Year: 73 P.C.
His name was Project Fifteen. He wore a mask of non-reflective silver. The rest of him was covered in a thick black and membranous like fabric. It might as well have been his skin, as it covered all of him – it moved and flexed with him.
He stood at the lip of a ledge before a steep soft earth decent into the plains. In the plains the battle was fought – the visible part of the battle – the part where thousands would die.
They were on a green world. Green and very soft: marshes and grassy dunes made up much of this planet’s surface. Fortifications were easily dug. It was easy for attacking forces to get stuck – for heavy units to sink. Taking this world had been a bloody siege thus far.
Yet it was fitting for him to be here; for him, and his brothers and sisters. He had been born, or his equivalent, on Lunarlabs II. He had been of the second generation – of projects eleven to twenty.
His childhood had seemed like a drawn out chemistry project interrupted with periods of rigorous physical challenges. At nine, he had begun weapons training. At thirteen he entered into the university to study war. The time at university had bright spots. He had been allowed to study history and literature. Primarily war related literature, but much of it was poetic none the less. His martial arts training had persisted through his studies. To him it had even gained a quality of true enjoyment.
Then with age came the time for war. It had been a silent war at the beginning – quiet deaths in faraway places – long ageless naps on quiet journeys in between. That was when he had lost track of age, as his age no longer aligns with his preserved physical self.
Artillery was fired somewhere off to Project Fifteen’s left. Several soldiers dropped around him. They were under attack from a heavy sting unit. They had maneuvered swiftly around the edge of the fray attempting an assault from their rear. They had found Project Fifteen’s unit instead.
Project Fifteen’s stealth systems had activated without needing him to acknowledge the need for it. He took a moment to enjoy the back drop of mile high dunes in the distance. They had an emerald glow, with their grassy growth reflecting the setting sun. He remembered reading something that may have described what he was seeing now.
His unit was fully engaged with their attackers. He drew his plasma edge and descended towards the conflict in a semi-slide down the dune. The weapon made quick work of these soldiers’ armor. His unit had struggled against the attackers, but with Project Fifteen the fight was soon over. He sheathed is plasma edge and returned to his observation.
It was a beautiful day, he lamented. He felt something like grief fill him. Melancholy was what he’d call this emotion. There had been and would be thousands and thousands more deaths today; his only desire was to watch the dunes in the fading light.
The young man prayed but he couldn’t hear his own words. His mind wrung with explosions close enough to cause his eardrums to bleed. He put his face in the dirt but it didn’t help. He was supposed to a man, but he wasn’t sure what that was anymore.
He remembered living in Vermont. He remembered tall trees and woods and not really understanding what a city was, or what life could be outside of maple forests and farm lands. He recalled dreams he’d had. He remembered what his world was supposed to be.
It had been the commercials that had convinced him. Those had convinced him to enlist before he even knew he would. He had been raised by “men”. That’s at least what they referred to themselves as. They drove trucks, ate meat, and didn’t give a damn either way about recycling. They had been “men”, or at least that’s what he had been taught when he was a child. No mention that Uncle Brian beat his wife; Grandpa couldn’t sleep more than several hours before waking up screaming; that his father hadn’t done much than get a job at a local lumber mill in his life. They had told him it would make him tough, it would give him glory. It was an easy ticket into “manhood”.
“Grunts!” A sergeant screamed. “Get your asses up and into the fight!”
He was moving though he didn’t remember giving his body the command. He held a gun but he wasn’t thinking about using it. He wasn’t thinking very much at all. Except about his mother’s chili, off-roading in his buddy’s truck, playing video games under his sheets at night, and a red headed girl named Caitlyn.
The shell tore the stupefied expression off the United Nations of Earth soldier’s face. Well, that and most of his skull. Pull the bolt back. Load four shells. Push the bolt foreword. Look through the scope. She had softened the U.N.E rally and now sought other targets. She found one. Her scope had located another sniper dug into a snipers nest in a dune, above her and to the east. She didn’t have a clean shot. Her scope told her at her best angle she had two feet of soft earth to penetrate. It was “soft earth” though. She adjusted several dials on her rifle and took her shoot.
A sand spray erupted from the side of the dune. Her scope read a reduction in her targets heat signature. Satisfied she found a second target – a third – a fourth. Pull the bolt back. Load four shells. Push the bolt foreword. Look through the scope. She was certain there wasn’t a better marksman on this field today. It was rhythm to her. Find a target – a second – a third – a fourth. Pull the bolt back. Load four shells. Push the bolt foreword.
Sunlight glinted off the edge of the scope interrupting her deadly pace. She looked up to the Sky. Ganymede didn’t often get the best views of the Sun. Yet Jupiter would glow in the sky, dominantly, and divinely. This place was different. It had no Jupiter, only its amber sun.
She closed her eyes and prayed. The words memorized at youth brought her back to her home. She recalled memories of her mother who had only lived to her twelfth birthday, then died two days later. She recalled the collapse of the Europa’s colonies when she was only fourteen. She had excelled in school but had felt empowered with patriotism to enlist at the beginnings of the U.N.E’s aggressions. She had learned much since she had first been handed a rifle; she had learned for certain that she fought for the correct side. They were the ones born in space. They were the ones who had endured space and the hardships of the colonies. Out of necessity, they had sought out new worlds: such as the planet they now fought over. Now the U.N.E with its superior resources wanted to steal what they had struggled for. She continued her prayer to her distant god and her distant home. She had no loved ones left to pray for so she prayed for Jupiter – Ganymede – And the rest those born amongst the moons.
Pull the bolt back. Load four shells. Push the bolt foreword. Look through the scope. Find a target – a second – a third – a fourth.
She flew lead, her wing men and squad formed a V behind her. The bombers flew beneath them. In sync with her fighters systems, she recognized Luna Union fighters flying in to intercept their bombers.
Unfortunately for them they were intercepted by Karman and her squad of fighters. It wasn’t much of a dog fight. The Lunar Union fighters had been in haste and seemed not to be aware of the fighters flying protection. She took two out herself, and scratched two more tallies onto one of the panels to her left in her cockpit. She was at seven.
“Karman that last one was mine.” She heard Brian tease her.
“Like Nationals was yours?” she asked in response. “Did I steal that one from you too?”
“Tired of finishing second to our lady of the skies?” asked another of their squad.
“Karman knows that was the only time she was better than me on a quad,” Brian said.
“I remember being better than you at everything back in Montana,” Karman said. “Skiing, snowmobiling, dirt bikes, mountain bikes, math…”
“I did steal one thing from you,” Brian said.
“Yeah,” she said. “We’re going there.”
“It was July, we were by the lake. A little cliché for you actually,” He taunted.
“You’re lucky I fucked you there. You’ve never had better.” She called him out before he could use it against her.
“You may be right,” He responded. “I do miss that black ass.”
A bomber dipped as its cockpit erupted in flames. Another fell before Karman and her squad were able to take defensive position. Karman cursed herself for falling for the distraction.
Brian’s fighter exploded. Her heart stopped. Her mind froze. She hadn’t seen a parachute. She couldn’t know if he had survived till she’d dealt with their attackers. Her body moved as she handle her craft. She took down one fighter. She shot down a second. She forced a third to maneuver too close to a dune which it clipped, tearing the fighter nearly into two. Her mind left the fight.
Brian had asked her to the fall dance their junior year of high school. The whole thing, romance, sex by the lake, was short lived and over – a silly moment between lifelong friends. They had enlisted into the air force together and were kept together because their teamwork was good.
She had taken down two more fighters without really realizing it.
Then her warning system blared. She didn’t even have time to curse before her fighter was disintegrated by the incoming projectile. Shrapnel punched into her chest, her head…
Project fifteen had left his slow cumbersome unit behind. Stealth engaged, he would detect and destroy periphery units and take out sniper nests. He had found brief entertainment in this work but that had gone. He was bored.
This battle had ceased to entertain him. Slaughter did not appeal as much to him as it had to some of his brothers and sisters. Several practically drooled over it; it likely had to do with the particular chemistry project that had gone on during their adolescence. Project eleven had been here as well. He figured Project Eleven was enjoying himself in the heat of the slaughter. He was a particularly angry breed.
Project fifteen reminisced about the books and stories he loved. A shock force was about to run straight into him. He drew his plasma edge. His love for such curiosities of stories did not go unnoticed by some sympathetic staff. That and his charm had won him many an unregistered literary venture. The libraries, where he had been allowed were almost entirely made up of text books and histories written in a tedious fashion: Tedious to read, and likely tedious to write.
Monotonous, was how Project fifteen would describe his slaughter of what was supposed to be an elite military unit. His mind now returned to the present. He wondered what they referred to him as. The U.N.E had pulled the cloak off their Project development. They couldn’t hide it with any confidence once the Projects had been witnessed on the battlefield.
He should really be looking for sniper nests. Snipers he found more annoying than potential flankers. Snipers did more damage per person by far. He had been fallowing a dense heat signature and came upon a dug in bunker complete with a turret. The occupants however were unware of him as he slunk in and decapitated, or lacerated those inside. He cut down the turret and continued his search for snipers.
He found a good vantage point and took in the area. He found her. He figured it was a her – not entirely sure why. It was likely part of his upbringing: something special about his chemistry project. She was operating at deadly efficiency. She would need to die if the U.N.E were to win today.
Her cadence changed. He was informed that her scope was trained on him. He looked at the sun. His stealth was excellent, but not perfect. The sun must have glinted off him. She was likely trying to decide what she had seen. Project fifteen moved before she could decide to shoot. He didn’t trust his armor against the rifle she operated.
She cursed and quickly became mobile. She hated Projects. Their zero-reflection masks haunted her. They didn’t need to have that amused semi-grin, the prominent cheekbones, or those awful dark eyes. Their skin-armor was also so unnatural.
She kept low but she wasn’t moving as carefully as would be ideal with enemy snipers about. Her plan was to relocate and set up with a good vantage point of her former nest. Her plan relied on a lot working out though. The Project likely wouldn’t venture foolishly into her old nest. It was probably hunting her now. She had heard that they saw in heat. That was why she sought out the slick muddy stream that had been just west of her form position.
She jumped in without hesitation. She sank beneath the water. With the help of her heavy gear, she sank into the mud. She held her breath long, knowing that she was carried down by the current. She hoped that would throw the Project. Her new nest must also have a good vantage of the stream in case it followed her trail there.
Likely it wouldn’t. Projects were notably distractible on the battlefield. They seemed to care mostly about slaughtering as many as possible. At least that was what her briefings had told her.
She emerged ingloriously from the mucky stream and began her trek once more. She had been out of the fight for six minutes now. She subconsciously calculated how many lives that had cost her side. At times numbers angered her, but they were real, and her numbers were always right.
She found her next nest and looked across the battle field. The U.N.E advance was progressing still, though much slower. They were taking heavy casualties yet their reserves were still plentiful and she knew the L.U’s were not. Rifle already loaded she sought a target – a second – a third – a fourth. Pull the bolt back. Load four shells. Push the bolt forward. Look through the scope. She saw it. A him: if she had to guess from his physic. He was hunched over by the stream she had just jumped into. Why wasn’t he stealthed? She hesitated to take her shot. What was he looking for in the stream? She did not take the shot. Another sniper did. A shell shot through the projects head and straight on down the slope of the dune. He flickered but still stood there – as if nothing had happened. It was a fake, a hologram, complete with a heat signature.
She heard another rifle fire in the direction of the opportunistic sniper. She briefly caught the sunlight shimmer off of the real project before he disappear again. His hologram of himself vanished as well.
She decided to count herself lucky and to avoid Projects. She looked through her scope. She found a target – a second – a third – a fourth.
It could be going worse. General Aasin thought to himself as his vision shifted from one display to another. They were holding and had inflicted heavy casualties. The numbers were still all against them, yet he wasn’t about to give up this hunk of dirt to the U.N.E. His brethren had braved open space first; they had taken the risks. They had lost lives in the process, and because of the U.N.E they were likely to lose many more.
His trap for the Enemy bombers had worked perfectly. Atmosphere supremacy was still theirs. U.N.E dreadnaughts ruled outside the atmosphere however. That would not last though. No, he was going to strand the U.N.E on this world. He was going to cost them so much it would be generations before they were tempted to take from the Lunar Union again.
He was a child when the L.U. fought for its independence from the U.N.E. They had been workers, miners, foragers, and scientists – Not a military mind or soldier amongst them, yet they had won. Jupiter’s colonies had begun to thrive outside of the heavy handed U.N.E. It had not all been easy. Life in Jupiter’s moons was rarely leisurely, but they grew strength. They grew strong enough to reach out to other worlds.
“General, another Project has joined the fighting in the flats!”
“Get our soldiers out of there,” He said. “They think force is enough to crush us. They think we are weak because we have fewer to die for us. Vaporize the plains!”
The screens monitoring the main of the battle in the flats lit up in a startlingly bright flash. In the soft earth they had buried several tactical nukes and then tempted the U.N.E in. He was hoping that they would have committed more but this would still give them a good show.
“Now!” He nearly yelled, grabbing everyone’s attention. “Uncover the world-breakers; I want to see those dreadnaughts burning in atmosphere!”
The planet seemed to shake as several of the more massive dunes on this world stirred and lost earth as the world-breaker class cannons were revealed. He saw the dreadnaughts reacting on several screens. They could not move quick enough as the world-breakers were already warmed and ready. They fired.
Project fifteen had just thanked his instincts for not being in the flat plains where the L.U had just nuked them – the radiation he had absorbed was being purified and filtered out of his body. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation, but nor did it impair him. That was when the world-breakers fired. The planet shook and dunes shifted. Project fifteen nearly fell, but he was able to keep his eyes to the heavens.
He hated lame metaphors, so he avoided thinking about the fourth of July. In truth he had never seen anything like what he was now watching. The world-breakers fired several times each. And the color of the sky was fire – like at sunset but complete with debris that burned bright as it entered atmosphere. His mask gave him better details than naked eyes. Judging from the stress the planet was under the cannons must have fired from all sides of the world.
With their option to depart gone Project fifteen decided to remove himself from this battle. Their losses had been exceptional. This attack had been misguided. This battle would cost them everything now if they did not win. He tried to recall why they here to begin with. What had it been that made the U.N.E value this hunk of soft earth so much. On the earth there would be rioting when the citizens found out about their governments floundering.
He did not even bother to take on the groups of soldiers he ran into on his way back to the U.N.E’s reserve forces and command base. It was hectic. It was stressed. They had numbers still but he didn’t see an ounce of fight in anyone’s eyes. Not after what they had just seen.
He was not the only project to have returned from the field. Of the dozen that had been deployed here he now only counted seven. He figured others were still in field. Killing five projects would have shocked him more than the concealed world-breakers.
By Tyler W. Golec