Battle Lines

"Major boomer incident in progress, base of the tower." Leon shrugged at the announcement. Genom could handle it doubtless. Then came the next announcement. "Ready team mount up."

Leon swore. "Everybody that can shoot and move!" His phone speed-dial was already set to the number he'd been given to contact USSD's troops, and he hit it.

"Why the hell isn't the Tower Defense boomer group handling this?" Daley grumbled, grabbing a stomach rifle. If the tower defenses weren't handling it, odds are it was bad, or would go bad if Genom sent in its own boomers after the ADP got there.

"Fuck if I know." Leon replied, putting his phone to his ear. "Sanderson? We got a live one at the base of the tower. You up for pissing in Quincy's breakfast twice in a week?"

The response got a grin that was almost feral.

"ADP Response Team is taking fire." This was the worst part of the normal armored trooper deployment. The time between when the first poor bastard stumbled into the fight and when you could exercise control over events. "Genom Tower Defense just painted us for fire-control."

"Suppress 'em." Sanderson replied. "Don't be gentle if they don't take the hint."

"Roger." Genom had good defenses on the tower, good gear; not top-of-the-line military, because that would have raised too many questions. But the transporter did have top-quality military gear, some of which could permanently blind those not smart enough to take the hint. "Thirty seconds out. ADP lifter is twenty seconds behind us. Intermittent contact at two klicks doing racetracks."

So the Sabers were already here or still deciding if they wanted a part of this. Stay out. This isn't going to end well. "Check your targets. Friendlies in the combat zone. Don't go far Lifter, we might need fire support."

Freefall as the hatch opens.

"New callsigns popping up on the ADP net." Nene said. "Able Zulu. That must be USSD." Linna was listening in as well, though she didn't make it obvious. It had sounded bad for several minutes, but the arrival of heavy firepower seemed to be stabilizing the situation.

Which is good. Relationships between the ADP and Knight Sabers were never close despite some personal links. And there had been fire exchanged in the past. Only god knows how USSD will react to them. Then she heard the report of Tower Defense Boomers moving from their stations.

Fight the immediate threat. It was a lesson drilled into most people, from tank drivers to fighter pilots. Fight the thing posing the greatest danger to your life at that instant. You can't fight every threat, all the time. Combat is too confusing and human situational awareness is not sufficient for fighting more than a small number of threats at once. So only try to fight the most immediate one. Just keep track of the others. You'll know more about what's happening.

At this moment, the most immediate threat is a BU-12 with delusions that it can hit a target it can't see. It has eyes, of course, but they don't work anymore. The Active Defense System is in Special Automatic Mode B, busily directing laser beams at the eyes of anything Boomer within a couple hundred meters when it's not engaging projectiles it thinks will hit his suit. Between the ECMs of six K-12Z suits, the Boomers, and the ADP's eight K-12s, it's a wonder anyone can manage to use the radio at all, much less targeting radar. The BU-12 is lashing out undirected, and he pumps more laser fire into it. It's badly damaged, but still fighting, and he hasn't gotten the magic hit that'll pop its processors or power system yet.

The tower's defense Boomers are coming down, too. "Sam B off," he warns. No reason to provoke a fight and...

One of the new ADP kids he doesn't know, K-12-12, takes a BU-12 railgun round through the left arm. A K-12 can't stand up to that kind of punishment. Even his K-12Z couldn't do it under most circumstances. 12-12 is lucky, in that the projectile is a clean through and through rather than bouncing around inside the armor and shredding him. Doesn't change the fact he's got very little time to live. Even with his interface suit automatically forming a tourniquet and the K-12 dispensing coagulants and painkillers, the kid has fifteen minutes to get real medical attention or he's dead.

But what really catches K-12Z-2's attention is the possible shot trajectory. Years of combat have taught him to judge such things. It came from the tower group. Moments later, the Active Defense System vaporizes another railgun round that was headed for him and paints a red box around a Tower Defense BU-12 as the source."ABLE ZULU! PLAN B, TOWER BOOMERS!"

K-12Z-2 comes around and ripples his shoulder launchers into the Tower Defense force, the lasers in both arms flaring to life at a rapid pulse rate and the 30mm cannon spewing forth twenty rounds. The other K-12Zs are doing the same. Plan B is an immediate reaction drill, putting all available firepower on a target for a few seconds to make it flinch and buy some time. Boomers don't intimidate like people, but they do react to threat level unless they're legitimately losing their shit. The effect is much the same. "All Alphas, retrograde from the Tower. Zulu rearguard. ADP grab 12-12. Lifter, we've got a priority evac case to ADP Headquarters." He designates a nearby street and sends it to Lifter. "Break the rules if you have to. Assume LZ is hot."

"What the FUCK?" Leon demanded over the radio.

"The Tower Defense Boomers just started shooting," 12Z-2 replied, "so we're shooting back. You got a cordon set up?"

"Block out." Leon said.

"I need a stop line. Heavy weapons." 12Z-2 said, while he blew the head off a Tower Defense BU-55. It went down, not moving. He was moving backwards at a walk.

"Can do."

"Do we go?" Nene asked softly. If the Tower Defense Boomers were openly engaging ADP and USSD forces, something had gone terribly wrong. The city might be about to explode, and that first battle would be very important. Sylia's instinct is to say no. But she knows it's likely she'll have at least two Sabers mutiny if she has no. Priss will try to fight for Leon, and Nene for the ADP, though neither will admit their attachments run that deep.

"We go." Sylia says. Linna opens the ramp, being closest, and jumps.

It looks bad; looks like a conception of hell, though not so much as Fire Night did. A lot of flames, and smoke. Railgun shells and tracers criss-cross as the Boomers and the USSD/ADP armored troopers fight. The cops and soldiers are falling back, but she knows they're giving ground as part of some plan.

And Linna Yamazaki is startled to realize, as she freefalls for a few moments before her suit's jets kick in to slow her descent, that she feels alive.