The irradiated remains of Moscow.
A radioactive "exclusion zone".
Neutral territory, until now.
God, did my hands ever hurt. The duct tape pulled at the burns on my palms as I swerved like a madman to avoid enemy fire. I closed the distance fast, long-range missiles pockmarking the ground behind me. If the pilots of the artillery mechs had been truly good at their jobs they would've lead their shots, but the violent beginnings of the Iron War had chewed up most of the veterans. Now it was inexperienced pilots like us left to end it.
The long-range missiles kept missing and I kept swerving, closing distance until I blew past Daewi Park’s Predator and- was that a damaged Xiezhi?
“Hey Daewi!” I called. “How goes the battle?
Daewi’s voice rang out over the comms, triumphant and clear.
“Not bad, now that you're here!”
I continued forward, one remaining plasma launcher firing continuously. I was saving the ammo in my new shotgun until I got closer. Much, much closer.
Suddenly I heard a loud hum above my head. I snuck a glance upward as I ran and the sight had barely registered when I heard Daewi call out.
“Jackson!” He shouted. “Stealth! Now!”
I mashed the activation button and felt the familiar teeth-shaking hum as the radio deadener powered up. The target lock broke. I only realized my mistake when Daewi swore. It was targeting him!
In the next second the Xiezhi leapt almost impossibly into the shot, intercepting the line of fire before it could hit. A moment later the Helios cannon fired and its pilot was sent rocketing away as the mech crumpled.
I reached my first target, one of the Legions with the harpoon guns. The robot's armor was strong but in stealth I had time to hit without being hit back. I opened fire with my shotgun and chipped away at his shell, rending armor and damaging electronics.
“I love this weapon!” I laughed.
That, of course, was when the radio deadener shut off.
The Legions turned on me and opened fire, harpoons streaking through the air. The spears were caught by Daewi’s energy shield as he ran past me, heavy shotguns thumping away. The first Legion, overwhelmed by the mech-grade buckshot, stumbled and then toppled sideways, command capsule ejecting into the air with a hiss.
The other Legion had no time to react before the rest of Daewi’s squad opened fire on it, reducing it to an empty, capsule-less husk in mere seconds.
The Legion with the Helios cannon rotated it's body once, twice, three times as it realized it's situation. The only mechs left on the battlefield were long-range Legions who couldn't shoot us. The one lonely Legion atop the overpass was still reloading for a third shot it would never get to take.
Check and mate. Game set match.
All three mechs detonated quite spectacularly as their pilots abandoned them, rocketing to safety. At least they had the sense to know when they'd lost. The battle was over. Cheering coursed through the comms, warped and distorted by the signal. I grinned and punched the air.
“Hey Lucas!” I called, smiling, “patch me through to the Firmament, would you?”
I heard no response but a moment later my comms headset crackled.
“Mallet?” I grinned. “Are you there? You saw that, right?”
Silence, but only for a moment.
“Yes, Jackson,” Mallet's voice responded. For once she didn't sound angry in the slightest.
“I saw that. Great work, everyone. All life scans say the Moscow Exclusion Zone is free of all hostiles. You've just freed the city.”
More cheering, both over our comms and from the communication to Mallet. It wasn't Mallet cheering, no, because Mallet didn't ever cheer.
It was the people listening in. The technicians, the mechanics, the folks back on the Firmament who cheered along with us. It was because of them that we had done our part and won the battle. It meant more than a victory, more than the capture of a single battlefield. This victory meant there was hope yet to force an early end to the Iron War. This victory meant that we didn't have to hide or be pushed around by the Transamerican Combat Corporation.
They didn't know where we were from.
They didn't know when we would strike next.
They did know we were a threat.
The dropships buzzed down like flies, clearing the smog over the city. My earlier guess had been right. Only our mechs had survived. Out of all the mech's we had sent, no other squads had made it out intact.
The mechanical arms of Dropship 0-13 latched onto my Prowler and I was inside in seconds. I cheered out loud and stood up to press the eject button on my command capsule's console. Pain lanced through my feet. I swore and sat back down with a huff. I’d forgotten about my electrical burns.
Minutes passed. At last I heard a stiff knocking on the roof of my mech. The harsh light of the hangar bay blinded me as mechanical arms lifted my command capsule out of the Prowler. There, standing on the catwalk and operating the lift manually, was Daewi Park. Next to him was Lucas Stonewood, holding the handles of a foldable wheelchair we kept in storage for incidents like these. Both wore grins just as big as mine.
My command capsule's hatch folded open.
“Well hello, sir!” Daewi teased. “Looking a little crispy!”
“I saved your metal ass!” I shouted back, laughing. “You owe me a life debt!”
Lucas pushed the wheelchair forward and the two of them hoisted me out of the command capsule by the armpits, plopping me down in the chair.
“Shut up, both of you!” Lucas laughed. “I'm the one that got Jax back in the fight in the first place!”
I gasped in mock indignation.
“Liar,” I chuckled, “you could barely even find the duct tape!”
Lucas swerved the wheelchair dangerously close to the catwalk edge as we made our way to the cockpit.
“I’ll dump you right off the side, I swear!”
I hadn't laughed that hard in a long time.
I watched the remains of Moscow fade into the distance as the dropship pulled away. Nobody lived there anymore. They couldn't. War had taken Moscow away from it's people. It was our job to make sure that same fate didn't befall other places. We hadn't accomplished much- in fact, we’d barely slowed the TCC down- but our efforts had given us a victory. If we kept up we could win the war, one mech, one pilot, one battle at a time.
No more infiltrations. No more hiding.
The Chinese-Canadian Alliance had entered the Iron War and we were going to win it for the people.
YOU ARE READING
Iron EmpireScience Fiction
[UNDERGOING MAJOR REWRITES] The Great Iron War has been raging for ten years. The Earth is divided. War has changed. An unstoppable Iron Empire sweeps across the globe, conquering the world in giant robots known as mechs. The year is 2042. Our wor...