As I promised last week, here’s a preview of the first chapter of my upcoming cyberpunk military SF novel, Armageddon Protocol. It should be available before the Christmas holidays.
“Stormtrooper 13? Stormtrooper 13? What is your status?”
The words burst through the static as Orbital made contact from geostationary. It could just have been one of the radiation storms over Faith. It could also be the locals jamming our communications. When in doubt always assume enemy action, as my old drill sergeant used to say.
A chaingun ricochet overloaded the kinetic exchanger of my armor. I pulled out the splinter of ceramic and slammed a flesh-patch on my upper left arm to stop the bleeding. It hurt like hell.
Bullets chewed into the shattered wall in front of me. The double moons hung daylight-visible in the green-tinged sky. Snow blanketed the remnants of the concrete bunkers all around. I called up an insert on my helmet HUD to show the video feed from the drone circling overhead. Things looked exactly as bad as I expected.
A carpet of white covered the ruined city. New flakes were burying the corpses of the ambushed Enforcers. A column of sooty smoke spiraled into the sky from the wreckage of our white painted transport flitter.
I had already jumped out and got inside the ruins when the rocket hit. Guess I moved faster than the attackers expected. It looked like I was the only survivor. Lucky me.
Several hundred militiamen, armed with good old fashioned assault rifles, circled what was left of the building. The black and gray urban DPM colors of the Aryan Jihad looked just spiffy on them. They had taken the day off from terrorizing the enemies of white humanity to stick it to us Feds.
A swastika-emblazoned gunship strafed me with more chaingun bullets. Three locals wheeled a pulse cannon into an enfilading position on a roof across the street. Soon they would have a clear field of fire down to my current position.
I saw myself, a big man in ceramic armor crouched behind a shattered wall. A hologram of a red cross showed inside my mirrored faceplate. I gave a one-digit wave for the cameras. Some sharpshooter almost took off my finger. It was a good job that my gauntlets were there to protect my delicate hands.
“Orbital, this is One Three,” I said. “We seem to be experiencing a breakdown of the ceasefire. Request you engage personal weapon systems.”
It was a foregone conclusion that the ceasefire was dead but there are rules about these things. The Federal Government is big on rules.
A hiss of static and then Orbital came online again. “We have detected drone deployment, Stormtrooper 13. Please explain.”
Great. I was being shot at by a few hundred angry militiamen, and some Accord Observer was upset because I might offend the locals’ sensibilities by deploying an unarmed drone. I hate peacekeeping missions.
“This is One Three. I am under fire, Orbital. Repeat, under fire. Request you engage personal weapon systems.”
What bureaucrat had thought that it was a good idea to lock down our weapons before sending us out into the streets of Sternheim? Probably the same genius who had thought of making our armor white and putting large red crosses on our helmets.
The Observers claimed that it showed the Federal Republic’s peaceful intent. My theory was different. Making us walking headshot targets gave the locals somebody other than their neighbors to snipe at. A burning cross would have been more suitable for making friends with these guys.
“Status update . . .” More static. Something large exploded nearby. An anti-mech rocket? Damn. The Jihad had the big stuff now. For days rumors had abounded. They had supposedly acquired some new doomsday device from the Weapon Ship. It was the reason I was down here sweeping Sternheim. Why else would a Federal Stormtrooper be in this hellhole?
And, what a surprise, it had turned out to be a trap. It certainly looked like someone had been arming these bad boys with hardware above their pay grade. I had a suspicion I knew who.
“Die, xeno loving scum!” The threat had the flat tones you get from instantaneous machine translation. I didn’t speak this local dialect. The locals wouldn’t speak mine. Old Terra was a couple of hundred light years away. These were the boys who taught themselves Old Deutsch in order to be able to read Mein Kampf in the original.
The shout came from nearby. I heard the distinctive hum of a battlefield generator. I had a fair idea of what was going to happen next. It wasn’t going to be pretty. I checked the position of the pulse cannon on the video feed and moved out of the line of fire. I had less than thirty seconds till it cycled to full power.
Chaingun bullets carved another chunk out of the wall as the gunship targeted me. I heard a few catcalls as it whizzed by overhead. Somebody was enjoying himself.
I looked down at the useless reaper in my hands. Theoretically, the pulse carbine was the most powerful man-portable weapon on the planet. Unfortunately, its system electronics were locked down by the peacekeeping protocols. It did not look like Orbital was going to give me the override code anytime soon.
Some wit in Ordinance had stenciled Your Tax Dollars at Work along the barrel of the weapon. The joke was on us. Most of the locals did not pay Federal taxes. They paid deductible tithes to their churches instead. Said churches just happened to also be their militias.
Orbital’s communications were a barrage of static and random words now. Definitely a jammer. This had been planned. It looked like the locals were determined to bag themselves a stormtrooper.
I wriggled to a new position as bullets tore chunks out of the brickwork. Any individual round had only a low percentage chance of breaching my armor but the Jihad were throwing thousands in my direction. A single one might cause me some serious health problems if the kinetic exchange mechanisms failed again.
“Dave, read them the Riot Act,” I said, ducking my head as the chaingun tore chunks out of the wall.
My drone said, “Are you sure that is appropriate, Stormtrooper 13? An aggressive verbal response might be construed as provocative.”
Dave was in advanced diplomatic mode, courtesy of the peacekeeping protocols.
“Just do it, Dave!”
“Affirmative, Stormtrooper 13.”
The drone’s amplified words boomed out across the town. Simultaneous machine translation allowed me to understand. “Citizens, you are in violation of section 4, paragraph 2, of Federal Security Act 931. Cease and desist from this anti-social behavior. Disperse and return to your homes or face due penalties of law. Thank you for your cooperation and have a nice day.”
That’s telling them, Dave, I thought. A burst of automatic weapon fire informed me that somebody had spotted Dave’s position.
Dave said, “Thank you for your feedback, Citizens.”
A blinking red icon on my heads up display told me that my drone was under attack. I could probably have worked that out for myself. It looked like it was time to take matters into my own hands.
I thumbed the systems override and bellowed, “Stop shooting at me, you inbred halfwits!”
My amplified and translated words boomed out from Dave’s speakers. I got the retranslation.”Please stop shooting at me, Citizens.”
Small arms fire and shouts of die, Fed were the considered response. There was something about minion of the Devil Machines in there too. Then came a wave of obscenities that the speech filters turned to static. Apparently, the Federal Government did not want the bad language of my fellow citizens causing long term damage to my self-esteem.
“Stormtrooper 13. Stormtrooper 13. We have detected damage to drone Dee Vee Zero Zero One Three. Are you acting in a provocative manner toward the locals?”
“Good guess, Orbital.” My amplified words boomed out over the square courtesy of Dave’s sound system. That probably confused the militiamen. It was time to give them my full and undivided attention.
“Stop shooting at me, or I’ll hand you your heads!” I snarled.
Dave thundered his saccharine-toned mistranslation. “Citizens, if you don’t stop shooting at me I will be forced to respond with extreme violence. I’m sure none of us will enjoy that.”
Dave was wrong about the last bit. After days of abuse, thrown garbage, and the odd sniper shot, I was about ready for some payback. I got jeers and catcalls as well as another rocket impacting on the side of the bunker. The building shook. Plaster clattered off my helmet. The structure was not going to take much more of this.
“Citizens, cease fire! This is your last warning.”
Dave managed the translation exactly right. His tone of voice left something to be desired in the menace department. He sounded like a kindergarten teacher threatening to take away a child’s milk if they did not behave.
“Stormtrooper 13. Please report!”
I unholstered my sidearm and checked the action. It was an old-fashioned Magnum revolver. Standard issue to stormtroopers. For those rare times when viral overload or hardshock EMP take out the systems on a reaper.
You never know when you’re going to need good old fashioned bullets. They can’t be locked down by peacekeeper protocols. Of course, the Magnum was supposed to be empty. The Arbitrators had even searched me before I dropped from Orbital. We wouldn’t want to upset the locals by arming their Federal oppressors now, would we? I still had that one bullet all stormtroopers like to carry in case we fall into the tentacles of the Assimilators. You don’t want to know how I smuggled it down.
“Stormtrooper 13, you have unholstered your sidearm. What is your situation?”
“Orbital, I am under fire. I am about to take measures for self-preservation under code three one seven.”
“Noted, Stormtrooper 13. Under the terms of the Accord, I cannot authorize the use of lethal force. Those are Federal citizens down there.”
Somebody was certainly covering their ass today. “Thank you, Orbital. I’ll try and be gentle with the voters. It is election year after all.”
The hum of the power generator reached its highest pitch. I hoped I had got the angle right. The wall melted as a high intensity, narrow focus pulse beam flared through it. Snow sizzled into a cloud of steam. At the same time, a grenade rolled in through one of the gaps in the wall.
So there I was, alone, wounded, outnumbered, surrounded, gunship overhead, flanked by heavy ordinance and armed with a single bullet I had pulled out of my ass. Under the circumstances, a few well-chosen last words seemed called for. “Citizens, you were warned!”
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