The Adventures of Whirlwind
Warfare in the Thirtieth Century
Planet Papadatos, Galactic Rim, 2954
Aello tensed over the controls of her mechanical assault vehicle, awaiting the squad leaders signal. The thirty-ton hulk she was piloting, fondly referred to as a mech, was not large by the standards of the thirtieth century, but the larger machines were only allotted to the most experienced pilots. This was Aellos first mission and it was a desperate one.
Her squad had been sent to intercept an enemy incursion: several hundred troops in transports escorted by six heavy armored vehicles. The squad of five light mechs piloted by four rookie pilots led by the veteran squad leader was severely outgunned and outmatched, but they were the only force available to deal with the enemy attack. They had only one chance and that was to stage an ambush in the desperate hope that the element of surprise might compensate for their lack of experience and lack of tonnage. The squad leader had chosen a narrow tree-lined defile known as Hells Gate as the site of the ambush, and so the five pilots waited, their systems shut down to avoid electronic detection, and their masking devices on to hide their presence.
The tension mounted as the enemy convoy approached. Aellos hand reached up to touch her hair in an unconscious gesture and encountered her helmet. She smiled briefly. She had pinned her raven locks under her helmet in preparation for the mission, but had forgotten it was there. The go light on the console flashed green. Aello flicked the relays restoring her mech to life, and pushed forward on the throttle. The thirty tons of armor and weaponry tore out of the grove of trees where it had been hidden and emerged directly behind the enemy column. There were six huge escort machines in front of her. Aellos assault and that of the other four machines in the squad had alerted them.
The voice of the squad leader sounded in her headphones. Shoot for the legs, rookies, youll never bring them down with body shots.
The smile flickered across Aellos perfect features once more in spite of the tenseness of the situation. Months of intense training had prepared the squad for this moment, but it was so like the squad leader to point out the obvious.
Directly in front of her was a massive eighty-ton monster. Already its pilot had swung the ponderous machine halfway around. She and her squad mates would have only a few seconds before it and the other enemy machines had time to train their superior armament on them.
Aello was piloting a Centaur. It was a lightweight bipedal armored vehicle. It was a formidable fighting machine if operated competently and against appropriate adversaries. It consisted of a heavily armored torso elevated on a pair of titanium legs. Attached to arms on either side of the torso was a rail gun, each of which shot plastic projectiles accelerated to immense speeds by a magnetic field. A single plastic slug was capable of tearing through up to six inches of the toughest armor. The only problem was that the opponents they were facing had armor up to a foot thick. Even the best-aimed shots would simply bounce off such massive protection. Hence the reminder from the squad leader to shoot for the legs. For less well-armored targets, such as light vehicles or infantry, the Centaur mounted twin 30-millimeter gattling guns. Together these deadly weapons could lay down a fusillade of 100 rounds a second. The torso of the Centaur also contained the cockpit in which the pilot resided and the complex electronics essential for the machine to keep its balance and operate its weapons and life support system. It also housed the engine and fuel supply necessary to power such a complex machine.
A hail of super-accelerated slugs tore toward the turning enemy machines. Aello noticed that almost all of the shots struck the chassis of the enemy mechs, doing nothing more than scratching the paint. She shook her head. Except for the squad leader Aello and all of her companions were rookies on their first mission. Piloting a thirty-ton mechanical monster at 80 kilometres an hour over rough terrain and shooting accurately was a real skill. Only the most gifted mech pilots ever achieved a high level of shooting accuracy without considerable experience.
Aello opened up the throttle another notch, pushing her speed up to 100 kilometres an hour. Speed was a strong defence against the hail of fire that would soon be heading her way. At the same time, she twisted the torso of her machine so that its armament was brought to bear on the enemy machine closest to her. Her target was a Titan; an 85-ton behemoth armed with twin fusion cannons on each arm. At this range the power of those weapons would strip the armor off Aellos machine as if it were no more than varnish.
Aellos forefinger pressed the trigger on her joystick. Her aim was perfect, a line of plastic slugs ripped into the leg of the Titan right at the knee. The impact of the slugs turned the metal white hot and then the knee joint tore apart, sending the massive machine to the ground.
Aello was in the midst of congratulating herself when the Centaur next to her took a direct hit from another Titan. The fusion cannons literally blew her squad mates machine to bits. Aellos own vehicle reeled from the force of the explosion, nearly toppling. Only the servomechanisms built into the Centaur allowed it to recover without falling.
An angry flush suffused Aellos cheeks. The pilot of the doomed vehicle, Aleksa, had been her bunkmate. Strangely, she felt no sorrow, only rage. Adrenaline pumped through her, heightening her senses and quickening her reflexes. Her fingers flew over the controls. Her Centaur spun on its metal feet, changing direction within seconds and bore down on the mechanical beast that had destroyed her companion. Her months and months of training made all of her actions automatic. How many times had she pulled off this maneuver in the simulator? Another burst of fire from her rail guns and the upper leg of the enemy Titan disintegrated, pitching the helpless machine onto its side.
Two down, she thought, four to go. She wondered how her comrades were doing.
She took a quick glance around. Disaster! Other than herself, only the squad leaders machine was still in the battle. Her squadmates had expended all of their shots uselessly against the thickest armor of the enemy, doing almost no damage. They had paid for their lack of skill with their lives.
Her squad leader was hard pressed. She had succeeded in disabling one of the enemy mechs but she had been grazed by a couple of shots herself. Her Centaur was limping, and down to only half speed. She was in the middle of the remaining enemy machines. These were Ares, the largest of the enemys mechs, immense 100-ton vehicles armed with twin particle beams and an array of short and medium range lasers.
Opening her throttle even more to bring it up to its maximum speed of 110 kilometres per hour, Aello charged straight at the enemy, firing as she moved. With any luck her attack would create enough of a distraction to save her squad leader from certain death.
It succeeded almost too well. All three of the enormous machines swiveled their torsos in her direction. Aello realized that she only had moments to live. She attempted a desperate maneuver, firing the jump jets attached to the upper legs of her Centaur. Her forward momentum and the power of the jets caused her to soar over top of her opponents. Such a tactic was incredibly dangerous, because once airborne her mech could not change direction easily and an airborne target was a sitting duck for a veteran pilot. Aello was counting on the element of surprise to save her. If her timing was perfect her sudden leap would momentarily leave her adversaries with nothing to shoot at.
The stratagem worked. A murderous barrage descended on the spot that her mech had occupied only moments before. Already, however, the enemy pilots were shifting their sights to bring down Aello as she leaped over them.
Aello cut her jets, and fired her retrorockets so that the Centaur spun in mid air as she dropped toward the ground. Pneumatic systems absorbed the shock of landing automatically as the Centaur hit the ground. Even before she touched down Aellos finger tightened on the firing trigger hurling a deadly salvo into the knee joint of the nearest Ares, blowing the titanium leg apart and dropping the monster into the dust.
By this time the squad leader had taken advantage of the distraction. At point blank range she directed the fire of her Centaur into the weaker rear armor of the nearest Ares. Unfortunately, the penetrating power of the Centaurs rail guns was not enough to punch through even the relatively thin armor protecting the rear of an Ares. Her shots tore strips of metal from the enemy machine, but did not strike a vital part of its anatomy. Reminded of their former adversary both remaining Ares turned their armament on the squad leaders mech. This time she did not escape. A burst of laser fire blew open the Centaurs cockpit. The machine continued to move forward, its pilot dead, and then the particle beams blew it apart.
Aello took all of this in while bringing her weapons to bear on the closest Ares. As she did so, she lined up the two remaining enemy mechs so that one of the huge machines blocked off the line of sight of the other. She pressed the firing button. Again her uncannily accurate shots ripped apart the enemy mechs knee joint. With a shriek of disintegrating metal the leg buckled. Now only one enemy vehicle remained.
Aellos Centaur was turned directly toward the remaining Ares. Without even aiming the enemy pilot let loose with everything he had. Most of the shots missed, but several laser beams and machine gun rounds struck home, blasting a hole through the transparent canopy of Aellos Centaur and vaporizing sections of its external armor.
Aellos Centaur staggered under the hammer blows of the Ares salvo. Using the time gained, the enemy pilot turned his full armament directly upon her. There was just one chance left for the rookie Centaur pilot. Opening the throttle wide, she drove her mech like a battering ram directly into the huge enemy vehicle. There was no chance of Aellos Centaur having any success in damaging the massive Ares with this tactic, but so huge was the enemy mech that the maneuver took the Centaur right under the Ares weapons. Unable to depress its armament sufficiently, the Ares fired futilely over the top of the much smaller Centaur.
The respite gave Aello the opening she needed. For a few seconds the giant Ares could not hit her, but she was right next to the enormous machines legs. Firing her weapons point blank, Aello took out the last of the enemy mechs.
The assault, however was not yet over. There were still the troop transports to take care of. During the melee these had moved off several hundred yards in order to steer clear of the carnage. Aello took off after them. Her attack was sheer butchery. Caught out in the open without their escort, the poorly armored transport vehicles were literally ripped apart by the Centaurs gattling guns. Panic-stricken soldiers ran in all directions as the mech raged amongst them spewing death in all directions. A few soldiers fought back with small arms, but Aello moved too quickly for most of their shots to be effective. The few hits that she did take were easily absorbed by her armor. Finally, Aello stopped firing when she had run out of targets. She had avenged her fallen comrades. The fury within her died. Already she was feeling the pangs of sorrow over the loss of her companions. She had been warned of this by the squad leader, and she knew that she had to put it from her mind. Pilots that grieved too hard over fallen comrades did not last long in combat. They either quit the profession, or distracted by their grief became victims themselves. She breathed deeply, her exhalation more of a sigh than a breath. She still had one more job to do. She turned back to the site of her encounter with the escort to finish off the disabled enemy mechs. Then she could return to her base with news of the encounter. Slowly, she turned the battered Centaur around. She was both elated at her victory and saddened at the loss of her comrades. But she was a warrior, trained to accept the death of others in order to be successful. Stoically, she guided the Centaur toward the scene of the battle. Her first victory; she would remember this day for the rest of her life.
The scene of the battle was strewn with the wreckage of the mechs once piloted by Aellos comrades. There was no hope that any of them were alive. Warfare in the thirtieth century was a brutal affair, fought with weapons of great violence. Some five hundred years earlier humanity had reached the stars and begun its rapid spread throughout the galaxy. It had encountered few sentient species and certainly none as dangerous to life as the humanity itself. Due to the vastness of space and the lack of a strong central government, regional differences and the ambition of local authorities had led to the division of the human species into dozens of rival star and planetary systems. The result of these regional rivalries was war. And on Aellos home planet, located near the near the galactic rim, and settled 500 years ago by colonists from the ancient nation known as Greece, rival clans battled for supremacy.
Aello had trained all of her life for such battle. It was a dangerous choice of occupations. The life of a mech pilot was usually violent and short. But she had grown up in a very traditional society. For a woman, military training offered a way out. And no favoritism was shown to anyone in the cockpit of a mech. Those who were chosen were good at what they did or they were rejected. Aello was better than most. As a matter of fact, she had graduated first in her class and had shown a coolness behind the controls of a mech that her instructors had found astonishing. She had now shown that the proficiency she had shown in training had translated into ability on the battlefield.
After ascertaining that her comrades were indeed dead, she looked for the enemy pilots, but they were gone. Their wrecked machines littered the battlefield like the skeletons of some sort of extinct monsters. But the damage to most of them could easily be prepared. There would be good salvage. Her superiors would be pleased. She tapped her console. It was time to contact HQ. She radioed a battle report. And then with mixed feelings turned her mech for home. She had experienced her first battle and come out living up to her name; Aello, the Whirlwind.