(warning: this short story contains foul language and graphic violence)
The Battle of Praelon IX
“These new power suits are amazing!” Leanna declared, flexing her gauntleted fingers and punching the air with superhuman speed. “And the best part is they don’t restrict your mobility at all!”
“They are pretty impressive,” Glenda agreed, “but the best part is that they totally equalize the battlefield. The direct neural inputs even allow someone with major physical disabilities to fight on the field like a lifelong killer!”
“That’s true,” Leanna agreed after executing a flying roundhouse kick in the air three feet above where her head had been. “And the adaptive firmware makes it so that you don’t even have to practice in order to fight like a badass from a holo-vid. I’m telling you: these things are going to change everything about warfare!”
“Not just warfare,” Glenda said eagerly. “What happens when these things become a bit more affordable and everyone‘s wearing one? No more physical intimidation, no more violent assaults—“
“No more rape,” Leanna interrupted, her voice dark and pointed.
Glenda nodded somberly, “And here we are, on the front lines of Praelon IX, the bloodiest rock in the whole conflict.”
“Fucking rubes don’t know what’s good for them,” Leanna growled, looking out to the wall of the base’s fortified southern front. “All they had to do was pay their taxes, just like the rest of us, and Grand Marshal Steinem wouldn’t have had to plant her flag on this piece of shit, irradiated mud ball.”
“Why anyone would want to live here is beyond me,” Glenda rolled her eyes. “The dirt’s so toxic you can’t grow anything green outside.” She inclined her head to the sky above, where the gas giant Praelon Prime loomed like a silent, ever-watchful god. It even had a trio of ovular, red mega-storms pointed their direction, giving the appearance of an intent, alien presence observing their every move. “And that fucking thing pumps out so much radiation you have to pop a dozen pills a day just to stave off a hundred different kinds of cancer.”
“It’s a real shit stain of a world,” Leanna stamped her foot angrily into the chalky, reddish dirt beneath them. “The perfect match for its rebellious inhabitants, if you ask me.”
“Bunch of low-brow neanderthals,” Glenda grunted. “They thought they could escape the Federation’s justice by tucking their tails and coming out here beyond the Rim.”
“I heard from one of the new Intelligence Officers that they still use dowry systems on this fuck-stain of a world,” Leanna said pointedly.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Glenda reared back rebelliously, her powered exoskeleton making the gesture ever more exaggerated than it would have normally been.
Leanna shook her head sadly, “Bunch of backwaters want to live like actual cave men, trading daughters for their private pleasure.”
“Well,” Glenda leaned in conspiratorially, “I heard from a particularly dim—but surprisingly disciplined, if you catch my meaning,” she quirked a lascivious grin, “guardsman from Fort 116 a few clicks over that castration is a valid punishment for sexual assault.”
Leanna snorted, “I guess even a broken clock can be right twice a day.” Then she returned her partner’s lascivious grin, “This guardsman…he into any kink up my alley?”
Glenda’s grin broadened, turning decidedly predatory, “I thought you’d never ask. I told him about you and your Three Sticks technique—he can’t wait to give it a try.”
“Fresh meat for the grill,” Leanna laughed, and then an alarm went up from their fort’s center. A quick check confirmed that, again, the stupid brutes were attacking from the south. “Speaking of which,” she sneered, gesturing to the southern wall, “you up for a barbecue?”
“Always!” Glenda nodded, leaping three meters into the air with her first stride as the duo made their way to the twenty foot tall, modular wall which had been installed via orbital drop a week earlier. The land to the north had been dotted with similar forts, which were dropped from low orbit by specialized dropship and automatically self-assembled mere minutes before a dozen power-armored troopers—like Leanna and Glenda—HALO dropped in to man them.
A dozen of the Federation’s new shock troops, wearing the best power armor that technology could produce, were more than a match for the ravening hordes of colonists armed with nothing but gas-powered slug throwers and hand-forged knives.
Not a single casualty had been logged on the Fed side in three weeks, while the rebels had lost at least eight thousand idiotic, crazed—likely from drug use—berserkers who had slammed into their fortifications like waves against the cliffs.
And now, another stream of the bastards were inbound. It looked to be a small group, no more than thirty or forty. As the frothing mob approached the tall ramparts on which Leanna and Glenda stood, the rest of the Federation troops looked on with unvarnished contempt.
“Time for another ass-whoopin’,” Glenda declared, easily hefting a crew-served chain gun from its mooring atop the wall and audibly spinning it through a test cycle. Her power armor allowed her to swing it around like it was no heavier than a standard grunt’s rifle.
“Don’t waste any ammo until we can smell their fetid breath,” Leanna sneered, “these fuckers have already wasted enough of our time—no sense wasting the ammo packers’ time too.”
“I like the way you think,” Glenda grinned savagely, while Leanna drew a standard assault rifle—which was theoretically possible to wield without power armor, but much more unwieldy than a soldier on the run could manage—and compared to Glenda’s crew-served chain gun, it looked like a toy.
The horde of oncoming rebels flowed around the first line of Czech hedgehogs—giant, six-pointed metal spikes partially buried in the field before the walls—which had been dropped minutes before the self-assembling fortress itself. Their arrangement gave the Feds a perfect gauge of the enemy’s distance: eighty three meters.
Not that they needed visual aids to range the enemy, of course. The Feds’ power armor suits provided that particular functionality and much, much more.
“Stupid rubes,” Glenda spat as the rebels surged past the second line of hedgehogs, making their range forty two meters.
“Let’s put these cave men in their place,” Leanna growled, leaning into her assault rifle’s scope and lining up a shot on an unsuspecting rebel.
“Incoming,” a nearby soldier, Alyssa, called out in an alarmed voice as Glenda’s chain gun unleashed its fury on the charging rebels, sawing dozens of them into pieces in the first two seconds of her weapon’s terrifying display. “Drop troopers!” shouted Alyssa, prompting eyes to move skyward where their suits’ HUD’s immediately tallied four inbound fighters using what looked like five hundred year old parachutes to descend toward the fort.
“Idiots,” Leanna trained her rifle on the southern-most descending rebel before muttering, “someone in overwatch is going to lose her head over this.”
She snapped a shot off and it struck the target center-mass, but somewhat surprisingly it appeared to clink off of some sort of armor concealed beneath the paratrooper’s baggy jumpsuit.
Then a bright light flared overhead with the intensity of a nova, and the Federation troopers’ suits lost all power.
“What the fuck?!” Leanna demanded, trying to initiate a local reboot of her suit’s systems. She looked skyward while she did so, calculating that the paratroopers would be upon them in no more than fifteen seconds. “Suit checks—sound off!”
“All systems offline,” Glenda cried, “manual restart is nonresponsive!”
The sound of fighters clambering up the fort’s wall reached their ears, and for the first time since their deployment on that particular patch of the largely barren moon, the Federation soldiers felt a unifying wave of terror sweep through them.
“Keep working on the suits!” Leanna commanded, forcing her sluggish power suit’s arm and gauntlet to pull a grenade from her belt and prep it for use. “Grenades!”
“I thought these things were hardened against EMPs?!” Glenda said, terror suffusing her voice as she fought a grenade off her belt.
“They are!” Leanna snarled as a grappling hook came over the top of the wall just a few meters from her position. She lobbed the primed grenade over that hook, and a second later a satisfying report rocked the catwalk beneath her feet. Soon her fellow troopers tossed their own grenades down, and the series of explosions that followed suggested there would be only parts of rebel warriors beneath them.
Then the sound of boots hitting the catwalk rang out above the din below them, and Leanna turned as fast as her locked-up suit would let her so that she could face the newcomer.
He was huge, standing fully two meters tall, and wore a long, trenchcoat-like jumpsuit with an old style rebreather helmet secured to the collar. His parachute detached from its harness and billowed off the catwalk, dancing on the breeze as it made its way to the fort’s interior below. In his hands was a simple, home-made, tri-barreled shotgun. He pointed the weapon at Glenda, who tried in vain to bring her chain gun up before he discharged the barrels into her face-plate.
Normally a shot like that from such a primitive weapon would have only cracked the visor, at the very worst, but with the suit’s adaptive defensive systems offline it was unable to protect the face-plate with a combination of electromagnetic and mimetic gelatin reinforcements.
The result was a smoking, bloody ruin where Glenda’s face had been a moment earlier. Before her body collapsed to the catwalk, the trenchcoat-wearing paratrooper popped the breach of his shotgun open, ejecting three spent casings as he calmly inserted another trio of loaded shells, snapping them into firing position less than two seconds after ejecting the old shells.
Leanna brought her assault rifle up and fired, hitting his shotgun’s stock with a short burst a fraction of a second before it could discharge into her face-plate as it had to Glenda’s. Unfortunately, the shotgun managed to strike her own assault rifle, knocking it clean out of her hands. Had her power armor been online, it would have been impossible for such a relatively weak impact to disarm her, but her suit was still offline.
Hearing the screams of her allies all around her, Leanna saw the massive, masked warrior charge toward her with a short blade drawn from his belt, and she knew a life-and-death struggle was about to take place.
She cocked her armored fist back and fired an uppercut aimed at his chest, and her blow struck true with as much force as she could muster.
Unfortunately, it was far from enough.
Even as her gauntlet slammed into his chest, his blade stabbed into her elbow. It, too, appeared to be a simple enough weapon—likely manufactured in a home shop rather than a proper factory—but it still managed to pierce her nonreactive armor’s relatively light protection covering her elbow.
Her arm exploded in pain, which would have normally been countered by the suit’s suite of electro-chemical countermeasures designed to deal with such wounds and keep a fighter’s focus on the battle.
Leanna was no wimp; she had taken worse wounds before, but when the warrior twisted the blade in her arm it made her cry out in agony. Her vision narrowed so badly that she barely even noticed him pull the blade out of her elbow and slam it repeatedly into the neck of her armor. Her senses clearing, she tried to bring her remaining good arm up into the fight, but the ferocity of the warrior’s assault was simply too much for her to defend against from within her sluggish, de-powered combat suit.
The warrior slashed, stabbed, shoulder-charged, and bull-rushed her until she nearly lost her balance. She barely managed to keep her feet beneath her while staggering dangerously close to the inner edge of the catwalk—and no sooner had she regained her composure than the warrior authored a brutal front kick into her chest, sending her falling from the catwalk to the hard scrabble of the fort’s interior.
When she hit the ground, she momentarily blacked out. As her vision slowly cleared, she tried desperately to extricate herself from the useless power suit, and managed to pop the breastplate open before hearing the sound of a shotgun’s breach kicking out a trio of spent shotgun shells.
“You know the trouble with your kind…” she heard a distorted voice say with blood-curdling calm, and she turned to see the speaker was the same paratrooper who had just kicked her from the catwalk.
That warrior calmly reloaded the tri-barrel shotgun, snapping the breach back into firing position before reaching up and removing his rebreather mask—revealing that he was actually a she!
Her face might as well have been carved out of wood, bearing so many lines and scars that Leanna could not honestly tell which were which. Her neck was wider than her head by at least two inches, and her eyes—those cold, pitiless eyes—were all Leanna seemed to see as the other woman aimed the shotgun at her face and said, “You think your gadgets make us equal.”
The last thing Leanna heard was the faint creak of a leather-gloved finger as it squeezed the shotgun’s trigger, discharging a single scattershot round into her face.
That is when the tide turned in the Battle of Praelon IX.