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Ross Tarran, 01 Aug '12

        “Incoming – heavy.”

        Adam Dax heard the words, spoken calmly inside his head by his own voice, and knew at once not to gamble on the implications of this warning, passed directly into his consciousness by the sensory systems of the gigantic machine he piloted. His senses were already massively enhanced by the interface between his body and that of one of humanity's largest and most advanced military creations; the New Variant Colossus or NVC. Pilot Dax could 'see' clearly in all manner of conditions due to the high technology integrated within this amalgam of man and machine, but threats or targets beyond clear visual range would always be notified to the pilot by the NVC.

        Dax instinctively crouched inside the cocoon-like pilot space, ducking his head and raising both arms as a shield. Simultaneously his vast, somewhat humanoid shell did the same, its towering two hundred metre tall frame dropping with an agility that seemed to ignore the laws of physics.

        A moment later – impact. A long-range artillery shell blasted into the surface of the NVC. Inside, it took Dax's breath away, the whole Colossus shaken violently as though it had been punched by something equally as massive. The hard outer shell of the NVC, usually a crystal white, pulsed deep red in the location of the shell's impact before slowly fading back to the normal colour.

        Dax breathed deeply once more; fortunately the impact had been absorbed without detectable damage to the structure of his Colossus.

        It seemed that wasn't the end of this attack however.

        “Incoming – multiple – heavy.”

        “Damn it...”

~

        It wasn't meant to be this way.

        Looking back, SETI and the search for earth-like planets were so naive; the result of humanity's childlike wonder when we looked up at the stars. Natural curiosity. Perfectly understandable. Except we know what curiosity did to the cat, even with nine lives.

        The TV show Star Trek used to make it sound so noble; space – the final frontier. To seek out new life and new civilisations... As it turned out, in the end we weren't as interested in finding new life as finding a new place to extend the life of humanity, considering the state Earth found itself in by the year 2450. On the brink of oblivion. Where even the richest could no longer ignore the issues of overcrowding, air quality (or lack of), diseases threatening to overwhelm us and computer viruses increasingly affecting AI-controlled technology, sometimes causing tragedies that should have been avoidable.

        In the end we were lucky; we found an earth-like planet within the reach of our most advanced new space vessels. Unfortunately, so did they. Mankind's first contact. Most now call them The Strife; based on the main result of our interaction with them, to put it mildly. Plus only a few linguistics experts can get close to pronouncing their real name.

        NVC Pilot Adam Dax had been only eight years old when mankind first made contact with this 'alien' race, although to use that term seems strange when they are not so different in appearance from ourselves. The Strife home planet must have been remarkably similar to Earth, although with higher gravity, as its people seek the same conditions as us but are generally more squat and muscular, and therefore physically stronger than most humans. However, they seem to care even less about their natural environment than us. Their home planet, from what we have been able to ascertain from intercepted transmissions, seems to have been left with barely a plant or animal still living; only huge continents of dystopian urban sprawl.

        Humanity's first experience of The Strife should have been all the warning we needed. Only months after the first landing parties had touched down on the earth-like planet, named 'New Bethlehem' by its original discoverer, The Strife appeared. Human explorers on the surface were still in the early stages of analysing and documenting the features, flora and fauna of this potential new home when a huge company of soldiers from a Strife vessel landed in their craft and proceeded to savagely shoot down any human in their path, whether armed or not.

        Although equipped with some defences, the light, modern vessels of the human explorers and colonists were no match for those of The Strife, and were quickly decimated for the most part; only a few managing to escape back towards Earth.

        A distress signal sent out by the few remaining survivors was picked up by the human military vessel 'Stalwart'. This gargantuan, massively-armed and armoured behemoth was thought by many at the time of its creation to be obscenely over-specified and therefore a huge waste of resources, but once news of The Strife reached Earth it soon became the one thing people were able to pin their hopes upon.

        Stalwart immediately set a course for New Bethlehem, although due to its design it took six months to reach the planet rather than the six weeks of the explorers' ships. This turned out to be both a problem and a blessing, as the delay gave The Strife an opportunity to gain a strong military foothold on the planet, while also giving the human and AI-based engineers aboard Stalwart valuable time to optimise the hardware of the very latest, most highly-advanced walking weapons of humanity; the New Variant Colossi.

~

As the hail of shells rained down upon Adam Dax's NVC he was physically shaken, even within the heavily damped pilot space. There must have been over twenty direct hits, and yet the outer shell remained intact, although noticeably blackened in a number of places.

        Dax had remained calm, if a little concerned about the ability of this towering 'suit of armour' to survive the assault. In simulation he had experienced the incapacitation of an NVC many times as a result of a single direct hit. This being Dax's first sortie piloting a genuine NVC, he was still discovering the full extent of their real-world performance. Dax was beginning to properly comprehend why an NVC pilot is required to complete such extended training, including a large amount of mental conditioning and emotion suppression techniques. These newest Colossi were stronger than anything that had yet walked the surface of Earth or any other planet known to humanity, and the experience of piloting one was, frankly, intoxicating.

        Having only progressed a short distance from the forward base, now that the heavy fire had ceased for a short while, Dax decided to continue his patrol. Rising to a standing position once more, the Colossus matched his movements and gave him a view through its 'eyes' as if stood atop a tall building. Looking down, the torso and legs of the NVC were visible far above the trees below, the canopy of this jungle region making it appear as though the Colossus were a human stood on a rather overgrown lawn.

        While looking downwards, Dax's enhanced vision picked up movement, quite distinct from the swaying of the treetops. Here and there he could just make out small figures – it seemed an entire company of Strife were moving through the forest below!

        Trained to avoid emotion, Adam Dax certainly had no inclination to take pity on these people, who appeared more as insects from his viewpoint.

        Flames burst in jets from the wrists of the Colossus, billowing and enveloping the trees below. Dax thought he could just make out faint screams, before his own voice sounded once more inside his head.

        “Cease fire – no more targets.”

Comments · 4

Page 1 of 1

  • Ross Tarran said...

    This is a 'part 2' to one of my earlier bursts - http://burrst.com/bursts/47/ - so you should really read that one first, although it may be a bit late at this point!

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Daniel Williams said...

    Ah, I only saw your comment at the very end of this...but now having read both parts I can comment. There's a really strong Phillip K. Dick/Ray Bradbury vibe to your work which I like.

    Having now read the two parts, I liked the first part better because this part, for me, really too hevaily on exposition. When I first read this part (not knowing it was part 2) the whole middle of the story felt out of sync. With sci-fi I always find it more interesting when you see the world through the eyes of a character rather than have the author explain it. When I got to the middle section I lost interest because the lead character wasn't really invovled.

    Will you be doing a third part?

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Ross Tarran said...

    Thanks for your comments @Daniel Williams; nice to be compared to respected authors although I don't know much of their work except that Phillip K. Dick wrote the book that Blade Runner was based on! Sounds like I'd enjoy more of their stuff.

    Like you I think the first part of this works better in general, but thought it would be difficult to explain much about the wider setting without giving a little 'history'. I agree that it's probably less interesting for most readers, but at least it's out of the way now, as I probably will do a third part before too long.

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Anthony Blackshaw said...

    The exposition does feel a little out of place, but the background it puts across adds plausibility and purpose outside of Dax's perspective and I think that's needed. I guess the same information could have been conveyed from Dax but overall it didn't greatly deter from the piece for me.

    At the end I wanted to turn the page! So I hope you'll do a third.

    • Posted 5 years ago