Two: Prototype

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Almost immediately a Fox came at me, machine guns blazing. The tubby grey German mech was only two storeys high but built to take a hit, round and armored. A single red light marked where it's camera lay, tucked deep inside the armored exterior. The chunky Fox was a tough enemy for a flimsy Regiment, especially due to the fact it was carrying both a robot-sized machine gun and another powerful howitzer cannon with it. Fortunately, my rocket launchers were far more dangerous than a lead-spitting machine gun could be.

I guess subtlety was out the window.

I opened fire with both rocket launchers, high-velocity missiles crumpling hull plates and shredding armor with the speed of bullets. Big, explosive bullets.

The sturdy Fox, to its credit, did manage to get a shot off with it's howitzer before it crumpled, but it missed at such close range. As the enemy rocketed safely away in their command capsule the crippled Fox stumbled drunkenly before it's gyroscopics gave out and gravity brought it crashing into the pavement. The pilot would be back in another mech, but for now I had an opportunity. I broke away from the battle and sprinted towards the main reactor.

There was a loud thump behind me.

I couldn't tell if it was the sound of a pilot landing in another mech from the dropship, but suddenly my Regiment dissolved into a mess of alarms and screaming metal. I was nearly thrown out of my seat as my mech pitched wildly. The next thing I knew I was safe in my command capsule, flying up and away from the battle. I could still partially see the battlefield below me and caught a glimpse of red and gold.

Impossible.

But the shouts over comms confirmed it- the Russians did have a sixth mech that they'd been saving for last. A hidden ally, one that I'd only just met but knew instinctively to fear. The shouts from the Americans, filtered into my headset over the comms, summed up my panic.

"Why the hell are they getting help from the Exodus?"

Why the hell, indeed. The Exodus was a powerful rogue mech from factions unknown, one that changed sides on the battlefield on a whim. Were the Russians really allied with the mysterious pilot of the Exodus or had he or she just decided to help them out?

I considered my options. I could've docked and gotten a new, stock-model Regiment, but if the Exodus was on the battlefield and could blow me away as soon as I landed then subtlety truly was out of the question. I needed one of my own mechs, a Canadian prototype that hadn't been tested yet. If I wanted to complete my mission of destroying the main reactor, overpowering the Exodus was out of the question.

It was time to outrun it.

I mused on the design of the Prototype as my command capsule streaked above the clouds. Though I couldn't see it myself, somewhere up there my dropship waited, filled to the brim with robots more powerful than a simplistic Regiment.

To the naked eye, my command capsule rocketed to six-thousand feet above the Earth and simply disappeared. Of course, I knew better. Above me I could see the dropship's camouflaged exterior part for a brief moment, like a window in the sky, and allow my capsule to enter. The dropship bay doors opened upon detecting my capsule and I was plucked out of the air, pulled inside by mechanical arms. Suddenly I was surrounded by darkness, and the sounds of combat were muffled once more. My screen flashed, waiting for me to choose my next mech. Gripping the controls, I input my selection.

The Prototype.

I slammed the selection key and felt my command capsule move, sliding through the hangar thanks to the hanging mechanical arms. It was thanks to this technology that I didn't have to leave my cockpit to enter a new mech. My command capsule was the final, unexchangeable piece of every mech. Every pilot needed a capsule to control their mech, and every mech wouldn't work without a capsule.

The mechanical arms relinquished their grip on my capsule as I was gingerly loaded into the Prototype. The bay doors opened and before I knew it I was falling again.

I patted my jumpsuit, making certain that my lucky coin was secure in my pocket. There was no drop countdown this time, so I whispered one myself.

"Six thousand feet...four thousand, three thousand...one."

THUMP.

The impact of landing was greater the second time, something I didn't expect, but the mech was called "the Prototype" for a reason. Adjustments would be made.

The Prototype was a fragile, angular little mech that packed a massive wallop, outfitted with two stolen plasma launchers Canadian infiltrators had discreetly borrowed from the Russians. It looked like no mech I'd ever seen before, forgoing the usual smooth armor plating of the Regiment or Goliath for a jagged, cutthroat design that seemed more dangerous. At one and a half storeys tall it was one of the smallest mechs to date, but carried an ability that made it's flimsiness worthwhile.

My combat display burst into life, giving me a view of the battlefield. There was the Exodus, an imposing three-storey, red-and-gold mech, fighting for the Russians. The Exodus launched itself into the air, weapons blazing, as surprised shouts crackled from my comms system. The Americans were clearly as panicked as I was, as a mech as big as the Exodus with a jump ability was unheard of. Unless, of course, you had funds like the Transamerican Combat Corporation did.

But nevertheless the Exodus leapt with the grace of a Goliath, dominating the American forces with twin rocket launchers and a heavy, top-mounted shotgun. I watched in awe as a Regiment like my own staggered and fell, reduced to a pile of slag under the absolute onslaught of the Exodus.

The Exodus was built like a crimson tank and armed like a battleship. It was power. It was might. It dominated the battlefield.

I had to get past it.

I grinned, touching the coin that resided in my pocket. Perhaps I'd be lucky today.

I swiveled the Prototype's head towards the main reactor and I could barely make out the charred brown husk of my former Regiment, claimed in battle by the Exodus. Poor mech.

The comms crackled with more shouted questions. The Americans had finally noticed me. The Prototype was a mech nobody had seen before, it's white armor and angular design certainly stood out. I was going to be a target. However, the Prototype was fast. Extremely fast.

They'd have to catch me, first.

The Prototype didn't stumble drunkenly as I adjusted to the controls. This was no factory-made Regiment. This mech was tailored to my specifications by Doctor Dan Stonewood, a scientist back at our base in Canada.

The Prototype truly was fast, hitting a clean sixty-three kilometers per hour almost immediately. I was almost through being awed by the research wing's work when a shotgun blast barely missed my front as I rounded a building. The Exodus hadn't been too distracted by the Americans to notice the new player in the game. It leapt towards me, rocket launchers fully loaded. I did not want to be on the business end of those rocket launchers when they were close enough to hit me.

Fortunately, the Prototype wasn't just fast. It had a secret, one that could win the entire Iron War.

Of course, it would only work if it didn't blow me up the moment it activated it.

I grinned. I'd been informed that if I activated the ability there was a thirty-five percent chance of critical detonation. Only thirty-five percent sure felt like good odds in the moment, and I had a feeling I would get lucky. I was going to use the Prototype to it's full extent or certainly die trying. Unfortunately, it seemed the Exodus wished me the latter.

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