Monday, 28 February 2011

Sansha's Nation

It was a small street cafe, probably the pride and joy of the owner who had spent every day looking after a small group of regulars with idle chat on the important topics of discussion that day. Elizabeth tried to imagine how it had been, but all she saw were the boarded up windows and the street furniture they had piled up as a makeshift barricade.

The three avatars had been crouched here for near 6 hours now, the position would have been impossible for a human, but Elizabeth and her colleagues bodies were housed much deeper into the station, held suspended in full immersion sarcophagi with only their minds active keeping vigilant watch over the deserted street.

Sansha's zombie army had crashed into the system two weeks previously and had quickly overrun the native Imperial defence fleet, not that there had been much deployed to defend such an out of the way system to begin with. Now that the colonies planet side had been bled dry it was the turn of the main station, huge ships of designs only capable of emerging from Sansha's own insane mind had been patrolling just outside the defencive perimeter since they first appeared, they burned any ship foolish enough to try and run the blockade with fiery lances of laser energy, the weak commercial vessels singeing black before rupturing and spilling atmosphere, debris and biomass into space forming tiny nebulae around the slowly spinning metallic skeletons.

It had been on that very first day soon after the Imperial message clipper had beamed its terse message to the commanders of the defence forces that they were to expect no assistance or reinforcements before turning tail and burning back for the gate that the call had gone out for volunteers. To Elizabeth it had been a simple choice as soon as she saw the first refugee transport with its hurriedly painted Sisters Of EvE medical corps logo, disabled then boarded by the patrolling battleships. Elizabeth had been watching the departure from a viewing platform high above the garden deck, bunking an afternoon off from her day job as a waitress in the commercial sector, hoping against hope that the transport would get away but with a forboding knowledge that it probably wouldn't. She had walked straight from the view port in the upper deck garden to the Fleet recruitment office and sat at the tail end of the que, not even bothering to submit her notice to the manager at the cafe. After 3 hours she had seen a young overworked rating who had simply asked her name, taken a scan of her implant and handed her a commission paper into the cybernetics division.

Now here she sat, a sergeant with her two troopers, guarding an intersection in that very same upper garden deck, the professional soldiers had been given the important areas to defend, docking bays, factories, military installations and as this was Sansha's Nation they also guarded the primary residential areas. The volunteers had been assigned all other areas as well as being used for logistics and the only reinforcements in system.

There had been nearly six thousand recruits since the invasion, most of those being in the first three days, heavily outnumbering the Imperial Guards five hundred professional career soldiers. The entire industrial capacity of the station has been requisitioned to build them all mechanical warrior bodies and the sarcophagi to operate them from, as well as the fully autonomous drones and other paraphernalia of modern urban warfare. Those who had not volunteered had thrown themselves at the few remaining transport vessels still docked, some got through the blockade, however most didn't and were swallowed whole by the Nations military machine.

Elizabeth could understand the desire of people to escape whole, the scriptures spoke of the evils and sin of living your life in a body crafted not by God but grown in a laboratory cold and lifeless until your consciousness was burned from your skull and poured in, did your soul follow you? was it destined to burn in purgatory until you finally rejoined it? would that separation taint you in the eyes of the Lord on His Day of Reckoning? Certainly the few capsuleers Elizabeth had encountered and the stories she had heard led her to believe cloning did not involve the soul in any way they were cold, arrogant and distant in the extreme. Why she had chosen to volunteer then sometimes confused her, with its golden promise of a one shot clone escape to the heart of the Empire, provided she fought to her very last breath, death would be her escape to the rest of her life.

Scanning the far reaches of the road for the 3rd time in as many minutes Elizabeth returned to the open forces comm channel to listen for any signs of action from any of the other volunteer detachments, as for the last few hours it had degenerated into random chatter on any number of topics, least of which was the impending firefights. It seemed people wanted to think about just about anything else she didn't mind this but hoped it would clear up when Sansha finally made his move.

She was getting used to her adopted body, she had been living, working and training in it solidly from the moment she was first immersed in the cold fluid back in the cybernetics division barrack room. That had been a shock, lying back into the vat of fluid, the interface socket smoothly connecting into the base of her skull and her thoughts immediately transferring to the towering construct stood over her, she had been able to look down in time to see the thick fluid cover her own face and the capsule lid seal her inside. The construct itself was a terrifying beast, it had been designed by the best military minds in the Empire to be just that. Standing two meters tall a body of interlocking matt black armour plates protected a biological mix match of organs and  electromechanical devices that was part bred, part grown, part built, all for the purpose of destruction.

Mounting an incorporated weapon on each arm it was capable of laying down heavy fire, and accurate too utilising the fire support programming and servo assisted muscles, whilst moving as nimbly and faster than any human soldier, Elizabeth's construct was armed with a simple but effective chain gun on her right arm capable of spewing out a stream of solid projectiles from a large box magazine, the left arm was a twin barreled grenade launcher, capable of loosing 5 rounds a second of a variety of ammunition types. However the Fleet had restricted the volunteer corps to the use of EMP and stun grenades after the first few days in simulation suggested explosive grenades were not the best idea.

Adrian spotted it first, crouching to Elizabeth's left, as he gazed up through the crystal dome, a star had begun moving across the backdrop, then another and another gradually expanding and gaining a pale blue halo of the drive plume, Sansha was on his way.

After a few minutes 15 of them were visible as large vessels, but not of the fearsome nightmare configuration, these had a more businesslike look, blunt nosed with multiple swellings around a central docking port come airlock for grapple magnets, these were boarding vessels and they weren't headed for the docking bays.

Elizabeth hurriedly called out into the intel channels trying to get hold of someone in the command structure, as two of the vessels slowly nudged up to the dome, large rubberised suction cups emerge from blisters around the blunt face and pull the ship tight to the dome. Small nozzles buried within the contacting surface ooze a thick sealing fluid gluing the blunt face to the crystal. A quick flash of laser light and a line is scored in a perfect circle the 2 meter ring of crystal tumbles slowly as it falls and shatters into a thousand pieces on the landscaped park below. There is nothing for a few moments, then the central eye irises open, a sudden roar startles Elizabeth, she turns to see a thin smoke trail rise rapidly from beyond the lake, arcing across the sky it enters the iris, a muffled crump is heard. The external hull of the boarding ship contains the incendiary device easily however the boiling gas spreads throughout the large open interior incinerating the very atmosphere until a blaze of flame billows from the open iris, followed shortly by a few charred bodies tumbling down until they are caught short by flaming abseil ropes.

The second boarding vessel was more cautious, a laser turret mounted within the airlock cut swathes through the neat treeline slicing through gazebos and benches, setting neat rows of flowers to flame, also dislodging the missile emplacement long enough for the first shock troops to leap from the dome free falling until the bungee cords pull them to a halt just off the floor.

"We meet them where they land", the three troopers begin running towards the drop zone, leaping hedgerows and park benches, darting through alleyways between little shops, bars and clubs. creeping up on the final corner Elizabeth launches a volley of mixed EMP and stun grenades high over the buildings, waiting for the first detonations they rush out, chain guns and launchers spreading death and confusion. The most recent landers get cut down where they are, heavy metal slugs ripping through flesh and armour alike, one unfortunate taking a flashbang to his face, those already down drop to a crouch and begin returning fire from light laser carbines, multicoloured beams cut lines through the air around the constructs, glancing blows easily dealt with by the heat dissipation elements within the body armour, some more direct hits blow flakes of the laminate armour off, designed to ablate rather than spread large amounts of heat into other areas of the suit it gave good protection under even heavy fire, provided it was for short durations only.

Elizabeth piled into cover behind a small confectionery delicatessen, the two other troopers taking similar positions nearby, the situation begins to develop into a standoff, with sufficient Sansha forces landed to keep the troopers heads down, they are restricted to taking shots at the newly arriving Sansha as they plummet from the dome. The local comm channel is filled with similar tales, Sansha boarding in unexpected areas, pinning inexperienced volunteers into firefights that are going nowhere.

A thermal warning alerts Elizabeth to a rapidly rising temperature in the gardens boundary wall behind them, turning she sees an arch of metal glowing ruby red, signaling to her comrades they bolt just as a third boarding ship begins unloading its brain dead cargo directly through the hull of the station.
"Its far too open out here, and we are outnumbered, head for the main street,"
Taking a contorted route through the jumble of small buildings they head out of the garden, where the industrial/commercial district met the wide open space of the garden, the narrow corridors hemmed in by any number of shops boutiques and manufacturies of any and all types should serve to focus the zombies into a killing zone.

Reforming a short distance into the passage they take positions behind counters and concrete plant troughs, a brief lul ensues as they await the inevitable assault. A crackle issues through the comms and almost immediately two large black figures charge into the passage, barely holding their fire the 3 troopers allow the newcomers to join the new barricade.

A storm of small fist sized spheres bounce down the passageway registering the danger the constructs turn to protect themselves, an instinctive biological response that turned the weaker side and rear armour to the following detonations. No sooner had they gone off than beams of light began burning holes through the smoke, scrabbling to their feet the troopers begin retreating down the passage loosing volleys of grenades and long bursts from their chain guns at any shadow or swirl in the smoke. A second set of detonations erupt from the ground, from spheres on delayed fuses, one trooper is lifted from the ground his legs blown out from under him. Leaving the man to hold his position the remaining four continue to pull back.

"Hold them off as long as you can, then disconnect and return to base for a fresh body", Elizabeth calls out to the fallen trooper, a short fusillade of chain gun and grenade launcher on full auto is followed by the crack and sizzle of rapid fire lasers, a muffled whoosh and crack of the constructs overloaded powercore detonating  punches a column of heated air high into the air dragging the lingering remains of the smokescreen with it.

The battle rages on throughout the day, each time a construct falls his pilot checks out a replacement from stock returning to the battle as soon as he can get to the frontlines, Sansha's seemingly endless minions march forwards pressing ever further into the station. The cost is high, every corridor, every street, every intersection and shopfront is littered with the broken bodies of unfortunates from a hundred worlds, mutilated long before they arrived on this station they finally find an end.

Despite a lack of actual physical exertion, the mental strain of fighting and dieing over and over many times during the day was beginning to get to Elizabeth, she was making mistakes, everyone was. The supply of constructs was beginning to dwindle as the industrial sections fell, or the supplies of raw materials were used up and still Sansha showed no sign of slowing his advance, huge transport ships had docked once the ports had been captured, pouring zombies in by the thousand.

Elizabeth found herself backing up a corridor she had walked down once a fortnight earlier, they were backing towards the barrack rooms calling into the comm channels again she heard other volenteers abandoning the constructs and engaging the self destruct on their capsules as Sansha broke in. Loosing off a burst of grenades down the corridor she turns to check the label on the nearest door, not hers but not far off. The pause and distraction has allowed Sansha to get a clean shot at her, the blow knocks her from her feet, sliding back down the corridor she comes to rest against the wall, this door is hers, damnation, no time for a change of body, this was the final stand.

Dragging her smashed legs behind her, she drags herself along the corridor to get some cover, the chaingun not providing much purchase on the hard metallic floor, but wriggling along she gets to the doorway propping herself up she smashes the magazine from the fallen marine construct next to her,

"Now its playtime"

She snaps the new magazine into the grenade launcher, its contents immediately registering on her HUD, a 33% mix of HE, EMP and Incendiary rounds, Grinning she swings the barrel down the corridor and lets rip. Shock waves and flashes of flame mix with the blue energy waves from EMP rounds, bringing the chain gun to bare she adds a clatter of heavy slugs into the killing field, not releasing the trigger even after the grenade launcher starts cycling air. She is still walking the chain gun back and fore as the Sansha start picking their way through the glowing deck plates, stepping over the charred and still smoking bodies of the earlier wave.

The low ammunition alarm sounds in her head as the chain gun cycles onto its last clip and automatically switches down to semi automatic fire mode, calling up the targeting cross hair for the first time that day, she begins picking off targets as they leave cover, a single round per man, head shot, body or even legs, the 20mm projectiles are sufficient to take them off their feet or drop them, the lack of supporting fire however allows Sansha's numbers to come into play, the number of strikes to her armour increases, at first flakes knocked of here and there, but it rapidly becomes constant, damage alarms sound as the armour thins dramatically with the increased thermal input, Elizabeth puts the powercore output to critical and continues picking off as many as she can.

The warning tone sounds in her mind for, she cant remember how many times she has died today, the familiar flash of light, wrench on every muscle and stab of pain to the core of her mind and then the awakening in another construct, the start up sequen... no wait this isn't another construct, this is her, the real her. The memories of her latest final moments come tumbling back to her of the battle a mere 100 meters away, the realisation that her body was now in impending danger, that Sansha himself was coming for her, and her alone. Fear rose within her real and powerful for perhaps the first time that day as she engaged the exterior cameras and panned around the bay.

Clear, for now.

Then the door explodes inwards, Sansha's nation swarms inside, and the other capsules around the bay begin to detonate as the pilots flee, burning their bodies and transporting their consciousness deep into the assumed safety of the Empire, Elizabeth engages her own destruct sequence and watches the Sansha for probably the first time, shocked into how human and how ... not they are. The total lack of emotion on the faces even as chain gun rounds tear through flesh and muscle, the bodies go down without so much as a grimace or cry of pain, they simply stop moving forwards, the momentum carried on by the next man. Most of the sarcophagi burst, destroying the body within before the Nation gets to them, Elizabeth however witnesses where they do not, and a pilot is dragged screaming from his fluid he screams all the way out of the barracks.

Sansha turn as one towards her, the eyes fix on the cameras as if boring straight into her own eyes, seeing her hiding deep within, they move forwards, she checks the counter, its going to be close, very close, why did they think a 30 sec timer was a good idea? the first man reaches her platform, climbing up, he stands on the casing, a second and third pile on, fingers scrabbling at the seals, nails tear blood flows along the joins, one gains purchase,

The door begins to yield,

Elizabeth can do nothing,

The door is pulled wider,

Arms reach inside,

One of them grasps her leg and she kicks out,

Another one gets her arm, she is pulled forwards,

Her head breaks the surface of the fluid, she stares with her own eyes into the insane grinning face of Sansha,

The charge detonates

Elizabeth falls to the floor, the fluid running off her body, a medical technician gently takes her arm, she screams, slipping in the fluid she falls on her back, quietly sobbing she curls into a ball,

Safe at last.

2 comments:

  1. I really really liked this one, very well done.

    m

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  2. Another epic story, loving it as always ^^

    ReplyDelete