/ Language: English / Genre:sf_action, / Series: Battle Earht

Battle Earth II

Nick Thomas

Nick S. Thomas

Battle Earth II

Chapter 1

The war had only just begun, but humanity lost more in just one week than in a year of any previous conflict. The Ares research base on Mars was the first target. The Lunar colony, the only other substantial human colony outside of Earth’s atmosphere, was the next. Survivors of the five hundred thousand Moon colonists had fled below ground to continue waging a guerrilla war.

The alien invaders deployed a base in the Atlantic that had expanded to the size of several countries. Spain and North Africa quickly fell. France then stood on the brink of falling as well. Human armies continued rallying to Paris to battle amongst the ruins and to hold on to the only ground where they had managed to stop the enemy’s advance. The enemy blitz was relentless, but there was still hope. At the front line, soldiers from all around the globe fought alongside one another to save their planet.

Taylor stood atop one of the few buildings that still had its roof intact. The Paris skyline was a jagged sight with smoke still belching from many ruined towers. He shook his head in astonishment as he’d never thought for a moment he would live to see such devastation. He lowered his head, no longer wanting to see the tragic ruins. He turned and made his way to back to the ground and into a temporary staging centre that had been established.

“Sir, these are the latest images from our drones.”

Major Mitch Taylor walked across the floor of the comms room and looked at the projected images and videos. Countless energy pulses surged from their artillery on the west coast of France towards the capital. It has been just one week since they made their stand in Paris. What remained of the western perimeter was a desolate waste ground, reminiscent of the great siege of Stalingrad, yet it had been a battle lasting only days.

He looked out of a side window at his bedraggled company. Despite his rank, it was all he had at his command. He turned back to the comms officer.


The Major looked at a few scans that suggested small numbers of unidentified forces had been detected to the north of the city. It had been an important step to bring the enemy to a halt at Paris, but he could not help but feel that they had yet to see the worst of it.

He lifted up his dusty helmet and threw it on his head. Brick dust puffed out, and his skin was coated in its residue. They were stationed at the same bridge they had been during the initial defence of the city. Holding ground was a welcome change, but it was far from a major victory. He stepped out of the temporary building. It was nothing more than a command trailer. The air was thick with the smell of burning buildings, the putrid and acidic burn of electrical wiring of the structures filling his nostrils.

Captain Friday and Lieutenant Suarez sat in chairs they had salvaged from nearby ruins. Their feet were on top of a mound of rubble. What was left of their company lay scattered, trying to get what rest and food they could. They were already exhausted from the almost constant fighting. Whenever they were not in combat, the threat of air strikes and assaults were always in their minds.

“We getting any re-enforcements, Sir?” asked Suarez.

Taylor grimaced. He knew that it would be the first question presented to him, but he had no good answer.

“Colonel Chandra is doing what she can, but since the attacks on Puerto Rico and Venezuela, the brass is looking to the defences back home.”

“They can’t expect us to go on with so few troops?”

“Lieutenant, get your shit together.”

Suarez looked down, partly in shame and partly in anger, at being shunned before others. Taylor never liked the man, for he was quick to anger and slow to learn. However, he was still alive and so one more soldier among them. Taylor sighed as he turned to look at his bedraggled unit and then back to the two officers.

“Fifty years ago I could have commanded six hundred marines. What do I have now? Less than sixty, including you Brits.”

He looked up to see Captain Jones leading his men back from a patrol.

“Major, any word from the Colonel?”

“She’s doing well and on her feet already. It won’t be long before she’ll be back with us. For now, she’s working to get us equipment and people. The stocks of weapons have quickly run out, and production is taking time to get moving.”

“Major, without those weapons, we are high and dry.”

“Well aware of that, Captain. I am sure everything that can be done to get us re-supplied is already being done.”

Jones turned to his troops and nodded for them to be relieved and so take rest. He propped his rifle down by the Major and perched himself on a large piece of concrete. It used to form the wall of a building that was well over a century old. Although rough and jagged, it was a welcome relief from being on his feet.

The Captain pulled out a ration pack from his webbing and ripped it open with a sigh. It was not a sigh for what they had experienced, but for what was to come. Both officers were well versed in military history and knew, that win or lose, the end of the war was only a distant dream. As Jones pulled out the fork from the MRE, a wave of energy pulses raced overhead. They were artillery shells pounding the city behind them, but he didn’t even flinch.

“The scans I saw this morning show a potentially small enemy scouting presence to the north, so I want to check it out,” said the Major.

Jones nodded.

“Give me a minute and I’ll join you.”

His voice was muffled as he tried to wolf the food down.

“No, you’ve done your share for the morning. Get some rest. I don’t think it’ll be anything more than scouting drones, and I won’t be far from friendly units.”

The Captain nodded. As much as he was keen to help, he appreciated the opportunity to lie down more than anything.

“Friday, you’re in charge while I’m gone,” Taylor ordered.

He nodded, rarely ever saying anything unless he had to.

“Sergeant Silva!”

The man leapt to his feet and rushed to the Major.


“Get three men, we’re heading out.”

The Sergeant nodded and turned to find volunteers. Regulations would have him respond to the Major, but their long service together had made them more familiar than most NCOs would be with their officers.

Minutes later, the five men were trudging across the rubble. An open topped jeep awaited them, used for communications during blocking by the enemy. It had no fitted weapons, nor armour, but it was at least fast. Taylor climbed in behind the wheel, keen to be at the controls.

“What are we looking for, Sir? I thought the north was free and clear,” asked Silva.

“They’ve backed off, but don’t let that make you think they have stopped.”

“You think they’re regrouping for another attack?”

“Definitely, they underestimated our forces here. They thought they could roll over us and drive us out of Europe and beyond, so now they’ll be re-thinking their strategy. The next attack will be far worse, bigger and better co-ordinated.”

“That’s not much of a relief, Sir.”

“No point in me bullshitting you, Sergeant.”

Silva nodded. He didn’t want to face the Mechs again either, but at least he’d like to know what to expect. They rode through the ravaged streets, the jeep’s soft suspension taking the worst out of the debris-strewn roads. They passed soldiers and armour from several European countries, Russia and Yugoslavia. Although glad to see the amount of forces they had to defend the city, he was also concerned. If they could not hold off their invaders with what they had in the city, how could they ever be stopped?

They finally reached the end of the western defences and drove north into the mostly in tact but abandoned suburbs. Rubbish blew across the streets, and there was barely a vehicle in sight. The population had long been evacuated. Street after street, and they didn’t see any sign of life. It felt like the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.

A cat ran across the empty road. The men turned and watched as it ran past, mesmerised by the sign of life and its bitter contrast to the abandoned suburb. The roads were narrow, but with no parked vehicles, it was unusually spacious. Twenty storey apartment blocks lined every road. Taylor stopped and looked at the map device fitted in the centre console of their vehicle.

“We’re close now.”

“But, Sir, it’s dead, there’s nothing here,” said Silva.

Taylor tapped the comms channel button on the device.

“Taylor to HQ, over. This is Taylor to HQ, over.”

No reply came.

Silva looked to Taylor with a concerned expression as he lifted his rifle in readiness.

“It could be nothing, Sergeant, but let’s proceed with caution.”

The Major drove on at a more careful pace. They took a bend, half expecting to find trouble, but it was yet another desolate street in the abandoned neighbourhood. Mitch brought the vehicle to a halt.

“On foot from here,” he whispered.

They leapt out from the vehicle and readied their weapons for a fight. No one had any idea of what to expect, but they were all aware of the danger the enemy presented. Taylor signalled to the others to follow his lead. He looked back down the street and to the map device in his hand. He clipped the pad onto the side of his rifle enabling him to get a good hold on the weapon.

The marines crept forward. The district was unsettlingly quiet, despite the low base drone of explosions back in the city centre. Taylor could see another turn up ahead and approached it with caution. His device showed something emitting signals just around the corner. He crept closer, praying to find nothing like the horrors they had come to know.

The four others formed up behind him holding their breath. Silva and two others carried grenade launchers in their hands, and the other had four ARMAL launchers on his back. Taylor carried an M97 slung on his back, with the assault rifle he had become so accustomed to in his hands.

He reached the edge of the building and carefully peered around the corner. His eyes widened as he stared at the strange object before him, a machine of some sort that lay twenty metres from his position. It was half the height of a man and with large rotors in all corners. It was clearly capable of flight but had put down in the street. Lights were active on the body of the device, and it was certainly of alien construction. He turned back to the others.

“What is it?” whispered Silva.

Taylor shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s alien and looks unmanned. It may be a scouting device or transmitter,” he replied.

“Then it’s enemy, so let’s blow that shit up,” said Silva.

Taylor thought about it for a moment before nodding in response to his trigger happy NCO.

“It could have weapons on board. I don’t want to take any chances. We get out there and lay down fire till its burning, you got me?”

The others acknowledged him as he lifted his rifle, checking to be sure the safety was off and it was ready. He held out his left hand with three fingers up as a countdown. Fighting against humans had never been quite as frightening as the alien invaders. Taylor had become accustomed to what he could expect in the smaller engagements he’d previously been involved in, but they rarely knew what to expect from this technologically advanced race.

He lowered the other two fingers one after the other and jumped out into the open with his rifle held high. He began firing before the others had even got around the bend. Firing with short bursts, he could see that a number of the rounds bounced off the metal casing of the device, but others had smashed through. Silva fired his launcher and struck it dead on. The shell almost deafened them as jagged metal landed all around.

The flash had momentarily blinded them and caused them all to stop firing. Smoke poured down the street, and a smell of sulphur wafted past. They looked on at the twisted wreck and debris that was scattered as wide as the street itself.

“Shit, we toasted that bitch,” said Silva.

Taylor cautiously approached the debris. He had seen the enemies’ blood before, and it was nowhere in sight. A glimmer of light and reflection in the distance caught his attention down the long street. He quickly pulled out his binoculars for a better look.

“What is it, Sir?”

The Major’s face turned to stone as he looked on at six of the enemy Mechs. They were jetting towards them with some kind of rocket devices attached to their armour. They were smaller and lighter armoured than those they had previously seen, but no less terrifying. Smoke trails blasted from their backs as they stormed towards the marines.

“Hostiles incoming! Fall back!”

He quickly turned and ran back towards the vehicle they had left. The others didn’t wait a moment to stare at the enemy bearing down on them. As Taylor ran, he looked back to see that their pursuers were already turning the corner they had left just seconds ago.

“Into that building, now!”

He rushed towards a shop front occupying the base of an apartment building. Mitch fired several shots at the tall glass windows and tumbled through it. The glass shattered and collapsed as he rolled into the shop and quickly back onto his feet. He took a few more paces and jumped for the cover of a long shop counter. The smell of coffee still filled the room from where a full mug had been left during the evacuation. It was a local amenities shop that seemed to sell a bit of everything, but many of the shelves had been emptied.

The five marines waited with their weapons at the ready. They couldn’t see their enemy yet, but they could hear them. The hissing of the engines quietened and was replaced with a loud mechanical clunk as the airborne Mechs landed hard on the road outside. The metal of their devices ticked loudly from the heat like the exhaust of a classic gasoline car after it had been shut off.

No one of them said a word. The steps got louder, and the first Mech walked into view, peering into the shop. Before it could lift its huge pulse weapon, it was struck head on by a grenade from Silva. The Mech vanished into a ball of smoke, shaking the room that caused much of the ceiling to collapse.

“Let’s move!” shouted Taylor.

He turned and rushed to the back as heat pulses smashed into the shop. They sent metal shelving tumbling across the room, narrowly missing the fleeing marines. Taylor reached a locked door that led to a loading alley out the back. He lifted his rifle and fired several shots into the lock until it was obliterated. He then kicked the door through. As they rushed out into the street, the building behind them began to creek and shake with the continuous pounding from the enemy’s weapons.

“It’s gonna blow! Run!” shouted Silva.

They dashed to make some distance as chunks of the building collapsed around them.

“Shit!” Silva called out.

The ground around them shook as they were launched off their feet. Half of the building collapsed into the narrow lane. Seconds later, Taylor spluttered as he found himself covered in debris. The foul and dry taste of brick dust filled his mouth, and his face was covered in its residue. His body armour had thankfully saved his back from the impact, though his joints were stiff and sore.

He pushed up; wiping his brow with the cuff of his uniform, but it was of little help. His uniform was as thick with dust as the entire scene, and the marines had almost completely blended in with the rubble. The memory of their attackers flooded back into his head, and he turned to Silva who was still freeing himself.

“Keep moving!” shouted Taylor.

The marines staggered to their feet and rushed onwards. From behind the line of shops, they could hear the engines of the Mechs firing up. Their jeep was still a couple of blocks away.

“We’re not gonna make it!” called Silva.

Taylor turned and looked at the tall buildings they had come from. He still couldn’t see the enemy, but their engines were getting louder. He turned back and could see a small local police station. The doors were left open, and it was abandoned.

“Follow me!” he ordered.

The Major knew they could not outrun the Mechs. These were faster and more agile than anything they had seen before. He gave every ounce of strength and energy to push to a sprint for the building. They rushed through the doors and quickly rolled into cover behind the reception desks. For a moment they sat trying to get their breath back.

The roar of the Mech engines came closer until Taylor could smell the chemicals emitting from the devices. They smelt like a noxious gas, pungent and acrid. Taylor lifted himself up just enough to peer over the counter and into the street. Two of the Mechs landed hard along the path they had themselves just trodden. They peered around desperately, clearly having lost the marines’ trail.

“Guess their tracking skills aren’t up to regulation,” whispered Silva.

He had a cheeky grin on his face, calling a victory over their ruthless enemy. Taylor looked to the other three marines, Jimenez, Mitchell and Paria. Fear was evident in their eyes. Facing the towering Mechs was always a harrowing experience, but safety in numbers always helped to bolster their morale. Now they were left in a wasteland with nothing and nobody to support them. Taylor smiled, hoping to give them some encouragement. After all the bitter fighting he had survived, Mitch was unwilling to die now.

He turned back to the Mechs and watched them from cover. They paced up and down the street in opposite directions. He could see no visual communication between them, so they must have comms equipment beneath their armoured suits. They finally strode off out of view, and he slumped back down behind the desk to rest.

“They gone, Sir?” asked Paria.

“For now.”

“I doubt they’ve given up, Sir. They’ll be scouring the neighbourhood for us. We just blew their shit up, and we’d never let that go unchecked,” said Silva.

Taylor agreed. He considered waiting them out, but there were too few of them to thoroughly check the whole area. Despite this, their presence implied an impending movement into the area. The last place he wanted to be alone in no man’s land.

“How we getting out of here, boss?” asked Mitchell.

Taylor looked around the reception atrium and back to the street. He still couldn’t see the Mechs, but he could hear their pacing up and down.

“It looks like they can’t stay airborne for long, so they’re not much more than our landing thrusters. Let’s get to the roof. We’ll make our way down to the street from there. We should be out of sight and with a good field of view,” said Taylor.

The Sergeant nodded.

“Most of these buildings are joined, and those that aren’t can’t be more than a metre or two apart, should be doable,” said Silva.

“Alright, on your feet, let’s get the fuck out of this dump.”

Taylor straightened his legs but stayed hunched as they made their way to the stairwell. They could still hear the imposing trudge of the Mechs in the street. They were far smaller than the armoured creatures they had faced before, little over two metres. Knowing that they were safe within the confines of buildings that the enemy could not enter was a comforting fact, up until now.

It was a long haul to the roof. The small local police station was housed in the base of an apartment block which was fifteen storeys high. They dared not risk using the elevators. The building was close to a hundred years old and the decor almost half that. The smell of food cooked days before still wafted through the corridors, unable to escape through the sealed windows.

Taylor reached the very top of the building and prized open the door to the roof. He slowly opened it a millimetre at a time and looked for any sign of their attackers. He turned back to the other marines with a nod and a grin.

“We’re in business,” he whispered.

He eased the door fully open and stepped out onto the roof. His posture was still hunched and his rifle at the ready, but his head shot from left to right always looking for any threat. As they reached the edge of roof, they could see that it was joined directly onto the next building and several more after that. They were only divided by half-metre walls which the marines quickly vaulted one after the other.

As they reached the fifth building, they could hear the sound of stomping feet getting louder. These new enemies may be smaller, but they were no quieter. Their armoured suits clanged together as they strode for all to hear.

“Hardly stealthy,” whispered Mitchell.

“Who needs to be stealthy when you’ve got the best armour and the biggest guns?” replied Silva.

They went silent and waited for the steps to pass beyond the entrance to the building they were on. They still had no idea what hearing abilities the Mechs had, but it seemed little different to their own. They were only thankful they didn’t possess thermal imaging devices.

“Back up,” said Taylor.

They continued quietly and cautiously across the roof until they reached the edge, gasping at the gap which divided them and the next building.

“That’s got to be two metres or more,” said Jimenez.

“But with a metre’s drop, should be doable,” said Silva.

“Has to be,” replied Taylor.

Without another word, he took a few steps back and sprinted to the edge to launch himself across. The Major landed hard the other side on the gravel, rolling into a tumble. He was brought to an abrupt halt by a small wall. He shook his head to regain his composure, got up to one knee and nodded to the others.

“Oh, shit,” said Silva.

He followed suit by leaping after the Major. The other three marines were left humbled and quickly made the jump. Mitchell was last. As he made his run for the jump, Taylor could hear a Mech approaching the alley, and so lifted his hand to signal for the marine to stop. The signal caused Mitchell to hesitate, but it was too late for him to completely stop. He jumped short and struck the edge of the building.

Silva jumped forward landing belly first on the gravel and taking hold of Mitchell’s arms. The weight dragged the Sergeant to the edge, but the others took a hold of his legs. They stopped with Mitchell hanging precariously from the roof, and they all froze. Taylor looked down the narrow alleyway towards the location of the Mechs, dipping his head in the hope of remaining unseen.

The footsteps of the creature grew near as they waited, not wanting to make another sound or movement. Silva winced, his elbows and wrists being stretched by the weight of the man he was holding. Their hearts raced as a Mech appeared at the entrance to the alleyway. It stopped and turned to look down the dim, shadow cast alley, scanning for any sign of life.

Taylor prayed that the beast did not look up, or they would all be doomed. A moment later the Mech turned and strolled on. The Major sighed in relief before reaching for Mitchell and hauling him onto the rooftop. They all sat back breathing deeply.

“Fuck me,” said Mitchell.

“For a species with such technology, they aren’t too smart are they?” asked Silva.

“We are just as alien to them as they are to us. Think you can predict the way they think, the way their will respond and act?” asked Taylor.

The Sergeant nodded, genuinely thinking about what the Major had said.

“Do not forget what you learnt in training. Just know that what we are dealing with here was never included in no manual. We are re-writing the rules as we go along,” said Taylor.

“Let’s get the hell out of here, Sir,” said Paria.


Taylor stood up, realising that he was covered in yet more dust from the gravel. He considered patting it off, but any help with camouflage right now was useful. They continued onwards across another eight buildings until they reached the end of the street. Taylor and Silva crawled to the edge and looked down to where they had left their jeep. It sat alone, and untouched by the enemy.

“Guess they don’t see it as a threat,” said Silva.

“Why would they? It has no weapons or armour, and it could be anything to them.”

They looked up and down the street, but the Mechs were nowhere to be seen. They crawled back to the other three. Taylor had a broad grin across his face, happy in the knowledge that they were so close to escape.

“We’ve got enough power left to make the jump, and I don’t want to waste anymore time up here waiting to get our asses blown off. On my go, we make a break for the jeep. We don’t stop, and we don’t hesitate. Ready?”

They all nodded eagerly. None of them wanted to run before the guns, but neither did they want to get left alone in what was quickly becoming hostile territory. Taylor checked his weapon and looked back up at them. The situation was far from ideal, and he wished he’d trusted his gut about the intel and taken more troops to investigate.

“Three, two, one…”

They leapt to their feet and ran for the edge of the building, launching themselves into the air. They hit their boosters on the way down and landed hard on the tarmac below. The street was still empty with no sign of the enemy, but they didn’t wait to find out. Silva was the first to the vehicle and leapt in into the driver’s seat. The engine fired up before two of them had even got aboard, and they desperately hoisted themselves on as the jeep lurched forward.

Taylor didn’t have to give any further commands as Silva was well aware of the urgency. Jimenez and Paria had got into their seats as the vehicle stormed down the abandoned streets. Just as they thought they had made it, a tingle went down Taylor’s spine at hearing the pulsing sound of the Mechs flying packs.

“Incoming!” he shouted.

He snapped his neck back and looked down the street they were racing away from. Two of the Mechs took a sharp turn around the bend into their street, and their engines roared as they stormed towards the escaping vehicle. Taylor stood up and rested his rifle in the roll bar of the vehicle, taking quick aim. He fired a few bursts, but the rounds appeared to bounce off with no effect.

“Take them down!”

The others trained their grenade launchers against their pursuers while Paria tried desperately to unload the ARMAL launchers from his webbing. Jimenez fired first, and a grenade landed just ahead of the Mechs, showering them in debris. The two flying monsters burst through the smoke as if unfazed. The one at the front trained its weapon on them ready to fire.

“Turn!” shouted Mitch.

Silva wrenched the wheel round and slid the vehicle across an intersection as the enemy’s weapon fired. It blew out the front of a shop, narrowly missing them. Taylor hung onto the roll bar for dear life as the back wheels regained grip, and they continued on at full pelt. He lifted his launcher and fired a single round which again landed just short.

Having gotten his range, Taylor fired all further five grenades in his launcher with a short dispersal pattern. Explosions erupted all around the Mechs. One disappeared into a plume of smoke and debris while the other spun out of control and crashed through a nearby building. Mitchell turned back to look at the Major with a grin. Taylor flipped open his launcher and quickly reached for the next shells on his webbing.

“Guess we got them, Sir,” said Mitchell.

Before the Major could respond, the marine was struck by an energy pulse which took his head off, leaving a smouldering cauterised wound at the neck and shoulder.

“Holy shit!” cried Paria.

Taylor turned to see four more of the enemy flyers approaching an intersection they were passing.

“Step on it, Silva!”

“Won’t go any faster, Sir!”


Mitch locked his launcher shut and threw it back up on top of the roll bar as a pulse smashed into the roadside, showering them with dirt. He wiped it from around his eyes. He didn’t have to give any commands as the other marines were already bringing their weapons to bear. The four Mechs banked hard and quickly around the intersection to join the pursuit. Jimenez fired first with a launcher.

The three launchers fired in quick succession turning the street into a ball of black smoke and flame. They must have done some damage, but at least two Mechs burst through the black cloud. Taylor dropped his launcher and quickly reached for the rifle slung on his side, but it was too late. A burst of light surged from the enemies’ weapons and struck under their vehicle.

The rear end of the jeep lifted, and they were tossed into a tumble down the road. Taylor held on as they rolled over and over. They were finally stopped by the wall of a bank, smashing to a quick halt and almost breaking Taylor’s neck with the impact. He had remained conscious and quickly looked around for the other marines. Mitchell’s body was gone and Jimenez must have been thrown from the wreck. Blood poured down Silva’s face, but he was still alive.

“Get out! Now!” shouted Taylor.

He took hold of the bent roll over bar which had saved their lives and hauled himself out from the roof. The vehicle lay on its side with the chassis facing their attackers. His rifle was still attached to him by his sling, but the launcher had been tossed from the vehicle.

“Paria, where are those ARMALs?” he shouted.

The shocked and disorientated marine snapped back into action and fumbled with his pack, finally handing them out. He took one in hand himself and lifted himself up out the side of the vehicle, quickly taking aim at one of the Mechs that was rapidly approaching on foot. He fired and an explosion, which was followed by the sounds of debris scattering across the street, suggested he’d scored a hit, but it was too late for him. An energy pulse struck his chest and sent his twisted and mangled body falling back to the bottom of the vehicle and resting against the Major.

Taylor looked at Silva with a hopeless expression. They had both accepted that they had met their end. A second later, another energy pulse struck their vehicle and tossed them once again. Taylor came to his senses a few moments later, and sharp pain pulsated through his leg. He looked down and realised he was trapped. Silva was unconscious beside him.

The sound of heavy footsteps grew near as the last remaining Mech approached to check for survivors. Mitch knew he had only seconds to act. He frantically looked around for a weapon, but his rifle was partly crushed by the vehicle, and his handgun was jammed against the bodywork. His hands reached all around until at last he got hold of an ARMAL launcher. He prized it open, armed the charge and then lay back flat.

The hulking metal enemy appeared before him with its pulse cannon held ready to finish the team off. Taylor didn’t give the enemy soldier a second to respond. He pointed directly at the Mech and fired. Mitch dipped his head slightly to give his face some protection from the blast. Metal shards splintered all over the scene as the Mech exploded unto hundreds of pieces.

Taylor lay back down, breathing heavily. He was more satisfied than relieved to have gotten some payback for his fallen marines, but he knew the struggle was far from over. The Sergeant was still lifeless, and he could only hope he would awaken soon. Taylor placed his hands on the roll bar and tried with all his strength to push the frame to free his leg, but it was to no avail.

He was all alone in hostile lands, trapped and without a weapon to hand. The Major had never felt lonelier. He wished for nothing more than to be back at his home on base the other side of the Atlantic, enjoying the company of Eli. He looked back into the vehicle. Paria was long gone. He could only pray that Silva would awake, or he’d be a goner.

Chapter 2

“Fire! Keep firing!” shouted Kelly.

The line of twenty Moon Defence Force soldiers were huddled behind a make shift barrier defence, desperately struggling to hold the enemy back. They had succeeded in hampering the enemy’s efforts on the colony but had yet to reclaim any ground. Martinez leapt up beside him and fired his launcher, hitting a Mech square on and shattering it into a twisted wreck.

“We must fall back, Sir!” Martinez shouted to him.

“No! We must keep fighting!”

The Commander leapt up and fired quickly with well aimed fire. He knew that the fight was lost, but it pained him to have once more pushed for ground above the surface and to have failed again. He ducked behind cover and dipped his head, disillusioned with their fight for survival. Martinez looked down at their leader, knowing that he had to act.

“All units fall back! Fall back!” he ordered.

He grabbed the Commander by the shoulder, hauling him to his feet and into a run. Energy pulses flew past their heads and blasted into the interior walls. The troops around them gave covering fire and quickly followed suit. It was another sore defeat for the Moon forces. They clambered down the hidden access tunnels leading underground, and all was quiet once more.

Kelly and Martinez headed up the column of soldiers as they strolled between the lines of civilians. Their faces were dirty and equally as grim. The Commander could not help but think that he was failing the people he was employed to protect. Kelly could barely make contact with the men and women he passed. A few patted him on the back, but it gave little relief.

They finally reached the command centre that had so recently been set up. Lewis sat at the improvised comms desk. He had scavenged more and more equipment over the last week. He spun around in his chair, and his smile quickly left his face as he could already tell the result of their fight. Kelly strode past him and slumped into his chair, throwing his rifle roughly onto the desk. The clatter of the heavy weapon made several nearby jump. They could see their leader was losing faith in the war.

The Commander took his helmet off and wiped his sweaty brow. The cuff of his jacket was dry and coarse from ingrained dirt and debris that they’d not the time, nor willpower, to clean out. As he placed his helmet down, he turned to see a boy of less than ten years old stood in front of him holding a steaming mug of coffee.

“Sir, this is for you.”

The boy handed the mug to him. Kelly could not help but smile at the gesture. It reminded him that all was not lost yet.

“Thank you, what’s your name?”

“Miguel,” the boy confidently replied.

“My son,” said Martinez. He strolled past and ruffled the boy’s hair.

Kelly took the mug and nodded in gratitude. He turned to Martinez.

“Assemble the command staff.”


“Whatever we are doing, it isn’t working, so we need to re-think our operations.”

“Yes, Sir, I’ll get right on it.”

“Sir,” said Lewis, “we now have direct lines to most of the tunnels. I can put the word out for you.”

Kelly nodded for him to do so. A week without the communications equipment they had become so reliant on, plunged them into a dark age that they had quickly adapted to. The luxury of organisation from a central base had almost been forgotten by the Commander.

“Get them here ASAP, we have work to do.”

Charlie Jones still sat amid the rubble of the city they had fought so viciously to defend. He slowly ate from a food ration pack that was steaming from the integrated heating element. The food tasted better than most people would think, but he barely even noticed it. He was still stunned and deeply reflecting over recent events. He could hear footsteps getting nearer, but it didn’t concern him as he was surrounded by friendly troops.

“Captain Jones.”

He looked up to see Captain Friday.

“What can I do for you, Captain?”

“You have been ordered back to command.”

“Just me?”

“Your whole unit, Jones.”

“What happened to the Inter-Allied Company?”

“You’re asking the wrong man. Major Chandra is awaiting you there for further orders.”

Jones’ eyes lit up. With all their losses in the previous week, they wanted nothing more than to get some familiar faces back.

“The orders were quite clear, Captain. They want you there immediately.”

Jones got to his feet with a weary sigh. His knees were sore from their patrol, and his body felt more exhausted by the day.

“Any word from the Major?”

“That’s a negative. Taylor is still scouting the northern sectors.”

Jones nodded, and he knew they could be of no more service there. He picked up his rifle and turned to face his troops who were scattered around the rubble. He no longer knew what to call the remnants of his troop. They had been 2 ^ nd Battalion, then 2 ^ nd Inter-Allied. They had amalgamated the surviving sections so many times that he simply had no idea what to call them anymore.

“2 Para! On me!”

The Brits got up with a startled expression. They had barely gotten any recuperation time and had gotten well settled into working with Taylor’s marines. A few groans rang out, but nobody questioned the orders. The battle weary group got to their feet and followed the Captain back behind the front lines to the nearest motor pool. The remnants of their unit were now able to squeeze aboard a single truck, and it was a sore reminder of their losses.

“Sir? What’s the deal here?” asked Green.

Jones shook his head, not knowing or particularly caring.

Rain beat down all around the vehicle. Taylor was mostly shielding from the ferocious downpour, but it was starting to run like a river through the street. He had not seen rain like it in years, and the drains were already spilling over. The Major was alerted to movement in the vehicle. He lifted his upper body slightly to investigate. His Sergeant was rousing with a drowsy and slurred cry of pain.

“Silva, Sergeant,” he said.

Taylor’s legs were still trapped beneath the vehicle, and he only wished they were still strong enough to carry him. Silva didn’t answer at first. He was dazed and subdued. He was facing away from the Major, but Taylor could still make out the blood around the man’s collar.

“Sergeant Silva.”

Mitch wanted to shout, but he would not risk drawing any attention to them. He repeated himself, hoping that he could get through. The Sergeant quickly turned his head looking for the origin of Taylor’s voice. He turned fully and caught sight of the Major. A broad smile widened across his face. Much of the blood had congealed, but it still trickled between his teeth and out of his mouth.

“Thought we were goners, Sir.”

“Not yet, Sergeant.”

“Anyone else make it?”

Taylor shook his head. Silva’s smile quickly vanished.

“We’ve got to get out of here, no telling when they’ll send more troops.”

“Can you move?”

“No, how about you?”

Silva turned and tumbled in the over turned vehicle, crumpling hard onto the ground. He sighed in pain, feeling the many bruises and worse.

“We made it this far, Sir, so we aren’t stopping now.”

He dropped out of the vehicle and quickly surveyed the scene. The road was scattered with debris from the ruined Mechs. He could see the bodies of their fallen comrades, and it was evident that they were long gone. He looked up to the skies, and the heavy and relentless rain hammering down on him. It was a relief to feel the clean running water wash down his gritty and dust ingrained equipment. He looked back to the Major, and he could see that the roll bar of the vehicle was crushing his leg.

“You ready to push?”

“Anything that’ll get us out of here.”

The Sergeant took up a good lifting position.

“Ready? Three, two, one, lift!”

The Sergeant was a tough marine, more than most. He shrugged off his head injuries as if they were nothing more than an inconvenience. With all their might, they lifted the corner of the vehicle just a centimetre. It was enough to get clear. Taylor hauled his legs out. The heavy vehicle dropped with a muted landing onto the running water.

For a moment the Major lay flat out on the road, glad to be free of the wreck and enjoying the freshness of the storm. Despite the torrent of water, the street still smelt of burning metal and electrical systems. He sat up and tried to move his legs. Shock filled his face as he stared at the Sergeant. They both realised what he had discovered.

“My leg, I can barely move it.”

“At least it’s still attached. Get you back to base, and they’ll have you patched up in no time.”

The Sergeant reached into the smashed wreck of the jeep to salvage any weapons and ammunition he could.

“One launcher, one rifle, that’s it. Ammunition could be better, too.”

He looked back down to the stricken Major.

“We need to get a splint on that leg.”

“Agreed, but we should get off this street first. The enemy will surely be here to investigate before long.”

Silva slung the launcher onto his back and hauled the Major to his feet. He handed the rifle to Taylor and threw Mitch’s arm over his shoulder. The two looked down the street to the south, and the direction of friendly forces.

“There, the hardware store will do us just fine,” said Taylor.

Silva put on a brave face, but they were both aware of the danger they were in. They scrambled for over a block to the shop but were severely hindered by the injury. The Sergeant laid the Major to rest and pulled out a door breaker. It was a small pressured device that wedged between the door and its frame, expanding until the lock broke. He readied himself to tackle the alarm system, but nothing signalled the break in.

“Guess they didn’t set the alarm,” said Silva.

“Aliens invading your city, would you bother? Poor bastards were running for their lives.”

Mitch looked up and down the long street once more. It was still eerily silent and with no sign of forces from either side. He hobbled in through the door with the assistance of Silva and reached a small desk where he dropped down and sat.

“We’ll need some strong bars and tape.”

“On it.”

“Welcome all of you,” said Kelly. “As the military leader of the Lunar colony, I am calling you here as advisors and councillors. Over the last week we have made regular attacks against the invading forces, but we are yet to make any headway.”

“Commander, we are still alive and safe. I would say that’s a good start,” said Secretary Allard.

Kelly nodded. Survival was not enough for him, and he knew that it would ultimately end in defeat.

“Earth forces have been getting equipment to us, but the truth is we simply don’t have enough fighters. Right now we have little use for the tasks most of the colony worked. I propose that we introduce compulsory enlistment into the MDF of all able bodied men and women between sixteen and fifty.”

Several of the councillors gasped at the suggestion.

“Commander Kelly, you would have us become a colony devoted to war?” asked Vella, the Senator for Industry.”

Kelly shot a wicked glance at the woman.

“That choice has been taken from us, Senator. We are fighting for the very survival of the human race, so what are you doing to help?” he snapped back.

Vella was taken aback by the sharp recourse. She was clearly not used to having her authority and duty questioned.

“What would you give up, Senator? What would you give up to save the lives of our people? I didn’t take this job to fight wars and send men and women to their deaths. What will you do to ensure the colony’s survival?”

She remained silent, both shocked and embarrassed at the Commander’s statement.

“Commander, let’s keep this calm and civil,” said Allard.

“Calm and civil? Right, because that will help our position. We only need one thing right now, fighters. Men and women who can wield weapons, and have the stomach to do so. There are very few tasks left that our people are needed for. Don’t you think they’d want the chance to make a difference?”

“You want civilians to take up arms without training or experience?” asked Allard.

“It’s not about what I want, but what we need. Sacrifices must be made. We have experienced trainers who will get civilians up to par with weapons and equipment. All I need from you is the go ahead. I run and manage the defence, but this decision is yours.”

Kelly shot up from his chair and slowly paced around the make shift conference table. Many of soldiers had been intently listening to the conversation. They didn’t have enough space to hold the discussion in private. The Senators and officials could see the dirty and bloody soldiers lying about around them. Their placement was clearly intended to shame them into action, and it was working.

“And if doing this only results in more deaths?” asked Vella.

“We are at war, Senator. These monsters do not want our submission. They want our lives. We either lie down and die, or give them hell. I believe we have a responsibility to every man, woman and child who have made this place their home, to defend it to our last breath.”

“Is this what it has come to?” asked Allard. “The utter extermination of our people? Have you accepted that none of us will make it through?”

“Far from it. We are fighting to win. Earth continues to support us, despite the colossal losses they have witnessed. If they can hold on, what excuse do we have for giving up?”

He walked around the group, letting them think it over while he towered over them. He reached his place at the table and leaned on the back of the chair.

“The request has been made, and the points have been discussed. You must now decide.”

Allard sighed, it was a call which none of them could ever imagine they would have to make. In doing so, they knew they would be sending many of their own sons and daughters to fight against the fearsome invaders.

“Those in favour?” he shouted.

He raised his hand first, eager to support the Commander’s plan. Slowly and hesitantly many others followed suit.

“In lieu of the absence of our Prime Minister, and reverting to majority rule, this motion is passed.”

Kelly nodded his head in gratitude, but he refrained from a smile. Sending more people to fight and die was never something he would choose lightly. He could see the soldiers around the room were already whispering amongst themselves, spurred on by the news.

“Thank you, all of you. I will have call ups issued throughout the sectors. Within a few days, we can double our force, and more so over the coming week.”

“I wish you every luck, Commander, and hope that this most troubling motion can be of some benefit,” said Vella.

Kelly opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by a siren alert from Lewis’ work station. He spun around to see the ghostly expression across the comms officer’s face.

“What is it, Lewis?”

“A breach, Sir! Sector 21 to the south!”

The room erupted into motion as the soldiers grabbed their rifles and pulled on their helmets.

“Martinez, assemble your troops and get there immediately!”

The young officer nodded in response and barked his orders out across the room. The Senators and councillors remained at the table stunned, realising how helpless they were. Kelly rushed to Lewis’ desk and grabbed his rifle that was propped up next to it.

“Any idea on numbers?”

“No, Sir, looks like the enemy have blasted into the tunnel there.”

“Shit. Divert any troops you can to the breach, but do not leave any sector unguarded!”

He threw his helmet onto his head and rushed out of the room towards the defence. Running hurt his old joints, and he knew that his days as a soldier were at their end. All he wanted was to hold on long enough to save his people. He panted heavily as he ran through the corridors. Kelly was a long way from the fitness of his youth. It was a fifteen minute jog to the co-ordinates, but he could already hear the echo of heavy gunfire coursing through their underground tunnels.

They had retreated into the tunnels as a last line of defence. Kelly was all too aware that they had nowhere left to run. Dozens of MDF soldiers rushed past him, their youthful legs carrying them at almost twice his speed. Explosions erupted in the distance as he heard the now familiar sound of their explosive rounds. Deep beneath the surface they were highly effective and perfectly safe from a breach of the atmosphere.

Kelly reached a crossroads and turned quickly down the tunnel towards the gunfire. The tunnels were more than twenty metres wide, intended for large cargo wagons to run through. He could see the battle up ahead long before he reached it. He rushed through the tunnel as light pulses flashed down it.

Moments later, the Commander caught sight of the enemy dropping into the tunnel up ahead. More than fifty soldiers were scattered amongst the rubble firing wildly, and many of their comrades lay dead as more rushed to join the fight.

Kelly lifted his launcher as he was running and trained it on the nearest targets. He stopped as he came into range and fired immediately. Two of his grenades struck a Mech and vaporised it. He jumped behind a large section of the collapsed tunnel roof beside another soldier who was cowering from the intense gunfire. The Commander looked at the man who was too scared to return fire. He slapped his helmet.

“Keep that up and we’ll all be dead! Get up there and shoot!”

The man looked at him with a lost expression, not sure whether to comply or not.

“What are you waiting for? Now!”

The soldier took a deep breath and lifted himself up to fire, but he was immediately struck by an enemy pulse which blew his shoulder off and broke his neck. The body slumped down behind the cover still smouldering. Kelly looked down at the fallen soldier. The smell of burning flesh was repugnant, and the taste glued to his tongue, burning his eyes.

Kelly got to his feet and ran across the open ground, jumping in behind another large section of cover where three soldiers were firing from.

“Who’s in charge here?” he shouted.

“Captain Jansen, Sir!”

“Where is he?”

The soldier turned and pointed.

Kelly turned to see a wounded officer trying to reload his weapon with his one good arm as he rested back against the cover of an old rail cart. Kelly turned back to the breach and looked out from behind the shelter. No matter how many Mechs they destroyed, more were dropping into the tunnel. He raised his launcher and fired off with a scattered grouping. There were so many of them that he no longer had to choose his targets.

Kelly leapt from the cover and rushed across the opening. He jumped in behind the rail cart as a pulse landed behind his feet. It blasted a crater in the floor, projecting him into the air and smashing him against the metalwork of the carriage.

“Sir, are you alright?” shouted Jansen.

Kelly rolled over onto his hands and knees, coughing and spluttering. The wind had been taken out of him, and he was breathing dust and grime into his lungs. He rolled up to a seated position beside the Captain.

“I’m still here, Captain. Give me an update!”

The cart at their backs rocked as it was struck by enemy fire.

“Just as it looks, Sir! One breach, they’ve not gained any ground yet, but they seem to have no end of Mechs to throw in!”

The Commander looked back down the tunnel where he’d come from. Martinez was running towards them at the head of his team that he’d quickly assembled. Kelly grinned at the sight of re-enforcements, but before they could reach the defence lines an energy bolt flew overhead and smashed into them. Three of the soldiers were thrown down and smashed into the walls.

“Come on! Keep moving!” shouted Kelly.

He watched as Martinez stumbled to his feet, clearly dazed.


He quickly came to his senses and staggered towards the defensive line as quickly as he could. Martinez dropped down in front of the Commander. Shrapnel littered his body armour and had punctured through in several places. Blood seeped from the wounds. Kelly wanted to enquire about his condition, but there was no time.

“We’re in deep shit here. This is a meat grinder.”

“We can’t let them get a hold underground, Sir!”

“The longer we stay here, the more people we lose!”

“Then what are your orders, Sir!” shouted Martinez.

The Commander lowered his head, looking up at the lines of dead and wounded. Their forces battled on bravely, but they were taking more losses than they could afford. He looked up at the other officers for answers.

“Sir, we could blow the tunnel,” said Jansen.

“And give up more ground?” Martinez asked.

“What else is there to do?” shouted Jansen.

“Sir, we can’t fall back!”

Kelly turned to Martinez, but he knew he no longer had a choice.

“This battle is over, so let’s not make it our last.”

He turned to the wounded Jansen.

“How can it be done?”

Light pulses still surged overhead as the soldiers battled on to a stalemate with the Mechs. The enemy never seemed to be able to push enough forces in to break the line, but they always sent enough to keep them on their toes.

“I have already rigged up explosives a hundred metres back down the tunnel!” shouted Jansen.

Kelly had never given such orders, but he could not bring himself to discipline a man who may well prove to be their saviour.

“What do you need to do to set them off?”

“There’s a control box on the sidewall marked with MDF warning signs. Just arm the three switches and hit the big red button. The fuse is set for thirty seconds.”

Kelly sighed as he looked back over the defences to see the mound of dead Mechs, and the fresh ones that continued forward. He could not believe they had to give yet more ground although there appeared to be little choice left. He turned back to the two officers who waited for his answer with baited breath.

“Sound the retreat and get everyone back. Last one of us to pass that box hits the button.”

Martinez nodded, and he leapt out and ran for the other cover to pass the word to the troops.

“This definitely going to work?” asked Kelly.

“Definitely, Sir, the charges are placed on a joining point for the tunnel. They’ll bring down enough ground to ensure our safety.”

“And the buildings above?”

“A school. The colony’s systems will section off the area.”

The Commander nodded. He liked the news less and less as it was laid out before him. He looked across for Martinez who was staring back at him and ready to move. Almost a hundred soldiers now defended the tunnel, many packed shoulder to shoulder. He looked around for one last moment, hoping to see some reduction in the enemy’s advance, but there was no such luck. He looked back to Martinez.


He knew that the officer would not hear him over the gunfire, but he could see well enough to understand the order. Martinez shouted and the message was passed along the line. The troops quickly took flight. For the soldiers whose sole purpose was to fight, fleeing the battle was welcome news. Kelly grabbed Jansen and hauled him up. Martinez rushed to his side, and they each took an arm each of the wounded officer.

The fleeing Moon defence colonists rushed across the crater and debris-strewn ground, occasionally turning to fire back. The Mechs were advancing slowly down the tunnel. Kelly winced in pain. It was hard enough work for him to run in armour, let alone having to help another. His knees buckled slightly with every few steps, and he thought every second that death would come.

The air in the tunnel was thick, and the lights reflected the clouds of dust particles they were charging through and that were clogging their lungs. Kelly could feel the acidic salt of his sweat dripping into his eyes and mouth. Mixed with the smell of death and destruction it was enough to make any man vomit, if they weren’t running for their lives.

The tunnels were lit by low ambient temperature tubes running along the roof and sides of the structure. Several of the light modules were smashed by stray enemy fire. The fleeing troops were lit up every few seconds by pulses zooming over their heads, and the occasional one struck at the ground behind them.

“Keep moving!” Kelly shouted.

He could barely get his breath. They had fallen to the back of the column, encumbered by the injured officers and the Commander’s increasing fatigue. They finally caught sight of the control module.

“That’s it!” shouted Jansen.

They rushed to the box as most of the troops continued to flee, oblivious to their work. Just three soldiers at the rear stopped to protect the officers as they activated the explosives. In the distance, they could just about make out the silhouettes of the Mechs. Every few seconds the tunnel would light up as a weapon was fired, revealing their unrelentless foe. Explosions erupted around their position, but they did not flinch.

They hauled Jansen up beside the control module, propping him against it. They opened the clear cover on top. He flicked three control switches which revealed an arming button.

“That it?” called Kelly.

He turned to the Commander.

“You sure you want me to do this, Sir?”

Kelly reached forward to the switches and smashed the large red button down, starting a countdown on a display beside it. He looked back to Jansen. The man looked relieved not to have had to make the final decision.

“That’s it, let’s go!” ordered Kelly.

He moved to help Jansen when a pulse exploded beside them. Kelly was thrown a metre and landed hard on his back. He quickly came to his senses and spat the dirt from his mouth. Kelly rolled onto his side and looked towards where he’d been standing. Jansen’s body was a twisted wreck, and Martinez was stumbling about.

“Sir? Sir? I can’t see!” he shouted.

The other three soldiers had been knocked down by the explosion but were unharmed. They rose to their feet and looked on in horror. Kelly quickly realised that their time was running out. He staggered to his feet and grabbed Martinez by his arm.

“Run!” he shouted.

The Commander took to a jogging pace, hauling Martinez behind him. Energy surges continued to rush down the tunnel and smashed into the structures either side. The tunnels had been built to survive even the greatest of stresses, so Kelly could only hope that the late Captain Jansen knew what he was doing.

The five soldiers had got just a hundred metres from the control box when a vast eruption exploded. The pulse wave sent the troops tumbling to the ground. The tunnel shook all around them as a dust cloud swept across their position. They were deafened by the tumbling metal and stone.

Kelly quickly turned and got up to his knees. Shards of rock and metal fell from his armour and clothing, and he puffed smoke out from his mouth. He stared down the tunnel, waiting for the dust to settle. Stone and metal continued to clatter for another minute until there was utter silence.

The Commander got to his feet and waited impatiently to see if their defences had been sealed. The other three soldiers watched the settling dust with a mix of fear and anticipation. The view finally opened up and they could see the tunnel had collapsed all the way up to just twenty metres from where they stood. The fact that they had been so close to being crushed to death did not even cross their minds.

Martinez and the others leapt up, shouting with excitement at the perceived victory. Kelly did nothing, simply staring into the wall they had created and thinking of the friends and colleagues he had just lost. Losing any soldiers was unacceptable, but Jansen had been a good friend. Shouts of excitement, clapping and cheering rang out from further down the tunnel as the other troops joined in the celebrations.

The Commander turned and ambled down the corridor towards the shouts of the men. He wiped his face with his hand. The glove was dry and rough, and it did little more than move the dirt across his face. The sweat was mixing with the grime and dripping into his mouth, the dust clogging his nostrils. Kelly could not help but think that they were losing the war at an alarming rate.

“Commander Kelly!”

A soldier came rushing towards him full of excitement.

“What is it, son?” He responded with a grim and disheartened tone. The man rushed up to Kelly, kicking up dust as he slid to a halt.

“Sir, re-supply is incoming.”

Kelly straightened his body just a little as he welcomed the first good news of the day. Every supply drop they received meant that the Earth forces were still fighting hard.

“Good, have we got the secure landing zone and approach ready yet?”

“Yes, Sir! Landing shortly, they’ve got a thirty minute window with us.”

Kelly nodded. They had been getting an old underground docking bay back into operation with a hidden approach tunnelled from a nearby canyon range. In the early days of the colonisation of the Moon, nobody could ever have predicted an alien invasion. They did, however, plan for the hostility which could come from Earth powers. He turned back to Martinez.

“Glad to see you are recovering. Hold here with your team. I want a full assessment of the defences of this tunnel. Get barriers set up, and make sure you have a wired connection to HQ. I am amalgamating your team with Jansen’s. You have command, Captain.”

Martinez nodded in return. Any other time he would have been ecstatic about the promotion and responsibility he was being given, but the death of the Captain weighed heavily on his shoulders.

“I’ll get it done, Sir.”

Kelly nodded in gratitude. A single tear came to his eye at having to utter the name of his fallen comrade. He turned back to the troops stood before him and quickly wiped the tear away, mixing it with sweat and dust.

“Supplies are incoming! Jansen’s unit is now under Martinez! Anyone who was on duty, return to your posts! The rest of you, with me!”

He slung his launcher over his back and strode confidently down the tunnel towards the docking bay. It was a twenty minute walk to the district that just two days before was a sealed off and abandoned sector. The cleanup crews had worked day and night to get it back into operation. As Kelly approached, he could hear that the bay was a hive of activity, and the ship had already landed.

He took a turn from a broad corridor into the docking bay, and he was greeted by the sight of his people enthusiastically unloading mounds of supplies from a familiar ship. An officer stood at its base with a cup of coffee in his hand. He was a roguish looking character and looked too ill disciplined to be a soldier, but it was clear that he was the pilot. Kelly strode up to the laid back character.

“I’m Commander Kelly.”

“Eddie Rains, good to finally meet you.”

“So it’s you who’s been supporting us from the beginning?”

“And the three other boys.”

Kelly reached out his hand in friendship to the man. Rains had shown no desire to salute the Commander, but Kelly liked him enough to not care.

“You must have balls of steel to have volunteered for this duty, son,” said Kelly.

“Hey, the opportunity to fly the fastest ship man has ever seen, how could I pass it up?”

The Commander grinned. He appreciated the pilot’s sense of humour, and the fact that he remained so humble.

“How goes the war?”

“Paris is still ours. Most of Africa is in enemy hands, as well as Spain and the west of France. South America has seen the start of it. People seem to think we have stopped them dead, but I don’t think it’ll last.”

“That’s a pretty sceptical outlook.”

Eddie took a sip from his coffee mug and sighed before looking back at Kelly.

“Well, Commander, tell me things are going any better here?”

Kelly lowered his head with a scornful expression. He wished he had an answer, but all he could think about was Jansen’s death. He turned and watched the loading crews enthusiastically empty the vessel. Part of the Commander wished he had left on the Deveron with the Prime Minister when he had the chance. He hated himself for wishing he could have taken the coward’s way out. Every time he saw the hope and determination of the colonists, he was reminded of why he did the right thing. He turned back to Rains who was sat back enjoying his coffee. The pilot was hiding well the fatigue he was experiencing.

“Is there any hope in sight?”

“You’re asking the wrong man, Commander. I just do the flying.”

The Commander turned to the easy-going pilot, knowing he must have further information.

“This isn’t exactly a routine mission, so you must be in regular contact with General White.”

“For briefings yes, but are you not in contact now, as well?”

The Commander sighed.

“Yes, but with only limited information. I’ve just learned more from you than we’ve been told all week. Earth forces continue to deliver aid, but to what end?”


“Are they helping to protect the colonists, or because we are a thorn in the invader’s side?”

“A little of both, I guess.”

“Thank you for your honesty, at least.”

“Hey, while you’re still up here, and I still have a bird to fly, we’ll keep you going.”

The Commander turned back and looked at Eddie, studying him.

“You’re not a Navy pilot are you?”

“No, Sir, Marine.”

“You’re a combat pilot?”

Eddie nodded and grunted as he threw back his coffee.

“What on earth are you doing up here?”

“Job needed doing, Commander, so we improvised.”

Kelly smiled. Despite the impending doom at their doorstep, he was encouraged by the sheer enthusiasm which still existed among men.

“The marines you typically fly for, where are they now?”

Rains winced, the first sign of hardship which the Commander had seen in his face.

“Out there, in France, giving those bastards hell.”

The Commander thought about the little news they had received of the war in France. He didn’t know whether to inquire further or not, for he knew the losses were vast.

“Don’t worry for my people, Commander. The Major leading them, he’ll go to hell and back to win this war.”

Kelly smiled as he turned and looked at Eddie’s ship. A broad shark’s mouth and teeth had been painted around the nose cone. On the fuselage, the image of a stripper had been applied next to a silver rib of the hull that gave the impression of a pole dancer. The Commander chuckled.

“A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t let you land looking like that.”

“Funny how times change, Commander. All we needed was a war to mellow you out.”

Kelly laughed.

“I’ve wanted to get close to one of these monsters, ever since I first lay eyes on them.”

“Still just two of a kind, right now. We’re working all out on developing the technology, but it’s taking some time to reverse engineer them. We still don’t fully understand how they work, just that they do.”

“It’s a fascinating freak of engineering.”

“Lampeter class boats. This girl is called Greta. Not exactly as agile as what I’m used to, but damn she’s fast.”

“Is the General working on modifying and copying other alien technologies? We outnumber the Mechs in every battle. If only we could match any of their armour and weapons.”

“Sorry, Commander. My head has been in this project from the very beginning, but if it isn’t to do with birds, then I simply can’t help you.”

Kelly so desperately wanted more information of the situation on Earth and what was being done to counter the enemy, but he knew Eddie was being honest in his limited knowledge of the subject.

“My people want to fight, Eddie, and they will fight to their very last breaths. None of us want to run, but may I ask a favour of you?”


“Start ferrying the children out of here.”

Rains recoiled at the thought, his face turning to stone.

“The General would never approve it, Sir. He’d have my ass.”

“I am not asking for an evacuation of our people, Eddie. I need every adult who can hold a rifle to be doing as such. The children only stretch our resources and give cause for concern. Get them out of here, and you will help our forces no end.”

“And when I get back to base?”

“The General will understand. He has to. I’ll send a request ahead of you that they are to be sent to live with families on the bases.”

“And if the General declines?”

“He’ll have no choice. If Earth wants us to keep up the battle, then they are going to have to take up some of the slack. There may be war on many fronts down there, but we are living in a permanent war zone, and it is no place for children.”

Eddie nodded. He knew that it was the right thing to do. He never was good with authority, and he knew that the forces could not afford to lose him. He would be safe enough.

“Alright, Kelly, I can take about a hundred per trip. Get them quickly, my window is running short.”

The Commander reached out his hand in friendship once more to the pilot. They both knew that their time could be up at any moment, and it was a relief to still have friends in their greatest time of need.

Chapter 3

The truck pulled up to the forward command base. Vehicles were pouring in and out as Jones leapt from the vehicle. He recognised uniforms from around the world, but few faces. They were gathered at Concorde Square. It was a vast open ground at the heart of the city. Military vehicles were lined up as far as they could see. Jones looked around to get his bearings and to find anything familiar.

“Captain Jones!”

He peered through a line of camouflaged soldiers to see Commander Phillips break through to greet him and his unit.

“Sir, Major Taylor is still out there, and we have no time to waste.”

“That’s not your concern any longer, Captain! Follow me.”

The Commander turned to lead them away, and when his back was turned, the Captain shook his head in astonishment. The Commander had no concern for anything or anyone but his orders. He turned to his troops and gave them a hand gesture to stay put, and that he didn’t anticipate being long. Phillips led him into a mobile armoured command vehicle where Brigadier Dupont and several other officers were sitting before a digital overlay map of the city. Lieutenant Colonel Girard stood as he entered.

“Captain Jones! Welcome!”

He outstretched his hand to the British officer in friendship.

“Colonel, good to see you.”

The siege of Brest had been a bitter battle that both men would gladly have forgotten, but it was still fresh in their memories.

“I do hope you have replaced your armour, Sir.”

The Frenchman nodded with a pained expression about his face.

“As much as could be hoped for.”

The room went silent as Jones turned to his Commander who was awaiting him.

“Captain Jones, I have been authorised to award you with the Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of your services to the crown and our allies.”

The Commander held out a polished box with the medal. Jones knew that it should have been handed out officially at a ceremony, but he could forgive them in their current situation. What concerned him more was that it was clearly being given in part as a bribe.

“A formal award ceremony will take place following your return home. Congratulations, Captain.”

Jones’ eyes shot up from the medal to the Commander’s face. He could already see what was happening. He was being sent home.

“Sir, thank you, but we surely cannot leave here?”

“French forces are being bolstered by European and Eastern allies, so we must now look to our own lands.”

“Sir, we were combined with Major Taylor’s marines, and we have a duty to him and his troops. He is overdue from a reconnaissance mission. We can’t leave him out there…”

“Captain, this is not up for discussion. You have your orders. All British forces are to return to UK soil immediately. We have aircraft inbound. Expect pick up in under an hour.”

He turned to a map of the area and pointed to a marked out section.

“The designated landing zone is here at the east end of Concorde Square. Make sure you are on the transports when they leave.”

Jones turned back to the French Colonel who he had become so close to.

“We all have our orders,” said Girard.

The Captain could see Dupont wipe his brow behind the other men. The Brigadier was not happy with the state of affairs. Jones wanted nothing more than to question the Commander and reason with him, but he knew it was not just unprofessional and ill-disciplined, it was also futile. He turned back to Phillips.

“Somewhere we can get some grub, Sir?”

“A ration point has been set up. You will find it marked on the map outside. That will be all, Captain.”

Jones nodded and turned away without a salute. He strode out from the command vehicle to be met by a familiar face, Chandra.


“That’ll be Major, the promotion was only temporary, and we have more officers than we need now.”

“Sorry to hear that, Major.”

Chandra walked with a limp and was using a crutch in one hand, but she wore full gear with a rifle sling around her back and a helmet hung from her belt.

“Major, we are being sent back home.”

“Yes, unfortunately, I already know. They want us back to keep the country safe. After the government saw how quickly the Mechs rolled up to Paris, they want to avoid that state of affairs with London.”

“Can’t the Navy and Air Force handle that?”

“In theory, yes, you would hope so, but they want us back all the same.”

“You know Taylor is still out there? He went out on a recon mission on the northern outskirts and has been out of contact since. He should have been back by now.”

“I hadn’t heard, you think he’s found trouble?”

“In my gut, I know it.”

Chandra turned and headed for their men who lay about the truck. She gestured for him to follow.

“We move out in one hour, Captain.”

“Yes, the Commander has already made that clear.”

“Then you have one hour to burn.”

He stopped and looked at the Major, making sure he had heard her right.

“Major, Phillips will have my balls if I leave this base.”

“And if Taylor needs help, and you aren’t there to give it, how would you feel?”

“It is still a blatant breach of orders.”

“I cannot force you to do anything, Captain, but I would not leave a friend out there. You find the Major and get back here within the hour, then there’s no problem. Get out there and find that he needs help, and then we’ll deal with the circumstances when we have to.”

“The Commander…”

“The Commander works behind a desk. He’s a decent man, but he has no care for the troops in the field.”

Jones nodded, it was all the confirmation he needed to do what he knew was right. He strode up to the troops.

“Commander says we leave in one hour, time to get some grub.”

Green looked up at the Captain. They had eaten recently. Jones turned back to the command truck to see the Commander watching them from the door. He spoke to his men quietly.

“Taylor needs our help, and as far as Phillips is concerned, we’re getting a meal. So, on your feet.”

They enthusiastically got moving. The British paras had become close friends with the marines over the last week, thinking of them all as the single unit they had been amalgamated into. Chandra smiled as she watched them troop out of sight from the command truck. Jones watched to see that they were clear, and then put his hand out to stop them.

“Most of you will have to stay here to cover for us, so I want three volunteers.”

“I’ll go,” said Green.

Jones nodded in gratitude. The Lieutenant had been more than useful.

“We’ll go,” said one of the Johnsons.

The two brothers would rarely be separated. Even the Major referred to them by their nicknames, Monty and Blinker.

“Alright, let’s do this. We head on together. The four of us will fork off as soon as we have mixed with the other units. It’s vital that Phillips has no idea of our intentions until long after we have gone, or at all if possible. Matthews, I’m leaving you in charge.”

“Got it, Sir,” replied the young Lance Corporal.

“Alright, let’s move out.”

The group of paras ambled towards the ration wagons, giving every indication that they were relaxed and ready to settle down. Jones looked to Matthews. The soldier was completely unfazed by the situation, having absolute confidence in his team.

“If we are caught, there will be hell to pay. Do what you can to give us a clear run, but don’t put your neck out.”

“Don’t worry about us, Captain. You just find the Major. We’ve lost enough brothers already, don’t let that tally increase.”

Jones nodded in both agreement and gratitude. They reached a swarm of troops from different regiments and nations who were scattered across an area the size of a football pitch. As they dispersed into the mass of camouflage, Jones surveyed the situation. The command truck was out of view, so they were well covered.

“Alright, that’ll do, break.”

He split off from the others towards the northern perimeter, the other three men following suit. Moments later they were at the rim of the square and winding their way through lines of parked vehicles. They found a small jeep, similar to what they were used to.

“This’ll do, get in.”

The Captain leapt into the driver’s seat and looked down at the controls, trying to find the engine start.

“Going somewhere, Captain?”

Jones jumped in his seat and shot a look up above the screen as he reached for his sidearm. Sergeant Dubois stood in front of the vehicle. He gave a sigh of relief and relaxed his shoulders although his pulse still raced.

“Can’t imagine you were given the authority to commandeer this vehicle?” she asked.


The Captain replied with an exhausted tone and dipped his head. The French Sergeant had done them a good turn back in Brest, and he felt shamed at having been caught by her taking one of the vehicles.

“If you’re going out, you’ll want a little more armour, Captain.”

He shot a glance up to the woman, hoping he had heard her right.

“Come with me.”

“You could get in major trouble for this, Sergeant.”

She turned back to them as they walked.

“The world is already in deep trouble, Captain, so it can’t get any worse.”

Jones smiled in response.

“So you are going after someone, I take it?” she asked.

“Why would you think that?”

“A small team without permission going into unprotected territory, why else would you risk your lives?”

The Captain could not hide it. Dubois had a sharp mind and had already proven to be a fine soldier. She still bore scars on her face from the wounds sustained a week ago, and several of them would never fully heal.

“Major Taylor. He went out hours ago and hasn’t returned or been in contact. He was investigating some peculiar readings from surveillance images.”

“And you think he found trouble?”

“I bet money on it. We’ve been ordered to return across the channel within the hour. If we can’t find the Major, nobody will.”

She looked at him. “You’re a loyal friend.”

“Without men like Taylor, we wouldn’t have got this far. I am not willing to give up on him.”

The Sergeant stopped at a vehicle they had reached and tapped the hull.

“Here’s my girl.”

It was a medium weight, six-wheeled armoured car with small turret and light cannon.

“After we lost our armour in Brest, the survivors were reformed as a reconnaissance and infantry support battalion. These were the only vehicles that could be spared to replace it.”

“That’s a bit of a step down.”

“Hey, we’re still alive, that counts for a lot.”

The Captain wished he could take the words back, but it was too late.

“True, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“Enough of your apologies, Captain. We have a job to do, climb aboard.”

She hauled open the rear door allowing the troops to clamber in. The vehicle had seating for six as well as its three crew. Jones climbed through into the commander’s chair next to Dubois’ driving position.

“Where are your crew, Sergeant?”

“Nowhere you need to worry about, Captain, so where are we heading?”

Jones looked at the map displayed on a screen in front of him. Paris was quickly becoming familiar from such a view. His hand stretched across the map, tracing the steps Taylor had explained to him before he left.

“Here, the Major saw a small anomaly on surveillance photos, and that’s the area.”

“That’s about half an hour’s drive from here, if we are quick.”

Before the Captain could respond, Dubois planted her foot to the floor and the vehicle rushed forwards. The crew watched as they stormed out of the base without opposition. Nobody questioned troops that were heading anywhere but east. It was not long before they were free of the war-torn centre and driving among peaceful and intact neighbourhoods. Jones had begun to forget anything but the devastated rubble of the west.

“You got ammo aboard?”

“Of course, Captain.”

He turned back to Monty. “Get on that gun.”

“Got it, boss.”

The man weaved his way through the cramped seating to the gun position.

“We expecting trouble?” he asked.

“Always,” replied Jones.

The Captain turned to Dubois. She rode towards danger with no fear or regard for her own life at all.

“Will this armour hold up to their weapons?” he asked.

“I haven’t found out personally. I’ve heard they can take a few hits from the Mechs’ guns but nothing from their heavier weapons.”

“It’s an improvement over soft skin.”

They heard a heavy clunk as Monty loaded the turret-mounted cannon.

“Think you can handle that?” shouted Jones.

“Looks pretty simple, Captain!”

“Fuck!” Taylor screamed through clenched teeth as Silva reset his leg.

He spat out the block he’d been biting down on and took a deep breath.

“We should never have come out alone.”

“We didn’t, Sir,” replied Silva.

“Should have brought the whole battalion out for this.”

Silva helped lift the Major’s foot and rested it on a stool as he winced in pain. The Sergeant picked up two metal poles which he had collected from the store and placed them either side of the leg.

“It’s gonna hurt like hell to walk, but at least you’ll be on your feet.”

“Right now, anything is an improvement.”

Silva picked up a packet of duct tape and ripped it open. He quickly wrapped the silver tape around with some pressure along the length of most of the leg.

“That should do it.”

Taylor lowered his leg and winced with pain as it dropped to the ground. He pulled himself up. His wounded left leg was at least now useable. The splint had given the strength for him to walk. He hobbled a few steps and was glad to be back on his own two feet. Mitch stopped and froze at a sound from outside. Silva reached for his gun, but Taylor put his hand up to call for silence.

The two marines stared intently at the glass front of the shop, trying to identify the noise. Seconds later they heard footsteps that were too heavy to be human. Silva’s eyes widened as his hand slowly reached for the rifle on the table. They both knew that they were woefully under equipped to take on any kind of attack, but neither would they go down without a fight.

The footsteps grew louder until their source came into view. It was one of the taller and more bulky invaders they had become so familiar with, and it strode past. They stood silently, hoping to go unnoticed. The Mech continued on, but neither man relaxed as they knew that the enemy soldier would not be alone.

A moment later a second Mech passed the window next to them. They could hear the footsteps of another following, but little else. They rightly came to the conclusion that it was a three-troop scouting party. With the brief gap after the two Mechs, Taylor hobbled quickly back to the table where his launcher rested, snatching it up. He couldn’t kneel and so took up position behind a broad support beam.

Taylor held his breath and peered around from the cover to the street. The shelving units of the hardware store obscured much of the view. The third Mech strode into sight. They waiting patiently in the hope that it would pass them by, but they already feared that they would not have such luck. The beast stopped as it got towards the end of the shop.

Taylor slipped back behind cover. He looked down at Silva who huddled behind a counter. He noticed a hand grenade hanging from the man’s armour, remembering he had one also. He looked down and gripped it, thankful of any advantage they could get. He pulled it from his vest and took it in two hands, letting the launcher rest on its sling.

The Sergeant watched Taylor and waited for his signal. They both listened intently for any sign of the Mechs. The nearest one came to a stop, turned and took a few paces back. They both knew that the beast was suspicious and was therefore investigating. Taylor looked down at the floor. They had walked dirty and wet foot prints into the shop. Mitch wanted to kick himself for leaving such crumbs for the enemy, but it was too late.

The door of the shop opened, and their hearts raced as they heard a Mech stomp inside. Taylor looked down at Silva and nodded. He twisted the grenade and leaned out from cover just enough to see his target. He threw the grenade and ducked back behind cover before the Mech could respond. The explosion was deafening, shaking everything in the room and sending boxes and shelving flying.

Taylor then lifted his launcher in readiness, but his ears were still ringing. The building fell silent once again. They had expected to come under a hail of gunfire, but the shots never came. Mitch peered around from the cover to investigate, just catching a glimpse of a Mech in the street looking around for enemy positions. They must have assumed it was a trap or a mine.

He looked across the shop entrance. Most of the glass had been blow out from the building and littered the street. He stayed utterly still, watching from his hidden position. The enemy soldier was hunched slightly with its weapon ready to fire. It was still looking around in all directions. Another strode up to it and relaxed slightly. Taylor could tell that they were communicating by their body language, but he could hear nothing.

He turned his head just a fraction and peered down at Silva. The Sergeant was still hidden from view and awaiting his orders. Mitch could see no fear in his eyes, and he was ready for anything. The Major turned back to the street. The two Mechs were looking at the site of the explosion and their fallen comrade. They moved cautiously towards the rubble. Taylor’s grip on his weapon instinctively tightened.

As much as he wanted to avoid a fight, Mitch knew that they stood little chance of moving freely with the Mechs walking the streets. The odds were not in their favour, but at least they had maintained the element of surprise. He watched as they stepped up to the twisted armour of the Mech that was scattered across a three metre area.

He looked back at the Sergeant and gave him the nod. Silva leapt up and trained his rifle on the closest enemy, firing a long burst into the mirrored armour that protected their heads. The continuous stream of bullets into the weak visor caused it to crack, and the bullets smashed through. The Mech went limp, dropping with a heavy smash to the ground.

Taylor leapt out from cover before the body of the creature had landed and fired his launcher from the hip. At the close proximity he couldn’t see where the shot had struck, and it blinded them as it exploded. The blast threw the Major off his feet, and he landed hard on the store floor. Items crashed around the shop as the merchandise was tossed to the wind, along with Taylor’s weapon that was thrown from his hands.

The shock of falling briefly disorientated him. The wind had been taken out of him and pain surged down his back to the wound in his leg. He was thankful for his armour softening the blow, but it was little relief at the time. For a few seconds he lay flat. He didn’t have the willpower or energy to get to his feet. Each battle he fought seemed to wear his body and mind down a little further, and he wondered how much more he could take.

“Sir, you okay?” asked Silva.

Taylor did not respond. He was still stunned.


The Sergeant appeared above him, looking down with first concern and then a smile. He reached out his hand to help Taylor stand up. The Major gladly accepted and was hoisted back upright. He patted the Sergeant on the shoulder, and a puff of dust burst from it. Taylor grinned at the Sergeant, amazed that they still lived. He caught a glimmer of movement, and the smile quickly turned to fear; a change the Sergeant immediately responded to.

Silva turned quickly on the spot and lifted his rifle to the hip. A humanoid-shaped creature bore down on them at great speed. It was extremely thin at the waist but had strong and broad shoulders. They immediately recognised the thing as an enemy from the blue blood dripping down its face and into its clothing. The beast wore some kind of snug compression suit, but it was covered in dust and blood.

Not waiting another second, Silva let out a burst with his rifle. The shots ripped through the beast’s abdomen, but it didn’t stop coming at them. The thing rushed at them like a raging bull. It took hold of Silva’s rifle and ripped it from his hands. The two men reached for their sidearms, but the monster smashed the Sergeant vigorously with the rifle, launching him two metres across the room.

Just as the Major got a grip on his pistol and drew it, the beast quickly turned and gave a fast back handed strike to his face. The fist felt like iron crashing into his jaw. The pistol flew from his hands as he twisted and crashed to the floor face first. He put out his hands to break his fall, but he still landed hard.

He knew his life depended on it, so he twisted onto his back and reached for his combat knife. The monster rushed towards him and leapt onto him. He had little time to think or act. Mitch thrust the blade into the beast’s stomach. It let out a screech, but he couldn’t tell if it was in fear or anger.

Taylor tried to pull the knife out for a second strike, but it was firmly encased by the beast’s flesh. Warm blue blood trickled onto his hand. On his back, and without a weapon, he realised how helpless he was and accepted that he’d finally met his end. The beast struck him with a hammer fist, breaking his nose with a single strike. Blood burst across his face, and his vision blurred slightly. His head twisted to the side from the force as he caught sight of a large iron wrench.

The Major knew it was his last opportunity to save his life, and that of the Sergeant who was unconscious across the floor. He wriggled slightly from the beast’s grip and quickly grasped the wrench. As he swung it, the creature lifted its arm in defence. The wrench struck its arm like metal on metal. It smashed the arm down slightly, and Taylor didn’t hesitate to strike again.

The second hit from the large wrench caused a sickened crunch to emanate from the beast’s arm and forced it down. He hit a third time against the creature’s face with all the strength he had. The force sent sharp pains all through his arm and body, but the stunned the creature was sent tumbling over beside him.

The wounded and bloody Major scampered to get on top of the alien before it could recover. He raised the wrench to strike. The beast lifted its wounded arm as if to protect its face, and he recognised fear in its narrow eyes. The creature’s skin was a dark glimmering blue, almost black. It was so similar to a human, and yet still so far apart. It had a broad jawline and wide eyes. The nose was flat against the face but with a very narrow bridge.

Taylor stopped briefly to see the beast’s emotion before crashing the wrench down onto its face. The strike was met with a deadening crunch. Mitch lifted and struck again, and a third time. He had little idea about the constitution of their enemy, but it was clearly stronger than theirs. He threw down the wrench and looked down at the result of his labour.

The alien lay lifelessly beneath him, its face mangled and disfigured. Blood ran down the wrench and the Major’s arm, mixing with his own and the layer of dirt. He put the end of the tool onto the floor and used it to support his weight to stand up. Taylor stared at the creature. He was intrigued and also concerned to be sure it was dead.

He staggered over to Silva. The Sergeant lay partially propped up against a chest of drawers, but he showed no signs of life. Taylor checked his pulse and sighed in relief at feeling the life still pulsing through the Sergeant. Taylor knelt down and picked up his weapon, hauling himself into a seated position on the table beside Silva.

Taylor knew he could do nothing but wait. He had no means of transport and couldn’t carry the Sergeant, nor leave him there. He rested back against the wall and propped up his splinted leg on the table top. Mitch laid the launcher to rest across his thighs and rested his head back. He wished for sleep, but the pain would not let him.

Chandra looked through the glass into the room where Sergeant Eleanor Parker was resting and recovering. She had not met the Sergeant before, but she was well aware of her importance to Taylor. The Major had been willing to disobey the orders of his commanders in order to save the Sergeant. She knew that relationships amongst troops were not allowed, but she also appreciated that it had led Taylor and his troops to their assistance.

She wondered if she would still be alive if it were not for Major Taylor. It humbled her to know that he had led to the saving of so many lives. This made her compelled to do what she could for Parker. Still using a crutch, she could do little to help Taylor himself, so this was the least she could do.

Parker’s head turned. Her hair was loose and spread across the pillow. Her blue-grey eyes were piercing. She appeared to recognise the Major, but they had never met before. She didn’t move another bone in her body, but her eyes invited Chandra in. The Major stepped through the doors into her room.

Eleanor lay in her regulation marine shirt and boxers. Across the room lay a clean and pressed battledress uniform and it was obviously newly issued. Beside it on the counter lay a battered set of armour and a well worn but impeccably clean rifle.

“The Major was able to find me a new uniform, but the rest had to be sourced from the field, Ma’am,” said Eli.

Chandra nodded, but she knew that meant they had come from dead or severely wounded marines.

“We have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, Sergeant.”

Eli studied her rank pips and name patch. It was clear that she knew of the Major. Chandra looked uneasy at addressing the Sergeant, and she could see it.

“Ma’am, you wouldn’t be here if Taylor was alright. You have your own people to take care of. What has happened to the Major?”

Chandra stubbornly nodded and sighed.

“I don’t have a lot of news right now. Taylor headed out with three of his marines on a scouting mission earlier today, but he has been out of contact and has yet to return.”

“Where is Captain Friday?”

“Still at the front line, I’m afraid.”

“Then the Major has been left out there?”

“Not quite. We have been ordered back home, but we have a little time to kill. Captain Jones is out there now.”

Parker smiled a little. She had gotten to know the Captain from their joint training missions and had always liked him.

“How many troops has the Captain taken with him?” asked Parker.

“Just a handful, it is already a breach of his orders.”

Parker’s eyes widened. “If Taylor has got into trouble, then do you really think a handful of troops will make a difference?”

Chandra gave the Sergeant a scornful look. She had never been spoken to in such a way by an NCO. She quickly calmed down as she gave further thought to the Sergeant’s words and her situation, but she was left speechless. Parker sat up wincing in pain and swivelled her legs over the side of the bed.

“Where do you think you’re going, Sergeant?”

“To find my Major, Ma’am.”

She dropped off the side of the bed and painfully stood up. She had clearly only just begun to walk again. Chandra could tell that she was a fighter, more so than most.

“I cannot let you do so, Sergeant.”

Parker stopped and righted herself, squaring up to the Major. She had no care for the authority of her rank.

“You are being sent home, Major. Then I am assuming the Inter-Allied Company has been disbanded? You have no authority here anymore.”

She moved to step past the Major and towards her weapon, but Chandra outstretched her hand and stopped her.

“Sergeant Parker, I have no desire to boss you around. Major Taylor cares greatly for you, but he would not want you to throw your life after his.”

She turned and stared into Chandra’s eyes.

“Then help me, Major. Help me get him back safe.”

Taylor hadn’t moved for at least thirty minutes. His head lay back against the wall, and his body was limp. If it were not for the artillery bombardments that rumbled the ground every few minutes, and the pain, he would gladly have fallen into a deep sleep. He was astonished to still be alive, but he wondered how the two of them could ever get out alive. The invaders were building up to a major offensive, and so their position would soon be overrun.

The sound of a vehicle caught his attention. He focused on it, trying to identify its origin. It was a light vehicle and wheeled. It didn’t fit with any of what he’d seen of the invaders, but after his experience of the flying troops that morning, he was not eager to jump to conclusions.

Despite the rumble of artillery in the background, the neighbourhood was quiet, and he could hear the vehicle coming from many blocks away. The silence of the room was broken by a few muffled words from Silva.

“Sergeant, keep it down.”

He was glad that Silva was regaining consciousness, but they could not afford to be identified by any enemy forces.

“Sir, what happened? Where are we?”

“Quiet, Sergeant.”

Taylor carefully lifted his launcher in readiness. He knew that he had no more ammunition other than what was already loaded in the weapon. They couldn’t survive another fight. Silva was coming to his senses and dragged his rifle up from the ground. Taylor wasn’t sure if Silva was fully aware of their situation, but he understood enough that they could be heading for another fight.

The vehicle ran quietly and not like anything they had heard from the Mechs. Taylor could feel every trickle of sweat drip down his face as they anxiously waited. It was almost in view when it came to a halt. The occupants had been alerted by the debris across the street and had stopped to investigate. The Major would never have chosen to stay at the scene of the fight, but he’d not had any other choice.

They listened as metal hatches opened, identifying it as an armoured vehicle. Taylor lifted his launcher to his shoulder. Footsteps grew nearer. They sounded like human steps, but the Major wondered if he was just being optimistic.

“Major Taylor!”

Mitch’s heart raced with relief and excitement at hearing the familiar voice of Captain Jones although he didn’t lower his weapon.

“Major Taylor!” Monty called.

Silva turned back to Taylor with a broad grin. He could not believe their luck.

“In here!” he shouted.

Seconds later the group of soldiers appeared at the smashed windows. Jones looked shocked at the wreckage, and he could barely tell the two soldiers apart from the debris and fallen Mechs.


Jones rushed in through the opening where the shop front windows used to stand. He crashed over glass and a pool of Mech blood that squelched as he passed through. He looked down at Silva, glad to see another survivor.

“We found your jeep, thought you were goners.”

“Almost, Captain, much longer out here and we’d never have made it home.”

Jones looked down at the splint on his leg and back up at his blood soaked face.

“You look like hell.”

“Better than those bastards.”

He gestured to the body of a Mech. Jones’ eyes widened at the sight of one of the creatures out of its armour. At first he thought it was the body of a dead human.

“Christ, so that’s what they look like! They don’t look so tough.”

“Believe me, Captain, you don’t want to get to blows with them.”

Jones nodded and smiled. He could see from the Major’s state that he spoke the truth. He reached forward and pulled Taylor up. Silva staggered to his feet but wobbled and fell against a shelving unit.

“Give him a hand!” Jones ordered.

Monty leapt in and took the Sergeant onto his shoulder.

“Let’s get the hell out of this shithole, Captain.”

They moved out of the shop across heaps of smashed glass and rubble.

“Remind me if we get through this, to check Paris off as a city ever to visit.”

The Captain chuckled.

“With you there, Major.”

They hobbled out into the street to be greeted by the other paras and Dubois. She was sticking half out of the driver’s hatch and gave the Major a mock salute. He returned the gesture.

“Good to see you again, Sergeant. I wish it could have been under better circumstances than last time.”

“At least we’ll be driving out of here, Sir.”

Taylor nodded as Jones helped him around the vehicle and in through the rear door. He winced in pain as he lowered himself into a seat. There was barely a part of his body that didn’t hurt. Green hauled the thick door shut behind them.

“Let’s get moving, Sergeant!” shouted Jones.

The vehicle lurched forward and quickly gained some speed. They struck the debris from the building, shaking the vehicle around but easily overcoming it. Taylor looked at Jones with relief. He had accepted that they would die out there; yet again his companions had come through for him.

“Don’t stop for anything, Dubois!” Jones ordered.

He reached forward and tapped the power button to the display monitors attached to external cameras. They passed through one empty block after another until they were just a kilometre out from the defences. The armoured car took a bend and their jaws dropped as the sight before them. Ten Mechs stood in front of the bridge they needed to pass.

“Monty, get on that gun!” screamed Jones.

“What do we do, Sir?”

“Go through them, Dubois!”

Jones didn’t like the idea, but he knew that they’d likely not have any better luck if they diverted to another bridge.


The vehicle surged towards the bridge as Monty opened fire. The first few rounds landed short. The Mechs were lifting their weapons to fire. They all knew that the vehicle wouldn’t stand up to much against the enemy fire. The next shots from the turret struck one of the Mechs, smashing it to the ground. A second later, the area around it erupted with an explosion, quickly followed by several more.

Muzzle flashes littered the rooftops of the buildings either side of the bridge. The Mechs spun around in a desperate attempt to return fire against the overwhelming onslaught. Rifle fire, rockets and grenades pounded their position, quickly ripping the aliens into twisted metal and burning rubble.

Dubois didn’t slow and rushed towards the burning scene. They didn’t want to linger in hostile lands for a second longer. They reached the bodies of the Mechs, and one was thrashing about on the ground, trying to get to its feet. Dubois headed right for it, striking the beast at speed. The crew didn’t even notice the impact as the armoured hull smashed it to the ground.

Taylor and Jones looked at the display screens. They could see friendly soldiers standing up on the rooftops. They could make out a mix of British and American uniforms. Sergeant Dubois drew the vehicle to a close as they got over the bridge and to safety. Taylor reached for the door and swung it open, clambering out on his splinted leg.

Chandra was stood in the doorway of the building beside them. She was leaning on her crutch but was in full combat attire with her rifle slung across her chest.

“You haven’t been cleared for duty, Major.”

She smiled in response. Taylor limped over to her position.

“No chance you were authorised to come find us.”

“Nope, but that didn’t stop one of your Sergeants convincing me, and she has as much respect for authority as yourself.”

Taylor’s eyes lit up. Chandra knew what his next question would be, and she pointed back to the bridge. Taylor turned to see Eleanor walking at the head of a group of troops returning across it. She caught sight of him and ran all out.

Eleanor let her rifle fall to her side and jumped at the Major, embracing him with a firm grasp. She pulled her head back and rubbed it against his, not caring for the blood and grime. She kissed him quickly, provoking whistles from the troops.

“I couldn’t lose you,” she said.


Taylor let her go and turned to Chandra. They both knew he was breaking many rules pursuing a relationship with one of his team. He wanted to ask why Chandra had not enforced disciplinary action, but she had already read his mind.

“We’re at war, Major. Some rules simply don’t apply.”

He strode over to her as quickly as he could on his leg and grabbed her with a strong hug, lifting Chandra off her feet, much to her surprise.

“Major!” she shouted.

He put her down with a broad grin spanning across his face. She blushed slightly as they both knew she should not encourage such activity.

“You saved our asses, Major, thank you.”

“Glad you made it. Clearly you have by now realised that the northern districts are no longer safe. We have trying days ahead of us, Major. We need you rested and ready to fight.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

He saluted her with a smile.

Chapter 4

Taylor awoke to a dark and drizzly morning. Parker’s head was resting on his shoulder. Chandra had managed to secure a room in a hotel for them near the main assembly area. The mattress was soft and cushioned, and the duvet smooth and thick. He’d not known such luxury, even in his own officer’s quarters.

He pulled the duvet back and sat up at the side of the bed. His leg had been reset and was held in an articulated leg brace. It allowed him full movement and strength while it healed; making him ninety-five percent combat effective already. He’d had a hot shower and was now clean, but his body was bruised and scarred.

The Major stood up and walked across the room. Despite him being able to walk, his muscles and joints still ached. He pulled back the curtains and looked out across the vast assembly and command area. It was long past sunrise. Chandra had kindly allowed them to sleep till they woke up naturally. He doubted it was all due to kindness as he was more valuable to them in a fully recovered state.

As he felt a warm hand touch his shoulder, Taylor flinched a little. He was always impressed at Parker’s stealthy agility. She wrapped her arms around him and braced her body against his back, resting her head against his shoulders.

“If only every morning could be like this,” she said.

“Add room service and I’d agree.”

She turned him around to reveal a bag of rations on a small table at the end of the bed.

“Got what I could in the night, but it’s a far cry from a fresh breakfast.”

Taylor smiled. It was a thoughtful gesture. He turned to look out of the window. In the distance, he could see the energy pulses striking their lines. They were only a kilometre or two back from the bombardments, but it was far enough to enjoy the rest period. He strolled over to the table, taking a seat. Eli joined him and reached forward, resting her hand on his. He looked up into her eyes.

“You risked everything for me,” she whispered.

“As did Jones for me, we are all in this for each other.”

She smiled. Taylor had not seen such sentimentality and love in her face before. She surprised herself and quickly took her hand back to reach for the food.

“You think we’ll make it through this?” she asked.

Taylor coughed to clear his dry throat, still surprised at how much he had learnt about their relationship, and what it meant to both of them.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some alien bastards take our planet.”

“Doesn’t really answer the question.”

He looked back up at her with a serious glare as he reached for a ration pack.

“Every day is a harder struggle, and we’re at the forefront of it. I can’t say our chances are good, but at least we’ll be fighting it side-by-side.”

She nodded, satisfied by his answer. They both knew there was little more they could ask under the circumstances. Before they could say another word, the comms on the dresser spluttered to life.

“Come in, Major Taylor.”

The two of them sighed, knowing that their time in peace and luxury was over. Mitch stood up. His body ached, but it was a relief to be so active after the vicious previous day. He strode across to the comms link. Eli lay back, putting her feet up as she opened her food packet.

“This is Taylor.”

“Sir, Commander Phillips is requesting your presence,” said Captain Friday.

“Where exactly?”

“I’m outside your building, Sir. I’ll take you to him.”

“I’ll be out shortly, Captain.”

He put the communicator down and looked back to Eli with disappointment.

“Guess our vacation is over.”

She huffed as she dropped her feet down from the chair and stood up briskly. They watched each other as they pulled on their clothes and armour, mesmerised by one another. The Major’s armour was scratched and battered, and his clothing torn in a few places. They had no spares to replace it, but at least it had been cleaned overnight.

Taylor ripped open the door and stepped out into the hallway. It was alive with activity. It seemed the hotel had become one of many desirable locations for the officers of all the armies in the area. Most were high ranking and had clean uniforms. Many of them stopped and stared at the battle worn marines, humbled by the signs of their recent combat experience.

Nobody said a word to them as they made their way out of the luxury quarters. Friday met them at the door, and Ortiz and Campbell were sitting on the wall outside. They turned and looked in with shock at the Major’s recovery. The last time they saw him he was a wreck, but now he looked ready to go right back into battle.

“Phillips wants my balls, I take it?”

“No idea, Sir, but it sounded urgent.”

“When isn’t it?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Alright, lead the way.”

They marched through line after line of temporary structures and vehicles. Even on their largest training exercises, they had never seen such an assembly of forces. Friday led them to Phillips’ command vehicle. They stopped outside as the Major stepped in. He was greeted by Phillips stood at his briefing table, alongside Chandra and Jones.

“Welcome back, Major.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Phillips waited for a moment, expecting Taylor to speak, and leading to an uncomfortable silence.

“You know very well that you have caused utter chaos to the Inter-Allied Company, Major. I would have you disciplined for it, but I cannot afford to lose any soldier that can still carry a rifle.”

Taylor ignored the Commander’s ridicule of his actions, only angering Phillips further.

“It still exists then? The Inter-Allied Company?”

“For now, but your troops will remain under the command of Captain Friday.”

Taylor shot a glance at Chandra, trying to understand the circumstances.

“Sir, my marines were sent to assist you and we’ve done a damn fine job of saving your asses. You can’t relieve me of my command!”

Phillips smiled with an amused grin. He had been put out by the insubordination of his officers, and he was now enjoying seeing Taylor suffer a little.

“These aren’t my orders, Major. General White has ordered you to re-deploy to Ramstein Air Base. Apparently, there is some equipment being trialled there which could make a major difference in this war, and he wants you to pursue it.”

Taylor was initially shocked at the news. It was not the disciplinary action or punishment that he had been expecting. That surprise quickly turned to concern and anger.

“Sir, I can’t just leave my marines out here!”

“You’ll do as you are ordered, Major!”

He dipped his head and shook it in disbelief. After having narrowly survived and got back to his companions, he was once more being dragged away from them. He looked up to Chandra and Jones, but he could see that he had no choice but to comply. Deep down he knew it was the right thing to do, but it saddened him to leave his friends once more.

“Alright, Commander, fill me in.”

“As you can imagine, Major, our leaders are not confident about our situation in this war. Holding Paris has been our only major victory yet, and it may not last. The enemy is enveloping the city, and we believe they are building up to a major offensive. While we are going to need every soldier we can get, your task may be more vital than any one of ours.”

“This technology, what is it?”

“I only know a little, Major, but from what I hear it could greatly increase the combat affectivity of our units.”

“If it’s experimental, then how can we hope to get any of it into production fast enough?”

“You leave that to those who manage such things, Taylor. If we can hold out, then this war could go on for some time, so we need to pursue every avenue that could give us an edge in this battle.”

“When do I leave?”

“An Air Force transport is putting down as we speak. I want you to take Sergeant Silva with you. He’ll be a valuable asset, and it will give you both a chance to heal up.”

“And the rest of the company, Sir?”

“Chandra will remain in command in a non-combat role from this location. The company will be deployed at the defences of the city.”

“And these orders come directly from General White?”

The Commander could see the doubt in Taylor’s eyes. He didn’t much like his tone and questioning of authority.

“I haven’t got time for your games, Major. You’re shipping out and that’s final.”

Mitch nodded as he knew there was no merit in arguing further. After all his struggles, he felt that he was letting his friends down to leave them at the greatest battle that had been seen in their lifetimes.

“This better be worth it,” he countered.

Phillips stared at the Major. He hated his lack of respect, but could not help but give him some leeway after the brutal days he had seen.

“That’ll be all, Major.”

Taylor turned to leave but stopped and looked back at the Commander.

“I assume no actions will be taken again Captain Jones and Major Chandra for their hand in yesterday’s events?”

The Commander glared at him, and he was fuming inside.

“I do not have a choice in the matter, Major. You and your colleagues are reckless and subordinate, but you’re also some of the finest combat officers. As much I hate to say it, Major, we’re stuck with each other.”

Taylor grinned wickedly. He had the Commander over a barrel. All he wanted to do was get the job done and he didn’t need anyone getting in his way.

“Fall out, Major, you’ve got places to be.”

He nodded and strolled out from the room. He felt in part relieved that they were all okay, but also saddened to be leaving them once again. He walked out into the daylight to be greeted by Friday and the other two marines, all eager for the word. He looked to Friday.

“Captain, you’re taking charge of the marines, so I suggest you get in there to receive your marching orders.”

He turned to the other two marines, but the Captain interrupted him before he could speak.

“Where are you heading, Mitch?”

Taylor could see the concern in the Captain’s eyes. They had been good friends for a long time.

“To Ramstein. Those are our orders, and this time I want you to stick to them. You’ll remain under Chandra’s command. Good luck, Captain.”

Friday nodded and stepped past into the Commander’s vehicle. Taylor turned back to Ortiz and Campbell who were hanging on to his every word. It occurred to him that he had absolutely no idea where their troops were.

“Where’s the company?”

“Just around the corner, Sir,” replied Ortiz.

“Lead on.”

“Sir, if you don’t mind me saying, this is bullshit. We’ve lost enough already, how can we be split up now?” asked Campbell.

Taylor sighed, and their faces showed despair at losing the Major they had only recently got back.

“We’re marines. We go where we are told, fight when ordered to and die when called for. Where I am going, and what I am doing, could change our fate in this war. Stay the course, follow Chandra as you have me, and we may get through this.”

Campbell nodded, but he felt no happier about the situation.

“I don’t like it either, but we have a job to do, so let’s do it.”

The marine dipped his head, a little shamed at his doubt in their orders. He lifted his head up with a smile, pulling himself together.

“Semper fi, Sir.”

Taylor nodded in appreciation. They’d come from a long heritage of combat soldiers, but none of them could ever have predicted that they would themselves see such dire times. He gestured for the two men to lead on.

Jones stepped through into Phillips command vehicle.

“Ah, Captain, I assume the Major has sent you forth?”

“Yes, Sir,” he muttered.

“Take a seat, all of you.”

The three officers sat about the briefing table as the Commander walked around them in deep thought. They all knew that a grilling was coming. Phillips smiled as he paced around them all. They had all contravened his orders, and in doing so left them still in France.

“Captain Jones. Did I not give you a direct order to ensure that you were to ship out yesterday?”

He continued to pace around the room, speaking in a slow and steady voice.

“Did I not give you those exact orders in person?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Major Chandra, was I unclear about the time and location of your pickup?”

“No, Sir!” she exclaimed.

“Did I not specifically order you not to pursue Major Taylor?”

Chandra turned and glared at him. She knew they had done the right thing. Commander Phillips knew they had also, but he could not let them get away with breaking his orders so easily.

“And, Captain Friday, were you not posted to the western lines?”

“Yes, Sir, though our patrol was over, so we pursued the Major in our down time.”

The Commander spun around, glaring at the Captain and ready to explode. He took a deep breath and calmed himself.

“You are the officer who is least in the wrong here, Captain.”

He shook his head. He wanted to discipline them, but he knew that ultimately they had done the right thing. He rested on the back of his chair and looked up.

“I know I’ll get nowhere with this. The Major needed help. You put further troops at risk. This time it worked out, and I am glad we have Taylor back. But I cannot have my officers disobeying my orders. Without discipline, we are lost.”

“It won’t happen again, Commander,” said Chandra.

Phillips nodded. He had no doubt that they would do the same thing again under similar circumstances, but he’d have to live with it.

“Sir, what happened to our orders to return home?” asked Jones.

“Our last planes have already left. Command has instructed us to now stay and assist with the defence of Paris.”

“With what, Sir? We can’t even muster two platoons between us,” stated Chandra.

Phillips pulled out his chair and sat down with a weary sigh.

“The remnants of a company from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers are still active in the city. They fought at Nantes and all the way back to here, and they are a tough bunch of lads. The truth is, you have too many officers and they have too few. Just one Lieutenant left amongst them.”

The Commander tapped a few buttons at the side of the table, causing it to light up with a map display of their defences.

“The bridge that you engaged the Mechs at yesterday during Taylor’s rescue, it’s a solid position to defend, as you had clearly already realised. I am merging the Welsh into the 2 ^ nd Inter-Allied. I am also having any Brits still in the field hospitals ready to return to duties sent to you.”

“Sounds like a real cluster fuck,” said Friday.

“It’s far from ideal, Captain, but I can only work with what I have. I will be working with Brigadier Dupont from now on and will remain under his command for the foreseeable future. I figure that you should be able to muster a couple of hundred soldiers at that bridge.”

Jones shook his head in astonishment. They all knew they were scraping the barrel.

“And armour, Sir?”

“I should be able to get you a detachment from the German division, but it’s not going to be much. You are to be stationed at the bridge until further notice. You can take up residence in the nearby buildings. I’ll ensure supplies are brought to you.”

Chandra looked down at the map. She could see a vast amass of troops along the west and south perimeter of the city.

“Sir, are we expecting an attack in the north?”

“I wouldn’t be putting you there if I didn’t think so, Major. Based on what we have seen the last two days, we expect a major offensive is imminent. Paris stands in defiance. If they think at all like us, they’ll not want it to stay that way.”

“Air cover, Sir?” asked Jones.

“Limited. They’ve taken a real beating this last week. What is left has little ordnance left to shoot.”

“Then we’re in for a rough ride,” Friday mused.

“Will that be all, Sir?” asked Chandra.

“Affirmative, Major. You are to take up positions at the bridge immediately. I’ll have the troops and supplies sent to you as and when they become available.”

“Sergeant Silva!” shouted Taylor.

The Sergeant leapt to his feet and to attention. He had been cleaned up, but his face was still bruised. A bandage wrapped his head to cover the worst of his wounds. Taylor knew he’d be feeling like hell, but he didn’t show it. Seeing the battered Sergeant made him realise quite how rough he himself must look to those around him.

“Grab your gear, we’ve been re-assigned.”

“Which of us, Sir?”

“Just you and me, Sergeant.”

Parker leapt to her feet.

“What it to become of us, Sir?” she insisted.

He stopped and looked across at the faces of the few marines and paras that had survived the onslaught of little over a week of fighting. They looked far from impressed by the news. Ortiz and Campbell took their place among them, not wanting to be under the glare of the troops.

“I want to thank you all! You saved my life and that of the Sergeant. However, we all have our orders! General White wants me to pursue kit that could even up the odds. I’ll return ASAP with whatever equipment I can beg, borrow or steal that I think could make a difference.”

“Sir,” called Monty. “We may not survive that long.”

Taylor nodded. It was a tough leaving his friends and companions at such a time of need.

“Survivors of the Welsh Fusiliers and a few other units will be joining you shortly to bolster your numbers. The Commander may even be getting some armour support. General White thinks we have an opportunity here, and I will not see that opportunity wasted.”

He could see a number of them nodding in appreciation of the support, but it was also a bitter reminder of the tremendous losses they had all faced.

“You will remain under the command of Major Chandra. She will see to the organisation of the new troops. Good luck to you all!”

Some of them nodded, but there was little enthusiasm about the Major leaving. He knew there was nothing more that could be said to boost their spirits.

“Silva, let’s move.”

The Sergeant hauled his kit onto his shoulder with a groan from the various bruises in his body. The two marines strolled on towards the landing zone. As they took a bend around one of the vehicles, they were met by the sight of Sergeant Parker blocking their path. She stood for a second with a saddened expression before taking flight and launching herself at the Major.

Silva turned away as they embraced and kissed. He wanted to give them privacy, just as much as he wanted plausible deniability. Taylor finally put her down and she passed off between them. He turned to watch her leave and then looked back to the Sergeant.

“You know back home you’d probably lose your command for such activity, Sir?”

“But we aren’t at home, Sergeant. We’re in a god damn hell hole and with no end in sight. It’s the very last of my concerns.”

Silva nodded.

“As long as you don’t try and kiss me like that, Sir.”

Taylor chuckled as he patted the Sergeant on the back.

Parker returned to the camp just as Chandra and Jones came to a standstill at the edge. She had gotten rid of the crutch and was supporting her own bodyweight.

“The Commander has a bridge he wants us to defend, and you can probably guess its location.”

“You coming with us, Major?” asked Parker.

“Officially, no, I cannot return to combat duties until this leg is fully recovered. Between us, I can manage a rifle, so I’ll be there with you. Gear up! We leave in five!”

The troops jumped to life. It was clear that they were still not at all content with Taylor’s departure, but her presence had softened the blow a little. Sergeant Parker strode up to her with an inquisitive look.

“Taylor really doing what you say? Looking for super weapons that could change this war?”

She didn’t much like the Sergeant’s tone, nor her lack of respect, but she sympathised with Eli.

“That is what I have been told, Sergeant.”

Chandra took a step closer so that she could speak more quietly, and the other troops could not hear.

“Taylor is going to be fine. He’ll be in a safer place than any of us. Right now you need to focus on keeping yourself and the rest of us alive.”

Parker nodded as she grit her teeth. She knew she was letting her emotions get in the way of her job and acting in an unprofessional manner. After all that she had been through, it was difficult not to have Taylor at the centre of her thoughts.

“We’ll make it through this, Eli. I just need you to do your job,” whispered Chandra.

Eli smiled as she lifted her shoulders a little higher and regained her composure.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“That’ll be all, Sergeant.”

It was not long before they reached the bridge they had fought over just a day before. The wreckage of the Mechs was still on the site, though it had been hauled out of the vehicular route by the armoured units in the area. It was as desolate and quiet as when they had arrived the first time. It was clear to Chandra that they had few troops to divert to the defence of the northern districts.

“I want trenches either side of the bridge! Fortify the buildings this side!”

She beckoned for the two Captains to assemble at her side as the others got to work.

“You think we can hold here?” asked Jones.

“Your guess is as good as mine, Captain. We have our orders, and we’ll do our utmost to fulfil them.”

They looked across the bridge to the wreckage of the Mechs and down the long empty road before them.

“What kind of strength do we anticipate them to come in?” asked Friday.

Chandra shook her head.

“No idea, Captain. Dupont believes that an attack will come. The resistance Taylor faced yesterday would support that.”

“And if we can’t hold?” asked Jones.

“We’ll do what we can. Worst case, we move further in towards the city. If we can’t hold onto Paris, it does not bode well for the rest of Europe.”

“Perhaps you should have returned home. The channel has saved you many times throughout history,” said Friday.

“We stand together or not at all, Captain. No one nation can stand against the invaders. I can’t deny I’d gladly return to England, but it would only delay our fight a little longer.”

“And when the fight goes to America, what will you do Friday?” asked Jones.

“I’ll fight wherever I am ordered, or wherever I may be. We don’t fight as nations any longer. We are a world united.”

Chandra agreed as she stared back down the bridge in deep thought.

“To think this is what it took to finally bring us together, an apocalyptic war which could end our race.”

“It won’t last,” said Jones. “Everyone always wants more, and the Mechs want what we’ve got. If we ever win here, we’ll only want to take what is theirs.”

“War is in our blood, Jones, in the fibre of our species.”

Chandra dipped her head, overcome by the realisation that there was no end in sight. Was this to be her life, to fight until her last breath? She was alerted to the sound of tracks that wiped all the troubling thoughts from her mind. She turned to see a dust cloud emanating from between the buildings they had recently passed.

The three officers stood and stared at the sight as twelve tanks rolled into view, and the rest of the company cheered them on.

“Looks like the Commander came through,” said Jones.

The vehicles had German crosses painted onto their bodies and showed significant wear and repair from recent combat. The lead tank rumbled up and stopped just a few metres ahead of them. The roof hatch opened in the broad and flat turret. A sharply dressed officer in a black tanker’s suit stood up before them. His clean and well cut uniform was in stark contrast to his dusty and scarred tank.

“Major Chandra?”

He spoke in a coarse and distinctly German accent. He stood upright and proud, and with his arm resting on the holster about his waist. She could make out his rank.

“You’re in the right place, Captain.”

“Captain Becker, at your service.”

The German had a friendly grin spanning across his face and showing off his gleaming white teeth. He was a man who cared for his appearance more than most soldiers. It was obvious they had been involved in plenty of action in the previous week, but he looked as if he could have been on the parade ground.

“Good to have you, Captain.”

“Your orders, Major.”

“We are to hold this bridge until told otherwise, Captain. I suggest you go hull down.”

Chandra could just see the faintest of emotion in the man’s eyes. The prospect of standing against the Mechs once again was a fearsome one, but he did everything to hide it. He turned to the vehicles in his column and was already barking orders into his mic.

Taylor and Silva strolled onto the landing zone towards the transport that had been marked out for their journey. They stopped as a familiar face appeared on the loading ramp.

“Captain Reyes, you’re the last man I expected to see.”

“I’d have to say the same if I hadn’t already been briefed.”

Taylor stood back and looked at the transport craft.

“Bit of a step down from the Deveron?”

“She’ll be back, Major. Laid up until we need her again. Right now it’s too dangerous for her up there and too much of a target down here.”

Taylor nodded, but it was good to see a familiar face.

“I’ve got to be frank with you, Major. I’m amazed you’re even still alive. We were lucky to get off the Moon, but your luck seems to run on.”

“So far, Captain. Have you been briefed on our mission?”

“Yes, Sir. I am to act as your liaison officer at Ramstein. You’re stuck with me, Major.”

Taylor turned back to look at the camp. He felt awful for leaving almost all the friends he had in a city under siege, but there was nothing he could do about it. He turned back to the Captain.

“This better be worth it.”

They strolled up the ramp into the ship and were lifting off with a minute of taking a seat. They watched the city from the portholes one last time. The artillery continued to rain down through the vast metropolis. There was no sign of an enemy assault, but they all knew it was imminent.

Chandra walked along the lines of trenches that had already been set up. They had less than a quarter of the men they needed to fill them. She only prayed that the troops the Commander had promised them would materialise.

She stopped as a familiar and soothing smell wafted past her face. She sniffed again to be sure she wasn’t imagining it. She turned to see Captain Jones sat in the bottom of one of the trenches beside a military issue stove. Steam arose from it as tea brewed, Earl Grey.

“You want one, Major?” shouted Jones.

She smiled. She could not think of anything she’d rather have than a one-way ticket out of the city. She jumped down into the trench with the Captain and sat down on the firing ledge above him.

“Where on earth did you get that? All I could get at the camp was coffee.”

“Personal supplies, got enough to keep us going another few days. Dubois sourced it for me.”

“From where?”

“Those are the sort of questions you don’t ask, Major.”

She had visions of them being poached from the Commander’s own cabin. She hoped that was nothing more than her wild imagination, but sadly she knew it was likely a possibility. She didn’t care. Chandra knew there was a good chance the bridge would be the last place they ever saw on earth.

“Sergeant Dubois, you seem quite taken with her?”

Jones looked up with a quizzical and innocent expression.

“I won’t hold it against you, Captain. In this age, a little care could do us all some good.”

“Even if it compromises our integrity and professionalism?”

The Major knew that Jones was talking about Taylor’s insubordination to save Parker. They both knew it went against everything they had ever been taught, and yet they could fully understand.

“Mitch did what he thought was necessary. Sometimes life isn’t as rigid as the rules we are expected to work with. Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same?”

“That’s what worries me.”

“What, that we care for one another? That we are human? What are we fighting for, if it is not that?”

Jones nodded as he poured out the steaming hot tea into two mugs and passed her one. It had not rained that day, but the ground was still soaked from the previous day’s downpour. The smell of fresh rain at least hid much of the smell of death and destruction that filled the city. Chandra took a sip from the mug as a shout echoed around them.

“Incoming!” Captain Friday called.

Chandra threw down the mug and jumped up to look over the trench to the other side of the bridge. She could hear Becker shouting commands to his crew as they battened down their hatches. She lifted her rifle onto the ledge and used the scope to try and identify the threat. She squinted as she tried to make out what she was seeing.

“What the fuck are those?” asked Jones.

“Looks like some kind of hover platforms, sure aren’t ours?”

Light pulsed from one of the incoming targets, almost blinding Chandra through her scope. A second later the blast smashed into the ground just a few metres from their position, throwing chunks of concrete all over the two officers. Chandra shook off the dust and turned over.


Captain Becker was ahead of her, his tank firing before the word had left her mouth. The cannon fire was deafening, but it was also greatly appreciated by the troops. Chandra peered through her scope to see the results of their work. The enemy objects hovered a metre off the ground, and they were little more than the size of a motorbike. They had high-speed downwards facing rotors in each corner, and nothing but a fixed gun up top. She ducked quickly back down as fire rained down on their position.

The ground around them shook as the tanks continued to pound the incoming enemy, their machine guns opening fire now as well. She knew it was the signal that they had come into range. She turned to Jones who had a launcher in hand and was ready to go.

“Fire at will!”

She leapt up to a firing position on the trench shelf and quickly acquired a target. She figured there must be two dozen of the things. Cannon fire ripped many apart as their shots landed. Grenade fire hit a few dead on, the troops getting deadly accurate with them now. Just a few seconds later, the guns went silent as they looked on at the carnage.

The putrid smell of sulphur filled the air, clinging to their throats. Despite its foul taste, it was the residue of victory. The Major climbed out of the trench and stood up to survey the scene. The Mech devices were littered along the street across the bridge. They were little more than smouldering wrecks.

“You think those were manned?” asked Jones.

She lifted her rifle and peered at the wrecks through her scope.

“I guess not, they must be drones.”

She turned and looked all around. The entire area was mostly silent. She wondered for a moment what the purpose of the enemy drones was, a preliminary attack or a scouting party. Seconds later they heard artillery rounds whistling towards them.

“Cover!” she shouted.

She fell into the trench as the first pulses smashed into their positions. Chandra and Jones were huddled at the very bottom of the trench with their heads down to protect their faces. The ground around them shook violently as the fire landed everywhere. One of the buildings was struck dead on and blasted out across their positions. Rubble smashed against the tank turrets and rolled into their trench.

They could just make out the muffled sound of footsteps approaching them hard and fast. They lifted their weapons and aimed at the top of the trench. Seconds later a dozen soldiers jumped and rolled into the cover with them, ducking low into the trench. Explosions continued to erupt all around their positions. One of the troops looked up with a smile. He was a Lieutenant in the Royal Welsh.

“Lieutenant Yorath, reporting for duty, Ma’am!”

“You picked a hell of a time to turn up, Lieutenant!” she shouted.

“How many are you?” Jones asked.

“Eighty-five, plus a few dozen stragglers from other units!”

Chandra nodded in appreciation. She’d been promised re-enforcements, but she wouldn’t believe it until she’d seen them.

“You the officer in charge?” asked Jones.

“I’m the only officer, Sir.”

Jones gasped as he remembered the Commander briefing him on their losses. An artillery pulse landed just a few metres from them, shaking the ground so violently that it sent several of them tumbling from their kneeling position. As Chandra got back up, her ears were aching and her hearing numbed, but she realised the bombardment was over.

They looked around, checking that everyone was still in one piece. Chandra turned to Yorath who had a broad grin about his face.

“Is it always this rough round here?” he asked.

“You were in Nantes, were you not Lieutenant?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Then you already know the answer.”

His smile vanished as the memories of the brutal battle came back to him once more. Chandra found Yorath’s light tone to be rather unsettling in their present situation, but she knew that it was his way of coping with the carnage and losses.

“We’re in for a rough afternoon,” said Jones.

“Just had it, didn’t we?” asked Yorath.

“Drones and then artillery, it’s the preliminary stages to an assault.”

The Major staggered to her feet, still a little disorientated. Clambering out of the trench she looked on at the devastation. One of Becker’s tanks was belching smoke and was utterly destroyed. Two others had received lesser damage. One of the hatches prized open and the Captain climbed out. He looked on at the damage to the vehicles as if he had been personally offended. His crews were already climbing out to get to work on what repairs they could.

Several of the buildings had been smashed by the enemy fire. One was almost completely destroyed, and others had walls and roofs missing. The road was filled with vast craters.

“They missed the bridge,” said Yorath.

“Deliberately, I should think. They’ll be rolling over it before long,” said Jones.

“We could blow it.”

“They’d only replace it,” said Chandra. “And we may yet need it. There may be hostiles to the north, but they aren’t the only threat.”

She turned back to the two officers as Friday and Suarez approached to investigate the new arrivals. It was more troops than she’d had at her disposal since the fighting had begun.

“Listen up, we have some organising to do. I’ll command the paras as Platoon Alpha. Captain Friday, your marines will be Bravo. Jones, Suarez and Yorath, I want you to divide the Royal Welsh and the rest of the stragglers between you in Charlie, Delta and Echo.”

The officers nodded in agreement. They were glad to be getting back to some kind of structure and with respectable numbers. She looked around at the battle scarred district. The Major spotted a bank on one corner that overlooked the bridge with balcony sections above.

“I’ll take up position above the bank there. It’s probably one of the strongest buildings here. I doubt we have a lot of time, so get to it, Gentlemen.”

She shouted to the paras to join her as she strode towards the bank. The doors were ajar from where an artillery shell handed landed beside them and blown the frame apart. As she suspected, the building was extremely robust with better foundations and supports than most.

“Take up positions anywhere you can that overlooks the bridge!”

The bank was five storeys high with mostly offices higher up. She went two floors up and out onto a large balcony set up as an open air cafe. It gave a great position above the bridge, and the thick walls provided a relatively safe defence. As she walked towards the far wall, she grabbed a chair and placed it down next to the outer wall. She sat down with a grunt, for her leg was still far from fully healed.

Chandra could hear her platoon setting up around her and on the floors above and below. The road between them and the opposing buildings spanned fifty metres or more. The tanks and trenches formed a solid line of defences from edge to edge. She was happy with their position, but they were spread thin. She let her head rest back and her muscles relax. Chandra would gladly have fallen into a much needed sleep, but she would not have such luck.

The sound of tracks roared in the distance along with a hive of activity that was getting nearer. She shot up, and pain surged through her leg, causing her to wince. From her position, she couldn’t see down the long length of the road, only just past the bridge. She tapped her intercom but realised it was being jammed once again. Chandra turned and stepped to the edge, shouting down at Jones who was getting his recently formed platoon into a trench.

“Give me an update, Captain!”

“We’ve got incoming!”

“In what strength?”

“At least a half dozen tanks and plenty more on the way!”

“Everyone into position! Fire in your own time!”

The Captain nodded and jumped into the trench after his troops. Lieutenant Yorath was in the other trench on the opposite side of the street, with Friday’s marines between them. Lieutenant Suarez was positioned in the brick building opposite the Major’s bank. The armoured crews scrambled to get inside and batten down the hatches. She turned back to her platoon.

“Fire when ready!”

Chapter 5

Taylor glanced out of the side window as they passed over Ramstein. Line after line of abandoned buildings and roads were left to decay.

“A sad thing to see, isn’t it? Over fifty thousand air force personnel used to serve here, now little over two thousand,” said Reyes.

The Major turned back to the Captain with a grim look on his face.

“Perhaps if our governments hadn’t cut the military budgets so greatly, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“I hardly think they could have predicted an invasion by a highly advanced alien race.”

“If you want peace, prepare for war, Captain. The basic principles never change.”

Taylor sat back in his seat feeling utterly lost. Reyes knew that it was a lot to ask to have him pulled away from his comrades at such a time of need, but there was nothing more he could do to relieve that concern. The tail of the craft dipped as they came into land at a brisk rate. The two men walked down the ramp to find there was no one there to greet them.

The runways and landing strips were vast but had little more than a dozen craft in total insight. If it were not for them, and the two guards they could see at the facility ahead, it would look abandoned.

“Not the warmest welcome ever,” exclaimed Taylor.

“We’re here to work, Major, not be tourists.”

Reyes led the way towards the guards. He held his identification card. The two guards barely turned to look, instantly recognising the Captain. Ramstein had been a US Air Force base for hundreds of years, and he suspected that Reyes was more than a little familiar with it and those who served there. They strolled on down several empty corridors.

“What exactly are we going to see here, Captain?”

“The facility here is under the control of a scientist and developed called Reiter. He’s been working for us for years, but never given any major money to develop his ideas.”


“Because most of his ideas are related to combat roles, of which there has been little interest in for a long time.”

They reached an opening with vast security doors. Reyes scanned his card through the reader and then stood for retina recognition. Green lights flashed around the doorway as access was granted, and the huge blast doors separated.

“Welcome, Major!”

A man in his sixties in a white lab coat approached with open arms and a broad grin. He paced right up to the Major and hugged him as a greeting. Taylor turned to Reyes with a puzzled expression.

“You’re not in America anymore, Major.”

The man let him go and took a step back.

“I am Marcus Reiter, as I am sure the Captain here has already told you.”

“What is it you are working on here?” asked Taylor.

“Anything and everything that can give our troops an edge in combat.”

“Well it’s sorely needed, I can tell you.”

Reiter looked down at the Major’s battered and worn armour, and he nodded as he realised that the Major had come from the front lines.

“Here, come this way.”

He led them around a corner where the room opened up to a vast laboratory the size of a football pitch and with over a hundred personnel at work.

“As you can see, our budget has increased rather in this past week.”

“Has it done any good?” the Major asked sceptically.

Reiter stopped and turned back to him. He was at first offended by Taylor’s doubt and cynicism, but he could not blame the battle weary officer.

“We have been working all out to try and understand much of the alien technology, which is fascinating, I must add. What I can firmly say, is that the power of their weapons make developing useable personal body armour a major issue.”

“So what can you do for us?”

The scientist smiled.

“The fact is that man for man, or whatever they are, they are outgunning our troops.”

“I am well aware of that.”

“The rifles you are using are largely ineffective. The grenade launchers have a fairly short range, and you can’t carry a lot of ammunition. Therefore, what you need is more strength, more power.”

“Go on.”

Reiter nodded. He was glad that he had captured the Major’s curiosity. He led the two men to the centre of the room where they had a peculiar looking device resembling a human body in shape and proportions.

“The powered exoskeleton is not a new concept, Major. More than two hundred years ago they were being tested and put into limited usage, but cost and power were always a problem. Since then we have gained cheaper productions methods and better power packs, but there has been little interest in developing such devices.”

Taylor stepped in closer, studying the device carefully.

“This device allows a soldier to carry twice his bodyweight without even noticing it. It will allow for larger weapons, more ammunition and some better armour options. It’ll make you stronger, faster…”

The Major spun around with a gleam in his eye.

“And you have tried this? It is operational?”

“Yes, many times.”

He walked around the device, behind a small divider and beckoned for them to follow him. They stepped around to see the same suit made up onto a manikin with armour and weapons.

“I thought you said armour would be a problem?” asked Taylor.

“Largely, yes. The weight of armour that will protect you against the enemy weapons is quite honestly, substantial, to say the least. Front and back torso plates weigh upwards of fifty kilos alone, so that’ll be all you’ll get.”

Taylor stepped up to the manikin and tapped the armour. It was thick plate, more like vehicle armour than anything he’d seen on personal equipment.

“Your boosters you use for low altitude descents. We have attached far more powerful devices to this suit which will allow you to make vertical leaps of approximately five metres and horizontal up to ten or fifteen. They’ll also allow safe descents from a thousand metres.”

Taylor ignored his words. His attention was wholly placed on a large weapon hung up beside the manikin. It had a large box magazine slung underneath. The barrel was larger than any rifle although half the size of their launchers.

“Ah yes, I thought that might get your attention, Major. We have the enemy weapons and have begun to understand the propulsion of their energy pulses, but not how the round or energy itself is created. Using their propulsion method, we have been able to create a grenade launcher that uses caseless ammunition. This increases weapon capacity as well as vastly the amount of ammunition a soldier can carry.”

“And the range?”

“Greatly improved. The rounds can maintain a flat trajectory for two hundred metres.”

Taylor nodded, it sounded good.

“And if this all works, how quickly can you put it into production?”

“This equipment only got to its operational state as of the early hours of this morning. Further testing is required, and we need experienced combat veterans such as yourself to put it through its paces. After that…”

“How long?” shouted Taylor.

“We could be in full production within a few days, with an output of several thousand sets a day. If we can get foreign factories to compliment production, then much faster.”

“What about the cost, won’t all this stuff cost a fortune?” Reyes asked.

“Cost is not important, Captain. We are fighting for the survival of our planet. I only care that it can be done.”

Taylor turned to Reiter. “I want to test it, now!”

“Don’t you want to look over the project a little more first, Sir?”

“No, Reyes. All I care about is if it does the job, or not. Give me a half hour in it, and I’ll have your answer.”

Chandra slammed a new magazine into her rifle and leapt up against the sidewall of the balcony. Tracer fire and energy pulses were streaming across the bridge and the open plains either side of the structure. Smoke belched from two of Becker’s tanks, but they’d given as good as they’d got. She took aim at the nearest Mech. She could see that was using the corner of one of their burning tanks as cover. Bullets pinged off the creature’s armour, a few causing it to spasm, but none stopped it. She ducked back down behind cover as pulses smashed into the bank.

“God damn it, we need more firepower!”

Monty was kneeling beside her loading grenades into his launcher. He locked the weapon shut as he turned to the Major.

“This ammunition isn’t going to last forever, Major!”

He leapt up and fired several rounds at the same Mech. The second hit it and exploded on its chest. The creature shattered into hundreds of parts and scattered across the ground.

“Green! We need ammo!” shouted Chandra.

“Incoming!” shouted Blinker.

She turned to see a group of Mechs inbound using their flying packs. Several dropped amongst the troops in the trenches. Monty looked up to see two descending towards their building. He lifted his launcher and fired at one of them. The Mech burst into flames just ten metres above, showering them in hot metal and forcing them to duck for cover.

The floor shook as the surviving Mech landed hard between the group on the cafe terrace. Chandra looked up just in time to see the monster open fire, two of its pulses killing one of the men immediately. Monty hesitated, knowing they couldn’t risk high explosive rounds so close. The Major lifted her rifle and opened up with full automatic fire. She was quickly joined by the other riflemen and gunners.

The Mech twisted and lurched as it was hit by dozens of rounds, unable to bring its weapon to bear. It managed to turn to face them, giving Chandra the opportunity she needed. She stood up and walked towards it as she fired on full auto into its head. The mirror glass section dented and cracked until it was finally punctured.

The Mech collapsed onto its back. The soldiers sighed in relief, but Chandra walked right up to the creature and trained her rifle on the smashed face plate. She opened fire once again; firing a long burst which sent blue blood spewing up onto her rifle and hands and across the deck. She stared down at the lifeless wreck, wondering what the purpose of it all was. Why were they so intent on ending the human race?

Gunfire continued to rage in the street as Chandra snapped out of her daze and rushed to the side of the building. The airborne Mechs that had landed among them had been overwhelmed and were being finished off, but she could see a number of human dead along the lines. She turned back to Green.

“Get us that ammo!”

She looked over the ledge to see a group of Mechs rushing across the bridge. Becker’s tanks roared as they pounded the incoming enemy push. The troops in the trenches had overcome their airborne attackers and were turning their attention to the new threat. A barrage of fire struck the bridge until they could no longer see what they were shooting. Grenades and cannon rounds continued to plough into the smoke cloud engulfing the bridge.

Two Mechs rushed out from the dust and smoke but were quickly cut down by a volley of fire. Seconds later, the bridge let out an almighty creek as its foundations gave out. They couldn’t see the bridge collapsing, but they heard it plunge into the water below. The smoke puffed out into a plume rising into the sky.

The guns went quiet, and they could hear the enemy Mechs shuffling about at the other side of the bridge. The battle was far from over, but they had been given some respite. Chandra turned back to her platoon with a look of sheer relief. She peered down at the lifeless body of the Mech and then to the body of the soldier it had killed.

The man had died instantly, his body torn apart by the viciously powerful energy weapons of the enemy. She speculated for a moment about their casualties, but she knew it would be a figure she wouldn’t like. The Major had seen a number of dead and wounded along the trench lines. Dust filled her nostrils and lungs once again. The constant bombardments and battles meant that she could rarely taste or smell anything but brick dust and throat burning smoke.

“That will have bought us a little time. Blinker, check the hard line. Inform the Commander of the attack and our approximate losses. We need ammunition and re-enforcements.”

An explosion erupted in the sky above them, quickly followed by several others. The combined air forces of Europe continued to battle the enemy in the skies. They fought at such heights that the ground troops could rarely catch a glimpse of them. Every day they’d find wreckage of aircraft, more often than not it was from Earth forces. She stepped to the edge of the building and looked over at the devastation below.

“Captain Jones! Get the dead and wounded back to the aid station! Check your weapons. Get what ammunition you need, and be ready for the next assault!”

It was a grim reality that they could do little more than await the next onslaught. Chandra knew the only reason they had won the skirmish was because they had superior numbers. Soldier for soldier they were still at a huge disadvantage. She turned back to the fallen Mech and walked across to it.

“What do we do with it, Major?” asked Monty.

“Leave it where it fell as a reminder that they are not invincible. They aren’t scary monsters or an unbeatable enemy.”

She knelt down beside the weapon the Mech had dropped. It was almost two metres in length and made entirely of metal component parts. Despite it looking alien in construction, its external design was not so different to some of the heavy machine guns they used on vehicles. She wrapped her arms around it and tried to lift it. She got one end a few centimetres off the ground before realising it was too much for her.

“God damn that’s heavy. You two, give me a hand with this! Monty, you too!”

The four got a solid hold on the cannon and hauled it up to a standing position.

“Onto that wall over there!”

They hauled it onto the ledge of the thick wall overlooking the fallen bridge.

“You think we can get it working, Major?” asked Monty.

“It’s worth a shot. What do you think the recoil is like on one of these things?”

“Probably pretty minimal, considering its weight.”

He and the Major stared at it as the other two men stood back. She turned and looked back at the fallen Mech. They appeared to have two fingers and a thumb on each hand, a configuration which meant they were not so different to humans in their movement. She turned back to the gun.

“This must be the trigger.”

She placed her hand on the grip and found that her index and middle finger naturally came to rest on what felt like a large button. The grip itself was partially hidden inside the rear body of the weapon. The Mechs carried them with their offhand around the barrel like a heavy gunner would haul his weapon about.

“Major, I think…”

Light pulsed as the weapon fire and an energy surge blasted from their position, hitting a burning vehicle the other side of the bridge. The troops below went silent as they peered up to the bank. Several trained their weapons on the position, half expecting to find an enemy among them. Chandra looked at the weapon in amazement before realising what a shock she had caused.

She looked down over the balcony at the troops who quickly went back to work. They understood little about the enemy’s technology, but she’d take any advantage she could get. She turned to look at Monty who stood still surprised that they’d got the weapon working.

“You’ll man this weapon at the next assault, Private.”

“Ma’am, I’ve got no idea how to operate this weapon. Where’s the ammunition?”

“You’ve got as much knowledge as the rest of us. You just keep it firing until it won’t fire anymore.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Taylor stood before a vehicle off-road training course that included all sorts of obstacles intended for tanks. He wore Reiter’s powered suit. He didn’t stand a centimetre taller as it was so slimline. The most noticeable bulk was from the thick armour plates on his torso. He took a deep breath as Reyes watched on with a host of scientists and weapon developers.

The Major held in his hands the new launcher Reiter had designed. He’d lifted it in the lab and found it weighed twice what he’d been used to, but now he barely noticed the difference. The exoskeleton fitted all along his key skeletal structure, extending from his feet to his hands and up his spine. He could feel the device, but it didn’t seem as if he was carrying any weight or was encumbered in any way.

The Major stepped forward at a walking pace. He felt as if he was in a low gravity environment, as he knew he was carrying a hundred kilos but could barely feel it. He gradually increased his speed to a jog. The equipment fitted like a glove and didn’t shake or rattle. It operated with his body as if it were his own joints and muscles.

“Run, Major!” shouted Reiter.

He followed the advice and broke out into a full sprint. It shocked Mitch as he sprung into a rapid pace almost double what he had ever managed on a track wearing no gear at all. Up ahead was a five metre wall. He kept storming towards it, and hit the booster button on the cuff of the device. It sprung him into the air, easily clearing the obstacle and cushioning his landing with a combination of boost and suspended landing of the joints. He felt no serious discomfort in his wounded leg. Taylor took a sharp turn and charged back towards the group, sliding to a halt before them.

“I like it. This armour, you’re sure it’ll stop their weapons?”

“Absolutely, Major, but only up to two or three shots, and you’ll certainly know you’ve taken a hit.”

“Well, that’s an improvement.”

Their current armour did little to protect them against direct fire from the enemy pulse weapons, but it did at least save many from artillery and shrapnel. A voice boomed out from behind the group.

“Let’s get to the range, Major!”

Taylor instantly recognised the commanding roar of Eli. She stepped through the group to stand in front of him.

“What are you doing here, Sergeant?”

“Sergeant Parker was not fit for active duty, and so she was dispatched here to assist you,” said Reyes.

The Major smiled and couldn’t believe his luck. He could do little to hide his relief that she was safe.

“We’ve got a job to do, Sergeant. This equipment could substantially change our odds in combat. We need to know if it’s up to the task ASAP.”

“I’ve already been briefed, Sir.”

“Then let’s get to the range.”

“Major, we’ve set up a temporary weapons testing area for you here.”

He turned to see several Mech armours propped up like manikins at two hundred metres away. His heart pounded in shock. The sight of them on open ground had been a thing to fear for them all in the previous days.

“We’ve been able to salvage a few of their armours for testing.”

Taylor lowered his head in relief. For just a split second, he’d thought their enemy had reached them in Ramstein.

“When you’re ready, Major.”

He nodded and turned back to the Mech armours. He’d never had so much time to stare at them before. The sight of the enemy had always required immediate and decisive action, not careful targeting. He lifted the launcher to his shoulder and took aim. With the straight trajectory that Reiter had promised, he aimed it like a rifle, rather than the elevated indirect firing of the launchers they had become so accustomed to.

The Major squeezed the trigger, and a loud crack rang out as a pulse of energy ignited in the barrel of the weapon, sending a grenade hurtling down the range. The round flew faster than Taylor had seen a grenade fly and struck its target almost instantly. It exploded on impact with a relatively small charge.

“You see, Major, with a more accurate round, we can make the ammunition smaller for more targeted shooting. These should be able to replace the assault rifle in combat usage.”

He turned to Reiter quickly.

“And a round from this will take a Mech down?”

“Like a rifle round against a human? Not necessarily. It has the ability to pierce their armour and deliver severe damage, but we do not yet fully understand the aliens’ constitution.”

“What does that mean in the real world?” Parker asked.

“That if the first round doesn’t put them down, you shoot them again until they do,” snapped Taylor.

“Precisely, Major, let’s go and investigate the results of your shooting.”

Taylor released his grip on the weapon and let it rest on its sling at his side. The suit took up the weight, but it was an unsettling feeling not having the weight to reassure him that it was at his side. As they strolled towards the targets, Taylor took a deep breath of the fresh air. He had wondered what had felt so different since they had arrived and finally he realised. Gone was the sickening smell of a burning city, the taste of dust and sulphur, and the smell of electrical burning and red hot metal.

He breathed in slowly and heavily, enjoying the cool and clean air, as he knew it would be a luxury he would soon lose again. He looked over at Parker as they strode forward, glad to have her at his side.

“How is the Company?” he asked.

“Heading to defend the bridge where we saved your ass, last time I saw them.”

He smiled. The north had been one of the safest areas of the city up until now. Then he thought back to his near death experience, realising that it was probably no longer the case. They reached the battered Mech armour. A hole over five centimetres wide had been ripped into the chest plate, and it still smouldered. Taylor pulled out his knife and thrust it into the breach to see if it had cleared the armour. The blade met no resistance and ran up to the guard.

“You see, Major. Small projectiles with enough explosive to puncture. These are high velocity, low calibre armour penetrating rounds.”

He turned and looked down at the experimental equipment he was wearing. He thought about it for a moment, and then peered up at the many faces that were waiting for his comment.

“With this equipment a soldier will run faster and for longer, be better protected, and do more damage. It’ll double our combat effectiveness overnight.”

Reiter smiled. He knew the progress they had made was great, but he still loved hearing it. Taylor turned to Reyes.

“You can give the General my approval,” he turned to Reiter.

“Get this into production. I don’t care what you’ve got to do. Get it made, and get it to the front line.”

Chandra sat back in her chair, resting her aching leg. It was obvious to them all that the intensity of the fighting had increased in both the south and the west. The ground rumbled almost continually as artillery from both sides pounded those positions. Their area was mostly quiet, and the troops were getting what rest they could. She tilted her head back and peered up to the sky, but the silence was broken by the sound of a chair being dragged up beside her. Captain Friday roughly slammed the chair down and then sat in front of her.

“Any news from Taylor?” he asked.

“I assumed you’d be the first to know if we had.”

“You’re still in charge here, Ma’am.”

“Yes, but Major Taylor has made it quite clear that he will treat the rules as he pleases when it comes to his own.”

Friday smiled. Chandra was having a jab at Mitch, but in a friendly fashion.

“We don’t all share a bed with the Major.”

“You know a relationship such as that in the military can only end badly. In this war, it’ll only be harder.”

“So we give up on love because of the risk of losing it?”

Chandra sat up slightly into a less casual position.

“I didn’t peg you as the emotional and sentimental type, Captain.”

She watched as he took a deep breath and sighed with the fatigue of the situation. He’d never presented himself as anything but utterly professional, but it was clear he was feeling the pressure.

“Is that what Parker and the Major have, truly?” she asked.

Friday sat back and thought for a moment, not wanting to give any snap response. He knew she’d never have been the one to admit it, and it had never been her intention, but it had come to it. He stared out into the smoky sky, wishing he had someone like her. He finally nodded and looked down at the Major.

“Yes, neither of them has said it, but it’s there for all to see.”

“And it doesn’t bother you? That your Major is fraternising with an NCO in your own unit? That he forced you all to break the orders of a General for her?”

The Captain didn’t fire back a response. It was unusual for him to stay silent and unable to find his words. He was thinking would he have done the same as the Major did. Chandra could see the conflict in his eyes. For such a cool and calculating man, he had been deeply affected by his leader’s actions. It had seemed to endear his unit to Taylor more than ever. He turned and stared into her eyes, piercing right through her.

“You think we’ll make it through this war?”

He didn’t address her by rank. It was the first time the marine officer had ever addressed her as a friend, and the sentiment did not go unnoticed.

“I don’t think it really matters, Captain. We have no way of predicting it. All we can do is fight on and take some relief in the fact that every minute we hold them back, we increase the chances of the survival of our entire race.”

“That’s a cold way to look at our lives,” he whispered.

“Seems little point in doing it any other way. We either wallow in the misery around us, or we think of the good we are doing.”

The Captain wondered if she believed that.


The two officers leapt off their seats and to the ground, crawling to the wall for cover. Dozens of energy pulses smashed into the buildings around them, shaking their position. Living under artillery fire had become one constant in their life, but it was never any easier to experience. They never knew where the round would land or when their time would be up.

The barrages were a valuable tool in striking at the morale of their troops. Chandra only hoped that their efforts were doing the same for the enemy. They huddled together against the wall for over ten minutes as the entire position was pounded repeatedly. Both remained silent, staring at each other. They were just half a metre from one another, and they could each see the despair in one another’s faces.

Friday thought about the evening the two could have were they out of the war. Despite her tough character and steady resolve, her beauty was still undeniable. Underneath her dirty and bloody armour was the body of a well toned and beautiful Indian woman. She was clearly many generations removed from her home country, having nothing left of her accent, but she still clung onto her family’s heritage. As the prolonged barrage continued all around them, the Major spoke.

“Paris! The City of Romance!”

Friday laughed.

“I guess times change!”

The Captain smiled that she was thinking it as well.

A soldier ran towards them. He was hunched low as he ran through a hail of debris. The man rolled across the floor, hitting the wall hard between the two of them. It was Captain Jones.

“Nice of you to join us, Captain!” shouted Chandra.

“Major, we’ve got incoming forces in large numbers!”

“How large?”

“A major offensive!”

Chandra shook her head in disbelief, as if the bombardment was not enough, surely they couldn’t weather this much longer. Just as she thought it, the last energy pulses smashed into the ground below them. She first felt relief, and then the realisation that it was the pre-cursor to an assault. She jumped up from behind the wall to look out across the ravished wasteland their position had become. They had taken only light casualties, the trenches and hull down positions safeguarding most of their personnel and equipment.

Before she could open her mouth, the sound of tracks resounded in the distance, previously hidden by the earth shattering bombardment. She dipped her head in despair. The Major had anticipated the attack, but Jones’ confirmation of it didn’t make it any easier to stomach. She turned back to the two Captains with her. They both stared back in anticipation of her orders.

She could only think that they were all going to die there. When she didn’t respond to them, Jones couldn’t wait any longer.

“Major! What are your orders?”

She shot a glance into his eyes. Her face was distraught and her colour draining. She quickly snapped out of it, knowing she had to be decisive.

“Take up positions! We have to hold!”

She could see that both men could not believe they were being asked to hold, but they followed her without question. She watched as they rushed off to their defensive positions across the street. Chandra turned back to the bridge and to the alien weapon. Monty was resting on it as he looked out towards the sound of the enemy vehicles rolling towards their position.

The cannons of the tanks in the street below roared out. From her elevated position at the side of the street, the Major couldn’t see down the length of the bridge, but it was clear Becker was already able to engage them.

“Everyone in position! Fire at will!”

Green rushed up in carrying a box of ammunition and scurried to the wall. He had another soldier with him.

“Good timing, Lieutenant!”

The man nodded as he unloaded the ammunition and threw it out to the troops. He signalled for the other man to continue on up to the next floor of the building. The sound of the rumbling enemy vehicles was audible even over the volley of fire from their own tanks. The first energy pulses were rushing over the fallen bridge and pounding their positions.

Although the artillery barrage against them had stopped, she could still hear and feel the impacts of it continuing across the city, more frequent and intense than ever.

“This must be it, Major, the offensive everyone has been waiting for!” shouted Green.

Damn right, she thought as she stood up and propped her rifle into the wall. Shells were being traded evenly now across the bridge, but the dug in positions were ensuring a solid advantage for Becker. Two armoured vehicles appeared between the buildings the other side of the fallen bridge, but they instantly burst into flames as they were hit by multiple cannon shells.

Both the vehicles were smashed aside as one of the vast bridging vehicles struck them and burst through the wrecks, pushing them to the sides of the street.

“Take it out!” shouted Chandra.

She knew her words would go unheard by the crews, but it was mostly instinctive action. She turned to Monty and back at the bridging vehicle that reached the edge of the crossing. She grabbed hold of the alien weapon from the soldier and took aim at the vehicle. The first shot fired out and landed just shy of its tracks.

“Damn it!”

Chandra pulled the trigger once again, but nothing happened.

“I think they have a recharge rate, Major!” shouted Monty.

She shot a disdainful glance at the man. She knew he was right, but she was in a panic and didn’t appreciate the obvious comment. She heard a click from the weapon and so turned back and fired. The blast ripped into the structure of the tank, burning a hole through its hull, but it seemed to make little difference.

The tank came to a halt and immediately began to unfold and expand across the river that had kept them safe. She fired again as cannon shells continued to pound the vehicle, but it was too late. The thick metal ramp struck across to south side. Mechs rushed out from between the wreckage of the burning tanks and sprang towards them in their daunting armoured suits.

“Monty, take the gun!”

Chandra lifted her rifle and quickly took aim. The bridge erupted into a cloud of fire and smoke as rifle, cannon and grenade fire combined to ravage the oncoming charge. Pieces of Mech armour blasted out into the air and off the side of the bridge, but more burst through the dust behind them. An energy pulse ripped into one of Becker’s tanks and it burst into flames. The sound was deafening as the vehicle rocked and shards of the turret smashed into the wall beside the Major. She ducked down for cover before quickly leaping up to the battlements once more.

The Major looked down to the trenches below and could see a dozen Mechs within a few metres of their positions. One had managed to get into hand-to-hand combat and crushed one of the soldiers. This is over, thought Chandra.

She looked across the street at the devastation before her, dozens of their troops lay dead or dying, and half of the tanks were belching black smoke.

“Major, we have to get out of here!” shouted Green.

She froze there for just a moment, unable to look away from the vicious scene. Never could she have imagined she would see such dire days. She had read about such total war but had never been able to comprehend how it would feel. She turned to him.

“Get word to the Commander. We need to retreat east immediately!”

Green nodded. He was as much relieved as he was in shock that they once more had to take flight. She lifted her rifle from the wall and rushed to the stairs, and the others quickly followed suit. She shouted her command up the stairway to the rest before heading for the street. The road was barely recognisable any longer as it was covered in bricks, dust, bodies and blood. The guns of Becker’s tanks continued to bellow. She leapt onto the roof of his vehicle and huddled beside it, knocking on the lid.

The confident German appeared at the hatch, doing his best to hide the despair he was clearly feeling. Chandra could feel heat rush out from the hatch combined with the smell of sweat and sulphur. He looked out across the bridge. The first enemy rush had been halted, but it was clear they were preparing for a second push in greater numbers.

“Captain, we’re done here.”

Becker nodded, relieved to finally have the command.

“We’d sure appreciate a lift out of this hell hole.”

“You got it, Major.”

She leapt from the tank as a yellow signal flare blasted out from the vehicle, signalling the retreat to the Captain’s remaining crew. Chandra ran along the lines, shouting for the troops to climb aboard. The dead were scattered among the living; there were few wounded.

“Onto the vehicles! Move out!”

Gunfire continued in an irregular pattern as the troops laid down fire to keep the bridge clear. Only six of Becker’s tanks were still running, one with its turret torn off. They reversed back out of their hull down dugouts and onto the debris strewn road. The street erupted into a frenzy of movement as the remaining troops clambered onto the vehicles. It was a desperate retreat, and the only relief for the survivors.

It was clear to Chandra that the enemy had only been temporarily halted, and it wouldn’t be long before they swarmed across the river. She leapt up onto Becker’s vehicle as Lieutenant Green appeared. She offered out her hand and hauled him up beside the turret.

“Major, the Mech forces are engulfing the city, much longer and we’ll be cut off.”

“What are the Commander’s orders?”

“Retreat, all forces retreat east, and with all haste!”

She gasped as she looked back across the bridge. It’s over; the only city we held has fallen. Chandra tapped on the hatch, calling up Becker.

“Get us out of here, Captain!” she shouted.

The vehicle turned and lurched forward as two more men were hoisted aboard. She watched as the last few troops were helped up as the vehicles got underway. Through the smoke of the flare and debris from the battle, she could already make out the intimidating silhouettes of the invaders advancing across the river. Is there any hope?

Chapter 6

“Major Taylor, your presence is requested in the conference room.”

He leaned down and unclipped the last straps of the exoskeleton he had been testing. It was a relief to see equipment that could change the course of the war, but he could not help but think of his friends in Paris. Mitch followed one of the staff into the room. It was thirty metres long with vast screens set up displaying General White and several other high ranking officers of other militaries.

“Major, we are all eager to hear your report on the new equipment, but sadly we do not have time. All we need to know, is will it work? Will it make our troops fight better?”

Fight Better? Mitch thought, if only the brass had to face the enemy in combat, it was all just statistics to them.

“Our troops are fighting the best they can, but this new hardware would go some way to even the odds. Right now we only stand a chance when we substantially outnumber the Mech soldiers and armour.”

“That brings us to our next problem,” exclaimed White.


“I’d like you to take a look at these surveillance images, Major.”

A screen below the General’s transmission lit up displaying overhead video surveillance. Taylor studied it intently for a few moments. It looked alien and was a vast structure on land with hundreds of creatures moving about between it.

“What do you think that is, Major?”

“Looks like some kind of construction, Sir.”

“Indeed. That video was taken this morning from the south of France. Our experts believe that the aliens are building manufacturing plants.”

“Or a weapon.”

White nodded. “Indeed. So far it would seem the enemy’s endgame is the extinction of the human race.”

“Then why wouldn’t they use something more substantial, something planet destroying?”

“All the weapons we have ever developed that can kill on such a vast scale also cause unspeakable damage to our habitat. We can only imagine that they want this planet as their own. Over the past day our troops on the ground have begun to come up against an increasing number of drones, which we believe are being manufactured on Earth soil.”

“Sir, if I wanted to take a planet as my own from billions of creatures, I’d find a more efficient way to do the job.”

“You think they are developing some sort of weapon of mass destruction?”

“I would. They must need time and resources to build it, so I don’t think you’re wrong about the factory, General. I just believe they’ll be pursuing both strategies.”

The General sighed. It was not the answer he was hoping for, but he knew it was likely to be true.

“Right now our armies are slowing their progress, but it’s a rough ride as I am sure you are aware, Major. Even with this new tech in full scale production, we still have a real battle on our hands, and it’s one for our very existence. If they can either build a weapon that can kill on a mass scale, or increase production of drones and equipment, we may well become utterly overwhelmed.”

Chandra watched the beautiful countryside as they rumbled past in their battle scarred tanks. They’d fled a hundred kilometres east to the city of Reims. It was yet another French city that had been abandoned by its population who had fled as refugees to the east. She peered around at the soldiers that lay shoulder to shoulder around her. Their faces were blank with the recent horrors they had lived.

Despite them having fled the warzone, the Major could still smell a pungent burning scent that seemed to follow them wherever they went. Her uniform was thick with brick dust, and her throat was dry. She wondered if it would ever end and wished she could make it all stop. Chandra didn’t want any more lives on her hands.

As they entered the town, the Major could see Phillips’ vehicle draw up outside a large old stone building with the European nations’ flags flying overhead. She beckoned to the vehicle captain to bring them to a halt by the Commander’s vehicle.

“Commander Phillips!” she bellowed.

The vehicle jerked to a halt as she stood up, almost launching her off her feet.

“Glad to see you made it, Major!”

She jumped down the ground and made a half-hearted salute. Her arm felt heavy, and it was a chore to even lift it to her head.

“What are your orders, Sir?” she asked.

“We are setting up major defensive lines here. I expect this city will take the brunt of the next attack. Another beautiful town to go up in smoke.”

He shook his head as he looked around at the historic city, knowing that he would be one of the last people to ever see it.

“I want you to head north to Amiens, Major. You’ll protect our flank there and ensure the safety of the supply lines to Calais.”

She pulled out her mappad device, not being familiar enough with the geography of the area to know the town’s location. Her face turned to a frown as she identified its position.

“Sir, that’s a long way from your position.”

He stepped in closer and leaned towards her, so he could speak more quietly.

“Look at the progress of this war, Major. We’ve been driven back across the whole of France, and who knows how much longer we’ll even have a foothold in the country. Every time we lose a city, we fall back further to the east. What happens when these bastards head for England? Where do our people flee?”

She knew he was right. The British Isles did not have enough ships and boats to flee even with months of notice.

“You are lining us up for a withdrawal across the channel?” she whispered.

He leaned back and sighed.

“I just want to make sure it remains a possibility, Major. The Russians continue to send troops west, and they will hopefully allow us to hold here for some time. Our breakout of Paris has at least saved a sizeable amount of our armies.”

Chandra turned to stride back to her vehicle.


She turned back to him with a quizzical expression.

“Word has it that Major Taylor is working on something big in Ramstein. Something that could turn this war around. All he needs is time.”

“We can buy it for him, Commander, with our lives.”

He nodded in agreement and appreciation of her work. She turned to the tank and was helped by Monty to climb aboard. Captain Becker sat in the top of the turret watching her, dutifully awaiting his orders.

“This armoured section can remain attached to your company, Major.”

She sat down beside the Captain, smiling in the knowledge that they would continue to fight together.

“You heard the Commander, roll out.”

Another hundred kilometres sat on bare metal, it’s better than being in Paris, she thought. Maybe she could raise the troops spirits with the knowledge of how many civilian lives they were saving, but she realised they didn’t care. In that time and moment, all they cared for were each other.

She watched as hundreds of troops and vehicles rolled into the old city of Reims, more lambs to the slaughter. She pondered. Taylor had better have something good. Chandra nodded to the tank commander to role on. The troops on the other vehicles had not heard their orders, but they didn’t seem to notice.

The sound of wheels, tracks and boots rang out across the town. It was a stark contrast to the picturesque image that the Major had always imagined of northern France. The vehicles rolled on and out of the city, on the road once again. Captain Becker sat up in the turret with the Major.

“Much more of this and we’ll be in your home country,” said Chandra. “Do you have family there?”

“Yes, a wife and two daughters.”

“Are they safe?”

“Are any of us?”

She nodded. They couldn’t retreat forever. She turned and looked at the proud German. He did his best to put on a brave and confident face, just as he did when they first met. They had both lost many of the troops under their command, but it didn’t seem to matter any longer. They fought for the living still fighting beside them.

The drive to Amiens was a relaxed one. The bombardment of Paris had finished as the enemy occupied the city. Chandra was almost able to slip into a much needed sleep, but the thought of the devastation was still keeping her from such luxury.

Half way to their new posting, they met a convoy of Russian armour approaching from the road that led to Amiens. The sign identified the town as Saint-Quentin. The Major stood up on the vehicle to greet them, the Captain pre-empting her and bringing the small column to a halt. The commander of the lead vehicle was sat up on the rooftop of the turret with his legs tangling in through the hatch. They had clearly seen combat. Several of their vehicles were badly scarred, and they didn’t have the look of fresh troops.

“Major Chandra,” she stated.

“Vukovi, you’re heading the wrong way, Major.”

“Has Amiens been taken?”

“No, but the people there have no desire to leave, and the enemy is almost on us.”

The man shook his head in disbelief as he sighed. “You’re welcome to join us. We’re heading east.”

Chandra ignored his advice and shot back a surprised and sharp question.

“The civilian population still inhabits the town? Have they not evacuated yet?”

“They don’t want to go, not our problem.”

“So that’s it, you’ll put your tail between your legs and run?”

The man glared at her with a distraught and angry expression. “You’ve faced those bastards, what hope is there?”

Chandra shook her head. “Not so long ago in your country, you’d be shot for turning your back.”

“But this is now, Major, the world has changed.”

Got that right, she thought.

She stared at him, waiting for the man to change his mind and realise his mistake, but he lowered his head and shouted for his driver to continue. The armoured column rolled on past as the four tank crews and troops watched on in horror.

“What happened to the Russian resolve?” asked Chandra.

“They’ve been through hell, Major. There may come a time yet when we follow suit.”

She turned and watched as the last vehicles passed and continued on into the distance. She looked back towards Amiens. She knew that they were curling back around Paris, and it was a safer position than Reims, but only just. She turned to the Captain. He had a quizzical face, waiting to see if her orders had changed.

“Carry on, Captain.”

It wasn’t long until they reached the town. Like Reims, it had yet to be ravaged by the war. If it was not for the black smoke rising from Paris, you would not know that war plagued the country. As they approached the town, they were confronted by the most peculiar sight. Many of the residents were sat out in their gardens beside the roads. They were travelling on a three lane flyover taking them directly to the central business district.

“What the hell are they doing?” asked Monty.

“Got me, bunch of fucking idiots,” replied Blinker.

The Major stared at the civilians as they rolled on to the centre. At first she could not believe her eyes, but she quickly came to realise the significance of the people’s homes. They had seen towns and cities left in ruin, and their populaces displaced as little more than refugees.

“I don’t like this at all. We can’t defend a city.”

“I appreciate that, Captain. Let’s get some more information before we come to any conclusions.”

It wasn’t long before they reached the city centre. The cafes and restaurants were full. The populace lay about socialising while the war raged around them. They approached a large police station where a number of officers sat outside drinking coffee. Among them was the Mayor, recognisable by the chain around his shoulders. The troops looked on in disbelief. They had expected to find another abandoned city, but instead they found a vibrant and trendy locale that continued on as if nothing had happened.

“Bring us up to the station, Captain,” said Chandra.

She observed that a number of people turned to look at their tanks rolling down the street but cared little for them, and they were not at all surprised. The six vehicles rolled up to the Mayor and came to an abrupt halt. The man turned to glare at them in offense. Chandra could see that he was about to speak, but she cut him off as she stood up on the vehicle and bellowed.

“I am Major Chandra, and you are?”

The group of officers turned to face Chandra as the Mayor stared as if he was surprised by her presence.

“Legrant, the elected Mayor of the city of Amiens.”

She looked back at the combined troops of her company in astonishment. It was as if the population were living on a different planet. She could not wait to hear an explanation any longer.

“Mr Mayor, are you aware that a war rages across your country, and that it is rapidly approaching your city?”

She expected a shocked or concerned response from all who had stopped to hear her out, but they merely stared back as if they were waiting for something else.

“If you stay here, you will die, all of you!” she balled.

The street went silent, but they seemed more offended by her presence than the threat looming over them.

“Major, we are not leaving our city. The cities before you have been destroyed because you chose to fight over them. We will not fight.”

“Then you will die.”

“Towns, cities and countries have been conquered throughout history. They survive and go on. We will not follow the same fate as Paris.”

Chandra shook her head in disbelief as her comrades gasped and laughed at what they were hearing.

“This enemy, they don’t want to capture or enslave our people. They want to end us. They want this planet for their own and all of us all removed from it!”

“You don’t know how these creatures think, Major! You assume! You have seen troops with guns and assumed they were hostile. We could just have well thought the same about your presence here.”

Chandra turned back to look at her troops as Captain Jones climbed aboard to see what the commotion was about.

“Major, what the hell’s going on here?” he asked.

“The people don’t want to go,” said Becker.

“What? But the Mechs will be heading this way.”

“They know that, Captain. They feel that if they don’t show resistance then they will not suffer under the invaders.”

“Do you believe that?” asked Jones.

“Not for a second. This enemy will stop at nothing to eradicate us.”

“Then why have they not done so on a larger scale with more catastrophic weapons?” asked Becker.

Chandra thought for a moment, never having given the idea a moment’s notice.

“Maybe they will yet, Captain. All we know right now is that they will destroy anything in their path, and we could be looking at tens of thousands of deaths here, maybe even hundreds of thousands.”

“You are sure they cannot be convinced to leave?” asked Jones.

“I believe that until they have witnessed the brutality of the enemy first hand, they will not be convinced.”

“We cannot force them to leave, not with a hundred troops and six tanks,” said Becker.

The three officers went silent, deep in thought, until they all came to the same realisation.

“We must stay.”

The Major turned and jumped from her vehicle. She confidently strode up to the Mayor with her rifle slung casually across her back.

“Mr Mayor. We have been tasked with the defence of France and the protection of all within it. We will not, and cannot, leave you here to die. If you refuse to leave, then we have no choice but to stay here to defend you.”

“That is utterly unacceptable, Major! We have chosen to stay out of this war, and we will not have you drawing us into it!”

Chandra paced quickly up to the Mayor until she was up in his face and beyond his comfort zone.

“You’ve not seen the horrors befall those who cross paths with these bastards. You have no god damn idea. If you stay here, you will die. By staying, you force us to stay and likely die with you. Are you that naive and bloody stupid?”

Legrant said nothing, turning his gaze away from the Major. She climbed back up onto the tank and stood up to address the hundreds of civilians who were watching.

“In the coming hours or days an invading force will reach this city and leave no one alive! If you do not leave, you will almost certainly die here!”

The crowds mumbled between themselves but appeared to pay little attention to her statement. She turned and looked back down at the Mayor. She was disgusted by the man, and she knew that he was responsible for blinding the city’s people to the threat that bore down upon them.

“I can’t force you to leave. But know this, the death of every man, woman and child here will be on your hands. My Company will give their lives to defend you, but I beg you to do the right thing. We’re taking up position on the main bypass to the city. I pray you change your minds before morning.”

She turned to Becker. The soldiers still could not believe what they were hearing. They had been posted to Amiens as a safer location, but they all knew that the enemy would reach it soon enough. Chandra watched the ignorant mob and thought, what a bunch of fucking idiots.

The Major could see that her troops wanted nothing more than to head east to the safety of the bases in Germany. She could no longer even keep count of the men and women that had been killed under her command. The vehicles circled around and headed out towards the south perimeter and the main road into the city.

“Are we really doing this, Major? You would die for that bastard?” Becker asked.

“He is a bastard, Captain, but we aren’t fighting for him. Hopefully, when the populace see firsthand the horrors that await them, they will soon turn tail and run.”

“So we get our arses shot off in the hope of that event?” Jones asked.

“Possibly. The Commander sent us up here, and he won’t forget us. We’ll likely either await re-enforcements, or retreat further west when the time comes.”

“And the people of the town?”

“We’ll follow our orders, and that’s all there is to it, Captain Jones.”

“So all of that was just for show?” asked Becker.

Chandra looked across at the Captain, studying his face. She could see the relief in his eyes that he did not have to call the shots.

“I’ve done what I can to reason with them, as I am sure other authorities have. Ultimately, we cannot force them to leave. However, I will not put the Company in jeopardy because of their idiotic decisions.”

Becker nodded. None of them liked the idea of leaving civilians to die, but neither did they want to be held to ransom by them. It wasn’t long before they reached an ideal choke point on the dual lane road. It was a sharp bend where they could deploy under the cover of tall trees and brick buildings.

An hour later the officers were once again sat beside a stove awaiting a brew. The military had long been using heating elements for rations, but Jones had always despised them when combined with tea. They sat inside the ground floor of a brick building that was some form of printing company. They could hear the clatter of equipment crashing together as the troops in the other rooms stacked anything they could find against the windows. Captain Becker walked into the room to see Chandra, Jones and Friday.

“Care to join us, Captain?” asked Jones.

The German nodded thankfully and slid a wheeled office chair up to them.

“Major, we’re all in position.”

None of them wanted to think about the fact they could only hold of a small wave of the enemy Mechs, but it was on all their minds. Chandra stared out of the window, and the light was already fading.

“How far are we from your home town, Captain?” she asked.

“Magdeburg, we’re a long way from it.”

The Major could hear the concern in his voice. There were still hundreds of kilometres between them and his family, but after the fall of all but the last towns of France, it didn’t seem so far.

“We’ve had help from other nations here, but not everything that could be given,” said Becker. “When will the rest of the world come to our aid?”

“This is an unknown enemy, Captain. Governments and militaries alike have watched in horror at the fall of France and Spain, and they don’t want to be next,” she replied.

“They may well be forced into the fight before long, anyway,” said Jones.

“Really, you think so?”

“It’s what I’d do. The Mechs seem to have the resources, so they’ll open new fronts.”

Chandra wished it to be the case. She knew that would condemn more to death, but anything to relieve the vicious mauling they were receiving at the hands of their invaders was welcome.

“Jones, it’s time we all got some kip. I want ten on guard at all times working two hour shifts, no longer. We need to make sure the sentries stay sharp. I’ll take the first shift. You can find volunteers to join me.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

The Captain gulped down the last of his tea and jumped to his feet. Even the concept of some real rest was the best thing he had heard in days. He rushed out of the room.

“Your Commander sent us here for time to rest up, did he not?”

“Yes, but we’re still too close to the enemy positions to think for a moment that we are safe.”

The Captain nodded in agreement.

“Had you ever seen action before these days, Captain?” she asked.

Becker sighed at the thought of it.

“Nothing more than a few peacekeeping duties. Had some rocks thrown at us, but not much else.”

They both turned and watched through the window as Jones delivered the Major’s orders and news that they could rest. He received a small cheer, but it was stilted and only mildly enthusiastic. Chandra didn’t blame them; rest isn’t so easy when you know you’re waking up to another day of hell.

“Captain, I want an officer on duty for every watch, Jones will liaise with you for a schedule.”

“Got it.”

She looked up to see an increasing fear in the tank commander’s eyes. She reached out her hand and placed it on his. The surge of warmth caused him to instantly relax a little.

“We’ll stop them before they reach your family, Captain.”

“We better or there is no hope for the world.”

He’s probably right, she thought to herself. When half of Europe is gone, you have to wonder if we could ever win the war. She forced a smile to reassure the man but deep down felt the same sorrow and fear.

“We’ve got a respite, Captain, use it well.”

Becker got to his feet, gave a casual and friendly salute to the Major and made to leave the room. She could already hear the sound of dozens of bed frames popping open throughout the building as the troops enthusiastically set up their home for the night. Every one of them carried a handheld retractable bed for field work, but few had gotten the opportunity to use them in recent days. They had lived day and night in rubble and trenches in fear that at any moment they would be attacked.

“Major, I have set the watches for the night, and the first will be on duty in five. Lieutenant Green will assemble them for you.”

“Thank you, Captain Jones. Now I suggest you do the only sensible thing one can right now, enjoy the sleep whilst you can get it.”

The Captain smiled as he strolled out of the room to do just that.

“Captain Becker, you must do the same, and that’s an order.”

He lifted up a pack which lay beside him carrying his bedding and rations. He was ready to drop where he stood. Chandra took to her feet and lifted her rifle onto her shoulder. She stepped out of the building to watch the flurry of movement outside as the troops hauled their equipment into the buildings, and the tankers did likewise. She sat down on the steps and simply watched.

As she knelt down to sit, she was once again struck by a bolt of pain through her leg that reached her spine. The injury needed many more weeks to heal, but she’d never admit it.

“Lieutenant Green reporting for duty, Ma’am!”

She turned in surprise at the formality of the soldier. “I think we are way past such things, Lieutenant.”

The man nodded and relaxed his shoulders.

“The Commander would have my arse if I didn’t keep to the protocols, Ma’am.”

“Don’t you worry about him. The only thing of concern out here is me, and the enemy.”

“So what are your orders, Major?”

“I want paired groupings. Two on permanent guard at the doors to this building and another at the other there,” she pointed. “The other three pairs will maintain a perimeter and rolling patrols.”

“Are you expecting any trouble, Ma’am?”

“I hope not, but that’s no reason not to be prepared.”

Captain Jones sat on the wall of the building they had made their home for the night. He stared out into the still of the night. To the north he could still hear music blaring from a few locations as some of the town’s people continued to party through the night. They were oblivious and ignorant of the danger posed against them. To the south it was totally silent, there being no humans left alive there and no obvious movement of the enemy.

The first of the morning rays were already appearing on the horizon. Daylight was always welcome when facing such a fearsome enemy. Jones quickly turned as he heard the sound of vehicles approaching from the north. He listened for a moment and noticed they didn’t sound like the distinctive engines of their enemy.

Private Walker, sitting beside him, leapt to his feet. They each took cover behind the wall of the steps and waited. The two men watched as three police vehicles rolled into view, so they lowered their weapons and stepped out from their position to greet the incoming officers. They must have finally decided to do some work, thought the Captain.

Several others on duty were watching casually. Jones held up his hand in both greeting and asking them to halt. The three cars slowly drew to a stop. Two men got out from each vehicle. The driver of the first shouted out.

“Good morning! I’m Sergeant Lambert!”

Jones was just a few metres away from the vehicle when he could see the police officer behind the Sergeant was raising a handgun. The Captain quickly reached for his rifle, but it was slung casually on his side. In a time when humanity was coming together against a common enemy, he had not expected to have to protect himself against their own.

Just as he got a hand on the grip of his weapon, he was struck by a stun round from one of the police non-lethal weapons. He felt the rifle clash against his leg as his body went limp and crumbled to the ground. The first thing he saw as his head hit the ground was Walker dropping a few metres from him.

Shouting erupted from the other guards, but it was too late. The two soldiers were hauled into the back of one of the vehicles and speeding away towards the centre of the city before anything could be done. Several of the soldiers trained their weapons on the vehicles and were ready to fire, but held back, knowing they might hit their own.

No alert was needed as the constant shouting from the on duty guards had woken the rest of their companions. Chandra rushed out the door of the main building with half her gear on and weapon in hand. She arrived just in time to see the police vehicles disappear from view.

“What the hell just happened?” she roared.

Blinker rushed up to her.

“Ma’am, local police just took Captain Jones and Private Walker!”

“What? Why?”

The man shook his head. She turned to see Friday and Becker approaching her, and two officers were close behind. They all looked to her for answers. The news was already spreading like wildfire. Still a little stunned from being awoken so suddenly, the Major tried desperately to try and make sense of the situation.

“They didn’t want us here, Major, so they’ve just played their final hand,” said Becker.

“What are you saying, Captain?” asked Friday.

“That they are holding us to ransom.”

Then it clicked in the Major’s head. She could already see the pieces coming together.

“What are we gonna do?” asked Yorath.

“We can’t go in there with force. They’re civilians,” said Suarez.

“The hell we can’t. They don’t want us here and that’s fine, but they have no right to attack my troopers and hold them hostage.”

She turned to see all the troops at her command had assembled around her. They were furious at the news and all looked to her for answers.

“Grab your kit, we move out in five. We’re going to get our friends back!”

A cheer rang out as they rushed about their business. Not all week had she seen such enthusiasm within the ranks of the infantry. She could feel the bitterness and hatred in her grow for what the city authorities were doing to them. But perhaps, she thought, it’s just what we need. This could boost morale better than anything.

The sun was up, lighting their approach to the city as the six vehicles trundled towards the centre. Chandra could feel a new sense of enthusiasm and a strengthened comradery among the troops she commanded. A day before, many of them were strangers to each other, but now they were more united in their cause than ever.

As they approached the town square, they could see a wall of police uniforms in front of the station. They were armed but carried their weapons casually.

“Take us right up in front of them,” said Chandra.

They all knew the police would not dare risk a firefight with a well equipped company of soldiers, even if it was way under strength.

“That’s the bastard who took the Captain, the smug bastard in the middle,” said Blinker.

Chandra nodded, identifying the Sergeant quickly from the Private’s rather coarse but accurate description. The six tanks rumbled up into the street, filling much of the square. The police officers did not flinch, safe in the knowledge that they had authority in the town, and that military personnel would not dare touch them. Chandra chuckled just a little at the thought, knowing that in this case, they were very much mistaken.

The vehicles drew up to the police line in a column two wide. It was much as they could fit in the streets of the city. The crews powered down their engines in anticipation of the Major wanting to be heard. She stood up on Becker’s tank beside the turret, standing several metres high over the police line. She could feel her blood boiling as she tried to find the words to address them. Many of the officers stood with their rifles lowered but in both hands, others with their arms crossed in defiance. The Mayor was nowhere to be seen.

“Who is in charge here?”

She waited for a moment. The Major wanted to give them the time to fully take in the threat before them and bend to her will. After an uncomfortable silence, one of them finally spoke.

“I am, Sergeant Lambert.”

“Really? A city this large and you are the man in charge here?”

“In charge during hostile situations, yes. You have entered our city illegally and without welcome. You are putting the lives of all of us in danger!”

Chandra shook her head in disbelief.

“If you leave this city immediately and head east, your two men will be brought to you when you are ten kilometres from the outskirts.”

“I don’t want to hear your demands, Sergeant! You have kidnapped soldiers of the British army who were deployed here under the command of Brigadier Dupont. You have no authority or justification to detain my soldiers!”

“The facts remain the same, Major!”

“Sergeant Lambert. I will not discuss this any further with you. Return our soldiers, or you will be treated as an enemy combatant!”

The man shook his head, calling her bluff. She turned back to Captain Becker who sat in his turret with a look of bewilderment on his face.

“Keep your crews at the ready. I don’t want any violence here, but if they start it, I sure want to be the one to finish it.”

Becker nodded. He could not believe that they may have to fire on civilians, but neither could he believe that these people were effectively aiding the enemy by hindering friendly troops. Chandra looked town the column of vehicles.

“Company, dismount!”

She leapt from the vehicle as the other troops formed up with her. She strode right up to the police sergeant, who stood with dozens of his officers, and waited for him to move. She raised her rifle and quickly trained it on him. His comrades gasped at the sight and stood stunned. In the distance, they could hear several cars tearing towards their position. She glared at the Sergeant, but he looked as surprised as she did.

Chandra turned back as she heard a car screech to a halt, and several police officers frantically pushed their way to the front with no weapons in hand.

“Sergeant! There’s an army heading up that road, and fast!”

Chandra lowered her rifle and grabbed the man by his shirt.

“Tanks? Mechs? How many?”

“A lot, they’ll be on us in maybe ten minutes.”

Panic spread across the police officers as their line began to break.

“You must leave now or condemn us all!” Lambert roared.

“If we leave, you die, all of you!”

She turned back and looked up at Becker. “Captain, we’ve got incoming from the south, form up and be ready!”

She turned to pass on orders to her troops that were gathering around her, but the police Sergeant grabbed at her shoulders.

“Major! You can’t stay!”

“We have no choice! Now release our two men and let us do our job! The best thing you can do right now is organise an evacuation!”

The police sergeant lifted his rifle in anger and aimed right at the Major’s head.

“Leave now, Major!”

She grabbed the barrel of his weapon, twisting it quickly out of the way and delivered a swift punch to the man’s face. He lost grip on his weapon and stumbled back. He stood a head taller than Chandra but was as much stunned by the strike as much as that she was able to deliver it. She threw his rifle back at him in anger.

“Sergeant Lambert. Release my men and get your people the hell out of here!”

Explosions erupted in the distance in a continuous barrage as the suburbs were struck by the incoming forces.

“You can’t stay here, Sergeant. They will kill everyone in their path!”

She could see the look of fear and hesitation on the police officer’s face. He could hear that the civilian population were being attacked before the aliens even knew there were military forces in the town. His eyes glazed over at the realisation that he’d led his people to their deaths.

“Sergeant! Get moving, save those that you can!”

Lambert snapped out of it and turned to his officers, shouting for them to get to work. They scattered from the scene as the Major turned back to the southern road where Becker’s tanks were manoeuvring into a defensive position. Captain Friday marched up to her position.

“How long do we stay here, Major?”

“For as long as we can! Captain, you’re in charge here!”

“Where are you going Major?”

“I am getting our men back! Monty, Lieutenant Green, form up the platoon!”

She lifted her rifle and rushed forward as her unit formed up. The police who had previously stood against them scattered for their vehicles to flee the city and help any that they could. Chandra could not help but think their idiocy may have killed them all. She charged through the doors of the police precinct to find it a flurry of activity. The Major grabbed the arm of a policewoman who was rushing by in a panic.

“Where are the holding cells?” she barked.

The woman’s eyes were wide with fear. Chandra shook her and she began to mumble.

“In the basement.”

She pointed to the stairs. Chandra released her grip and rushed for the doors. They charged down the steps so fast they could barely maintain their footing. The officers on duty had already fled, and the dozen prisoners were yelling for help. Chandra rushed along the line of cells trying to identify her two companions, but they were nowhere to be seen.

“God damn it!”

“Where the fuck are they?” shouted Monty.

“That bastard Legrant must have moved them!”

She stopped for a moment to think.

“What do we do Major?” Green asked.

“Release the prisoners, then we move out.”

“These are criminals,” stated Blinker.

Chandra spun around to confront the Private. “No, none of these people have been convicted. These are holding cells, not a prison! We are not leaving them to die!”

Blinker nodded, feeling more than a little sheepish for questioning the Major. The platoon rushed along the lines opening the cells. The occupants didn’t stop to thank them. Chandra rushed to the stairwell without a further word. She reached the foyer and caught a glimpse of Legrant rushing for the door. She intercepted him, hauling him back against the sidewall.

“Where are my men?” she exploded.

“I, I…”

“Well? Speak up!”

“They are at the Marmotte Station.”

“Which is where?”

The man hesitated. She could see the fear in his eyes and his unwillingness to speak.


“To the south.”

She pulled him back and threw him against the wall again. The man winced in pain as his back smashed into it, and the air was taken out of him.

“You have just condemned two fine men to die. Why?”

An explosion blasted out down the street, closer than any other. The ground shook beneath them. She knew that it was the sound of Becker’s tanks engaging the enemy.

“Major! We have to get out of here!”

She glared at Legrant with a bitter hatred.

“I pray we never meet again, for you will not survive. Get out of my sight!”

The Mayor scurried off as she raised her rifle and stepped out of the precinct to see the tanks rocked back as their guns roared. The rest of the Company had taken cover in nearby buildings, but the incoming enemy had not yet come into range.

“What do we do now?” asked Green.

She continued to stare down the road past the tanks to the south. She could just make out the outline of a column of enemy vehicles approaching in the distance. Captain Jones and Private Walker now lay far behind enemy lines, if they were alive at all.

“There’s nothing left for us here but death and destruction,” she whispered.

“What was that, Major?”

He could barely hear her words over the sound of the gunfire.

“Immediate withdrawal, spread the word, we pull out now!”

Green nodded in relief, but also sadness in the realisation that they had to leave men behind. He ran along the edge of the buildings shouting the orders as the Major leapt onto Becker’s tank. She knelt down and yelled.

“Get us the hell out of here, Captain!”

The troops flooded across the street and clambered onto the vehicles as they reversed back to the square, so as to not expose their flank or rear armour. As they got to the turning point, Yorath and the last of the troops reached them and clambered aboard. Energy pulses smashed into the ground around them, but they were still far enough off that the fire was inaccurate and harassing at best.

The six armoured vehicles rotated on the spot. The Major turned and gazed down the southern road in the direction of Jones’ reported location. She hated having to leave him there, but more than anything, she despised Mayor Legrant and his people for being the cause of such a pointless loss.

“Where is the Captain?” Friday shouted.

Chandra turned to see him calling her from the other side of the vehicle as they rocked forward and began to gain speed going easterly. She shook her head, and he understood immediately.

“What did they do to him?”

She looked up at the saddened Captain.

“He’s being held a few kilometres to the south, right behind that enemy offensive.”

Friday sat back against the armour of the vehicle, knowing that all hope was lost.

“Why are we leaving him?” Yorath asked.

“Because any other path would have us all dead before midday,” countered Chandra.

The young Lieutenant reached forward aggressively to argue with the Major. Captain Friday grabbed him by the chest plate of his armour and threw him back.

“Don’t believe for one second that any of us want to leave Jones or Walker behind. We’ve fought alongside them longer than you have been in this war. Let it go!”

Chandra rested back against the turret of the vehicle and slumped as her vision blurred. She could feel her eyes water just slightly, and a single tear trickled down her face. She could think of nothing but the sorrow of their loss. The column reached the open road, passing civilians as they desperately tried to load up vehicles and leave. None of them had any sympathy for the town’s people as explosions continued to erupt across the centre.

Chapter 7

“Give me an update, Major.”

Taylor stood at a large display screen on the sidewall of the research centre. He was looking at a display monitor with General White sitting with many other high ranking officials. They both knew that such programs should take months or years to complete, not the days that he had been given.

“The first dozen suits are complete, Sir. We have been liaising with suitable manufacturing plants across Europe, but it’s taking time.”

“That’s one luxury we don’t have, Major.”

No shit, thought the Major. We’re the ones fighting this damn war.

“General, these factories are predominately civilian firms that are used to working to deadlines in months and years.”

“I fully appreciate the problems, Major. We are getting production moving domestically, but it’s all taking time.”

“Any news on the enemy’s manufacturing progress?”

“Not much. What we do know, is whatever they are doing, it’s big. Our armies are suffering enough at the hands of these bastards. We cannot afford for the enemy to gain an even greater advantage.”

“I don’t see we can do much about it, Sir. Our armies can barely hold the Mechs back as it is.”

The General turned to listen to news that was being handed to him. He was heavily distracted until he looked up at the other officers in the room with a morbid expression.

“Gentlemen, we have reports of substantial forces having left Tartaros and heading for the coast of Florida at high speed. The invasion of the United States has begun.”

White turned to the Major.

“Mitch, we’re going to do everything we can to fight on our shoreline. The armies in Europe have shown remarkable resolve, but let us not be under any illusions. At present, we are losing this war. Whatever the enemy is building will almost certainly be a game changer. You are well placed to do something about it, and have the best equipment available to you.”

Taylor shook his head. They were being driven back on an almost daily basis. Yet the General was asking him to pursue a major operation behind enemy lines. He knew it had to be done, but he could not help but feel that it was suicidal.

“Get hold of Brigadier Dupont, he will provide you with intel and resources. Do whatever you have to, Major.”

Jones lay flat on the small prison bed. He appeared so relaxed anyone would think there wasn’t a war on. Private Walker stood grasping the bars of the door of the barred cell. They could both hear Becker’s tanks roaring in the distance and enemy gunfire pounding the city.

“We’re finished,” said Walker.

Jones didn’t respond. He was in a daze.

“How can you just lie there like that?” screamed Walker.

The Captain could not believe that his undoing had been caused by his own race. His hatred of the enemy had been surpassed by that of the Mayor and his supporters. In the distance, he could hear the town being bombarded, but he had no sympathy. Not only had the population been ignorant and stupid, they had aided the enemy.

“What are you gonna do? How are we going to get out of here? Captain! Wake up!”

“I’m here,” he replied dryly.

“How can you just lie there?”

“What else is there to do?”

“We have to find a way out of here!”

“These cells were built to keep people secure. We have no weapons, no tools and no allies, so what do you suggest we do?”


Jones sat up on the bed and leaned back against the wall as he looked at the stricken Private.

“This station is empty, the police have gone and we’re the only ones in holding. There is no way out, not unless a lucky shell blasts a way out.”

“So we just sit here and hope?”

“Not like there’s any another choice, we’ve been left here to die.”

“The Major will come for us. She won’t leave us behind.”

The Captain sighed. He knew the Private must know they were lost, but he didn’t want to accept it.

“I am sure Major Chandra will have done everything in her power to help us, but the fact remains that this town is being overrun. What can the remains of our Company do against an army?”

Walker rested back against the bars, collapsing down to the ground until he lay back against the door. His shoulders sagged, and he was starting to realise how desperate their situation was.

“We’re going to die in here, aren’t we? No food, no water, and no hope of rescue.”

“It’s entirely possible, but I wouldn’t give up all hope just yet. There’s always a chance.”

The man dropped his head in sadness as he imagined the prolonged and unheroic deaths facing them. The two men sat silently listening to the onslaught rage on in the streets around them. They knew that many of the civilians would not escape Amiens, but they no longer cared. The two men straightened as they heard the doors of the precinct being blown off.

The police station was relatively small, and they were only thirty metres from the entrance. Walker leapt to his feet as Jones leant forward on the bed. They both listened intently.

“Think that’s the Major coming for us?” asked Walker.

Jones knew that it was highly unlikely, but he didn’t want to dash the Private’s hopes. Then over the explosions they realised the heavy footsteps of Mechs were approaching. Walker turned back to the Captain with a grim and lost expression. He wanted to do nothing but run, but he was trapped like a beast awaiting the hunter.

“How did it come to this?”

“We gave them hell, Private. Our comrades fight on, we did not falter.”

“And yet we will die for some idiot that doesn’t deserve to live?”

The Captain nodded, and he could not disagree. He stood up slowly to meet his enemy standing up. All they could hear were the heavy footsteps of several Mechs pacing steadily down the corridor towards them. A second later the door to the cells block erupted as it was struck by an energy pulse. The door flew off its hinges and smashed into the bars of the adjacent cell.

The two soldiers barely flinched at the impact as they had already come to accept their fate. They stood in the centre of their cell staring at the gaping hole where the door used to stand. A Mech came through it. They had always been a frightful and imposing enemy, but without a weapon in hand they were now terrifying.

“Don’t show any fear,” said Jones.

It stepped closer as a second entered the room although neither showed any signs of firing. They circled around the cell as a third joined them. He was instantly recognisable as being different and more important. He wore the same armour as the others, but it was lavishly decorated with etching and symbols that were not recognisable to the human eye. Whereas the other Mechs had a flat glass-like section to protect their head, this soldier wore an actual helmet. It was made out to look like some kind of aggressive animal, like a bull’s head with spiralling horns.

The two normal Mechs separated to allow this new enemy to come forward in the cell. Jones watched in fascination as he had quickly realised that this was one of their leaders. For a moment the two groups glared at each other, studying the other intently. Jones and Walker knew they were at the enemy’s mercy and therefore did nothing but watch them. Suddenly the lead Mech grasped the bars of the cell and ripped the door from the cage, throwing it aside as if it was nothing.

The door was off, but the three enemy soldiers stood in their way. Both men knew it was suicide to make a break for it, but they still considered it. The leader tapped a few devices on the left arm of his suit and then righted himself. A fine mist burst from the suit as several seals were released and sections of the armour hinged open.

Jones could do nothing but stand and watch as the creature within the suit was revealed to them. He couldn’t understand how the two of them were still alive. The mist cleared and they could make out the shape of the beast within. It stepped out from the suit. It stood a head taller than Jones.

The creature wore a close fitting type of compression suit. Its waist was as narrow as the Captain’s, but its chest and shoulders were broad. It’s dark blue skin almost blending in to the charcoal gray suit that it wore. Despite the creature resembling a human in basic design, every element was individually different.

“What do you want with us?”

“I doubt it speaks English, Sir.”

The creature shot a glance at the Private and turned back to the Captain. The two men expected to die at any moment. They could think of no reason for the situation, other than for their attackers to revel in their deaths. Then the creature spoke.

“Captain Jones.”

The voice was coarse and gravelly, and it spoke slowly as if speaking the language for the first time. Charlie was taken aback. The last thing he expected was to hear the English language come from the enemy’s mouth, let alone his own name. Still speechless, he simply nodded. The creature was more imposing than any man he had ever met. He knew from Taylor’s account that the beast could kill him with its bare hands in seconds.

“You have fought well,” the creature growled.

As it spoke, it bore its sharp teeth that looked as if they were cut from steel.

“Is that why you know my name?”

The beast nodded sternly. It continued in a deep rumbling voice.

“I am Karadag, leader of the 5 ^ th Army.”

“And?” snapped Jones.

The wit and rudeness was lost on the creature who took the Captain’s comments literally.

“You are strong, you and your two Majors, that impresses me.”

“You going to give me a medal?”

Karadag flicked his arm, releasing a blade that spun from the forearm section of his suit and caught it in his grip. He thrust the blade into Walker’s shoulder. It pierced the man without resistance and exited by his shoulder blade. He gave out a loud cry in pain. Jones took a quick step towards the beast, but it snapped its head around and held up its other hand to stop him. Jones knew it was futile.

“I have learnt something of language, Captain. You would be wise to avoid angering me.”

Charlie looked at the wincing face of his comrade who was still skewed by the blade.

“Alright, you’ve made your point!”

Karadag ripped the blade back out from Walker’s shoulder. The soldier immediately crumpled to the floor in agony. Jones dropped down beside him to look at his wound. It was a clean strike, missing anything major, so he could be patched up. Jones turned as Karadag’s blade folded away into in to his suit, and he stood glaring at them.

“What do you want from us?”

The Mech leader ignored the Captain and turned to his two guards. As he reached them, he stopped and turned back.

“Do you still not have a name for us?”

I can think of many, you bastard, thought Jones. But he shook his head.

“Then you may call us the Krycenaeans.”

Karadag turned again to leave but stopped as Jones fired another question at him.

“Is that the name of your people?”

“No, but it is the best your language can manage.”

The imposing leader strode out of the room as the two Mechs approached. Jones knew he could do nothing to resist them, and they were going where the enemy wanted.

Major Chandra’s beleaguered column had been rolling east for hours in full retreat. She’d reported the loss of Amiens, but it had come as no surprise to Phillips, who had little advice to give her. She’d decided to do the only thing that seemed to make sense, to head for Ramstein. She knew the Major was making some headway on something which could help. She thought, by god we need it.

As the column drew up to the entrance to the base, they were surprised to see just two soldiers on guard and little sign of any further security. The men didn’t even ask for identification, simply opening the gate for their approach. She got the impression that they had seen many more fleeing troops pass through their gate.

“Bring us to a halt by the guards, Captain.”

Becker’s lead vehicle rocked to a halt next to the two men. Their faces were distraught and bodies lax. She could tell they too had seen combat and had likely been posted there as a resting deployment.

“Major Chandra of the 2 ^ nd Inter-Allied Company.”

“What battalion, Ma’am?”One of them mumbled.

She looked back to her comrades. She no longer knew how they could even be identified. The Company was a mix of many troops from several battalions and without an army to belong to. It was yet another painful reminder of what they had lost. She turned back to the guards.

“We, we have no battalion, this is it.”

The two guards look across the faces of the beleaguered troops. They righted themselves as they realised that their own hardships and losses were belittled. They could see a mix of uniforms, instantly telling them that these were the few survivors of many units. They shook their heads in disbelief and horror.

“What can we do for you, Ma’am?”

“You can guide us to Major Mitch Taylor.”

“I am sorry, Ma’am, but I have not heard of the Major.”

“I was told he was here conducting tests on new equipment that could give us a fighting chance. He arrived a couple of days ago.”

The other guard stepped forward and blurted out.

“Professor Reiter. If your Major was testing anything on this base, Reiter would have something to do with it.”

“How can I find this Reiter?”

“Follow the signs to Unit 108, but you’ll need security clearance to get in. I’ve no idea what goes on behind those doors.”

Chandra nodded in gratitude. She waved for Becker to move out. The column rode steadily through the base, passing many abandoned buildings. Some fields had lines of aircraft that had been left to rot for decades. Ramstein appeared to be a graveyard for the Air Force. She only prayed they hadn’t gone there to die also.

“Major Taylor!” shouted a guard.

He was stood in front of the new weapon he’d been testing, admiring its construction. Taylor was deep in thought, so the guard shouted again, and he quickly turned to the man.

“Sir, I’ve got a Major Chandra asking for you outside. She’s not cleared, but she is quite adamant that she had the right place.”

“Put the security feed on screen!”

The large display monitor the Major had been using for video feeds to General White and other officials flashed. It brought up the camera overlooking the main entrance to their building. He instantly recognised Chandra stood arguing with the guards. She was becoming more and more aggravated. One of the guards quickly reached for his sidearm as the tension increased.

Before he could raise the weapon the Major had taken hold of it, elbowed the man to the face and twisted the pistol from his hands. Taylor watched in amazement as she took the two men to pieces. She kicked to the other’s lead leg, knocking him down onto one knee. She then struck him in the jaw with the grip of the other man’s pistol. In just a few seconds she had incapacitated both men.

Chandra threw down the guard’s pistol in spite and looked up into the camera.

“I am Major Chandra of the 2 ^ nd Inter-Allied Company. Major Taylor is under my command, and I demand to enter immediately!”

Mitch smiled at the dry tone of the woman and her devastating ability. It never ceased to amaze him how the feisty woman managed to be so strong and aggressive. She truly deserved her command, he thought. He turned back to the guard.

“Let her in.”

“But, Sir, she’s just assaulted two of our men!”

“They drew on her, and she has not shown any signs of being a threat. I suggest you give your men better hand-to-hand combat training.”

“Sir, I must protest.”

Taylor turned his full body to stand off against the man. He was a corporal in the USAF. It was clear that he’d never fought in the air or on the land.

“Corporal, I couldn’t give a god damn for your opinion. You let her in, or I’ll throw you out to her.”

Sergeants Silva and Parker, who stood just a couple of metres away from the Major, smiled wickedly to each other. They were both greatly entertained by Taylor’s handling of the snivelling base guard. The two went up to Taylor as the three watched the corridor and awaited their friends. The Corporal re-appeared, leading Chandra, Friday and Becker. Taylor rushed forward and threw his arms around the Major, lifting her off her feet. She was about to protest when she was overwhelmed with the re-union.

“Damn it’s good to see you, Major!” shouted Taylor.


Taylor released her and turned to Becker, giving him an inquisitive look. He turned back to Chandra.

“Where is Charlie?”

She closed her eyes in sadness.

“Dead? Not a chance!”

“We have no idea,” said Friday.

“What? How?”

Chandra sighed and blurted out in anger.

“Fucking locals in Amiens locked him up, along with Private Walker. They didn’t want us there, and before we could get him back, the Mechs launched a new offensive. He’s behind enemy lines. That’s all we know.”

“And still locked up?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. The whole situations a total mess.”

Taylor shook his head in disbelief, and he could not believe that the Captain was dead. He would not allow himself to believe it. Charlie Jones had become one of his closest friends, and he had lost too much already to believe the Captain had gone. Before he could dwell on it any longer, Becker stepped forward.

“I am sorry for your loss, Major. I worked with the Captain, and he was a fine man.”

Taylor nodded in agreement, the best, he thought. He peered into Becker’s eyes, trying to identify him.

“I am Captain Becker. My armoured section has been attached to your company.”

“Where is the rest of your division now, Captain?”

“I don’t know, Major. Me and my men are part of this Company now. You are our new family.”

Taylor smiled. He liked the Captain already, but he didn’t replace Jones.

“Armour? We could have done with you last week.”

“We could have done with more of everything last week,” said Chandra.

With that in mind, the Major turned and looked around at the vast research facility and some of the hardware displayed behind Taylor.

“I see you really are working on new equipment.”

“Commander Phillips sent you here to assist?” asked Taylor.

“I don’t even know where the Commander is. What I can tell you is that if we hold anything in France anymore, it can’t be much more than a few kilometres. The enemy is approaching at a rapid speed. New defences are being set up all the time.”

“I am told that the Russians are sending fresh divisions west to assist, as is Poland, the united Yugoslavian nations and several other countries,” stated Taylor.

“It’ll help bolster the defences for sure, but we can’t throw troops at this forever while we lose ground on an almost daily rate. So what is this new equipment you are trialling?” snapped Chandra.

“Sorry, Major, but can you come with me so we can talk privately?” he interrupted.

Chandra initially thought to snap back at him, but then she remembered all that they had gone through together. She nodded and he led her to the excluded conference room. As soon as they were out of sight of the others, Taylor snapped around and blurted out his question.

“What the hell are we doing about getting Jones back?”

“There’s nothing we can do at this stage. Our forces are taking a beating, and even if the Captain is still alive, he’s a long way behind their lines.”

Taylor slammed his fist down on the conference table beside them.

“Damn it, that’s not good enough, Major!”

“If you think for a moment that I wouldn’t give everything to get him back, then you are very much mistaken. Jones is one of finest soldiers I have ever known, but there’s nothing more we can do for him now. The best thing we can do is give our all to fight back their offensive, and give our whole planet some chance of survival!”

Taylor groaned as he turned and paced around the room. The frustration made him want to hit something, but he knew he must restrain himself.

“We’re going to lose many more friends before this is over, and we may not even live to see its outcome. I repeat, all we can do is, give our all,” Chandra said quietly.

“And if our all is not enough?”

“Then we die trying but with honour and pride. We will die as brothers among our comrades.”

“That’s not much of a relief, Major.”

“No, but I’m giving it to you straight. We have a job to do, so let’s do it.”

A light flashed on the intercom on the desk, followed by a buzzer. Taylor stepped forward and smashed down on it hard with his fist.

“What is it?”

“Sir, I have General White for you.”

“Put him through!”

The wall beside them flickered and lit up with a video feed from the General’s command centre. He stood in the centre of a room surrounded with personnel and screens.

“General, this is Major Chandra. She commands the combined company we have here.”

“I know who the Major is. Good to finally meet you.”

He turned his gaze to Taylor.

“Major. Enemy forces have struck along much of the eastern seaboard. We had a lot more time to prepare the defences than you did in France. We’ve repulsed many of their best efforts, but they have still gained a foothold in several locations.”

“Think you can fight them off, Sir?”

“We’re giving them hell, Major. Canadian forces are re-enforcing us from the north, but the South Americans are still struggling and losing territory down south. We do not have the resources to assist them. National Guard and regular forces are already amassing on the Mexican border, but I pray to God they are not needed.”

“What can I do for you, General?”

“The equipment that you have been testing is starting to be produced in domestic factories, but it has still not been combat tested. I want reports as to its combat effectiveness. Following that, production will be out of your hands, but we need continuous development.”

“I am a combat officer, Sir, not a scientist.”

“You’ll be whatever we need you to be, Major. I want that equipment tested under fire! I’ll expect your report by the end of tomorrow.”

The transmission cut off and Taylor turned to Chandra.

“Easy for him to say.”

“We’re fighting and dying every day, so what more is another fight?”


“So this equipment you have, ready to fill me in?”

Taylor nodded as he contemplated the General’s words.

“Is it really that big a deal?”

“See for yourself.”

Taylor led the British Major back out into the main research facility where Becker was closely studying the test hardware. They turned to see that Reiter was approaching with a broad grin across his face.

“Major, I have twenty-five suits ready for further evaluation.”

“Have them brought outside. I have some new test pilots!”

“Assuming this stuff even works, can we get it made in time?” asked Chandra.

“Production is already getting up and running, so I hope so.”

Taylor stepped forward and led them out of the facility to greet the rest of the troops. The Major stepped out to a cry of excitement from a few of them. Others joined in as they realised who he was, but he didn’t recognise them. He held up his hand to quieten them down. The Major looked across at their faces, and he knew only half of them.

“Welcome to Ramstein! For those of you that are new to the Company, I am Major Taylor. I was sent here to test equipment that will hopefully radically increase the combat effectiveness of the individual soldier many times over.”

A large shutter door in the facility opened behind him to reveal a storage and manufacturing plant area. A number of lab scientists wheeled out cradles carrying the equipment that Chandra had only gotten a brief glimpse of moments before. The troops watched as he strapped himself into one of the sets and lifted up the hulking weapon which looked as if it could only be vehicle mounted.

“This equipment will make you stronger and faster. It will provide protection from enemy small arms to your most vital areas. You will have greater firepower and more ammunition.”

“Sir, why haven’t we had this kind of equipment before?” shouted Yorath.

Taylor sighed as he thought, damn right, why haven’t we?

“The fact is that one set of this equipment will cost more than your salary for a few years. No government on Earth has been willing to develop and pay for this equipment for combat roles when we had not been at war for generations. The exoskeleton has seen some non-combat usage, but its cost has been prohibitive to mainstream purchase.”

“And what, governments are suddenly able to pay for it all!” fumed Yorath.

Taylor looked across at the blank faces of the troops, all wanting to know why they had been left underequipped.

“If you want peace, prepare for war. An age old truth that is long forgotten, in lieu of subsidising areas that will increase politicians’ votes. That was the reality of the world we used to live in. Today the world has changed, and humanity has changed. The resources required will go where they are most needed, and right now the war effort is all that matters.”

“And if this equipment had been developed and issued decades ago, perhaps we would not have lost France,” shouted Suarez.

“True, but that time has been and gone. Let’s not waste valuable time on wondering what could have been, and focus on what we can achieve! You say we have taken a beating in this war, I say the enemy gravely underestimated our resolve and capabilities.”

Several of the men looked confused and unsure of what the Major meant. They looked around at the blood and dirt covered troops and thought of the great losses and sacrifices they had endured. Yorath spoke up, clearly being one to speak his mind at all times.

“How on earth do you figure that, Major?”

Taylor smiled, glad that the Lieutenant had played into his plan.

“This enemy is a technologically advanced race. And yet, they haven’t completely driven our forces to the wind. They’ve not rolled over our armies like ants. We have stopped them, and we continue to cause significant damage to their forces. We’re down, but we’re not out! We know we can kill those bastards, and we know we can stop them!”

Several nodded and grunted in response. They thought back to the first triumph in Paris when they drove back the Mechs from the city. They were not an invincible foe.

“We have a chance here. A chance to be better soldiers than we could ever be. The first production equipment here desperately needs testing. Are you willing to take the fight to the enemy? Do you want to give them a damn good ass-whooping?”

The troops leapt up with a cry of excitement.

“Alright! Settle down! We’ve got twenty-five sets that are ready for action. Take a rest and get some food in you. At 1300 hours your task is to become accustomed to this gear. Get used to the way it moves, the increases in strength and speed you will feel. Test the weapons on the range. By the evening I want you ready to move, and in the morning we take this gear into action!”

He looked across their faces, seeing at least a spark of excitement as they waited for his final word.

“Any questions?”

“Sir, who’s in charge here?” asked Yorath.

“The Company is led by Major Chandra. However, the development and testing project here is under my command. I’m here to make sure this equipment is up to the task, but we’re all under the command of the Major as far as operations are concerned. That’ll be all, fall out and get some chow!”

They quickly drifted apart as they followed the signs to the mess hall. It was a welcome relief after the weeks of living on field rations.”

Captain Friday strode up to Taylor, seeing that there was more concern in his eyes than just the threats they had faced since arriving in Europe.

“What’s bothering you, Mitch?” he asked.

“Aside from the pressure to make this work, and the vast armies approaching us?”

“Yeah, I know General White has been in touch with you, so it must be about more than just this equipment.”

Taylor nodded.

“Mech forces have attacked across the Eastern seaboard. Our forces have repulsed several of the landings, but a few have gained a foothold on US soil.”

“It was inevitable.”

“Doesn’t make it any easier to take in. Our homeland has been invaded by foreign forces for the first time in its history, and we aren’t there to defend it.”

“But tens of thousands of troops are, as well as hundreds of thousands of armed civilians. We have the 2nd Amendment for a reason.”

“And you think that’s right? Civilians should have to fight and die in our place?”

“We’re fighting the same war. Any amount of progress we make here helps our country.”

“And our families?”

“We both know they are a long way from this conflict, as far as anyone can hope to be. If any harm reaches them, then it’s because the rest of us have failed.”

“I should never have brought us here,” said Taylor.

He sighed as he thought about the horrific casualties his company had endured, whittling the marine unit down to less than a platoon within an amalgamated force. He turned away from the Captain to be greeted by the face of Eli Parker who strode towards him. Then it struck him, the reason they had gotten to where they were that day.

Was it all worth it? Taylor asked himself. He knew in his heart that it was. They’d have to fight this war somewhere, here was as good as any.

“Major, you should get some food and rest, you’ll need your strength,” mused Eli.

He smiled. Had it been from anyone else he would have taken offense at the suggestion that he might be fatigued. She noticed the Captain Friday’s stern face behind the Major, clearly concerned for them all.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“About as good as it can be,” replied Taylor.

“Let’s get that chow,” countered Friday.

The Major turned and nodded to Chandra to follow him. She was pawing at the new equipment and inquisitively studying it. As much as she was eager to put it to the test, she would quite happily take some time off before the process began. She strode up to Taylor and followed the troops to the mess hall.

“How far do you think their armies are from here now?” asked Taylor.

“Maybe fifty kilometres or so. We can’t keep retreating like this forever.”

“Agreed. If we don’t put a stop to their advances soon, we risk losing entire divisions as they get cut off.”

“I am sure Dupont has something in mind.”

“I hope so,” replied Taylor.

Forty minutes later the officers stood by the new sets of equipment, watching the troops strap them on and begin to familiarise themselves with it all. It was at least a relief to see that the new gear came naturally to them. Within minutes, they were running and leaping across the terrain, operating the weapons.

Taylor smiled as he watched the troops have a laugh and joke as they put the exoskeleton suits through their paces and were astonished at the psychical advantages it gave them. Monty charged towards Taylor and Chandra at immense speed as if he intended to plough through them. He came to a quick halt with a grin on his face.

“I’m impressed so far, Major. But how about these guns, are they going to do the trick?”

“A damn sight better than anything we have right now…”

Taylor’s words were cut short by the sharp crack of a siren ringing out across the base. The Company stopped and looked all around them for answers. This can’t be good, thought Taylor. Seconds later a voice rang out on the loudspeakers on the buildings all around them.

“All combat personnel report for duty! All senior officers assemble at drill square B.”

The commands were repeated as everyone looked around for answers.

“Surely they can’t be on us already?” asked Silva.

“We wouldn’t be called for anything less,” said Chandra.

She turned to see that the entire Company had stopped in mid task to await her orders.

“Platoon commanders, assemble your troops, be ready for combat in ten and await further instructions. Be ready, that’s all.”

She turned to Taylor. They both knew the war had reached them once again, but they didn’t want to believe it.

“With me, Major.”

The two officers rushed quickly to the designated site. Both still wore their rifles slung on their backs. In the new age of total war, there was never a time to be without a weapon. They arrived to find the General of the base standing in front of his personal vehicle. There were just ten senior officers gathered. Ramstein had long lost its former glory as a major US base.

“I’ll be short, Gentlemen. Enemy forces have breached the defence line on the border and are heading for us. Re-enforcements are en route, but we have been tasked with bringing their advance to a standstill at the western edge of the base until relief arrives.”

“What is the enemy strength, Sir?” asked Chandra.

“We don’t know.”

She gasped, that was not good news.

“What is our strength?” asked Taylor.

“We can assemble just over four hundred troops on top of your own people. Do you think it can be done?”

“Without any intel on the incoming forces, your guess is as good as mine, General!”

“Major Chandra, you are the most experienced combat officer in charge here, so I am placing you in command of the defence of this base. The rest of you are to report to the Major immediately. That’ll be all, good luck to you all.”

Chapter 8

“Let’s move! Go, go, go!” shouted Chandra.

With little over five hundred troops, the Major led them at a jogging pace to the western edge of the base while Becker’s tanks rolled on up ahead. Still not even a complete battalion and that’s all that could be mustered, she thought. Taylor rushed up to her in one of the exoskeleton suits. She could see that the Major had distributed all of the twenty-five suits.

“Guess you’ll get to put that stuff through its paces after all!” she shouted.

“It’ll make the General happy, I am sure.”

She looked at the hulking weapon Taylor carried as if it weighed little more than a sidearm. The new equipment looked impressive, but she could only hope it performed as well. Chandra was suddenly startled as Friday rushed up at an inhuman speed. She turned back to the Major.

“Are your boys familiar enough with that equipment to use it effectively in combat?”

Taylor nodded. “Nothing to it.”

They reached an embankment and roadway which led up to the western entrance to the base. Becker’s tanks had already begun to dig into positions overlooking the valley. Chandra rushed between the vehicles to the edge to look beyond. She could already make out the silhouettes of Mechs approaching.

“Damn they didn’t hang around!”

“Must have been hot on our tails from Amiens,” growled Friday.

She looked around. They were mostly flanked by thick forestry that was almost impassable, leaving only a hundred metre strip of land for them to defend.

“This’ll do us well. We should be able to hold them here.”

“Should, Major?”

She snapped her head around to investigate why Taylor was questioning her to find he had a big grin on his face. She smiled briefly then looked out at the line of troops gathering behind them. Most were battle weary stragglers or inexperienced base personnel. They were waiting her command.

“I want trenches along the whole ridge here alongside Captain Becker’s armour! We’ve got half an hour, if we’re lucky!”

They looked exhausted and defeated already.

“An army is coming up that road which will destroy everything in its path! Help is on the way, but right now, we are all that stands in its way! You should know that the invasion of the United States has begun!”

Several gasped. For most of them it was their homeland, and the thought of enemy on their soil was something they could never have imagined.

“The United Kingdom will surely face the same within days! We are here because it is our job, and our duty, to do everything in our power to stop this enemy! It doesn’t matter where we fight. It doesn’t matter on what soil or country we fight and die on. We are as one now. Not Americans, not British, not German, but human! Now let’s give them what for!”

The troops roared with the first real excitement and enthusiasm she had heard in days as they rushed to unload the trench diggers from Becker’s vehicles. She knew their morale would not last long under a prolonged assault of the enemy. Many had never seen the devastation the invaders brought, and those that had knew to fear it.

Chandra looked down on the advancing enemy. She could make out only a few vehicles, but dozens of soldiers were approaching. She pulled out her binoculars to take a closer look as Taylor strode up beside her.

“Where’s their air power?” he asked.

“I guess they’re busy fighting the main armies.”

Just as she had said it, they heard the thundering engines of the enemy aircraft low across the treetops. Three fighters burst into view and were approaching them at a tremendous speed.

“Incoming! Take cover! God damn it, Major, you tempted fate!” she shouted.

The troops scattered. She rushed to the rear of Becker’s vehicle and ducked down as the craft soared overhead. Pulses smashed the ground. One struck twenty metres to the Major’s side where she saw it catapult several soldiers into the air. She knew that few of them would have survived.

“Where’s our damn air support?” shouted Yorath.

She looked up to see the young officer had taken refuge behind the vehicle alongside her.

“Taking as much as a beating as the rest of us!” Taylor replied.

She turned around to see the Major the other side of her. The ground shook as dozens of energy pulses crashed into the ground and tore up the road. Dirt and tarmac was thrown in every direction. The last few blasts rang out as the enemy craft zoomed overhead and banked sharply for another pass.

“God damn it, those bastards are pissing me off!” Taylor shouted.

The Major lifted himself up and casually took a few paces out into the open as the fighters turned sharply to make their second run. He stood defiantly before them.

“Taylor! What the hell are you doing!” shouted Chandra.

He ignored her and lifted up his new weapon as the three craft levelled off for their attack. As they soared towards the cowering troops, their weapons opened up and light pulses smashed into the ground. One of the blasts struck a tank and its armour was ripped open. The Major stood calmly as he targeted the centre craft.

He took a deep breath as they came into range and fired five shots from the launcher in quick succession. The rounds flew with a flat trajectory, just as Reiter had said. The troops watched in amazement as the alien craft burst into flames and veered out of control. The guns of the other two stopped firing as they pulled up and increased speed to escape from the scene.

Chandra got up from the cover to stand by the Major and watched the flaming craft smash through the canopy of the nearby forest, bursting into flames. A roar rang out from the men as they celebrated the Major’s victory. She turned to look at him. He’d acted with blatant disregard for his own life, and in doing so had won them a sizeable victory.

“Hell of a gun,” she said.

That was just the boost the troops needed, maybe we can win this fight, she thought. She saw that their casualties were minimal, but the tank that had been struck was immobile. A hatch on the stricken vehicle opened and the crew staggered out. She looked back to the troops who were still celebrating Taylor’s victory.

“Medics, see to the wounded! Everyone else get to work!”

Her troops hauled the trench devices from the vehicles with a new sense of enthusiasm and confidence. Within minutes the defences were being carved out into the landscape, and the vehicles were being dug down into a hull down position. The defensive line ran around the western road and the embankment that ran up it. The enemy would be bottle necked by the road and have no choice but to attack uphill to their positions. She stepped up to Taylor where only he could hear.

“That was a damn risky thing to do, and yet you may have just made the difference in this fight, Major.”

He smiled in response. He hadn’t wanted to be a hero or risk his own life. He had acted out of instinct and the hatred of the enemy. Chandra looked once again through her binoculars. She could see dozens of Mechs pouring out of from the wooded road into the open valley. She walked over to the smouldering tank where Becker was supervising the crew checking it over.

“She won’t move again, but we can keep the gun working while we stay here.”

“Right now our only concern is surviving where we stand, Captain, so that’ll do.”

The Captain nodded, it was yet another loss which he could not easily replace.

“How long until they come into range, Captain?”

“We can hit them from here, but I’d not be confident about armour penetration at this range. We don’t have enough spare to risk it. How long until those re-enforcements get here, Major? We aren’t going to last long.”

She shook her head as she could not answer that question. He nodded in acceptance, turning back to help his crew. She could see Taylor looking out at the incoming enemy with a smile.

“What’s making you so happy, Major?”

“This hardware. It’ll make every soldier who wears it twice the man he was.”

She sighed. “Then I hope we all live to see the day we are issued it.”

Fifteen minutes later the trenches were in place and the tanks were dug in. There was nothing left to do but wait. Captain Becker sat on the turret of his tank with a mug of coffee awaiting the opportunity to engage the first targets. He kept a keen eye on their advances. Chandra knew that, just as before, his calm and confident nature was very much a well practiced technique. Becker was as scared as the rest of them, but his demeanour did wonders for his crews.

“I never thought we’d end up fighting in my homeland. At least not this quickly.”

“The thought of a major war on European soil has long been considered to be a thing of the past,” said Chandra.

“Clearly our experts didn’t tell those bastards that,” snapped Taylor, pointing to the approaching force.

They knew that they were just minutes away from battle, but they were savouring their moment of peace for as long as they could.

“Major,” asked Becker.

“What is it, Captain?”

“Would you do the courtesy of telling us your first name?”

The Major looked at him inquisitively. Her fellow British officers were well accustomed with it in their life together. She noticed that Taylor turned and also awaited her answer.

“We aren’t going to die here, you know,” she replied.

“Major, you have me all wrong. I don’t want to know who I am going to die beside, but who I am going to fight beside.”

Taylor nodded in agreement. Chandra was touched by the statement, never having felt closer to those around her, but one. It was another sore reminder of the loss of Captain Jones, the only one among them who did know her name.

“Anna,” she whispered.

“What was that?” asked Taylor.

She knew he had heard her and only smiled in response.

“Nice to make your acquaintance, I am Lukas Becker,” stated the Captain formerly.

The three officers fell silent as they stared at each other, each praying that they would live to see the next day. The Captain peered around towards their advancing foe.

“Well, Anna, it’s about time we got to work.”

“Good luck to you, Lukas. Fire when ready.”

Becker gave a casual and friendly salute as he climbed into the turret and bolted the hatch down. The Major stood up on the embankment above the trenches where the troops had started to get comfortable in.

“Fire in your own time. I repeat, fire in your own time!”

The words echoed along the line as officers and NCOs relayed the order. They had trained without communication equipment before, but never expected to have to use it. In the frenzy of battle, it was clear to Chandra they needed better means of passing commands. She watched as the troops readied themselves at the trench shelves before jumping back into hers.

She looked along the line of troops. To her left was her own platoon, and to her right Taylor and his. The Major had taken half of Friday’s marines and they were all outfitted with Reiter’s new equipment. She peered over the embankment to see that the enemy were closing to five hundred metres. There were more than a hundred Mechs approaching up the hill with many more taking the road behind their tanks.

An energy pulse smashed down just in front of them as Becker’s tanks opened fire. The combined blasts rocked the ground. Chandra felt a little dizzy as she was almost thrown from her feet. She rested against the edge of the trench with her rifle at the ready. She looked down at the weapon and back at Taylor’s.

“Feeling a little inadequate, Major?” he jested.

She smiled in return and looked back at the incoming troops. Many of them with weapons effective at longer ranges had already opened fire. She could see Ortiz and Campbell firing as quickly as they could with their anti-materiel rifles, but she could not hear the shots. Taylor turned to Parker standing with him. He thought, I love you, but he didn’t say it. He gave a small nod and his eyes spoke pages. She smiled back, appreciating his sincerity.

“Let’s give these bastards a taste of the new age!” he shouted.

The exosuit marines slung their weapons over the edge of the trench and readied to fire. Chandra watched with baited breath. Their survival that day was important, but she knew the new technology could make all the difference in the war.


A volley of loud cracks rang out as small flickers of light gushed from the barrels and small embers puffed out. She was so fascinated by the weapons that she was still fixated on them after the first shots. They stopped firing to investigate their results. Chandra turned just in time to see several of the Mechs drop to the ground with several others badly damaged.

“Alright, open it up, boys, give them everything you’ve got!” Taylor ordered.

“Oorah!” shouted Friday.

Light pulsed from the line of marines. The blinding light pulses from the enemy weapons had become something to fear. Chandra smiled as she realised that they were getting a taste of their own technology. She opened fire with her rifle. It was pretty ineffective compared to the others, but they had to maintain the pressure.

“It’s a god damn turkey shoot!” shouted Silva.

Enemy fire dropped all around them but caused little damage to the troops who were well concealed within their deep trenches. Chandra looked down the line and could see that the new equipment had given rise to a new enthusiasm amongst the troops. My God it’s working, she thought. The trench position just a couple of metres from Taylor erupted and two of his marines were thrown back against the rear wall.

He rushed to their aid. Silva had been hit by debris and was coughing as he stood up. A private had been hit in the chest by one of the pulses and the skin of his chin was burnt, but he was still breathing.

“You okay, Private?”

The man looked to him with glazed eyes and stared into the eyes of the Major. He shook his head to try and wake himself up before looking down at the impact. Smoke arose from the deep gash in the chest plate.

“It works,” said the elated Private.

Taylor saw the damage and hit it with his fist. The plate was burning hot but was still solid. He smiled as he reached out his hand and hauled the Private to his feet.

“I could have just died.”

“Damn straight, but you didn’t. Now get back up there and keep shooting!”

He looked over to Silva who nodded to him. They both knew how close they’d come to losing yet more marines.

“We owe Reiter a few beers.”

“More than a few!” shouted Taylor.

The Major jumped back onto the firing ledge of the trench and quickly got a target in sight. Sparks flew from the barrel of his launcher as two shells blasted towards one of the creatures. The rounds punched right through its thick chest armour, causing it to stagger and drop down onto one leg. It tried to regain its composure, but Mitch put a third round through its mirrored head plate.

Energy pulses continued to smash their positions, but most did little damage to their defences or personnel. Becker’s tanks were getting it the worst. Several were smouldering, and one had flames roaring from its hull. He lowered his weapon and looked down the hill to see that the Mech bodies were piling up in their dozens. Their advance had slowed, and a number were starting to take cover behind verges and the crumpled heaps of metal that used to be their comrades.

“They’re starting to feel the heat!” Chandra called out.

“Damn right!” shouted Taylor. “It’s only going to get worse for them!”

They both knew that it was a small victory in a truly epic scale war, but it was a victory nonetheless. Chandra looked up and down the lines of troops. All she could see in either direction were dozens of guns blazing. The Mechs’ advance had halted completely, but another force was advancing to support the assault in greater numbers. She turned to Taylor with a look of horror.

“Those re-enforcements better get their arses here fast!”

Taylor nodded in agreement. They were expending ammunition at a rapid rate, and their new weapons were still too few to fight any major battles. A mass of energy pulses soared towards them from the advancing tanks, forcing many of them to duck down in their trenches. Two of Becker’s tanks exploded on impact. Their crews had no time to escape.

Chandra ducked down and covered her ears from the ferocious onslaught. Then over the noise of the explosions they heard the soaring sounds of engines approaching from the east. The Major’s heart almost stopped at the thought of incoming enemy aircraft. Then through the smoke clouds five friendly jets burst into view, racing over their positions.

The two Majors leapt up to the ledge to follow the line of sight of these new aircraft. As the planes raced across the enemy lines, they released large tanks which quickly struck the ground and burst into flames. The scattering of bombs engulfed the enemy advance with thick fire rising fifty metres into the air. It almost reached the planes as they darted overhead.

Chandra’s men gave out cries of excitement as they thrust their weapons into the air, shouting in ecstasy. They watched as the flames lowered and they could see the shapes of dozens of Mechs lashing about in the fire until they finally went still. Many of the vehicles belched thick smoke and were utterly destroyed.

Chandra looked down over the battlefield and could see that the remaining Mechs were beating a hasty retreat across the open plain. Most of the troops were stood on top of the trenches in defiance of the enemy, enjoying the sight of the aliens’ downfall. The Major looked out across their own lines at the losses they had taken. She climbed up onto the wreckage of one of the tanks that had stopped burning for a better view.

Most of Becker’s armour was destroyed or badly beaten up. She could see the lifeless bodies of at least a few dozen soldiers and a similar number of wounded that the medics were already attending to. She looked back across the plain at the fleeing troops. It was one of the most beautiful sights she had seen since the war had begun. Her own troops who were in the highest spirits she’d seen since their victory in Paris.

“You see how they run?” she cried. “They run from us! Will you let the bastards live to fight another day? Kill them all!”

She jumped off of the vehicle and took flight into a quick run down the hill. Those around her cheered as they clambered out onto the embankment and rushed after her. Within seconds, Taylor and his marines had caught up. They fired their fearsome weapons from the hip with ease and accuracy as the suits they wore allowed them to.

A number of the Mechs turned to return fire, but most continued to run. The guns of Becker’s remaining tanks thundered at their backs, explosions erupting in a creeping barrage as they went. Gunfire rang out from all around as they picked off the stragglers. They finally reached the line of smouldering tanks and the littering of dead Mechs around them.

The smell was awful, a mix of burnt flesh and scorched metal. The ground around them was black and charred. Chandra stopped as the last of the Mechs were hunted down by Taylor’s marines who were able to keep up a great pace over the distance. Taylor stepped up behind her and stared at the carnage.

“It’s never pretty, but at least it ain’t our own.”

Chandra nodded. They could count their combat service in days, and yet she’d seen quite enough for a lifetime. There was little left of the fallen enemy soldiers but burnt metal and twisted debris.

“Guess our air cover isn’t dead after all?” replied Chandra.

“Didn’t you see those markings? Those were Russian planes.”

“Well, their timing couldn’t have been better.”

“Dupont has clearly made this base a priority. If he wants air cover, he gets it.”

The last of the gunfire settled as the troops mopped up. Friday and Suarez approached them with grins on their faces. They were right to celebrate. We need a few more battles like this, thought Taylor. He turned to Chandra, suddenly realising that they were missing a friend.

“Jones, he’s still out there.”

“Maybe, Major.”

“We’ve pushed back this advance, and we’ve probably got a free run back to Amiens.”

Chandra turned away. She wanted Jones back more than any of them, but she knew how crazy it was to go looking for him. She looked back up the hill towards their emplacements. Becker’s tank was trundling down towards them. It was scarred and beaten, but still active.

“Major, we have a chance to get him back!” shouted Friday.

She faced the two marine officers.

“We’ve won this battle, but don’t be under any illusions. This was a skirmish, and there are armies of those bastards out there.”

“And so we just give up on him?” asked Taylor.

“Even if I let you go, how would you even make that distance in any kind of time?”

Taylor’s eyes panned up to Captain Becker who had climbed out and stood on top of the hull of his tank. Chandra turned around to stare at the man. She could see the sadness in his face from the losses he had received. He’d lost far more of his unit than the infantry who’d gotten off lightly. She spoke to Taylor.

“You can’t ask that of them. Those crews have given everything to keep us alive.”

“And you think they wouldn’t want to save our people if there was any remote chance?”

“Even if Becker would go for it, you’ll be travelling for hours in hostile territory.”

Taylor ignored the Major and looked past to the tank commander.

“How about it, Captain, you willing to help us get our people back?”

“I’d be more than happy to assist, Major, but I doubt we’d make it. If we don’t get some repairs done on these vehicles within the next few kilometres…”

Taylor sighed. He knew it was too much to ask and far from sensible. He couldn’t believe that he wasn’t there when Jones needed him most.

“How the hell did this even happen?” snapped Taylor. “You let two of our men get kidnapped from under you!”

Chandra glared at Mitch. Her cheeks reddened as she was about to burst into a furious rage. She coughed and forced herself to calm down. The truth was she did blame herself for the loss of the two men, but she didn’t like being reminded of it.

“I regret all lost under my command, but do not think I have not done, and will continue to do everything in my power to keep our troops safe.”

Taylor was taken aback by her restrained response and already regretted his words. He took a few steps closer to her and whispered.

“Forgive me. I just can’t believe there is nothing we can do.”

“I get you, Major. If I thought there was any chance of you making it there, I’d let you go.”

The officers were quickly drawn to the sound of a single aircraft approaching at speed. They turned to see an Eagle FV assault copter rush overhead at an astonishing speed. It banked heavily before lifting its nose to reversing its thrust to come down beside them at speeds no normal pilot would dare.

They turned in intrigue to see who was aboard and why they were putting down on what was a bloody battlefield. The ramp opened and the pilot appeared at the door. He staggered down with the sort of undisciplined walk of what could only be one pilot they knew.

“Eddie!” shouted Taylor. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Taylor rushed forward and grabbed the Lieutenant off his feet, forgetting that he was still wearing the exosuit that provided him immense strength. He hoisted the man off his feet as if he weighed no more than a child. As he dropped Eddie down, the pilot staggered back as he stared at the suit and armour.

“I see you’ve had some upgrades.”

Taylor looked up at the copter which he had become so familiar with in his time of service. Atop the fuselage was a large and unfamiliar engine which looked as if it had literally been bolted on as a custom job.

“I’m not the only one,” he stated as he gestured towards the craft.

Eddie looked around at the copter and turned back with a smile on his face.

“Old Bessie here has been given a new turn of speed.”

“That how you made it across the channel?”

“Damn straight, no bastard in this universe could catch this bird!”

Taylor looked into the pilot’s face to see that his eyes were swollen and his face was pale. It was clear that the only thing keeping him on his feet were stimulants.

“I thought you were working the Moon supply runs. You gone AWOL, Lieutenant?”

“No, Sir! Moon supply is still ongoing with new pilots. I was ordered to report to you with all urgency.”

“By who?”

“General White himself.”

“On what task? I need soldiers, not pilots.”

“Glad to know I’m appreciated, Major,” laughed Rains. “Honestly, I have no clue. He said I’d know when you did.”

“Great, that helps,” mused Taylor.

Taylor looked beyond the Major to the other officers watching the conversation. He recognised most of them.

“Ma’am,” he greeted Chandra with a nod.

He looked back to Taylor with a quizzical expression.

“Where is Captain Jones?”

They all went silent.

“Dead? Can’t be.”

“We simply don’t know. He was detained by locals in a town that has since been overrun by the enemy.”

“What the fuck? Detained?”

“It’s bullshit, Eddie, we all know it. We were just discussing how we could get back to the town to attempt to find the Captain and Private Walker who was with him. But we can’t cover the ground fast enough, and these tanks need work.”

“Well, hell, I can get you there, no problem.”

Taylor turned to Chandra who was still in charge. He didn’t actually ask her permission, but she knew that’s what he wanted. She thought for a moment and then looked to Eddie.

“You sure you’re ready for this, Lieutenant? You’ll be going over a hundred kilometres into enemy territory.”

“Damn straight, Ma’am, I can get you there in no time at all, and get you out of trouble just as fast.”

She nodded several times as she thought it over. She didn’t want to risk further troops in her command, but she knew how important the Captain was to them all. To not search for him, when they had the opportunity, could severely hit the morale of the Company. She wanted to believe that she was thinking as Jones’ friend, but she no longer had that luxury. She had to think like a leader first and foremost.

“Taylor, the Company has been ordered to hold this position, and as the commanding officer I must do so. However, I am authorising you and the Lieutenant here for a search party. Take ten of your marines and be as quick as you can.”

A broad grin widened across Taylor’s face as he turned to bellow his orders.

“And, Major. Stay safe.”

“Sergeant Silva, gather your section, we move out immediately!”

Chapter 9

Commander Kelly paced around the command centre. Lewis stared at him. The comms officer knew that their leader was coming to realise their chances of survival were minimal. He was mulling over the few options they had. He finally walked up to Lewis.

“Gather the leaders.”

“With regards to what matter, Sir?”

“I don’t give a shit what you tell them, just get them here!”

“Yes, Sir,” muttered Lewis.

He looked up to see the staff and soldiers around the room all staring at him.

“Well, what are you looking at? You’ve got work to do!”

Ten minutes later the Commander stood before the remaining Lunar leaders in their makeshift meeting room. They all had long faces and few words to utter. The supplies from Earth continued to arrive in large enough quantities to keep them going, but they were losing ground all the time.

“It must not have escaped your notice that we will eventually have nowhere left to run. If we don’t start taking the fight to the enemy in a major way, then we are finished. In the confined spaces below ground their weapons are more devastating than ever.”

“We can’t survive in open battle!” shouted Vella.

Kelly shook his head, asking himself, what the fuck does she know?

“We cannot survive down here anyway, Senator. We have to try and hit them hard and try to make a difference.”

“And what difference can we make?” asked Allard.

“If the armies of Earth cannot hold these invaders back, what chances do we have?” asked Yang, the police commander of the city.

“So you would do what, lie down and die?” asked Kelly.

“We must do the best we can to survive down here until Earth forces can come to our assistance!” Vella yelled.

“But they are already beaten!” shouted Yang.

Kelly slammed his fist down on the table.

“God damn you and your infighting. This isn’t a time for petty squabbling. The Earth armies have had it hard, no doubt. But they are still fighting. It’s clear that our people down there are already adapting the enemy technology and are still firmly in the fight.”

“Our people?” asked Allard. “Earth folk don’t give a hoot about us.”

“And you could say the same for the relations of many Earth nations, and now look at them. They stand together as one,” snapped Kelly.

He stood up from his chair with a sigh and walked slowly around the table. The air was thick and far from fresh. The colonists had little time or resources to wash their clothes and bodies. He could feel his flesh was thick with dried sweat and clammy on top of it. He scratched what little hair was left on his itchy head. It can’t have come to this, thought Kelly.

“I refuse to die down here. I thought we had pride in the colony we have worked to establish here. Did our forefathers reach this moon for us to simply give up on it? I’d rather fight and die up there than wait to be butchered down here.”

He continued around the room as they all thought about the choice before them.

“And if you fail, and we are forced back down here with fewer people and resources than we started?” asked Allard.

“Then we will have done our best. From what we can tell, the alien forces have set up base on Earth. Their numbers and resources here are not endless. Every one of theirs we can kill will improve our situation.”

“I cannot agree with this course of action, Commander,” said Vella.

“And I am not asking you to. As the military leader of the colony, I alone will make the tactical decisions that I feel best serve our people. I consult you out of courtesy and to advise.”

“Then let us advise you, Commander,” snapped Vella.

Kelly sighed. He had no respect for the woman. He didn’t like her last month when things were as they used to be. He liked her even less now that she was trying to dictate military tactics.

“You would have us wait here to die, Senator. That may be the easy option for you. It involves no risk, no responsibility. Start thinking less like a politician and more like a human being. If we take the fight to the enemy and lose, we are no worse off. We will have lost people who will die when they reach us anyway.”

“I know what you’re saying, Commander, but I cannot justify sending our people to their deaths.”

“And that is why you are the Senator for Industry, and I am in charge of the defence of this great colony,” fumed Kelly.

Vella’s face scrunched up as she glared at the Commander with a bitter hatred. She knew there was nothing further she could do. More than anything, she was angry about the way he treated her, a fact that gave Kelly even less respect for the Senator.

“I am doing what is best for our colony. For our morale, for our people, and for our humanity. We may well all die in this war, but let us at least do so on our own terms.”

He strode out of the room to leave the rest of them sitting in silence. Many of the remaining leaders gathered knew that he was making the right decision, but they could not bring themselves to admit it. Kelly went up to Lewis.

“Put out the order for all senior officers to come to me immediately.”

“This it, Sir? Are we finally taking the fight to them?”

“Damn right, it’s time we stopped skulking down here and kicked some ass.”

Chandra walked along the line of trenches where they’d so recently fought from. Many of the men were making repairs to them with their e-tools, others sat quietly with a mug of tea or coffee. She continued on towards what was the makeshift aid station. There were twenty soldiers in various states of care. Only one was seriously wounded. The base doctor and his aides were administering to them.

“Doctor, I am Major Chandra.”

He continued on his work of injecting a healing serum into one of the soldiers as he talked.

“Matthew Wright.”

“This the first combat medicine you have administered, Doctor?”

“Yes, Ma’am, I was expecting more wounded.”

She looked across at the injuries. They were mostly minor glancing strikes or shrapnel.

“They don’t leave many. A good hit from their energy weapons will kill any man.”

The doctor nodded. After studying the scenes of field hospitals in war from archive footage, he’d expected a far more blood thirsty and gruesome sight. There were no screams of agony. The burning hot energy weapons cauterised many of the wounds.

“I was still expecting a lot more casualties, Major. The reports we have been getting have indicated far heavier losses.”

“It’s true. This has been our most successful skirmish yet.”

The doctor looked up and across at the casualties. He could see the mix of uniforms and had already realised they were an amalgamation of several units that had been decimated.

“God save us all.”

“God won’t save us from this enemy, Doctor. It’s up to us.”

The Major turned and strolled away before the doctor could argue. She stopped, noticing Captain Becker stood in her path. His face looked more exhausted and distraught than ever. His previously impeccable uniform was now unzipped and dirtied. He either no longer cared for his appearance or was too distressed to realise it was in such a state.

“What’s the status of your unit, Captain?”

He didn’t respond immediately, staring blankly past her at the wounded.


His eyes turned and gazed at her, though he still did not speak.

“Becker, give me an update.”

The Captain coughed to clear his throat and finally answered in a coarse voice.

“Only two of my tanks are still operational, and even those are getting some urgent maintenance as we speak.”

“And your crews?”

He shook his head as he was reminded of the horror of it.

“Eight still active, two wounded.”

“Is that all that made it?

He nodded. “The rest perished in their vehicles.”

She looked out across the line to see the hulks of the vehicles still smouldering. The enemy had been quick to target what they must see as the greatest threat.

“I am sorry for your losses, Captain, but you should know that your people have made all the difference in the past few days. Without you, we would all be lost.”

The Captain nodded as he looked out across the plain at the twisted wrecks of the enemy vehicles and went into a daze. She knew there was nothing more she could say to consol the officer. Nothing would bring back his comrades.

She continued on to the trench where she had stood beside Taylor. Captain Friday was sitting on the side with his legs dangling down into it. He had ripped off most of his gear and thrown it down. Now he wore nothing but his BDUs. He was opening a ration pack with such excitement that anyone would think he’d been given a plate of steak.

“They don’t taste that great, you know,” she jested.

“When you’re hungry, they do.”

He dove into the meal.

“That new equipment really as good as it looked?” she asked.

The Captain nodded and grunted with a mouth full of food. As he swallowed it down, he looked up at the Major.

“It’s the shit. If we can get this to every grunt, then this war could be turned around as quickly as it started.”

“I fear they won’t give us that much time,” she mused.

“Well, we stopped them here, didn’t we?”

“It’s not the front line that bothers me. They’re building at an immense rate to the west, and whatever it is can’t be good. We won’t be the only ones looking for the next tactical advantage in this war.”

Friday shook his head.

“I’ll take the victory while I can. We did well today, and we should celebrate it.”

“Oh, I am, Captain, but we must also think of tomorrow, and next week, next year. We have survived this long, but many haven’t. How much longer do you think our luck will hold?”

Friday smiled as he threw the food down his throat.

“When it runs out, I won’t know it. I’ll be dead.”

Chandra laughed. She appreciated Friday doing his utmost to brighten the day.

“So you think Taylor will find the Captain?” he asked.

“I bloody well hope so, but I can’t say it’s likely.”

She sat down on the opposite edge of the trench facing Friday. There was nothing left for her to do that day but rest in readiness for the next battle. Trucks were already arriving with fresh supplies to keep them in the fight.

Taylor looked out at the passing landscape as they rushed along the treetops at barely a couple of hundred metres from the ground. The landscape was mostly abandoned and peaceful, but they saw the odd smoke plume in the distance from various battles. They could only guess at the outcome of the war that raged along the ever changing lines.

“We’re coming up on the town, Major!” shouted Rains.

“You know where we’re heading, right?”

“Yes, Siree. Major Chandra told me they were being held in a station directly south of the centre.”

He tapped his controls and a map projected on a screen. He pointed out an area along a main street heading out of the city.

“This has to be the place.”

“Okay, let us out over the roof.”

“Want me to stay in the air?”

“No, I don’t want to attract any unnecessary attention. It that a field there?”

Taylor pointed to a square area of greenery just over a block from the police station.

“Looks like a kid’s park, Sir.”

“Alright, you can wait for us there. Keep the hatches battened down, and be ready for anything.”

Taylor stopped and looked to the empty co-pilot seat and then back to Eddie.

“They were busy with the Moon runs. I was all they could spare.”

Taylor smiled. For all of Eddie’s rebellious image, he was one of the most loyal and dependable pilots the Major had ever met.

“Good luck, Mitch.”

Taylor nodded and went back to his troops. All ten marines wore the identical new equipment as provided by Reiter.

“We’ll be dropping onto the roof. I want to be in and out as quickly as possible, got it?”

“Yes, Sir!” They shouted.

“Let’s do this.”

The marines stood up and took hold of the rails above them as the thrusters reversed. Eddie brought them in on a sharp and rapid decent until they came to a hover a hundred metres over the roof. Taylor reached forward and hit the door release. It quickly slid back and let the breeze of air rush in.

Mitch didn’t say another word, and he simply jumped from the door. The others quickly followed him. They hit their thrusters on the way down and came to a surprisingly soft and cushioned landing. The suits took the impact from their legs.

“Ortiz, Ryan, stay put, the rest with me!”

They reached the roof fire exit, but it was locked from the inside. Taylor lifted his leg and smashed it into the door. To the surprise of them all, the door flew from its hinges with ease and down the steps below. Taylor turned to Silva with a grin, they’d never felt such power before. The Major lifted his weapon and rushed down the stairs.

They arrived at the first line of offices to find nothing but empty cubicles and abandoned computers. Taylor rushed along the corridor with his rifle readied at the shoulder. He reached the stairwell he was looking for and charged down it. The building was seven storeys high, and he knew that the cell blocks would be on the ground floor.

Footsteps echoed out down the long stairwell as the marines rushed to where they prayed they would find their missing friends. They reached the ground floor and found the reception area. Taylor noticed a map and quickly identified the cell block.

“This way!”

As he turned, he saw the door of the cell block area lying in the hallway. It had been ripped off. As they grew nearer, they could see that the wall around the door had been demolished in a size that was about right for a Mech.

“No, can’t be.” Taylor rushed to the doorway as the others tried to keep up.

“Sir, hold on!” shouted Silva.

The Major came to a quick stop at the demolished entrance and looked in with despair. Silva reached his side and saw what had caused him to stop in his tracks. They could see inside that one of the doors had been ripped away, and a pool of blood lay in the middle of the cell.

Two of them slowly stepped through the rubble to investigate. There was no sign of life or any way to know if Jones had been there, but Taylor knew it was the right place.

“We don’t know for certain if this is where they were, Sir. They might have escaped.”

“No, they didn’t escape from here. They were taken.”

The other marines poured into the room and stared down at the bloody mess. They all thought it was evidence of the two soldiers’ demise, but no one wanted to say it.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” said Taylor.

“What is it, Sir?” asked Silva.

“They were taken from here, not killed.”

“They could have been taken for execution.”

The Major turned to Silva with a grim expression. “Why? They aren’t trying to hide anything. They may well still be alive.”

“But we have no way of finding out their location, Sir.”

Taylor nodded. He’d hope they may be alive, but he knew that this was not the day when they would be found.

“Sir, we should get the hell out of here before they come calling again.”

Taylor looked down at the pool of blood. He looked over at a Private.

“Get a sample of that blood.”

“Uh, Sir, how?”

“Get a piece of cloth and rub it in.”

The marine looked foolish for asking for what was such a low tech solution. Taylor turned back to Silva as the man did as he asked.

“Today’s search may be over, but I won’t give up on Jones and Walker.”

“No, Sir, I’d expect nothing less.”

Taylor’s disappointment was obvious to them all. He hated losing any of those he fought alongside, but to not know was even worse. Images of the torture of his friend went through his head until he finally asked himself, what would they want with Jones? He turned to Silva.

“Why would they take them prisoner? What use would they have for them?”

“We don’t know if they were taken prisoner, Sir.”

“Come on, Sergeant, all the signs are there.”

“If it was me, Sir, fighting an unknown enemy, I’d want to know them a little better.”

“You think they’re studying them?”

“Maybe, Sir.”

He turned to see the Private folding a bloodied rag into his pocket.

“Our time is done here, nothing more we can do, so let’s move out.”

“Sir, you think this is going to work?” asked Lewis.

The comms officer watched as his Commander pulled on his dusty armour once again. Kelly shook his head, not knowing how to answer.

“You must have some faith in the plan, Sir?”

Kelly strapped the armour down and rested back again a desk. He looked up at the young officer.

“I can’t say with any certainty, none of us can. What I can tell you is that we will choose the battleground for this fight. If we die, it will be on our own terms on our own soil, and not skulking down here waiting for those bastards to break down the door.”

Martinez came from the conference room where he’d relayed the Commander’s plans to the other officers.

“Sir, we’re ready to go, but…”

“But what, Captain?”

“Well, Sir, I don’t think you should be in this fight, Sir. You’re our leader, and an asset we cannot afford to lose.”

“We cannot afford to lose any asset. I will fight alongside those who I ask to fight for us.”

Martinez nodded. He understood it was no use arguing further. Kelly could see some excitement in the man’s eyes. They were advancing to face a most deadly enemy, but he knew the Captain believed as he did, that it was better to face them than to wait to die in the pits they had been forced to live in.

“Have all the orders been issued?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Communication reels issued?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good, it’ll be chaos once we get up on the surface, so we’ll need to stay in contact. Lewis, you’ll be managing communications through the exchange. If any lines fall, you will have to send out runners. I have already allocated three to you.”

He pointed down to two boys and a girl. None of them could be much more than fourteen years old. Lewis opened his mouth to question the responsibility and risk being placed upon them, but Kelly’s glare stopped him.

“Everyone must play their part. They can die just the same as the rest of us, so let them have their chance to help save themselves.”

Martinez strode up to the three runners and patted one of them on the head. Lewis recognised that it was the Captain’s son. It was yet another sign of how desperate their times were. He turned to Kelly as the Commander picked up his grenade launcher.

“Sir, if you were to fall?” Lewis asked.

“In the event of that occasion, Martinez will receive an automatic field promotion to take over my command. Be sure that is noted.”

He turned to the Captain.

“You may not be the highest ranking, but you would be the best man for the job.”

Martinez nodded as he considered the tragic circumstances which would have to arise for him to receive such a promotion, and the horrific responsibility that would come with it.

“Send out the word. We advance immediately.”

He slung his weapon over his shoulder and took to a quick stride out of the room with Martinez close behind.

“How many troops do we have, Captain?”

“Under our personal command?”

Kelly nodded.

“A little over two hundred, Sir. Captain Morris and Lieutenant Perera will be accompanying us. The other companies will approach as ordered.”


“Sir, why the Parliament building? It means nothing to the enemy.”

“But it means something to us, Captain. It’s been the symbol of our government since the colony was established here. It’s as good a place as any to take the fight to the enemy.”

“You think we can take and hold ground against them?”

“I reckon so, yes. Did you put out the order for masks to stay on at all times?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good, a breach is more than likely when this battle gets underway.”

They walked through the colony tunnels passing hundreds of civilians who lined almost every passageway. Nobody cheered them on. They watched the bleak journey of the troops who marched to what could likely be a quick and brutal butchering.

“There is little hope left in them,” said Martinez.

“Can you blame them?” replied Kelly.

“Do you believe there is any hope for us?”

“Of course. Humanity has lasted this long, so we could well weather it.”

“I didn’t mean our race, Sir. I meant us, our colony, and our people.”

Kelly turned to look at the Captain as they continued through the corridors. The Commander’s eyes told him everything he needed to know. They all knew there never much hope once they had fled below the surface.

Ten minutes later they reached the access shaft. It would take them up into the basement of the parliament building via the Prime Minister’s underground bunker. It was the most robust building of any on the colony, and it could only be accessed by Kelly and a handful of other officials. They reached the lower entrance to the bunker, and Kelly activated the doors with the retinal scanner and key code.

The vast doors prized apart, not having been opened in decades. The command centre itself was still fully lit but abandoned. After the attack on the building during the first day of the invasion, the Commander had thought it prudent to avoid any further usage of the facility. They passed through the centre with the other two units at their backs.

A broad and long flight of stairs led up to the surface. As they reached the very top, Kelly lifted up his hand for the column to stop. He waited a moment for the sound of the troops to silence, and then moved cautiously towards the security doors that opened out into the parliament structure. They were hidden to anyone on the inside, but mirrored windows allowed vision from the stairwell.

Kelly peered in through the glass with Martinez at his side. They looked into a storage room that was still lit like most of the building. There was no sign of movement. Huge transport cases and shelving were stacked through the room, but there was plenty of space to move. He drew back and nodded to Martinez. Kelly reached for the keypad and punched in the code. The doors opened and they went in.

It was eerily silent, so much so that Kelly couldn’t believe they could get off so lightly. He lifted up his weapon in readiness, but the others didn’t sense any threat. Two dozen of the soldiers poured into the room with many more following. As they got a third of the way in, they were halted by the shock of two Mechs arriving at the archway at the far end.

“Cover!” yelled Kelly.

He fired a grenade from his weapon and leapt for shelter. The shell missed, but it was quickly followed up by others from his company. The Mech pulse weapons surged balls of fire down the room as they all jumped for cover. The first two enemy soldiers were quickly blown apart but more flooded in.

Pulses of enemy fire filled the room as more of the creatures poured in. Kelly leapt up to fire but saw one of the enemy weapons trained on his position. He quickly ducked back down as the pulse blasted though the crate above him. It crashed into six of the soldiers at the top of the stairs. Four were killed instantly, and the other two were tossed aside.

The intensity of gunfire increased as more and more of the Commander’s men got a foothold and lay down a blanket of fire. He knew that if they were to make any progress, they had to get out of the room. Once again he lifted himself up and brought his weapon to bear. He fired quickly as rifle and grenade fire smashed into the Mechs’ position, obliterating the last of them.

It was silent once again, and the troops stared at the fallen creatures. There were a dozen dead Mechs littering the entrance. Kelly looked around to see that they had taken more than double the casualties themselves.

“What do we do, Sir?” asked Martinez.

Kelly was momentarily stunned. He had just led many fine men and women to their deaths. It had to be done, he told himself. He believed in his actions, but he also knew that the responsibility for every life would fall on him. He turned to him with a surprised tone.

“Advance, there will be many more casualties in this war before we see an end to it, Captain. I want the access corridors to the building secured and defended immediately, and the Parliament swept for the enemy.”

Martinez turned back to the troops. Many looked in horror at the devastation around them, but they regained focus upon the officer’s shout.

“We’ve got a job to do! Let’s move!” he barked.

The Moon defence soldiers poured into the room from the stairway. Each unit looked on with morbid curiosity at the dead enemy and with sadness at their fallen comrades left where they fell.

Kelly and Martinez reached the foyer of the Houses of Parliament. The two led from the front like leaders had not done for many hundreds of years. Martinez could not tell if Kelly did so to inspire his men, or because he no longer cared for his own life. Perhaps it was a combination of these elements. The Commander stopped and called the column to a halt. The two other company commanders quickly reached him.

“This junction feeds every route into the Houses of Parliament. You have your orders. Get to it.”

The two officers nodded and quickly rushed on to set up defensive positions on the routes in.

“It’s time to sweep this place. I want it fast and efficient. No team operates with less than twenty men. NCOs, you have your allocated floors. Move out!”

They quickly broke apart as they swarmed to the various staircases. Kelly spoke to Martinez.

“This will be base command for now. It’s as central as can be and not easy to breach from the air.”

Down the long access corridors they could already hear the rage of gunfire and pulse weapons. The other companies were fighting to gain ground in the surrounding buildings. Kelly knew he had a hell of a fight on his hands. Martinez stepped forward so he could speak privately with the Commander.

“Sir, are you sure you’re ready for these losses? We may do some major damage to those bastards, but what of the price we’ll pay?”

“It is the price of our survival, Captain. I never sought out combat, never wanted to see it. But this has been put on us, and we must deal with it. Don’t be under any illusions, we are going to take heavy losses in the ensuing battle. We only have to hope we can do worse to them.”

Chapter 10

Eddie Rains put down the copter on the landing ground just outside Reiter’s research facility. The mood was sad amongst the marines aboard. None of them had faith that the two missing soldiers were alive, except for Taylor. The Major was unwilling to accept that he had lost them yet. He knew that he needed to cling on to whatever hope he had left of seeing his friend again. As they got up to climb out of the aircraft, Sergeant Silva patted the Major on the back in condolence.

“You did everything you could.”

Taylor stopped and turned to the Sergeant who was every bit as good a friend as Jones.

“No, Sergeant, I have barely begun. We are going to get the Captain back if I have to go to hell and back. I didn’t leave Parker behind, and I’ll be damned if I will Jones.”

The Sergeant nodded. He knew there was no point in arguing with the Major. Moreover he liked the enthusiasm and stubbornness that Taylor had always possessed. He took his hand away and walked on. Taylor followed to see that Major Chandra awaited him on the deck. He shook his head, but she already knew from his body language that they had failed.

“I am sorry, Major, sorry we could not do more.”

“Far from it, Taylor, we need you to continue just as you are. General White is waiting for us in the conference room.”

Taylor righted himself and strode forward. A new mission was exactly what he needed to pull himself up from such a dire and miserable mood. Minutes later the two Majors stepped into the room to see two conference calls set up with White and Dupont. Both the General and the Brigadier stared at the exoskeleton suit he wore and the vast weapon slung on his side.

“So this is the new equipment?” asked White.

“Yes, Sir.”

“I hear great things.”

“I’d have provided you a full report, Sir, but urgent matters called.”

“No trouble, Taylor. Major Chandra has already submitted a preliminary combat report to us, and it is all we need to move forward.”

Taylor turned to the Major and gave a quick nod in appreciation of her assistance.

“Major, I am sure you are both now familiar with Brigadier Dupont.”

They turned to see that Commander Phillips was stood off to his side.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Major, you are clearly aware that I have lost all but the last few kilometres of my country. However, I have not yet lost my people. France has been occupied before. We will fight on in this war.”

Taylor turned to White, knowing that he must have something important to say.

“Sir, please cut to the chase.”

“Last time we spoke, Major, I mentioned that the enemy forces were manufacturing something big in France.”

“Yes, Sir,” replied Taylor.

“We already knew they were starting the construction of drones and other hardware. That is a concerning fact, and one which we are trying to counter at all times. However, this is of greater concern.”

A map projected before them. The General tapped a few buttons on his screen and a red box lit up towards the west coast of France.

“Surveillance has shown us that without a doubt a major facility is being constructed not far from Poitiers, as is highlighted on your map. Our experts have identified increasing amounts of highly dangerous radiation in the area.”

“You think they are creating a super weapon?”

“You already saw it coming, Major, as you told me in our last communication. Our scientists say, that based on the information we have, they are creating a contagion and device that will spread their creation across the globe.”

“What kind of device, Sir?”

“You’re asking the wrong man, Major, but that is not important. This structure is a few clicks wide, and it is what will enable them to spread their poison.”

“What are the effects?”

“Death within days. Only those in sealed suits or purpose-built facilities would survive. If they get that weapon active, there will not be enough people left on this planet to fight them off for another day.”

Chandra gasped in horror.

“Have you made any attempt to destroy it, Sir?”

“Taylor, we have launched two air attacks already, and both have failed.”

The Major knew that meant heavy casualties, but it was another tragedy he didn’t want to consider.

“We can’t get troops on the ground, and we can’t get bombers near. Any missiles we direct at them are intercepted.”

Taylor turned away in disbelief and could already see where this was going. His marine unit had been tasked with exactly these kinds of assault missions in the past, but never during serious wartime conditions. He turned back to the two officers.

“You want us to go in?”

“What?” Chandra shouted. “It’s suicide.”

“Possibly, but it is suicide to do nothing anyway,” replied Taylor.

“Major, if this super weapon is allowed to be completed, it will be the end of us all,” said Dupont.

“I don’t doubt it is of the utmost important, Sir, but what are we supposed to do about it?”

“Lieutenant Rains has by now reached you, I assume?” asked White.

“Yes, Sir.”

“The Lieutenant has been working with his crews to not just make his copter fast, but also to blend in. The enemy engine technology he has fitted emits the same signature as the enemy craft. We have additionally fitted it out with their onboard identity transmission signal.”

“You’re saying that ship can blend in behind enemy lines?”

“Up to a point, yes. On any scanners or defence systems the enemy have it will show up as one of theirs, but under visual inspection it will clearly not cut it.”

Taylor turned to Chandra. They both knew that a suicidal mission was being asked of them.

“This vast construction of theirs has been built to withstand a substantial strike from the air. We’re not even sure if our bombers would have done damage if they had got through. We need you to get a device within the complex and strike at its core.”

“You really believe it’s possible, Sir?”

“I believe it’s the best chance we have. Your combined Company has seen more action than most and had more successes than any force its size. You have the best training and new equipment we have to offer. If anyone can do this, it’s you, Major.”

“And if we fail, Sir?”

“Then we will do everything in our power to get the job done. Major, I know I am asking you to undertake a suicidal mission. If I thought there was any other way, I would take it. If you do not succeed, it could well be the end of us all.”

Taylor nodded his head. He knew from their tone at the very beginning they were going to ask such a thing from him. After all their sacrifices it was a tall order, but one he had come to expect. As one of the most successful front line units, the commanders had come to rely on them, no matter the cost.

“I won’t order you to do this, Major. I know what you and your marines have given up already.” He looked to Chandra. “The same goes for you, Major. You’ve both done a damn fine job. But the work is far from over, and I cannot state how vital this mission is to the survival of us all.”

Taylor dipped his head and eye contact from the General. He’d expected to die so many times in the last few days. A suicidal mission seemed little different to any other battle they had faced of late. He looked back up.

“If it needs to be done, we’ll do it.”

The General sighed with relief and nodded in appreciation.

“Should you fail, Major, you will not be forgotten. Your Inter-Allied Company has become a symbol of hope for our forces back home. I only pray you survive long enough to continue to inspire us all.”

“What’s the plan, General?”

“I will pass you over to Brigadier Dupont who will be overseeing the mission, along with Commander Phillips. I needed to know you were on board Major, but now I must focus my efforts on our own soil. Even if you should succeed, we face an uphill battle.”

“Sir, this new equipment,” he asked as he lifted the weapon from his side, “any news on production?”

“The factories are working all out across the world to get it to the front line. You can be assured that it will be with every marine and soldier as quickly as is humanly possible.”

“That’s what worries me. We aren’t facing humans, Sir. We have to raise our game.”

“I hear you, Major, over and out.”

The transmission cut out and they turned to face the Frenchman and Chandra’s commanding officer.

“Firstly, can I thank you both for your hard work. You have shown remarkable courage and ability in the battle for my country.”

“We’re in this together, Sir. The aliens don’t recognise borders or nationalities,” replied Taylor.

Dupont nodded in agreement.

“You will have just one aircraft for this mission as the General has noted. You’ll be limited to just thirty soldiers which you will be allowed to select personally. Major Chandra will stay in charge of the defensive lines at Ramstein. There are substantial re-enforcements heading your way.”

“Appreciate it, Sir,” she replied.

“This operation will take place overnight to allow you maximum protection from visual recognition.”

“You think they don’t have night vision technology, Sir?”

“From the reports I have seen so far, Major, I would say no. For all of the enemy’s advanced technology, they are also arrogant. They have underestimated our strength and resilience.”

“I pray that is the case, Sir,” snapped Taylor.

“I suggest you select your team and then assemble them all here for a briefing in one hour.”

“Affirmative, Sir, out.”

The screen faded to black as Chandra turned to face Taylor. He was still staring at the blank screen.

“Wow, I knew we didn’t have much chance of survival in this war, but I didn’t think they’d be asking you to get your head blown off so soon.”

Taylor chuckled.

“Isn’t it what we’re paid for?”

“Thirty men against a highly defended base?”

“If they didn’t have a plan they thought could work, then they wouldn’t be suggesting it.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time a General has sent his finest to slaughter.”

“You heard the General. If we don’t do this, it’s all over anyway.”

“Then I wish you luck, and I pray for your safe return.”

“Company, listen up!” balled Taylor.

They were lying about across the trenches they had fought over so successfully earlier that day. They scrambled to their feet to form up before the Major.

“Thirty men from my platoon and Lieutenant Suarez’s are needed for a special mission. I’m asking for volunteers!”

The first few of the two platoons quickly jumped to their feet and others quickly followed suit. In under a minute the Major had all that he needed. Captain Friday stepped up to his side.

“Mitch, I want to volunteer.”

“I know you do, and I do not doubt that you would go to hell and back with me. But I need you here. Chandra needs capable officers in my absence, and you are my second in command.”

Friday stared into his eyes. He could see the concern in the Major’s eyes.

“You don’t think you’ll be coming back from this one?”

Taylor’s face was blank. He did indeed think it, and his face answered the Captain’s question.

“This is the way it has to be, so please, do as I ask.”

Friday nodded his head in agreement. The last thing he wanted was to lose a friend, but neither would he disobey him. The Major stepped past him and up to Eli, who was one of the first to take to her feet.

“Not this time, Sergeant. We both know you are still not fully healed. I let you back on duty because we needed you here, but I cannot risk you this time,” he whispered.

“That your professional opinion, Sir?”

“I won’t risk everyone I know all at once, it’s too much to lose.”

She knew that meant it likely he would not be coming back. She wanted to say something, but she knew it was neither her place or of any use.

“I need the new equipment for everyone. Get to Reiter and see if you can get another five sets from him, and strip any from the Company to hand over to my volunteers.”

“Got it.”

Friday stepped to the side and out of his line of sight to the troops.

“The volunteers will follow me immediately to the conference room. Everyone else, as you were!”

On the hour, as agreed, the thirty marines stood squeezed in the conference room around the central display table. They waited the call from Dupont. The Major had not given them any insight into their mission, and they had made no attempt to enquire. Taylor could see that they realised it was a mission of great importance. Never before had they been at the initial briefing with key officers. The screen flashed to life, and they were all were captivated, desperately wanting to know more.

“Welcome, Gentlemen, to what could be the most important mission of the war yet. I am Major Dupont, you already know Commander Phillips here. We will be overseeing this task.”

The table that they stood around lit up with a map of France and a lit pointer which the Brigadier was clearly commanding from his end.

“At 0100 hours you will depart for an enemy position near the town of Poitiers, here.”

The men gasped as they were taken aback by the outrageous statement.

“Sir? We’ve not made any headway against this enemy. How are we supposed to get to the other side of France?” asked Sergeant Silva.

“Under the disguise of Lieutenant Rains’ craft. It has been modified to give off all of the signatures and signals of the enemy. He will get you there in one piece. What you need to worry about is your job in all of this.”

Silva shook his head. He’d only heard the first stage of the plan and it was already sounding farfetched.

“You’ll put down here, a secluded spot which is well hidden between an outer blast wall and the main structure of the dome.”

“Sir, I am still failing to see how we can pull this off when we reach the ground,” said Silva.

“Our information shows that the enemy defences are focused on aerial patrols and some kind of defence grid. You should be able pass through both of those without incident.”

“Should?” Silva muttered.

The Brigadier sighed as he tried his best to ignore the comment. He knew what was being asked of the marines and was willing to give them some leeway.

“From this location, you will use tunnelling devices that are currently en route to you. They will get you five metres underground and up inside the dome.”

Taylor nodded as he thought about the plan. It wasn’t as insane as he had first thought.

“That really the easiest way to get in, Sir?” asked Suarez.

“It would appear so. There are no entrances not heavily guarded, and you cannot blast your way in without drawing a lot of attention. From here, you will deploy a nuclear weapon at the central core of the structure. The location is shown here and identified by the strong heat signature.”

They looked down at the overview map. It was clear that the officers in charge had little idea what to expect once they got on the inside.

“The bomb weighs in at one hundred and fifty kilos. I am told that your exoskeleton suits will carry that without issue?”

“Yes, Sir,” replied Taylor.

“Commander Phillips, do you have anything to add?”

The British officer stepped to the forefront of the video feed.

“Needless to say, Gentlemen, this is above and beyond the call of duty. The risk is high, but the plan is sound. I wish you all the very best of luck, and I pray for all our sakes that you succeed.”

“Your men may fall out, but I will need officers and NCOs to remain present to outline the rest of the plan,” said Dupont.

Taylor turned to his men.

“Get some rest and any sleep you can, we gear up at midnight.”

The troops shuffled out of the room as the more senior personnel among them sat down for what would be an arduous hour more of planning. Taylor had little to add to the briefing. It seemed the plan had been well considered before being put to them. When they had eventually finished, he ambled out with a stiff and sore body.

He staggered onwards until his body loosened and he gained pace. Suarez, Silva and Corporal Evans were close behind. Their unit was allocated a small bunk room on the edge of the base that had not been used in ten years. As they approached, he could see Eli sat waiting for him on the steps leading up to the building.

“Sir, I have had both of your teams’ equipment moved here. You will find it stacked in the reception. Reiter told me to pass on the message that the new equipment is being checked over and prepared for your next mission.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.”

He turned back and nodded for the other three men to continue on past him. As they disappeared into the aging building, the Major turned to Eli. He wearily stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. He stroked her hair as he thought how much he had in life that he didn’t want to lose. Although he couldn’t see her face, her eyes were wide and her expression of loss. She was expecting to lose him on this mission and nothing could hide that. Taylor pulled her back to look into her eyes.

“I don’t know what your mission is, and I don’t want to. Just promise me you’ll come back.”

“You know I can’t make that promise.”

“Try,” she snapped.

“I’ll do everything I can to make it back.”

She shook her head. All the death and destruction around her had pushed her to the point where she couldn’t bear the thought of any more losses. She looked up at him and spoke in a worried and shaky voice.

“When do you leave?”


She nodded, knowing that meant she had no choice but to leave him in peace.

“Is it all worth it?” she asked.


“Do you really think we can be saved? That we can win this war?”

He grabbed her tight and pushed her out at arms’ length. Her body was limp and not her usual self.

“I don’t think we can win, I know we can, and it’s about time you starting thinking it, too.”

“I…I just can’t see it anymore.”

“We’re gonna make it through this. It may take us months, years or even decades, but we will win!”

She nodded rather unconvincingly. Taylor knew that the only thing that would change her mind was to see him return safe and sound from the mission. He pulled in close and kissed her. He prayed it would not be for the last time, but he was far from certain. The Major knew that if he ever shared his doubts with those he was in command of, then they would be as good as dead.

Mitch let go of Parker and watched as she walked away with a slow and sad stride. He thought back to the mission and that he had just a few hours to catch some much needed rest before they left. He turned and stepped up into the dormitory room. It had been cleaned for them earlier that day, but the paint was rough and the rooms empty. They laid out their beds on the bed frames, the only furniture left.

The building had previously been used as short term accommodation for a platoon during exercise on base. Sharing with the rank and file in open quarters was a far cry from the luxuries he had been afforded as an officer. After days spent in trenches and ruins, it did not bother him. The room was almost silent as the marines were mostly sat or lying on their beds. A small group in the corner played a sullen and quiet game of cards.

None of the marines had yet managed to get to sleep. He could see they were expecting to die that night and had little left to say about the matter. Taylor unclipped his belt and threw it down on the nearest bed that had already been made up for him. A number of the troops turned to acknowledge him but said little more than a mumble. He took a step back and waited for them to take notice.

“I know a lot if being asked of you, and I thank you all for volunteering. This isn’t the end for us. We aren’t going there to die. We’re going to blow that place to shit and watch it burn on the way home.”

The marines had turned to face him, but they remained silent.

“Sir, what do you really put our chances at? No bullshit,” asked Ortiz.

“I figure no different to any other day. Since this war began, I’ve been waiting to take the fight to the enemy, and to ram it down their throats. We’ve just been given the chance to take the first punch, to ram a nuke up their asses! I think that’s going to be something worth celebrating when we get back, am I wrong?”

Several of the marines grunted in agreement.

“Alright! Let’s catch some Z’s. I want every man on top form!”

“Oorah!” shouted Silva.

The called was bellowed back around the room as Taylor took a seat on his bed. He knew there was little chance of getting much sleep in the few hours they had, but he would take any rest he could get.

Taylor awoke to the sound of his alarm and several others ringing around the room. He felt clammy and weary, but he was surprised that he’d dropped off to sleep to begin with. Within five minutes, the marines were falling in outside. They could see lights silhouetting Eddie’s custom copter a few hundred metres away and a truck parked up beside it.

“Let’s move!” shouted Taylor.

They carried little equipment besides sidearms and canteens. It was a cold and clammy night but refreshing after the little sleep they had gotten. Aside from the vehicles up ahead, the base was silent. There were too few personnel to guard the interior, all personnel being diverted to the border to defend the west.

As they approached the copter, Taylor could see Eddie making a final visual check of his craft. Despite his haggard look, the Lieutenant never seemed to get tired. He was as bright and chirpy as any other day of the week.

“’Morning, Major!” he roared.

Reiter and several assistants appeared from the truck that was parked up. They wheeled racks of equipment out for the marines.

“Everything is ready for you, Major.”

Taylor turned back to the group. They had been drawn from two under strength platoons, and he had little idea how to identify them anymore.

“For the duration of this mission, the men under my command shall be Alpha. Those under Lieutenant Suarez will be Bravo. You know the plan and what you have to do! We need a volunteer to carry the nuke!”

One of the marines immediately stepped forward. He was a hulking man who had previously been equipped with the light-machine gun for his section due to his strength. The company knew him affectionately as ‘Sugar’. He stood taller than most and stronger than all of them.

“I will carry it.”

Several grunts of approval rang out as Taylor smiled at the enthusiasm.

“Let’s get kitted up!”

Within fifteen minutes the group were fully equipped and loaded aboard the modified Eagle FV. Nobody was there to bid them farewell but Reiter. It was a solemn departure for what they all knew could be the last mission they ever made.

As they lifted softly off the ground, Eddie put the power down and jolted the craft as it launched into a tremendous turn of speed. The marines were thrown about from the acceleration, but there was little space to move. They were packed shoulder to shoulder. The seats had been removed to allow such a capacity. Had it not been for the new engine, they would likely not have got off the ground.

Taylor was pressed up against the main door and could see the terrain below was zipping by. It was a relatively short journey to their destination, but it felt like hours. The Major fell into a daze as he mindlessly watched the blurry scenery from a small porthole. He snapped out of it hearing Eddie’s words.

“This is it!”

Taylor looked up to see the glimmers of alien craft flying by in the distance. They paid no attention to the copter at all. At any moment he expected them to turn and open fire. The forward thrusters kicked in and were drawing to a quick halt as the craft raced over the blast wall of the complex, quickly descended within.

“How on Earth did we make it?” asked Taylor.

“Guess they really are arrogant enough to believe that we aren’t all that clever,” replied Silva.

Taylor smiled. He wanted to believe that the enemy had underestimated them, but so far they’d suffered badly at the hands of the aliens. The copter rocked as it came to a rough and quick landing by the vast domed structure towering over them. The Major hit the door switch and gasped as fresh air flooded in. He stepped aside and allowed the marines to pour out and turned to Eddie.

“Remember we’ll be out of communication here.”

“I got ya, Sir. You’ve got three hours, and I’ll be here for you.”

Taylor nodded in agreement. It was a strict schedule to keep and didn’t allow much room to manoeuvre, but they had little choice. He watched as two of the marines hauled out the mining equipment that would normally require six to move. He turned back to Eddie one last time and gave him a salute before jumping from the door.

The marines watched as the copter lifted off and left them once again in darkness. Taylor turned to see that the tunnelling equipment was already active. He was surprised and relieved to hear that it was barely audible over the construction work going on there. He turned and panned around.

Eddie had put them down in a secluded site that had to be some kind of buffer zone between the defensive walls, as it seemed to serve no other purpose. The Major hoped that would mean there was a small chance they would be left alone. He turned back to the marines and whispered.

“Take up a twenty metre perimeter. Do not engage any targets unless absolutely necessary.”

Lights panned past above their heads as the enemy searched the skies for movement. The sound of passing fighters was almost constant. Taylor shook his head, amazed they had even got that far.

“I guess they don’t have night vision after all,” he said.

He looked up at the sets on the helmets they wore. The moonlight was providing more than enough at present, but they were glad of having them ready for when needed. After twenty minutes of digging, Taylor was already bored. Amongst the isolation of the area they had been deployed, it could almost be called tranquil.

The mining device was mostly autonomous, which meant there was little for the marines to do but ponder the horrors they might find inside. Taylor sat down on the edge of the hole the miner had burrowed into the ground, dangling his legs into it. He let his weapon lie across his legs and slumped. He relaxed as best he could and thought of Eli. He still had confidence they could win the war, but he doubted both of them would survive it. It was a miserable notion that he tried to forget by remembering of their time in Paris. He supposed it would no longer have its shine or be the place for a romantic weekend. Last time he had seen the city large parts were demolished. From what Chandra had told him, the enemy had in the days following finished off most of what was left.

He looked up to see Sugar sat on the opposite side of the hole with a grin on his face.

The huge marine was of Scandinavian decent, and his strong build and blond hair did little to hide it. Taylor thought to ask him what was smiling about, but he already knew. The thought of personally hauling a nuke into the heart of an enemy base appealed to him on so many levels. Taylor suspected he would have just carried the same without the exoskeleton. The bomb was a metre long and fixed onto his back on a metal frame.

“You know you can’t keep it?” asked Taylor.

Sugar’s smile widened.

“I don’t intend to.”

The group were startled by the sound of explosions in the sky and peered up to identify the source, but it was far off in the distance. They knew it was yet another aerial attack to try and strike the base they were at. Taylor wondered whether it was a diversion to further keep them safe, or if more pilots were simply being sent to the slaughter.

The two marines in the tunnel finally appeared at the opening. Taylor was expecting them to say they had finished, but he looked at his watch and realised that couldn’t be true. He looked down to see that it was time for the crews to switch. It was boring work keeping an eye on the tunnelling device, so they kept cycling the job to stay alert.

Phillips’ experts had estimated that it would be a two-hour job to tunnel the distance they needed, but it was still only an educated guess. Taylor felt that an entire day had passed when that time came. The thought that they were merely counting down the time to their execution made it last forever. Eventually, Sergeant Silva appeared at the entrance and tapped the Major on the leg.

“We’re there.”

Taylor looked down in relief.

“What’s the ground like?”

“We’ve come up between the foundations. There are a few inches of floor to get through, but that’s no problem.”

Taylor clambered to his feet and gestured for the troops to pile into the tunnel. The device had cut a perfectly round corridor underground, but it was shorter than any of the marines. They hunched as they entered in single file. The mining device had liquidised some of the tunnelled mud and compressed the rest into the loser surface soil, leaving little sign of its work.

Their boots squelched as they stepped further into the passage. They reached the end where the mining device had buried itself into the sidewall and out of the way. Taylor stopped and looked up to see the steeply angled path that had been cut up to meet the foundations. Simple steps had been carved into the climb.

“That’s a pretty damn fine job,” whispered Taylor.

He stepped back and allowed Evans to pass. The Corporal had the cutting device clamped ready onto the forearm of his exoskeleton suit. He climbed up the ten metre section of muddy stairs and placed one hand on the centre of the floor section. He couldn’t feel the texture through his gloves, but it looked similar in construction to concrete. Evans lifted the cutting tool and pushed it into the material.

The glowing hot cutting blade drove through with little resistance. He looked down with a smile. None of them were sure if they’d ever make it inside. He pulled the device around in an arc until the plate broke free. His armed wavered slightly as it took the weight. The Corporal was fully aware that the suit he wore was the only thing keeping him from being crushed. Evans pushed up gently and slid the cleanly cut oval shape of flooring aside.

“We’re in.”

Chapter 11

“Sir! What the fuck do we do now?” shouted Doyle.

Commander Kelly lay back against a stack of crates that made up the ruins of their defensive line. Light pulses flashed overhead, and the improvised wall rocked as it was continually struck by enemy fire.

“Sir! We’re getting killed out here!”

Kelly stared into the man’s eyes and then turned to see the lines of bodies. There were as many lying dead as were still in the fight. He looked back to Private Doyle and began to come to his senses.

“We can’t win, we can’t fight this. We have to fallback, we must…”

“Are those your orders, Sir?”

Kelly nodded. The Private turned and bellowed the commands across the lines. The Commander could see one of the men quickly relaying them down the wired line they had brought up with them. Kelly clambered to his feet and looked up and over the defences. Mech bodies lined the broad corridor and lobby, but a seemingly endless number followed in their footsteps. He turned back to the nearest soldiers.

“Fall back! Now!”

They didn’t wait another second, and he watched as what was left of the two companies fled for their lives. Their fight back had turned into a meat grinder with no advantage gained. Kelly prayed it had made enough of an impact to keep the enemy at bay for a few more weeks, but he knew their end was still coming.

Kelly ran past lines of dead soldiers until he reached the hidden blast doors that took them back down to the bunker. He was the last man through the door and quickly punched the lock. He turned to stare through the one way windows at the bodies they’d left behind.

“There’s no hope for us now.”

Martinez moved up to him. His face was bloody and partially burnt.

“There is always hope, but only if you stay strong for all of us,” he whispered.

Kelly turned, looking into the Captain’s eyes. He knew he spoke with sincerity and was right. Kelly straightened his back and righted his shoulders. They were not dead yet.

The last of the marines climbed up into the foundation of the vast enemy dome. Taylor looked around to see they had come up into a storage area. Huge barrels were stacked from floor to ceiling along the sidewall. The ceiling was three metres high, and the entire structure appeared to be metallic. It had a cold feeling to it. Light blue ambient lighting emitted from the edge of the ceiling.

Nobody said a word or moved. All thirty men stood silently as they listened to everything around them. They could hear the sounds of construction, grinding and other power tools. Taylor nodded in satisfaction, thinking they must be a long way off completion. They all looked to the Major.

Their orders were simple. They all knew their target was at the very centre of the dome, and the only thing that mattered was delivering the bomb safely to it. Taylor looked around at the exits to the room which were at opposite ends of the large floor space. He pointed towards one, gesturing for the others to follow. He didn’t know where he was going, but none of them did.

Taylor reached an exit and peered cautiously around into the corridor beyond. Despite the sound of movement in the distance, there was no sign of any hostiles. He continued on, confident that his marines were close behind. For ten minutes they walked carefully through empty corridors. The GPS devices on their suits constantly logged their route so that they could retrace their steps to the tunnel, but few were confident they’d ever make it out.

As they took another turn, Taylor stopped abruptly at the sight of one of the creatures. He quickly held up his hand to halt the troops at his back. He peered around the corner to see that it was a single target. The creature sat with its back up against one of the large barrel containers they had seen previously. It was enthusiastically digging into some kind of food container.

The creature was wearing no armour, just a skin tight bodysuit with various electronic devices built in, and there were no weapons in sight. He appeared to be only a construction worker. Taylor looked back, relaying the information through hand signals. He gestured for them to stay put. They couldn’t continue without neutralising the beast, but neither did he want to risk alerting their presence.

He stepped out from the corner with light and careful footing as to not draw any attention. The creature was looking away from his position, allowing him to slowly close the distance. As he got within a few metres, he noticed a huge hammer placed against a wall. The shaft was a metre and a half long, and the head was as large as a human skull and of solid alloy. It was a simple building tool that was heavily worn from use.

The Major lowered his weapon and let it hang on his side from the sling. He reached carefully for the hammer and lifted it into his hands. He could tell it was heavy, more than twice the weight of a sledge hammer, a common tool back home, but his suit made light work of it. As he continued forward, the Major hoisted the hefty tool onto his shoulder with a firm two-hand grip.

Now just a few steps from the creature, Taylor lifted the weapon off his shoulder and took a quick leap forward. At the last moment the creature turned in shock at his presence, but it was too late. The huge metal head crashed down onto the beast’s skull. Taylor swung the hammer around for another strike. He could see that the creature was hurt badly and stunned, but not dead. With one final big swing, the hammer cracked the creature’s skull.

Silva watched the scene from the end of the corridor and heard nothing but the almost silence crunch of the two hammer strikes. He watched with a morbid curiosity and appreciation of the Major’s ingenuity. Taylor looked back to the Sergeant and beckoned for them to follow up.

Taylor looked down at the bloodied body of his victim. For a moment he thought about the fact that the creature was likely not a combatant, nothing more than a labourer. Then he thought about the immense death and destruction he had seen in the previous week. He lifted the hammer and looked at the almost black blood dripping from the head. He nodded in appreciation of the weapon, lifted it into his left hand and took up the grenade launcher with his right.

The marines continued quietly onwards. Each corridor and room looked identical to the next. All they had to rely on was a direction and approximate distance to lead them to the centre. Taylor stopped at a large intersection as he noticed the sound of footsteps. Metal on metal rang out as two Mech guards passed through an adjacent corridor. He was surprised there were only two, and that therefore their mission may have a chance.

Silence once again filled their area, and with only the ambience of construction echoing through the massive structure. Taylor was astonished at how few personnel they had encountered. He could only think that they didn’t work much through the night. It was a stroke of luck, but he wasn’t wholly convinced it was true.

Up ahead, at the end of the corridor, a vast light emanated into every sector surrounding it. Taylor looked back to Suarez and nodded. They looked at their mappad devices fitted to their left forearms. It was indeed the location they had been looking for. Taylor still didn’t believe that it could be so easy. They clung to either edge of the corridor as they approached the vibrant blue beacon.

As they grew nearer, it became apparent that they were a floor above the base of the device which had been dug down into the ground. They were approaching steel walkways running like a balcony around the weapon that was more than a hundred metres high. The smell all around them was of strong solvents, but nothing they could identify.

Taylor stopped as they reached the end of the corridor. He didn’t want to expose them to the open view ahead. The metal flooring which made up the balcony was of a grille type which allowed him to see down to the ground. The Major could make out five creatures. They seemed to be technicians or scientists, and they were working at the base of the weapon.

He peered up at the weapon itself. It was encapsulated in some kind of steel with large translucent sections from where the vivid light originated and obscured much of the framework. It was twenty metres wide and appeared as little more than a vast glowing tower. Whatever it was, Taylor knew they had found the weapon which could bring an end to humanity. He leaned out a little further and peered around the site.

There were no guards in view, but a large window to the eastern side of the room drew his attention. The location itself was as large as a baseball court. The ceilings were hundreds of metres high, and the Major suspected there were many layers of cladding protecting the roof. He looked back down to the broad viewing window. It was lit up, and he could make out the figure of a creature stood watching the device.

Taylor knew the creature must be important. He also speculated that the room housed the control centre for the base. While they looked on at the core, there was no hope of placing the nuke. He ducked back into the corridor and beckoned for Suarez, Silva and Evans to join him.

“This has to be the place. There’s a control room off to the eastern edge, a few hundred metres from here. We will have to create a diversion if we want to get the bomb in place.”

“What have you got in mind?” asked Suarez.

“We’ll head for the room and make some noise. I want Bravo to stay put and out of sight. When you hear all hell break loose, that’s your opportunity to get the bomb in place.”

Suarez nodded. It was a simple plan and about as effective as any of them could think of in the time they had. Taylor was all too aware that there were so many variables involved, and that improvisation was the only way the mission could work.

“Remember to stay low. When you get down there, don’t leave any of them alive, and be sure to put the nuke somewhere out of sight. It’s only got to elude them for a short while. We rustle up enough trouble here and this might just work.”

“Got it, Sir.”

“Once that bomb is in place, you must get back to the rendezvous. You don’t go looking for us, and you don’t wait for anything, you got me?”

Taylor knew it was a hard thing for them to swallow. Never leaving men behind was something they’d had drilled into them, but it was a doctrine they now had to ignore. Suarez could see that Taylor’s diversion could well mean the sacrifice of his unit. The two men gave a final nod to say goodbye. The Major turned and continued around the tunnels.

He could feel his pulse racing and was aware that they were improvising at every turn. After a number of corridors, he stopped when they came out into a broad circular room. At the opposite end there was a wide transparent door, and two Mechs stood guard. He knew it must be what they were looking for. As he peered cautiously around the corner, he could make out the glimmer of movement on the far side of the guarded entrance. He turned back to see his marines waiting for his word.

“This is it, lads. I want as much noise as possible, you got me?”

Silva smiled as they all nodded in agreement. They wanted nothing more than to raise hell with their alien foe. Taylor lifted his hammer and slipped the shaft into the waistband of his armour. He would need maximum focus on his primary weapon. He lifted the launcher into both hands and gave the nod for his troops to move. Taylor leapt out first from the corridor and quickly targeted the first creatures before they could lift their weapons.

Five rounds surged from Taylor’s weapon. Light burst from the barrel as the armour penetrating rounds riddled the first. It crashed against the far wall and tumbled to the ground. Before he could target the other guard, it had been hit by Silva and two of the others multiple times.

Even before the second creature had hit the ground, an ear piercing alarm rang out and the lights around the edges of the walls quickly transitioned to a pulsating red flash. Taylor smiled as he marvelled at the chaos they had created. They waited and listened for the inevitable sound of thundering footsteps that soon followed. Huge structural supports running around the rim of the circular room would give solid cover. Taylor pointed towards them and they quickly took up position.

They listened as a horde of the Mechs rushed down the corridor to the right side of the room, and they readied their weapons. Taylor looked back at the door that had been guarded, and it was still shut. He knew that whoever was inside would have a clear view to the site where Suarez was putting the bomb. He turned back to see the first wave of Mechs pouring into the room.

Light pulsed from the marines’ weapons as their grenades smashed into the first line of approaching Mechs. Taylor marvelled at the firepower they now possessed. Their new weapons made the enemy body armour almost obsolete, and they could put out a higher rate of fire. It was clear to the Major that their enemy would soon realise the humans were far more a threat than they had ever expected. As the battle raged, he turned to Ortiz and Wright.

“You two, on me!” he cried. He turned to Silva. “If we aren’t out in five, you get your asses out of here, that’s an order Sergeant!”

Taylor leapt out from cover and dashed towards the doors with the other two marines at his back. Light pulses flashed across their path, but Silva and the others were quick to silence their guns. Explosions rang out in almost continuous bursts as the Mech advance was smashed to a halt. As the three marines rushed for the door, Taylor lifted his launcher and fired three rounds into the translucent material. The first barely damaged it, but the second caused huge cracks to surge up to the frame until the final round caused the doorway to shatter and implode.

The three marines continued to rush forward. They were aware that stopping could result in death. Taylor got to the rubble of the door and leapt into a roll, tumbling into the room over smashed debris. He rolled to his feet to see half a dozen creatures with pistols already firing at them. Two of the shots hit his torso armour and were absorbed by the thick plating.

They lifted their weapons to the shoulder, and the three men quickly returned fire. Wright was struck by a pulse to his face. He was killed instantly, and his body tumbled to the ground as his burnt flesh smouldered. Taylor and Ortiz dropped to one knee and fired rapidly. Their ammunition blew apart the consoles and the creatures using them for cover. Their launchers quickly overcame the unarmoured and lightly equipped foes. Taylor could only imagine that they were technical staff.

Smoke rose from the burnt units and the room became silent. They could still hear the battle raging through the doorway behind them. Taylor looked around to see Wright’s body, but at least he had died a quick and painless death. Out of the corner of his eye the Major caught just a single glimmer of movement and turned quickly as he lifted his weapon.

He turned just in time to see a tall dark figure appear from between the burning consoles and shadowy corner of the room. Before he could pull the trigger, a pulse lashed out and struck Ortiz in the neck, cutting his head from his shoulders. Taylor pulled the trigger of his weapon but it dry fired. The magazine was empty.

He looked up in horror as the figure stepped out of the shadows. The creature wore a finely tailored armour that was something between the skin tight body suits he had seen and their soldiers’ armour. It was intricately detailed and gave off a bluish finish as was still liked by many old gun collectors. The armour glimmered as the red flashing beacon lights bounced rays from it. The creature’s head was unprotected, and it was obvious that he was of major importance to their forces.

The creature looked down at his weapon, studying it intently. It was clear that it understood the launcher no longer presented any threat. Taylor threw it down before him and stood up straight and proud. He would not be intimidated by the creatures. Out of the corner of his eye, and behind the creature, he could make out the shape of Suarez’s team advancing into position. He looked back into the eyes of the beast.

The two studied each other for what felt like an age before finally the monster stepped over to a console and placed its weapon down.

“Who are you?” shouted Taylor.

He knew that his death was almost certain. He cared only about buying his people enough time to place the weapon that would blow the complex to hell. The creature turned and glared at him, and then to his utter surprise, it spoke.

“You are Major Mitch Taylor, are you not?”

The beast spoke in a rough and deep voice. Taylor was taken aback by the question. His mind went from the mission and to his curiosity over the monster’s knowledge.

“How would you know that?”

“You have proved most troublesome for our armies, Major. Captain Jones speaks very highly of you. Credit which I see is due.”

“Captain Jones? You have spoken to him?”

The creature smiled, but it was clearly not in any mood to answer. The name of his friend being used left Taylor desperately trying to imagine what could have become of him. He had heard enough from the beast. He wanted nothing more than to cave in its skull if it had nothing more to say. He reached for the head of his recently acquired hammer, pulled it from his belt and took a wide grip in both hands.

“Why did you come here, Major? Did you believe you could save your Captain?”

Taylor stood ready with his weapon and glared at the monster.

“Because you came in vain. You chose your location poorly.”

Taylor smiled, knowing there was a chance that his friend was still safe.

“Who are you?”

“You may call me Karadag for the time you have left on this world.”

The beast put its weapon down on the burning console and lifted a device from its armour which quickly expanded to the height of a man. A heavy ball end extended from one end and a double-edged recurved blade the other. Taylor’s eyes widened at the sight of the savage looking implement. The creature was certainly no stranger to combat.

Taking the initiative, Taylor rushed at it with his hammer held high for a powerful strike. Before he could bring the weight of it down, the beast had leapt nimbly aside and swung its vast weapon around, smashing the heavy ball end into his back. The power of the strike sent him hurling into a tall console that smashed on impact. His torso armour was all that had saved his spine from snapping under the force of the impact.

As he sighed in pain, Taylor turned to see that Karadag had already recovered his posture and stood ready for a second pass. Taylor stretched in pain. His face had smashed into the sidewall, his helmet only cushioning the impact a little.

“What do you even want with this planet?” he shouted.

The creature circled around him as it eyed up his intentions.

“What are you doing here?” he yelled.

“This land should not belong to lesser beings.”

“Then there is no end to this war?”

“Yes, when you are defeated.”

Taylor lifted the hammer to his side and rushed forward. He swung with a wide strike that was easily avoided, but kept the momentum into a second swing. Karadag narrowly avoided it and cut up with the blades of his weapon. One of the recurved edges caught Taylor’s left arm, cleanly cutting the flesh open.

The Major yelped in agony as he staggered back. The creature had both strength and speed that he could not hope to match. He looked over the creature’s shoulder to see the faint silhouette of Suarez’s team discreetly leaving the weapon site. He could make out the bodies of several of the creatures that had surrounded it. Their deaths had gone unnoticed to the arrogant Karadag.

Taylor rushed forward and hit the boosters of his suit to strike at such a speed that the alien would not be able to dodge it. The beast parried the weapon dead with a horizontal parry. Getting the engagement that he had wanted, Taylor yanked back with the hammer, the head latching firmly onto the shaft of the villain’s weapon. The huge weapon ripped from the creature’s grasp and was launched across the room.

Mitch grinned at his efforts, but they were short lived. Karadag rushed forward and quickly grabbed hold of the hammer shaft. He smashed his elbow into the Major’s face, and blood gushed from his broken nose. The beast ripped the hammer off him and threw it across the room.

“How did you ever think you could win?”

Taylor staggered to his feet. He could see a ramp that led up and out of the bunker. He made a dash for it with his body hunched, still aching from the pain. All he wanted to do was keep the monster’s attention away for long enough for their plan to succeed. Karadag strode after him with a slow pace. He was confident in the knowledge that he’d already won. The building shook as loud mechanical grinding noises rang out all around.

As Taylor followed the ramp up as far as he could go, he reached a window looking down at the vibrant tower. It was the weapon that could end them all. He looked up at the roof to see that a huge section of the dome was drawing back in preparation of firing.

“You will be witness the end of your civilisation,” said Karadag.

Taylor turned to see the imposing leader coming up the ramp towards him. He drew his sidearm and quickly lifted it to fire, but before he could do so the creature threw a dart into the weapon, knocking it right out of his hand.

“Standing before your destruction and you are still defiant. I have known far weaker adversaries.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” snarled Taylor.

Taylor spat blood onto the floor but it mostly passed through the grilled surface. He turned to see an opening from the dome leading to an observation platform that was barely over a metre wide. He got up on his feet and staggered out into the moonlight. The low ambient lighting gave a dulled red tint to the moons rays.

As the creature’s footsteps grew ever nearer, Taylor knew he had nowhere to go, but he thought at least he’d have a front row seat when the bastard went up in flames. He turned to see Karadag taking a brisk few steps to reach him. The creature lurched forward with a powerful strike. The Major parried it, for the suit he was wearing gave him just enough strength to do so.

Taylor returned a strike to the beast and struck it in the face as hard as he could. The creature’s head snapped around from the impact and then turned quickly back in disgust. Taylor smiled, revealing his blood-soaked teeth. Karadag struck with a fast uppercut which knocked the Major off his feet. He landed hard on his back as the wind was knocked out of him. Quickly rolling over, he scrambled up and kept moving.

“What do you hope to achieve here, Major, but to entertain me with your death?”

Taylor had reached the very end of the viewing platform. He knew he could make a jump with the boosters on his suit, but he wondered why he should bother. He dropped to one knee, his body aching all over. Karadag stopped and looked down at the humble human.

“Did you come here to die? Is this your final act of heroism? No one will survive to remember it.”

Suddenly, Taylor noticed the Eagle FV banking sharply around the dome. He turned his head away from the creature to hide his smile. He looked back up to see the creature studying him with curiosity. Taylor could hear the engines of the copter grow louder as it approached at speed. Karadag turned sharply to investigate the noise.

The side door of the craft was open, and it was swooping in low and close to the ramp. Mitch could already make out the shape of Eli stood at the door shouting. As the alien glared at the copter, Taylor took his opportunity to leap to his feet. He launched himself with all his bodyweight and threw his knee into the creature’s stomach. Karadag folded with the strike and exhaled from the impact. He quickly followed it with a hard push kick that tossed the creature onto its back.

Within a second of landing, the alien had flipped back onto its feet and growled with anger. Taylor turned and took a quick leap from the observation ramp. He hit his boosters onto full and was launched into the air. He smashed into the side door of the copter, shaking the entire craft. His arms only just made it in through the door as his legs dangled in mid air.

Eli grabbed his armour as he began to slip. She struggled to haul him aboard as Eddie banked hard and put power down quickly. They all knew there was little time to escape the blast. Major Chandra appeared beside her and grabbed at his other arm, and between the two women they hauled him aboard.

Karadag stood at the end of the ramp watching with a bitter hatred as they soared into the distance. Taylor clambered into the other side of the copter and in between the other marines. He sighed in relief as he lay back, looking around the compartment. It was far less full than before, even with the addition of the two women. He saw Silva. The Sergeant’s face was singed and grimy. It was clear to Taylor that they had lost more than he had seen. He looked to Suarez.

“Is it done?”

The Lieutenant nodded.

Taylor smiled. It was a relief that almost allowed him to put the deaths of his comrades past him. He wriggled to try and get more comfortable but winced in pain. His face was covered in blood from his nose that was mixing with the grimy sweat.

“Are you alright, Mitch?” asked Eli.

He nodded, but there was little to say on the matter.

“What was that creature?”

“He called himself Karadag.”

“It spoke to you?” Chandra asked.

Taylor nodded. “And another thing, he suggested that Jones is alive.”

Chandra’s eyes lit up. She had so many questions, but she refrained as she saw that he had little else to tell. Before they could say another word to each other, a flash erupted, lighting up the sky as if it had turned to day. They turned their heads away from the blinding light for a second until it settled. Taylor crawled to the window and peered out to see the dome in the distance had been obliterated and a mushroom cloud was expanding out from where it had stood.

The explosion was a couple of kilometres wide. The blast dome had contained the radius substantially, but in doing so had ensured the utter destruction of what was inside. He had nothing to say, no smile or cheer. Taylor simply watched as the light began to fade.

“You did it!” shouted Parker.

He turned back to face her.

“We stopped the weapon, but we have lost France. We have lost Jones. We continue to lose our Company.”

Eli wrapped her arms around him as much to comfort the Major as herself. They all knew that the war was far from over. The victory they had won did not put them in any better stead than they were a week earlier. Taylor thought back to the creature he had met; Karadag. Something told him that he had not seen the last of the alien leader. The beast had shown Taylor that the aliens were not so different. They were not a faceless enemy. He looked up to Chandra.

“Why did you come for me?”

“Because we have lost enough in this war.”

“Then you must believe we can get Jones back as well?”

Chandra smiled.

“We’re still in this war, aren’t we?”

Taylor watched out of the window of the copter door as they once more darted across the treetops to return to their latest home.

Yes, they had lost so many, but there was still hope.