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The Battle of Little Lambs

Page history last edited by rsb 5 years, 10 months ago

The Battle of Little Lambs

 

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"I like big fat men like you.  When they fall, they make more noise.  And sometimes...they never get up." - Tuco (Duco) Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez - 'Known as the rat.'

 

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Bruce could feel cold sweat beading up on his scalp as he approached the hill behind Little Lambs elementary school.  He paused to look around at the kids playground, beautifully sculpted into the hill.  It had just begun to rain lightly, but there was still plenty of light to see it by.  

 

In Bruces mind, it was the best playground he had ever seen.  He had sent his kids to Little Lambs.  He put a lot of work into the school.  All the parents did.  Most if it by hand.  Bruce had moved trees, built the slack line, helped with the ladder for the slide...played with Maureen.  

 

This was where some of the best days of his kids young lives were spent.  It reminded him of when he had moved here - how much he loved Oregon.  An before that, how much he loved the States.  Before he met Janet, this country was the greatest love he ever had, and this was the best evidence.  Peace, freedom, and hard work.  He was happy to give his life to the United States, every last waking moment.  He was so proud to be here no words could express it.  

 

But now, on the other side of the hill, the manifestation of everything he had ever worked for, and the blind foolishness that was his life.  Behind him, his grown daughter, and the kids of families that probably would not make it.  His mind, put the odds together.  He and Janet weren't going to make it, either.  For an instant, he was too angry to move, then the old training came.  He calmed.  The world became quiet.  A slight expression of realization on his face.  "So this is what it's like, Janet.", he muttered to himself, and his eyes took on the same stare Janet would assume from time to time - his face became expressionless.

 

He started up the hill - letting the ceramic fittings on his exoskeleton slide against branches and pine needles - subconsciously a lifetime of training was calibrating itself to it's surroundings.  

 

He moved fluidly, turning to walk parallel to the crest of the hill with the ridge just above his head.  There were dozens of his designs on the other side, mechs and flying drones.  Most likely three ranks of four snipers each, with only observation flyers, if Janet had taken care of the rest of the air support.

 

The operators would know something new was on the other side of the hill by now, assume it was a man, to be eliminated, and send two microprobes from the closest two mechs.  He could hear the walkers, and now the tiny whine of microprobes.  His legs moved more quickly, their movement adjusting to the intuited position of the advancing squads.  Even though his hearing aids magnified important audio, he closed his eyes to focus on the sound of the mechs.  His body moved on it's own, putting him a bit further down his side of the hill, behind a very old redwood, the oldest on the hill.  He paused there.

 

Time sharpened his mental map of his enemies - it filled in with not just their positions, but the model numbers, the weaponry, the cables and joints and bolts and armor he had specified.  He saw the pattern of deployment of the observation drones, now hovering at the top of the hill, looking for him.  In his mind, he saw everything at once, the mechs he lived and breathed for his entire adult life, filled with the detail he always saw in every simulation - but now he saw more.  

 

He saw their strengths, their weaknesses in a new light.  The improvements he had fought for and lost, the things he had overlooked, the things that others had pushed through to save money, the parts that were skimped on and were wrongly attributed to oversights in QA after the fact.  Designs chosen by beaurocracy.

 

He saw the faces of the designers and the technicians next to their creations, including his own shameful image.  He had never focused so clearly on the weaknesses of these "finished" products.  The cumulative tally of errors was almost overwhelming.  He had always known the walking mechs were a problem.  When made, these were some of the best walking mechs in the world - but they were still shit.  They were always used incorrectly as well.  The Mechs were snipers that were meant to deploy in the mountains - supported by air power -  miles from their target. That someone would engage in close combat with them was unthinkable to the team that developed them, but completely normal to the leaders that deployed them.

 

Sweat dripped from his nose.  He looked down at his arm.  Olympic rings anodized in the actuator above his bicep.  At least this was well designed.   The best thing he ever designed, in fact.  Maybe the only machine he would ever be proud of.  He flexed the actuator.  Yes, these walkers were shit - and he would wipe them out.  He had to.

 

He took two steps back down the hill from the great redwood and took a knee facing uphill, nearly dislodging a smaller tree with the curved spikes of his cleat - lowering his head - raising his arms.  

 

The microprobes reacted, moving in for a close up.  They reported precisely what they saw, an unidentified combat exoskeleton type, fitted only with olympic sabre competition arm blades; a thin, old engineer - in a white, short sleeved dress shirt - pocket protector - faded jeans - head lowered, crouching, his arms above his head - slightly damp.  A minor inconvenience, at best.

 

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Three walkers were nearing the top of the ridge on the other side of the hill.  Their operators analyzed the camera drone report, and continued their advance.  

 

A "pop" came from a single walker in a rank behind the first.  

 

Bruce put the source of the sound a few feet to his left on the other side of the ridge.  Even with his eyes closed, Bruce could visualize the cover of the grenade launcher tube spin off under the force of compressed air.  Half a second.  A "thunk" as the grenade left the tube was Bruces cue - anticipated before it happened.  He left his sprinters stance, the exoskeleton maxing out it's powered assist, his next step landing at the top of the hill, pushing off with blinding speed, and leaving three meters between himself and the ground.  He was in mid-air then, well above the first two ranks of walkers, silhouetted by debris and shrapnel from the grenade explosion on the other side of the hill.

 

The auto-cameras followed him, and he knew the operators were a half second from slapping the "autofire" button on at least half of these walkers.  

 

Slow.

 

By that time, he had landed with his legs on the torsos of the two center walkers in the third rank, his swords planted straight down into their power and control systems, through the gaping hole that cheap bastard contractor Deckloeh left in their power system armor and filled in with flexium.  It's hard to believe that flexium was still considered armor.  

 

The automation would target him now.

 

He launched himself backwards off those two, who would now behave rather eratically, a near worst case scenario for this kind of mech.  

 

He landed on his feet in the mud, inches behind the second rank, knees bent deeply, fluidly spinning with his arms extended, his head twisted completely to target the cheap actuator systems on each leg of the two center mechs of the second rank.  The actuators were small.  Not very many martial artists would be precise enough to hit them, but Bruce nailed them.  His strikes wouldn't break the armor over the actuators, but a direct impact on the side of these actuators always caused them to kick in a self repair mechanism, resetting the gears and bearings to make sure they were operational, and keeping that one leg stationary for a second or so.

 

He heard three more "pops".  

 

Only three tight ranks were visible as he continued his 180 degree spin.  

 

Clean, white, ten foot tall, five-ton bipedal machines.  

 

The first rank was of three and the second two ranks were four mechs each, almost as he had hoped, with two flanking mechs and one trailing mech - 14 units in total.

 

Bruce pivoted on his left leg and planted his right in between the two center mechs of the second rank whose leg actuators were now locked-stationary.  The operators of the now-gimpy mechs had indeed engaged autofire, as had two of the mechs on the far flanks.  

 

Bruce knew the two in the second rank had autofire deployed because they were not moving at all, waiting for their inside legs to become mobile before they would pivot - that was Arnolds programming - their machine guns couldn't rotate that far and they would never compromise their balance for a shot.  

 

He knew the two flanking mechs were on autofire because they were moving without lag, effectively as fast as he was, and were almost within the second rank, infantry spikes deployed.  On these mechs, infantry spikes were two meter long icepicks that deployed from the mechs "arms" for "detail work".  Their operators, rather than focusing on the target area, had evaluated Dave and approved the kill earlier than the rest.  The flanking mechs would be his downfall.  

 

Three more "thunks."  Three more grenades on the way.  Made sense.

 

The grenade Bruce had outrun had taken out the two happless little observation drones when Bruce left them standing still.  They had been feeding video of the target area.  The mech operators were now almost blind as to what company Bruce might have over the ridge, and had approved the launch of three grenades over the hill to soften up anything else that might be hiding there.  

 

The same three mechs would send the next volley into the school if they thought there was no threat from Bruce.  The only way to remain a threat was to get back in between the front line and the ultimate target of the mechs, the school.  Bruce had to be a threat.

 

The grenade tubes were another cost cutting issue.  A slight dent in the tube and you could lose a mech with a backfire.  But you couldn't afford sensor material that would survive an infinite number of grenade launches on just any robot, so they had designed it such that video was taken of the inside of the grenade launcher just prior to loading and firing each round.  

 

Bruce never stopped moving - in a step he had leapt on top of the center mech in the first rank.  His feet on it's shoulders, he quickly jammed his right ultrasteel blade in and out of the grenade tube, giving it a deep groove against the rifling.  Video had already been taken of that tube.

 

The two flanking mechs with infantry spikes deployed were upon him now, but these machines were all very good about not shooting each other, or stabbing each other with giant spikes, for that matter.  So at the last second, countermeasures prevented them from stabbing Bruce through the center mech of the front line, as Bruce bounced off of it.  

 

One of the two flanking mechs swtiched to cannon while the other waited with it's spike deployed for Bruce to land.  

 

That was Jims programming, when a variety of weapons were appropriate, mech automation would of course cooperate between units to make sure that, say, spikes and cannon were available, and the mechs with the right weapons and the best shots would take out the enemy.  

 

Even though it was almost irrelevant to the length of the jump, Bruce put all his might into leaping off the head of the center mech of the first rank.   He neeed to get back over the ridge, without jumping too high.  He sailed over the ridge just prior to the kill approval by the operators of the first rank.  A spray of 90 bullets fired by three mechs thunked into the ridge behind him.  On the other side of the hill, Bruce let himself roll.

 

His whole right side was screaming at him as he came to a stop against a boulder.  Then his back was screaming at him, too, and he couldn't hear anything.  No matter, he only needed his nervous system to work to make this exoskeleton move, and he only had one option anyway.  

 

He charged back up the hill - fast - swords held wide.  

 

He was definitely viewed as a threat.

 

The three mechs in the first rank had come close to reaching the ridge - sensors and cameras poking just above it.  With the flanking mechs, they had arrayed a deadly complement of weaponry at him: two cannon, three grenade launchers, and an infantry spike.  

 

As they opened up, Bruce hit the ground face first just before clearing the ridge.  A good bit of schrapnel embedded itself in him as the world exploded. 

 

Bruce was thrown back down the hill.

 

He was bleeding from his ears and nose, his hearing aids smashed.  He had hoped to escape more of that.

 

He heard more cannon fire, faintly.  He struggled to his knees.  He could still see...and no mechs above the ridgeline...so he still had a chance.  

 

He felt trapped for a moment while the extraskin squeezed him and pushed drugs into his wounds.  He had been beaten in martial arts, but he had never been injured like this.  

 

On some level, Bruce knew his existence at that moment was evidence that the firing he was hearing was not aimed at him.  Firing not aimed at him was a good sign - a sign of chaos - his best hope.  

 

Bruce was bleeding out, he thought, with a hole in his left arm.  He wasn't sure about a lot of things, how much help the extraskin would be, or what kind of chaos he was running into.  But he was sure he wasn't getting any stronger. 

 

He looked at the playground  - what was left of it - and caught his breath for a second when he saw the school in the distance.  The conscious Bruce left again.  

 

He ran into the breach.  

 

This time he had no detailed plan, no detailed mental map, only guesses, training, and wild determination.  He knew, somewhere deep down, that he was running into a hail of bullets.  He ran faster.

 

The firing he heard had come from primarily from two mechs that were firing wild, whose control and power systems Bruce had destroyed, and from several of the still functional mechs, finishing off their dangerously erratic comrades.  That must have pissed a couple operators off.

 

As Bruce reached top speed, something threw him over the hill.  A grenade had gone off behind him as he crested the ridge, the blast accellerated him and added to the considerable complement of schrapnel sticking out of his exoskeleton and body.  Bruce smashed into at least three ping-pong-ball-sized video drones in-flight as he was thrown through the air.  This all occured in slow motion for Bruce.  

 

As he flew, Bruce saw the enemy from overhead.  A moment of recognition.  The overhead view.  The movement of the mechs.  Some were moving unnecessarily, rolling a shoulder or two.  He had seen this before.  The remotes were turning off automation early.  A game.  

 

He realized all at once he was now fighting five gamers.  An inexperienced team.  Lucky.  

 

Kids playing video games can be extremely fast and unpredictable.  Bruce had been a gamer his entire life.  He wrote the push-hands game these kids probably trained on.  Now more than ever, Bruce viscerally understood the difference between being an inexperienced gamer/pilot/operator and a soldier in the field.  

 

What gamers can't do is know the intuitive physics of the situation in the field, or manage all that information, or feel how slippery the ground is, or know how badly an opponent is bleeding.  The operators of these mechs had never killed infantry in close combat.

 

Another important difference between gamers and Bruce was that gamers are not typically filled with unusual levels of neurotransmitters, adrenaline, pain killers, and stimulants - injured Tai Chi masters in extraskin are.  Bruces body, although now weak, was as fast as it had ever been in his lifetime.  The exoskeleton, still fully operational, was designed for the 2045 US Olympic team.  It only needed a signal from Bruces nervous system to move with speed that could not easily be matched by a machine hundreds of times his weight.

 

As Bruce again descended on the enemy, he noted that the operators had positioned their mechs a respectable distance from the ridge, and, as Bruce suspected, they had wisely turned most of their automation and countermeasures off.  

 

Bruce landed on his back and skidded through the mud to the feet of a mech, looking straight up at a semi-circle of five of them.  The rain was pouring now, and the sun fading, which somehow made the mechs look more human to Bruce - like angry, muddy, dark, headless demons.  

 

Each of the five remaining mechs in front of him had it's infantry spike deployed as he struck the ground, and the center three stabbed directly at Bruce.

 

As the spikes came down, Bruce rotated his upper body as he bent forward at the waist, his right sword smashing a backhand into the left-leg control unit of the center mech facing him - his left hand shot far between the legs of that mech, behind it, which put Bruces head directly between it's legs.  The spikes of the three mechs in the center hit mud not once, but several times each, the gamers pounding at the controls for multiple attacks.  Mud flew wildly.  In that fraction of a second, all of the operators realized they had missed him.  

 

A step behind Bruce now, all five operators made adjustments.

 

The two flanking mechs had turned 90 degrees toward the center mech, with the intention of striking Bruce when he appeared behind it. 

 

The two directly to the side of the center mech were stepping to the front of the center mech to strike from a better angle.

 

The center mech stood motionless as it's systems adjusted to several burned out field effect transistors in it's left-leg, but swiveled its machine gun towards Bruce.

 

Bruce could see the room full of operators yelling at each other.  A weaker opponent, with inferior weapons, taking out several a larger units, had been the greatest insult a gamer could undergo since games had existed.  They were pissed, he imagined, and the operators of the destroyed mechs were probably not helping matters.  The more outlandish his fighting style, the more pissed and distracted they would become - and the worse they would perform.

 

When Bruce planted his legs underneath the center mech, he was twisted left as far as he could go.  He smoothly unwound in the opposite direction as fast as the exoskeleton would move.  His right blade struck the control box on the right leg of the center mech, hard, pausing the action of that leg.  

 

Without pause, Bruce turned his momentum into movement of his left side, spinning on his right leg, as the spike of another mech came down between the legs of the center mech, missing it's fast moving opponent.  

 

Bruce completed his spin as the two flanking mechs took their second steps toward the back of the center mech.  

 

Fighting on a very steep, muddy hillside is not the safest thing a five ton walker can engage in.  

 

Bruce knew that, outside of external forces, these mechs would always keep their feet underneath them - they could lower their center of gravity to earth gracefully when needed.  Automation is required, however.  When a mechs footsteps slide on a steep and muddy hillside control steps are added as often as possible to take the mech where the operator wants it, sometimes lots of them.  From the operators perspective, this made the mechs that took steps downhill seem exceedingly slow - Bruce appeared to be an untargetable, blindingly fast object.

 

The mechs were pounding the earth to reach him as Bruce leapt on top of the center mech like a cat, slamming his left sword down into it's control systems and twisting as hard as he could.  The twisting motion scrambled the mechs control box, but by design, it also broke the connection between the sword and bruce's exoskeleton.  He had only his right sword remaining.

 

Bruce was a blur on their cameras.  As the flanking mechs spikes lashed out, Bruce leapt again, trying to reach the mech closest to the ridge.

 

The leap was too fast to plan.

 

The center mech, unable to step as it would like with it's right leg, swatted short of Bruce as he leapt.  

 

The mech uphill and to the right of the center mech was running uphill with it's spike raised, intent on firing on Bruce from above.  Bruce knew that at least the uphill-right mech, and probably one or two others, were now targeting him with machine guns, turning off safety programs and automation if any remained, willing to hit another mech if they could cleanly dispatch him. 

 

During this fighting, the mechs had unavoidably changed their line from parallel to the ridge to nearly completely perpendicular to the ridge, the center mech and the two mechs that were formerly flanking Bruce were lined up the hill and now advancing toward the mech Bruce was leaping toward.

 

Bruce's jump to the mech nearest the ridge was too short to get his feet on top of the mech, so he superman-ed it.  His right sword embedded itself into the top of the mech's primary communications system, halfway up the mechs back.  Maintaining his forward momentum, Bruce lowered his head and swung his legs up and behind him.  Bruces feet struck the most uphill mech in it's back, his ultrasteel spring cleets slamming deeply into the mech between it's rear-mounted camera systems and it's body.  

 

Riding the frontmost of an uphill line of angry mechs, upside down, Bruce struggled to stay oriented.  

 

His brain and upper body were flush with oxegynated blood filled with glucose from the Extraskin.  But Extraskin and drugs can only sustain a bleeding body so long.  

 

Using cameras from other mechs, the mech Bruce was riding was just barely able to target Bruce with it's fully swiveled machine gun as Bruce drew his sword from it's communications system.

 

Bruce sliced madly at the machine gun on the top of the mech he was planted in, with enough speed and force to move the gun randomly and change the intended trajectory of it's rounds.  

 

It helped that the machine guns on these mechs were not designed to target the surface of their bodies.  It also helped that any cameras that were not stuffed with mud and wet with rain on this mech were covered by Bruces body.  It also helped that the operator of the mech Bruce was riding had horrible communications and control problems - blending a radio with an ultrasteel sword will tend to do that.  

 

All the operator of that mech saw were occasionally glimpses of Bruce's maddened face - covered in sweat, blood and mud - a sword passing in front of it every 10th of a second.  The most that operator could manage to think of was not to panic, but to keep the fire button pressed as he stared in to the eyes of this madman - and pan the machine gun in hopes of it would correctly respond.  

 

The mech behind Bruce, the one with a sword sticking out of it's control systems, was almost completely out of control.  It's operator kept her finger on the trigger as well, automation turned off - even as the motors and actuators were randomly firing her mechs arms and legs.  Her mech slid and writhed backwards into the line of advancing mechs, machine gun blazing.  The two remaining undamaged mechs found themselves in another nightmare situation - a shootout with two mechs largely out of the control of the other operators, dodging machine gun fire.  

 

One of the two undamaged mechs could not keep it's feet on the slippery hill given the significant external force of a falling mech.  The other undamaged mech managed to avoid the falling pair, and fired two rounds through Bruces body into the mech Bruce was positioned on, spraying blood over any remaining cameras that were functional and providing operator feedback.  

 

Bruce immediately laid back, his exoskeleton stuck in that position as the nervous system in his lower body stopped responding to his brain.  He was upside down, breathing heavily, and saw the mech below fire more rounds into the mech Bruce was hanging upside down from.  

 

Things were happening even more slowly for Bruce now - he felt he could almost see the bullets flying through the air.  He looked up and jammed his right sword through his left cleat and a blood and guts soaked camera, the tip of the sword just an inch shy of the mechs flailing machine gun.  More bullets impacted the mech he was "riding".  He lowered his head back to look at the mech firing on him from below.  

 

As the machine gun on "his" mech swept to center, Bruce noted the impact of it's bullets on the downhill mech.  

 

- He saw the schematic he had layed out for Arnold of the torso of this mech design, remembered looking at it over his desk, Janet coming into the room and leaning over his shoulder -

 

- it was late, she was pregnant with Maureen - they were both working hard.  She kissed him.  He glowed when he felt her warm cheek and breath on his face.  "Don't work too hard, honey.", she said, "I'll see you at home.".  He looked up as if snapped out of a trance and looked at her - "I Love you, honey.", he said, matter of factly.  She blew him another kiss as she left, looking back at him with a knowing smile and a wave.  His eyes followed her as she walked out the door. -

 

The downhill mech snapped back into view.  

 

Bruce shoved his sword upward with force.  The tip of the sword slid between the control rods of the lower carrier of the machine gun on the mech he was riding, restricting it's movement between the mech camera mounts, and the ultrasteel cleat containing Bruces impaled foot.  The screaming and grinding of the machine gun turret motors could be heard in-between reports from machine gun fire.  The mech Bruce was attached to began to fall backwards uncontrollably, and the mech firing on it stumbled forward as well, firing wildly.  Bruce was able to make one small rough adjustment to the firing of the machine gun, directing fire roughly at the rear leg of the downhill mech.  When the downhill mech tried to make an adjustment step, its leg slipped out behind it, and it stumbled completely, it's geometry changing with the impact of bullets, and it's software overwhelmed with adjustment data.  They tumbled down the hill together, into a pool of twisted metal, mud, and blood.

 

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