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  Vantage 04

by Bertrand

 

Prologue

Ziin Federation
Provincial Border Sector 4-A
City of Playnns Crossing

Having the city evacuated was easy and routine enough—after all, this wasn’t the first time the city had received a bombardment from Zaeo Corps artillery pieces twenty miles east of the city, hidden behind the valleys and hills—impossible to hit using the city defenses. The only thing that stopped the artillery was when Zaeo Mech forces began advancing upon the city itself.

Lieutenant Lyrim Grimsdot of the Ziin Federation Defense Force maneuvered his Kaza-Gun Mech towards the exit blast doors, followed by Corporal Mandrake Higgins in his own Kaza-Gun.

The Kaza-Gun was a humanoid bi-pedal war machine, ten meters tall, heavily armored and capable of being equipped with a wide variety of weapons; its articulated hands made it capable of picking up and using anything as a weapon if necessary, a great improvement from the previous models that used arm-mounted weapon pods. The enemy, the Zaeo Corporation, had their own bi-pedal Mechs called Gaza-Guns—similar to the Kaza-Gun in appearance, but that was where the similarities ended. Zaeo Corp had a well-feared reputation for their technological prowess—and the fact that they could mass-produce these superior machines made them even more frightening. The only reason why Zaeo Corp had not been able to gain much ground beyond their official borders was because they just weren’t interested in keeping any gained territory. Where they attacked, they would leave after a while and people would rebuild again. Public speaking figures in Ziin would frequently theorize that the border cities were simply testing grounds for new technologies that Zaeo was developing—they didn’t actually have any ambitions to take over their neighbors.

By manipulating the joystick controls, Lyrim guided his Kaza-Gun’s massive hands to retrieve an assault rifle from the Mech Hangar’s weapon slide-shelf just next to the blast doors. Along with the assault rifle, Lyrim’s Kaza-Gun was equipped with one left-shoulder-mounted missile pack and a combat blade; while it didn’t sound like much—Ziin Mech pilots were known for their skills with what they have; this made up for their fallback in Mech technology.

As soon as Higgins had retrieved his assault rifle, the blast doors shrieked and screamed as they slowly slid open. While waiting, Lyrim quickly ran a system-check on his Kaza-Gun. All was good, all was working, good, good, and good.

“Ready to kick them out, Higgins?” Lyrim spoke through the squad intercom.

“Always…” Higgins voice rasped through Lyrim’s helmet speakers. “It’s just like last week… and the week before… et cetera…”

“Remember, we can’t keep having you return with a Mech looking like it’s been through a giant blender. Try to keep in one piece, yeah?”

“Bah, if I don’t do what I always do, your Mech would look like trash too. So gimme a bit of thanks once in a while, huh?”

Lyrim rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Drake.”

“That’s what I like to hear, now let’s go, L.T.”

The blast doors had fully opened revealing a half-destroyed city, not a window was left intact, almost every skyscraper had been turned into a mangled steel skeleton, and whole new valleys were made from the mountains of rubble. It had only been three days since Lyrim had entered the Ziin Military Base… three days since he had last seen the city in its whole state. Now it was ruined—again.
“Yeah,” Lyrim muttered partly to himself, and partly to Higgins. “The sooner we kick them out, the sooner we can start rebuilding…”

“Its funny how these buggers keep bragging about their toys,” Higgins’ voice crackled over the intercom. “Yet we keep kickin’ their arses back home.”

“They obviously have more faith in their machines than their pilots…” Lyrim smirked to himself. There was no doubt about it—while their technology was superior, the Zaeo Mech pilots weren’t exactly the best at using it; occasionally, a Zaeo pilot good enough would give Lyrim and Higgins the kind of trouble that gets Playnns HQ worried. But they never won—no Zaeo could beat the Lyrim-Higgins veteran squad.

Lyrim stomped on the foot pedals, accelerating his Kaza-Gun into a sprint out into the ruined city, Higgins followed closely behind him; both continually surveyed their surroundings while advancing forwards—they would have to use the environment to their fullest advantage if they were going to win against an enemy that more-than-likely outnumbered them at least five-to-one.

“Over there,” Higgins said, tagging a nav point to a gap between two fallen structures. “Seems to turn and follow parallel to this path.”

“Take it,” Lyrim nodded, glancing up at his motion detector—nothing yet. “I’ll meet you at the next intersection. You know what to do if you find a dead end.”

“See you there, wherever that is…” Higgins steered his Kaza-Gun and began making his way down the other path. Between him and Lyrim was a giant ridge of rubble and steel where a large hospital complex used to stand. Even though the city was evacuated, Higgins couldn’t stop thinking that some people never made it out. For a short moment, there was a large spike in the radio pickup display. But when he stopped his Kaza-Gun to better determine the source—it vanished. A brief moment of thought, and he shrugged to himself.

Lyrim continued to scan his surroundings as his Kaza-Gun jogged through the valley of debris. The Zaeo Mechs should be all around the place—but five hundred meters and there still wasn’t a Zaeo Mech to be found.

Eventually Lyrim and Higgins met up at a surprisingly untouched traffic intersection; cars had been waiting at the traffic lights when the city had been evacuated.

“Nothing… absolutely nothing,” Lyrim muttered.

“Aye, weren’t there signals all over the place while we were still inside the base?” Higgins raised an eyebrow as he eyed his radio pickup and motion detector. Nothing abnormal showed up.

“Yes… there should’ve been fifty enemy contacts… there’s not even one.”

“Strange…”

Suddenly there was another spike in the radio pickup, and then a contact on the motion detector.
“Higgins…” Lyrim said as he glanced at the motion detector.

“Yep, I saw it,” Higgins responded. He began cycling the ammunition in his Kaza-Gun’s shoulder-mounted autocannon.

“It’s coming from the north now,” Lyrim continued tracking the contact. “This shouldn’t be too bad.”
“Can’t wait to have lunch, I’m bloody starving.”

A blur of dull metallic rust-red zoomed through the street just two intersections down from Lyrim and Higgins.

“Over there!” Higgins swerved and fired off a burst from his autocannon—55mm rounds punched through empty space before blowing up chunks of concrete and debris into the air.

“It’s heading west!” Lyrim stomped on the foot pedals, steering his Kaza-Gun around and running down the street parallel from the one where the contact was spotted.

“Wait a minute!” Higgins shouted over the intercom.

Lyrim halted his Mech just in time as a burning beam of crimson passed through a destroyed café that sat in the corner of the street. The enemy had lasers!

Lasers were essentially anti-Mech weapons capable of slicing through standard Mech plating. The only defense against a laser for a Mech was to add more layers of armor to the hull plating. But a Mech can only have so much armor before it’s unable to even move.

Blazing past Lyrim carried by the jets of an impulse jump drive was a Zaeo Mech of a design he had never seen before. Instead of the angular body design, this one was sleek, compact, and armed with two very deadly arm-mounted lasers. But they were mounted so that the Mech could still keep its articulated hands rather than give them up like older models did. On the other side of the machine’s forearms were two swivel combat-blades. Judging from the contained-conduits running along the arms, those blades were actually power blades—capable of charging up a deadly energy field which enabled the blades to cut through anything with little resistance.

This thing was different from anything Lyrim had ever seen.

But his training told him to focus; that was an enemy he was looking at. He aimed his Mech’s assault rifle and began firing while tracking his target.

It was almost instantaneous—the Zaeo Mech stopped in mid-flight before its impulse drives sent it flying back, throwing off Lyrim’s aim.

No matter, Lyrim thought to himself. He had already locked onto the target; he keyed on his Kaza-Gun’s missile pack and pulled the trigger. Pod hatches flapped open as the Kaza-Gun’s four missiles launched in rising arcs like the fingers of a great hand grasping for the Zaeo Mech.

The Zaeo Mech turned and its impulse drives burned even brighter, sending it straight down the street leaving the missiles to explode behind it destroying the street roads.

Lyrim advanced on the intersection to fire after the Zaeo Mech, Higgins was close behind him—his autocannon already warming up to unleash another storm of armor-piercing rounds. Lyrim then glanced across his signal reads—the radio pickup was going nuts, and the motion detector had lost the enemy contact.

Then the radio pickup suddenly shorted out.

“Higgins, you there?” Lyrim spoke into the intercom.

“Yeah, I’m still here. Did your radio pickup die too?” Higgins poked at his console screen.

“It sure did… this thing’s trying to mess with our systems somehow.”

“This is a three-way street, it’ll be easier to spot that thing as it attacks if we maintain some sort of perimeter; it’ll have to return to finish us off.”

Lyrim and Higgins took up positions to watch both sides as well as keeping the middle street within peripheral view.

Then it came, but not from any of the three streets. It came through the housing line… behind the two Kaza-Guns.

“I got it! I got it! I got it!” Higgins shouted as he pushed the control joysticks as far as possible, jerking the Mech into a 180-degree spin to face the oncoming Zaeo Mech. He quickly lined the crosshairs and began firing both the assault rifle and the autocannon.

Lyrim hurriedly turned his Mech about-face aiming his assault rifle, but by the time he did—the Zaeo Mech was already moving, past Lyrim’s targeting reticle, and past Higgins’ fire.

It was in that split second that one of the Zaeo Mech’s combat blades flipped open. Crackling with deadly energy and power, the blade arced across in a lateral slash and for an instant, fiery sparks danced across the torso cockpit of Higgins’ Kaza-Gun.

Lyrim was still adjusting his aim, only a part of his mind concerned about Higgins’ Mech... until the top half of his squadmate’s Kaza-Gun fell over, leaving the lower half to teeter for a moment before collapsing as well.

If the enemy had decided to turn about and strike at Lyrim—the Lieutenant would never have known what hit him. From what he saw—Higgins had been completely vaporized, leaving a dark and gruesome stain all over what was left of the torso cockpit. But the enemy accelerated onward, its impulse drives flashing brighter as its power output rose higher and higher. It flew down the street away from Lyrim’s Mech, no doubt it would return.

Four more seconds passed and Lyrim simply looked from his visual display to the squad vital readout. Higgins really was gone.

Lyrim manipulated the controls—dropping the assault rifle and drawing his combat blade from his Mech’s hip-mounted weapon sleeve.

The great thing about Ziin Mech Regulations is that they said nothing about a pilot designing his own combat blade—and so Lyrim had had his combat blade fashioned after a medieval two-hander. He enjoyed the type of fighting style the heavy blade required.

This was an enemy that enjoyed close combat, or at least fighting up close. He had to adjust and adapt if he was going to beat this Zaeo Mech…

Suddenly the ever shrinking drive signatures that was the Zaeo Mech’s jump drives flashed brightly again. The Zaeo Mech was making its attack run.

Lyrim moved his Kaza-Gun into position, adjusting his grip on his combat blade holding it by the handle with one hand and holding the ricasso of the blade with the other.

It was incredibly fast but Lyrim had faced many things in his military career. As the Zaeo Mech made its final lunge, Lyrim pivoted his Mech around the attack while sweeping his blade across the enemy Mech’s knee actuators, almost severing them.

With the sudden change of total weight distribution and the jump drives still firing—the Zaeo Mech began tilt before flipping forward and over onto its back in a spectacular explosion of dust and concrete.
Lyrim pushed on the foot pedals and advanced towards the disabled Mech. He inverted the grip on his combat blade, raised it and drove it into the Zaeo Mech’s torso cockpit. He eased the control sticks forward, pushing the blade further in.

“Guess I’ll be having lunch today alone… eh, Higgins?” Lyrim muttered into the intercom, half-hoping to hear one of Higgins’ sarcastic remarks. The response never came.

The radio pickup suddenly lit up, the signal filling virtually every space of the readout bar. Lyrim’s brow furrowed at the sight. Didn’t he just kill what was making those strange radio signatures?
A red contact appeared on his motion detector—two hundred meters left!

Lieutenant Lyrim Grimsdot steered his Kaza-Gun Mech to face an enemy but all he saw was a blinding flash as plasma energy engulfed him and his Kaza-Gun.


 
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