Mega City Tales - The Eternal Soldier
Even through the visor on his helmet Rip could feel the temperature differential between the left and right side of his face as the lander's large bay door folded down like a giant metal tongue. He felt a slight tugging of his suit and a growing damp feeling where his boots met his trousers.
Rip looked down the line of soldiers sitting opposite him, the ones by the doors were already drenched.
For a moment all he could hear was the metal clanking of two lines of fifty combatants all dressed identically in bulky green and black combat suits prepared to depart the lander.
~Check weapons, first target confirmed, split-blue formation.~
He winced at the static hum as he checked the magnetic coil readout on his plasma rifle. His gloves buzzed softly and the gun gave an almost imperceptible whine as it readied itself to discharge its deadly contents at whatever poor soul happened to be in its way. He was fairly familiar with the weapon, he had been in a number of scenarios like this. It was still what would be considered pre tech, or at least early-tech, since guns like this hadn't been used in over two hundred years, but it was just as deadly as any handheld weapon of today.
He wondered briefly how much subjective time he'd been doing this for. How many wars had he fought in? He wondered.
~Go! Go! Go!~
He was part of the fifth pair to leave the craft, he peeled right immediately, boots squishing in the ground as he landed. The tactical display inside his helmet told him that the first wave point was a small utility building at the edge of the field around fifty metres dead ahead. Droplets of water pooled at the sides of his visor as he charged forwards.
~Alpha-6 in position!~
That was Adalan Djotic, he was a good soldier and Rip trusted him. Djotic was like him, a dedicated mercenary, both of them realising that the only way to make the time pass quicker on the Shadow Servers was to become an elite soldier, which in turn meant you'd be used for the real-objective wars. This one was playing out at a 1:1 ratio, meaning for every second they spent in this particular virtual war, one second passed in the real.
Rip wasn't sure what this particular conflict was about, all he knew is it was between the Vinkey Corporation and the OMC. He fought on the side of Vinkey, the Offworld Mining Corp did not need to use mercenaries like him, they were all real employees quite literally fighting to climb the OMC's corporate ladder.
That was one of his squad, he tried to remember his name; perhaps Johan? Even though Rip noticed how wide the man's eyes were behind his visor.
"First time soldier?" Rip's halfhearted attempt to calm the man down were only superficial he knew that nothing he said could prepare the man for the horrors of war.
Feeling your body being boiled from the inside by a spiralling vortex plasma bolt was a sensation you didn't forget in a hurry. Anyway they wiped your memory of your first few conflicts, this was a widely accepted measure taken mainly to preserve the soldier's sanity.
-"What is it 4719?"~ He decided to simply use the last four digits of the man's Indent number, best not to get too attached to someone you were probably going to witness being torn apart by an energy weapon.
-"Our jacket has arrived and we're ready to move sir."~
They worked in squadrons of fifty and then split into smaller groups of five called jackets. Rip looked at his team, he could tell by the way they held their plasma rifles that they were fresh Indents.
Rip himself had to fight in plenty of meaningless skirmishes set at 10:1 virtual to real time. From Rip's perspective he had been here around twenty years.
His mouth twisted into a half sneer as he wondered about the friends they must have had in high enough places to get them into a 1:1 virtual war.
His mouth softened as he realised those places were not quite high enough to keep the poor bastards out of here in the first place. Whatever the reason, none of it mattered.
"Okay, prepare to move out, our first objective is the machine area. We're unlikely to meet any OMC forces till we get there but keep your eyes sharp. They are better equipped and more experienced than us, but if you follow my lead you have a chance of not dying in agonising pain. Let's move!"
Of course all of them including Rip himself, were almost one hundred percent guaranteed to die in this scenario, but what was the point of telling them that?
Two of his jacket came forward and using small mechanical cutting tools cut a hole in the fence big enough for them to get through. Wet slaps echoed around them as they ran down the access road taking them to the main complex.
It was a standard Combat Arena setting, viewed from above the area was a two mile wide circle dissected by three main roads, one going straight up the middle and two across its lower and upper thirds. A variety of buildings in various states of repair, were dotted around the side paths and access roads sprouting off the main roads.
Rip had long since ignored the Rules Of Engagement for the countless conflicts he found himself in, at first he read them of course, just like everyone else. Now however it didn't matter, he didn't care what the OMC troops had on the line, perhaps they were to become Indents like him if they lost, or maybe a lowered SC score. The soldiers on Rip's side would mainly be fighting to lower their debt. Poor fuckers hadn't realised the futility of it all, you could have a six month objective sentence which they could make you experience as a subjective century.
Intel told them that the OMC troops were going to enter from the upper left quadrant, if Rip's squad could move quickly enough they may be able to outflank them whilst they were engaging with the rest of the squadron. A sharp smell of wet mud and brick made its way through his mask filters as they peeled of the main road onto a narrow dirt path lined with faux low-rise dwellings.
The tech restrictions were interesting on this one, often these affairs tended to be rooted in a particular time period, so the tech was usually restricted to what was available in say a fifty year span. But this scenario seemed to be mixing weapons and tech from different centuries.
His rifle for instance used a locally generated, magnetically induced coaxial plasma beam. Which he could set to wide-spread vortex or pulsed phase-fire. Yet his comms were just old fashioned radio and nothing was thought controlled, he couldn't even tell where his team were at any given moment unless he radioed them. Which he found more than a little annoying. Rip used his thumb to activate his comm unit on his glove before speaking.
~5680 Reporting, Alpha Blue sitrep update. Stat.~
~...18 Re...ing ... heavy fire. Re... back...~
The radio situation was really beginning to grate on his nerves. He turned to the four men nervously waiting on his lead.
~"We nee... ..ve .ow. Godd...it!"
Rip tore the mask from his face and disconnected the comms, there must have been some kind of jammer set off. He checked his plasma rifle again, a Pi-pulsed EMP would take out the gun, but no, it seemed to still be in order. He turned to look at his men, they still hadn't removed their masks.
Rip sighed, they had intel about possible chemical and/or nuclear contaminants. Rip knew that none of them would survive long enough to feel the effects of any kind of poisoning, as did the designers of this scenario. Rip supposed it was more for effect than anything else.
"Remove your masks, comms are down." Still hesitation from them. "That's an order!"
They slowly removed their masks.
'Shit, they look even greener without the masks.'
He contemplated telling them to put them back on, but supressed the urge.
"Okay, Alpha Blue should be a little way ahead of us heading North on the main road. I don't hear anything so we can assume they've run into an OMC squad with single-point energy weapons." He pointed to the one he thought to be called Johan.
"You, what have they modded you up with; any sniping skills?"
"No sir, skirmisher."
"Oh shit." He hadn't meant to say that out loud.
Rip could take on between ten and thirty badly trained men himself, depending of course on just how badly they were trained. He pointed to the others in turn.
"And you guys?"
One of them was a sniper the other two skirmisher, no scouts, he would have to do that himself and hope these idiots didn't try and run and hide.
"Okay stay here, I'll scout ahead and work out a plan of attack."
He moved easily through the undergrowth, using the sporadically placed buildings for cover.
It took him less than ten minutes to reach his target. He lay flattened on top of a steep hill looking down into a crater. He pulled his mask back on and activated the viewer.
Rip counted eleven bodies, all of his Vinkey guys had been wiped out. The viewer gave back readings of high levels of alpha particles. Probably a dirty nuke, that would explain the comms black out.
The bomb had been set off on the edge of some trees, he zoomed in and checked out the roots of one of the upturned ones. He marveled at how detailed they were, there were more types of tree here than still existed on the real Earth.
Rip turned away from the scene abruptly and made his way back to his jacket.
"We're going to have to head East from here along the main road. We won't last an hour if we go through there, a dirty nuke has effectively sealed that area."
Rip was glad they had their masks back on, their fear was a lot easier to ignore.
"I suppose it's a good tactic." He muttered more to himself than anyone else.
They moved like the rookies they were, he tried not to notice. All Rip hoped for were some decent kills, good kills meant good points. A decent mercenary could usually expect to be employed once their sentence was over.
Rip never thought he'd become one of those guys, finishing their sentence and then choosing to carry on fighting virtual wars. The idea that somebody would willingly submit to themselves to these horrors was absurd to Rip. But here he was, the ultimate Corporate Man, ready to fight his way up the ladder, just like the OMC grunts they were heading towards.
They approached a long, low hangar, one of the huge doors had been blown clean off, the other hung precariously on a couple of its hinges.
Rip signalled the squad into formation, he felt his heart rate rise and was suddenly aware of a thin trickle of sweat making its way down his back as he peered inside, silently cursing the lack of vision enhancement on his visor.
He crept inside first, his squad following behind, he felt the tension in their footsteps. He heard the click too late to shout anything, he flung himself flat onto the floor, his suit taking a lot less of the force than he would have liked.
Rip experienced needles of burning pain searing across the whole of his back, he looked to his left just in time to see the Johan guy shredded into a dozen pieces. Charged energy balls flew around the doorway for less than three seconds, but that was all it took to wipe out every one of his jacket apart from him.
The scuffling of boots reverberated through his still prone suit. He was in one piece, but they thought he was dead, he could hear the voices getting closer.
Eight of them, maybe ten. Rip cursed his decision to set his rifle on tight-burst before entering. With the element of surprise and a wide coaxial plasma beam, he might even take out the entire squad.
His back felt like a giant tiger had ripped its piss stained claws down from his shoulder blades to his buttocks. He could hear his own breathing through clenched teeth, his stomach tightened from the effort of keeping him from screaming.
Vibrations from the ground played up into his cheek, he moved his finger just enough to feel the trigger of his gun.
"I think this one's still alive!"
Rip didn't even notice his wide grin as he jumped up and started spraying his deadly charge towards the oncoming group.
By the way they clustered together Rip could tell most of them were noobs, which was a shame, the points gained would be meagre.
The first grunt he hit burst into flames such was his proximity, Rip managed to hit another five simply because they had their weapons lowered.
Unfortunately for him, not all of them were green, two had stayed back on the flanks. Rip felt his left leg burst inside his suit. He screamed in agony as he fell, trying to fire coherently towards the man who'd just vaporised his leg. That simply gave the soldier on the other flank time to steady his aim.
Rip woke up in his own quarters, at his own request they no longer revived him slowly in the debriefing chamber. At first the chamber had been a welcome relief, as they simply revived your mind, it was akin to floating in a liquid you could not see or feel, but somehow comforted you.
These days he preferred to be revived in-body, ready for the next mission.
He closed his eyes and shifted into his meditative state, even though this body was not the one that had just been boiled by plasma fire, his mind still held the pain he had felt just moments earlier.
Lips barely moving, Rip repeated his mantra.
"This is not that body."
"This is not your body."
"This is no body."
"There is no pain."
"There is only this body."
He sat up on his bunk, he was in the Barracks, that's the way he liked it, from one conflict straight to another.
Another Ident loaded into the bunk next to him, appearing for a brief second as a bunch of coloured pixels, then he lay there, eyes closed, probably repeating a similar mantra to Rip.
He knew the guy, they'd fought both on the same, and indeed opposite sides many times. He flicked his eyes open and looked at Rip.
"Hey how was yours?" The guy asked.
"Pretty shitty, mixed tech, unclear objective and a bunch of fucking roobs in my jacket."
"Pff, tough. I just had a standard 20th century ballistic war. It was quite fun. Well, until I took some shrapnel to one of my lumbar vertebrae and paralysed myself."
"Yeah, what did you do?"
"What else to do? Shot myself in the head. Fist time I've had to do that, not fun, wouldn't recommend it."
The guy turned his back on Rip and lay on his side.
"Oh well, hopefully I'll get some hand-to-hand stuff coming my way." Rip said as he stared at the back of the guy's head.
The guy just got up and walked off, Rip wasn't offended that sort of thing happened all the time. Especially in the Barracks. Some people thought it was best to serve your time as quickly as possible, back-to-back wars. But Rip knew you had to let go of something before you could do that. This wasn't a game, each time you saw someone maimed or killed, or got killed yourself, it changed you.
The only way to deal with it was to accept the change, become a Corporate Man. That's all you had, they owned you now, so you might as well become a valuable asset, one that was not so easy to throw away.
Rip watched his fellow soldier weave his way through the bunks, still trying to remember the guy's name. Soldiers were loading in all around them.
Another assignment would be announced soon, Rip made his way to the rec area. Best to get some food, even though it would have no effect in his next scenario, the memory of it would be nice.