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Central Europe

© 1999-2001 Imminent Storm of NEWST.

Chapter Eighteen: The Gift

Paladin, now with virtually no way of defending himself, stood there shocked by the fortuitous event that saved him. The new mech was a very different machine compared to his. Painted bright flaming red with black and yellow sections, it merged visually with the flames engulfing the street behind it. The giant humanoid machine appeared to be part of the flames, silhouetted against the background of gray buildings and black smoke. A closer examination showed just how different it was.

Its proportions were somewhat different. It had an articulated torso rather than just a waist joint. The smooth, round, sculpted forms of its armor and body appeared almost purely ornamental in some areas, especially the head. It had one large spike structure protruding from the top of the head, and angled back sharply, also it had large flaps of armor extending down and away from each side of the head. These structures appeared to have no real practical function. In its right hand was a large gun weapon that appeared to a particle cannon of some sort. Attached to its left arm was a large shield that was almost as tall as the mech itself; it was wide at the top and tapered down to a split point. Various other structures were apparent on its back, and Paladin had no clue as to what they were. This new machine had no hints that it used the modular, interchangeable component system of the U-Borgs. It definitely was built as a unique creation, each part customized to fit into the whole.

The pilot of the machine seemed to be getting impatient with the long silence; almost nervous in fact. "I say again. I have been sent here as a representative of the Mediterranean Coalition. Are you the ones we have been hearing of who are fighting the Dominion?"

Paladin opened his comm broadcast channels. "I am Colonel Richard Franke, pilot of the Project Forces Ultra Cyborg 'Paladin'. Indeed we are engaged in a conflict with the European Dominion. Please state the nature and intent of your arrival here. Are you friend or foe?"

The new mech's stance changed slightly, looking almost to relax a bit. "I hope that I can be a 'friend' as you say. I am part of the Mediterranean Coalition, as I have said before. We are a small group of different organizations formed by survivors of the 'Great Destruction'. We are what's left of the Southern Italians, Sicilians, Greeks, and a few other old-world nations. We live in fear of the Dominion: we have no military strength, no real means of defending against them. All we can do is hide when their patrols come every so often. I would like the opportunity to speak with your commander about who we are."

Fenrir had now arrived after marking the location of the fallen enemy ejection capsule for later pickup. He had heard much of the conversation over his radio. He joined in. "If you say you have no military strength, then what do you call that machine you have there? And there may be more enemy units in this city; it's dangerous to be using open comm channels until we have verified the destruction of all enemy units."

The newcomer answered quickly. "There are no more enemy machines here. I have been observing them since they arrived at the city, and there were only four. As for this machine as a weapon, we only have found two -- this and one other. We have no clue as to how they were built, who built them, or even how to repair them. We've only learned how to pilot them in the last six months or so. There's no way we'd be able to go up against the Dominion army with just two of these machines we call Armored Suits."

Fenrir and Paladin took the news about only four enemy U-Borgs skeptically, but they really hoped it was true. Paladin was almost useless now; Bird of Prey was out of commission, and Rapier would be down for repairs as well. With only Fenrir, Bahamut, and Longbow -- half of their entire force -- operational, any more combat would be risky. But considering the fact that the enemy, if any were left, now knew they were here, they would probably attack anyway. Fenrir spoke. "I'm not entirely sure there are no more enemies left. We'll wait a little longer before leaving." He then directed orders to Bahamut and Long Bow, "split up and search the remaining areas of the city; confirm if all enemies are gone."

Affirmative responses came in from both of them and so they waited. After a short while, a call came in from the transport group, "assault team, this is U-Borg transport group. Report from sector command HQ indicates enemy forces withdrawing in some areas, slowing down in others. Command orders your return to Delta base for repair and debriefing. Phalanx, Tiamat, and Pandora have already been sent back to base."

Fenrir responded, "affirmative transport group. We might however be having a, uh... a guest accompanying us." Then he switched to a different, encoded frequency. "Have the Commander get a full assault group ready at the base LZ, just in case our guest decides to get rowdy."

There was a bit of a puzzled tone in the transport pilot's voice. "Yeah..., sure. I'll relay that info to the Commander. We'll be there in 10 minutes so be ready at the pickup location. Transport group out."

Fenrir then directed a question back to the newcomer, "Hey, do you got your own transport?"

"Oh... yes. It's nearby and it operates by remote autopilot."

"Good. Meet us at the open area, where our team first landed, in 10 minutes; you do know where that is, right?"

The newcomer spoke as he turned to leave. "Yes, I saw where you landed from outside the city. I'll be there."

Paladin was surprised at how swiftly and fluidly the large red machine moved. It looked like it had to be close to the same weight as Tiamat, but it moved with much more ease. It paused with its back turned, "Oh, by the way, my name is Bernard Alario." Then, what were obviously a pair of thrust nozzles came to life and the whole thing leaped through the air and disappeared behind the buildings.

Fenrir turned his head towards Paladin and activated his direct laser comm link. "Do you think we can trust him?" Paladin replied after a short pause. "There's no real reason to trust him; but he could have easily taken me out if he wanted to. I think we should at least give him a chance, but we should remain cautious anyways." Fenrir broke the laser link and switched back to standard coded comm lines. "Agreed. Let's head back to the drop zone."

The flight back to base was quiet and uneventful. They had all been quite surprised by the method of long-range transport used by Mr. Alario's mech. The mech (a term gradually becoming more popular with the pilots and service crews than "U-Borg") was not carried inside a transport but rather attached to it. The strange transport was pretty much just a pair of wings, fuel pods, and high powered VTOL engines. It had a set of specially designed grips, claws, and supports on its underside to wrap around the mech and carry it during flight.

The commander had greeted the news of the newcomer's intentions with appropriate surprise and caution, mixed with a touch of curiosity. He was equally surprised by the description of the 'new mech' as the pilots called it. The U-Borg's used by the Project and Dominion are basically the same types, except with different components. This new machine, however, was based on a totally different design principle. Strange that two European powers were working on similar ideas at around the same time.

When the transport group landed, Bernard Alario found himself on the wrong side of a veritable phalanx of heavy assault tanks ready to fire on him. He instinctively backed up a step, "What... What's this all about?!"

The Commander came on the comm, "Just relax, Mr. Alario is it? We are uncertain of your motives or intentions at this point and we decided to take a few precautions just in case you decided to get hostile. They won't fire unless I personally give the order. First, I must ask what may seem to be an odd question for this situation. Does your 'mech' use the synaptic link system for control or does it use some other interface?"

Mr. Alario paused before speaking, obviously more than a little nervous. "O-kay...," he started, his voice still a little shaky. "I understand your caution; I'm just not used to this, you know. And yes, this machine uses 'synaptic link' systems. But I haven't used a synaptic link in a long time, and it is still difficult for me to re-adjust."

The Commander came back on the comm with a little bit of relief in his voice this time. "Thank you, Mr. Alario. A service crane is nearby to help you exit the mech. Until it arrives, please power down and disconnect yourself, then open the entrance to the cockpit. Several of our technicians will take over the machine and transport it to our service facilities for analysis."

It took another 30 minutes for the switch to finish, as the transport LZ was slightly to the west of the actual base. The Commander greeted Mr. Alario when he arrived at the Command Center's general conference room. He had been sent to the conference room after a thorough search of his person; he was even given a new set of clothes to prevent his bringing any hidden items into the building. The two men shook hands after the Commander entered the room. He had been surprised to see that Bernard Alario was actually quite an older man. His hair and mustache were both completely gray and his face was lined with many deep wrinkles. But physically, he was well built -- strong and muscular. "So what brings you here, with quite an impressive piece of machinery as well?" The Commander asked after the usual pleasantries were done.

"Well, where do I start?" Bernard started to say. "I hope you don't mind if I talk about a little of my life and some background history first." The Commander gave him a nod to go on. "Ok, I was born in the United States but moved to Rome after college. I was a robotics engineer and got a job designing and testing new large construction robots for use on the controversial Neo-Rome project. Luckily for me I was visiting some relatives in Sicily when the terrorist bomb destroyed Rome mid-2075. Ironically, the immense devastation wrought by the 100 kiloton bomb created much needed work for me, designing more efficient robot workers to save people from having to work in the radiation-saturated mass of rubble. As it turned out, some corrupt political leaders had sold the bomb from one of the former NATO stockpiles to a well-funded group of radical anarchists just to fill their own pockets. The nations started throwing accusations around, damaging the already fragmented global government formed by the U.N. The power-hungry corporations got into the fray as well. Vicious in-fighting between different departments trying to get a bigger slice of the budget was common. Competitors, too, became far more aggressive. After a bomb went off at one of the research and development plants I was working at, and it was traced back to one of our leading competitors, I decided to leave. I moved to Sicily with my relatives and worked there as a fisherman, one of my side interests. Then the Great Destruction came."

Bernard had been standing at one of the windows during his story; he now moved to a chair opposite the Commander before continuing. "The first year of the nuclear winter was the hardest. The Mediterranean was frozen over almost all year, and we could do but little fishing. A couple of the cities on the island had been hit and soon people began getting sick from radiation poisoning. Our food supply dwindled and not many of us found enough even to survive. When the clouds started to clear and the temperatures started to rise enough for grain and other plants to grow, only one in five had survived on Sicily. Then the food wars started. People fought over the few scattered square kilometers of viable earth that was low enough in radiation to grow food. Any canned food that had not been irradiated was long gone by then. By 2095, however, a coalition of two groups, one called the Ionian Dynasty, and one called the Italian Allies, had formed and halted the wars. This would become our Mediterranean Coalition."

He stopped again to take a drink of water from a small cup. The Commander was listening with rapt attention when he continued. "I think it was 2100 when we first ran into the Dominion. It was small then, didn't reach any further than south Switzerland. We tried to make friendly contact, but that proved useless. They never talked to us, they just attacked. Even with our meager forces we managed to hold them off for a while, but they advanced rapidly technologically. Soon we were on the run. But was we retreated, the enemy suddenly broke off. From then on we have been subjected to scouting raid after scouting raid. We learned how to evade their scouting parties, and almost never engaged them directly. If they did find some of us, they would attack and obliterate everyone. On a few occasions they did take some prisoners, but not often, or many.

"It was about nine months ago when we first found Prometheus -- that's the name we gave to the giant robot I brought here. About a month later we found Zeus, the second giant robot we have. They were both found in small military facilities on Crete and Malta, respectively. Both islands were used by NATO as testing and research areas prior to its disintegration and then the bases were sold to some other organization. I don't know who they were, though. I was selected to learn how to pilot it because of my experience as a robotics engineer and I was one of the very few of us left who had a functional synaptic link implant. About 3 months ago some of our northern scouts monitoring Dominion positions began reporting that someone was fighting the Dominion and seemed to be holding their own. Our governing council was quite skeptical at first, but as more of our scouting teams said the same thing, they decided to try making contact. Since the armored suits -- that's what we call those giant robots by the way -- are the strongest things we had, it was decided to use one of those to make contact since we would likely run into Dominion forces along the way."

Bernard stopped talking, indicating that his story was finished. "May I tell you about our history?" the Commander asked.

"By all means."

The Commander then spent the better part of the next hour describing how the Project got started, about the battles with the New Paradigm and the Collective, and their war with NEXUS. He told Mr. Alario about NASDA and the NEXUS intruder program, and how Dr. Reed, NEXUS and Dr. Boot and the Dominion were responsible for the Collapse or 'Great Destruction.' After the Commander finished, Mr. Alario was silent for a few minutes. "So you are telling me," he started to say, "that the Collapse, as you call it, was started by a couple of power hungry madmen who transferred their consciousness into computer systems, took over the nuclear arsenals of the major world powers, disabled the anti-ICBM countermeasures, then initiated a global nuclear holocaust?"

"In short, yes."

"And now they are trying, or tried in your case, to wipe out or take over any opposition left and form some kind of global technocratic dictatorship?"

"You could say that."

Mr. Alario was quiet for several more minutes. "I've heard some pretty weird stuff in my life, but this...." His voice trailed off as he stood up and looked out the window again. "So, what are you going to do now?" the Commander asked.

Bernard, not turning around said, "Well, since you appear to be friendly, I will leave Prometheus here for you to use then try to contact one of our scouting parties south of here and make my way back to southern Italy." The Commander was surprised. "You are leaving the Prometheus here!?"

Bernard turned around. "Yes; we know very little about it and it's very hard to hide. I may know how to pilot it, but I'm no soldier. We will keep the Zeus with us just in case we might need it, but other than that we have little use for these types of machines."

After about fifteen more minutes of talking, the Commander said good-bye to Mr. Alario, and sent him off with an escort who would see that he made it to an area in the south covered by Coalition scouts. He then sent a message to all the U-Borg pilots and some of his staff that there would be a meeting in four hours. Also, he sent a message to the Ultra-Borg construction facility that they would be keeping Prometheus and to get to work on figuring out how it worked. Afterwards, he went to his office and began working on what they needed to do next.

Four hours later, the Commander was in the staff conference room listening to Colonel Franke, who was (incidentally) just appointed as team leader of the U-Borgs because of his obvious command abilities. Colonel Franke was giving his assessment report on the day's earlier battle.

"So, despite the fact that three of our Ultra-Borgs are severely damaged, we managed to defeat four enemy machines with relative ease. The enemy made several serious tactical mis-calculations as well as failing to take advantage of opportunities that could have proved disastrous to us. I can attribute this to the training, or lack there of, of the enemy pilots. Other than the one machine that was a prototype drone using a copy of Dr. Boot's mind as the pilot, all the other U-Borgs were piloted by humans. The one ejected enemy pilot was found dead in his capsule when the salvage teams found it. They reported that the pilot looked malnourished, sickly, and had some kind of mechanical implants all over his body and in his brain. From what I was told, the brain implants seemed to bypass several of the frontal lobe areas and it's likely that Dr. Boot was somehow in control of their actions. The pilots were obviously not well-trained in close quarters combat or in the use of heavy machinery. I have found that both skills come in quite handy for piloting the mechs. My guess is that the pilots were civilians, and that they were either forced, coerced, or controlled somehow into fighting. Why the enemy would even use human pilots, given their incredible proficiency with drones and AI, I don't know."

Colonel Richard and all the other pilots then went on to describe in detail certain performance modifications they would like made on their machines. Of chief concern was the apparent ease by which the knee and elbow joints could be locked or disabled for short periods of time. The Ultra Cyborg maintenance and construction chief, who was present, received a full written copy of these suggested modifications.

The Commander now took over the meeting. "As you know," he began, "the enemy has been conducting a full frontal assault against practically our entire front line forces. The enemy has not showed any particularly brilliant moves, but their attack has not relented. So far we have only lost small amounts of ground, but we have another problem. The enemy uses drones, so it is easy for them to replace lost units with equivalent ones quickly. Their overall numbers have not increased, but it hasn't dropped either. New units reach the battle almost as fast as we destroy them. We simply cannot do the same. Our forces have been executing a brilliant defense, but we are losing valuable, experienced men. The enemy is also changing the focal point of their attack at random intervals to random locations. Thus, once reinforcements arrive to combat a massive enemy attack, they shift their forces somewhere else. They are slowly wearing us down. Headquarters informed me that if this continues for another eight days or so, our entire line might crumble, allowing the enemy to surround and isolate our forces and destroy them. This has become a war of attrition, and we are losing."

The Commander could see the looks of concern and worry on the faces of the men and women around the table. He continued. "This is why HQ has authorized me to proceed with a rather ludicrous plan." That brought some rather quizzical looks from around the table. "You all remember the transmission the enemy, or rather Dr. Boot, broadcast a couple of days ago. Well, that signal was picked up by at least five or six separate receivers and from that data they were able to triangulate the transmission's source. The broadcast appears to have come from an area located in the northern Alps. I had several of our spy-sats fly over the area and take visual as well as infrared images." A display panel on one of the walls turned on and showed an Infrared image of the Alps region in question. Everyone turned to look at it.

"As you can see, there are several small bright regions of heat scattered throughout this area. But you can also see the huge area of heat in the bottom half of the image. That heat source covers an area about twice the size of Delta base, and the surrounding areas include over five times the area of Delta base. And here is a visual display." The scene changed to one of the exact same area but showing the visible features. "Here in the same area as that large heat source we see what is unmistakably artificial construction." He zoomed the display in on a section of the suspect area. "The resolution of the camera on the satellite is precise to one centimeter, so we can positively identify just about anything that's there. You can see here the shapes of hardpoints, fixed artillery emplacements, tanks, factories, and other structures. This is by far the largest and most heavily defended military base I have ever seen. At the center of the base is what appears to be a massive communications complex. There are several other large buildings there we have never seen before. HQ believes that this base is the enemy's primary base of operations, and I agree with them. So in five days we are going to launch an all-out assault against this base and destroy it. We have good reason to believe that there are not only massive amounts of enemy units there but also several enemy U-Borgs as well." The Commander was silent while that sunk in.

"Commander," one of the general staff said, "how do we know that the enemy won't attack us again, before then?"

"That's a good question. However, I don't think they will." The Commander turned the display monitor off. "The enemy has already attempted to destroy us a couple of times, but has failed. Their last attack cost them quite a few units. No; they won't attack us directly, they don't need to. They have already made moves to cut off our line of retreat. They will isolate us and try to contain us until they crack our main forces along the front. In fact, in just the last hour the enemy has positioned himself around us such that if we should try to break out and attack one of their forces, another will move in to attack this base. But, it seems, they have left the area between us and their deep territory wide open. It seems they plan to attack this base only if we move first."

This time colonel Franke spoke up. "We still have this whole duplicate mastermind problem. Who's to say that if destroy the original Dr. Boot, another copy won't take his place?"

It was Lisa Fletcher who answered. "First of all, this Dr. Boot character is obviously a madman. He probably is also hopelessly paranoid. I don't think he would have given any of the copies he made of himself -- which he likely uses to expand the number of units he controls -- the ability to make its own major decisions, or the ability to give orders to the other duplicates. This is because any copy of himself that had these abilities could potentially be a rival or threat to the real Dr. Boot's control. But that's only a theory, we have no way to know for sure."

The Commander stood up, "Well, we have to take the chance anyway. In five days we will launch the attack. Until then I have sent individual orders to your rooms. This meeting is dismissed." They all filed out of the room and the Commander went back to his office. The sun was setting and the sky was an amazing array of reds, yellows, and purples.

He made a call to the Ultra-Borg Facility manager who answered very quickly. His face on the video link was covered in some black substance. "Oh, Commander! I just got in from working on that Prometheus machine. I was just about to take a shower. What's on your mind?"

The Commander smiled, "Sorry, then. I was just wondering how far you got on the analysis."

The manager finished wiping his face with a towel and smiled back. "Well sir, its one heck of a machine. It follows the same basic operating principles as our mechs but without the interchangeable component system. Its armor is about the same strength and weight as our U-Borg armor, and has basically the same properties; it shouldn't be too hard to make replacement armor sections. We aren't sure exactly how its power generator works, it's probably nuclear like ours, but that sucker produces 20% more power than our U-Borg generators. And it sure needs it too. The motors driving the legs, arms, and other components require all that extra power so, in the end, the power surplus of the generator is equal to our own. It's those power-guzzling motors that make it move so fast and smooth despite the massive weight. As far as weapons go, this thing is the epitome of mid-2080's plasma technology. It's got a deuterium plasma powered particle cannon as its primary weapon. It has a plasma sword secondary weapon that uses a hand-held emitter stored on the back of its shield and is fed through a port on the right hand. There are a couple of other weapons systems on board, but we can't gain access to them with a diagnostic computer linked the synaptic link port; it will only allow a real pilot access. So, we decided to wait until you assigned the mech a pilot before we tried to access those systems. By the way, have you decided on a pilot yet?"

The man did have a tendency talk quite a bit but the Commander didn't mind. "Uh, no; not yet. But by tomorrow morning I will have made a decision as to who will pilot the 'Armored Suit' as Mr. Alario called it. The assigned pilot will meet you at the U-B facility hangar at 0900 tomorrow morning. Thank you; that will be all."

"Ok sir, see you later."

Yes indeed, he thought quietly to himself. I know exactly who is going to pilot the Prometheus.

The video link turned off as he stood and looked out his office windows. The next five days were going to be short, so he would have to make the most of them.