The mission went as they usually did: all according to plan until it didn’t, or as the humans sometimes said, pear-shaped. Hotwheel elected to lead the mission and selected Topshot, Heatsink, Recovery and Longstride to accompany him. The others were to stay at base in order to respond to any other crisis that decided to pop its ugly head up while the team was gone. With that the Bashers geared up and moved out, though not before Hotwheel whispered behind a cupped palm to Shortstride to keep an eye on Fahrenheit.
The team made good time to their pre-planned ambush point and set up a crossfire. A lightly forested area had been chosen along the Infesters projected path for the cover it provided along with its distance from any major human settlements. Hotwheel split the group into two fire teams, the first consisting of himself and Topshot, while the second was of Heatsink and Longstride, as the latter veteran had the odd skill of usually being able to keep the hotheaded former under control. Recovery would go back and forth to each team as needed for any injuries they would most likely sustain, but Hotwheel assigned him to start out with team two as this would be Heatsink’s first major combat mission since his arms had been repaired and he wasn’t taking any chances of leaving Longstride all on his lonesome should an unexpected glitch manifest.
After wiring explosives and laying some mines across the valley floor, camouflaging them with gathered scrub, the two teams settled in to wait. They were within shouting distance of one another but elected to pass the time speaking through radio contact. Topshot tried out several new jokes with Recovery, some of which actually managed to not fall flat, with Heatsink occasionally interrupting with one of his trademark off-color comments until they were suddenly and harshly silenced by Longstride. Hotwheel strained his audio receptors with a feeling of foreboding in the sudden gloom and began to make out the telltale hum of Infester swarms approaching. As the grating racket grew it became apparent a tactical error had been made. The Infesters tendency to travel in a bunched group had Hotwheel arrange his combat team along both sides of a projected direction of Infester travel, but as the discordant buzzing grew around them it became obvious that the force of corrupted bots were traveling in a line perpendicular to them. With a sinking feeling he realized they were soon going to find themselves surrounded.
“Anyone have some spare energy cubes?” Hotwheel commed to the group. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Topshot slowly turn to look at him, one eyebrow cocked.
“Hate to break it to ya boss, but that’s probably something you should have thought of back at base!” Heatsink replied snidely, his free hand reflexively moving to cover the small box on his side where his energy cubes were stashed.
Longstride cuffed him across the shoulder, startling Recovery. “Mute it you bit-brain, I think I know what he has in mind.”
“Easy on the new hardware there Longstride.” Warned the medic with a mild glare.
Heatsink grunted and waved Recovery off with the hand currently holding his laser pistol as his other one was currently shielding his energy container. Recovery quickly raised his heavy shield as Heatsink muzzle swept him. Longstride shot a hand out and quickly forced Heatsink’s arm back to his side.
Recovery peeked out from behind his shield. “You know, on second thought…” he murmured.
“Hey, wingnuts! Focus! The energy cubes?” Hotwheel called over the comm channel, eyeing the tree line ahead as vaguely definable shapes moved closer to their ambush point. The enemy would be upon them in mere moments.
“Let me guess” Longstride replied, “you want them down there in the valley as bait, right?”
Hotwheel heaved a sigh of relief. At least one of them got it. “Yes, thank you. As much as you all can spare. Make it like shooting fish in a barrel, as the humans say.” He reached down to his energy supply and grabbed out a few cubes, tossing them to the valley floor below. The other bots did the same, though they had to endure Heatsink’s grumbling about it the whole while, until there was a small but tempting scattering of cubes laying amongst the stones and grass, casting their faint pinkish-purple glow in the shadow cast by the hills the bots had taken cover on.
The sun began to cast longer shadows still, continuing its decent in the sky as the first of the Infester swarms cleared the far tree line, accompanied by the bot they recognized from data files as Termite, a squat individual with purple plating and a pair of large yellow horns jutting from both sides of his head. Its narrow red eyes flashed as it spotted the tale-tale glow of the energy cubes set out as obvious bait, but if it recognized the trap for what it was, it betrayed no sign. The spindly arms attached to its broad shoulders, ending in spines and laser blasters, had been scanning its surroundings as though they had a mind of their own, but when Termite spotted the cubes, both snapped forward and shivered with excitement. The corrupted bot began to chitter and hiss to itself as it clomped forward, each heavy step seemingly a result of some sort of inner torment from forcing itself to enact a modicum of caution.
A small swarm of the insect-like bots scuttled between a pair of trees, their degraded code no longer able to support any form of self or identity, snapping one of the tripwires and setting off an explosive trap, reducing their bodies to twisted scrap and carbon-scored detritus. The sharp thunderclap blast echoed through the hills, toppling the nearest trees and drawing scores of the flying drones to its location. Directly into the path of fire the five Valiant outcasts now began to lay down in earnest. The air was soon thick with the smell of ozone and ionized atoms.
Down in the valley a fallen tree trunk shifted, rolled to one side and Termite heaved its considerable bulk to its feet, bellowing out a warbling war cry which was answered by its compatriots still within the tree line. Rearing back, Termite swung one of its massive legs forward, smashing the fallen tree to splinters and raised its brutal-looking twin barreled gun, firing twin balls of energy crackling with baleful sparks at the embankment that Hotwheel and Topshot had taken cover behind, the two of which ducked their heads a split second before the impact slammed home in the dirt just in front of them, sending out a large spray of soil and rocks. The spindly arms attached to his shoulders swiveled and fired their laser blasters at the second team taking refuge behind a bolder strewn hillside. The small beams of energy weren’t powerful enough to cause any serious harm unless one suffered a barrage of blasts, but there were more than effective to cause the three bots to momentarily duck their heads down, allowing Termite to move forward towards a bolder, not nearly large enough to hide behind, but more than adequate to offer at least partial cover.
“Come Infesters! Energy awaits us!” Termite shouted above the din of battle. From out of the trees came lumbering two more bots clad in the purple and black of the Infesters, these two less broad than their companion but standing at least a considerable head taller. The newcomers snarled their own challenges and fired their weapons at the Bashers while the swarms of lesser bots took to the skies and began to swarm forward. Some of the smaller swarms were drawn to the lure of the purple glowing energy cubes and others were felled by blaster fire, both enemy and friendly. The Bashers soon found themselves with their hands full.
Heatsink grabbed a swarm bot out of the air and ripped one of its legs off, stabbing another through its compound optic receptor with the dismembered appendage. “What in severed circuits are we up against here!?” he shouted to no one in particular.
Longstride thumbed the shot selector of his photon disruption rifle from single shot to full auto. “Let me take a look.” The veteran coolly replied, popping up from behind cover and spraying the battlefield of searing beams of light. Several swarm bots fell from the sky and Termite took a solid strike to its right arm, one of its light weapon appendages being blasted away in the process before Longstride dropped back down behind a boulder an instant before the three Infester bots converged their return fire on him, chips of rock plinking off of his armored form. “Looks like Locust and Roach have joined the party.” he commed to the battle group.
Topshot lined up a careful shot on Roach. “Good thing I brought enough treats for everyone!” he said, pulling the trigger and fired a stream of protons which lanced through the vile bot’s leg joint, dropping it to its knees with a pained roar. Topshot hollered in triumph, but is joy was short lived as Roach got back to its feet and pointed at him, a high-pitched shriek tearing from its mouth. Several swarms descended on his position.
“Great job, gasket breath,” Hotwheel uttered between clenched teeth as snapped off a small tree, and began swinging at the swarming insect bots, “I think you just made him madder.”
“I had to do something” was all Topshot replied as he did the same, dual wielding the tree along with his pistol against the attacking horde.
With one of the Basher fire teams currently occupied and not returning fire, Locust decided to make an advance on their position. Recovery swung his massive shield and smashed a swarm bot into a group of its companions, allowing him a precious few seconds to evaluate the battlefield and spotted the advancing Infester. “Longstride!” he shouted, pointing out the enemy advancing on their currently occupied teammates before the swarms once again diverted his attention.
Deciding to also take advantage of the lessening on incoming fire, Termite began to advance as well, towards the all-too tempting energy cubes, and by coincidence, directly onto one of the buried landmines. Roach might have been able to shrug off a hit the leg, but Termite most certainly couldn’t, as the directed charge blew its leg clean off its body, shrapnel flying and cables sparking, Termite crashing to the ground with a feral bellow.
Longstride smashed a swarm bot with the butt of his blaster then snapped it to his shoulder, aiming at the base of a tree ahead of Locust and opened fire, carving out great chunks of wood. With a loud crack what remained of the trunk snapped and the pine toppled, forcing Locust to dive for cover as its path towards Hotwheel and Topshot was blocked. As the bot hit the dirt, it looked up just as Termite raised its brutal twin barreled gun at Longstride’s position and squeezed the trigger. However, the shot was cut short as the falling pine landed across his body.
Longstride twisted as Termites double blast passed him by, close enough to feel the heat begin to cook off his paint. A split second later that same blast struck Heatsink in the back, knocking him flat on his face as his internal mechanisms began to spark. The swarming Infesters wasted not a single second, latching onto his prone form and began to leach the fallen Basher of energy.
“Get off of him you glitching parasites!” Recovery cried, swatting at the swarm, stomping his great legs whenever an insect bot was unfortunate enough to be underfoot in the flock. Longstride aimed his shoulder cannon and fired, the electro net barely having time to deploy from its shell and activate at such short range. The paralyzing current rendered a great portion of the swarm Recovery was dealing with inactive, allowing him to refocus his attention on the greater battlefield. Not a moment too soon.
Spurred on by the loss of his companion, Locust switched targets and charged Longstride. Only the long years of experience saved the veteran Basher from taking the full force of Locust’s attack, the blow glancing painfully from his upraised arms. Longstride dropped his rifle and threw a clumsy punch which Locust easily dodged. The feint worked, allowing Longstride to swing his leg out and trip the Infester. He lowered his shoulder cannon and prepared to fire another electro net shell, but Locust was no slouch in a fistfight. Far more agile than he appeared, it pushed up off the ground, powerful legs kicking out and tearing the weapon away from Longstride’s body before leaping to its feet, fists raised.
“Not so easy I am, slave of One!” Locust snarled, pressing the attack. In short order Longstride found himself thanking both Recovery and The One for his sturdy construction, it being the only thing keeping him in the fight against the savage opponent, whom was determined to show no quarter.
The sun had nearly sunk below the distant mountains by this point, the battlefield mostly lit in the staccato flashes of weapons fire. Topshot and Hotwheel both took turns taking shots at Roach who seemed more than content to remain where it was behind partial cover, directing what seemed like endless swarms of the lesser insect-like bots and firing its weapon at whichever target pleased it.
“Twist my gears! What does it take to put that guy down?” Hotwheel remarked, snapping off another few plasma bolts while still swatting his tree trunk weapon at the horde swarming about them.
“Hope it’s not too much more,” Topshot grunted, squinting an eye and firing off a shot he KNEW hit Roach in the arm, “because I’m almost out of ammo here, and I know I’ve hit him in the head at least twice now.”
Hotwheel smashed the thorax of one of the swarmers with his tree. “Same here. I’m down to my last charge pack.” He growled in frustration as a fresh wave of Infester swarm bots descended upon them.
The team’s com channel squealed and crackled with static, then a familiar voice spoke. “Hey guys, am I too late to join the party?”
Hotwheel heaved a sigh of relief. “Actually Forgefire, your right on time!”
“Fashionably late, as usual.” Topshot mumbled, swiping his makeshift tree club through the wing joint of a swarmer latched onto his arm.
Meanwhile across the way, Longstride and Locust continued to circle each other, trading blows. Longstride had gotten in several solid blows, but the wily Infester gave as good as it got. The Basher smiled grimly as the call for Forgefire crackled over the com but didn’t have time to gloat as Locust launched a vicious combination that put him on the back foot, stumbling over Heatsink.
“I’m trying to work here!” Recovery exclaimed as he kneeled over his patient, wielding a welder in one hand while swinging a surgical saw at the ever-swarming bots with the other.
“Just keeping up with my dance partner here…” Longstride replied in way of apology, then yelped as a lucky shot from Roach struck him in the shoulder, spinning him around sideways. Locust jumped at the advantage, knocking Longstride to the ground and kicking Recovery in the back for good measure.
Recovery froze for half a second before bristling with fury. “THAT IS IT!” Heatsink opened his eyes and lifted his head from the ground to witness the usually gentle giant turn on the Infester fist fighter, grab it by the legs and began swinging it like a club, smashing swarming Infester bots out of the air in a wide swath before heaving the improvised weapon away into the middle of the clearing below, the crashing of its body striking the ground quickly followed the sound of a land mine triggering and exploding.
“That’s how it’s done Longstride. Don’t act like such a burnout.” Recovery murmured as he turned back to Heatsink, who was slowly sitting up.
“Blast Doc, you beat them with their own glitch. Remind me to never insult you again. At least until next week…” Heatsink said with a hint of awe, looking at Recovery with new optics. Recovery held out a hand and hauled Heatsink to his feet. One of his back mounted micro-rocket launchers sparked and fell away, useless. Longstride grabbed his rifle where he had dropped it and checked the charge meter.
“Weapons running nearly on empty here and I’m all out of charge packs. Either of you got a spare?”
Heatsink bit back a smart reply in the presence of the team’s medic and checked his waist storage. The pair he had left were practically empty. Turning the Longstride he simply shrugged. “Sorry, fresh out. Swarmers must have drained my reserves when I wasn’t looking.”
Recovery held a magazine out. “This is all I have left. Standard size five.”
“Blast it, I needed a size three. Guess we’re about down to throwing rocks.”
The com once again crackled to life. “Hey, you bots aren’t still in the target area, are you?”
Hotwheel responded. “What target area?”
Forgefire had the audacity to sound confused. “Oh, didn’t I mention? I caught a lift on a Democracy bomber. They’ll be laying down some carpet for you.”
Hotwheel’s eyes widened. “Carpet bombing? Where exactly?”
“Oh, about where your all standing right about now. ETA 15 seconds.”
“MOVE! Fall back!” Hotwheel shouted over the team’s com line, though he needn’t have bothered. Every Basher in the area jumped into action. Hotwheel’s fast thinking had him pull out his last remaining energy cube and toss it over his shoulder as he turned and ran. Infester bots swarmed the energy, keeping them occupied for a precious few seconds.
A large plane flew overhead, followed by the high-pitched whistling of bombs falling, the Bashers dove to the ground, covering their heads. In the valley, Locust hobbled forward towards the pile of energy cubes, one leg damaged and an arm trailing behind by a single cable. A single energy cube bounced down the hill and came to rest at its feet. It bent crouched downwards to pick it up. “More for Locust!” It rasped as the first bomb impacted the ground directly to its right and detonated.
The explosions cleared a jagged swath through the forest and the sudden change in atmospheric pressure caused a heavy fog to roll in ahead of schedule, the moisture in the air dousing any flames before they could spread. Roach, now missing an arm and both wings from its back, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and hauled itself to its feet, ready to make its getaway.
Forgefire slammed to the ground twenty meters from him, rocket pack flaring and aimed his rifle at him. “Roaches check in, but they don’t check out…”
The questions flew hard and fast, but Forgefire simply held up a hand for silence. “Please, please, hold your applause for when we get back to base.”
“Very funny Forge, but you were cutting it pretty close, don’t you think?” Hotwheel emphasized his displeasure by kicking the twisted remains of a swarm bot.
“Hey, I brought the rain, didn’t I?”
“Not that I’m complaining…” Heatsink began.
“You are!” Every bot replied.
Heatsink held up his hands. “I’m just saying, Bashers don’t call for back up, they call for clean up!”
Recovery shoved the mangled remains of his broken rocket launcher into his arms. “Pull yourself together before I have to. I for one am more than happy that this escapade is over.”
“Recoverys right. We have a long trip back to base, so let’s get moving.” Hotwheel holstered his plasma pistol and turned away.
Topshot shouldered up the Forgefire. “So, how’d things go with your girlfriend?”
Forgefire pushed him away. “Steelia’s not my girlfriend. We’re just partners.”
“Oh yeah? Thats her makers mark there on that fancy new rifle you have there. A little present from your ‘partner’?” Topshot made finger quotes in the air.
Forgefire twisted around. “The jet pack she made for me to test out from some spare parts she had laying around. The rifle she actually built for you after I told her that you just couldn’t wait for Christmas and that hyper particle beam rifle I’ve been tinkering with. You big baby.”
“What? No way! Totally rad!” Topshot accepted the weapon from Forgefire and began to look it over. “Wow, a sustained photon agitator with a boson inductor. This’ll give the glitch collectors something to think about!”
“Just make sure you aim that thing properly next time we run into some Atlanticans.” Hotwheel called over his shoulder.
Waiting until the radical Valiant sub-team had well and truly departed, a shadowy human figure sauntered easily into the smoking ruins of the valley, surrounded by mechanical detritus and twisted wreckage. Most of the Infester combatants’ parts had been rendered worthless, but there were still a few choice bits to be found amongst all the rubble. The pale moon, waxing in fullness, glinted its ghostly light against the snake emblem emblazoned across the combat armor of the figure’s chest as he coolly reached to his belt pouch and retrieved a long-range radio.
“This is Chameleon calling central command. Send a retrieval team to my location, grid 42 539. And tell Doctor Mind Twist that I’ve got some new toys for him to play with…”
Written by Steven Remmington