Forge of Wars Game Intro
Copyright © 2014, 2016 by Medron Pryde
Cover background designed by Juan Paolo Mananita under contract
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Published in the United States of America
First Edition, August 2014
Forge of Wars
Defeat tasted bitter in Private Roger Young’s mouth. Leaden arms barely held onto his weapon and bonds of iron anchored his feet to the ground. The struggle to breathe nearly crushed him as he fought the urge to hyperventilate with panic. His fingers tingled with the nervous energy of a man ready to charge into battle. But the terror that he might be next spurred him to run for his life like so many others already had.
Young closed his eyes and leaned against the makeshift wall of rubble that had once been the road he’d driven every day to work. The crumbling pavement filled most of the space between the cliffs that rose up high on either side. It made an impressive makeshift barricade against the small arms the Chinese infantry had. But holes filled it where Chinese tank rounds had blown clean through. Other parts of the wall had simply collapsed and spilled out to either side from the constant soul-crushing drumming of artillery.
Young’s eyes opened with a wondering gleam. There was silence. He tried to remember when he’d last heard the whistle and boom of those hated shells but he couldn’t. It was quiet. Too quiet. Frak.
He shut his eyes again and finally succumbed to the urge to hyperventilate. He breathed in and out again and again, nearly gasping with the need to suck in one last mouthful of precious air. And when he finally felt like his lungs would burst from the pressure, he muscled his massive railgun over the makeshift wall with body builder muscles and the electronic sights on his visor lined up with what he knew he would see. A pull of the trigger, a crack of hypersonic metal flung out the barrel, and a squad of oncoming enemies sailed back through the air before a shockwave of splintering rock. He dropped back down before their comrades could return the favor and looked at the magazine indicator. Five rounds.
Young struggled to slow his breathing back down and shut his eyes again. He couldn’t keep this up. None of them could. They were running too low on ammo and bodies all across the front. And the fraking Chinese still had a tank out there somewhere. He’d heard the telltale sound of its gravplating in the distance as it maneuvered up and down the other side of the front for hours now, every time wondering if it was going to take the time to finally finish off one Private Roger Young.
He looked up to the explosions in the sky far above. The Chinese had destroyed the defense fleet long ago but now the Americans fought for control of the orbitals. They’d come out of nowhere to slash into the Chinese without warning and he’d cheered as loudly as anybody, but there were a lot of Chinese ships up there and they were not going down easily. A trail of fire from another starship burned down through the atmosphere and Young wondered if it was American or Chinese. Then he shook his head. Pretty soon it wouldn’t matter to him.
The Chinese would come. Sooner or later, they would have to come. If the Americans won in orbit, the Chinese troops would need the shelter of Landing City to protect them from bombardment. Win or lose up there, the Chinese had crossed twenty-one lightyears of hyperspace to take the Serenity star system and her industries from the Alliance, one way or another.
And one Roger Young would die when that happened. The Chinese didn’t take prisoners. He fought off another urge to drop his weapon and run. He could hide. He had a day job. They would probably leave him alone if he disavowed any resistance. Probably. He checked his railgun’s display again.
Young closed his eyes and leaned against the barricade again. He wanted to live. Oh God he wanted to live so bad. He gritted his teeth so hard it hurt and his heart tried to beat its way out of his chest. Five rounds. Just five more rounds. Surely nobody would blame him if he ran then? Even himself?
Roger Young held onto the railgun and the last ragged shreds of his courage, one word foremost in his mind. Five.
Lie Bing Chu Wang opened his eyes and blinked the blurry stars away. Everything hurt. His rifle lay a meter away where he’d dropped it on the ground, covered in the pulverized dust that had once been the pavement of a major highway leading into Landing City. He groaned, reached out to pick it back up, and rolled onto his feet to see the remnants of the last advance.
Up and down the front, sporadic weapons fire filled the roadway with violence. Screams and whimpers came to his ears from all sides. The unlucky moaned painfully and long in the open and Chu wondered once again at what could turn other humans so cold towards that suffering. A civilized foe would have ended their misery, but no one ever accused the Alliance of honorable warfare.
He’d been so close.
He’d seen victory a hand-grasp away, tanks and artillery smashing through everything Serenity had. He’d marched across the bodies of dead Alliance soldiers and felt vindication. After every attempt the Western Alliance had made to bring the People’s Republic to her knees, he had seen her time come at last. This very morning they’d received word of a great victory against the Alliance, the destruction of their largest fleet. And he’d been part of the final march on Landing City. There was nothing the Alliance could do to stop them.
Then the thrice-damned Americans had dropped out of the sky with almost no warning and destroyed the Iron Fist’s vanguard. Even now the battle between his fleet and the last of their warships raged in view of the naked eye. A long burning trail marked the path of something falling through the atmosphere on one final death ride. He hoped it was Americans burning in there. It would serve them right.
Chu took cover behind a dead American tank. He thought it might just have been the last to die, but wasn’t entirely certain. The last desperate moments of the battle were hazy. He still lived though. Now they just had to take Landing City. The defenders were beaten. Their army was vanquished. But the last defenders just kept fighting. He would never understand why they refused to accept an honorable surrender. It was surely better than living in this hell.
Chu spat and sucked in a lungful of scorched air. There would be no grand march into their capital. It would have to be a mad dash for the city in case the Americans won their orbital engagement. Even those devils wouldn’t fire on one of their own cities. Or would they? After Alpha Centauri he wouldn’t put anything past them. But it would be their only hope if the worst happened up there.
A dull thrum moved up through the balls of his feet and Chu looked over to see their last tank moving forward. Other surviving soldiers of the Iron Fist moved around the vast machine as it hovered over the wreckage of battle. His communicator crackled to life as the tank gained line of sight and his display flickered on, showing once again the health of his comrades. Zhao, Lum, and Chen still lived.
Chu Wang smiled.
The victory would be bitter, but the Alliance would pay.
Staff Sergeant Douglas Washington of the First Infantry Division squirted dust through his teeth as the hoverjeep skimmed over the broken highway far faster than he ever wanted to fly ever again. He held on to his five-point harness with a white-knuckled grip as they whipped by a broken American tank. His face looked far too pasty to his eyes, though he hoped the private didn’t notice. It was never good for the troops to realize their leader was terrified half to death before battle even began.
“Carefully, Private,” Washington growled as they missed another grounded tank by less than a meter. The Chinese anti-air cannons had been amazingly effective during the battle and nothing dared fly anymore. Thank God the Landing City batteries had been just as effective or they would be dead already.
“I’ve got it under control, Sarge,” Private Valdez answered with an impish smile as she banked their Joint Light Tactical Vehicle around what looked like the remains of yet another tank.
“This isn’t the Daytona 500, Private,” Washington barked.
“Of course not, Sarge,” Valdez returned and slammed the accelerator back down again. “We’re turning left and right,” she said with a wink and the hoverjeep sprang forward under her deft control, kicking Washington squarely in the back.
He winced and maintained his grip on the roll cage as they shot through the ruins of a Marine landing craft. A Chinese missile had ripped it apart and dropped the remains on either side of the roadway but he couldn’t see any bodies. A churned mound of earth topped by white crosses told him that at least some had survived to bury the dead. He took a moment to wonder where they were now before shaking his head back into the game. He didn’t have time to worry about them. They would link up with someone, somewhere along the front. You could always trust a jarhead to head in the direction of gunfire.
Valdez brought them around another long, sweeping corner designed for civilian ground traffic moving at a hundred kilometers an hour. She had to use thrusters to keep their hoverjeep on the road at the over two hundred klicks she drove, and Washington suppressed a grimace as their rear swung out over the grassy ditch. Valdez was crazy. She kept them on the road though and the hoverjeep swung onto the straightaway to begin accelerating again.
Cliffs rose on either side of the roadway in the distance, and the road became something other than the pockmarked ruin he’d seen so far. A five-meter tall line of broken and crumbling pavement and dirt stretched from one cliff to the other. Holes rent it and entire sections had collapsed. Dead tanks, hoverjeeps, and more brown-swathed bodies than he could count lay between the cliffs where they’d fallen.
An entire division of the Landing City Guard had fought and died here. But his visor highlighted a few surviving soldiers still holding the makeshift walls. He shook his head and spat dirt as Valdez drove them between two smashed hoverjeeps. Valdez dropped their speed and drove into the killzone, Washington keeping an eye out for any threats the locals had missed. There was no movement though and he wondered again at just how destructive this little piece of The War had become.
Valdez cut the gravitic hum and the hoverjeep bounced onto its rubber wheels to make its bone-jarring progress across the old ruined highway. Washington winced as the minimal suspension subjected his soldiers to a truly rough landing. People didn’t call these things Jolts for nothing, but he was overjoyed to be back on the ground and more in control of his own fate again.
“Un-ass you apes!” Washington barked, punched the door open, and tumbled out onto the broken pavement as the Jolt came to a rocky stop. Snow, Williams, Valdez, and Walker echoed his motions and came to their feet with all the confidence of soldiers expecting to win. No fear of defeat made its treacherous way into their walk and Washington smiled in approval. “Who’s in charge!” he shouted at the ragtag survivors and stalked towards the makeshift barricade.
None of the dust-covered soldiers answered and Washington spat a curse on the roadway. It turned the ruin a darker brown but did little to quench the worry in his heart. These weekend warriors had no business fighting The War and he wondered how they’d kept it up so long. A quick scan of the survivors showed no officers standing, commissioned or otherwise. The handful of remaining privates had simply held their ground in ones and twos with no one to give them orders. He didn’t know if he should congratulate them for their courage or berate them for their stupidity.
He spat again, scanned the soldiers once more, and noticed one of them carrying a railgun. Those took brains to operate. The man’s size registered on second glance and Washington grunted. It took brawn too, and that kid had the look of a football linebacker. American football, not that pansy European shit. He could work with that. He focused on the man and a name appeared in his visor. “Corporal Roger Young!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.
“Sir?” the man asked in confusion.
“Don’t call me ‘Sir,’” Washington scolded with his best drill sergeant tone. “I work for a living. Now report!”
“But…I’m a private, sir,” Young answered, then blanched as he realized his error.
“You’re a Corporal, now” Washington growled. “Field promotion. Understood?”
“Call me Sarge!” Washington snapped.
“Yes, sir…arge,” Young said and Washington spat on the ground. Damn civilians had no business in War.
“What is the status of your troops?” Washington shouted and snapped out orders to his soldiers with hand signals.
“Aaaaaaah,” Young replied in shock and looked around for a second. “Right.” Then he breathed deeply and looked back at Washington. “We’ll fight.”
Washington spat again and watched his soldiers filing up towards the barricade in response to his orders. It wasn’t a proper report, but he could live with that for now. He looked down to see the ammo count on Young’s railgun and tried to spit again. His mouth was too dry. “We have spare ammo back there!” Washington growled and pointed towards the Jolt. “Use it!”
“Yes, sir…arge,” Young stammered back and began walking towards the hoverjeeps.
Washington just shook his head. “Young?”
Young’s eyes visibly widened at the realization and he gulped. But he was quick. Washington would give the kid that. “Fifth Division!” Young shouted. “Get back here and rearm.”
Washington suppressed a sigh. It wasn’t a proper order, but he doubted any of these kids would have known a proper order if it was given. He did scowl as he realized none of them were actually moving.
“Do you maggots have a problem following orders?” he barked at them. The soldiers shook their heads in confusion and Washington grumped. “Do you need me to explain how this works to your fraking faces?” he finished at full bellow.
They shuddered into motion and backed away from the barricades before beginning to move towards the Jolt. Washington spat on the pavement and turned away from them. He doubted they would be worth his time much longer.
“Thanks, Sarge,” Young said in relief.
Washington sighed, wondering if he’d picked the right kid. He looked over at Young with one eye. “Son, if you don’t want this then just say so. But if you do, you need to earn it in the next few minutes. Understood?”
Young gulped but nodded very slowly. “Yes, Sarge.”
“Good.” Washington jerked a thumb towards the Jolt. “Now get back there, load up, and have a serious powwow with your troops.”
Washington aimed a mirthless grin at Young. “I’ve got five bodies here, and a whole mess of fraking Tangos out there. There will be leakers.” He poked Young in the chest. “Plug those leakers. Understood?”
“Understood, Sarge,” Young replied and turned to jog back towards the Jolt and the soldiers that would soon be his…or maybe not if he wasn’t up to it.
Washington spat again and watched his soldiers taking over the barricade. It was going to be hard but they were his people. They made it the best job he’d ever had. Not that he would say it out loud. A whine of gravplating interrupted what he was going to say and he frowned at the sound. If his ears weren’t lying to him the tank was moving away.
“Walker! ” Washington shouted and saw the man’s suit of powered armor turn to look at him. “Eyes on that tank!”
“Roger, Sarge,” Walker responded and began crawling up the barricade.
Washington flicked his rifle’s safety off with a flourish learned from long years of making it look casual for the benefit of nervous privates. The rifle’s electronic systems hummed to life and status reports begin to scroll down the side of his visor.
“There’s action to the north!” Walker transmitted and Washington’s visor flashed once before showing him Walker’s view. The explosions on the other side of the next ridgeline told a tale he liked. There was an American tank out in the badlands beating the hell out of the Chinese flank.
Washington smiled, blinked the visor back to his natural view, and felt the first glimmerings of hope again. “Weapons hot!” he ordered and strode towards the barricade as if he didn’t have a care in the world. A new plan hit his forebrain and Washington began to chuckle.
It was time to kick some Chinese ass while the kicking was good.