One: Rustbucket

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Report: Quinn
The edge of a dried sea.
Russia.
Decommissioned nuclear facility.
Designation: "Lighthouse"

I could hear explosions outside.
Loud, thunderous detonations that rattled the metal walls of the dropship as it soared over the battlefield. By now I should have been used to explosions. After all, they were quite common in my line of work. But still, the thunderous sound in my ears and the pressured feeling in my chest told me that only danger awaited below.

I loved it.

I slid into the mech's pilot seat with a sigh of delight and moved to run my hands through my hair, an old stress-induced habit I'd picked up again recently. Of course, I found almost nothing; my new brown crew cut didn't offer much to touch. Oh, well. I'd chosen a professional look over a comfortable one.

I settled my hands back on the controls of the mech and waited. It was likely only a few seconds, but it felt like hours before that all-too-familiar siren rang out. I grinned.

Showtime.

A rough, metallic noise resounded somewhere around me and a moment later my stomach rose into my throat. My mech was falling at last, freed from the confines of the dropship.

"Six...four, three...one."

My headset crackled and spat, the drop countdown cutting in and out of focus. Audio communications, or 'comms', were always patchy when in battle. I gripped the controls of my mech inside the command capsule. I was ready. My cameras were switched off so I couldn't see outside of the mech, but my altimeter's rapid decline and my own weightlessness told me I was on the express elevator into battle.

A flash of gold caught my eye and I glanced over to see a dollar floating through the air, as if summoned by the mere thought of combat. I frowned and snatched it out of the air in one deft movement, tucking it back into my jumpsuit's chest pocket.

Moments later there was a thunderous, jarring impact, made only slightly bearable by my mech's shock absorbers, then with a whir my combat console came online.

My command capsule was plugged into a simplistic Regiment- a 'Rustbucket,' as the techs in Canada called it. Had to look like an American to fight for the Americans, I guess. That's what I did, fought on whatever side I needed to destabilize the war.

The screens in front of me gave me a two-hundred-ninety-degree view of the surrounding area. There wasn't much to be seen. A dry harbour. A tipped-over tanker ship. Across the harbour a single lighthouse jutted into the sky like a needle pointed at heaven. We were ninety kilometers south of Zolotoy, the location of the first battle of the war. The river had dried up during that first battle, cut off by a Russian hydroelectric dam as an attempt to gain more ground. Down here, ninety miles away, was the old nuclear power plant that had been used long before the dam and long, long before the war. It was ancient tech.

Allegedly, the U.S was here because they wanted to use the power plant to build a field base for a push west into Russia. We couldn't let that happen.

Voices crackled over the comms. The Americans, giving orders. The mech I was piloting, a Regiment, was one of theirs. Cheap, brown, boxy and practically made to be cannon fodder for larger mechs, the Regiment was mass-produced so rapidly that each and every one was practically identical.

Completely unremarkable, exactly what I wanted.

I had dropped my Regiment in among their squad and hijacked their Commander's frequency- no small feat of subterfuge. To them I was just another soldier. Their computers wouldn't register any difference. But the difference was that I wasn't here to fight their war. Not for the Americans and especially not for the Transamerican Combat Corporation that supplied them. I was here to do some damage, but not to any enemy mechs. I had to destroy the main reactor, making the plant unusable to the Americans and useless for a temporary base.

The first steps in any mech are always kind of shaky. It usually takes a while to get used to it, but I figured out the controls of the Regiment fast. It wasn't my first time, I had run many a mission inside one, but a new upgrade to the system made it feel different than before. A couple of drunken steps later and I was sprinting towards my target, each massive step covering meters of ground.

A sudden shadow was cast overhead and a couple seconds later a Goliath touched down, feet making sparks upon impact with the ground. It lived up to it's name- the sheer size of the mech was awe-inspiring. It's bulbous conical body was bristling with weaponry. The Goliath sprinted ahead of me towards the main reactor and for a second I was afraid it was headed in the same direction I was.

But the Goliath turned and marched off in another direction, massive metal legs carrying it away. It wasn't heading towards the main reactor, just scouting the battlefield. Good. The fewer mechs nearby, the sooner I could destroy the reactor and get back safely to Canada. Ahead of me the Goliath marched along like a soldier, passing between buildings and out into the center of a road, before-

THUMP-BOOM.

The Goliath exploded in a shower of sparks, momentum halted by a sudden explosion. Its frame crumpled like it had been hit by a meteor and a bright light flashed before the entire cockpit of the mech exploded. An American command capsule, pilot safe inside, streaked into the air like the light from a signal flare.

So much for the Goliath's patrol, then.

The pilot would be safe, as per rules of war he would be allowed to make it back to the dropship to retrieve another mech to fight with. This civility only extended so far, as command capsules weren't infallible. The odds of a failed ejection were rare, but not rare enough for my comfort.

Another explosion sounded nearby and I swivelled my Regiment's head as I ran for cover, desperate to find the source of the attack.

A German mech, a Lynx, stood on the top of a building, head swivelling as it aimed a massive howitzer cannon at me. The Lynx was a small, light grey robot intended for close combat. The equivalent of my mech in size but it's superior in firepower. The long howitzer cannon attached to it's hull was powerful. I didn't want to draw attention to myself but if I didn't make it to cover in time I would have to fight.

That fear never came to pass, as seconds later another Regiment stepped around the corner and unloaded quad homing missiles at the mech. Twelve missiles homed in on my would-be attacker, reducing the giant howitzer cannon and the Lynx to slag and sending the Russian pilot's command capsule rocketing away.

I was close enough to the Russian drop-point that I could see them falling from the sky as their mechs landed. Two Lynxes, a Veles, a Fox and a frightening Valkyrie. A force to be reckoned with, yes, but usually there were six mechs in the battle. Had the pilot of the destroyed Lynx returned with a mech yet? Why weren't the Russians attacking with a full squad of six mechs?

The time for questions was over, because in leapt another Goliath, machine guns blazing. Being a large mech, it immediately targeted the Russian Valkyrie and the two began to blast away at each other as the other mechs fanned out to secure control of the area. I was about to sprint in the opposite direction when one of the American's mechs, yet another Regiment, came around the corner. I couldn't deviate from their mission while they were watching or my cover was blown. I spun my rustbucket around and marched into the fray.

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