The Melani, Tiffany Wolff, Xenia Hughes, Patricia Randall, Tianna Charzide, Vass Bakar, Jurthal Jurca, Leralee “Brandy” Cydell, Shion Charzide, Aseska T’Jani, Sgt. Cartwright, Cpl. Humphreys, Commodore Ketros © Wesley Brown
The Paklet (BEO2K10V2, Arch Angel, Quad) © Christopher “Mestophales” Haigood
& Jared “Sequestrian” Buchanan
Of Men, Melani, and Malevolent Machines
Chapter 4: Gambit
Commodore Eratul Ketros cursed the humans’ arrogance and shortsightedness, as well as those of his own people. A pact with the Earthers' United Nations prevented the Melani from having no more than five ships at any time in Earth orbit to “allay concerns” about military aggression. As evidenced by the onslaught of some fifteen to twenty Paklet ships in Earthspace, such a backwards idea was going to cost them all dearly.
Watching from the bridge as witness and victim, Ketros knew one ship was already paying the price. The frigate CNS Orand
took the heaviest pounding, even more so than Ketros’ flagship Nadyn.
and three other ships failed to make themselves more attractive targets as the Paklet warships cut streams of plasma fire into the dying ship’s hull.
A red-orange cloud erupted from within, and half of the Orand
disintegrated at once. The other half was sent plunging into the fiery oblivion that was Earth’s gravity well.
This operation was folly. Ketros knew it. Those Melani serving under him knew it. Nonetheless they all took a stand to help protect an alien world.
But Ketros knew that any further stand in orbit against this unrelenting, ungodly swarm would mean a senseless sacrifice; there were Earthers and Melani below on the planet, still in danger from this invasion. Several Pak ships were seen beginning their descent into the atmosphere.
“Two Pak ships have already touched down in the Midwest of the United States, Sir,” a tactical officer reported. “Chicago, Illinois. A Confederate Army company is engaging them, along with American Army troops.”
“All remaining ships are to converge there!” Ketros ordered. “We will stand and fight alongside our people, and then we’ll figure a way to deal with rest of this, until reinforcements come from somewhere.
What Lieutenant Tianna Charzide wanted were walkers: piloted robots that became available for widespread Army use in Melani territories, but presently she and her teams could only rely on clunky battlesuits and exoskeletons that were some ten, fifteen years old. Even with newly crafted replacement parts the metal limbs whined and creaked with just a little movement.
She looked above at the Ethian-class gunships. “Ardelia, Tovan!” she shouted into her headset. “Coordinate with the Apaches and disrupt their secondary and tertiary lines. Take out the Arch Angels as soon as you see them!”
“Acknowledged, El-Tee,” Corporal Ardelia Voigt replied. “Seeing Quads inbound. Engaging!”
Tianna looked down the avenue by Van Buren Street. Three Paklet some twenty feet tall, walking on four legs each, emerged from the side street and strode over Paklet and Earther combatants; taking out the latter with shoulder mounted lasers cannons and powerful arms.
One gunship swept around a Quad and fired rounds of flak at its legs. As it stumbled, the Ethian fired a laser square at its chest. The Quad fired off both cannons; one ray clipping the gunship’s wing. The Ethian fired back a flak volley, ripping off one cannon.
Tianna turned around and motioned to a group behind hers. “Vass, get your section alongside mine!” Tianna said through the radio. “Section by section, two by two. We’ll take out the front line!”
“Roger, Tia,” Sergeant Vass Bakar replied, before saying to his group. “Fall in alongside El-Tee’s section!”
“Squad One is taking rear guard, Ma’am,” Specialist Cydell reported. “So far, there haven't been any activity from the second Pak ship."
Tianna shook her head. “It won’t stay that way.“
“We’re ready, El-Tee!” someone said in the channel. It was Xenia, who was injured some ten minutes ago by an Arch Angel while she and her teammate Tiffany made a retreat from State Street.
Tianna looked at two armored figures jogging from the first troopship toward her. It was the two human women.
The lieutenant raised an eyebrow. “Did you even
get checked by Medical, Xenia?”
“It was just a huge scratch, Ma’am. It’s patched good now.”
“Just watch yourselves, it's going to get uglier. You two are with me.”
Melani Confederate Army Terra Squad Two advanced, followed by Squad One, firing streams of yellow plasma fire from their rifles into the swarm of standard Paklet troops. They took out those already heavily damaged, but not yet claiming the new Paklet just arriving on the battlefield.
The second of the huge Paklet Quads opened fire with its dual laser cannons, scattering the two squads. Asphalt, concrete, and clouds of dust were thrown upward. In the confusion other Paks opened fire, putting down several Melani.
Xenia and Tiffany took cover by two smashed cars. Xenia scooted towards one side and peered out. The Quad twisted and turned its torso before firing the cannons at two US Army soldiers. Then a grenade of sorts hit the Quad in the torso; exploding on contact. The Quad staggered backwards and went down on one side.
“NOW, Tiffany!” Xenia cried out. She leapt out from behind the cars and opened fire. Pulses of yellow plasma hammered into the gaping wound in the Quad’s chest until the Quad exploded again. An arm flew apart, and what remained of that Quad fell over, slowly engulfed in flames.
Xenia turned, seeing Tiffany trade fire with two standard Paklet advancing on her. She saw her friend wince as lasers nicked her shoulder. Xenia lifted her rifle to fire when she felt something hard wrap itself around her abdomen.
She shrieked, dropping her rifle as she found herself lifted of the ground. It was the third Quad who held her in its bone-crushing grip.
She frantically tried to pry its fingers away. “Let me fucking go, you piece of scrapyard shit!”
She was then face to face with the Quad. Blinding bright blue optics seemed to burn into her eyes. She felt her ribs tighten, and a warmth from her injured arm; it was bleeding again.
She had just enough strength to spit in its face. “Lucky...that was just...love tap,” she croaked.
A torrent of laser fire hit the spider-like legs underneath her. “Check your fire! Check your fire!” she heard Tianna yell out over the radio. She saw Tianna and her group surrounding the Quad. Then she felt herself being held aloft, and then thrown.
Air rushed around her as she plummeted. She screamed, but heard no sound. She slammed into several Melani troops.
“APACHES INCOMING!” someone called out over the frequency.
Her body wracked with spasms, but numbness quickly set in. Her vision dimmed. Xenia could only hear the loud whirr of engines, the scream of rocket fire, several loud booms, and finally the sound of falling metal on asphalt and concrete. She then blacked out.
The APC stopped abruptly. That and the loud booms outside set Shion’s teeth on edge.
“State and Jackson, people!” Sgt. Cartwright said. “Fall out!”
Shion was about to ask him why they weren't heading up to Balbo to rendezvous with the Terra Squads as intended. Then she looked past Cartwright through the driver’s windshield and saw the reason: large Quads storming around the wreckage of the former south end of the ‘L’ Loop rail structure, trading heavy fire with Army rocket launchers and Humvees.
She looked at Aseska. “How are you?”
Her friend looked back with bleary eyes. “Like I want this whole mess to disappear.”
“Yeah. You’re far from being the only one, love.”
She pulled her phone out of her pocket, and she found cracks on the screen. She pressed a button, and the display flickered. "Sess? Is your phone holding up?"
Aseska shook her head. "Battery's in the red."
Shion waited until she and Aseska were the last in the APC with Cartwright and the driver. “We need to use your radio, Sergeant,” she said. “One last try to get in touch with our unit.”
He nodded. “All right, just be quick with it. We’ll need you two in the interim. Let her have the headset, Barclay.”
"Yes, sir," Barclay replied. "What's the frequency, Miss?"
"170.3 megahertz," Shion replied.
Barclay pressed a few buttons on his console. "All set, Miss." He handed the vixen the headset.
Shion put it on her head. "T.S. Two, come in please," she said through the incessant static. "This is Corporal Charzide."
Loud booms again reverberated in the APC, then from within the headset almost simultaneously, making her tail stiff.
All four looked at each other. "That had better be a Pak on the receiving end of that," she said.
"What the hell?" said a voice on the other end. "Shion?! It's about damned time, Diva! Is Aseska with you?"
"Yeah, Leralee. We're both fine. I need to talk with Tia, please."
"Preoccupied, Diva. The Paks are unrelenting as hell. One already manhandled Xenia and several of our guys-"
Shion's mouth suddenly went dry. She said hoarsely, "The fuck-"
"I got it from here, Leralee," Tianna said suddenly. "Thanks."
"Tia!?" Shion said. "How's Xenia?! And Tiffany?!"
"Xenia's being examined off-field right now, Shion. Tiffany got a few scratches but is still in the fight. Where are you and Aseska?"
"State and Jackson. We're attached to an Army squad, trying to rendezvous with you. Too much activity in the way, with the Paks holding up Van Buren."
"Better that you two are with them. We might be able to choke the Paks on my end. I talked with the US Army Captain in charge, and he said his forces where you are can wear them down from behind. Stay with them for right now, Shion."
“Acknowledged, El-Tee. Good luck.”
“Good luck to you and Aseska as well. Out.”
Shion handed the headset back to Barclay. Turning to Cartwright she said, “Our El-Tee wants us to remain with you for now. We’re ready on your word, Sergeant.”
“Let’s move out then,” Cartwright said. “I hope those Pak guns and your witch, er, Occultist powers help us finish this, Aseska.”
Aseska held her arms around her chest. “Hopefully,” she said quietly.
Shion understood her friend’s concern was about Xenia’s condition. Shion didn’t want to probe Tianna for more information about it, but it didn’t help matters that Tianna didn’t offer any out of her own volition.
All the more reason for them both to finish this latest objective and find out.