By Curt Rostenbach
Written May 1994
Kevin was undoubtedly the best person on the team.
How he had managed to foresee the ambush was a mystery to the rest of us. While we had been doing our best just to stay alive, Kevin had taken out six of the enemy single-handedly with barely a scratch.
I was able to destroy two mechs just inches from me. A third, Kevin had disabled before it could get to me.
In all, due to Kevin's leadership and skill, we didn't lose a person in the battle.
The six of us regrouped and assessed our causalities.
Jim was the worst off, his powersuit was barely able to function.
Sally was out of grenades.
Bert suggested we back off and try another direction.
Kevin didn't want to fight for the same terrain again and suggested we push on and make use of the hole in the enemy's line.
Jose didn't think we had made a hole. He thought we had encountered only an advance team and the main force was not far away.
I was willing to trust Kevin's instincts on this mission and Jim agreed.
So we moved on.
Our objective was to disable a communications node that was suspected of controlling this entire grid. The enemy had backups, but using them would slow response time enough for our main force to be able to punch through.
The plan had been for us to be delivered closer to the suspected communications node, but a SAM had brought down our transport.
The rest of the way, we were forced to fight our way through.
We knew that there were caches of supplies on the way. The age of battlesuit warfare required seeding the battlefields with supplies and automated repair centers.
The only problem was finding them.
Between the need to hide them from the enemy and battlefield signal jamming, radio markers were useless.
While the location of the pods was known on delivery, the enemy knew them as well, so the pods were programmed to move to new positions and conceal themselves.
Jose stumbled onto a repair pod.
It was agreed that Jim would use this one and possibly the next, if his damage was too extensive for this pod to repair completely.
While we waited for Jim's battle suit to be repaired/replaced, Kevin and Jose scouted around for more pods.
Sally and I kept watch while Jim was in a vulnerable state.
She keyed my private commlink, "Did you know that it's Kevin's birthday today?"
"No. How old is he?"
"I don't know, you'll have to ask."
"Why me?" I asked.
"He's your friend. Why don't you know?"
"I don't care how old he is. I just care that he's good at what he does. So how come you know it's his birthday?"
"He mentioned it to me," she said.
"Why didn't you ask him then?"
"It was just before the ambush."
Jim emerged from the pod.
"Let's go," he said.
I switched to broadcast mode, "Kevin. Jose. We're on the move again."
They signaled their acknowledgment. Kevin suggested we switch to map mode and note his position. He had located a weapons cache.
Jose joined us there, but it was obvious he had encountered a few himself and not shared them.
"What have you got there?" I asked.
"I don't know, but I can't wait to try it."
The new addition to his battlesuit looked particularly nasty.
"Well, be careful with it," Sally advised.
"Yeah," I said, "give a warning before you fire it."
Jose had fragged more than a few friendly battlesuits in his zest to test the latest firepower modules that occasionally showed up in pods.
We moved on.
The high erosion walls of a dried creek bed gave us cover, but also forced us into following a path that could be booby trapped. I wasn't happy being in the semi-enclosed space, but I had not been leading when we came across it and began following it.
We were moving in what would have been an upstream direction when the creek forked from where two streams had merged.
Jose was leading, nobody wanted to be in front of him and his BFG.
"Kevin, Bert, come with me to the left," he said.
Sally, Jim and I took the right fork.
It wasn't long before we heard Bert on the commlink warning of approaching mechs.
"Where are they? Lemme at 'em" came Jose's voice.
I halted our group so that if help was needed, we weren't too far away.
Telling the others to keep an eye out, I switched my video to image Bert's point of view.
I saw from Bert's camera a column of enemy mechs coming down the creek bed. Suddenly there was stream of blue plasma bolts firing from the side. The mechs crumpled before they could target the other trio.
"Ayeee liiike iiitt!" thundered Jose over the commlink. Followed by a curse from him as he ran out of ammo before the column was completely destroyed.
I heard Jim say that he'd have to find one of those.
Kevin and Bert flanked Jose and fired their own weapons while Jose switched his.
Sally yelled out and I switched back to my point of view to see a duplicate column of mechs moving down our creek bed.
Between the three of us, we were able to blast them to bits. The high walls of the creek kept the mechs to a single line and we picked them off one by one.
When the smoke cleared, we checked with the other group and found that they had lost Bert.
While he could have stayed with the others and blasted the mechs individually like my group had, instead he chose to climb the creek walls to get to a position that would have let him shoot behind the forward mechs. Unfortunately mechs don't care if they shoot their own and all the mechs had fired at once on Bert. Jose and Kevin were lucky to survive the barrage. The only good that came of it was that the mechs had almost destroyed themselves at the same time. Jose and Kevin were able to mop up what remained with ease.
I checked our positions against our collective map and decided that it would be better to regroup. Since my group was in better condition it was agreed that we should "go over the top" and cut across the join the others.
Visions of trench warfare nagged at me as I led the climb out of the creek bed. I spotted a couple of mechs before they detected me and I destroyed them without a thought.
On the way, we encountered another supply cache.
Jim stayed behind to guard it while Sally and I continued on to fetch the other two and provide cover back to the cache.
When the four of us got back to the cache, we found a crater. The mechs must have found and booby-trapped it.
I had thought Jim would have had more sense than to fall victim to one of those. Maybe he had hoped it contained a BFG like Jose had found.
We continued on between the two creek beds. The land was a gentle grade, giving plenty of visibility and the creek beds provided a natural barrier to assaults. If mechs were marching through the creek beds, we wouldn't be able to see each other.
Kevin ferreted out another two weapons caches among the underbrush. That brought us up to near full capacity on ammo, but Jose and Kevin's battlesuits were still in need of repair.
More vegetation appeared as the grade steepened. While blocking our vision, it also provided cover as we climbed the hill.
The summit of the hill was clear and as we turned around and looked back, we saw fireballs coming from all directions towards us.
We quickly turned and ran down the other side of the hill and almost tripped over a whole line of mechs that had not seen us due to the foliage around the foot of the hill.
Sally and I tried to provide cover for Kevin and Jose as much as possible since our armor was in better shape, but there were just too many mechs to deal with.
Kevin nimbly kept in motion as he fired upon the mechs and it seemed he was taking one out with every shot.
Jose took too many hits and panicked. He fired his BFG from behind us. The blast took out the remaining mechs, but not before their shots had taken him out.
Sally barely survived the effect from Jose's desperate shot.
Kevin and I carried her between us as we continued forward.
Our only hope for Sally was to find a repair pod before our next mech encounter.
Then we saw the communications bunker.
Surrounded by patrolling mechs.
I wanted to scout around and look for a repair pod before attempting the bunker.
Sally was torn between seeing the safe haven and the perilous condition of her battlesuit. It would not survive any encounter with a mech.
Kevin made the decision by rushing out into the open and drawing the mechs from our position.
I pumped a few rounds of HE at the bunker, taking out the automatic defenses.
Sally limped towards the bunker while I followed laying down suppressing fire and picking off the stragglers of Kevin's pursuers.
She made it to the entrance and started setting up the shaped explosive charge that would disable the communications node within.
I guarded the entrance and kept an eye out for Kevin.
Occasionally I heard shots, but they seemed to come from around the corner of the bunker. I debated going out to see if I could help Kevin, but Sally needed protection if she was going to get the charge set.
Presently she announced it was ready.
The explosives were designed to blow through the wall and destroy the delicate equipment within. Sally just needed to get out of the doorway before blowing the charge.
I left the doorway and moved out into the open and saw Kevin running backwards and firing at the mechs in pursuit.
Sally yelled, "Fire in the hole!"
I felt the ground give a quick shake as a loud bang came from the doorway.
The mechs chasing Kevin were momentarily disoriented by the break in communications.
Both he and I made use of that confusion to destroy the rest of them.
Sally jumped up and down as well as her suit let her and shouted, "We made it!" while Kevin walked over and joined us.
We congratulated ourselves and triggered the recall transponder.
Sally cried "Happy Birthday" to Kevin just before the connection was broken.
I pulled the VR helmet off my head and looked at the status display on the wall.
As expected, Kevin took top place.
I was a distant second, and Sally took third.
Tomorrow Kevin and I would compete in the national finals. This regional final had participants from five states. Kevin and I just happened to come from the same metropolitan area. I would occasionally pick him up on my way to the virtual reality center. I had found I had a better chance of surviving whenever we teamed up.
Kevin knocked on the door to my booth, "You ready yet?"
"Gimme a minute," I said, "I've got to sign us out."
"Well hurry up, please, Mom beeped me and wants me to get home."
"No problem, I drove you here, I'll drive you back."
"Oh yeah," I said, "Happy Birthday. Sally wants to know how old you are."
He smiled and said, "Eight."
Copyright © Curt Rostenbach 1994