This is not the full version of this fic, because I seem to have lost major portions of it in the void that is my hard drive. So, there is no ending, and unless I can find the conclusion I originally wrote, it's probably gonna stay that way.
All fictional characters are the property of the author (me), non-fictional characters belong to history. Total Annihilation is a property of Cavedog Entertainment.
World Wide War
Somewhere beneath the Sahara Desert, 1937 A.D:
Professor Otto Jager glanced around the cavernous interior of the excavation site, making sure that the hired workers were continuing to perform their duties. He was having far too much trouble with some of those native workers, and it was beginning to slow his progress. He silently laughed to himself, now wishing that he had taken up on the offer of an S.S. contingent to keep watch over the workers. As he turned to survey the cavern, he couldn't help but stare at the artifact. That was the only name that even came close to describing the gigantic device that had so long remained untouched beneath the sands of the Sahara. It stood nearly 10 meters tall, and had a roughly pentagonal shape, with a large protrusion facing east. What is was meant for, Jager could not say, but it was surely meant for something; since it was artificial, it must have had some sort of significance. Jager had his own theories about the artifact, but for now, it was safer to keep them to himself. He sighed. Unless he could discern the true use of the artifact, all his theories were just so much speculation. He knew he was lucky to be given the chance to study it. Not many scientists were receiving full support from the German government like he was. The Nazi government seemed to be more concerned with military production than anything useful. His train of thought was suddenly interrupted by the footsteps of his approaching assistant.
"What is it Heinrich?" he asked without turning around.
"I'm afraid he will be unable to join you Herr Professor." Said a cold, cruel voice. Jager spun around, and found himself staring into the face of a Gestapo officer.
"What's going on here?" asked Jager, slightly annoyed with the interruption. "Who are you? Where's Heinrich? What do you think you're doing here? I've been authorized by the Füher himself!"
"Herr Professor, so have I." sneered the Gestapo man. "I am simply insuring absolute secrecy on this matter." With a lift of the chin, he indicated the artifact. Cold fingers crawled up Jager's spine.
"What exactly does that entail?" he asked faintly, dreading the answer. The Gestapo man didn't even bother to answer, but simply drew his gun. Jager turned, and began to run. He made it about five feet when the gun roared.
Three more Gestapo agents approached the first.
"What should we do about the workers, and other scientists, Herr Commandant?" queried one of the men.
The officer spared only a glance at the magnificent cavern complex before answering. He shrugged slightly. "Kill them all. Then bury this place."
Planet Shada, 3863 A.E:
Arm Commander Hari – 284 strode across the desolate wasteland, pausing only to kick over the still-standing wreckage of a Gaat gun. He finally reached his destination, in the bowels of a crater that was once a Core commander. The explosion had been visible for miles around, and had completely engulfed the Core base. Hari halted, and saluted the remainder of the platoon of Mavericks that had created the crater. There weren't many left. He then contacted the lead plane in a squadron of Peepers that was scouring the battlefield for survivors, as the Mavericks slowly made their way up over the cracked lip of the chasm.
"Peeper delta-5, do you copy?"
A several-second pause followed. Hari growled deep in his throat. "Well? Report already! "
"Oh, right sir. Right away sir. Most of the XIX Corps survived, as well as elements of XX and XVII Corps." returned the contrite sounding peeper. "Also, we have reports of several brigades still alive in the mountains above the Core base, or where it used to be."
Hari swore under his breath. "What about the XII Corps?"
"Sorry sir, there's nothing left in that sector."
Hari sighed softly. He hadn't really been expecting anything else, but he had hoped. XII Corps had led the assault on the Core base, and at the time, the Arm was unaware that a Core commander had even been on planet. He turned back to gaze thoughtfully into the smoldering ground at the bottom of the crater. Losses were heavy, but on the bright side of things, he could report another Arm victory, and the loss of a Core commander, to boot. The next order of business was a clean-sweep for functioning Core technology, and reclamation of the wreckage coating the battlefield. With resources at an all-time low, no metal could be spared.
"Commander, we've found something I think you should see." a nearby construction k-bot suddenly reported.
"What is it?" Hari asked, only partially listening, still lost in thought.
"I'm not sure, but it appears to be generating energy." the k-bot obediently reported.
This caught Hari's attention. "Still functioning? At ground zero of a commander detonation? Impossible!" Still intrigued, he wandered over to the k-bot. "I don't see anything."
"Sir, it's next to that wreckage there, sticking out of the ground."
Hari walked over to the indicated spot, careful not to tread on the smaller k-bot. "I still don't…wait! Now I see it!" Hari slowly scanned the object, and what he found made his jaw drop. "Send for Lieutenant Hendon…now!" He immediately ordered the construction k-bot to the other side of the crater, and ordered XIX Corps to form a defensive perimeter around the crater.
As Hendon's Zeus picked it's way through the corpses of smashed battle units, and towards the crater, he could almost feel the tension of the troops. Commander Hari – 284 was one of the most stable and calm men he, or any of them, knew. Such rash actions from a man like this was an indication of unusual or dire circumstances, the thought of which made him pick up the pace. At last, Hendon stood over the crater and peered down into the misty depths. Spotting Hari, he jumped down the slope, and made his way over to the obviously disturbed commander. Sensing the motion, Hari turned, and beckoned him closer.
"I've just put us on a secure channel, because what we've found here is now officially top-secret." Hari intoned.
Worried, and now confused, Hendon asked, "What is it that we've found sir? The men are starting to wonder why you've formed a defensive perimeter around an empty crater, on a planet that is safely in our hands."
Hari swallowed hard, and whispered, "If the Core know about this discovery, this planet is far from safe." He looked around nervously, an act, which by itself, chilled Hendon to the bone. "Here, take a look at these energy readings."
Hendon glanced at the chart. "It's a galactic gate. That's standard Core procedure for an entrenched world like this was. It's a useful find, but hardly unusual." He frowned. "So, what's the big deal sir?"
"The big deal Lieutenant, is that it is not a Core gate."
Hendon's eyes widened, the implications striking home. "Sir, you're not saying that that thing's an Arm gate, are you?"
Hari only nodded his suit in silent acknowledgment. "There's more. Look at how this gate is positioned. Before the Core commander was destroyed, this whole area was dozens of meters underground." Before Hendon could comment further, Hari said "Lieutenant, what I am about to reveal to you is classified information. The only reason I'm telling you any of this, is that this is probably the most important discovery, or rediscovery, of our age. And I'll need your cooperation and understanding influence with the troops."
Hendon only nodded. "Yes sir, you have my full support, but I would like to know why you are relocating our primary base to this crater."
"Well, it's a bit of a story, but we should have a breathing period here. It started like this…."
High Orbit, Planet Shada, 3863 A.E:
Core commander 737-F would have been wearing a faintly puzzled, yet annoyed, look on his face, that is, if he still had a face. He glared impatiently at the monitor screen of the bridge of his command starship, as if it would get their forces there any faster. "Ship!" he snapped. "What is our ETA?"
The starship hurriedly checked her sensors. "15 minutes sir. Then 20 more to land all the ground assault forces."
737-F contacted the captain in charge of the construction force that rested within the enormous hold of the starship. "Captain, ships 3 and 8 will land before us, and unload a contingent of our ground troops. I want your men to begin construction of a secure base immediately, and set up a few metal farms before the storage in the ship runs dry." He thought for a moment about the vast quantities of metal that he had brought directly from Core Prime. "Captain, one more thing. I'll need 5 advanced construction units, for a special assignment."
"Yes sir." The captain sounded slightly confused.
737-F then opened a channel to his entire fleet of eighteen starships. "Attention, this is your Commander speaking. We will be entering planetary atmosphere momentarily. Prepare to disembark." He permitted himself another minute of thought about the strange energy signals emanating from this world, then turned to the more important task of landing 18 starships in the most remote spot he could find.
"So you see," said Hari, "back before the war actually started, the Arm had just broken free and was searching for a New World to build on. Before we discovered Empyrrean, our ancestors traveled from system to system searching for a habitable planet to colonize. However, during that period, alien life was discovered on other worlds. In itself, not unusual, but… it was intelligent!"
"What?" gasped Hendon. "Sir, I thought the galaxy had been declared void of alien intelligence long before the war even started!"
"It had been," Hari replied. "But apparently, we were wrong. In fact, intelligent life had been located on no less than eight worlds."
Hendon was stunned. "Eight worlds? How did we miss that many?"
"It's quite simple. They were all located on the outer rim of the galaxy, and no exploration teams had ever bothered to go that far." Hari shook his head, which in a commander chassis is quite a feat. "Anyway, it was deemed that a galactic gate be placed in a remote region on each of these worlds, so that after the war was over, the worlds could properly be studied." He laughed ruefully. "Of course, they weren't expecting the war to drag on for nearly four thousand years."
Hendon thought for a moment. "Commander, that is very interesting, but I don't see what that has to do with our current situation."
Hari replied, "Lieutenant, what in your opinion is the resource so desperately needed by the Arm?"
Hendon scanned the area, and noted the construction aircraft busy reclaiming the wreckage that the past two days fighting had resulted in. "It's not a matter of opinion Commander, we need metal, and in gigantic quantities."
Hari almost smiled. "Lieutenant, those gates I told you about…. this is one of them. When this planet was deep in Arm space, it made perfect sense. And those planets…" Hari trailed off in thought.
"What about the planets, Commander?" Hendon queried.
"They are rich in metal, and almost completely undeveloped. The inhabitants are spear-throwing savages."
Hendon almost laughed. "We can take the planets, and mine them dry!"
Their reverie was suddenly, and rudely, broken by the high-pitched wail of a siren.
"Report!" yelled Hari into his comm unit.
"Sir!" a tinny voice screamed. "We're under attack! Radar reports no less than eighteen Core starships unloading!"
Hari angrily spun around. "Hawk squadrons 12-25 report!"
"Awaiting orders, sir." Fourteen squadron leaders announced.
"Get those starships before they land, and scout out what has already landed!" Hari shouted.
Hari turned back to Hendon. "Lieutenant, use your lightning gun to clear the dirt from this gate. I would have liked to carefully excavate and explore them all, but it seems our Core friends decided to show up early." He switched the channel back to open link, as Hendon began to vaporize the rock around the gate. "All construction units report to the crater. I want as many laser turrets and plasma batteries as you can build. Freedom Fighters will provide air cover. Also, I want this crater fortified with dragon's teeth, and an Annihilator in the crater itself." Without even waiting for a reply, he called up his radar map. He swore profusely and angrily; what looked like hundreds of thousands of Core units were descending on their ill-prepared base. "I want XX Corps here, on the double, along with the few brigades left over from XII Corps. In ten minutes, the only Arm soldier left outside the perimeter should be those of XIX Corps…now move!" The last was shouted in a hoarse roar.
737-F gazed proudly up at 80 meter tall Krogoth Gantry. Inside, the beast was nearing completion. It had taken most of the metal he had carefully hoarded, but the result was well worth it. Then, with a loud clank, the finished Krogoth stepped off the Gantry platform, causing the ground to shudder.
"Krogoth unit 814-DY, your orders are to accompany ground attack group 53, and destroy every last Arm unit you encounter."
In a nearly inaudible growl, the massive war machine answered, "Yes sir, with pleasure sir." His one large staring eye suddenly glowed a brighter red. The commander mentally shuddered. He almost felt sorry for the clones in that second, but quickly banished the thought. The Krogoth began to stalk away, tailed by dozens of Morties, Thuds, Storms, Raiders, and Pyros. The Arm would pay for the destruction of the Core forces here, and the source of those mysterious energy emissions would be captured and studied.
"Sir, I cleared the gate off as much as I could," reported Hendon.
"Well," sighed Hari, "I guess we're going to find out where that gate goes, whether we want to or not." Once again, he opened the link. "Gentlemen, this is your Commander. We have finished construction of a galactic gate within the crater." He surveyed the brave men facing him. They trusted him with their lives, but still he could not tell them the truth. He wouldn't fail them. "XVII, XX, and those left from XII Corps will proceed through the gate immediately. XIX Corps will engage the enemy and buy the rest of us some time. Then, you will fall back and make the leap yourselves." He looked at the gate once again, realizing that he still had no idea where it would lead; or whether the terminal gate still existed. "Colonel," he opened a link with the commander of the XIX Corps. "When your men make the escape, you must initiate the self-destruct on the gate, to prevent the patterns from following us through."
The Colonel hesitated a moment, and Hari knew what he must be thinking – without the gate, how would they get back? Those very same thoughts were plaguing him, but they had no choice. It was take a chance and escape, or stay and die. "Those are your orders Colonel."
"Yes sir, I'll do it myself."
Hari winced as the first reports of combat reached him, thinking about the men who were dying up there to save the rest of them. He began to hear sounds of weapons fire and knew that could only mean one thing. Somehow, the Core knew. "Lieutenant, get those men through the gate. I'll be right behind you."
"On my way sir." Hendon activated the gate, and a shimmering tunnel appeared in the air beside the gate. He leaped through, and two full Corps worth of men followed. A few minutes later, Hari found himself standing alone waiting for the men of the XIX Corps to arrive. A full ten minutes passed, when he was snapped out of his reverie by the activation of the Annihilator beside him. Core units were beginning to appear around the rim of the crater. The Annihilator fired once, then again, and again. Each shot produced a sudden explosion on the rim of the crater. He knew with a horrible gut-wrenching certainty that XIX Corps wasn't coming. Suddenly, as if a signal had been sent to all of the Core soldiers (and it probably had), they came pouring down the side of the crater like an unstoppable wave. Without even thinking, Hari spun, and began to enter the self-destruct code for the gate, when in a sudden starburst rocket explosion, he found his entire commander chassis flying though the air – and straight at the gate. The Annihilator exploding under the foot of a behemoth with one great, glowing red eye, obscured the last glimpse he got of the planet. As the Diplomat readied another rocket, Hari disappeared into the tunnel, and found himself in the absolute blackness of gate-transit. The gate wasn't going to be destroyed: he had failed.
North Africa, Planet Earth, 1942 A.D:
A shell flew overhead, punctuated by an ear-splitting shriek. General George S. Patton spared it nary a glance, and angrily ordered a retreat. Rommel's forces had hit hard and fast, the American line had started to break, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do to stop it. Another American tank brewed up nearby, and Patton ground his teeth. They were taking casualties too fast, and reinforcements weren't going to make it for another ten minutes; the longest ten minutes of his life. Finally though, he spotted fifteen American tanks pushing their way through the retreating soldiers. They halted, and fired simultaneously. Four German panzers suddenly brewed up, the turret flying completely off of one. Patton resisted the urge to cheer, and ordered his driver to take him slightly behind the lines to rally the demoralized men. Maybe there is a chance to turn this around, he thought. His triumphant musing was cut short by an earthquake. No, no quite an earthquake, the trembling was too steady. Suddenly, in the middle of the field, the desert sand began to lift, almost as if something underneath was trying to get out. Sinkholes began forming in the sand, and three of the fifteen newly arrived tanks dropped into one that had formed underneath them. Only the dull thump of exploding ammunition marked their sandy tombs. Patton jumped to the radio. This didn't look like a German weapon, and the German troops had stopped firing to watch the spectacle, but he was determined not to lose any more men to whatever it was.
"Fall back!" he screamed into the transmitter. "All units retreat five miles to the rear! Set up a defensive position there! On the double!" The jeep's engine revved as the driver fought to control it on the shifting sands. Soon however, they were far enough away to avoid the effects of the sudden uplifting of sand and rock. He looked back one last time as the jeep bounced onward, and saw some…thing emerge from the sand. Hell, he thought, let the Nazi's deal with whatever that thing was. In the meantime, he had to make his report to Allied command about the…. whatever it was.
Planet Shada, 3863 A.E:
Commander 737-F scaled the last five meters, and clambered to the top of a large outcropping. He took a moment to scan the horizon. If he were still in an organic body capable of such things, he would have whistled. Stretching away from him, as far as the optical sensors could see, were thousands of acres of wreckage. Smashed Bulldogs, Panthers, and even the famous Mavericks. He noticed with some disapproval that there were nearly as many Core corpses as there were Arm. However, he couldn't complain overmuch, as the patterns had been backed up, and could be rebuilt, while the Arm commander would have to seek out cloning facilities to replace his troops. He started down the front face of the ridge, and into the crater that had once been a commander not unlike himself. An advanced construction k-bot was carefully clearing the debris around a still active object. An Arm gate. "ACK-27S," he asked the construction bot. "Have you broken the encryption code on the gate yet?"
"Almost sir," came the preoccupied reply. "But sir, there's something not quite right about this gate."
"What's so different about it? It looks like every other Arm galactic gate I've ever seen." 737-F impatiently responded.
"Well, sir, it essentially is, but the energy signature has degraded to a high degree."
"Are you saying that it's not safe?" 737-F grew slightly worried. If the gate was unsafe, he couldn't chase after the Arm commander, and would have to track the location of the terminal gate manually. Then he'd have the job of taking his fleet there, which could take months, and then making another expensive planetary assault. And by then, the Arm commander would be well entrenched.
"No sir, but for the energy signature to have degraded like this, this gate must have been active for thousands of years," the k-bot dutifully responded.
737-F's anxiety was instantly replaced with a surge of excitement. An old gate likely led to an ancient world, perhaps Empyrrean itself!
"Sir! I've cracked the encryption!"
"Excellent!" 737-F opened a comm channel to his sub-commanders. "This is Commander 737-F. I want all surviving combat units to report to coordinates 42785.4-96739, immediately. All construction units will resume construction of a secure base. Once this force has left, construction of k-bot and vehicle facilities are a priority." The construction bot next to 737-F began to crawl away. An amused "Where do you think you're going?" brought it up short.
"I'm reporting to the base-area as ordered sir." Came the timid reply.
"Not so fast! I'll need you with us."
North Africa, Planet Earth, 1942 A.D:
When Arm commander Hari – 284 regained his senses, the first thing he noticed was the inky blackness. The first coherent thought he had was the paralyzing fear that the terminal gate no longer existed, and he was now spiraling through folded-space with no way to stop, and would likely continue until his life-support systems gave out. Then he noticed a peculiar sensation. He could feel pressure on his back and legs, like something was supporting him. He tried to stand up, and get his bearings, when an overwhelming wave of dizziness hit him like the butt of a gauss rifle.
"Whoa! Hold on commander, that was a real nasty entrance," exclaimed a nearby voice.
As Hari's eye filters adjusted to the darkness, he saw that the source of the voice was that of a Zeus k-bot. As recognition came back, so did his memory of events just prior to his unintended jump through the gate. "Lieutenant! Shut down that gate, now!"
"It is. We didn't have much choice, since the wormhole collapsed right after you came flying through." We came through into this cavern, and all men are present and accounted for, sir. Hendon paused. "Sir, what happened to the XIX Corps?"
With the memories of the last few minutes on Shada, came the bitter rage. Hari calmly walked over to a nearby wall, and proceeded to smash his armored right fist several feet into the hard bedrock. He breathed hard for a time, and then found the words he was looking for. "Lieutenant, there is no XIX Corps." he said with a thundering finality.
Inside his suit, Hendon's face went ashen. "All…," he gulped. "All of them sir?"
Hari's only reply was to smash his left fist into the wall as well. Then he pounded the wall until three tons of rock had been reduced to powder. He appeared to gather himself for a moment. "Lieutenant, have the men fall in. We're getting out of here."
Hendon instantly composed himself. "Yes sir, but may I ask how we're going to do that?"
Hari peered up at the tunnels that in all likelihood led to the surface of whatever miserable ball of rock this planet was. He once again smashed his fist into the rock, but this time with a purpose. He gouged out handholds for himself, and pulled himself up to the mouth of the tunnel. He wasn't prepared for what he found there, but he was used to worse by now. Not thirty feet into the tunnel was a putrefying corpse. It was too badly decomposed to identify, but it was humanoid. Obviously it had been a native of this planet, and Hari started to prep his arm laser, when he found something that shocked him deeply. It had been murdered, and worse, the weapon was a projectile device of some kind. The people of this planet were supposed to be spear-throwing savages, with only the barest hints of technology. It appeared that they had evolved beyond that, but… in a mere four thousand years? Arming his laser, Hari vaporized the corpse, and looked back down at Hendon. "Lieutenant! Send up a Flea."
Hendon obediently had a Flea k-bot scout scale the cliff. "There you are sir."
Hendon's only answer was the blast of a D-gun, and then the high-speed whirring of a nanolathe.
After he had blasted a hole through the rocks at the top of the tunnel, Hari began to reclaim the mix of rock and sand that lay beyond. Ignoring the shuddering of the cavern ceiling, he turned to the flea. "Okay Private, it's your turn. Climb through there to the surface, and send me a report on your findings."
"No problem, Commander, I'll be right back." And without another word, the Flea began to push his way out of the sand, and on to the surface.
Adennes, France, Planet Earth, 1942 A.D:
"Colonel! We have a… man here who wants to have a word with you!" Colonel Gunther Weiss turned from the map he was studying, and peered over his mug of the vile brew they jokingly called coffee, at the new arrival. He nearly spit out a mouthful when he made out the uniform of a high-ranking S.S. officer among the men walking towards him. Then recognition set in.
"Skorzeny! You old dog! I didn't expect to see any Gestapo anywhere near the front." Weiss called out.
The burly Gestapo man shrugged and grinned. "Normally I wouldn't be, but I was planning to go on a little trip, and thought you might be interested. So, what do you say?"
Weiss gave a short barking laugh. "Where are you planning on taking me this time, honey?" he asked in a high, whiney voice, igniting the nearby men into fits of laughter. "Seriously," he said, returning to his normal voice. "Where is the Füher sending you this time around, Otto?"
Skorzeny gave a deep, hearty laugh. "What do you say to North Africa? Sun, heat, and more sun! Besides," he said, glancing at the men around them. "This time could be important." He said it in a jovial enough way, but Weiss knew the S.S. man well enough to catch the serious undertone. Whatever Skorzeny's mission was, it was no laughing matter. "Anyway, you are coming, aren't you… sweetheart?" Gunther's gunner fell backwards off the turret of the Panzer III, and the other men broke up again. "Besides, you're not doing anything here anymore."
"You're not giving me a choice, are you." replied Weiss, looking daggers at his gunner. He didn't even wait for an answer, for he already knew it. "Alright," he sighed resignedly. "I knew this couldn't be just a social call. When do we leave?"
Skorzeny's grin returned, full force. "My plane awaits," he answered, making a theatrical bow. "If you'll be kind enough to follow me, sir."
Gunther Weiss sighed again. He did that a lot around Skorzeny. He turned back to his men, and shouted, "Major! You're in charge until I get back!" Weiss turned back to Skorzeny. "Lead the way."
North Africa, Planet Earth, 1942 A.D:
Patton glanced over his shoulder and admired the large force of men and tanks following him. The orders from Allied command were to assault the German lines before they could recover from the previous day's fighting. More importantly though, he was to determine exactly what had caused the upheaval in the desert that had halted the fighting. If it was a German weapon, he had to know, and if it was something else, they might be able to use it against the Germans. Up ahead, something began to poke over the horizon. "My God!" he breathed. What looked like thousands of giant metallic… somethings, were intermingled with the German troops. "Halt!" Patton shouted. "All units halt!" Within ten minutes, his entire command pulled up behind him.
"Umm… General? What are those things?" came the frightened voice of his driver.
"Damned if I know, Corporal." The German commanders had been slow to notice that Patton's force had arrived, but now, German troops were running toward tanks, trenches, and artillery batteries. The largest of the mechanical monsters had seen them now, and the others were falling back. Still, his orders were clear. "Open fire!" Patton watched in amazement as several of the giants took direct hits without flinching. One of them, he could see clearly now, was a tank, not much larger than a new American Lee class. It opened fire, and a glowing projectile fell in among the American ranks. One tank was almost completely incinerated by the blast, but others kept moving forward.
"Sir, we can't fight those things! We're taking too many casualties, and we're not even making a dent on them!" shouted a tank commander.
Patton agreed, but every instinct in him rebelled against yet another defeat. He angrily picked up the radio to begin ordering yet another retreat, when he realized that the sounds of fighting were dimming down. Sure enough, while the American troops were all but helpless against the armored giants, the Germans weren't so fortunate, and were quickly routing. This time Patton didn't resist the urge to cheer, and hopping up onto the seat of his jeep, let loose a wild war cry. He was answered by many of his men. Within a half-hour, every last enemy soldier was gone, including the giants. There was more to be done though, so he called over a colonel of engineers to the yawning abyss that the metal giants had emerged from, only a scant day before. "Colonel, do you think you can get us down there?"
The abrupt question startled the man, but he thought for a moment. "I suppose so, sir. But may I ask why?"
"Those giant… things… came from this pit, and I want to know more, like what are they and where they came from."
"Yes sir." replied the colonel as understanding lit his face. "Sergeant!" he called. "Bring me as much rope as you can find."
A moment later, the sergeant returned, arms full of thousand-foot lengths of rope. "Here you are sir." he said, dumping the ropes at the colonel's feet.
The colonel knelt on the hot sand, and began to lash the ropes together. He finally stood up. "Okay General, I think this should be long enough."
Patton took a long doubtful look down into the deep crevasse, then with a sudden decisive motion, grabbed the rope. "Colonel; Sergeant. Let's see what's down there." With tight grip on the rope Patton began to slide down.
"Sir! It might not be safe down there. If you insist on going, at least let someone expendable go first." the colonel protested.
"Colonel, in my army, no one's expendable. Now, are you coming or not? Either way, I want to know what's down there."
Numbly, the colonel nodded. "Yes sir, I'm coming. Sergeant, make sure that rope stays secured."
With a quick whispered prayer, the colonel grabbed another length of rope, and followed the General down the pit.
Hari – 284 could not believe what was happening. He reviewed the last day's events in his mind in a futile search for sanity. Everything that had transpired since he and his men had entered the galactic gate at Shada had been utterly impossible. Not twenty seconds after he had sent the flea to the surface on a recon patrol, it had jumped back into the tunnel, claiming that he had been attacked. That was when Hari knew that something was wrong. The only creatures capable of launching an attack would have been the pre-industrial hominids that inhabited this planet; and the only weapons they should have had were spears and stone knives, neither of which was capable of doing any damage, even to the tiny Flea. The Flea, of course, assumed it had been Core, and told the commander as much. Only Hari and lieutenant Hendon had known better, and they were both worried. Hari had called up all available information on this planet on his on-board computer. The name of the world was Krytock III, as named by the original survey team. The inhabitants were pre-industrial savages, the most advanced tribe of them living in the river valley of one of the larger sub-equatorial continents. Apparently, the tribe had contact with the survey team, and was most impressed by simple solar collectors. They had constructed massive stone replicas of the collectors, and buried their leaders, or "pharos," in them. They built them using slave labor, which had appalled the survey team. Using advanced holographic images, they frightened the tribe into releasing the slaves. Hari skipped ahead quickly. The information he was finding was fascinating, but hardly relevant to his current situation. He finally did pick up one useful bit of info, however. According to the survey team's logs, they had placed the galactic gate not far from the tribe's main city, buried in the desert. Unfortunately, they included no coordinates, so Hari only had a very general idea of where they were. It was better than nothing, though. Hari had to see what had really happened to the flea, because it couldn't be Core, and it couldn't be the locals. No civilization develops that much in only four thousand years. Or could it? Hari had to know.
After a day had passed, he climbed up the tunnel where the flea had gone, and pushed through the sand, only to wish he hadn't. Facing him were about three dozen tanks, all turrets aimed at him. They were definitely not Core though. That left only one explanation, and it was the one he feared most. They were locals. He knew that so many plasma rounds would easily destroy him, and doom all the clones waiting underground. According to the logs of the original survey team, they were intelligent enough to reason with, so he tried that tack. Before he could speak though, one of the creatures stepped forward. Apparently, they had the same idea. It was dressed in black, a type of uniform, Hari supposed, and it began to speak. Hari quickly activated the translating algorithm on his suit computer, and listened to what it had to say.
"Who are you?" it asked. "Where do you come from, and what is your allegiance?" Then it stood still, waiting for a reply.
Hari himself, without the commander chassis, was about the same size as the locals' spokesperson, so he chose to remain in the suit, feeling that it might work to his advantage to intimidate them. He turned up the amplifier on his suit's broadcast speaker, and boomed out, "I am Arm Commander Hari – 284! Who are you to question me?"
The little man looked up, at Hari, obviously unimpressed. "I am Obërluetnant Otto Skorzeny of the Gestapo. You have not answered my question. Where are you from, and why are you here?"
Hari had tried to respond diplomatically, as difficult as that was with thirty tank cannons pointed at one's head. When he had explained that he had 250,000 of Arm's finest waiting to emerge from the cavern, Skorzeny's face twisted into a grimace, but after a moment of thought, it turned cunning. Even inside his commander chassis, Hari felt a brief chill just looking at that expression.
Skorzeny spoke to the powerfully built man beside him. Hari's enhanced hearing enabled him to overhear the hoarse whisper, and what he heard, he did not like the sound of. "What did I tell you Gunther! 250,000! If we can get them to aid the Fatherland, nothing would stop us!" Skorzeny turned back to Hari. "All right commander. You may bring your soldiers out of the cavern. I welcome you to our planet Earth as guests of our Fatherland, the powerful nation of Deutschland."
Hari did not trust this arrogant conniver, but his troops could not spend another miserable night down in that cave. "On behalf of my troops, I thank you." The tank turrets moved away from his head, and Hari opened a secure comm-channel to Hendon. "Lieutenant, have the troops come out of the ground in fifteen minutes. Before you send them out, I want you to explain everything to them. Now that we're here, they deserve to know the truth."
"Yes sir," replied Hendon. "Shall I order them to form ranks on the surface?"
"Agreed. After all, the sight of two full Corps worth of troops in ranks is a spectacular sight. Good idea lieutenant."
"Thank you sir, I'll be joining you on the surface momentarily."
Two hours later, almost 200,000 Arm k-bots, 45,000 tanks, and 5,000 assorted construction units, mobile radar and radar jammers, minelayers, and even a few lucky aircraft rested on the surface in unit ranks. It was a magnificent spectacle, and even that pompous fool Skorzeny was awestruck. What Skorzeny didn't know though, was that power degradation in the gate had caused minor systems damage during transit. The damage was minor, but it affected all of the combat units, and they would be out of action for a few days. Unfortunately, because the gate was not destroyed on the other end, Core forces would be able to use it to follow. Hari's men would have to remain at the gate until their systems were fully operational, at which time he would have to do something about the gate. Pity those old terminal gates carried no self-destruct, Hari mused. When his systems were in top shape again, he would have to do a precision reclamation job on the gate. Suddenly, Hari noticed a slight vibration in the ground. Should he inform Skorzeny? Perhaps he might know what it is. As the thought crossed his mind, an entire tank division crested the horizon. The man called Gunther jumped onto a tank, and began issuing orders to the scrambling soldiers. The enemy tanks stopped short. Likely, they had seen Hari's army. For a fleeting moment, he almost laughed. Then as one, the enemy tanks opened fire. Hari watched with interest as a nearby Deutsche tank exploded, sending shrapnel whistling through the air. He noticed that the tanks were actually using solid projectiles! What a joke! A Stumpy took a direct hit, scoring the hull. Then it returned fire, vaporizing one of the enemy tanks with a plasma round. But they kept coming, and he found himself admiring the tenacity of the enemy commander. Enough of this though, most weapon systems were still off-line, and he could not afford to lose any of his men in this internal battle. He had the troops pick up, and move out, westward. Now the Deutsche were retreating as well. Oh well, the Core would not come through the gate until after they felt they had secured Shada. Another week at least. Hari took one last glance at the oncoming enemy tanks and infantry, then turned his back, and walked away from the battle. No doubt the enemy commander thought he had won the battle. No matter, in another day or two, when his combat units were fully operational, he would come back, and smash these fools.
Planet Shada, 3863 A.E:
Commander 737-F strode to the crater rim, looked down at the construction bots working on the gate, and asked for the fifth progress report in the last hour.
"The situation is the same as the last report twenty minutes ago, sir. We'll let you know when we get it working." a frustrated and annoyed advanced construction vehicle replied.
737-F would have sighed loudly if he could have. He knew he was grating on their nerves, but he felt so powerless, knowing that nothing he did would get the gate activated any sooner. He turned away to help nanolathe a Punisher plasma battery. It quickly finished, and assumed a firing position. 737-F trudged over to a Protector to help finish it, when an excited voice sounded over the link.
"Commander!" It was the construction vehicle. "We've activated the gate! We can send troops through anytime now." it blurted.
"Finally!" He opened a link to the leaders of his infantry. "All combat squads, with the exception of squad 53, report to the crater immediately." 737-F hated to leave an entire attack squad behind, but the Krogoth was in that squad, and Krogoths were too massive to safely make the gate transit. However, within an hour nearly every remaining Core soldier on the planet was assembled in the crater. "Activate the gate." he ordered. With a low rumble, and an electronic buzz, a wormhole formed in the air beside the gate. "I'm going through first, to recon the landing zone." Without waiting for a reply, he stepped into the wavering tunnel.
North Africa, Planet Earth, 1942 A.D:
"General, what is that thing?"
Patton would have responded to the colonel's query, but he was too amazed himself. "I don't know," he finally replied, "but I intend to find out." he said with sudden determination. Patton once again went back to staring at the object.
The colonel looked hard. It was pentagonal, about 30 feet high, 70 feet wide, and a piece of it stuck out from the main body. The material though…
Suddenly, Patton broke the silence. "This was man made."
"What? That thing?" The colonel was an engineer, and a very good one at that, and he had no idea how such an object could be created. "Impossible sir. The effort put into building this thing is more than we could hope to match."
Patton looked at him. "Not that thing colonel, I was talking about the cave. That thing probably belongs to those machines." He gazed around the enormous cavern. "Colonel, did it strike you as somewhat unusual that a high ranking S.S. officer would be traveling with a German panzer division?"
The colonel gawked. He hadn't even spared the cavern itself a glance. That kind of thinking was the reason why he was still a colonel, and Patton was a general. "Sir, I hadn't heard about any S.S. man." he said, changing the subject in his own mind.
"An infantry major spotted the black uniform, and he said it looked like the S.S. man was talking to the largest of those…things."
"And you think that the Germans knew about this." Finished the colonel with a sudden understanding.
"Damn-straight, colonel." Patton paused in thought. "Come on, we're going to find out exactly what that thing is." He spun on a heel, and stalked off toward the object.
Though dubious as to exactly what they would find, the colonel followed his commanding general. It was a funny thing, but as they got closer, he could swear that he heard a deep humming. No, heard was not the right word; felt more adequately described it.
As the two men approached the object, the air seemed to grow charged. Patton held out a hand in a silent order to stop. "Something's happening." he whispered tensely. It was true. Then, to the utter amazement of the two men, a blinding flash of light revealed what could only be described as a vortex. It was literally a hole in the air! Both men made a hasty retreat, and the colonel could feel a swell of panic rising up within him. Even the normally imperturbable Patton was wide-eyed. As the colonel gaped at the tunnel, he saw something darker. Something was coming through! He grabbed Patton's shoulder and pointed; though by the grim set of the general's jaw, it was obvious he had already seen it. Within moments, the remainder of the intruder passed through, and with an audible snap, the tunnel swirled shut. Not two hundred feet in front of them stood a 30-foot tall man. No, not a man, but another one of those giant machines. Patton took a determined step forward. "Who are you?" he asked.
The giant tilted his head slightly, as if studying them. "I am Core Commander 737-F. What is your designation?"
"Ahem," Patton cleared his throat. "I am General George S. Patton, U.S. Army."
The creature studied them for a moment longer. "You are irrelevant. My troops will be entering this world shortly."
"Your troops? How many of them? The last…person…had tens of thousands."
"You have seen another commander?" The Core commander, whatever that was, glared at them. "You will tell me his location."
The colonel was almost frightened by the realization that this thing intimidated even Patton. Intimidated enough that he didn't even put up an argument, as was his wont.
"Maybe we can help you. We're not sure where they are now, they retreated west not an hour ago with the stinking Nazis."
The Core commander's head whipped around. "I assume these Nazis are a faction on your world? However, something is wrong," it said almost to itself. "The clones would not just abandon a galactic gate, especially one that we were following them through. Why did they retreat?"
"My boys drove them off," Patton said with pride.
"Intriguing. Now, I recommend you exit this cavern before my troops arrive, as there is a chance that you could be injured in the process. When all of my soldiers have arrived, we will speak again."
"Agreed, commander. Come on, Colonel, we're going to have a nice, long chat with Allied command, and get an ambassador down here." Patton remarked as he and the colonel climbed out of the cave.
Commander 737-F watched the two aliens walk up to a tunnel in the cave wall, and disappear inside. He had nearly vaporized them when he first emerged from the galactic gate, thinking they were clones. Just before he fired, he realized that they didn't look quite like clones. Every instinct screamed that these organic beings were the enemy, to fire the d-gun, and destroy them both. But he had overcome the savage thought, and studied them more carefully. They were slightly larger and more heavyset than any clone 737-F had ever seen. More noticeable was the fur growing on the one creature's head. Perhaps an infection, he mused. Either way, they were definitely not clones. That left only one disturbing conclusion. They must be alien.
Now, having spoken with the creatures, they seemed more alien than ever. However, they had provided him with vital information on the Arm commander's location and strength. He would speak more with them later, after his troops had gated through. Then 737-F remembered his aborted d-gun attack, and tried to deactivate his arm-mounted weapon. A brief flicker of worry crossed his mind. The d-gun had never been activated at all! He ran an internal diagnostic, and mentally frowned at the results. The fluctuations in the wormhole had caused minor damage to some of his internal systems, including weapons. The damage would take several days to repair. He owed the aliens more than they could know. Had even a puny Arm Peewee been guarding the gate, he would have been defenseless. Discarding the morbid thought, he activated the gate, and relayed the order to move out. A brief moment later, the first Core k-bots had stepped through the shimmering portal, and assumed a defensive stance at the entrance to the cavern.
"So you see, Colonel," finished Hari. "We were forced to travel through the galactic gate, even though we had no idea were it led to. Now Core has control of the remainder of the metal on Shada, and in a few days, will follow through the gate. We have to get back to the gate, and destroy it before they can use it."
"Fascinating," Gunther Weiss mumbled. But you realize," he spoke in a louder tone. "The Americans have fortified that whole area. According to our scouts, there are two full American tank divisions there, as well as infantry and air cover. I'm sorry, commander, but even with the numbers of troops you have, you won't get through that line."
"I think you underestimate my men," Hari laughed. "Your technology level is higher than we expected, but hardly comparable to ours."
"If you say so, commander," Weiss said doubtfully. "This has been an…interesting conversation, but I have to attend to our soldiers. Good day." He turned, and walked out of the hanger Hari was occupying.
Hari pondered the information Weiss had revealed to him. It was scant, but now Hari knew what kind of weapons he was likely to face. He was still thinking ten minutes later, when Skorzeny strolled in.
"Hello!" called the Gestapo man.
As far as Hari could tell, this "Gestapo" organization was the human equivalent of Arm Intelligence, just a bit more "hands-on." Still, Skorzeny's wide grin made him nervous. It reminded Hari of the mouth of the deep-water razorfish of Empyrrean: just before it attacks its helpless prey. "Commander, we are planning to assault the Allied lines over your…galactic gate. We would appreciate any assistance you can give us."
"Obërluetnant Skorzeny, we…" Hari paused for a moment. It might be better if they did not know what his plans were exactly. "We would be happy to assist you. Our combat units are far more powerful than yours, and will easily crush whatever force those people have laid out for us."
Skorzeny beamed. "Commander, the people of the Fatherland thank you. Perhaps with your help, this will truly be a thousand-year Reich! Heil Hitler!" he said, raising his arm in a stiff salute. Skorzeny spun about, and began to walk out of the hanger.
Hari's sudden, roaring laugh brought Skorzeny to a halt, and he turned back to Hari with a questioning look on his face.
"What is so dreadfully funny?" Skorzeny asked reasonably.
"You…humans… have strange…thought processes." Hari choked out between laughing fits.
Skorzeny looked suddenly proud. "You mean of course our forward reaching plans."
"No," Hari said, laughing harder, "I mean your short-sightedness!"
Skorzeny's face darkened with a dangerous anger. "A millenium is hardly short-sighted. The Third Reich will rule Earth for all of that time."
"We have been fighting the Core for nearly four thousand years. And before that, our race was a galaxy-spanning empire of over a million worlds." Hari swore he could hear Skorzeny's sardonic smile fall off his face and hit the ground. He laughed at the S.S. man's discomfiture. Skorzeny snapped his mouth shut, and stalked out the door.
Hari turned at the sound of another k-bot coming up behind him. It was Lieutenant Hendon in his Zeus. "Sir," Hendon started, "…I don't presume to make army policy, but… I'd watch that one, if I were you." He said, indicating the departing S.S. officer.
"I plan to, Lieutenant. I don't trust anyone who holds a high military rank without being a soldier. Now, to the matter at hand. Have the men fall into ranks, and prepare to move out. We have to destroy or disable that gate before Core forces can use it. I estimate that the Core commander will take his time, and set up a defense on Shada first. Only then will he try to follow us. That gives us another two days at maximum before he comes through."
"Yes sir," replied Hendon crisply, "I'll have the men prepare to march." With a quick salute, Hendon exited the building.
Hari thought again about these, Nazis, they called themselves. Well, they were too weak to damage Hari's troops, so he didn't have to worry about them much. Yet he did anyway, especially that Skorzeny. After he destroyed the gate, and had begun construction of another one, he would have time to ponder these creatures more carefully. Mining the planet of it's metal was now out of the question, or he'd have the entire population of the world against him, and even his mighty army would falter under the weight of billions. He didn't want it to come to that. He wasn't a murderer, and these people didn't have any knowledge of the Core, so they could hardly be blamed for wanting to preserve their world. Sighing mightily, he stepped out into the bright sunlight of this new world, and began formulating a plan of attack against the enemy lines.
Commander 737-F gazed proudly at his army, spread out below on the desert plain. Nearby, the American tanks and infantry had also formed up, their leader, General Patton, staring wide-eyed as 737-F nanolathed yet another solar collector. His army desperately needed energy, although the damage caused by the gate transit had been repaired. The hot Terran sun beat down unmercifully upon his armor, and his thermal sensors indicated that energy weapons would have to be used sparingly to avoid overheating their firing chambers. He turned to the human general beside him. "General, I suggest we fall back several miles from this site. We no longer have any need for the galactic gate, and the defenses here are poor."
Patton looked like he was about to argue, but another glance at the featureless desert silenced him. "All right Commander, we'll do it your way. I hate to retreat, but there is a ridge a few miles back. We can set up trenches back there."
"Excellent general. I will leave a squad of Storms here as skirmishers."
"What are Storms?"
"Rocket launching k-bots. They have a long range, and excel at this kind of warfare." He pointed out the appropriate k-bots for the human.
"Hmm… ok, commander. I'll give the orders to fall back at once. You set up your skirmishers." Patton stood looking out at the combined army for a moment longer, then walked down the rise toward his HQ tent.
The Core commander stood for a moment, watching the human receding down the trail, then issued orders for a squad of storms to take up a position strung out along the desert. He also contacted one of his only mine-laying vehicles, and ordered it to set up a minefield in the soon to be deserted field camp. The Arm and Core forces were roughly equal in size and strength. With a little luck, the Arm would soon find itself short of combat units.
Hari magnified the view as far as his suit's visor was capable of. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The entire XVII Arm Corps had prepared a massive three-pronged assault on the enemy lines, and it had been flawlessly executed. But there had been no response from the enemy. Very unusual to say the least. Hari climbed up onto the hull of a nearby Bulldog, propped his metal foot on a cannon barrel, and still saw nothing. By that time, Hari's entire force had regrouped about 1500 meters from where the American lines should have been. His concentration was suddenly shattered by Skorzeny's voice from immediately behind him.
"Well, it looks like the Yankees showed their true color; yellow!" Laughing uproariously at his own pathetic joke, he said, "Looks like they knew we were too strong."
Hari was about to breach the rules of diplomacy with an angry retort, when the human colonel saved him the trouble.
"Otto, I realize you don't have much experience in actual combat, but it is bad tactics to retreat from a strong position. And despite what you may think, this is good ground. That leaves a few unpleasant possibilities. One, they've rerouted their troops to attack a different front, or two, they have a stronger position to the rear."
"In either case," interrupted Hari, "the gate is here, and I can prevent Core forces from gaining a foothold on your world."
Surprisingly, it was Weiss who turned to Hari. "What exactly makes these 'Core' people so bad?"
Hari gave a rueful laugh. "I was prepared to take sides in an alien conflict and annihilate a group of people I had no experience with. That is an example of how 'bad' the Core is. They are the beings that drove me towards such a vile act." Hari breathed deeply, and silenced the questions he could see forming in Weiss' and Skorzeny's eyes. "Almost four thousand years ago, Core scientists discovered that the mind of a person could be transplanted into a cold robotic shell, effectively making that person immortal. This process, called patterning, was originally very expensive, and only a few of the upper class of society ever had it done to preserve themselves. Then, when patterning had become a cheap, easy process, it was made mandatory for all citizens in order to preserve their lives. We of the Arm found mandatory patterning to be reprehensible, destroying our individuality, while our minds remained horribly alive and suffering. Our resistance force countered the pattern hordes with massive cloning projects. I myself am the two hundred and eighty-fourth clone of the original Hari. Our first attacks on Core installations were…." Without a word Hari pushed the two men to the ground.
For one stunned moment, Weiss thought the commander was physically attacking them. Then he noticed strange "whoosh" noises coming from farther out on the desert, and a mere instant later spotted the incoming rockets. These rockets were different though. Unlike the V-1's he had occasionally seen overhead, these were no mere flying bombs! They came in with unbelievable speed and accuracy. Weiss squeezed his eyes shut as the rockets began to find their marks. A series of muffled "whumps" signaled the impact of dozens of rockets. This was no American weapon he had ever seen! Weiss opened his eyes just in time to view a small Arm k-bot violently explode under multiple rocket hits. All around now were more ground shaking explosions. Some even more violent than the one he had just witnessed.
As quickly as it had begun, the rocket fusillade was over. Hari spat out an oath and climbed to his feet. "Peeper 23-Delta, overfly us and give us some targets!" he screamed into his suit. "Hawk squadron 58, strike all visible ground targets. They can't have many, or we would've seen them earlier. XVII Corps, move out!"
Weiss watched openmouthed as the ground rumbled under the weight of thousands of charging machines. A few more k-bot's went down to rockets, but the rest continued to close the intervening space between them and the retreating rocket launchers. A squadron of eight ultra-fast planes flashed overhead, and unloaded a deadly payload of missiles into several of the rocket launchers, which instantly exploded into flaming wreckage. Suddenly, Weiss felt the breath pulled out of his very lungs by the pressure wave of a large explosion. Turning his head, he gaped at a towering column of flame. It slowly faded into the air, leaving only the subdued sounds of moving combat units. An instant later, farther off, another huge explosion bloomed, followed by a dozen smaller ones. The Arm units halted stock-still.
"Mines!" shouted Hari. "Those…Core… laid a minefield here!" He kicked the flaming carcass of an enemy rocket launcher twenty feet into the darkening sky. "Construction aircraft CA-73T, report to my location. We have a minesweeping job to do."
"Yes sir," came the hurried reply. "Shall I bring my entire wing?"
"Yeah, we'll need all of them to clear this field by morning."
Skorzeny stood up, and half-ran over to Hari, eyes glittering. "That was very impressive commander. Let me be the first to congratulate you on your victory."
Hari made a tired sound deep in his throat. "That was no victory. That was a minor skirmish. A skirmish that I lost far too many good men in."
Skorzeny shrugged slightly. "In any case, with you on our side, the Allies and the Core stand no chance against us!"
"I said, the deal's off. I agreed to help you crush the Allied line because it would allow me to keep the Core off your world entirely. Now that they are here, they are our priority. Now, I suggest that you remove yourselves and your men from this field, because we won't be able to protect them any more." Hari returned to casualty counts and progress reports, as Skorzeny fumed.
"I warn you, the Third Reich will not forget this betrayal, commander." Skorzeny haughtily turned his nose up at the commander and stalked back to Weiss. "Come on, Colonel. We'll let these fools find out what a real army is all about."
Washington D.C., United States, 1942:
"What I want to know, is why you are of the opinion that this situation in North Africa is so important. Can you at least tell me that much?" asked a tired voice.
Secretary of State Cordell Hull cleared his throat nervously. "Yes sir, Mr. President." He leaned over the map spread out on the table before them. "Three days ago, our lines here," he pointed at the appropriate spot, "were attacked by Rommel. General Patton was forced to pull back his lines by about three miles."
"Mr. Hull, we have been beaten back before, many times. What makes this so unusual?"
"Well sir, he didn't pull back because of Rommel's attack. According to Patton, he could have held the line there. Apparently, the very ground of the battlefield uplifted, and something emerged from underground."
The President's eyebrows raised slightly. "And what was the nature of this something?"
"We don't know what the first one was sir, but Patton feared a new German weapon, and made a careful retreat."
President Franklin Roosevelt glared at his ambassador. "Mr. Hull, will you please get to the point." He said with more than a touch of impatience.
"Of course sir." Hull gulped at the thought of what the President's reaction would be to his news. "It all boils down to the fact that there are two very large and very dangerous alien armies in North Africa as we speak."
Roosevelt's face went paler than usual. "Alien? As in not from Earth?"
Hull was visibly sweating. "Yes sir."
The president swiveled his chair away from Hull, and gazed across the White House lawns. "What are they doing there, and what are their intentions towards us?"
"Well sir, apparently they are two sides in an alien war. They are called the Core and the Arm. At first it seemed as though the Arm had allied themselves with the Nazis, and the Core with us. Each of their armies is about 250,000 strong, so they are an even match. However, when the Arm discovered that the Core had followed them to our world, they broke their alliance with the Nazis, and are continuing their own war against the Core." Hull knew he was babbling, but he just wanted to say it, and be done with it.
"All right," the President said. "This is a lot to swallow. Get me the Commander of the Core. Perhaps we can negotiate a settlement, and get both of them off our world."
"What is it?"
"I can't bring him here sir. He's a thirty-foot tall machine."
Roosevelt's brow furrowed. "I see… Well, perhaps we can meet in a neutral location at sea. Of course the Soviets would demand to attend, so it would be best to invite them first. The Soviet and British representatives would want to -" The President was cut off in mid sentence by the rapid arrival of a White House aid waving a paper.
"Sir! We've just received this communiqué from General Patton!"
Roosevelt gave a tired smile. "And what tidings does he offer us?"
"For your eyes only sir." He said.
The smile melted away, leaving only a puzzled frown. "Give me that." The President studied the paper intently for a moment. "Mr.Hull, we have a bigger problem to worry about than offending the Russians. It seems that the Core commander has aborted our brief alliance to pursue the Arm."
Hull gasped. "What do we do now?"
"Start that conference anyway. We have some things to tell the Russians. In fact, this is a very big problem. Invite the Germans as well." Roosevelt said grimly. "With any luck, the Arm and Core will confine themselves to a nice, remote, corner of the desert and destroy each other. But if there's one thing I've learned about life, it's that nothing is ever that easy."
One-hundred and fifty feet above the English Channel, February, 1943:
"Sir, we should be reaching London within the hour!" the pilot of the small biplane yelled over her shoulder at her important passenger. She turned back to the meager control panel, focusing on keeping the altimeter at a steady 150 feet. No easy feat at night, and coupled with the trees and buildings of the Netherland coast, it was nearly impossible. It would have been much easier and quicker to fly direct from Norway to England, but patrols of Core Searcher scout ships in the North Sea made that option unadvisable for anyone who wanted to live. In the first days of the new war, pilots, whether German, English, American, or Soviet, were treated to a terrible example of the power of Core missiles, when over thirty American and British planes were shot down within ten minutes of crossing the channel. The Arm commander had responded with a public apology, claiming that he had believed them to be Core planes, attacking from the north. Even so, every so often, another human plane would go down to an Arm or Core missile. They had the ability to target anything flying more than a few hundred feet off the ground with frightening accuracy, and many good fighters and bombers had already been blasted from the sky.
Forty minutes later, the triangle of faint lanterns that marked the city of London was visible. Finally, the figure in the rear seat shifted. "Comrade pilot, this is London?"
Soviet Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov spared the lanterns only a disdainful glance, and pondered the upcoming conference. It would be the first one of the new year, and important decisions would have to be made. Molotov once again marveled at how two rather small armies had literally halted a world war. But, when those armies were made up of extremely powerful twenty-foot tall machines and gigantic tanks, it became more understandable. At first, the Axis powers and the Soviet Union had ignored the rumors of alien armies in the desert, but when the robots spread out from there, it was time to take action. Now, the faction called Core controlled Asia, Japan, Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Southern United States. The Arm held South America, Australia, Western Europe, and the Northern United States and Canada. As yet, because of its relatively isolated location, the British Isles were free of either side. So far, no major battles between the sides had taken place, but skirmishing was constant. The Allies and Axis powers had responded to the dire threat immediately. A non-aggression pact had been signed between all concerned countries, and POW's on all sides had been exchanged. However, feelings between the warring nations were strong, and special care would have to be taken by the diplomats to ensure the truce would hold. A sudden jolt in the aircraft's frame told Molotov that the plane was on a landing approach. Within five minutes, he was on the ground, being escorted by a British guard to a camouflaged truck. Molotov breathed out a cloud of mist into the frigid winter air, and followed the guard.
London, England, February, 1943:
"Gentlemen," boomed a powerful voice. Winston Churchill gazed around the room at the assembled diplomats, willing them into silence. Despite himself, Molotov was impressed by the authority in the Prime Minister's voice. That rich voice was always strong on the radio, but it was far more impressive in person. "Gentlemen," Churchill repeated. "We face a dire threat from these alien soldiers. As you all know, two days ago, the Japanese province of Hokkaido was invaded and captured by the Arm. Many civilians as well as soldiers were killed in the ongoing fighting, which is why the Japanese ambassador is not in attendance." He paused, and took a deep breath, evidently preparing to say something difficult. "We must stop both Core and Arm from destroying our world. Our war has ended. We…all of us…must band together to save our world from total annihilation." Churchill turned to an aid beside him, and took a sheaf of papers from him. "These are treaty documents that President Roosevelt and I drew up at the Yalta conference. We had intended them for the end of the war, which is now. We have modified them to fit the existing circumstances, of course. You will each review the documents to your satisfaction."
Molotov watched with interest as the American Secretary of State stood and leaned over the table in front of him. "Mr. Prime Minister, if we should agree to end our war, what will be our first course of action?"
"Very simple. We shall all wage war on both Arm and Core forces, and drive them from our world."
The German Foreign Minister, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, sputtered angrily, and jumped to his feet. "That is suicide! Even the mighty army of the Reich stands no chance against their super weapons! Our depleted armies will be battling half a million mechanized death-machines!"
Molotov barely stopped himself from laughing at the pompous German. "We won't be," he finally said. "They are already fighting each other, and have been for the past four thousand years. I hardly think that they will suddenly ally themselves against us."
"Exactly," said Churchill. "We use divide and conquer strategies. Large-scale battles are out of the question, but sabotage and blitz attacks should work most effectively. And now gentlemen, I suggest we adjourn until tomorrow. It will give you all time to read and approve the new treaty. Goodnight." Churchill gathered the papers in front of him, and turned to walk out, leaving the still fuming Ribbentrop behind. At the very least the next few days should prove quite interesting, thought Molotov. Then he too exited the room.
"This is an outrage! The German government refuses to abide by this fallacious treaty!" Ribbentrop was fairly purple with rage.
Molotov couldn't resist a snide comment in the direction of the German foreign minister. "A mandate for your government to cease mass murder is hardly an outrage. You know very well that the death camps are real."
Ribbentrop spun angrily on Molotov. "Yes, you would know, wouldn't you. Siberia can't exactly be called a summer camp."
Molotov quietly seethed, but resisted the urge to retort, and remained in stony silence.
"Enough!" demanded the American. "Mr. Prime Minister," he said in a normal tone, "the American government fully supports the points of the treaty." He turned back to the other ambassadors. "Let us not forget gentlemen, that the aliens are our real problem. We will have to put our differences aside to combat this menace. All of them." he said giving Ribbentrop a scathing glare.
"Thank you Mr. Hull." said Churchill. "The treaty simply calls for the mutual cessation of hostilities in order to devote all military power against the true enemy."
"It also falsely accuses my government of a non-existent policy of genocide!"
Molotov smirked. "Mr. Foreign Minister, I have seen Babbi Yar."
Ribbentrop's face went ashen. "That proves nothing." he choked out. He stood up and faced the assembly. "Gentlemen, my government will not abide by this slanderous treaty. Good day." Without another word, Ribbentrop stalked out of the meeting hall.
Churchill sighed sadly. "Well, despite the profane reaction from the German government, Italy and Japan have agreed to abide by the stipulations of the treaty. While the Japanese ambassador was unable to attend this meeting, I did receive a communication from him, in which he promised to - " The assembled representatives turned to face the entrance to the room as a soldier, breathing hard, hurried across the room to the Prime Minister. The man walked over to Churchill, leaned down, and began whispering. The courier handed Churchill a folded document, and a whispered conversation ensued. After a moment, the messenger briskly walked out of the room, and Churchill rose from his seat. "Gentlemen," he said hoarsely, "I have just received word of a frightful occurrence." He closed his eyes and appeared to steady himself. "The Core have just deliberately attacked the German people." The Prime Minister lifted the paper and began to explain. "At 8:30 Greenwich time this morning, witnesses report that the German city of Bonn was destroyed." Silent gasps sounded from around the room. Even Molotov was surprised. How did they destroy an entire city so quickly? Churchill continued. "A fireball was seen to rise higher than the tallest buildings in the city, at least a thousand feet or more, originating from the eastern part of town. No one survived who was close enough to witness the actual attack, but the Core have claimed responsibility. As you all are aware, the Arm had had control of that city." Churchill, looking to have aged considerably in the past minutes, placed the paper on the table in front of him. "Casualties are estimated at more than three thousand civilian dead. Gentlemen… you now have your reason for opposing the aliens. This will be the fate of all the world's people if we do not act. Good day, and Godspeed." With a final nod to the assembled diplomats, the British Prime Minister stepped out the door, leaving half a dozen stunned diplomats in his wake.
Arm Command, North Africa, March, 1943:
Hari – 284 slammed his bare fist into the already battered table. "This is unacceptable, Lieutenant. These primitives should be no match for our advanced technology, yet somehow, they managed to destroy our only advanced shipyard on this world." Sighing loudly, Hari turned to face Hendon. "So far, we've lost three Stumpies, twelve Skeeters, and a fully loaded transport, to say nothing of our losses to Core."
Hendon gulped, and leaned his slight frame over the map. "Yes sir, that is true, but we are making much progress in this area… um, Nippon."
"And all of that progress is nullified by Core advances in Deutschland. They have proven that they have completed a nuclear missile silo in the S.S.S.R. region of the planet, south of the city of Moskova. That alone tips the balance of power in their favor, and we don't yet have the energy production capabilities to support a nuclear silo, or even an LRPC."
"But sir, they will have to be cautious, as they have no means of preserving their patterns on this world."
Hari snorted derisively. "We can't afford many losses either, Lieutenant. This world has no cloning facilities. Every man's life is important now, and nuclear weapons cost us many men, far too quickly." Hari glanced significantly at the map. "We have a very good idea about where that silo is, thanks to a lucky Peeper. We have to take it out, before they can build and launch another missile. Bonn was a relatively unimportant area for us, but next time, the target may be a more vital location."
"Yes commander, I'll begin planning of an attack. We are short on aircraft, so I'm considering an infiltration mission."
"All right," said Hari. "Perhaps it's about time to make a real fight in Nippon as a diversion. We'll speak at greater length later on."
Hendon snapped a quick salute, and made his way up the dank corridor to the hanger his zeus was being repaired in, leaving the commander to his own plans.
15 Miles West of Pskov, March 14, 1943:
"Careful there!" called Major Adolf Priller. He was a dour little man, much like his namesake, the Füher himself. At this exact moment, he was supervising the unloading of more than twenty freight cars onto the frozen Russian steppe. The few Russian partisans who were lending assistance frowned at the German's orders, but continued working. Despite the official treaties, German-Soviet relations were far from friendly. Priller's musing was rudely interrupted by his Russian opposite number.
"How many shots do you think we will get off?" shouted the Russian brigadier in his broken German as he jogged over.
Priller gazed upward and thought. "Probably no more than six shots. Both Arm and Core have excellent detection abilities, and will doubtless find our location within instants of the first shots being fired."
The brigadier set his jaw. "Then we will have to make each shot count. I hear that this gun isn't very accurate."
Priller shook his head ruefully. "It isn't, unfortunately, but it doesn't have to be. That missile launcher is several square acres in size, so it shouldn't be too hard to hit. One or two shots should do it."
The brigadier harumphed. "Why didn't you Nazis just use one of your fancy rockets, instead of lumbering this beast out here?"
Priller sighed, and scratched his beard. "It's not that simple. The V-1 is less accurate than this gun, and there are no launchers anywhere near enough to hit that silo. The V-2 should be completed soon though, and we'll have more striking power. Until then, we have to make do with this."
The Russian brigadier eyed the gigantic cannon thoughtfully. "And what do you call this… monstrosity?"
With a sweep of the hand indicating the cannon, Priller proudly replied, "We call her… Big Bertha."
Priller was suddenly cut off by the shout of a worker. "Sir, we're ready! First shot is loaded and prepared to fire!"
Gleefully rubbing his hands together, Priller stepped forward, and gave the order. "Fire one!" With a roar akin to the end of the world, the mighty cannon hurled its deadly payload at the Core base.
Russian Wilderness North of Pskov, March 14, 1943:
Bright spotlights probed the darkness around the perimeter of the Core outpost as a lone Can alternated between scanning the radar readouts and the nearby forest in infrared wavelengths. The Can was quite proud of himself, as he had been personally selected by the commander to command the detachment guarding the outpost, and the nuclear launch pad within. It was an important assignment, and the Can was doing his best to ensure that nothing went wrong. He had put security on top readiness after the Arm scout plane had been spotted, yet he could be relatively certain that no Arm forces were anywhere within a hundred klicks of his position. The advanced radar tower next to him made quite sure of that. He switched back to a view of the radar map, and after a moment, satisfied himself that the area was secure. He was just about to return to his visual scans when he caught a sudden flicker at the edge of the radar screen. The Can resolutely continued to stare at the readout, and the flicker entered full radar coverage, its velocity calculated as far too fast for any known aircraft. The only possibility was incoming LRPC fire. He wondered briefly at how the Arm had built an operational LRPC with nearly depleted energy reserves, but shoved the thought aside, and focused on the more relevant aspect of stopping the shell. The Core had developed methods of stopping or at least disrupting plasma fire, and the commander had been sure to equip this important outpost with such countermeasures.
"Attention, this is outpost commander Can - 6L5. We have incoming plasma fire, I repeat incoming plasma fire." intoned the determined Can. "Ready all countermeasures and fire on my mark… Mark." Instantly, several miles in front of the base perimeter, sheets of liquid nitrogen shot far into the night sky. It had been discovered that if a plasma shell was cooled significantly before impact, its force could be totally, or almost totally, dissipated. It was a nearly fool proof system when deployed properly. So, it was with some shock that the Can observed the shell pass unaffected through the geysers of nitrogen. Ten seconds before impact, its radar signature resolved completely, and showed it to be a primitive solid projectile. Of course, by then, it was too late, and the horrified Can could only watch helplessly as the hurtling shell streaked overhead, smashed deep into the base of the nuclear silo, and detonated over a ton of high explosive inside. Three seconds later, the silo, the Can, a cloaked Arm insertion team, and everything else within a thousand-yard radius were reduced to a glowing mushroom cloud. The plutonium in the silo had been compressed to critical mass by the sheer force of the explosion.
Ears ringing, Adolf Priller motioned for the workers to begin reloading the monstrous cannon. His head felt as though a large man with a sledgehammer had pummeled it, and he could dimly make out the forms of prostrate workers, rendered unconscious by the shock. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to find the Russian brigadier wincing and pointing, his face lit by a hellish orange glow. Following the Russian's pointing finger with his eyes, Priller was stunned by the sight of the most massive explosion he had ever seen. Impossible! The Core base was over twenty miles away! Recognizing the mushroom cloud as being similar to the one which had engulfed a large portion of the city of Bonn a mere week earlier, Priller gasped as he realized what must have happened.
The burly Russian grabbed Priller's arm. "Quickly! We have to get out of here! We did what we came to do!"
Priller started to shove the Russian away from him, but he knew the brigadier was right. "Ja." Grabbing a megaphone, he faced the workers and soldiers. "Stop reloading! We got them the first time. Get this cannon under cover, now!" A deep rumble signaled the ignition of the massive truck the cannon was mounted on, and slowly, the whole assembly rolled forward into the thick trees.
Twenty-five minutes later, six Core Hurricane high-level bombers unloaded several tons of explosives on to the train and the clearing which had been so recently occupied by the German Big Bertha. One mile away, Priller calmly watched the carnage. "Well," he said, turning to the Russian brigadier, "Looks like we'll have time to pick a new target. Any ideas?"
The Russian gave a hollow laugh. "Actually, I do…"
University of Chicago Campus, April 2, 1943:
Colonel Leslie Groves stepped out of the car, and glanced alternately between his passenger and the college football field in front of them. "We're here, professor."
"Excellent," replied Enrico Fermi. "Has the sample arrived yet?"
"Yessir, they've got it down there already." Groves walked the professor as far as the nearest door. "Well, I must get back to my office, and you probably want to take a look at the sample."
"Indeed I do, Colonel. Good day." Fermi turned towards the entrance to the underground lab that lay beneath the football field.
Groves shook his head at the scientist's retreating back, then stepped into the cool halls of Chicago University. Quickly mounting two flights of stairs, he strode in to the welcoming warmth of his makeshift office. It took him a moment to realize that someone was already there, sitting at his desk, reading a folder labeled "TOP SECRET."
Groves cleared his throat and stepped forward with an angry remark on his lips. That was when he picked out the glint of silver on the man's epaulets. "General Bradley!" Groves sputtered for a moment, and floundered.
Omar Bradley looked up from the report. "Ah, Colonel Groves. I've been looking through this report, unfortunately it fails to explain this weapon you're working on in terms that a mere general can understand." He motioned from Groves to sit. "Would you care to fill me in on this little secret? After all, I will be supervising the defense of Chicago, and I would be interested in knowing exactly what it is I'm defending here."
Groves sat heavily and flushed slightly. "Well sir, as you already know, it is a weapon system. In effect, it's a new type of super-bomb." Before Bradley could interrupt, Groves continued. "I'm sure you are aware of the bomb that destroyed Bonn?" Receiving a confirming nod from Bradley, Groves pushed on. "We believe that the weapon used then was a nuclear device, like the one we are trying to develop here. Until Bonn, we were working in a purely theoretical field, but now we have proof of such a bomb's effectiveness. Core, and quite probably the Arm as well, have such weapons already, so to match them, our project has been given top funding."
Bradley frowned slightly. "According to this report, you are not finished yet. How soon can we have an operational weapon?"
It was Groves' turn to frown. "At this rate? Another four months at least."
"Four months!" Bradley exclaimed. "How am I supposed to keep this project a secret to both Arm and Core for four months!"
"Perhaps you won't have to, General." said a third voice.
Groves and Bradley both spun to face the door, surprised.
Enrico Fermi crossed the threshold. "Pardon me," he said apologetically. "But Colonel, I have just seen the sample, and I can tell you with the utmost certainty that we can have a working bomb in less than three weeks." His eyes glittered excitedly.
Groves gaped, and Bradley turned to him. "What sample is he talking about, Colonel?"
Groves' mouth opened and closed silently a few times. Three weeks! Suddenly remembering whose company he was in, he answered the question. "Sir, two weeks ago, a band of Germans operating a huge cannon successfully destroyed a Core missile silo in the western Soviet Union; the same one which had destroyed Bonn. That cannon and its crew were later destroyed by Core aircraft, when they attempted to destroy a Core factory on the outskirts of Stalingrad. However, soon after the destruction of the missile silo, a band of Jewish partisans discovered a sample of radioactive material amid the devastation. They spirited it aboard a fishing boat to London, where it was placed on a British submarine and brought to the United States."
"And you see," said Fermi, "We just tested it, and it proved to be plutonium, of which there is almost enough for critical mass. We can most assuredly have an operational bomb in under three weeks."
Groves turned back to Bradley. "Well sir, all that's left to do is to pick a target."
"Excellent," Bradley murmured. Excellent indeed…"
Core Command, Russian Steppe, April 5, 1943:
Core Commander 737-F fumed as he stared at the assembled officers. "This is ridiculous!" he snapped. "These creatures are far inferior to us, yet somehow they've not only destroyed our nuclear silo and its entire garrison, but they nearly destroyed a k-bot lab. This disgrace will not happen again, is that understood?"
The Core officers mentally flinched at the cold fury in the commander's voice, but answered in the affirmative.
"Sir," ventured a Goliath, "We had no way of knowing that the humans had any long-range offensive weapons. Up until that point, we had only seen primitive combat vehicles and unarmored infantry. Besides, we had no reason to suspect that they could penetrate our armor."
737-F turned on the goliath, who quailed, but held to his position. "Listen, you're lucky I don't demote the lot of you to construction unit guards. All of you will improve your performance, or else!" 737-F calmed himself, and asked each officer in turn to give a status report. The results weren't good. Nearly ten thousand combat troops destroyed or crippled, and thousands more seriously damaged. Most of the losses were due to fighting on Nippon, but the tenacious humans were responsible for killing hundreds more. In a strange way, 737-F almost understood the humans' aggressiveness; after all, it was their planet. They were defending it, as he would defend Core Prime. However, something would have to be done to prevent casualties among his own men. Unfortunately, without the Silencer, he had no other effective long-range weapons. It was time for a full-scale attack. 737-F called up a map of the planet in his mind. Yes, a massive push into eastern Europe would take pressure off of Core forces in Nippon, and possibly allow Core to make up for the lost territory there. Focusing back on his officers, he outlined his new strategy for them, and gave orders for the redeployment of combat units, all across the world.
Twenty minutes later, he dismissed them, and most of the officers made their way over to the three dozen transport aircraft to be taken back to their various fronts. The rest went back to their nearby positions to prepare for the assault that they were to make in the following days.
Rhineland, France, April 4, 1943:
Gunther Weiss turned from his newspaper at the sound of a shout from the other end of the forest clearing. Weiss sighed and put down his recently acquired prize. He jumped down from the turret of his new Panzer IV, mud squelching under his boots as he landed. Making his way between the parked tanks, he heard the sounds of a small group of people walking in his direction. As he stepped around a half-collapsed pup tent, he glimpsed a black uniform among the group, and an instant later, the accompanying face. "Otto!" he called cheerily. "What kind of insane secret mission do you want to drag me off on this time?" The serious look on the younger man's face brought him up short.
Skorzeny looked around the encampment, then gazed directly at Weiss. "Gunther, I'm here to deliver your new orders."
"Orders? It's about time. We've been holed up in these damn woods for nearly three months now. Anything would be better than this."
Skorzeny only cleared his throat in reply. "You may want to dispute that. Your whole division has been transferred to the eastern front."
Gunther felt like he'd been shot. "What? There must be some mistake… the eastern front? Why?"
"Intelligence reports that the Core are massing for a drive into the Fatherland. The Arm forces are far too weak to resist that attack, so we are going to make a stand."
"That's suicide!" breathed Weiss.
"Yes, but it is our duty to try." He shrugged slightly. "Besides, it's not quite as impossible to hurt them as we thought."
Weiss stared at him disbelievingly.
Skorzeny pulled out a more recent newspaper from a deep pocket in his overcoat, and glanced at it. "You see," he said. "One major; Adolf Priller by name; led a contingent deep into the Russian wilderness, with the Big Bertha mortar."
At this, Weiss' eyebrows rose. "That old thing? Admittedly, it was extremely powerful, but that was back in the Great War. What could they kill with that? An unguarded ammo dump?" he scoffed.
Skorzeny flashed a grin that would have gotten most men locked away in a padded cell. "Wait'll you hear! You remember Bonn?"
Weiss shuddered. His division had passed through the city soon afterward, and he had seen the devastation first-hand. Three quarters of the city had been smashed to rubble, and the center of the blast was nothing more than a crater. He still had nightmares about the charred corpses and melted buildings he had seen. "I'll never forget." he finally whispered, the men nearby growing silent with their own memories.
"Well," said Skorzeny obliviously, "The weapon that hit Bonn was determined to be a missile, not unlike the V-2. However, it's range and accuracy were many times that of the best the Reich can produce. We discovered the source of the missile to be a silo in the Russian wilderness, near the city of Pskov. Apparently, they weren't expecting us to do anything about it, because major Priller was able to get the Big Bertha within range by rail car, completely unchallenged. He then successfully destroyed the Core silo, resulting in an explosion which was reportedly visible for miles." With a triumphant grin, he slapped Weiss on the back. "For too long, the aliens treated us like insects because we were powerless against them. Now, we have shown we can sting!"
Weiss stood in thoughtful silence. "And that explains our orders. To continue your metaphor, they want to swat us all the faster. May I assume that they will attack us directly this time?"
"We'll have to do more than sting to stop an attack on that scale." mumbled Weiss.
"Aha! And that, my dear colonel, is why we are going to poison them as well. Also, if that Big Bertha surprised them so much, I'd love to see what they'd think of one of our old Paris guns." He said mischievously.
"That should prove interesting." Weiss turned away from Skorzeny, and called three lieutenants over. "All right," he said in a loud voice. "We've got orders! We move out immediately, so let's pick up!"
Scattered cheers sounded over the noise of revving panzer engines and shouting officers. It had been a long, miserable winter, and the men were thrilled by the long-awaited activity. All the men, that is, except the older ones who realized that they were going to be heading east.
Weiss turned back to Skorzeny. "All right Otto, we're on our way."
Skorzeny simply extended his hand in the stiff salute. "Heil Hitler!"
Weiss returned the gesture with a sinking feeling, then made his way back to his own panzer to make ready for the long trek to the dreaded eastern front.
The Core Invasion of Europe Begins, May 5:
Core Commander 737-F crested the summit of a small hill and proudly watched 100,000 of his finest troops moving in column along the wide dirt road below. The sight of Raider squadrons guarding pairs of Goliaths, dozens of A.K.'s marching in single file, and platoons of Morties greeted his optic sensors. His troops were making great speed on the rocky ground, though the commander was annoyed at the delays caused by the mountain pass ahead. The pass sat between two steep ridges, and was so narrow that the large Core units had to travel almost in single file through it. Fortunately, it was not long, and the first ranks of units were on their way out already. The entrance to the pass was about four hundred meters away, and the commander could clearly see the units filing in. About five thousand troops were already in the pass, and the rest were following quickly. Suddenly, his thoughts were drowned out by the excited report of a Fink scout plane. Looking upwards, he could see the Fink circling over the pass.
"Sir! I see movement on the ridges!"
A feeling of nameless dread overcame the commander. "Is it Arm?"
"No sir, I don't any Arm units anywhere in evidence. But there are small bipedal creatures, apparently humans, climbing down the opposite face of the ridge."
737-F leaped down the hill towards the road, and began issuing orders to clear the pass, when the shriek of jet engines filled the air. The commander was confused. He hadn't ordered any airstrike yet. Glancing skyward, he watched four strange looking planes shoot overhead, directly for the pass. With frightening rapidity, the jets streaked towards the startled Fink, who was too stunned to evade. The commander was shocked to see the Fink jerk, explode, and tumble to the ground as a flaming wreck. Impossible! No missiles were fired, and those were certainly not any Arm fighters he had ever seen. The humans were still using primitive foil-driven aircraft. How could they have developed such aircraft so quickly? All these thoughts raced through the commander's mind as he gauged their velocity. They were rather slow for fighter aircraft, not even supersonic, but they were fast enough to escape before they could be targeted and downed by nearby Crashers. 737-F prepared to order a wing of Avengers to remove the troublesome planes, when the ground under his feet suddenly jolted.
"Commander, look!" shouted a terrified Instigator.
737-F spun back to face the pass again, and as the ground rumbled under his feet, he watched horrified as the tops of the ridges began to explode. Chains of hundreds of small explosions raced along the ridgeline. Relief spread through the commander. The humans had missed his troops with the bombs, and had hit the ridges instead. That relief quickly melted into the sickening realization that, no, they hadn't missed. They meant to hit those ridges. Several smaller k-bots lost their balance on the quaking ground, and were unable to right themselves. The explosions had stopped, but the ground continued to shake. Bewildered, 737-F scanned for the cause of the increasing rumble. He looked up at the ridges again, but now, in place of the serene, wooded slopes of a moment ago, it appeared as if the entire mountainside was collapsing into the pass. The screams and cries of dying patterns filled the audio channels as millions of tons of rock, dirt, and assorted debris pounded down on to the helpless patterns in the pass. The commander watched in stupefied silence as multi-ton boulders bounded down the slope, smashing units into dead, crumpled wrecks. A nearby Storm had a leg smashed off by a large boulder, and before it could utter a single word, another, larger boulder blasted its entire torso off, instantly killing the pattern inside.
Finally, after what seemed like hours to the cowering troops below, the landslide slowly subsided, and eventually petered out. Within twenty minutes, nearly 3,500 Core soldiers lay dead or dying in what remained of the pass.
737-F lay pinned under a boulder that had hit him in the first minutes of the landslide, and tried to block out the sounds of dying patterns, who were on the verge of shutting down. He knew he had to do something, but what could he do? 'Get the rock off you, that's what!' another part of his mind snapped angrily. Surging mightily, he pulled his D-gun free, and activated it. With an explosive report, the boulder vaporized, showering him with dust. The commander pulled himself to his feet, and surveyed the carnage. Thirty feet away the top half of a dead Freaker glared accusingly at him. Beyond that lay the smoking ruin of thousands of brave soldiers.
Had he been in an organic body, he would likely have been sick. As it was, he was appalled by the destruction. Of course, he had the patterns backed up, and once back on a Core world they could be restored, but it saddened him all the same. Gazing towards the pass, the commander was shocked to see that the tops of the two ridges were almost entirely gone, shorn off by the human explosives. The slopes facing the pass were completely bare, all the vegetation having been wiped off by the huge wave of earth. Despite the losses, things were looking up. 737-F still had more than 95% of his invasion force intact, and he intended to use it. The faster he could drive the Arm off of this world, the faster he could get his own men to safety. Also, as a result of the landslide, the pass had been mostly filled in, and was much wider, allowing even the large Sumos and Goliaths to pass unhindered. The attack could proceed that much more quickly.
Slowly turning and picking his way through the rubble, he made his way to the rest of his force. The offensive would begin anew, and this time, there would be no sparing the humans.
Poland, May 5, 1943:
Skorzeny smirked as reports of the damage to the Core troops came over the hissing radio. The squadron of Me-262's reported that they had successfully downed the Core scout without a single loss, and they were now refueling for another run. Skorzeny just was beginning to get anxious without any contact from the frontline spies, when suddenly the radio crackled to life.
"Sir, the Core ar******ginning to move out o******pass, and are app***ching the target zone. Reqe******ders."
Skorzeny frowned at the static, as if his displeasure would change it. He turned to the young S.S. officer manning the radio next to him. "All right major, that sounded like a confirmation to me."
"Possibly, sir." The young major looked nervous at his implied criticism of his superior. "Perhaps we'd better make certain."
"If you insist." Skorzeny gestured back at the radio. The major switched on the transmitter and picked up the microphone. "Please repeat. Is the enemy in the target zone?"
"Th******* in the targ******ow."
The major frowned. "Sir, that interference is getting worse. In another ten minutes, I doubt we'll be able to contact them."
Skorzeny chuckled. "In another ten minutes, will that really matter?" His voice held no mirth. "Now, major. Get over to the command tent, and order…" he paused. "No, inform the general that it is time to commence firing the guns."
"Jawoh!" Obediently, the major broke into a flat out run. A moment later, the five Paris-class guns belched smoke and flame into the night sky.
Skorzeny peered east, although he knew he could see nothing from his vantage point, sixty miles from the scene of the shells' destinations. If the Core commander thought things were bad before…
"Commander!" came a startled shriek.
"What is it?" 737-F asked impatiently. "Identify yourself."
"This is mobile radar V-7S2! We have multiple inbound targets. Estimated range, 18 miles!"
"18 miles!" scoffed 737-F. "V-7S2, as you well know, your operational range is only 12 miles. Would you care to explain yourself?"
"Sir, there isn't time. It's 18 miles straight up, and it's closing fast. Estimated impact time is thirty-five seconds!"
"What!?!" shouted 737-F. "That's impossible! They don't have the technology to build orbital weapons!" He thought furiously.
"I don't know sir, but it's about to hit!"
"Are you certain it's not a malfun-" He paused as his audio sensors picked up a high pitched whine. The sound gradually escalated into a pounding scream that filled the air. 737-F looked skyward just in time to see a flaming shell smash a Thud into a smoldering ruin. Soon another shell hit, and another. Those were no orbital weapons, that was artillery! "Vamp squads 3B and 61G, report."
"Aye sir." came the instant reply.
"I want your squadrons to find those guns, and coordinate with Shadow group S8. You find them, they'll take them out."
"Yes sir, we're on the way."
The weary commander kept his troops moving throughout the bombardment, dismayed with the turn of events. Most of the shells missed a direct collision with any of the soldiers, but the constant pounding was turning the surrounding fields into a cratered wasteland. To 737-F, it looked almost like the unused portions of the moon Dump. His fond reminisces of patrol duty on the only moon of Core Prime were shattered by an explosion nearby. A Goliath had just been hit, the supersonic shell smashing through its turret and detonating the high-grade plasma within. Finally though, the commander received a welcome communication.
"Commander, this is Vamp squadron 61G. We've found the target, and the Shadows are on the way."
"Excellent," breathed the commander. "Stay out of range of their detection systems, and provide air cover for the shadows when they arrive." A thought occurred to him. "By the way, 61G, where are those guns anyway?"
The squadron leader actually laughed. "You won't believe this sir. The guns are positioned about sixty miles west of your location."
"That's right commander. Apparently, with their solid projectiles, they don't have the problem of plasma cohesion, so they can fire it as far as their guns will allow. An LRPC still has much more firepower, but its range is more limited."
"Incredible." murmured the awestruck commander. "ETA until the Shadows arrive?"
"Approximately ten minutes."
Arm Command, North Africa, June 2, 1943:
Hari – 284 swore fiercely, and glowered at the situation map in front of him. "This is all my fault. I was so preoccupied with the fighting in Nippon, I completely neglected the rest of the Core army." He snorted in disgust. "Now we've lost an entire continent, and a vital one at that."
Lieutenant Hendon finally stirred from his seat, where he had spent the past two hours watching the commander rage at himself. Hendon was growing quite concerned about the mental state of his superior. "Sir, as I have already said, we have taken Nippon, and casualties were very light in Europe. With all due respect, you should be preparing to retake the continent, not blaming yourself for every setback. Sir."
Hari heaved a rattling sigh, then inexplicably broke into a rueful laugh. "You're right of course, Lieutenant. I'm not doing any good sitting down here." Hari looked up at Hendon again, but this time, there was renewed vigor about him. "Let's take that blasted continent."
Hendon looked back at the map. "Where shall we attack from? This peninsula?" he queried, indicating a foot-shaped extension in southern Europe.
Hari shook his head. "No, they're expecting us to hit there. All recon patrols indicate heavy defenses there. No, I have a better idea. See those two northern islands?"
Hendon leaned over for a closer look. "Ah, they have many names, but I believe they are commonly known to the humans as England and Ireland."
"Yes, England is the larger one, and at its closest point, is only a few miles from the European mainland." Hari glanced back at Hendon. "We'll take that island, and use it as a jumping-off point. It's small, so there won't be much resistance. Have two brigades of the XVII Corps mobilize, and prepare for combat. I'll have several sea transports and a squadron of transport aircraft rendezvous with the troops at these coordinates. The colonel of the XVII will be in command, but I want you to go with the invasion force and keep me informed of all developments. I will remain here, and put another plan into motion."
Hendon gazed quizzically at his commander, but saluted, and left the room.
"Then, as soon as we had word that their troops were in the target zone, we fired all five Paris's at them." Skorzeny sighed and gave a rueful smile, his face taking on a ruddy glow from the campfire before him. "I would've loved to have seen those monsters hit."
"Well, what happened?" asked Weiss impatiently.
Skorzeny's smiled faded, and he glared at the fire. There was a strange, disinterested tone in the colonel's voice. "About an hour after we opened up on them, they found us. Their detection capability is far beyond anything we have. Within five minutes of their first planes flying over, squadrons of bombers hit us."
"And you lost all five guns, and were forced to retreat." Weiss finished.
Skorzeny lifted his head, and gave the other man a strange look. "Four."
"You said we lost five guns. Actually, it was four. One of them, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, escaped detection because it was disguised as, of all things, a ship's mast." Skorzeny rubbed his hands together gleefully.
"Then, we have one of these guns still active, deep behind enemy lines?"
Skorzeny only chuckled misheviously. "Don't worry, it'll be seeing action again, soon. In the meantime, I want to hear your own escapades, and all about what happened here." he added, gesturing at the shadowy forms of the ruined buildings that surrounded them.
Weiss stood and began to walk away from the comforting glow of the fire, motioning Skorzeny to follow. The two men silently walked together, Weiss taking the lead, and striking off down a side alley.
Skorzeny glanced around at the encroaching darkness, and put his hand on the reassuring solidity of his gun in its holster. He was just beginning to grow restless and a slight bit anxious, when Weiss finally slowed down. The fires of the panzer encampment were no longer visible in the deep gloom, and as far as Skorzeny could tell, he and Weiss were the last living beings on Earth. "Gunther, where are you taking me?" he finally ventured.
Weiss paused a moment, as if the question of their destination had never occurred to him. "This is far enough." he said, almost to himself. "Well," he said in a louder tone. He looked over at Skorzeny. "You said you wanted to know what happened. Just look around." His voice was like ice.
Skorzeny glared at the ruins around him. "Those Core monsters," he said staring up into the night sky, "I wish we'd gotten them all in that pass." Skorzeny's head snapped back around in shock at Weiss's sudden, barking laugh.
"Monsters," he murmured. "He calls them monsters." Gunther turned his back on the amazed Gestapo officer, and suddenly bellowed, "Damn you! Damn all of you!"
Skorzeny was so startled by the unexpected outburst, when the colonel turned back to him with rage written on his face, it took him almost ten seconds to realize that Weiss had a pistol pointed at his chest. Stunned, Skorzeny whispered, "Put that gun away Gunther, or you'll never pull that stunt again. I am a Gestapo officer after all. Now, kindly tell me what the hell you're talking about!" He put his hand on the butt of his own gun, to at least put on an appearance of non-discomfiture.
"Otto, I told you before that we were pushed back by the Core."
Skorzeny's face clouded for a moment. "So? The same happened to nearly all Wermacht forces on the eastern front."
"Otto… They pushed us back through a small 'town' called Treblinka. Perhaps you've heard of it." Weiss ground out through clenched teeth.
Skorzeny paled. "And you have a problem with that? It was for the good of the Reich!"
Weiss snarled, "Of course I have a problem with mass-murder, you fool. What kind of person wouldn't?" Then his face inexplicably cleared. "Oh, that's right, you don't." He raised the gun to Skorzeny's temple, and pulled back the hammer.
"Dammit, Gunther! You shoot me, and you're a dead man!"
"I don't think so, Otto. You see, my men also had a problem with what you people were doing, and I think they might have a problem with you, or any of your breed coming near me."
Skorzeny closed his eyes, and waited for the end.
After a brief moment, Weiss lowered the gun. "There's been enough death. Get out of here." So saying, he raised the gun, fired off a shot.
Skorzeny, to his credit, betrayed no emotion, turned his back to the colonel, and walked off without another word.
Weiss continued watching until Skorzeny disappeared behind the slumped rubble of the Reichstag building. With a disgusted sigh, aimed at the universe in general, Weiss headed back to the gloomy campfires of his waiting men.
Mere seconds after the colonel disappeared out of sight down the alleyway; several bricks bounded down the side of a pile of rubble, revealing a small sensor antennae. A moment later, more smashed bricks began sliding down the pile, and a three-foot cylindrical tube emerged, followed by the rest of an Arm Flea k-bot. Taking its bearings, it began to track the infrared trail of one Otto Skorzeny. The Arm commander would find the whereabouts of the human leader, Hitler, most useful. With this thought in mind, the pilot of the flea carefully followed the human out of Berlin.
North Atlantic, June 12, 1943:
The Atlantic was extremely calm, low swells stretching for miles, and reflecting the overhead stars in the pristine surface. A soft, chill breeze whispered across the ocean swells, breaking an occasional whitecap. In fact, there was only a single interruption in the entire scene.
The low dark form of U-124 knifed through the gentle seas, leaving a glowing wake behind. On the bridge, the skipper, Johann Mohr, studied the horizon for some sign of… well, anything. He had been a U-boat commander since 1941, and was considered quite experienced, even an ace, but the types of vessels used by the Core and Arm were far beyond anything he had ever seen. When the aliens first began their conquest of the planet, Mohr had been patrolling the English Channel, where he had successfully sunk two Core scout ships. Each ship had taken two torpedoes, and those were just scouts. He shuddered to think what an alien Capital ship could take. Still, although it had been difficult, it wasn't much, but it was more than any other U-boat captain had done so far. Now, on patrol west of the British Isles, he had yet to see another ship of any kind, alien or human. That was a good thing too, because he had been running underwater too long, and the electric batteries had been drained. Now, with diesels pumping black smoke into the sky, the batteries were nearly finished recharging, and they would soon be safe underwater again. He jumped slightly when a shout came up from the hatch. The silence had been that complete.
"Sir! Sonar reports a contact, at extreme range of 35,000 meters!"
Mohr quickly climbed down the ladder into the control room. "How many contacts?"
The sonar operator sat hunched over his small console. "At first just one, but I'm picking up more than 7 contacts now."
Mohr thought. It was obviously a convoy, but whose? The Americans had stopped nearly all overseas exports to England and the Soviet Union when the war moved to their own backyards, so odds were low it belonged to them. Who else could send a full convoy though? One answer kept popping up in his mind, but he didn't like it. "The aliens." he whispered. What would they be sending a convoy to England for?
"Sir! We've got active sonar pings!"
That settled it. "Crash dive! Get us down!"
Immediately, alarms and klaxons broke out all over the ship, and Mohr stepped out of the way as the duty officer and lookouts dove through the hatch, the last one quickly slamming and locking it behind him. Through the decking, Mohr could feel the pounding of feet as all non-essential personnel raced to the bow. Seconds later, they were at periscope depth. As soon as the depth was confirmed by the ceasing of the chugging diesel and the low thrum of the electric engine starting, Mohr made his way over to his charts. He placed the enemy convoy on the map, and plotted a course that would put him directly in front of it. Orders given, the boat swung about to it's new heading and made off at flank speed. They would intersect the convoy in the next hour.
"Sir!" shouted the sonar operator. "We've lost the contacts!"
"What?" Mohr asked, surprised. "How many contacts at last count?"
Mohr knew fourteen sonar echoes and active sonar pings could not be another sonar ghost, and said so. It could, however, simply be a thermal layer blocking the sonar. "Besides, if we get there, and find nothing, no harm done, but I want to know if there are ships out there. Continue at current course and speed. Maintain radio silence. They may not use radio, but they can sure pick up ours."
Aboard Arm Fibber Sneak, Chief Engineer Symon – 582 sat back against the bulkhead, satisfied with a job well done. It had taken a lot of hard work, but the fibber's sonar jammer was again fully functional. He glanced around at the other engineers, also slumping back in relief now that they'd completed their task. Symon once again looked at the crumpled bulkhead in front of him. Two Core destroyers had ambushed the fleet earlier in the day, and while they now rested at the bottom, thanks to the fleet's own escorting destroyers, a direct depth charge hit had blown the bulkhead in this compartment, and damaged the jamming device. Symon felt much safer with the jammer activated again. It would make it much harder for Core to find their invasion force again. "Hey! How's it looking up there, Luckie?" he shouted up at his assistant on the catwalk above.
"She's looking good sir, I think we're in the clear now." returned "Luckie" Josh – 128 with a twisted grin.
Symon chuckled slightly. Luckie was an extremely likable guy, but the nickname had a serious origin. Back on Shada, Luckie was the pilot of a construction k-bot. On one patrol, a team of Core Pyros and Freakers had ambushed his squad. His surviving squadmates loved to tell about how during the attack, Luckie had climbed a large rock outcropping by reclaiming footholds for himself. At the top, he proceeded to reclaim the weapon arm of every Core k-bot that passed underneath him, allowing the remainder of the squad to destroy the entire Core force without another loss. When a storm had finally noticed him, it fired, missed, and hit the rock. Luckie fell off the rock, landed on the storm, and was able to reclaim its legs and rocket launcher before it regained control. But, Luckie was also a hell of an engineer, and Symon was glad to have him aboard. Taking the ladder rungs two at a time, he clambered to the upper level, and left the engine room. Making his way down the short corridor to the control room, he was glad he had good news for the captain.
The captain looked up as the door opened, and when he saw who it was, a questioning look appeared on his face. "How bad is it?"
Symon sighed, "Well sir, the jammer took quite a beating, and we have flooding in many lower sections. But there is good news to go along with that."
A tight smile blossomed on the captain's face. "And that would be…"
"We have patched the hull, though it's still pretty fragile." he replied. "Also, we have the jammer working again, but only at 73% efficiency. My teams have the flooding under control as well."
The captain frowned. "73%? How will that affect us?"
Symon chuckled. "As long as we don't get hit again, there won't be any problems."
"Excellent work. Send your men my compliments. In the meantime, we still have to ensure a safe landing in the target zone. Those are twenty thousand good men that need us to be shipshape." He smiled wryly. "Or as close as possible."
Symon nodded. "Yes sir, thank you sir." He snapped a quick salute, and turned to leave. The captain was right. The Sneak had to be fully operational to support the invasion, and it was his job to insure that nothing else went wrong.
Johann Mohr sat up and smacked his head into his desk lamp. Muttering four letter words and rubbing his head, he looked up at the person who had just woken him.
The executive officer tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile. "Sorry about that sir, but we've entered range of where the convoy should be."
Mohr glanced up at the other man, and rubbed his bleary eyes. "Have we reestablished contact?"
The officer grimaced. "No sir, we've had no more contacts."
"Damn. They must've altered course somewhere." Mohr stood, and tugged on his rumpled uniform. "Well, I'm going to take a look." He stepped out of the tiny cabin, his executive making room in the tight hall. Stopping only long enough to shut the cabin door, he began to make his way up to the conning tower. "How are we fixed for batteries and fuel?"
The other man looked down at the clipboard he was holding. "Well, at last report, batteries are mostly charged, and the diesel tanks are still half-full."
"Excellent, then we do have enough to track this convoy." They had reached the hatch to the control room, and without waiting for a reply, Mohr entered. Taking a quick status report from each department, he stepped into the center of the crowded room. "Up scope."
An officer stepped up, and grabbed the "pickle". "Up scope, aye."
Mohr was grabbing the handles and peering through the eyepiece the moment the central column stopped moving. It was black. It was just after midnight, and thick storm clouds had come up. A perfect setup, if only he had a convoy to sink. Slowly, he scanned the horizon. Nothing. "Damn. That clinches it, they must've changed course somewhere." He looked a moment longer, then sighed, defeated. "Sonar, where would they be, if they had continued in a straight course?"
The sonar operator jumped. "Oh, well… they would have been due west, at bearing… 95º."
Mohr knew the chances of finding the convoy again was low, but it was worth a shot. "Ok, navigation, set course to due west, helm, reduce speed to one-half." U-124 audibly groaned as it slowed and turned. He looked over at his executive. "You have the tower, I'll be in my quarters if…"
The sounding technician interrupted. "Sir! I have engine noise!"
Mohr spun around. "Belay that last! Sound, what direction is it from?"
The sounding technician furrowed his brow in concentration. The control room waited, silent, for him to render his verdict. "It's hard to tell, the engines aren't screws or props, but it's definitely getting louder as we go west."
"Perfect." Mohr whispered. "Up scope!"
"Up scope, aye!"
With a deep hum, the scope slide back out into the murky water, and for the second time the same night, Mohr found himself staring into the inky darkness above the waves. This time, he knew where to look. Gazing westward, he flipped the scope to binocular vision. There! A silhouette stood out against what stars remained visible in the deepening haze. It was a low, boxy ship with a loading crane suspended over the stern. But God! It was huge! Probably twenty thousand tons or more, Mohr decided. "I have a contact, bearing almost due west." Ignoring the delighted murmur that arose in the control room, Mohr continued. "Sonar, do you have anything out there?"
"No sir," replied the flustered technician. "At this range, I don't understand why!"
"Alright, keep trying, it wouldn't be the first time the blasted sonar's gone dead on us. Sound, any contacts?"
"Yes sir! I'm picking up dozens of them, most identical, but a few faster engines." The sounding operator looked up at Mohr, and licked his dry lips. "I think those are the escorts."
Mohr gazed around at the anxious faces of his crew. For a convoy this size, the escorts would be a bit more powerful than the tiny scouts he had sunk previously. "Alright people, we're going to put a dent in that convoy. Torpedo room, how many torpedoes do we have left?"
"Eighteen torpedoes ready to fire, and four stowed on deck, sir." came the tinny reply over the voice-tube.
Mohr nodded. Eighteen would have to be enough. "Sound general quarters. Man your battlestations." he ordered.
Immediately, the sound of pounding feet echoed throughout the hull. Watch officers shouted into voice tubes, and the U-124 prepared for a fight.
"We have come about to requested course and speed, sir." bellowed the beefy helmsman.
Mohr acknowledged the man with a nod. "Up scope."
"Up scope, aye."
As the U-boat sliced through the waves towards its quarry, sonar contact abruptly returned. Not even questioning the luck, Mohr spoke, his eyes remaining glued to the scene above the surface. "Someone start getting ranges, quickly!"
The first officer jumped. "Jawoh! Range to target is 12,000 meters and closing. Target bearing 62º at 8 knots."
"Helm, put us on an intercept course. Increase speed to 12 knots. I want us within 5,000 meters." Mohr leaned back from the sinking steel pole that was the periscope. Things were going better than planned, though he was still unsure of how many torpedoes would be needed to sink one of the gargantuan ships. He looked up again. "How long until we're in range?"
The executive officer glanced at the TDC mounted on the wall beside him. "At this rate? Within the hour."
Mohr sat back for the agonizing wait.
The hour was almost up, and the ship in range, when the officer who'd taken over on the periscope shouted, "Down scope!" He reeled back from the eyepiece, startled.
Mohr leaped up from his improvised seat. "What is it?"
The officer gasped. "Sir, I saw aircraft!" Taking a deeper, calmer breath he repeated, "I saw planes sir. Definitely Arm aircraft, according to the insignias on their wings."
"Damn!" Mohr knew that their already risky job had suddenly become even more dangerous. "Let's just hope that none of them spotted us." Mohr was worried about the planes, but he didn't intend to let that stop his carefully planned attack.
A moment later the first officer called out, "Target now at 5,000 meters and closing."
Mohr rubbed his hands together, and walked the few feet to the voice tubes. "Torpedo room. Load electric torpedoes in tubes one and two. If they fail to take out the ship, we have a better chance of getting away undetected if they can't figure out where it came from." He smiled slightly. The electric torpedoes had a much shorter range than the steam ones, but they were quieter and nearly wakeless.
In minutes the message came back, "Tubes one and two reloaded, and ready to fire."
"Up scope, aye."
The periscope rose to the surface much more slowly this time, and stopped just over the wavetops. Thankfully, it would be a few more hours before dawn, so they still had the cover of night, and perhaps later, the cover of the storm that was surely brewing. Out in the darkness, Mohr could just see the dim form of the ship, and other identical ones behind it. "What are the range and heading?"
This time, the first officer was ready. "Range is 3,800 meters and closing, bearing is still 62º, and the heading is 194º at a steady 8 knots."
"Torpedo room, flood torpedo tubes one and two, and set gyros to a 3º spread angle on either side of the TDC coordinate." Mohr glanced back at the massive ship and gulped slightly. He would have to order a deep dive, and attempt to retreat if this failed. Summoning up his faltering courage, he gave the fateful order. "Fire one!"
The ship, as always, bucked in the water as the torpedo sprang out into the open ocean. Mohr lifted his stopwatch, and waited for thirty seconds. "Fire two!" Again, the ship lurched at the second torpedo's departure.
"Down scope, aye."
Now, there was nothing to do but wait, and pray.
Symon scrubbed his eyes, and glared blearily at the machinery before him. The sonar jammer was breaking down by the minute now, and he and his engineers had been working for four straight hours just to keep the fleet jammed. It looked safe for the moment though. With a tired sigh, Symon tossed his hydrospanner to the deck, and prepared to take a short break; his first since the Core attack earlier. His sleep-deprived mind almost missed the soft splash of the hydrospanner hitting the water. It took him a moment to conciously register what he heard. 'WATER!' his mind shrieked helplessly. "Symon glanced, paniced, around the compartment. The water had been slowly seeping in, and had nearly risen to the level of the engine core. Symon scrambled up the slick ladder, and made his way into the main engine room. Slamming the emergency klaxon to life, he bawled, "Abandon ship! Everybody out!"
Instantly, realizing the danger, and the significance of the steam that had begun to billow up from below, the assembled crewmen broke into a hasty rout for the nearest life rafts. They all knew that once the cold seawater made contact with the white-hot reactor core, the explosion of steam would pop the ship like a balloon.
Symon glanced around, and spotted his target. "Luckie! Get these boys outta here! I'll bring us to the surface."
Luckie scrambled off to provide some semblance of order in the chaos of the evacuation. By then, the alarm had been heard throughout the ship, and the captain had ordered a general abandon ship. However, the Sneak was still underwater, and if any of them were to get off alive, it would have to make it to the surface.
Symon squinted through the thickening clouds of hot vapor at the auxiliary control console, and reached out for the depth controls. Ignoring the heat now radiating from the damp metal, he adjusted the rudders to surface the craft. Breathing hard, he waited for the dull groan that would tell him the ship was approaching the surface. It never came. Symon sucked in his breath, and looked closely at the console. The ship was sinking! He looked around wildly for something he could do, and his eyes came to rest on the manual ballast controls. Summoning his last reserves of strength, he stumbled through the noxious clouds and grabbed the ballast release lever. Grunting, he strained at the lever with all his might, but it might as well have been a piece of the wall for all it moved. Suddenly, a second pair of hands reached through the swirling mist, and grabbed the lever. Looking back, Symon gasped. "Luckie!"
Without another word, both men went to work. With prodigious amounts of swearing and grunting, the lever suddenly squealed painfully, and flew open. Both men stumbled back as the ship quaked, and a loud burbling greeted their ears. Symon cralwed back to the console, and watched relieved, as the depth guage halted it's downward plummet, and started to near the surface. Luckie helped him to his feet, and the two of them made off towards the nearest life boat.
The Sneak punched through the surface into a driving rainstorm, and several hatches opened long enough for three large rafts to emerge. Thirty bedraggled crewmen clung desperately to them, trying to escape a watery grave. The Fibber launched itself into the air, and with a slight half-twist, plunged back into the deep. The waterlogged crew gathered aboard the rafts, and several meaty sailors lashed them together at the captain's direction.
Symon, now fully awake, scanned the immediate area. He was crammed into a small corner of one of the rafts. Instead of the sterilized air of the submarine, he was now inhaling the heady aroma of this planet's overly salty oceans. All around, Symon could just make out the dim forms of Envoy-class, and slightly squatter Bear transport vessels through the curtains of falling rain. The rafts were rocking on the increasing waves, naeuseatingly, it seemed to Symon, who was used to the relative stability of a submerged vessel. He strapped himself to the side of the raft, shrugged down into the side, and prepared to wait for one of the destroyers to pick them up. He was absolutely convinced things couldn't possibly get any worse.
Five minutes later, with a shuddering explosion to the right, things indeed got worse.
The tense silence on the bridge of the U-124 was broken from an unexpected direction. The sounding officer jumped up, and let fly an oath.
Mohr turned to him, a questioning look on his face.
"Sir, I can hear a submarine surfacing out there, right in the middle of that convoy." replied the technician, by way of apology.
Mohr scowled and let fly a string of words that turned the sounding man's ears red, and caused some of the other crew members to snort. "A submarine? Are you certain?"
The other man nodded grimly, but suddenly cocked his head. "Wait a minute sir, it sounds like it's breaking up!" He listened a moment longer. "Yes, it definitely broached the surface, then sank like a rock. I can hear it breaking up now."
Mohr scowled at nothing in particular. He didn't completely trust the sounding. There was no reason why a previously undetected submarine would suddenly surface in the midst of a convoy, then promptly sink. Unless of course it was Core… He would have to be careful.
Mohr was just turning to his executive officer for a report on the progress of the torpedoes, when a thunderous explosion pealed through the water, answering his unasked question. "Up scope!" Mohr was peering into the eyepiece before it even finished rising. The sky was black with pouring rain, but he could make out the distinctive glow of a burning ship on the horizon. "Down scope."
As the scope slid back into its well, the sounding officer leaped up. "Sir! It's sinking! It sounds like it was fully loaded too. I can hear many smaller objects smashing through its hull, and sinking separately. We did it!"
Amid the relieved cheers of the crew, Mohr stepped up to the scope. "Quiet everyone! There's still more of them out there." Mohr glanced over at his X.O. "Get me TDF readings on three more of the closest ships." Mohr allowed himself only a small smile. There was more danger to come.
Hendon glared fiercely at the rain, which was now coming down in sheets. His last tour of duty had been a rather enjoyable stay on Empyrrean, which, unlike most of Arm's remaining occupied planets, had a thick enough atmosphere to actually support weather. However, the climate-controlled Empyrrean had nothing at all like this raging tempest, which had seemed to come out of nowhere, and was now making the Crusader pitch wildly. The bridge of the ship was warm and dry though, which Hendon could appreciate, although his heaving stomach could not.
Hendon had more important problems to deal with, so his discomfort would just have to wait. For instance, with the loss of the Fibber, the invasion fleet was now plainly visible to Core's sophisticated radar systems, and they seemed to be taking the greatest advantage of it. Already, one Envoy was down, sunken moments after the Fibber went down, and another was foundering from a torpedo hit. So far, Skeeters had picked up the entire crew of the Fibber, but there was nothing left of the one Envoy. The other was listing badly, and would soon be at the bottom anyway. Fortunately, most of the soldiers themselves were on board the Bear hover-transports, hopefully safe from the torpedoes.
The Crusader's commander cautiously approached the somber Lieutenant. "Sir, we have a contact on sonar, possibly a Core sub. What are your orders?"
Hendon turned on the poor, bewildered commander, whose only previous naval experience was as cargo in one of those Envoys. With the value of each man at an all time premium, and lack of cloning facilities, Hari had been forced to place officers in positions they had never expected to fill. Hendon couldn't care less.
"Well, obviously," he ground out, "destroy it!"
The commander gulped, but turned to a subordinate. "Order Crusaders Xantippe and Larab to attack the sonar contact. The Skeeters will take up point-defense around the fleet."
Hendon watched with interest as the dark silhouettes of the two destroyers changed course, and made straight for the contact. Now the Core would get theirs…
"…and in conclusion, gentlemen," finished Churchill, "with the Axis powers proven nearly impotent against the onslaught of the Core, and the United States in contention now, this planet has never faced a greater threat. My suggestion is that we take advantage of this relative lull in the fighting to propose a peace initiative to both parties."
Ribbentrop merely snorted disdainfully, while Molotov seemed to consider the suggestion seriously. The Soviet Union had avoided being fought over so far, but how long would that last? However, it was Cordell Hull who broke the silence, and in a position not of Churchill's liking.
"Pardon me, Mister Prime Minister," said Hull as he rose from the small wooden chair he had claimed. "President Roosevelt has made our position quite clear. As long as an enemy army occupies so much as an inch of our soil, we will see no peace." Hull silenced several retorts with a small gesture. "Let me finish; I did not have authorization to reveal this bit of information before now." He took a deep breath. "We believe we are now in possession of a weapon that can possibly even the balance of power with the aliens."
Ribbentrop sputtered angrily. "Impossible! The Core army pushed through the Reich with minimal effort, though our forces did take a great toll on them. No weaponry can match their technology!"
The American Secretary of State seemed nonplussed by the interruption. "No conventional weaponry, true. However, as I speak, a bomb similar to that used on Bonn is already completed, and several more are in production." Hull held up a hand for silence again. "The United States will cooperate fully with the British peace initiative. However, should talks prove unsuccessful, we will make the first strike."
The normally loquacious Churchill actually seemed too stunned for words. A pounding on the chamber doors saved him from a difficult silence. Choosing the better part of valor, Churchill turned to a guard, and nodded once. The obedient soldier opened the door, and instead of showing in the strange visitor, leaned out the doorway, apparently in conversation. Even more unusual, he then beckoned the Prime Minister. Intrigued, and more than a little annoyed with the interruption, Churchill stomped over to the door. The ensuing conversation involved some rather interesting gesturing, and the other men all leaned forward in a futile attempt to overhear part of the conversation. Discussion concluded, the portly Englishman closed the door, and turned back to the expectant faces of the diplomats.
His face had a sickly flush to it, and they all waited for the bad news. "Mr. Hull," Churchill began, "when, exactly, can you deploy your bomb?"
Ribbentrop leaped to his feet, immediately protesting this breach of protocol. Molotov was shocked, but he suppressed his initial reaction. He wanted to know exactly what had brought on the change in Churchill's demeanor.
Hull stood, slightly confused. "As soon as we decide where to place it, Mr. Prime Minister. The bomb is very large, and will have to be placed in front of the enemy advance. Our succeeding bombs will be small enough to load on a bomber, but for now, this is the only one we have."
Churchill nodded solemnly. "Then I suggest you inform Washington to that effect. Now," he continued, raising his voice, "I recommend that all of you return to your staterooms at once, and for God's sake, do so quickly." He then turned on a heel and left, ignoring Ribbentrop's incoherent demands.
Hull didn't stop to listen either, and followed the Prime Minister out. A pair of beefy guards fell in on either side of him as he exited the building, and made for his car. He wasn't going to question the British Prime Minister, and he was sure Churchill had a valid reason for his sudden change of heart. One guard had just opened the door, when an incongruous sound reached Hull. He looked up, and noticed that what sounded like church bells were getting louder and louder. Within seconds, they were all but deafening, as the bells in every last church, mosque, and synagogue in London began to toll. Immediately, one of the guards, who was a native Londoner, gasped, and began to moan, "Oh, God! Oh, God!" repeatedly. The other soldier, an American, looked just as confused as Hull.
Hull actually grabbed the blubbering guard, and shook him violently. "What is it? What does this mean?" he shouted over the din.
The guard's eyes slowly focused on him, and after a last shocked gasp, the man stopped moaning. "Don't you know?" he yelled. Hull shook his head, no. The guard wiped his face with his hand, and stared at it stupidly. "It means… invasion."
Hendon, as usual lately, was frowning. He still stood on the bridge of his Crusader flagship, but this time it was no endless ocean he gazed upon, but the haze-shrouded coast of Scotland. Of course, Hendon didn't know it was called Scotland, nor did he care. His primary concern was the successful unloading of each successive wave of transports along the entire three-mile long stretch of beach. With the unloading complete, Hendon's orders were to move south swiftly, and conquer the city of London. That task complete, he was to inform Hari, and the preparations for an invasion of the European coast could begin.
That was not the cause of Hendon's frown, through. Nor was the slowness of unloading the transports, which he had made allowances for. What was truly bothering Hendon was that despite every possible precaution, there had been a hitch. A pair of Core destroyers had surprised the fleet, and although the Crusaders had sunk them, the attackers had managed to knock out the vital sonar jammer, leaving the way open for more attacks. Two Envoys now lay at the bottom of the Atlantic, complete with their full complements of battle units because of that chance encounter. The worst part of the whole encounter, mused Hendon, was that the unknown submersible that had sunk the transports, had managed to get off a radio transmission before it was forced to the bottom… not even a confirmed kill. The Arm fleet had not been able to intercept the transmission, but Hendon was certain that it boded nothing good for his invasion force.
Hendon was still deep in thought when the meek Crusader commander approached him again. "S-Sir," the man stammered, "The transports have finished unloading, and the ground forces have assumed a defensive position on the beachhead. With your permission sir… the – a Skeeter has arrived to take you to the shore. We will escort the convoy back to safe harbor in Egypt."
Without sparing the man a second glance, Hendon made for the gangplank, where a Skeeter was being made fast by a pair of Peewee pilots, the scout's only crew. "Captain, you have the fleet." Hendon said over his shoulder. Get back to… Egypt, did you say?… and inform the Commander of our current status." Without waiting for, or expecting, a reply, Hendon stepped onto the heaving deck of the Skeeter, which almost immediately began to move toward shore.
Issuing a relieved sigh, which he dearly hoped Hendon hadn't heard, the captain turned back to his green crew, and began making preparations for the return trip.
Watching the fleet slowly disappear into the thick blanket of fog, which hid the horizon, Hendon was still confident in the abilities of these Arm soldiers to squash any pathetic human opposition on this tiny island. Sweeping his eyes along the beach one last time, Hendon approached his Zeus chassis, and grabbing hold of the specially designed handholds, climbed into the cockpit, where the neural-jack automatically extended and plugged into the genetically engineered link at the base of his skull. His senses coming alive with enhanced input, he never even felt the suit's restraining harness latch across his middle, and pull him gently into the well-padded alcove within.
Focusing on the rise from beach to rugged black rock, Hendon picked his way to the top of the slope, and stopping to survey the temporary beachhead defensive position, issued the order to fall in. Immediately, the mob of battle units responded, and began to separate into dozens of squads and companies, regiments, and finally, three distinct brigades took shape, complete with lead elements, skirmishers, and artillery trains. A supply train consisting of nine construction k-bots, four construction vehicles, and assorted escorts emerged behind the second brigade. However, there were supposed to be five vehicles, and ten k-bots. This worried Hendon, especially when he checked the fleet logs, and found that no construction units of any type had been lost in the sea battles.
Growling under his breath, Hendon called up the designations of the two missing units. In ghostly neon-green lettering, the names "Symon-528" and "Josh-128" appeared on his HUD. Hendon furiously opened an army-wide communications channel, hoping to embarrass the offending pair into never pulling a stunt like this again. "CVSymon-528, and CKJosh-128?" Hendon bawled. "R-e-e-port!" he dragged out. Almost instantly, a weaker and obviously apologetic voice came back to him.
"Sir, we're terribly sorry sir. We're on the beach right now, but we'll be joining you momentarily." Symon quickly cut off the link.
Hendon, now fairly purple, bellowed, "Momentarily? You're sorry? You'd better believe you're gonna be sorry!" At this point, Hendon's suit, automatically sensing its occupant was becoming rather stressed, administered a small dose of calming drug. Naturally, it had no effect. Crushing ancient, weather beaten rocks under his heavy tread, Hendon leaped down from the escarpment, and on to the pebble-strewn beach. From his new vantage, he could plainly make out the forms of two construction units, and a brand-new radar tower. Standing beneath its twirling dishes stood two, plainly unsuited, forms. Hendon was on the verge of simply wasting the two troublemakers with his lightning gun, when the irregular shape of the tower impressed itself upon his seething brain. The basic shape was there, but the excess of wires which coiled around the two radar dishes and twined down the length of the tower to join a questionable looking contraption that the two engineers were studying so intently, was definitely not part of the standard design. "What in the name of the Supreme Commander is that?" Hendon demanded, almost forgetting the rage of a moment ago.
One of the engineers, probably the pilot of the CV, Symon, spun around, and nearly bolted for the water's edge when he saw the Zeus. Obviously, he had not heard its approach. From the look of things, the second engineer still hadn't noticed. Opening and closing his mouth a few times, he silently willed himself together. "S-S-Sir… uh… this is… uh…" Suddenly pulling himself together, he said, "Sir, this device is a radio-wave receiver. Luckie over here," he motioned to the still-oblivious engineer beside him, "helped me to develop the idea after the submarine attack on the fleet. I saw that the submarine commander managed to transmit a message before being sunk, and realized that having accurate knowledge of the destination and content of that message could have aided us tremendously."
Hendon didn't bother to correct the engineer on one count. The sub had not been confirmed sunk, just assumed so by the Crusader captains. Impatiently, he beckoned Symon to continue.
"Well, I puzzled about it for a while, devised a way to intercept radio communications, and Luckie provided me the inspiration and technical abilities to actually do it. He programmed the nanolathing program, and we decided that now was the perfect chance to test it. And… well, here it is." He waved broadly at the modified radar tower.
Hendon pretended to inspect it thoroughly, though he had no idea what each seemingly random bit of wiring and controls actually did. "So, have you found out anything of use to us?"
Symon nodded eagerly, and turned back to Luckie. "The Lieutenant wants to hear the broadcast," he said hurriedly. Still, seeming to be oblivious to the imposing presence of the Zeus k-bot behind him, Luckie began fiddling with a few knobs and dials, and followed this procedure with the thoroughly unprofessional act of kicking it once. Almost immediately, a transmission punctuated by constant hissing and crackling emerged from an unseen speaker. Luckie carefully twisted a dial, and the hissing slowly abated, to reveal… a song? Hendon fumed. As if sensing his superior's displeasure, Symon quickly raised his hands in apology. "This isn't it, sir. The message we want replays every few minutes." Almost on cue, the song ended, and a speaker came on.
"And now," floated the disembodied voice, "this special announcement from Prime Minister Churchill."
In calculating and cultured tones, a second voice began to speak. "Citizens of the British Empire, and indeed, the entire world." it began. "Seven hours ago, a message was received from a German submarine in the North Atlantic, warning of a massive Arm fleet that was sighted bearing down on our beloved shores. The submarine, U-124, had attacked the fleet, obviously an invasion force of epic proportions, and sent two of the Herculean ships to the bottom. However, soon after this message was received, U-124 vanished. German High Command reports that no additional communications have yet been received from that vessel, and it can only be assumed that the brave crewmen aboard must surely have perished. But, this broadcast is not intended to warn the people of England that the invasion has begun, for surely they are well aware, and our finest soldiers are already being sent to repulse the enemy. No, this broadcast was reserved for the commander of the invaders." At this point, Hendon felt a rather nasty chill run down his spine. "England will never surrender, and we will fight on, through the moors, and forests, and cities and towns, and no man will cease in this struggle until the invader has been repelled. And should the leader of this invasion choose to carry the fight on despite this promise, I issue another promise: We will begin using a vile weapon upon you, so vile, it has been unanimously banned from being used in our own conflicts. And that, is a promise I will most happily keep. God bless England, and the best of luck and valor to our esteemed army."
Hendon did not like the sound of that transmission. He would have preferred not to crush the populace, but if that was their intentions, well… Looking over at the quailing Symon, Hendon growled, "Enough, reclaim this contraption, and rejoin the army. And make it quick."
This time, both engineers jumped to obey.