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 All in a Day's Work [Black Diamond] 
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Joined: July 15th, 2014, 1:02 am
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The sphere was approximately four meters in diameter. Despite its crude appearance, the composition of its hull was a sophisticated lattice of room-temperature superconductors, carbon nanotubes, and ablative shielding. Combined with the heat sinks hidden inside the eight stylized serpent heads sculpted in bas-relief on its surface and the inertia bleeders inset into the scowling demon's head on its underside, the end result was a highly advanced vehicle that, nonetheless, looked like a crudely built fetish from hundreds of years in the past.

Though the surface of the reentry pod glowed white hot, though the winds and the air pressure slammed into it with all the force of a brick wall, though the capsule endured punishing G-forces that would have reduced a human being to a thick red paste, the capsule's sole occupant was unharmed. In fact, all the shaking, rolling, and battering was making the Kyojin Berserker inside angrier and angrier. By the time the capsule slammed into the earth with enough force to blast a crater ten meters in diameter, the Noh reaver inside was in the midst of a full-out, frothing mouth battle frenzy. Through rage-hazed eyes, the massive Noh slammed a huge, hammerlike fist through the still-sizzling steel and peeled it open like a piece of fruit. It emerged like a chick hatching from its egg, lifting a massive tetsubo above its head and letting out a loud bellow of triumph.

It didn't notice the many red dots that immediately congregated on its chest. Nor did it hear the loud cry of, "FIRE!" that came from the belltower a half-kilometer away. The first barrage of energy pulses hit it from all sides, cracking open its ribcage and burning massive, blackened holes in its chest and abdomen.

Crazed as it was, it raised its massive war club and charged, screaming, towards what it perceived to be the source of its pain. It didn't live long enough to realize it was running in the wrong direction. A second precise burst of energy bolts brought it down for good.

"Clear front!" Colonel Sophia Drake shouted. Her HRT suit servos whirred and strained as she lifted her PR-20b from its firing position, the weapon's heat sinks steaming and hissing and glowing cherry-red. The PR-20 was nothing less than a crew-served pulse charge rifle of the kind normally mounted on a pintle on the roof of an armored fighting vehicle - the Black Dragons had repurposed it as their standard-issue weapon.

Drake was glad of the extra firepower this day. Any misplaced sense of sportsmanship that might have made her regret butchering that Noh Berserker was quickly dismissed by the simple act of looking up at the night sky at the fiery rain currently streaking down to earth. Each one of the myriad meteors blazing across the pre-dawn twilight represented another three-meter tall monster bent on rampage, destruction, and rapine. Already, the map inset into the upper right-hand side of her HUD was showing pinpricks of red, representing a confirmed ground contact with a Noh unit. Even more alarming were the sections that were changing from blue to black, as contact was lost with sector after sector.

All of which might have been bearable if it weren't for the constant screaming that came in over the comms. Some of the screaming was confident: an NCO or constable or militia sergeant trying to keep order among his men. Most of ir was panicked and loud: a repeating chorus of "They're everywhere!" and "Heavy contact!" buzzing in her headphones.

All of which could be summed up thusly: "We're reamed."

Drake put her hand to her headset to switch it off, but paused as a message came through on the open channels that silenced all but the most desperate cries for help. In the shocked silence, the speaker repeated his statement. A moment later, the panicked babble resumed, louder and even more desperate, tinged with despair.

Drake had heard enough. She sent one final message, then switched off her headset as her words were met with angry shouting. "Sergeant Alex!" she called.

"Go, Colonel," the Command Master Sergeant replied. The pistol in his hand was smoking and hissing, the heat sinks fully extended and glowing red. Three other pistols with burst heat-sinks were scattered around his feet (as was the one with the bent barrel that he'd had to use to beat a Berserker to death.)

"Inform the men that we're pulling out," Drake said.

"We're skipping out on the contract?" Alex-117 asked. He sounded more curious than disgusted or disappointed.

"Skipping out, hell. One of those Noh dragon-lizard things smashed straight into the Presidential palace and ate the entire Leijian government. We've got no client any more, and no more stake in this fight." Drake slung her rifle over her shoulder: the magnetic clamps located on the back of her HRT suit grabbed onto it and locked it into place.

"The men aren't going to like running from a fight," Alex pointed out.

"There is no fight here. Only slaughter. We stay, we get added to the b--"

She was interrupted by the loud roar of an Agha hound that crashed through the doorway, its six eyes glowing scarlet and its fanged maw dripping with blood. She scrambled for her PR-20, but Alex-117 was already moving. The cyborg cooly turned and fired another burst from the overtaxed weapon. Though the rapid-fire pistol shots soon brought the creature down, the strain was too much for the Spitfire, which burst into a cloud of steam as its heat-sinks failed. Alex grimaced and tossed the pistol away, adding it to the pile of destroyed weapons on the floor.

"Thanks, Sergeant," Drake sighed.

"You're welcome, ma'am." Alex paused and tilted his head to one side, though his expression remained carefully neutral. "I do believe that I see your point now."

"Carry on, Sergeant."

Drake emerged from the belltower into the remains of the temple courtyard. The quad had once been a lovely place, with picturesque stone walls and wide, green lawns surrounding a ten-meter tall statue of Kynig presenting Roland with the Shattered Sword. The lawns were now churned mud, the walls were now sandbag reinforced fighting positions, and the statue had been sliced in half by a Noh render beam, messily decapitating both Peers.

If I were a superstitious woman, I'd think that was a bad omen, Drake thought.

"Colonel!" an indignant voice shouted.

Oh, hell.

A massive war machine lurched down the shattered cobblestone lane, bearing an angry, pink-haired woman wearing a beat-up leather jacket, short pants, and knee-high boots. Jessi Bancroft's broad face was stained with mud, grime, and what was probably dried blood. The muzzle of her Relic's cannon was stained with soot and esper residue: a sure sign of heavy usage. Standing on top of the gun was a two-foot tall figure wearing a spike-topped helmet and trench-coat, carrying a comically oversized pistol. Any humor that might have come from the cypher's appearance, however, was offset by Drake's knowledge that Fritz was one of the most ruthlessly pragmatic strategists she had ever met.

Unlike his partner, Jessi "One-Shot" Bancroft, who dismounted from her relic and strode across the muddy ground towards Sophia Drake, eyes flashing angrily. "Sergeant Alex just sent the sauve qui peut over the battalion net," One-Shot shouted. "Was that on your orders?"

"Watch your tone, agent," Drake growled coldly. Her empty hands closed into tight fists. "I'm not in the mood." She turned towards the communications tent set up in the shadow of the columbarium.

One-Shot grabbed her by the shoulder. "We're the only thing holding the Noh back from over ten thousand civilians!" she shouted. "We can't just leave!"

Drake wheeled on the relic knight. Her gauntleted hand grabbed Bancroft by the collar of her leather jacket and slammed her into the side of the columbarium. "I know!" Drake shouted through gritted teeth. "But we're not holding anything! We can't hold anything! The Noh have broken through! Even if I wanted to stay, we don't have the men or firepower to stop this invasion! We stay here, and all that happens is that the Noh take us too!"

The sound of a ten millimeter artillery piece being brought into battery echoed against the temple walls. One-Shot's gangly looking relic had lurched over to point its weapon threateningly at Drake's head, while the cypher Fritz perched atop the muzzle of the huge gun. "Let go of my Knight," Fritz demanded, "Or the alternatives will be unpleasant."

Drake swore loudly, but let go of One-Shot's collar. The smaller woman rubbed her throat and coughed as she caught her breath. The relic lifted its gun away from Sophia's head. "Thank you," Fritz said sternly.

"You're welcome," Sophia replied.

"Your orders are, I will admit, logical," Fritz went on. "The mission here has failed. Retreat to survive for another day is the only logical option. The fate of the civilians is regrettable, but unavoidable."

"Is it?" One-Shot asked. "I mean, can't we take some of them with us?"

"Shuttles won't lift with the extra weight," Colonel Drake said. "We've barely got the lifting power as it is."

"Can't we dump extra weight? Weapons, armor. . ."

"You want us to abandon millions of credits in guns and armor?" Drake's expression was incredulous.

"To save civilians? Think of it as a charitable donation. Don't you get a tax break for that?"

"Your sarcasm is unnecessary." Drake sighed. "You have a point. The contract is a bust anyway. We may as well do what we can. Children only, plus mothers of infants or the very young. And move fast. The shuttles won't wait for us."

To be continued. . .

July 28th, 2014, 8:21 am
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