Wednesday, 28 November 2012



The explosions as the Titans ripped the probe apart were picked up on the drop-ship's sensors as Sully fell through the low atmosphere. That gave him a good idea as to their location and so he was able to adjust course slightly to be able to land just behind the crest of a small hill overlooking the probe. He directed the drop-ship containing the Fuller's Thumper a few clicks back from that. Sully couldn't, however, get a location on Mason. 
"Mason, you there? Cavalry's here" he broadcast at her. "I need a location for tightbeam coms" this would prevent their communications from being intercepted.
There was a brief pause of static, before Mason spoke up. She sounded harried.
"Yeah, burst link, er coming"
A small blob of blue appeared in Sully's map overlay. Mason was on the opposite side of the plain to where Sully was headed, not bad from a tactical point of view, but she was very close to the Titans. 
"You ok? Y'seem quite close to those big buggers"
"Uh-huh, just, er, testing their defences"
"The verdict being?"
"Yeah, er, it's pretty good. I'm pulling back"
"Ok, I'll be on the ground in 15 secs. Standby"
If only it was that simple. As Mason made her tactical retreat - suit smoking slightly, charred down the right hand side - the Titans were able turn their attention to the incoming drop-ship. 
"Woah, woah, WOAH" Sully exclaimed as targeting lasers and radar tracers painted his ship. He frantically started running bypass scripts, try and convince the Titans he wasn't really there, while the drop ship AI released chaff to try and confuse any incoming ordinance. Neither of which, however, were enough to bypass the Titans' sophisticated electronic suite. 
They fired. 
Sully slammed the eject button, thrusting himself up and out of the ship, while his two Ostrich drones were dropped below it. The explosion of the ship as the Titans pounded it into fragments sent Sully into a wild spin as he looped back down towards the ground. Just about managing to arrest the spin, he fired the suit's jump thrusters to cushion the landing, although it still came with a heavy impact that made his teeth rattle. Within half a second he was up and running, initially going silent, turning off as many active processes as possible to reduce the chance of the Titan's tracking him, much as Mason had been doing as he first came in to land. 
He felt a little safer as no more targeting protocols found him. Safer still when he had the hill between him and the Titans. He gradually switched systems back on. The scan revealing that Mason had moved back from the Titans, themselves having started to move away from the now smouldering probe. He launched a couple of side scripts looking at where the big war machines might be headed, as to his naked eye they didn't seem to be headed towards either him or Mason. With that running he turned his attention to assembling his pack of drones. 
The Thumper reported all systems green, as did one of the Ostriches, but the other was sending in all manner of errors. Sully cursed and started to wade through the diagnostics. It soon became apparent that Ostrich had landed badly after the ejection from the drop ship. It's own jump thrusters misfired, causing it to land awkwardly on one of its already delicate legs. It could still move, bit had been shorn of the speed that made these drones even remotely useful. 
"Ok Mason, you'll be glad to know I'm ok, thanks for asking. What's is your status?" Sully had to risk an encrypted general broadcast to reach Mason as the hill got in the way of the more secure tight-beam.
"I'm doing fine. Don't need babysitting"
"Uh-huh, so you and your little men got the Titans beat then?"
"Will do when I can close enough to the fuckers. But their point defence systems are pretty full on"
"Why'd you even test them? Thought Gumelar told you to sit tight?"
"Gumelar says a lot of things. So are you gonna help, or just sit over there whining?"
"What do you suggest? I've got a Thumper and one functioning Ostrich, and you've got a measly six plastoids. Hardly gonna leave the Titans shaking with fear is it"
"Two and a half" Mason replied.
"I've got two and a half plastoids"
"What the fuck did you do to the rest?"
"Pirates took one, and a bit of another. Lost the other two attacking the Titans"
"You are properly fucking mental" Sully shook his head "So with our depleted packs, you’ve some sort of brilliant plan I hope?"
"Rain hell on them with the Thumper, confuse them with the ugly fucking Ostrich getting under their feet, then I'll go slit some metallic throats. Job done."
"Couple of problems with that. First you've already fucked the job far as I can see. The pirates fought you off and I saw from my drop-ship that the probe recovery part of the deal wasn't going so well, what with it going up in a massive fireball and all" Part of Sully enjoyed goading Mason, while another worried slightly about the consequences of winding up such an unpredictable marine. 
"Not my fault"
"Sure. Also, even if I went for your 'raining hell' plan, the fact that Fuller dedicated most of the Thumper's ordinance to anti-personnel stun bombs isn't really gonna work all that well against massive fuck off Titans"
"The dumb fuck"
"What? You mean him actually tendering to try and do a good job rather than showing off with your plastoid fettish? How dare he" Sully said irritably.
"So what do you suggest then, genius?"
"That we leave"
"We can easily declare force majeure on the tender. The probe, and probably the pirates, are long gone, so there is nothing to keep us here"
"You massive pussy" Mason was not impressed.
"You can't just leave, dude" the slightly disconnected sounded voice of Lloyd broke into the conversation
"WHOTHEFUCKSAIDTHAT?" Sully exclaimed.
"Er, hi, I'm Lloyd"
"I told you last time what was going to happen to you Lloyd, now get the fuck out of my coms stream" Mason replied, anger dripping off the threat. 
"Wait. You know this Lloyd person?" Sully was baffled. 
"He's one of the pirates, the hacking fuck"
"How'd he break our coms?"
"Wasn't too difficult in the end" chirped up Lloyd "I just re-routed one of your geo-locat...."
"I wasn't talking to you" interrupted Sully. 
"But you've got to listen to me dude. Those big, er, droney things, we think they're headed to the main water processing facility"
"So?" Sully asked while simultaneously calling up the script he'd launched earlier to track where the Titans were headed. The route computed by the tac-suit put them on course for the large facility. 
"The facility is powered by a massive hydrogen fusion reactor" Chen explained.
"And who might you be?" Sully was exasperated - did anyone else feeling like breaking into his encrypted conversation?
"Doesn't matter. All that does matter is if those Titans do to the reactor what they did to the probe the we are all in deep shit"
"That's outside of our, er, remit" Sully felt pathetic even saying it.
"Your remit precludes preventing moon cracking explosions?" Chen asked with more than a hint of angry sarcasm. 
"The facility is protected by Lanark Horishmo automated defence systems" Sully was hurriedly looking up details on the facility, trying to make sense what was going on. 
"Protected against Titans? Think about it, whoever is running the other ship wouldn't have sent Titans just to wipe out a crashed probe. Maybe they'd send something a bit more robust than those fucking things your colleague sent over to us, but Titans are way over the top. Unless they have another objective" Chen was firm in his assertion of the issues. Having only narrowly escaped the destruction of the probe (twice for that matter - the crash landing and the Titan attack) he was becoming fonder of getting to the point more quickly. 
"But why would they want to destroy the facility?" wondered Sully, despite inwardly acknowledging that the pirate might have a point. 
"The fuck do we care?" Mason broke in "Hey Sul, I'm liking your force maj-er-thing plan. Let's fuck off outta here and leave the pirate fucks to watch the pretty fireworks"
"Because you want the science data from the probe" Chen replied calmly.
"The what?" said a surprised Sully.
"You heard. So here is the deal, you stop the Titans from breaking Europa in half, then you give us passage back to your ship. We give you the science data. Everyone wins. You might even get a bonus for protecting the facility. I know how your paymasters get hard thinking all about the VFM in that"
"What's stopping us from just coming over there and taking the science data?" there was a sneer in Mason's voice. 
"Firstly, you don't know where we are" Chen was right, despite Sully's best scans, he couldn't pinpoint them. "Secondly, if we've got a guy that can hack your coms and foil your location scripts, don't you think we're capable of protecting the data? Now, do we have a deal?"
"Ok" said Sully.
"You fucking kidding me?" argued Mason "You want to do a deal with these fuckers?"
"Can't see a better alternative. Plus you actually get your way and we take on the Titans"
"Good point" Mason's mood brightened "Time to get our hands dirty"
"Excellent" replied Chen "Then we shall leave you to get on with it" the pirates' link to the marines dropped off. 
Sully, Mason and the lone functional Ostrich were easily able to catch up with the lumbering Titans just over ten clicks away from the facility, but were careful to stay out of range of the big machines' heavy weaponry. The Thumper didn't need to catch up to be useful, while the limping Ostrich and what was left of Mason's plastoids were left back near the destroyed probe. Neither of the marines had yet come up with a plan that could both agree might work. Sully had tested for himself the Titans’ point defences, lobbing a few stun-bombs from the Thumper which were all easily intercepted by the shoulder mounted beam weapons. Mason, predictably, favoured a frontal assault, hope that they can dodge the Titans' weaponry for long enough to get in close and try and locate a weak point to focus on. However, Sully had not failed to notice the vicious scarring down the right side of Mason's tac-suit from the last time she had attempted such a move. 
By the time they’d stopped arguing the facility was only 7 clicks away. They'd eventually agreed to coordinate a missile attack on the Titans, try to overwhelm them by firing what few missiles the Thumper had along with those from the Ostrich and their own tac-suits. Sully even threw over more stun-bombs to try and confuse the Titans. A few missiles and most of the stun bombs made it through, but were not enough to do much more than dent some of the Titan's thick armour. They'd need many more missiles than they actually had to do any serious damage. But something did strike Sully with slightly more of an impact; an idea. 
"Hey Mason, how'd they know to target the missiles first, then the stun-bombs?" Sully asked, but suspected he already knew the answer.
"They're running some pretty neat targeting software. It actively prioritises the threat level of the incoming ordinance. I tried bypassing that, but nothing worked."
"So given that the missiles are highly explosive, and the stun-bombs less so, it intercepts the missiles first"
"Even if that means a few of the bombs get through, cos anything that does get through will be of lower priority and therefore less damaging"
"Yeah. Are you deliberately being slow, as this isn't exactly hard to understand"
"Just working something through" a hint of a smile in his voice.
"If you were sophisticated targeting software, how would you rank a high-explosive missile versus, oh I don't know, say a lump of polymer carrying a knife?"
"The hell you on about? Oh" Mason began to follow "I'd target the, er, missile first. Then maybe the polymer ordinance would get through.
"So how do we get the plastoids launched at the Titan then? They can't catch up on foot"
"Have a look at this" Sully beamed over a picture taken from one of the damaged Ostrich's cameras. It was difficult to make out what was happening to start with, as the drone was in an unusual position, on its back, legs bent above it. 
"Er, what?" Mason was confused, the sensation irritated her.
"Say hello to the all new mark one Sully industries plastoid catapult. All aboard!"
Again, it took a few seconds for Mason to follow Sully's slightly bizarre train of thought, but then she understood. She commanded the plastoids to climb on to one of the Ostrich's feet. To hang on. 
"Launch all remaining missiles on my mark, then I'll lob over the plastoids" Sully commanded.
"Yes" Mason responded, caught off guard by the authoritative tone of the other marine's voice. 
It took Sully a few more seconds to butcher one of the Thumper's aiming scripts, combine it with some of the data blueprints from the Ostirch's leg assembly and finally come up with a firing vector for the plastoids. With no slight trepidation, he instructed Mason to fire, followed by the makeshift catapult; the Ostrich rapidly extending it legs and flinging the plastoids. Missiles arced in from four angles, raining down onto the two Titans. The point defence lasers started to light up, flashes bright as beam and missile met. 
Then came the plastoids.
A green blur to the naked eye, but Sully used his tac-suit to slow the footage down, and watched as the three little men fell on to the Titans. To Mason's credit, she'd taken to the plan well, and combined with her intimate knowledge of the plastoid as a device of the battlefield, was quickly able agilely jump one of the three across the gap between the two Titans while the other two went to work on the one they had fallen upon. 
It was a fascinating assault, the plastoids climbing over the Titans like some kind of viscous insect, searching for a weak point to exploit. The Titans couldn't work out how to respond, unable to adapt to an unforeseen route of attack. They halted, trying to bring their weaponry to bear, none of which could. The shoulder mounted beam weapons rotated ineffectually as they sought a firing angle. 
Minutes passed, Sully feared that the plastoids would not be able to find a weak point as they prodded and poked. The Titans might well have calculated the same as they moved off again towards the facility. Sully risked asking Mason how it was going, wary of distracting her. 
Give them time was her simple textual response as she concentrated fully on commanding them.
It was the lone plastoid, the one missing its head, on the Titan furthest away from Sully that made the breakthrough. Just below where the shoulder blades would be on an equivalently sized human it had managed to prize up the corner of a piece of armour. Its knife was jammed into the gap made, violently worked back and forth to bend the armour a little further back. This time the knife ripped a little deeper. 
Then the plastoid disappeared. 
At first Sully thought it had fallen off, but he couldn't see anything on the ground around the Titan. So he replayed the footage, slowed it down. The plastoid had disappeared inside the Titan. Sully felt a bit sick. 
Learning from their headless brother, the two plastoids on the other Titan quickly manoeuvred around to the weak point in the armour and went to work. Then they too disappeared into the Titan. It took more agonising minutes until their attack from the inside of the Titans showed any evidence on the outside. The Titan with the two plastoids inside it stumbled, then dropped to one massive knee. It attempted to get up, but quickly fell back onto both knees. It then fell forward, attempted to use one of its weaponised arms to support it, but the large barrel crumpled under the weight. The Titan fell onto its side, motionless. 
The other massive war machine marched on, heedless of the fate of its brother-in-arms. Sully feared that the headless plastoid had maybe malfunctioned, or got trapped in the machine's inner workings. It wouldn't be long before the Titan was within firing range of the facility. Sully wondered why the defence systems attached to the factory hadn't powered up yet. Maybe more AI oddness, he wondered. 
Sully commanded his tac-suit to pick up speed and head in front of the Titan. If the Plastoid wasn't going to work, then he and Mason would have to try and engage it directly. With no missiles left, that would be difficult, but hopefully not impossible.
Then he spotted a movement on the front of the Titan, a piece of armour in the centre of its chest started to work its way free. It took a little more time, but the armour then fell to the ground. The plastoid clambered out, smoking slightly, left arm melted. With only one arm it took a little while for it to climb up the front of the Titan. To get to eye level with the Titan. 
To give it the finger. 
The Titan exploded, heat and pressure waves washing against Sully's tac-suit as he stood in awe. After a short while Mason moved up next to him, but didn't say anything for a while, the two just watching the smouldering drone. 
"Gumelar is never going to belive that actually worked" remarked Sully after a few minutes.

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