A/N: Yeah, I screwed up taking this long. I have no excuse, sir. There's a slight chance I'll write a SAMAS series as well, but inspiration for that isn't really coming to me.
Injured and tired, we were headed for home. A day and a half in Pecos Raiders territory had seen our quartet of Hellraisers reduced by one, and the others damaged. None of us had slept in that time. 'Raiser Three was fifty meters left, and its left arm twitched, mimicking the unconcious motions of its pilot's bad reaction to the stims he had taken to stay alert. It also had some armor damage on the head and chest from a tangle with a small group of Pecos Raiders. 'Raiser Four walked rear point, its crew apparently indefatiguable, no noticible difference in their unit's movements despite having seen it take a few hits, and their voices over the comms sounding exactly the same as they had at mission start. Kara and Janny had always been good.
'Raiser One, our Hellraiser, kept a slow, careful pace. We had leg damage, right leg, deep scars from energy bolts. The leg itself appeared much more intact than not, but the diagnostics were down and we had no way of determining how bad it was. So we babied the right leg along, limping in a motion that those unused to the quirks of combat robots would doubtless have found unnervingly human.
Usually, you don't have to watch the skies much with the Coalition. You can get air cover relatively easy, in impressive variety, and most of the folks you fight don't have comparable stuff. Yesterday we had learned an unpleasant lesson about this not always being true. Nobody had seen the jet fighter aircraft that had crippled 'Raiser Two until it was much too late.
'Raiser Two's crew hadn't had a chance as the rest of the flight concentrated on it. That was what had saved the rest of our lives, allowing us to scatter and put up defensive fire.
The second pass had been the one that damaged our 'Raiser, but we had sent two of the fighters away trailing smoke. One of the fighters was hurt badly; he hadn't dropped his full load in the first pass and our fire had detonated some of the bombs still under his wings, blowing part of one off. They swung away, down south, out of range, and we made tracks.
And where there are fighters conducting ground-attack missions on any old patrol they happened across, there are ground forces. We'd not seen them, but we knew they were there. Bombs are too hard to come by to drop them on people for shits and giggles.
We'd been free and clear, or something close, at first. That had lasted about five hours. Now we'd had intermittent contacts for nearly twelve, and they kept us moving. Never close enough to see, or get a good idea of what they were. But stuff was moving out there, and there was distinct sensation they were trying to herd us. We kept having to turn away from the route home, but we made a little more progress each time we turned towards it again.
Two hours to home.
"Contacts, multiple, zero-six-four, sixty klicks. Aircraft headed for the deck and inbound," my gunner warned. We strap in standing up, sideways to the 'Raiser's direction of travel, as the least of many evils. You eventually get used to the tugging feeling on the chestplate and hips of your FEBA. And in heavy combat, you do your utmost not to throw up inside your helmet. Aside from being intensely disgusting, it can kill you. We had a newbie pilot choke to death on his own vomit once.
Fortunately, the 'Raiser only truly requires a crew of one. Why it has two is something of a mystery. Perhaps the gunner is just for the extra survivablity of redundant parts. Perhaps they just didn't want to call him a classic aircraft-esque Guy In Back for sensors, since he wasn't in back.
"Scatter, scatter!" I called over the comms, throttling the Raiser up to its maximum run and hoping that it didn't manage to shake the teeth loose from my jaw this time. It always seemed to try. The gunner was muttering a prayer, probably about the right leg.
Missiles dropped free from the aircraft and accelerated towards us. The gunners opened up on them with particle beams for the first shot, switching to laser almost instantly for the more rapid rate of fire at shorter range. A few of the missiles were intercepted, a few more were destroyed or thrown off-course by those detonations.
I skidded our Hellraiser into a sharp turn, my chance to mutter a prayer about the leg. The gunner hit the switch for the ECM suite at the same moment. Combat robots rarely try to actually jam each other. We all have enough excess power to dump into our active sensors that when we're fighting at under two kilometers, you just can't do enough jamming that it won't be burned through.
But we do have trackbreakers, deceptive jammers meant to confuse about range and bearing. They don't work against a system with a human in the loop; the human reacts too slowly, by the time the human reacts the sensors have recognized the jamming and compensated.
But a missile doesn't react slowly.
It's always a bit weird to watch. Some of the missiles dove straight into the dirt, some of them turned away, some of them appeared to wobble in flight, their electronic brains confused. At least one blew up, deciding it had hopelessly lost the target and safety-detonating. The wobbling missiles realized their mistake but could not correct for the error, and safety detonated. The Hellraiser isn't like an Abolisher or a Smasher. You can hear the fragments ping off the armor.
That just left the bombs. Fooling a missile is one thing; fooling a pilot is another. While bombs are naturally somewhat inaccurate, after you factor in computer-assisted targeting and the possiblity the bomb itself has some kind of guidance, it's a fool's hope to think that will help. Even at top speed and on its best day, there is simply no way for a Hellraiser to dodge a jet aircraft bombing from low altitude. You can do your best to make the pilot screw up, which honestly isn't much against a good pilot, and you can pray. The only real defense is to kill him before he drops his bombs, and the Hellraiser usually lacks sufficent firepower to manage this.
The gunner retargeted on the plane anyways, but only got off a couple shots before it was overhead. Thunder. The outside world goes brown and black. The robot stumbles, I fight the controls in a struggle to keep us standing but know with a sick certainity it's not going to work, we trip, sprawl face-first in the dirt. Helpless. Have to move, have to get up, or we'll die. Dirt and rocks raining down on the armor. The 'Raiser on its feet again, running.
They'd missed. Not by much, but when you're dealing with enough armor plate to stop fragments, things like "not by much" are important. They had missed ahead, though, so we had run into the smoke and crater and fallen. If there had been another one gunning for us, that would have been lethal.
'Raiser Three emerged from a cloud of dirt and smoke still standing, having swerved at the last second and used the cloud to confuse the second attacker. Still, it had taken a couple of missile hits. 'Raiser Four, Kara and Janny, apparently had icewater in their veins as they had shot down their attacker by ignoring the incoming missiles and hoping their trackbreaker did the work. Which it did.
Then the jets were gone.
"Three, left arm is making funny noises, we're securing it." Damn, that meant his main weapon, the close-combat vibropincers, was useless.
"Four, new paint job."
"Contacts ahead," my gunner warned. "Tanks. Not heavy."
"Let's go through them." Kara's voice.
"We don't know what's behind them." Micheal from Raiser Three.
"You want to try crossing the Rio with those things behind us?" There was no hard terrain here to use against the tanks and slow them down. They were still slower than a 'Raiser flat out but the river has gotten deeper and wider since the Rifts came. Fish in a barrel is an entirely appropriate expression. "Engage them, but be careful about it. See if you can make them back off."
We were a kilometer out when the shooting started. They opened up with autocannon, and we replied with lasers. They did back off, trying to maintain the range. It was common sense; they couldn't fight us up close, which we were meant for and they were not.
Nobody was really accomplishing anything better than glancing hits, because we were trying not to get hit more than to hit them. If we'd gone the other way things would have been brutal and short, and honestly we would have lost.
Then the ground next to us erupted upward. My gunner, thinking rapidly, immediately spun up the vibroblade and stabbed. Why he did, I didn't know, until the demented shrek of the vibroblade making contact with metal sounded.
The dirt fell away to reveal an assault-class Titan, with the vibroblade currently cutting a hole in its hip.
"Oh shit!" Back up, back up, get the hell away from it. The Titan was having problems of his own, however, as he struggled to remain upright with serious leg damage. Particle beams from 'Raiser Three and 'Raiser Four hammered at him.
And railgun fire.
Railguns. We didn't have railguns.
The beautiful, beautiful shape of an IAR-5, its "wingtip" guns spun up and firing. " 'Raiser One, get away from him and we'll handle it."
"Work in progress." I replied.
After we'd managed to put a couple hundred meters between us and the Titan, the missiles came and ended the argument when he lost a leg. Other Raptors were hunting the tanks, moving around on their birdlike legs.
"Recon One, it's good to see you." Kara said.
"Likewise. Where's Raiser Two?"
"He didn't make it, Captain." I replied. "Jet aircraft jumped us, bombed Two."
"Get moving. We'll screen you. If they're using aircraft now, something big's going down and the techs will want your logs bad," was the reply.