Saturday, January 3, 2009

Rubicon Rising: Chapter 5


Fountain Square, Gallen's Heights

Pergamus, Sheratan

Prefecture IV

April 14, 3133

Thin wisps of low hanging morning fog spiraled around the plaza, reaching out in the cool breeze to wrap around every object possible. The heavy clouds blocked out most of the ultraviolet rays from Sheratan's spectra-G V class star, casting a dim white light that combined with the cloud cover and fog generated a respectively dreary environment on the planet's secondary capital city. Each wisp of fog systematically reached out over everything, grasping and reaching out like a ghost.

As ghostly arms reached out towards him, MJ lost his focus and, perched high in the cockpit of his Corvis, momentarily lost touch with his current surroundings. He was relatively insulated from the noise of the outside, but the noise recorded by the audio sensors slowly and surely kicked him back into reality.

A cacophonous riot of shouts and clanging gradually tore away the sound barrier from the outside of his squat, bird-legged Corvis 'mech. He and a squad of infantry had been dispatched to Capital City to answer reinforcement requests of the local police precinct. Rather than spare more of the actual police force, the police commissioner had collaborated with Hasek to send one mech and a platoon of ground troops. He supposed if he were in the same situation that would be his decision as well.

Huxley didn't care about it though; being in a position of power was not his curse. Fortunately, he was just a simple 'mech jockey. What he did care about, remotely though, was his part in ruining a beautiful town square, and in what was in his opinion a beautiful city. 'Mechs did not belong in cities; they couldn't be piloted in urban situations without at least moderate, and extremely costly, damage. As far as he knew, he had definitely done more than enough damage to necessitate some extensive and costly repair work. Piloting a 20 – ton 'mech was bound to break something; even modern roads were not designed to withstand such an extreme amount of pressure in one specific spot.

He himself had been here for only an hour and the situation seemed to be getting out of hand at a startlingly exponential rate. As far as could be determined by the ground troops and his analysis, none of the civilians present were armed per se. Not in a military sense of the word, they did not have missile packs and portable ant-armor weaponry. They did however have what armament a mob could usually afford, mostly cheap and ineffective interspersed with some respectable equipment. When he arrived they were merely protesting, but now things were getting out of hand. A select few had begun to attack the infantry on the streets trying to keep them civil, in addition to their outright refusal to obey a direct edict from the head of their state.

The 'mech had been assigned to patrol capital city along with a few platoons of infantry and three other light and medium 'mechs by order of Adrian Hasek. No one was really sure why. Although the official mumbo jumbo stated something about heightened security in light of recent "terrorist" activity, most of which referred to the espionage alleged to have occurred at Sheratan's Class B Hyper Pulse Generator station, though in reality no other popularly elected public official had verified the story Hasek's propaganda machine had disseminated into the socio-cultural stew that Sheratan was quick becoming. It had only been a week or two since they had begun patrolling the streets and these people hated them more every day for it. He really wasn't sure why, it wasn't as if they were running around stepping on people and accidentally burning their houses and hangouts.

Huxley was scanning the crowd, watching the infantry and the local police with their riot shields struggling to maintain civility among these blood hungry urbanites without using violence. Suddenly, after it was already too late, he caught a gleam in a fourth floor window of one of Liberty Square's landmark buildings. The smoke trail raced out of the window and before he could finish yelling through his combat neuro-helmet's mic and out of the external speakers to the infantry, the projectiles had done their damage.

Six missiles systematically slammed into a few of the police cruisers assembled to his east, their dark grey smoke trails lingering in the air. A few mercenary infantry and police officers leaning against one of the vehicles instantly erupted in flames, the plasma covering their entire bodies. They were flung to the street bed, screaming in agony as the fuel clung to their burning flesh. Inferno SRMs, shit!

The first car burned briefly before the modern napalm reached its fuel tank and lit it asunder, the hover car exploding in a fireball carcass of the burning car crashing down closer to the crowd than it had been. Although some dispersed, most of the crowd continued their moderately aggressive pacifism. He scanned the window he had seen the missiles launched from, but there was no reading on any of his instruments to tell him anything helpful. The second car sat silently, flames crackling all over and inside, producing thick black smoke that rippled high into the air.

He could hear the screams and chaos ensuing down on the street, men and women fleeing in fear as the riot seemed to be turning into a massacre. Through the external microphones he couldn't hear what had happened, but it appeared as though one of the ground troops had been wounded by small arms fire from somewhere, whether within the crowd or without. The situation was fast slipping from their control.

"What the hell is going on out there!?" Huxley yelled into his communications link to the Sergeant in control of the infantry platoons.

"We're taking small arms and anti vehicular fire from all over the place, sir! Our scouts can't get a lock on them!" the man that answered was Abel Clark, a commissioned infantry officer in Sheratan's standing army whom he had come to be friends with in the short time he had been on the planet. They were frequently finding themselves in these local policing situations.

Finally, he caught sight of something through the mech's cockpit glass, ignoring all of his sensor equipment, which seemed to be inept at finding anything as ancient as the muzzle flash of an assault rifle going off in the crowd. He focused in on the spot he was certain he saw an assailant, guiding his right arm joystick slowly with his hand and peering deeper into what remained of the crowd. The flash danced across his vision again and he was certain he wasn't seeing things.

"Husker, we have wolves in the flock, you are weapons free. Repeat, you are free to engage hostiles at will." Huxley announced to Abel over their radio frequency. Civilians or not, he was not going to let any more of these men die on a bleak crappy morning at a damn civilian protest.

Abel and his two platoons seemed to be fleeing to the protection of his 'mechs legs as he stood his ground. They fired sporadically towards perceived targets, retaliating with laser rifles and heavy-duty taser weapons. A few infantry perched by his 'mechs foot, a few seconds passing before they both launched infantry-sized portable short range missiles across the street at the building from which the two hover cars had been destroyed earlier. The glass walls on the buildings fourth floor windows shattered into what may have been a million pieces, showering down upon the street as the steel frames of the room bent in a billowing fireball that eventually consumed the entire room.

They didn't seem to be having as much luck with the crowd of protestors however, which continued to hold its ground. Every few seconds he would see another muzzle flash, or something get tossed through the air. Most times, it ended up being a shoe or a rock, but now that the precedent for armed protest had been set, he was beginning to notice homemade explosives and Molotov cocktails being tossed towards his position. The majority of the projectiles bounced off of riot shields or fell hopelessly against the side of his 'mech, but more than enough of them hit their mark in his mind. On both of his sides, the Molotov cocktails had ruptured against the ground and set more infantry troops ablaze, who staggered hopelessly around before trying to extinguish themselves on the plaza ground, or jumping into the giant fountain in the middle of the square.

He had seen enough to make his decision.

"Abel, get these men out of here. I'll cover you to the APCs, just get the hell out." He spoke in a flat tinny voice, devoid of emotion. He was in strictly business mode now.

Out the corner of his cockpit glass, he saw the Sergeant salute him and start rallying his men towards the fountain, where they had parked their transports, or what remained of them

The two infantry platoons had come in a hovercraft variant of the old 3060 era heavy armored personnel carriers; twenty ton vehicles that were used to ferry infantry troops and their equipment to the front lines, used extensively by the armies of the Federated Suns. Although the APC lacked any mobility with its machine guns, it was a far safer place for unarmored men to be in this situation than in the open facing unknown aggressors with unknown abilities. Huxley just hoped these terrorists, or freedom fighters, or whatever they were, weren't hiding any bigger anti-armor weapons up their sleeves. There were plenty of places to allow the opportunity: it was a giant intersection and plaza on the west side of the planet's largest city. Every building around was tall and capable of completely occluding any dangerous weapon these aggressors could manage, short of an armored vehicle itself. All in all the situation was one of many flavors of nightmare any military personnel might experience in their career.

Huxley eyed the computer screens flashing all around him, watching through one of them as the last of the infantry squads clambered up the APC's loading ramp. Several of them stumbled terribly, even falling their way into the vehicles seating area. Still others leaned on their comrades, not too horribly injured but admittedly incapable of standing in their current predicaments. He wondered what it was all for. They hadn't done anything, they were simply doing what they had been ordered to do, and it wasn't as if they had been ordered to kill innocent people. We're just standing in for police, for Christ's sake, Huxley thought to himself.

Their targets taking cover in an armored vehicle didn't seem to deter the unidentified assailants in the slightest bit, much to Huxley's disappointment. Another window flashed to his right, an azure beam dancing off the glass side of its building as suddenly a charged beam of particles splashed against the APCs side armor. Caught in the process of starting up its engines, the vehicle lurched violently on its side. Molten splinters of Ferro-fibrous armor and gobs of liquefied concrete sprayed against the legs of his Corvis, as he fumbled with the right hand joystick again.

"Sergeant, I don't like to repeat myself!" Huxley barked over the radio transmitter built into his neurohelmet again.

"Yes, sir!" Abel grunted back into the microphone headset attached to the APCs passenger control panel.

Huxley couldn't hear it but outside the personnel carrier's giant fans kicked on, whirring and whining loudly as they the air cushion they produced shoved the vehicle a foot in the air. The vehicle had taken severe damage, the particle cannons projection literally melting a hole through its thin side armor. He could actually see through one side of the APC and out of the other, which assured him a fair amount of the men he was trying to save had just died. He was on the verge of rage, whatever the cause of this injustice, he assured himself none of his duties to anyone, not to himself, not to the dead, were fulfilled, until he at least was instrumental in the apprehension and downfall of whatever group was responsible for slaying military personnel through terrorist means.

He knew he would regret what he was about to do, that it was in all probability a career ender and the beginning of a war, but there was no choice in their current situation. Surely he would be at the mercy of military personnel if put on trial, they would understand. Huxley dragged his left arm joystick, sliding his thumb to the top and disengaging the safety switch on his lasers. As his thumb found its way back to the firing trigger built into the front of the joystick, he brought the targeting reticule on the machines Heads Up Display to bear over the location of what he confirmed was a Man-Pack Particle Projector Cannon. Even for a small infantry weapon, it had easily torn through the heavily armored personnel carrier that was now struggling to escape the scene. There was no need to wait for his targeting systems to confirm a lock, as there was nothing to lock on to: the target was entirely human. Huxley took no time to hesitate, instead taking a deep breath and furiously squeezing the trigger.

The laser weapons set on the bottom of his mech's left forearm buzzed, stabbing out towards the window with twin streams of rapid-fire light bursts. Like a frighteningly accurate machine gun the emerald lances drilled through the frame of the building, melting structural supports and lighting walls all throughout the specific room ablaze. What was once a beautiful building side was now ruined by a gaping, molten hole that used to be what looked like an office building, though it was too liquefied to determine. He couldn't tell what happened to the aggressors manning the bipod-mounted particle cannon, but from the few red stains that survived on the walls and carpet he was pretty certain he had hit his mark.

With all the pertinent threats eliminated, to the best of his knowledge, Huxley turned his attention to the gathering of armed and violently protesting civilians collected around the fountain and near his mech. With the infantry and police getting the hell out of dodge, the protestors had broken through the barricades and started to outright attack his 'mech. As he visually scoped out the situation through the tinted glass of his cockpit he even saw one brave civilian managed to be on the mech's right arm. Apparently he had climbed up the few ladder rungs he had kept on the mech's legs when he had chosen not to replace the ladder entirely with a rolled steel chain many MechWarriors kept in their machines cockpit. It was a young man, not too far from his own age it seemed, but to his mind the kid might as well have been an insect after what this crowd had chosen to do to good citizens that they didn't even know.

M.J Huxley intended to treat the kid as such: just an insect. His right arm tore frantically at the control stick, the neural connection in his helmet causing the mech's arm to do the same. The giant auto cannon that comprised the mech's right arm flailed around as much as he could allow it, but the kid kept a firm grip onto his 'mech, holding on for dear life. Repeatedly he tried, and repeatedly he failed to shake his uninvited guest. On his last try, whether out of frustration or negligence, he unintentionally squeezed the trigger on his right hand joystick, letting loose a high-speed stream of metal death upon the crowd.

Oh, fuck! Huxley cursed aloud in his cockpit.

The Ultra 10-class auto-cannon that made up half of the Corvis's right arm discharged and let loose ten rounds of terrifyingly huge and high-powered 120mm explosive shells.

They were almost the size of a person, in fact in ancient Terran tanks, even in modern tanks, the 120mm round was still used for anti-armor, the same purpose it served on modern 'mechs. Several of the shells smashed into the marble floor of the fountain square, kicking up chunks of building material and spraying fragmented metal all over the crowd. However, to his horror, some of the cartridges hit civilians. At least he was certain they were civilians, judging by the huge splash of blood that cascaded across the outside of his cockpit. The carnage before him was foreign to most people in the modern age, even with the frequency of so many insignificant battles and wars being fought in the 32nd century. He guessed that something like this must have happened somewhere, the news just never got out. Those civilians who had been lucky enough not to get hit directly merely laid on the ground, screaming in agony at the shrapnel that was slowly draining all of their blood. The true victims of his auto-cannon were already gone though. Several bodies literally laid in pieces on the ground, hemorrhaging profusely at the massive wounds granted them by such a barbarous attack. He felt sure they weren't in any pain, they must have died from pure shock before any true consequences of losing their bodies could come to fruition. Huxley winced at the whole scene.

Jesus Christ, he whispered through clinched teeth, cursing at himself. If he had to guess it, his mech was probably bathed in blood in some spots.

It seemed the only person, other than those that fled immediately when he began shooting, that survived the massacre was his friendly 'mech insect. The kid didn't even seem to have any burns or bruises on his body, neither from the autocannon discharging beneath him and spraying gigantic spent casings all around his body nor from being tossed around his machine like a rag doll. He wondered if perhaps Mr. Bold could be of some more use to them, after getting the entire group of militant protestors killed with his antics.

Huxley spun the 'mech around, his legs finally getting a chance to stretch as he pumped the foot pedals. The Corvis broke into a jog, chasing after the APC at only sixty kilometers per hour. The vehicle seemed too severely damaged to manage its top speed though, and was no match for his fully functional 'mech.

"Abel open the rest of that sardine can up, I have a prisoner." He happily proclaimed to the APCs radio frequency.

There was no audio response, but the APC slowly came to a hovering halt in the middle of the street, and he mimicked the movement with his foot pedals, bring himself to a stop. A He watched a squad of infantry clamber up the ladders on both sides of his 'mechs legs, and through the cockpit saw them forcibly removing the man from his mech. They hit him with stun batons repeatedly until he loosened his grip, and after struggling to get him down the ladder, tossed the guy back in with the infantry in the dilapidated personnel carrier.

As the rear-loading ramp closed again, Huxley opened up a private line to his infantry Sergeant.

"Maybe that guy knows something?" M.J queried him.

"Yea…maybe he knows the size of our jail cell." Huxley chuckled, kicking the throttle back up and escorting the APC back to friendlier parts of town.

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