Part 18: Fire from the skies
Mornings in the Hive were fantastically beautiful, said the general.
I looked over my shoulder at the man resting in the back seat. His half-open eyes gazed briefly back at me. The old man - and he looked old now, not like in the posters which had so suddenly disappeared - was babbling, in a sort of half sleep. The light from outside had the faintest hues of lilac, and the landscape faded into mist.
It's the lack of industrial development, and obstructing buildings on the topside, I said. That's why everything is so clear and stark. He grunted, as though to say, you would think that, you product of the latest education initiative.
The man had asked that I drive him, this early, when everyone else was on curfew. Now, he sat in a melancholic silence, a silence that was becoming most uncomfortable.
I turned on the radio. "..defenders of the TunnelGuard regiment once again outwitted Believer crusaders today, in the on-going battle for the Eastern frontier. Commanders in the field are confident that total victory is imminent."
A brief fire appeared in the passenger's eyes, and faded away.
"So, in summary, Air Power rests at the apex of the first triad of victory, for it combines Mobility, Flexibility, and Initiative. Today will be a historic day, pilots, for you retake the first step of that."
The Spartan-born instructor bowed, his lecture complete. A loose cluster of approved journalists snapped off photos, and then were ushered away.
The project was technically a joint one, a privilege for which the Spartans had paid a high price. But the Spartans lacked anywhere near the resources to build the prototypes, and the courage to be the first to take flight.
Only as I and my copilot took to our seats did we realise how alone we were, here on this plateau. If we failed, there would only be a few, the easily silencable scientists, to witness it.
Our machine, a 'needlejet' armed with impact cannons ripped from broken rovers, throbbed beneath our seats as we did the engine powerup. The wind was not good, sweeping from the side of the landing strip. I cut my hand on a piece of rough steel, and a drop of blood smeared my mission briefing. The engineers had not even the time to apply paint.
Much would be made in other states about how the first plane on Planet was a warplane, and the first mission a mission of war. But in truth, we had little choice. We had heard the news in the morning, of how at last the Believers had managed to maneuver their troops for the final assault, how they stood on the doorsteps of the Hive itself.
I unlocked the wheel brakes and turned at the end of the runway. No need to ask for air control permission. Our cobbled together heap of junk was going to fly - or else.
Once, they tried to fight us, as we first crossed the border. Their young men, still fanatical in misguided loyalty, thought their armour would hold against our faith.
They hide from us now.
Our erstwhile ally, Lady Deirdre, has been lost to us. She had gone finally insane, babbling in council about strange new gods, demons to be placated or served. We nodded, all has gone as prophesied.
The University's empiricists have retreated to their ivory towers, where they can shut their minds from the voices of the Lord. We nodded, all has gone as prophesied.
The stinking pit of the infidels draws near. We ready the holy fires to burn it out, to burn it clean.
The weather turns treacherous. God is angry in heaven. The purging of the infidels is at hand. Somewhere, in the distance, there is thunder. We of the People's Crusade begin our battle prayers.
"Tractor production figures have reached an all time high this year, according to an economics spokesman. The news spells good times ahead for Hive construction industries."
"...in other news, an unexpected data leak struck at UN planning authority, resulting in several files appearing on the planetary datalinks. UN spokesmen have alleged that the incident was due to external agents, an idea many experts dispute..."
"Turn that off!"
The man was wide awake, and angry. I stabbed at the button, until at last he sat back, mute as before.
One moment, we were racing along the bumpy trackway. The next moment, I punched the afterburners, and eased back on the stick. She twirled a little in the wind, and then we were away.
The engines whined louder than ever, but within the cockpit it was quiet and cold.
Everything was so small. The hole that was my life, my friends, my comrades, went to a dot, less than a dot. The landing strip disappeared amidst the creases of the land. The crowd waiting, cheering became a fuzz, and then were gone. The hills rolled on, mottled by fungus and the borehole being dug to the North West.
My copilot, working the radar, spotted our targets. Two elite battalions of the People's Crusade, plus an auxiliary force, including vehicles and siege engines. They marched down the main road, tearing it up, tearing the solar panels and other improvements lined around it up as they went. We curved our flightpath to hide ourselves amidst gathering rain clouds, and then began our descent.
Now it was time to test the weapon systems.
The chaplain began the last part of his prayers. The prayer was for mercy for our enemies, for a speedy death, and that they be allowed to do penitence instead of being consigned instantly to damnation. The prayer was usually omitted in time of battle, but this time we thought that we might as well do the whole ceremony.
A few drops of rain began to fall.
The silence of the car was broken by thunder. Funny, there was no lightning.
I pulled back hard on the stick, and we broke from our dive. A few bullet holes tore the profile of our wing, but that was better than the smoking crater behind us.
Twisting through the ineffectual lines of ground fire, I lined up another shot, and heard the pound of the impact cannon shake our airframe. The shot smacked into the side of the second siege engine, ripping it into pieces. I passed one more time, to strafe the fleeing survivors with machine guns, and at last turned for home.
"They have planes?"
"What the heck are planes?"
A brother was praying over his comrades. The regiment was wrecked, useless. A few had panicked, and fled into the fungus, thinking that it was God's wrath now turned on us. They couldn't be reached by radio.
"Just heard from mechanised corps. The entire division was wiped out. The rovers were refueling. They were sitting ducks."
"Scatter! We need to move! We'll get cut to pieces here. If we get to rocky ground..."
The storm was hitting. I could barely hear anybody. The voice of God, or was it Satan, deafened me. The rain hung in dense sheets. I looked to the skies and saw nothing but blankness.
We arrived at last at the recycling facility, as the General had ordered. The road lights were just being turned off for the day, but it was still dark on account of the storm clouds. The facility would open this morning, a sign said.
"Why did you want to come here so early?" I asked.
"It is every citizen's final duty to go into the tanks and become one with all the people." He replied, strangely, and stepped outside into the pouring rain. Before he closed the door, he turned back and said, "drive away. Drive away now."
I sat, mystified. Then, from the darkness came two figures, dressed entirely in black. I could hear their voices, just about, through the glass.
"So you came, you actually came? Man, you are loyal."
"See, comrade, you should have never bet against the Chairman's word."
"So the Chairman sent you. I... I thought... there was a chance..."
"I'm afraid, even with loyalty, not everything can be forgiven. Come, let us show you around the new recycling facility. Did you know that the Gaians gave us the inspiration for this? We've made some improvements, of course. Come, you must see."
"I hear they use every piece here."
I drove out as fast as I could. I did not see if either of them looked at me. I just drove out as fast as I could.
Victory was bittersweet. We lost many of our friends. But we won. Won shiny new medals, cushy promotions to level 3 citizens.
Needlejets have gone into full production. One emerges from a factory in each base every other day. Even as I write this, other airmen would be driving the believers from Fellowship City.
Their elite forces broken and crushed, the tide has finally turned against those fools. Even their conquest to the south has been lost, and Gaian interference there can only help us.
But still, I can't forget that morning. I can't forget what I saw just as I turned for home.
How did the mindworms know? How were the worms waiting, silent and still, as the Believers fled into their open arms?
Surely, I tell myself, it's just a coincidence. Surely it was.
: Haha, no.
So, I'm trying to do a bit of probing as well. However, our success rate is low, since knowledge has a probe penalty. So it's probably going to just be datalink infiltration for now. Fellowship City is back in our hands. We have a choice now, since we don't really have the infantry to do everything. We can push eastwards, and retake our towns on the mesa. Or we can push southwards, into the probably heavily defended Believer heartlands. Or we can take on Lal, eventually, by building up forces in West Clapton. Fusion power is still probably an update away.
Naming - first come, first served, 1 per user
Crappy basic air type
Crappy basic infantry type
Better air type (not made yet)
Better infantry type (not made yet)