Author: Dan Upton
"Get me the research base, Raine." Commander Davis, while ecstatic over the two victories brought on by his new Flea Kbots, was cranky over losses. The Bertha cannon on Jenkin's Ridge, south of the Core base, had been destroyed less than half an hour after construction. Over half of the Defender missile towers on Althees Ridge, which was to the east of his base and provided most of the cover, had been destroyed in an undetected Core rush. Scout flights over the Core base hadn't reported back, and radar was being blocked by Delta Mountain, which shielded the Core base from any artillery he could construct. It looked like it would all come down to a straight-up assault.
A voice crackled back over the radio. "There isn't one on file, Commander."
"A researcher from a local facility just delivered the Fleas today!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but we have no record of a facility nearby."
"Okay, fine. Do a wide satellite scan and look for an area with an unusual amount of metal deposits."
There was a pause, then the Raine came back on the line. "There's one region with 10 bare metal deposits to the southwest, about 60 kilometers."
"I'm taking a Flash tank down there, unless there's anything faster already constructed."
"No, sir, that's the fastest vehicle we have around. A Peeper pilot could just fly you down th--"
Davis cut her off. "No, that's fine. Keep production of bombers and tanks as high as possible while I'm gone. I'll be back in time for the battle tomorrow."
A few hours later, Commander Davis rolled up to the area marked on his computer navigation map. Ten metal deposits in a ring lit up on his map, and he recognized Flea tracks and wheel tracks from a Jeffy heading northeast from about 30 meters outside the ring. That didn't make any sense--there was no obvious place for the bots or vehicle to have originated, and there was no debris or other sign of struggle.
For all intents and purposes, it was if a base had simply vanished into thin air.
Commander Davis was about to turn around when out of nowhere, the flame -haired researcher appeared. Following her were two PeeWees, cannons raised but apparently not activated. Davis stood up out of the turret of the tank and called down to her. "It's just me. Where'd you come from?"
The researcher breathed a sigh of relief. "We wondered who was snooping around. For all we knew, that could have just been a stolen Flash, or even just a cheap knockoff."
"That doesn't answer where you came from."
"Oh, if you would have pulled forward another ten meters, you would have found out yourself. There's a cloak over this base, but if you go past its shielded area, you'll see everything. Come on down, I'll show you." She waved back into the circle of deposits as Davis jumped down from the tank.
Davis followed her as she walked back toward the ring of deposits. Sure enough, just a few meters from where he had stopped, he stepped through an invisible barrier and suddenly buildings appeared. PeeWees milled around, although most had been refitted with a pair of construction arms. Fleas also roamed around, patrolling the grounds as other researchers studied their behavior.
"You're not going to tell me the Fleas are still a design in progress, are you?" Davis looked worried. "I'm banking the success of my campaign on their ability to perform well in a major battle--they're not going to go nuts on me, are they?"
"No, don't worry about that. We're testing a new AI pattern--ooh, bad choice of words--a new AI program for using a missile cannon and jump jets." A Flea hovered a few feet off the ground before crashing back down, its legs crumpling beneath it. "There are still a few bugs to work out." She giggled, amused by her pun.
Davis nodded, slightly confused. "Okay...well, anyway, I really just came to apologize for how I brushed you off before."
"Don't worry about it!"
"I also wanted to know if you have anything else you can whip up for us to use tomorrow. You know, anything that's about ready to go?"
"Actually, I do. The Flea building instructions I left with you add an infrared scanner that can be used to update their programming." She produced a minidisc from her coat. "If you'll load this up and broadcast it over the Fleas, it should upgrade their AI so they'll make better use of their ability to surround enemies."
Davis took the disc from her. "Thanks. Do you want to see your bots in action?"
"No, I'm good for now. Gotta get these new versions under control." Another Flea crashed to the ground, setting off its cannon and sending a missile spiraling into the air to emphasize her point. "Maybe next time."
"Okay...I'll send back word of how it goes." Davis backed through the barrier to his tank, got in, and drove off. And I still don't know her name, he thought to himself.
Commander Davis waited until only an hour before he was going to set out to broadcast the new programming. Fleets of Peepers and Freedom Fighters were circling above as flight crews readied their Phoenixes and Brawlers. A few stealth fighter Hawks lifted off as Davis lined up his forces.
He climbed into the newly repaired commander suit and readied the disintegrator gun. He hoped to not have to use it, as he was planning on setting up a few Guardians on Delta Mountain to finish off the fight and hopefully attack the opposing Commander to destroy him quickly. But, it was always a good idea to be prepared, in case he should have to defend himself quickly.
Davis sent a group of Flash tanks to a northern pass through Delta Mountain along with the majority of his Fleas. They were to wait there and destroy any patrols until the main strike force was able to attack from the southern pass. The scout flight of Peepers and Freedom Fighters flew ahead but maneuvered into a holding pattern to wait on the main strike force. The Phoenix bombers and Hawk stealth fighters landed south of Jenkin's ridge, hiding from the radar scanners. Meanwhile, the main Arm force lurched forward--PeeWees in the front, Fidos behind, with Rocko Kbots and Samson anti-air vehicles mixed in. Merl mobile rocket launchers followed, with Fleas in a half circle closing them in. It wasn't a guaranteed automatic defense, but the Fleas should at least slow down any heavy attackers. Then again, they'd proven themselves twice--maybe they could hold their own against a rear assault as well.
Davis launched a disintegrator gun blast at the first radar tower he came across, and artillery shells fell blindly in front of his forces. He motioned for his assault force to halt and called for Phoenixes. In less than a minute, two dozen bombers screamed over the field in a diamond formation, shaking the ground with the pummeling force of their bombs. Scrap metal shards fell in front of him, but as the bombers returned to their waiting station, the artillery shells stopped.
Easy enough, Davis thought, but he knew better than to expect it to all be this easy. As he started forward again, he radioed for his scout flight to spread out around the base and fly X patterns across the enemy base. He headed up the side of the mountain as the PeeWees marched on, blazing guns destroying what few, weak Core perimeter defenses existed. A few fell to blasts from slightly damaged but still deadly Gaat Guns, but a force of hundreds of bots and vehicles marched on.
Commander Davis looked down at his forces as he started the first Guardian cannon. The construction arm pretty much went on autopilot, so he didn't need to pay much attention to it. Core turrets fell to the onslaught, and Core Weasels--the only fast response vehicles they had--fell to the streaming rockets from second-line Rockos. A fleet of construction planes completed a radar tower on the top of Delta Mountain just as an Atlas flew in a radar jammer.
Davis glanced at his suit's radar display as he started the second Guardian. The base seemed fairly empty of vehicle targets, which was both good and bad news. Naturally, he should be able to just march in and not have to worry about getting swarmed by tanks. The bad news was that many stationary buildings often signaled a strong force of turrets. Weakened laser towers and artillery installations were nothing for his current force, but when they waded into the main base, he was afraid Pulverizer missile towers would decimate his forces.
Davis called for the scout flight to begin their sweeps as he located the enemy commander. He knew their suit was modeled after his, and the large fusion engine that powered the disintegrator gun and construction arm would cause an enormous explosion when it exploded. Whatever units caused the final damage were likely to be sacrificed as part of the explosion. Few aircraft could outrun the explosion, and no ground units could escape the carnage unless they were shielded by a mountain. And the base seemed pretty flat past Delta mountain, so that was out.
Still, he had to try. Davis radioed for the Flash squadron to move in on the top as Pulverizer missiles spiraled out of control, having missed their targets. The main assault force moved in as Merls broke away from the pack, looking for an elevation advantage to fire rockets. Phoenix bombers and Hawk stealth fighters screamed onto the scene again, with Brawlers following them to attack the towers.
A Pulverizer missile connected with its target, sending a Peeper out of control to crash into the side of the mountain. Several other aircraft met the same fate, and Davis called for them to return to base for repairs. The battle was still in his favor, but Davis could tell his forces weren't in anywhere near as good of a condition as they had been.
Missiles from both sides streamed back and forth, destroying a bot here, a tower there. Phoenix bombs were doing next to no damage anymore, as most non-offensive buildings were already destroyed and the aircraft were spending more time dodging enemy fire than they were lining up for their new targets. Freedom Fighters flew back into the fray, but were quickly shot down by concentrated fire from Pulverizers.
Commander Davis looked up as he heard his Guardians kick into action. The Core commander strode toward him, disintegrator gun leveled. "I may lose my life, but at least I'll take you with me," it rasped in a metallic voice. "Say goodbye."
Davis pulled up his own disintegrator gun, knowing he couldn't take a reactor blast any better than his opponent could. It would take more than one blast to destroy either one of them, but he knew if he turned his back on his opponent to leave, he couldn't survive. He closed his eyes, resigned to the fact he would die--
"What the?" The metallic voice complained as a disintegrator gun blast arced far above. Davis opened his eyes as he saw Fleas swarming the Core commander. The individual laser blasts seemed like no big deal--the commander suit's armor was more than strong enough to survive a single laser blast--but the dozens of Fleas swarming the enemy commander were having an effect. Davis backed down the hill as he pulled up an armor scanner on the enemy commander. The enemy's suit's integrity seemed plenty strong for now, but Davis had a good idea of how to change that.
"Arm forces pull back!" he yelled into the radio. "Phoenix squadron report!"
"This is Phoenix Omega Squadron leader, over."
"Can you pull a high-altitude bombing strike?"
There was a pause, then, "Well, we can try."
Davis scanned and saw that the majority of his forces had pulled far enough back to be out of range of the fusion engine's blast. He stepped a little farther back and ducked behind wreckage from an enemy artillery installation. "Then do it. Attack from eight directions at different altitudes, and keep the bomb flow constant. Just don't hit each other."
"Gotcha. Omega Squadron leader out."
Davis zoomed in on the battle playing out on the side of Delta mountain. The enemy commander was unable to use his disintegrator gun, as dropping a blast close enough to destroy several Fleas would damage himself more quickly than the Fleas were. His own laser cannon--weak but stronger the the Fleas' cannons--had destroyed a few, but now there was almost an entire force of 80 Fleas swarming the enemy commander.
"Outer ring Fleas, pull back!" He looked up and saw the outer four rows of Fleas retreat, laser turrets spinning so as to be able to keep firing as they walked away. The enemy commander finally fired a disintegrator blast, destroying nearly a dozen Fleas, but stopped dead as he saw the first wave of Phoenix bombers.
First from one direction, then another, then another, a dozen Phoenix bombers dropped bombs on him. Some Fleas were caught in the blasts, while others skittered away from their target. The enemy commander fired another disintegrator gun blast high into the sky, searching for a Phoenix but finding nothing. The Guardian artillery towers, surprisingly still standing, pummeled the enemy commander as the last wave of Phoenix bombers flew over.
Davis watched as shell after shell slammed into the enemy commander, who was now firing disintegrator blasts in random directions, just hoping to his something--
--then closed his eyes as a bright white flash on the side of the mountain marked the explosion of the suit's fusion generator. Echoes rang out long after the light had faded away, and Davis saw that his Guardians had been vaporized.
Still, he had won the battle, defeated another Core force--and all thanks to the quick, sneaky strike of Fleas. He shook his head, knowing he'd have to reward that researcher some way. If only he knew her name...
Weeks later, Commander Davis relaxed in a cafe at the research base with "Marie." No more Core forces had been discovered on the island, but several more viable metal deposists and easily defensible locations had been discovered, and Davis set up more strong defenses around each of his new bases.
"So, I've got this great new idea," Marie said. "What if..."
...but you'll have to wait to find out her great new idea.