I jolted awake, a fearful shout escaping my lips. My body was dripping with sweat, tracing cold streams down my breasts and back. My hands were bleeding, and my brain throbbed painfully. I held my blanket tighter, chewing on the edge to stop myself from crying.
These nightmares had been happening for the past three weeks. Ever since we came to this accursed planet. My name is Aya Vdokhnov, Psy-Sargent of the Nova Riga 3rd Amphibious Armor Core. Me and my recon squad have been posted to the oceanic moon of Tallinn VI for the past four weeks. We have been suppressing the dangerous native tribes to make way for a Republic mining colony.
We have been fighting these abominable aliens called The Gorgons. From what we can tell, they appear to be of a psychically connected hive-mind. They are highly aggressive and use devastating hit and run tactics to devastate our army. I have witnessed what they can do to a recon unit first hand. The sights still haunt me.
Amidst my sobbing, I felt something shifted in the bed, scooting closer to me. I felt a warm pair of arms gently embrace me, as a strong but feminine body pressed against my right side.
As my vision cleared, I saw the familiar face of Sek-Mah, Lieutenant of our squad, and my lover. Sek was a Lev-Ada, an old race of aliens that resembled humanoid sphinxes. Her face resembled that of a lioness, with a short snout, sharp ears, and a nearly hypnotic gaze that sank deeply into my soul. Her thin pelt was a shimmering silver, with a short mane of red, silky hair. Her body was akin to the mythical Amazons of Old Earth. A strong, muscular form, but still soft and feminine in all the right places.
She held me close as her short wolf-like tail wrapped around my waist. She gently raked her claws through my short black hair, hushing my moans of anguish.
“It’s okay, Aya” she whispered. “I’m right here, nothing can hurt you here.”
She was only partly right. Sek had seen my stressed and paranoid state in the recent weeks and allowed me to sleep in her quarters for the remainder of our posting. She seemed to think that trying to comfort me would be enough until we could get back to HQ, and I could go to a psychiatrist. However, not even her loving affection was enough to take my mind off the horrors I saw on this moon. I would wake up with bruises and cuts all over my body, my psychic powers making the pain I experienced in my dreams a reality.
That very morning, I woke up with massive cuts in my hands. The side effects of reliving nearly being eaten alive by one of the enthralled apex predators on this planet. The gigantic eel-like monster picked up my armor in its mouth and tried to crack it open to get to me. I was just barely able to hold its jaws open while two of our squad members fired countless laser shots into its exposed underbelly. The creature died just as my mechs arm motors shattered from the bite force. If only they had survived the battle, I would have thanked them personally.
I closed my fists tightly around the blankets, trying to stop the bleeding. I leaned into Sek’s warm embrace, nestling into her chest. We stayed there for several minutes, as she kissed me and whispered words of encouragement in my ear. I wish I had listened to her.
After those several minutes, a green static appeared on the far side of the room. It quickly condensed into the holographic image of Admiral Keeganov, one of the Overseers of this operation.
“Tention’.” He casually commanded.
Without hesitation, me and Sek jumped from our bed, snapping to a salute out of reflex.
“Sorry to bother you girls, but I have some news.”
The Admiral was a very casual man. He did not command with an iron fist like the rest of the officers in The United Soviet Star Republic’s military. He treated those under his command decently but expected better results in return. He continued speaking, not even flinching at the sight of our naked bodies.
“We have received word from our front-line forces that the enemy seems to be in full retreat in sector T-12.”
My heart lifted a little when the Admiral told us the news. The more loses these aliens took, the sooner we could leave.
“They are falling back to a new sector that our scanners seem unable to fully map. So, I’m sending your recon squad ahead to scout out this new area.”
My heart sank back into my stomach when he said that. Infiltrating enemy territory in our current state was practically suicide.
“Your squad is to report to the front of the base for pickup in one hour.”
“But, sir…” I blurted out against my instincts.
“I’m sorry Aya.” He quickly responded. “High command has forced me to commence order 227.”
The Admiral lowered his head in remorse.
“You are just barely fit for combat. Therefore, you must fight.”
The Admiral quickly snapped a salute to both of us.
“Godspeed.” He said, as the hologram quickly dissipated.
If my heart could sink any further into the pit of my stomach, it would have.
Sek and I got Dressed, and she helped me dress my wound. I was using my powers to force the blood back into the cut, but I wasn’t strong enough to knit the tissue back together.
We both wore navy-blue dress coats, with a black skirt and black leather shoes. Sek wore a white half cape mantel over her right shoulder, showing her rank as Capitan of our squad. It was traditional garb of the Bal-Lio military, and she took great pride in maintaining her image. After applying my Crystal Trinity to my wrists and back of my neck, we were ready to join our squad at the mech hanger. My crystal trinity was a set of three silver bars, that pierced into my wrists and the back of my neck. They each contained small cord ports that allowed me to connect more directly with my mech.
We slowly walked out of our section of the barracks, into the cool morning air of the bases artificial atmosphere. The base was situated on a terraformed island, forming an easy staging point for ships to send down supplies and troops to us. The island was about ten miles in diameter and played host to several barracks for amphibious infantry, a massive armory, several landing strips, and even a port for fully aquatic armored ships. We were heading from our barracks to the main mech deployment hanger, which was a relatively short walk. We spoke very little, respecting each other’s concerns.
When we reached the massive armor hanger. We entered without hesitation. The hanger was enormous. More than forty meters in length, and twenty meters tall. Many of the heavy war machines were suspended in anti-gravity lifts, held at least a meter off the ground. This allowed the mechanics to more easily work on the damaged parts, using the lift to maneuver around the chassis their heavy tools.
We walked past many metal giants, their damaged forms resembling the worn statues of ancient gods. We passed a Bogatyr class super-heavy walker, two of its four legs were broken off, and its one remaining arm-mounted heavy torpedo launchers was clogged with a thick layer of crystallized salt. Next to it was a Rytíř class heavy mech. Most of its black and gold paint and armor was melted off its bulky, tank-like chassis, from the Gorgon’s Sulfuric Acid weapons.
Our mechs were on the far side of the hanger, undergoing final repairs. My squad piloted Cossack-class light mechs. They were the smallest of the mech classes, only about seven meters tall. Their chassis only vaguely resembled the human form. They had bird-like, double-jointed legs, and taloned feet, their torsos had a relatively small waist, with a bulky upper body. They had no proper head, unlike most the other mechs. Instead, they had a short, boxy extension, like the nose cone of a 1950’s space shuttle in the upper chest, which housed the main camera and sensor array.
The mech had two shoulders, both ending in adapter ports for arm mounted weapons. A Cossack could be equipped with a multitude of weapons. From Thermal Blades, M-42 Anti-Armor guns, even a miniature Topol SS-27 Tactical Nuke Launchers. Although, due to our enemies being underwater, this has limited our options. Three out of our five members use a combination of a grasping claw with an underslung Thermal Blade, and an anti-infantry Photo-Carbine. The forth was our dedicated heavy support. It used a Photon-Carbine but also carried a torpedo rail-gun for dealing with the massive apex predators the Gorgons made large use of. My mech was rather uniquely armed. It welded two grasping claws, with a ring of psychically conductive crystal around the wrists and in the palms. This allowed me to channel my powers through the mech itself.
We approached the war machines, my stomach feeling ready to burst out of my body. As we approached, we saw the remaining members of our squad. We used to be a full squad of ten. However, after several poorly planned maneuvers, we lost five of our comrades and their mechs. Two of them were good friends.
The first we saw was Manon, one of the few French members we had in our core. She always seemed to keep her distance from use, spending her downtime drawing these beautiful yet grim pictures. She mostly handled fire support, providing suppressing fire against the swarming Gorgons. She was followed by Jaxon. Jax was a bit of an oddity, from the former American territories. He was overly friendly, almost childlike in his behavior and interests. He was the last of our forward scouts. Silvia was already by her mech, impatiently waiting for the order to get in. I thought she seemed like a pleasant girl if a bit wild. She was the pilot of the heavy Cossack. She used her torpedoes to blast apart enemy fortifications and keep the predators at bay.
We joined our squad, just as the command to enter our mechs was broadcast through our ear coms.
“Attention, First Recon Squad.” Called Admiral Keeganov. “Ready your mechs and prepare to embark.”
I cringed as he gave the order. As everyone went to their mechs, Sek stopped herself. She turned and gave me a hug.
“It’s going to be okay, Aya.” She whispered. “We can do this. You can do this.”
“I’ll try.” I said, forcing a giggle and returning the hug.
I approached my mech. Its armor bore the navy-blue and white of our core. On its left shoulder, it bore a red and blue shield with a white orthodox cross on it, the symbol of our planet’s military. On its right shoulder, it bore a gold and red Byzantine Aquila, with a lightning bolt striking behind it. The symbol of the Byzantine Order, the official organization that trained psychic soldiers.
I wanted so badly to run away as I entered the anti-gravity field. However, I knew that the second I showed fear in the face of my duty, I would disgrace our entire unit, and Sek would have to kill. I knew she would never kill me, and so she would be dishonorably discharged. I would never let that happen.
I floated up to my mechs upper back, my body slightly tingling with the nice sensation of weightlessness. A hatch slowly opened in the mechs upper back, just barely big enough for me to fit through. I was able to pull myself inside, finding myself in the familiar, cramped cock-pit of my mech.
I quickly slipped into my command chair, the artificial leather doing little to comfort me. Before me, was a control panel, with two joysticks, a keyboard, and two extendable wires on the sides beneath a blank screen. On either side of me where my rear and side view screens. Finally, just at my feet, where to control pedals, that controlled my mechs movement.
I took both wires and plugged them into the ports on my wrists. I felt a sharp pain for a moment, akin to a needle. Thankfully, it quickly faded.
Just as I plugged myself in, my mech slowly came online. The dim interior lights came on, showing the bleak, cramp interior of the war machine. The control panel slid within reach. The screens flickered to life, showing a real-time projection of the outside world. Finally, I felt the shackles extend from my chair and coldly clamp around my ankles. They were installed in most mechs, partly to keep the pilot from blacking out if your mech falls over, but also to keep them from abandoning it mid-battle.
The final step, I always hated. I reached around my chair to find a third cord on the back of the headrest. I pulled it around, to take a quick look at it. The jack was noticeably longer and thinner than the two in my wrists, with a twin-pronged point. I took a deep breath, but still cringed to my core. I lifted my hair and brought the jack to the back of my neck. I took one more deeper breath and started counting.
“One… Two…” I thought to myself, as I brought the jack closer to the port. “Three!” I said out loud, jamming the jack into my neck.
I felt a sharp pain for a moment as my nervous system and the computer of the mech began to merge. The most accurate way I could describe the experience is like going comatose for ten seconds. I was unable to move at all. I felt electric pulses running up and down my spine as my brain began to switch its priorities away from my organs and more towards my reflexes and my sixth sense. My breathing suddenly stopped, my eyes stung from not being able to blink, my hands ached from the cuts being stimulated. Every time we went into battle, I had to endure this ten seconds of hell.
When I got feeling back in my body, I lurched forward, grasping the arms of my chair. I began gasping for air, as I could finally breath again. I rubbed my eyes with my fingertips, wiping the tears away from my cheeks.
“Aya, you okay?” a voice asked over the mech’s com system.
I looked up to see the concerned face of Sek in a small window near the bottom right of the screen main.
“Ya,” I said, unable to hide the pain. “I’m fine.”
I looked into her beautiful bronze eyes. Sek was really the only reason I got out of bed every morning. I loved her more than my own agonizing life, and I would gladly give my life for her. I was even hoping that after our mandatory service, we could go into the workforce together, maybe even get married.
She nodded, clearly concerned about me. She blew me a kiss, as the window left the screen.
I waited a few seconds, as the anti-grav field slowly lowered my mech to the ground. I grasped both joysticks. Each stick controlled an arm, with five small buttons, allowing me to control the individual claws. I brought up the claws to my viewing range, pressing each button to test the joints. They worked good enough. I began to concentrate on my anger, letting my anger slowly build in my hands. The crystals on my mechs wrists began to glow a dark red. In a fraction of a second, an iridescent energy blade formed around the mech's closed fist. It was about the equivalent length of a long-knife and sparked with flickering energy emissions. I quickly dispersed the blade, finishing my systems check.
I used the keyboard to turn the waist joint of my armor, bringing the rest of the mechs into view of the main camera. Silvia had already finished her system check and was moving towards the exit followed by Jax. Manon and Sek were just finishing up. I hesitated but moved towards Sek’s mech. Her mech was distinguishable from the rest as it had the war flag of the New USSR on it's right shoulder. A golden gear with the hammer, sickle and a sword crossing over it.
Her mech began moving to follow the rest of our squad, I followed just behind her. The machines moved so nimbly, their double-jointed legs providing great balance to its otherwise top-heavy body. They were still heavy armored war machines though. With every step, the clawed feet collided to the ground with a satisfying boom.
We joined up outside into the front lot, forming a lopsided double-file line. We waited several minutes, only the occasional bit of inter-squad chatter keeping me company. Suddenly, the familiar shape of an Ipabog heavy shuttle came into view. Its bulky fuselage descending by use of anti-gravity thrusters.
The pilot’s voice suddenly arrived in our speakers. “First Recon Squad. This is Transport Graf- 34. ready for pick up.”
“Roger that, Graf-34,” Sek said. “Moving to embark.”
The ship slowly turned to face away from us as it reached ground-level. It’s landing gear extended as it touched down. The ships rear section opened to revile a large holding area, easily big enough for about ten Cossack-class mechs.
My squad somberly entered the transport shuttle, like lost souls entering the gates of hell. I hesitated. I wanted so badly to just turn and run, but I had nowhere to run to. I had no choice. I followed my squad into the darkness.