Between skeletal buildings along an avenue stood bulky vehicles flanked by soldiers in dehumanizing armor. Through their largely featureless helmets they scanned the surrounding ruins of the demilitarized zone in search of heat signatures, audio echoes, electromagnetic radiation, and any other sign of impending ambush.
An explosion suddenly threw one vehicle, smoldering, onto its side. The troops dove for cover amid the concrete rubble as bullets filled the air from all directions. Infrared beacons designated friend and foe through the technologically-enhanced chaos of battle as their equally-equipped aggressors fired from the destroyed buildings.
Ragged civilians scampered from the perimeter, clustering closer to the helipads as troops took up defensive positions around the war-scorched park. Searing lines blazed through the dust amid static-infused shouts and the drone of gunfire. A rumble from the heavens rose amid the chaos as a dozen or so helicopters appeared just over the crumbling rooftops.
One helicopter swept low over the embattled avenue, dropping a six-legged machine bristling with firepower to the concrete.
Deck walked into his apartment, the darkness fuzzy against his alcohol-dulled senses. Before he touched the switch, the lights came on to reveal a woman standing in the bedroom doorway.
"Hey." Taela said softly. Endless patrols in the DMZ had steeled the pilot's nerves to the point he wasn't even surprised to see his best friend.
"Hey. Is Reaver here, too? He called about drinks..." He asked, dropping his keys on the countertop before walking into the small living room, hands in his pockets.
"I'm here for you." she said, fiddling with the zipper of her jacket. "Let's stay a while." A tightness grew around Deck's stomach. Years of lust constricted his thought process as he got lost in her faded amber eyes. Not another word was spoken through the sounds of fabric and flesh.
Soldiers dashed across the flight deck, piling into bulky quadrupedal helicopters. From within his six-legged armored assault vehicle, Deck watched his ride descend slowly as a small team of specialists hooked him up to it. Pulled into the chopper's underbelly, he took a moment to admire a photo taped to his instrument panel.
Taela smiled through the dim glow of screens and readouts at the soldier in his metal throne. For the first time he felt relief as he stared at her round face and dimpled grin, the weight of his own cowardly hesitation lifted by a fleeting sense of fulfillment. Now there was work to be done.
Bullets rattled against the steel hull as the insectoid machine landed directly in the open. All around him the troops in their electronic suits rallied to better positions with renewed confidence. With the turn of a switch Deck saw detailed images of tech-clad soldiers running through the buildings on all sides.
The street was ablaze with muzzle blasts as figures darted from cover to cover, the hail of bullet impacts maintaining a knee-high layer of dust that obscured the dead and dying. Deck's machine began pounding high-density projectiles into the surrounding concrete as the troops dragged their wounded back towards the park.
Helicopters were strafing the urban cluster from just above, their rockets tearing through the sky before landing with devastating impacts that obliterated walls and floors. The larger helos had landed and were being laden with civilians and casualties as the perimeter began to shrink. One of the pilots was momentarily bombarded with electronic warnings.
Five times faster than the speed of sound, a missile collided with the craft's hull, turning the angel of death into a fiery bomb that vanished in a scorching mushroom cloud.
Laughter and smiles surrounded the table while music blared overhead. Glass clattered between cheers as Deck enjoyed one more night with his friends. His weightless gaze occasionally lingered over Taela and Reaver as they sat in each other's arms. To catch some fresh air, Deck took a beer to the balcony. Lights sparkled across the energized city, but a voice gently pulled him from its beauty.
"Do you miss it?" Taela asked as she leaned on the railing beside him.
"Yeah. But not as much as I miss you." His smile was one of peace.
"Deck, I don't know how to say this, but... I'm worried." The soldier tried to comfort his friend.
"Don't be. I'm in an armored box all the time." Taela still looked concerned.
"I just want to apologize." Deck frowned at her.
"You have nothing to be sorry for. We just... missed our chance. It's just how it happened. I think it worked out better this way."
"I know you think that, but you deserve to be happy, too." The echoes of countless conversations followed in the wake of her words.
"I am happy. Reaver's a terrific guy and you're great together. I'll be just as lucky someday." With a well-practiced hug they returned to the club and their rambunctious friends.
Bullets ricocheted viciously off the metal exterior of the mechanical beast standing alone in the concrete-strewn street. Lead stormed down from the ruined buildings on all sides as brass poured from the arm-like cannons. From within the armored insectoid hull, Deck's face contorted with determined focus while beads of sweat ran down his soft features.
Target after target appeared on his visual display, illuminated by the computer system to streamline his engagement. Temperature rising in the steel sarcophagus as bodies collapsed into rubble, there was no room for fear or hesitation. Outnumbered but not outgunned, he stood alone against the flood for his brothers, it's brutal death crashing all around him.
Explosions rocked the machine as their fury concentrated upon his crucial position. Warnings flashed and chirped across his control panels. Flames erupted, belching choking black smoke as the crippled beast staggered. With all existential concerns long forgotten, he drew a deep breath filled with the raging agony of the damned and screamed against the metal of his tomb
"I bleed fire!"
If we make combat mechs, I don't think they'll look like bipedal suits. I think they'll look much more like insects; a metal hull the size of an SUV with six legs, bristling with computer-aided weaponry, and operated by one or two crewmen in cramped cockpits.
Music: Anberlin - The Feel Good Drag
Music: Anberlin - The Feel Good Drag