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IN THE BEGINNING

 

At the edge of darkness something stirred. No living eyes witnessed the arrival of the Machines as they emerged from the intergalactic rift. Huge melted hulks of metal slowly advanced to the edge of the Milky Way. The badly damaged ships wandered among the sparse edge of the galaxy searching for a new home.

 

After they crashed down onto mineral rich planets, moons and other celestial bodies, the rebuilding program had commenced. Any remaining functional machinery was used to help the Machines burrow into the surface and begin the construction of massive production complexes. Years passed before the hordes emerged

 

The Machine empire grew quickly at first, Planets along the outer rim are widely dispersed and the few intelligent life forms that did exist were quickly overwhelmed. By the lime other star faring races became aware of the growing threat. the Machines had established their foothold on the galaxy

 

When the galactic races fully realized their impending doom. ancient enemies became fast friends in order to repel the invaders. Only the combined might of the various interstellar races stood a chance at resisting the incursion. The eleven most powerful of these, realizing their future was linked, began to negotiate terms of a defense pact. As the terms of the pact solidified. many of the minor races with interstellar military capability were approached to join. Other races flocked lo the growing alliance. Qualification for full membership was based on the resources and military capability of the applicant. What ultimately formed was the INTERSTELLAR LEAGUE FOR MUTUAL HOME WORLD DEFENSE FROM EXTRA-GALACTICS.

 

Eventually, many other weaker planets nations who lay in the path or conquest were recruited by the League. They were informed of the coming threat and given new technology. One such nation was Earth. Initially the Humans were sceptical and wanted proof of the invaders. The League agreed to take two diplomats from each country to witnesses the encroaching Legions of Steel. They were to be returned to Earth as soon as possible.

 

Although humans had progressed towards a state of world peace the Earth still consisted of many independent nations. The League of Aliens. as the humans refer to it. had little desire to deal with these on an individual basis. The humans were given an ultimatum: form a central government or forgo any aid from the League. The United Nations had already been in place for some time and it was suggested that it should form the base for the new central government A lengthy heated debate ensued, with the United States, Japan, Germany and China opposing a central authority. Aller over a year with much political posturing, the nations of Earth finally had a blueprint for their future government When the human diplomats returned with warnings of dire consequences should they refuse, the United Nations of Earth (UNE) was formed.

 

Under the tutelage of the aliens, Earth's technology was quickly upgraded Initially, the human scientists were 100 busy reproducing the technology under the League's direction to acquire a full knowledge of the theories behind them. Eventually, understanding of the principles led them to new breakthroughs and allowed the development of new applications for the technology. Factories were retooled to manufacture new armaments and interstellar vehicles. Earth mobilized for war

 

Initial battles were costly for the humans until they gained experience in space combat and became more familiar with the new technology and tactics Eventually, however. the LINE had an elite lighting force widely recognized for their prowess and aggressiveness in combat. Given mankind's warlike past, this was not surprising

 

Throughout the next three years, it became increasingly apparent that the League was fighting a losing battle. The League's defensive strategy created a war or attrition, with the league and Machines trading losses. Under sustained attack, the League's forces faced eventual depletion. while the Machines quickly produced replacements through their massive production planets. It became painfully obvious that it was time for a change of strategy.

 

Initially. large, planet destroying drone weapons were launched against the enemy’s complexes. These failed to breach the formidable Machine point-defense network Assault fleets conducted raids to bombard planets from space. Unfortunately, the Machine's screens concealed the full size and depth of the complexes. The assaulting ships' barrages succeeded only in destroying a small portion of the enemy's facilities, leaving all the lower levels intact. IT later became apparent that the Machines were still capable of producing ships from these planets. The attacks had been unsuccessful and cost the lives of over four billion indigenous sentients

 

A short time ago, a League assembly was called to decide the fate of many worlds. They devised a bold plan to tum the tide of the war. Operation Planetstorm became one of their last hopes. The League would mount an all out offensive against the Machine blockade and enable the 'Stormfleet" to break through. Stormfleet would then break up and proceed lo several of the Machine production complexes. These small groups would have to evade any planetary defense and land as many soldiers on the planet as possible. Their final task was to destroy the Machine production facilities.

 

At present, operation Planetstorm is underway. Earth has several ships in the Stormfleet and has been tasked with the destruction of two Machine planet bases. Experience has paid off. Both human missions successfully land on the planets While the battle rages on the surface. groups of Commandos make their way into the production facilities. Only the destruction of the complex's Overlord computer will enable them lo stop the Machines. Finally, they must completely overpower the Machine forces if they ever expect to leave the planet alive.

QUARTERBACK SNEAK

Fighting continued overhead.  Even at this depth, Sergeant Patterson could hear the plasma cannons and artillery pounding the Machine defense.  His section had made its way down level after level of this maze and now neared their objective.  Patterson tried hard to suppress his growing feeling of dread. 

Failure on this mission was not an option.  Left undestroyed, the Machine complexes would pump out robot after robot, ship after ship, until the U.N.E. and the League of Aliens could no longer hold back the tide.  Dying would be a pleasant alternative to the enslavement that would follow.

Clearing his thoughts, Patterson reviewed his section and their surroundings.  Section 1- 4 Delta was entrusted with the kill.  He had to get the Seismic Leveler bomb to level 17 grid 786 493 and detonate it.  That should destroy the central computer and shut down the complex permanently.  He hoped intelligence knew what they were doing.  Reports filtered back from flanking Sections.  As diversionary forces, they were handing out their own personal hell to the metal heads and it was up to Patterson to make his move.

He calmed himself with a mental shrug, “OK Two Section, Hughs has the ball.  Corporal Zane take Assault Group Two along the east corridor.  Secure the area and keep the tin- heads off our backs.  Keep radio contact.  We’re moving in!”

The Corporal moved quickly and efficiently around the corner accompanied by Lapointe, Stein and Romano.  As they moved out of sight Patterson knew he’d likely never see them again.  After exchanging a knowing glance with Hughs, he led his men further along the north corridor.  Heidelberg had point, followed by Estevez and Hughs.  

The first room entered by Patterson and his assault group was empty.  The cold metal walls meshed with hewn rock.  He hated this place.  Besides a constant fight against encroaching claustrophobia, he always felt like the computer watched their every move, evaluating, calculating.  Heidelberg opened the only other door exiting the room.  Beyond, lay a faintly illuminated stark gleaming steel hallway, ribbed with support beams and covered with power conduits.  In the distance, the unnerving sounds of metal on metal could be heard.  The reassuring hum of Estevez’s Plasma Projector did little to compensate.  The Machines were on the move!  Meanwhile, Deadbolt Launcher and Blaster fire echoed off in the distance.

Corporal Zane patched in over the comm unit, “Contact.  level 17 grid 802 535.  One Nightmare robot armed with Deadbolt Launcher. Returned fire.  Terminated!  Fire Team Delta is breaking off.”

Patterson responded with a confidence he hardly felt, “Alright! Maintain advance.”

Assault Group One moved double- time down the hallway to the next intersection and proceeded to the east. Again, faint fire was heard from the other assault group.  This was rapidly followed by the sounds of Romano’s Plasma Projector and again more gunfire. 

Romano’s broken voice came through, “Contact. level 17 grid 810 525. Stein is down! Two Nightmares terminated.”  

 

A brief pause followed, then, “More sounds ahead... something big.  I’m covering the area.”  

“Oh my GOD!!! It’s...”  Romano’s words were drowned out by her Plasma Projector firing full auto.  What followed was something Patterson had never heard.  He could almost feel the flames, the torment, the impending death. Thankfully, Romano’s scream was short- lived.

Sergeant Patterson called out with scarce hope, “Romano come in. Romano... do you copy. Confirm status, what is it?”  She did not respond.

Patterson looked at his men.  He could feel a faint unease grow among his Troopers.  They had not seen it before, but everyone knew what it was.  They had all reviewed the intelligence reports.  The few engagements with this metal monster were brief and decisive.  It was hulking, dangerous and deadly.  It was man’s worst nightmare.  It was the Mark I Assault Fiend.

The sergeant could not afford to let the Troopers contemplate too deeply the present turn of events. They had to stay sharp.  He ordered them to action, “Keep moving.”

They progressed cautiously through various corridors, finding little resistance.  Two Nightmares were easily dispatched.  Patterson heard a noise and suddenly the corridor ahead was engulfed in darkness.  The inky blackness emitted by a Nachtmacher grenade absorbed all light.  Out of a wall darker than death, the first Nightmare emerged.  

It came out firing.  Half inch slugs of collapsed steel tore at the air.  The Nightmare’s demented skeletal features gleamed from the muzzle flash. Two more robots followed.  

Heidelberg took the brunt of it.  Failing to squeeze off even one round, his riddled body fell.  Estevez, with a clear view for destruction, opened up.  The super- heated plasma sucked at the air.  Like a huge fire hose, it washed over the tin- heads, melting joints into place, detonating ammo and wasting their carcasses.

With the darkness still in front of them, Patterson urged his remaining Troopers on.  They moved through it and made the next corner just in time to see half a dozen more Nightmares emerge from the still darkness at their rear.  Wasting no time, Patterson reached over and demagnetized the Forcewall grenade from his left shoulder.  With a quick twist he threw the grenade a few metres behind him.  A sheen of light appeared where the grenade went off.  The energy barrier would slow pursuit.  Long enough, he hoped.

  

As they moved on every meter, they advanced became more crucial, every corner turned more dangerous.  A brief fire-fight at an intersection left Estevez dead.  Patterson used his only K- pulse grenade to silence the guns around the corner.

As the remains of Assault Group One neared its objective, the corporal reported, “Assault Group Two has reached level 17 grid 786 493.  We’ve reached the objective!  Attempting to secure.”

Patterson and Hughs kept moving with the bomb.  Gunfire could be heard ahead.  They were close, real close.  The gunfire intensified.  Corporal Zane’s voice flooded Patterson’s helmet,” Lapointe has been hit!  I say again, Lapointe is down!  They’re closing in from all directions and the lights just went out!  It’s too late... grenades on the house!!!”

The explosion from the room beyond echoed through the corridors.  Their objective was one room ahead, one door to go.  Patterson took the lead down the final stretch of hallway.  As he reached the door, he heard Hughs grunt behind him.  He checked his rear camera monitor and spun around. 

The camera’s image could not prepare him for this.  It did not capture the size of this Machine, the sickness of the scene.  Hughs’ feet were suspended off the ground.  Through his face plate protruded two long metal spikes.  Behind him stood the Mark I Assault Fiend.  Ten feet tall, armoured in heavy plating and dripping with fire, it was like a metal demon with a steely toothed grin.  The trident it held in one hand was part and parcel to the spikes jutting from Hughs’ head.  The other arm was attached at the elbow to a massive weapon.  It had to be the rumoured Napalm- X Flame Weapon.  With Hughs dead the Fiend turned its attention to the sergeant.  

Patterson did not wait.  With exact precision, he brought his Blaster to bear and opened fire.  The Fiend attempted to use its weapon but was continuously hit by Patterson’s barrage.  The sergeant traced a line of plasma from the muzzle of it’s gun to it’s eye. As the Fiend collapsed the sergeant continued to fire. After several seconds he finally lowered his steaming weapon.

 

“Suck my kiss!”

Patterson knew more robots would soon arrive.  He quickly unclasped the seismic leveler bomb from Hughs’ back and heaved it over his shoulder.  He raced into the sub- processor room alone.

The place was littered with bodies of Nightmares.  Zane and Lapointe lay unmoving in the far corner.  They had set the K- pulse grenades off on them-selves.  He dropped the bomb.  Soon this position would be swarmed.  It did not matter; they would be to late.  With the calmness of a man reconciled to his fate, he opened the control panel and punched in the code.  The time delay started to count down.  Patterson left the room.  The bomb would do the rest of the work.

With all the robots moving in, Patterson knew he would never make it out alive.  He would die, die fighting.  He opened the door to a new hallway. An Assault Fiend waited on the other side.  Patterson opened up.

On the surface, the UNE troops felt the bomb go off, a deep rumbling in the earth which quickly passed. Without the central computer to lead them, the Machines fought less effectively and were eventually completely destroyed. It was not long before the dust started to settle.

From a hilltop General Stark leaned against a tank surveying the scene below.  What used to be a green rolling valley and forest had been transformed into a sea of broken trees and brown earth.  The garbage of war littered the battlefield.  Almost three thousand men and women had died on it, not to mention the thousands who never made it down to the planet surface.  With a heavy sigh General Stark contemplated what the future held.

When news reached Earth, many rejoiced at the first major victory against a robot production facility.  At the council of the United Nations of Earth however, rejoicing was limited.  They knew that it would be many more years and many more victories before peace was attained.  Though many men and women would die, there was a worse fate.  The silent screams of the human captives would echo through the halls of the robot complexes.  Their minds enslaved by the Legions of Steel.  ºº by TOM FRANK

PEKOTA designs and manufactures furniture including book shelves, chairs, tables and lighting for home and restaurants.

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