)Sonea, Neutral space: Eos Consortium Influenced
'All passengers please fasten your seatbelts, we will soon be landing on Sonea town.'
As with the majority of Eosian settlements, Sonea was a highly-organized, immaculately clean affair arranged in conentric streets around the circular administration building: a panopticon-like cathedral. Open spaces, fountains and public parks were plentiful, as well as more haphazard urban areas that betrayed the presence of other populations on the surface of the relatively neutral planet. Rarely enough the lack of fog allowed the passengers of the crowded civilian shuttle full view of the golden and white arrangements that characterized the Eos buildings the same as it had been seen for almost a continuous month from the sky.
As with any other civilian shuttle, the eight or so kids made more noise than everyone else, running up and down the aisle sometimes stumbling upon the large duffel bags full of munitions. Oblivious adults took photos of their surroundings or looked at brochures while the elderly slept or carried on muttered conversations. No matter the variety of multi-ethnic passengers dressed in all colors they all had something in common: the cold steel of the weapons lying on their laps or tucked away in their backpacks.
"Well, who would benefit from a drought?" Joanna asked with an eyebrow raised, wary of her boyfriend's conspiracy monger. "Weather control screws around too much and agriculture and industry are going to get angry, those guys are pretty thirsty."
"Well tourism, who else?" Her boyfriend replied, adjusting himself on his seat and only giving the in-flight war movie occasional glances. "Take the fog off for a day and everyone suddenly notices that this place was sitting on some damn beautiful vistas."
"Come on, how big can the tourism sector be?"
The shuttle swayed to its sides, avoiding the flightpah of the other shuttles in the rather crowded skies as it descended on a spiral towards the large front square of the cathedral.
Like everyone else on the right side of the shuttle, Joanna and her partner carried the silenced, compact and slightly heavy personal defense weapons of E Pluribus Axioma's standard. The right side, on the other hand, carried much bulkier grenade launchers. A group of sleeping Indians to the back of the shuttle was instead burdened with several large ATGM launchers and their bulky munitions. Wherever there was room for it personal items and military gear were crammed in the luggage spaces and militarized CPU blocks.
The shuttle landed in front of the cathedral, soon followed by two others. The rather large arrival caught the attention of the clerical guards that stood in front of the monumental flight of stairs that led to the entrance, who quickly headed out in a small procession to greet the visitors. A half dozen of ornamented gatekeepers responded to the arrival with unease, unable to see through the shuttle's large, continuous rows of tinted panoramic windows.
'We have now landed, you can now unfasten your seatbelt.' The announcer came over the shuttle's intercomms followed by several seconds of clattering from the passengers who stretched themselves after the fairly long flight and woke up their parents, brothers and friends.
"Really, you can't complain that we're not freezing our asses off this far north at this time of the year." Joanna noted, still skeptical.
'Please equip your silencers and A-gear and await for CID update. Thank you for flying, we hope you have a great time.'
The low-ranking Eos priests and the gatekeepers came closer after the shuttle didn't open its doors. Corneal HUDs came online for the tourists, minimizing all their personal apps and replacing them with a cold, geometric interface that went straight to the point. Target markers bloomed outwards in a rippling pattern, hovering over the heads of the oblivious Eosians much to the surprise of the passengers, who hastily began putting on tactical rigs and ballistic vests including the thankfully-silent children. Joanna and her couple looked at each other with disappointment, seeing that the often-faulty unitmaking had once again separated them into different fireteams amongst the passengers of the shuttle. Worse yet, Joanna found she had been assigned as platoon leader.
Six plainclothes Triarch operators quickly became obvious when they got geared up in a mere couple seconds and began whispering to one another. Sitting the closest to the doors, they traded a plethora of hand gestures, occasionally pointing to the Eosians outside.
"Huh, mission? I thought we were just on standby." Joanna's girlfriend inquired, reading the briefing as it loaded from the unit network.
Mission: Search and Destroy. Estimated targets: 65,750 red, 3125 yellow, 24,910 green, 5200 blue. Target reward: 1000 credits. -175 credits to individual reward per every hour of the mission.
"Wow, wow, what the fuck?"
"Damn!" An older Asian man leaned over the front seat and looked back at Joanna. "A thousand credits each?!"
"Fuck this, Syntagma!" Her boyfriend immediately brought his gun up, almost smacking her face with the silencer and immediately let out a long, continuous burst from the PDW that demolished the window. Along with the hungry gunfire from the rest of the shuttle's entire right side Eos clerics and gatekeepers were ripped apart almost instantly, only two surviving by jumping behind the large marble-like short pillars that lined the stairs.
"Get out, everyone get out!" Joanna immediately echoed the call of the other three platoon leaders, signalling for the disorganized crowd to leave the cramped shuttle. Taking further initiative, she quickly reached over her head for the emergency handle, blowing the doors and windows out with a sharp pull.
Only the Triarch men had quick enough reflexes to rapidly fan out after exiting the shuttle, sparing them from the return fire from the cathedral's spires that blew the packed line of twelve EPA soldiers to chunks alongside the doors and the entire cockpit of the shuttle. The Triarch men immediately went into action, suppressing the balconies on the spires.
It only took that for panic to set in. Finding the doors suddenly blocked by bodies and molten metal the whole unit simultaneously decided to just jump through the windows in a disorganized rush. Three of them broke their legs on the way down, one against the opening cargo bay door of the shuttle.
"Spread out, everyone spread out!" Joanna jumped last. The words were in vain, everyone was so confused that it only made them stick together more. Commanding an EPA unit was again not much better than herding cats.
"Spires!" The EPA men signalled.
"Eos my bollocks!" Was the only thing that one of the Indians still inside the shuttle managed to incoherently grab as he noticed the reward for the two snipers immediately went up to 1200. Aided by his wife and brother he quickly brought the ATGM launcher to bear, cold-launching a missile through the closed rear window and completely shredding the seats and luggage with behind him with the backblast.
The missile immediately began zigzagging in an erratic path as one of its fins got jammed by the window and missed the spire at the last minute. The missile came around in a wide twitchy loop, this time flying straight at the EPA shuttles. More than Joanna's commands, this made them finally spread out.
Right as it was going to overshoot the tower for a second time the missile managed to veer itself towards its target and detonate, blowing up the whole balcony. Debris, roof tiles and metallic shards fell from the tower onto the eye-shaped cathedral below, breaking through its transluscent, retina-like dome.
"The spires, fuck the spires up!" Joanna pointed when everyone began regaining their bearings. Only the most daring of the grenadiers fired at first but soon they were joined by the entire unit, demolishing the top and the windows of the spires with a barrage of airbursting grenades that completelly collapsed the top of one onto the street. Soon enough adrenaline had completely gripped them and every vantage point and window of the cathedral was savaged by gunfire. However, not even that managed to mask the sound of enormous detonations taking place all throughout the city, dotting it with huge smoke columns and cutting off power.
"Alright, alight, hold it!" Joanna tried yelling over the gunfire. Three additional shuttles landed behind them. Meanwhile, from her own shuttle's luggage bay, four crab-like quadrupedal wheeled vehicles rolled out, toting large gatling guns and ballistic shields behind which the EPA forces quickly crowded.
Sprinting ahead of the robots and while the cover of the EPA company's intense grenade fire, the Triach operators quickly moved in coordinated but loose formations, rushing through the door and finishing off the stunned gatekeepers along with a triad of Paladins who rushed through a secondary door. The silent men quickly stacked against the main entrance, opening it only whide enough to send in flashbang and decoy grenades. As soon as they did so the entire inside of the church lit up with hundreds red contacts, making everyone gasp in awe.
"There's a shitload of them inside!" A child yelled, peeking from above the robots' shields in disbelief. "They're trying to steal kills!"
Blasts of .50 gunfire and another swarm of grenades completely pulverized the doors in face of the EPA rush that came short of killing the Triarch operators. Hoping to score any sort of kill the disorganized and quickly-growing EPA rabble poured ordnance into every opening of the church's faccade.
"Alright, alright, go, go!" Joanna instructed the robot, who quickly began rolling up the stairs, looking through the walls with its censor and ripping apart anything that showed up with a torrent of gunfire. Alongside the three others and backed by the arrival of another two companies of fresh troops the robots rammed through the remnants of the doors and into the cathedral.
In the typical fashion of Eosian cathedrals, the huge open interior of the building mimmicked the structure of the city itself, albeit with rows upon rows of seats surrounding a single elevated pulpit in the center of the 'eye'. Medical services, administrative offices and communications departments all sat in an outer ring around the last row of seats separated by ornate pillars, and were the first to be reduced to burning debris by the onslaught. Caught in the middle of its service and unaware of where the attack was even coming from -or from who did it come from- hundreds of Eosians had gathered in a panic in the center of the pulpit, being coordinated by its preacher. Over their heads, over every single head, was a red HUD marker.
"Wait, holy shit, we're just shooting everyone?" Joanna radioed her fellow platoon commanders, who immediately began trying to hold their own human wave back. "What the fuck is this mission even about?"
Fifty paladins and their crusaders had hastily assembled in various states of readiness upon the attack, quickly reducing the more daring EPA soldiers that didn't cover behind the robots' shields into burnt chunks.
"I don't know, you think CID is bugging?" A middle-age man in a sweater replied to Joanna, holding his gun close to him. A larger Triarch platoon surged through the doors behind them, quickly backing up their point men in dealing with the pinned-down paladins. The rest of the EPA unit quickly began uncroaching onto the rear row of seats.
"This must be one hell of a bug because everything else is working fine."
Four, five mortar shells immediately reduced all sound to a distant buzz. Crashing through the center of the dome, they burst above the heads of the Eosians just low enough so that the EPA troopers were spared from the rain of flechettes that obliterated the priest, his bodyguards, men, women and children alike. The red markers immediately disappeared and the rewards were cashed in.
"Joanna, you fuck!" The man said immediately changing his tone. "The mortar team just got rich, we gotta caught up!"
There was little she could then do to stop the tide, especially when the machineguns from the robots and the intervention of another ATGM tore through the defenders and weakened their defensive fire to the point the militiamen ran them through, shooting left and right and complately carrying Joanna with their stampede. The sky above the shattered eye was quickly vacated, not only from the civilian aircraft fleeing the scene but from more EPA-chartered shuttles and freighter ships touching down on the city, crushing trees and parks under their weight.
Escorted by a third group of Triarch men, a platoon dressed in full HAZMAT team entered the building carrying armored boxes and soon disappeared in an underground stairway that Joanna found herself pushed into as well. Everyone kept their distance from them while still trying to search for targets to destroy in the industrial-looking underbelly of the church: the town's sustenance-distribution system. Just a couple minutes into the attack, the point men and battle organizers had lined the walls with glowing tape and flashing signs to make sure nobody got lost and pointing out all emergency exits, so Joanna found herself more or less herded into the main pumping room where bodies of technical staff lined the floor.
The backup generators had been turned on and arge CPU blocks were being hardwired into the system's computers. Immediately causing the crowd of soldiers to disperse, the HAZMAT-wearing troopers quickly opened their armored cases and began using the sabotaged sampling system to inject the contents of alarmingly-labeled vials into the distribution system.
"Just what Eos ordered!" One of the gasmask-clad troops remarked loudly as a mechanical groan marked the venting of the system into the town's pipelines. "We're rich, motherfuckers!"
"Can someone tell me what's going on?" She didn't even know where her unit was anymore. No one had any idea of what they were doing, only that they had to advance quickly in a rush that eventually led her back to the surface.
The vista from the church's demolished rear wall was haunting. The buzzing from the gunfire still muted everything into a ghostly murmur when she saw dozens, thousands of flares slowly descending to the surface and leaving trails of smoke. Missiles speared through the flares, hitting unseen targets at high angles and causing the ground itself to echo their impacts. It wasn't just plainclothes soldiers anymore. She could see APCs and a couple tanks disembarking the larger craft as well as the white-hot trails of suborbital fighters converging from above towards the thin, sharply-turning glimmers that were the Eos fighters and anti-aircraft missiles. Full blown war? From the records this sure looked like it. The Eosian city was being indiscriminately bombarded with cruise missiles and munitions so expensive that EPA would normally only fire them at top priority targets.
When the plainclothes and uniformed formations of E Pluribus Axioma's entire 495th airmechanized division began sweeping through factories, transport hubs, residential districts schools and hospitals to also find them full of red targets the calls from higher-ranked officers to clarify mission parameters became so many that it effectively put the higher strata of EPA's battle network out of commission. It was a battle left purely to the soldiers themselves, pumped full of adrenaline and faced with a city-sized treasure where every single target surpassed what their entire family lineages had earned by an order of magnitude. The aspirations of a lifetime were behind every trigger pull and button press, there was little an incommunicated group of officers could do.
Cut off from her unit and lost admist an urban sea of wandering, aimless soldiers, Joanna could only try and regain her hearing between artillery barrages as she walked the streets covered in shattered glass. In zones where targets became so few that units began competing, buildings themselves and infrastructure became red targets, prompting the division's combat engineering brigade to abandon their bogged-down or stuck comrades in favor of unrestricted demolition works. Automated fighters and gunships flying miles above proved no less sparing as they dropped munitions on the targets with cold, computerized purpose.
"I need to know what is going on, I really need to know what the fuck is going on." Joanna finally heard a loud, female voice coming from a group of EPA vehicles parked under the ruins of an overpass. So much did it mirror her own doubts that she had got get close. She wasn't the only one, as a huge crowd of soldiers from all ranks bunched up around the command post, making it dangerously obvious. "People's dropping everything in here, sooner or later someone is going to end up nuking this place if we don't get a hold of the situation."
"Eos resistance around telecomunications center has been reduced." A male officer replied from the other side of the crowd of soldiers, who all held up smartphones to broadcast updates to their unit. "Assault is proceeding with few casualties but the installation has been completely destroyed by airstrikes already so F company is requesting permission to bypass this objective and take the highway intersection."
"To hell with the highway intersection, we need mission parameters!" The woman shouted back. Large asymmetric prosthetic arms bristling with computing nodes and her artificial neck made her stand out clearly: the long-, black-haired, freckled woman was an officer. "Mission parameters, get it!"
The battalion command post, which consisted of only six vehicles covered with antennas and computing equipment, was a modest affair not meant to handle anywhere near as many onlookers, so the commanding officer and her staff were finding themselves quite stressed.
"Ma'am only thing coming down the chain is target designation."
"I don't need target designation, I need proper objectives and a mission." She retorted back while a squad of armored robots pushed the crowd back a bit. "The front already moved five miles up and my vehicle's stuck, I'm completely cut off here."
"Ma'am, what's the orders?" Joanna yelled back, trying to squeeze above the robots. "I'm from A company, whole unit's dispersed!"
Five detonations in a row sent everyone to the ground in a panic, including Joanna. They sounded clearly different from the others, like a prolonged, low-pitched ripping sound. Joanna quickly shoved her head between her arms and held her breath.
Four conical plumes of phosphorus several hundred meters in diameter blossomed in the sky and submerged one of the residential areas of the city in a ghostly, incandescent miasma. Having been spared from the infantry attack by EPA miscoordination, the area received something much worse from the overflying fighter-bombers.
"Those psycopaths are dropping phosphorus!" A soldier remarked, hiding right next to Joanna underneath one of the command vehicles. Only when no more bombs come did they start coming out from under their vehicles.
"It's only dots on a screen for them." Joanna remarked.
"Colonel Hzll." The communications officer informed. "D company has seized its objective and are requesting updates, B company has dissolved into squad sized units carrying sweeps, no contact with E company."
"That's enough." Hzll called, grabbing him by his lapels to prevent the crowd from getting in between us. "Call divisional command, tell them to override our weapons, all of them. This is turning into a fucking genocide."
What had been a few minutes ago just a traffic jam of trucks on one of the many highways of the hemisphere had quickly unfolded into an enormous divisional artillery regiment whose long-range guns had been hidden inside the containers. A few actual and very unfortunate truckers had been caught in the middle of it and had quickly fled the scene. The pavement had been completely scorched with backblast from the launchers and muzzle blasts from the cannons that had also reduced all other vehicles into burning wrecks. At the pace they were racking in kills none of the guns or launchers was relocating, so loud thumping and ripping was the constant backdrop inside the nearby divisional command post that had recently arrived via re-entry vehicle.
Ambience was not any less uneasy, though certainly less hectic than in the city. Inside the large activemy-camouflaged tents officers and their staff lined up every console and supercomputer mirroring the command room of larger EPA warships. Inhuman, heavily bloated with cybernetics but quite clearly still ideosyncratic and doubtful about the situation, the divisional command staff could not even begin processing the sheer ammount of target destruction reports that were completely overloading their network and found themselves wrestling against their own networking doctrine.
"So are we winning or what?" The commander's young daughter asked, looking up at him with her big, blue artificial eyes. Like him, her features were soft and delicate, fitting more the daughter than the father.
"All prioritary objectives occupied, T� minutes, air force has succesfully interdicted incoming Eos quick-reaction land units, standby." One of the liasion officers coldly informed in a mechanical voice.
"Cool." The little girl smiled while his father rubbed the back of his neck, trying to find a way to word it.
"In a way." He simply said, putting up a fake smile in front of the worry. The duality of the situation tormented him: on one hand the performance of his division was being phenomenal compared to the EPA norm of cowardice and confusion, on the other hand he was being so cutoff from them he didn't know who or what were they even shooting at. The kill ratios were alarming: they couldn't possibly be fighting Eos' soldiers only.
He turned to one of his officers who was completely hardwired to a field computer. "Any news? I still don't know if this is our biggest victory or the biggest cock-up in history."
His daughter laughed at casual the obscenity. "Don't say that." The commander added in a reprimanding voice.
"Negative, sir, network upflow has overwhelmed all channels." His staff member replied while everyone else on the plotting table only worsened their worried looks. "Every single kill and gained meter is being reported to us, information is being sent faster than it can be processed and regiment headquarters reports are being buried."
"Put up filters." He worriedly patted his daughter to distract her blue markers floated over everyone as was norm. "Only accept communications coming directly from headquarters, disable CID proxying."
"It's going to take a while, all communications are unlabeled. Switching to frequency-based sorting."
"Wait, what?!" The XO intervened as everyone's expressions froze and looked at the general. "What did you say, you son of a bitch?"
"Uh, sir, all incoming communications are unlabeled. The sorting system is offline, sir. Traffic is so high our servers are being DDoSed"
"How can that be?!" The general visibly worried his daughter as the murmurs spread and everyone in the command tent, bodyguards included, looked at the computers in alarm. In the alarm, the five EPA robots that entered the command tent went almost unheeded. "Did we get hacked?"
The artillery guns began firing another volley. Just as the booming of guns drowned out everything else the four robots immediately raised their guns -powerful automatic shotguns- and fired indiscriminately inside the command center in one long, continuous burst that depleted their entire magazines and completely cut down the EPA men and women. Return fire from two quickly-uncloaking Triach operators blew apart two of the robots, but even they were eventually overwhelmed. Stacks of papers, computers and prosthetic limbs were blown and turned into flying debris and sparks, completely obscuring the room. three blue markers remained, hovering above the heads of the robots while they walked over the massacre towards the general, who covered with his daughter.
Just as the last casings fell to the floor, the artillery guns stopped firing to let their barrels cool down. The crews could be heard celebrating in the distance, racking up rewards.
The robots moved slowly with fluent, human movements quite completely unlike their traditionally clumsy manners. They overturned the table where the general hid, bleeding and holding his screaming daughter who had not escaped the intervention of the robots without getting her foot blown off by the fragmentation rounds. She cried in pain loudly, spasming and spewing out blood before immediately and unexpectedly going silent when her artificial throat was remotely deactivated by the robots.
The one closest took a step towards him, immediately stepping on the gun he tried to grab.
"Wh-what the fuck is this?" He said and his daughter mutely mouthed 'daddy' over and over again, her face contorted in a grimace of agony.
"Remember us?" The robot spoke through a small speaker. It was a human voice with human gestures. "I remember you, General Jrn."
He ignored him while trying to tie a torniquet around the girl's ankle. When one of the robots unholstered a large revolver and pointed at her he immediately threw himself in front of her to protect her.
"I remember a group of broken men being exploited and spat upon for generations before someone had the bravery to tell them they were something." The unseen controller of the robot said once he had the general's attention. "That is the part that neither your sister nor you remember. You only remember the part where for the sake of fame and monetary reward two siblings went to Tau Volaris and took everything from us. That the one time where anyone did something worthwile in this galaxy you were there at the ready to give our people and our leader the most gruelling death you could think of. It's too late for justice but not too late for correction."
"Y-you can't be." The general trembled, feeling the cold rapidly grip his bleeding body. "I don't care what you do. Have my men kill off this whole planet if that gets your rocks off, but my daughter doesn't have anything to do with this."
"Neither did mine." The voice in the robot answered, tilting its head. "Neither did I when you came."
He quickly turned his revolver on the general, blowing his whole left arm off and making it easier for the other to pry his daughter away from him by her hair. Only the three cold, flat rectangular faces of the robots stared at the general, completely featureless other than a small red LED glowing under the lens of their camera, recording the event.
"No, no!" He pleaded, suppressing the pain from his shoulder to try and grab her dress. "You fucking animals, you can't kill my daughter, you'll lose the Union! That's the only thing keeping you safe!"
"I am not going to kill your daughter." The robot replied while the one to its left put a black bag over his head. "You did not kill mine, personally. You did not have the balls. Instead you unleashed your men on her and the rest of my people. You just offered them rewards."
He raised his revolver again and pointed at the general's head. Over the head of his struggling, panicking daughter a red marker appeared: 10,000 credits.
"Your men will."
"No!" A loud gunshot silenced his screams when the artillery began firing again. The robots deactivated and fell limp on the floor, leaving the lone survivor to her fate.