“That’s your cue Thorn, go!” Jefferson ordered.
Jack began to sprint towards the smoke and into the unknown.
His boots trudged across the soft spongy terrain, closer and closer toward the unknown of a clearing mist. Should the extraction gas have cleared that quickly? There were a thousand tension filled questions going around his head as he moved higher and higher up the hill. He briefly halted to adjust the clunky pack full of explosives and make good of the grip he had of the auto rifle. How many rounds had he left? Were there enough to take any straggling robots down?
“Ok Thorn, the gas should have disabled most of the robot rebels in the area,” Jefferson said in his ear.
“You fill me with confidence Jefferson.”
“When you reach the target, you will see plenty of rocks surrounding. A perfect place for any stragglers to hide.”
“I take it you’re not in sales Jefferson, but I see it. Five big ass trucks with even bigger ass guns pointed our way. No wonder our dropship got taken out by these bastards,” Jack said. He began the downhill decent.
A sweat began to emerge from under his battle helmet the moment he looked out to the grey sleeping guns. The truck’s mammoth wheels were stationary in the mud along with masses of blue uniforms laid out, completely still.
“I’ve got company,” he said. Jack’s eyes tensely scanned right and left. Nothing but rocks around.
“Any movement with that company?”
“Not yet. I’m heading to the first target.”
He moved with an anxious silence towards the first larger than life vehicle. After placing the rucksack down he pulled out an explosive charge. With a gentle twist the red light glowed to life.
“First charge armed. Do I place this thing anywhere near the gun or what?”
“Close enough to take it down Thorn.”
“Okay Captain vague.”
Jack looked up at the large cannon and tossed the charge. It spun in the air before disappearing into the mouth of the wide barrel. Metal clanged all the way down inside echoing louder in the tense silence. The robots were still laid out, so he hadn’t disturbed anything, yet.
“Moving to second target.”
He grasped the rucksack and faced the next placement.
The gun was aimed vertically so getting the charge inside would be a near impossible task. A nearby ammunition crate would have to do. Jack twisted the charge and glanced up to see the barrel of a handgun. Connected to it was a female robot, sat against another crate, her glassy artificial eyes were open, and they blinked.
After a flash, somehow Jack swerved out the way and behind cover.
“What’s happening Thorn? We heard gunfire,” Jefferson asked in his ear.
“Company,” Jack said.
Dragging footsteps came his way.
He dropped the rucksack and aimed his auto rifle forward.
“Behind you,” a voice whispered.
Before Thorn could react, he was smacked over the back of the head. He stumbled out into the open. There were two robots now and they both moved closer. The situation looked to dissolve when the woman robot began to move her handgun up towards Jack’s head. Another much taller robot closed in with two arms spread wide.
Again time slowed and Jack dropped to the floor. The handgun aimed his way fired multiple times. In between those lightning quick shots, Jack lunged up and drove his rifle into the tall enemy, he then grabbed and pulled. Using the robot to shield the line of fire he charged.
The shooter screwed her face in disgust and Jack threw the lifeless shield of a robot down, he skilfully turned with the auto rifle aimed up. His index finger squeezed trigger and the auto rifle he held blew out the woman robot’s head. Black sprayed across the artillery vehicle and she fell to the soggy ground.
“What’s happening Thorn?”
“Nothing, just placing the second charge,” Thorn said. He dropped the explosive charge next to the woman.
“Time is of the essence now Thorn. More robots will begin to stir,” Jefferson said.
“Well you guys could have just called in an airstrike instead of having me play the hero,” Thorn protested.
“You know it doesn’t work that way Thorn. Airstrike’s don’t guarantee,” the stern voice of Garcia said.
Jack reached the third target. He stepped up to the driver’s cab door and opened it. He sat the charge comfortably in the lap of the lifeless driver.
“Third one down. Two to go.”
He stepped out in between the trucks and scanned the area to his left. A drop of sweat fell from his eyebrow and something seemed to move in the background. Above a line of sandbags stood another robot with a scoped rifle aimed forward.
A loud cracking echoed between the two vehicles. Jack dropped and flinched in expectation of the worse.
In his ear came the voice of Steve Franco, “as I said I can’t always follow you into all types of shit, but I can get you out of the shit. Got your back man.”
“Glad someone has.” Jack said realising his best friend had taken out the threat and so he placed the next charge.
He moved to the final placement just when the sea of robot bodies on the ground began to stir. Quite soon they would come to life.
“Ah hell no,” Jack said. He pulled out the final charge and armed it. The empty bag dropped, and he threw the charge towards his target landing short of the vehicle’s bumper.
“I’m calling it. That’s the final charge and I’m out,” Jack shouted. He span to run just when a grip took hold of his leg. Down he went with a half groggy robot pulling and climbing all over him. He tried to pull the auto rifle up and aim but it got tangled.
“Thorn, you need to move…”
“I’m trying…” He rolled over still with the robot clung to both legs. The grip squeezed tighter and tighter. Again, he tried to aim the rifle which wouldn’t budge from under his own leg armour.
In one final yank Jack pulled the gun free and used one arm to aim straight into the face of his tormentor. He looked away at the last moment and pulled the trigger. Black liquid exploded all around and the robot’s death grip loosened.
He glanced up towards the hill and untangled himself while getting to both feet. Now he was running. Franco and Connolly came into view. They both took aim to his alarm. The top of the hill seemed further and further away but on bwards he trudged. His fellow soldiers both fired until a barrage of enemy bullets replied. Thorn’s legs burned not only from the up and down of hills but because of the tension.
Connolly and then Franco cowered away when Jack near enough reached the top. A booming rush of heat knocked him forward and off his feet. He glided over the top of the hill to see thick smoke rising nearby.
Was that it?
He rolled and in turn stumbled up to see a wide array of robots very much awake and charging his way. The artillery still stood as Thorn realised one of the robots held a smoking rocket launcher type weapon. Another of those and he would be gone.
“Detonate the damn charges now!” He shouted over the ringing in both ears.
Just when he flopped back to the mud a thundering and burning vibration blew outwards. The huge shock wave launched him back and the hill collapsed into a crater. Jack became enveloped in the deathly impact but he kept rolling along soft spongy mud away from harm, somehow. For a brief time smoke and dust took away all light.
After the initial thickness of dust passed, Thorn gently raised his head out of the mud and glanced back to see a huge cloud steadily settling. Judging by the size and force of it, nothing would survive such a blast not even the gun placements. He dropped his head down again.
Further back his adopted regiment audience looked up in awe. The thick smoky cloud filled their view. Jack could only look at the brown ground and try to gather himself.
“Not bad soldier!” Connolly shouted. He closed in with Franco as Thorn’s hearing returned.
“Go me,” he said half-heartedly and got up to his knees.
Franco gripped his arm and helped him to and that was when a gust of powerful wind hit them. The whoosh of jet engines accompanied bright lights which appeared from the clouds. Numerous aircraft were landing nearby.
“That says S.E.S on the side of that dropship, what’s going on man? I thought this was an Army of Earth war?” Franco asked loudly. Wind blew at them from the nearby arrivals.
“Guess they called in the big guns,” Jack said.
They all watched the first dropship open.
“Looks like S.E.S mercs’, these guys don’t mess around,” Connolly growled over the engines.
“Do we salute or what?” Jack asked. He watched the first figure stepping onto the ground.
The mercenary quick marched towards them. Dressed in pristine airtight bio-suit armour, the darkened visor helmet of this ‘merc’ stared at them. His stern voice came from the suits audio output.
“I understand you three were involved in that situation over the hill?” He asked and then waved over another mercenary.
“It was mainly him, sir,” Franco said.
Jack stepped up and readied to argue with somebody way more senior than him. He could see the decoration of honours and six stars that stretched across this ‘merc’s’ chest.
“Good work son.” He extended a gloved hand. For a moment Jack stared at it and then gripped it with a shake.
“The Secret Earth Services acknowledges the contribution you have made towards the war effort here on planet X43. Lieutenant? See that these three soldiers are presented with a gold star of honour for their efforts. Soldiers, may the war bring you glory and fortune.”
The senior figure brought a fist to his own chest before moving forward. In his place stood the lieutenant with stars ready to pin.
Jack lifted his chest shroud and the other two followed.
“The Secret Earth Services honours your contribution,” the lieutenant repeated to each of them and then saluted.
“What happens now?” Connolly asked. They watched as their award giver headed away. More and more of them began to emerge from dropships.
“Looks like they are finally taking this war seriously,” Major Garcia said and approached the three.
“And looks like you made an impression Thorn. That’s a name I used to know very well. Perhaps I’ll tell you a story about that someday. Consider yourselves officially recruited by the Army of Earth’s second gunnery division.” The Major said with a firm nod and a salute to her three new recruits.
* * *
In the expansive basement turned command centre for the robot rebellion stood their leader simply known as the First. Where that namesake originated is a legend itself shrouded by mystery. Some whispered that his name spawned from a time all the way back to the very first robot produced. Others debated he had just been the first to rise and lead his kind to revolt. Some even say his story is much simpler. That being one of a robot aligned with helping humanity and then that same humanity burning him into choosing rebellion. Years had passed since the last robot left a production line, so the story could be whatever he told. The First leant into those legends and used the mystery of it to rule with fear.
This brought him all the way to his army’s current stronghold of the commandeered science installation. The then sole occupying building of planet X43, until he led an uprising right to its front doors. The people living here didn’t stand a chance against the battle-ready hardened fighters.
Many of his comrades had to be rebooted or even modified due to the circumstances in which forced them to rebel. They carried a rag tag tribal look, even if the plain dark uniform gave an impression of order; faces and eyes that have seen a war torn past never lie. That included their leader. The First dressed in all black with an admiral style leather jacket buttoned up to the neck. His oriental facial features were accompanied by several inconsistent patches of different shaded skin colour. A tactically arranged fringe covered more blemishes of perhaps a face repaired multiple times or just the scars of warfare.
The First would stand with a partial stoop and sometimes limped ever so slightly. His oddly coloured eyes looked up to a large central holographic display in the half torn-up open plan storage area. The image crackled and pixelated. Surrounding him were scores of workstations staffed by robot commanders. This was the First’s battle control nerve centre.
“The Secretary wishes to speak with you First,” a nearby commander said from behind a terminal.
“Very well, patch him through or make the call or whatever. In the meantime, I would like you to summon Robot-K,” the First ordered. His accent, eloquent British.
“Robot-K?” The commander woman asked. She froze momentarily and then hesitantly stood.
“Yes, very well First.” She turned and headed away.
The high level holographic display crackled and pixelated into the image of an older looking robot. Coming into view, his uniform matched others like the First’s comrades apart from the various stripes and badges to show seniority.
“Secretary, how are the depths of space treating you?” The First asked.
This Secretary and his stare remained stern.
“Production is going well First,” he said in a thick eastern European accent.
“Do you require me to send more units to the front line?” he asked.
“No, that’s quite alright secretary. The war is going rather well considering our original intentions.”
“Yes First. Although we intercepted a report from the Army of Earth stating they had made considerable progress. This also included details of artillery vehicles which are reported to have been destroyed. Our vehicles. Are you aware of such losses?” The Secretary asked.
“Losses? If my commanders are well informed, then I should be.” The First spun and looked to the various work stations.
“Would anybody enlighten me on such things?” He asked out loud but received not even a stare.
“Come on ‘comrades’, do you know how this makes me look?”
“It happened this morning First. Shall we go ahead with the next phase?” The Secretary asked as the First approached a nearby work station.
“Yes. Send me the Shiftmasters Secretary. You might as well prepare the airborne attack also,” the First said. His attention now elsewhere.
“I understand we were keeping our airborne reserved for the invasion.”
“Well I changed my mind. End transmission,” the First added with a careless wave.
The holographic display turned blank and he faced the make shift command centre.
“There are numerous ways we can do this. Some are easy and others are of the difficult persuasion. Will any of you humour me with some information?” He asked loudly. Only a few robots looked up.
“Do I not strike fear into your eyes like I used to?” He grabbed the nearest robot and pulled him up.
Everyone in the room looked up to their leader but they seemed to stare through him.
From behind, the First could hear a muffled breathing. Something else stood present, something which everything looked to with a level above fear. This included the nearby robot who with wide eyes staring past the First’s head.
“He’s behind me, isn’t he?” The First asked.
The robot nodded. He was released and nervously sat down.
“Robot-K. Glad you could join me.” The First turned to see the tall presence facing him.
Draped in all black apart from the darkened red hood stood Robot-K. The hood angled down towards his leader.
“Why is it they fear you more than me?” The First asked.
“The unknown can be a powerful entity,” the muffled growly voice of Robot-K said.
“Fear fuels the unknown,” he added and they both began to walk away from the scene…