Mech Vs. Aliens
Eden and her squad are mech soldiers, prepared to defend their home and city when the aliens rise from the seas. But the machines can always improve and today Eden has something to test.
Eden ducked under the gull wing door of the simulation cockpit and settled into the fake leather chair. From the outside, the room was a plain space with four doors, but inside Eden recognized the screen and control layout of the defense force’s latest mech. Soldiers with appropriate training and clearance piloted sixteen-to-twenty-meter-tall machines against the alien monsters that continued to assault the walls of the country. They were heroes, born and bred for the fight of their lives, championed by their home provinces and celebrated across the nation. Being selected for training was an honor. To Eden, it was merely a stepping stone. She wasn’t here to fight and die for her country. Pilot training was necessary, but she was here for more important work and she needed more than a squad to pull it off.
So she settled herself in the chair, pulled the door down to seal herself in, and lowered the immersion helmet over her head. The cockpit screens were blank, the buttons unlabeled, but when the helmet seated around the back of her head and Eden activated her neural connection, everything came to life. Through a hardwired plug into her spinal cord, the simulation bloomed directly into her brain in vibrant, scintillating color. The hatch door was gone, as were the blank screens. In their place, she was surrounded by bay viewing windows and a tray of buttons and dials for her command systems. She was a three and a half meter human inside the head cavity of a giant robot.
Eden’s mech topped out at eighteen meters. The left hand had four manipulating digits, while the right was an arm-long plazma knife that could cut through anything. The chest-cavity of her machine contained a rail cannon. It was the most powerful weapon she had, but it took a while to charge up and Eden prefered to use it as a final, debilitating attack.
Eden turned her head and the view panned with her. She stood on the eastern shore of the country, its land slowly descending into the sea for kilometers on either side of her. The white sand was littered with black and tarnished metal, twisted pieces of mech that had been torn from their machines mid-battle. The husk of a mech lay akimbo up the hill to her right. It’s weaponry had been torn off, and the powerful railgun in its chest was missing. Only a gaping cavity was left. This was a simulation, but with every detail filtered directly into Eden’s nervous system, it felt all too real. The wind blew in gusts across the surf and sand, kicking up dust that swirled against Eden’s screens. She could hear the individual grains impacting the metal, the faint hissing of a thousand pieces of sand falling against the mech.
Eden turned away from the skeletal husk on the beach and faced the ocean. The attacks always came from the ocean and holding the shore was her primary task. She activated several sensors and data readouts, which clustered in the middle of her view as overlays. Eden organized them to her liking: damage reports and general status of her mech in a lower corner; the sonar and topography information on her visual field; bullets, slugs, and energy reserves in another corner.
She finished organizing just as the rest of her squad joined the simulation. She saw their huge mechs digitize into existence on the virtual beach, one on either side of her. Their builds were similar to Eden’s, hand on the left, knife on the right, rail cannon in the chest. But while Eden’s mech reached eighteen meters, these two were modeled on slightly older, larger tech. They towered at twenty meters high. With that extra size came better defenses; both of them sported a wide shield mounted on the back of the left arm that Eden’s build lacked in favor of maneuverability.
There were further differences in the cockpit and software. Eden had only just begun to dig into the code of what made a mech tick but what she’d found so far excited her. There were possibilities here, opportunities to program and process data for the pilot to give them an advantage in battle that hadn’t yet been exploited. When Eden imagined the future of mech warfare, she saw pilots with half a dozen mechs under their command, each one running on custom subroutines and reacting in real time to the battlefield.
But the pilot program wasn’t trying to train engineers, it wanted pilots as robotic as their mechs. People who would obey orders without question for the good of the squad and the country.
Well Eden had already made a name for herself going against squad leadership, why not country as well?
As her squadmates Charli and Zoe set their mechs up for the simulation, Eden plugged a small drive into her console and activated the boot sequence. Her custom programming wasn’t as sophisticated as the virtual reality she practiced in, but she would only get better with more testing. With a delicate chime, Eden’s voice spoke out of her own mech speakers: ”System active. Tracking initiated.”
The final member to enter the simulation was their squad leader Harlow. Her mech was the largest of the four of them, over twenty five meters high, and it sported a flashy shoulder rifle for long-distance shots. Accordingly, the mech digitized into the simulation further up shore, on the ruined remains of the sea break where she would have a clear view of the field. With all four of them established, the simulation initiated a 2 minute countdown. It showed up in red numbers on the upper half of Eden’s screens.
Harlow issued placement orders immediately. ”Eden, clear out of the field. Charli and Zoe, shield up and prepare for initial volly.” Harlow herself activated a stable stance on her mech and her shoulder rifle unfolded to its full howitzer length.
Eden pulled back on her mech’s controls. Despite its size and weight, the machine lept backward off the sand some fifteen meters. A red line appeared across her view, indicating the shot distance of her chest cannon, her most powerful weapon. It was the first useful graphic Eden programed. Anything beyond that line, she couldn’t hit, so she didn’t waste her time trying.
The timer ticked past thirty seconds. Two blue circles appeared on Eden’s display some distance out into the ocean. Their position was an estimation, indicated by a lighter blue circle around each icon. The indicator floated within this estimated field. As the timer passed fifteen seconds, a red ring began charging inside each marker. These icons were new to Eden’s system. The mech could detect all kinds of information: sonic, tectonic, pressure, and magnetic, but without a simple visual way to convey that data, the information was simply lost in the system and of no use to the pilot. Eden’s icons weren’t slick, but she knew what they meant at a glance.
”Enemy visual,” Eden reported. She cited their positions and both Charli and Zoe adjusted their shield angles. ”Volley in three… two… one.…” Eden saw the red rings indicating a power charge close. They flashed once and the icon overlay faded. In their place, two energy beams lanced out of the ocean and struck Charli and Zoe’s shields. The lasers flash-boiled the water around them, throwing up a cloud of steam that would cover the initial advance in a haze of mist. The beams faded, but now that Eden’s system had seen the creature’s exact locations, the estimated blue rings had also disappeared. Instead, specific enemy details began streaming across Eden’s field of view, obscuring everything else. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Eden swiped the data impatiently to the side. ”Note to self, target info needs a box.” A virtual spot that would hold it until Eden knew what she wanted to do with it. There was so much data, she would probably only select a few useful pieces and discard the rest.
She cleared her screen just in time. ”Charli you have incoming at eleven and one. Zoe, on your three, moving fast.” Both women activated their plasma knives. They glowed green even in the brightly simulated day. Charli disengaged her shield and adjusted her stance to clear the path for her chest cannon, pointed at her second enemy. Before Eden could warn her about the distance limit, Charli fired. Water evaporated in Charli’s immediate vicinity, blown away by the sheer force of her slug passing by. Then it punched into the ocean and began descending. She hit her target, but only weakly, the distance and water sapping most of the energy out of the shot.
By then, the first alien beast had made it to shore under the cover of the mist and it rushed Charli with a blistering roar. The alien matched Charli’s mech in height, towering over humans without their robot suits. Its skin appeared tough, like a lizard, and light glittered along the scales in variegated blue and purples. It used four powerful arms to grip Charli’s shield. Eden saw Charli’s mech lurch forward as the alien yanked. Then Charli swung her plasma knife around and buried it into the thick neck of the monster. Teal blood burst from the creature. Charli drove the animal to the sand and sliced her knife through. Without its head, the creature’s body reflexively twitched.
But there was no time to watch. A second alien lunged on all six limbs from the surf and rammed Charli’s mech from one side. She staggered. Another creature stood offshore and Eden’s HUD blinked a red charging icon.
Eden warned her squadmate. ”Zoe, incoming volley in four… three… two.…”
Zoe hunkered behind her shield, prepared for the energy beam, and Eden saw a charging icon appear on Zoe’s mech as well. As soon as she weathered the volley, Zoe planned to blast the alien with her rail cannon. A good move now that the creature was close enough to hit.
Charli continued to grapple with her second alien, finally putting it down with the plasma knife in its gut. Teal goo covered her mech’s left arm and splattered across the sand.
Zoe took the volley square on her shield, where the energy dissipated harmlessly. Then she thrust her mech’s chest forward and fired her cannon. The magnetic slug punched a hole clean through the monster off shore and Zoe followed up with her knife to be sure.
A cluster of blue icons appeared on Eden’s HUD in deeper water. ”Second wave incoming,” she warned. ”Seven… no, ten.” So far this skirmish had followed the standard layout. Scouts to test the defenses followed by a larger push to overwhelm them. ”This group should have a jack.”
They were bigger, beefy, and their volley was far more powerful. They were called tanks, reds, or sometimes bombs for their ruddy color and ability to blow holes in defenses. Officially the alien ranks had been labeled jacks, queens, and kings, after playing cards, and with luck, nothing more dangerous than a king would ever show itself. Eden had never been one to rely on luck, though.
”Eden, you intercept the jack, let Charli and Zoe handle the chaff. Put its back to me,” ordered Harlow. ”Don’t let the volley hit you.”
Without the shield, Eden’s mech had no way to intercept and redirect the energy beam safely, and a jack could throw over twice the power in a single strike. Her maneuverability was key and with the new program Eden was confident she could dodge the big hits at the right time.
Her anticipation picked up as the cluster of blue markers further separated themselves. Four began charging. ”Volley incoming,” Eden reported. She gave Charli and Zoe the most accurate coordinates her system could find. Both of them hunkered into position behind their shields.
The remaining six icons continued to advance. Abruptly one of the blue icons shifted to red. Eden jerked her mech forward and gasped. ”Intercepting the jack!”
The massive alien lumbered to shore on all six legs, it’s heavy forward plating crushing the waves. Eden met it in the middle, where the ocean was still high enough to crash against her mech’s knees. With her plasma knife held high, Eden barely matched the jack’s stature, but she was used to uncomfortable odds. Her program gave her an edge the rest of her squad didn’t have. It isolated now a series of weaker points in the jack’s heavy plating she could use. With precision, Eden crashed against the jack and aimed her knife at the joint of its upper arm where thick red plating folded in against the chest. Her mech struggled to match the jack’s strength and the plasma knife flared off of its plating, but now Eden had the beast’s attention.
She disengaged to the right, pushing the boosters in her mech’s legs to their limit in the water. She activated the charge sequence on her rail cannon in case it needed more incentive. Slowly, the jack turned to face her. Eden smiled.
”Firing,” Harlow said.
Eden saw the flash of the magnetic rifle behind the jack, even though the mist obscured Harlow’s mech. Then an explosion rocked the jack forward, blooming into a cloud of smoke. The creature roared. It began the slow turn to face Harlow and Eden saw the charging status light up in deep red.
”Move, Harlow, it’s targeting you.”
Eden darted forward to intercept the jack. She dodged around a smaller alien as it rose from the water and lifted her plasma knife to slice it in two on her way by. Teal blood fountained into the ocean.
The jack’s volley was more than half way charged when Eden finally maneuvered in front of it. Her plasma knife refracted against its thick armor. She tried to punch its head with her left hand, but the creature caught her arm instead. She hadn’t distracted it at all. Harlow’s snipe had really pissed it off.
”I’m clear,” Harlow reported.
The jack didn’t know that. It opened its mouth, showing off a shark’s collection of deadly teeth, and the impending red glow of a volley began to build in the back of its throat. Eden yanked her mech’s arm, but found herself stuck fast. Harlow may have been clear of the volley, but Eden had put herself directly in line. The HUD blinked alarmingly: volley incoming!
Eden activated her rail cannon, not at the jack, who would shrug off her attack, but at her own mech’s arm. Her slug obliterated the machine and she strained the boosters to dodge. Warnings popped up on the HUD. They obscured her view, but when the jack launched its volley, all of Eden’s screens went white. The overload shrieked through the mech’s armor plating as a high-pitched tone, followed by a disorienting sense of falling.
When Eden’s screens cleared, a wave crashed over her mech. She was alive. She was horizontal. Horizontal and lacking a left arm, but alive.
An explosion struck the jack from the right and it tipped leftward out of Eden’s view. Harlow had struck again with her rifle. Eden lurched her mech back onto its feet in time to see the jack shrug a piece of fractured plating off of its shoulder. She reactivated her rail cannon’s charging sequence. Harlow’s heavy blows had broken into the jack’s best defense and Eden rushed in to take advantage.
She shouldered into the alien with her ruined left arm to keep it off balance, then drove her plasma knife into its side. The knife glanced off pieces of armor, then sank into the soft leathery hide under the first arm. Eden quickly backed off again, drawing the jack’s attention to the left now. It’s top left arm hung uselessly, hemorrhaging teal blood.
Eden’s HUD warned of a volley charging up, but before it could get far, Harlow fired. Her slug exploded against the jack’s ruined left side in a cloud of smoke and teal blood. The charging icon flickered and died. Eden followed with her plasma knife before her vision cleared. She sliced deep into the alien’s second arm, then up into its body cavity. When she darted back to shore, the jack toppled in the surf.
Eden assessed the beach. The jack was dead, but nine other aliens had surfaced and her squad was only four. Charli and Zoe were down-beach, fighting back to back against four aliens. Pieces of their mechs had been torn, or bitten, off, and Charli’s shield lay strewn some distance away. The second alien stepped out of knife range and began charging a volley at Charli. Harlow fired her rifle at alien four, erasing it’s head and most of its torso from existence. Zoe turned on number three with gusto while Charli tangled with number one.
Eden pushed her mech forward as she realized Charli didn’t have any way to defend against the volley. With Zoe occupied and Harlow’s rifle just spent, there was nothing to interrupt the alien or its attack. Eden’s mech ran across the beach as quickly as she could push her engines, racing the little red charging line she saw circling to a close. Her rail cannon was still out of range.
Charli crushed the first alien beneath her mech’s feet and removed its head with her knife. The charging icon blinked: volley incoming! And at point blank range, Charli wouldn’t even see it coming. Eden’s activated her rail cannon just before the range meter passed her target. Her forward momentum crashed to a stop as the bolt launched from her mech’s chest. It struck the alien at a glance, not enough to kill it. But the volley angled up over Charli’s head and missed.
Charli turned and finished the beast with her plasma knife as the volley’s blue energy still crackled over her shoulder.
Eden let her breath out hard.
”Close call,” Harlow said. ”But well done, team!”
The simulation abruptly froze and Eden was jolted back into reality. The beach was a construct and these aliens were just dots of data. None of it had been real. But Eden had felt real fear when the jack had nearly shot into her face, and again when Charli had narrowly missed certain death. Her decision to sacrifice her mech’s arm had been real. The not-quite-close-enough line of her rail-cannon’s distance limit had been very real.
Eden took her helmet off and lost sight of the beach entirely. The cockpit was once again a blank slate, ready for the next pilot to test their skills. She removed her small program chip from the system and turned it over in her hands. Just a simple program with simple graphics, but they had given her the edge she needed to save herself and her squadmate. Eden knew this was the reason she was really here. Pilot training was necessary, but this little program would change how humanity fought for their planet. And maybe one day Eden could take the fight to them.
Her cockpit suddenly opened and Charli leaned in, backlit. ”Hey, you coming? It’s time for grub.”
”Yeah, but someone is in my way.” Eden waved Charli back and climbed out of the simulator. Harlow was helping Zoe into her wheelchair. Eden pocketed her program and linked arms with her squadmate. ”I saved your ass today. You owe me.”
”I owe you a rematch, maybe. I had it under control.”
”Sure you did–”
”Eden! Hardcore shooting off your own arm,” Zoe ran into them both from the side and Charli laughed, keeping them all upright.
”I was going to eat a jack volley!”
”That was pretty cool,” Charli agreed.
Eden grinned. Their infectious mood spread to Harlow, who chuckled behind them. Yeah, pilot training was necessary, and her little program might change the world, but this was more important. Friendships so close she could rely on any one of these women to have her back, no matter what. In a mech or out of one. They were more than a squad, they were sisters.
This story is available from August 5th — 13th. If you’d like to be notified of free fiction when it goes live, please join the newsletter! You can buy your own copy on my webstore, or your favorite ebook store. Special thanks to my Patrons who made this short story possible.
This story was available from August 5th — 13th. If you’d like to be notified of free fiction when it goes live, please join the newsletter! You can buy your own copy on my webstore, or your favorite ebook store. Special thanks to my Patrons who made this short story possible.
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