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Показать все книги автора/авторов: York J Steven
 

«Fortress of Lies», J York

Иллюстрация к книге

 

 

Aloha Agricultural District

Glastonbury continent, New Aragon

Prefecture V, The Republic of the Sphere

1 September 3134

 

The bombs fell on New Aragon, their shock waves sending out ghostly rings of tortured air. Aerospace fighters streaked overhead, black arrows against a red sky, bloody with the smoke and dust of three weeks of unending battle.

The ground was pocked with craters, the huge footprints of forty-ton BattleMechs and lined with tracks recording armored battles decided days before. In the near distance, wrecked tanks smoldered, trailing black smoke. Crushed battle-armor lay scattered on the raw earth like broken eggshells, black jelly that might once have been men oozing through the cracked metal.

Thankfully, Erik Sandoval could not smell the battlefield in the filtered air of his cockpit. Only the stink of his own sweat, the ozone smell of overheated circuitry, and the tang of hot metal reached his nostrils.

This, reflected Erik, was the terrible beauty of war. The unspeakable wonder, the sights that could never be forgotten, burned into the brain to emerge in the nightmares of old men and women—those who were foolish enough, or unlucky enough, to live that long.

Such was the loss of perspective that came from thirty-three days spent primarily in the cockpit of a ’Mech, striding high above the battlefield. It came from watching lesser combatants scrambling ahead, from forgetting your humanity, and simply becoming a walking, twelve-meter-tall engine of destruction, facing more targets than you can shoot—more targets than you have time to chase down or ammo to kill. Small targets that shoot back, sometimes with enough force to sting even a mighty BattleMech. Small targets that, if a MechWarrior got sloppy or inattentive or simply overwhelmed, could even kill him.

A movement caught Erik’s eye, and he pivoted his Centurion, gyros whining. The weakened left leg, damaged in a brawl with a modified MinerMech three days earlier, caused his humanoid ’Mech to limp slightly. In the distance, the upright insect form of a green and gold Spider BattleMech strode from behind a hill—a shaft of sunlight glancing off its bubble cockpit, carbon scoring streaking its extended wings. It moved rapidly to Erik’s right, perhaps not seeing him. He zoomed in with his optics, placed his targeting reticles over the exposed flank and squeezed off a laser burst.

There was a flash, and a jagged streak of molten armor appeared across the Spider’s right shoulder. A hiss of disappointment escaped Erik’s lips. He’d been aiming for the damaged lower torso, hoping for a critical hit on the reactor. A week earlier he might not have missed, but such subtleties of battle were for fresher warriors and fresher ’Mechs. At this range, he knew he should have been glad to get a hit at all.

The Spider whirled and began running backward, lasers flashing with return fire—a clean miss—the House Liao pilot perhaps rattled by the unexpected attack. The ’Mech spun again and sprinted away from Erik. The broad wings sprouting from the ’Mech’s shoulders presented a tempting target, but Erik knew where the machine’s critical systems were hidden—knew the distinction between an easy shot and a victorious one.

He considered following up with a missile before remembering that his tubes were empty. He’d been leading his formation back to the command DropShip for resupply, repair, and perhaps a warm meal and a few minutes of fitful sleep. That would have to wait now.

So would the kill shot. The Spider was fast. He had to slow it down if he hoped to do more significant damage. Erik thumbed back to his lasers, targeted, fired another shot. A flash against the Spider’s lower right leg left glowing traces but did only superficial damage. The Spider fired its jump jets, staggering into the air from amid a cloud of plasma-blasted debris. It managed to make it to the top of the nearest hill before the jets flickered and died, dropping it heavily to the ground. The ’Mech stumbled, and for a moment Erik thought it would fall. Then it got its footing and vanished over the hill. He instinctively reached to shove the throttle forward and give chase.

“Commander.”

The Spider was fast, but given its damage, and possibly disabled jump jets, he should be able to overtake it.

“Commander.”

After weeks of hard-pressed fighting, the forces of House Liao were on the run. In the far distance, a dark sphere rose over the horizon, trailing a column of almost blindingly brilliant fire. It was another Mule–class DropShip fleeing New Aragon. Targets, once lined up from horizon to horizon, were now hard to find. This might be his last chance to take down a ’Mech before—

“Erik!”

He blinked and ran his tongue across his dry and cracked lips, feeling the edge of the day-old stubble growing above them. He blinked again, rewinding the last few moments in his brain, finally recognizing the voice crackling in his headset.

“Captain Cutler?”

“Begging pardon, sir, you’re ranging awfully far forward of the formation. We can’t offer much cover for you back here.”

“Cover?”

“Yes, sir. The patrol is spread out pretty far, and we can’t watch your six and protect our armor at the same time. Can you give us a few minutes to close up?”


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