Art courtesy Valkyrie Power

This week’s Flash has a two-fold purpose: to meet the weekly challenge over at Terribleminds (Down the TV Tropes Rabbit Hole, my random trope was “Amusing Alien”) and to provide some hot robot action for my friends at Geekadelphia.

From the moment they got the distress signal, Jack knew the mission would be a tough one. While their ship was fast, and difficult to detect at range, they’d be detected once they made orbit, especially once he and Fenris began their drop. Still, it was better for everyone if he hit the atmosphere without engaging his engines, lest the seperate heat bloom catch the eye of SAD batteries on the ground.

“Oh, I hate dead drops like this!”

He looked down at Fenris, who clung to his leg. Fenris was about three feet long from snout to tail, a wolf in miniature size, though the shape-shifting alien had often taken other forms. He still wasn’t sure why the creature tagged along with them. It was good to have a companion when he was sent into hot zones like this, but it wasn’t the kind of thing he’d admit to the rest of the crew.

“Just hold on. We’re almost out of the kill zone.”

The radar system cleared moments later, and he got his bearings on the refugee convoy. He needed to make sure the armored infantry didn’t wipe out the civilians before they reached their ships, and then, provided he survived, he’d have to take out the local SAD battery, or at least blind their sensors, in order to help them escape. It was a tall order, and he was just one guy.

He was one guy in a super-advanced multi-theater fighting machine, but he was one guy nonetheless.

The advantage of doing a dead drop into a fast approach was that he barely registered on ground-side sensors. And if he did, the interceptor mode of the Thundercracker had a very low profile. Most mech units had to be delivered in fat, heavy drop pods that were easy pickings for active SAD batteries, which is why the big militaries of the great powers liked to open hostilities with orbital bombardment. But the Aether Rogues were a more surgical, subtle bunch, at least to hear Captain Boros talk of it.

“Here we go, Fenris. You ready?”

“Most definitely, boss. Radio silence, right?”

“Right. The Alliance and the Confederation are both on the lookout for us, so we don’t want them to know we’ve been here.”

“Means the locals won’t know who to thank, either.”

“We don’t do this for the thanks, Fenris.”

“No, we do it for profit! Money! Cash prizes! At least a free meal! What’s our prize for doing this charity work?”

“A warm fuzzy feeling?”

“I’m already warm and fuzzy. Why do you think I keep this form so much?”

Jack veered the Thundercracker over the combat zone, ready to make his final approach. “You’re the crew mascot. You don’t get a say.”

“Well, I should! I provide a valuable service to the crew!”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“I boost morale and you know it.”

“That’s questionable. Now, hang on.”

He make the sharp, bootlegger turn back towards the convoy, and saw the hulking pacification mechs of the Confederate occupation forces lumbering towards the trucks and transports. They were armed mostly with howitzers and close-quarter autocannons, as they were made more for urban civilian control than open warfare. Their size and slow movement gave Jack the advantage. He hoped it’d be enough to offset the general lack of armor inherent with his variable mech.

He slammed down on the airbrakes and pulled the lever to trigger the transformation. The main thrusters pivoted downwards as armor plates slid into place, and the ramjet intakes rotated into position just above them. Weapons rearranged to a more forward position, to be mounted on shoulders or held in articulated armored hands, and the cockpit’s nosecone flipped down to tuck under the cabin. The sensor cluster emerged from between the missile pod shoulders, and high-gain cameras snapped on behind red protective lenses.

Suddenly, the pacification mechs found a combat mech of unknown design between them and the convoy.

“How many of them are pissing themselves?” Fenris had clambered up onto Jack’s shoulder to get a better view of the scene through the mech’s HUD.

“At least two. Let’s spook the rest of them.”

He fired an arm-mounted particle beam at the nearest mech. His aim was good, and he burned a hole through its neck plate and severed the connection between its cockpit and main sensors. He heard the hissing of the heat sinks along his mech’s arm. In space, heat was less of a problem, save for making yourself a bigger target at range, but planetside it could cripple you to go too hard on your weapons. Jack made himself wait at least three seconds before firing again.

In those seconds, five of the howitzers facing him flashed. He dodged to the right, feeling trees collapsing under the mech as the roadway was blown to pieces. Even though his vision was obscured, he still had a lock on the mechs thanks to his previous view and his uplink to the Aethernaut. He triggered his missile pods and fired half of his payload. As the ground shook from multiple impacts, he carefully got the mech back on its feet.

“Fenris, you okay?”

“We seriously do not get paid enough for this, Jack.”

“You’re the one who begged me to come along!”

“I figured there’d be some lovely refugee daughters who like puppies!”

“You’re incorrigible.”

Jack reacquired his targets. To his dismay, none of them had gone down yet. He took the Thundercracker’s main weapon in both hands, raised it to the mech’s shoulder, and took aim. It slid open length-wise and the magnets crackled to life. Before any of the pacification mechs could respond, Jack fired. A ferrous slug the size of a domestic landskimmer launched from the railgun, broke the sound barrier twice, and was barely slowed by the mech in Jack’s sights. It had torn a massive hole in the machine, just below the cockpit in the chest, and the big mech toppled.

“Okay, Fenris. Which one is next?”