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operations log snip: 02021/10/31 0129:13.285
(9 hidden. (Unchanged.))
Int/Ext/Amb/dT/Cool: 35/6/6/1/0%
(34 hidden. (User spec.))
Batt: 94%
FSAP: Ready.
EMC: Safe.
12.7mm: Safe.
30mm: Safe.
ATGM: Safe.
APS: Safe.
HEMM: Safe.
AVCM: Safe.
(8 hidden. (Unchanged.))

I crouch in the soft gloom of the forest. Of course, to these eyes, there is no such thing as dark, and to an extent that is true. There is easily enough starlight filtering through the canopy to light the scene, and everything glows by its own infrared light. But were I human again, the trees which seem so bright to my artificial retina would be more suited to charcoal on ink than the psychedelic neon scramble the edge enhancer makes of them.

I have been standing here for a little more than 1.3x10^7 milliseconds. I dare not use active sensors for fear that my opponent would see me. Modern warfare has degenerated to high-tech hide and seek, diamonoid behemoths slipping through the night, each of us carrying enough firepower to vaporize a city, with enough left over to splash a old-style carrier group. I pilot, or perhaps wear, a Type 37 Mark III Medium Main Battle Drone. We're called bugs by the media, which, though apt, is somewhat of a fallacy. Mark IIIs, after all, have a mere four legs.

But despite our differences, we were all people, once. People who feared the long night enough to sell their minds, if not their souls, to the State. They changed us, of course, thousands of tiny alterations to make the perfect death machine. I can remember, dimly, the manifold pleasures of eating, breathing, of living. But it holds no attraction to me now. Sometimes I wonder if I am still human, or perhaps just some delusional rob--

Proximity alert.

Something's changed. 52.7 meters away a section of forest is subtly misaligned. Organochrome active camouflage is God on wheels when you know exactly what you're creeping up on, but it's less than helpful when you only vaguely know where your opponent is. You can blur the projected image, but that makes you even more obvious up close. He sees me at the same moment, and everything starts moving very slowly.

(9 hidden. (Unchanged.))
Int/Ext/Amb/dT/Cool: 46/80/30/.37/100%
(34 hidden. (User spec.))
Batt: 90%
FSAP: Firing. 813/1000
EMC: Deploying. Charging... (34%)
30mm: Armed. 381/400
AVCM: Armed. 62/75
(12 hidden. (Unchanged.))

We both pop sensory overload canisters and our respective point defense systems roar into thunderous life. Then the canisters start detonating and everything whites out. The Feds like their countermeasures heavy on the flares while the Cascadian Alliance (Long Live The King.) relies on old-fashioned high explosive. The flares light up the forest like the death throes of a star while the explosives just tear everything up and try to throw as much junk into the air as they can. Some of the bangshells get too close to flares and shatter their binding, burning the entire ten minute charge in three or four seconds.

The combined effect always reminds of bringing a little piece of Hell into life. The trees nearest to us shatter then the fragments burst into flame. The point defense system is still firing, methodically shooting down anything that gets too close with short bursts of tungsten spheres.

The eye-searing glare gives me my first good look at the man I am about to kill. Organochrome eats light like napalm through old-growth timber, but the fine mist of hypervelocity shrapnel has eroded it somewhat, and I can almost make out deta--

My lucky day. It's a missile carrier. All this poor bastard has is a few hundred long range missiles. Modern missiles fire a short burst, then fly the rest of the way to target on a ballistic path. Their own cryogenic fuel cools them pretty effectively, but nothing can hide the infrared flare while their engines are firing. If a was a few hundred meters farther away I would be completely screwed, but shooting them down this close is child's play.

The roar of the big anti-armor rockets mingle oddly with the chatter of the point defense guns. He's really giving it everything he's got. I'm circling around, dodging between the big cedars, stalling for time while EMC charges.

Incredible that you could be bored in the middle of a firefight. But everything moves like frozen molasses at 200 times, so you've got plenty of time to think. One of the topics is sexism. I always think of my opponents as men, perhaps because I'm male. But my outdated imperialistic chauvinistic viewpoint is backed up by the statistics. For some reason, women don't want their brains ripped apart by trillions of microscopic robots while on their deathbed so they can defend their splinter republic in some sort of horribly warped idea of an afterlife. Weird.

Capacitors! They're too noisy to keep charged, and take forever to charge once you break cover. The bastard keeps crowding me, knowing that if I get too close I won't be able to shoot down the rockets fast enough, and if I get too far away I won't be able to see them.

I fire another burst through another ripple, and the rockets break up but don't fragment. I frantically sweep the x-ray maser through the cloud, but I cut it too fine and the stuff splashes across my bow glacis.

VLFC: Erosion alert. (32%)
FLIR: Erosion alert. (49%)
MMRADAR: Not responding.
ATHC: Not responding.
(9 hidden. (Unchanged.))
Int/Ext/Amb/dT/Coo: 71/104/53/.5/100%
Radiator damage. (87%)
RTSC damage. (79%)
Hull damage! (98%)
(31 hidden. (User spec.))
Batt: 82%
FSAP: Firing. 
EMC: Deploying. Charging... (98%)
30mm: Armed. 381/400
AVCM: Armed. 62/75
(12 hidden. (Unchanged.))

Blind! The nano-obscurant's blocking what little light I had, and is now trying to burn through the hull. The reactive armor tiles fire automatically, and the FSAP guns actually stop firing for a moment as the cloud of debris exploding off my forward hull manages to knock down some of the closer missiles. A blast of liquid oxygen washes off the optics, and I see the tree just in time to dodge around it.

I hear a soft *ding* from the HUD, and the charge completion indicator lights up. A simulated muscle contracts, and a tiny amount of current trickles into the SCR cascade resulting in a flood of power into the superconducting coil array.

Fifty kilograms of nanotube-diamond composite screams down the length of the cannon, leaving a row of quenched superconductor rings behind it. The vacuum iris slams open and the inrush of air meets the kinetic kill vehicle and loses in an ear-pircing scream of shattered molecules.

The KKV leaves a broad violet bar of ionized air behind as it smashes through the glacis of the Fed. The meticulously aligned layers of tungsten carbide and aggregated diamond nanorods offer no resistance at all, and the bolt shears through them like a guillotine through jello. But it shatters somewhere deep in his guts, and the fragments spray out the back in a white hot fan of vaporized diamond grit, each shard burning a hole through, like buckshot through rusty tin.

Catastrophic shit is going on inside his hull, and there's a continuous shower of hypersonic shrapnel flying through the gaping crater in his rear armor, leaving hypersonic diamond-shaped shock waves in the boiling cloud of plasma.

The solid WHAM of displaced air is drowned out by the catastrophic failure of his battery. It's much slower than the snap bang fury of of the KKV, and I can leisurely observe the shell vaporizing from the inside out. The armor layer lasts as long as a snowflake dropping into molten lead, and then the explosion is a perfectly spherical expanding globe of incandescent white, picking me up and smashing me through a hundred foot redwood.

The geiger counter screams in protest as hyper-energetic subatomic particles sleet through me like shrapnel through daisies and my mind becomes slow and fuzzy as multiply redundant pr#ocessors fail ent%husiastic)ally un!@der the loa@$Nd s*bEB M8+'/

I wake up. Everything facing the explosion has been polished down to the laminate, the ablative shield and organochrome layer boiling off a few milliseconds after the battery went.

I stumble to four feet and gaze at the fresh crater at the center of a growing forest fire.

I check my position on the map and start cantering east. There's work left to do tonight.

LateQuest 2007 (SciFiQuest 2106)

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