Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 4

Posted: N/A


Copyright © by
Kyle Aarons

Combat Ready

Joel woke to a nudge on his shoulder. He rubbed his eyes and looked up only to see Gabriel standing next to him. Joel yawned, "What's up Lieutenant?"

"All the frames are up, ammo loaded into the tanks, and extra gear we thought useful we tossed into the machine. We also played the briefing for everyone."

Joel shook his head to clear it. "Huh? How long have I been sleeping?" He looked at his watch seeing the local time at being almost evening.

Gabriel smiled, "Almost nineteen hours. I rotated guards as well. Everyone got at least nine hours of uninterrupted sleep and a shower, but we all felt you needed sleep the most so we just let you be. The showers are set up next to Dagger Two."

Joel stood. "Why didn't you wake me?"

"Your orders were to wake you if anything came up, nothing did."

Joel tried to glare but failed, knowing Gabriel had probably made the correct decision. "Fine. Let me get a shower and take a leak, then brief me on where we stand." Joel ordered as he grabbed some clean clothing and exited the tank. He looked around and noticed the sun was starting to disappear behind the ridgeline in the distance. He was also astonished at what all had been done while he had been sleeping. A huge amount of wreckage had been moved and hidden inside his squad's cargo pod. Most of the scattered crates had been picked over and many of them had been piled next to Candice's pod. Finally, the rest of the major large chunks of wreckage and the two cargo pods were all under anti radar and anti infrared camouflage netting.

He scanned the area again and sighed as he found no sign of Candice. He glanced over to Paula who was in her Rogue frame. He noted she had taken the cadet frame with the dual machineguns and the medium laser. She had chosen a pretty interesting combination of additional weapons including a tiny pico missile three pack launcher and a massive sonic cannon. "Do you know if we got a hold of Lieutenant O' Meyers?"

"Lieutenant Scott and I managed to contact Ensign Beck, Major. It was kind of difficult because they were having some transmission problems, but he managed to let us know who he was and they had received our burst transmission about weather conditions, drop pod types, and dangers about the traps in the machines by keying the mic to a set code. Lieutenant Scott verified the code was correct."

"Neither of their radios worked?"

"Both of us were wondering about that as well sir. We tried three more times to make contact but failed. We had to pull back when Lawson spotted two of the wheeled machines coming our way. He killed one with a trio of volleys form Dagger Two's twin gauss rifles and blew the left front tire off the second with a single great shot, but Brandon ordered us to pull back and switched on ECM cause it was pretty clear they were homing in on our radio attempts. We spent a full hour circling around out there just to make sure nothing would trace us back to here.

Joel sighed as he entered the portable shower tent and stripped. Taking a shower and using the sonic cleaner on his mouth and teeth cleared his head and allowed him to shake off the last of the drowsiness. Yet, all he could think about was Candice.

As he entered the back of Dagger One, he grabbed a freeze dried meal pack before he yanked his Eco-suit's hood off. He ate slowly, trying to figure out what he should do about Candice and his mission.

Lawson entered a few minutes later, "Major, we refitted the machine with two medium lasers since those old tech lights use the same power as our mediums and actually weigh slightly more. We also used salvage to repair all the gaskets and yanked the air filtration system out of our cargo pod and slapped it into the machine so it is ecologically secure. In addition, we killed two more vehicles and Ensign Thompson took us back to salvage them, so we have lots of extra parts if ours should break down. It took up some spare room, but Paula managed to tie in one of the salvaged machine's power supply and solar charger. This gives the captured machine more than enough power to fight at night if we need it too.

"In addition, we removed the armor since it is very obsolete and replaced it with extra armor we found in our pod for the daggers since we grabbed more than enough back at the base. The machine now has armor as thick as ours and a great deal more firepower and night energy reserves than it used to. Finally, Derek and Karen managed to scrap the cadet frames and came up with 3 fully functioning ones, so we even have backup frames if we need them. We are ready to fall back to our trailers if you want us to."

Joel glanced up impressed, "You guys have been busy. But I don't want to pull out quite yet. Get Gabe for me, will ya?"


Gabriel came in followed by Lawson. Gabriel dug into a small refrigerator unit pulling out a trio of sodas. He tossed one to Joel and the other to Lawson. "What's up?"

"I think it is time for a meeting."

Lawson took a swig of the soda before speaking. "Do you want me to get everyone over here Joel?"p>

"Yeah, but we need to keep a watch and be ready to handle any situations surrounding our tracked friend who we spotted poking around a few hills away last night."

Karen climbed out from behind the computer terminal, "I'll go get the others then frame up. I'll plug in to the intercom from up top so I will be able to hear."

Joel nodded as he took a deep drink of his soda. "Gabe, where did these come from?"

Gabriel winked, "Hey, they said take whatever we wanted so I took what I wanted. The mobile kitchen was packed up but they left 8 of those fridges so I took them all and since I grabbed two or three months of food and had room, the soda looked too good to pass up on. There is another 80 cases or more of mixed types back on the fuel trailer. I had the new guys help."

Lawson rolled his eyes, "No ell tee, you picked up both pallets with the forklift then ordered us to stuff it where ever it would fit while you supervised drinking one. I don't think there is a square centimeter of the fuel trailer without a soda stuck somewhere."

"Gabe!" Joel snorted, "How could you?"

Gabriel blushed, "Call it a squad initiation?"

Joel tossed up his arms, "Some times I worry about you."

"Then we are even. Cause I worried about me from the first day you were put in charge of me."

Lawson glanced back and forth, "And both of you are in charge of me, so how worried should I be?"

"Very," Jennifer answered with a huge grin as she stepped in the back of the tank followed by the other two new cadets to join Joel's squad. She then turned to Joel and Gabriel, "I see you two have not wasted much time getting him used to us."

"He learns fast." Joel replied while giving Lawson a playful nudge.

"And shoots fast too from what Brandon says." Jennifer pulled the door shut and activated the air filter system as he spoke to Lawson, "Were you really able to get two more kills out there today?"

"Yes ma'am."

Jennifer patted Lawson on the shoulder as she sat next to him, "I was astonished at how fast the turret activated over here when we where leaving the base. I barely had Paula into my turret by the time your second volley flipped it over. For the smallest guy on in our squad you are sure dangerous."

Lawson chuckled, "Only when things are shooting at me."

"I'll remember that." Jennifer snickered as she removed her filter mask and pulled down the hood of her eco-suit, "Anyway, nice shooting. I doubt Joel could have done better and I know none of the rest of us could have. You deserve a kill ribbon with clusters."

"It's already been noted." Gabriel confirmed.

"Good." Jennifer reached over and grabbed a cherry soda as she gestured to Paula and Derik, "Would you two loosen up, get comfortable, grab something to drink, and have a seat."

Both kids looked somewhat surprised but did as they were told. Even as they got rid of the head protection of their own suits, they glanced at Lawson and back at each other. It was clear; they were equally astonished at how Lawson seemed to have been accepted.

Lawson knew where they were coming from, for only a few hours earlier he had been thinking it would take years to really be accepted by the Joel's squad. He decided to help them out. "I know none of us really have known each other very long, but after the last couple of months I have gotten to know you guys fairly well and we have become decent friends. Joel and the others out rank us, but I can tell you this much. We are only outsiders as long as we act like it. Joel, Karen and Gabe have already accepted us and I am sure the same is true for Brandon and Jennifer.

"As they told me, use rank whenever there is a cadre member around, when in class and when in a military environment such as getting orders. But, they really don't let their ranks get in the way of friendship and first names are fine when just having fun or in informal settings, which is what this is since Jennifer didn't call either of you by rank."

Brandon nodded at Lawson as he removed his own eco-suit. "What he said."

Joel looked over at Lawson, Paula and Derek. This was the first time since he had met them that he really had a chance to size each of them up next to each other. What he found were three very different kids.

Lawson was only twenty-one days younger than Joel but was clearly the smallest in the squad. His auburn hair was trimmed to perfection, exactly to academy standards. Even after working on the cargo pod in his frame, the youngster's beret was neatly folded and put perfectly in the epaulet of his eco-suit's left shoulder, also right by the academy rule book. His blue eyes were always scanning what was around him, but were not hostile, just cautious and curious. His left hip had a sonic stun pistol in a holster, which was required, but he had a shoulder rigged auto pistol with 3 clips of extra ammo and sitting next to him was his heavy gyro rifle with an infra-red sniper scope and a bandoleer of ammo. This was by far the heaviest personal weapon in the tank. It also showed he was left handed, since he kept it in reach of his left had when he set it down.

Derik was a year older than Joel and was just starting to get some fuzz on his top lip. His light brown hair was cut almost to a buzz and his brown eyes didn't hide the fear and confusion he was feeling. This seemed odd to Joel since Derik was by far the oldest and most fit in the squad. Even though he was just a month past his thirteenth birthday, he had some strong muscle development in his arms, legs and chest. Joel guessed, correctly, Derik had been on his academy's combat ball team before Andar changed all their lives. He, like all of those in Joel's regular squad, chose a laser pistol for his primary weapon.

Paula, on the other hand, was only two months older than Joel. Her slightly over the back collar jet back hair was slightly longer than academy standards for females. She wore a Jewish Star of David necklace which was not supposed to be displayed outside of the uniform, but she did anyway and had from the first day Joel had seen her. Her hazel eyes didn't show fear or confusion, only exhaustion coupled with something Joel could only take as sadness. She had chosen a standard ten millimeter pistol for her personal weapon, but far more interesting was the eight throwing daggers and a dozen throwing stars she had in a vest over her eco-suit. Adding even more personality to what she wore was the katana over the right shoulder. It was pretty clear, blade fighting was one of her past times and skills. It didn't take a brain surgeon to realize she was pretty good with her hands in a fight, and Joel correctly guessed she had a black belt in some kind of martial arts.

Joel took one more look around before he spoke. "First off, I have already apologized to Lawson, but I need to do the same for both Paula and Derek as well. I was in such a hurry to get moving and keep moving it never occurred to me how confused you all must have been when we kept getting further away from the base, especially after being engaged by one of the machines. Now all of you have had a chance to see both the briefing we got before leaving the base and the one we got here, are their any questions?"

Lawson spoke almost instantly, "Yeah, what is really going on?"

Joel didn't pull any punches, "To be honest I am as confused by this as you are. As you all know, my father is a brigade commander for Blood's Honor and you may or may not realize Brandon Scott's father is General Gordon Scott, division commander for Blood's Honor 2nd division and finally, Gabriel, here is the son of Ariel McCurdy.

"None of us had any idea why we were really sent here nor do any of us have a clue why we are being tasked with a mission like this. As far as I know, it is unheard of. All we have to go on is what we heard on the mission briefings, which really isn't much."

Paula and Lawson both looked a bit overwhelmed by who Gabriel really was. They knew he had the same last name as the Commander of Blood's Honor and Ruler of Forest Garden, but it never occurred to them he was really part of the royal line, let alone in direct succession. Never in their wildest dreams did they think they would ever call a prince by his first name. Finding this out, coupled with the fact Gabriel was as much in the dark as they were, was not very comforting.

Derik, on the other hand, rolled his eyes as if all the talk was inconsequential. "Does it really matter? We're stuck on this rock until we kill the machine bases, so let's get on with it."

Paula gave a hard glace at Derik, "Maybe I am being stupid or something, but how, exactly, do you intend on starting the mission let alone completing it? We don't even know what direction the base is in, let alone an area to start a decent search."

Derik shrugged, "Maybe the machine will give us something to go on. As you have already pointed out, there is no way they last for years without some sort of maintenance; so we use the computer you pulled out of the captured one. Then, one of you geniuses hack into it and find where it goes when it needs to be fixed."

Brandon's left eyebrow shot up, "Good idea!"

While being impressed with the idea, Joel was not thrilled with Derik's attitude. He decided to brush it off for now, but would not let it go much further. "We have already put Jennifer to work on it, and unless one of you is extremely good with computers, she is the closest we have to a computer lover."

All three of the new cadets remained silent so Joel moved on, "Unless we do come up with something from the computer in the machine, Paula is correct. We have almost nothing to go on. There was one clue, at least I think it was, but I have not seen a good way to use it yet. The forty-five minutes we were given was supposed to simulate a missile attack from the base on this continent. Since it probably wasn't a ballistic missile, we can make some basic guesses. First to give us a time frame, I believe the cadre found it and it was about forty-five minutes away for an average barrage of heavy long range missiles. The speed of the average missile during the Machine Wars was between mock three and mock five and with the speed of sound being about 1240 kilometers per hour, and using an average of mock four for a missile it would mean the base is…"

Gabriel grinned as Joel was still putting numbers into his note-puter, "3720 Kilometers away boss."

Brandon chuckled, "For those who don't know Gabe can kick all our tails in math except Karen, who tends to be better with trig and geometry, but can't hope to beat Gabe in straight forward computations."

Joel almost glared as he hit the last key and his computer read 3720. He pointed at Gabriel, "What he said."

Despite the situation, everyone had at lest a smile cross their face. Lawson was next to ask a question, "OK, so it's a long ways away in a circle covering thousands of kilometers." He glanced at Gabriel and was not disappointed.

"23,361.6 kilometers if you only go out the standard two decimal points on pi." Gabriel stated before anyone could even think about trying to do the math.

Paula let out a deep breath, "If he right, that is really nauseating."

Derik looked down at his own note-puter with some disbelief. His voice was filled with some awe and disgust at the same time. "Oh, he's right. How you do it in your head really is sick. If I had to do it by hand, I would be on the same problem for over five minutes. I'm struggling just to keep up with what you guys are doing in the first semester of sixth grade and I already graduated it once."

"Command College is very difficult Derik." Brandon stated seriously. "Every one of us gets help on something from one or more of the others. I am great at English and German, and am starting to learn Russian. You will find no one better in the sixth grade at history or social studies than Joel. Karen and Gabe are the go to guys for math, and Jen is science. Don't try to do it all on your own. If you need help, just ask. All of us do all the time."

"But all of you are way high ranking; I can't go to you guys." Derik complained, showing where some of his anger was coming from.

Joel stood to get everyone's attention. "If we succeed, you won't be. None of you will."

"How so?" Paula asked with a great deal of skepticism.

Joel put in the mission disk and set it to play a certain section. "Listen to this one more time and then I will explain how Blood's Honor Academy works."

The Holo-player flickered for a moment as it jumped to the spot Joel had selected. When the hologram cleared Major Goddard's features could clearly be seen and he looked to be staring at them with a bit of a gleam in his eyes. His voice seemed to convey a hint of excitement as he spoke. "In case you are wondering what success means, the stakes are high. A successful completion will give all of you a shot at full command over a cadet cohort frame force and you'll get your fifteen days going against one of the training areas."

Derik looked every bit as confused as Paula but managed to put some words behind his puzzlement. "He was talking to the five of you, right?"

"Not really." Gabriel filled in, "They augmented us to eight for a reason. As I am sure you all know, a force is one hundred and fifty five frames. Of those one hundred and fifty five, ten are officers and one is a Master Command Sergeant, which is every bit as important as an officer as he or she is directly in command of all enlisted people in his or her command. Five of the one hundred and fifty five are in a command squad, one commander, one major, two senior lieutenants, and one Master Command Sergeant. Then there are three team leaders and three assistant team leaders. Team leaders are Lieutenants and the assistant team leaders are Ensigns."

"Yea, so?" Paula interrupted, "You are talking standard force configuration for a frame force."

"We sure are." Brandon confirmed, "But you are kind of jumping the gun. Let Joel finish."

Joel went over the same thing he had with Lawson earlier. He then ended it with, "So there you are. If we succeed, we will get our shot at what could become our frame force."

Joel let the silence take over for a few minutes as he looked over his assembled team. Finally, he broke the silence. "Now we all know and understand the goal. However, there are a couple of things we need to handle before we start on our quest.

"First, I need to make sure you are all comfortable with your frames."

One by one everyone nodded yet there was some reluctance from almost everyone. Joel frowned deeply, "Come on guys, speak your minds."

Derik finally stood, "To be honest major, I think most of us are very happy with our frames and satisfied by our set ups. The problem is we all could have much nicer configurations if we didn't have to keep all our original weapons. No one is blaming you, but heck, every one of us new-bees ended up with medium machineguns, and I seriously doubt any of us would have slapped one of those on a Rouge.

Joel saw a whole series of nods in the Dagger and sighed. "I cannot argue with your perceptions. The fact is, I have been thinking about those orders as well. However, there is a way around them, but it will take some time."

"Really? How?" Gabriel asked showing as much interest as the new squad members.

Joel grinned, "We followed our orders and did exactly what our cadre wanted. However, their final message to us was crystal clear. There are two more cargo pods out there with the same type of loads we found in this one, and probably in better condition."

Brandon whistled, "And nothing to stop us from outfitting the frames in one of the other pods exactly to our wishes."

"Precisely." Joel grinned devilishly, "Right now let's all just be happy we have frames. As soon as we reasonably can, we will go after one of the other pods and outfit the frames however we want. Just remember, a sonic stun weapon is required on all Blood's Honor frames and per cadet handbook protocols, we must keep our frames with enough power for full limb augmentation even with everything else powered and shooting.

Getting nods from everyone Joel moved on, "I can tell you have all gotten your new ranks figured out. Just so you all understand how we address each other with rank, all sergeants except command sergeants are simply called sergeant. I am simply Major, Gabriel McCurdy is ell tee, Brandon Scott is lieutenant, Jennifer Thompson is Ensign, and Karen Black is simply 'C-Sergeant'. With this system, there is no reason at all to say our last names and may save precious moments in combat. Outside of military operations, I would prefer everyone get used to using first names. After all, once we kick some machine butt, we will be a force command group and should be fully comfortable around each other.

"My final operational change is to our designations for our vehicles. They are a bit obvious. I'm keeping them simple, but at least others will not instantly know what we are talking about. Dagger one and two are now Delta One and Delta Two, and the machine is Mike One, in hopes we can capture at least one more."

Derik let out a huge sigh, "OK, all of that is great, but what are we going to do going forward. Do you have any kind of plan?"

Joel stared straight into Derik's eyes, "Honestly, no. I really haven't come up with a plan. We all know what we have found out so far, but there is another potential important piece missing. One of the reasons we are having this staff meeting, is to all see it and make some decisions."

Joel waited until Derik flinched before he turned to Gabriel, "What is your favorite weapon?"

Gabriel was taken totally off guard by the question. "Huh?"

Joel put his hands up, "On my personal disk, I was told high ranking members of Blood's Honor including your mother and my father hid a file in the computer. The password for the files is something I am certain about. It is the frame force test course we first encountered, followed by the number of chances it took."

Karen's voice came over the intercom, "Echo Three West Two and we took it on our thirty first try, so the password is E, 3, W, 2, 3, 1."

"Yup." Gabriel concurred, "But what does the name of my favorite weapon have to do with this."

Joel frowned, "The file name is supposed to be your favorite weapon. My first thought was medium laser since your cadet frame has had two of them on it since day one, but there is no file with that name."

Gabriel grinned, "Not even close Joel. My favorite weapon won't fit on our cadet frames, but on the couple of times I have gotten into a big frame, I fell in love with it. It's a chain gun. Candice and I used to go to the range just to have fun tearing up things with them."

Joel cringed as he typed it in, "My dad's favorite too. I don't like them. They are hard to control on full auto, requiring physical compensation in addition to the gyro to handle the recoil, so I didn't really see what you do in them." He paused, "Sure enough, here it is."

Joel typed in the password and sighed. "Guys, I know as much as you do about what we are going to see. All I know, is it contains some classified info from Brile IV during the Machine Wars. I suggest we all grab another soda and settle back and watch. The file is a hologram and is almost two hours in length."

"Then we might as well pop some popcorn and really make a movie out of it." Gabriel added seriously.

Brandon stood, "I'll go take Karen's place. I'll listen to it, but I really don't want to sit for two hours."

Joel thought it over. "You know, you're right. Let's have a bit of a party. It sure won't hurt anything."

Ten minutes later Karen passed around some popcorn and pointed to Joel, "We're set. Let's see this thing."

Joel opened the file and sent it to the holo-viewer in the center of the table. The three dimensional image flickered a couple of times before a view of Brile IV appeared and a male voice, sounding monotone started talking. "Blood's Honor replacements, this briefing is highly classified. Unauthorized dissemination of the information is grounds for court marshal.

"Your destination is the Brile system. The system is a series of seven planets, only one of which has an atmosphere capable of supporting life. Brile IV has a lightly toxic, yet breathable atmosphere. Filter masks are all that is required, but it is recommended you stay within fully contained suits with independent air supplies when not in your combat suits. Should your filter system be damaged only long term exposure is hazardous, but short term symptoms will include headaches and nasal problems.

"There are over seven dozen poisonous insect and spider like creatures and over three dozen larger animals which are rated as highly dangerous to deadly. Keeping a firearm on you is required at all times because of this. Please see your handbooks for information on each.

As the voice spoke, the holographic images quickly went through a whole series of creatures to stay way from. Each brief image had a map in one corner where the critter in question was found and what its habitats and habits were.

All seven kids watching this realized their own opening briefing to Brile IV had been taken from this briefing as much of the information was identical.

The hologram once again displayed the planet, only the view was of a craft descending toward it. The voice picked up again, "Brile is a world with more fossil fuel than any world yet discovered and has six hundred and eighteen registered drilling and mining sites devoted to the corporate plunder of its resources. There are also fifty three known sites where full production lines have been set up to produce vehicles of all sorts. Because there is no pollution mandates and close to unlimited mineral resources, Brile makes an ideal manufacturing location. Some sites produce everything within a one to two kilometer radius to make what they build. This includes, but is not limited to, rubber for tires to solar cells for power to metal for the shells. It is these facilities that make Brile one of the most dangerous places for Ultras to control.

"In addition to what has already been discussed, there are thirty seven known mines operating extracting gem stones such as emeralds, rubies, diamonds and sapphires. Unfortunately, this also means the ultras have some access to laser quality crystals so many of the machines we are fighting are laser armed.

"On the other hand, it is not uncommon for those out on patrol to find loose uncut gem stones in the open. Please note, there is nothing in Blood's Honor bylaws about keeping these found items, since this is classified as an un-inhabitable planet.

"However, if you should make such a find, it must be reported to your commander and cataloged. All gemstones found will be placed in your unit's safe and be given to you once you arrive back on Forest Garden.

"Treasure hunting expeditions are not authorized unless you are granted a two or three day pass and given written permission to do so. Any treasure hunting must be done at least twenty five kilometers from any active corporate facility and done in force as we have lost over three dozen personal who have gone out alone or in pairs to the machines."

The view of the world continued to get larger until the view showed the land and it changed to a low flying craft over the surface of the planet. Several mining and drilling sites were over flown, several of them showing outer walls with pill boxes and heavy fortifications. Others showed heavily damaged sections or even completely destroyed facilities.

"As you can see, the machine wars have come here with a vengeance. There are currently eighty-four destroyed sites and over ninety-seven others with damage serious enough to where evacuation was mandated. Unfortunately, we are under contract to the corporations so our mandates are taken as recommendations only. This means just because we have ordered evacuation does not mean an evacuation actually took place.

"However, any sites we list as uninhabitable are not sites we protect and the corporations know this. As of the time of this briefing being made, we know of a half dozen sites which are still operational, yet unprotected by us. We expect machines will realize this and kill everyone in these sites within months. The corporations who control these facilities also know this and continue to keep their people in extremely exposed locations. If or when they are attacked, we will respond, but the chances of us getting there in time is remote.

"Our records show planetary populations have dropped to under Twenty-five-thousand, but this is only what has been reported to us. Division estimates the actual population could be close to double this as there are a multitude of independent sites which do not report to us and are not listed as operational facilities.

"Please note, all civilians are to be protected by us. Any distress calls will be responded to by the nearest unengaged units with all do haste. We centered our contract negotiations around saving lives not property and thus our final contract was designed with this in mind. We receive bonuses for every killed machine and for each person evacuated from a machine assault with no regard to who is being saved or where the machine was killed."

At this point, all the cadets in Dagger put down their food and drink as the hologram changed to show twenty people dressed in what looked to be nothing more than an internal powered skeleton surrounded by space suits. They did have mounted guns in the arms firing, but were so primitive it was kind of astonishing. What caused the reaction, however, was the fact they were firing on a dozen or more four wheeled rovers armed with lasers. Behind this line of warriors was a second line of suited warriors helping men, women, and children out of a burning domed building. A dozen or so dead bodies and two dead suited warriors could also be seen as they pulled back from the battle. As the view expended, the kids could see over a hundred destroyed rovers and an additional fifteen to twenty dead civilians, some hanging out of shot up and burning vehicles.

Jennifer nearly choked, "Can you imagine fighting in one of those suits?"

Karen felt slightly ill, "Can you imagine fighting all those machines? There must be a couple hundred of them."

Joel was equally appalled, "I can't fathom either, but what about the civilians? Some of them are helping, shooting at the machines with pistols and shotguns! There is nothing like this in the Great Hall. Nothing! No wonder the death toll was so high during the machine wars."

p>The voice continued, "This battle was just such an action. Our forces received a distress call on the southern continent, which had no known civilian stations until this point. Yet, when we arrived we encountered lots of civilians and extreme machine activity. As you can see, the small rovers are a new design armed with micro lasers and solar powered. Our technical staff is still trying to locate the source of these mini rovers. If successful, we will assault the facility at night to cut down on power available to these rovers since they have very limited battery backup."

The hologram switched to show a close up of a rover no more than two point five meters long with a micro laser in the nose and a solar panel in the back. Inside was a battery no bigger than a slice of bread.

"The cost of such engagements is high. Blood's Honor lost seven warriors and ended with one hundred and eight-seven civilians rescued, fifty-one dead and twenty-three unaccounted for. It is this type of action you can all expect when outside of the relative safe zones to the far north, which has been pacified of all ultras and machines. Occasional breaches have occurred in the north, but tend to be brutal assaults of massed machines on a small sector or a single facility.

"Up to this point, our rapid response teams have contained these penetration actions while our assault teams continue to pound known ultra computer bases."

"Anything below the 28th parallel is unsecured, although many facilities have put in very heavy defenses and have hired small teams of mercenaries to defend individual valuable facilities."

Again the hologram switched to show what the kids could only describe as a fortress or a castle. Multiple walls, gun batteries, surface to air missile batteries, and suited warriors manning the walls.

Derik whistled softly, "If you thought fighting in those other suits looked bad, take a look at those. They look like eco-suits with armored plates on them!"

"Basically, they are." Jennifer reminded everyone. "Those suits were the precursor to frames, but Blood's Honor was leading the way back then. It was Blood's Honor techs who first combined a powered mining exoskeleton and a full protection suit. Others followed, but some of the first combat suits were nothing more than armored old style eco-suits with a power pack and a weapon. It doesn't even look like those guys had an internal frame to help support them or take some of the load off their back."

The voice continued "Also of some note, other than us and local installation defense forces there are no other friendly human combatants on Brile. You will find most of the civilians are armed, but the effectiveness of pistols and rifles have been reduced as the ultras have started to armor their machines more.

"Brile has posed the largest problem for us so far in the Machine Wars. Part of this is simple to understand. Since the atmosphere of Brile is not deemed safe, many corporations built environmentally secure sites and used ultra computers to run every aspect of them. As of this point, we know of one hundred and seventy-eight ultra computers established on Brile. Ninety-seven were shut down before they become independent, but that still left eighty-one and to the best of our Intel all of them have become self aware. Making maters worse, all but seven turned on humanity."

Once again the hologram switched, showing an island chain in a vast inland sea. Four of the islands were highlighted.

"These areas are currently off limits as the facilities run by the ultras on them have allied themselves with humanity. Only two of them produce machines, while the other two are assisting us in our electronic search to locate hostile ultras."

The hologram split into two sections. One showed a small hydrofoil craft, no larger than a hover car. It was armed with a front mounted sonic gun and a turret mounted weapon none of the cadets could identify.

The second was a hover vehicle which looked very similar to the hover ATV's on the trailer they took before leaving the base. It was armed with a small turret with the same kind of weapon in the turret of the hydrofoil craft.

"Seen here are the only two known friendly machines. They are never to be fired upon and should you encounter one in a fight your orders are to protect it the same as you would any civilian. There are being produced by friendly ultras."

"A friendly ultra?" Joel's voice betrayed his absolute shock. "There is nothing in any written history about an ultra computer siding with humans!"

Gabriel was equally stunned, "No wonder this is so highly classified all these decades later! There would be total outrage from some over the destruction of all ultras if they knew some were not hostile while others would be equally upset that anyone ever trusted one. We have to erase this file before we leave this planet!"

The cadets settled down as the briefing continued. "Over the past year and a half we have managed to locate and destroy forty-nine ultras. With each victory, the others have become smarter and have turned more of the resources of the planet against us. We currently have identified nine vehicles, four flyers and forty-seven droids which are being built by the remaining ultras. They rate from nuisance to extremely dangerous in ability. New ones appear at a rate of about one per month while the destruction of each ultra has dramatically reduced the overall numbers being produced.

"Also of some consideration; the numbers given are of known ultras and there where none known to exist on the southern most continent. Yet the rovers seen in the earlier part of this briefing must have originated there. This means we have at least one, and probably several other ultras unaccounted for."

"Upon landing on Brile, you will be assigned to a unit. We have processed your requests and should be able to place most of you in the type of units you desire, but scouting units are taking the hardest hits so a few of you may be transferred to scouting teams instead. Good luck to all new recruits and happy hunting."

The hologram faded for a second and was replaced by Joel's dad, "Cadets, as I am sure you realize, the video you just saw was the landing briefing given to replacements for killed or injured Blood's Honor warriors. I hope you all paid close attention, but let me highlight a few things.

"First, no one ever had an accurate idea of how many facilities were on Brile let alone ultra computers. Second, the fight was beyond brutal, and the machines didn't care who was being killed, children were just as likely to be targeted as adults. The majority decided to kill anything non-native to Brile. All humans and even their pets were marked for extermination. In just a few minutes, you will see a video taken as we pulled off the world you now find yourselves on. Some of what you see will be even more disturbing.

"There are a few things I want you to consider as you are out there fighting the few machines left on Brile. First, and by far the most important thing I can stress is something you already know. The machines are of a much older technology than what you are going to fight them with. This does not mean they cannot damage, wound, or kill. Their weapons, as you have seen in the first part of this supplemental briefing, killed thousands on this planet if not tens of thousands. On the off chance you run into some other machine, active or inactive, we have included a full file of every known machine, their capabilities, and every machine used weapon system ever encountered on Brile. You can find this by opening up your Brile pre-landing briefing and going to a subfolder under Dangers of Brile, Non-creatures.

"Don't scoff at this and keep the file handy. Seven times in the last 60 years our recon teams have stumbled on other machines that somehow survived and were just as hostile as the day the ultras built them. Most of them are on their last legs or totally broken down, but four years ago we lost a new military school graduate to one of those rovers with a micro laser cause he went out of the secure area without an e-suit or a weapon. So yes, it can and does happen.

"Finally, and I have no doubt all of you caught on, there were friendly ultras on Brile. At the time we pulled off world, three of them were still operational. Two on the islands shown and a third in the far north which started producing a small tracked box shaped vehicle shown next to me. All three purposefully cut communications with us after they assisted in helping us pull everyone we could find safely off world. More about them will be learned in the second part of this briefing. You may all want to take a minute to breath and digest what you have seen and heard before continuing."

Lawson looked at the vehicle shown circling over Joel's father's left shoulder and nearly choked, "Major, that is what I saw last night! Only it had an extra gun on top and lights where it shows the front gun slits."

Gabriel felt like his head was spinning. "Ultras were thinking machines. It probably upgraded over all these years, but I have no clue why it would add lights."

Joel scratched his forehead for a second then glanced around the table as he paused the video, "Does anyone find it odd that an ultra computer started producing a vehicle so late in the fighting?"

Brandon's voice came over the intercom, "Yea, I wonder how it managed to get a hold of a production facility and a design. I wonder if we didn't give it to the ultra."

"No way!" Karen shouted, "We'd never give an ultra a way to kill anything!"

"Wouldn't we?" Joel asked seriously. "Look at it through their eyes at the time. They had a few allied ultras and only two capable of building anything to help us. Any bets the other two surviving ultras are the ones that produced the other two machines show in this holographic briefing?"

Lawson whistled softly, "While this is some amazing information, it confuses me even more as to why they would put us here. The whole world is still in the age of the Machine Wars."

Joel nodded, "I agree, however, as my dad pointed out, other than being caught in the open we really aren't in much danger. Our Daggers can take multiple hits from their light lasers and old tech sonic cannons. In our frames, any one of us could kill a dozen machines on our own with little chance of armor breaches and in pairs or full squads we could waltz through a few dozen. Heck, even out in the open, it would take a couple of hits to breach our eco-suits while our heavier weapons could take them out."

Jennifer shook her head, half amused, half annoyed. "Which is why our orders were to wear full suits when all we really have to have is a filter mask and to carry heavy laser rifles outside the perimeter."

Joel smiled, "Exactly. They simply used Brile's dangerous creatures as an excuse to keep us suited up at all times. They wanted us to get live fire experience while giving us a real mission. This was supposed to be a trial by fire and proof to those who doubt our abilities. Victory for us would be a trump card command could use against those who simply think our parents got us to where we are at."

His smile faded as he continued. "The real question is how much does Blood's Honor Command really know? Do they know the machines are being controlled from a central location? Somehow, I don't think so. Every briefing they have given us has been about how they act on their own and home in by infra-red on human like targets or unknown vehicles. Yet we found a hidden IFF inside meaning they know the difference between friend and foe by electronic means.

"They didn't tell us everything, and I can understand why. But they would not purposefully mislead us and put us in extra danger. The fact multiple machines zeroed in on Delta Two when it tried to contact Candice cannot be by chance. The only machines we stumbled on before were set ups by our Cadre, probably first by shooting them with Electro Magnetic Pulse cannons to knock them out. My guess is they then towed them to where they wanted and set up EMP fields to keep the electronics shut down until they wanted them to activate."

Brandon nodded, "Which means they never had to go inside and repair anything so they would have had no clue they were trapped."

"Yup." Gabriel shook his head in disgust. "That would explain why there was no damage beyond what we did to the machines we have killed. It never occurred to the cadre to really check them out."

"Or they did a quick sweep, but the EMP blasts may have shut down the traps as well. I doubt our cadre would have totally ignored the possibility of us digging into the wreckage of these things." Karen stated with conviction. "But they may not have done a detailed sweep, cause I doubt they ever expected us to capture one."

Joel quickly agreed. "Your guess is probably closer to the truth." He paused and looked over everyone, "But whatever their mistakes or lack of forethought may have been, the fact is we have traveled close to 200 kilometers at this point and have been attacked multiple times. There is only one explanation.

"In the last attack, the ultra directed multiple vehicles in to attack at about the same time. It was a coordinated strike. This time it lost two machines, so next time it may feel the need to send three or four, then even more after that.

"In the grand scheme we have better technology, but they are organized and that is a wild card Blood's Honor didn't know about and one we now have to face."

The grim looks around the table told Joel everyone was pretty much in agreement. He hit play, "OK, let's see the rest of what my dad has to tell us."

The Hologram of Joel's father faded and was replaced by a camera view of a destroyed complex. The audio quality was somewhat static filled and was clearly a radio transmission. "Command this is X-ray two, I have confirmation of the destruction of Vanguard's last facility. We have yet to encounter any survivors. We have counted only forty-eight dead, all but seven of them armed."

Similar scenes played out with different units reporting the destruction of different facilities owned by different corporations. The scenes shown by the cameras were all similar. Massive damage to buildings dozens of destroyed vehicles, some machine some human, and a scattering of dead bodies, all but four of which had a weapon close to them or in their hand when found. The others all appear to have been hit with shrapnel from nearby explosions.

A female voice took over as the radio feeds where eliminated but the videos continued. "Blood's Honor team leaders, this is what we have found on the southern continent repeatedly. Ever since we evacuated the Borland facility, it has been one battle after another and usually our teams arriving too late. Destruction is wide spread, yet confirmed causalities low.

"Since our first rescue of civilians in the south, we have located and destroyed a dozen ultras previously unknown to us, but those that are left have access to the latest military vehicle technology and are using it. It appears the Earth Core company, G-Tech, had a top secret weapons research lab with an ultra on Brile. We have located over three dozen G-tech sites, all of them destroyed or being run by machines and subsequently destroyed by us. All requests from G-tech for more information on the location of other facilities, has up to this point gone un-answered, even with an Earth Core order for them to do so. It may simply be they don't know themselves as this was clearly a major headquarters for their weapons research division.

Regardless, we now have some major threats to deal with. Armored hover craft with heavy sonic guns shown in the upper right have the capability of crippling or even destroying our light scout tanks with a single shot and the wheeled large droid shown in the lower left is armed with highly toxic rapid fire dart weapon and oddly enough a heavy sonic stun weapon.

"The other two tracked droids shown are very close in design to each other. The one on the upper left appears to be a larger version of the other, but it is armed with a pair of guns that fire rocket propelled rounds with explosive heads while the one on the lower right simply has a pair of machinegun pistols. Ammo on both are limited, but once exhausted, they become suicide droids and will ram themselves into walls, buildings, vehicles or even people. They carry an explosive charge large enough to blow a large hole in most walls and can cripple anything other than our heavy tanks. Our estimates are eighty to ninety percent of the damage seen in these scouting reports can be directly linked to theses suicide droids.

"Our scientists have concluded the four machines are being produced in only two places as the exploding droids metal composition is identical to each other and the circuit chips on the other two are being produced on the same assembly line.

"Since we have not seen another machine in almost three months on the southern continent we believe we are down to two ultras with machine building capabilities. Unfortunately, it appears the two ultras are working together as there are destroyed machines of all four types found at nearly all sites. Starting now we are putting extra resources into the south starting with your teams. It is your job to, at the very least, locate and destroy the production facilities.


"As a secondary mission, you are tasked with finding out why we have found massive damage while the body count has been so low. Some of the facilities seen must have had seventy-five to two-hundred workers and several had family units as well. Locating the survivors is to be considered a critical part of your mission."

Gabriel let out a long breath as more scenes of destroyed buildings where shown, "It seems to me the machines were taking people. Why else would one of them be armed with a stunner?"

"Yeah," Paula concurred, "this is the first time I have heard of a non-lethal weapon on a machine before."

"That's because it was left out of history." Joel stated firmly, "The idea of people being captured by the machines is even more terrifying than them killing people. As it was, there were massive outcries for the elimination of many technologies. The Machine wars pushed us back almost to the days of pre-space folding era. Entire planets passed laws against any computer advances; some even outlawed the old binary computer A.I. systems. On some worlds, computer games that used A.I. were even banned.

"Whole churches were born out of the Machine Wars; where thousands of people got together and bought space folding craft and left to establish low tech worlds as far away as they could. It is not unheard of for space explorers to run across such a colony now and again even today.

Technology actually decreased on many worlds as companies were stormed by mobs and burned to the ground because they had supported the trinary computer industry. It was a time of compete chaos. Many planets have never recovered and remain low tech. Sometimes this can be traced back to post Machine War laws; others because of fear, and yet others because their whole economies collapsed and have yet to recover."

Lawson looked over to Joel, "You really are a history nut aren't you?"

"Yup!" Joel confirmed proudly.

The discussion was ended as a new set of videos flashed inside the holographic viewer. This showed fighting between men and women wearing suits that looked a lot more like real frames and larger vehicles, including an eight wheeled machine very similar to the one they had captured. Fighting looked to be very heavy as battle scenes played out over large areas.

An old sounding male voice took over, "The last eight months have really stunned the corporations on Brile. The few remaining ultras have started sending repair droids out to abandoned facilities and have gotten a hold of designs of more powerful vehicles and have rebuilt assembly lines in abandoned sites. Even though we have outfitted Blood's Honor forces on Brile with the latest combat suit designs, it has not been enough to overwhelm the ultras or their machines."

The hologram once again changed, this time it showed some kind of a lab, only this one had all sort of weird pods along the walls and as the camera got close humans could be seen inside many of them. They all looked blue tinged, and there were a couple of piles of bodies off to the side. Men women and children could also be seen lying on tables, many of them had tubes sticking out of their arms. Others were clearly still alive, but in horrible shape.

A voice, almost in tears, gave a report, "Command, this is Assault Gamma four, we…. have breached the compound. The Ultra is dead. You… You have to see this. I don't know what I'm even seeing here. We need rescue teams, medics and doctors. Maybe you should send one of our science teams as well. I… Oh hell, just get here!"

The video continued, showing banks of computers hooked up to dozens of people secured to cots, while others were in tubes of liquid. It was something straight out of a horror movie, only this was real. A new voice started speaking as the horrors of the lab continued to be shown. "Because of this human experimentation lab discovery things have changed. As of yesterday, Blood's Honor's contract to the remaining corporations has been rewritten. We are to totally destroy all known manufacturing sites and evacuate all personnel even if it is by force. Brile is going to be left as a dead world. We have six months to get as many people off as we can before our space craft will drop high yield Electro Magnetic Pulse bombs over the entire world.

"However, Commander McCurdy has ordered your RAM Team to go in and warn the five ultras still fighting with us. We will, at their request do one of three things. First, we will offer to take them off world and give them a small space fold craft each and let them go their own way. Second, we will harden them on site so they will not be destroyed by the EMP's. The third option is to let them fend for themselves. As part of this, you are authorized to relocate them to a site to manufacture vehicles if they do not already have such a site, relocate them so they can build something different, or give them full designs of any machines of the ultras we have already destroyed.

"Please understand, we have already warned the two remaining corporations of the possibility the EMP's will not take out all hostile ultras as we simply do not know where they are. Our estimates are more educated guesses than real science, but what information we do have leads us to believe up to five ultras of the eighteen we know are still out there will not be wiped out with one or two being more likely, but this is their orders and we are being paid well for it."

Joel's father again appeared, "This was the final straw so to speak. Once the corporations saw footage of the human testing lab, they knew they had to act before it went public. The destruction of the facility also ended the existence of the suicide droids, and we thought the other southern continent machines as well, but later survey parties encountered the tanks, so obviously that facility was not part of this one.

"Blood's Honor spent exactly six months attempting to pull every surviving human off world. Records indicate there were still quite a few people on Brile, some who didn't want to leave and other who were so afraid of any vehicle or piece of equipment they ran and hid when they saw us. The on site commander guessed the number was between thirty-five-hundred to seven-thousand people remained but we couldn't wait any longer. The last day we evacuated the last of our security forces and two-hundred EMP bombs were detonated, completely blanketing the surface with a pulse which wiped out any electronics not hardened. We then came back and did it again a month after the first bombardment. Blood's Honor landed a huge force and found three more ultras, but with only a token force left after the EMP attacks we were able to wipe them out with extremely light casualties. We also found and extracted four-hundred-twenty-one survivors.

"Unfortunately, the wheeled machines and the hover tanks continued to show up. All attempts to locate the facilities producing them failed and the corporations finally grew tired of funding us. Brile was put on a list as one of ten non-pacified machine hostile worlds and was formally abandoned."

Joel's father paused, "Now for some extra information we didn't even give to the corporations. The human testing lab shown was actually a G-Tech facility where they were working on cryogenics. The bodies of the dead were dropped into a nearby lava flow, so there is no telling how many actually died there but it was a pretty staggering amount. What we were able to learn was the facility had been successful with keeping animals frozen for up to three years and then thawing them. The problem was the thawing process killed about seventy-five percent and left an additional fifteen percent with serious complications. The ultra simply used all the data and did field tests with humans to increase the percentages. We don't know how successful it was, but indications were it had at least some limited gains in overall percentages.

"Because the ultra was destroyed, we never did find out exactly what went on or why. However, those rescued provided interesting information. The ultra in question used the production facilities and built a PLC, it also duplicated itself and froze hundreds of people and stuck them on the PLC along with a whole bunch of other equipment. Just before we breached the complex the PLC launched and we were never able to locate it.

"Over the decades we have sent teams and even full green forces to Brile. The mission was to cut down on the number of machines by killing as many as we could find and to look for people who didn't make it off world.

"Each mission we were successful, sometimes in both. This means there are still humans living on Brile. They tend to be small nomadic bands and utterly terrified of technology. Their life spans are cut short by the harsh life and the atmosphere of Brile. However, on occasion we have found people in partially rebuilt facilities who have maintained a degree of sophistication. They have filtered buildings and wear respirator masks. Many of them see themselves as protectors of the nomads and hunt and kill machines. If encountered, they tend to shoot first and ask questions second so be careful. If they do not see themselves as protectors for the nomads, they will probably be more than happy to get off world, so if communication can be established, let them know we will pull them off world with you when your mission is complete.

"I am sure all of you are asking yourselves a similar question. Simply put, with Blood's Honor's resources and tech advances, how is it we have not been able to locate the machine production facilities? The answer is Brile itself makes a sweep for electronic signals almost impossible. There are hundreds of pockets of highly magnetic iron. These pockets render aerial and even ground sweeps useless.

Included in this briefing, is a file giving you the over nine-hundred pockets were magnetic material makes sensor sweeps useless. Some of these zones are hundreds of square kilometers and a few are thousands. One thing we can assure you is this. Wherever the bases are located, they are certainly in one of these magnetic zones.

"Now we come to an interesting twist, one that required a response on our part. Weeks after Talborne's assault on Andar, one of our scout teams got a hit on a long forgotten frequency when it folded into Brile to do routine maintenance on the warning beacons which broadcast the fact Brile is a machine hostile system.

The frequency we got the hit on is a specialized super ultra low frequency we build into our radios, but the reason why had been lost over time until our scout team got an encrypted message.

Nothing the onsite maintenance crew had was able to decipher it; however, once they brought it back to Forest Garden our computers recognized it and decoded it. Listen for yourselves.

A metallic warbling voice started speaking, "Age old friend, news bring to you. Hope you still remember days of fight as this now speak to one not in existence when this planet was being fought over. Hope still friends you are. Home world now active many come and go, much like old days. With come and go adversary of old return. G-Tech Cryo ship come home then left for Two Moon Four. Sent probe. Lost in atmosphere entry, no way isolate further. Send out scouts for first time since e bombs fell. Request come back fight as one like before to destroy new threat. Until then scouts will wait, watch, listen, and fight."

Joel's father put up his hands. "The message is pretty clear and very disturbing. Our computer identified the message as coming from one of the three friendly ultras we left on Brile. Because of this, we have concluded the PLC built by the ultra running the cryogenics lab came back for a short time then took off again for Brile II Moon IV.

It also sounds like this ultra wants help in dealing with something new. Unfortunately, over the decades we have lost not only which one sent it but also where all three were relocated to. We did find a file saying we relocated all three that didn't want to leave the planet to hardened facilities so they could survive the EMPs, and we also know all three were given the capability to produce all three friendly designs shown to you earlier. We have no idea of the status of any of the three ultras and we ask that if you encounter one of their vehicles you leave them alone unless they shoot at you.

"However, until this message, we had no idea any of them were still active at all. If you are seeing and hearing this, then the cadre failed to establish contact and have decided to let you go about your mission. It also means, they didn't locate any new threat or took care of it if they did. However, be aware there is much more going on then meets the eye. Brile is to be considered extremely hostile, yet probably not as bad as it would be for any of you almost anywhere else. We made a choice, cadets. We decided you were better off on Brile than being on a populated world with a very high price on your heads.

Rest assured I am dealing with the bounty, meanwhile please realize we trust all of you to do what is right and cover each other's backs just like you did on Andar. I guess what I am really saying is make sure you are all combat ready."

Brandon's voice echoed everyone's thoughts, "Well we are combat ready, but what about Candice's squad?"

Joel found himself at a loss for words. He looked around the table and found everyone else was looking to him. He decided to do what his dad had always told him. When a leader doesn't have a good answer, do something else useful until you can find a good answer. "OK guys, I am sure some, if not all, of you are thinking Blood's Honor should have either kept cadre with us or pulled us off world, but they didn't and we have to make the best out of the situation."

Gabriel thought it over for a few minutes, "You know, it wouldn't be above the cadre to actually have a team watching each of us from a distance while seeing how we take this kind of pressure. If we are to get a frame force, we will have to be able to handle stuff like this."

"Although possible," Brandon's voice came over the intercom, "It isn't likely. I know my dad well enough to know he would never authorize the use of free weapons with any cadets unless it was a real mission with extreme danger."

Karen shrugged, "It is still a real mission with real dangers even if they are watching us. But, we have to assume they are not, cause if we start thinking along those lines we may get careless thinking somehow Blood's Honor frames are just over the next hill waiting to save the day.

Joel ended the discussion "Worrying about if we are being watched or what was really in the minds of Blood's Honor Command will not do us any good. Nor will being concerned about Candice get us anywhere; so let's focus on what we can do something about. We need to get to our trailers and find a place to base ourselves out of. Gabe find us a facility somewhere close to the next closest drop pod."

Gabriel pulled up a map, "It is rather interesting, but since we opened the hidden file our planetary intel has also been updated with more recent reports. I have a half dozen natural gas and oil sites within twenty-five kilometers of the estimated crash zone of the second glide pod. The area is very difficult to get to. Our estimates are it crashed in the side of this mountain." He pulled up a display showing one of the few places on Brile that had a mountain range lager enough to still have a bit of snow pack during the summer months. The mountain he centered on showed a rugged set of peaks well above the snow line. He then cycled through the six locations where buildings had been abandoned. "These are the satellite images we have, but they are almost a decade old. The largest is almost town sized. Two others are village sized. One appears to be a single large ruined fortress and the last two are a few buildings only. The last time Blood's Honor dispatched a team, this area was searched pretty extensively and no sign of machine activity or people were found."

"The machines want to kill people and the people don't want to be in an area where there is little chance of hunting or finding food so it only makes sense the area was deserted." Joel thought aloud. "The area is desolate, even for Brile. We'll head to the town and see what we find."

Joel became all business. "Brandon, Mike One is yours; take Paula as your gunner. Jen, Delta Two is yours; take Derik as your gunner. Gabe you have Delta one and Karen, you are gunner. I want Delta two to take only one trailer and follow me. I want Delta One and Mike One heading to the town and get us a scouting report when we get there."

Gabriel looked over, "OK, what are you and Lawson going to do?"

Joel turned to get into his frame. "We are going to take a couple of hover ATV's and do a recon of the drilling site and see what is going on with those four PLC's Lawson spotted."

"Why?" Karen asked, "We were told to stay away by the Major!"

"No, he recommended we stay away." Joel corrected her as made his voice as stern as he could, leaving no room for argument. "From everything we have been able to piece together, we know more than he does and we need a better idea as to what the heck is going on.

"The ultra's message to Command warned of many coming and going much like the old days or something along those lines. I want to get some hard Intel on at least one aspect of what we are dealing with on this rock!"

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