Mission 2: ???
The wheezing laughter finally abates as Solly stops to breath and take another drink. You've never seen a man drink so much of such a flammable liquid in your life. "Hee-hee, yeah, she was frisky, if ya know what I mean."
"Course, that's neither here nor there. Back to Walker. He finally found something to do with himself and joined a guerilla training program sponsored by HLA, the Human Liberation Army, a bunch of generous folks that do everything they can to give a guy a chance to get killed by a robot. Real saints they are. Anyway, this particular group he was working for was run by VIRUS, which is supposedly on our side, if you believe the propaganda."
"His chief is some fella named Bryce, a full Patriot-chassis cyborg, who probably served in the Washington Chromes, the 13Div WASP, if his gear is any indication. From what I hear, Bryce called their first mission a 'graduation exercise'. That's real funny, I suppose the mechapocalypse was a final exam and humanity failed."
"Bryce addressed the team today. We have a real mission, which he is calling a "a graduation exercise." He seems to think we're ready for combat, but I disagree. I'm the best shot of our team and I'm a Doctor, not a sniper! Worse, he's referring to the mission as "something really special" which can't be good coming from a battle hardened cyborg.
The briefing was simple. A special cargo is coming through our region form the Houston port, through DFW, and on to the north. We are to intercept it and get some of the cargo, preferably all of it. It sounds like some kind of weird genetic or cyborg experiment because Bryce says the cargo is people but said something to the effect that if we can get a hold of the cargo we might be able to use it as leverage. I can't imagine any humans that a Zonemind would find that important without some strange biotech involved.
We loaded our horses with our gear and headed out. How we hope to take down combat bots with our peashooters is beyond me. At least Stone has a rocket and a blaster rifle. I suppose we'll all hide until he's done and then clean up what's left. Of course, he's not the best shot, so I may be the one using the rocket when push comes to shove.
Forcieri seems to think he's a leader and unfortunately Bryce agrees. We'll see how things work out when he has to start making real decisions in the field. Maybe Josh can scrounge something useful to help us out, if he can stay focused on what useful things really are. I can't place Doc. He seems to be out of place here. He doesn't have the right edge and he's too laid back. I'm not going to complain though; I wouldn't want any of the others responsible for putting me back together, that would be very bad. Axel is a little too chatty for my tastes, but he can be an entertaining distraction at times. It's a pretty ragtag lot, but I suppose I have to give them some credit for rising up from the flock of sheep that humanity is fast becoming. At least we are trying to make a real difference. Of course, so was my Dad. Here's hoping this path does some good.
Stuck with horses, we decided we had to hit the convoy when it was slowing. With no refuel points between Houston and DFW and no pit stops for bots, we had little choice. We headed to Houston and set up near an interchange between the major highways we expected the bots to travel. For all his posturing, Forcieri's reputedly vast network of contacts did us little good. Josh managed to track down a fellow Junk Rat. He dragged me along to be the face man. That reminded me I was in a team in which the quiet loner guy is the face man. We are going to need a lot of luck to get through this one.
[Illustration: Sketch of junk pile and rough outlines of people going to through the activities of daily living among the junk.]
Through some miracle, and the sacrifice of Josh's IR goggles, Josh and I have convinced the Rat to help us out. I don't think Josh has a very good sense of value. The Rat's daughter took me to an area near a work camp in Houston; her fast moving hover cycle was a nice change from the horse, although she went a little faster than I am used to.
She wasn't very talkative on the trip. She dropped me off near the work site and I moved in quietly. I made contact with a human named Marcus that didn't turn me in. I suppose that's a good thing. He didn't seem to be a botlicker. A good start on a job that I'm not really suited for. Luck was not on my side as I left the work site I must have caught the attention of someone or something because the girl and I had to rocket out of there to avoid detection. I met Marcus later that night near his barracks and confirmed the incoming delivery as well as arranging a frequency for them to use to signal us when it left Houston.
We made it back to the Rat's place. He was twitchy about the close call we had near the work site. I found it hard to care, but I had to pretend like I did. He wasn't the one that was almost captured, so he can kiss my ass. God forbid the selfish prick risk getting his ass shot off to help bring down the bots. They seem to still be willing to signal us when the convoy passes their area, but it's not certain. We will have to make sure our plan does not hinge on their signal.
[Charcoal pencil sketch of lean woman dressed in rugged clothing and reclining on a sleek hover cycle.]
[Half a dozen sketches of children]
Well, the kids seem to like my sketches. It's nice to bring some light into this world. I wonder how long it's been since a children's book was a priority in a human's mind? With so many bots trying to kill, maim, and/or enslave their children, it's hard to blame them.
The attack will occur tomorrow. We have the interchange scouted and positions picked. Our intelligence suggests we may be up against a Tarantula and a few Myrmidons. The Tarantula is a cross between a metal bucket and a spider. It's fast, heavily armed, and it has a cloaking ability. It's Razerguns are appropriately named. The Myrmidons are the easier foes, but they're a lethal threat as well. Our peashooter rifles can barely penetrate their armor. Looks like our tactics won't be too subtle. Lead hoses all the way. Let's hope the robots are a little rusty. I've got the rocket, since I seem to be the best shot in the group. Never thought I'd be wishing I'd face only one Tarantula.
The workers near the port called. The bots are on their way. I hope this cargo is worth the effort.
Forcieri and I are heading home. It's a long slow haul. The attack proceeded more or less as planned. The Rat called when the convoy passed him and we readied ourselves. The trucks were boarded as planned. The bots weren't visible at first, they were hidden inside the truck. The Tarantula hopped out of the rearmost truck with its camo unit active. I hit it with the rocket as rounds from its Razergun started ripping through my firing position. Thankfully I managed to neutralize it. We engaged the Myrmidons and with the lead hose approach and Stone's fatal blaster rifle, we managed to take out the Myrmidons without casualties, although I did take a round in the chest to help keep my ego in check.
Axel, Josh, and Doc took the trucks and drove off, with Stone riding one. Forcieri and I took the rest of the gear with us and watched for the arrival of Vultures. We saw a flight launch from Houston and within minutes they had scouted the attack site and headed off towards the north, in the direction of the trucks. We called ahead and warned them. Axel's truck was now empty and whatever was left in Doc's truck was probably suffocated by the extinguisher. More importantly, it was uncertain if there were any threats present in the back of Doc's truck. We decided that the best plan was to divert Josh's truck, unload it, and send it on its way. The Vultures hunted down and killed the trucks. The other four are moving towards home with the cargo in tow. I think Forcieri and I are pretty safe right now, except for the usual dangers of this land. We will probably try to link up with the others en route to home since we have the bulk of the gear and they have at least a sixty miles or so to cover. That's a long hump. For now, it seems we partially succeeded. I would rather not think about what, if anything was lost with the other trucks. I'll assume they were empty until told otherwise.
Joe and I are holed up in an abandoned mechanic shop. We heard the sounds of battle and it seems like the Vultures were destroyed. Another flight headed over to the area where the battle was. We hope the others are OK, but frankly there's little we can or should do. We're maintaining radio silence. Joe is sleeping now, I've taken the first watch.
The night passed uneventfully. We are heading back home as planned.
We just passed a gas station with a Tarantula living in it. I was curious, but we couldn't take it down if things went badly for us, so we gave it a wide berth. I marked the grid point on my map for follow-up missions. I need a damn blaster! We are pushing on through the night to get a safe distance from the Tarantula.
The next day we pushed on into Evergreen. The rest of the team was already there, thanks to a pickup truck Axel managed to repair. They have four people with them, three humans and one half animal, half human.
VIRUS has offered energy weapons and explosives in exchange for the scientists. However, most of us are more than a little distrustful of anyone Joe calls a contact or friend. We talked to the scientists about it. They are unsure. We plan to loot local towns and scavenge useful materiel while the scientists ponder their future.
We have found a still and some parts to allow us to convert the pickup to an alcohol turbine. We converted a trailer to a cart and brought the parts back to base. Axel has started converting the truck.
Jefe et al wish to talk further with VIRUS before making their decision. I feel a little like a fool. These people are looking to us for decisions and advice and we are in short supply of both. Bryce gave us shit for instructions before we started and now we look like idiots. Joe set up a radio chat between VIRUS and Jefe et al for later.
Bryce just showed up and confused the situation by finally telling us what the Hell we're supposed to do. We are to report in to HLA with our four new friends in the AM. This is all pretty damn frustrating. I have to wonder were the Hell the bucket of bolts has been all this time. Jefe at al didn't care much for dealing with a 'borg, but we calmed them down. Our inability to answer their questions has me wondering if we know too little. Compartmentalization is one thing, but this is ridiculous. We need to have some words with Bryce when this is all over.
The four talked to VIRUS and were not satisfied with the answers they received to their questions. We head out in the morning.
We've traveled three days without incident. The team, Jefe at al, and Bryce make up our group. We are holed up in a building waiting for Bryce's HLA contact. Bryce has left to make contact with D/FW people.
Some paramilitary types arrived in a crude, noisy, armored Suburban. They asked for "the scientists and the thing." They had no gear for us and they kept referring to a "Captain" and a "Colonel." We turned them away. When they left, we moved into the trees nearby at a distance that just allowed us to see the building and its grounds. Now we wait. If they weren't the right people, as we expect, then our enemies have far too much information.
They returned after a couple of hours and looked for us, leaving after about 30 minutes of searching. We'll wait 24 hours for Bryce. If he does not show up, then we leave.
Bryce showed up that night and we told him what had transpired. He agreed that it was strange. He decided to take the scientists in and have the rest of us, including Katarina, head back to base. Katarina and I privately agreed to follow Bryce. After Bryce left, I told the team of our plans and we followed at a distance with Katarina as our point. We followed them to a construction shack near a rest stop on the highway. The shack turned out to be a small robofac. We saw a group of seven Myrmidons surrounding Bryce and the scientists. They forcibly placed the scientists in a robotruck. We advanced on the position. Axel, Doc, and me skirted around the robofac and jumped on the truck while Stone opened up on the Myrmidons with his Blaster and Joe and Josh took cover in the rest area. Katarina charged up the side of the road, a little reckless, but at least she was willing to get into the fight.
I had Axel hop in the truck and reprogram it while Doc and I ran up on top and opened up on the Myrmidons in back with our new 20 mm autocannons. We saw Bryce get dropped under a volley of fire from the Myrmidons. Under our combined fire, the Myrmidons all fell and Axel finally got the robotruck under control and moving. I hopped down off the truck and pressed up against the robofac, waiting for any further bots to pop out. Unfortunately, the garage door slid up and I spotted a Tarantula's heat signature. I fired a shot through the door, but it kept coming. It was limping when it came out, so I must have winged it with that first shot. I pulled back as it came out and my second shot went wide. Katarina opened up with one of our standard issue peashooters. She hit, but only scratched the finish. The Tarantula took a swipe at me and Katarina with its wicked monowire claws. I barely pulled back in time and I have the scratch marks on my jacket as a fond memory. I pointed the barrel square at its torso and landed a solid shot, shattering the metal spider.
By then Axel had turned around the robotruck and brought it back to the robofac. We loaded the robotruck with Bryce, the Myrmidons, their weapons, and some good spare gear. We hopped in and Axel took off heading south. I watched for airborne heat signatures as we pulled away. We pulled off the highway and now we're hiding in an underpass. If things work out, we will have a decent cargo vehicle to use in our operations.