazing down from heavens, carrying troops, tanks, mechs, artillery and whatnot to visit destruction planetside. Dozens of massive mushroom clouds erupted on Caliban's surface, expanding shockwaves pushing aside clouds as orbital bombardment hit key installations around the world. Fire from planetary defense systems was scarce and erratic, the systems having been sabotaged by Sidh agents already weeks ago.

The fact that the humans never expected any kind of attack, let alone a Sidh attack, come from this direction of space didn't make things any easier for them. There were only a handful of warships in orbit, none bigger than a cruiser and most of them docked when the Sidh armada emerged, never even firing a shot before their destruction as most of their crews were planetside on shore leave. According to intelligence reports, in the centuries following the Sidh exodus from their former domains, generations of humans had grown up believing the Sidhae were either extinct or, at worst, gone for good to resettle somewhere far away in the Galaxy. Although sporadic encounters with Sidh ships and scouting parties were constantly reported, most dismissed these reports as tall tales by drunken spacers.

All this had made it so easy for Sidh operatives to infiltrate the ignorant and complacent human society this side of the galaxy. The humans felt safe here, in the former heart of the Imperium, believing their arch-enemy, the Skargh Empire, to be too far away to pose any threat, oblivious to the storm rising just a single jump's distance away from them. Now they were about to learn the error of such thinking the hard way.

---

"How are you holding up, rook?" a soldier by the name of Valerian spoke to Serena, who looked visibly distraught even with helmet concealing her face, "This your first drop?"

"Fifth, actually," she responded uneasily.

"Combat drop, I mean!" Valerian corrected himself.

"Yes, this one's my first..." Serena almost whispered, nervously looking at the ominous red glare shining in through the open door from the cockpit as the pilots re-adjusted the Thunderhawk's re-entry angle to make sure it didn't burn up in the atmosphere and was descending heat-shield first, the increasing friction with air particles enveloping the ship in a bright plasma shroud. The interior of the ship would become measurably warmer, the craft shaking violently in turbulence, the roar of the raging sheath of fire outside penetrating into the hull. The gravitational pull of the planet also became increasingly more sensible as the ship descended into Caliban's atmosphere.

"Don't worry, girl, but be proud - today we are making history! Imagine - we will be the first to fight in the first battle of the war that will restore the glory of the Imperium and avenge the human betrayal of the great Emperor, praised be His name! What greater glory can there be!?" Valerian declared enthusiastically.

"Uh... I'd just be content with making it to the ground alive first," Serena quietly said, somewhat ashamed of her fearfulness. A Sidh soldier was supposed to embrace death, to strive for it, for there was nothing more noble and glorious than giving one's life in service of the Imperium, like the great Emperor himself had done.

"Your armor doesn't seem to have any markings besides your legion's, unit's and specialty's. You one of those second-year rooks?" Valerian inquired.

"Yes, never got to complete my third," Serena said. Normally, a Sidh soldier would train for three years before being deemed fully qualified, three years also being the minimum service term required for full citizenship that entailed political rights. The invasion of the Federation was scheduled for mid-2550, but with the increased Sidh activity in preparation for it, the numbers of detections and reports of Sidh activity on the human side had also increased, attracting the increased attention of Federation authorities. Fearing the impending invasion would be discovered, the Empress had ordered the hastening of preparations and authorized the enlistment of second-year trainees for the coming war to fully staff the invasion force a year ahead of the plan.

"Well, then you are about to get a crash course in everything you'd learn in the third," Valerian apparently grinned even though his helmet covered his face, "Of course, provided we make it to the ground alive!"

A flash of light briefly illuminated the cargo bay through the cockpit door, and moments later, a thunderous blast shook the Thunderhawk violently.

"Oops, there goes another one! If they keep pounding those humans like that, all we'll have to do is clean up the mess!" Valerian remarked in a ham-handed attempt to cheer up Serena, "You're a TAC, right? You'll be the one who'll get all the fun calling in orbital strikes and whatnot if things get hot for us!"

"That's what I do," Serena said, "You probably heard the centurion say in the briefing how every decury will only get three fire missions of their choice on the first day. Our supporting ship, the Gorgon, does, after all, have to handle the fire support for an entire cohort."

At that moment, the ship was shaken by several blasts outside, and the noise of continuous more distant explosions penetrated into the cargo bay. The ship made several rapid maneuvers, apparently attempting to evade enemy fire.

"30 seconds to target! Standby to jump!" centurion Aurelius commanded from near the rear ramp. The soldiers unsecured their harnesses and quickly configured their tacticomps to navigation mode so that they wouldn't miss their designated landing zone, also checking that their weapons and equipment were secured firmly. This would be a HALO jump, the troops jumping from the dropship at high altitude and making best speed to the ground in free fall before rapidly braking with their jetpacks for a soft touchdown.

"Have you ever done a HALO jump in training, at least?" Valerian questioned Serena, standing in line before her.

"Obviously I have, or they wouldn't have let me on this mission," Serena was beginning to be annoyed by his continuous interrogation.

"Cut the chatter, you two!" their decurion Alaric interrupted them from the front.

"Sorry, dec, I was merely trying to encourage our new TAC," Valerian said, "I didn't..."

A horrendous explosion cut him short, violently tossing around everyone in the cargo bay as the metal hull literally ripped like paper and alarms began to whine, while air rushed out of the decompressed cargo bay with a deafening roar.

"We're hit! Hawk-Seven-Six, going down, going down! Mayday, mayday!" the pilot could be heard screaming in the radio.

"Everyone bail out! Now!" centurion Aurelius bellowed on the radio so that every man in his century could hear it despite the surrounding noise through the communicators in their helmets. He pulled the emergency ramp release lever that blew open the rear door and the ramp with explosive bolts, every soldier rushing for the door just as the doomed Thunderhawk began to disintegrate.

The noise outside was deafening even though the helmet's sonic processors automatically adjusted digital mufflers to maximum protection. The roar of hundreds of fusion engines, the sonic booms of hundreds of passing dropships and aerospace fighters, the thunder of anti-aircraft artillery missile explosions and the ominous howl of air raid sirens all made up for a hellish cacophony. Various anti-air projectiles were bursting into clouds of black smoke all around, spraying the approaching dropships with deadly shrapnel. From the way their Thunderhawk was literally cut in half, Serena deduced it had been hit by a continuous-rod warhead, a simple yet effective type that explosively formed an expanding ring of joined metal rods near the target aerospace craft, easily capable of cutting it in two.

The HUD in her helmet visor indicated the integrity of her armor and jetpack wasn't compromised, the altimeter showing an altitude of 4000 metres and rapidly dropping. By the decrease rate in altitude and distance to the target, Serena estimated she was free-falling at roughly 250 kilometres per hour, terminal velocity. She spread her arms and legs to stabilize her flight as instructed during the airborne insertion exercises, making sure she was facing the designated drop zone on a skybridge between two arcology towers, one of which she had just passed. She saw another Thunderhawk take a direct hit from a missile, the blast shearing off one of it's stubby wings that served to support gravplates. Sleek and gracious as they were, the Thunderhawk-class aerospace craft weren't meant to stay airborne through aerodynamic lift, instead using grav power for take-off, landing and intra-atmospheric maneuver. The doomed dropship careened to one side and down, soldiers inside desperately attempting to bail through the rear ramp before the craft impacted on the arcology, exploding in a massive ball of fire, debris and smoke, fewer than two dozen soldiers of an entire century of 120 having bailed before it did.

"Warning! Exceeding recommended approach velocity! Reduce airspeed immediately!" her tacticomp warned. A properly trained Sidh could survive a 50-metre-fall in powered armor with no injury or damage if landing on feet, but certainly not a 2-kilometer fall. Serena pulled her legs close to her, adjusting her center of gravity so that her body turned towards the ground feet-first, and gave the command to activate jets just as the altimeter hit the 300-metre mark. The jetpack on her back roared to life, her stomach going to her feet instantly by the feel of it as the g-force of the rapid deceleration hit her.

Then suddenly she was struck by a violent blast, the shockwave wrenching her guts as it passed through her body, an alarm beginning to beep as the helmet's HUD now displayed a warning about jetpack integrity being compromised. An AA shell apparently had bursted nearby, some of the shrapnel having ruptured the fuel tanks or some other critical sub-systems. The ground was approaching rapidly, and Serena realized that the key to surviving this ordeal was not to panic. Quickly she reached for the lever on her right side that would detach the jetpack from her armor, feeling considerably relieved as it separated from her back, and pulled the ripcord for the emergency parachute a second later, hoping it wouldn't be shredded by shrapnel like the jetpack. With relief, she felt the pull of deceleration as it deployed mere 100 metres above the skybridge, gently gliding her down.

Eager to get on solid ground, Serena pulled the lever on the left side that detached the parachute when still some 10 metres off the ground, dropping to the ground and rolling to stop completely. The altimeter showed 2100 metres above planetary surface level, the altitude of the skybridge, her location being around 150 metres from the designated drop point.

---

As Serena grabbed her energy rifle, detaching it from it's magnetic charging slot on the back of her armor, next to the power pack, she gazed around and saw how the human populace of Caliban had been taken by complete surprise. The skybridge was still very much crowded with abandoned cars, civilians running here and there aimlessly in panic. A skytrain line that ran along the skybridge was severed by another downed dropship just as a speeding train approached. Serena used the zoom function of her visor, zooming in on the train as it derailed and saw the passengers inside, eyes wide and screaming in horror as they fell to their deaths over a mile below, trapped in the cars of the skytrain. A brilliant flash in the distance behind the skyline of surrounding towers, spires and arcologies caught her attention and moments later she saw a mushroom cloud rise high above the city structures. Another orbital strike, she thought.

"Kappa-Six-Seven, this is decurion Alaric! Sitrep!" her communicator buzzed, returning her to reality.

"TAC Romana, reporting in, status green," Serena replied first, using her nomen as was proper for formal responses.

"Engineer Corax, reporting in, status green," she recognized Valerian's voice and wondered how she had never caught his nomen earlier, given how it was written on every soldier's armor.

Several other of her decury-mates reported in, none of whom she knew on first-name basis, being the FNG of the unit, totalling 8 out of twelve. Two more reported in seriously injured, and two were apparently missing.

Serena made her way to the drop point, shoving aside any of the panicked human civilians that got in her way. Personally she felt no particular hatred for them, and they posed no danger to her, so Serena felt no compulsion to kill them. Same couldn't be said about other Sidhae that were deploying on the skybridge, either by hot-drop like she had, or the old-fashioned way by jumping out of a hovering dropship. Many of them were shooting at the humans indiscriminately, the fierce, crackling energy beams ripping them to smouldering shreds. A Thunderhawk Heavy transport descended over the skybridge, almost slowing to a halt as it dropped two externally-carried Battlemaster tanks that crushed the abandoned cars beneath them like tin cans, the nanotech heat shield plates mounted under their tracks to keep them from burning up during the ship's re-entry crumbling into inert dust.

"How many of our guys made it?" Serena asked decurion Alaric as she arrived at the rally point.

"Fewer than a half. For a complete surprise, those humans are surely putting up a good fight," the decurion said, busy checking something in his tacticomp, "Centurion Aurelius is alive and well, busy mustering the rest of of what's left of our century."

"So we're hitting that arcology complex today?" Serena asked, pointing at a huge pyramidal structure a few clicks ahead, towering like a mountain well above most surrounding spires, it's peak shrouded in clouds.

"That's right, and if the humans in there are as prepared as they are here, we're in for one hell of a fight," Alaric said grimly.

"Why not just blast it from orbit?" Serena asked, slightly jumping as the sudden sonic boom of a flight of Shtriga bombers soaring overhead startled her.

"Because half of the city is built on the same foundation as that complex. If that complex goes down, so does everything within 5 clicks of it. Besides, the brass seems to want it intact, or at least relatively intact," Alaric explained, "There are food production facilities and factories inside that could be put to good use..."

His words were interrupted by a terrible bang and the sound of twisting metal as a Battlemaster tank crashed into the pavement violently just a dozen metres away, crushing several soldiers unfortunate to stand there. Apparently, a Thunderhawk heavy transport had been shot out of the sky somewhere nearby, scattering it's cargo of two main battle tanks as it broke up in mid-air. Several armored bodies impacted the pavement nearby as well, flattening like tin cans from the impact, blood gouting out of every gap and crack. Medics rushed to their aid, but to no avail. Serena looked away, trying to surpress nausea. Yet unaccustomed to the horrors of war, she couldn't quite yet bear the sight of the mangled bodies of fellow Sidhae falling out of thin air.

"Move out!" centurion Aurelius's voice on the comm ordered, "Let's not stick around and wait until something bigger decides to drop here!"

Serena gave one last glance at the compressed, twisted, smoldering hull of the unfortunate tank that had buried itself into the pavement almost to the turret and moved on.

---

"I never quite asked you back on the dropship," Valerian spoke to Serena as they walked amidst the scores of abandoned cars next to one of the tanks deployed to their support, "How long are you awake?"

"Four years," Serena said, giving a wary look to the sky to make sure nothing was about to drop on their heads. It was already bad enough as it was, wreckage, whole vehicles and bodies raining from the sky all across the city.

Like all Sidhae, Valerian and Serena were cyborgs. Genetically-engineered, grown in vats to adult size, cyber-augmented in the process and neuro-coded with all the necessary life skills and knowledge that a 20-year-old human adult would possess. Hence, Sidhae had no birth dates like humans, but awakening dates, the dates they were awakened from the dream-like state that incomplete Sidhae were kept in while their bodies were grown and augmented, and their minds pre-programmed with the necessary knowledge.

This artificial nature was part of why there existed such an age-old enmity between their kind and the rest of humanity. The ancestors of Sidhae had sought to improve themselves, evolve the entire Mankind to ensure it's survival in a galaxy full of unspeakable alien horrors, yet the rest of Mankind had rejected and cast them out. Although embittered, the first Sidhae had still considered themselves part of Mankind, tried to act as it's stewards and protectors, only to be betrayed by humans yet again. This betrayal, where the humans had in their greed and envy sided with aliens rather than their Sidh brothers, had been the cause of the Age of War, and a breaking point that prompted Sidhae to denounce their humanity altogether and swear eternal enmity on Mankind.

"What did you do before enlisting?" Valerian asked.

"Various menial jobs I was assigned to by the authorities," Serena replied, "Pretty much the same things that all young Sidhae with no special talents do for their first years until they find their thing. I used to look upon soldiers as gods, so brave and dauntless, so dedicated to the service of our glorious nation and the exalted Empress. When it was told on the news that the military was preparing to retake the old Imperium and any volunteer would be highly appreciated, I signed up. Although being a soldier isn't quite as I had imagined it, I am still proud to do my part."

"Doing your part? You enlisted because of that ad?!" Valerian laughed, referring to "Doing your part", a popular propaganda advertisement regularly shown on public viewscreens throughout the Imperium.

"It was a certain influence..." Serena admitted, her helmet concealing the blush on her cheeks.

As they were walking and conversing, several Sidhae walking ahead of them had taken to dispatching of wounded human civilians crawling and moaning here and there between the cars that littered the skybridge, using a quick jab of energy bayonet or a handblaster shot to the head. Some of them had been wounded by shrapnel and debris falling from the sky, others had been injured in car collisions and pile-ups as the panicked drivers had initially attempted to drive to safety, yet others had been trampled by the fleeing crowd of panicked people as the roads would become clogged and unusuable by vehicles. Serena felt these acts of killing were merciful - it was a quick death, much preferable to the slow agony that surely awaited them now when most medical facilities in the city were either destroyed or overwhelmed by injured patients, and Sidh invaders had neither the means nor the interest to treat them.

Combat in the skies had lulled somewhat, most surviving dropships of the first wave having returned to the fleet in orbit for new cargo, the sky now being dominated by aerospace fighters, bombers and gunships running fire missions on request across the city. Granted, the air raid sirens were still howling, skies were still filled with tracers and streaks of missile exhaust, and the occasional mushroom cloud erupted in the distance, joining over a dozen others already looming around the city, black and ominous, but overall, there seemed to be a lot less aerospace craft in the air than minutes before. No human fighters were to be seen, apparently having been destroyed in their hangars and airfields by orbital strikes in the opening minutes of the invasion. Total aerospace superiority was a good thing, this much Serena knew - it meant they would only have to worry about enemy artillery, and even that would be a rather temporary problem, Sidh fighters and bombers quickly taking out any hostile artillery platforms. Not to mention that artillery would be next to useless in such a densely built-up area.

Her train of thought was interrupted by the soldier walking ahead of her, whose helmet suddenly split open like a tin can and exploded, richly spraying Serena with blood and brain matter.

"Sniper! Get down!" decurion Alaric bellowed, Sidh troops already rushing to the nearest cover without command, when a hail of gunfire rained down upon the Sidh column. Most rounds did no damage besides mild concussion, harmlessly impacting on the Sidh armor, but more than a few found their way through in weak spots of the armor. Given the number of misses, the enemy apparently was either too far away, or too numerous to bother aiming, but the sheer volume of fire indicated the attackers were facing at least a company-strength force, several bullets grazing Serena's armor as she dodged for cover behind the tank.

"Multiple contacts at 11'o'clock, in the arcology spire! Enemy armor at 12'o'clock, on the skybridge!" spotters called in visible contacts, marking them as they spoke, the networked tacticomps of every Sidh soldier and vehicle instantly updating the tactical map and marking the hostiles on the HUDs for easy detection.

Next moment, the main gun of the tank Serena was covering behind thundered, the blast shattering the windows of the surrounding cars. Something exploded in the distance, and moments later, an enemy projectile impacted just next to the tank, ripping to shreds and throwing high in the air a car. This Battlemaster was outfitted with a rather old-fashioned chemical propellant gun. Although more modern substitutes such as electromagnetic guns and various energy weapons existed, the age-old chemical-propelled pieces still had their uses - no other type of tank gun could fire such a diversity of munitions, electromagnetic weapons being limited to solid armor-piercing metal slugs and energy weapons to their respective variable power outputs. Traditional smoothbore pieces like this one could, however, shoot just about anything from high-explosive shells to artillery-deployed landmines to surveillance drones and even guided AT missiles, pretty much anything that could fit through the barrel.

"Stay clear of the tanks and move aside!" came the order from centurion Aurelius, "Metal-Seven-Six-Alpha, what is your status?!"

"Status green, targeting three hostiles, two Hoplites and a light walker!" a voice on the comm apparently belonging to the commander of the lead tank reported

"Have Metal-Beta move up next to you and hit the walker first!"

"Roger that, targeting the walker!"

The tank's main gun thundered again while it's companion from the rear began to approach, crushing vehicles and bodies beneath it's treads. Serena again looked away in disgust as the Battlemaster drove over the corpse of an obese middle-aged man, spreading his innards and body fluids across the pavement in a gruesome pattern.

A bullet impact on the tank hull just inches from her head returned her to the reality of combat, reminding her that there were opponents to deal with nearby. She promptly took cover behind the tank and carefully aimed at the distant arcology tower from cover, zooming in her view to examine the targets closer. There were at least 50 of them, distributed over several dozen floors. Judging by their uniforms which weren't the standard issue of Federation military, these troops were apparently corporate security forces - Serena remembered them being mentioned as the likeliest opposition in the briefing. Caliban was occupied by several rivaling mega-corporations which, according to Sidh intel, often resorted to sabotage and even open attacks and air raids on each other's industrial facilities, the weak presence of the Federal government and law enforcement on this remote world making the corporations a law unto themselves. Other opponents were armed civilians, shooting with whatever they had in defense of their homes.

Serena zoomed her view in to maximum and took a careful aim at a security trooper manning an autogun. She had never killed anyone before and hesitated for a moment, but the incessant conditioning about humans as the enemy for all her conscious life made pulling the trigger easier. Firing in almost perfectly-straight line, the Mk.V energy rifle was as accurate and deadly 500 metres away as it was 50 metres away, striking true to Serena's aim. As the man's upper torso exploded in a mist of boiling blood and gore, sending his left arm flying in one direction and his head and right shoulder in the other, Serena felt no more guilt than over slaughtering a chicken. The time for persuasion and leading by example was long past - presently, humans existed only to be converted, or eradicated if they refused.

A violent kick to her shoulder knocked her down. The tank had fired it's gun again, the recoil pushing it backwards a bit, Serena having leaned all her weight on it's hull. An enemy shell grazed the turret of the other tank that had made it's way next to the lead Battlemaster and was now firing at the mech. She jumped up and continued to return fire. The two other tanks riding behind opened fire on the building ahead, explosions of their shells enveloping several stories in clouds of dust. Then suddenly, out of these dust clouds spiralled out the exhaust streak of a missile, speeding towards the tank designated Metal-Seven-Six-Beta. While Sidh tanks did have active defense systems, these tankers had apparently forgotten to switch them on, not expecting corporate security to pack anything beyond small arms, even though the two tanks and a mech on the far end of the skybridge attested the contrary. This mistake consequently cost them their life as the missile graciously twisted upward in a spiral motion and then slammed down right on top of the tank where it's armor was the thinnest. Serena barely managed to dodge the explosion behind Metal-Alpha. Peeking over the hull, she saw Metal-Beta engulfed in flames, everyone inside apparently dead. Then, loud bangs and crackling began inside the burning tank, jets of sparks shooting out of every opening and seam as the ammunition store began to cook off before a thunderous explosion blew off it's turret, throwing it good five stories high from where it crashed down back on the skybridge, almost crushing several Sidhae covering behind a car who barely managed to dodge it.

"They have ATs! Century, push forward at all costs!" centurion Aurelius bellowed over the comm, "Infantry, use tanks for cover!" Metal-Alpha and it's two surviving companions began to roll forward, more missiles coming in from the tower and exploding dangerously close, spraying the armored Sidh troops around with shrapnel that in most cases was too small to cause any significant damage.

"Romana, see if you can get us some air support on that armor over there!" decurion Alaric ordered, gesturing in the direction of enemy armor from which sporadic fire came, mostly missing or scoring glancing blows on the Sidh tanks since their view was obstructed by the many wrecked vehicles including large two-story busses and container trucks.

"Affirmative," Serena said, switching her comm to the appropriate frequency, "Gorgon actual, this is Kappa-Seven-Six, requesting air support, grid coordinates 70-57-83-20, anti-armor ordnance!"

"Kappa-Seven-Six, this is Gorgon actual, no dedicated anti-armor support available right now, redirecting a Thunderhawk gunship to your location , designated Warbird-Zero-Nine-Echo, ETA 60 seconds, recommend marking the target with smoke!"

"Somebody put some smoke on those tanks!" Serena shouted.

Valerian who happened to be closest to her nodded, pulling out a smoke grenade from his tactical vest and loaded it in the grenade launcher of his energy rifle. After briefly estimating the trajectory, he let it loose, and the projectile left the launcher with a loud thump, arcing over the obstacles towards the enemy.

In the meantime, another missile struck one of the tanks behind, disabling it. The crew hastily abandoned the vehicle before the human AT troops decided to finish it off.

"We're down to two tanks, centurion!" the voice of Metal-Alpha commander reported, "We can't keep pushing on much longer!"

"Keep pushing, by Emperor's blood! Gunship is on it's way!" centurion Aurelius bellowed. Serena could see him a few dozen paces ahead, leading the advance, nimbly navigating between the abandoned cars and fiercely firing back at the enemies in the tower even as troops around him fell from sniper fire. Then, a missile impacted one of the overhead supercrete support struts that held the skybridge up, breaking off a large slab that fell to the ground, crushing a bus below like a tin can and blocking the road. The slab itself wasn't anything a tank couldn't drive over, but it had just destroyed the bus that had so far covered the Sidh advance from direct sight of the armor holding the far end of the bridge. Now both tanks and the mechwalker opened fire, their guns and autocannons cutting into Sidh ranks with deadly effect, ripping men apart with ease and sending chunks of powered armor and body parts flying in all directions. Emboldened by the sudden involvement of their armored units, the defenders of the tower redoubled their efforts, laying down even more devastating suppressive fire that halted the Sidh advance in it's tracks. Worse, the human tankers and the mech pilot had noticed the cloud of green smoke forming around them from Valerian's grenade and suspected that air support was on it's way, and began to fall back closer to the tower, where missile-equipped troops could better cover them from air.

The familiar roar of Thunderhawk engines was greeted with jubilant cheers as the ship veered to the right and began it's circular orbit around the target, pummeling it with it's heavy on-board weaponry. Streams of tracer rounds, kinetic projectiles and bolts of plasma impacted around the armored vehicles, kicking up clouds of fire and dust. Several missiles streaked towards the gunship from the tower as it launched decoy flares that spread out in the air in a pattern reminiscent of fiery angel wings. Most missed wide, but one exploded nearby, damaging one of the ship's engines much to the dismay of Sidhae on the skybridge, who had hoped to further use it to pacify the tower defenders after dispatching of the armor.

"Warbird-Zero-Nine-Echo to Kappa-Seven-Six, we've lost an engine! Sorry, but we can't stick around to help any longer!" the pilot of the gunship announced, guiding his craft to safety.

Serena took cover behind the fallen concrete slab along with several other troops. The loss of gunship support really represented a problem.

---


Presently on the skybridge


Valerian watched the rookie TAC open her eyes. She had silky, light ash-brown hair and an attractive face that featured a strong jaw and fairly thin lips. Her eyes turned out to be of steely bluish-grey colour, having that eerie, unnatural shine like all of her kind, implanted circuits visible in her irises.

"How are you feeling, lass?" Valerian asked.

"Like morning after shore leave..." Serena groaned. Her head hurt like mauled with a hammer from the inside.

"The doc says you only have a mild concussion," Valerian gestured towards the nearby medic who was tending other wounded, "Set your armor's auto-injector to shoot some painkiller in you, and you should be alright in a moment."

Serena tapped a few keys on her tacticomp and fealt the familiar sting in her lower right arm as the auto-injector needle entered the implanted injection port and released it's contents into her bloodstream. The headache gradually receded. She looked in the direction of the tower that Gorgon's kinetic strike had destroyed upon her call. The whole building was ablaze and falling apart, a massive pillar of black smoke rising from it towards the darkened, ominously red sky illuminated in such manner by the countless fires raging in the embattled city. Massive blocks of concrete were breaking off from the tower and falling to the ground, and among other falling things, Serena noticed multiple small, fiery objects that seemed to move on their own among the falling debris. Out of curiousity she put her helmet back on and zoomed in.

The small, wriggling fires turned out to be burning people, flailing in agony as they jumped to their deaths, hoping to end their pain quickly. Given the height of the building, it was dubious, though - two kilometres of fall and high winds to further fuel the fire wouldn't make much difference for them. There were many more people, mostly civilians, who weren't on fire, but who also leapt to their deaths from the burning crumbling building. Serena watched almost entranced as she saw a teary-eyed young mother kiss her baby for one last time before holding it close and leaping from the crumbling building just as flames were creeping closer from behind. She could have turned on the helmet's parabolic microphone to hear everything that transpired in the place she was looking at, but felt no desire to do so for obvious reasons. Serena had seen people burn alive before, during an accident in training when a faulty white phosphorus grenade accidentally went off in the hands of a recruit surrounded by several others. Their screams still haunted her, and she had no desire to hear such screams again, even though she was largely indifferent to human suffering.

"Nasty way to go," Valerian agreed, having guessed what Serena was looking at and probably looking at the same horrid spectacle himself, "But this is just the first hour of the war, I imagine we'll be seeing far worse things soon enough."

The ground began to shake as the structure of the destroyed arcology tower finally gave way and the massive building collapsed, thundering towards the ground in a massive cloud of dust. The skybridge was visibly shaking from the vibration, and Serena was for a moment concerned the upper part of the building could fall on the skybridge with disastrous consequences.

"Alright, everybody!" the voice of centurion Aurelius rallied everyone to their feet, "Get ready to move out, we still have a long way to go! I want scouts 200 paces ahead scanning every building for potential resistence.

Serena pushed herself to her feet and checked time. It was just past 1400 hours.

"This has been the longest hour of my life..." she said to herself quietly.

Fivetide
September 10th, 2014, 04:55 PM
Hi cyberwar, I don't really have time to read the entire story so I will just make comments on the first few paragraphs. If you were a 40 K fan everything you've wrote would be instantly recognisable but if you're not, your painting your story on a white canvas. There's no sense of where you are or who these people are either. I suppose what I'm trying to say from my point of view as a reader is there is no backdrop to the story. I can't relate to the characters because I don't know what they look like, giant genetically modified warrior's clad in battle armour or are they standard humans or even aliens?Don't get me wrong your mastery of the Marshall tale and depiction of violent warfare is very good but recounting a battle has to have a deep underlying atmosphere presented for the user to empathise with the characters and their immediate situation. Hope this helps disregard if you see it as just my personal take on battle scenes lol :)

Also I would just like to add, in my eperience throwing in 5000 or 10000 words or a whole chapter to review tends to put people off reading it. In most cases a critique is easier if you limited it to a short story say about 500 or 600 words. The reason I'm saying this is because if you work on compressing your writing abilities into a smaller parcel then it's easier for people to get an overall idea of your strengths and weaknesses without having to spend ages going through the work and trying to comment on individual things. If its short and takes five minutes to read the chances are someone will take the time to reply with a comment that is helpful.

CyberWar
September 11th, 2014, 12:17 AM
This isn't actually a 40k story (don't let my avatar fool you ;) ), but one set in a universe of my own creation, one that I started working on before I was even familiar with the 40k. Evidently, there are quite a few shared sci-fi tropes like galactic empires, cyborg supersoldiers and so on.

I prefer to reveal the details of the fictional world to the reader gradually, over the course of the story, which you unfortunately didn't have time to read in full length. I do agree that making it shorter or breaking it down into smaller bits would have been a better strategy, since such long pieces do tend to dissuade readers as you promptly pointed out.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback.